Cowritten with the lovely UrpleSquirrel. You can also find it at her LJ ( htt p:// urple squirrel. li vejournal. com/).
Chapter Seven: In the Shadow
Ryou had been the first to fall asleep, muttering something incoherent about having not rested since he found the Ring. Somehow, Ryou had managed to tune out Bakura, and use part of his red coat-like robe as pillow, as well as his own long braid.
Just looking the sleeping man was enough to send Yuugi into a fit yawns. He had slept a little earlier, before Bakura and Ryou had climbed up the side of building, but he needed more rest. He was ready to drop from exhaustion, but there was no obvious place to sleep. He might have copied Ryou's example, but somehow he doubted that Bakura would react well to him taking the other side. He briefly debated borrowing one of Atem's thighs, but nixed the idea quickly.
Bakura and Atem were still arguing, though it was decidedly less passionate then before, with both of them sitting across from each other. Yuugi'd lost track of the conversation a while ago, too tired to care, but not tired enough to ignore it.
It had something to do about power and leading the group, originally. However, they kept skipping from topic to topic, and imagined and real slights. Yuugi hoped that it was some strange way to show budding trust, or at least clear the air between them. He also wished that they had chosen a more opportune time for it. Really, Apep could find them at any point.
As the argument grew more distant, Yuugi's head lolled, and his eyes drooped. He was so tired. At little longer he would be able to get some sleep now. Or maybe he would wake up to find it was all a dream. The Apep part, not Atem coming back. He wasn't sure he wanted to wake up if Atem wasn't there. It was nice to have him back, like a missing piece of his soul had come back. It made sense, as Atem was a miss—
"Yuugi, wake up"
Yuugi blinked several times, registering Atem's hand on his shoulder.
Had he actually fallen asleep? He didn't really feel any more rested. He stifled a yawn and looked around bleary-eyed.
"What?" he asked through a yawn.
"Someone's coming," Bakura answered, "Apep's men or not, we don't want to meet any of them right now. You three don't have weapons, and I don't have the time to be defending you."
A weapon would be rather a moot point for him, Yuugi thought, accepting Atem's hand and getting to his feet. The most he knew about using knives or swords was "don't hold the sharp end."
Yuugi looked around warily, as Atem led him through the dark. A bobbing speck of light in the distance was enough incentive. He tripped several times, stumbling on sand, and Atem hauled him up bodily.
Bakura led them, despite any protests Atem had made earlier, they followed. The pace he set was hard, and Yuugi was glad for his white hair, which he could make out faintly.
Yuugi began to pant soon. A stitch in his stomach soon made itself known painfully. Atem, began slowing slightly, but Bakura did not, and they had to run to catch up. Ryou trudged along steadily.
It would have made things easier if he had known what it was that they were running from. Imagined terrors were always much worse than the actual reality.
Just as he was beginning to wonder if they would ever slow down, Bakura came to a sudden halt. Yuugi stopped gratefully, trying his best not to pant.
"We can stop here," Bakura said, "Nothing will be here until noon. Khab owes me, so he won't attack."
"Khab?" Yuugi echoed. Atem did the same, but in a different tone.
"What, you don't think any spirit here uses his original name, do you?" Bakura scoffed, "Khab."
"What does --?" Yuugi started to ask.
"Hippopotamus," Ryou answered.
"Learning, are we?" asked Bakura absently, as he checked over his shoulder, despite his confidence in this 'Khab.'
"Yes," Ryou answered tiredly, collapsing. "Yeah. Does anyone have water, or any food or drink for that matter?"
"No," Yuugi said dispiritedly. "I had candy in my pocket, but I ate that after class."
"Well, damn." Ryou bit a nail, before venturing, "Would Khab have any food he would let us have?"
"More importantly," Atem added, "Who is Khab?"
Bakura snorted, "Ha! You're funny, landlord. And to answer your question, Pharaoh, Khab is a spirit here. One of the oldest, I believe. He would rather be left alone, but he can and often does fight like a demon."
"I see. Do I want to know why he owes you?"
"I do," Yuugi cut in nervously, "Then we'll know when the debt runs out."
Bakura raised an eyebrow at him, "If that were a risk, do you think I would be here? I'm not actually reckless, you know."
"No, you're just a madman," Ryou murmured.
"Would the debt include anything for water?" Yuugi pressed. He did not like how raspy his voice sounded.
"No," Bakura said flatly.
"We should get some rest while we can," Ryou suggested, getting up pulling Bakura a little further from Atem and Yuugi.
"That would be wise," Atem allowed.
"One of us should keep watch," Bakura said, "Most spirits aren't stupid enough to try starting a fight in Khab's territory while he's here, but something acting on direct orders from him - " he gestured upward, " - would in a heartbeat, and I can't guarantee that Khab thinks his debt to me extends far enough to save all of us."
"I'll take first," Ryou volunteered. "I had a bit of a nap earlier. I'll be fine for a few hours."
Yuugi nodded. He could accept that, and he really needed to sleep. He flopped down onto the ground with a relieved sigh, scooping up sandy grit to from a mound --a rough pillow.
He could hear Bakura arguing about it for some reason, probably because he wasn't used to trusting anyone, but it quickly faded into white noise. He'd had no idea he could even be so tired. It was considerably worse than the last time he'd pulled an all-nighter before exams.
Atem settled down next to him, apparently content to let the other two argue it out themselves. He wrapped an arm around Yuugi's shoulders. Yuugi stiffened for a moment, but relaxed into the embrace. It was cold out here, but Atem was warm.
He was asleep before he heard the end of the watch argument.
Yuugi was rudely awakened by a heavy tap to his side. In a dim pre-dawn, Bakura stood over him, scowling. He stared up uncomprehendingly, rubbing sand off a cheek.
"It's your watch," Bakura said roughly.
Atem had shifted away at some point, and Yuugi was chilly again. He rubbed his palms over his arms, trying to warm up.
Bakura waited until he stood, before laying down himself, a ways away from Atem.
Yuugi looked around, unable to see further than a rock a few paces away. A far off yowl made him jump. "What do I do if I do see something?"
"Thanks," Yuugi muttered. "...What was that?"
Bakura sighed. "A fight. They've been at for a little under an hour. I think it's Khab and a water-stalker. They're fair ways off."
"Okay." Another faint noise, one that Yuugi couldn't identify. "What if they get closer?"
"We'll know. Now let me sleep."
Yuugi nodded, keeping his apology. He began to pace around camp, finding a rough path of footsteps that Bakura had made. He followed it carefully keeping track of where he was. He wanted to keep walking to keep awake, but not get lost.
It was quiet here, quieter then anywhere Yuugi had ever been, but for the soul room. There was no white noise of cars or people. Only the four of them, the wind, and the fighters in distance. At every cry, Yuugi jumped, wishing that he at least had a stick. The stone he held wouldn't do much, and he was uncertain of his aim.
The sun rose, and while the light comforted him, Yuugi realized that he had no idea what to look for. Figures in the distances, that much was obvious, but what about something sneaking up on them?
He looked up and bit back a small squeak. He had forgotten about the Serpent in the Sky, and Apep was still as terrible to behold as last night. The great eyes still swept the landscape, and he wondered if they saw anything at all, or just watched the sun floating along its course.
The serpent's head was at the opposite end of the sky from the sun, watching and waiting, and Yuugi suddenly felt a small twinge of sorrow for Apep. Evil incarnate he may be, but he couldn't do anything else, and he couldn't change. That seemed somehow unfair, but Apep was out to kill them or worse. Yuugi's attack of pity did not last long.
He watched the huge body move across the sky as the snake changed positions, his head moving to the other side of the river.
A noise from behind him made Yuugi jump. He turned around, thinking of monsters and demons that might have approached during his distraction, but only saw vague shapes in the distance, kicking up sand as they fought.
He squinted, but saw only shadowed figures in the sand. He wasn't sure of size, and hoped that his rough estimate was wrong.
A rustle of cloth and leather, Yuugi at least recognized that sound, having heard his own clothes make it so many times before.
"Atem?" he asked softly.
Atem turned over and sat up, shaking sand out of his hair. "Yeah."
Yuugi smiled. "You startled me. There's someone fighting down there."
Atem looked at him, blinking still. "Fighting?"
"Yeah, Bakura said it was Khab and a water-stalker, whatever that means. You can't really see them, but they have been at it for a while. What would happen if the water-stalker won?"
"I don't know. This is a strange land to me."
Yuugi nodded. "I just wonder if that would mean it would attack us next. The other one doesn't owe Bakura."
"The things that live here are demons and scoundrels," Atem murmured, "I'm amazed he can even trust one of them."
Yuugi pursed his lips. Though Atem was probably completely right, somehow the way he said it didn't seem fair.
"What are you thinking, Aibou?" Atem asked softly, looking at Yuugi.
"Ask me what I'm not thinking," Yuugi replied, "The answer will be shorter."
Atem gave a halfhearted chuckle, but sobered quickly, "I don't like this place. I don't know anything about it." He flicked a pebble and watched it skitter away. "I don't trust Bakura to not use us as bargaining chips."
"Bakura is the only who knows anything about here. We're going to have to trust him. I know Ryou won't leave him, and I don't fancy the idea of us splitting up either."
"Do you trust him?"
Yuugi shrugged. Bakura had been trying to take the Puzzle and Atem for him from the outset. There was something to be said about the consistency of that. Also... Bakura did have reasons, in a way. He had a motive --even if it was revenge-- Yuugi understood.
Atem sighed. "Yuugi..."
"I do, to point at least."
"What has he done that makes you trust him?"
"They came to us for help," Yuugi said. "Both of them. We can't turn them away."
"And what about when he turns on us? He's never really helped us before, Yuugi. It's always been part of some greater plan."
"So? Jounochi and I weren't always friends."
"How?" Yuugi pressed.
"Jounochi was a good person who acted badly. Bakura is..." Atem paused, looking for words, but failed, and concluded with, "Not a good person."
"I... think I understand why he does the things he does," Yuugi said, picking some sand out from under his fingernail, "For now, at least, I trust him."
Atem snorted, and looked away so dismissively that Yuugi suddenly wanted to punch him.
"At the very least," Yuugi continued, keeping his voice steady with a great amount of effort, "I trust him to do certain things at certain times. And I trust him more than I trust that."
He pointed to the great twining serpent above them.
Atem looked back to him, and something that could have been annoyance relaxed, "All right. That I can agree with. But I'll sleep easier when I don't have to depend on the information he gives me to keep us safe."
"I don't believe he would lie to us now. There's no merit for him to keep us in the dark. The more we know, the better allies we are. He doesn't stand to gain anything from lying to us."
"Freedom, life, a pardon by the most powerful demon in existence... Yes, of course, nothing to gain."
"That was rude."
"It's also true."
Yuugi gritted his teeth and bit back the first words that came to his mind, forcing back anger. He was happy that Atem was back, he really was. It was just did he have to be so...
Atem noticed. "I didn't quite mean--"
"Yes, you did!" Yuugi interrupted. "You meant every word. People can change in five years. They can change in one."
I..." Atem stared at him, then cocked his head, and looked into Yuugi's eyes. "What's come over you?"
It probably a good thing that there were no walls around; Yuugi had the great urge to beat his head on one, as he broke eye contact. "Five years... Don't you think something could have changed?"
"He had three thousand," Atem pointed out.
"In a hunk of gold with no contact to the outside world. That's enough to make anyone slightly insane. Now he's had five years to think." Yuugi continued. "Five years, which while admittedly isn't the same as home, is still a sight better then the Ring. He's had time to recover, heal even."
"Heal from what?" Atem asked. "He was insane in Egypt too."
"Are you just deliberately missing the point of what I'm saying?" Yuugi demanded, "I'm not saying he's alright now. If I was, I'd need to get my head examined, but I am saying that he basically spent those three thousand years unable to change. But not the last five. And he doesn't have all those constant reminders of his pain, so he's probably different now. Five years is a long time when you're actually living it, not waiting."
Atem opened his mouth to respond, but shut it suddenly. He gave Yuugi a long, scrutinizing look.
"Are you even talking about Bakura now?" he asked slowly.
Yuugi was taken aback, "What?"
"You aren't talking about how Bakura's changed. He hasn't changed."
"Five years change anyone!"
Yuugi blinked. "I, well... yes, of course. I'm in college now."
"What else has changed then?" Atem asked, taking Yuugi's hand. "We've talked about what's happened to everyone but you. What's dueling been like?"
Yuugi shook his head. "No, we haven't talked about what's happened to everyone. I haven't had time to tell you half of it. Kaiba for one, he hadn't played Duel Monsters since... About eight months after the duel between us, his company released a virtually reality game. It's popular. I haven't dueled in an age."
"What's the game like?"
"Boring." Yuugi said instantly. "Nothing remotely resembles duel monsters. The game involves lots of mythologies for names, but he's purposefully left anything Egyptian out. He's even replaced the card locket he had."
"It won't be much of challenge to win. He needs time to get back into the game," Atem sighed.
Yuugi snorted. "I doubt he would accept. I've tried. Unless you plan take Ap-- him up on his offer, I don't think Kaiba's ever going to duel again."
"He made you that offer, not me. And you wouldn't have accepted it."
There was something odd in his tone as he said it, as though he wasn't actually sure of it, and was saying so to confirm it. Yuugi felt the irritation bubbling up inside him again.
"Of course I wouldn't have! What kind of person do you think I am?"
"I know, I was just thinking... even I found that tempting."
"So you're saying if it was tempting for you, it must have been irresistible for me?"
"Funny, that's what it sounded like to me."
"Yuugi, that wasn't what..." Atem let out a hiss of breath and slumped. "What I mean, is that I thought that you loved playing Duel Monsters--"
"Enough to practically sell my soul?" Yuugi yelled. "Are you mad? Do you even know--"
"And," asked a very cranky voice from behind both of them, "Do you know how much sleep we've gotten?"
Bakura was looking distinctly not amused. Ryou was faking sleep, but flushed when Yuugi caught his eyes open.
"Don't mind us," Bakura continued, "Go ahead and bring everyone with ears down on us."
"I didn't... Sorry," Yuugi said.
"You didn't think," snapped Bakura. "Go ahead though. I was starting to enjoy it. You were at selling souls for a game, and question his sanity, finally."
Yuugi glared at Bakura. Why the hell was he butting into this? Sure, being too loud and attracting something that might attack wasn't a good plan, but he had no right to talk about the argument itself! It was personal.
"It's absolutely none of your business, thief," Atem growled, "Don't talk about things you don't understand."
Yuugi changed his glare from Bakura to Atem. They'd seemed to tone down the animosity last night, but it looked like it was back in full force after a rest. Or was this simply Atem taking out his frustration on a target he felt no emotional obligation to?
Had Bakura even heard any of their argument about him? He would probably have taken all the "untrustworthy" comments from Atem as compliments.
"Things I don't understand?" Bakura laughed mockingly, "Oh, I have a feeling I understand what's going on much better than either of you do."
"I doubt that," Atem said.
Ryou stood, brushing off sand. "Well, now that we're all up," he said too cheerfully, "How about we get some water?"
Bakura gave him a dark look, but he continued to smile. "I'm thirsty. Aren't you thirsty?"
Yuugi tried to smile back. It was pained.
"Look," Ryou said flatly, dropping all pretenses, "I'm thirsty, I'm hungry. Neither of those problems are going to get solved with us fighting, unless we turn to cannibalism. I would suggest we start moving downhill until we find water. I want to keep moving. And I donot want to be caught be him." He jabbed a finger at the sky, and the floating snake.
"He's showing sense," Bakura agreed, "We can get to the river in a few hours. There's game there too." He pushed roughly by Atem, jarring his shoulder as he passed, and Ryou followed, going around the pharaoh with a quick, apologetic look.
Yuugi looked around, feeling like there was something they ought to be picking up, but they had no bags, no supplies, nothing but the clothes on their back. Honestly, he was lucky he still had his shoes, since he hadn't bothered to take them off when coming home... yesterday? Two days ago? The only evidence of their camp were a few imprints in the sand, and a pile of stones he'd collected. It was almost like they had never been there. And soon enough, the wind that was already picking up would show just that. Grains of sand were already blowing across the ground, changing shapes and patterns. Maybe it would even be enough to buy them breathing space for the length of the day, but Yuugi doubted it.
He ran to catch up.