Malik, anachronistic child of diaspora, remembered yellowed cats stringed to gray and red stools, dust, and the chilly scent of hot cooking oil. He leaned and saw Tokyo skyscrapers, LCD advertisements, and scrubbed pavement. He was smoking a Japanese cigarette—expensive. Ryou’s apartment was expensive, centrally located, and rising in value every six months. He’d paid it off just last year.
They’d been dating for a few years now. Neither of them kept track, really.
Sometime after Domino, after the whole mess, they ran into each other in Tokyo. At the time, Anzu was still around and Malik vaguely remembered that they’d somehow connected through her. Ryou was the same—cold and intimidating. Malik remembered how he’d always been just a little afraid of him, of what was really there behind Bakura’s obnoxious brand of crazy.
He hadn’t seemed surprised to see Malik at all. Didn’t talk to him the whole night. Just smiled that startled, polite smile whenever someone thought to speak to him. Eventually and inevitably, Malik went to him.
“I’m sorry—” Malik remembered trying to say at one point, and then finishing it off with “I wish we got to know each other a little better back then” like a coward.
Ryou had held him in his gaze. “Oh?” He’d said and Malik realized he had him pinned down all wrong, that there was a reason the thief king had been paired off with him, that there was a don’t-fuck-with-me strength there with that strange invisibility that had Malik completely off center in just one syllable.
They ended up taking a car together, even though Malik technically had ridden his bike to the restaurant, and when Ryou asked him for his address he didn’t want to say.
“Let me see your place,” he’d said and realized immediately that it sounded crazy. They didn’t know each other. Malik had fucked around with his soul parasite but that was the extent of their relationship. They hadn’t flirted at the bar, or in the car, or even had a civil conversation that Ryou seemed remotely interested in.
Ryou didn’t bat an eye.
Later, when they were kissing, Ryou smiled with the corner of one mouth up and what Malik would later recognize as Ryou’s own flavor of quiet cruelty in his eyes. “Are you doing this because you miss him?” He asked and that was the first time Malik remembered this was the same body he’d battled against and yielded to all those years ago. What could he say to that? This body was his first love and there wasn’t anyone in the room who didn’t know it.
“No,” he said and winced because it sounded defensive.
“Hm,” said Ryou, apathy in his every gesture as he tugged Malik’s shirt off. “Because that’s why I’m doing this.”
It got better after that. Their relationship wouldn’t have lasted if it had stayed that toxic. Eventually, Malik learned what it felt like to make Ryou smile for his own sake, that he loved to be touched when he was upset, and the way he disliked vague language because he saw it as irresponsible. When he looked at Ryou he didn’t imagine what he looked like with a deranged grin and bloody knife anymore but saw him as he was, messy bun on his head, shoulders broader than they first seemed, and smile cutting into his cheek when he shielded himself with self deprecating humor. Ryou was a whole person, not Bakura and with nothing Bakura about him, an intensely shielded and beautiful person who could say the most cutting things in arguments and never cried.
They moved in together when it felt like it made sense. Malik got used to having a boyfriend, one who was fully human, his same age, and of another, but not strange, culture. They kept talking about traveling together but Ryou was always held up by one project or another at work.
It was normal, and that was really good for Malik’s schizoaffective disorder because that meant there were days when he could pretend that it wasn’t there. And that was what recovery, Malik supposed, was supposed to be.
A week after Ryou’s birthday, which they celebrated at 2 AM when Ryou got off from work with a store bought cake and tea Ryou only tried and didn’t drink, Ryou opened his eyes and asked, “Did you say something?”
It was 6:30 AM and Malik was barely awake. “Huh?”
If he had opened his eyes, maybe he would have seen the expression on Ryou’s face. “Never mind.” Malik did open his eyes then. The dawn was blue against their sheets and if they were in Egypt, they would have heard the birds. Malik leaned against Ryou in bed instead of missing them and home. “I could suck you off before you have to leave,” he whispered in Ryou’s ear because he loved watching him laugh.
“You’re so fucking corny,” Ryou said but he looked happier than the moment before so Malik climbed on top of him.
“Hold still, you have a pimple.”
“Don’t pop it!”
When they got like this, it was good. This was good and comfortable, when Ryou was laughing and Malik felt light and this was easy, just so easy. They could do this until the moment one of them died.
Malik didn’t know why he asked it at that moment. “Do I make you happy?”
Ryou became instantly guarded. He lifted his eyebrows. “What?”
It was enough to fluster anyone. “I mean,” and Malik really didn’t want to be that guy, he didn’t. It was the mental illness making him paranoid that everyone secretly hated him and was plotting to cut him out of their lives once and for all for the crimes he was responsible for only in his head. Or maybe it was just regular old insecurity. “It just feels like, all the time, I’m trying to figure out what will make you happy, how to get you to like me more. It’s like a game but one that I can’t win. One point for a joke there, another for remembering this and that...Do you ever feel like that about me?”
He really shouldn’t have asked it, not that morning or any morning for that matter. Things had been easy and good.
“It’s too early for this,” Ryou said and it sounded like ice, even though Malik knew him well enough to tell that he had said it as lovingly as possible. The conversation, like so many of Malik’s passion projects that his therapist said he should really try to finish because it would raise his self esteem to do it, lay on the floor unfurled waiting for someone to put it away like a thing forgotten.
That afternoon, about twenty minutes after Malik got home from work and was trying to figure out whether he should wait for Ryou for dinner, there was a knock on the door.
When Malik opened it, there he was, in old looking street wear and red cloak wrapped around him like it hadn’t been more than ten years since he’d been the villain on everyone’s lips. Since he was the villain on Malik’s lips. Malik didn’t recognize him by the body or the face, but by the posture and sneer.
Whatever they may say about him, Bakura always did have attitude.
“How did you get in here?” Was the first stupid thing out of Malik’s mouth. Because this was someone who crept into booby trapped tombs, who knew his way around dark corners and could pull his entire body weight in gold out of a ten foot deep hole. The question wasn’t how he got here, but why he was here, lobby doorman or not.
Bakura wasn’t intimidating. He was fucking terrifying. He remained Malik of manic nights enraged at his own capacity for murder and even more enraged at his guilt complex around murder. Bakura had once threatened to cut Malik’s eye out and then they’d both laughed like it was some kind of joke.
Bakura was supposed to be dead. Malik has grieved for him.
Here he was, brown skinned and scarred, almost familiar even though Malik had never seen him like this before, in a body of his own. And he was still beautiful, more beautiful now that he was in his own skin though Bakura could always make himself home anywhere.
“Snuck out of hell,” the bastard had the nerve to say, slouched over casual like some high school punk ready for detention, “because I missed your pretty face.”
This was wrong. This was the opposite of what Malik needed right now to stay safe, sane, and healthy. This was the devil, clad in red and old gym shoes that looked like they were the wrong size.
“You can’t be here. You have to leave before Ryou sees you.”
At that, Bakura seemed to look very surprised. There was a gulp of silence, and Malik sensed that he should have been trying to read something into it but the thing was, he didn’t know what to glean from it. “I’m just here for the Ring,” Bakura said but something seemed off. He was looking off center and his smirk had fallen off.
It felt like a bluff and Malik let it slide off easy. Here was a man asking for a ghost’s things. “I think it’s with the others. In Egypt,” Malik said and he could have gotten whiplash from how quickly Bakura turned around to leave just then. “Wait,” Malik heard himself say and didn’t know how or why but he’d reached out and gotten a hold of the back of Bakura’s shirt. The body underneath was warm. Warm.
They both froze, unable to move.
“Sorry,” Malik finally said. “You should come in. Sorry,” he said again, like Bakura was a real person.
When they were inside, sitting, like two normal people and not partners in crime like when Malik was a literally crazy teenager and Bakura was a 3000 year old spirit trapped in a horcrux, Malik made tea to keep his hands busy. Here he was, getting ready to have tea with Satan, like he was a guest in his house. Ryou’s house.
“This is your place?” And this was ridiculous too, Bakura sounding impressed because he didn’t live in the twenty-first century. He lived in 1000 BC Egypt and he didn’t live anywhere because he was dead.
“Ours. Me and Ryou’s,” Malik said by habit like Ryou told him to say even though it wasn’t true. This was all Ryou’s because there was no way he could afford to live here on a bike mechanic’s pay.
“Okay,” said Bakura, shrugging. “So, you and him?” He made two fists and brought his wriggling thumbs together in a suggestive gesture.
That was the question Malik had been holding his breath for, because Bakura asking this question made him remember what Ryou had said to him about missing Bakura that first night. But this, too, was ridiculous because they had been dating for somewhere around four years and this was a number Malik only remembered because he was trying to not think about his relationship all day after the humiliation of that morning.
“Well, yes,” Malik said instead of all that.
Bakura didn’t look disturbed. “Huh.”
“So, uh,” Malik began, wanting to demand from Bakura why he was here and not dead like he was supposed to be. As soon as he spoke, a key in the door turned which definitely wasn’t normal because it was only 6 PM and Ryou was never home before 9 PM, usually not before midnight, and sometimes staying the night at the office. But this wasn’t the craziest thing to happen that day.
They watched Ryou come in, which Malik loved to do, because he always looked absent and didn’t notice Malik looking, as he hung up his jacket and checked his pockets for his phone, face still worrying over things that had nothing to do with the world they had created in here.
Ryou didn’t say anything when he saw Bakura but stopped in his tracks, face unreadable. They stared at each other, the Bakuras, like cats.
Then, Ryou walked over to Malik and kissed him on the cheek, ignoring Bakura completely. “Did you eat yet?”
This too, felt antagonistic because when was the last time Ryou greeted him like they were auditioning for I Love Lucy? And yet here he was, well practiced in the performance.
“Um, no,” said Malik, staring at Bakura.
“I’ll order sushi,” Ryou said and that was weird too, because Ryou never wanted to order sushi because it was too much food for just the two of them and it didn’t keep. Sushi was for special occasions, he always told Malik. But today, Malik realized, was a special occasion. And there were three of them here, even if Ryou hadn’t acknowledged Bakura since he walked in.
Bakura, meanwhile, was grinning like something feral. He was that something feral, out of place everywhere in this city but especially inside of Ryou’s modern condo. Ryou was in the kitchen making a phone call to the closest sushi restaurant when Bakura singsonged under his breath, “He’s mad at me.” Goosebumps lifted hair up along Malik’s entire body. He got up to go check on Ryou just as he walked back in.
“I didn’t get tuna because of the mercury,” Ryou told Malik.
Ryou sat on the floor by Malik’s feet and rested his back against his legs, stretching out like he was very, very tired and had a very, very long day. “So, when did you get in?” He said so lightly that Malik didn’t realize he was talking to Bakura until he looked at him. And the way Ryou looked at him, it was like he didn’t even see him there.
Ryou was fucking pissed and it showed.
“He just got here,” Malik said the same moment Bakura said, “a few months ago.”
Ryou didn’t reply.
Malik was sitting there thinking, Bakura had been back for months? And he hadn’t knocked on their door until now? Had he been back in Domino, spying on Yuugi or somewhere in the bushes on the two of them this whole time?
“Your defenses are up, yadonushi,” Bakura said and wasn’t that the understatement? Because Ryou’s defenses were always up high, strong, and daunting. “Didn’t you miss me?”
Ryou stayed silent, smiled, but the smile didn’t touch his eyes.
“Nah, it’s cool,” Bakura went on, getting comfortable on the couch. He always used to do this, used to blab on just to fill the time and drive the people around him crazy. “I mean, I’m not exactly a dependable man, am I? Coming and going from this world and the spirit world as I please...So, here’s a good one—I’m sitting there festering in hell, and really festering if you can imagine it, just soul rotting and everything, when something hits me on the head and it’s some Japanese school girl on the street. I find myself on Kabukicho and no one even bats an eye. Can you imagine how I felt when I realized that my dearest yadonushi just so happened to be in the same city?”
“Shut up,” Ryou said evenly. “I asked you when you got here, not for your whole life story.”
This was too much. Malik remembered again that he was terrified of Bakura and of provoking him. Not to mention how he felt about Ryou and how he couldn’t figure out whether he was equally scared of him, just afraid of losing him, or whether this was all just because Malik was a nervous wreck because he never found a medication that worked for him.
Bakura, meanwhile, looked like he was going to swallow them whole but maybe that was just Malik projecting.
“Maybe,” Malik said and tried to not falter when both pairs of brown eyes went directly to him for interrupting their under-the-surface, between-the-lines kind of cat fight or whatever the hell they were doing here, “You two should catch up. I’ll call the place and tell them that I can pick up the sushi.”
If he was looking for someone to ask him to stay, he wasn’t going to get it. “Take my credit card,” Ryou said, leaning forward to let Malik up and eyes set on Bakura. “It’s in my coat pocket.”
Once upon a time, Malik had run towards danger whenever he saw it. It symbolized the horizon for him.
Bakura, the idiot, had impressed him with his negligence towards his own body. He’d thrown himself in front of Malik’s bike like he got a thrill out of dying and bled out as a offensive strategy. The first thing that endeared Bakura to Malik was the complete lack of care he gave Ryou.
The whole time trip to the sushi restaurant and back, Malik obsessed over the fact that he had just left his boyfriend alone in a room with a mass murderer without a care in the world, a mass murderer that he himself had sucked off when he was still possessing said boyfriend’s body.
This wasn’t Oedipal messy. This was a psychoanalyst’s nightmare.
When Malik got home, however, the whole vibe of the room had changed. Where there was stark tension, where Ryou was ready to snap and break someone’s neck in half, there was nothing. Ryou was wearing his glasses and doing some work on the computer and Bakura wasn’t even in the living room.
“He’s in the shower,” Ryou said when Malik walked in without even looking up.
The shower, because Bakura had his own body now and did human things like clean it in the shower and feed it with sushi. He had a body, scarred across the face and god knows where else.
“So, is he staying?”
Ryou looked up then, over his glasses. “Is that alright?”
What could Malik say? Because, really, this wasn’t his apartment and who was he to deny his boyfriend the pleasure of having his childhood nightmare come truly to life keep him company in his home. Malik wasn’t about to lose Ryou over this. He’s been learning how to keep his mouth shut all his life for this moment.
“Of course,” he gulped.
Their dynamic was stranger than anything Malik had ever seen. He didn’t know how he imagined it, maybe with Ryou obedient to Bakura’s every word before he’d gotten to know Ryou. Back when he had a reason to wonder how the two of them functioned within one head, Malik had Ryou pegged as a clear underdog, pure of heart if a little too shy and sweet.
Obviously, that was never the case and, by the time Malik realized how brutal Ryou really was, he never had any reason to think about what his relationship with Bakura was exactly characterized by, because he preferred to keep Bakura out of their conversations for personal reasons.
Bakura fixed Ryou a plate, which he ignored at first. They shared one cup of tea that Ryou kept refilling, Malik noticed. They interacted like an old married couple. They acted like they had shared a body, like bodies could be common property. That was all.
It was domestic, like they fell together and the gaps filled in just like that.
“The couch pulls out into a bed,” Ryou said. “But you’ll have to put it back during the day.”
Bakura had come out smelling like Ryou’s shampoo, which made Malik’s head spin because he had already been distracted by Ryou’s shirt, too tight on Bakura’s chest, and shorts, which were the ones Ryou used to sleep in and pushed to the back of the closet a long time ago. He was reclined on the floor, against the couch where Malik had considered sitting on and decided against.
“You should buy some of your own clothes,” Ryou continued. “If you’re going to be—“ Instead of finishing, he blinked and looked like he’d either just forgotten or remembered something.
If you’re going to be here for a while, was what Ryou meant to say. If you’re going to stay in our lives here, forever. Malik couldn’t go there in his head, not yet.
That was just too much, the possibility of Bakura being a permanent fixture in their home.
“I can give you some money for it,” Ryou said. “Or anything else you need.”
Bakura had his head leaned on his own shoulder and he was looking at Ryou sideways. “I don’t need anything.” It sounded strange because all the fight had left Bakura and he sounded almost tender. Malik was startled by how much he wanted to reach out and touch Bakura, with his eyes looking muted like that, because he’s never seen it before.
But he wasn’t allowed. Touching Bakura at all, even on the hand, was definitely off limits.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Ryou. “I can provide for you, as long as you’re here.”
And Ryou could, of course he could. He was an venture capitalist and earned the entirety of Malik’s yearly salary every two weeks. He was good at his job and could probably retire into luxury before he hit forty if he wanted to.
“Okay,” said Bakura easily and sat up to clean up the mess on the coffee table with an ease that surprised Malik because he never thought Bakura would be one to do any housework. Bakura wasn’t one for accepting things, least of all help, and he didn’t do things like stack garbage into small containers and rinse plates of soy sauce in the sink but he was doing so now.
When they first began dating, Malik had been surprised at how messy Ryou was. He had seemed so clean and well put together when they were kids. Ryou had been an orphan, de facto, and it didn’t add up that he didn’t know to do basic things like wipe down the stove or scrub the tub every once in a while. Ryou always functioned like he needed someone to take care of him.
Maybe he had someone to take care of those things for him, someone who took care of him, but that thought was preposterous because the only person who lived with him was Bakura, who was the incarnation of evil and not even a person.
It was half past 1 AM when Ryou put his work away and blinked the tiredness out of his eyes. “You didn’t set up the couch.”
Bakura was sprawled across it. “This is fine.”
“There’s extra blankets in the closet in the bedroom.” Their bedroom, not the bedroom. “Malik? Do you want to take a shower with me?”
Malik, who had been scrolling through Arabic social media and waiting for Rishid to text him back about this whole situation, was sitting there thinking what a thing to say out loud when Bakura was right there and well within earshot. But it wasn’t like the whole thing of him and Ryou being physically intimate was a secret. And it’s wasn’t like this whole situation was like meeting Ryou’s father, which had similarly embarrassed the hell out of Malik.
It wasn’t like Bakura was supposed to care, or did care, about he and Ryou being wet and naked in the same small space. They, he and Bakura, had been wet and naked together the last time they were in the same room.
Malik didn’t want Bakura in their bedroom at all, he decided. “I’ll get the blankets.” He headed towards Ryou and didn’t look back.
“Do you think it’s, well, weird for Bakura to be here?” Malik asked.
Ryou was already shirtless and brushing his teeth. He looked tired and it made Malik take out his bun, run a hand through his hair. With his hair down, Ryou looked exactly the way he did when Malik fantasized about him when jerking off and fuck Malik really didn’t want to lose him.
“I mean, it’s weird for him to exist at all,” Ryou said after he spit in the sink. “Are you okay about him staying here?”
In the mirror, they made eye contact and Malik realized that it wasn’t just Bakura who needed to stay here because he didn’t have anywhere else to go. Ryou needed him here, for reasons he hadn’t made clear to Malik. Ryou never looked soft and never pleaded, but he wasn’t putting a wall up in that moment. He was asking Malik to be okay with this.
Malik could be okay with this. If this was something Ryou needed, then he could learn to live with the monster in his head in his living room.
“It’s okay,” he said, and helped Ryou with his pants when he looked unsure. “But you know about us right?”
“What do you mean?”
The water was warm and Ryou’s close proximity familiar. “Well, we kind of had a thing.” Bullshit. Everyone and their mother knew that Bakura had broken Malik’s heart.
“I know,” said Ryou. “I was there.”
And that was precisely the thing that Malik couldn’t get his head wrapped around.
Ryou was there, all that time, even the night Bakura almost drove him crazy biting him so hard on the neck that he actually drew blood on Kaiba’s blimp, and it was Malik’s entire sexual awakening laid out for Ryou to see. And Malik didn’t know the first thing about Ryou, not at the time, about what was going on in his head between the two of them.
“What was it like?” He asked, because this was something he could never ask before, because bringing Bakura up was always like digging himself into an anxious rut and now the elephant was in the room so why the hell not?
Ryou slid in close and rinsed his hair. “Stop hogging the water. You mean, being haunted?”
What a romantic way of putting it. It made Malik think of hungry ghosts, and Ra, and karma. “I guess.”
“About the same as anything, probably,” was Ryou’s answer and it didn’t make any sense. Malik offered to wash Ryou’s hair instead of asking for clarification. “Is it okay if I sleep on the couch tonight?” Ryou asked and Malik’s hands stopped moving.
Ryou turned around to rinse, then put his arms around Malik, turned them so that Malik was in the water. He lathered Malik’s loofah in soap and started with his shoulders. “You can say no.”
Are you doing this because you miss him? Because I am, Malik remembered Ryou saying, even though that wasn’t really it. The memory was skewed but he wasn’t sure how.
He didn’t make Ryou happy, but Malik was a great swallower of pain. He could put up with slow, normative heartbreak.
“No, it’s fine.”
Ryou was washing his legs and knelt down to do so. “Are you sure?”
Ryou washed Malik’s cock, and he looked good enough down there on his knees that Malik was already half hard. “Do you want to get off?”
They stayed there until the hot water ran out and, by then, Malik felt safer about going to bed alone, if not completely at peace with it. The day had exhausted him enough for him to fall into bed, still a little drunk on the situations he had found himself in, the things Bakura coming back up brought up, just the very fact that Bakura was in fact back and in the living room sleeping with Malik’s boyfriend just then.
In the middle of the night, Malik tiptoed towards the ajar door and saw them there, laying next to each other. They hadn’t slept and Ryou was whispering to Bakura, who had his head propped up with one hand.
Whatever Ryou was saying, he was speaking in a candid way. He was talking, sentences long, and Bakura would cut in at times to ask him questions. At times, it seemed like Ryou was explaining something not for Bakura’s sake but for his own. He sounded honest, vulnerable, and it was wonderful.
Malik had never heard him speak that way.
Malik couldn’t see Ryou’s face but Bakura’s was relaxed and patient. He could see their hands and they were playing a casual game, one where Bakura would softly touch the back of Ryou’s hand, holding it for as long as possible before Ryou flipped his over and tried to slap Bakura’s hand before he could pull away. It was a game of reflex, instinct, and touch—an intimate game.
They played together, and this seemed incredible to Malik who had assumed that living with Bakura inside your head must have had been so traumatic you could never talk about it, ever.
At one point, Bakura said something and Ryou laughed, really laughed, loud enough that he had to cover his mouth and, still, they didn’t notice him looking because they were so invested in each other. It was then that Malik had to slip away and leave the doorway for his own bed, where he looked at his hands and flexed them together, wondering how he felt about their emptiness.