Holy shit, it's the final chapter! 8D

Bakura: WHAT?! O.O

Yugi: Impossible!

Onward! XD

AleCat1230: I thinks you're new. -tackles- Hi! Ah, nice long review. :) I likes! Of course Malik likes to watch them squirm! Who doesn't? XD I'm glad about your approval of my take on Ryou. I did him after how I would react...actually, I think I toned it down quite a bit. -sweatdrop- I have one hell of a temper, you see. "I love chaos and mayhem. It can lead to anything and everything." Ah, I know. I bask in chaos. (Marik: O.o eh?) You have some excellent ideas about who will convince Ryou and whatnot. Well, Marik and Malik share qualities. Malik never said Marik is an all-time liar. It just seems to be a peeve of that yami's. lol

dragonlady222: lol You want Otogi and Malik to get together? (Otogi: WHAT?!!) hahahahaha! XD You're right about the group. It's how it was in the anime: they were oblivious to the fact that they left people out. (Mai: Bastards.) tsk tsk, language! :)

Emilin Rose: ROFL! I LOVED your description of Ryou! XD (Ryou: -sigh-) He is on the verge of a murdering rampage, isn't he? (Otogi: He's not the only one...) -laughs nervously-

Chaos Raider Tenshi: Glad you find Ryou's response to everything realistic. As I said to someone else, I did it after how I would react, only I tuned it down big time. I have quite a temper. :P "Malik is just getting cuter though, that I will not deny." (Malik: Weeeeee!!!) (Marik: Stop encouraging him!) lol

Olivia: I'm glad you like how Ryou and Bakura's characters have formed in this story. It was touch and go for a while, especially with Ryou. As soon as Mai and Bakura became friends I had no problems with him. lol How strange. I really liked how you summed up Ryou and Bakura though about being "such adversaries when they actually have a lot in common personality wise". It's so true too. XD

Margherita-Lily: Your first time reviewing my stories? Well that deserves a tackle! -tackles- Hi! XD What you said about Ryou is very true, even in a few of my other stories. "Too many authors forget to give him a spine. It's like all he does is cry and get beat by Bakura." (Bakura: hehe...oops. I mean...I've changed!) (Ryou: -.-;) Yeeeah...ahahaha! You're the second person who has asked Ryou be paired with otogi! (Otogi: I will KILL him!!!) hehehe!

xnightmare'sxnightmarex: More people were understanding of Ryou last chapter than when he made his first appearance. I agree. he's not overreacting. I would be doing far worse than him. :P No lie. I hold grudges. "I don't think Bakura will truly ever be happy unless all his wrong-doings are forgiven" Hmmmm...interesting. (Yugi: What are you scheming now?) Like Otogi's annoyance with everyone else? Worry not! It continues to the bitter end! XD Whoot whoot! (Otogi: -mutters-)

Peepz: "Malik is an **, and so is Ryou. BUt at least I understand why they are." But of course! Ryou was mistreated by his so-called friends and Malik is...himself! XD (Malik: Why yes I am!) lol

Javie-and-Sammie: You want Ryou and Bakura to talk it out, eh? (Ryou: Not on your life!) (Bakura: Uhh...O.o Do I hafta?) lol We'll have to see about that one. "(never thought I'd say this) I kinda miss Yami, I mean without him it's like somethings missing!" (Yami: I'm missing, damn it!) ROFL!!! XD Yami's triumphant return? -bursts out laughing- If you can call it that! (Yami: What did you DO?!) mwahaahahha!!!

Fallin-Alone-Scared-Lost: Malik has collected a mass of fans. What can I say? he's adorably evil. :D Of course I'll have typos! There will always be typos! It's fanfiction! Plus the site actually changes punctuation and cuts out parts of sentences after I press the 'save' button. No lie! This site only makes it harder because no matter how long you edit and double-check, it will mess something up. Stupid site.

TenshiBabe: Oh ra, no sequels! D8 Anything but that! I still have three other stories to finish--two of which are sequels! Besides, this one ends just where I want it to. It's like when people begged for a sequel to Cry of the Wicked. Yeesh. -.-; No pressure on Ferris.

horseygurl89: Think Ryou is sitting on the sidelines with the puzzle piece waiting to decide what to do? "i also get the feeling that Malik is rather disturbed by how much ryou hates bakura." Oooh! I really like that insight! (Malik: Me too!) Why? (Malik: ...Because you do???) lol

Mysia Ri: lol Sorry, no Malik/Ryou. A "yaoi-lovin male roommate"? I want one of those! You want to slap Ryou? lol Yeah, a lot of the characters--coughMarikandOtogicough--share that sentiment with you. :P (otogi: I'll kill the little bitch!) (Ryou: Bring it!) O.o This could be interesting...

xForeverXForgottenx:Holy shnikies that was a long review! -gushes- Luff it! Oh, you hold grudges well too? I'm very good at it!...should I be bragging about that? O.o "And..forgiveness is all well and nice but it does take a while" Amen to that! Anyone who knows me knows that's how I roll. "I wonder how Ryou will progress? I really do hope its positive. I could learn from that somehow" He's really been close to how I would have been in such a situation...only a LOT less angry as I would be. -sweatdrop- What can I say? I have a temper. You relate to him well too, eh? Well I hope you can to some degree. I keep it real with him. There's no gushy 'oh i forgive you and let's all be friends!' scene. Oh, I have similar people who don't know I'm still in the process of trying to forgive them. I'm not saying I'm faultless by any means. It's just... -aggravated sigh- Let's just play it by ear, shall we? :)

Dragon-Tooth: "Ryou is an interesting character to fiddle with......wait, that came out wrong. O_O STARTING AGAIN." Ahahaahahaahahahahahahaha!!! (Bakura: Who's fiddling with him?!) Ryou is an interesting character. I've portrayed him VERY differently in my various stories. This is by far his most 'grrrrr' fic of mine. (Yami: "grrrr' fic? O.o) Precisely. "He's nearly sadistic" So true! I modeled him after yours truly!...only I tuned it down several notches. XD (Bakura: Scccary!) Several of the readers are saying they really can identify with Ryou. That, while it is sad due to the sad situation he is in, makes me feel I've done it right. I've been there too. Love the Bakura/Mai scenes? Good! You'll be liking this chapter, me thinks. ;)

SAMThedragongirl: LOL You and Malik and Bakura had some fun in that review, didn't you? (Bakura: She was gonna dye my hair and put a bonnet on me!!!) (Malik: -shudders-) hehe. Fun mental image. And who doesn't love bubble gum? (Yami: I...) I was a rhetorical question, Yami! (Yami: ooops)

This chapter is dedicated to ALL of you especially the readers who were here from the very beginning in 2006! (I am soooo sorry, guys!) The lyrics are from Trans-Siberian Orchestra's newest cd: Night Castle. The song: "Dreams We Conceive".

As you stand all alone at your station
What if God doesn't know where you are?
As you send out your prayers for salvation
But afraid that they don't go that far.
So you wait all alone in your darkness
There's a train that drives on through the night
And if everyone's on it except us
Would it return for that single life?

Chapter 20: My Salvation

(Ryou's POV)

Nothing is going right. While I get some satisfaction witnessing Yugi, Bakura and the rest of them squirm, it isn't as fulfilling as I had imagined. This is what I wanted, what I've pined for years now. I don't believe anything will ever compare to separating from Bakura and throwing the ring away. I was a fool to believe it would be simple. Unnerve them certainly, but they cling tight to one another. That will never change.

Securely locking my door, I exhale heavily as I move into my dark room. Not bothering to flip on a light, I wander to my window that might as well be the wall. Pulling the fair light floor-length curtains closed I find myself weary. I'm tired. Not just physically either. Spiritually. Emotionally. I almost fear if I go to sleep I shall never reawaken.

So many people are defending him. It's clear to me I cannot alter their vision of him no matter what truths I tell. It looks like they're going to find out the hard way. That isn't my problem nor will it be my fault. How many times have I warned them?

"You know, most people draw back the curtains when they're staring out the window."

Nearly jumping out of my skin I spin around. Malik is standing in the open doorway. The Millennium rod glints in his left hand; the right holds what I'm assuming is a master key. Since he has that particular Item it would have been a cinch to take that key off a staff member.

"You finally got impatient?" I attempt to keep my voice steady. "Are they going to find your hikari's mangled corpse come morning?"

"You really are a spiteful little thing, aren't you?" he chuckles shutting the door.

"Why are you here?" I have no Item to defend myself, to keep him from controlling my mind.

"Look! The former hikari is panicking!" He saunters towards me and my courage wavers. My back presses against the window, fingers gripping the thin fabric. "Why not call for help?" Malik suggests with a bloodthirsty smirk. "Wait! Who would come?"

"We both know the answer. They would come. All of them. And Bakura would defend me in order to deceive everyone," I hiss, Malik practically in my face. His breath smells like…bubble gum.

"Funny funny former hikari." The yami lunges backwards across the room onto the bed, perching on the edge while thoroughly chewing something sticky. No doubt gum. "It's almost like you reversed places, you and the thief. He's much sappier now and you're…well look at you." When I don't answer he grins. "The irony. You transforming into the thing you despise the most."

"I am nothing like him! We are no longer yami and hikari nor have we swapped roles!" I snap enraged at being compared to Bakura. "We are separate entities! Separate people! Got it?!"

The cheeky grin spreads further. "Perfectly."

I'm ready to attack him despite the Millennium rod. "You are the most…!"

"You are very defensive about being compared to the thief." He sprawls on his stomach and scoots towards the head of the bed.

"I'm sure Marik would feel the same if I compared him to you."

"Hmm. Maybe maybe…Did you already eat those little chocolate mints?" He uses his thumb and index finger to demonstrate the size and shape of said candies. "You know, the ones the maids leave on the pillows?"

Too stupefied to answer, I watch in mystification as he scrounges through the seven pillows that had been laid out neatly before he arrived. What on earth is with this yami? Frowning he sits up again and gives me an accusing look.

"You already ate them, didn't you?"

While this is apparently a safe topic, I'm not interested. "If you didn't kill Marik then where is he? If you were using the rod to control him Bakura would have sensed it."

Blowing a pink bubble before sucking it back into his mouth with a weird squelching sound, Malik looks at said Item. "You are a clever one. Hikari is sleeping."

I blink. "That's it? He just fell asleep and you left with the Item…?"

Fluffing the pillows he replies, "Yup. That's it."

I'm not buying it. "You're sure it's not a hit-him-over-the-head-with-a-lamp sleep?"

"You are a very morbid person," he comments, stacking the pillows atop one another as if he were building a piece of art.

"I just don't trust you."

"Why would that be?"

"You're a yami, for starters."

It's cold standing by the window yet I don't know what I should do. I can't order him to get out. He's the one with the mind-control powers. If I leave he'll only follow me. I'm not going to seek out any of the group, especially Bakura, for aid.

"Do you dream?" he suddenly asks quietly.

Deciding to humor him, I nod. "Yes. I don't remember my dreams most of the…"

"What do you dream about?"

He's staring at me with piercing violet eyes. They're not evil in appearance but they are not good either. They're more…I don't even know.

Shrugging I say, "Sometimes I dream about before…when Bakura was still in control. When I first threw the ring away I had nightmares he'd come back. Other times I just have normal dreams."

He tilts his head to the side. "What's a normal dream like?"

An odd question that I don't quite know how to go about answering. "Well…doing things I've always wanted to do in real life. Maybe seeing people who have died…"

"Ooh! Like zombies?"

"No." This is like talking to a five-year old. "Like how they were when they were still alive. Usually dreams are just strange and have no real meaning…"

"You're wrong."

There's an edge to his voice that makes me wary. He's glaring at the tower of while pillows above him. I don't dare move or speak. I don't understand what he meant. How can I correct myself to him if I don't even know what I said wrong from his perspective?

"All dreams have meaning," he murmurs, running one of the blades of the rod across the seam of the bottom pillow.

"Why are you asking me if you already know?" I demand, irritated beyond belief.

He avoids looking at me. "Because I don't dream." Only then do his eyes meet mine. "I don't sleep, you see. So sometimes I sneak into hikari's soul room and night and watch his dreams. He generally doesn't remember them, like you."

"You don't sleep?"

It sounds like an unbearable form of torture. As far as I am aware, Bakura rested in his soul room. Yami is probably on cloud nine at the moment deep in unaware slumber.

"Hikari thinks I sleep," Malik smiles grimly, slicing open the pillowcase and then the liner of the pillow. "He worries too much." Then Malik grabs a handful of the pillow's stuffing and rips it out violently. The tower of pillows comes falling down in a noiseless avalanche. "You don't know a person until you know what they're like on the inside."

"Literally?" I ask hoarsely while staring at the mass of white cotton in his fist.

"I've seen your insides," he mumbles while attentively examining the stuffing. "I see everyone's insides."

All right, now I'm just getting freaked out. What the hell is this deranged devil talking about? My stomach churns when he grins at me.

"You still hate the thief because you hold him accountable for his past, isn't that right?"

"You're no genius to say that." I've made my opinion of Bakura very clear to everyone.

"Perhaps not. But why would you believe he has not changed? You changed."

"Because he's evil!"

"How so?"

"Because he's a yami!" I shout before realizing what I've said.

An uncanny silence follows this outburst. My mouth is hanging open. I'm beyond shocked. Malik is watching me, dissecting me and my words. I can't even get a clear thought to register.

"Ah, so that's it then." Malik smirks. "Well, it's nice to know. And that makes sense since you already made it obvious you hate yamis." He gets up and walks for the door. To my dismay, he pauses after opening it, the lights from the hallway casting his shadow upon the room. "Although…he's not a yami anymore, is he? I guess you see him as one though. You have referred to him as one when speaking with hikari and his groupies." He holds up the inside of the pillow. "The truth can be such a mess, no?"

Then he leaves. That's all. He just…leaves.

I sink to the floor, a sliver of light peeping through the ajar door. My mind is reeling as time stops. He knew. He figured out something about my thoughts that even I hadn't comprehended. I feel completely exposed and vulnerable. And lost. Very lost. Shivering, I cling to the thin drapes, wrapping them around myself like a shield and burying my face against my knees.

Damn that stupid Malik.

(Yugi's POV)

Bakura has been tossing like crazy. It's not simply turning over. This is fierce pitching. Having had enough, I reach and press my hand against his chest in order to still him.

"Okay, let's talk," I yawn, stretching my arm out and turning on the bedside lamp.

"I can't…" he whispers hoarsely, dark bags under his wearied eyes. He covers his face.

My heart wrenches. It's only been a week, but it has already felt like a decade; most likely even longer for my poor koi. The more time goes by the chances of finding the puzzle grow slimmer.

"I can come with you now, Bakura," I remind him that I've completed the rest of the Item.

"I can't," he repeats in misery and defeat. "I can't." I practically have to pry his hands away so I can see his ashen face. He won't meet my eyes. "I can't go down there again. I did my best. I tried!"

He's on the verge of tears. Shamed for what he sees as him failing me, angry at himself for his fear, frustrated in the luckless search despite everyone's best efforts…It's not fair to him. What would Yami want us to do at this point? If it weren't for leaving Marik behind, he probably would just want us to move on.

Oh gods, what will Marik do? I cannot imagine losing Bakura like that. It's agonizing that it's the other half of my soul, my best friend. I don't know what to say. I understand my boyfriend's point of view and yet I don't want to give up just yet.

"One more week," I plead, clasping his cold hands. "Give it one more week. I'll go down there with you. Mai will be there too. Bakura, if not for me, then do this for Marik."

At this brown eyes dart to mine in shock. He too had forgotten about the blonde hikari.

"You remember how I threatened to throw you back after I'd first brought you here?" I ask fondly, threading our fingers. "I don't think I could have actually done it. Especially now that I know…I couldn't bear to lose you. Just thinking about it threatens to snatch my life from me. Marik is feeling that right now, Bakura. This isn't just about our friends or me being Yami's hikari. This is about him and Marik's relationship more than anything else."

Bakura heaves a shaky sigh. "I guess so."

I smile at him. "You've come a long way in such a short period of time. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

"…you mean Ryou."

This is followed by a hush, the breeze blowing the milky curtains like feathers on a dream catcher. It's a bit chilly, giving me yet another excuse to cuddle close to Bakura. He wraps an arm around me, chin resting atop my head. What a fateful summer this has been. Despite the worst, I wouldn't trade for anything. Then I wouldn't have him. And he would still be trapped all alone in despair.

"Would you separate from the pharaoh?"

I'm caught off guard. "What?"

"If we did find the puzzle piece and he came back. Would you want to separate from him?"

It's something I haven't considered, too focused on getting him back. What is it like to be whole? Complete? Why is it that Bakura and Malik seemed to harbor so much more 'dark' than Yami? He is kind and compassionate despite his temper and flaws. Before Bakura's separation from Ryou and Malik's therapies, I would say compared to them, Yami was the least 'evil' and anything else that a yami is supposed to be. I wonder though if it was the separation from Ryou that spiked the change in Bakura or the three years of solitary imprisonment.

"Does it hurt?" I ask instead.

His throat muscles tighten against my ear. "Immensely."

"And…was it worth it?"

He doesn't answer. Maybe he can't. Perhaps he himself doesn't know.

"You and the pharaoh have always gotten along," he says instead quietly. "I don't think it is necessary or that it would improve anything."

"You mean Yami?" I ask with a grin, knowing his loathing for my darker half remains. "But you're right. We aren't hostile towards one another. The link isn't really a hindrance either. We barely use it anymore, to be honest. Just going our separate ways in life, I guess." I snuggle closer. "I wish Ryou had given you that option."

"It made sense at the time," he replies with hurt but understanding. "And as long as we had a link I could return."

"What?" I sit up. "You didn't tell me that!"

He gazes at me in perplexity. "I thought it was obvious."

"Apparently not," I scoff, lying on my side again.

"As you know, I returned multiple times after the ring was discarded," he explains tiredly. "That was because of our spirits' connection. It's one of the ring's unique abilities. But with the link gone…"

"…you couldn't use Ryou to come back," I finish in amazement before apologizing. "I didn't mean for it to come out like that."

"It's how it was."

Bakura's so accepting of what happened before—of who he was. He's accepting of who Ryou is now. I suppose he's the only one that understands his former hikari.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I ask gently.


"Then don't even tell me how it works," I murmur, burying my face against his chest. "There isn't any reason I'd need to know."

I can sense he's struggling to say something even though we share no type of spiritual connection. He's wearing the ring, not me. Even so, I wait instead of urging him to speak.

"One more week?" my koi asks unsurely.

"One more week."

"And you'll be there?"

Smiling, I close my eyes. "Every moment."

(Otogi's POV)

I wince when my alarm clock blares, announcing that it is 5 am: my normal jogging time. Groaning, I stumble over to it and slam my fist onto the button. I take a few unsteady steps to my bed and collapse into it face-first. Maybe I'll suffocate. That would sure simplify things for me.

Sleep was far from my mind last night. I was preoccupied in making sure there were no 'visitors'. Also I was making my decision regarding whether or not I should remain here and skip my first semester of college—put my life on hold to continue a futile search.

'Something I still haven't decided,' I remind myself with a glare to the dice earring on the floor.

I hate choices that can't be left up to chance. Gambling has always been my thing. No responsibility for the outcome because I didn't specifically choose. There are times when you can't just jump through a few hoops or guess a number. This is one of those decisions that doesn't apply.

The Millennium puzzle with its empty center is nestled safely in the pillows. At least I managed to protect it and give Yugi a night off. Hell, he probably used that precious opportunity to fuck with Bakura.

"How nice I was to help keep peoples' sexual relationships healthy," I mutter dryly.

I almost wish Ryou had shown up. I would have given the guy a piece of my mind and fists. He doesn't look as scrawny as in Battle City but I could take him. He almost causes us as much trouble as Malik. Ryou is better at psychological damage. He's smarter than that maniac of a yami too. Luckily he doesn't have a Millennium Item or we'd really be screwed. Meanwhile, I would love to beat Malik. Even in an alternate universe where he didn't possess any Shadow Magic I wouldn't stand a chance. That guy has muscle. He's no pushover physically.

Damn! If they stay here once the summer is over Malik will remain as well. His hikari is Yami's boyfriend after all. I bury my face in a pillow and bellow all the curses known to man. How can I be expected to stay and help if Malik is here?! It's insane!

Without further ado I leap up and grab my battered earring from the floor.

"Once more…"

(Marik's POV)

The others are inside, some still in their rooms. Mai, Yugi, Bakura, and an exceptionally irritable Otogi are having breakfast. He didn't sleep or something. Surprisingly, I slept well. When I awoke I left the rod with Bakura since he has plenty of experience with controlling the Millennium Items. Malik won't be able to snatch it from him. Yugi and the others agreed I need a break from my yami. Ra is merciful after all.

Strolling aimlessly along the beach, I wait for the waking sun to warm the sand. It won't heat the cold festering in my soul. Stopping, I bend down and stretch out my arm letting the salty water graze the tips of my fingers. It makes me feel closer to him somehow, yet it is what keeps us apart.

There's the sifting of someone's footsteps in the dry sand. I straighten and see Ryou approaching. He looks troubled. Well it's about time someone got to him. Maybe I'll 'accidentally' trip him and he'll fall into the surf. That might make me feel a teeny tiny bit better.

"I've been looking for you."

I keep my expression bitter. "What for?"

"An offer." He halts several feet from me as if he read my intention of pushing him into the water. Damn, that would have been fun.

"I'm not interested in anything you have to offer," I growl, curling my fingers that are still wet into my palm.

"Not even the information on how to separate from that obnoxious yami of yours?"

This keeps me from kicking sand in his face; my second option. I try to decipher his intentions and emotions as we stare at one another. I already know my answer…

"All right, you're cleaned up," I state as we take turns washing our hands in the large sink. "Now what did Ryou do or say to upset you? And remember: you promised to tell me, yami."

Scowling, Malik grumbles, "It's not about anything he said really. It's more what you said."

"Me?" I start. "What did I say?"

He shrugs. "I don't know. It's the whole separation thing, hikari."

I place the hand towel on the edge of the sink. "Malik, we talked about this. We both want to be free from the other. Our own lives!" I state with any enthusiasm I can muster in this strange conversation. "Don't you want more freedom, yami?"

"Of course," he sighs, looking very weary.

I don't like this. I don't like seeing him in such a condition. He leaves the bathroom without further explanation and I follow.

"What are you thinking, Malik?" I prod wondering what has gotten him so worked up.

"I'm not like them, hikari."


"The thief and Pharaoh," he mumbles dejectedly while drawing a piece of a curtain back to gaze at the ocean. "They were people. They had lives and were humans. It makes sense they would be able to separate."

"What are you getting at?" I ask as I approach.

He looks at me seriously. "I was born of your hatred. We are, in a sense, the same person. What if we did do that disconnection thing and instead of becoming two separate entities we become…well, you?"

My jaw drops. Oh gods. I hadn't even considered that! It would be like sewing my spirit back together. Yugi and Yami…Ryou and Bakura…They are different people. That is not the case for Malik and me. What if we did fuse instead? I would be 'complete' once more and Malik would...

Malik would cease to exist.

The very thought of it makes me queasy. I can't imagine a world without Malik now that he's been with me for so long. Technically he wouldn't be gone. He would be where he belongs. Wait. 'Where he belongs?' What does that mean? Is it really true? Would we be better off as one being again? I don't realize he's looking at me until he speaks.

"It's all right, hikari."

I gape at him. "You can't be okay with just being…well, not being you anymore!"

"You are the more complete of the two of us," he points out. "No, I am not concerned about that. I just hate waiting for you to make the decision. It is very nerve-wracking."

Striding over to him I smack him as hard as I can across the face. Malik stumbles before regaining his balance, holding a hand to his jaw while staring at me in confusion. I'm seething, the Millennium rod reflecting my emotions by gleaming brightly.

"You said it yourself: We are the same person to some degree. This is not my decision!" I correct him with a hiss. "It's ours!"

Looking Ryou straight in the eye, I simply say it.

"No thanks."

He's certain he didn't hear me right. "What?"

"I said no," I smile. "Thanks anyway." I turn and wave as I continue my walk with him no doubt staring after me completely dumbfounded.

(Ryou's POV)

What do I do now? I was sure Marik would want to get away from his yami. There were many things I was confident about when I arrived here. Misconceptions have blinded me. No matter what people told me I didn't listen, casting their words aside as meaningless drabble.

This is what I'm left with. The hatred for Bakura is still there. I cannot change my feelings about what he did. Finding him here rekindled that detestation.

They've always been blind. But there's a small voice in the back of my mind that asks me if maybe I'm the one that's sightless this time. Could it be true? What if Bakura has become a good person overall? Could I forgive him? Can I pass judgment when I am so uncertain of the truth?

"You would be in control of the outcome. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"

It's like we're looking into the same frame but see a completely different picture. The breeze tangles through my hair as I stare at the endless water that connects to the sky at some point that has yet to be discovered. The reflections in the water replicate in the orange clouds making the seams linking them impossible to distinguish. I take a hesitant step closer to the water as the waves tumble forward and then back out again.

"So, little mortal, what will it be?"

(Bakura's POV)

"Would you stop that already?" Otogi growls at Malik who is chewing gum very loudly. I wouldn't be surprised if he put the whole packet in his mouth.


I roll my eyes from where Yugi and I are snuggling on the futon. The dice master is sitting across the table from Malik, green eyes surveying the yami with contempt. Marik is still outside as far as I know. I hang on to the Millennium rod, Yugi holding the puzzle.

My koi smiles. "You look like you had a rough night, Otogi."

He sends us an accusing look. "And you look like you woke in a patch of clouds. Enjoyed your free-time, did you?" His eyes move to me.

"Ahaha—augh!" Malik chokes beginning a coughing fit, clutching his throat while the dice master merely watches.

"Unbelievable," Otogi mutters.

"Well I'm off."

I practically jump up. Ryou's standing before us with a worn look. He seems…different.

"Where do you think you're going?" Otogi questions suspiciously.

"Home," my former hikari replies, avoiding eye contact with me.

"But you…!" Malik begins to protest looking quite distraught by Ryou's announcement.

"What's going on?" Marik demands entering the room. He's watching Ryou with a distrustful gaze. "Is he causing trouble?"

"I'm not certain yet," Otogi replies, still scrutinizes Ryou.

"There's no need for me to stay any longer," my ex-host answers blandly as a butler passes by carrying a suitcase.

"Just like that you've changed your mind?" the dice master is unconvinced as are the rest of us.

Ryou finally meets my eyes. There's the same pain and anger as before, though they have died down a bit. He's calmer. I don't understand how this could be. I haven't been around him at all. Had he found a way to spy on me despite my powers? I wasn't here much, out in the ocean searching for the puzzle piece.

"I haven't forgiven you," he states less I should harbor any illusion.

"I know."

It's like the others have left the room, Ryou and I alone. Is this the last time I will see him? His brown eyes tell me 'yes'. He has no intention of meeting again. It's time to go our separate ways for good. This is his answer to me. Even without our mind link we converse without words. The resentment is still there but he's trying to let go. It's more than I would ever ask of him. Our life together has ended. It's time to move on for both of us. It will be much easier separately.


"Don't," he interrupts me. "I don't want to talk about it anymore. It's a worn subject. No more insults. No apologies or demands. I just want it to be done with. And it is."

It is? What does he mean? It's like he's had an epiphany or made some grand decision.

"You're one to talk," Otogi mutters but we disregard him.

"I understand," I nod clasping Yugi's hand, even though I don't fully comprehend. "You'll…be all right?"

"Since when did you begin to worry about me?" he smirks.

"So brave to go on his own!" Malik cries pouncing on Ryou, holding my former hikari against his chest, one hand on the back of his head while the other is around his waist in a dramatic embrace. "I shall miss you!"

"Let go of me, you freak of nature!" Ryou snarls as Marik grabs his yami so Ryou can pull free. "Good luck with that thing, Marik," he scowls while straightening his shirt.

"How come only Marik?" Otogi mumbles, glaring at both Ryou and Malik. "The rest of us have to put up with Malik too."

"Ah yes, I suppose you all get merit for that," Ryou answers with a knowing spark in his eyes before glancing at me once more. "I hope, for your sake, that this is for real, Bakura." With that said he turns and walks away.

I watch my former hikari, a lump in my throat. His words ring in my ears. He didn't say 'for Yugi's sake' or anything like that. He said 'for your sake'. Me. Not anybody else. I nearly follow him and ask him to stay but know that wouldn't benefit either of us.

"Oh, there is one more thing," Ryou pauses in the doorway. "Malik has the puzzle piece."

All of us tense up. Does he mean to say that this whole time…?! Hell! I went in that fucking water when the piece was here?!

"You little tattletale!" Malik yells as a chuckling Ryou departs.

Marik's eyes are glowing. "Malik…!"

"I'm going to kill you!" Otogi shrieks lunging at the yami.

"Not if I get him first!" I scream, all of us diving at Malik from every side.

"Wa-wait!" Malik yelps before being tackled to the ground.

(Marik's POV)

"It's about time," Honda says impatiently tapping his foot.

Anzu and Mai send him dirty looks. We've been waiting for everyone to arrive in the lounge, having told them our discovery thanks to Ryou. After we'd beaten my yami up I dragged him to our room and had him reveal where he'd been hiding the puzzle piece: under the bed. I'd been spending sleepless nights lying directly above it! I had been less than two feet from Yami this whole time!

"Excuse me if I wanted to not look like I just woke up," Mai states haughtily.

"Women," Otogi grumbles. "Let's just get this over with. It's what we worked so hard for. Even though it wasn't us who recovered it, I guess this is better than nothing."

"Where is Malik?" Mai asks curiously as she sits beside Jou on the futon.

"In his Item recovering a bit," I smirk. This time I am relishing the misery he had coming to him.

"Let's just do this!" Otogi repeats.

Yugi nods, the core of the puzzle in his hands. Bakura is by his side watching his koi with uncertainty. No one knows what Yami's reaction to all of this will be when he suddenly reappears. Will he believe he's still in a fight with the thief? Will he realize the puzzle was shattered and that time has passed?

Was he aware of anything in that abyss? Did he forget me? Was I even a memory in a dream? He has been my focus this entire time. Was I the same for him? It doesn't matter. He's coming back. Now. Here. We'll be together again…


I come out of my imaginings, Yugi's arm stretched out offering the puzzle piece to me. I blink in confusion.

"But he's your yami…"

"And he's more to you," the other hikari says simply, his other hand squeezing Bakura's.

He understands how I feel. Despite the links of their souls, the most important person to him now is no longer who one would deem. He's not allowing the hikari/yami connection to control his emotions any longer. I accept the golden block with a trembling hand. It's warm from the hikari's body heat. His hikari.

Leaning over the puzzle on the table I gently set the piece into place with such ease. Immediately a bright light shines until its blinding and I'm forced to shield my eyes. In a flash it's gone. My heart skips a beat at the sight of my koi lying on the floor with a very peaceful look on his face.

"Yami!" I exclaim while Yugi and Anzu join me.

"Is he…asleep?" Jou fidgets. "I mean…he's not…?"

"Yami?" I shake his shoulders and am rewarded by amethyst eyes opening. They flutter before focusing on me. Yami's brow furrows slightly when he sees us leaning over him worriedly.

"Did I doze off?"

We both tumble over as I embrace him tightly, tears escaping. I can't hold back a sob of relief. Meanwhile, it sounds like that was too much for Otogi who is being held back by Honda and Mai.

"Are you fucking kidding me?! After all the shit I put up with and this entire time he was sleeping?!"

"So it seems. Lucky bastard," Bakura's gruff voice mutters in amusement.

I laugh, kissing my extremely confused boyfriend as the others beam. Never again will I take this for granted.

(Yugi's POV)

"Thank you for helping so much, Bakura," Yami says uncomfortably as we sit around after a celebration brunch. "I know it couldn't have been easy for you."

"Why does he get all of the credit? The rest of us weren't just sitting on our asses," Otogi complains as he chews on the end of a toothpick.

My darker half smiles. "I already thanked you."

"Well there's plenty more appreciation that can be added."

I roll my eyes, contented when Marik leans his head on Yami's shoulder. Bakura is sitting beside me. He and Yami are having difficulty concerning how they should treat one another. The group acknowledged and accepted my koi during the search for the puzzle's core. They aren't nervous around him like they were when Malik smashed the puzzle. So much changed in that short period of time. And their past of being enemies will make it difficult. We have to give them credit for their best attempts. I'm sure there will be plenty of loud arguments, insults, and the likes to come. Marik and I won't tolerate Shadow Fights though.

"Some has to be given to Ryou," Bakura says quietly.

While Otogi's face scrunches up and several other people bristle, we all know what the thief says is true. If not for Ryou who knows whether Malik would have given the puzzle piece back?

"I'm still astounded Ryou chose to tell us. He could have just left," Mai states seriously from next to Jounouchi. "It's not like he owed us anything."

"No, he didn't," Bakura agrees somberly.

"Who cares about the 'whys'?" Otogi yawns. "I'm just glad he ended up spilling his guts."

"Lovely," Honda snorts. "Though I can't disagree. We would still be out there in the ocean looking for something that was never there."

"We wasted so much time!" Otogi groans pulling at his hair.

"I don't see it like that," Mai sends Bakura a gentle smile.

"Neither do I," Yami concurs giving Marik a peck on the cheek.

"This has turned into a couples' retreat, I swear," the dice master gags. "Honda, Anzu, and I are the only ones who haven't paired up with anyone…wait. I was mistaken. Malik as well."

"And it's going to stay that way," Honda confirms to which we laugh.

"Speaking of Malik…" Marik glances at his yami who is black and blue. His darker half is grinning at the scene before him from where he's sprawled upside-down on a chair with his legs hooked over the top. "Why are you so happy? All of your plans were foiled."

"Oh hikari, I'm quite content," the fiend avoids the question.

"Do you want another punch or two?" Otogi makes a fist.

"What exactly are you content about?" I ask, only slightly suspicious. It wouldn't be odd if he's actually cheerful even though all his plans did go down the drain.

"You are all still so doubtful of me," he sighs melodramatically.

"With good reason," Bakura mutters eyeing the blonde Egyptian reproachfully. "Spill it, Malik."

"Everything just worked out so perfectly, didn't it?" Malik beams as though he hasn't a care in the world.

Bakura and I share an uneasy look. He's right. It is perfect. Maybe a little too perfect. Or is Malik just trying to get us worked up because he's realized this before we did?

Marik narrows his eyes. "Wait a minute. Does this have to do with Ryou?"

Malik grins. "Maaabye."

"Malik, so help me…"

The yami's sly grin widens.

(Ryou's POV)

I'm an hour from the airport now. It was practical to take a Kaiba Corp. car and let them pick it up later from the airport. Nearly all of the vehicles in the oversized garage were convertibles. I chose one but am keeping the roof up. The sun is high in the afternoon sky. It will give me a nice burn sitting directly under it.

Did I make the right decision? Maybe I'll never know. That might be the best case scenario. There was no way I could be the judge of something I did not understand. Much to my disgust, it took Malik more than anyone else to open my eyes to that fact. I still don't know how he manages to do it. The things he said, even in his own demented way, made sense. That's why I never accepted the puzzle piece from him. I was never even sure of myself.

That last thing I want to become is the hate-filled entity that Bakura was/is. Whoever he chooses to be is not my problem. He is no longer my responsibility. My own actions are what I must focus on. There were lines I crossed that I am now unsure that I should have. No matter. We'll all move on, each taking our own paths.

My own path I shall tread without them. It appears that despite the severing of our spirits, I will always have a part of Bakura with me. We are tied, though not in any way that can be touched or seen. We left deep impacts on each other. I think in this past week my wounds were reopened but have just begun the healing process again. The infection is diminishing. I will always carry scars. They will fade over the years. Things will get easier.

I exhale, a burden slowly but surely lifting from my chest. Leaning my head back to rest on the seat I stare at the empty road ahead. This is my future now. It's about my dreams. He will make his own choices. Perhaps Yugi and Marik will someday ask Bakura for the answer to separating from their yamis, but it seems for now they are content.

Moving to sit up I let out a small yelp when something snags my hair, yanking on it. Cursing, I put the car in park at the side of the road. Reaching back my fingers find a large sticky glob clumping my hair together. My nostrils flare at the familiar scent. Oh hell…I wince, carefully peeling a string of pink gunk from my hair. Bubble gum. Lots of it. Running my hand across the back of my head I grind my teeth in rage as I discover the sticky substance is thoroughly matted through my hair.

"So brave to go on his own!" Malik pounced on me and held me in a swooping embrace with one arm around my waist while the other hand cupped the back of my head. "I shall miss you!"

"Son of a…!"

(Yami's POV)

"Is everyone ready?"

We're gathered in the lounge as the staff takes our luggage to the cars. The summer is ending and the time given in the bet is up at the end of today. No one wanted to go for a last swim, everyone quite sick of the ocean. I was somewhat disappointed but cannot protest.

I will try harder with Bakura. He watched over my friends and Yugi in the crisis. He put his own comfort on the line for their sake to save me. More and more I am beginning to believe a person—even one with such a past as his—can change. They told me what Ryou said about his former yami. Apparently he has become quite spiteful towards all of us. All we can do is hope for the best for him and that he finds his own happiness away from us. 'Far away from us', as Otogi put it.

"Not quite," said dice master sighs in aggravation. "We're missing two."

Yugi glances around curiously. "Bakura and Mai?"

"Why does your boyfriend keep sneaking off with my girlfriend?" Jou whines earning snorts of barely contained laughter. "It's not funny!"

"It kinda is actually," Honda grins as he zips up the last of his bags.

"Watch out, Jou. Bakura will steal her from you," Anzu teases.

"No he won't! He's gay!"

"True true," Malik nods leaning on a large suitcase. "No homosexual would go after a creature so endowed…"

"Don't talk about my girlfriend like that!"

"What? It's not like she hides them," Malik sends him a lazy smile.

"He does have a point, Jou," Honda shakes his head.

"Whose side are you on?!"

Marik goes over to his yami. "Stop riling Jou up."

"But hikari, I'm bored!"

"Ditto. Just where the hell did those two go?" Otogi gripes. "I want to get out of here!"

Yugi and I exchange a look.

(What do you think?)

((Let's leave them be for another hour or so. They've earned it.))

(I won't argue with that.) My eyes wander over our impatient friends. (But what about them?)

Yugi mentally shrugs. ((I'm sure Malik will scheme up some mischief to keep us occupied.))

(Oh gods) I groan. (Yugi, I'm certain Otogi will commit murder…)

He laughs through our link. ((Fine fine. You guys go on ahead. Jou and I will wait for them.))

I hesitate, knowing how long he's had to stay here already and how unpleasant it was. (You're sure?)

Smiling ear to ear he nods. "Go ahead. We'll see you at home."

My eyes widen. "We?"

He fixes me with a skeptical look. "Yes 'we'. Where do you expect Bakura to stay?"

Damn. "Yugi, I'm not sure I'm ready to share the house with him…"

"That's okay. We've already worked out other arrangements just in case."

Now I'm suspicious. "Which are?"

Marik gives me his most innocent of looks. "You and I will stay at the Gameshop. Once they find a place, Bakura and Yugi will rent an apartment."

To this I am relieved. "Thank you. Both of you."

The two hikari's share a mischievous look. "I wouldn't get too relaxed with the idea, Yami. You forgot one little detail."

Huh? "Which is?"

"Hi Pharaoh!" Malik waves at me.

Yugi and Marik laugh as the color drains from my face. "You don't mean…!"

"He goes where I go, Yami," Marik informs me somewhat apologetically.

"But the Game Shop is close to my place!" an aghast Otogi exclaims.

"We'll get to see one another all the time then!" Malik claps his hands.

"Great," I sigh. At least there are no more secrets or sneaking about anymore. That in itself is something.

"You're going to have to get used to him being around sooner or later," Marik points out linking arms with me. "Might as well start now."

"Don't I get a say in this?!" a very panicked Otogi is entreating.

"I suppose you're right, Marik," I smile weakly before kissing him.

"The cars are ready! Chan lead you to them, ya?" the Chinese man says jovially. "Chan shall miss you!"

"Yeah whatever. Let's get going," Honda urges. "I for one have had enough 'vacation' to last a few years."

Yugi laughs. "Now that I can't disagree with! See you guys later!"

I glance over my shoulder at him and Jounouchi as the rest of us head for the exit with Chan in the lead. My hikari's eyes are radiant and the smile on his face is carefree and cheerful. He's never looked so happy. Squeezing Marik's hand as we walk side-by-side, I could not ask for anything more.

(Bakura's POV)

"Mmmm…Do you think we should leave soon?" I manage as the masseuse grinds her fine knuckles into my back expertly.

"Heck no!" Mai is lying on the table beside me receiving the same wonderful treatment. "Let's consider this our reward for a job well done!"

Letting out a blissful sigh, I close my eyes. I like that answer. The soothing touch makes my bones and muscles melt. This is what it means to be alive. At the end of the day, despite the hardships, there are fantastic experiences to encounter. There has to be suffering or something as simple as a calm eventless evening of watching the sunset would mean nothing. Everything enjoyable would be bland instead.

I didn't drink the poison of eternal guilt. Having taken a sip I had spat it out. Its bitter flavor had been enough. There is too much to live for to wrap myself in the constricting cloak of blame.

This is not to say I am not remorseful for my actions of the past. Ryou himself is still clinging to it somewhat, as am I. But we're learning to look beyond it, taking hesitant steps away from it and releasing it from our grasps slowly. I pray there will come a day when I don't even think about it. And I pray even more for such a day for him.



I open my eyes when she doesn't continue, finding a hand reaching out to me. Forcing the relaxed muscles in my arm to work, I stretch my hand out to hers. Our fingers intertwine. My first friend ever. She's stayed by my side through it all. Never did her faith in me waver. We became part of the group together. If it weren't for her so many things might not have happened. Yugi and I would most likely never have become a couple. I owe her eternally. She smiles at me sleepily.

"We did it."

Nodding with a smile in return, I allow my eyes to close again. Our hands remain linked despite this. It's not that I'm afraid to let go. There's no reason to. We both survived. We defied the odds, jumping the hurtles and meeting challenges thrown at us head-on. She has Jounouchi and I have Yugi. I've found love. I have a true life for the first time in my entire existence. He is my new life.

"We did it," I murmur to myself with a content smile on my lips.

-collapses- Ow.

It's...done. Finally...fucking...done.

-jumps up- So! I'm sure there were people who wanted parts to be different. There were those seeking a Bakura/Ryou forgiving scene. I kept it realistic, in my own opinion. Forgiveness doesn't come that easily to most people. I modeled Ryou after myself in that light (though he was much more forgiving than I am) Scary no?

There are those of you who will be wondering about the hikari/yami separation. I had a plotline figured out for it but then realized it wasn't really needed. Neither Yugi nor Marik wanted to separate from their yamis. There was no reason they needed or cared to know. When trying to type out the explanation I found it rather boring and straying from the ultimate plotline. I felt more it wasn't as much about how it was done as the fact that it was done.

Please review! The previous chapter had the lowest review count for any of the chappies in this fic! And people tend to not review for final chappies. Sad! D: There will be orange tic tacs and individual replies to those who do! XD

NOTE: Nearly done with next AIF chapter!

NOTE2: I'm thinking about putting a post of songs that inspired different fics for me on my profile page...hmmm...or somewhere else??? -shrugs-