Notes: Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me through this one! It's been a wild ride; definitely the creepiest thing I've written. I look forward to sharing my next ideas with all of you.

Epilogue

Bakura stood at the heavy wooden door, his fist poised to knock. It really should not be such a hard decision, he scolded himself. He wanted---needed, even---to be here, to do this. But he could not help the concerns that maybe it was a bad time, maybe he should come back later, maybe . . .

At last he drew a deep breath and softly tapped three times.

"Come in," came Yugi's voice.

Bakura pushed the door open and stepped into the hospital room. He blinked in surprise, then smiled, at what he saw. Yugi was sitting up in bed, looking well on the mend. Duke was sitting in the chair next to the bed, leaning forward with his arms on his knees and his hands clasped.

"Hey, Bakura," Yugi greeted.

Duke echoed the welcome, sitting up straighter in the chair. "How are you doing?" he asked.

"Oh, I'm well, thank you," Bakura said. "But I wasn't the one hurt. How are both of you?"

"I should be able to go home before long now," Yugi smiled.

Duke nodded. "I'm doing a lot better now that I see him like this," he said.

Bakura was visibly relieved. "That's so good to hear," he said. "I still feel terrible that all of this happened because that madman was coming after me." He looked down. "I've been having nightmares about what happened . . . and what could have happened."

"I think anyone would," Yugi said in concerned compassion. Bakura might not be aware of it, but he looked exhausted and drawn. The dark circles under his eyes were very pronounced.

"Are you sure you're alright, Bakura?" Duke wanted to know.

Bakura nodded. "They're only nightmares, after all."

Sensing Bakura did not want to talk about it, Duke changed the subject. "I heard your father's been at home the last few days," he said.

Bakura smiled again. "That's right," he said. "It's been a very nice change."

"So how does he get along with . . . uh . . ." Duke frowned, running into the same problem that all of them had been encountering. What were they supposed to call an ancient tomb-robber who shared Bakura's name?

"They tolerate each other," Bakura said. "We all had quite a time of it in the White Death's house. But at least it seems to have made them like each other a bit. . . ."

"Well . . . that's good," Yugi said. From his tone, he was still not sure what to think of Yami Bakura being around again. But at the same time, he was trying to make good on his vow and trust Bakura's judgment on the matter.

"He really was a big help," Bakura said. "I never could have gotten out of that mess if it hadn't been for him."

Yugi smiled. "I believe you, Bakura," he said. "It's strange to think of him that way, but I know you wouldn't lie about it."

"So where is he now?" Duke asked, unable to help being curious.

"He's home," Bakura said. The last thing Yami Bakura wanted to go was to go visiting at a hospital, especially to someone he did not even particularly like and especially when he was not fully recovered himself. He had refused to admit that to Bakura, but the boy had seen how the scar from the impaling was still bothering him.

Duke nodded. "That White Death guy was even creepier than I thought," he said. "I heard that when the police went to his place, they found a whole bunch of white animals locked up. Some of them were strays, but others had been reported as missing and had worried owners."

Bakura frowned. "Was that all that the police mentioned finding?" he queried.

"I think they said they found some stuffed animals, too," Duke said. "But that's all I heard."

Bakura gave a slow nod. The ultimate horror of the White Death was probably being kept secret---unless he really had not kept any people in that house. If not, however, Bakura had to wonder what he had done with them . . . and if anyone would ever know.

"The police said he's completely disappeared," Yugi said.

"Well . . . not completely," Bakura said. "I think he's in the Shadow Realm somewhere. . . ."

"Oh," Yugi said, suddenly understanding.

"Your Yami's handiwork," Duke added.

Bakura nodded. "I'm afraid it had to be done," he said.

Uncomfortable, he changed the subject. "I suppose I should be getting back," he said. "I just wanted to check on you, Yugi. And you too, Duke. I wasn't expecting to see you here."

Duke shrugged. "Yeah, well, you just happened to come at a good time to catch us both," he said.

Bakura smiled. "I'm glad," he said.

Yugi nodded. "Come again, Bakura," he said. "Or come over when I'm out of here. Maybe we can play Duel Monsters."

"I'd like that," Bakura said. "We never have had a chance to play a friendly game of Duel Monsters. Something else always seems to get in the way."

Both Yugi and Duke refrained from mentioning that in the past, the "something else" was Yami Bakura.

"Well, I'll see you later," Bakura said, as he started to back up to the door. "And again, it's good to see you recovering, Yugi, and you too, Duke." He waved before turning and stepping into the hall.

Duke gave Yugi a sidelong glance as the door shut. "What do you think?" he asked.

Yugi sighed. "I don't know," he said. "I said I'd trust Bakura, and I do. At least . . . I believe that he believes what he's saying is the truth. But I . . . I guess I can't help wondering if the spirit of the Ring has some kind of a hold over him." He looked down at the quilt. "Even knowing his horrible past, it's hard to know whether we can trust him when he hasn't really expressed any kind of remorse for what he did. . . . But . . . he did act worried for Bakura, and that was something I hadn't ever thought I'd see." He looked up again.

"Did Bakura act uneasy at all the time he asked you over?" Duke said.

Yugi shook his head. "Not about him," he said. "Actually, they seemed to be getting along pretty well."

Duke nodded. "Same here." He crossed his arms. "There's not much to do except just watch and see how things go."

"Yeah. . . ." Yugi sighed. "I just hope Bakura's right and the spirit isn't going to turn everything upsidedown again."

"Who knows," Duke said. "Maybe he'll surprise us."

****

The walk home was quiet and pleasant. Bakura stared up at the sky, watching as snowflakes danced and twirled to the ground. He had feared the white nights as long as the White Death had roamed Domino City. But now that he was gone, all was peaceful once again.

His eyes saddened as he crossed the street. How many lives had the White Death taken, not just in Domino, but throughout his entire multi-century reign of terror? It was just a miracle that Bakura's friends and family had been spared. Others had not been as lucky. And as hard as Bakura tried, he could not help feeling responsible in some way for the Domino City deaths. If only there was something he could do to make recompense to their loved ones. . . . But of course, nothing he could do would bring back the murdered.

He had been keeping poor Yami Bakura up a good deal of the nights since the White Death's demise. No matter how he tried not to think about the horrors that had taken place, they crept out in his subconscious and into his dreams. Then he would wake up screaming and crying out, with Yami Bakura grabbing him and yelling for him to calm down; it was only a dream. The thief had really been quite patient, all things considered---though of course he had also been gruff. But Bakura felt terrible, to be the cause of him waking up when he was trying to sleep. He needed the rest too, after the impaling he had suffered.

He sighed as he trudged onto his block and to the house, now brightly adorned in Christmas lights. He gave a sad smile, turning up the walkway and climbing the steps to the porch. Digging his keys out of his pocket, he unlocked the door and stepped inside the living room.

"Father? Yami?" he called, stomping on the mat to get the snow off his boots. He left them and his coat by the door as he wandered through the silent house. There was no sign of either of them downstairs. He mounted the stairs, heading up to the second floor.

A flash of white caught his eye and he blinked, looking towards the room he shared with Yami Bakura. "Yami?" he asked as he walked over and peered through the doorway.

Yami Bakura was sitting in the windowseat, staring out at the newly-white property. His red robe hung loosely around his shoulders, but he seemed heedless of the chill to his bare chest. Or anything else, really; he looked deep in thought. But as Bakura stepped closer he stirred ever so slightly. He was aware of the boy's presence.

"Your father is at the museum," he said.

Bakura nodded. "Oh." That was not really a surprise.

"He said he would try to be back for dinner."

Bakura smiled. "I'll have to make sure it's ready on time."

He studied the other for a moment. "You're still in this form?" he said in surprise. "I thought you'd switch back when you were feeling well enough."

A shrug. "I can't decide which one is really me," Yami Bakura said.

Bakura sat next to him. "I think they both are you, in different ways," he said.

His gaze drifted to the cruel scar on the other's abdomen. ". . . I still wonder why the spear left that," he said with a shudder. "Why didn't it heal without a scratch?"

Yami Bakura grunted. "If I had to guess, it left a physical reminder so that we could never forget what happened in that penalty game," he said.

Bakura cringed. "I could never forget, no matter what," he said.

A smirk twisted Yami Bakura's features. "And as for myself, having a magical spear run me through really isn't something I could easily forget," he said.

Bakura looked down. "I'm so sorry, Yami," he said. "I tried to grab for it when the White Death was summoning it to him. . . ." He clenched a fist, the horrible memories flashing through his mind again. He had leaped for the spear, but it had been going too fast. He had crashed to the floor, helpless to watch as it had plunged into Yami Bakura's body. . . .

Yami Bakura growled. "You did your best," he said.

"But it wasn't good enough," Bakura objected. "I'm frankly amazed that I was able to save you later, Yami. . . ."

"Ridiculous," Yami Bakura said. In his heart he wished he knew what to do to make Bakura understand that not everything he tried to do turned into a disaster. It was a dilemma he did not know how to fix. Bakura still carried the scars of the past, as well as his feelings of guilt from the White Death's recent rampage.

Bakura fell silent. ". . . The White Death really is gone, isn't he?" he quavered. "I mean . . . he can't ever get out of the Shadow Realm?"

"Of course not," Yami Bakura growled. "My power won't allow it."

Bakura looked silent. "But . . . when Marik's dark side sent souls to the Shadow Realm---even us!---we were able to come back when his power was broken," he said. "Doesn't that mean it's possible that the White Death could come back?"

Yami Bakura's expression darkened. ". . . Yes, it's possible," he admitted. "But unlikely. I don't intend to fall. Anyway, the longer one is in the Shadow Realm, the more their mind becomes assimilated with the darkness. They lose whatever they had left of their minds and become one with the shadows. It's not a great deal unlike my experience with Zorc."

"That's horrible!" Bakura gasped.

Yami Bakura shrugged. "Only the strongest minds can survive such a place," he said. "You could have been restored in body, but not in mind. You were one of the lucky ones."

A shiver went up Bakura's spine. "I don't want to feel sorry for the White Death, but . . ." He let the sentence trail into nothing. Instead he smiled at his friend. "You risked everything to keep me safe, Yami. I would never have made it through this without you."

"Don't underestimate your own strength," Yami Bakura answered. "Your will is far greater than you even realize. I'd be dead without you; you were the only one who could have saved me. And your desire to save me preserved your life as well." He glanced at the scar. "That is what this mark truly represents."

Bakura shook his head. "No . . . it represents the sacrifices made by two friends, not just one," he said. "Two friends who wanted more than anything to save each other."

Yami Bakura grunted. "Now you're getting sickeningly sweet," he said.

"It's the truth," Bakura said.

"You realize, I could just as easily burn as the White Death did, if I misuse the Infinity Ring's power," Yami Bakura said suddenly.

"But you won't," Bakura said. "You haven't. You've only used it in the name of justice."

"Bah! Do you think I wasn't filled with hatred when I used it to destroy the White Death?" Yami Bakura retorted. "Emotions such as that are what the Infinity Items don't want to be used to fuel."

"Anyone would have been filled with hate," Bakura said quietly. "I felt the same way."

"This isn't an occasional thing; hatred has controlled and consumed me for three thousand years," Yami Bakura said. "It isn't going to stop now. And it's only fair to warn you of that."

"It has stopped." Bakura's tone was so firm and certain that Yami Bakura just stared at him in disbelief. "You won't let it control you, Yami. Not anymore."

A dark sneer curled Yami Bakura's lips. "You saw how I brutally attacked the White Death and you can still say that?" he said. "I crave vengeance. Now I want to see those suffer who have brought agony and misery to you as well as to me. The thirst for bloodshed is still in my veins. And yet you have put aside your fear of me. You even call me friend. But someday it will all be over, Bakura. Someday you will be as terrified of me as you were of the White Death." He laughed a dark, humorless laugh. "I say again that Shadi and those above him were all fools, to give me this Ring in the hopes that I would be good."

Bakura frowned. The man's bleak words had pierced his heart---and the knife was still stuck there. For a long time he remained silent, working out the best response. Then, deciding, he leaned over and embraced the astonished Yami Bakura.

"I won't deny I felt a twinge of fear when I saw your assault on the White Death," he said as he pulled back. "But I can see things you can't, Yami. And I could never fear you as I've feared him. Especially not now."

He peered at the tired Egyptian. ". . . Yami, I admit I don't exactly know what your identity is right now," he said. "You're no longer the Thief King. And you're certainly not Zorc. But . . . I know you're someone special to me, whatever name you go by and however you choose to look." He eased himself off the windowseat. "And no matter how strongly you insist you're beyond hope, I know better.

"You are good, Yami. You just don't realize it yet."

Yami Bakura stiffened, his lavender eyes registering his immense shock at the boy's words and optimism.

Bakura just smiled, leaving him alone in the room to stare at the white winter night and ponder on the mysteries of the past three thousand years.

And hopefully eventually, to come to the same answers.