A/N: For the YGO writing contest's Season 8.5 here on FF-net where my chosen pairing was Prideshipping – Seto Kaiba x Yami no Yuugi. Now, let me tell you one thing (and you can go on and judge me) – I hate this pairing. I really, really do. Still, here I am, attempting to write fic in a way that would make me actually see this pairing work somehow.
A fair warning to all readers: my style is long-winded, artfully mangled, full of run-ons like nobody's business, and with the oddest sentence structures sometimes, all for the sake of ~art. Which. I don't even know if it adds or detracts from my writing, orz. Also, my spelling is a hot mess of British and American English. /o\
Also – and this might seem completely unrelated – Bakura is a Horcrux. Period.
Disclaimer: Kazuki Takahashi and all associated companies are the rightful owners of the Yuugiou! franchise and I claim no association with any of them. No copyright infringement intended with this and no money is being made from this. Please support the creator by purchasing the official releases.
Warnings: I don't know where to start with it and how to warn to not spoil anything. Nothing sexually explicit, some mild yaoi-interrupted, and possibly sanity-challenging content.
Shipping off his pride and admitting that situations from which he could find no way out existed, was a hard thing for Seto Kaiba to do. And yet here he was, trying to work his way out of this place together with a person whom he wanted to see the least in his daily life. Everything stemmed from the fact that all of his more recent troubles were because of him; all of his losses and failures had begun when Mutou Yuugi pranced into his life and beat him at a game which was his forte – the one game where he had excelled at for years on end. And then, in one swift moment, he had been beaten by a complete nobody coming from nowhere and with no background to account for. Just swallowing the proverbial toad of distaste and self-loathing after such a tasteless duel seemed like an impossible task, but one which he had to do – or at least pretend to do – until he could find a way out of this drab nowhere. Seto supposed that the reason he was stuck in this place with that same absolute nobody was also his fault. (Though, grudgingly, he had come to accept and even slightly acknowledge the kid's skill – you just couldn't cheerily traipse your way through any duel at any given time without an actual ability to back you up.) Or maybe Bakura's – because it had been the latter's initiative to invite Seto half a world over to Egypt where he had ended up getting stuck in the most spectacular and ridiculous mass hallucination he had ever thought possible. (And the promised finishing of his and Bakura's paused duel never arrived either.)
The Pharaoh sighed quietly and examined the area around them for what had to be the twentieth time already. He wasn't all that thrilled to be stuck with Kaiba, either, finding it hard to be lenient to a person who was so blind to truth and refused to see the things that were right in front of his eyes. The pragmatic CEO had already spilled a good portion of his bile over the Pharaoh's head, accusing him of their current position and quite a handful of other things in retrospect, which had upset the other's world perception. (What good was any of that, the Pharaoh wondered to himself, if Kaiba still couldn't see the bigger picture and kept dismissing everything that was in discord with how he had set his world up?) Everything should have ended after his final duel with Yuugi, millennia old searching should have concluded with the closing of the ornate stone door behind Atem's back and with one final flash of light, admitting the restless soul into the afterlife. But "should have" sometimes didn't comply with what was.
The flash of white light had ended something – or maybe something had ended the white light instead, and the Pharaoh Atem – now the Nameless Pharaoh again – felt… less, somehow. He no longer seemed as complete as he had been upon regaining his name and his memories; and when he looked deeper inside of himself, he came to find that, indeed, all of that was missing again. Everything was getting cloudy and murky, and the words that had been so clear only moments ago were getting fuzzy like dying whispers, as though that brilliant while light had stolen all of the things that were "Atem", leaving the empty shell of the Nameless Pharaoh behind once again. Why that was so, Yami couldn't understand. What was wrong again? He had won. Yuugi had won. They had said their goodbyes (and even those words were already fading from his mind) and he had walked into the light. Or was this the world behind that door – the afterlife? A world of twilight and shadows where all sounds died in whispers and thoughts coiled around each other, disappearing and blurring. But then – why was Kaiba here? He wasn't supposed to proceed to the afterlife, he wasn't supposed to…
Shadows. Was this Shadow Realm then? Was this were Bakura had sent them all, time and time again, but a twisted version of what it really was? It clearly didn't feel like the afterlife. It didn't feel like anything, in fact. But then, Yami smirked to himself, he had never been allowed even a glimpse at the afterlife; only the drab existence within the confines of gold where darkness and shadows ruled, so he really wouldn't know. (This didn't look like his inner sanctum either, with labyrinthine passageways, staircases, and rooms full of traps and deceits where his memories should have been, but weren't. Couldn't be.)
Kaiba was walking onwards through the grey landscape that didn't even look like a landscape just to have something to do, and just because he didn't want to remain sitting in one place for the rest of the time. Yami trailed a few steps behind him, figuring that getting split up would be a bad thing, even if nothing immediately threatening was in sight. If the two of them were here, maybe the others were somewhere nearby as well, in which case moving around the area could bring them all together again much faster. (Kaiba had scoffed at this prospect when Yami had brought it up, initially, and made one of his countless snide remarks, aimed at the intelligence and usefulness of Yami's friends. It was a moot point to argue over that with Kaiba because Yami already knew all of the counters he would throw at him. Some things had a dull repetitive quality about them.)
Neither of the two knew for how long they had been walking because all sense of time and direction was completely thrown off by the identical partitions and repetitions of landscape pieces. Any kind of order or system did not seem to apply here. The greyness around them was constant and timeless, and unchanging. There were no striking landmarks to differentiate one area from another. They could have walked for miles, and just as well they could have been running in circles around one square unit all this time – whether it was only a few minutes since they had found themselves here (if it still was the same 'here'), or several hours, or days, even. An eternity, perhaps.
After a while, the area around them began to feel different, though no visible changes were occurring. It was just a general sense of wrongness, which Yami couldn't bypass; like another world creeping upon the current one and merging slowly – two different colour inkblots flowing together to create a brand new one. The more Yami looked, the more convinced he became that something was off.
"Kaiba," he spoke up, casting uneasy glances all around. What was happening now? "Do you notice anything strange about this place?"
"Yes," much to Pharaoh's surprise, Kaiba snapped, though without turning back to acknowledge him. "The fact it exists."
Of course, Yami sneered grimly. Not until reality hit Kaiba flat in the face, would he notice anything preternatural or would permit himself to rely on instinct and sixth sense alone. (And sometimes, even if reality sucker-punched him in the gut, he would pretend to take no notice of it.) What a sad existence must that be, he mused, to only accept the material side of life. But perhaps – Pharaoh's lips twitched back in a smirk – perhaps that was the main reason why it was so amusing (and challenging, in the very beginning) to duel Kaiba and watch him rationalise his way through it all, and then simply refuse to acknowledge the actual reasons why he could no longer win. The first win… was a fluke, born out of desperation and Yuugi's sympathy, and that might have also been a deciding factor in Kaiba's rationale; just knowing that it was the only way to claw out a victory when pitted against Yami-Yuugi.
Yami turned his attention back to the scenery instead of dwelling on Kaiba's state of mind. There was something definitely odd about the grey world around them, and the longer and harder Yami looked, the more and more clearly he noticed how the place was beginning to shimmer – like the horizon on a hot summer day, when the air seems to dance in the beginnings of a mirage. Though maybe the grainy quality had been present from the start and he just hadn't taken notice of it initially. Soon, on top of the shimmering, pieces of the world began travelling around, as if rising, twining mist was covering and uncovering scenes: soon shielding one from, soon revealing another to his gaze. And then there came the occasional flicker when the entire world seemed to shudder, as if from cold (but the temperature remained unchanged). It looked like somebody had stitched two not-quite-matching pictures together and was now replaying them in an eternal loop. The more and more things Yami noticed, the more it seemed to him that they had been there from the very start and he just hadn't seen all of the minutiae details right away. Not having his puzzle anymore was a setback, he found, because his mind seemed to be more blurry and less clear; less receptive of things that were unnatural in their core. He could no longer tell clearly how legitimate all of this was.
And so it continued with Yami closely watching these newly-discovered details: a moment of static noise, a flicker across the vast expanse of this monochrome world, layers of fading mist shifting around, and before he knew it, there was a single pulsating bright dot in the distance – in the direction they were heading. At one point, it seemed to Yami, that the shadows and lights became more pronounced and some sort of faint echo of colour seeped in through the edges, but everything was so relative that it might have been just a trick of his mind. (In actuality, though, the colours were deepening and then fading at rates too fast for the eye to catch properly, as there were, indeed, two worlds beginning to overlay.) At around this same time Kaiba began to notice the dissonance as well, having previously dismissed the fluctuations of the barely changing scenery as mere optical illusion, created by his own mind because of the overwhelming lightshow of grey tones and the pulsating spot of light in the distance, which he had chosen as his guiding beacon on pure instinct (though he would never admit that). Kaiba was quite right in his judgement, though, as it was an illusion; all of the things in this world were mirages of a mirage – starting from the initial stock-stillness, to the slowly appearing shimmering, the rising and depleting mist; right down to the security camera-like loop and flicker, created by a masterful thief. Optical illusions covered every square inch of this world, and something similar – but each time new – always appeared in places where something else had just disappeared, only to fade out and be replaced with something different still; all faster than the eye could follow and register these changes. Alterations were so rapid, that it looked like nothing was happening at all.
When series of black ripples came rolling in like oncoming waves, everything became confusing. Their directions were varied, creating surfaces at odd angles and in contrasting directions where there had been none previously. And when, for a moment that didn't last even a heartbeat, the world went pitch black, Pharaoh lost Kaiba from sight. In the moment between one blink of his eye and the next, the place where he had been standing – caught off guard by the black wave, it seemed – was empty, and in the next moment he was already back, as if nothing had happened and Pharaoh wasn't sure anymore if he'd even seen him disappear in the first place. Then the world began tilting; curving upwards and inwards, rolling up like a poster just pulled out of a box with nothing to hold its edges down firmly. And then it tore in half. Soundlessly, a black jagged line snaked through the area, drawing itself along the path which Kaiba and Yami had been walking, and the light went out, throwing them into pitch blackness for the second time, which lasted longer than the previous one, but not too long. When everything came back into focus, all the illusory surfaces of the world were rippling wildly, disorienting Yami completely, and had they not been standing (having stopped by reflex after the first blackout, even though the road they were on didn't have as much as a rock to stumble upon even in darkness) facing the direction in which they had headed initially (though all directions were equal), they would have been more lost than they already were. But for now there was the still figure of Kaiba a few steps away from him, hinting at some sort of a comprehensible idea of distance. Being caught in a psychedelic monochrome discotheque of grey where black lines reverberated diagonally across the space was a completely new experience for the Pharaoh, and one he didn't want to repeat, but wanted to end as fast as possible.
The black line across the ground was spreading, leaving a black welt behind, the world rolling away in opposite directions from it. Kaiba was still standing there, not attempting to move away from his spot, even though the line ran right under his feet and in a few moments he would tumble into the gaping void it created. Was he stubborn enough to fall? Yami wondered and in a few quick steps crossed the distance between them.
"Kaiba," he started, but his voice died on his lips because, up close, there was something oddly wrong about the CEO. He seemed to be drained of all colour – a feat Yami had overlooked, given that grey was the default here – and he showed no reaction to having his name called. He seemed unyielding in a way the Pharaoh couldn't quite explain, but one look at Kaiba's face told him what that was: he was a stone. Much in the same way as in Noa's world, there stood the proud statue of Seto Kaiba. When the next black ripple rolled over them both, he fell apart. He crumbled all at once, chunks of stone and powdery dust scattering over quickly deflating clothes. Yami took a step back, a startled gasp escaping his lips, as he eyed the monochrome mess of clothes and gravel on the ground, and then another, as the ground beneath his feet disappeared. The grey world twisted away from him, rolling up and carrying what used to be Kaiba in two opposite directions. The blackness expanded under him, sending him tumbling down into darkness.
The landing was painful. The waking up – even more so. The ground was cold and hard under his back and his head ached. Everything felt blurry. A shadow slipped over his face and Pharaoh opened his eyes.
"Kaiba," he gasped slightly, startled to see the other man looming over him with a dead-serious expression.
"Yuugi," Kaiba said in turn and his eyes narrowed. "What is wrong with you?"
There was no doubt in Yami's mind that this was, indeed, Kaiba, even though he had just seen him fall apart into dust – no one else referred to him by the name of his host but Kaiba. One quick look around told him that they were back in the same room where he had parted with everyone – then still Atem, still with all of his regained memories – and walked into the light. The large gate to the afterlife stood where he remembered it being, closed. Another hasty study of Kaiba revealed that the man was made of flesh and was in full colour, even if hovering above him on all four was not something he would normally do.
"What… do you mean?" Yami frowned looking up at him.
Something in Kaiba's expression twitched in annoyance. "You woke me up with your trashing and screaming."
"Woke you up?" he repeated Kaiba's words in a daze. Had all that been a dream? He couldn't remember what it was like – to dream, as he hadn't had any during the time spent in his puzzle. He had sometimes been a somewhat reluctant and impassive watcher of Yuugi's dreams – forced into it more than feeling curious about it, because of their shared minds – but he himself hadn't dreamt for millennia now.
Before Yami could open his mouth for a retort that was already building at the tip of his tongue, Kaiba's mouth descended on his. Startled and taken aback, he just lay there, letting Kaiba do as he pleased. When his hands went exploring along Yami's body – which, he realised only now, he seemed to have of his own –, Yami twisted away from him.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, trying to come up with a reason, a solution, a memory that would tell him how they had gotten here, to this point, to… something like this.
"Winning," was his smug and completely unexpected reply.
Yami sputtered and whipped his head back to face him in bewilderment. "This isn't a game, Kaiba!"
Kaiba only smirked down at him with all the aura of self-confidence he possessed. "Oh, but it is, Yuugi. Everything is a game if played right." He paused – quite ominously, it seemed – before delivering the killing line. "If you intend to lose, that's fine by me."
While Yami struggled for something to say to such a proclamation, Kaiba returned to kissing him again, slow, thorough, and coercing. Still debating with himself over the sheer wrongness of it all, Yami remained passive. Winning and losing, the why and the how – everything bled together into a mass of echoing thoughts and memories of Kaiba crumbling apart into non-existent wind and the image he was presented with right this instant of cold blue eyes staring him down from a distance so close that they looked out of focus.
The world was out of focus, Yami realised, when Kaiba slipped his tongue past his lips. It wasn't an entirely unpleasant feeling, not particularly unusual, either, but… Was it supposed to go in so deep? He tried to pull away from Kaiba and his intruding tongue, which slipped over his own and into his throat, but found that he was being pinned down in a way that didn't permit him to move his arms and legs. There was something undeniably strange about the way Kaiba acted; it wasn't possession, because he still retained the entirety of his personality, and there were no traits of another presence within him. Yami choked and then gagged because Kaiba's tongue had proceeded halfway down his throat and it pressed down in a way that didn't let him breathe – a thing he'd almost forgotten how to do, but suddenly became all too aware of – and he just wanted to get away from him and draw in some air right now because his lungs felt like they would burst if he didn't. But he couldn't. Kaiba was holding him down and his tongue went even further down his throat. With some amount of shock, Yami realised that Kaiba's eyes were getting wider. Stretching out vertically would have been a more accurate description, but at the time Kaiba's jaw was squeezing past Yami's teeth, almost dislocating his jaw, and being correct about descriptions of the actual situation was the last thing on the Pharaoh's mind. He began struggling, but Kaiba didn't stop. His eyes were slowly turning into long thin slits, his hair brushing past his cheeks and soon the only thing Yami could see was the top of Kaiba's head, before that disappeared inside of his mouth and he could feel hair inside of his mouth. He gagged and tried to sputter, but unsuccessfully. Somewhere at the back of his mind, he realised the plain impossibility of the situation.
Yami's lungs ached for air which he couldn't draw in, his jaw dislocated the moment Kaiba's shoulders pushed past his teeth and proceeded to squeeze further down his throat. All of his ribs seemed to realign to let the huge mass through and his spine began to stretch painfully, as his ribs were bent out of their respective places to impossible angles. He couldn't even scream when something somewhere ruptured and then he was only aware of the blinding pain and the impossible strain that seemed to tear his body apart, as another body tried to fit inside it.
"You lose, Yuugi."
The voice echoing in a slow drawl across his consciousness was the last to ever pass through his mind.
Kaiba blinked the darkness out of his eyes, feeling the shadowy coils disentangling from his limbs, before stepping forward into a world of twisted shapes and dark colours. A few blindingly bright streaks were smeared across the expanse of the shifting shadows, but they all seemed to be fading out and retreating back into the more dull and murky colours making up the walls of this new area. The shifting mist revealed a stone table and two tall chairs of the same on its opposite ends. The surface of the table was crisscrossed with lines which, when Kaiba looked closer, were carved in the likeness of a duelling field.
"Welcome to your final stop," a familiar voice called out from the furthest end of the table and the shadows shifted aside to reveal a person who was the core of it all.
"Bakura," Kaiba snarled. Being restrained by something he couldn't see while trapped in pitch-black darkness for who knew how long had done nothing to pacify his irritation with the entire "come to Egypt" ordeal and it returned full force upon seeing the initiator of it. At least it looked like he would finally get that duel finished.
Bakura smirked, his hands idly crossed at the wrists and his elbows propped up on the table, as he twirled a small figurine in his pale fingers. He tilted his head to the side and made a wide inviting gesture at the opposite chair with one hand.
"Care to join me for one last duel?" he drawled slowly and his voice seemed to coil around the walls before falling flat. His deck was already waiting on the designed slot.
Kaiba returned his smirk with one of equal measure and took the offered seat, setting his deck in place as well. It had been a while since he'd played Duel Monsters the old-fashioned way and he couldn't help running his gaze over the width of the stone plaque in front of him with eerie reminiscence. (A different time, a different place, a different person.) He also couldn't help but notice the small figurine in Bakura's fingers – carved in the likeness of somebody he knew all too well and with whom he had been stuck in a grey world just a moment ago before pitch blackness had swallowed everything in a flash – or the other ones just like that first one, all of them with familiar features.
"What kind of loser collects dolls made in the likeness of his friends?" Kaiba bit and saw a broad grin spread on Bakura's lips. It was only a little bit unsettling, he decided, that expression on Bakura's pale features.
Dark Bakura twirled the figurine of Yami in his fingers for one more time before setting it down on the side of the field, next to the others. He had gone to great lengths to secure his own victory and the final stunt had been his greatest yet. He had realised that leaving pieces of himself in inanimate objects could be as dangerous as it was convenient, and in the last moment, he had left a part of himself inside his host, so infused with his mind that it wouldn't rip his essence away, no matter what. From there on, when he died in the final duel, he had free hands to set up one more game; the ultimate, the end-all of all games and millennia long waiting. He had stood on the threshold of the gates to the afterlife, and a part of him had turned back, had lingered in the shadow of the gate, waiting for the opportune moment. Waiting was his forte, after all.
"These are a special kind of dolls," he said offhandedly, bright white and sharp teeth flashing. "In fact, I would rather say that they are game pieces."
Kaiba scoffed. He remembered somebody of the dweeb patrol making an off-hand mention of Bakura being a fan of board games before taking up Duel Monsters.
"And what kind of idiot game would that be?"
A low dark chuckle rolled across the air, making the hair on the back of Kaiba's neck rise.
"Why, one they just lost."
Kaiba regarded him with a frown, pondering if he should ask for an elaboration and decided to take the plunge.
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, you might just live to see it." Bakura laughed out loud, glancing over his collection of tiny game pieces with a look that was almost fond and more than just a little gleeful, treating each one of them with a caressing look of appreciation before turning back to Kaiba and extending his hands with his palms facing up over the game field in a royal gesture.
"Shall we, then? The winner takes it all."
With Bakura's sharp-toothed grin and his manic laughter ringing in the final duel, Kaiba drew his first card, and before long – his last as well. Bakura's laughter was the lullaby he'd never heard in his life, even once.