A/N: For the YGO writing contest's (here on FF-net) Season 8.5 where my second chosen pairing was Conceitshipping – Yami Bakura x Kuyaku Mai. Participation in this contest is supposed to be challenging - and it is, as I didn't feel this pairing at all - so here goes my attempt at trying to work it out somehow. Things worth noting: I cling to canon personalities as much as possible, and my written English is a hot mess of British and American spellings - do forgive if it throws you for a loop/confuses you. (Please do point out the inaccuracies/slip-ups either in a PM or a review.)

This particular writing style I usually reserve for my Kuroshitsuji fics, what with demons and headcanons, but I feel it is appropriate here, as both Mai and Bakura are in their soul forms in the Shadow Realm. Thus, the need for something static, something here and now, which the chosen tense is supposed to encompass. Do forgive if I do the occasional tense-flip somewhere – I'm not a magician, I'm still learning. (But I think I managed to weed all of them out.)

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: worksafe; nothing explicitly violent or sexual.

Time Sands Still

From her cursed pedestal up high, Mai watches her friends on the only small island of light in the otherwise enveloping darkness – though she doesn't remember that they are friends; and that they are hers. They seem so happy to her; so careless and carefree, and unaware that she is right there, right next to them. (Just one look away and if they look up at just the right angle…) She watches her friends that used to be in the life that could have been. She is silent now. Silent and tired, besides. Earlier she called out to them, screamed for help, and pounded and scratched the glass until her nails broke and her fists bled. She did so for a long, long time, but all that was a good while ago. She screamed and screamed, and screamed until fine dusty sand chafed her throat and stung her eyes. (Her voice broke and tears unnumbered ran down her cheeks, drying up in the sand slowly rising up around her. But it was the sand. Only the sand. Never her.)

They don't see her. They don't hear her. In the beginning, they did look up, giving her hope, but the sun was in their eyes and they couldn't quite – no, Mai corrects herself tiredly (so, so tired; she should sleep a bit, but in sleep there lies danger and fear) – Malik is right. They wouldn't see her. Won't look at her anymore. Malik's words are true, she concludes, fine golden sand running through her hair and whispering gently in her ears, and when she glances down at where her knees should be, all she sees is gold. Her eyes are blurry and in some twisted thought blossoming in her increasingly emptying mind it appears to be her hair coiling around her so softly and infinitely – but a heavy burden to bear. (When did it get so long? she wonders blearily, and – I should probably cut it; it's becoming a mess.) A mess, just like her life.

Mai doesn't like mess. She doesn't like her life: there are too many pieces slipping away from her, sifting through her fingers without end and she can't catch them all anymore, can't hold onto them. Can't save any of them. Why are there so many? she thinks, a weak frown creasing her forehead. Have there been so… many? Why doesn't she remember; why doesn't she know what these fragments of forgotten thought in her hand are? (Sand and dust, dust and sand; the golden hue of silence – sifting, shifting, disappearing.)

Mai is drowning, but she doesn't remember it. She knows it's important – what's in her hand right now – that it has a meaning, a very important meaning, but she doesn't remember what it is and why it is. She holds onto the sand, not remembering that there were memories once – for her to hold on to. Sand is her lifeline – the last one she has left, and it's running out, running all over her, running her into nothingness. She would scream, but her voice is gone; buried under the golden dust. She would cry, but her tears have all dried up in the desert winds that blow weaker and weaker. And the wind is her breath, running shorter by the moment. She is still alive, but she doesn't remember that. She doesn't remember the meaning, the significance, the life. She doesn't remember ever remembering.

This, for Bakura, is an amusing find. He has always known that the Shadows reign over a vast expanse; that they take up as much space as they want, can, and are able to. Shadows creep into every crack, every corner – even the tiniest. He knows because he is a part of it. He is infinite. He has lived amid them for millennia to the point where he can't tell anymore where he ends and where the Shadows begin. This is home for him. And finding abnormalities in his home is easier than easy for him: he felt Malik's presence and he felt the influence left behind by him. When it didn't dissipate, he went looking, curious to see what his nemesis was stirring up.

Observing from the safe veil of shadows was his initial intention, but the illusion opening up in the glow of the golden eye (masquerading as a sun, how contrived!) – and the sight of Yuugi and his little group of familiars performing a routine waltz over and over again for a sole spectator who doesn't even seem to be aware of it – is quite boring and something, he feels, that needs a little bit of… polishing. (But then, Malik's Darkness was a child. What more could one expect of a little brat?)

And so Bakura intervenes. He saunters up to the pyramidal sand clock and stands in front of it where its prisoner can see him. But she doesn't even look up. She doesn't know that something has forced its way into the golden-hued hell spinning for her with treads stronger than the will to live. Bakura doesn't want to speak out, to draw her attention with his voice. He wants her to speak him up first. So he raps the glass with spindly fingers and it shimmers, but the prisoner inside it doesn't even budge. Bakura frowns and tries again. And again. After a while, Mai becomes aware of the sound and tilts her head sideways, finally noticing the shadow over her. She looks up and Bakura stares down at her.

"Help me," she groans out, lifting her hand up and pressing it against glass. (Reaches out to him, but cannot quite reach.) Sand falls around it, leaving her skin dusty and dull, and her bones seem almost too heavy for her to carry.

"Help me," she whispers and her eyes are pleading – borderline despair.

Bakura tilts his head curiously and sees how to uproot this piece of magic – it's being weakened because its caster's presence is gone. It's just a piece of his will trailing behind, and will doesn't do much in the long term. But he doesn't want to. He'll let his enemy bask in his victory for the time being. The foolish need not be taught of their foolishness.

"Why?" he asks instead.

"Help me," she repeats. She doesn't understand his question. She doesn't remember how to understand it. "Why won't you help me?"

"You belong here," Bakura points out. "Why should I let you out?"

"Who are you?" Mai forces out this question, vaguely remembering that it is important to know. She doesn't have a memory of him; she doesn't know him. (Why is her mind so… so…)

"I am you," Bakura sneers. "And they," he points down at the flock of illusory people below them, "are you too."

"But…" she tries to insist – I am here – but the words die on her lips. She doesn't remember. Where is she? What is she? Maybe she is standing over there, looking down at… At what? What is down? She glances one level below her and sees…

Something moves inside her. A whisper or a ghost of a memory, but she knows that those things – people – down there belong to her. They are hers. (Memories, yes, but she has forgotten all of that.)

"Look," Bakura says, pointing down at one of them, and with a splash and a desperate gurgle one piece disappears below the surface. Sinks, and sinks, and sinks, and black hair billow in the water like windblown.

Mai chokes. She feels the water rising high, the pressure crushing her, and she can't breathe. She tries to claw her way back up to the surface, but the water is too solid and her hands pound uselessly against it.

"That part of you is gone," Bakura informs her simply and watches her gasp for breath, her mouth flapping desperately – like that of a fish pulled out of water. (But River is deep and there are creatures there with sharp, sharp teeth. Sobek is biding his time in its depths, eager to swallow those who trespass into his realm.) A wicked smile pulls at Bakura's lips and he can't find a reason to suppress it.

"Look," he says again and Mai gasps, her body jerking in the sand.

Just below the water's surface, a crocodile has latched onto the legs of another fragment of her memories, of her, and tears it apart. Another piece disappears, a trail of red marring the perfect blue of the water, and Mai screams in pain, struggles to get away from the sharp teeth ripping into her flesh, but something keeps her trapped. (Oh, right… a crocodile just bit her legs off; she can't swim anymore. But that thought is vague and untrue, and it fades the moment it crosses her mind, all forgotten.)

She comes back up, gasping for air, reeling from the pain, and she doesn't understand why.

"Look," Bakura says again and another part of her severs. The pain is too real. The feeling of dying – too overwhelming. She doesn't know why, she doesn't remember what for, but she only remembers the death.

"Look." Like another death toll ringing through the air. "Look." Like a heart-stopping drum rising to a crescendo before breaking off to leave only booming silence behind. "Look." And her lifeline is so thin, it sings a high-pitched tone upon snapping. The last grains of sand fall down. The sand clock has stopped.

(But it mustn't stop, no, no.)

Both palms against the shimmering glass for leverage, and Bakura pushes it over. Like a pendulum the pyramidal clock swings – and turns upside-down. The flow of time must not be stopped, Bakura smirks. The wheel of Fortune is forever in motion: up-down, up-down, down-up. The laws of eternity must not be defied. The natural order of things must not be denied.

(Let the sand run.)

As the sand begins to sift down, Bakura leans back against the glass. What a fortunate find this is, he muses. So infinitely better than lurking in the shadows, entertaining the great Nothing. Behind him, time is sifting like fine golden sand, uncovering secrets, unravelling the beauty and nostalgia of bygones, and bringing forth a promise of an endless spiral. Time must not be stopped. Sand clocks were made to turn.


River – the Ancient Egyptian way of referring to the Nile.

Sobek – the god of crocodiles and Nile; deeply feared and revered as the patron of Nile, and later associated with warriors, creation, and fertility due to evolving interpretations over the course of dynasties. Egyptian mythology is one hot mess, let me tell you.

Sources cited: Wikipedia and "Der Bildhauer des Pharao" by Elisabeth Hering