Summary: Yugi knew that fifteen would be the best year of his life, but what about the years that came after? What about the life he and the others were forced to lead after the completed death of Atem?What makes life worth living when the best days are gone forever?
Warning: Contains numerous character deaths, and a major end-of-series spoiler.
Author's Beginning Note: Yes, this was inspired by the song by Five for Fighting, but it takes a darker turn than the inspirational material. Where the song was more triumphant and understanding, this one is considerably more confused and upset over what it means to be human and to die. It's sort of about giving up, sort of about holding fast, sort of about hanging on, and sort of about letting go. It's one of the most emotional peices I've done, even if you can't tell, and definitely one of the most personal. I hope you all enjoy this triumphant tragedy, tragic triumph, or whatever you see it as.
A Hundred Years to Live
Yugi Mutou, age fifteen, knew that these would be the best days of his life. There was peril, even death lurking around every corner at every moment, and he spent more time fearing for his life than worrying about the routine exams he had in Algebra, but there was something wonderful about that fear.
On a conscious level he was terrified, he wished it would all just go away, but subconsciously he knew he would go mad if all this were to suddenly stop. He needed this world that his puzzle had opened to him, and as he brushed his fingers over the golden ornament he realized this for the first time. This was a dangerous world, something that most people couldn't even dream of facing, but it was his world. In this world he was important, he was the partner to one of the greatest warriors ever born, ever to die. In this world he was magic, and he loved that more than anything.
"Yugi-kun, are you all right?"
He started from his reverie to find himself staring at the young blue-eyed woman that sat in front of him in class. The exception to his rule. He forced a smile. "Fine," he said. "I'm just fine, Anzu. Don't worry."
She wouldn't worry, he knew that much. If it had been his other self drifting out into pointless wondering she might have been concerned, but so long as it was him she would do nothing but search his distant eyes for him. Sometimes he would catch her staring at him, but he knew that all she was looking for was his yami, the apparently-dark spirit inhabiting his puzzle. It might take her a while longer to realize it, but Yugi was certain she was in love with his yami.
That made him hurt in ways he couldn't explain. To know that she loved him was wonderful, but to realize that the part of him she loved was a different entity entirely was almost more painful than he could bear.
Tightening his grip on his puzzle the youth rose to his feet. Anzu gave him a puzzling look but he brushed it off with another forced smile. "I'll be right back," he said. "I'm gonna go get something to drink."
She grinned. "You won't 'be right back,' " she chuckled, "you take years to get to the water fountain."
The streak-haired boy hoped not--he was looking forward to these next years, regardless of what terrors they would bring.
"Hey, Yugi! Are you ready?" Katsuya leaned his head in the door to find the young man fiddling with his tie, hands shaking. "Come on, man! You're on in five minutes!" The blond rushed in to assist the slightly-smaller man--Yugi had grown considerably in his last year of high school, making him equal height with Ryuuji, barely shorter than Katsuya--in straightening his tie.
Yugi closed his eyes and took a deep breath as his best friend, and Best Man in this occasion, straightened his tie. "How do we do it? This is so nerve-wracking I'm surprised anyone ever gets married. We should all be the result of single-parenting."
Katsuya chuckled. "Hey, consider yourself lucky--do you remember my wedding?"
The young Jounouchi had fainted twice, once face-first onto his bride. Yugi was sure that Mai still teased him for it, but saw the two of them so rarely that he couldn't be sure. He was beyond happy that they had been able to fly in from San Francisco to attend his wedding, but knew it was only because of Ryuuji that they were able to. He was extremely grateful to the now-engaged CEO of Dungeon Dice Incorporated.
But then, Katsuya and Mai were working for him now, weren't they? Mai was a Beta Tester and Katsuya an assistant in design, so Ryuuji had likely overworked them for a week before the flight to make them pay for it. The thought made him smile.
"Hey, how's Ryuuji doing?"
Katsuya gave him an odd look, and Yugi wondered when it was that he had given up on family names and honorifics. When he was younger Katsuya had been Jounouchi-kun and Ryuuji Otogi-kun, but it had definitely been years since he called them that. Even Honda-kun was simply Hiroto now. The blonde smiled when the oddness of his best friend's choice of reference wore off and shrugged. "Rebecca's whipping him into shape; you know the drill."
Yugi shook his head. "I still can't believe they're getting married. I always pegged her marrying Mokuba."
"Didn't we all?" Katsuya patted his back. "Come on, man, it's time to go."
As Yugi walked out to take his place at the end of the aisle he looked about at the crowd gathered around. There was Ryuuji, and Rebecca next to him; Mokuba sitting between the blond girl and his brother; Seto sitting next to his amber-eyed wife--it had been a shocker to everyone when he and Shizuka got married--with the young woman waving. The blue-eyed CEO simply stared levelly, unreadable as ever, and Yugi was glad to know that some things never changed.
Suddenly he wondered why Shizuka wasn't one of Anzu's bridesmaids. Mai was the Maid of Honor, but beyond her there were another three young women that Yugi barely even knew. The young man could barely believe that his fiancee still hadn't forgiven Shizuka for running off with Seto Kaiba--it had been a sort of betrayal to Anzu, apparently, to have her best friend up and disappear, move out of her mother's house, and be married to a man she considered one of their greatest enemies within the next year.
Yugi thought it was ridiculous, and smiled at the young couple as he took his place. He was rewarded when Kaiba gave a bit of a smirk back, but it was forced off with a cough a moment later. Yugi sighed; Kaiba wasn't doing well at all. The stress of his youth was finally catching up with him, and it was projected that he wouldn't live to be forty. He wondered how Shizuka could live on knowing that the man she loved was going to die so prematurely.
Shizuka was patting Seto's back now, and Mokuba looking at him with great concern. Seto brushed off his wife and sat up straight again. He pulled his hand away from his mouth, but not quite quickly enough to completely wipe away the blood trailing out of the corner of his mouth. Another wipe of his long, pale fingers rid his visage of the claret, and Yugi forced himself to look away.
There was his mom, crying in her seat next to Anzu's mother--there were Ryuzaki and Haga, the former Dinosaur duelist with his most recent girlfriend clinging to his arm--there was Pegasus and his retainer, whatever the man's name was--that little foreign duelist boy, closer to a man now of course, from the Kaiba Corp Grand Prix, Leon or something--he thought he saw Vivian Wong, and hoped he was hallucinating.
His grandfather, of course, was nowhere to be seen. He was in the hospital for the third time in a year, in stable condition but not healthy enough to leave yet. Kaiba had arranged for the wedding to be filmed and have a live feed run to the old man's hospital room. If he was awake, he was watching.
There was Amelda, Varon, Rafael; the three Horsemen of Doma had arrived dressed for the occasion and every bit as happy as they had been when they parted ways all those years ago. Yugi squinted to the rows in the back. That man there, one he couldn't seem to keep in focus...Dartz?
No, it wasn't possible--that sort of thing had ended with the passing of the Pharaoh. No more magic, no more importance, nothing. But he could swear that was Dartz, and the smaller figure next to him had to be Kris...
The music started and Anzu stepped out, and the world around her faded from Yugi's vision.
Yugi cleaned off the counter for what felt like the hundredth time that day, glancing at the clock for what seemed like the thousandth. It was three-ten, meaning Naoya should have been home almost ten minutes ago. Class got out at two-thirty and unless he had cleanup duty--which Yugi was certain he didn't--he should have been home within a half hour.
The man sighed. He had wanted to name the boy Atem, or Yami, but he hadn't dared to bring it up with Anzu. He knew she still loved the long-dead young Pharaoh, and any mention of him was likely to shatter the little affection she held for his smaller, mortal counterpart. Yugi had known when they were married--he had been twenty-two at the time, making it thirteen years ago--that she had done it only because she was trying to find some replacement for her beloved Atem. He was the second choice, maybe even the third knowing her affections for Bakura-kun; both young men were made unattainable some way or another, and Anzu was left with Yugi.
It wasn't that their marriage wasn't happy; Anzu was due to have their second child any day now. Not unhappy, just...tentative. Careful. Yugi's marriage to Anzu was like living on eggshells--the slightest mention of those days would bring a darkness to her eyes rivaling Seto's.
Seto...Yugi sighed again. Shizuka was doing well, considering it had only been four months since she lost him. Their second child--a son to partner their daughter--would be six soon, and had been named the heir to Kaiba Corp the a week before Seto passed away. Mokuba was running the corporation at the moment, with the slight assistance of his twelve-year old niece. The man sighed when he recalled the two children's names--Kisara and Noa. Two people Seto had never really accepted, but clearly mourned the loss of nonetheless. Shizuka had had plans to name their next child after her mother, but those plans were clearly to be halted.
Or maybe not--she and Mokuba seemed to be spending a lot of time together lately, and even if it was only joined mourning at the moment, there would be plenty of chances for it to evolve into something more as their lives progressed. Or at least he hoped there would.
He wished them well, but Yugi was jealous of the Kaiba family; able to name their children as they wished regardless of the painful memories they drudged up. Unlike those two, who had clearly found closure and moved on, Yugi and Anzu remained trapped by their confusing pasts. The man was forbidden to speak of his greatest and most treasured friend, forbidden to tell stories of their great adventures, forbidden to tell his own son, descendant of that great legacy, what transpired before his birth. And Anzu was bound by her own heart, bound to give her husband, the man she was supposed to love more than anything, less than all of her being. There would always be a part of her that belonged to the young Pharaoh Atem, the youth that had saved the world from his own family's greed and lust.
Glancing at the wall, Yugi's expression softened; there was the poster for Pegasus' next tournament--how he was still alive was a mystery to them all--bearing a picture not of the silvery-haired Crawford, but a drawing that looked suspiciously like the Thief King that had inhabited the darker half of Bakura-kun's soul for so long. Yugi had heard rumors that Pegasus had taken on an apprentice, but until he was mailed that image he had no idea it was another former bearer of a Sen'nen Item.
Because it was Bakura, he almost hadn't put the poster up. He had finally shown it to Anzu, and though her eyes clouded over for a moment she approved of the artistry and urged him to post it in the shop downstairs. Yugi was the manager now, he had been since his grandfather died four days after he was married. When Yugi died, he hoped, either Naoya or the child his wife carried would take over where he left off.
The world needed games, needed them to forget and to remember. Needed them to know that everyone was still a child at heart, and to understand that there was still a longing in the human heart for a true hero. The world needed shops like this. Domino, most of all, needed this shop.
With the sound of a bell the door opened and in stepped the eldest child in the current Mutou family. His deep brown hair--streaked with gold in the front--was messier than usual, and his eyes, blue like his mother's, downcast. He lifted his gaze slightly to look at his father and sighed. "Hi, dad."
"I ran into some friends from school and we stopped by the arcade for a minute--Haru wanted to show me a new game that just came in."
Yugi waited, and finally the youth sighed and lifted his head entirely, allowing the man to see the bruises that littered the sides of his face and the dark ring forming under his left eye. "They said the son Mutou Yugi should be tougher than this, that they heard stories about you from their parents." He gained momentum as he continued, letting his backpack fall to the ground behind him. "Why do they know all these things I don't? What are the God Cards? Who's Malik Ishtar? What was the Kaiba Corp Grand Prix? And what the hell is that eye symbol they keep showing me?"
Yugi sighed and lowered his maroon eyes. "Go help your mother start dinner."
"It's okay, Mrs. Mutou, the baby is going to be fine."
Her face, flushed from exertion, broke into a weak smile. At forty-five she was still beautiful, though the darkness of her youth had certainly taken its toll. It had left lines where lines weren't meant to be and streaks of grey through hair that Yugi was certain was meant to forever be brown. "...Good," she whispered.
The doctor rose from his place beside the woman's bed, eyes casting to Yugi. "You have a few minutes left," he said gently, as gently as possible. Yugi, holding tightly to his wife's hand, nodded. The doctor stepped out to inform the several people in the waiting room of what was happening.
Anzu took a shaky breath. "Yugi, I'm sorry I've been so--"
"Shh," he urged. "You haven't been anything but wonderful. Everything I thought that I could never have."
She nodded. "That's what I mean. I-I'm sorry I...didn't choose you first. You were always there, and I...I ignored you. I hurt you."
He leaned in closer. "That was years ago," he assured her, smiling. "We were, what, fifteen when it started? Who knew what was coming? You couldn't help how you felt--"
She tightened her weak grip on her husband's hand. "The baby..." she whispered. "His name..."
"Suguroku, just like we talked about."
"No," she asserted, a flicker of fire lighting behind her blue eyes. "Name him...Atem. Like you always wanted to. Tell him...everything..."
Yugi gaped, but the woman had leaned back her head and closed her eyes, letting out a long breath. "Anzu?"
She turned weakly to face him and smiled. As she reached up to brush her fingers over his cheek tears formed in her eyes. "I always...loved you...best." Her hand fell, and the room went silent.
For reasons no one could explain, they were dying. It was a miracle Anzu had lived long enough to have their fourth and final child. She had succumbed to the same bloody and agonizing illness that had taken Seto so many years ago, that now threatened Ryuzaki and Rebecca; the barest hint lurked in Mai's deepest breaths and Katsuya's roughest coughs.
Yugi knew what it was, but didn't dare to think of it. After all, this bizarre illness only hurt those who had been involved in the mess revolving around the Pharaoh. And yet Yugi, who had been at the center of the maelstrom of corruption and shadows, remained untouched. So did Pegasus and Ryou--he, too, had lost his honorific and reference by family name quite a while ago. The carriers of the Sen'nen items lived good lives, healthy and long, while those who had been present in their final moments of power fell one by one.
Knowing this, the man sobbed over his wife's body. He knew she was with Atem and Seto--or was he once again Set?--and would soon be with Rebecca as well, at the very least, but that didn't change the fact that he had lost her. It was his fault--his fault, because he solved the Sen'nen Puzzle. His fault, because he had considered the spirit lingering in its golden depths to be a friend that pulled him into one terror after another. His fault, because he hadn't been strong enough to keep her with him. Once again she was lost to his other half, a half he had killed years ago.
And yet, those years of pain and fear were the best. The moments he felt most alive. It shouldn't be fair that his moment of perfect life should result in the deaths of those he loved. He prayed to whatever god was listening that he would follow her soon.
"I don't want to be alone," he whimpered, holding his wife's hand tightly.
The door opened and a man with long white hair stepped in from the waiting room beyond, brown eyes dark with pain. Yugi turned and Ryou stared for a long moment. Finally the slender man smiled. "You're not alone," he said, reaching up to touch his chest. The place his ring, that cursed dreamcatcher, should have hung. That was all he said. That was all that was needed.
Because Ryou was healthy as well.
Yugi didn't cry when they lowered Mai into her grave four days after his sixty-seventh birthday. She had lasted so long, longer even than Ryuuji, who had had far less exposure to the magicks of the ancient world than she.
Katsuya, from his wheelchair, sobbed openly. Behind him, the man that appeared no older than forty or so but was in fact a year older than his charge cried silently, hands braced on the white-haired man's shoulders in an attempt to quell his wracking sobs. Varon was in remarkable condition, but he had been one of Horsemen so that was little surprise. Yugi would bet that Amelda and Rafael were in equal states of good health.
The Orichalcos was more powerful than the Sen'nen Items, it seemed. It had saved its three chosen warriors, some way or another; Yugi had a feeling that Dartz was helping as well, wherever he was.
Through the creaking of his bones and the slight arthritis that now plagued him Yugi was in the peak of health. He would, he was told, live a long, long life. He knew Katsuya wouldn't last long without either of the women that meant his world--Shizuka had finally passed away a year ago, leaving everything to her five children and her second husband.
Judging by the fact that Mokuba wasn't present for Mai's funeral, he wasn't doing very well himself. None of them would last much longer.
What had happened to the happy days? To the days when they woke up filled with excitement, ready to take on anything? Where had the energy and spirit gone that kept them afloat through the hurricane of their youth? It was as though they had all come to terms with the fact that the year Yugi was fifteen marked the beginning of the best days of their lives, and the day Atem lost and faded into memory at long last marked their end. There was nothing worth living for, not with all hope of reviving that excitement and peril lost.
Perhaps it wasn't ancient magicks after all, but their own understanding. Perhaps, if Yugi allowed himself to realize that those days had been his happiest, he would follow them soon enough.
But he still pictured Anzu, in her wedding dress, in his mind. The day Naoya was born. The moment when Hiromi said her first word. The night when Manako had slept all the way through the night without a single bad dream. Atem's first word. Surely those were his happiest memories?
Happiest, yes, but certainly not his best.
Unbidden, images of everything he had faced from Pegasus through Akunadin flashed through his mind. Dartz's teasing laugh. Noa's sobbing assertion of his right to feel. Shizuka's dive into the water to save her brother's life. Malik's shout of horror when he realized that he was about to be swallowed up by the darkness he had summoned. Those, dark and terrible as they were, were Yugi's best memories.
They started to shovel dirt over Mai's coffin, and Yugi turned to leave, hands in his pockets. Ryou met him at the cemetery gate, and together the two men--barely middle-aged by all appearances--left.
It was one minute to midnight. One minute until the elderly man sitting in the chair, still attractive beneath the furrows in his skin and sorrow in his eyes, would have lived through a century.
Yugi faced the window, rocking slightly in his chair, feeling more exhausted than he had since Ryou passed away. He had lived now more than twice the years of his wife, spent more than half his life without her and nearly a third without his best friend. He had been right--Katsuya died barely a month after Mai was lost. They buried him next to her, just to one side of Seto's and Shizuka's graves, with his sister on one side and his wife on the other. Just as he would want it.
Yugi's grandchildren, all of them adults now, joked that one of them would rest in peace beside 'Grandma Anzu' before Yugi was finally laid own in the earth. He almost believed them. Pegasus had faded out of existence so subtly even Ryou wasn't sure when exactly it was that he had died, and Ryou followed soon after his funeral. Thinking of the couples that died one after the other, Yugi began to wonder about the two Industrial Illusionists' relationship.
He sighed and shifted his weight slightly. He wanted to talk to someone, but knew his voice wouldn't carry downstairs to his granddaughter's bedroom. Besides, he shouldn't wake her up so late at night anyway. So, in lieu of a companion, he took to talking to himself.
"Remember when Mai had her first child? Weren't you happy?"
"What about when Rebecca and Ryuuji got married?"
"When Anzu married you?"
"How about when you solved the Puzzle?"
Now a moment of silence passed, then he sighed and a smile lit his aged features. "Ah, that was wonderful. Like everything suddenly made sense. I'd never been so happy in my life."
He opened his clouded eyes, brow furrowing. "Except when we got back Grandpa's soul from Pegasus, or when we finally got out of Seto's video game, or when Seto announced Battle City to everyone in Domino..."
Actually, all those days had been wonderful. Perfect beyond comprehension. Bloody and horrible and filled with tears and pain and even death, but wonderful nonetheless. Solving the puzzle had opened a floodgate, and for a few short years Yugi was the ruler of the world. He understood things no one else could see--except perhaps Seto and the Thief King--and did things no one else could dream.
He smiled. "Those days really were the best, weren't they?"
The clock struck midnight.
At that instant, the dark window overlooking the vast sea of stars that was the city was flooded suddenly with white light so bright Yugi clenched his eyes shut to protect them. Then, slowly, he looked out into the endless white, and he saw a figure making its way out of the glow. When the young man came close enough, Yugi's eyes grew wide and he stared in awe.
The youth's dark skin shone in the light, glittering with more life and beauty than all his gold jewelry combined. The cape he wore flew out behind him, and the fine cotton robe he wore beneath it fluttered about in the same wind that tousled his multicolored hair.
Maroon eyes softening, Atem held out one gold-bracered hand. "Come on, everyone's waiting," he said.
"You're back," Yugi rasped, voice hoarse and old. "You finally came back...but I'm too weak to go with you. I'm not fifteen anymore, Atem."
The youth smiled, reached down and took hold of Yugi's hand, pulling him to his feet. As he did Yugi felt as though he was being pulled out of heavy clothes, having a great weight lifted from him. He turned back and saw himself, a hundred years old, sleeping in the chair. Looking down at his hands he was surprised to find them smooth and unmarred.
Then he looked up. Realizing that he had to look up to see his partner, Yugi understood at last what had made the Pharaoh smile as he lifted him from his seat. He was fifteen after all; strong and alive and able to go with his friend again.
Atem placed a strong arm around the boy's shoulders. "Come on, aibou," he said. The Japanese sounded strange on his tongue, foreign and bizarre, and it made Yugi smile. "Let's go."
Together they stepped into the perfect white, and the window darkened as they left.
Author's Ending Note: I hope everyone reading this understood what was happening, and saw the udnerlying emotions during the different deaths. Sorry if it deviates from the actual series--I have not seen it through the Millenium World arc, and thus I am uncertain which characters remin and which disappear. I do know what happens to Atem at the end, though, so I know that reference was right. Sorry if it was confusing; it came out the exact way I wanted it to but my beta said it was a bit weird here and there. I apologize for that. If you enjoyed--or even just appreciated--this story, please leave a review. If you hated it with a passion rivaled only by your otaku-dom, feel free to leave a review telling me why.