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Chapter 18 - Afterwards

"Will these dreams still follow me
Out of dark obscurity..."
--Ministry, Burning Inside

"Geez, we're away one weekend an' we miss everythin'!" Joey exclaimed enviously after hearing Yugi and Téa's update on the events of the weekend. Joey and Tristan were standing with Yugi and Téa, who were sitting on a sidewalk bench just outside the gaming shop that Yugi's Grandpa ran. The warm, Sunday afternoon sun had begun its lazy descent into the western sky, lengthening the shadows of the buildings so that they stretched halfway across the road. Joey and Tristan had just arrived on Tristan's motorcycle, full of news about their weekend with Serenity, which had been promptly stunted by the recount of Yugi and Téa's weekend. They had listened, open-mouthed, as they described Bakura's dark influence, and Cora's transformation, not to mention the explicit details of Yugi/Yami's magic, offered by a very excited and proud Téa. ("And he didn't even burn his hands this time!") At the end of it all, Joey had been the first to speak after a dumbfounded silence, and the exclamation seemed to shake Tristan's tongue into action.

"I still can't believe you two actually broke into the old headframe," Tristan smiled impishly, shaking his head. "I didn't think you had it in you, dude."

Yugi grimaced. "Well, I had it in me and I left it there," he stated. "What a dump."

"'Dump' is the understatement of the Century," Téa threw in, making a face.

"Why is this Samekh guy always after Cora, anyway?" Tristan asked, puzzled.

"You mean, besides the fact that he hates Yami? I'm not sure," Yugi thought for a moment, his face serious. "I think it has to do with her power over the Shadow Games. It's her force that keeps the power of the Game in favour of the good, just like the Millennium Items gave the evil an unfair advantage back in Ancient Egypt. By binding himself to one of the items, Yami kind of took over part of their empire, I guess, but the other items have to be controlled by the right people, or..."

"I don't know. This is gettin' a little weird for me," Joey cut in, running a hand through his shaggy, brownish-blonde hair. "I'm kinda glad Serenity ain't involved in any of this stuff right now..."

"Oh, yeah," Yugi said, remembering, "how is Serenity doing, anyway?"

"Great," Joey said, happy at finally being able to share a little bit about his weekend. "She still has to wear those eye shields, but that'll only be for about another month. An' she says that even through the shields she can see better already!"

"I think her eyes are pretty, even behind those shields," Tristan tossed in with a broad smile.

"Watch it, pal," Joey threatened darkly, "that's my sister you're talkin' about!"

"That's right," Tristan agreed in an over-pleasant voice, "and that puts you out of the running."

Joey responded with all of the tact of an angry tomcat.

"Keep talkin' like that an' I'll put you out of the running!" he bristled.

"At least Samekh has lost his advantage over Cora and Yami," Yugi said quickly, changing the subject back to his and Téa's weekend, which at the moment seemed a far less volatile subject. "Without her mortal body, he won't be able to use the Soul Suckers against her."

"Yeah, but now he'll focus all of his power on gaining all of the Millennium Items," Téa returned worriedly. "He'll want them all to gain back his advantage..."

"Téa, it won't be anything that he hasn't tried before," Yugi reassured. "I think Yami and I can handle him..."

"But Yami is in a Millennium Item, Yugi..." Téa persisted.

"Besides," Yugi interrupted firmly, "I trust Bakura's strength. I think he'll win over Samekh..."

"Bakura was gone by the time we got to the bottom of the headframe," Téa reminded him. "And so was the Millennium Eye. You know that ring of his points him to other Millennium items, so he probably found it, and took off with it again. And we couldn't even check with him, because the neighbours said that he left with his mom and dad for the coast this morning..."

Yugi reached out and took her hand, a silencing look in the violet eyes.

"You know," he said affectionately, "you worry too much."

Téa shook her head, a you-are-impossible look in her bright blue eyes. "And you," she replied, just as affectionately, "don't worry enough."

"Well, I say we stop all this worryin' and head to the Burger Palace," Joey piped up. "It's time for my afternoon snack!"

Tristan rolled his eyes. "Is that after your post-lunch snack and before your pre-supper snack?"

"Somewhere around there," Joey smirked, then added with a feral sort of hunger in his voice, "you know, I could go for one of their Extreme Fries with gravy!"

"Why don't you just put some cheese all over that and go for 100 percent cholesterol?" Téa replied sardonically.

"You know," Joey said thoughtfully, "that sounds kinda good..."

"Sometimes you scare me, pal," Tristan commented.

They had all risen by now and were meandering down the sidewalk, but Téa hung back, glancing meaningfully at Yugi. Catching the look, Yugi frowned curiously and dropped back to fall into step beside her.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Yugi, I picked this up before we left the headframe," Téa said quickly, looking a little uncomfortable as she reached out a small fist. "It was Yami's once. I-I think you should have it..."

Téa opened her fist to reveal a shining, silver C-shaped object: Yami's Magician's Ring.

Yugi stared at it for a moment, his face unreadable. Slowly, he reached up and took it, letting it rest for a moment on the centre of his palm. It was smooth, except for the jagged edge where it had been cut, and it was still warm from being held in Téa's fist. It glinted brightly in the sun for a moment, before his fingers closed over it.

"Thanks," he said softly.

* * *

The plaintive cry of seagulls mingled with the ecstatic squeals of three small children playing and splashing with reckless abandon in the gentle surf. Unnoticed by them about one hundred feet away, a dark pair of eyes watched the tireless play, occasionally drifting down to the surf that washed sand over the bare feet that were slowly sinking into the beach. Motionless, except for the occasional shift of eyes, the figure that owned both those eyes and feet was squatting down in a baggy pair of clamdiggers, bare-chested, except for a bright, golden ring on a short chain, which caught the blood-red rays of the setting sun, refracting them all around him in a neon spatter.

One of the children attempted a dive into the water, screaming and laughing, while his two companions splashed him incessantly with water. There was more screaming, more laughing. Screaming. And laughing.

The dark eyes narrowed as they watched the children playing in the water with a disturbing intensity, as one hand began to slowly caress the smooth, gold ring that hung around his neck...

"Bakura! Come on! It's supper time!"

The dark eyes never moved, nor did the cold expression on the pale face flinch. Slowly, he drew a hand across his face to pull a strand of creamy blonde hair back into the windblown mass on top of his head.

"Coming," the boy whispered in a chilling, hoarse voice, "mother."

* * *


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