Luck was not with them. Yugi had hoped that their fears were unfounded, and that the intruder would be some harmless student or faculty member. But, no. It was Seto, of course.
With no time to make plans or exchange ideas, he simply grabbed Atem and hurried as fast as his legs could manage into the maze of shelving units. The wooden shelves, stained dark with age and layers of polish, reached from floor almost to ceiling and filled the perimeter of the room. If they could maneuver around to the other side of the room, they might be able to create some sort of diversion that would last long enough for them to slip out the exit.
Yugi clutched the puzzle in one hand and Atem's wrist in the other. He knew proximity to the puzzle was causing the genie pain, but Atem made no complaints. He simply soldiered on, alert to danger and sticking close to Yugi's side. If only Atem's magic could affect the damned puzzle. He could make them invisible – but not the puzzle. He could transport them away – but not with the puzzle. As long as Yugi held onto the puzzle, they were stuck with mundane means of escape. But he wasn't willing to abandon the thing now. He couldn't let anyone else get their hands on the puzzle, use to harm the man he loved. It just wasn't going to happen! He needed to keep Atem safe, and to do that, he needed to hang onto the puzzle. And get them out of this building in one piece. That was important, too.
Now, if only fate would, just this once, cut him a break...
They crept as silently as possible among the shelves, clinging to the shadows and listening intently to the echoing thump of Seto's boot heels on the wooden floor.
This game of cat and mouse went on for several minutes, each more tense than the last, Yugi's heart pounding so loudly he was convinced Seto would be able to locate them by that sound alone. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore. They were no closer to escape than when they'd started; each time they made progress toward the exit, they were invariably forced to retreat to avoid detection.
With a frantic wave of his hand, Yugi motioned for Atem to return from where he was scouting slightly ahead, peering cautiously around the end of the current row of bookcases. When the genie was close enough, Yugi pulled him down to whisper into his ear. "Make yourself invisible and get out of here!"
Atem scowled at him. "I'm not leaving you."
Staring at the stubborn set of Atem's jaw, Yugi gave up that argument before it even started. Time for Plan B. He thought frantically. "Can you... make some kind of diversion? Distract his attention long enough for us to make it out the door?"
Atem's eyes took on that farseeing expression that meant he was concentrating on his magic. A moment later, something across the room crashed to the floor in an explosion of sound. Grabbing Atem's hand, Yugi ran for it.
After a few steps, he let go, as blinding pain shot up from his calf, making him stumble. The genie's longer legs took him several strides ahead before he seemed to realize that his shorter partner had fallen behind. Just as Atem turned to look back, Yugi's leg spasmed again, throwing him off balance. He stumbled into a chair, its blunt feet screeching as they skidded across the flooring.
Both Yugi and Atem froze, gazes meeting in horror.
Shit. Yugi cast a frantic look around. What if Seto heard that? They had to get out of here! He flapped a hand at Atem, mouthing, Go, go, go!
Shaking his head, Atem held out his own hand. Not without you.
But when Yugi took a step toward him, his traitorous leg gave out entirely. He hit the floor with a thud, biting back the instinctive cry. The muscles in his leg shivered, writhing beneath the skin, his nerves on fire. Through the veil of agony, it occurred to him that he should have let Atem heal his leg when they'd had the chance.
Even as the thought came to him, Atem was at his side, pressing a glowing hand to his leg. The pain faded as the genie used his magic to stop the spasm, the muscles beneath his touch calming and smoothing from their twisted knots. Yugi gulped in a lungful of air and panted, "Thanks."
Atem answered him with a stern look. "You should—"
"I will. As soon as we have time."
Nodding, Atem helped Yugi to his feet. "Let's go make time, then."
A familiar, cold voice stopped them in their tracks. "Going somewhere?"
Without hesitation, Atem tucked Yugi behind him, putting his body between Yugi and the approaching Seto Kaiba. Which was sweet, but Yugi wasn't playing damsel in distress for anyone, not even his prince. Grimacing, he stepped up beside Atem and tried to ignore the Look (heavily featuring Dual Eyebrows of Disapproval) directed at him. Atem huffed and reached down to take his hand.
"I believe you have something that belongs to me," Seto said, his gaze flickering to the puzzle still clutched in Yugi's hand. He smirked, gaze shifting to Atem. "More than one something, actually."
Atem stiffened. Yugi gave his hand a supportive squeeze. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't you?" Seto sneered. "Let us not play games. We both know you have my statues, Yugi. I want them."
Surprise stole his voice for a long moment, his brain working at light speed as he spun the pieces of this puzzle around, searching for matching sides. It came together in a flash, and he blurted, "You're Bakura!"
"...What?" Atem hissed, eyes wide as he stared at "Seto" in dawning comprehension.
A short bark of laughter burst from Bakura. Lips twisted in a cruel sneer, he drawled, "Such a clever little cripple..."
As soon as the words left his mouth, he winced, as if battling some internal discomfort. "He doesn't like it when I call you that. Makes him fight that much harder against my control of his body."
Yugi let out a breath he'd been unaware of holding. He remembered Atem telling him about Bakura's plan to displace his soul and take over his body. It would have killed him. If Bakura had done the same thing to Seto... But he had said that Seto was still in there, fighting him, so there was hope. "Let him go."
Another laugh. "Are you offering yourself as a replacement?"
"If that's what it takes—"
"No!" This time, Atem was less gentle about shoving Yugi behind him. "I won't let you hurt him."
"Still the staunch protector, eh?" Bakura shook his borrowed head. "So predictable, Your Highness." He made the title an insult. "As it happens, I am quite content with the vessel I currently occupy. Which means that I consider the both of you disposable."
He drew a handgun from the pocket of his light trenchcoat and aimed at Atem.
"I'm fairly certain this won't actually kill you, brother, but I know it will kill your little lover." Bakura smiled. "Now. Take me to my statues."
Bakura-in-Seto's-body forced them, by way of the gun pressed against Yugi's ribs, to drive him to Yugi's house. Stuffed in the backseat while Bakura perched sideways next to Yugi and, hawk-like, watched them both, Atem alternately fumed and fretted all the way home. He wasn't confident that he could save Yugi should his volatile brother decide to make good on his threat. Perhaps he could disable the gun, but... This close to the puzzle, Atem's magic was unstable. He had barely managed to soothe the cramp that had caused his lover so much pain; he was far less likely to be able to heal a bullet wound. And if the wound were fatal...
Atem shuddered. Bakura caught the movement and smirked at him, giving the gun a little shove so that the nose of it pressed harder into Yugi's all too vulnerable flesh.
"You always were stupidly brave, little brother." It was odd, hearing Bakura's words in another's voice. "But I suggest you rein in any heroic impulses you may be suffering. I don't believe even your magician's magic can bring back the dead."
The words sent a chill through Atem. After the initial shiver of horror at the idea of Yugi's death, however, he realized there was something strange about what his brother had said. His brow furrowed. "My 'magician's magic'? What are you talking about, Bakura?"
His brother took his eyes off Yugi long enough to turn a disbelieving stare on Atem. "Seriously? Millennia have passed since that night and you still haven't figured it out?"
That night...? The night of the curse? Atem thought back, seeing past events with new eyes. Bakura had taunted him, then Mahaad—
"You—" Atem's voice choked off. Mahaad's actions that night had shocked him. The man had been a close friend, the brother of his heart if not blood, and he had been willing to give his life for Atem on the battlefield. It had never made sense to him that that same man would turn around and betray him so thoroughly only hours later. He could barely force the words past the lump in his throat. "You murdered him. You forced his soul from his body and used it to—"
Bakura cackled with mirth. "Finally he gets it! Oh, the look on your face. Would that I could hold this image forever."
Fresh determination flooded Atem at the jab. His mind raced as he reconsidered everything he knew about the curse. "You never intended for this to happen. You wanted my body to use as your vessel, but you couldn't force my soul out..." By that point, Mahaad was dead, but his spirit had lingered. "Mahaad interfered with your spell, didn't he? Somehow, he twisted it just enough to prevent my death..."
"Bah! That infuriating magician!" Bakura's features were a mask of fury. "He ruined all my plans that night. He must have thrown everything he had left into the spell – his magic, every part of himself that remained – and bound it all up with my magic, the amulet's magic... The backlash destroyed my body, and so drained me that I was forced to take Taduheba as a vessel. It was years before I recovered enough strength to jump to a more appropriate body."
And he must have been doing it ever since, Atem realized, taking a new vessel as the old one faded or became unsuitable. Only... "Your magic's fading, isn't it? The majority of it was bound up in the original spell and became a part of my curse."
Yugi spoke up, his words completing Atem's thoughts. "That's why you want the puzzle. You want to retrieve your magic."
"He'd need the other amulets for that, I think," Atem mused.
"That's why he wants the statues," Yugi said. "I think the other amulets must be hidden inside them."
"My hands aren't free at the moment—" Bakura gave Yugi's side a nudge with gun to underscore his point. "—but pretend I'm golf-clapping at your cleverness."