A/N: Written for River Nile over at LJ.
Warnings: Gore, violence, non-con, abuse. Self-beta, all mistakes are my own fault.
Disclaimer: I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. Kazuki Takahashi owns.
In the Shadows
Always in motion.
Always watching him even if it had no eyes of its own.
Yami did not like the Shadow Realm even though he had already proved himself being stronger than its dark power on numerous accounts. But every time he was forced to visit this place, getting once again plunged into this hell, he came to realise that it was still as unpleasant as the first time. He might not show the fear on the outside, might know how to overcome its whispering voices, but he very well knew that, if left to live and develop on its own, the shadows could swallow the entire world. It was, in fact, exactly what the dreaded realm and its servants wanted and he, the Nameless Pharaoh, had to prevent it at all costs.
Briefly, Yami wondered whether standing around would bring anything. Once inside the Shadow Realm, it became quite difficult trying to find another person, especially if they were the self-proclaimed masters of this place, hiding somewhere in its safe shelter. The Realm was always shifting, always changing; a dreary stillness in motion that drew you in and refused to let go.
When Yami finally started walking, it was partially because of the slimy-looking tentacles of the dark maroon mass crawling along the illusory floor, seeking to bind him and drag him down under. The other reason was the overbearing wish to get out of the Shadows as quickly as possible. He had left Yugi all alone and was worried about him, knowing that if the enemy chose this exact moment to strike, there would be no one there to protect his lighter counterpart because sometimes there were things and forces Yugi's friends could not overcome on their own.
As the former pharaoh walked on in the dark, his footsteps created no sound, they carried no echoes as if they were nonexistent. Though his eyes had adjusted, all he saw was a blur of dark and dreary colours, brightened only by scarce blood-red streaks here and there. At times, it felt like walking through a battlefield and sometimes, out of the corner of his eye, the Pharaoh noticed faceless figures in the dark. Some of them were not moving, some were crawling along the floor like worms, and some were reaching up, trying to clutch at something that could drag them up and out of the eternal damnation. For as long as the Sennen Puzzle was hanging around his neck and emanating a faint golden glow, he was in the safe – the creatures shied away from him as if the light caused pain to their darkened, drained souls.
Unwillingly, Yami shuddered. He did not know which feeling was stronger – disgust or pity. He was not as noble and kind-hearted as Yugi and he did not even try to think of a way to help the trapped souls. Those who were bound in a place like this, he thought, were fully deserving of such a fate. There was no way to set them free, no way to repent for them; it was something that was their own responsibility and the result of their own foolishness they were paying for now.
Yami did not know why all those souls were all trapped among the Shadows, nor did he care to find out. If they had lost a game of Shadows to someone who possessed a Sennen Item and if the holder of the Item was no longer alive, there was no way to undo it. As a former king, he did not see it necessary to worry about the damned or to take into consideration what the cursed souls might have wanted to achieve during their lifespan.
At once, there suddenly was silent laughter coming from seemingly all directions at the same time. It was all around him, even within him. Each note was sliding through him as if he were nothing but a mirage, and then and there he came to realise that he really was nothing but a ghost. A shadow of the past borrowing someone's body to live through the life and fulfil the destiny that he had failed to achieve the last time – he was no different than the other spirits he had met. Malik, Bakura – they were all the same, even their seemingly different incentives turned out to be not all that different. Because in the end, all they were trying to do was to live out the life that had never been meant for them.
The laughter continued and the sound – disembodied and seemingly just floating around – grated on Yami's nerves. He recognised the voice, but was not able to tell who the person really was, and it was befuddling.
Unbeknownst to himself, the Pharaoh had halted in his steps and was now looking around, trying to determine the source, or at least find one direction in which to concentrate all of his attention. Shadows swirled and shifted around him, playing tricks with his mind and making him see things that were not there.
The laughter rose in volume and power as if the being had finally recognised his presence.
Yami ground his teeth in irritation. It was... unnerving to be laughed at. He had come to the Shadow Realm half-willingly, following the strange invitation in hopes to find out something about his past and now to be laughed at made him think that he had followed a false path leading him right into a trap.
"His Royal Majesty has finally decided to show up," a scornful voice announced from behind, but when Yami turned to look, no one was there. Only shadows and tainted red haze played all around, mocking him, boxing him in.
Yami exhaled through his nose in mild scorn and continued looking around for any possible hints that could give away his enemy's hiding place. "Malik. Show yourself!"
Insane laughter was his only answer.
"Haven't we heard that somewhere before?" another seemingly disembodied voice queried amusedly and even more insane laughter followed.
"Bakura," Yugi growled. "Show yourselves!"
"So impatient," Malik sneered at the Pharaoh from the shadows. Usually he would have already lifted the veil of darkness that shielded him, being open and direct about his goals, but Bakura quite liked staying hidden for as long as he could, so the two of them compromised to a point.
"Running forward to defeat," Bakura supplied with a grin, stealing a glance at his uncanny partner. Both, the Pharaoh and the Tomb Keeper could be quite reckless when it came to achieving their goals, one more than the other. He preferred to wait it out and make sure nothing could get in the way of his master plan. Though, when it came to alliances of power, he was willing to give some leeway, just like he was doing at the moment.
The haze slowly parted, the curtain of violet shadows lifted and Bakura and Malik emerged from the darkness right behind Yami.
"Wrong way, Pharaoh," Bakura sneered, his arms crossed and the Ring glowing softly in the dark. Shadows had no sense of direction, no set paths, and an experienced shadow master would find his possibilities unlimited. This was going to be interesting, Bakura thought as he watched Pharaoh's shoulders tense at the sound of his voice.
Yami spun around, startled at how clear and focused the voice suddenly sounded, as opposed to the previously drifting tone, and came face to face with the two spirits he had been looking for.
"What's this, Pharaoh? You're brave enough to come alone? Where's your little puppet?" Malik bared his teeth in a feral grin. "Afraid I'll make him evaporate into shadows like the last time?"
"Malik," Yami growled low and in warning. "Leave Yugi out of this! Your business is with me."
"If you so insist..." Malik made a mocking half-bow and his dark violet cape, barely distinguishable in the darkness, swished silently in command with the motion. Just because his foolish host had once thrown it away did not mean that his Inner Darkness was going to discard it as well. Malik found it to be quite fitting for the occasion, actually.
A scowl formed on Yami's face. Coming here was purely a waste of his time. He had wanted to believe that the two spirits had changed, even if just a little bit, because Yugi thought it was possible. The Pharaoh had doubted it, but allowed to be talked into giving them a second chance. To his mind, these two had already gotten one too many second chances, especially Bakura.
"Get to the point," Yami ordered sharply, feeling more and more concerned as the time went on. He did not like leaving Yugi alone for such unknown amounts of time, especially if time was deceptive here – a single minute spent among the Shadows could feel like eternity and even be one.
"The point?" Bakura echoed with a strange smirk. "Oh, but we are getting there. Right as we speak."
"What..." Yami stopped mid-thought and looked down at the floor, alerted by a sudden motion that had not been there before. So this was it? This was their plan?
Shadows had threaded their tentacles around his ankles, unnoticeably moving around and shifting, and rising higher. And when the Pharaoh attempted to escape the binds, they tightened, making him stumble and almost lose balance.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, but his two enemies only laughed. Gritting his teeth in anger, Yami concentrated on the one thing that always aided him in situations like these. But the Puzzle had barely begun to glow when there was a sudden motion in front of him, a glint of gold, a flash of bright white light as two items clanged against one another with an eerie sound and the ancient artefact was ripped off of the chain around Yami's neck. The Puzzle rolled away, disappearing somewhere among the suddenly thickening shadows and a distant clatter was all that could be heard before deathly silence engulfed their surroundings.
Malik sneered in Pharaoh's face and lifted the dagger to his lips, licking the blade slowly. His lavender-coloured eyes lingered on the thin scar beneath the ripped fabric on Yami's chest where the sharp, pointed weapon had left a mark during its descent. Slowly, the former Tomb Keeper made a motion to sheathe the dagger, demonstrating the fact that he was still in the possession of the Sennen Rod, but changed his mind and kept the weapon uncovered.
Yami's eyes widened in disbelief. How? How was this possible? After Malik's defeat in Battle City, he was the owner of the Rod. It should have been safely locked into the same box with the other Sennen Items. The fact that Malik was now holding it could only mean one thing...
Fists clenching tightly, Yami snarled through gritted teeth, "What have you done to Yugi?"
The devilish grimace on Malik's face did not change. "Yugi?" He observed the changes on his enemy's face for a while, amused by the fact that, even in a situation like this, Yami was still worrying about others when he should have been more concerned about his own wellbeing. "Nothing."
"Yet," Bakura supplied with a smirk. "But we will if you don't cooperate."
"Cooperate?" Yami was outraged. Undoubtedly, they already had and were planning to hurt Yugi again and they wanted him to stand by and do nothing? He was not going to just step aside and watch the world get plunged into complete darkness the way the two spirits had planned. Cost what it may, but he had to prevent that!
Malik took a step backwards, his eyes still glued to the bleeding scar on the Pharaoh's chest. A light wave with the Rod and a stone tablet appeared behind him. Within seconds, not given enough time to react in any way, the Pharaoh was bound to it the same way Mai had once been. Except this time shadows and not golden cuffs were binding the sacrificial prey to its altar.
It was a painful realisation for the Pharaoh that, without the Puzzle, he was practically helpless. He was used to being able to overcome the power of Shadows, to win each and every time. He was used to the Puzzle's presence, to feeling its weight around his neck and relying on it to pull him through when his own wit failed. But now that it was gone, he was no different than Yugi's – and now his, too – friends who could only count on their own strengths and capabilities. In fact, he realised with bitter clarity, he might be even worse off than them since he was so used to counting on the power the ancient regalia had granted him, while his new friends had none of it. Without his Sennen Item he was weakened and vulnerable – something the Nameless Pharaoh dreaded being.
Unsupported by the shadows, the stone tablet hovered in the air, displaying its prey. Cold and unyielding, it slowly slanted and fell down, the motion so smooth that Yami would have not even noticed if Malik had not been standing right in front of him. Though, to the Pharaoh it looked like Malik was the one falling backwards and disappearing from his view. Of course, he did not stay out of sight for long.
Having stood by the entire time, Bakura finally moved in closer, stopping by his partner's side. The sight was quite interesting, he noted with amusement. The Pharaoh's face was a mirror of the internal battles going on inside his mind, and had it been Bakura's wish, he could sit by and watch the reflections of the silent inner torture of his arch enemy, talking to him and taunting him, seeking to further confuse him and damage his self-trust. But this time they had other plans.
Letting the shadows crawl around and all over the stone tablet, Malik grinned with dull satisfaction. With sick amusement he wondered when the Pharaoh would take notice of his clothes slowly evaporating and getting dispersed into shadows.
It started with the rip in his black shirt. The unevenly torn edges began to turn into smoke, slowly spiralling upwards and in all other directions, pulling bigger and bigger parts of the fabric along as if some invisible monster was clawing and tearing at it. Yami only took notice of this when it reached his collar and the swirling shadows were getting too impossible to not see. Eyes widening, he pulled back slightly, as far as the binds allowed him to, but the shadows did not cease. If anything, they quickened their pace.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, body straining against the hold of shadows and fists clenching so tightly that his nails left deep white marks in his palms. He was frantically trying to think of a way to stop what was happening and a way to break free from the binds, but found that he was incapable of doing either of the two.
"You'll see soon enough," Bakura assured in amusement. It was entertaining to watch how Pharaoh struggled along, suddenly denied the possibility of determining his own fate. He was a fighter, there was no doubt, but without his Puzzle and subdued by Shadows, he was powerless. Even the strongest spirit would break in a situation like that and the two malicious spirits would soon bask in the glory of his breaking.
Malik moved and the shadows moved in one rhythm with him. The menace personified stopped on one side of the stone tablet, grinning madly at the Pharaoh's position and with appreciation gazing at the shadows crawling all over his body. Slowly, he leaned down over the bound spirit, the hand with the dagger moving forward as if on its own accord, and the shadows retreated. Mesmerised by the sight of blood, the Egyptian ran the tip of the golden weapon along the wound it had created just a few moments ago, and licked his lips. It had been too long since the last time he had tasted blood and the presented opportunity was just too tempting to pass up on. Carefully, almost gently he gathered as much blood onto the weapon as it was possible before bringing it to his lips and giving it a long and slow lick. The metallic taste seemed to dance on his tongue, making his eyes droop half-closed and making him crave for more. Giving in to the need, he leaned down to lick at the open wound itself.
Yami jerked back the moment he realized Malik's intent, but he did not get far; his binds were leaving him very little freedom.
"You won't get away with this," he growled angrily, yet at the same time he realised his own helpless position and inability to fight. Only now he had acknowledged how much he had relied on his Sennen Item – it was everything in his life and without it he was nothing.
"Wrong, Pharaoh." Bakura chuckled and moved in to stand on the other side of the tablet. "It's you who's not getting away."
Malik grinned madly and ran his tongue over the injury on Pharaoh's chest, enjoying every smallest twitch his prey made at the contact. The taste of blood was maddening, the scent of it made his nostrils widen; it was a lust unlike anything else. He had taken a liking to killing, to toying with his victims, and when he imagined all he could (and would) do, his own blood started running faster and pounding in his ears, his sanity receding more and more.
Bakura smirked knowingly, watching the scene with exhilaration. It was all a game, always a game. Malik looked up at him and licked his lips, savouring every drop of blood; the madness was already singing in his ears and the wish to destroy intensified. He glanced at the Pharaoh briefly and before he could realise his intention, the dagger swiped across Yami's chest, leaving another scar.
A small hiss of pain escaped Yami's lips, but it was the only thing he could do before Bakura moved in. He lowered himself much in the same way Malik had and slowly licked at the wound, all the time maintaining steady eye-contact with the Pharaoh. It was a silent mocking, a show of power and insanity. It was something not many were allowed to witness.
Yami ground his teeth in helpless anger. He refused to take it all lying down, but his choices were limited. "You're both insane."
Bakura straightened and grinned down at him and Malik threw his head back in wild laughter.
"Actually," Bakura whispered as he leaned down once again and his voice grew more and more haunting, "you're the only one insane here."
The words echoed in Yami's mind over and over again, and for one horrible moment he was willing to believe it. A situation like this could not be possible; it had to be a dream, a nightmare...
Bakura chuckled amusedly and tilted his head in mock-wonder. "The three of us, we come from the same darkness, but only you refuse to acknowledge it."
"Save it, Bakura," Malik snarled impatiently. "We're not here to talk."
"True. We've talked too much and too often, Pharaoh." Smirking, Bakura traced his fingertips along the wound on Yami's chest, drawing obscure patterns with blood before digging his nails into the cut, tearing at the wound.
Yami could not hold in the cry of pain. He had never felt so weak and so helpless. With every passing minute the situation seemed more and more like a nightmare, except he could not wake up to escape it.
In an instant, Malik was there to counter the pain, his tongue slowly and soothingly travelling over the wounds, over Bakura's blood-coated fingers and every inch of Yami's exposed chest that had gotten blood-stained. He took his time, ignoring Pharaoh's grunt of disgust and concentrating only on the metallic taste of blood; the bittersweet madness that made him high and crave for more.
Bakura lifted his fingers to his mouth, slowly licking them clean one by one, chewing on the bits of flesh caught behind his nails and sneering sadistically when Yami turned his head away from the scene, too appalled by the sight to endure it any longer. In Bakura's opinion, it was like a powerful drug and it never failed to work.
Paying no heed to their unresponsive prey, Malik looked up at his partner before pressing his palms flat against the stone tablet and leaning over it to demand a kiss from Bakura. His response was slow, almost teasing, almost testing, nearly playful, but eventually grew wilder and rougher. There was no other physical contact between them, only their lips and tongues touching, taking, demanding more...
Taste of blood mingled on their tongues, adrenaline skyrocketed and the shadows around them became a madly spinning blur. Everything was forgotten, everything was cast aside for the moment. Until the fierce kiss broke and they lingered there, their faces only centimetres apart and heavy breaths escaping through parted lips.
Simultaneously, identical insane grins spread on their faces and they turned their attention back to the Pharaoh who was their unwilling third party in this game. Same characters again and again could grow quite boring and make the outcome predictable, making the routine uninteresting and devoid of any thrill, so any change and any challenge was welcome.
And there was no denying now that they had picked one of the greatest challenges of them all.
"I'll make you pay for this," Yami swore darkly, intending to fulfil this threat by all means. Everything he would have to do to achieve it – he would.
"Pay?" Bakura chuckled in sudden amusement and reached out to lightly run his fingertips over the front of Yami's leather pants. "For something you obviously want?" Punctuating his words, he applied a little pressure on it and with satisfaction watched the muscles in Pharaoh's face twitch. "You will be the only one paying here, Pharaoh."
"Paying for everything you've done. Everything you deserve..." Malik leaned down to vengefully hiss into Yami's ear. "You'll get it tonight."
Yami tried his hardest to not pull away from that snake-like hissing. He had already showed more weaknesses than he had even suspected having, and at this point, any reaction to what those two spirits did and said could be considered as one. He had to keep resisting, could not let them to cloud his mind because a chance of breaking free, no matter how unlikely, could arise at any moment.
But letting him concentrate on escaping was not something the two spirits had planned. Experimentally, Malik ran his hands down Yami's arms, watching him strain and struggle to keep calm and motionless. Sadly for the Pharaoh, the Egyptian thrived on challenges and aside from duelling, this kind of challenge had easily moved to being his favourite.
Bakura had not withdrawn his hand, only increased the pressure more, and Yami clenched his teeth in disgust at how easily his body responded to the touch. He could fight and win against everyone else, but he could not hope to win against himself, against his own body. There was no place to escape to, nothing to shield and protect him from what was to come and the only chance he could have used at the moment would put Yugi in grave danger, and that was something he did not want. Switching with his host in such a situation was too low a thing to do, especially for a former pharaoh. He felt quite despicable even for having thought of an option like that.
Thus, there was no other choice but to suffer through it all.
And the two spirits had indeed planned to make him suffer. Malik especially enjoyed toying with the Pharaoh, making sure he would be driven to near insanity as the night progressed. The slow, caressing touches he gifted the Yami's exposed upper body were mainly a distraction, a masterful illusion of false security. Malik's wild locks tickled his skin with every soothing lick he trailed around and over the two wounds. It was supposed to both calm the prey and the predator, giving them both time to just breathe.
Bakura was the one to interrupt the false peace as he moved his unoccupied hand to tangle it into Malik's hair, pulling him up for a kiss identical to the first one. But this time Yami found himself unable to look away, feeling a loop tightening around his forehead. He guessed those to be shadowy creations as well, noticing the fading glow of the Ring a little bit too late.
Now that his head was fixed in a way that forbid him to look away, he found himself witnessing everything his two archenemies did. The only escape was to close his eyes, but he did not want to give in to that wish, knowing that it would leave him even more vulnerable. There was no other choice but to follow their every motion, as sickening as it felt.
Malik gave in to the urge and reached out to run one hand under Bakura's shirt, rubbing it up his chest in a way that was sure to bring out a reaction from his partner and was not disappointed. Bakura growled into the kiss and got his lip bitten, but did not draw back. His response was to pull hard on Malik's hair, bending his head back, gaining dominance, if only for a second.
No matter what they did, it was always a fight, always a competition, even if they were working together to achieve one goal. Ever since getting banished to the Shadow Realm, they had waged a war, blaming each other for the failure of their respective plans. Attempts to exert one's dominance had all failed once it became clear that, although their coming into existence had different origins, they were equally capable and skilled in controlling the Shadows. Faster than either of them could have thought, the fights had grown into something more, a more entertaining way of spending the time in damnation. At that point, they were already used to such an order and did not try to change it, finding it quite fitting for their needs.
And now, used to having only each other's company, they temporarily forgot about Yami's presence, both their still occupied hands leaving the Pharaoh's body to attend to one another.
Fingertips brushed against the bits of already exposed skin, wandered under the clothing for more contact, drew the fabric up to reveal more, to touch and tease more of the other's body. Lips locked together fiercely, tongues twisting and curling against one another, touching lips and teeth; they kept to this game until the point of suffocation. They parted only when they were running short for breath.
Forehead against forehead, they panted silently, already barely able to hold back even though they were not even half-way done with the Pharaoh.
"It's time," Malik mouthed soundlessly, and Bakura smirked in response.
They had long since waited for a chance to kill Yami and using Yugi to break him would have been the perfect way of increasing his suffering, but they had to make use of what they had at the moment. Deciding that it was always easier to influence and break the Pharaoh when little Yugi was not around to cheer him up, they had finally found the perfect moment and the perfect opportunity to go through with their revenge plans.
One casual tap of Sennen Rod on the belt of Yami's pants, and they were already disintegrating into the shadows just like his shirt had done moments ago.
Disbelieving at how quickly his body had relaxed once his enemies' hands had been removed, the Pharaoh tensed again, his face heating up in humiliation. It was a feeling he felt for, possibly, the first time in his life. Bound and put on display in front of his biggest and most serious enemies, he felt weak and helpless, extremely vulnerable and scared. He had never expected to lose his dignity in such a way, let alone lose it at all.
Before he could wallow in self-loathing any longer, Bakura's hand was back in place, touching and kneading, and rubbing him, altering the pressure and intensity of his touches and drawing a startled moan from his lips. Yami immediately bit his lip, cursing himself for giving in so easily. Just as he had decided to do all possible to keep silent, a flash of gold caught his attention.
The next thing he knew was the building swell across his chest where Malik had cut him. He hissed in pain, a million of curses bolting through his mind at once. Yami was starting to see what they had planned and ground his teeth, determinate to not make any more sounds, though immediately doubting it. Because Malik raised his hand once again, the dagger glinting with strange light even in the dusk of the Shadow Realm.
The second strike did not follow as soon as Yami had expected it. At first, Malik leaned down to lick and suck at the blood seeping from the cut, abusing and yet somewhat soothing the new wound. Bakura moved in closer too, and the two shared a bloody kiss, letting the red liquid drip down their lips, leaving red trails on their chins and clothes. Tiny droplets of blood dripped down, splattering against Yami's exposed skin, painting a morbidly beautiful picture.
The same thing was repeated after each strike, and somewhere around the fifteenth Yami lost count of how many had there been already. He was wavering somewhere between pain and pleasure; a torture so exquisite that he did not know how long he could take it. It was already starting to feel like he had gone insane a number of wounds ago. His attempts at restraining himself and keeping silent had been blown away in the madness Malik and Bakura had created exclusively for him.
The restraint around his head long removed, he was now trashing and moaning both in pain and pleasure, completely forgetting who he was. There was nothing in his mind apart the tormenting sensations that, against all odds, still kept him conscious and semi-attentive to what was being done to him.
Suddenly, there was nothing. No tantalizing touches, no flashes of pain, only a lingering aftertaste of it. As if following some unearthly command, even though none had been issued, Yami forced his eyes to open. What he saw were two blood-coated faces hovering right above him, eyes diluted with insanity and bloodlust, and the next thing he realised was the golden dagger poised right above his heart, ready to strike any other moment.
His lips parted to scream out in protest and anguish just as the weapon descended with a speed his eyes could barely follow. And one second before the impact he heard laughter.
Cold, insane laughter.
Yami jerked awake. Eyes wide and his breath uneven, he found himself staring into complete darkness and his own heartbeat sounded deafening in his ears. Fist thing he made sure of was that nothing hurt and no one else was present. Still lying down on his back, he turned his head to take a look at his surroundings.
Shadows of tree branches and streetlights were moving slightly along the walls, courtesy of a light breeze outside, and distant city noises breached into the silence of his room. Everything was exactly the same way as it had always been – he was all alone with the monsters of his past.
Things rushed back to him full-force and he remembered that Yugi was gone because of his own recklessness. He was in the middle of another mad dash to save the world and Dartz was not waiting for him to catch up. Yami reassured himself that everything was in order and that he needed to get at least some rest if he wanted to get Yugi back.
Everything he had experienced had been nothing but a nightmare, no matter how real it had seemed. While Yugi had been nearby, nightmares had never haunted him, but now it seemed as though he was losing all control.
Startled, he twisted his head around. For a moment he was certain to have heard the same mocking and insane laughter from his dream, but there was no one there. Letting out a relieved breath, he closed his eyes, wondering if he could fall asleep again.
Only the Sennen Puzzle on the floor glinted eerily through the darkness of the night.