Chapter Five: You and Who?

"He really likes those, huh?" Malik chuckled, leaning his elbows on the table. Ryou passed him the beer bottle they were sharing and he took another drink. It was chilled but still burned pleasantly. He handed it back and Ryou took a few sips.

They were watching Mariku through the kitchen's cracked door. He was sprawled on the couch, engrossed in the same video game that had stumped him all week. Malik was relieved he'd found something to do other than pester him or Ryou, but he didn't really understand the appeal of gaming. It was something he wasn't familiar with, any sort of technological entertainment foreign to him until only a few years ago, and he doubted he'd be any good at it. He wondered if that meant Mariku wouldn't be either, but maybe he should have been asking these questions before his fifth bottle.

Not long after, Ryou opened a new bottle and Malik proposed a toast with his half-full one. "To conquering our darkness," he said. Ryou smiled and clinked their bottles together before both took a swig.

Ryou said, "I'm really glad you moved to Japan, Malik. It's nice to have a real friend." Malik figured the alcohol was why Ryou was opening up, but whatever the reason, he was glad to hear that. By all accounts, Ryou should've hate him, but instead he'd accepted him. It didn't fill the hole leaving Rishid and Ishizu behind had left, but it helped.

"Speaking of friends, do you ever hang out with Yugi and the others?" Malik traced the rim of the bottle as he pictured the faces of the Japanese teens he'd tried to kill on multiple occasions. He never heard Ryou speak of them and secretly he hoped he'd broken away from them, so he was pleased when Ryou shook his head. It was selfish, but Malik thought any of them would be better friendship candidates for Ryou than he was and he didn't want to be replaced. And even though he'd helped the Pharaoh in the end, he doubted he'd ever come to like Yugi or the others. They were from a different world than he was. Ryou was too, but his experiences with the spirit of the Ring had made him more empathetic to his situation.

As Malik finished his bottle, he thought about the spirit, who he'd known as Bakura. Bakura had been fierce, stubborn, cunning, shrewd; Malik would never admit it aloud, but he thought it was a shame he'd met his demise at the Pharaoh's hands. From what he'd heard from Ryou, his plan had been brilliant, and brilliantly executed. Malik could just see Bakura sitting at the head of the diorama, arms crossed and eyes flashing with pride. He'd wrap those strong, pale fingers around an hourglass and flip it over while laughing callously. From head to toe he'd exude determination and antagonism.

Compared to Bakura, Ryou looked so much softer. He had strength and determination like Bakura, but his was demonstrated in subtler, kinder ways. Ryou raised the bottle to his lips and savored each drink; Bakura'd tip the bottle up and down it in one go, barely tasting the flavor. For a split-second, Malik missed Bakura, the one who'd been almost a kindred spirit to him.

He banished those thoughts when Ryou spoke up. "To be honest, they were never my friends. They could never see me as Ryou, no matter how hard they tried. I guess I can't really blame them. Their first visit to my house almost ended in their deaths at the spirit's hands, hands they thought were my own. Well, they are my own, but-" He frowned, trying to make his tongue behave as his mind grew fuzzier.

Malik laughed and took the bottle from Ryou. "Have you had enough?" he teased.

"No, give it back!" Ryou answered, reaching for his drink. They fought for a few seconds and Ryou won when he got the great idea to climb over Malik to reach it. When his hand closed around the bottle in victory, he realized he was more or less sitting in Malik's lap, legs draped over the sides of the chair. He blushed and pulled back, but Malik placed a hand on either side of him, cutting off his escape.

Ryou stilled and looked at Malik. He couldn't tell what his friend was thinking, no matter how he scrutinized those gleaming violet eyes. Malik's lips were almost a straight line, but one side turned up slightly, in amusement or happiness Ryou couldn't tell. Their closeness and the effects of drinking all evening made Ryou feel overly warm. He was going to say something about needing to get up, maybe get a water instead of more beer, but he found he didn't want to move. Don't do this, his mind warned. God, yes, do this, every other part of him cheered. Majority vote won, and Ryou kissed him.

Though he started out tentatively, Malik's powerful response encouraged him to grip the other's blonde hair tightly and press their lips together harder. No amount of intoxication could stop Ryou from noticing how talented a kisser Malik was. It was like a dance, an exotic, rhythmic dance that led Ryou to euphoria.

Undiluted pleasure flooded Mariku's brain, causing him to press the wrong sequence of buttons and lose his last life. He dropped the console and closed his eyes, more confused than anything as another wave of lust swept over him. When he tried to tune into Malik's thoughts, it was only emotion that traveled their mind link. Mariku turned to look into the kitchen, but the door was angled in such a way that he couldn't see what Malik was up to. Images came to him then of Ryou's flushed face, his soft brown eyes half-lidded, and Mariku almost felt fingers tugging on his own hair.

He was becoming as aroused as Malik was, to his disgust. His breathing grew heavy as Malik unwittingly conveyed his thoughts across their link. Ah., yes... Bakura... Now what Mariku saw was that spirit's face, sharp and shadowed.

It wasn't often that Malik could suprise him, but this must have been something Malik had suppressed and hidden, perhaps from them both. But Mariku'd abhorred Bakura, so he entered the kitchen, pushing the door into the wall with a loud bang. Ryou jumped backwards, gracelessly falling off Malik's lap, and even Malik looked caught off-guard. A couple of choice curses soared through their mind link, making Mariku grin.

Ryou regained his footing, leaning against the table for help. Malik threatend, "Go play your game, Mariku. We're busy."

"You and... who?" he asked in a voice that impossibly mixed innocence and malice.

Malik's expression darkened as he understood what Mariku was implying, but he was too late to keep him from spelling it out to Ryou.

Mariku said, "You weren't even thinking of Ryou." Ryou's head snapped up and he looked confused. "You were thinking of-"

"Shut up!"

"Bakura."

Malik lunged at him, digging his fingers into Mariku's neck. Mariku retaliated with a kick, causing Malik to bend double and allowing Mariku to get another punch in.

Ryou cried out, "Stop it! Stop hurting each other!" But when he tried to separate them, he was flung back against the table.

Mariku had the upper hand before long, pinning Malik to the ground and sitting on his chest. He ripped off Malik's neckbands and squeezed his throat, cackling as his savage instincts reawakened full force. Malik, unable to free himself, glared up at his attacker for a moment- and then he stopped struggling and closed his eyes. As he watched, Malik began to smile.

Twisted gratitude came through the mind link. Kill me, Mariku. I'm too much of a coward to do it myself... And you always grant my darkest wishes, don't you? Just like with Father...

Mariku stared down at Malik, who'd stopped breathing. And then he remembered that if Malik died, he would too, and he let go.

/.../

The following afternoon Ryou woke up late, took some aspirin for his headache, and went to Malik's apartment to check on him. Apparently Mariku hadn't remembered to lock the door behind him after carrying Malik back there the previous night, so Ryou was able to get inside without knocking. He found them both in the bedroom, where Malik was sleeping. A ring of black and blue circled his neck. Mariku was sitting in a chair in the corner, and Ryou couldn't tell what he'd been doing before he got there.

Mariku didn't seem phased by his appearance, but he also didn't look like he was in the mood to talk. Ryou frankly didn't care. He was sporting several bruises himself from being thrown into the table, and what was much worse was Malik's betrayal. Bakura. Bakura, Bakura.

"Has he woken up?" Ryou asked tonelessly. Mariku shook his head.

"Doesn't he work today?" Mariku recalled. "There's no way..."

"He definitely can't. When he wakes up, tell him not to worry. I'll call the museum and request he gets the day off."

Mariku nodded, and Ryou took that as his cue to leave. When he got to the hallway, he pulled out his cellphone and dialed a couple of numbers before sighing and sliding it back into his pocket. Malik had betrayed him. Malik was like the others, who saw the spirit "Bakura" before Ryou himself. He could get fired; it would be well-deserved.

At five o' clock, Malik awoke. His muscles felt stiff and his throat ached. Touching a hand to it made him wince. He noticed Mariku sitting in his room and tried to yell at him to leave, but his voice wasn't working properly. A glance in the mirror reminded him of everything that had happened yesterday: the kiss, the fight, and wanting to die. Almost getting what he wanted.

"You had interesting dreams last night, Malik." Mariku's eyes gazed past him, unfocused. "So that's what you were hiding from me."

Malik managed to rasp out, "What are you talking about?"

"Stop pretending not to know, coward. That's the word you used yourself, isn't it?" Malik looked down, remembering his plea. "I know why you left Egypt. The reason replayed itself a hundred times in your dreams. How you went home after Battle City with Ishizu and Rishid, and how you three tried to deal with the end of three-thousand years of cult activity. A lot of the Ishtars weren't pleased with having their lifestyle destroyed. But you were happy that it was going to end."

Malik turned away from Mariku, who went on, "Still, it wasn't easy to go back to the old tomb and be plunged into darkness again, however temporary you knew it would be. Your nightmares came back. You didn't know what to do; for the last five years, chasing the Pharaoh had kept you busy, but now all the despair you'd held since childhood threatened to overcome you. It did overcome you. I'm not surprised you used poison. You'd never cut yourself, and a gun would leave such a gruesome wound... Poison was the most painless way to go."

Malik began to shake. "By sheer luck, Rishid found you in time. After that, Ishizu and Rishid both watched you like hawks, until Ishizu decided it would be best to leave the country so you could recover. But you hated yourself even more for fucking up their lives again, so you said you'd leave on your own. Demanded it, actually, and they finally agreed when you said you'd move in by Ryou."

Mariku finished recounting and narrowed his eyes. "That's everything your dreams told me. But- dammit, why? I know you want to die, you've always wanted to die, you just settled for making me instead. But how can you want to die? Why do you have to be so weak?"

Malik relived those last days in Egypt and could almost taste that foul poison filling his mouth. "Why? I wish I knew." He hated the world; he hated himself. And last night, for the second time, he'd almost escaped both.

But if Mariku wanted to live, if that was his greatest desire, it was proof enough that not all of him wanted to die. Some part of him believed he deserved to be in this world; some part of him hoped.

"Listen, if you ever try to kill yourself again, I'll-"

"What can you possibly threaten?" Malik asked. "If you can't kill me, what, you'll hurt me instead? Unless you watch me twenty-four hours a day, you can't stop me."

Mariku knew that was true. Malik was resourceful, there was no denying that. If he decided to end his life and succeeded, he would be murdering Mariku in that same moment.

Those thoughts made their way to Malik's mind. "You'd deserve to die, anyway. You just had to tell Ryou what I was thinking! Ryou is my friend, but he'll probably never believe that now."

"I was only telling the truth. You're in the wrong- you shouldn't have been thinking of the spirit."

"It was stupid," Malik said. "There was nothing between the spirit and me-"

"Then you should explain some of the other dreams I've seen in your head," Mariku muttered.

"Be quiet. I can't control my dreams."

"Then what? You actually like Ryou?"

"As I said, he's my friend. We just drank way too much." Malik finally checked the time and cursed. "My shift's halfway over. I have to-" He looked at the mirror again, wondering how well his neckbands could hide the bruises.

"Forget it, Ryou said he'd cover for you."

"He did? I wouldn't expect that, after last night. I'll have to apologize..." He said the word with distaste; the only people he ever really apologized to were his siblings, and that rarely, so saying sorry wasn't something he was well-versed in.

Maybe it was the near-death experience or maybe it was too many sleepless nights since coming to Japan, but Malik soon drifted off. Now that Mariku had spoken with him, he left the room, deciding to find something to eat. Unfortunately, Malik didn't have much in his refrigerator, and none of it was pre-cooked. He decided to check out Ryou's apartment, taking the spare key in case he wasn't home.

He didn't have to use it, as Ryou opened the door after a few loud knocks. "What is it, Mariku?" He sounded tired, even irritated.

"I'm hungry."

Ryou sighed and let him in. Mariku helped himself to a sandwich and was on his way out when Ryou asked, "Surely he's woken up by now?"

"Yeah, but then he fell back asleep. He's never been so lazy in his life," Mariku snickered. "Oh, you know, he said he was sorry about last night. So you don't have to hate him."

"Why are you telling me this?" Ryou asked in a voice that suggested he was in no way ready to forgive.

"Because he already hates himself enough for the both of you, trust me." He took a bite of his sandwich and left. That was as far as his generosity went; Malik and Ryou could work things out on their own.

/.../

A/N: I turned Mariku into a gamer. I myself have no idea how that happened.

These scenes I had planned out basically from the start. Malik's suicidal nature is such a huge part of his character that I doubt I could write a chapter fic about him and not explore it. Ah, everything's in a mess now, isn't it? Ryou's angry, Malik's in turmoil, and Mariku is Mariku. Things aren't going to lighten up any time soon...

One final note. Despite the inclusion of angstshipping (and in a sense, thiefshipping), this is a bronzeshipping story focusing on Malik and Mariku's relationship. Unfortunately, such a story could never be straightforward and simple.

Thank you for reading, and please take a moment to review. Both encouragement and concrit make my day.