Author's Note: This fic was inspired by the prompts "Elegy" at 18Coda, "Best of both worlds" at 10 Inspirations, and "You know that ghost is me" at 31 Days on LiveJournal. It was also partially inspired by LuckyLadybug's story, "In Memory." Disclaimer: I don't own these characters.
A crisp spring breeze stirred the lush grass that carpeted the hill. From the hill's peak, most of Domino could be seen. It was a place that no one really went to; indeed, most people didn't even know it existed. It was just a simple sprawling meadow on a hilltop that no one really bothered to visit when they had their hectic schedules to contend with.
But one group of people did know about it. It was a place where Joey Wheeler would often bring his sister during their childhood outings. It had been their secret place, where they would dream of being a whole family again, never having to worry about a care in the world.
Times had changed, but the hillside had remained the same. And when Joey heard that his best friend Yugi was looking for a place to hold a remembrance ceremony for a lost friend, he called up Serenity, and the two siblings came to an agreement to tell Yugi and the others about the hillside. And that was why they were all gathered there now.
It had been a year to the day that Yugi had faced Pharaoh Atem as part of the king's final test. In the past year, Yugi had wished several times that he had not done so; Atem would have still been there as a guide and as a friend… And yet, he knew that he would have regretted not dueling Atem if he had refused to do so that day. Atem was now where he belonged; he deserved to be a free spirit, no longer bound to a piece of ancient gold.
Yugi looked around at the assembled group; they had all come. Téa was there, next to him, not bothering to hold back her tears; she had loved Atem, and she had been as upset as Yugi had been to see the ancient king walk through that fated doorway. Joey was constantly rubbing his eyes, trying to blame it on the sun getting into his eyes, but they all knew better than to believe him. Serenity was beside him, crying as well. Even Mai had moist eyes as she remembered all of the lessons that Atem had taught her, as well as an unconditional friendship. Tristan, Duke, and Bakura stood by, silently. But they weren't the only ones present.
Rebecca had flown in the previous day; she was standing by Yugi's other side. Also among them was Mokuba. And, off to the side, stood Seto. He hadn't intended on coming; he was only there at Mokuba's request, but he was there nonetheless.
And then there was a letter from Marik, Ishizu, and Odion, all regretting that they could not personally attend, but vowing that their thoughts would be with them on this day of remembrance. And emails from Raphael, Alister, and Valon expressed similar sentiments.
"Atem, it's because of you that we're all here…" Yugi said aloud, certain that the Pharaoh could hear him.
"He always had a way of bringing people together, didn't he…?" asked Tristan. "Hey, even Kaiba's here; that's saying something!"
Seto glared at Tristan. Ordinarily, he would have countered with a retort (he had plenty of unfinished work that he could have concerned himself with at the moment), but he decided that this wasn't the time or place to bother.
"Of course he had a way of bringing people together," sighed Mai. "I'm here, aren't I? I just wish I'd had the chance to…"
She trailed off.
"He knows, Mai," assured Joey. "He knows you're back. I bet he knew all along that you would return. He always saw the good in everyone."
"That's true," said Bakura. "It didn't matter how much trouble the spirit of the Ring caused; he always knew that there was some good in me. He didn't even want to use Slifer against me back in Battle City, even if it meant that he would lose. I was always a friend, even if the spirit wasn't."
Duke nodded in agreement, remembering the Dungeon Dice Monsters fiasco, and how Atem had forgiven him, as well.
"He even considered my brother as a friend," said Mokuba, exchanging a glance with Seto.
Seto looked away.
"It's true, Kaiba," said Yugi. "He once told me how you always pushed him to be his best. He was always grateful for that."
"I'll admit that he was a worthy duelist," Seto said, curtly. He didn't say another word.
"I'm… at a loss for words, myself," said Rebecca. "It doesn't seem adequate enough to say that Atem was a really great person. What about you, Téa? You were really close to him, weren't you?"
"I…" she began, unsure if she could allow her secret to be released. "I cared about him a lot. And he cared about all of us. He was more than just an ancient Pharaoh; he was a hero." Yes, that seemed right; there was no sense in dwelling over the feelings she had for him. She would have to move on.
"He's definitely a hero," agreed Serenity. "It's because he gave Joey the money that he won at Duelist Kingdom…" She trailed off. "…He was always so generous and helpful…"
"And most of all," said Yugi. "He was a friend."
"And how many people can say that they were… are… friends of a Pharaoh?" asked Joey. "That's right; I said 'are,' and that's because no matter where he his, he's still our friend!"
The friends all talked about their memories of Atem. Well, most of them did, anyway; Seto was keeping perfectly silent, while Téa seemed too upset to say anything at all.
But they could never have known that there was another person among them; an unseen spirit who had an uncanny resemblance to Yugi. He had temporarily arrived at the hillside, invisible to the group of friends. He didn't speak a word; he merely stood by and listened to the shared memories, for he was also able to recall them.
"So here you are," said a voice, as more spirits arrived.
Atem glanced back at the spirits; he alone could see them. His cousin, Sethos, was there, along with Mahado and Mana.
"Yes," Atem replied, keeping his voice quiet, so as not to betray his presence to the others. "My friends from this time are reminiscing about the times they shared with me. I wanted to reminisce along with them."
"By concealing your presence?" asked Sethos, skeptically.
Mana surveyed the scene.
"Where are the golden palanquins?" she asked. "Where are the boats full of jewelry? Where are the vases and sculptures?"
"There aren't any," Mahado replied, with a slight roll of his eyes.
"What!?" she asked. "Do you mean to tell me that this is all!? But… there's nothing! Sethos, didn't we go out of our way to find the best treasures for him back then?"
Atem suppressed a smile.
"I don't need gold and riches to be honored, Mana," he said. "They gave me their friendship, and that is the highest honor I could ever have. In fact, I would say that this little gathering means much more to me than all of the honors I ever received in the old days."
"You mean to say that you didn't like the treasures we gave you?" asked Mana, in mock-outrage.
Her tone was so obviously in fun that Atem couldn't hold back his laughter any longer.
Téa snapped to attention.
"Am I going crazy!?" she thought. "I thought I heard him just now…"
The others hadn't seemed to notice; they were still talking amongst themselves, but she noticed that Seto was now staring around the hillside, as though searching for something.
"Kaiba?" Téa asked him. "Did you hear him, too?"
He was about to tell her that what he "heard" was probably another mental trick, but the look in Téa's eyes seemed too hopeful for him to disillusion her.
"I have no idea…" he replied, brusquely.
"Let me ask you something, Pharaoh," said Mahado, as Téa now stared in their direction. "Do you consider these friends to be on the same level as the friends you had in Thebes?"
"Without a doubt, they are as close to me as you and the others," Atem replied.
"Then why do you remain silent, when they clearly want nothing more than to hear from you again?"
Atem didn't reply; he wished to say something to his friends… to let them know that he was here… But he didn't think it prudent. To show himself to them, only to leave again, would be too much for them… and for him.
"Forgive me, Pharaoh," Mahado said, upon realizing that Atem seemed visibly upset. "It wasn't my place to ask such a thing."
"No, Mahado; your question was quite valid… but I cannot find an answer," he replied.
Sethos looked as though he was about to say something, but decided against it; if it had been him, he would have made his presence known, but he knew that Atem was the type to watch from afar.
"I think we're getting in the way," said Mana. "Shall we go back?"
"You may go if you wish," said Atem. "I will stay for a while longer, and join you all later."
"As you wish, my King," said Mahado.
He, Mana, and Sethos vanished, leaving Atem to traverse his memories. Téa was speaking now with the others; somehow, she had found the strength to do so after hearing that trace of the king's laugh.
"She wasn't saddened; she was filled with hope," Atem realized. And as he listened on, he, too, could feel the hope rising in all of them. The tears weren't as numerous, and even the quickest instances of smiles could be seen for a fleeting instant every now and then.
It went on for hours, and even Seto, whom everyone had expected would have been the first to leave, still stayed as the sunset became visible on the horizon, though his input into the conversation had been minimal, if anything at all.
But even more quiet had been Atem, who realized that he owed some greeting to his friends after all that had been said about him.
"I want to thank everyone for coming today," said Yugi. "Especially Atem himself."
The Pharaoh was stunned.
"Then I did hear him!" exclaimed Téa.
"Yugi, are you sure he's here?" asked Tristan, looking around.
"He was here since the beginning," said Yugi. "I could sense his presence."
He glanced in Atem's direction.
"You know, I thought it was just me, but I thought I sensed that he was here, too… Hey, Atem!" yelled Joey. "We're on to you! So you may as well show yourself!"
"Joey, don't…" said Yugi, with an amused roll of his eyes. "If he had wanted to show himself, he would have."
"Atem!" called Téa. "I just want you to know that I… … that we all miss you a lot!"
"And I miss you, as well, my friends," he replied, speaking at last.
And in the next instant, everyone started talking to him at the same time, giving updates on how things had changed.
"The Game Shop's going great--"
"Mako was in town the other day--"
"We heard from the Ishtars, too--"
"And Valon, Alister, and Raphael--"
"Dartz has closed Paradius--"
And Atem listened, replying to all of them. By the time they had finished, the sun had fully set, and it was at last time for everyone to part ways. And Atem, too, had to return to the realm where he now dwelled.
"Until we meet again," the king said. "Be well."
And the presence vanished. The group departed from the hillside, reflecting on how saying goodbye to him this day was not as difficult as it had been a year ago. Was it because that time had helped them to do so? Or had it been the joy they had felt upon hearing his voice again?
No matter the reason, they had been grateful for the chance to have known him. And perhaps this feeling was shared by the ancient king, as evidenced in the whisper that was carried by the wind as everyone went their separate ways:
"Thank you, my friends… thank you for everything."