A/N: This is my entry to round one of Yugioh's fanfiction contest, season 9.75. The title is a reference to my belief that no matter the world- canon or AU- Malik and Bakura are best suited to becoming close through partnerships. Friendship and/or love comes second.

"Salam" means goodbye in Egyptian Arabic, to the best of my knowledge. "Kuriboh" is one of the horses.

The best thing about America almost made up for all the awful things moving from Egypt had brought with it. Miles of highways crisscrossed the country, practically unlimited and always promising a journey better than any destination. Malik's opinion was further swayed by siblings giving him a motorcycle as a moving present. It was a beautiful machine, light purple on shining black, and it roared like a regal lion as he drove.

Malik had established an after-school routine of checking in with his siblings, Rishid and Ishizu, and then zooming away on his bike. He didn't care what road he traversed, nor was the surrounding scenery a deciding factor. The feeling of invincibility and freedom his bike gave him was all that mattered. When he was surrounded by wind, there was no way for his past or present problems to bother him.

He took off as usual after school, humming a random tune to himself. After a sharp curve, a sprawling farm came into view. The grass was a lively green and a dozen horses munched on it. There was one other horse, tall and solid black, galloping across the field. As Malik drove by, he saw from the corner of his eye the man riding it. He looked a little older than Malik and he had a similar dark complexion and muscular physique. It was impossible to be sure considering the distance, but Malik thought the man burst out into a wide grin when he spotted him.

Malik kept driving, but soon realized he was being chased. The man leaned low over his horse and urged him onward, riding parallel to Malik with a wooden fence between them. Now Malik could clearly see the smirk on his face, and he realized this was no chase; it was a challenge.

He looked at the stranger with disbelief. No horse could go faster than his bike. He chose to ignore the race, turning his attention back to the road. He'd driven no more than five seconds when a dark blur leapt in front of him.

Malik slammed on his brakes, cursing at the man. The horse had hopped the fence and was now keeping pace with Malik on the left lane of the highway. "If you want a race that badly, you'll have one," Malik growled, accelerating again. If it weren't for all the curves, he would have already been way past the farm, but the stranger was using the terrain to his advange. His horse's hooves danced around potholes while Malik barely avoided them.

"Not good enough!" the man taunted. Malik noticed that he had an Egyptian accent but refused to get distracted by thoughts of where he might have lived in Egypt and why he'd also moved to America. The road was straightening up and he was going to seize his chance to leave this obnoxious stranger in the dust.

"Salam!" he shouted as he pulled ahead. Right as victory seemed his to claim, he came across debris strewn on the lane, probably left there by a driver too careless to keep an eye on his truck bed. There was nowhere to swerve; the stranger's horse had already caught back up thanks to Malik's sudden decrease in speed. Understanding his dilemma, the stranger had his horse jump to the opposite side of the road, but it was too late. The front wheel of his bike caught on some metal scrap and after a brief flight through the air, Malik's vision went black.

/.../

When Malik came to, he couldn't decide what was worse: the pain or the smell. He groaned and sat up, finding himself on a mixture of dirt and hay. The whinnies of horses coming from nearby told him he was in some sort of stable. His clothes were dusty and he half-expected to find blood on them, but he realized his arms and head were both tightly bandaged. He remembered the man racing him, and assumed he must have brought him here to bandage him- it was the least he could do, considering this whole mess was his fault- but he was nowhere in sight.

Malik staggered into the main hall of the stable and asked, "Is there anyone here?"

From behind him came a cold voice: "Don't move." Malik instantly whirled around and came face to face with a small, pale teen wielding a switchblade.

"What the hell is this?" he fumed. "Is everyone on this farm crazy?"

"What are you doing here?" the other asked, not looking offended in the slightest. The blade in his hand caught the light from a slit in the roof and Malik was momentarily silenced by its deadly gleam.

He looked back up at the teen. "I don't know. Some idiot on a horse decided it would be a good idea to take my bike on in a race, and then- wait, where's my bike!?" If that jerk had done anything to it, Malik would kill him.

At least the other boy was slipping the blade back into his pocket. "'Idiot on a horse...' Not a bad description of him." He chuckled, but it wasn't a friendly sound. "And this explains the wreck of metal in the driveway. Tell me, did you buy the bike the match your clothes, or vice versa?"

Malik glared at him. He thought his lavender shirt and skin-tight black pants suited him perfectly, and his golden accessories completed the look. Or they normally did, but as he looked down he discovered his armbands were missing. His hands flew to his ears: no earrings. He said flatly, "He took my gold."

"What a pity. But I don't have any more time to waste talking to you. If you're up and walking, you should be fine, so take your motorcycle and get off our property."

"I'm not leaving anything with that thief," Malik answered. "Tell me where he is."

"He comes and goes."

"So he doesn't live here."

"No," the other sighed. "He's just a friend of my brother's."

"Then I'll go ask him." Malik stepped forward, and the teen shot an arm out.

He said, "No. You'll be leaving, and I won't say it again."

Malik narrowed his eyes. He didn't like being ordered around, and he especially didn't like being ordered around by a thief's associate when his head was fiercely throbbing. "Move it."

The switchblade reappeared and was thrust at Malik. A metallic clang filled the stable. Right before the blade had pierced Malik's arm, he'd blocked it with his own weapon retrieved from the hidden pocket in his pants. It was a slender, knife-like object the same golden color as his stolen jewelry. There was a head to it with an eye carved on, but when he wanted to carry it around inconspicuously, he left that behind.

The silver and gold blades formed an X between them. "So you're not as much of a pansy as you look," the other sneered at Malik.

"You're one to talk. Do you even weigh a hundred pounds?"

Malik received an unamused look, but any retort he might have been given was interrupted by a shrill ringing. Malik inwardly groaned; he didn't know how long he'd been out of it, and his siblings were likely worried. He backed up a couple of feet without taking his eyes off the other and answered the phone. "Hello?"

"Malik! Where are you? You missed dinner. Is everything okay? You're fine, right?" It must have been a long time for his sister to sound so worried.

He assured her, "I'm fine, Ishizu. I just had a small accident-"

Her sharp intake of breath made him bite down on his lip. Upsetting Ishizu was perhaps the one thing that caused him guilt. "I'll send Rishid," she said. "Just tell me where you are."

"I'm coming back now."

"Not on that bike you aren't," his adversary muttered under his breath.

"Tell me where you are," Ishizu demanded again.

Malik gave in. He mouthed, "Where am I?" and was answered with a pointing finger. Above them on the wall was a plaque engraved with a name. "Wadjet Farm." He put his hand over the receiver and added, "Seriously?"

The other shrugged. "Our father rather likes Egypt."

"We'll be right there," Ishizu said before hanging up.

/.../

Bakura watched the Egyptian family drive away, the damaged bike in the back of their truck. What was it with Egyptians and causing him trouble, anyway? He could scarcely blame the Jewish God for all the animosity he'd apparently had for the race. This one had left him with a threat: "I'm going to get my gold back no matter what."

Yeah, right. No one ever got anything back from that thief. Not even...

"Ryou, what are you doing?"

Bakura leaned against the doorway of his twin's room, casting an annoyed look at Ryou. Ryou gasped and turned away from the mirror, attempting to conceal the objects in his hands. "Bakura! I'm just... Did you remember to check on Kuriboh? Is she still sick?"

"Don't change the subject. What did that thief give you now? No, let me guess." He placed a thumb and finger on his chin in mock contemplation. "Could it be gold jewelry?"

Ryou blinked and uncupped his hands. "How did you know? He came in not too long ago and gave these to me." The bands and earrings glinted even in the weak fluorescent light of the bedroom.

"They're stolen, you know."

He sighed. "I thought that might be the case. It's a shame, they're quite beautiful, though I don't know what he expected me to do with earrings. I suppose I should try to find out who owned them."

Bakura rolled his eyes. "If you give them back, it might break your precious boyfriend's heart."

"Bakura, he's not- he's just my friend!" Ryou glared at his twin, but it was as effective as a rabbit staring down a wolf.

"A friend who takes you on dates and gives you jewelry. Right."

"You know," Ryou continued in an effort to ignore Bakura's sarcasm, "You would like him if you just gave him a chance. He's a lot like you."

"I'll pass."

Ryou, used to Bakura's rejection of that idea, gathered up the armbands and placed them in a bag. "I'm taking these back to him and I'll tell them to give them back to their real owner."

"Good luck with that."

/.../

Bakura drove home from school the next day alone. He'd seen Ryou being picked up by the thief, which meant he had a good few hours to himself before he'd be back and while their father was still at the museum working.

He knew something was wrong before he opened the front door. With the comforting weight of his blade in hand, he stepped inside and looked around. Nothing seemed amiss but his instincts told him to stay on guard. He walked down the hallway and heard a threatening voice behind him. "They really aren't here. Now, direct me to that thief's house."

Bakura turned and appraised the Egyptian intruder for the second time in two days. "A few cheap accessories aren't really worth breaking and entering, are they?"

"I haven't broken anything." Malik smiled. "Yet." His expression darkened as he went on. "That jewelry is centuries old, a family heirloom. I'm going to get it back."

"It's not my problem, so I have no intention of offering a solution. Get out."

"This will be your problem if you don't help me out. An address is all I need."

"So go find it."

Bakura tensed his muscles; he was prepared for another fight to break out. Instead, all he heard was, "Fine." Malik left the front door open as he strolled out without another word.

If Bakura knew anything about this other kid by this point, it was that he wouldn't give up that easily. He followed him into the yard and watched as Malik veered off the gravel driveway towards the stable. He never looked back to see if Bakura was watching, but as his curiosity grew, Bakura couldn't look away. Malik disappeared into the stable and reappeared a few minutes later, leading a black horse by its bridle. It was the stubborn horse claimed by the thief long ago. Bakura had to admit it was impressive the boy hadn't been kicked already; that beast normally kicked anyone who approached it but its favorite human.

When the horse was free of the stable, Malik mounted it with ease. Now that his plan was becoming clear to Bakura, he knew had to put a stop to it. That horse was more or less the thief's but his family had made the purchase, so there was no way he'd let someone ride off with it. So, when Malik had led the horse at a trot to the gate to the driveway, Bakura stood in his path. "Though I admit fighting fire with fire is often a tempting course of action, I'm going to ask you to get down." There was nothing in Bakura's chilling demeanor that suggested he was merely asking, though.

"You're the one making me do this."

Bakura quickly took inventory of the situation and slowly a smile appeared on his face. "Saying that guy has sticky fingers is an understatement, you see. No one has successfully gotten a thing back from him. Still, you really think you can?" He didn't wait for an answer, since he knew what the smug boy would say. "If you do, then I have a proposal for you. I'll give you his address- hell, I'll take you there. But in return, you'll help me get something back from him."

"And what would that be?"

"My brother."

"Oh? Your brother is the damsel-in-distress in this scenario? Give me a suit of armor and I'll be the perfect knight with this horse," Malik laughed.

"That's not exactly it. For some reason, Ryou is fascinated by the thief. If I show up alone, I can't cause much trouble, but with a comrade I should be able to effectively ruin their afternoon."

"You sound like a great brother," he said, frowning at Bakura.

"That's of no concern to you. Do you agree, or do you lose your precious jewelry for good?"

Malik only took a moment to think it over. "Agreed."

"Great. Now go put the horse back up. Modern knights use cars," he voiced mockingly.

/.../

"What's your name, anyway?" Malik fiddled with his seatbelt as he observed his temporary partner-in-crime.

"Bakura. I suppose I should ask yours?"

"I'm Malik. You're from Britain, right?"

"And you're from Egypt. Would you like to name the color of my eyes next, or are we done stating the obvious?"

Malik rolled his eyes. Bakura had been the one to suggest they work together, but he didn't seem keen about talking or otherwise acknowledging Malik's existence as he drove them to their destination.

In his mind, a voice that sounded vaguely like Rishid's scolded him for getting into a car with a guy who'd pulled a knife on him twice, but Malik dismissed it. Bakura was potentially dangerous, but he didn't seem to be senselessly violent. Malik sensed that as long as their deal benefited him, he'd have no problems with him.

Ten minutes passed in silence before Bakura turned off onto a side road. He parked a small distance from a nondescript one-story house with a black car in front. As they walked towards it, Malik whispered, "Do you have a plan?"

"It's simple. I break into the house and we locate my brother and your jewelry, in that order. Think you can handle your meager role?"

Malik rolled his eyes. Rescuing Princess Ryou could come last, or not at all, as far he was he concerned. The only reason he might see the ridiculous plan through to the end was because Bakura had the getaway car; he didn't even have a ride back at the farm, since he'd had someone drop him off that afternoon. Anyway, though he found Bakura's obvious jealousy amusing, it was also understandable. If Rishid starting hanging out with someone else... Well, Malik wouldn't take to that too kindly.

They crept around the corner of the house. Bakura slid his knife under a window and wedged it open. When it was all the way up, he sighed, and Malik had to ask why he looked disappointed that they'd have a smooth entrance.

"Because," Bakura murmured, "if it's this simple to get into the self-proclaimed King of Thieves' house, then he's definitely... preoccupied."

He swung over the window sill and landed silently within. Malik followed suit, looking around at a room that was in complete contrast to the house's outward appearance. Where the latter was bland, this room was full of dazzling objects, paintings, and all sorts of jewelry. Truly they were in a thief's den.

Malik had gotten Bakura to admit that he'd come to pick Ryou up himself once before, but one person wasn't enough to deal with the powerful thief. Malik now pictured Bakura being tossed out the window they'd just crawled through and he had to suppress a laugh as he walked with Bakura into a hallway.

Bakura closed his eyes and rested his forehead in his palm for a moment. Malik immediately knew why. Kissing sounds and happy murmurs filtered into the hall from an adjacent room. When Bakura reopened his eyes, Malik nodded at him, and they infiltrated a large bedroom. Malik saw a boy with strong resemblance to Bakura pinned to a wall by the thief. His eyes were closed as they worked their mouths together. The thief's back was to them, but Malik imagined his eyes were closed as well.

Bakura looked prepared to ambush them when Malik saw his coveted prizes lying on a table. He smiled and walked over to the pile of gold, no longer taking care to soften his footsteps.

As he adorned his body with his jewelry, relishing the familiar coldness against his skin, the thief and Ryou broke apart and spotted Malik and Bakura. Ryou blinked wildly while the thief just glared in anger. If Malik had turned a bit to the left, he would have seen Bakura glaring at him too for ignoring the order of priorities he'd established.

"Bakura, what are you- and whoever that is- doing here?" Ryou questioned.

Malik answered for him. "These are mine, so I came to reclaim them." He held up his arms and motioned to his earrings.

The thief smirked. "You don't deserve things you lost so easily."

"Enough about the damn jewelry!" Bakura said. "Ryou, I thought you said he wasn't your boyfriend. Could've fooled me."

There was an unmistakable flash of hurt on the thief's face before he turned back to Ryou. Ryou gulped and looked from him to Bakura. "You know that I- oh, Bakura, just go away!" He broke off his apology to yell at his brother. "This is none of your business. I can spend time with more people than you, you know! You're spending time with someone else too, aren't you?" He pointed at Malik. "And I'm not complaining."

"I'm not you," Bakura snapped.

"No, you're not! And that's why we can have separate lives!"

For a moment silence reigned in the room. Then, the thief let out a booming laugh. "You heard him, Bakura! Go somewhere you're wanted. In other words, not here." He slung an arm around Ryou's shoulders.

Malik caught a glimpse of Bakura's stony expression before he turned around and left the room. Ryou bit his lip and said, "Bakura, don't be upset," but his brother was already gone.

Fearing there was a good chance Bakura would leave him behind if he didn't catch up to him before he reached the car, Malik left too. He heard the make-out session resume behind me, encouraging him to hurry. He made it to the car and settled into the passenger's seat before Bakura could drive off.

He felt a sliver of pity for Bakura for being brushed off by his brother like that, but Bakura's expression was practically daring him to say something stupid like that so he could bite Malik's head off. So, he decided to go in a different direction than pity.

"You didn't think that through."

Bakura's hands clenched the steering wheel, but he didn't respond. Malik continued, "The plan you had required cooperation, or at least no resistance, on Ryou's part, but he wasn't willing at all to leave the thief's side."

"Just what are you getting at, Malik?"

"I'm just saying. With a little refinement, it'd be no problem to wreak havoc on those two. Once you figure a person out, you can get to them. And people are easy to understand."

"Thanks for the advice," Bakura replied sarcastically.

"Anytime. For instance- what about tomorrow?"

Bakura's eyes left the road for a moment as he narrowed them at Malik. "Excuse me?"

"I'm saying we continue this partnership. I got what I wanted, but you didn't gain anything yet." And normally Malik didn't care if that was how it was. Deals that favored him were the best kind, after all. He wasn't completely sure himself why he was offering to help Bakura out again, but he didn't regret what he'd said. Maybe it was because he'd never let Rishid choose someone over him, so he understand Bakura's pain; maybe it was because Bakura was different than the sea of fools he spent every day at school with.

And maybe another part was because Bakura's attractive features, somehow sharp and feminine at the same time, were something he wouldn't mind having by his side more often.

The corner of his mouth turned up a nearly imperceptible amount. "If you're the knight, the thief a dragon, and Ryou the princess in this scenario, where exactly does that leave me?"

Malik said, "Obviously you're the simple farm boy who got drafted into an adventure tale way over- ouch, dammit!" Bakura had aimed his punch straight at the healing bruises on his forehead.

It wasn't a handshake, but it sealed the deal all the same. Malik promised to return the next day after school for round two of fetching Ryou from the thief. Bakura promised to punch him again if things went badly.

Malik had never really had a friend before and he assumed this wasn't how it was supposed to be, but as long as it kept him entertained, that didn't matter to him. Revenge on the man who'd caused him to total his beloved bike and this new hobby of tampering with a relationship alongside Bakura; as it turned out, bruises and bandages weren't the only thing that could result from unexpected encounters.