Contest Fic, Season 9.75, First Round: Angstshipping (MarikxRyou)

This is an AU (alternate universe) and shounenai.


"No, Ishizu."

Marik stood from his seat, cutting off his sister and glaring down at her with unreadable eyes, their deep violet muted by the room's darkness. He watched her impassively as she lifted her chin with proud defiance, unflinching even when the focus of his hate-filled eyes.

Tugging the hood of his cloak over his head, he strode past her dismissively, his footsteps echoing across the smooth, stone floor. Few were allowed in the elegant but ancient room—the headquarters of the Ghouls—but as the clan's leader, he had elite access. He made an exception for Ishizu, but he was beginning to doubt the wisdom of that decision.

"Please, brother," Ishizu repeated, calling after him as he reached the corridor. He paused at the door, but didn't turn around, glancing back over his shoulder impatiently. "Dwelling on the past will not help you. Vengeance only spreads more anger, and I fear that if we do not escape now, our father's legacy will only continue-"

The sand covering the floor of their hideout swirled a few inches over the ground as Marik began walking again, his steps brisker and angrier than before. His tensed shoulders weren't visible beneath the folds of his cloak, but wound tightly enough that they ached in protest a he continued down the hallway.

"Marik!"

Scowling fiercely, he stopped one last time, whirling to face her and feeling vicious satisfaction when he saw her wince away from his expression. Without speaking, he grasped the collar of his cloak and ripped it off his shoulders in one fluid movement, not looking back at her as he displayed the carvings on his skin.

The symbol of the Ghouls decorated his flesh, passing on the role of its leader, the markings clear even in the inadequate light. When he faced her again, the crime lord fixed his sister with a piercing glare and she flinched, never sure whether or not the hatred was directed at her. Sometimes, even Marik didn't seem sure.

"I suffered for sixteen years," he stated venomously, facing his sister once again and replacing his cloak. He barely even saw the woman in front of him, his face contorted in a mixture of pain and fury. "And it was all that man's fault. His son lived on the surface without a care in the world, while we had to carry on that legacy. I want justice. I want him to suffer like I did."

Ishizu opened her mouth to speak again, to tell him that it was their father who was to blame, not that man. But her brother brushed past without another word, blending into the darkness with his lightless cloak.

"Let's go, Rishid."

His brother, who had remained in the shadows outside the door for the duration of the conversation, stepped forward. Marik didn't need to turn around to know that the taller man would follow. He didn't need to turn to see that Rishid would bow in submission, or to see the way his eyes would momentarily meet Ishizu's, sympathy in his and pain in theirs both.

The young crime lord stalked purposefully through their dark home, keeping his gaze focused on the small dome of light shining through the entrance at the end of the hall. His footsteps echoed on the cement, slightly muffled by the layer of sand on its surface.

"Are you certain you should leave her like that?" Rishid asked eventually, and Marik's frown deepened. His brother was probably correct, but he felt too aggravated to apologize. In fact, he had stopped apologizing for anything long ago.

"I'm going out," he announced instead, making sure his cloak fully covered his golden bracelets. He preferred blending in with the outside world, and flaunting wealth on the streets of Egypt was idiotic regardless of status or title. "Stay here, Rishid."

Rishid sighed, but obeyed.

"Yes, master Marik," his brother and subordinate replied respectfully, bowing as his crime lord left.

Marik stepped out of the Ghoul's underground hideout, blinking at the sudden transition from the poorly lit chamber to the overwhelming sun of Egypt. The sanctuary, despite the efforts he had invested to maintain control over the criminal organization, never held the same appeal to him as the outside world. The warmth he had lacked throughout his childhood never failed to awe him, and he stood unmoving for a moment, simply basking in the heat.

Unfortunately, afternoon was fast approaching, and the warmth soon grew uncomfortable. With an exasperated sigh, he started down the street, knowing it would be foolish and even dangerous to stay outside in these temperatures. Tugging his hood forward to block the intense sun, he wandered for only a short while before entering a nearby bar, pausing in the doorway as he once again felt the shock of changing between the two extremes, suffocatingly hot to stunningly cool.

"Welcome to the Kame Tavern," a young boy greeted him cheerfully, the chipper voice calling out to him from across the room and snapping him out of his brief daze.

Marik glanced up and eyed the child oddly, noting with confusion his youthful appearance and wild, spiky hair. He looked far too young to be running a bar, but there he was, smiling brightly from behind the counter. He was speaking with a customer, a soft-looking boy with a pale skin tone and shockingly white hair.

Trailing his violet eyes furtively across the alehouse, he noted the place was poor but well-kept, not crowded but not overly empty considering the time of day. Making sure the hood of his cloak still covered his features, he approached the counter and sat next to the pale boy, gesturing to be served.

"Yugi, may I have some more water, please?"

He glanced over at the fair-skinned boy when he spoke, his attention drawn once again by how white the boy looked. Uncommon characteristics, especially when considering the immediate neighborhood. The majority of the civilians who loitered in this area were natives, dark tans protecting them from the harsh Egyptian sun, but this boy looked as far from Egyptian as possible- either a foreigner or a tourist, he suspected.

"Of course," the unusually young bartender chirped, grabbing his glass to refill it. The spiky-haired child ran to a nearby faucet, humming softly to himself while his customer waited patiently.

Marik normally would have paid the customer little mind, regardless of the unusual appearance. He had little interest in people who weren't involved with the Ghouls or his revenge, much less an insignificant nobody he'd seen in an unexceptional bar. When the light-haired teen shifted; however, he caught sight of a glint of gold shining through folds of the teen's coat. The boy immediately yanked the jacket forward again, hiding the accessory, but the damage was done.

Eyes narrowed, Marik leaned forward on the counter, attention captured.

"Afraid of thieves?" he asked humorlessly, meeting wide, brown eyes peeking out through the shock of white hair.

The crime lord forced himself to keep his gaze focused on those eyes, but his fingers twitched involuntarily towards the jacket. He could reach out and grab the golden necklace, before the boy had a chance to even react, just to know if he'd seen correctly. Normally he would have done what he wanted, the boy looked far too weak to retaliate, but he could have sworn he had seen the unmistakable Eye of Horus. Impossible, surely, but it never hurt to verify-

"I have work after this," the other boy answered mildly as he took another sip of his water, assuming the crime lord had been asking why he wasn't drinking anything stronger. His soft, pale hair fell soundlessly forward, hiding his face from view. Perhaps he felt uncomfortable, since Marik's own face was covered by a dark cloak.

Or perhaps he held a Millennium Item, and was nervous that Marik had noticed.

He was taking a risk, he knew, if this boy truly was involved in the gang wars. But then again, only his name was widely known as the leader of the Ghouls, not his face. Checking the place one last time, he decided it was relatively safe; the last customer had just left and the bartender remained oblivious. Tugging down his hood, he displayed his face, offering a fake but convincingly reassuring smile.

"Excuse me if I seem forward," he said cordially, and few would recognize the false note in his amicable facade. "I was curious why someone would come to a bar and only order water. I'm Namu; nice to meet you."

"...Ryou," the man eventually answered, offering a polite smile of his own.

Completely unaware of Marik's lies, and ignorant of the fact that he was being investigated as a suspect member of the Sennen, the most prominent rival gang of the Ghouls.

He repeated the name to himself. Ryou. Not a name he'd heard before, but still worth inspecting, even if it meant painfully dull small talk. He supposed he did enjoy fooling unsuspecting victims, but this boy seemed so naive, it didn't even offer a challenge.

"Nice to meet you, Ryou," he replied wryly, leaning forward again so he could hear the quietly spoken words, not caring that he had moved unconventionally close. "What brings you here, then, if not the lure of alcohol?"

"I'm waiting for my brother," the boy replied faintly, although Marik detected just the slightest hint of an accent. He had been right assuming he was foreign, then.

"He'd better watch himself if he's anywhere around here," he noted, instilling a note of concern in his voice despite his indifference. "These aren't the safest streets in town. The Ghouls frequent this area."

"Rather than street gangs, I'm more worried about anyone who runs into him," Ryou murmured around the rim of his cup. Noticing Marik's raised eyebrows, he reluctantly continued, "My brother is much stronger than I am, but he has a tendency to attract trouble."

Privately, he thought Ryou seemed to attract more trouble than his friend. He had run into the most wanted crime lord of the largest gang in Egypt, at noon, in a small, unpopular bar. Rather than a guardian angel, the kid seemed to have attracted a vengeful demon, instead. Not that Marik minded; it certainly helped with his agenda.

"You don't say," he drawled, eying the other teen's slim build. Ryou must be significantly different from his brother if he stood any chance against the thugs in his gang.

The boy noticed the stare and bristled, his brow furrowing indignantly.

"I'm not weak, whatever you're thinking," he protested, but Marik only responded with a smirk.

"I believe you," he responded skeptically, a hint of his true character leaking through when the words came out sarcastically and with a hint of amusement. He glanced pointedly at Ryou's arm, checking for muscle. Or in this case, lack thereof.

"Brute strength isn't everything," the boy muttered defensively, and Marik's smirk widened. "Besides, you look like someone who relies more on agility, yourself."

"Perhaps," he agreed, waving his hand in dismissive assent, although he was careful to keep his golden bracelets out of sight. "But regardless, the Ghouls shouldn't be underestimated." Or you'll end up dead.

"You're right, of course," the boy answered amiably, before his attention was claimed by their host, the odd child who'd served them.

Leaning across the bar counter, Ryou asked 'Yugi' for the check, and the strange bartender told the boy it was on the house; he'd only had one drink. Marik studied the quiet teen as he offered a grateful smile in response, taking another sip of his almost empty drink before turning back to him.

There. Unnoticeable to anyone but a professional thief, or in this case, someone who had been watching for it intently, the Millennium Ring glinted through the cloak. Marik's smile melted off his face.

"Impossible," he breathed. Only the leader of the Sennen gang held the Millennium Ring, and this boy looked about as threatening as their pathetic bartender.

Of course, the man who walked up behind him in that next moment was distinctly more menacing. Marik felt himself yanked back by the hair, and he would have killed whoever dared treat him so disrespectfully except for the cold, sharp metal pressed against his jugular.

"Who's your friend, Ryou?" the man sneered, crimson eyes flashing as he stood over Marik. The man's threatening aura amplified exponentially when he pressed the knife into his skin, not enough to kill, but enough that a trickle of blood ran down his neck.

Presumably the brother Ryou had mentioned, the two shared the same mess of white hair, and although Marik disliked judging someone's character so quickly, the man did seem aggressive enough to handle any Ghouls he came across.

Based on first impressions alone.

"What are you doing?" Ryou protested, standing from his seat and looking appalled but not overly surprised by the greeting.

By the Ghoul's standards, however, Marik found the greeting almost polite. He barely flinched, although he cursed himself for not hearing the man approach. He hadn't lowered his guard, but the man had been completely silent.

"Oh!" the bartender squeaked as he returned with the check, his arms fluttering around helplessly. "No knives in the bar, please. Bakura-"

"How many times do I need to tell you not to use my name in public, Yugi?" Bakura cut the child off in a hiss, not removing the knife in question. If anything, he pressed it harder into his skin. "If it weren't for that insufferable bastard, I swear you'd be dead already-"

Marik's eyes widened as the comment registered, realizing the situation was much more dire and complex than he'd anticipated. The ring around the boy's neck, and the name Bakura...he belatedly realized he was in the presence of the so-called Thief King, the leader of the rival Sennen gang. Feared for his ruthlessness and cunning tactics, the man constantly made Marik's life unnecessarily difficult as they competed for territory and recruits.

This could be worked to his advantage.

"You wouldn't happen to be discussing me, would you, Thief?"

He didn't turn his head, but peered out of the corner of his eye to see who had interrupted, a regal-looking man with flashing, crimson eyes. He was glaring at Bakura without a hint of fear, and Marik's first impression of him was that the man was incredibly stupid.

"Yami," Yugi said helplessly, turning to speak to the man who had just entered the room. His eyes were watering uselessly, looking at Marik as though he was already dead. No, he definitely did not like this child.

"Bakura, please let him go," Ryou coaxed, also peeking at him worriedly, although he found the boy infinitely less annoying than the bartender. Less pathetic.

He still had trouble believing that the boy was the brother of the Sennen kingpin, especially since he'd never heard of him, but he supposed if Bakura wanted to protect the teen, it would not have been impossible. He kept Ishizu largely out of the Ghouls, as well, although this was more due to her own preference.

Regardless, the situation worked to his benefit if the boy was concerned about him. Marik had no desire to die tonight, and Ryou theoretically held some influence over his brother.

"Release him, Bakura," Yami commanded with a reassuring nod in the crime lord's direction. At first, he scoffed, thinking the arrogance merely a failed bluff since the thief didn't move, defiantly maintaining the hold on his captive- but then he removed the knife, shoving Marik away violently.

"You're the one who wanted our help," Bakura sneered at the man, taking a seat next to his brother even as he glared hatefully at the command. "Don't act so superior."

Marik watched the submission in astonishment, wondering briefly if he'd been mistaken. Surely the King of Thieves and the Sennen wouldn't bow to a simple civilian. Curiously, he studied the newcomer, thinking he must act as either another bartender, or perhaps a bouncer. Although he lacked the ridiculously youthful appearance of 'Yugi', they shared the same distinct hairstyle, and he decided they must be related.

"Bakura..." Ryou trailed off disapprovingly, but was ignored by the other two men, who were currently glaring furiously at each other.

"As long as you are in this shop, you will act civilized," Yami spoke over the boy imperiously, and Marik frowned, disliking the tone. "I would not hire you if I had any other choice, but keep in mind what happened the last time you tried to take advantage of Yugi's kindness."

"And you keep in mind that I'm your last hope to get what you want."

Marik grew bored with the conversatio, and absently wiped away the blood at his throat, shifting his gaze to Ryou. He still didn't understand how this frail, pretty boy could possibly be trusted with the Millennium Ring. He found that mystery much more intriguing than Bakura and Yami's bickering, even if he had yet to figure out why this Yami held so much influence over the self-proclaimed Thief King.

His musings were interrupted when Ryou met his eyes apologetically, finally noticing that he was being watched.

"It might be best for you to leave," he said softly, seeming genuinely concerned for Marik's safety, much to the ghoul's surprise. Not that he needed such weak sentiments, but it was unusual for a gang member to show any form of compassion at all.

He highly suspected that the boy hadn't chosen this life; he simply knew the wrong people and had been dragged along for the ride. Not like him, who'd thrown himself into the underworld so he could eventually acquire his revenge.

"That's right," Bakura broke into their conversation, his lip curling. "Time for you to leave, weakling."

Marik smiled without humor. "I don't want to."

Although it certainly wasn't because of the customer service.

"Namu," Ryou spoke up loudly, cutting off what doubtlessly would have been an extremely ungracious threat on Bakura's behalf. "This is dangerous. You don't know who you're dealing with..."

The crime lord studied him, choosing to disregard the pale boy's warning, and took his second life-threatening chance that night.

"The Thief King," he said slowly, well aware the dangers of admitting the knowledge, but willing to take the risk. "His brother. Someone who hired his services," Marik looked pointedly at each Bakura, Ryou, and Yami in turn. "And of course, the all-important bartender." He nodded in Yugi's direction before turning back to Ryou, smiling sardonically.

Thunk. He had been prepared for it, and agilely deflected Bakura's knife with one of his own, sending the weapon into the bar counter and not even watching as it sank deep into the wood. The weapon vibrated and rang, and before it stopped, he reached out and yanked it violently out of the counter. The entire time, Marik never shifted his gaze from Ryou's, whether due to his fascination with the boy or to mock his attacker, he was unsure.

"What did I just tell you about acting civilly, Bakura?" Yami eventually asked with a sigh, although he watched Marik with interest and more than a bit of suspicion. The boy and Yugi both appeared stunned, and the thief glared at him suspiciously.

"He's right, you know," Marik said, tearing his eyes from Ryou's startled face and grinning at his brother. "Throwing knives at strangers is almost as rude as holding them at knifepoint."

"Who are you?" the thief demanded as the crime lord relaxed against the counter, twirling Bakura's knife with his fingers. If need be, however, he could defend himself within a fraction of a second, and everyone in the room knew it.

"I'm a freelancer," he said at length. "And this job that...Yami is hiring you for has captured my interest. If the job proves advantageous, I might offer my services."

It wasn't a complete lie. As the leader of the Ghouls, Marik took on plenty of unusual jobs, and as long as it paid well, he wasn't overly picky. Then again, he rarely volunteered personally and placed himself directly in the line of fire.

"You don't even know what you're volunteering for," Ryou spoke up, worriedly looking between Marik and his brother. The boy bit his lip, and again, the crime lord was puzzled by the genuine concern in his eyes.

"Then inform me," he instructed, speaking to Yami but never removing his eyes from the white-haired pair.

His eyes met Ryou's again, and he smirked slightly, amused by the transformation of the boy's features. They still contained the extraordinary cordiality, but he now recognized that the boy was completely aware of the darker side of reality, no matter how innocent he appeared.

Or maybe that was a form of innocence in itself, since he remained so hopeful even in the face of darkness, instead of being consumed and using it as Marik did.

"And what makes you think we trust you?" Bakura glowered, crossing his arms. He already had another knife in his hand, hidden beneath his own robes. But Marik knew it was there.

He was also aware the thief had a valid point, but he chose to ignore it, not offering a reply. He instead focused his gaze on Yami, who sat down across from him on the other side of the bar counter, his crimson eyes somber and resigned.

"If you want to help," the proud man spoke slowly. "I hired Bakura to find out who my father is, and to learn who I am."

Ryou and Bakura's heads whipped around to stare at Yami incredulously, both surprised he was telling the story to a complete stranger. Marik found himself surprised as well, expecting more refusals and arguments before they gave in, but in the end concluded that the man really was just plain stupid.

"What do you mean?" he asked, listening intently even as his voice remained impassive.

"My parents passed away when I was very young," Yami explained, studying him as though calculating his reaction. "All my records were destroyed, and I can't even remember my own name- possibly due to some sort of trauma. Yugi and his family were kind enough to take me in, but I want to know my past."

Marik diverted his eyes as he listened to the explanation, offering no apologies and only giving a nod of his head to show he was listening. He felt no sympathy for the other man, thinking Yami should feel grateful for lacking his memories if they were truly traumatizing. He wondered if he might have turned out more like Ishizu or Rishid if he had been capable of forgetting the agonizing pain his father had inflicted on him. His back began to throb with the memories of the tattoo, and then his head, but he continued with the conversation, ignoring them both effectively.

"And you're hiring a thief to dig it up?" he jerked his head in Bakura's direction. "And the leader of them all, too. Why him?"

The conversation lapsed into an unnatural silence, but when it appeared Yami wasn't going to answer, Ryou brushed his hair behind his ear and took a deep breath. Marik turned to him more than willingly; he decided he much preferred this boy over the arrogant, self-pitying man.

"Yami only has one lead. He believes his father might have had a connection to Seto Kaiba, but not many people are willing to investigate the man."

"Seto Kaiba," Marik said thoughtfully, eyes widening at the coincidence. Perhaps he'd be able to kill two birds with one stone. "Yes, you'll need all the help you can get. But in return, I want a favor."

"A favor?" Ryou asked warily. Marik noted that he was beginning to look at him with more suspicion and less concern. He smiled cynically. It was about time.

"Coincidentally, I have a score to settle with someone who had a connection to Kaiba. And now I want you to help me find the man," he stated crisply, the room seeming to darken with his temper. His temple throbbed, but he continued to ignore it, anticipating his vengeance.

"Revenge?" Ryou asked uncertainly, seeming disconcerted by 'Namu's' sudden change in attitude. Marik had dropped his pretense, or at least some of it.

"What makes you think you'll be any help to us in the first place?" Bakura sneered contemptuously, his grip tightening on his knife. "I see no reason to help you if you don't prove useful."

"More useful than knowing how to hack into Seto Kaiba's main computer?"

ooo


"He's right," Ryou declared, finally throwing up his hands in defeat. Figuratively, of course. He was holding his laptop, and the boy loathed to think what would happen if he literally tossed up his hands while holding his cherished electronic.

"Of course I'm right," Marik scoffed, and Ryou peered over at him thoughtfully. He jumped when he realized how close the other man was; however, the teen was leaning over the back of his chair, intrigued by the boy's efforts.

"You're joking," Bakura growled, watching Marik suspiciously, as though unsure whether it would be more convenient to kill him now or later. "There isn't a computer you haven't been able to hack into."

Ryou sighed at his brother's temper, biting his lip. There hadn't been, until now. Glancing over at the smug but irritated man next to him, he wondered nervously if it would be rude to inch away from Marik, or if it would be strange not to.

"Well, I've never tried to hack into Kaiba's central system before," Ryou shrugged helplessly, deciding to stay put. Marik wasn't doing any harm, and he secretly enjoyed having someone watch him. It made him feel interesting. Useful, even.

"I won't say I told you so," the blond Egyptian drawled. "But I'm thinking it. Very loudly."

"So it seems my past will remain a mystery?" Yami asked, disappointment coloring his tone.

The white-haired boy nodded sympathetically, turning back to his computer for another futile attempt. Trying to out-hack Kaiba was like an olympic swimmer trying to out-swim a shark: no matter how good he was with computers, Ryou couldn't out-maneuver someone who was in his element.

"Spare me the dramatics," Marik snorted, apparently lacking the same sympathy. "Nobody cares what's in your past except for you."

In fact, after a brief review of the room's occupants, Ryou highly suspected he was the only one who felt any compassion for Yami's plight. Judging from Marik's derisive glares and Bakura's outright hostility, he didn't doubt that the two would rather give each other a long, friendly warm hug than comfort Yami.

Impressive, since in the short time they were together, they had already learned to hate each other with a passion.

"You think you're better?" Bakura asked scornfully, glaring over at Marik. "You act like the damn queen of England."

Ryou raised his eyebrows at his brother, noting the irony. If anything, Bakura would have been the one acting like the queen of England, in his opinion. As far as he could tell, Marik was completely, natively Egyptian. Bakura and Ryou were the ones with the English heritage.

He decided they would all be much safer if he kept that fact to himself, however.

"And you act like a pathetic child throwing a tantrum," Marik retorted, and Ryou sighed, anticipating another long, intense argument. He could only hope that this one wouldn't end with any bloodshed.

Thankfully, Yami interrupted, much to Ryou's relief. He had unfortunately learned first hand the past week that Marik and Bakura were capable of arguing for hours straight when left alone, and once started, they were nearly impossible to stop.

"Is there any other way to recover my past?" the man asked. "Without breaking into the KaibaCorp command center of Cairo?"

"I've already told you it's impossible to get what you want as long as some people are too cowardly to retrieve it," Marik told him irritably, straightening from his position and crossing his arms, sneering derisively at Bakura.

Ryou continued typing, an odd sense of disappointment washing over him when the teen had shifted his focus so easily. Bakura never cared what Ryou did on his computers, and as embarrassing as it was, he had been flattered that Marik had enjoyed watching him.

"It's called intelligence, not cowardice," Bakura spat. "Especially when you'll be the one leading us. And taking Ryou along isn't strategic, it's idiotic- I can barely drag him along on smaller missions than this."

Ryou looked up at the sound of his name, ruffling his hair sheepishly when he found three sets of eyes staring at him.

"If it's necessary, I'm not scared," he shrugged, not meeting Bakura's eyes.

Instead, his wandering eyes ended up finding Marik's, who watched him with something akin to approval. Embarrassed again, Ryou quickly resumed his typing, trying to ignore the tinge of pride he felt that the Egyptian recognized him, his earlier disappointment quickly fading.

"See?" Marik asked smugly. "Ryou trusts me."

"Well, I wouldn't go that far," he murmured, startled by the sudden use of his name. But rather than being offended, Marik's lips quirked up in curious amusement. Actually, Ryou thought the smile looked nice, not mocking like it did when he sneered at Bakura, and not fake like when he'd first introduced himself-

With a start, Ryou realized he was examining Marik again, and hastily returned to his computer.

"Then how far would you go, Ryou?" the Egyptian retorted.

Ryou's eyes widened- although not as wide as the other boy's when he belatedly grasped the implications of his retort. The teen instantly snapped his mouth shut, setting his jaw and averting his eyes. Ryou let his hair fall forward to hide that he was smiling; it was an unusual but not unpleasant experience to see an abashed Marik.

"What the hell? Were you just coming onto him?" Bakura snarled at last, apparently unaware that Marik had made the comment unintentionally. Ryou felt his face heat up self-consciously.

"He didn't mean it, Bakura," he muttered, returning to his computer.

Deciding in that moment that computer screens were excellent for avoiding everyone's probing stares, he self-congratulated himself for choosing to enter the hacking business so many years ago. In fact, it was the first time Ryou could recall congratulating instead of scolding himself for working on the wrong side of the law. Computers were excellent, no, spectacular for escaping awkward moments he really wished his brother wasn't there to contribute to-

"Stay away from Ryou unless you want me to personally show you, in full detail, the meanings of the words dismember and mutilate."

He wasn't looking at Marik, he wasn't looking at his brother, he was focusing completely on codes and keys-

"Do you think you'd have more luck if you were able to access a more central computer?" Yami asked, clearing his throat. Ryou gratefully redoubled his efforts, motivated by the man's unsubtle subject change, but effective nonetheless.

"Possibly," he admitted. "Kaiba seems to have rigged his programs to attack outside invaders- but from the inside, I might have a chance."

"You're not going along on any job like this," his brother told him matter-of-factly. He emphasized the announcement with a crack of his knuckles, glowering threateningly in Yami's direction.

"He has to, unless you have another person that good with computers," Marik jerked his head in Ryou's direction. He fidgeted uncertainly, trying to hide that he appreciated the indirect compliment. The Egyptian had been adamant that it was impossible to hack into Kaiba's system from the outside, but it didn't seem because the teen lacked faith in Ryou's abilities.

"I would not ask anyone to put themselves in unnecessary danger," Yami interjected, resigned but righteous. Most would have been touched by the gesture, but Ryou had discovered that both his brother and their newest companion preferred the direct, self-serving approach.

"Then you'll never find out your past," Marik snorted, proving consistent with Ryou's image of his character. "Whoever you are, you're important enough that Ryou can't find a scrap of information on you from the outside- and there's no guarantee that we'll find anything even if we manage to pull this off. How sure are you that Kaiba has your information?"

Yami rand an agitated hand through his hair. "I'm not certain, but I have to believe that there's something," he said, almost desperately.

Ryou nodded in understanding, deciding to help him out.

"If Marik goes with us, he wouldn't put himself in unnecessary danger, right?" he spoke up, focusing on Bakura so he wouldn't be distracted by the Egyptian's piercing stare. He wasn't sure if he was imagining it, but the teen always seemed to be studying him, as if trying to pick him apart. "I think we'll be kept safe, if only because he doesn't want to get caught."

"Common sense," Marik said in mock surprise. "Someone here has it?"

"Unless he's a spy for KaibaCorp," Bakura snapped, ignoring the gibe. "In which case he's just luring us in for the kill. I'll bet he's just another one of Kaiba's mindless minions."

Marik tensed up, and Ryou shivered, startled by the intense fury that suddenly contorted the Egyptian's face. His eyes narrowed, his features darkened, and his lip turned down into a furious scowl, and he didn't even look like the same person. The teen reached up to grasp his head, hair clenched tightly in his hands as though in pain, but he didn't even seem to notice it himself as he spoke fiercely.

"Do you honestly think I would work for him?" Marik snarled, the veins in his arms visible, only a foot or so away from the white-haired teen. "His father worked for Aknamkanon. "

Ryou thought quickly, trying to remember where he'd heard the name. Seto Kaiba was the adoptive son of Gozaburo, he knew, and so Marik wanted revenge on his employer, Aknamkanon.

"But Seto Kaiba defeated both of them," Bakura challenged even as he leaned forward, interest peaked. "Took over the company by prying it from their cold, suicidal fingers. I'm sure you're grateful."

"I don't hate Seto Kaiba," Marik said darkly. "He has no blood ties to his adoptive father. But I refuse to work beneath him. He stole the satisfaction of destroying Aknamkanon, but I will not let him take away the satisfaction of destroying that man's son."

"The son is not necessarily responsible for his father's actions," Yami spoke quietly, carefully.

"Fool. If people truly believed that, then why are debts passed from generation to generation? Why the names, if not like father like son?"

Ryou gaped at the uncharacteristic hatred. The anger contorted Marik's otherwise attractive features, and even his voice twisted savagely with crazed fury. He inched away from the other man; he may have enjoyed the attention before, but when the Egyptian was like this, he didn't feel safe at all. The rant gave him the chills, as though Marik's hatred and anger had consumed him to the point where he wasn't even the same person.

Bakura, on the other hand, crowed with laughter.

"All right, then," his brother cackled, enjoying Marik's thirst for blood and revenge. Ryou suspected it reminded him of his own. "I'll humor you just this once. What did you have planned?"

Ryou jumped when the Egyptian redirected his vengeful smirk at him, and dread dripped down his spine. This Marik was different, and he found he preferred the cynical, dry-humored Marik over this new, hateful version.

"I think," the blond man sneered, and Ryou found Marik's face devoid of the inquisitive mirth he had held for him earlier; only a dark, mocking humor left in its place. "I need to teach our dear Ryou which security systems he'll be hacking into."

ooo


"Tell me again why I'm lost in Seto Kaiba's bloody mansion with my brother, a bastard, and an idiot?"

Truthfully, Marik was unsure himself why Bakura had agreed, unable to remember exactly how he had managed to get the thief to consent to his plan. He only knew that he had a killer headache, and that Ryou kept peeking at him uneasily as though he would spontaneously combust at any moment. Out loud, however, Marik maintained his cool demeanor, not betraying his inner disquiet.

"Didn't we go over this already?" he questioned, his usual sarcasm falling easily into place. "And on the contrary, I think Yami's infinitely more intelligent than you are."

He didn't listen for the retort; however, instead opting to watch Ryou hack the next security code, connecting his laptop to the system. His eyes were bright with fascination as he peered over Ryou's shoulder, the boy's fingers flying across the keys. He still hadn't figured out why the teen had entered the underworld when he clearly didn't approve—although Marik suspected it had something to do with his brother—yet was still ridiculously good at his job, one of the top hackers in the world.

Actually, Ryou in general had begun to fascinate him. The other teen clearly knew the other side of the law, but he still remained so...guileless.

"Moron, I was calling you the idiot," Bakura snapped, interrupting Marik's observations. With an irritated snort, he rose to his feet, his golden earrings softly jingling as he stood. "And if he's so smart, then what, pray tell, is he doing here?"

"I wasn't going to stay behind when there's something to learn about my past," Yami replied flatly. He apparently decided his pride wouldn't allow him to mull in silence any longer, although he certainly wasn't helping with the situation.

Ryou was extremely impressed to note that the man didn't so much as flinch when Bakura and Marik both scowled at him with frighteningly similar expressions. Their distaste for Yami remained the only thing they agreed upon.

"Don't you think we should be quiet?" Ryou broke in, unable to take the nerves any longer. He tried to keep the anxiety out of his voice, lest Marik hear it, but judging from the Egyptian's expression, he'd failed. The teen looked torn between irritation and amusement, but seemed to settle on the latter. "Kaiba-"

"Fool. Kaiba is somewhere in Japan, not here in a small tech station like this one."

"This is small?" Ryou's voice rose incredulously at the Egyptian's comment, and the man rolled his eyes in response.

"Hacking computers really is all you're good for, isn't it?" Marik said dryly, although the comment lacked its usual bite as the other man knelt down to look over Ryou's shoulder again. "Compared to his center of operations in Japan, yes. But it is central enough that we can hack the system from the inside. That's why you're here."

"I still don't see how it's any different from hacking the system from the outside," Bakura said caustically, devoid of any patience he might have had. Which was none, so there was little noticeable difference.

Ryou observed with some puzzlement that his brother was glaring at Marik even more intensely than usual, actually. He also observed, with a small bit of amusement, that the blond boy had returned to watching him type. He was so enthralled, he didn't even notice his face was mere inches away from the young hacker. Ryou just shook his head, shaking it off since he knew the action was unintentional.

"Kaiba would have detected us immediately if he had done so," Yami rationalized, his voice somewhat sour. "And he would have withheld the information we wanted."

"Did it sound like I was talking to you?"

"Finished," Ryou announced, either oblivious or choosing to ignore the argument. Or perhaps deciding it was safer to leave them on their own, so long as there weren't any weapons or gore.

Marik watched as the vault opened smoothly, barely making a sound, impressed despite himself. Ryou was faster than his best hacker, and prettier to look at, besides. The crime lord frowned when he remembered the Ghoul's resident tech expert, a short, repelling blue-haired worm who he trusted about as much as he trusted Bakura.

"Can I see that?" the Egyptian asked, holding his hands out for Ryou's laptop. His white-haired companion reluctantly gave it to him, and he turned the screen away, rapidly typing and calling up a blueprint of the building.

"The central computer should be past here." Marik turned the screen so the others could see it before standing and moving forward, taking the laptop with him. He entered the corridor, listening to his footsteps echo on the polished tile floor. "You disabled the cameras, correct?"

"Yes," Ryou confirmed, hurrying after him, his arm outstretched to retake his laptop.

The door closed behind them.

"For the record, opening the vault was not my responsibility," Marik said coldly, listening to Bakura curse loudly enough on the other side of the door for it to travel through the steel.

"Why did it close? I programmed it to stay open," Ryou exclaimed, reopening his laptop and frantically typing. "I'll reenter the command-"

"No, you won't," Marik rebutted. He glared at the other boy, gripping his wrist when Ryou reached out to reconnect the computer.

"What? But Bakura- and Yami-"

"If you open the door, whoever is watching its status will assume that the person who entered is now leaving, am I right?" Marik gestured impatiently in the direction of the door.

"Well, yes, but-"

"But no one would be leaving," Marik continued. "And the door would have to be opened for a third time when we leave. Don't you think that would be suspicious?"

"But Bakura-" Ryou started again, but the Egyptian cut him off with a growl.

"I'm not getting taken into custody just because Bakura couldn't keep up. Besides, he's a thief; he should know how to keep himself unseen until we get back."

Marik pivoted on his heel, continuing toward their destination, satisfied that he wouldn't have to put up with Bakura for the rest of the job. Ryou's eyes followed him, looking uncertainly between the crime lord and the vault. After several long seconds of deliberation, he chased after him, falling into step a few paces behind him.

"Are you sure you know where you're going?" Ryou asked anxiously, his voice barely above a whisper. It carried down the brightly lit corridor, almost indiscernible over their echoing footsteps.

"Of course. I've been here before," Marik said impatiently. "Nearly got out right under Kaiba's nose, too."

"Nearly?" Ryou asked fearfully, and his companion rolled his eyes.

"The hacker I was with became overconfident. He was careless with the last computer. You won't make the same mistake." Marik made the declaration of faith sound more like a threat.

"Right..." Ryou agreed uneasily, falling silent.

Marik enjoyed the silence immensely, relishing Bakura's absence. He really was incredibly brilliant at times.

"I know you were the one who coded the door to close so fast," Ryou eventually muttered. "But I'm going to go with it, because I wanted to talk with you alone, anyway."

"You're far too trusting," Marik said offhandedly. "But I thought you knew. You wouldn't be much of a hacker if you didn't."

The Egyptian was only half-focusing on the conversation, his shoulders tense and alert. He appeared relaxed, but his eyes betrayed their situation. They flickered around rapidly, checking ahead of them and lingering on doorways, making sure no one would surprise them. The crime lord knew from experience that a relaxed thief was a dead thief.

"Why did you do it?" Ryou asked, not accusingly, but not sounding overly forgiving. The other boy offered his most convincingly innocent smile.

"I wanted to separate you from the others and leave your corpse in Seto Kaiba's office."

Marik rarely gave gifts, but he liked to pride himself that when he did give one, it fully conveyed his innermost feelings for the recipient.

"I think it's more likely that you wanted to escape Yami and Bakura," Ryou noted critically, not looking the slightest bit fearful. Marik frowned; he was losing his touch. "It's against my better judgement to leave them alone like that, you know. We'll be fortunate if they're both alive by the time we get back."

"I think you mean 'misfortunate'," Marik snickered.

"I thought you would say that," the boy shook his head disapprovingly, but Marik caught the small smile that flashed across his face.

"What can I say?" he replied, feigning guilt. "If I had to listen to Bakura rant or Yami preach one more time, I might have killed one of them. And then I wouldn't be getting my payment at the end of the job." He shrugged helplessly.

"Well, it is much more peaceful without them around," Ryou admitted, chuckling softly.

They fell into a companionable silence, although Marik remembered to stay alert. Still, the hallways were as empty as they were untarnished, and he found himself growing bored of the immaculately clean floor and unblemished, gray walls.

"What did you want to talk to me about?" he finally asked, although he secretly regretted it when the boy's smile vanished immediately.

"Oh." Ryou toyed with a piece of hair nervously. "Well, it's not my business, I know, but..."

"Just spit it out," Marik suggested.

"Well, I- I was wondering why you wanted revenge," Ryou blurted, so quickly that the other teen almost didn't catch it.

After he deciphered the mush of words, however, he froze. Ryou stopped as well, wringing his hands together. The previously comfortable atmosphere disappeared without a trace, and the room felt dark and unwelcoming.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked-"

"Why do you want to know?" Marik asked sharply, his eyes flashing. "What, are you curious? Bored? Or maybe you pity me? Because I could care less-"

"No!" Ryou cried out, flinching at his own loud voice. At this point he almost didn't care about being caught, though, he just wanted the other man to understand. "No, I mean- I was just worried. I thought you must have a good reason to want revenge if you're willing to go so far. Kaiba isn't someone you normally interfere with unless you have a good reason..."

"A good reason?" Marik asked faintly, letting out a harsh laugh. "You want to know why?"

He was taken off guard by the answer, never having been asked. His siblings both knew, but Ishizu always thought he was cruel for wanting revenge, and even Rishid, faithful Rishid, silently disapproved.

Ryou looked alarmed by Marik's outburst, but nodded nonetheless. Well, why not? He had never actually told the story to an outsider before, and he decided to take advantage of the boy's concern.

He listened to their footsteps echo down the hallway, unsure where to begin, having no experience explaining the account. He wanted to tell it right.

"My father," Marik began coldly, clenching his fists. "Used to be a decent man. Not good," he declared. "But not cruel. Before he met my mother, he was the leader of a criminal organization known as the Ghouls. I'm sure you've heard of them."

He stopped in front of a doorway, nodding for Ryou to open it. After almost looking like he would refuse in favor of listening, the white-haired boy uncoded the security system when he received a vehement scowl, and Marik continued shortly after.

"My mother convinced him to ease his way out of the business, but when she passed away, my father retook his position as the leader of the Ghouls."

Marik spoke bitterly, reaching up to clutch his head, but continued despite his suddenly excruciating headache. He ignored Ryou's hovering hand, the trembling fingers seeming to want to touch his shoulder but uncertain if they would be welcome. He didn't know if he wanted them, either, so he just let them be.

"At age ten, my father decided to pass on that legacy, carving onto my back the initiation to enter the organization," he spoke, but didn't even hear himself say the words, instead remembering the ritual which had started his life as the leader of the Ghouls.

"But...How was that Aknamkanon's fault?"

"Aknamkanon manipulated my father indirectly," Marik spat through his teeth, grinding them against the pain. His vision was blurred, blinded by his throbbing temple. He was losing focus on the world around him, but forced himself to keep his gaze on Ryou.

He wanted the other boy to know.

"Marik?" Ryou asked worriedly. "Are you-"

"Gozaburo Kaiba, Seto Kaiba's adoptive father, worked under Aknamkanon's command. He's the one who pressured my father into rejoining the Ghouls," Marik hissed. "He's the one who ordered my initiation. Aknamkanon must have known, but he did nothing!"

They reached the main computer system, and Ryou looked at Marik hesitantly.

"Find the information," Marik ordered, still clutching his head. "First look up what I want. Then you can look up whatever you need for Yami."

"Maybe I should wait. You don't look so good," Ryou said worriedly, finally deciding to take the risk and lightly touched his shoulder.

Marik shuddered.

"I said, find what I want to know," Marik all but shouted, causing Ryou to jump. Uncertainly, the boy returned to his laptop, obediently searching the system.

It was true that he didn't feel well, though. He felt a hot, uncontrollable rage building up, threatening to take over his conscious-

"Bakura wants revenge on him, too," Ryou said suddenly, not taking his eyes off his laptop.

"What?"

"Bakura. That's why he agreed to his," the boy explained. "We weren't always thieves. My mother and sister were killed, murdered in a shooting. A couple of guards who worked under Gozaburo at the time were practicing in the park, and my mother and sister walked by. Bakura wants revenge on Aknamkanon's son, too, since he's the only one left."

"But you don't?" Marik was dizzy, but his headache faded as Ryou continued to speak.

"No," Ryou said firmly. "I can understand why Bakura does, and why you do...those men were so stupid," he burst out, his face contorting in pain. "I wanted them to hurt, at first. I wanted them to die. But- Getting revenge on anybody, much less someone so indirect to the problem- I just...passing the blame just seemed so useless after watching Bakura suffer all those years..."

"Who, then?" Marik asked almost desperately, looking at Ryou with wild eyes, only to find pained brown ones to reflect them. "My father is dead, Gozaburo is dead, Aknamkanon is dead- who am I supposed to blame? Myself?"

Because he was the only one left- and Marik couldn't see how his suffering, how those awful tattoos on his back were his fault-

"No," Ryou repeated. "I think that would be letting them win. They're dead. Wouldn't it be the most satisfying to move forward instead of suffering even longer, living off your hate?"

Marik let out a short bark of laughter, sitting down next to Ryou, his shoulders slumped. His eyes burned in frustration, but his cheeks stayed dry.

"After waiting so many years to have my vengeance- how can you tell me that I've wasted it? How can you tell me that?" Marik's voice rose hysterically, and Ryou appeared unnerved.

"I didn't mean-"

"Who is it?" Marik asked, cutting him off. Ryou stared at him in confusion, until he realized he had returned to his obsession with Aknamkanon's son. "You can find him, can't you?"

"I can," Ryou sighed tiredly. "I should have his family history up in a few seconds."

The Egyptian leaned closer to see, and watched as Ryou entered the last codes to dodge Kaiba's firewall protecting the data. On another day, he would have been entertained to see that the firewall was depicted as a fierce white dragon, breathing a mix of lightening viruses at hacker's computers. As it was, today his usual mirth was absent.

Ryou inhaled sharply, his fingers frozen in place, and Marik skimmed the screen for what had startled him.

When he found it, the words almost didn't register, they were so out of place. He almost laughed out loud. Or maybe the choked sound in his throat was a sob.

Atem, son of Aknamkanon. Given false identity upon his father's death, Atem suffered from amnesia due to the trauma of losing both parents. Lives with Sugoroku Mutou under the alias of Yami Mutou.

"There you two are."

A voice distantly registered with Marik's conscious after an immeasurable amount of time.

"Do you know how hard it was to get through that vault without you?" he placed the voice as Bakura's, and glanced up with unseeing eyes. "Were you even thinking, Ryou, when you ran off with this idiot?" Bakura grabbed Ryou's shoulder painfully.

"I apologize, Ryou," Yami said, a few paces behind him. Marik tensed at the voice, but the man continued, oblivious. "I suggested we wait for your return, but Bakura was concerned."

"You were the one panicking when you found out he was here-"

Bakura lost the chance to clarify exactly who he was referring to, since even the King of Thieves was shocked speechless by the sheer amount of hatred that warped Marik's face.

"Yami," the Egyptian chortled as though the name was a terrible joke. "Or should I say, Atem? I've been seeking you out for far too long, son of Aknamkanon."

Ryou felt a chilling sensation akin to the experience of jumping into a mountain of snow wearing only a pair of shorts. Marik had changed again, and Ryou uneasily edged away from the other man.

"What are you talking about?" Yami questioned, clearly unsettled as Marik laughed with horrible glee.

"Fool," the crime lord spat, stepping towards him menacingly, but Yami bravely held his ground. "You don't even realize how much suffering your father caused."

"What do you mean?" Yami demanded, lifting his chin. "You know I remember nothing of my past."

But he did now, and it was all Ryou's fault. He wanted Marik back to normal, he hadn't meant to upset him so much, the other man barely seemed human any more-

"Namu, please, this isn't like you," he pleaded, trying to hide his fear and reaching out to grasp Marik's arm.

"And how well do you claim to know me, you pathetic child?" the Egyptian sneered, violently shaking off Ryou's hand. "The Marik you knew until now is merely a piece of me who is no longer useful."

"Marik?" Ryou asked tacitly, his voice strained.

"Does it matter? I'm far different, and far more powerful than the Marik from before," he cackled, throwing back his head as he laughed.

"Marik Ishtar?" Bakura asked, recognizing the name instantly and ignoring his insane ranting. Even he looked somewhat surprised, his eyes widened.

With a start, Ryou realized he recognized it as well. His mouth fell open, feeling immensely stupid for believing that Marik had told the truth so long ago, back in the bar, when he had claimed to be named 'Namu'. And it had never even occurred to Ryou to lie, having imprudently offered his own.

"So you finally figured it out?" Marik asked, still laughing in a crazed display of insanity. "Yes, I am the leader of the Ghouls, and I will destroy all who stand in the way of my revenge."

Brandishing a golden staff Ryou recognized as a Millennium item, Marik pointed the Rod at Yami, all humor gone from his face.

"Pay for the sins of your father, Atem."

"Namu- Marik- Stop!" Ryou darted between Marik and Yami, his arm sliced by the knife-like point at the end of the rod. He disregarded it, however, in favor of clutching the Egyptian's arm and preventing him from striking again.

"Release me, you worthless pest-" Marik shook Ryou off again, but he refused to give up.

In the background, he heard Yami telling him to get out of the way and Bakura yelling at him to get out of the way, but Ryou gave one more attempt.

"Marik," Ryou used the unfamiliar name, his voice strained from the wound on his arm, but sincere nonetheless. "This won't help anyone- you're hurting other people!" his voice was shrill. "You're right, I don't know you that well. But aren't you stronger than this? You deserve- no, it's your duty to be happier than this!"

"Quiet, fool," Marik snapped, his eye twitching. The veins not only in his arm, but his face were visible, standing out obscenely and pulsing as he spoke. It looked disgusting, and Ryou wondered how this could possibly be the same man from before.

He watched in muted horror as the the leader of the Ghouls lifted his arm, ready to stab down with the knife. Ryou closed his eyes, but they snapped open again when he felt Bakura yank him away at the last second. His arm throbbed with pain, caught by the edge of the rod, but he preferred that over being pierced through the heart. In the grasp of his savior, he watched as the Millennium Rod fell from Marik's hands. The golden staff clattered against the blood-stained floor.

"I said shut up!" Marik shouted to no one as he clutched his hair, and Ryou worried distantly that the boy would yank it out. The entire situation seemed surreal, a mix of pain, darkness, and blood.

Squirming out of Bakura's grip, Ryou reached out to Marik again, his hand trembling.

"Shut up," the Egyptian said one last time, his voice breaking as his legs gave out.

Ryou lurched forward to catch him, wincing at the stab of pain in his arm but forgetting it quickly as he pulled Marik into a tentative embrace, hiding the boy's wet eyes from Bakura and Yami.

"I knew you were stronger than that, Marik," Ryou said softly, tightening his hold.

Marik let out a choked laugh, shivering in the teen's arms. To him it felt like Ryou was keeping him from shaking to pieces.

They stayed like that for a while, but after several long minutes of silently waiting, Bakura was eventually conquered by the awkwardness of watching the scene from the sidelines. Now that it appeared Marik wasn't going to stab Ryou—or in Bakura's preferred scenario, Yami—the thief was impatient and irritatingly confused.

"What the hell just happened?" Bakura finally asked.

"I don't mean to be insensitive," Yami spoke, sending a quick glare of disbelief in the thief's direction, letting the implication of his apology to speak for itself. "But someone should look at your arm, Ryou."

"Oh," Marik gasped, pulling his head away from Ryou's shoulder and seeming to notice the copious amount of blood for the first time. "Oh, shit-"

"I'm fine," Ryou said automatically, purposely choosing not to look down at his arm. It hurt less when he didn't know how much he was bleeding.

"Well, there's a lot of blood, but it doesn't seem to be serious," Yami confirmed, kneeling down next to the pair and studying the slash. "The cut is shallow, but it should still be taken care of."

"Here," Bakura grumbled from behind them.

Ryou peered up at his brother when the growl was followed by the ripping sound of fabric. Bakura whipped the torn piece of shirt at Yami with much more force than necessary, but Yami caught it easily and began to methodically wrap the boy's injury.

"I'm sorry for the rush," Yami apologized, tying of the bandage and helping Ryou to his feet. He reached down to help Marik as well, but the Egyptian stumbled to his feet on his own, appearing guilty but stubborn. Yami was gracious enough to overlook it. "But we must leave immediately."

"What happened?" Ryou asked, surprised by the urgent tone. "We found out who you are, but..." he glanced uneasily at Marik before he quietly finished, "Then again, it might be best to wait."

"Bakura and I determined that Seto Kaiba is in Egypt, possibly in this building," Yami informed him, his voice calm but with an underlying tone of urgency. "You can tell me what you discovered once we escape."

"Kaiba's here?" Ryou asked, his mouth falling open in horror. Marik crossed his arms, not caring much for the conversation and instead feeling uncomfortably cold now that the other boy had released him.

"Last time I checked," someone said snidely, the gruff voice echoing across the room.

All four of them whirled around to meet the icy gaze of a tall brunette who glared at them mercilessly. Ryou had a sinking suspicion he knew who this was. After all, not many people could make it past that vault except for the creator himself.

"Speak of the devil and he turns up in a trenchcoat," Bakura scowled, confirming Ryou's fears.

"And here I thought my security system had malfunctioned," Kaiba drawled, watching the four trespassers disdainfully. "But I suppose even I couldn't anticipate this level of idiocy. After all, most people would have the common sense not to break into a KaibaCorp building while I'm in the country. Especially not by blasting a hole through the vault keeping them out."

"I told you he would notice," Yami muttered to Bakura.

"Well, I didn't see you coming up with any better ideas-"

Marik jumped when a gentle hand grasped his fingers, and he drew in a shaky breath when he realized Ryou was gazing at him with concern. He hesitated a moment more before squeezing back tightly, taking in another deep breath in an attempt to calm himself. Yami's and Bakura's bickering faded to the background as Ryou leaned close, whispering conspiratorially.

"Don't worry," the white-haired boy murmured, offering a small, reassuring smile. "Bakura's actually been caught by Kaiba before, and he always escapes. It might take a bit longer this time, since he'll need to rescue me, and I'm pretty useless...but I'll make sure he gets you and Yami out, too."

"Thanks," Marik said, faltering. "But...you do realize I'm the leader of the Ghouls?"

"Well...yes," Ryou mumbled disappointedly, looking away.

Marik felt a small stab of pain, until he watched as Ryou glanced down uncertainly at their intertwined fingers. Taking a deep breath, the Egyptian offered an honest if not wobbly smile.

"You could be right, you know," he muttered finally. "I might not be cut out for revenge and gangs."

He leaned forward so his forehead pressed against Ryou's, completely exhausted. The other boy flushed, but didn't move away, much to Marik's relief.

"Ishtar, what did I tell you about staying away from him?" Bakura's voice cut across the room, murder in his words and images of blood and torture painted by his tone.

Marik didn't feel very threatened. It was hard to take the thief seriously when Kaiba had just singlehandedly disarmed him, and was now holding him at gunpoint.

Defiantly, Marik tugged Ryou into an embrace, amused as Bakura threatened his life and everything he held dear. All the while ignoring Kaiba, who was doing the same.

"Then again, if I stay with the Ghouls," Marik murmured in Ryou's ear, feeling him shiver in his arms. "I'm sure you could convince Bakura that an alliance between us would be beneficial."

"You're not making my job easy," Ryou muttered back, listening to Bakura's swearing intensify.

But he didn't pull away.

/End/


Whoo. Looooong one-shot. Written in three days.

...I'm dead. XP

Please review? I'd cherish it. T.T