4. Together

"Well, that was entertaining," Kaiba said with disdain. "I'll leave you dweebs to decide whether or not to bite on Pegasus's bait. I've got a company to run that I've been away from too long already. Come on, Mokuba."

"Hold on, Seto," Mokuba replied. He made a hasty plan to come back to the hotel to see Rebecca later before trotting out after his brother, leaving the rest of the group alone in the suite with Yugi's and Rebecca's grandfathers.

They all sat in stunned silence a moment. Was it possible that Pegasus had really just handed them everything they wanted? Mai tried to absorb what he'd just said. A job offer for Serenity along with a full ride scholarship to one of the area universities. In one move Pegasus had just erased all of the issues that was holding Joey back from staying in San Francisco.

Serenity was the first to recover. "Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but sign me up," she said, rising from her seat and reaching toward the folder with the contracts.

"Now hold on a minute," Joey jumped up and snatched the folder up before Serenity could get to it. "You can't just sign a contract just like that," he said, and Mai's heart sunk. He didn't mean it! He doesn't really want to stay.

"Watch me," she said coldly as she tried to grab the folder away from him, but he held it out of her reach.

"Serenity. Don't do this just for me."

Mai didn't want to hear anymore. Damn him! Why did I believe him? Abruptly she stood up, intending to walk out of the suite, but Serenity's next words stopped her.

"Oh my God, Joey!" Serenity exploded. "What is wrong with you? Are you afraid to be happy?"

Mai turned back to see Joey's reaction, but his back was to her.

"Don't be stupid!" he shot back. "I just don't want you getting into something just because you think you have to for me."

"You're the one being stupid! First of all, it's about time you stopped getting the short end of the stick for me. You deserve better than that, Joey. You deserve your own life. You deserve to have what you want. And second of all, what part of this do you think I wouldn't want? To be here, with all of our friends, to fight this jerk who did this to us, and to be where I can figure out exactly what my connection is to the Shadow Realm and the Mystical Elf and all of that? I'm not seeing the downside for me here. So do what you want, but I'm signing."

"This is really what you want?" Joey asked.

"Duh!" she snapped impatiently.

"Joey, what do you want?" Mai asked.

He spun to face her and as soon as his eyes met hers he gave her a broad smile, then laughed. "Are you kidding? Sign me up!"

Serenity squealed in delight and launched herself at her brother, throwing his arms around his neck and almost knocking him over in the process. "We're moving to San Francisco!"

Joey staggered under his sister's weight and struggled to regain his balance. "So does this mean you're speaking to me again?"

For Mai, it took a moment to sink in. "Really? You really wanna stay?"

"To quote my sister, 'duh!'"

Relief flooded her as it finally hit home: he was going to stay. Well, not stay—he'd obviously have to go back to Domino first—but instead of being separated indefinitely, he'd be gone for three months at the most. Three months.

Joey finally managed to get a very excited Serenity off of him, but before he could do anything else, Yugi's grandfather stood up and seized the folder out of his hand. "Not so fast!"

"Hey!" Joey cried in protest.

"Now you young people need to hold on a moment," Mr. Mutou scolded. "It all sounds good, but you haven't even looked at the contracts and, well, our dealings with Mr. Pegasus haven't always been positive."

"Solomon's right," Professor Hawkins put in. "I spoke with a contract attorney as soon as I first heard about this job offer for the top duelists after you all got back to San Francisco. I had a feeling Seto Kaiba would decline and that Rebecca would be next in line and I wanted to make sure everything was above board before I consented. We can fax him the contracts from the hotel's business center and he can let us know if there's anything worrisome there before anyone signs."

"Unless I have to sell my soul, I'm signing," Joey said firmly, then paused. "On second thought, I could see Pegasus having something in a contract about selling your soul. Maybe Gramps and the professor are right. We can wait a little while longer. Pegasus did say he'd get us new flights if we needed some time to decide, right?" He smiled at Mai and she realized that not only was he coming back in three months, he wasn't going to be leaving quite so soon after all. Her mind was already whirring with plans for the evening.

"Oh, that's right!" Serenity cried, suddenly remembering she was supposed to be leaving for the airport very soon. "I'd better go tell Mom we're not gonna make this flight," she said.

"Better you than me," Joey nodded. "Just make sure you tell her it's not my fault."

"I'll take all the blame," she cried over her shoulder at him as she dashed out of the suite.

"You kids stay here while Arthur and I go fax his lawyer," Mr. Mutou suggested, then the two older men filed out behind Serenity.

"So the rest of you are being awfully quiet. Are Serenity and I the only ones who are gonna do this or what? Assuming everything checks out with Hawkins's lawyer, of course."

"I'm in," Mai said, stepping up beside Joey. He threw his arm around her shoulders and squeezed her to him in a half hug.

"I was already planning on accepting," Yugi said. He looked at Téa and there was no mistaking the hope in his eyes. "How about you?"

"Are you kidding?" Téa snorted. "Like Serenity said, what part of this wouldn't I want?"

Yugi's face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning and Mai would have laughed if she weren't painfully aware that she'd probably had the exact same expression when Joey had said he wanted the job.

"What about you, Tristan?" Joey asked.

"Well, let's think about this," Tristan said, holding his hands out before him as if he were weighing his options on a scale. "Army, civilian. Barracks, penthouse apartment. Hanging with a bunch of soldiers or my best friends. Hmmm, tough call."

"Well I'm definitely doing it, if Grandpa doesn't get all weird about it," Rebecca stated. "I can't believe I'm a college graduate and still can't make my own decisions," she grumbled petulantly.

Duke clapped his hands together. "So then it's official? As long as the contracts look good, you all are gonna move to San Francisco?"

"I guess we are," Yugi said happily. "The whole gang together. This is just so awesome!"

"You said it, Yuge," Joey agreed, squeezing Mai to him again.

She leaned into him. "We should go celebrate," she said, her voice low and suggestive.

Joey's eyes widened. "Yeah, that would be good," he practically drooled. "But first, I need to get me some of that buffet. Suddenly I'm starving."

Professor Hawkins's lawyer said he would call later that evening to let them know what he thought of the contracts, so they agreed to meet in the hotel restaurant for dinner to make their final decision. In the meantime, Yugi's grandfather gave each of them their own contract to look over, along with other information about the jobs that Pegasus had left in the folder so long as each of them promised not to sign until they'd heard from the lawyer. Then they went their separate ways. Once Serenity returned from a protracted argument with her mother over delaying hers and Joey's return to Japan, Duke and Tristan fought over who would show her around town (Duke won because he lived there and had a car, but he ended up taking both Serenity and Tristan). Joey and Mai disappeared, probably to Mai's room, Téa guessed. Mokuba returned to the hotel with an invitation for Rebecca and Professor Hawkins to visit Kaiba Land again. That left her and Yugi with his grandfather and for a moment it looked like they'd end up doing something with him, but he begged off, saying he wanted to help Professor Hawkins chaperone Rebecca, then with all the subtlety of Godzilla attacking Tokyo asked Yugi with a nudge and a wink if that was all right with him. Yugi, naturally, blushed furiously.

Finally, Téa found herself alone with Yugi in her room. The door had no sooner closed behind them when she flung herself on his neck.

"I can't believe we're not going to have to be apart for a year!" she cried blissfully into his shoulder.

"I know," he said, squeezing her tightly. "It's almost too good to be true." He pulled back and held out the contracts and job descriptions his grandfather had given him. "I mean, have you looked at this stuff? We each get a penthouse apartment in San Francisco, access to cards, access to the latest hologram technology from Kaiba Corp, company cars, medical benefits, full ride scholarships, travel to tournaments and promotional tours."

She looked at the papers with him. Her job description was part-time and fairly basic, allowing plenty of time for her to go to school, at least when she wouldn't be traveling with the duelists. Despite being part-time, she still would get all the same benefits as the duelists. It was almost too good to be true.

"It's all pretty great, but the only thing I care about is that we're together."

He nodded. "Yeah, me too. I just hope Pegasus is really on the level and there's nothing shady going on."

She sighed. "Don't even go there. This is going to be a good thing, I can just feel it. We're all going to be together again and we're going to make a difference."

He gave her an apprehensive look. "It'll be dangerous," he cautioned.

She nodded, sobering slightly. "Are you still worried?" She left the question as to what specifically might worry him unspoken.

He shrugged. "Yeah, I'm worried. But Pegasus is right; we won't be any safer by staying away."

"And we'd be miserable. Or at least I would be."

"You know I would be too. I don't ever wanna be without you."

She kissed him, drinking him in along with the reality that after only three more months of separation, they'd be together again. "I love you, Yugi."

"I love you, too." And as he pulled her closer and their kiss intensified, the contracts and job descriptions fluttered to the floor, forgotten.

"Would you two give it a rest already? Or take it to a room or something?" Tristan groaned.

It was two days later and the eight of them stood in international terminal of San Francisco International Airport just outside of the lines to go through security. Mai and Joey were locked in a passionate good-bye kiss, and had been for what Yugi figured must have been at least several minutes. All of them but Duke and Mai had flights out within the next couple of hours, headed for Japan or Egypt or New York until August when they would all return to San Francisco. Professor Hawkins's attorney had approved the contracts and all seven of them had signed.

Tristan was flying to Okinawa to finish out his active duty, which Pegasus had arranged to end in July. He'd then return to Domino to be with his family for a couple of weeks before leaving for San Francisco.

Joey and Serenity were on their way to Domino. Serenity would withdraw from the university there and then return to Tokyo to spend the summer with her mother and enroll in paramedic training. She would meet up with Tristan, Joey, Yugi, and Téa in Tokyo when they changed planes there on their way back to San Francisco. Joey, meanwhile, would continue to live with Yugi's grandfather and work at the game store until they left.

Yugi, Téa, and Yugi's grandfather were headed for New York. Yugi and Grandpa would stay four days then return to Domino where Yugi would share his old room with Joey and help out at the store. Téa would finish her contract with the dance company in early August and then spend a week in Domino with her family before they had to leave. They'd all be back in San Francisco by the middle of August in time for Yugi, Serenity, and Téa to begin school in the fall.

Mai had already shipped her belongings from Italy to a storage facility in San Francisco before she'd left for the tournament and was planning on remaining here over the summer. She was staying with Duke for a little while—despite the dark threatening looks Joey had given him at this news—until she could find a temporary job dealing cards in one of the area casinos and then would move to an extended stay hotel somewhere nearby whatever casino she was working for.

Rebecca and Professor Hawkins were returning to Egypt for a short time to finish arrangements for their move back to Northern California. He had been in the process of packing up the rental house in Cairo when the news about the ship sinking forced him to come to San Francisco earlier than planned and he hadn't yet finished everything that needed to be done. He also had some more work to do with Ishizu investigating the thefts of all those artifacts, especially now that they knew for sure that they were connected to Ramesses and his bid to reopen the Shadow Realm. The professor and Rebecca would be back in California by the middle of June and would spend June and July at the professor's rural home a few hours southeast of San Francisco, which had been rebuilt in the three years since Dartz's gang had destroyed it. In August they'd move to the smaller home he owned in Berkeley and come September, Rebecca would split her time between staying with her grandfather in Berkeley and with the other duelists in the San Francisco penthouse, depending on the requirements of her job.

Duke was, of course, remaining in San Francisco in his same apartment; something he'd been griping about for the past two days ever since he'd realized all the rest of his friends would be living in a luxury high-rise. He and Mai were at the airport to see off the others, who had all managed to book flights within a few hours of each other. Mokuba had wanted to come, too, but Kaiba had gotten huffy about it and he'd had to settle for giving Rebecca a good-bye kiss at the hotel. It wasn't much more than a peck on the lips, but Rebecca had been walking on air ever since.

They'd headed for the International Terminal first to send off Tristan, Joey, Serenity, and the Hawkinses, after which Yugi, his grandfather, and Téa would take the AirTran shuttle to the domestic terminal for their flight to New York. As soon as they'd arrived and the five international passengers had checked in, Yugi's grandfather and Professor Hawkins had gone off to one of the gift shops to let the eight friends say good-bye to each other. They'd started exchanging hugs and when Joey got to Mai, she'd pulled him into the kiss that was still ongoing.

"You'd think they'd need to come up for air eventually," Téa grumbled.

"Oh like you should talk," Duke teased her. "If Yugi weren't going to New York with you, you'd be doing the same thing."

Yugi shook his head energetically. "In a crowded airport terminal? I don't think so."

"You didn't seem to mind the crowds on the beach when the lifeboats first landed," Duke pointed out.

"Shut up," Téa fumed.

"Yugi's girl," Duke taunted her in a childish tone, then clutched his side when she elbowed him. Yugi wasn't sure exactly what that was all about, but he sensed there was some history behind it.

Serenity rolled her eyes then eyed the lengthening lines through security. Looking from the lines to her watch, to Joey and Mai, she said, "Okay, nobody's happier they finally got together than I am, but those security lines aren't getting any shorter."

"I'm on it," Tristan told her, then grabbed Joey by the collar of his jacket. "Okay, lovebirds, time for a break. Some of us have planes to catch," he said, dragging Joey away from Mai.

"Hey!" Joey protested and while he started arguing with Tristan, Yugi turned to Rebecca to say good-bye.

"You take care, Imouto-chan," he told her, giving her a warm hug. "I'll see you in a couple of months."

"Okay," Rebecca replied, squeezing him tightly. "Thanks for… everything," she said, then she let go of him and gave a very surprised Téa a huge embrace. "And you look after him for me, okay?"

"Uh… okay," Téa stammered.

Tristan and Joey stopped arguing and joined the rest of them with Mai. Tristan and Duke both approached Serenity at the same time, then glared at each other with Joey glaring at both of them, but Mai held him back. Serenity hugged Tristan and Duke simultaneously and promised to e-mail both of them. "Oh, you don't have to worry about that girl," Mai said to Joey. "She's evil. More evil than I am, even."

At last they had all said their good-byes, but Yugi's and Rebecca's grandfathers hadn't returned yet so they stood huddled in a circle, not wanting to let go of each other.

"I'm so glad we're all going to be together in the fall," Serenity said, putting voice to what they all were feeling. "I know you all are really more Joey's friends than mine, but you've become really important to me, too."

"We are not more Joey's friends than yours," Téa disagreed. "You're one of us now. All eight of us, we're family. Oh!" she cried suddenly, "I just thought of something!" She pulled back from them and started rummaging through her purse until she produced a black marker.

Yugi, Joey, and Tristan immediately recognized her intention and groaned. "Not the marker again!" Joey complained.

"Yes, the marker again," Téa insisted testily. "We're eight now instead of four. We need to expand the bond, don't you think?"

Duke looked at them. "Anyone care to fill us in?"

"Put your right hands together in a circle," Téa instructed.

"Just do what she says, she's not gonna let it go until we've done it," Yugi said.

The eight friends stood in a circle and put their hands in the middle. "Not on top of each other, next to each other," Téa said. Then Téa took the marker in her left hand and drew across all eight hands.

"A smiley face?" Mai asked skeptically. "That's cute and all, but what's the point?"

"It's a symbol of our bond. Yugi, Joey, Tristan and I did this five years ago and… I don't know, I swear I could feel the bond between us, like we were forever connected. Couldn't you guys?" she asked the boys.

"Yeah, she's right," Joey grudgingly agreed, looking at the mark across the back of his hand. "The ink washed away but the friendship always stayed strong."

"And now all eight of us are bonded together the same way," Téa finished.

Yugi examined the mark on his own hand, remembering the first time Téa had put one there. At one point she had been his only friend, and then he had wished for friends on the Millennium Puzzle and soon he'd gone from one close friend to three. And now five years later, the circle was continuing to grow, and it wasn't limited to just the seven people there with him, either. There were Kaiba and Mokuba. Bakura and Marik. Ishizu. Odion. And somewhere, partly still inside of him and partly gone but never forgotten, there was Atem.

There is only one Yugi Mutou in the world, Atem had said, and it had sounded so lonely at the time, but even in Atem's absence, even with the responsibility of carrying on his legacy and the doubts that filled him about his ability to do so, he was never alone.

Téa slipped her hand into his. "Here come Grandpa and Professor Hawkins. I guess it's time to head out."

He smiled at her, squeezing her hand. "I'm ready. Let's go see you dance, Prima Ballerina."

"You got it, King of Games."

Joey watched out the window as the plane accelerated down the runway, pressing him and Serenity back into their seats. He could feel the rumbling beneath him as first the front wheels and then the rear wheels lifted off the tarmac and they headed skyward, leaving San Francisco behind.

He already missed Mai.

"Hey, don't be so gloomy," Serenity chided him, reading his thoughts. "It's only three months."

"Yeah, you're right." He smiled at her then settled back into his seat, trying to get comfortable for the long flight to Tokyo. He put his hands into his jacket pockets, and then frowned when he felt a piece of paper in his left pocket. The jacket was brand new and he didn't remember putting any paper there.

Pulling it out, he saw it was a piece of hotel stationary. It was folded in quarters with his name written in neat script on the outside. He recognized the handwriting immediately; after all, he'd carried a letter with the same handwriting in his wallet for three years.

Unfolding it, he read the short note inside.

Just so you know, I love you too.

A smile curved on his lips as he touched the words on the page.

"What's that?" Serenity asked, leaning over and trying to see.

"Nothing," he said, quickly folding the note back up and putting it back in his pocket. "Just something to hang on to."