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smoke without fire

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-oo-

There's a burning bush on the west side of school yard. Feet move towards it, one, two, eyes blinking. The sun beats down on his back and he shifts uncomfortably in his starch-pressed uniform collar. There's a burning bush, and maybe it's a messiah, but it turns out it's just Bakura.

"Do you smoke?", the boy asks, and Marik pushes his bangs out of his face and pretends he's not hot and definitely not bothered.

Marik doesn't know his way around yet, but Marik can't help but want to know everything all at once, know more than everybody else - be the boy with a troubled past that knows all about You but who you know nothing about - so Marik pretends this was where he was supposed to end up instead of third period gym class, and sits down next to the boy who ignored him this morning.

"Sometimes," he lies, and pushes his chin forward.

"Whatever," Bakura's voice rings out into the heat, and takes another drag. There's a stifling silence between them, and Marik runs his fingers through the dirt. For a second, he worries that Bakura is going to put his cigarette out on the hand he's using to rest against the earth. Instead, their fingers touch. Marik relaxes.

"Do you know the story about King George III?"

There's a bird pulling at a worm from the ground not far from where they're almost touching.

"I really hope you're going somewhere with this."

"He kept a diary, see. And there's one page - July the fourth seventeen-seventy-six. And he only wrote one thing."

The bird pulls and pulls and the worm is long dead, grey and pulsing in its beak.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. He wrote: "nothing important happened today."'

Marik doesn't say anything, and Bakura sighs and flicks his lighter. His watch is ticking nineteen, twenty, twenty one seconds past a lifetime.

"I just think it's kind of cool. I mean, nothing important happened today, did it? But maybe we did something to change the world and we'll never know it."

(the bird has got the worm. it flaps its wings. life goes on.)

-oo-

Marik screams and screams and screams until his sister slams the door and the house is quiet. He screams until his throat feels like it's full of dust and wire and smashes his head against the wall until that's quiet, too. He slides down to the floor, fingernails digging into the scabs on his knees and he wonders why he doesn't hurt. When he closes his eyes, he sees his dead dead dead father and the hollowed, forgotten dimples of his mother's skull, only that's not what he sees at all. He sees stars, huge and burning and dying and destroying and creating, blinking in the black velvet hole in his head. But they remind him of them, and then he screams, because somebody needs to fill the silence in the sky.

His teeth taste like bile and he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, smearing blood on his skin from where he's bitten into his tongue. He forgets to lock the door behind him when he goes to find his sister, but ends up outside Bakura's window instead. He finds three pebbles and throws them, and when that doesn't work, Marik takes off a shoe and smashes his window.

"What the fuck are you doing?" creased white hair calls down, the shadow of his face comforting in its uniform void.

"I came to take you up on that cigarette," Marik replies, his features just as impassive in the dark, blood drying on the corner of his lip.

"Transfer kids are supposed to be weird, but you're a whole other level, you know that?"

Bakura climbs down anyway, landing with a less than graceful slip in the grass.

"Cute pjs," Marik snorts. They are striped blue and white and are now covered in mud from yesterday's rain.

"Why? Would you rather see me out of them?"

Marik pushes Bakura in the arm, but Bakura lights the cigarette between Marik's lips anyway and swallows the first tendrils of smoke from his mouth before they can rise into nothingness.

"My dad is going to be mad about the window. He'll probably call your parents."

"I don't have any parents," Marik replies.

"Oh, so that's your deal."

"What?"

"Dead parents. That's why you're so - well."

"Yeah. I guess."

"Right."

"Right."

Bakura leans foward, reaching his fingers out to a sugary blue and purple mark on caramel skin. Marik can feel his eyelashes brushing against the pliable dough of a palm. He feels a little bit like his eyes are being closed after death, so that what he does.

"Am I dead?" He whispers somewhere into the space between them. There's lips on the hard-boiled blackcurrant sweet of his hairline.

"I think we're all dying, new kid."

Somewhere, a clock strikes 13, and the world ends, but here it goes on and on and on.

Tomorrow is a school day, after all.

-oo-

People always ask Marik why he moved schools, and he's never quite sure what to tell them. Usually he says there was a death in the family. Sometimes he says for his sister's work. Sometimes he lies extraordinarily, and he always gets away with it.

Bakura never asks, though. Bakura doesn't really say much of anything.

Marik follows him around because he doesn't really have anybody else, but he tells himself they could be friends. Marik doesn't really know what they are, though - friends, he means - but looking around his school tells him he's not the only one.

They always share cigarettes and sometimes they pass notes, and they never skip class without the other. They don't - they don't talk about things, but there's not really much to talk about (only there's everything, but tragedies have no place in sticky sweet childhood memories). Sometimes Marik yells, and shouts, and pushes Bakura or hits him and once he bit him but then Bakura broke his nose and they made up after that.

"Chin up, princess," Bakura had said. "Your face suits you more when it's a bit broken anyway."

-oo-

Bakura enjoys History. He looks so out of place, eyes narrowed and shoulders hunched over yellowing texts. Sometimes the dust gets in his eyes and he sneezes, the muscles in his neck tightening and rippling under the skin of his neck. Sometimes, Marik takes his shoes off and slides his foot up Bakura's leg to make him squirm. It never works, but that's half the fun. He can't understand the appeal. He's had enough of dead people for one lifetime.

"You know," Marik starts one day when he's tying his shoe under the desk. "My sister owns the museum."

Bakura's eyes light up, for a second, before the corners of his mouth turn down.

"Your sister hates me."

"There's a lot of things my sister doesn't know."

Marik grins, his lips thin over his teeth.

"You look fucking ugly when you smile, you know,"

The front legs of Marik's chair plummet to the ground and he rocks forward a little with the impact when the teacher says his name and frowns. Bakura snickers a little, and clicks his pen. Marik writes a note and pushes it into the thigh next to his. He laughs and rips it up, the words raining onto the floor, but Marik knows he's read it when he replies -

"Yeah, you can take that as a yes."

(if you asked marik what his favourite subject was, he probably wouldn't be able to tell you. maybe he'd lie and say literature, or philosophy, but honestly he can't stand anybody who claims life has a higher purpose than wanting something you can't have. marik enjoys lying, pretending he's something he's not, but if you caught him in the right light and he told you the truth, he'd probably say 'bakura'.)

-oo-

They meet outside the museum and Marik is late, but so is the hour. Bakura has his hands in his pockets and Marik itches to put his hands inside too, rub their fingers together for warmth. They don't say hello - in a year and a half of friendship, Marik could count the number of pleasantries they've shared on one of Bakura's hands he desperately wants to wrap his tongue around. Marik doesn't apologise for keeping him waiting, because Marik is never wrong and Bakura doesn't care. That's how they work. It's less of a push and pull than an apathetic drift through adolescence. This way is easier. This way, there can never be an unbalance. Just equilibrium, and forgotten cigarette stubs floating in soda cans on street corners and behind the school.

Bakura grabs his hand when they enter the Ancient Egypt exhibition and Marik sort of half laughs into his breath. The key Marik stole is digging into his thigh and the darkness that surrounds them is familiar but not necessarily comforting.

"Look at these," Bakura whispers, because shared moments in the dark are never shouted. His nose is pressed against glass, the thin outlines of golden shapes barely visible but still vibrant in the backlight. "Think how old they are. Just think - these meant something to somebody once, but now they're just useless junk. See, that's a key - I wonder what it was for. And is that some scales? But - just think." Marik doesn't say anything, because nothing really needs to be said. "They're useless now but they'll live on much longer than us," Bakura sighs. "I kind of wish I was just an artefact. I'd rather be trapped and gawked at in a museum for all eternity than rot in the ground and be forgotten."

Marik is silent for a minute, his breath pooling into a cloud on the glass, and then he says "Bakura, I'm going to kiss you now."

"Ok," Bakura shrugs, and they do. Marik pushes up and against him, careful not to break the glass behind them at first but all consideration soon lost in wet slippery heat and rough doughy skin. Their eyes are closed but Marik feels remarkably like he's just gained sight.

(nothing important happened today.)

-oo-

They don't talk for a while after that. They sit next to each other in lessons and sometimes, just sometimes, lend each other a light.

Ishizu wraps a bandage around the bruises on his knuckles and they look far more sour than sweet today. When she asks who Marik got in a fight with, he lies and says his door, because there's a comfort in predictability. He doesn't want to say that it was a girl, and he especially doesn't want to say that it was a girl who was saying cruel things about Bakura.

There's a lot of things his sister doesn't know.

Marik half chokes, then coughs, and Ishizu pats him on the pat and goes to get him some water.

There's a bird singing outside. Marik can't climb down the tree outside his window anymore because of the bird's nest, but that's ok because he has no reason to any more. The crow preens all day and ruffles his feathers but Marik has never seen another bird in the nest and when Marik takes off all his clothes and jewellery and lets his hair fall in his eyes and really looks at himself, really really, it's the first time he's ever felt sad about that.

He slips a note under Bakura's door because he doesn't know what else to do. They never were very good at talking.

I punched a girl for you, he wants to say. I laid awake night after night and stared at the back of your head in lesson and tried to remember what your lips felt like.

Instead, when pebbles rain on his window, he yells down: "you're a fucking prick, do you know that?", and somehow that covers it all.

"What does this mean?" Bakura, the calm fucking centre of the Earth, says dryly but not without malice. He's holding up a note and it glimmers in the moonlight. Marik climbs across the tree and knocks the nest away, which is ok, because sometimes birds need to leave them. "King George III?"

Marik doesn't say anything, even though he knows he should, because silence has gotten him nowhere before. Instead he stands on his tip toes and presses forward into Bakura's mouth.

"I can't get you out of my head," he moans into Marik's mouth and around his tongue.

"Good," Marik whispers, "I'd rather be in yours than in mine."

(maybe they never had the potential to fly all along. maybe they're both just worms, trying to survive in the dirt. nothing important.)