If the World Doesn't Want Me
by Josie

"Tomb robber; I should have expected you." Thinly veiled anger permeated the tone of his voice as he glared at the other, taller male. "You always have had a tendency to stick your nose in where it does not belong. My kingdom, my partner's mind; you had no right to enter and attempt to destroy either."

"Preaching as always, I see, bloodthirsty pharaoh." He stepped forward, past the doorway without even sparing a glance to the blonde and brunette standing between him and his quarry. Upon his lips was the smirk of the cat who had caught the canary, and he moved with a slow precision that was almost maddening in its form. The shorter male took a step back, eyeing him uncertainly as he continued to advance, cursing himself mentally for the show of fear. "I'll be where I want to."

"Bloodthirsty ..." he scoffed, strength growing back slowly. "And aren't you a fine one to talk about such lust; you, the one who would destroy an entire kingdom for the sake of satiating your own revenge-driven thirst for the sake of your village. You, who placed the blame on me, on all of my priests, when only one even knew what had transpired to incur your wrath; you dragged even a dead king into your revenge, when he had only learned the truth not long before his death." He scrunched his nose in distaste as he looked up into the thief's eyes; cold and heartless brown locked onto fiery and fierce crimson, a dare in each for the other to try to look away. "Was it worth it? Would Kuruelna have been worth the blood of thousands just for you to have your revenge? Was bringing the anger of the gods onto you truly worth it? You had no right to drag my father and my kingdom into your revenge; you had no right to disturb his rest as you did."

"And he had no right to kill all of those that he did. Criminals? Thieves? Does it matter who it was; they were all living before his order went out to carve his trinkets from their deaths." An unearthly rage glimmered in his eyes, and he shook with unsteady rage. "Are you so arrogant, pharaoh? That you would say that he had the right to take their lives? Who is the true criminal, then? Murder in the name of sacrifice for the good of the kingdom? For power -"

But his tirade was cut off as Atemu interjected, tone regal as it had been during his rule thousands of years earlier, "And he had no knowledge of what would be done!"

Silence overtook the room as the two glared at each other, neither wishing to give the other an edge in the matter; they stood, unblinking, as seconds turned to minutes. The air seemed to freeze with an otherworldly chill as undying anger and revulsion rolled from the two in intense waves. Two of a kind and yet polar opposites in every way, they continued to glare at one another with blatant animosity visible in their eyes. The world around them seemed as though it ceased to exist. Hostility surged between them in a thick, almost intense haze that seemed to grow darker and deeper with each passing moment.

It seemed almost as though nothing would break through their attention to get them to focus on what was occurring around them; the room's other two occupants stared in an almost sickened yet amazed awe, with the sort of fascination that one looks upon a train wreck with. It was a situation where all logic tells a person that he or she should really look away, and yet it is impossible to tear his or her eyes off of it. The silence grew thicker, almost suffocating, before Jounouchi decided that they just couldn't allow it to go any further. "Um ..." Two pairs of angered, deadly eyes turned onto him in heated, hating glares, and he gulped, taking one step away, back towards where Honda stood, eyeing the two warily. "Listen, fun as this all is and all, just ... why are you guys here, anyway?" He took another step back as the white-haired teenager's lips twisted into a vicious smirk, mentally noting uneasily that the other looked as though he would kill a person readily and with no regard.

"Why? He wants to know why?" He seemed almost amused, if it were at all possible, and he stepped away from his adversary to walk towards the blonde and brunette. "Oh, I'm sure your little friend here, this great avenger could tell you just why we're here. He's the reason for it all, after all ... he's the one who brought everything to here. Isn't that right, bloodthirsty pha-" But he was cut off by a distinct, ferocious hiss, and he turned to see crimson eyes narrowed into slits.

"You'd do well to hold your tongue, thief." There was no mercy, no remorse - no concern - in his tone. He straightened some, a taunt in his every movement and stance. "So you bring the fight to me, to here, do you? Then, I suppose that I should oblige." Soulless brown eyes narrowed for a moment before widening marginally in realization; he hadn't noticed the shadows surrounding them before, enhancing their senses, their power. It worked to his advantage, all the same.

"So you would fight me here, in my domain?"

"It is as much mine as yours, tomb robber; I didn't spend the past three millennia trapped within these shadows only to gain no hold of their power." A flick of his wrist, quick, precise; a card appeared between his index and middle fingers, and he looked at it for a moment before smiling gently. "This will do more than well enough, I believe; I'm sure that you would remember him. He plagued your existence after what you did: Black Magician." He held the card before him, turning its face to the other male before continuing in a voice so low that even Yuugi, within him, had to strain to make out the words. "My old friend ... I would be honored to have you fight by my side again."

As the violet-clad spellcaster appeared before him, blue eyes glaring down at his opponent, the thief smirked in triumph, laughing wickedly. "Oh yes, you call upon him, do you! The one who you failed so horribly in the past! Of course he would do your bidding, wouldn't he, pharaoh?" he smirked, stepping forward without any fear. "Yes, of course. He gave his life for you before, so why wouldn't he do it all over again. Some can't wait to die, after all." His eyes danced with a nauseating glee as he practically danced his way across the floor with light-footed, mocking steps. "Fail him again, as you have before; you're no different than you were then, pharaoh. You could never do anything properly. You vow to protect those important to you, and yet you showed me all too readily just what a useless brat you really are with how you failed to do a thing for your host. You're washed up, pharaoh; you're a failure."

Atemu stared at the white-haired thief in horror at the mention of his friend's death. Failure ...? He shivered, deadly crimson eyes softening before becoming overrun with fear. My failure; every time that I've let someone down, I never did anything to even attempt to stop it. Is that right? Did I really - could I really have? He shook his head, gaze dropping to the floor. I didn't stop him from harming Yuugi; I just picked up the pieces after the fact. I allowed him to kill Mahaado, because I didn't even bother to find out where he was going. I failed them both, and yet ... and yet they still stand here beside me? How can they even stand to look at me?

Atemu ...!

"Master, it's not -"

"No ..." he whispered, barely audible, but with more than enough conviction in his tone. "No, he's right. I did fail you; I failed both of you. I wasn't there when you needed me to be, and for that, each of you was -"

But I'm still here! I'm fine, because you came for me! Because you saved me; your concern - your love - saved me, Atemu. You know that!

He didn't make a response, instead staring at his opponent with blank, defeated eyes. In his mind's eye, all that he could see - all that he could feel - were those moments of his own complete failures and defeat. The exact moment of Mahaado's sacrificial death in his name, at the hands of the tomb robber; the piercing pain and loss that bit through him like a knife was as fresh as it had been in the first instant all of these years later. Returning to Yuugi's soul room to find it completely destroyed, running to his own to find the boy hanging in the style of crucifixion, blood liberally sprayed and pooled onto every surface imaginable; he'd never felt such desolation - such helplessness - as he had at seeing Yuugi in such a vulnerable position, so near death. The thoughts could not be shaken from his mind, and he stared hopelessly at his enemy.

"Master, you never failed me - never failed us. I willingly gave my life in order to help you in the only way that I could see at the time. There were no other options, and I would gladly sacrifice myself to protect you again if need be." Clear blue eyes stared into clouded crimson; a knowledge and understanding passed from one into the other. Here was the pharaoh's greatest friend, most loyal priest, and sworn servant, telling his childhood friend and ruler that he would never abandon him, no matter what 'wrongs' others believed his pharaoh had committed against him. He knew, as no others besides him would, that his friend, his pharaoh, would never wrong him in any way; the young leader was far too compassionate for such cruelty.

"Mahaado ..." A small hope for redemption glimmered in soulless, lost eyes; a plea for salvation.

"Let us support you."

Please ... Atemu ...!

The thief, however, scoffed at their words. "Support, indeed," he mocked, smirking cruelly. "Yes, pharaoh! Take their support! Use them, as you've used them before. Let them die for you, because what worth do their lives have if not to be taken in your name?"

"Stop ..."

"Newsflash, pharaoh; you're not a king anymore, and you were never a god. I don't care what lies you liked to believe, they were never true, and they never will be." He smirked, stepping closer and grabbing Atemu by the collar of his shirt, hauling him up with little difficulty; the one-time king did not even attempt to fight back. A feral grin. "I'll spell it out for you: you are and always were merely a spoiled brat. Everything was always what you wanted, when you wanted it; you held no regard for anyone other than yourself, and you still don't. I'm going to enjoy taking you down, bloodthirsty pharaoh." A victorious smirk; the light of hope in Atemu's eyes faded.

- - -

It had all started out as a twitching in the nerves in his left eye socket. They were reacting to something that he couldn't quite determine at first, but it soon became clear: somewhere, the darkness was stirring with use. Somewhere, other Items were being used for some purpose or another.

He was intrigued, to say the least; there was something that seemed interesting - almost useful - about it, and he was positive that, above all else, it was a very, very important matter.

He had been pondering recent developments for at least a week by this point; little pangs of longing to be elsewhere that assaulted him at random had become more and more frequent. Sometimes, he was drawn back towards Egypt, the country which had given him so much already through the knowledge that he had gained there and the ideas that had been formed. At other times, he was drawn almost inexplicably towards Japan. This time, he felt that was the place that called to him.

It had been going off and on for well over a month, in all truth. He couldn't quite tell exactly what it was that had set the pull on him off, but he had been positive that he needed to be there, nonetheless; the new feeling of power stirring only served to deepen his urge to go, making him all the more glad that he would be leaving for the land of the rising sun the next morning. After all, if there were Items there, then it was the best possible place for him to be present.

He needed them, after all, and he apparently would certainly put them to much better use than whoever had them now; he, at least, would use them for a purpose instead of for the furthering of personal power through fighting. He would use them for something amazing, something wonderful - something that they had perhaps never been used for before. They held some hidden secret - hidden power - and he was certain that he could tap into it and bring her back. His beautiful, perfect, and beloved fianc�e ...

He missed her; he had missed her greatly ever since her untimely death. They had been perfect for each other in every way, but fate had decided to stick her hand in where she was not wanted and tear them apart.

Losing his beloved Cyndia had only proven to show just how much she meant to him, however; he would do anything to be with her again, anything at all. There were times when he was certain that he would even give his own life, if only she could live again. She didn't deserve death; she was too kind, too gentle to ever deserve death. He would put his life as an offering if fate would only reverse her decision for Cyndia's life.

That was where the Items came in, of course; he would get them and use them to bring his beloved back. He didn't need a bargain with fate if he had something with enough power to do what he needed. It was a perfect plan, really; all he needed now was the materials to set his plan into action, and that would be easy enough. Even if someone attempted to hide an Item from him, he would just find out about it without any real effort at all.

For now, however, he had more important issues to deal with; the plans for his trip had just been finalized, placed under the guise of a business trip that he would be taking to promote his company's newest and great product. He just needed to decide on exactly where he needed to be and when he needed to be there; unfortunately, he was not being drawn to any particular area of Japan, and his Eye did not allow him the opportunity to scan the thoughts of people out of a certain range for him. This is proving to be more difficult than I had first anticipated, he mused, glancing towards the photo frame on his desk. But I doubt it will be too much trouble once I am there; they can't hide from me forever.

It didn't cross his mind that whoever held the other Items may not particularly want to give them up to him; it was almost absurd to consider such a possibility, really, as he wouldn't truly be taking them forever. He would merely borrow the Items to complete his task; once he had his fianc�e back in his arms, he would have no further use for any Millennium Item at all.

A pale hand reached out to gently caress the glass of the frame; a reverent and loving gesture towards the lovely blonde smiling in the photograph encased within. One golden brown eye softened as he looked upon her features, then retracted his hand and brushed back the curtain of silver hair that took the opportunity to fall into his right eye. Will it work ...? The question reared its head at times, whenever he felt the most doubt about his carefully laid-out plans. He said that it held the power to bring back a life, but he never said that it would be any life ...

Suddenly, that one eye hardened, and he sat back, spine straightening. No, he thought fiercely. No, it has to work. It will work. Nothing will keep me from being with her once again.

A maddened, crazed glow seemed to light up his right eye, and if anyone were to look closely enough, the glint of light catching on gold could be seen from under the silver hair that covered his left eye. It was the look of a man who had lost himself to his own plans for revenge and lust; it was the look of a man on a mission, and Pegasus J. Crawford would not be stopped until he reached his goal.

- - -

I can't ... Yuugi, I just can't. His thoughts were like a choked whisper, bound and broken by a fear that he was certain that he had never felt before. I can't do this. There's no way for me to -

Don't say that; I know that you can, even if you don't believe in it. There was a pause, and Atemu felt something wash over him, powerful, wishful emotions that took over his entire being. Love, determination, faith, hope; they came together in an attempt to give him the courage and strength that he needed. I'm with you, Atemu, no matter what. I believe in you, and I know that you can do this. You're better than this! So please ... please don't give up. Not now. You saved me before; I thought that I would die, I was so afraid that you wouldn't come for me, but you did. That's how I know that you can beat this now.

He shook his head slowly in denial, too afraid by what he could possibly lose if he chose to stand his ground and fight. "My fault," he whispered, a slow chill working its way down his spine. He shivered at the sensation, bowing his head. Crimson eyes, dulled of their ferocity and fire, remained fixated to the floor, and he tried his hardest to block out the outside world. "It's my fault. Mahaado's death ... your pain ... how could I honestly believe that I'd be able to do anything here?"

"That's right, pharaoh. Everything that you touch withers to nothing. You are worthless, helpless, and alone. Who would help a cursed pharaoh who thought only of himself and never of his kingdom? The real reason for its fall ... it's all on your shoulders!" A smirk of sickening glee formed on the thief's lips as he took a step forward. "The deaths of thousands of people; the blame for all of that rests on your shoulders alone because you were too self-absorbed to care about what your actions might cause for your kingdom. Do you remember their screams as their blood satiated the sands? The pleas for mercy?" A laugh that bordered on insane, high-pitched and piercing; the one-time king flinched at the sound, taking a step back. "Your thirst for power, for blood; you may as well have driven the swords into their hearts yourself. Oh, but they worshipped you still, pharaoh. How could then not, knowing that any other action would get them killed?"


"It is never enough. Your fault? Truly it is!"

He flinched again, shivering again in fear. Before him, the violet-robed spellcaster faltered for a moment before turning to him and taking a few steps forward. "Master," he whispered, concern and perhaps a bit of pity in his voice. "Please do not listen to his lies. You were never a bad king."

The words, however, went unheeded as he fell to his knees in defeat. A bitter silence fell over the room, and none dared even move as the tomb robber glared down at the pharaoh.

"Yuugi." The sound was tentative, unsure, but it broke the silence nonetheless. "Don't listen to him." The young man trembled once, twice, before slowly bringing his head up and looking over his shoulders. Red eyes showed a childlike fear as he gazed at the brunette behind him in shock. "You can feel it, right? You know what he's doing, so why are you letting it bring you down?" Jounouchi turned his head to look at Honda at those words, mouth hanging agape as he tried to comprehend just what his boyfriend was doing. "Groundless taunts; it's all an attempt to keep you from trying to fight him. But then who is the one afraid? How can you be the one with true fear when he's the one avoiding the fight!"

"True fear ...?" Crimson eyes closed slowly, remaining shut for a moment before reopening; a strange determination seemed to glow within them as they gazed upon the brunette, and Atemu nodded slightly. That's right ... there is something to these words, something not quite right. A bluff?

The blonde raised an eyebrow before stepping forward. "Stand and fight, then! If you face his bluff head-on, you can do it, right?"

"But are you sure that you want to do that, pharaoh?" The words followed Jounouchi's with barely a hair's breadth between them, and Atemu's head snapped around to look at the tomb robber again. "You know what might happen if you do as they say. Yes, stand and fight, by all means, but who will you condemn this time? Your precious host? Perhaps the two fools, even. Or ..." He trailed off, teeth showing in a vicious grin. "Do you condemn her?"

Atemu frowned, looking to where the thief pointed behind himself; his eyes widened in horror as he realized just who 'her' referred to. "Anzu!" Immediately, he was on his feet; immediately, he began forward, only to be pushed back by an invisible barrier. Growling, he pounded on it with his right fist, and behind him, he could hear the cries of outrage from Yuugi's two classmates, screaming at the thief for being so cowardly as to use a helpless female as a hostage. That was when he noticed it.

Anzu was not moving, save for the steady rise and fall of her chest as her body breathed.

- - -

It was a strange feeling; little more than a nudge at the back of his mind more than anything else, really, but a strange feeling, nonetheless. Unnerving in some ways, and definitely something that he had never felt before, a more superstitious man might have said that it was the work of some sort of magic.

To believe such a thing, of course, would be foolishness; magic did not exist.

Somewhere, he felt a small tug towards the past along with that nudge; it was something so distant, from a time so long ago, that it seemed almost ethereal in nature. Most would shiver at the chilling implications that came along with it, a hint of a haunting past filled with intrigue and war.

Again, however, it would be foolishness to believe that feeling. The past did not matter, only the future.

So, it was with an unsettling growl that Kaiba Seto tossed his pen down onto his desk and turned towards the window, glaring out to the view of Domino City as he tried to shake that unnerving feeling in the back of his head. At first, he almost thought that it was possibly just that he'd neglected to make note of something in one of the various reports for his company that he had been reading through earlier that day; it wasn't something that happened to him often - he had always had an almost disturbing attention to detail - but he was human, and human error could always occur.

But he had skimmed through those reports again already, and had found no such instances of error. He had shaken the thought from mind, only to have it return minutes later. This time, he had wondered if perhaps there had been something that he'd forgotten for Mokuba; even rarer than missing a point on the reports, that had also been known to happen at least once or twice in the past. But that hadn't been it, either; it couldn't have possibly been that, really. After all, Mokuba was sitting on the couch in his office, idly shifting through cards and toys that he had fallen in love with at one time or another. The last time that he had forgotten something for his younger brother, the boy had spent the rest of the day glaring at him and complaining about how much he wished he could maybe have a normal brother for a change; a brother who wasn't such a workaholic. Sure, he had apologized later that evening, but Seto knew Mokuba well enough to know that the boy would go on another such tirade should he forget another event for him.

The pricking in the back of his mind persisted, however, even after he had determined that it also hadn't been something involving his brother; in fact, it seemed to get worse with each passing moment. He felt anger, desperation, and sheer revulsion hit him in waves, all emotions tied to a fight. The entire situation was shaping up to give him a rather large headache. Above all else, that was something that he couldn't really afford at the moment.

Leaning back in his chair, he continued to glare out the window, wondering just what could be causing this feeling of a fight in his mind; closing his eyes, he was sure that he could make out two distinct figures, surrounded by a cloud of inky black shadows. A frown creased his brow, and he felt a growl bubble up from the depths of his throat; this wasn't helping him in any way.

If, then, he were to actually contribute the feeling to some foreign 'fight' that was indicative of the past, he might find himself close to being locked away in an asylum. After all, what sane person could possibly say that he was feeling a fight between two people who may or may not have been alive in the present day? It just wasn't natural in any way whatsoever, and he didn't like the implications that fact held, either. The more that he thought about it, the more he hated the whole situation.

Still, he could not shake it, regardless of how much it annoyed him to no end; that feeling of something important happening, something that might require his attention; it would not go away, no matter how hard he tried to force it to. It was as though, whatever was happening, he was involved somehow, and he couldn't quite understand how he would ever, ever end up being involved in some sort of mystical bullshit. It denied all sense of logic that he had ever known.

Either way, that he was involved somehow made it worthy of at least some attention, he supposed, so he gave the matter some thought. Somehow, he would find out exactly what was going on, and he would deal with it. Until then, he would ride the feeling out and not give too much concern to the matter. When it arose again, as he knew somehow that it would, he would find out more. And if it did anything - anything at all - to compromise his brother, his lifestyle, or his company?

He'd crush it instantly.

- - -

"Tomb robber, what have you done to her?" He shook with a barely suppressed rage as he stood, stepping forward. "What have you done to her!"

"My, my, pharaoh, so impatient; you don't even bother to hear the terms of our game before you begin to yell!" He stepped forward, a devious smirk again on his lips. There was a sauntering swagger to his step, and he seemed to have a look in his eyes that showed that he fully believed himself to have already won.

Atemu's eyes narrowed. 'Game'? He considers toying with the lives of others to be a game? I will not accept this ... I will not accept him dragging in more people who don't even have anything to do with this war that he has waged upon me. He straightened his spine and glared up into the other's eyes. "Let her go." The white-haired young man simply shook his head, grinning that infernal grin, and Atemu growled out, "Fine. The terms, then."

Atemu, no! Don't do this ... what if ... what if she -

I will not allow for your friend to be harmed, little one. I promise you that.

"It's quite simple, pharaoh. You have to choose." The same triumphant smirk remained on his lips as he spoke, and he stepped forward again before motioning behind himself in Anzu's direction, and then behind Atemu - in the direction of Jounouchi and Honda. "It rests on the choice that you will make. Do you see now? You must decide, pharaoh! This girl or the two who have always ignored your host; it is your decision who lives and who dies!"

Who lives ...? His brow furrowed at the words, and he looked away for a moment, eyes glazing over in thought before widening in shock and horror. He couldn't ...! He stepped back once, head snapping back up to look at the thief. "You wouldn't possibly ..."

"Wouldn't I? I believe all you have to do is simply look to your precious host to know if I would, pharaoh."

He turned away, glancing towards the Black Magician before looking at the ground. I can't make this choice, Yuugi. I can't condemn them like that.

I know ... I ... He paused, pressing up against Atemu's consciousness as much as he could; his other self could feel his fear almost as though it were his own, and he shivered at the contact. They've never been particularly kind to me, and they never paid much attention to what I did unless it was something that lead to an embarrassing situation, but ... but they don't deserve to ... nobody ever deserves to die, so I can't ...

Well, that's not entirely true ... His thoughts were akin to a gentle murmur, and he felt his partner's confusion. He shook his head again, almost sadly this time, before continuing to explain. There are some who deserve the punishment of death because their crimes are so heinous that there is nothing else that will suffice. But these two ... they have not committed anything so atrocious. This decision is nothing to be taken lightly.

"What are you waiting for?" His head snapped up, and he looked at the thief in annoyance before realizing that it was not his voice that had spoken. Blinking, he looked around himself before resting his eyes on the blonde that stood there. "How about I make this simple for you, Yuugi? As long as we've got life in us, we're going to fight. So help her; she can't do anything to save herself right now, so you have to get her out of this, got it?"

A grateful smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, and he nodded once - a sharp, firm nod of understanding - before turning back to face his opponent. No sooner had he done so, however, than everything around him seemed to swirl like the inside of a kaleidoscope. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it before turning to his left to find his spellcaster companion still with him; other than that, he was perfectly alone in this strange, new place, however. Part of his so-called game ...? he pondered, trying to assess his surroundings before he made a move. "Mahaado ... can you find them? I know that they'll try to fight, but this is -"

"Too much for an ordinary human to handle," the violet-robed man finished for him, nodding some. "I'll find them, pharaoh, one way or another." Almost before he finished speaking, he faded from view, and Atemu looked at the empty space where his friend had been sadly.

"Find them, please ... and keep them safe," he whispered before starting on his own way; it was his goal, after all, to find Yuugi's long-time friend and keep her out of harm's way. One step at a time, he moved, cautious of what he may find or run into; it was a strange place that he had never been in before, a maze that he was certain would prove as deadly as it was mysterious. Anzu ... his mind whispered, reaching out for the girl to no avail. Where has he hidden you now?

Be careful, Atemu. A quick warning; he closed his eyes, smiling softly as he reached within himself to send the sensation of a gentle caress to his partner, and he felt the boy purr in response before he regained his composure. Is this really the time for that? he queried jokingly, light laughter tainting his words, making them lose the admonishing effect that he'd intended to have taint them. He pressed against Atemu's consciousness again, trying his hardest to aid his other self's search.

The two observed the surroundings silently, Yuugi flinching within his soul's room every now and then at the scenery around them; Atemu's lips settled into a grim line as he closed his eyes. Rather hellish, isn't it? he mused before beginning to walk. I can't imagine that he'd be keeping Anzu anywhere that's even remotely better than this, sadly. Are you positive that you're up to this, little one? You don't have to look if you don't want to.

But I want to help you to find her. He nodded, understanding the sentiment perfectly as he continued on his way. She was, after all, the one who had been by Yuugi's side for so many years - the one who had defended him and stood by him no matter what it had made others think of her. In a way, Atemu himself had already begun to feel a rather strong admiration for the girl's spirit and how she always seemed to remain true to herself. It was a trait that few seemed to have.

And so he continued along, unsure of just what he would find in front of himself as he did so. Each step was more careful than the last, and he paused often, whispering reassurances to his partner - he did not dare admit that they were largely to calm himself down, as well - as often as he could. It was silent, almost deathly so, and the maze seemed to stretch on forever. One hand to the wall at all times, he worked his way through as best as he could, always hoping that his next turn would bring him to his beloved's friend. Each turn, he was disappointed.

He refused to give up, however; he could not let his little one down the way that he would be if he gave up on finding his friend. Each step brought him both closer and yet further from his goal, he knew. There was no way that the thief would be anywhere near either Anzu or Jounouchi and Honda, so whoever he went after, he would still not be able to fully end whatever it was that was being set into motion.

It was the uncertainty of it that sent chills down his spine.

It was the uncertainty of it that sent chills down his spine. Each moment passed with a sense of dread, a question of if he would make it in time. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had already begun to attempt to formulate a plan to manage to save all at risk, even knowing that he likely couldn't.

Another step, and suddenly a heart-wrenching scream tore through the air.


- - -

It was cold, dark, and strangely alone. He was certain that, mere seconds earlier, there had been someone right by his side, but now the space was perfectly still, as though it had been empty for an extended period of time; rather unnerving, really. He reached one hand out cautiously, unsure of just why fear gripped like a vice at his heart as he moved, but his outstretched hand hit nothing, closed upon nothing, and his heart pounded with racing beats. The sound reached his own ears, hollow.

Where is he? he thought, mind racing for an answer as a brown-eyed gaze darted around the empty darkness. Disappointment, dread, and helplessness began to wash over him as he confirmed what he was most afraid of: absolutely nothing - and no one, more specifically - was there. A strangled, choked cry of frustration bubbled up from the depths of his throat, and he took a step forward. "I know you're here somewhere. I just have to find you ..."

He ran his hand through his hair as he tried to gather his thoughts - a nervous habit, he knew - and he slowly began to calm his pounding heart. It would do him no good to give into his fears, not when he had something to do, someone to find. Besides, he remembered, this is something that he can't stand. It's too spooky for him, I'm sure. So I have to find him, before anything happens ... and before he possibly does something stupid. Easier said than done, he knew.

He continued to take careful steps, keeping one hand out in front of himself; his eyes were yet to adjust to the darkness surrounding him, and he couldn't be sure if there was anything that he might run into. Slowly, cautiously he walked, glancing around in a vain attempt to decipher his surroundings, but the blackness just seemed to go on endlessly. "This won't get me anywhere," he muttered, stopping in his tracks. "Jounouchi! Where are you!" But his shout remained unanswered.

A frustrated sigh; he quickened his pace, hand hitting against a solid, smooth wall. Just what I need, his mind rejoiced in victory. At the very least, it would provide him with some form of a pathway, as long as he kept alongside it. He continued along, practically at a run as he redoubled his efforts to find the other young man. Just stay safe, and I'll find you somehow. He knew, even as the words passed through his consciousness, that the blonde would kill him if he'd ever spoken them.

Jounouchi hated being thought of as someone that needed protecting. He said that it made him sound weak.

Suddenly, however, he lost his balance towards the side where he had been pressing his hand against the wall; quickly, he regained his footing and turned towards the opening that he hadn't expected, quickly finding the wall again and taking off at a run down the corridor. He had no idea if he was even going remotely in the correct direction, but he knew that he couldn't waste time questioning the decision, so he ran as fast as he could.

Wait for me, and I'll find you.

It didn't even cross his mind that the other young man didn't have the same thought running through his mind, except, perhaps, more panicked. He didn't think for even a moment that he would end up colliding into the one that he sought.And so it was a distinct - though not entirely unpleasant, to either boy - surprise when they did literally run into each other; a shocked, almost embarrassingly frightened yell tore from the Jounouchi's mouth as he fell back, only to be caught by the brunette who had been searching for him. "Would you stop that? Give a guy a heart attack, seriously ..." he muttered as he pulled the blonde back up, hands on the boy's shoulders as he leaned in to look into the other's eyes.

"Honda ...?"

"Who else? Don't tell me your brain got fried now, too."

A punch landed on his shoulder roughly, leaving a stinging - almost dully throbbing - pain in its wake. "Jerk. And who are you to talk about giving a heart attack, anyway? How the hell was I supposed to know that you weren't one of -" But he cut off before he finished his sentence, turning his head away, half angry, half ashamed.

"One of what?" His eyes narrowed protectively - almost dangerously possessive - and his grip on the blonde's shoulders tightened. "Were you running from something, then?" The other turned his face away each time that Honda attempted to look into his eyes, and his mind raced for any kind of answer as to why. It would go a long way to explaining why he screamed when we ran into each other. He let one of his hands trail down Jounouchi's arm, wrapping his arm around the blonde's waist. "Shh ... you don't have to be afraid to tell me anything. You know that." A brush of hair against the cheek as the boy that he held pressed closer and nodded; it was easy for him to get the blonde to calm down, at least. "What was after you, Jounouchi? You have to tell me."

"So you can protect me from it, huh?" he muttered bitterly, tone displaying clearly how deeply he despised the sentiment. "I don't need protecting, Honda."

A brown eyebrow raised sharply, skeptical. "But you are afraid." A blunt statement; he left no room for argument with it, and it didn't seem as though Jounouchi was going to protest the matter in the first place. They stood there, not daring to move, and Honda whispered, "I know it looks bad, and I know you hate this kind of stuff, but I'm here for you. So just lean on me if you need to, alright? I won't let anything happen." He felt another nod against his cheek and smiled in spite of himself.

"Feel important saying that?" But it held no anger this time; instead, he seemed to almost be laughing as he asked his question. Honda's grin widened.

"Just a little bit," he said in response, mirth coloring his words as well, but a grim sort of determination underlay them as he repeated, "Just a little bit." It was a difficult thing to admit, the fear that still pulled at him and whispered into the back of his mind that they were very likely to die, no matter what they attempted to do to save themselves. It hurt to think that he might not be able to save someone who might depend on him, hurt to think that he might even have to watch Jounouchi die right in front of him. He didn't want it to happen, and yet he was unsure of whether he could do anything at all to stop it, and so he simply held the other boy as close as he dared, eyes glancing around the room every few seconds in a half-crazed attempt to find something - anything - that he may have missed.

"Not safe here ..." An almost distant mumbling; Honda pulled back just enough to look at the blonde before nodding and releasing him. Jounouchi stretched, narrowing his eyes to see just a little better in the darkness, then looked over his shoulder with a cocky grin that the brunette could just barely make out. "Then, what are we waiting for, right? Can't let him outshine us, can we?" A tentative step forward. "Besides ... I told him we'd fight to stay alive. I don't want to turn out to be a liar."

- - -

Atemu? I was wondering ...

He had been walking in silence for a while at that point, although it seemed as though barely any time had passed at all. Neither he nor Yuugi dared to say anything and instead focused all of their combined efforts and attention on finding Anzu. Atemu's mood had been growing steadily grimmer, and Yuugi had become extremely concerned for his other self. As such, he had taken it upon himself to break their silence and attempt to lighten his other's mood in some way.

When there was no response, he pressed as close as he could to Atemu's consciousness, humming softly before asking, Atemu, are you listening? Again, there was no response, and he sent a wave of sorrow to the other, only to immediately receive what felt like a gentle, comforting pat; he took it as a signal to continue. You called the Black Magician 'old friend.' I ... was he ... real?

A soft chuckle; Atemu closed his eyes, smiling gently. Very much so; as much as I once was. His thoughts seemed distant and yet strangely alluring at the same time, and Yuugi found himself becoming increasingly curious. Nudging against Atemu's consciousness again, he silently urged the other to continue. I grew up with him. I suppose you could say that I thought of him as an older brother, really, although he always seemed so cautious around me. But ... Gentle laughter now accompanied his thoughts, and the dark mood seemed almost completely forgotten. Well, he couldn't really be blamed for that. There would have been hell to pay if I'd ever been harmed, after all. Not that it ever stopped me ...

Meaning? But the former pharaoh seemed to be too lost in his own memories to respond; Yuugi almost felt jealous, and he pushed against the other again, more firmly this time, trying to see what held his beloved's attention.

I was reckless, he responded finally. I never took care to watch what I was doing or where I was going, and Mahaado constantly had to remind me that I was the prince whenever I did something stupid. Like this one time ... His thoughts trailed off, and he began chuckling again, leaning against the wall for support. It was strange, in a way; he had almost forgotten about it until Yuugi had questioned just how real his friend was.'

One time? He was curious, to say the least; his curiosity was something that Atemu loved most about him, however.

He didn't respond right away, knowing just how concerned Yuugi would be at hearing the truth, but he gave in soon enough. He'd been bitten by a snake, and ... well, he was my closest friend - most were too afraid to get close enough to just relax with me - and I didn't want anything to happen to him. So ...

Please tell me that you didn't suck the venom out yourself. But Atemu merely laughed, and a soft shudder hit him as Yuugi pouted inside of him; he didn't like the thought of his beloved putting himself in such danger so very willingly. Atemu, that's ... I mean ... you could have been ... He let his thoughts die away, not sure of just what he could say and feeling so helpless against the one-time king's past experiences.

"The two of you would get along very well," he commented, smirking at the annoyed huff that his words gained from the boy within him. He said something like that, as well, he admitted, taking care to make his words to Yuugi as soothing as he possibly could. And I realized sometime later that he was right, of course, but all that I could think of at the time was keeping him alive. I didn't want him to die. He leaned his head back against the wall, eyes still closed, and an air of sincerity surrounded him.

Mm ... I can understand that, Yuugi said finally, and a grateful smile appeared on Atemu's lips as he stood up straight again, walking forward once more. They fell into silence again as he carefully made his way along the wall, searching for where he might have to turn next; his instincts, along with his own connection to the shadows, allowed him to see more than he might have been able to otherwise, but he still could not make out just how the maze was laid out.

"Tricky, tricky ..." he muttered under his breath, crimson eyes, narrowing as he glanced around himself; there was a chill in the air, one that hadn't been there moments earlier, and his spine stiffened. He dodged to the left just as a spear struck at the air where he had stood moments earlier, and his chest heaved with a heavy breath as he stared at that spot. "Wouldn't it figure ...?" Holding his right hand out in front of himself, he concentrated, closing his fingers into a loose fist, as though he were holding onto something. Within him, Yuugi nearly asked just what he was doing just as a sword suddenly appeared out of the darkness; the spear came at Atemu again, and he jumped back, batting a quick parry at it as he did so, knocking the wielder off guard momentarily. Kind of weak; does he mock me with whatever spirit he has sent?

My other self, look out!

Crimson eyes locked onto the tip of the spear just in time, and Atemu raised his sword to block, just barely holding back his opponent. His eyes narrowed dangerously, and he growled out, "I don't have time for this." Thrusting forward with all of his might, he managed to push his assailant back as he made a quick slash; a tormented, inhuman scream enveloped the area, and he flinched back, covering his ears just as whatever he had cut disappeared. A frown settled onto his features, and he straightened himself up, looking around to regain his bearings before moving on again. Thank you, my partner. It would appear that I let my guard down too soon.

Reckless indeed, came the joking response, and he smiled as Yuugi's lighthearted laughter filled his head. There was silence again, although it was more uneasy this time as Yuugi seemed to fidget within him; the boy had something that he wanted to know, Atemu could tell, but was unable to determine how to phrase it.

He looked for any signs of where the thief may have placed Anzu as he waited for his little one to come to a decision on if he would actually ask his question or not. One step forward, two steps; each movement he made was faster and almost more desperate than the last, as though he felt the weight of impending disaster pressing against him. His footfalls echoed in the darkness, each louder than the last until they were akin to the cacophony of beating drums on the battlefield.

Huh? He stopped short suddenly, looking around in confusion. Something was different, although he couldn't quite place what it was or why he even felt that way. His eyes darted around in the darkness, and he frowned some, a growl forming deep in his throat. Frustration overcame him, and it took all that he had to not begin pacing in an attempt to quell the sensation. What happened ...? A slow step forward, followed by one to the side. His frown deepened. The path widened?

It was strange, when he thought about it; the maze had been fairly predictable until then - almost too much so - that it now seemed too much like he was being led to this one specific place. And perhaps, he considered silently, I was. Perhaps this was his plan all along. Within him, Yuugi's concern washed over his awareness, and he frowned as he looked at the alcove. It bothered him, in a way, and the feeling was not dispelled in the least when his eyes made out a stone altar at the center. Little one, whatever happens from here on, I promise that I will do everything in my power to keep you safe. Do you understand? He stepped forward with the utmost caution, frown still present on his lips. This is where the battle truly begins, and ... The thought trailed away as his eyes locked onto the altar again; he had realized as soon as he had seen the structure that there might be someone on it, and had hoped that he had been wrong. His suspicion, unfortunately, was now confirmed, and he was sure that he knew exactly who had been placed onto it. I don't want you hurt by what you may see here, Yuugi ...

But the boy had already seen it, in spite of the former pharaoh's wish; he saw the body resting on the altar, and he had already worked out just what it was for. The room was no different than any used for sacrificial rituals in the past, and Yuugi screamed in rage within the room of his soul. No! You can't let this happen! You can't let him do this to her! Atemu ... she's ... this is ... But the words died away as he seemed to lose the ability to form them into proper, coherent thoughts.

I will stop it, Yuugi. I promised you that I would save her, and I will not go back on my word. Trust in me. He continued forward, anger blazing in his eyes; enough people had been thrown into the way in the thief's vengeful plans three thousand years earlier without Anzu needing to be put at risk, as well. His grip tightened on the sword that he had nearly forgotten was still held in his hand as he moved closer, tension built so tightly that it was practically a string just waiting to snap on a moment's notice.

His eyes scanned the area again, looking above the altar for anything that he might be able to see; three blades, he noticed, poised and waiting to bite into anyone or anything that got in their way. Somehow, he knew that they weren't meant for Yuugi's close friend; somehow, he knew that the tomb robber had set them to react to one person, and one person alone.

Tricky, he thought. And much cleverer than I have given him credit for, I admit. He felt Yuugi's question without the boy even needing to ask it and merely shook his head, preferring not to answer it. I didn't want to do this. Forgive me, little one.


I am the target, his thoughts whispered to the boy, and he closed his eyes, concentrating as hard as he could on the task at hand. He hated knowing just how much he would be betraying Yuugi's faith and trust with the action that he was about to take, but he needed to do it; it was the only way that he could protect him from what was to come. Forgive me, he sent again, biting back a yell as he felt a pull on his body that felt almost as though he were being torn in two.

His eyes remained closed as the sensation subsided; soft, gasping breaths reached his ears, so very familiar. Slowly, crimson eyes cracked open to small slits. One step back. His eyes opened fully, filled with an unspoken apology as he looked into the shocked, fearful, and hurt violet eyes of the one he loved.

"Atemu ...?"

- - -

Disclaimer: Yuugiou is the intellectual property of Kazuki Takahashi. I do not claim any right to the series or its characters, and I should probably apologize for the hell I'm likely to be putting them through in this story.
Other Note:I'm terribly sorry for the huge delay on this chapter. I kept getting blocked on just how to execute everything in spite of having it all planned out from about two weeks after I finished chapter six. Add onto that a random bout of strep throat (in the middle of the summer), and some personal problems ... it all adds up to me being out of the whole writing game for a bit. But hopefully the next chapter won't take me quite as long as this one!
Language Note: In response to a review to chapter six on 'Jounouchi' being a given name and 'Katsuya' being a family name: no, I'm sorry, but it's not. If you'd like proof of my statement, I would like to point you to the Japanese-English dictionary at linear. Uncheck the box for 'words,' check the box for 'names,' make sure that 'Japanese' is highlighted, and type 'Jounouchi' into the text field. You'll find that the entries come up with an 's' (for 'surname/family name') next to them. If you put in 'Katsuya,' you'll find that the entries tend to show up with a 'u' (undetermined/unknown at present by the server) or 'g' (a non-gender-specific given name). Also, if you look in the manga, Kazuki Takahashi points out a small error that he made at one point, where he used the wrong given name for Jounouchi (this note appears in volume 7), and that his given name is, in fact, 'Katsuya.' So, no, his family name is not 'Katsuya,' and his given name is not 'Jounouchi'; doing a little research into the matter before giving a criticism on such a matter would be recommended in the future. And, by the way, on the point of calling 'Jounouchi' as 'Jou,' please just stop with it. It is rude to shorten a person's family name, and, if you bother to ever actually look at the original series, you'll find that Jounouchi is never once referred to as 'Jou,' as the characters would not be so rude as to do something like that. (Forgive me if I come off as snarky. I don't like to nor do I mean to; I just don't like people getting their information wrong and then accusing me of messing it up when I haven't.)