A/N: For Tier 4 of Season 8.5 of the YGO fic contest here on ff-net. The pairing is Crossshipping – Yami Malik and Yuugi Mutou.

To differentiate between Malik the original and Malik the evil alter ego, as well as to keep things as close to real-life as manageable, and considering that Malik means 'ruler', 'king', 'master' and I highly doubt that Y!Malik would accept a different name (not to mention how this reminds me of Bleach and Hichigo's King prattle), I'm putting all the difference on emphasis and inflection in pronunciation. Notice the stress marks. [ 'mālik ] – Malik the original; [ ma'līk ] – Malik the evil alter ego. (Thank you, Professor of Arab History (whom I've dubbed the real-life Dumbledore); I'll never forget your lessons, or that one bagel analogy of five minutes of pleasure in the mouth, a lifetime on the hips. You're the best professor ever. Hands. Down.)

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: morbid details. Nothing excessive.

How the World Burns

("Beautifully," he says.)

"If the Pharaoh is as noble as you claim," Malīk sneers at Yuugi who hangs up high, suspended by coils of darkness, "he would take your place up there."

"Don't listen to him, Yuugi!" Pharaoh urges, cards clenched tightly in his hand. There is a fine sheen of sweat on his brow, but he'll never admit this. Never before has this much been staked on a single duel.

"It's… okay, Pharaoh," Yuugi rasps, his voice weak and wavering from the strain. With pieces of his body missing, he can barely concentrate on anything that isn't pain. "I want it to be this way. I chose this. Just… win."

Malīk throws his head back in an uproarious laughter. Suddenly, he seems to be all up in Yuugi's face, even though he hasn't moved from his spot on the deck. He presents the boy with a wicked ear-to-ear grin and bared white teeth. Veins are prominent and pulsing under his skin, and tiny streaks of red colour his eye-whites.

"Such a good little martyr you are," Malīk mocks, his distinct Egyptian accent becoming more pronounced with the psychotic note seeping into his tone. It speaks of dark, destructive cravings and shows the budding of insanity. He spreads his arms out as if wanting to envelop the entire world with them. "And the Pharaoh – the Pharaoh likes his little martyr, oh yes, he does! He likes seeing him mutilated beyond recognition. He keeps you suffering instead of exchanging places with you."

The Pharaoh screams something up at them from his spot on the deck below, but the words disappear in the wind without reaching them. Somehow, Yuugi finds the strength to look Malīk straight in the eye and deliver one full sentence.

"The same way you switched with Mālik?"

Malīk snorts. Scoffs. "Why switch when we're one and the same? Why switch when he's…"

What is that, right there, on Malīk's face? Regret? Remorse? Or loathing? Yuugi thinks his blurry eyes are deceiving him. Pharaoh is saying something reassuring to him, but the words won't reach and he's only guessing from the tone of his voice.

"…my weakness."

A low hiss, and just like that, the one true emotion on the face of madness disappears, swept away by a tidal wave of hatred and loathing. The crack in his mask fills in and evens out; the fissure closes up, and only pus seeps around the blood-clot, betraying its location. Everything that is good, fair, and just about Malīk erodes away into wispy shadows.

Yuugi can't help the gasp of pain escaping, as more of his body is given over to the shadows. His other self, the Pharaoh, is still talking, but only a dull and muted drawl filters through to Yuugi's ears. The duel below is still ongoing; it hasn't stopped even for a moment. Malīk is back in his spot on the far end of the platform, as though he hadn't moved away from there at all.

The world is fading around Yuugi, and in contrast, the pain he feels keeps escalating. Large chunks are already missing from his body, but he can still feel those pieces of flesh. He feels how they hurt in their non-existence. When vision permits him, he looks at the edges of his body – what else would you call them now, he wonders – disappearing in dark smoke to see raw flesh, chipped bones, bubbling blood, and severed tendons revealed. His stomach flips over and over again, but the bile never rises to his throat – a chunk of his midsection is missing and it can't reach. He can see the contents of his stomach slush around, and he has a clear view on how his elbow looks from the inside. It makes him nauseous, but he can't relieve himself.

Even if Yuugi doesn't look down at his own body, the only other few options are just as unsettling. Across from his is Mālik, brain poking out from the missing side of his face, one eye socket terribly hollow, and his mouth cavity so bright red and raw, and empty. Mālik has been robbed of his tongue; of his soul and his will to fight. And below them… Below them, there is a battlefield where monsters deal real damage and the Pharaoh suffers as much as his host.

It takes Yuugi a while to realise that the sound of battle doesn't reach his ears anymore. It takes a while to see that it's just him and Malīk there. The platform with monsters and face-down cards has faded in that brief gap between one blink of the eye and another. Everybody else is gone, and for a terrible moment Yuugi thinks that the Pharaoh has lost. Malīk sneers down at him in victory, and it makes Yuugi's heart hammer wildly in fear for the other. He realises that he feels easier, lighter all of a sudden. Even the worst of the pain has faded.

"Your hero in shining armour," Malīk begins with flair, his arms going out to emphasise his words. He strikes a pose and holds it. He can control minds – he can't read them; but with Yuugi he doesn't even have to try – the kid wears his heart on his sleeve. It's all too easy for the Egyptian to hit where it hurts the most.

Yuugi cuts him off. "Don't call him that! I chose this for myself."

Malīk scowls and shakes his head. Crosses his arms. Shuts himself off from the world and the little idiot's goodwill. "How much longer are you going to believe him? How much longer are you going to hang on to his every word and let him use you?"

"H-he's not! I'm not!" Yuugi sputters, wincing in pain. Whether from Malīk's words or his own eroding body, he doesn't know and can't even hazard a guess.

Malīk makes a derisive snort. "He's got you blinded, fool. Wrapped you up in his own truth. You let him use you like an idiot."

"N-no," Yuugi tries to protest, but his voice betrays him and breaks. Pain comes rushing back.

Friends, Malīk remembers. Friends are Yuugi's weak spot.

"You live in his shadow and pretend to be as great as the Pharaoh himself."

"So what?" Yuugi whispers, defiant to the last. He has thought about this himself, time and time before. "So what?"

Too close, Malīk realises. They're still too close. Therefore, he cuts and divides, splits and rebuilds the shadows to his liking, creating a world within a world; a Shadow Realm within a Shadow Realm. Just as he created another self within his own mind – once tried and tested, the knowledge of how to never disappears.

"Your so-called friends," Malīk puts forth, testing the limits again. He leers at the chained boy through his bangs, waiting for him to break. "Are they yours? Or his?"

Whatever that one word is, that Yuugi mutters in response, is lost – barely a breath over his lips. Malīk grins and circles his prey, patient like a vulture. He can feel the influence of the Puzzle waning by the moment. The shadow of it around the boy's neck is a weak shield, and the power of the original cannot sustain it at such lengths. It could, of course, if the Pharaoh were to concentrate hard enough and channel his energy towards this one goal. But he doesn't know, doesn't need to know, and won't find out until it's too late.

"You've been thinking the same things too," Malīk points out. He knows what to aim for. He can feel the strongest of Yuugi's feelings reverberate. "Asking yourself if those friends are truly yours. Wondering if you'd still have them if the Pharaoh wasn't there."

Yuugi doesn't even attempt to protest because he has asked this same thing himself before. He has wondered if things would be the same now if he hadn't completed the puzzle. He has pondered all of this himself, when everything was only beginning. He doesn't need to look for an answer either – it's been there all along. The Pharaoh got the ball rolling. The Pharaoh cast the bridges.

"Would they treat you the same without him?"

No, Yuugi's mind echoes. Anzu wouldn't. She wouldn't look at me the same way she looks at the Pharaoh, and

Malīk splits and divides, bringing them deeper down into the Shadows, until they coil around them dark and suffocating. One level down, then another. He can split it apart – split himself apart. One Ka, one Ba; one half visible on the duelling field and facing off against the Pharaoh while the other sinks into the darkness with a part of the Pharaoh's host, and nobody can even tell the difference. Malīk laughs. Giddy. Reeling.

(The Winged Dragon of Ra rises on the field – and Malīk with it.)

"If the Pharaoh is so great and merciful, why did he doom my family to an eternal life underground? To never see the sun, the world? To never feel the wind!" Malīk questions and proclaims, accusing and demanding all at once. He can probe the vestiges of Yuugi's mind now. A little bit more, and he will be able to possess him. The shadow of the puzzle is thin and transparent, and fading away. For the time being, he just scrapes together reference points and twists them to his liking.

"He… he didn't…" Yuugi forces out weakly, and if the shadows wouldn't be so deathly quiet, Malīk would have never heard it. Yuugi's mind is a mess. He can't think straight. "…doesn't… remember…"

"Not remembering," Malīk snaps, "doesn't mean he didn't do it. My people," he barrages on, "had to suffer for millennia, locked away into something worse than non-existence. Why didn't he set them free?"

"…couldn't… puzzle…"

"And how long has it been since you solved the Puzzle? How long since he's out and about while his people rot away underground? How long since he's helping you get friends while a loyal clan festers in eternal darkness?"

Yuugi doesn't even notice how Malīk's voice becomes a comfortable background noise; a second voice in his head, telling him things that are true.

Of course, Malīk lies. He cares not for his own clan, for the years they spent burrowed underground in millennia-long damnation, forgotten by the rest of the world. He only cares for his own cause, and for that no means are too low. The words he chooses – with the sympathy-invoking edge and the justification to the accusations – are the ones his better side has said before. His other half cared for families, clans, and alliances. Malīk will suffer none of that. The world will burn because he wants it so. Everything else is just a rightful means to a desired end.

"What did the Pharaoh make his priority then? His memories. And not his people. What proper ruler," – Oh, Malīk intends to rule. – "of anything puts himself before his people?" – Malīk intends to kill them all. – "And does he, therefore, deserve to rule anything?"

The shadow of the Puzzle around Yuugi's neck disappears and Malīk can take over. Malīk's rod glows faintly and he forces himself into the other's head. He buries himself deep in the boy's mind, amid the thoughts that whisper how insignificant Yuugi is. Amid the thoughts that claim him to be worthless and useless, and existing only to be the Pharaoh's vessel. The thoughts that repeat, over and over again, how all of his friends will turn their backs and walk away from him the moment the Pharaoh leaves. Those thoughts rattle and rumble, and leave Yuugi's mind in a mess. He can't remember anything the Pharaoh has told him before; he can barely remember himself existing. At the moment, he feels as though he is only a mass of pulsating, slithering thoughts, all drawn into a tight coil. And at the very heart of that coil lies terrible darkness without a name.

Yuugi resists at first. He fights with everything he's got – which isn't much after most of his body has gone up in smoke, and his mind is too weary to produce a single complete and coherent thought. Malīk reaches out to touch his face, and Yuugi jolts back in shock and fear, seeking to avoid all contact, but the chains holding him down are unyielding and he stays put. Malīk traces his fingertips along Yuugi's cheekbone and down his jaw, and the touch feels like those fingers have burrowed deep in his skull, scraping his brain out chunk by little chunk. Yuugi screams in pain. Malīk settles in the other's mind like a virus; injects himself like a tiny mosquito bite to the far recesses of Yuugi's mind to hide and wait.

The shadows explode and burn away at the same time when the splinter of Yuugi's soul rejoins the rest of his soul, his body becoming complete again. On the deck below, Malīk is being torn in half because his better side puts everything into a last ditch effort.

(Mālik forfeits the duel. Forfeits the darkness. But the darkness never dies.)

Malīk becomes a forgotten thought at the back of Yuugi's mind.

Several months go by after the Pharaoh's – Atem's, now – departure into the afterlife. Several months of feeling lonely in a suddenly vacant and solitary mind within the confines of one single body pass by, leaving Yuugi to feel… less. Less human, less himself. Incomplete. Several months of a slowly growing realisation that memories aren't quite enough to keep him and his friends together.

The school ends, and they drift apart one by one to wherever the life takes them. They move on with their lives; they go with the flow and don't look back all too often. All too soon, it becomes apparent that a phone call or an email, a stray letter or a postcard with a quick note scrawled on it just doesn't have the same impact as actually being together. It doesn't come even close to camping out in the wilderness with only a campfire lighting the night. It's not the same as wandering in dark dungeons – scared, but unwilling to admit it. The things they relay to each other this way aren't the same as if they had done them all together. It's just a weak echo; an attempt to include the others in what, essentially, is a foreign life already. Now, to each other they are a second thought – something left on the back burner that still demands some attention in the name of used-to-be. And while the stories they share and the events they retell are exciting and uplifting, and sometimes glum, too, it's just not the same. They include people, names, and places which the others don't know. It makes them feel… alienated, somehow. Unnecessary, even.

Several more months go by before something dark stirs in the recesses of Yuugi's mind, spurred on by the feeling of loneliness and isolation, and breeds resentment. Ever so slowly, it claws its way up, ever up; so unnoticeably that Yuugi takes no heed of it until it is too late. His mind is lulled to sleep, warped to believe that this darkness is a rightful part of his being, and that its existence is justified by the abandonment and emptiness he has been feeling for the past months. His friends have obviously forgotten all about the great times they used to have together and now only torture him with reminders that he is no longer a part of their lives. Anzu is happy pursuing her dream. Jou is happy just getting by. Serenity is happy because there are so many things to see, to catch up with – this Jou tells Yuugi on his sister's behalf. Honda is happy for landing himself a stunt job. Bakura sends a postcard every now and then with sparse and neatly-written polite lines that let Yuugi know that he's happy too. Kaiba… Kaiba is busy with his work – this Yuugi learns from newspaper headlines and news on TV. Rebecca's phone-calls grow less and less frequent, as she takes an advanced course and has to study a lot, but she's happy, happy, happy.

Yuugi doesn't fight back at first; doesn't think to fight what is, obviously, nostalgia and longing. He feels lonely without his friends, and running the game shop doesn't take up enough time to not let him think back on the bygones and remember. While Yuugi thinks that he has gotten used to them being constantly away, he is more used to having them around at all times. Often, just a call away before meeting up somewhere in the city to hang out. He no longer remembers what it was like in the beginning when they were only schoolmates and vague acquaintances. Finding himself all alone again is suddenly too hard to bear. Unusual. New. Alarming. Yuugi lets these emotions linger, along with treasured memories, but they fester instead. The loneliness grows and develops into a feeling of abandonment. The longing warps into self-righteous desire. The nostalgia twists into resentment before giving way to bitter hatred. And one day, hatred surges. Spirals. Upwards, ever upwards.

One morning Yuugi wakes up feeling not quite himself. Giddy. Light-headed. He can't feel his own weight. He feels like he is walking on air. Treading clouds. His heart thumps out an oddly erratic beat in his ribcage. It seems to him as if his mind is floating somewhere above his head, disconnected with the body. His thoughts have broken out of the confines of his skull. His mind feels bloated, inflated, and in a turmoil of thoughts where he can't make out a single coherent one. He feels like throwing up and makes his way to the bathroom, bumping doorways with his shoulder and not even registering the pain – just the impact.

Mirror. On the wall. Looking at him. Eyes. Blur.

One side of Yuugi's face stretches out, flickers, twists. The world is a hurricane of colours and sounds, and it hurts, hurts, hurts. Maybe he screams out in pain. Maybe it's the world screaming for him. The room compresses, lifts up, and slams into him from all sides. His mind comes crashing down to its rightful place and Yuugi suddenly feels relieved. The dizziness has gone away. Weightless, he falls through darkness (Dark. Good. Sleep.) and sighs in contentment. Grandpa will worry – a stray thought flickers across his fading conscious – finding me collapsed like this.

A single white halogen lamp brightly illuminates the tiled bathroom, casting sharp-edged shadows. Purple eyes stare at their reflection in the mirror. Evaluating. Deciding. Hair sticks out at odd angles and a hand lifts to run through it, messing it up even more. The hand continues its path down a smooth face. Exploring. Touching. Feeling. Strips off pyjama bottoms while the eyes watch the body turn left and right. Naked. Touching. Pleasure. A contented sigh.

"Grandpa should worry," a voice rasps – new, unused – echoing hollowly off the walls, "about himself."

A wicked grin splits the face in two. Muscles flex, testing the abilities of the body. Good. Not too shabby. Less than desirable, but still manageable. He turns to go and find the grandpa.

Through Yuugi's eyes Malīk sees the world. With Yuugi's voice he calls for the old man, and with the same voice he laughs. With Yuugi's hand he guides a knife picked up in the kitchen – Yuugi's memories tell him where it is – into the body of the elderly man one, two, five, sixteen times. With Yuugi's fingers he lights a match – Yuugi's memories tell him where, how – and puts it to the posters on the walls, the tablecloth, the curtains, the old man's bloody shirt. THere is more than one match that he strikes, but it all flows together into one flame eventually. With Yuugi's legs he walks back upstairs and gets redressed while the fire spreads, and with those same legs he walks out of the house again, blood-stained and smouldering. He steps over the corpse on his way out. And with Yuugi's trembling voice he cries out into the wee hours of the morning, calling for help. Calling for saviour.

Nobody doubts the King of Games when he claims having woken up to a burning house and a dead Grandfather on the game shop's floor.

Three weeks later, the entire Domino city knows that there is a serial killer loose on its streets. Yuugi is brought in for questioning and the investigators pry relentlessly for any details he might remember of that horrible morning because all of the other cases have the same modus operandi. Yuugi loses his calm. He cries and breaks down, begging to be left alone. The loss of his grandfather is still too fresh and raw in his memory. He has no other recollections of that day. The police leave him be and arrange for an escort home.

Somebody else dies that night.

Through Yuugi's eyes, Malīk stares at himself in the bathroom mirror of the renovated game shop. He grins and Yuugi's face twists in a way that would have looked foreign before. Malīk told his precious friends – those who could come to the grandpa's funeral – that he would never be the same again. His friends understood and consoled him. And with that, they didn't understand him at all.

Malīk reaches out to trace his new features: thin fingers along cool glass, blunt nails down the reflection as if he could peel off the top layer, cleave deep marks into the mask of flesh to reveal another – the true – face beneath it. But he can't. The mask of his enemy stays firmly in place no matter what he tries to do to its reflection. He has tried to sully the body of his enemy; he does it every time he kills somebody. But this is his body now, and he has more use of it when it's not broken.

Malīk shatters the mirror. Now, he doesn't need to see. Now, he can pretend. Now he can be… himself. He reaches out and picks up a box of matches from the bathroom shelf – he keeps them close at hand at all times now. He slowly slips the box open and takes one match out – they're beautiful with red endings. Red, red, red. It's a flame begging to be lit. Malīk strikes the match. Light glints off the shards of the mirror. Red, red, red. Flame. Blood.

He sets the world on fire.

A/N: Well, what can I say – it was only a matter of time before I turned Shadow Realm into Inception.

Ba, Ka – soul and spirit, respectively. Since Ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul had five parts and several other souls, I introduced Malīk's ability to split himself apart as something he would see fit to exploit.

Modus operandi – from Latin: somebody's habits, way of working/functioning/operating.

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