Disclaimer – don't own them, never have, never will

Disclaimer – don't own them, never have, never will. I'm not making any money off this. If I was, it would have been finished ages ago because I would have had more time to work on it.

Author's Notes – see the end of the dang story. I have no wish to get slaughter by keeping you waiting at the moment.

Chapter 24 –

"We meet again, young Pharaoh." It was Isis that spoke first, her melodic voice washing over them and bringing peace and healing. "This is becoming something of a habit with you."

"It is not a habit I choose, Great Lady," Yami replied softly. "The cost is often too high, even for the chance to look upon your glorious visage." While Osiris glowered at the flippant comments, serious tone or not, several of the other gods made sounds of amusement, and at least one snorted.

"Be that as it may, Amunamenra, it is often something you are involved with that brings us forth into the realm of mortal." Anubis, with his voice like gravel running over stone, spoke next, black jackal's ears flicking forward as the long muzzle moved with words it shouldn't have been able to form.

"For that I humbly beg your forgiveness, my lords." Marik was a dead silent, shivering presence beside him. "To what do we owe the pleasure of your visitation this time?"

"We return someone to their rightful place." Yami looked up sharply to find Osiris gazing at the cloaked figure. "As has been requested."

"It is a strange thing, what he is doing . . . it could upset the balance." That was Ma'at.

"This one among us would upset the balance anyway." Thoth, ibis-head buried in his scroll, replied. "And it is not for us to choose the path this one will walk. He has walked his own path all his life."

"Even to the point of disdaining us." Ra's deep voice was a rumble of amusement. "I look forward to seeing what else will come of his existence."

Crimson eyes flickered from one to the other in confusion, often coming to rest on the cloaked figure that remained silent amongst them. Curiosity began to gnaw at him with each gods passing comment. Who, or what, was under that cloak? A strange hope fluttered against his thoughts, but he refused to acknowledge it. He'd seen Bakura dead, felt the thief's lack of pulse and breath, and the body was still laying RIGHT THERE, clearly in view . . . no matter that the gods could very well have been speaking of his fallen friend with their words.

A caramel hand found his and squeezed tightly, desperately, drawing his attention to Marik beside him. The young Egyptian was also staring at the cloaked figure, but where Yami refused to acknowledge the hope flitting at the edges of his consciousness, Marik's eyes shone with it, giving the lavender orbs a brilliant, almost mad gleam.

"Yami, do you think . . .?" he whispered, and Yami shook his head sadly.

"Marik, it can not be, his body is right there," he whispered back. He hated doing it, hated killing the hope that was in his young friends eyes, but wasn't it better to do it now than let it go farther? Before it fully awakened his own impossible hope as well? "We saw him fall."

"Sight can be deceiving when magic is involved, you know that as well as I, Pharaoh. Stop being a prick." The voice was full of dry, edged humor. It was a voice neither of them had ever expected to hear again, and both Yami and Marik stiffened. Their heads jerked up sharply and turned as one to stare at the assembled gods.

The cloaked one stepped forward at last, pushing back the black hood to reveal a darkly tanned face, a long scar extending from forehead to cheek over one silver-blue eye and bisected twice across the arching cheek bone. A familiar smirk crossed the aquiline features as both Yami and Marik scrambled to their feet, eyes wide with shock.

"I take it I was missed." There was a moment of stunned silence, and then Marik were running, sprinting across the short distance to tackle the surprised thief to the ground. Yami turned his attention to the still gathered gods, who looked to be restraining their own amusement at the returned spirit's plight.

"How is this possible?" he asked quietly, his heart in his throat. "He . . . his body is dead, there was no breath . . ." It was Horus who stepped forward, falcon's head cocking to one side to look at him out of one shimmering eye.

"The mortal Crawford cast a spell to take Zorc's power and place it within himself. But, in order to do so, he had to kill Zorc. He did not kill the demon from the darkness . . . the thief did. Thus, the thief completed the spell, and took Crawford's place as the gifted one." Yami looked puzzled.

"The spell granted whoever killed the god, that god's power," Bakura spoke, struggling up onto one arm as he forced Marik to release his death grip. "Eliot had planned to be the one to kill Zorc. I fucked him up by being able to move, and take Zorc's life instead."

"But . . ." Marik piped up, looking confused from where he was kneeling next to the returned thief. "If you killed yourself while killing Zorc, then how could you gain his power?" Bakura shrugged slightly.

"Fucked if I know. I expected to get eaten," he replied casually, and then yelped as Marik swatted him. "HEY!" Isis smiled benignly at the two before turning back to address the short, and rapidly becoming impatient, former Pharaoh.

"The thief's soul was partnered to the darkness, but did not take the damage as he was not in control of the body. Thus, when he came before us, he was the possessor of Zorc's power, and a god in his own right. He could not be judged. And he chose to return here, to the mortal realm"

Crimson eyes blinked . . . then blinked again before widening and turning to the other gods in dawning horror as what they'd been saying all along finally hit him.

"Bakura . . . is now a god!?" The implications of that thought were down right frightening. Bakura, with his unpredictable nature and sadistic sense of humor . . . oh sweet Hathor. Suddenly, he felt very, very, VERY faint. He wasn't even aware of sinking to his knees as his legs would no longer hold him all of a sudden. Bakura, as a god . . . dream, this was all a bad dream, he was going to wake up any second now . . .

"Breathe, Yami . . . come on, breathe . . ." Marik knelt next to the slowly hyperventilating Pharaoh, trying to rub the man's back and snap his fingers in front of the wide, vacant eyes at the same time. "I think he's in shock." Bakura rolled his eyes where he had stood up, before stalking over and kneeling down in front of the dazed Yami.

"Yes, he's in shock," he growled, and then tapped Yami hard on either cheek twice. "And in case you weren't fucking paying attention, Pharaoh, I'm not keeping the power or my 'place', so stop having a damned panic attack. Fuck, you'd think he was worried about what I might do."

"I think that's what he IS worried about . . ." Marik began, and then looked indignant as the dark mahogany eyes narrowed at him. "What!? You can't blame him!"

"What ARE you going to do, Bakura?" Yami broke in, having been snapped out of his shock by the audacity of anyone other than his aibou hitting him, no matter how lightly. The thief turned god shifted back upright, shrugging back the cloak as he turned to regard the other assembled deities with scant cheer.

"I'm going to do something that needs to be done that no one else can do," he replied, and drew up his arms. A great ball of darkness formed between raised hands, flickering with purple lightning as an unnatural wind arose, whipping the pale white hair into a frenzy of flying silk, the cloak snapping around the lithe form. There were no words to accompany the rise of power, no spell to focus such strength, only the iron will of the thief who had lived, in a way, for over three thousand years held the power to its purpose.

At first, Yami couldn't tell that anything was occurring. Then, Marik gasped and he turned to the young Egyptian, who was staring back at him.

"You're . . . glowing . . ." Marik explained, then had to add, "Again." Yami glowered at him, but the former hikari was right. He was glowing, a bright golden light that seemed to originate from the Puzzle around his neck. The Ring was glowing just as harshly, hovering in mid air near where Bakura now stood also outlined in golden fire.

Glowing he could have handled. The sudden wrenching pain right as the power suddenly exploded outwards just before the Puzzle and Ring both shattered into glittering fragments of golden dust was something else entirely.

"NO!" Yami grasped for the rain of flashing motes, remembering well the last time that the Puzzle had shattered with him outside of it . . . and frowned as nothing else seemed to occur. He didn't feel suddenly weak, didn't feel anything, really. Which was disturbing. Of course, he looked to Bakura. "What did you do?"

"I don't know about you, Yami, but I was damned tired of living as a spirit tied to a piece of fucking jewelry. I just fixed that." The thief's hands dropped slowly to his sides. "We're free." Marik inhaled sharply as the former Pharaoh blinked in confusion before his eyes widened with dawning comprehension.

"You mean . . ."

"You are no longer tied to your Items," Isis murmured, stepping forward. "You are mortal again, young Pharaoh. The thief has brought you both back to true life from the half life in which you have existed." She turned to face Bakura. "The Shadow Realm is now closed to all but those whose blood runs thick with its presence . . . yourself, Amunamenra, and the young Tomb Keeper, Marik. And, perhaps, any children who might carry your blood in the future."

Bakura smirked.

"So, when are you going to marry Tea, Pharaoh?"

For people who had just recently returned to life, one literally from death . . . they sure had a lot of energy Marik thought as he watched Yami tear after a laughing Bakura. Finally, Bakura slid to a stop, Yami panting and leaning on his knees a short distance away.

"You're out of condition, Amun," he said playfully, and then sobered as he turned to face the Gods., who were all watching him carefully. "I'm ready." Isis stepped forward, laying a hand on his head gently before speaking.

"Are you sure of this, son of Kul Elna? There will be no turning back . . ." Bakura's gaze flickered for a moment before he nodded firmly.

"I have promises to keep, and cheating by becoming a god was not part of the plan," he replied. His eyes moved to Yami coming up to them, and then to Marik a short distance away. "I will earn my redemption along with everyone else." The goddess blinked, and then smiled at him benignly before the room was lit with a sudden glow.

The glow faded as abruptly as it had come, leaving Bakura blinking as Isis stepped back to join the others, who were beginning to fade from view.

"Your people will find peace, son of Kul Elna. Go on and live your life free of their burden." The thief sighed, and smiled slightly as he turned to face Marik and Yami as they moved up behind him, their gods returning to their immortal realm.

"Let's get out of here," he murmured. "We're done with this place." Yami nodded as Marik grinned in cheerful relief.

"Time to blow this joint!" the blonde exclaimed. The two former spirits looked at him with arched eyebrows before turning to look at each other, twin looks of mischief blossoming. "Uhoh . . . I said something wrong, didn't I?"

--

"And in the news today, the mansion of archaeologist and occultist Eliot Crawford has mysteriously disappeared, leaving nothing more than a smoking crater on the once pristine grounds of Crawford Manor. Police are baffled by . . ." The television clicked off in mid sentence, letting a brief moment of silence envelope the room.

"And that takes care of that," Bakura muttered, propping his legs up on the coffee table, ignoring the disapproving look Ryou gave him from where the boy was settled next to him on the couch closely . . . actually, virtually on top of said now mortal yami.

"Indeed." Yami crossed his legs at the knee, leaning back in the armchair as he sipped at a cup of lemon ginger tea around his own lapful of hikari.

Neither yami had been allowed much more than a few inches away from their hikari's since their return in the early hours of the morning. Bruised, exhausted, yet oddly pleased with themselves, the trio of Shadow Mages had returned to find the entire household up in arms, their homecoming less then stellar as both former spirit's were faced by extremely upset hikari's.

Yugi had been very vocal in his displeasure of what Yami and Marik had done. Sneaking off like they had, worrying everyone sick by giving the Collector exactly what he wanted – even if it was to rescue Bakura – Yugi had been Not Pleased. With capital letters for emphasis. And he had made sure all of them knew it, as well as the entire three city blocks around them.

Ryou, on the other hand, had been even paler than usual, and silent. He'd surprised them all by walking forward, staring at Bakura . . . and then promptly slapping the former thief, hard. For a moment the rest of the group had held their breaths, even Yugi falling silent from his diatribe as they waited for the white haired former spirit to lash back once his head came back around from where it had rocked with the force of the blow. The true surprise came, however, when the yami merely regarded his hikari from dark eyes behind a fringe of ragged white bangs before dropping to his knees in front of the youth, wrapping his arms around Ryou's hips, and burying his face against his young light's stomach. Ryou had threaded his fingers into his dark's hair and bowed his head, silent tears glittering as they slid down pale cheeks, all in perfect silence.

The exchange of stories had helped fill in the gaps on both sides. Ryou had felt his yami's reemergence and struggle with Zorc, the battle, and Bakura's death. Through him, the other's knew almost everything that had happened . . . and the fact that Ryou had been restrained from trying to go out to stop Bakura from his plan himself, and then trying to follow his yami into death rather then be left alone again. Apparently, there had been quite the mental fight between the two through their bond. Which explained the slap, and the fact that Bakura had not retaliated with the physical violence as they had all feared/expected.

Now, almost everyone had returned home, but for the two pairings of yami and hikari, and Marik. Yugi had offered for Ryou and his yami to stay on at the game shop since currently their house was a wreck due to the raid, and Yami had uttered his own offer to Bakura. Surprisingly, the thief had agreed before his hikari did, and Marik just didn't have anywhere else to go. Rishid and his sister were returning to Egypt in a few days, but the blonde had no interest in returning with them. Bakura figured he could move in with himself and Ryou when the house was done.

"Life returns to normal, huh?" Yugi said, and then grinned. "At least, as normal as it ever is. And especially now. How are we going to explain you two? Marik at least has a birth certificate and passport . . ." Bakura shrugged, sipping his own cup of coffee.

"You think that's going to stop me? I have connections . . ." Ryou laughed weakly.

"He and Yami will have official proof of their existence within a week." The thief smirked, and Yami chuckled at Yugi's dumbfounded expression. "Kura hasn't been idle."

Yugi shook his head.

"What are you going to do now thought?" he asked, looking between the two spirits. "You're not going to go right back to fighting, are you?" The damage that could cause Yugi did not want to think about.

"We go on with living." Both Yami and Bakura spoke, then looked at each other for a long moment before Yami smiled, and the thief nodded. They had an accord, a peace between them now, so to speak. An understanding.

"We have a lot to catch up on," Yami murmured, and Bakura chuckled.

"Three thousand years of life," he replied. "I intend on making the most out of it." Yami quietly agreed.

Yugi and Ryou exchanged glances, unsure of whether to smile or start worrying now. Life, they suspected even more fully then they had before, was never going to be boring for them again.

They really had no idea.

finis – finally

Author's Notes - listens to the cheers and major grumbles before holding up her hands

Alright, folks, let's get this rolling. First, a HUGE thank you to all those fans who have kept around, held onto their seats, and waited patiently for me to get off my rear end and finish this. You all have been near and dear to me in your own way, and for that you will always hold a special place in my heart.

Now, I realize the chapters have gotten shorter. I also realize that a lot of you are probably looking at the quality of this story toward the end and going 'WTF?'. I will be honest, I am not entirely satisfied myself. But after literally MONTHS of drop kicking a very dead plot bunny to force it to give me SOMETHING with which to work, I have determined that I am never going to be satisfied on this story, and neither am I going to please everyone. So, for the sake of being able to move on and put a period to the story, here it is.

I'm sorry that I couldn't please everyone. Hell, I'm sorry that I couldn't please myself. But I swore that I would NEVER post a story that didn't end, and I'm going to keep that promise.

So, here it is. Flame, complain, praise, what have you . . . Redemption is now done, and finally I can move on to the literal dozens of other stories I have on this computer that are waiting to be released into the shark infested waters of YGO fandom.

Thank you all for your patience, and I hope that you all will enjoy my other works as well.

DracOnyx