Where Angels
by Apollymi

Site: DarkMagick.net
Word Count:
Genre: Action, Adventure, Shounen-ai/Yaoi
Pairing: Bakura/Kaiba, implied Malik/Yuugi, implied Jyonouchi/Anzu
Summary: It's been two years since Atemu went into the Afterlife. Now the past is coming back to haunt them... in an unexpected way.
Rating: R
Author's Note: Yuugiou and all its characters are copyright to Takahashi Kazuki and associated copyright holders, of which I am not one. I do own the storyline, such that it is, though. So the moral of this story is: Mine, steal, die.

Journal of Kaiba Mokuba -- Undated Entry:
Niisama tries way too hard, I think. After our trip to Egypt, I don't see how he can say magic doesn't exist. I saw that ceremonial duel -- and he saw even more than that in the "Memory World," getting there so far ahead of me. That duel was more than enough proof for me that magic does indeed exist: the two Yuugis, the cards animating themselves as they did, that strange gate opening, the second Yuugi starting towards it in leather and entering it in what I've taken to calling "Pharaoh garb"... Yeah, that was all magic. I can accept it. Not so much, though, for Niisama, I guess.

Niisama's thrown himself into his work big time, so much so that I hardly even see him anymore except at night and on the weekends. He's usually home when I get there on Saturdays, and we try to do something, just the two of us, on Sundays.

It's been over two years since the ceremonial duel and since that second Yuugi vanished, and I don't think our lives are ever going back to normal. And I miss Niisama. He should have been home hours ago.

Another long, boring night in a seemingly endless stream of long, boring nights, he thought sourly to himself. Tonight might have been a little bit longer and more boring than normal, but at least his brother would be pleased to see him, provided of course that Mokuba was still awake when he got home tonight.

He took a glance at the clock and winced. Almost three a.m. -- more than likely, Mokuba would already be asleep if he left now, and if he wasn't... Well, he'd be in for an earful and then some. He'd be doing good to only get a half hour long lecture. It was a pain, but it also wasn't. After all, it was nice that Mokuba still worried about him so much, even as a rather busy and terribly popular (given the email he'd received earlier in the day from one of the maids threatening to quit if one more girl called for his little brother) teenager.

Still, three a.m. was late, even for him. It was past time he headed home, he thought to himself as he stood, collecting his suit jacket that he'd discarded over the back of the chair only after everyone else had gone home and the briefcase he had stashed beneath his desk that had once held his world-famous Duel Monsters card collection but now contained schematics on the next generation of Duel Disks: smaller, lighter, and more portable, suitable even for duelists smaller than Mutou Yuugi, the infamous growth spurt-less wonder... if he could ever get all the kinks out of the systems. It seemed determined to make him stoop to the level of cursing it like an infantile child throwing a screaming tantrum.

It certainly wasn't that he didn't duel anymore though, but running his corporation and thus securing his brother's future was his top priority. Mokuba deserved better than the best, and there was no way he wouldn't move heaven, hell, and the entire earth to give it to him. Besides, he had grown a bit used accustomed to the fate of the world hanging on the next card drawn from all those times with and against Yuugi -- the "other Yuugi," as it were -- and without that, there simply wasn't enough thrill to pull him back in again. He could afford to rest on his laurels for a while.

Carefully he locked his important work up: what he would take with him into his briefcase, what he would work with on Monday in his top desk drawer. The next step of his nightly ritual was to telephone one of his drivers to meet him downstairs in twenty minutes. Once he'd hung up the phone, he threw away the empty espresso cups from the extremely overpriced coffee shop down the street and switched on the security cameras. He had installed a switch into his desk system to allow him to cut the room monitoring on and off. He didn't like that creeping feeling of someone watching him, so he left it powered down till he was about to leave and cut it off again when he returned in the mornings. He set his briefcase squarely in the center of his desk to pull on his overcoat, since extremely late night October air could be very biting. As he slipped his arms into the sleeves, he heard it: a faint tapping, almost like a scraping.

He frowned. If there was one thing he absolutely could not tolerate, it was deviations from his routine. If he had a driver who could defy the laws of physics, time, and space to get here this quickly, why hadn't he done so from the very beginning? Of course, that didn't make terribly much sense, especially on a sleep-deprived mind, so he discarded that theory. So, what--?

The knock-scraping repeated itself. No, not scraping. It was more like fingernails on a chalkboard... or glass. That would be even more impossible though. He was more than fifteen floors above ground, and people did not fly. There had to be a better explanation for all of this, one that confined itself to the tenets of science. He would accept nothing less, not even the voice that slithered into his mind and all around him and whispered in a voice like a thousand snakes hissing.

This put the invasive feeling of his guards watching him completely and utterly to shame.


He wasn't going to turn around. Mokuba had informed him time and time again that, in horror movies, the villain never jumped out till the victim turned around to look.


He wasn't going to look. He wasn't going to look, not because something might be there, but because there might not be anything -- and that might prove he was losing his mind. And if something was out there, then he might be losing his mind anyway. It was impossible for someone to be outside his window, simply and utterly impossible. It was just a bird, something simple like that.


Against every ounce of self-preservation and trepidation he possessed, he found himself slowly turning to look behind him.

Kaiba Corp security cameras, as viewed by Kaiba Mokuba and then the police the next morning
One moment, Kaiba Seto was in his office. The next, he simply wasn't. There was no evidence of a break-in, nor of tampering with the images on the security feed, nor that the camera itself might have been shut off for a few moments.

No, simply in the space of time it took for the camera to roll over from 02:59:58 to 03:00:00, Kaiba Seto just... vanished, as simple as that. That, of course, didn't mean Mokuba didn't fire every security guard on shift that night -- and even some that weren't. The police were called in and went over the tape but were able to offer no further clues regarding the disappearance of the wealthiest man in Domino. Finally, as a last resort, he called a number that had been in his wallet for over two years but he had never taken out and certainly never called before: the Kame Game Shop and, more specifically, Mutou Yuugi's private line.

Kaiba Mokuba believed in magic, after all, but he only knew a few people who possessed any knowledge of it. Every single one of them had a tendency to be located around Yuugi.

It had been two years since he'd helped his other to the Afterlife, two years since he'd heard that voice in his head that was so like his own but wasn't his, two years since he'd had to start getting used to those changes left in him and his friends -- and even the very world around him -- brought about by the other him... and two years since he'd seen two of his friends anywhere besides on television and at school -- and then only during tests.

Kaiba-kun was not going to be happy that Mokuba-kun had called him and probably even less so that they had been allowed into his inner sanctum. That was surely what his office was, even more so than his home. Did Kaiba-kun even know Mokuba-kun had called them? If he walked in during this little conversation, they were all in for it big time. Well, not Mokuba-kun certainly -- he had a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card as far as his brother was concerned -- but the rest of them could go ahead and sign their wills. That was why he'd only told Anzu, so far, about the phone call he'd received two hours ago, why only she was sitting next to him watching Mokuba-kun pace back and forth behind his brother's desk.

"Mokuba-kun?" Of course, the rest of the reason she was the only one with him had a lot to do with the fact her voice could be like kryptonite to any straight or straight-leaning male. "What's wrong? Where is your brother?"

The younger teen sighed and sat down on his brother's desk on the side closest to them. "Niisama vanished last night."

"Where would Kaiba-kun go?" he had to ask. This wasn't like the Kaiba-kun he'd known before. The Kaiba-kun he'd known two years ago would never have made his brother worry like this.

"I don't know. One minute..." Mokuba-kun shook his head and hopped to his feet, pacing back around the desk and turning the computer monitor to face them. "You have to promise me you won't tell anyone about what I'm going to show you." He nodded, and Anzu made a soft sound of agreement; that seemed to be enough for Mokuba-kun. "This is the security tape from last night. Just watch it, and tell me what you think." He hit a couple buttons on the keyboard, and images appeared.

He watched the short clip warily, constantly aware of the worried teen across the desk from him and the young woman next to him. On the screen, Kaiba-kun froze and stiffened, and Yuugi frowned. "Is there any audio on this?"

Mokuba-kun shook his head slightly. "No. Everywhere else in the building, certainly, but Niisama's never liked anyone spying on him. He's not overly happy with just this running as he leaves. I had to bribe him with two months of no horror movies for this much."

Somehow Yuugi had the impression that bribery had not been completely necessary. The younger Kaiba probably could have just turned watery eyes on his elder brother and have gotten his way without giving up his movies. This was far from the time for that discussion though.

The Kaiba-kun on the clip had just started to relax slightly when he suddenly tensed again -- then even more so. As stiff as a board, he slowly turned to face the window behind him -- the same window now at Mokuba-kun's back -- that was just out of the camera's range. An expression of horror blossomed across his face, and then... he was gone. The clip showed the empty office, continuing the sweeping back and forth motion of the camera another moment, before Mokuba-kun cut it off. Yuugi found himself staring at the black monitor a long moment before he finally forced out, "What in the world... How is that possible?"

Mokuba-kun let out a soft sigh. "That's what I was hoping you could tell me, Yuugi. Both the police and our security have already been over this clip -- in fact, they still have the original -- and neither of them could tell me anything useful."

"What am I supposed to tell you that the police can't?"

"The police didn't see what I saw in Egypt."

Mokuba-kun had an absolutely uncanny ability to say exactly the right thing to strike directly to the heart of the matter. He had to wonder if it was genetic or something. "Mokuba-kun, that was..."

"Magic. That was magic. And that was magic on that tape, that came in here and took my Niisama. You're the only one I know who knows about magic, so you are going to help me get Niisama back."

Wow. Maybe people should be limiting the Kaiba brothers' time together because if he weren't looking at Mokuba-kun, he would have sworn it was the elder Kaiba he was speaking to. "Mokuba-kun..." he tried again.

"Mokuba-kun," Anzu cut in, drawing both of their attentions to her. When had she moved behind the younger teen to the window? No matter; she had cut through the tension as smoothly as a hot knife through butter and gotten the pressure neatly off of him. "I don't think whoever -- whatever -- took your brother actually came in here." She lifted a hand to indicate the scratches on the outside of the glass.

His first thought upon waking up was, 'Is this what a hangover feels like?' He winced as he realized that even just thinking in turn fed the headache he already had, making it that much worse. Well, that was just wonderful. Typical too. It was simply his usual damn luck. Now just what had happened to bring him to this point?

It hurt so badly to try to think, but he had to. Besides, pain was something he was used to. He had learned early on how to deal with it, how to work around it - and so he would. Jump starting a genius mind shouldn't be too difficult. He had been in his office, getting ready to leave. It had been late, so he had called for one of his drivers rather than risk wrecking himself. He'd been putting on his coat when he heard a noise... on the window behind him. He'd turned and --

A monster! There had been a monster of some sort behind him! Its hand had come through the glass without breaking it, wrapped around him before he could move, then... blackness. He didn't remember anything else between then and now. But still, the whole monster thing, that couldn't be right. He couldn't have imagined it, though; his mind didn't work that way. Some kind of latent image perhaps? Something he'd viewed before flashing before his eyes? It had looked vaguely familiar, like a card he'd seen played before but not frequently, maybe just one time... on the rooftop of Kaiba Corp, only that had been a small white holographic creature, not the massive winged beast that had grabbed him. The card Diaboundo Carnel was among the most rare of cards, though, almost as much so as his own Blue Eyes. He found it hard to imagine there being another one in Japan, so that had to mean...

He started to jump up, intent on making certain no one had laid hands on his little brother again, not like the last time he'd seen that particular monster, only to find he couldn't move past his knees. His wrists were encased in metal cuffs which led via a bit of chain to the stone ground. For a split second, his vision blurred and it was everything he could do not to pass out or throw up (He'd sworn this would never happen to him again, not after Kaiba Gouzaburou!), but he made himself fight it down, in time to hear an unfamiliar voice speaking above him: "It would be advisable not to attempt to move about so much, Mister Kaiba. You're still a bit weak from the transfer here, and I really must insist you stay still, for your own sake."

"Who are you?" He was pleased with how nonchalant his voice sounded, like he was speaking to one of those idiot tabloid reporters who so enjoyed hounding him.

"No one whose name you would know. You do not exactly hobnob in my circles, Mister Kaiba." Almost definitely American, New England maybe, though it could also be British. Suddenly he almost regretted not paying closer attention to accents when his foreign investors were babbling on; he might be able to place where this person was from by that. He was definitely gaijin, though.

"Then what exactly is the point of kidnapping me? Money?" He halfway hoped it was something simple like that. It'd be interesting to see how many snipers and mercenaries Mokuba set after this guy. And people called him ruthless.

"Please, Mister Kaiba, do not insult me. I have no need for your money." So this guy was money but not a business person. "I have a service I need provided, and you're the only person who can currently provide it."

"And what would that be?" Already he was mentally categorizing ways to stall things out for Mokuba and the police. This person struck him as utterly overconfident; he could easily work with that. Overconfidence was something he knew a great deal about, after all.

"You, my dear boy, are going to help me acquire the crowning achievements of my collection, and all you have to do is sit there while I put to use all that lovely magical energy you are allowing to waste."

There weren't many things people could say to confuse him. Off the wall statements like that were among the group, though. "I don't have any magic." He didn't vocalize his next thought, that he didn't believe in magic. The thought of him having magic, though, was utterly laughable, but he restrained himself, instead occupying himself with locating the speaker the voice was coming from. It was so completely dark in this room, however, that it was impossible to tell. It sounded pretty high up on a wall, of that much he was certain.

"Come now, Mister Kaiba, there's no point denying it, not to me. I know better. Even if you deny magic exists, that still leaves the fact that you are here at the hand of my pet."

"Diaboundo Carnel." He didn't mean to say the monster's name aloud. That was another thing Mokuba had impressed upon him from his horror movies: saying the name of something like that almost guaranteed it would appear. Still, the voice was all wrong to be Bakura, but who else would have it - and why? "How?" was the question what he asked however.

"Actually, it's just Diaboundo, unlike the card. As for how, I'm certain you will find out soon enough. In the meanwhile, please enjoy your stay, and do try not to fight the drain when it starts. I've been assured it will only make the process that much more painful."

There was a soft click of the speaker cutting off, and the room plunged into silence. The only things he could hear were his own heartbeat and his own breathing, and they were suddenly deafeningly loud. Right now, he'd trade just about anything to hear Mokuba's voice. He'd settle for anyone, really. Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, he settled for cataloging what he could around him.

The cuffs were about two inches wide, completely covering his wrists and leaving him no room to move them. That was going to get painful sooner rather than later. He was indeed bound to the floor but not by chains as he'd originally thought; instead, it seemed to be cables, thick and heavy, maybe even the very same kind he used at Kaiba Corp to conduct large amounts of electricity. No panicking, not yet. He stretched his arms around as far as he could, continuing to take inventory. Behind him was what felt like a thin pallet, tempting a new flood of memories he had to stem back, this time of the orphanage. On two other sides of him, he felt nothing, just the bare expanse of grilled floor. To his far right, however, he encountered... something. It felt like a hand; those were definitely fingers, even if they did feel a bit charred yet at the same time clammy. He tried to slide it closer to him, and it moved easily, far too easily; there was no extra weight to it, no body attached!

There was no holding this bit of panic down, not with a disembodied hand next to him. He scrambled backwards to the spot he'd started at and just focused on controlling his breathing. What the hell was that thing doing here? Why would someone have just the left hand of a corpse and not the rest of it? A serial killer maybe? He'd read somewhere that they took trophies like this. What was it about him that made him a target for the crazies?

"It's called a Hand of Glory," a voice cut through his thoughts. "People used to think if you took the left hand of a dead man, it would open any door." A pause. "Of course, it can also be used to summon demons, if you believe in that sort of thing."

Not very reassuring, but then he'd never heard reassuring words uttered by this person. Hell, as crazy as this sounded, it might be the sanest thing he'd ever heard the other man say. This was not what or who he'd meant when he'd thought he wanted to hear a voice. But it was noise in the silence, and for that he was grateful. Even if it was him.

A few times in his eighteen years, Yuugi had wanted to pull his hair out. They had included trying to figure out why he kept losing time before he found out about mou hitori no boku, that final duel on Battle Ship against the darker half of Malik Ishtar, and trying to use his other's Heart of the Cards after Atemu-kun departed for the Afterlife, to name a few. He was going to have to add now to that list if he didn't start having more, better luck soon.

Tracking down Jyonouchi-kun had, of course, been easy enough. All Anzu had to do was pull out her cell phone; she had him set as speed dial three, after her voicemail and her parents. That had been the extent of their luck, though. Communication with Honda-kun had been spotty at best since college started, Mai-san wasn't answering her phone, no one had heard from Bakura-kun since he left for a university in Tokyo, and Mokuba-kun hadn't been able to reach the Ishtars since the exhibit was on tour again.

Poor Jyonouchi-kun, though. He looked like he might still be a bit unnerved by what Anzu had told him over the phone. Everything that had happened two years ago had only reinforced his loathing and increased it to a phobia of all things occult. Kaiba-kun literally vanishing into thin air certainly fit into the occult category, but the blond was hanging in admirably. Anzu hadn't even had to threaten to whack him with her purse yet. This was an improvement.

They'd been over the clip a dozen times already. The only reason they weren't staring at it right now was because Mokuba-kun had ordered a big screen TV brought in and the workmen were still setting it up while Mokuba-kun worked on connecting it to Kaiba-kun's computer. He'd also had Chinese food sent up for an early lunch. They were waiting till the room was cleared to resume discussions of the missing Kaiba brother, so in the meanwhile, he was slurping down lomein and trying the last numbers he had for Honda-kun, Mai-san, and Bakura-kun, to no avail.

"I just don't get Honda and Bakura taking off," Jyonouchi-kun was complaining over his food. "And Bakura, you'd think we'd at least get letters, as much as he likes to write them."

He could practically hear Mokuba-kun frown over behind his brother's desk. "Bakura Ryou?" he finally asked. Yuugi nodded and made a soft sound of affirmation. "He never did anything with the scholarship money Niisama sent everyone."

He frowned now in turn. "That's weird. He left to visit his father then pick out a school in Tokyo about two months ago."

Jyonouchi-kun made a soft snorting noise. "If it was the other Bakura, I'd worry that he had something to do with this. This Bakura wouldn't hurt a fly, though."

He sat in silence a moment longer, till the room was empty of everyone but them and the door was once again shut to speak up again. "We are sure the other Bakura is gone, though, Jyonouchi-kun. There's no way he could have pretended to be Bakura-kun all this time without giving himself away. So our Bakura-kun has just disappeared off the face of the earth along with Kaiba-kun."

Mokuba-kun sat down hard in front of him, not even touching the food he'd ordered himself. "Do you think there's a pattern then, Yuugi-kun?"

"It might be. Do they have anything in common?"

"Same school?" Anzu volunteered. "Two of the highest graduating scores in our class."

"Duelists," came Jyonouchi-kun's offer. "They were both at Battle City."

He and Mokuba remained silent a few moments longer till he hesitantly put forth, "They don't really have any similar physical characters, except that they're both tall and are... well, bishounen. Pretty, you know. No offense, Mokuba-kun."

"None taken. It's something I've teased Niisama about before. But there's one more thing they have in common, Yuugi: Egypt." Mokuba-kun paused, obviously collecting his thoughts. "The other Yuugi said something to us during Battle City about being a Pharaoh in Ancient Egypt, and it was true. Doesn't it stand to reason, then, that what he said about Niisama being a priest back then also stand a good chance of being true too?"

Jyonouchi-kun nodded. "It's certainly true, all right. We saw him in the Memory World."

"He looked so much like your brother," added Anzu. "It was freaky."

"And you just said there was another version of Bakura, like there was another version of you, Yuugi?"

He shrugged. "Not exactly the same. The other Bakura, I think he might have been more insane than Malik-kun ever was." At the curious looks he drew all around, he blushed slightly. "I've been thinking about it a lot since Atemu-kun left."

"I thought he was just evil. I mean, he sold out to that Zork creature."

"Do we know why, though, Jyonouchi-kun? All I have are tiny tidbits that went through what was left of the link between Atemu-kun and me. Whatever happened, it wasn't pretty and he blamed Atemu-kun's father for it."

"In a lot of ancient cultures, people could be expected to carry the guilt of previous generations," Anzu stated blandly. "It'd be like a version of our idea of family honor and saving face."

"Did some reading up on the subject, didn't you?" It was phrased as a question, but it certainly sounded more like a statement when Jyonouchi-kun said it like that.

It was her turn to flush slightly now. "I'll admit I wanted to know as much about Ancient Egypt as I could before we went there, so I checked a couple books out of the library. They were so interesting that I started buying whatever I could find."

"So Ancient Egypt and -- if no one minds me saying it -- magic are another connection between them?" Mokuba-kun asked, bringing the topic back around to its beginning. "Anything else? Anything at all, no matter how small it seems?"

"Bakura-kun disappeared at the end of August," he thought out loud. "It's almost the end of October now. Is that anything?"

Mokuba-kun shook his head, not in denial but in confusion, but it was Jyonouchi-kun who spoke up next. "He left early because he wanted to spend his birthday with his family."

And this time, the younger Kaiba paled. "Niisama's birthday is next week." Determination written all over his features, he shakily said, "We need to find Bakura Ryou right now. That might let us know where Niisama is."

"I might have known you were involved somehow," he bit out wearily.

The other rolled his eyes. At least he thought that was what he was doing. It was disconcerting that the only truly visible thing in the pitch blackness of this room was the other man. It wasn't that he glowed or something so esoteric, just that there was a light edge around him. His features weren't always too clear or always in focus, but it wasn't anything one would notice unless you were looking for it or staring for too long. Not that he was or had been staring, of course. "Relax, Seto. I had nothing to do with your impromptu visit here. It's not like I'm exactly a willing guest myself."

"Yet it was your Diaboundo that brought me here," he countered. "You can't stand there and, in all honesty, say you had nothing to do with this."

"I had nothing to do with this." With each word so carefully enunciated, it was a bit harder to disbelieve. "This... Collector, he's collecting magic: my soul, my Diaboundo, your magic..."

"I don't have any magic," he interrupted, actually drawing a short laugh from Bakura.

"I was here for the first time you said that, and I still don't believe it. You have magic, Seto. It's just not as obvious as my Diaboundo can be."

"Prove it then."

Another laugh. "The fact you can see me for starters. The Collector's last guest could only hear me. Your affinity for the Blue Eyes White Dragon for another. Your ability to create these technological marvels for dueling. That's your real ability this time around."

"What you're implying is that none of my accomplishments are my own then. They all belong to this 'magic' of yours."

"Of yours, you mean." He sighed, lowering himself to sit an inch or so above the ground. "Think of it this way if it helps: magic is like energy. On its own, it's chaotic, but when properly harnessed, it can accomplish things you'd never dreamed possible."

Put that way... "So 'magic' is just science."

"Yes, in a way, but also no. It's like science but with slightly different rules."

"But rules nonetheless," he persisted. How weird was it for the two of them to be having this argument? "Rules make it a science."

"Then a different sort of science, since magic can reside in higher concentrations in certain people. Most people don't even know they have it and focus it towards a single talent: writing, artistry, or in your case, technology."

"So this," he paused to search for a better word or phrase for it than the one they'd been using, "extra innate talent you say I have is why this Collector picked me up?"

Bakura nodded, looking a bit like the teacher whose students finally grasped a difficult concept. "Yes, again in part. Did you stall out on a project?"

How did he know? "A new model of Duel Disk."

"Your magic is built up around you so thick I can almost see it. With your project on stall, it must be stagnating and building, and that's why he picked you up."

"So if I could release this excess energy, he'd let me go?"

There was a soft sigh from the otherworldly figure before him. "Maybe, but probably not. If you found a way to use the excess up, he'd probably hold you until it built back up again. There's no getting away from him till he has no more use for you, dead or alive. Hell, I'm dead, and he apparently still has a use for me, so I can't get away."

"What kind of use would this Collector have for you? For either of us?" he corrected himself then frowned. He didn't just express something close to concern, not for him, not for the man - ghost? - in front of him, the same person who grabbed his little brother two years ago.

"Diaboundo, for starters. That there's no one else who knows more about the Sennen Items, for a second, and there's no one else who can control all of them to some extent. And..." Bakura trailed off, and he in turn found himself leaning forward.


"And no one else knows more about the last two pieces he wants for his collection than I do."

"What exactly is he collecting?" He was going to regret asking that question. He knew that already. Bakura's wince only confirmed this.

"Artifacts from the Lost Dynasty, from the reign of the Nameless Pharaoh, to be exact. Atemu - Yuugi," he clarified. "It's quite the collection he has already: most everything I ever stole from Atemu, everything that isn't in the Ishtars' care, all of the Sennen Items, the soul of his greatest rival, the reincarnation of his high priest and cousin." He opened his mouth to argue, but really, it would do no good. He didn't have to accept this, yet, but it would do little good to try to persuade the other to agree. "All that's left is the tablet for the Sennen Items - and they're bringing it up out of the ground a piece at the time - and..." Bakura trailed off again with a sigh. It might have just been his imagination, if he had any, but it seemed that the other's form was just a little harder to see.

"What's the last piece?" he asked after a moment of silence. And faintly, even in the quiet, was that the sound of something mechanical cutting on? That whirr of machinery sounded so familiar.

"The Nameless Pharaoh himself."

"How?" Was it getting warmer in here?

Another waver of the person in front of him. He was just a little harder to see clearly, blending in a little better to the darkness than he had been before. "That's where your magic comes in, Seto. I doubt he's going to be satisfied with Atemu in a form like this, so it's going to take a lot of energy to put him in a body of his own."

"In other words, my-" His words were abruptly cut off as a painful jolt ran through him. It almost felt like one of the many times he'd gotten shocked working on a new invention, but instead of the energy running into him, it felt like it was running out of him.  Old reflexes, left over from his time with his 'father,' Gouzaburou, was all that kept him from screaming.

As it was, it was all he could do to concentrate on not throwing up. Maybe that was why the floor was grated, he thought inanely to himself. He did let his body give into the urge to collapse to the floor, and he wrapped his arms around himself, barely even noticing that his blunt nails were digging into his arms through the cloth of his shirt. Hadn't he been wearing his coat also when he was taken? Where had it gone? Oh God, was this what dying felt like? Every piece of his body was in pain; even his hair hurt.

The agony just seemed to go on and on forever. Screaming might be within the realm of possibility if he weren't biting down on his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. He couldn't tell if his eyes were open or not, but he suspected they were tightly clenched closed.

If the physical agony wasn't bad enough, it felt like the world had expanded around him. Odd; usually pain did the exact opposite to him. Eyes closed, his body huddled on the floor, and he could still detect what was going on around him. For lack of a better word, he could sense the room around him: the disembodied hand on the floor near him; the Sennen Items in a hermetically sealed glass case on the far side of the room; the pieces of the tablet on a table in another corner; the cords that bound him to the floor giving off a faint blue glow; Bakura still hovering nearby with worry written plainly on him, even if it didn't show on his face. That was the bulk of what he could pick up on, though. How odd.

And another oddity: to some extent, he'd been halfway thinking of Bakura as still looking like his more modern counterpart. To some extent, he did, but there were also so many differences. For instance, his hair was a great deal shorter. That countered nicely to the fact his skin was several shades darker, like everyone else's had been in that odd other world RPG, and his eyes were many shades lighter, maybe light blue or even silver. He seemed taller too, maybe on an even height with him, and a bit older than he himself was, perhaps in his early twenties. How odd indeed.

The whole mess was just too weird for his tastes, but there wasn't really anything he could do about it. The pain surging through him from the wrists outward was a rather effective demonstration of the futility of that line of thinking, and it felt like it was never going to stop, like it would just keep going and eating away till there was nothing left in him that was him. Or had it already passed that point? Was he still Kaiba Seto, or was he just this force inside his body that seemed to be steadily waking up the more it was chipped away on?

Then, just like that, as suddenly as it started, it stopped, and he could breathe again. Or at least a facsimile, he thought sourly as he wheezed trying to get air in his lungs. That was the main concern. Once he'd gotten that down, he might try working on making his hands release his arms before he lost circulation. Then the next step after that would be getting the sweat off him, followed by finding out if he could still talk because he would really like to let go with a stream of cursing the likes of which the world had never heard.

"Seto?" That was Bakura's voice. "Are you still in there?" It was a huge effort, but managed to at least open his eyes. That would have to do for now because he wasn't sure he could manage anything more yet. Hopefully Bakura could see better in this darkness than he could. "Good. I know it hurts like shit, but I need you to let go of your arms. Otherwise you're going to hurt yourself. Can you do that for me?"

Dear God, it was an effort, but he forced himself to let go. He'd have loved to flip the bastard off, but he was able to manage a passably good glare and halfway decent growl, as well as a noise that might been a "Fuck off." 

That drew a laugh from Bakura. "Yeah, you'll be fine. You never change, do you? Same prickly bastard. Get some sleep. We can talk more when you wake up, if you want."

Sleep sounded really good. He could just pretend it was all his idea and... Yeah, right. It was Bakura's idea and he knew it. That didn't make it less of a good idea. There was still more he wanted to know, but he needed to be able to think in order to get what he wanted to say out properly. He let his eyes close once more, and almost immediately, he started drifting off, but not before he felt a faint something brushing over his hair, moving it like a light breeze, almost like the afterthought of a touch. There was no dealing with that now, though, not with sleep creeping up on him.

That was it. He'd decided that it had to be genetic that both the Kaiba brothers were certified geniuses. Mokuba-kun had sent someone home for his laptop, and once he had it, Yuugi could swear he was looking at Kaiba Seto instead, especially with the speed he was hearing those keys being pressed. It was a steady clicking backdrop and was a good deal more audibly pleasing than when the workmen had been taking the windowpane out. He was told there were scientists downstairs going over it with a fine-tooth comb; he hoped Mokuba-kun hadn't meant that literally. Otherwise, he could only hope they got plenty of overtime pay. Jyonouchi-kun and Anzu were out trying to track down Honda-kun and Mai-san, to make sure they hadn't vanished as well. The same workmen had just finished putting in a new windowpane, this one twice as thick as the previous bulletproof one.

And during all this, he was going over the clip for what felt like the millionth time. Who knew? It might have been. He'd stared at the same forty seconds of material till he felt certain he was going to see it in his sleep -- if Mokuba-kun let him go home to give it a try any time soon. His eyes were blurring, and he felt about half past dead. Mokuba-kun showed no signs of stopping anytime soon, though, having even worked through dinner, and somehow he didn't think Jyonouchi-kun and Anzu were going to be back again before morning. With an exhausted sigh, he restarted the clip, even if he wasn't entirely certain he could clearly see it anymore.

Maybe that was why he saw it this time.

It started out at the window, a glaze almost like heat rising off asphalt, only he'd never seen this almost sentient kind of behavior from heat. As the Kaiba-kun on the screen slowly turned to face the window and froze, it moved around him on the side furthest from the camera. As it snaked around to encompass him, he vanished except for his briefcase as it fell to the floor. The camera captured the same heat-like phenomena moving back out through the half-inch thick glass.

For a long moment, he wasn't sure he could breathe, much less move or speak. His hands shaking, he played the clip again, leaning forward to watch it more closely. It was definitely there but so faint that it was no wonder he'd missed it till now. No wonder they'd all missed it. "Mokuba-kun?"

The younger teen turned bleary eyes up at him. So much for him being exactly like his brother; Kaiba-kun never would have let something like this show. "Yeah, Yuugi?" He even sounded ready to drop, the poor kid. He'd had a very full day, worrying about his brother from just after nine a.m., when he'd overslept because his brother didn't wake him up nearly an hour and a half before, till now, when the digital clock on the wall said five till eleven p.m.

"I think I might have something here." He wasn't too surprised that Mokuba-kun didn't exactly jump to come look. They were both truly exhausted; neither of them was moving fast. He queued up the clip once more and hit the button to make it play -- then reduced the speed by half and moved up closer to the screen. "See this?" He indicated the heat wave lines. "It's just barely there. That's why we missed it so many times."

"It looks like an arm." Mokuba-kun hit a button to pause the clip and moved forward. "See? Here are the edges, here and here."

He hadn't quite been able to pick out that much detail; maybe stuff like this was why the Kaibas were considered geniuses. Still, with the dimensions the other had pointed out... "It's huge."

"So it's gigantic, it's invisible, and it's able to move through glass? What the hell could that be?"

Only one thing came to mind, but it was another thing he'd picked up off mou hitori no boku in the Memory World, and was, quite frankly, impossible. That had been in the Memory World, after all. Those ka monsters didn't exist in the real world -- or at least not anymore. 

He woke back up to the sounds of a very bored Bakura. It was a fairly easy assessment to make; the other man had taken the time to translate "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer" into Ancient Egyptian and was now on bottle twelve. And he wasn't going to ask himself how he knew that. He was better off without that tidbit of knowledge; it had too much potential to be psyche-damaging to him. At least the other stopped at twelve bottles and didn't go for the other eleven. Not that he had all that bad a voice, but he was hardly an expert on singing. "Are you awake now?" Bakura's voice was still soft, something that the headache he continued to have appreciated.

He actually had to give the matter some thought. His eyes were open, but his brain was foggy. A pot or so of coffee would do the trick for waking him up, but somehow he didn't think he was going to receive that kind of luxury. In lieu of civilization, he sat up, wincing at how stiff his body was. "I am," he answered once he was sure he wasn't going to tip over. Well, mostly sure; even sitting, he was listing a bit to the side. "I think," he qualified. He shook his head a bit to try and clear, which only made it spin more.

"You should sleep as much as you can while he'll let you."

That was a fair statement. He was still so tired that he was dizzy, and even if he couldn't allow himself to admit it, he was hungry and thirsty as well. Still... "How long was I out?"

"About four hours, I think, but I'm hardly the best judge of time these days."

He groaned in annoyance. "Four hours? Damn... That's four I could have been-"

"Sleeping," Bakura interrupted, his voice hard. He looked up swiftly to see an equally steely look on the other's face. "The Collector's little invention drains off your magic -- and in turn, your soul, what makes you you. He's killing you by degrees. The more energy you let yourself build up, the longer you'll last."

"You sound awfully certain about all this." He couldn't help the suspicion bleeding into his voice. It was just all too convenient for his tastes, how this was neatly laying itself out.

"I've watched it happen before, to his previous guest."

The response was completely deadpanned, and he had to take a second or two to decide if it was serious or not. But when had he known the other to kid? Had anyone ever known him to joke? "Did this other person survive?" He didn't bother to ignore the fact his voice shook slightly; his own life depended on the answer. No, not just his: Mokuba's too. Without him, his brother could be sent back to that orphanage. Unacceptable. Thoroughly and completely unacceptable.

"I don't know. He looked close to dead when they took him out of here." Bakura's face remained utterly unreadable. For that matter, his voice was also completely bland as well -- and that said a great deal. "Of course, he didn't have the magical resources you do, Seto, so he didn't last very long anyway. And certainly no one would look for him the way they surely are for you. So maybe it doesn't matter and it will all be okay."

It was hope, tossed out almost carelessly and waiting for him to seize it up, even if it was definitely far from bright or certain, and yet there it was. Thus far in his short life, though, he'd found hope to be a treacherous ally, one that was quick to desert at the first whiff of trouble. Therefore, it was with some hesitation that he stated, "Mokuba's probably whipped the city into a frenzy."

Bakura nodded. "Exactly. So no worrying about dying here, and put that genius brain of yours to work on an escape plan instead."

That was pretty sound thinking in his opinion, so he made himself a bit more comfortable and started examining the wrist cuffs as closely as he could with no light and only touch to go by. He worked in silence for several moments, barely paying attention to the quiet man (ghost?) on the outskirts of his line of vision, till curiosity finally conquered him. "How exactly did he manage to get a hold of you? I thought you'd be -- that it'd be harder to capture someone who's already dead?"

Bakura remained silent another long moment, long enough that he started to think he wasn't going to answer, then he sighed softly. "I didn't receive any funerary procedures. Anywhere my name was recorded for me to present to the gods was destroyed, so I couldn't present myself to be judged. Without rights or the proper procedures, Ammut couldn't even eat my soul. I was stuck waiting. And then he brought the Ring out of the ground. My soul had been in it so long that I guess it got tied to it."

As he continued to fiddle with the cuffs (there was a razorblade thin slit where the two edges of each cuff sealed together -- if he could just somehow pry it open...), he let his mind ponder over what the other had said. Mythology had never been of any major interest to him, but it was definitely pinging some half-forgotten information in the back of his mind, barely remembered images of a man with a jackal's head proceeding over the judging of a person's soul, questions a soul must answer to move forward. The information didn't come with any sources, though. Maybe the theory of a collective unconscious held some water, after all, as ridiculous as it sounded. "So as long as the Ring is here, you're stuck here too," he summarized, trying not to let it sound like a question.

"There are ways to get out of them, but I don't see myself trying them any time soon. In the meantime, though, that's right: I'm trapped here as much as you are." And he sounded every bit as happy about it as well.

"What kind of ways?" Could they be used to help him? He was willing to work with more... esoteric methods if they would help him achieve what he wanted. And damn it, it was starting to warm up in the room again. That wouldn't be good. Last time this started, it hadn't been too pleasant.

"Let's see: I could always destroy the Ring. Maybe I could go with refusing to tell him anything else and see if he'll destroy the Ring."

"Are there any ways that don't involve death?" he clarified. And now his hands were starting to tingle. This was just too much.

"I-" He stopped to think, as if considering the options. "I don't know. If someone else takes up the Ring again, I might be able to borrow their body. Or..." He trailed off, shaking his head. "No, that's stupid."

"Tell me." It wouldn't be long before the machine cut on again, and he wanted to know. No, he needed to know, before Bakura's form got any blurrier.

"I could always try to do myself what the Collector's trying to do with the idiot Pharaoh: siphon energy till I can make my own body."

That didn't really help him, at least not where he could see in the short term, and damn it, there was the click and whirring sound, letting him know to brace himself. There was really no preparing for it, though, for when the pain hit, as sharp and as bright as a knife. Again, the room exploded around him, only this time a bit crisper, a bit cleaner, a bit more detailed, much of it plenty more information than he strictly needed. For instance, something within him informed him that the disembodied hand on the floor was charred slightly on the fingers, which meant it had been used recently. The glass sealing the Sennen Items was indeed hermetically sealed, but it wasn't very thick, definitely not bullet-proof -- and probably thinner than the glass on his own office windows, so not Diaboundo-proof either, if it was possible to recruit that monster. If what he understood was correct, though, the creature was soul-bound to Bakura; that had to mean something.

What would he do if he could get in the case anyway? Get the Ring for Bakura maybe, his mind supplied, and perhaps take the Rod and the Puzzle. That was odd. He could understand getting the Puzzle, as it might slow down the Collector's plans since that object which represented the other Yuugi as much as the Ring did Bakura, but why the Rod? Why was it calling to him? All he knew about it was what he'd seen Malik Ishtar do during Battle City -- and what little he'd witnessed in the Memory World RPG with the other version of himself. Neither was particularly impressive, so... why?

His attention turned from the case containing the Items to the chains. The glow was brighter this time. Did that mean more was being taken out of him at a higher volume this time, or was he just seeing it better now? He was hoping for the latter, as strange as that seemed to him. Hope was such a foreign emotion to him. How did people live with the constant disappointments that came with believing in someone or something and being let down?

Belief, whispered some hidden part of his mind, belief and love. He dismissed both notions out of hand. They were foolish and only served to cause trouble. What was even stranger was that his mind decided to counter with, then what about Mokuba. How weird was it, to be arguing with a voice in his mind that sounded vaguely like his own -- yet vaguely didn't? Maybe Bakura was right about it killing him by degrees, but could it also be driving him insane? That would certainly explain him wanting to snatch the Rod along with the two important Sennen Items.

His eyes were clenched tightly closed, and his hands were drawn into fists so tight that they both ached and stung. He certainly wasn't about to let this Collector bastard make him cry out in pain. He'd withstood far worse than this at the hands of his so-called father, Kaiba Gouzaburou, as well as the other  Yuugi, so there was no way in hell some random asshole off the street was going to get any acknowledgment of that kind from him. They'd have to kill him first.

"Seto." Who was talking to him, especially in that quiet, almost worried tone? The only person he knew who cared enough about him for that was Mokuba. The Collector hadn't gotten to Mokuba, had he?! No, that was ridiculous; it wasn't Mokuba's voice anyway, and only one person was either brave enough or crazy enough -- or both -- to use his first name. "Watch your breathing, Seto. Otherwise you're going to hyperventilate. Slow it down."

Did Bakura practice at being annoying, or was it a natural talent? If he was going to be annoying, couldn't he have the common decency to not have a valid point when he was doing it? His body didn't really want to listen to more than one of his commands at the time, and he'd made not screaming a priority. Still, he tried to force his breathing down slower. Weren't there meditation techniques he'd learned that taught this? Why the hell had he let himself get out of practice with them anyway? Oh yeah, he hadn't needed them for a while. Not since the other Yuugi left at least, so maybe it was fitting that he was starting to need them again now that there was the threat of the other Yuugi returning.

A cool wind seemed to brush through his hair. No, not a wind: a hand, ethereal and a bit chilly (or was he just that hot?), but damn, it felt so good where it touched skin that felt fevered from the pain. His hands moved without his prompting to reach up and grab it, holding it to his face. Odd... It felt like a familiar gesture, one he'd perhaps done before, but he couldn't remember ever doing it before. The ghost-like hand he held felt familiar in a way too, and he pried his eyes open to look at it: a bit on the transparent side, but dark-skinned and a bit broad, with long fingers, nicks and scars littering the surface. He followed it up a maroon cloth-covered arm to Bakura's wary and somewhat confused face.

Strange; he prided himself on being observant, but he hadn't noticed the scar on the other's face. A single, long line ran from his forehead, mostly hidden by his hair but clearly visible below his eye, down his cheek with two shorter lines cutting across it, like the katakana for 'ki'. Who had done something like that to him? And why would they? It was definitely a deliberate act; there was no writing a scar like that off as an accident. All this newfound knowledge bouncing around his mind contained no information for him on the subject, if it might have been a ritual punishment or something of that ilk. What use was all this new information if it couldn't answer the few questions he did have?

As suddenly as the pain started, it stopped again, and he could breathe once more. Had it hurt worse this time than last? It was hard to tell. For now, it was all he could do to lay still on the floor, panting softly and clutching onto Bakura's hand like it was his last link to sanity. If that was the case, though, his grip on reality was in for it; he only held onto the other for a moment before his hand went intangible again, dropping his own hand to the grated floor before him. It was an effort, but he managed to wrestle his eyes open and lift his head slightly to look at the white-haired man.

Bakura... looked mystified, staring at his own hand in shock. Somehow it made him recall a vague memory from the last time this had happened: something brushing against his hair, something his exhausted mind had processed as an 'afterthought of a touch'. Weirdly it made a kind of sense; if Bakura was a ghost, then Mokuba's horror movies informed him that he shouldn't be able to touch things except during moments of extreme duress, so that he had just been able to do so in a moment of calm probably meant something, though he wasn't sure what.

"What the hell was that?" He knew damn well he wasn't supposed to know Bakura had said that since the other man had only whispered the words -- and not the Japanese version of the words. Finally the other shook his head slightly as if to clear it, and when he spoke again, it was in his native language. "You should probably try to rest some more, Seto." He shook his head in negation. "Why not?"

He had to take a deep breath before he spoke. "... 'm losing time." Was he slurring his words? How embarrassing. "I don't like it. I don't want to lose anymore."

Bakura looked close to either grinning or letting loose with one of those laughs that seemed predisposed to terrifying everyone around him, but thankfully he apparently managed to rein in the impulse. Not that it had that effect on him, of course; that was preposterous. "You really do need to keep your strength up if you want to make it through this."

"Don't have to sleep to rest." Yes,  he was slurring, almost as bad as Gouzaburou on a bender, and he consciously tried to correct his speech as he went. "I don't even sleep this much at home."

A small chuckle escaped the white-haired man. "Why do I have no doubt about that?" He settled himself to sit, no matter that he was a few centimeters above the ground. "So there's no talking you out of this, is there?"

It was obviously a rhetorical question, but answering it gave him something to concentrate on as he forced his body to sit stiffly upright. "Absolutely not." He could and would ignore the twinges and tiny pangs his body was sending him for trying to do even this much movement. "Why?"

"'Why'?" Bakura sounded puzzled. Who knew if it was true or not. "What do you mean: why?"

"Why are you doing this?" Almost immediately, he could tell it was the wrong thing to say or the wrong way to say what he was trying to, as he watched Bakura bristle indignantly.

"I said I had nothing to do with you being here, Seto! I meant it! I wasn't lying!"

And that's when he noticed it, much to his own bewilderment. How odd. It wasn't worth mention aloud yet though, so he kept it to himself, at least for the moment. "I didn't say that," he cut back in. "I said, why are you doing this -- staying here with me, talking to me?"

"Is there a reason why I shouldn't?" He still sounded incensed. He might not be contemplating violence on the first handy person, namely him, but he was assuredly Not Happy. "And it had better be a damn good one, or I'm not accepting it."

Someone in the world might be as stubborn as he was, he thought in tired amusement. "Nothing in particular. I was just thinking you might have been able to get out of here via the fact you used to share a body with the other Bakura, Bakura Ryou. Why stick around here with me?"

"You don't know anything."

Now that caught his full attention and pricked some spark of his old angry aloofness. "What did you say?" he hissed back. Anger felt... good. He felt a bit more like his old self with its shield around him, wrapping around him like a living web.

"You don't know a thing about this." If he let the cocoon down for a moment, he could see something like despondency on the other's face, but he didn't particularly care to let it go long enough to let other things sink in. 

"About what?"

"The Collector's previous... guest." He took a deep breath and released it slowly, obviously an ingrained habit to make sure he was calm before he spoke, because it wasn't like he was using the oxygen; his mouth wasn't even moving when he spoke! "It was yadonushi... Ryou..."

It had taken a good deal more work than any of them were willing to admit to, but they had finally tracked down Bakura Ryou. Now they were wishing they hadn't.

As he'd predicted the previous night, Anzu and Jyonouchi-kun had rejoined them the next morning. They'd found a record for a train ticket to Tokyo, where his father currently lived. By all accounts, Bakura-kun had arrived safely in Tokyo -- then vanished for a week. After that, he'd reappeared, comatose in a small private hospital far away from his parent's address, checked in anonymously.

If that was what was in store for his older brother, he had to wish Mokuba-kun hadn't been the one to turn up the information. Of course, once they found out, the younger Kaiba had bought them all tickets to Tokyo, in the hopes they might turn up a lead of some sort. Jyonouchi-kun and Anzu were still upstairs with Mokuba-kun outside Bakura-kun's room talking to one of the head nurses about their friend's strange case, while he'd admitted (to himself at least) a temporary defeat and was waiting for them on the front step. This had to be the most upsetting, nerve-wracking, and discouraging thing he'd experienced in his life.

How had they not known about this? Bakura-kun had been here for so long, and no one had even guessed anything was wrong. After all they'd been through with the Sennen Items two years ago, it seemed like he should have known something was happening to his friend, like he should have somehow sensed something was wrong. Now Bakura-kun was like this, and the same thing might happen to Kaiba-kun if they didn't find him soon. But they had no clues to go on, no ideas about what might have happened or who might have done this, and in the back of his mind, he could hear a clock ticking. What were they going to do? And if they managed to do anything, was it going to be too late?

In his pocket, his cell phone rang shrilly, startling him. His hands shaking, he fished it out of his coat pocket, flicked it on, and answered with a quiet "Hello?"

"Yuugi?" Now this was a voice he hadn't heard lately.

"Malik-kun?" he asked in disbelief.

"Are you all right, Yuugi? You don't sound so good." 

He sighed softly. Malik-kun always had been too perceptive by far. "Not really. A lot of bad stuff has been happening around here lately. Bakura-kun... and Kaiba-kun..."

"I heard. Kaiba's disappearance has been all over the news everywhere. No sign of him yet?"

"No, nothing." He paused, recalling the heat image on the clip. "We have about half a lead, and that's the extent of it."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Not from--" He paused, finally really hearing the background noises from the other end of the phone. There were several voice clamoring for attention in the din -- and all of them that he could hear were in Japanese. "Where are you?"

"I flew in Tokyo a few minutes ago. I thought you might need all the help you can get." The Egyptian paused. "And some other things have been happening as well. Pieces of the exhibit were stolen... and some of our people back in Egypt say there's an excavation team at the Pharaoh's tomb."

He froze. "A-at Atemu's--?"

"They've already gotten the Sennen Items out, Yuugi. Apparently they're bringing up the slab they were created on a piece at the time; you remember how it broke, right? The only information my people could find out is that it's for a private collector."

"Then with what's been going on here," he whispered, dread starting to fill his voice, "it has to be connected."

"Which means anyone with any connection to the Sennen Items could be in danger. Where are you, Yuugi?"

"In Tokyo." He rattled off the hospital's address. "Do you want me to come pick you up?"

He could practically hear the other consider the options before he spoke again. "Who else is with you?"

"Jyonouchi-kun, Anzu, and Mokuba-kun." He paused a moment, eying the car parked at the curb before him. "And Mokuba-kun's bodyguards."

"You'll be safest there, so just wait. I'll come to you." He started to protest but was quickly cut off. "I'm still a lot more dangerous than anything this collector asshole can throw our direction."

A laugh escaped him. Well, that was certainly true. Now that the other Bakura was gone, Malik-kun was the most dangerous person he knew. "Okay. You're right. Be careful, though, okay?"

"Of course. I'll be there in under half an hour. Just stay in some place where you'll be safe. In fact, stick with the others and those bodyguards you mentioned. I'll be there as soon as I can." He was silent for a moment before quietly saying, "It'll be nice to see you again -- to see all of you again. I've missed you."

He opened his mouth to say... something, he wasn't sure what exactly, when he heard a quick click and a dial tone; Malik-kun had hung up what obviously been a pay phone in the airport. Carefully, he shut his own phone back off and stood to head inside. He wasn't relishing explaining this to his friends in the hospital, no more than he was looking forward to seeing the shell that remained of one of his friends.

He hoped Malik-kun made it here okay.

He hoped Kaiba-kun was still all right, wherever he was.

It was a fight not to scream. It was just too damn quiet. He hadn't realized there was that much noise that could be generated by a spirit who didn't speak outside of one's own head, but it was at least enough to break this sense-numbing silence. He wasn't quite ready to admit how worrisome it was, yet, but he wasn't far from it. It was not going to be long now.

What was especially... bothersome for him was he had no idea why Bakura had gone so quiet. He had ideas but nothing definite, and that was... annoying to him. Of course, that wasn't the exact word he meant, but it was close enough to work. What could have set Bakura off to make him go so quiet anyway? Telling him about the other Bakura? He wasn't sure exactly what sharing a body with someone entailed, but he had to imagine it could make two people feel as close as family. A shudder cut through him as he tried to imagine having to watch this happen to Mokuba. He'd have killed himself if there was any possible way to do so. Only the other Bakura -- Ryou worked better, he supposed -- wasn't dead, if he followed the logic of all this correctly; his soul -- his spirit, what made Ryou into Ryou -- was gone, but his body was presumably still alive somewhere, maybe in a coma-like state. (Mokuba might make a zombie reference at this point, but he was going to resist.) He wasn't sure which would be worse: dead or... He wasn't sure he had a good word for it.

Or had something happened to Bakura? Maybe something he couldn't see? Something that only spirits could? It was quiet enough and had been quiet for long enough to make him think Bakura was gone, to make him wonder if he'd dreamed the other being there. But why would his mind supply Bakura to implant, someone he hadn't seen in two years instead of Mokuba, for example, if that were true? Why Bakura indeed? What was his subconscious trying to tell him? And why didn't he just go ahead and call out the other's name and see if he really was here or if he had truly gone over the deep end?

"Bakura?" he called into the utter blackness. It was almost a relief to hear his voice echo back at him; at least it was noise beyond his own breathing and heartbeat.

"Yeah?" This time he did breathe a sigh of... was that relief he was feeling? Yes, he was fairly certain he was. "Seto? Are you okay?" He could almost laugh, it was so absurd, so he gave into the urge, which just seemed to alarm the Egyptian more, as he appeared before him, a worried expression on his face.

"Just making sure you were still here," he explained himself, the explanation falling weak even on his own ears.

Bakura shook his head in apparent confusion. "Where the hell am I supposed to go? I'm stuck being where the Ring is, and it's locked up over there." He nodded in the direction of the sealed case he'd seen one of the first times his mind had expanded from the pain.

"The Rod is there too," tumbled from his lips without warning, and he raised a hand to cover them and maybe stem the tide before something slipped out that he'd rather not escape. "So is Yuugi's Puzzle and the other Items..." he finished, trying to cover his previous babble. Not that it did a thing to alleviate the suspicious look on Bakura's face -- and he couldn't say that he blamed the other: he'd never shown any interest in the Sennen Items at all before now, yet here he was, rattling off their location. If the situations were reversed, he would probably be curious as well. No, scratch the 'probably'; he would be.

"How did you know?"

"I just did." Like that was going to work, especially on someone at least as stubborn as he was, if not more so.

"Not good enough. How did you know, Seto?"

For a moment, he considered clamping his jaw shut and utterly refusing, like Mokuba used to do when he was younger, but at his age, it would be a silly gesture. "I saw them earlier."

"How? It's not like the lights have been on."

He scowled to himself, a trick he'd perfected in any number of board meetings. "...I don't know. When he started... draining me with this thing," he lifted his wrists, positive beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bakura could see them, "I could just see them. I could see a little more each time. I don't know why or how, but there they are." He paused a moment, gathering his thoughts. "I don't know why the Rod is what came to my mind first, but it was." And he didn't know why the hell he was talking all this -- to Bakura of all people no less! -- but he suspected it was at least partially to fill the silence and partially because he couldn't seem to shut himself up.

"It was yours in Egypt." Sooner or later, it always seemed to come back down to Egypt with this group.

"I never touched it in Egypt."

He had the distinct impression Bakura was rolling his eyes at him again. "You saw the High Priest in the Memory World, right? Or do you not believe in that either?" He let out a growl and didn't answer beyond that. "You were the High Priest of Egypt and then the Pharaoh."

"That wasn't me."

Bakura actually laughed, dropping down to the floor before him and stretching out like an overgrown house cat. For an inane half-second, he pondered petting the other's bare stomach and chest to see if he'd purr, but he dismissed the notion quickly. First off, he didn't actually touch just anyone -- and if he did, it probably would not be Bakura -- and secondly, he was a little pissed from being laughed at -- not to mention the minor fact that the white-haired man was, for the most part, a ghost.

"No, you most certainly are not Seth." Now that got his attention. That sounded like a personal comment, and not many of those had escaped Bakura so far. He had probably let twice as many incriminating statements slip. Did that mean he was winning or losing? Was this even worth competing over? "You act just like him sometimes, then you're completely different. Seth would do one thing, and you do another. But it's odd because you could be his twin if it weren't for skin tone, and then there's the way your magic seems to mirror his..." He trailed off with a frown of frustration. "Are you trying to confuse the hell out of me or something? Because if you are, you're certainly succeeding."

Now it was his turn for an eye roll. "Yes, I got myself kidnapped and tortured just to confuse you. You figured me out. Now I must change my diabolical master plan," he deadpanned.

"Gods forbid," an equally bland voice returned. "So what do you plan to do about it?"

"About what?" Was this some kind of Egyptian spirit weirdness?

"About making it up to me for the confusion."

He raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "What exactly did you have in mind?" And if it was anything more than he was willing to work with, he was so going to find a way to kill the spirit.

"Nothing much..."

He had about half a minute to wonder what that meant before Bakura sat up abruptly. Out of reflex, he started to lean back away from the other, only to find a surprisingly solid hand on the back of his neck holding him still... and Bakura leaning forward.

Over movie sessions with Mokuba, he'd had half-formed thoughts of what a kiss was and what his reaction might be to it. He had clinical definitions, as dry and as stale as the dictionary he'd gotten them from, and on some level, he'd known there was supposed to be a deeper meaning to this act, a demonstration of mutual affection between two consenting parties... but it wasn't something he'd ever experienced (or even thought to experience, honestly) for himself. And now he had to wonder what it would be like if the person kissing him wasn't little more than a spirit.

On some strange level, he was surprised Malik-kun hadn't arrived on a speedboat or something equally as flashy again. The image of him sedately walking into Bakura-kun's hospital room, a small black wheeled suitcase rolling behind him, as commonplace as it would be for anyone else, seemed so odd for the Egyptian. The sheepish look was something he associated more with the "Namu" persona he'd presented during the first part of Battle City than Malik-kun himself, but really, there was no mistaking the distinctive person before him for anyone else: no one else was quite like Malik-kun.

"Sorry I'm late. I forgot how confusing the cities around here can be." He laughed in embarrassment. "I got so turned around backwards."

"I was starting to worry," he admitted. "Not that I didn't think you could handle whatever came up, but..." Behind him, he could hear Anzu trying to stifle a laugh, and Jyonouchi-kun wasn't even bothering to try hiding the snickers. He dropped back down in the chair he'd jumped out of to stand when Malik-kun came in the room, and he wait for it to swallow him, embarrassment and all. "Guys..." he complained quietly. "Don't be mean."

"Thank you for worrying about me, Yuugi." Malik-kun sounded as embarrassed as he felt. "It's good to be back here."

"Do you think you'll be able to help us figure out what's going on here?" Anzu managed to get serious and ask.

"I'm going to do what I can." He glanced past them to Bakura-kun's still form and frowned hard. "How long has he been like that?"

"Almost two months, about seven weeks." Even Jyonouchi-kun was serious now. Something about the way Malik-kun spoke as he stared at the man on the bed sent chills down his spine. Mokuba-kun was leaning forward, anxiety and curiosity playing on his face. "Why?"

"He's dead." At what must have been expressions of alarm on their faces, he continued, "His body is still going out of habit, but his spirit is completely gone. Bakura is gone, but his shell still remains."

"Like he was hurt and is brain dead?" inquired Mokuba-kun.

"More like his soul was cut out, and not very neatly at that. Like someone tried to cut along the dotted line with a dull machete, if that helps you to imagine it."

"It's not... like the spirits? Like when they took over?" he asked softly, coloring slightly when that made him the center of attention.

Malik-kun seemed to consider the question a moment longer, glancing from him to Bakura-kun and back again before shaking his head. "No, not quite like that. Even..." He paused, apparently changing his mind on what he was going to say. "There is nothing left of him. I doubt even the Spirit of the Ring could have done something like this."

"What about that Zork thing?" was the next question. "Could it be back again?"

"That's something I'm really hoping doesn't happen, Jyonouchi-kun," he sourly stated. "If Zork was back, we'd have found out before now, I think."

"Well, if it's not Zork, then it's someone -- or something -- else," Jyonouchi-kun countered. "What if it's a person who's doing all this?"

"That would fit with what's been happening in Egypt." They turned inquiring eyes to the Egyptian. "There is someone excavating the Pharaoh's tomb, some kind of private collector." There was no doubt just which Pharaoh he meant. Of all the Pharaohs in Egypt's history, there was always only one that any of them meant.

"Who would go after his tomb?" he blurted out -- and immediately felt stupid, wincing at himself. "Did I just say that out loud?"

"Sorry, yeah, you did." Somehow Malik-kun was avoiding laughing at his little verbal faux pas. Maybe that was a sign of just how serious this whole situation was rapidly becoming. "Some of my people were injured and one was killed trying to keep these people out of the tomb." He paused and winced slightly. "The one who died, they desecrated his body. They cut off one of his hands."

For the first time he could recall in his life, he was dreaming and he knew it. He knew he had to have dreamed before because the human body couldn't function without it, which he found... so inefficient. But he'd never been so keenly aware of the fact he was asleep and lost in a dream that he didn't want to contemplate the origin of. He certainly didn't want to be dreaming of Egypt. He heard enough about it on a day-to-day basis without his subconscious flashing it at him too.

Regardless of his wishes, he was certainly seeing an Egypt very like the one in that damn so-called Memory World RPG. Well, similar, but it wasn't a dead-on match. Maybe, though, it was just that he'd never been to this part of the palace during the game. And he'd never been this close to the man who was supposed to have been him three thousand years ago, not that he really believed that bullshit. Because, really, he didn't.

But whether or not he wanted to believe, here he was in what seemed to be a bedroom, which was draped in rich tapestries and lit with torches that cast flickering contrasts of light and shadows throughout the room. He was pacing -- or rather he was watching a version of himself pace impatiently in tight laps across the room. Or maybe 'impatient' wasn't the word, and 'worried' fit that expression he wore better. He didn't know that much about this supposed other version of himself, but he didn't wear a look like unless something was happening to someone he cared about, namely Mokuba.

He had done a fair bit of observing of the High Priest in the Memory World Game, as much as he could anyway, enough to realize their similarities, from the familiar face and body to the expressions and carriage that could have been his own. He didn't want to believe in past lives, but the person in the RPG and now his dreams apparently was pretty compelling evidence for the validity of that idea. Even the room around him vaguely reminded him of his own in its spartan furnishings and almost total lack of personalization. From what he'd seen, after all, this version of him had no Mokuba to add homey touches like pictures and mementos.

But if this version of him (What had Bakura called him? Seth?) had no Mokuba, just who was he worrying about and waiting on so impatiently?

A soft noise at the window made the other -- made Seth, he mentally corrected himself -- jump and turn to look. In response, he did as well. If he was expecting someone to show up through the window... Suddenly he had a sinking certainty that he knew just who Seth was waiting on. It was confirmed not even a moment later when a familiar white-haired man hoisted himself in the room, a wide smirk on his face.

"Where have you been?" Now that was a tone he recognized from his own voice, from when Mokuba had gotten hurt at school last year and hadn't wanted to tell him, that tone of frustrated worry. "Your note said you were going to be here just after dark. It's not long till dawn now."

"Just a little trouble with the guards," Bakura stated easily with a smirk, settling himself to sit in the window frame, just barely hidden from outside view.

"'A little trouble'?" Seth seemed to just barely be keeping himself from yelling, not that he could really blame him; he himself had noted not too long ago that Bakura seemed to have taken lessons on being as annoying as hell. "A 'little trouble' should only be a few hours' delay maximum, not half the night!"

"So you want to waste the rest of it fighting?" the thief fired right back. Well, that was certainly reassuring, that no version of himself and the so-called Thief King got along perfectly; in fact, if they had, he being questioning the validity of the dream. As it was, he was uncertain why he wasn't already. Maybe it was because this wasn't the first dream -- vision -- whatever -- he'd had with the priest in it. Between those flashes at Battle City and the Memory World Game, he was developing an affinity for this Seth person.

"Of course not!" He took a deep breath and released it as a heavy sigh; he did that himself when he was fighting a losing battle not to be annoyed. "I didn't say that, Bakura. It's just -- Our time is limited enough between your reputation, my duties, and the Pharaoh. Do we really need to add the entire palace guard in there also?"

"I can't help everyone wanting a piece of me."

"Yeah, preferably your head on display outside the palace." He paused briefly in consideration. "I think the Pharaoh and Lord Akunadin would prefer to display your entire dead body outside the palace to prove to the populace you're no more."

"And then some people want my body for more... fun purposes." That smirk was knowing, like he could see exactly what Seth was thinking. And if Seth was another version of him, then he might be thinking something similar to what he himself was. His face felt so warm and flushed that it was a wonder it hadn't caught fire yet. They weren't even doing anything, and his mind was already calling all nature of definitions of what 'fun' could mean, based a good deal on the way Bakura's voice purred the words out. "People like you perhaps?"

"Only if your mouth isn't attached."

The smirk only grew as Bakura climbed gracefully to his feet, slinking across the room to the other man, an arm stealing around his waist and drawing him closer till their bodies were flush against each other. And how was it that he felt this warm just watching and Seth wasn't even blushing?! "I think you'd miss everything my mouth can do to you if it were gone, Seth."

And if their idea of flirting wasn't bad enough, seeing them kiss was ten times more so. Even to a relatively inexperienced (okay, or maybe almost completely inexperienced) outside observer such as himself, the thief was definitely in charge, leading it as he wanted it to go as they moved back towards the bed in the middle of the room, and Seth didn't seem to mind -- and it was every bit as demanding as the one he'd received had been... not tentative but questioning. He doubted Bakura had a tentative bone in his body, probably a good trait for a thief, and Seth certainly seemed to benefit from it.

Which begged the question of why Bakura had kissed him. Because he looked like Seth? He wasn't sure he could even pretend to act like this other version of himself, if he had it in him to demand the white-haired man hurry up, to grab both layers of his robes and start peeling them off, to pull him down on top of him on the bed, to trace sure fingers and even more certain lips over golden scar-crossed skin. How had he known the undeniably visible one on his face was far from the only one?

Maybe he wasn't as bold as the priest, but damn it, he wanted to reach out and touch him. He wanted to trade places with this other version of himself moving beneath the other man. Greedy or not, he wanted it more than he'd wanted anything in a long time. Almost without thought, he moved closer to the bed they were on, coming closer slowly. Maybe this was just a dream and he could do as he pleased, or maybe it was a memory and he wouldn't be able to, but he had to find out. He reached out to touch the bare, scarred flesh of Bakura's back --

-- and the pain hit, hard. It was definitely stronger this time, almost enough to overwhelm, strong enough this time to force a scream from his lips.

Where was he? He'd said twice before that he couldn't leave, he was stuck here while the Ring was here, so where the hell was he? Ahh, there. Still close at hand but apparently trying not to hover this time. He made himself reach out, ignoring how much it hurt to move even this much; instead, he pushed the pain aside for the moment and tightly grasped Bakura's hand. He wasn't quite at the end of his restraints' reach, but it was enough of a reach to hurt right now, so he pulled lightly and Bakura moved easily back to him, touching him carefully, like a precious treasure, like something that would break if handled too roughly. Right now, that assessment might not be too far from the truth; he felt like he might break apart into a million pieces from the pain -- and it just kept going and going and going.

Bakura's hand was in his hair, brushing through it lightly. "Breathe, Seto. Keep breathing." His voice was rather soft this time, even compared to the previous times this had happened. It was nice, it gave him something to concentrate on instead of how badly everything hurt and how the world was expanding around him again... and how he could feel something, an angry something, waking up very near them. Against everything it could mean, he hoped it was the other Yuugi, because the other possibilities were simply too alarming to be contemplated right now. Right now... Right now, there was something he needed to say. Just... it was so hard to force the words outs, in more ways than working them past the pain.

"I-" Fuck, he was stuttering. He had to ignore that and get what he wanted to say out now, before he lost his nerve or his ability to make himself semi-coherent. "I'm n-not Seth." Concentrate on his breathing a moment -- it would do no good to hyperventilate now -- and finish, "Don't t-treat me like this if you're pret-pretending I'm him."

Silence reigned for a long moment, till he started to wonder if he was going to have to repeat himself, before the white-haired man spoke, in what he was starting to think of as typical Bakura bluntness, "Seto, don't be an idiot. I thought we'd established that you are very different from him. Even though I don't know how you know about that--"

"Saw it," he cut in with clenched teeth. He would not scream again. He would not scream. He wouldn't give that bastard the satisfaction of hearing him scream again.

He sensed, more than saw, Bakura shake his head. "No way. We were over by the time the Memory World started." Over? Now that was intriguing. "There's no way you could have seen it, unless..." He stared down at him in dawning surprise, the hand in his hair finally stilling.

"Dreamed it," he confirmed.

Silver eyes narrowed sharply. "Is that so?" It was quite obviously a rhetorical question, but he nodded faintly anyway. "Just how much do you remember?"

"Not a- a lot."

"Then you don't know how the story ends; otherwise, you wouldn't have asked me that. The Memory World should have been a dead giveaway, you know, that it was over and Seth would rather I was dead and rotting. Really, I think I should hit you for that, if I could."

He tuned out the rest of the rant, something about him having a tendency to jump to conclusions, as the previous bit began to sink in. Did Bakura even realize he very nearly was touching him now? Something the other had said before (Yesterday? Two days ago? A week ago? Time didn't seem to be making much sense right now.) slipped back into his mind and helped launch the beginnings of a half-formed idea: "I could always try to do myself what the Collector's trying to do with the idiot Pharaoh: siphon energy till I can make my own body."

How much energy was equal to a human body, though? To create a new one from scratch, even utilizing the memories presumably stored in the Sennen Items? Based on the increasing lethargy he felt after each session thus far and what had happened to the other Bakura, he was willing to say quite a lot. Something out of nothing went against a few basic laws of the universe, so the Collector had to be backdooring his way around that by using the... energy of people connected with the Nameless Pharaoh in various ways. Grabbing someone as well-known as him must have been a last ditch effort; maybe he thought he'd need Yuugi as a template for the other Yuugi, and everyone else who could possibly be connected was constantly on the move, like the Ishtars, and sadly, he did have a pattern.

He couldn't figure out how to start from scratch like the Collector had, but from a template, that was a different story. The big question now was how. How did he make this work? And more especially, how to make this happen before every ounce of his energy was pored into the other Yuugi? He just had to--

Another wave of pain ripped half a scream out of him before he managed to bite it back once more. Faintly he could feel blood running down his chin; he must have bitten through his lip again this time in an effort to keep quite. There was no more time to debate on it. Besides, making it up later was easier than asking for permission.

At least this extra bout of pain had the pleasant side-effect of shutting off Bakura's rant rather neatly. Maybe it wasn't the best method to achieve quiet, but damn, it was effective. In that eerie silence, broken only by the sound of his own labored breathing, he made himself give the other half an explanation for what he had in mind: "Got - got a plan. To get out," he specified.

"Really?" That sounded vaguely condescending and even more sarcastic, and that was annoying, but this was the best -- the only -- plan he'd come up with so far. He wasn't letting it go.

He nodded. "And if it works..." Bakura nodded to show his attention. "If it w -- wor -- works," it was getting so hard to say what he was trying to, "I'll kill you if -- if you don't come back right. You have to get me out of here."

The other barely had time to look confused before he, for lack of a better phrased, pushed at the energy flowing out of him, directing it from the cords to the hand he held. It was... surprisingly easier than he'd expected, getting this strange energy to do what he wanted it to do, and he wasn't even going to let himself consider why that might be.

Before his eyes, Bakura's form quickly started becoming more opaque, less transparent and ghost-like and more like the Bakura he'd seen in that dream-memory. He didn't look too happy either. Well, he wasn't an idiot like some of the people he knew; he must know what he was doing. "Let go, Seto." He was speaking out loud now, though not in Japanese. He was counting that as a partially good sign at least. "Stop it now, before you hurt yourself." And part of the way through that, the language shifted, from what something in him said was the language of Ancient Egypt to modern-day Japanese.

"No," he insisted. Shorter was better than explaining at length right now; at least it gave him time to recover. "Plan."

"You're out of yo--"

Bakura vanished in midword.

Exhausted eyes blinked open, taking in their owner's new surroundings warily. Wherever he was, it was nothing at all like where he last remembered being. He may not have been happy or content where he had been, but at least it wasn't... Where the hell was he anyway?

He looked around him, almost too tired to wonder why it was such an effort to move. Surrounding him were Egyptian relics, some of which he recognized from his reign as Pharaoh, while others were of a similar time period but not items he recognized. Only about a meter in front of him hung the Sennen Puzzle.

'Well, shit,' was all he could think for a long moment. Why couldn't he seem to wake up? 'What in the world happened?'

And that's when he noticed the other person in the room: an older man, with hair that must have once been black but was now peppered with more than its fair share of white. He'd never seen him before, not in either of his lives, but still, there was something strangely familiar about him, something he couldn't quite manage to place.

"Welcome, Pharaoh Atemu." His Egyptian was, at best, a complete atrocity, and his tone was smug and extremely self-satisfied. "Welcome to my little collection. I do hope you'll enjoy your stay. I've gone through so much to get you even this much here."

Here? This much? In confusion, he glanced down at himself -- and froze. He'd had some time to get used to be solid again. Suddenly being able to see through himself again was a bit of an unpleasant flashback; even if he'd enjoyed his time with the friends he'd come to make, it hadn't been where he belonged.

"What you done, mortal?" he growled in his native language, moving to climb to his feet, only to find he couldn't.

"My deepest apologies, Pharaoh. It seem your battery source downstairs apparently decided he had better plans for the energy that was to finish your return."

"'Battery source'?" he echoed in confusion.

The man nodded. "Yes. Kaiba Seto."

Exhausted eyes blinked open, taking in their owner's new surroundings warily. Wherever he was, it was nothing at all like where he last remembered being. He may not have been happy or content where he had been, but at least it wasn't... Where the hell was he anyway?

He looked around him, almost too tired to wonder why it was such an effort to move. And more to the point, what the hell was that infernal beeping sound?! And why the hell was everything so fucking... white? And why was he so tired... and feeling like he was wearing something he'd outgrown years ago?

Well, sitting around wasn't... He knew that voice. "Why would they cut off his hand, Malik-kun?" Holy fuck, that was the Pharaoh's brat. The hell?! "Isn't that what the Turks used to do if you were caught stealing?" Fucking Turks. Still... Hmm, the Pharaoh's midget apparently had twice the brains of the Pharaoh, not that that was hard to accomplish or anything.

"It was also used in more European magic, to open locked doors and such. It's called... I think the term was a 'Hand of Glory' then." And that was Wants-To-Be Pharaoh. Who was stupid enough to let Malik Ishtar back out of Egypt? Had the police and military been notified yet?

Where the hell was he anyway? Something about that steady blipping noise and the too clean smell called the appropriate memory from the depths of his mind: he was in a hospital. It felt about the same in that impersonable way all hospitals were, from what yadonushi had told him. Yadonushi... That was that 'tight' feeling; he should have recognized it immediately. How many times had he commandeered this body, after all?

Just what the fuck had Seto done? Better still, how had he managed to jam him into his former host's apparently nonoccupied body? When he got a hold of the other man, he was going to have some answering to do. Which would mean motivating his body to move.

A soft hitch in breathing wasn't much of a clue, not when he wasn't standing right beside the other, but a low groan was a completely different story. He shot to his feet, turning to stare at the figure on the bed as it sat up slowly. One arm, the one with the I.V. , braced him stiffly, obviously going a long way to holding him upright; the other held his head as if trying to ward off a headache. What in the world...? Hadn't Malik-kun just said...?

"Tell me you were just wrong," Jyonouchi-kun demanded, a slight thread of worry in his voice. "'Cause either you were wrong or we've got a problem. We don't need another problem right now."

"I- I-" Malik-kun didn't seem to be able to force a coherent thought out of himself. Not that he really blamed him; he was in much the same boat. "There wasn't anything there! I know there was nothing left of him!"

"So what the hell?!" the Japanese blond yelled back. "Is it Night of the Living Dead or something?" He was already visibly repressing shudders. Poor Jyonouchi-kun; he'd never seen someone before with such a phobia of all things occult or supernatural, yet still be able to handle him and Atemu switching places and all okay. Maybe it was more Bakura -- or rather, the other Bakura -- that freaked him out so much, he thought, shaking his head slightly.

"Are you all right, Bakura-kun? Do you want me to call a nurse?" he asked softly, moving closer to the white-haired man. A squeak came out, instead of actual words, when the hand that had been in the other's white hair suddenly lashed out to grab him by the front of his shirt and yank him in closer, up off the ground so that the other's mouth was near his ear. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the others rushing forward, to help, he supposed. He was even vaguely surprised that Malik-kun had moved closer faster than Jyonouchi-kun, though only barely.

"Get me. The fuck. Out. Of here," Bakura-kun hissed. That wasn't right. "Now, if you in any way value your miserable little life, Pharaoh's midget."

"Bakura." Jyonouchi-kun's warning growl was what really cinched it for him, even more than the nearly choking grip he had on him. This wasn't their friend, Bakura Ryou. This was the Spirit of the Ring, somehow back after two years. But how?

"Put him down." That was Malik-kun's voice, and he sounded like he was, well, pissed. Wow.

Slowly the grip on him loosened, but Bakura didn't completely release him. He could certainly breathe easier, now that his feet were touching the floor, but this close to the Spirit of the Ring was about twenty meters closer than he wanted to be. Even if... Bakura looked utterly exhausted? This close, he could tell the other was breathing hard, almost panting, like he'd just run a race. The Spirit of the Ring didn't do stuff like that, didn't show that much behind a smirk, though; it- he- it (Which one was it? Was this the thief or the demon?) was very like Kaiba-kun in that way. And wasn't that odd -- and convenient; the Spirit of the Ring showing up a few days after Kaiba-kun was kidnapped -- and in Bakura Ryou's body no less!

"How are you back, Bakura?" he whispered.

Tired eyes lifted to look at him, and they weren't that rich shade of chocolate brown Bakura Ryou had possessed. No, they were an odd shade between blue and silver, the same color the thief had had in the Memory World. He seemed to be holding himself together and conscious by sheer force of will... and maybe a load of anger that he'd be happiest not being carried out on him. "Do you want to talk about that, or do you want to save Seto before it's too late?"

That... hadn't gone as he'd intended. The thief certainly wasn't supposed to just disappear, at least not the way he'd planned it. This was the most imprecise science he'd ever had the misfortune to deal with; there was too much room for human error. Not that was his fault, not when he was still this new to this... subject matter, but Bakura was supposed to collate into a more solid, effective form in this room, not wherever he'd vanished to, where he'd presumably be able to get him the hell out of these handcuffs and both of them out of here. He was supposed to be a thief, right? These should be a snap for him... if he were here and solid. Where the hell had he vanished to?

What if he'd accidentally killed him -- or at least sent him back to the Afterlife, instead of bringing him here? There were just too many possibilities of things that could have gone wrong, but really, what other choice had he had? He had to get get out of here. No, they'd both had to get out of here, but only one had managed so far. Wherever Bakura was, after all, it wasn't here, and he had the feeling that wherever he actually was, he'd be back. He wouldn't leave him here, no matter what had happened between the thief and him -- Seth -- in Ancient Egypt.

Bakura wasn't here, so there was no one to goad him into resting, but damn, he was tired. Whatever insane escape plan Bakura was no doubt cooking up, he would need to be rested and well-prepared for it. A brief catnap could hardly hurt matters at this point, and it might actually help a bit.

He had no sooner lay back down, curled up on the pallet-covered grating that he'd been using for a bed these past few days, than he was asleep... though he couldn't be too surprised by that fact. Even an idiot would know this was taking a lot out of him. What did surprise him, though, was that he seemed to be catapulted back into the Egypt dream. It wasn't the same point in the dream, but that was certainly Seth. He was leaning against a cliff in the middle of the desert. The darkness seemed nearly impenetrable to someone used to the constant glow of city lights at night, and even he could feel how cold it was.

Seth looked worried. There was no mistaking the anxiety on his face for anything else. It was written all over him: the way he held his body tightly, as if ready to spring into motion; the way his eyes kept darting around furtively, trying to keep a look out for the thief, he supposed; the way he jumped at every sound. Something had happened. It must have. It couldn't have been good either, not to create this kind of worry in any version of him.

The priest looked around him, sighed, and muttered, "Where are you, thief?"

"Such love." That was Bakura's voice, but at the same time, not. It wasn't the almost sane tones he'd gotten used to during his imprisonment here and from the other dream-memory; this was the Bakura from Battle City... and that couldn't mean good things. He and Seth looked up to see Bakura sitting on the edge of the cliff above the priest. Yes, he recognized the dark look in his eyes. "One might almost wonder what your feelings are towards me?"

He watched faint traces of emotions move over the face of the other version of himself: relief, exhaustion, worry, suspicion, to name a few. "At the moment, annoyance. You've been gone without a trace nearly a year, Bakura, and now you reappear and--"

Seth cut himself off abruptly as Bakura leapt down easily to land before him, falling back a step reflexively. He looked surprised now, and it showed up clearly. "'And' what, Seth?" He stalked forward a step, and somehow the other held his ground, not that he had a lot of room to move with the cliff wall behind him and the thief before him. "Am I different? Acting oddly perhaps?"

"You're not yourself, Bakura. What's happened to you?" He had to say, he was proud Seth's voice didn't shake. He'd not had much in the way of close experience with the Bakura from his time, only the duel on the rooftop of Kaiba Corp to get Mokuba back, but this was more than a bit on the terrifying side. "What happened while you were gone?"

The smirk Bakura wore tightened into a sneer. "Not myself, you say? Maybe you just didn't know as well as you thought you did." And then the expression turned truly evil... and entirely too familiar. "Or maybe I just got tired of playing nice for you. Did that ever occur to you?"

"That's not it. You're Bakura, but you're not Bakura," Seth insisted stubbornly, refusing to move again as the thief came a bit closer. "You will tell me what happened."

Faster than his eyes could follow, a hand shot out, fisting around part of Seth's cloak worn against the frigid desert night air, and slammed the priest back against the rock face hard enough to make him drop the collected expression from his face. "Maybe I died and returned to life out there in the sand and came to realize there's something in my life that needs to be finished, something more important than a couple of fucks." The sneer was back in all its derisive glory. "But it's possible I can squeeze one or two more in before I start my work."

"You bastard." The other version of him pushed at the thief but was apparently unable to throw him off. "Let go of me!"

"And here I was think you loved me, priest." A smirk and a shrug. "Then a kiss to say goodbye."

He yanked the other close, slamming their lips together brutally. Seth struggled, trying to get free, finally reaching behind him for the Sennen Rod, pulling the blade free. Holding it to the thief's throat, he finally broke away. "Don't you dare touch me like that again, thief."

Bakura didn't seem to care, standing there nonchalantly with a smirk on his face and blood running down his chin; Seth must have bitten him. "You're mine, priest, and I'll touch you however I want. You would do well to remember that."

"I'll kill you if I ever see you again." The hiss was low and deadly. He had absolutely no doubt this other version of him meant every word of it. He stepped away from the other, only to be held in check by the hand still grasping his cloak.

"As long as you have that Sennen Rod, my darling Seth, you will see me again. Maybe not tomorrow or even this year, but you will see me again. Count on it."

"That day will be your end then." He slipped out of the cloak, leaving it in Bakura's hands, and backed away towards the horse he'd left tethered nearby.

Bakura remained still till the sounds of hoof beats had faded completely before the maniacal smile dropped, leaving behind a sad and weary version of the thief he'd come to know. Every movement aching with exhaustion, he lifted the cloth to his face, breathing in the other's smell.

Suddenly the paralysis that had gripped since Bakura dropped into view broke, and he found himself moving closer to the white-haired man. The final story must have been the truth, making this just after the demon Zork had possessed him. Just how long before the RPG was this? What had changed in the time in between?

He turned and frowned. Seth had to still be watching from somewhere; otherwise he shouldn't be able to "remember" these events occurring, most notably after Seth left. It didn't make sense. So where was he at?

"Let him go," a voice whispered behind him. He whirled around, but only Bakura was there. "He has abandoned you, left you to me, forgotten child of Kuru Eruna. And he has one of the Items."

"You will not hurt him." Dear gods, Bakura sounded exhausted. "That was part of our arrangement."

"Revenge for your people and the life of your lover. It will be as I promised."

He turned again angrily to look for the other version of himself (he had to be hearing this) -- and saw only darkness, an utter and complete blackness stretching out into forever.. He turned back to where Bakura had stood only a split second before, but there was nothing there; even the cliff and the desert had vanished. It felt like he was falling -- or maybe floating -- in nothingness... and then he woke up, gasping for each breath. Something... 'felt' different in the room, something that in some way reminded him immediately of someone. "Bakura?" Maybe, somehow, he'd managed to come back and was here again now. "Are you there?" It was actually an effort to remind himself to pitch his voice low so maybe the Collector wouldn't overhear his words and realize the other had somehow escaped.

Silence greeted him, but the presence strengthened. It felt like it was completely surrounding him. He reached out blindly, and his hand brushed against something that felt like... scales? It wasn't small enough to be an ordinary snake, plus it was too high off the ground; each scale was roughly the same size as his hand. "Diaboundo?"

The silence continued to stretch out, but there was a faintly positive ring to it this time, almost like agreement. If Diaboundo was protecting him like this, then Bakura was almost certainly still alive and out there somewhere, somewhere in the city maybe, and in control of the monster again. This... could be a good thing.

This was shaping up to be the weirdest week of his admittedly weird life thus far. Not that he was complaining about its highlight, Malik-kun being back, but the rest was just odd: Kaiba-kun getting kidnapped, getting recruited to help out in finding him by Mokuba-kun, all these weird tales of cutting hands off dead people and a collector of some sort, and now the Spirit of the Sennen Ring putting in a much delayed reappearance and apparently knowing what had happened to Kaiba-kun. He wasn't sure which part of it was more confusing, that he knew the information or that he actually seemed... concerned about what was happening to the other man. That sentiment didn't exactly go along with the Spirit of the Ring they'd known before, and he had to wonder if this was the man he'd been before Zork had taken him over.  There was no way he was asking, though, not with a very fresh memory still in mind of being dangled above the ground. Possessed or not, Bakura was still dangerous to be around.

The fact he was currently arguing with Malik-kun in a language that had been dead for millennia did nothing to alleviate how dangerous he was. He was getting a few words here and there, curse words Jiichan had taught him or that Atemu-kun had let loose on occasion (thought he was still fairly certain Atemu-kun had had no idea what he was saying, just that it was bad) that apparently included something about Malik-kun being the 'son of a jackal's ass'. The fact that the three of them were trailing him down the hospital hallway (and he had no intention of offering to help and getting his arm torn off for the trouble) just added to the weird factor, in part because Mokuba-kun might have been taking notes.

The Spirit still didn't look too steady on feet, but maybe that was to be expected when the body he was in hadn't moved on its own in over a month. He was going with 'he' and 'him' and other masculine pronouns for the Spirit for now; it seemed to be the thief and not the demon from what he could tell, after all. He was just really curious as to how the Spirit was back after a two year hiatus and if he had had a hand in what happened to Bakura-kun and/or what was happening to Kaiba-kun.

"Bakura!" He blinked and glanced over at the boy beside him. Trust Mokuba-kun to have fewer inhibitions about speaking up, especially where it concerned his brother. It was definitely another of those Kaiba traits.

The white-haired man turned to look down at him. "What?"

"Where's my Niisama?" If the Spirit could resist the sad look Mokuba-kun wore, he was made of much sterner stuff than he himself (and probably Kaiba-kun) was.

The Spirit slumped against the wall, his entire body signalling complete exhaustion -- and maybe a bit of distraction. "For the moment, he's safe, but I can't say for sure how long that will last."

"Who has Niisama?" They might as well keep letting Mokuba-kun ask the questions. Apparently not even the Spirit of the Ring was completely immune.

"I don't know his name exactly, but he's a collector." A collector? After Malik-kun's story? Now that was too much of a coincidence to be for real. Beside him, he could tell Malik-kun was standing a little straighter and paying much closer attention. "He has Seto to get to..." He broke off, glaring over at him, and he had to fight not to fall back a step. "To get the Nameless Pharaoh."

"I thought you were the one after the Nameless Pharaoh," Malik-kun snapped at the thief, earning a growl in return.

"I'm far from the only one, aren't I? I seem to recall some Egyptian besides me after him during Battle City." He sneered hard. "Who could that have been?"

"Why would they need Kaiba-kun to get mou hitori no boku?" he had to ask, careful to keep his voice quiet. Not that it was a huge stretch. The Spirit of the Ring was frightening.

"Do we have to talk about this now? The longer we wait, the less time I can guarantee Seto's okay."

"Yes," Malik-kun returned immediately, though Mokuba-kun frowned up at the blond, clearly disagreeing with that statement..

"/Inbred, retarded piece of camel waste.../" Bakura muttered just loud enough to be heard. What more amazed him was that he'd understood every word of that. "The Collector is trying to bring your precious Nameless Pharaoh back to round out his collection of items from the Lost Dynasty. Atemu is the last thing he's missing. He needs souls and magic to do that, to bring Atemu through from the Afterlife."

Mokuba-kun bounced, apparently catching up. Magic did seem to be a favorite topic for him after all. "So this Collector's using Niisama like a battery."

"Yadonushi also." He stared at the Spirit in nothing less than abject shock. So that was what had happened to Bakura-kun? He'd halfway been beginning to wonder if the Spirit might not have had something to do with their friend's current state so that he'd have a body to use for whatever his purpose was. "Can I go now, or do you want to ask any more stupid questions?"

"I'm coming with you!" Mokuba-kun piped up. The white-haired man didn't look too happy but nodded silent agreement and turned to start back towards the hospital exit.

Malik-kun looked over at him, a question clear on his face: were they following the Spirit also? He shrugged: he couldn't very well leave Mokuba-kun alone with him; if anything happened to the kid, Kaiba-kun would find ways to make him regret it till the end of time. "One more questions, then we can go," he finally vocalized.

With an annoyed sound that was equal parts sigh and growl, the Spirit stopped but didn't bother facing him. "What?" he snapped. Mokuba-kun was standing next to the white-haired man and sent a pout over his shoulder at them.

"How do you know for a fact Kaiba-kun is still okay right now?" He didn't really mean to sound so suspicious, but he'd learned to be wary where the Spirit of the Sennen Ring was concerned.

"Diaboundo is with him."

That was supposed to be reassuring?! Bakura was on the move again, and Mokuba-kun appeared to be hovering, apparently in case the other needed his support. "Great," Malik-kun muttered beside him, "they've joined forces." Before he could respond, his hand was seized in a tanned one and he was being dragged by Malik-kun behind the other two.

"You're following Diaboundo, aren't you?" Dear God, Mokuba-kun seemed to be trying to make friends with the Spirit. Quite the ballsy kid; he doubted it'd mean a thing or accomplish much, but he was trying. The thief simply nodded in answer, as all his attention appeared to be set in putting one foot in front of the other. He'd known that the white-haired man was determined and more than a bit single-minded when set on a goal, as he'd been on the Sennen Items two years ago, but he was having a bit of trouble on why he was so determined to rescue Kaiba-kun.  "Diaboundo will make sure nothing happens to Niisama?"

"As much as possible."

"It was Diaboundo that took him though," he felt compelled to pipe up.

"I didn't have any choice in that matter," the thief snapped. "The Collector has the Items and was able to use them to control Diaboundo. If I'd had any control in the matter, Seto would have been the last person I'd have grabbed to do this to."

He opened his mouth, the word 'why' about to come out, when Mokuba-kun signaled his car over. "We can go in the limo. It'll be quicker, and we can cover more of the city that way." And there was the Kaiba logic peeking through again, though he wasn't too sure of the intelligence of trying to befriend the thief.

The kid held the door open for Bakura, letting him slide in before turning to them with a hard look reminiscent of his older brother. "If you are going to pick on Bakura more, don't bother coming. He's the only one who knows where my Niisama is, and if you annoy him till he doesn't tell me, I'll kill you in painful and inventive ways."

Wow... Statements like that made it very apparent whose younger brother Mokuba-kun was. The similarities were startling and perhaps a bit frightening.

The little Kaiba brother certainly reminded him a good deal of his older brother. There was certainly something familiar about the take-charge attitude the little guy projected. There wasn't a lot else similar between the brothers, but there was that and the ability to threaten the miniature Pharaoh rather well. He wasn't going to think about it too much right now, though. Right now, he just leaned back on the seat, closed his eyes, and tried to tune the others out so he could concentrate on exactly where Diaboundo was. And he was so fucking exhausted that it was harder than it sounded; the cramped feeling that he was getting in yadonushi's body wasn't exactly helping matters either.

And he resolutely was not thinking about what had happened to the boy who had been his host. Maybe he'd never really gotten to know him all that well and maybe a lot of who yadonushi and his friends had thought to be him had instead been the demon possessing him, but it wasn't a fate he'd wish on even Atemu, much less Ryou. In the time he'd been the Collector's prisoner they'd gotten to know one another a bit better than when they'd shared a body; he definitely wouldn't have wished this on him -- and most especially not for Atemu's benefit.

Yadonushi -- Ryou had asked him if he still hated the Pharaoh. It had been one of the last things they'd discussed in the blackness of that room. He'd probably scared the boy with the vehemence of his 'yes' answer; it had been a little while before he'd spoken again, this time to ask why. He'd been the one who was silent for a long moment before the story of Kuru Eruna had tumbled out of him. Ryou had responded by telling him about his mother and sister. It was a bit startling how alike they were, in matters besides their looks. Ryou had eventually also asked if he'd had any friends, anyone who had cared for him, and it was only then that he'd been truly unable to answer. He couldn't even tell his former host about Seth, much less Seth's reincarnation. It was doubly unnerving that Seto had dreamed it, even just part of it.

He shook his head to clear it. This was not anything he needed to be thinking about right now. He needed to be tracking Diaboundo and, through him, Seto. He didn't need to let his mind wander like it seemed wont to do at the moment.

"He's west of here," he prompted. He guessed Mokuba signaled the driver because the car started moving. "It was a house of some sort, with a large underground room where Seto is."

"So probably outside the city." Hmm, he did have to give the miniature Pharaoh credit for being a good deal more intelligent than his counterpart, though he still maintained that was easier done than anyone wanted to admit.

"It was a fairly large place," was the closest he was allowing himself to admitting that the boy might have a point.

He could faintly hear Mokuba whisper something at the man driving the car. He could appreciate that: it made the difficult job of concentration a little easier. He definitely wasn't a bad sort of kid. After a moment, he felt the seat shift as the kid settled down next to him. "Bakura?" he asked quietly. He opened one eye to look over at him. "Do you know how far it is?"

It was a fair question, so he didn't ignore it like he might if it was one he considered stupid. He shook his head. "No. I'll say when we're getting close."

Mokuba nodded and flopped back on the seat next to him. Odd. He was much more accustomed to people being too terrified to come near him than people willing to get within easy reach. Ishtar and the Mini-Pharaoh, for example, were doing their level best to be as far away from him as the car would allow without seeming too obvious. As if sensing his eyes on them, Malik glanced over at him, lavender eyes narrowing to a glare, and pulled the Mini-Pharaoh further away from him -- and coincidentally closer to the inbred lump of baboon dung. Well, that was certainly interesting.

He closed his eyes again, as much to stem off a rather fierce headache as to tune the others out, and concentrated on the location of his ka monster. This would be so much easier if Seto had managed to send the Sennen Ring along with him. Then he could just use it to locate the other Items. But without the Ring, he was left searching this way, as hit and miss as it might be.

He wasn't picking up much from Diaboundo, not that a lot was possible at this range, even if that was closing, but at least that meant nothing bad was happening. His monster was not having to fight to protect its charge, so he still had some time. Not a lot -- he wasn't going to relax till this whole thing was over, one way or another -- but still some time.  Apparently, Seto's little stunt, namely somehow sticking him into Ryou's body, had bought them some leeway.

It felt like they were racing down to some sort of a margin, almost like time was running out for... something, and it was not a feeling he particularly cared for. But he was getting closer, though. The distance between them was definitely narrowing. It wouldn't be long now.

There was probably some terrible irony that he was immobilized on the golden seat that had been his throne thousands of years ago. Just out of his reach was the Puzzle, whole and intact once again. Had it survived the fall into darkness intact, or had this man found someone to reassemble it? No. With how long it had taken his aibou to put it together in the first place, he didn't believe any common person could have possibly done it in a hundred years.

And thinking of his aibou... This man who called himself a collector had mentioned Kaiba, Kaiba Seto to be exact. If his former rival was his 'battery source,' whatever that could possibly mean, obviously it was still within a lifetime of when he'd been here before, if Kaiba was still alive; he couldn't picture the man having descendants. Mokuba, perhaps, but not his brother. And if Kaiba was still alive (the prickly, overstressed asshole that he was), then might not his aibou and their friends be as well?

Hesitantly, he reached out to where his connection with Yuugi had lain years (days? months?) ago. His previous attempts to use his magic hadn't worked too well and had made him leery to try again. This was his aibou though; he had to try, he had to know.

//Aibou?// he sent out worriedly. He scarcely dared breathe, lest he miss a reply. //Aibou, can you hear me?//

Silence stretched out, long enough that he almost began to doubt Yuugi was going to answer, when finally a response came: /Atemu-kun?/

Atemu, not mou hitori no boku... It must have been years for him to finally break that habit. //It's me,// he acknowledged, barely keeping the relief he felt from entering his voice. //Do you know what's going on?//

He sensed a nod from his other half. /A lot of it, and what I don't know, I can guess. Is Kaiba-kun there with you?/

//No. I'm not sure where he is, but the person who brought me back mentioned him,//
he paused, reluctant somehow to go on for a moment, //as a battery source.//

/He can't be too far away then./
There was a pause, like someone else was talking to him. /What about the Sennen Items? Are they close by? Can you see them, any of them?/

Who was talking to Yuugi, wherever he was, asking these sorts of questions. There were only a few people he knew who were this interested in the Items. If he didn't know better... //The Puzzle is right here, just out of my reach. I don't see the others. Why do you want to know about the Items, aibou?//

/So we know where we need to look for them./
Another pause, this one a good deal shorter. /I'm supposed to tell you -- and maybe you can make some kind of sense out of this -- but if you feel something like a burst of energy coming into you, try to push it back where it came from? I'm told that means the energy's coming from Kaiba-kun and he probably doesn't have that much left to spare./

How in the world did his aibou know so much about what was going on? It was almost enough to make him wonder how close Yuugi was to what was happening, like maybe he was being held here as well. It wouldn't be the first time they'd been kidnapped, and Kaiba's name tossed in the mix just made it all the more plausible a theory. Still, what in the world was going on?

He couldn't say he liked the way the Spirit of the Ring was glaring at him. If it got much more annoyed, he'd fear his head was in danger of melting from the heat of the other's stare. Maybe he shouldn't have mentioned hearing Atemu-kun's voice, but it had seemed like it might be important information towards what was going on. After all, if he could hear Atemu-kun now and he hadn't been able to before, then didn't that mean they were getting closer? That they might be able to get to Kaiba-kun sooner rather than later?

(He was holding no illusions that that wasn't the thief's purpose. At this point, the Spirit could launch into a long-winded speech about the Sennen Items and defeating the Pharaoh, but he wouldn't be fooled. He'd seen enough hints along the way now to figure this particular puzzle out. There were feelings there of some sort. He was smart enough, though, to keep his mouth shut; just because the other Bakura seemed to really like Kaiba-kun, it didn't make him any less dangerous to know. Hell, it might make him more so. The man had terrifying levels of dedication, after all; look at what he was doing now. He did not envy Kaiba-kun in the least.)

In retrospect, though, maybe he shouldn't have mentioned Atemu-kun being awake, at least not with Mokuba-kun around. The smaller Kaiba might be startlingly mature for his age, but he was still just thirteen. He'd almost certainly connected the dots between Atemu-kun's return and his brother's well-being. He hadn't quite perfected the stony mask Kaiba-kun was so good at; he could see the worry radiating off him where he sat stock-still next to the thief. He didn't know what to say to repair the error and 'I'm sorry' didn't quite seem sufficient, so he bit his lip in worry and fretted over if Atemu-kun felt any closer or not with every turn of the car.

A hand touched his knee. He glanced over at Malik-kun, a question on his face. The other's voice was quiet when he spoke, "You'll find them, Yuugi." Obviously a little uncertain about what he was saying, he paused and considered his words before he said anything else. "I know you, and if you want to find them, you will -- and they'll be all right."

"You think so?" he returned as softly. There was no sense drawing any more of Bakura's ire down on his head, after all.

Malik nodded decisively, like there was absolutely no doubt in his mind on the matter. "I know so. That's your magic, Yuugi."

Diaboundo didn't really have a lot to say or do or anything, but the ka monster wasn't too bad to be around, he decided to himself. It didn't talk enough to annoy him; it didn't say anything at all, really. Rather its silences had degrees that, if he listened intently enough, he could just about determine the meanings of. That suited him well enough, he supposed, but... Well, he never thought he'd miss Bakura's ramblings and scoldings, but in a way, he supposed he did. He'd never thought he'd be the type to feel lonely without someone, but...

He shook his head to clear that line of thought. There wasn't a lot of point in missing Bakura. Either he'd come back or he wouldn't, and if he did come back, either he'd stay just long enough to get him out of here or he'd stay longer. He wasn't counting on that though. The longer the other was away, the more he had to wonder if -- and why -- he might be interested in someone completely anti-social and off-putting as he was, if he wasn't looking at him and seeing Seth.

Diaboundo shifted around him, and the silence almost sounded like pouting. Could Bakura hear though the monster? That could be... interesting. Was he listening right now, to see if he was all right? Excepting Mokuba, he was wholly unused to someone worrying about him. He supposed that's what he could classify the complaining Bakura did as; he wasn't too sure since it wasn't exactly something he had a lot of experience in till now.

He'd had a brief moment earlier where he'd wondered why Bakura didn't just use the monster to get him out of here, but it had been short-lived. The Collector's device drained magic and the soul, at least according to Bakura and the Collector, and the creature was a creation of both of those. That probably meant the machine was resistant to anything Diaboundo could do to it, that it was resistant to magic being used on it, especially offensively like that, which in turn likely meant it was going to take something physical to get him out of these cuffs, like lock picks -- if Bakura had found some by the time he arrived -- or a knife. Like the blade hidden within the Sennen Rod perhaps...

It just felt like it would be so easy to call the Rod over to him, like it would just float over into his hands. It might have done that with Seth as Its wielder, but as Bakura had stated, he was not Seth. It might not -- no, it would not -- behave for him as it had for his counterpart.

Nevertheless, a glow was beginning to emanate from the case he knew the Sennen Items to be housed in, soft and golden. From where he lay, he couldn't detect what shape the glow might be taking and therefore which Item it might be. Something told him the Puzzle was gone from inside the case, which meant someone had come in here at some point to remove it, which lead his exhausted mind to ready options for the glow: the Rod or the Ring.

And if it was the Ring, that could only mean one thing. Bakura was back.

Saying a light bulb went off in his mind was clichéd and not wholly accurate. It was more like a lightning strike of awareness in the way it hit him fast and hard. This was the building Diaboundo was in; this was where Seto was being held. And more than that, he could sense the Ring as well. He was going to pretend that the voices of his people, the spirits of Kuru Eruna, weren't also just faintly audible. If he could just hold on to the sense of where his ka monster was and try to tune out the rest, he should be okay. Once this was over with, though, he was going to have to spend a few hours freaking out. Somehow he'd been so certain that once he was really dead and Zork was defeated, the ninety-nine spirits in the Items would be released. But it looked like they wouldn't be free till the Items were truly destroyed.

The little Kaiba was truly attentive. He'd barely had to gesture to the house before he'd had the car stopped. He had debated on telling the kid to wait in the car, but the Pharaoh's midget had beaten him to it and got to be the 'bad guy' for once. So in turn, Mokuba had quickly shuffled through what cards he had with him and pressed a few monster cards in his hands with a whispered explanation of "Honda told me what you could do at Duelist Kingdom". So he'd let the Pharaoh's midget and the inbred ass-end of a hippo (otherwise known as Malik Ishtar) go traipsing merrily along in the direction they thought the Pharoah might be in -- and here he was, in the dark and closing the gap between his ka monster -- and in turn, Seto -- and himself. It wasn't totally unlike groping his way through various tombs during his first chance at life, but apparently yadonushi's eyes weren't quite as adept at seeing in the dark as his had been; he kept running into things.

It was frustrating him to no end. There was only one wall left between them. He knew it. He had to have made a complete lap of it, though, and he'd yet to turn up a way in. There was no door that he could find; in fact, there was barely more than a seam, and that was only in one section of the wall.

This would be so much simpler, he thought to himself with a huff of annoyance, if he felt in any way safe pulling Diaboundo away from Seto. He wasn't ready to take that chance yet though. He hadn't become the King of Thieves by taking stupid chances in dangerous situations, after all, and he wasn't dumb enough to start now, not when Seto was -- of course -- right in the middle of that very same trouble.

He felt along the wall till he came to that seam again. Yes, it definitely felt like it had the potential to be a door, if he could find a way to open it. A careful examination, a good deal more thorough than his first scan, revealed what felt like a keypad directly beside the seam. It almost blended in with the wall, which was probably why he'd missed it before. And as it stood now, he wasn't too much better off than he'd been before: this was new 'trap' technology to him, something he'd only ever seen before, mostly through yadonushi's eyes, and not anything he'd ever had to beat. It wasn't like any of the tombs he'd ever robbed had had one in them.

Okay, he could handle this, one way or another. There were twelve buttons in all of equal size and evenly spaced, so maybe it was like a telephone: numbers one through nine, a zero, and two other buttons, perhaps enter and clear? He closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall and tried to think. What kind of a password would the Collector set? Something easy for him to remember, obviously, but what? What would someone like him choose? And beyond that, how would it be entered? Frankly he was striking out, but at least there was a resource near at hand that he could still tap.

Diaboundo's attention was on what he was guessing to be a far wall. It had shifted slowly in a complete circle around him, and even he could tell it was focused on something just on the other side of that barrier. It didn't seem hostile towards whatever it was sensing, but it was definitely looking attentive. Coupled with the fact that the bright glow emanating from the case the Items were in was starting to take on a familiar shape, despite the fact it was nearly bright enough to light the entire room, it had to be Bakura. It had to be him.

"Seto?" The quiet voice he could just hear through the wall only confirmed his thoughts: it was definitely the white-haired man.

Was the Collector listening? Did he dare answer? At this point, what did he have to lose by not at least trying? "Bakura?" he returned.

"Yeah." He could hear the exhaustion in the other's voice. Whatever had happened, whatever he had done to the other when he tried to bring him back, had left the white-haired man with few resources left to run on. Immediately coming after him and leaving Diaboundo couldn't have helped matters in any way. Even with his eyes wide open, he could picture the exhaustion sagging through the other's body. "I'm going to get you out of there, but it's going to take some help from your side."

He shifted away from the monster to kneel on his own, though Diaboundo didn't move away from him. Even that much motion made his stomach threaten to turn; really he wasn't in much better shape than Bakura at this point, but they both needed to keep going. When this was over, though, he had the feeling they were both going to crash and sleep for a week. "What do you need me to do?"

"There's a keypad by the door. Twelve buttons, so I figure it's like a phone: numbers, enter, and clear? Sound right?"

He closed his eyes and mentally called up an image of the keypad to Kaiba Corp's lab. Bakura's guess was probably fairly accurate. It was just a matter of expanding upon it. "It's possible. If so, then there are a couple options. One: it's a specific set of numbers, like his birthday or something like that. Possibility number two is, he's using the numbers like letters and it spells something. And since he sounds American, it'd probably be in English letters." He proceeded to give the breakdown of numbers to letters as best he could recall from some of his American clients' phones. "Enter would be on the right and clear on the left." And if they were extremely lucky, the Collector wouldn't have it set to completely close off if the wrong code was entered.

That Bakura was cursing in an impressive array of languages, some of which he could only suppose the meanings and origins of -- and that he didn't want to guess at how the other knew -- probably wasn't a good sign. Apparently his first guesses hadn't worked. He could just imagine the frustrated look the white-haired man wore, and that the image jumped to his mind so quickly was a little alarming. That he knew Bakura would next mutter something like "What the hell" and start trying random codes... Well, it didn't bear thinking on.

Only a second or two later, he heard a faint hiss and then fumbling footsteps. Diaboundo didn't move, so it had to be Bakura. A pale form moved slowly into the light: Bakura... Ryou? But it had sounded like the Bakura he'd been coming to know these past few days. How could it be the other Bakura... unless...

Suddenly the dots connected in his mind. The Collector's last 'guest', who had been drained of his soul, had been Bakura Ryou.  So, against Bakura's predictions, he must have somehow survived. Well, at least his body had survived, but without a soul, it wouldn't be very useful, unless one happened to be trying to recreate the body of a three thousand year old spirit; somehow he must have stuck Bakura back into Ryou's body. It was the body that should be more recognizable to him, from Battle Ship and the duel on the rooftop of Kaiba Corp, but somehow he'd started to assume that, when Bakura returned, it would be as the tall tanned thief. It didn't matter that much to him, but it was a bit of a surprise, to be expecting one and see the other.

"Diaboundo." It was just the monster's name, but it moved to attention. The single word was obviously a command, because it moved away from him to the case where the Items were sealed. It looked like his guess from earlier was correct: the glass might be supposed to be bullet-proof, but it was obviously not nearly the same caliber as his own -- and not even close to Diaboundo-proof. The monster dropped the Items into Bakura's waiting hands, who in turn shuffled all but two into a rucksack that looked terribly familiar. It should, after all, since Mokuba had dragged him out to help look all over the city and into Tokyo for that one specific one. So, somehow, Bakura had gotten Mokuba's assistance but had left him behind. That was a good thing. The two Items Bakura kept out, though, he'd definitely recognize in a heartbeat: the Ring, which he quickly pulled over his neck and tucked under his shirt, and the Rod.

Almost immediately after slipping the Ring on, Bakura's stance straightened. There was obviously still some magic left in them, and he was tapping it to keep the exhaustion at bay. He was definitely moving more fluidly as he crossed the room to drop to one knee before him. "Ready to get out of here, Seto?" he asked sardonically, a smug expression beginning to cover his face.

He couldn't help it; he felt an answering smirk tugging at his own lips. "Past." He lifted the cuffs. "I'm not too fond of these."

Bakura flipped the Rod over and unsheathed its hidden blade and set to work, using it as an overgrown lockpick. "So no handcuffs in bed, I understand."

He felt heat rush to his face, and it was all he could do not to choke. "When exactly did I agree to this, Bakura?" He was rather pleased with how steady his voice sounded, despite the nervousness he felt.

Silver eyes looked up to lock on his. "You will," the other stated, utter certainty in his voice. The words were immediately chased by the quiet clicking sound of the cuffs unlatching.

It felt like he'd been wandering in this monsterously huge house for just about an eternity. There was something vaguely unsettling about each room he'd been in thus far, mostly little things that seemed odd next to everything around them. At least Mokuba-kun had agreed to stay in the car. This place just wasn't for someone that young; he wasn't sure it was somewhere he needed to be.

The thief had vanished very soon after they'd gone inside, moving unerringly -- if a little wobbly -- towards a door which had turned out to reveal to a downward-leading stairwell, but at least he wasn't alone in this creepy place, he reflected as Malik gave his hand a light squeeze. This was pretty rough, but it was made bearable by the fact he wasn't alone. Who was with him was also helpful, he thought to himself with some personal amusement.

Atemu-kun didn't feel any closer the more he explored the place; in fact, the further up he went, the further away he seemed. He didn't want to go down into that basement, though it didn't look like he had any choice. Heart pounding in his throat, he slowly descended the stairs into pitch blackness. How in the world was he supposed to find Atemu-kun if he couldn't see where he was going? Had the Spirit of the Ring come through here after Kaiba-kun?

"It looks like there's two pathways," Malik-kun interrupted his dire thoughts. "One goes just off to your left and the other to your right."

"Malik-kun, you can see in this?" he asked in sheer amazement.

"A bit. It's not that much darker than when we lived underground. I can't really make out too much definitely but I can see shadows of objects. Which was does it feel like the Pharaoh is?" It was all just so matter-of-factly said that he couldn't help feeling even more impressed.

He reached out with his mind to where his connection with Atemu-kun was.... who had apparently been lying in wait for him. //Aibou?//

/We're almost there,/
 he returned in assurance before turning his attention to Malik-kun. "The right."

Malik-kun led him down the hallway, which just seemed to go on forever, until he saw the faintest bit of golden light ahead. It was a very particular kind of a glow, one he'd only ever seen come off the Items. With a new sense of wariness, he followed Malik-kun the rest of the way to it and turned the corner into a wide open room filled with antiquities museums would murder to have. His eyes tracked the light source quickly down to the far wall, where the Puzzle hung suspended from the ceiling -- and it reflected off the golden throne just behind it.

It was odd: the last time he'd seen Atemu-kun, he'd looked like the tanned man seated before him, but somehow he'd been expecting a near clone of himself, if just a bit taller and with slightly different eyes and hair. He hadn't really expected to see the Pharaoh. Malik-kun looked much calmer about all this, but then Malik-kun looked much calmer about all this, but then Malik-kun was a lot better at that than he was. And maybe Malik-kun was seeing something he wasn't. He took a longer look at the man before them and noticed at last that he was transparent, like when he'd been a spirit. No, even more so. He was fading before their eyes!

"Atemu-kun!" burst from his lips as he dashed forward. He didn't know what he was going to do, but he couldn't just stand idly by and watch him go again.

"Aibou." The single word was short and authoritative -- and it brought him to a quick stop. This was the Pharaoh, after all, and that he was accustomed to having people obey him immediately was apparently. He definitely was. "It's good to see you again, aibou. I waited here for that." He smiled tiredly and perhaps a bit sadly. "You haven't changed at all."

"Atemu-kun, are you..." The words stuck in his throat, but at least he wasn't choking on tears for this goodbye. Not like the last time Atemu-kun had left.

"Aibou, I'm gone. I just wanted to say goodbye to you." He gestured at his fading form. "I will not exist like this: needing others' magic and souls to survive. My history is soaked in enough blood and regret." Hard eyes turned to lock on Malik-kun. "Take care of my aibou."

"I will." He glanced over his shoulder to see Malik-kun regarding the Pharaoh with the utmost sincerity. "You can count on it."

"I will be watching." He turned back to the other, in time to see him finish his fade away with a final "Goodbye, aibou" before he was gone.

"Goodbye, mou hitori no boku," he answered to the disappearing light.

He bolted upright, panting his way out of sleep. It had been years since he'd had a nightmare, till the first night he'd slept in his own bed again, after that ordeal with the Collector a few weeks back. He'd been double-teamed once Bakura had gotten him to the car, and between him and Mokuba, they'd convinced him to go to a hospital. Once Ishtar and Yuugi joined them, the pair unusually down-looking, they'd left as quickly as they possibly could. The drive back to the hospital Ryou's body had been and where bonkotsu and the dancer were waiting was silent, and those four had stated it would be best for them to return to Domino on their own. He'd had to no wish to put up with them for the drive back anyway, so he'd readily agreed. Bakura, though, had proven a good deal harder to get rid of, not that he'd tried all that hard.

Still, the three nights he'd been in the hospital had been nightmare-free, though to be fair, he was unsure what, if any, additional drugs might have been in the fluids he'd been given via IV to make up for two days without food or water. He didn't even really have too clear a memory of being in the hospital: so that supported his theory: he'd been too drugged to remember what dreams he'd had. Not that he had a clear memory, even right now, just after waking up, of what the nightmare had been about -- other than that the rescue never came. There was only that room and the darkness and the pain.

He pulled his legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, chafing his wrists where the cuffs had bitten into his wrists and pulled at his energy and left him with marks which vaguely resembled burn scars that the doctors were helpless to explain. They were just two more scars to add to his collection, but they always seemed to ache after the nightmares, more so now that the bandages had come off.

He was all right in the daytime and at night when people were around and there was light, but here alone in the dark, it was harder to forget, harder to let go, and harder even to breathe. He refused to be a prisoner to this, but apparently the rest of him didn't agree. For the events that had occurred, this was probably an ordinary reaction, but he'd always prided himself on being extraordinary; so much of his life, he'd had to be. He couldn't let himself be crippled by this, so he refused to leave a light on and why he wouldn't tell Mokuba or his new... house guest (since Bakura seemed to have moved in and Mokuba, surprisingly enough, hadn't argued in the least) about this. He wasn't going to--

The lamp on the opposite side of the room switched on, blinding in the sudden change from pitch black to light, and he winced his eyes shut against it involuntarily. They were dragged back open when a quiet, familiar voice asked, "Nightmare?"

He opened his mouth to deny it, but there wasn't much point. The truth was fairly apparent, and since Bakura looked comfortable enough in the chair for his writing/computer desk to have been there a while, he was better the other had been since before he woke up. "Yes."

"It's to be expected, Seto. You've been through a lot recently." Silver eyes gazed back at him, almost daring him to deny it.

He couldn't believe he was having this conversation in his bedroom, dressed in only silk sweat pants and staring across the room where Bakura was wearing pajamas that had to have been Ryou's. Of course, that led to thoughts of other things they could be doing in the bedroom, which in turn brought a faint flush to his face, and he glanced down at his knees hoping to conceal it. "Perhaps," he conceded, "but I can't afford this weakness, not with the Collector still out there."

"You can't afford to be dead on your feet either, and since you're so stubborn.." Bakura sounded like he'd made up his mind on something as he stood up when he spoke, walking to the bed; he, on the other hand, kept his eyes carefully locked on the identical scars that circled Bakura's wrists as well, souvenirs from Ryou's stay with the Collector. "Seriously, Seto-babe, you need a keeper; you refuse to take care of yourself. Slide."

It took a second to catch up with the non sequitur, since he'd been preparing to argue that he didn't have time to take care of himself, and for him to realize Bakura was standing beside the bed, staring at him in waiting -- and just what he was waiting for. Almost hesitantly he slid towards the center of his bed, watching as Bakura slipped under the sheets after him and made himself comfortable. "Bakura..." he started then let himself trail off. There was no arguing with this one: apparently the lamp was going to stay on and he was going to have a bed partner. He was learning to pick and choose his battles where the other was concerned.

Cautiously, he laid back down then promptly jumped as Bakura threw an arm over him and moved himself to spoon up behind him. He was... warm, perhaps comfortable, like this was something he'd missed instead of something wholly new. For the first time in weeks, likely longer, he felt... relaxed. There was such a sense of security at times like this with Bakura, when he snuck up behind him to embrace him or even just when he showed up at the office to drag him home before it got too late, that he was starting to feel like maybe, just maybe, he didn't have to be in rigid control of everything in his life, that maybe he could let someone else in and take control of some of it. And, while he knew the other wanted more, he hadn't pushed him for anything he wasn't ready for yet. That made a difference as well.

"Tomorrow..." Bakura yawned, interrupting his words. "Tomorrow, call in sick and stay here," he paused, obviously debating, "okay? With me." The arm around him tightened just slightly. "A day in bed could do you some good." The tone changed slightly to the more seductive flirting tone he was becoming familiar with, that rolled through his mind like silk and made him think of things he had no experience in but was steadily becoming more interested in trying. "I know it would do me some good."

...And he could find no way to argue with that. He had plenty of reasons why he shouldn't, but... "Okay."

Bakura nodded, obviously pleased. "Good. Now get some rest."

Half a smile threatened to appear on his lips, but he held it back. "Yeah, yeah."

He closed his eyes and slept.

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