Yu-Gi-Oh!

Sacrifice

By Lucky_Ladybug



Notes: ^_____^;;;; The characters aren't mine. The story is. This isn't yaoi. The usual stuff. XD. Enjoy! . . . Oh. And this will be sad and perhaps a bit disturbing to some. It's not graphic, tho!



It was cold.

Cold and hard.

Slowly I found myself being brought back to consciousness. I knew I was laying somewhere, but I didn't know where it was or how long I had been laying there. As I opened my eyes, I felt the harsh floor underneath me and discovered the blood trickling down my face. What had happened? Why was I there? And bleeding? What sort of mischief had befallen me?

I pulled myself into a sitting position and struggled to ignore the feelings of dizziness that immediately overwhelmed me. "Marik?" I called weakly . . . but then I remembered that he wasn't there. And why. My brother had sacrificed himself for me. I hadn't been able to protect him. And now I didn't know if he even still lived.

A sudden commotion outside the locked room I was in startled me out of any reverie I may been about to enter into. I could hear many thundering footsteps, no doubt carrying the bearers of a new catastrophe. The voices were rough and heartless, holding no feeling or compassion whatsoever. And what they said filled me with a horror I cannot even begin to describe.

"Just dump the kid back in there."

"He's not much use to us anymore."

"He never was, for that matter. He won't tell us anything!"

"Pretty tough, this one." A wicked laugh echoed throughout the building. "But I'm not sure I've had such fun torturing someone in a long while."

The door was suddenly flung open and a mangled, battered, brutalized body was thrown in on the floor next to me as if the boy this tortured frame belonged to meant nothing more than a worthless and old inanimate object. But to me he means everything! Seeing him being tossed in as if worth less than a sack of potatoes filled me with an endless rage.

The monsters who had done this abomination stood in the doorway, sneering and obviously enjoying their handiwork. They didn't care that they'd just harmed someone's brother. They didn't care that they were hurting a wonderful, precious boy. All they cared about were their wicked, evil desires to hurt others. They had hurt Marik and considered it some sort of sick achievement!

Horrified, I reached out and gently touched my brother's bleeding shoulder. When he made no indication that he knew anyone was there I knew the damage was far worse than it even appeared to be. What if he was. . . . No! I couldn't think like that! He was not dead!

"What have you done to him?!" I roared.

"Exactly what we said we'd do," was the reply. The ringleader stepped forward and kicked at the motionless body. "Stupid kid."

Without thinking about the consequences, I rose to my full height and grabbed the diabolical creature around the throat.

"You will pay for this!!" I vowed. "You have spilled his innocent blood for your own demonic purposes!!!" Furiously I let him go, throwing him backwards against his cronies. "And you shall never harm him again," I added then in a dangerous, low tone. "I will kill you before I will let you take him from me once more."

Undaunted, the beast rubbed at his sore neck and glared intensely at me. "If your precious 'master' wasn't already dead, I'd kill him right now—right in front of your eyes—as a punishment for what you just did," he threatened as an evil smirk began to contort his features. "But I'll just leave you to endure the anguish of holding his dead corpse in your arms, knowing that you can't do anything to bring him back." With a maniacal cackle, he slammed the door shut and locked it once more, activating the electric force field that prevented any escape.

I was already kneeling next to Marik's lifeless, bleeding body once more. As gently as was possible, I turned him to face me and then stared at his pale, haggard face. The deep wounds covering his bare chest and arms spoke volumes about what had been done when they had violently taken him away from me in an attempt to learn the secrets they so madly wanted. His Egyptian jewelry they had left alone, but dark red blood spilled over it, coating the trinkets with the proof of his bravery. He had not wavered. He had not revealed to those demons what they tried to force him to tell, not even when under the very real threat of death if he did not comply. And now . . .

Now, was it possible that he actually had left this world? This boy whom I had known from the very first day of his mortal existence, the adopted brother I had loved and stayed loyal to throughout all the long years, was laying at death's door because of the actions of cruel, wicked men—and I hadn't been able to prevent it. I screamed loudly in outrage and anger at what had been unrighteously done to his teenaged body, unable to control my indignant fury. As his blood dripped over my hands, I knew that I had to do something to help him, even though I couldn't do much. He couldn't be dead, I told myself. He simply couldn't be!!

Quickly I removed my cloak and then tenderly wrapped Marik's body in it, cradling him in my arms. "It's alright, my brother," I whispered comfortingly, hoping that he could hear me. "You . . . you are safe now. . . . You are back with me." Whether he would live or die, I wanted to make him comfortable. It seemed the only kindness I could offer him at the moment.

The boy stirred slightly and then moaned in pain as he struggled to gather enough strength to revive and then speak. "Rishid . . ." he managed to choke out. "Rishid, please . . . please don't . . . leave me. . . ."

Tears filled my eyes as I heard his words. He was still alive! "I will never leave you, Marik," I replied shakily. "And I will never again allow something such as this to happen to you. . . ." In desperation I pressed the folds of my cloak against the worst of his abrasions in a vain attempt to stop the bleeding.

Marik tried to manage a wan smile, his poor eyes glassing over. "What happens . . . happens," he rasped in a melancholy tone. "I . . . I shall die . . . Rishid. . . ." He seemed reconciled with the idea. But I was not. And never could be.

"No, Marik, no!" I protested vehemently, even though I knew it was an alarmingly real possibility. "You cannot die! You . . . you are my dearest friend." My voice was cracking. "My brother. . . ."

"But the . . . secrets are . . . they are still . . . safe. . . ." Marik continued to weakly smile. "I . . . I did not fail. . . . For once I didn't. . . ."

"You . . . you were very brave, Marik," I whispered hoarsely. "But in my eyes, you have never failed."

Marik tried to reach out and take hold of my hand. "More importantly, you are safe, Rishid," he declared raspily. "I . . . I . . . only have . . . one request . . . now."

"What is that, brother?" I asked, gently holding his limp, cold hand. Nothing would be too much for him to ask of me. He was nearly dead because he had wanted to save my life!

Marik struggled for a moment, trying to get the words out as any strength he'd had faded away. "Please, Rishid . . . stay with me until . . ." The boy coughed then, his lavender eyes growing blank and unseeing. ". . . Until the end," he finished softly. Before I could reply, he had snuggled as close to me as he could and then fallen unconscious once more.

For ages after that, I held his limp body in my arms and cried, wishing that there was some way I could get Marik away from this prison and to someplace where someone might be able to help him . . . before it was too late. But it seemed that those barbarians had been right about one thing—there was nothing I could do to save my brother's life. All I could do was stay with him and pray for a miracle.

Unwillingly I began reflecting on the terrible events that had brought us to this tragedy and wondered sadly if there was anything I could have done to prevent any of it. Marik shuddered, trying to move closer to me for comfort. Instantly I brought his precious body next to my heart. Somehow I had to find a way out. For him.

Flashback

I should have known that something was wrong when I entered the home after running some errands. The lights were off and there was a deathly stillness hanging in the air. It was the sort of stillness that means someone unwelcome has entered and is just waiting for the perfect opportunity to cause their wicked disasters.

"Marik?" I called, feeling uneasy. Where was that boy?! He hadn't planned to go out. And his motorcycle was still parked in the driveway. Was he ill? Perhaps laying hurt somewhere? He would have come with me, had it not still been difficult for him to walk after a treacherous accident he had had the previous day. Maybe he had tried to go up the stairs by himself and it had proved too much. . . .

"Rishid!!" the boy's familiar voice screamed then. He sounded frantic. "Rishid, don't come in!! Go back out!! It's a trap, Rishid!! It's . . ."

"Shuddap, you miserable brat!!" There was a loud thump and a painful cry from Marik. Then his body was kicked roughly down the stairs. Instantly three wicked-looking men appeared on the second floor's landing, sneering at me.

"Oh poor 'Master Marik,'" one of them taunted as I knelt down next to him. But how would they know I was struggling with ceasing to address him by that title? It wasn't something either of us went around telling people!

Marik opened his eyes and struggled to sit up. "Rishid, please leave," he said weakly. "I'm the one they're after, but now that you're here, they'll probably take you as well so that no one will find out what happened!" He grabbed my wrist shakily, obviously in pain from being thrown so abominably.

I pulled him close. "I won't leave you," I whispered.

"You got that right, kid," another of these creatures said then. "That's exactly what we're gonna do! Unless your friend wants to say that he will relinquish you over to us in exchange for keeping his life." He smirked, turning to look at me.

"I will not abandon him to your treachery," I replied in outrage. "I am not selfish as you obviously are, only caring for yourself. This boy means more to me than a thousand lifetimes. What is it you want with him?!"

They only laughed.

"Rishid!!" Marik yelled then. "Look out, Rishid!! Behind you!!" His eyes were wide as he clutched my arm and pointed with his free hand.

I whirled just in time to face a fourth intruder walking right in through the door. Before he had time to think, I had struck hard and punched him out, sending him to the floor.

At the same moment something sharp stabbed me in the neck. My hand flew up to see what it was, but I could already feel myself growing dizzy and faint.

Vaguely I could hear Marik screaming indignantly, "You shot him!! You shot him!!!" and then his voice calling my name over and over again. But the tranquilizer had already rendered me useless in this situation and I soon collapsed to the floor, quite unconscious of everything going on around me.

****

"Rishid? Rishid!!!"

I awoke to dear Marik's pleading, worried cries and the feeling that I was somewhere where the word "freedom" was a cruel joke.

"Rishid?" Marik called again, sounding frightened and lost. I could feel his hand gripping my shoulder.

Somehow I managed to pry my eyes open and look up at him. "Marik, my brother," I managed to say with a weak smile.

The boy brightened and embraced me warmly. "Oh Rishid, thank goodness you are awake!" he exclaimed. "I was so worried about you. . . ."

Shakily I reached out with one hand and returned the hug. "Where are we?" I asked as loudly as I possibly could.

Marik glanced around the dark, completely enclosed room nervously. "I do not know," he admitted at last. The only light came from a dirty window at least several feet above us when we were standing and it revealed that the chamber was practically bare. "After our abductors hurt you with the tranquilizer dart, I tried desperately to fight them off, but . . ." He sighed wearily. "I didn't have much luck." His fingers idly strayed to a wicked bruise over his left eye that was mostly concealed by his bangs.

Instantly I came to complete awareness, staring in disbelief at my injured brother. "Marik, they hurt you!!" I cried in horror. And I doubted that his leg was any better healed if he had tried to fight. . . .

Marik smiled wryly. "It's just a bruise, Rishid. Nothing to be concerned about."

Perhaps so, but still it angered me to no end that those demons had done such a thing. And what did they want with him anyway?

It wasn't long before we found out.

The door buzzed and then creaked open as a sneering, rugged-faced, evil man strolled in. "Hello, Mr. Ishtar," he laughed, ignoring me completely as he grabbed Marik and pulled him up by the gold chains on his shirt.

"Let him go," I growled angrily, also rising.

"Who are you and why have you done this?!" Marik demanded as he struggled to free himself. He kicked and flailed, but to no avail.

The man released him abruptly, sending him flying backward against the wall. "You'll know me as Tyson," he replied, "and my boss wants the secret knowledge you possess about the Pharaoh's powers!"

"What?!" Marik gasped as he shakily stood up with my assistance.

"Who is your boss?" I asked of Tyson, narrowing my eyes. It isn't everyone who knows that Marik has knowledge of the ancient Pharaoh—including how to unlock his powers. We don't particularly enjoy spreading such information around.

He only smirked. "You don't need to know that. You'll be dealing with me during your stay."

"And what if I don't tell you anything?" Marik snapped. He leaned against me without meaning to, his poor body weak. Gently I supported his trembling frame, keeping an arm firmly about his waist.

Tyson cracked his knuckles. "Oh, we have . . . ways."

Angrily I rose up to stand in front of him. "Do not even think of harming this boy," I hissed. "I will protect him to my very death!"

Tyson remained unfazed. "You're nothing to me," he replied. "I could kill you single-handedly, and don't think I wouldn't do it." He glanced over at Marik, who was fuming with rage. "You know, I wonder—does Mr. Ishtar hold you in the same regard that you hold him? You're just a mere servant. A loyal one, granted, but a servant nevertheless. I doubt that he would risk his life to save a servant." He spat the word out with disgust.

For a moment I wavered as Tyson's face suddenly changed into that of my and Marik's father, who had always treated me with the greatest contempt and hatred. I was never anything more than a servant to him—completely indispensable and someone who didn't matter. Now I could hear his angry voice in my mind . . . the cracks of the whip . . . the wretched piercing of the knives. . . .

"That's enough!"

Marik's welcome voice penetrated my thoughts and brought me back to the present.

"Rishid is not my servant," the boy growled furiously. "How dare you take it upon yourself to speak of things you know nothing of! He is my brother. I would give my life for him."

"Is that a fact?" Tyson sneered, grabbing Marik's arm and twisting it painfully. "Would you give up the secrets of the Pharaoh's power to save him?"

"I would give up anything," Marik retorted.

"Fine, then." Tyson let go of the boy's arm and again pulled him forward. "Swear on your brother's life that you will reveal to us everything we want to know."

"No, Marik!!" I found myself screaming. "You cannot surrender the secrets your family swore to keep safe! If he knows of how to utilize the Pharaoh's powers, the entire world shall fall!" I clenched my fists in desperation. I knew that Marik would be more than willing to give up the information if he thought it was the only way to save me. But I couldn't allow him to do it.

Marik struggled again to get free, at last shoving Tyson back against the door to do so. "I will not let you die, Rishid," he replied as crystalline tears slipped down his cheeks. I could see that he was going through an intense mental struggle. And then, narrowing his eyes, he looked up at Tyson once more. "Take me instead," he said quietly, startling us all.

Tyson could only stare at him in astonishment. "What?!"

"Take me," Marik repeated. "Torment me all you wish. If you do so long enough, you will learn the secrets you desire. After all . . ." He paused now, his lavender eyes steely and cold. ". . . Everyone has a breaking point," he finished, continuing to gaze at Tyson and waiting for his reply.

I looked at the boy in shock and alarm at what he was proposing. He was going to willingly subject himself to anguish and pain because of me, possibly getting killed in the process! I couldn't allow this either. I couldn't lose my brother. And I stepped forward to stop him. "No!! Marik, you will . . ."

Marik held up his hand for silence, shaking his head sadly. "Well? What do you say?" he asked, looking firmly at Tyson. "You could learn what you want from me. All I want is for you to leave Rishid alone and let him go free."

Our captor narrowed his eyes, gazing back at Marik thoughtfully. To my amazement, he started to laugh. "You really do care about this man, don't you?"

"Of course I do," Marik said with a curt nod, never wavering. "He's my elder brother. He's always watched out for me. Now I will watch out for him."

Tyson reached out and grabbed his arm. "I accept your foolish offer," he sneered. I could see the murder in his eyes. And my anger boiled over.

"NO!!!" I screamed, running forward. "You cannot take him!!!" Hadn't Marik already been at the mercy of enough people who have wanted to harm or kill him?! Shouldn't he be entitled to gentleness and kindness? But yet I knew. Marik was choosing that freely. He didn't have to do it. He did anyway. It made my emotions mixed. I was extremely touched and thankful to be blessed with such a brother, but at the same time I was very sad. I didn't want him to give up his life for mine! I wanted to stop it all, to somehow get both of us out of that treacherous place.

Tyson snapped his fingers and several of his henchmen appeared. "Of course I can. And I will. You're willingly coming, aren't you, boy?" He glared fiercely at Marik, who only nodded silently in submission.

"Marik!!!" I protested frantically. "I know their kind. They will torture you to your very death!!" Desperately I grabbed for his arm, wanting to pull him to me and never allow one such as Tyson to touch him again.

"Then so be it, Rishid," Marik smiled weakly. "If I die honorably, then I am not afraid. Protecting you is the best thing I could do. They really want me, Rishid, not you. And if I don't go, they'll torture you to your death!" With that he broke free from Tyson's grip and embraced me tightly. "I may never see you again, my brother," he whispered, "so I will tell you now how much I love you. And . . . please tell Ishizu and Mokuba goodbye for me," he added quietly. "And the others. . . ." He looked up into my eyes bravely. "Goodbye, my brother."

I held the boy close to my chest, tears in my eyes. "Please don't do this, Marik," I implored. My grip tightened. I wouldn't let him go!

"It's the only way, Rishid," Marik replied sadly. "These people are wicked. I won't let them hurt you—and I know they will if I do not do this." He paused. "Actually . . . with devils like these, they could hurt you no matter what I do." The boy frowned. I prayed that he was starting to reconsider.

"That's right, my brother," I said softly. "Don't do this and we'll find a way out. I promise you we will!"

Marik bit down on his lip, struggling once more. "You're right, Rishid," he said at last. I saw a light, a flame, come into his eyes once more. "I had lost hope in humanity again. But there's surely another way out." He hugged me tightly. "We'll find it."

I embraced back, looking into his eyes. "Yes, Marik," I told him firmly. "We will find it. And the both of us will return to Ishizu." I could see that he was quite convinced now. Though it was such a noble and dear thing for him to want to suffer in place of me, I was so immensely thankful that he wouldn't be doing it now.

At least that was what I had hoped with every part of my heart and soul. Tyson had other plans, seeing how Marik was starting to decide against his idea.

With one horrifying swipe, the foul man grabbed Marik viciously and pulled him away as the boy was starting to loosen his grip. "Let's go, kid," he snarled. "I don't have all day."

Marik spat in his face. "I've changed my mind," he said coldly. "I won't go with you. Rishid made me remember something. He made me remember to have hope. It's what he told me during the darkest time of my life. And he brought me back to the light."

"Isn't that sweet," Tyson sneered. "Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be nice enough to let you go. The only hope you'll have will be death!" He started to wrestle with the boy, managing to get him closer to the door. The other men with him began to close in, leaving Marik with no way out.

That was when something inside me snapped. Marik had decided he wouldn't go, but they were taking him away anyway, to torment him until he released the information they desired. And Marik would not allow them to have it, therefore he would be tortured until he was . . .

With a strangled warcry I sprang at the nearest vulture and punched him viciously, sending him to the floor. "Please, Marik!! Please run!!" I screamed, throwing another one back against the wall out in the corridor. I knew he wouldn't leave me, but still I had to plead for him to do so. It would be better for me to perish than him.

Abruptly Tyson rushed forward and slammed the handle of a six-shooter across my forehead. "I don't think so," he growled. "Your precious 'Master Marik' is coming with us and not running anywhere."

I staggered back, the blood dripping down my face. "He will never go with you, not as long as I live and breathe!!" I retorted, trying to lunge at him. Rage was filling up my heart and blinding my vision. I couldn't help it. How could I stay calm around such an abomination, one whom I knew would kill the boy I love as my brother?

"Rishid!!" Marik screamed. "No, Rishid, don't!!!" I could hear his voice, but it wasn't completely registering. I did feel him grab my arm and try to pull me back. And I tried to get control of myself. I took a step back, intending to grab Marik up and run for it.

But again Tyson used the rifle's handle, clubbing me even more violently than the previous time. Stars exploded in front of my eyes and then gave way to blackness once more as I started to sink to the floor. "Marik," I whispered, "I am sorry. I have failed you." Far away I heard him protest, trying to catch me, but I was too far gone to understand what he was saying.

It was when I regained consciousness many ages later that I saw what had been done to my brother. Tortured, mistreated, brutalized. . . . I had no way of knowing what methods of torment they had used on him, but I did know one thing—he had never faltered. He had courageously withstood all their attempts to pry into the secrets of his mind and had emerged battle-scarred, mangled, mutilated—but not defeated.

End Flashback

"Marik?" I whispered now, still cradling his battered body in my arms. Though it had been only a few moments, it seemed much longer. I didn't know whatever to do. Was he still alive? I couldn't tell. He was so still . . . so silent . . .

I bent over him once more. His eyes had closed long ago and at the moment he looked as if he were only sleeping—but was he, or had he entered a deeper, more eternal sleep? No . . . no . . . that could not be true!

As carefully as possible I leaned down and listened for a heartbeat, trying not to disturb the many painful wounds covering his flesh. The boy sighed weakly and drew a ragged breath. "Rishid," he barely managed to whisper as he shuddered painfully.

I looked up, a fire in my eyes. He was still alive, and I knew that I wasn't going to let him die—not now, not ever. I hadn't been able to save him earlier, but now I would! "It will be alright, Marik," I whispered comfortingly, slowly standing up and casting my eyes about. There had to be some way out! Perhaps if I could short-circuit the electricity force field around the door I would be able to get it open . . .

As I glanced around the dark, lonely room, I noticed a pail of water underneath a small hole in the ceiling. Obviously the roof had been leaking. It was my only chance. Once the force field was gone, the alarm would sound and Tyson and his fellow vultures would soon surround me. If that happened, I knew they would kill me and there would be no hope for Marik. But it would not happen. As I held my brother's broken body with one hand while reaching for the water with the other, I vowed that I would successfully escape with Marik and somehow manage to save his life. And the boy clung to me with every bit of strength he could muster. He was still aware enough to know that I was with him. I held him closer.

Carefully I gripped the nearly full bucket and threw the contents at the door. Just as I had wanted, the force field sizzled and then shorted out. Also, as I had expected, the alarm went off. I knew I didn't have a single moment to lose.

Gripping Marik's body firmly in my arms, I kicked at the door viciously in an attempt to break it down. Every second counted and I prayed frantically that I would not fail. At last it weakened and I threw my entire weight against it to splinter it through the rest of the way. It tore free, hanging from only one of the hinges.

Now that I was out in the hall I swiftly dashed to the right, staying on guard for any possible attacks from any direction. The hall seemed deserted, but I quickly learned what a mistake that observation had been. Several guards in their organization's uniforms immediately blocked my path and sneered.

"Where are you going, you worthless servant?" the one in the lead demanded, stepping forward.

I narrowed my eyes, refusing to back down or acknowledge the untrue insult. "I am taking my brother away from here," I replied stonily, "and you will not stop me!!"

The agents burst into raucous laughter. "We won't stop him," one of them choked out. "There's twenty of us and only one of him, and he's carrying that stupid kid's body to boot! But we won't stop him!"

My temper flared up as I moved ahead and swiftly knocked the leader to the side with one hand. "This boy is far more brave than any of you most likely could ever be," I hissed, punching another one roughly when he tried to attack.

Instantly five of them ganged up on me, trying to tear Marik's body out of my arms. Infuriated, I lashed out at them and held my brother even closer. He was unconscious again, but stubbornly he kept his arms around my neck. Marik trusted me then, as he always has. No matter what happened to me, I knew that I had to get him to safety. Somehow, someway . . .

At that moment I heard perhaps the most welcome sound that could have come at this critical time.

"This is the police!! Freeze!!"

The agents all straightened up, angry expressions twisting their faces as they were surrounded by police officers.

Slowly I stood up as well, cradling Marik's lifeless, still body tenderly and checking again to make certain he yet lived. I smiled when I felt his gentle breath on my hand.

"Pardon me, sir?"

I looked up as one of the officers came to stand in front of me. She stared at the boy's badly beaten form in horror before meeting my gaze.

"Would your name be Rishid?" she asked now.

"That is correct," I said quietly, glancing down at the boy I held, "and this is my brother." My eyes narrowed in outrage. "He was hurt by these demons. They were torturing him to get information he possesses . . . but he refused to give it to them," I added now.

"Courageous boy," the policewoman commented softly. "Ishizu Ishtar found that you and Marik here were both missing and she suspected foul play." She turned away, taking out her cell phone. "I'll call an ambulance."

I nodded gratefully and turned to go outside while I waited. "Please, Marik," I whispered, hearing his raspy, thin breathing, "please do not leave me! We will be with Ishizu soon, just as I promised we would." I held him closer, shielding him from the cold winds that blew at us.

****

The next hours were an endless blur—riding to the KaibaCorp infirmary in the ambulance, finding Ishizu already there, spending what felt like an eternity in the waiting room while we were unable to see Marik or find out anything about his condition. . . . Every hour that passed felt more like an eternity. When we both fell into despair, we embraced each other tightly, each clinging to the hope we still had and drawing strength from the other.

"Rishid," Ishizu asked quietly, her deep blue eyes piercing into my golden ones, "what happened when you were being held prisoner?" She was tortured. I could see it. She couldn't imagine how such cruelty could have befallen Marik once again. But neither could I.

I knew that now she was actually asking, Why had those creatures tortured our brother? And so I told her. Shakily I explained about everything—the way we had both been taken captive, our confrontation with Tyson, Marik's bravery, the fight . . . everything that had happened up to the time when we arrived at the infirmary, all the while holding her close. It dawned on me then that I have known Ishizu even longer than I have known Marik, even though it's hard to comprehend. But Ishizu had been four before Marik was even born. She and I had often spent many long hours together.

"Yes," Ishizu whispered with tears glistening in her eyes when I explained about Marik's plan, "that sounds exactly like something Marik would do. He loves us more than life itself, Rishid, and he would be willing to do anything to save us from danger, as he has proven today—and many times in the past as well."

Now she took my hand and I looked at her in surprise. "But Rishid, there is nothing you could have done to prevent any of this," she said firmly.

I blinked. How was she able to know what I was thinking? I wondered in shock. Somehow I was certain it was not because of the psychic powers she had been granted.

Ishizu smiled softly. "You did everything you possibly could under the circumstances," she continued now. "Do not blame yourself for not being able to prevent what they did to Marik." She squeezed my hand gently before letting go and turning away, the tears she had been holding in now streaming down her face in full force. "Marik will be alright," she said shakily. "We must have the faith that he will be and never give up on him."

"I never have," I replied quietly, feeling the tears in my own eyes.

It wasn't long after this when the doctor at last emerged, his eyes red and bloodshot and his clothes covered with dark red stains. Ishizu and I both immediately stood, the anxiety showing in our eyes.

"How is he?" Ishizu asked urgently.

"Will he live?" I demanded to know.

The doctor smiled wearily. "We nearly lost him three different times, but each time he surprised us all and came back. He's been fighting extremely hard to stay here, and I would have to say that it's because he loves you both so much." He looked at me seriously. "Your presence was the only thing that could have possibly kept him alive after the cruel, unmerciful beating he took."

I looked down, the doctor's words echoing in my mind. And grateful tears gathered in my eyes. I had helped him. I had helped my precious brother. It was all I wanted, to know that I been able to do something of worth for him.

"We must see him," Ishizu said pleadingly.

"Of course." The physician led us down a long corridor and into a dimly-lit room near the end of the hall.

Ishizu and I both hastened to Marik's side as soon as the door was opened. He looked so extremely pale and still that if the heart monitor had not been steadily beeping, I would have been inclined to believe that the boy actually had passed on. As we came closer, I could see his chest rising and falling silently. He was still breathing on his own, without the aid of any of the machines.

"What was done to him?!" Ishizu cried in horror, gently lifting one of his limp hands and holding it up to her cheek. "He is so still. . . ." She had been able to see him when he had first been brought in, but it was different now that his wounds were cleaned and bandaged and he was wearing his favorite clothes—the black pants and the lavender shirt, the latter of which was open. He looked asleep, though we knew it wasn't just slumber keeping him silent and still.

The doctor shook his head. "We found many harsh welts and a few wounds that were most likely inflicted by a whip of some kind," he replied slowly, "but that's not the worst of it." He paused, searching for the right words to go on. "I believe that they shocked him again and again with electricity. There are also several slashes that look like claw marks. Luckily the wounds were not infected." He smiled slightly, looking down at the brother Ishizu and I prize.

"An animal attacked him?!" I found myself screaming in fury.

"It's quite possible, I'm afraid," the doctor said quietly. "We'll know more tomorrow after Tyson and his cronies have been questioned by the police." He left shortly afterward, allowing us to stay with Marik.

"Dear brother," Ishizu whispered, stroking his hand and obviously longing for a response, as I was. "Those barbarians will pay sorely for what they have done today," she vowed, her deep blue eyes flashing. Rarely have I seen her so angry. But I felt the same as she.

"They deserve everything the court system will do to them, and more," I added, seething with outrage at the physician's descriptions of the boy's injuries. I did notice, with much relief and hope, that Marik didn't look as ashen as he had before.

"Marik?" I said his name quietly, almost not daring to believe that he would hear me. He seemed so deeply comatose. . . .

"He hears us," Ishizu told me joyously. "I felt his hand move just now when I squeezed it."

More hopeful now than I had been before, I leaned down close to him and again spoke his name. Would he respond to me as well? Carefully I took his cold hand within my large, strong ones.

The boy's eyes fluttered slightly and then opened a bit. "Rishid," he whispered, his voice still extremely raspy and hoarse. He squeezed my hand weakly and then looked up at our sister, who smiled and kissed his cheek.

"It is so good to see you awake," Ishizu told him gently.

Marik managed a weak smile in return. "I feel like I've been put through the wringer," he quipped, chuckling a bit. Yes, he was back with us, sense of humor and all! Joy swelled within both my and Ishizu's hearts.

"It is a true miracle that you have survived, Marik," I told him shakily. "You nearly departed from us several times."

Now the boy became serious again. "You and Ishizu . . . you both gave me the strength to keep fighting," he explained softly. "I . . . I would have died if it weren't for the two of you."

Ishizu tenderly brushed the bangs out of his lavender eyes, but they stubbornly fell right back again. "We will always be here for you, Marik," she whispered, leaning down to embrace him gently, a gesture that he returned. "You were so brave . . . willing to give your life, if that was what it would take to protect both Rishid and the Pharaoh's secrets."

"I did what any brother who cared would do," Marik replied, smiling at her again and then snuggling close to me, laying his head on my arm. "Rishid . . . thank you for . . . for never leaving me," he murmured low. "You did more to help me than you could ever understand, including making me understand that my plan was not the right one, even if I suggested it with the right intentions."

"I could never have left you, Marik," I replied, blinking aside the tears of happiness.

"Those hours you spent just . . . holding me close and speaking to me . . ." Marik paused, knowing he was becoming exhausted from talking. ". . . It kept me alive," he finished at last, slipping peacefully into a state of slumber. I held him close, caught up in the moment.

"He will recover," Ishizu said softly. "I know he will."

"I know it as well," I agreed, again looking down at the sleeping boy who means more to me than anything else. His hands came around me weakly as I embraced him and I smiled. Ishizu joined our hug then, an arm around each of us. Marik and I hugged our dear sister in return. The three of us are a family. No matter what happens, that will never change. Never!

"It's strange," I said quietly after a moment of silence.

Ishizu looked at me quizzically as she gently pulled the quilt up around Marik's sleeping form. I smiled.

"The man in charge of our abduction—Tyson—seemed intent on making me uneasy," I reported, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "He called me a servant." My eyes narrowed slightly at the remembrance. "But the only thing he actually accomplished was making me realize all the more that I am not a servant—that I truly have a loving family."

Ishizu sat down as well, a soft smile gracing her features. "Then it seems good has come out of these black moments," she remarked. "And Marik will soon be well. They could not destroy his strong spirit, nor his immense goodness and love."

The boy murmured in his sleep, burrowing down into the quilt. Ishizu laughed gently, as did I. It felt good to laugh again.