Disclaimer: If I owned Yu-gi-oh! and its characters instead of Kazuki Takahashi, would I be posting this for free online? No. I'd be out on a trip around the world spending my royalty checks.
Rating: T for language, suggestive content, mild violence (of the battling-cartoon-monsters variety).
Pairings and Warnings: Yugi x Téa (x Atem). Kaiba x Kisara. Joey x Mai. Tristan x Serenity. Some Bakura x Marik (shonen ai mostly; nothing very graphic.) Puzzleshippy stuff if you squint really hard. And yeah, I use the dub names. It's how I got to know and love these characters. But the continuity pulls from the dub, the sub, and the manga and exists in the same universe as all my other YGO stories. Sequel to the Revival series.
Acknowledgements: What can I say about my brilliant beta-tester, Dragondancer1014, that I haven't already said? This story probably would have stayed unfinished in the depths of my hard drive if it weren't for her. Her contributions during marathon phone calls and brainstorming sessions are too numerous to name, but I do need to give a special thanks for her help with the final chapter. I had the nugget of an idea for how I wanted to finish this story, and she took it and ran with it. Yin and Yang. So perfect.
I also need to thank Cody of Yu-Jyo fame. Her help with finding just the right Japanese word to add that last final touch was invaluable, not to mention how often I used her episode guides to research details. I think I owe a huge part of my being a YGO fan to that site.
It's been a long ride—a year and a half of my life. I can't believe that it's almost over. I'm not sure if I'm relieved or sad. A little of both, perhaps. Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed. I really appreciate all your comments.
Announce the end of your turn and…resolve…effects
in this phase.
—Yu-gi-oh! Trading Card Game Official Rulebook
1. Funeral for a Friend
The sun was just dipping below the horizon to the west of the Valley of the Kings, painting the sky in brilliant streaks of red and purple, as they assembled near the tombs the day after Ramesses' defeat. In many ways, it reminded Tristan of the morning three years ago when they'd gathered in Kul Elna to witness the Ceremonial Battle. All who had been present that day were here now—Yugi, Téa, Joey, and himself; Kaiba and Mokuba; Ishizu, Marik, and Odion; Yugi's grandfather; Duke; Bakura.
Their group was larger this time, however. There were those who had been with them almost from the beginning, but who had missed that final moment three years ago—Mai, Serenity, and Rebecca. There were new acquaintances—Rashida Ishtar and Sara Drake. Pegasus was there as well, having flown in yesterday from San Francisco, missing the final battle against Ramesses by only a few hours. Friends, family, and even former adversaries and enemies, all a part of their ever-widening circle of allies joined together in the same fight.The only one not with them was Professor Hawkins, and his absence was keenly felt.
It was Yugi who had asked them all to come. Ishizu had deemed that only he and Kaiba needed to participate in the funeral rites that would substitute their bodies for their ancient Egyptian counterparts', anchoring Atem's and Seto's Kas and allowing them to return from the Shadow Realm to the Spirit World. Naturally, Tristan, Téa, and Joey had insisted on attending as well, but Yugi, who had never asked anything of anyone in the entire time Tristan had known him, had made a personal request to the entire group.
"Six years ago, before the Millennium Puzzle and the other me came into my life, there were only two of you I could count as my family or friends. Now each of you has become so much more than that. You are a part of me. Every one of you." He'd directed that last specifically to Mai, who was still bristling from her exclusion in the final battle. "And most of you have been an important part of the oth—of Atem's time with us as well. I could not be who I am had it not been for all of you, and I know he feels the same. Please, do me the honor of seeing him returned to the Spirit World where he belongs."
And so they congregated between the entrances to Atem's and Seto's tombs before a makeshift altar Ishizu had prepared. She'd spent the better part of the previous afternoon and evening poring over the scrolls and ancient texts they'd brought back with them from San Francisco, finally finding what she needed to know how to perform the funeral. After that, she'd needed most of today to pull together everything she would require for the rites. Last night, she'd sent Marik, Bakura, Odion, and Rashida to the tombs to hold the sustaining ritual that would strengthen Atem's and Seto's spirits one last time. Tonight, exactly two weeks after it began, their internment in the Shadow Realm would finally end. Tonight, they would finally be sent home.
Ishizu began by lighting an incense urn on the altar. She was wearing the long white robes and headdress of an Egyptian priestess, but everyone else was dressed in the formal black suits and dresses appropriate to a Japanese Buddhist wake. That had been Téa's idea. When Joey had been stupid enough to point out that Atem was neither Japanese nor Buddhist, she had stomped on his foot. "It's not for him, you nimrod! We're the ones who need to say good-bye."
It wasn't exactly like a regular wake, since they had no Buddhist priest to officiate and read the sutra, and no body before which to offer incense, but they each took a turn at the urn on the altar anyway, with those closest to the deceased going first. Tristan was fourth in line behind Yugi, Téa, and Joey. As he bowed before the urn to make his offering, he found himself grateful that Téa had been so insistent. There was a rightness to doing this, to saying good-bye in a formal, ritualized way, and he wondered why they hadn't thought to do it three years ago when Atem had first left them. Actually, Tristan knew the answer to that. Watching Atem walk into the light, his back straight and proud, had never felt like death to any of them, and they'd all avoided calling it that, treating it more like he'd simply moved very far away. It had taken them three years to accept the truth and to call it what it was—Atem was dead, and they needed to mourn him.
Tristan finished his bow and walked away from the urn, allowing Grandpa Mutou his turn. As he watched the other mourners offer incense one by one, it struck him that despite the rightness of the ceremony, it didn't really feel like a funeral. The sadness had three years' distance to it, and even with the shock of getting to see and speak with Atem again, it hadn't been quite as hard to let him go this time. In fact, Tristan almost felt a sense of joy and celebration as a sort of undercurrent to the solemnity of the occasion. Celebration at the impact Atem had made on their lives and of they way he lived on in Yugi. Joy that he was going to be leaving the Shadow Realm and returning to the Spirit World where he belonged.
Sara was the last person in line, and when she was finished, Yugi and Kaiba joined Ishizu at the altar to begin the Egyptian part of the ceremony. At first, Tristan stood close to Téa's side, as was his custom during Shadow Games or any other time Yugi was absent or in danger and she might need his emotional support. After a while, however, he could see she was holding her own—like him, she seemed at peace rather than truly grieving—and he found himself edging away from her and toward the back of the crowd. He'd learned from having to endure too many formal military ceremonies when he was a full-time soldier in the Japanese Self-Defense Force that he preferred to stand in the back and away from other people if possible.
He knew from the crash-course in Egyptian funerary rites he'd gotten reading all those books over the last week that the majority of a typical funeral revolved around the embalming of the body and a ceremony known as the Opening of the Mouth, intended to re-animate the dead body so the Ka could use it as an anchor from which it could travel to the afterlife. None of these were relevant to the present circumstances, of course, so Ishizu was focusing on lesser-known rituals intended to re-establish the link between Ka and body after death and to help aid passage of the deceased through the underworld and into the afterlife. Unlike the comforting familiarity of the Japanese traditions, the foreign rites and language were impossible for Tristan to follow. He tried to keep his mind focused on Atem and Yugi, on how they were putting right what had been inflicted on both of them, but he found his thoughts wandering to the one subject that over the past several days kept pushing its way to the forefront whenever he wasn't in full-out crisis mode: Serenity.
Although at first he'd done a fairly good job of quashing whatever emotions she'd dredged up with her confession a week ago, ever since their arrival in Egypt, he'd sensed some sort of shift in her, and he wasn't sure what to make of it. She seemed… closer to him somehow, but he was afraid of reading too much into it. Then yesterday at the hospital, she'd said something that he couldn't stop thinking about. It was right after Yugi had asked her to try and heal Professor Hawkins and then had run off when she couldn't do it. Téa and Joey had both started after him, but Grandpa Mutou had stopped them, insisting that he should be the one to talk to Yugi. Serenity, meanwhile, had walked out of the professor's room to find a seat away from everyone else, and Tristan had followed after her, worried that she was feeling guilty about her inability to help.
"It's not your fault, you know. You did everything you could."
"If only I could've called Mystical Elf when we first found him…"
"That's not your fault, either. You tried. And it might've already been too late anyway."
"I know." She looked up at him, giving him a strange scrutinizing look that made his stomach twist around in a way that wasn't altogether unpleasant. "Tristan, why do you keep backing me up?"
"Huh?" He wrinkled his nose at the odd question.
"First in the catacombs, then during the Shadow Game. Why do you keep encouraging me to call Mystical Elf?"
"Uh… because you can?" Sitting down beside her, he resisted the urge to take her hand or touch her arm. "I don't know why it surprises you so much. Why wouldn't I back you up? It's what I do. I'm the backup guy." He gave her a sheepish grin. "You know, Command Knight. Gives all the warriors on our side extra strength."
She cocked her head, quizzical. "You think of me as a warrior?"
"Nah, not a warrior. More like a combat medic. Battalion Aid."
This seemed to astonish her for some reason, despite the fact that she had been hired by Pegasus to fill exactly that role. "I can't believe you see me that way."
"Why not? How else would I see you?"
She sighed. "Whenever I think of you, I see the guy who picked me up and carried me on his back to help me get away from those Rare Hunters that came after us in Battle City. A little like Joey, you know? Someone who stands between me and whatever's out there trying to hurt me. I just… I can't wrap my head around you as someone who would ever stand behind me."
He frowned, troubled by the implication that he no longer would stand between her and danger. "It's not like I don't care if you get hurt. You know that, right? I'd never… I'd do anything—"
"No, that's not what I mean at all!" She winced. "Of course I know you care, that you would try and stop someone from hurting me. But I just realized that you don't assume I'm going to get hurt. You don't treat me like a china doll that will shatter if I'm taken out of the box. I keep expecting you to, because you're the one who carried me. But you don't."
He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees and clasping his hands together as he looked up at her, finally understanding what she was getting at. "Serenity, you were fourteen, you'd just come out of major surgery, and you had bandages wrapped around your eyes. Of course I carried you—it was the only thing I could do. But that's not who you are now. You don't need me to carry you anymore."
Chewing on her lip, she considered this. "I'm not really sure what I need."
With a shrug, he answered, "A backup guy?"
She met his eyes, her gaze strangely intent. "You're more than just the backup guy."
He'd sat upright at this, wanting to ask her what she meant, but at that moment, Yugi and his grandfather had returned, and their attention had been drawn back to the matter at hand—Rebecca's grandfather. Then when they'd left the hospital, there had been the usual post-battle debriefings, plans to discuss for getting Atem and Seto back to the afterlife, and too much time spent shopping for the black funeral clothes Téa had insisted they wear today even though no one had thought to pack any.
Now, as he tried to focus on what Ishizu was doing to Yugi and to Kaiba to help Atem's and Seto's passage back to the Spirit World, his mind kept jumping back to those seven words. You're more than just the backup guy.
How much more, Serenity?
He closed his eyes, trying to shake it off. Dwelling on what he probably could never have was so not doing him any good.
A hand slipped into his, fingers interlacing with his own, and he opened his eyes, startled and a little chagrined. So much for the ever-alert MP. It was Serenity, and he felt his cheeks burn, as if she somehow could read his thoughts. She squeezed his hand in a comforting gesture, however, giving him a look of sympathy, and he realized with a mixture of relief and guilt that she must have thought that his wistfulness was because of Atem. He gave her a nod of reassurance, squeezing her hand back, but when he tried to let go, she wouldn't release her grip. He frowned, giving her a questioning look. She gazed back at him, her eyes locking onto his in a way that made his mouth go dry. Her hand was warm, despite the brisk evening air, and just a little slippery with nervous sweat, but he couldn't tell whether it was from her palm or his. After what seemed like hours of staring into his eyes, she gave him a small smile and turned her attention back toward the altar, all without letting go of his hand.
He stood completely still for several seconds, trying to get his brain to process what had just passed between them. Then, he slowly extricated his hand from hers to put a tentative arm around her shoulders, releasing a breath he didn't even know he'd been holding when she leaned into him, settling into the crook of his arm as if she'd always belonged there.
They stood that way for the rest of the ceremony, watching together as their friend was sent back home.