Part I – the exposition –
In a single, solitary room two men sit around a table. The table itself is a plain, light wood, circular, the only piece of furniture in the room save the two chairs they sit on and the one that remains empty. The blond wood, the dark green paint on the walls, peeling at the corners—it reminds the first man of the type of place he used to hole himself up in with the Rare Hunters, the kind of place that lingers on the edges of civilization, where fights break out both outside its windows and inside, and the refrigerator is always stocked with beer and visitors come at all hours of the night.
“Marik,” the second man says, raising his glass almost in a toast.
“Bakura,” the first acknowledges. His own glass contains nothing but water—the thief’s glass, something stronger and darker. “To what do I owe this honor? You come to see me without your other half…no chaperones on this visit?”
Bakura’s glass hits the table with a clunk and the sloshing of wine over the rim. Marik nudges his own with a finger, watching the way the condensation forms circles on the wood.
“I realize when I am being mocked, Ishtar,” Bakura growls. “You forget we owe you nothing. You are the guest here—we have allowed you to stay within our mind at our mercy.”
“You mean your other half? You forget you are just as much a prisoner as I am,” Marik says. “For one who spends even less time at the forefront of one’s own mind, you have a lot to say on the subject. What do you want, thief?”
“Exactly what you said,” the thief responds. “I have been stuck within a golden object and the minds of its bearers for thousands of years, and now I find myself within yours. Do you have any concept of one thousand years, let alone two? Or three?”
“You look fabulous for your age, then,” Marik taunts calmly. He knows he has only to wait out the moment until his own body is his to return to again. He will not have to make deals with either of them again, although he prefers to work with this one—the Bakura before him, the angrier one with his own tanned skin and that familiar shock of white hair, dressed in such heavy, rough clothing.
“You will not get control,” Marik continues. “You will never take control from him, and he will never give it to you. This is the most you will get—snatches of real feeling, superimposed on your mind, the barest hint of what reality is really like. My advice? Take what you can get.”
“The two of us together can overpower him,” Bakura says, leaning forward across the table. “Either you will help me, or I will convince him to evict you. You’re a customer who doesn’t pay rent. What did you possibly provide him that was enough to convince him to let you stay here in the first place?”
“Are you upset that you aren’t particularly useful to him, or that he recognizes this?” Marik takes a quick sip, the cold water cooling his throat. “I’ll help you. Not for any reasons of yours, however—I just enjoy tormenting him. The opportunity comes so infrequently.”
Bakura grins lazily, and the action is so intimately familiar that Marik could almost believe he was watching the real Bakura sitting across from him instead of the Egyptian shade. Ancient Egyptian, if he was to be believed.
“You’re just like him,” Marik continues. “You look like him, you act like him…how much more is there? How deep do the similarities run?”
Bakura tosses back his glass, draining it in a single gulp. “Would you like to find out?”
“And if I do?”
“Then you are out of luck,” Bakura says. “I want nothing that he does.”
Part II – the argumentation –
Bakura paces—the prime, the original, the one with the power, the one in control—and Marik watches him with an almost bemused expression. It is so rare to see anger on Bakura’s face when he is usually so unmoved, so prepared for every single action and reaction that it is possible to encounter. He supposes the man has finally found a situation beyond his planning and provisions.
“I want you to do something for me,” Bakura says.
“To repay your favor?” Marik’s irritation is a guise worn thin by the fact that he has had to play entertainer to two different versions of the same man. It is exhausting. He has no time for something like this, but inside the interior of a mind he can have as much time as he needs.
“Time to pay up. You want room and board, do you?”
Bakura stops and crosses to stand behind Marik, threading his arms around his neck and resting his chin against the other’s shoulder. It would have been comforting, if it wasn’t such an egoistic gesture on his part. “We never discussed the method of payment.”
Marik shrugs him off, although it takes some effort. He would be willing to take the other up on his offer, but he didn’t want to give Bakura even more power. He had enough over him as it was. Even more than he knew. “You get the Millennium Rod once I recover my body. Shouldn’t that be enough?” At Bakura’s look of incredulity, he continues.
“I wonder, are you doing this because you actually want to or is it because you think it is actually going to work? Are you trying to impress me?” Marik stretches out a hand, allowing his fingertips to lightly brush the side of Bakura’s face, dropping off at his chin. He’s seen the scar on the thief’s face, and wonders what the tissue would feel like. He doesn’t particularly like scars, and he’s glad that this Bakura doesn’t have any.
Bakura appears un-affronted. “You want to debate tonight, Marik? Fine, let us debate.”
“And the subject?” Marik asks. “Shall we discuss loyalty as you plan to double-cross me? Shall two criminals discuss honor? Shall we debate crime itself, or perhaps thieves—”
“That is exactly the subject I wish to discuss with you,” Bakura says. “I believe my Egyptian counterpart is planning to deceive me.”
“So all of the above, then?” he replies, arching an eyebrow, irritated that he can’t make the movement quite as elegant as when Bakura does it.
“The thief Bakura plots against me,” he says. “I want you to uncover his motives and expose them. He will be brought before me and made to answer for his deceit.”
“And if it is not?” Marik asks. “What proof do you have?”
“I have left him alone too long,” Bakura continues. “Left him alone in the deepest parts of my mind for too many years. He no longer trusts me.”
“And did he ever?”
“To what end? He is merely the byproduct of a glittering golden curse sprung by a madman and followed by many more. There is nothing that I cannot do by myself—”
Marik interrupts him then, raising his hands as civilly as he can. “That was proved wrong when you lost to Yugi, Bakura.”
“Technicalities,” he sneers. “Nonetheless I do not need the thief. What can he do for me other than get in my way?”
“Convert him to your side, then,” Marik says. He does not move, even as Bakura moves another few steps closer. “He will be of great use to you yet, if you will let him.” He pauses, smirking, knowing from the infuriated expression on Bakura’s face that this is one expression that is superior on his own face.
“Perhaps I will convert him to mine, then,” he continues. “I collect allies everywhere, and find no trouble in it.”
“He is mine.” Bakura lunges forward, grabbing Marik’s arm and twisting his body to face his own, snarling every word. “Mine to do with as I please. Mine to toss away, mine to use, and mine to decide his fate.”
He leans closer then, shifting so suddenly, all malice gone as he tucks an arm around Marik’s neck once again, brushing his fingertips against his shoulder as his lips hover over Marik’s ear, close enough to whisper, close enough to, at a whim, let his lips press against the shell of skin.
But he doesn’t. He hovers in place, waiting with the hint of a buried smile as Marik shifts just that much closer, moving in millimeters, wanting the contact, that press of skin.
“What do you think you are doing?” Marik hisses, and Bakura exhales lightly to let his breath do what his lips should.
“Converting you,” he says, and his lips press once against the side of Marik’s neck. “Let the thief come to you. Get the information out of him. Bring me what I want, and you can have what you desire.”
After a second the sensation vanishes, and it’s as if it never happened at all.
Part III – the description –
Bakura’s soul chamber is a mix of modern style, almost harsh in the way that it so clearly strikes a reverse to the archaic, exotic style that the thief would prefer. He is not fond of sharing, and yet he still finds the thief following him, bound to him. The thief is unmoving, unspeaking. There may be quiet, but with him there is no peace.
“The outside world,” the thief asks, “describe it for me.”
“It is not enough to hear,” Bakura tells him, “it is something you must see for your own eyes. Maybe one day I will let you.”
“But for now…” and the thief closes his eyes, regarding him through closed lids and a tilt of his head. “Tell me.”
“I suppose you can have this one little thing.” Bakura himself can see it as he pleases, and it unsettles him that it should have as great an impact on a person as it does. Perhaps he has learned the way to the thief’s alliance, then.
He illustrates it for the thief, then—the air, the land, the sea, and the sky. All that he can see—all that can be seen—and sets its image on fire. He describes the many ways that things can be destroyed and undone, the many ways that man can burn. Not all, but one—the one in particular, who will be the very last.
“In Egypt, I almost destroyed him once,” Bakura the thief whispers. “I had a chance…I could have done it, I know I could have. I was so close…”
“Could you?” Bakura asks, and in his mind he can almost see it, almost feel it, almost taste it—
“Yes,” the thief says. “I know I could have!”
“Would you like a second chance?” And already a plan is forming, a way to re-create the events of the past but with victory assured, a victory at his hands instead of the Pharaoh’s. And the thief is uniquely suited for such a task.
“Work with me,” Bakura continues. “Together we can achieve what you alone could not.”
“Yes…” the thief says. Bakura wonders if he wears the same pensive, assured expression the other does. “A second chance…”
“And in return, I will give you that which you desire most…”
“My freedom, my triumph, my joy,” the thief whispers. “For thousands of years, I have not rested, I have only thought of the possibility, and the opportunity—”
He does not wish to credit any part of his plan to Marik, but he knows that somewhere a part of himself is laughing at that fact. The man already owes too much to him in return, and Bakura is loath to add something to his own list of favors.
Somehow, the next time he sees Marik Ishtar, just from the slight downward tilt of his head and the knowing glance in his eyes, he knows that Marik knows—that it was he who knew everything from the beginning, and has drawn them all closer together for it.
Part IV – the narration –
Marik faces the thief again, at the circular wooden table of blond wood, but this time the two stand at either end, facing each other.
“I could have done that for myself,” the thief says. “This changes nothing.”
“Of course. I didn’t expect it to.” For now, they are on the same side. Just a few days prior they were not. Marik expects that two days from now, they will be on opposing sides once more.
“Then what do you expect?”
“I expect to get whatever I can.”
“I already told you—” he starts, but Marik interrupts him as he begins to move from his side of the table towards the thief’s.
“You did, but I don’t believe you. You are exactly alike, so you couldn’t have meant what you said earlier…you are him. You want everything he does. Including me.”
“I don’t want you,” he insists, turning ever so slightly to keep his body facing Marik’s as he approaches.
“Liar.” He says it in a breath, the corners of his mouth twisting up, and Bakura hates the way it makes him feel like he’s lost all control and yet he hasn’t lost a thing. How can losing still feel like a victory? “I don’t believe you,” Marik continues, “and I will get your counterpart to show you something…to give you what you want most.”
“Which is?” he asks in a breath, hitching slightly as Marik reaches for him.
He had wondered if the thief would feel any different from Bakura. As Marik lets his knuckles graze over the exposed skin of his shoulder, he marvels at the difference. His skin is warmer, more pliant, and at the first touch he realizes he wouldn’t mind a thousand more.
“You’re not stuck. I’ll set you free.”
He closes his eyes.
Part V – the epilogue –
He opens his eyes—his real eyes, Bakura’s eyes, it doesn’t matter anymore—but the colors that saturate every object around him seem to be brighter than he’d ever thought possible. The cloudless sky, so bright to his unadjusted eyes, seems to be the clearest, most perfect thing he’s ever seen in his life.
He can feel the sun on his face; it isn’t the Egyptian sun, but Bakura has promised him that he shall feel that again, and soon, but for now this is an acceptable substitute for his memories.
Thousands of years of memories, for the one moment that encapsulates them all; the one moment of freedom that will grow to many more, to a second chance to life again, to win where he once had lost.
He stands alone. Perhaps it was not altogether perfect, after all—if he had others at his left and right, it could possibly be described with that word.
For now, though, it is enough—and he will take whatever he can get.