"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." –Einstein
"This is it, Ryuzaki." Haga palms the rock in his right hand, feeling the gritty surface, the weight, the way the sharp edges can almost cut his fingertips if he presses too hard. "We'll finally have the power of the God Cards…they'll be in the right hands. The hands of someone who truly deserves them."
"Thanks for the compliment, Haga," Ryuzaki says as he pulls his cloak tighter around his face. "Glad you agree with me."
"I meant myself, idiot! Keep dreaming."
"I'll just leave that to Yugi," Ryuzaki answers. "Quick, let's just grab the bag and get out of here. Ready?"
"Do you even have to ask?" He doesn't hesitate, fingers tightening on the rock for the second before he smashes it into the window. It's dark and the weather is poor, but no one would ever confuse the sound of breaking glass for thunder or lightning.
The room is just as dark and they have barely a moment. Haga grabs the bag by Yugi's bed, and they back out of the window, Ryuzaki first, sliding down the ladder slick with rain. Haga steps on one of Ryuzaki's fingers, but he keeps climbing down without apology.
"Keep moving, he's awake!" Haga hisses. "You're too slow—it'll be your fault if we get caught! Move!"
The streets and alleys open themselves up to the two as they run, sparing a single glance backward to see the lights flicker on in the house they have just left, and the sharp swing of the door as it slams closed. Yugi would never just let his best cards get stolen, they know this, but they have the advantage because they have the bag; they have his cards.
Haga takes the lead, grabbing Ryuzaki by his elbow to pull him into an alley, protected by an overhead awning from the rain. "Let's see what we've got."
What answers him is the sound of the zipper running as they open the bag, hearing something shift inside, something metallic.
"What does he have in there?" Haga can barely see, but when the next flash of lightning illuminates the sky, he sees that inside the bag are not the God Cards, but a series of brilliantly golden objects, each different and unique but connected through the single symbol emblazoned on the front, that of a funny-looking eye, blackened into the metal.
"So that's why the damn thing was so heavy," Ryuzaki mutters.
"What do you think they are?" Haga asks, reaching for the one on top. It lifts away easily, the spines on the bottom jangling from the weight. It's an awkward shape, circular—but where the shape of a circle by itself would suggest simplicity, this is more intricate—the metalwork is impressive, and he can see that these pieces are valuable, even if they're not exactly what they came here to get.
"How should I know?" Ryuzaki answers. "What else is in here?"
He shuffles through the bag, shifting the golden objects aside as he searches the pockets and flaps of Yugi's bag. Haga, instead, continues to examine the ring, before lifting the cord to slip it over his head. It catches on his glasses and his vision slips, his eyes almost useless without them.
"What are you doing?" Ryuzaki asks him.
"We can sell the rest, but I'll keep this one—" His words are cut off as the ring begins to glow, brighter and hotter than even the lightning that crackles in the sky around them. He still can't quite see, and he hears a shout. He thinks it's coming from Ryuzaki, because it couldn't possibly be coming from himself, and he sees the slightest flash of white as his knees buckle under the heavy force of the weight of the golden ring dragging him down, but instead of hitting wet concrete, his knees touch only sand—
—When he wakes, it is to the gentle sound of rocking waves against the coast and the roughness of some kind of stone underneath his body, perhaps even petrified wood. It's bright, much too bright to be Domino, and where the devil are his glasses?
"Here." The voice that calls out to him is every bit as hard as the stone, and callused fingers press against the side of his face as the glasses are slid into place, slightly askew, but it is enough to finally bring the world into focus as he stares at the man in front of him, much too close, staring blankly as he adjusts the glasses.
They are too high on Haga's nose, and he whips them off with limp, listless fingers to turn them around. "Put them on upside-down…" he mutters.
"You ought to be a little more grateful that I saved them for you, Haga," the man says. "I understand you can't see a thing without them."
Haga stares right back, refusing to be confused, instead believing that this strange man must be responsible for his arrival into this strange place– either that or the ring still weighting him down like an anchor.
"How do you know my name?" he demands. "Yugi put you up to this, didn't he? Or Ryuzaki, the joker—where is he? And who are you?"
The sigh that comes from the man is disappointed and resolute, fixed in the unlined planes of his face, like the man has never had cause to smile or frown in his life. "You do not know me, do you?"
"Isn't that what I just said?" Haga's indignation comes only second to his tactlessness.
"Then this should be fun." The man doesn't smile, not with his lips, but there is something in his eyes to suggest that he is still laughing at him. "Look around you."
He does, letting the breeze that lifts his bangs from his eyes carry his vision across the square, beyond the narrow walls bordering a wide, sluggish river towards the sand-colored buildings, low and tense and square as far as the eye could see. He won't let himself be impressed by it.
"Where are we? A soundstage? Is this Kaiba's doing? How long have I been asleep?"
"You don't recognize the Nile? So inquisitive you are!" The man laughs for real, for a second or two, although the horizontal part of his lips is slight. "And so different, yet still the same man. It's because of this, I think, that you still manage to amuse me after all this time."
"Stop ignoring my questions! I have a right to know—"
"If I must." The man tosses his hair behind one shoulder, dirty-white and streaked with dust, before continuing. "You did a very dangerous thing, picking up that ring. Putting it on should have been impossible, but I guess my master was desperate enough to accept even you, if it meant getting an additional body to overcome and enter."
Haga catches the way he says master, the way it sounds at once deprecating and defeated. "You call that answering a question?"
"Hush." He is silenced almost affectionately, a hand reaching out to silence his words, his complaints. He still has many—there is sand in his sleeves and it itches, although he can still see shards of glass caught in the fabric from the broken window, and he is beginning to perspire from the heat—but something about the man before him causes Haga to follow his implicit command.
"The ring has powers, powers you've never even dreamt of, powers you could barely control in your most lucid thought." At the word power, Haga stills, his mind overcome by it. "My master will come for it—for you. He wants it back, you see, he wants to return to the surface. He's tired of loitering inside my mind, inside my past. You're his outlet, you see, a way to get back to what he once lost."
"I'm not afraid of anything," Haga says, and the man laughs again. "I want the power. It's mine—I've got the ring…right?"
"Ha! What can you do with it in this world? That is what I learned from him—there is no victory, there is only evasion. There is only momentary escape."
"What is your name?" Haga asks.
"You may call be Bakura, although he goes by it as well," he replies. "Meeting you…again truly has been a pleasure."
"I don't understand—"
"But you will. I look forward to that moment. As I'm sure he does as well."
"Whose side are you on?" It is all Haga can manage, thinking again how much happier he would have been with three slips of paper instead of a heavy gold chain. He glances down at it again, and it shines almost innocently.
"I'm always on my side." Bakura drifts closer again. "Because, well…ah, I wish to regain control as well. You amuse me, and distract him. You're…beneficial, at the moment."
Haga doesn't understand, not yet, but he stares at Bakura. "Beneficial…"
His own hands tighten around the ring, and he is gone, gone—
—A fisherman stands by the dock in his boat, moored to a long pole driven deep into the sediment. He doesn't move as Haga looks up, stunned to discover the early-morning light replacing the harsh, midday sun. The buildings are different, too—he is either further down or further up the coast, he can't tell which.
It is clear enough to him that it is the fault of the ring around his neck, the strange powers he can't explain but can sense nonetheless. If he hadn't grabbed it, if he hadn't been brought here and tugged around like he was on the end of its leash, but there is no time for thoughts like this. He knows enough of its powers to deduce that it is capable of transporting him across both space and time, at an almost seemingly random capacity. He hates things that are random.
"Hello." He nods to the fisherman—at least, he thinks it's a fisherman—and notices the thick, burlap sacks by the man's feet, just barely open enough to display a crawling mass of worms and other similar insects. He feels his mouth go dry.
"For fishing?" he asks, gesturing to the lures and the sack of worms, waiting to be impaled on hooks and sunk into the water.
"Of course," the fisherman replies. "What else are they good for? Worthless, disgusting creatures."
A sharp smack echoes from the kitchen. 'Mother?' Haga calls. He can hear the sound from his bedroom, all the way across the hall. A second one follows.
He tries not to remember, he does, but they do not deserve this treatment, and neither does he, tossed around without ceremony or explanation, met by a noonday sun but greeted now by a rising one—perhaps from the day before or the day after, in a location unfamiliar but bridged by a river he recognizes, one teeming with fish.
Haga enters the kitchen to see his mother holding a shoe in her right hand. It is not one of the ones she was wearing but a navy, low-heeled pump, scuffed, not one of her favorites. She brings it down on the counter again, splattering the insect, cracking its dark shell against the white linoleum.
'Disgusting,' she says.
'Mother, what is it?' Haga asks, pushing his too-large glasses up his too-small nose with a finger, blinking at her through too-large, too-young eyes. 'What are you doing?'
'Killing it,' she says calmly, and he flinches at the final smack. It is certainly dead now, and he grieves for the life lost, the life taken. The life powerless.
'Why did you have to kill it?'
'When we move to a better apartment we won't always get these infestations, Haga,' his mother says to him, and he frowns, because he likes the insects, he keeps them company when he spots them on his windowsill, or against the tree in the park by the swings.
'…These worthless, disgusting creatures,' she continues. 'All of them. They'll be gone.'
He doesn't want to argue with her so he doesn't, but the next time he sees a spider skitter across the wall he gathers it up in an empty jar and takes it away, far away, before releasing it into the grass.
'You're not worthless,' he tells it. 'You're not disgusting. You're not powerless.'
The fisherman looks up from his boat, swaying on the waves. "Did you say something?"
"No," Haga answers, moving on, not looking back, not wanting to witness death. "I didn't."
He doesn't see the head of shockingly white hair attached to the body obscured by the shadows in an alley, or the way he is being watched, observed.
Haga thinks he hears a sound like the fluttering of wings before he once again vanishes into the emptiness, the unknown—
—He gathers his old, brown cloak tighter around his narrow shoulders. He sticks out too much anyway, with his hair and his glasses, but he does what he can. It doesn't matter here, anyway, not when there isn't anyone around to see him, in a small oasis in what seems to be the middle of the desert.
His stomach is as empty as the surrounding desert, and he reaches into his pockets hoping for a piece of candy or gum. He returns with nothing but his duel monsters cards, a few tissues, and a permanent pen.
With a snicker, he uncaps the pen, leans to his right, and scrawls 'Haga was here' on the smooth bark of the nearest tree. If anything, he can still have a little fun as he waits for whatever powers that brought him here to seek him out.
According to Bakura, the ring is what they're after…the ring and its supposed power. Haga is not eager to give it up, not at all; on the contrary, he wants to know his enemy by his face. Haga wants to claim the power he holds around his neck, he wants to know its limits and capabilities. Transport…escape…travel through time…it sounds farcical except he has seen worse at the hands of men much crueler and more dangerous than any he has seen here so far, from the likes of those under the Orichalcos or the strange magic he'd seen Yugi work to win. He isn't blind, not by half, no matter what his glasses said about his eyesight. He knows when something unnatural is going on around him, and he recognizes it here.
If he wants to see Bakura again, it is only to acquire some answers, better ones, ones that won't simply ply him with an even greater and more insatiable curiosity to know and possess the new source of power he holds so close, yet is so far from his grasp—
—A hand, a face, a name for the face, brought so quickly to his lips that he becomes unsure of it immediately upon speaking:
But it is not him, this is different—this is a man wearing modern clothes, dark colors, his posture casual but his posturing anything but. "You know my name," he says. "How delightful." He shows his teeth just to show how delightful it truly is to him.
"I believe they call you Insect, don't they?" Bakura continues, a thin, mocking smile accompanying the words like a garnish.
"Insector Haga," he says stiffly. "Some would call that a badge of honor."
"A party of one," Bakura concedes. "Do you know what I do to insects, Haga? I crush them. And this little insect has something that belongs to me."
"I don't see your name on it," Haga sneers. "And I don't see it hanging around your neck. I didn't even take it from you."
The two stand still for a moment, before Bakura shrugs in that elegant way of his, draping his arms back and extending both hands by his sides. "Let me show you something, with the ring."
"What do you mean?"
"Time Travel, insect."
"—It's Insector Haga to you, pal—"
"How endearing," Bakura comments mildly. "The ring has many powers—I don't think I've even come close to uncovering them all. This is but the latest and greatest…let me show you. Let me show you the future where I win."
"Win what?" he asks.
"Life is but a greater game, played on the table of the world," Bakura says. "I do so enjoy those games, but this little indulgence has its amusements, too."
He reaches towards Haga, who withdraws, tilting his body just enough to keep the spines of the ring from Bakura's grasp. "The power is mine! You can't have it."
"Indulge me, Haga," he says. "Let me show you the future—my future, your future, his future—"
—The land is blackened as though with fire, fire that has long ago burned almost everything in its path to ash and soot. They make a trail of little footprints in the ash up to the bottom of a hill, and when Haga looks at his shoes and their soles it is with distaste at how the color has blackened, how it travels from the rubber to the hems of his pant-cuffs and the laces on his shoes. Even the air tastes gritty and dark, but with fire and death, not sand.
"Do you know this place?" Bakura asks, standing by his side. "I've traveled here many times."
"What happened here?" Haga cannot help but ask; he wants to know, and while the place seems vaguely familiar he cannot place it in his memory.
They approach a scraggly stump of what once was an old tree, buried at the root in dust and decay, the wood itself blackened and scarred by the effects of fire.
"Zorc happened. Darkness happened. I happened," Bakura answers, his voice growing louder and more excited with each pronouncement. "There is no one else here, Haga! No one else on Earth, around to cloud it, to pollute it, to save it. There is only me, and for now, there is you." He pauses to glance at Haga.
"How does it feel, then, to be the last man on Earth?"
It is not unfamiliar to him, the concept. "I won," he tells Ryuzaki, lounging on a deck chair. "I beat you. I was the last one standing, the best. This should be a piece of cake!"
"Don't get too comfortable," Ryuzaki says, resting his head against one arm, shrugging deeper into the thin cushion. "I bet you…ten dollars that you'll be in the first boat off! Ha!"
"Impossible," he replies.
"And I'll take my payment in dinner. You pay and pick the place, but make it somewhere nice."
"Keep dreaming, idiot," he says.
"Hmm, don't mind if I do."
It could never happen, there is only one obstacle in his way and he will take care of it, he will squash him flat, he will win and come out superior. There is no alternative, there is no other thought in his mind, not until he finds himself on the boat staring at the island behind him, wondering what went wrong.
"If you're the last, that makes you the best, by a technicality," Bakura continues. "You have what you always wanted—you're the most powerful man on Earth! Everyone else is dead!" He laughs, and his laughter echoes across the valleys, rising up into the air like a thick smoke, clouding both his vision and his mind. Haga doesn't know what to think anymore, but he knows he doesn't want it like this.
"What about…" He thinks, quickly. "Bakura. The other one. With the…" Haga gestures towards his face. "Scar."
"Oh, him? Well, as he is my chief vessel, he ought to be around here somewhere, don't you think?" Bakura answers. "The ring can only take you to points on his life. But his life is my life, so I can follow you anywhere."
"Bakura," Haga repeats, clinging to it, to the only other person here that he knows.
"Cockroaches can survive a nuclear disaster, can't they? Well, Haga, tell me—will you survive this? Even if you do, I know someone who certainly won't." He smiles, a dazzling sharpness to the expression, all teeth.
"Look below you, Haga. I buried him under this tree."
He leaps away from the ground, already feeling the swirling dust and ash under his feet, looking closer at the peculiar shape of the mounded dirt, at the stump of a tree marking the top of it, at the way the darkened, blackened branches match the charred color of the sky, shot through with red the color of blood.
"Look closer still, Haga. I think you missed a spot."
He does, knowing he probably shouldn't, and there, carved into the wood, still visible, still legible, were three words, perfectly written in his own handwriting: Haga was here.
He staggers backwards, horrified, staring at the tree and what it represents, trying now to imagine it as he saw it, as a perfect oasis. The sand was white, it was clear—now it is all charred and gone. Destroyed, utterly, by a madman.
"What have you done?" Haga asks. "What did you do?"
"I said I showed you a future," Bakura replies. "This, insect, is what I will do. When I regain control—there is just one little obstacle left to crush, and I will have this world. The thief was hardly innocent in all this, you know—he killed just as often as I, and he took their souls, their ká, as I had taken his."
"You don't seem to be in any hurry," he says, looking around, looking for somewhere to run and finding nothing in the desolate blackness. The world is empty, scarred, devoid of life and feeling save for the tree and the person it marks, and those standing before it like parodies of mourners.
"I have waited for thousands of years—this is but a drop in the bucket." His grin sharpens, growing wider. "I'll enjoy it the next time as well—but you don't know about that, do you? Yet."
Haga steps backwards on unsteady legs, two steps barely all he can manage.
"I'm so glad it was you who stumbled across my ring, Haga," he says, and Haga clutches the ring in trembling fingers, willing it to take him away to anywhere else, so long as it isn't here and the original Bakura isn't dead—
—The city is on fire. A different city, an unfamiliar one, but the flames reach out their red-hot fingers towards the sky, begging for more to burn. He's familiar enough to know that this one isn't caused by some celestial means, like the charred desert; the fire here was very clearly caused by the hands of man.
It's fairly fresh, too, he deduces—the smoke hasn't built up enough to cloud his vision or his throat. Instead, he can feel the heat, see the people around him running away, screaming, as if they were already dead men. Haga doesn't need to worry about the last, not when he can whisk himself away at a moment's notice. It escapes him that it wouldn't have taken much of an opportunity for error to have transported himself directly into the flames instead of a few buildings beside them. He can barely see the center of the conflagration—a large, public square—ringed by columns thicker than his waist.
The people who had been running were terrified, and Haga reminds himself that he isn't afraid of anything and that has not changed.
He spots a child standing barely ten meters from him, hidden in the shadows, frozen behind a pillar. Who would have left a child? Haga cannot leave him—or is it a girl?—to burn, so he takes the few steps forward necessary to reach the child, pulling on one soot-stained arm to encourage the child to leave with him, to reach the safety of the outside instead of waiting for death nearly within the blaze itself.
They run through the twisted streets of the city, past flaming pieces of debris and smoke pouring from each open window. He tries to ignore the bodies.
"Hey, kid, are you okay?" He feels like he has to ask; they've been running through the city, and the child looks barely ten. At ten, Haga couldn't have run the length of a school hallway, much less marathon across a burning city.
"What is this place?" he whispers, more to himself.
"It's called Kul Elna." The child's voice is remarkably clear and composed, higher in pitch than the child would have liked, but still unmistakably male. "It is a city of thieves and bandits."
"So you are a thief?" Haga asks, staring at the child. Impossible.
"Not just a thief"—and the bravado is there, something so familiar that once Haga recognizes it, the rest clicks into place as well, from the shock of white hair, matted and covered in soot to the slightly tanned skin, not yet marred by a blade—"I am the best thief."
"And I thought they said there's no honor among thieves?" It is a mutter, unintended for Bakura's ears, but his lips tighten and fall into a childish pout as he catches the last few words.
"They wanted me to see it," he insists.
"I don't know."
The two look up to see the evidence of the fire sweeping into the sky, collapsing buildings made to last as if they had instead been built with toothpicks.
"See…what?" Haga asks. "It's just a town—there are plenty. Go live by the Nile." He shrugs.
"In the capital?" This catches Bakura's attention. "My people are destroyed. I can hear their souls crying out to me, screaming for revenge. I can hear the souls offering the chance to me, offering their power."
He stops, one small hand still grasped in Haga's own like a lifeline. "Should I take it?"
"Do you want it?"
"I want my family back. My people back. Power isn't worth that."
"Depends on the power," Haga mutters again, thinking to the artifact wrapped around his neck. Would he have sold someone like Ryuzaki for it? Would he have abandoned a child like Bakura to die in the flames for it?
Maybe a few days ago, he would have. Now he is not so sure.
"I'll get my revenge," he says. "Some day, I will crush them. Like bugs."
The sting hurts, but he manages to let it go. "Who?"
"The men who came from the palace. The pharaoh," he adds stiffly. "Let them taste their own death, just as I have tasted mine." Coming from a child's mouth, such philosophy startles him. It doesn't feel right.
With wide eyes, he looks up. "How do you know my name?"
"I'm from the future," he says, and instantly feels dumb for saying it. Lines like that don't impress anyone, least of all the child self of an older man Haga has only met once, or so he thinks.
"Then tell me your name."
"Haga," he says. "Don't forget it, because we will meet again."
"In the future?" he asks.
"In…your future. It's my…present." The revelation shocks him, moving so swiftly and suddenly that he is completely unprepared for it. Of course such a thing would be doomed to fail, any friendships or relationships to be gained here. Not when one party moves forward through time while the other tries desperately to catch up, chasing one while being pursued by another. Not when the world around them isn't even real, as the modern-looking Bakura had explained.
"I don't understand," Bakura says.
"Just go somewhere safe," Haga asks him. "Keep yourself safe." His thoughts flash unbidden to a tree in a wasteland that serves as a grave marker in a world where there is nothing else. "…Please."
Bakura nods, and turns back towards the flames, wearing the most determined look. Haga feels his chest sink, knowing on some level what Bakura would become, what he would do, and what chaos he would wreak. If he can only warn him, save him from himself.
Haga is not afraid, not for himself, but perhaps he can be afraid for someone else.
There is that sound again, a strange fluttering like the sound of wings beating together. There are feathers, he notices, scattered across the stone. The whiteness should not exist here; its brightness mocks him, mocks them all. Haga steps on the white feathers just because he can, just to see the color smudged and darkened by the dust under his boots. If he cannot have it like that, the pure whiteness, then no one will—
—The Bakura that stares back at him is older, and casts him barely a glance as he unpacks a series of bags around him, discarding cloaks and weapons.
"It's so rude to just barge into someone else's house uninvited," he finally says, although the words are delivered with just enough of a smirk for Haga to know he isn't serious. He leans back.
"So, what have you learned?"
"Is there any way to escape this place?" Haga asks. "Anything at all we can do?"
"We?" An arched eyebrow. "You assume a lot. I work alone."
"What were you doing?" He notices the lengths of rope, the knives.
"Breaking into the palace," he responds. "The pharaoh's guards are wonderful sport."
Frowning, Haga tries to piece it together, to bring the young child of Kul Elna to the thief here before him, casually cleaning a blade that isn't darkened from rust. He sets down his tools.
"Come on, let's take a walk."
They do, and make their way along the edge of the neighborhood, which seems to end right at the Nile. "Is there any way to stop Bakura?"
"Ha! If there is, it won't be done by you," he replies. "If there isn't, you won't even know because you'll be dead. Like I said—he beats you, he returns to the surface. He's just playing with your mind, seeing how much it can take. It's one of his favorite pastimes."
Haga nods, processing the information, trying not to think about what his grave looked like. "I still think, with enough power, I could—"
"You could…what?" Bakura stops. "Pull the rug out from under his feet, trap him in his own game? He controls it here, not you. You're just…unlucky enough to have put on the ring next."
"You think that you could liberate me? I can take care of myself. You think you could defeat him? For yourself? For me? You think you can—what, love me? Laughable." And he does, laughing almost to himself, because the sound cannot reach Haga's ears as his mind focuses solely on the words liberate, defeat, love. Not true, he tells himself, knowing it to be a lie.
"That's what you want, isn't it?" Bakura continues. "You want someone to have to depend on you, to be their rock. Was your family really that normal and disappointing? Were any friends you might have had the kind to smile at you, if only so they could plant a knife in your back when you had turned away?"
"Bakura," he tries again. "I—"
"You need to grow up, Haga," Bakura tells him. "I did. I've grown a lot since Kul Elna, in ways you can't even begin to imagine. The souls, feeding me with their power—"
Haga feels sick, and he leans against a wall, feeling its coolness against the hot skin of his arms, his forehead. They bump against his glasses, obscuring his view of Bakura. To him, the fuzzy, distorted image looks no different.
"I thought I knew you," Haga says. "I was wrong, it seems."
"I think you were," Bakura agrees.
Haga flickers out with the ring, and for that the thief is glad. He knows Bakura is nearby—he knows exactly what would have happened had the three of them met. He will prolong this for as long as possible.
A fisherman passes by with a bucket full of worms as Bakura climbs into one of the boats moored by the docks, settling himself into it for a well-deserved nap, letting the waves carry him off to sleep, to a sleep hopefully free of his other self's influence. Perhaps he will be so lucky, this time—
—It's too dark to see and his glasses have fallen in transit. His fingers search the nearby ground for them—ground or tightly packed floor, he isn't sure—and his fingertips reach leather, cupping around what he finally discovers are shoes, being worn by a pair of feet. He looks up, still seeing only blackness, when a small light soars into being and he can see Bakura through the lit candle.
"What are you doing here?" Bakura asks, and the sound brings Haga to his feet as he stands before the thief. He is much taller, his hair a bit longer, and when Haga brushes a hand up to Bakura's face it is to touch the lines there where before there were none, branching like a spider's web across his forehead and the outer corners of his eyes. They are not deep but still they are there on the surface, a marker to his seeming mortality, a mockery to the same. His own touch is like a spider's, light as his fingers dance across the skin, lingering over the scar only to withdraw seconds later.
Years-! It had taken him years to reach this point, to a Bakura he barely even recognizes. "Tell me what is going on."
"You are still so young," he says, studying Haga's own face. His hand reaches out, tilting the candle and bringing the light closer. The heat is warm instead of the searing heat of the Kul Elna fires, and Bakura studies a section of his face with care.
"Oh, you do not have the scar yet," Bakura says. "That's why."
Bakura does not let Haga draw back, but pulls the candle away to leave more of them in the shadows. "Do not worry about it," he says smoothly. "I thought…I…"
"What is it?" he asks.
"I thought I had watched you die," Bakura says. "No, no—I watched you lose."
The dance cannot continue forever, he knows the end is inevitable. The strings will die, the music will fade, and all that will remain is the memory of his ever being there, whisper-thin, and perhaps not even that. Dying and losing—Haga doesn't know which is worse; both are equitable in his mind.
"I suppose it's too late for advice?"
"Yes," Haga says. He knows what he wants.
"It's a bad idea."
"Most of mine turn out that way, yes." And then Haga is kissing him, standing on the tips of his feet to even their height, trying to be aggressive, wrapping his arms around Bakura. His glasses are falling off of his nose, but he doesn't care. Bakura is reluctant at first to show any serious response, but he presses back lightly after a moment, feeling the rough texture of Haga's lips, the smoothness of his hair, the way a metal button on Haga's coat-sleeve keeps rubbing against Bakura's neck.
"You are persistent, I'll have to give you that." It's spoken almost affectionately, turning the harsh shadows into a softer light to frame the two. He sets the candle down on a table and the light bounces off the wall, casting patterns across their faces and bodies.
"Well, if we're both dead men anyway, I don't suppose there's any harm in enjoying the time left to us, is there?"
At Bakura's words Haga remembers the grave, and the words scrawled on his marker. His eyes close in shame, but re-open when Bakura kisses him again.
Those words are not true, of course, not anymore—not when Bakura joins him, and for a time, the only time, Bakura and Haga are both here, together.
Then, a mistake is made, and Bakura's hands alight upon the ring, and they both are drawn into it, thrown into the darkness as it clamps down around them; for the first time, Bakura knows regret, and Haga knows fear—
—"Thank you for joining me, gentlemen," Bakura says, leaning against a broken column. It looks jagged but it doesn't seem to bother him, and he bends down to observe Haga, sprawled against a low, horizontal stone set into the ground.
His mind still spinning, he wonders why the place looks so familiar. The light is fading, and for each passing second it seems to grow darker, robbing the sky of illumination and visibility. The columns are gathered like the spokes of a wheel, and they stand in its center.
The other Bakura, the thief, is there too, looking confused, glancing between Haga and Bakura as if unsure what is happening. He is different, Haga notices, as he climbs to his feet; the hair is shorter, the eyes clearer, the slight wrinkles gone. He does not know.
"Bakura, the plan was mine! The ká is mine! The revenge was mine!" he shouts.
"And you have had it!" Bakura mocks. "I executed the plan, I controlled your ká, and I will oversee your revenge. The pharaoh will fall, mark my words."
Pharaohs, ká's…while the context may be unfamiliar, Haga is more than familiar with their anger. The thief's—justified. Bakura's—rudimentary and effortless.
Then, he hears it again. A shadow passes over him as he hears the fluttering of wings, and Haga turns to the thief.
"That sound…what is it? It's like some kind of angel…"
It is the modern Bakura who answers, throwing his head back to laugh. "No, not an angel. Not hardly."
From behind him a monster emerges, slate-gray skin forming thick muscles behind a pointed face with a snake for a tail. Thick wings are spread wide, and while this creature is not an angel that will not stop it from announcing the revelation. The fluttering grows louder as the wings beat against themselves, the sound scraping like stone.
"Diabound!" the thief shouts, and Haga merely watches in despair at the hulking figure. He can feel it, the misery it emanates from every pore of its body. The unhappiness of thousands of souls snatched from their bodies, shoved inside to do the bidding of two masters. "Return to me!"
"I will tell you a secret, thief," Bakura says lightly. "You are a pawn. The reason you were spared of those in your village was to allow the creation of this magnificent ká, so that I might one day control it and you! It is mine, and it will answer first to me. I have orchestrated this from the beginning."
"Stop, that's not true-!" And Haga finds his courage, lunging at the modern Bakura, placing himself squarely between them. He ignores the askew glasses, the wrinkled clothes, the disheveled hair.
"I believe this amusement ended not too long ago," Bakura says. "You will return the ring to me now, and maybe I won't kill you. What's the saying? Squash one bug and a hundred more will rush to replace it? I haven't the time for you."
"It's mine," Haga says. "It's power belongs to me! You won't harm either of us!"
"Why on Earth would you protect him?" Bakura asks. "Would you really be so stupid? Falling in love with a spirit, something that isn't even real—"
"—It's real enough for me—"
"I set you up to fall, insect," Bakura continues. "From the very beginning I have manipulated you and the results have been entertaining. Now step away, and let me deal with this transgressor."
"So be it." And with that Bakura lunges as well, forwards, and Haga has barely enough time to turn as he sees the knife in Bakura's hand darting towards him. The hand swipes upwards and he cries out as it slices his skin from chin to cheek, leaving him bleeding with a wound on his left to almost match the one on the thief's right.
He cradles the skin in his hands, feeling the warm blood coating his fingertips. The wound is not deep but it stings.
"What a pity, I've destroyed your good looks," Bakura says, tossing the blade aside as he bends towards Haga.
"The ring is mine." It is lifted from around his neck, and he suddenly misses the weight. One final glance is spared towards the thief, whose eyes are drawn to the mark on Haga's face.
"You've wasted your time," Bakura tells him. "All for what?"
"It's not enough…" Haga murmurs. "Not enough time."
"A lifetime for you," Bakura says to the thief, "a handful of days for you"—this, to Haga—"and for me…"
The ring is pulled over his head, back into its rightful place. "For me, barely a second—"
—He wakes up in the alley, soaked with rain. The ring is gone, but he can still hear Bakura's laughter in the air. Harsh, cruel. He's only taken the ring, but left the others. Haga doesn't understand why, and Yugi ignores him when he runs away. Ryuzaki only now begins to stir.
One hand rises to his face, wiping away the blood there. His blood, only when it is clear from the rain and the efforts of his sleeve, he discovers no wound.
The hospital isn't his favorite place to be, but Haga goes anyway, just to be sure his head is clear and to be sure he hasn't injured himself falling; he thinks he might've sprained something when he was knocked out.
It takes the doctors all of fifteen minutes to deduce that yes, he is perfectly healthy and lucky to be so. Haga doesn't quite believe them, but agrees anyway. He is free to leave, but on the way notices an open door and a too-familiar name written on a patient list by the door.
He has never met a Ryou Bakura, but that doesn't stop him from entering. Ryou is awake, watching television, his white hair and pale skin in sharp contrast to the starched white sheets of the hospital, even though the color should be the same.
"Hello," Haga says, not sure what else he can say. The resemblance is...uncanny.
"Hello," Ryou answers politely. "Can...I help you?"
"Yes," Haga says. "Do you mind if I sit here?" He gestures towards a chair by the side of the bed, and Ryou nods.
"What are you in for?" he asks.
The glance Ryou gives him is sharp and cautious, a peculiar response to a peculiar question. "Would you believe me if I told you that an evil spirit tried to kill me?"
"Yes," he answers simply. "I would."
"Saving the world. Time traveling. The usual."
Ryou laughs then, and the sound to Haga is uplifting and perfect. He is perfect. He is the same—completely, utterly, overwhelmingly. Haga didn't lose him at all. Instead, he has merely found the start of something completely different, something he is looking forward to more than he can bear. He thinks of a tree, and a ring, and a thief, and can finally put them all at rest.
"Do you believe me?"
"Of course," Ryou says. "You wouldn't believe half the crazy things I've seen."
Haga leans closer and grins, feeling the glasses starting to slip down his face. He does nothing to stop them. "Try me."