Whistling Past the Graveyard
A/N: Not mine. No money. Don't sue. Pairs with "Foreign xChange", but this is what happens in Domino City.
"Hate to say it, Tristan, but as ideas go? I gotta file this one in the category of not good."
Tristan Taylor shoved his hands in his trench coat pockets. Sighed. "I owe him one, Joey."
"Yeah. I got that. Don't agree with it, maybe, but I got it." The tall blond eyed Ryou Bakura's house, tapped his fingers idly against his deck. It'd been all Tristan could do to talk him out of bringing his Duel Disk. "You're not out in an hour, I'm coming in there."
"First you call Yugi, then you come in," Tristan said patiently. With luck, nobody'd have to call anybody.
"He calls up a Man-Eater Bug, you ain't gonna have time for me to make phone calls."
"He's not going to do that." I hope. "Shouldn't you be out spending time with Serenity?"
"She said she'd check out Gramps' games. He's got some Little Sis has never seen in her town." Joey crossed his arms, leaned up against a light-post. "I'm gonna wait out here. Listening for the screams."
"Way to build a guy's confidence, buddy...."
Just before the door, Tristan paused. Took a deep breath. I'm going to regret this. I just know it.
But Ryou was their friend. And the Ring had made it clear it just wasn't going away.
Not sure itcan go away. Or what shape Ryou might be in if it did. Malik still had that freaky Rod - Ishizu swore she was watching him - and Yugi had risked being trapped in a burning building rather than leave the Puzzle behind.
Yugi says Yami's the other half of his soul. And Marik's part of Malik - all that hate and rage he got from that creep of a father of his. So, does that mean Bakura....
Oh, that was way too freaky to think about.
Steeling himself, Tristan knocked.
"Yes?" Ryou brushed back white hair, blinked up at him. "Tristan?"
Once again, Tristan found himself struck by how fragile Ryou seemed. It wasn't just lack of bulk; when it came to short and slight, Yugi had everybody beat. But Ryou....
Ever since Battle City, Ryou had reminded him of one of Joey's old postcards from the States. A silver-and white photo of pussy-willows after an ice storm, beautiful and frail and clinging to life despite it all.
Fragile. Except for one Item-finding, monster-summoning, drag-your-soul-kicking-and-screaming-to-the-Shadow-Realm Ring.
Oh yeah. The Ring was there if you knew where to look; an all-too-familiar lump under knitted white and blue wool. Tristan wasn't sure, but he thought that sweater might be one of the few reminders Ryou had of his English mother.
Tristan tried not to relax too obviously. From the wary innocence in chocolate eyes, the person at the door was Ryou, not his darker self.
"Ah... do you mind if I come in for a bit?" Tristan chanced. "I'd like to talk."
"Well... I guess it would be all right...." With a tilt of silvery hair, Ryou led the way inside.
Nice place. Not too big, but nice, Tristan thought, wriggling sock-clad toes in a throw-rug as they headed for the kitchen. Though it probably seemed bigger, given it was just Ryou and his dad, and Mr. Bakura seemed to be out on digs or university tours most of the time.
Which means it's just Ryou and Bakura rattling around in here, Tristan realized, looking over a map of Egyptian excavation sites on the wall. Ouch.
And they hadn't been helping much, the taller teen knew. Since they'd found out Bakura was back... well, no one had been in a real hurry to come over.
And that's just wrong. Ryou's got no one to help him with this. Unless he's told his dad... oh yeah, I can see how that conversation would go. "Father, that Ring you gave me? Well, it came with the spirit of a homicidal Egyptian kleptomaniac, who keeps taking me over when he's trying to kill my friends...." No, I don't think so.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Thanks." Tristan accepted the thin porcelain cup, studying the blue-on-white tracery of graceful weeping willows on ceramic. Okay, out with it. "Ryou, have you been okay lately? I mean-" he waved his cup vaguely toward the rest of the house. "This is kind of a big place for just one person...." Aggh. Put my foot in it again. Not just one person here. Isn't that the whole problem?
"I'm fine, Tristan." The British accent lent a definite irony to the words. "After all, it's not as if I need to worry about burglars."
Bet they worry about you. No. Bad thing to say. No matter how true it was. Get a hold of yourself. "This is going to sound a little strange." Tristan took one more sip of dark tea, set the cup carefully down on the counter. I'm not getting ready to run. I'm not... oh hell, the closest door's that way, and my shoes are that way. Sore feet, here I come. "I was wondering if I could talk to Bakura."
"What?" Dark eyes widened, aghast. "Tristan, you know he's dangerous-"
"Oh yeah," Tristan muttered, remembering his brief visit to the Graveyard as the Cyber Commander. If Yami hadn't pulled Tea as the Magician of Faith to get him out of there... brr. And that didn't even begin to cover the carnage he'd seen from Bakura's Man-Eater Bug.
Yeah. And you rememberwhy he called that Bug, don't you? "He saved my life, you know."
Porcelain chimed as Ryou set his cup down. "He... did?"
"Duelist Kingdom. You probably don't remember." Tristan stared at the black flecks of tealeaves in his drink. "When Yugi was dueling Pegasus, I went after Mokuba. Found him, too. But then the guards found me, and, well... it was about to get really ugly." He glanced up. "And then you walked out of the shadows. I thought they were going to shoot you for sure."
"But?" Interest stirred in chocolate eyes, splintering the chill quiet.
"You used Chain Energy. For real." Tristan shook his head. "And I kind of felt the world go tilt." He grinned weakly. "Hasn't gone back to normal since."
"I... almost remember that," Ryou said softly, eyes half-closed as he searched the shards of memory that would have leaked from his spirit's mind. "We were running, and then-" Silver hair shuddered. "There was screaming."
"Ah... screaming came later," Tristan admitted. "We ran for it; ended up scrambling up a stairway that seemed to go on forever. Finally found a doorway that opened, I bolted through it without looking - and damn near found myself on a one-way trip back to the ground. With no parachute." A memory that still popped up in his nightmares, from time to time; tan rock crumbling under his feet, wind catching his coat and pushing out.
"I... he caught you?" Ryou searched his gaze, amazed. "He pulled you back?"
Tristan nodded. "He didn't have to. He could've just grabbed Mokuba. That's who he said he wanted. But he didn't."
"There was blood." Weary horror flickered in brown eyes.
"It wasn't mine." Tristan rubbed his arms against the chill of the memory. "Like I said, they were after us. With guns. And Bakura decided he didn't like being cornered."
Ryou winced. "They never had a chance."
"They had guns, and a lot of backup on the way," Tristan said bluntly. "We had you, me - and Bakura's magic." He held up a hand. "I'm not saying what he did was right. I'm not saying he couldn't have found some better card to pull. But he saved all our lives, Ryou. I don't think he'll steal my soul just for trying to talk to him."
Ryou stepped back, one hand straying near the Ring. "You're certain you want to?"
"Yeah. I do." Tristan swallowed. "But only if you think you can get back your body when we're done."
Subtle. So subtle, the flash of gold under wool, the sudden narrowing of friendly eyes. The faint tingle in his nerves, as if he'd seen Yugi step up to duel-
"Hmm." Amber glinted in brown eyes; the stance shifted, lip curling to flash tips of canines. "Perceptive. For a modern-day human."
Running would be good. Running would beso good.... Tristan held up empty hands. "Just hear me out, okay?"
Bakura snorted, drawing his Ring out from under his sweater. "If I weren't mildly interested in what you had to say, mortal, you'd be in the Shadow Realm by now." Fangs glinted. "And you've already been there far too often."
No kidding. If I never end up there again, it'll be too soon - wait a minute.Something in the slant of dark eyes, that cruel, cruel smile.... "Mind letting me in on the joke?"
"The pharaoh hasn't told you. Typical." The spirit shrugged, stalking around him, graceful as a white tiger. "Perhaps he's forgotten. Convenient, if he has... though not for you."
Don't let him throw you off."Well, I came to ask you about things Yami can't tell me." Tristan took a breath. "Like what he did to you to make you hate him so much."
Bakura halted. Turned on him, white hair wafting up in a subtle gold glow; an albino cobra, hood flaring before the strike. "You dare...?"
"Just wait, okay?" Don't back down. Don't! "I've seen you duel. You pull cards the way Yugi does; the way Kaiba and Joey do!"
Bakura's hand was on his Ring, golden points rising toward him. Golden light building like a flash of sun, as the spirit began humming a spell under his breath. "You're wasting my time."
And you've got about five seconds to live, Tristan. "I know what I've seen, Bakura! It's not the Ring; you duel with the heart of the cards!"
And the glow - halted.
//I should take his soul here and now....//
Clinging to the doorway of his soul room, Ryou concentrated on the images filtering in to him. The door wasn't locked, for once; he could see exactly what was about to happen to Tristan.
As he could feel the... hesitation, echoing down his bond from the tomb robber's spirit.
Why-? Never mind. He hasn't finished the spell. You have a chance. Use it!//Bakura, please! He just wants to talk!//
Dark anger licked down the bond. //He's a fool!//
//He's my friend,// Ryou argued, bracing himself against his darker half's fury. //And you saved his life. He owes you.// Ryou wet mental lips. //Couldn't that come in handy?//
Anger ebbed, swirling into vicious calculation. //...Hmm.//
Bakura's death-grip on the Ring loosened. "So I can tap the cards' magic, mortal. What of it?"
"It's not just magic." A fine sheen of sweat glistened against Tristan's dark hair. "Kaiba's got magic, no matter what he says, and I've seen him beaten. But when he was dueling for Mokuba - even with the Eye, Pegasus had a fight on his hands." Tristan drew a breath. "When you dueled Yami, you had your whole heart in it. Without that God Card, you'd have had him. And that wasn't just strategy, and I know it wasn't luck. You wanted to win. You needed to win." The taller teen dared to step closer. "I want to know why."
The mortalis insane. Bakura sneered. "As if you'd take the word of a tomb robber over your precious pharaoh. Don't play the innocent with me, Tristan."
Tristan stifled a sigh. "I can't take Yami's word for it, Bakura. Because he doesn't remember."
And a lava-rush of fury seared down Ryou's bond, drowning him in hate and pain and how dare he-
Ryou fought his way clear, felt his arms pin Tristan to the wall with more than human strength, heard Bakura begin the last phrase of the spell that would blast Tristan's soul from his body. //Yami! I'll microwave the Ring, I swear it!//
His darker half paused mid-word, absently moving to counter Tristan's desperate squirming. //Enchanted metal? In that Set-spawned kitchen creation? Have you any idea what that might do to us?//
//Do you want to find out the hard way?// Ryou countered. Reached out to soothe his body's breathing; his yami was beginning to hyperventilate. //Bakura, you don't remember everything. Why is it so bad that the pharaoh doesn't?//
//You have no idea what he's done!//
Ryou rolled mental eyes. //No! I don't! Because you've never told me!// He gripped his own anger. //Has it ever occurred to you that if you did, we might help?//
"It doesn't matter," Bakura growled. "You'd find a way it wasn't his fault. You, and the others... this life and the last, you've clung to the bitter end. Why should truth make any difference?"
"I don't know." Tristan met their gaze, defiant to the last. "Why don't you try it?"
Tristan felt the sound before he heard it; a tremor in the arm choking him, a caress of silvery hair against his cheek, a pleasant vibration where Bakura's chest pressed near his.
Which was really freaky, given the sound was Bakura's homicidal laughter.
"Truth, is it?" the tomb robber purred. His free hand touched the Ring; golden points scraped Tristan's cheek, drawing blood. "Kekewy, hai! Dep senef-ef, neshep tjaw-ef. Mesneh new, a'nen maa'et-ef. Sekha-ek, sha-i!"
And ebony magic crashed down.
"Did you hear-?"
"The King of Thieves!"
Discreetly smoothing his white linen kilt, Tetien stalked by gossiping courtiers. The young investigator nodded to one of the servant girls carrying a basket of fresh loaves. He wasn't surprised when she ducked away from his gaze. Stone walls held cool inside Pharaoh's palace, even with Ra's rays beating down, but the rumors were running hot as poured bronze.
"Brought Pharaoh Akunamukanon's body right into the court-!"
"Pharaoh put a stop to that...."
Tetien felt ill. Someone had defiled the tomb of a god? The King of Thieves? Gods; was there nothing Bakure wouldn't stoop to?
A vizier's voice fell into a sudden hush."...He said the Millennium Items are instruments of evil! They always were; they always will be!"
Isis protect us. Tetien made automatic note of the faces within hearing distance, reminded himself to stop by the charioteers' quarters later for backup. The Items and the Shadow Games were Egypt's heart, its protection against the false gods from beyond the stars; if a rumor like this took root, it could tear the kingdom apart.
And then he was passing dour, spear-wielding bodyguards, escorted into one of the rooms even most of the maids didn't know was nestled in the palace walls. Heart in his throat, Tetien knelt.
"Rise." The Puzzle glinted on the pharaoh's chest, brighter than the gold on arms and headdress. "Tetien. My Eyes and Ears. By now you've heard a dozen versions of this day, I've no doubt."
"Six and counting," Tetien admitted, ticking them off on his fingers. "You've got Bakure in the dungeon-"
"Hmm. I wish."
"Bakure slaughtered half the courtiers getting out-"
Ruby eyes rolled. "As if I'd be so fortunate."
"One of your handmaidens was desperately in love with him and gave him the palace guard schedule, one of the guards was a fool for love and helped him rob Pharaoh's tomb... I could go on."
"Don't." Pharaoh sighed. "Tell me what you know of Kuru Eruna."
Tetien frowned. "I've never heard of it, majesty."
"Nor have I." The pharaoh's fingers tapped against the hilt of a ceremonial dagger. Tetien hid a smile, knowing that golden blade hid a deadly bronze core. The living Horus was no fool. "But Bakure has... and so has Priest Akunadin."
Akunadin? The priest who bore the Millennium Eye? Priest Seth's father? Uh-oh.
"Akunadin is the last priest of my father's court; the last of the original holders of the Items," Pharaoh said thoughtfully. "Yet when I ask him, he says he knows nothing of Bakure's claims." Ruby eyes fixed Tetien, hot with the anger of a living god. "I don't believe him."
You want me to investigate Akunadin.Tetien swallowed. "Majesty... wouldn't a mage be better for this task?" As in, less likely to get their brain fried when Akunadin catches on. Or worse, when Seth catches on. He could sense the Shadows moving; anyone who associated with the Items' bearers had been exposed to enough magic to feel it called. But he himself had no magic, not so much as the spark it took to light a candle without flint and fool's gold.
"The Eye sees those with the power for the Shadow Games," Pharaoh said bluntly. "Yet I think Akunadin forgets he has more than one eye."
Good point, Tetien thought. He might not have magic... but on the other hand, it tended to ignore him unless someone deliberately aimed a spell his way. Even summoned Duel Monsters usually walked right by him.
Except for Pharaoh's. And Djou's. "Should I leave Djou out of this investigation, majesty?"
"As if that would work." A faint smile touched his lord's lips. "Be careful."
Tetien wrestled for the glass-edged knife near his throat, catching a glint of obsidian in the moonlight, a reek of river from the dark man he'd tracked to this back alley on the edge of the desert. Fingernails tore at his ear as the suspect struggled, the pain loosening his grip, letting the dark edge kiss his skin. Ammit damn him... too strong....
The wrist went limp, and Tetien heard familiar harsh breathing. "Somehow, brother," Djou gasped, hauling the unconscious assassin off, "I don't think this was what your guy meant by careful."
"No arguments here." Tetien tried to get to his feet, gave up and gasped for breath as the charioteer he called brother finished tying up their assailant. They weren't kin; they didn't even look alike, with Djou's straw-pale hair a constant reminder of his mother's foreign blood.
But in a fight or in an investigation, there was no one he'd rather have at his side. If he threw a punch, Djou had his back; if he started a thought, Djou could finish it.
And right now, looking at Hesire son of Atem, alleged servant of a curse-caller, Tetien knew they were both thinking the same thing. Is this it?
The lead. The one who could tell them why Akunadin was jumping at shadows... and why all record of Kuru Eruna had been buried, almost beyond recall.
Kuru Eruna, Tetien thought, checking that Hesire was still breathing. Thief's Town. Once a home of honest tomb-builders, later a den of rogues and cutthroats. Rumored to have been Bakure's birthplace... if anything rumored about the King of Thieves was true.
Only Thief's Town didn't exist anymore.
"Nasty." Djou wrapped a scrap of cloth around his hand before picking up the obsidian knife. Winced, and shook his head. "Huh. No Shadows in it yet. But it's meant for 'em."
"Dark magic." Tetien tched at their groggy captive. His grin was all teeth. "I hear High Priest Seth gets really... annoyed, when he runs across evidence of that."
Hesire's blurry eyes widened.
"Tetien, come on," Djou put a restraining hand on his partner's arm. "You can't let Seth near this guy. Nobody deserves what the high priest does to people."
"That's true." Tetien took the wrapped knife, waved it almost in front of Hesire's nose. "But knowing how long it takes to make one of these, I guess we could just take it and throw him in prison for assaulting an investigator."
"Won't be casting much without it, that's for sure," Djou nodded, apparently pleased.
"Unless, of course, this isn't your knife." Tetien's grin had a feral edge. So long, he'd been chasing one false lead after another, skulking through shadows trying to find anything but dead ends. He couldn't shake the nagging feeling that he was running short of time. I have to know. I'm close this time, I can feel it. I have to know. "And whoever you were bringing this to... can get another."
"Ouch," Djou winced. "I'm guessing they won't be too happy with you, guy."
Hesire tried to edge backwards.
Djou's blond brows flew up. "But hey, the prison's got wards against Shadow Magic, right?"
"Part of it does." Tetien's smile didn't waver. "Do you think he'd know which part?"
Djou leaned forward, smile a grim match for Tetien's. "Hesire, buddy... let's talk."
Djou panted as they ran for pharaoh's palace, abandoning a charioteer's dignity for speed. "You think he's gonna believe this?"
"I don't want to believe it." Tetien kept his gaze fixed ahead, watching the crowd part before them in self-preservation. Fragments of papyrus felt like lead weights in his belt pouch, each fragile shard carefully sealed between sheets of mica to hold it intact. His dignity had gone out the window the moment he'd found out what Akunadin had done, what the original seven priests had shaped out of gold and magic and innocent lives.... "Gods! It explains too much."
"A whole village. Who'd have thought Bakure, of all guys, had a legitimate beef-" Djou gasped. "Tetien! Look out!"
And violet darkness swept out from the palace walls, and the nightmare began.
Ra's eyes, Bakura thought, watching tears slip down his captive's cheeks. Listening to the voice his hikari knew slip into a tongue forgotten for millennia. It is Tetien.
One of Pharaoh's Eyes and Ears, little hikari. An investigator. A... cop, I think you'd say now.Bakura released his grip on Taylor, retreated half a step. A soul should be given some privacy to come to terms with itself. Even a cop's soul. Tetien. Which means Djou is likely... well, well. No wonder Wheeler is glued to his side.
Hmm. Where was Wheeler?
"We never got a chance to tell him." Tristan scrubbed at his eyes, shuddered. "We found it, Bakura. We found the fragments Akunadin missed. The ones he didn't destroy. Bits of the spell he led at Kuru Eruna." The tear-bright gaze looked up. "We found it. I had the evidence in my hands. We were bringing it back to pharaoh the day everything - fell apart...."
No! Fate could never have been so cruel. For the truth to be found, and lost again, so close....Bakura bared white fangs. "Spawn of a crocodile! You couldn't tell the truth if it swallowed you whole!"
"I'm not lying!" Stubbornness flickered in the teen's dark gaze; Tristan got to his feet with a fluid move Bakura hadn't seen the like of since the pharaoh had last gotten into a physical fight. "Yami didn't know, Bakura! Akunadin thought he could bury everything, let time and the desert cover it all. That's why he tried to kill you. That's why he almost got Djou and me when Yami sent us to investigate. But we got past him. We found what he hid. We found Kuru Eruna."
Bakura snarled. "Convenient pharaoh's messengers never got to him, then."
"Send a messenger, even one of our messengers, with evidence one of the High Priests was a murderer? Are you insane?" Tristan glared at him. "We had to get this right the first time! We had to bring it in personally!" Hands fisted, shaking with remembered pain. "And then... everyone near the palace, everyone with magic... died."
"And you should have joined them," Bakura growled, deck in hand. "Man-Eater Bug!"
What the hell's going on in there?
Joey was pressed up against Ryou's back door, close as he could get to the really... weird... conversation going on in the kitchen. He'd let Tristan think he'd be waiting down the block, but truth was, if he was going to have any chance of pulling his buddy out before he got munched, he had to be close enough to eavesdrop.
Only Bakura had snarled something in what had to be Egyptian, he'd felt an ebony tickle over his skin - and suddenly neither of them were speaking Japanese anymore.
Okay, breathe, Joey told himself. Listen to the tone. We got hurt, angry, somebody trying to use reason, angrier-
Thatdidn't need a translation. Joey was through the door in a heartbeat, eyes fixed on the purple mist of the Shadow Realm swirling out from chitin and teeth, already drawing from his deck.
I gotta be out of my mind. Bakura's got the Ring; what do I got?
Nothing. Except the heart of the cards. "Milus Radiant!"
It was like breathing in dawn.
Iridescent strands swept out from the card in his hand, curling into a knot that blazed into a golden, hound-like beast. Lapis claws tapped linoleum, muffled by red-gold fur; the Milus bared lazuli teeth, azure horn lowered in defiance of Bakura's monster.
Wha... I did it?
Tristan scrambled clear of the Man-Eater's claws, eyes wide as the Bug growled at its smaller opponent. His cheek was bleeding, but outside of that he seemed to be in one piece. "Djou - Joey?"
"Hey." Joey grinned, even as the Bug slashed and the Milus snapped at dark claws. Whoa. World's shaky all of a sudden. "Didn't think I was gonna leave you hanging, did you?"
"A first summoning. You won't hold it long." Bakura's eyes were glowing amber, deadly dangerous. "And even if you could, mortal, your beast is no match for mine. Attack!"
Fangs bit; the Milus whimpered, trying to fight. Joey sucked in a breath, raising a hand to his own throat. God, that hurt-
A gasp; a flash of gold. "Stop!"
And the Bug - froze.
"Tristan." The voice was strained; brown eyes wide and trembling. "Get him out of here...."
And Tristan was under his shoulder, steering him out as his Milus evaporated in a blaze of rainbow. "I'll be back, Ryou. I promise!"
//You dare! Hikari, when I'm through with you-!//
Ignoring his yami, Ryou steeled himself. Reached up. And touched gold.
Yugi can use the Puzzle. I can do this.
"It's all right," Ryou said softly to the bloodied monster, clutching the Ring. "I'm safe now. Go home." He hesitated. "Thank you."
The Bug tilted a quizzical head at him. Seemed to shrug, and vanished back into the Shadows.
"Well, he did do what we asked," Ryou said defensively. Odd. He'd always been afraid to touch the Ring, wary of the darkness within it gaining strength and sweeping out. His yami wasn't one for manners at the best of times; a breath of inattention, and Bakura would take over.
But now that he was holding it, he didn't want to let go.
It's... warm. Dark, but warm.Dark and delicious, comforting the soul like chocolate cake steaming fresh from the oven.
Ryou could almost see his yami rolling mental eyes. //It's power, little yadonushi. Our power, the shape of our soul. Of course it feels good! Why do you think no one can pry Kaiba away from those dragons?// A quiet snarl. //How did you do that?//
Howdid I do that? Ryou swallowed. "I believed him." Reluctantly, he let go of gold. "And so did you."
Man... Tristan rubbed his head, trying not to touch the bandages Grandpa Mouto had helped him paste over the scratches. Sometimes I hate it when Joey's right.
Somehow he'd gotten them both back to the Game Shop. Brushed off Serenity's worry with a quick, "Guess Joey had a bad night, let me get him up to bed." And tucked Joey in with his deck, even when the cards seemed to crackle with static between his fingers.
All the while fighting the flip-flop of the world. Familiar - weird - home - not-home -where am I? What am I wearing? Jeans, trench coat, what else - no weapons? Damn idiot, going after a tomb robber without even a dagger-
Alive, oh sweet Isis, Djou's alive. My friend....
Tristan buried his head in his hands. I am so screwed.
"Tristan?" Violet eyes frowned at him, so like Yugi's. "Yugi's on the phone now."
Thank Ra, something's working right... oh, hell."Ah, thanks." Tristan fumbled with the phone, blinking until the numbers made sense. "Yugi?"
"Some might say so."
The voice was right, but that dark, confident tone... Pharaoh? No, Yami. "Oh. Right...." Tristan paused. "You're on the phone?"
"It's a long story, Taylor," a cool, all too familiar voice interjected. "Give us the important details."
"Details, Tristan," Yami demanded. "Joey?"
"Um. Well. I went to talk to Ryou. And... it was going okay. For a little while... oh, heck." Tristan glanced furtively toward Solomon, cupped his fingers around the receiver. "You're the duelist. Man-Eater Bug versus Milus Radiant."
Kaiba hmphed. "Gold-furred mess on the field."
That's what I thought."No, actually... Ryou managed to stop it."
A second of silence. "Not your usual duel, I take it," Yami said wryly.
Um, no.Tristan sighed. "I think I kind of gave up on usual around you guys after that whole mess with Malik."
"Is Joey all right?" Yami sounded worried.
I wish I knew. And how come Yugi's not talking?"Snoring like a log, but since when is that news?" Tristan scratched the back of his head. "Um. I don't suppose one of you guys could get back here? Just in case? I mean, I know you're supposed to be visiting, and all...." And part of my head keeps trying to tell me I'm in Egypt, and I don't want to start screaming, 'cause I might not stop. Help!
"I'll arrange the flight." Was that... amusement, in Kaiba's voice? "I still have a program to finish. And it's not as if you have much welcome left here to wear out."
Tristan quirked a brow up at that. Why would Yugi have gotten Solomon's professor friend upset? Wake up, Tristan. Odds are somebody jumped Yugi, Tea, or Kaiba - what the hell's Kaiba doing there? - and Yami decided it was time to play a Game. Which generally leads to blood, bodies, and random insanity all over the place. "I probably don't want to know, do I?"
"Well, it wasn't as bad as Battle City!" Mokuba put in.
Scratch that. Somebody jumped Yugi, Tea, Kaiba, orMokuba - and if it was Tea or Mokuba, Yami did leave bodies all over the place. "No offense, Mokuba, but that leaves a lot of ground open... oh." Tristan saw Solomon's hand before it landed on his shoulder. Thankfully.
"You look as twitchy as if you've seen a ghost," the older Mouto shook his head. "May I?"
"Ah, sure, Mr. Mouto." Tristan handed over the phone. Wandered over to smile at Serenity as she wiggled another puzzle piece into place, trying not to eavesdrop on the phone.
A resolve suddenly tested by Solomon's explosive, "Kaiba? That arrogant young... Yugi, what on earth-?"
"All right, Yugi." Solomon's voice was quiet, thoughtful. "You take care of yourself, do you hear me?"
Maybe if I run, I can still make the stairs-
"Tristan." The wise violet gaze bored through him. "I believe you'd better tell me what happened again. From the beginning."
"...But you know Joey. He's never been this quiet for this long, and frankly, it's starting to worry me."
Tristan?Joey tried to listen past the jackhammer concert in his head, catching a note of real worry in his friend's voice. Tried to blink heavy eyes open to figure out where he was; from the absence of cigarette odor and spilled whiskey, he sure wasn't home. What's wrong, buddy?
"Let me take a look." Yugi's hands rested on his temples, gentle and warm as sunlight. "Ouch."
Tristan swallowed. "Is it bad?"
Is what bad?Joey tried again to pry his eyes open, felt a flicker of worry when he couldn't make the lids budge. He felt... cold inside. Empty. Like he'd torn something important, and the ragged edges were grinding over each other. What's wrong with me? Why can't I- oh. Umm. Nice. Warmth was seeping into the gash, smoothing out rough edges like the tide lapping at sand.
"Well, he definitely strained something." The worry in Yugi's voice eased into exasperated good humor. "I don't think you're supposed to summon the first time without help."
"Is Joey going to be all right?"
Mokuba?Joey tried to blink, felt his eyelids twitch. Hey, we got something here!
"Tristan got him here and kept him warm," Yugi said firmly. "That kept him from losing any more energy. We can fix everything else." A small hand rubbed Joey's cheek, shifted its pressure in a prickle of light and shadow.
"I do have somewhat more experience with energy drain, Joey," Yugi's dark half chuckled, amused. "Yes, I know you can hear me. Don't try to talk. You called on the Shadow Realm with no aid, no Item, and untested magic. Rather like running for your life down a path of knives. You've been lucky. Now be patient, and let me work."
Patient? Bakura threw a Man-Eater Bug at us, we barely got out of there in one piece - and something's wrong with Tristan, I canhear it. An' you want me to lie here?
"Shh." Yami's hands trailed through blond hair, working their way over shoulders and chest. The spirit of the Puzzle peeled back the sheets on his right side, fingers kneading the hand that had drawn from his deck. Cold and warm seemed to mix there; a point of light, backed by shadows' thrust.
Ow! Damn it, Yami, that hurt!"Gnnrgh..."
"I'm sorry, Joey." Yami's tone softened, even as the sharp edge of shadow smoothed into a soothing cool. "But if I'd told you it would sting, instinct would have mustered your magic in defense. And this is delicate enough work as it is."
"Wha..." Third try was the charm; Joey opened his eyes to Tristan's relieved face, Mokuba's wide-eyed wonder as Kaiba's little brother perched on Yugi's desk chair. He peered to the side, watching the Puzzle glow as Yami continued his slow, gentle strokes. "Don' have magic...."
The amethyst gaze was lit with ruby, amused and relieved. "You're a Duelist, Joey. You call on magic every time you play a gambling card. Kaiba's strength is in power; mine in strategy. But you trust your luck. That's why Time Wizard works better in your hand than it ever would for me." The ruby glow began to fade back.
"Wait!" Joey tried to sit up, swallowed as the room spun. Yami's hand was on his shoulder in an instant, leaning him back against the pillows. "You gotta look at Tristan."
The dark-haired teen shook his head. "I'm okay."
"No way, buddy. I heard... I felt Bakura do something, before he called the Bug." Joey drew a breath as the room settled back into place, carefully sat up. Eyed the bandages decking his friend's face, covering cuts that had looked way too clean to be from the Man-Eater's claws. "He scratched you. With the Ring. No way are you okay."
Tristan tried to wave it off. "It wasn't heka bin - I mean, it wasn't-"
"Evil magic." Yami stood, stalking toward Tristan as if he expected the taller teen to bolt. "Djed-i, Tristan."
Joey felt his jaw drop, tried to pick it up before a stray gnat flew in. Traded a bug-eyed glance with Mokuba. Since when does Tristan speak Ancient Egyptian?
Sure, they'd picked up a word or two hanging around Yami; stressed-out ancient Egyptian spirits tended to slip out of Japanese once in a while, and Joey had a pretty good idea telling someone they'd kheper maa' heru... well, he knew a "drop dead" when he heard one.
But no way could that have caused the tangled, awkward flow of words he was hearing now; a mix of Ancient Egyptian, Japanese, even a few bits of English thrown in for luck. A mix that darkened Yami's eyes with every word, until amethyst vanished under pure scarlet.
"...Help?" Tristan finished weakly.
"A memory spell." Yami held the puzzle in one hand, gold light leaking through his fingers. "I can sense the traces of Shadow fading from you." He frowned. "Yet they are fading, Tristan. The spell is over."
"Over?" Tristan exploded. "Are you kidding? I've got this - this mess in my head! I don't know where I am - I don't know when I am-"
"When you are?" Mokuba muttered. "Uh-oh."
Joey raised a brow at the younger Kaiba, trying not to let alarm show on his face. Tristan was tough. Anything that had him shaking in his boots- "Somebody want t' clue me in, here?"
Mokuba shifted in his chair, studying interlaced fingers. "He looks kind of like nii-sama does. When Seto's trying not to remember something strange."
Strange, memory, Seto, and Egypt. Joey connected the dots. And gulped. Tristan's remembering Egypt? "I knew I shouldn't have let you go in there...."
"Never stopped me before, Djou, I don't think you could now-" Tristan sagged against the bedroom wall, head buried in his hands. "Oh, Ra... I can't sort anything out...."
"He called me that before," Joey told Yami, putting a shaky foot on the floor. If he could just stand up a minute... the room threatened to spin again. Um... maybe not. "Right after I jumped in on them. Like he thought I was someone else." He swallowed dryly. "You sayin' he did?"
"In a way." Yami leaned in toward Tristan, murmuring low and quiet. "Hetep, Tetien. You have the strength for this, I know it."
"Ren-i iew Tristan! I mean - I'm not him!" Tristan's fists were clenched, knuckles showing white. "I don't want to remember."
Yami frowned. "They are old, and fragmented, but they are your memories, Tristan. I doubt I could banish them. And I'm wary of trying."
A flash of gold; tri-colored spikes tilted, and Yugi reached up to grip Tristan's shoulder. "We can't take away something that's part of you, Tristan. Not without hurting you. Really hurting you."
"I don't care!"
"Well, I care. You're my friend. I'm not going to make you forget." Yugi glanced away, troubled. "Though I think we could make them easier to deal with."
"I'm hearing a but in there," Joey stuck in.
"It'd be a spell on top of a spell," Yugi said reluctantly. "The Puzzle had to be put together; it's good at putting other things back together. Like souls. Or magic."
"Or memories?" Mokuba perked up. "You can sort Tristan's memories out?"
Yugi nodded. "We can fit what Bakura brought back in where they should go, instead of leaving them scattered in Tristan's spirit like they are now. But if we do... then they really won't go away."
"Yugi. Right now, I can't get the phonebook to make sense." Tristan lifted his head, eyes dark and desperate. "Whatever you're going to do, I'll live with it."
Yugi sighed. "Okay." He took Tristan's hands in his own. "Just trust me, Tristan. Trust us, and let go...."
//You really think we can do this?//
Taking over in a subtle flash of gold, Yami nodded. Think of it as combining two puzzles, aibou.
Yami felt his other self take up strands of magic, drawing on the Puzzle to begin the careful rearrangement. //That can get messy.//
The results may not be entirely smooth, Yami admitted, tracing delicate symbols over Tristan's bandaged cheek. But these puzzles live and change, like flowering vines. Given time, they'll grow together.
//Time and a little magic,// Yugi said wryly. //And you didn't like Shadi trying to rearrange our soul rooms.//
We're not doing this to hurt, miw-sher. Yami closed his eyes, sinking into the spell. Gracing piece by piece of ancient memory with a feather-touch of magic, that it might find and fit itself into a new whole. He will be Tristan, when we are done.
//But he won't be the same.// Sober reflection, from his other self.
None of us are, aibou. I'm not what I was when you first unlocked me from the Puzzle. Kaiba has shaken off the poison of darkness, taking his first steps back to the Light. And Joey....
//He can't go back now, can he?// Cards floated through his aibou's thoughts, tingling with the touch of magic they'd sensed in Joey's deck. //The Shadow Realm doesn't let go.//
No, Yami admitted, watching memory-shards settle and shine. Once you've called the Shadow Realm to your aid, it knows you. Which is not always a bad thing, aibou. A smile touched his lips. Joey's been at our side through every battle. I hardly think he'd wish to change that now.
"The marks should heal cleanly," the spirit stated, propping the now-snoozing teen against the desk. "Bakura wasn't gentle, but he doesn't appear to have left malice in the spell. For once-"
A choked gasp from the doorway. Before he could think, Yami glanced toward the potential threat.
Serenity was peeking through the doorway, hazel eyes wide. Mokuba was holding up Joey, both of them trying to block the piercing, violet gaze of a short, gray-haired man in coveralls. And failing.
Grandpa Mouto... who was Duelist enough to see ruby in his eyes.
Apophis take it.Yami gathered himself, began to retreat back into the Puzzle.
//We promised we'd explain!//
Yes, they had, but-
"Who are you?" Solomon breathed, pushing past Joey. "Where's my grandson?" The older man scowled, scanning the room and Tristan's snoring form. "Who's been spell-casting up here?"
"Uh..." Joey stared, even as Mokuba gave up trying to prop him up and pushed the lanky blond over toward the nearest wall. "You know 'bout magic, Gramps?"
"I worked many years in Egypt, young man," the game-store owner said bluntly. "You don't last long in the Valley of the Kings if you can't ward off simple curses. Not that anything simple has been loose in Domino City for the past year. Where is Yugi?"
"But he's right there, Mr. Mouto," Serenity said, fingers gripping the doorway. "Only... Yugi? Were you guys dueling up here?"
Hmm. Serenity had her brother's gift for magic, to sense the shift between them. Aibou!
Whistling echoed from his partner's soul room. //You promised, Yami.//
Lion. I'd rather face a lion."He is here, Grandpa." Yami touched a hand over his heart. Isis, how do I explain? A familiar gold glint caught his eye on Yugi's desk. Ah. He picked up the Puzzle-box, traced his finger over familiar hieroglyphs. "The one who solves me shall gain the powers and knowledge of Darkness." He glanced up. "I am the spirit of the Millennium Puzzle."
Solomon's eyes narrowed.
//Mirror,// Yugi prompted. //Show him, Yami.//
As you will.The spirit opened Yugi's closet door, allowing the mirror within to reflect them clearly. There were the Wheelers, Mokuba, Grandpa, himself-
And beside him, Yugi's bright, translucent smile.
The Puzzle flashed, and Yugi took back control. "Grandpa! Grandpa, it's okay. I'm right here." He hugged the older man. "It's okay. Really."
Stalking the labyrinth of his soul room, Yami smiled sadly. Such warmth in his aibou. Warmth returned, redoubled, by the older arms holding them close. Would that he could wrap it around himself, to ward off the chill shadows that lurked here.
//He'll love you too, Yami. You'll see.//
Relaxing his grip, Solomon sighed. "This is going to be a very long explanation, isn't it, Yugi."
Waiting in the shadows, Yami smirked.
Glancing at his watch, Solomon waited for the international call to go through. I knew you were an irrepressible meddler, Charles. You were even when we first met, when you kept me from gambling with that telekinetic who had his own way to "load" the dice. But I'd never have suspected this of you.
I only hope it didn't cost you more than I know.
"Xavier Institute." The familiar voice was still fuzzy with sleep; Charles likely hadn't gotten through his first cup of coffee yet.
"Charles..." Solomon sighed. "I've spent several hours getting a tale of New York out of Yugi and Mokuba. And Yami."
"Solomon." Xavier's voice was perceptibly more alert. "He told you?"
"About Bayville, yes. About everything since Yugi completed the Puzzle... well, as Joey put it, they hit the high points," Solomon said wryly. "I suspect getting the entire story will take several days. Though from what I've heard so far, '99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall' was getting off lightly."
Charles groaned. "Do you have any idea how many renditions of that - that monstrosity of a song I've been forced to hear?"
"One for every memory of Kaiba's you pried into, Charles." Solomon kept his tone firm. "Despite everything, Yugi considers that young man a friend. And you were warned." Now he did let sympathy creep in. "Charles, why didn't you tell me what you're really doing these days? I could have told you the problem was magic, not... other forms of oddness."
Silence on the line. Solomon heard a creak of wheels. "Probability manipulation is not magic," Xavier said at last. "A shuffled deck, before it's been examined, is in a totally random quantum state. Being able to collapse that state in your favor-"
"Charles," Solomon sighed. For one who could sift thoughts out of any mind, Xavier was amazingly resistant to the idea of magic. "I never thought you'd believe less in the heart of the cards than Kaiba." He chuckled. "Though Seto's run-ins with my grandson have obviously left his skepticism in tatters... what does a Blue Eyes look like on attack?"
"Honestly? Terrifying," Charles said dryly. "Did they tell you Mokuba slipped one of my students a deck of those cards?"
"Mokuba did say he'd left Ms. Pryde a gift," Solomon acknowledged. "Tell her to be careful with them. If a card that's bonded to you is destroyed, it's an incredible shock. I ended up in a hospital, once." Due to Kaiba; but that was none of Charles' business. The young man had softened since Yugi's duel. If he'd found his heart so well as to summon his Blue Eyes... well, there was hope for him yet.
"Bonded...?" An intake of breath. "Perhaps you should send me what you know, for Kitty's sake." The telepath's tone softened. "Solomon, are you all right?"
The storekeeper rubbed tired eyes. "As Joey so aptly put it, I've just found out my grandson is on a permanent timeshare with the spirit of a five-thousand-year-old Egyptian pharaoh. He left out lethally protective, but I'm beginning to get the idea." Solomon sighed. "No, Charles. I'm not all right. I gave him the Puzzle. I knew it might be magical. I knew my grandson was... lonely." And yet, if I hadn't, where would we be now? Bakura might have all of Domino City as soulless dolls. Kaiba would have been consumed by his darkness. And Malik-
Malik had been trying to destroy the world. And even with Kaiba and the others behind him, Yami had barely stopped him in time.
A soft breath on the line. "I'd be lying if I didn't tell you Yami frightened me, Solomon," Xavier said plainly. "He's quick, he's powerful, and he can think twelve steps ahead of me. Which is not something I'm used to." Fingers tapped a desk. "But Logan - one of my teachers - says I'm being... overly judgmental. That sometimes there are no merciful options. Only protecting your people." A sigh. "I don't want to believe that."
And that's why you're not a gambler, Charles, Solomon thought. You can't take a chance if you don't accept that you might lose. "He's rescued my soul from the Shadow Realm, Charles. Risked his very existence to save Yugi's friends. And Yugi loves him dearly. It hurts to know how long they've all hidden this, but...." Solomon shook his head. "Do you know, one thing that amazes me is how well they did hide it? I think I've only seen Yami dueling once." And what an interesting day that had been, watching his grandson trounce the creator of Dungeon Dice Monsters the first time he'd ever played the game. I should have known. Even then, I should have known.
"You mentioned a Joey," Charles said thoughtfully. "Would this be the same young man you and Tristan called about? Yugi and Yami seemed quite worried."
"Joey's fine," Solomon reassured him. "He just wore himself out. He's impulsive, but he has a good heart."
"Wore himself out summoning dragons?..."
Solomon buried a chuckle in his hand. "Charles, Charles... look up the game. Milus Radiant isn't anything like a dragon."
//Open ground,// Bakura approved, looking over the soccer field through Ryou's eyes as they approached the bleachers. //Limited avenues of approach. A reasonable place to meet a cop. If we must.//
Ryou sighed, climbing toward the bench Tristan had mentioned in his phone call. //He hasn't been a cop for over five thousand years, yami. I rather think the statute of limitations has run out, don't you?//
//Once an agent of Pharaoh, always an agent of Pharaoh,// Bakura told him flatly. //Never forget that, hikari.//
//He may have been Tetien then. He's Tristan now, and he's my friend,// Ryou argued, brushing wind-blown bits of mown grass off the seat. //He is not going to call down a tomb guardian's curse on your head. Not when he knows it would hit me, too.//
//Hmph.// A tendril of control snaked outward a moment, ran his fingers through white hair to encounter something metal. With a handle.
Ryou gulped. //Yami! No knives!//
The tomb robber's fanged grin tugged at his lips. //Who says that's a knife, hikari?//
Razor wire,Ryou realized. Just bloody terrific. Bloody-minded soul-stealing undead thief... Lord, I hope Tristan came armed. //Aren't you the least bit curious about what Tristan might have told Yami?//
Ryou rolled dark eyes. Then why can I feel you shaking?
//I. Am. Not. Shaking!// Fury boiled down their link, roared through the corridor connecting their soul rooms. Bakura stretched his power, shoving his hikari's mind aside-
Ryou set his teeth, and held the Ring. //Let me talk to him first!//
Half in control, Bakura snarled. "Why?"
Oh, for the love of....Reason evidently wasn't getting him anywhere. //Because!//
Fury slowed. //...?//
Ryou blinked. Wriggled his fingers. Felt his brows climb into white bangs. That worked?
Ryou flinched, one hand nearing his hair before he caught it. He hadn't heard Tristan come up the steps.
//I told you! We should have cased the place first. Set-cursed sneaky investigators-//
Trying to ignore the growl in the back of his mind, Ryou looked over his friend. "Tristan, your face...."
Unconsciously, Tristan touched unmarked skin. "They weren't that deep."
//Our mark? Healed that cleanly, in just a few days?// Bakura fumed. //I sense the pharaoh's hand in this!//
//That's likely,// Ryou admitted. "Did Yami help you?"
"Had to. You try having kana and hieroglyphs mixed up in your head." Tristan jammed his hands into his trench coat pockets. "I told him what I remembered. He didn't like it."
//I knew it!// A swell of hate pulsed from the Ring. //Murdering pharaoh....//
"But he believed me."
Fury stumbled; left Ryou leaning on the bench, shaken. "W-what?"
"He believed me, Ryou," Tristan repeated, dark eyes sober. "Said it explains a lot. About why he can't remember, about Bakura; about why darkness seems to hunt anyone who uses an Item." A breath whistled through the taller teen's teeth. "He said if Yugi weren't so - Light - he might be worse off than Malik."
Erk. Now there was a frightening thought.
//He... believed?// Bakura stood in the door of his soul room, one hand gripping the stone edge for support. //That... can't be....//
Ryou swallowed dryly. "But... if it's true... if a high priest did murder Bakura's village-"
"Then Pharaoh had to be responsible. One way or another." There was an odd hardness in Tristan's voice, one that reminded Ryou far too much of Yugi's yami. "Damn it, Bakura, think! You know and I know that when the Items were made, Yami wasn't Pharaoh. Prince, yeah. But he wasn't any older than you!"
And the world flipped, and Ryou was dumped in his soul room so fast it made his head spin. "It doesn't matter!" Bakura snarled, backing off to get room to strike. "Akunamukanon's blood slew them. All of his line has to pay!"
"It does matter, and you know it." Tristan circled in turn, keeping the bench between them. "'Cause like it or not, you're stuck, Bakura. Just like the rest of us."
"Never like you," the thief hissed, hand weaving a slow, deadly trail of distraction through air. "Once I have the Millennium Items-"
"You'll what? Unmake them? Turn back time so the massacre didn't happen?" Tristan matched his tone, dark and dangerous, gaze never leaving glowing amber. "The Ring's got you, Bakura. Both of you. Destroy it, and you'll destroy yourself."
"As if I care!"
"And you'll kill Ryou," Tristan said bluntly. "And Yugi, who never did anything to hurt you. And Joey. Tea. Kaiba. Mai. Mokuba. Solomon. Anyone and everyone the Puzzle's ever touched."
Yugi, yes, of course; the pharaoh's aibouwould go with his cursed yami, Ryou felt Bakura's thought. But the others? Keh!
//He's not lying,// Ryou said fiercely. //You can hear it, yami. We would kill them. We'd... kill Tristan?//
//Impossible!// "How?" Bakura demanded.
"Because the Puzzle's got us." Tristan stopped circling, matched him gaze for gaze. "Because that's what it's meant to do. Tie together all the pieces of the kingdom, so the Pharaoh never acts alone. You know that."
//Tristan, no!// Ryou scrabbled at the locked door of his soul room. He could see Tristan, backed against the bleacher railing, he knew the dark-haired teen was leaving himself open. Why? //Yami, don't-!//
Amber eyes narrowed. "Reaper of Cards!"
A dark scythe shredded violet mist, hissing down as Tristan dodged. Tattered robes fluttered as the skeletal apparition grinned, lifting its blade for another strike-
They set this up from the start!Bakura whirled as the violet-robed magician blasted his spirit into shattered bones, glared at the two figures now visible a level above. Joey leaped the railing, clambering down to stand side by side with Tristan. And Yami....
Yami was a whirl of blue cape and glowing scarlet eyes, shadows clinging to his leather-clad frame despite every glint of sun off steel and silver. He flowed up and onto the railing, tri-colored spikes waving in a breeze straight from the Shadow Realm. Crouched there one heartbeat, ruby weighing amber, before dropping with a thunk of dark boot-heels to bleacher boards.
Ryou gazed at the apparition of the pharaoh in a seriously bad mood, and made the most intelligent comment that came to mind. //Eeep!//
Bakura snarled, fingers shuffling his deck. "Morph-"
Emerald staff raised to strike again, the Dark Magician gave the tomb robber a subtle grin.
And Yami already had another card in hand. "Spellbinding Circle!"
Shimmering magic swept over them, fastening down in the familiar sigil-laced circle. Thank goodness, Ryou sighed.
//Baka! You think this is a good thing?// Bakura roared into their link, struggling despite himself. Sun-gold magic only clamped down tighter. //What do you think they'll do with us now that they've got us?//
//Would you rather be blasted?// Ryou countered, eyeing the Magician's narrowed blue eyes. //Why is he looking at us like that?//
Silence from his other. //...You really don't want to know, hikari.//
Tristan was dusting himself off, lips forming a silent whistle as he eyed the Circle. "Thanks, guys."
"Tristan, how many times I gotta tell you not to go into things like this without backup?" Joey demanded.
"A lot more than you know, Joey," Tristan laughed wryly. "Believe me."
"Great. Bad enough Kaiba freaks me out with the past-life bit, now you gotta start...."
Bakura glared at Yami, standing silent and contemplative as his Monster. "You can make pretty speeches about the Puzzle all you like, pharaoh," the tomb robber snarled. "Egypt's dead and dust."
"But we're here," Tristan said softly.
Yami nodded slowly. "He's right, Ryou Bakura. Yugi's friends are here. And Yugi's friends, even you, are mine as well."
Bakura's blood ran cold. //Yami?// Ryou asked, dreading the answer.
He can't mean it.Bakura's thoughts were a shudder of chill, a clawing sense of panic. He can't possibly. Not me!
"You wanted me to remember. And I do. We're the Friends of the King," Tristan stated, driving the ancient title home like an iron spike. "As far as the Puzzle's concerned... we are Egypt."
And darkness crashed down.
"Ryou?" Hands grabbed his arms, shaking away the clinging black in a golden ring of shattering magic. "Talk to us, man!"
"Ugh...." Ryou rubbed his head, feeling the chill of the bench seep through his sweater. Blinked at sunlight, and a sudden headache, and an odd silence in his Ring. "Tristan? Is it possible for spirits to faint?"
"Looks like." Tristan let out a relieved breath, sat down beside him. "Man. Too close."
Small hands touched Ryou's arm; one of the few times he'd been touched gently since the others learned of his yami. "Are you okay? We just wanted him to distract Bakura; I hope he didn't hit you too hard."
Yugi, Ryou realized, seeing the true concern in violet eyes. Now, there's a comforting sight. "I'm all right."
Three sets of eyes regarded him with varying degrees of worry and skepticism. "Uh-huh. Sure," Joey deadpanned.
"Well... mostly all right," Ryou amended, rubbing his head. Caught a shimmer of rainbow out of the corner of his eye, as the Dark Magician smiled and vanished. "I've never seen you call them for real."
Yugi blushed. "I'm not sure Yami remembered how, until he saw Kaiba do it."
Ryou blinked. Kaiba? Had summoned... oh, dear.
"Speaking of...." Tristan looked at his watch. "Time for us to meet Yugi's grandpa and head for the airport."
"Yeah." Joey clapped Ryou on the shoulder. "Let's go see how much damage Tea did."
"Ah, c'mon, Yug'. Spitfire Gardner and Kaiba, stuck in the same house for a couple days? They're lucky the roof didn't come down on top of 'em...."
I'm... coming?Ryou thought, feeling Tristan's hand shove him gently, still dazed.
Well. And why not?
Trust Kaiba to have his own jet, Ryou thought a short time later, hanging back as the group swarmed around Tea. Or trying to. Somehow there was always an arm drawing him close, a joke leading him to a punch-line, another hand-flinging anecdote of Tea's about the wilds of Bayville, New York and the perils of mutants like Janus to pull him into the conversation.
They want me here, Ryou realized, listening as Yugi outlined just how Janus had separated yami from hikari... and the nearly fatal consequences to both. They really do want me here.
How long had it been since he'd been able to act like a normal person? Just talk, and laugh, and not worry that his yami was about to steal the souls of anyone who'd dared smile at him?
"Ryou?" Joey, moving with him as he edged slightly away from the group. "You okay? I know you don't do crowds too good."
"I just... I wish this could last," Ryou said quietly. Oh lord, is my voice shaking? "I'm grateful, of course. This was fun. But I know-"
"Hold it. You just hold it right there." Brown eyes sought his, rare seriousness creasing the blond's face. "Look. Ryou. We talked about this, all of us. Even Gramps. We know where you go, Bakura goes. We can take it."
Ryou shook his head, half-raising empty hands. I can't. No matter how lonely I am. "You don't know how dangerous he is...."
"Hello? Flaming Swordsman?" Joey reminded him dryly. "Hell, Ryou, Yami nearly blew Kaiba off a roof!"
"But... that was...."
"Yami bein' Yami," Joey said bluntly. "Before Yugi knocked some sense into his head. C'mon, buddy, think about this. Who's safer? Random guy off the street, or us, who know 'bout magic?"
Er. Well. "I hadn't thought of it that way," Ryou admitted.
"Start thinking," Joey advised. Tossed him a grin. "An' when Bakura comes to, you can tell him there's something in it for him, too. After all, where's he want to be the next time some creep comes hunting Items? Out on his lonesome? Or with us, who want you in one piece?"
Hmm. Interesting thought.
About as interesting as looking over this landing field, checking the security around the perimeter, calculating just what it would take to get in and out with none the wiser. Wait a minute....
//Aha!// Ryou pounced on the thievish thoughts trickling out of the Ring. //I knew you wouldn't stay out that long!//
A subdued snicker echoed down their link. //Pity you don't know how to fly those things, hikari. The look on Kaiba's face if his jet should happen to evaporate....//
Hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. //What are you doing?//
Amber eyes rolled as his hand touched the Ring. Drew his attention to the two figures standing separate from the rest, carefully out of earshot. //Aren't you the least bit curious why Kaiba's speaking with Solomon Mouto?//
//Ring!// Twilight magic shivered through his senses, echoing out from wrought gold. //Bring me the voices I seek!//
"...Pryde's just a girl. No matter what wild speculation you may have heard from my brother," Kaiba's words came clear as if drawn in by a shotgun mike. "But she has the potential to be a skilled duelist. It would be a shame to see that wasted due to lack of training." The dark blue trench coat rustled as Kaiba folded his arms. "My style wouldn't fit her."
Solomon shook his head. "Sometimes, your style doesn't even fit you, Kaiba."
Azure eyes narrowed, but Kaiba's voice stayed level. As Ryou knew it would, come fire, flood, or earthquake. Only a threat to Mokuba could shake that practiced chill. "Just what is that supposed to mean?"
The wise violet gaze regarded his former enemy. "You've opened yourself to the Heart of the Cards, Kaiba. A powerful technique; the strongest in all of Duel Monsters. But it comes with its own perils. In a way, your old skills were far less dangerous."
Kaiba's lip curled. "I can handle danger, old-" He cut himself off with an effort. "Tell me."
Solomon raised a thoughtful gray brow, nodded. "Haven't you wondered why Yugi always protects the Dark Magician?"
"It's a powerful card, but there are stronger ones," Kaiba said coolly. "If the card can't stand on its own, you do what you must."
"That's true, so far as it goes," the elder Duelist admitted. "But if your heart touches the cards, they touch you as well. Especially the cards closest to your heart, those you love and cherish above all others. For Yugi, the Dark Magician. For you, the Blue Eyes White Dragons."
"Cherish?" Scorn blazed in Kaiba's glare.
"Cherish, yes," Solomon said gently. "Pretend to be stone all you like, young man. When they're cut, you bleed." The storekeeper shrugged. "Try protecting your dragons, Kaiba. Just for one duel. Who knows; you might even surprise Yami."
//Clever, clever Solomon,// Bakura murmured as Yugi's grandpa walked back to them. //Kaiba'd never pick up good magical habits for himself. But to beat Yami... oh yes. You do bear watching.//
//You're not going to hurt him, are you?// Ryou stifled a feeling of alarm. Vaguely he remembered a flash of the Ring, and Solomon crumpling to a hospital floor. Yugi had told him later that Bakura had only used a sleep spell to knock his Grandpa out, not stolen his soul, but still....
Amusement swept past like an icy tide. //He's no threat to us.//
Bakura snorted softly. //We are part of each other, hikari. Much as we both might loathe the fact, a threat to you is a threat to me.// His thoughts darkened, edged with chill. //And anything that threatens me will harm you.//
I know.Though - was it his imagination, or did that threat not feel quite as vicious as most his yami had snarled? //Did you hear Joey?//
//They're all fools.//
I'll take that as a yes, Ryou thought wryly.
//Powerful fools. We might as well keep an eye on them.// Bakura receded back to his soul room. //It wouldn't do for someone else to seize the Millennium Puzzle.//
Ryou implored the sky with his gaze. And people think Kaiba has a one-track mind.
//I heard that!//
So everybody's back. Tristan leaned forward on his park bench as a stray kid skipped by, letting out a soft breath of relief. Everybody was back, everybody was safe - and Kaiba was, once again, trying to pretend the rest of them might disappear if he just ignored them long enough.
At least Kaiba didn't try to say hedidn't summon a dragon, Tristan thought wryly, comparing the image of the CEO striding off toward his limo with hazy memories of a long-dead sorcerer. Seth's skin had been Egyptian-dark, then; blue eyes more open, trusting that the pharaoh he faced in the Shadow Games would not take his life if he lost....
A familiar weight dropped onto the other end of the bench. "Yen for your thoughts."
Heh."Not sure they're worth that much, Joey."
The blond glanced at him sideways, switched into English to match him. "Not that I mind, Tristan, but somethin' tells me you're not just trying to practice."
"No." Tristan rested his chin on his fist. "English isn't... mixed up in my head. Not like Japanese is."
Joey frowned. "Thought Yami fixed that."
"Sort of. It's not driving me crazy. But I know Egyptian, Joey. It was my... Tetien's birth tongue. Like Japanese is to me." And part of him missed it already; couldn't imagine how he'd spent the past years of his life never hearing, never knowing the words that meant home. "English I still have to think about. It's harder to slip."
"S'okay to say my, y'know." Joey rested an arm on his shoulder. "Yugi and Yami do it. 'Specially when they're Dueling. Yugi says they really blend then."
Tristan looked at him askance. "Thought you were freaking out."
"Eh... I was." Joey shrugged, jean jacket falling open as he leaned back. "What, a guy can't change his mind?"
A grin tugged at Tristan's face. You never change. "Thanks, bro." His eyes flicked up to the street signs leading home. "Everything looks different."
"Yeah?" Go on, that tone meant.
Tristan hesitated, searching the misty shreds of another life. "It's weird. Little things, you wouldn't think they mattered... I look at how high the sun is, and I remember when the ferry's supposed to go across the Sacred River Nile. I see Tea touch up her makeup, and I think about how to grind kohl and apply it for different looks; if you're trying to pull off a farmer, or a smith, or a marketplace scribe." He swallowed. "And I look at Bakura, and I remember just how good he is with a knife. And how good... I used to be...." Oh god. Isis, have mercy; I don't want to remember.
No good. He could still see the blood spill in his mind's eye, feel the grief and exhaustion of knowing what he'd - what Tetien had had to do.
Joey's hand gripped his shoulder. "Look at me, Tristan." A Duelist's gaze met his, serious and accepting. "This is Joey you're talkin' to, here. I came to Domino by way a' Brooklyn. Maybe I was too young to get into the knife fights there, but I sure saw 'em." Fingers kneaded tight muscles. "It's over now, Tristan. You're okay."
"Is it over?" Tristan looked away. "We're here again, Joey. We're here, like we were then. Before something went wrong." His fingers knotted together. "I just wish I knew what."
"Maybe it's better we don't know," Joey shrugged. "Ishizu tried pulling that past-is-the-future gig on Kaiba, an' we all saw how well that didn't work."
"So maybe it's better just to know things did go wrong," Joey argued. "But it's over now. And we got another chance. Maybe a better chance."
"Seto's got Mokuba, this time around," Tristan admitted, glancing up toward his friend. "Yami's got Yugi, and all of us. And Bakura... Bakura has Ryou."
"See? We got him outnumbered already."
Tristan rolled his eyes. "Hopeless, buddy. You're hopeless...."
"Aha!" Joey waggled a finger. "I think I hear a thought rattlin' around in there."
Tristan thwacked his friend on the back of his blond head. "It's not much of one."
Tristan spread an empty hand. "I think... Ishizu lost because she thought it was all or nothing. Take the past, take the patterns, do the same old dance on a different stage. But Kaiba accepted part of his past to make a new future. He sacrificed Obelisk for his Blue Eyes. He gave up power...."
"...To go with love," Joey finished. "What?" he added at Tristan's stunned look. "You think I don't know he cares about those scaly spark plugs?"
"Grown up with you twice, and you still surprise me," Tristan muttered.
"I'm gonna take that as a compliment." Joey cocked his head, a silent challenge. "Worked for Kaiba, it can work for us. Whatever happened, whatever's gonna happen, we can beat it, Tristan. All we gotta do is hang together. All of us."
All of us. Tension eased out of Tristan's shoulders as he looked at his friend, remembering another time, another place; the same determined grin over Djou's court-formal jeweled broad collar. Mortals, spirits, and Duelists. Together.
"So... you got a phase two on how we get Bakura to stop tryin' to kill us?" Joey ventured.
"Don't worry, buddy." Tristan grinned. "I have a plan."
Translations from Egyptian:
Kekewy, hai! - Darkness, descend!
Dep senef-ef, neshep tjaw-ef. - Taste his blood, breathe his breath.
Mesneh new, a'nen maa'et-ef. Sekha-ek, sha-i! - Turn back time, return his truth. Remember you, I command!
Heka bin. - Evil magic.
Djed-i. - Tell me.
Kheper maa' heru - Become true of voice (deceased).
Hetep - peace.
Ren-i iew - My name is.
Miw-sher - Kitten.