AN: This started as a random fix-it for the end of YGO that spiraled out of control. Thus, it's set post-YGO, and early season six for BtVS – although I should warn fans of that series that I've only seen the first two seasons, and picked up my knowledge of anything after through the power of Internet osmosis.

"Heroism is endurance for one moment more." George Kennan

Murphy, ol' pal, I have no idea what I did to piss you off so much, but believe me, I regret it. Majorly.

The fate of the world dumped on her head when all she wanted to think about was grades and boys, and definitely not in that order. Dead twice before she was twenty, revived once a minute or two later by CPR, and the second time dragged kicking and screaming out of heaven by someone who was supposed to be her best friend. Dropped out of college on account of not being able to keep up due to aforementioned severe case of dead, then forced to take a nasty job in a burger joint to pay the bills for herself and her little not-sister while still saving the world on the side.

And the one time she gets a customer who actually smiles rather than communicating in grunts and leers – though he had a cute accent, under the Goth clothes and the hair… – some guy with world domination on the brain out to summon the Big Bad Number-I've-Lost-Count swoops down on the poor foreign kid, cackling about finding the perfect medium, and it's off to save the hapless civilian and the world a-freakin'-gain.

Oh, and that meant she had to run off in the middle of her work shift, so even a drop-out like herself could guess that when she got back, she was going to be sacked. Joy oh joy.

Yeah. Buffy's life sucked.

Not as bad as that Yugi kid's is going to, if I don't get there fast.

Jump, grab the top of the wall between the pretty spikes on top – very nice, don't you love the way it only stops kids looking for smooches, and not the evil monsters that walk in the front door – foot against the wall, kick over, keep your body straight as your feet go up in the air and the world turns upside down and then you're looking at the sky as you pass the balance point and go over…

Seriously, should have run away and joined the circus. At least I know I have the moves for it.

Buffy dropped into a crouch as she hit the ground to absorb the impact, took a moment to look around, and then darted to the back door of the old church building, staying low and quiet.

Sheesh, they don't even bother to do more than prop the door up these days, she thought with a mental roll of the eyes as she moved the much-abused door aside and slipped inside, avoiding the fallen glass with the ease of far too much experience. Seriously, they've got the nice and shiny new church building, why don't they just bulldoze this one and save us all some trouble? Only thing it does is attract world-destroying maniacs.

Then again, this was dear old Sunnyhell. That might be a feature, rather than a bug.

And either way… She paused at the door leading to the altar to listen. Yup, pontification – oh, interrupted by a cough and some fierce yelling in Japanese. Sounded like Yugi wasn't the sort to play distressed damsel under stress. Good for him.

And, sure enough, the guy trying to destroy the world headed for this place after all. Thank you, predictability.

She moved quietly to the door and eased it open just a crack. This was the hard part; the door was behind the altar, so she couldn't just throw it open and jump in kicking ass. She'd need a moment to get her bearings and locate the asses to be kicked first. But if the villain of the week were paying attention, he'd see the door open, which made sneaking in a little tricky.

But with any luck, he's not expecting any cavalry – or if he is, he'll be watching the main entrance.

Assuming he had attention to spare. From the sound of it, Yugi was putting up a fight.

"Hanashite, kono…! Hanase-tteba! Dareka, tasukete!" That last was accompanied by a grunt as, if she were to guess, an elbow or knee hit something soft.

Good. Keep his mind on you, kid, help's coming…

She decided to risk it; pushing the door open carefully – thank god one of the last batch of idiots had thought to oil the hinges – she eeled her way inside in a weird, three-legged crouch-walk, using her free arm for balance. That kept her below the level of the altar, which on the one hand kept her out of sight. On the other, she couldn't see what was going on until she made her way to the edge of the altar and peered around.

The latest contestant in the world destruction sweepstakes was wrestling with Yugi. The Japanese kid was putting up a serious fight – though there was something a little off about his struggles, as though his body knew what to do, and his mind knew what to do, but he had trouble connecting the two up.

Unfortunately, the would-be sorcerer might have the weedy look of a guy who spent too much time going over books – all apologies to Giles – but he was tall. Which meant he had plenty of reach on the kid. It was like watching a kitten trying to fend off an amused greyhound. Sharp little claws didn't do much if they couldn't reach.

Hell, kid's shorter than I am, and that says something…

Then the guy pulled out the knife.

~Heroism is endurance…~

"I don't need your cooperation to use your power…!"

The snarled English was suddenly interrupted by a thud that Yugi knew very well – the sound of fist meeting flesh. There was a flash of hot pain across his arm as he twisted, then suddenly he was free and falling.

He hit the ground in a roll that brought him up onto his feet, ready to fight or flee – his body hadn't lost Yami's reflexes, even if his head, only remembering those skills from the perspective of a bystander, usually got in the way of using them.

The blonde waitress from the burger restaurant moved to put herself between him and the man who'd grabbed him. "Would you like some fries to go with your knuckle sandwich?" she asked, mockingly chirpy.

The man began to laugh.

Yugi's heart jolted in his chest. He knew that sort of laugh.

Malik's dark side. When you fell precisely into his hands, when he was going to kill your friends in front of you, when everyone else was screaming in pain or terror or both…

"Oh, I hate it when they do that," the woman – what was her name? Buffy, that was it – muttered. She glanced back at him and swore.

Yugi glanced down at his arm. The stab that had been aimed at his chest – he thought – had instead grazed along the inside of his arm. Right on the inside of the elbow. Ow. That's not going to be fun. "It's not too bad," he said, wishing he'd been wearing his old jacket when the man had grabbed him out of the booth. It might have blocked the shallow slice, or at least he could use it for bandaging…

The world went dark.

Yugi remembered this – the horrible draining sensation, as though everything he was were mere water, and he was nothing but a clay vessel that had just cracked, and that precious water was rushing out…

He knew this feeling, from a Duel over two years ago, when Pegasus J. Crawford had deliberately ignored the unspoken etiquette of the Shadow Games and left an inexperienced soul open to the ravages of unshielded exposure to the Shadow Realm.

"Whoa – kid, hang in there!" He felt someone catch him and only then realized he'd fallen to his knees and had been in the process of collapsing completely. "What the hell did you do to him!" Buffy shouted, somewhere above his ear.

Yugi forced heavy eyes open, stunned to see no black-violet mist shrouding his surroundings. Just the light of old candles on dusty glass and old half-polished wood, and gleaming off bright blonde hair as Buffy glanced over her shoulder, swore, and launched herself at the dark man who'd just thrust the bloody knife through a small notepad and into the floor.

The man – the sorcerer – gestured once, curtly, and red-orange light flared in a broad circle around him – a circle that flashed as Buffy attempted to cross it, and sent the woman flying back to slam into one of the old wooden benches so heavily that it splintered under her.

"Buffy-san!" he cried, or tried to; he couldn't seem to draw breath into his lungs. Without her support, he'd fallen onto hands and knees, and even those were shaking with the effort of holding him against that awful draining sensation.

Never mind that. I have to… get up

Gritting his teeth, he managed to grab what looked like an old tall candle-holder and haul himself back onto legs that felt like jelly.

"Did you think I wasn't prepared, Slayer?" the sorcerer asked contemptuously. "Thrice-desecrated ground and the blood of a medium – the gates are open. I will not be stopped. The darkness will serve me!"

"'s what they all say…" The grumble was low, dazed, as Buffy tried to disentangle herself from the remnants of the pew. "People… get world destruction lines from internet memes, I swear… Yugi?"

Yugi swallowed hard, forcing his wobbly legs to support him as he stood with his back to Buffy, arms spread, trying to guard her as she got her feet back under her from the sorcerer and that looming wrongness that was gathering in the triangle of light just before that barrier-circle. "Stop," he said fiercely, keeping his eyes fixed on the summoner and not what he was summoning, and grateful a thousand times over that he actually could speak English passably well. "That darkness is just using you."

The world felt so fragile around him. Fragile and… loud, a screaming silence filled with something just beyond his hearing…

The sorcerer looked at him in honest, wide-eyed surprise for a moment, then laughed. "Such brave words, little fool. But I am impressed. A medium with your barriers taken…" He punctuated his words with a lazy gesture at the bloody knife and the notebook. "…and you're still standing, with your own mind. I'd have expected you to be driven mad by the restless spirits of this place." The laughter became a dark lip-curve of a smile as the wrongness and the darkness congealed together in the triangle and began to take on shape. "I know that which I call. What do I care of evil? The power of darkness will be mine. And it is your own power, medium, the power to bridge between all worlds, even life and death, that opens the way!"

Yugi's lips thinned.

The thing was, he knew darkness, knew Shadows. Real darkness, not the… metaphysical mishmash taking form in front of him.

The shadows could be fierce. Wary. Harsh. Frightening. Dangerous.

But not evil. Not in and of themselves.

And that looming figure forming before him was not them. It was…


Not Zorc itself. Not exactly. But a creature of the same ilk. After everything they'd gone through to defeat Zorc, he couldn't let it loose.

He would not betray Yami's legacy like that.

But how? he thought desperately. With every moment, the difference between here and there grew thinner, and the figure became that little bit more real.

He could feel the Shadows, too, just beyond the thinning walls of reality, in a way he hadn't for nearly a year. They whirled around him, old friends, chasing away those restless spirits the sorcerer had spoken of with swords and spells and claws and little fluffy explosions. He might not be able to summon them to the mortal realm as Yami had, but they still served their master loyally.

The power to bridge all worlds…

Could he call them?

Yugi's heart surged momentarily with hope – then dropped again. He'd never learned how to invoke the creatures, but he did know the basic rules. A Shadow Monster was supported by its master's strength – and the sorcerer's spell had already stolen all of Yugi's. And even if he could call them into this world – he already knew, without being told, that they couldn't bridge that magical summoning circle around the sorcerer; he needed stronger magic than that. And so long as the sorcerer remained, so would the demon he was calling.

A clatter, and then Buffy was standing in front of him again. "Thanks, Yugi," she said quietly, sounding… oddly surprised. "But you need to get out of here, while you still can. Got that? Leave this to me. I'll… take care of it."

A small, stubborn figure, telling others to get away, determined to shoulder all the danger alone even when the situation seemed hopeless. Yugi had to smile, it was so familiar.

His breath caught.

He could feel the Shadows. But somewhere beyond them…

The power to bridge all worlds. Even life and death.

So many people saw darkness as evil, as fear. They never thought about the mystery of the far side of the moon. A little furry ball of enthusiasm hiding under the bed. Shade on a summer day. The dark backdrop that made stars bright. Never turning your light on when you woke in the middle of the night, because before you even woke all the way there'd be a translucent figure at the other end of the bed, asking if anything was wrong. Teasing you that if you'd just tell your best friend you liked her as a girl, you'd be dating by now – but never, ever saying anything, because secrets are secrets, and a shadow would guard your secrets forever.

Because darkness was also trust. The flip side of the card you couldn't see. Gambling on the roll of a die.

Reaching out even if you had no idea if someone would answer you.

The man was laughing. The demon was almost here.

Letting himself fall, Yugi gathered up everything that was left, and reached.

Beyond the Shadows… was a place of light.

~…for one moment more.~

Reality rippled, and firmed again, as the red-orange light of the summoning triangle closed around the demon in its center, imprinting a deep, glimmering V-shape over shoulders and chest like some strange sort of collar, casting a sullen light that brought definition to the shape.

The sorcerer laughed triumphantly as all other lights went out, and the Slayer cursed. "It is over! Know your defeat!"

Someone laughed softly.

"Over? The game just started."

~Heroism is endurance…~


One demonic goon, of the solidified darkness type, check. It looked big and hulking and muscular – kind of like someone had taken the idea of a football player and turned everything up to eleven with a healthy mash of pro wrestler on the side.

Complete with theatrics and brainlessness, I hope. Theatrics mean more time to aim.

One world-destruction-happy sorcerer, still safe behind his circle of magical Can't-Touch-This-ness, check. Now that was going to be a pain. Where were Giles and Willow when there was magical whammy to be dealt with?

Behind her, one out-on-his feet Japanese kid…

not check.

The hairs on the back of Buffy's neck clicked their heels and stood at attention as the guy prowled past her, every step of a booted foot made with the precise ease of a cat. Not the least sign of hesitance, uncertainty – or the crippling, sucked-dry exhaustion of just a few seconds ago.

That's not Yugi.

Shit. That guy had said something about possession… but this didn't seem to be just some "restless spirit."

Especially given the way Mister See-My-Demon-Mwa-Ha was staring at him. "You… I did not summon you."

Not-Yugi snorted. "As if you could."

Buffy started to move to the side, and found that she… couldn't, quite. It was like something wrapped around her, whispering, Wait. You are an observer here. The time to move will come.

Yeah. Not so big on that waiting stuff. On the plus side – the demon wasn't moving, either. The sorcerer was too fascinated by the newcomer.

Fascinated, and on his way to being offended. "I am the master of darkness, and you will answer to me!"

Not-Yugi crossed his arms and stood there, clearly unimpressed. "I think… not," he said, and then raised an eyebrow slightly. "Unless you would like to play a game?"

As he spoke, the darkness… shifted, slightly. Buffy's eyes narrowed as the shadows began moving, so deep a dark that the eye tricked you to thinking it saw blue or violet or even red. The dark mist curled around Not-Yugi's boots like a contented cat, and twined through the corners of the room…

And the weird part was that, as those odd shadows strengthened, Buffy found she could see, even though the only source of light in the whole frickin' place was that magic circle and the creepy collar-thing on the demon. It was like what every art teacher she'd ever had would rant and rant and rant about – that if you wanted true depth and realism in a picture, you needed shadows, and you needed 'em dark. Like the shadows were somehow giving the shapes around her definition.

The sorcerer didn't seem to notice that the living shadows had filled their surroundings. He was staring at the figure with something that looked creepily like hunger. Xander faced with Twinkies-level. "A game?" he echoed, but he sounded… distracted.

"A simple one," Not-Yugi assured him, and waved a hand at the shadow-filled chapel. "You seem so proud of your mastery. I propose to test it. Each of us will choose a champion that will stand for us, in this place. You and I will use our power to support our chosen champion – but we may not use our powers directly against the other player, his champion, or the surroundings. Nor may one of our champions attack the other player." He shrugged. "As it is already in place, you may keep your protective circle, if you so desire."

Buffy blinked. Dude, those dice are so loaded. She didn't know how, exactly, but she knew they had to be. No one smirked like that unless they knew they weren't going to lose.

Well, unless that someone was her and she was just winding the bad guys up.

Tall, Dark and Common-Sense-Challenged was certainly wound up. "I accept!" he snapped. "My demon will destroy your pathetic champion. And with your loss, you and your power will serve me!"

"If you win," Not-Yugi said with a shrug, and turned. "Bright warrior. Are you willing to help me?"

Buffy blinked at him. What. You're actually asking?

…He was. He really, seriously was. She could read it in the quietly neutral tone of voice, in the set of his face.

He… didn't quite look like Yugi anymore. Or maybe, a different sort of Yugi. The eyes were sharp and calculating, not bright and innocent – and, yeah, it might be subtle but she had some experience with spontaneous eye color changes. The face hadn't changed, but the posture had – chin tucked slightly in a way that brought out normally hidden planes and angles, making his expression a little harder to read and giving him a wary, dangerous look. Hell, even his body looked different – shoulders back and proud rather than a relaxed slump, legs set and braced rather than shifting back and forth.

It at least made him look a little taller. As in, maybe five foot one rather than just five foot. If he stretched a bit.

And the garnet-red eyes that gazed back at her were calm, steady, and waiting.

…He's not an enemy. She knew it, with a certainty that shocked her. Yeah, she'd picked up on Giles's vaunted "radar of bad guy side of the block-ness" (albeit with much complaining). But that was for picking out bad guys of the more demonic persuasion – and it didn't work on way, way too many just plain human threats for her to ever trust it over the good ol' Buffy Nose For Trouble.

And the nose said, you can trust him. Red eyes or not.

Ah, what the hell. It wouldn't be the first time she'd sided with someone non-standard to take down a mutual annoyance.

"One question," she said shortly. "What happened to Yugi?"

Because yeah, an ally was good, but dammit, he was just a kid

Not-Yugi's eyes softened. "He's fine," he assured her quietly. "Exhausted from the drain, and from breaking through the barriers to call me, but he will recover and return when this is ended."

To call you? You mean, he summoned you deliberately?

"Then, I'm your champ, I guess," she said, and offered her hand. "Buffy. You got something I can call you?" She was not going to ask for names, not with Mister Woo-Woo I Can Summon Things over there. Friendly or not, this guy was apparently some kind of spirit-thingy, and there could be all sorts of badness when names got involved.

…What? After the third or fourth myth-come-true had landed in her lap, she'd started paying a little more attention when that sort of thing came up.

Besides, seriously. Her life was Troperiffic as all get out already. Genre Savviness was a survival skill. And – two deaths on her record aside – Buffy was very big on survival.

Not-Yugi's lips quirked in a small smile. "Yami. And… thank you."

To her surprise, the hand that shook hers was wet. "What the…?" Buffy started, and then her nose told her. Blood.

Yami looked at his arm in surprise, to where the sorcerer had slashed Yugi with the knife. His lips thinned for a moment, his eyes flicked toward the sorcerer…

Yipes. Would not want to be on the receiving end of that look. "You going to be okay?" she asked.

Yami shrugged. "It's not too bad," he said, dismissing the bleeding knife wound as something not worth worrying about for the moment.

For a crazy instant, Buffy wondered if time had rewound. Yugi had said and done the exact same thing.

Weird. Very weird.

She yanked off her apron – she'd forgotten she was still wearing the damn thing. "Here. Not like I still have a job there after tonight anyway. Can't say I'll miss it. Never thought there'd be a job with lower wages and worse hours than saving the world…"

Yami blinked and looked impressed. And a little horrified. "I was under the impression there were laws against that?"

Buffy couldn't help a rueful grin, tearing strips off the apron and helped Yami with the rough bandage. Under sound of ripping cloth, she added, "By the way. I notice that you didn't warn His Power-Trippiness over there about what would happen if he lost."

Yami had been flipping through some cards Yugi'd been carrying in a case on his belt – seriously? A deck holster? – but he slanted a dark smile at her and let the silence speak for him.

Buffy snickered. "I think I actually like you." Tying the bandage off, she stretched. "All right. Let's do this."

"Again – thank you."

Buffy waved a hand. "Hey. Taking on Big Bad Uglies is pretty much my job. I know what I'm doing."

And I really, really hope that doesn't turn out to fall into the category of 'famous last words', she thought as she moved to the center of the room, loosening up her shoulders.

"Game start," Yami said quietly, and Buffy felt something go click around them with the same force as when Willow or Giles closed a spell.

"You insist on calling this a game?" the sorcerer sneered, which as far as Buffy was concerned proved he had no idea what he was dealing with – not that she did either – and made a short gesture. The demon moved.

Shit, that thing's fast!

Buffy threw herself to the side, rolled, came up to her feet – then had to hastily shield her face from the splinters as the demon's fist slammed through the floor.

Opening! She lunged in…


Buffy danced back to avoid the awkward counterstrike – note to self, fast and strong, but clumsy – and shook out her hand. Damn. She'd punched walls with more give in them. Note to self – looks human-shaped, but definitely doesn't have a human anatomy. I don't care how many muscles a guy has, flesh still has some give to it.

Solidified darkness. Joy.

She danced back farther as the sorcerer laughed and the demon extracted its fist and shifted to face her. She tuned the madman out but watched warily for the next attack as she quickly made an inventory of her available weaponry and came up exceedingly unhappy. Hell, she only had one or two spare stakes, and they were just the normal pointy bits of wood. Somehow, she really didn't think that was going to slow this thing down…

Her hand closed on the hilt of a sword.

Her hand closed on the hilt of a sword. A gleaming, sharp, perfectly balanced, where the hell did this come from, did Santa finally get my revised Christmas list sword. And while the Buffy part of her brain was gaping in shock, the part of her that was the Slayer was grinning a grin that was all teeth and going ooo, shiny.

And the sorcerer was spluttering like he'd been denied a cookie. "Where… how…!"

Yami chuckled, and that sound had all sorts of you didn't read the fine print, did you in it. "I said, if you'll recall, that our role would be to support our chosen champions. I gave her the Legendary Sword."

Nice. Buffy brought the flashing sword around in a bright butterfly sweep. Somehow, be it the power of Slayerness or something about the sword itself, her hands seemed to know exactly how to handle this beauty.

She grinned as the sorcerer continued to splutter. Don't care for a fairer fight, do you?

Careful. She couldn't afford to let herself get cocky. The sword would help, but the demon was still ten feet tall and built like a bodybuilder on steroids. As it finished extracting its fist from the floor by the expedient of just ripping up anything that got in the way, she eyed it warily and assessed her options.

It's got me beat on reach, and I'm not going to make any bets about strength. Fast, too. At least as fast as me. She danced sideways, away from a lunge – making sure to mark that hole in the floor in her mind. It would suck to put a leg through that. Corners like a dump truck, though!

As it went past, she whirled, the bright blade whistling at its unguarded side. But the demon's arm swung into her arc as it tried to pull itself around again, and rather than its side, the sword bit into its forearm, trailing writhing black as it arced cleanly through not-flesh…

The sorcerer screamed.

Buffy flinched in surprise.

The next thing she knew, a backhand blow had slammed into her ribs and launched her into the air.

Oh, shit. That's going to hurt when my brain catches up

She hit the ground with her shoulder and rolled, thanking every lucky star ever that the floor was old wood and not stone. Suicidally over-trained instinct would not let go of her sword, and she was so damn lucky she hadn't run herself through a half-dozen times before she managed to kill her momentum enough to come up onto her feet, skidding a last few inches…


But not as bad as it could have been. She hurt like hell, but nothing seemed to be broken, and she'd half-expected her ribs to have caved like Styrofoam under that blow. But somehow, she was still standing, and other than a mother of a bruise, she seemed to be unhurt.

Behind Buffy, Yami was gasping. She twisted to look back at him and felt a jolt go through her gut.

The spirit in Yugi's body was clutching at the side of a pew with a white-knuckled grip, gasping with an odd rhythm that Buffy knew from far too much personal experience; fighting for air on the one hand, trying desperately to keep your breathing shallow on the other. Because the last thing you wanted was a stray rib to puncture your lungs.

Behind the demon, the sorcerer was clutching his bloody arm and gasping, eyes huge with fury. "What is this? You said no strikes at the players!"

Yami's face was pale with pain, but he grinned darkly. "I also told you," he gritted out through clenched teeth. "In this battle, our champions stand for us." He started to straighten – and Buffy caught the miniscule flinch as his shoulders tried to hunch protectively around ribs that had to be cracked, if not outright broken, and were definitely protesting the bravado. "If they are harmed, we will suffer their pain."

Buffy sucked in a quick breath, suddenly unsure. Mixing it up with a big bad demon looked a lot different when it was her ally who'd be taking the punches – not to mention, that wasn't even Yami's body…

Yami's eyes met hers, silently asking her to trust him. Buffy bit her lip, then nodded shortly.

At the other end of the chapel, the other sorcerer was silent with shock for a moment, then began laughing, a manic edge to his voice. "Did you think you were the only one who could enhance your champion?" He pulled out a book with an odd cover that Buffy just knew was made of something creepy and began riffling through the pages.

Not good. Buffy firmed her grip on the sword and moved to attack, hearing the flip of pages end and the sound of a low chant intoned in double-time begin. Come on, come on, everyone knows you don't rush spells, gimme a nice Freudian slip in there – yipes! Mind on the big bad in front of you!

Duck the roundhouse – yay for being small, the demon practically had to bend double just to get to her – sidestep the body slam, lick the blade out at its heels as it passed…

The sorcerer's chant paused briefly – she could feel him stifling a yell at that one, but it wasn't enough to disrupt the spell, whatever it was. Dammit. She let the weight and momentum of the sword pull her around and struck for the demon's unguarded back.

The chant ended with a triumphant shout, and her sword skidded across a shell of flickering orange light.

Oh, hell. She recognized that stuff; she'd met it up close and personal once already. She swore under her breath and ducked left, trying to keep behind the demon as it turned.

Aaaand, right on cue, the laugh was back. "I am a summoner – did you think I knew nothing of shields?"

Guh, the guy's tone kept getting creepier and creepier. Convinced he was the top of the world, sure that he had the right to smash everything that got in his way and take what he wanted… Buffy snarled silently.

Too bad for him that Buffy was in the way. Things that tried to smash her tended to go oops.

And as it happened, she knew a little bit about summoning – and shields. Buffy's eyes flicked toward the floor around the demon.

There it was, a thin, sullenly glowing circle around the demon's feet.

Let's see about that.

She reversed direction suddenly, ducking in front of the demon and dancing back to what she thought would probably be just the edge of the demon's range, and smiled at it.

"Gotta say, nice collar there," she said, with a little nod at the V of red-orange energy over its shoulders and chest that, she suspected, symbolized the sorcerer's power. She bounced, balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to move at a moment's notice. "I'll admit, the whole Day-Glo thing is a little bit seventies, but hey, I understand if you haven't kept up with the times…"

Not that she thought the thing had much in the way of brains to understand such matters. But traditionally, demons hated being controlled, so razzing it about that ought to hopefully blow a couple fuses…

It lunged; she danced back. Disabling blows weren't going to work, she needed a good shot at the body. Heeeeere, ugly-ugly-ugly.

She danced back one more step as it recovered, judged the distance, shifted its weight…

One black foot had just struck the floor outside the protective circle when the sorcerer realized what she was up to. "Demon! Remain within the circle!"

Dammit! Buffy lunged after it as the massive body stalled for a moment, reflexive obedience against sheer force of momentum. She slashed down, opening a broad line that blazed across the thing's chest for a moment before the darkness returned, the sorcerer howled

And her foot caught.

Shit! The first lunge had put another hole in the floor, and she'd been so focused on controlling the distance that she hadn't noticed!

A massive hand locked around her bicep, started to haul her off the ground, she saw the other start to swing around in a blow…

"Castle Walls!"

…and the demon was forced to drop her as a heavy barrier of stone suddenly appeared between her and it. Buffy scrambled backward as the stone wall thudded and bits of rock dust poured between the cracks – but it looked like Big Bad Punches Through Things had some limits.

With luck, the sorcerer's knuckles had felt that one, too.

The stone walls shimmered and faded, and the sorcerer laughed. "You call that a barrier?" he asked scornfully. "It is nothing before me!"

Buffy snorted. "Yeah, come out here and say that," she called, echoing the scorn. The demon had already retreated behind the magical barrier and was standing inside it, snarling silently. It really didn't seem very smart at all. That, or it wasn't able to do anything without direct commands from the sorcerer.

Not sure it matters – between the blow-by-blow commentary and those stupid shields…


Buffy retreated, keeping a careful eye on the demon. As she'd thought, the sorcerer didn't order it to pursue as she fell back to Yami's position, just jeered and mocked. She tuned him out and glanced at Yami. He was pale, apparently unaware of the arm wrapped protectively around his ribs. But his eyes had a dark, calculating glitter, and he tilted his head at her in silent inquiry.

"Don't think Mister Demon Master's particularly hot on the idea of coming out of his little cubby to play," she muttered.

Yami nodded. "Those who summon demons tend to be of two types. Those who feel they have nothing else to lose, and those who feel they are invulnerable to consequences. And the latter, when they discover they are not, often prove to be cowards."

That there? Voice of experience, definitely. And it jived with what Buffy knew.

"Look," she said, dropping her voice slightly, "how are you holding up? You… don't look too hot."

Yami grimaced. "I have been better," he admitted, fingers hovering over the deck at his hip. "The transfer mitigates the worst of the physical damage, but…" He drew a card, glanced at it, and smiled faintly.

Then he held it up. "Gift of the Mystical Elf!"

The little picture on the front of the card glowed, a light that pulsed and then expanded into a bright mist at their feet. A tall figure dressed in neatly draped green robes and the craziest headdress on chestnut-brown hair rose from the mist, eyes closed and hands clasped together in front of her as she chanted softly in a bell-like voice.

…I'm not sure those robes really go with the blue skin, Buffy thought after a moment, bemused.

The elf turned to Yami and opened her eyes, unfolding her hands to reveal an orb of light – an orb that turned into a thousand sparks that fountained upward, then streamed back down onto Yami. For a moment, he glowed with the same soft radiance, before the light seemed to sink into him and faded.

The elf glanced at Buffy, winked, and vanished with a glimmer.

Buffy blinked. "Nice lightshow," she said, then raised her eyebrows as Yami straightened, arm no longer holding his injured side and the pain easing from his face.

"I didn't care for the thought of returning Yugi's body with a set of broken ribs," he admitted – and added, raising his voice slightly in what had to be a taunt to the infuriated sorcerer at the other end of the room, "And I never said that we couldn't use our powers on ourselves."

So his ribs had been broken. "Yami? I have an idea."

He raised an eyebrow.

Buffy dropped her voice a little more. "Can you do something about the shield on that thing?"

Yami nodded. "But I can only use it once, and he will raise another."

"Think I can do something about that. I just need one good, clean shot at that demon."

"I can help. But you will lose the Legendary Sword," he added in warning.

Buffy grimaced. She liked that thing. But… "So long as I can hit hard enough to make him feel it."

Yami smirked. "That, I can promise." He ran his fingers over the set of cards, selected three without looking. "When you are ready – charge."

"Do you still think you can win?" the sorcerer sneered, as Buffy approached what she'd come to think of as the "battle-zone" again.

She sniffed. "You can still surrender, you know," she said.

He started laughing again, and she eyed him. Under the wild laughter… his hands were shaking and his eyes were so wide that the irises were completely rimmed with white.

You have absolutely no idea what to do with the thought that you might lose, do you? She almost felt sorry for the bastard.

Almost. People who tried to stab kids and summon demons generally didn't get much leniency in her book.

"Don't say I didn't offer," she muttered, and set her feet.

"Yami, now!" she yelled, and charged.

"De-Spell! Dragonic Attack! Rush Recklessly!"

The world slowed.

One foot struck the ground; the sword in her hand flashed and was gone.

She drew the other up; ahead, the magical circle blinked out as if it'd never been.

Set that foot; feel blue energy swirling around her, taking shape.



The world caught up.

Buffy skidded to a stop, turning hard to keep from presenting her back to the demon. Not that she had to worry just yet; the thing was still lumbering back onto its feet as what had supposedly been its jaw sluggishly reformed after the absolute demolition she'd unleashed on it.

Something moved in the corner of her vision; what started as a quick glance to the side became an all-out double-take.

Sinuous curves of glimmering blue, flashing here and there like golden sunlight on the ripples of a stream, drifted and twined in a loose, lazy serpentine circle around her. A flexing curve, and a head came into view, just past Buffy's shoulder. It looked… somewhat wolfish, somewhat reptilian, with long whiskers floating in a current that only they seemed to feel and an impish, knowing grin set permanently into its features.

Dude. I have a dragon.

Now this was just too cool for words.

"Hey Yami – this new look rocks!" she called past the demon-

Buffy's uh-oh meter pinged. Yami did not look good. He was too pale, and she could make out a faint sheen of sweat. And he was leaning on that pew again, a little too heavily to be casual, even if he covered it well.

What the… I didn't get hit, I know I didn't. But for some reason, Yami looked a lot like…

Yugi. Right when the sorcerer had started summoning and, apparently, sucking all the magic and energy out of the kid.

Whatever he's doing to back me up like this – it's sucking him dry. Three in a row – that must have been just short of too much.

I need to end this. Fast.

That might be easier now, though. The sorcerer was howling his rage again, but it had a strangled sound to it. Buffy smirked to herself.

Not so easy to do magic when you've got a busted jaw, pal.

That had to hurt, but it wasn't pain she saw on his face when she glanced back. Just rage and pure, venomous, how dare you do this hate.

"Not so fun when you don't get to be the one calling the shots, is it?" she sniped, hanging back from the demon for a minute. It was fidgeting and snarling silently, but apparently it was very limited in what it could do without the sorcerer's direct command – it didn't make the first move towards coming after her, now that she was out of its range. And the loss of the circle it had been commanded to stay within had apparently confused it. "Not so fun when it's your precious skin on the line!"

Maybe that was going over the edge a bit, but she was so sick of people who felt gypped by life's little disappointments and went running around thinking they could screw with everyone else while they were too special, too justified, to pay any consequences…

The guy snapped. Just went, in the space between one breath and the next. The protective circle around him flared a vicious red-orange, his eyes bugged as his pupils shrank to pin-points, his nostrils flared, his face twisted, and he raised a hand already sparking with baleful energy to point at…

Shit! "Yami, down!"

Buffy was already moving, feeling the dragon become an extra burst of speed as she threw herself down the length of the hall just ahead of that blazing scream of hate.

She bit back a yell as she and Yami hit the ground just under the stream of hellish blaze, the space between her shoulder blades black with pain. But it was only a glancing hit; they'd dodged the worst of it, although she heard Yami's breath hiss through his teeth as the sympathetic pain passed from her to him…

And then, he laughed.

It was a strange laugh, sad and angry and triumphant all at the same time. And all around them, the world held its breath.

Yami gently pushed her aside and rose to his feet as a golden glow kindled at the base of his chest and on his forehead. If light had a sound, this was a soft bell-tone, like one of those meditation bowls her mom had gotten her, back when she thought the problem was teenage stress and not vampires and saving the world.

"Know this," Yami said, in a voice that rang through the darkness despite its softness. "In a Shadow Game, your true nature is revealed. And you, who claimed to be the master of darkness – you are not even master of yourself. You have broken the rules, and for that – you will pay the Penalty."

Shadows began gathering at that word, and the wild-eyed sorcerer paled.

"Y', y' cn't touch me! Y' said, rules…"

"I don't need to." The words came together like the beams of a scaffold. "You gave yourself to the darkness of your own heart. Now I will let you taste the darkness that you yourself summoned."

And the protective circle around the sorcerer went out.

As did the controlling collar around the demon he had called.

The demon roared soundlessly, lunging for the mortal that had been brazen enough to enslave it to his will. Buffy heard one piercing scream as the massive black hands snatched the man up by the neck, tensed in preparation…

Buffy looked away.

Yami didn't. His eyes were hard and unflinching. But he was biting his lip, and his white-knuckled fists were shaking slightly.

There was a sickening snap of bone, and the wrongness that had been sitting in her bones all this time… dissipated.

Most demons vanish with the death of the one who called them…

Yami released a soft sigh, and the shadows dispersed, leaving the two of them standing in an old abandoned chapel again, four walls and wooden floor and dusty pews and all.

"That… is not how I prefer to serve ma'at," he said very softly, as if to himself, closing his eyes as the gold symbol on his forehead – some sort of Egyptian-type eye? – faded. "But…"

"Whoa!" Buffy's reflexes were way stronger than her aches; she lunged up to her feet to catch the guy as he collapsed. "Hey – you still in there?"

Yami forced his eyes open again with obvious effort and managed a tiny hint of a rueful smile. "…Just tired."

"Tired, and probably hurting like hell. I know I am, and I seem to recall someone saying something about getting hurt when I did." Buffy slung his good arm over her shoulder, noticing that those cards were all back in the deck holder, safe and sound.

Good thing, too. The pews and walls behind them, where that hate-blast had hit, were smoldering in a way she really, really didn't like the look of.

Buffy briefly toyed with the idea of dousing it, then mentally shrugged. She'd have to update her list of First Places To Stop When Someone Wants To End The World, but this place had seen more than its fair share of attempted apocalypses already, and quite frankly if it was left around much longer it was going to become a mundane hazard on top of the supernatural problems. It was far enough away from any other buildings, there wasn't a wind tonight, and it had rained recently. And she could always call a truck once they were away.

Besides, said a colder voice inside her, speaking out of far too many times the authorities had ignored what was going on, or willfully kept hold of the wrong explanation to make life difficult, a mysterious fire will give them an excuse to explain that.

That being the body of the sorcerer, lying in a dark sprawl in the middle of what had been the center aisle.

"Don't worry about it," she said, helping Yami stumble out of the chapel – not that she wasn't staggering herself, as the adrenaline rush waved bye-bye and left her body to foot the bill. "Some people… just won't stop, until you make it permanent."

"I know." Yami shivered violently in Yugi's sleeveless shirt as they made it out of the chapel and headed for the still-open gate that Buffy had ignored on her way in, and his breath caught momentarily as the motion clearly set off a wave of pain.

"I don't suppose your blue friend could help you out again?" Buffy asked carefully, glancing around as they reached the sidewalk. Not hide nor hair of a single living soul – or of a not-living soul, or of those that didn't come with the soul option – in sight. "You… don't look too good."

Yami chuckled faintly. "By which you mean, like something dredged out of a dumpster?" He closed his eyes briefly. "Summoning a Monster to this reality is far more difficult outside of a Game. In the state I am in, I would do myself more harm in the attempt than I would gain from it."

Huh. Monster. Game. Buffy could hear the capital letters that made her think there were layers to those terms. "You going to be okay without it?" she pressed. "And… is Yugi?" Blast… with everything that had happened, she'd forgotten that she wasn't exactly talking to the original owner of the body. That poor kid was going to be in for some massive hurt when he woke up.

But… damn. If he hadn't pulled Yami out of the hat, we'd have been in serious trouble back there. She owed that kid.

His lips quirked at that. "We will both recover fully, with rest," he said firmly, or as firmly as someone wobbling on his feet even with her support could manage. "But… I fear I must ask one more favor of you, Buffy."

Buffy snorted. "Buy me dinner sometime and we'll call it even. What do you need?"

~…for one moment more.~

Blonde hair and a worried face swam into view.

"Buffy-san?" Yugi mumbled, and winced. Ow.

"Yugi?" She looked surprised for a minute, then understanding crossed her face and she nodded with a smile. "Hey there. Welcome back to the land of the living."

He shook his head vigorously; he had more important things to think about than mere physical pain. He'd felt worse in the past, anyway. "Did it work?" he asked urgently.

Buffy blinked, then her smile broadened. "Oh yeah. Mister World Destruction is not going to be trying that again." She raised an eyebrow and nodded towards his left hand. "And before I forget – I was asked to tell you that those things are supposed to be some kind of message."

Yugi's throat tightened. He looked at the two cards waiting in his hand.

Bonds of Friendship.

Monster Reborn.

His breath caught.

"Anyway, we should call someone, and you seriously need to get a coat or something… Whoa. Dude, where were you hiding that necklace thingy? I know you weren't wearing it at the restaurant."

Yugi's jaw dropped a little as his hand reflexively went to a familiar, familiar, familiar weight swinging just under his breastbone. A familiar weight he'd thought lost forever under the collapse of an ancient Egyptian temple.

Heavy gold angles pressed into his palm with all the warmth of a hug, and an exhausted presence curled catlike in the back of his mind, where the empty wall outside his soul room… wasn't empty anymore.

Yugi smiled. "It's a very long story."

~Heroism is endurance…~

Yugi was beaming.

Buffy studied his cheerful, open face from the light pouring through the door behind her, onto the porch where Yugi had been standing, looking at the stars and, from the way he'd shrug or chuckle or fidget, talking to not-quite-himself.

Quite frankly, Buffy felt sorry for any vampires or other creatures of the night who ran into Yugi right now. One shot of that smile, and poof.

Sizzling puffs of dust before they can say, "Dude, sunrise already?"

As for her redoubtable Watcher, he was nursing an extra-strength cup of tea, trying to reboot his brain from the dear lord loop it'd gotten stuck on. Apparently Yami, better known as spirit of the Nameless Pharaoh, was a name in the occult world.

Pun oh so totally intended.

Yugi looks so happy, she thought, hooking her thumbs in her pockets as she strolled out to join him.

She didn't realize she'd said it aloud until Yugi smiled a little and nodded. "I guess… I am." He scratched the back of his head, eyes going distant and a little sad. "I probably shouldn't be. We worked so hard to send him home. But when he was gone… we missed him. I know I should feel bad that he was disturbed again, but…" He trailed off, eyes refocusing on something that Buffy couldn't really see or sense.

Speaking of which. "Can I talk to Yami again?" Yugi had said the spirit was "awake" again, but it would be nice to verify for herself that he really was in one piece after all that. Though frankly, it was amazing that either of them were conscious at all. Yami had been seriously wiped. And frankly, she was pretty sure that if Yugi weren't coasting on a euphoric high, he'd be out cold.

Yugi blinked. "Um… sure."

And, just like that… "What is it?"

Smooth. He didn't even blink. But Buffy knew that it wasn't Yugi standing in front of her anymore. It wasn't the just little changes – the shift in posture that made him look taller (and she'd love to learn that trick) or the change in the cast of his eyes.

It was the oddest feeling of I think I know you. And she knew why.

He's… like me. A shadowed soul that has seen heaven.

Seen it, and…

She stilled her fingers; she'd been drumming them on her leg. "Can this be private? I mean – is Yugi always listening, or…?"

Yami tilted his head slightly. "Yugi and I can close each other off, if we chose. Do you wish us to do so?"

"Yeah. If it's not a bother."

This wasn't as smooth as the hand-off. They're probably arguing, Buffy thought wryly as Yami's brow furrowed slightly. If I were Yugi, I'd argue. He's probably worried I'm going to try and exorcise Yami or something. For all his bright-eyed apparent innocence, Yugi had a calculating side as sharp as Yami's. He'd grilled Giles and Buffy just as hard as they'd grilled him, and quite possibly gotten more out of it.

He'd also turned downright wary when Giles had started spluttering, although when he'd realized what he was doing, he'd blushed and apologized.

"Gomen – I mean, sorry. It's just… it feels like, nine times out of ten, people who know too much about the Items are out to steal them, enslave or kill Yami and me and our friends, or rule the world. Or all of the above. So… I hope you'll forgive me if I'm a little cautious?"

"Done." Yami raised his eyebrows in silent invitation.

Buffy took a deep breath. "Why don't you hate him?"

The pharaoh blinked.

Buffy's hands were fists in her pockets. "You were in heaven. After being left on hold for a couple thousand years, no less." Man, no wonder he understood what she was talking about when she complained that you never got a good reward for saving the world. "And less than a year later, here you are again." Her voice wasn't shaking. "Why aren't you angry?"

Yami studied her silently for a long moment. "You have been to the Field of Reeds, and returned," he said quietly.

Buffy startled herself with a shaky laugh and ran a hand through her hair. Guess I should have guessed he'd see it, too. "Yeah," she admitted. "Threw myself into the breach, saved the world, got to hang out in Heaven for a while. Then the next thing I know, my friend Willow – she's a sorceress – she's up and hauled me back here to do it all again."

She spat the last out with more venom than she wanted to think about, enough that she had to stop and take a deep breath. "I was so angry at her." She still was, angry and just sick of it all, and… "I'd been so tired, and it was finally over, and then…" She bit her lip and leaned against the rail of the porch. "It's like you aren't even mad that Yugi dragged you back."

Yami rested crossed arms on the railing next to her and looked up at the stars, clearly thinking his way through his answer. Finally, he said, "Your friend forced you to return? That… was cruel." He turned his head slightly to look at her. "But, you are a warrior. If your friend had not forced you, but instead pleaded that she needed your help…?"

Buffy blinked at him, then looked up at the stars as well and thought about that.

Willow forced me back. It hurt. But if I'd known that she needed me, or Xander, or Giles, or even Cordelia…

"Yeah," she breathed, softly. "Yeah. I'd have come."

They stood silently for several long seconds. Finally, Buffy huffed and smiled wryly. "Although to be honest, I'm getting kind of sick of being the one who has to save the world…"

"…again," Yami finished for her with a grimace and a sigh.

They looked at each other. Slowly, both of them began to grin.

"You too?" Yami asked ruefully.

"Think we should form a club?" Buffy offered her hand.

Yami laughed and accepted the handshake. "Chronic World Saviors Anonymous." He tilted his head, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "And, Buffy…"


"Heaven has peace. The mortal realm has chocolate."

Buffy stopped, blinked – and then astonished herself by laughing.

~…for one moment more.~

AN: This story started out as a simple idea for a fix-it to the end of YGO – some World Destruction/Conquering type attempts to summon "the power of Darkness," and Yugi realizes that while he can't stop the spell, he can hijack it – and there's one particular "power of Darkness" that he knows is a good guy. And if you want a world-conquering, summoning-the-powers-of-Darkness bad guy – well, Buffy has plenty of them.

The next thing I know, Buffy and Yami are looking at each other (and yes, there's a reason he's going by Yami and not Atem, one I may get into in a later installment of this 'verse), and saying, "Stuck on the world-savior speed-dial list? Check. Destiny out to get you? Check. Found peace in heaven only to be dragged back to save the world again? Check. Dude. BFF!"

A note about the Shadow Realm and Shadow Games – despite Yugi's struggles in his final Duel with Pegasus, we never see (at least in the main storyline) anything about exposure to the Shadow Realm and the effort of summoning draining a Duelist again. Malik's games were vicious, but only as a direct result of how he set up the game, not the Shadows themselves. However, when Bakura takes on Kotsuzuka in the cemetery, he does say, "Just pray that I keep protecting you from (the Shadows)," or something of the sort. So, bunnies offer this as a solution: a true Shadow Mage, when invoking the Shadows, automatically keeps the game "fair." Part of that means that the opponent isn't allowed to be handicapped by the very environment.

And for the record, no, Pegasus wasn't a true Shadow Mage. He wasn't even much of a gamer. He depended on having cheaty cards and reading people's minds.

(The issue of fairness and Shadow Games – well, I have a fairly detailed theory about how that works and why a card game ended up being so powerful. This series may eventually touch on it.)


"I had to fight the guy I loved after he lost his soul, and then had to kill him after he got it back. Plus the whole dying to close an interdimensional gateway thing."

"Died to save my people only to be trapped in sensory deprivation as a spirit with no memory of the past for five thousand years. Then I awakened and learned I would have to do it all again, for the privilege of completing my death." Yami tilted his head to the side. "Of course, the first time Yugi had to save the world, he was offered several million yen, received partial ownership of an extremely successful company, and became world-famous."

Buffy paused and grimaced. "If your other self weren't so blasted loveable, I'd hate him."

"Don't be so quick to judge." At Buffy's skeptical look, Yami said, simply, "Fans."

Buffy pursed her lips for a moment. "…You still win the Saving the World Sucks sweepstakes."

Yami arched an eyebrow.

"You have to suffer the fans with Yugi."