Yu-Gi-Oh!, in all its various incarnations, was created by Kazuki Takahashi and is collectively owned/distributed by this aforementioned creator, Shueisha, Toei Animation, NAS, VIZ Media, 4KIDS Entertainment, and numerous others worldwide. The individual hiding behind the pen name olesia.love is not affiliated with any of these individuals or organizations, named or not, and any of the viewpoints expressed within this fan work should not be construed to be in any way endorsed by any of the legal owners of Yu-Gi-Oh! This fan work does not attempt to infringe heavily upon the rights of these owners.
And who knows - maybe in 2090, someone will wind up writing a ridiculously popular Yu-Gi-Oh! AU that winds up not only getting published, but also gets turned into a Broadway Musical with a happy romantic ending. It happened with The Wizard of Oz.
Minor Preliminary Notes:
- Why yes, it IS another Egypt fic. Because everyone loves those. Right? Yeah.
- This contains an AU break during the final two issues of the Yu-Gi-Oh! comic series. Familiarity with the final arc of the series ("Memory World") is highly recommended. So highly recommended, in fact, that if you haven't already, I implore you to go out and read this arc, and buy it if you can. Please support the series by purchasing official merchandise.
- This is a work in progress. You will probably not see another chapter of this for quite a few months, as the rest of the story needs to be completed before I'll feel comfortable posting further chapters. There will be future chapters, just... not any time soon. Nothing will change this fact. Historical accuracy and eradicating plot holes are much more important than hitting a post quota, so I'll see you guys again in a few months. (And I am being completely serious.)
- Also, when I come back in several months with the rest of the story? It will be slash. Just so you know. And hopefully there won't be twenty thousand other stories trying to imitate me specifically. That would make me very sad.
The Shadows of God
Yuugi ground his teeth, tightening his hold on his three cards. The hologram of his monster vanishing in smoke, Yuugi stared up into the eyes of the Black Magician and his calm appraisal. It was always such a comfort to have you as my ally, Yuugi thought with a smile, but there's no exhilaration quite like facing you like this!
Yuugi blocked out the commentary from his friends; their well-founded worry was doing nothing for his focus, for once. After all, their hearts were not truly beating for his victory, but that was nothing unexpected. This duel would end with the death of one of their dear friends, should he win.
I know you're frightened of what's beyond that door, everyone, but we must face it together! He must cross it!
At least the other him was, if not rooting for Yuugi's victory, encouraging his strength. The other Yuugi stood at the ready, and though Yuugi could no longer feel that other presence within his heart, he understood the steady look. I am fighting you with all my heart, partner, he seemed to say without words; you must fight me with all of yours! Come! Catch me, if you can! I will not wait!
"My turn!" A small trickle of anxiety shot through Yuugi as he skipped over the Golden Chest of Sealing yet again; he knew precisely how he wanted to play that card, which weapon to lock away, but even though the Chest had come into his hand on the first draw, he had not yet seen that other card, and he knew that he was swiftly running out of time to use it. "I activate Blockman's special ability!"
As Yuugi called out his summon, he did not listen for the excited calls of his friends, who had already seen the destructive power of the dragon Gandora in that duel with the dark Bakura. Yuugi did not think of how it would be both fitting and ironic if the monster that had allowed him to obtain his other self's name would be the one to send Atem to the world beyond. Yuugi was not watching as Gandora released her deadly, destructive magic; his focus was on the other Yuugi's face, flickering in the light, and the small smirk that was tugging at his lips.
Oh, no… Yuugi already knew from that look that the other had activated--
"Trap card! Holy Barrier, Mirror Force!"
The hologram was so bright, Yuugi had to shield his eyes with the blade of his Duel Disk, but still he saw the damage done to his life points. Dammit, he swore privately, setting down his penultimate card, just breathe. Plan E. It's a risky shot, but it's all you have left right now. That card is waiting for you in the deck; you just have to draw it!
It was the other's - Atem's turn now, and Yuugi was suppressing the suffocating feeling of anxiety and desperation deep down into his heart, letting none of it show on his face. He couldn't let anyone know how weak he was feeling, he couldn't! He risked a glance at his/their friends, his heart tightening in his chest. For that brief second, Yuugi's only allies seemed to be the Tomb Keeper clan, shrouded in black. In their mutual friends - Anzu, Bakura, Honda, everyone - Yuugi could see the desire to keep the other him here. For a brief second, Yuugi wondered if, perhaps, it would be better if the other stayed, if Yuugi lost.
It was a brief second.
"Trap card!" Yuugi shouted, raising the card, "Magician's Binding Circle!"
But still, still! Atem was smiling as he summoned Black Magician Girl, played his spell card.
Yuugi's hands were trembling. If he faltered here, the Silent Magician would perish, taking all his life points with it, but… if he couldn't draw that card… and if Atem did! Or, if he'd already placed it… Yuugi played that penultimate card. "Card of Sanctity!" Each card Atem drew built Silent Magician's level, but every card Yuugi pulled was useless, useless, useless. There were five cards in his hand now, and Yuugi's fingers felt numb against the deck. Closing his eyes, Yuugi drew.
Magnet Warrior Beta.
Yuugi closed his eyes, holding that card to the bridge of his nose, trying to suppress the shudder from his shoulders. There was still a chance that the other had not… Yes! Even if he did…
So long as there was the chance of victory, Yuugi had to fight with all his heart, no matter what. There was no guarantee that Atem had that card in his hand, or had played it.
"Silent Magician, Attack!"
There! Yuugi grinned, his breathing heavy as the other's - as Atem's Magicians fell to the attack of his own. The Silent Magician had a good 3500 attack points, and the other - Atem didn't have any living monsters in his deck more powerful than that. If he did have that card, if he called back Obelisk, they could both survive another turn, if Yuugi could play--
"I end my turn," said Atem, his face carefully blank.
Yuugi took a deep, shuddering breath. This was it. Atem had no monsters on the field. Yuugi could not hesitate. He had to attack!
Yuugi raised his free arm to command the final blow, and saw his other self mirror the move, holding his hand over the set card on the field, flipping it with nearly impossible slowness.
Raise the Dead; Yuugi adjusted his stance while their audience 'oooh'ed at the unexpected move.
I knew you would play this card, Yuugi thought quickly, his fingers tightening around the cards in his hand, and if it were me, I'd bring back Obelisk. I can beat this. I just need to--
"I summon the Sky Dragon of God, Osiris!"
As the God took form before Yuugi's eyes, he realized many things at once: that the other Yuugi had been planning this move since the start of the duel, discarding Osiris as his very first move; that it was Yuugi's Card of Sanctity that had given Osiris the attack power he needed to defeat the Silent Magician; that there was no possible way he could survive God's attack. He saw the meaning in the other's eyes.
Dimly, he heard Isis interpreting the move, trying to explain why Atem had chosen this God over all others:
"Osiris was the God-King of Egypt, of the underworld, and of resurrection," she intoned, drawing everyone's attention. "His body had been dismembered, and scattered, but his partner had faithfully gathered and assembled the pieces, breathing new life into the dead king."
But staring into Atem's kind and smiling face, Yuugi saw a different story.
I see the meaning behind your Silent monsters, he seemed to say in the quirk of his lips; once, you were weak, and you have since grown strong in the shadows of your heart. But you forget that I am stronger, always will be stronger. You cannot defeat me!
Brilliant white light washed over Yuugi, filling the dimly lit tomb and erasing all details, all people within. Yuugi's Magician vanished in the blast, leaving nothing save bright, bright light and the approaching other - Atem. The light was overheating the Duel system, so achingly bright; it washed out his details and left him only as a silhouette.
Bowing his head, blinking the stars and salt from his eyes, Yuugi approached the center of the platform. The light cut out in an instant, the duel over; both of them staggered the final step, and both men reached out to steady the other. The first thing Yuugi was truly able to see was the giddy smile on the other's face, but Atem quickly forced it down into something more dignified.
"You did it, Atem," Yuugi said, fighting down his disappointment and that ache he did not want to qualify. "You really are the strongest."
"Oi! So the Pharaoh, won, right?" called out Honda, and though Yuugi turned to answer, he saw from the corner of his eye that Atem did not even acknowledge the sound with anything beyond the tightening of his hands on Yuugi's shoulders. Even as Yuugi nodded to their friends, a smile on his lips as he let go, he heard the other's quiet, determined words.
"I'm not stronger than you, Yuugi," Atem murmured, still not releasing Yuugi from his grip.
Honda had linked arms with Bakura, the former singing, "We get to keep the Pharaoh!" while the latter stumbled through their circle-dance, complaining of motion sickness. Otogi was smiling; Isis looked distinctly unsure, Malik surprised, and Rishid his own particular brand of stoic; Grandpa's gaze was steady, with only the slightest hunch of disappointment in his shoulders; Anzu was crying with laughter.
Jounouchi, at least, seemed to understand, and was watching Yuugi with an expression of consolation. Yuugi folded his hand of cards and shoved them into his Duel Tray, resting atop his remaining deck, and he turned his attention back to Atem. He still hadn't let go of Yuugi's arms.
"Of course you are," Yuugi replied just as quietly, pulling gently out of Atem's grasp, "I couldn't beat you. I tried so hard, but still, I--"
His words could not have carried beyond the edge of the platform, which explained the unexpected group hug that descended upon their private conversation. Honda had wrapped Atem in a headlock, while Bakura, Otogi, and even Malik had almost jumped onto them both - or would have, had Jounouchi's sudden tug backward on Yuugi's shoulders not dislodged him from the group. Surprised, Yuugi stumbled backwards while Atem, laughing, struggled to get free.
"That was a really awesome duel," Jounouchi mimicked Otogi, pulling Yuugi into a headlock, but Yuugi's struggle was much less spirited. "You two were perfectly matched the whole duel; it could have gone either way."
Yuugi nodded, watching the way Anzu joined the group surrounding Atem, her steps sure and her face red as she embraced him in a side-hug. Atem looked momentarily bewildered before returning the hug, and Yuugi turned his attention away.
After all, he thought privately, sadly, who would take the effort to summon the Silent Magician when the Black Magician is already in hand?
"Mm. I really thought I had him, too," Yuugi said, pulling out of Jounouchi's headlock to give his friend his full attention. "But I guess I'm… too weak, still."
Jounouchi leaned down to speak, his expression calm but serious. "Actually, Yuugi… I think your strength is the reason he won."
Yuugi frowned, turning to correct his friend on the finer points of the duel, but stopped. The giant stone eye, the wadjet that had separated him from the other Yuugi, was glowing. A leaden weight settled in Yuugi's stomach at the sight, and he walked away from Jounouchi without a word. Atem had either noticed the light, or Yuugi's approach to it, for as Yuugi drew close to the Eye, a hand nearly identical to his own wrapped around one of his wrists.
"Atem?" Yuugi asked, turning slightly, "What--"
"Isis? What does this mean?" Atem turned to the Tomb Keeper clan, most all of them decked in black and watching from several feet away from the raised dais. Isis stood at the base of the staircase, her gaze fixed on the stone eye.
"It has judged the heart of the Pharaoh," she said, her voice forcibly steady. "The defeated king would now announce his name to the wadjet, and be then admitted to the afterlife."
Atem's grip on Yuugi's wrist tightened.
"But the Pharaoh won," Bakura said, his gaze moving from the Eye, to the Tablet of Memories, to Isis, "so why--?"
"Maybe he should try anyway," said Otogi, his eyes flicking from one Yuugi to the other, "see what happens? Maybe it'll still let him through."
The grip on Yuugi's wrist was nearly to the point of bruising in its strength. "Then what was the point of winning?" Atem growled, dropping Yuugi's wrist to gesticulate wildly; Yuugi backed out of the way of the flailing arms, turning back to the Eye. "If it opens regardless, then there was no point--"
"Fine!" he shouted, angry, pulling forcibly out of the grasp of slender hands that tried to stop his approach to the wall. Bristling, the dark Yuugi stared angrily at the lighted Eye.
"My name is Atem," he said, blandly, and everyone stared at the Eye in expectation. The emitted light twinkled, and winked, and for an instant everything was bright.
When the light faded, the Eye was still aglow, and Atem stood before the solid wall, his face stoic (but the slight slump of his shoulders struck Yuugi as distinctly relieved). Yuugi pulled away from their converged friends, crossing the ancient dais, and was grateful that Jounouchi and everyone had the sense to stay back this time.
Their eyes met as Yuugi approached, and Atem's gaze softened, his anger dissipating readily. "Partner," he murmured, a quiet gentleness in his voice and face, almost apologetic, "don't be angry that I won--"
"I'm not mad at you," Yuugi answered, turning his gaze away from those distorted-mirror eyes. "I'm… disappointed in myself."
"I was supposed to help you across," Yuugi said, his hands balled into fists. "I was supposed to help you leave so you could be your own person, be with your family and friends again, so--"
"I don't want to be anybody if I can't be with you," the other Yuugi asserted, quietly, grabbing Yuugi's fists and gently prying them open. "I know now who I was, and I know who I want to be."
Yuugi stared at Atem, something clogging in his throat when the other whispered, "I'd rather be a parasite locked in your heart than a king without you."
Yuugi could not think of what to say to that, could not spit out the words it doesn't work that way, and was easily pulled into a brotherly embrace, his arms not nearly as sure around Atem's back. The arms around Yuugi seemed to tremble for fear, or worry, holding him tight.
Glancing over at the wadjet, alight but showing no signs of opening, Yuugi closed his eyes and bowed his head, and he squeezed the other Yuugi back just as tightly.
"You won the duel, Atem," said Yuugi, smiling, even if no one could see it. "If you really wish to stay--"
"It's your choice."
The arms around Yuugi relaxed, and the other Yuugi's smile was warm in the wadjet light.
"Let's go home, partner," he said, pulling back slightly to grin. "If this… if this division holds, I want to… go to the arcade." Yuugi's vision was fuzzy from the light getting brighter, the other's halo nearly blinding. "We'll finally be able to play co-op mode."
At that, Yuugi laughed a little, but his eyes did not stray from the light.
Atem's hand slid down Yuugi's shoulder and arm to gently take hold of his wrist, the pads of his fingers smooth and warm against Yuugi's pulse. It was several leagues different than the way the other Yuugi's projected form had felt, insubstantial like a cloud of static. The hand tugged him forward, back to their friends, and after only a couple of steps Yuugi pulled his hand out of the other's grip. Atem probably didn't realize how unintentionally intimate the gesture was, or how it could be misinterpreted, and Yuugi still had something else to do.
Everyone else had cleared the dais, almost all of their friends smiling back up as Atem reached the top step. He made to descend from the platform, turning slightly when he realized Yuugi had not followed.
Yuugi, who was now standing directly before the Tablet of Memories. His form was outlined by the wadjet light, his back to everyone.
"Partner?" Atem murmured, his confused gaze locking on Yuugi's back, but Yuugi did not turn at the call. Atem started back across the platform, but on the third step a voice broke through the relentless silence, clogged with tears.
"I'm sorry," said Isis, quietly, "I didn't--"
Atem spun quickly on his heel, his fists clenched at his sides. "What is the meaning of this, Isis Ishtar?" he asked, his short nails digging into the palms of his hands, "Why is that light still shining if I am not to cross?"
Isis bowed her head, her hair swaying as she shook to deny the question, and with a sudden look of horror, Malik clapped a hand over his mouth. Yuugi did not turn, his chin down as though examining the Millennium Items, and Atem only clenched his fists tighter, his anger building.
"You are hiding something from me." Atem's voice dropped in fury, a low rolling fire just waiting for the final spark. "What have you not told me?"
Isis made no move to look up, and Malik was still shocked into horror; Rishid stared straight into Atem's fearsome eyes without flinching, even as his own stoic gaze softened in sorrow.
"Do you not understand the stakes yet?" he asked, turning his gaze. "Yuugi. You understand."
Atem glowered at Rishid, but his fury turned when he heard Yuugi's voice answer, quiet and low.
"Yeah. I do."
"Oh, god," murmured Bakura suddenly, realization and agony dawning on his face; Otogi started shaking with repressed fury, even worse than Atem's. This short wave of comprehension seemed to pass over Yuugi's closest friends without effect, but there was a quiet, rasped moan as Sugoroku swayed on his feet as though stricken with vertigo, or nausea. Had Jounouchi not caught him beneath the elbows, the old man would have sagged to his arthritic knees.
"Will someone explain what the hell is going on?" asked Honda, loudly, turning to the Ishtars. Isis and Malik both seemed unreachable, and Rishid's gaze was still fixed on Yuugi's back. Atem could not see precisely what Yuugi was doing, though it looked as though his right hand was pressed against his heart, or his sternum, his body shaking. Atem stepped forward.
"Partner," he whispered, his voice angry, tremulous, worried, "what--"
"The king is dead," said Bakura, tears in his eyes and choking his words; "long live the king."
Atem turned and stared, perplexed, but his attention was swiftly diverted when Otogi quickly ascended the platform and grasped him by the shoulder, shoving Atem back towards the staircase. Startled, Atem was not quick enough to avoid the second shove, and was barely able to stumble down the staircase without falling. Atem staggered into Isis, glowering upwards.
"You still don't get it, do you, Pharaoh?" Otogi shouted, his stripe of black eyeliner slowly streaking down his entire cheek. "You--"
"Otogi-kun, stop." Yuugi had not turned away from the Tablet or the glowing Eye, the brilliant light of it transforming the red in his hair into a white, spiky halo. Otogi glowered, turning just enough to glare back at Yuugi.
"Are you going to tell him what he's done?" he shouted, wiping and smearing black across his face, "or are you just going to--"
"I think Grandpa needs to see a doctor!" Jounouchi proclaimed, trying to get everyone's attention, but Sugoroku threw off Jounouchi's supportive arm and walked to the staircase, climbing the steps slowly. Otogi stepped out of the older man's path, though Sugoroku did not bother crossing the entire platform. Several feet of empty air stood between Sugoroku and his grandson, who still had not turned away from the sealed door; Yuugi's face was merely turned to the side, down, and cast in partial profile.
For a long moment, Sugoroku merely stood here, coiled with anger while Yuugi stood, gaze turned down but his back firm and straight. Many things were not said, many emotions not exchanged, and their fight spiked and resolved without a single word spoken between them.
Finally, Sugoroku's tight shoulders sagged, and he shook his head. "I never should have given you that Puzzle," he said, his voice steady as iron. No one could see it, but the smile on Yuugi's face was obvious in his voice.
"Probably," he murmured, his right arm dropping. Atem started back up the staircase at that, his heart pounding painfully in his chest (it felt as though it was, anyway; he didn't know if he actually had a heart to pound).
"Isis-san," Anzu asked, approaching the woman now that she no longer shook with tears, "can you tell us what you meant? Why are you sorry? What's going on?"
Isis took a shuddering breath, her mouth opening to form words, but she bit them back, shaking her head. Malik, the heel of his palm pressed tight against his eye, sighed.
"It's much more complicated than this," he said, turning to Anzu, "but--"
"Malik-kun, let… let me show them," Yuugi said, turning slightly to look back with a smile. "It'd be faster this way."
As Yuugi walked, treading over the Tablet of Memories, Atem's hypothetical heart stopped in his chest.
It couldn't possibly be that--
He shoved away from the Ishtars and nearly pushed Otogi off the platform; Sugoroku made no move to stop him, and if he paused to think about it he would wonder why no one else had worked up the courage to ascend those steps onto this platform.
"I am the son of Mutou Aoi and Tanaka Chiyo!"
Yuugi was shaking where he stood in front of the wadjet, and Atem did not hesitate to skip up the short half-foot to cross over the Tablet of Memories
"Stop!" Atem shouted, "stop, partner, don't!" He only got as far across as the Millennium Ring before the Tablet itself began glowing, and with a shout Atem went shooting backwards, falling off the Tablet with a painful thud and a bruised tailbone.
Yuugi did not turn at the shouts - not from Atem, nor from any of his friends, or family. He did not hear Otogi's shouted accusations, or Anzu's cries of denial, or the collective sorrow as feet pounded on the staircase. His back straight, knees locked, his very stance held forcibly stiff in the wadjet light, Yuugi continued.
"I am Mutou Yuugi, the defeated King of Games--"
Atem slammed his arm against the Tablet as he pushed himself up, the Duel Blade cracking loudly at the blow. "Don't you dare! Partner!" he shouted, trying this time to walk around the Tablet. Again he was forced back, skidding a short yard on his side across the dais floor, while his damaged Duel Disk sputtered fragmented monsters from malfunctioning projection cells, pieces of gods and magic gathering around him and dying in the light.
"You cannot stop him," said Rishid over the din, his sorrow evident in his voice. "We had hoped it would not come to this, but--"
"YOU MEAN TO LET HIM DIE?" Atem shouted, slamming his arm against the ground before he pushed himself up. "YOU WANT ME TO DO NOTHING, WHILE PARTNER--"
"Stop. Other me, stop," Yuugi murmured, and Atem felt hands clasp gently upon his shoulders. Atem spun quickly under and out of that hold, his hands grabbing Yuugi tightly at the wrists.
There had not been many occasions when the darker Yuugi has felt anything akin to anger towards Yuugi - Atem certainly could not think of any time save this moment, where his entire body was strung tight with fury. "Partner--"
"I'm not sorry," said Yuugi, steel and sorrow in his voice in equal measures, his muscles tight. Atem's eyes narrowed slightly under the sudden blow of realization, and he glowered in return.
"You… you know this would happen. You knew!"
Yuugi did not nod, or agree, or even flinch under this accusation, but his silence was answer enough. Were it possible, Atem only grew more infuriated.
"How dare you hide this from me!"
"You would not have fought me with all your strength if you knew," Yuugi replied, not backing down from the other's rage.
"Damn right I wouldn't have!" Atem's voice was low, and dark; were it not for the pervading tension in the air, his voice would not have carried beyond the edge of the platform. "You--"
"I am not sorry." Yuugi said sternly, ripping his hands from Atem's grasp. "We both needed this duel. You've won, other me - you can be your own person, you can live a normal life, you--"
"I don't want any of that!" Atem whispered, his world reduced to this moment, the bright wadjet light stinging the tears in his eyes. "How many times will you make me repeat this? I don't want to go anywhere, be anywhere, be anyone if I cannot be with you! I do not call you my partner lightly!" Atem grabbed Yuugi by the front of his shirt beneath the burnished cartouche, yanking him into a shaking embrace. His next was an utterance, barely above a whisper. "You are more important to me than even my own life."
But Yuugi was having none of it; his arms pinned between their bodies, Yuugi forcibly shoved the other back, and Atem stumbled against the Tablet of Memories, but did not fall onto the slab; Yuugi straightened his shirt with stilted movements.
"You see?" Yuugi said angrily, his voice hoarse but not quite a shout, scraping the back of one clenched fist against his cheek. "You need this separation as much as I do! I can't let you be dependent on me like this anymore; it's not good for either of us!"
With nearly a snarl, Atem grabbed Yuugi by the shoulders, shaking him in short jerks; it was their first real fight, and Atem was praying to every deity he could name (and many that he could not) that it would not be their last.
"Death is not - No! - I refuse to accept this as an option!" His head bowed, his teeth clenched, the dark Yuugi was so stiff and so tight on the surface, as though his anger had clad his body in bronze armor; it was the only thing preventing him from crumbling to the ground with womanly sobs. "I did not fight against-- against Pegasus and Zorc, and Malik and Bakura and Kaiba and everyone before and in between-- I did not fight them all to lose you here!"
Yuugi closed his eyes, pinching his lips between his teeth, and shook his head. His hands were steady and sure as they grabbed Atem's arms, extracting himself from Atem's grip.
"I don't apologize for keeping this from you," Yuugi murmured, dropping the other Yuugi's arms to fall slack, "but I'm sorry it had to be this way."
Atem trembled where he stood, his eyes closing tightly in intermittent bursts before he sagged to his knees, shaking with suppressed sobs. Yuugi bent to draw him back up, but Atem swung his Disk-bearing arm in dismissal, turning bodily away from Yuugi's gaze. On his knees before the Tablet, Atem stared up at the glowing wadjet, and with a strangled cry slammed his arm and the Duel Disk against the surface of the slab. The Duel Blade cracked louder with each blow until the entire wing broke away, clattering to the ground, bent beyond repair. Still, Atem slammed his arm, the now-blunted Duel Cuff against the surface of the slab, furious. His deck remained in place, not that he cared about it anymore, even as the electronic components within the Disk began jarring loose.
"I surrender!" he shouted, his voice hoarse from crying, "I surrender! My sword is broken, I cannot fight!" Shaking, Atem dropped his forehead to the ridge of the Tablet, and he whispered, "please, don't listen to him." His fingers scraped across stone, the grains burrowed under his short nails, and Atem looked up with fierce determination.
"My name is Atem!" he shouted, rasped, "I am the Pharaoh, Atem! Atem, Atem, Atem…"
The wadjet eye remained bright and unseeing, the intensity of the light not wavering for a moment, the wall not yielding. Atem continued chanting his own name, his voice growing softer, rasped with tears until he could no longer stare up at the door. His forehead dropped to the Tablet of Memories again, the name continuing to pass from his lips, the sound distorted and meaningless.
Yuugi's heart was aching in his chest, wrought with pain as though a corkscrew had been shoved within him, turning forcefully at each pathetic hiccup from the other Yuugi's throat. Yuugi crouched down beside Atem's defeated form, wrapping his left arm over the other's shoulders, feeling the shoulder blades jerk backwards against him, trembling. With slow movements, Yuugi ducked to look under Atem's arms, reaching up to swipe one thumb over the other's cheek.
"Hey, come on," Yuugi murmured, choking back his own sorrow. "It's not so bad. Yeah, it's not what either of us would have liked, but those were the stakes. We'll be together again eventually, and--"
"I will never forgive you."
Yuugi pressed his lips shut, but did not move away at Atem's quiet avowal.
"If you go," the other Yuugi whispered, his voice quiet and nearly hollow, "I will open the Tablet of Memories, and I will retrieve the Millennium Rod, and I will follow you."
Yuugi tilted his head slightly to get a better look at Atem's shadowed face, frowning. "The Millennium Rod?" he asked back, just as quietly, before remembering, realizing suddenly what the other implied.
"Don't you dare!" Yuugi hissed, pulling Atem away from the Tablet, grabbing his shoulders and glaring at Atem's downcast eyes, "don't you even think of that! Who will take care of Grandpa, or our friends if you--"
"I don't care," Atem whispered, his shoulders shaking and his voice still pained, "I won't leave this temple if it is not with you, even if it means--"
"I would not forgive you."
Yuugi's body rocked forward to his own knees, he and the other Yuugi nearly mirror images of one another, cracked and distorted in all the same places.
"You… you… you jerk," Yuugi muttered, dropping his hands to the ground. "Why can't I ever win against you?"
The words were quiet, and not at all harsh, but Atem flushed regardless. "I'm sorry," he said softly, slowly lifting his gaze. "If I had known--"
"It would have defeated the whole purpose of the battle, other me," Yuugi murmured back, his smile weak and forced. "I almost had you, you know."
"I mean, all this. If I had known, I wouldn't have even dragged us into Battle City--"
"Stop it." Yuugi grabbed the other Yuugi beneath his elbows, pulling. "You didn't know - nobody did. Regretting isn't going to help anyone."
They stood then, distorted reflections of one another in the wadjet light. There was an odd sort of strength and determination in their stances, and the tears had left dry trails on their cheeks to reflect the ominous, hateful light. All their onlookers had fallen into silence as well, everyone remaining quiet and still.
Yuugi closed his eyes, bowing his head. He did not know what lay beyond the unopened door: would he pass into the sort of hazy, blissful state of light and warmth, or the gentle darkness of endless sleep, or perhaps cross to that Egyptian ideal of rest and play along the banks of a surrealist, loving river bathed in endless sunlight and gentle winds? He did not know. He could not know, not until he said the final words, until he discarded his mortal life to the graveyard. Yuugi inhaled shakily. He would not admit to being afraid, he could not! His head still bowed, he smiled, though it was not of happiness.
"If this is what you really want--"
"It is," the other hastened to interject, "partner."
Yuugi looked up, his smile resigned, but still bright. "All right. All right. Then…" he suppressed his sob beneath a shallow laugh, fooling no one. "Then we should… should say goodbye."
Atem inhaled deeply, nodding. "Thank you," he murmured, gently taking Yuugi by the wrist, drawing him away from the Tablet of Memories, back to the ledge of the platform.
As if I would have been able to stop you, Yuugi thought with a fond and exasperated resignation, following the other's lead.
Their friends were clustered around the base of the stairs, eyes wet and expressions taut. None of them had really thought to expect this ending, but there was nothing for it now. They two stood on the platform, silent and awkward. How could either of them say goodbye? Yuugi had always heard people wish they could have said farewell to the ones they loved before they had passed on, or wished to be able to do so before they themselves would. But standing here before his friends now, Yuugi just wanted to run to the wadjet light and through the door rather than face this.
Yuugi swallowed his pounding, racing, attempting-to-escape heart with a suppressed tremble, and he tried to smile. "I… I… I…" he stumbled, no words coming to mind. What could he possibly say? 'Sorry, everyone, I lost a card game, see you all in fifty years' ? Yuugi couldn't even meet their eyes. "I'm--"
"Our friend," interjected Jounouchi, pushing to the front of the crowd, his eyes bright with water. "The best friend a guy could ask for."
Yuugi didn't ask the questions clogging his throat, merely staring at Jounouchi's plaintive expression; Atem's hand slid down Yuugi's wrist and clasped Yuugi's left hand, squeezing gently. Yuugi squeezed back.
Jounouchi gesticulated as he spoke, his cheeks wet but his smile honest. "Both of you! And no matter what, you guys will always be my best friends!"
"You'll always be our friends," said Honda, wiping his eyes on the back of his jacket sleeve, "no matter how long until we see you again."
Yuugi lowered his gaze, shaking. He was going to leave his friends for death, all for losing a card game, and still they were supportive, still affirming the strong binds of their friendship; they didn't blame him for losing, weren't angry with him for the outcome - what god had he pleased to earn such friends?
"But why do you have to leave?" asked Anzu, tears thick in her voice as she pressed forward, ascending partway up the staircase. "If you're our friends, then you shouldn't leave!" There was a deep confusion and despair in her voice that made Yuugi's heart clench painfully in his chest, and he could not meet her eyes.
"Yuugi cannot return with us," said Rishid, trying to keep his voice steady with more success than anyone else in the room. "He has accepted the Rite of the Duel, and must face the path ordained to him from that game's outcome. He must open this door to the afterlife, for no other will ever open for him should he refuse. If he does not cross now, he will never be allowed to cross.
"Mazaki-san. Would you wish to curse him with immortal life?"
Yuugi looked up; Anzu had tears streaking down her cheeks, her attention turning from Rishid's explanation, meeting Yuugi's gaze. Please, don't, he asked silently, plaintively, but he saw her attention shift, and he looked down once more.
"But why do you have to go? It isn't fair that we have to lose you both!"
Yuugi did not look up, trying to suppress his heartbreak. He knew, he knew it wasn't really him that Anzu liked, but irrationally he screamed You'll accept my death without hesitation, but the passing of a ghost breaks your heart? But Yuugi couldn't even be angry - she was one of his oldest friends, and he'd known all along that she'd fallen for the other, stronger Yuugi, the one who had saved her life countless times. Yuugi's eyes clenched shut. He didn't want her to lose both her friend and her love. He pulled his hand out of Atem's grip, moving to step back, but Atem snatched him back with such haste and such force that joints in Yuugi's hand popped.
"Is it fair that partner would have to cross that door with no one awaiting his arrival, no one by his side?" asked Atem, his voice rough with sorrow and fierce resolve. "No one should brave the underworld alone."
"It's not your job to question his motives, Anzu," said Jounouchi, stepping up to the edge of the staircase, taking a soft hold of Anzu's dangling wrist, pulling her gently back down the stairs. Yuugi only saw this peripherally, his gaze fixed on the dusty ground. He didn't want to face this, didn't want to die at all! If only he had drawn Revive the Dead--
Atem squeezed Yuugi's hand, gentle and reassuring, and at the gesture Yuugi forced himself to look up. He could feel the light burning on his back - his time was short, almost out, and Yuugi forced his mouth into a smile, hoping it would hold some measure of comfort.
"I don't regret a single day with any of you," he said, his gaze flicking from face to face, "even those times when you would have preferred my d-death." Yuugi choked on the word, closing his eyes briefly, but pressing on. "Those hard times are what made us friends, as good of friends as we've all become. I'm glad I got to be friends with all of you."
Yuugi's lips twitched and his smile became both more painful and more honest. "I love you guys. All of you. You're the best friends I could ever wish for."
Biting his lip, Yuugi raised his right hand, palm visibly streaked with sweat to his own eyes.
Anzu pressed a hand to her mouth, suppressing a laugh or a sob, raising her own hand, her palm facing herself, the back facing Yuugi. Jounouchi followed, as did Honda. With a small amount of hesitation, Atem dropped Yuugi's hand and raised his own, mimicking Yuugi.
To Yuugi's surprise, Bakura raised his own hand, too; so did Otogi, and Malik, and after Malik nudged her with his elbow, so did Isis, and Rishid (though the older Ishtars looked a little nonplussed).
Sure, most of them hadn't been there in that first banding together, and it was possible that Bakura and Otogi and everyone didn't even know why they held their hands aloft, exposing the backs of their right hands to one another's eyes, but they were friends all nonetheless.
"We'll never forget you guys," said Malik, wiping his other hand across his cheeks.
"Never," echoed Bakura, and Anzu, and everyone else.
"Nor we, you," replied Atem with a small smile.
"Yup!" agreed Yuugi, and he suppressed a hiss of pain when it felt as though the light was searing through his clothing and burning his back. His time was up. Yuugi took a step back, and another, turning his hand in the spirit of a wave. Behind all his friends, Yuugi met his grandfather's steady gaze, his eyes wet. Sugoroku shook his head minutely, and Yuugi's shoulders jerked up in a soft shrug. There was nothing for it now.
"I-It's time for me to go, now," he said, his voice surprisingly calm. Atem followed without hesitation, grasping Yuugi's hand once more.
Neither one of them spoke as they approached the Tablet of Memories, and as Yuugi climbed atop the ancient stone he felt Atem's grip tighten on his hand as the other boy followed him, each step deliberate. Something seemed to be trying to force the other Yuugi back, for as Yuugi walked it felt as though he was being slowed, as though he were trying to drag an anchor to the shore from immeasurable sea depths. Yuugi still held tight to Atem, though not nearly as tight as Atem held to Yuugi, and Yuugi continued pulling until he crossed the Tablet. Once across, the resistance ceased, and Yuugi nearly staggered. The hand holding his own pulled him back, balancing him, but Yuugi did not smile for gratitude; if the other noticed, he made no comment.
Yuugi stared into the bright light of the door, his eyes watering.
This was it. His final adventure.
"My name is Atem," said Yuugi.
The light nearly blinded him as the Eye split, the door revealing itself, and more light spilled upon him, comforting and warm like a late spring day. The tears tickled in his eyelashes, and Yuugi breathed in the heady scent of life in the dusty tomb. He squeezed Atem - no, the other Yuugi's hand tightly, feeling answering strength squeezing back.
"Partner," he whispered, but Yuugi shook his head.
"You can tell me after," he whispered back, smiling into the comforting light.
Yuugi only dimly heard Jounouchi's final shout in the dim roar of light. "I'm coming after you in a hundred years - you guys better take care of each other!"
Yuugi closed his eyes, laughing with honest happiness. "You'd better make that two hundred, Jounouchi-kun! Everyone!" he called, his death grip easing slightly.
His eyes wide open, Yuugi walked forward into that comforting light, it like a warm breeze carrying the scent of incense and flowers, of open air and fresh rain, of health and peace and home. Yuugi crossed the threshold, his grip still tight on his other self, and he felt warmth wash over him utterly, utterly, and he could no longer hear his friends, hear anyone left behind.
The light washed over him, and he felt the other's hand slipping from his own, withdrawing. Yuugi tried to hold tight to that hand, but it was like gripping smoke, for his hand fisted with no resistance.
Are you staying behind after all? He asked no one, closing his eyes (if he had eyes to close). Well… goodbye, then, he murmured, sinking into light.
Until he was jarred forcibly awake.
Yuugi was laying on something that was not his bed. It also was not the bed from the Nile cruise ship, or even a bed in general. His skull was pounding as he pushed himself upright, swaying. He pressed one hand to his sweat-streaked brow, grimacing. Had it all been a dream? He was swaying not from dizziness, but from motion. Had he never left the ship?
He blearily opened his eyes, and without a full second ticking by Yuugi knew there was something very, very wrong with this.
He was wearing his Duel Disk.
He never fell asleep in his Duel Disk, for patently obvious reasons. Yet this was not what distressed him.
Yuugi's Duel Disk had been wrapped in several gold bangles, intricately crafted. His deck was in its proper place, and had he checked, Yuugi would have counted forty cards.
Yuugi's gaze flicked to his right arm, where a second Duel Disk had been placed. It was put on his arm backwards, and probably would have bruised his ribs had the device not been broken. The entire Duel Blade was missing, making the device useless; the deck cartridge itself was intact, as was the second deck.
Yuugi scrambled up to sitting straight, a quiet sense of fear bubbling in his chest. His other self had broken his Duel Disk this way, but…
Yuugi continued his examination. He was still fully dressed in his uniform trousers and shoes and socks and black shirt, leather choker, layers of belt, and his jacket extremely hot on his body. But over all his clothes, over his pants and his sleeves, Yuugi had been wrapped with so much jewelry, and his hair - though still stiff with excessive amounts of gel to resist the Egyptian sands and winds - felt somehow heavier on his skull.
His hands were as steady as possible in the swaying motion, and he groped to feel small chips of rock stuck in his dark spikes (possibly gems, possibly beads, he couldn't tell), and his hair was oddly waxy. There was a band of warm metal around his brow that he must have not noticed before, and at the base of his leather collar hung a thick necklace of beads.
Yuugi's hand was not shaking as he tugged at the small, silver chain around his neck, the one that Anzu had given the other him. It took a moment to find the chain, worked up into his leather collar, buried under beads, hidden under his jacket and shirt, but when he finally pulled it up, his heart started racing in his chest.
There were two cartouche pendants hanging from the chain. One, he saw, was blank; the other was embossed with the hieroglyphic characters for Atem's name, recovered from the Memory RPG.
"This is really weird," Yuugi said to no one in particular; once the words passed his lips, Yuugi's attention was swiftly diverted to examining his surroundings.
He was in a boat. It wasn't large, like the one he had ridden down the Nile, nor was it anything remotely similar to the ship to Duelist Kingdom. Hell, it wasn't even the size of a charter boat - it was more of a raft than a boat; Yuugi doubted more than four people could ride it comfortably.
His only light was muffled by thick, uncolored cloth suspended and completely encircling the small raft. The layers of cloth had been fixed to four posts, boat oars, each secured to the raft by way of hardened mud. The cloth blocked out and was stained by the reddish sunlight of early dusk. He assumed it was dusk, anyway; it had only been around noon when the Duel would have finished (and the fact that he had Atem's - the other Yuugi's - broken Duel Disk was proof enough that the Duel had happened, though there was no indication of what had happened to the other Yuugi).
He was still moving. He was also alone. There was no Millennium Puzzle hanging from his neck, and when Yuugi tried reaching through his heart for his other self, there was no answer - only a void that was aching in its familiarity.
Although this was quite a lot of information to take in, Yuugi's examination of his body and his surroundings had taken less than two minutes. He crawled towards the supposed bow, as it seemed as though that was the direction the raft itself was moving. Once there, Yuugi raised his hand to touch the cloth curtain, grabbing the fabric where it hung loose at the bottom. His fingers were decked in rings.
Yuugi slowly lifted the loose cloth, and pure sunlight flooded in, bright and intrusive. He lowered his body, peering out of his shrouded transport, and for a second the sunlight blinded him. Adjusting, Yuugi's attention darted to the sides, where he could just make out a couple men walking in front of the boat, holding oars. They were on land, walking on a road of beaten dirt, which meant that Yuugi's boat was being carried by something, though he didn't know what.
When his gaze darted up towards his presumed destination, Yuugi's heart stopped in his chest. He was approaching a palace with which he was already rather familiar. Distressingly so.
Yuugi was back in the Memory RPG.