Title: Tomorrow Today
Summary: The Thief King is feeling persecuted. Blame it on the unknown ghosts, strange torture and the space-time anomaly.
Threesome: Ryou Bakura x Dark Bakura x Thief King Bakura
Theme/Challenge: #99 - voice
Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh! is Kazuki Takahashi's brainchild. It makes me no money whatsoever, and ditto for this fic.
1. What we see in the memory world is a corrupted version of what happened in the Pharaoh's and the Thief King's time. This fic is written as what "really" happened after Bakura won the Ring.
2. Shora: the word for that headdress Bakura wears in his first appearance in AE.
3. It's mentioned in the fic that names hold magic; this doesn't hold true only for amnesiac pharaohs, but was apparently a common belief in ancient Egypt.
4. Constructive criticism is welcome.
It had been a long fall.
Bakura had taken care to curse the former priest of the Millennium Ring with each crawled inch out of the old pharaoh's tomb, and had done so more vehemently when he'd had to endure the pain of getting up to walk. The mercy of all his bones being whole was overshadowed by the fact that he was lacerated, stiff, bruised, and feverish from inflamed cuts. He really didn't need that when he was already half-drunk from having boulders dropped on his head.
Injured as he was, there was no choice for Bakura but to sleep as much as he could once he reached Kuru Eruna. It was galling for the very king of the thieves to sleep away every night, but he needed to rest and heal. So every day at sunset he lay down in a house where the roof held and the walls did not have too many holes, and waited for his body to drive its weaknesses out.
And every day at sunset he felt touches on his face, and could not tell where they came from.
Though they created a soft pressure, the touches had no substance; they had no heat or dampness. They could be best described as ghostly, and since ghosts were his constant companions, he judged it best to ignore the matter. He absorbed himself in various tasks - attempting to unlock the power of the Millennium Ring, or going to villages where he could steal ointment for his wounds, or exercising his stiff muscles - but the strength of the touches grew in intensity until they could not be ignored.
As he passed sleeplessly through the nights, Bakura thought of what kind of hands might be touching him. He found that he did not imagine hands that petted, but rather hands that washed clothes or butchered an animal. Somehow, it felt like the invisible hands were doing work. There was some kind of distance between him and those hands, otherwise the straight strokes of their movements would have been as hard as the motions of a carpenter carving a piece of wood.
"I've got scars for you already," he said once as he tried to sleep, tracing the old cuts across his right eye and cheek. "See? You don't need to try and make more." The ghosts of Kuru Eruna floated thickly around him to inspect what he showed them, then dispersed, unconcerned.
The itches continued, and he turned onto his other side, pressing his forehead to the cool wall. He'd suspected it wasn't his ghosts as they had never touched him before, but if not them, then who? It couldn't be beings from the darkness beyond the seal; he'd only won the Millennium Ring, which he couldn't even use yet, and he needed all the Items to let those beings reach this world.
The ghosts didn't care about the touches, whispering only of their wishes for vengeance, and of secrets that allowed him to rob without aggravating his injuries much. They paid attention to little besides their champion's safety, so he knew he would not be harmed by the touches.
But he could not sleep. He had not slept beside a living person since he was a child, and now he was under someone's hands for the length of every night.
The intangible hands followed him to each resting-place, and could not be grasped and held away. He could not bite his tormentor even as his lips were traced. Pulling faces did nothing to dislodge the deft, sure movements. When he put his face in his hands the touches continued to trace his features, impersonal and unshakeable.
Then one night they struck down to his chest, to where his heart beat - he could only breathe in ragged gasps after that, unable to calm. He wrapped his coat around himself so tightly that it almost tore, but it was no protection.
He was being used, he could feel it, but he thought he might have offered himself gladly - the acceptance of such torment would prove his strength - if only he knew the reason for it! What was this, what? He'd found out a thousand secrets, from his ghosts and from the darkness, but what was this?
The next day, on his way to a neighbouring village for food, he reached the peak of the mountains bordering Kuru Eruna and felt the dawn sun on his back; he was hardly surprised that he still felt the touches, too.
They remained throughout the trip, into the village and out again, and now he was not surprised at all; but anger seared him (because he was afraid).
He trudged back towards Kuru Eruna, feeling the touches migrate until they were no longer on the surface of his skin, but were in his body, scraping across his nerves. The purposeful hands had become unsteady and shook as they worked, and Bakura wondered if it was because he was also shaking.
The pharaoh's men would find him soon, he thought in dull misery. The priests who bore the Torque and the Eye could act as guides. He had not healed enough to outrun them or for his ba to be at full strength. He might not be able to pit Diabound against Obelisk again ... and there were three of the fabled gods. What if one or both of the others were stronger than Obelisk? He had the Millennium Ring now, but it was of little use. Though he had enough magic to call his ka, he did not seem to have enough to control the Ring.
So instead of strength all he had was Touches, curving along the emptiness of his stomach and curling around his intestines, tickling the soles of his feet and tugging each hair on his body in turn.
Helplessness overwhelmed him, and Bakura threw his head back and howled. His pack of provisions fell from his shoulder as he punched into the air. He fell backwards onto the sand, screaming his horror. Diabound burst into existence, called before he was aware of doing it, and searched for an assailant.
Everywhere there were touches, touches, twitches, trembles ... and...
"Stop screaming, stop, stop!"
The voice was shrill with panic, boyish and unfamiliar. Bakura leapt up and joined Diabound in searching, but there was no one in sight.
"What are you doing?" Bakura roared. This voice was the only unknown thing beside the torment, this had to be the one doing it! This was it!
"You're not here, stop - ... no, oh no, wh... why..."
"You! What are you doing to me?"
"No..." The sound of crying was the only other reply, but suddenly Bakura was untouched. He was free; it was just himself, with only clothes and bandages on his body. He stilled where he stood and simply felt it.
Then he jerked with shock as another voice spoke. It was a curiously hoarse whisper, trembling with something like awe: "It's worked."
Bakura reached down and picked up his pack. He took out the water-skin and drank to ease his raw throat, and rolled his shoulders to release the tension in his muscles. He let Diabound fade away because he was no longer afraid or angry, and would not try to fight anymore; he would simply find out WHAT WAS GOING ON.
"You're new. I don't know you," he said to the noonday air, head tilted back. Abruptly, he lowered his head again - as much as the voices seemed to be coming from above, the sun was too bright for him to keep looking up.
"I'm sorry..." the boyish voice wept. "Please, Bakura, why..."
"Hush, hush," he said, trying to ease the frustration out of his voice. "Don't cry. I'm not angry anymore."
Dry sobs rained down from out of the blue. "Don't ... speak..."
Bakura stayed quiet, clenching his fists tighter to keep hold of his patience as the boy calmed down. It wasn't as bad as waiting for the ghosts of the children to stop crying, or their mothers - but what was happening was impossible. Only the villagers could talk to him in this way!
"Tell me where you're from," he demanded, tugging fretfully at his shora so that it gave more shade. He half-thought he had been in the sun too long. "Tell me who you are and why you belong with me."
"What!" the voice gasped.
"You're where only my family and friends are! You can't whisper into my ears from nowhere and not be mine!" He stumbled as he ran after and away from the voice, fell to his knees and hands and scrambled up from the scalding sand. Even as he got to his feet he searched the sky for the source of the voices, but it remained empty.
"My new ghost!" he cried. "Who killed you?"
"Ghost?" said the voice, high-pitched in surprised, and then babbled nonsense. "It's just a card! Bakura, what's happening?"
"I don't know!" Bakura shouted. "You should tell me!"
The other voice spoke again. "I believe he was talking to me, Thief King."
"Bakura is not a common name!"
"Nonetheless, it's my name too. But ... Thief King, I have a question for you too: Do you recognise me?" he asked. This one sounded as if he was possibly older than the other and was just as unfamiliar.
The Thief King fought an urge to lower his head into his hands in confusion. "I should, but I don't. And you're not like ghosts. I can't see you, and I don't know you. Why is this happening?"
The voice was steady now, its awed shakiness making way for smugness: "Listen, and I will tell you of a great triumph: One day, you will have even greater power than you already do. That is when you ... will be me. I am you, King of Thieves; born of Kuru Eruna and made to be its champion."
Bakura listened, but was distracted by something: throughout the speech he heard his familiar ghosts, as always - but only just. They weren't screaming of vengeance, but listening and murmering about what was said... and did not react. The words should have been blasphemy to them, but they did not protest.
Through the numbness the bizarre speech caused Bakura, the fact that he did not allow others to speak the name of his home slammed against his disbelief. The stories that remained of the thieves' village were tavern tales, and he attacked anyone who spoke those lies. Besides, there was something amusing about everyone forgetting the thing that would some day ruin them.
If ever there was anything he would say to prove that he was himself, it was what had been said. He was of Kuru Eruna, and he was its champion; that was all.
"But--" Bakura said, without any real protest, simply because the situation was impossible. "But how could you be me? Wouldn't we each know what the other was thinking, or--" He broke off. There didn't seem to be a way to speak of it.
"Thief King, I am you, and I am also no longer you. I live in a later age, and I have left behind certain unnecessary things that you still carry. I have changed through the ages, and I've traded many of my memories to be where I am now. And that, I suppose, would be why I did not know that I would talk to myself today..." The voice sounded fascinated.
Bakura walked back to where his pack lay in the sand, dug the beer out of it this time, and drank deeply. "I don't understand. Explain everything to me," he ordered, as he would do to any of his ghosts.
"Please explain," the younger one whispered; Bakura supposed the boy was speaking to ... his future self. "Why is this happening? How can we hear this ... through a card? How can the picture move?"
"My RPG works!" Bakua's future self said. A laugh of some length and much pleasure resounded through the sky, and when it died away the voice remained rich with it. "I'll tell you how we're speaking to the Thief King. You know that we'll play with real people in this game we're building, my host - and let me explain to my former self that this game is a powerful weapon - and the cards bring these people into the game. It seems that my power is so great that the Thief King has been pulled in rather deeply."
"Cards?" said Bakura doubtfully. "I have never heard of 'cards', and I've travelled throughout Kemet."
"It seems the magic can't translate everything we say ... well, Thief King, this card is a painting of a person on a piece of papyrus."
A painting, Bakura thought with fierce clarity; a drawing composed by hardworking hands making sharp, defined motions with a stylus ... it was like what he'd felt."Is that what's been touching me? Have you been scratching my likeness onto papyrus and etching me to madness for some game? Why would I torment myself like that?"
"Touching you?" said his future self. "My host, what have you been doing with this card?"
"Nothing!" yelped the boy. "I've just been drawing!"
"I know!" bellowed Bakura. "Your stylus has been scratching my face and my body and inside me for nights on end, and all through today!"
"I'm sorry." The boyish voice was breathless with fear. "I didn't know! Your card is done now. I finished it when you were yelling, earlier."
"You felt it," Bakura's future self mused. "Perhaps the connection is stronger with you because I use the same magic as that Ring you wear. Perhaps this has happened because I am you..." He trailed off into a silence laden with thought. "I wonder, does it still work?"
And by the feather of Ma'at that would one day damn him, there it was: a touch to his face, along the line of his jaw. "Don't!" Bakura barked.
"It does," his future self said. "I would have thought my magic had finished with that. I believe that what you felt was the process of enough of your soul and body being taken so the magic could make you live in the game."
Bakura sucked in a mass of air in horror. "You've been stealing my soul? I need that! Diabound will be weak otherwise!"
His future self snorted. "It's my soul as much as yours. If I'm willing to give it in order to win, then you are too. That's why you're in this game - you are your own tool, Thief King. Your devotion will be more useful than anything else!" Fleeting, teasing touches crossed his scars. They were as insubstantial as the others had been, but revulsion hit Bakura viscerally.
"Don't!" He hunched over to keep the beer in his lurching stomach, then yelled into the sky. "Don't ever do it again!"
"Wasn't I handsome when I was angry, host?" his future self said smugly.
Bakura's anger was a haze in his head, turning inwards because there was nothing outside to fight. "Why have you spent weeks playing with me as if chipping at a wood block, carving me inside out, and this game, why a game if I could kill--"
"No. You can't," said the boy, so suddenly that the words seemed reflexive. The voice was loud with hollow bravery.
"I still don't know who you are!" Bakura accused. The haze faded as his senses sharpened onto that voice. "You can't be me too!" This voice sounded pained and weak. He would have his ghosts strangle its owner if it dared to claim it was him.
"Ah, yes!" said his future self. "You must meet your good host, Thief King! Let me introduce you."
"Tell me what he has to do with me!"
With wicked delight, his future self continued. "This is the craftsman who made your card so skilfully that it lets us speak to each other. I couldn't have made this game without him. And you would like to know his name, I'm sure - his own is Ryou, and his family name? It is Bakura."
He wondered if his name could really be that common one day, but part of him lingered on the idea that if it were a family name...
The voice of his future self crept into his ears. "He is of your blood, Thief King, and that is why he bears your name. No matter what he says, he does belong to you."
"I know," said the boy, broken-voiced Ryou of Bakura's clan. "You don't have to keep saying it."
Bakura saw nothing for a moment. When his eyes focused again, he stared into the distance, watching the dunes moving gently to and fro. Eventually he realised that it was he who was swaying, not the landscape.
"But..." Bakura said, the word flying into the air and barely bothering his mouth about it. "Bakura is not the name of my family. It's just mine." He stared into the empty sky. "Is he ... Son?"
"No!" Ryou of Bakura shouted. "I have a father!"
"Perhaps your mother lied about who it was?" If he had fathered any children, after all, the mother would most likely be a whore...
Bakura's future self cackled. "We're ahead of you by more than just one generation, King of Thieves. This is certainly not my son."
Bakura's mind worked slowly around this. "But if he is of my blood, he has an ancestor ... so I have a child, somewhere?"
The villagers roared in Bakura's ears, all at once. His family was pleased, except that they hated him for not passing on their name; the others hated, hated, hated that he had a line to continue and they no longer did.
He ignored them. "My name survived..." Bakura said, and almost felt dizzy again.
"He looks a bit like you, too," said his future self, sounding amused. "He has your hair."
"Yes," said his future self. "People don't think it's demonic these days, but it gets him in enough trouble in other ways."
"He doesn't sound very strong," Bakura remarked after some thought.
"I've had to protect him."
"It's a contract," said Ryou of Bakura, so subdued that the hint of bite in his voice was almost unnoticeable. "He protects me in return for using me."
"Good." Bakura nodded again. With a rush of relief, he could move with the certainty that his legs would not give way. He bent and picked up his pack, settling it over his shoulder. "Then he always will. That's family," he told Ryou of his clan.
"He's not - and that's not how family works!"
"Hush. Ryou." He added the name hurriedly, and wanted to say it again - names held magic, and that word was something he could believe in - but continued to speak to the boy instead. "Don't deny me. You speak to me like the villagers do. You can only be family. And you're alive..."
Alive. It was a strange little thing. Even the villagers quietened at that.
"We will serve each other when we meet," Bakura said. "I - I look forward to it."
At the edge of his hearing, he picked up the sound of a sharp gasp. Then Ryou said, "You're very strange," sounding odd himself.
"You will show respect!" snapped Bakura's future self.
"I've been called worse things," Bakura said. "Ignore that. I have a much more important worry." Bakura followed his own advice, taking a moment to push his strange new knowledge aside and think his request through. How idiotic of him not to have done this the moment he'd learnt that this version of himself came from the future.
"Oh yes?" said his future self.
"I would ask if you've accomplished my goal, my other self - and how long it will take - and how you won the Millennium Items. But you said that you didn't remember this meeting. If I'd learnt today how to defeat the Pharaoh, I would remember it forever. And if I learnt something now that I wasn't supposed to, my future would change."
"And I would not allow that," his future self said. "I'm glad that even as a young man I had the sense to realise these things."
"But do me one favour!" Bakura said. "Tell me how to make the Millennium Ring work! I've won it, but it's dormant. I can work out how to use it by myself, of course - but it's taking time. The sooner I learn to use it, my future self and my descendant's son, the sooner I'll be where you are. I will be you, and I will be with you."
"There is no finer thing to be than me, after all," his future self said with enormous satisfaction. "You have such an interesting idea..."
Bakura waited, straining upwards with eagerness. It was Ryou who spoke next. "But if you tell him that, wouldn't you still change everything? If you change the past, then you change the future ... it's bad enough that we're talking to you like this, isn't it?"
"I said before, host, that I've given away many memories. I don't remember this encounter at all," Bakura's future self said. "I think ... Thief King Bakura, I believe I can give you what you ask with no loss. The power of the Ring is an intrinsic part of me. This has been the case for so long that I don't remember how I first unlocked its power!"
The luxury of that! Bakura imagined having that power within him, as mundane a part of him as his hands. He managed to speak only with difficulty. "But if you don't remember, how can you tell me what to do?"
"I've learnt more about the Millennium Items than you can dream, and I can reason how to make it work." There was a pause, and then his future self spoke in a voice that was first low and musing, and grew steadily more assured. "Well ... the nature of the Items in your time was to be passed from heir to heir ... you'll have to make it your own before it will work for you." There was a thoughtful pause. "A blood sacrifice will work best."
"What should I get the blood from?" Bakura asked with some trepidation. "It's not something like a white calf with a single hair of black, is it?"
"You want to make the Ring yours!" his future self snapped. "Use your blood! Who else do you want to wield it?"
That gave Bakura pause.
He almost wondered why he hesitated, but instinct made him examine the question even though his future self hadn't really meant it as one. When the half-formed idea became clearer and he saw the whole of it, Bakura was pleased.
"I want his hands," said Bakura.
"What?" said his future self, sounding perplexed.
"Ryou's hands," Bakura said. "When he was making my card, I could feel the strength of his hands. They work well. I'd like them to work for me now, too."
"The host?" said his other self. "You can't have him use it - how is his blood supposed to get to you - are you an idiot?"
Bakura did not pay attention. This was about his ghosts, and they could do many things. They defied death and destroyed living souls; they told him secrets that no other commoner could hope to hear; they fed the power of the Items and called pieces of hell to Earth. It was their blood in the Items, but extra strength never went amiss. He would give them everything else, and Ryou would give him something powerful and precious, because he was family too. "Ryou, card-maker! Lend your help to me!"
"But my - your other self gave me magic to use while I made the cards. I can't do anything magical by myself." Ryou sounded as confounded as Bakura's future self.
"Even this fool agrees with me!" his future self said. "Use one of the needles on the Ring, Thief King. Put it in your flesh--"
Bakura bared his teeth at the sky. "Ryou, I want you to help - you must!"
"But I really can't..." Ryou's voice faltered, then he said, "Yes! I will!"
Bakura flung his arms out in anticipation, leaving the Ring uncovered and accessible on his chest.
"What?" said his future self.
Ryou's voice echoed in the air in a grunt of muffled pain - in the next instant the Millennium Ring flashed brighter than the sun's glare, and it felt as if that light was inside Bakura's chest too, pushed into him by a touch hard enough to make him stumble.
He staggered to a standstill and breathed in deeply. He thought carefully for a moment, feeling for changes in himself, and said, "It's warm." He blinked a bit in the face of this revelation. "Aah. Too warm..." He shook his shoulders free of his coat; in doing so, he looked down, and shuddered in delight. A smear of blood, from no wound of his, dribbled down his chest. The Ring gleamed brightly where it touched the blood.
"Did it work?" Ryou asked. "I cut my hand and put it on the card, on your chest, but I don't know if that only works for touches or should I paint it on--I'm babbling." The anxious voice ceased, then said urgently, "Did it work?"
"Mmm," Bakura said, turning his face into the breeze; it was a soothing on his heated skin.
"Are you all right, Bakura? Did the Ring hurt you?" Ryou asked.
Bakura sighed from deep in his belly. "The Ring is finally working. Its power is healing my wounds." He laughed. "I knew you were a good choice."
His future self muttered in a distracted monotone. "The host's blood ... but he's descended from us, so enough similarities for it to work ... it's the same ... the Thief King can use the Ring." Then there was a pause - and his next words were as direct and sharp as knives. "How dare you! You could have changed everything - ruined everything!"
"But I - but I helped him," Ryou said. "And that means all three of them are safe. It's a contract, parasite! I built the RPG so you'd spare Honda, gave you myself for Anzu, and this is for Jounouchi! You made me choose between them-" he paused to shake off the quaver in his voice "-but they're all protected now!"
Bakura seated himself on his coat, the better to get rid of his bandages and bask in the sensation of healing, and wondered about the use of the word 'parasite'; but for some reason his curious, nearly delirious whisper was instead, "Gave yourself?"
They did not hear him. "Oh, really. Do you know what you've done?" his other self demanded hotly, and his voice became a hiss. "You gave that Item your blood and now it's waiting for you. Everything that happened because your father gave you the Ring? You have ensured it!"
"No," said Ryou, the calmness in his voice strong enough to overwhelm and as gentle as the feeling of wellbeing pouring through Bakura. "The Ring is made to find things. Besides ... you're you. You never stop for anything. If what you wanted was a host, you would have found me no matter what. But now you're not allowed to touch those three!"
"I won't," Bakura promised.
There was an abrupt silence.
"You've given me enough. You can have your friends," Bakura said magnanimously. It sounded like they were speaking about people, though he'd never heard names like those they used. He was proud when they didn't correct him - he'd guessed right.
"The fact that it is my decision has no bearing?" his future self asked archly.
"It is your decision. I made it because I am you." And Bakura laughed as the healing finished, and all his strength was back - with that of the Millennium Ring added to it.
"We should celebrate!" he cried. "The power is unlocked!" He took the skin of beer from his pack and drank. Beer spilt down his chin, and he did not dry it because he laughed too hard. He lifted the beer to the sky in salute.
"Enjoy it," said his other self. "But we have a game to finish building, and my rebellious host needs all the time he can get."
Bakura's arm dropped - beer ran down his legs, and he moved to cork the skin. His fingers worked slowly as he said, "It sounds as if you're going."
"The cards are not intended for communication. You reached out with your magic to make the connection, and I'm maintaining it so that we can talk. But I have other things to do."
"You shouldn't be able to leave," Bakura said, "but then, you're not like my other voices..."
They would be gone. As unimaginable as it was to have new ghosts ... it was equally impossible to think of anyone who belonged to him leaving. None of them could even think of it, and they howled in resistance to his future self's words.
"I want to see you!" Bakura shouted. "Make cards of yourselves and put it with mine, and--!"
"No," said his future self, the cold of a desert night in his voice. "My host will not be a part of this game. He tends to suffer from bad judgement when we play together. You'll have to wait to see him, Thief King."
"Yes..." It didn't matter; this incident had given him what he needed, and no matter what, he would find his helper one day. "Ryou," he said, and tried to assure the boy of the same thing.
Bakura found that he couldn't speak of it because he didn't comprehend it. He'd never had a partner, but one day he would need the help of this boy so much that he would protect him; and the boy would even... "You said, when you were arguing with my future self, that you gave yourself to him. What did you mean?"
"Exactly what you think it means." Ryou's voice was stiff, but it broke into a rush of anger, injured pride and hope as he asked: "Are you ashamed to have done that to your family?"
Bakura wished again that he could see them. He couldn't begin to imagine what Ryou looked like. "No," he said, and was almost embarrassed at the swiftness of his response. "I see no shame with you..."
"You don't even know me," Ryou said.
"Do you want to?"
"I'm curious," he admitted.
"Goodbye, Thief King Bakura," Ryou said, sounding like someone who did not know what to think any longer, and so would think nothing at all. Bakura raised his arms as if to catch the boy with the unbearably tired voice if he slipped from his lofty hiding place.
"Yes, farewell," Bakura's future self said. "We'll be waiting."
Their presence vanished.
The blood on Bakura's chest remained; he scratched at it and licked his fingers for what came off. He wondered if night would bring another touch - but no, Ryou had said he'd finished the Thief King's card. Bakura stood still in the afternoon sunlight, the wind whipping sand against his legs and belly, assuring himself of the emptiness of the world.
We'll be waiting.
His future self's words had sounded ominous. Bakura knew himself to take that gleefully malicious tone when something important had gone well, and it generally meant something nasty for whoever he was talking to.
It didn't matter. Ominous voices loved him and hated him, but never hurt him. And they never really left; he had not been alone once in many years, and that was what made a family.
He continued his walk to Kuru Eruna. He thought that he had someone waiting for him in a future home, and found that he was smiling.