Bakura rejected the afterlife, and it rejected him.

He wandered through Egypt in his original form, with sun-darkened skin, choppy white hair, and a thick scar beneath his right eye. A translucent film enveloped him, preventing him from forgetting that he was dead, a spirit clinging to Earth. Like he'd forget that. He'd been dead for centuries.

It was strange to know he was only himself. The poison that was Zorc had vacated his body, and now the only influence that could taint him were his own dark urges.

From what he'd heard, the "Great Pharaoh" was gone. He'd been welcomed into the afterlife, leaving his friends behind. All Bakura had left behind was his host. His host, and weeks of anticipating, and months of dueling, and years of hiding in a child, and decades and centuries and millenniums of waiting, all for revenge that had failed. He'd failed. He had nothing left, and nothing to look forward to.

He wandered, and contemplated these things. Eventually he got tired of this reflection, but it made no difference if he just stood around and felt nothing for a year, a decade, time was nothing to him, but at least before he'd had a plan.

He was disgusted when he realized where he'd ended up. It was the entrance to the tomb his former partner, that traitor, had grown up in. When he'd shared Ryou's mind with Malik, he'd gotten a glimpse of its twisted state. Most of his memories were locked tightly away under layers of hatred, but Bakura had seen enough to understand the origin of his tattoos, and one image stuck out above all others: a lantern-filled room, dusty and dim, far beneath the earth. It smelled of blood- oh, Bakura knew that stench well enough. Insane laughter was the image's soundtrack, mingling with the crack of whips and the pleas of a young boy. Bakura'd assumed the boy had been Malik, but it had been hard to match the sniveling tone to the rage-filled eyes and sharp smirk of present-day Malik.

Without any real motivation, Bakura slipped into the tomb. It was deserted; burnt-out candles lined the walls, and the furniture in the various rooms was moldy and covered in dust. Bakura hadn't grown up in any paradise, but at least Kul Elna had felt like home. He doubted that this place could have held any warmth even filled with people. He didn't feel any pity for Malik, though. Malik had betrayed him, and more than that, he'd taken the Pharaoh's side. The secret he'd used to bargain with Bakura he freely gave to the Pharaoh. For a brief moment back in Battle City, when Bakura had been more him than Zorc, he'd felt Malik could be a kindred spirit. Who else could come close to understanding his pain and his need for vengeance against the Pharaoh? He'd been wrong. No one deserved trust.

When his tour was almost complete, he realized he wasn't alone. His thief instincts, still sharp no matter what form he took, kicked in, and he crept towards the presence silently, in case he could be seen by humans.

Kneeling down beside a tiny cot was the traitor himself. Bakura's mouth formed a snarl as he watched Malik reach under the bed and pull out a small wooden box. He removed the contents with precision and care, though it looked to be nothing but junk. A torn and wrinkled ad from a magazine that featured a motorcycle similar to the one he'd ridden around in Battle City, a gold charm modeled after the Eye of Horus, a piece of silk cloth that had once been a rich purple but had faded with age. Bakura couldn't read Malik's expression as he examined the items- he'd always hated that about Malik. Suddenly, Malik tensed up and looked behind him. Bakura was around the corner before he had the chance to spot him.

In fact, Bakura decided to just leave. There'd been no point in exploring the run-down tomb in the first place, and-

"You're not dead." Malik's rich voice sounded behind him. Bakura turned around and watched Malik cross his arms. The wooden box was gone. "At least, not any more dead than you were before your final duel with the Pharaoh."

Bakura didn't like the way he said "Pharaoh." There wasn't any reverence in his tone, at least, but there wasn't disdain either.

"You can tell who I am?" Bakura asked. "Perhaps I should give you a medal, so you could put something of worth in your treasure chest."

Malik's eyes flashed, but he only responded to his first statement. "That's easy. You may look different, but you give off the exact same aura. And minus the muscles and tan-" Malik tilted his head- "you don't look that different."

"One might think you smart, but only a fool forgets his anger so quickly and joins sides with the damned Pharaoh."

"He didn't kill my father. I had no reason to want to destroy him anymore."

"The Pharaoh and his so-called nobles all deserved to die. They-"

"I know what they did, Bakura. And I know what they didn't do. You want to blame the Pharaoh for everything, but he had nothing to do with the death of your fam-"

"Shut up!"

"...Aren't you tired, Bakura?"

Bakura answered with a glare.

"You can keep trying. The Pharaoh's dead, but I suppose you can kill all the friends he made. Will any of that help?"

Bakura decided to find out exactly how tangible his form was. He darted forward and grasped Malik's neck, and it should have been tight enough to choke him, but instead his fingers slipped through his skin after a mere second. "Maybe you think you can taunt me because I can't kill you, but I swear, I can find a way to do it."

"I'm sure you could." Malik looked away before inexplicably changing the subject. "Even when we were partners- even when I made a deal with you but just planned to use you for my own gain- I thought, just for a moment, that you could understand me. You hated the Pharaoh more than I did, something I hadn't thought possible."

"So what?"

"Nothing," Malik said, shaking his head. "I'm leaving now. I'd almost forgotten how much I hate this place..."

Bakura found himself drifting after Malik, up the stairs, and back into the sun. Bakura noticed Malik inhale deeply, as though his small excursion underground had deprived him of too much oxygen. Malik glanced at him and asked, "Where will you go now?"

Bakura had no answer, and so he gave none. Malik kept talking anyway.

"Your host kissed me the other day."

"What do I care what he does now?"

"I kissed back."

"I really don't care what you do."

"I shouldn't have kissed him, though. I imagined you the whole time."

"You-" Before Bakura could shout at him incredulously, he caught himself, staring at Malik in confusion he could only partially hide.

"Maybe I'll do it again sometime," Malik mused. "He'll never be you, but it's as close as I can get, isn't it?"

Bakura, for a moment, considered the possibility that Malik was in the midst of a heat-stroke. Whether that was true, or he was being sincere, Bakura didn't hesitate any longer. He pulled Malik close and kissed him roughly, until his form wavered again and the kiss was forced to end.

"I betrayed you, Bakura. I tried to make up for killing my father and so many others after. I can't blame all of those on my other self. Actually, I'll never be able to atone for all the evil I've done," Malik admitted. "It's tiring to try. I'm not 'good.' Ishizu and Rishid keep expecting me to be, but..." Malik broke off and looked into Bakura's dark brown eyes. "I don't care. I'm only good at taking what I want, but I might have messed up my chance when I betrayed you, because you're what I want."

Somehow, words that would have been needy or whiny coming from anyone else were perfectly sensible when Malik said them. His eyes were earnest and open, like when he was putting on an act to trick someone, but he had nothing to gain by tricking Bakura, and that kiss had been nothing less than genuine.

"You do realize I'm dead, right?" Bakura answered sarcastically. "I believe you already mentioned something along those lines."

"You're not alive, I'm not sane. I really don't give a damn."

"Your kissing isn't half-bad, but I'm not one to forgive a traitor, even one who apologizes so poetically," Bakura mocked.

"I thought I just told you I was finished looking for forgiveness. You don't have to forgive me to fuck me, do you? The Millennium Items are gone, but there are other sources of magic in the world. Something should be able to alter your spiritual form to a more physical one. But if you don't want me, then it doesn't matter. I'll go home until another vice calls me." He half-turned, like he was ready to leave Bakura behind in the desert right then. Bakura spotted an edge of paper sticking up from his back pocket; it was the motorcycle ad from his room. For such serious words, Malik certainly still had a sentimental heart, one that craved the innocence childhood should have, innocence neither he nor Bakura got to experience, innocence Malik's mind, at least, had given up on.

Bakura knew he had no heart. How Malik still did, after being tortured, after almost being eradicated by his alter ego, was a mystery. He wondered briefly if sticking around Malik would cause the boy to become more like him- completely cynical. The opposite scenario, in which the tiny shreds of hope Malik still held onto made Bakura more human, was definitely impossible.

Malik wanted him to fuck him, but Bakura didn't believe he didn't want more.

Still, it wasn't his responsibility to make happy the troubled teen. If he had nothing else to do in the world, then like Malik, he would just take what he wanted until he stumbled across another goal or disappeared for good. He'd wanted Malik for a long time; he'd just had more important things to worry about during Battle City.

"You're doing all the work," Bakura warned. "Figuring out some magical cure."

"No problem," Malik said, confident as ever. He started walking back to where he'd parked his motorcycle, when the semi-paved paths ended and the sand began. Bakura half-walked, half-floated beside him.

Maybe nothing had really changed, but somehow Bakura felt a little less empty.