The Spirit of the Ring wasn't sure if he liked how Thief King managed to make dreams seem much more real than they should have.
He didn't tend to like things he didn't understand and didn't control, but the thief was him, in a twisted kind of way, and wasn't supposed to be able to surprise him.
How much a part of him the Thief King was anymore, he didn't know.
Bakura found it illogical that his present-day form appeared in the dreams, winding amongst the people of Egypt in a half-solid body that left no imprint in the sand beneath his feet; he was unseen, even to those he brushed past as he walked. He knew where he was going, didn't even have to think about it, sidling past a few young men on the way down the street. It was late, the chill settling slowly over the desert made his destination all the more desirable. The place he was going had warmth, faces that weren't familiar but would have welcomed him all the same- the closest thing he had to a home. It took him a minute to realize that there shouldn't have been as many people out at twilight, but the dreams were always a little off that way, as if everything had been thrown together too hastily and hadn't paid much attention to logic. The spirit found it vaguely annoying.
The Thief King was waiting for him in the tavern, lounging across from the door. The smirk on his face grew by about an inch when the spirit settled, frowning, into the chair opposite him.
Bakura wasn't sure how the Thief King made it all solid and warm around him; the smell of something hot and mouth-watering wafted past him, the air heavy with scent and sound. It had to be Thief King's fault, though- with that damnably smug, knowing smile stretched across his features, how could it not be his doing?
Thief King's eyes followed his every motion, daring him to be annoyed. The spirit returned his looks with a flat stare, folded his arms across his chest, and ignored the flagon- filled to the brim with something dark and alcoholic- that his past-self set in front of him. A curious part of him wanted to know if he'd be able to drink- taste- whatever liquid was swirling in the cup, but he wasn't about to let his past-self know that the dream world interested him at all. He hated talking to the Thief King, hated knowing that he was facing his rival, his predecessor, himself.
It was something of danger, something in the sheer annoyance of a man who knew just what buttons to press, something in having nothing else to do on nights like these. There was something in how Thief King was exactly as Bakura remembered being, never said the same things twice, and knew better how to annoy the spirit than Bakura did himself, that made the thief seem like more than a memory. It was a reminder to the spirit that he was incredibly screwed in the head if a version of himself from three-thousand years ago was convincing him that it was still real, and he preferred not to dwell on that.
Thief King said something, in a language that the spirit didn't recognize and almost didn't understand; he knew the language, felt it imprinted on everything he was. It was old, and stirred something in him, something made of ancient thoughts and half-lost memories; Egyptian, he thought, or something even older.
He hadn't listened to a word of what Thief King had said, and simply shrugged in response, giving himself a shake and avoiding the thief's eyes.
"Your host is serving you well, I hope," Thief King said, after a minute, taking a draught of whatever was in his cup. Bakura half-listened to him that time, catching the words but taking a moment longer to process them.
"He's fine," he replied, his voice low and even, and leaned back in his chair.
"But hardly stable, with you around." The Egyptian's smile was arrogant enough to be an annoyance in itself.
"'The boy was hardly stable even before I arrived," the spirit snapped.
Thief King watched him for a moment, taking another, smaller drink. "You're more short-tempered every time I see you," he remarked. Bakura decided not to point out that Thief King never saw him, because Thief King wasn't real, damn it. "You might as well have turned to dust with me, if this is how you turned out."
The spirit bristled, but kept his mouth shut.
"Have a drink." Thief King gestured towards the other mug. The spirit crossed his arms, sparing the cup a slight, irritated glance. "What do you have to lose in a memory?"
Bakura glowered at him across the tabletop.
"Lighten up. I didn't live three-thousand years to become a stiff old bat like you." Thief King smirked, leaning across the table as the spirit's glare intensified. "It's not like you don't care to remember, or you wouldn't be here at all."
"I'm here because you might still be of use to me," Bakura spat, leaning back a little further as the thief's advance encroached on his personal space. "Because I have time to spare playing your little games."
"You're here because you still want to remember where you came from." Thief King met his stare with pale gray-lavender eyes, almost too close for comfort. He reached sideways, watching the spirit's attention flicker from his face to his outstretched arm for a brief moment, and curled his fingers around the handle of Bakura's tankard. "Drink."
"I don't need any of this." The spirit edged further back and cast a disgusted glance at the small banquet laid out on the table- what he could see of it, anyway, with the thief blocking his view of a good amount of it. "Neither do you, for that matter. It's a wonder you're not obese by-"
"It's just a dream," Thief King cut in, smiling in a way that would have been disarming if he hadn't managed to look dangerously unstable in the same moment. "Drink it anyway."
"Why?" the spirit asked coolly.
"Because you want to remember how Egypt tasted," Thief King said, his voice soft and rough. The smirk spread across his face again as the spirit, his eyes narrowed down to slits, took the offered tankard delicately from Thief King's grasp. Bakura sipped slowly and carefully, tipping his head back slightly. Thief King drew away from him, rising silently from his chair and walking around the table with a grace disproportionate to his size; stepping behind him, he trailed a fingertip up the curve of Bakura's jaw.
The spirit froze, alcohol warming his breath.
"Isn't it incredible that you can hate yourself and be a self-centered bastard all at once?" Thief King murmured, leaning down close to Bakura's ear. He nipped lightly at the lobe before the spirit could answer, prompting a startled noise from his future-self and stifling whatever reply he'd had in mind. Bakura remained very still for a moment, focused on the light touch gliding up his neck and to his hair; tensed, he felt Thief King's fingers wind through his hair, gently tugging his head back. The thief leaned over him, far enough that their eyes met again, planting a hand on the back of the chair and keeping the other buried in the spirit's white mane.
"Are you going to fight me?" Thief King asked, bending down to him.
"What are you doing?" Bakura said, gritting his teeth a little as the thief's hands pulled through his hair again, the strain on his neck getting to be more than a little uncomfortable.
"Surely you can tell." He inclined his head an inch or two further, pressing an upside-down kiss to the spirit's mouth; Bakura made a strangled sound low in his throat, Thief King's grip tightening and tilting his head further back; his breath strained, the kiss turning to a clumsy mess of tongues and lips, somehow more urgent than getting air.
The thief released him after a moment and Bakura jerked forward, rubbing his neck.
A second later, the tankard was hovering in front of his face. The spirit glared at it. "I told you, I-"
"Drink," Thief King hummed, twining an arm around Bakura's shoulders.
Annoyed, the spirit took another sip. Thief King slid a hand over his and angled the flask until what Bakura'd intended to be a shallow drink was deep enough to fill his mouth with the bitter, intoxicating taste; the drink was dizzying, and his hand was less steady when he moved to replace the cup on the tabletop. Thief King's arms circled around him, warm and stable, and a hand about twice the size of Bakura's tried to guide the tankard back to his lips. "I don't-" Bakura began, biting out his words.
"You're not even going to have a hangover" Thief King was smirking; the spirit could hear it in his voice. "It's not real."
Bakura sipped again, unwillingly. "Then what does that make you?" he asked coldly, tightening his grip around the cup in his hands; the room didn't seem to be keeping to one angle any more.
Thief King didn't answer, gently edging the mug towards Bakura's mouth. The spirit took a longer draught, setting his tankard down a moment before the world turned unsteady. He leaned back into the chair and the thief behind it, both reassuringly steady, for support.
"You might as well enjoy yourself," Thief King murmured in his ear.
Bakura stiffened a little as the thief trailed a slow line of kisses down the slant of his throat, occasionally biting lightly at the skin. "I might as well leave," he said, his words only slightly slurred; it was more of a token gesture than anything, since he wasn't sure he could still pull himself out of the dream, and his past-self's embrace was rather comfortable, even if it was pinning him to the chair.
"You might as well not. What do you have to do?" the Egyptian snickered, hearing the faint catch in Bakura's breath when Thief King nuzzled at his neck. "Your host has to sleep sometime, and what can you do without his body?"
"I could be reviewing plans, looking over strategies-"
"You've done that a thousand times. Your plans won't get any better." Thief King bit him again, harder, and the spirit's body went still and nervous in his arms. "There isn't any point in over-thinking them and worrying yourself to death. Unwind a little." His voice was lower than Bakura had ever heard it, more a faint reverberation on his skin than a sound.
"You're me," Bakura hissed softly, looking back at the thief. "You're not even real."
Thief King laughed, suddenly enough to make the spirit jump. He let go of Bakura for a brief instant, not long enough to give him room to escape, and spun the chair around until he was facing him. Planting a hand on either side of the spirit's neck, he leaned in and pressed Bakura back into the table, a familiarly wicked twist to his smile. "Then you have a very active imagination."
The next moment was lost in movement, too fast for the intoxicated Bakura's eyes to follow, and Thief King was kissing him; he had closed his eyes before he'd realized it, drunk off the taste of the thief's mouth.
Thief King had pulled him up the stairs, barely taking his lips off Bakura's for an instant, even when they tripped and fell in the hallway upstairs; they didn't get off the floor for at least a minute, although Thief King felt bruises beginning to form where he'd fallen and guessed that Bakura, pinned down beneath him, was in similar pain and eventually they dragged themselves the last few yards to the door of their room.
The world turned an incoherent jumble of lips and teeth, red and white and bronzed brown, warmth and heat and a desire hot enough to border on painful; Bakura stopped believing it wasn't real, swept up in a flood of tangled sheets and falling shadows, because how could it not be real when it was- so-
He didn't know when the red and the want and the pain gave way to exhausted euphoria and then to black, the night bleeding over the dream and settling into darkness that carried him away. It was his host stirring that finally woke him in the morning, the boy's thoughts trivial and soft as he went about making himself breakfast. The spirit found himself in an undignified sprawl on the floor of his soul room, head resting on an outstretched arm.
He wasn't entirely surprised when there was no sign that anything had happened at all, and little in the way of memories; he spent a moment trying to think, but the night was lost in a drunken kind of haze, as half-remembered as every indistinct dream he'd ever had. A fragment of memory that desperately wanted his attention, but a memory nonetheless, the spirit assured himself, absently smoothing his hair back into order and preening in the shattered mirror on the wall.
There was something to be said for dreams, all the same.