A/N: Geminishipping - Yami Bakura x Thief King Bakura - for Tier 6 of Season 10 of the YGO fic contest here on ff-net. This fic took on a life on its own and slipped right through my hands somewhere around middle. Also, ff-net, why the hell are you eating figure dashes now? Are you serious? D:
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: none that I can think of.
I Was An Abyss Once
"It was a thousand to one and a million to two
Time to go down in flames and I'm taking you
Closer to the edge"
- Closer To The Edge by 30 Seconds To Mars
Among the Shadows, there is a place where you face your own worst enemy. It's a place not many know of. It's a place barely anyone ventures into because the realm of Shadows is filled with lost souls, each and every one of them caught in a solitary custom-made hell. They can't move away from where they've been damned to; they cannot go deeper in and they can't get out. And for the most part, they're unaware of fellow souls - even if they're stranded side by side. Likewise, a creation like Yami Malik could never learn of it because the very concept was foreign to him; because he only existed for the sake of living in anger and vengeance. He didn't have enemies. He had a thirst for destruction. Thus, he never explored the Shadows, never took a step amid them further than necessary. They were only there for him to exploit however he felt like, no questions asked - unlike Bakura who's been around for long enough to visit every part of the doomed world, every deepest, darkest corner of the bottomless abyss. He has stared the abyss down and the abyss has quailed in front of him.
This here is no abyss, however.
"Look at what you've become! You can't even recognise yourself," Bakura's worst enemy sneers.
Now, he isn't the worst because he's hard to kill or because he's done a particular injustice to him - gods, no! He can, most certainly, be killed, and no one, ever, has committed a greater injustice than the Pharaoh who wiped his entire village from existence to create Items of Power. He is the worst because Bakura must not kill him. After all, taking his own life would be the ultimate act of cowardice and he doesn't feel like challenging the world by eradicating his own roots. He isn't that far gone yet.
The Thief King sneers at him from his perch on the shadowy cliff which he has created for himself out of the Shadows. He looks perfectly bored while pale spirits float around him and illuminate his form in the oddest of ways. This is a yet another reason why Bakura finds himself loathing his own mirror image - for while he controls the Shadows, he cannot control the lost souls of Kul Elna. The Thief King can do both.
"What are you anymore?" the Thief King taunts. "For the spirits don't recognise you. Are you still me? Or are you your own creation with my stolen memories?"
Shadows twine around them, shaping worlds and laying them all to ruin. Tall, pointy spires twist upwards, vaulted domes rise, jagged walls spring up and cobbled streets twist around them, built by invisible hands, only to crumble away and wither into murky blackness again. Bakura has seen so many things in his time: kingdoms falling, rulers being dethroned, merry slaughter of children and the innocent. He knows more than the Thief King does and yet here they stand - questioning his own identity.
Well, he doesn't question it. His identity does.
"After all, stealing is the only thing you've ever been good at," The Thief King goads and he's speaking like he's crushing souls between his teeth - each syllable clear and sharp, teeth bared in a wide sneer. Spirits cluster around him, casting him in a weak glow that's still blinding in the overall darkness. He looks so out of place here that it's actually fitting.
"I am what you'll become," Bakura declares with flourish. "And this? This will be your realm."
The Thief King laughs uproariously; head thrown back, eyes narrowed in cold mirth and unnatural white teeth flashing. "Some kingdom you have," he says eventually, laughter still twinkling in his eyes, though his mouth has set into a cruel line. "Crawling like a worm through darkness while the Pharaoh languishes in the Fields of Aaru and thrives in bright afterlife."
Bakura snarls something monosyllabic and indistinguishable, but wherever he's sending the Pharaoh that moment is certainly not bright and pleasant. Images of kingdoms sift like sands between them, faded faces of people he's used and erased flutter like wisps of purple-grey smoke wherever he looks. They don't matter; they never did. They were nothing but one more stone in the foundations of his tower of vengeance. Babel can't hold a candle to what he's constructed and if it were possible to enter it into a record book, he'd remain unrivalled until somebody found a way to build a bridge to the moon.
"You've spent thousands of years waiting to take your revenge in a hell of your own creation. And what have you accomplished?"
Bakura doesn't remember being that big of a talker during his life. He recalls taking whatever he felt like, doing whatever he deemed necessary, and not wasting words where a sword was more sufficient. "I wouldn't expect you to understand. You'll just have to wait and see for yourself."
This time, the Thief King's laughter is bitter. "Wait? I've been here for as long as you. What are you still waiting for? A second chance? The Pharaoh is as dead as you are. Time doesn't move backwards."
"Then I'll make it move!" Bakura snaps, hands balling into fists. His identity knows how to yank his chains, undoubtedly. The one person who should know, who should understand his reasons…
This ardent proclamation is met with more laughter. "And mountains will shift when you breathe at them."
Bakura makes an annoyed sound and turns to leave only to find his path blocked by impenetrable darkness. On its surface - he's still taken by surprise even though he's learned that down here, darkness is as solid as it is intangible - the massacre of Kul Elna repaints itself in ghastly shades of deep reds and sickly purples. He stands completely rigid, watching the emaciated bodies of people he used to know and love attempt to break away from the wall of darkness, the wall of fire, their faces twisted into masks of terror and unbearable pain, only to be pulled back in and engulfed in slithering black flames. The Shadows, luckily, can't recreate the pungent smell from that night, or the tormented howls he'd never before believed humans capable of making, or the singeing heat that made his hair smoke and shrivel up at the ends even from a distance. It isn't necessary. He still hears all the screaming just by looking at the open mouths and the silence that's coming out of them. He can close his eyes to the mockery of Shadows, but he can't close his mind to those memories.
"Who are you now?" the Thief King prompts again.
It takes Bakura a moment to find his voice and when he speaks again, it is raw with anger and hoarse from his memories. His eyes are narrowed and hateful. "I am a thief and stealer of souls. I am you."
Thief King, too, takes a moment to reply, ghostly shadows dancing between them and illuminating a strand of grey smoke that seems to bind them together. "Nothing. You've become nothing. Just a shell filled to the brim with darkness. You're not even a shadow of me anymore."
"I am," Bakura enunciates fiercely, ordering the shadows to rise, to obey, to smother. Blinded by fury, he reaches out towards who he used to be, intent on destroying because he can't become that person again. Doesn't want to. Doesn't need to. Time doesn't go backwards. Time doesn't go. And he exists.
The condemned souls of Kul Elna rise instantly like a pale tide, throwing themselves between the Thief King and his shadow. Like a shield they stretch between them and like a warm summer wind they envelop the both of them in their presence.
"I do not recognise you. You are no part of me."
"I am everything you failed to be," Bakura snaps back. "I'm the one who survives. I'm the one who will kill the Pharaoh."
The Shadows swell up and rip into the hallowed life barrier, tearing it to shreds and ruining the last stronghold that stood between them, destroying the one thing that protected them from each other. Thief King watches the pale glow fading and becoming scattered amid billowing clouds of blackness and he can't say he's surprised. Or impressed.
"All these years and you still don't understand."
"You've already accomplished it."
"I am a simple man, Bakura. And you've been alive for as long as I have been. Figure it out."
Irate, Bakura lurches forward, scattering shadows and souls alike, every fibre of his being concentrated on a single goal - wiping that all-knowing smirk off the Thief King's face. The ground beneath his feet shifts and rises, enabling him to lunge at the other and knock him off his perch. They tumble through darkness and roll amid ghost lights. Or maybe they're just falling endlessly because Shadows have neither an end, nor a beginning. Direction is meaningless in something that is as wide as it is deep and where the bottom is anyplace you wish for it to be.
The Thief King doesn't disappear, unlike other creations of the Shadows that always disintegrate at Bakura's touch. He remains solid. Real. Corporeal. And mocking.
"It's funny," he drawls, staring unblinkingly into Bakura's eyes, "how you've wasted all these years."
Bakura bares his teeth in a wicked grin. He's got the upper hand now. He's got the other pinned down. "I've found the Pharaoh. I wouldn't call that 'wasted'."
"What do you know, living here, amid memories and ghosts." Bakura's tone is flippant. He is certain of his superiority and his hold on his mirror reflection is strong. He's not going anywhere. He's never going. "The world outside has changed. It has turned in my favour."
"The world doesn't owe anyone favours."
There is a punch coming at Thief King's face, but it never connects. Bakura can't break him down. He can't assimilate him. Every time he tries, there is a tidal wave of fiery memories lashing out at him. If he didn't know any better, he'd think the remembered flames are trying to purge the darkness out of him. But it's been too long now. He's grown strong while living amid the Shadows. He's not trying to stare down an abyss anymore. He has become one and he intends to draw in more and more. More souls, more hatred, more darkness. And yet this one thing stands strong and unyielding like a barrier reef, sinking all ships that are foolish enough to come too close.
Bakura leans in as if to breathe him in, as if he could pull him inside where there's something hollow and aching, and fill that void with his very being. Revenge, he tells himself. Retribution. The hole inside of him couldn't be anything else. It's filled with darkness, but it's not a good enough substitute. Bloodshed helps.
"I'm going to kill the Pharaoh," he proclaims in a loud whisper, glee prickling just below his skin, insides twisting in anticipation. These are the words that need not be screamed from rooftops. These are the words of someone who does instead of talking empty. He's so close to his goal he can taste the blood on the tip of his tongue, smell the fear and desperation. He can feel the Shadows move around him as if answering his thoughts. They are hungry too. They're always hungry.
But the Thief King only laughs. He throws his head back, narrows his eyes into tiny slits and lets loose a booming laugh that rattles every bone in his body. It reverberates into Bakura, prickles his skin with its intensity and worms in deeper like an itch you can't scratch out. It's mocking him and it's wrong and he can't shut it out or shrug it off. Because, ultimately, it's him laughing at his own foolishness. It continues on and on until Bakura can't take it anymore and smothers the sound in a kiss. He can't suffocate, but he feels like drowning. The abyss surges up around him and for a moment he doesn't remember where it ends and where he begins. He isn't even sure which one he is and this flash of uncertainty is enough to send him into panic, but when he tries to pull back, he can't. The Thief King has a hold on him and he won't let go. Their positions have changed - or maybe they've always been in reverse - and he's the one on top now. The laughter is still ringing and maybe it's the Shadows having fun at their expense.
Bakura is drowning. The Thief King's gaze is locked on his and the reflected light from the souls in them leaves an impression of drowning pools. And maybe they're not amid the Shadows anymore, but a bog instead and the lights misleading him are will-o'-the-wisps. And maybe he's sinking to the bottom of the River and it's the light of Ra flickering on the surface of the water. It doesn't matter. He's already dead.
Becoming an abyss is dangerous. There will always be someone void enough to draw it in. It might not happen. It might happen once every thousand years. But there's always someone with a hole inside their soul so deep that an abyss alone can't fill it.
And when he stares back, the abyss yields. And when he rises, the darkness rises with him.
I do not recognise you - I do not acknowledge you as a part of me.
The River - river Nile