A/N: No, you aren't imagining things. I actually updated this story again within about a month. It would've been sooner, but I have been surprisingly busy. Almost done! I hope you enjoy the conclusion of the Shadow Game! I hope it's not anti-climactic.

I must say that even though Bakura isn't one of my favorite characters, he is really fun to write for.

Chapter Twenty-Three

"Do you have any idea where we're going?"

Atem glanced over at his ally. "Not exactly," he admitted. "But since the Puzzle housed my spirit for thousands of years, I figure I can trust my gut on this."

Bakura nodded as they sprinted alongside one another. "Makes sense," he agreed. "He's most likely far ahead of us, though."

Atem smirked. "The Dark Magician will stall him, I'm not worried."

Bakura frowned. "We really could've used this determination a while ago."

Atem laughed. "Better late than never, right?"

Bakura chuckled as well. "Perhaps."

They continued running until they heard a voice booming through the Puzzle.

"Dark Magic Attack!" the Dark Magician's voice rang out loud and clear.

Atem and Bakura stopped and looked at each other as they felt the Puzzle shake from the magician's blast. With a curt nod from the both of them, they continued on their way.

Yugi faced his other half with a fierce confidence. The spirit gave his friend his infamous smirk. The others merely watched the two of them in awe.

"Why do I get the feeling I've been here before?" Tristan asked, scratching the back of his head as he surveyed their slowly changing surroundings.

"Yeah…wait!" Joey exclaimed. More of the picture appeared in front of them, causing everything to click in Joey's mind. Yugi and the Pharaoh both had Duel Disks on their arms. Standing in front of Yugi was the Silent Magician, while the spirit was completely exposed. "It's the Ceremonial Duel."

Yugi nodded. "That's right. I failed this test last time."

"What do you mean, Yuge? You won that duel, you beat the Pharaoh!" Joey argued, confused.

Yugi sighed. "That's true, Joey, but I proved myself too weak to let go. This time I will be strong."

"Well, Yugi? It's your move," the spirit prodded.

Yugi smiled. "You're my best friend, Pharaoh. Everything I did, Battle City, the game with Bakura…I fought for your memories and your happiness. But even after all of that, I thought that at the end of the day, it was me that needed you most of all. You gave me strength, Pharaoh. I was afraid of losing that."

The Pharaoh smiled at his partner affectionately. "All of the strength you need is inside of you. You have the heart of a warrior, but it is up to you to realize that for yourself."

Yugi wiped a tear from his eye. "As it turned out, you needed me more. You needed me to let you go. After five thousand years, you deserved to be at peace."

"You're a part of me, Yugi. Whether I am in your world or mine, we are connected by an unbreakable bond," the spirit said, beaming.

"This is nuts," Tristan commented.

"I heard that," Kate agreed breathlessly.

Yami's eyes opened slowly. The Dark Magician could really pack a punch. It didn't take long for him to realize that he was being held down…and that he was surrounded.

"It's about bloody time," Bakura growled impatiently.

Yami tried to lunge at the Thief King, Zorc's anger coursing through his being, but the Dark Magician's boot was planted firmly on his chest. Atem towered haughtily above him.

"Not feeling to confident now, are we?" Atem sneered.

Yami writhed beneath the Dark Magician's boot. "You can't keep me like this for long. I've got more power than you know, partner."

"You're not my partner, you impostor," Atem hissed. "And if this power you're referring to is Zorc…well, I've beaten him twice before, haven't I?"

"Not to mention he has me on his side this time," Bakura smirked. "Diabound isn't up for grabs, Zorc."

Yami laughed. "You think I want your pathetic Diabound? Once I get out of here, I will use Yugi and the Puzzle to pick up where I left off thousands of years ago!"

Atem looked taken aback. "The Items have been destroyed," he stated.

"If the Puzzle found its way out, chances are fate kept the others intact as well," Yami challenged.

Atem narrowed his eyes. "Well it doesn't matter," he said dismissively. "You're not leaving the Millennium Puzzle."

"What the hell are you going on about?" Yami snarled.

The Dark Magician pointed his staff at the wall. "Look for yourself," he commanded.

Yami looked over to see the marked door. He gasped. "You've found it," he said in a small voice, shocked.

"Did you really think you could outplay me here? I was trapped within these walls for thousands of years. You didn't consider that I might be familiar with it on some level?" Atem taunted with a grin.

Yami yelled out, catching the others off guard. "Let's duel, now, you two against me. Winner gets to go through."

Bakura scoffed. "That's a joke," he rolled his eyes. "You can stay here with our old friend Mahaad while we win the Shadow Game," he said, elbowing the Dark Magician. The Dark Magician gave the thief a look of distaste.

Atem ignored Bakura. "You're on," he agreed.

Bakura coughed. "Say what?" he asked indignantly. "Why?"

Atem looked over at him. "You'll have to trust me."

Bakura considered this for a moment before sighing in resignation. "I hope you know what you're doing, Pharaoh."

"Here are the rules. Each side gets to pick three monsters. You already have the Dark Magician, so each of you gets to pick one, no Egyptian Gods, and no talking. May the best man win!"

Atem and Bakura exchanged glances. They couldn't talk. They knew that. But as they watched each other's expressions, it was as if they each knew exactly what they had to do.

They both turned to the front, their choices made. Two Duel Monsters cards appeared in their hands.

Yami smirked as three cards appeared in his. "Well then, I'll start things off." He laughed. "You can't top this, Pharaoh. Alpha! Beta! Gamma! Come forth!"

The three magnet warriors appeared in front of him. Atem almost smiled because they reminded him so of Yugi, but the seriousness of the situation kept his expression passive.

"Now join together to form Valkyrion the Magna Warrior!" Yami shouted as the magnet warriors bonded themselves together.

"My warrior has 3500 attack points. With the Dark Magician, there's no way you can form anything more powerful!"

"Quit your yapping, because it's our turn," Bakura snapped. "Pharaohs first," Bakura said with mock politeness.

"Gladly," Atem replied, ignoring Bakura's tone. "I chose my Buster Blader!"

The card glowed and Buster Blader appeared alongside the Dark Magician. Atem grinned. "Now combine your strengths to become Dark Paladin!"

The two fused together to form the new warrior, but Yami merely laughed. "Perhaps this would've given me a scare in a normal duel, but your monster is still less powerful than mine! 3500 easily beats your paladin's 2900!"

"But you've still got me to worry about," Bakura reminded him.

Yami shook his head. "What monster could you possibly play that would turn this around?"

Bakura gave Yami a menacing grin as he turned his card around.

"It's alright, Yugi, make your attack," the spirit told his partner.

Yugi nodded. "I know it's going to be alright. You know why?" The Pharaoh tilted his head to the side curiously as he waited for Yugi to continue. "I've learned that loss is a part of life. It's hard, and it will take time for me to stop feeling the pain of losing my best friend, but I'm going to be okay." He pumped his fist into the air triumphantly. "This time when you leave, I know that I can be on my own! I'm stronger than I gave myself credit for, and I will always carry you in my heart!"

The Pharaoh's eyes shone, but he did not shed a tear. "Right!" he agreed emphatically.

Yugi squared his feet and pointed at his monster. "Silent Magician! Attack his life points directly!"

Joey and Tristan clapped each other on the back while Kate and her grandfather watched on in awe.

The Silent Magician attacked and the Pharaoh's life points dropped to zero. The room filled with light as the Eye of Udjat appeared on the wall opposite them, beckoning for them to leave the Puzzle.

"You did it Yugi!" Joey exclaimed.

Yugi smiled to himself. "Well Pharaoh, I'll be seeing you soon," he said as he started towards the Eye. "Come on guys!"

Yami gasped as Bakura's Diabound Kernel latched itself onto Valkyrion, lowering its attack points by 1800. "No way!" he screamed.

"Yes way!" Bakura shot back. "Diabound isn't looking so pathetic now, is he?"

"Now, Dark Paladin! Attack!" Atem commanded.

Yami fell onto his back as his Valkyrion disappeared. Just then, the eye on the door began to glow so brightly it was almost blinding for Atem and Bakura.

"Yugi did it!" Atem gasped. "He got there first!"

"You knew!" Yami said accusingly from the floor. "You agreed to this to distract me!"

Bakura nodded smugly. "Go," he told Atem. "I'll stay and make sure he can't follow."

Atem's eyes widened and he shook his head vehemently. "No, you're coming with me!"

Bakura laughed. "We're not friends, Pharaoh, you wouldn't want me to come with you, trust me." He turned his attention back to Yami, who was picking himself off the floor. "Besides, I have a serious score to settle."

Atem sighed and nodded. "Perhaps, one day, I can…"

Bakura rolled his eyes. "You're impossible. Just go you buffoon!"

Atem smirked and bolted through the door. He watched as Tristan was the last one of the others to pass through the Eye. He was right behind them as he sprinted towards the real world.

Atem's eyes shot open as he heard a crash. He sat upright and looked in the direction of the sound to see the Millennium Puzzle lying in pieces. He felt a pang of guilt as he thought of Bakura being trapped there, but his mind was quickly distracted as a helping hand came into view.

Atem followed the hand up to the eyes of its owner. His own eyes began to well up with happy tears. "Yugi? Is that you?"

His partner offered him a bashful smile. "The one and only," he replied, his smile twitching as if he ached to laugh at his own joke, but he couldn't bring himself to.

Atem accepted Yugi's hand and was hoisted to his feet. He looked into the amethyst colored eyes he had missed so horribly and noted that the spark of kindness and light had returned to them. With a disbelieving laugh, he threw his arms around Yugi's waist.

"I missed you so much," Atem said softly as he closed his eyes.

Yugi returned the embrace eagerly. "Same here," he whispered. He pulled away and looked at the Pharaoh sadly. "But how can you be so forgiving? I've done terrible things…" Tears slid down Yugi's cheeks.

Atem wiped Yugi's tears away with his sleeve. "Haven't we all? Did you forget how I betrayed your trust and played the Seal of Orichalcos? How I lost your soul because of my pride? Despite my inability to forgive myself, your trust and love weren't shaken." He gave Yugi a hard look. "In fact, I think the two situations are very similar. We both gave into the darkness in our hearts."

Yugi sighed. "I guess we really are the same," he said with a solemn smile. "I didn't think there was darkness in my heart."

Atem placed a hand on Yugi's shoulder. "To be honest, I felt the same way. But you're human, Yugi, and no matter how good a person is, there is always darkness. Some people are just more susceptible to it than others."

Yugi nodded. "You're right." He looked over at the broken Puzzle. "Let's pick up the pieces, shall we?"

Atem raised an eyebrow. "Was that supposed to be a pun of some sort?"

Yugi giggled. "Nothing gets past you, Pharaoh."

After picking up the Puzzle, they walked out with their arms around each other's shoulders. Seto, Téa, Mokuba, and the Ishtar siblings watched in awe.

Téa ran forward and nearly tackled Yugi in a hug. Atem watched with a knowing smile on his face.

"Yugi, God it feels like it has been years," Téa wept into his chest.

Yugi stroked her hair. "That's because it has," he told her. "But I'm back, and I'm not going anywhere."

Téa pulled away and punched him in the arm playfully. "You better not! We have a lot of catching up to do!"

Yugi beamed at her. "You got that right!"

Seto took his place at Atem's side. "I don't know how you did it," he told him, "but I'm glad that he made it out in one piece."

Atem looked over at him. "I couldn't have done it without you," he said gratefully, "thank you."

Seto smiled. "You have a room at my mansion whenever you need it."

Atem nodded, knowing that was Seto's way of affirming their friendship. "You know, all of the souls that Yami took are free."

Seto looked away. "What are you trying to say?"

Atem nudged him with his elbow. "You know exactly what I'm saying."

Seto sighed and started to head towards the car. "Next stop, Domino City Hospital."

Atem turned back to look at Yugi and Téa, who were still smiling and talking as if they were the only two people on the planet. Atem grinned at the two of them and began to follow Seto.

Mokuba caught up with him, confused. "Aren't you and Téa…?"

"Yes and no," Atem replied. He laughed. "Yugi and I are the same after all." He looked over his shoulder at the pair of them as they realized that everyone else was leaving. He caught Téa's eye, saw what was written there, and his smile grew. "But mostly no."

"I don't get it," Mokuba muttered. "Honestly, I don't get any of it."

Atem turned his attention to the younger Kaiba brother. "I'm not sure I do either."

A/N: I liked to explain things I wrote more in the earlier chapters than I have in the later ones, but I'd like to explain this semi-conclusion to the Yugi/Téa/Atem love triangle, just in case it's a bit confusing. Basically, Atem realizes that Téa loves Yugi equally, if not more, than she loves him. He recognizes that she has yet to make up her mind on the matter, and until she figures out what she wants, he is perfectly happy with the two of them being together.

Besides, Atem wants Yugi's happiness far more than he wants Téa's love. So really, this is my way of saying that Yugi is the one who ends up with Téa.

I'm thinking only two, maybe three chapters left, and they're mostly fluffy goodness. Hard to believe! I took my sweet time finishing this, didn't I?

Please don't hate me for Bakura's fate…I think it's fitting and redeeming. Reviews are appreciated!