Part 19
by Apollymi

Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh and characters from said series are copyright to Takahashi Kazuki and all associated parties. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is made from this fan work. Any original characters, characterizations, and research belongs to Apollymi.
Archive: DarkMagick, Apollymi's Grimoire, Apollymi's Writing Communities, Dreamwidth and LiveJournal. Anywhere else, ask first.
Word Count: 1,972

He was awake. He wasn't too sure he was happy about that fact.

He didn't want to open his eyes. If he opened his eyes, all he was going to see would that nurse, all he would hear would be that damned phrase that was forever burned into his memory. If he ever heard it again, it would be too soon.

Maybe that he hadn't heard it yet was a good sign, but then… he hadn't opened his eyes yet either. If Mazaki was there waiting, he didn't have to see her. That probably didn't mean that he didn't have to hear her, but one victory at a time was enough for him right now. He didn't mind that it wasn't a major victory. A victory at all was enough for now. He could claim that much for now.

Something was subtly different now, though. Maybe that wasn't reassuring, though. The air smelled different. Before it had been stale and recycled, just like the inside of the asylum had been. Now it wasn't. He wan't sure he had words for it anymore. So many of his words seemed to have fled him.

Part of him was honestly afraid that if he opened his mouth, all that would come out would be 'Hugs, not slugs'.

'Earthy'. That was a good word for how the air smelled. 'Loamy' worked even better. Why were those the words that came to him? He couldn't imagine.

But this had to be a new level of the same torture. No matter what happened next, it wasn't going to be good. He couldn't trust any of his senses, not right now.


Not even his hearing. Maybe especially not his hearing. He didn't want to start hoping. Hope was a treacherous, deceitful thing. Once he started hoping, he could be disappointed. If he starting hoping, that would be when he would find out what kind of a trick this really was.

But damn it, there was only one person, one person in all the world, who called him by his first name. Even his little brother didn't call him 'Seto'. And he had used this person's name as an anchor for his own failing sanity. Hell, in the back of his mind, he was still repeating those same two names: Mokuba and Bakura.

This was a hellish new level of torture. Because it sounded so much like Bakura… but it couldn't be Bakura. It couldn't be. He was still stuck inside the asylum… and if he wasn't, he might as well have been. He was none too sure how much sanity he had left, if he had had any to begin with.

It couldn't be Bakura. It couldn't. It couldn't be because Bakura would have found a way to get him out when he had begged and pleaded for release.

"I tried, Seto. We had to defeat the daevas before we could, though."

He wasn't sure if that was proof that this was Bakura or that it wasn't. On the one hand, the other man had responded to what he was thinking, which was a point on the side of it being a trick. Not that Bakura himself hadn't managed to do that himself a time or two, but it was too fresh, that voice of nails on a chalkboard as it responded to his fears and thoughts. But on the second hand, there was that name again and how Bakura was the only one who ever called him that; he even thought of himself as Kaiba, when he could hold on to enough of his mind to remember he had an identity.

(There was a quiet but pained sound next to him. He wasn't thinking about it. It had to be part of the trick.)

But on the third hand—and just how many hands were needed at this point was getting ridiculous—defeating the daeva army seemed like it should have been impossible. He couldn't remember the details, but it seemed as though there had been so many of them, more than the relatively small handful of gods should have been capable of defeating.

"Yeah, that was thanks to you."

And that was such a non sequitur that he had to open his eyes in utter confusion.

And he was in Bakura's bedroom. He recognized the gigantic bed: how the sheets felt against his skin, how much room he had to move around, the way the bed dipped when Bakura moved to sit next to him.

"Yeah, I thought that would get your attention." Bakura sounded vaguely smug, much like the cat that just ate the canary, as the saying went.

"Wh—" Damn, his throat hurt when he tried to speak. Certainly it hurt worse than he thought it should. He couldn't remember anything happening to his throat. That was not, however, the issue of the moment. "What do you mean?"

"Mai heard you say something about the 'unnumbered dead'." Bakura shrugged lightly with just one shoulder, a small motion that somehow spoke volumes. "We emptied all of the lands of the dead. They overwhelmed the daevas. It was enough to eventually turn the tide. We… lost a lot of people in the battle."

He felt his blood run cold at those words. "Who?"

For a long moment, Bakura looked like he was likely to object. He wasn't going to give him the option to do so, though, not if he could help it. That must have been written plainly on his face, because Bakura pressed on. "Of the ones you met…" He nodded. The deep breath Bakura took was heavy and a little shaky. "Varon, Isis, Mana," and he hadn't even realized that she had gone above during the battle, "Honda, Vivien, Raphael, Ryuuzaki, Rebecca, Siegfried… We almost lost Jounouchi and Malik all over again." He took another deep breath and tried for a grin. It wasn't a bad attempt, but it still didn't quite reach his eyes. "Apparently I can't get rid of Atemu even if the world nearly ends."

That meant that, somehow, all the people he actually cared about were still alive: Bakura, Amane, and Malik. Mokuba hadn't gone above, so he was still safe. The other two listeners were still around; it took him a few long, long moments to dredge their names out of the recesses of his mind: Ryou and Yuugi.

He wanted to ask so many questions. He wanted to know if Bakura was all right. He wanted to know where Mokuba was. He wanted to know if Malik was all right now. He wanted to know why his throat hurt so badly. He wanted to know what was going to happen next. He wanted to know what had taken so long for Bakura to get him out of… wherever he had been.

So of course, that was what Bakura picked up on, that last question. "I… couldn't get you out. I tried. The damned daevas had you too tightly bound up in your own mind." He frowned hard. "I had to get Jounouchi to break you free. And I'm still holding it against him that he prioritized putting Atemu's arm back on first."

Okay, yeah, that sounded like Bakura. He didn't think that he could make up a detail like that about the man. He had realized fairly quickly that Bakura and Atemu had this intensely antagonist relationship, but he couldn't have come up with a little detail like that. It just wasn't in his make-up; he wasn't that creative. It was a small but reassuring thing.

Bakura rolled his eyes. The movement seemed exaggerated, but since he followed it up with a chuckle, it didn't seem like a bad thing. "Of course what convinces you that this is real is something to do with Atemu. Of course. Isn't that just peachy?"

Part of him wanted to immediately apologize. Apologize before he could end up back in that world. But he wasn't going to. Bakura wasn't going to send him back there.

"Got that damn right." Bakura readjusted himself, settling to sit with his back against the headboard. The movement seemed stilted, like it hurt to do. But before he could summon his voice back to ask out loud, Bakura started talking again. "Let's see: about your other questions. Your throat hurts because you've been screaming."

He frowned. "I don't scream."

"Even Malik has been screaming every time he closes his eyes." Bakura's voice sounded both steady and haunted at once. He wasn't too sure how that could be. "He couldn't describe what it is they did to him, but he doesn't want to close his eyes anymore."

"How long…?" He wasn't sure how to ask this.

"Have you been back?" Bakura guessed. It was close enough, so he nodded. "It's been almost a week since we went to war."

A week… It didn't seem possible. But maybe it made sense. It might even explain why he still felt so tired.

"As for where that little brother of yours is, the last I saw of him, he was with Mai and Ryou and the hounds. It figures you would decide to wake up one of the few times he's not in the room." Bakura offered him a grin. He tried to return it, but it seemed to fail miserably. "I asked Amane to go get him when you started waking up." He shrugged again lightly, and it still seemed pained. "I figure you'll believe you're awake when you see him, right?" Kaiba couldn't help a nod. It had been him and Mokuba for so long, and… Well, he had used those two names to carry him through: Bakura and Mokuba. "I thought so. He should be here in a few minutes."

Those had been most of his questions. Only most of them, mind, though. There were still a few that the god hadn't touched, however, and he wasn't about to let to let him get away with not answering them. He certainly didn't hope Bakura thought he could get away with that.

"Wouldn't dream of it. What happens now? We're off the beaten path at this point. We've survived the end of the world. We beat the unbeatable daevas and survived to tell the tale. Who knows where we go from here?"

That… was fair enough. It wasn't quite… No, wait. Bakura had used 'we', kept using 'we'. Clearly Kaiba was included in that unknown future. Bakura didn't actually have to say a word to that: the look he leveled on Kaiba spoke volumes. But that still left one question. Clearly Bakura wanted to make him ask it out loud.

"What… about you?" Hopefully it wouldn't take too long for his voice to recover.

-I'll be all right, Seto. Even gods take a little while to recuperate from war. Quit worrying about it.-

His first thought was that that was good news. Following that was wonder that Bakura thought he could dismiss his worry so easily. But his immediate next one was to wonder why Bakura had switched to speaking in his mind instead of out loud. He figured that it was a combination of making things a bit more even, since he was already picking up what Kaiba wanted to know from his own mind, and the fact that even Kaiba could hear the distinctive sound of his little brother running through the hallways, heading towards this room.

Mokuba burst into the room with a shouted "Niisama!" He rounded the huge bed so that he wouldn't have to clamor over Bakura, which said… something. He wasn't going to think about too hard right now.

He wasn't sure if he was actually awake or if any of this was real.

But if this was his dream world now, then he didn't want to wake back up again.

15 April 2014

Oh my gods, it's finished. It's finally finished. I was seriously starting to think that it would never be over.

So, yeah, I'm leaving it to you guys, my readers, whether or not this is the real world. I have my own thoughts, but I deliberately wanted to leave this open to interpretation. What do you think? Dream or real?

Tell me your thoughts! What did you think of this monster child of mine? Would it be worth it to rewrite it for publication? If so, would you buy it or stick to the fanfic version? (Unlike the Endless Loop stories, it wouldn't be a complete rewrite if I do this.)

And that's it.