Genre: Holiday fic
Word count: 666
Rating: PG (but will increase)
Genre: Response to Plot Kitty 1-02c
Word count: 1,348
Genre: Challenge fic (GWYaoi 2005 Novella Challenge)
Entered: GWYaoi 2005 Novella Challenge (3rd place - Wildcard Category), Sands of Time
Word count: 12,379
//Can you still hear me?//
The voice was much softer now, so much quieter than it had been only days before. He bit his lip before letting his eyes slide closed and his attention turn inward. /I can, but just barely. Are you all right?/
He should have known better. That particular question - as well as any of its ilk - would never be answered. /I'm fine. Is IT trying something? You sound so far away./
//I don't think so. Not yet anyway. Go back to what you were doing.//
What he was doing was biting his upper lip in worry as he opened his eyes again. He almost wished Yuugi was here. Even putting up with the older boy's other half would be worth some answers. He was worried about his other half after all. After the debacle that was Battle City, they'd hardly switched off at all. It almost felt like he was being punished for his inability to hold the third part of their mind at bay.
//That's not true.// His other half sounded like he was pouting. //I'm not punishing you.//
/I know. It's just-/ He wasn't going to say or even allow himself to think it really, but he was still steamed at both Yuugis for the whole Osiris thing.
//It's hardly your fault you're not bad enough to hold IT back.//
He pouted. /I am so bad./
His other half chuckled, and he had to resist the urge to preen. //You cheated on your Domino High entrance exam, and you cussed - once! Badly, I might add. Yeah, let's put you in line for the next great evil, little one.//
It was so rare that his other half sounded happy at all anymore. Not that he had all that much to start off with, when he first got the Ring from his father. Then he'd been sullen and withdrawn, certain he'd only be in this body for a short while, before either the body was destroyed by IT or the Ring was sold to escape the 'curse'. He didn't know how many bearers the Ring and its two occupants had been through before him, but evidentially few of them had been long-lived or particularly kind. He'd seen some of his other half's nightmares, and they confirmed some of his suspicions.
Well, he was determined he was going to be the last bearer of the Sennen Ring. He was the first to share a name with one of its occupants, after all: the great, nearly broken Thief King Bakura.
He'd been making such progress, up until Duelist Kingdom. Stupid other Yuugi. Stupid graveyard. Stupid eyeball soup. Stupid Pegasus. Stupid Yuugi. Stupid Change of Heart. Stupid creepy Millennium Eye licking. Stupid Honda. And did he mention stupid Yuugi?
//I believe you did, little one.// There was a chuckle in his other's voice. //But I might suggest answering your teacher's question now.//
"Bakura-kun? The answer please?"
It would have helped to know the question. "Forty-two?"
The tittering laughter from his classmates, as well as the teacher's put-upon sigh, assured him that he most positively had not guessed correctly. The answer to life, the universe, and everything though it might be, apparently it was not the correct one this time.
//Concentrate on school. I'll talk to you afterwards.// The voice faded further away, and he was left with only the faintest of impressions of his other still in his mind.
He slammed the apartment door closed behind him, clicking the locks home as he toed off his shoes. He started to drop his bag in front of the closet door. /Are you there?/ he called desperately.
There was silence for several seconds, till his fingers had tightened on the strap of his book bag and his knuckles were white. //I'm here, little one.//
He released a sigh of relief, his legs going boneless so he sank to the floor. "Thank God," he whispered aloud. /I thought- I didn't know what to think. I was so scared./ He let out another breath. /I thought you were gone./
//You're not getting rid of me so easily, you know.// The voice was softer now than it had been even this afternoon in class.
/I'm coming in./ He always tried to warn his other before slipping into the room in his mind that he supposed was his soul. He wasn't too sure, but he believed his other appreciated it.
//Not yet.// Was that a desperate note in the former Thief King's voice? Worry, just beginning to recede a bit, rushed back up through him in a cold wave. //Why don't you at least change out of that uniform and into something more comfortable first? Weren't you just telling me last week how uncomfortable the winter uniform is? Go change, then come in.//
He wanted to object and barge directly in. Every inch of his relationship with his other was built on him not pushing Bakura too hard, though, or not going beyond any point the thief felt comfortable with, and he didn't want to ruin that now. His other was probably just tired. Yeah, that was it: he was tired. There was no reason to go plunging in their minds and risk ruining what he'd spent so long building. He'd never be able to take the thought of his other thinking he was like that, like them, like those who had held the Ring before him.
He drew himself to his feet and trudged back into his bedroom. Once there, he snagged the first shirt and pair of jeans he could find and changed into them. It was only once he'd settled into the nest of pillows he'd made for times like this in the room that had once housed a giant tabletop version of Monster World, yami no game-style, that he realized he'd put back on the same blue and white striped shirt, the same teal overshirt, and the same blue jeans he'd worn throughout Battle City. He'd been avoiding the outfit ever since then, with the memories it dredged up; he'd even been considering burning it or throwing it out. Well, he'd do that later. He had much more important things to be doing right now, after all. /I'm coming in now,/ he warned again.
Without giving his other a chance to respond, he slipped into the room that was supposed to represent his soul. Since it was a copy of the room his body was sitting in, only with said giant tabletop Monster World game still intact, he didn't see how that was supposed to be. Given the state of his other's room, however, perhaps these rooms were the embodiment of their worst memories. He was willing to bet it wasn't like this for Yuugi and the other Yuugi; their rooms were probably all their happiest memories. Stupid Yuugis.
He maneuvered his way out of his own less than comfortable room and up to the doorway leading out. This was never an easy step for him to take. He knew his other's room was directly across from his own, but he also knew about that treacherous hallway that lay between them and seemed to widen every time he came through here. With one more deep breath, he pushed the door open. The distance was up to about five meters now; no wonder his other sounded so far away, with the rate the hallway was widening. After all, the first time he'd done this, there was barely more than a meter between the doors.
Hurriedly, he crossed the distance, rapping on the thief's door before pushing it open, slipping in, and closing it just as quickly behind him. Really, he did not like that hallway. He knew one direction led to control of his body, but the other was a gaping maw where IT resided, never too far away. If he were a slightly more paranoid person, he'd say IT was after him. However, he was a realist; IT wasn't after him - IT was after the entire world, starting with the other Yuugi.
A world-weary sigh crossed his lips. IT was making him and his other into pawns in ITS dark game against the other Yuugi. Railing at IT was pointless, though, since he was nothing more than a mortal in the shadow of a dark god, so he instead chose to blame the other Yuugi for continuing to play against it and thereby dragging them in as cannon fodder. They were so far beyond screwed.
"You're perilously close to cursing again there, little one."
He turned to see his other standing a ways behind him. In the dim light, he could just make out the circles beneath Bakura's eyes... and were those fresh bruises on his wrists and cheek? Either he'd been asleep - and for some reason, whatever happened to him in his dreams also happened to his soul's body - or IT had been in here somehow. Neither option was particularly pleasant, but either presented a possibility on why the Thief King hadn't wanted him in here immediately. As worn down as he looked now, it was probably a vast improvement over then.
He walked slowly closer to Bakura, careful to make no sudden movements. Whichever possibility it was, he knew the thief wouldn't react well to him moving quickly. Stopping before, he lifted a hand to the taller man's injured cheek, willing himself not to be upset at the inevitable flinch his other made. "What happened?" he asked softly.
"I fell asleep," came the quiet admission.
He glanced around slightly. "And most of the torches have gone out." When he'd decided to add light to his other's room, he'd discovered the rather pleasing side-effect of it keeping some of the night demons from haunting the man.
The thief nodded. "And most of the torches have gone out," he repeated in confirmation.
He didn't really understand it, but somehow it was always a simple matter for him to stare at the dark torches till they relit themselves. As always, the sound of many-legged creatures skittering away accompanied the return of the light. He didn't like thinking of those creatures either; he didn't want to consider how close they may have come to his other before he received the Ring or what they might do to the thief if he was unsuccessful in his bid to free the man.
His other's room wasn't something he liked thinking about much either. Perhaps once it had been beautiful and proud, but now it lay in broken shambles, much like its owner. Blood-red linens hung from the walls and ceiling in tattered ribbons. Chipped artwork covered the broken stone walls. A bed that would have made kings sigh in pleasure took up most of one wall, but its white sheets were blotched dark in place, stained with its owner's blood. He frowned every time he looked at it. He'd begged Bakura not to go to sleep on it and to instead use the pillow nest he'd made for him in a particularly well-lit corner, much like the one his body now rested on, but somehow he got the feeling his other forgot from time to time. He'd slept there for thousands of years, after all. But even he knew some of what the previous Ring holders and IT had done to the thief in that bed. He wasn't going to touch him on it though; he didn't want Bakura associating him with any of those memories.
He held a hand out to his other. There was a long stretch of time till Bakura grasped it and gave it a light squeeze. He favored the thief a smile and pulled him over to the nest he'd created one of his first visits here. It was something of a relief how easily the Thief King came with him this time. Once upon a time, this never would have occurred, at least not so easily. Bakura was finally starting to trust him. He had to hold himself back from jumping up and down in joy. No sense scaring the man needlessly, after all.
It was probably another mark of how far they'd come in the time they'd been sharing a body - and at least part of a mind - that his other allowed himself to just lay down. At first, he'd been- Well, to him, it was scary. He couldn't deny his other was beautiful and he was definitely falling in love with him and he could see himself someday having sex with his other, but it had definitely fallen in the realm of weird and freaky when Bakura first did that artful arranging of his body and started whispering words that still made him shudder to think of.
Sometimes he wished the former holders of the Sennen Ring were still alive. He'd like to rip their throats out with his bare hands, much like Bakura had admitted to having done to the mind of the first one who touched him. But the Ring had been through many holders over three millennia, most of which were hardened, cruel men, and as time passed, one by one, they started breaking the thief. And, both fortunately and unfortunately, the last had died fifty years before he was even born, much less received the Ring. There would be no revenge to be had, and he wasn't too sure his other would understand why he was killing the hell out of those bastards anyway.
He settled down into the pile of pillows and blankets, leaning up against the wall before letting Bakura arrange him as he would. He held back his surprise when the thief draped himself over his lap, resting his head on his stomach and wrapping his arms around his waist. "Bakura?" he asked softly.
The Thief King shifted slightly. Almost against his will, he found his arms coming up to gently hold the other as well. Lightly, not too tight, he reminded himself. He didn't want his other to think he was holding him down or anything. "Hush," he intoned softly. "You worry too much, little one."
"I'm sorry," he answered as quietly. He brushed his hand through the thief's hair. "I just don't want anything bad to happen to you ever again."
His other let out of a soft sigh. It sounded content. "I think you're the only one who's ever worried about me before." He was pressed close enough that he could feel the taller man swallow nervously. "Thank you."
Again, he ran his fingers through the other's hair, marveling to himself as always how much softer it was than his own. This was something he'd learned early soothed his other: any form of soft, non-forceful touches, to his hair especially. "I wish-"
"You're always so nice to me, and I don't understand why," Bakura interrupted him. This was most definitely new. Bakura had never interrupted him before. This was, in his mind, a good sign. "You don't even ask me to do anything, even when I offered," he continued, his voice a bit muffled as he spoke into his stomach, but in this place, the words were easy to make out. "You've kept me safe and you've given me the light, and I can't give you anything in return."
"You keep me safe from IT," he whispered, a little fearful that saying ITs name might summon it. "You keep me safe too, and you've been my only real friend for forever." He hugged the taller man closer to himself. He wanted to say he loved him, but... How would he take it?
"I don't think I know how to love someone." Oh no, he'd actually said it out loud?! "I don't even know if I can anymore, if I could to start with. No one has cared for me since my family was... killed, except Diaboundo and you. I've always been alone."
"You're not alone anymore," he broke in. "I'm here, and I'm going to find a way to free you from the Ring."
"Why do you care what happens to me?" There was that note of curiosity in his voice again. "I'm not even what I was before. I'm not even a thief anymore, much less the Thief King!" Hysteria was edging into his voice, though completely without the self-pity he would expect from a lesser man, but he kept speaking into his stomach. "I'm just the spirit-whore of the Ring and-"
He yanked the thief back enough that he could meet his eyes. On some deeper, calmer level, he was surprised at his own strength, especially given how much bigger than him the Thief King was. "You are not a whore, Bakura! You never have and you never will be one! You were as much a victim in this as anyone!" A faint glimpse of fear crossed the other's eyes, and he took a deep breath to calm himself, willing his fingers to unclench from his other's robes. When he spoke again, he was careful to modulate his voice. "Please don't think of yourself that way. Think of yourself as the one I love."
He wasn't sure the shock and confusion he saw now was any better than the fear, but he'd take it. "But why do you love me? I haven't done anything to earn it."
He brushed the backs of his fingers against the bruise on Bakura's cheek, quietly surprised as it vanished beneath his touch. He would definitely have to remember that. "You don't have to earn my love. You're you. That's enough." That was more than he'd ever expected since he moved away from his family to prevent IT from getting too close to them.
"Even though I don't know how to love you back? Even though I'm not very good at protecting you from IT? Even though I worry you all the time - and I scared you that once?"
"I was thirteen! Half of what you said didn't make sense at the time." He chuckled softly. "Besides, I think I scared you worse when I jumped like a scalded cat." An almost timid smile covered the other's face, and he felt one building on his own in response as he touched his face again. "And yes, 'even though' all of that, I love you."
"Even though I'm trying to prepare him to face IT, and you don't like him?"
Maybe he shouldn't make such a big deal about his dislike of the other Yuugi where the thief could hear it from now on. "That's your," he floundered a moment for the word he needed, "job - your responsibility - as the spirit of the Ring. I couldn't think bad of you for it." He leaned down slightly to kiss his other's cheek. "And I think you're doing a very good job at it. The other Yuugi will be ready for IT when the time comes." If the other Yuugi had the sense the gods gave a stone, that was. The other being that inhabited the Ring wasn't going to be defeated in a simple game of Duel Monsters, after all.
"You're always so nice."
He grinned and even let out a giggle. "Not always." Before the confusion could really cross his other's face, he reached out and sought the ticklish spots he'd found along the thief's too thin ribs. Bakura howled in laughter, squirming to get away from him as he squirmed to stay close enough to keep touching, even letting his fingers wander inside his robes to better reach flesh.
When he finally stopped, both were in a heap of limbs and out of breath. "I take it back, little one," Bakura panted.
"Hmm?" was all he was able to get out in reply. Even though he too had been laughing nearly as hard as his other, he was beginning to suspect that much of the reason he was short of breath was from how the Thief King was lying above him - and he certainly wasn't complaining!
"You are the next great evil." The thief sounded so amused and he was even grinning broadly, another thing he'd never seen the man do before. "You just hide it better than the rest of us." He leaned down to kiss his lips, and he nearly lost what tenuous control he had on himself. His thief had no concept of closed-mouth kisses, after all.
It had been three years since he'd tasted Bakura, and then he'd been a scared boy, too confused and frankly terrified to realize how good the thief tasted. His sister's romance books always assigned flavors to people; if his other was any flavor, if any flavor came close, it was dark chocolate: bittersweet but so smooth and sinful. He could get addicted. He tasted so good, and he was so beautiful, and he had no idea what to do to make Bakura feel as good as he was, but that was okay because the thief knew where to place his hands, and if Bakura felt half as good as he did, then he had to be melting.
He felt a shudder go through him, and he arched into his other's touch. It took another shudder for him to realize it wasn't coming from either of them. The thief was already pulling back from him, looking around in... what looked like a combination of terror, surprise, and anger.
"Wh-what's happening?" How long had it been since he stuttered? It was his other's expression that did it, really. He'd never seen the thief look like that before. Everything else had bled away to leave nothing but the anger.
The Thief King was climbing gracefully to his feet, taking his hand and pulling him up as well. This was the face Bakura showed the other Yuugi, especially when he was preparing him for IT. When he had this face on, his thief looked invincible, unconquerable, and a bit... well... evil. Was this how he'd looked before he was locked in the Ring all those years ago?
The confidence on his other's face, that his entire body showed... He couldn't help it - this Bakura was gorgeous, at least as much as - if not even more so - what he was used to seeing. He wanted to reach out and touch him, see if he felt, tasted, smelled any different when he was like this. No, bad self. No molesting his other because he looked hot and dangerous - because he was looking like that for a reason. As long as he had that firmly in his mind... "Bakura?"
"I think..." He trailed off, staring off at nothing. "IT's making ITs move."
"So soon?" He followed his other's gaze, but there wasn't anything to be seen. What did the thief's silvery eyes see that he couldn't?
The taller man turned his attention back to him, and for a second, the thief he usually knew was there before his eyes shuttered back down. Tugging the hand he had yet to release, Bakura led him towards the door. "I want you to get in your body and run. Just keep running."
"Bakura?" he queried. "IT's in my head. How is running going to help? It's not like I can get away from IT."
"It's harder to take control of a body in motion. We might be able to buy some time."
"For what?" The Thief King was silent, instead opening the door to that evil hallway. "What are you going to do?"
"Don't ask, little one."
He attached himself like a limpet to his other's robes. "I don't want to lose you! You're my only friend. I love you! I don't want to lose you!" He was repeating himself, but he failed to care. He'd rather condemn the world to darkness before he gave up his other now. He'd beg, murder, steal, anything to keep him, to protect, to keep him with him forever. "Please don't leave me."
"This isn't going to be our farewell yet. Now move. I'll hold IT here as long as I can."
The thief was silent, staring at him for a long moment. He fought the urge to squirm beneath that silver gaze and looked right back at him, trying to will his reluctance to his other through his eyes. The room shuddered around them again, Bakura's hand released his, and... And he was back in his body. The Thief King must have shoved him back here, and he had to fight the urge to go right back into his mind. He... should... "Bakura?" he called aloud. /Bakura?/
For the longest moment of his sixteen years, silence stretched out, then, as faint as a whisper... //Go!//
Without another thought, he pushed himself to stand and ran to the door, jamming his feet into his sneakers without bothering to tie them, and was out of the apartment. He didn't even notice if the lock was in place or even if he closed the door. He had to keep moving. If he kept moving, it would be easier on his other, right? Right?
He could barely draw in a breath. His lungs hurt, his entire chest ached with each breath he drew in. He had long since started tripping over his own feet, and each time it was harder to get back up. He fell again rounding the metal pipes (Bike racks? he asked himself in exhaustion), and this time he had to stay down a beat longer than every other time to catch his breath.
///Where are you going?///
That... wasn't his other's voice. Or rather, that wasn't just his other's voice; there was a scraping metallic overlying layer on it as well. IT, perhaps? Had his other been unable to hold it back any longer? This long was a miracle in and of itself, but...
He shoved himself to his feet, forcing himself to run down the alley. Where was he anyway? He wasn't any too sure where he was; he had just started running and kept going. Was he even still in Domino anymore? He'd left the apartment in the afternoon, and now a full orange moon hovered in the sky. What time was it? How long had he been running? However long it had been, he couldn't keep it up indefinitely. He wasn't the most graceful person by nature, and utter exhaustion wasn't helping that any. Even his mental voice was shaky as he wearily called out again, /Bakura?/
There was no answer save his own panting breaths.
At the end of the alley, it loomed, like some kind of tattered angel of hope. He didn't know where it had come from, but it was a Christian church. Weren't they supposed repel demons or something like that? He wasn't sure what IT was, but 'demon' seemed an applicable term. If what they said about churches was correct, maybe he could stop long enough for his body to recover a bit.
The doors opened easily beneath his hands. How odd that they weren't locked. That was like asking thieves to come in, he mused... or half-possessed people looking for an escape from one of the spirits in their bodies.
Then the candles at the altar began to light up, one and two at a time till the front of the church was awash in a soft light. It should have been beautiful, but instead it was the most terrifying thing he'd ever seen. This meant IT was here. "L-leave me alone!"
The voice spoke again. ///You can't hide. You have a mission to accomplish.///
IT didn't differentiate between him and his other? IT thought of them as the same person? "Mission?"
///Now the Sennen Items are in the hands of the Pharaoh and Shaadi, who will give his Items to the Pharaoh sooner or later, so all the Sennen Items will be in his hands. When the Items are collected, the Door to the Afterlife can be opened. You have to find and hide the eighth Item, a key.///
Oh gods, IT wouldn't be coming to him for this if his other... Where was Bakura?! And that ringing noise that accompanied ITs voice, it was driving him crazy! "I-"
But IT was ignoring him. ///The eighth Item is the key to the door of the Afterlife. Its secrets are hidden in the Pharaoh's memories.///
"I don't know anything about it!"
The buzzing noise ceased abruptly and around him, the stained-glass windows shattered, but there was no way he could really do more than just notice it peripherally. Something - IT was tearing ITs way into control of his body, and oh God, it hurt like he was dying, but even dying had to be better than this! To make matters worse, IT was still speaking. ///Nameless Pharaoh, when the door to your memories is opened, the ultimate dark game that has spanned three thousand years will begin.///
And worse than ITs speaking was ITs laughter. It drowned out everything: his thoughts, his attempts to hold onto control of his own body, his screams of pain.
When darkness swam up to swallow him, it was a welcome oblivion.
The oblivion did not last long enough. He felt like he'd been through a cheese grater, and sadly he was pretty sure this was a huge improvement. A cool hand lay upon his forehead. Where was he, that someone would touch him with such consideration? Not even his so-called friends would care enough to try to sooth his pain. Still, it felt so nice that he didn't want to even attempt opening his eyes yet.
"Time to wake up and play, yadonushi."
'Yadonushi'? He felt his eyes going painfully wide, and he struggled to sit up. Above him was the demon. IT wore the face the thief presented to the outside world, but he could see the mad glitter that declared this was IT, not his other. When had IT traded his overshirt for a long black coat? And more importantly, why was he in that forsaken hallway?! Where was his other?!
He shot to his feet and glanced around desperately, ready to try to sprint to Bakura's door. The door was fading, though, and fading fast. Then, before his eyes, it was gone. Did that mean his other... No. No time to worry now.
"Does this mean you don't want to play, my sweet little yadonushi?"
The demon's idea of playing probably involved lots of blood and body parts never designed to be seen suddenly being outside the body. "G-get away from me!"
A thin, delicate-looking finger reached out and trailed down his cheek, as light as a tear, before he flinched back away from it. "Beautiful, terrified yadonushi," IT crooned, ITs voice so like the thief's that he wanted to sob. "Your body is mine."
"No!" he cried out in automatic denial, but IT ignored him.
"Go hide in your soul, yadonushi, and watch as I destroy the Nameless Pharaoh."
That sounded like the best plan he'd heard in a long time, and carefully he stepped away, backing away till he hit the wall beside the door. There was no way he was giving his creature his back, which it seemed to find quite amusing. Quickly, he threw open his door, slipped inside and slammed it shut again, leaning heavily against it and closing his eyes to block out the sound of ITs laughter. The silence and near darkness of his room had never been such a blessing.
The disappearance of Bakura's door still plagued him. That meant the thief was gone, didn't it? If these rooms were their souls and Bakura's room was gone, then...
No, it was too good to be true. How could Bakura still be alive?! This had to be some trick of the demon's! If he answered, then he'd hear that insane laughter at how easily he'd been tricked. If he opened his eyes, he'd see his own face, twisted and mad, not bronzed skin and silver eyes. "Bakura," he moaned out, completely unconsciously.
"Is that really you this time?"
It was the 'this time' that drew his eyes open. Even if it was a fake Bakura or one created by his mind, it didn't deserve any of what the demon would do it it - him. The blackness of his room was too close to absolute for him to see more than an inch before him, but if this room really was a copy of his gaming room, then there should be a light switch next to him. He groped for it, a full ten centimeters further than he'd anticipated. This wall wasn't set up like the RPG room, though, he thought to himself; it was more than his bedroom. He flicked the switch on and tried to contain his surprise that it was indeed his bedroom now! Not that he was complaining, but - how?!
No, that wasn't quite correct. There should be a wall separating the RPG room and his bedroom, a wall which was no longer there. It transformed his tiny bedroom that was barely big enough for himself into a spacious room better suited for two people. But there were also a few other differences, not the least of which being the man laying down on his bed with its suddenly different set of sheets.
He wanted to answer the man's question, but what came out was "Are you really Bakura?"
"I think I am?" It sounded like a question, and that drew a wet, thick sob from him.
His legs threatening to give out on him every step, he made his way over to drop to his knees beside the bed. "I was so afraid you were gone. When I saw the door to your room disappear, I thought... I thought you were..." He couldn't bring himself to say it. Even if this wasn't his Bakura, he couldn't say it, that he'd feared the thief dead.
"You're hurt." The words were shaky at best as the other man slowly sat up and turned to face him full on, a leg on either side of his still kneeling body. "What did IT do to you, little one?"
"Wh-what?" He couldn't think. All he could see were the long, lean lines of the thief's body - and all the new wounds that adorned it. Oh god, this had to be his Bakura; his own mind would never have created such a detail, and IT wasn't creative enough for something like this, and the Thief King had said he would try to hold IT off as long as he could - was this what that entailed?
A warm fingertip moved down his cheek, following the same path as the previous one had. He fought to hold back a shiver, and Bakura's hand instead moved to touch his forehead. "You're bleeding."
He reached up to his face, surprised when his fingers came away wet and sticky with his own blood. "It's where IT touched me." Bakura's hand returned to his cheek, and he leaned into it, eyes slipping shut as exhaustion began to catch up with him. "It doesn't hurt."
A loud noise like cloth ripping pulled his eyes back open. Bakura had pulled a long strip off the sheets and was dabbing at his face with it. "I don't like you being injured at all, little one, whether it hurts or not," he was scolding.
"What about you?" The thief really didn't look so good. If Yuugi's friend Jyonouchi was here, he would probably say the man looked like he went three or four rounds against an entire gang. It might as well be the truth, he reflected. In three thousand years, the thief had never once gone against IT, and now he had. IT was never going to forget this.
"I'm fine." The Thief King's voice was terse, but that was probably because he was concentrating on his task of getting him cleaned up. He reached up to hold his other's hand still before he spoke again.
"Why the double standard? I want you to be safe and happy and not hurt too."
"I'm not important."
"Yes, you are. You're important to me. You're the one I love."
This was definitely his Bakura. Only his thief could keep challenging him on whether or not he really loved him. He gently put a finger from his free hand over Bakura's lips. "Whatever 'even though' you can come up with, I'm still going to love you."
Bakura was silent for several long minutes then sighed. Once he moved his hand, the other spoke again. "You're very strange." He started to interrupt, but the thief kept speaking. "I don't know why or how you could even care for something like me. But I'm... going to try to be... whatever it is you want me to be."
"I want you to be you. That's all I've ever wanted from you, you know that. I love you." He leaned up slightly to kiss his other.
When the kiss broke a few moments later, the thief let out a soft breath, almost a sigh but not quite. "I can almost believe you when you say stuff like that." He gave the arm of his shirt a light tug to come up on the bed with him. "Come here, littl - Ryou."
This was certainly shaping up to be a night of firsts: the first time Bakura interrupted him, the first time he'd told the thief how he felt, the first time he'd seen the stronger side of the Thief King, the first time his name had passed his other's lips. If it weren't for IT, this would all be so perfect.
He crawled up on the bed and let his other arrange him. This, at least, he was used to. This was within his relative range of normal. Right now, thief kind of normal was what they both needed.
Forget the outside world. Forget IT - no, it was safe enough now to call IT by ITs name - Zork. They could all rot for all he cared. For him, there was the here and now. There, now it was perfect.
It was two days before he felt even slightly able to return to his own body, and even that was just to see out his own eyes. What he was able to see shocked him, and he hurried back to the room in his mind where Bakura awaited him.
He had to admit the thief was looking a lot better. The cuts, scrapes, burns, and bruises were all mostly faded. He was definitely sleeping better here in his room, with its infinitely safer bed and more reliable light source. With every passing minute, he was more the Thief King he'd seen for a split second before and less the abused, broken man Ryou had first encountered. He couldn't say he disliked the changes.
"So?" Bakura prompted, pacing the enlarged room. "What did you see?"
"Zork took the body for a joyride," he replied, hopping up on the RPG table. The thief stilled and stared at him in confusion. "I think we're in Egypt. I saw a lot of desert, I saw the Ishtars, and I saw Yuugi and his friends heading down to it already. It's time to retrieve the Pharaoh's memories."
He nodded slightly. "And with them, the eighth Item, the key to the Door of the Afterlife, whatever that may-"
The overhead light fizzled then went out completely with a popping sound, plunging the room into darkness. He couldn't help it; a short scream escaped him, first when the room went dark and again when a hand closed around his.
"Ryou..." That was Bakura's voice and so much closer than it had been. "It's me. Don't worry." He wasn't worried, no. He was terrified! He trailed his free hand up Bakura's arm to place him then threw that arm around him to pull him closer. "It's all right. IT's entered the Pharaoh's memories."
"So what about us? Aren't you supposed to be there?"
He felt an arm beneath his knees, and Bakura released his hand to move his other arm behind his back, lifting him easily. He had no idea how his other could see what he was doing, but he navigated them to the bed quickly enough. Bakura laid down first, letting him lie on top of the thief as they settled back against the pillows.
"Bakura?" he prompted again.
"I had already sold my soul to Zork for my family's revenge by the point IT's probably going to start the story." He could feel the air from the thief's sigh ruffle his hair. "Apparently, neither of us is important to the storyline."
"Th-that's good, r-right?"
The Thief King sighed again. "If the Pharaoh's ready."
He felt his blood run cold. Bakura was right. This was it. It was all down to the other Yuugi now. Strictly to himself, he lamented the world's impending doom, but for his other, he managed to get out, "It'll be fine. We've done everything in our power to show him what he'll need to now. He has learned that sacrifices will have to be made to win. He's learned some opponents don't fight fair." Beneath him, he felt some of the tension bleed from Bakura's body. "He'll defeat Zork. I know it."
"Liar." He almost started to sit up before he realized the undertone he'd heard in the man's voice was amusement. "You're just as worried as I am."
He laughed and snuggled closer to his other. "Terrified out of my mind. I mean, it's the other Yuugi. He's not exactly bright."
Bakura snickered, wrapping an arm around his back. "It's probably from all those time he hit his head."
"What?" Now this promised to be a story he hadn't heard about yet. "Why did he keep hitting his head?"
"Pure and simple clumsiness."
"The other Yuugi? Mister 'I'm a total god, look at my leather, prowl prowl'? He used to be clumsy?"
Bakura's snickering was getting worse. "The very definition of it. He couldn't walk a straight line, he couldn't sit down on his throne, he couldn't mount a horse. It was great entertainment."
"Now that I would have enjoyed seeing. Holier-than-thou other Yuugi, falling on his face."
Another laugh escaped the thief, and he felt lips brush his forehead. "And they all think you're so sweet and innocent."
His smirk was lost in the dark. "And for anyone other than the Yuugis, I am."
There was silence for a long moment. "You really hate them, don't you? The Pharaoh and his other?" He couldn't tell anything by Bakura's voice; it was completely neutral.
"I can't help it. I try not to, but I do anyway." He tried to move impossibly closer. "I don't like the way the other Yuugi looks at you or how they're all so quick to jump to conclusions about you and about me and about us."
"The Pharaoh's not supposed to like me. We knew he wouldn't when we started this."
He shook his head. "He looks at you like a bug beneath his feet." He sat up and looked down in the direction he guessed Bakura's face to be. "You're my other half; you complete me. I won't stand for someone treating you like that."
He heard the thief chuckle tightly. He could guess what Bakura was doing from that sound: he was still lying flat, the arm that wasn't perilously low on his own back draped over closed silver eyes, his expression a blank. "You're about three thousand years too late to stop the first person who looked at me like that, little love, and I'm sure the Pharaoh won't be the last. Ammut will look at me like that before she devours my soul."
He took a deep breath and released it slowly, gathering his courage to speak. "If I could, I'd rip the eyes out of each and every person who ever looked down on you, man, woman, or even the gods. I'd cut the fingers off anyone who raised a hand to you. And I'd eviscerate every last one of the men who... hurt you." There were two words he'd never been able to say, at least not in conjunction with Bakura: 'dead' and 'rape'. He held no illusions on the actions of previous Ring holders, but he couldn't say the word.
There was utter silence in the darkness. He knew it. He'd scared the thief away for sure this time. He had ruined it.
"Ryou?" He managed to get out a questioning noise through the tightness in his throat. "Would you really do something like that?"
"If I could, I would, in a heartbeat." And he wasn't going to say it out loud, but he'd like to do the same to the Yuugis. They kept the game going against Zork, after all, by continuing to search for the other Yuugi's memories.
"You do say the nicest things sometimes, little love." Bakura pulled him back down to his side. "I guess you are my other half, after all. You can't be all sweetness and light all the time, not and be part of me."
He smiled against the thief's robes. "Neither of us is all that good, are we?"
"Of course not!" He could hear the amusement in his other's voice, and his own smile grew to the sound of it. "You're the next great evil, the one they'll never see coming, and I'm the almighty Thief King, the biggest pain the Pharaoh's posterior to ever walk the earth."
"No hope of redemption whatsoever for the two of us ."
"Not a chance."
It was as good as it was going to get.
On a lark, he'd tried to summon up some of his favorite foods for Bakura to try, especially some of the foreign dishes his father had introduced him to after his trips abroad. His first few attempts had been dismal, though he had improved with each try -- and the thief had complimented each one in turn, even the failures. It was actually quite sweet, even if the occasional glimpses he got in game let him know some of what the Thief King was used to eating. He didn't think he'd ever really hated the other Yuugi till then. Was Ancient Egypt really so different from any other kingdom, that the ruler didn't care that his subjects ate scraps or that the palace guards had been the first ones to who... hurt him and had been the ones to carve that scar on his face.
Bakura was asleep now; he could tell by the man's breathing; so he reached over to run his fingertip over the smooth flesh of his scarless cheek. The thief stirred beneath him but did not wake. Since this new darkness had descended upon them, he'd gotten very used to touching the Thief King and not worrying if he was going to hurt him, and he'd definitely become accustomed to Bakura's more confident hands on his body.
Even like this, touching the man blind, he could feel the rougher textured flesh of his scars. They had to be from before he was sealed in the Ring; anything that happened in here always healed quickly, usually disappearing in hours. Still, there were so many! What he couldn't give to have just a day alone in a room with the other Yuugi and an assortment of knives.
A faint shudder went through the room, but it was enough to wake up Bakura. How could it not? The man operated on instincts that the rest of the world could only dream of having. "What's going on?"
"I don't know," he whispered. Why he wasn't sure, but nonetheless he kept his voice soft, even as he sat up and made his way to his feet. "I'm going to go check on the body."
"Be careful. Something feels strange."
And if he hadn't felt paranoid before, he certainly did now, but he certainly wasn't about to let that show. Even if Bakura couldn't see his face, he wasn't going to let that little bit of information out. He moved quietly across the room, memory telling him where everything was so he didn’t trip, till his hand was on the door. He pulled the door open...
...and fell back into his body. Exhaustion plagued him as it never had before, and all he wanted to do was go back to sleep. His stomach growled loudly on cue. And eat; eating would be very good. He seriously doubted Zork had bothered to stop for food, so it had been at least two days since he'd eaten. No wonder he was starving.
Somewhere below him, there were people talking. That seemed as good an option as any for where to go, so he slowly pushed himself to his feet and stumbled down the steps. The closer he got, the more recognizable the voices were. There was the other Yuugi, Yuugi's friend Jyonouchi, and... Kaiba Seto? What was he doing here? Better still, where was here?
Maybe they finally heard his faltering footsteps or maybe he finally came into view or maybe he was just in Kaiba's way, but now he was presented with all five of them staring at him like they'd seen a ghost. The blond, Jyonouchi, was the first to recover his voice. "Bakura!"
"Everyone?" Yeah, it did look like the whole gang was there: Kaiba Seto, Jyonouchi Katsuya, Mazaki Anzu, Honda Hiroto, and even the other Yuugi. Everyone he usually kept up his innocent victim act up for was present and accounted for, so it was easy to slip back into that role. "Where are we?"
"'Where'?" Jyonouchi sputtered. "Don't you remember?"
He remembered more than he'd ever let any of them know, but that was completely beside the point. "Oh yeah. Something seemed to be chasing me, then..."
Abruptly, his body gave up its struggle to remain upright and he fell forward. If Jyonouchi hadn't been there (and hadn't been more willing than Kaiba to catch him), he'd have certainly ended up crashing into the floor face-first. "Bakura!" the blond yelled, nearly in his ear. "Are you okay?"
"Bakura!" the other Yuugi echoed. If he weren't so tired, he'd sneer at the bastard.
"I'm so hungry!" he managed to get out before blackness swam back up to greet him.
"What happened? Are you all right?" Strong arms pulled him up on the bed, both patting him down and lifting his shirt to check under it for injuries.
"I'm fine. I think Zork's finally-"
Before his eyes, Bakura's form wavered. No! He wasn't losing him! Not after all of this! He didn't even take a second to consider and pounced, wrapping both arms around the thief and holding him tight to his body. Whispers of prayers he hadn't said in years escaped him, mingling with his sudden fearful tears.
Slowly, slowly, he calmed as he felt Bakura's arms around him as well, heard the words he was speaking: "It's all right. I'm here."
"Wha- what happened?" He eased his grip a bit but did not let go; he knew his other appreciated the gesture as he squirmed slightly, rearranging them both into a more comfortable position.
"Someone took the Ring." The thief sounded so tired. "My existence is still tied to it."
"Shouldn't that have put you back in the Ring then?" he whispered. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't have made his voice come out any louder, not while he was still terrified of losing his other.
He felt the Thief King nod. "It should have. You were too stubborn to let me go, though. I guess I'm yours."
"Of course you are," he answered immediately. Sudden white, bright terror shot through him with his next thought. "Unless you'd rather not be."
Bakura chuckled, laying a kiss on his hair. "You're mine also, little love."
"So what does this mean?" Finally he leaned back and blinked. How had he not noticed the lights were back on?
Apparently his other noticed his confusion as he chuckled. "They came back on when you left. As for what this means..." He shrugged, and he held the taller man closer. "I don't know. This is new territory to me. I guess now I'll be around as long as the Ring is." The thief dropped a brief kiss on his lips. "So, the way I figure it is, as long as the Pharaoh doesn't blow it and somehow get rid of the Items, I'll be with you the rest of your life."
That got a laugh. "You're definitely my other half. So many questions. I don't know after that. With the two of us in here, who knows how long you'll live anyway. You may even be immortal, little love." His chest warmed with pride and pleasure. Now that he certainly wouldn’t mind, an eternity with his other.
"Then the other Yuugi had better not screw up if he knows what's good for him. If he costs me you, I'll hunt him down and kill him in the most imaginative ways. You're the most important person to me."
"You do say the nicest things, Ryou. Still, such strong language. You're going to lose your status as the innocent one here if you keep it up."
He could almost curse the lights being back on: surely the flush he could feel heating his cheeks was glaringly obvious. "I thought a worse one a few minutes ago."
"Oh?" If he wasn't laying on him, the thief probably would have perked catlike. He sounded much too eager, and the temptation was there to compare him to a kid at Christmas. "What was it?"
He buried his reddened face in his other's robes. "I... kind of thought to myself... that the other Yuugi is a bastard."
Bakura let out a loud laugh, startling him. "I'm so proud of you! That was great! I wish you'd said it. Then I could have seen his face."
Oh yeah, if the other Yuugi took Bakura away from him now that he'd discovered this happier, more relaxed, and much more cheerful side of him, there would be no end to his revenge.
On Bakura's urging, he'd woken his body up and eaten. It hadn't been the best meal he'd ever had, but he'd been eating to support two souls. He was just thankful it wasn't three souls anymore. While he'd been finishing up, Malik had wandered in. The Egyptian had looked...
//Like something I'd kick back in the scrap heap?// Bakura had questioned helpfully.
To himself, he had agreed. Aloud, he'd asked what was going on. Malik's deadpan answer had chilled him, but maybe Yuugi setting the other Yuugi off to the Afterlife would free them from the fear they themselves would be found out. All the same, it was a scary proposition. That was why he had come to watch what the Yuugis did -- and why he stood to the back of the group, as far from the Egyptian as he could manage and not be obvious about it. Malik was more perceptive, even in this broken state that reminded him eerily of the Bakura he'd first met, than anyone gave him credit for being, and he wasn't going to risk anyone finding out Bakura was still around.
Bakura was keeping up commentary on the duel, some of it even aloud for him. It was just as well. He couldn't concentrate on the duel if his life depended on it. That was actually kind of funny now that he thought of it; in a way, it did, and he still couldn't concentrate on it.
//When did you turn into such a fatalist, little love?//
/The Yuugis did this to me. If my hair wasn't already white, they'd have turned it that color./
Bakura snickered but then silenced abruptly. //The end is about to happen.//
/You think so?/ Absentmindedly, he tuned back in -- to see Yuugi wipe out the rest of the other Yuugi's lifepoints. /He should have brought back Black Magician instead of Osiris. Do you think he just let Yuugi win?/
The Yuugis were talking. For all he knew, they could be discussing who would be on top between Kaiba and Jyonouchi (//Is it possible for two people to be on bottom?// put in Bakura), but somehow he was a little distracted by the fact Yuugi was crying awfully hard for someone who'd just won against the King of Games. Didn't he have any pride as a duelist or as an other half? In his own pathetic way, Yuugi was helping his other half; he should feel gloriously pleased with himself. The Yuugis were such strange creatures.
The other Yuugi stood and started towards the door, which opened for him. It was so hard to keep his sneer contained as the man's leather faded away into what he could only think of as 'Pharaoh garb', though really he could have designed better in a game of Monster World. What a prima donna. The once-Pharaoh walked through the door, and he let himself breathe a sigh of relief. It was finally over.
//Ryou...// Bakura began as the doors closed behind the other Yuugi.
He turned his focus inward in the near-silence as the echoes of the doors closing slowly left the room to quiet, save the sound of a few people crying. /What is it?/
If Bakura said anything, he lost in the rumbling. The tablet where the seven Sennen Items lay shattered to reveal a huge pit, and one by one, the Items winked out of sight into it. He felt a pain like nothing he'd ever imagined before, like part of his mind was being ripped away. Somehow he managed to stay on his feet and look up to see the Ring vanish into the abyss.
/No! Bakura?/ Silence greeted him from his mind. /Bakura?!/
Around him, the temple began collapsing -- and somehow he couldn't bring himself to care. He hurt so much, and Bakura was gone. What was the point of moving? Let the rock bury him here with his love. It was only fitting after all.
"We can't stay here!" Who said that? Who pushed him to run towards the door? Oh, Yuugi's grandfather. Hmm, Yuugi...
A faint smirk built on his face when they stopped running outside the tomb. Everyone else was staring at the dust-filled doorway, but not him. His eyes were fixed on Yuugi. The other Yuugi had escaped him, but this one wouldn't.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Malik looking at him. This time, he met the Egyptian's gaze straight on and smiled. It was probably reminiscent of some of his other's more insane ones, but Malik returned it in kind. The Yuugis were responsible for hurting both of them; the remaining Yuugi would suffer for it. He would suffer like no human had suffered before or would again... and he would live for every moment of it.
It started out small. He knew the value of a dramatic buildup; it was stock and trade for a Monster World DM. First he'd just left Honda and Mazaki threatening notes printed off a computer at Kaiba Corp; Mokuba had been gracious enough to let him allow him access when he told the boy his home computer had a virus.
No one knew Malik was in Japan so it was easy for him to take things to the next level. It certainly helped that Malik enjoyed killing things, even if it was just Honda's dog and the stray cat Mazaki had been feeding. It was difficult to restrain himself from letting loose with one of his other's more maniacal laughs at their expressions and their sobs of 'Who could be doing this to us?' the next day they came to school.
Holding Malik back from killing too soon had been a little bit more difficult, but when he'd finally allowed the Egyptian to do as he pleased, even he had been surprised with the results. Of course, he had been a great deal more pleasantly surprised than anyone else. The man had skills with a blade that bordered on genius. He couldn't wait till the coroner released that they had been alive for the entire experience, even when he'd filleted the skin from Mazaki's face or when he'd showed Honda what color his stomach really was.
Now he just had to wait for the star of the show to wake up. It had been terribly easy to grab the boy from his house. All he'd had to do was show up all teary-eyed and bruised. He certainly hadn't wanted anyone catching on just yet -- and Malik had barely objected to beating the crap out of him. He certainly had looked convincing, so some bruises were worth it. Leaving a few clues (like pieces of the other two) pointing to the spiky-haired freak had been fun too. It was all going according to his plan. Now if Yuugi would just wake up. But wait... Ah, here he came.
"Welcome back," he greeted cheerfully as purple eyes raised to meet his in confusion. "Did you enjoy your sleep? I know I did; you were finally quiet for once."
"B-Bakura-kun?" No no no, this wasn't where Yuugi was supposed to speak yet.
"It probably looks to all of you like I'm holding together well. It may even look like I'm happy to be alone. Alone... That word should have a whole new meaning for us now, shouldn't it?"
"He probably has no idea," Malik cut in, his voice a low growl, stepping into the light. His knife was nowhere in sight, but he didn't really need the knife to be intimidating, if the look in Yuugi's eyes was any indication.
"I don't know. I think you know what it feels like, don't you, Yuugi. You're just as alone now as we are. How do you stand it, this silent darkness where our others used to be?" He didn't give the shorter boy time to speak, instead moving over to stand closer to him. "I think sometimes the silence is driving me insane. I keep waiting to hear his voice or hear him laugh or... There is always silence now, and I want it to go away! I want to scream and cry and rant at the world, you, and the gods till they give me my other back! I can't take the silence anymore!"
He unfisted his hand from his hair, unsure when it had tangled there. When had he started tugging at it? Such things the Yuugis did to him... Well, it was only fair to return the favor, he supposed, as he swung his hand down and around to catch Yuugi sharply across the cheek with the back of it, snapping his head to the side. A short cry escaped the smaller boy before he looked up at him. "Bakura-kun..."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did that hurt?"
Malik laughed at that, a frightening sound like shattered glass. "I could make him hurt, Ryou."
"Not yet. He doesn't understand yet." He turned his attention back down to the boy he'd bound to a chair. "I know what you and your friends used to say about me. You all thought I'm better off alone. You think I'm happier alone. You think we both are happier this way," he gestured to Malik now, "and you're the only one with this gaping hole inside you. Well, damn it, you're not! You took my other away and left me broken inside. Your other did worse than that to Malik. Damn you! And damn your other too! There isn't a curse strong enough for the hatred I feel for the two of you. You should be glad he's gone. In whatever secret corner of the Afterlife he's hiding, he's safe from me and the revenge I've been planning. My other was right; I'm the next great evil you never saw coming. You and your friends keep taking my other from me. You probably cheered when he went too, didn't you? One of your friends made me have to hunt for the Ring during Duelist Kingdom. Do you think I enjoyed hunting through those woods in a blind panic, trying to find where the Ring landed? Do you?!"
"That's why we cut off Honda's hands then?" Damn, he'd almost underestimated how much the other Yuugi had broken Malik. Maybe he'd been like this before, and no one noticed it. It suited his purposes though. Malik was an evil genius, yes -- or he had been when he was a whole person -- but even now he was a force to be reckoned with. And the Egyptian was enjoying just as much as he was. This was the grand finale to both of their revenge after all.
He held out his hand, and with a sadistic grin, Malik placed one of his knives in it. He took a moment to test the sharpness and to decide where to cut before he carved a small gash down one of Yuugi's cheeks. A scream escaped the other this time, and he made a few tsking noises of dismay. "That hurt too? Really? That was nothing."
"Bakura-kun..." Hmm, it was acceptable for Yuugi to speak now, so he silently tilted his head to the side in interest to hear what he had to say at this point. "I didn't -- Mou hitori no boku and I thought Bakura was hurting you. We just wanted to protect you."
Of all the things Yuugi could have said, that wasn't even on the list, he mused in surprise. "He'd never hurt me! What would make you think something like that?"
"The cut on your arm." Yuugi was panting, his voice tight with pain. How adorable.
"My arm? Oh, in Battle City. He did it to himself. I never felt a thing till the duel with the other you. So that I ever felt any pain was entirely your other's fault."
"Were you helping him, Bakura-kun?" He sounded so resigned, even keeping his eyes fixed on the floor. Had it really taken so little to break him?
"Of all the stupid-!" he sighed in exasperation. Malik was snickering. A laugh escaped him as well. It was actually rather funny now that he thought about it. "Of course! He was my other! Your other was too stupid be ready for Zork without us preparing him." Purple eyes shot up to him again. "We never wanted your stupid Puzzle."
"Zork," the Egyptian behind him helpfully piped.
He nodded. "True. IT did want the Items. We didn't want it to get them, but we're not the ones of the Prophesy. No, that just had to be you and the other Yuugi. So my other had a responsibility as a spirit of the Items to prepare your idiot Pharaoh for that creature." He sighed. "And now, of course, the Sennen Items are gone, fallen into endless darkness, and probably destroyed. Do you think those souls are free now, though, or are they just wandering spirits?"
"Th-They're free," Yuugi barely got out. What was Malik doing behind him? He glanced over his shoulder. Oh, just playing with one of his knives. "I think they're free."
"Well, you're an optimist," the Egyptian spat out, fingers clenching around his blade. He didn't even seem to notice any pain it might have caused, only casually licking the warm liquid off his hand.
"I think the only souls that made it to the Afterlife were those priests of your other -- and of course, your other himself. The almighty Pharaoh can't be left waiting, now can he?"
"Gods forbid," came the deadpanned answer behind him.
"Do you think he even misses his other, Malik?" he asked. "He seems so much happier and whole than us."
"It's probably because he had a choice in the matter," the Egyptian muttered. "Saying I wanted to take responsibility for my actions didn't mean I wanted him completely gone."
This was why Malik was his perfect companion for this little adventure. He felt the same pain he himself did, even if his other half wasn't a spirit of the Items. He reached behind him to place a hand on the Egyptian's shoulder in what he hoped would be a calming gesture. "He's going to be missing him soon, Malik. You know that." The other nodded, and he turned his attention back to Yuugi. "You fixed us both up so well, Yuugi. There's not enough left of the other Malik to try to retrieve, and I can't even go get my other back this time. I'd spend days -- weeks! months! whatever it took! -- in Pegasus' damn forest looking if it meant escaping this silence. I hate it!" he snapped suddenly, screaming at the spiky-haired freak. "I hate it! And I hate you! Why did you have to take him away from me? He didn't do anything to deserve! He just wanted to help the two of you! And if you were so anxious to get rid of the other you, did you have to fix it so the other me can't come back too? It's not fair! I never asked for the other me to be taken away again! I'm still waiting in the silence to hear him say something -- anything -- to me! The silence... Always the silence!"
Arms wrapped around him from behind, and he collapsed into them. Maybe if he pretended hard enough, Malik could be Bakura. Maybe Malik was pretending he was his other half too. It was a pleasing fantasy and helped to calm his nerves, almost as much as the Egyptian's whispers of "It's okay, Ryou. Calm down. It'll be all right. Let's just finish it up, and it'll be all right."
"Are you going to kill me?"
He could kill Yuugi for that if they didn't already have plans for him. He gathered himself as best he could, taking a deep breath or two before he let himself speak. "Of course not. It wouldn't accomplish anything, even making us feel better. You see, we want you to feel what we're feeling, and you won't feel the same empty loneliness if you're dead. You wouldn't get to breathe that same despair we breathe in every day if you're dead." He pushed himself to his feet shakily, Malik supporting him, before he managed the same adorable face he'd used to disarm them all at Duelist Kingdom. "Besides, didn't you always say I'm the good one, Yuugi-kun?"
"Is it time for you to go already?" Malik sounded a little saddened, but behind it... There was a sense of excitement. When Ryou left, he would get to play after all. Maybe he wasn't allowed to kill Yuugi, but he could still have a bit of fun.
"Yeah, it's almost time for the press conference. Jyonouchi'll be waiting."
That got Yuugi's attention, as planned. "Jyonouchi-kun?"
He smiled innocently at the tied-up boy. "The police found... souvenirs from two recent serial murders hidden away in your room. You remember: Honda Hiroto and Mazaki Anzu?"
Now Yuugi struggled, the chains they'd used to secure him rattling loudly as he tried to get loose. "You did it! You're the ones that killed my friends!"
"You two killed our other halves!" Malik yelled back. "Hiroto threw the Ring into the forest, and that Anzu girl would have supported the Nameless Pharaoh if he said to kill off half the planet."
He put a hand on Malik’s arm. "Anyway, Jyonouchi and your grandfather are holding a press conference, asking you to turn yourself in. Jyonouchi asked me to be there for them, seeing as how it was you who beat the shit out of me. Jyonouchi was the one who found me and got me patched up and all."
"That was a stroke of remarkable timing and luck," Malik put in. "You don't know how many people I had to work over to get Katsuya to show up just then." The Egyptian turned him around and straightened his clothes a bit. "Be careful. I'll see you in a couple of hours."
"Have fun while I'm gone. Remember: nothing too permanent." He could already see the gleam in Malik's eyes as he turned back to inspect his knife collection for the proper tool to start with. "I'll be back soon enough, Yuugi. We'll have to talk more then." He walked out of the dockside warehouse to the sounds of Yuugi screaming, like the finest symphony. Malik was playing him like an instrument. In a way, he was: he was an instrument for both of their revenge.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could almost hear Bakura saying 'Good job, little love'.
It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough to start.
Genre: Challenge fic (GWYaoi 2005 Novella Challenge)
Entered: GWYaoi 2005 Novella Challenge (1st place - Wildcard Category), Sands of Time
Word count: 15,008
He was running. It seemed he’d been running forever, and he was starting to forget a time, if there had ever been one, when he wasn’t running. Every breath in and out of his lungs hurt now, and his legs felt like they were burning. His whole body was aching to collapse, but there was no way he could stop now. He had to find them, the Bakuras. They were somewhere in this city. This city had been his only clue, if he had read the elder Bakura’s sign three months ago right. Dear God, let him have interpreted the sign right.
One neon sign blurred into another then finally bled out as the shopping district gave way to apartment buildings and homes. How the hell was he going to find them in all this mess of people? The clue he’d been given wasn’t enough to go on after all, and he couldn’t slow down. For all he knew, they were closing in on him right now.
“Kaiba Seto?” The voice was unfamiliar but spoke with such surety that, despite the phrasing, informed him the speaker knew exactly who he was and what he was doing in Domino City. The voice wasn’t old, though, the speaker probably no older than him – not one of his pursuers.
He stopped and slowly turned to take in the tan young man sitting on the doorstep of the building he’d been passing. With that skin tone, coupled with the blond hair and purple eyes, he had to be a gaijin, though there was something… familiar about him. “Who are you?” He had to be proud that, no matter how tired he was, he didn’t allow himself to show it to this virtual stranger.
“You’re a little earlier than I thought you’d be. Good thing I came down early anyway. I’m Malik Ishtar. I live upstairs with the Bakuras.”
This was almost too good to be true. No, forget ‘almost’. “Prove it.”
”What, that I knew you were coming isn’t good enough?” No, there were too many ways that information could have been found out. He shook his head, and Malik laughed in response, a harsh, broken sound like shattered glass. The tanned man dug in one of the many pockets on the vest he was wearing and tossing something at him.
In the split second before he caught it, an image flashed through his mind of a tanned hand digging through a pocket. That’s why Malik seemed familiar: one of the Bakuras must have included it in the message. Then he caught the thrown object, and a new wave of images assaulted him: Malik settling down on the steps to wait; one of the Bakuras putting the object in his palm; “get upstairs, Seto, it’s getting late;” one of the Bakuras (sometimes it was so hard to tell which one was which) grabbing this object and the one they’d left him before from the younger spiky-haired kid; “get your ass upstairs, Seto, now…”
With an effort, he stemmed off the flashes and focused weary eyes on Malik, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Do you believe me now?”
He nodded slowly. “Where are they?”
The blond man bounced to his feet. “Upstairs waiting on you. Ryou’s been in a fit since we heard you escaped.”
Then the younger Bakura hadn’t changed much, he mused as he followed Malik inside and into an elevator. Good, he didn’t think he could take stairs. All the same, he had to glance over his shoulder a few times. Paranoia was a force of habit now.
A hand touched his shoulder, hitting nothing but the cloth of the long-sleeved shirt he wore, but still he shied back, almost to the wall but not letting himself touch it. Malik held both hands up before himself, his voice and face apologetic. “Sorry, I forgot they said not to touch you. I just wanted to tell you that you lost them four blocks back. You’re safe here for now.”
”For how long?” He must be tired, if that slipped out.
The blond shrugged. “A few hours ahead is my limit, but right now I don’t sense any danger coming for a while.”
The Bakuras obviously trusted this guy, and it sounded like he was one of them. Maybe he could relax for a little bit. As the elevator started to rise, he glanced down at the object he still held in the palm of his hand: a domino, one of Yuugi’s at that. Had the elder Bakura been saving it till now, so he’d know it was safe?
When he’d gotten the first one, hand-delivered by Yuugi several months after the Bakuras’ disappearance, he’d been so confused and skeptical that he almost hadn’t taken off his gloves to see what was going on. Curiosity (Why was Yuugi, the only one of them who still got mail from his family, getting a domino with a note attached that only said for ‘For Kaiba Seto’?) got the better of him, though, and he’d looked. After that, it had just been a matter of planning his own escape, waiting for the right moment, and running for it… and running and running and…
A bell dinged, and he straightened to attention as the doors open. “This way,” Malik stated, leading him to door 601 and knocking two times, pausing, then knocking once more. He could hear locks opening, and the door swung open. For a moment, he wondered which of the Bakuras he was seeing, till Malik solved the dilemma by grinning and stating, “I’m back, Ryou! I told you guys he’d be here soon.” The blond moved past the white-haired man, still talking. “Man, it was cold out there! I hate Japanese winters. How can you people stand all the damn snow?”
Ryou shook his head before turning back to him. “I’m sorry about Malik, Kaiba-kun.” As unfailing polite as he remembered, most definitely. “Please, come in. Our home is your home for as long as you wish to stay.”
It had been so long since he’d been anywhere but the Institute that he almost forgot to take off his rather battered shoes and put on slippers. A pair was waiting for him just inside the door, blue at that. The elder Bakura was the only one who knew how much he liked the color, though, so this had to be his touch.
“Where’s your brother?” he found himself asking. It felt so good to be inside where it was warm and not a chilled sterile white. Every part of him was trembling with exhaustion, but he couldn’t drop yet. Not until he saw the other Bakura too and was sure he was all right also.
“Setting you up a place to sleep.” Ryou smiled faintly. “We thought you might like a place to rest first then eat and settle in.”
It was just like the Bakuras to think of everything. For two people whose abilities didn’t include foreseeing the future, they always seemed to be prepared for it. “Thank you,” he muttered softly. “Which way?”
//Down the hall, first door on your left,// whispered in his mind.
It had always surprised him how at ease he felt with the other Bakura. He was a very private person and had actively rejected the other telepaths at the Institute. Bakura he got along with, though, probably because the white-haired man never tried once to pick his thoughts apart, no more than his brother had ever tried to mess with his emotions.
He moved past Ryou and Malik, following the directions he’d been given. The door wasn’t even pulled closed all the way, so he had only to elbow it open. “Bakura?”
Another white-haired man straightened from smoothing out the covers on the bed. //Welcome to Domino, Seto.//
He’d never heard Bakura speak anywhere but in his mind. He doubted anyone except Ryou and perhaps the scientists at the Institute had heard the man’s voice. He had only ever used his telepathy to speak for as long as Seto had known him. “You could have left me a clearer message, you know.”
//You wouldn’t have believed it was from me if I did. I know you, remember?// Silver eyes looked over him critically. //You look like hell.//
“I feel like I’ve seen a slice of it.”
“Niisan, here’s the extra blanket.” He nearly jumped to hear Ryou’s voice behind him. The pair of them were both too quiet, but usually it was only the older Bakura that was able to sneak up on him, though Ryou had managed it a time or two before. Today, though, he was jumping at shadows. He’d be better once he got some sleep. “And here, Kaiba-kun. These are the only gloves we have. Malik and I will go pick you up a better pair tomorrow.” Carefully, he accepted the proffered gloves, slipping them on and forcing a brief stream of images to stay back for now.
//How did you make it this far without them?// And there was that familiar faint note of worry. No one else but Bakura really worried about him anymore, since his own family died six years ago. This was why he found his way here, after a year since he’d seen the other man.
And both Bakuras were staring at him expectantly, obviously await an answer. “The doctors would have suspected something if I’d gone outside with them on.”
Bakura was nodding, but it was Ryou who replied. “Of course, and those people’s ideas of clothes don’t exactly include lots of pockets.”
He nodded. “Then I just ran and kept running and tried to keep from touching anything or anyone.”
//You’ll be safe here for the time being,// Bakura’s voice whispered in his head, thoughts so soft he could nearly wrap himself around them. Hell, he seemed to recall having done that a few times before the Bakuras’ vanishing act. There had been times he’d stumbled into the room he’d shared with Bakura, barely getting one foot in front of the other as exhausted as he was by what seemed like endless tests, much as he was now from running, and found the white-haired man awaiting him, and before he knew it, his body would be tucked into one of the two beds while his mind was in whatever new scenery Bakura managed to dream up. It was the advantage of having a skilled, powerful telepath for a roommate.
When he first met Bakura, he had thought the other man was much, much older than he was. The white hair and his old, world-weary eyes threw him off. Of course, he met Ryou shortly after that and soon came to realize that apparently both Bakuras’ hair had gone white from the force of their powers. They were incredibly strong individually but even more so when together, so they’d been forbidden to room together in the hopes it might keep them from being powerful enough to escape. No one at the Institute except the Bakuras, him, and maybe Ryou’s former roommate Yuugi knew that, no matter the distance they were separated, the brothers could always communicate telepathically, just as they could always sense each others’ emotions.
One of the first times Bakura had pulled him into his mind for the night, he’d summoned up the nerve to ask what he never would aloud: why Bakura’s eyes were so ancient, especially compared to his brother’s, who was only three years younger. Bakura just did that sad half-smile and replied that Ryou never had thousands of people’s thoughts hitting him all the time - and he was shielding him from the worst of the emotions. It seemed Bakura had always been trying to protect them all from as much as he could.
“Thank you, Ryou, Bakura,” he said softly, letting himself sink down on the bed. He’d almost forgotten how a real bed felt after six years of sleeping on the cot-like beds the Institute provided. Trust Bakura to find a way to get a Western-style bed. Then again, as he looked around, he recognized telltale signs that this was most certainly Bakura’s room and therefore Bakura’s bed.
“Good night, niisan. Good night, Kaiba-kun,” Ryou called over his shoulder on his way to the door. “Sleep in if you’d like. Malik and I are going to get up early and get some shopping done. Niisan will make you breakfast or whatever when you get up.” He pulled the door closed behind him, forestalling any reply he might have had.
He was battling to keep his eyes open at this point, but… He plucked at his shirt tiredly.
//They feel like that place, don’t they?// He nodded, and Bakura left his post next to the bed to cross over to a chest-of-drawers. //I’ve got a pair of sleep pants here that should fit you.//
“I don’t want to kick you out of your room, Bakura,” he stated softly, closely watching the other’s movements in lieu of letting himself fall over asleep as his body was begging to do. “I can sleep somewhere else.”
//Seto, you can be such a dumb shit sometimes, for as intelligent as you’re supposed to be.//
He blinked, half-wishing he could and half-glad he couldn’t see Bakura’s face with his back turned. “What?”
//We roomed together how many years?//
“Five,” he replied immediately. He had been thirteen when he was brought to the Institute, while the Bakuras had already been there at least a year at that point. He remembered wishing he could room with the other Bakura because the tall sixteen-year-old with the strange eyes was intimidating. “This isn’t the Institute, though, and it’s been a year since we’ve seen each other.” And Bakura had left him behind when he and Ryou ran. He winced as the thought slipped out unguarded; there was no way Bakura hadn’t heard that. “I’m –“
//If you dare say you’re sorry, Seto, I’m going to punch the shit out of you.// Bakura slowly turned to face him, hands apparently still grasping something in the drawer. //The bed is yours while you’re here. We either share it like we used to or I’ll go sleep on the couch. It’s up to you. But don’t you dare say you’re sorry for anything to me. I don’t want to think they broke you that much while I was gone.//
How had he nearly forgotten how passionate Bakura was about everything? “It’ll be all right if we both stay here, I guess,” he decided aloud. “It’s not like we’ve never done it before, right?”
He could watch Bakura relaxing, then the grin he recognized built on the other’s face. //All right. Catch.// Blue flew at him, and he caught it reflexively.
”Did you feel the need to buy everything for me in my favorite color?” he asked, allowing a faint smile to grace his face as he examined the matched pajama set.
//I even sent a color sample out with Ryou and Malik.// Bakura was smirking, but that was pretty typical. //Granted, Malik wanted to bitch about it a bit, but I convinced him otherwise. Think they’ll fit?//
“Yeah.” Didn’t Bakura go out anymore?
Another pair of pants in hand, Bakura headed towards the other door. //The bathroom’s through here when you need it. I’ll be back in a few, so you go ahead and change if you want.// Bakura vanished behind the door, and he even felt his mental presence retreat a bit too.
He shrugged, starting to peel his way out of the clothes he was wearing. Bakura always was a bit odd, even for a telepath.
He didn’t remember getting changed or collapsing on the bed, though surely both must have happened because that’s where he found himself when he stirred a while later. Some things, at least, never changed: Bakura still took whichever side of the bed was closest to the door, and he still ended up wrapped around the other man during the night. Surely he had noticed as well, despite never breathing a word about it. He knew it never bothered him because it saved him from a hundred horrible dreams and memories, since the older Bakura was the only person he could touch without gloves or other clothes and never be assaulted by images.
Bakura seemed to be asleep now, apparently oblivious to his sudden return to wakefulness, so he cautiously crawled over the man and headed into the bathroom, completely unaware of silvery eyes following his every movement till they were blocked by the bathroom door.
/What’s bothering you, niisan?/
He almost laughed aloud at the worry in his brother’s mental voice. //Nothing’s wrong.//
/You feel… concerned about something. Is Kaiba-kun all right?/
He let out a laugh purely between their minds. //I’m just glad he made it out. Now I can take care of him properly. He needs to be spoiled.//
/He doesn’t need an older brother, you know./
A smile twitched briefly on his face before he carefully wiped it off as the bathroom door opened again and he returned to faking sleep. //That’s not the position I had in mind.//
Seto crawled back over him and started arranging himself into the spot he’d originally occupied, carefully making sure the bed sheets were between him and the wall and several inches were between his bed partner and himself.
/Be careful not to rush him, niisan. I don’t think Kaiba-kun’s ready for any relationships right now./
//I know. I will be.//
He nearly gave himself away by jumping or speaking or something when Seto’s bare hand touched his face. “I’m glad I made it back to you, Bakura.”
He pulled back, feeling heat flushing his cheeks, and buried his face in the pillow. If Bakura was even marginally awake, he’d have either heard the words or picked up on the thoughts behind them. Still, he was too tired to be embarrassed for long, probably the reason why he kept slipping, and soon enough he’d drifted off again.
The next time he awoke, the bed was empty. It took him a few minutes sitting up on the bed and glancing around the room to place where he was again. He was a little amazed at what all Bakura had managed to accumulate over a year: a chest of drawers that he presumed to be full of clothes, books liberally covering every available surface save the bed and most of the floor, a few J-rock posters, and glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling and the walls. He liked that touch; it was very Bakura.
Speaking of the white-haired man, where was he? The room was lit by sunshine peeking in through the window covering, but the door into the room was still closed. He grabbed his gloves off the bedside table and pulled them on before moving to explore beyond Bakura’s room. Last night he’d been too tired to really look around. The Bakuras had definitely made this apartment their own, with little knick-knacks littered down the hallway to the living room on small end tables or displays on the wall, definitely a Ryou touch. The living room, however, was crowded, and he could see more than just their tastes? It was a bit more Middle Eastern; Malik’s maybe? He had to wonder what the gaijin’s story was; he’d never seen anyone like him at the Institute, though he was obviously a talent like the rest of them. He’d have to ask Bakura about it whenever he found him.
The aroma drew him into the next room even before Bakura spoke in his mind, //Ask me about what?//
He would never in a million years would have pictured Bakura as being in the least bit domestic. He had always figured Ryou cooked and did everything around the house, but now that he saw it, it made a strange sense, especially since it seemed Bakura was the one inside most of (all of?) the time, not Ryou as he’d originally thought. “Malik? What’s his deal?”
Bakura shrugged, setting two bowls down on the table. //He’s a precog. Ryou found him frisking people blind, mostly in stuff like blackjack or anything else where he could make bets on what would come up next.// Bakura huffed, the breath fluttering his hair. //Ryou, being the kind-hearted sap that he is, brought him home and kept him, like a stray cat or something. All in all, he’s not too bad.//
Of course, there was more to all that, but it certainly wasn’t any of his business. He took a sip of the miso soup Bakura had given him before asking his next question, “What about this place? How’d you guys find it?”
//It found us.// His confusion must have showed on his face because Bakura chuckled and clarified, //When Ryou and I left that place, we had nowhere to go. He remembered the return address that had been on Yuugi’s letters, so that seemed like as good an idea as any to start, and we went to Yuugi’s grandfather’s place.// That was strange. He couldn’t remember ever hearing admiration for anyone from Bakura before. //He took us in for a while, then he went into debt to buy this building before it could be torn down. Everyone in here is working to pay him back for the place to live – and most of us for more than that.//
Sooner or later, everything always came down to Yuugi these days. He’d known the boy was generous to a fault, but he never would have suspected it was a genetic trait or something. “I’m glad there was someone here who would do something like that.” Till he’d gotten Bakura’s message, he’d had nightmares of the brothers living on the streets or something, nothing protecting their abilities from becoming overwhelming or anything of that ilk. He could never bring himself to admit something like that. There was one more thing he would allow himself to admit, however: “I’m glad you’re all right.”
As always, Bakura seemed to know what he meant. //I was worried about you too.// A knee nudged him under the table. //Now eat. Ryou and Malik will be home soon.//
“Oh?” It definitely wasn’t the best miso soup he’d ever had, but it was certainly far from the worst. “Do we have plans?”
//They’re taking you out to get more clothes. Unless you wanted to keep wearing that all the time?//
“You’re not coming?”
//…// He watched Bakura look away from him almost guiltily. So his suspicions had been correct?
“Bakura?” he prompted.
//I haven’t been able to leave the building in four months, Seto.//
He could have been knocked over with a feather in that instant. Bakura, housebound, like some kind of common talent? The hell? “What do you mean?”
//I’m shielding almost every talent in here to some extent, some more than others. I’m extended to the point that I can barely shield my own mind inside the building, much less out of it.// A faint smirk touched his face as he looked back at him. //So, as much as I’d like to ogle you trying on new clothes, I’m afraid I’m stuck here.// He winked. //You could always model for me here, though.//
He felt heat flush his cheeks. Only Bakura could make him blush, and he had given up trying to make him stop years ago. He never thought he’d have missed this too, though. “Ba-Bakura!”
//What?// That voice was too innocent for Bakura. Why did the white-haired man have to so enjoy teasing him? He’d been doing it since he turned fifteen and had finally started shooting up till he was a little taller than Bakura. A pale hand picked up the bowl that he’d finished, and he glanced up. //Ryou and Malik are in the elevator on their way up. You might want to start getting dressed. No one outside this apartment is allowed to ogle you in your PJs, after all.// There was a brief pause. //And I’m not sure Malik’s allowed either. Let me know if he tries, and I’ll turn him into a vegetable, okay?//
“Does he get to pick which vegetable?” he deadpanned, drawing a laugh in his mind from Bakura.
“We’re home, niisan, Kaiba-kun!” Ryou’s voice called out.
“We’re back and ready to go out again – Oww! Damn it, Ryou! That hurt!” And there was Malik’s voice. A second later, the pair appeared, Malik rubbing his stomach and glaring at Ryou. “I’m not a punching bag, you know.”
“Poor baby. You’ll live.” Ryou was smiling broadly, more so than he’d ever seen him do before, and even he could read the lack of tension coming off him. Life outside the Institute was obviously agreeing with one Bakura at least.
//Knock it off, you two. You’ll traumatize him,// Bakura chided. //Go get dressed, Seto. Some of my clothes may still fit you – or at least come close. I’ll do my best to kick these two into shape before you get back.//
“Be back in a few.” He stood slowly and left the three of them in the kitchen. It was a lot to process at once. He’d never thought of Bakura’s powers having such a limit on them, even though he’d know there had to be some kind of limitation or else the white-haired man probably would have gone mad or died from the drain by now. But that he was playing guardian to so many people that he could barely take care of himself? That was unlike the somewhat selfish Bakura he’d known.
This new Bakura was only somewhat similar to his Bakura - err, the Bakura he’d known at the Institute, the only who had rerouted all the guards’ minds so they thought they were chimps, the one who had put fudge in Atem’s shampoo bottle, the one who had stepped up to take the blame for anyone else’s mistakes, the one who hadn’t spoken a word aloud in at least six years, though probably more. After the Bakuras, Atem had been there the next longest, and he had told him once that he’d never heard Bakura speak before either, so it was almost definitely a good deal longer than the stretch of time he himself had known the man, he pondered to himself as he selected a pair of slacks and a long-sleeved button-down shirt that didn’t fit too poorly. So maybe Bakura hadn’t changed that much after all and just had developed a large base of people – probably with a smaller idea of their own potential – to play older brother to.
He tugged at the shirt sleeves till they just met the edge of his gloves. It was the best fit he was going to find here, of that he was fairly certain, but he was still enough taller than Bakura that it wasn’t perfect. He’d have to wear a jacket or something because otherwise he ran the possibility of touching someone or something, neither of which he wanted to chance.
Almost nervous about what they would say, he stepped out of the bedroom, still pulling at the shirt self-consciously as he walked into the living room where they were now waiting. Silver eyes glanced up at him first as he’d expected, but it wasn’t Bakura who spoke first. “You look like a foreign business man,” Malik began, before choking on his laughter as Ryou elbowed him in the stomach.
“Then we’ll just let you do the talking, Malik-chan,” Ryou returned too sweetly, “and they’ll think we’re all gaijin for sure.” The younger Bakura snickered and grinned as he sank down in a mismatched oversized chair. “You might be able to negotiate us some nice price mark-ups.”
Bakura stood and headed over to a closet near the door, emerging with a long, thin coat as he spoke, //Mutou said to put it on the card this time, but don’t go overboard. We’re already in the hole for the month. Here.// He set the coat around his shoulders, careful not to touch him directly, not that he’d have really minded it from Bakura. He could tell Bakura’s next words were for him alone. //Try to relax and have a little fun while you’re out. Malik says there’s nothing to worry about for today, and I have someone downstairs trying to make sure everything flows your way. So have a good time, okay?//
“I’ll try,” he leaned up to whisper in Bakura’s ear. “I wish you could come.”
//I can’t, I’m afraid to say. I’ll walk you guys downstairs, though.//
Maybe he was talking to Ryou at the same time he was talking to him, but the younger Bakura hopped to his feet and announced, “It’s time to go, Malik! Time for more of your favorite thing in the world.”
He had to smile as the gaijin groaned. “I hate shopping.” But he started slipping back on a coat way too heavy for the current weather, grumbling something to himself about stupid freezing Japanese winters. As he pushed himself to his feet, he took a moment to really look at the strange young man: he’d already noted the bright blond hair and lavender eyes, plus the apparent precognitive powers, the odd fashion sense, probably about the same age as himself and Ryou, and… And apparently he was attached at the hip to the younger Bakura, who had been playfully messing with the many layers Malik was wearing but now was being tickled till he laughed helplessly by the blond. It was good to see, perhaps reaffirming in its own way. Still, he couldn’t help feeling a touch of envy though, as he frequently did for people who either had no talents to speak of or had ones that were less obtrusive; they’d never have to go through life without being able to touch a single thing or keeping a mile-deep shield around their mind. Maybe Malik’s ability had some hidden drawback he’d yet to see, aside from the limited timeframe he’d mentioned before, but for now…
For now he would content himself to just follow where the elder Bakura pulled him, though, stepping onto the elevator and watching as the doors closed behind them.
“Are you going down to see Jyonouchi-kun while we’re gone, niisan?” Ryou asked. Who was this Jyonouchi, he wondered? Better still, what was this odd, hot emotion he felt upon hearing that? And why was Ryou giggling? “He was saying how much he missed seeing you the other day.”
Very nonchalantly, Bakura leaned over and lightly smacked the back of his brother’s head. //You make it sound like we’re having a torrid affair or something, you little pervert. Now knock it off before you break Seto.//
“Yeah, sure. Whatever you say, niisan.” The younger Bakura grinned at him, as if he was part of whatever joke was being played on the young man’s brother. Problem was, he had absolutely no idea what the joke was or if he even really was a part of it. He rarely got the joke, especially with these two.
//Don’t worry about that. My little brother’s just a pervert.// The words were accompanied by a purely mental sensation of arms wrapping around him. //Just try to put up with him a bit, okay?//
Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced over to the other two occupants of the small elevator. Malik and Ryou seemed to be in some sort of protracted conversation that involved a lot of whispering and an equivalent amount of giggling. Why did he have the feeling he and Bakura were their topic of choice at the moment? Still… He leaned back so that he was just barely touching Bakura and whispered, “Thanks. I’ll try to put up with him.”
Was it his imagination, or were the other two oddly silent?
//Good.// Bakura sounded like he was grinning, but he didn’t look as the elevator doors opened. //Try to have some fun today, all right?//
Malik and Ryou stepped around them and started speaking to a young man sitting on the steps, much as the tanned gaijin had been last night. “Jyonouchi-kun!” Ryou greeted him, turning that smile of his on a thousand watts.
“What’re you up to?” Malik continued, stepping up behind Ryou.
The new blond man turned slightly to look at them behind the other two. “Waiting to see Bakura.” Why was he almost literally seeing red? Bakura didn’t even answer in words, merely tilting his head to the side. “Dad wanted to talk to you. Something about a case he needs help with.”
If he could get his hands on Ryou and Malik, he might have to smack them both. Bakura was right; they made it sound like they were… involved. That seemed to be untrue now, though, and he wanted to know why they had implied so heavily. It wasn’t like he and Bakura were in a relationship or anything after all, and even if they were, he certainly was not the jealous type – and why was Bakura grinning like that?
//You’re ranting a bit there, Seto.//
He crossed his arms over his chest and tried to think back ‘So?’, even if he wasn’t sure it got through.
The elder white-haired man smiled even more broadly. //So, nothing. It was cute.// He started to bristle, but Bakura kept speaking. //There’s nothing going on between Katsuya and me.// If it were anyone but Bakura, he’d be concerned by the usage of a given, instead of a family, name, but it was Bakura and he used first names for damn near everyone. //Don’t worry over it, and go have fun. I’ll see you when you get back.//
He had to fight a flush of heat to his cheeks as Bakura lifted his gloved hands and laid a kiss on the covered palm of each. Did the man know what he did to him? The grin had turned a bit mischievous; he’d say, yes, he knew, and he’d probably been counting on it. He – he couldn’t think. It was barely a touch, not even connecting with his flesh, and he couldn’t think. He shakily drew his hands back to himself and stammered, “I – I’ll see you soon, Bakura.”
He was pretty sure he was still red when Malik and Ryou dragged him out the front door, each of them pulling him by an end of his borrowed jacket.
It was starting to seem to him that Ryou and Malik knew everyone in this town, as well as exactly how to work each and every one of them. Every article of clothing had been bought at discount prices, and even the lunch they were now eating was at a reduced rate. Finally, he had to ask as the waitress brought some kind of desert with a wink and a grin, “Do you know everyone in this city?”
Malik was digging into the sweet with gusto. “Her?” He pointed at the waitress’s back with one of the forks she’d also brought. “Never saw her before in my life.”
“It’s probably horrible of us, but we worked out a system.” This didn’t sound good; he wondered if the elder Bakura knew. “Malik’s good at finding people who are easily manipulated, and I can make that even easier because I can follow where their emotions are going and steer them in the direction I want them to go.”
Malik laughed, a little alarmingly in its sudden appearance and volume. “You should have seen it when Bakura still used to come out. He and Ryou could work a person like nobody’s business. It was great. We never had to pay for anything.”
“Are you guys really that broke?” something inside made him inquire.
As if by some unspoken signal, Malik set his fork down and Ryou picked up his own. “We are beyond broke. ‘Broke’ implies that you once had money. Niisan and I never have had any. Everything we have was either borrowed, stolen, or donated.”
The Bakura he remembered was as prideful as they came, nearly as much as he himself was. He’d rather steal than take charity. How much in that room was stolen? Most of those lovely books to start with, he'd bet. Loans or things he could eventually return he’d have taken with fewer qualms than if they were ‘donated’. He could understand the mentality; he was much the same way, after all. He would be paying all this back the second he got money of his own. He wasn’t too sure how he was going to accomplish that, of course. His… handler back at the Institute frequently said he had a gift for investments. Maybe he could still make money move without that old bastard over his shoulder. Where to get the money to start with though? His parents had set up a trust fund for him and his brother before their deaths, but he couldn’t touch it till he turned twenty, another eleven months from now. He wasn’t waiting that long, not for something this important.
“Kaiba-kun?” Ryou sounded worried. How odd. Someone aside from Bakura and his own six-years-dead family was concerned for him?
”Did I say something to upset you?” What an odd question, but Ryou was pushing on. “It’s not really that bad, I swear. For the most part, we just have to cut out… luxuries, and niisan has got a deal going with the local police so we use our talents to help them out and they pay us a bit.”
And the answer to his problem just fell into his lap. “I could help with that.” Malik looked up sharply. “I could… I don’t know… see crime scenes, tell them about the criminal. I know one of the police forces in Tokyo has someone like me on retainer.”
“It’s not easy, you know,” Malik cautioned. “Half the cops resent us being there, and the other half only just barely tolerate us. Not to mention the nightmares from using your abilities like that.” He gave a visible shudder. “It’s horrible.” He grabbed his fork up again, stabbed a bite off the desert, and shoved it in his mouth, looking sharply away.
Ryou winced but turned back to him to explain, “Malik picks up murders when he goes up to the station. His surroundings determine what he sees.”
So that was the drawback to Malik’s abilities: they were like his own, but instead of seeing the past, he saw the future. Given what the blond liked to wear when not outside in the winter air, he was willing to bet he wasn’t limited by touch either. It was strange, but he was almost glad he had that limitation now; it kept him from catching images at random.
Malik turned back towards them and spoke slowly but with excitement clear in his eyes. “Bakura says I’m sitting on a plateau with my powers. They’re slowly stopping to increase and finally are evening out. Pretty soon I’ll be able to control them better.”
This seemed to cheer Ryou back up immediately. “Niisan’s our resident expert. If he says Malik’s powers are about to even out, then they will.” He must have looked curious or confused or something because Ryou then kept speaking. “We were at that place for just about forever. He picked stuff up, more than I did.”
Something in his stomach was tying itself into knots. “How long is ‘just about forever’?”
“Since he was twelve and I was nine.”
Nine years?! They were there for nine years? Holy fuck, no wonder Bakura could work the system in that place the way he could. “So long?”
Ryou snorted inelegantly, tossing his fork down on the table with a loud clatter. “They had to wait till Kaasan and Tousan had a little ‘accident’ before they could get us. Of course, I’m sure they didn’t mean to kill our little sister Amane along with our parents.”
Ryou sounded so callous, he could almost swear it was the man's brother he was speaking to. No, not callous. No, his words were just matter-of-fact, like his family being murdered wasn't the topic of conversation. If Malik hadn't already climbed onto the younger Bakura's lap to wrap his arms around him, he might have been half-tempted to reach out to Ryou himself - because suddenly Ryou seemed a lot more like Bakura than ever before.
The mental voice was little more than a whisper. Given how far they were from the apartment building, that really wasn't a surprise. Still... He had to resist the urge to check over his shoulder for the white-haired man.
Concentrating to form coherent words in his mind wasn't as easy as those two made it seem, and his eyes closed to work properly at sending the message. 'Ryou's okay. He's just upset.' He paused a beat then added, 'I asked some stupid questions.'
There was a mental brush, so faint he couldn't tell if it was Bakura's equivalent of a slap or a hug before silence return to his mind, nearly deafening in its quiet. Ryou let out a jagged laugh, an almost frightening noise which sounded thick and wet and so very loud that his eyes were drawn open again. Malik was smiling as tears ran down his face. Looking around, though, the dark-skinned man was far from the only one upset; at least half the restaurant patrons were sobbing.
//He'll be just fine in a little bit. Come on home now, though, before my little brother decides all of Domino needs a good cry.//
He had to hold back the urge to nod. Sometimes it still surprised him just how much like talking this could really be. "Bakura-" he began aloud.
"Says to come home," Malik finished, wiping at his face. "He doesn't like Ryou being out when he's upset."
Between himself and the lamppost, he thought Bakura might have a rather wise idea there. But he wasn't going to say anything about it. And he wasn't going to mention that they'd just left without paying either.
"So that's one of the infamous Bakuras?"
He scowled at the voice's owner as the man spoke through almost hysterical tears. "Given the fact you're sobbing like a little bitch, I'd say that was Bakura Ryou."
"How can you tell?"
Really, if it wasn't such a public place, he'd probably go ahead and shoot the man in the face for his stupidity. "If it was the other Bakura, you'd be a drooling misfit now." More than normal, he clarified strictly to himself.
He'd known, if Kaiba Seto ever escaped, he'd lead them straight to the ever-elusive Bakuras. It had been a gamble, but so far it was paying off. As long as the other Kaiba never found out he'd allowed the man's favorite test subject to get out, it'd all be fine.
"If he's with the Bakuras, though, and they're as powerful as all that, how are we going to retrieve him?"
Again something twitched in the back of his mind, urging him to just go ahead and shoot his companion - put the man out of his own misery. He resisted. There was something odd about the thought. Not that he didn't regularly entertain notions of murdering this guy in his sleep, but there was a touch of 'other' there, something that simply screamed to him that someone else was influencing his thoughts. He knew the 'hand' of a telepath when he felt it. It was a little clumsy; either the telepath was a novice or he was too far away to work him properly. And given the topic of their conversation...
"We need someone who can get around the Bakuras and the young Kaiba," he reasoned aloud. His companion stared at him expectantly. "We need the summoner."
Maybe it was just him, but they seemed to have gotten back to the apartment awfully fast. Out of the six lights the cab had come to, only two were red though, so that certainly hadn't hurt matters any. That blond guy was standing just outside the door, bouncing on his heels impatiently. Malik started to hand the driver his fare, when the man's face went blank and he drove off without it.
He had to blink in surprise a moment. Bakura must have taken control of him. Were they really that desperate?
"Will you guys get in here?" the blond - that Jyonouchi guy, he reminded himself - hissed just loud enough for them to hear. "Bakura's having a fit."
He had half a second to wonder - no, worry - that he meant that literally, that Bakura was having the telepathic equivalent of a breakdown like he'd seen other 'paths do previously, before Bakura's voice broke in, //I am not. Just get upstairs, all of you.//
"Me too?" the blond chirped.
Bakura's voice was quieter, almost like he wasn't planning on him hearing what was being said. //Only if you really want to, Katsuya. Thanks for the help with the lights.//
The blond shrugged then turned his attention back to them. "Come on. I'll take you guys upstairs, then I'm heading back down to keep an eye out for Shizuka."
Ryou beamed and gave a slight bow. "Thank you, Jyonouchi-kun. Umm... This isn't a number three, is it?"
Number three? The hell? Even Malik looked a little nervous waiting for the answer, but the blond just rolled his eyes. "Six lights, four of which were green. I'm on number two of a set now. So if you're taking the elevator, now's the time to do it." He was speaking to the back of Ryou's and Malik's heads, though, because they'd already breezed by him upon hearing the words 'number two' and had pressed the button for the elevator to come down.
He must have been staring or something, for the blond shifted slightly to look at him. "What?"
"What do you do?" he blurted out.
Brown eyes stared at him curiously before he answered, "I change luck."
"I don't believe in luck."
"Then what the hell do you call that with the lights earlier?" He was all but growling.
"'Coincidence'?" Forget growling. The blond was snarling, and Ryou and Malik were staring like it was too horrific to look away. "I'll show you-"
//Knock it off, both of you.// He winced - they all winced at the sudden loud sound of the elder Bakura's mental voice. //You're acting like children, and this isn't the time for it. Now shut up and get the hell up here.//
"Busted," Malik singsonged under his breath. The doors slid open behind them as Ryou casually swatted him in the stomach. He seriously doubted the dark-skinned barely felt through all those layers, yet he was rubbing his midsection and complaining, "What was that for?"
"You're being a dork, and if you keep it up, you're going to get in trouble with niisan too."
"Bakura doesn't care what I do as long as long as I don't hurt you. Oww! Will you two quit ganging up on me?!"
Again he heard the faintest whisper of Bakura's voice in his mind. //When did I ever say that, Desert Rat?//
He couldn't help snickering, which got a pretty quick reaction from Malik as well. "What's so funny?"
"The whole Desert Rat thing." And why the hell were they staring at him like that?
//Because you shouldn't have been able to hear that.// Bakura's voice was... different this time; it sounded closer and more personal. Obviously now he was speaking only to him. //And before I was trying to speak only with the Desert Rat. How-?//
Ryou's voice cut in eagerly. /Niisan, what if Kaiba-kun has a bond with you, kind of like I do?/
"How?" he had to pipe up. He hadn't seen Bakura in years. Surely it would have happened years ago, back at the Institute, when they were together so much more, if it was going to happen at all. Wouldn't it? No one really understood how telepaths' abilities worked; far less was known about it than many of the other types of talents, especially when it came to 'paths of Bakura's levels, even at the Institute. He knew finding 'paths was getting harder and harder, at least according to his... handler, because the minute someone admitted to hearing voices in their head, they were treated as schizophrenics and pumped full of psychotropic drugs, any of which had the side-effect of shutting down the brain centers which governed telepathy. And everyone was staring at him again. Oh, the elevator had stopped on the sixth floor and he was standing there. At least Bakura was there now.
The elder white-haired man stepped forward and took his gloved hand. //Damn, Seto. You used to tell me you 'went away' when you were working on something. I see what you meant now. You zone out something fierce.// He almost mumbled an apology, but Bakura continued, this time obviously opting to speak to all of them. //Are you all okay?//
He nodded, vaguely catching Ryou doing the same out of the corner of his eye. Of course it was Malik who spoke first though. "A little ticked at being left out of the loop, but fine."
"What's wrong, niisan?" came next from Ryou.
Bakura shook his head, apparently not willing to answer yet, and that Jyonouchi guy piped up instead. "There were a couple of guys at the restaurant looking for you guys."
The murderous look Bakura sent the blond went a long way to killing any notions he might have had of the two of them together. If looks could kill, the other man would be six feet under. //I wasn't planning on telling them like that, Katsuya.//
"If I left it to you, you'd pussyfoot around it and they wouldn't know to be more careful." And apparently the Jyonouchi guy gave as good as he got. "I'm going to down to check on Shizuka." He couldn't help but notice he went through the door leading to the stairs. Maybe there was something to this luck manipulation after all.
As far as he could see, though, there was only one possibility for why these guys were showing up here and now: they had followed him. He had come to the Bakuras for protection, but instead he'd led those goddamn Institute bastards right to the brothers and every other talent in the building. He'd... betrayed them all. He should go now, while he still stood a chance of leading them off. That Jyonouchi guy's trick with the lights should have them thrown off just enough for him to make this work.
//Seto?// It was hard to ignore Bakura, but he was more than halfway considering giving it a go. He needed to start planning the next part of his journey, after all. //Seto-baby, shut up. You're not going anywhere yet.//
"I've led them right to you and your brother though!"
//We'll deal with them. Trust me: if they try to hit here, we will hit them back.// The white-haired man stepped closer, carefully wrapping an arm around him. //I'm not letting them keep you away from me again.//
"Can you do it?"
The summoner rolled his eyes. "Yes, it'll be a cinch. What do you take me for, an amateur like you?" He returned to studying the cards in his hand and finally set one down. "I play Mystical Elf in defense."
"Ooh, you're up to something," the person he was playing against teased. "What are you going to do?" He set a card on the table face down and smiled. "Turn over."
"What am I up to, he says," the summoner complained, looking back down to the cards in his hand. "I'm trying not to get my ass handed to me is what I'm doing."
"Would I do something like that to you?"
"Since you're the only one who can? Yeah, you would, in a heartbeat." His competition grinned.
A little nervously, the other cut in again. "When will you do it?"
The summoner looked up again, a dire expression in his eyes. "Tomorrow."
"I'm not going tonight. I'm going tomorrow. Tonight I'm having a game-" red eyes snapped back over to the younger man he was playing against "-and I am going to win this time!"
"Keep telling yourself that, and play your next card already."
The other nodded slowly. "I'll leave you to your game then. Please take care of this first thing tomorrow." Stepping backwards, he moved out of the room. A second or two later, they heard the lock click shut and both let out a sigh of relief.
"I can't believe they managed to find Ryou-kun and Bakura-kun," the younger of the two whimpered. "Kaiba-kun must be so upset."
"Kaiba will be fine."
"Are you really going to go after them? Won't that be dangerous?"
"It'll be fine, I promise."
"What about Bakura-kun, though?" the younger persisted. "He won't be too happy if you go after Kaiba-kun. You don't think he'll try to hurt you, do you?"
"Bakura's my friend. He won't hurt me."
"I promise it'll be fine, aibou."
It had taken hours to get Seto calmed down and in bed. Even now, lying in his bed, he didn't seem relaxed, instead twitching ever so slightly. He was pretty sure the taller man would be tossing and turning were his body not still used to the cot-like beds provided at the Institute.
He couldn't hold back a shudder, thinking back to those beds. In the nine years and eight months he'd been 'a guest' at the Institute, he couldn't recall more than a handful of mornings when he'd awakened well-rested on the slabs they tried to pull off as beds. Sleeping on the cold tiled floor might have been more comfortable, not to mention his feet always hung off the end, leaving him with the most uncomfortable pins and needles feeling in the mornings. And Seto had a couple of centimeters on him, so it had to be have been worse on him.
He didn't think he'd ever forget that first night of freedom, when he and Ryou had tumbled into the Kame Game Shop in the middle of a nighttime rainstorm. Sugoroku had taken them in and dried them off and then finally asked who they were. That first week, he and Ryou had shared a bed in what used to be Yuugi's room - and it had been a tight fit, but it was wonderful because it was a real bed like he'd nearly forgotten - before the old man had presented them with a gigantic tool kit and the keys to this place. It had taken them two weeks to make it habitable for them to even move in. It was difficult going, but they were slowly making this place into a home. From the moment the first new talents, Katsuya and Shizuka, along with their parents, had been brought in, he'd been working on making this place into a haven for people with abilities.
And always it had been in the back of his mind that he wanted to help the others in the Institute, bring them here, and it had always been his intention to start with Seto.
Seto was here now, though, and with the exception of this little revelation, he seemed to be adjusting pretty well to life on the outside. How had Ryou so elegantly described existence at the Institute to Sugoroku shortly after their escape? Life in a glass box, where you can see the world outside, but trying to touch it means hitting a wall or getting cut on the shards when the glass breaks... or something like that anyway. Ryou was always the more poetic of the two of them.
//How odd is that, since I'm the one who practically lives in my own mind all the time?// he murmured to himself.
It was also a little odd to him that he'd gotten so nostalgic since he'd been bound to quarters, so to say. Having late-night conversations with oneself was supposed to be a sign of madness, wasn't it? If he really wanted to, he could probably have them with the Prime Minister or just about anyone else in Japan - except those inside the Institute's bubble. He had never really figured out how they kept telepaths from slipping their minds in or out, but somehow that remained the case with this technological marvel of Kaiba Gouzaburou.
He hadn't been the one to turn up the information, but he'd verified Katsuya's father's findings. It was strange to think that Seto's uncle was the one behind that torture factory. He wondered sometimes, strictly to himself, what Gouzaburou's role in all this really was. He knew the man had begun the Institute after his own son, Noa, developed abilities - psychokinesis, if the reports read correctly - that, untrained, had imploded on the boy, killing him messily, slowly, and painfully. There were nights when thousands and thousands of voices clambered in his mind and he could imagine how dying by his own talent would feel.
Perhaps Gouzaburou had started the Kaiba Research Institute with noble intentions, but if so, they'd run far astray. He and Ryou had been among the first brought in almost ten years back, and it was already corrupting from within by then, back when Gouzaburou still took a hands-off approach to running the place. Right before they ran away, the eldest Kaiba had started getting more involved, mainly by become Seto's primary 'handler'.
He had always hated that term. It made him feel like an untrained animal. He was no creature to be put on a leash and controlled - and neither were any of the other Institute talents. If he could accomplish what he wanted to, none of them would have to hear that term ever again.
The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon when he felt a hand on his shoulder shaking him awake. Years of honed reaction had him on his feet and ready to fight before his body was even mostly awake. Grey eyes regarded him steadily, and that dead gaze made him feel like an insect. "It's time to go, summoner."
It took him a moment to place the face to a name, and when he finally did, he felt his eyes go painfully wide. "You're not supposed to even be out of the Center, much less thinking about going outside the Institute."
"I'm going with you." That was apparently that in the younger talent's mind. "Hurry up and finish getting ready before I start moving you myself."
This... was going to complicate matters.
Even Malik was subdued at breakfast this morning, he noted. Ryou didn't look nearly as chipper and happy as he had the day before, and Bakura... The elder white-haired man had barely glanced up from first his cooking then his eating. An air of gloom hung throughout the apartment, and frankly, it was starting to piss him off. In his mind, he was watching a clock tick down to when he finally exploded, much like those bombs on the TV shows Mokuba used to watch.
The faintest of smiles touched Bakura's lips at the image of the countdown he knew he was projecting, then Malik's head jerked up, whipping side to side madly as though looking for something only he could see. Ryou dropped the spoon in his hand with a clatter, hurrying around the table to kneel at the dark-skinned man's side, placing a hand on one of his arms. "What is it, Malik?"
To Ryou's touch, the other calmed slightly, though his breathing was still short and heavy. "Something's coming, something - It's fucking huge! It's coming here, looking for - for - for someone!"
Ryou reached up to touch Malik's shoulder. A faint glow surrounded him, the only clue Seto had he was using his powers to keep the other man from hyperventilating. "What is it that's coming, Malik?"
//And when?// came immediately after that from Bakura.
"It's - it's..." Lavender eyes abruptly went unfocused, staring off at nothing. "Blood dripping from the sky, lightning - divine light to punish the transgressors, holy sky dragon king."
The Bakuras exchanged a terrified look, the older one rising from his seat now, and Ryou turned back to Malik with new urgency. "When is it coming?"
The word echoed, coming aloud from Malik and in their minds from Bakura as the building began to shake on its foundations around them. "Earthquake?" he whispered at Bakura where the man stood at the window, having moved there before Ryou asked his last question. He didn't believe it was anything so mundane, but he had to ask.
//No, worse: dragon. Goddamn it, Atem. They had to send Atem.//
”What’s so bad about Atem?” He always assumed the spiky-haired man and Bakura were friends. They always seemed like friends, perhaps of the caustic sort but friends nonetheless. Once upon a time, he’d even though there was something between the two. Bakura’s statement of ‘it’d be like fucking my brother’ reassured of the invalidity of that quickly enough.
//I can’t read him. There are too many minds there to find his.// What exactly does that mean? Bakura glanced at him over his shoulder. //You do know what Atem does, right?// He shook his head, and the other man sighed. //He summons. There’s not even a real name for what he does. He just finds beings in other dimensions and brings them here. Like that dragon there.// Bakura gestured at the kitchen window, and he moved to look out.
A huge deep red creature swirled around the sky, coiling and uncoiling itself around buildings. It was easy to see the monster – the dragon – was waiting on something, and he had a sickening suspicion he knew exactly what that was… or rather who that was.
With a tired sigh, Bakura stepped away from the window, walking towards the door. “Niisan!”
“You’re not going down there alone,” he found himself arguing, taking a few steps after him.
//Ryou, you need to stay with Malik and bring him back out of this. Seto, babe, what’re you going to do against a dragon?//
“Got a gun?” he immediately fired back.
Bakura started shaking his head in negation when Ryou answered, “In the living room, under the couch.” Bakura turned sharp silver eyes on his brother, who merely shrugged and continued, “It’s Malik’s. There should be a full clip in it. Be careful, both of you.”
For half a moment, he watched Ryou turning back to Malik, touching him so very gently, speaking words no one else could hear. To himself, he quietly admitted what it was: envy.
The dragon was… certainly a lot bigger from down here. From the sixth floor, it was hard to get a scope for its size. At this angle, though, the creature was gigantic and very nearly everything he could see when he looked up.
Bakura was striding right up to the door like he didn’t have a fear in the world, even if he did stop just inside the doorway. //Atem! Get your ass out here where I can see you right now! Quit hiding behind your pets!// Oh yeah, Bakura did pissed off rather well.
“I think Osiris would object to being called a pet, Bakura,” Atem replied, stepping into view. “I knew that would get your attention.”
//Believe me, you were better off without it.//
“You know why I’m here, right? You know what they want me to do.”
//None of us are going back to that place. Never again. Go back to your masters and tell them Bakura told them where to stick it.//
“’Kura, you know very well I can’t do that. They’ll have my ass in a sling.”
//That’d make things easier for Yuugi now, wouldn’t it?//
“That’s just mean.”
His head whipped around to the side and he nearly had the gun raised before he realized it was that Jyonouchi guy. The blond was staring at Atem like he’d seen a ghost or something. With Atem, that was always a valid possibility, but he didn’t think that was the case this time. “That’s not Yuugi,” he finally answered. “It’s Atem.”
“He looks so much like Yuugi,” the other whispered, moving closer to him to see Atem better. How did this guy know Yuugi? For the first time he could remember, he reached out to brush what little skin was unprotected at his wrist against the blond’s hand. Images came hard and fast, but somehow he managed to sort them: “see you later, Yuugi – I hope it goes well!;” checking the clock and waiting reluctantly for the call, because that’s what best friends do, isn’t it?; flipping on the news and seeing the unexplained fire at the Kame Game Shop; rushing to the hospital where Jiichan had been admitted with third degree burns; “Anzu said she didn’t like you like that and left then everything started catching on fire?;” a tearful Yuugi nodding, and hugging him because that’s what best friends do, right, no matter what they might feel for the other; men in dark suits walking into the room…
With an effort, he pulled himself back and discreetly shook his head to clear it. So the blond had it bad for Yuugi, which he supposed made it all the more interesting since he had to be the best friend the smaller spiky-hared boy went on and on about to no end, but this was hardly the time to contemplate this. Silently, he walked up to stand closer to Bakura and tried to think at him, ‘Are you okay?’
//Atem’s an ass.// The answer came fast, and he had to smirk. //Something’s not quite right here, Seto. He’s being cagey.//
“Are you going to come along, Kaiba, or am I going to have to bring you back?” Atem demanded. Absentmindedly, he wondered if Atem and Malik might be related or at least from the same part of the world. It was worth looking into – but not now.
“Not a chance,” he threw back quickly.
Atem glanced at the ground and back up, an unfathomable look in his red eyes. “I’m sorry then, Kaiba.”
“Are we done doing things your way now, summoner?” a new voice asked. What new monster had Atem managed to call up now? He’d never heard of him calling one that could talk. A figure stepped into view behind the spiky-haired man, one with long, shaggy back hair and dressed in baggy jeans, a blue and green striped shirt, and a polar vest over it all. It wasn’t till the other lifted his head and he saw grey eyes he hadn’t seen in six years that he knew who this was. “Hello, niisama.”
It couldn’t be… It just couldn’t be… “M-Mokuba?”
”Of course. Come home, niisama. Come home with me.”
That voice was hypnotic, a thousand times more so than anything a telepath could ever hope to do to him. He couldn’t resist it even if he wanted to; his feet were moving of their own volition, going right past Bakura, down the steps, and beyond Atem till he stood before the tall young man his younger brother had become where Malik’s gun dropped from his numbed fingers. “I thought – they told me you were dead, Mokuba,” he whispered.
“Uncle thought it was for the best.” He held a hand out to him, and he couldn’t resist taking it. “Now come home, niisama. Come home so Bakura will.”
“That wasn’t the deal,” Atem turned to argue. Mokuba didn’t even look over at him. “The deal was to bring Seto back only.”
“The Big Five want their top-prized telepath in Japan back where they can take care of him. That’s why they let niisama out. And that’s why we’re heading back. All of us. Catch up.”
He felt the ground vanished from beneath his feet then nothing.
Bakura had been yelling the last few minutes. It was really a wonder the entire block didn’t have migraines. The volume had only been increasing since Kaiba vanished with the younger Kaiba, and since everything had been directed at the older one, he could only assume the white-haired man was being ignored or somehow he couldn’t be heard. He was almost hoping it was the former because otherwise… Well, the otherwise was a little scary.
Still, the all-powerful Bakura, possibly the most lauded telepath alive today, standing inside a doorway screaming out to his… friend? Lover? What was Kaiba to him? He had screamed like the brunet was his most important person, but he hadn’t moved.
He took it back. Bakura took about three steps forward out the door, the blond man behind him yelling for him to stop. He was barely out the door and down a step before he let out a purely mental scream, hands going up to grab his head in very apparent pain, then his eyes rolled up in his head and he was down.
“…fuck.” And that was the blond where he was trying to lift Bakura. Amber-colored eyes looked up at him critically. “Hey, you, sorta-Yuugi! Can you give me a hand here?” He almost looked behind him to see who he was talking to. “Yeah, you, with the tan and the almost-Yuugi hair. He’s not that light, you know, and I don’t want to drag him.”
Apparently, he was going to help because he was moving forward, after going back for the gun, and helping to pick up Bakura’s legs. “What happened to him?”
“He can’t leave the building.” Holy hell… He nearly dropped his burden in his shock. Bakura, housebound? Suddenly he couldn’t wait to tell aibou about this. They set the white-haired man down on the lobby floor, then the other looked up at him again curiously. “Why do you look so much like Yuugi?”
“We haven’t really come up with an explanation,” he answered carefully. They had their suspicions, but this was neither the time nor the place for that discussion. He had a few questions of his own, after all. “How do you know aibou?” He felt his eyes narrow. “You aren’t… ‘Jyonouchi-kun’, are you?”
He’d have to be blind to miss how the blond’s entire face lit up. “Yuugi’s mentioned me?”
He had all of half a second to feel insanely jealous before a muttered //Shit// filled his mind. Bakura sat up shakily, the palm of one hand ground into his forehead.
“Bakura, you’re an idiot,” Jyonouchi-kun stated plainly. “What were you thinking?”
//That someone had just made off with Seto!// the telepath snapped, struggling now to his knees. //Katsuya, I need to borrow your sister.//
“You aren’t seriously thinking of going there? That kid as good as said it was a trap!”
//You’ve never been to the Institute. You don’t know what it’s like there. And Seto’s back there.// There was an almost hysterical edge in the man’s voice he hadn’t heard in the six-plus years he’d know him. //There’s no way in hell I’m leaving him there!//
Once upon a time, he’d thought he’d never see a day like this, where he’d see proof that Bakura could really care for anyone besides his brother. There was something there, and the absence of it was hurting the telepath, much as being away from his aibou pained him.
“How are you going to handle that?” Jyonouchi-kun asked worriedly. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he too felt much the same. After all, he’d seen too many talents’ powers turn them inside out, and he’d hate to see that happen to his friend. “You can barely-“
//I’ll handle it! Just get your sister!//
He trailed the blond with his eyes as he stopped to the stairs, slamming the door closed behind him. Bakura sank back down to sit on his heels, rubbing tiredly at his temples. He moved to kneel behind the white-haired man, but his hands were knocked away when he started to touch his shoulders. “Same old Bakura. You never change. You still can’t accept any help.”
//I’m not forgetting that you came here to take Seto away,// the other snarled back at him.
“Bakura, he can’t handle his powers. They need to finish training him so he can. He can leave when he can touch things and control his visions.”
//Idiot.// He started to bristle before the other continued to speak. //Seto’s been able to control what he sees for years. He’ll never be able to touch anything and see nothing though. His powers don’t have that kind of an off switch.// He sighed, finally dropping back to lean against him. //They don’t want to let any of us go, even you and me, who are over the legal age.//
He blinked a second, letting this new information sink in. “So you and I could leave whenever we want?”
//In theory. We’re both over twenty, but I did have to break out to leave.//
“We’re old enough to come and go as we please, but they’re not letting us,” he surmised. “Isn’t that illegal?”
//Our families are dead. Who’s going to report it for us when we’re on the inside?//
“What about aibou?” he had to ask in slow dawning horror. “His grandfather’s still alive.” He felt his eyes go wide. “And he’s been able to control his abilities since just after Ryou-kun left. What are they going to do to aibou?!”
//Probably just take care of Sugoroku. Yuugi’s a pyrokinetic. It’s hard to top that for sheer destructive power. They won’t hurt him, but I dread to think what they’ll want him to do.// He let out another sigh, this one tired. //He’s like a walking H-bomb, after all.//
He felt his blood run cold. “I won’t let them do anything like that to my aibou. He’s coming back with us when we leave.”
Bakura nodded. //I owe his grandfather too much to leave him there this time.//
He climbed to his feet, pulling the white-haired man up as well, speaking softly as the door to the stairs opened again and Jyonouchi-kun and a redheaded girl stepped out, “Let’s go get them back.”
The minute Mokuba left the room, his mind abruptly cleared. Well, except for the blinding panic when he realized where he was and the utter confusion at how his baby brother was alive and being controlled by the Institute. And that was not to mention the fact he was apparently powerful enough to make him walk away from the freedom he’d been longing for… and Bakura. He couldn’t believe they got him to just walk away from Bakura, just like that, after all he had been…
The door to the small, stale room in the Center where Mokuba had left him opened, and his brother walked back in, walking in the midst of all the members of the so-called Big Five. He halfway wondered if they even had names.
The one in front glanced around the room then locked eyes on Mokuba. “Where’s Bakura? You were supposed to bring him back also.”
Grey eyes blinked once, twice, before he spoke. “Atem was supposed to bring him. Niisama was the only important one to me.”
The one who had spoken sneered, upper lip curling back, and raised a hand. As he started to bring it back down towards Mokuba’s face in what could only be intended as a backhand slap, Seto rose to his feet. He had no idea what he was going to do – try to stop it or maybe get between them – but he only got a step before the man froze a split second then turned to point at another of the men and yell, “In the name of the Moon, I’ll punish you!” The worst part was probably the fact it was a balding man in his late forties or early fifties doing the trademark pose of a blonde teenaged superheroine.
All of them had to blink for a split second before another of them turned shifting eyes at the door. “Bakura’s here… Viva la France!” He even moved to pose with one hand inside his jacket in an obvious Napoleon pose.
Almost immediately after that came a third one piping up, “Let them eat cake,” while the fourth just started barking.
By now, he’d had long enough to get over to his brother and at least check him over briefly to make sure he was all right. Unfortunately it had also given the final member of the Big Five time to gather himself. “Where are you, Bakura?” he yelled.
//Here,// the white-haired man replied, walking calmly in the room. He was standing closer to the man and could see the faint stress lines around his eyes though. Being here was hurting him, but here he was either way. //You really don’t want me here, though, Mister Big Shot.//
“You have no idea. Now that you’re back…”
//I’m not here for you.// Silvery eyes turned to him. //Are you all right, Seto?// He nodded slightly. //Let’s go home.//
“No way,” the man stated. “Mokuba, stop Bakura. He’s trying to take your niisama away.”
His little brother looked to him, over to Bakura, then back to him. “Niisama?”
“Stand down, Mokuba,” he whispered, wrapping both arms around his brother. “Bakura’s our friend.”
“No!” the final Big Five screamed. “Take Bakura down, now!”
//That’s quite enough from you. Why don’t you go away too now, Mister Big Shot?//
“I’m a telepath too! You can’t just rewire my mind – Oh ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?”
//Who says I can’t rewire your mind, asshole?// Bakura slumped against the door.
In his arms, he could feel his brother start to shake. Faint sparkles of tears began to form in the corners of his eyes as a short scream escaped the young man’s lips. In the corner, one of the windows to the rest of the Institute shattered; no matter how upset or powerful he was, that shouldn’t happen, since those windows were designed to withstand everything short of a nuclear bomb. “Mokuba?!” he cried in alarm. “What is it?”
//…fuck. Hold him, Seto.//
“What are you-“ Abruptly, the boy went limp in his arms, and he had to struggle to hold him up. “What did you-“
//I shut off his mind temporarily,// the white-haired man replied, letting himself sink to the floor. //Apparently, Jesus there was the one controlling him. When I shut him off, it turned off the telepathy holding the kid back. Until I can fix him, I just shut him down for a little bit.// He took a deep breath and slowly released it. “He’ll be fine once I have a chance to work with him some.”
It took him a moment to stop feeling relieved and start realizing the last words had been aloud. “Bakura?”
“I can talk, yes.” He shrugged in a tired movement. “It’s just so… imprecise. It’ll just be our little secret, okay?”
“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.”
//Shut up, you. Shizuka, get in here.//
A light flashed before his eyes briefly. When it died down, a red-haired girl stood before them. “Done already, Bakura-san? That was quick. Oniisan and Atemu-san still haven’t gotten Yuugi-san out yet.”
//Take Seto and the kid here back to the apartment, then come back for the others and me.//
“You’re staying?” It was hard to keep his voice soft even for Mokuba’s sake in the case. “Why?”
Bakura leaned close enough to brush his fingers through Seto’s hair. //I’m ending this for good tonight, one way or another.//
///What the hell do you mean ‘one way or another’?///
//Exactly what it sounds like, Seto-babe. If I don’t make it back, I want you to take care of the talents for me. Keep my little brother safe.//
///You’re coming back, Bakura, if I have to drag you out of hell myself.///
The white-haired man smiled faintly and nodded. //Sure thing, Seto.// A hand, delicate and feminine, touched his shoulder, and the world started to flash out around him. //One miracle coming right up.//
“I thought you said you could handle this lock ‘no problem’, Jyonouchi-kun.” Yeah, maybe he was whining, but even his muted senses could tell his aibou was on the other side of that door, and he wanted – no, needed – to make sure he was okay with his own two eyes. “You said-“
“I know what I said. Now if you’ll kindly shut the fuck up so I can tell what number I’m on. I’d like to know if I’m going to be able to pick the lock or poke myself in the eye,” the blond snapped back under his breath where he was leaning down to inspect the lock.
Then he heard what he’d been waiting to hear: his aibou’s voice. “Atem-chan? Is that you?”
“It’s me, aibou! We’re trying to pick the lock. We’ll be in there in a few.”
“Oww, shit!” Jyonouchi-kun yelped, half jumping on him. Behind the blond, he could see the lock turning into so much red molten metal before falling to the ground. “He’s definitely learned to control it.”
The door pushed open, and his aibou’s face appeared around it. “Atem-chan! You’re back, and – Jyonouchi-kun!”
Aibou went into a full-fledged pounce, and he suddenly found himself on the bottom of a mini-pileup as the younger spiky-haired man tried to give the blond an impromptu tonsillectomy. There was a white-hot surge of jealous anger that went through him at the sight. Did this mean he just got dumped? He let out a completely undignified squeak as aibou pinched one of his nipples. Okay, maybe he wasn’t out of the picture yet then.
//This isn’t a porno, you three,// Bakura’s voice echoed in their minds, as effective as a bucket of cold water at breaking the mood. //Straighten up. Shizuka’s on her way to get you.//
The redhead, Jyonouchi-kun’s sister according to Bakura, teleported in front of them, and whatever mood was left was killed.
Behind that door lay the key to taking down the Institute for good. Something deep inside him told him that once he stepped through his doorway, he’d be able to change their futures. Girding up every bit of courage he had, he pushed the door marked ‘Kaiba Gouzaburou’ open.
An aged man with hair nearly as white as his own and a neatly groomed mustache sat behind the desk at the center back of the room. Eyes that reminded him eerily of Seto’s little brother’s looked up at him. He braced himself, not sure what to expect.
“Ah, Bakura!” he greeted, his tone friendly enough. “Did you and Seto enjoy your visit? Are you bringing him back now? I know the boys were saying how much they missed him.”
The hell? He reached out with his mind and scanned the surface of the other’s. What he saw there both shocked and sickened him. Whatever kind of man he had once been, Gouzaburou was it no more. Now he was little more than a puppet of the Big Five, reprogrammed to the point there was hardly anything left of him. And this was the man who’d started the Institute?
As quickly as he could, he reached down his mental link to Seto. //Babe?//
There was a brief fizzle that transcribed itself into annoyance. ///Don’t you dare leave me like that again! What is it?///
//I’m standing in front of Gouzaburou…//
///You’re what?!/// Seto had definitely gotten the ability to change his mental volume down quickly.
//…and he wants to know where you are. ‘The boys’ were missing you.//
Confusion leaked through to him. ///’The boys’?///
//Apparently one of them is the kidlet there with you. Seto, babe, he thinks Noa’s still alive.//
///He thinks… No. He was there when Noa died. He knows he’s dead.///
//Not anymore. The same guy who was working the kidlet must have been working him too. There’s nothing left of him now.//
///Can you fix him? Like Mokuba?/// There was a faint note of hope in his mental voice that he hated to kill.
//No, Seto. When I said there was nothing left, I meant there is nothing left. At least with the kidlet, I have some room to work. There’s not even anything to build on here.//
///With the Big Five down, he’s going to die, isn’t he?/// Reluctantly, he sent an affirmation. ///Can you at least make sure it doesn’t hurt? He is my uncle, after all.///
Completely to himself, he wondered if Seto knew what he was asking him to do and what the risks were in it. //All right. I’ll have to go offline while I’m at it, so don’t get too upset, okay?//
He waited till he got a note of agreement before he shut down the thready link between their minds. Really, would Seto have asked that if he knew what it entailed? Not that he wouldn’t do it, but… The only way he could guarantee the man before him didn’t die painfully was to kill him himself, shutting his brain completely down a section at the time. He’d never had to do it before, but he’d heard of another telepath who had, only to get stuck in the person’s mind and die right along with them. He liked to think he was more skilled than the average telepath, but with the threat of death looming…
“Are you all right, Bakura-kun? You look a little pale.”
He opened his eyes and stared at the man before him in resignation. //I’m fine.//
“When you were dropping Seto off, did you happen to see Noa? I can’t seem to find him.”
//I’ll take you to see Noa,// he whispered. He pushed an image of the dead boy into the older man’s mind for him to concentrate on as Bakura started shutting down his mind.
“Where the hell is Bakura?” Jyonouchi fumed, pacing a tight lap back and forth in front of the chairs in the Bakuras’ living room where Atem and Yuugi were sitting. “It shouldn’t be taking this long!”
“He said he was going to finish all of this once and for all,” Seto softly said, glancing down to where his brother lay with his head on his shoulder.
“But what does that mean, Kaiba-kun?” Yuugi piped up. “It’s not like Bakura-san can take down the entire Institute on his own.”
“Maybe he can,” Atem countered, “if it’s true the Big Five are out of the picture. Then that just leaves Gouzaburou.”
“That’s where he is,” he responded. “At least that’s where he was last time I talked to him.”
“Shizuka?” All eyes shot over to Malik, who had been oddly silent till then. “Go back and get him now.”
“He hasn’t called for a pick-up yet,” she negated. “I wouldn’t want to get in his way.”
“You won’t. He’s unconscious… I think.”
The girl’s eyes widened and she vanished quickly. Seto stood swiftly, laying Mokuba down to lie flat on the couch. Almost immediately afterwards, she reappeared, nearly on top of him. It was just as well too, since she collapsed under the man’s weight first thing, and he caught the limp body, lowering him to the floor, his head in Seto’s lap. “Bakura?!” ///Bakura?///
There was a distressing silence for a few long minutes. In the background, he could hear a sniffle come from Ryou. Belatedly, he reached down to check the older white-haired man’s pulse at his throat.
//Stop it. That tickles.//
Ryou let out a jagged sound of relief that he wasn’t too sure he wasn’t echoing. It didn’t get much better than this. That place was gone, he had his little brother back, and Bakura would be all right. What could possibly top this?
He batted the sheets away from his face, peering out at Mokuba sleepily. “Hmm?”
“You aren’t mad at me, are you?”
He sighed but smiled to himself as well. It had been three months since the destruction of the Institute, as well as two months since he’d assumed the reins of power of his uncle’s business, Kaiba Corp, and a month since Bakura had started making visible progress on Mokuba – and it had been a very busy three months because of all that, not to mention finally making some much needed repairs to the apartment building they still lived in. And if being woken up at six a.m. several mornings out of the week was a byproduct of it all, well, it was one he could certainly live with.
“Of course not, Mokuba.” He moved to prop himself up on his elbows, still lying on his stomach. “What’re you doing up so early anyway?” Like he wasn’t up this early several mornings out of the week for the past month to ask the same question.
Mokuba opened his mouth to answer, but the voice that spoke came from the other side of the bed: “Go away. We don’t want any.”
By no stretch of the imagination was Bakura a morning person, especially not at this time of the morning. He wasn’t even sure what time the telepath had gotten in last from training with one of their new talents; of course he was exhausted. Still, grumpy or not, it made him happy his brother and his lover got along. He’d worried about that.
Mokuba finally stopped snickering at Bakura’s sleepy words and replied, “One of Atem-san’s little dragons is loose in the building again, the black one. If I can catch him, can I keep him this time?”
“Give the evil little thing to Shizuka, you mean.” Bakura stuck his head under the pillow after that comment, completely missing the light flush that touched the young man’s cheeks.
Life here wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.