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  The Meet-Cute

 

Pouring drinks relaxes him.

 

The clink of glassware and strong smell of alcohol work in tandem to clear his mind while the twist of his wrist as he pours keeps him nimble and sharp.  He’s managed to pin the entire maneuver down to a calculated science and delivers a drink order in five seconds flat (he’s timed it while making his co-worker Mai record it for future bragging privileges). 

 

Even the more complicated orders take little to no time at all.  Mai consistently complains about customers ordering Lemon Drops as she angrily wipes away the sticky sugar from her fingertips.  Marik prefers simply licking the sugar from his fingers before washing his hands. He earns higher tips on those particular orders and decides it’s because the drink is so delicious. Mai shoots him appalled looks (lips pursed, eyes narrowed) and calls him an idiot.

 

All in all, being a bartender has become as natural to Marik as breathing. 

 

Saving up for University had been rough and left him with just enough cash to complete Bartending School while simultaneously taking a few online courses. He’s been working for about six months at The Golden Sands, a high-end bar mostly used to host obnoxious parties for bored celebrities.

 

Marik knew his micro-managing boss had mostly hired him because he was good looking (exotic had been the word Seto Kaiba had used when he hired Marik on the spot).  But Kaiba had said something else, something that had given Marik more pride than his looks ever could. Kaiba had said that Marik was cunning, said that, if he manipulated customers enough, he could be making more than everyone.

 

Marik felt out of his body at that moment and a little tingly because of the surprising amount of praise he had received. He already knew physical attractiveness was the key to earning money in this field but after being hired, he learned that he had the ingenuity to be able to use it to his advantage.

 

He received better tips than many of the waitresses (also known as models who serve) but the money flow was not enough to let the Egyptian live comfortably.  He was behind about five months on rent (finding a job took time and his landlord was generous enough to give him a few months in advance to pay off later) He had cut down on extraneous spending and the only items of value he owned were a small laptop used for his classes, a scant amount of gold jewelry left behind from his mother, an old motorcycle Marik had fixed up using spare parts from the motor shop at which his brother is employed, and a gold dagger stolen from his father, kept on his person at all times for self-defense purposes.

 

He never wanted to burden his siblings for money because, even though they never voice it, he knows they struggle as well (which is why Marik goes over to visit and reminisce while slipping a few extra bills into Isis’ purse.  Rishid notices on occasion but never tells.  He only gazes at his brother with bright eyes and a small smile.  His earnest expression never ceases to make Marik’s chest ache).  

 

Tonight, he has one more hour of his shift left before he returns home to his closet-sized apartment.  He truly does not hate where he lives, it’s a large step up from his previous residence with his abusive father, but he wishes he had more space or at least neighbors who weren’t drug dealers. 

 

It’s been a slow night so far. The current party, hosted by a socialite (said to be a descendant of kings)is beginning to end.  The guests are not as rowdy as the usual crowd and the drinks they ordered were particularly easy to make, bland even.  Marik had an easy job but found himself restless this evening.  He needs something more complicated to do with his hands and something more interesting to do with his mind.

 

He pauses his cleanup of the bar in favor of idly watching the few people left in the crowd. Chanel dresses brush evocatively against Armani suits while spiked Louboutins click-clack against the dance floor. Marik spots Mai in her black cotton apron, starkly clashing against the silky material surrounding her. She’s giggling and touching the shoulder of a good friend of the party host.  The lean, blonde man is gently smiling at her, seemingly hung on every word. Marik grins.  Mai has been eyeing the rugged man since he sauntered into the event-room (he swears she had hearts in her eyes the entire night) and Marik is momentarily content to watch his friend accomplish a goal. He’s only slightly annoyed that he has to finish cleaning the bar alone.

 

“Blood and sand, extra whisky.” The deep, accented voice of a customer startles Marik, andglass slips through his fingers before he has a chance to catch himself. The mystery man snickers as Marik quickly picks up the pieces, blushing slightly as he throws them in the garbage.  The Egyptian finally resurfaces from behind the bar.

 

“I’m sorry, sir.  I’m usually less clumsy, what can I get for you?” Marik leans over the bar, sheepishly glancing at the man from beneath his blonde bangs (a trick that Mai had taught him.  He’s found that many rich men have a preference for pretty boys).

 

The other man is sharp.  His features all come to a prominent point, especially his wild, white hair.  His skin is pallid, seemingly translucent where it’s pulled over a long scar under his right eye. Marik thinks he’s thin but upon further inspection, he realizes that the other man is too toned to seem sickly. Mahogany eyes, contrasting warmly against his wine colored jacket, are sharper than his prominent canine teeth.

 

“Blood and sand,” the man repeats, leaning his face against the palm of his pale hand with a feigned expression of boredom, “with extra whisky, preferably.” 

 

The man drums his long fingers against his cheek anxiously.  Marik picks up on the uneasy disposition of the man in front of him.  His shoulders are knotted and tight, as if they’re protecting his neck from an attack that could come at any moment.  The suit the other man is wearing is wrinkled, obviously not often used.  Marik tears his inquisitive gaze away when the man tilts his head at Marik questioningly.

 

The Egyptian busies himself with the task of making the other man’s drink.  The bottle of Scotch whisky clinks against the cherry brandy as Marik places the first two ingredients on the bar.  The white haired man is silent, still patting his cheek to an unknown beat while watching Marik with mild interest.  Marik quickly fills a cocktail shaker with ice and carefully measures the alcohol (sure to add a full ounce of whisky instead of the standard three quarters of an ounce) before pouring the mixture of whisky and brandy into the shaker. After carefully placing the bottles back on the shelf Marik reaches into the fridge for orange juice and grabs sweet vermouth from the wine rack.  He slams the two bottles onto the bar, slightly startling the other man.

 

Marik makes a show of mixing the final two parts of the drink.  He notices that the white haired man is more absorbed in the performance before him; he’s tilted forward and both of his sinewy hands are braced on the surface of the bar. Marik skillfully twists the lid of the shaker shut and shakes the mixture completely.  Once mixed, he pours the drink into a glass, garnishes it with a pre-cut orange slice and pushes it gently across the bar. The other man’s face is no longer burdened with lines.  His white eyebrows rise significantly at the end of Marik’s performance.

 

“You’re pretty damn good at that,” he offers, British accent clearly coming through. 

 

Marik shrugs and smiles wryly. “Comes with the territory,” he remarks, shoving his hands into the pockets of his apron. He watches as the white haired man takes his first sip.

 

The other man hums absentmindedly in response, licking the remainder of the drink from his lips; his eyes flash. “Can you please put this in a flask for me? It’s the only way I’m going to make it through the rest of this dreadful party.”  The man looks exasperated and tilts himself even further away from the center of the party, leaning his body towards Marik.

 

Marik leans back and dryly asks, “Not much of a party animal?”  The white haired man snorts into his drink.

 

“I like to party.”  He defends with an admonishing finger, taking another swig before continuing. “But I prefer darker places where I’m not forced to make conversation. Besides, is this the crowd you’d like to party with?” He gestures sardonically to the small cluster of people swaying gracefully on the dance floor. All of the guests are dressed too well to exert the effort to move strenuously. Marik can hear excerpts of bland conversation and false laughter. They tip him better than most parties but Marik hasto admit, his once bored and jittery hands are calm and his mind is honed in perfectly.  The previous boredom that haunted him has faded. Marik wonders why.

 

The Egyptian tosses the man a small, conspiratory grin, “they all look like they need to get fucked.  Good and hard.” At this, the white haired man cackles, his entire face lighting up mischievously (and really, Marik thinks, who actually cackles).  A few of the well-dressed (yet still bland) partygoers shoot the odd pair curious looks.

 

“I couldn’t agree with you more—“ he pauses, waiting for the bartender to fill the silence with his name.  Marik hesitates.  The man doesn’t seem to be coming on to him and he truly is the best company the party has to offer at the moment, even if his presence is a little harsh. Marik notes a pleasant blush beginning to spread over the other man’s high cheekbones. He’s definitely buzzed.  

 

“Marik.”  The blonde offers his hand to the tipsy man along with his name. The white haired man’s handshake is firm; his hands are sturdier than they had appeared. He doesn’t seem dangerous, but Marik notices a distinct shift in the man’s demeanor when their hands finally part.  His smile is skewed, rivaling his eyes in severity.

 

“Marik.”  The man’s voice holds a darker lilt now, sounding deeper and more intimate. And for the first time, Marik finds his name more alluring in someone else’s mouth. The other man continues in a playful yet (somehow) sardonic tone, “How does an Egyptian end up with a name of Czechoslovakian origin?”

 

Marik nearly drops the bottle of sweet vermouth he’d been putting away.  How did this man know of his heritage? (Marik quickly assumes his skin color along with the single Eye of Horus necklace he’s allowed to wear at work gives him away completely.) But how did he know the origin of his name? Instead of feeling wary (like Marik thinks he should) Hefeels drawn to the man, intrigued. He quickly places the wine bottle back and spins around to face the bar and its single occupant.

 

“The same way an Egyptian ends up with blonde hair,” Marik divulges snidely, absently running a hand through his loose hair. “My mother came from Czechoslovakia to Egypt when she was young.” Marik doesn’t see the point in lying to the man about his past but he’s careful enough to be cryptic.  His mother isn’t a particularly touchy subject but any more detail about her still causes his stomach to drop and his head to hurt. Marik would prefer these feelings to stay deeply repressed.

 

The man looks him up and down, “Ah,” he mutters to himself.  “I should have guessed.” Marik squirms under his appraising gaze, uncomfortable with being so blatantly sized-up. The white haired man flicks his gaze back to Marik’s eyes.  He opens his mouth, most likely to ask about his Egyptian heritage, when the party host himself makes his way to the bar.  He claps a friendly hand on the white haired man’s shoulder. Marik snorts into his hand at the grimace that crosses his companions face at the harmless touch.

 

“I knew I’d find you over here!” The man has a mix of red and blonde in his sharply styled hair and carries himself with an air of regality.  “Come back to the party, there are more people I’d like for you to meet.”  The white haired man shapes his face to be carefully blank, though Marik can still see the shadow of the playful gleam his eyes held before.

 

“Go, Atem. I’ll meet you over there. I need to tip Marik, here.” The man shoos the host in the other direction, not noticing Atem looking between the two, smirking. Atem nods, tips his head in Marik’s direction and ambles away, parting the crowd like the Red Sea.

 

The white haired man’s shoulders drop significantly and settle comfortably as he pulls out a worn leather wallet from the pocket of his poorly pressed pants. 

 

“What a fucking prick,” he mumbles, pulling out a bill and placing it on the table.  He stands and stretches. Marik smirks at his snide comment.  His smirk widens when he notices the Chuck Taylors poking out of the other man’s dress pants. 

 

“I’d stay longer if I could, but my publicist would kill me for not showing my face more.”  At this he grimaces again.

 

“Hold up,” Marik grabs the other man’s sleeve, halting his attempt to leave the conversation.  “You still haven’t told me your name.”  The white haired man chuckles as if Marik is missing out on the joke, “Sorry Marik but you’ll have to try a little harder for it.”  The man even has the gall to wink at him.

 

The Egyptian is fuming, digging his nails into the wood of the bar.  Being tricked is not something that often befalls Marik. “That is unfair, I told you my name so it’s common courtesy for you to tell me yours!”  The other man is unfazed at Marik’s quick anger; he actually looks more amused. (And obviously doesn’t care much for genuine social niceties Marik thinks).

 

“Now Marik,” he’s overusing Marik’s name to crawl under his skin and it’s working. “What fun would that be?” He winks again (infatuating bastard) and turns his back.  The Egyptian sees him square his shoulders up again and barrel forward like a soldier shaped for battle.  For his own satisfaction Marik flips off his retreating form.

 

“Fucking bastard.  I was actually nice to him and he tricks me like that?  Un-fucking-believable.”  He furiously scrubs the bar while mumbling to himself about the audacity of his previous companion.  The cacophony of the quickly dying party around him is momentarily forgotten.

 

“Woah. What’s got your panties in a twist, Princess?” Mai is standing at the threshold of the bar, delicate hands placed firmly on her hips.  Marik assumes that she must be done flirting with her prey. The Egyptian’s usually amused at her smart mouth but tonight he doesn’t appreciate being on the receiving end.

 

“Some fucking asshole,” Marik harshly murmurs, punctuating each curse with a manic scrub at the counter. Mai doesn’t bat an eye at his language (probably because she’s shrieked worse at horrible customers) and reaches over to the bill the man had left behind.

 

“He couldn’t have been that bad if he left you a hundred dollar tip!” She fans herself comically with the money, swooning sarcastically.  Marik immediately halts his angry cleaning.  His eyebrows shoot up then curve down.   He’s at a loss for words. 

 

“Marik, this guy was definitely into you,” Mai bluntly states, crudely shoving the bill into the waistband of Marik’s work-pants. The Egyptian is too lost in his thoughts to snap at Mai for being so obscene.

 

“He just wanted to fuck with me.” Marik holds the bill as if Benjamin Franklin would suddenly reveal the identity of his previous owner. 

 

Mai purses her lips and shifts her weight. Her mouth moves quickly, “or just fuck you.”

 

Marik truly isn’t sure which he prefers.

 

The Chase

 

Marik wouldn’t say he’s been stalking the man (Mai would loudly beg to differ) but he’s definitely been highly vigilant. With each party hosted at The Golden Sands, Marik has kept a detailed record of every person to order a Blood and Sand. Each flash of pure white has him reeling, hoping he’s seeing the same messy, mop ofhair from weeks ago.  Seto Kaiba had even (backhandedly) praised him for taking initiative and manning the bar consistently.  (To which Marik had been moderately embarrassed because both he and Mai knew it was not due to an increased work ethic).

 

Marik supposes (when he’s willing to admit that the adventurous life he had fantasized about had taken the backseat to responsibility and stability) it’s been a while since he’s been interested enough in something (someone) to chase it (them) so fervently. He’d chased his job and worked hard to impress his boss enough to work extra hours but he’d been fueled by the basic need for survival, for the shelter he couldn’t afford to keep without a steady income.  And he was determined to do so alone.

 

When he had first started working at The Golden Sands, he had no intent to befriend his coworkers. Marik had been friendly, helped out when he could by covering shifts but he always turned down staff gatherings after the workday had ended, not because he didn’t like socializing (hell, his job depended entirely on talking to people) but because he’d always be so wiped by the end of his shift that all he wanted to do was sleep in his lonely, twin bed.  His self-inflicted isolation caused Mai, head waitress and natural barmaid, to corner him after his first two weeks.

 

“What’s your deal?”  Her bluntness had surprised Marik.  He’d never encountered a woman so forward and vivacious (aside from his sister, of course).  Her hands were on her hips and her Amazonian body was blocking his only exit.

 

“Excuse me?”  Marik had all but squeaked, nervously hoping that his boss wouldn’t notice him idling.  Mai had read his mind.

 

“Forget about Kaiba and answer my question. Why are you so damn stiff? I know you’re hot and all but Kaiba had to have hired you for more than your pretty, blond head.”  Marik’s left eyebrow had twitched, a tic that usually indicates that the Egyptian is annoyed and most likely, offended as well.

 

Excuse me?” he had said in an entirely different tone, this time with more venom.  “I’ll have you know that I could get any person in this bar right now to tip me higher than you without even trying.  I’ve been told I have a natural talent for manipulation.”  Marik finished his tirade with a haughty huff. Mai looked surprised for a moment, her normally hooded eyes had widened briefly before settling into a pleased expression.

 

“Now that is what I like to hear!” She offered him a conspiratory grin, “But you’re missing the most important aspect to this job, one that your good looks will lend perfectly to.”  Mai’s impressed disposition had suddenly changed; her posture sagged slightly as she pushed out her breasts.  White teeth had worried faintly on her plush bottom lip. Marik gulped.  Though he knew he was very much a homosexual, he could still appreciate an attractive woman when he saw one. And he knew he was falling into a trap.

 

“What?”  he had finally conceded, curious at what she was about to teach him. At this, Mai’s grin had become more predatory and her eyes had grown sharper.  She had leaned forward until her lips were at Marik’s ear.

 

She whispered, “sex appeal,” then turned on her heel and regained her previous professional composure, as if the exchange had never occurred.  Marik remembers feeling stunned and torn.  He wanted the satisfaction of single-handedly earning all of his money based on his own knowledge and hard work.  But Mai was offering him something he simply could not teach himself. He had conceded a second time but found that he felt no prideful resistance. 

 

“Teach me.”  And with that, Mai lit up like a flashbulb.

 

She taught Marik everything she knew about flirting and then everything she knew about men once she discovered that he was gay. Marik paid close attention and put her skills to work.  He raked in more money in the following week than he had his first two weeks combined. And he was entirely grateful to Mai that she took the time to teach him and befriend him along the way. In return, he taught her a few tricks she could use without relying on her physical appeal. A few of the techniques Mai learned had even worked on Kaiba (who is probably asexual because Marik has only caught him making eyes at his profits).

 

Marik’s skill at the job had improved but his time at The Golden Sands revealed quirks in his personality.  He had never admitted this to Mai, (though with her knack for observation she probably already knew) butMarik has a nasty habit of rewashing whichever dishes Mai previously cleaned, just to ensure that the job was done correctly.

 

He takes orders from no one but Kaiba out of pride and not wanting to lose his job for being insolent to the boss. Other employees had no power over Marik. Mai had reined him in, made sure his behavior towards them wasn’t too over the top but she loosens the reigns if the unlucky person deserves Marik’s fiery wrath.

 

But with all Mai had taught him, nothing he learned could make a person reappear out of thin air. And Marik refuses to admit it but he’s disappointed.  It isn’t often that a person captures his attention so completely. 

 

“Don’t look so down, Sweetie!” Mai chides him lightly. She’s washing a few dirty glasses from the happy-hour rush.  Marik is trying (and failing) to appear disinterested when he’s actually scanning the room.

 

It’s been just shy of a month since Marik’s fateful night with his mystery man and he still isn’t sure if he wants to find him to fuck him or continue to exchange witty banter until they both run out of words to say. 

 

“I’m not down,” Marik corrects, “but I can’t have just anyone having the advantage over me!  I need to know his name.” Marik is more willing to admit to his (thinly veiled) control issues than admit that he’s genuinely interested in the man. Every person that the Egyptian had desired (a very small few) filled a position of submission. They had given Marik the power that he craves but this man was an anomaly.  He is, from what Marik could tell based on their short, initial encounter, an equal. He is a person who could bite back, someone who would keep trying.  Marik would never get bored. 

 

But he doesn’t want to get too invested. It would hurt a little less if everyone thought he just wanted to get even. 

 

Mai looks skeptical and Marik squirms under her calculating gaze.

 

“Marik, if this were just anyone it wouldn’t matter this much to you.” Her facial expression is genuine, concerned even.  Marik curses her logic (and her fretfulness) while he berates himself for being so open around her.

 

“Trust me, once I know his name, I’ll be over it,” he lies but still crosses his fingers over his heart.  Mai shakes her head, her usual reply of “you’re an idiot” is left unsaid and her silence speaks volumes.  After a beat, she relays a message.

 

“Boss is having a meeting in twenty about some insane party we’re hosting this weekend.  See you in the lounge.”  With that, she steps away.  The sound of her boots clicking fades as Marik slaps his face.  The only person he’s lying to at the moment is himself.

 

The Discovery

 

Seto Kaiba glares a lot.

 

Marik had learned early in his job that Kaiba’s range of expressions is limited.  Each week following that, he developed a new theory to explain the cause. This week, it was because Kaiba had botched Botox and the result was that his face was forced to forever remain harsh and uninviting.   He would have come up with something more creative but the week prior he guessed that Kaiba was fucked by a computer and caught a virus. Marik decided to give the man a little pride in his head, for just a little while. 

 

“Alright, ladies,” Kaiba announces, pacing in front of his (primarily female) hoard of employees.  Marik narrows his eyes and decides that Kaiba doesn’t deserve respect.  “I’m trusting you all to handle this weekend’s festivities with poise, and ensure that the reputation of The Golden Sands remains intact. I’m told our host tends to have uncontrollable parties and with his new spot in the lime-light, I doubt anyone would miss this.”  The icy-eyed man carelessly throws an issue of Us Weekly face-up on the table, pointing to the cover photo.  “This,” he sneers, “is our host.”

 

Marik’s eyes bulge to a strenuous size and he swears that he briefly feels the sweet embrace of death as he almost chokes on his water. When he finally catches his breath, (with the help of a few violent smacks on his back thanks to Mai) the entire room is staring at him.

 

“Are you done, Ishtar?  Or should I wait until you hack a lung?” Kaiba snarks. Marik gestures vaguely with both arms, hoping he takes the hint to continue as if Marik’s entire life hadn’t just shifted nor almost been snuffed out.  Mai looks at him with her mouth agape and he shakes his head at her, indicating that they would talk after the meeting. 

 

After twenty dreadfully slow minutes (and a few employees bursting into tears) Marik surges from the longue, crumpled issue of Us Weekly clutched in his shaking hand. 

 

“What the fuck?” Marik fumes, shoving the magazine in Mai’s significantly calmer face before throwing it carelessly onto the bar. “Why are you not still shocked?” the Egyptian berates her.

 

He’s pacing around the bar, kicking stools out of the way and throwing his head up as if asking a higher power why he deserves such torment.  He’s even more wound up at Mai’s apparent flippancy, having quickly shifted from shocked to positively cavalier.  Admittedly, Marik is jealous at how quickly Mai manages to pull herself together in unplanned situations. Instead of being rational and governing his grotesque anxiety, he decided to spend the entire meeting breathing shallowly and imagining nightmare scenarios. This is why I ignore emotions, Marik thinks. 

 

“Bakura fucking Touzoku.  Are you kidding me right now?  How did I not know?” Marik is now clawing desperately at his hair while trying to punish his obliviousness by chipping a tooth or two in an unrestrained jaw motion. 

 

Mai scoffs, her narrow-eyed attention now on the white haired man featured in the magazine “Puh-lease, photoshop is obviously at work here.  No real person has cheekbones that sharp, not even Bakura fucking Touzoku”

 

Marik makes a shrill noise from the back of his throat. While throwing himself dramatically onto a barstool, he manages to send his blond hair in every direction.

 

“Mai, I don’t give a flying fuck about his photoshopped cheekbones right now.  He’s the guy. How am I supposed to win over Hollywood’s new ‘it’ boy?” 

 

Mai looks Marik up and down.  His normally glowing skin seems dimmer in the absence of the jewelry usually worn with his street clothes.  Violet eyes are wide with shock and a minuscule amount of fear. His black apron is terribly stained while his shoes are blocky, resembling a hoof more than human footwear.

 

“Wear the other uniform.”  Her voice is definitive, leaving Marik to sputter again.

 

“I can’t wear that! I’ll get fired! And you know as well as I do that Kaiba offered that as an extremely inappropriate joke.” Marik’s eyes are bulging now, he contorts his face in what he hopes is a pleading expression.  Begging leaves a particularly bitter flavor in his mouth.

 

“Don’t be such an idiot, Marik! If Kaiba knew that Touzoku had a hard-on for you he’d make you strip for him.  As long as you’re making money for the club, Kaiba couldn’t care less about what you wear.”  Mai’s posture is perfect and her grin is self-satisfied.  He sighs. Closely resembling a washed-up fish, he opens his mouth one more time, ready to shoot out one last protest when the temperature seems to drop a few degrees.  A cool voice cuts in.

 

“Ishtar, I never thought I’d say this, but listen to Kujaku.”  Seto Kaiba is hovering over the occupants of the bar; the cape of his white trench coat makes him seem like an odd sort of antihero, accidently and begrudgingly swooping in to save the day. He continues, “Wear the uniform along with your tacky jewelry. And if I hear a single goddamned complaint out of you, I have a sequined thong I’ll put you in instead when you strip for our party host.  Got it?”

 

Marik nods, screwing his mouth shut to save himself from a degrading future striptease. Mai has her head ducked, cat-like smile hidden behind a curtain of blonde hair.  Satisfied, Kaiba curtly nods at both of his employees, making a short statement before stalking away. “Besides, Touzoku wanted an Egyptian theme for his party this weekend. Your outfit will fit right in.”

 

Mai snorts at Kaiba’s retreating back. “Maybe the man was inspired,” she whispers as she shoots a playful look at the shell-shocked Marik.  He pulls himself together just enough to sigh and mutter, “At least he didn’t opt for a Czech theme.”

 

The Preparation

 

The next few days flow by in an anxious haze. The club is buzzing with anticipation and Marik finds himself distracted more than he’d care to admit. His bartending prowess never falters as he manages to keep his hands steady at work.  Though, the tick of the clock when his shift ends triggers an entire change in his demeanor;his hands become a tangled, sweaty mess while his entire body clenches and chafes. His sculpted brows are almost permanently knitted together, giving his symmetrical face a sour appearance. 

 

His once deft and dexterous fingers become maladroit and mediocre. Mai had caught him shattering a few glasses after his shift and sent him away, determined to relax him as much as possible before Saturday. Her attempts at giving him less to do at work just makes him feel unstable.  Being unable to control his environment makes him jittery and his bottom lip is receiving more attention from his teeth than usual.

 

On Friday evening, Marik is staring down a bottle of whiskey in his dimly lit city apartment.  He wanted to try his uniform on before the weekend (just to see if it’s as revealing and uncomfortable as he remembers) but can’t bring himself to don it sober.  He’s sitting on his threadbare couch, bent over himself with his elbows resting on his knees and his hands holding his face steady. The kaleidoscope of light emitting from the muted television is casting an otherworldly glow on the room. Marik’s eyes sting.

 

He finally pours himself a shot, spilling it slightly and indifferently on his coffee table.  Just as he tosses his head back to take his swig, he sees a familiar face on the television. Coughing and sputtering, he unmutes the TV and watches with wide-eyed fascination.

 

“Hey guys! It’s Adriana and I’m here live in the studio with stunt-man turned star, Bakura Touzuku.” The heavily made-up host of the entertainment show waves her arms in the direction of her guest who givesa small smile. Marik snorts and shakes his shitty bottle of whiskey at the screen.

 

“It’s a pleasure, thank you for inviting me on.” He bows respectfully. The foreign lilt in his voice has the host captivated. Marik spills more whiskey while he mutters angrily, “fucking prick.”

 

“Now Bakura, if I may call you by your first name—“ Touzuku nods politely “—I’ve heard so much buzz about your new film role, one could say Oscar worthy buzz.” The host winks at him as he expertly feigns laughter.  And while the miniature version of the infatuating enigma is discussing his breakout film role, Marik takes a moment to himself. 

 

Precisely to wonder why even hearing the man’s name makes his blood boil.  He’s bitter, mostly over the fact that the man had skillfully fooled him by withholding his name. But Marik, in his slightly drunken haze, guesses the man wanted a moment to be a person unattached to such a famous name.  And he knows he should be feeling a pang of guilt for giving him such a hard time but a man like Bakura doesn’t need pity.  Based on his acting skills, Bakura could easily hold his own against Marik’s snark. (And even come out on top).  What this man needs is a reckoning.

 

Marik glances again at his uniform with a newfound purpose.  He’s not going to cater to the star.  He’s going to challenge him, because the moment their hands met at the bar, a tacit understanding was reached. 

 

Watching him on TV further proves that Touzuku’s public persona is a drenched blanket twice thrown into a bland pond and Marik does not remember him being that insipid at the club.  In fact, Marik had felt liberated at being able to forgo his usual show of social niceties to a customer.  It was…nice to have a customer that kept him on his toes in the direct opposite of the physical sense. Mai keeps up with him verbally but she is too transparent. Too clear in her motives and while she is entertaining, Marik still longs for something more challenging.

 

And, looking at Bakura now, in the hazy darkness of his own home (slightly more than under the influence) Marik can’t deny his attraction to him. 

 

“And is it true that you’re celebrating by throwing a huge bash this weekend?” Marik perks up and redirects his attention back to the TV screen.  Touzuku laughs sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.  The picture of snowy innocence.  The Egyptian is now finding it easier to see the subtle differences between Touzuku the Star and Bakura the Prick. 

 

“I’m having a get-together at a club I’m quite fond of.  The service there is absolutely exquisite and the views are breathtaking.”  He looks directly into the camera.  Marik would swear on all of his gold jewelry that Bakura is only biting his lip to refrain from smirking. For a brief moment, his eyes darken and his head is tilted in a challenging manner. Marik fists his hands and wishes he could punch the self-satisfied look off his face.  Before he decides to conduct an experiment to see if Bakura could feel the punch through the TV from where he is, the man effortlessly shifts back into his unsuspecting, droll act. Marik wonders if anyone else notices.

 

Then he wonders if anyone else cares.

 

“Well, thanks for tuning in.  From everyone here at the studio, stay tuned for more celebrity news and gossip.” The peppy host waves (if tilting her hand back and forth even constitutes as a wave) while Touzuku nods his head and smiles.

 

The TV is abruptly turned off and, for a brief moment, Bakura’s smiling face is imprinted on the black of the screen. It’s a haunting, hazy sort of image that will be carved behind the Egyptian’s lids for the rest of the evening. 

 

Marik breathes in the heavy silence.

 

The Reunion

 

It’s the third time he’s cleaned off the counter of the bar.  Swiping his golden hands back and forth somehow eases him, grounds him to the moment.

 

The Uniform (all caps needed) is entirely more comfortable than his typical work wear but this added comfort comes at a humiliating and eye-catching price.  His tunic is loose and stark against the dark skin of his chest.  The short linen skirt, known in ancient times as a Shendyt, falls well above his knee and gathers at his belly button. 

 

The Shendyt is fastened with an ornate gold belt adorned with various hieroglyphs that Marik is almost sure don’t even exist. To add a more personal touch to his mortification (also due to Kaiba’s threatening request) he decided to wear his entire, (small) collection of gold jewelry.  He’s wearing two gold cuffs on each arm, bicep and wrist, along with large gold earrings framing his face.  His eye of Horus necklace gazes unseeingly from its habitual home over his heart.

 

When he arrived at work swathed in gold, Mai had insisted that she draw extra kohl around his eyes, wanting him to look more like ethereal royalty instead of an uncomfortable twenty-something in Ancient Egyptian garb.  When she was finished he was instagramed at least five times by five different coworkers and gawked at twice by twice as many.  He was hoping that the theme would force all of his coworkers to don equally revealing outfits but their Shendyts are significantly longer and their tunics more conservative. 

 

Marik doesn’t mind showing off his body, just not when he’s the talk of the entire club because the celebrity host of the evening’s party has more-than-a-little thing for him.  He does his best bartend under the radar and he’s worried that the extra attention will hinder his usually impeccable work.

 

Once the party is in full swing, Marik begins to relax. This, he thinks, he’s used to. The bustle of pouring and skimming drinks across the bar to eager hands.  His tips are generous and he decides to spare himself the reasoning why (which he’s constantly reminded of regardless, due to his basically shirtless figure).

 

The man Mai had flirted with a few weeks prior is back with his hand resting lightly on her shoulder blade.  Marik thinks he’s more polite than he lets on.

 

Kaiba is lurking around, making sure his employees are at their best.  Marik had felt Kaiba’s eyes on him a few times that evening and made sure to add an extra flourish to his mixing whenever the prickling heat tickled at the back of his neck.

 

Right now, though, he’s focused. Determined not to be caught off guard by the dumb, vain, party host.  But in the shifting, undulating crowd not one splatter of white hair is visible. Marik feels something cold and wet drip down his nearly exposed back.

 

He jumps and spins around, now faced with the cutting smile he’s been searching for all evening. 

 

“What the absolute fuck?” Marik curses, shoving the man with enough tact to avoid stray bottles.  “How the hell did you get back here without me noticing?” The Egyptian was on edge nearly the whole evening and even the slightest shift behind him would have caught his attention.  Bakura’s physical tact makes him grit his teeth.

 

“What you really should be asking,” the white haired man drawls slowly, “Is how I stole your wallet without you noticing.”  And clasped lazily in his sinewy hand is Marik’s beaten, faux-leather wallet. Marik figures he shouldn’t be surprised but he can’t help the frustrated growl that slips out of his mouth.

 

“Alright, ha-ha.  Funny fucking joke, now if you don’t mind too much, I’d like to get back to work.”  Marik’s tone leaves no room for argument but he knows that he won’t be getting back to work soon at all.

 

Bakura scoffs, “At my party.  Relax a little.” With little warning, Bakura hops onto the bar, seated with Marik essentially trapped between his spread legs. If Mai were watching, she would tell Marik he looks like a very well decorated fish.

 

“What…I…What.” Marik is sputtering and this is absolutely not how he planned to encounter the other man.  He had practiced his snarky comebacks and managed to convey his disdain with one quirk of his eyebrow.  And okay he did this all in the mirror before he went to sleep for the past week but he knew it would work. Until Bakura decided to throw him off kilter again.

 

The star tilts his head, eyes definitely not on anything decent.  “Nice outfit.” He whistles, lewdly looking Marik up and down.  Blood rushes to the Egyptian’s face as he fights the urge to cover himself with the small amount of tunic he has.  Not wanting to feel the sting of embarrassment any longer, Marik decides to deflect.

 

“Nice party,” Marik snorts, tone obviously implying the real reason behind the shindig.  Bravely, he steps forward.  The Egyptian absently notes that his hips are nestled between the other man’s knees. Bakura smells musky and Marik tries not to let that distract him.

 

But instead of looking sheepish at being caught, Bakura looks smug.  His thin lips stretch over his sharp teeth.  “I can’t say I thought of it myself; knew you’d look good in gold.”

 

The last part of his statement is lower in tone, deeper and Marik knows the chill down his spine is not from the temperature of the room.  Bakura’s cinnamon scent wafts into his consciousness again and his cheeks heat from the strange mix of flattery and indignity curling inside of him.  He wants to push away because he’s not a toy and he’s a little insulted at being thought of as such but Bakura has a light hand on his hip and is looking at him with the shadow of a smirk, less smug this time. 

 

“So that’s all this was?”  Marik has to ask, has to know if he’s wasted over a month wondering about Bakura’s identity, thinking about what he likes to do if he can’t fall asleep at night and what he looks like in the morning.

 

Bakura sighs, impatient.  “You’re so touchy, if that’s all this was I would have told you my name the first night I met you.  Because let’s be honest, kitten,” he tucks a strand of Marik’s loose hair behind his ear.  “You would have dropped your pants right there if I told you I was Bakura Touzuku.”

 

Yeah, right. I’m not that easy, hotshot.” Marik’s head is spinning a little, intoxicated by the sheer insanity of his current situation. Exchanging flirty nicknames with the man he’s been lusting after.  A man that is interested in more than (but definitely not excluding) fucking him. 

 

Bakura raises his light brows, sharp face contorted into a look of sardonic shock.  “You’re not?”  He’s teasing and Marik knows it when he feels a smooth hand trail up his thigh.  He’s breaking all sorts of club policies along with countless sanitation laws. 

 

“That outfit could have fooled me,” Bakura purrs and toys with one of Marik’s gold earrings, tugging on it enough to make the Egyptian’s blood burn hot in his veins. 

 

Marik still finds the will to scoff as he leans forward enough to be chest to chest with the other man, who is still seated firmly on the bar.  “It wasn’t my decision to wear this.  But if it were entirely up to my boss I would be the one on the bar.  Stripping for you.”

 

Firm hands grip his hips steadfastly and tug him impossibly forward with only a little restraint.  The heat across Marik’s face from Bakura’s harsh breathing is erotic.

 

“Now that is something I’d like to see, where is this boss of yours?”  Marik smirks for the first time in their conversation, enjoying the way Bakura’s face lightens up as well.  Even though Marik is definitely going against The Golden Sand’s basic rules of bartending he can’t find it in himself to care, especially when he’s keeping the party host happy.  Kaiba would probably thank him later on.  But he shoves that thought out of his head because he’s definitely not doing this for Kaiba.

 

“Sticking his robotic face somewhere else. But maybe if you ask nicely I could consider putting on a show.”  Marik places his hands firmly on the bar on either side of Bakura’s thighs. Pale hands are now idly tracing patterns against the thin fabric on his hips.

 

“I don’t really do nice,” Is the muttered response and when did Bakura’s mouth get that close to his ear?

 

Marik isn’t going to back down, not this time. Whatever game of chicken they’re playing will end in a victory for the Egyptian.  Playfully, he leans his face into the curve of Bakura’s neck.

 

“You know, we’ll probably end up on the cover of a tabloid magazine.”  And just because he can, Marik places a chaste kiss on Bakura’s collarbone. The hum of the party is a pleasant buzz around him.  Bakura’s skin tastes salty.

 

Marik feels more than hears Bakura’s next statement. The vibration of his low, sultry voice is enough to make Marik’s head hazy.

 

“Then maybe we should give them something worthy of the cover, hmm?”

 

This is all the warning Marik gets before he feels teeth prodding at his lower lip and wow the inside of Bakura’s mouth tastes tangy, most likely from a cocktail earlier in the night.  While his ministrations are lazy, licking slowly into Marik’s mouth, his movements are purposeful. One of his hands slides up Marik’s chest and rests solidly on the nape of his neck.  Marik gasps and Bakura’s answering chuckle settles somewhere under his tongue.

 

He’s lost the game, but Marik thinks he’s won something better.

 

Right as Marik is about to embarrassingly moan in earnest, a series of clicks are heard.  Opening his eyes, Marik is greeted with a hoard of people wielding DSLR cameras like weapons.  He hears Bakura curse crudely before jumping down from the bar and bringing Marik down with him.

 

Fucking shit. Someone must have let them in; I made sure they were outside at the beginning of the party.  Follow me.”

 

Marik just nods and army crawls behind his famous love interest. 

 

“Where the hell are we going?” He’s only a little annoyed, keeping his lips in a tight line and actively trying not to consistently lick them. Bakura’s taste still lingers and it eases Marik’s curiosity slightly.

 

For someone crawling on their hands and knees to escape paparazzi, Bakura is quite relaxed.  He laughs.  “Anywhere. But mostly away from all that. It gets pretty tiring after a while.”

 

The admission is unexpected and Marik’s brief, shocked expression is genuine.  Happy that Bakura is turned away from him, Marik covers his surprise with sarcasm.

 

“The Great Bakura Touzuku doesn’t likeattention?  Shocking.”

 

He can’t see Bakura’s face but he’s going to hazard a guess and say that the man is probably scowling.

 

“Would you want people you don’t know digging into your personal life like buzzards?  I can’t stand it.  Once someone knows who I am, nothing else matters but my fame.” His tone is genuine and entirely different from the husky voice he had used moments ago.  Marik thinks he must be frowning but he can’t picture such a sad expression on Bakura’s face.

 

Suddenly, Bakura stops his crawl and pulls Marik to his feet.  They’re in one of the back storage rooms and Marik almost slaps his forehead because he should have had the forethought to lead the man here instead of the other way around.

 

Dusting himself off, Marik mumbles, “I guess you’re right.  I would hate that.” And he honestly would.  Marik thinks of himself as a guarded person, secretive almost to a fault. The thought of millions of other people being so invested in his life makes him want to vomit.  And he almost does because if he dates Bakura millions of people will be interested in his life. 

 

Bakura notices the decidedly green tinge to his tan skin and places his hands on the Egyptian’s shoulders.

 

“Calm down.  They didn’t follow us.  And I’ll let you in on a secret, for future reference.  Don’t show them who you are.  Make someone up, give them what they want and everything about you will be safe.” Bakura searches his face with his dark eyes.  His solemn expression is comforting and makes Marik think this is really going somewhere.

 

He wants to hug the other man, especially now because space is scarce and he thinks a broom is digging uncomfortably into his back. Not entirely sure how the other man would react, Marik simply decides to kiss him again.  This time, it’s chaste and honest.  Something not meant for prying eyes.  The whole world can live without seeing this moment.

 

Bakura licks his lips as they pull away.

 

“Alright, Kitten.  Here’s my offer.  I give you my number, you call me tomorrow, we meet up for a discreet dinner, argue over a bottle of wine then end up in bed for the rest of the night.” Bakura is already writing his phone number on Marik’s hand with a pen he found on the floor.  Marik wants to laugh because it seems ironic for a movie star to use such predicable Hollywood Clichés. 

 

“Am I supposed to swoon now?  Because I’m not some girl, you know.” Marik raises his brow, teasing again but serious in the sense that he’s not that easily won over.

 

Bakura rolls his eyes harshly, “This is what you get. I’m not the person the camera sees.   And besides,” his cutting tone changes, turning hazy and husky again. “I’ve already made you swoon.”

 

Bakura sucks a quick mark onto Marik’s neck, hard enough to let the Egyptian know it won’t fade for a few days. And then he’s gone. The door outside from the storage room swings shut and Marik is grinning.

 

He should feel stupid, standing in near darkness, scantily clad with what feels like an extremely large suck mark burned into the skin of his neck, but he doesn’t.  Quickly entering Bakura’s number into his phone (and saving the contact as “Prick”), Marik sinks to the ground.

 

What did I get myself into he thinks but surprisingly, and to his own pleasure, there’s no remorse. Being with Bakura will be…interesting.