Post-series manga continuity, so Bakura doesn't kidnap Mokuba twice because that would make dating super awkward. Preslash Euroshipping. Then again I guess this could also be read as platonic if you're not a shippy person.
All magic is either entirely made up by me or borrowed from five seconds googling astrology, so any resemblance to real rituals is entirely unintentional.
I have used a thing created by the anime for this because it was my favorite thing ever and I was so mad that they barely ever used it again. I've also borrowed the dub's Shadow Realm a little bit.
Also when I first drafted this, it was almost exactly half the length it is now. Damn that Ryou, he drives me to use too many words. Un beta'd so please hold any mistakes aloft the way Rafiki held Simba so that I and everyone else in the Pridelands can see.
It has been three months since Mokuba had fallen ill. He'd collapsed just after the end of the opening ceremonies for the Euro-Kaibaland park. Seto was assured it was merely a case of overheating in the Mediterranean summer.
He doesn't answer any of the texts that blow up his phone.
Two months and the best doctors in the world take Seto aside and confess they can find nothing wrong with his baby brother. Are they blind? He can't walk, can barely eat and some days Seto wonders if Mokuba is even aware of his hand being held.
He ignores them in class. Their eyes burn into his back.
Four weeks and Seto officially withdraws from school. He could've graduated years ago anyway.
He can see them arguing with a security guard from the window.
Two weeks and the doctors tell him to consider preparing for the worst as Mokuba cries out for his mother in a fever induced delirium.
He calls Yugi.
It's been two weeks since Yugi and his friends moved into his mansion. Honda fumbles a crucial turn in the latest big budget racing game and Mokuba cheers his victory as loud as he can. Anzu gently brushes brittle black hair while Mokuba naps and offers to trim Seto's own. When he wakes up on a futon that's been dragged into Mokuba's room instead of the floor, he knows it's Jounouchi's doing.
Yugi takes charge of the public despite his nerves, using his title as the King of Games to become the temporary new face of Kaiba Corp. He has a knack for deflecting the prying noses of the press, all too eager to be the first to print the tragic tale of the younger Kaiba.
He doesn't thank them - he doesn't see how two words can mean that much to anyone.
It has been five minutes since Yugi has posed a new theory, that what has happened to his baby brother might be a curse. A spell, and he knows someone who knows a thing or two about spells. Seto thought he'd left magic behind in Egypt. Taking his silence as an admonishment, Yugi apologizes and leaves Seto to his thoughts.
He mulls over Yugi's words a little, then puts the three Blue Eyes cards next to Mokuba's bed.
Someone as distinctive looking as Ryou Bakura shouldn't have been easy to forget, but it still takes Seto a while to put the name to a face when he asks Yugi to elaborate on his hunch while they pick apart the minutes from the last quarter review.
Bakura dueled decently enough - he WAS a finalist after all. His occult themed deck was visually interesting, if gimmicky, but Seto sometimes had to wonder if it was actually Bakura dueling. The boy switched from wide-eyed, panicking ingenue to vicious jackal in the blink of an eye. There was almost nothing connecting the two personalities, unlike Yugi and his other self. Or the 'Pharaoh'. Or whatever he was.
In Seto's defense, Bakura then spent half of the rest of the finals unconscious. The other half he'd just plain vanished into thin air, giving the security and legal departments the collective heart attack of a lifetime. He'd reappeared with little fanfare shortly after the finals concluded, escaping the island along with his friends. He'd been a far too quiet bystander when they'd met once more in Egypt, then simply faded into the background noise of the classroom back in Domino.
Maybe spending too much time around the Millennium items and ancient tablets and evil spirits simply granted Yugi and his friends immunity to the bizarre. Yugi certainly doesn't seem too bothered by it all, though he does look a little ill whenever he has to mention the other Bakura, quickly assuring Seto that the vengeful ghost is long gone. Seto hasn't asked a single thing about said vengeful ghost, so he has to wonder who Yugi is really trying to convince there.
"What are the odds that this curse is really Bakura's doing?" Seto murmurs as he searches his pockets for his phone.
"Kaiba, he'd never do such a thing!"
"I'm joking. It was funny. I should probably cancel that hit though."
"You better be... Wait. You wouldn't really put a hit out on someone, right?"
"It's still funny."
It takes a few tries, but eventually Bakura answers Seto's phone call. There's an odd static click to it, like the signal is being filtered. According to Yugi, his other self had made quite a few enemies and Bakura couldn't chance unfamiliar numbers in case they traced him. Frankly it sounds like pure paranoia. His already shaky confidence in Bakura drops, but Yugi's determined face won't let him back down.
"It's Seto Kaiba. Yugi gave me your number."
"I see. I have a bitch of a sore throat, so make it quick."
Well. That wasn't exactly the tone he expects, or remembers. Maybe the other Bakura was more similar to the real Bakura than he thought. Yugi shrugs apologetically, though he doesn't seem at all surprised at the brusque voice of his friend, or the hoarseness.
"Yugi thinks there's a curse on my brother. He's been sick for months and the doctors have tried everything they can come up with. He says you can help me."
He can hear Bakura hum something to himself, like he was pondering a crossword.
"This would be easier in person, but since he's already weak I don't want him catching my thing. What's Mokuba's birthday? And yours?"
He rattles off the information, pretending not to notice Yugi doodling the dates on a loose sheet of paper. He'd managed to keep that secret from them for so long...
"Put me on loudspeaker, unless you feel like repeating everything I say to Yugi. If this really is a curse or malicious spell, then Mokuba's going to need some protection while I get rid of this bug. His birthday makes him a Cancer, so get some pearls and white jade in his room, along with geraniums and ylang ylang-"
"You can't be serious-"
"Don't interrupt. Get him to drink pure Bergamot peel tea, if he can stomach it. If not, place a dry bag of it under his pillow. Draw a salt circle around his bed; it's kind of a cure-all. At the very least, it'll stop anyone in close proximity to Mokuba from being affected too, as well as prevent any new curses from reaching him. Make sure the gems and the flowers are within the salt circle too, obviously."
The relaxed, almost by-the-book nature of Bakura's voice (despite how it clearly pains him to speak) and his complete lack of reaction to his obvious disdain are the only things that keep Seto from hanging up then and there.
In truth, it's comforting to finally speak to someone who is actually confident about what they are saying. The doctors he'd spoken to before had always emphasized that treatment might work, their caution never giving Seto the impression that they thought Mokuba could be saved. They were obviously trying not to give Seto false hope, and he truly couldn't fault them for that, but every single time they failed to make a diagnosis or treatment work it tore at him. They tried experimental drug trial after trial and when they actually seemed to have an effect on Mokuba, it was always negative.
What was an unsolvable medical mystery to everyone else is apparently mundane to Bakura, however. Enough that he's rattling off what sounds like a standard procedure.
Crystals, flowers, tea and salt are all things Seto can focus on, tasks he can complete that meant he might be doing something. Even if it sounds dumb and a part of him still said there was no way he should believe in things that wouldn't look out of place on the back of a trashy magazine. He's been around far too many mysterious and magical events to remain skeptical.
"You should carry some garnets too Kaiba - those stones are shared between Scorpio and Cancer. Once you've carried them for a minimum of six hundred and sixty six seconds, swap them with the garnets in Mokuba's room; the longer you hold them, the greater protective effect they'll have. Garnets mined in China will have the strongest effect."
"666 is a homophone for a lucky phrase in Mandarin. I'm sure you don't want to invoke anything else you might associate with that number."
"Why didn't you just say 'eleven minutes and six seconds'?"
"Which one feels more powerful to you?"
Seto thinks for a moment, then shakes his head. Then remembers Bakura can't see him doing that, but Yugi certainly can and if he doesn't want to be banished to the hallway realm he can lose the grin.
"I could lecture you on how important perception of success is with this sort of thing, but I'll save that for another day and despite your attitude, you sound sincere. Now, this is the important part - all this will do is prevent him from getting any worse. Don't expect him to start running around like he was never sick at all, that's not what any of this is intended for. Anything changes or his condition is still getting worse, let me know and I'll come over."
Barely a minute after Bakura hangs up, Seto's phone blazes to life again, the caller being one of his secretaries. He listens to her message and Yugi flinches as he shoots up from the chair and his hands slam on the table.
He takes a few deep breathes, and when he speaks again his voice is steady, though heavily clipped.
"This client is aware of my brother's condition, I take it."
Seto slumps back down again as the secretary continue.
"Alright. Alright. Let's just get it over with as soon as possible - I want to be in the air within the hour."
Yugi doesn't need to have the situation explained. "I'll call the others and we'll get everything fixed up for you when you get back."
Mokuba is asleep when he leaves. He doesn't risk saying goodbye, because that's like admitting Mokuba could die while he is away.
Seto is gone for the week. Since the start he hasn't left Mokuba's side for more than a day, so Anzu calls him in the morning - Mokuba apparently wasn't impressed when he woke up to a flower arrangement in his bedroom and salt everywhere.
He can hear Mokuba grumbling in the background that it's not the flowers he hates, it's the flower crown. Anzu shoots back that if it'll make him feel any better she'll get everyone else at Kaiba Corp. to wear them too and Seto just knows he's going to come home to hundreds of dress code clarification requests. The mental image of Isono and Fuguta looking stern in full florals has Seto's shoulders shaking.
Two days later, a box arrives at his hotel room. Chinese garnets. He notices his fingers tingle as he puts them in his breast pocket.
Jounouchi sends him a video the same day, of Mokuba pestering Honda for a duel. He's sat upright without someone's arm keeping him there. He's munching on a bar of chocolate when Seto has seen him retch at the taste of water. There's a sparkle to his eyes as he shuffles his deck that Seto hasn't seen for far too long.
Mokuba is getting better.
According to Bakura, he shouldn't be.
He sends the video to Bakura and he responds in minutes.
I won't bore you with the details, but this is very good news for one of my theories. Good news for you too; my cold is gone! I'll head over to the mansion and start setting things up for the counter spell ASAP. It should be ready by the time you return - I figure you won't want to miss the main event - B
Bakura is in the back of the limo that picks him up from the airfield. He's a lot less prickly in person than over the phone, almost unrecognizably so, and Seto finds himself wondering if Yugi really is sure the other Bakura is gone. Then again, the other Bakura probably wouldn't be capable of examining Seto's garnets the way Ryou is doing as he admires their cut. There's a gentle smile on his face as he waxes on about the meaning of the stones and how they link to the Zodiac and Seto is only half listening.
Bakura is calm, so he will be too.
When they arrive home, Bakura dismisses the driver for him. They walk up the path to the door in silence. Seto thinks he sees a curtain twitch on the second floor - not Mokuba's room, however. He stops when he opens the door, Bakura bumping into his back.
The foyer more closely resembles a traditional rock garden, only with salt. There's innumerable lines of salt drawn everywhere, looping into circle after concentric circle. all surrounded by one much larger ring. Unlit purple and black candles are clustered in the corners on ornate metal sticks. He makes a mental note to reimburse Bakura for the cost if this works.
Bakura closes the door behind him and pushes Seto through a single gap in the salt. "I need to draw some energy from you for this spell to work, so please go and sit in the center. You can step over the lines but try not to disturb them, it took me forever to get them this neat."
The air is still and the mansion is far too quiet. Seto wonders why nobody has come to greet them yet. A sudden chill has Seto's teeth chattering; perhaps that's why Bakura is wearing that black coat.
Something inside Seto tells him to run away. That it's not Ryou Bakura he's speaking to right now, that the other Bakura was always good at hiding his true intentions. What's the need for this spell anyway, when Mokuba is clearly feeling better? Why haven't Yugi and his friends come to meet them yet?
He pushes past it as he stands in the center of the salt labyrinth and watches Bakura light the candles.
"This shouldn't take too long, make yourself comfortable."
They're all still grieving for the pharaoh anyway, so why bother them about something as minor your brother fainting? They're just as bad as the press, sniffing for gossip. You didn't think they actually cared, did you?
Just ignore them at school, you'll make a scene and you'll have nothing but pity from them. Do you want that? Do you want those eyes on you forever? Didn't you have your fill of it at the orphanage? You're so greedy.
Don't let them past the guards. They're being childish and they'll distract you from Mokuba. You don't have time for them and they're selfish to demand it.
Don't talk to him. Mokuba doesn't need him or them or anyone who isn't you.
Don't talk to him. You don't need him.
"Hello, you've reached Kame Game! You're speaking to Yugi Mutou, how can I help?"
Don't talk to him.
"It's Kaiba. I don't know what to do."
(BAKURA IS LYING DON'T LISTEN.)
Bakura lights the last candle, but then reaches for something inside his coat. It's a bag of salt and he pours it across the gap in the outer most circle. Seto chokes on the quip he was about to voice the moment the last grain falls. Something in his chest constricts and twists and worms its way around his neck. Seto collapses to his knees and the only thing keeping him from clawing his own throat out is Bakura's grip. When did he cross the salt, why hasn't it affected him at all when Seto feels like he's being eaten from the inside out?
"My apologies for the deception, Kaiba." He whispers. His skin is soft on Seto's wrists but his hold is stronger than steel.
(I TOLD YOU.)
"Once I figured out what was happening, I couldn't let you know. There was never a curse, only a haunting, and the one being haunted wasn't Mokuba."
His face suddenly brightens like they were having a casual chat over breakfast.
"So, which Kaiba do I have the privilege of ridding the world of today?"
Which Kaiba? Which Kaiba?! What kind of question is that? Mokuba is god knows where and Seto is right here and the only other Kaiba he knew is dead, long dead. He'd identified what could be scraped together of his body in the morgue and watched the dirt cover him. He was gone, he was supposed to be gone.
A voice that isn't his crawls out of his mouth. "Show some respect to your elders, boy."
He hasn't heard that voice for years but it still sends the same shivers of hatred and contempt and fear down his spine. He tries to tell Bakura to run, to get away from him before he gets caught but his own voice is seized in ice.
"I don't play nice with onryō, especially when they target children and possess my friends." Bakura says, still smiling but a voice like a snake about to strike. "You were given the correct burial rites, there is no reason for you to still be here -"
"This is MY company, these are MY children and I alone will decide their fates -"
"Don't interrupt. Gozaburo Kaiba, you inhabit this plane for the sole purpose of terrorizing the children you should have cherished more than anything. Exorcising you will do no good; you're too stubborn and frankly I'm not sure if there's any human soul left for me to deliver to the afterlife. Good news for us, I have some friends in dark places. They owe me a few favors and would be more than happy to deal with you."
Bakura releases his hands and skips back somehow not disrupting a single line of salt, standing firm against the blast of energy that erupts from Seto. His black coat flares around him like wings about to unfurl. Shattering glass deafens Seto and static electricity darts across his skin. Bakura gives Seto a playful wink.
"If you can still hear me, Seto Kaiba, do me a favor and don't tell the others that you saw me do what I'm about to do."
Bakura rummages through his coat and fans out his deck, drawing a card and part of Seto would be incredulous if he wasn't tasting cigar smoke and stale coffee in his mouth, if he were able to stop his limbs thrashing against the salt only to be repelled as if there were steel walls between him and Bakura.
"Come forth, Queen of all Fiends - Dark Necrofear!"
He knows that card. He'd seen it at Battle City. A twisted elven creature, cradling a broken child that cackled through shattered jaws, manifests in front of him, more real and crisp than any model he's ever seen rendered in Solid Vision. The figure looms over Seto, the elf's face stern and calculating, dangling the face of the grotesque child doll far too close to his. He can feel its breath on his skin and the fear and rage of Gozaburo's ghost ripple through him. Seto's not sure if he is the one screaming. Maybe it's both of them.
"Gozaburo Kaiba! Prepare yourself for eternity!"
The doll touches his face with an ice cold hand, giggling. The Eye of Anubis flashes on Bakura's forehead and everything stops.
When Seto awakens for the first time, he can taste cinnamon and black pepper. There's an empty thermos flask by his head. He's curled up on the floor, the coat Bakura had been wearing is folded under his head like a pillow. He presses his face against the surprisingly soft material and he can smell rosemary.
Dark Necrofear and that awful child are both gone. The candles have melted to nothing and Bakura is quietly sweeping up the last remnants of scattered salt and glass, apparently unaware of his regaining consciousness. He wonders if he imagined the Eye, since there's nothing marring Bakura's forehead now.
The pragmatist in Seto who desperately wants to pretend those last few minutes of his life never happened wants to call a cleaner in to do that for him, and maybe a repairman for all the windows, but he passes out again before he can suggest it.
When Seto awakens the second time, he is on his bed - the real one, not the futon in Mokuba's room. He hasn't slept there for months.
Bakura and his coat are nowhere to be seen but Yugi and the others pace the room. Mokuba is curled up at his side, snoring up a storm. Their heads are all adorned with crowns made from geraniums and cypress leaves, including his own, and Seto doesn't hold back his laughter.
In the whirlwind of press conferences and interviewing physiotherapists with Yugi for Mokuba and doctors desperate to know how his baby brother is no longer on the verge of death, he doesn't find time to contact Bakura again for almost a week.
Since his calls aren't getting through, he gets his address off Yugi and decides to make a personal visit of it. The landlord is outside sweeping the path from the gate, an old woman even shorter than Yugi's grandpa. She gives him a look, like he's not worth scraping from the bottom of her sandals. She questions him for what feels like hours about who he's visiting, how long he'll be staying and so on before deeming him suitable to enter the building.
There's a weak voice after he knocks at Ryou's door. "It's open, but please don't disturb anything."
Seto delicately picks his away across yet another goddamn salt circle and wonders at what point in his life hating a mineral started to feel perfectly reasonable. The air is heady with lavender and chamomile, symbols of Mercury, Venus and Saturn in black chalk scattered around. Bakura's coat lies on a chair, a number eight carved from vibrant jade pinned to it. There's a phone there too - it doesn't turn on when he taps the screen. Must've ran out out of power.
Bakura himself is lying flat on the floor, within the center of the concentric rings. There's a laptop with a camera feed next to him, showing the hallway just outside his door. Where the charging cable crosses the salt, it's buried in little mounds like ant hills. Bakura is sweating yet ashen and his eyes are closed tight in pain. He looks far too close to how Mokuba did on a bad day for Seto's liking, but then his eyes open and a weary smile appears.
"I was wondering when I'd hear from you. How's Mokuba doing?"
"He's getting stronger every day."
"How about you?"
Seto looks around and spots a beanbag. It's too low and awkward to be comfortable with his long legs, but he manages. "I'm not sure. I feel like..."
"... Like when you wash clothes and they come back less comfortable, only instead of clothes it's your skin? Possessions suck, even when the spirit is benevolent. He didn't have a hold on you for long, so it shouldn't take long for it to pass. I know the feeling, trust me. So does Yugi."
The metaphor is odd, but it works. He wonders how long it took Yugi and Bakura to feel normal again, if they ever did. Bakura winces through his teeth.
"How about you Bakura? What's... all this?"
Bakura closes his eyes again, a shudder passing through him that he doesn't try to hide from Seto. "I invoked some powerful things back there. Now I have to make sure all that dark energy is gone from me, but that's kinda tough when it doesn't want to leave. I've been pretty much entirely stuck in this circle since I first got home - big surprise, someone's feeling stubborn."
"You're talking like this energy is sentient."
"That's because it is."
They're both quiet for a long time after that - Bakura because he falls asleep not much later while Seto wonders if he should tell Yugi what Bakura is up to.
He decides against it as he watches Bakura's chest rise and fall in slumber, breath hitching every so often but not enough to wake. Bakura hasn't told them who possessed Seto after all, just that he purged an evil spirit. He isn't sure what Mokuba would think if he knew he had returned, however briefly, and tried to kill them both. He's also not sure that he could stop himself from spilling all the details about everything that man put them through once he started.
He's saving that for if he ever gets drunk enough to forget doing it in the morning.
Bakura stirs eventually, apologizing for falling asleep without noticing. He rolls over and struggles to sit on his knees. Apparently the purification process is over, but like a less severe version of Mokuba, the days spent immobile have left their mark.
Seto slips from his chair and reaches out to steady him. They sit like that for a while, Bakura shaking off his grogginess while Seto listens to the sounds of the city outside and Bakura's breathing as he rests against his chest.
Bakura breaks the quiet when he lifts an arm, sniffing his sleeve. He grimaces. "Ugh, I stink. How on earth can you stand touching me?"
He doesn't wait for Seto to answer as he pushes himself up. Though wobbly on his feet, he manages to stagger his way to the bathroom. Seto is left sitting on the floor as he hears the sound of a shower starting. Bakura's voice soon emerges from behind the door.
"Sorry about being so rude, but I think making you put up with my grossness any longer is ruder. It was nice to see you again, Kaiba."
"Call me Seto."
"Alright. In that case, you can call me Ryou."
Seto takes the cue to leave, but stops at the door. His voice sounds far too loud when he works up the nerve to speak.
"I'm having a party this weekend. It's private, just Mokuba and I - and Yugi's gang because they'd show up even if I didn't invite them. Mokuba wants to meet you. You saved his life. Our lives. Thank you."
There's silence for a while, and part of Seto wonders if Ryou hasn't fallen asleep standing up.
"You're welcome. I'd love to."