The Perfect Fan

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters aren't mine, the story is, and this is sibling/family cuteness! And this is for Mother's Day, so let's dedicate it to all mothers everywhere. And thanx to everyone who helped me put this together! I apologize for the removal of the song, but the new policy has forced me to remove it.

Rishid didn't know what had awakened him in the middle of the night. But suddenly his eyes just seemed to snap open, surveying the darkness of the room around him. He was laying in the soft bed, the quilt hanging down partially on the floor from him moving about in his sleep. In the back of his mind he remembered he'd been dreaming. But as he raised himself up slowly, he couldn't remember what he had been dreaming about.

The unassuming, soft tap on the window immediately drew the man's attention. Was that what had awoken him? Was it someone attempting a break-in? Or perhaps Marik having become locked out of the house after going outside for some odd reason? Rishid frowned, turning toward the glass pane. It was only a tree branch, he soon discovered. The wind was blowing gently through the boughs and causing that one in particular to tap Rishid's window in a sort of greeting.

The man reached up now, rubbing at his forehead tiredly. Now that he was awake, he felt certain that he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep so soon. Instead he idly tried to recall what he had dreamt about. All he could remember now were feelings. Warm, gentle feelings, as if he were being embraced. His dream had obviously been something good. Ironic, he thought with a wry smile, that he could always remember the disturbing dreams, the ones that made him desire to make certain his siblings were safe, and yet when he had a peaceful, calm dream he could barely bring any of it to light upon awakening.

He looked toward the door. Maybe he would check on his siblings, he decided. It couldn't hurt. And he would like to know they were well. Rishid considered himself the protector of the little family, the one to always come to the others' aid if they were in trouble. He remembered a long-ago promise he had made to his dear mother to always look out for and give love to Marik and Ishizu. Always Rishid had tried to do his best to keep that promise. He loved his younger siblings with all his heart and soul. Gladly would he die for either or both of them.

So carefully Rishid eased himself out of the bed and headed for the door, groping about slightly to get it opened in the dim light. Then he stepped out into the hall, which was lit by the gentle nightlamp plugged into the outlet in the center of the room. Ishizu's room was across from his and Marik's was next door. From where he was now he could see Ishizu's door slightly ajar and his sister in a dead to the world deep sleep under the bed's soft covers. The poor woman had been so exhausted when she came home from the museum that she had collapsed into bed and forgot to close her door all the way.

With a smile Rishid turned away and went to Marik's room. He frowned at what he found there. The door was wide open and Marik was nowhere to be found, though his bed had obviously been slept in, from all the rumpled quilts and sheets. Where was that boy? Could he have gone out for a latenight motorcycle ride? Rishid dearly hoped not. So he left Marik's room the way it was and started wandering slowly through the house, checking in each room for the missing teenager.

The Ishtars' home, though not a Kaiba Manor by any stretch of the imagination, was a fairly decent size. There was the upstairs, where all three siblings slept, the main floor, and even a basement. Ishizu sometimes left the artifacts she was studying in the basement, in a room she called her home office. Due to her past work for the Egyptian government and her current work with the museum, she had managed to save up a sufficient amount of money for her and her brothers to live where they did. It was a respectable home, in a respectable neighborhood, even though they certainly had their share of strange goings-on. Of course that seemed to be normal for all who had ever came into contact with the Mutos.

Rishid passed through the upstairs rooms without finding a trace of his younger brother and soon traveled to the other floors, coming up empty on all accounts. Marik was not in the house. That much was obvious. But where in Heaven's name was he, then? The man crossed his arms and frowned, glancing out the large picture window in the combined dining/living room. And then it came to him. Of course! Marik had to have gone into the backyard. The boy, especially after having been cooped up underground for all those many years of his young life, was in awe of their extensive backyard property. His favorite spot was down a sloping hill beside a small pond. Rishid slid open the door leading out onto the deck. He knew he would find his brother now. He also hoped he would find out what had driven Marik to come out in the middle of the night like this.

As Rishid approached the hill he could see Marik down below, sitting on a rock and staring into the water from the pond. The boy had most likely been up for a while, at least for half an hour. He was wearing his black pants accompanied by the lavender shirt, the latter of which was open. Every now and then he threw a rock into the pond, watching it jump and splash before sinking. It almost seemed as if something had upset him. But what would that something have been? Rishid hoped it hadn't been anything he had done. But he hadn't known that he had saddened the boy.

"Marik?" he called softly as he approached.

The teenager started, dropping any other rocks he had been holding. The gold earrings jangled slightly as he turned to see who had disturbed his train of thought, but then he smiled. Rishid was always a welcome interruption. He loved his brother so much.

"You weren't in bed," Rishid remarked as he came closer. "I was concerned." He smiled fondly as he sat down next to the boy on the large rock. "We seem to be the victims of disaster so often."

"You mean like this?" Marik retorted wryly, running a finger over the scar under his left eye. Always Marik would carry those scars with him—and the ones on his back. They contained the memories of so many wrongdoings, instigated by the brothers' own father. But Marik and Rishid had risen above the pain that had been cruelly dealt to them. Now Marik was simply making a gentle joke.

Rishid smiled a bit. "Yes," he agreed, "like that." He was glad to see that Marik could say something a bit humourous. Of course they both knew and felt that what had happened in the past was very serious. But now Marik no longer carried the deep hatred he once had borne.

Marik looked out at the tall trees just to the right of the pond. "Nothing happened to me," he reassured the man. "I was only thinking." The boy frowned then, again seeming to retreat deep into thought. Rishid knew Marik would say more if he felt like it. So the man waited with him in silence.

The wind picked up slightly, tousling Marik's platinum blonde locks and blowing the bangs into his eyes. He didn't seem to notice or care. He was almost stone still in the darkness, only the soft sound of his breathing reminding Rishid that this was a real boy and not a statue.

"What was Mother like?"

Rishid was startled at Marik's sudden question. Marik rarely asked about their mother. He had never known her, as she had died giving birth to him. Rishid rarely talked about the woman, either. He wasn't sure why. Perhaps he was afraid it would make his grief and pain more pronounced. It had been hard for him to come to terms with Mrs. Ishtar's death. He had looked up to her and idolized her the way any child idolizes their mother.

"Why do you ask?" the man finally spoke.

Marik looked up at him. "I dreamed about her," he said. "I know it was her." He smiled. "She looked like Ishizu, only older. She looked as if . . . as if she'd seen every horrible thing that could happen and yet was still sane . . . still loving. And . . ." He paused, remembering one of the most striking things about her. "Her eyes were filled with endless love and kindness. They were golden . . . just like yours, Rishid."

Rishid caught his breath. Marik had described her perfectly, including the golden eyes. When he was little, he had assumed that he truly was a biological Ishtar. After all, he had thought, how many people possibly could have golden eyes? He had only known that he did, and his mother had, and so before he was old enough to understand he had naturally thought that Mrs. Ishtar had given birth to him. Later on, of course, he had found out the truth. But that hadn't mattered. He always considered Mrs. Ishtar his real mother. She had always loved him when no one else had, the same way Ishizu and Marik did. His thoughts began to wander then, back to when he had been very young and small. Back to when he had barely begun to understand what he knew now.


Rishid was three years old and crying. The tears slipped from his eyes at the memory of Mr. Ishtar's words. He didn't understand! He couldn't understand! Why did the man hate him so? What had Rishid done that had made him so angry? He had only been talking about how he was so happy to be in this family and that he loved having Mrs. Ishtar as his mother. And Mr. Ishtar had just snapped. Rishid had never been so frightened in all his young life! Now he just wanted to hide.

But then loving arms were around him and he was being lifted onto Mrs. Ishtar's lap. Through the sobs he heard her gentle voice reassuring him, telling him that Mr. Ishtar was wrong. Rishid clung to her dress, whispering that all he wanted was to belong.

"But you do, my dear son," Mrs. Ishtar told him, drying his tears and looking into the golden orbs. "You belong right here with me, your mother."

Rishid sniffled. "But that man . . . Father . . . he says you aren't my real mommy! He said I don't have a real mommy because I was left at a well!" For a three year old, such words from a trusted person burned deep. "Why would someone leave me at a well? Was I . . ." He hiccuped. "Really not wanted?"

Mrs. Ishtar's eyes flickered with anger. She loved her husband, but more and more it seemed that a darkness was overtaking him. How could he have said something so horrible to dear, sweet Rishid, whom she loved as her own child? Never would she have told Rishid about the well and finding him until she thought he was old enough to handle and understand it. And never would she have told him in such a cruel way! "Of course you are wanted, Rishid," she soothed now. "I wanted, and I want, you—more than anything else." She smiled gently. "I had been praying so hard that I would be able to have a child, and then I found you."

Rishid blinked up at her. "You . . . found me?" he repeated slowly. Even in his three-year-old mind, he didn't think that was quite how babies came to be with their parents, at least not generally.

She nodded. "It was true about the well, Rishid. The woman who actually brought you into the world left you there. I found you and brought you home. I have loved you and cared for you just as dearly as any mother should." The woman sighed inwardly, not really certain how much Rishid would grasp of any of this. But the main thing she wanted was for him to understand that he did have a real family, with a real mother. "As far as I am concerned, you are my son."

Rishid smiled shakily but looked confused. "Then . . . was Father lying?" he asked.

"No," Mrs. Ishtar whispered. "He doesn't understand." She held him closer, stroking the soft ponytail his hair had been shaved to. "I may not be your mother by the flesh, but I am your mother by the heart."

Satisfied, Rishid laid his head against her heart and went to sleep hearing the calming beating. He didn't understand everything she had said, but he did understand the point she had been trying to make. He did have a mother. She was his mother, just as he had always thought.

End Flashback


The man blinked, coming out of his memories. He turned to look at Marik, who was still sitting next to him and waiting for an answer to the question he had asked ages before. The poor boy looked upset, seeming to fear that he had made his brother angry. Turmoil flitted through the lavender lilac eyes. He wasn't sure why Rishid had become so quiet. Marik's stomach knotted. He remembered a fear he had sometimes had. Often he had wanted to ask and make certain his fears were unfounded, but he had been too afraid of the answer. And then he would decide it was all nonsense and that he shouldn't think such a thing anyway. But now he would ask. He had to know for certain.

"Rishid . . . do you blame me for her death?"

Surprise, shock, and horror eclipsed Rishid's normally calm expression. It was true that at the time she died, he had blamed the infant Marik, but that had only lasted a few days. The boy had found his way into Rishid's heart almost immediately. Rishid never had blamed Marik for it since.

"No!" Rishid finally found his voice. "No, Marik!" He turned to face Marik completely, laying his hands on the teen's shoulders. "How could I blame you? You were innocent! All Mother wanted was to bring you into the world . . . and she gave me the dearest friend I have ever known. You, my precious brother." He smiled in a way that was both happy and melancholy. "I wish, of course, that she hadn't died. I miss her every day. But I would never, could never blame you." Gently he gathered the boy into his arms, hugging him tightly.

Marik brightened, returning the hug just as tightly. "I wish I could have known her," the boy said quietly.

"I wish it as well," Rishid replied. "You would have loved her." He saw a lot of Mrs. Ishtar in Ishizu. Her daughter was like her in so many ways, but of course Ishizu could never be her. They were two distinct individuals.

"I remember her."

Both brothers started at the voice. Ishizu stepped out of the shadows, smiling. Her long white nightgown trailed on the soft grass and she pulled her cape closer around her as the wind blew again. There was room enough on the rock for her to sit as well, and so she did, lowering herself down by Marik's other side.

"Sister. . . ." Marik blinked at her. "I didn't know you were up."

She smiled mischievously. "I woke up and found that I was all alone in the house," she said. "Then I realized the draft coming upstairs was from the doors leading here. I decided the both of you must be having a conversation, despite the late hour."

Rishid frowned at this news. He must have been so worried about Marik that he hadn't shut the door properly and it had blown open again when the wind rushed past. They were blessed that there hadn't been burglars loose. Something could have happened to Ishizu without them knowing it.

"It is alright, Rishid," Ishizu said kindly. "There was no harm done."

She turned her gaze out to the pond and the trees. "I heard you talking about Mother," she stated then. Her voice was soft and far away, as if she were remembering as well.

Marik nodded. "I was asking Rishid what he knew about her." But then he understood that he did know a lot about the woman, though he had never met her in the flesh. From his dream and from a sacred experience he had had when she had saved his life from a fire, he knew that she was beautiful, kind, brave, and most of all, loving. Still he wanted to know more. What had been her favorite pastimes, if any? What sorts of things had she taught Rishid and Ishizu? And . . . Marik wanted to know what her last moments had been like. He wanted to know what she said and done before she had passed into the next life. The only thing Rishid had ever said about that day was that she had made him promise to always protect and love Ishizu and Marik. And that he had always tried to keep it.

Rishid put his arm around Marik gently. "When I was so quiet, brother, I was remembering something about her," he explained. Then he began to relate the story to both of his siblings.

The three of them stayed there beside the pond for ages, talking about the woman they all treasured as their mother. Funny stories, sad stories, sweet stories . . . all that the elder Ishtar siblings knew was told. Marik listened attentively to it all, putting together a portrait of Mrs. Ishtar in his mind. Now he knew her favorite s ("the s of my children's eyes," she had said), her favorite pastime (singing), and her favorite flower (lilacs). He smiled sadly, again wishing he could have known her. He didn't know why things had worked out the way they had.

Ishizu touched his hand. "I remember when she told Rishid and I that she was going to have another baby," she said softly, sensing that he wanted to know of something Mrs. Ishtar had said about him. And oh! She had said a lot. Ishizu remembered often plying their mother with questions about what Marik might be like. And she remembered how Mrs. Ishtar had always answered patiently, happy that Ishizu took such an interest.

Marik looked at her. "What was that like?" he asked.

"All of us were very excited," Ishizu responded, squeezing his hand just slightly.

Rishid smiled then too. He recalled all of that very clearly. He had been excited as well, though his excitement had been of a more quiet nature. And being older, he had known what having another baby might do to her. She had been very sick when she had been having Ishizu. He had been afraid that something might happen to her again, though he had tried to deny his fears. But in spite of those fears, something had drawn him to the baby Mrs. Ishtar had been carrying. Somehow he had known that he would have a strong connection with the infant.

She had been the first person to ever show love to Rishid. Through her, he had been taught so many things—goodness, kindness, patience, love, and the true meaning of family. He had come to know Ishizu and Marik because of her. What would Rishid's life have been like if she hadn't saved him from the cold ground by the well? Would he have even had a life? Or would he have died all alone in the desert, never knowing his precious siblings or his mother? Rishid's blood ran chill at the thought.

Ishizu smiled, letting Marik lay his head on her shoulder as he started to grow sleepy again. Gently she put her cape around him and stroked the long bangs, thinking back to one of the times with their mother she recalled most vividly. Ishizu had only been four when Mrs. Ishtar had died, and it surprised her that she remembered so many things about her so well, but she did. She could see it all in her mind as if it were just happening now, even though it had been sixteen years previous. Quietly she began to speak, telling the story to Marik and Rishid.



Slowly Ishizu eased the door open, peering into her mother's bedroom with wide, frightened eyes. Her father had ordered her to keep out, that Mrs. Ishtar needed her rest, but Ishizu couldn't bring herself to stay away. She knew that her mother was sick, but she didn't understand why. That terrified her. Would she . . . not get better?

Ishizu clutched the edge of the door, her small hand shaking. She could see Mrs. Ishtar laying in her bed, not appearing to move. Was she sleeping? Ishizu couldn't bear this. She ran in further. "MOMMY!" She didn't care if Mr. Ishtar heard her cry out and got mad. All she cared about was getting to her mother.

She ran right up to the bed, where she finally heard Mrs. Ishtar's slightly raspy breathing and saw that her chest was rising and falling. Ishizu's eyes lighted up and she scrambled into the soft covers next to her mother, hugging her as much as she dared.

Slowly the woman's tired eyes fluttered open. "Ishizu," she whispered, a smile coming over her face. Shakily she reached out an arm and brought her daughter close. She was such a sweet girl, so full of energy and life. Mrs. Ishtar loved her so. Her husband had been so angry when Ishizu had been born instead of the boy he wanted. He barely paid attention to her, and even when he did, it was even less likely that he would behave as the father he should. Mrs. Ishtar didn't understand how he could be so blind to the beautiful treasure they had. Or rather, treasures. They already did have a boy as well, but Mr. Ishtar refused to acknowledge it. This dear woman was the only source of kindness and caring from an adult figure those two children had. And soon she would be gone.

Life and Death in the same room, Mrs. Ishtar thought sadly. Death had come for her. She knew it with all her heart. It was only a matter of a few hours now. But she prayed that she would be able to deliver a healthy baby before she had to go. She had been fighting for so many weeks to keep this precious soul alive and she wasn't going to give up now! If only she could stay alive once the child was born. . . . If only she could watch him grow. . . .

Yes, she knew it was a he. It was a special sense a mother sometimes had. This baby would be the heir her husband had wanted. But he would not receive a father's love from that mentally unstable, cold-hearted man. Mrs. Ishtar trusted Rishid to care for her other two children once she was gone. Soon it would be time that she would need to tell him. And she needed to tell him once more how much she loved him. Rishid was such a dear boy. He had so much love to give and he was practically starved for it from others. She knew all he wanted was to be accepted. And always she had strived to make him feel that he was. She and Ishizu both had.

She looked down at her frightened daughter again. Ishizu looked back up at her, not trying to get rid of the tears in her eyes. "Mommy," she said, her lower lip trembling, "Daddy said that . . . that you might not get better. But that's not true, is it!" She gripped at her mother's wrist. "You're gonna get better so you can stay with us for a long time!"

Mrs. Ishtar gazed at her, feeling her heart shatter all over again. Somehow she knew she would have to try to explain, but she didn't quite know how she was going to. But then she knew the best thing was just to tell the truth as best as she could.

"Ishizu," she said softly, "very soon Mommy will have to go away for a while."

The little girl stared up at her with the innocent blue eyes Mrs. Ishtar and Rishid had both fallen in love with. "But won't you come back?" she sobbed.

Mrs. Ishtar bit her lip. Of course she would fight for her life, but her heart told her that this was a battle she would lose. "I will always be watching over you and your brothers, Ishizu," she whispered softly. "In a way I won't truly have left because I'll always be right here." She laid a hand over Ishizu's heart.

"But I want you right here to talk to and hug," Ishizu objected, trying to blink away the tears but not succeeding.

Mrs. Ishtar couldn't say anything to that. She held Ishizu closer, longing more than anything for that as well.

A soft jolt interrupted their embrace and Ishizu pulled back. "The baby's kicking," she remarked.

Mrs. Ishtar chuckled. "He's anxious to see us." Tears filled her eyes. Would she even be able to see her new son before she died? And what about her other children? Was this the last time she would see Ishizu? The woman bit her lip again, pondering. What if she didn't get to see Rishid again? She should send for him. At last the woman spoke again. "Ishizu?"

The little girl blinked up at her. "What is it, Mommy?" Ishizu felt so confused and still scared. How would life go on without her mother? Why was it that she would have to go? Would she go to Heaven? There were so many questions Ishizu wanted to ask. But there wasn't time for any of them.

Mrs. Ishtar gasped suddenly, feeling the pain coming on. Her baby was ready to be born. And bringing him into the world would claim her life. "Dear Ishizu . . . I love you, my child," she said softly. "Please . . . can you do something for me?" Ishizu had always been willing to run errands for her. Mrs. Ishtar hoped that her daughter could do this last thing for her now.

Ishizu clutched her mother's hand. "What's that, Mommy?"

"Go find Rishid and bring him here," Mrs. Ishtar replied, placing her other hand over her stomach. She had to talk to him again. Somehow she had to. She didn't know if Ishizu would be able to find him in time, but they had to try. She couldn't die without seeing Rishid again.

Now Ishizu bit her lip. How could she leave? What if when she came back, she'd find that her mother had had to go? Of course at four she couldn't entirely comprehend what Mrs. Ishtar had told her, though she understood better than some children might. She knew that Mr. Ishtar meant that his wife and Ishizu's and Rishid's mother would die. And she knew that there wouldn't be any coming back from that. She sniffled, angrily wiping her eyes. "Mommy . . ."

"Please," Mrs. Ishtar said softly, shakily reaching out to brush the last of Ishizu's tears away.

Finally Ishizu nodded. She knew she had to. If their mother was going to die, it would be terrible for Rishid not to get to talk to her first. "I'll get him, Mommy," she promised, turning to hurry out.

It took her quite some time before she was ever able to find Rishid in the catacombs of the underground city. It turned out that Mr. Ishtar, not wanting him there, had sent him on several tiring errands. Rishid, only nine and not even having been informed of his mother's worsened condition, had been forced to obey.

"Rishid! Rishid!"

Little feet came running down the hall and then Ishizu appeared, out of breath and looking panicked. Rishid looked up from the volumes he had been ordered to collect, his golden eyes narrowing in concern. What was wrong? Why did Ishizu look so frightened?

Setting the books aside, he knelt next to his sister and looked into her blue eyes. "What is it, Ishizu?" he asked quietly.

Ishizu tugged on his hand. "Come on! We havta go now!"

Rishid frowned. "You know what Father will do if I don't finish this." Mr. Ishtar had done it many times before. Rishid had tried to keep knowledge of it from his dear mother, but his sister Ishizu had found out. She had stumbled upon the wicked man whipping Rishid one night and had been horrified. Rishid had sworn her to secrecy then, though Ishizu had wanted so badly to tell Mrs. Ishtar. Of course, she knew anyway. It was hard to keep secrets from a wise woman such as she.

Ishizu only tugged harder. "But it's Mommy!" Yes, she knew very well what Mr. Ishtar could do. But she also knew that Rishid would ignore that once he knew that their mother was sick and wanted to see him. "She's really sick and she says she's gonna havta go away!"

Rishid froze. "What?" he gasped, the starting to drain. Slowly the realization of the truth started to come over him. His father had wanted him out of the way. For a long time Rishid had known that Mrs. Ishtar was ill, but he had thought she had started to improve. She had been up and around only yesterday. And now she had suddenly grown worse? Rishid's eyes narrowed at the unfairness of it all. His father hated him so much that he hadn't even told him of this!

"You've gotta come," Ishizu pleaded. "Mommy wants to see you!"

The boy stood. Of course he would come. As Ishizu knew, he now didn't care what punishment Mr. Ishtar inflicted on him. He was going to see his mother!

End FlashBack

Marik looked at his elder siblings in horror. By now he was no longer dozing on Ishizu's shoulder; he was wide awake again and sitting up straight. "Father refused to tell you about Mother being so sick!" he said to Rishid, the lavender eyes burning with a fury.

Rishid nodded slowly, the memory having faded a bit but still stinging when he brought it out again. "I might not have even found out if Ishizu hadn't come," he said quietly. "We did make it in time to see her again . . . just barely."

Marik frowned, looking out at the water of the pond. "I never could understand why it was that Father hated you, Rishid," he said after a long silence. "You never did anything to him." He clenched his fist. "I always knew how evil he was. And yet I was so angry when I thought the Pharaoh had killed him." The boy paused, looking up at the sky. "Maybe a part of me still did love him, since he was our father. Or maybe it was more that I was angry that the Pharaoh would kill one of us when we'd slaved so long to guard his tomb." He sighed.

Rishid pulled the boy close. "Whatever the reason, it is all in the past. Do not worry about it anymore, Marik. You found out the truth and overcame your hateful feelings."

Marik smiled a bit. That was true. He had changed. He had fought against the chains trying to hold him down and had broken them. And again to his mind came the memory of the fire he had suffered through. The fire in which he had battled with his Yami. He remembered falling endlessly . . . the flames lapping at him . . . but never burning him. And he remembered why.

"You've grown up so much. She would be proud of you, Marik," Ishizu smiled, bringing him back to the present. She was tenderly zipping up the boy's shirt against the cold. Marik let her, realizing then that he had been freezing. He had been so wrapped up in the stories his siblings had told him that he hadn't noticed until now.

"I know," Marik said as Rishid draped his cloak over the teen's shoulders. He smiled as well. "She told me so."

Rishid's grip on the cloak tightened. Had he heard right? Was it possible? Could Marik have heard their mother speak to him? "When did this happen?" the man asked softly.

Slowly his dream returned to him, but this time he saw the details that had been lost to him upon his awakening. The one embracing him was their mother. She had held him close, whispering that she loved him and that she was happy he had at last realized that he still had acceptance and love. Marik and Ishizu would forever stand by their elder brother, and Mrs. Ishtar would watch over them all from above. Perhaps she had spoken to Marik in his dream as well.

Marik smiled at both his siblings. "When she saved my life," he answered. Then he told the details of that rescue, details that had retreated into the back of his mind from the force of his injuries and only now were brought to light again, jolted into his conscious thoughts from the dream he had had.


Marik screamed, feeling the Rod slip from his hand. It had all been so sudden. His Yami had fought hard and now Marik had lost the weapon they had been warring over. But that insane madman wouldn't have it either. Marik was falling off the ledge as well. And Yami Marik was defeated, at least temporarily.

It was a split second, but he saw his life flashing in front of his eyes. He was an innocent child, discovering butterflies and sunshine. . . . He was the leader of the Rare Hunters, seeking revenge on a crime he was certain had been committed against his family. . . . No . . . he was a sobered, repentant boy, dying now because he had wanted to save his sister and those of his friends whom his Yami had taken prisoner. Ishizu couldn't hear him now, but he whispered low that he was sorry. He was so sorry for both of his siblings. He wouldn't see them again, nor hold them close. Now he would go where the afterlife would send him, wherever that might be. . . .

He plunged deeper and further into the fire, staring blankly at the red, orange, and blue flames as they leapt up at him, wanting to draw him into their fatal embrace. Debris fell from the ceiling high above him—pieces of the roof, broken wood, metal beams. . . . Something struck him harshly on the head and then his chest. He didn't know what it was—only that it hurt. He gasped, falling down . . . down into loving arms. He couldn't comprehend. Was this death? Was this an angel come to take him into the next life? What else could it be?

"There, there. Don't worry, Marik." The voice was gentle and kind as he was held close by a woman. "You will not die here tonight. You have many lives to bless yet with your true, sweet spirit." He could feel a soft energy pulsing from this form. He knew she wasn't mortal. How else could she not be affected by the raging heat?

Instinctively Marik put his arms around her neck as he started to go slack. He also knew she wasn't going to harm him. And apparently she wasn't here to take him out of this mortal life. She was going to rescue him. As she continued to speak to him in gentle tones, he relaxed more. Somehow he knew who this was.

"You don't know me, my darling, but I have always been with you and Ishizu and Rishid. I'm so proud of all of you." The woman holding him smiled tenderly, shielding him from the flames surrounding him on all sides. "You have come through so much, Marik. You spent so many years in confusion and sorrow, but you triumphed over it all. And you are a hero, a strong warrior." She had seen everything Marik had gone through. She had wept with him when he was scared and sad and rejoiced with him when he was happy. And she gave thanks for every one of her children. They had given strength to each other and loved and protected one another, just as she had often prayed would happen.

Marik smiled weakly. "I know you . . . Mother," he whispered. He didn't know how he knew this was she, when he had never even seen a picture of her or recalled hearing her voice. Perhaps somewhere in his mind he did remember when she had spoken to him right after his birth. Or perhaps it was the bond the Ishtars shared being manifested again. Or a combination of both.

Slowly Marik fell still, his vision clouding over. He knew he was safe. His mother would see to it that he wouldn't die. Just before unconsciousness descended, he heard her speak to him once more.

"Yes!" she cried joyously. Marik did know her! She had hoped so desperately that he might, if ever they were to meet in the mortal realm. "Yes, my son! It is I." She continued to cradle his limp body, laying a soft kiss in the blonde hair. At last she was holding her youngest child again. And she was protecting him from a certain death. She felt a happiness as Marik weakly embraced her. He would live, continuing to bless his siblings' lives and many others.

End Flashback

Ishizu and Rishid were speechless as Marik stopped speaking. Though both knew that their mother had saved Marik, they hadn't known any of this detail until now. It was all so wonderful!

Marik leaned back, his account finished. "That was when I astral-projected to encourage Mai," he said then. "After that, the next thing I remember was Ishizu holding me." He frowned. "I don't know how I forgot the details of what happened to me when Mother came. It must have been the result of being hit on the head."

Rishid nodded in agreement. "But you remember now." He smiled gently, comforted by Marik's words. Though he always knew in his heart that she was still watching out for them, it comforted him even more to know about when she had saved Marik's life.

Ishizu laid a hand on the teen's shoulder. "She was—and is—a wonderful person," she said softly. "And we each have our special memories of her." She smiled peacefully as she gently brushed aside several locks of Marik's hair, so happy that her younger brother had had the chance to see her, if only for a few moments. Marik, she knew, would never forget that experience again, not when he remembered it now.

Marik took a last look around the yard, seeming to be examining every living thing. He blinked suddenly, not sure if he was seeing right. Could it be? "Sister . . . you didn't plant a lilac bush, did you?" he asked then.

Ishizu gasped in surprise, following Marik's gaze to where a small lilac bush was stubbornly insisting on growing. "No," she replied. "That was not my doing."

"Nor mine," Rishid added.

Marik slowly smiled. "Maybe, then," he suggested, "it's from Mother. To let us know she's still watching us."

His elder siblings pondered on that thought, but only for a moment. It sounded right to them. And just like something their mother might do. "Yes," Rishid said softly, "I believe you're right, brother. She is thinking of us, as we are of her."

Marik fell asleep there beside his siblings that night. Rishid smiled as he felt the boy's body slump against him. Gently he put an arm around the tired teenager and then looked up at Ishizu. "We should get him to bed," he said with a soft chuckle.

Ishizu nodded, gently pulling Rishid's cloak over the boy better. "And we should sleep as well," she said quietly. "It has grown late." It had been good to sit and talk about their mother all that they had. Ishizu knew she would keep the events of this night close to her heart and ponder over them often.

Rishid took Marik in his arms and started to carry him back to the house, Ishizu right beside him. And both of them were certain that they felt their mother's spirit walking with them. She hadn't left them, nor would she ever.