Bittersweet...

Endless circles in the sand, weaving their way through the coils of time. Endless years falling, coiling around their existance like a noose that always strangled, frayed, stretched thin, but never snapped. Time that never ended, so much time that had passed from where they used to be and so much distance from where they were supposed to be. It was for her king Isis wept. It was for the lost, broken years, the fractured torture, the rise and fall of Seth in all his unexplainable cruelty. It was for Seto who had appeared to be such a selfish monster, but inexpliably lay his life down as a sacrifice to save them all. And for what? A head full of memories, and a scar on his cheek that would haunt him for the rest of his mortal years? Nights filled with Seth's voice rising from the grave to haunt, a life spent always wondering if Seto's once unshakable faith in himself would crumble with one reminder?

Isis had kept back her anguish, damned it up, choked it down, swallowed the bitter taste of ash in her mouth, hid the fear in her eyes. She had faced down the monsters, and slain them without faltering, or uncertainty. She had kept her lonely vigil all these years, the angelic guardian angel over her king's memory. She had steered Egypt into a glorious era of prosperity, and ruled it with wisdom. And despite all she had done, all she had endured, and all that she had withstood,
she could do no more than weep like a child in Yami's strong, familiar arms.

He was obviously uncertain, his grip faltering into miserable, awkward anguish, before she heard his wince, recognizing how much it all just *hurt*, and embraced her shaking, sobbing frame with a fierce desperation to break through all the confusion, the turmoil, the broken things around them. She could feel his tears sliding mutely down his cheeks, as he bowed his head, not in shame, but in weariness as they just held each other. She was solid, and real, something to cling to as he emerged so painfully from the haze. And he was the tether who understood just how much it truly wounded to come back at all into the world...again.

Again. The word gave Yami no solace, as he glanced around at the world he loathed, and was aggrieved again with all that he had lost. There were no scars on his neck, now. There was no visible reminders of all that had happened, save what he would recall in the nightmares. There wasn't really any trace of what had happened, save what lay in the memories of the suffering witnesses that stood, cowed and afraid in the living room. And Yami flinched with the realization that he and Isis were not the only ones who bore scars.

Solomon Moto stood, watchful, and wary, torn between his paternal instincts to soothe away the pain, and his inability to do anything but watch. The old man could only shake his head, stare at Yami tiredly, and then gaze around blankly at his living room, and all the aftermath. Clearly, he did not know what to do, and kept a respectful distance from the two weeping Egyptians. He felt even words would be too intrusive.

Yugi's eyes were bright with tears, the plea for forgiveness matched by Yami's own tortured glance and soft shake of his head.
Yugi hung back out of respect, and not knowing what to say. It hurt. Everything hurt. The fact that it was all over with.
as much as a thing so horrific could be-did nothing to ease his mind. And Yugi's heart clenched. If he were hurting this badly, he could only imagine what hell Yami had been put through.

Seto eyed the whole scene, impassive as stone, his icy eyes as revealing as a closed door to a dark room. He could have hurled a sarcastic comment, shattered the tension to humiliation, but he didn't have the heart to be that cruel, now. His own thoughts were chaotic butterflies skittering within his skull, never lighting, never breaking. He was still reeling with his own aftermath, the dying, the ressurection, being a puppet for a monster, and, most of all, reconciling with himself exactly why he had willingly sacrificed himself.

Seto pondered that with a lip curled in aggitation. There was no answers that he could come up with, and it frustrated the hell out of him. Sighing, he shrugged himself deeper into his trench coat, drawing his arms over his torso in the familiar gesture of distancing himself. Seto was grateful that everybody else seemed to be so caught up in their own issues that he could be ignored. He took refuge from the whole mess to 'get his head on straight.' And he was even more pissed off to find that he simply could not. It was no longer a simple thing to shake off the emotional turmoil, the pain, the memories, the horrible knowing that everything inside had been tainted and scarred by that monster.

Seth.

Seto could not even recall that name without a snarl of pure hatred. He had slain that parasite without flinching, without hesitation, and without any thought of what it would do to himself later. Crushing that snake was not an act of satisfying revenge, but cold necessity. Seto had never been one to indulge in angst, guilt, misery, or regret. And he refused to, now.
But something inside him had been unmistakably altered, and Seto hated Seth all the more for taking so much of Seto with him.

Needless things, maybe. The fierce pride that he had took so much refuge in. That sharp, unshakable faith in his own mind,
his egotistical belief that nothing could ever bring Seto to his knees. And all of that had been stripped from him in a course of a few days. And, most of all, that horror at being at somebody else's mercy.

Seto's mouth turned into a brooding scowl when he admitted to himself that he had discovered that he had a sense of compassion after all, however relunctant, and hidden, and locked away. It was the only rational explanation he had to offer himself after all that he had done. So it was because of that, Seto had held back the verbal knives. He knew how much it had hurt, and he wasn't wishing to inflict any more on anybody.

Isis had stopped sobbing, her cool veneer sliding back into place like a mask, her regal voice falling in its soothing cadence. She shuddered under Yami's grip, then carefully looked him over for injury, for comfirmation that he was real, and here. Yami gave her a tired smile of understanding, gently permitted her fingers to glide in disbelief over his unmarred throat. "As you can see, my lady, the scars are gone."

The words were unnecessary, and he regretted them as soon as Isis's bleak eyes met his own. "Not all scars are so easily healed, my king."

Yami sighed, said softly, "I didn't say they were healed, my lady."

And Isis only cradled her necklace with a weary, aching hand, another smile coiling about her lips. "In time, my brave king."

Yami's chuckle was bitter, and broken. "Time hasn't done a damn thing to heal my wounds, Isis."

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tears and gold. Broken fragments, realigning themselves,love and longing finally answering their call to blessed fulfillment.
The Puzzle lay shattered, its final power finally unleashed to make right all that had been wrong.
It was an act of devine retribution that had led to its sealing, now it was a devine act of mercy that called forth the light from the dark, and the beloved lost Pharoah back to his homeland.

Love understood nothing of distance, cared nothing for time, held on for eternity, endured all things until it was fulfilled.
Its sister, sacrifice, had already relinguished Yami's years, pronounced them worthy, and released him.

Yami did not know how to put into words the sudden rush of wind flying over his soul, the unseen wings that were waiting to unfurl. He could not explain the certainty, so welcome, so liberating after all the pain that broke over all the anguish in one bright, unfurling wave. He could only bow his head, and breathe it in. It was anguish yielding to peace. It was the call of Egypt to her long lost son.

Isis felt the wafting, pale glow of her necklace, burning mutely against her skin, a gentle tug across her soul. Alarmed, she watched the mute bronze catch a breath of fire, and then radiate with a fierce light. She heard Seto's grunt of fear, Yugi's whimper.

And Yami's face went white and sweating as one hand twisted at his throat and the other one was shaking at his side, but not from fear. His eyes swept downward, mouth grimacing at the shards at his feet, as his voice wafted up softly like wind over rock, it was so raw....

"It is finished." He turned his burning eyes over his shoulder, eyes that were full of finality, and acceptance, and...peace.
He peered into Isis's wide eyes, and carefully lifted hands over her shoulders, sought the chain, brought it away from her quaking throat with all the reverence of a holy relic.

"My king?" Isis's voice was shrill as Yami serenely held the Necklace in one hand, the other hand encircling a bloodied shard.
To their disbelieving eyes, the shard crumbled to a mute, harmless shower of golden dust, faded out of existance with a shimmer of flame.

"The power of the Puzzle has been broken." Yami's voice had regained its warm, gentle cadence as it rolled like thunder. The shards at his feet wafted into dust, a golden wind that rose up and fell down like rain, only to linger for a few moments, and then vanish forever. Seto gaped openly at the pretty display of the twinkling lights, flinched as they fell harmlessly away.
He didn't really know what the hell was going on, but was very glad to see the hated blades vanish, anyway.

"What's happening?!" Seto barked out as he distainfully brushed away a bit of stardust-or whatever it was from his coat.

"We are free." Yami's voice was barely a whisper full of wonder,as he gave Seto a raptured smile. "The Puzzle...it has lost all power over me. Isis, my lady...do you not feel it?!"

Isis gave Yami a serene smile,full of joy, her eyes bright with barely concealed mirth, the bright laughter sparkling.
"Yes, my king. I feel it! Do you know what it means?"

The light from Yami's eyes was even brighter with tears as he faltered miserably between disbelieving hope and the old anguish.

Isis's heart ached with compassion as she knelt to Yami, clasped her hands over his own. "My king, it means, that at long, long last....we are going home."

Home.

It was the song of his mother's lullaby, the languid dark waters of the Nile that only remained for him in memories or photographs. It was azure sky, wide and welcoming, and golden sand, spanning onto infinity. It was his father's kind touch,
and an end to the aching, gut-wrenching waiting that had gone on for so long.

A bitter promise thrown at him by the Puzzle's cruelty, shattered hopes denied for so long. And, now, only a breath and a prayer of it remained to keep him from breaking again. The one tether of longing, and hope that no shard could cut completely away, the one promise he had kept alive.

And, now, Isis had unwittingly stripped away all the old scabs over the deep, deep scars, and Yami knew he would break completely beyond healing if he had to wait any longer.

Isis only graced a hand over his bent shoulder, her lips twisted in sad understanding, as she gently gestured towards the throbbing door of light that had appeared as the Necklace crumbled, the last of its magic spent. Isis reverently breathed a prayer of thanks. The Necklace had been a blessing for her long and weary years,but it had been a painful burden, and a reminder of all that had happened. She released its power with little more than a passing glance, grateful that its delicate chain had finally been broken from her flesh as well.

And, like the Puzzle, it faded out of existance with no more fanfare than a last breath.

Yami felt the hot desert wind, blowing through the door, laced with the arid scent of sand and wood from across time itself.
He closed his eyes and let the familiar touch embrace him, with a serene smile that Yugi had never seen before.

Isis raised her arms, radiating with the light, her white garment unfurling like wings as she rose to her full height.
"My king? We do not have long in this world." Isis whispered.

The words were thick on his tongue, lodged in his throat like boulders he could not choke back, or heave upward, as he stepped towards the small, mortal audience. Tears were trickling down Yami's cheeks, torn between the joy of going home, and the agony of yet another good-bye. His heart was breaking, his heart was fairly flying, and he was once again caught between almost unbearable conflict between the two.

Once again, Solomon's paternal empathy rose to ease the pain. The old man waddled forward,gave Yami a kind, sad smile, and then solemnly groused, wagging a finger in the air between them, "You best take care of yourself, young man." Solomon stared, awkwardly, then blinked back a tear, as he ruffled Yami's golden bangs. "You have become like my own grandson, and I am very proud of you, my boy."

Yami flung the old man in a fierce embrace, felt Solomon's frame stiffen, and then, the kind, paternal arms wrapping over his quaking back in comfort. "Thank you. Thank you for the use of your home, enduring me, accepting me...sir, I cannot repay you for all that you have done for me."

Solomon grunted at that, raised an eyebrow as he gave Yugi a pointed glance. "You saved my grandson, my boy. My dear, dear boy. I wish you a safe journey. And I hope that you finally accept the healing that you so deserve." Solomon winked through his tears. "You're going to be alright. Have faith in that, Yami." And the old man gently pushed him to Yugi's side, with one last pat over his back.

Yugi. His vessle, and shell, and closest friend, intwined with his existance, and now...severed. Yami did not know how to say farewell to the one who had borne his soul, and became both friend, and enemy and closer than any brother in the process.
Yugi looked shattered, as his glazed eyes swept over to the door, and then back to Yami, in silent, paralyzed grief.

Tears were gently flowing down his cheeks as he mutely smiled at Yami, joy and grief lingering in a bright ache in his gut.
There were no words that could be spoken for that moment, no good-bye adequet enough, no forgiveness strong enough to take away the realization that it was all over with and Yami was leaving him forever. Yugi shuddered at the emptiness in his heart,
where Yami literally used to dwell, put a quaking palm over his hammering chest, flinched when Yami's warm hands gently drew it away. Yami's soft incantation was whispered as his fingers glowed, and Yugi felt the pain fleeing, only to be replaced by a warm, pleasant fullness.

Yami's smile was sad at Yugi's small whimper of alarm. "I cannot take all the pain away, for that, I am so sorry."

Yugi's hopeful grin was brighter than the tears, as he sobbed with laughter, "I don't want the pain taken away, Yami. Not if it reminds me of you. Not if I can carry a bit of you with me. It's worth it, Yami, to know that that in some small way, you and I will never be apart. After seeing everything fall down...it's good to know that some good things last forever, too."

Forever. Yami let the word linger on his lips, as he gave Yugi a gentle nod. "There are no words to even begin to tell you what you have come to mean to me, Yugi. Were it not for your acceptance, and faith, I would have become a monster. Were it not for your kindness, I would have never broken free of the Puzzle's grip, or found something worth the sacrifice throughout these long years. You have been a friend throughout all of this, and for that, I cannot begin to repay you. I only ask that you forgive me for all the suffering, and hold my memories with a bit of mercy. For all my failings, I tried to keep you safe.
Forgive me for what I couldn't do."

Yugi gripped Yami's hand in his own, as his searing eyes rose to gaze at Yami, pleading. "Yami? Whatever harm you may have done to me has been more than repaid with the fact that I'm alive and with my grandfather, in my home. NOT locked away in some puzzle, not hurting anybody...I'm *here*, and I'm alive, because of you. Yami, if you want to do anything for me at all, it would be only that you find the peace you deserve, and forgive yourself." And Yugi sobbed as he flung himself into Yami's arms, and clung to him as if he were drowning in the tears.

Yami held him close, breathing in the scent of inocence, now untainted, felt the solid reassurance of flesh and bone, and wanted to weep all the more for leaving him.

"The good things last forever, Yami." Yugi almost hissed from a voice scraped raw with emotion. And Yugi gave a cry of suprise when he felt the emptiness in his arms as Yami's flesh yielded to spirit and began its slow fading.

Yami was already shimmering with the palest glow of starlight as his body crumbled from view, leaving behind an afterglow. It was a gentle disappearance, as Yami's feet slowly vanished,his form growing more transparent, and bueatiful with the pearled light. Isis, too, was fading away, her bright garments now pale as moonlight as she lingered to curtsy low and deep to Yugi, Solomon, and Seto.

"Farewell, my friends. May your journeys end in joy and may you have peace upon your path."

In his final moments, Yami locked eyes with Seto. Seto raised his hard eyes to him, shook his head, before he allowed that icy glare to melt a bit.

"Thank you, Master Kaiba, for all that you have done. I cannot repay you for any of it."

Seto grunted at that, scrubbed an uncomfortable hand through his hair, as he only sighed, with a weary shrug.
"We both know you can't. It's over and done with anyway."

And, to Yami's astonishment, he heard Seto mutter under his breath, "Good luck, runt. I hope you get home safe"
It was so soft and quick, that Yami might have never heard it at all. Seto had already turned away, and was striding towards the door.

"The good things last forever." Yugi's words were already echoing as Yami's spirit departed from the world, and he flew away, next to Isis, cradled in a swoon of warm, comforting light.

Passing out of one existance and into the other should have been disorienting, but it was as natural as rising out of water after a languid bath.

Yami felt the arid wind against his hair, opened his eyes, saw the golden dunes rising high in welcome, as the dark waters of the Nile wove their hidden way past the gloaming stars to infinity.

His beloved tunic was light as air around his tanned muscles as he felt the golden crown proudly adorning his head, as Isis swirled into existance beside him with that serene grace that was so characteristic of her. She gave him a warm smile, and sighed, contently.

Gesturing behind him, she whispered, "They have waited long to see you again, my king."

Yami turned to see his mother and father beaming at him as they came over the gloaming sand. Heedless, Yami burst into a full-run, half sobbing with disbelieving joy. Yami found himself swept up in his father's arms, as his father held him in welcome and his mother only looked on, her eyes filled with love and pride.

"My son. My beloved son. I have so longed to see you again." She whispered as she ran delicate, searching fingers through his golden bangs, her thumb gliding over his cheekbone and cupping a tear. "I am so proud of you, Yami."

Yami could only weep as his father gave his wife and son a loving glance. "I have watched you with so much love over these years, Yami." His mother whispered. "And I have waited long for the day that we would all be together again."

Isis smiled tenderly as mother, father, and son were reunited at last, and watched as they slowly rose, arm in arm, into eternity, together. She raised eyes to the bright Egyptian sky, held her arms out in the futile attempt to embrace the depth, and the height and the meaning of it all, and found she couldn't.

Her heart sang when Yami gazed at her, swung his arm wide in invitation to the golden horizon ahead, and grinned. It was the same joyful glow that he had had back in Egypt, untainted mirth and bright hope at long last restored.

And Yami himself smirked down at the sand beneith him, breathed in the sweet freedom.

They were home at last.