19. Wins and Losses

Yugi's eyes widened as he turned to the source of the voice. Bakura and Marik were standing together off to the side, Bakura wearing a duel disk on his arm and a smirk on his face that made Yugi shudder. The Spirit of the Ring!

Professor Julius cried out in fury, but the others ignored him, gaping at Bakura and Marik. Joey blinked. "Bakura? What the hell—?"

"Spiria's shield, courtesy of Diabound. A little something extra we picked up in the duel against my dear fiancée."

Throwing his head back, Joey laughed in relief. "Yes!"

Yugi was somewhat less than pleased, however. "Bakura? Are you—?"

"He's fine," Marik answered for him. "His own power, remember?"

Yugi nodded slowly, but with some reluctance. In the three years since the Spirit of the Ring had disappeared from their lives, Yugi had never once seen Bakura look so… unrestrained. It was disconcerting. But Bakura took a breath and offered him a smile that, while not quite his usual gentle expression, was at least somewhat less menacing. In a softer voice, he said, "We, each of us, must come to terms with who we are."

"YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!" Professor Julius looked positively deranged, his face red with fury, and veins showing on his forehead. "YOU ARE NOT A PART OF THIS SHADOW WAR!"

Bakura leveled him an icy glare. "You attacked my lover and his family. I consider that a direct invitation to your little soirée. We are both former bearers of Millennium Items, and I am connected to the Ka of Zorc himself. I go into the shadows where I please!"

"Payback's a bitch, eh Master?" Marik flashed a malicious grin.

Professor Julius sputtered, so enraged that he couldn't even get out a coherent string of words. Finally, he managed to gain enough control to speak in something approaching a rational way. "You are far from my only servant, Marik Ishtar! I now summon a monster that belonged to another servant, my former tjaty, Evan Haines. Gravekeeper's Curse, come forth, and take some of Yugi's life force!"

A malevolent human in a long, blue robe materialized beside Ra. Yugi felt something like an invisible blow to the stomach knock the wind from him, doubling him over, but only for a moment. If he remembered correctly, Gravekeeper's Curse dealt 500 points of direct damage when summoned—not enough to do him too much harm.

And now it was their turn. But what to do against an Egyptian god? And Winged Dragon of Ra no less, with over 5000 attack points? He looked to Kaiba and Joey, hoping one of them had an idea. Joey shrugged, helpless, while Kaiba ground his teeth in frustration. Even if he called his third Blue-Eyes, it wouldn't help. Yugi still had Obelisk and Slifer, but neither one of them was a match for Ra.

Professor Julius cackled with glee. "You don't have a monster strong enough to defeat Ra! Not even Slifer or Obelisk have enough strength, and Blue-Eyes White Dragon is a joke. Your most powerful weapons, all useless against me! You, who descend from the pharaohs, you cannot defeat the greatest pharaoh of them all!"

Bakura clucked his tongue. "You are so busy worrying about the kings of Egypt, you have once again failed to take into account the King of Thieves. I summon Diabound Colonel!"

Another pale, gray, two-headed serpent appeared on the field, and Professor Julius let out a howl that sounded something less than human. "Your Diabound was destroyed! You can't summon it again."

"On the contrary, Professor. You destroyed my Spirit Illusion, which was an exact duplicate of Diabound. This is the original. You are aware, are you not, that Diabound is able to absorb the special abilities of monsters it destroys? Perhaps you will recognize this particular skill he recently acquired."

He muttered a spell under his breath, and Yugi's eyes widened in recognition. "Reshef's effect!"

Bakura smiled, then crooked his finger at Winged Dragon of Ra. "You will kindly send the god back to us for a turn, Professor."

Joey and Tristan exchanged another round of high-fives, and Téa sagged in relief.

Professor Julius started breathing hard. "You can't control Ra without knowing the correct incantation!"

Bakura looked at Yugi. "I believe that is your cue."

Yugi smiled and began the chant, taking back control of his Egyptian god. Kaiba, meanwhile, summoned his third Blue-Eyes White Dragon to the field. "Blue-Eyes, attack Spiria with White Lightning Blast!" Spiria disappeared under the onslaught of bluish-white light.

Bakura was next. "Diabound, destroy Gravekeeper's Curse!"

This one cost Ramesses. He doubled over as the equivalent of 1000 points of damage hit him. But it wasn't enough to destroy him. Not yet.

"Your move, Yuge," Joey said, grinning in triumph.

"NO!" Professor Julius wailed in panic. "If he attacks, the shadows will destroy me! You can't do this! You, the Vessel of the Nameless Pharaoh, you are not a creature of vengeance! You cannot send me to the Shadow Realm!"

Yugi shook his head, a weariness settling over him like twilight falling. "This is not about revenge, Professor. It never has been. You sought access to the shadows because you wanted their power, but you didn't consider the price. I can't stop that now. I just want to go home. Me, my friends, my other self—we didn't ask to be brought to the Shadow Realm, but we have to abide by its rules. The only way out is to win, Professor. I'm sorry."

"NOOOOOOO!"

Yugi closed his eyes. "Winged Dragon of Ra, attack him directly."

He wasn't sure exactly when the screaming stopped, or what happened afterward, but the next thing he knew, he could feel cold, hard stone at his back, and he could hear voices calling their names.

"Joey? Yugi?"

"Nii-sama? Are you all right?"

"Onii-chan? Wake up!"

Yugi opened his eyes. They were back in the Ceremonial Chamber of the crypt that had once served as the Ishtar family's ancestral home. He was lying on the floor, with Téa, Joey, Tristan, and Kaiba sprawled around him. Hovering over them with anxious looks on their faces were Mai, Mokuba, and Serenity. Sara was there, too, hanging back at a distance, her hands twisting at her chest in anxiety.

Yugi sat up. "Is it over?"

"You tell me, kiddo," Mai replied. "You were there. But the shadows are gone."

"Mai?" Joey pulled himself upright, and Mai and Serenity both tackled him, almost knocking him back down again. Mokuba did the same thing to Kaiba as he struggled to get up off the floor. Then, Serenity pulled loose from Joey and grabbed Tristan in a massive bear hug.

Yugi turned to look for Téa, but she found him first and threw her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder. "You did it. You got us back."

He shook his head. "No, it wasn't me." He looked over his shoulder. Not far from where they were, he could see Bakura and Marik getting to their feet. "Excellent timing, guys. Thank you."

Marik smiled, but Bakura merely nodded, looking as drained as Yugi felt.

"Hey, wait a second." Joey sounded puzzled. Yugi pulled back enough from Téa to see his friend looking around the room. "Where's the—where's Atem?"

Mai looked down. "He, uh…"

Yugi sighed. "He and Seto disappeared with the shadows."

Mai's eyes were sorrowful as she nodded in confirmation.

Squeezing Yugi's hand between hers, Téa looked down, blinking away tears.

Joey's face fell. "He… I…. We didn't get a chance to say good-bye."

Yugi gave him a sad smile. "We said everything we needed to say, Joey. Besides, that's what funerals are for."


It was late afternoon by the time they got to the hospital, and Yugi rushed down the sterile white corridor, his friends somewhere behind him. Everyone but Professor Hawkins had been accounted for. Ishizu had been revived after Bakura had defeated her, and she had gone immediately to the police with Odion and Rashida to report what they knew about Professor Julius's involvement in the tomb desecrations and the thefts from a year ago. The rest of them were all together at the Ishtar's ancestral home, awake and fine with no one controlling them or pulling any puppet strings.

Professor Julius hadn't fared as well. The police found him at his villa, conscious but completely out of his mind. They'd already taken him into custody by the time Yugi talked to Ishizu on the phone, and they wanted to speak with Yugi, Marik, Bakura, and Sara, so they all took a detour to the police station before heading over to the hospital. Yugi hadn't been able to get a hold of Rebecca, Duke, or his grandfather on their cells, so he'd sat twitching in impatience through the seemingly endless police interviews until they could leave and go see for themselves whether or not the professor, like the others, was awake and well.

Yugi rounded a corner and skidded to a stop as he saw his grandfather and Duke sitting in chairs in a small alcove just outside Professor Hawkins' room. Yugi looked from one to the other. "How's Professor Hawkins? Did he wake up?"

Grandpa nodded, and Yugi sagged in relief, Téa beside him, squeezing his shoulder. But then, he noticed that his grandfather didn't seem to share his happiness; in fact, he looked rather grim.

Yugi frowned. "Grandpa?"

His grandfather just nodded his head toward the door. "Rebecca's in with him. You should go see her."

Alarmed, Yugi went into the room. Mokuba followed, but the rest of their friends lingered at the door. Rebecca was sitting at her grandfather's bedside, nodding as the professor chatted with her in an animated way. Yugi's frown deepened in confusion as he looked at the scene. The professor seemed fine….

Rebecca looked up at him, her eyes pinched and sad. "Hi, Yugi."

"Hey, Rebecca. How's—?"

Professor Hawkins looked up at him, cocking his head as if puzzled. "Richard? Is that you? What happened to your hair?"

"No, Grandpa, it's Yugi," Rebecca said, a strange weariness to her voice. "Yugi Mutou. He's your student."

He smiled at her. "Yes, of course, Elizabeth." He patted her hand. "You're right, of course. You're such a sweet girl. I'm so glad my Richard married you."

Yugi's heart squeezed in his chest as Rebecca just nodded and patted her grandfather's hand in return. "I know, Grandpa."

"I'm tired, Elizabeth. I think I need to rest."

Rebecca nodded, and Professor Hawkins settled down into the bed, closing his eyes.

"Elizabeth?" Yugi asked when it looked like the professor had drifted off.

Rebecca looked up at him. "My mother. Richard was my father. He… he doesn't know… he doesn't remember…." She closed her eyes, leaning back in her seat. Mokuba brushed past Yugi and joined her at her seat, putting his arms around her. She leaned into him with a weary sigh.

Yugi's grandfather came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Arthur woke up a little bit ago, but he didn't seem to know where—or when—he was. He keeps calling Rebecca by her mother's name. The doctors think 'whatever it was' that happened to him somehow advanced his Alzheimer's."

Yugi swallowed. "B-but they can do something, right? He'll be okay?"

Grandpa shook his head. "They don't really know, but they're not holding out much hope. Once a patient is at this level of dementia, there usually is no going back."

"But this isn't just a regular disease! It was because of the Shadow Realm!" His eyes widened as a thought occurred to him. "That makes it magical. Serenity can use Mystical Elf…"

Before Grandpa could stop him, Yugi ducked around him and back out into the hallway where the others were getting the story from Duke. "Serenity! Can you get Mystical Elf to help him?"

Serenity blinked. "Here? In a hospital?"

"He's in a private room. I'm sure we can get the doctors to let us alone with him, just for a few minutes. This happened because he was in the Shadow Realm, so Mystical Elf can heal him. She healed me, the other me, the other Seto…."

Serenity frowned. "I can try, Yugi."

"Are you sure you're up to it?" Joey asked.

She nodded. "At least I can look at him."

She followed Yugi into Professor Hawkins' room, Joey and Tristan behind her. The three men stayed near the doorway with Yugi's grandpa while Serenity continued on to stand behind Rebecca and put her hand on the younger girl's arm. "How you holding up?"

Rebecca sniffed. "Okay, I guess."

"Can I look at him?"

Rebecca nodded and stood up, she and Mokuba moving aside so Serenity could have her seat. With gentle hands, Serenity lightly touched his forehead, brushed a hand on his cheek, then felt for his pulse at his neck. At last, she put her hands on his chest and closed her eyes. She sat that way for what seemed to Yugi like hours, but was probably only a moment. When she opened her eyes, she looked to Rebecca first, her eyes wide and sad. "I don't think I can do anything, Rebecca. There's no sense of the Shadow Realm or anything weird. I think…." She took a deep breath. "I'm so sorry."

"No!" Yugi shook his head. "No, there has to be something. We won. We're supposed to get him back!"

Serenity looked up at him. "He is back, Yugi. That's just it. We got him back, but Duke said he already had Alzheimer's…."

"No!" Yugi turned on his heel and pushed past Joey and Tristan to get out into the hallway.

"Yugi?" Téa asked, but he kept going, past her, past all of them, until he found a waiting room that was empty. He stopped short, unsure what to do next. He wanted to punch the wall, or kick a chair, or something. It wasn't fair! They'd won!

"Yugi."

Yugi spun around to see his grandfather coming into the waiting area. "Grandpa, I don't wanna—"

"This isn't about you, young man." His tone was lightly admonishing. "Rebecca needs you right now. You're the closest thing she has left to family, other than a pair of grandparents she doesn't get along with."

Yugi squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to think about the implications. Rebecca was only fourteen, and Professor Hawkins hadn't arranged for her emancipation yet.

"Yugi…." Grandpa stepped closer to him, putting his hands on his shoulders.

"It's not fair, Grandpa!" Yugi clenched his fists, resisting the urge to pound his grandfather's chest with them. "We won the duel. When we win, everybody comes back! That's how it's supposed to work! Professor Hawkins, he… I… I can't…" He kept hearing the professor's voice in his head. Yes, of course, Elizabeth. You're right, of course. You're such a sweet girl. I'm so glad my Richard married you. "It's not FAIR!" Yugi cried out again in anguish, collapsing against his grandfather.

He felt strong arms wrap around him, supporting him. After a moment, when he'd calmed down a bit, his grandfather pushed back from him, gripping his shoulders tightly. "Look at me, Yugi."

Yugi opened his eyes. His grandfather's expression was firm, but gentle. "Whoever said life was fair? It's easy to be a hero when you always win, Yugi. It's in how you handle the losses—the big losses, the ones that matter—that makes a real hero. You can't always fix everything and make it right, but you can be there for Rebecca and help her pick up the pieces. You can be strong for her. You can help her fight if her other grandparents try to take her away. These are the battles you still have before you. Can you be a real hero now? For her?"

Yugi closed his eyes again and lowered his head, ashamed. "Yes, Grandpa. You're right. I'm sorry."

"That's my boy." Grandpa embraced him in another tight hug, then stepped away. With a friendly shove at his back, he sent Yugi in the direction of the professor's room. "Go on. Go see how she's doing. Go be her friend—her family."

Yugi nodded and headed back, clamping down on the anger and frustration that still flooded his chest like bile. Everyone was clustered in the hallway except Rebecca, Duke, and Mokuba.

"You all right?" Téa asked as he approached them.

He took a breath. "Yeah. I just… I've gotta be there for Rebecca now."

Téa nodded and moved aside so he could go into the room. Professor Hawkins was still asleep, with Rebecca sitting in the chair at his bedside. Duke stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders, and Mokuba had dragged another chair next to her and was holding her hand.

Yugi stopped in the doorway, feeling awkward. What could he say to her? Shuffling his feet a moment, he finally found his voice. "You okay, Rebecca?"

She looked up at him, her face still drawn. He'd never seen her look so numb, not even when they'd first found her grandfather unconscious. "I don't know."

"I'm so sorry, Rebecca. I'm sorry we can't do anything to help him." Yugi swallowed again over the lump forming in his throat. "But I want you to know I'm here for you. Always. You will always be my Imouto-chan, my little sister. I'll take care of you, no matter what."

She looked at him a moment, and then something in her seemed to break. She started crying—not sniffles or tears welling up in her eyes, but great, heaving sobs, like water bursting through a dam. In a single motion she was up from her seat and had brushed past Mokuba to throw herself at Yugi, almost knocking him back out into the hallway as she wrapped her arms around him and wept into his shoulder. He squeezed her, stroking her hair. "Shhh. It's gonna be okay."

"How can it be okay, Yugi? He's… he's…" She gripped him tightly as she tried to catch her breath. "He's all I have."

"No. No he isn't. We're family, Rebecca. And I promise you, I will help you get through this."

"We all will, Becks." Duke came up to them, his arms snaking around both of them as he rested his forehead on the top of Rebecca's head. "We're all family."

Mokuba latched onto them on the other side. "Me, too. Whatever you need."

"Is this a private party, or can we all join in?"

Yugi looked over his shoulder and saw Téa just behind him in the hallway, her eyes glassy. Joey, Tristan, Serenity, Mai, and Yugi's grandfather were gathered close as well. Kaiba and Sara hung back at more of a distance.

Rebecca looked up, her face wet and her eyes puffy. She offered Téa a small smile and nodded before bursting into tears again. Téa joined the group hug from behind Yugi. Then Joey and Serenity, Tristan, Mai, and finally Yugi's grandfather pressed in, until Rebecca and Yugi were the center of a huge mass of people holding onto them tightly.

One family, mourning the loss of one of their own.


To be concluded in Part V: End Phase…