Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh! belongs to Kazuki Takahashi. That Yugioh: the Next Generation picture from book 38 probably also belongs to him, and I have no idea who owns Yugioh R. Nor do I care; I'm never going to read it. The quote belongs to William Faulkner.

In Japan, women who get an abortion typically perform a ceremony for the infant/fetus at a temple of Jizo (the bodhisattva who watches over those who have no one else to watch over them).

The title means "But always the property of the king."

It only seems like The Neverending Story, I promise.


The past is not dead.  It isn't even past.


It took Ryou years to return.

Decades, actually.  He'd grown up, graduated high school a year behind everyone else, graduated college, found a job for himself as a jeweler, married, buried his father after a tragic cave-in at the man's archeological dig, lost touch with his mother, and kept up with his old high school friends. 

He didn't love his wife, but she was a good friend, and he adored the two children she'd given him.  He was even pretty sure that their older son was his.  Their younger daughter he wasn't so certain about--there was no one in his family with green eyes--but he didn't really care; she was an adorable little girl, and Ryou had a feeling that her life would be better off if she didn't share his blood.

And, those nights when Ryou started crying in his sleep, his wife only shook him awake and held him, without asking any questions.  He was very grateful for that.

That was why Ryou felt bad for lying to her, but it wasn't as though he could tell her the truth of why he'd decided to dip into their savings and take off for Egypt alone.  Instead, he'd made up a story about wanting to visit one of the places that he'd once traveled to with his father.  Coming so soon after Yuugi's funeral, it sounded reasonable.  He'd also felt bad about leaving Anzu so abruptly, but she had Mai and Jounouchi staying with her at the moment, and Honda had promised to leave work early on Saturday and come back to Domino again to see her.  Ryou planned to be home by then, and thus he assumed that things would be okay.  He doubted they would miss him in such a short time.

So he booked a business class flight to Luxor Airport and tried not to think about why he was doing it.

Because when he did think about it, all that came to mind was reasons why he shouldn't go.  They didn't have the money to waste, with Keita in junior high and Reiko about to graduate from elementary; he had a deadline coming up on a piece for one of the shop's more important customers; and he would have preferred to be near Anzu at this time, at least until they found the criminal.  And it wasn't as if he owed Bakura anything.  Ryou had been glad to leave his ghost to linger in the desert where he should have died so long ago.  He had been glad.

...He had to have been.

...The thief deserved it, anyway.

But all the same, Ryou went back.

He'd thought of looking up the Ishtars, to tell them as well; but he doubted that they would still be in Luxor after all this time.  Considering how desperately Malik had wanted to destroy his past, Ryou wouldn't have been surprised to find that they had left Upper Egypt altogether.  They might have moved to Cairo, or Alexandria--that kind of drastic change would be the most fitting.

They might have broken apart and built their own lives by now, but Ryou doubted that.  They could have all died from poor immune systems, after living underground so long and coming from such a small gene pool.  They probably didn't want to be bothered by a memory from the past.

Ryou wasn't sure how he would have gone about finding them, anyway.  And he didn't need them to guide him back to the buried temple.

It was too easy to find the place again.  Almost thirty years had passed, but Ryou found and followed the path as easily as if it had been that same afternoon.  The only difference was that it was easier to slip past the security and leave the Valley, since there was only him this time.

Once Ryou reached the outskirts of Kuru Eruna, he paused, a little overwhelmed at the sudden change from those empty, tourist-ridden tombs for long dead pharaohs to the expanse of sand densely packed with ghosts over three thousand years old.

The ghosts didn't recognize him at first, but once they did, they stopped trying to attack and scattered to somewhere out of his sight.  It didn't take them long to call Bakura out to see him.

Bakura had died with the idea of a body, not melted down like the rest of his village, so he was considerably more human-shaped than they.  After his death he had retreated to the form he'd had in the ancient past.  Ryou could only stare for a few moments--it was like looking at a tainted photograph from his youth.

Bakura silently studied him as well, seeing in Ryou an idea of the man he might have grown into, if he hadn't been killed so young.

Ryou was the one who finally spoke, sliding his hands into his pockets and looking down at the ground before he did.  "Yuugi's dead."

There was a...'ripple,' that was the only word that would describe it...in the air, and in his peripheral vision Ryou could see the other ghosts gathering closer again.  Bakura didn't move.

"He inherited that game store from his grandfather," Ryou went on.  "Several days ago, there was a break in, and...he was shot.  He died in the hospital.  They haven't found the guy who did it yet, but...you remember how easy it is for a criminal to hide in Domino."  Ryou paused.  "He never married, though.  He didn't even date, not after Anzu went to New York.  So...."

There was only the sound of the desert around him.  As long as Ryou kept his eyes focused on the ground, he could pretend he was just talking to himself.

He looked up.  "I know he wasn't your Game King, but he still was the Game King.  And his line is ended.  So...."  Ryou studied Bakura's features, but found only a blank façade.  "Is that good enough?"

Bakura made no reply, and didn't move.  The other ghosts seemed to shimmer in place, not willing to move, but unable to stay still.  Ryou found it unnerving to be stared at by so many dead souls.

Finally, he took a step back and looked down at the ground again.  "I...."  He shook his head with a ruefully amused smile and turned around.  "I thought you should know," Ryou finished, as he began to walk away.

...Thank you, landlord.

Ryou stilled and pressed a hand to his head.  He turned around, but there was no one there.

Ryou blinked and stared at the empty expanse of sand for a few minutes.  But eventually the heat and the sting of the sand fleas made him turn and begin his way back to Domino.

On the trip back home Ryou couldn't sleep, even though he'd deliberately picked a red-eye flight in order to be back in Domino by the afternoon.  Every time he started to drift off, an image of the emptied Kuru Eruna returned to his mind.

 Ryou had been genuinely surprised to see them gone.  After all, he'd lied.

Yuugi had died, and he had chosen to remain in Domino and keep up with the Turtle Game Shop, and Anzu had gone on to New York, and they had never married.  But that last fact didn't actually mean anything. 

Somehow, the two of them had managed to make their long-distance relationship work; and from what Bakura had heard, the only reason they hadn't married was because they had decided to wait until the inherent ageism in ballet forced Anzu out of her troupe and the two of them would be able to settle down normally.

And the fact that they had never married certainly didn't mean that they hadn't had a close or physical relationship.

After all, Ryou had been there when Anzu had the abortion.

Her troupe had had a brief break after performing in Hokkaido, and she had come down to Domino for a long weekend.  Everyone had known about that--all of them had managed to arrive in town on Saturday night and they'd had a party to celebrate.

But they hadn't known when she'd come down three and a half weeks later.  Yuugi didn't call anyone until after he and Anzu had talked and come to the decision.

It hadn't been easy on either of them.  But Anzu wasn't going to give up her hard-earned career so soon, and Yuugi wouldn't dream of asking her to do so.  And everyone else had supported her decision, too....Outwardly, at least.  Honda had told Ryou over drinks that he didn't like the thought of killing someone who hadn't had a chance to see the world, let alone do anything to deserve death; but once he'd realized what he'd said he had sworn Ryou to secrecy.  Ryou had no intention of hurting Anzu either, and kept his promise.

Because, really, it hadn't been easy on either of them.  Mai had gone into the temple of Jizo with Anzu when she went to perform the ceremony, while everyone else waited outside with Yuugi; and the two of them didn't come out for a long time.  And once they did, Anzu's eyes were still red from crying.

Ryou had felt horrible for her and Yuugi both--because no matter how much Yuugi tried to hide it, Ryou could tell that he wanted to have a family with the woman he'd been in love with all his life.  After all, the rest of their old group had found others: Mai had finally gotten sick of waiting and proposed to Jounouchi, Ryou was married, Honda and Otogi were...he wasn't certain what to call their relationship, Shizuka was currently involved with someone her age who was still a little too similar to Jounouchi, and even Kaiba--if he counted at all, which Ryou supposed he did--had married the daughter of another CEO and tripled his power base in Domino and the surrounding prefectures.  Only Yuugi was still alone.  Ryou was sure that the pain of losing that chance at a family had run very, very deep.

It was probably as deep as the pain that Anzu had felt when she decided to keep their next child and end her career as a ballerina.

Ryou hadn't planned his trip to Egypt with the intent to lie to Bakura and the inhabitants of Kuru Eruna--he told himself that he didn't care that much.  He just hadn't known that Anzu was pregnant again until he'd gotten a call from Honda the morning he was planning to leave.  Anzu hadn't even known she was pregnant until then.  And by that point, there was no good reason Ryou would have been able to give his wife to explain canceling his trip.

That was what Ryou told himself.  Because he had hated Bakura.  And he didn't care whether he rested in peace or not.

...But still...they had suffered enough.  All of them.  Himself, Bakura, Yuugi, Malik....There was no point to it anymore.  So it was necessary to end it.

Ryou told himself a lot of conflicting things.  It was deliberate--it made it harder to guess when he was lying to himself and when he wasn't.  It was an old, old trick left over from his childhood.

The interior of the plane was dim, with only a few reading lights scattered throughout the cabin.  He wasn't near the engines, the man at the end of his row had fallen asleep long ago, there was no one in the middle seat, and Ryou had pulled the window lid shut as soon as he'd settled in.  There was no reason for him not to get some sleep as well, save for that persistent image of the empty Kuru Eruna.

And that shouldn't bother him, anyway.  Ryou couldn't see how it mattered; if their souls had been put to rest, then why should he care if it hadn't been through the truth?  At least they were gone.  They were free.

Ryou briefly wondered if all exorcisms were really this easy, and the temple and church priests just had an elaborate scam set up.  Then he chided himself for his cynical thoughts and told himself it was time to stop dwelling in memories.

The vengeful spirits were free, their manifestation of revenge Bakura was free, and his tool Ryou was free as well.  It was terrible that Yuugi had had to die for such a long curse to end, but....

...It had ended.

So isn't it time to try living for real? Ryou asked himself.

Soon afterward, he fell asleep.

When the plane landed Ryou woke up to find that he'd been crying again, much to his embarrassment.  But this time, the tears were for something past rather than something present.