Disclaimer: I do not own YGO or any characters you recognize from the manga/anime.
Warning: Swearing, implied suicide (sort of)
A/N: I hadn't planned on writing a companion piece to Light the Shadows but I got a few requests to see the story from Bakura's point of view and I thought… well, why not? You don't see these kinds of stories from his P.O.V. very often and it was nothing if not a challenge. I just hope I did it justice! Enjoy!
Aizza = saffron
The afterlife isn't what he thought it would be.
It's not surprising, considering that he didn't think he would make it here, period. It doesn't take a genius to know that the gods are generally not particularly amiable towards people who have murdered, tortured and thieved over the course of several lifetimes. So when he first opens his eyes and sees nothing but miles of sand, he wonders if things went wrong and maybe he's still - somehow - in the memory world. But just as quickly, he tosses that notion aside. The Pharaoh always wins, it's just the way things are, and the thought that maybe this time he didn't is too foolish for even him to contemplate.
That's when he notices for the first time that the burning, consuming, raw hatred that has always filled him at the thought of the Pharaoh is gone. Oh sure, he doesn't like the man: he is, and always will be, an ass. But now it's more like a general annoyance, a weary 'fuck I hate him' instead of raging 'fuck I'd like to pull his guts out and then dance on his grave'. The change has left him feeling curiously empty and without thinking, he cups a hand over where his beating heart would (should) be, breathing short, shallow breaths with lungs that no longer need to do so.
"What is this?" he mutters. The gravelly sound of his voice is shocking. Gone is the colder, cruel voice that he used to speak in; now it's lower and smoother, with just a hint of the accent that his weakling half used to have. The resulting pang that shoots through his chest sends him into a state of complete disbelief, and he quickly pushes it away, burying it in a corner of his mind, unwilling or perhaps unable to face what that feeling might mean just yet. He turns his attention instead to inspecting the landscape around him and trying to figure out where he is and how he might have gotten there. Still, all he can see is sand, so he spins around.
Kuru Eruna looms behind him, looking exactly the way it did before the day that changed everything. He stares, wide-eyed and shocked, and doesn't move for several seconds. His mind is racing, trying to figure out the whowhatwhenwherehowwhy, but no answers are forthcoming. Why? Why would the gods give someone like him a second chance? Why not allow his heart to be devoured instead of sending him on to the afterlife? Is this some kind of trick? He tenses instinctively, one hand going to his pocket in search of a weapon, and that's when someone appears in the distance, walking steadily towards him. Gradually, the shadowed features come into perfect clarity and the world spins around him.
"Akefia," his mother whispers.
She seems to know enough to keep her distance, leading him further into the village with only a gentle touch to his right arm. He looks around in wonder as he blindly follows, not watching where his feet go. The memory world was a flash back to the past, but this... this is like the past never even happened. Everyone who seems him smiles or waves or nods, all of them give some form of acknowledgement or greeting like he is a long-lost brother who has only just managed to find his way home. His knees threaten to buckle beneath him and it's only sheer willpower that keeps him standing.
"Come in and sit down," she invites, turning to walk into one of the little huts. Just like he remembers, it is small and cramped but homey, with a few dying flowers lingering in the windows and pretty cloth fabric hanging from the walls. They're a family of thieves, after all, and she has always done what she could with what they've got to make this hut a sanctuary from the cruelty of the outside world. He walks across the room to what was his favourite piece as a child, a ragged scrap of blue-gray-violet fabric that is now at the height of his knees. When he was younger, it was at the perfect height for him to lay his head against it. He can remember falling asleep that like that, face pressed to the eternally sweet-smelling swath, until his mother came along and carried him to bed.
"Why?" he asks, and the word feels foreign and heavy on his tongue. There haven't been a lot of why's in his life. He pretty much gave up on the "why" not long after Kuru Eruna fell. It hadn't taken him long to learn that 'why' didn't matter, yet he has to know.
"Because you were a little boy who watched your whole world being torn apart by savages," his mother says. She is standing in the doorway watching him, her hands tucked each underneath the opposite arm, like she has to hold herself back from lunging across the room and embracing him. "You were naughty, yes, but with a start in life that and that monster's presence in you... no one deserves what you went through."
Only his mother could describe the things he has done as "naughty". He feels certain that his other half would have a few words to say about her choice of description. But he doesn't say anything to contradict her, not even when she eventually goes into the kitchen and he can hear the low murmuring voices of other people. People who have been watching over him, it seems, judging by how much she appeared to know. He stays where he is and keeps staring at that pretty piece of fabric.
As it turns out, there's no need to steal things in the afterlife. No one needs to eat or drink because they're already dead. They can spend their time doing whatever they want, whether that is stealing (it's a hobby for some people) or sitting on the bank of the streambed and staring aimlessly into the water for hours on end. That's what he spends most of his time doing, examining the reflection that stares back at him. Tanned skin, a scar down his cheek from when he was young and foolish and hadn't learned some important lessons, defined muscles, wild hair that sticks up in every possible direction. Familiar, yet at the same time, foreign. Every time he looks into the water, it's a shock all over again not to see pale skin, paler hair, and plain brown eyes.
Footsteps behind him alert him to the fact that someone else is there. His sister walks over to him and sits down without waiting for an invitation that would never come. They look alike, people say. She has the same wild white hair, though her eyes are green, and, unlike him, she burns in the sun. She tucks her knees up against her chest and says, "I saw your hikari the other day."
Something cold runs down his spine, though he refuses to let her see that her comment has affected him. "Oh? And why were you dreaming about that weakling?" he says. It's meant to be a mocking question, but as is everything he does lately, it comes out more half-hearted than anything else.
She giggles. "I wasn't dreaming about him. I saw him."
The cold feeling turns into pure ice and his head snaps around to stare at her. "He's...?" The question gets caught in his throat and he can't finish it. After spending so much time trying to keep his other half alive and safe, the thought of the boy dying is enough to fill him with panic. He clenches a fist, fighting against the urge to spring to his feet and make an attempt to do something abut it. Should have known, he thinks, that the kid would have been too stupid to know how to protect himself on his own.
"No, he's still alive."
It takes a moment for the words to get through the roaring in his ears. "What?"
Her face has taken on a knowing expression. "I said, he's still alive. I saw him in Mother's glass. He looks good, but I think he misses you."
"Obviously you don't know him very well." He's mad at her for... well, not for scaring him (he is the Thief King and he does not get scared) but for lying. Yes. Lying. He shivers in the cold heat and says, "He would never miss me."
"Maybe you're the one who doesn't know him," she says simply, and after that, she doesn't say anything else. And he can't bring himself to ask.
Their mother's glass is a very simple object. It's small, easily held between two cupped palms, and curved, like half of an orb. He knows now that it was probably fashioned out of heat and shadow magic, but when he was younger it was an endless source of fascination for all of them, especially when his mother would make the clear glass glow with color. She has just enough magic that she was able to pass the ability on to him. Without it, he wouldn't have been able to possess the Millennium Ring, and he would have lost all of himself to the shadows and Zorc, instead of losing... well, whatever it is that he's lost.
He sits at the table when the house is empty and holds the glass between his hands. His eyes stare into the shadowed depths, seeing only blood-and-brown looking back. There is no sign of... Well. There is no sign of anything, not that he was looking. He scowls and slams the glass down on the table hard enough to break it, though it doesn't. Forged from shadow magic, indeed. Suddenly restless, he stands up and stalks into the other room, staring out the window. He's not used to having so little space to himself. Even having to share a body with someone else feels far less confining than living in this small town with so many other people.
"Akefia!" His mother appears in the doorway. She's holding the glass in her hands. Fragments of light and color dance over the surface and for the first time he wonders if maybe he doesn't possess the right kind of magic to know what they mean. The thought is frustrating and he is barely paying attention to her scolding until she says, "Honestly, I don't know what to do with you! Were or weren't you trying to use my glass? What have I told you about touching things that do not belong to you?"
This is the first time she's tried to scold him since he arrived and frankly, it's surprising she waited this long. "Don't call me that," he says. It's not what he means to say, but once it's out, he realizes that it's exactly what he needs to say.
She looks at him closely, her green eyes narrowed, and puts her hands on her hips. "What else would I call you? That's your name, isn't it?"
"No, it's not." Another truth that he hadn't realized until it was spoken. The name Akefia brings to mind that little boy who watched his entire town being sent to the slaughter, the child who struggled to make his way in the unforgiving world, the thief who was unstoppable and out for revenge. Centuries later, he is none of those. He is...
"What do I call you then?"
… something different entirely.
"I don't know."
Some time later – he doesn't know how much, time has blurred together – he is out investigating the numerous caves in the mountains that border Kuru Eruna. His sister looks at him sadly every time he leaves and he knows that she knows that he is planning to leave the town. As soon as he finds a suitable spot, he plans to go. It is suffocating to have someone around you at every moment during the day and night and he can't take it anymore. Every once in a while, the distant thought that he never felt that way about his other half flickers across his mind, but he always shoves it away and keeps searching.
One morning, someone is waiting for him. He recognizes the man immediately: one of the loyal priests, Mahado. It is rare to see him away from the pharaoh's side and it makes him think that perhaps something is wrong. But then again, why would Mahado seek him out if there was? "What do you want?" he asks, managing to sound bored. His eyes flicker over to the nearest cave, which has been the most promising so far.
"I have come to speak to you," Mahado says, folding his arms. There is caution written into his every movement, like he is just waiting for an attack that will never come. "It took me a long time to seek you out, Akefia."
"Do not call me that!" he hisses.
Mahado blinks as though surprised before nodding thoughtfully. "If that is what you wish. I need you to come to the city and speak to the Pharaoh."
"You want me to speak to him?" A derisive laugh escapes him. The only thing he can think of that the pharaoh would want to say to him involves less words and more fists to the faces. "Tell you what, I'll go speak to that bastard if you jump off of the nearest cliff and don't use your magic to make sure you survive."
"There is no need to make this difficult," Mahado says with a sigh. "Both of you want the same thing."
He finds that hard to believe. "Oh? And what, pray tell, would that be?"
An almost smug look passes over Mahado's face. "You want to return to the living world. You want your other half back."
Something in his chest constricts and for a second, it's hard to breathe. "Get out."
"Making me leave will not change the reality of the situation," Mahado points out. There is something in his eyes that looks suspiciously like sympathy. It's revolting. "I understand that you do not want to accept this as the truth, but I am tired of seeing Atemu in mourning and I believe your family feels the same way. There is no weakness in wanting to be whole." He hesitates before adding, "As you are now, you are significantly weaker than you would be if you were whole."
Blinding rage floods through him. "GET OUT!"
"At least think about it?" Mahado is backing away as he speaks, hands lifted into the air in a calming gesture. "If you do nothing, you will not be whole again for over eighty years, Bakura. Will your pride force you to wait that long, or will you do what is right for all of you and accept that you need that boy to be happy?"
"You – " Unable to form the words, he gropes for a weapon. By the time he finds a knife, Mahado is gone, and he is alone.
The cave that he has chosen is fairly deep, enough so that when he wants to hide from the harsh light of the sun's rays, he can do so. His skin is tanned and takes the sun better but it's still instinct to be careful. There is a small crack in the ceiling that allows smoke from his fire to escape, but it's far enough away from his sleeping area so that the very occasional storm doesn't end in him waking up soaked. He spends his days scouring the nearby towns for things to steal and his nights staring up at the roof of the cave. Once in a while he will sleep, but since his body no longer needs it, he usually doesn't.
Sleep is an escape and it seems that he will not be blessed with any of those.
A week to the day that Mahado came to him, his sister walks into the cave. "So this is where you have decided to live," she says, looking around with a raised eyebrow. Even though she is now younger than him, it has never stopped her from acting like it's still the other way around. "Mother was concerned when you didn't come home, you know. She's waited a long time to see you again."
"She waited for Akefia," he says. That is not bitterness in his voice. It's really not. "You can tell her that she will continue to wait. He died centuries ago and if he hasn't shown up by now, he's probably not going to." His shoulders are hunched as he attends to the fire. It gives him an excuse to not look at her. He wishes she would go away, but experience tells him that if he says as much that will just make her want to stick around.
She doesn't say anything for a long time. Then – "Do you remember what my name is?"
"What?" The question is completely out of the blue and not at all what he is expecting. He twists, staring at her. "What kind of question is that?"
To be honest, it takes him a couple of minutes. His mind is filled with memories that take a while to sort through – Akefia's life, his other half's life, his own life, of which there are just two short years – but eventually he comes up with a name. "Aizza."
"And your other half's name?"
"Ryou." It comes to his lips so fast that the name has escaped before he even fully registers what she has asked. The sound of the name as it passes through his lips leaves him feeling strange, hollow. An emptiness in his chest that has been getting hard to ignore gapes like an open wound.
Aizza just stands there and looks at him. "Go to him, Bakura," she says tiredly. "You don't belong here."
He does not need anyone.
Especially not someone as weak as his other half.
The boy is weak.
Mahado is wrong.
He will never need that weakling.
It never goes away, that yearning.
In fact, it gets worse.
He begins seeing the boy's face in his dreams when he sleeps, and when he wakes the sound of his other half's name is hanging in the air, sticky and sweet, like milky melted chocolate. Out of the corner of his eye he sees pale hair, but never quite the right shade. Even his own tanned flesh begins to look wrong and he soaks his hands in the river until his fingers turn pale and withered. Aizza finds him and clucks her tongue as she forces him to sit next to the fire and warm his hands by the flames. Pain and feeling return to the appendages slowly but he is oblivious to the physical, too lost in the emotional.
"You're being stupid," she says, mingled sympathy and frustration running across her face in spades. "Why are you so bent on torturing both of you?"
"I don't need him," he hisses. The words are spit out, dragged from somewhere in the depths of his empty chest. It doesn't hurt, not the way he would expect. It's just... empty. He never knew that being alone could hurt so much.
Aizza shakes her head and sighs as she putters around, draping a fur over his shoulders. She is speaking but he doesn't pay attention to her words. He stares into the fire, numb and shocked, and thinks about what just went through his mind. Alone is a state he is used to, a state he prefers. After all, what kind of thief needs to work with others? The Thief King needs no one and wants for nothing. Even after the imprisonment in the Millennium Ring, that was how he lived.
Yet the absence of the boy, of his other half, it aches. It is something he can't ignore because slowly but surely it's consuming him. He drops his head into his shaking hands and grips his hair, wishing that he could pull hard enough to dull the emptiness.
When he was younger, he was addicted to stealing, to the adrenaline of taking something that did not belong to him.
It is slowly occurring to him that somehow, without noticing, he has become addicted to someone else.
A week after that, he goes to visit the city. He tells himself as he saunters through the bustling streets that he is not here for anything in particular, but somehow he finds himself inside the palace speaking to the pharaoh. The man looks dreadful, and he has to wonder if he looks the same. If so, it's not a wonder that Aizza's face is becoming increasingly concerned. Somehow, he manages to pull himself together long enough to interact with Yami and piss Seth off. He feels curiously light as he saunters back out the doors and is irritated to realize that the empty ache in his chest has actually subsided a little at the knowledge that seeing his other half may be a reality soon.
"Fuck off," he says, shoving his hands deeply into his pockets and not bothering to turn around. Mahado is one of the last people he wants to speak to right now. The presence of the priest is keeping the other guards away and that annoys him. He could use a good fight and who better than the idiots who consider serving the pharaoh to be a job worthy of the afterlife?
"You will never change, Bakura," Mahado says, and his voice is filled with amusement. "Listen to me. You and the pharaoh will have to work together if you want to do this."
"Surely he could do it on his own," he says, finally turning to face the taller man. "What do you even care?"
Mahado just looks at him. "Yes, he could. The gods would listen to him as he is their child," he agrees. "But Atemu has always done what is right for others. It is never about himself. He would never follow through on the desire to return to the living world unless he believed that someone else is suffering as well. Instead he would chose to waste away thinking that we wanted him here. However, if he is under the impression that you also wish to return and that you can't do it without him..."
He puts a hand to his head, realizing that he has just been played. "Do you ever get tired of trying to organize the lives of everyone around you?"
The priest smirks. "Not particularly, no." He reaches into his robes and draws out a golden blade. "Here, you will need this. I don't suppose I need to explain what it's for."
No, he's seen rituals before, and he knows what will be required to attract the attention of the gods, who pay so little attention to those who have already been judged. Slowly, he reaches out and takes it. It's heavy in his hand – solid gold, then – and sharp. "I won't thank you."
"No," Mahado says with a small smile. "I don't expect you would."
It doesn't even take a full twenty-four hours for Yami to show up. For the first time in – well, probably ever - the two of them actually work together. He goes first, and while he's lying on the sand because standing up quickly became too much of an effort, Yami follows suit and lands beside him. The last thing he wants to do is to touch the pharaoh in any way, shape, or form, but he forces himself to reach out with his right hand and grab hold of the pharaoh's left. There's a split second pause before Yami's fingers tighten around his to the point of pain, and then the world dissolve into sticky bright chaos around them.
In retrospect, Mahado probably had a point. The gods would not have listened to either of them alone. He can tell by the probing, awed way in which they ask their questions. It's the fact that they, two self-proclaimed mortal enemies, are working together that has snared their interest in the first place. He does his best to remain silent while Yami negotiates and is disgusted with himself for feeling relief and gratefulness when the gods actually deign to give in. The colors blur together into muted darkness but he stays awake in spite of the agony, refusing to let his guard down for even a minute, not sure of where or when they will end up.
When things finally stabilize it takes a long time before he can do anything except lay still and take deep breaths with lungs that are actually working, actually need to work. His heart is pounding and that's a strange feeling. He twitches his fingers and feels cool, small blades against his hand. It takes more effort than it should to pluck a single piece of grass and hold it up in front of his eyes. The fresh green color, so unlike anything he saw in Egypt, affirms to him that they have, indeed, made it back. His whole body throbs when he pushes himself into a sitting position, but the pain is swept away in a deluge of what could only be called wonder at seeing Domino City for the first time with his own eyes.
Yami comes around slowly, as to be expected, and by the time he's fully conscious, it's been like half an hour and his patience is wearing thin. Now that they're back, the hole in his chest weighs even more than ever, and he can't stop himself from pacing back and forth, even though every step is a fresh burn. His hands are shaking and he feels jittery, exactly the way he used to before stealing something exceptionally valuable. It's sickening the way these physical symptoms are presenting themselves and he does his best to hide it, running away from the pharaoh as soon as possible. After all, he knows exactly where he needs to go.
He's not sure what he's going to do when he gets to the boy's house. Sneak in a window? Walk right in the front door? Turn around and walk away? As it turns out, the choice is taken out of his hands. Ryou is out on the front lawn tending to the flower gardens his mother and sister planted right before they died, and his head snaps around as soon as the distance between them is less than a dozen feet. He looks straight at his darker half and his honey brown eyes go wide, mouth dropping open in surprise. Slowly, he stands up, and for a long tense minute it seems as though he doesn't know what to do, either.
They look at each other for a long time.
"Yami?" Ryou finally says, breaking the silence. Something flickers across his face and he adds, almost uncertainly, "Akefia? What... what are you doing here?"
He folds his arms and marches straight past the boy, walking into the house. It looks the same as it did when he was last here. The fact that he consciously acknowledges this makes him uncomfortable and he stands stiffly as Ryou wanders in behind him, shedding his sneakers and gloves by the door. He looks at his other half and says, "My name is Bakura."
Ryou frowns, a line forming across his forehead, but he knows better than to ask questions. "Okay."
It's this simple acceptance – no questions, no "but you're the Thief King" – that sends him forward. One minute he's on the opposite side of the room and the next he's in front of Ryou, who gasps and has no time to respond to the sudden change before he's slammed back against the wall. He studies the younger boy intently, trying to figure out what makes him so special. Why the hole in his chest feels the better for being near him, why the twitchy tension that has plagued him for months is finally dissolving, why he wants to tuck his head into Ryou's shoulder and just stay there forever.
"I was gone," he says.
Ryou hesitates a beat before whispering, "And you came back."
He says nothing.
"You missed me," Ryou says, understanding dawning in his eyes. It's mixed with no small amount of wonder, but even stronger is the presence of relief. That tells him everything he needs to know. His other half fumbles, self-conscious, and looks away as he says, "I... I should call Yuugi. Did his yami come back with you? He's been having a hard – oh!" A small gasp is swallowed when he leans down and kisses the boy roughly, pressing him against the wall with his body.
Satisfaction, hot and heavy, floods through him as gradually they both relax into the kiss, turning it into something that could almost be deemed sweet.
Finally he's found what feeds this new addiction.