Notes: Wow! I can't believe it's done. I've been working on it all year! Thanks to everyone who's reviewed. Be looking for the sequel, Candy Clouds, coming soon!
The battered, broken-down ship was tossed gently upon the ocean waves as it headed back toward the dimension familiar to Rishid and Ishizu, where Juno would be left far behind in their minds and memories. The mast creaked loudly above the two lone figures on the weathered deck, the ropes and sails it supported casting dark shadows across the mourners as they both bent over the stiff, cold body of their younger brother. Truly, he had come to "journey's end," but not in the way they had hoped and prayed for.
Rishid took the young form into his arms again, treasuring the blonde hair and naturally tanned skin. He was memorizing every soft lock on the boy's head, each weary, bloodied mark in his flesh, and every tired line in the pale face. Marik was dead. And to Rishid's horror, forebodings from only days before were coming back to him now.
You will regret what you said, disembodied voices had whispered to him after every harsh comment he had made to this precious, cherished brother of his over the past days. You will regret what you did. Someday, very soon, you will regret it all. You will wish you could take it all back.
The emotional pain Rishid felt now was so overwhelming. Ishizu had assured him again and again that Marik understood, that wherever the boy's spirit was now, he had already forgiven them both, but Rishid was finding it impossible to accept.
Ishizu had told him tearfully, "We were both forced to forget everything important to us against our wills. But . . . somewhere deep in our hearts, we still remembered. And Marik helped us remember it all once again. He knew we still loved him, even then."
Poor Ishizu. . . . How she tried to be strong when she felt that her entire being was shattered into thousands of pieces! She had done it before. She always tried to comfort Rishid when she herself was in desperate need of it. Now she moved closer, kneeling down to embrace both of her brothers, living and deceased. Crystalline drops spilled from her eyes as she felt Marik's cool flesh between her and Rishid. Only hours before had she finally remembered him. Had he known? Did he know that, as he died, those he loved recalled him at last? Did he know that they didn't want him to leave their lives?
Rishid leaned back against the side of the ship, not caring as a bit of ocean spray reached out to touch his face and arms. He held Marik's body closer to his heart, feeling the boy's limp arms hang at his sides. More than anything, he wished for those arms to reach up and embrace him. He wanted his brother to be alive. He wanted to hear Marik speak to him again, to hear the soft, unique tones that were Marik's and Marik's alone. But he never would again. He could only hear Marik's voice in his memories now. And never would he see the boy alive again. Rishid tensed as the stiff, cold body slumped against him more. His heart was completely shattered.
Again and again scenes played in his mind. He saw Marik pleading for him to listen in the throne room, his body battered and bleeding from the torture he'd endured. He saw himself tending to the youth's wounds. Marik struggling to stand, trying so desperately to get his elder brother to remember. The horrible scream of pain when he was stabbed in the back and thrown into the water far below. The last words he breathed to Rishid.
"I feel warm, Rishid." Marik had clutched at Rishid's wrist as weakly as he could. "So warm . . . and loved. . . ." This was significant, as the water was freezing. The boy had gone still then, his eyes gazing ahead blankly with the look of death.
Rishid sobbed harder, rocking back and forth with Marik's body. His soul was shredded. Marik was the one who had given him the strength to go on living when everything seemed bleak. Now the boy had passed on, leaving his beloved siblings behind to cope with it all. It seemed an unreal nightmare.
Marik wouldn't awake from his sleep. Rishid knew that. And Ishizu knew it. But Rishid couldn't put his brother down. He couldn't release the boy and lay him down on some cold slab. That would be accepting that Marik wouldn't be coming back. And Rishid wasn't willing to do that. How could he set Marik down? How could he possibly accept that, after everything they had come through, the one he treasured more than any other couldn't hug him anymore? Marik couldn't smile at him or laugh. He couldn't whisper his deepest thoughts and look at Rishid with the sweet lavender eyes.
Ishizu swallowed hard, similar thoughts running through her own mind. Of course Marik had been the youth calling for her help in her vision. But she hadn't been able to help him. Even if she had been there, she doubted she could have prevented any of this. This thought didn't make her feel any less responsible, however. Silent tears coursed down her face as she tried to put her arm around Rishid's form. The poor man was literally convulsing with sobs as he clutched Marik's body in desperation. Though Ishizu also loved Marik more than life itself, she knew that he and Rishid had shared a certain special bond that was unique to them and them alone. Marik had another such bond with her, and oh! how she longed, as Rishid did, to have her brother embrace her. She hadn't seen him before he passed away. It had been too late when she had managed to arrive after leaving the dungeon battle.
Rishid looked up at her with tortured eyes when he felt her arm around him. "I love him," he said shakily. "I love our brother!" Tears continued to slip down his face uncontrollably as his hand came to rest on the wicked scars engraven in Marik's back (Marik's shirt had been laying on top of him when Kade was there, but he wasn't actually wearing it). Those scars . . . so treacherous . . . and yet . . . so binding between them. The two had always loved each other, but when Rishid had chosen to share Marik's pain by carving tattoos in his own face, it had sealed forever the fact that they would always be unusually close. He remembered it now—the scars that symbolized their bond. Earlier in Juno he had stated flatly to Marik that he didn't know why he ever would carve permanent marks into his face. But now he knew. Again to his mind came every sting of the blade as he had done it, hearing Marik's screams in the background all the while. He had done it for Marik.
The eerie call of the seagulls overhead in the cloudy skies haunted Rishid and Ishizu both. The birds seemed to know that there had been a death. They circled around the top of the mast, observing the loving family for long moments.
"I know," Ishizu said softly, squeezing Rishid's shoulder. "I know you love him. I do as well. We will never forget him." She touched Marik's brow and then carefully took him into her arms as Rishid loosened his grip to let her do so. Perhaps, she hoped, they would see him again. Someday they would meet once more. Ishizu would hug Marik tightly and then he would hug her back, his eyes dancing and bright as always. Rishid would join their embrace and they would all be reunited again. But it all seemed so far away. She wanted Marik now! He was too young to leave them. His whole life was ahead of him.
Rishid could see Ishizu was clinging to the last threads of her composure. Gently he touched her shoulder, watching as she stroked Marik's hair and grasped one of the cold hands in hers. He loved her for trying to stay strong for his sake, but Ishizu needed her time to grieve as well as he did. He didn't want her to feel that she had to hold back. They had to get through this together. They had to comfort each other.
Ishizu froze as she felt Rishid's hand come to rest on her shoulder. She sensed what he was trying to do and what he wanted her to do. And immense Thanksgiving overwhelmed her that she did still have Rishid. Yes, they would get through this. Somehow. They had to. Marik would want them to.
And so she fell into Rishid's arms, letting loose with every tear she had bottled up inside. Hundreds and thousands of crystal drops flooded her eyes and blurred her vision as she cried as she never thought she could. She had wanted to cry so many times during this nightmare, but mostly she had refused to. And when she had, never had she let all of her anguish out. Now she finally did, feelings of hopelessness swirling around her heart. Though she knew she had to, she honestly didn't know how she would go on without Marik. He brightened her life in so many ways, large and small. She and Rishid had always treasured the precious spirit that had been entrusted to their love and care.
Rishid held Ishizu and Marik both close to his heart now. As the moon forced its way through the clouds, the light shone softly down on all of the Ishtar siblings, illuminating their weary, heart-broken forms. It gave a gentle glow to Marik's cold, tan flesh, and, combined with his sweet face, gave the youth the appearance of being quite angelic.
"He . . . he is an angel now," Ishizu managed to say with a melancholy smile.
"He always was," was Rishid's pained response.
Marik was an angel to Ishizu and Rishid. He had always been. Even during his darkest days, which seemed so long ago now, they had seen the beautiful spirit hidden deep within. The noble, strong-willed, fierce spirit that, when released, could never be contained. Marik had often felt trapped in this mortal realm, a fact that made both his siblings' hearts ache.
Ishizu closed her eyes now, offering a whispered prayer that the precious boy had found comfort and peace in the next life and that he no longer felt confined. If she could know that he was happy, then she could struggle to go on in life.
Again Rishid found himself holding Marik's body against him. The boy's stab wound had been bandaged and then healed by Sapphire. The other injuries he had sustained upon his arrival in Juno had still been healing. But now none of those would heal. Marik was no longer there to will his body to recover. The thoughts made Rishid's heart ache anew.
And Ishizu's heart was aching as well. "Oh Rishid," she whispered in horror, still not wanting to believe the truth that lay before them, "our brother is gone!" She moved closer to him and Rishid made room for her, putting a strong arm around her numbly while keeping Marik's body held firm across their laps. They only had each other now.
Rishid was the first to hear the soft whisper being carried to them by the gentle waters. At first the words were indiscernible, but then they grew clear. It was a female, singing in the ancient Egyptian tongue. Rishid had heard that voice before! He had heard and been comforted countless times in his early years by that voice. But now he paled at the sound of it. Surely this was impossible. He couldn't be hearing it! If he was, he knew he must be going crazy because of Marik's death.
But when he looked at Ishizu, he saw that she was leaning forward, her blue eyes widening. She heard it too. And then a slight glimmer of hope shone in her eyes. She recognized the voice too. And she found comfort in it.
A soft glow illuminated the deck of the ship. As Ishizu and Rishid watched in awe, a kind, loving figure slowly materialized within the light. Her beautiful features and dark hair were strikingly similar to Ishizu's own, but still there was a certain difference. This woman had come to the end of her mortal existance. She had seen what awaited on the other side. Her golden eyes, similar to Rishid's, sparkled and radiated with the love only a mother could show. Purposefully she stepped forward, stretching forth her hand.
Rishid was the first to attempt speaking. "Mother?" he managed to choke out, his voice strained with disbelief and also confusion. Their mother was alone. Why wasn't Marik's spirit with her? Surely . . . surely he would be allowed to stay with her!
The woman smiled tenderly. "Yes," she whispered, "it is I, my dear Rishid." She touched his cheek, the gentle energy from her being warming Rishid's soul. "You have grown up so well."
Rishid swallowed hard, feeling tears glimmering in his eyes. How he had longed to talk to her again! He was so happy for the opportunity, though grief-stricken at the circumstances. She must be here to offer some sort of comfort . . . perhaps to take Marik with her, if his spirit wandered in confusion. . . . "If it weren't for you, Mother, I would not have grown up at all," he finally said. "I would have perished on the desert sands."
Mrs. Ishtar laid a hand on his shoulder. "At times, when I saw how terrible your father treated you, I wondered if I'd made the right decision by bringing you into our family. But when I saw the love between you and Ishizu, and later with Marik, I knew I had. I have always been watching over all of you, my dear children."
She turned to look at Ishizu. "You remember me, don't you, Ishizu?" she said kindly, smiling as she remembered the bouncy, cheerful little girl Ishizu had once been.
"Yes," Ishizu replied instantly, happiness enfolding her despite the pain. "Of course. You are Mother. My mother. Rishid's mother. And . . ." Tears welled in her eyes. "Marik's mother."
Mrs. Ishtar gently brushed the tears away. "It's alright, child," she said softly. "There is not a need for tears tonight." She bent down, touching Marik's cold cheek. A wistful look came into her eyes then and she smiled sadly. How she wished she had been able to personally know Marik, and he her! She had only been able to watch him from afar, protecting him and the others when she could, but never really being able to talk with any of them. More than anything, she longed to hold her children again.
"But, Mother," Rishid protested, "our brother is dead." He had spoke those words, and similar ones, several times now, but still his voice cracked when he did. How could he ever speak of it, or of Marik at all, without feeling pain?
In response Mrs. Ishtar kissed Marik's forehead and whispered low to him before straightening up. "No," she smiled, "he is not dead. He has not left you. He would not, nor could he. The bonds he has with the two of you transcend anything and everything else." She stepped back, knowing that her time here was at an end. "He will awaken very soon."
Both Ishizu and Rishid stared at her in awe. They couldn't believe it. It was impossible! And yet they didn't question her. Somehow, in some glorious way, her words surely must come true, even though it was unreal! Mrs. Ishtar wouldn't speak of something that couldn't happen.
They also realized their mother had to leave. The goodbyes they shared then were bittersweet. They knew she would continue to watch over them, and that she would never truly leave them, but still they didn't want her to go any more than she wanted to go. And so she hovered beside them, waiting and watching. Soon they were all rewarded.
Rishid felt a slight shuddering under his strong hands but quickly attributed it to the rocking ship. The precious one he was clutching to his heart hadn't moved in hours that felt more like endless eons. But their mother had promised. . . .
And in his imagination Rishid heard Marik's voice. Soft, kind, and loving, as always. As he had sounded when he breathed his last.
"Rishid . . . Ishizu . . . it's so cold. . . . I'm so cold. . . ."
Rishid, who had been running his hand across the scars under Marik's eyes, froze in place now, unable to move. Was this what Marik's death would do to him? He would go insane? He had once in the past as well, after the ex-Rare Hunters had done something abominable to make them think that Marik had died. Only when Marik had been found to be truly alive had Rishid been able to recover his sanity.
But . . . when he looked up at Ishizu, he found that she, too, had heard the voice now. He could see it in her eyes. They both wanted to believe their mother's words. They knew she wouldn't lie, but the thought of Marik still living was so foreign to them by now, after so many hours. Still . . . they had to hope, they had to believe. . . .
Both of them dared to gaze down at their brother nestled in Rishid's arms. Marik gave a weak shudder, trying so desperately to burrow into Rishid's cloak.
This is impossible! Rishid was screaming inwardly. Oh! how he wanted it to be true! How he wanted Marik to be alive, for him to stay with him and Ishizu forever! But the boy had died. Shadi had even said that his journey had come to an end. And yet . . . their mother had said he would awaken.
As if reading his mind, Marik smiled up at him and Ishizu both, his eyes tired but happy as he opened them. "My journey in that kingdom has ended," he said softly, explaining the true meaning of Shadi's words, "but . . . that doesn't mean I can't continue to journey with those I love."
Rishid stared at him, unable to find the words to speak at first. Marik was looking at him and at Ishizu! It couldn't be real . . . but it was! Rishid had seen the boy hit the water so hard he was rendered unconscious. He had held the boy tightly and felt the life slipping from him. Marik had died in his arms. But no . . . he hadn't died! Here he was, looking up at them!
Marik's gaze then raised to Mrs. Ishtar, who had stayed to see her youngest child awaken. She smiled tenderly at him and he smiled back. He knew who she was. "Mother," he whispered softly.
Now Mrs. Ishtar's form began to shimmer and fade. "I must go now, my children," she said softly, "but know that I am always watching over you all." She reached out, tenderly touching each of their hands, and then vanished. Only a soft sparkle remained where she had been.
Rishid held Marik's warm body a bit closer. "Mother," he whispered, tears coming to his eyes. "Thank you." And he also thanked God. He had lost all hope that his precious brother yet lived. But when Mrs. Ishtar had gently spoken to him, he had pulsated with life once again! Marik was alive and breathing, looking up at his brother and sister with awe.
Ishizu, also, was in awe. Tenderly she reached out, taking Marik's hand and clasping it firmly between her own. Here was her younger brother, the boy she had seen in so many visions during her stay at the palace and whom she had felt a strong connection to. She had known instantly when she saw him that it was true, that he was her brother, and Rishid's. She smiled softly, feeling him squeezing her hand. "Marik," she said quietly, remembering something else, "you have indeed kept your promise."
Marik blinked at her, at first not comprehending. Everything had been so dark where he had been. He had felt nothing at all, but it hadn't seemed like death. He had been aware of himself and his existence, though he had been alone. So he had pondered over many things while he sat there, unable to do much else. Then he had heard a sweet, tender voice calling to him. "Wake up, my child," it had said. "Your brother and sister are very sad without you. You must come back to them." And at last he had managed to open his eyes and look up at those he treasured. It was his mother who had spoken to him, he knew now. He had seen her standing there and smiling.
Then he remembered when Ishizu meant about a promise. We'll meet again, sister, he had told her just before they had all separated at the palace. And we'll go home together. He looked up, at peace. "Yes," he agreed. "Of course, sister. I wouldn't break a promise." And he could see something in her eyes, something he hadn't seen since he had found her here in Juno. She remembered him completely once again. He saw the recognition glowing in her eyes. And when he looked back at Rishid, he saw the same.
And something else, as well. Guilt. Marik saw extreme, heart-breaking guilt that he had never seen in Rishid's eyes before. He stared at his elder brother, confused. "Rishid?" he asked, his voice still weak and raspy. "What's wrong, Rishid?"
Rishid held Marik close to his heart. "Brother," he replied, "I have done inexcusable things to you while we have been here. So many inexcusable things. . . ." Now he finally remembered Marik. And he didn't know how a thousand apologies could ever make up for everything he had done that had hurt the boy he lived for. When he had first seen Marik, he had treated him so coldly. And now he saw in his mind again how Marik had looked after Rishid had shoved him hard against the marble wall. He remembered the blood that had covered that part of the wall afterward. He gritted his teeth, unable to continue seeing all of this. It was so horrible, so abominable . . . to think he had ever treated Marik, whom he had sworn to always protect, in such cruel ways. How was it that Marik had not become simply terrified of him? How could he have kept trying to get through to the brother he loved when this other, cold Rishid had kept pushing him away?
Marik hugged him weakly as best as he could. "Rishid," he said softly, "I forgave you for it all." He looked up into the golden orbs, his own lavender eyes conveying all of his inner emotions. You forgave me for Battle City without a second thought, his eyes said. And I did indeed remember you all the times I hurt you. But you, Rishid, you didn't remember me at all when you behaved as you did here. "How could I not forgive my only brother?"
Rishid gazed into the teen's eyes, reading all of what he was trying to say within them. Then Marik's voice came again, speaking softly, telling him that he didn't blame Rishid at all. Rishid couldn't help it that he had been abducted and brainwashed. It had all been horrible, but also beautiful. Just like during Battle City, they came through this trial with their relationships renewed. They had new knowledge of their family strength. It was a wonderful feeling. Rishid's heart was full. He could say nothing more. But he embraced the boy tenderly, remembering how a younger Marik had often come to him, wanting to be picked up and held. This teenage Marik might not always admit to enjoying it, but Rishid knew he still did. And he couldn't bear to think of a world without him. Now he acutely felt the pain of living alone in the palace so long before Marik had been able to find him. He had been closed off, his spirit dormant, until Marik had reawakened it.
Ishizu, who had been holding back, now couldn't control her happiness any longer. Her brothers had needed a moment alone to be reconciled. Now Ishizu wanted to hold both her brothers close, rejoicing in the events of this night. She had her family back with her again. And they would all return safely home, indeed as Marik had promised.
She moved forward, placing a gentle arm around each brother. In return, Marik and Rishid each placed an arm around her while still embracing each other as well. It was a symbol of their family strength—a strength that would never be broken or diminished.
Rishid stayed awake long into the night, though Marik had fallen asleep again with weariness. Ishizu, though she had stayed awake for a long time to talk with her elder brother, now was dozing as well, her head on Rishid's shoulder.
They were going home, all them of them. It seemed so remarkable, so incredible. After Marik had seemed to die in Rishid's arms, the poor man had lost all hope. But now Marik was in his arms again, alive, sleeping peacefully. He snuggled close, grabbing at the fabric of Rishid's warm cloak.
Slowly the boy's eyes opened. "Rishid?" he whispered.
Instantly Rishid came to attention. "Yes?" he asked, smiling gently down at the living treasure and miracle he held.
"Kade . . . he's alright now, isn't he?" Marik worried. In all the confusion of his state of mind upon regaining consciousness, he hadn't remembered the child at first. But now he did. He remembered asking Rishid about him after being pulled up from below the water's surface, and Rishid had told him that Kade was safe and that his mother had been found, but what now? He realized Kade must consider him dead. And he wasn't sure at all how that would affect a four-year-old so sweet and innocent as Kade, especially after he had already lost his father.
And so Rishid told him softly of Kade's behavior right before the ship had left, not wanting to keep the knowledge from Marik. He knew Marik would want to know. "He will be alright, Marik," Rishid assured him. "He has his mother now, and they are both living in the palace, as it should be." He paused, remembering how Kade had sobbed, shaking Marik's body and trying to make the boy wake up. It had broken Rishid's heart then and it was doing so again now. "He didn't want to believe you were dead, brother," Rishid told him quietly, "but then . . . neither did I." He had brokenly accepted it as the truth, though it was the last thing he had wanted to ever have to do. Kade, he assumed, had to accept it as well.
Marik looked up at the sky. "Someday," he said slowly, "I'd like to come back, Rishid. I want Kade to know I'm still alive." He watched a shooting star make its way across the velvet blackness. He would have wanted to turn the ship back and tell him now, but he knew that they had already passed back into their own dimension. He had felt it happen just a moment ago. And he knew it wouldn't be as easy to pass back again.
Rishid smiled softly. "Then perhaps someday we shall, under more peaceful circumstances." He didn't know how they would get back, but if Marik wished it, Rishid would try everything in his power to make certain they did. Perhaps, if they came back again, Juno would be an entirely different world—the world that Adelpha had wished for it to become once more. It might not be a painful experience to go there if that were so. The memories that had haunted Rishid as they had gotten on the ship might no longer plague him. In time, maybe he would be able to completely forgive himself. Marik forgave him, after all.
He wondered idly what had happened to Colchis. He, Sapphire had informed them, had not been found at the battle's end, though his brother Fafnir was dead. Rishid frowned slightly, wondering if Colchis had escaped and would be back later to make more trouble. And then there was Yami Marik. . . . Where had that demon gone? Rishid hadn't bothered to stay and find out after he had taken Marik's still body into his arms. At that time, he had only been concerned with getting his precious brother back up to the surface.
Marik started to doze again. "Rishid?" he whispered now, bringing the man out of his thoughts.
"I'm glad you remember me again."
Rishid looked down at the exhausted teen, watching him slip back into slumber. "Yes," he said, his voice cracking, "so am I." He smiled, running a hand over Marik's bangs as they fell in his eyes again. "So very immeasurably glad. . . ."
Kade was watching the shooting star as well, from his new room in the palace. Everything was so strange and new to him, but he was at the age where acceptance of many things is very easy. He comprehended that his mother was the rightful queen of Juno and that he himself would be next in line for the throne. But what he couldn't comprehend, especially when he saw the star, was that his friend and surrogate father was dead. He still couldn't believe it. He wouldn't believe it!
Tears slipped from his eyes as he watched the star fall out of sight. "You're not dead, Mr. Marik," he whispered stubbornly. "You're only sleeping or something. And you're gonna come back and see me again!" He hugged a new favorite quilt close to him, continuing to watch the horizon in hopes that his friend would come. Eventually he fell asleep there, curled in the windowseat with memories of the kind Egyptian boy who had risked it all to help him.
And somewhere else, far away, a ship pulled in at Domino Harbor.Fin