I apologize it has taken so frickin' long, but it could not be helped. Thank a nice flu bug that kept me from work and school for a week. Gave me plenty of time for writing. Lots of views for this story. Glad to see it still has a following despite the long pauses between chapters. I apologize in advance for typos, but I am eager to get this chapter up. 36 pages of luffliness!

This chapter shall be dedicated to Bakurafangurl91 and the anonymous Guest who so eloquently "encouraged" me to post (love you, dear, lol). XD Hope you guys enjoy this chapter. I enjoyed writing it. Some of my fav characters to write in this fic-though Baku's absent. D:

NOTE: I went back through the fic (there a LOT of fic!) and I'm pretty sure I have used both names Odeon and Rishid. So I just went with Rishid for this chapter. lol

I don't want to care
And I don't want to hate
And I don't want to see you fall too far away
All because of fear.
'Cause when you're afraid
You lash out at me
When you say all the things that you never meant to say
And try to break me

~Plum

Chapter 37: Out of the Depths

(Marik's POV)

I awaken very much alone. The strong arms that I fell asleep within are missing, my ribcage instead pressing into the sleeping mat instead of a sculpted forearm. Damn. Rolling over, the spot beside me is vacant, blankets cold to the touch. I do a quick sweep of the tent in vain hopes he will be sitting in a corner reading some new travel book with a flashlight, having moved so as not to disturb me.

Really, I should know better by now.

Groaning into a pillow, I roll off the mat and out from under the blankets warm from my own body heat. Groping in the dark, hunched over so my head does not hit the roof of the tent, I find the fleece dressing robe Malik got me during our adventures in Europe. Bundling myself within the fluffy material, I trudge over to the entrance. The flap is pulled back partially where he failed to close it entirely when he left. The mesh keeps out any desert creatures that would otherwise venture inside.

I breathe a silent sigh of relief when I spot Malik sitting no more than ten feet from our temporary residence. Thank Ra. I did not feel like trekking through the cold trying to find where he had wandered off to again. It is something I have long since grown accustomed to: his inability to settle down in one place for longer than a week. Our stay in Domino may very well have been a record. I don't know if this is just a habit he has carried on from the past or if he is…

No. I do know. We both just pretend it is not the latter. It wasn't ever something he had to say. And what he revealed to Katsuya and me was not only monumental but it also made me realize something much more about myself as well. My role as his hikari.

He is facing the east where the sun will rise hours from now. Millennium rod clasped in his hands, my yami's gaze is locked on the horizon where the starry sky and sands meet in some obscure embrace. Malik did not take any blankets with him, wearing the jeans and long-sleeved tee he fell asleep in. Yet he does not seem to notice the biting cold, too lost in thought.

There is no block in our mind link. The solid wall that he puts between us is down due to his inattention and belief that I am asleep. It is a rare moment when he unconsciously lets his defenses drop. Even while sleeping that barrier is usually there. It is only when he drifts into the past that this happens.

I want to beg him to close it up again. The agony pouring through is consuming, threatening to drown out all other feelings and emotions. It's like plunging into ice water. Upon immediate impact all you know is overwhelming cold and pain. Then everything goes numb from shock. It's different than the hatred that ran him when he first awakened in these times. Emotions just as strong but a different sensation entirely…

"Damn it, Rishid, wake up and help me!" I scream, slamming my palms on the locked door of my soul room.

Why now? Why of all times, just when I reveal who I am to the Pharaoh and his pathetic friends, does this stupid alternate me decide to take over? It's been at least ten years since it killed my father. Stupid spirit has remained dormant ever since, allowing me to do as I pleased without so much as making a peep. Well it's got another thing coming if it thinks I'm going to sit aside while it messes up all of my plans!

How could my stepbrother let this happen? If he had not been so careless, we would not be in this fucked up situation now. That thing will probably go on another killing spree. And I'm sure Rishid is at the top of its hit list, having aided me in suppressing it the first time. Isis is no help either, hiding beneath her "disguise" thinking no one will recognize her. She claimed before that she wanted to save me. What a fine job you are doing, sister. I hope it offs you first.

It's highly unlikely the ancient spirit named Bakura will do anything either. He's so set on defeating the Pharaoh and stealing the Millennium puzzle that he would more than willingly cast me off if I get in over my head. So what if the same would apply if our roles were reversed? Doesn't make him any less of a bastard.

Looks like I'm getting myself out of this one. Glaring at the door, I take several steps back, focusing on the atmosphere. There must be a weakness somewhere. It doesn't help my cause that that thing is currently in possession of my body and the Millennium rod. And it probably knows everything about me if it hasn't been asleep these past ten years. Things are also not in my favor with me not knowing what it even wants.

Fuck this.

"Hey!" I yell, banging on the door with my fist, wincing at the afterthought of my knuckles being blemished by bruises. Hindsight is such a bitch. "Hey! I'm talking to you!"

Nothing. Not the slightest change in spiritual pressure. The spirit obviously sees me as some miniscule detail that has already been dealt with. Does it really think I'll just sit here and let it walk around in my body, ruining all of my plots? Well it's about to get a fucking reality check. Nobody ignores me. Nobody.

Spiritual energies bounce off the walls as I press against the barricade that is encompassing my soul room. Not much good without the rod. I know I cannot defeat this thing without a Millennium Item since it currently has mine. That could change though. If I could just lure it in here. Not an unfeasible task. Isis always has said I am impossible to ignore. Time to put that gift to good use.

"How about coming in here and winning fair and square? You think you're so tough? Hiding and then taking the Millennium rod just so you won't have to face me? Fuck you!"

I smirk as the barrier gives a bit, the energies seeping into the walls and out of this prison. I can only hope the vibes are annoying if nothing else. Maybe like those awful times when my sister would hold me down and tickle me mercilessly until I couldn't breathe. She'd be wearing that smile of hers the whole time, feeling so superior for making a fool out of her kid brother. Bitch. Yeah, this thing can totally kill her first.

"Any time now! Come on! You think I won't fight you? Think you're so tough?"

Nothing.

I will not be ignored.

"Get your ass in here!"

After a good screaming fit that involves sending shockwaves of my aura through the walls and threatening to damage my soul room and everything around it, I calm down. Slightly. It won't do any good to lose my head or do damage to myself. Obviously this thing's tolerance of me is higher than that of my sister or stepbrother. And people in general. Threats don't seem to get me anywhere with it. I've never actually seen it, if it even has a tangible form. And it's never bothered with so much as a "Back off. I'm taking over, bitch" before so rudely throwing me into my soul room and locking me in.

Change tactics. But to what? Though I'm sexy as hell, I am not going to attempt to seduce something that for all I know is some hideous, fat creature. I've got standards!

"You might as well get in here and save us both the trouble! It's not like I've got anything else to do…"

A smirk of satisfaction tugs at my lips when the barrier comes down.

Yeah, that's what I thought. You don't mess with Marik Ishtar. If you haven't learned that, you will soon enou…

Two eyes—familiar, usually attractive lavender eyes—glare at me. They are the same ones I have seen in the mirror except they are lacking pupils. My own eyes adjust as I take in the imposing figure standing tall in the doorway, Millennium rod in hand. Blonde hair is the same color as mine but sticking out from every angle, somewhat like the Pharaoh's, much to my dismay. The muscles are more pronounced, rippling across his arms as he flexes in aggression, soulless orbs half-lidded as they study me in indifference and displeasure.

Holy fuck.

He's…me!

Sure he's messed up my hair, has grown several inches taller and probably has a to-die-for six pack. Not that anyone could tell because he traded in my clothes for some ugly tan cargo pants that hardly do either of us justice and has covered up his abs…er…my abs.

I come so close to making an opening remark regarding his poor choice of attire but think better of it. I mean-a cape? Come on! The Millennium rod is in his hand, not mine. What is even more disconcerting is the Millennium symbol glowing brightly on his forehead like it does on my mind slaves. What is that? He can't be using the rod and be controlled by it. That isn't possible.

Is it?

"You really are a little brat, aren't you?" he rumbles, an echo catching in his voice as he enters without invitation.

None of my spinning, frantic thoughts make it to verbal form as I watch a phantom face separate from his and float next to his head, partially attached by some unknown source. Ripples of skin cover the sides of his face as though he is being drained of fluids, skin shriveling. If it is painful he does not seem to notice it, looming towards me with evil intent.

"Why are you backing away, mortal? I came as you requested. Now that we finally meet face to face you decide to run?" A chuckle that chills me to the core emanates from somewhere deep in his throat. "But where do you have left to flee?"

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

"I…why have you chosen that form?" I control my voice enough to ask. "Why did you choose to appear here looking like me?"

He tilts his head, empty eyes boring into me as if I asked a stupid question.

"It is my form. It was mine thousands of years before you were born. You are the parasitic reincarnation here. A gateway for me to enter this world. Nothing more than a body for me to take over."

Thousands of years? Wait a minute.

"You…Is this about the pharaoh? Is that why you've taken control again?"

The last word of this question barely leaves my mouth before I'm being slammed to the floor, one of the blades of the Millennium rod pressing against my left cheek while calloused fingers encircle my throat. My breath hisses as he applies more pressure, cutting off airflow in my windpipe. The blank irises have shrunken, acting as pupils as he leans in close.

"I will not waste energy on your childish games, mortal. While I was doubtful of your success, my patience has at last been rewarded." A toothy grin reveals unnaturally sharp canines that he did not acquire from me. "This will be my triumph. If you insist on getting in my way, I will more than willingly oblige your endeavors for banishment."

I would shake my head or scream something, but can only widen my eyes in panic, pleading as the Millennium rod begins to glow. My hands fly up. One latches around his wrist of the hand gripping my neck. The other locks around the handle of the Item. He snarls, fingers curling tighter with the aim of snapping my neck. Kicking wildly, desperate for a breath, I squirm beneath him. The Item is illuminated to the fullest extent, and I hone in on it, tapping into its magical energies and building a defense around myself as the murky darkness of the Shadow Realm begins to form around our struggling forms. If I'm getting banished then I'm gonna do all in my power to bring him along for the ride!

He called me his "gateway". If that's true, then we are attached somehow. I find it—some strange tie where we are somehow connected. Opening it fully on my side, I am bombarded with an overwhelming rage that is more paralyzing than anything I have experienced in my own hatred. It's like savage animals clawing into my, hollowing me out with their ferocity. The blunt force of it would have knocked the air from my lunges if there had been any there. Tears escape as I grasp for the link in the midst of this onslaught. I latch onto it, pulling hard like a rope in a tug of war.

Gasping, I clutch my throat as he releases me and backs off abruptly. Vision swimming, I roll onto my side, coughing as I crawl away from the ancient spirit. I wipe my arm across my eyes to get rid of the tears that formed. I will not look that weak. Not before anyone and certainly not before him.

It is only as I begin to rise to my knees that I notice the Item still clutched tightly in my hand. He let go of it! I'm back in control of things! With this shard of assurance, I pull myself upright, kneeling on the floor of my soul room as I pant. So what if I don't exactly look powerful at the moment? The Item answers to me. I know its capabilities. For whatever reason, he relinquished his possession of it to me. Conjuring a weak smirk, I look about for the creature that was only seconds ago intent on the destruction of me. I am not prepared for what I see.

He's backed himself into one of the walls, as far away from me as he can get without leaving my soul room. Chest rising and falling, his eyes are wide in shock as if I just stabbed him through the abdomen. Sinking down to the floor, his stunned gaze never leaves me. He looks like someone who has seen a specter. Ironic since he basically is a ghost himself. The bronze complexion has gone pale, jaw locked tight as I get to my feet and cautiously approach him. Running my fingers gingerly over my aching neck, I glare down into those features that reveal nothing now but utter bewilderment. That's when I notice the pupils that have appeared in the centers of his irises, dilating in the light of the Item in my hand. The glowing eye on his forehead is fading, light waning. The crinkles in his skin smoothen and the phantom face vanishes.

"You…" he chokes. "How did you…?"

Though the energies around him have weakened severely, he seems more conscious than before. More "here". It isn't just being able to see the transformation occurring right in front of me. I can feel it. The seemingly unquenchable fury is simmering as I sense my own spiritual energies passing through the "door" I opened between us. His forehead is free of the Millennium Symbol now, unblemished like mine.

"Not really sure what this is," I answer the being that, moments ago, was hell-bent on killing me. It's pretty awkward to be able to experience someone else's emotions so clearly. But I can feel—actually feel—that I am no longer in any danger from him. All of that pent up hatred he's been harboring is not for me.

"But you're not…" He mutters more to himself, studying me with perplexion, as if afraid he won't see what he is hoping he will find. "You can't be my…"

"What? I thought it was agreed I'm your reincarnation," I say, knowing I'll be holding a grudge for this incident. My neck must look like hell. And I don't like the fact that he's ignoring me while simultaneously gawking at me like I'm some fantastic zoo creature.

The spirit does not agree or disagree, still gaping at me like he's seriously considering touching me as if to prove I'm here and not some fucking mirage. My grip tightens on the Item. One wrong move from this guy and he's getting slashed through the stomach. I don't care if there is zero hostility coming from him and he's actually pretty fucking hot without all of those earlier creepy attributes. I'm still sexier. He's a more buffed up version of me. Taller. More muscular…

Damn it! Not the time to be getting a hard on! It isn't like my cock usually listens anyway. He doesn't seem to have noticed anyway.

Hastily brushing my wilting bangs out of my reddening face, I resist these odd sensations aside from the instinctual attraction. Why can I sense his emotions so plainly? This isn't like the mind slaves where I can pry into their heads and tell what they are experiencing. I don't have to do that with him because I'm actually feeling it. What the heck did I unleash when I opened this link between us? How does someone go from complete psycho to I-want-to-freakin'-stare-at-you mode in an instant? He was the one trying to kill me! So why is he the one acting so traumatized? Which begs the question…

"What else would I be aside from your reincarnation?"

He closes his mouth and does not say anything more.

(Jounouchi's POV)

"You want another place?" Otogi asks incredulously, stupefied by my request. "Shit, Katsuya, what the heck is wrong with this place? Not big and extravagant enough for you? Pool not deep enough? Or is this because of the round bed Bakura hates? You can get a new bed, you know!"

"That's not it at all," I say, scowling as he rummages through the cupboards for an alcoholic beverage.

I watch him impatiently, leaning against the unused countertop. Ryou is the only of us that knows anything about cooking and he hasn't been doing that. The hikari has been focusing all of his time and energy on Baku, much to my dismay and my boyfriend's displeasure. After my discussion with my koi last night, I understand how careful I need to be in my digging. He's on the verge of taking off. I hafta be sneaky about finding the truth. But first I need to figure out where to begin.

"Don't you get enough liquor in your limo?"

"Yeah yeah," Otogi gives in, shutting a cupboard door none too quietly and at last turning his attention to me. "So what's all this about then? Give me your foolhardy reason for this desire to get another abode."

"It's not for me so much…"

"Ah. Kicking Ryou out? Finding out that three is a crowd?" The dice master's smirk is positively impish.

"No," I glower at his automatically assuming Ryou is the problem…though the hikari's presence kind of is making things worse. "It's for…Bakura's getting freaked out."

"And buying another house will help?"

"Yes. Maybe. Baku needs some space. It's just temporary," I say as black eyebrows rise. "Very temporary. Geez, Otogi, stop looking at me like I'm crazy!"

"Well you're sure sounding nuts," he snorts at my plight. "This is what most couples call 'taking a break', Katsuya. You know how that usually ends."

"I know!" I snap at him, quickly glancing towards the main sitting area. No shadow appears on the stairs to indicate someone is eavesdropping. When the dice master got here, Baku was sound asleep on one of those God-awful lounge chairs and Ryou was in the shower.

"I know," I repeat quieter, moving along the counter so we're not so far away from each other. "I didn't agree to it for the reasons you're thinkin'."

"Enlighten me then."

"He's hinted…I'm getting the feeling he's planning on doing something drastic soon. Whatever happened that shook him up so badly is still affecting him. I need him somewhere safe while I get this sorted out."

To my surprise, Otogi doesn't have smartass comments for my explanation. I was expecting some comeback along the lines of: "Like a padded cell?" Instead his features tighten and his mood sobers. It's like he's actually taking this seriously.

"Things are that bad?"

"It needs to be someplace quiet. Not nearly so large or extravagant. More along the lines of a normal apartment or house, I think," I tally off the criteria, not wanting to outright answer that question. "Someplace that he won't be bothered by neighbors or the media but where I can still keep an eye on him and visit."

The dice master exhales through his nose, running a hand through his unevenly styled black bangs. I fidget, uncertain of what this action of his means. Usually he gloats about how he can get anything done with his connections.

"Damn Katsuya, those are some pretty contradictory standards. You do realize how hard it will be to find a place you can go and not be hounded that isn't upscale?"

Something in my chest sinks.

"So it's not possible?"

"I didn't say that. It's just going to take a bit more effort." The corners of his mouth twitch. "It is me you're asking. I'm surprised at your lack of faith after all of this, Katsuya."

There's the Otogi I know.

"Sorry."

"You should be!" he throws up his arms theatrically while moving past the refrigerator and out of the kitchen, me trailing closely. "It's a challenge, is all."

"So are you…?"

"I'm game."

A slight weight lifts off of my shoulders. We're not out of the woods yet. But it's a start. If I can secure a place that Baku will agree to stay at, then I'll feel more at ease. If anyone can find such a place, it's Otogi.

"So what exactly has he done that's gotten you so worried all of a sudden?"

"It's not just one thing," I murmur, internally wincing at the image of my koi returning from his shower, skin a painful red. I didn't say anything. Didn't berate him for the obvious. It wouldn't help. I'm sure he'll get an earful from Ryou anyway. Baku's back to hurting himself. I understand. I hurt myself too. And because of that, I know how far he's sunk already.

"Is this against himself or someone else? Like me?"

There's the true foundation of the dice master's concern. Self preservation.

"He's not out to get you, Otogi. I would have told you if I thought he was."

"I should hope so," he replies quietly. His mood does not lighten despite that he doesn't have to fear for his soul. But why not? The only person Otogi truly gives a damn about is Otogi.

An unusual thing occurs. We lapse into a silence. It's awkward because neither of us are by any means quiet individuals. To have both of us at a loss for words is telltale of how distracted we are by our current situation. I'm hoping Otogi's sudden muteness has to do with him thinking up places to try for Baku to stay.

He's been acting weird lately. I can't remember how long it has been since he last asked about Shizuka. Wasn't getting near her the entire point of all this? I watch the dice master closely, wondering what it is that is driving him now. Just like with Baku, it will do no good to ask. He'll evade or worse. I will have to hope for the best with the dice master and trust him. Bakura must remain my focus.

"I'd appreciate it if you don't say anything to Ry," I say shoving my hands into my pockets as we stand near the main door next to the giant wall of television screen.

The scheming smile reappears.

"So we're being secretive too?"

"Yes please."

"Who else is in on it?"

"Right now, you, me and Baku…Only he doesn't know the entire plan."

Otogi sends me a sideways look of wry amusement, finger wrapping around a lock of hair and twisting it tight.

"Why do I get the feeling that I'm not entirely in the loop either?"

"Cause you're not."

He laughs. Flat-out laughs. Just what is so funny? I don't see anything amusing about this.

"I'm glad you find my misfortunes so entertaining."

Otogi waves his hand, brushing aside my irritation without even examining it. He's good at jumping around dealing with anything complicated like the emotions of others. Maybe that's why he fits into this world so well and I don't.

"It's not that, Katsuya," he says tugging on the strand of hair playfully. "I was just wondering when this day would ever come."

"What day?"

A glimmer of amusement and something I cannot place sparks in green eyes. It isn't anything mocking, nothing making fun of me. It's a look I'm not used to. Keen. Fully understanding what he is seeing and…respecting it? Is that what this is? Some form of admiration?

"The day you cut me out and decided to take your issues elsewhere. Face it: you've been hanging off my arm like a leech from day one. A very loud leech, might I add."

Okay being compared to a bloodsucking parasite has dashed the admiration idea. It rubs me the wrong way, him telling me how helpless I am and what a nuisance I've been to him.

"Hey, you offered to help me…!"

"Don't be so defensive, Katsuya," he says in a more serious voice, smile lessening to one of seeming approval. "Not long ago I would have said 'if' instead of 'when'."

My mouth slackens, hanging open like a fish's at the belief I am being complimented…even if there is a bit of an insult tied in with it. This is Otogi, after all. And being Otogi, the dice master does not give time for this rare moment to bud.

"Anyway, will that be all?" he presses onward as if he hadn't mentioned anything about me being more self-reliant. "I've got a meeting with the tyrant. And while I'm all for pissing him off, I find things tend to go my way more if I don't start by showing up half an hour late."

"Go," I grin, knowing that this won't be brought up again. He said it. That's enough. "And find me another place!"

"Yeah yeah. I'll get into it after the meeting."

He presses the button, waiting for the elevator to rise up to our floor. I remain beside him, not really sure what I should do next. Find out what's caused so much distress for Baku. Obviously. But how to go about doing that? I'm at a loss for where to begin.

"The look on your face says: 'What the fuck do I do now?'"

I smile sheepishly.

"Yeah. Pretty much. Something happened with Baku the last time you, Takara, and I went out. I shoulda never left him here alone."

"What happened? He let somebody in?"

"No. He went out."

"Where?" the dice master asks, clearly interested even as the door glides open. I understand. It is baffling. Where would Baku go?

"That's the problem. I don't know where. But I'm pretty sure he wasn't alone the whole time. Someone got to him."

"Well that's simple enough to investigate." The dice master motions for me to ride down with him and I step into the elevator without hesitation. "Have the staff check the security cameras."

"What good will that do?"

The city appears before us as we descend, nothing but a panel of glass between us and the bustling world below. It's not nearly as spectacular a view as at night with all of the lights. Sunshine hits us, the late summer heat obscured by the air condition vent humming softly directly overhead. Next to me, Otogi yawns without bothering to cover his mouth.

"For one, it'll give you a timeframe for when he left and when he got back. His return might give some clues if he was as shaken as you say."

He sends me a look of triumph as I gaze at him in wonder and mounting gratitude. This could be it! Memories come flashing back from that night when I returned from my outing with Otogi and Takara. I remember how the doorman was acting strange, like he was going tell me something but thought better of it. Could it be that someone downstairs has known this whole time?

"I…I could hug you, Otogi."

"Touch me and I'll make your life more hellish than it already is," he threatens with just a trace of gravity behind these words.

I'm too excited to care about how foolish I may sound or how he might take back his statement earlier that I am doing well on my own. None of that is all so important. All that matters is finding out what happened to Baku.

"But it's brilliant!"

"Well yeah. It was my idea."

(Malik's POV)

The sun begins to creep over the horizon, signaling the need for haste to reach the nearest shelter before the heat of the day is upon me. I ignore it. While I do not have to fear the daylight, it is foolish to travel for lengths of time in the desert sands as the most scorching portion of the day arrives. It is still early morning. This should not take long.

I urge Adjo forward, at last beginning to grow accustomed to this stallion. He has a bit of spirit, but that is how I prefer it. There is something about absolute obedience that makes me sick. Growing up in the palace, with the tomb keepers, is it really any wonder? People gifted enough to all awaken their kas without the aid of any further magical abilities. The royals saw a way of making this threat an asset by placing my clan in charge of guarding the sacred tombs. Who could rob tombs from people that could summon monsters? There is a reason why there were so few successful thieves of the tombs before Bakura and me.

They won't let him achieve these crazy aspirations. Why didn't I realize sooner what he was doing? I should have been able to sense his awakening spirit but instead I shunned him. If I had caught on earlier, paid attention, I might have been able to stop him before he'd awakened that creature.

No. Any efforts on my part to discourage him would have been akin to pouring oil into a fire. The word "no" always seems to have the opposite effect on him. He's had so many things forbidden from him that when he finds even a slight possibility of rebellion he grasps it without thinking. And based on what he said to me and his abilities, I have no doubt who the culprit is that aided him in achieving all of this.

Squinting my eyes in the morning light, I am vigilant on keeping my distance. A screaming yell and yapping of a jackal family announces their return to their den with food for the pups. Hanging back, I will wait until they have fallen silent just in case Bakura has not shut the girl and himself inside yet. I do not know the full capabilities of his ka, after all.

It was not difficult to figure out in which of our sanctuaries Bakura is hiding them. There were only a few possibilities given he had no means of transporting her a great distance. His options were few. I never get close, not wanting another confrontation. Out here there are no walls, few places for my ka to hide. I would lose and there is no doubt in my mind he would strike me down, making good of his promise. Does Bakura even comprehend the level of magic at his disposal? Perhaps. Regardless, he wants more. I know him. He'll strive to obtain more until there is no one left to challenge him.

Adjo tosses his head, snorting beneath me and kicking up sand with his hoofs in agitation. The white rims are visible around his widened eyes. His ears are twitching and I can feel his muscles rippling under me, readying to bolt. Rubbing my hand along the horse's coarse mane, I look about intently for whatever he may have sensed that I failed to. There is no trace of the ka's spiritual presence. Nor do I detect any Shadow Magic. So it is something else that has spooked him then.

The closer I insist we go, the more restless the stallion becomes. Not keen on being thrown from a horse today, I dismount and let him go. He turns and begins trotting back in the direction of the small oasis I discovered where we have been laying low, knowing better than to run aimlessly into the desert. He slows once he has gone a safe distance, turning as if to say "I'll wait here." I stand for a moment watching the small clouds of sand he left in a trail settle behind him. The winds will take care of that soon enough.

Continuing on alone, I pull out a blade from my garments, not wanting to separate from Shadow Ghoul if I don't have to. That would only draw Bakura's attention. Speaking of which, why are those jackals still yapping?

'Idiot,' I berate myself for not having noticed. 'That isn't their call to come back to shelter. They're excited about something.'

Prey.

Picking up my pace, I round the mound of sand where the hideout's entrance resides. It is wide open. The flaps have not been tied. A group of three juvenile jackals is dancing about just outside of it, saliva dripping from their jowls, captivated by something inside just beyond their sight. These animals learned over the years the dangers of coming too close to our dwellings. We have many pelts as testament to those that dared make that mistake in the earlier years of our desert living.

Did he leave her during the night to go for help? I don't know how he would have managed it. She should be near death by now. I'm sure the violent fits of a dying soul have begun. As much as I was trying to shield him from such things, perhaps dealing with them firsthand will help him form a new perspective of the palace folk.

"Get!" I growl at the canines that, to my surprise, only back away, hair rising on their necks. They do not flee like they normally would, snarling at me as if ready to challenge me for whatever is inside. There is only one thing that would make them so determined.

Taking a huge gamble, I turn and duck into the entrance, leaving the eager animals and their keening. They are smart enough not to follow. Lucky for them to make that decision. I could have used a new blanket. The place is dark, not a single light coming from within. I feel about for any spiritual pressures but there are none.

Shit.

Passing the stables and the alcove that would have been my space if I had been here with them, I continue down the passageway. That leaves only the area where Bakura would sleep. The curtain that is used in place of a door is drawn open, and I can see embers seemingly floating in the air. There is a stain, a sort of handprint on the edge of the fabric hanging from the doorway. Before I even reach it, I hear the horrible crunching. Stepping closer, I see a set of rushlights that are smoldering now, giving off smoke more than any light now. My breath catches at the smell nearly covered by the smoky atmosphere. That all too familiar odor.

Rounding the bend, my eyes adjust to the dimly lit room, immediately drawn to the figure lying on its back in a mess of shredded, bloodied blankets between the pair of ravenous jackals. I cannot tell who it is right away because of the mutilation. The face is gone, torso practically torn open so many of what's left of the organs are visible. One of the animal's muzzles is buried within the trunk, a horrid squelching sounding as it greedily devours the intestines. The other is gnawing on the left arm, joint snapping in its jaws.

The smell of internal juices is foul but the body has not had time to decay. Death occurred only hours ago. For a moment I wonder if the jackals were bold enough to come inside and kill the helpless girl. The delicate fingers on the intact hand prove this is not Bakura as well as the length of the hair strewn around the body. Circling her slowly, I spot the hilt of the knife embedded in her open chest cavity. I do not need to examine it to know who it belongs to. The canines growl in warning as I draw closer, spotting the numerous knife wounds littering the upper portion of the torso as if the sole intent was to shred the heart.

Too much. If he were defending himself against one of those violent fits the ka-harvesting victims have then he would have simply stabbed her once, perhaps not even fatally if he could help it. When I left he was hell-bent on protecting the girl. This is overkill.

Sighing, I step around the corpse and grab one of the rushlights, blowing gently on the dying cinders so it glows bright red. The nearer jackal crouches on its haunches, snarling at me through bloodied teeth. Hunching down beside her, I have remorse that I did not kill her when he brought her with us. Touching the tip to her hair, then the edge of her tattered robe, I back away as the fire ignites, spreading, consuming the fats and oils. The two jackals leap away from the flames and screech in dismay, bounding around the enclosed space in a desperate attempt to salvage their meal. Casting the torch aside, I rise and hurry to the doorway as the reek of burning flesh adds to the stink of smoke and violent death.

"I'm sorry I didn't put you out of your misery when I had the chance and spared both of you this. You either were too out of it to know what he was talking about…" I murmur, afraid to imagine what state of mind he is in now, "…or you told him the truth."

(Jounouchi's POV)

"I really do not feel this is…"

"He said he wants to see the tapes!" Otogi repeats slamming his hand onto the polished surface as he glares at the man behind the front desk who can't be much older than us. "With the expenses of this place, one would think a patron could view security footage if he damn wanted to!"

The poor guy shrinks back as if ready for Otogi to launch himself over the counter and attack him. I don't blame him. The dice master can be quite swaying when he unleashes like this.

"I…that is…perhaps you should speak to…"

"What seems to be the problem here?" a deep baritone sounds from behind us.

"Mr. Seiji!" the frightened guy squeaks.

Otogi and I turn in unison, both forced to look up at the tall, well-built man adorned in a suit without a single stain or wrinkle. How do they do that? A headphone curls into his right ear, but his full attention is on us. Sharp brown eyes settle upon me after a moment of polite silence in which he was giving us a chance to respond.

"It is good to see you again, Mr. Ryuuji. Ah, Mr. Katsuya," he says in recognition before sharing a knowing look with his frightened subordinate behind the counter. "I think I know what this is about. If you will please follow me, we can discuss things in private."

Opening a half-door in the long desk itself, he stands to the side, beckoning us to enter. I glance at Otogi with a bit of trepidation to which he shrugs. I can't help it. It feels like a trip to the principal's office. Only this time I don't know what I've done wrong.

"Katsuya, save the foreplay for your fucking boyfriend!" the dice master hisses, his sharp elbow jabbing me in the side. I yelp, backing off, not having realized I was practically clinging to him in my fright.

We walk through a doorway that leaves us in a long, curving hallway. The end of neither end is visible, curving around bends. Mr. Seiji gestures for us to enter the door on our left with a brass label that reads "Head of Security" and his name engraved below. Otogi strides in as if he were kicking back at home, taking a seat without asking on one of the chairs in front of a desk covered in tidy piles of papers and folders. I never have seen a mess look so neat before. There are several flat screened computer monitors lining the back wall showing different camera angles around the outside of the building as well as two different angles of the lobby. Mr. Seiji closes the door behind him and I swear I develop claustrophobia right here and now.

"Now then," he intones, walking around me to the other side of the desk. "Let us get things sorted out, shall we?"

"You seem pretty confident you know what's going on," Otogi says none too respectfully, folding his arms over his chest and leaning back in the chair while keeping their eyes locked.

"Given my post as head of security, I would hope that I was aware of the goings on around here."

The dice master smirks, dropping the hostile attitude, apparently satisfied with this answer. I stand in the middle of the crammed room feeling very out of place and panicked. For some reason, Otogi has calmed down and is back to his old self. Why though? How can he be so composed at a time like this?

"Mr. Katsuya, please sit down so we may discuss things," the man suggests, noticing my unease. He sits in the swivel chair behind the desk, folding his hands neatly in front of him as if offering an example of what I should be doing.

Otogi's hand snatches my arm and yanks me over to the empty chair beside him. I sink down before he can aid me any further, sending him an annoyed glare. Seeming satisfied, the dice master sits back again and waits.

"Why do you think you know what I want though?" I dare ask, trying not to squirm in my seat.

The idea that people are keeping such close tabs on me is more than a little freaky. I mean, I knew they were; it just wasn't something I paid any attention to. Unlike the press, these guys don't make it obvious they're watchin' you. No wonder Baku is so paranoid.

"I've held this position at Watatsumi High-Rise for eight years and have been in security for twenty. There are always certain…instances that stick out and are deeply ingrained in the memory."

Fuck. What did Baku do to catch this guy's attention? This doesn't sound like my koi at all. He's a master at laying low and melting into the background. Please tell me the Millennium ring did not play a role in this. Mr. Seiji reads the apprehension on my face like screaming headlines of some gossip column.

"May I ask what you know, Mr. Katsuya?"

I lick my chapped lips, fingers digging into the padded arms of the chair. This is it. I'm about to find out what's driven Baku back into desolation. At least, I will if I don't bolt out of here in fear of the very answer I sought.

"He…Baku has been…" I waver, second-guessing coming down here. What if it's something I can't handle? Something I can't fix?

"Bakura's shut down," Otogi's smooth voice supplies, either sympathetic of my plight or impatient to get the facts, especially with that meeting with Kaiba looming. "Katsuya wanted to see his coming and going that one night to see if anything was noticeably wrong. Obviously there was."

The head of security clears his throat, holding a fist in front of his mouth as he does so. It is apparent this is a rather unique situation that he is unaccustomed to dealing with. Still, being proficient in dealing with people of power, he is careful to get a feel of our knowledge before beginning.

"Yes and no. There was a disturbance that night. However, Mr. Bakura was not the culprit."

"Say what?"

Mr. Seiji does not verbally respond to Otogi's outburst. The man is staring directly at me. In those eyes that I imagine are usually steeled with an air of professionalism, I see how disconcerted he is. His gaze probes mine, trying to figure me out. It only increases my anxiety tenfold to see that Baku was not the only one bothered by the events of that night.

"I do have the tapes of Mr. Bakura leaving and returning about twenty minutes later." That short amount of time? "But that isn't why I brought you here."

Without further explanation, he swerves his chair around so only the back of his head is visible over the back. Taking out a cd, he turns on one of the computer monitors and hastily types in several passwords to gain access to the system. They sound of his fingers tapping on the keyboard are the only noise in the crammed space. Otogi sits beside me in uncharacteristic silence trying to look bored. He's not though. Otherwise he would have left for his meeting already.

"You were out with your agent and Mr. Ryuuji at the time this occurred," Mr. Seiji explains as he adjusts the settings and slides his chair to the side so we can view the screen.

In crystal clear quality, we watch a ragged, burly man storm into the lobby, shoving off the doorman trying to subdue him. My breathing stops, the air building in my chest as I recognize the unmistakable, aggressive gait and rapid arm movements as he shouts something at the people behind the desk, rounding on each of them. Whatever they tell him only makes him madder. His hand dives into his jacket pocket and everyone moves. Otogi leans forward in anticipation of a weapon. Before they reach him he holds up a small card and shoves it in the face of the nearest security guard about to grab him. He points at himself for emphasis, lips curled in a haughty sneer as several men gather to take a look.

"His license," Mr. Seiji's monotone supplies.

"Who the hell is that?" Otogi's indignant question reaches me as I watch Mr. Seiji appear on the monitor, listening to the intruder for a moment before shaking his head steadfastly, refusing whatever demands that are being shouted at him a mere foot away.

"Is this guy on steroids?" the dice master asks with disbelieving eyes as we watch three security guards grab a hold of him and begin to wrestle him out of the building. I say wrestle because it takes all of their combined strength to keep him from lunging back in again.

The seated man across from us does not answer Otogi, watching my reaction to this footage. It's like seeing a ghost. Fear swells in me just seeing him in all of his rage again, suddenly very conscious of the multiple slashes on my body from the broken beer bottle. All of them begin throbbing as if freshly cut. My hand rises involuntarily to my throat in remembrance of the cold, sharp glass being pressed into my jugular, prepared to rip me open.

I can't!

"Katsuya!"

Wrenching open the door, I tear down the bend in the hallway, not heeding where I am going. Just away. Get away!

"Tell menow!" he shouts, large hand finding my hair again, wrenching my head back to expose my throat as I kneel before him like a sacrificial victim.

Away from him! If I can just get that image of him out of my mind, if I don't have to look at him, then maybe...

"Da-d!" I choke, eyes burning. "Don't...!"

I'm flying. If my legs are moving I cannot feel it, darting around turn after turn of the maze of hallways, slamming against walls several times from the momentum, putting as much distance between me and him. That's all that matters. I just need a moment where I don't hafta see him.

Maybe…

Rounding another bend, I slow myself to a trot, panting so hard I'm close to hyperventilating. Sweat is pouring down from my hairline down the sides of my face. Holding up my hands, I watch as they tremble, unable to will them to still. Taking a step backwards, my shoulder blades meet a solid surface. I have no idea where I am, how far I ran. I don't care. Sinking down, weight pressing into my heels, I curl into a ball, rocking back and forth while doing my best to talk down the panic attack and slow down my racing heart.

"He's my father," my voice echoes in my memory, trying to reason with the thief who was opposed to the idea of letting my dad off the hook.

"Your point being?"

"We're family," I say in surprise to the thief's scrutiny.

"And that makes him forever redeemable?"

Bakura didn't go that far for my sake. He wouldn't have…That depends on why Dad was here. Why did he come here? It certainly wasn't to congratulate me on my success.

The steady rhythm of footsteps draws near from just around the bend. I don't look up as whoever it is comes closer, not caring how pathetic I appear. Let them walk by. Maybe they won't notice me. Until I won that stupid duel nobody ever noticed me.

No. That is wrong. Baku did. He noticed.

"Mr. Katsuya?" a deep voice asks.

I raise my head, crossing my arms across my knees and resting my chin atop them. Opening my eyes, I stare at immaculate pants ironed so much they look more like stone columns than fabric. God, I can't stop shaking. It's coming from deep within my chest, sending tremors through my entire body.

"Did…Baku see that tape?" I manage.

"Mr. Bakura did not see the footage. He did not need to," Mr. Seiji discloses, but his tone does not give any glimmer of optimism. "Soon after we threw out this man, security spotted him lurking near the building. I had someone at the front desk call up to the apartment to see if this man truly was who he claimed to be and, if he was, how you wished us to proceed."

"But I wasn't there," I mumble, heart sinking like an anchor into my stomach.

"No," the man agrees. "And we felt it was not something we could wait on. Mr. Bakura told us off, saying we should forget the events in their entirety. That he would deal with this man personally and that was no need for you to know."

"Did he…?"

Did he "deal with" dad? Of course he did. Why else would he be so traumatized? Why else would he apologize to me when I came back?

"He was only gone for twenty minutes," Mr. Seiji elaborates on what has been troubling him since that night. "When he came back he looked…dazed. I can't describe that look on his face. I could tell there had been a confrontation. What transpired during it, I do not know. He didn't say a single word to any of us, just went straight to the elevator."

"And Dad?"

At this point it is no surprise to the security man that the man in question was indeed my father.

"He never came back. We have not seen him since."

I nod numbly, already knowing that would be the answer. One way or another. My hand climbs my right arm to where the bottle had sliced through the flesh, where Baku stitched me up. An uneven scar remains, a chilling reminder of where I would be without the thief. My fingers rub up and down the mark, another shudder passing through me.

I want him here. I want Baku to rescue me from these memories and take me away like he did that night. Need him to hold me in a tight embrace and tell me everything's gonna be okay. But he won't do that and things aren't gonna be okay. I know now why he's been acting so desolate, why he can't stand to be around me without this weighing down on him, stifling him.

There aren't any tears over this revelation. My emotions feel detached…like they're someone else's. An overwhelming sadness has enveloped me, but I do not know who this profound sorrow is for.

"Is there anything I can do, sir?" Mr. Seiji inquires, seeming to be genuinely concerned about my wellbeing rather than it simply being part of his job.

I finally look up at the man standing above me, noticing Otogi not far behind him, green eyes wide over what has just been revealed. The dice master doesn't speak. This isn't a situation he can joke away the problem or make it disappear like he can in business. It isn't something that can be undone or ignored any longer. He can't make this go away.

"Nothing. At least…not for now."

"Yes sir. Please do not hesitate to ask. You know where to find us," he finishes with a sober smile. "Can you stand yet?" I nod and accept his offered hand. "Then let me lead you out of here and back to civilization."

My knees knock as I rise, quaking in place. Pull yourself together, Jounouchi. Gotta get this sorted out. You can't fall apart too. I don't think they can save us both.

"Otogi," my voice comes out a frail whisper but when I look at him I can tell he heard. "Do you have time to give me a ride?"

He nods, quickly stepping forward as if to help me walk. The dice master does not offer anything though, just stands there waiting for me to move. Mr. Seiji has taken several steps down the hallway, waiting at the nearest bend out of earshot to give us privacy.

"Where to?"

"I need to go home," I mumble, fingers curling tight around my upper arm as I swallow. "But first, can we stop at the Game Shop?"

"The Game Shop?"

"Yeah."

Mr. Seiji leads us out the back exit that tenants use at their discretion. There are some big names living in this building and they like to keep to themselves on certain matters. I numbly follow the man while Otogi calls his driver on his cell, instructing him to come around to pick us up. Neither of them speaks to me, but I can feel the glances they both keep casting at me. They don't pry, leaving me to my own whirling thoughts as we exit the building through a plain white door next to the service elevator. In an enclosed area akin to a parking structure, the limo is waiting for us with the motor running. Otogi gives a sort of salute with two fingers to the security man who is still watching me. I don't look at him or thank him, afraid of what else may spill out of me in the process.

The ride is filled with an uneasy and uncanny silence. It bears down on the two of us situated on opposite seats in the back of the limo. Otogi only takes one shot, deciding this is a situation he'd best be sober for. His nervous fingers fumble with the empty shot glass, yearning for another and growing increasingly anxious as questions compile in his brain.

My hands clasped together on my lap have gone white as Baku's, having my own theories about what I will find. But even with my inklings, not everything adds up. Which is why our first stop is so important.

"If you don't mind my asking…"

He held back longer than I thought. And Otogi is going to ask whether I mind or not now that he has recovered from the initial shock. Still, I feel like I owe him some kind of explanation since he's agreed to get me where I need to go. So what if it is his sheer curiosity that is the motivator?

"Why are you bothering to go to your old home? It's a long ways away from the high-rise. Mr. Seiji said Bakura was only gone twenty minutes. They couldn't have gotten as far as your dad's place if they were in a high speed chase. Isn't a more likely place to look, say, nearby alleys? Or morgues?"

I stare at the passing buildings growing smaller and smaller as we leave the epicenter of Domino, heading towards the suburbs where the Game Shop resides. Home. Ever since I met Yugi, I considered the quaint store to be my real home and its residents my real family. Honda and I spent all of our time there, avoiding the less than pleasant neighborhoods where we lived. No one ever asked much about my home life and I wasn't gonna give any details voluntarily. Which could be a problem now…

"Dad won't be in any of those places," I find my voice as the downtown district flies by. "Baku wouldn't have been able to fight him. Not physically anyway."

"Oh."

The drop in his tone shows he understands and promptly ends this discussion. He goes back to gazing out of the window as well. There is plenty more he could snoop into if he really wanted to, like my dad's history as a violent alcoholic. He would find out that is the reason mom and Shizuka left. And then he would ask why I didn't go with them.

"Otogi."

We look at each other, both shifting. I bite down on my lower lip, wondering if I can trust him but knowing it's kinda late now for worrying about that. He's found out more in the past ten minutes than any of my friends know about my personal life. I'm gonna have to work with what I've got.

"I'd appreciate if you didn't mention any of this to the others."

He starts in surprise. It wouldn't take a genius like him to figure out that what he has just learned is not common knowledge. He recovers quickly from this revelation because he's Otogi.

"If you'd like. But then what the hell are we going to the Game Shop for?"

"I'm still working that out," I mumble turning away from him again and lapsing back into silence.

(Anzu's POV)

"I'm sure everything is fine, Anzu," Mr. Mutou pats my hand in his reassuring way from behind the counter shortened for his height. "If anyone can get through to him, it's Yugi. Isn't that right?"

"I guess so," I nod, hands clasping my elbows as I watch him unpack the latest shipment of merchandise. Duel monster cards mostly. There are a few posters rolled up and kept safe inside layers of thick plastic. It is something that comes with the territory, always giving the customers something new to get excited over. Though one could say he's even more thrilled than them. His eyes twinkle with anticipation as he reaches a smaller box filled with single cards instead of decks, ones that are harder to come by for most people.

"Ooh! What do we have here?"

I smile politely when he holds up the card for me to see. It's some strange creature called Mystical Knight of Jackal that looks like a poor excuse for a rip off of the original ancient Egyptian carvings. The monster in the picture wears an ancient Egyptian headdress and outfit as if to redeem it for being not of the original Duel Monsters. To attract the modern audience, it has some sort of robotic type weapon that looks something between a drill and a rocket launcher in place of its right arm. Mr. Mutou is practically drooling over the rare card, digging with one hand through the glass case to make room for it to be displayed.

It would be wonderful to be so at ease. Though much of it has to do with Mr. Mutou not knowing many of the details. Yami and Bakura's relationship in the past, for starters. He knows Jou and Bakura are going through a rough patch, but that's about it. And then there's the problem of…

"Looks like we have perfect timing!" that voice I have come to loathe says cheerily, the small bell above the door chiming all too late.

Otogi.

"Ah! Welcome boys!" Mr. Mutou greets. "You're absolutely correct. Come look at the new shipment that just arrived this morning!"

I turn with the intent to give the dice master a piece of my mind but all thoughts of this fall short when I see the blonde figure trailing behind him. Jounouchi looks exhausted, bags under his eyes like he hasn't slept well. He doesn't give his normal chipper greeting, hanging back a bit while Mr. Mutou begins to show off his latest treasures to a dubious Otogi.

"Tell me," the shop keeper shoves a card in the dice master's face. "Do you think Kaiba has this one?"

Taking a step back so he can actually see the card, Otogi peers at it with seeming disinterest. Deciding I'll deal with him in a moment, I hurry to Jounouchi's side, squeezing his shoulder with my hand. He offers a faint smile, hands shoved in his pockets.

"Hey Anzu. Didn't expect you to be here."

"I could say the same to you! It seems like ages since we last saw you, Jou. How are things going?" I hope the answer is good. Why else would he come here with the dice master?

Jounouchi shrugs, eyes darting about the room, flitting from box to box. Why is he acting so evasive? He knows he doesn't need to keep secrets from me.

"New cards, eh?"

"Yes, Mr. Mutou is quite eager for someone to share his enthusiasm. I'm afraid I'm not very good at it," I admit, letting go of him. I never had a love for Duel Monsters like Yugi and Jou. "So what's up?"

"Um…Actually, I was wondering if Yami was around."

"Yami and Yugi aren't here at the moment," Mr. Mutou announces as he hands Otogi another handful of cards to admire. The dice master doesn't bother feigning interest but obliges, shuffling through them with nimble fingers. He, too, is distracted. Green eyes keep glancing at Jounouchi, waiting for Jou to rescue him from his current position.

"Oh." Jou's weary features morph to something akin to sudden interest as if there were some great significance to this news. "That's all right. It can wait."

"Can it?" Otogi's sarcastic voice interjects.

"Yeah. It can." Jounouchi says without sparing him a look. "Just wanted to chat with Yami 'bout some stuff. Nothing urgent."

The dice master is watching my friend now, engrossed in Jou's words. Mr. Mutou does not notice, already walking back towards the treasure trove box. Maybe I can get some information here, even if he won't tell me what's going on.

"Yami went out earlier today and hasn't come back yet," I rush to explain, wanting to catch Jounouchi's attention and pull him into a conversation. This avoidant attitude of his is scaring me.

"It's not even lunchtime," Jou replies, not picking up on my concern. "Maybe he is catching a movie or just chilling."

"Probably hiding in a closet somewhere," Otogi mumbles under his breath.

I'm ready to jump down his throat but Jounouchi steps forward, obscuring the dice master from my line of vision. If he heard Otogi's comment he doesn't react.

"You said Yugi went with him?"

"No. Yugi went looking for him," I clarify, leaning to one side so I can glare around him at Otogi. "We haven't heard from either of them."

"Yug would have called by now if he hadn't found him," Jou once again brushes off my worrying. This isn't like him. When a friend is anxious he always ready to help out any way he can.

Jou, what's wrong with you?

"I'm gonna use the bathroom before we go, Otogi. I know you have that meeting to get to. Wait here with them, huh?"

"As if I would follow you to the can!" Otogi bites out in disgust as Jounouchi opens the door to the living quarters and disappears inside.

I take this opportunity since Mr. Mutou is occupied by the new cards. Grabbing Otogi by the arm, I yank him across the room where the shop keeper is less likely to pay attention to us. I turn us both toward some posters as if we were admiring them or something. Otogi is not surprised at all by this, as if he were expecting me to act just so. This only makes me all the angrier, digging my fingernails into his bare arm. His features twitch from the pain but he doesn't complain or try to pull free.

"I take it you have a bone to pick with me, Mazaki?"

"Damn right I do!" I hiss at him and he pretends to wipe spittle from his cheek. Or perhaps I might have spattered a tad. Oh well. He deserved it. "I know you're the reason Yami wandered out this morning without so much as a word to anyone!"

"And how did you come to that conclusion if he didn't say anything to anybody?" he asks in that calm, irritatingly bored tenor.

"Yugi said he was acting weird last night after you left!"

"Ah yes. And given that absolutely nothing else is going wrong in your group, it must be my fault."

"Sarcasm won't get you anywhere with me, Otogi."

"I don't want to 'get anywhere' with you, Mazaki."

"Quit trying to flatter yourself!" I shove my finger in his face and he leans back as if it smelled bad or something. "We both know you said something that upset Yami! Now I want to know what it is!"

I am no threat to him and we both know it. There is nothing I can say or do that will have that great of impact on him. He holds sway over our group in that he is still in close contact with Jou and Yami when they have been separated from each other. The bastard is taking advantage of our misfortunes and will use them to find ways to hurt us more!

"So what if I did say something? It wasn't anything new to him." He actually has the balls to mock me! "And I'm guessing you already know too, given that murderous look you gave me earlier. Looked ready to rip my head off…kinda like you do now. There's the look."

My hand makes contact with his cheek, the slap seeming to echo as his head whips to one side from the force of the hit. He staggers back a few steps as I let go of him.

"Anzu!" Mr. Mutou shouts, hurrying over lest a full-out fight should begin.

Of course he pays attention now.

"Anzu, what has gotten into you?" the elderly man chides.

I don't have an answer that I can give, so I opt for glaring at the dice master. I hope that hit hurt and only regret not making the most of the moment and hitting him more. Shaking his head at me, Mr. Mutou turns his attention to Otogi who is examining the fingernail marks bleeding above his elbow with an air of nonchalance. Makes me want to smack him again.

"Are you all right, Otogi?"

"Nothing fatal. You might want to consider investing in a scratching post for that one."

"You asshole!"

"Anzu please!" Mr. Mutou jumps between us as I lunge at the dice master again, my hand raised to strike. Otogi takes a casual step back and watches the short man try to fend me off. "This is hardly an appropriate way to act!"

"Tell that to him!"

"He's not the one slapping people!" Mr. Mutou grabs me by the arms and shakes me roughly. "Now calm down!"

"But he said-!"

"I don't care what he said. It doesn't mean you should start hitting him."

I beg to differ.

"Stay away from Yami! And Jounouchi!" I decide to ignore Mr. Mutou who is trying to pacify me. "Just leave all of us alone!"

"You know I can't do that."

He's acting serious now, trying to trick Mr. Mutou into believing he is sincere and that I'm the paranoid one. Otogi has always been a good actor, reeling in whoever he wants and crafting the minds of the people he manipulates so he'll appear saintly. I warned Jounouchi about him. Hell, I warned all of them. Yami has gone so far as to hang out with him on a regular basis. And now he's out there somewhere upset because of something the dice master said to him. Why won't anyone listen to me? Why can't they see through Otogi's less than noble intentions and see the two-timing rat that he really is?

"These are peoples' lives, Otogi!" I shout, jabbing a finger at him as Mr. Mutou tries again to herd me back. "Forget Kaiba for two seconds and think about what you are doing if you have even an ounce of a conscience!"

"This has gone far beyond Kaiba."

I stop struggling but Mr. Mutou does not let go of me. Not until he is certain I have calmed down. I'm not sure myself. Still staring fiercely at the raven-haired teen, I ask:

"And what is that supposed to mean?"

His mouth scrunches up in a sort of grimace as feet pound on the stairs in the house connected to the store. Mr. Mutou's hold loosens slightly.

"Exactly what it sounds like."

The adjacent door opens and Jounouchi returns offering a wavering grin to our argumentative group.

"Okay! I'm all set. Sorry for taking so long…"

"Please don't finish that sentence," Otogi says as Jounouchi ambles over to him. "Now come on. Let's get out of here."

"Sure thing. Sorry 'bout this, Otogi. I hope you're not late for that meeting with Kaiba."

My glare returns, intensifying that the dice master would lie to my face like that just so I would stop attacking him. He avoids me, walking in front of Jounouchi in retreat to keep someone between us at all times until he's safely out of here.

"Don't bother Yami about this. I'll call him later! Thanks guys!" Jounouchi calls over his shoulder before the door clamors shut behind them.

I trudge over to the window, staring angrily through the glass as if I could pierce through the tinted windows of the limo and hit the dice master between the eyes. Mr. Mutou comes up beside me, shaken by my outburst. I can feel his fretful eyes on me but cannot bear to look at him right now, ashamed for how I treated him. I do not regret how things went down with Otogi though. Not one bit.

(Malik's POV)

I press my bare back against the trunk of the palm tree, trying to stay in the shade and ward off the heat of the desert midday. Droplets of water drip from the ends of my untidy hair from my dip in the shallow pool of water. Having taken the liberty of getting my wrap soaked as well, it is already nearly dry around my hips. There are several young fruit trees just a few steps away, but I am not hungry. My horse meanwhile is another story. Nearby Adjo is munching greedily on undergrowth that contains a substantial amount of fluids, seeming to have already forgotten the incident with the jackals this morning. The stallion is quite content with himself, velvet muzzle pressing into the green leafy plants as he searches for his favorites.

"Worked up a bit of an appetite, haven't you?" I say to him.

There is no reply and I frown, still haven't grown accustomed to this uncanny hush. This is what it truly means to be alone, is it? I've never been on my own for more than a few nights when Bakura and I would scout out separate places. Even before Bakura, even if I despised the tomb keepers who carved their holy scriptures into my back and the palace for their inhumane treatments of people in general, they were still company. I've considered returning to the city for a bit of companionship with a prostitute or just leave the Egyptian territory altogether. But he is prohibiting me. Whether it is the years we spent together or my fucking loyalty to the only real friend I ever had, I cannot will myself to leave without knowing his fate. Which is quite pathetic because he wants nothing to do with me aside from blasting me into dust should we cross paths again.

"Damn it!" I curse Pharaoh, Seini, and whoever else may have played a hand in Bakura's downfall. There is nothing I can do to help him without his consent. Besides, he doesn't want my help. Kicking a wooden bowl away, watching it spin in the sand, I slouch in resignation that I have indeed backed myself into a corner. The worst part is the waiting. I already know that, despite the power of his creature, Bakura is reckless and will not prevail. Sooner or later, whether by Mahaado's hand or even Bakura's so-called lover, the red-eyed being will fall. He is mortal, regardless of whether he is a demon or not.

My eyes snap open as the air grows heavy, weighing down on us here like merciless humidity. Only it isn't. Adjo's head rises fast, ears flicking forward, nostrils flaring as he listens. I rise slowly, my back against the tree's rough stalk, recognizing that stifling aura right away. Swallowing, I glance around the small oasis with its twelve trees and pool of water far too shallow to conceal oneself in. Even as I search, I know it is futile. There's nowhere to hide out here. And judging by the fluctuating energies approaching, it's too late to run.

Releasing a shaky breath, I leave the sanctuary of the tree's shadow and gather up my clothes, donning just two of my robes; not needing the extra warmth the others give for nighttime. I take only two of the knives I was sharpening, leaving the rest of them on the large rock for the next person who might happen across this place. Might be of use to someone. Ra knows they won't do me any good.

"Adjo." Wild brown eyes focus on me for a fleet moment and I smile somberly at my last companion, my only comfort remaining. "Go."

I don't need to say it loud. He understands. The horse hesitates, angling his long neck to look back at me, wondering why I am not coming with. Probably thinks I can't feel this imminent peril. Actions speak louder than words with animals. I turn and walk away from him without looking back. He whinnies but does not follow. We have not been together long enough that he would try to accompany me into hell itself.

'This is so bizarre,' I muse while stepping through the foliage, not bothering to pull my hood up. 'I've always been one to avoid confrontation. Every opportunity I've had, almost always I have run away.'

So why now? Why am I going out there alone to face him?

'Not much of a choice. There's nowhere to run this time. And I refuse to die trying to flee. I've got more self respect than to be branded a coward.'

What I would have taken for a mirage does not waver or fade, fifteen figures on horseback approaching through the blazing sands and torrid rays. One is in the lead, Millennium Item around his neck glinting in the sunlight, an omen of my demise. He is a good distance ahead of the others that are mere specks from where I stand. My legs keep me moving forward of their own accord, no longer being about what I want or don't want.

The white headdress whips into his face repeatedly, not an outfit suited for the wilderness. He would not demean himself by dressing as desert dwellers do. Only thieves and demons live in such hostile places. Outcasts. He would never stoop to our level by any standard, even regarding his wardrobe. I grin as he stops a calculated distance away where he will have enough time to intercept any attacks I launch.

"Look at you all dressed up for your trek through the desert. You haven't changed at all."

"You have. None in a good way," Mahaado replies in that stoic manner of his that always got under my skin. What do you know—it still does. "I admit I am surprised to find you out here so…exposed. You've been waiting for me?"

"Not especially."

Eyes somewhere between the hues of grey and lavender study me hard, trying to read into my motives. The white horse beneath him stamps its hooves, picking up on the energies building in the arid space around us. It makes me wish for Adjo only for a moment, wanting to be of similar standing with Mahaado in this altercation.

"You're alone?"

I laugh, wanting to erase any doubts he has about that particular detail.

"Of course I am. Who else would I be with?"

"Transportation, for starters."

To this I sneer at him, revealing my sharp canines.

"Unlike you, I prefer not to have my horse killed in a battle."

"So you value some form of life despite your lack of care for human lives." The words ending this sentence are coated in the venom of detestation, years of pent up hatred surfacing at long last. He's not going to hold back. "Is that why you have a companion that is either a demon or resembles one? You will side with anything that goes against your people."

"I hear the two of you have become acquainted," I say, realizing there is no point in denying what he has already figured out in our escape from the ka temple. "Really Mahaado, I am surprised by you. You're so quick to wipe out anything that could be even the most remote threat to the royal family."

"At least I have sensible loyalties."

I snort, noticing the faint darkening as if we have passed under a great tree or cloud. The violet tint mixed with black is unmistakable and I draw out energies from my ka as the Shadow aura emanating from the priest increases. Mahaado's mouth downturns when I do this.

"There is no use in resisting, Malik. We both know you have no advantages out here. There are no walls and you have no Item. My power far surpasses yours even so."

"It's not about winning," I smirk at him despite it all, my own aura flaring up in dark purple flames around me. "It's pride. Something I was sure you of all people would understand."

He does not retort to this insult but says simply: "Very well then."

Illusion Magician soars straight at me and I hit the sand, scampering up just as fast as it shoots a beam of black light. Dodging it, I release Shadow Ghoul, placing my ka in front of me like a shield. Mahaado face is expressionless as his ka charges again, power growing from the aid of the Millennium ring. I wait, biding my time until the last possible…

The blast barely misses me as I roll across the ground unguarded. Mahaado's eyes widen, his mount so accustomed to Shadow Magic all at once panicking at the mound of sand hurtling towards them. The horse throws its head back, lurching against the reigns as the priest fights to keep it under control. He jumps from the animal just before Shadow Ghoul's talons breach the sand, severing the animal into four separate pieces that each fall with lifeless thuds. Picking himself up, Mahaado stands tall and proud despite the loss of his horse and his headdress. Shoulder-length brown hair blows about as his stare grows cold.

"So much for your speech on the value of horses."

"I didn't say anything about your horse."

"Your ka has adjusted to this barren wasteland, has it? You have trained hard to use the terrain to your advantage."

I don't answer this observation that a fool would take as a compliment as my ka resurfaces beside me. There is no need for me to explain any of it. Mahaado has already figured it out. Shadow Ghoul can dive beneath the sand, but not deeply. Not without easy detection. The only reason I was able to accomplish what I did was because his monster was focused on me at the time. I know this man. He never makes the same mistake twice.

"You should have stayed out here hiding from the world," he states with no hint of apology or empathy. "We deemed you either long gone or dead. You could have had a much longer life had you left Bakura to his own devices."

I glance at my ka hovering beside me, ready to finish this with me. It is all I have left. If nothing else, I can count on my own soul. It has turned out to be the only reliable support.

"Length of a life and quality of life are two very different things."

"At least we can agree upon that."

Multiple blasts, too many to dodge, come raining down. I pull Shadow Ghoul back into my body and brace myself, rather being one target than two. I manage to evade several of the attacks before one of them hits sends me flying, burning into my flesh and eyes as I land hard on my side. Coughing, air knocked from my lungs, I struggle to get up. Then the yellow flames I have been dreading from the beginning engulf me, paralyzing my entire body. It is only now that I am trapped within his Shadow Bindings, my ka within me, does Mahaado dare advance closer. Panting, I glare up at him, still able to breathe and blink. He wants me fully aware for whatever he plans to do to me. I'm on my hands and knees, unable to do anything but wait for the final strike.

The priest stares down at me with that icy look of contempt, restraining himself from acting of his own accord. He would not do any of this without permission nor would he dare stray from the orders given to him. Illusion Magician looms above us both in his seconds of indecision before vanishing. I manage to smile in the midst of the pain.

"So you have the honor of killing me yourself?"

"What I wouldn't give for such an honor." His voice is quiet now that he is victorious. Perhaps he is disappointed he could not act on his desire to completely obliterate me. "But an alternate verdict was determined for your fate."

"I'll decide my own fucking fate," I growl.

"I beg to differ, Malik."

Something changes in his eyes. The malice dissipates, leaving a vacant stare where something would normally be. But, because it is me, he is not allowing himself to feel it. The people who accompanied him reach us at last and my stomach quivers at the sight. There are fourteen burly men on horses dragging a giant, flat stone through the sand by ropes with great effort. I recognize what it is immediately, watching in horror as they slowly pull it upright so the summoning stone towers above us. Mahaado and I reside in its ominous shadow and my body begins to tremble when I see the blank surface where normally a monster's image would reside.

Not this. Anything but this.

My ka within me stirs, thrashing against the Shadow Bindings in a fruitless effort to break free. The high priest turns his attention back to me, impassive as ever in his triumph. The Millennium ring on his chest begins to glow, brighter than the sun in the shade of the stone. There is nothing I can do to stop him from taking what I have left.

"I see you understand now."

"Hey."

Hikari nudges me with his shoulder as he sinks down beside me on the cold sand. I don't turn away from the horizon, waiting for sunrise. It will not be for a while yet, the stars still shimmering brightly. Nowhere else are there stars like these. They are blotted out by smog and artificial lights. Modern humans miss out on so much, too obsessed with making their lives comfortable. That seems to be the main goal: making life easy. They're missing the point.

"You're an idiot, you know," Marik says draping a thick blanket over our shoulders and huddling against me. Warm arms wrap around my waist as he nuzzles against my neck. "One would think after living out here thousands of years ago you would have learned to dress appropriately for the climate. You're freezing."

"I hadn't noticed," I admit. How long have I been sitting out here?

"Typical."

"I didn't mean for you to wake up, hikari."

"Yeah, I got that." His breath is balmy against my throat. "You going to tell me what's going on in your head?"

"Just got lost in thought."

"Enough that you let all the barriers down?"

I…what? Embarrassed and stunned at my inattention, I begin to close up the connection. Hikari places a hand over mine.

"Don't bother, yami. I already felt it. It's partially what woke me."

"What else?"

Another playful nudge in my side.

"You weren't with me, silly. I notice when you're not around, despite your claims to my lack of attention for anything aside from myself!" he teases.

"Now that you know where I am, you can go back to bed."

"First off, it's a mat, not a bed." That trip through Europe may have spoiled him just a tad. "Now then, what shall we talk about? How about why you're still so depressed?"

I internally groan but he senses it with our open link. In fact, he was expecting it. I squirm to avoid the elbow again and he snickers. Delicate, almost feminine fingers trail across my collar bone in a comforting manner.

"Come on, Malik. Despite you being annoyed with me, you're already not so gloomy with me here."

"That isn't surprising, given you complete me."

He doesn't make a big deal out of it. It wasn't meant to be a mushy, tender statement that so many star-crossed lovers make. He literally completes me.

"Ever since they tore me in two…I didn't think I could feel whole again."

"Then little me came along."

I do not resist the smile tugging on my lips. My arm wraps around his slighter frame, tugging him against me and burying my face in his flaxen hair.

"Why do you think I cling to you so much?" I murmur. "I lost the other half of my spirit before, yet I still got a second chance like they did."

It was a shock to say the least when he freed me from the rod's influence and I saw clearly what he was. Later I found out the ka no longer existed, which made sense given our circumstances. So what happened to everyone else? Pharaoh has Yugi. Bakura has Ryou. Who do the rest of the people have? Are they complete on their own? I was able to summon my ka from a young age. It was always with me. Now, in these times, I have Marik. The idea of not having that connection with something or someone else is unfathomable to me.

"Are you really sure it's the same way for the other yamis and hikaris?"

"What have I said about reading my thoughts, hikari?"

"Well you weren't blocking them." The fingertips dip into the crevice behind my collarbone. "And you didn't answer my question."

"About?"

"The others. Are you sure they complete one another as we do? You're the most incomplete when we're separate from each other. Yami and Yugi have always been buddies. That's all though. Sooner or later they'll have to find someone else. And what about Ryou and Bakura?" he speaks the name that has been prohibited from our conversations for weeks. "They don't seem to get much from one another."

I hate to ask but he'll tell me anyway.

"Your point being?"

"Maybe they both need to find their other half in someone other than each other."

I pull away from Marik, leaving the comfort of the blanket and stand up. Barely. My legs are tingling from having sat in one place for an extended period of time. Looking at him for the first time, tender lavender eyes gaze up at me imploringly. His hair is a mess from rolling in his sleep and he isn't wearing his earrings. I know he is serious when he isn't concerned about his appearance. That doesn't mean I have to agree with him or like what he says.

"Are you defending Bakura's choice of lover?"

"Maybe. I don't know."

"And what would prompt you to do so the mutt's behalf?" I growl, not so much angry with Marik as with the entire fiasco I have been trying to block out of my memory. "Bakura could do better!"

"Oh yeah? Like who?" An edge is added to my lover's voice. "Tell me about this wonderful person who will dote over Bakura, rush to take care of his every need, and do his best to protect him from the world and himself? Oh wait. Isn't that what Katsuya has been doing?"

"And failing miserably," I remind him.

Marik isn't ready to surrender. He folds his arms over his chest while pulling the blanket tighter around himself.

"Well then maybe he just needs some guidance. It's not like Bakura is offering him many clues on how to help. And Ryou doesn't seem to get Bakura. Face it, Malik. This perfect person you've created in your mind for Bakura doesn't exist."

This is too similar to the argument I had with Bakura back in Domino when I confronted him about the mutt for the final time—our last conversation.

"Tell me truthfully, Malik, do you actually believe you'll ever accept anyone who approaches me? You'll always find a fault, a reason they shouldn't be with me. They'll never be good enough in your eyes."

Damn it, Marik. Why couldn't you just leave it alone? Why did you have to bring that up? Bakura's sad eyes appear in my mind, gazing at me, begging me to release him from this ideal world I've placed him in to protect him.

"I'm tired of waiting for someone who doesn't exist."

((I'm not leaving it alone because it's the truth, yami. And it still bothers you.))

(Of course it bothers me!) I glare at him. (It bothers me that you've sided with Bakura on this crazy…!)

((Who said I've sided with him? I'm on your side, Malik. I always have been. Now will you come back inside and just talk to me?))

(What is there to talk about? There is nothing for me to decide! Bakura made that quite clear.)

Marik fixes me with a stern yet soft look, trying to lecture and comfort me all at once. He is the only one who pacifies me. That's why I need him close. Without him, I'd fall to pieces. I'd simply shatter and break.

((Isn't that what has happened to Bakura?)) he fucking reads my thoughts again.

(Okay, I'm putting the barrier back up.)

"Fine," he says aloud, not deterred in the slightest by my evading. "Come inside when you're ready. And don't wait until you get hypothermia. You know I suck at medicinal stuff, yami."

He rises and hands me the blanket. Without another word he turns and retreats into the tent that is a shield from the elements. The zipper is unusually loud in the quiet of the night. I sigh, holding the wad of fabric tight against my chest. It's still warm from his body heat.

I wasn't wrong. What is incorrect about trying to keep Bakura from suffering so much in this lifetime? Somewhere along the line in the past, I let him down. I let his stubborn attitude and a very powerful ka discourage me from trying to help him further. He just gets so caught up in something that he doesn't rationalize at all. In the past it was the quest for power, to not be a monster or a victim. He preferred hatred over pity. Once it happened nothing I did or said could dissuade him. Just like now. He's too stubborn and self-centered for his own good and it always gets him into a world of trouble.

I hold back as the edges of my mouth tug upward, remembering fondly how reckless he could be. I would scold him and do everything I could to keep him from getting into messes. But he seems to have a knack for such things. When I was with him, I could get him out of trouble. If nothing else, I stuck by him and made sure he was safe enough.

"It's not like Bakura is offering him many clues on how to help. And Ryou doesn't seem to get Bakura."

Hikari is right about that much. All three of us yamis have remained tight-lipped about the past, each for our own reasons. I probably have been the most forthright, even if it has mostly been with Marik. How is anyone supposed to help Bakura when he closes up so much? It isn't like they know his history. Hikari mentioned that Katsuya is under the impression that it was Bakura and me in the past rather than Bakura and Pharaoh. Stupid mutt. Just another reason he is unsuitable for the thief. Can't even make simple deductions on his own.

I rub the edge of the blanket between my thumb and finger, the material already growing cold. Hikari's body heat has left it, bringing back the empty feeling that I strive to avoid. What he said made sense: the others aren't like us. They don't yearn for each other or have such a connection as Marik and I do. Who would have thought I'd be the luckiest one of the bunch by having my soul ripped in two? Shivering from this solitude more than the cold, I walk quickly back to the tent. So what if it means having to talk about these things? As long as I can be near him, he can lecture me all he wants.


So that's this chapter. Things are progressing nicely. I did enjoy focusing some time on Malik and Marik who disappeared for quite a while there. I missed them so. :D And it was about time Jounouchi stepped up and did something productive. XD

It seems like there was more I was going to say, but I'm tired and still sick. off to bed!

Reviews are much appreciated :3