Marik stared back at Kaiba, bemused. “Seto Kaiba, I had no idea. If you wanted to get me out of my clothes, you could have just asked during Battle City.”
“I’m asking now. I have an academic interest. In addition, you seemed a little preoccupied on my airship.”
That sure didn’t sound like an outright denial to Yugi, who kept his hand carefully over his mouth to hide his inappropriate grin as he’d done earlier, seeing as Zorc’s forces were chipping expertly at their monsters’ health bars in the meantime.
“Ohoho, is that what they’re calling it now. ‘Academic interest’,” Marik imitated, sidling up to Kaiba, who remained stone-faced and immobile, like the god he couldn’t summon.
A sharp tssssssss pervaded the room from the corner, where Joey had cracked a bottle of Heineken and handed it to Duke, who took a generous swig.
“Wish I’d picked up popcorn too,” Joey said, elbowing Anzu, who had dissolved into giggles in between bites of noodles. “You need a beer Yug?”
Yugi was suddenly parched. “Gods yes.” Joey walked over to him with another open one, wiping off the condensation with his shirt before handing it to his friend. “Thank you.”
“No problem pal.” Joey ‘accidentally’ kicked the leg of Zorc’s chair on the way back across the small room and he and Duke snickered while the demon’s red pupils glared at them. He fumbled his next roll thanks to Duke’s legitimately fair dice.
“Can you interpret the magic on his back?” Yugi asked, turning around to address Kaiba. The brunette’s eyes were tilted toward the corner of the ceiling, carefully avoiding Marik’s fluttering lashes and well-muscled, sleeveless arm perched on his shoulder at the elbow.
“As clearly as I could read the text of Ra. It’s a summoning ritual - more specifically, a fusion of the three gods.”
“So it’s like a souped-up Polymerization magic card?” Joey observed.
“That is, astoundingly, a reasonable comparison for a man who usually has the intellectual processing capability of a third grader with a head injury.”
“Fuck you Kaiba,” Joey replied, and Yugi thought they should make it a drinking game for every time somebody said that, in general.
Except this time, Marik said, “Amen to that,” and licked his lips.
“Well?” he glared at the tombkeeper. “Get on with it or I will lose my turn. If the thief figured it out, then the demon knows what he has to try to prevent.”
The man really did know how to stay on-topic. Marik was now making a show of slowly unzipping his hoodie, finger following the zipper pull between his pecs and the dividing line of his abs. Of course he didn’t have anything on underneath it. Yugi could appreciate how Bakura had found the tombkeeper distracting during the tournament.
“So impatient,” Marik purred, finally disconnecting the zipper and shrugging the garment elegantly off his shoulders. Duke whistled.
Kaiba rolled his eyes and turned him around, gently brushing some long blonde hair off over his shoulder to reveal the entire design. Yugi saw a spark of discomfort in Marik’s eyes, so quick he almost missed it, and wondered if it had hurt physically or in another way Kaiba didn’t perceive. He was about to express his concern when Zorc laughed.
“Your Pretty Scars Will Not Save Your Party,” he said, pouting with Ryou’s lips and licking the pad of his thumb before placing it in the sand next to the fallen blue god. “Obelisk Is Neutralized.”
“Then I will have to do some editing,” Kaiba responded, unsheathing the spear from the Rod.
The sharp shing sound it made caused Marik to gasp with palpable fear this time and he spun around, arm cocked for what was sure to be a brutal punch to Kaiba’s handsome face. Kaiba, more nimble than he looked given his imposing height, dodged expertly and held up his unencumbered hand.
When on earth…? He must have retrieved it from where the pharaoh had stowed it with the other Items in Yugi’s duffel. “Whoa, hold on…” started Yugi, at the same time his other friends spoke out.
“Outta line, man.”
Marik was fuming. “Didn’t they tell you what I did to the last piece of shit who took a blade to my skin?”
“I imagine something similar happened to him as what happened to Gozaburo the last time he picked up a whip,” Kaiba said in a monotone. “Don’t mistake my urgency for a lack of empathy. The spell has to be etched in flesh, but it doesn’t have to be yours.”
Zorc’s mole Aknadin may have been onto something - after observing Seto Kaiba over the years, Yugi had no trouble believing that his previous incarnation, High Priest Seth, would have been a worthy successor to the pharaoh, borne by blood or coup. His heart hurt for Kaiba’s suffering as much as Marik’s, but...if only he had an ounce of diplomatic ability.
“Hold on, I thought you didn’t believe in this ancient Egypt destiny bullshit,” Joey interjected, confused.
“Destiny is for the lazy and uncreative,” Kaiba retorted. “I am neither.”
“Your Destiny Is To SUBMIT to ME,” Zorc growled, becoming more enraged by the minute despite Its tactical advantage.
“My point stands then,” said Kaiba.
“What are you going to do?” Marik said through gritted teeth, still in a defensive posture that he’d assumed after his failed punch.
“You think I didn’t do my research on your family after you co-opted my tournament, Ishtar? Magic has rules. Not knowing them puts me at a disadvantage. A Kaiba never willingly accepts a disadvantage.”
“What could possibly replace Obelisk?” Yugi asked incredulously.
“The fuck is your motivation for this?!”
Kaiba answered Marik. “I have not been unclear about that. I will defeat Yugi in a duel, or the pharaoh, or both of them, because I am the best and I Deserve. To. Win.” The steel blue of his eyes stared down Marik like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “This trivial side plot is a simple inconvenience.”
Marik pursed his lips and looked at him vacantly and Yugi wondered if Ryou’s assertion that he was a little scatterbrained had more merit than he’d originally thought.
“Do you have a lighter?” Kaiba continued, as if he hadn’t been interrupted. Marik, expression unchanged, blinked at him and shirtlessly pulled a Zippo from his pants pocket, flicking it open. A steady orange flame flitted to life under the cap and Kaiba ran the sharp edge of the pointed weapon through it, slowly. Marik’s eyes, worried, looked over at Ryou’s body; its possessor was ignoring him, suspicion firmly entrenched on Yugi and Kaiba.
“So, is this the right time for a ‘flaming’ joke?” Duke said, now well into his third beer.
Joey choked on his next swallow trying to stifle a laugh, which, come to think of it, would have been hilarious to call out too.
Kaiba had to be the wet blanket on the senses of humor though. “Yugi.”
Yugi cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah?”
“Do you like him?”
Kaiba let out an exasperated sigh. “Ryou Bakura. The thief. Do you really like him? Do you trust them?”
It was a fair question given the Ring spirit’s wavering allegiances, even during this shadow game alone. And yet...he thought about falling asleep in Ryou’s arms across the hall. The exultant look on the thief’s face when he’d pilfered the Kuriboh and successfully hotwired the Lamborghini at the pier. His Puzzle spirit’s dark chuckle at one of Ryou’s morbid puns as he looped his arm around the man’s shoulders while they watched a terrible movie on the couch (Bakura had spent the evening trying to sweet-talk Yugi out of his incorporeal pants, of course, saying something about hot ghost sex).
“Yes,” he said finally, even though it was probably only a few seconds since his friend had asked the question.
“I do too,” said Marik quietly, eyes downcast before looking at Yugi with renewed determination. Yugi nodded.
“A Mistake,” Zorc intoned. “The Thief Is Mine.”
“Like fuck he is,” Marik snapped.
Kaiba used the hand that wasn’t holding the Rod to grab his silver briefcase and flop it onto a flat part of the sand in the diorama, unhinging the clasps and gesturing with his chin once it opened to reveal the cream-of-the-crop of his Duel Monsters card collection. “Third stack up from the bottom left corner. Sixth card from the top. Hold it up for me.”
Yugi pulled the deck and shuffled through it to card six, turning it over carefully so as not to reveal it to his opponent. His eyes widened. “But this is…”
“Obviously,” said Kaiba. “Hold it still.” He studied it carefully and Yugi tried desperately not to let his hand tremble.
“You Cannot Afford This Delay.”
“I’m rich. There’s nothing I can’t afford.” He pierced the apex of the Rod like a scalpel into the skin of his own palm without flinching, tracing the rectangle outline of a powerful card.
Ryou slipped the heavy item into a crossbody leather satchel at his hip, recognizing that now he’d have to use the backdoor he’d tunneled from within Bakura’s subconscious over the years. Yes, the thief had insulated him during their most recent tournament, but he had chosen to forgo the advantage in order to respect Bakura’s...privacy. It was more than the thief had done, certainly, in the first year or so of their coexistence.
He found and revealed the hidden opening, settling gracefully onto his hands and knees in the sand, and started crawling through a winding, narrow passageway.
The relationship with the thief had settled into a semi-peaceful symbiosis, though the construction of the diorama had been conceptualized and initiated long before Battle City. Ryou couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment he’d recognized the third consciousness amongst their brainwaves, but Marik may have had something to do with it. For all the tombkeeper’s insistence that he hated Yugi’s god-spirit that had (unwittingly) forced his abuse by a cult, the demon had vehemently objected to his proximity on account of Marik’s being saturated by the pharaoh’s magic and protection under their gods.
Ryou could understand why he himself was an attractive host for the Ring spirit, seeing as how he didn’t answer to them. Still, he had suppressed Zorc on the thief’s account - any enjoyment, carnal or otherwise, in the mortal world was something he wanted to encourage so the thief would choose to live if given the chance.
Well, Ryou was about to give that chance to him, if he could just…
He shielded his eyes; the moonlight almost blinded him now, after (what felt like) hours in the dark, exposed only to the pupil-preserving red light of his precious cargo.
But it wasn’t moonlight after all. The moon was but a pallid dot in the landscape before him, because where he emerged was beneath the superlunary splendor of his spirit’s Ka. Large, winged, having absorbed the monsters it had destroyed, including some of the pharaoh’s, no doubt, it hissed an ear-piercing, intimidating sound as it went toe-to-toe (well...tail-to-tail) with the Sky Dragon of Osiris on the field.
Diabound paused in her attack to look down at Ryou, tongue darting out to sniff the air, and Ryou had no idea what or who he looked like to the mighty, divine creature, because he’d never actually seen her. He wanted to cry; the power of the monster filled the air with electricity and light, so antithetical to the shadow creature that had infiltrated the thief’s mind that he wanted to scream, ‘Can’t you see, Bakura? You do not belong to a dark, minor god of the underworld.’
He must have said it out loud, however, because his spirit turned suddenly in all his regal red attire, silver hair scattered in the wind from the bursts of energy emanating from the battle, and his eyes brightened. “Ryou,” he said, and Ryou could probably count on two hands the number of times he’d heard his first name from the Ring spirit, and the sound was so real, so right, he couldn’t imagine never hearing it again.
“Please,” he started, but Zorc had caught on by then and apparated Its facsimile of Ryou between them with a sickening crash of air, causing actual-Ryou to fall back and catch himself with his wrists in the sand as Diabound recoiled.
The black, body-hugging robes and dark lines and creepy eyes made him look great, really, but Ryou worked very hard at being hot, and this thing would not be allowed to conscript his image on top of everything else.
“How Did You Escape?” It demanded
“You manipulated the thief, NOT me,” he answered, pushing to his feet with difficulty. Bakura, in recess and stalling his Ka, looking perplexedly between them.
“I Am In Control,” It said, clenching Its fist, and Ryou’s heart caught in his throat when he saw Diabound shrink at the long-ranged attack of Zorc’s Shadow Magus on the Winged Dragon of Ra, followed by Bakura dropping to his knees and clutching his chest.
Ryou struggled to his feet and rushed to Bakura’s side, Zorc’s insane laughter trailing him, and hugged him around the shoulders, his peasant-brown cloak (and face, most likely) now caked in dust. “Bakura...Bakura you have to listen to me…”
By some miracle, the Sky Dragon stopped its next attack on Diabound and slithered itself between the Magus and Bakura, while the black-appendaged embodiment of Zorc’s monster form encroached menacingly from its previous battlefield. Ra followed the Sky Dragon and the air stilled as the king emerged in all his regal magnificence between them. Bakura and Ryou were caught in the middle.
It was an Old Western standoff between the pharaoh and the demon - Ryou thought he could almost hear the ominous drums and see the tumbleweeds. “Pharaoh…” he whispered, and the man looked at him with brilliant, concerned ruby eyes, and then back at Bakura, narrowing them.
“Ryou,” he greeted, “speak your piece.”
Since they were homonyms, he didn’t know whether his lover had meant ‘piece’ or ‘peace’. The implication would be very different. The wind whistled through the now dormant battlefield.
He took advantage of the silence. “Bakura,” he started, “we have lived together for too long for this to be the end, for us, for my world.”
“Yadonushi, why did you come here,” he interrupted flatly, silver eyes dull even with the reflection of the brilliance of gods and monsters before him.
“Because I care about you, Bakura! We care about you. I want to give you the chance to do the right thing, not because of any moral or divine obligation, but because it’s your existence. Zorc sees you as nothing but an expendable gamepiece.”
“LIES,” screamed the demon. “I Have Given You Everything You Wanted. You Are Obligated To Uphold Your End Of The Deal.”
Ryou could interrupt too, “It abused you in the shadows for millennia. I don’t blame you for what you did to survive. As a child, you didn’t have a choice when this thing took advantage of your vulnerable soul. This time is different.
“Choose another chance at life. Choose Yugi and his spirit. Choose Marik, choose me. Reject the demon that took the choice from you by taking it back.”
He reached into his bag, pulling out the glowing double-lobed red stone and holding it flush against his chest, looking up into Bakura’s eyes and finally allowing the hot tears that had been pooling to spill from the corners of his eyes. He extended Change of Heart toward the Ring spirit and dared to hope.
“Please, Bakura. The magic that can sever you from the demon’s influence again can only work if you want it to.”
Kaiba carved the intricate design with the golden tip of his Millennium Item, ebbing the bloodflow with a styptic pencil in between longer cuts, until he had a beautiful red liquid etch twinkling on his left hand. It was an awkwardly-weighted implement for the task, but like everything else Seto Kaiba touched, he had wielded it expertly.
He looked toward Yugi, and then made eye contact with the tombkeeper. “Marik…” he said with the first glimmer of hesitation since he’d walked in the door with Duke.
“You have to,” Marik said, back to him, but his voice trembled uncertainly. “Otherwise it’ll all have been for nothing. Bakura did more than this to save me, I owe him at least something this simple.”
“I’d hardly call months of comprehensive research and my impeccable timing in synchronizing a response to Yugi’s haphazard text messages ‘simple’.”
“Yeah, yeah, your impregnable plan was thrown into chaos because all your resources were set up for the museum, I know, I listened to you bitch for an hour on my flight and I’ll have to listen to Bakura bitch too when he’s in his right mind. Hurry up before it clots, asshole.”
Kaiba continued forcefully, “You also need to consider the implication that if this works at all, it may only save the pharaoh.”
“Not to mention the world as we know it,” Yugi replied, a little irritated at Kaiba’s less-than-full disclosure, and the fact that maybe Yugi himself had a very personal, vested interest in saving them both.
Marik folded his arms and narrowed his eyes at Yugi. “Consider it an inconvenience fee, I guess. The Clan would say that preserving his Will is why I exist at all.”
“Very well. Remain still,” he said gently. Marik squeezed his eyes shut as Kaiba’s palm connected with the likeness of Obelisk on Marik’s scarred flesh, blood on skin, and the magic sizzled between them as the possibility materialized in the game. Marik flinched but didn’t pull away.
The air swam thick and heavy around them, a pocket of the Shadow Realm descending even deeper into the dark. The lines on Marik’s back, though, were all bright light, as if the sun god himself was shining from within his chest. The outline of the creature overlayed on Obelisk was different; a vibrant, pulsating red-pink. Marik wavered on his feet and his pupils dilated, breathing shallowly, but Kaiba steadied him.
“What now?” asked Anzu, distressed, setting the takeout boxes she’d collected for the garbage to the side and looking between Joey and Yugi.
Yugi rolled his latest die replacement from Duke. “Now,” he said, “it’s up to the pharaoh and the thief.”
Please, Bakura, he thought, and he could almost hear Ryou’s overlapping plea.
Bakura hated headaches. Somehow, his host’s favorite card was standing before him, half of him illuminated by Diabound and the other half shadowed by the dark monster. The angle he was looking from even made it look like one of each of their wings was sticking out his back. And his eyes, his eyes, they’d been Bakura’s eyes too, really, when he’d stolen the body for himself, but now they were crying. He couldn’t take this man anywhere. Hmph...sentimental. It was the thought of Zorc erasing those bright eyes from existence that finally got through to him.
“Gods fucking dammit Ryou. You couldn’t let me have the easy way out, could you? It had to be friendship, love...fucking,...garbage difficult emotions…” Bakura trailed off, snatching the stone from Ryou’s hands and cradling his host’s head to his chest under the red cloak, the salty rivulets on his stupid gorgeous face rubbing off on his clavicle. The moment he touched it, some tense cord of magic snapped, and his head throbbed, but it actually felt like his head .
Ryou let out a pained, strangled noise, but it sounded like relief and he wrapped his arms around the thief’s ribs and back firmly, just like he had a hundred times in the soul room of the Ring trying to explain what a ‘hug’ was, and the thief couldn’t recall if he’d really caught it until now.
Because choosing to abandon Zorc for good had unveiled other things. Bubbling to the top was not the image, immediately, but the feeling of his mother hugging him tightly after he’d returned from getting lost with an older cousin for a day or so. It wasn’t a big deal, really, and maybe he was a little young to be stealing beer from merchants and passing out in an alleyway, but he was fine! What was she being so mushy about?
Still...the scent of her hair, the sound of her voice as she admonished him through tears in their uncouth dialect this far out from the Capitol, the warmth of her skin as she carried him to his sleeping mat. The feel of her nose on his forehead in their version of a goodnight kiss. The love in her eyes. His mother’s face. Not so dissimilar from Ryou’s mother’s after all, but distinctly, uniquely his memory.
The change in the serpent’s allegiance was abrupt when Bakura pressed Change of Heart through her skin; she disappeared in a flash, only to pop back into existence behind the Shadow Magus, landing a crushing blow to the back of his skull as he howled into the night.
Through the reinvigorated cacophony, Ryou tightly wound in his arms, he caught the eye of the pharaoh, with the golden bolts and red tips of his hair glowing beneath his crown, and thought with derision how nobody ought to look that good after nearly dying, and actually dying, and getting the shit fucked out of him by the Thief King in the desert sand for a week straight. He was smiling too, damn him.
Ra roared and towered above them all, golden plates of armor damaged but unpierced by Zorc’s offensive, and as he looked directly at Bakura with an irritated but relieved glint of lavender, and...the fuck? “The fuck?” he verbalized his last thought. “Marik?”
He pretended he could hear what the Egyptian would say. ‘You fucking idiot! This is the worst scheme of all time! You should have just run away with me! ’ He almost wished he’d forced Ryou to make an avatar for him, but specifically avoiding the possibility of him or Yugi ending up in the game was the whole fucking point. Fat load of good that had done, when doubtlessly they had both given him the proverbial finger and inserted themselves in other ways. ‘Phrasing,’ Pretend-Marik said, and Bakura chuckled.
“Bakura,” the pharaoh addressed in the voice he probably used to appoint nobles to shit like ‘Chief Aqueduct Architect’ or something. “Welcome back.”
“Glad to be here!” he said sarcastically. “For my final act, I’d like to kill this asshole and get the FUCK out of here.”
“Yugi and I have a suggestion,” the pharaoh replied, holding a hand cautiously under where the Puzzle would be; it started to glow.
From across the ruins of Kul Elna, a pinprick of light from the hand of the Rod-Bearer on a hill answered it, where the High Priest was cradling the fading body of his wife and immortalizing her in stone as the Blue Eyes White Dragon.
Bakura looked down at his own chest; the shadow game Ring was in the Door, but the real Ring still hung at his host’s neck in the real world. He could invoke it naturally as his soul had been bound to it, and the skin under where Ryou’s paperwhite palm splayed against his chest added a third holy light from the souls of his people to their proposition; he could see it in his minds’ eye, swirling permutations of god monsters combining to form the pharaoh’s ultimate weapon.
“Hey, does it help that I’ve fucked you both?” Bakura asked, kind of seriously, but delighting still in the displeased frown he’d invoked from the monarch.
“Doubtful,” the pharaoh said. He imagined Marik either snickering or wrinkling his nose and huffing jealously.
“Just thought I’d ask.”
Bakura directed Diabound to wrap around Ra, as the pharaoh commanded the Sky Dragon to entwine itself around them both, and the candy-cane image shifted into a towering white-gold beacon of light, illuminating the sands and pyramids beyond as if it were day.
“I, the Pharaoh Atem, fuse these gods with the magic of my birthright to summon The Goddess Horakhty, Creator of Light!”
The mighty goddess, golden wings unfurled, burst into existence and opened her eyes to stare into the pointy-toothed black maw of the shadow creature that had dared to usurp humanity.
“NO,” shouted the demon in the game.
“NO,” shouted Zorc-Not-Ryou back in the apartment as dark clouds filled the atmosphere and Ryou’s skin erupted with larger, scaly black patches traveling up his arms and neck. It reached out a distorted, clawed hand and clutched the third hourglass at its narrow neck, turning it over and slamming it into the diorama.
“You have got to be kidding,” Marik groaned.
A caress at the back of the thief’s mind distracted him. Zorc latched onto Ra’s throat, raw sound of screeching bone on metal scorching his ears, and he felt uneasy.
The Eye-Bearer, no, the Great Shadow Magus, NO, the COLD-BLOODED MURDERER, was being...had been devoured by Diabound.
The stolen Ryou-version of Zorc looked up and down, left and right, horrified, as a glowing spell circle erupted around him.
Horakhty continued to form, powering up her attack with the pharaoh below, arms to the heavens.
Bakura felt Ryou turn his face slightly so that one eye faced the demon. He thought he also felt his host’s lips curl upward into a smug grin. He felt the vibrations of his voice, but he did not let up on the strength of his embrace. “I thought I would add a little something extra under the sands of Kul Elna in the diorama, thanks to Yugi’s phosphorescent paint,” he laughed quietly.
“He Knew,” snarled the demon.
“Yes, Yugi did,” said Ryou. “And he activated it when you tried to use your last time token.” Ryou detached himself from Bakura then and marched up to the demon, and Bakura was all, “No, no no...Ryou what are you doing?”
The demon’s eyes were wide, red pupils aflame, sharp nails bared at his fingertips, but Ryou did not relent. “May this Solemn Judgment repay you for disrupting my sex life,” Ryou snapped, jabbing his finger into the collarbone of his doppelganger.
“Your Stopping My Last Time Manipulation Is Inconsequential. The Spell For My Passage Into Your World Is Nearly Complete,” Zorc gestured to the spirits of Kul Elna, whose magic had finished the tunnel to the real world and were dissipating to make way for Zorc’s monster.
“It is,” said Ryou. “But you won’t be around to use it.”
“Bakura, Its name,” the pharaoh implored.
“You Can Stop This And Have Your Revenge!”
“I am so sick of your shit.” He turned to the pharaoh. “Zorc Necrophades,” said Bakura nonchalantly. “A name for a name,” he added, with more sincerity, smiling into the red eyes of his enemy-turned-lover, really smiling, before letting it shift into his characteristic smirk. “Kick Its ass.”
“TRAITOR!” Zorc bellowed, but it was too late.
“Great Horakhty, Creator of Light, banish the demon of darkness Zorc Necrophades and end this game once and for all!” Atem charged, godly power hugging his body as the unstoppable fusion, bolstered by the Rod-Bearers and Bakura, launched the final attack. A blinding liquid light crashed like a tidal wave from the palms of the great goddess, and all the shadows were erased as the red-eyed beast disintegrated into nothingness.
Quiet descended, a pause in the commotion of the field and in his mind. He heard his own breath shudder in his lungs, and his heart beat. The cylinder of light shooting into the sky and the spirits that trailed its circumference remained. His pupils were so dilated from the influx of everything that it was affecting his hearing.
Mana was screaming something at him, the pharaoh was screaming something at him, and his host was smiling sweetly, pressing his lips to Bakura’s, and he tasted like bright citrus, even here. After a long drag of his tongue and a soft bite on his lower lip that made Bakura moan embarrassingly, he crouched over the hole from which he’d emerged earlier to give Bakura the Change of Heart. His was the only voice he heard, as if they were still in each other's minds. “You should actually listen to her, Kiseichuu. I need to go this way,” Ryou said, before disappearing in an instant beneath the rock. He was quick...would have made a good thief.
Mana knocked on his head, literally knocked, with her knuckles and everything. “Fucking ow!” he complained, snatching her wrist, but the rush of sound from his surroundings returned in a millisecond.
“Come on now, or you’ll miss it!” she said, smiling with that wide-eyed innocence that Yugi liked to use to get Bakura to steal a cooler car or buy the bigger banana float. Meaning, he couldn’t exactly refuse.
“Fine, whatever, miss what?” But she had already taken off running.
The pharaoh, beside him, linked their elbows together and erupted into a gallop in pursuit, looking back at Bakura’s face animatedly and nearly tripping over his own shorter legs in the process. “The gateway,” he said, slowing on approach, and Bakura gaped at the sun emerging from the ground.
“That sure looks like it’ll vaporize us, Phara...Atem.” He turned to Mana. “What about you, Beautiful?”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll see you soon. Time doesn’t really make sense in the afterlife. You two have a few things yet to do.”
“Hm.” A loud crack echoed from ground to sky, and the tunnel of light fluctuated.
“Time to go,” Atem said, holding out his arms for Mana, who wrapped around him briefly before pulling back. “Thank you, Mana. Please thank Kisara and the others as well, for their sacrifice.”
She nodded, stepping back. The pharaoh threaded his fingers through the thief’s, then stepped into the inferno, pulling the other man with him. Bakura felt a transcendent peace settle into his bones, even though the magic looked and felt like fire.
And then a tremendous ache in his actual bones. The fuck had Zorc done to his host’s body out here?! He grumbled and sat up onto his knees, rubbing his eyes, just realizing he was straddling Yugi on the floor in the remains of the wreckage of Ryou’s diorama. He thought of Ryou agonizing over vacuuming immediately.
But...Yugi wasn’t underneath him at all. Red eyes blinked up at him expectantly, followed by a serious blush at realizing their position and their audience.
Bakura braced himself on the pharaoh’s chest for good measure, letting his eyes adjust. He caught Actual Yugi’s worried, thrilled violets first, both hands clasped over his mouth, and then sought the familiar lavender of Marik’s, who was...shirtless...in the corner with...Kaiba. All right then.
“Holy fucking shit,” Marik said, eyes sparkling in that way he was all-too familiar with.
“Like what you see?” asked Bakura, flexing underneath his red robe and striking a pose to an unenthusiastic ‘oof’ from the man underneath him getting squished.
“You...you’re separate,” Yugi said breathlessly.
“You’re hot,” Marik contributed. Yugi scrunched his face.
Ryou whimpered in pain, clutching his chest where the dried blood of the assault from the Ring still covered raw flesh, trying to right himself in his chair. Black scales were receding across his arms where they were uncovered, leaving pale skin behind that looked like it was freshly healed.
“Ryou…” Bakura started, but he found pushing to his feet more difficult than he expected.
Kaiba was across the room then, Rod dropping to the ground with a clang, fingers to the pulse point on his host’s neck, counting off on his watch. He tapped a button on his cell with the other hand. “Send a medical team to my location,” he demanded. He looked disinterestedly at the very separate, as Yugi had observed, bodies of the thief and the pharaoh. “And a couple of ID packages.” His nostrils flared and he sniffed. “And some soap.”
“Right away Mr. Kaiba,” came Isono’s voice over the speaker.
“I have a shower, Seto,” Ryou strained, “and I think I’d like one myself.”
“Has he had any water since you started this idiotic adventure?” He glared at Yugi, who had also stood, rather shakily.
“Zorc wasn’t exactly used to being corporeal,” Ryou said weakly, extending his arms to the two brown-skinned newcomers on the floor.
The pharaoh squirmed. “Get off of me, Thief!” he ordered, like they were in the fistfight on the quad all over again.
“I’m fucking trying! I’m tired from saving your ass!”
“Yugi saved us, and Ryou saved us,” the pharaoh corrected.
"Okay, they helped a little."
“King of Games, bitch!” Yugi was beside them now, smiling that wonderful smile of his and helping them both up while landing a good-natured smack on Bakura’s shoulder. “Ryou came in clutch with those two magic cards at the end. Brilliant tim...ing...” he trailed off, staring at Bakura as he adjusted the purple shendyt under his robe. Bakura responded to getting checked out by winking at him with the eye on the good side of his face.
Poor Yugi’s brain seemed to process everything all at once, then, and he tried to look away, but only succeeded at seeing the pharaoh stand and adjust his crown, preening. By then he was practically hyperventilating. Even Kaiba let his stoic mask slip for an instant into a curious appraisal, but was in no way subtle about raking his eyes from the the tips of the king’s hair down to his elegantly-sandaled feet and back up again, taking his time.
If the king noticed, he didn’t say so. “Aibou,” he said with reverence, bending down to brush their noses together. “Ryou.” He pressed a kiss to the other man’s jaw, leaning on Kaiba to do it, who definitely jumped a little. “Thank you. We owe you our lives, as does the world.”
“Team effort,” Ryou said, slowly creaking his way into a standing position and gesturing to their other friends filling the small room. He leaned toward Bakura to cup his face. “I missed you, Thief,” he said softly, and Bakura really hoped Ryou didn’t see him choke back a sob because he’d never let him live it down.
“Shit Ryou, I think you’re taller,” Marik interjected, shattering the moment but kind of rescuing Bakura from the emotional hostage situation, so he couldn’t find it in himself to be mad about it.
Ryou could, though. “There are some things I didn’t miss,” his host muttered under his breath, and Yugi laughed.
“Don’t worry, you all look like the same shrimp from up here,” Kaiba said, leaning back against the wall and then heading toward the door when he heard the curt knock. Hopefully it was his corporate guys showing up with a metric fuckton of IV hangover cure.
“Don't exchange bodily fluids with anyone until you’re vaccinated,” Kaiba shouted on his way. “Our modern immune systems will probably kill you, but for good this time.”
“Tell me he’s not coming back,” Joey piped up. “Also, you’re goddam right Ryou, teamwork! We were on snack and booze patrol!”
“And a great job you did!” Yugi complimented.
“This whole thing honestly turned out less destructive than I thought it was going to,” Anzu said, noting that the building was actually still intact.
A whole assortment of people filtered in and out starting a few minutes later. Tristan was with Kaiba’s entourage too, fitting right in with the black shirts and sunglasses crowd except for his frantic questioning of what he’d missed. Even Bakura had no clue what it had looked like from out here - he secretly hoped they were watching him rail the smugass king the whole time.
Once Kaiba’s medical professionals were satisfied, Yugi’s friends gradually filtered out to give them some space to rest. Kaiba himself lingered long enough for Yugi to shake his hand in gratitude. “I don’t know how we can possibly thank you,” he said, sincerely. “Without your resources…”
“Then I take it you are amenable to discussing my compensation.”
“Oh?...oh. You were serious?”
“I am always serious.”
“Don’t worry Yugi, I’m sure Kaiba accepts cash, check, or sexual favors,” Bakura said.
“And Bitcoin,” Kaiba added.
“Holy shit, was that an actual joke?” Marik asked, still cautiously distant from the rest. Bakura was a little disappointed he’d put his shirt back on.
“So you do accept sexual favors,” Marik confirmed.
“I’d be foolish not to consider it if the indebted party looks anything like you.” His usual sour expression and deadpan delivery still hadn’t changed so it was impossible to tell if he meant it.
“You would be able to make a compliment sound like an insult.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Of course you will.”
“In any case, it’s time to leave, Ishtar. We have to go explain this nonsense to your sister so she can help the pharaoh finish his...duties, whatever they are, and then we can finally duel.”
“At the museum with your brother, very impatiently blowing up my phone that I did not give her a direct number to. Did you think I’d have brought you alone without your wranglers?”
Marik sulked, but followed him to the door.
At the last moment, hand on the knob, Kaiba turned and pointed at the King of Games. “Yugi.” Yugi shrunk a little bit. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten about our conversation just because it was hijacked by Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee. You’re going to duel me, on camera, separately from your royal alter ego, and when I beat you both...”
“Which one am I again?” asked Bakura.
“The dumb one,” said Marik.
“Is that because I gave you the ‘D’?” Bakura waggled his eyebrows.
“Your flirting is painful,” the pharaoh lamented.
“Is that so? Because I didn’t hear any complaints when I had you bent over in that…”
“ALRIGHT, Kaiba, thank you again, I will call you, you too Marik, you’re the best, GOODBYE!” Yugi said in an embarrassed stream of consciousness before gently shoving the door shut and pressing his back to it, wiping his brow.
Ryou was tittering delightedly from the couch, adjusting his saline bag on its roller cart and crunching his way through a huge bag of cookies he kept on hand for ‘emotional emergencies’. “I take it you two have decided to get along then. How wonderful,” he said.
“Yes, well, I considered the negotiation tactic you proposed the last time I had you in the dungeon, and it turns out the pharaoh was no match for my charm after all.”
“Oh? I imagine you were simply taking direction from your libido. Yugi, and Bakura, I must say,” Ryou continued, “that your descriptions did not do the pharaoh justice.”
Yugi swallowed heavily and the pharaoh smirked. “Oh man, understatement,” Yugi admitted.
“Ryou,” the pharaoh said in a deep, guarded voice, “we are all weary from this trial, but you are injured. What can we do for you?”
“You are too kind, Atem. One of Seto’s nurses is going to check on my puncture wounds in a few hours. I should only need basic first aid after that.”
“Of...Aibou…? What’s wrong?”
The blood had drained out of Yugi’s face. “I, ah...what did he call you?”
“Atem?” suggested Bakura. “His fucking name?” Hadn’t Yugi been the whole architect of its delivery in the game?
“I didn’t...for me the information was written, I didn’t know how to...your name is…?”
“Atem, Yugi. As much for you to speak as for them.” He brushed his thumb over Yugi’s cheekbone and then bent to kiss the spot, only Yugi was holding his breath. He chuckled. “Yami is still fine if you’re going to lose oxygen over it.”
He exhaled hurriedly. “No!...No, that is, not unless you want...Atem,” he tried it out, warmth returning to his cheeks. “You’re…”
“Yes, yes, he looks like a literal god, even Kaiba was practically drooling. On the scar count I think he won too, because I’m pretty sure he gave me this,” Bakura drew his finger over the indented tissue on his face.
“I think it makes you look dashing, Thief,” Ryou said, batting his eyelashes.
“I can’t think about how he and Bakura are both here at the same time and not in our heads, Ryou,” Yugi said, rubbing his eyes. “I am so filthy. I think there’s even sand in my shoes.” He tapped the left one with the heel on his right.
“Well, Ryou doesn’t have enough hot water for four, so I suppose we’ll have to share. Be right back!” Bakura proclaimed, scooping the shorter man up by the waist to a very satisfying shriek and fireman-carrying him down the hall.
“Bakura! You can’t just…”
“What? I can’t count on Yadonushi to bathe me anymore, so you’ll have to do it.”
“But they clearly would like some time alone with each other, or were you not reading the room?”
Bakura plopped him on his feet and turned the shower lever, testing the water with his hands until it felt hot enough. He went to work on the buttons of Yugi’s shirt, who miraculously didn’t protest at all until he was down to his boxers.
“Practicality, my dear Yugi. There will be plenty of opportunities to take my magnificent dick for a test drive going forward, but for now, wash.”
“The hell with a test drive, maybe I’ll just buy it outright,” Yugi said, dreamily, batting his eyes.
“Buy!?” said Bakura, taking offense. “Have I not corrupted you at all?”
“...with stolen gold,” Yugi finished. He disrobed entirely and stepped into the stream of hot water before the thief could process what he just said.
Bakura gulped. The King of Games always surprised him, which was hard to do, and pretty deadly in his profession of thievery come to think of it.
Now to the task at hand - Ryou was blessed with his fancy apartment, which had fancy apartment amenities, like a stone shower stall and a separate large jacuzzi tub that had jets and everything. Bakura knew exactly how the man liked his baths and fished out all the oils and bubblebath, and bombs, and shit he used from under the sink while trying to ignore the fact that Yugi was naked seven feet from him.
Once he had a steady stream collecting froth in the tub he side-eyed Yugi, who had flattened his hair out on the back of his neck and was scrubbing behind his ears dutifully, eyes closed.
Silently, Bakura shed his robe and shendyt, slipping in behind him and dropping his hands to Yugi’s slick waist. Yugi yelped, but his mouth was quickly covered by Bakura’s open palm as he pulled him back flush against his chest and let the water cascade over them both. “Shh! We have five minutes while the tub fills so be quiet!”
“Mmmph!” Yugi said, and it sounded like annoyance but Bakura didn’t really care to move his hand, instead dropping the free one down around Yugi’s thigh and between his legs. He slotted his fingers to let Yugi complain, which was pretty nice of him. “I am pretty sure they knew what you were up to!” Yugi whispered, with frustration, but at least he was whispering.
“I’m going to be thanking you three for saving me for a while so I’d like to get a head start,” he replied, smoothing his fingers up the wonderfully erect shaft already straining for touch, and he fucking loved that shit about Yugi, he was so responsive even to ounces of affection. An investment, really, that returned three times what you put in and...well, maybe that analogy was better suited to be used by Kaiba with his lovers, whoever they were.
Yugi cried out again, and Bakura cursed as his hand snapped back over his lips, burying his new face in Yugi’s ear and growling on his own account at the pleasant friction induced by his ass hitching back with each stroke.
His hair was getting wet now, and it was probably dirty so that suited him fine. A heavy cloud of steam surrounded them in the shower stall as the slick sounds of his hand and Yugi’s muffled moans bounced off the glass. Bakura ground his groin forward desperately, and why didn’t Ryou have lube in his shower? Not now, not now, he reminded himself. Focus.
This position was an easy handjob, because he’d taken over Ryou’s right hand to get them both off a hundred times, so when the erection twitched under his insistent stroking he doubled down on the mouth clamp and nearly came himself at the orgasmic keen that erupted from Yugi’s throat and traveled throughout his body, releasing a tension he was certain Yugi hadn’t even been aware was there from the chronic effects of such a long shadow game.
He reached out with his tongue and pried apart Bakura’s fingers, and then latched on with his teeth, sucking, and fuck that was hot. When the hand reached back to grab onto him though, it took everything left of his shredded willpower to defer. “Later…” he breathed, kissing up the curve of Yugi’s neck to a wrecked whimper.
He reluctantly pried the shower door open and shoved him out, and Yugi actually laughed. “I’m going to get you.”
Bakura did normal shower stuff doubletime and caught the towel Yugi tossed toward him, squeezing water out of his hair and then wrapping it around his waist. Yugi’s own hair had already started to pop back up into spikes, which was incredible really, some other type of magic that he’d never figure out.
Yugi cut off the water to the tub, which was now a fragrant sparkly monstrosity of bubbles, and fished some white t-shirts and boxers out of the clean laundry hamper just outside the door. They were Ryou’s, so Yugi swam in them and they were a little tight on Bakura’s super ripped awesome thief body, but it would be fine for now.
Yugi padded down the hall with Bakura in tow, the thief half-expecting to find the other two naked and going at it on the couch, but he’d forgotten that the pharaoh was too good a person to coax an injured man into sexy shenanigans, so they merely appeared deep in conversation.
“Aibou,” he straightened as he saw Yugi return.
“Grab him,” Bakura said.
Atem chuckled and scooped up Ryou into his arms, bridal style, to a very boner-inducing, “Oh,” from his former host, and Yugi wheeled the cart with the IV bag on it down the hall close behind them.
The pharaoh and Yugi disrobed Ryou carefully while Bakura ‘supervised’ lecherously, and when they lowered him into the hot bath the arch of his neck and the look of his face in repose fired through his nerves all over again. But…”Ryou, the punctures...I forgot, I…”
“They’re not deep. I can re-dress them,” he said sleepily, “or the nurse can.”
“Well, one sin or a hundred then...I’m going to open the pinot gris in the wine fridge for you.”
“That sounds lovely.”
He returned with a cold glass for Ryou, and then took a generous swig right out of the bottle for himself, passing it to Atem like they'd done in the desert.
“Should I pull out the couch for us to sleep on, Ryou?” Yugi asked.
“We can all fit in a king,” he said, not realizing what it sounded like, and Bakura snorted.
“There are three to choose from,” Atem whispered, right behind his ear, as he began to peel the silks and gold off his body with Yugi’s help.
“Oh man,” Yugi kept repeating as his head threatened to explode. It was adorable, really.
“I think we are all too sleepy for a raucous orgy, though I’m unopposed to the idea.”
“Blasphemy!” said Bakura, yawning. “I gave up my revenge, so Yugi owes me a four-way.”
“I believe I agreed to a three-way.”
“Pick one of them, then.” He gestured with his chin at his seraphic former host, surrounded by the rising steam of the bath, long white hair dipped by the ends in the literal glitter on the surface of the water, and the once-king of an empire knelt beside him in all his golden glory with a heated gleam in his eye.
“If you pick Atem, can I watch?” Ryou asked.
“Oh man.” His hands were shaking, now.
“Come on Yugi, let’s warm up the bed.”
Three minutes after he assumed his big-spoon position with Yugi, sleep stole him like a thief in the night. The Puzzle and the Ring rested, dull and lifeless on the dresser, appearing tarnished despite the fact that gold did not tarnish.
For once, Bakura’s dreams were blank warmth, soft, restorative.