WARNINGS: Contains yaoi, violence, OCs, and angst tinted by fluff. We also like Anzu.
Yuugi stared at the half-finished story on the computer screen. Oyama-sensei was right. It sucked (she hadn't actually used those words, but the sentiment was there). He skimmed down toward the last scene, wondering if there was anything in it worth keeping.
He stopped at the end (melodramatic, cliched, and all sorts of other things that were not good writing), and read.
Putting the necklace into the final slot, he stared pleadingly at his love. The slab of stone shook slightly as it accepted the last key to open the door to the underworld.
She gave him a brief look filled with equal sadness, but her face then hardened into cold determination. She was ready to do this. She was ready to die... for him, and for the rest of the world. He would have given anything to take her place. Why did it have to be Mara?
Hikaru opened his mouth, but Mara shook her head.
"Don't say anything, love," she said quietly, "It'll only make this harder on both of us."
Well, why shouldn't he? She was leaving him! There wasn't any way back, Hikaru knew. She would be gone forever.
Or until he died, which was practically the same thing. Maybe he would have been glad to be rid of her at the beginning, but not anymore. He loved Mara too much.
She had to leave. She had known this the moment she had received the scroll for unlocking that dangerous, wild magic. It couldn't be left as it was, but to seal it again, she would have to die.
Hikaru thought about covering his eyes, to hide the tears forming there, but he resolutely watched. Mara would not see that betrayal from him. He would watch her until she was gone.
"Why?" he asked, "Why did it have to be you?"
She turned away from him, toward the gate that was creaking slowly open, "Because. There is no 'why', Hikaru. There's never a reason for anything like this."
Why did she have to be so damn sage-like? Why couldn't she at least show a little sadness or anger at the unfairness of it? Did she want to leave him?
"It's not fair," he said, wincing at how childish he sounded.
"Life isn't fair, Hikaru. All I can hope for is that it'll be unfair in your favor a few times," she gave what could only be called a brave attempt at a smile.
He smiled involuntarily, not finding any humor in her attempt, but only a great, deep sadness inside himself, one he could only try to hide.
She seemed to think his was real enough, or maybe she was just being brave. With one last lingering look, she let her face slide into her battle expression, stern and unyielding.
Hikaru knew his heart was cracking.
"No," his whimpered plea only heard by his own ears.
Hikaru took a half step forward, reaching out as though he thought he could stop her. He wanted to chase her, catch her, hold her in his arms and kiss her, but most importantly, not let her go.
She did not turn back.
"No," this last plea was...
This last plea was useless as well as moronic. Hikaru was just too...
Yuugi let his head thump onto the desk. Too much like him.
This was stirring up to many bad (not bad, but bitter) memories, not laying them to rest as he had prayed writing them would. He would have to find another story to write for Oyama. Besides, that meant he could get rid of this instead of fearing that one of his friends would stumble across it. Some how he doubted making the two lovers instead of twins would be enough to disguise who they really were.
The door banged open, but Yuugi ignored it, in favor of reading the last snatch, hoping that something in it would catch his eye and make the whole scene better.
Behind him, someone cleared their throat and Yuugi turned to look at his roommate.
Tanaka Kenichi was sporting new acid green braids and wearing a violently yellow skirt, but Yuugi did not blink. He was used to his roommate's eccentricities, and he had certainly seen much weirder things in his life than a drag queen or two.
"Lose a bet?" he asked, closing the laptop with half-finished story, "That wig clashes, and I know that's not your style."
Tanaka shrugged, "Kaikassu talked me into it. She said if people were going to stare at the man trying on skirts and wigs, I might as well give them something really worth staring at. What do you think?"
He struck a pose, arms spread as Yuugi looked him over.
"I've seen rock concerts that aren't that loud," Yuugi answered matter-of-factly.
"So I got the effect I was hoping for. By the way, Sonoda says that if we help her move, she'll make dinner."
"I still have too much to finish!" Yuugi sighed, "I've got to read chapter twelve for Yoshikata, and finish my story for Oyama, and review –"
"You have until Monday! It's Thursday. Live a little!"
Yuugi scowled, he did want a break from his work, but he had already completely blown off most of today...
So why not blow off the rest? asked a voice in his mind which sounded quite a bit like Jonouchi.
His friend would definitely encourage this, especially if he had ever tasted Sonoda's cooking, but that wasn't necessarily a good reason to leave his work...
And just how well are you working anyway? asked Jonouchi-in-his-head, You know you don't do well when you start to think about him.
It was true. After five years, he should've be able to put his adventures with Mou Hitori no Boku – Atem, he reminded himself – behind him (or at least not dwell all of the time), but he still found himself thinking about his other self – the pharaoh – almost every time he let his mind wander. And it always hurt. He had learned to keep a tight rein on his thoughts, so as to not think about Atem.
His creative writing course was like hell, because to write, he had to let his mind wander a little, and it would invariably come back to Atem every time. He shook his head to rid himself of that train of thought and looked up at his roommate (and something kind of like best friend, weirdly enough).
"You're a bad influence, Tanaka," Yuugi grumbled as he stood up, knowing that he'd kick himself for it later.
"Hey, you're already into leather, and I've never put you in makeup or a skirt. I'd call that damn well behaved, thank you very little!"
Yuugi laughed. Tanaka just had that effect on people.
"Oh, and by the way, Yuugi," Tanaka said, reaching into his bag, "Before I forget... I got a present for you."
"My aunt was cleaning out her attic. I got a necklace, a box, some rocks, and a puzzle that I managed to not even connect two pieces of before I realized I suck at it. So I thought, 'Mutou is good at puzzles and stuff, right?' So this is for you. Happy birthday, or whatever."
He tossed a bag at Yuugi, who caught it and opened it, revealing a box that had come open and spilling the pieces onto his lap. They glinted bright gold, and Yuugi felt his jaw drop. He turned the golden pieces over in his hands.
It couldn't possibly be! The Millennium Items were all gone! How could he have the Puzzle again?
He stared at the pieces for a while longer, and didn't even notice Tanaka's concerned look.
Was this even the real thing? It couldn't be. Could it? Why was it even here?
"Yuugi? Earth to Yuugi! Are you still with me, Mutou?" Tanaka waved a hand in front of Yuugi's face.
"Are you okay? You like you've seen a ghost."
Yuugi blinked at the puzzle again, then gently pulled out the box and put all the pieces back into it. Only when he had placed the box on his desk did he look up at his concerned friend and say, "I think I have."
"What are you talking about?"
Yuugi shook himself, "It's nothing. I've… I've seen that puzzle before. Come on, we should get to Sonoda's place before all the food is gone."
Tanaka gave him a strange look, but did not say anything else.
Sonoda-san's dinner was divine. Yuugi wasn't sure how she had made so many dishes on the stove at one time while moving in and quite honestly didn't care to ask. The moving was finished very quickly (Sonoda Wakika's cooking was famous within her circle of friends, so no fewer than eleven people had shown up to help her move into her new apartment) and the rest of the time was spent socializing. Tanaka had slipped out early for a date with his boyfriend, Sakuya Yoshiro, but he was snoring loudly in his bed by the time Yuugi returned, a little after midnight.
Coming in, he glanced at his desk and the bottom of his stomach dropped out as his breath caught. Somehow he had almost convinced himself that the puzzle had been a dream or some weird fantasy brought on by overeating.
His heartbeat picked up and he could suddenly hear nothing but it beating in his ears. Could it really be the puzzle? It was supposed to be gone.
Hesitantly, he reached out to take the top off – it seemed to be the same box – and touched a shining gold puzzle piece. It was warm, and seemed to leap into his fingers, too impossibly light for gold.
It felt like magic, something he had not felt since Atem had left.
It really is the puzzle, he thought dazedly.
Absently, his other hand brought out another piece, and experimentally tried it against the first piece.
It didn't fit.
Undaunted, he reached for another piece.
It was a long night.
Waking up on Friday morning was, as Tanaka so charmingly put it, a real bitch. Yuugi had fallen asleep at his desk as he worked on the Puzzle, and had an L-shaped indent on his cheek from sleeping on a puzzle piece. By the noon it would be gone, but catching Tanaka sniggering at him every time he looked at Yuugi's face was a little much.
"Like you can talk!" he finally growled at the young man, gesturing at his clothes.
"I can make this sexy. You just look ridiculous," Tanaka retorted.
"By what definition of 'sexy' would that be?" Yuugi asked, still grimacing. He rubbed his cheek. It felt like a bruise was forming.
"Sakuya's," Tanaka replied.
Yuugi rolled his eyes. Those two were so completely in love with each other it was almost boring.
"Hey, be glad. I could've said 'your Mom.'"
He did have a point.
Yuugi looked wistfully at the puzzle as he left, but couldn't spare any time to work on it. Classes would have to take precedence. Besides, he seriously doubted that Atem really would come back, now that he was awake and his head was clear enough for him to think about it. Puzzle or no, Atem's soul had left this world. Yuugi needed to accept that if he wanted to move on.
Classes had taken too long, even when he got back that afternoon, it was still where he had left it the night before and the L-shaped piece still on the top glinted, as if mocking him.
"Sometimes I wonder if you're worth the trouble you cause," he muttered to the puzzle.
He knew it was without even looking into his heart.
He took the box of pieces and laid down on his bed, eight years worth of habit setting in. Had it really been seven years since he had solved it… had it been over five years since he had seen… Atem…
He mulled this over, thinking of how much had changed as he idly worked on the puzzle.
Kaiba hadn't changed of course, but Mokuba was in high school. He often missed classes as it was only a formality. Everyone knew that he was easily as smart as his brother. The latest game released by Kaiba Corp. had Mokuba's fingerprints all over. It looked like it would be fun, but no game had captured his imagination like the cards had.
Anzu had gone off to New York to learn to dance professionally just a few months after the whole adventure had ended. She decided to skip her last year of high school in favor of her passion. Her parents had not been impressed. Yuugi had backed her with his winnings from tournaments. She had promised to pay him back when she was rich and famous. She had said it with a laugh, but Yuugi had seen her dance and honestly believed that it was a matter of time.
The phone rang, nearly making him jump out of his skin. He dropped the puzzle pieces and sat up.
The phone rang twice more before Yuugi regained the presence of mind to look for it. It was, oddly enough, in the sink, on the drying rack. He hoped it wasn't ruined. …And wondered what the hell Tanaka had been doing.
He picked it up. He didn't recognize the number.
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to track down a college and room number in Japan from Egypt?" asked a familiar voice, "And where were you when I tried to call yesterday?"
"Bakura?" Yuugi asked incredulously. He had not heard from his white haired friend in two years, and had wondered if he'd managed to drop off the planet.
"Yeah, it's me," Ryou affirmed over the phone with a nervous laugh.
Yuugi blinked. Two years, not a single call, not even a post card, and the bearer of the Sennen Ring calls the day after the puzzle had found its way back into his life?
Over the phone came the sound of a throat being cleared nervously.
"Something weird happened a couple days ago… I couldn't track down Isis or Malik, so I thought you'd be best. I… it doesn't make any sense but, I… I was out taking a tour of the Sphinx, 'cause I've lived here for two years and never done it…"
By now, Yuugi thought he knew what was coming, but he said, "Go on."
"Well, I wandered away from the tour group and the woman who kept leering at me and… well… that was sort of creepy." Here Ryou paused. "She was there with her grandson. But anyway—"
There was long silence, and Yuugi was about to speak again, but Ryou evidently caught his train of thought.
"I was looking around and such and I… I mean…"
Yuugi began to wonder if Egypt had done this to Ryou. He didn't remember him stuttering so much.
"I found the ring, Yuugi."
"I thought that might be it."
"You aren't surprised?"
"I would have been, but yesterday I got the puzzle back."
"And the… pharaoh?"
"I… I don't know. It's not solved. I'm working on it now – or at least I was before you called."
There was a long, thoroughly uncomfortable silence that stretched between them, broken only by the static on the phone.
"Have you seen anything of… the other Bakura?" Yuugi asked tentatively.
"No… and it makes me nervous, honestly." Ryou finished with a forced laugh. "I remember that it used to be he was up to something that I was not going to like when it was this quiet. I can't believe that he's not actually here… but I'm afraid to go looking for him."
The conversation after that became awkward and stilted as they caught up, until Ryou said, "I'm sorry, I have to go. They don't pay us university archaeologists much, and I don't even want to know what this has already cost me."
After more searching, Yuugi was able to return the phone to its cradle. He returned to the puzzle, sighing.
Hands once more going through motions of fitting the pieces together, he let his mind wander. If Ryou had not seen his other self, that probably meant he had not much hope of seeing Atem. He looked at the puzzle in his hands. This was pointless.
Another piece went into place with a soft click.
A/N: This is a cowritten project with DoomSquirrel (thank her, blame me), who is also posting this over on LiveJournal under her pen-name Urplesquirrel (http/ urple squirrel.live journal. co m/). This was her fic at first until we started talking... and then writing... and more writing.
Those who read my other fics will be pleased to know this has jump started those stories as well.