Embracing the Shadows of Dreams

By: Xananddare Liadon

Disclaimer: Yeah, yeah. I know. The old legal yadda, yadda. But it has to be done. So ::takes a deep breath:: I neither own nor am I affiliated with Yu Gi Oh!. Yu Gi Oh!, it characters, concepts, images, etc are all copyright 2001 Kazuki Takahashi.

Rating: PG-13 for some language, references to character death

Genre: Angst/Romance, Alternate Universe

Summary: Set over a century in the future, long after Yugi and his friends are dead, Yami has established a body of his own and a life for himself when Tea mysteriously appears back in his life.

~*~*~*~

He posed a striking figure, even writing instructions for his stock broker into his PDA and emailing them with a click of his "pen". Leaning against a deceptively fragile desk of steel and glass, in a pleasant but decidedly austere office, wearing an expression of cool concentration, he was nothing if not the epitome of a professional, but he still cut a damn striking figure.

The setting sun filtering through the half-opened blinds of the full southern exposure framed his lean body like a halo, contrasting dramatically with the black leather and silk he wore. Tanzanite eyes in a face crowned in fire finished the look of a man who could break the heart of any woman, and knew it.

The original and still reigning king of games dressed slightly more conservatively than when he flaunted his jacket cape in Battle City. His hips were no longer draped with a matched pair of belts, and his designer clothing was generally black instead of blue, but the flared jacket and his belt chocker (though smaller and with an engraved silver buckle) was definitely and could be none other than Yami.

He made a few more notes in his PDA, then let it fall on some paperwork on his desk with the air of someone who could afford to forget about both for a while (or at least pretend to), then left his home office. Yami politely nodded a greeting to his personal secretary and strolled with the grace and rightful pride of a mountain lion to the balcony on his private floor. He briefly paused by the VR suite he often used when dueling, his hand hovering over the panel by the door as if debating whether to go inside, but then he walked past. Even though he possessed a view of Tokyo many artists and photographers would (and did) beg to see, today his eyes were looking inward.

Industrial Illusions, his company ever since Pegasus had retired and announced Yami as his successor to everyone's surprise (not the least being his own), was no longer the stimulating challenge it had been when he took the reins over ninety years ago. Somewhere in the company's office building, artists and designers created the cards, marketing promoted them, accounting managed the books, and all the departments worked together like parts in some fluid machine with his high level CEO's and CFO's overseeing it all. The most he really did anymore was pose for the cover of the new booster packs, and, of course, the goddamned paperwork. Most of the real business affairs he did handle were his own. I feel like I've managed this company to no longer need me, was a frequent thought over the past several months. For anything important anyway. Now it seems everything I do is only important for its tediousness, especially when everyone thinks he can't do his job without my approval, he thought with an ironic half-smile. I could probably hire a couple of assistants to do most of that paperwork for me too if I wanted, but then what would I do?

As it had often since he first began feeling this aimless boredom, Yami's mind wandered to when Yugi and their friends were still alive and teenagers with wistful nostalgia. I served a much greater purpose then and had my friends at my side. He added an sardonic half-laugh. And I dueled people who were actually challenging! Now ... now I am a man without a destiny.

~*~*~*~

Exiting his building on the way to his limo, he grimaced on hearing someone yelling his name. Not again. When are people going to learn?!

"Yami Motoh!" a young man yelled out again as if Yami were deaf the first time around. "I challenge you to a duel!"

Yami, his face schooled into an expression of calm nonchalance, turned and faced the young man. He could've been from any high school in Tokyo, and only his uniform distinguished him as a student of Tokyo's Kaisei Academy Senior High School. I hope he doesn't think being in an especially tough school makes him worthy of me. He repressed a weary sigh and held out his left arm. From a gold chain bracelet on his wrist, just below his Rolex, a duel disk formed as if it were made of liquid. The young man already had his on. Huh, a Battle City version, he thought, actually a little impressed. When was the last time I saw one of those? "Old school, are you?"

"Huh?"

Yami shook his head. "Never mind." Probably found it in a yard sale or something. "Show me what you can do."

The spectators could've timed Yami's victory in five minutes flat.

I'll have to watch that one, Yami thought, riding in the dark sanctuary of his limo. He nearly tricked me when he set his first monster in attack mode face-down. He looked out the window with a bored expression. I might've fallen for it too, if I had been too dumb to remember how strong some of the level three monsters can be. I had almost forgotten how the rules had changed over the last century as well, nearly called him out on playing a card that way. He frowned at his own inability to keep up with the changing rules. Still, he has some potential.

His eyes were then suddenly held by an impossibly familiar sight when the limo stopped at a red light by the newest Burger World. Hmm? For a moment that girl with the bob looked like-- Then the girl turned around, and Yami nearly burst out of the car right then. It ... it can't be! It's not possible!

The girl was short, only a few inches taller than Yami's original height, but her slim build made her look taller. Her large, round, and expressive ocean blue eyes were staring with a lost expression at an invisible point across the street. Her face, crafted with a simple but fresh beauty was framed by rich brown hair. She ... she looks like Tea! "Paul," he ordered his driver. "Pull over and find a parking space, now."

"Yes sir." Paul had driven his boss Yami long enough not to ask questions. He parallel parked with an ease and speed of an old hand, but was still too slow for his boss, who exited the car almost before it had completely stopped.

Yami got out in time to see Tea's twin enter Burger World and quickly followed her. I don't know who she is, but no one can look that much like Tea and either be her or someone deliberately meant to look like her. He went inside the crowded restaurant. Why the hell did Burger World have to promote an opening day special on free burgers for their new restaurant today?! The place was so crowded he couldn't step anywhere without bumping into someone. The line waiting for service was unreal, especially for cheap burgers and fries. Yami looked around, trying to peer above everyone else's heads. He maneuvered his way through the entire place, but never saw even a hint of Tea's brown bob.

With a sigh of frustration and, to his surprise, disappointment, Yami gave up. He bought a soda to avoid looking like a complete idiot to his driver, who he knew gossiped like an old woman, and returned to his limo.

"Must've been thirsty," Paul muttered.

Yami knew any response would've sound lame and opted to remain silent. "Let's just go. I don't want to keep the artists waiting." And why they seem to be unable to decide on what new cards to produce without my approval is beyond me. They know more about making cards than I do.

"Yes sir."

~*~*~*~

Yami returned home with a profound wish to lock himself in his bedroom and hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign big enough for the entire world to read on his door. By now he had almost convinced himself that he had never really saw Tea, that what he really saw was a brief hallucination brought on by his nostalgic mind. That it had made him make a fool of himself was something he could forget.

"Yami?" a young woman's soft voice froze him in front of the elevator and made him feel like a giant had grabbed him by the throat and squeezed. Slowly, he turned around, half afraid of what he would see. He gasped, and the giant that had grabbed his throat with one hand grabbed his heart with the other.

She could've stepped directly out of the first day of Battle City. He remembered that outfit, the yellow sleeveless top with the silver chain, the black skirt. He remembered thinking how bold it looked on a girl who usually dressed in pastels. "T-Tea? Is that really you?" asked hoarsely, as if whispering.

"I ... I think so," Tea replied, her eyes still having the lost expression he saw that afternoon. "Where am I? Where's everyone else?" She tilted her head slightly. "And ... um ... did you get taller?"

Yami laughed nervously, tears threatening to escape his eyes. Unable to stop himself, he raced the few feet between them and grabbed her shoulders, looking deep into her eyes as if his mind couldn't believe what his senses were telling him. Then he just held her, his tears falling into her hair. After a shocked moment, Tea returned the embrace. "Tea!" he whispered. "It's you! It's really you!" A small voice in his mind tried to rein him in, telling him this was logically impossible, that the real Tea died years ago. The rest of him told that part exactly where it could go.

He would've held on longer, but Tea gently pulled herself away. "Yami, what's happened? Why's everything so different?"

She acts like no time has passed since she was a teenager, Yami observed. Could she have come from another time? "It's ... complicated. Can you tell me the last thing you remember?"

Tea's eye took on a faraway look. "Well, I ... I'm not sure. I mean--" She rubbed her temples as if she had a headache. "It's all messed up in my head, like somebody beat my brain like an egg."

"What do you mean?"

"It's like ... I see memories of myself and all of us, but they can't be memories because ... I'm older in them. And I see you both and Yugi, as separate people."

Older? It sounds like they're memories of a past life. Is that what's happened? Has she reincarnated? But how? And how can it be possible to be reborn as the same person, in the same body? "Maybe you just need some time for everything to sort itself out. Why don't you come up with me? I'll try to explain everything I can."

He had her sitting comfortably on the couch and a mug of tea in her hands before he did he best to describe the past. "It's been a long time, over a century in fact."

"A century?" Tea nearly dropped her mug. "It's been that long? Is that why everything's so different?"

Yami nodded. "A long time ago, I found a way to create my own body with magic, creating a separate life for myself."

"But why?"

"So Yugi could have his." Because he wanted to marry you, but felt uncomfortable knowing you used to be infatuated with me. He couldn't be sure just which of us you wanted, until we became separate people with separate lives. "That was when you were all in your twenties. Then Pegasus retired some time later and left me the company."

Tea's mouth gaped. "So you own Industrial Illusions?! Wow!"

"Yes, that was my reaction too." And everyone else's. "Well, after your grandchildren became adults, things became ... awkward. I suppose they had trouble accepting someone who helped raise them, their parents, and watched their grandparents grow up. I watched three generations being born, and yet I still looked younger than they did. I reminded them of their mortality. They reminded me of how time took you away.

"Yeah, I guess that could make them pretty uncomfortable."

"Which is why I left Domino and moved here. I've been running the company ever since."

"Yami, what happened to everyone else? What happened to me?"

Should I tell her? Do I have the right to? "I think it's best you not know, not yet. Your memory may give you the answers to that by itself, if we give it time."

"Hmm, I guess. Say, is the game store still around?"

Yami nodded. "It is." But not in any way you'd recognize. It sells mostly video and role-playing games now, and if I hadn't still been living in Domino when the new owners decided to get rid of the old games ... He caught her trying to stifle a yawn. "I think you should get some sleep."

"Um, OK. I hope this couch pulls out into a bed."

With a gentle smile, Yami helped her up. "I think I can do better than that. I have a couple spare rooms when I entertain guests." Mostly used when one of them has had too much to drink to drive home, he thought sardonically. "Come on. You can take a shower or a bath while I get it ready for you."

Tea snickered. "You know, you're kind of acting like my dad."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, you know, all nurturing and all."

"Is that a good or a bad thing?" Yami asked with a slight chuckle.

~*~*~*~

Yami perched his chair precariously on its hind legs, trying to fully decipher the proposed merger. His CEO's had gotten the idea to acquire a small but flourishing company specializing in reintroducing games that were traditional when Monopoly was new, the kind Solomon would've sold. His executives wanted to take them and revitalize them with the same holographic technology they used for duel monsters.

He had to admit, part of him liked the idea. Bringing back the old games for the new generations was something he had wanted to do for some time, partly because it would've honored Yugi's grandfather. Yet something about the merger was bothering him every time he read the proposal, so much so he ended up taking it home to study over the weekend.

The glass clock on the wall chimed twice without his noticing. He began rocking the chair on its hind legs, the proposal in his hand and a pen clenched thoughtfully in his teeth. Finally he sighed and laid the sheaf of papers down. Maybe I need a break. He got up to open a window to the night sky, briefly reveling in the cool air. Why does this bother me so much? I haven't been this involved in years. Maybe it's because this is something I've wanted, and I can't believe my executives would just give to me. But then why are my instincts telling me something's not right--? A sudden scream from Tea's room broke his train of thought. Without thinking, he ran to her and sat at her bedside where she was trembling, her eyes taking up over half her face.

"Tea, Tea!" He grabbed her shoulders. "What's wrong? What happened?"

"I ... I, I ... oh God, Yami, I had a terrible dream!"

Yami didn't immediately play out "it was only a dream" platitudes. He just continued to hold her by her shoulders until she began to relax. "What kind of dream?"

"I ... I was in a bed, and I felt old, really old. It was a white bed, with metal bars around it. I had tubes coming out of my nose and stuff. Everyone was standing around me, and they were all old too, except you.

A white bed with metal bars? A hospital bed? He had seen her a number of times in the hospital, especially after she developed breast cancer. Was her dream a memory? "What then?"

"Everything seemed ... distant. I was hurting, a lot, but the pain seemed far away. Then it felt like I was being pulled backwards through a tunnel, away from you, and I, I, I ..." She burst into tears and laid her head on her knees.

Gently, Yami pulled her head up and let her lean on his shoulder. "It's all right. It's over," he whispered. A memory. She remembered her own death. He didn't blame her for waking up screaming. Watching her slowly die when her cancer metastasized, wasting away as if she were decomposing before she died was something he often wished he could forget. And to experience it firsthand ... he closed the door on that thought before it made him sick. It's proven one thing, the small part of his mind not occupied with helping Tea thought, she's not from another time. She can't be and still remember her whole life. In his arms, Tea had stopped crying on his silk shirt, but somehow he felt reluctant to let her go. And from how she was making no effort to pull away, he had a feeling she felt the same.

"Yami?"

"Hm?"

"Stay with me tonight? Please?" Tea looked up at him, her ocean eyes pleading.

Yami smiled softly, the proposal gladly forgotten. "Sure." He tucked her into bed, then lied down beside her, the blankets between them. She still snuggled close to him, and he let her, gently stroking her hair until she fell asleep. The lights in the other room had already automatically turned off when they didn't sense movement, leaving them in darkness. She's not from another time. She seems to be here in a completely new life. It seems so unbelievable, being reborn as the exact same person. Does it mean ... I can keep her with me?

* * *

Yami woke up leisurely, for the first time feeling no real need to get immediately out of bed. Lying there next to Tea felt so nice, although he had to loosen her arms slightly from around his neck. What does she think I am, a teddy bear? he wondered with some amusement. Then he just laid there, watching her sleep. She looks so peaceful. I wonder if Yugi liked watching her sleep when they were married? At that thought, a guilty pain stuck him like a stiletto at the base of his heart. He gently pried himself out of her embrace and got out of bed, taking care not to disturb her.

Before leaving, he turned to look once more at her sleeping form. She belongs to Yugi, not you, he chastised himself. Even if she is thinking like a teenager and still has a crush on you. He briskly turned and walked out, annoyed with himself. It's why you separated from Yugi in the first place! The memory invited itself into his mind ...

~*~*~*~

Yugi, now twenty-seven, was sitting at his desk, leaning on his right elbow and staring at a jewelry gift box he was turning over and over in his left hand.

Sensing his worry, Yami appeared. "Aibou, what's troubling you?" He took a lighter tone. "Getting nervous about asking her?"

"You have no idea," Yugi replied cryptically.

"Maybe I can help?"

"It's you that's the problem," Yugi blurted out, then immediately bit his lip in regret. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. It's not your fault, but ..."

Yami laid a hand on his shoulder in understanding. "It's that, isn't it?" both knowing exactly what "that" was.

"Yeah. It's just that we're so close I'm not sure if she'll be saying yes to me ... or you."

Yami's eyes seemed to stare at a mark on the wall for a while, until it seemed like he had come to a decision. "Maybe I can help. I can't guarantee she'll say yes to you, but ... at least you'll know."

"How?"

~*~*~*~

Yami all but kicked the memory out of his head. And you got what you wanted, but we lost our close bond then. I couldn't speak directly into your mind anymore. Our separation made you two so happy, and as much as I was thrilled for you, I couldn't help but be jealous of both of you. He blinked back tears. Aibou, I miss you!

Behind him, he heard Tea beginning to stir. Drying his eyes on his sleeve, he went to the phone to order in some breakfast for her.

~*~*~*~

"I feel like you're spoiling me," Tea said playfully during breakfast.

"Is that a complaint?" Yami asked, just as playfully.

"No, but come on, you don't really think I can eat all this, do you?" She gestured towards the eggs, rice, toast, pastries, fruit, three different juices, and milk. "And how come you aren't eating?"

"My body is made of energy. I don't need to eat."

"Wait a minute ... I thought I saw you get a soda at Burger World."

Yami's eyes went wide. "You saw me?"

"Well, yeah."

"Then why did you run away?"

Tea's face showed a ghost of her initial confusion. "Well, it was all so strange. I had no idea where I was, nothing looked right, and when I saw you ... well ... not even you looked like you."

It took a moment for Yami to realize what she meant. "Oh, I suppose that would be more of a shock than you could've handled." How could I not look like myself? Have I changed that much? It has been a long time, but ...

"Hey," Tea interrupted his woolgathering. "Have you ever eaten? Besides liquids I mean?"

"Once, actually."

"Oh? What happened?"

"I'll give you a hint. When I created this body, I built my stomach to receive liquids, not solid food."

Tea made an "eww" face that made him chuckle. "But why make a stomach at all?"

"Because getting together for drinks is often used for business meetings and other social functions." He shrugged. "It's more for appearance than anything else. Don't worry about all the food. We can just put the leftovers in the fridge."

Tea leaned back to look at the kitchen. "Why would someone who doesn't need to eat even need a fridge, let alone a kitchen?"

"In case I have guests." Yami's face took on a wry look. "Besides, can you imagine telling your building contractor and decorator why you wouldn't need one?" he asked with the dry amusement of someone who tried.

"Ehh, they wouldn't believe you, huh?"

"Not at all. Finally I just gave up, but told them not to plug in anything." They didn't do that either, he thought, shaking his head. "After you're finished, we'll go shopping."

Tea's head whirled at hearing the name of one of a girl's favorite hobbies. "Shopping for what?"

"Clothing. You need some more outfits."

She looked down at the clothes she wore, clean, but still the same outfit she had on yesterday, and was inclined to agree. "I hope we find something I like. The fashions I've been seeing are really wild."

You should've seen the fad ninety years ago where everyone was trying to mimic my hairstyle, Yami thought with an ironic smile. With mixed results.

~*~*~*~

From the moment they stepped outside, Yami could've been a sugar daddy. After a leisurely limo ride they entered what Tea swore was the biggest mall on the planet. From there, whatever caught Tea's eye regardless of the price tag, Yami encouraged her to try it on. Soon she felt like she was playing dress-up, and loving it.

"You know, Yami," she said when she was wearing a black and gray kimono and twirling in front of a mirror. "If I'm going to parade in all these new outfits, the least you could do is join me."

"Hm?"

Tea giggled. "When was the last time you wore something other than black?"

Yami looked at himself as if for the first time. That ... is a good question.

"Come on, try on some new outfits with me!"

"Well ..." The store clerks, eager to get an even bigger commission from one of the richest men in Japan, encouraged him as much as Tea did until he finally held up his hands in surrender. "All right, all right. I guess I could use a few new suits."

"Try something in blue," Tea suggested. "You look good in it."

"I don't know," he replied hesitantly.

"Why not?"

"It's too much ... like Yugi." Blue was his favorite color, it was why he sometimes wore his uniform on the weekends.

She saw the sad look and immediately regretted what she said. "I'm sorry," she said, hugging him. "I didn't know."

"It's all right," he said softly, hugging her back. "It's just ... I miss him."

"So do I."

For some people that would've been the perfect thing to say, but it only stabbed his heart again. She remembers how happy they were together, she has to. I have no right to this. His hold on her became a desperate one. But I need her!

"Yami?" Tea caught his attention and made him realize how hard he was holding her. "Are you OK?"

"Don't worry. I'm fine." He loosened his hold and stepped back to look at her. "You look very nice in that."

If Tea noticed he changed the subject, she didn't say anything. Instead she looked down at the kimono. "Yeah, I like it too, but not in these colors."

"Oh I agree," the saleslady said with the air of an expert yes man. "Perhaps something in a blue like your eyes?"

~*~*~*~

After buying enough new clothes to fill two closets, not including accessories, Tea expressed a desire to see what else was around. "It's all so new. There's so much that's changed, I wonder what everything's like in this time? Like food, and movies, and music, and dance ..."

"One way to find out." And with that bit of encouragement, Yami gently took her by the arm and led her to what could've been a music superstore. "I think the section for dance music and video discs is near the back, Tea." He turned toward her and realized she was gone. "Tea?" He looked around and finally spied her checking out the holographic selection system the music and movie industries developed some forty years ago. He watched with fond amusement as she picked a disc track at random and watch the band appear and play in a hologram in front of her, her eyes glittering with delight. So that's what a kid in a candy store looks like.

She was so enraptured she didn't even noticed him walking up to her. "Like it?"

"Yipes!" Tea jumped, startled.

"Sorry." He had the grace to look sheepish.

"It's OK." She looked back at the hologram. "It looks like the holograms from when you play Duel Monsters."

"It's the same technology. The music and movie industries got together with us, my company, to make it happen," he said with some pride.

"I thought Kaiba owned that technology."

Yami shrugged. "I bought the patents some years ago. It just made sense considering we used them the most for Duel monsters." I had to wait until Kaiba died before his corporation would sell them though. By then, his executives, even his daughter, were ready to let them expire.

"Wow."

Yami shrugged. "Actually, it wasn't that difficult--" he was interrupted by the hologram changing to something he hadn't heard in so long he'd almost forgotten it.

"Cause I'm broken when I'm open

And I don't feel like I am strong enough

'Cause I'm broken when I'm lonesome

And I don't feel right when you're gone away."

Tea had her eyes closed in pure enjoyment of the song by Seether Feat & Amy Lee from Evanescence. "I love this song."

I'm surprised their system's database goes back that far. "If you like it, I'll get it for you."

"Oh, you don't need to do that."

"I want to," Yami insisted. "I just want to make you happy." He turned to buy the disc without another word, not noticing the troubled look Tea gave him.

"He's not try to ... buy my happiness, is he?" She softly asked herself. She did, however, appreciate the gift, taking the disc out and gazing at the case almost before they even left the store. Yami didn't mind, it meant she wouldn't notice him looking fondly at her while they strolled down the halls with no particular place to go.

"Any place else you want to go?" he asked her.

She shrugged, putting the disc back in the bag. "Oh, it doesn't matter."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, you don't have to spoil me!" Not wanting to hurt his feelings, she added with a chuckle, "Not that it isn't nice."

Yami felt the urge to comb one of her stray hairs back behind her ear and stifled it. "All right, I just want you to be happy."

Tea grabbed him by the shoulders so he'd look straight at her. "Yami, what makes me happy is spending time with you."

He smiled and turned the hold into an embrace, trying very hard to keep it a friendly one. "How is it you can make feel so wonderful with just a few words?"

She giggled. "I don't know." She leaned her head against his shoulder with a contented sigh.

Yami raised an eyebrow. "You've never done that before."

"You weren't tall enough for me to do it before," Tea retorted with a snicker. "If I tried we would've been knocking heads. Why you'd make yourself taller anyway?"

"Because I learned the world was not made for short people."

"Hmm." She smiled. "True." She looked contented enough to start purring. "It feels really nice, doing this."

You have no idea. He dared to pull her just a little closer. How can I be feeling like this? Oh, Tea! I want to wake up with you every morning with you holding me like a teddy bear. I would gladly sell my company if it meant I could spend my life with you. I ... I ... am I falling in love?

Don't be crazy. She isn't yours to love!

She makes me feel so alive--

She belongs to Yugi!

But Yugi's dead. The last thought halted the argument in his mind. He's been dead for years. And she's here now. A small crowd of people began to form around them, a few of them with press badges. He didn't care. His heart feeling like it was in a vice, he bowed his head and softly kissed the top of Tea's head.

From that moment it was like they were under a wondrous spell, one Yami had no desire to break, ever. Tea raised her head, her eyes looking at him with a mix of hope and fear, and anticipation. She wrapped her arms around his neck, bringing his head forward. He responded by pulling her even closer. His fingers satisfied the urge to bury themselves in her hair as their eyes closed and their lips parted, anxious to meet.

"Yami Motoh! I want a rematch!" The shout broke the spell as easily as if it were made of spun glass. Yami growled and turned towards the boy striding towards him, the boy he had beaten so easily just two days earlier. "You again," he remarked flatly.

The kid just stood defiantly, either not knowing or caring what he was interrupting. "Come on, you never back down from a challenge."

Yami scowled and pulled away from Tea to glare at the audacious child. "The only thing you're challenging me to do is to test my patience." And maybe how well I can resist the urge to slap your face. "Don't waste my time." He abruptly turned away from the stunned duelist to get Tea and get them out of the mall.

But she had disappeared.

~*~*~*~

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Yami berated himself. I shouldn't have been that forward with her! When no one, least of all the paparazzi he had come to know almost by name, had known where Tea went, he called his limo driver Paul to help and went looking himself. But where did she go?! Ugh! How could I have been so dumb?!

Calm down, he ordered himself, pausing to take a steadying breath. This isn't going to find her. She probably went off to think, which means she probably went to a single place and stayed there. If I keep searching, I will find her. His mind finally in agreement with himself, he searched for her floor by floor.

Suddenly, he glimpsed Tea's brown bob in the food court by one of the exits, and followed it, elbowing a few people out of his way in the process despite the profanities that followed him.

He followed her outside and looked around, but the parking lot was empty of people. Where is she? Trusting his instincts, he ran down the sidewalk until he was in the back parking lot for the delivery trucks, where he saw her duck behind a wall. "Tea! Wait!" He turned the corner to find Tea standing in the shade of the wall, her back to him. "Tea?" He took a step towards her.

Tea turned around slowly and looked at him, her eyes looking at him sadly. "We can't do this, Yami."

"What do you mean? That we can't be in a relationship?" He tried coming closer, but she stepped back. "Tea, it's all right. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been so forward with you. If friendship's all you want--"

"It's not that."

"Then what is it? Please, tell me."

"I'm ... I'm not really ... real."

"What are you talking about?" He reached out for her, but she stepped back once and disappeared, as if she fell into oblivion. "What the?!" He ran the last few steps to where she had been. What happened to her?! Where did she go?! His trademark composure nearly gone, he extended his senses to look for magic when his hand disappeared. What the hell?! He immediately pulled back his arm as if burned, and his hand reappeared. Some kind of portal, and she went through. He steeled himself and dived inside.

After a moment of disorientation, he looked around in shock, surrounded by shifting walls of black fog that was like toxic smoke. The Shadow Realm? But how? What the hell is going on?! He saw Tea's barely distinguishable form and ran towards her. Again, she was silent, her back to him. "Tea? Tea, are you all right?" The young woman turned to look at him, her sadness mixed with resignation. "Please, just tell me what's going on."

"I'm not real," Tea replied simply.

"But that doesn't make any sense. How can you not be real?" Desperately he prayed that she was wrong, that this was some kind of nightmare and he'd wake up with her arms around him.

She didn't respond. Instead she closed her eyes with a tired sigh, as if she was letting herself go.

Yami gasped as her body began turning black like some ebony statue. "No!" Don't leave me! Desperately he ran and held her in his arms, as if his body alone could protect her from what was happening, yet she collapsed and fell apart before his eyes, disappearing like fog in his hands.

He collapsed to the ground with a strangled sob. Why? How could she have not been real? I held her, touched her, talked to her! She talked like Tea, acted like her.

Acted ... perfectly. Perfect to memory. He tried shutting his mind off to that thought, not wanting to think about where it would lead.

She looked like she did as a teenager, just like I remembered, but she remembered every moment of her life, even her death. He screamed his refusal at the logic, not wanting to think, but his mind wouldn't listen.

It was impossible, I knew that. How could have she possibly been real? Everything perfect to memory ...

"No," he breathed. I don't want to think about this.

Memory ... his mind insisted. She must have came from my memory. I ... created her. I must have. There's no other way.

But how could I have when I don't remember doing it? And why did she leave?

His mind had no response. He bashed the ground with his fists. No! It can't be! Deep within he knew it was there was no other possibility, that somehow, perhaps subconsciously, he created the woman from the energies that were a part of him, yet he was unwilling to lose what had made him so happy for the first time in so many years.

He pushed himself to his feet and demanded the power come to him, felt it filling his body like firestorm. If I made her, then I want her back! He gave in to everything he felt and poured it into his creation. The slim body, the short hair brown as honey, the fair skin that blushed so easily, the beautiful ocean blue eyes that were so open and expressive, the way her free spirit shown through those eyes, the way she smiled that kept them all believing even during the worst of times.

There, he sighed, looking at her with longing. She's finished, perfect to memory. Tea faced him, a soft smile on her lips.

She isn't real--

I don't care! He embraced her, his heart aching with longing. "Please come back to me," he whispered into her hair. "Don't leave me!"

Tea didn't respond, didn't move. He pulled away to look at her face, only to stare at eyes that were blank, lifeless. She was only a soulless doll.

"No." Why isn't she talking to me? I made her once, surely I can do it again. He called the power to him again and invested everything he had into her, pouring his memories of her into the doll, everything she ever said, ever did, ever felt.

And still, nothing. Yami's face crumbled, and he buried his face in Tea's chest crying, still holding the thing he had made. "Come back to me," he begged, pleaded. "I don't care what you are or what you're made of, just please come back to me." No one deigned to answer him.

Finally he collapsed to his knees, his body shaking with sobs like a wretched supplicant to a remote and unapproachable goddess. He took Tea's hands, looking for all the world like he was going to propose to her, but instead had to catch her when she fell forward.

Gently he laid her down beside him and brushed her hair away from her face. Why didn't it work? Why?! I should've been able to do it. If I originally made her then I should've been able to do it again. He laid his head on her chest. Unless someone else ... but who would have, or even could? There's no one still alive who even knew Tea, let alone what she meant to me. Exhausted, no longer caring where he was, Yami closed his eyes and fell into oblivion.

~*~*~*~

/Yami? Aibou, wake up./

/What?/ Yami replied without thinking. /Who ... who's there?/ He sat up and blinked at the light that hadn't been there before, and then at the beautiful face in front of it. /Yugi?/ He scrambled to his feet and grabbed the younger man by the shoulders, as if afraid he'd disappear.

Yugi just smiled. /Yes, it's me,/ he said, laughter at the edge of his voice.

/But ... how?/ He looks just like he did as a teenager ... before our lives began to change. Is that why Tea appeared like that? Then he realized what he was doing. /The bond! It's back!/

/Yup./ Yugi wrapped his arms around him and laid his head on Yami's chest. /I've missed you!/

Tears running down his face, Yami eagerly returned the embrace, Yugi's hair tickling his cheeks. /I've missed you too! I've missed all of you, so much!/ The light behind Yugi seemed to want to embrace them both, and it felt wonderful. /Yugi, what is that light?/

/It can be our way home, if you want it./ Yugi's mind voice sounded apprehensive.

/If I want it .../ It took a moment for the meaning of that to sink in, then yearning found relief in his heart and joined with it. Knowing his words would fail him, he just opened the bond wide and let what he felt pour through, and felt happiness and rejoicing pour back to him.

/Come on./ They began walking with their arms around each other's backs. /Let's go./

/Yes./ What did he have to go back to? A company that didn't really need him. A life that no longer had a destiny or a real purpose.

He could feel the light embracing them, filling every fiber of their beings with a warmth and peace he welcomed happily. He looked down at his aibou, feeling a notion to carry him through the light bridal-style.

Yugi snickered at his thought. /Hey! Not even I'm small enough for you to do that!/

~*~*~*~

It was so cold, so cold. Yami cried out in despair when he woke, yearning to return to the dream, but it disappeared into fragments like Tea had. That dream, I thought it had finally gone forever ... when Tea came.

He remembered clearly when he first saw that light, and longed for it. Yugi, you were dying. You were holding my hand so tight it was shaking. We had recreated part of the bond. I couldn't make it complete again, but it was enough to help you know you weren't alone. And then I felt your spirit leaving, and then ...

That light! That beautiful light! I saw it, and you. You wanted to take me with you. I wanted to go! But it wouldn't let me. His bond with the Puzzle kept him tied to this world, but he knew the force behind the light could have easily broken it if it willed it. I watched you go, leaving me alone. Everyone else had already gone, you were the last one, the only one I had left.

Yami got to his feet. Part of him noticed the Tea doll was gone and dismissed it as trivial. Why? How can you torture me like this? Consumed with grief, loneliness, and rage, he screamed the unfairness of it all into the Shadow Realm's eternal night, screamed until his lungs gave out and he fell to his knees again.

Please, he prayed to any god who would listen. Don't leave me like this. Let me go to them, or let one of them come back to me, I don't care! His head fell into his hands.

Just don't leave me like this, don't leave me here to live ... alone.

Fin