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Corruption

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Chapter 1: “Disturbance”

At the time he awoke in the museum in front of Yugi, Ryou thought everything had come to an end.

Wearing the heavy leather duster, unfamiliar in its form, yet familiar with its weight, he saw the faces of his friends erupt in collective relief as his eyes opened.

Yugi was the first to speak, his cheeks pink with worry and eyes wide and evident with tears.

“Bakura!” he sighed, an elated tone inflating his vowels with a bubble of mirth. “Thank goodness you’re awake!”

His smile remained within Ryou’s view, the simple gesture of it unable yet, to fill Ryou with the same kind of emotion. He heard Anzu’s gasp of relief next, overtaken by Jonouchi and Honda’s exclaims in celebration.

Ryou didn’t know what it was that kept him lying there staring at a high ceiling of marble, extending to olden artifacts on the walls. He noted the heaviness in his lids, the aching of an arm, the pain that pounded from within his head, screaming with a dead silence.

Something inside him was incredibly light.

He thought at the time, it was his soul, and an absent movement made him reach for the center of his chest, finding it devoid of any presence. He thought that at the time, but he wasn’t let alone to linger on the missing emotion with the incoming bombardment of questions about his health—how he was feeling, physically.

Ryou repeated more than once that he was feeling okay, and that no, he didn’t remember anything.

Yugi had explained on the backdrop of everyone’s concerned gazes, that the spirit of the Ring had overtaken him again, and that Ryou had been subject to participating, at least, passively, in the last game to end the three-thousand year old feud between dark forces and the pharaoh.

“When you left right after Bobasa weighed our hearts,” Yugi continued, “we went to explore the Pharaoh’s memories, to see if we could find some way of helping him.” He paused, drumming his fingers on his lap as Ryou listened with a blank face. “But it ended up being a trap,” he looked down, “to make us into pieces for a dark RPG.”

“The Spirit had planned everything to make it so that it would take place here,” he gestured. “At the end, if he would’ve won, the dark god Zorc would have destroyed the world,” he said, speaking as though what he’d said weighed heavily on him.

“And what happened after?” Ryou asked, a sense of dread developing in the empty center of his chest. “What happened to—to him ?”

Yugi looked up from his lap, then down again.

“The pharaoh won. He defeated the evil god. He’s still here.” Yugi touched the pendant hanging around his neck.

Ryou instinctively did the same, forgetting the Ring had been taken while he was unconscious. He looked around—Jonouchi, Anzu, and Honda gave him looks that bordered on pity. Ryou couldn’t see anyone with the Ring in their hands.

He directed his gaze at Yugi, but his focus wasn’t on telling Ryou the whereabouts of an artifact that they all thought was dangerous.

“But he says—” Yugi pressed his lips together before gathering a bit of courage, “He says the evil in the Items—the spirit of the Millennium Ring is—”

Ryou didn’t have to wait for him to finish.

“Is he really?”

On his knees, he propelled himself closer to Yugi. He felt himself wobble from the strain and Jonouchi, quick on his feet, was next to him, holding him upright, stopping him from tumbling over.

“Woah, are you okay?”

Ryou panted, the weight of his limbs becoming heavier and heavier with each passing moment.

“I’m fine,” he answered with a tired exhale. His attention turned to Yugi again, while he extracted himself from Jonouchi’s careful hold.

“Is—is he really gone?” Ryou asked him again, tentative, as though the question itself would bring him harm.

Face filled with concern, Yugi smiled.

He nodded.

“Yeah. You don’t have to worry about him anymore,” he told Ryou.

And Ryou, unable to feel anything at all for the total of seconds, cheeks beginning to tighten into a curve, brandished, then, a mirrored smile in return.


 

“Okay, Bakura. Call us if you need anything!”

Jonouchi, Honda, Yugi, and Anzu were at the bottom of his apartment, waving a cheerful goodbye after a long, almost thirteen-hour plane ride. Though the stress of their journey had been limited, sitting with each other close and entertaining themselves as a group of friends would, it was still sitting in cramped seats, piled close together without much movement. They looked tired, and Ryuji Otogi and Yugi’s grandpa, the missing members of the travel group, had already gone straight home from the airport via taxi. The four of the remainder of the group had stayed behind, albeit tired, to say their goodbyes until the new school year began.

“Okay,” Ryou waved back, arm slow with lethargy.

His friends rounded the corner, animated in their talk. Ryou watched them bicker and laugh until they disappeared, leaving him free of the responsibility to see his guests off—guests being a liberal use of the word, given that no one had had energy to sit and enter for a while.

Ryou himself was sleepy, exhausted from the trip to Egypt. Although he’d had enough experience with long plane rides, having been subject to them, sometimes back to back when his father took him on his overseas excavations, that had been years ago when his age was still well in range of single digits. Back then, his lack of childhood patience had left him with energy to spare.

Now, at seventeen, Ryou hadn’t expected the twelve-and-a-half-hour trip to be so draining of his energies. Additionally, unable to reacquaint himself quickly to the intensely hot climate of the deserts without so much as a tree for shade, Ryou had spent much of his time sweltering underneath the unforgiving sun, unable to recuperate for hours on end. Coupled with his present fatigue of travel, Ryou longed for his air-conditioned apartment that could relieve him from the outside humid Japanese heat, and possibly, provide him with a soft bed to fall into oblivion.

He clambered up the steps, sliding off his heavy, bothersome bag, and gyrating the affected shoulder. He heard the thing land with a loud thud on the doorstep, and he hoped the camera, as expensive as it was to get it in the first place, hadn’t broken from the impact.

Underneath his hand, the knob turned, and Ryou pushed open the door, a breeze of cool, mechanically manufactured air reached his deprived senses, bringing him to a relaxed state of relief as he thought about showering under a cool stream and landing on a soft mattress and array of pillows. He sighed, kicking off his shoes at the entrance, grabbing his bag, and tossing it on the sofa.

Newly arrived, he hummed, heading straight for his kitchen to serve himself a glass of water. The apartment welcomed him with a sense of privacy that a hotel, nor the Ishtar’s home, hadn’t had. It was a pleasant feeling, being able to do as he wanted without fear of intruding upon some unstated house rule, or worse, overstepping a hotel’s regulations.

Ryou leaned back on the countertop, about to lift his glass for a drink—

When he saw that his game board had been tilted slightly, almost overturned in its place, scattering the game pieces on the floor, all around the board.

He set his glass down on the counter, blinking once more at the sight.

Almost immediately after, his senses heightened with fear.

A burglar? Had a burglar robbed the place while he was gone?

He found the notion strange, but possible. Although the crime rate of his neighborhood was low, it could happen.

Warily, Ryou tiptoed closer, looking in between the hall the separated his kitchen and living room, an absurd part of his mind going wild with the speculation that a masked intruder could still be lying in wait, hidden.

But the hall was empty. The room of his door had remained closed, as was the bathroom door, just as Ryou remembered leaving them.

His feet brought him closer to the board game and he scanned the upturned surface—the cardboard trees, the plastic foliage made to look real, planted on the edges, the clay miniatures made to look like realistic villagers at work—

He stepped closer, arm reaching to align to game board to its rightful position, when he spotted something that made his heart sink.

Next to the board was an identical reflection him, unconscious, immobile, without a piece of clothing to call its own. Ryou was momentarily shocked into immobility himself, left to gape in horror at the impossibility of the scenario.

With just the one look at the lying figure, he recognized it for what it was.

It was him—and not him. It may have taken his form, for any number of reasons, but what he was certain of was that it was the spirit that had harbored itself in Ryou’s soul, laying there, not moving.

One hand extended with a morbid curiosity, falling to touch the surface of shockingly warm skin and Ryou took a startled step back, as if he’d come across something indecent—as if he’d laid eyes on something he shouldn’t have.

His mind reeled. He was supposed to be gone—yet there he was, the disembodied voice in Ryou’s mind having undergone some sort of transformation that returned him to the world, looking very solid, and feeling very much as though he were alive.

A hand came up to his mouth, and Ryou noticed then, that he was shaking. He pressed his mouth closer to stop the tremors, his subconscious mind, no doubt, trying to conceal the gasps that would otherwise escape him and rouse the sleeping figure into consciousness.

Ryou didn’t understand what was happening.

For almost six months, the time period that stretched between the museum duel and the present day, he hadn’t thought of him. He thought him gone. Laying eyes on him, seeing him revived from the innermost recesses of his mind, Ryou didn’t know what to do —what to think

Briefly, and for the merest of moments, rationality broke through, making Ryou consider calling Yugi. But what could Yugi possibly do to help him? What could he even say? The Pharaoh no longer existed on the plane of the living—Ryou had been witness to his departure.

What, then, could anyone do about him ?

There was a stir by the game board, the start of a delirious groan from someone waking from the throes of a deep, dreamless, sleep.

Ryou inhaled sharply, horrified by the sound that had unwillingly, but understandably, escaped him. With just that fleeting noise, he grew aware that the room had gone completely silent, and that by it, the other in the room, had become aware of another presence, too.

Seconds passed, and Ryou could almost drown with the intense, unbearable quiet that suffocated the living room. He began to grow dizzy from holding his breath.

His hands were lowered from his face, giving him room to breathe. Ryou scoured his brain for what his next move should be—

The door was meters away; the phone was hanging on the receiver in the kitchen; his cellphone was still in his bag on the couch. What was the fastest method of escape? Calling the police wouldn’t help—what could he say to them that expressed his situation without being carted off to a mental house? Ryou calculated his best option: if he could run outside, the Spirit was less likely to follow and kill him given his state and condition.

Ryou spared a glance at the board, ready for what he must do.

When he did, his fear skyrocketed ten-fold.

He was gone.

The Spirit was gone.

He’d been lying there minutes ago, and while Ryou had been thinking of other things, he’d slipped away without his notice.

Ryou had been watching the door the entire time. He couldn’t have escaped that way. His eyes darted to the window, seen closed, panic engulfing Ryou all over in his efforts to locate the Spirit.

If he hadn’t left, then that meant—

Ryou’s scream was cut off by the tightening of an arm around his neck. He clawed at it in attempts to pry it off. He had just enough room to breath and gasp, a pitiful plea the first thing to tumble out of his mouth.

“S-stop,” he coughed. His throat itched from the pressure. His nose felt stuffed. His eyes watered from the pressure on his trachea.

In return, he received a low growl next to his ear.

“How am I here?”

It was his own voice asking him—his own voice if Ryou gained the personality necessary to threaten and deceive. It was a voice he’d heard many times over, laughing in the back of his mind.

“I don’t know,” Ryou choked out. He wheezed, losing every ounce of air to breathe just to answer questions that may or may not garner him the necessary mercy for the other to let him live.

“What happened?”

Ryou concluded the Spirit wasn’t asking about why he’d been unconscious on the floor, but about what had happened at Domino museum almost half a year ago.

“You—you lost,” he coughed out. His legs were beginning to give out under him. “You lost to the pharaoh and were d-dead.”

He heard a laugh behind him, cruel and jagged.

“Then why am I still here?”

The Spirit’s hold was starting to tighten and Ryou’s vision had begun to darken. His fingers had grown numb; he had no more strength to struggle in the other’s ruthless choke.

Finally, he heard another question, this one with a bit more command in it.

“Where’s the Ring?” the Spirit asked, the air of his words almost biting Ryou’s ear.

Ryou gasped in a lungful of air when the pressure on his neck was eased, enough to let him give another answer. His hand circled the bare arm and his legs gained enough strength to stop him from folding onto the ground.

“I don’t have it,” Ryou said, shaking his head. There was a swaying motion that he followed, as the Spirit fidgeted with his inquiries.

“I can see that,” the Spirit spat. “I asked you where it was, so where is it?”

Ryou was busy filling his lungs with air. 

When the Spirit increased the force around his neck, his survival instinct broke through.

“In the museum,” he gasped. “It’s in the Domino museum. It’ll be put on display soon.”

His answer seemed to startle the Spirit and Ryou, keen on the shock, felt his grip slacken.

Determined, despite the pounding in his head from lack of air, he tried to pry off the arm holding him pressed against the Spirit, but the other quickly regained his strength.

Ryou heard an unsatisfied snarl, and his stomach plummeted when he felt himself being dragged backwards, feet pathetically trying to regain some sort of balance on the floor. His hands shot out to grab onto the doorframes of rooms he passed, fingers slipping one by one when his strength wasn’t enough to grab the suggestion of a lifeline. Unable to take hold of the final doorframe—the one surrounding his room—Ryou, at that moment, came to feel the type of morbid acceptance knowing he could easily die.

The door of his closet was flung open and he was thrown in.

Outside, the light had begun to fall low over the horizon, his room gaining the color of darkening hues of yellow and orange. The Spirit loomed over him, presence obstructing Ryou from exiting the confined space. He made a move to get up, legs still wobbling, but the Spirit grabbed him by the hair, baring his teeth, and threw him down again.

“You’ll stay here,” he told him, “and wait.”

Ryou was flooded with panic.

“What do you mean? What are you going to do?”

Memories of the darkest parts of his past flashed before him—his friends, lying unconscious on hospital beds, doctors not knowing if they would wake. Ryou saw Yugi and Jonouchi and Anzu and Honda forced into game pieces on a board. He saw his hand deformed, impaled on a model castle’s spike.

Ryou was left paralyzed, fear rendering him unable to speak out against what the Spirit could do. How could he stop him now when he wasn’t able to before?

The Spirit ignored Ryou’s questions, rummaging through the shirts hanging off the selection above Ryou. Settling for Ryou’s school pants and blazer, he pulled off the chosen garments, and slipped them on as though they were his for the taking.

The next thing Ryou saw was the closet door slamming shut, wincing at the loud sound, gone off like a gunshot. The Spirit stepped away, sounds of his feet leading to the door of his room, and finally the front door, where it was slammed shut.

Ryou was left alone, the shaky breath of him escaping in loud, claustrophobic gasps. He clutched his knees close, watching the dying sunlight leaking into the closet from a crack underneath the door.

He thought of his friends, who had probably boarded a train and would soon arrive to their homes. Did the Spirit know where everybody lived? Is that what he was after?

Ryou locked on to the one person who the Spirit could blame for his situation more than he could Ryou—Yugi. If the Spirit didn’t believe what Ryou had told him, his first instinct would inevitably be of killing the Pharaoh.

His mouth inadvertently called his friend’s name.

“Yugi…”

Ryou hugged his legs closer, face falling into the cover of his palms.

He remembered the words Yugi had told him, when the Pharaoh had liberated the world from evil.

“Yugi,” he whispered again. “You were wrong.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: “I don’t need you”

After the Spirit’s departure, Ryou didn’t know for how long he sat, not moving, in the darkness of that closet. The phantom pressure on his neck caused a struggle to breathe, the fresh damage constricting any air passage to his lungs.

He counted the seconds by his breathing, loud in his ears, but with so many, the time started stretching, nearing the uncountable. Time was measured instead by the sound of cars, passing on the low street below his apartment. Infrequent as they were, each humming from the traveling vehicles alerted him to the fact that there were still people out—meaning the day hadn’t yet become nightfall. Weak as the light reaching under the crack of the door, coupled with his assumption, Ryou could assess the time by the faintness of it.

Standing up slowly—quietly—his legs almost gave out from having them cramped against his chest for so long. The clothing bunched above him, some hangers falling off and clacking onto the floor.

Ryou went silent again. There was no noise echoing from the other side, making his shoulders relax away the tension in them.

He wiggled the door open, the faint creak of the hinge telling of his exit. The room he stepped into was now completely engulfed in greyish blue light; the streetlamps below his window had come on. Ryou had arrived shortly after half-past five from the airport and, looking at the nightstand for a confirmation of the time, he read the green numbers: seven thirty-two.

The rest of his apartment was just as equal in silence as Ryou had been, stuffed inside his closet. The atmosphere, however, had evolved. It was no longer that of an apartment, welcoming with its privacy and homeliness. Rather, it was instead, one which encompassed an anxiety which hovered ominously like a thick blanket of dust permeating the air.

Ryou crossed the length of his bedroom and looked outside through the window. When he saw nobody significant, and after exhaling a shaky breath, one which eased his racing mind, he bolted towards his kitchen, the hanging phone the only thing on his mind.

He picked up the receiver, dialing with trembling fingers the number that would connect him with the Kame Game shop. Ryou listened for the sounds that told him his call was going through but heard nothing. He hung up the phone, picked it up, and tried again. That time, keen on the possibility that something could be wrong with his phone, Ryou heard no input noises when he pushed the numbered buttons, nor did he hear a tone when he stopped.

He flicked on the light of his kitchen, eyes falling immediately to the multicolored ends of cut wires dangling on the side of the phone.

His heart skipped one beat too many and Ryou’s next thought was to unbury his cellphone from the cluttered mess within his travel bag. It was still there; there was no reason for the Spirit to have known of it. Ryou unzipped the bag, rummaging through the contents, picking apart the folded clothing and throwing them on the floor. He tossed the camera on the cushions, hearing a beep of awakening. Having been worried for its safety upon arrival, Ryou’s mind was preoccupied with other things to care about it anymore. He grabbed fabric, groping for the familiar rectangular shape of the phone he remembered having placed at the very front of everything. Letting out an agitated sigh, his hand came to a hopeful contact with a cold surface somewhere, between the enclosure of his clothing.

He felt it—

A hand clamped around it.

Instead, he pulled a hairbrush, and tossed it aside, disappointment strengthening his throw.

His arm returned to probe the contents once more, impatience making Ryou grow desperate in movement.

He hadn’t even heard the creak of the front door, hadn’t yet seen the Spirit walk in until the latch clicked in place, and the person he dreaded laying eyes on stepped forward.

“Packing, are we?” The Spirit brandished a half-grin in his direction, arching a black brow in further question.

Ryou instinctively took a step back upon seeing him, hiding the object he’d been searching for behind his back. His fingers drummed along its sleek edge, fumbling for the button to start a call. The Spirit gave him a blank stare, taking carefully placed steps forward, as if ready to spring on the attack.

Ryou measured the distance between him, estimated the time it might take to find a name in his directory and send a call through. Even if Ryou couldn’t answer, even if the Spirit got to him after he’d made the call, Ryou could still scream, and the receiver would capture his voice, sending it to the person on the other side.

People would know what happened to him—if anything did.

And the way the Spirit was looking at him, Ryou concluded his chances of survival were slim to none, and that having someone know of his possible death, was better than disappearing off the face of the earth without anyone knowing of the true events.

He settled on a name: Anzu.

Ryou could find Anzu the quickest—and as if he could read Ryou’s mind all along, the Spirit said—

“You make that call and I’ll slit your throat.”

With a shaky breath—

“You’ll do that anyway,” he replied, and tapped his phone.

When it did not respond, he looked at the Spirit, whose face had twisted into a sadistic, satisfied grin.

“So much for that plan, right, host?” He cocked his head and crossed the room.

Ryou placed his finger on the screen again, an insistent finger sliding across a smooth black screen that only reflected him.

“Give it here.”

Ryou refused to let go of the only form of communication which he could use to call for help. Escaping out the door wasn’t an option. That opportunity had left him when he’d been too terrified to try and move from his closet.

He felt his fingers be pried open and the phone taken from between his feeble grasp.

The Spirit spoke to him after confiscating it, sliding it into one of the inside pockets of the blue blazer he’d taken from Ryou.

“Why don’t you sit down?” He gestured to the chairs around the kitchen table. “I would love to hear what’s been happening all this time while I was,” he paused, a wry smile forming on his face, “indisposed.”

Ryou made no indication that he would obey the Spirit’s request. The Spirit sighed, agitated, baring a set of teeth and demonstrating a sharpness to them Ryou had no idea he possessed.

“It’s a pity I can’t force you to do what I want, like I used to. I’m not sure if I like that tradeoff for this ,” he said, gesturing at the body he walked in.

He swiped at Ryou’s arm, but for once, Ryou saw his movement for what it was, and he dashed to one side to avoid it.

The Spirit, mildly amused, tilted his head back.

“You think you can outwit me?”

“Why can’t you?” Ryou asked pointedly. “Why can’t you take over anymore? Why do you have a body? How can you still be here if I don’t have the Ring?” His voice pitched with every question he demanded.

“Looks like we both have questions? Why don’t we talk about this civilly?” the Spirit said, gesturing again to the pair of chairs, annoyance not withheld.

“As if I could trust you.”

“You don’t have to. Just answer my questions. I’ll answer yours. I’ll start: What happened at the museum?”

Ryou contemplated him for a moment. Although his routes of escape were close to nil, he wasn’t sure if providing the Spirit with knowledge he sought was the best idea in order to gain one—or the best idea in general. Furthermore, Ryou himself wasn’t sure what had happened during the museum duel, having been under the Spirit’s control the entire time, except—

He wouldn’t know if it would suffice or if it would prove useful in whatever the Spirit was planning to do with the information. Ryou only saw himself in a dangerous position if he didn’t comply with the Spirit’s demands for details.

“They didn’t let me enter the Pharaoh’s memories. I don’t know,” he told him with all honesty.

Honesty or not, the answer didn’t seem to satisfy the Spirit.

Ryou saw him bristle.

“I know that much,” he said, mouth opening like a maw with each of his cutting words. What happened during? What happened after!”

“You—you took over again and I—” Ryou stopped to assess the reaction from the Spirit. “The Pharaoh—he’s—he’s gone,” he blinked. “His soul was laid to rest. Yugi and he—"

In an instant, Ryou was being held by the hem of his shirt, a pair of crazed eyes staring into his, leaving Ryou in a state of mind where he couldn’t find the courage to pull himself from the grip of his aggressor.

“That’s not the answer I’m looking for,” he spoke lowly. “Don’t lie to me. I know when you are.”

He released Ryou from his grip, leaving him to fumble with his footing.

His hand came up to touch the sensitive area that had been abused too many times that day. Ryou’s eyes glanced cautiously at the Spirit who had removed himself to one side of the room, running a hand through unkempt locks.

“Don’t you—remember?” Ryou asked softly.

The Spirit flashed a set of teeth with a snarl.

“You don’t remember, do you?” Ryou asked again, testing the waters himself for any type of information. He took a step forward.

The Spirit turned on him and Ryou stopped.

“What happened after?” he snapped.

“Does that mean you believe me?” He received a deranged sort of scoff that could almost have been a laugh.

Overlooking the initial agreement of giving one answer first to receive one in return, Ryou answered his questions, the reactions, telling.

“I came to in the museum. My friends—”

“I don’t care about your friends,” the Spirit hissed.

Ryou stopped—began again.

“They gathered the Items left behind. Then—” Ryou lifted his gaze. “After, we finished the semester, and went to Egypt. I just got back. There—there he and Yugi—they dueled and after the Pharaoh lost—” The Spirit’s head perked at that bit. “I saw him cross over myself. Anzu, Jonouchi, Honda, Yugi, everybody—we all saw him. He’s really not here anymore. The Millennium Items—they lost the evil in them on the day of the game between you and him. That’s what Yugi said. That was—That was in September.” He pressed his mouth together to gather a breath. “And after the ceremonial duel, they were retrieved from the stone tablet by the Ishtar family. They’ll be put on display soon, here," he clarified, "at the Domino museum.”

He looked at the Spirit who hadn’t interrupted his stream of information, quiet the entire time.

“They told me you were gone.”

The Spirit didn’t move.

“How are you still here?” Ryou insisted.

He received no reaction.

“Why do you have your own body?”

He was ignored.

Brimming with a frustrated impatience, Ryou shouted.

“Answer me!”

“I don’t know!” the Spirit yelled right after. He looked as though he were about to fall over, the anger and confusion the only thing holding him upright.

Ryou shook his head, unable to believe the other didn’t know. He struggled to form words, any which would extract some kind of answer from the Spirit. Realizing it was futile, however, Ryou gave up, knowing he had no leverage to force him to reply with honesty.

“Well, this is what you wanted, isn’t it? To have a body to call your own? You can’t use me for that anymore, right? So, then why do you keep coming back!” Ryou yelled, a buried anger that had been suppressed, like him, exploding from its confines.

“What do you need me for?!”

He was at a loss, confused, wanting to know why the situation was happening—why after so long, the Spirit had returned to interrupt his life. He was angry that, instead of the benign entity that had resided in Yugi’s puzzle, it was the dark soul of his Millennium Ring who had battled against death and won.

The Spirit leaned toward him, narrowing his eyes with disdain.

“I don’t need you,” he said coldly.

The words seemed to stir up something within Ryou. He felt a sting in his eyes. He felt a great weight inside his chest.

“So then why don’t you leave?” he began, a whisper. “Leave me alone and go do whatever it is you’re planning to do! I—I was finally free from you—” He heard his voice crack at every other word and felt insignificant.

“I was finally staring to get used to having a life all to my own—not worrying about you,” he spat.

“Fine,” the Spirit interjected with a curling of his lip.

Ryou snapped his head up, thinning his eyes into slits. His vision was beginning to blur with the onset of angry tears. Before the Spirit saw them, Ryou brought a hand up and furiously wiped at his eyes.

“I don’t need you,” the Spirit repeated.

He turned on his heel, the tails of the blue blazer billowing behind him.

“I’ll collect the Millennium Items,” he said looking over his shoulder, a shadowed profile the last thing Ryou would see for a long time, “and finish this once and for all.”

With a definitive stride, the Spirit left Ryou there, shutting the door on him, and not once, glancing back at the one he’d left behind.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: "Vulnerable"

Weeks after the Spirit’s departure, Ryou found himself looking over his shoulder, still, when alone. He would glance across the street, suspicion and anxiety rising, thinking every corner hid the Spirit’s presence and every turn would reveal him, standing there, waiting for him. Ryou didn’t particularly have any reason to think the ghost of his past would return, especially with the parting words spoken between them, but the affirmation of his resurrection left him with a festering unease deep in his bones. It was one thing to have a malevolent voice tickling the back of his mind; it was another thing entirely having it develop a body of its own for use and harm.

At school, he couldn’t hide his growing worry. Yugi and Honda seemed to notice his newly developed silence, however, the inward retreat to which Ryou withdrew to when he had no other people to confide in.

He ate lunch with everybody on occasion, where he would become lost in thought and stare out the window, watching the birds fly, or observing the ongoing games on the fields below.

Life went on.

It was only he that felt stranded in the past, abandoned, left behind to be chased by his nightmares.

Yugi tried to bring up a game of Duel Monsters at lunch, something which Jonouchi immediately agreed to, but Ryou, distracted, lost miserably to all of them, even Anzu and Honda who were the most casual of players.

“Sorry I didn’t play as well as usual today,” Ryou told Yugi after the bell rang. “It’s probably not the type of competition you were looking for.” The corner of lips tugged up weakly in what he believed to be a satisfying enough smile that conveyed his apology.

“Well, it was just between us, right? For fun,” he smiled. Yugi placed a thick book inside his backpack and began to tie his shoelaces. He kept flashing small glances at Ryou in a way which made Ryou think his friend wanted to bring up something else.

“Maybe we could play a game of Monster World soon. You make a great dungeon master. If it makes you feel better, I could get everyone together—”

Ryou blanched at the thought of playing Monster World anytime soon.

“Er, if it’s all right, I think I’ll go ahead of you today,” he deflected quickly, feeling almost guilty for interrupting. He pulled the loops of his laces together, shutting the door closed on his own assigned locker. “I have something to do today and don’t want to inconvenience any of you.” Ryou stood up with haste, grabbed his school bag and turned to leave, when Honda, who Ryou hadn’t noticed, approached, taking hold of his shoulder with a firm, heavy hand.

Ryou jolted, surprised, and was left with little alternative but to stop.

Honda spoke with a steady voice.

“Hey, you’ve been acting weird lately, Bakura. Mind telling us what’s wrong?”

He held an unwavering expression, and Ryou almost shrunk from its intensity. Ryou had seen it countless times during Duelist Kingdom, when Honda would check up on him occasionally. He saw it many more when Jonouchi lost to the Rare Hunters and Honda used it to affirm his belief in his friend. Standing there, point blank under that gaze, Ryou could not help the distress it caused, but also to feel admiration for his friend’s perception, and fear its reach.

If any of them found out that the evil spirit of the Ring was abound, what would they think of Ryou? Would they believe his side of the story at all?

Ryou liked to hold his friends in high esteem, but he wasn’t oblivious enough to ignore that since his transfer to Domino High School, he was still an outsider to their group. As close knit as the four of them were, Ryou was but a fifth, errant thread, clinging pathetically to their side. Like a string, with a simple tug, their weak friendship would break him loose.

He took a step back.

“What do you mean?” he asked Honda, voicing the question with as much ignorance as he could. Part of him hoped the lies of his feelings would not be detected, but he knew Honda was much smarter than he looked, especially when it came to people. Ryou fidgeted under the silence and grew desperate. “I’ve got things to do so—”

“Like what?” Honda insisted, stepping in front of him to block his path. “Tell us and we can even help you,” he said, voice raising, and stepping forward with one swift step. He wasn’t the type to avoid the main subject, never one to mince words. Honda was upfront and to the point.

It was then, that Yugi felt he should intervene.

“Honda,” Yugi spoke softly behind him. “He doesn’t have to tell us if he doesn’t want to. It might be something private,” he offered, looking at Ryou with wide eyes, seeming almost crestfallen—disappointed.

Ryou felt a heaviness in his chest building.

“Yugi—” The tight grip on Ryou’s shoulder slackened as Honda took Yugi’s words into consideration.

In its stead, he sighed, running a hand over his hair, smoothing it.

“Look, Bakura—you—” he paused, crossing his arms. “We worry about you, okay?”

Ryou blinked swiftly, looking away.

“I don’t know what you’re—” he stammered.

“You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to,” Yugi began. “Or can’t,” he added. “But please don’t lie. We know something’s been worrying you. If there’s anything we can do—if it’s about your family, or anything…” Yugi spoke with such a sincerity Ryou couldn’t bear it.

“It’s nothing—really!” he burst out.

The three of them grew quiet. Yugi lowered his gaze causing Ryou to wallow with shame. He had blatantly lied when he was asked not to. Honda remained silent and still. Disappointment, Ryou deduced, written on his face.

“I’ve just got a lot of things on my mind—about school.” Not even he believed what was spewing out of his mouth.

“Yeah, whatever.” Honda scowled, returning to his shoe locker without so much as a glance over his shoulder. Yugi remained where he was between the entrance and lockers, at a loss of what he should say next. Neither said anything else to each other. Ryou stood there, unable to lift his gaze toward Yugi. He exchanged no more words with either of them, moving a heavy pair of legs out the door and out the school gates.

He traveled in silence back to his apartment. His things landed in a heap on the floor, and not bothering to take his shoes off, he landed heavily on the sofa of his small living room, listening to the droning quiet of his ears.

Ryou was tired, and every part of his body felt it. His face was heated and his chest ready to burst with remorse from having completely lied to his friends. And for what? To keep the return of one ancient spirit, secret?

Honda and Yugi could be right—they might be able to help him with his troubles.

But at the same time, Ryou was reminded of the distrust that had been cultivated between them, wedged by the existence of the Millennium Ring.

Ryou couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t be blamed for the resurgence of the Spirit of the Ring. He couldn’t be sure no one would think him completely innocent, given how he had already hidden the information from everyone he knew for weeks—and counting.

He turned over to face the cushions, arm uncomfortable between the clamp of his shoulder and the stressed springs under the layers of polyester filling and fabric.

Ryou couldn’t be sure of anything anymore. The Spirit of the Ring had prevailed the final game.

He couldn’t be sure of anything, except one thing.

He fell asleep under the cloud of a guilty conscience hovering over him like the unseen presence of a forgotten ghost.


When he awoke with a gasp later that evening, the first thing he noticed was the dark of the room, the faint shadows blending into the walls of the surroundings above him. It took him a moment to remember he had fallen asleep on his couch and not his bed and that his slumber had passed restlessly. His limbs felt heavier than before, and the emotions he had avoided with sleep had not yet emptied from his soul. Ryou felt them with a higher sensitivity—one that comes after sleep, unwanted; quiet, reflective. He breathed in deep and felt the bumps of melancholy sentiment with the exhale that succeeded it.

Laying in the dark, aware of the gliding stripes of light on his walls, he thought of the exchange he had with Honda and Yugi. They had, Ryou understood very clearly, only been worried about him, ready to help. His deliberate deceit had caused an intentional distance from Ryou’s side and now he wasn’t sure it was worth it.

It had been almost a month since the Spirit had been there, in the very living room he lay in, almost as confused as Ryou felt right then. Almost a month without so much as a hint that he hadn’t been a mere part of Ryou’s imagination. There hadn’t been another sign of him since then; not a clue as to his whereabouts.

“I don’t need you.”

The words echoed in Ryou’s mind, like a promise to stay away.

And so far, it had been kept.

Even if it had, in the back of his mind, Ryou perceived the Spirit’s reappearance sooner or later, to “finish this once and for all,” as he had put it.

With an aching spine, Ryou lifted himself off the couch, arms gone numb being pinned under his weight, and wiped his cheeks. The ridges formed from lying on the patterned fabric were deep and he decided to wash his face to alleviate the marks.

Without bothering to turn on the kitchen light, for what little illumination it could afford him, Ryou walked past it into the bathroom. Flicking on the switch there, he paused in front of the mirror above the bathroom sink to stare at his reflection.

The rims of his eyes were pink; the eyelashes above clumped together with webs of residual sleep. His uniform, Ryou noted, was wrinkled. The edges of the bottom were folded, and he smoothed out the blue colored cloth.

It was the same identical blue school uniform the Spirit wore the night he left.

A finger plucked at the creased collar. He’d have to wash the one on him soon; he had only three and one, evidently, was never going to be returned.

After washing his hands and splashing cool water on his face, Ryou headed into the laundry and tossed his blazer onto the dirty pile. Stretching an arm above it, he reached into the clean clothes cabinet, pulling out a pair of pajama pants and a matching shirt to wear. Being spares, Ryou hardly took clothes from the laundry room unless he didn’t have an alternative.

As he pulled the clothing loose from its square confines, something flew out from underneath the folded garment, twinkling gold, and falling on the floor with a metallic symphony of clink, clink, clink, until it quieted under the shelter of the nearby drying machine.

Confused, he shook the shirt a few more times, making sure there were no additional surprises hidden between the folds. He pulled the shirt over his head and lowered himself on his knees to reach under the dryer. His hands blindly groped under the thin space between floor and machine, sensing for anything that wasn’t supposed to be there. When his fingers brushed against something cold, Ryou was briefly startled by the difference in temperature. Closing his palm around it, he pulled it out, revealing a golden band resting in the center.

From what he could tell, it was real gold. The ring held an extravagant red jewel at its center. Carvings bordered the circular area with a Roman alphabet trimmed in black.

He stared at it momentarily, wondering how it made its way into his home.

When the realization hit him, Ryou sprang to his feet, slamming the golden ring on the closed lid of the washing machine. He reached into the clean clothes again, tossing pairs of pants and shirts aside. The frenzy of his actions revealed a small pile of jewelry, stashed at the very back of it all. Necklaces coiled together like a nest, where in the middle, small rings, bracelets of bright colors, adorned the center.

Ryou took a step back.

The jewelry wasn’t his—which only meant it had been put there by someone else. Someone who evidently had enough sense to hide it away in the one place of his apartment Ryou hardly frequented.

He glanced around the suddenly confining space his apartment had become. Everywhere, he was surrounded by walls. His exits now transformed themselves into someone else’s entrance. His eyes darted from area to area, looking for anything that shouldn’t be there, not once more finding anything out of place. Ryou grew fearful of his one haven.

It would look normal, Ryou thought.

The places he didn’t notice held the most changes.

He was vulnerable, visible—and everything else outside, unknown.

With a pull to his movements, he dashed out the room, turning on every light—the kitchen, bathroom, sitting room, hallway, and his own bedroom. Completely illuminated by bright light, Ryou stood there, silently catching his breath.

His own home no longer felt safe.

As if locking his doors and shutting his windows at night could keep him away.

The Spirit had lived inside him for more than ten years, and in that time, he would undoubtedly learn all of Ryou’s habits, schedule—saw patterns in his behavior that Ryou probably wasn’t aware of himself.

Both his apartment and Ryou were things the Spirit was familiar with. There was no safety in that.

Ryou glanced around his bedroom, keen to the wrinkles of his sheets. Had those been there before?

The Spirit said he would leave—that he wouldn’t come back.

Ryou tore his gaze away from the bed and stepped out into the hallway, poking his head into each room, inspecting thoroughly before shutting off the light.

No, the Spirit hadn’t said that at all.

He never said he wouldn’t come back—the jewels were proof. Since their last encounter, the Spirit had been in the apartment at least once—

Ryou stopped midway into his kitchen.

When exactly had he been there? While he was at school? When Ryou wasn’t there?

His hand came up to the counter to brace himself. His dread increased.

Or had it been while he slept in his room, when Ryou couldn’t struggle if a knife was pressed against his throat?

He shook his head trying to dispel the thoughts, but the more the tried, the worse they became.

At last, Ryou bolted the door, turning both locks and attaching the chain, but he knew the gestures were useless at that point. Still, he rounded his living room, making sure the latches of his windows were in place—even if it was a two-story climb.

All the precautions were futile. Weeks had passed. Ryou never forgot to lock his doors and rarely opened windows, except for when the atmosphere called for a fresh breeze. But somehow—and without his knowledge—the Spirit had freely entered the apartment, using it hide several expensive, and probably stolen, pieces of jewelry and who knew what else.

After the initial bout of anxious frenzy, Ryou turned off his lights again, made sure all locks were set, and settled on the edge of his bed, body slumping into the mattress groove easily, albeit heavy with despair.

He had made sure to turn even the weak lock on his doors sideways, as well as pressing on the latch of his window to test for any loose spots.

Even after all that, he felt completely defeated.

And for the next week, with the terror hovering over him, Ryou couldn’t sleep. Each night, he lay completely awake in his bed, sensitive to the sounds around him. Cars deep in the night drove by on humming wheels; airplanes hovered high in the sky, cutting through the air with deep jets of sound waves. The nights came to life, sometimes bringing happiness when groups of people settled in nearby corners, talking and laughing with joyous abandon. Later, his probably neighbor would shout at either them or the neighborhood cats to stop yowling and it would grow quiet for a spell. Their presence comforted Ryou. They weren’t sounds that caused him panic. They weren’t things he dreaded to hear like a lock jiggling, a doorknob turning, or a window sliding open. Instead it was comforting, listening to faraway strangers confined to the night streets.

The Sunday of that week, Ryou awoke, startled with his own fall into sleep. The window outside was still dark and everything was quiet. He heard his own breathing elevated in volumes.

The nightstand near his bed told him it was shortly after midnight.

Seeing the number strike itself into the next one, his apartment felt suddenly like a foreign, unfamiliar place. It could be attested to his interrupted slumber, a drowsy confusion throwing his mind off balance. Ryou had made a habit only to let himself rest when the sun had come up over the horizon, the bright rays of morning calming him into believing they held a safety no one could defy.

Seeing a shadow move outside the frame of his door, Ryou immediately knew he was not alone.

The shadowy intruder, sensing himself detected, stopped mid-stride, pausing at the doorway.

Neither made any effort to indicate their presence.

Ryou passed the disquieting silence by shutting his eyes, listening to the blood pumping along his ears—

When he opened them again, the figure at the door was gone.

He was alone.

Looking around, Ryou slid the covers off himself and sat up and against the headboard of his bed, propping his knees up to his chest. He tried to collect himself, but both his arms and breaths were shaky.

He had definitely seen someone there. Not clearly, but enough to know it hadn’t been his imagination.

Outside, the hall beckoned him with a pitch-black darkness, which by no means, assuaged his fears.

Not until dawn, when the sun broke free of the horizon, did Ryou dare to move.


 The next day, Ryou finally returned to school. Having lost all desire for sleep, he arrived to his classroom, exhausted, jittery—and paranoid. After what happened the night before, he couldn’t stay inside his apartment any longer, but seeing the amount of people at school, Ryou wondered if it really was a better idea for him to go out.

The buzzing atmosphere within the classroom, was at the very least, a good diversion. He hoped the hubbub between the students could be enough to distract them and have his newly counted attendance overlooked. Ryou directed himself to his assigned seat, wanting to be invisible for the rest of the day, when Yugi greeted him.

“Morning, Bakura,” he said, approaching him with a smile.

Ryou, startled, stumbled with the edge of his seat, rapidly managing to curl his fingers around the back, and sat himself down, hoping Yugi hadn’t caught the lag in response.

“Oh, um—” Ryou took out a textbook and flipped through the pages. His eyes burned from the all-night strain, but he tried his best to pretend to be getting ready for the daily lessons. “Good morning,” he said in return greeting. He added a quick smile for good measure.

Yugi’s own weakened.

“You look kind of tired. Is everything okay? We missed you this past week and the teacher passed out some new assignments. I tried messaging you to see if me or Jonouchi could drop them off at your apartment, but you never answered…” he trailed off, probably anticipating on Ryou to fill in the details.

Ryou felt a pang of guilt. Yugi was trying to help him again.

He mindlessly flipped the page of his textbook.

“Sorry. I dropped my phone and haven’t gotten around to buy a new one yet. It’s all right though, I’ve got a copy of some of the textbooks back home. I’ve been keeping up so, I think I’ll be all right,” he lied.

“Really?” Yugi sounded amazed. “I wish I had that sort of dedication. Me and Jonouchi tried to study the other night for the test, but we fell asleep and then woke up to play Duel Monsters,” he finished, hiding a sheepish grin.

Ryou barely managed to grasp that there was a test. He was about to ask Yugi when the teacher would hand it out, when the first bell rang, and Ms. Chono called everyone to their seats.

“I’ll talk to you later,” Yugi whispered quickly as he went back to his chair.

Watching him as he left, Ryou almost missed the stare Honda directed at him. Tired as he was, Ryou smiled at him, only to have the other turn away in favor of the test dropped onto his workspace.

Ryou did the same as the second of the student helpers slid a packet onto his desk, though slightly bothered by Honda’s dismissal. His thoughts were soon overcome, however, by the undeniable knowledge that he was going to fail that test.


The day progressed rather slowly after that morning. Fatigue was ever-present the rest of the afternoon, rendering Ryou unable to concentrate on his studies.

At the lockers, after dragging himself down the hall, dodging the multiple students crossing their way to their after-school studies, Ryou found Yugi already waiting for him. The other boy waved at him as he approached, slow as ever.

Upon seeing him, Ryou became apprehensive, pausing to let a line of girls, by the looks of their gear, head to their volleyball practice. Honda had come in behind them, turning mechanically at the end of the hallway.

He gave them both a weak smile as he opened his locker, shuffling out of his school shoes.

Yugi started timidly, glancing away as Ryou began exchanging his comfy white shoes in favor of sneakers.

“Earlier, I wanted to ask you about something—”

Honda interjected, “We need to talk.”

Apparently Yugi was the one who wanted to steer the conversation by softening the tone.

“Er, right,” he tried again. He kept switching his balance between both feet. “Last night, on the news—”

“The museum was broken into,” Honda continued for him, directly and aggressive. What he lacked in finesse, he made up with adamancy. He continued to glare at Ryou, expecting for him to say something, but Ryou instead tightened the laces on his shoes.

When he didn’t say anything, Honda said, “Not ringing any bells?” He took a step forward, bumping shoulders with Yugi who had gone silent.

Ryou turned away, placing his school slippers into the designated locker.

“I haven’t been watching much TV lately.” He closed the door shut and made a movement to take his bag off the floor.

“Yeah, I bet you haven’t.” Honda dropped his own bag, not caring that some items scattered from impact, stepping forward to grab Ryou by the hem of his uniform.

“Honda!” Yugi yelled from behind, moving forward quickly to grab Honda’s own arm, but the other was focused on nobody but Ryou.

“Do you know what was stolen, huh?” With every demanding question, his faced inched closer to Ryou’s, shaking him by the collar. Ryou shook his head—the only thing he could do—but Honda didn’t seem to actually want an answer. “The Millennium Ring, that’s what! And out of all the Items on display, that’s the only one that was taken!”

The blood in him ran cold. Ryou stared at his friend, too shocked to form words.

“Now, doesn’t that sound familiar? Who else would want to steal those items other than him? It’s you, isn’t it? You think you can fool us, but I know it’s you in there again!”

The lockers were deserted by that point, leaving only three students behind.

Yugi cut through the uncomfortable silence. His hold was maintained on Honda’s arm, but his strength wasn’t enough to budge the taller of the two.

“Honda let him go! We said we’d ask him, but—” Yugi weakly tugged at his friend’s arm, trying to pry it off Ryou’s collar, but Honda didn’t seem to be letting go anytime soon. He dragged Ryou up, inching him closer as if the proximity would reveal another entity beneath the surface.

“We already know he’s being possessed again. Isn’t that right?” He turned back to Ryou. “You’ve taken over Bakura again, haven’t you?”

“Wh-what are you talking about?” Ryou choked out.

Yugi insisted, pulling on the material of Honda’s jacket.

“Honda, it’s not—we saw it disappear! All the evil in the Items was destroyed! We saw Atem defeat him; you were there—!”

“I did, but I didn’t see that guy leave to the underworld like the other Yugi. Did you? For all we know, he could have stayed inside Bakura this entire time!”

Yugi tried to force him to let go of Ryou but Honda’s grip was unrelenting. It was then, that Jonouchi came up from behind.

“What—what the hell are you doing? Let him go, man! Calm down!”

Seeing what was happening, he immediately confronted Honda, helping Yugi in grabbing Honda’s arms, holding him back.

Released, Ryou adjusted his collar, staying back and against the lockers, trembling.

Yugi, from one side, asked if he was hurt.

“I’m—I’m fine,” he responded, automatic.

But he wasn’t.

Ryou took his bag, noting the shakiness of his arms and hands.

This was the extend of their friendship, wasn’t it?

He wasn’t trusted.

To make it worse, his friends didn’t seem to able to discern between the real him, and someone pretending to be him.

There was a feeling of betrayal abound. Not coming from his friends; they had every reason to distrust him. He’d been acting distant, missed weeks of school only to return the day after the robbery at the museum—a robbery that involved the Millennium Items. The feeling of betrayal was from within. He’d made himself believe that he was as close to his friends as they were to each other, but that hadn’t been accurate at all.

“Jeez, man. What was that about? What made you go off like that? I thought we were gonna ask him together,” Jonouchi said, tightening his grip on Honda’s elbow when the other threatened to break loose.

“You went too far, Honda. Look what you did to him!” Anzu had appeared not shortly after Jonouchi, reprimanding Honda, after quickly assessing what had happened.

She stepped near Ryou with a concerned, motherly look. “Are you okay, Bakura?” The blue of her eyes reflected nothing but sincerity.

Looking into them, Ryou couldn’t stand to be the subject of pity. He pushed Anzu away and ignored the calls of his friends after him.

He ran through the streets without looking back or stopping to catch his breath—until a train ride later, and a dejected travel on foot the rest of the way, he came up to his apartment door, where he thrust himself inside, numb.

Before he had the chance to turn around, Ryou heard the door slam shut behind him, and a chilling voice creep its way into his ears.

“Refreshing to know those friends of yours distrustful as ever.” The chuckle that followed stung a path up his spine.

Ryou turned on his heel, all sorts of sensations prickling around him. He found a white-haired reflection smirking at him.

Instinctive in his step back, Ryou found it difficult to maintain the knot in his throat from detangling. It was a heavy, constricting feeling, keeping the fresh emotions managed in the face of the last person on Earth he wished to see.

The Spirit reached behind himself and Ryou heard the lock click in place. The one thing Ryou thought futile the night before, was right then, being used against him so effectively.

Detaching his hand off the knob, the Spirit advanced on him, stepping into the light cutting through the room streaming through the window, giving Ryou a clear look at the person in front of him. To say it was off-putting wouldn’t fully encompass the revulsion Ryou felt seeing a doppelganger, an other with the same distinct features that made Ryou, Ryou. They shared the same colored white hair, same height, even the uniform on their bodies was identical.

And yet, they weren’t quite the same.

The Spirit had flattened, pointed features on his face: eyes that were sharpened with hate and cheekbones polished with malice; Ryou’s own face was rounded with a curve to his chin and softened along bright eyes. The Spirit looked at everything with defiance, anger almost, and though their hair was the same length, his was wilder. The way he held himself upright and how he poised his body, Ryou would call it arrogant.

He took another advancing step forward, and Ryou did the same, backwards. His legs reached the kitchen and he could no longer move in reverse, the table stopping him.

“Pathetic as ever, host,” the Spirit began. “Is this the ‘life’ you were talking about—the one you said you have now? I must say, it’s quite the achievement, even for you,” he laughed.

Ryou kept himself composed until then, but the Spirit’s biting words were sharp and struck him in tender spots.

The Spirit seemed to grow exasperated at Ryou’s state, stepping forward and closing the distance between them. Standing directly in front of him, his face split into a grin.

“That friend of yours—he sure is perceptive, isn’t he? Figured it out,” he paused for the smallest of seconds, “or at least he thinks he has.” With a pale, bony hand, the Spirit reached into his blue blazer, pulling out a large, circular, golden disc and an orb of the same color. Ryou immediately recognized them, putting his emotional dilemma on hold.

“It was you,” he whispered.

“Of course. Who else?” The Spirit cocked his head to one side, seeming almost proud of what he’d done. His mouth could scarcely keep another grin from forming. “Fools only noticed the Ring gone they didn’t bother to check the others.” He waved the Millennium Eye in front of Ryou’s face, eerily close to his sockets, before pocketing it.

Ryou paused, swallowing the lump of sentiments.

“Why are you here?” he muttered with a cracking voice.

“What?” The Spirit shrugged. “I can’t pay a visit to my former host? We did spend so much time together—we were practically inseparable!” he laughed with a rasp on the edge of his voice.

When Ryou didn’t react in the way he apparently wanted him to, he dropped the mocking tone.

“I came here last night looking for something. I think you know what it is,” he said plainly.

Ryou dropped his gaze. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

The Spirit’s face twisted in disgust and he curled his lip in agitation.

“I told you before—I know when you’re lying host.” He bit out the final word.

Ryou pressed his lips together. If he knew he was lying, then there was no point in trying to hide the truth. “I—I threw them away.”

He felt how dangerous the Spirit’s leer became.

“They weren’t yours to throw away,” he said lowly, with a sharpness to his voice, not unlike a bark.

Ryou’s spirits seemed to be returning.

“They weren’t yours to keep, either,” he countered.

The other bared his teeth at him. “I hope you have some way of getting them back because I’m not leaving without them.”

“Why do you need them?”

“That’s not your concern,” the Spirit answered curtly.

Ryou exploded. The motions he had been keeping at bay until then were transformed and let out in a flare of anger. “Then why hide them here? You said you don’t need me, so why do you keep coming back? I know you come here at night, to hide your—” he didn’t know what to do with his fists and gestured wildly “—your things!”

The Spirit scoffed with a face of displeasure. “And I supposed you want me to stop—”

“Yes!” Ryou shouted. His voice was loud, a quiver suspended above every syllable, something the Spirit could probably hear. Ryou was ashamedly aware, but there was nothing he could do about it. “I do—” he continued, “I want you to leave and never come back. I—” His voice began to break again with every word he spoke.

The Spirit took the chance, seizing the opportunity to slither his way into Ryou’s declaration, interrupting him.

He tilted his head, taking one step forward.

“Do you now?” His eyes narrowed and his lips curled into a condescending smile. “And I suppose keeping the Ring knowing I was in it—that was your way of getting rid of me? Knowing I would take over when you put it on, and still doing it anyway? It’s a very strange way of showing it, Landlord.” He’d come up near Ryou. If he stretched an arm out, he could touch him.

“That’s different. You—you manipulated me! You told me you’d help me figure out the truth about the Millennium Items—that’d you’d help me and my friends in Duelist Kingdom—”

The Spirit’s grin split with glee.

“And I did, didn’t I? Led you out of that maze—your friends really repaid with kindness that time, didn’t they?” he laughed, the cackling making his shoulders tremble with mirth. “I even took care of the Millennium Eye!”

“That was murder!”

“Some things call for drastic measures, and my goal called for them more than once.”

“My time spend inside you wasn’t without perks, though, was it?” he continued. “I paid my rent every month, as a good tenant should,” he sneered, enjoying how much Ryou had shrunk.

“You—you took my friends from me. You played with them and put their souls into my miniatures.”

The Spirit broke into mocking laughter. “’Oh, how I wish I could play games with my friends forever,’” he repeated Ryou’s once thoughts. “That’s exactly what you wanted, and I granted your wish!”

Ryou’s lower lip trembled. “You’re horrible. Evil,” he croaked. He tried to glare at the other but had no anger available to draw from anymore. His dejected gaze instead fell to the floor.

“Good, evil. Who are you to judge my actions? Nothing you’ve done has ever been significant.” He tossed the Ring to Ryou who barely managed to catch it.

“Put it on,” the Spirit commanded.

Ryou looked down at his hands where the Ring rested.

Giving it to Yugi so he could place it on the stone tablet had let him open the doors to the underworld, Ryou thought he’d finally be able to rest and leave his nightmares behind. Seeing it again, having been given it by the Spirit, Ryou hesitated. The Ring along with its inhabitant, now previous—somehow, they always made their way back to him.

He ran his hand along the smooth curve of the gold, felt the protrusion where the prongs connected, let the limp spikes fall with a tingle.

He didn’t want to wear it. He didn’t want to feel the weight of it around his neck. He didn’t want the sensation of cold over his chest—over his scars.

“Why should I?” he muttered. His eyes were glassy, settled on the shiny surface.

The Spirit’s eyes narrowed, and he tilted his head back. “Because I tell you to.”

Ryou blinked several times.

“You might have been able to control me before, but you—you can’t anymore,” he proclaimed. “I’ve got no reason to—I don’t need you, either. You can’t—I won’t—”

In one stride, the Spirit closed whatever little distance remained. Half his face was shadowed.

“I can do much more now than I ever could. Including killing you,” he whispered, inching closer. “And you friends.”

Pleased with the silence that followed, the Spirit’s mouth quirked to one side. He stepped back and away from Ryou, noting that he hadn’t thrown the Ring aside. “I know you won’t have to make me tell you again,” he added, knowing it would sting.

To keep what little pride he had left, Ryou decided it was better not to have to listen to a second command. He lowered his gaze, bowing his head forward for better access, and put the Ring on, leaving it to hang around his neck. He stood there, as the Spirit looked him over, thinking he would gloat.

He said nothing, however, and neither did Ryou.

The Spirit pressed his lips, frowning. “Not reacting,” he said, seemingly lost in thought.

“Of course not,” Ryou said mechanically. “I told you before. The Items lost their powers when—” he faltered for a moment, “—back then.” As he spoke, the Spirit had begun contemplating the Eye instead, ignoring Ryou in favor of it.

After a few minutes, the Spirit looked up suddenly, turning to face Ryou. “Don’t take it off,” he said, giving no indication as to why. Rather, his voice was level, as if he were still thinking. “You’ll wear it at all times.”

The prospect of having to wear a freshly stolen item while he was already suspected by his friends, was unfavorable to Ryou. He didn’t want to wear it for that reason, but mostly, because it was a dark symbol for a time in his life he thought had ended.

“And if you don’t,” the Sprit said, as if reading Ryou’s mind, “I’ll have to pay a little visit to your friends. Seeing us side by side—wouldn’t that be quite the show? You haven’t told them about me, have you? You wouldn’t want them to think you’ve been keeping my resurrection a secret, right?” He sneered. “And to make sure you don’t get any ideas while you do it,” he grabbed the Ring, using the string to lift Ryou’s gaze to him, “I’ll have to personally oversee you.”

“After all, you’ll be helping me with something I need.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: "Shadows of the Past"

Ryou hated his reflection.

At every turn, the Spirit was there. In his apartment, everywhere he went—the Spirit followed him with a silent gaze. Seeing his face painted on mirrors was like having his tormentor in front of him, so close, on the other side of the glass.

Sometimes he thought he saw him on the edge of his peripheral. He felt the Spirit hovering around, keeping himself at a distance, but Ryou sensed him anyway. Even if he never heard him, even if he never saw him fully, the Spirit was a specter, hidden, haunting.

It was worse at night.

Ryou was sure the Spirit didn’t sleep.

He insisted at first, in closing the door to his room, to keep a sense of privacy in his own home, but was denied that privilege. So, for nights, he’d lay awake, refusing to sleep while the other was so near.

Sometimes, the Spirit’s silhouette crept across the hall from kitchen to living room, from living room to the front door. Then, Ryou would blink, and the Spirit would disappear for minutes, for hours, until without a sound, Ryou would see him pacing again by the light of the moon.

And by the rising of the flesh on the back of his neck, Ryou would detect the Spirit’s presence in his room, observing with hawk-like eyes.

It was as if his heart stopped during those moments. Scenes of his own death seeped into his brain, newly evoking the terror that not so long ago he’d undergone.

Ryou would lay there, eyes wide open, going dry and tired. To combat the dread, like a madman tormented by his own hallucinations, he would speak.

“What?” he’d whisper at him, voice barely audible, never turning over on his mattress to address him face to face.

And the Spirit, would stand at the edge of the window, face splitting in two—

“Nothing,” he’d say.

Ryou would be drowned by night terrors.

The events would repeat: The Spirit obsessively kept watch over Ryou. Ryou avoided sleep with eyes opened wide, wanting to avoid death, and the horror of his dreams.

It wasn’t like the weeks prior where Ryou paranoid, and suspicious, maintained a strict regiment with keeping himself awake. The threat he perceived wasn’t a manifestation of crazed thoughts gone awry. This time, the threat was very real—and very present.

The mornings after were groggy and disoriented. A breath of relief escaped him, momentarily, upon the realization that he was alone. In that peaceful instant, he sought a quick escape into his bathroom for a wash, a refresher after the night’s unease.

Finishing, breakfast was in order, and Ryou headed for the kitchen when he came face to face with the thing he so dreaded seeing.

The fear on his face must have shown for the Spirit flashed him a sharp, wide, grin. “Sleep well?”

Ryou didn’t answer, instead, tightening his mouth into a firm line. The Spirit eyed him quietly, taking notice of the dripping hair and towel around his neck. He curled his lip and let out a snort, turning to walk to the sitting room.

“Don’t think you can leave without me knowing first.”

“I didn’t,” Ryou said, brow creasing into a frown, “leave, that is.” He wished the other would.

Trying to maneuver around him, Ryou found his path blocked repeatedly as the Spirit shifted his weight from one leg to the other—whichever direction Ryou took. Either from lack of response, or boredom, he finally gave passage to Ryou, letting him make his way into the kitchen where he made himself a simple egg and toast breakfast.

From beneath his hair, as he moved between stove, refrigerator, and table, Ryou took to the habit of watching the Spirit’s every move, too. He perceived him, still, as a threat and a menace, and had to keep up his guard just as much as the Spirit did.

At the moment, while Ryou finished scrambling his eggs and the toaster glowed with power, the Spirit seated himself on the edge of the sofa, facing the opposite direction. His line of vision was directed toward the horizon visible from Ryou’s window, looking as though he were thinking deeply about something. Keeping a watchful eye on the solidified spirit, Ryou temporarily forgot the two slices of bread he put to toast and when they jumped, he too, startled, convulsed slightly hearing the sudden clicking sound. Berating himself for losing his nerve to such a juvenile thing, he retrieved them, dabbing the thick slices with jam, taking them to the table to eat his breakfast in silence.

He chewed his hot eggs methodically, keeping his head down, pretending to be enraptured with the breakfast presented before him. When it grew too silent, his suspicion once again encircled him, making him peek from under his gaze only to see the Spirit’s own directed at him, as well.

Ryou stopped mid-chew, glancing uncertainly at the remaining scraps of food that remained on his plate, and thinking of those that had been left on the stove top. For only a second, a second too long for him to think he was ever sane, he thought of offering some to the Spirit. He had a body now, Ryou observed, chewing thoughtfully. Surely his body grew hungry like his own did. Then again, the uncertainty of whether he slept or not made him think the other’s physique was probably not equivalent to his own, despite appearances. Ryou wiped the corner of his mouth, ridding it of mandarin jam, swallowing the rest in his mouth.

He lifted another scoop of fluffy eggs into his mouth.

“Do you,” he paused, “eat?”

The Spirit made a sound between a laugh and disgust before responding. “Not that slop you’re putting in your mouth right now.”

“Besides,” he tilted his head in Ryou’s direction, face darkening, “I have means of getting myself what I need—or had, had you not thrown them away.”

The distasteful reply left Ryou regretting even asking.

“Right,” he said halfheartedly. “The gold.”

He should have known better then to think the items he’d found were simple trophies of some kind. He wanted to know how the jewels helped the Spirit procure “what he needed”, but opted instead, to assume that the Spirit pawned them off somewhere illicit for money.

He finished the remainder of his breakfast without any other attempt at conversation.

Afraid to make eye contact with the intrusion situation in his living room, he stood at the door, bag packed, and shoes waiting.

“I’m leaving for school now.” His shoes were hastily put on, laces tied in seconds. His hand touched the knob when the Spirit stood and Ryou panicked. He wasn’t thinking of coming with him, right?

Behind him the Spirit leered at him. “I told you to wear it,” he said lowly.

Ryou averted his gaze, turned the knob, and pulled.

“I am—”

The door was stopped from opening completely with an extension of the Spirit’s arm.

“I know when you’re lying, host.” The Spirit’s words were incredibly and intimately close. It was like having him inside his head again.

Ryou squirmed from the proximity, trying to avoid the glaring eyes. “How do you expect me to wear it if I’m going back the place it was stolen from?”

The Spirit cocked an eyebrow and twisted his mouth into a smirk. “That’s just part of the fun, isn’t it?” His hand slipped from the edge of the door, but Ryou didn’t try opening it again.

He looked away. “I don’t want to get into any trouble. You know my father is—”

The Spirit scoffed. “I doubt they’d suspect someone as pathetic as you.”

In silence, with those words floating over him, Ryou headed back to his room, reaching underneath his bed pillow. The golden Ring jingled as he slid it out from beneath the cotton headrest and the cold in his hands made him pause in quiet rumination. The eye of Anubis returned the gaze, unblinking, with a heavy stare.

Ryou fit his head into the collar, tucking it underneath his shirt. He walked back to the door where the Spirit had remained, standing, looking pleased with Ryou’s compliance. Picking up his bag, Ryou waited for the Spirit to move but he continued to blockade the door.

Finally, Ryou said, with a quiet voice, “I need to go to school.”

And as if the Spirit held a shred of consideration, the door was opened, and Ryou was allowed an exit. Behind him, words slithered from the Spirit’s mouth, following him.

“Don’t forget. I’ll be watching. In the meantime, enjoy your day at school, Landlord.”

The day passed all too quickly for Ryou.

At school, both Jonouchi and Honda were absent. He was grateful—the difficult atmosphere that would have surrounded them all had Honda and he been in the same room had now, with some rare luck, successfully been avoided. Yugi on the other hand, kept sending apologetic glances in Ryou’s direction, yet never had the courage to approach him. He thought he eventually would at the shoe lockers at the end of the day, but Ryou didn’t see him anywhere afterwards. He was neither disappointed nor sad. The emotions inside him ranged from dread and worry, so left alone, lifted the unnecessary baggage of inevitable guilt if he were to face any of them.

That day, he was to go to the museum.

Arriving at an intersection, Ryou stopped, waiting for the pedestrian cross sign to change. As he waited, he thought of everything that had happened in the previous weeks: He’d gone to Egypt, accompanying his friends to witness the final duel with the pharaoh. They had all been greeted by the Ishtars at port, cheerily, even Malik, who from his friends’ recollections, had been the antagonist who sought to destroy them all during Kaiba Corp’s hosted Battle City tournament—a tournament Ryou hardly remembered.

The crowd began to move, and he lightly rubbed at an old scar under the fabric of his uniform, following the movement of the group. Ryou himself couldn’t recall everything that had happened, but the scar served as evidence for what had occurred. The Spirit had been at the forefront of their minds during then, possessing Ryou so he could participate in the following duels. It was a reminder of Ryou’s insignificant role in the events that had transpired: host.

He walked across the intersection, the small pieces of insight from the Battle City event coming together in brief thoughts and memory flashes—

The bizarre man who didn’t move, silent and glassy eyed, staring into nothing. Ryou remembered standing before him, waving a hand, even trying to spook him into movement—

And then the Ring.

The Millennium Ring under his chest had reacted to something, and his memories abruptly stopped there.

Ryou frowned at his lack of information.

A sharp pain, the image of a golden bird made of flames before darkness again— a large dragon coiling around the flying balloon, its mouth open blue—then the hospital room of Kaiba’s blimp, where the KC logo was splattered across everything, even medication and milk.

Ryou was aware of the presence the Spirit had during those times—and at the same time, not. His presence meant Ryou’s temporary non-existence, suppressed in the depths beneath the conscious, but unable to access the subconscious. Ryou didn’t know what happened to him when the Spirit was the primary entity in his body.

It was unsettling, thinking he stopped existing at the Spirit’s whim.

Having shared a body—no not shared, Ryou thought, avoiding a pedestrian coming from the opposite direction. The Spirit didn’t share the body with him. He intruded upon Ryou, his soul, his mind. He hadn’t felt the Spirit’s existence so strongly since Battle City, with him now walking around with a face and physique almost identical.

Ryou gripped the strap of his bag, turning a corner upon reaching the other side of the intersection.

Almost identical.

He had thought that the Spirit could easily kill him, steal his identity and make himself pass for Ryou. His friends had never once been able to tell the two of them apart when the Spirit forcibly switched places with him, so, with the hypothetical scenario where the Spirit revealed himself to them, would Yugi and everybody else be able to tell the difference? Would they still not know it wasn’t Ryou and instead, was somebody else?

They no longer shared one physical body. Was it easier for the Spirit impersonate him when only their minds served as a substitution for the other? He remembered seeing the Spirit clearly for the first time since his return. The small subtle differences, the deviations in their body—could those be enough to differentiate between them? If not, he wondered what kept the Spirit from killing him and taking his identity entirely.

Ryou stopped a few blocks away from his apartment, ducking into an empty path and unbuttoning his school uniform. Taking the piece of gaudy ancient jewelry off his neck, it somehow felt lighter now that he had begun to grow accustomed to wearing it again. Touching it, out in the open, Ryou thought of something—

The Ring had encased the entity of someone entirely different than himself: The Spirit of the Ring. That’s what he had always seen him as—a spirit whose existence was contained within the Millennium Ring. Ryou never understood him to be the spirit of a person, although, on more than one occasion, the Spirit had referred to himself as a thief—nothing else.

Yugi and Atem had co-existed, growing from each other.

The interactions between he and the Spirt on the other hand, had been parasitic—the Spirit living within Ryou’s soul, emerging as he pleased. And when doing so, his soul completely suppressed Ryou’s. The Spirit used his body, going as far as hurting it at times, and hurting others with it. Even if he had gained one of his own, he was still using Ryou’s as a tool for his purposes.

Deep in thought, Ryou was unaware to the figure which appeared behind him.

“Had a good day at school?” His attempts at pretending to care were perturbing to say the least.

Startled, Ryou dropped the Ring onto his chest, buttoning his blazer with shaky, clumsy fingers. The Spirit merely gazed, amused, and Ryou tried to relax as much as he could under the leering eyes.

After a long, uncomfortable pause, the Spirit began with, “You little friends were here earlier.” Ryou traded a questioning glance with him. The Spirit shrugged, taking slow steps in a pace down the hidden alley.

“I assume they were here searching for anything that could tell them of your recent strange behavior.” He finished his sentence with a stretch of his mouth.

It took a moment for Ryou to understand what he meant. His friends—the two that had been missing from school that day—Honda and Jonouchi. The surprise and horror must have been obvious on his face for the Spirit laughed and said—

“I’m not stupid enough to do what it is you think I did. If I had confronted them, it wouldn’t take long for them to realize there were two of you—one at a school, the other not,” he said, gesturing with his index and middle finger. “Well, it wouldn’t take long for one of them to realize,” he continued, bringing his shoulders down in a half movement, “the other one is an idiot.”

Ryou visibly relaxed, though kept his guard up. The Spirit may have kept his distance from Honda and Jonouchi for his own sake, but at the least, Ryou’s secret had not yet been revealed. He was safe from Honda’s insistent suspicions for the time being.

The words ‘Thank you’ teetered on his lips, a habit deriving from his politeness. He knew better than to use his civility on someone like the Spirit.

The atmosphere between them became wordless.

“Aren’t you going somewhere?” he said expectantly, leaning his shoulder on the hard brick surface of the building near.

“Back home?” Ryou responded, taking a few steps in the designated direction.

“Somewhere else?” the Spirit said lowering his voice and crossing one arm over another.

Ryou drummed his fingers on the strap of his bag, heavy with books and supplies.

“I thought I’d leave my things here first,” he stated simply. It almost sounded like a plea, without the begging.

The Spirit blinked at him, an unreadable expression on his face as he regarded Ryou up and down. He uncrossed his arms and took a place behind him, nudging him with a hard shoulder.

“Hurry up.”

Ryou stumbled forward, casting a weak glare at the Spirit.

“You’re not going to follow me out in the open, are you?”

“There’s no one here,” the Spirit countered, sounding bored. He glanced around without interest.

Nevertheless, Ryou continued his interrupted walk home, checking the in-between of streets at every pass.

When they arrived at his apartment, he broke their mutual silence with a hesitant, tentative, question.

“You said they were here earlier—my friends.” He slipped his shoes off, noting the slight twitch downward of the Spirit’s eyebrow. “Did you mean,” he looked over his shoulder at the Spirt, “inside, too?”

The Spirit lifted his eyes to him. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he answered in a curt tone, receiving only that as his answer.

He took his school bag off the floor as he walked to his room, noting the shadowed footsteps following him.

Ryou touched the knob of the door, exchanging an uncertain glance with the Spirit.

“What?” the other barked when Ryou didn’t move.

Ryou averted his gaze.

“I’m going to change,” he said, rigid.

The Spirit’s outline moved on the wall, growing closer.

Landlord,” the other began, word uttered almost like a coo, and reached an arm over Ryou’s shoulder to push the door open. It creaked, slowly, almost painfully, to reveal the inside of his room.

Behind him, a firm hand dug into the sensitive spots of his back, between the shoulder blades, propelling him forward with reluctant steps.

“We used to share a body,” the Spirit tutted, circling Ryou. “Don’t tell me,” the Spirit dramatized a pause. “You’re shy,” he said with a grin and a raise of his brows. The closet doors were slid open forcefully, and the blood rushed to Ryou’s face, both in indignation and embarrassment with the proposition the Spirit was implying.

“I don’t have all day,” he said, waiting. “Weren’t you going to change?” His eyes narrowed with malicious pleasure.

Ryou’s mouth curved down at the corners. He stiffly walked to his closet, aware of the Spirit’s piercing gaze following him. The smile on his face was suppressed, as much as he could, but Ryou saw the malevolence behind it, mocking.

He grabbed a shirt at random, yanking it off the hangers with a hard pull.

“Could you at least have the decency to turn around?” he said, a frigidity in his voice even he didn’t recognize.

The Spirit raised an eyebrow and began to laugh. The heat in Ryou’s face rose, this time, clearly with anger.

When he was done laughing, the Spirit still hadn’t moved, instead, leaning his body against the wall nearest Ryou.

“You were serious?” he said feigning concern, and not at all finished with his ridicule. His face twisted into a frown when Ryou didn’t answer. “Are you that dense?”

Ryou remained where he stood, staring at the multitude of clothing compressed together. The shirt in his hand was clutched tightly in a balled fist beside him.

He shrugged off his blazer, fuming, and it landed in an ignored heap beside his feet. The Spirit observed it as if fell, then, quirked a surprised eyebrow at Ryou.

He hesitated, only for a small second, and then unbuttoned his white dress shirt, noticing how the Spirit had grown quiet.

Even with the burst of courage fueled by spite, Ryou shifted his body, slightly turning away from the Spirit’s intrusive gaze as he slid off his shirt. The Ring on his chest jingled from the newly gained freedom but Ryou newly confined it against himself when he pulled a fresh t-shirt overhead, giving him a small sense of security again.

Not thinking he could withstand another moment of embarrassment, he slammed the closet doors, keeping his uniform pants on.

He turned around and the Spirit had his eyes cast away, a jeweled hand rubbing at his chin.

When he saw Ryou had finished, his eyes twinkled with wickedness and his mouth parted to reveal teeth.

“That wasn’t so hard was it?” He shoved his body off the wall, walking around Ryou.

Stopping short of the threshold of the bedroom door, he rested an arm on the frame.

“We’ll head to the museum an hour before it closes.” His voice had adopted a tone of seriousness, contrasting heavily with one he had used to humiliate Ryou.

Ryou watched him, anger not having yet left him completely.

“‘We?’” he echoed. “I thought I was—”

“You thought wrong,” the Spirit said harshly. “An amateur like you? Alone?” he snorted and looked over his shoulder, before returning his glance to Ryou. “Besides, I don’t want you to get any ideas when you’re there.” His eyes narrowed, adding to the darkness of his features.

“What do you mean?” Ryou asked, a creeping sensation coming over him as the Spirit’s mouth twitched with a hint of wryness.

“Let’s just say there’s a little test in store when you get there.”


By the time Ryou left his apartment, the sun had begun to lower itself nearer the horizon. The museum, he was fully aware, shut its doors to the public at 6 o’clock, and son of the owner or no, he wasn’t going to be let past those doors any time later than that.

It wasn’t a long walk, though, he would have to continue his brisk pace to avoid most of the traffic. During peak hours, the roads were congested, the pedestrian sidewalks often held up at intersections by the sheer number of cars making their way up and down the gray pavement streets.

Having put on a coat, Ryou had exited from his home with someone eagerly tailing him. The Spirt had gone along as well, staying close behind Ryou, footsteps light as a cat’s barely audible over the commotion of the city.

He took the less common alleys, avoiding most of the worst parts of traffic holdups, both from cars and people alike. Ryou managed to glance over his shoulder every now and again to see him, but soon lost any sight of the Spirit as he walked the narrow roads, nearing his destination.

He expected a sign to show he was still being followed, but reaching the museum, he found no presence of the Spirit close by. Regardless, he looked up at the grand white pillars of the museum—the same ones he’d come to observe many times before during his lifetime. It was the first building he’d set eyes on when he had visited Domino City with his father, never having once thought the city itself would be where he took up residence. Ryou remembered when the Egyptian exhibit had first been advertised, planning to see it by himself sometime, hoping it would provide clues in helping solve the mystery of the Millennium Items—But the opportunity never presented itself. The one time he had been able to visit Domino Museum was when he had been looking forward to accompanying the Pharaoh in solving the mysteries of his memories. When his soul vanished from the Puzzle, Ryou had been heartbroken after being denied entry to follow the rest of his friends. He hadn’t set foot in the museum since then.

As he entered, a cool breeze of air hit him, and he shivered, tightening the coat around himself. The door closed behind him, lazily dragging across the sleek wooden floor. The museum was quiet—which was normal at so late an hour and near closing hour—and the solitude of the specious building brought him a momentary peace.

At the counter, he exchanged money for his entry ticket. The woman at the desk slid it to him across the surface of the counter, along with a pamphlet.

“We apologize, but tours can’t be bought right now. The museum is closing in an hour.”

“It’s all right,” he conversed, pocketing the ticket and thumbing through the pamphlet in mock interest, “Just a bit of late sightseeing.”

The woman smiled and let him be on his way.

Ryou knew why he had come, and although he didn’t want to deviate from his purpose, he could not overcome his curiosity. Mock interest turning into a genuine one, Ryou opened the folded pamphlet, examining the previews, reading the brief descriptions of exhibits open, and of those soon to come. Ryou scanned through gladiator culture, paused at vanishing Chinese art, read a paragraph on Irish Catholic saints, becoming highly engrossed in the ‘Coming Soon’ crystalline gems that featured gems from various parts of the world.

So distracted was he that the footsteps approaching did not register until the person who made them stopped and sat down next to him on the bench near one of the displays.

“Bakura?” the person tested, almost hesitance making their voice quiver with uncertainty.

Ryou cast his head up, closing the pamphlet abruptly and clutching it in a balled fist after.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” the other said, leaning back and placing some distance between them.

Ryou cocked his head to one side, digging through memories to retrieve a name that fit the face before him.

“You’re,” he said with as much doubt behind the name as the other had had, “Malik?” The name uncurled with a question over it, but Malik nodded stiffly in acknowledgement.

Ryou relaxed his hand, but the rest of him was tight as a string and it seemed that Malik, by his equally rigid posture, was quite the same. He had little incentive to continue the conversation with someone he talked to a handful of times, but for the sake of whatever etiquette he was raised with, he brought up what he hoped would be an adequate and relevant topic of conversation.

“I heard about the robbery from Yugi,” Ryou said, re-folding the wrinkled pamphlet and setting it down on the bench beside him.

Malik looked sort of pleased that it hadn’t been left to him to start the conversation. “Oh, right.” His posture relaxed as he leaned back on the wall. “Me and my sister were pretty surprised by that.” He looked like he was trying to glance in Ryou’s direction but kept his eyes ahead. “Didn’t expect anything to be stolen here of all places, I mean,” he said, maintaining himself upright, “back in Egypt, some people would know of some of the myths behind the Items, but Japan? Not unless you’ve studied them specifically, or really into the occult,” he finished, keeping his gaze successfully away from meeting Ryou’s again. “Neither seem capable of stealing, though.”

Strangely, Malik had opened up rather quickly after the initial painfully self-conscious start. Although he kept looking away from Ryou, and shooting brooding glances at the floor, he was being civil, and not at all deserving of the feelings of avoidance Ryou had regarded him with.

“Right…” Ryou said weakly, using the pamphlet to scratch at a spot on his temple.

After a long bout of silence, Ryou caught Malik, now arms crossed, directed his full line of sight to Ryou. Across from them, a display case holding vases from the Mesopotamian era were encased. The creatures of legends, much like gryphons extended their wings in long, feathery hues of low blue.

Ryou, aware of the eyes on him, turned apprehensively to Malik. “What is it?”

Malik spoke directly. “Well, you know it was the Ring that was stolen, right?”

Ryou blinked several times, lowering his eyes to look at his knees. “Yes,” he said, grateful to manage to suppress the nervous tinge that threatened to encumber his voice.

“People have always tried to steal it.” Malik continued, turning to look at the same vase Ryou had been. Ryou shook his head, although Malik hadn’t sought any sort of answer. “Back when—” his eyes lowered for a second, returning quickly to their steely selves, “—when Isis and I were tomb keepers—my father—he was allowed to go to the surface for supplies—” His voice had become strained and Ryou didn’t know what to do or why exactly Malik had begun to speak about his past to him. Ryou was virtually a nobody in his life.

“He would come home and laugh about thieves being punished by God, he said, for trying to steal the Items.” Malik frowned. His hands began idly rubbing the bracelets encircling his wrists. “My siblings and I knew of the other Millennium Items, but the only we were ordered to guard by my father were the Rod and the Necklace. Other loyalists had jurisdiction over the remaining ones.”

It was the first time learning of Malik’s background. The knowledge he had of him had been gained second hand. Hearing about his past, Ryou rapidly assessed that Malik knew more about the origins of the Items than Ryou could ever hope to uncover in museums or books.

“According to my father, the thieves were killed because it was the Pharaoh’s will protecting the Items from ‘lowly scum,’ as he put it.” Ryou was beginning to see the late Ishtar was a charming, if not, fanatical man. “But even then, it was only the Ring that caused people to burn or die in bizarre accidents.” He finished, running a hand through his hair and fixing the front.

 “I probably weirded you out, huh?” He closed his eyes, resting the back of his head on the coolness of the wall. “We barely know each other and—” He sighed, frustrated.

What he said rang true and echoes the sentiments Ryou himself had earlier. He and Malik hardly knew each other, apart from the accommodations the Ishtar siblings provided Ryou, Yugi, and the others during their visit to Egypt earlier that year. There, the two of them hadn’t exchanged that many words other than the courtesies of greeting one another when they saw each other, but not much more apart from those rare exchanges.

Despite Malik’s distant behavior in what felt like avoidance to Ryou, Ryou had become curious of him at first, the interest quickly waning when the other didn’t reciprocate the interest. His main source of knowledge that had anything to do with Malik was the small amount of memories from the Battle City tournament. For instance, leaning against him, then under the alias of Namu, having been freshly stabbed; seeing the Dark Malik terrorizing the finalists mounted on the Kaiba Corp blimp. Other than that, Ryou was highly aware of the partnership between Malik and the Spirit—

“Have they caught the thief?” Ryou said, interrupting the buzzing silence that had blanketed the atmosphere.

“Hm?” Malik said, coming out of his equally deep thoughts. “Oh, no. They haven’t,” he snorted when he registered what Ryou had asked. His cynical gestures reminded Ryou of someone. “It’s funny. Everything is over, but somehow, that thing is still attracting thieves.”

Everything, Malik had said, meaning all that had to do with the Items and the Pharaoh’s destiny, his memories. While all that had come to a conclusion in a way, to Ryou, everything was not over. The Spirit had become part of his life again, and had coerced Ryou into doing a task for him, something he still needed to get back to without arousing any suspicions about his intentions.

Then again, he sneaked a glance a Malik, it didn’t look as though he would press Ryou with questions.

“Did you come here to see what’s left of our exhibit?” he asked suddenly to Ryou. His eyes still looked in a different direction.

Ryou eyebrows lifted under the shadow of his hair.

“It’s not closed off?” he asked, sounding surprised. He thought his mission would prove more difficult, but it the Egyptian exhibit hadn’t been closed off after the theft, then things might go more smoothly than he’d anticipated.

Malik craned his neck, bringing a hand up to massage at a tense area. “It was for a while, but Isis asked for it to be re-opened. It won’t be on display much longer, though. She wanted it to be open to the public again for the last few weeks left.”

“Oh.” Ryou digested the information. “I would, then, actually.” He made a move to get up but stopped. “Is the exhibit ending because of the robbery?”

Malik, on the other hand, did stand up, dusting his pants after. “No. It’s closing because it’s been here for a few months already.”

Ryou rose from his seat after Malik. He glanced back at the reception desk, noting the woman from before was busying herself with tidying her station.

“Isn’t the museum about to close?” he asked, remembering her words. “Will this be all right?” He followed close behind Malik as the other walked naturally through the corridors.

“Sure,” he answered, long pause following after. He slowed his pace, rubbing a hand over his hair and managing to give Ryou an equal glance. “They see me here all the time with my sister. They’ll probably think I’m giving a private tour or something.” He cleared non-existing phlegm from his throat, shifting his eyes away and toward the path in front of them.

Around them, polished objects, artifacts, bones and sat on high displays, restored to the modern era. Ryou appreciated the grand beauty of it all, to be able to excavate things from the past and return to them their original quality, or as close as possible.

The plaques on cases passed, Ryou had read, ranged from ceramic vases—of the Ming Dynasty, tinted porcelain holding ponds and Sakura trees from the Edo period—to older antiques like molded copper clay ones from Native American tribes, sitting close to others of gold, silver, silky pinks of exotic shapes that made Ryou wonder if they been commodities or instead used for practical purposes.

Vases transformed into historical Japanese armor, into paintings, whose beautifully oiled landscapes soon gave way to shriveled mummies and following those, stone tablets.

Ryou hurried after Malik who was some steps ahead of him. The latter saw Ryou lingering behind and shifted his weight as he waited.

“You can look at those if you want. I’ve already seen everything, so,” he trailed off with a shrug and a tilt if his neck.

Struggling to stop himself from reading the remaining plaques, Ryou caught up with Malik in four quick strides.

“I could always come back next time if you’re in a hurry,” he said, an apologetic air emanating from him.

“I’m not,” Malik said, nonchalant. “But ‘next time’ we probably won’t be here anymore.”

Ryou backtracked.

“You’re not waiting to find the missing Item?”

Malik thought for a moment.

“Not sure.” He crossed his arms and shifted his weight again. “Isis said in a couple of weeks—probably sooner for us since she helps help arrange the exhibits at the next museum as they arrive,” he clarified.

“Oh,” was all Ryou could manage.

“Yeah.” He looked Ryou up and down, nodding to himself before gesturing to the large room that had opened up on the other side. “It’s over here if you’re done. It’s okay if you’re not,” he amended quickly.

Casting one final look at the stone tablet under the glass casing, Ryou headed in the direction Malik had shown him.

The large stone slab hanging on the wall was the first thing he noticed. Walking closer, the rock turned out to be much bigger than he initially thought. Ryou stood, gaping at it. Symbols were carved all over it, with precise care. The hieroglyphics were engraved smoothly and in perfectly draw lines, the grooves forming the glyphs looked as though they’d been written with ink. On the slab, Ryou saw the famed depiction of the Pharaoh dueling his rival, a priest. The resemblance between the once nameless pharaoh and the modern-day Yugi, was uncanny. Even Kaiba, who was a renowned skeptic, a non-believer in the magical lore having to do with monster cards and Items, couldn’t escape from the similarities shared with those of the depicted rival priest.

Beneath it, Ryou read the small description, bending at the waist to read more carefully the miniscule lettering:

‘A stone carving depicting the nameless pharaoh and a priest. Recent discovery has revealed the pharaoh’s lost name to be Atem—’

Malik, silent, yet observant, added another piece of information; “My sister added that.”

Ryou straightened his posture. “That was thoughtful of her.” There were hieroglyphs next to the katakana characters, and he assumed those were the Egyptian counterpart of the name.

Malik shrugged. “Informative,” he offered. “Wanted his name to be known to the public after millennia of not having one.”

Behind them, a voice spoke.

“Yes, that is correct.”

Malik looked over the top of Ryou’s head, who turned to look as well.

A woman in white strolled toward the two, eyes directed at Ryou, unwavering as she neared. Not one to smile, Isis greeted him with stoic but polite mannerisms.

“Have you been admiring the exhibits this evening? Or is it another matter that has brought you here tonight?” she asked, walking past Ryou to stand before the stone.

Ryou balked.

“Yes,” he began, deciding to stick as close to the truth as possible. “I wanted to see the Items.”

Malik, reassured by his sister’s presence, had relaxed. The previously tense shoulders had fallen into a more natural position, and the rigidity of his walk had eased into a comfortable stroll as he moved closer to her.

Ryou couldn’t say the same. Isis’s eyes drove into him without much effort. Whether it was her usual gaze or something that caused her to dislike Ryou, he felt unwelcome at worst.

Her skirt billowed with a sudden turn of her heel, and Malik, without missing a beat, trailed behind her flowing dress to follow. Supposing he was to do the same, Ryou dashed behind the two, halting at the new destination his escorts had directed him to.

Immediately recognizing the deep yellow bedrock, he looked up to see outlines in the shapes of the seven Millennium Items. While the Puzzle rested in the center, the Key, Scales, Necklace, and Rod around it, two slots were empty.

“Where’s the Millennium Eye?” he asked. “I thought only the Ring had been taken.” Knowing very well where the Eye was, somewhere in the deep of the Spirit’s pockets, he feigned ignorance.

Isis gave Ryou a sidelong glance, extending her hand to touch the glass casing.

“Yes. The police may have only paid attention to what went missing, but I saw through what had been left behind by that thief.”

Ryou saw Malik lower his eyes away from his sister.

“The Millennium Eye,” she said, turning to Ryou, “was a fake.” She stated it so matter-of-factly, it sounded as though there was no significance to its absence.

“But—” Ryou began, voice holding genuine surprise, “if you knew, why didn’t you tell the police?” He trailed off before his voice adopted an anxious tone. If Isis could see through the inauthenticity of the Eye’s replica, could she see through Ryou’s motives as well?

“The police are unfit for such a task. They hold no regard for the importance of the Items.” She blinked, a first since Ryou had set eyes on her. “It would make no difference had they known a second one was missing.”

From above, a voice resonated through the high speakers.

The museum will close in five minutes. Thank you for visiting the Domino Museum. We hope you have a wonderful afternoon. Please, visit us again soon.”

With the repeating announcement overhead, Ryou found it opportune to begin his departure. He had the information he needed, and staying with both Malik and Isis together, while not wholly unpleasant, made him feel like an outsider, nonetheless. Isis’s silent assessment didn’t at all help his situation, and neither did Malik’s dismissal once he had lost all interest.

It was then that Ryou was a little unprepared for Malik to begin an equal pace next to him.

“Sorry. My sister’s been acting strange since the robbery,” he said when they were at a suitable distance for Isis not to hear.

The entrance was deserted as they approach. A lone janitor had appeared from his room, wheeling a yellow cart with his tools behind him. He smiled politely at the two when he saw them and took a turn at a hall leading away into a deeper part of the museum where he would begin his daily tasks.

Ryou stopped short of the door, right across from the counter.

“Really?” He hadn’t really noticed a difference between when Ryou first met her and moments ago. Then again, he didn’t know anything about her other than what her profession was. “The exhibit was her life’s work, though. It’s understandable. A robbery like this…”

Malik closed his eyes suppressing a wry grin.

“‘Life’s work,’ huh? Yeah, you could call it that,” he said.

Ryou had forgotten what the Millennium Items really meant to the Ishtar family. Malik and Isis, along with Rishid, had been raised as part of a clan of tomb keepers. Together, their upbringing consisted of an underground confine and a lifetime duty to protect the Millennium Items entrusted to them until the pharaoh’s return. Ryou knew very well that having to continue that duty, continue that life, when everything else pointed to its conclusion, was incredibly frustrating—more than frustrating. He thought maybe that was why Malik was so dissatisfied with a life of museums and relics.

He felt an odd connection with him suddenly. Life hadn’t exactly played out the way he’d probably planned. He reconnected with the sister he’d left once left behind; but was living the life of an heir to nothing, the pampered little brother, satisfying?

Ryou wondered what he thought of his life alongside his siblings. It could hardly be compared with living the life of a villain, with servants at beck and call.

“I should be going then,” he said, pressing his hand against the door. “It was,” he struggled for a suitable word, “—nice seeing you again.” Ryou braced his weight on the door, eager to leave when—

“Wait.”

He stopped. The warm air from outside leaked inside.

“—Yes?” Ryou blinked.

“I—” Malik lifted his face to look at Ryou and quickly searched for something else to anchor his gaze on. “I think I should have done this before you came back to Japan—” He exhaled heavily, annoyed. “No, I should have done before that.” Although his words were strained, Ryou sensed the resolve in them. Malik spoke directly and with a boldness to his voice Ryou was not used to. The other walked closer, composing himself before Ryou.

“I should apologize for what I did to you,” he said, jaw clenching as his neck bowed forward. “I know what I did to you—to everybody—is unforgivable. Despite what I did—and what I planned—all of you, you accepted me into your group. And you—”

Ryou’s mouth had opened with the unexpected burst of apology.

“I used you and—” His throat seemed to close up, but Malik pressed his mouth together and started again. “I was ready to sacrifice you to further my plans. What I did—it’s—one of the worst things anybody could do,” he finished bitterly.

“Even though I know you could never forgive someone like me, I want you to know, I’m very sorry.” He bowed this time, fully, stiffly.

Ryou fought the urge to stand him upright. The door he’d been holding slipped from his grasp and it closed with a creak, the only thing disturbing the silence in that instant. His mouth flapped without making a sound, closing abruptly with a gulp, when Malik stood his full height over him.

Ryou’s lips curved into a nervous half-smile.

“I don’t understand,” Ryou sputtered. “There’s nothing to apologize for—”

“I was ready to kill you,” Malik declared, voice lowered into a hiss.

Ryou was rather unsurprised by the statement. He found his mouth thinning into a line before commenting, “I know what it’s like to be controlled—”

“That’s the problem—I wasn’t!” he shouted. He took a step forward, inching closer to Ryou as if proximity would make him understand better what he was saying. “Everything I did, those were my decisions.” He all but grabbed Ryou, given how his arm movements had grown desperate, gesturing up and down wildly, Malik insisting he was to blame.

Ryou put out his hands in a calming gesture, but Malik took it as a sign to latch on to them. He was left without the option to leave or speak, so Ryou stood there, waiting for him to finish spewing what had been eating at him for months.

“I did terrible things. It would be easier if everyone hated me for them,” he finished, letting go of Ryou. He said nothing for almost a minute, then, he took one timid step back, as if realizing he’d lost control of himself. “Maybe this,” he gestured at the high museum surroundings, “is my punishment.” His hands landed with a heavy weight to them at his sides.

Ryou brought his own arm closer to him; he could still feel the grip of Malik’s fingers on his wrist, how they grappled for some shred of blame from the person they clamped on to.

He began with strain in his voice.

“Don’t think of it as punishment,” he said. “Think of it as—” Ryou blinked, knowing what he was about to say would sound cliché, maybe even stupid.

“—a new beginning.” He nodded once, as if to add assurance to the statement.

“A new beginning?” Malik echoed with distaste, the raise of his brow showing he would have likely preferred Ryou decking him right there.

“It’s what I would have liked,” Ryou answered, mouth curving wryly, and one shoulder lifting weakly.

Malik tilted his head slightly toward him, not understanding. His face dropped, though, after the brief moment of confusion, into consideration. Malik was aware of the things he’d done—and that by itself, was a sign of hope for him. There was guilt and strangely, shame, in him, but he was trying to move past all that, seeking closure. Doubts, however, remained, fueling the sense in him of having irredeemable culpability.

One eye narrowed as he forced another set of words out of his mouth.

“Thanks,” he paused, “Bakura.” The name sounded odd, as though there were a necessary exertion with using it on Ryou.

Ryou let out a small, unheard laugh, and decided.

“You can call me Ryou,” he told Malik.

Unsure if Malik was grateful for release from using his family name, Ryou watched him test the new one on his tongue.

“Ryou…okay.”

He walked to the door, extending an arm and pushing it open for Ryou, who immediately felt the wind blow his hair into his face. He tucked it back, moving past Malik, giving him a gentle genuine smile of gratefulness.

On the steps of the museum, descending, he turned only to address the other’s call:

“I’ll see you around?” Malik said at the top of the steps.

Ryou kept his sigh to himself.

“Maybe. I could come back.” He adjusted the waist of his coat. “There were a lot of exhibits that I,” he watched a car pass, “wouldn’t mind visiting again.”

Malik descended next to him.

“Sure. I’ll give you the full tour.”

They reached the bottom steps with a strange silence settling over the two. Ryou shuffled his weight from foot to foot, wanting to leave but thinking doing it so abruptly would be rude.

He opened his mouth to say goodbye when Malik beat him to it.

“You’re very different,” he said, “from him.” He leaned against the handrail of the steps, crossing his legs at the ankle.

There it was.

Out in the open.

The acknowledgement that Malik had known the Spirit.

He looked at Ryou from underneath the wisps of blond hair that had escaped to his forehead.

“Did I say something wrong?” he asked when Ryou had grown even more quiet, gone still.

Ryou shook his head, took a breath, and flashed a minute smile.

“No.” He paused, touching his own face. “No,” he repeated, louder.

Malik tightened his lips.

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you,” he said with a glance at his bracelets. “But—I’m glad you are. Different, I mean,” he amended.

Unable to respond, Ryou could only watch as the barrier of unspokeness came between them again. All he wanted to do was to reach through it and tell Malik it was okay—that he hadn’t said anything upsetting or offensive. In fact, Ryou was glad he hadn’t thought of he and the Spirit the same—that he’d recognized their differences.

Glad that he could have someone who could tell them apart.

When Ryou looked up again, Malik had slipped out of sight. He stood there alone, holding his hands together in front of him, and when nothing else happened, he began his walk home thinking about the possibility of a missed opportunity to connect.

The sun had now settled deeply under the horizon leaving an eerie quiet hidden between alleys and empty streets. The gravel beneath his feet crunched as he rushed through them, kicking stray glass bottles on occasion and startling himself with the uncharacteristic loud noise. He half-expected for a fourth, or a stray cat to include itself in crossing his path, but what Ryou instead got, was something much bigger.

He came to an abrupt halt when he felt Spirit’s shadow settled over him.

“Not very inconspicuous, are you?”

Ryou looked up, finding him leaning over one of the emergency escape railings stuck on the side of the building. His face was concealed, but judging from what little he could make out, and the tone of his voice, Ryou concluded he was none too pleased. Granted, he never was, but the evil gleam pervasive in his smirks was gone, replaced by a glare concealing another, darker, emotion.

The pebbles under Ryou’s feet shifted with his own movement, gaining a faster pace as he returned home. He saw the Spirit moving above him as well, following in what felt like pursuit, until he didn’t—and Ryou jiggled the knob of his door thrusting himself inside.

The sigh of relief died before it could form.

The two stared at one another without making a move—the Spirit with his arms crossed over his chest and Ryou with his hands on the edges of his coat.

Slowly, Ryou began to slide of his coat caught under the Spirit’s unblinking glare. He put the clothing garment on the surface of the table, hesitant in doing so.

Perhaps he had been too presumptuous in believing that if he cooperated in whatever the Spirit said, he would eventually become less hostile—leave, even. In the oppressing quiet, though, Ryou sensed the dangerous energy radiating off him—anger, and he didn’t understand what had caused it.

Ryou was easily near the door—one swift turn and he could bolt. Even if he couldn’t get very far, at the very least, his neighbors could call an ambulance or the police, when they saw his mangled body strewn bloody on the street. The sliced phone cord on his kitchen wall dangled miserably and he was feeling immediate regret for not fixing that—and for not purchasing himself a new cellphone—sooner.

“Well?” the Spirit spat venomously. He curled a lip up, managing a sneer of discontent.

Ryou began to speak quickly.

“The exhibit wasn’t closed off. It’s still open to the public. They weren’t moved.”

He glanced at the Spirit, hesitating with the next part of the information he thought was relevant.

Thinking the uttered report would be satisfying enough, Ryou saw the Spirit looking more irked than before.

“And?” he barked.

The hair along his arm stood on end. The flesh behind his neck rose, uncomfortable.

He braced himself.

“They know,” he said, “that the Eye is a fake.”

The Spirit’s voice had turned into ice. “What?” Rather than an explosion, there was an unsettling cold calm.

He shifted through the darkness, outline moving rapidly through the space between the two.

It wasn’t fear that propelled Ryou to move—it was instinct. He felt detached from his body as reflexes took control of his legs and arms, twisted the rest of him around for a desperate reach toward the door in an attempt to grab the knob, a victorious cool sensation under his fingertips—

There was a sharp pull to his hair, a wide hand digging into his scalp, and then his cheek was pushed against the wooden surface of the door, rendering his possible escape closed.

The Spirit flipped him over, placing his hands on either side of Ryou’s head.

Part of him thought there was still opportunity for rationality in the situation, given how as of then, the Spirit had done nothing worse. Obviously, something had been upsetting and Ryou ransacked his brain for any information that could help determine what caused the change from brooding glare into blatant aggression. The only thing Ryou had mentioned were the Items—the Eye—

But why would that upset him? The Ring had had such widespread coverage over its theft—why would anyone knowing the Millennium Eye be cause for upset?

Leaning toward Ryou, the Spirit had lost some inches in height, but by no means had he lost any of the dangerous edge to his posture.

“Now,” he began, tilting his head to one side, inspecting every movement on Ryou’s face, “this wouldn’t have anything to do with the little chat you had with that traitorous tomb keeper, would it?”

Ryou’s mouth opened slightly, eyes narrowing.

“You’re not implying I told him?”

“I don’t remember asking you to have a heart to heart with Malik,” he hissed.

Ryou clenched his jaw. “It’s not like I could avoid him.”

The Spirit snorted with slight loathing.

“No, I suppose you couldn’t.” He eyed the area of Ryou’s neck, then returned the glare to his face. “You’re not like me, are you?” he said, enunciating each word.

Ryou shouldn’t have been surprised that the Spirt had been listening so closely—and he wasn’t—but he would have felt better if it hadn’t been mentioned out loud.

He breathed out a sharp breath through his nose.

“No,” Ryou answered, defiant with the simple flatness of the response.

The Spirit sneered, providing Ryou with a demonstration of his canines. The hand next to his head slid down and landed on his neck, almost like a caress. He felt the Spirit’s thumb gently stroking the area above his Adam’s apple.

Ryou gripped the Spirit’s wrist, pulling, without much success, to remove the hold, the threat.

“No,” the Spirit parroted. “I guess you aren’t.”

There was a feeling of pressure clamping down on his throat. He saw the expression of gratification of the Spirit, the satisfied half-grin, the twitch of an eyebrow—

Ryou couldn’t breathe.

Then, without warning—

The Spirit’s eyes widened, the sneer fell and was replaced by bewilderment.

The smile on his tormentor’s face had disappeared, as well as the hand on his neck, now outstretched in the space between them.

The world around Ryou swayed—or was that him?

Above him now, as Ryou fell to the floor as though he possessed no legs, the Spirit moved his mouth in slow, soundless motions. His mouth had tightened when he received no response. He lowered himself, coming closer—

There was no escape. Ryou’s vision became blurry slits as his eyes began to close.

Behind them, he saw visions of sandy, endless dunes rolling in the wind.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 5: “Source”

Another day, Bakura would have enjoyed the types of faces his former host was making when he was consumed by fear. Today, however, he was not feeling very pleased with him. He had made himself very clear to not be seen by anyone unnecessary, and the fool had gone and spent half his visit to the museum with the traitorous tomb keeper and his sister.

Anyone else like his school friends would have been easy to deal with. Malik on the other hand, had seen first-hand the disparity between him and his host. If prompted, he could tell the difference between the two.

Luckily, no one yet knew of Bakura’s resurrection. He was free to continue his plans without any meddling from unwanted sources. Not even the tomb keeper suspected it. From what he had seen between the exchange he and his host had at the museum, Malik was too grieved by his actions as leader of the Ghouls that he would probably never be involved with anything that had to do with the items’ power again.

Bakura knew of course, that the items were now empty shells of their former selves. He had felt it the moment he came face to face with the stone slab that held them. Making his way into the exhibit had been a small challenge to him. Not having the ability to send people into the shadow realm then was a setback, but it wasn’t something to stop him. He’d gone after dark one night after careful assessment of the pathetic old man who guarded the entire building by himself, memorized his patterns (which consisted of sleeping as soon as the exhibit closed, and waking only to read obscene magazines) and struck when the time was right.

When he saw the stone, he remembered how angry he felt. The damnable pharaoh had won the duel, it seemed, and stopped Bakura from advancing his plans of sending the world into chaos. He’d even stripped him of the very privilege that drove him for almost 3000 years—and that was killing him with his own hands.

Even so, he had decided to take what was rightfully his—the ring. It was an item he wasn’t quite ready to part with despite its lack of powers. Giving it to his host was an experiment. Since it didn’t react to him, perhaps the boy who he chose to possess, would make it. If that happened, the powers within, then, were not completely gone. But when there was no reaction from his host and the ring touching, he had to admit it was a shocking setback.

Nonetheless, Bakura would not have himself be powerless—purposeless, now that the pharaoh had successfully left the world to achieve eternal peace. He wouldn’t have it. If it took all his life, he would have his vengeance on the pharaoh—afterlife or not.

At first, Bakura had been too shocked by the reaction his former landlord had to his touch. He saw him shake, and thought it was from the momentary pressure he had inflicted on his neck. But it was a light grip, nothing to make him react like he had. His eyes had gone out of focus, and the fear within them had evaporated leaving a blank stare. He fell over, completely still, and then Bakura heard it.

A language he thought he’d never hear—not in this part of the world at least. He listened to his host as weak words tumbled out of his mouth. They were snippets, incomplete sentences. He didn’t think his host was aware he was even speaking as he laid there completely immobilized by an unseen force.

Bakura flipped him over with his foot, curious to find out what exactly had caused the reaction. He saw, instead, a faint glow underneath the boy’s shirt—a surge of magic from within the ring.

He reached for it, wanting to possess the ancient magic once more. He peeled off the golden item noticing the red welts it had left on his host’s skin. The material was hot but he wasn’t too affected by it. He tugged on the string keeping it tied to the body on the floor and snapped it off.

The power so familiar to him pulsed anew. He felt it, the spirits of the items stirring inside and Bakura couldn’t help but laugh. The pharaoh it seemed, hadn’t won after all.

“It seems you weren’t so useless after all,” Bakura spoke to Ryou’s limp body which had ceased its foreign mutters. He paced around him, noticing the black energy that had begun to seep out from where the ring had lain. The inky color swirled within the confines of the swollen area until it made a perfect tattoo of the Millennium Ring. Bakura had no idea how the ring had regained its powers, but then again, he didn’t seem to be bothered by it as long as the magic was there. Unsure if his host was dead, he cared too little at the moment to help. “I think I’ll thank you by granting you one last wish.” He lowered himself and gripped Ryou’s jaw in his hands, turning it one way and then another. It was warm, he noted, meaning Ryou was still alive for the time being. “You won’t ever have to see me again,” he laughed, pushing the teen’s face aside. “After all, it’s not like you can.”


A rhythmic ticking resonated repeatedly in his ears. Slowly, it dragged overlapping into the next tick, tick, tick, until Ryou opened his eyes. He heard his own groan, loud, in his ears. There was a cold feeling under his cheeks, smooth, like the floor of his apartment.

He turned and saw white above him. Confused, he shifted where lay. To his right were the legs of a table, brown and strangely close by. To his left, he could see under his couch. Nine-sided dice long lost rested underneath, dusty and undisturbed. He squinted and sighed as he sat up.

Ryou found himself on his kitchen floor. His back cracked and ached under their sudden usage. With his mind groggy, he tried to recollect why exactly he was in there, struggling to conjure up any coherent memories. Like a deflated balloon, he sat, until he felt well enough to stand. Unfortunately, his legs refused to listen. He fell back on the ground, aching pains coursing through his back and arms, tired from spending the night on the cold floor.

“Ow,” he moaned, clutching his head with one hand, his middle section with another.

“What…happened?” he asked himself quietly. His mind answered him with incomplete thoughts—the museum, Malik, the items…and then more cryptic images that served to confuse him further. He recalled sand—lots of it, even in the air—and people walking animatedly within a town he had never been to before. He was sure he hadn’t, but thinking about it gave him a sense of déjà vu.

Daylight streamed through his windows in a hazy glow. Ryou looked around him and found himself alone. The spirit wasn’t anywhere in his apartment from what he could see. He hadn’t particularly looked forward to meeting him, but any help in piecing together the gaps in his memory would be helpful.

Groaning, Ryou slowly staggered to his feet. His entire body felt heavy, and his muscles cried in pain at every movement. “Ow,” he repeated as he limped to his bedroom. The door creaked as he pushed it open, once again revealing another empty room. He released a shaky breath as he neared his bed where without restriction, threw himself on it. It beat the floor in terms of comfort, and Ryou sighed into the softer material, releasing the tension within himself. His eyes remained half-open, staring absentmindedly at the fabric pattern of his powdered blue sheets. He blinked, lost in thought.

The way he felt now reminded him of previous blackouts he could never—would never—piece together. Those times, he would accept them without question and move on hoping they happened less frequently or not at all. If he didn’t try and forget, thoughts of what could have happened while his conscious was suppressed tormented him into his dreams. This time, however, it wasn’t like before. He had his own body; it was no longer shared.

Without thinking, he brought his hand up to his throat pinching the elastic skin beneath his chin. That’s right, he thought. Ryou opened his hand touching his palm to the base of his throat. He held it there, his eyebrows furrowing as his memories slowly pieced together.

“I don’t remember asking you to have a soul to soul with Malik.” That was the spirit’s voice.

“It’s not like I could avoid him.” And then his own.

“No, I guess you couldn’t.”

The hand around his throat clenched slightly. He rubbed his thumb over the area that had been affected by the spirit’s own violent touch.

“He tried to choke me,” Ryou spoke out loud, a mixture of disbelief and confusion in his voice.

He didn’t understand why he was so shocked. The spirit hadn’t bothered to hide its malice. On more than one occasion, he even threatened to kill him in ways that included more blood.

The boy shivered clutching his neck with both hands as if to ward off any more attacks to it. He rubbed it slowly, then vigorously trying to scrub away the lingering feeling of the spirit’s hands.

“Ah!” he gasped, sitting up abruptly.

Something was missing, he noted, and it should have been the first thing he touched around his throat. Ryou brought his hair up, patting the back of his neck, searching with his hands for the thin string of rope. He let his hair fall back over his shoulders and patted the front of his shirt expecting to feel the hard metal underneath. His fingers were met with the softness of fabric and squishy flesh.

Panic rose in his chest and quickly fell to the pit of his stomach. He lifted his shirt still looking for the necklace. Only skin and the outlines of a few bones were revealed, and something else that made Ryou’s breath hitch. Where he should have seen the Egyptian artifact was a black circular outline, like a print. It was the exact same circumference as the Millennium Ring with smaller dots hanging just below. He saw his chest rising and falling rapidly as he tried to understand what the shape meant and why it was there in the first place.

Ryou rushed to the bathroom where he flicked on the switch shakily. He walked to the mirror he dreaded seeing himself in and lifted his shirt. The reflection showed him what he already knew was there. Above the area where his ribs met was a circle’s outline. The area was the color of inky black or a very dark and old bruise. He lifted one finger to meet the affected area carefully. He expected it to hurt or sting, but it was as if the blackened spot was devoid of all sensation. His finger traced the outline and Ryou’s hand became colder and colder as he kept his finger there. He brushed the finger he used and his thumb together, taking note of the difference in temperature. It wasn’t cold like when he touched ice—it was more as if he’d gone outside one sunny afternoon and went into a chilly building. Still quite alarmed, he checked for more suspicious areas around his body, finding none.

He slinked into his sitting room and fell back onto the couch, trying to calm his anxieties. After all, this was not the first time experiencing something strange, spirit or no. For now, he’d simply have to wait for answers to reveal themselves on their own. Or so he hoped. There was a slight nagging in the back of his mind that said it wouldn’t be so simple this time. The spirit had told him to keep the ring, and now that was gone, the spirit being the most likely culprit, oddly enough. What Ryou failed to understand was the reasoning behind him suddenly leaving with the item he had entrusted to Ryou. Additionally, there were the events of the night before. Perhaps that had something to do with his sudden absence.

Ryou narrowed his eyes, still trying to recall the hazy memories. He couldn’t possibly have swooned at just the mere touch, could he? The spirit had no more power than he and surely couldn’t call upon some other magic to disorient him as he used to do to others.

There was also the issue of the imprint now on his chest. His hand went up to touch the spot, the phantom weight of his Millennium Ring still there.

He grabbed at the sides of his head and groaned. Matters were complicated again.

Ryou sat there, deflated in his seat for more minutes he cared to count. This was an old routine of his; wake up in an odd position, wonder, worry—and hope for the best. He was at the worry stage.

The sprit was gone giving Ryou privacy and freedom to do something other than look over his shoulder. He needed menial tasks to take his mind off things. He opted for cleaning the clutter that his flat had acquired in the form of dust and dishes. In a way, chores were the intermediary stage after ‘worry.’

A lonely plate and glass from his last meal were scattered on his table. As if sensing it, his stomach grumbled in interest, and Ryou heaved himself towards it. There were still remains of egg yolk and his nose wrinkled.

“Let’s see…” He slid the dishes into the sink, ran some water, and left them to soak as he raided his cupboard. Boxes of instant meals sat on the far right next to bags of uncooked pasta, rice, lentils, and open packages of cookies. He frowned, grabbing the sweets. He remembered buying them but had yet to open, much less try them. A sigh of exasperation left him and he put them back, closing the doors shut.

His refrigerator proved to be much more empty. It was almost sad to look at. A lonely carton of orange juice sat abandoned at the back next to a bloated box of baking soda. The compartments only housed vegetables of the green variety. He slammed that door shut, too.

Seeing as there was nothing to cook, he spent the next 5 minutes listening to the waning demands of his stomach and washing eggs off his dishes.

Although he was basically free to move around without the persistent stare of a certain spirit, Ryou decided to wander, for the moment, in his living quarters. He briefly thought about visiting the grocers around the corner but made due instead with the half-eaten cookie package in his cupboard, which now sat on his lap as he rested in his room. Absentmindedly, his free hand came up to the middle of his chest, gripping his sweater. Although he had already been marked before by the ring in the form of 5 scars, the new print was something that didn’t blend to his skin. He sighed, the only sound in his room, loud and lonely.

“I think I’ll buy a new phone now,” he said between a bite of a cookie. “Nothing’s stopping me, after all…”

The sun was now overhead and the white light illuminated most of his room. It didn’t look much different, but it somehow felt different. The oppressive air it usually held seemed to have scattered out leaving normalcy behind. His school bag lay open at the foot of his bed spilling out all his books. Ryou studied it silently. Glancing at his clock confirmed it was Saturday. Another school day wouldn’t come until the weekend passed, but Ryou wasn’t looking forward to it any more than he wished the sprit would return. But he admitted, he missed the company of Yugi and the others—Honda included—even if he was an afterthought to them.

He set his snack aside. He picked up his bag, zipped it up (ignoring the assignments), and placed it in the back of his closet. There was a shirt at the door, crumpled and looking insignificant. He took it off the floor and hung it on a hanger.

Before he shut the door to his closet, Ryou felt something against his foot. A black camera sat innocently on the floor. “Oh,” he picked it up and pushed the power button. “I forgot I was supposed to look through you.” He wandered to his living room and sat next to the window on the floor. In the quiet solitude, he scrolled through the pictures he took when he went to Egypt for the ceremonial duel. It hadn’t been the first time he went to the Middle East. He often went with his father during childhood on excursions. Sometimes he still went during his summers when there was a school break. This trip, he had decided when all of them boarded the plane, was special. To Yugi, of course, because it was time to let the spirit of the Millennium Puzzle rest. And to him, because it was the first time he traveled with friends. Even though he was never the type to get air sick, that day, his stomach flipped every which way it could as they boarded and seated themselves. He had been quite excited that he didn’t sleep until they landed in Egypt.

The small square on the back of his camera illuminated and caught the bottom of his closet on the screen. He pressed another button as he walked to his living room, scrolling, gazing at the old tombs of pharaohs sitting in the orange sands of the valley of kings. In another, Jonouchi and Yugi stood next to each other, both laughing under shade of the imposing triangular shape next to them. The corner of Ryou’s lips tugged seeing the heartwarming scene of friends together.

He stood in the darkened hall of his flat simply admiring the captured moments of friendship on his camera. There was one Mr. Mutou had taken and it included himself. He was wearing a brown hat that obscured most of his face as Jonouchi had flattened it over his hair. Anzu stood in the back with a disapproving expression as Honda pointed and laughed. Yugi seemed to be holding back a laugh. He had asked Mr. Mutou to take a picture of all of them together, and this was the least offensive one he managed to take. In others, Honda and Jonouchi actually seemed to be brawling in the sand.

Ryou moved on to the next one and he was momentarily surprised. It was one of the 3 Ishtar siblings. The large figure of Rishid bent over a stone in prayer was the first thing he saw, followed by the unmistakable hair of Isis as she also faced something along the wall in the picture. The last thing, and the most unnerving to Ryou was the Malik stared right at the camera. His arms were crossed over his chest and the golden bangles on his wrists shined as the flash bounced off their shiny surface. His expression was unreadable, and his eyes held the same piercing quality to them as his sister’s so often maintained. He supposed that was the Ishtar legacy.

“He looks like he’s staring right at me…” Ryou muttered, confused. “I wonder if he didn’t want his picture taken,” he added worriedly.

A bell rang somewhere and he kept scrolling looking for more pictures of the Ishtars. He found few, and ones that did include them were mainly of Isis and Anzu standing next to Yugi.

The bell rang again and this time he realized it was the doorbell to his own apartment. He stood rooted to his spot as it rang again. Slowly, Ryou placed the camera down on his kitchen table and shuffled to the peep hole at his door. He could see the balcony on the other side. There wasn’t a person in his line of vision and so he shakily turned the lock on the door, backing slowly away, until the loud ding dong sounded again. His sharp intake of breath confused even himself. He held his arm protectively over his chest.

He wouldn’t ring the doorbell, Ryou thought. The logic in his reasoning was less comforting as he repeated the words in his mind. He wouldn’t ring the doorbell and announce himself.

“Bakura! Are you there?”

His name pulled him out of his thoughts. It was a girl’s voice.

“Bakura?” the voice said again.

He pressed his face to the back of his door again and saw a brown head bobbing side to side. He grabbed the doorknob, struggled with it since it was locked, until he managed to turn the latch and swing the door open.

“There you are,” greeted a tender smile. “I thought you weren’t home. I was about to leave, too.”

“Anzu…?”

“Sorry if this is a bad time. I was worried about you since you left so quickly after school yesterday and came to see you. Can I come in?” she asked, glancing inside his apartment.

He hadn’t expected Anzu, of all people, to show up at his doorstep today. In fact, he hadn’t expected to see anyone at all ever come visit him. Ryou blankly gaped at her as he tried to register her words.

“Sure,” he managed to say after his pause.

Anzu appreciated the welcome. She kicked off her shoes at the entrance and stood there waiting.

Ryou turned back to her and glanced between her and her shoes.

“Oh, sorry. I don’t have any extra slippers…” He looked at his own feet, clad in only socks. “If it’s all right with you, you can just walk around in socks,” he tried to laugh it off as he wiggled his toes.

“Really, you boys…” Anzu muttered. “Honda’s the same way. At least Yugi’s grandpa knows to buy slippers for guests. Although, sometimes I think it’s Yugi’s mom taking care of him more than he is of her.” She slipped her purse off her shoulder and set it down on Ryou’s table.

“Hm? Were you looking at pictures?” Anzu asked, taking note of the camera.

“Ah, yes, they’re the ones I took back in Egypt,” he said. Ryou moved to the kitchen and opened his refrigerator again, hoping that something had magically appeared inside that he could offer Anzu.

He looked at her while she stood near his table happily surveying his photographer skills. The light from the screen reflecting on her face changed from one shade of orange to another.

Anzu looked at him as he closed the door on the juice and baking soda and said, “These are really nice, Bakura! Can you send me some copies of them? I took my own camera but,” she sighed, lowering the small apparatus, “Jonouchi decided to play ‘toss Anzu’s bag while we’re bored on the plane’ and broke it.”

“Which is why I’m here!” she said, beaming. “I thought we’d go shopping.”

“Uhm,” Ryou glanced to one side.

“Oh, come on! I heard from Yugi that you need a new phone. And I need a couple of new outfits, a camera, shoes, that new skirt I saw that would go great with—hey don’t look at me like that!”

He fought the urge to laugh, a foreign feeling to him these past few weeks, almost months.

Anzu smiled, too. “Come on, Bakura. I’ll even buy you lunch,” she added, tempting the boy whose stomach re-ignited with a new hunger. “Don’t think I didn’t see your empty fridge. That’s why you’re so skinny,” she berated, crossing her arms like a nagging mother.

“Well…” he looked around his apartment, “I was supposed to clean up around here today.”

“You can do that later. Please? Today was my only day off this week.” She clasped his hands into his, and the warmth of them made Ryou’s heart flutter. It was hard to resist any further and he conceded.

“All right,” he said with a smile. “I’ll just be a second. I need to get changed, first.”

Anzu nodded, satisfied at his answer. She looked through the pictures again as Ryou retreated to his room.

Ryou closed the door behind him, his heart thumping in his chest. It was Anzu’s day off, and she decided to spend it with him. That small outreach of friendship was enough to lift his spirits that Ryou forgot all his worries as he flipped through his shirts. He decided for his usual: striped and regular jeans. The small ray of hope was dashed when he took off his shirt. The black print was still there, a murky reminder of the spirit and his dastardly plans. If Ryou left right now, would he find him? Look for him and tell Anzu—tell everybody—that Ryou harbored him in his flat as he stole the items once more? Ryou clutched the shirt tightly in his hands. He slowly pulled it over his neck and patted the front to make sure the blackness wasn’t visible underneath the fabric.

He stepped out of his room, freshly clothed, hoping to seem cheery. His friend was still looking through the photos, although not scrolling anymore. Ryou said nothing while Anzu remained concentrated on the little camera, a small smile curving her lips.

“This one,” she faced the screen to Ryou who scooted over to see it closer. “That’s of the oth—it’s of the pharaoh, isn’t it?”

Ryou surveyed the expression on Yugi’s face, his posture. It was quite different than the usual optimistic expression on the boy’s face. The Yugi captured in the picture carried himself upright, a kingly pride squaring his shoulders as he faced the camera and gave it a uncharacteristic smile.

“It looks like it,” he commented softly. “Do you miss him?”

She sighed, “We all do.” A pause. “But I think Yugi out of any of us misses him the most. He was, after all, his closest friend. You could say he was his other half,” she smiled.

Ryou wondered, briefly, what the relationship was like when host and spirit were as close as Anzu described. His mind brought forth images of his own spirit—an entity that had been more like a parasite than a friend.

Anzu gave a great sigh and set the camera down. “Well, enough of that. We wouldn’t want to spoil the mood before we even go out, right?” she giggled, but Ryou was sure that she had been affected, at least a little, seeing the other Yugi captured on camera. “All set?” she made her way to the door and grabbed her purse. The teen followed suit, and they both slipped on their shoes.

“Where are we going, anyway?” Ryou asked as he opened the door. “Do you think it will rain?” he asked, noticing the white clouds congregating overhead.

“Hm, not quite yet,” Anzu shielded her eyes from the sun as she peered into the sky. “It’s not supposed to until tonight, but…we probably won’t take all day. Or at least, I’ll try to not keep you.” She laughed, and Ryou prayed she was right. He didn’t exactly want to spend the entire day at the mall unless there was promise of a game shop dispersed within.

He closed the door and Anzu walked ahead of him as he locked it.

“As for where we’re going,” Anzu twirled on her heel into a dramatic stance. “I hope you’re ready.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: “Destiny”

In the night, Bakura walked in complete resignation to the feeling of power. He hadn’t felt it in so long, he was practically intoxicated by it. It was a mixture of excitement, the urge to crush, and the feeling that the world was entirely at his grasp. Who’s to say it wasn’t? The pharaoh surely couldn’t—his spirit departed, and the empty vessel was a simple-minded child.

Laughter bubbled within him and spilled out into the deserted streets, echoing off the buildings. His glee was unparalleled at the moment. He strolled through the foggy corridors of the city until he came at last to the one building he was looking for.

Domino Museum stood grandly atop large marble steps, illuminated by white lamps. Bakura stared up at his next target. Here once before, he knew what to expect. The guard should be asleep and wouldn’t wake sometime until dawn. Just to be sure nothing would get in the way, he checked first the booth where the man resided.

As he had assumed, the older man was currently reclined in his seat, hat over his eyes, and a magazine draped over his lap. Bakura glanced momentarily at the screens overhead. There were at least 10 of them, all camera feeds, and they flickered between various areas of the museum. Patiently, he watched. When he finally saw what he was waiting for, Bakura headed for the far right of the building, easing his way between bushes and the walls where light didn’t illuminate.

The first time he had been here, Bakura had taken appropriate measures to layout the many possible entries of the museum. He knew better than to use the same point of entry as his last visit and decided on an alternative one instead. At last the door adjacent to him opened, and a man in overalls walked out dragging a yellow cart behind him. He groaned as he heaved the large bin attached to it, and began dumping it in the dumpster near the door.

As bottles and napkins spilled from the container’s mouth, the janitor noticed a shadow approaching, the shape growing on the wall into a dark figure. He set the bin down with a thud, and dusted his hands. “Long night, huh, Ryuzaki?” he said, turning with a smile.

Upon the realization that the man he addressed was not Ryuzaki, his grin faltered, and dread appeared in his eyes. He took a step back, feeling the malice coming from the newcomer.

It had been a long time since Bakura could cause that sort of terror in someone. He grinned at the man. “I’m afraid it’s going to get even longer for you,” he began, “where you’re going.” It was time to give the Millennium Ring a little test run.

The man tried to flee, turning swiftly on his heel. However, it was too late. As if held down by an invisible power, his feet were rooted to the floor. The man toppled over like dead weight and hit the ground heavily. His eyes vacant, they reflected the dim stars of the open sky. Bakura stepped towards him taking the keys attached to the side of his pants. “I’ll take those, if you don’t mind.”

With the keys, the door opened easily and he slipped into the building. Artifacts greeted him with their presence, but the ones in that particular exhibit weren’t the ones he was looking for. Tonight, he decided, he would claim the rest of the items. Only then could he inherit the full power granted to the ones who collected them all. Once he had them all gathered, he’d revive the powers within them one by one. If the ring had re-awakened, then Bakura would figure out how to bring the other ones back to life no matter the cost.

Dark and silent, the corridors of the museum were a simple labyrinth to navigate through. With his host’s information, he knew the display was in the same location. During his last escapade, he thought perhaps the museum would change the layout. They weren’t very bright if the exhibit was kept open to the public’s eye. And even if it was moved, it would do little to stop him from achieving what he sought out do tonight.

Between rows of large paintings, chipped ceramics, and trinkets no longer in use, the spirit strolled silently. The items in display began to change, as if the museum itself was going back in time. The dynasties morphed into empires, which then changed to kingdoms of old. Bakura eyed a small cat shaped statue he’d come to a stop next to. Near it, another artifact stood exuding the ancient power of Anubis. Bakura smirked, taking the last strides that would bring him to the stone tablets he was looking for.

When he finally reached them, Bakura lifted his ring and pointed it towards the puzzle. He waited for a reaction, for the prongs to rise and point at the items, except they didn’t. “Hmph,” he dropped the ring back onto his chest and inspected the items on the wall. There were two cavities on the stone, both missing the contents that were supposed to be inside. Just as his host had told him, the eye he had planted into the original’s spot was gone.

Carefully, he reached towards the showcased items. Whether they held powers or not, Bakura still needed them. His fingertip brushed the edge of the glass, as he was interrupted by a person approaching him.

“They say a thief who returns to a scene of their crime is a fool,” came a woman’s voice.

Bakura dropped his hand, turning to face Isis. “Perhaps…one that isn’t as proficient in the skill as I am.” He cocked his head to one side as she approached. “I’m just here to take some things I forgot last time.”

Isis came to a stop with a few meters between her and Bakura. “I know why you’re here. I have been expecting you since I felt your presence in this world.”

The words she spoke made him narrow his eyes. “And how exactly did you know I would be here. I don’t expect this Millennium Necklace would have anything to do with it, would it?”

“I have no need for the necklace to see what your motives are.”

Bakura sneered, “And I suppose you’ll try to persuade me? Nothing you say will stop me from taking what’s mine.”

The woman paused, suddenly deep in thought.

“These items,” spoke Isis, “they should have finally rested when the pharaoh left this world. But…” She stared at him as the man in front of her began to laugh.

His laughter subsided and over his face settled a dark shadow. “Rest? Do you have any idea how these items were created? No, they can never rest. Not until I’ve had my revenge.”

Isis’s eyes became forlorn. “Seven days, ninety-nine sacrifices. That is how these items of darkness came to be.”

Bakura regarded the woman before him. Although he knew her to be tomb guardian, like her brother, she couldn’t have known that piece of information. Her eyes, there was emotion in them, but beyond that, they were empty. He recognized that type of look in a person, having seen it in his victims’ eyes. “Who are you?” he questioned suspiciously.

Isis placed her hand over the glass display. Her silence went undisturbed as Bakura watched her movements. “I am a tomb guardian, like this woman. My duty, unlike hers, extends past time itself.” She turned to him. “Much like your revenge.” The display was opened, and she retrieved the Millennium Scales from their nest in the stone tablet.

“Do you know why, even though you were defeated, your soul still lingers in this world?” Isis asked, fixing the pans on either side. Her hands delicately held the shaft in the center as she held out her arm. She pointed the scales in his direction.

Amused, Bakura kept his eyes on them, watching as the golden item remained unresponsive. Isis had graciously opened the case for him. He could have easily done it himself, but seeing as how they were an arm’s length away from being his, this was a good time as any to take them once and for all.

“Looks like the items haven’t bestowed you the power you were seeking. On the other hand,” he grinned, “mine has!” He was prepared to kill her—to leave no trace of her existence if it was necessary. One thing happened he didn’t expect stopped him in his tracks. The Millennium Ring was quick to detect the presence of on of its sister items.

What?” came out Bakura’s astonished voice. He stared in bewilderment as the prongs of the ring lifted simultaneously and pointed at Isis.

And for the first time, Bakura saw beyond the woman. He could see the man behind her, a disembodied spirit controlling her from beyond the plane of the living.

The scales wavered, leaning from one side to the other, unable to weigh his heart. Bakura watched them quiver, a strange unnerving sensation creeping over him. He didn’t know why, and it was rare for something to unsettle him. Those same scales had judged him before—he knew the outcome to be none at all. However, at the moment, waiting for the scales to weigh his heart had caused him to stop all thought and action.

He looked up at Isis, a forced smirk on his face. “Did you think that would scare me? The only thing I’ve learned from this encounter…” he said, dark fog rising around him, “is that you’ve managed to revive the scales for me. You’ll be sure to hand them over if you want to live.”

“I am not a duelist,” said Shadi through her, “and I have no reason to fight you. I am merely a protector of the Items.” Behind Isis, a translucent figure began to rise. With her head down, and hands clasped in prayer, Mystical Elf appeared to protect her summoner. “But I will not allow you to do more harm in the world…”

Bakura couldn’t hold his maniacal laughter. Bloodthirst coursed within his veins seeing the display of ancient magic revived in the modern world.

“A spirit monster?!” he licked his lips and his shoulders shook with his unrestrained laughter. “You think you can summon something that can rival my power?!”

He dived his hand into his coat, a place where he carried the Occult deck his host had built for him—and stopped short. The laughter died in his throat as he felt nothing but an empty pocket. Bakura didn’t have a duel deck with him. The last time he had used one was in Battle City and since there were no tournaments he needed to enter lately, he hadn’t bothered to carry Duel Monster cards around with him.

“What’s the matter? Has my monster intimidated you, thief?”

Bakura grinded his teeth, a guttural growl escaping him.

“I don’t need a monster to defeat you,” he glowered darkly, “I have other means to fight...”

Shadi, unfazed, stood his ground. The Mystical Elf he summoned continued her prayer, her delicate voice speaking in an unknown tongue traveling through the abandoned museum.

“Leave at once, and return from where you came. Your part in the final battle ended with the Pharaoh’s victory.”

“I’m done listening to your ridiculous stories!” Bakura shouted impatiently. “As you can see, I have a body of my own now, and I can do much more in it than in that pathetic host body I once inhabited!”

“No, you are mistaken, thief,” she said. “You may have inhabited the body of that child once, but now having one of your own is your biggest weakness. As for I—I have nothing. You cannot kill what you have already destroyed. Heed my words—you are the one within my grasp. Your destiny lies in my hand.”

Bakura growled, hating--Shadi—Isis—whoever—both of them the longer he listened to their words. “Then I’ll just make you disappear!” He was shaken. This man, Shadi, had the upper hand. Not only was he a spirit, he could possess another body without being tied to it. He was right when he said Bakura’s body—his own with no second soul—was his biggest weakness. Ryou had been his shield, per se. Although he had never stooped so low as to use him as one, no one dared to kill his host, an innocent bystander, in the grand scheme of it all.

He had to get rid of this man. The only way to destroy him was using Shadow magic. No earthly means could kill a ghost. Shadi’s lingering spirit had to be consumed by shadows.

Without monster cards to summon from, Bakura resorted to something else. If he didn’t have Duel monsters, he always had other help to call forth. They lurked in the dark and were always ready to help…

Isis blankly stared in his direction, Shadi, clearly unperturbed by Bakura’s words. She—or rather he, hadn’t noticed the invisible specters slithering on the ground, concealed by the fog that formed under their feet. The corner of his mouth twitched—this was too easy, and he didn’t even have to summon a monster card.

Without warning, ghosts sprang forward, hazy trails left behind like ribbons on funerary bouquets.

Except, the woman remained, unfazed, as the attack approached her. She was hit in a very anticlimactic fashion and her body fell onto the stone floor. The quiet elf monster disappeared just as quickly as Isis fell, one tiny smile on her lips as she finished her chant.

Bakura clicked his tongue in dissatisfaction, the spirits now roaming freely around their would-be target. “Too troublesome to protect your vessel?” he asked, not bothering to hide his disdain for the man named Shadi. His words were met with silence. Seeing that the inhabitant within Isis was gone, he stepped over her and retrieved the items in her grasp. Bakura should have smiled feeling the coveted items in his hands once more. But he was too suspicious of what had transpired. For one thing, Shadi had practically challenged him claiming he protected the items. Bakura didn’t doubt that. From the depths of his memories—he recalled killing him once—and he had been indeed the guardian of the Millennium Items. Yet, he took a gamble in possessing Isis, who now lay immobile on the museum floor, and waited for him to show up, almost as if knowing when. No, what was suspicious was the fact that he hadn’t bothered to attack—he had let Bakura do that first…and now he had disappeared, untraceable.

Bakura gripped the items in his hands and began tucking them away in his blazer.

There was no use second-guessing himself. He had six of the items—he just needed one more.


 

Laden with bags, Ryou heavily trudged along next to Anzu. The skies had turned a dark grey, and the temperature drop was not unnoticed. Winds howled of the incoming storm for the day, and the teen had to hold his bags with clawed fingers.

“We still have to buy you your phone, don’t we?” Anzu walked beside him, a bounce in her step. The two had spent the majority of the day going in and out of clothing stores buying—browsing—for skirts, blouses, and shoes. Doing so didn’t exactly bother Ryou, but when Anzu began dragging him into the men’s section and choosing outfits for him to try out, that’s when he became a little flustered. He wasn’t used to being doted over, and Anzu was a doter as much as she was a persistent nag. She insisted on him trying on slacks too skinny, jeans too tight (Ryou thought she had handed him one of hers at first), shirts definitely not long enough (that rose above his navel if he raised his arms), and something that looked suspiciously like a cross between overalls and a wool sweater.

He fitted them on and modeled for Anzu while she assessed his look with a critical eye. In the end, he settled for a plain long-sleeved shirt and khakis, much to her dismay.

When Ryou stood alone in his fitting room, he had to face away from the mirror as he changed back into his clothes. He didn’t want to see the black circle marking him.

“Yes, I was thinking something simple like my old one.”

“Ok, I know just the place. Ooh! And we can find something to eat inside, too!” She skipped ahead and Ryou struggled to keep up with her. He was carrying all her bags, too, after all.

They entered a spacious building and the first thing that caught Ryou’s attention was the mass of people still gathered at the hour. It was the weekend, and the shopping center was sure to be packed to the brim. He suddenly felt nervous to be walking with all these people around him and stood closer to Anzu.

“It’s not too far is it?” His eyes darted to the floor to avoid looking in someone’s direction.

“Hm? Oh, no. It’s just up ahead near the food court. You’re hungry, aren’t you?”

His stomach answered her question, but since she couldn’t possibly hear it with the babble of voices crossing paths with his stomach’s grumble, Ryou answered with a meek “Yes.”

“Good, because I’m starving too,” she grimaced. “God, now I sound like Jonouchi and Honda.”

Ryou adjusted the bags in his hands, and remained quiet. Anzu flashed him a concerned look.

“Hey, Bakura…” she began, but paused, thinking how to phrase her words. She stayed silent for a moment as they both walked with each other until she gathered her thoughts.

“Honda’s really sorry about what he did.” Blue eyes glanced in his direction to assess Ryou’s reaction. When there was none, she continued. “He’s been moping at school ever since that day.”

“Is he, really?” Ryou asked. His mind slipped back into his memory, recalling the words of a haunting voice.

Your little friends were here earlier. I assume they were looking for any signs of strange behavior on your end.” He saw a sharp smile, as if the spirit were there telling him the news all over again.

Anzu spoke. “At first, he was angry—well, more so than usual. He really thought that the evil spirit from your Ring was still around when we heard the news. We all thought it.” She cast her eyes down. “We were worried that you weren’t yourself anymore—again. And you know how Honda is…”

Ryou let out a small, shaky breath. Anzu was digging up memories he was comfortable ignoring. He forcibly smiled—something he was good at, “I know. I can understand why he might have thought that…”

“Still! He shouldn’t have done that.” Anger crossed her features. “Bakura…” she slowed her pace, “You don’t have to hold it all in by yourself.”

“Huh?”

“I know you.”

“I know when you’re lying.” “I know your body better than you do.”

Ryou stood stock-still—or he thought he had. He chanced a glance at Anzu, but she kept talking as if Ryou hadn’t just frozen in place in the middle of the shopping center.

“We’re friends, right?” she smiled. “If you’re angry, you can tell me. There’s no reason for you to pretend like it didn’t happen.” She wagged a finger at him, “If you need me to set Honda straight, just give me the word, OK?”

Ryou composed himself as best he could. “R-right. Thank you.”

“Good. Then, let’s go get you your phone!”

Since Smart Trinkets didn’t have the same model Ryou had owned, he settled for the slightly more expensive upgraded version of it. It had a similar layout, an improved camera, and longer battery life, which he would need if he was going to download all his previously installed gacha games.

Once again stating her state of hunger, Anzu led him off to the center of the mall where most of visitors gathered around the large fountain chatting, or lined up at the food stands to distract themselves from their shopping.

They sat in the food court near the fountain eating their purchased food. Anzu had ordered pork ramen from a noodle vendor (after stating she could not even look at a hamburger without feeling sick) and Ryou had ordered a hot-dog, yakitori, a crepe, salty fries, and a salad, but stopped himself from accepting another of Anzu’s recommendations, from a variety of meal places. She was paying as she had promised, and despite her insistence that he eat as much as he wanted as thanks for helping her with her bags, Ryou couldn’t take advantage of her generosity like that. He felt guilty enough already with four more meals than her placed on his side of the table.

He ate enthusiastically, though, taking one bite off his plate and quickly switching to another. Anzu ate just as happily, but not as fast. She finished her bowl of noodles at the same time Ryou was already munching on his final meal of lettuce and dressing.

The large screen on the far side of the food court caught his attention. A weather report was being broadcast, and from the looks of it, a large storm was heading their way. Green specks that represented rain activity glided over a map of Japan. Overhead, the clear dome that acted as a ceiling was dotted with specks of rain, a light downpour.

“—Museum had another robbery last night, and this time more than one item was taken. We spoke to the curator this morning who refused to give comments over the lack of security the museum—”

His heart thumped once, loudly, and then again.

“—man taken to the hospital and is in a coma. Guard on duty says nothing was caught on camera—”

The fork he was eating with was lifted to his mouth again, eyes trained on the screen.

It wasn’t shock that he felt. If he was honest with himself, at that moment, Ryou felt numb. He knew who knew the culprit behind the robbery was, he knew what was stolen even though the news lady hadn’t said what, he knew why the man was in a coma, and he knew…that he felt nothing at all. The scene was all too familiar with one just a small difference. There was no surprise, no fear—just a grand big nothing. His heart hammered at nothing—and for no good reason.

He tasted the cold salad on his tongue and swallowed, licking dressing off the corner of his lips.

Nothing, right?

Ryou was snapped out his reverie by Anzu’s voice.

“Hey, earth to Bakura! Did eating make you sleepy?” she giggled. Ryou snapped his eyes away from the screen over-head.

He saw another person standing next to Anzu and had to blink a few times to realize it was Ryuji Otogi.

“Hey, didn’t expect to see you guys here.” He was carrying a tray under his arm, and wore an apron over his waist.

“Last minute trip,” Anzu directed a mischievous gaze at Ryou, “Someone didn’t have a phone and made me go all the way to his house to invite him!”

Ryou forcibly smiled, lowering his gaze, “Sorry…”

“Well, whatever. We got your phone now so you can’t keep hiding in your apartment by yourself anymore. I’ll make sure to drag you to my dance recitals if that’s what it takes to get you out of there.”

Ryuji rolled his eyes, addressing Ryou, “She gets like that.” He lowered his voice, “You can just pretend you’re not home and she’ll leave.”

“Hey, I can hear you!” Anzu bonked him on his free arm. “Is that what you do? You always told me you worked.”

“And I do!” Ryuji waved his tray in front of her face. “I’m actually on the clock right now.”

Ryou perked up, “I thought you worked at your game shop.”

“I do. Just have two jobs now. Business is slow since—well, since there aren’t many Duel Monster tournaments this time of year.”

There was the briefest of pauses that almost extended to the entirety of the food court. The stage re-started quickly, and Ryou thought perhaps it was his imagination, since Anzu and Ryuji still bickered.

A man yelled near them, and Otogi panicked. “That’s my boss. Always tells me I’m slacking.”

“Aren’t you?” Anzu commented over a sip of her lemonade.

Ryuji shot her an annoyed look before walking past Ryou, “See you guys at school.” He hurried off towards an angry, puffy faced man, whose face became redder the more Ryou watched him.

“You know,” Anzu finished the last of her drink, “I’d bet Ryuji would probably get a kick seeing your dioramas. He loves that kind of stuff—same as Yugi.”

Ryou knew where she was going with this and shifted in his seat. “I don’t know. I’ve hardly ever had a proper conversation with him.”

“There’s always a first time, right?” she smiled encouragingly.

He drummed his fingers on the table, ears straining to listen to the news broadcast over the hubbub of conversations around. He couldn’t stop himself from wanting to. The anchors were no longer speaking about local news—they had switched over to sports.

Anzu stretched her arms and regarded the number of food items on the table. “Anyway, that was a good meal, wasn’t it?”

Ryou nodded, “Yes, thank you.”

She paused. “Did you enjoy yourself, Bakura?” Her eyes, bright blue, looked at him expectantly. He had enjoyed himself, much more than he cared to admit. Ryou wanted to be invited again and again, just to enjoy the company of another person. He wanted to feel like a normal teenager with a normal life…

“I really did,” he admitted quietly.

She grinned at him, “We’ll have to do this more often, won’t we?”

Ryou couldn’t answer to that.


 Stepping off the train, Ryou parted ways with Anzu at the second stop exchanging a brief goodbye. He carried two small bags at his side, purchases from the day’s outing. In his left hand, a black umbrella shielded him from the rain. The morning weatherman had been wrong again, and halfway through their shopping, a light drizzle pattered against the windows at the entrance to the shopping mall. Thinking the weather would clear up, both he and Anzu had taken their time browsing. The rain had intensified at the end of their trip around the shopping center, and Ryou had been forced to buy a second umbrella for himself.

Still, he had been happy throughout the day. The bright lights inside the stores had stimulated his senses enough to make him forget the lethargy in his body. People, too, helped him clear the worrisome thoughts that seemed embedded in his mind. The noise and chatter of the food court distracted him from his own worries—the food Anzu had happily bought for him restored an energy he hadn’t known he was missing.

Ryou walked down the street that led to his apartment. What had been a light drizzle during his shopping and train ride now turned into a steady downpour. The water splashed on the dark pavement making the ground appear as if it were coated in bubbles of fog. His own trainers, now soaked gray, added to the melody of the evening with each step. He took a right at the third corner from the station, checking for his keys in his pocket. A day filled with noise and excitement ended with a soft chorus of rain in the darkness.

He opened the door of his apartment, kicking off his sneakers first, making a mental note to dry them later. His socks were wet along the top, he noticed, and he stripped them off. The purchases from that day were placed on his table, streaking it with moisture.

Ryou made his way to his laundry room, socks in hand. He didn’t bother with the light in his kitchen, only flicking on the switch in the small laundry room. His foot stepped in a wet puddle, and he glanced at it momentarily. The socks were tossed into the washing machine and he closed the lid on his dirty clothing. He’d wash later when there were more clothes inside.

Stepping outside, his feet kept stepping over droplets of water, and this time he frowned. Ryou turned on the light of his kitchen and it streamed into the hall between the two rooms. While his kitchen was free of the small puddles, the hall was scattered with them.

He looked at his own legs. The cuffs of his pants were wet, though they were not soaked enough to drip the amount that his hall was covered with. Perhaps his hair? He shook his head trying to toss off any raindrops stuck to it. There wasn’t a substantial amount and he touched the strands. Only windswept drops still clung to it making the tips moist. Ryou followed the trail of puddles with his eyes, anxiety beginning to stir in the pit of his stomach. There was so much water, and clearly it wasn’t from him. He took a tentative step forward, holding his arms close to him. Was…he back after all?

“Spirit?” he whispered. He didn’t know what else to call him.

He looked over his shoulder, eyeing the entrance, before checking the next room. Inside his bathroom, he found no one inside, so he headed for the next one. The last room was his own bedroom. Ryou stretched out a hand and pushed the door open with a creak. He swallowed and called out again, “Are you there?” His hand searched the wall blindly for the switch, coming into contact with a cold surface.

“You make it hard to keep my promises,” said a disembodied voice that made him shiver.

The lights were flicked on by someone else, and Ryou found himself face-to-face with his intruder.

The spirit leaned lazily against the doorframe with a gleeful smirk etched on his lips. Despite his apprehension in being so near to him, seeing the smile on the spirit’s face managed to stir something fierce inside Ryou. He glared in the other’s direction, somehow managing to amuse him even further. The spirit pushed off the wall, making clinking sounds as he did so. He held something tightly in his hand that Ryou couldn’t see.

“You’re not dead,” he commented flatly with his back to Ryou. Ryou didn’t know how to interpret the other’s tone. The Spirit turned on his heel and faced his host again, this time with his trademark arrogant features.

“Did you really try to kill me then?” asked Ryou, holding onto himself.

The spirit chuckled. “Nothing like that,” he drawled. “If I had, you certainly wouldn’t be standing in front of me like this.” He brought his hand to his mouth, and Ryou saw that what the spirit held in his fist was the Millennium Eye. He saw sparks of gold from underneath his blue blazer when he moved his arm.

“But—you—I remember,” his words stuck in his throat. He looked over at the spirit who watched him with a glint in his eye. When he elaborated no further, the spirit took over.

“Remember what, exactly? Getting yourself noticed by Malik? His sister?” he spoke the last word with more contempt than necessary. Ryou could sense the other’s anger flaring and he discreetly eyed his possible exit routes.

“It doesn’t matter—not anymore.” A look of uncertainty flashed over his face, before he spoke again. “After all, I have…what I came for.” He played with the golden eye in his fingers, eyes casting quick glances at his host.

“What do you plan to do with that? You’ve already seen they don’t have powers. There’s nothing for you to do here.”

“True,” answered the spirit. He held the Millennium Eye close to him, admiring it, almost lovingly, if he was capable of such a thing. “Nothing here,” he gestured to his surroundings, pausing to assess Ryou’s presence. “But plenty out there.”

Ryou narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”

The spirit laughed, stepping closer to him. This time, however, Ryou did not falter. He stood his ground even when his face was tickled by the spirit’s breath.

“I think you know what I mean, landlord,” he said. Tattered at the hems, and a paler color than the ones in Ryou’s closet, the spirit patted the front of the wet school uniform he wore. The same clinking noise sounded inside his clothing, much like the one Ryou heard when the spirit walked. He opened his coat revealing the Millennium items tucked in various pockets—the Scales poked from under his arm, the Necklace jammed on one of its balances, while the Millennium Rod was placed in one of the loops of his pants. The Key, and the Puzzle hung entwined together on the same string both laying on top of the Millennium Ring…

“I mean to send the world into chaos,” he grinned, displaying his treasure.

“You can’t. Not anymore,” Ryou stated. He glanced down at the items, an eerie tingling crawling up the sides of his neck. He struggled to remain composed. The way the spirit kept smiling; it was as if he knew something Ryou didn’t. He was playing with Ryou again—taunting him, telling him only half of the information he needed and keeping the bits that benefited him to himself. He could sense that.

The spirit paced around Ryou, hiding the Millennium Eye in one swift motion that Ryou didn’t catch where he placed it.

“And that’s where you’re wrong,” he shifted his posture, making the items move against each other. “You see, you managed to do something for me, something even I couldn’t,” he trailed off, seemingly lost in thought.

“I repay my debts, believe it or not,” he added with a grin, newly composed.

“I don’t want anything from you,” Ryou hissed, aware of the implication.

As if anticipating the response, the spirit chuckled. “Nothing at all? This is the opportunity of a lifetime—for you at least. Maybe…kill that friend of yours?” he asked innocently. “How about trapping more of them inside your figures? That way they can’t betray you.”

“They haven’t betrayed me,” Ryou said, defensively.

“It’s only a matter of time.” He tilted his head, “But that’s something none of you have much left of.” He contemplated his own words.

Ryou’s eyes followed him as he paced. He took a step back, feeling for the doorframe.

“Why are you telling me, anyway?” He felt his foot on the threshold.

The spirit’s eyes directly bore into his. He removed his jacket along with the items, except one. He held the ring in his hands and dangled it dangerously close to Ryou. “Can you sense them?” asked the Spirit in a dark whisper.

The teen had to admit, to himself, at least, that he felt nothing at all. The Millennium Ring looked the same as it always had. There was nothing new, apart from the blue colored string it was now attached to. He shook his head from side to side in response, unsure if there was really a correct answer to the spirit’s question.

“How disappointing,” he chuckled. “I guess I expected too much from you too soon.” The ring fell back on his chest with a clink. “Perhaps if I show you.”

Ryou saw how a wide grin spread over his face and he felt chills run down his spine. The warmth in the room began to seep out, leaving an unnaturally cold and dark atmosphere. Under his feet, a dense fog swirled obscuring the floor and he flinched when something swiped at his legs. He gripped the doorframe tighter as numerous ghostly faces rose from the ground circling around the spirit. His expression bordered manic.

Whatever anger he had felt before, it all but disappeared with what he faced now—pure terror. That’s what the Spirit filled him with when he showed his true potential. Physical harm, murder—that was nothing compared to the fear he could do to Ryou’s mind. Harm to his being was something anybody could do, whether they were a delinquent off the street, school bullies, or something as unpredictable a bolt of lightning. What the spirit did to him, however, was only something he could do. He could control his mind with words, persuade him with promises un-kept, seduce with terror. That was it. That was his true nature, something that Ryou had forgotten as of late, but never quite completely. Now, as that nature presented itself once more, unrestrained, Ryou almost screamed.

“What’s with that look?” the spirit asked him, a feral quality to his sneer. “Don’t like ghosts?

With his legs quivering on the spot, entranced by the multitude of entities floating above with ghastly expressions, Ryou gaped, his mouth trembling. His grip on the doorframe would hurt if he wasn’t so horrified. He thought the spirit’s ancient magic was gone. He thought the spirit would continue his quest in vain, collecting the items through petty thievery, but never achieving his goal. He thought if he did everything he was told, he would be left alone. That he’d never come back.

He thought wrong.

Somehow, the Spirit’s quest proved fruitful. He had revived the Ring—his prison that no longer held him but still answered to his calls. And now, he sought to do the same with the rest of the Millennium Items. From the way he looked at Ryou, the way he almost wanted to claim him as a Millennium Item himself, he knew, knew, his role in the Spirit’s plan wasn’t over, whatever the other may have said.

The faceless ghosts settled behind their caller, thinning from thick fog into transparent apparitions. The Spirit himself leered at the quivering mess his former host had become, enjoying how, with his powers restored, he could control anyone at his will again, including him.

Ryou didn’t miss the glint in his eye, the widening of the grin, and he ran. He ran as fast as he could in the cramped hall of his apartment. He ran past his table where hours ago, Anzu stood, extending a hand of much needed friendship…

Behind him, an echoing laughter followed him, as well as countless faces that tickled the back of his neck. He threw the door open of his apartment, an onslaught of whipping winds and stinging water droplets meeting him as he escaped his own home. A laughter too close followed him, along with the chilling words of the spirit: “You can’t run from me! This is our destiny!”

Without his shoes, Ryou slipped on the bottom step on his way down, careening onto his knees with a fleshy thunk on the watery pavement, a startled “Ah!” escaping him. He got up as quickly as he registered his fall, not bothering to pause, or for that matter, look back. A larger scream was all too close to escaping his lungs, and he needed all the air he could get to keep himself running.

And he did just that. Pebbles dug into the soles of his feet, and possibly small shards of glass, but Ryou kept running—past the closed doors of shops, past the closed windows of houses, lights off, past the darkening alleyways that only became darker as he ran.

The ghosts he thought he left behind only appeared in front, and the familiar purple haze seeped up from the shadows of the night. He couldn’t see past the next block, and he skidded to a halt, chilled to the bone, and soaked the same way through. Ryou choked back tears—there was enough water obscuring his vision—and turned, unable to decide which way to go. Everywhere he saw, he was met with darkness—an eternity of it.

Where had all his happiness gone? It had only been, not even two hours since he said goodbye to Anzu at the station. She left with a smile, and even an amicable wave he looked forward to seeing again—and then she was swept away by the screeching sounds of the moving subways. Parting from her, somewhere inside his heart he wanted the shared friendship to last. Ryou wished he could join them again, at school, over a match of Duel Monsters on the roof. But he felt those dreams were being snuffed away, at least, with the way things were looking for the terrified, dejected teenager standing by himself in the middle of a dark street.

What had he expected, really? That by simply going about shopping for clothing and trinkets with a friend he would escape from everything? He had thought, once, that he could, when Yugi finally defeated the Spirit. But said spirit had appeared in his home after Ryou thought he was gone for good. The other hadn’t been defeated. He had escaped the jaws of Ammut, and invaded Ryou’s life, making way for his presence by destroying everything that Ryou had begun to build for himself. Nothing could stop him. The only one that stopped him before had left this world, with the doors to the underworld firmly shut behind him…

From the darkness itself, as if growing out from it, a silhouette began to form, its edges becoming more defined and laughter rose, sounding closer. Ryou didn’t bother to see who or what—he knew who—was coming for him. He turned in the opposite direction dashing off once more. He didn’t care where this path took him—so long as it was away from everything that terrified him.

His feet slapped the hard concrete with every swift step he took. The rain was loud in his ears, a long, unsated sigh of the night as it poured down with everything it had.

With a disgusting crunch underneath his feet, Ryou flew headfirst onto the ground, a pain stinging painfully at his left foot, and another ache pounding the side of his face, plastered on the gritty pavement. Fingers trembling, he touched the side of his face tentatively. His touch stung the affected area and when removing his fingers, he saw that they were covered in crimson. The rain quickly washed the red blood away leaving a pink tinge on the tips of his fingers. They still shook, almost violently so, and upon seeing them twitch about, he couldn’t stop himself from crying out. He turned his head between sobs to look at his foot where nearby, a broken bottle lay. Shiny shards littered from it to near his foot, where he could clearly see a puddle of blood still not washed away by the torrential rain.

No. No!

He shook his head, heavy, and not just by the wet hair matted on his scalp. Ryou struggled to hoist himself on his elbows. What he hadn’t felt earlier on his feet while running, now that adrenaline slowed its course, Ryou could feel all the small, jagged points of tiny rock embed themselves in his skin. The more he dragged himself forward, the more pronounced the pain became. He pushed himself up with the palms of his hands, and all of his weight rested on the uninjured foot. But he couldn’t let himself give up yet. Sobbing quietly, the boy pushed himself along the wall of the building. He chanced a look over his shoulder, where he expected to be met with ghosts—or the spirit himself. Seeing nothing there should have brought relief to him, but it did no such thing. Instead, seeing nothing there at all, increased the strain of his nerves ten-fold. He searched, then, in front—empty—behind the trash bins—nothing. Above him? He saw a sky without stars.

Ryou brought one hand closer to his chest, clutching the center of his shirt. He stood there, soaked by the incessant rain, not knowing where to go next. All he could do was struggle forward along the wall, passing his own white reflection on the building’s darkened windows, breath hitching, anytime he saw it. Upon reaching the corner, Ryou was met with another dark crossroad, lined with houses that had gardens, potted plants, and chimes, which hung eerily silent despite the storm.

He tumbled forward feeling like a rat trapped in a maze. Except, for Ryou, there was no glimpse of escape.

“Help,” he croaked weakly. He half expected a light to turn on in one of the houses, a warm voice to call “Who’s there?” and open the door inviting the scared teenager in. Anything to ease the abandonment he felt when no one had come to his aid.

Instead he heard the ragged voice of his tormentor speak into his ear, “They won’t hear you.”

Ryou whipped himself around, hiding his vulnerable back by facing the Spirit. He no longer had the ghosts around him, but Ryou knew he was no less dangerous. He had the Ring around his neck, after all, and shadows and death were only a command away. His heart hammered under his hand, the only indication to Ryou that he hadn’t yet been swiftly killed.

“You can’t run. Not from me.”

And he wouldn’t have been able to, even if he tried. Not anymore.

The pain in his foot throbbed and the water running down it wasn’t helping. It stung, painfully—the adrenaline that had been masking his injuries dissipated leaving Ryou dry and aching.

He looked at the spirit, half obscured by the darkness, and choked out a laugh between cries. Call it temporary insanity, but Ryou’s misfortune was too amusing to the teen. A sort of cynicism he hadn’t known he had rose up from within him, shaking his shoulders with mirth until the quiet chuckles turned into hacked coughs and sobs again.

“Why do you keep doing this?” he asked. He wasn’t sure if he had spoken, thought, or if the rain whispered a question unto his self.

The Spirit stepped forward, shadows no longer concealing him. His expression was unreadable—or better said, Ryou didn’t bother to look at it. He didn’t want to see the gloating sneer nor the haughty demeanor ever-present on the other. He didn’t want to see his doom approaching. His eyes remained trained on the ground where blood kept oozing out of his wound in a slow, steady flow. He wanted to see the water drip out his hair like the rain dripped from the sky. It made him feel like he wasn’t really there and instead part of the everything of the world, undisturbed from its natural course.

Shoes stopped directly in front of him, but Ryou still didn’t look up.

“Revenge.” The words were spoken devoid of emotion—cold, like the rain from above.

This time, Ryou did look up. He snapped his head up looking squarely in the other’s eyes, realizing just how close he stood. At the moment, he didn’t care. He positioned his body to face him instead of cowering near the wall and yelled:

“He’s dead! Dead! He defeated you and you were supposed to be gone!” He heaved himself off the wall, throwing a desperate punch at the spirit—anything to relieve himself of his frustrated, wrathful feelings. Once, twice—he stumbled, and his fists connected against the other’s chest, only to be caught by the wrists before he could continue with his onslaught. He sniffled, the heat of his desperation still pounding against the inside of his temples. Defeated, he hung his head against the spirit’s chest, shaking his arms weakly for freedom. “You were supposed to be gone. You were supposed to—” Ryou couldn’t continue. What good was it anyway, to say what was supposed to happen? To dwell on how things could have been? He was only helping torment himself. “I don’t understand anything,” he pressed his face against the same chest he was hitting before, hating himself for being so helpless.

The spirit hummed, in an almost content fashion, or was it amusement? “You don’t have to.”

And the next words all but stopped Ryou’s too-fast heart.

“Just help me.”

Ryou tilted his head up slowly, unsure of what he had heard. He blinked against the water falling in his eyes, trying to find something in the Spirit’s face that indicated him he had spoken. He felt a sting in his eye that told him blood from his brow had crept in, and he shut it closed.

“Help me and you can have everything you ever dreamed of,” he whispered. “Anything.”

Ryou stared watching that mouth form those strange words.

The ghostly murmurs continued like voices in the wind. “You don’t have a choice in the matter, landlord. You will help me. This will simply make things easier for you. And me,” he added lowly.

Again, they tormented: “Just say yes and we can finish this. Anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”

Ryou blinked and looked at him again, finding an expectant smirk on the Spirit’s face.

How many times had he heard empty promises from that same voice inside his head? How many times had his wishes been twisted into some sick version of themselves by the Spirit? How many times had his body been used against his wishes? Too many times, Ryou discovered.

He directed his full gaze, marred with red, at the spirit. “Anything?” he asked. He didn’t miss how the Spirit’s fingers twitched on his wrists—the subtle clenching of his hands in anticipation. He didn’t miss the hungry predatorial gaze like a cat about to catch a trapped mouse.

“That’s right.”

“Even a life away from you?” Ryou smiled.

The hold on his wrists tightened, and then abruptly let go to drop on his sides. He was left with bitter winds assaulting his face when the Spirit retreated from him.

“That’s not possible,” he responded curtly.

“Why?”

“Because,” he lifted the Ring on its string again. “I told you already…you managed to do something I couldn’t. And that’s why I need you to do it again.”

Ryou wiped the blood of his face, staining his hands red. It kept seeping over his eyebrow and into his eye no matter how much he tried to clean it. In the end, he simply let it run its course over his eyelid, and down his cheek in red jagged lines that followed the rainy paths across his face.

“If I say no?” He tried to look defiant but his voice betrayed his emotions.

“You don’t have a choice in the matter, I’m afraid. I only offered you something to ease you into,” the Spirit paused, watching how a particular red streak of blood traveled down his host’s face, “cooperating.”

The rain continued its assault on the earth. Ryou’s clothing stuck to him like a second skin, weighing him down with the water that seeped into the fabric. His hair, too, stuck to his cheeks and the back of his neck. The icy feeling consumed his outer senses making him shake from the cold. His thoughts no longer functioned. His eyes were cast down on the ground, ears tuned to the sounds of water in the night. Ryou simply stood there, feelings of defeat claiming him.

It didn’t matter if he said yes or no. Some way or another, the Spirit would make him, even if Ryou wasn’t fully aware of it. Just like he did when he said he’d help Ryou uncover the truths of the Millennium items. All along, the Spirit had been working on his own agenda—one which almost ended the world, hurting many people along the way. He was planning to do it again, and no one could face up to him anymore. The pharaoh was gone—wasn’t he? He flashed a look at the Spirit. Then how was he here? It was a question which Ryou had asked himself enough times yet never yielded an answer. The only one who could possibly know was him. The only one who knew the secrets to defeat the spirit was the spirit himself, right?

Something in Ryou’s chest stirred—a mixture of exhilaration topped with fear. Fear for how close he was about to let himself be near the one who caused him so much terror. He needed to know his secrets. He needed that knowledge, desperately.

Again, he looked at the Spirit. How long had they both stood there in the rain, letting themselves be soaked to the bone? The Spirit hadn’t moved, and neither had Ryou, but the water had hushed to a low whisper. The winds had stopped whipping and slashing at his face. Ryou could swear the clouds were parting, illuminating patches of water with light from the moon.

There was nothing for him to lose—not anymore. He dared to ask.

“You said anything, right?” Ryou righted himself, settling his weight on his one good foot.

Newly interested in his host’s changed demeanor, the Spirit grinned, “That’s right.”

“No limit?”

“So long as it doesn’t interfere with my goals.” He tilted his head watching how Ryou struggled to make his way to him. When they were finally face to face, the Spirit examined the winces of pain his former host made. Whether they were physical or emotional, he couldn’t tell. He waited with bated curiosity to hear what Ryou would ask for.

He assumed it would be something such as “Don’t kill my friends” which he could refrain from doing. It was all too easy. In his stead, when the world was consumed in darkness, everything would cease to exist, including his host’s friends. It didn’t matter if he didn’t kill them—it didn’t matter if Ryou asked him not to kill anything. Everything would die anyway. His host’s request would be in vain.

Ryou looked at the Spirit with such hatred that he almost laughed in excitement. He was the only one who could stand as he was, a step away from utter defeat, yet still fight to the very end, even if it meant sacrificing himself—as he once tried to do.

He smirked, anticipating his request, while keeping an eye on the red blood clotted over his eye.

The Spirit raised a brow in question, crossing his arms over his chest in challenge.

“Teach me,” Ryou said. “Teach me everything you know.”

Hearing that, the Spirit’s glee almost radiated off him. His grin grew along with the shadows on the walls, aiming to consume Ryou in their inky depths. Ryou glanced side to side watching how the darkness inched closer to where he stood. He could no longer see the moon on the puddles beneath him.

The Spirit made his way to him, taking one good look into Ryou’s eyes.

“We have a deal."

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: The First One

“Don’t touch me,” he said defiantly.

“You continue to resist me, even though we’ve just made a deal?” was the response.

Ryou continued his path in a slow, turtle-paced limp, trying his best to ignore the Spirit beside him. His mind was still reeling—half of him expected to wake up any moment from the nightmare. The rain continued in a steady downpour and he felt every drop that fell on his already soaked frame.

“You’re stubborn,” the Spirit observed.

He came beside Ryou and the teen felt him slide an arm around, and under his back. Alarmed by the abrupt touch, Ryou tried to pry himself away. His weight was lifted, and he realized he was being helped to walk.

“Put your arm around me,” the Spirit commanded.

“I can walk by myself,” Ryou insisted. Despite the struggle, the pressure on the sole of his foot was considerably lifted with the Spirit’s assistance.

“You can hardly stand. Besides—it’s easier than having me carry you all the way.” He tugged forward at a quick pace, and Ryou, unable to keep up, caught himself by holding on to the other’s shoulders.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

The Spirit’s skin was cold—like a snake’s, Ryou noted. Together they both staggered ahead, each gripping the onto the other for their own reasons.

Ryou hardly recalled the rest of the journey back to his apartment until he was in his kitchen, dripping water and blood on his floor. A hiss escaped him as his weight was distributed back to him. He held an arm out to the wall and held himself up as the pain in his foot throbbed anew.

“Check for glass,” said a gruff voice from the doorway, and then Ryou heard a door being slammed.

Footsteps neared—the voice sounded closer.

“Check for glass,” it repeated.

He didn’t move and the next thing he knew he was on one of his kitchen chairs looking up at the overbearing presence of the Spirit. They locked eyes briefly until Ryou broke his gaze away. His leg was grabbed abruptly and he felt a sharp pain on the sole of his foot that made him cry out. He tried to pull his leg from the Spirit’s grip, but the other had a firm hold on it.

“Since you’re obviously not going to do it…”

He felt another stab of discomfort extending from his heel to his knee.

“Ah—!” he clamped his hands over his mouth to stop the pained sounds escaping him. Sharp edges from the glass were being jostled, pulled out and Ryou heard one clink as the Spirit placed a shard on the floor.

He eyed his hand, fingertips painted crimson, as he went back to retrieve more.

“No, stop—!” Ryou gasped. “I-I’ll just go—t-to the hospital.” He stuttered, from either pain, or cold. He wasn’t sure. What he was sure of was the immense discomfort caused by sensitive nerves on the sole of his foot being aggravated.

The Spirit’s hand tensed around his ankle. His hair obscured his face as he looked down at his host’s injury.

After a lengthy silence save for Ryou’s ragged breathing, the Spirit finally said something.

“I don’t suppose you’ve learned how to drive?”

Ryou flicked his gaze to him. “No,” he admitted. “But—”

Without pause, he felt the Spirit’s fingers again in him again and he choked back a scream. Ryou gripped at the edge of the chair as one final shard was extracted from him. Tension fell from his shoulders as the pain receded.

The Spirit stood up, picking up three small pieces of broken glass, much smaller than what Ryou had imagined. He sat there shaking from the passing pain, head jerking tensely to see where the Spirit was off to.

He tossed the broken bloody glass carelessly into the sink, and sauntered into the narrow hall that led to the next room. Turning the corner of the hall, he stopped short of the door to Ryou’s bedroom.

“Do what you need to do,” the Spirit said without turning. He then stepped through the doorway and shut the door behind him.

After hearing him disappear, Ryou had enough sense to breathe properly. In his absence, the teen carefully probed the sole of his foot, feeling for any discomfort. Other than the still tender wounds, he felt nothing that told him there was any glass left embedded. Still, the blood dripped steadily, staining the wooden surface it landed on. There was a trail originating from his door, and no doubt, led all the way outside, back to that spot.

He leaned forward, grabbing at his wet hair. With a shaky sigh, he closed his eyes. His ears buzzed with the silence of his apartment, and Ryou could no longer hide from his emotions. They came at him in a mob, each fighting to take control—anger, sadness, confusion—none prevailing yet.

His initially bold request to learn everything the Spirit knew in exchange for his help was beginning to weigh on him. It weighed heavily—so much that the seventeen-year-old had little knowledge of its existence. The sheer amount of pressure was enough to render him senseless in all aspects. His mind devoid of thought, and he sat in the kitchen chair for a long time, looking for something to hold on to keep him grounded. He couldn’t see himself anymore, nor could he get a sense of where his choice would take him. It was as if he were still trapped within shadows of the Spirit, blindly following his voice for anything that could help him save himself.

It was laughable.

He had never rid himself of the Spirit, Ryou concluded. That was the first thought in his mind that jumped out at him.

He had not rid himself of his presence, nor of the scars he’d left behind—not of the hold he had over him. Ryou was there like a little doll on a shelf, ready for the Spirit to pull his strings.

He made to rub his temples to ease the pounding on the left side of his head and groaned when his finger pressed too hard on his cheek. There was blood smeared on his fingers and he remembered the second set of cuts—forgotten, briefly, by the more painful of the two.

Slowly, he ascended himself to his feet and shuffled to his bathroom. Through the silence, the rain continued its heavenly sigh on the world outside.

Ryou paused and looked at the crack underneath his bedroom door. The light was on. He went into the bathroom as he intended.

With unsteady hands, he reached into his cabinet and took two tablets of Ibuprofen into his mouth. After swallowing them, he noted the expiration date had been last month, and decided to take a third month for good measure.

When he closed the mirror door, he grimaced—partly due to swallowing dry pills, partly because of his ghastly appearance.

The cut over his eye stretched over the end tip of his eyebrow. It was a nasty gash of red only possibly by a blunt force that shocked the flesh open. A large clot of maroon colored blood rested just over it, stopping the flow. As if the top wound wasn’t enough, yet another scrape marked the bottom of his eye. That one hadn’t been as deep as the first one. It was a series of vertical scratches, lazily seeping out red—almost orange streaks. He touched that one and it stung. A ghostly finger moved against the glass, mimicking the movements of the hand on the other side. The hand slipped from the surface and out of sight.

Headache still raging, he mechanically stepped into his shower, reached for the hot water knob and turned it. The water was cold at first, but his rain-numb skin grew accustomed to it.

Finally, when the water turned warm, Ryou let his forehead rest against the cool tile of his shower wall. He felt himself release a ragged sigh without meaning to and watched pink water slide down the spotless ceramic. He touched the side of his face, dabbing gently around his eyebrow, then the curve of his cheekbone under his eye, massaging the affected area.

Completely worn, he let his head fall back under the steaming stream of water. The warmth trickled down his face and neck where Ryou began to regain his senses. Now that the cold wasn’t numbing him, the ache on the side of his face became too much to bear. He scrubbed at his eyebrow, gritting his teeth all the while, and watched how the dark red spots under his nails cleared away with the steam of the water.

For a moment, all Ryou heard was the hiss of the shower head and the drip, drip, drip, as the drain underneath his feet swallowed the excess water away. Then everything came at him like a hard blow to the face.

What had he done, really? What had he asked of from the Spirit?

He clutched his arms against his chest, the cold not quite gone from his elbows yet.

He had a goal, he reminded himself—a set purpose in his mind: he could not deviate from that, no matter how many times he doubted. Doubts, however, were all he had. Could someone like himself pull it off—alone? He didn’t want to involve anyone else at this point. If he did, the Spirit was likely to abandon his plan involving Ryou. When that happened, then no one, including his friends, even if he asked them for their help, could extract secrets from the Spirit. If, for some reason, he did ask Yugi and everyone else for their assistance, what could they do? Would they even agree?

They’d think he was at fault for letting the problem get out of hand…and Ryou would surely agree to that statement.

Firstly, he had no clue how to even get any sort of information. Asking directly would be too suspicious—the Spirit was cunning, Ryou had to admit to himself. Behind feral grins and predatory eyes, there was vengeance-fueled patience that allowed him to carefully assess every move he made and could make. He would see past Ryou sooner or later, and Ryou had no idea what he would do then. He’d have to move quickly and learn as much as he could from him.

His priority was learning how a disembodied spirit could gain a corporeal form. Clearly, the Spirit of the Ring wasn’t the Ring anymore—his soul had been confined to it and thus, confined to Ryou when he had been chosen as wielder.

His eyes flew open.

He had been chosen as wielder, hadn’t he? Otherwise, how else would the Spirit be able to possess him?

He thought about Yugi and the pharaoh. Yugi had been chosen by the puzzle because he was the only one able to solve and complete it. He controlled the God cards because of it.

Suddenly, Ryou thought about Malik and what little he had witnessed of him in the Battle City tournament. From what he gathered in the later re-telling of the event, Malik, too had been able to control Slifer and Ra. Furthermore, Malik had been able to control the minds of people with the Millennium Rod. He had been a tomb-keeper from the moment he was born, and therefore been granted the power of one of the items he protected—likewise with Isis.

So, why exactly had Ryou been chosen? He closed his eyes and remembered the day he went to the museum.

Malik’s words repeated in his head as he dwelled. “Thieves being burned for trying to steal treasures…”

They had talked about the Ring that day. Ryou learned from Malik the strange occurrences that surrounded the mystical relic, even before it ended up in his possession.

Before it ended up possessing him, he thought cynically.

In the end, despite dwelling on it for a good forty minutes, Ryou concluded that even if he had been chosen as wielder—and only that—he knew very little about the Millennium Items. He knew even less about the Spirit he had agreed to make a deal with.

He surveyed the last trails of pink swirl down the drain and stepped out onto the mat, not bothering to dry off. In fact, he hadn’t even taken his clothes off to begin with.

He was met with an uncharacteristically confused face at the door.

The Spirit stood at the open door, eyes darting from the still running shower to Ryou’s wet frame.

He opened his mouth and started carefully. “What exactly is it you’re doing?”

Opening the cabinet, Ryou took out as many bandages as he could. He took two beige colored band-aids out. He closed the cabinet door and wiped the steam off with the palm of his hand. Tearing the adhesive off, Ryou pressed the small strips over his eyebrow where the largest cut had started to bleed again. Another two went under his left eye, leaving a tight feeling over his cheek.

“What I need to do,” he answered his reflection.

He took the roll of gauze that said “STERILE” on the clear packaging, and ripped it open. It went around his foot, wrapped tightly and tied off in a knot to hold it in place.

Ryou brushed past the Spirit, who moved out of his way like a ghost and followed him when he went into his room.

The Millennium Items had been neatly placed on top of his bed, but he made no move towards them. Instead, he walked to his closet where a change of dry clothes waited for him. He reached forward and grabbed a shirt. The Spirit kept his distance, the same look of skepticism etched on his face as when he saw Ryou step out of his shower fully clothed.

“You left the shower on,” he said slowly, gauging for Ryou’s reaction.

Ryou paused before he could peel the warm-wet clothing off himself. He turned towards the Spirit but made no remarks. Ryou made to step past him, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m going to turn it off,” Ryou said simply, shifting his shoulder away from the sudden touch.

But the hand kept its hold on him, and just as suddenly, the Spirit retracted it as if he had been burnt.

“We’re starting tomorrow. I’m going to need some things first.”

Slowly, Ryou lifted a gaze that the Spirit couldn’t meet. He nodded, although the movement was barely discernable.

“I need our deck.”

He nodded again, and stepped back into the bedroom. The last deck he built—an occult theme, filled with grotesque monsters—was kept hidden away. He had other cards—monsters teamed together but had no particular theme centered around them. His Necrofear deck was something he had always been proud of. Except, he never had a chance to use it. Someone else took that privilege from him. Even if the Spirit said “our deck,” it didn’t necessarily make it true. It was his deck—and that was why Ryou hid it away.

He knelt beside his bed and pulled aside his bedsheets, tucking them out of the way.

“Why’s it there?”

“I didn’t think I’d ever need it again,” he answered. From under the bed slid out a rectangular box. Ryou easily lifted it and handed it to the Spirit who raised a curious brow.

“All of this is yours.”

A pair of hands identical to his took the box, and tossed its lid aside.

“I didn’t take you as the sentimental type.” The Spirit reached inside and extracted card holder. He weighed it in his hand as if that would tell him how many cards were inside. Seemingly satisfied, he shoved it in one of his pockets. He stared at the last item folded in the box.

“I’m not.”

The Spirit tilted his head, regarding his kneeling host. He opened his mouth to say something, but for the first time, thought better of it. His lips sealed shut and he tore his gaze away from Ryou’s figure.

He said nothing as he took from the closet a spare change for himself. Neither did he turn back as he exited the room, one of Ryou’s shirts on one arm, and a black leather coat in the other.


 

The following morning, Ryou awoke with a start. The first thing that registered was the pain, now much more discernable from a simple headache. He fingered the bandages and noticed they were stiff with dry blood.

The next thing was the fact that he was asleep on the floor using spare jeans as a pillow. The ones he wore were damp and uncomfortable, just like his shirt.

Without thinking, he held out a hand to steady himself onto the bed. His fingers met cold metal, and he retracted his outstretched hand, losing his balance in the process. He fell forward and the Millennium Items nearest the edge of the bed bounced off to the floor.

Ryou coughed—the unexpected tumble stirring something in his chest. His throat hurt, too, he noticed with a grimace.

He pushed himself off his bed without bothering to pick up the fallen items, stumbling towards the door. He paused to catch his breath, not liking how quickly he grew tired. With his left hand, he reached under his hair to touch his forehead—warm.

With one goal in mind, he headed into the bathroom, taking the bottle of Ibuprofen from his medicine cabinet. His reflection showed a slight flush on his face—or what was visible under the gauze. Instead of dwelling on it too much, he unscrewed the lid on the bottle peeking at the remaining contents inside. Only one pill remained, and Ryou knew that wouldn’t be enough to keep the oncoming fever down or relieve his aching injuries. He’d need to go shopping…

He grimaced for the second time that morning. Leaving the confines of his apartment would have been a welcome suggestion any time other than that morning. But the prospect of the short trip to the grocery store at the end of the block was something the teenager dreaded right then. On one hand, his injuries weren’t easy on the eyes. He imagined what it would look like if anyone caught a glimpse of him wandering the streets, face hardly visible under the bloody dressings, and limping. He also imagined the long and tiresome walk.

Even if he hated the idea of moving for longer than necessary, he couldn’t deny the fact that he needed medicine if he wanted to be able to move at all. His left foot throbbed, and Ryou understood that if he didn’t want a full-blown fever on top of the pain, he’d march (walk slowly) all the way down to the grocery shop and buy the strongest pain killers he could afford.

He swallowed the last of the pills in the bottle and gathered his bearings.

One last thing he’d been avoiding to think about that morning came to mind…

Slowly, his head peeked into the rest of his apartment. If the Spirit was still inside, he would have made his presence known by then. Since he hadn’t, it was safe to assume that he still hadn’t returned from wherever he had gone.

Ryou crept into his kitchen where he then surveyed the sitting room and saw the discarded uniform the Spirit had worn. Other than the damp clothing haphazardly thrown in the middle of the room, there was nothing else that told of his presence. Even the blood that Ryou had spilled onto the floor the previous night was gone.

He left the clothing where it lay and hovered over to his purchases that remained untouched on the table. With an outstretched hand, he gingerly touched the paper containers. They were still neatly tied—the logo on the front read Smart Trinkets in blocky, green, letters.

He stifled the sigh that almost escaped him.

Using the only uninjured part of his body—his hand—Ryou tugged apart the strings that kept the bag together. There were two boxes inside—one was his mobile phone, and the other was a phone-jack. He took the second box out, gently raising the flaps on the side to reveal what was inside.

Ryou looked over his shoulder again. Seeing that no one was there, he carefully unwound the cord as he walked towards the abandoned phone on his kitchen wall. He was about to replace the cut cord, but couldn’t help himself from glancing at his surroundings again. No one other than the school called him, he told himself. There was no point in fixing it—he shouldn’t bother.

His hand hovered over the jack in the wall, holding the cord centimeters from it. Unsure how long he stood like that, Ryou finally inserted both ends of the cord into their respective places. When he was done, he left the ripped cords on the table and took out his newly bought cell-phone. He stared at that item, but made no move to set it up. It was placed aside.

As for the second bag, Ryou carried that off to his room. The new outfit he had bought was folded neatly inside, as well as two pairs of house slippers. He took one pair out, ripping off the tags. After changing out of the damp, uncomfortable jeans, he carefully put on his house slippers and socks. With his foot slightly swollen, his sneakers wouldn’t have fit.

He’d need pain medication and something for his throat. The grocers at the corner would be sure to have those and he’d be back before anyone noticed he was gone. Ryou made a mental note of the time on his nightstand. He took his wallet out, pocketed it, and made his way outside.

The sun overhead made his vision hurt and he raised one hand to shield himself from its noon-time rays. The humidity of the storm lingered, as well as scattered gray clouds. Out on the streets, it was quiet. Monday afternoons should be that way with students in class and office workers faithfully doing their jobs for their company. His apartment was far from school and his chances of being spotted were slim to none. Ryou was really only worried about one person— His heart clenched inside his chest recalling the deal made. He gathered his bearings—if he waited any longer, his symptoms would develop into an actual sickness, and that was the last thing he wanted.

With much difficulty, Ryou descended onto the first-floor, holding the railing with as much strength as he could to avoid slipping. Evidence of the previous night’s storm remained in the form of shallow puddles cupped by grooved cracks on the streets. He avoided them as best he could. His house slippers were not designed to be waterproof.

By the end of the first block, he was panting from the strain it took to walk mainly on one foot. The pedestrians about, mostly housewives on bicycles, eyed him curiously. Though, for the most part, they kept their distance, not asking if he needed help. Perhaps another time they would have—maternal instincts kicking in to help a young man. But with the bloody bandages stuck on his face, Ryou’s best case scenario was that a police man would approach and question him. No such thing happened, luckily. A trained police man wouldn’t have taken “I fell” for an answer regardless of how true it was. He would probably be escorted down to the police station…

Ryou entered the store, avoiding the other shoppers on their way out, and maneuvered between the aisles towards the medicine section. The assortment on display made him stop, unsure which one he needed most. There were so many brands and varying prices for a product that was supposed to help alleviate symptoms for the same thing. He recalled the promise to himself to buy the best… Maybe not.

Ryou took into consideration the amount of money he had in his wallet and decided for one of the bottles identical to the one he had finished earlier. Before he went to pay for his things, he reached for a bag of cough drops, too.

Not wanting to take any longer than he was already doing, Ryou wandered back to the checkout line. No one except the cashier waited, and the young man took his things, scanned them and gave him his total. After paying, and exiting the store, he unscrewed the cap on the bottle—medication to treat aches and reduce fever—and took the recommended amount. He felt the dry pill go down his throat, and he hoped the thing would activate its effects soon.

Noticing he was blocking incoming shoppers, the sickly teen inched away from the entrance as steadily as he could. Still, he felt their leering eyes on him and heard their suspicious whispers. He tried his best not to listen, but in doing so, it was as if their voices grew louder.

“Did you see those bandages on his face? He probably got in a fight.”

“Don’t stare! Come on let’s go inside before he comes back!”

Ryou stepped away from their conversation, suddenly self-conscious about the bandages over his eye. However, taking them off would only make for a worse impression. His fingers went up to touch his cheek. Maybe he should have bought some fresh ones—he couldn’t remember if he had any left back home. Suddenly, his stomach grumbled. He hadn’t eaten anything since the previous day’s evening and he considered, for a brief moment, going back to the store to get some ingredients for a meal. His feet moved of their own accord, pointing back towards the small store. It had been rather empty…buying something would take less than five minutes and he had enough money. Ryou moved his body forward thinking he should buy something other than instants. He was aware of the cupped noodles in his pantry, but having ingredients for homemade meals was something he couldn’t resist. His refrigerator was pathetically empty as it was.

Just as the sliding doors to the grocery store parted, a person familiar to Ryou rounded the corner and came to an abrupt stop near him. He, too, froze in his tracks.

“What are you doing here?” he questioned, looking over Ryou’s disheveled appearance.

“I—I needed some medicine.”

The Spirit narrowed his eyes. He saw the plastic bag in his host’s hands, and decided to believe him. He sidestepped him, and started ahead of Ryou in a steady pace—one the injured teen could keep up with. Occasionally, he would look over his shoulder to make sure he was still being followed.

Dragging his feet, Ryou glanced around nervously for familiar faces. “Why are you here?” he asked.

“I needed some things.”

Ryou frowned, unsatisfied.

“What kinds of things?”

“Duel Monster cards,” he said, and those were the only words they exchanged until they reached Ryou’s apartment. He wanted to ask, why, of all things, he needed Duel Monster cards. Just the previous night, he’d collected the deck Ryou had hidden away for him. They didn’t seem necessary at the moment, though—no tournaments or competitions of any kind that would warrant the need for trading cards.

The Spirit extended a hand towards the knob and commented with scowl, “You left the door unlocked.”

Behind him, Ryou struggled on the stairs, trying to balance himself as he carried the plastic bag.

“I didn’t think I would take long,” Ryou admitted, when he reached the door. The Spirit lingered at the entrance, eyeing his movements. Ryou slipped past him and took the pills out of his bag, along with the cherry flavored lozenges. He was admittedly on edge. His houseguest wasn’t being hostile, vicious, vindictive, insulting, nor particularly evil. He chanced a furtive glance at him as he opened the small bag of drops. The Spirt was in the next room, extracting what looked like a stack of cards from inside his pocket. It was a large stack, larger than the one he’d given him the night before. Other than that, Ryou realized those cards weren’t wrapped or boxed. They were loose meaning they hadn’t been bought at a game shop—or at any store for that matter.

He un-twisted the wrapper around the cherry drop and popped it in his mouth. Although terrible at first, the hard candy began to do its job and cool his sore throat. Now all he had to do was wait for the pills to do theirs and rid him of his headache.

A question lingered in his mouth as he stood in the doorway. He opened his mouth to speak when the phone rang. Ryou jumped where he stood.

He looked at the Spirit who hadn’t even flinched at the noise. His eyes remained on the cards as he rifled through them, stacking them in neat piles. Ryou didn’t move and the phone kept up its incessant ringing.

“Aren’t you going to answer that?” the Spirit asked, not bothering to look up from the cards.

“I don’t know who it is.”

The Spirit raised his gaze. “Answering would help.”

Ryou quietly walked to grab the phone in the kitchen. Hearing the voice on the other line, he tensed. From the leer the Spirit was giving him from across the room, Ryou was sure he noticed something amiss. He saw him stand and silently follow his path, and Ryou tried to focus on the voice speaking through the static.

“Yes, I’ve heard.” Ryou felt the presence of the Spirit close behind him and he shifted away.

“Who is it?”

He shifted further, unable to take the tickling sensation of the other’s whispered words so near. “No, I don’t think so, father.”

I’ve been calling you all week, Ryou. Why haven’t you answered?

“I—I broke my phone,” he stuttered. “I just bought a replacement but I haven’t set it up yet.”

His father sighed, pensive on the other line.

Well, I’m still in Algeria, so as you know, I’ve just heard word of what’s happened. Didn’t really think it would get this bad,” he coughed and cleared his throat. “Since I won’t be back for another few weeks, would you mind speaking on my behalf to the curator there?”

“Say you can’t do it,” the Spirit spoke sharply next to him.

“What?” Ryou said bewildered.

His father cleared his throat again. “Ryou, is someone there with you?”

“I…” It was time for him to mimic his father’s actions and clear his throat now. “No, I’m—I’m just a little sick is all. Got caught up in a storm earlier and didn’t have an umbrella.”

There was a pause on the other line, until finally the older man coughed again. “Well, in any case, I’ll need you to go to the museum sometime this week and speak to Yoshimori.

“Say you can’t go,” the Spirit commanded.

Ryou paused, biting on the inside of his cheek. “I don’t think I can go. I also injured my foot. I can barely walk,” he added mechanically.

On the other line, he heard his father scoff. “Goodness, Ryou. Are you sure you’re all right living by yourself?”

“Yes,” he said. The hand around the receiver tightened.

A moment of uncertainty passed and his father sighed. “All right, but if you’re able to manage, please go for me, won’t you?”

Ryou looked over his shoulder where the Spirit still stood close, straining to listen. “I’ll try.”

Thank you. I should be arriving myself soon, after this dig is over.”

He tensed again. “When will that be?”

Mistaking his son’s rush of words for eagerness, the older man chuckled. “No later than 3 weeks, hopefully. It could be sooner—the weather’s been cooperative this time around. Still sunny here.”

Ryou discerned a growl near him.

“Okay.”

“I’ll bring a souvenir, if I can. For you.”

“You don’t have to,” Ryou muttered.

Another awkward silence ensued, and Ryou’s father struggled for a proper goodbye. He took his time, until he managed to find an acceptable string of words. “Well, take care, Ryou. I’ll call you when I get back.”

“Okay,” the teen uttered. He heard another short ‘goodbye’ and hung up.

Behind him, the Spirit clenched his jaw, brows knitted together. Ryou watched his anger quell into a steely glare.

“You won’t do anything to him, will you?”

The other narrowed his eyes. “You think so little of me?” He’d never harmed his host’s father. Although, that might have been because his father had never been around much.

Ryou pursed his lips. “Sorry if the only things I know of you are hardly pleasant,” he commented tersely.

The Spirit turned on his heel and walked away to the RPG board, effectively ignoring those words. Ryou stared at his back, wanting a definitive answer. He knew the Spirit was a liar—but he needed confirmation that nothing would happen to his father. He wanted those words, however false they turned out to be.

“You won’t do anything to him.” Ryou followed him at a distance. “He has nothing to do with—” he almost said us, “—this.”

He heard the Spirit chuckle as he took his seat at one end of the diorama. “When was the last time he spoke to you? It’s been a good few years, hasn’t it?”

“That’s not—that doesn’t—” He looked away, huffing. “It’s not his fault.”

“Really? Then whose is it?” the Spirit mocked. "He calls after years of estrangement and the first thing he asks about is his job, not you. He really cares about you."

Anger flashed in Ryou’s eyes. He said nothing in response.

“Fine,” he said. “I won’t do anything to him. Not that I planned to.” He grinned up at Ryou, although it lacked its usual malice. “For now, it’s just you and me. I’m keeping my end of the bargain.”

Ryou sat opposite of him, his words taking root in his thoughts. He saw him take the deck of Duel Monsters cards and begin rifling through them.

“And me?” Ryou swallowed thickly. He didn’t want to think about it, but sooner or later, the Spirit would demand him fulfill his end of the deal—and frankly, he had no idea how to do that. More importantly, he didn’t want to.

“That’s up to you—how fast you learn.” The Spirit looked up from the cards in his hand. “I won’t make this easy, either.”

Without warning, an unnatural coldness settled around them again. Ryou felt it first, always, before he saw it. It was enough to distract him from his brief anger.

Haze seeped out from the walls, spilling over like thick bubbles, clinging, crawling over one another. The fog hovered on top of the carpet around their feet like clawed hands. Ryou was sitting in it—in the miasma and he didn’t want to be. He looked at the Spirit who was watching him, an amused expression in his face. He was shuffling the deck.

“You said you wanted to learn what I know—shadow magic, isn’t that right?”

Ryou nodded stiffly.

“Well this is the best way to learn it.” His words curled like the smoke on the ground. “A shadow game.”

“And if I lose?” Ryou was finding it difficult to breathe.

The Spirit’s grin grew wide. “Don’t fear death unless you want to die.”

He parted the deck in half, and placed it before him. Uncertainly, Ryou reached out and took one stack and left the other on the table. They would each have twenty cards to start with.

The deck was set on his right-hand side, and Ryou drew five cards. Not being familiar with the sort of deck he was assigned, he quickly scanned the card names and their effects. He hadn’t drawn any traps or spells—all he held were low-level monsters.

“I’ll go first,” he heard his opponent say.

“I set a monster face-down, and end my turn.”

At the beginning of his own turn, Ryou drew a card. He took one glance at it and saw it was Witch of the Black Forest. Although lacking in Attack, with only 1100 Points, it held a higher offensive power than the other monsters in his hand.

The Spirit’s lone monster card was hardly intimidating. Had there been a face down card in the Spell zone, he would have been warier of his play. However, since this was a Shadow Game, and the Spirit was his opponent, winning as quickly as possible suited him more. If he prolonged it, who knew what kind of strategy the Spirit had in mind—

“I summon Witch of the Black Forest in Attack position,” he announced, and went to place down the card.

Immediately, and unprecedentedly, he was racked with a painful sensation in his chest. He gasped when something inside him constricted and he shakily pulled his hand back from the card, which he had placed askew in his monster zone. For a moment, he forgot what exactly his goal was in the match, and almost ended his turn without attacking.

“I—attack your face down card,” he declared, and the Spirit flipped over his card to reveal Electric Lizard on his side of the field. With its 800 Defense Points, the card lost against the witch’s spell and went into the graveyard pile.

“I’ll take it that that’s the end of your turn?” the Spirit grinned over his cards, already reaching to draw from his deck.

Ryou couldn’t answer, and nodded instead. The constriction in his chest expanded and he felt a heaviness in his limbs from the pressure.

“I draw.” The Spirit took the top card from his pile and arranged it in his hand. He set another face down monster on the field, and ended his turn.

Suspicion rose in Ryou. Again, he had set a face-down card in Defense and no Spell or Trap. Surely, he had a monster that could rival or equal Witch of the Black Forest? Maybe not. He himself had had instances playing against Yugi or Joey where he couldn’t draw a suitable monster—only high-level monsters that required Tributes. Was that what the Spirit was waiting for? He was waiting for enough monsters to be summoned on the field for a Tribute summon?

Lost in thought, he almost forgot to draw. He slid off the top card of his deck and read its description. His new card was another monster, however, it had a more attack points than his monster on the field. With it, he could have two monsters on the field—destroy his opponent’s face down monster, and then attack the Spirit’s life points directly.

He shifted in his seat, and leaned over his side of the playing field. “I summon Headless Knight, in Attack mode.” He went to set this Fiend down, when the same wave of pain from before affected him. From shock, he dropped the Headless Knight card onto the table, next to the witch card. It took him five breaths to gather his bearings and five more to summon the strength and fix the card, which had landed face down. He arranged it next to Witch of the Black Forest, and declared an attack on yet another of his opponent’s face down cards.

A second Electric Lizard was sent to the graveyard. “Now I attack your Life Points—,” he blinked heavily, “—directly.”

“Are you sure about that?” the Spirit taunted, face now resting forward, propped on his elbow.

Unsure of what he meant, Ryou looked at his side of the field. There were no monsters, nothing in his Spell and Trap Zones—he was wide open for attack. Not knowing how to answer, the Spirit elaborated for him.

“I’d like to remind you of my monster’s special ability.” The Spirit took from his graveyard the discarded Electric Lizard card and waved it at Ryou. “When you attack my monster with something other than a Zombie-type, that monster can’t attack on the next turn.” He set the card back in its pile. “Your Witch of the Black Forest is a Spellcaster type. She can’t attack this turn,” the Spirit grinned. “And since you attacked another of my lizards, Headless Knight can’t attack next turn, either.”

“It’s my turn—I draw,” he smirked. “I’ll summon this—in Attack position!” From his hand, and into the monster zone, the Spirit placed Gernia, a Zombie-type monster with an attack of 1300. “I think I’ll attack your witch and take off 200 of your Life Points.”

With the end of his attack phase, Ryou fell forward when phantom claws slashed across his chest. The cards in his hands were clutched to the point of bending them at the edges. He fought the strangle around his throat, and managed to inhale short, raspy, breaths.

“Y-you’re doing something to me, aren’t you?” he gasped out, shooting a weak glare at his opponent. The Spirit currently observed him, a curious look over his face. He bent forward to better see into his host’s eyes.

“Do you know how Shadow games are played?” he asked, the tone in his voice making Ryou’s stomach twist. The Spirit knew, of course, that Ryou wasn’t learned in either Shadow games nor magic.

“They’re played with your life on the line.” Bakura took in the grim look of realization on his former host’s face. “Your life points are connected to your life—likewise,” he added offhandedly, “your soul is used to summon monsters. The stronger your soul, the stronger your monster.” His head tilted to one side, examining how much Ryou strained to keep himself upright and awake.

“You felt my attack, too, didn’t you? You felt my Gernia’s claws rip into you as if he had really attacked in a real form.” He paused to let the information register in Ryou’s mind. “You can’t see them, yet, landlord. But in time, you’ll be able to. I’ll make sure you do,” he murmured. “For now, be content with how long you’ve even lasted. You summoned two-monsters on your side without collapsing. Didn’t think you could pull it off in this first game. I’ll be sure to reward you for that,” he chuckled. Ryou traced his words and found them laced with insincerity.

He trembled as he righted himself again, and activated Witch of the Black Forest’s effect, which was triggered when she was sent to the card graveyard. He set his cards face-down on his lap and searched his deck for a monster with 1500 Defense Points or less. As he suspected earlier, his deck was filled with nothing but monster cards. There were no Traps, or Spells, and he easily understood why. This game was to test his endurance in a Shadow Game. If what the Spirit said was correct, and he had no reason to believe he would lie to him about the nature of Shadow games, then Ryou would have no need to use Traps or Spells in this first game. It wasn’t about outwitting the opponent—it was about him becoming accustomed to the shadows.

Reaching the end of the deck, Ryou paused and stared at the last card. Its Defense was less than 1500, significantly so. What called to him, though, was the fact that the Attack points on it were much higher than the cards in his hand put together.

The other side of the field had only Gernia. But because of Electric Lizard’s effect, his Headless Knight would not be able to attack. If he kept his Monster in Attack position, neither could the Spirit…unless he suddenly summoned a monster with Attack points higher than Headless Knight.

He decided to add the monster to his hand and then shuffled his deck. He struggled with his shaky hands, but managed to neatly stack the cards back on top of each other.

“Find a good Monster?” The Spirit raised a brow mockingly, and Ryou ignored him. He drew a card.

Before he summoned his next monster, Ryou hesitated. He recalled the choking sensation inside his chest when he summoned the previous two monsters. What would happen if he summoned the one granted to him by Witch of the Black Forest’s effect?

“Something wrong?” the Spirit leered, taking notice of his apprehension.

Ryou lowered his eyes back to his cards. “No,” he answered. Except, his hand remained frozen on the edge of the card he chose. He reminded himself to inhale and exhale.

But air came up short.

“I—,” his fingers closed around the slim card, “I sacrifice Headless Knight to summon Earl of Demise.” In his ears, his voice echoed, as if he were hearing himself speak underwater. Ryou placed Headless Knight in his discard pile, and replaced it with the Dark-type, 5-Star Monster.

“Let’s see if you can manage to keep it on the field,” Ryou heard the Spirit’s voice shake with laughter.

Slowly, the room began to darken and sway.

For a brief second, he saw a grotesque, clawed figure emerge from the foggy surroundings, directly behind the Spirit. He tried to keep his eyes trained on it, but couldn’t.

“Well, are you going to attack, or not?”

Ryou nodded and the head on his shoulders grew heavy with the movement.

“A-attack…Gernia,” he whispered. The Spirit’s Life Points decreased by 700, leaving him at 3300, and Ryou with 3800. He scarcely noticed that it was the Spirit’s turn again.

He lazily drew a card, and set another Monster in face-down defense. “I end my turn.” His lips curved into a thin, devious smile, and Ryou winced from the strain it took to keep himself awake.

It was becoming difficult to think. He saw one monster on each side of the field, one with a significant Attack of 2000, and the other was a single, face-down, that could not possibly have Defense points higher than that. Going by the previous Spirit’s strategy, the set card was most likely an Electric Lizard, or a monster with a special effect of the same sort. Even if it was the purple lizard monster, there was nothing that the Spirit could summon that would destroy Ryou’s Earl. Monster’s with Attack points of 2000 or higher were mostly Tribute Monsters. If he could stop the Spirit from summoning any more monsters—

He looked at his hand, and recalled the flurry of Monster-only cards he’d seen in his deck when he activated Witch of the Black Forest’s effect.

Their decks were composed of only monsters. He would always have a monster. He would keep setting them in Defense Mode, just as he had been doing.

Through his hazy thoughts, Ryou saw the outcome of the duel.

His shoulders rose and fell, illustrating how deeply he inhaled for air.

“I’m not supposed to win, am I?” Somehow, his own words affected his confidence in himself. He felt stupid for thinking he was being taken seriously.

The Spirit regarded him for a moment, a stoic expression settling over his leer.

“No,” he answered simply.

Ryou’s eyes fell to the art on the card on his side of the field. He stared at the card description, the words on it shifting up and down the longer he read.

“It’s your turn to draw.”

And it was. Ryou picked up another card from his deck, not bothering to read what it was. He didn’t bother, either, with summoning a second monster.

Through tunnel vision, Ryou concentrated instead on the face-down card on the other side of the playing field. He felt something beside him move when he declared his attack. “I Attack your f-face down card.”

The card was turned over, revealing its formidable 1400 Defense. The Spirit banished it to his Graveyard pile.

“My Monster’s effect activates,” he informed. Ryou looked from his discard pile to his opponent. “The Monster that destroys Yomi Ship is also sent to the Graveyard.”

Ryou made no move to send his card to his discard pile.

The Spirit leaned back and folded his cards on his lap. “I’m actually surprised you even made it past the third turn—” His voice cut out like the sound on a television. An unpleasant ringing vibrated in Ryou’s ears, growing louder and louder until it was a high-pitched note.

He saw the Spirit’s lips curve and stretch, forming inaudible words. They stopped and Ryou wondered why.

Under his drooping eyelids, he saw him raise a brow in his direction, and the wordless mouth curled into a smirk once more. That was the last thing Ryou saw before he fell forward onto the table.


 

For a brief moment, Ryou thought he was still playing a Shadow Game. It was dark, and there were no sounds around him.

Perhaps, a World of Darkness, then.

Lazily, he floated in that realm, in a state between waking and dozing.

That was until, he felt the jagged voice of the Spirit grate on his ears.

“Finally awake?” His voice sounded as if it were coming from beyond a closed window.

Ryou focused on the sound, trying to pinpoint the direction of the source. He shifted sideways and realized he had a body. His consciousness extended into it and suddenly he felt his arms and legs.

Bent over the table, Ryou awoke slowly.

He heard a thud—something dropped near his head, sending vibrations over the table.

“Are you going to keep sitting there?” Ryou heard the Spirit’s voice again, much clearer.

With uncertain movements, he sat up.

Through hazy vision, he saw that his apartment was dark, and it took him a few more blinks to form the outline of the room.

The first the Ryou saw was the evidence of his defeat still out on the table. The art on The Earl of Demise winced up at him, with its half-formed growl, and decaying flesh. Unable to quell the feelings of shame from losing, he flipped the card over and set it aside.

He saw movements in the corner of his eye and jerked his head in that direction.

“You’ve been out for half the day.” The Spirit came to a halt near him. He held out a small package towards Ryou, and the boy eyed it warily.

“They’re fresh bandages,” he said impatiently, and tossed them in his lap. He gestured at the other bag on the table—one he had set down earlier. “You haven’t eaten, either.”

Suspicious, Ryou paused for a moment, before untying the bag in his hands. As the Spirit had said, fresh, still packaged rolls of gauze nested inside. Ryou extracted one from within, and glanced from it to the Spirit, who remained at his side.

“You…bought these?” The words tumbling out of his mouth sounded foreign.

“You can’t exactly find these things lying around and expect them to be clean.”

He squeezed the plastic packaging in his hand. It crinkled loudly.

As he did that, his fingers trembled from the strain, and Ryou knew his body was still shaken from the Shadow game.

“I lost,” he said out loud.

“We didn’t exactly finish,” the Spirit corrected him.

Wordlessly, Ryou stood and walked past him. He stumbled against the walls until he reached the bathroom.

Had the gesture originated from someone other than the Spirit, Ryou would have been grateful. However, coming from someone like him, he couldn’t stop the cynicism in his thoughts.

Sure, he probably needed Ryou alive, but that didn’t mean necessarily in good health—just functional enough to do whatever it was he was set out to do. He still hadn’t fully understood what it was…

Staring at himself in the mirror, he peeled off the thick bandages over his eyebrow and cheek, noticing with a grimace, the crusted rust colored blood. He tossed them in the bin. Gently, he dabbed the affected area, now sprouting an array of purple spots underneath the skin. He winced and tore open the package with his teeth.

“That’s going to scar,” he muttered, placing the white dressing over the noticeably bruised area, covering it from sight.

Underneath the fabric, his face had lost the rosy color of oncoming sickness. It was replaced by a pallid complexion, one that accentuated the sharpness of his face. He looked away from his reflection and made his way back to the other room.

Sitting at the dinner table, he found the Spirit rifling through the cards again. He’d picked up the cards left behind by his host, along with the bag he had set out earlier. Ryou again found himself positioned across from him, and eyed the bag of food. He really hadn’t eaten anything since the previous day and his stomach betrayed him with a grumble.

“It’s yours,” the Spirit said. “Just take it.”

“Why are you doing all this?”

“Doing what?” He set three cards in front of him and flipped them starting from the left.

“Suddenly being…” Civilized? Normal? Nice? He couldn’t finish his question, and the Spirit didn’t look like he was going to press him on the matter.

Ryou slid over the bag of food to his side and opened it. The savory aroma enticed him as soon as he smelled it. Not wanting to appear to eager, he took his time unwrapping the contents. He was surprised to find average fast food—a rice burger. He gingerly picked at the bun, crumbling it between his fingers.

The burger lay there innocently in its wrapping and Ryou had a brief stare down with it. He considered leaving it out on the table and refusing it altogether.

“How come you’re not eating?” he asked, still wary.

“I did say you’ve been out for half a day,” the Spirit remarked with a hint of annoyance. He set out another three cards on top of the ones already in front of him. “I wasn’t going to sit around waiting for you.” As he lay them on each other, he tilted his head to one side. Seemingly unsatisfied with one of them, he turned the left one upside down and the middle one to the side. Ryou watched his fingers deftly tilt each card. It looked like a form of Tarot reading, except with Duel Monster cards.

He shifted his eyes back to his rice burger.

“I’m not hungry,” he finally said.

The Spirit leaned back in his chair, gathering the cards and shuffling them together. He set out one last card on the table and flicked it towards Ryou—a level seven monster brandishing a sword.

“Liar.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Arrival

It was early June and Ryou was grateful for at least one thing in his life: summer uniforms. His blazer, he realized, had been ruined past the point of recovery. Apart from that, the rainy season had begun, making the heat from June more than unbearable. The thin white fabric of his school shirt made it easy for those rare summer breezes to cool his heated skin.

Currently, it was morning, and he stood in front of his bedroom mirror. He checked for the second time the markings on his face. Two weeks ago, his injuries were in the form of large, red gashes carved on his skin. Ryou saw them now, cleanly scabbed over. He touched them lightly, fingers grazing over the tougher patch of skin.

Over the last few days, he had been the victim of more Shadow games. His performance had done little improvement, and he knew the Spirit was less than pleased with that. He’d become more aggressive in his tactics. No longer taking the brunt of Ryou’s attacks, the Spirit had decided to play a more active role in their duels. He’d started small, with weak monsters having the same Attack points as Ryou’s monsters. Gradually, he’d added monsters Ryou hadn’t seen previously in his deck, forcing him to become the defensive player in their duels.

During one particular duel, the Spirit had asked if he could see anything beyond the haze—a question which struck Ryou as odd. He’d answered that he couldn’t—that he only saw the wispy movements of reaching hands. That answer had apparently been the wrong one, and the Spirit had lost all semblance of calm, and he summoned Shadow Ghoul which prompted Ryou to hide behind summon after summon of his own Defense position monsters.

“How long do you expect to keep that up?” the Spirit snarled.

Ryou set down another card face-down and ended his turn. His deck was nothing but monsters—he could keep his defenses up so long as he could draw.

He stared at the enemy monster card on the Spirit’s side of the field. With so many monsters in the Spirit’s Graveyard, it stood at an unstoppable 2200 Attack points. Nothing in Ryou’s deck could stand up to it unless the Spirit had decided to upgrade his measly cards when he wasn’t looking. He didn’t even have Spells or Traps to help him cut down its Attack.

“You said I’m not meant to win,” he panted. Numbness had slowly overtaken his limbs. This had been the longest duel yet—more than 10 turns already, and Ryou had taken 1500 damage. His life points were just 300 below the Spirit’s yet he showed no signs of tiring. He assumed it really was a matter of experience in playing within the heavy atmosphere that surrounded a Shadow Game.

The Spirit hands clamped around his cards. “So, you’ve given up, have you?”

“No—” Ryou begun to argue but his voice was ignored.

“It’s my turn. I draw,” his opponent declared, drawing from his deck with more force than was necessary. He summoned a second monster in Attack Position. “I think it’s time you learned what it really means when I say this game is played with more than your life on the line.” The red glint in his eyes that appeared in his most deranged practically bore holes in Ryou.

He looked between each side of the playing area: his one face down monster versus the Sprit’s Shadow Ghoul and Versago the Destroyer. Although it had a low Attack, the Fiend monster was enough to destroy his face down Needle Ball, which only had a measly 700 Defense points. That would leave him wide open for Shadow Ghoul’s attack. If the Spirit attacked directly, Ryou would be left with only 300 Life Points—practically zero. He had already faced countless Gernia, Skull Knights, Synchar, and other grotesque monsters. But those monsters had been low-level and most of the damage had been to shielding monsters—not direct attacks. Each time that happened, pain shot like bolts of lightning in his chest—he couldn’t imagine what a 2200 Attack monster would do to him with a Direct Attack.

“Now, I attack your face down card with Versago!”

Ryou flipped his face-down monster over to reveal the smiling evil orb.

The Spirit stopped and raised a brow in his direction. “Perhaps you weren’t hiding behind such pathetic defenses after all.” He paused, and leaned over the card to get a closer look. “Pity you can’t use its effects unless you wish to die next turn.”

“Who says I’m not?” Ryou challenged.

The Spirit snorted in disbelief. “You can’t be serious. Just send it to your Graveyard so I can get this over with.”

His host glared at him, obviously miffed by his words. When he thought he predicted his host, Bakura was once again proven wrong. Before he could stop him, Ryou had activated Needle Ball’s effect, paying 2000 Life Points, more than eighty percent of his remaining Life Points to do 1000 damage to Bakura.

Astonished, if the word could describe him, the Spirit had no chance to stop him, and only snarled out “You idiot!” when Ryou collapsed onto the table for the first time after weeks of slow, snail-paced progress.

The question he posed to the confused teen during the aftermath of his impulsive play had perplexed him further.

“How are you feeling?” the Spirit had asked. Although his outward appearance betrayed nothing, Ryou recognized the deceptively calm exterior he put on when he was displeased.

“I’m fine,” he had answered.

That was all that had been said between them, but during the next duel, Ryou hadn’t come across any Effect Monsters that asked for Life Points in exchange.

Ryou finished fastening the last top buttons of his shirt and gathered his things for school. He picked up his book bag and inspected its contents. His textbook was missing—he had stayed up the night before to catch up on practically a whole month’s worth of lessons. Ms. Chono had announced that there would be a review test before the start of Summer vacation. She wanted to make sure everyone was doing well in the current subjects before moving on to the final lesson.

She hadn’t been singling anyone out, but her gaze had lingered on Ryou for longer than necessary.

He walked to the sitting room where he saw it lying open on the kitchen counter, next to a half-empty container of yogurt. His nose scrunched when he saw it—he couldn’t believe he hadn’t thrown it away. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed it in the bin, where it bounced off the rim and onto the kitchen floor, splattering it with pink goop.

“…can never do anything right,” he mumbled as he bent down to clean the mess with a wet rag. He washed his hands afterwards, gathered the book, retrieved his bag off the table, and exited his flat. Before he closed the door, Ryou peered at the mass of dark clouds gathered overhead. They rumbled with promise of rain, and he reached in behind the door to grab his umbrella.

No further than the last block before the train station did light drops of rain start wetting the ground. He opened his parasol without worry and continued on his way to school.

The trains were more crowded than usual—which happened with any mention of rain. He boarded the one that stopped a few blocks from Domino High and found an empty seat near the doors. Although he preferred to keep to himself, he couldn’t stop the ogling of giggling girls gathered not far off from batting their eyes at him. Ryou preferred not to smile at them lest he give them some false hope of friendship. He tucked his hair behind his ear and pretended not to have seen them.

Finally, the train arrived at his stop. He exited as quickly as he could without being rude or pushy, and opened his umbrella once more. During the forty-minute commute, the rain had intensified. Luckily, there was no wind and the drops fell in a linear fashion along the ground. He predicted to arrive at school without so much as a drop of water to wet his clothing—

“Hey, Bakura!”

Ryou snapped his head to one side to see a sleek black car pull up next to him. He stopped in his tracks and so did the vehicle, which hummed quietly.

The window was rolled down and Ryou saw the messy mop of hair that was Mokuba Kaiba’s. He smiled a mischievous smile that could only be present on a child of Mokuba’s caliber.

From inside the car, he heard a second voice. “Close the window, Mokuba. You’re getting the upholstery wet.”

Mokuba looked back. “Aww, but Seto! He wants a ride. Can’t you see he’s getting wet?”

“He never said he wanted one. And I didn’t tell you to stop, Isono.”

“Hey, you want a ride to school?” Mokuba asked Ryou over the flustered apology of Isono.

“I, um,” Ryou gaped between the car and the rest of the path to Domino High.

Before he could answer, the door opened to reveal the stoic face of Seto Kaiba.

If he didn’t want a ride before, he sure didn’t want one then, the way Kaiba glowered at him.

“C’mon!” Mokuba beckoned and Ryou couldn’t exactly refuse him with his older brother glaring at him. He nervously closed his umbrella and entered the car, trying his best not to get anything wet.

Ryou sat with his hands in his lap, watching the windshield wipers on the glass up front. The car hummed as it rolled along the empty road.

“Why’re you so quiet?” Mokuba asked. “I thought you were friends with my big brother.”

Ryou shifted awkwardly in his seat, noticing his umbrella was dripping water on the mats under their feet. “We’re classmates,” he finally said.

Seto Kaiba ‘hmphed’ before his sentence was finished. “Hardly. This guy rarely shows up for class.” He spoke as if he were merely addressing his younger brother, and only him. His eyes were trained on the wet landscape outside the window rather than the two people in the backseat with him. Ryou’s face grew hot at his words.

Mokuba eyed him curiously. “Woah, you’re a delinquent? You don’t look the part. Although, when you were in Battle City—”

Suddenly, Kaiba interjected. “Mokuba.”

The younger Kaiba turned towards his brother. Seto’s eyes were a steely blue.

“Did you finish your assignment for your class? I won’t have a representative of KaibaCorp make me look bad by failing a middle school assignment.”

“Huh? Oh, that. You know I did, big bro,” Mokuba smiled a laugh.

Kaiba turned to face out the window again having effectively distracted his younger brother from his excessive comments.

Mokuba sat back in his seat until Isono stopped the car at the entrance of what looked like a private school. Ryou knew it wasn’t the public Elementary or Middle School he’d see sometimes when taking the walk to school. Kaiba’s driver must have made a different turn somewhere, because as he looked at the large black gates of the school, Ryou saw nothing that was familiar to him.

The back door was opened by Isono, and Mokuba climbed over his older brother’s legs to go outside. An umbrella was held over his short form by the spectacled driver, and Kaiba handed him his bag from under his feet.

“Bye, Seto! Later, Bakura!” he waved at the older two, while Isono escorted him to the doors under the umbrella.

“I didn’t know your brother went to private school,” Ryou noted quietly.

Kaiba glanced at him from the corner of his eye.

“And why would you?”

“N-no, I suppose you’re right…” He quickly looked at anything other than Kaiba sitting next to him.

The driver got in the car again after a few minutes, continuing the along the rainy path.

“Should I stop closer to the school this morning, sir?”

Kaiba answered him without pause. “The usual spot, Isono.”

“Yes, sir.”

It turned out that Mokuba’s school was only two stops away from Domino High School. The reason Ryou had never seen it was because it was beyond campus grounds. He had only ventured as far as the school itself, never having the need to walk past it. None of his friends lived in that direction, either, which made him have fewer reasons to do so.

Isono stopped the car across from the school. He hurriedly opened the door for Kaiba who refused Isono walking him to the entrance. “There’s no need.” He took the umbrella from him in one hand, and his briefcase in the other.

Ryou opened the door for himself so he wouldn’t be more of a bother than he was already feeling. He rounded the car and bowed to the driver. “Thank you.”

The man was certainly not expecting him to do that and Ryou noticed a rosy tinge sprout over his cheeks. “Ahem, please. There’s no need to thank me. I’m merely doing my job.”

Nevertheless, Ryou smiled politely at him and dashed past the gates of the school. He didn’t spot Kaiba anywhere near the shoe lockers. He placed his umbrella at the entrance, and traded his trainers for the designated slippers, making a mental note to thank him later.

He was just thinking of the best way to show his appreciation for Kaiba not throwing him out of his car when Jonouchi appeared at the entrance. Not far behind, Honda followed placing his black umbrella next to Jonouchi’s.

The air between he and Honda remained tense and distant. Ryou wasn’t sure how to properly approach him to smooth things over. Their encounters since his return to school had been filled with terse greetings and nods in each other’s general direction.

“Mornin’ Bakura,” Jonouchi grinned under his semi-wet hair and began to take off his shoes. Ryou was still untying the laces for his left shoe and smiled at him.

“Good morning, Jonouchi.”

“Nice to see those bandages off your face,” he pointed vaguely at his eye and then at Ryou.

He looked at Honda who silently tugged on the heel of his shoe to make it fit. “Don’t ya got anything to say this morning to Bakura?” Jonouchi leaned over in his direction and waggled his eyebrows.

Ryou didn’t miss how Honda’s shoulders tensed and he scowled at Jonouchi.

“Remember?” He elbowed Honda in the ribs which prompted Honda to push his arm away.

“Yeah, I guess.”

Ryou finished putting on his school shoes. He saw Honda slowly turn in his direction, unable to make eye contact with him.

“We’re, uh, planning a birthday party for Yugi.” He chanced a glance at Ryou who blinked owlishly at him. “We were hoping you’d come so we can give him a surprise. It’s at his house. His mom and grandpa already agreed, if…you’re okay with going.” He finished with an awkward nod as if telling himself it was a job well done.

Ryou, on the other hand, gaped. It was the first actual conversation he’d had with Honda since a returning to school, even if the words had come out a bit choppy, and he couldn’t think of anything suitable to respond with.

“Well? You coming or not?” Jonouchi asked after his pause. He slung an arm around Ryou knocking some wind out of him, and another around Honda’s neck, almost choking him from his angle. “He’s turning eighteen—!”

“I-I’m well aware,” Ryou stuttered from Jonouchi’s shaking. Honda had an easier time escaping his grip. “But I’m not sure if I can go…”

“Aww, c’mon! You have to go.” Jonouchi ceased his excited shaking and gave Ryou the opportunity to fix his collar.

“My father’s coming to visit,” he half lied. “He wants me to…spend time with him.”

“Woah, your dad? I’ve never met him,” Jonouchi mused. He turned suddenly to Ryou. “Is he strict or something?”

All three had finished putting on the school shoes but remained where they sat.

“Er, I just haven’t seen him in a few years. He works out of the country,” he added.

Jonouchi appeared amazed by the new insight but Honda turned pensive.

“Your dad…he’s the one who gave you the Ring, right?” Honda asked with an unreadable expression.

Ryou looked down at his feet. “Yes,” he admitted quietly.

Even Jonouchi’s cheer was sucked out of him by Honda’s question. The three remained quiet until Anzu sighed heavily at the entrance.

“Aw, jeez. I’m soaked!” She shook the water out of her hair and patted down her blue skirt. “It’s really starting to come down out there. Nosaka said it wouldn’t start raining until mid-day.” With one last look out the door, the girl snapped her umbrella shut and turned to her friends. She sighed, “That’s the last time I’ll get my weather report from someone who falls asleep in Chemistry.” Noticing the heavy atmosphere, she stopped in her tracks. Her eyes shifted between the three of them, unable to pinpoint who was the cause.

“H-hey, guys. What’s up?”

Ryou spoke up first. “Good morning,” he greeted quietly. He picked up his book bag and started for homeroom. “Well…I’ll go on ahead and leave you three.”

Jonouchi spoke after him. “If you change your mind, just give us the word, okay?”

Ryou dashed off and called back over his shoulder. “Right, sure…!”

Anzu came up next to Jonouchi and Honda. “What was that all about?” she asked with a frown.

“It’s nothing. We jus’ told him about Yugi’s surprise, but…”

“But what? He said he could make it, didn’t he?”

Jonouchi shook his head. “He says his dad’s coming to visit him and he can’t go.”

“Aww, that sucks.” Anzu watched Ryou make a turn down the hall and up the stairs. “He looked so sad.” Suddenly struck by a brilliant idea, her eyes sparkled. “Hey! Do you think maybe we can convince his dad to let him go? I bet if we do that, he’ll cheer right up! We can even invite the both of them—he and Yugi’s grandpa would probably have a lot to talk about!”

“You know…that’s not a bad idea! Heheh.” Jonouchi turned to Honda. “What do you think?”

Honda slung his gym bag over his shoulder. “I think we should mind our own business.”

“What! Don’t say that—he obviously wants to go. We can’t let our buddy down like that,” Jonouchi insisted. “Imagine if you had to miss out on my birthday party. You’d feel like a lousy friend, wouldn’t you?”

“Jonouchi, you’ve never even had a birthday party.”

“S-so? You get what I mean, though, don’t you?”

“Look, all I’m saying is—” He shook his head. “You know what? Nevermind. I know the two of you will probably track him down and ask his dad anyway. I just hope you don’t find him and give Bakura a break for once. He looks like he needs one.”

“And what better break than eatin’ cake at Yugi’s house? Am I right?” Jonouchi turned back to address Anzu, but she had already changed into her school shoes and ran ahead of the two boys. “Hey, don’t ignore me! This is important!”

“Sorry! The bell’s about to ring!”

“Aw, crap.”


The final bell rang and the students gathered at their desks to talk or dashed out of the room without reserve. Ryou’s own group of friends dispersed as Honda left for his soccer practice, Anzu headed for her after-school job, and Jonouchi and Yugi walked together to their shoe lockers talking about manga that Ryou had never heard of…

The person he had been thinking about all morning quietly arranged his pristine books in his bag, warding off any form of conversation from his classmates with the air he carried.

Ryou, propelled forward by customs of politeness, inched closer to him from behind, and called out softly to him.

“Um, thank you for this morning, Kaiba,” he dropped his gaze hastily to the ground when the CEO of KaibaCorp turned on his heel, notebook and pen in hand.

“It wasn’t my idea,” he stated bluntly.

Around them, a group of students eyed Ryou with awed horror. From what he knew, Kaiba had no social group whatsoever within Domino School grounds—and he had to admit to himself, that he thought Kaiba probably didn’t have one outside of them except his younger brother.

The young CEO had a large and successful company to run. He couldn’t very well have much time to socialize like the rest of the teenagers his age. Additionally, it wasn’t as if Seto Kaiba had a charming personality…

The students, evidently with more pressing matters on their minds, scattered out into the hall with cheery goodbyes, leaving only Kaiba and Ryou, along with Ms. Chono at her desk, alone in the classroom. The teacher, however, was primping herself in a mirror on her desk. She had the teacher’s lounge to go to for a short conference before Summer vacation. With a small, cat like smile, she looked between the two remaining students. She turned to Kaiba and uttered a cryptic, “Make sure to do a good job, OK?” before heading out the door in long strides.

Kaiba shut his bag tight, and Ryou thought he was going to follow her out.

He was about to tell him he forgot his bag when Kaiba reached for the cabinet near the door and extracted a broomstick, a bucket, and brushes used to wipe down the chalkboard.

Oh, thought Ryou. He had cleaning duty.

Apparently, the words he exchanged with Kaiba earlier were about the only thing he was going to get out of him. His thanks had been brushed aside as if they didn’t mean anything, and Ryou hoisted up his bag higher on his shoulder, ready to go.

“I—I should leave, then,” he made for the door when a commanding voice stopped him in his tracks.

“If you think you’re going to weasel your way out of cleaning duty with me, you’re clearly mistaken.” Kaiba thrust out the broomstick he held in one hand and blocked the doorway.

“Huh?”

The stoic gaze of Ryou’s classmate bore into his as he tapped the nearby chalkboard with his knuckle. On the dark green surface read three things: CLEANING DUTY—and next to the vertical, neat writing were two names: Kaiba Seto and Bakura Ryou.

Wordlessly, Kaiba, the only student in the school who still wore the winter uniform even in June, began the tedious job of wiping down desks. He sprayed the solution he’d taken out of the closet and wiped their surface with a gray rag.

He caught sight of Ryou looking at him, stunned for words, and narrowed his eyes.

“I hope you’re not just going to stand there all afternoon.”

Immediately, Ryou shook his head and set down his bag in one of the chairs near him.

He’d forgotten he had cleaning duty—or better said—he’d been absent the day his turn had been announced. Not only that, he’d forgotten to tell someone of his new schedule. The Spirit had left the night before with promises of something he ‘wanted to show’ Ryou. Evidently, he had been very excited—demented with the feeling even, and Ryou wasn’t sure if he was thankful for the intrusion in his schedule or worried for the irritable mood it would surely cause in the Spirit.

“I’ll fetch water for the chalkboard,” he said to Kaiba who only grunted in response. He was already halfway down the row of desks, the solution swishing in the bottle he carried on his waist.

Ryou snatched up the bucket and headed towards the boys’ bathroom to fill it. He paused before exiting only to glance back at the room.

Seeing the tall, imposing CEO of KaibaCorp bent low over his classmates’ desks was almost humanizing. Ryou held an idealized version of Kaiba after seeing him in Duelist Kingdom that made him seem unapproachable.

With the amount of money he made, and the importance that he possessed, why did someone like Seto Kaiba still go to a public school like Domino? Ryou had little time to wonder anymore when Kaiba said, “By all means—stand there all day and leave me to this by myself.”

His eyes had gained a steely glaze that made Ryou sputter out a hasty apology and dart out the room.

When he came back, Kaiba had finished wiping down the desks and held a broomstick in his hands. While it wasn’t the first time he had had cleaning duty with him—the last time being the year before during winter—it was still a bizarre sight when he saw Kaiba with anything other than a Duel Disk.

The water sloshed in the bucket as Ryou set it down in front of the chalkboard. He took from the closet a brush and soaked the bristles in the water. Desks and sweeping taken care of, there was little else to do. He scrubbed the lecture’s notes jotted down by Ms. Chono just hours earlier, caking the entirety of the board in thin soap bubbles and a watery sheen.

When he was finished, he patted down cool green surface with a dry towel and grabbed the erasers off the edge. Kaiba had finished his sweeping, not finishing up the mopping, and did the same. They had worked in silence, save for the sounds of the broom on the ground and the brush on the board.

Ryou walked to the window and turned the latch to open it. He grunted, fingers slipping off the metal of the edge.

“Move aside,” Kaiba said plainly, and opened the window for him with ease.

“T-thank you…” he said, but Kaiba didn’t give any indication that he heard him. He picked two erasers from the board, thrusting them out the window and clapping them together. A cloud of chalk dust exploded from between them and was dispersed by the wind.

Ryou did the same, taking notice of Kaiba’s proximity. He felt odd standing so close to someone so reserved—like he was invading his personal space. Hastily, he finished dusting his erasers and tidied up the signs on pinned to the walls.

“It looks like we’re done,” Ryou commented.

“Just the trash,” Kaiba unexpectedly said back. He maneuvered himself between the desks and headed for the bins near the door.

“I’ll do it!” Ryou found himself almost shouting.

“Hm.” The taller student closed the distance between him and his briefcase and stopped short of the door. “Friday,” he said. “Don’t be late.”

Ryou nodded—rejection of those terms was not an option. Cleaning duty was twice a week, and Kaiba had just scheduled the last day for him.

Left alone, Ryou extracted the plastic bags in the bins—paper, plastic, and trash—and tied them together. With the halls empty, it was a quiet journey to the large metal containers out back, and he made it without incident. The large, creaking door of the metal dumpster clamped shut like a mouth finishing its meal, and Ryou dusted his hands on his school pants, needing to wash his hands.

Overhead, the clouds were knitted together in their gray unison. The rain had ceased, giving opportunity to the sports clubs to continue their practice. He could hear the shouts and whistles from the courts.

Ready to head back to the classroom for his things, Ryou found himself face to face with the image of himself beside the door.

“So…this is where you were,” the Spirit commented not bothering to hide his displeasure at their surroundings.

“Yes, of course. I’m at school—we agreed. Less suspicion, remember?” he spoke swiftly—almost as if he were out of breath—and tried to move past the Spirit to head back into the school.

The Spirit leaned to one side, blocking the entrance.

Ryou shifted uncomfortably, peering from side to side, ears perked at every sound the after-school students made.

Noticing his host’s mannerisms, the Spirit said, “There’s no one here. I’ve checked.”

Ryou gave him a nervous glance but continued to cast swift looks towards the ends of the building.

“Okay, why are you here?” Ryou asked impatiently. He wanted to go inside before anyone saw them. He was aware that Jonouchi and Yugi had left together—Anzu was nowhere near the campus. Only one person remained at Domino High School who was even capable of noticing two Bakuras—

There was a pause after his question. The Spirit had his head leaned to one side, eyes narrowing, arms tensing…and then he relaxed his pose, turning back to Ryou. His gaze lingered for far too long—more than Ryou was comfortable with. He felt the hairs on his arms rise.

For starters, it was only an hour after school had ended. Cleaning duty had taken up less time than he thought initially, but it was clear that he should have been home by then. His commute took about forty minutes… There was no way someone could walk to Domino High School from his apartment faster than a train, no matter how quick they were. He made mental calculations and arrived at a swift conclusion.

“Do you follow me?” he asked, ire kept in check as he masked his voice.

The Spirit faced away from him, staring at the other side of the building.

“You do, don’t you?” Ryou stepped closer to him. He seemed unfazed by Ryou’s deduction and merely maintained a steady gaze on him.

“And if I do?” the Spirit finally said. “What can you possibly do about it?”

Ryou pressed his lips into a thin line and shoved past his stalker. “Nothing,” he muttered to himself, but the Spirit heard him anyway.

“Well…you could do one thing,” he commented nonchalantly. Ryou looked back at him over his shoulder. They walked into the empty school together, one tailing the other.

Half of him was interested—half of him didn’t care if the Spirit followed him for the rest of his life. It was hardly unfamiliar.

He crossed the hall into the courtyard, and then back into the school. When he turned the corner, he was surprised someone was still inside.

“Bakura?”

A small girl had appeared at the end of the hall, demurely calling her classmate’s name.

Ryou’s heart leapt into his throat and he whirled on his heel. Relief was slow to flood into him as he saw that the Spirit had vanished with the girl’s appearance. The blood still thumped in his ears when she began to speak.

The girl unsurely addressed him. “Um, Honda was looking for you. We checked the classroom but we only found your bag. H-here.” She offered his school bag to him, and he took it from her with a thanks.

“Me?” he asked her, and she nodded, making her hair flail with the movement.

“Are you sure?”

She nodded again. “He was at the front of the school, with an older man. He should still be there now, I think.” The girl, who he recognized as Kageyama Risa tucked a hair behind her ear. “Well…I’ve told you now so…”

“Y-yes, thank you,” he said, and Risa left hurriedly to tend to the soccer team.

With her departure, Ryou turned his attentions to the corridor behind him. He had expected the Spirit to re-appear, but all he saw were the empty classrooms on each side.

He made one last inspection of his own classroom, and seeing that everything was in order, he turned off the lights and slid the door shut.

An older man, she had said.

Only one person came to mind, but surely, he wouldn’t have…?

Ryou slipped on his regular shoes at the lockers and took his umbrella from the door. Outside, his eyes went straight to the gates where a white car was parked on the other side. Two people stood at the entrance, one brown hair, wearing a soccer jersey, and another who Ryou recognized instantly.

“Father…”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Mercy

“I’m sorry if my arrival was unexpected,” his father conversed at an intersection. “I wanted to surprise you. It’s been so long, hasn’t it?” He looked at his son over the wide rimmed glasses for an answer.

“Yes,” Ryou responded.

“Are you doing well in school? Your grades were always very good—even when…well, even after so many transfers.” The older man glanced at his rearview mirror. “That Honda fellow—and the girl are both your classmates, right? I’m glad you’re making friends.” He smiled, determined to have a conversation with his only son, however shallow it may be. “You know I almost went to Rintama, but then I remembered you had switched over to Domino. Imagine if I had gone there, all the way across the city…” The older man chuckled, but Ryou merely nodded, his eyes and attention returned to the road ahead.

Traffic in the city peaked in the evening, but with the rainy season, cars on the road moved cautiously along the wet pavement.

Mr. Bakura’s rental car skidded to a stop yet again at a second intersection where it appeared that road workers were making repairs. The lights flashed indicating they were out of order. A policeman in a rain coat stood in the center of the street directing the traffic.

“That’s a nasty scar you gave yourself. Must’ve been quite a fall,” his father said over the steering wheel. He scooted closer to the windshield, waiting for his turn to go. “I can take you somewhere—to get a look at it. If it bothers you, we can get you something to make it fade.” He slid his glasses up the bridge of his nose and accelerated forward.

In the reflection of the car, his son stared out the window—half his focus on the passing rain, half his focus on his dim reflection on the glass.

“It’s fine. It’s just a scar.”

It was awfully quiet in the car and Ryou found himself perking his ears at any sound that filled the silence. The flashing turn signal, the whistle of the policeman, the honking of impatient drivers—sounds he normally tuned out grew incredibly loud in his ears. He wished for more sound—a solitude with noise—or something else that took his mind off the fact that he and his father’s relationship was a painfully strained one. He hadn’t seen him in years, and the only times he heard his voice were on holidays—hasty conversations over the phone. Ryou wasn’t sure if the man sitting next to him would ever revert to the caring father he remembered before his mother and sister’s accident. What he did know was the he wasn’t a child anymore—but most importantly—he could never return to the innocence of those days.

Sensing the atmosphere, Mr. Bakura turned the small knob of the radio and tuned it to a station he liked. Jazz filtered out of the speakers with its relaxing tune, but it did little to alleviate the estranged relationship between a man and his son. Ryou listened to the woman’s sensual voice instead and imagined himself floating on the notes of her trembling lyrics.

The trip was certainly longer than his usual commute, and Ryou almost wished he hadn’t had cleaning duty. He would have left before his father arrived and avoided the long, awkward trip altogether. Another part of him was thankful for his responsibility to clean the classroom. Had Mr. Bakura missed him at school, he would have made the long journey to Ryou’s apartment—something he wished against all things. The Spirit said he wouldn’t hurt his father, and a small part in Ryou believed his words to be true. However, the issue of his presence remained. He could trust the Spirit to remain out of anyone’s view, as he had been successfully doing with everyone else—and as Ryou was newly aware, to him, too—but there was always the ‘what if’ nagging at him.

He looked down at his hands, absentmindedly touching the outer part of his left. He did his best to not dwell on the dreaded ‘what if’ but sometimes, the weight of the possibility came crashing down on him when he least expected it…

“I don’t think we’ll be here too long,” his father suddenly spoke, calling him out of his wayward thoughts. “I phoned Yoshimori earlier that I had arrived. He should have everything for me already.” The car halted, and his father clicked the shift into place.

Ryou looked out the window, eyes widening when he saw the massive, white marble building that was Domino museum. He quickly recalled the conversation over the phone he had with his father. He had been asked to visit his father’s colleague in his place, just to get things in order for his arrival, but he never did. The Spirit had been adamant about him ever stepping foot into the museum—shaken, even. He never did say why, and Ryou didn’t ask, either, knowing he would not receive a straight answer. Unexpectedly, he was now presented with the opportunity to investigate without interference from the Spirit. Additionally, Ryou was aware of somebody who could help him find out more about the mystical powers that surrounded the Millennium Items. He just hoped he hadn’t left yet.

He heard his father sigh heavily and turn off the ignition. “I should have waited until tomorrow after I’ve had some rest…and a good meal. But I can’t let this go on longer than it already has.” He sighed again, and Ryou grew aware of the deep-set lines that had settled on his face. The last time he had seen them, he had assumed it was due to the exposure under the unrelenting, hot, desert sun. But as he saw them then, while his father climbed out of the car, he realized it was simply age carving itself on his skin.

Ryou followed his father up the steps. “Do you want me to carry that for you?” he asked near the doors.

His father gave him the smallest of smiles. “I’m all right. It’s just paperwork.” He walked over to the counter, and spoke to the woman attending to the entrance tickets. She greeted him amicably and nodded, picking up the phone and then allowing Mr. Bakura to pass without dilemma. She did the same to Ryou and he dashed to catch up with his father who gazed at the artifacts appraisingly.

“Why don’t you look around a bit, Ryou?” his father turned to him. “There should be something around here the you want to look at. Unless you’ve grown bored of museums, that is.”

“No…there is something I’ve been meaning to look at, actually.”

Mr. Bakura nodded. “If you need me, I’ll be in Yoshimori’s office.” He paused, sliding his glasses further up his nose. “And if you’re up for it, maybe we can even go out to eat? Hm?”

He’d be lying to himself if he said he felt nothing when his father asked him that question. He’d be lying if he said he never again wanted his father in his life. In fact, his heart fluttered like a little moth in his chest at the thought of having a nice dinner with a family member rather than by himself—alone.

His heart dropped, however, a stone-weight, and he said, “There’s an upcoming test I need to study for…”

“Ah, right. School is always important,” his father smiled. “Another time, then.”


A few minutes of wandering and Ryou was done with his mini-tour of the museum. He hadn’t actually been thinking about the exhibits—he had been trying to gather courage to walk into Isis Ishtar’s department where he was sure to find Malik. The woman at the front had recognized him as Mr. Bakura’s son and had cheerfully given him directions to Ms. Isthar’s office.

Afterwards, Ryou had walked past the hall leading to their door, paused near an item display case…and repeated the process. Finally, he’d neared the door one step at a time until he stood directly in front of the bronze plaque that read Isis Ishtar.

There were no noises from inside, and he wondered whether Isis, or her brothers were there. The door gave way easily enough, and Ryou peeked his head in to see Malik organizing a bookshelf. He entered, suddenly aware that he should have knocked rather than barge in unannounced.

He cleared his throat, but the sound was caught, and he ended up coughing instead.

Malik turned on his heel, startled from his chore.

“I didn’t hear you come in.” His voice was flat, yet his eyes were wide and full of surprise.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” Ryou crossed the threshold into what appeared to be a small office. The room was bare—only a desk and two wooden chairs—but in the back, a large bookcase rested against the wall. It was full of books, and from what Ryou could see, the titles were in the cursive style of the Arabic script.

He stopped short of the chair, nervous as to how exactly he would start. Malik appeared to be in the same situation. He flipped absentmindedly through the book in his hand, but from the glances he kept giving Ryou, he was more aware of his presence than of the book he held.

“I’ve come with my father to visit. Or rather, he’s visiting. But on business.” He was painfully conscious of how he sounded. The nerves, he supposed, of being alone with a practical stranger who knew more about him than Ryou did of the other.

“Yeah, I heard from Isis. She said I was supposed to meet with him, too.” He shrugged, waving the book around. “I think he’s letting her exhibit remain here. But that’s not what you came here to talk about, is it?”

“I…wanted to ask you some things,” Ryou blurted out without much warning. His hand came up to squeeze the back of the chair, a movement Malik didn’t miss.

“Okay,” Malik nodded, closing the book and setting it aside. “About what?” he asked gauging Ryou.

“W-well, it’s about…”

“You can sit down,” Malik interrupted. He pulled out the chair on his side of the desk and seated himself. He waited patiently for Ryou to do the same.

“Right,” he breathed. “Do you remember last time I was here—and you told me about the Ring—”

“Rishid.” Malik stared past Ryou and acknowledged his brother’s presence. The tall man had suddenly appeared at the doorway.

“Mr. Bakura would like to speak with you, too, Malik,” he said. His voice was much more gentle than what Ryou remembered. He’d only heard Rishid speak out loud several times in Egypt. The little times he saw him, Ryou saw him paying his respects to the kings of old. When he offered his prayers, his voice had echoed inside the large catacombs—a quality that would make anyone’s voice sound more imposing than it really was.

“Ah, I figured as much,” Malik said. His mouth curved and he clicked his tongue. “Isis really left me with the boring stuff.” With a begrudging attitude, Malik rose from his chair and slipped past his brother, leaving Ryou needy for answers. He really shouldn’t have hesitated earlier, he thought.

Even after his brother left, Rishid remained in his spot, looking at Ryou. The smaller teenager fidgeted under his gaze, drumming his fingers on the back of the chair, wondering if he should leave, too.

“H-hello,” he said, instead, trying to break the silence.

“Good afternoon.” There was the slightest hint of a smile on his lips—a gesture that invited amicability. “We did not get a chance to speak when you were in Egypt for the Ceremonial Duel.”

“No, we didn’t,” Ryou agreed, uncertainty disappearing from his voice.

“Are you a friend of Malik?” he asked, stepping into the small office.

Ryou fidgeted with the fabric of the chair, not knowing how to answer. He knew who Malik was—he was aware of the part he played in Yugi and everyone else’s lives—but did that count as being friends? The first-name basis he’d allowed was perhaps a sign that he did want to be more than strangers.

Aware of the discomfort he’d caused, Rishid finally looked somewhere other than down at his brother’s guest. “My apologies. I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just that—” He paused and seemed to struggle with another way to word his question.

“I don’t know,” Ryou admitted, cutting off any train of thought Rishid was dealing with.

There was a long stretch of silence until a quiet muttering cut through it.

“I don’t know if he was, either,” Rishid admitted to himself, but the statement caught Ryou’s interest.

“Who?”

“Oh, no one…” Rishid’s mouth curled into a forced smile. “No one significant anymore.”

Ryou smiled, too, realizing he must have meant the Spirit of the Ring. Of course he’d follow him everywhere, even within conversations.

Suddenly, he was hit with a wave of boldness. The thought of the Spirit was enough for defiance to burn in his veins. If he couldn’t get answers from Malik, his brother was a suitable replacement to get them from.

“Rishid, was it?”

“Yes,” the man nodded.

“What can you tell me about…the Millennium Ring? Or about any of the Items?” Ryou waited, sneaking a glance up at the older man. Rishid looked pensive, eyebrows knitted together searching for answers in his mind. He found the question odd, but didn’t think there was any harm in telling what he knew to the boy in front of him. He breathed in, and then let out a sigh.

“I’ll have to admit, I was never allowed to look through the tombkeeper archives much. I was not actually a guardian like Master Malik. All I know of the Items is that they were forged to protect the royal family line from invaders and attackers—divine protection from the Gods.”

Ryou dwelled on the words. He’d assumed they were weapons, not something that protected. It wasn’t much, but he clung to that piece of information, filing it away in his mind for later reference. He wanted to know more, but he was not liable to get the information he sought from someone who hadn’t looked at the ancient scripts.

Like, how were they made? How could they be destroyed? What gave them their power?

What he needed and what he got were two different things. Unfortunately, Rishid was not as educated on the Millennium Items as Ryou had hoped. Getting answers required someone who read about them first-hand, and that person was currently pre-occupied with other things.

Ryou realized his being at the museum was purely chance—his father had been the one to bring him there. He didn’t need Ryou to help him in his running of the museum. He had been lucky…the Spirit would not risk tailing him with so many around who would recognize two of the same face.

He decided he would wait for a chance to ask Malik Ishtar about the Items—about their truth, not the myths.


 

When Malik didn’t come back, Rishid and Ryou thought it pertinent to leave his office and exited quietly. After talking to the eldest of the Ishtar siblings, Ryou felt less tense around him. Despite his exterior, he found that his demeanor when talking to him was quite the opposite. Stern as he might appear, Rishid was friendly, polite, and held high esteem for his younger brother. He certainly talked more about him than any other subject.

“He’s very gifted—Master Malik,” he elaborated as if Ryou might have forgotten who they had been talking about for the past hour. “With languages, mostly. I have a…difficult time speaking Japanese, but Master Malik—he was able to learn it in less than a year.”

“Did he?” Ryou did not need to feign interest. He thought of his own struggles as a child—taken out of his home country and forced to co-habit with locals without any prior knowledge of Egyptian culture was hard—especially so soon after an incident which left him confused and without family other than a busy father. What Rishid was saying, it made Malik seem like some kind of prodigy.

“I-I learned Arabic as a child—well, I think I did. My father and I lived in Egypt for a time and I think I picked up some words.” He bashfully lowered his head to the ground. “I think I’ve still got some vocabulary in me.”

Rishid’s eyebrows rose. “Interesting. Would you mind letting me hear you speak?” His smile was inviting, yet it did little to help the small fluttering in Ryou’s chest.

“Oh! I, um—” Ryou scoured his memories for every bit of Arabic his mind still held onto. He pieced a string of words together in what he hoped was a complete sentence and waited, overly conscious of his clammy hands.

A smile spread on Rishid’s face. “Excellent,” he said, nodding his head. “What area of Egypt did you and your father live in?”

Trying to suppress a blush at the compliment, he told him where. “Well, for the most part, we lived near Cairo, but sometimes he would take me with him to lower areas—sometimes we’d leave Egypt altogether—Algeria, Sudan, Ethiopia. We travelled a lot whenever he’d hear word of any antique he was looking for.” He paused, but Rishid didn’t notice. He kept nodding, fascinated by Ryou’s exposure of his culture.

“But you didn’t stay there your whole life,” he said, and Ryou shook his head in agreement.

“No, I was eventually sent to back here,” he smiled.

“And you left when…? You managed to keep most of your understanding of the language. You must have been old enough, too, for your father to let you live on your own.”

“Hmm,” Ryou thought, trying to recall his earlier childhood. It was like piecing together a mosaic. Unlike a puzzle, which had a set number of pieces, Ryou’s memory was full of memories with gaps which he could never put together to form a complete picture. He supposed it was because a child’s memory fades much easier, and he never gave it much thought. But Rishid had dug up a part of his past that he thought was irrelevant. The back of his neck prickled, as if a hungry beast was waiting for him in one of the holes in his memories. He didn’t want to think about it anymore…but…it was important now…?

“I—I’m not sure.”

Why had he left travelling with his father? It happened sometime before he started middle school. Perhaps his father wanted him to enroll in a more stable education system, instead of hopping around the African continent and attending what local school they could find there. Yes, that was it… He closed his eyes briefly and convinced himself that was all there was to it.

“I think my father didn’t want me to fall behind. He sent me back to Japan so I could start the curriculum here.”

“Ah, of course. A good education is very important. But I’m amazed at how much you learned at such a young age. You seemed to have retained your linguistic knowledge very well.”

Ryou blushed, “I think your Japanese is very good too.”

They turned the corner and entered the main lounge of the museum. Rishid continued ahead, and he sped up his pace to catch up with him.

“They should be in here—Mr. Yoshimori’s office.”

Rishid extended an arm and pushed the door open.

Professor Yoshimori sat at his desk, and in the seats across from him were Malik and Ryou’s father.

Seeing the intrusion, the brown-haired professor looked up, and Malik and Mr. Bakura’s gazes turned back.

“Apologies if we have intruded,” Rishid inclined his head in a bow.

“No worries, no worries,” the man at the desk said with a wave of his hand. “We were nearly finished anyway.” He turned to Malik. “So, everything’s in order, then?”

Mr. Bakura nodded. “Yes, perfectly all right.” He took off his glasses and wiped an invisible speck of dirt off the lenses.

“I think my sister would agree this is the best course of action,” Malik said in a business-like tone.

Yoshimori put away his sheets of paper in a drawer. “Well, everything’s settled then. Your exhibit will remain open and here in Domino until the police can locate the missing pieces.”

Ryou found an interesting book on one of Mr. Yoshimori’s bookshelf to read the title of.

“Speaking of which, they still haven’t made any progress on that?” Mr. Bakura spoke with a hint of annoyance. He had been quite excited to finally gather the Millennium Items in one place—his museum. Years of searching, they had all been collected, and the Ishtars graciously allowed them to be put on display. He hadn’t even had the chance to look at them all together before he found out they had been stolen.

Yoshimori shook his head, “None whatsoever. It’s like they’re not even trying.”

“I would think whoever stole them has either sold them off or is holding on to them—for whatever reason,” Malik put in.

Ryou and Rishid has stayed near the door, waiting for their respective family member to rise from their seat and accompany them, but they remained in their chairs. Having been listening to the turn in conversation, Ryou’s eyes strayed to the three people at the desk. Making eye contact with Malik, he quickly turned back to the collection of books Professor Yoshimori had and skimmed their spines nervously.

“That’s possible,” Mr. Yoshimori frowned. “In any case, we’ll just have to wait for the police to handle this. Unless of course, any of you are familiar with illegal trading rings, then please, by all means, seek them out.” He laughed, and the two others laughed with him.

They stood up at the same time, and Malik walked straight to Rishid, leaving the older men to chatter amongst themselves.

“Is everything all right?” Rishid asked Malik.

“Everything’s fine.” His purple eyes shifted towards Ryou and flicked to the scar above his eye. He’d been doing that since he was in his office earlier.

“So, we’ll be remaining in Domino City?”

Malik nodded. “It seems that way.” He absentmindedly tossed a stray hair off his shoulder.

“Should I make an extension at the hotel, then?”

“I can do that later after I’ve called Isis and tell her what’s happened.”

The two older men came up behind, still chuckling to one another no doubt regaling with tales of shared adventures.

“Ah, Ryou. There you are.” His father beckoned him over and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “This is my son—you remember him, don’t you?”

Yoshimori chuckled. “Of course, of course! I remember you. But the last time I saw you, you were this big!” He gestured with his hand just below his chest. “Always with a shovel in your hand, trying to help your father. Are you still thinking of becoming an archeologist? I could put in a good word for you at the university.”

Suddenly put on the spot, Ryou nodded, making Mr. Yoshimori smile.

“Good, good,” he said, and turned back to Mr. Bakura. “Now as I was saying, if we could organize another dig near the Sudan border, I think we can manage to discover—”

“Just a second—let me write this down.” Mr. Bakura pulled out a small leather notebook and pen. He turned to his son. “I think I’ll be here for another while. You think you’ll be all right?” He searched for Malik and Rishid at the door but they were gone. “I think that boy is around your age. Maybe you could get to know him while I speak with Yoshimori.”

Ryou looked over to the Professor who smiled at him. “Sorry if I’m taking your father away from you.” He chuckled. “We can both get a bit carried away when talking about these things.”

Ryou looked at his father. “I’ll be all right. I’m just going to look around here a bit more.”

“Hm, all right. If you need anything, I’ll be around.”

He nodded and slipped out of the room, leaving the two older men to their conversation.


 

Finally free, he picked up his pace, rounding the corner of hall when another body came into view.

He skidded to a stop, nearly crashing into Malik who held numerous folders in his hands.

“I’m sorry!” Ryou stepped back and checked that he hadn’t made Malik drop any of his papers. Seeing that nothing was on the ground, he looked up at the youngest of the Ishtars who merely gazed at him quizzically.

“Are you all right?” he asked of Ryou. “You look…” Malik paused mid-thought, and skimmed over Ryou’s face with unblinking eyes.

“Yes,” Ryou answered breathily. “Why do you ask?”

Malik shrugged. “You look kind of nervous.”

“Well, I did almost run into you. Gave me a scare…Actually, I was just on my way to find you.”

A thin brow rose in interest. “You were?”

Without preamble, Ryou cut straight to the chase. “What else do you know about the Items? Last time I was here…you told me about the—about the Ring. But what can you tell me about the rest of them?” he finished, and waited with a fast-beating heart.

Caught off guard, Malik shifted under the penetrating gaze. He crossed his arms, and looked at his feet. “Depends. How much do you already know?”

“Not much… all I know is that there’s seven in total.”

“That’s not much. Didn’t anyone else tell you…?” he hesitated.

“If you’re talking about Yugi and the others…”

“Ah, no. That’s not who I’m talking about. Forget I said anything. I can tell you, but why do you want to know? It’s hardly of any use anymore.” He closed his folder and tucked it under his arm.

“Just...curious…”

“Well, if it’s that interesting…I’ve got nothing else to do.”

He followed Malik into the Egyptian wing of the museum, near his sister’s exhibit. They sat next to the stone tablet—full of black gaps where the items used to be.

Malik was quiet and stared at his hands. He looked like Rishid when Ryou had asked him the same thing earlier that day.

“If it’s some sort of family secret…” Ryou began, hoping the information wasn’t limited to people within the tombkeeper clans. “You don’t have to tell me everything if you’re not allowed.”

Malik snorted cynically. “They’re not secrets anymore. The whole duty was fulfilled when the pharaoh left to the underworld.” He turned to Ryou. “I’ll tell you.”

Ryou was beginning to feel guilty for having brought up the subject. He was vaguely aware of Malik’s past—how he had lived practically his whole life underground. He suspected Malik still bore ill-feelings towards his familial duty and who could blame him? Still, Ryou listened with trepidation. He did not want to direct those negative feelings on himself, if he could help it.

“But I’m not sure if you could trust what I know that much,” Malik admitted.

He had regaled the exact same story Rishid had told him, but Malik’s was the expanded version.

Ryou shot him a questioning, if not amused look.

“They were written by royal subjects—loyal to the old pharaohs. Of course they’d write anything that made them look good and omit anything that wasn’t convenient for their followers to know. ‘History is written by the victors’ or so they say,” he finished with a wave of his hand.

“So, you don’t think they weren’t made to protect the kingdom from invaders? You think they were made to oppress the people instead?”

Malik shook his head. “No, I’m pretty sure they were made for that. I’m just saying—don’t think everything I’m telling you is accurate. There’s probably a lot missing—and a lot added in.” He played with the edge of the folder with his finger. “For instance, it’s said it was divine power that the items were made from. If they were so divine, then there wouldn’t be a thing called Shadow Games, would there?”

“No, I suppose not…” Ryou agreed, biting his cheek. “But these items weren’t just simply willed into existence. They had to come from somewhere.”

“Apparently, the Egyptian Gods made them,” Malik shrugged. “Can’t really argue with that.”

Ryou smiled. “I guess you’re right. That doesn’t really tell us much… I used to read my father’s works when I was younger, you know. His journals used to have notes on research he’d done. Like, how the sun stood for Ra—or creator—the symbol for life. But things like…a snake stood for darkness. You can get a sense of why…if you were bit by a snake, it was practically a death sentence.” His gaze veered off towards the opposite wall. He vaguely registered the calculating look from the person sitting next to him. “When you come across things that originate from higher powers, it means the people of the time didn’t understand. And as you said, since history like this is very biased, we can’t look for clues to understand the origins ourselves. It’s a little…disheartening.”

Malik exhaled a tired sigh next to him. “Yeah, sorry if I wasn’t much help.” He drummed his fingers on his lap and asked, “Are you close to your father?”

Again, the stone-weight. Ryou smoothed the crease of his slacks with his finger in between his answer to Malik’s question.

“Not really,” he said, surprising himself with just how small his voice had gotten.

Malik hummed. “You’re so different than what I expected,” he said suddenly, disrupting the silence.

Ryou faced him questioningly. “Huh?”

It was Malik’s turn to avoid his eyes. Instead of admiring the old relics surrounding them, he looked down at his lap where his arms, adorned in gold, rested. “It kind of…makes me feel bad,” his face turned into a scowl, “to know that you’re so nice.”

“You think I’m nice?” Ryou asked, tilting his head. He didn’t think he was nice. He lied…and distanced himself from everyone that cared about him. To him, that could hardly be called nice.

Next to him, Malik exhaled heavily. “You were nice enough to forgive someone like me. And here you are sitting next to me as if you didn’t care about what I did. That’s…” His fists clenched in his lap, and he cut off his next words. Ryou watched him, but not really him. What he saw was the internal struggle of someone looking to cope with their past mistakes—guilt—a feeling he was all too familiar with.

“Why do you torment yourself like this?” he asked quietly. “You’re a different person now, Malik—”

“But I’m not! I’m not a different person. I’m the same person that he was.”

Ryou didn’t have to ask which ‘he’ Malik was referring to. He said it with enough contempt that Ryou knew it was his other personality that he was talking about.

“And what bothers me about you is that—that you’re not him! You’re not Bakura—you’re the complete opposite of him. And unlike my other self, he didn’t come from something inside you—from evil in your soul. Bakura… was a separate person.” He glared at the floor and Ryou listened to his inner turmoil in the form of words. “I made the evil inside myself—and I made the same choices as him when I was in control.” He shifted in his seat so he was facing Ryou, an angry heat set deep in his eyes. “So having you here, sitting next to me—smiling, being nice—knowing that you’ve forgiven me…I think I hate it more than the last time you were here.”

Ryou was too stunned for words. If his presence bothered him that much, he shouldn’t have agreed so readily to tell him about the Millennium Items. He felt more discomfort than before, wanting to suddenly melt into the floor and away from Malik.

“I can leave…” he started, when Malik groaned.

“No—it’s not you that bothers me but at the same time— It’s… I don’t know anymore. I think it’s just everything.” He rested forward, hands buried in his hair. “The two of us…we both had something inside us—but you—you didn’t make Bakura.”

“Malik…” Ryou reached over to touch his hand, torn between wanting to calm him, or leave, and let Malik’s mind rest.

“Don’t. I don’t think I could bear it,” he muttered, running a hand through his blonde locks.

He felt a light touch graze his free hand, and he looked down to see Ryou’s much paler one barely hover over his.

“You don’t have to torture yourself like this.” Fingers uncertainly closed around Malik’s hand.

“Then? What should I do? How can I ever make everything better?” he asked with a biting tone. Ryou thought he was going to pull away, but he didn’t. His hand hadn’t even moved from under his.

Suddenly, Malik’s face twisted. “Do you know how many people I’ve killed?” he asked lowly. “How many people I brainwashed? I don’t understand how anybody can look at me…my sister—Rishid of all people. He saw it all—he was there from the beginning.” He laughed bitterly, sliding his hand away from Ryou’s. “Sometimes I wonder…if I really had a split personality. Maybe it was just me all along.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Why not? It’s not like you can tell me otherwise. You never even saw the other me.”

“But you did. You saw him, and you know it was someone separate from you.”

Malik grew quiet, wondering if what he was being told held any merit. He couldn’t argue with what Ryou said. He had seen the second Malik and it terrified him that something so evil was made from his own repressed rage.

“You can’t keep rejecting that part of yourself forever.”

“Would you accept something so horrifying? Acknowledge that it’s your fault?” he asked with a scowl.

Ryou frowned, and scooted closer to the other.

“I have. And I do. I live with it every day, Malik,” he answered firmly. “Even if it’s just to myself, I’m reminded of it—always.” Before Malik could get a chance to retort, Ryou continued. “I’m the one who built the diorama, Malik. Did you know that? ...the one Bakura used for the Shadow RPG. I did that—no one forced me to. It was me…I live with the knowledge that I,” he looked down at his lap. “I basically betrayed them all—my friends. They probably think I was forced to, or that the Spirit was the one behind it all…but it wasn’t…and I let them think that.”

He heard Malik shift next to him. Something in his words had reached him—or perhaps it was just curiosity to learn a dark secret from someone he didn’t expect to harbor one. He remained quiet and let Ryou continue.

“I—I thought that the other Yugi could defeat him. I wanted him to finally be gone. I betrayed them both,” Ryou finished. “You see? I’m horrible, too. I might be worse…because I don’t have a second self.”

Malik snorted and let his head fall back onto the wall. He closed his eyes. “And you think I’m the best person to tell this?”

“It’s not the same—I know, but I want you to see that you’re not alone.” He dropped his gaze to the floor. “It’s easier, I think, to tell this to…strangers. I don’t think of you as one, though. Not anymore.”

“No? Then what would you call me? A confidant?” Malik asked, a sly smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“Maybe. But I thought a better word would be ‘friend.’”

He opened his eyes, a low, hollow, laugh escaping him. “You’re unbelievable. You’d want to be friends with me?”

“Why not? We’re already on a first-name basis.”

Malik turned to face him, eyebrows furrowing together. He’d wondered why Ryou had allowed him to call him that, when his other friends still used his surname.

“Well, you called him by my other name,” Ryou continued. “I wanted you to understand that we’re…not the same person.”

“But I knew that already.”

Ryou smiled bitterly. “Did you, really? You always look so disappointed when you realize we’re not.” He hesitated with his next question. “Did you want me to be like him? Like…Bakura? Were you friends with him?” The Spirit referred to Malik as a traitorous tombkeeper once. Ryou thought he had meant it as Malik turning his back on his family heritage, but maybe something else had happened between them.

Malik sighed heavily as if bothered by the question. “No. I don’t know. Probably not. But part of me is glad you’re not like him. I’d be dead if you were.”

“You would?” Ryou’s eyebrows rose in question.

“Yeah…It’s a long story—well, not really but it’s not something I’m proud of.” He traced the lines of his bracelets. “He helped me—I was kind of…supposed to give him my Millennium Rod in return but—I ended up giving Yugi the Ring instead.”

In his mind, what Malik had just told him was a startling revelation. He would kill him for that, Ryou thought. He’d kill him ten times over. Malik had led him on with promises of a third Item in his possession, and ended up giving the enemy his Millennium Ring. Returning from the dead, Ryou would think the Spirit would seek Malik out and re-pay him for his betrayal. He could have even done that before his return. The Spirit could have sought Malik out before the Shadow RPG—

But he hadn’t.

It had been months since his return, and so far, the worst thing he’d done to Malik was call him names and damn his family.

But to him…he’d chased, coerced, and—Ryou touched his neck and smoothed the fabric of his shirt. He looked at Malik with wide eyes. What was different about him? He didn’t care that staring and that Malik was staring back. Ryou studied his face, his posture—everything he could take in.

“…he didn’t,” Ryou spoke with an empty tone. “He didn’t kill you…He could have done it any time after you gave the Ring to Yugi…”

“I was back in Egypt,” Malik reasoned.

“Yes, that’s true…” His eyes strayed to the back of his left hand, tracing the lighter patch of skin with his fingers. “I think I should leave now—I have a lot of homework to do. Thank you for telling me all this, Malik.” Ryou put on his best smile.

Malik stood up from his seat, awkwardly side-glancing at Ryou. He’d suddenly felt vulnerable at having revealed his inner turmoil to him, yet at the same time, felt his chest lighter. Maybe he was right—maybe it was easier to tell strangers about these things.

“I’ll walk you.” He gathered his files and leafed through them to make sure they were all there. “And it’s not a big deal. We both…said some things that helped the other. Thanks,” he finished awkwardly.

Ryou shook his head, raising himself slowly. “I wouldn’t want to bother you any more than I already have.”

“It’s really not a bother,” he said but Ryou had already walked ahead of him deep in thought.


 

Mr. Bakura frowned. “Nonsense. It’s raining out there—you’ll get soaked. Here, I’ll call a cab for you. Can I—?” His last question was directed at Yoshimori who nodded and slid the phone to the edge of his desk.

“It’s fine—I just need to get my umbrella from the car.”

“Don’t be daft, Ryou. A taxi could get you home safe in no time.” He was already walking towards the phone, fingers ready to dial the numbers. “What is the number for a taxi agency here…?”

“Just a moment—I can get the receptionist to call one for you.” Yoshimori dialed a number saved on his desk phone.

“You don’t need to call one…! I’m fine, really. It’s only a few blocks to walk.”

The professor set the receiver against his chest, eyes set on Mr. Bakura, waiting for his response.

Finally, the bespectacled man sighed in resignation. “If you’re so adamant about it…” He pulled out a key with a numbered tag on it and handed it to his son. “Ah, just a moment,” he said when Ryou started for the door. “Let me just write down the number for the hotel I’ll be staying at. Just in case…”

“So, no taxi?” Yoshimori said from the other side of his desk.

“No, I’m sorry to have troubled you. I guess we won’t be needing one today,” Mr. Bakura said, peering over his glasses at Ryou. The teen shifted under the gaze and tucked a hair behind his ear.

His father tore a page from his memo book after writing down a phone number with his pen, folded it in half, and handed it to Ryou.

“Ah, well. A little exercise never hurt anybody,” Yoshimori chuckled, hanging up his receiver after a brief apology to the person on the other line. “Still, you better hurry home. Don’t want to get caught out there after dark.”

Ryou took the small paper and tucked it carefully into the pocket of his school shirt.

He dashed away from the professor’s office and went directly to his father’s rental car. He peered overhead. While the clouds remained knitted in a gray blanket, it didn’t look like it was going to rain any much. It was only a light drizzle—not a downpour as his father had assumed.

He tugged at the strap of his school bag and slung it over one shoulder, umbrella folded and gripped by the other. He locked the car once more, and trudged up the steps of the museum, nodding again to the woman at the desk.

She acknowledged him and let him pass without incident.

When he entered the back office again, he found his father sitting and chatting animatedly with the professor. He was glad to be allowed to leave—if he stayed, who knows how much longer they would talk about future, or past, excavations. In any case, his mind was pre-occupied with other things at the moment.

He handed the key back to his father who only noticed his presence when Ryou’s hand dangled the key near his face.

“Ah, right.” He took it from him and pocketed it.

“It was nice meeting you, Mr. Yoshimori,” Ryou inclined his head forward and the man smiled. “I’ll be leaving now.”

“Just a second, Ryou,” Mr. Bakura said. “Are—are you sure you’ll be all right? Yoshimori was just telling me about—”

“I’m fine—but I’ve got a lot of homework to catch up on,” Ryou stated hastily, making sure to add a smile.

“Oh, Bakura. He’ll be fine. He’s a capable young man,” Yoshimori waved a hand and sipped his cup of coffee.

His bespectacled colleague sighed. “If you’re sure…” He leaned forward. “So, what were you saying…?”

Yoshimori set down his coffee, gulping audibly. “Ahem. You see here is the area I’m planning to dig in and over here…”


 

Bakura hated the rain.

No—that wasn’t entirely accurate.

Bakura hated getting wet. He hated the way water clung to his clothes and dampened his hair. He disliked how the water sharpened some smells and dulled others. The rain messed with his senses—he couldn’t follow a person very well if their footsteps disappeared and trails washed away with rain.

Those same senses no longer registered pain—but they certainly felt the discomfort caused by hair sticking to the back of his neck. It was an annoying, unnecessary distraction.

Luckily, his Ring could always act as a compass. Currently, it pointed across the street, the next building over— to Domino Museum.

He’d been in an irksome mood since he realized where his host was headed when he left school and followed him from there. While he concluded Malik or his brother wasn’t a threat as long as they didn’t see him, but his sister was another story. Whether she was aware of it or not, the woman was possessed by someone whose existence threatened his own—and that was unacceptable.

Bakura had no idea where the Shadi had gone off—not even the Ring could tell him that. It couldn’t sense his spirit energy anywhere but that didn’t mean Bakura didn’t check religiously for direction. He would monitor the museum when he wasn’t following Ryou (which was when he was asleep), waiting for an opportunity to kill him…again. He’d make sure it was permanent this time. The man had interfered enough with his plans and if he was going to make his current one the final one, Shadi would have to go.

He raised his knife overhead, pretending to part the clouds with silver lightning, and grinned.

On his chest, the Ring tingled and its prong raised itself in a second direction. His host was on the move.

He righted himself and peered down into the museum parking lot where he saw Ryou walking from the door and onto the streets. Bakura kept his eye on the entrance to the museum to see if anyone else would come out after him, but no one did. The area was beginning to thin out as the day ended, and it didn’t look like his host’s father would be leaving any time soon.

Hovering over the edge, he finally let himself jump down and grab onto the nearest windowsill, only to have to jump again to catch his fall. That was another thing he hated about the rain and getting wet in general—surfaces were harder to grip on to.

When he was settled on the ground, he easily slipped between the buildings and obeyed the Ring’s directions. Unless the apartment had moved someplace else, he was sure Ryou was heading straight home.

“Come now, Landlord,” he said aloud, “surely you’ll do something entertaining this time.”

Bakura thought that he would, but as far as he could tell, Ryou was a very mundane person. His days began in the morning when he would groggily get up—if he decided to get up at all—ready himself for school, and walk out the door straight to the train station. The Spirit had never boarded one while Ryou was around, but he assumed he kept to himself during his morning commute. He never saw him speak with strangers unless it was necessary.

While he sped along the tracks, Bakura remained behind until he got bored and made the long trek across the city to Domino High School. Sometimes he’d hang around during gym and watch his host—and the pharaoh’s vessel—struggle keep up with the rest of the humans running around a track. That was probably the highlight of his day—to see Yugi actually bad at something—which was increasingly bothersome. On the other hand, watching Ryou pathetically flail around wasn’t entertaining. It was annoying, if he were to describe it.

Besides that, he hardly understood the point of the exercise—when people ran for their lives, they didn’t go around in circles or run on flat grounds…

Then there were the games they played—soccer and basketball. All he knew from watching was that his host had horrible aim.

If anything, his day was just as mundane as Ryou’s, until at night when the two of them played their own games. He had to admit, the lack of progress from the other was more than a simple setback. If he wanted his host to revive the rest of the items like with the Ring, he’d have to learn how to control Shadow Magic as he did.

Bakura frowned, mind momentarily distracted from the pointed arrow of the Ring. Now that was still a mystery. He’d thought about how it could be possible—that Ryou could be the spark, a catalyst to bringing forth the remaining magic in the items. He concluded that it was perhaps a combination of his presence within him—a remnant of his own soul inside Ryou’s that allowed him to connect with it. Which begged the question of why it hadn’t done anything for Bakura when he had tried—not even with the rest of the items. He narrowed his eyes, mind scanning the remaining information he mulled over countless times. Then there was the matter of the black spot left over on his host’s chest. If it had come from the Ring, then there was no question that it was made from Shadow Magic—

His feet stopped and his head came up. He heard voices up ahead. They weren’t the voices of leisurely talk, or the vendors he skillfully tuned out. This was an altercation—he almost missed the soft voice being drowned out by the loudest.

He let the Ring fall back on his chest and the prongs fell after finding what the wielder was looking for. Bakura grinned, adjusting his collar like one does before an important event.

“Oh, host. You shouldn’t have.”

Finally—some entertainment.


 

Part of the reason he wanted to walk was to have time to think. He’d gotten a lot of information today—some of which he hadn’t anticipated. He stopped at the intersection and waited for the signal to cross.

The first half of the information wasn’t too surprising. At first, it had been—the Items, although magical, never gave off the feeling that they weren’t evil—and the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Apart from harboring the dark shadows he’d often seen, they held a power that could ultimately turn on the wielder himself. Malik was proof of that, and if Ryou had given the Spirit the opportunity when he was still within the Ring, Ryou could have been proof number two.

He clenched his fist around the umbrella. No, he would never have let that happen, he thought.

But the words held little meaning in a world where he had eventually allowed himself to be used.

He crossed the street without incident, pedestrians dispersing on the other side in different directions. Walking along, Ryou did not look out of place. It was common for students to remain in the more populated areas of his neighborhood, talking in groups.

Near a small convenient store, students walked out with bags full of snacks. Others loitered next to vending machines—they wore what he recognized as the Rintama uniform and Ryou gripped his umbrella tightly in his hand.

The second piece of information had been incredibly surprising. He had to admit, he’d been shaken. Rather—not him, but the perception he had of the Spirit. Malik hadn’t upheld his end of their partnership and had given away the Spirit’s most personal possession to the enemy.

And he hadn’t been killed for it.

It was incredibly perplexing to Ryou.

He didn’t think it meant the Spirit was merciful or forgetful—the last word he definitely wasn’t.

He pressed his lips together, furrowing his brow in thought.

Swiftly, he rounded the corner where he was forced to wait at another intersection. In between thoughts, he made a mental note to check his refrigerator when he got home. Since his father was in the city, he might be inclined to visit his son, and if Ryou was to convince him that he was a responsible young man, he had to have many things in order.

When the light gave permission for pedestrians to cross, Ryou ambled along with the crowd.

He wondered what it meant if the Spirit kept Malik alive. Maybe he wasn’t a threat or maybe it was something else—but what?

He sighed, disappointed in his lack of understanding of the Spirit. He was such a guarded…person. Malik made him aware that Bakura—as he had called him—was more than just a deranged avenger, which confused his muddled picture he had formed of the once disembodied voice within him.

There was only one thing he was sure of anymore and that was that the Spirit followed him. He had confirmation from the Spirit himself.

Ryou’s nerves grew taut.

He wasn’t trusted—he was stupid to think that a partnership meant immediate trust. What else could be the reason for being followed around?

Within, he laughed at his thought.

Was he really in a position to be complaining about the lack of trust the Spirit had in him?

Ryou didn’t trust the Spirit, either—he had little reason to. If it hadn’t been for the lessons the other made him undergo, he wouldn’t have had any indication to keep up his secrecy of the Spirit.

In a way, the duels, however trying they were, were the only thing tying Ryou with the Spirit. The Millennium Ring had had a chosen bearer, but now separated from the golden object, the Spirit had become the wielder. He never parted with it—the item remained faithfully around his neck, watching everything with the single eye planted in the middle.

The rest of the items remained in a section of Ryou’s closet in a heap of gold. He speculated the reasons why the Spirit didn’t keep them hidden elsewhere—surely, he had some other place to safeguard them that wasn’t a teenage boy’s apartment.

He turned another corner where an older man stood outside a building selling fruits and vegetables. He passed along the makeshift storefront and ducked between two buildings.

Sometimes, he’d go into his room late at night and look at them—the Millennium Items. There was a pull he felt from the dead relics that made him get up at night and seek them out. He’d take them out from their hiding place and touch each and every one until he was satisfied, and then hide them again and go back to sleep. He wondered if the Spirit knew he did that and what he would say.

Halfway to the other side, his ears perked and he was startled by loud voices and laughter.

There was a hand waving animatedly at the end of the corner, and attached to it, a young man talking to a friend of his. His friend sported the same grin that spoke of their youth. His eyes crinkled at the corners, but when he saw Ryou, his eyebrows fell, and he gestured to his friend with a tilt of his chin.

The other young man, squatting on the pavement, looked over his shoulder, a cigarette between his lips, and then rose to his full height. Although he was probably a head shorter than Ryou, his commanding leer was enough to say what kind of person he was.

Ryou’s legs refused to continue. Too distracted by his wayward thoughts, he’d missed a turn that took him down the correct path to his flat.

The teenager flicked his cigarette to the ground and stepped on it, blowing out a weak cloud of smoke, and letting out a cough.

“There’s a fee here now,” he informed hoarsely. “You have to pay if you wanna get through.” Taking a closer look, he looked as young as high-school student. However, in place of a formal uniform, he wore regular clothing, along with a scarf tied loosely on one of the loops of his pants.

Ryou recognized the scarf for what it meant. He’d seen similar looking groups loitering near the train station at times, until the local police were called and asked them to leave the area. They often pestered the female students who boarded the subways—enough that policemen advised younger girls to walk in groups. When they could no longer bother them, the group of thugs switched targets to elders, and as Ryou saw now, anybody else that walked alone.

“Three-thousand yen if you want to pass. Another two-thousand if you’d like us to…escort you safely home.”

The rest of them jeered as he spoke, chuckling in unison.

Ryou wasn’t stupid—but he only ever carried two-thousand yen on his person. There was no need for him to carry money when he never stopped anywhere that he didn’t need to. If he said that, though, there was no way they’d let him pass unscathed. They wanted money—and letting him leave was out of the question unless they got it out of him.

“Sorry, I think I’ve made a wrong turn…somewhere,” he said, taking a quick step back.

“Wait—hold on,” said the young man, and one of his friends grabbed Ryou by the shoulder keeping him in place.

He held another cigarette in his hands, but made no indication of lighting it.

The friend guided Ryou into the group, and he didn’t struggle. When he was in their throng, he almost wished he had. There were more people than he originally thought.

“You’re lost?” From the looks of it, the one speaking to him was the leader. Surprising, since he seemed like the youngest one there. The rest of the group wore the same colored scarf—some in the same place as the leader, while others placed it around their necks or arms.

The friend who still held Ryou firmly by the shoulder, now resting the entire length of his heavy arm on his neck in an overly friendly fashion, was the tallest.

“What’s your name?” the leader asked, pointing at Ryou with his cigarette.

Ryou looked between him and his friend, then counted the number of group members from the corner of his eye. At least nine, at most eleven, if there weren’t any hidden past his peripheral.

“Uh, H-Honda Hiroto,” he answered.

“Honda Hiroto?” The leader raised his brows as if impressed, and nodded to his group. “Nice name. Although, you don’t look like a Hiroto. Not big enough.” He gestured at someone, and held out his smoke for a light. An underling obliged, quickly bringing a lighter to the offered cigarette.

“You live around here, Honda?” he asked casually, as if Ryou were a friend he hadn’t seen in a long time.

Ryou shook his head from side to side. “I got off at the wrong stop. I was going to…ask for directions.”

The leader absorbed his words, and the flame of his cigarette glowed orange.

“Hm, yeah. I’ve had that happen once. Ended up in Ginza after I fell asleep in my seat. Can you believe it? That place is expensive. Had a hard time getting back.” He sucked at his tobacco stick and the orange tip grew brighter. Whenever he spoke again, the smoke filtered out in a grey cloud.

“Tell ya what, Honda. If you pay us the fee, we’ll let you go on about your business,” he said, eyeing the crisp white shirt Ryou had ironed the night before. “You don’t even have to give us the extra two-thousand, since you’re not walking home. Sounds like a good deal, right?” He chuckled, and his friends did the same.

“I… don’t have any money on me,” Ryou said.

And then the leader tilted his head. Something shone inside his eye that wasn’t the light of his cigarette.

“No, money, huh?” he repeated, flicking the collar of Ryou’s shirt. His eyes strayed down to the bag on his shoulder, assessing its value and estimating the worth of its contents. “How come I don’t believe you, Honda?”

He did not receive an answer.

“You expect me to believe you don’t have any money when you’ve got on that fancy shirt and’re walking around with your little school bag. School ain’t free, Honda. I recognize that uniform you’ve got on. Domino High, right? Seen it with myself. Nice school.”

Ryou nodded, sensing the situation growing dangerous. He counted the number of people behind the leader again, taking note of the empty spaces between them. They were mostly concentrated behind him, with only one member blocking Ryou from going back between the buildings.

“Hey, Inoue. Your sister goes to Domino, right? How much she pay for tuition?”

The one named Inoue shrugged and laughed. “My mom pays for that, so I don’t know.”

“Yeah, whatever.” The leader turned back to Ryou. “Point is…I know it ain’t cheap. And from the looks of those clothes you’re wearing, you’ve got more than enough left over.” He patted Ryou’s cheek condescendingly, and blew smoke in his face.

Agitated by the intrusive touch, Ryou could not suppress his fierce look of disgust.

The leader’s eyes lingered on his face. “What? Think you can take us?” He spread out a hand and motioned it to their surroundings. The remaining people inched closer, as if expecting Ryou to try and do something.

The arm around his neck tightened briefly, and the taller teen shook his head in mock advice.

“I know you’re not that stupid, but if you are—maybe you should drop out of school.” His lips tugged at the corners revealing surprisingly white teeth. “Just hand over the money, Honda. It’s not hard. Reach into that pocket or bag of yours, and we’ll let you go. No harm done.”

Not seeing any possible escape that wouldn’t end with his face covered in blood, Ryou, through gritted teeth said, “I only have two thousand.”

“Heh. See? That wasn’t so hard to admit, was it? But, ah,” Leader scratched his forehead, and flicked away the excess ash on the tip of his cigarette. “I said three-thousand. And since you lied, I think I will be taking that extra two-thousand. Now,” he chuckled, “It’s been a while since I was in school, but I’m pretty sure that’s five thousand you need to hand over, Honda.”

He leaned in closer to Ryou in an act of intimidation. The orange tip of the flame was dangerously close to Ryou’s cheek and he turned his face away from it.

He laughed, and brought the stick to his lips.

“I only have two thousand,” Ryou repeated.

Leader rolled his eyes. “Yeah? Well, what else you got in that bag? Books? We can prolly pawn those off,” he snickered, reaching for the bag.

“Don’t touch my things.”

The leader smirked and tore the bag off Ryou’s shoulder, slipping a hand inside. He took out his textbook and handed it to someone behind him who flipped through it.

“What are these? Duel Monster cards?” he held out a small stack of cards between his fingers. The bag was set down with a light thud—most of the weight extracted from it. “Pretty weak monsters, Honda.” He slid the deck into his pocket. “But we’ll see what I can get for them.”

Ryou made to snatch his bag back but the person nearest him caught his hand.

“Do that an’ you’ll make ‘im angry,” the guy said. As he looked up at him, Ryou suddenly found it strange that his face contorted in silent pain and then he fell to the floor. The weight of the man fell on him and then slid off, pulled down by gravity. Ryou fumbled for his balance and looked dumbly at the man, stepping back from his immobile form now strewn on the ground.

“And you wonder why I follow you.”

The rest of the group looked confusingly at their fallen member. The leader stopped, signaling something to the people behind him.

“You’re incredibly careless, Landlord. I can’t leave you alone for an instant.” He laughed, a subtle tone of malice weaved into the sound.

Ryou watched how each and every other person besides him fell one by one onto their stomachs—some onto their backs—and lay there. All that were left was him and the leader who looked at Ryou with wide, confused eyes.

“What the hell?” he whispered, mortified at the scene he had witnessed. He turned his body in circles, the cigarette dangling precariously between his trembling fingers. He almost didn’t believe the scene in front of him. Everyone—all his friends—had fallen without so much as anyone touching them. His voice cracked, angry bewilderment settling in his eyes. “How’d…you do that?” he asked, inclining his head to look at Ryou.

Ryou remained rigid. He knew exactly what had just transpired. He couldn’t see him yet, but he was certain the Spirit remained hidden. And the look the leader was giving him—it was like he was looking at a monster. It hurt to have a scared expression cast in his direction. He was reminded of children suddenly…crying around him in a similar manner.

He tossed the thought out of his mind—desperate to get the last standing member of the group to leave before the Spirit showed himself.

“Get away from here—,” he began, but it didn’t look like the young man was even listening to him. He was taking steps back away from him, shaking his head, and pulling something out from his back pocket.

He heard the low laughter grow closer until it was right behind him.

“You really are too naïve, Landlord… Were you really planning on helping him just after what he did to you?”

He spun on his heel to face the Spirit, partly blocking him from advancing on the other. “He didn’t do anything to me—”

“Not yet. But did you expect them to let you go and be on your merry way without giving them what they wanted? That’s not how it works.” The Spirit sidestepped Ryou and picked up the strewn bag by its strap. Loose papers slipped out and fell to the ground. They immediately got wet and stuck to the pavement in gray sheets, ink spreading in black and red spider-webs. He extended a hand to his host who took the bag whilst keeping his eyes trained on the Spirit. “What? I don’t get a thanks?”

“You get a sense of fulfilment if that’s what you’re after…” Ryou muttered keeping himself at a distance. He scanned the surrounding area where bodies had dropped to the ground. “They’re not dead…are they?”

“Would you like them to be?” the Spirit said with an air of indifference. He picked up the umbrella near his foot and closed it before tossing it back to his host.

Ryou barely had time to catch it, fumbling to close his fingers around the handle. “No!” he almost shouted. The word caught in his throat when he saw the Spirit walk towards the young man who was still too shocked with the scene to follow Ryou’s earlier advice.

With an almost predatory leer, the Spirit began to close in on his victim. Unable to stand there and simply watch the young man be who-knows-what, Ryou dropped his things and ran at the Spirit, catching him by the arm.

They met eyes as the Spirit looked over his shoulder, and Ryou, with a level gaze said, “You’re not going to hurt him.” His grip on the other’s arm only tightened, eliciting a lazy grin from the Spirit.

“Oh? I’m not?” He turned to face his host fully. “And who’s going to stop me? You? Didn’t bother defending yourself before—against them.” He gestured at the fallen gang members.

“No,” said Ryou without so much as a glance away from the Spirit, “but you’re different.”

“I’m glad you think so,” he said, arrogance settling into his features, “but…” He took Ryou’s hand in his and, one by one, pried his fingers off his arm. It didn’t take much strength as his host quickly snatched his hand away from the contact. The Spirit paused, seeing him cradle his hand against his chest. He narrowed his eyes, not liking how little progress he had made in that respect.

Distracted by watching his host’s hands, he didn’t sense the abrupt lunge towards him from the remaining gang member. He caught the sharp intake of breath from Ryou in his ears, and then a heavy contact on his side.

“Was it you? What’d you do to them?!” he spat, slashing with his right hand wildly.

Bakura curled his lip, angry for being caught off guard. He measured the distance between the leader and himself, the timing of his swings, and once noticing he pattern, hooked his left hand, catching the side of his head with his fist.

The younger man fell back, groaning heavily, but he was not completely out of it yet.

Ryou gasped, a hand covering his mouth.

And that sound again… it bothered the Spirit. It bothered him immensely. The sound Ryou made for the stranger was the same sound Ryou made for him.

His lip twitched, and his hand came up to touch his cheek. There was wetness there, and it might have been blood, or just water, but he wiped the moisture off on his black coat.

He circled the fallen man, waiting for him to get up so he could finish him—slowly.

“Surely that’s not the extent of your anger,” he taunted. “I’ve just killed all your lackeys and you can’t avenge a single one?”

The young man’s eyes snapped open, his vision focusing once more. “You said you didn’t kill them…” he babbled, his voice not entirely his. “My friends…”

“Oh, you heard me? I lied. They’re dead.” His face hardened as he looked down at the fallen teen. There was that word again—friends.

“What?” That time it was Ryou who spoke. He flicked his eyes over to him, only managing to see the hurt glare cast in his direction.

Then the man was up on his feet, targeting Bakura once more. The knife caught in the light, like thunder. He shot his arm out again, this time connecting with the other’s face, but not without a rebuttal from him. He felt a dull cut graze his cheek, and caught the coppery scent of blood in his nose. There was only so much damage he could do with fists.

“Let’s make this a bit more even, shall we?” he said. The Ring’s spirit’s begged to be released—to be of use to their master, but Bakura paid them no mind. He wanted to do this himself—to feel flesh and bone crumble between his fingers.

He flicked his knife open, pointing it in an identical fashion as his opponent.

This time it was Bakura who went first. He moved swiftly, the coat around his shoulders confusing his opponent with its shadowy movements. A simple feint was enough to catch his opponent off guard. He dodged left, where Bakura expected him to and with deft force, his knife sunk into the other’s shoulder blade, eliciting a satisfying scream from the young man.

“No! Stop! Stop!!” Ryou cried out. He ran towards Bakura, wanting to stop him before his knife hit something more fatal.

But as it turns out, it took more than a shoulder hit to stop the young man from fighting. The two bodies were moving once more, attacking one another with wild movements.

The young man, although fighting one handed now, held his own. Anyone watching him fight would agree he had done his fair share of fighting in his short years. The knife moved elegantly in the air at times, and at others, it grew erratic, random in its movements. Those were the times the knife grew closest to injuring the Spirit again.

On the other hand, Ryou saw the disparity between skill. The young man was fighting one handed—and even when he could use two, the Spirit was more agile with just fists. His movements were nimble, instinctually clever, and footsteps measured with the perfect distance. Ryou had never seen him fight without his Shadow Magic. Seeing him now…he couldn’t take his eyes off him. He was equally dangerous with or without it.

“Heh, you’re pretty good at that,” Bakura sneered, heckling between jabs. “But not good enough!” A knife-less hand swung in from the right, landing a blow, this time, on the right side of the leader’s face. With his shoulder rendered useless, he couldn’t block the abrupt attack. He fell back, legs catching on one of his friends, and tumbling into their heap. The knife flew out of his hand and was lost somewhere between bodies.

The Spirit grinned from ear to ear. His posture straightened into his usual gait. “Did you really think you stood a chance against me?” His eyes gleamed with bloodlust. His body stood poised with conceit. “Get up. I’m not done with you.”

Hearing his words, Ryou was snapped out of his momentary abstraction. He looked between the younger boy and the Spirit. There was no need to prolong this—the winner had been decided even before the fight began. He took an uncertain step forward, sensing the dark aura emitted from the Spirit.

“You—you’ve already won!” he yelled. His voice cut through the oppressive ambience.

If the Spirit heard him, he made no indication of it. His eyes remained waiting on the stirring motions of his defeated opponent.

Ryou dashed to his side. “You’ve already won,” he repeated, in the same soft but firm manner.

Finally, after a minute, the Spirit faced him with an unreadable expression. There was red on both cheeks, but only on his right one did the blood still spill. It traced invisible lines on his face like streams that dipped towards his mouth.

“Do you care for strangers?” the Spirit asked, staring straight into him.

Ryou was caught off guard by the intensity in his eyes that he glanced down instead at the horrible sight around them. The people who once stood there now lay like corpses. He couldn’t look at that sight either and closed his eyes as he gave his answer.

“I care for innocent lives,” he said, clenching his fists at his side.

He heard the Spirit snort cynically, and then the gravel crunch under his shoes. Ryou snapped his eyes open to see where he was headed, but the Spirit had only taken a few steps forward.

“They weren’t innocent. They took what they could from the most helpless without hesitation. And if they didn’t get it—well,” he flicked his eyes at Ryou. “You were about to see if I didn’t come in.”

“Isn’t that what you do, too? Steal?” he asked, challenging the logic of the Spirit.

“I take from those who have too much to notice.” He wiggled his fingers at Ryou and it was then that the teen saw the numerous rings which adorned them.

“A modern-day Robin Hood, are you?” Ryou sniffled, voice growing quiet.

“I’m better,” he said proudly, not knowing who this so-called ‘Robin Hood’ was.

After a pause, Ryou asked, “Are they really dead? Did you kill them?”

The Spirit saw traces of hurt in his expression—almost a plea for the truth. The young man had stopped his stirrings, probably too tired or out cold. Bakura pocketed his knife, hiding it away for another occasion.

“No,” he answered coolly.

Ryou released a shaky breath of relief. He beginning to feel that what Malik had revealed to him about the Spirit did hold some merit. He took his things off the ground, unable to look at the too-still bodies. They breathed, he noticed, and acknowledged the Spirit’s words as truth. He stood between the path home and Bakura not knowing how to proceed from there. Should he stay with the Spirit or leave and try and forget what happened? Ignore it like how he ignored all other events that happened because of him? He saw the Spirit with his back to him, moving his arms into the pockets of his clothes. He was staring at the fallen men.

“Go home,” he said, deciding for him. “I’ll take care of the bodies. Not kill them,” he amended, seeing the hesitation in his host.

Ryou stood his ground for a moment, watching for anything that might indicate that the Spirit was lying. But...he was tired. The stress of the situation permeated his body, and mostly his mind. He nodded mechanically, wanting to rest-and to forget, if he could. He took his things off the ground in what he hoped was the last time that night. The gravel under his feet crunched as he started his lone journey back to his apartment. He didn’t look back.

Left alone, Bakura zoned in to his defeated opponent. He extracted a small, crude figure from inside his coat. He checked again to see if Ryou was out of the area, and when he didn’t sense him, he inched closer to the boy who he’d fought earlier.

He wasn’t passed out, and his eyes widened when Bakura stood over him. His arm reached out for his weapon, something to defend himself with, but it was nowhere near him.

“Hold still, or I really will kill you.”

The young man followed instructions, not doubting the Spirit’s words and lay completely immobile—his mouth the only thing that defied the order. Without a weapon, he was completely at his mercy.

“What are you going to do?” he whispered, as if what was transpiring between him and the Spirit were a shared secret.

Bakura grinned. “What Landlord doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” He brought up the brown-orange figure, an unfinished version of Ryou’s Monster World dolls. “What you did today was the biggest mistake of your life. Now, your friends won’t pay for it—mostly because I didn’t bring enough figures,” he added as an aside, “but I’m making sure you will.” He tilted his head to the side, the little doll mimicking the movement.

“Make sure to play your part well as Villager #6,” he laughed low in his throat. “And then maybe, I’ll release your miserable soul…in time.”

The young man opened his mouth, bewilderment making his face dart from Bakura to the figure in question. A word died in his throat, as did the light in his eyes, and he was no more—just an empty shell of a body. His head landed on the shoulder blade of one of his friends, and Bakura stood, admiring the new addition to Ryou’s collection.

“You should thank him,” he spoke to the faceless little doll. “It’s because of him that I grow to be merciful.”

He slipped the miniature villager into his pocket, strolling along and between the darkness that descended over him.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Aware


 

Somehow, Ryou Bakura made it to his apartment without falling apart. It was nightfall when he reached his front door. He vaguely registered the clicking noise of his lock, or the slight screech of the knob turning and then he was inside.

He inhaled a deep breath, fighting to gather his bearings.

“They’re not dead,” he assured himself. “He left them alive.” Ryou shook his head, dispelling all the doubts that assaulted his thoughts. “I saw. They’re alive,” he repeated to himself.

His things landed in a heap next to his house slippers and Ryou stared at them for far longer than was necessary.

Who’s to say he didn’t kill them the moment you left? said a thought.

He closed his eyes and rubbed his face.

You should have stayed, came another.

“No, he wouldn’t,” Ryou tried to convince himself. His own voice cut through the undeniable silence of his apartment, sounding tired.

He wouldn’t? What evidence do you have that says he wouldn’t?

He could almost hear the Spirit’s laugh after each rumination.

Trying his best to ignore every single thought that bombarded him, Ryou took off his sneakers in a frenzy and traded on the light green slippers. As if suggested by the color itself, he decided to make himself some tea and calm his nerves. It wouldn’t help by much, but at the very least, the process of making it would distract him just enough. He left his things at the door, not bothering to dry them off and moved into the kitchen. He shook his head, and left the intrusive thoughts at the entryway with them.

The white light illuminated the kitchen so suddenly Ryou was almost dazzled by it. Not wanting to stop and let his doubts get the better of him, he quickly fetched a kettle, and filled it with water. Realizing he would have to wait for the water to boil, he set it over the stove and sought another task to keep his mind off things.

He went for his things near the door, noticing his bag was much lighter than he remembered. His face fell as he slowly extracted his belongings. His pens, pencils, a pair of untouched notebooks where he wrote down campaign ideas that would never be executed—a miniature art book which he gathered ideas from; a folder for his school assignments; a stack of notes he wrote for studying, and—

Ryou stuck his whole hand into the bag, knowing it was futile, but did it nonetheless. His textbook was missing. He opened the bag, already empty, hoping it would appear but there was nothing else inside.

He set it on the kitchen table, deflated without its contents. His textbook, he recalled, had been taken earlier, and chances were, he was never getting it back again. Ryou briefly considered going back to the scene—and just as quickly, threw that idea out. It wasn’t the school copy that had been lost. It was his own that he used for study sessions by himself—not that he ever got much of it done other than cramming the night before an exam. Still, there was an anger inside him for letting himself be cornered as he had been.

Distracted by someone who shouldn’t even be on his mind, Ryou had walked right into the roving gang and had only himself to blame. His legs carried him into the living room where he began to pace and wring his hands.

He hardly understood his own reasoning for being upset over what Malik had revealed as much as the Spirit himself.

What bothered him was that he had been treated as less than human all this time. His chest—the first injury brought on by the Spirit—an act of warning after meeting Yugi. His hand—which could scarcely hold a sculpting tool for long periods of time anymore—damaged for defiance. His arm—Ryou’s hand came up to feel the upper part of it—an injury which was inflicted to further the Spirit’s plans in Battle City. He’d been a host to a parasite—nothing more.

But with the final plan—he’d been asked for the first time to play a part in the Spirit’s scheming.

Asked—not forced.

And he’d agreed.

Ryou built him the diorama just as he asked—each detail meticulously crafted, all the buildings skillfully shaped. The characters had been sculpted to perfection. He’d never had to use a magnifier to paint on the eyes, but for once, Ryou had drawn them on so carefully, that they were winged with perfect lashes. He recognized his own efforts even when no one else would… No character was begun before one was finished—and the Spirit had overseen Ryou’s work, inspecting them all until he was satisfied with the final product.

“There. This one’s done. Happy?” Ryou brought the doll of a white robed woman to eye level.

He waited in silence for the voice to shift between the reality in his mind.

When he finally heard a grunt in response, the teen pressed his lips together. Tomorrow, there was supposed to be a quiz at school, and instead of going over his notes, he was helping a dead thief build an RPG board which could possibly end the world.

“If you won’t say anything, then I won’t know if it’s what you want,” he said, agitated.

There was a shift in his mind, and then, “It’s good. Do another one, same outfit, except male.” Then the voice was gone—a flit in his mind that hid away again between his conscious and unconscious. That’s what the Spirit did—he came forward only to give instruction, critique, and then to pass along another set of directions, either for characters or world building. He never stayed to talk or watch while Ryou was working. Too busy, most likely, going over in his mind his best strategy to defeat the pharaoh in the final shadow game.

It reminded Ryou of how fish are scared of the ripples they make when touching the surface of water. They hide, instead, in the dark abysses they are most familiar with.

Ryou grew used to it, however—to the intrusive voice that presented itself more than it ever had in that night than all the other times he had the Ring with him, combined.

“Yes, of course that helps,” he snarked, setting aside the woman who looked much like Isis Ishtar and grabbing a handful of orange clay. He rolled it between his palms, making if softer and easier to shape. He took the entire piece of clay in his right, and stretched his left hand which had grown cramped. Ryou tested the mobility of his fingers once again before continuing his work when he felt another stirring in the back of his mind. He thought the Spirit was going to give out another set of details with which to shape the new figure, but the small sensation was gone—and surprisingly, so was the strain in his metacarpals.

Although, he never told Ryou outright what kind of life he’d lived, the Spirit was doing so, in a way, by allowing him to build the diorama—a minimal look into his world…

Ryou saw the outline of his life within the Egyptian setting, marveling at how alive everything had been—including, he assumed, the Spirit. There were pyramids stacked on real sand with basic dolls guarding their entrances. Each line of brick had been carved with such precision, anyone would be surprised to find out they hadn’t been prepared with a ruler. With each thing he crafted, Ryou felt delight with how his work practically gave life to the ancient world with his touch.

It was less joyful to realize that it was only a game setting that would see Ancient Egypt brought into the modern world.

He picked up a thin carving tool and began forming the details of the hands.

A multitude of people, kings, vendors, and thieves—all dead—and only two lingering existences remained.

Ryou wondered what kind of person he was making then. He stopped forming lines to contemplate it, and to compare it to the woman character he had just finished.

He had thought that maybe, the Spirit, knowing he might lose against the other Yugi, wanted to leave his legacy behind with someone. Of course, he also thought it was absurd—the other was too proud to ever believe he would lose.

He never told his tale, or regaled his life, but by asking Ryou to build it for him, he was leaving clues—bits and pieces to put together to make an entire world of memory.

Ryou’s lips tugged into a bitter smile and he started his work again.

Because that’s what the RPG was going to be used for. To bring to life the World of Memory within the Millennium Ring and the Millennium Puzzle. Two of the last remnants of an entire civilization put against each other by destiny in order to fight for the destruction—or the salvation of an entire world.

As Ryou built the diorama through the first night, and through the ones that followed, he sewed together a grand past, a tragic past, without any knowledge of it. The Spirit within his mind never revealed to him what happened to him, and Ryou didn’t ask. He simply built, and built, and built, what the Spirit asked for, trying to forget his own past—because if the Spirit was defeated, finally, by the other Yugi, Ryou would be free to build a new life cut off from the Spirit’s own lingering one.

Ryou Bakura with the hopes of ridding himself of the anomaly in his soul, had built one of his best works—a farewell gift, as well as a guilt charged apology, he found himself thinking—for a malevolent spirit who was least deserving of either.

“Sorry,” he said one late night between the drooping of his eyelids. He’d long lost track of time after he had begun to miss school in order to finish his project faster. The little red robed figure—the final one he’d been asked to make—stood staring at him with sharp eyes and a wicked scar down its cheek. “But I think I’m better off without you.” He brought a finger up to push it over on its side, but missed twice, thanks to his sleep deprived brain tricking his eyes with the figure’s position. Finally, the miniature thief rolled onto its side and into the diorama next to the sand dunes. Ryou kept his eyes on the immobile figure expecting it to leap up and walk away, but the figure remained face-down in the desert part of the board. He rested his face forward next to it, using his arms as a pillow—just for a moment. He only needed a brief moment of rest—and then he’d look over the diorama again to make sure everything was all right. Growing much too drowsy to even believe he wouldn’t fall asleep, he fell back on the floor and turned on his side with a tired groan. He turned over a second time, finding a better position to sleep on. Finally, Ryou found a suitable way to sleep on the floor and let himself enter the throes of his dream landscaped mind.

After a moment, when his breathing steadied, a second figure manifested in the room. It roamed from the furthest edge of the game board, inspecting everything in silence. The palace, the markets—everything had been done as he had told his host. If there was something he was good at, it was crafting things.

The Spirit floated farther into the desert area, his eyes stopping when he saw the robed figure lying face-down in the sand. His eyes remained on it, and uncertain fingers went to reach it.

They went right through.

Unsurprised, he left the doll in its place and came to sit in front of his sleeping host.

His face was peaceful, albeit tired. The dark lines under his eyes contrasted heavily with his light skin in a way which made him look older than he really was. He snored softly, and the hair fallen over his cheeks swayed with every other breath.

The Spirit’s eyes strayed further, to land on the Millennium Ring hanging over Ryou’s chest. He sighed in his sleep, and the Ring slid down further, making a small metallic noise.

To think that his destined vessel would be so young—

“We’re not that different, you and I,” he began casually. He leaned back against the table, even if it was a superficial movement. “If only you’d given me a chance.”

He crossed his arms and regarded the unguarded self of his host. He shook his head and snorted, realizing he stared for far longer than he should have.

He looked away and his eyes landed on an indistinct spot in the room.

The first time they were able to communicate had been after he’d finally found the Millennium Puzzle. Things went downhill quickly from there. The same day he’d made contact with Ryou was the very same day he’d been rejected by him without hesitation.

A dry laugh escaped him. Despite not knowing his classmates well, Ryou had been willing to sacrifice himself to save them—and destroy Bakura—in a selfless act.

“Or maybe we are. Who knows?”

His eyes strayed back to his host. His name was Ryou Bakura—he’d made the Spirit know it was his the very same day they’d officially met. That was just like him—to be polite in the midst of things, however grim—to introduce himself first.

Then it was only proper for the Spirit to reciprocate the greeting.

“Do you want to know what my name is?” he grinned. “It’s probably the only thing we have in common, if we’re being honest.”

He laughed under his breath, amused, as if by one big joke.

“I’m not, though—and neither are you.” The Spirit tilted his head and chuckled. “You’re a bigger liar than I am.”

He scooted closer, his form steadily disappearing. His expression fell, and his first words died in his throat.

After a moment, his mouth opened anew. “My name is Zorc.”

Thinking back on it, Ryou had forgotten his kettle until he heard the screech of the steam alerting him the water had grown to a boil. Louder and louder it became and the distracted boy dashed to his kitchen and set it on the counter to cool while he turned off the stove. From his cupboards, took out a mug for himself and went to search for his tea leaves. It had been a while since he had to dig them out and make himself a cup—and he had to look inside his tins for the elusive leaves.

There was a rustle somewhere off, and his ears tuned easily to the sound coming from down the hall and into his room.

The Spirit had returned and he’d decided to dodge the front entrance—opting for the only other option—Ryou’s bedroom window.

He shook his head and focused on his tea, adding the dried leaves into the cup and checking that the water had settled down from its bubbling state. Ensuring that it had, he sighed, and took the kettle and his cup to the table where he sat down and hopefully, forget the worst parts of that night.

Ryou stared into his cup, and tried to count the leaves before pouring the water.

The worst parts—was it the gang members falling over one by one? No. The leader—a boy who was likely younger than he getting stabbed by the Spirit? No—but it was close.

The worst parts—he hated himself for thinking this one topped everything that occurred that night…but it had little to do with his attackers.

The worst part was that the Spirit had saved him. He hadn’t come out of Ryou’s room yet, and he didn’t think he was ready to see him. Would a thanks be expected then, within the walls of his apartment? No—the Spirit wouldn’t ask for a thank you or a smile. That’s why Ryou thought it was the worst part. The Spirit would want something in return—and chances were, he would have to comply. He was indebted to the Spirit and waiting on him to come out of his room and demand his debt be fulfilled, Ryou had nearly forgotten what his tea was for.

He hadn’t done it because of the goodness in his heart. If anything, he was probably bored and fighting Ryou’s attackers was part of his fun.

Ryou snorted, and shook his head. Malik may have survived the Spirit, but if any of his past experiences told him anything, it was that the Spirit rarely ever did anything for Ryou that wasn’t beneficial to him in some way. He wasn’t going to let one story from Malik change his perception of the Spirit. His and Ryou’s circumstances had been different—the Spirit was a vengeful entity and that’s all he was. He’d even said it himself—his goal was revenge.

He picked up the kettle from its coaster and aimed the spout into his cup.

A stray thought weaved itself into his mind, like the vapor from his water.

Ryou blinked. Revenge against the pharaoh, was it? As far as he knew, Atem had saved them all from chaos.

He could scarcely hold his kettle steady—his hands shook. He set it down and inhaled deeply.

No, Atem, Yugi, his friends fought for justice. The Spirit was evil, he repeated in his mind, and Ryou had to find a way to stop his plans before he let him get a second chance at ending the world. Because who other than malevolent spirits wished for the destruction that would be brought on with a World of Darkness?

He picked up his kettle again with steadier hands. The water filled his cup, eliciting a soft fragrance from his green tea leaves.

The Spirit had no redeeming qualities—he was evil—he must be stopped…the Spirit…was at the front door.

Ryou stared with wide eyes as the person who he had been in his thoughts all night entered through the front and stood silently at the entryway.

He shifted forward, gaining his usual guarded pose.

Meanwhile, whatever had been on his mind before the Spirit walked in came to an abrupt stop. If he was just arriving, then what had Ryou heard just moments ago coming from his room…?

The water overflowed in his cup, spilling over the sides and Ryou said, “I—I think there’s someone else here.”

He felt the hot water drip onto his lap and backed away in his chair as quickly as he could.

The Spirit’s face went from confusion, to anger, and then again to disbelief when the Ring glowed and pointed straight down the hall to his host’s room. Bakura saw how he, too, noticed the prongs of the Ring lift themselves and they looked at each other in alarm.

Forgetting the spilled water on both the table and his legs, Ryou followed almost on the Spirit’s heels as they burst into the seemingly undisturbed room.

Obstructed from entering further, Ryou inspected the space where he slept, looking for anything out of place—or worse—for someone lying in wait. From behind him, Ryou reached around the wall for the switch and flicked it, illuminating the room. Anyone inside would have been seen right then when the light turned, but there were no signs of an intruder—even the window was closed tight.

The Ring around the Spirit’s neck remained aglow, pointing forward into nothing.

He stepped forward, bothered by the fact there, even if he felt nothing amiss in the room, he knew there was. There was always a reason for the Ring to react. His night’s bliss had been perfectly ruined by whatever this new problem was.

He took another step, sensing Ryou standing close—almost touching. And then—the sensation of him was gone, as his host had stepped away from him and headed towards the closet door.

“What are you doing?” the Spirit hissed.

Without pause, Ryou extended a hand towards the small handle. “Checking…on some things.”

Before the Spirit could stop him, he pulled open the door. If either of them expected someone inside, it was too late to prepare for their sudden attack. However, there was no mystery burglar hiding within the numerous garments. The clothing Ryou had neatly hung a few days before after laundry, hadn’t been disturbed.

The Spirit came up beside him and the spike of the Ring dropped next to the four others. “Next time wait for me to open it.”

Ryou said nothing and merely side-glanced him.

He instead went to check on something else—something much more important than clothing. He could swear—he dropped to his knees and began rummaging through his things—that a Millennium Item was calling to him.

His hands, with an impatient fervor he never knew he had, took out a box from underneath a stack of shoes and scarves. Throwing the intrusive items aside with more force than necessary, Ryou tossed open lid of the box and clawed it closer to him.

The Spirit observed the frantic behavior of his host suspiciously and lowered himself next to him. There was something odd about how desperate his movements were. Bakura followed his line of sight, and watched how he extracted one of the Items from within the box with such care. He inched closer to check on the items himself.

Ryou turned to him and answered a question that had yet to be asked. The space between their faces was small. He spoke softly, almost a confession: “I was making sure…they weren’t stolen.”

Bakura shifted, suddenly aware of the proximity. His cheek tingled from where his host’s breath had whispered so close. “Were you, now?”

The other didn’t seem to hear him speaking as his hands carefully touched the cool surface of the Millennium Necklace. Bakura shifted his eyes between it and Ryou, watching how trembling, desperate fingers, calmed upon feeling it.

He set the Necklace down and bent forward lower to listen more carefully.

“Since when do you care so much?” the Spirit muttered. It was strange to him to realize how nonchalant he was about the situation. The Spirit should have been the first to check the condition of the Items, having sought them out for millennia, but instead it was Ryou who fretted over them. It wasn’t as if the Spirit didn’t care, on the contrary, the Millennium Items were still very important in his plan but…

He looked around. Nothing was amiss in the room—the sheets on the bed lay as neat as Ryou always left them before his day began at school. None of his belongings were out of place—and the curtains framing the windows did not stir. Bakura saw no traces of footprints on the floor and he wasn’t aware of someone who was as skilled in breaking and entering as he. It was as if no one had been there at all—but the Ring’s auguries, and Ryou’s behavior—there was definitely something strange about the whole ordeal, and that’s what he was focused on.

A simmering anger that bubbled under his feeling of impotence—he could think of nothing that explained whatever was happening.

Still pondering, he turned his attentions back to Ryou after scouring the room once more. His host’s brows were knitted together in concern.

“Quiet—I can’t hear.”

Now that perked the Spirit’s interest.

Couldn’t hear what exactly? The way his host strained to become closer to the Items…It was almost as if he was listening to them. A grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. Perhaps their late night games were finally showing results.

Bakura moved closer to him, following his host’s line of sight. A sudden glee surfaced inside him.

“What can’t you hear?” he whispered so close to Ryou’s ear that the other should have reacted.

But instead, his host was too absorbed by his task that the breath of his words went unnoticed.

“The—one of them—one of the Items.” He looked over his shoulder to see the Spirit, and their noses almost touched. “One of the Items,” he repeated in a trance.

Ryou turned back to his task, and drew a conclusion. His hand moved, dived into the box and pulled out the Millennium Key.

“It’s this one,” he said with finality. He sat back, and looked at it. “This one.” His thin fingers ghosted over the golden relic, calming the screeching within.

Bakura kept unwavering eyes on the Key.

Suddenly, whatever momentary pleasure he felt from having another one of the Millennium Items revived disappeared without a trace.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 11: something between

 

The Key sat in his lap, and the dim light from the neighboring building streamed through in hazy spirals. The rain had continued its steady drizzle over Domino, and Bakura listened to it, and the sounds of Ryou sleeping in the next room.

The light next door flickered, and it cast dancing white movements on the surface of the gold coloring. He picked the Millennium Key up, absorbing the sight of the intertwining hues.

The Ring first, then the Scales, and now—the Millennium Key. Which meant four remained, waiting to be restored.

It should have been a moment to celebrate, to rejoice that his plans had finally begun to move forward!

But instead, he sat in the living room, brooding, wondering—as his host slept and tossed on his bed—why now?

Bakura set the Key on the armrest and looked down at it. His fingers danced next to it, casting thin shadows over the Millennium Item.

Abruptly, those same fingers stopped, and his hand formed into a fist.

“How many times am I going to have to kill you before you finally stay dead?” he spat.

He grabbed the Key again, careful not to let his anger choke it. Still, his hand clamped around it in a vice-like grip.

It’s previous wielder—Shadi still haunted him. A ghost haunting a spirit. A ghost guarding said spirit’s resting place. Shadi had guarded the Ring for years, while inside, Bakura had awaited the vessel he would use to end the feud with the ones who wronged him.

With eyes fixated on the Key, he searched it for answers.

“Were you here?” he asked, eyes searching in the dark. His thumb stroked the neck of the Key. “You can’t be that stupid. Not to have eluded me for so long.” The light outside flickered, and he heard Ryou shift uneasily between the sheets. Even with walls between them, his ears tuned effortlessly to the sound of his voice. A thought occurred to him that traveled within the pitiful sounds of his sleeping host.

“No…” he narrowed his eyes as he stared at the item in his hand. Suddenly, he stood. Without a word, he walked down the hall which led to his host’s room. The door was closed—unlocked, and he pushed it open.

Carrying the same animosity that drove him there, he paced the room in an uneasy meditation.

Walking from the doorway, to the window, and then back again, he cast brief glances at Ryou whenever he whined in his sleep. The Spirit paused, seeing his face frown in distress—the dreams inside his mind tormenting from within. He tore his eyes away from the sight, going over once again in his mind the perturbing suspicions floating around in his head.

“You can’t possibly…”

He looked around the room again, feeling countless eyes boring into him. Is that what it felt like to be vulnerable? To be watched by something he couldn’t see? Haunted?

The Key in his hand suddenly weighed a ton. Bakura looked to Ryou, who had stopped moving, but the same sorrowful look remained. He had his hands fisted in the sheets, clutching them like a security blanket to his chest. There was no peace on his features—his white hands resembled the curled talons of a dead bird.

For the second time that night, he looked away from him.

“No,” he addressed the cold feeling of being watched. His voice regained its hard edge to it. “I won’t let you get a single chance near him.”

As if there really was something there that night, Bakura spoke to it—promise of threat just below the surface of his words. He didn’t know if Shadi planned to return—or if he was even there that night. What he knew was that Ryou had heard something earlier, and that the Millennium Ring sensed something that Bakura was looking for.

It may just have been picking up on the Millennium Key, but the events were too coincidental.

Shadi must have been there.

Bakura looked down at the Key enclosed between his fingers. He knew what its powers were all too well.

“No,” he repeated, starting towards the door. “Not a single chance.”


 

There was a dream just beyond his reach, and he was scared to lose it.

In a fluttering motion, he startled himself awake with a gasp, and the dream was gone, along with his feelings for it. He lay there, motionless, eyes scanning the expanse of the ceiling above and listening to the buzzing in his ears after a sudden awakening. He could sense acutely the rising and falling of his chest, the covers tightly bounding him in his bed, and the warmth that spread throughout. Ryou blinked, a tightness in his eyes that would disappear after a cool splash of water over his bathroom sink. But he didn’t want to get up just yet. Something kept him in the tangle of sheets, and he suspected it was the lingering call of a lost dream.

He ungripped the sheets bundled in his hands and turned on his side, letting his lids fall as he was lulled by the heat of the morning sun.

It was that same heat that alerted him of the time. Too hot to be called morning rays anymore.

His eyes snapped open, and he craned his head towards the stand on the other side of the room. Without bothering to look at the minutes past, he lurched forward into a tumble, barely landing on his feet, and fumbled his way past his slippers and into the bathroom.

It was ten and he’d already missed two classes.

He turned the knobs on the sink and washed his face as quickly as possible. Water still dripping down his cheeks, he clawed his fingers through his clumped hair, and simultaneously brushed his teeth. Not one to bother too much with appearances at that point, he called himself presentable and hurried to change out of his sleeping clothes.

The uniform he’d hung out the night before would have to do and Ryou pulled on the white shirt, and blue pants. He’d left his shoes at the door, and grabbed a pair of socks and headed to his room.

He didn’t think he could make it to third on time. He considered arriving during lunch or missing the day altogether, but he needed as many lessons he could fit to pass the first term. His grades had slipped lower than he usually let them, and he had one less book to study with. If anything, Ryou was only going to school that day to get the school copy of the missing textbook, and maybe, cram enough information for the end of upcoming test.

In front of his bedroom mirror, he fixed his collar and smoothed out the creases of his shirt. Everything was in order—all he needed were his shoes. If he caught the next train, he could make it to gym without Karita noticing he had skipped the first half of the day.

Ryou went to the kitchen where he’d left his bag the night before and paused when he reached the table. There was a kettle turned over and water droplets clung to the surface of the table.

He’d forgotten that happened.

He took the kettle and cup off the table, and carried them to the sink where they sat. He didn’t have time to wash them. Without his usual breakfast, he headed for the entrance where his shoes were. He crouched down, and undid the knotted strings.

For a reason unbeknownst to him, he decided to check his surroundings and choked down the sigh that had half escaped him. The fingers on his laces paused, and his whole body stopped functioning in trying to understand what had caused the sudden interruption to its stress fueled workings that morning.

The Spirit sat on his couch, leg crossed over his knee.  On the armrest next to him was the Millennium Key in his grasp and with his other hand, he toyed with the edges of the Ring on his chest.

With no hidden disbelief in his voice, Ryou asked,“Did you—Have you been there all night?” The fingers on his shoe laces resumed their task as Ryou recovered from the shock.

The Spirit stared at him—but his eyes were focused on something other than Ryou. It was like his mind was elsewhere. He didn’t answer, and Ryou took his silence for an affirmation to his question.

Even if it bothered him, there was little he could do about it. Boundaries had been set between them, and while Ryou appreciated having been left alone after such initial intruding behavior from the Spirit, it wasn’t Ryou who had the last word on such things. He was playing a part—and he had to accommodate his own behavior for that.

“You never stay here,” he observed. A hidden question underneath: “Why did you stay here?” Asking directly would likely not receive an answer.

The Spirit had never remained in his apartment overnight—or at least—not that Ryou knew of. He was beginning to realize there was a lot he didn’t know about the other. He just assumed many things of him, never bothering to confirm those assumptions.

He suspected his nightly stays were at a hotel—perhaps nearby. Ryou knew at least one thing—the Spirit had ways of getting money. He could easily pay for a room at an inn. He was definitely not one to sleep out on the street.

While tying the laces of his other shoe, he glanced at the Spirit.

His eyes went directly to the Millennium Key in his hand, one of the Items he’d procured, but not one Ryou had come to associate with the Spirit.

And then, his eyes trailed to his cheeks, where he was so sure he’d seen cuts the night before. He wasn’t so sure now.

His lips tightened and so to the final lace of his right shoe. He stood and went for his things, hearing the soft taps on the Spirit’s fingers on the surface of the Ring. He turned suddenly, a jerky movement of the neck that was so swift, Ryou was caught off guard by the meeting of their eyes.

He almost avoided them, but the angle in which the Spirit was turned made him keep his eyes on him. The side of his face was—no, that was definitely dry blood, wasn’t it?

He blinked, and in that instant, the Spirit faced away again so that he could only see his profile and his cheek was shadowed once more.

“You…you’ve got blood on your face,” Ryou said.

The tapping stopped.

He went to the retrieve his bag to momentarily avoid the gaze cast upon him.

“You’re going out again, aren’t you? The least you could do is clean it off to avoid suspicion.” He checked the contents without paying attention to what he was seeing, and then closed the bag shut.

“Did you even sleep?” he asked, casting a brief glance at his oddly quiet intruder.

The illusion of silence was broken. “I don’t sleep,” he was answered.

A beat—and then Ryou’s heart re-started, albeit too quick.

“You don’t?” He scanned what he could of the Spirit’s face from his point of view.

“Not here,” he added looking away from Ryou to look at the Millennium Key.

Not understanding where the sudden generosity that propelled him back to his bathroom, Ryou returned to his sitting room where he expected the Sprit still remained. He found him in the same spot and Ryou danced on the balls of his feet with two objects in hand before tentatively seating himself next to him.

He would certainly be late to phys. ed. but the information he would get from this encounter would be beneficial to finding out more about what the Spirit actually was at this point. With set pretense, he uncapped the disinfectant and dabbed a generous amount onto one of the sterile cloths he’d unpackaged.

He felt eyes on him, watching his behavior with acute perception, almost as if the Spirit knew what his true purpose was. With a sharpness to his bearings, Ryou turned to him, noting somewhere in his mind this was the first time he’d chosen to bring himself close to the other. He lifted the hand which currently crushed the paper-like fabric and touched it to the Spirit’s face.

The gauze, with no further purpose dropped from his grasp.

He’d been wrong—there was no blood, or evidence of a knife ever cutting through the pale flesh resembling his own. Not even a scar—he could have believed the Spirit had some sort of superior healing, but to have nothing at all… He recalled the knife grazing each cheek—the red lines marring his face and marking trails of scarlet along white. Had he imagined it all? He let his eyes linger there on the curve of the bone… Ryou, confused, but mostly awed, couldn’t help what he did next. Naked fingers traced the lines along the Spirit’s cheekbones which he knew should have marked the path where the knife had touched with its steely, unrelenting strokes. First one, and then another, and then almost his whole hand caressed the Spirit’s cheek searching for the lost injuries that were so vivid in his memories. He carefully moved his fingers along the pale skin, touching him—feeling the solidness of him—of the Spirit. Soft—there was no scar tissue marring the skin, nor signs of injury. The curvature of his face guided his touch along an invisible path, until his fingers came to rest below the Spirit’s right eye where it stopped.

“There’s nothing there…” he said to him, and the eyes looking into his were too gentle to be called a glare.

And like that, by way of his own voice, and the misplaced soft gaze, the mesmerizing fascination with the scarless tissue was snuffed out almost as soon as it had begun. His hand was jerked back without hesitation.

“I—” There were no words to explain his behavior—either to the Spirit, or to himself. His eyes were probably wide with horror at his action—the lingering sensations on the tips of his fingers burned just like the air trapped in his throat.

Ryou lifted himself from the couch, sending the disinfectant to the floor in a clatter. He didn’t dare look at the Spirit again. With a hasty impatience, he shuffled for his school bag and reached frantically for the door knob.

In his escape, he hadn’t even registered the stunned silence from the second person left alone in the room.


 

He supposed his hasty arrival could be attributed to the jarring feelings of needing to put as much distance as possible between he and his apartment. Barely boarding the train at the station, he scarcely recalled the trip between there and where he stood now—the front of the school. The gates were closed, but as he nervously approached them, he learned that a gentle push was all it took to open the doors to a suitable distance necessary to walk between them. The large clock at the entrance told him third period had just started. Maybe if he hurried, he’d make it without anyone noticing…

In the halls, the most rebellious of the student body lingered here and there near the windows or stairs. As a third year, he marched past the younger ones with intended purpose and headed out the doors to the gym. Crossing the field, he saw that already some of his class had begun to filter out into the yard and talk amongst themselves as they waited, presumably, for the rest of the class, and for the teacher himself.

When he entered the dressing room, it was quiet, but he wasn’t the only one there. He saw Yugi on the bench, tying his laces. He seemed surprised to see him standing at the door.

“Bakura!”

Ryou forced a smile. He’d hoped he could be let alone with his thoughts, but meeting Yugi wasn’t a disappointment. “Good morning.”

“We thought you were missing school again today. It’s nice to see you decided to come.”

He laughed nervously. “To tell you the truth—I just happened to oversleep this morning. And then…” His hand clenched on its own. “Well, I was in a such a hurry that I forgot my things and had to double back.”

“Jeez, that sounds rough,” Yugi added, listening intently. “You probably should have stayed though… Karita’s making us do laps all period long. He looks like in a bad mood, and…” His eyes went down to Ryou’s bag worriedly. “We should hide your stuff before he sees it. Otherwise he’ll know you were late.”

As if summoned by his name, the notorious phys. ed. teacher appeared at the door with a rag draped on the back of his neck. “Mutou! What’s taking so long? And tell that delinquent friend of yours to stop stalling over there!”

“Delinquent…?” Ryou muttered. He thought it was meant for him, but then Jounouchi came out from the back, one shoe still in his hand.

“What? Didn’tya learn to tie your shoes in grade school?” the taller man sneered. He turned to Yugi, presumably to make a jab at his height as was customary during the class, but the evil smile was wiped from his face when he saw Ryou standing next to him.

As inconspicuous as possible, Ryou shifted his position to try and hide his school bag. He did it with little success as the teacher’s gaze flitted down to his hand, and then back up again. Karita cleared his throat nervously and without word, whirled on his heel and out the locker room.

Ryou exchanged an equally confused glance with Jonouchi and Yugi before deciding it was best not try his luck further with Karita. He changed out of his uniform and put on his gym clothes, hidden from the eyes of his two friends who waited on him.


 

It was a humid day and rays of sunlight shone from between rolling clouds in the sky. Despite the swiftness of their pace, there was hardly a fresh breeze below. Once in a while, however, he would feel the cool undertones of a soft gust of wind from the west.

Again, Bakura found himself on a roof overlooking Domino High from where he could see the running forms of students. It wasn’t hard to miss the head of white hair slowly pacing around with a staggering group. He kept his eyes on him—Ryou being jostled from side to side by that idiot friend, and the other one.

“Hmph.”

He looked past the building, monitoring the surroundings.

It was futile searching for him—the Ring couldn’t even find Shadi. The specter of a man could be hiding anywhere—within anyone, and Bakura would be none the wiser.

Anyone including one of Ryou’s classmates, teachers. His host was too vulnerable out of his reach.

He cursed himself for not taking Shadi into consideration earlier. He hadn’t thought the man would go on the initiative. It wasn’t as if he ever involved himself before, so why now of all times?

Part of his train of thought brought him to momentarily relish the fact that Bakura had managed to bring out Shadi from wherever he was. That mean he thought Bakura’s course of action was threatening enough.

He laughed quietly to himself. “What? Don’t want your precious King to be interrupted in his afterlife? Or are you afraid of what I’ll release in order to open those doors?”

There was a whistle down below, and he saw the students gather into a group at the center of a track around a teacher. He remembered who the man was—Karita—and grinned. “Just like him…I’ll make you a pawn in this game.”

He pressed his knife to his cheek and scratched the skin there.

A feeling of warm shock came over him when he realized where he pressed his blade to.

He looked at his reflection on the metal surface. His eyes held a sharpness to them that had little to do with his momentary exhilaration when fantasizing about ending Shadi.

The mob of students had begun to move toward the building—their daily exercise over and done.

Bakura kept his eyes trained on Ryou until his speck disappeared into the school and he was out of his sight. He flicked his gaze down to the knife again.

“I suppose…it was only a matter of time before you started to get suspicious.”

He closed the knife in a swift, singular motion, and stood, listening to the high chime of the bell that he knew signaled the end of one class and the beginning of another.

Again, the sharp eyes roamed the expanse of the city he could see from over the rooftop of the school building. This spot, he understood to be where his host had lunch. It provided a nice, scenic view, but most importantly to him, a wide one, too.

He looked down at the field below and measured its height. His foot came to the edge of the fence, where it rattled upon connecting.

“Will you figure it out?” he asked, an amused grin just under the surface. His hand came up to touch the spots he memorized as Ryou’s sure, yet gentle caress.

He heard the noises of people down below, distant and animated.

“It’s not as if you can think any less of me when you do,” he added with a cackle.


 

“I swear,” Jonouchi slumped over face first onto his desk. “He’s trying to kill us.”

The bell had rung earlier and students were filing into the classroom for fourth period—Chemistry. Their teacher, a small and meek old man wrote out the objectives for the day in neat, square kanji on the board.

“It wasn’t so bad…” Ryou lied, massaging his knees. “At least it wasn’t swimming.” He patted the front of his shirt and made sure the buttons were all the way up. His eyes scanned the board and saw that the teacher hinted at a brief quiz during the final ten minutes of the class.

At the mention of the aquatic sport, Jounuchi sprung up, a lecherous smile spreading across his face. “Well, at least with swimming we could get a glimpse of the girls in their swimsuits.” He rubbed his hands together, imagining seeing one of his classmates in the assigned blue swimwear.

Even Yugi, on the other side of Jounouchi was hiding the redness of his face under the guise of copying down Mr. Nakamoto’s schedule for the day. He sneaked glances at Anzu, who had sat down with a group of girls, including Miho Nosaka, at the far end of the classroom nearest the door.

Miho saw Yugi looking in their direction, and waved. He smiled awkwardly, and then Anzu addressed him. She saw the depraved looks on both Jonouchi and Honda, and furrowed her brows.

“What are you guys talking about?” she asked with a hint of suspicion.

Yugi quickly glanced down at his paper and wrote with more fervor. “Uh…nothing!”

“And we even have a quiz today! Argh!” Jonouchi continued, thoughts of swimwear lost with the announcement of the dreaded test.

“Maybe if you didn’t have the brain capacity of a monkey, you wouldn’t have to worry about a simple quiz.” Kaiba had walked in, briefcase in hand, and handed a note to Mr. Nakamoto. He peered at it over his glasses, nodded, and gestured to Kaiba to take his seat. He resumed his slow, meticulous writing on the board, while his student went to his desk.

Jonouchi immediately made a face of disgust and directed his glare at Seto Kaiba, calmly extracting the necessary notes for the day. Before he could say anything in retort, the teacher started calling roll. It may have stopped Jonouchi’s rude comment, but it couldn’t stop the numerous faces he made at Kaiba.

“Careful. If you keep making those faces, it might stay like that,” Kaiba smirked. “Oh, wait. It’s not much of a difference anyway, is it?”

Jonouchi started getting up from his seat. “You lousy—”

“Jonouchi Katsuya,” interrupted the small teacher.

Halfway out his seat, Jounouchi begrudgingly plopped back against his chair and through grit teeth, muttered a forced, “Here.” The teacher hummed, peering at his rowdy student over his lenses and marked something on his clipboard.

The rest of the attendance was taken without much incident—even Kaiba had ceased his taunts—and then Mr. Nakamoto began his lesson for the day.

Ryou paid as close attention as he could—meaning that he could hardly concentrate at all. As he wrote, his eyes kept straying to his hand, which reminded him of the morning’s events, which made him tune out the easily ignored, quiet voice of the teacher, which made him miss most of what Mr. Nakamoto said before he switched to the next chapter.

He let out an aggravated sigh when he realized that Mr. Nakamoto had moved on to another unit in the textbook, and that what he was in the midst of writing made no sense. With more force than necessary, Ryou erased the incomplete sentence written in his notebook, and flipped to the previous page hoping he could piece together what was being talked about.

He zoned into the last words he managed to legibly write: C6H12

Blinking, he admitted he had no idea what compound that was. The teacher had already wiped the previous diagrams off the board and had moved onto the next unit of the lesson.

Writing three questions on the board, Mr. Nakamoto cleared his throat—sounding more like a soft cough—and looked up at the class with his usual serene, patient gaze only possible in an elderly man with a fondness for the students he taught.

Ryou interpreted that same gaze as indication that he was ready to call on someone for questions about the lesson. One glance in the direction of the clock told him the class period was nearly done. He shifted in his seat and bent down to look at his notes, hoping that he wouldn’t be called on.

Thankfully, Mr. Nakamoto had already chosen who he was going to call on long before the questions had been written. “Ah, Nosaka. You seem to have much to say,” the teacher chuckled in a way which included no malice whatsoever but still managed to make people nervous with the authority behind it.

“Why don’t you come up here on the board and form the bonds for these two compounds.” He tapped on the chalkboard with the back of his knuckle and smiled.

“Er…” Unsurely, Miho Nosaka stood from her seat—her friends, previously giggling around her now looked away, concentrated on their blank notebooks and pretending to take notes, all for the sake of avoiding Mr. Nakamoto’s choosing gaze.

She approached the board and took the offered chalk from the teacher’s hand, righting herself as she looked upon the newly written chemical compounds.

Ryou almost felt sorry for her if it wasn’t for the fact that he knew he would be in the very same situation if it were him at the front of the class. He checked the clock again. Only a few more minutes, if Nosaka could endure the embarrassment for the sake of them all, and they would be free for the lunch period, without having to take a quiz.

Not that he was overly hungry, but… he looked at Miho again—her fair face had begun to flush in the silence that had fallen over the classroom. Her hand trembled as it held the chalk against the green surface. For some reason, even though the two had hardly exchanged words, save their initial and awkward confession-rejection meeting, Ryou wanted to call out the answer for her. He had no idea what it was, and could see that anything he might say would be hardly helpful in her position, but nonetheless, he could sympathize with the helpless girl trying her best to bluff knowledge.

Miho drew the last stroke on her diagram and handed back the chalk to Mr. Nakamoto who thanked her for her work. She sat back down at her desk in silence.

“Well…” the teacher began, an unusual tone in his voice. It was as if he regretted calling on the girl. “It needs a bit of work,” he added, erasing two of the bonds with the tips of his finger, “but it’s almost time for lunch.” He set the white chalk down. “That’ll be all for today. I’ll go over the, ah, correct diagram during next class. You all get ready for the lunch line. It’s pork bun day and I hear from the staff it’s quite popular with you kids.” He chuckled and began packing his own bag to move onto the next class.

Papers shuffled on the desks next to Ryou, and he closed his notebook, a sigh of relief escaping him. He was glad he wasn’t called, but the second-hand embarrassment from seeing the normally cheerful Miho Nosaka be reduced to a red-faced mess, was too much to bear. As he looked over to see her, the bell signaling lunch, rang, and some students all ascended from their seats (those who hadn’t brought lunch or those who hoped for pork buns), obscuring her from him.

“Come on! You heard him! It’s pork bun day!” Jonouchi was one of the first out the door, eager for the kitchen’s famous lunches. Honda was right on his heels while Yugi lagged behind, having trouble weaving through the larger forms of bigger students.

Ryou was one of the last students to leave the classroom, waiting for the halls to clear of the crowds. He caught sight of Kaiba back in the room, writing something on one of his journals.  They met gazes, and Ryou almost flinched at the hardness in his eyes, that he quickly flitted out of the classroom.

When he reached the lunchroom, and saw a mob around the registers, he regretted not bringing his own lunch. His stomach growled angrily when he began to walk out the cafeteria, but he reminded it that he was only looking for an alternative—a vending machine near the courtyard. Maybe even a light snack from the school store near the nurse’s office would have something he could settle his stomach with.

He trudged along, passing students already with homemade lunches on their laps, or a can of coffee between their hands. He wondered if Yugi and the others had gotten their own lunch already…

Right when he was about to reach the next corner, a quiet sobbing reached his ears. It was discernable in the seemingly empty halls—many of the students already in their lunch spots on the roof or at the front of the school. He looked around him, and realized that the crying was coming from the girls’ bathroom. The throaty sobs seemed to cease and as he suspected, Miho Nosaka came out, bleary eyed, and pink in the face. She didn’t notice him as she passed by. He stood—quiet and still, until on his own, his mouth moved and he called out to her.

Her shoulders hunched in suprise, and Ryou saw her yellow bow and hair move in tandem with one another as she turned to face him. She blinked, and the wetness of her eyes grew pronounced with her startled look.

“Um…” He realized he must look stupid—one hand outstretched, and shifting on his feet not knowing what to say.

She sniffled, waiting, and wiped her eyes with delicate fingers. “Yes?”

“I—um.” It was then that Ryou Bakura remembered he was not very good with girls. He could feel his face grow hot under her unjudging eyes. He heard her hiccup, and his mind reeled for something to say to her so neither of them had to stand there in the empty hall for too long.

“I just…wanted to say that,” he began, straining for words. He looked down at his feet, not being able to look at her staring at him any longer. “…I don’t think it was fair of you to be put on the spot like that. In class, I mean.” He was surprised by how steady his voice was.

Looking down at his shoes, he waited, until he was ready enough to face her. She, too, had been looking at her own feet, hands clasped tight in front of her.

“Oh, I-I’m sorry if I’ve upset you further. I simply wanted…to make you feel better, is all.” He could feel the heat on his face growing more intense. “You looked so sad that—”

“You haven’t upset me,” Miho interrupted quietly.

His head snapped up. “I haven’t?” A feeling of relief spread over his anxiety, easing it a bit.

She shook her head and shyly tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Oh, that’s good.” He had no idea where to go from there.

Miho giggled softly, which was an improvement from her sniffles just minutes before. “It was my fault anyway. I should have been paying attention. Thank you for trying to make me feel better.” She smiled weakly.

Her view on the events made Ryou realize Miho was more than the bubbly, airheaded girl he thought she was. She was much more mature than she presented herself—or maybe, the maturity came from the situation itself. In any case, Ryou could only nod and ask, “You’re not going to get lunch?”

Her eyes widened, and then her shoulders relaxed. She shook her head, scrunching her nose. “I don’t really like pork.”

“Oh.”

“I was just going to get some tea from the vending machines.”

He nodded, “Me too.”

She smiled and turned, looking over her shoulder. “You’re not going now?”

Ryou interpreted that as her wanting him to join her... He tensed—he’d just wanted to comfort her. But that had somehow turned into eating lunch together. He cleared his throat. “No, I was headed to the bathroom first…” he lied, playing with his collar.

Miho paused, a look of disappointment settling over her face. “Oh, well. I guess we can always see each other in class.”

“R-right,” he said without looking at her. “I’ll be going then.” And then he was rushing into the boys’ bathroom, knowing how strange he must have looked bolting in there without a word of proper goodbye.

He decided he really did need to go the bathroom and entered one of the stalls. After he was done, he looked at himself in the mirror above the sink, carelessly washing his hands under the running water.

“That was awful,” he told his reflection, piteously.

Something shifted inside the mirror, and Ryou gasped when a second version of himself appeared right above his shoulder. His heart went still, knowing it was neither a trick of the eyes nor mind.

The water kept running—the only thing interrupting the overbearing silence. He could feel it on his knuckles, the pressure faint, but enough to tell him he wasn’t dreaming.

He tore his eyes from the Spirit, concentrating on his hand-washing task, pumping out more soap onto his hand, and scrubbing his skin—his right hand—almost raw.

Ryou wasn’t ready at all to see him. Yet, there he was—the Spirit—like always, barging in at the times he was wanted the least.

He looked up again only to see the other was closer, brows furrowed—not in glare—but in thought. The Spirit was looking at him—at the back of him—and clearly, he wasn’t going anywhere until his presence was acknowledged.

Not that he was going to wait for that to happen.

He reached from behind Ryou, deciding for him that that was enough hand-washing for the hour, and turned the knob, stopping the water from spewing out. The sink dripped its final drops down into the basin, leaving Ryou’s pink-scrubbed hands hovering over it, as if preparing for a ritual.

He couldn’t look into the mirror. He cast a guarded glance over his shoulder.

“What?” he asked breathily—shakily.

And the gall of him! The Spirit crossed his arms and shrugged, moving his eyes away from Ryou and onto the floor.

Ryou moved away from him and tore some paper towels from the dispenser to dry his hands.

He tossed the wet paper into the bin nearest the door—furthest from the Spirit.

His eyes roamed briefly in his direction, managing to catch the glance from the Spirit directed at him, before it fell again to the indistinct spot on the bathroom floor.

Ryou pressed his lips together feeling his heart hammer desperately against his ribcage. “Just leave,” he told him. “It’s lunchtime, not after school. There are more students around.”

His plea was met with equal silence, if not, double the defiance added on as well.

With no response from the Spirit, Ryou saw little reason to remain in the bathroom with him. He turned on his heel, reached for the door, and was held back.

He felt the fingers on his bare arm, and pulled. Usually, when he did that, the Spirit complied, but right then, the grip around his elbow was clasped tight.

Alarmed, he pulled. “Let go!”

He was ignored, and even worse, the Spirit began dragging him into one of the stalls.

“Wha—what are you doing?”

And in the first exchange of words, the Spirit finally answered with an eloquent, “Shut up.”

Both of them went into the middle stall (Ryou dragged in), and just when the more distressed of the two was about to push the door open, a second door squeaked, announcing the presence of a third person inside the bathroom.

A student had gone into the stall next theirs.

Ryou stared, scared, nervous, and most of all, bewildered, at the Spirit, almost in a silent plea for him to do something about the situation. The Spirit looked back at him, eyebrows knit, as if reading his mind and answering with a wordless, “What do you want me to do about it?”

There was a sound of water hitting water, and then a zip, and then a flush, and Ryou was starting to realize just how small the stalls in a high school bathroom were.

In the small, cramped space, he could see underneath the white, fluorescent light, the rising and falling of the Spirit’s chest, his shoulders, the strands of hair falling on one another. He could see his fingers of one hand twitching impatiently as they held the Millennium Ring, and the gold glittering on them, rubies and all…

Ryou found himself looking at the spot on his cheeks he had been so transfixed on in the early hours of the morning. It really hadn’t been a trick of the light—there, directly underneath the light panels, Ryou saw the smooth patch of skin without scars.

There was a sound of a running sink, and then the screech of it turning off—paper being torn, and the babble of voices trailing from the hall into the bathroom.

He saw the black lashes over the curve of an eyelid, and eyebrows of the same color above them. For a second, he wondered if his looked like that. The Spirit’s eyelashes were long enough to touch the high cheekbone when he blinked.

Do mine do that, too? he thought distantly.

From somewhere equally distant, he asked, “Why are you even here?” It was a different version of the question he hadn’t been able to ask in the morning. His voice echoed within the small chamber and he heard someone else walk into the bathroom again.

“I needed something.” A stall door creaked again and was slammed shut. Ryou felt it the vibrations from the wall he was backed up against.

He blinked and whispered, “You couldn’t have waited?”

The Spirit gave him a look he couldn’t fully interpret. His arm was still in his grasp, but Ryou made no attempt to pull it back.

“I thought you might avoid me so I chose to stop you from doing that.”

His mind went blank. He’d been read so easily. It was embarrassing to remember really how much the Spirit knew of him—of his personality. He was an open book, read ten times over.

“What was so important?” he bit out, looking away from that confusing gaze.

Instead of words, he registered his hand being played with again.

“I needed to…find out some things…”

They both looked down at his hand. “What? Reading my palm?” Ryou snorted. There was a flush of water and then the sound of water hitting a basin.

The Spirit’s eyes narrowed in amusement, and he gave Ryou the slightest of smiles before picking up his hand in his own and marking patterns with the tip of his fingers. “I could,” he answered after a short pause. “If you want me to.”

Ryou’s hand twitched from the sensations, but nonetheless remained in the Spirit’s hold without attempting to break free. Bakura eyed him as he traced lines on the upturned palm—Ryou was following the paths. “You already know everything…” Ryou said softly..

The motions stopped, and Bakura waited for Ryou to look at him before he responded, “Not everything.”

“But...” he let go of his hand, which remained hovering in the space between them. “I think…I’ve got all I need.”

There were no other sounds in the room, save for their own voices. The student who had gone in earlier must have left while they had been focused on one another.

Ryou shook his head and held his hand against him. “What did you find out?” He stretched his fingers and stared at the center space where the Spirit had touched and then clenched his hand into a fist.

“Not much. Just that you’re clueless.” He raised an eyebrow in his direction. “Even about yourself.”

Ryou glanced up at him uncertainly, ignoring the jab, and then, “If you’re going to risk the both of us—You know what? Never mind. Lunch is almost over. I should go.” He paused before continuing. “And you should, too.” Without waiting for a response, he went to unlatch the door only to notice the lock hadn’t been set in place. He stood there for a few moments, hand pressed against the frame. He looked back over his shoulder only to catch the Spirit playing idly with the tips of the Ring.

He hardly thought it was believable that the Spirit came to him only to read his palm.

“Watch yourself,” he said abruptly.

It was Ryou’s turn to give him a questioning look.

“I’m not always close enough to you.” The Ring fell from his grasp and he directed his full gaze to Ryou—no amusement, no deception.

For some reason, the admittance was enough to raise the hair on his arms.

“What…do you mean? Is there someone who knows about us?” Ryou fidgeted. “Is that why you’re here? You think someone else is following me?” He realized that was also probably the reason for the Spirit’s overnight stay. Did he think the gang members might return for vengeance?

“Just a thought.” The Spirit grinned, and Ryou saw the gesture was too hollow to be called legitimate.

He clutched his hand closer. The murmurs outside the bathroom grew louder. The bell was sure to signal the end of lunch any minute.

Ryou looked at the Spirit and nodded, a feeling of foreboding forming in the pit of his stomach. He exited out the door, and joined the throng of students forming out in the halls.


 

“Bakura! Where were you?” came Yugi’s greeting upon entering the classroom. He still had specks of food around his cheeks, and Anzu reprimanded him, dusting off the crumbs with her thumb.

“Hey, what about me?” Jounouchi came between them and pointed at his face.

“Ugh. Clean it yourself.” She walked off, and sat next to Miho who shyly smiled at Ryou. Her eyes were rimmed pink, but the tears had stopped.

He went to his own seat and got his things ready for the next class.

Yugi plopped himself right next to him.

“So?”

Distracted, he hadn’t heard him come near.

“Huh?”

“I asked why you weren’t at lunch. We waited for you up on the roof. Jonouchi and Honda even managed to get you something since we saw you didn’t bring your own lunch today.” He slid something out of his pockets, wrapped in plastic, and put it on the desk. “It’s not pork bun,” he admitted sheepishly, “But it’s a second best.” He finished with a light laugh.

The label read “Yakisoba” in loopy hiragana, stamped with a date.

Ryou gaped down at it. “Oh…Yugi, you didn’t have to…” he mumbled, suddenly embarrassed by his friend’s concern. He went to reach in his bag for money to pay him back, but Yugi stopped him.

“It’s fine. You can keep it for later.”

He picked it up gingerly, as if to not damage the packaging and breathed out, “Thank you.”

Yugi smiled. “You know we’re always looking out for you, Bakura.”

Ryou cast his eyes down. “Right…”

The remainder of the school day was uneventful. Other than his stray thoughts proving too distracting, Ryou spent the rest of his classes in a state of relative quiet. The remaining periods were spent casting furtive glances at his classmates, wondering if anyone noticed him enough to know more than they should about him. His eyes kept straying to Honda…

No…not him, he thought. The Spirit would have deliberately said something about his friend. Additionally, he quickly dismissed the thought, not liking how he was suddenly growing wary of one of his friends. It was someone else, Ryou decided. Someone, or something that would cause as much trepidation as he saw in the Spirit earlier. He’d never stayed over…he’d never shown up during school hours…

Just a thought, he’d said. As if Ryou could believe that. His behavior indicated that it was more than ‘just a thought.’ There was something he wasn’t being told, and frankly, he was agitated by that. If it was a concern for his safety, the Spirit should outright tell him what he thought. That way both of them could be on the lookout, rather than keeping Ryou in the dark—suspecting ones he sholudn’t.

For starters, the Spirit could tell Ryou who he thought was watching him.

The lead on his pencil broke from pressing too hard on his desk, but Ryou didn’t seem to care.

He sighed, leaning onto his hand and staring out the window.

He knew he was being guarded by the Spirit, though… did that make him feel better?

His heart thumped at the question. He wouldn’t have to be watched in the first place if he hadn’t come back at all. Ryou wondered if that last thought was the equivalent of wishing someone to die, and felt immediately guilty about it—until he remembered the Spirit wasn’t alive in the first place.

Then how is it that I can touch you...? he found himself asking, absentmindedly leaning onto the hand that the Spirit had marked. When I can’t even touch any of the others who are dead?

He came back to the present when Ms. Chono entered, signaling the end of the day homeroom period.

She came in with a smile, and stood at the front of the room, pleased with all eyes on her.

Once the murmur of voices, excited for after-school clubs died down, she wrote down something on the board.

Someone raised their hand. “But Ms. Chono… Isn’t it too early to be thinking about that?”

She frowned, and tapped the space next to the words she wrote down. “It’s never too early to be thinking about the culture festival!”

When she saw no one else was going to challenge her, she continued, addressing her class.

“Summer break is the perfect time to group together—as classmates,” she added as an afterthought, “and think about what our class will do in order to defeat—er, enhance the school’s reputation, and enlighten the community about the wonderful job our students are committed to.”

It was no secret. Ms. Chono thrived in the type of environment where she could show herself off, almost as if she depended on the attention. She was known to be very competitive in any of the school activities that called for homeroom participation. Unfortunately, last year, her class had been outshined by the senior class from the previous year and their food stand (one of the students had come from a chain of family owned restaurants). But now that the threat had graduated, she was fully focused on having the best class of the year—even at expense of their summer break fun.

“I’m just reminding you all of the upcoming events come second term…but it doesn’t hurt to be thinking about them during your vacation.” She grinned, and the gloss on her lips sparkled.

No one said anything.

She sighed, and placed the chalk on the board. “No one has any ideas?” she asked, the bit of hope in her voice trying to reach tired students.

There were few voices whispering amongst each other, but the students hesitated to speak their minds. When the silence was too much to bear, the bell rang, signaling the end of the day. The students remained in their seats and waited for Ms. Chono to dismiss them.

Defeated, and ego deflated, she shrugged. “Fine. Dismissed. Just make sure to think up something for next class. Something good,” she corrected.

Everyone filed out naturally, and Ryou caught a glimpse of Yugi and Kaiba up ahead of the mob.

He himself lifted his things from the floor and headed for the lockers.

He didn’t expect Jonouchi, Honda, and Anzu to already be there. They were gathered around his, and Anzu waved at him as he approached.

“Hey! We missed you at lunch.” She already wore her non-school shoes on her feet.

“Did Yugi give you the bread we bought for you? We weren’t sure if you liked that type…” Jonouchi looked over at Honda, “but I think it’s pretty good.”

“You think all food is pretty good,” Honda leaned next to him.

“Oh, yes. Thank you.” He opened his locker and took out his shoes.

“Yeah, I saw you come into the cafeteria but you left pretty quick. Thought you’d go up to the roof but you weren’t there. Did you eat in the classroom?” Honda asked.

Ryou wasn’t sure if he was still wary or if it was real concern, but he answered anyway.

“No, I went to the vending machines and spent some time there.”

There was a pause. “Really? Huh.”

Jonouchi slapped Honda’s arm, earning a glare from him.

“Well, whatever. We did hear though…that your dad came to pick you up last time.”

Ryou was tying his shoes.

“And!” Anzu shoved her way between the taller boys. “We were hoping to catch him after school and ask him if you could come on Saturday!”

He tightened the laces and looked up at the two beaming faces of Anzu and Jonouchi. Honda was a few ways behind, but still near.

“You…still want me to go?”

Jonouchi looked at him as if he were crazy. “Wha—? Of course we want you to come, Bakura!”

“Please! This might be the last time we get together like this before we graduate!”

There’s something he hadn’t thought about: graduation.

“Plus, Yugi’s mom is a really good cook!”

Anzu elbowed him. “That isn’t the reason we’re going to his house! We’re going because it’s his birthday!”

“Ow, jeez. I know, I’m just saying…” he rubbed his midsection. “So anyway, we thought we’d wait with you. See if we can talk him into it…”

“W-well, I don’t know. He’s a busy man. He might not even show up today.” Ryou slung his bag over one shoulder and made a start for the entrance. “And I wouldn’t want to keep you guys for too long.”

“It’s fine. We can wait. If he doesn’t come, I can walk you home,” Anzu assured.

His heart got lost somewhere in the space between throat and stomach.

“Yeah. And maybe we can share ideas for Yugi’s present—”

“You still haven’t bought one?”

Jonouchi’s voice went small. “No…” he admitted full of shame.

“Unbelievable! What about you, Honda?” Anzu directed her glare to the teen furthest behind.

“I, er… I can’t tell you. Then it wouldn’t be a surprise.”

She grumbled, but bought his bluff. “Fine. I won’t tell you guys what I bought, either.”

“No one’s askin’,” Jonouchi shot back, earning him a heel to his toe.

They spend about five minutes at the front gates, each head swerving from side to side trying to catch sight of a car they had no idea what it looked like. Ryou with the smallest inkling of hope that his father would forget about him, tied up with Mr. Yoshimori at museum and not show up, stood behind.  But after the sixth minute exactly, the rental car he recognized as his father’s pulled up, and his hopes were dashed.

Jonouchi gasped. “Is that him? He’s coming this way.” A pause. “It has to be—he has white hair.”

Honda bumped him on the back of the head. “Lots of old people have white hair, dumbass—” He stopped himself and turned to Ryou. “…not that your dad’s old…” he coughed.

Sure enough, the bespectacled man looked around unsure of himself, but when he spotted Ryou, his face broke into a gentle smile.

“Ryou,” he called.

Ryou looked around himself. Anzu and Jonouchi were looking from his father to him, no doubt, making comparisons of their features already.

“Oh, are these your school mates?” he said when he approached him. “Ah, I recognize you. Honda?”

“Yes, sir.” Honda answered politely.

“It’s nice to see you again.”

“It’s nice to see you again, too, Mr. Bakura.”

Ryou’s father nodded.

“I’m Jonouchi Katsuya! I’m Bakura’s friend, too!”

“I’m Mazaki Anzu. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Bakura.”

“Yes, very nice to meet all of you,” he smiled. “Very reassuring to see my son is being taken care of by such good classmates here.” He turned to Ryou approvingly. “Are you ready to go? Do you need a moment to say goodbye? Or do you have some sort of club you have to go to…?”

“N-no, we can leave,” he said quickly. They both turned to leave, but Anzu called out.

“Wait! We wanted to ask you something!”

Mr. Bakura turned to the girl, and then to Ryou with a questioning look.

“Oh, I’m sorry for my manners—it’s just that…” she looked at Jonouchi for help.

The teen rubbed the back of his neck, nervous for being put on the spot so suddenly.

“Oh, uh, let’s see…” He looked over to Honda who, turned to one side. He groaned and started over. “See, we’re planning a surprise party for a buddy of ours. He’s turning eighteen in a coupla days and his mom and grandpa said it was ok already but…we wanted to know if it was ok for Ryou to come too…”

Mr. Bakura was taken aback by the news. He looked from Ryou to his friends, and said, “Why of course he can go! Why are you even asking me?”

“O-oh, well, we thought since you work out of the country an’ all, you might want to spend time with him?” Jonouchi finished not quite sure of himself.

“You can even come, too, Mr. Bakura! Our friend Yugi—his grandpa spent some time in Egypt. I’m sure you both have a lot to learn from one another,” Anzu added.

“My, my…well, I’ll certainly think about it,” he laughed. He fixed his glasses further up his nose. “But rest assured, Ryou has my permission to spend as much time with you as he can. Don’t let my visit stop you from your usual activities.”

“Wait, so, does that mean…?” Jonouchi looked at Anzu, Honda, and Ryou.

“Didn’t you hear? He already said yes,” Honda cleared up for him.

His brain lagged for a moment, and then his face beamed as he looked to Ryou. “That’s great!” He made a move to throw his arm around Ryou’s shoulder, but stopped himself from showing overt affection in front of his father. He opted for a much calmer pat on the shoulder. “You gotta call me later—we can share ideas for birthday presents!”

Ryou nodded. “I’ll try to remember…”

They waved him off as Ryou walked with his father to his rental car.

The doors slammed shut and Mr. Bakura began yet another attempt at conversation with his son as he drove.

“No, I think I have an idea what to give him,” he answered his father after he had offered to take him shopping.

“Hmm, is that so? What is this Yugi fellow like anyway?” he asked at a stop.

Ryou hugged his bag.

“He’s really nice. He was one of the first friends I made at this school. I think I owe a lot to him…”

His father hummed in approbation. “You sound like you’re very fond of him. It makes me almost want to meet him and thank him for being your friend,” Mr. Bakura smiled.

For the first time since his visit, Ryou smiled back.

When they passed the street that led to the museum, Ryou asked, “Are we stopping here today again?”

Distracted by driving, his father took a moment to answer. “No, I’ve already talked with Yoshimori today. I’m headed back to my hotel right now. Something came up and the person I left in charge of the excavation needs me for some urgent business. I told him I’d call him sometime today.”

“Does that mean you’re heading back soon?”

He interpreted his son’s look as one of disappointment. “Well…I’ll have to see what this urgent business is. From the little he told me, it sounded as if someone else was trying to get permission on one of the other areas near the Valley of Kings and take a gander there. It’s all very strange business…I should have left someone else in charge, if I’m being honest here.”

Ryou had to admit, it was strange to him, too. The Valley of Kings—he’d been there earlier that year. Everything that had to do with it had met its conclusion. But that didn’t mean other people knew about the release of Pharaoh Atem’s soul into the underworld. Maybe just a local looking for anything unfound by archeologists, antique enthusiasts, or careless tomb dwellers. It might not even be Atem’s tomb that his father was talking about, but for some reason, that was what his mind went to…

By the time he knew it, his father had already parked his car at the curb of his apartment and peered up at the squalor of a building. The area was mainly inhabited by retired businessmen and housewives, and was a fairly safe neighborhood. Still, it did little to alleviate the worn look of many of the old buildings there.

He’d asked why Ryou chose to live there rather than the fourteen-story building he had chosen for him at first, but the boy chose to withhold the information from him. He’d disapproved initially, but the rent was significantly lower in this place, and he wasn’t one to complain when it came to saving money.

“Are you comfortable here?” he peered up at the second story.

Ryou was already exiting the car. “Yes. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. I thought perhaps you might want to move somewhere…closer to your school?”

He slid his bag off the car floor. “No, I’m…all right here.”

Mr. Bakura looked around the neighborhood again. A woman was sweeping dust off her veranda. He sighed. “If you say so.” Ryou turned towards the stairs, and he rolled the window down. “And if you need anything, Ryou…” His son glanced over his shoulder.

“Call you, right?”

The older man knit his brows. He supposed it was his fault that his own son was so distant with him. He nodded and forced the remainder of a smile. “That’s right.”

He stayed in his car, looking at the front door of the closed apartment—and when the sweeping woman started eyeing him with a narrowed glare, he decided it was finally time to go.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: An Ill Wind

He expected to be met at the door—like always—a smirk from the table, the tossing of a deck from across—but he wasn’t.

After the click of the latch and a change of shoes, Ryou found himself maneuvering around his apartment, by himself, getting things ready. Before the Spirit showed himself, he liked to finish his assignments or as much as he could of them before beginning with whatever the other had planned for the day.

He took out his homework, laying it out neatly on the floor in front of the TV, and then took out the gift Yugi had given him earlier that day. He could smell the filling, although the wrapped bread had gone cold long ago. His fingers began the task of unwrapping it, and then he set it on the edge of a cushion while he turned on his television. The evening news was on but Ryou didn’t care enough to change the channel.

As the program droned on, a suitable noise to fill the silence, he munched on his food, and rifled through the papers he had to read for the day. His pencils were neatly placed at the edges of the same papers, pens ready to underline the parts of his notes he thought important.

The woman giving the evening news kept him company while the crinkling of the wrapper added to the symphony.

“In other news, Commissioner of the Police Force received an anonymous tip that underground activity near Roppongi was taking place… cooperative investigation with … Hills building, an uncertain number of pills…”

He bit at his food, half-listening to the reporters, and then picked up his pencil to write in his answer. He stopped, looking at it, squinting, and then erased it. He tossed the pencil aside, and it rolled under the sofa.

Sighing, he looked at the clock on the kitchen wall and noted it was half-past five. His father had dropped him off not less than two hours since. Ryou stood, careful not to step on his unfinished food or papers, and gazed out the window. He saw an airplane flying in the distance leaving a smoky white trail to mark its path. Then it was gone.

Seeing that there was no one outside, he closed the flimsy curtains over the glass and went to his kitchen to get himself something to drink.

Pouring water into a cup, he cast a glance at the door.

“He could at least tell me what’s going on…” Ryou muttered, setting his glass down.

He looked at his homework—the finished pile about as equal in thickness as the unfinished pile—and pressed his lips together.

“Well, it’s not due until next week. I can take a break...” He scooped up his food and downed the rest of it in one bite. His feet carried him to his room, where he opened the closet door and knelt one the floor. Still chewing, he dug through the mess, folding some of the fallen clothing as he looked for what had been on his mind since dismissal.

In truth, he had already been planning on giving something very special to Yugi regardless of the occasion. However, he hadn’t done so already, and his plans to give it to him sooner had been derailed.

Mess taken care of, Ryou sat on his haunches staring at the camera in his hands.

He flipped it over and found the button to turn it on; the screen lit up and showed him the bottom of his closet.

“Would this be enough?” he wondered aloud. He sat in a more comfortable position, and began to scroll through his pictures. After a few seconds, he stopped, finding the ones he had been looking for.

Yugi stood next to Isis and Anzu.

And then a second one—the whole group was just outside the market square.

Jonouchi, Honda, Anzu, Rishid, Isis, Otogi, Yugi’s grandpa, himself…and Yugi again. Malik had taken that picture, he recalled.

Ryou stared at that one the longest. Everyone was grinning madly—Yugi, however, had a very composed smirk.

He touched the screen with the tip of his finger and felt the cold hard surface of it.

“Were your final moments peaceful?” he asked him—he asked Pharaoh Atem. Ryou’s eyes strayed to the Millennium puzzle around his neck. Sure, Isis and Rishid also wore their golden earrings and bracelets, but the inverted pyramid was far more eye-catching to Ryou than the other jewelry. The Eye stared at him—almost beckoning him through the frozen moment.

The Millennium Puzzle had held the soul of the Pharaoh. That’s why when Yugi wore it, he could swap places with him—like he and the Spirit.

There was a second pull—the Items hidden away in his closet. The puzzle was there, pieced together in the exact same way the picture demonstrated.

He flicked his gaze from the photograph to where the box lay, having a sudden thought.

What would happen if the Millennium Puzzle was revived? If the Item was given to Yugi? His fingers tapped impatiently on the lens of his camera. He looked at the prideful gaze of the Pharaoh, there, between the lands that borne him and the friends he made on his long journey. He looked at the smiles, the look of joy, and then he saw himself, standing amongst the crowd, surrounded but not interacting with anyone. Ryou simply took his place and smiled for the camera. He didn’t even have the Ring on in the picture. His chest was empty.

Without realizing it, the pull from the Items stopped, and his fingers touched the screen again.

Not much time passed, but sitting there digging up old memories, Ryou hardly noticed the minutes passing at all. Of their own accord, his hands turned off his camera and then it was his sad reflection on the black screen he was looking at.

A voice behind was what cut through his reverie.

“Reminiscing?”

He turned around where he sat, Items and camera forgotten.

The Spirit grinned at him from his bed. It wasn’t his usual smile, full of superiority and defiance to everything. It was more defined at the edges—not as jagged.

Ryou set the camera to one side. He looked at the clock, and then at the Spirit who hadn’t moved, but his smile had disappeared.

“I didn’t hear you come in,” he stated. His voice wasn’t his.

The Spirit shrugged. “You never do.” He lifted himself off the bed and stood over Ryou blocking the dying sunlight from the window.

“If you must know something…the peace he got was more than he deserved.” The words he drew out held something beneath the surface Ryou couldn’t access—secrets he never knew existed. He stared up at the Spirit, wondering what was behind all that anger and bitterness. He wanted to know how such animosity between the Spirit and the Pharaoh had survived over three millennia—or even more—what caused it to begin in the first place.

Why do you hate him so much?” he almost asked. Ryou had known Atem to be good—justified in his actions. He protected those who were important to him, and defended their lives even if his own existence was a stake. Ryou couldn’t understand how much rage someone had to have within them for it to continue after time and death. He couldn’t understand what made someone hate like the Spirit did.

A hand came between them—the Spirit was extending his arm down to Ryou.

For a moment, his own was coming up to meet it, but then he withdrew it, pressing it against the ground for balance, and heaving himself up.

If the Spirit was bothered by it, he didn’t say anything. All he said was: “Come on. I’ve got something for you to do.”

Ryou looked over his shoulder. “Don’t you always?”

A grin was brandished in his direction as a response. He followed Ryou closely, hovering over his shadow as they walked from bedroom to kitchen, where there were cards already laid out on the table.

The Spirit leaned lazily over the display, smiling all the while. “I’ve been thinking…” he started.

“Have you?” Ryou interrupted, making the Spirit’s grin stretch. He sat down, inspecting the upturned cards. He took one and read the bottom: [Spellcaster/Effect] During your Standby Phase, increase your Life Points by 400 points for each monster on the field.

As he looked closely, Ryou noticed the frayed edges on the card. There was a scrape on the border of it that smudged the gloss. He took another one, Maiden of the Moonlight. It was definitely not new. His eyes scanned the rest of the cards, where the conditions ranged from almost new, to worn. None were considered unplayable, however.

Ryou set the two cards in his hand down. “Where did you even get these cards?” he asked, suspicious already. The cards the Spirit had brought with him had been always close to mint condition, a sign that they had been packaged not too long before they used them. The ones on the table, however, had had previous owners, unless the Spirit was purposely tearing them for some unknown reason.

The Spirit breezed past his question and posed a new one of his. “Your character is a Mage, isn’t it?” He straightened himself and took a separate deck of cards from his coat.

Ryou frowned. “My character? What does that have to do with—”

“Monster World. White Mage, aren’t you?” He thumbed through the cards, not looking once at his host.

Ryou paused before answering with a slow nod. “Yes.” He looked towards the room where all his Monster World figures and dioramas were. “I didn’t think you’d remember something like that.”

The Spirit’s fingers stopped as he was laying out the cards face-up on his side. His face grew hard. “Oh, I remember it quite clearly.”

“As to what I was saying earlier,” he continued, picking one of the many cards from the deck, “I think I know why you’ve been having…trouble…with our games.” He thrust the chosen card forward for Ryou to take.

“Trouble…?” he muttered, as if he couldn’t believe the Spirit admitted it to his face.

“Most of the cards I’ve given you to use have been Fiend types.” He waited for Ryou to finish reading the card’s description. “Clearly, your affinity is not the same. It’s Spellcaster.” He looked pleased with his conclusion, excited even, to test out his theory.

“How would you know that?” Ryou set down Twin-Headed Wolf that the Spirit had handed to him. He scanned the rest of the cards, knowing he’d seen a familiar one when he had noticed their conditions. Finding Witch of the Black Forest sitting between Doriado and Lady of Faith he pointed at it before picking it up. “We’ve used this one before. And…I lost.” Even then, he felt frustrated admitting it. “How is changing the cards going to help? You plan the games for you to win anyway.”

The Spirit pulled a second chair from beneath the small table, and sat next to Ryou. He tilted his head to lean on his arm and smiled. “If you’d really lost, host, you wouldn’t be sitting next to me.”

Ryou glanced at him from behind his card. “Does that mean if you lost against me, you would die?” After he said that, he suddenly realized how blunt his question was, but it was too late to re-word his sentence. The Spirit gave him a blank stare until laughter escaped him and Ryou was surprisingly relieved to hear it.

“Planning to kill me? I didn’t think you had it in you.” He leaned forward. “I’m curious as to how you would go about it, because clearly…” he motioned to the cards on the table, “you’d never defeat me at a Shadow Game.”

Appalled, Ryou blurted out between the Spirit’s laughter: “That’s not why I asked!” He set the cards down and looked anywhere but the Spirit next to him.

“No?” He narrowed his eyes.  “And here I thought we’d reached a breakthrough.” He tapped his fingers nonchalantly on the surface of the table, gazing at his host as he flustered before him. Ryou wrung his hands, or if he wasn’t, he continuously fixed the long strands of hair nearest his ear. When he was done, he’d keep the hand there, burying it in the white locks.

Ryou tried to distance himself from the situation, but his mind kept returning to what the Spirit had said. He peeked at him once more only to find him looking back in his direction. Ryou pretended to read the cards on the Spirit’s side of the table.

“You’re always saying that,” he muttered, adjusting Doriado on his side. “That I’m only alive because we never finish our games. What would happen…” Ryou blinked at the Spirit, who’s attention was fully on him as he spoke. “If we did finish a game? If one of our Life Points reached zero? I was there during the Shadow Game with,” he seemed to struggle with the name, “Pegasus and he didn’t die. So why do you say that in our games, one of us would?”

The Spirit leaned back. “Rather talkative today, aren’t you?” He scratched his cheek with the edge of a card and then tossed it back on the table.

“I’m not making conversation just for the sake of it, if that’s how you’re interpreting this,” Ryou commented tersely. “I know you never answer honestly, anyway, so why do I even bother,” he added mostly to himself, but the Spirit was well within earshot.

“I can be honest,” the Spirit said, “You just can’t tell the difference.”

Ryou snorted, and picked up another card: Pixie Knight.

He wondered when they would start their game when the Spirit, surprisingly, began to answer his question.

“Pegasus played to steal souls, not destroy them. During his Shadow Game with the vessel, he was planning to take it. That was his Penalty Game.”

That was the first Ryou heard of the term. “Penalty Game?”

The Spirit made a sound between a grunt and a laugh. “The winner of a Shadow Game decides what to do with the loser. The default outcome is of course death,” he shrugged, “but some get more creative.”

Ryou was quick to suppress a shudder. The term ‘creative’ to describe the horrible actions done by Pegasus was incredibly morbid to say the least. He didn’t dwell on it too long. “But Yugi won that duel, so Pegasus couldn’t take his soul. And he freed everyone else when Yugi beat him, too.”

The Spirit nodded, unable to meet Ryou’s gaze.

“So, what would yours be?” He glanced down at the cards on the table. “If we did finish a Shadow Game one day? What would be your Penalty Game to me?” His attention remained on the cards. He lined them up neatly side by side, feeling the paper underneath his fingers.

There was a long stretch of silence that consisted of the Spirit staring at an indistinct section of the kitchen wall, and Ryou staring at the cards, mindlessly aligning them. He felt the Spirit’s movement, maybe adjusting his arm, or sitting up. He didn’t look to see.

Finally, when the Spirit answered, his voice was barely above a murmur. He cast a furtive glance at Ryou, before saying, “I wouldn’t.”

He couldn’t tell if he was breathing, but something rose in his chest, and he wasn’t sure if it was relief or disbelief. Ryou furrowed his brows, disregarding the tone of honesty, unfamiliar in the other. “Right. You need me alive,” he muttered, a feeling of despondency in his chest, too small to be understood.

The clock on the wall ticked between the seconds. The Spirit watched Ryou’s fingers hover over the cards, unable to keep their movements going. His wrist came down to rest on the wood, and the Spirit was newly aware of how thin Ryou’s hands were. He glanced down at his own without much interest.

“That’s right,” he confirmed without looking at him.

Soon after, and rather abruptly, the Spirit stood from his chair, the legs of it scraping loudly on the floor. He paced to the furthest end of the room, and looked between the sofa, TV, and the kitchen table.

“You asked earlier,” he paused, “how changing card affinity would help.” Not bothering to hear confirmation from Ryou, he went on. “I wanted to make it easier for you to summon…” He rubbed his cheek, digging at his skin too hard for the gesture to be called a scratch.

“We’re doing something different today,” he added with an air of indifference. He moved to the center of the living room, and pushed the couch back against the wall with his foot. Ryou watched him quietly until the Spirit was done, and finally met his gaze. “You’re going to summon a Spirit Monster.”

He blinked, the previous conversation from the last time they played coming back to him.

“But…” He didn’t know how to even begin to phrase his questions. Ryou frowned. “I don’t have a Duel Disk.”

“That’s not the type of summoning I’m talking about.” The Spirit strode over to the table again, choosing a Spellcaster card at random and holding it up. “You’ll do it without one. Using your soul.”

Ryou blinked in confusion. “What—”

“At first I thought maybe it was just your weak soul unable to take the strain of a Shadow Game,” the Spirit interrupted. “So I wanted to expose you to them first. And then when that wasn’t working, I thought, maybe it’s your monsters.” Ryou tried to break into the one-sided conversation again, but the Spirit paid him no heed. “And then I said,” he turned to Ryou. “Maybe I should have taught you this first.” He took the card and handed it to Ryou. “So why not combine all three?”

He faced away from Ryou again, contemplating the space he’d made. Meanwhile, behind him, Ryou sat, trying to make sense of what the Spirit had said.

“I don’t understand—” He shook the thought from his head. “Haven’t we already been summoning? You said we play Shadow Games with our soul…” He frowned, thinking. “And if that’s true, technically I’ve been summoning monsters already.”

The Spirit addresses him over his shoulder. “Oh, you have. Except there is one thing you haven’t been able to do.” He turned towards him. “You haven’t properly manifested one.”

Ryou, still in disbelief, looked down at the monster cards. “Is that even possible without a Duel Disk?” As far as he knew, it was KaibaCorp technology that was able to bring forth hyper-realistic, holographic images of the monsters printed on the cards. Before they had been mass-produced, duelist had played Duel Monsters on a table, like any other card game, just like the Spirit and he had been doing up until then.

“Of course it is. How do you think this game was played in ancient times? There weren’t any Duel Disks,” the Spirit frowned.

“But…”

“What? Do you think magic like that just disappears after humanity hits a certain era?” he snapped. “You’ve seen it for yourself.” He took a step forward, and Ryou looked up at him. The Spirit flipped the card in his hand and showed it to his host, now looking more willing to try the impossible. “The game was played using ka sealed in stone tablets,” he said. His eyes may have been on the back of the card, but his mind was millennia in the past, recalling the ancient information lost for years until Pegasus unearthed those secrets. “They were summoned by priests, mostly,” his eyes took on a malicious glint as he continued. “But others had the ability to use ka without relying on those tablets.” He grinned. “It was a bit of an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it…” he said, growing tired of his tangent, “but that’s neither relevant or important right now.” He tilted the card again and the light caught on its gloss. “These are the modern versions of those tablets. They hold the same magic in them for anyone that knows how to use it.” He shrugged. “About the only thing good that came of Pegaus’ pitiful existence.” The Spirit tossed the card onto the table and it landed right in front of Ryou’s arm. The boy had been listening to his words, not missing a single one.

He hadn’t known anything about what the Spirit had told him. Never having been one to play the card game as seriously as Yugi and Jonouchi, Ryou had little reason to trace the lore behind the making of the cards. All he knew of them was that the creator had been Pegasus, and that the man was dead, taking much of their secrets with him to the grave. He looked down at the art on the card, and then to the Spirit. The only one that could tell him of their ancient secrets stood before him. The Spirit knew, and he was one of the few existences left that knew what power they held—perhaps the last one.

Ryou could feel himself buzzing with a sudden excitement. “How do I do it?” he asked. His voice almost cracked. Their impromptu partnership had been formed with Ryou wanting to know how the Spirit survived the final duel with the Pharaoh. That was what he strived to learn from the other. Yet now, here he was being presented with knowledge he hadn’t known he wanted.

It was real magic. It was ancient. And he wanted to know how to use it. He wanted to see it—if only to prove to himself that it was possible. He had never been a skeptic—always a believer of the supernatural. Studying tarot, late nights sitting in front of a board, channeling his energies to find roaming spirits in the dark—Ryou had an interest, but did he have the talent for it? He never made contact with a lost ghost, nor did he ever receive answers to the repeated question, “Are you there?” It was natural to grow doubtful of the existence of something like magic, but it was much easier to be doubtful of his own abilities. If their Shadow Games had been successful at anything, it was chipping away at his confidence in such things.

But this wasn’t a Shadow Game. Like the Spirit said, a game like that caused too much strain on someone inexperienced. From the sound of it, there was more to them than knowledge of the rules of Duel Monsters.

The Spirit’s indifference was beginning to wane. Seeing his host so willing thrilled him in a way he couldn’t explain. His mouth quirked at one corner when he saw Ryou going over the countless cards spread before him.

“Choose one,” he said, even though Ryou was already doing just that. “Don’t worry—they’re all weak. Something easy for starters.”

Ryou’s eyes easily strayed to the glossier cards first, reading name after name, some familiar, others not. Saggi the Dark Clown for example—he had seen Kaiba use it at some point. He had also run into Crystal Seer in one of the packs he had opened when building his occult deck, too, but left that one aside for now. His eyes went further up the table, glancing quickly over the less noteworthy of the cards. He stopped when he caught sight of the words ‘White Magician.’ Ryou picked up the card and saw the little character, robed in white and holding a shining staff. Upon closer look, the full name of the card was White Magician Pikeru.

Having seen what Ryou had taken from the collection, the Spirit leaned on his hand, and waited for his host to finish choosing. “Cute,” he said, the sarcastic tone gone unmissed. Ryou flicked his gaze at him, about to say something but stopping short. He set White Magician Pikeru down and leaned forward, shortening the distance between them.

“What’s that one?” he pointed. The Spirit raised an eyebrow at him before looking down. His elbow obscured one of the cards, making only the blue shoes visible. He picked it up, ignoring Ryou’s outstretched hand, and stared at the meek magician demurely peeking back at him.

Silent Magician, the card read. He stared some more, unable to understand why suddenly, the card annoyed him as much as it did. For a second, he thought he had seen it somewhere before, played against it… But he was sure he had never seen the card until then. Agitated, he hadn’t noticed how tight his fingers gripped the card.

He was brought out of his bitter musings by Ryou, tugging gently at the card.

“You’ll rip it the way you’re holding it,” he said, features cross. The Spirit let go easily enough, still glaring at the back of it. Ryou inspected Silent Magician for less than a second before he said, “I’ll choose this one.”

“Why that one?” the Spirit grumbled. He was trying to hide his irrational annoyance at the card but was failing miserably.

Ryou was silent for a moment before he answered. “It reminds me of my White Mage,” he said simply. His lips quirked at the edges—was that a smile?

The Spirit blinked, and it was gone.

“Now what?” Ryou had already stood up, still admiring the card.

Still irked and stunned, the Spirit tried not to dwell on the feeling too much, and agreed.

He straightened himself, grabbing a card at random and beckoned his host toward him. He looked at the card once, and moved his lips in silence as he read the name.

Ryou stood close behind, trying to see what card the Spirit had taken.

“Hmm,” Ryou said directly behind the Spirit’s shoulder. The other turned slightly so that his profile was visible. “Ebon Magician Curran,” Ryou read aloud. He looked up and realized how close he was to the Spirit. As inconspicuous as possible, he stepped back, and pretended to look at his own card.

The Spirt repositioned himself in the center of the living room. He faced down at the carpet where minutes ago, Ryou had sat. The television was still on, but Ryou wasn’t sure what program it was. Regardless, his attention was elsewhere—on the Spirit.

“It’s been a long time since I did this with an audience.” Ryou could feel the grin that came with the statement. “Now, watch me first.” With a flick of his wrist, the Spirit flipped the card away form him. There was a brief flash of light and then—

Ryou scanned the room, expecting the small magician girl to appear dead center, like it usually happened with Duel Disk technology, but all he saw was an empty carpet, and a pizza commercial to the side. He knit his brows. The excitement died down, and disappointment settled in. “That’s it? I don’t, hmm…” He squinted.

“What do you mean ‘that’s it’?” the Spirit answered. “Can’t you see?” He gestured to the sofa narrowing his eyes.

“Well…I do see,” the Spirit’s eyes almost lit up as Ryou spoke, “that I’ve left my things out.” His pens and papers were still laid out on the floor. He avoided the other’s gaze, faintly aware that apparently, something should have happened, but he hadn’t noticed it. He was overly conscious of the leer the Spirit was giving him, and moved aside. “I should pick this up first, and then you can show me again.” He bent forward to grab his folders when a stack of notes scattered away from him. Ryou froze. He stretched out his hand toward them again when he felt a gust of cold air, as if something was there in the spot before him. He looked back at the Spirit and blinked.

He had his arms crossed over his chest, face pensive. “Do you at least feel it?” he asked slowly. His eyes flicked down to the spot where Ryou’s papers were.

His host looked between he and his homework. “I thought I felt something just now…” he answered honestly. His mind reeled—was there really something there?

“This happened in our duels, too,” the Spirit muttered. He stepped forward, stopping next to Ryou. “You can’t see them…but you can feel them.” He knitted his eyebrows in thought. “I thought if I took the strain of a Shadow game away, your mind could focus better…It shouldn’t be affecting you…” It was clear the conversation wasn’t meant to be contributed to. Ryou listened, and the Spirit continued to think out loud. “I knew some people certainly aren’t attuned to it but that shouldn’t be the case with you…not to have been my vessel.” He frowned again, clearly off-put by the outcome of the situation. “I’ve seen it. You’re capable of harnessing it,” he said, addressing Ryou face to face. “So what’s keeping you from doing it now?” He took one step forward, looking into his eyes.

Unable to keep such close proximity without feeling stifled, Ryou stepped back, knocking his pencil case under the TV stand. “I’m not sure what you mean,” he said, looking at the reflection of the television screen on the farthest window. It was just a blue square, the picture indistinguishable, but nevertheless, his attention remained on it. “Am I supposed to see something that’s not there?” he insisted for answers.

“I’ve seen it,” the Spirit repeated. He was too into his own thoughts that he missed his host’s inquiries. “You can summon that White Mage, and you can—” He stopped, piecing the memories of Monster World from his mind. His hand touched the Ring hanging around his chest and then he glanced at Ryou. The Spirit knew he was able to use magic, perhaps not the one Bakura was experienced with, but able to use it nonetheless. It hadn’t been a fluke that time, not for Ryou to have used another one of the Millennium Ring’s abilities as well. There was something blocking him, stopping him from reaching the full potential that the Spirit needed him to reach. His hand tightened around the golden Item again, and on impulse, he took it off. The Ring hung between them, suspended only from the string held in the Spirit’s grip.

“Perhaps you need something to help you tune it first,” he said, still musing. His vision hardened on Ryou. “Here. Wear it.”

Unsure, Ryou looked down at the Ring. It glinted in the light, catching the artificial rays and bouncing them off. He wanted to know if it would make a difference as much as the Spirit did, but—

His hand carefully closed around the string, brushing the Spirit’s hand as he did so. The other’s fingers unclenched, and the weight rested solely in Ryou’s hold. It was much lighter than he remembered. The surface twinkled again, and slowly, the string bound his neck. He thought he heard the Spirit’s suck on his teeth, but his attentions now shifted to the ancient item. He felt something when he put it on—a faint stirring in his chest. It was as if soft murmurs, many voices, whispered through him.

“—host,” came the Spirit’s voice again.

“Huh?” He blinked into the other’s gaze, and he blinked back.

“I was saying,” he said, enigmatic as ever, “try summoning your monster.”

Ryou Bakura remembered who he was and what he had been doing. “Oh, right.” He searched his pocket for the card he had hidden there.

“You looked so excited before, I thought you’d jump at the opportunity now.” He was still being scrutinized.

“Yes, of course” he said, not minding his words. He found the card rather quickly and looked at the print.

The Spirit looked him down, unblinking. “Maybe I was a bit,” he stepped forward, hand outstretched, “precipitated in letting you have that—”

Clear on his intentions, Ryou sidestepped him. “No—” He almost yelled, but the Spirit stopped anyway, gauging him from a distance. “No,” Ryou cleared his throat. “Let me try.” He was sure to avoid the Spirit’s lingering gaze as he turned away from him.

He had seen him mutter words before doing whatever he did. “Am I supposed to say something first?” he asked.

The Spirit was quiet before answering with a clear, “No.” He moved up behind Ryou, and he was faintly aware of him standing there. “Just try the name first.”

Still nervous, he continued to stall, taking another step away and protecting the Ring. “And you think the Ring will help…?”

Again, the silence first. “It might help channel your soul.”

He nodded and took a breath.

“Will I be able summon correctly like this?” he asked, uncertainty showing in his eyes as he looked over his shoulder. “You said something like that before…that I couldn’t see the monsters, but I would be able to in time. Is that what the Ring is for?”

He heard the Spirit shift behind him to stand arm to arm. “The Ring bestows great power to the wielder,” he started. “I remember you using it. You’ve summoned White Mage using your own soul. Try doing the same with the monster on that card.”

Ryou was quiet, admiring Silent Magician. “And you don’t think I was able to because of you?” He turned to the Spirit, who had also been staring at the card in Ryou’s hand. “You were part of me before. Maybe I was only able to do those things because—because we shared—” He glanced down at himself, but the answer he sought was quick to come.

“No.” The Spirit’s voice cut through his uncertainty.

He took another breath, breathing deeply, and gathered his courage, preparing for disappointment. He tried at first, to channel the way as it’s done to talk to a departed soul. But immediately, that felt off. There was no one to connect to—

He huffed, growing more aware of the presence behind him. Ryou could sense him there, like a second shadow, and tried to shake off the tingling he caused. He breathed once more, focusing on Silent Magician. Readying himself, he prepared this time as if he were before his Ouija board, feeling the card first…

And then he remembered what the Spirit advised. He thought to that first game, the very first one, where his friends’ lives depended on him— the defiance, the self-less act…

Perhaps one of those three was the key, or maybe it was a combination of them all.

But when he opened his eyes, before him there was an outline—two he realized. They were approximately the same height standing next to one another. There were no features present in them, just a shaky silhouette waiting to be unlocked.

Ryou breathed out. He had been holding his breath, and gripping his card too tight.

The Spirit spoke near him. “Can you see them, Landlord?” he asked softly, as to not break Ryou’s concentration. He was looking in the same spot he was.

He turned to him, disbelief probably clear on his features. Ryou looked back to the outline, noticing the small details that made Silent Magician different from Ebon Magician Curran that the Spirit had summoned.

He nodded, touching the prongs of the Ring.

“Yes,” he said.


 

Ryou stood in the hall before entering the kitchen. His knuckle paused at the corner of his eye, mid-rub. “You’re still here,” he observed. He was surprised at his own nonchalance, and then his feet carried him past the Spirit and into the room.

He could sense the other watching him as he strolled past the chair where he sat. The Ring rested once again against his chest.

“And it’s been a very boring night.” The Spirit turned in his chair and the legs scraped against the floor. He rested his chin on the backrest and tapped his fingers impatiently against the wood.

“Were you expecting something to happen?” Ryou reached into his cabinet and took out a cup, the kettle already on the stovetop, ready for water.

“No,” he was answered, “but a little entertainment wouldn’t hurt.”

“I’ll be sure to stay up next time to keep you company,” Ryou said, not hiding his sarcasm. He yawned, and wiped the tears from his eyes. It was the Spirit’s idea to stay there, and Ryou had no obligation to make anything ‘entertaining’ for him.

“I’ll be sure to take you up on the offer,” the Spirit repeated in the same tone. He swirled in the chair and sat himself correctly.

There was a long gap of silence between the two as the water was poured into the kettle and came to a boil. Ryou filled his cup with steaming water and watched the tea leaves at the bottom rise and swirl to the surface before settling down again.

He himself settled into one of the chairs at the kitchen table, doubting only for a second his choice of action. The tea sat between them, a steady flow of steam rising in the air. Ryou took a sip, anticipating the scalding temperature, but swallowing the tea nonetheless.

It was Friday, yet the streets did not hold the usual sounds of a busy morning. There was only the Spirit’s tapping on the wood, and the clock following its steady rhythm.

Ryou sipped at his cup again, sneaking a glance at his houseguest. He knew not to offer food by that point.

“Are you going to be here all day?” he asked instead.

The Spirit’s head turned, slowly. “Plans for today?” There was an ounce of bitter humor in his tone the Ryou did not miss. He looked up from his cup to find an amused grin flashed in his direction. “Well, don’t let me stop you.” The fingers stopped, but the clock continued. “I’ll be here,” the Spirit added, “as long as you are.”

Ryou finished his tea and stood up. It was early enough that he could run his errand without prying eyes.

When he stood in his room, dressed and ready, he kneeled at the floor of his closet, and extracted his camera. He took out the memory card and pocketed it.

He rose, grabbing his bag off the foot of the bed, everything he needed neatly inside, and headed to the door.

“Here.” The Spirit stopped him, holding out his hand.

Ryou looked at it, the Millennium Key within his grasp.

“I thought you wanted to keep it,” he said. He looked at the clock—still plenty of time to spare.

The Spirit’s gaze lingered on him, measuring his reaction.

“If that’s everything,” he paused at the door, hand on the knob, “I’ll be going.” He turned it and pulled.

“Wait.”

Ryou stopped, adjusting the strap on his shoulder.

The Spirit looked at the Key. “Remember what I told you.” The gold shined for a moment, and then the Key was slipped into a pocket of his coat. He directed his gaze at Ryou, as if wanting to say something else, and then pursed his lips.

Ryou lowered his gaze back to the door, and upon hearing nothing else, stepped out.


 

He tiptoed around the strip, huffing. He had forgotten stores didn’t open so early.

“I guess I can come back later,” he muttered, stuffing his memory card back into his bag.

With a steady pace, Ryou trudged back to the station nearby, and waited for the next train. He stood between two business men carrying briefcases. They had crisp suits on, and expensive phones in their hands. Looking around, Ryou noticed that all the people waiting, were mainly adults in suits. He only saw one older woman at the furthest end, but she also carried herself with the same level of importance as the business men. There weren’t any students around that he could see, and the realization made him stand straighter, and grow more conscious of his posture

The train skidded to a stop before them and the doors opened automatically. Two people exited, and then the people waiting started boarding. Naturally, he let the closest to him walk ahead of him. Just the women thanked him, but the men strode past him without a second glance.

Seating himself where he could, Ryou finally saw school uniforms. He sat back, placing his bag on his lap, and out of the way of passengers. Thinking the train ride would be uneventful as usual, he was surprised when three girls sat just across from him. Their skirts were a different shade of blue than his trousers. The girl in the center even had a skirt reaching to her ankles. He tried to keep himself neutral, trying not to make eye contact with any of them when one of them spoke.

“Hey.” Her voice was stoic—not the type someone uses for conversation. The edge of it made him nervous, and he couldn’t ignore her—not when he knew he was being addressed.

Ryou acknowledged her with a smile, and the two girls next to her stifled their giggles. He smiled at them, too.

She stared him down some more, making him shift in his seat. He considered moving, but that would be exceptionally rude.

“Good morning?” he said, instead. If he talked to them, they might grow bored when they realized he hardly had anything interesting to say.

He heard the two girls’ whispers. “Oh my gosh, he’s got such a cute voice. Kyoko ask him what school he goes to!”

The girl named Kyoko glared.

“My friends like you,” she stated bluntly. She crossed her arms over her chest, reminding him of someone else. The two girls at her flanks squealed and covered their faces. He hadn’t expected the tone of his voice to incite them further.

A chime sounded overhead. “The doors will now close,” said a woman through the speakers.

Ryou was frankly unfamiliar with how to approach the situation. He had had his fair share of girls confessing to him at school during White Day, or just about every other week… But no one who spoke as bluntly as the girl sitting across from him. His fingers dug into his bag, trying to think of what to say.

“Hey,” she said again, tilting her head back. Was she trying to intimidate him?

Luckily, at that moment, the scene outside began to move. The train began to pick up speed, and soon everything was a blur.

“Yes?” He smiled again, and she narrowed her eyes.

“What school you go to?” The path curved, and Ryou had to brace himself for the inevitable swerve.

They hadn’t asked his name at least. He could give them a school name; his uniform practically gave away the information anyway. He pressed his lips and swallowed. “Domino.”

She scanned him, taking note of his pants, bag, and shirt. Her hardened glare came up to meet his again. “Hmph.” She crossed her leg, and that signaled the end of the conversation.

The rest of the ride, Ryou was left in peace. Occasionally, he would catch the lens of a camera pointing at him, but a quick swat from Kyoko’s hand stopped her friends from insisting on taking his picture with their phones.

When the speaker announced his stop, the girls did not hide their looks of disappointment. He slung his bag over one shoulder, and waited for the doors to slide open. Inwardly relieved, he was glad that it would be the last time he’d ever board that specific train at that time. The doors opened and when about to step out, he heard one last, “Hey.”

He turned. No one else in the compartment was stepping out—he wasn’t blocking anyone, and couldn’t use that as an excuse to get off quicker.

“You’ve got a nice face,” Kyoko said, tilting her head back again.

The heat to his face automatically rose, and probably doubled, when the other girls’ giggles.

“E-excuse me,” he stuttered out, stepping unsteadily onto the platform.

In a darker tone, he heard her say, “I won’t forget it.”

When the fresh air from outside hit him, he let out a sigh and didn’t look back.


 

The day went relatively well after that strange morning. Ryou kept up with his notes, he avoided Karita’s ire (although Jonouchi hadn’t), and even managed to finish his second day of cleaning duty with Kaiba without so much as a disapproving glare from him. Trainers back on his feet, Ryou left the school, and made his way to the electronics store. With two glossy photographs in an envelope, he stepped back out into the evening, and finally, headed home.

The walk was incredibly quiet.

Just like earlier, there were hardly any cars when there should have been—it was Friday, and even the most devout of businessmen would be heading home sometime. With the upcoming weekend, students his age should be loitering about, in school clothes or in outing garments.

Ryou continued his walk, pausing only to place the envelope into his bag.

He looked over his shoulder and saw two pages from a newspaper carried by the wind. He followed their looping paths until they were swept under a bench.

Strange. He hadn’t felt a gust.

He swung his bag over his shoulder, and checked his surroundings again.

Careful of any passerby, he asked under his breath, “Is that you?” He waited, looking for any signs of the Spirit nearby. His neck prickled, and a sense of dread overwhelmed him. He turned, a fast movement, but he didn’t see anyone, nor a trace of the Spirit’s presence.

When nobody answered, Ryou picked up his pace. The train station was only a block away, and he kept his eyes on the outlines of people walking past the entrance.

When he heard the robotic voice of the woman through the speakers, relief flooded through him, and he eased himself down the stairs. Weaving himself through the underground, Ryou sighed in one of the seats.

He put his bag into the one next to him—only he and another passenger had chosen that compartment. He looked out the window, scanning the dull surroundings of the subterrain. He saw nothing out of the ordinary—

So, what had that been earlier?

He opened his bag, making sure the photographs were still there. When he felt them between the pages of one of his books, he closed it.

Ryou looked out the window again.

Before, he had felt as if he were being watched.

He had thought it was the Spirit again—shadowing his path—but upon not receiving a response when he called out to him, his paranoia rose.

Ryou took the bag off the seat next to him, and placed it on his lap, holding it close.

If it hadn’t been the Spirit, could it have been what he was worried about that morning?

I’m not always close enough to you.

Had that been one of those times? Ryou had never thought he’d look forward to being monitored, but he couldn’t shake the awful sensation of before and desperately wanted to know what that had been. The hairs on the back of his head remained rigid.

He checked outside again, gaining a frown from the elderly woman on the other seat for fidgeting too much. He almost apologized, but she went back to reading her book.

The doors closed, and the train began to move forward.

Just one more commute, and he would be back in his apartment—safely.

He straightened himself upright, and sank back against the wall. Nothing could hurt him here, not with so many people on board—not with daylight, he told himself. Not with daylight.

Yet, there was a pull from outside that made him look up one more time.

As the train slowly gained speed, and as the underground was beginning to be left behind—

Ryou, with pinpoint accuracy, spotted a pair of eyes near the stairs, staring straight at him.

They were neither friendly, nor hostile, nor the eyes he came to know as the Spirit’s.

The only words he could use to describe the pair of eyes watching him were ‘pure gold.’


“Your father’s almost here,” he said to him.

“I know.” Ryou adjusted his collar.

“You haven’t slept,” Bakura told him.

Ryou blinked at him, weary looking, and slow. “You haven’t either.”

Bakura shrugged, leaning forward on the chair. He saw Ryou walk to his room, coming back with something in his hands. He briefly looked at the white envelope in his grasp, before flicking his eyes back at his tired face.

He had stayed up all night with him.

They hadn’t done much—other than sit. Ryou would doze off occasionally, and then startle himself awake. He had made himself sweets that—Bakura saw—were still on the table, untouched. Baking had been more of a distraction to keep himself awake, rather than an act of hunger.

Bakura on the other hand—his mind had been very active that night.

When he had arrived shortly after his host the day before, he had hardly entered the room before Ryou asked:

“Was it you?” His gaze was steady, but Bakura knew better than to trust that look.

“Was I what?” he responded, just as evenly. He stepped forward, noticing the apprehension Ryou greeted him with. He stopped, and remained where he stood. Without prompting him further, his host continued on his own.

“At the station. No—before it. Right when I came out of the shop.” His words were choppy—frantic, like he had been waiting all day to tell them to someone. “Was it you?” Ryou repeated, breathily. “Were you there?”

Bakura frowned. “I wasn’t anywhere near a station,” he answered, scowl still in place.

His words made his host look even more uneasy. He shifted from one foot to another, wringing his hands.

He approached him slowly, gauging his reaction. “What happened?”

Ryou clawed at the strands of hair on his forehead, and patted them down after. “I-I’m not sure. Just give me a moment,” he huffed. He stepped one direction, and then another, and then again, in a jagged pace.

Bakura did give him a moment—just one, until he asked once more, “What?”

Ryou inhaled, and then breathed out. “All right, this is going to sound odd but,” he flicked his gaze at him, and Bakura fought the frown on his face for a more neutral look. He must have succeeded since his host stopped his squirming. “A moment ago…” Ryou looked behind him—towards the door.

“Just a while back,” he resumed, “I think I might have been followed.”

Bakura was on the revelation like a starved animal—

Where.

What time.

Did you lose them?

And most importantly—

“What did they look like?” He didn’t register the proximity between them until Ryou sidestepped him and sat on the couch.

“I don’t know. I didn’t get a very good look,” he admitted, and Bakura felt himself clench his fist in annoyance. “The train had started to move, and the lighting underground isn’t that great… but I could swear…I saw someone watching me near the exit.” Ryou looked up at Bakura, his face marred with apprehension.

His body moved on its own and he felt the cushions sink underneath his weight. Slowly, he took in the signs of fear on his host. The way he closed in on himself as if he couldn’t bear to reveal them to anyone. Incredibly guarded, is how Bakura would describe it to someone—not that he had anyone to describe Ryou to. The information was all to himself, and he filed it away with the rest of the information he had learned of him as of late.

Carefully, he words his question to make it as simple as possible.

“What did they look like?” he reiterated.

Ryou shook his head. “I couldn’t get a good look,” he repeated, deflating in his seat. “But…” he glanced at Bakura, who knew immediately Ryou was holding something from him.

“But?” He tried to keep his voice even. He wanted to confirm if this mystery person had been Shadi or not, but scaring Ryou away wouldn’t help in that respect. He waited, noticing how Ryou’s face scrunched in thought, thinking on how to continue. He looked at Bakura again, blinked, and then re-directed his gaze at the ceiling.

“I think I might have been imagining things…”

He almost snapped. “Just tell me what you saw,” Bakura managed to get out as calmly as possible.

Ryou rubbed at his face, exhaling. He groaned, and sat up. Having no other options, he decided to trust Bakura. “I think I saw—"

Gold eyes.

The first thing that had come to mind was that Shadi could have been using a vessel. He had used Malik’s sister already—and it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for him to use another one again. People close to Ryou, people who he’d never met, watching him from anywhere out of sight… There were already too many factors to sift through and try to find him person by person. No—sooner or later, he would appear, and Bakura would wait for that opportunity.

He looked down at Ryou’s labors from last night, the pastries having the minimum effort put into them and still managing to look edible.

“You know, when you told me you’d keep me company one night, I didn’t think it would be so soon.”

He reached down to the tray of sweets Ryou had left out and picked one at random. He placed it in front of him, turning it on it’s side and playing with it like a top.

Ryou was double checking the buttons on his cuffs. He tucked the tail of his shirt in some more when he noticed a piece hanging out.

“You’ve done that six times already,” Bakura observed, going back to the pastry on the table. His spinning had left crumbs, but he ignored them, and brought the object to his mouth.

He found Ryou staring at him again, with that tired gaze.

“What?” He flicked out his tongue and dragged across the powdery surface. Ryou almost looked horrified as he followed the movements.

He blinked and looked away. “…I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat before.”

Bakura snorted, and set the pastry down. “You haven’t. And you won’t.”

“I take it you didn’t like it,” Ryou commented, taking note of the time on the clock. He checked his collar again.

“I never said that,” Bakura said, following Ryou with his eyes.

Ryou looked from the discarded pastry to Bakura, and then walked towards the door. He peered out through the peephole and then paced the length of the kitchen.

Bakura sat back, observing, and rocking back his chair. “And where is your beloved father taking you to?”

Ryou stopped his pacing. Without pause, he said, “To Yugi’s,” and then it was Bakura’s turn to stop. He began to tap his fingers on the table.

He looked to Ryou, who stood rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He had only managed to doze off for a few minutes before startling himself awake when he saw where he had fallen asleep. After that, he sat still on one side of the sofa, while Bakura sat at the other—that is until he began to bake tirelessly.

But the exhaustion was finally beginning to settle in.

The circles beneath his eyes darkened by the hour, looking almost like bruises. He was past yawning and simply sighed every few minutes.

“And this business is so important you’d go without sleep?” He leaned on his arm.

Ryou sat on the edge of the couch, and stared at his shoes. “Yes,” he said.

Bakura’s lip twitched, and his hand curled on the table. He laid it out flat when he realized.

From under his hair, he glimpsed at his host, taking in the drained demeanor. A thought came to him—as always—to use the situation at hand for his own benefit. Ryou was leaving, and he wouldn’t be alone. He heavily disliked his group of friends—borderline loathed—but that didn’t mean they were completely useless to him. They had formed a tight knit friendship, or so they preached, but they would know if something were wrong with one another. If Shadi were to weave himself into their midst, it would immediately be known by one of them. He hated to admit it, but for now, Ryou could be entrusted to them. After all, everyone had their uses, even the weakest of pawns.

Besides, this could be the opportunity he had been waiting for. Ryou, safe with his friends, would give Bakura the chance to look for the golden eyed pursuer—if he was still around. And if he was, then even better. He would get rid of them before anything problematic arose. He already had one thorn in his side—he didn’t need two.

Watching the ghostly reflection of his hand on the wooden surface, his ears perked to a sound outside.

“If anyone’s still following you, they’ll have a hard time getting to you with so many people,” he assured. Ryou looked up at him, head swiveling in the direction of the door when there was a knock.

Bakura stood, careful not to make unnecessary noise. “That should be your father,” he informed, just when there was a ring at the door, and a cough on the other side.

Ryou readied himself to go out. “What will you be doing?” he asked, but Bakura understood it as something else. Ryou wanted to know whether he would be near him, putting their little secret in danger.

He blinked at him, and then looked away.

“You should get going, host.” He strode past him. “Don’t want to keep everyone waiting.”

Chapter Text

Ch 13. Fated Winds

At last, the group of friends had separated into three factions. Anzu had gone into the kitchen with Yugi’s mother to help with the chores. Jonouchi and Yugi on the other hand, had settled into the corner of the sitting room, huddled over Yugi’s new cards. He was helping him unwrap them, and when a rare card was revealed, he awed over it before grudgingly handing it back to his friend.

“Woah! I can’t believe the luck you have with these things Yuge.” He took another pack, clenching the empty wrapper in his hand. “All the boosters I open end up with dupes.” He handed the foil card to Yugi who accepted it with a light laugh.

“It’s not about rarity, Jonouchi. You know that.” He took his time to admire Magical Something in his hand.

“Yeah, I know. But ya gotta admit—it’s a lot easier to win with something like Red-Eyes on your side than with a bunch’a Battle Warriors. No offense,” he added hastily to the low-level cards in front of him.

Honda, who was not an avid duelist, much like Ryou, sat a bit further off to the side, glancing at the piles of cards. Occasionally, Ryou would make a comment about a card’s art, to which he grunted.

“Hm, that one looks interesting,” Ryou said, pointing to the table. There was a card nearest the edge which featured a woman in a kimono, holding a scythe. He set it down, and came to kneel next to Jonouchi who scooted over to give him room.

“Getting into Duel Monsters, Bakura?” His cheery smile made Ryou nod, and he hummed while looking over the low-level monsters Jonouchi had set apart. “I can show you the ropes, if ya want,” he added sheepishly.

Honda snorted—it might have been a laugh.

“Hey! I’m good!” Jonouchi shouted, offended. “Not as good as Yugi, but still…” he trailed off, doubting his abilities suddenly.

“We all start somewhere, Jonouchi,” Ryou offered, earning him a shy smile.

“I guess you’re right, huh?”

From the kitchen, Anzu poked her head out. “Who wants cake?”

Jonouchi clambered to his feet. “Oh! I do!” The cards on his lap fell to the floor as he stood, and he shouted a hasty apology to Ryou who he had bumped into. Sleepy as he was, Ryou had scarcely noticed being jostled.

“I meant Yugi!” Anzu huffed. She emerged, standing her ground, and barricading the entrance as Jonouchi skidded to a stop in front of her. “It’s his birthday—he gets to eat first.”

“But you just said—”

Anzu pointed to the mess Jonouchi had left behind. “Go help him and then maybe I’ll let you have a strawberry.” She turned to leave but then added, “And apologize to Bakura!”

“Oh, sweet!” He didn’t even argue with the terms and haphazardly crossed the room again.

“Hey! Be careful with Mrs. Mutou’s things, too! You’re a guest!” But her words went unheeded, and she muttered under her breath as she retreated into the kitchen.

“Here, I’ll help.” Ryou kneeled beside his two friends and carefully picked up the cards from the floor. Yugi’s presents had consisted of so many Duel Monster booster packs he wondered if he was bored of collecting so many. Of course, that couldn’t be true. He was a child at heart and his love of games would never cease—especially not for the card game. Its significance in his life was bigger than Ryou could ever explain.

He handed back the last card off the floor to Yugi who smiled at him, and put it neatly on the table.

“Thanks,” he said, kneeling off the floor. “Come on. Let’s get a slice before Jonouchi finishes it all.”

“I doubt Anzu would let him,” Ryou said, making Yugi laugh.

Both of them, Jonouchi and Honda, made their way into the kitchen. Mr. Bakura and Yugi’s grandpa were already at the table, two glasses with questionable beverages settled between them. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company, but their conversation stopped when the younger guests appeared.

Mrs. Mutou, expecting them, welcomed them warmly into her kitchen.

Anzu’s voice carried over the hubbub that was just starting. “Come one everyone! Let’s get a picture before—”

Jonouchi was the first to groan. “Oh, come on! Can’t we eat first? I’m starving.” He eyed the assortment of foodstuffs Mrs. Mutou had set out. His eyes sparkled upon seeing the one-tier cake, topped with strawberries.

Anzu went on as if he hadn’t heard him, although her voice was a bit louder. “—a picture before we eat!”

“What a lovely idea!” Mrs. Mutou said, touching her cheek and fixing her hair. “Yugi, I can put this in your album,” she whispered to him.

“Mom…” he whispered back, frantic. “Please don’t take that out.” He flashed worried glances at his friends, not wanting to be overheard.

She giggled, and patted his hair. Ryou saw her walk over to Yugi’s grandpa, and coaxed him gently towards the table by the elbow.

“I think we should let these kids take one first,” he chuckled knowingly. “Don’t you agree, Bakura?”

Mr. Bakura had been observing his son, smiling ruefully. Years apart, he was curious to learn what type of young man he had grown into. While his friends were outspoken, he was not. While the boys of his group grew rambunctious, he did not. He hovered on their outskirts, like a satellite. The only exception to noticing this behavior was Yugi.

He would see Ryou slowly drift away, and the boy brought him back.

He took another sip of his shochu, barely registering Sugoroku’s words. “Oh, yes. Right. Leave them be for now.”

“Hmm,” the old man stroked his beard. “Say, Bakura…how is your knowledge in Senet?” Sugoroku’s eye glinted as he assessed Mr. Bakura.

Ryou’s father poured some more water into his glass. “I’ve played it plenty of times. What of it?” he asked, blinking at Yugi’s grandfather. Mrs. Mutou, overhearing them, sighed, and patted her father-in-law’s shoulder. “Don’t be too hard on him, Grandpa Mutou. He’s driving.”

“Nonsense. It’ll just be a little fun. We can have fun, too, can’t we?” He crossed his arms over the table. “Well? What would you say to a little wager? You’re an antiques dealer, right? I have some things I’ve collected over the years myself.”

At his mention, Mr. Bakura’s interest piqued. “Do you now…?” He set the bottle of water down, and stirred his cup. “What type of wager are we talking about here?”

Sugoroku grinned. He looked over his shoulder to Mrs. Mutou. Without saying anymore, she understood. “I’ll go get them.” She was sure to shoot the older man a frown.

“Okay, everyone together.” The group had gathered already around the table, ready for their picture to be taken. Anzu waved with her hand, motioning them to get closer.

“Don’t push!” Jonouchi shoved Honda.

“Me? You’re the one that’s pushing,” he elbowed him.

Yugi was in a chair, looking much smaller than usual. “Should I stand up?” he muttered, but no one heard him over the commotion.

Ryou stood awkwardly at his side, avoiding both Jonouchi and Honda. He looked to Anzu. “You’re not in it?”

Anzu surveyed her surroundings and tapped her chin. “Well…” She rested her hand on her hip. “I don’t have a stand, but—Oh! Mrs. Mutou!”

Returning to the scene, Mrs. Mutou carried a large bottle and a rectangular wooden object. “Yes, dear?” she smiled. Otogi appeared at her side, carrying two bottles in similar size.

“Where do I put this, Mrs. Mutou?”

“Just over there, please.” She turned back to Anzu. “Did you need something?”

Anzu held the camera in her hands. “Could you…maybe take the picture for us?” she requested, politely as possible. “I would take it myself, but I didn’t think to buy a stand for today…” She smiled, dancing on her heels.

“Oh, it’s not a problem! Just let me leave these with the men, and I’ll be right back.” She turned before out of earshot. “And it’s a good thing Otogi made it, isn’t it? Now all of you can be in it.”

“Yes, thank you so much Mrs. Mutou!”

Back at the table, Jonouchi and Honda had stopped their petty fighting. Instead, they began a petty argument.

“No, I’m eating the fish cakes.”

“There’s like ten of those…”

“Huh? Oh, you’re right. Fine, I’m getting three’a those, then. Wait, did your mom make curry?” He leaned down to ask Yugi.

“Yep. It’s still on the stove though.”

“Sweet. I’m getting me some of that, too.”

“Just don’t eat everything.” Ryuji shoved his way between Honda and Jonouchi, hand outstretched and ready to pick a shrimp off the table. Anzu appeared at that precise moment to smack his hand away.

“Ow!” Otogi held his hand close to his chest. “Where’d you learn to hit like that?” he winced. “They teach you that at your dance recitals?”

Anzu smiled proudly. “Self-defense classes,” she stated as a matter-of-factly.

The three boys all looked at each other, and raised their eyebrows.

“Should be a self-defense against her…” Jonouchi whispered. Anzu made no indication that she heard, but a heavy foot, with the precise movement of a dancer, landed right on the smallest of Jonouchi’s toes. Even Ryou couldn’t hide his grin of amusement with the painful (and surprised) groan Jonouchi let out.

“All right, all right,” Mrs. Mutou bounded down the stairs in a fluster. “I’m back. I made sure they went upstairs so they wouldn’t make a mess.” She patted down her hands on the front of her apron. She looked around herself, inspecting the food plates, the cake, the stove, and counting silently on her fingers. “That should be it—oh no. Grandpa’s tamagoyaki…” she finished mournfully. Her forehead creased in worry. “Well, he’s too busy to remember anyway,” she said, dismissing the thought with a wave of her hand.

“Um, Mrs. Mutou?” Anzu began timidly.

“Hm?” She looked at her as if she had forgotten she was there. Looking at her hands, Yugi’s mother lit right up. “Right! Your picture. I almost forgot again.” She took the camera Anzu offered, listening to her explain which button did what. She nodded, face focused and then she was at the far end of the table, looking at everybody through the lens.

“Okay! Everyone smile!” she said.

“And, three, two, one… Jonouchi a little closer to Anzu, please.”

Jonouchi looked between he and Anzu. There was an arm’s length gap between the two, Anzu smiling innocently on the other side of it.

“Er…” he shuffled on his feet, recovering from the previous moment. “Do I have to—?” He looked at her again, but Honda, answered for him.

“Come on!” he shoved him from the other side of Otogi.

Jonouchi stumbled, almost falling on Yugi. “All right, all right! Jeez… Just don’t kick me again.” He muttered the last part to Anzu.

“You can still punch him,” Ryuji offered darkly.

Don’t give her ideas—”

“Or what?” he said smugly. He was chewing on something, presumably a bit of food he had taken when everyone had been distracted.

“Or I’ll smack that eyeliner off your face, that’s what!”

“Jonouchi!”

He shrank where he stood. “Sorry Mrs. Mutou…” He heard the not so hidden laughter of his friends next to him and grew red-faced.

She flashed him a look of reprobation that disappeared quickly enough.

Composing herself after short emotional outburst from herself, Yugi’s mother offered some last-minute arrangements in their positions. In the end, Ryou and Anzu stood at Yugi’s left, while Jonouchi stood behind him, and Otogi and Honda flanked his right. Yugi had remained seated despite his insistence that he stand.

The white light flared, as Mrs. Mutou got a bit carried away in her photography. She urged Anzu afterwards to make her as many copies of the photos as possible for her to keep, going off about how this would be the perfect addition to her picture album.

That taken care of, the group drifted to their seats at the table.

“Next time, everyone should go to karaoke,” she conversed over her serving, “instead of staying copped up in here. Wouldn’t that be fun?” Mrs. Mutou was generous with the portions on everyone’s initial plate, and then left them to laden them freely.

Mostly everything had disappeared when they were done eating, although that didn’t stop Yugi’s mother from offering them dessert.

“I’ve got some dango here, unless you kids want something else?”

“Oh, I’ll take some!” Jonouchi perked, mouth full of cake.

“Ugh, cover your mouth—No, thank you Mrs. Mutou. I don’t think I can eat another bite.” Anzu stood from the table. “Thank you for the meal. Everything was delicious.”

“I-I’ll take some,” Ryou said. Mrs. Mutou smiled at him, and let him choose his skewer. He took the one with the most syrup with a polite ‘thank you.’ Having distributed the rice dumplings, she set her tray down on a nearby counter. “Hmm, it’s been too quiet lately. I should check on them upstairs.” She turned worriedly to Ryou. “I hope your father’s all right…”

“Hm?” he looked at her mid-bite, but she left up the stairs and out of sight.


 

With dusk falling over them, Otogi bid goodbye to the group from the door. He handed Yugi a package before leaving, and then exited.

Lounging on the couch, Jonouchi asked, “What is it?” He sat up as Yugi lowered himself next to him, fingers already tearing at the wrapping. Anzu and Honda hovered behind the two, and Ryou watched from another chair, still eating dango.

“There’s a lot in here,” he began. He took out a leather pouch from within, and he opened it to find it filled with custom dice. Ryou left his dessert aside, and took a closer look, admiring their unique designs.

“Hey, those do look pretty cool,” Jonouchi awed.

Yugi noted their seven sides, marveling at the amount of detail carved on the faces. Other than numbers, the dice had thorned vines painted all along the edges. If Otogi had made these by hand, it must have taken a long time to balance them for gameplay.

Setting those to one side, Yugi took out the next object: a game board. He turned it around, finding the front. It was titled True Goddess.

“Oh wow!” It was Ryou’s turn to fawn over the gift.

“Yeah, I didn’t think I’d find one of these anywhere in Domino right now,” Yugi commented, touching the glossy box.

Ryou stood closer, checking whether Ryuji had given Yugi the standard version, or the expanded version. He saw it was the expanded one, probably from Black Clown’s own inventory.

Jonouchi looked between the two. “What? What is it? All I see is a monster on the front.”

“It’s a board game, Jonouchi. It’s hard to explain without showing you but—” He glanced at the game while he spoke. “It’s similar to Monster World—hmm. You start with your own character, and there are classes you can choose from. The games are set up for growth of your characters, but depending on the decisions you make in the game—everyone’s overall decisions—you can choose to fight to be the overall winner.” Ryou explained with a smile. “There’s a point system, see?” he continued. “You don’t know your alignment until the game is over, and that decides what happens to the game world. The games can get pretty long,” he finished, stifling a yawn.

“Woah...sounds interesting.” Jonouchi mused. His attention was brought back to Yugi when the latter began to rummage in the bag. “Uh, what else is in there?” Jonouchi peeked at the contents of the box, extracting the last thing from within. He turned over the thin card, reading it aloud, “Black Clown…huh.”

Yugi snatched it back quickly and pocketed it.

“Hn? What’d you do that for?” his friend frowned.

“Nobody tell Grandpa…”

“Er, okay…?” Jonouchi agreed, although remained confused.

“All right everybody.” Honda rounded the sitting room. “I think that’s it for me today.” He had already donned his jacket and was walking towards the door.

“You’re leaving already, Honda?” Yugi set his gifts aside, and went up to him.

“Yep,” he nodded. “I’m babysitting Johji, again, tonight. Sister’s working late.” He slipped on his shoes at the entrance.

“Aww, man. Well, if ya have to,” Jonouchi complained from the other side, but he didn’t seem too upset by it.

“Tell your mom thanks for having me. I’m already kinda late in meeting my sister.”

Yugi nodded and smiled. He walked him to the door. “Thanks for coming over!”

“See you around,” Honda waved, and then he, too, left the scene.

The remaining members of the group settled into a comfortable silence. Anzu plopped onto a cushion and began to scroll through her camera, although every few clicks came with a pensive groan. “I think maybe I should have worn my hair up in this one…” She showed the picture to Yugi. “What do you think?”

Having been engrossed in reading the instructions to True Goddess, Yugi stumbled over his words. “Huh? Oh. You…look fine Anzu,” he said absently, attention soon drawn back to the game.

She smacked her teeth, and shoved the camera in front of Ryou. “Er, I’m sure either way would look good on you,” he offered.

The girl huffed, already on her way (begrudgingly) towards Jonouchi. She hadn’t even made it to across the room before Jonouchi, uttered a bored, “Don’t care.” He was looking through a magazine much more interesting to him than Anzu’s rhetorical hairstyles.

Defeated, she turned off her camera and sank back into her seat, crossing her arms. “You guys are no help.”

Another bout of silence—disrupted only by muffled laughter upstairs, and dishes scraping against each other in the kitchen.

Once in a while, Ryou and Yugi’s excited voices would whisper over the quiet group.

“Look, we can choose to start as Demon, Angel, or Hunter. Just like you said, Bakura.”

“Oh, so it is similar to Monster World? I wasn’t too sure…”

Papers flipped, cardboard tore—and their enthusiasm continued in that corner.

Anzu herself, grown curious, looked over them as they conversed.

Not one complacent with the tranquil atmosphere, Jonouchi sat up, throwing his magazine aside. “Hey! I know—we should play Duel Monsters.”

“Really?” Anzu rolled her eyes. “You play enough of that at school.” Nevertheless, she uncrossed her arms, sliding forward towards the center table. “Did you actually bring your deck?” She stared when Jonouchi mystically pulled out a duel deck and began shuffling it.

“Yeah? I was comin’ over here,” he said, as if it was the most appropriate thing to do when visiting Yugi. He looked to his friend. “First round, Yuge?”

Yugi, who had been sharing his excitement with Ryou over his game board, looked to Jonouchi, not knowing how to turn him down. His attention went to Ryou, who looked like he was already resigning himself to the idea of playing Duel Monsters.

“I don’t mind,” he said softly to him. “It’d be nice to get some pointers from you and Jonouchi…”

Anzu, assessing the situation, slid off the couch, and sat across from Jonouchi. “I’ll play you first.”

Jonouchi snorted. “What? You?” He set the deck down. “You don’t even have a deck.”

“Who says I don’t?” she said mysteriously. From her own pocket, she took out a stack of cards, and set them right next to Jonouchi’s.

He stared, and then his face broke into a grin.

“I got tired of borrowing your weak cards and got someone from my dance class to help me build my own deck.” She looked back to Yugi and Ryou, smiling.

Yugi silently thanked her, and stood. “Let’s go see how we can set this up for next time. You’re probably almost leaving, too, right?”

“I’ll beat you in no time,” they heard Anzu taunt.

“You wish. Bring it!”

Ryou followed Yugi into the far side of his house where the shop was. The room was dark, but Yugi who had lived there his whole life, easily found the switch without having to stumble for it along the wall. When he turned it on, the room flickered with light, and Ryou somehow appreciated the quaint space that appeared right after.

“I’m not sure. My father disappeared with your grandfather upstairs and I haven’t seen him since…Although, what your mother said—it makes me a little worried…” He looked around the Kame Game shop, filled with colorful items that ranged from the most recent collectible figures, to more obscure games from earlier centuries.

“They’re probably playing senet or something,” Yugi said without much concern. He set True Goddess on the counter, and placed the rulings they had been reading, on top.

On one side of the store, along high shelves were the newest games—handpicked by Sugoroku Mutou. While most of them were labeled in Japanese, Ryou quickly noted that a few were written in English, German, and what looked like to his untrained eyes, something using the Cyrillic alphabet. He hummed in surprise, and Yugi looked over his shoulder. He was taking out a large cardboard box from underneath the counter.

“Grandpa likes to order those for himself mostly. Nobody buys them, since a lot of those aren’t in Japanese, but he likes to show them off, anyway.”

Ryou walked along the wall to bend down and look at the more eccentric items Grandpa Mutou enjoyed collecting and paused.

Near the bottom, there was a hand holding a candle in the center—most likely ceramic, but the appendage did not give off the shiny glow that ceramic surfaces did. It stood, dull and lifeless…

Another thing he saw were the number of dolls the elder Mutou displayed. They were the kind of dolls that reminded Ryou of the dolls during Hinamatsuri. Their eyes were very clear and vivid while at the same time, empty within their dark depths. Five sat together on a high shelf, sporting their bright clothing and straight hair down their shoulders. As a sculptor, Ryou found himself admiring the detail of the craftsmanship used to make the dolls.

“These aren’t Japanese, are they?” Ryou asked, noting the differences.

Yugi had extracted the box of merchandise from under the display counter and looked up at his friend.

“Hmm, I think Grandpa said he got them from one of his trips to… Egypt,” Yugi finished uncertainly. “Most of the stuff he gets is from there.” He set the box down.

“From Egypt?” Ryou asked perplexed.

The dolls certainly didn’t look like they came from Egypt, if what they wore was any indication. Ryou had traveled there as a child—lived there, even, with his father for some period in his life. He remembered the type of clothing that was worn in the country and what the dolls wore certainly wasn’t it. Their clothing was strange and foreign. He knew they weren’t Japanese because Hinamatsuri dolls were mainly adorned in elegant kimono. The dolls on the shelf wore loose skirts down to their ankles. The fabric looked like silk—and it was most likely silk—but an ashen hue had settled into the material giving away their age.

“Yep,” Yugi came around counter and peered closely at the dolls. “I used to think they were creepy when I was little. Grandpa told me a story about them and that’s what scared me. He said the man that sold them to him would only sell them as a set.”

“They certainly look like they’re part of a set,” Ryou added, admiring the identical blond hair on their narrow shoulders. “What was the story?”

“Something about them coming to life at night,” Yugi laughed and then shuddered. “Hm, I hope I don’t start having nightmares again…”

From the kitchen, a woman’s voice rang through the walls.

Ryou turned to Yugi, who had gone towards the door, listening for a second call.

“Yugi!” Mrs. Mutou’s voice came closer, and she appeared, looking flustered. She glanced between the two boys, and touched her forehead. “Is Grandpa here with you?”

“No, why?”

“Well, I can’t find him upstairs. Only Mr. Bakura is up there and he said Grandpa came downstairs for more water to mix…” Her eyes flitted to Ryou and he saw it was a gesture to avoid looking at Yugi.

Ryou thought he heard Yugi groan, a strange sound coming from him. “Has he been gambling all this time?”

“You know how he gets when he meets another collector…”

“Mom…” Yugi sighed, defeated. He shuffled to the door, following his mother. “I’ll be back in a just a sec,” he said to Ryou.

In the meantime, Ryou was left to his own devices, and he lingered awkwardly by the door. He thought about going back to the living room with Anzu and Jonouchi, but then Yugi would wonder where he was.

Unsurely, he began, instead, admiring Grandpa Mutou’s collection of antiquated objects. Like his father, the elder Mutou practically had his own museum in the room.

Ryou stepped back, taking in the full height of the shelves. There were so many things—he tried estimating the years Mr. Mutou must have taken to find all the objects.

“I wonder when he started, collecting…”

Without pause, a voice answered him. “I was about twenty when I left Japan.”

He hadn’t heard him come in—

Startled, Ryou turned to find Sugoroku Mutou, hiding an impish grin behind his mustache.

“Oh!” he swiftly stepped away from the shelf and bowed to the old man. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be in here by myself—it’s just that Yugi—he,” he nervously glanced at the door for any signs of Yugi returning but was severely disappointed.

Sugoroku creased his brow. “Were you in here, stealing my precious treasures?” A short hand shot out quickly to reach for one of the dolls and he petted it covetously.

Completely flustered and unable to properly explain himself, Ryou shook his head. “I—Yugi left…his mom called—” He tried to gesture with his hands, an impromptu game of charades to speak for him.

Apparently finding that amusing, the old man laughed. “You’re very easily embarrassed. I can’t imagine you getting yourself a girlfriend with that kind of attitude.” He paused and lowered his voice. “And here I thought you might steal Anzu from my Yugi with that handsome face of yours. I’m relieved to find out she’s still on the path to being my granddaughter.”

“W-what?!” His face burned hot with embarrassment. Ryou didn’t know which of the statements he should be more worried about—and proceeded to instead stare at the floor, mortified by the old man’s bold statements.

“You know, I wasn’t worried when Yugi made friends with Jonouchi and Honda. While they’re good boys, Jonouchi’s dumb as a pile of bricks and I’m sure Honda has his eyes set on another girl. Hmm…” he paused and stroked his bearded chin. “But then you came along…and I saw that pretty boy face of yours and thought ‘That one’s trouble.’ Because as you know, Yugi’s a little on the short side,” he cleared his throat, “from my side of the family, you see. And you, with your long legs and nice face—oh, but I’m glad you’re as awkward as—”

Before he could finish in what Ryou knew to be a metaphor just as elegant as Jonouchi’s comparison, Yugi walked in through the door.

“Grandpa!” Yugi came in and walked up to his grandfather, eyebrows knitted. He took one look at the laughing older man and his shoulders tensed. “You have been gambling! And drinking!”

Mr. Mutou’s shoulders dropped and he stared sober-faced at Yugi. “I’m just having a little fun. At my age, I can’t just go and find treasure anymore, Yugi, but I have to get my hands on it somehow.” He continued with his rambunctious laughter as if he had just told the best joke.

Sighing in resignation, Yugi grabbed him by the arm and hauled him off. “Come on. Mom’s looking for you,” Ryou heard him say down the hall.

Evidently, the old man had been drinking—a lot, and hopefully, he would forget what was said between them. Ryou remembered his father had been drinking, too. Is that what Mrs. Mutou had been worried about…?

When Yugi came back into the shop, he muttered something about a crazy grandfather and then sighed. His shoulders sagged in relief or perhaps disappointment.

“We tried setting Grandpa to bed, but he said he wouldn’t stop until he owned everything in your dad’s museum.”

“What?” Ryou grew slightly alarmed, embarrassment from Grandpa’s comments forgotten.

“I think he was joking. Your dad’s still sober enough,” Yugi assured with a nervous laugh.

“Oh, thank goodness,” he said, mildly relieved.

 

 

After that strange interruption, they easily grew lost in their conversation of games. Ryou’s thoughts occasionally strayed to what Mr. Mutou said, but decided it was best never to mention said conversation to either Anzu or Yugi.

Yugi had brought in more of Grandpa’s boxes, and they sat alone on the floor of the shop, surrounded by them.

“Grandpa likes to keep some of the new inventory locked up for a few days after release.” He set yet another box next to him, and opened the flaps, picking out one glossy booster pack and weighing it in his hand. “If it’s high demand, the bigger game stores would probably run out on the first few days.” The foil pack crinkled as he plucked apart the ends of the seal.

Ryou looked at him while he spoke. “Oh, I get it. Does he do that with board games, too? You said you hadn’t been able to find True Goddess yet.”

Yugi shrugged. “No, he sells those first because it brings in more money.” He smiled as he took the cards out of their packaging. “Plus, this means I get to buy other stuff from him.” He laughed, “He even makes me pretend I’m a customer if I want to pick my own packs from the boxes.”

Ryou smiled. “It’s nice that you humor him.”

“Technically, I am a customer…but it’s a little much, don’t you think?”

“I don’t think I’d mind,” he responded. Behind him, the box of cards lay open. Ryou inspected the contents, estimating about 200 card packs nested inside. Half was already missing, and he wondered whether those had been sales from other people, or just from Yugi. “Did you get anything good?” He peeked at the new cards over Yugi’s shoulder as he held them up to read.

“Mmm. Hmm. Hm?” Rifling through one at a time, Yugi stopped at the last card and contemplated it. His mouth moved in silence as he read the description at the bottom. “This looks like it might be useful.” He moved it so Ryou could take a better look.

“Mei-Kou, Master of Barriers?”

Yugi nodded. “Yeah. It should be helpful for getting rid of Trap or Spell cards.” He smiled as he appraised his new card. He always seemed to appreciate any monster he got.

The heated chatter from the Duel Monsters match filtered through the hall and into the open shop. Jonouchi’s yells, and Anzu’s laughter, loud and clear, announced who was losing and who was winning.

An inky darkness blanketed the windows, reminding Ryou of the late hour and the fact that he still hadn’t given Yugi his present. After seeing the expensive set of figures Honda and Jonouchi had given him, he didn’t think a simple picture could compare.

Ryou felt the pocket where he placed the thin envelope holding the photographs. He patted them to the beat of his heart, searching for the courage to give it to Yugi. He thought he understood how much the Pharaoh had meant to him.

There had been closure, and a proper goodbye from Atem, but there was little to remember him by. Just the silence—peaceful, yet unnerving, he mused—that Atem had left behind. He wondered, would a snapshot be enough to ease what Yugi should be feeling?

He took a breath and extracted the envelope. “Yugi—”

“Do you remember—”

They looked at each other, and smiled sheepishly at one another. Ryou slowly took out the envelope, and handed his gift to Yugi. “I didn’t want to give it to you in front of so many people after seeing what everyone else gave you…” He cleared the hesitation from his voice. “I was waiting for the right moment and…” He extended it forward. “I know it’s not much compared to what the others gave you, but I—I thought you might…” He trailed off, unable to look at Yugi anymore.

Gently, the envelope was taken from his hands and Ryou waited, listening to the tearing of the seal.

There was a long stretch of silence by Ryou’s standards until he heard a soft murmur.

“Thank you,” Yugi said. He held the first picture in his grasp, and then examined the one behind it. To anyone else, the Yugi in the picture, would be the Yugi sitting next to Ryou. But Yugi, who had been there, in some form or another, knew it wasn’t a picture of him. It was Atem, in the only possible way a camera could capture his phantasmal existence—by borrowing Yugi’s own flesh.

He touched the center of the photograph, knowing those had been the final moments the two of them had shared together. He turned to Ryou. “Thank you, Bakura,” he said once more.

Yugi set the pictures down, one on each knee.

The chatter from the other rooms had ceased, enveloping the entire house, including the shop, in a cozy silence.

 Ryou heard Yugi shift, and he saw him place the pictures back together in a thin stack. He turned to Ryou with a smile, making him feel warm all over.

“Do you miss him, Yugi?” he asked with a gentle voice.

Yugi lowered his eyes, but the smile remained. “I miss him every day.” He scratched at the hem of his pants.

“It was hard– at first knowing he would never be here again,” he said, “but having everyone here—supporting me, I knew I wasn’t really alone.” He grinned, flashing his teeth. “You could say it was the last thing Atem left me with—something you see, but can’t see.”

Ryou mimicked the smile. “Friendship.”

“It’s what I wished for when I completed the puzzle,” Yugi admitted shyly.

The smile faltered for less than a second—not even Yugi could discern the change—before it was back full force. “I think that’s a wonderful gift.”

“Since the beginning, you guys have helped me through so much already—,” and as if sensing Ryou’s doubt, he added, “all of you.”

“Certainly not me—especially not as much as everyone else…” Ryou smiled ruefully. “You didn’t have to worry about them turning against you.”

Yugi watched him as his façade of the evening slowly broke. He noted Ryou’s tired eyes—remembered how distant he had been most of the day. He folded his hands on his lap and set his head back against the counter.

“Bakura, do you remember that day at the museum—when Bobasa weighed our hearts?” He turned towards him, not waiting for an answer. “You weren’t let into the Pharaoh’s memories and ran away that day.”

Ryou remained quiet, listening, pondering the reasons over which Yugi chose to speak of that event. He certainly did not want to be reminded of his embarrassing behavior.

“When we went in there—to Ancient Egypt,” Yugi paused, taking a breath, “I kept thinking to myself how great it would have been to have all of us there helping the Pharaoh. You helped him during the first Shadow RPG.” He smiled at Ryou, something the boy himself could not reciprocate. His face remained impassive, but that did not deter Yugi. “You were strong—I always thought so.” he said, his voice becoming soft and timid. “You still are, Bakura.” He looked at him, eyes full of sincerity—and sadness. “You’re the type of person who can stand alone—and a lot of the time—you make the mistake of forgetting that you have people you can lean on—your friends, for example.”

“Yugi—,” he started, but Yugi cut him off.

“Listen first to what I’m about to say. Please.”

Ryou, taken aback, stopped, and then nodded slowly.

Yugi continued:

“You know, I expected it—but I was still surprised when the other you appeared and tried to stop us from finding Atem’s real name. I—” He set the pictures on the floor. “When the God cards almost got stolen one night after Battle City—he was there. He helped me get them back.” He looked up at Ryou, briefly, who listened intently to the revelation. “If it hadn’t been for him…who knows what could have happened.” He shifted in his spot, the fear of losing the cards coming back to him.

“I really did believe him when he told me that that night.” He was sitting straight again. The crestfallen look Yugi had seconds before masked with a neutral one.

“What did he say?”

Yugi smiled, but the corners of his mouth fell too soon. “He said…” Yugi continued, his voice apprehensive, “he wanted his soul to rest, too. Like Atem’s.” There was a string on the corner of his shirt that he twirled as he spoke.  “And when he gave me the Millennium Eye—I really thought he meant it. He said it was a sign of his loyalty and that he’d help solve the puzzle of the Pharaoh’s memories…” Yugi looked to Ryou, another wry smile marking his points of shame over his naivety. “I guess he wasn’t totally lying.”

Ryou looked at the wrapper from the duel monster pack from earlier. He too, grinned at the Spirit’s ability to hide his lies with truths.

“So when it was my turn to face him in the game—I’m not sure what I felt,” his brows furrowed, and his eyes blinked feelings away. “He laughed when I reminded him of his promise—but when I saw him—looked at him, I couldn’t help but think of you.”

“Me?” Ryou asked, and then he remembered. “Right, of course,” he snorted.

“Not because he looked like you,” Yugi looked up at him, “but because I knew he wasn’t unbeatable. You defeated him Bakura. You helped Atem defeat him before—and I thought…maybe I could, too.”

“Throughout that duel, I kept thinking of you—and of that campaign. We had just met, yet—” He turned his head down, cleared the phlegm from his throat. “You gave me the courage. You were there, too, with me. And you, Bakura,” he hesitated, twirling his fingers.

Meanwhile, the boy who he’d been addressing remained stunned.

Always, he had questioned his position within the close circle of friends. Ryou had arrived when everyone else’s bonds had been established—when Yugi, Anzu, Honda, and Jonouchi had, by then, survived other hardship together.

Ryou thought he had only added to their strife—put their lives in danger at every turn—introduced suspicion with his every word.

Who were they to believe him when he had harbored something that wished to harm them?

He swallowed, feeling cold all over.

He would always, as he learned, have a place next to Yugi—and that hurt.

Yugi never did finish his thought, instead conveyed it with a gentle smile, and a squeeze of Ryou’s hand. Their fingers intertwined briefly, in a moment which only the two of them existed in that small space—a moment of gratitude, a moment of deep understanding, and a moment of mutual friendship in which Ryou could pretend he had been forgiven for everything he had done, and everything he felt responsible for.

It was enough—just enough—for him.

Their fingers slid apart and they were two again.

“Sometimes…I wonder,” Yugi said suddenly, “if maybe—” He trailed off, unable to continue without pause.

Ryou still recovering, fought to blink away his emotions.

He felt as though knew where the conversation was headed, but tried to remain impassive as Yugi found the correct string of words to pose his musings.

“Atem was like that at first. Did you know that? It was before you came to Domino, but I never told you.”

Hiding the heaviness of his voice, Ryou asked, “He was like what?”

Yugi sighed, and smiled humorlessly, shaking his head. “No, never mind.” He pressed his hand against his forehead, looking mournful. “I might tell you someday.”

From another part of the house— “Yugi—oh, I didn’t see you there. What are you two doing on the floor?”

It was his mother, engaged in conversation with two distinguishable voices.

“We were just—uh…”

“I was on my way to the kitchen,” chirped Anzu.

“S-same here. Do you have any leftovers?”

Mrs. Mutou laughed heartily. “Yes, they’re on the stove. I made some tamagoyaki, too, but there’s curry and rice in the refrigerator. I know it’s your favorite.”

“Sweet! Thanks, Mrs. Mutou!”

The sounds of footsteps led themselves away from the hall, and then a second set stopped at the door.

“Yugi,” his mother called softy from the entryway.

“Hm?” He looked up.

“Mr. Bakura is downstairs,” she nodded, and smiled at Ryou.

“Oh…”

Ryou stood up, and Yugi pushed himself off the floor, dusting his pants after.

“I’ll tell your father you’re on your way,” Mrs. Mutou assured. She disappeared, and her steps carried her away again.

Yugi stood to one side of Ryou.

“I guess I’ll be taking my leave,” he said. Yugi smiled, wiggling his socked toes.

“Yeah.”

Slowly, Ryou made his way to the other side of the room, with Yugi close behind.

He crossed the threshold, when Yugi spoke behind him.

“Next time we’ll play True Goddess with everyone,” he offered hopefully. “I’ll wait for you.”

Ryou looked down at his friend, and his eyes instinctively went to the center of his chest. He touched his own shoulder, suppressing a shiver from the hallway.

“I’d like that.”


 

With the help of Jonouchi, Ryou managed to get his father safely back to his hotel.

Standing at the entrance, Jonouchi insisted he didn’t need the taxi, and the driver, receiving the same answer from Ryou, drove off, leaving the two to their own devices.

They stood at the sidewalk near the hotel, lost in the grand surroundings. The hedges aligned the path, green shrubbery contrasting well with the white cement.

“Wow, pretty nice area, if you ask me,” Jonouchi whistled. He turned his head in one direction, and then another, each time craning his neck exponentially. He stopped when he almost bumped into a tall woman walking with her husband. They frowned disapprovingly, and he offered his apologies as they then ignored his existence. He made a face, comparing them to ‘snobby rich people like that asshole Kaiba’ and then he turned back to Ryou.

“How come he doesn’t stay with you though?” He avoided a girl and her mother, walking behind Ryou to do so.

Ryou felt himself tense, and Jonouchi must have sensed his discomfort, withdrawing the question quickly enough.

“It ain’t any of my business, you’re right—never mind,” he shuffled awkwardly, positioning himself at his side again. Ryou smiled, but gave no explanation to the inquiry.

“Are you going back to Yugi’s?” he deflected after a moment. They had started a steady pace alongside one another, passing the valet, into the main street, and stopping at a light.

“Hm? Yeah, I am. Are you comin’?” He faced him while they waited for the signal to cross.

Ryou shook his head. “I think I’ll go home for tonight. I did have a nice time, though,” he admitted, averting his eyes.

“Hey, that’s great.” A hand came down on his shoulder, heavy and friendly. “I had a good time, too!” Jonouchi had an easy time growing excited. He was glad, too—partly, of the change in subject. “We should do that more often—we haven’t hung out—all of us, I mean, since…” He scratched the back of his neck. “Well, since…you know.” The light signaled pedestrians to cross, and being the only ones there that night, they walked side by side.

“I know what you mean,” Ryou said, growing quiet.

When they reached the other side, they headed to the underground entrance. It was almost time for the last train, and they hurried their steps down the stairs.

Apart from the guards, they were the only ones there, too.

Jonouchi hovered at Ryou’s side, casting brief glances at him. Ryou said nothing of that respect, and waited, occasionally looking down the tunnel for the train. He heard screeches far down the line.

He hadn’t expected Jonouchi to speak to him like he did next.

“I mean it, Bakura.” He had his arms crossed, but he wasn’t looking at Ryou. A dark shadow obscured his face.

“You may think we don’ notice—especially me, but we do.”

Ryou stood quiet, staring blankly at his friend.

“You’ve been acting weird—different. Like you’re avoiding all of us,” Jonouchi continued, jaw tightening. “At first, I didn’t want to see it, but I don’t know…ever since Yug—” he stopped and corrected himself. “Ever since Atem left, it’s not like it used to be. I mean—not that it should be, but you, too?”

He couldn’t help but be stunned by the insight Jonouchi, of all people, had. “Me?” Ryou said, unconsciously taking a step back. It was a small step, and Jonouchi may not have noticed, but Ryou saw his eyes fill with something akin to distrust.

He seemed to pause before he let himself go on. “We heard you guys talkin’ when you were in Grandpa’s shop. We didn’t mean to listen in,” he rubbed his neck, and looked down the other end of the tunnel, “but we heard you guys talkin’ about the Spirit of the Puzzle…and the Ring.”

Ryou felt his fingers go cold, and his face go hot. He saw the guard from the corner of his eye keeping watch over the two of them. He subconsciously began to clench his hands.

“When Atem left, Yugi was pretty bummed out. All of us were,” he paused, “but we got to say goodbye an’ everything, so it wasn’t as bad as if we hadn’t.”

He shifted his eyes to Ryou, who was staring at the ground beneath his shoes.

“Look, I’m not braggin’ or anythin’, but I’m pretty close to Yugi. He’s a strong kid—stronger than me, probably,” he smiled, “but after Atem left, I saw how broken up he was about it.” Jonouchi took a deep breath, and then let it out in the form of a heavy, tired sigh.

“Listening to you guys—especially you, Bakura… That got me thinkin’…” He did not take his eyes off his friend, noting how frozen he had suddenly become.

There was the thump of the locomotive nearing the tracks, like a heart’s sound for everyone to hear.

“…about the reason you’ve been like this since that day…”

Ryou saw the headlights, bright, and incoming.

“Is it because you felt something—”

Jonouchi stood before him, features marred in thought.

“—for your spirit, too…?”

The train screeched to a halt.


Bakura felt the tremors of the train come to a sudden stop. He listened to the announcer’s voice, making sure it was the same location Ryou had told him, and stepped off onto the platform. It was populated underground, but not too much that he couldn’t walk through. He sidestepped some, and purposely shoved his way through other people that wouldn’t move, earning him dark glares as he passed up the stairs.

Making his way to the surface, he disdainfully eyed his surroundings. Ryou had said the place was deserted when he had gone through here, but setting foot into the area, Bakura saw the plaza near the station budding with life. Everywhere he looked, there stood a group of people loitering, laughing, hooking up. He would have trouble finding anyone here, whether he was looking for them or not.

The sky overhead was a deep indigo without stars—a clear night that signaled fortunate weather for the next day. He peered across a crowd, noting and possible routes for quick escape—if necessary. He walked near in pace with every other passerby, keeping his ears perked for any piece of information. He wasn’t sure anyone would go out of their way and say anything about golden eyes, but Bakura would know what he was listening for when he heard it.

He chose to sit back against a bench near a food vendor and the enticing aroma wafted towards him. He couldn’t very well pull out the Ring for direction in such a crowded area. While it was true the robbery had been months ago, there would certainly be people who would notice such a unique golden item—especially here. He could feel leers on him already and it did not help that he was alone, and wearing a black duster.

Without expecting him to, the vendor to his side whispered to him. “Be careful, son. You’ve got plenty eyes on you.” His voice quivered, and something on his griddle hissed and smoked. He continued his work as if he hadn’t addressed Bakura at all, and called to his younger assistant for some more oil.

Bakura eyed him, watching the man’s movements. For an old guy, moved himself around quickly.

He leaned back on the bench, trying to focus on the voices of people around him. They meshed into one giant murmur, overwhelming his sense of hearing.

“I know,” Bakura muttered.

The old man continued his cooking, and occasionally, something would smoke in Bakura’s direction. A girl and her boyfriend came up to the stand, warily eyeing Bakura as they ordered. The man handed them their order of okonomiyaki—no seaweed.  He saw some more girls kept to the side, and then leave when he leered at them.

Unable to take it anymore, the vendor sighed. “I’d ask you not to scowl. You’re scaring away my customers,” he frowned.

Bakura ignored him.

“You look like you’re about to murder someone.” He flipped over a pancake of noodles and Bakura smelled the ginger that spiced them.

“I might,” he finally said.

The man gave him a questionable, yet worried look. He saw that many of his possible customers had drifted off to other stalls, and he sighed heavily again. Bakura heard him scrape at the griddle with his spatula, the sounds of a salt shaker, a wrapper crumpling, and soft steps coming from his left.

He looked up just in time to see two hands offering him food. He frowned at it, then directed his glare at the vendor. He thrust it forward again, and Bakura inwardly groaned. He didn’t know why he took it from the man when he should have just flung it aside and sauntered away.

The man nodded approvingly. “Eat,” he ordered. “It’ll make you feel better.”

“I’m not hungry,” he bit out, still holding the okonomiyaki. It was hot against his fingers.

The old man hovered over him, determining whether he should approach him further or not. He’d seen his fair share of troubled kids, ones that came from bad homes, or had lived as shatei for most of their lives. To him, Bakura looked like either of those two. The man nodded to himself, and sat at the far end of the bench. He felt the glint of Bakura’s eyes follow him as he lowered himself onto the wooden surface.

“What’s troubling you?”

Bakura felt his eyebrow rise. “Nothing’s troubling me.” The hiss of the stove continued at his side.

“Don’t burn anything or I’ll cut your pay,” the man said sternly to his assistant.

“Yes, boss!”

His hardened face turned back to Bakura, who still, warily eyed him.

“Not too trusting of strangers, are you?”

“Why the hell should I be?” When he spoke, the man noticed how sharp his eyes grew.

He looked at the food in his grasp, which Bakura hadn’t even tasted.

He nodded again—it was always like this with kids like him. They never did trust anyone at first.

Trying a different approach, he asked, “Don’t like my okonomiyaki? I’ve got the regular stuff.” He saw Bakura’s lip twitch into a smile, and he thought he’d made some progress. He should have known better.

“I’m not paying for this, if that’s what you want from me,” Bakura said.

“Hmm,” he shook his head. The man observed his assistant’s work, making sure he hadn’t mistaken the green onions for cabbage again. His assistant was the son of one of his friends. He was in his first year of college with the usual qualities of one his age: thin faced, narrow build—The man cross-examined the features with Bakura’s. “How old are you?” he asked of him.

His lips stretched into a darker smile. “How old do I look?” he chuckled, and the old man felt the hairs of his arms raise. He attributed the sensation to a chilly gust of wind and continued with his inquires, wanting to help this young man through his troubles—whatever they were.

“Sixteen? Seventeen?” he guessed.

Perplexingly, Bakura turned his hand over in the light, admiring the tone of it. He grinned at the old man. “That’s about right,” he answered. A young woman approached the stall, and ordered an okonomiyaki, requesting a list of ingredients, and telling the cook to withhold others. The assistant accepted her order, but sounded nervous. When the woman left, satisfied, the vendor spoke again.

“So, what brought you here today?”

Bakura understood why he had put up with the old man for so long: he provided a good cover. While he sat with him, the far-off leers had turned in other directions, although, that didn’t stop customers from looking in his. But they were less in number, and he hadn’t assessed them as a threat for now.

Had he had access to a higher ground, Bakura would have less opportunity to listen for any clues. However, he was beginning to realize that it was like that anywhere he went. Here, there were too many people—and as he had concluded when arriving, it was hard to find what he sought in such a crowded area.

“I’m looking for someone,” Bakura answered. Voices blended together, and he had long since realized he would get little to no information if he remained.

“Ah,” the old man said as if he understood. “Well, you aren’t going to charm anyone with that frown.”

“I’m not looking to charm anyone, old man.” He finally shifted in his seat, making a move to stand. “I’m looking for someone with a certain quality to them. And even though you’ve been such great company,” he chucked the okonomiyaki onto the bench, ignoring the wary glances from passerby, “I don’t think you can help me in that respect.” He stood to his full height. “I’ve wasted enough time here without gaining anything—”

“Check over there,” the old man said. He gained a relaxed posture, as opposed to the distant concern from a few moments ago.

Bakura stopped. “What?” He narrowed his eyes.

“You’re bound to find what you’re looking for there,” he said again, heaving himself up with a heavy sigh. “If I’d known that’s what was troubling you, I could have saved myself the effort of making you food.” He took up the plate, and picked at it, humming approvingly at his own cooking.

Bakura gazed at him, suspicious. While he didn’t give off any dangerous qualities, the man wasn’t exactly trustworthy in any sense. Neither did he look as if he knew anything about who Bakura was searching for. Still, he found himself asking, “What exactly will I find?” He didn’t know what was in these streets the food vendor mentioned, but taking a look wouldn’t hurt. Ryou had said the area he had been in had been deserted. The plaza, writhing with people, and flashing with light, definitely wasn’t.

The man pointed to a wedge between two buildings. “People. Foreigners—all different qualities to them. Just don’t get too hopeful,” he added, looking him up and down. He shrugged.

Bakura practically snarled at him. He stomped off, checking to make sure he hadn’t been spotted by the wrong people. Standing at the mouth of the alleyway, he inspected the territory for any threats. The old man hadn’t given off any strange auras, but it was a precautionary measure to assess the area, considering what had already happened before to his host.

He ducked into a shop, slithering through the smoke-filled room, and then climbed out through the back. Somewhere, he thought he heard someone tell him he shouldn’t be there, but left the voice quickly behind. Finding the stairs, he reached the roof, satisfied at his larger view. From this vantage point, he overlooked the plaza, the shops, and everyone that went into and came out of the subway entrance. For now, though, his attention was in the other direction. He crossed gaps between buildings, until he came to a location that where there were people. His foot rested against the edge of the edifice, and he leaned down to look.

From up where he hid, the voices rose in whines and high-pitched squeals. It was dark, but sometimes he would spot the orange hue of a cigarette being lit, or a yellow window appearing from the inky walls of a building. His eyes scanned over the mass of bodies, watching for anything distinct.

Near him, a neon light flickered to life, and he had to step back to avoid its shine. Repositioning himself in an obscure corner, he looked down into the crowd again. No one had taken notice—and no one would, he observed. The people below remained enthralled with each other’s company—and such warm company they were.

Another moment of inspecting, and he snorted to himself. The neon sign mocked him with its red light, and flashed in the tempo of a woman’s laughter below.

He tore his gaze away from the sights. “Perverted old man.”

Seeing that nobody could spot him at that height, Bakura slipped the Ring out from under his shirt. He held it up, waiting for the prongs to rise—twitch—something.

But they never did.

He had found nothing that night—nothing that would sate him.

Waste of time, he would call it.

He was no closer to finding the golden eyed threat.

He spat to one side and cursed under his breath.

The moon had risen high into the night, a white circle glowing with as much fervor as the persistent heart-shaped sign near him.

It reminded him of the same obnoxious sign next to Ryou’s apartment, except, here, he didn’t have curtains to block it out. He let the Ring drop back against his chest, not liking how the weight suddenly felt oppressive.

Ryou, he thought briefly, using his host’s given name.

His eyebrows knit together, measuring the moon’s distance from the horizon. The laughter below might have continued, but Bakura was busy making mental calculations.

There was another gust of wind that blew in his direction, an ugly feel to it that he just had to wait out.

It stopped, leaving only the still blackness of the night.

Considerable distance lay between them, but Bakura still managed to call out into the void—

“Landlord?”


Relief.

That’s what he had told Jonouchi.

“I felt relief when he was gone.”

Jonouchi looked at him a very long time, and then deflated, right when the train halted.

“Good, because that guy gave me the creeps,” he shuddered. “I wouldn’t imagine anyone missin’ him.”

The doors opened, and Ryou looked up to see it was going in the opposite direction he was headed. “I think this one’s yours,” he said, but his voice was all wrong.

“Hm? Yeah, I guess this is where we split up.” Jonouchi turned to him, and Ryou expected a smile, but there wasn’t one. “See you around?”

Ryou pressed his lips together and nodded.

Jonouchi boarded, and it was a five-minute wait for Ryou’s own commute, and then another fifteen for the trip home. He hardly remembered it.

The door unlocked, and he stepped into an empty apartment.

His shoes came off clumsily, and his body found the soft cushions of his sofa to fall into. All he wanted was sleep at that point, and where he lay seemed appropriate enough to do just that.

For all the exhaustion in his body, sleep wouldn’t come.

Ryou looked blankly at his reflected self on the TV screen and everything came at him at once—

Being followed—

Yugi’s revelations—

Jonouchi’s accusations—

He tore his gaze away from the reflection, and curled into a corner of the couch.

He hadn’t felt anything except for the Spirit except the need to expel him—distrust, a strong aversion, anger, maybe—

He felt his hands slap against his face, and he held them there for an indeterminate amount of time. Ryou looked into the nothing of when one closes their eyes, searching for a way to stop thinking about everything. He slid his hands down his cheeks, blinking away the phosphenes that danced on the ceiling above.

And then memories of the previous night bombarded him—

Ryou bolted up, stepping away from the sofa, and stared at the spot where the Spirit had sat.

Where he had been all night, accompanying him.

He groaned, wanting to expel his thoughts.

There were too many—too many to think about—too many to dwell on.

Too many that had jumbled together into an incomprehensible mess—

He needed to tell someone, to vent all these new and complicated feelings. His friends were not an option, but a someone else was—A willing ear without judgement. His sister, however far away from him she may be, was always an option to tell things to.

“Okay.” Ryou nodded, breathing evenly, “Okay.” He started walking towards the sofa again, and then halted, turned, and went in the direction of his room. That’s where the special stationary he kept for Amane’s letters was. “If I write this out,” he said to himself, passing the kitchen and the bath, “I’ll understand everything better…”

He crossed to his drawer, not minding the light, and opened it. The paper was easily found with its white surface, but he couldn’t find his usual. Ryou shoved everything aside, searching for the pen, but did not succeed in finding it. He scanned the top of the drawer, unable to locate the writing utensil, and in the end, decided to turn on the light to help look.

He flicked it on, and kept his mind focused on the task.

Finally unearthing it from the very back of the drawer, Ryou took the paper and pen in his hand and headed for the door.

His legs froze—and seemingly, everything else, too.

His mirror stood to one side, and just then, there was a reflection inside it that wasn’t his—a reflection that didn’t look like him, either.

Slowly, his head turned, and he saw man in a long beige robe within the mirror. The man had his back to him, and mortified, Ryou realized he wasn’t confined to the glass.

The pen fell with a light thud at his feet, and the stationary floated onto the ground with a papery flutter.

Ryou turned just in time to see, the man set one of his figures down.

He should have heard Ryou’s footsteps, his digging in the drawer, his voice from the other room—even the opening of the door—but none of those things seemed to have had any impact on him. He was more than just a burglarizing intruder—that was Ryou’s first thought when he could think again.

His second was to call the police.

“Who are you?” he yelled, looking between the man, his miniature, and the window. “I’m—I’m calling the police,” he said, but his voice wavered, and the man must have sensed his apprehension. He turned, with precise movements of a mechanical doll.

“There’s no need for that.” Blue eyes momentarily shocked him still, and Ryou’s hand clutched the phone weakly in his pocket.

“I am a guardian of the Millennium Items…” he paused, and tilted his ear, listening to something, “which reside here, in your home.”

A spark cut through Ryou’s chest—fear, and with good reason. He wanted to ask how the man knew, if he was here to take them back—what did he mean by ‘guardian’? —and what his purpose was if he wasn’t here to steal anything. However, too many questions flooded his brain, and Ryou could only gape in horror as the man approached him, a purpose in his stride. There was no intention to harm, as far as he could see, but as he walked towards him, Ryou felt a cold shiver run down his spine. He felt his mind was being opened, his soul intruded upon with a mere gaze from this so-called guardian.

“You are the bearer of the Millennium Ring.” It wasn’t a question. He stated is as fact.

And he didn’t wait for Ryou to respond to him.

“The thief should have rested when my King defeated him.” He looked at the fallen paper and pen, almost as if he knew who they were to write to. “But he still clings to his existence.” He took a photo off the top of the drawer—Ryou and his father somewhere in a desert—and stared at it. “That is our biggest fear—to be forgotten.”

From inside his robe, he pulled out a golden item—the Millennium Key. It was as if he had hidden it away, and waited, just for that moment.

Ryou watched noting how perfectly it seemed to fit in the man’s hand.

The presence of the Item triggered something inside him, and suddenly Ryou thought of the Spirit and the way he held the Millennium Ring.

His heart hammered away, like the ticking of a bomb.

Hadn’t he had the Key..?!

“…Spirit,” he whispered, and Shadi paused his movements. He held his gaze on Ryou, a steady, level look.

Meanwhile, the grip on the phone in his pocket slackened.

This was the person, Ryou thought frantically. This is the person he had been afraid of.

Shadi stepped forward, the Key extended in Ryou’s direction. “I’m not here to harm you,” he said, almost as if reading the young boy’s mind.

Ryou’s hand froze. He looked at Shadi, the Key glinting ominously in his grasp. “Then what are you—?”

“I’m simply here to look.”

He brain couldn’t even form confusion before there was a flash of gold, and a metallic pressure on his forehead. His entire body was paralyzed—his mind shut down—and then there was a feeling of falling down, as if the floor had come apart underneath his feet. He saw the man next to him, falling, too, and felt his hand, a cold eerie limb clutching his own.

There was darkness—there was light.

 

 

And then, there was nothing.

Chapter Text

Ch. 14 Master is Calling

 

Something was wrong.

Something was wrong.

He was running and cared little for the attention he was attracting.

He needed to get to him—

He needed to reach him—

His feet carried him to the station, down steps he didn’t count, saw the empty tracks sitting not far—

When a guard stopped him with a wave of his baton, Bakura bared his teeth and all but shoved him off the platform.

“Out of my way.”

But the guard did not move. He looked up at Bakura with nervous apprehension, and his partner flitted anxiously behind him.

“We can’t let you pass, sir.”

“I’m not asking for permission,” Bakura hissed, shoving one of the men aside.

“W-wait!” the other man called. “Sir, please—There are no trains at this hour. The station’s closed until morning. We’re going to have to ask you to leave.”

He stopped, those words freezing him in place.

The guard warily regarded him and glanced at his partner with unease.

Bakura remained silent, stony and the disturbance in his emotions must have showed for one of the men stepped forward and extended a hand, taking him gently by the shoulder. “The next train isn’t until morning,” he said quietly. “We can call a cab for you,” he offered, slowly guiding Bakura towards the entrance. “There’s a restaurant nearby you can stay at—that’s where a bunch’a kids go after hours.”

All three went up the stairs, Bakura mechanically letting himself be escorted.

They ascended calmly, one of the guards holding on to Bakura thinking he might trip and fall.

As they neared the entrance, and when Bakura still wouldn’t say anything, the guard, now gone from wary to worried, asked, “Are you all right?”

Finally hearing the chatter of the night life above ground, Bakura blinked, and shook the station guard’s touch off him.

He strode off, at first lethargic, almost confused, and then he started off in a full sprint.

The man stood at the entrance next to his partner. He lifted his cap and readjusted it on his head. “What do you think about that one?”

His partner shrugged. “Late for curfew?”

They began descending the steps to back to the deserted station. “Pretty late, if you ask me.”


Ryou found himself standing in the middle of a room. Legs trembling, his limbs were rigid and stiff- as if he had just landed on his feet after falling from a high altitude. He blinked, blinked again, and the area grew brighter, extending itself from the edges of his vision, enabling him to see clearly where he was.

As the dark surroundings melted away and as his eyes slowly adjusted, he saw that it was not, in fact, a room, but a long circular tunnel and he stood somewhere in the middle of it. He instinctively took a step back, expecting something big to pass through and run him over. No such thing happened, and Ryou took the moment to strain his eyes into the dim shadows, finding it impossible to see past a set distance. He blinked again, shaking the dizziness from his head.

“Ugh.” He rested his face forward into his hands to rub away the heaviness of his eyelids. He still hadn’t slept, and it was time, his body decided, to feel the drowsiness of almost 24 hours catch up to him. Holding his head like that, he remained immobile for a few minutes, and when he re-opened his eyes, he caught sight of yet another bizarre quality within the already peculiar walls of the enclosing tunnel.

“What…?”

Sand dusted the floor and the cuffs of his slacks. He lifted his foot, unsure if what he was staring at was real or not. It was, he saw, after close inspection—and the grains of sand stuck to the fabric of his pants proved that he was not imagining things.

 The situation had suddenly gotten even stranger and Ryou turned his head from one side to the other trying to make sense of everything.

While he was no amateur in waking in an unfamiliar place with no knowledge on how he’d gotten there, as he stood in sand and on rock, Ryou was aware that the current predicament he found himself in was highly improbable.

He was no longer slave to the whims of an ancient spirit in depraved need of taking his body for its own schemes. The time for that was past, yet the fear of the unknown it caused him was still very present.

Ryou had never seen a place like the one where he stood anywhere in Japan. At first glance, he believed to be in an underground tunnel—while it was still likely he was correct in assuming, it wasn’t a train station as he first thought.

The sand at his feet was as good an indication as any, and although Domino Pier was close enough to his apartment to hear the gulls at quiet times, the tide didn’t rise inland enough to bring sand with it.

So, where was he?

Ryou dusted his thighs, finding them sprinkled with fine grains. The walls were crude, stone carved and chipped away to make smooth indentions in the walls. The sand underneath his shoes covered the ground completely, but if he moved his foot around, he saw the bedding, black and leveled.

Was he still within Domino city limits?

And the man who had been in his room. His thoughts went to the robed man. He had had a Millennium Item with him, the Millennium Key to be specific, and the longer he pondered on it, the more Ryou came to suspect that it was no coincidence he appeared inside the tunnel after he met him.

Upon that theory, Ryou’s hand quickly found his chest to see that he himself was deprived of his own Millennium Item—as he had been for quite some time now. In fact, it had been months since the Millennium Ring had another neck to rest around. The action of feeling for it was out of habit, one that he couldn’t do away with no matter how much he reprimanded himself after.

He took a breath. This was not a new situation for him. He had come-to in hundreds of other places, usually confused as to why he was there—the who was responsible was obvious during those instances. After many occurrences such as those, he grew accustomed to the Spirit’s whimsical nature of leaving him suddenly in a foreign setting. While he was not the source of this circumstance, Ryou treated it as such.

The first thing to do was find his way back home—hopefully, it wasn’t such a long walk, he thought briefly. Looking at the sand, however, placed doubt on that hoped-for outcome.

Perhaps he was close to the pier? he debated. Somewhere along the beach. It was possible he’d been thrown into one of the natural inlets along the cliffs, but—

He tilted his head to one side and listened for the sound of water.

The second thing to do, he listed, as he tried hearing in the opposite direction, was try to forget about the whole thing and have it never happen again—

He stopped, swallowed— heard nothing and attributed the lack of ocean waves to being deep into the underground formation.

Ryou looked between the two paths set out to him, directing his eyes at the flickering flames on the walls, the dry sand on the smooth square floor— his hope that he was still in Domino exponentially diminished as he counted each lit torch.

Try to forget.

It’s what he would’ve done, Ryou reflected. Before—

When the choices of his destiny weren’t his—not really.

He would forget, move past, and silently dream about being his own person. About not having the Spirit with him, suppressing Ryou when he saw fit.

He’d try to move beyond that, repress the memories somewhere they couldn’t be reached.

Attempt his best to live a normal life.

But as he stood there, suspecting who had brought him, he came to recognize that was not possible.

Ryou had agreed to assist the Spirit—not without ulterior motives, but as it happened, he should have been ready for what repercussions that deal entailed.

The man in the robe—surely it was him the Spirit had been scared of.

But, why exactly?

His hand reflexively went up to his forehead and touched the spot where he had felt the cool metal hit right before he fell—

His head looked up quickly, noticing immediately that here were no holes or entrances on the ceiling.

So much for that plan of escape.

His hair fell over his forehead again—

There was nothing there now, apart from his hair, but the ghostly sensation of the Millennium Key lingered, as did the feeling of the stranger’s hand holding his own.

Suppressing a shudder, Ryou stepped away from the wall he rested his weight on. His vision had adjusted fully, and the weakness of his limbs lifted. The strain of his mind was still there, but this was not the time to rest. It was time to solve his problems rather than remain passive, hoping they disappeared, in due time, on their own.

He inhaled again, to center himself, and took on a new resolve.

Wherever this place was, whatever this place was, he would find the man with the Millennium Key. And after—

He would make sure to find out everything there was about him—

And the Spirit of the Ring.


There was something there with him.

Shadi could not see past his hand—he extended it and it disappeared into a black sheet of oblivion.

Even though he could not see, he felt—was sure—that there was something there with him.

He stepped forward and there was no sound to his footsteps. No sensation of moving at all.

Quiet.

Isolated.

After opening Ryou Bakura’s mind, immediately, an unseen force from within him made itself known. He had entered other people’s minds before, yet never encountered a presence that rejected his intrusion so vehemently from the very beginning. It had interrupted the process of entering—separating the two from one another.

He had tried to remain connected to him, to Ryou, but that hadn’t been possible. They had been divided somewhere between the boundaries of the real world and his soul.

And now, he had no knowledge of where in Ryou’s mind he had entered.

This was the extent of that disruption.

Shadi inspected the abyss which he had manifested. There was no ground to stand on, but he felt the solidness under his feet. There was no visible ceiling which to fall from, but he could extend his arm above him and watch it disappear. In all his excursions into people’s hearts, he had never come across such terrible darkness inside a person. Such evil—it wasn’t possible that the human mind could harbor it without becoming evil themselves.

He turned swiftly, searched, and narrowed his eyes into the unknown.

Out of precaution, Shadi took hold of the Millennium Item around his neck. Whatever he had felt earlier, it was coming closer—slithering like a black snake, unseen.

Ryou Bakura—he had weighed his heart with the Millennium Scales, once. There was darkness inside him, but that, he understood, was attributed to the Spirit of the Millennium Ring who had been residing with him at the time. While they no longer shared a vessel, Shadi knew the power credited with disjoining their spirits could not truly separate their connection. Ryou Bakura was the thief’s vessel, as Yugi was Pharaoh Atem’s.

And having been the vessel for such an evil being, one whose heart cannot even be weighed—had the boy been tainted with the same evil? Or—

Was this the work of the thief himself?

A trap set within the boy’s soul to keep him from entering further?

The two kept secrets, but only one would devise a plan to protect the origins of both. Only one of them who could.

The Key vibrated in his grasp.

Shadi directed his eyes down to it.

The air rippled. Below the dark abyss trembled—awakening.

Was this… something else entirely?

The undead thief had not perished in the final game—

Which, to Shadi, could only mean one thing—and if his suspicions were correct—the powers of the Millennium Key alone were ineffective here. Apart from that—Ryou Bakura remained in another section of his soul—he did not want to leave without taking him along too. He did not want anything to harm the boy whose soul he believed was the key, but only if—

If this—did not reach him, too.

He grasped the Key tighter, unable to stop its vibrations.

But here? In the boy’s soul?

Shadi continued on the directionless path—there was something there with him. He knew what it was now. He could not escape it.

Ryou Bakura provided a perfect concealment having been used already by so many others. Footprints in his soul had been left by more than one, leaving traces of themselves, all camouflaging everything and anything.

Thoroughly corrupted.

With the Spirit gone, then that same corruption would need something to latch on to. Something that would enable it to leave the confines of Ryou’s human body. It had been kept alive, just barely, by feeding off the boy’s soul. But that was it. Only an existence of it remained. What was truly necessary for it was—

Something to taint and influence. A new vessel to take control of and govern.

With Ryou, it had been unsuccessful.

He did not possess the characteristics of a hopeless grief—of undiscriminating anger.

On the other hand—

Shadi had a purpose—to protect the Pharaoh even in the afterlife.

A duty that he would complete at any cost.

He was gone now. At rest, yet his peaceful departure had been for naught.

The thief had survived. He gathered the Items and used his vessel, still, to aid him.

Which was why Shadi had opened his mind—was Ryou truly an accomplice, or was there more to it? If it were possible, he had faith that the boy could be made to see the effects of his decisions.

If he had been helping the thief of his own accord, looked to tarnish the world Pharaoh Atem left behind—he did not want to think of that.

Did not want to think of the events that led them all down this dark path.

Shadi had once failed to stop the thief from stealing the Millennium Eye, an incident which unfortunately killed Pegasus, and served as a catalyst for what came soon after.

The darkness from within Malik Ishtar which hurt Yugi Mutou and his friends—It almost consumed the all that was Battle City.

And then—

When the three God Cards had been collected, when the King was set to gain his lost memories—

Shadi watched as Ryou Bakura returned, as the Spirit inside him manipulated his body and forced the Pharaoh’s friends into the final game.

He allowed such an evil to manifest itself once more—

And now his mistakes were catching up to him.

“My King,” he reflected, “you did not give up your life to have this destiny placed on your loyal subjects.”

No, it was not Pharaoh Atem’s fault at all. He fulfilled his destiny, that much was certain. Shadi saw him defeat the great evil in the Final Shadow Game. He helped him achieve that victory and saw the darkness dispel, saw it scatter into oblivion.

It should have ended—the order of the world should have been restored.

The great evil should have been destroyed.

But the thief had survived—

And instead of a promised peace, the world was in turmoil once more.

He had sensed the disturbances in the cosmic balance. He had found one—the Spirit of the Ring—and knew what the second one, sadly, was. But the third had been much too hidden, weak, inside Ryou Bakura.

Shadi continued, walking on the endless path that seemed to go nowhere.

He stopped—listened.

Whispers.

adi—

There was something there with him. It came closer, taking the same steps, melting into his form—testing.

He understood there was no escape from here. He placed a hand over his chest feeling the Millennium Key which had served him for so long.

He had entered the mind of Yugi Mutou. Innocent in youth, he managed to have the strength to control the two minds within him. The friendship that blossomed between he and the Pharaoh quelled the sorrow in the King’s heart. Yugi had helped him achieve something he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do by himself. They retrieved the lost memories, his name and managed to put him to rest after three millennia.

But...

This boy had not been so lucky.

Sometimes destiny isn’t kind.

Sh—

Was this… his own destiny?

The hand that’s dealt in life, in the grand scheme of things—one cannot escape it.

The boy—Ryou Bakura. Memories of him and his father, and what transpired the night of his own death flitted to him.

“You do not possess the Ring. It possesses you,” he repeated, his words, the same ones he had told the boy’s father that fateful night.

Looking back, he did not stop Ryou from retrieving the Ring just as he did not stop the Sprit’s plan at Domino Museum. Both incidents were necessary, no matter how unfortunate.

They were inevitable.

He understood the grief and tragedy that would come of them. He understood, and yet, did nothing to stop them.

Would not.

Shadi—

This was not another of the thief’s traps. This was not to protect Ryou, his soul or his secrets.

This was just a mere coincidence, a mere chance of—fate.

The shadows begun their agonizing path over his body. They crawled, like thick veins sticking to him and inserting their presence within his own.

He looked up seeing nothing—

Heard the thrumming as the dark oblivion began constricting his shoulders and neck—violate his mind, contaminate with horrors and obsessions.

Before he succumbed to them, one fleeting thought, like the last wisp of life, came—

I only hope… that he is strong enough for what’s to come.


 

He had been walking for some time now with no sign of an exit.

Ryou wiped the side of his face with his sleeve and looked over his shoulder, staring down the path from where he came from. Behind him, all was obscured by thick shadows. Despite their intensity, the lit torches had no strength to break through the dark left behind by him.

It was as if only his immediate vicinity existed and everything else became devoid.

“Like a video game,” Ryou muttered to himself.

He looked along the walls, which had somewhere along the line, become stones set together, rather than rock chipped away. Ryou placed his finger on the crack and dug with his fingernail, checking the dust after.

“Well, worth a try,” he said, disappointed in the firmness of the dirt where the bricks joined.

His resolve from earlier had experienced a rather hard blow as Ryou struggled to find any sign of—well, anything.

During what felt like hours, Ryou hadn’t come across a door or fork in his path. All there was lay before him in the form of a straight tunnel.

Apart from that, there was no indication of the robed man, or any other living thing other than himself.

The place was deserted—

Mounted on the wall, the fire cracked, and loose embers floated until they died in the air.

Ryou kept his gaze on them as the raging fire flickered and moved at intervals.

He focused on the direction it inclined in and glanced behind it.

Fire, there in the empty tunnel.

Fire that quivered erratically despite there being no wind.

It had struck him odd that there were so many torches along the walls, too intense for them to be old fires.

Someone must light them, surely. A fire doesn’t spring up in a place like this, not naturally, and not above black metal rimmed mounts. And for so many of them to be there—

He stepped closer to the torchlight and extended an arm to it.

On his left was the sting of the heat elicited by the torch—and to the right of it—

A soft breeze.

Ryou held his hand there until he felt the cool caress of the wind again, and sure enough, the soft breeze escaped once more from the crack just behind the mounted fire.

Sure of his luck this time, he dug his finger between the brick expecting it to come loose and maybe, hope to dig his way out into the open.

Needless to say, his disappointment came quick when the stacked stones remained immobile on top of each other. He tried clawing his fingers to make them fit through the indentions, but all that got him were sore fingertips and broken cuticles.

He sighed, exasperated. He had finally found an outlet to another part of the tunnel, possibly outside, and couldn’t figure out a way to get to it. Not one to give up so soon, Ryou tried again, until his fingers were raw and parts of his fingertips had bled.

He cradled the sore appendages, wincing at the scraped skin.

Blowing on his injuries, Ryou leaned back against the wall and stared at the opposite one.

If only he had something to dig with then getting to the other side would be easier. Easy to wish—but difficult to have them granted.

He tossed the thought aside and began searching himself for an item that could help him in his plan.

In his pockets, he found his phone, useless in its state. His normally pale reflection looked golden-orange on the black screen.

Black—just like his surroundings.

From the many Shadow Games he and the Spirt had played, the darkness didn’t scare him as much as it had at certain points in his younger life. And nothing in here could reach out like the clawed hands he was subject to watch during their games. Nothing could appear and harm him—

Ryou blinked owlishly, an idea occurring to him.

His surroundings disappeared when he’d left them far behind.

New parts of a path showed themselves when he kept moving forward.

He glanced between the up and down the tunnel and then back at the torchlight.

“Just like a video game,” he repeated, equally fascinated as when he first made the comparison.

Ryou then, took one slow step forward and stood directly beneath the fire. The material which lit it cracked at intervals, even louder as he listened closer. From his view underneath, he saw the basin where the fire was positioned. And below that—

The brace the held all of it together.

With already two setbacks under his belt, Ryou reached out for it with apprehension. If this didn’t work—and who was he kidding, this probably wasn’t going to work—his only other option was to keep walking and follow the directions the enclosing walls dictated until he came across something that could aid in his escape.

Who knew how long the tunnel stretched for, and more frightening than that, was Ryou going deeper or was he getting closer to an exit?

The metal brace was warm as his hand came into contact with it. He drummed his fingers on it and adjusted his grip.

“Okay,” he told himself. “It’s all right if nothing happens.” He prepared himself for another disappointment.

Inside his chest, his heart begun to beat wildly. He didn’t understand know why but had an inkling it had to do with the fact that if this didn’t work he would probably die there.

Shaking those thoughts from the surface of his mind, Ryou, with a firm hold, pulled down—

The torch barely moved, and his anxiety spiked until—

He felt it shake in place and his heart grew erratic.

Again, he let all his weight settle on the sconce as he tried pulling once more, and this time—

The stones around the metal brace shook and grinded against each other. They began moving of their own accord, no longer necessary for the lever to be held down.

Ryou stepped back watching agape as the wall next to the fire rattled and gave way to another passage, that if Ryou hadn’t been scrutinizing his surroundings at the right time, he surely would have missed and walked past.

There was light coming from the other side, much more intensely than from the lit torches between the walls where he was.

He stood frozen, dazzled, by the sudden bright lights, but mostly by how that had really worked.

Taking a pause to convince himself that he hadn’t imagined it all, Ryou cautiously crossed the divide between the two passages and stepped into a spacious room. There, carved on the walls, and adorning the flooring he walked on, were numerous glyphs of various sizes. As he stepped further into the room, Ryou grew fascinated at the shapes lining the stones.

From where he was, he could make out the important hieroglyphs, the ones he knew by heart because they had been the only ones he recognized in a foreign country at an early age: a sun, birds, baskets, lion, water.

He attempted to read them, but the knowledge was too far into his childhood and he could only make out vague phrases that could mean anything at all.

He wryly grimaced that if his father were present, Ryou would not only be gently reprimanded, but the older Bakura would sit him down and relegate the meaning of each glyph, adding along a long-winded tangent on how some priest or another would use special characters as a personal seal or a signature depending on the period.

A small sigh escaped him without notice. Ryou turned back to the center of the room and shook thoughts of his father out of his head. He was a sentimental distraction—one of which, as of late, especially after seeing all three Mutou family members, had reminded Ryou how alone he had grown up.

And he didn’t need the excess emotion that entailed. Not with the Spirit so near him.

The only one, really, who he spent much of his time with nowadays.

Ryou wiped at his tired face. If he was ever going to get out of there, he had to stop his thoughts from taking random, uncalled for, detours.

Why was it so difficult to dictate his own emotions lately?

Focus—He breathed in deeply. Forget about what Jonouchi told you. Just focus.

He did succeed, fortunately, by telling himself that if he didn’t find a way out anytime soon, the last thoughts before his horrible, horrible, untimely death would be of the Spirit.

And Ryou, not wanting that, crossed back to the passage door to see if there were any clues littered around it.

As he walked back, underneath his feet, Ryou caught sight of a large scarab frozen into the stone. The wings from its body stretched and curved showing off its long delicate feathers.

The large insect struck Ryou with a familiarity—not quite nostalgia—from long ago. He leaned over the carving of the beetle, sending his shadow to cut it in half, when in front of him, a loud bang grabbed his attention.

Ryou looked up from the floor and watched how the nearby wall began to close, and when the two stone surfaces that had opened the passage re-connected, any trace that there was ever a breach to the other side disappeared.

He blinked suspecting it was maybe different lighting in the room, but upon closer inspection, the divide in the brick that gave away the location of the hidden door was simply not there. He was about to bring down his hand from its position on the wall when Ryou noticed yet another anomaly.

He turned his palm up and curled his fingers—

The scrapes from earlier were gone, too.

“What…?” Ryou touched the edges of his fingers, confused, and somehow fascinated by what had just transpired before him—

The hidden door, the disappearance of said door, and now, his injuries—all gone.

He flexed his hand, feeling neither sore nor damaged.

He turned back to the large room, still awed by his rapid healing. Now, he was extremely certain that this was nowhere in Japan, but—

Ryou tilted his head up measuring the high ceiling.

Even if this was somewhere in Egypt, as the imprints on the walls and floor indicated—

Nothing could explain how he got there, or—Ryou looked at his hand again—what had happened to him since.

He clenched it into a fist and began to walk across the scarab, minding the other hieroglyphs decorating the floor. Having already ascertained that his reading ability was ineffective at the moment, he moved past them swiftly. His priority, he reminded himself, was finding an escape. Already having been successful in getting out of that claustrophobic tunnel, his luck had changed for the better, when an exit from the large room was found relatively easily across the spacious vicinity.

There were a few other doors around, but being the closest one, Ryou directed himself to the one below the glyph of what he knew was a throne.

Ryou practically ran to it, halted, and stopped just at the threshold.

White light flooded the doorway.

Not one to question the oddities in this place anymore, he tentatively extended a hand out to it, feeling the inviting warmth, pulsing with life just beyond his reach.

All his worries vanished without a trace when his hand connected to it.

Suddenly he held no concerns.

Felt no doubts.

He felt like—laughing.

Felt that everything was going to be okay.

That he didn’t need to go anywhere else—didn’t need to do anything. Ha hadn’t felt the innocent relief from responsibility since he was a child—

Rather than inspect the other doors, Ryou suddenly did not find it in himself to move from the spot. The pleasant sentiments ignited within him rooted him where he was.

It was just such a benevolent presence that he wished to go near it even more.

But go near what exactly?

He wiggled his fingers inside the light, touching upon nothing physical, not even a draft of air. The light was simply that and only that.

As he stood there, smiling, and with his arm thrust out into it—

Ryou was abruptly interrupted from those precious sentiments when something took hold of his wrist and dragged him in through the doorway.

Once more, he felt as if though he were falling—falling—but this time he floated peacefully, not anticipating harm of any kind—unlike the terror he experienced with the white robed man.

His body crossed into one last layer of calm and Ryou clumsily landed into an unfamiliar place.

The grass was spongy under his shoes—a welcome change from the hard, flat rock.

His eyes fluttered in discomfort from the sunlight and he shielded his eyes with his hand.

No—not unfamiliar—

He instantly recognized his old elementary school.

The building was red, high arched. Green trees surrounded the edges. A playground was nearby.

But Ryou’s attention was elsewhere.

As soon as he arrived, it was the first thing he saw.

Nothing else—not even how he had gotten there—mattered.

Right at the gate, exiting, was Ryou himself, no more than four years old. Some time before he left with his father on his expedition.

He wore an explorer’s hat that day.

And the woman that stood beside him, holding his hand—

She was what mattered.

The girl in her arms reached out to his four-year-old self, babbling incoherently.

They were what mattered.

Ryou’s younger self was laughing, and his mother was smiling between both her babies. He saw her pink mouth open, elated in the innocence of it all.

Ryou stood immobile on the opposite sidewalk, watching them, caught up in the way her dress moved in the wind, how her hands curved around the soft body of an infant, rosy under the sun.

Amane’s fingers closed greedily around Ryou’s thumb, and he smiled up at his mother who tilted her head and gently pried Amane’s hands from his own.

She tilted her neck to kiss the child in her arms, and even with the distance between them, Ryou saw how her nose scrunched when she leaned in playfully to peck Amane on the cheek.

The younger Ryou tugged at her skirts, and she patted the hat on his head.

He heard the lilt of her laugh when Ryou wouldn’t cease his need for attention and his mother leaned down—

And just like that, a car passed between the two side-walks and the Ryou of the present fell back on the floor, the tall carved ceiling looming over him.

There were no emotions within him.

He was floating on lost memories—emptily elated.

Like a soap bubble, spinning and ready to pop.

All he saw were his mother and sister.

A memory long forgotten replaying over and over in his mind.

He opened and closed his left hand, the one where, in the memory, Amane took hold of his thumb. He could almost feel her chubby fingers on it, even his mother’s skin as it gently brushed against his own when she separated the two.

He pressed his hand against his cheek feeling for the kiss that never came.

His eyes began to prickle but he was too absent to acknowledge them.

How? And why?

Lost in their lost touch, Ryou hadn’t sensed the presence that approached him until a turban came into view and half-obscured the circular glyph on the ceiling.

The man stared down at him, and when Ryou tilted his head to meet his icy blue eyes, they sent a shock through him that swiftly revived him.

                Ryou scrambled to his feet, and although he continued to dwell on his mother and sister, he was aware of the significance of the man’s presence. He had been looking for Shadi all this time, and he had finally appeared before him. Ryou was quick to attack him with questions despite his shaky state.

                “Where are we?” he asked. His eyes landed on another doorway, sending his heart leaping. “Did you bring me here?”

                Shadi blinked.

                Did not pause.

“This is your soul, Ryou Bakura. What you’ve seen are your memories.” His voice vibrated, as if two of him were speaking.

Or maybe Ryou just imagined it. He still felt his sister’s touch.

Shadi turned away. Took ghostly steps along the floor, where there was no longer a scarab, but what looked like a serpent’s head.

                Ryou followed after him, in the back of his mind amazed at the speed which Shadi moved. He struggled to keep up.

                “My memories?” he tried again, craning his neck towards the white light as they passed it. He would not let the man from his sight any longer. He had suffered enough already to find him.

                He exited the room, following Shadi into a small corridor that ran between additional open doors. From the corner of his eye, Ryou saw that inside the doorways, there were rooms similar to the one he had just walked out of, and others, which looked extremely ordinary—modern.

                In one case, however, stood something out of the ordinary: neat wooden doors placed opposite the open doorways made of stone. As much as he wanted to turn the brass knobs and satisfy his curiosity and follow the magnetic pull to what was on the other side of those closed doors, Ryou continued to trail after Shadi, barely managing to catch his turn as the tail of his robe disappeared around the corner.

                “Wait—wait!” he shouted—loud and angry. He was tired, confused by the vague explanation, that wasn’t much of an explanation at all.

Ryou gripped the edge of the wall, surprised to find Shadi just a few meters from him, waiting.

                He approached slowly, cautious of the sudden change.

                “You said,” he started, “we’re in my soul?” Ryou flicked his gaze to the Millennium Item in the other’s hand. “And that what I’ve seen are my memories?”

                “What you’ve seen are reflections of your soul,” he stated. “Things that shape you into the person you are.” Shadi made no move to disappear on him again. He remained there, just out of reach, waiting.

                Ryou bit the inside of his cheek. He didn’t need to ask Shadi how they were inside his soul—the Millennium Key in his hand was answer enough.

                However, it did raise questions that he didn’t think the other could answer.

                The ancient walls, the history shaping places within him—Ryou attributed that to his childhood, growing up under the shadow of his father’s work, the museum exhibits he pressed his face to—

                The characteristics of games he recognized already, which provided an element of adventure.

                But his whole life? The entirety of his soul?

                There should have been more, right?

                He thought back to the closed doors, the ones wide open like distractions.

The secret passages hidden unless he really wanted one to be there.

Were more parts of him hidden away in there?

He looked up at Shadi. “Why did you bring me here?”

The silence that followed stretched for so long, Ryou started to believe the other hadn’t heard him.

He opened his mouth to re-iterate his question when he was interrupted.

“We must hurry,” Shadi said and then—

Hurry!

Ryou, startled, looked over his shoulder, peering into the corridor.

He swallowed, hearing his gulps and movements so clearly.

That second voice—a second voice, wasn’t it? —that hadn’t been his imagination.

He looked back at Shadi, scrutinizing, wary.

That hadn’t been him…

“Why? Why can’t you answer first?” He hoped to speak firmly, but his voice, apprehensive, cracked.

His ears were finely tuned to capture any other echoes in the chamber. He felt every muscle twitch on his body, a growing sense of dread along his skin.

Shadi blinked, but never tore his gaze off Ryou.

“There are things here that might,” he paused, searching for words, “harm you.”

“Harm me?” The fire sent a shadow across them both, sending a sharp chill into the room. Ryou fought off the urge to look over his shoulder again, not wanting the man to escape from his sight. “What would harm me?” he asked, tone dripping with unmitigated disbelief. “You were the one who brought me here. Why would you do that if you thought something might hurt me?”

He didn’t doubt that they were in his soul—having already gone through one of his memories. It had been real—real—

But for his own self, deep down, to want to hurt him?

That couldn’t be possible.

Memories of his sister—mother—they couldn’t cause malicious intent.

Not them, never.

A phantom grip on his wrist—whatever that had been—what had pulled him into the doorway earlier, even that hadn’t felt as if it had any malignant intentions.

Up until now, Ryou had not seen anything or come across anything that might cause him harm. The trauma to his fingers, that had been him, and already there was no trace that it had happened. The most dangerous thing in here, if he thought about it, was the man standing in front of him. The man who had the power to bring him in and—more than likely—take him out of this place. Ryou kept a wary eye on him—needing answers—but he began to develop a sense of unease the longer he was in his presence. The longer he watched him.

His movements were odd. His speech was—even stranger. Ryou could swear there was an echo that followed his words, but the echo didn’t happen when he spoke himself.

When he had first seen him in his room, Ryou had been startled. Anyone would have been, seeing a foreign man nonchalantly browsing his belongings. Perhaps there was a sense of fear, an unwelcome intrusion to his mind with a mere gaze—

But he had never had the impression that Shadi had ulterior motives, something apart from simply looking as he stated.

Yet, now—

“We are in your soul, Ryou Bakura,” Shadi stated again. Ryou heard his words, but nothing on the man’s face gave any indication that he had spoken.

“And,” Ryou swallowed, and grown very aware that it was in his best interest not to anger the other, “I assume you’ve found what you were looking for. Is that it?”

Shadi went on as if he wasn’t listening.

“It is one of the many powers of the Millennium Key—to open a person’s soul, explore it—,” he waved his hand and an opening appeared beside him, “change it as one sees fit.”

Ryou flicked his gaze at new doorway, then at the man, who was apparently waiting for him to do something. He didn’t need to look over his shoulder to realize what began to happen next—a dark haze had started to seep from the cracks of the corridor. The lights illuminating from the forking paths had dimmed, others, snuffed. The turn Ryou had taken had been sealed shut and the only way out, he saw, was the doorway that had been created out of thin air by Shadi.

“Change it how?” He managed to keep his voce steady. Tried to keep them occupied in conversation.

The man remained unfazed by all the questions or was ignoring them altogether.

He gestured Ryou to the door. “The answers you seek are in there. Everything you must know to get rid of the thief.”

Get him.

There it was again!

Almost like a second thought, an unspoken thought. But whose was it?

Ryou immediately narrowed his eyes, pretending he hadn’t heard it. “Do you think I’m stupid?” He stepped back, trying to form as much distance as possible between Shadi and himself.

Unfortunately for him, there was little space to place between them.

In all senses, Ryou felt much like a cornered rat, and not for the first time.

The first time hadn’t nearly been this worse.

The first time—

He briefly saw the Spirit before him, and his heart sank.

“No,” the man mouthed, sound of his voice out of tempo with the movements, “but the thief—”

Seeing the disfigured entities rising from the ground, Ryou didn’t wait for him to finish. He sought an escape in the other direction, finding it sealed.

In another direction—closing in.

He clenched his teeth, his hands, unsure of what he could do to get away. Frustrated, more than anything, at his inability to defend himself.

In that moment, disembodied hands swiped at his feet, clawed at his hair. Ryou pulled away, hairs getting tangled in their awful grip.

“—didn’t train you well enough,” the man finished, as if Ryou hadn’t just tried to run away.

Ryou turned back to Shadi, accusation in his tone lost with every frigid finger that dug into his skin. “Are you going to kill me? Is that why you’ve brought me here?”

Shadi made no movements toward him, but the grotesque corpse-like figures did. He felt their cold slimy hands around his arms, clenching around his throat. It did not take long for full-blown panic to arrest him in the moment.

He kept his eyes on the ceiling, focusing on the last memory fresh in his mind—his mother and sister, all three of them laughing.

He closed his eyes, then, thinking of their smiling faces when—

“No,” the man’s voice came again, “Your existence means his existence.”

Valuable host—

His eyes snapped open.

That was—

Before he could finish that thought, Ryou was shoved into the manifested chamber, hitting the hard stone upon landing. He breathed freely, scrambled to his feet, and rushed towards the only exit.

A wall of melting faces stopped him in his tracks. They made pitiful moaning noises, screamed in pain.

He couldn’t move, and he stared—stared at their empty sockets.

“Learn to hate, bearer of the Ring.”

Hate.

Hate him! Their voices whispered, a foreign tongue, that he understood.

“Your soul will invite me in.”

The figures began to swarm around the doorway, something keeping them at bay from passing the threshold.

“When that happens, the knowledge you seek will come.”

Grant you power!

“And if not—”

The doorway disappeared in a flash that left him paralyzed. Ryou kept picturing those faces—

                His chest heaved erratically.

                His mouth was dry.

                Everything was wrong.

He circled the enclosure, finding no other escape. The only light there came from a dimming torchlight in one corner.

Ryou’s breath was loud—the room terribly silent.

“And if not?” Ryou said to himself.

He strained to listen to any noise on the other side of the wall— wanting to hear the last part of that statement.

The small ember flickered, and his heart sunk at the prospect of having it snuffed out at any moment.

He dug at his chest with his fingers, grabbing a hand-full of fabric—fabric, and only that.

Ryou heard nothing but the flames and himself. Heard the awful echoes in his mind of the voices that told him to hate.

“If not…?”


 

The man was clumsy on him.

He wasn’t a corpse.

But wasn’t a living body either.

He maintained a will of his own.

The room had remained dark.

Still night.

The body of the boy laid on the floor.

His attention was elsewhere.

In the city. Then, half a world away. Moving, always. But returned to the same places.

A pattern, following.

Yes—the man’s thoughts told him this. The strange energy that was like the Millennium Items—

A different dimension.

Need bring forth.

To protect.

Destroy.

All without the need of the thief or the stone tablet.

Let down.

Useless.

A power unimaginable.

The power of a god.

He stepped over the body of the boy, walked over to the window and looked out at the mortal world.

The power he once had—then given away—it was his.

Rightfully his.

With it he could rival the thief—protect the King in the afterlife.

But he needed to find it first.

Find the boy.

Kill this one?

No, he couldn’t.

Ryou Bakura must remain alive.

He was important. The last link left.

Change his memories.

Destroy him from within.

No, still had use.

Program him for use.

No!

Not yet.

Special.

Necessary.

Host!

One focus—Find the boy with the Quantum Cube.

One focus—everything on that thought.

To protect the King.

And after—

When Pharaoh Atem was safe, when the doors opened to let the gods in—

Then he could kill them both with it.

Afterlife.

Erase.

He would kill the thief and Ryou Bakura, the mortal that kept alive the last fragment of his soul.


 

He did end up hailing a cab somewhere between the lower part of Domino and where he stood now.

“Your total comes to,” the taxi driver looked at his monitor. In those few seconds, the handle on the door twisted, the door opened—

“H-hey! Where are you going? You have to pay first! Hey!” His yells were ignored, and he scrambled to unfasten his seatbelt, when his passenger flung a stack of bills in his direction.

Bakura was irate. The taxi, although quicker than making the entire trip on foot, wore down his patience. Someone else—he had to rely on someone else to bring him to his host’s apartment.

And it took all the self-restraint he had not to threaten the man to drive faster.

Something was wrong—he could feel it.

Bakura closed the door, and the driver counted the money. His usual passengers hardly carried cash—and he fumbled to pick up the paper bills and thumbed through them.

What had he told Ryou that day before he left?

That’s right—with the right amount of people surrounding him, there could be no chance of being attacked.

But what of that time in-between? When he left, when his father had gone his own way, when Ryou was separated from everybody.

He really had spent too much time following a dead trail—

The driver put down the window and called to him. “You don’t want your change?”

Bakura froze.

Unless he was purposely led away from Ryou—made so they could be separated.

“No, that can’t be right,” he said aloud. “He can’t know…” Bakura looked up at the apartment complex. The drapes were drawn and there were no lighted windows.

“Yeah, you gave me like, uh,” the driver chuckled nervously, “—you gave me ‘round 3000 too much.” The feigned service accent faltered, and he amended by calling out to Bakura again, “Sir?”

“Quiet,” he muttered, eyes scanning the roof, and anywhere really, of the flat, “or I’ll kill you.” The comment was flippantly made, no real threat behind it. He just wanted the man to drive off and leave him to the matter at hand.

Whether the driver believed him or not was hardly important to him. He heard the click of the gear shift into place, and the hum of the engine further and further away.

Slowly, he made his way around the building, checking for—whatever—a trail of sorts.

He was searching for the hazy sense of magic, an electric charge that polluted the air.

Bakura checked the obscured corners near the mouth of the alleys between Ryou’s apartment and surrounding edifices. Carefully, he pulled out the Millennium Ring from under his shirt, holding it out in front of him, shaking it slightly to test its reaction.

He inclined his head to look up at Ryou’s window—no lights illuminated the rectangle cut-out. He narrowed his eyes and felt himself swallow the dry lump in his throat. Looking between the north and south entrance of the passageway, he saw nothing out of the ordinary, but that didn’t mean something wasn’t.

The uneasy sensation he had carried all night—it was stronger and stronger the more he inspected the area.

It was too quiet.

Whenever he would listen to the sounds of the night, there was always one he could focus on; laughter, television programs, cats for god’s sake, or even the electric hum of the sign near Ryou’s window—nothing was audible now. The only thing surrounding him was the unsettling oppressive air.

He set the Ring down to let it hang against his chest.

Right when he was rounding the corner, a figure skittered close to the ground. A flash of gray, and a trailing tail of the same color. Bakura saw the yellow slit-eyes boring into him from behind a canister. The cat made a noise between a hiss and a growl and scuttled deeper under the excess paper littering the area near the trash cans.

He ignored the unwelcoming gesture and instead took the living creature’s presence as a good sign.

As he ascended the stairs and took hold of the knob, his mind briefly registered that it was unlocked—

And with a momentary flash of gold, the Millennium Ring pointed forward—quivered and fell flat again.

Having been sure of something out of place, that was the final indication of it.

The air suddenly felt cold. His eyes returned to the bins outside, but the cat, lamenting its loss to privacy had sought another place to find it.

The door was flung open and Bakura entered the apartment—any previous finesse in his actions gone. He entered with purpose, intending to fight if it were necessary. Whatever it took—

The inside of the apartment was dark, and he stepped forward, effectively stumbling over a pair of shoes.

Ryou’s shoes.

Specifically, those he had worn before he left with his father. Which would mean…

His head snapped up in the direction of his host’s room.

The door was ajar—not closed, as he habitually left it whenever he was asleep.

It took three strides for Bakura to traverse the hallway and one shove to slam the door against the wall behind it.

Despite the immediacy in his actions, and the desperation he felt to overturn everything in Ryou’s room, he kept his breathing even, his shoulders stiff, and in the seconds between giving in to his feral instincts or maintaining his cool façade, Bakura faltered.

His gaze fell to the floor, spotting the body there, lying so still, on its side.

There was no outburst of anger—those urges fell flat and gave way to something new that kept him rooted to the entrance of the room with a strange placidity.

The body he had once inhabited and seen countless times in that distressed state—this time not by him.

Before it was he who had often driven Ryou’s body to its limit—

Frustrated at the imposed limitations of young age, sub-par strength, or anything that required extensive physical mobility, he tuned it to his own needs—used the gift of Ryou’s non-threatening gait, all the while paying tribute to the vessel he was destined to possess.

Bakura had been the one who caused the most harm to it—to his host’s body, until he learned the value of having it cared for instead.

Ryou never asked for anything from him after Duelist Kingdom.

Bakura never offered.

Only took with lies, or never let Ryou find out at all—until their last moment when the final game was prepared.

There was a sort of regret he felt for having caused Ryou physical pain, and thus took his place at the forefront of their conscious mind until said pain heeded. Took it upon himself instead—

No, that was a lie.

His body began to loosen, mind started to return to the present.

Everything was a lie.

                There were no regrets. Only necessities—and Ryou’s well-being was the price he had to pay, having nothing else to give other than his host. Ryou was the only thing he really possessed in the world, and even if he said that, it was, at the same time, untrue. He had possessed Ryou, but never earned his companionship, nor his trust, nor his kindness.

Nothing of Ryou’s was his.

Not even the Ring.

So, seeing him there, lying stiff on the floor, so still

It was then that Bakura really understood he had nothing.

Nothing—

Except…

The memory of a boy and a golden object and the memories of that boy and of that object—

An abject emptiness he had forgotten that lamented the damned souls of those who had borne him.

He blinked and was on his knees.

Ryou wasn’t asleep—that he knew already.

But he was breathing—and so was Bakura after his mouth failed to whisper the name of that boy.

His hand extended to Ryou’s shoulder and turned him gently.

His breathing was unusual, he heard, as Ryou lay on his back. Loud. Erratic. His ear was tuned to it—Ryou struggled to garner a proper lungful of air.

He swallowed, touching Ryou here and there, feeling the sturdier places along his body, and placing a hand over his chest to feel the steady thump, thump, thump of a still beating heart.

He caught glimpse of his own hand resting over Ryou’s breast taking note of his own rigid lines. His fingers spread wide—they were still solid, alive... Ryou was still alive. He’d be the first to know if he wasn’t.

His hand went upward, taking hold of Ryou’s chin, turning his face this way—that way, thumbing he soft roundness of it.

He didn’t stir, and Bakura didn’t see movement under his closed eyelids.

“Landlord,” he called softly. He didn’t expect a response. “Landlord,” he said again.

He touched Ryou’s cheek, touched it in the same way he remembered Ryou touching his own.

Or, at least, he tried to mimic those movements he had memorized, had run through his mind over and over, trying to decipher their meaning.

But Bakura’s touch wasn’t as elegant. No, his thumb brushed too hard against cheekbone, his palm pressed too closely against skin.

Warm, though, he noted. Warm, still warm.

His index finger traced the faint scar over Ryou’s eye—faint under the white moonlight filtering through the open drapes hanging eerie still over the window.

Just that white light illuminated a square shape in the center of the room where Ryou lay—and right above his head, Bakura saw, a little ways under the bed, a glint of gold.

He stopped his ministrations over the scar tissue and stared at the shining object.

Bakura neared it and seized the cold metallic item.

The Millennium Key.

He wasn’t even surprised, and the anger was easy to suppress given the circumstances.

Suddenly Ryou’s state made sense—the unsettling calm outside—the sensation of something happening that he couldn’t put a name to. He had been taken away to the recesses of his innermost mind, some place Bakura couldn’t think of reaching him in.

He tossed the key carelessly onto the floor and it bounced far away from the both of them.

Bakura closed his eyes and didn’t open them for a long time.

If he asked ‘why,’ the answer didn’t matter. If he asked ‘who,’ he already knew.

He opened his eyes again and his eyes fell on Ryou.

Ryou.

Thoughts of what Ryou was to him, what he couldn’t be, and what could have been, fleeted his mind. He dwelled on neither too long for it didn’t do him any good.

All he thought was of how Shadi had bested him, and that in itself was a failure.

Of course, he had previously been defeated by others, but those defeats had never been setbacks. Those defeats never derailed his plans. If anything, they helped prolong the preparation for the final moment when he would succeed in his own defeating of the pharaoh.

Those defeats were accounted for. Those defeats had been thrilling parts of the game.

Yet…

Bakura sat back, staring blankly at his host—at Ryou. He’d been left alive—just alive and nothing more.

This—he thought briefly but couldn’t finish the thought. For what could he possibly compare this to?

Shadi—that night at the museum, had been correct in his assertation. Bakura being separated from Ryou had been a weakness. No longer connected, each had been vulnerable to the looming threat. And, unfortunately, Ryou had not succeeded in being able to defend himself.

Bakura had been patient in waiting for his improvement in magic. It had come, but not fast enough.

Just like him. Not fast enough.

He thought of a beating heart, the warmth of his skin, the softness of the scar…

The Millennium Key lying right there.

Bakura tightened his jaw and shifted his glance from it to Ryou. He looked like he was sleeping and to Bakura, it looked like the most peaceful sleep he’d had in months. The dark circles underneath his eyes that had been there earlier before he saw him leave had now faded into the natural color of his skin.

His own eyes flitted to the Key again.

Ryou was alive, he reminded himself.

So, as Bakura was there in the realm of the living, Ryou was trapped in the illusory puzzle of his mind, deep in his soul where Bakura was sure he couldn’t reach—

Unless—

The Millennium Key had been left there for a reason, hadn’t it?

It had to have been.

His mouth suddenly went dry.

There was only one possible purpose for it being left behind, and that was for Bakura to use it on Ryou himself.

Picking it up from its spot on the ground, he recalled the powers it held.

The ability to enter someone’s mind, change the landscape within, search their memories, and the most prevailing part in this scenario—

To awaken the one affected by the Item’s powers.

In other words, if he used it on Ryou, he would be free of the effects of whatever had been done to him.

But what would happen to Bakura?

He swallowed, slowly shifting his gaze from the Key to Ryou.

The two of them had shared a soul. Even if Ryou had never been within it, consciously, Bakura had. He had spent countless days, hours—the time was odd inside the Room of the Soul— filtering through Ryou’s thoughts and memories.

And the Key had the power to send him back there.

So, what would happen to him?

Would Ryou’s soul recognize him as part of itself?

Would the Key force them together again, as one, and strip Bakura of his own physical embodiment? Confine him to the Ring?

Would he be stripped of his physical form? Deprived of the thing that enabled him to interact with everything around him without having to rely on the Ring as an intermediator between his soul and Ryou’s?

To be denied the chance to interact with him—with the host?

If that’s what Shadi had anticipated him to do, there was only outcome to those questions wasn’t there?

The cool metal of the Key was slippery under his touch. He pressed his thumb to the base of it until he felt like his bone would break.

But no matter how much force he exerted, it didn’t.

The more he thought about what could happen, the motives Shadi could have had, the game he set out for Bakura to solve—

The man who had become more than a nuisance—an outright threat—not only to him and his plans, but to Ryou’s well-being, too—

He cursed Shadi with every type he knew, and he cursed himself, too, while he was at it.

There was one thing Bakura had shame in admitting—one thing Shadi had failed to perceive—

His self-preservation.

A low deranged type of laughter had bubbled in his throat and came spilling out over the ragged breaths Ryou released steadily into the dark room.

He threw the Key aside in anger, burying his face in his hands after.

No, he wouldn’t let him win. He hadn’t won. Bakura had many hands to play, and he wouldn’t be limited to just one.

He still walked the earth, freely and of his own will. He still had the Items, all of them in one place—all he had to do was figure out how Ryou had awakened them, do it himself, take them to the Stone—

The only things that could stop him from that was if Ryou was dead, and Shadi knew this, or—

Well, he wasn’t dead! He told himself that over and over. And if he wasn’t dead, then there was no problem at all. Ryou’s use as the vessel still stood—nothing else hindered his plans, as long as he wasn’t dead.

And he wasn’t.

He lifted his face from his hands, trying to collect himself. This wasn’t like him. He was calculating, not impulsive. He was cunning, not desperate. He let out a breath that turned into an angry growl, a frustration that he hated and was unable to get rid of no matter how much he debated with himself.

In his mind: Ryou’s heart still beat, his skin was warm—alive.

He still had use. He was only a tool. He had decided that long ago, when—when Ryou had chosen Yugi and the others instead of him.

No, he wasn’t dead.

Wasn’t.

Bakura stopped.

Held his breath.

Let it out slowly.

He lifted his eyes to once more look at Ryou and found he couldn’t.

Bakura rested his head forward, between his knees.

Ryou wasn’t dead.

He knew that.

 

So, then—

Why did it feel like he was?

 

Chapter Text

Ch. 15 A memory of a memory

He believed the candle’s life had only lasted as long as it had by a whim of fate. He believed his own life had been spared by something similar.

The ember flickered weakly, a tiny fire that occasionally, coughed orange sparks into the room. Ryou was reminded, as he watched the fluttering wisps, that it wasn’t that easy to simply float away. Not for him, anyway.

His fingers were rubbed raw, his shoulders ached, his legs wanted to give out.

But even among the fatigue, he moved along the wall, pushing multiple parts of it, palms wide, wondering if that time, the rock would fall in to reveal an exit. When he was finished, and nothing happened, he stepped back, wondering if he’d missed a spot. Drawing in close, touching more, feeling with sore fingers for hidden spots, cracks that outlined possible openings from which he could escape, Ryou was determined to find that longed for exit.

The routine felt familiar.

Already, Ryou scoured four walls, once, twice over. He was on his third time, and the bleeding fingers he dragged along the dusty walls stung, protested the abuse, but Ryou, seeing those injures disappear again and again, continued, knowing wounds he created himself would seal up, leaving no trace.

When the flame in the corner threatened to give out, Ryou would turn to it, watch it, wished it would last just a bit longer.

When it did, he’d turn back to his work, weak shadow he cast roving the walls in the same manner as he.

When his body threatened to collapse, though, Ryou talked to himself.

And when Ryou talked to himself, his mind liked to replay things he didn’t want to think about.

The room had grown stuffy and the air thick as he recalled the numerous voices, the wailing and crying growing louder as each one had tried to gain his attention, each message more horrible and vengeful and angered as the last—

Ryou wasn’t easily spooked.

But he could still feel the cold limbs trying to grab him. Behind his eyes, he saw the man’s dead blue ones.

He rubbed a hand over his face, smelling the dried blood on his fingers. He smoothed away the hair from his forehead. Behind him, the ebbing flame crackled.

The final message, the few words that were thrown into his head as easily as he was thrown into the room, replayed in his mind:

Hate him.”

Each time, it scratched away at his sanity.

Learn to hate.”

Ryou rested his cheek against the cool stone, relaying his inquiring answer to the orange wisp abandoned at the opposite corner. His eyes were tired; the lids drooped heavily, and every blink was perilous as the exhaustion seeped from his very bones.

“Hate who?” His lips creased into a thin line as the only name he knew to give him sat tentatively, heavily on his tongue. “Bakura?” The name sounded foreign and forbidden. Ryou only said it once—saying it again would be like he acknowledged the Spirit’s name was the one he took from him.

His brow creased as his gaze fell to the ground. The shadows there were constantly eating at one another. It felt as though Ryou were standing over solid smoke, but the solid feel, the crunch of sand underneath his shoes gave the realness of it away.

Tired of standing, he rested his back against the wall and slowly began sliding down it. He reached the floor and stretched his legs, thinking that these could not be his final moments. He had already gone through one trial—why must he go through another?

The air was cooler near the base of the room, allowing him to breathe. His lungs appreciated the air, quickly preferring it to the stuffy air overhead. Ryou listened to the low, hum-like vibrations around him coming from the quiet of it all. His head rested back, making a low thud, as the back of his skull pulsed from the contact.

“I should hate him,” he said. He narrowed his eyes at the fire.

No, these could not be his final moments. The Spirit was bound to him. Isn’t that what the robed man had said? That meant the connection went both ways. His existence meant the Spirit’s existence.

And if that was the case, the Spirit wasn’t about to let his only connection to the mortal world be erased. He’d dodged the afterlife once—he could do it again.

Ryou blinked, eyes closing heavier and longer than before.

The Spirit could do it again, couldn’t he?

His hands landed on his lap, the left one providing a suitable perch for his fingernail to scratch carelessly at. The four-point scar served as a constant reminder of why he should hate the Spirit. Even now, Ryou could scarcely close his hand all the way. When he tried, he was met with a slight stiffness of the fingers, a dull ache along the fine bones that connected everything, a trembling that only stopped when he let the appendage rest, undisturbed, on his knee.

And what of his friends? He hadn’t taken them into account. Would they wonder where Ryou disappeared to? It could be weeks, or months, until anybody, even his neighbors, realized something was wrong. It wasn’t the first time Ryou would be absent at school, missing days, already known for up to weeks, at a time. Would anyone wonder the reasoning behind his absences, or think it strange at all?

The only one, Ryou groaned dejectedly, the one who could, who would realize anything the moment it happened was the Spirit.

The man in the beige robe had told them they were in his soul, but Ryou still had difficulties in wrapping his head around the information. He didn’t know what it meant to be inside the soul, but he wanted to think it was more dreamlike—like astral projecting. Everything he had seen thus far, though, seemed and felt so real. Not even the most vivid of dreams could compare to that.

He could have been lying, but intensions aside, lying about where they were served little purpose.

Besides, he had seen other Millennium Items powers at work already. If the Key, which the man had revealed was the reason they had both been transported to this place, worked in a similar manner as the Millennium Eye and Millennium Rod, chances were Ryou was alive in the real world, while only his psyche was trapped. He was body was probably still in his room, unconscious and unresponsive as he had seen with Mai Kujaku in Battle City.

The only difference was, Mai had had a clock. After some time, the powers of the Millennium Rod would have, eventually, made her lose herself, her mind, leading to death.

Ryou took a breath.

The Millennium Ring, too, had similar powers. It could remove the soul from its corresponding body, leaving only an empty shell behind, comatose.

Was it the same for him? If he didn’t find a way out, would he lose himself inside this labyrinth without chance of escape? Ryou could not come up with an answer right away. He didn’t understand the powers of the Items extensively, and the Spirit, the one Ryou counted on knowing, never told him. What Ryou did understand, however, was that nothing good came with him remaining in his soul for too long. His body wouldn’t survive.

His eyes fell on his hand again.

“Grant me power, huh?” Ryou echoed the bodiless voice he had heard. “What does that even mean?” He exercised his fingers, wiggling them slowly, one by one. He thought of the Spirit, something he had been forced to do as of late. Everything that had happened until then had been connected to him. The man following him. Being thrown into his soul, trapped, it seemed. Ryou wasn’t completely innocent in the matter, though. He had been the one to propose working together. He had wanted to get the information from the Spirit himself, wanting to send him back from wherever it was he came.

Ryou thought he could do it alone.

Would that power he had been tempted with be enough? Would it be what he wanted?

His hands were lifted from his lap and rubbed meditatively over his face. He blinked multiple times and let out a tired sigh slip through his fingers. Through those fingers he watched the small fire again.

Was that the plan? To leave Ryou trapped inside his memories until he went insane and begged for that “power”? Was he to fester in thoughts that explicitly blamed the Spirit for the misfortune that befell Ryou ever since that fateful day when they both met Yugi Mutou?

His body slumped forward. The muscles under his knees stretched uncomfortably but Ryou remained preoccupied with his musings. After all, that was the most he could do, restrained to one room.

The corners of his mouth pointed down as he thought of the last conversation he had with Yugi. It had been hours—days maybe—since he had been there, in the Mutou household. He spoke about the Spirit as if he had been a victim of some long-forgotten tragedy. He spoke of the Spirit as if he had logical reasoning for his actions, even when those actions threatened Yugi and the people around him.

Yugi was like that. Ryou figured it out almost immediately after they met. He believed in the best of people, even if those people had never shown good in them once. Yugi had believed in Ryou’s innocence during their first Monster World game, when the Spirit trapped them in miniatures, despite them only having met. He fought to free Ryou from the suppression of the Spirit’s influence. Although all that happened, and Ryou and him had yet to form a strong bond, Yugi and everybody else hadn’t been afraid of Ryou. They extended their friendship to him knowing of the ancient spirit his Millennium Ring harbored.

Yugi was like that.

Even he didn’t hate the Spirit.

He didn’t hate him after everything, after Monster World, after Duelist Kingdom, after Battle City, after the final game he played against him.

It was one of the downfalls in having a parasitic relationship with an ancient ghost. Ryou wondered, if he had been awake during the times the Spirit took over, would Ryou see his actions differently? Why did Yugi feel so strongly about the Spirit? Just because he retrieved some cards for him once?

Yugi thought they had been friends.

Ryou thought of the Spirit as…what?

He touched the upper part of his arm, knowing a scar was there, under the fabric. Ryou had been a tool, an instrument a—valuable host.

He should hate him.

He really, really should.

But Ryou was like Yugi.

He saw good in those he met.

And unfortunately for Ryou, he had met Bakura, finally.

All it took was the near-end of the world that Atem saved them from, an airplane trip from Egypt to Domino, a couple knives to the throat, some stalking, some chasing, some fighting, a deal. Notwithstanding the string of threats that were basically blackmail, Ryou had gotten to know the Spirit as something other than just harm and evil.

They had played numerous Duel Monsters games already, the Spirit patient and instructive in his progress. At first, Ryou had been sensitive to the obvious amusement in the other’s eyes as Ryou provided failure after failure—but each time, he had still been given vague hints on how to improve. They came in the forms of jabs and jeers, between mocking laughter and haughty proclamations. Sometimes, it was evident, that they were only given for the sake of the Spirit’s fragile sanity. The Spirit, he rationalized, was just a terrible, terrible teacher, and Ryou, his first and only student. Who else could tolerate the dripping arrogance from the every-word of a teacher who constantly declared himself better than them?

Just someone as desperate to learn as Ryou.

Someone who wished for a power to defeat the one who had almost defeated Atem.

Ryou flicked his eyes to the dying torch.

Did he still want that power?

He hadn’t forgotten the time he was basically rescued from a dangerous mob. Had the Spirit not stepped in, Ryou might have come out of the incident mugged, possibly admitted soon after, to a hospital. The Spirit’s methods were questionable at best but—

Thinking the Spirit cared was giving him too much credit, though. A more appropriate description of that behavior was that the Spirit thought Ryou necessary. He had admitted that his use came from staying alive. Nothing else. The Spirit had yet to reveal what he else he expected from Ryou. All he knew now was that it was because the Spirit’s existence depended on him and that alone was reason enough to keep Ryou close.

His body deflated again. Was Ryou’s sole purpose to keep the Spirit tied to the world of the living? Is that why he’d go to such lengths to keep Ryou alive? Ryou had suspected it, of course, heard it confirmed, but learning that his existence harbored the Spirit’s own, that was something else altogether.

Had it just been that, though, the Spirit wouldn’t have taught him how to survive a Shadow Game. He wouldn’t have walked Ryou through those games with his spirit tied to his life points. He wouldn’t have taken out harmful effect monsters from the deck. He wouldn’t have brought him food or things to tend to his injuries. He wouldn’t have looked so damn pleased when Ryou did finally summon a real monster.

Ryou could have been taught, as agreed upon. Cold, and instructional. Nothing more.

Despite all the pride and boastfulness, the Spirit had been anything but that.

The Spirit challenged Ryou with a quirk of a brow. He grinned over each card, mocking in jest. He threw sarcastic compliments whenever Ryou made mistakes. He stuck around Ryou, sometimes, it felt, eager to begin their games. It was like the Spirit almost looked forward to them, waiting until Ryou returned from school.

The Spirit lingered.

“Oh, God,” Ryou heard himself say.

The room was stifling by that point. The collar of his shirt chafed his neck. The cuffs had grown too tight and constricting around his wrists. He breathed warm air, previously cool, and felt sweat beads form under his hair and under his clothes every time he did.

The more he debated, the more he spent time thinking about him, Ryou was beginning to see the Spirit in such a different light than he was used to—and that scared him.

He wished he could get out of the room already. Wished he could get out and stop thinking about whether he hated the Spirit or not, whether he counted as human, whether he cared or didn’t—

He untangled his fingers from his hair, exhaling a steady string of breaths.

The light in the room had grown dim again, dimmer than Ryou was accustomed to.

Lifting himself from the spot, he walked to it, grateful to have something to do to take his mind off whatever path it was about to take.

He squinted, eyes straining to see. A particularly uneven section of flooring made him stumble, but he caught himself.

The erected torch on the other side of the room waved feebly at him, while Ryou frantically thought of how he could keep it alive. The light had grown so weak that it felt as if the entire room had shrunk with it. All he saw was the surface below the insignificant ebbing embers and the air burning around it.

Ryou searched the section of the wall underneath, reaching into the dark for something to keep it going. Briefly, his brain came up with the idea to use his own shirt to keep the fire alive, but everything went out the door when his hand fell into nothing.

Ryou’s heart stopped momentarily. He grasped at the wall again, then moved it from side to side, hand colliding with barriers at the edges, top, and bottom. He dropped to his knees, stomach flopping in anticipation. The orange light was almost gone.

He thought he had checked every spot of the room thoroughly. No, he was completely convinced he had. Ryou had inspected every square inch of that place, every time, finding no anomalies. However, the lonely corner he was kneeling next to, proved he may not have been as thorough as he thought.

He didn’t care about any of that now.

Ryou measured the four-wall vent-like escape that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. The walls were firm—no threats of cave-ins. It felt spacious enough for him to fit.

He looked up at the torch just in time to see the poor flame extinguish itself from strain. What he was left with was darkness and silence and only a small, rectangular exit, measured out with his hands.

Ryou patted the four new walls he was about to subject himself to. He let out a breath, steady, trying to compose himself and calm the pit of anxiety that was beginning to form in his stomach again.

He adjusted himself on his knees, going lower, until his head was inside the crawlspace. Somewhere, someone was looking out for him, he thought.

Then, Ryou did not let himself hesitate. He began on hands and knees, his path, a promised escape in the face of desperation.


 

The unease he felt never receded, not even after dawn broke, and the sun rose high into the sky—and with it, the temperature. By now, the intensity and heat signaled noon. The slow arch of a sun across blue continued its steady drop into the horizon, evening and night hours away.

His leather duster had been shed, set beside him in a messy heap. He had the habit of wearing shoes inside the apartment, and so, they remained clung to his feet, soles spreading dirt along the floor. Neither of the two cared.

Bakura had taken position at the base of Ryou’s legs, back postured against the drawer opposite the bed, hands over the curve of his knees, while the Millennium Key lay within the abyss between them. He’d remained like that since the night before, when the shock had worn off and left him frozen.

There had been nothing he could do, and the powerlessness persisted through the hours, enduring each slow passing minute, rendering him unable to act. Bakura could only suffer through the simple human action of waiting.

He had waited all night, waited for Ryou to stir. He had waited there, on the off chance that Ryou woke up on his own. Waited for the miniscule possibility that Shadi would return of his own accord, waited in anger wanting to kill.

Waited long hours in the dark for himself to act.

But he couldn’t bring himself to.

What he had waited for had not manifested in either within himself or in that room. What he wanted to happen never did and Bakura remained as he had through the night and as he felt—utterly useless.

One simple lean forward, he knew, was all it would take for Bakura to reach the Millennium Key with one hand. And again, to reach further just slightly, he could tap it against Ryou’s foot, ankle, shin—touch bare skin with it and the miserable ordeal would all be over.

But all through the night, Bakura hadn’t.

His eyes, tired, leveled on the Key. His fingers twitched, but they never took hold.

The sun creeped into the room, a long stretch of pale yellow, that landed on his hand, a burning sensation settling over his skin. He carefully lifted his gaze, but upon seeing Ryou, it fell again to the floor where the Key was. He clenched a fist when he noticed his inability to look at him—

The black coat at his side was suddenly grabbed and thrown across the room. Bakura snarled, low and agitated, angry at his inability to do anything.

At his refusal to do anything.

Aware of the bile of guilt that clawed up his throat, disgusted by the foreign emotion, he loathed the hesitation in himself. Defeat was there, too, along with shame at the loss, because to Bakura, he saw it as one. Shame, then, at his consequent action—or, lack thereof.

He smoothed his hair back, letting the disheveled locks fall back into place over his eyebrows.

More than anything, he felt anger. It was an emotion he was familiar with, festered in. It was a feeling he easily acknowledged, one that fueled him. That and hate—

Hate burned him from the inside.

And at that moment, he knew who to hate.

His nose wrinkled in scrutiny. From the beginning, he was there.

Watching over the artifacts, watching over the Pharaoh’s vessel, watching over the games. Watching over he and Ryou and everything that had happened—

Bakura grabbed the Key, gripping it by the base and catching his glare reflecting off the gold. The Millennium Key, the item that was always hanging off Shadi’s neck, hanging off it like Yugi’s. It was the bane of his existence, and now, even more so, knowing it was a literal key to open Ryou’s mind, yet Bakura, couldn’t bring himself to use it.

He stared at the thing and saw himself inverted somewhere along the gold’s image. And he would have remained like that, too, pondering, brooding, with his thoughts suspended just before the edge of using it, and stopping himself right as he remembered that he prioritized himself and himself only. He would have done that until—

Until the doorbell rang and everything inside him froze.

His hands became fists. His legs curled up to crouch—instinct—ready to bolt.

Bakura swallowed, narrowed his eyes, and listened for the sound of the doorbell again.

Instead, what came next were a series of coughs, followed by someone clearing their throat.

Already tense, hearing the habitual sound, Bakura’s blood ran cold and he shot a glance at Ryou, a dryness overtaking his mouth. Besides Ryou’s soft breathing came his own, loud and perceivable in the quiet of the room. He shifted slightly where he sat, leaning toward the doorway, waiting to hear the sound of coughing again. He attributed the coughs to his imagination—he did not need any more hindrances, especially not one in the form of his host’s father visiting.

Bakura sat still, seconds passing by without incident, until his tense muscles relaxed, thinking either Ryou’s father had left or had not been there at all.

When a second, shorter set of coughs persisted at the door of the apartment, however, he stood, limb and alert, to grip the frame of Ryou’s doorway. His fingers ached under the pressure. He felt his chest rise and fall. His jaw became clenched tight and the tongue in his mouth suddenly too big.

The doorbell rang again, loud and clear from where he stood.

All he could do was wait for Ryou’s father to leave on his own. There was little Bakura could do without giving away his presence. Again, he was forced to acknowledge his ineffectiveness.

“Ryou?” the muffled call came through a door and some walls.

When he heard the name, his ears twitched, as it sent cold along his spine.

Bakura looked over his shoulder at the strewn form of his host, immobile and undisturbed by all of what was currently happening.

Standing at the door, Bakura anticipated whether the man would leave or not, and if he did, how soon. He counted the seconds that had passed since Ryou’s father had first rang the bell. They had been enough to total minutes, and any one of them by now, would signal him to leave.

What Bakura did not anticipate during those minutes, though, was the slow jittering of the knob of the front door, the confused inquiry of the older man, and the gradual flood of light as the door cracked open.

“Ryou…?” A crown of white hair came into view. “Ryou—what—your door, son, are you home?”

The realization came to him too late. The door hadn’t been locked—he was surprised it was closed at all, considering.

With a sharp rush of adrenaline, Bakura’s legs acted on their own. He threw the Millennium Key into the room, uncaring of where it landed. The door behind him was slammed shut with such force that it startled the intruding man into looking up, just in time to see Bakura rush toward him, carrying himself in such a frenzy that it reflected on his face.

“Ryou?” the man called again, and something inside Bakura snapped. He grabbed the door, pushing slightly, wanting to slam that one shut, too.

“Are you all right?” the man frowned, worry etched on his aged face.

Bakura’s arm slackened, not completely, as he still held it in such a way as to not let the elder man pass. He was holding his breath.

The aged face of his host’s father—someone, who, demonstrated or not—cared for Ryou, looked down at him, in sincere concern.

His hand stopped short of closing him off and leaving him stranded at the doorway.

The man adjusted his glasses, squinting, confused. “Are you all right? You look—” He stared, unable to take his eyes off Bakura for even a second. “You look a little—strange,” the older man finished.

Bakura opened his mouth, and nothing came out. He opened it again, a wordless breath escaping him before he answered, “I’m fine,” in a more delicate tone than he usually spoke in.

He couldn’t find what propelled him to answer the man. He hadn’t met him—officially—but at that point, not answering would probably cause more problems. Not only for him, but for Ryou.

Bakura paused briefly at the thought, before returning his attention to the other.

The older man nodded slowly, processing the answer. He continued to stare Bakura down, the few centimeters he had on him giving him the advantage in the exchange.

“May I come in,” a pause, “son?”

The frenzy from before had begun to vanish, as well as the adrenaline, from his system.

Bakura took one step back. His shoes scuffed the entryway and the elder man’s eyes landed on his feet.

He had lied countless times before. Talked his way into—or out—of things. This would be no different. All he had to do was remain calm, pretend he was Ryou Bakura, in the face of his father.

“Were you going out?” the man asked over his spectacles, lifting a brow in inquiry.

“No,” Bakura replied, recovering quickly. “I just got in, actually. Forgot to lock the door.”

The older man nodded. “Really…?” He looked down at their feet again, crossing the doorway, and after that, it was as if the whole atmosphere of their chance encounter changed.

“Really—what will I do with you?” he chuckled, an aged laugh that was tinged with hints of another cough. “I really should hire someone to come look after you. Look at the state of this place,” he commented, eyes scanning the apartment for signs of wear. His eyes landed on Bakura and the man smiled at him. “Where, er, where do you keep the—ah, here they are.” He leaned over the guest slippers.

“Right, right. I only asked because well, I thought maybe you—ahem—might not get many visitors.” His voice came out strained, as if he regretted saying that. His glasses slipped down his nose as looked over which slippers to choose.

“I don’t,” Bakura said, crossing his arms, not having yet moved from the entryway. The Ring dug into his arms from underneath the shirt he wore.

When Ryou’s father had slipped off his shoes in favor of the house slippers, he asked, a polite smile on his face, “May I sit?”

Bakura lingered between the entryway and entrance to the kitchen, until cautiously, he backed away and let the man enter completely.

The older man was, Bakura decided, dangerous. He was old, slow, but the moment they set sight on each other, he saw the sharpness in those eyes behind glasses. He knew something was off about Bakura, which is why Bakura had wanted to avoid ever meeting the him in the first place.

Estranged or no, Ryou was his son, and a parent would know the difference between the real thing and an impostor. It was obvious, though, the man didn’t quite understand the uncanniness he felt from Bakura, but Bakura himself wasn’t about to make it worse.

Ryou’s father ran his hands along the wood of the table before he stretched an arm out, reaching for the back of a chair. He let himself down heavily—tired—and sighed.

Bakura had never been good at posing as Ryou and it wasn’t as if he really tried. Ryou was difficult to pin given how weird he was to Bakura. He had these inane ways of demonstrating emotions which Bakura had never been able to imitate. Ryou’s friends, too, had evidently been unable to discern the real Ryou and whenever Bakura was at the forefront of their minds, proving further how eccentric Ryou’s behavior was. If his friends could not tell the difference between them without Bakura purposefully alerting them, then there was no reason to have to try and impersonate Ryou at all.

This man, however, the one sitting at the dinner table, absorbing his surroundings with his guard up, trying not to show how uncomfortable he was, though, was different. He could tell, Bakura concluded. He could tell, and it made him on edge. There were things only Ryou’s father knew about Ryou himself and Bakura wasn’t sure if he would be able to keep up with that hidden knowledge that only a parent could know.

Bakura had been inside Ryou’s soul for a long time—a vague absorption of memories like language, his past, but nothing too in-depth. He had possessed Ryou for most of his life but Bakura was not Ryou.

He could never be Ryou, but—

With a wariness he saved for occasions such as this, when he was unsure of what he was up against, Bakura regarded Ryou’s father from a distance. He leaned against the arm of the sofa, doing what he had done the night before—waited.

He could not be Ryou, but for the sake of upholding his existence without giving it away—not yet, not unless it was necessary—he could try.

A moment passed in awkward silence until Ryou’s father inhaled sharply and let out a controlled rush of words.

“I’m sorry about last night,” he began.

Bakura raised a brow.

He hadn’t been expecting that. If he thought about it, he wasn’t sure what he had been expecting from the man in the first place.

“I—” the older man closed his mouth. With the beard in the way, his mouth wasn’t too telling of what he was feeling. “I probably embarrassed you in front of you friends like that, didn’t I?” He looked up, giving him a wry, regretful smile.

Bakura didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what happened with Yugi or with Ryou’s friends, and he wasn’t going to risk it letting the other know. He merely listened, watchful for any change in the man’s behavior. He could tell…couldn’t he?

When Bakura uncrossed his arms and leaned on them, Mr. Bakura nodded.

“Right. You’re probably upset with me,” he muttered. “—why you’re so quiet—” He cleared his throat and smiled at Bakura, a distant sadness settling into his features.

“It’s probably not the kind of reunion you expected to have,” Mr. Bakura turned his gaze back to the table, “after so long.”

At that, Bakura took the opportunity to snatch a glance at Ryou’s bedroom. The door was still comfortably closed. He swiftly switched his attention back to Ryou’s father, when the other began talking again.

“You’ll have to forgive me. I’m not very good with these things,” he trailed off.

After a pause, Bakura spoke honestly.

“Neither am I,” he told him.

His words seemed to change something inside the older man. The tension in his shoulders slumped, and he relaxed, letting out a breath, light laughter trailing behind.

“Well, I just wanted to see you before heading back to Luxor—”

“You’re leaving?” The surprise in Bakura’s voice was genuine.

The reaction seemed to surprise the older man, too.

“Yes, I, um,” he adjusted his glasses unnecessarily. “I left a team in charge but,” he frowned, “I’ve been getting some e-mails and calls about some strange happenings. Well,” he waved a hand flippantly. “It’s nothing.”

“What strange things?” Bakura asked, mildly interested.

“Just the crew deserting is all. Locals like that tend to disappear if they’re not getting paid and since I left so suddenly, they think they won’t get any money from the men I left behind. All rubbish business with amateurs. It’s not important.” His straightened his back against the chair, as if uncomfortable—or ready to leave. Talk of work seemed to relax the older man. It was something he was familiar with, unlike his teenage son—or his imposter.

The news he’d regaled Bakura with, however, were unsettling. It wasn’t too hard to believe that men left without word, specifically in such unforgiving circumstances as was digging under the hot desert sun, especially during the summer. He didn’t know what it was that was so disconcerting about the news but the fact that they took place in Luxor—where the old city had been—near the Valley of the Kings, the timing of it, too—

He chewed on the tongue in his mouth and said nothing more.

“Anyway, before I headed back,” he continued, “I wanted to make sure you knew that I wanted to apologize for any inconvenience my actions could have caused you.” He dug around in his coat pocket for something.

Whatever the older man had done, Bakura hadn’t grown too curious about that. He had other things on his mind, like an unconscious Ryou, the existence of the Millennium Key on the bedroom floor along with its possible use, and the new information about the beginning of something near the Valley of the Kings. Ryou’s father’s atonement was strictly aimed at Ryou and Bakura could dodge whatever sentimentality that came with it easily.

Finding what he had been fishing for, the older Bakura set a small box on the kitchen table. It was black and looked like it had been encased with care. Bakura stared at it and then switched his gaze to the older man.

“It’s—” Ryou’s father pursed his mouth, pausing. “It’s that souvenir I promised you,” he said. “I forgot to give it to you when I arrived.” He ran his thumb over the corner of the box. “Caught up with work again.” His mouth twitched at the corners, falling before becoming a fully deprecating smile. The box was slid forward, and the older man looked at Bakura expectantly. “Thought it was a good time as any to give it to you.”

When Bakura made no move towards it, he added, “You don’t have to open it now. I know you’re probably still upset—and you have every right to be. But—” The older man slid back the chair and stood up. “Please take it, won’t you? Ryou?” The name had been said almost as an afterthought.

Bakura disliked the man. It wasn’t as if he had any particular reason to do so—his ownership of the museum had proven useful in his past plans. At the moment, though, his presence was unwanted. He wanted him to leave as soon as possible and having to listen to him already for so long—it made him impatient and Bakura had to hide it.

He approached the table, obviously bothered and took the smooth box, weighed it in his hand and nodded, hoping it would be enough for the man to finally leave.

A heavy hand landed on his shoulder and Bakura looked up into the glasses. He felt the man getting close and he braced himself for the inevitable hug where he had to play the part of the son receiving it.

The embrace never came, however, and Bakura saw the frown that had settled over the older man’s face as he peered down, scanning his eyes over the hair covering his eyebrows.

“What happened to your—?” The older man’s head tilted. He made a gesture to move Bakura’s hair away from his forehead, then stopped. Something in the way he looked at Bakura changed and he stepped away from him.

“Are you leaving?” Bakura asked, frigid, stiff. He noticed the surprise in the other man and instantly was aware of what had caused the change in demeanor. “So soon?” he said, persistent with maintaining his façade.

Ryou’s father knew, he thought. Bakura wouldn’t know what to do if he said anything about it. He couldn’t kill him but—

The Millennium Ring slid along the skin of his chest as he took a step toward him.

Everything in the man told him it wasn’t possible, but Bakura could tell he knew—and he wanted him gone before he was confronted for it.

The Ring vibrated. Only if it was necessary—

“I—yes,” Ryou’s father said. He walked to his shoes, mechanical, and put them on. “I have to catch my plane and I still have some things to pack—Yoshimori—”

He never did finish the entire sentence. As soon as his shoes were neatly in place, he stiffly escorted himself to the door and out.

He stopped on the opposite side of the threshold and gazed at Bakura. With a heavy breath, he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

Bakura walked to him and stood holding the door, silent.

“It’s nothing,” the man said under his breath, shaking his head. He finished whatever meditation he performed and affixed the tie around his neck out of habit. They both remained there, rooted. It was evident Mr. Bakura didn’t know what to do to himself, but Bakura maintained trained eyes on him like a hawk.

Only if it was necessary—he assured himself again.

In the end, the older man glanced at the watch on his wrist and then at his son.

“I’ll…call when I arrive,” he said. He didn’t try to hide it when he glanced at the tufts of hair over Bakura’s forehead. Ryou’s father closed his eyes briefly after he did, then breathed heavily through his nose. With a sharp turn on his heel, he walked down the metal stairs.

There was no goodbye. No heartwarming gestures between them.

Bakura only stared after him, relaxing his shoulders when he left. The Ring on his chest was much lighter, less cold.

The man shook his head again as he walked down the sidewalk and across a lot, but not once, Bakura noted, did he look back.


Palms outstretched, Ryou landed on the hard floor, stumbling and gasping for air. His lungs expanded until strained, inhaling both air and debris. His breath caught up in relief and he fell onto the floor where he rolled over on his back.

Ryou wouldn’t call himself averse to confined spaces but combining the scarcity of light and the imminent enclosure of walls he had been subject to already, the task of squeezing himself through the narrow crawlspace had been, to put it lightly, daunting. The relief borne from when he saw seen the light at the end of a tunnel that felt as if though could go on for miles, came in shades of dim yellow and orange hues. Dirty and dingy, he hadn’t imagined that as his saving light, but Ryou was grateful for any source of illumination after having gone so long without it.

Eyes quick to adjust, they roved the ceiling, finding it decorated, albeit looking just as ancient as the others. There were brightly lit torches mounted on walls, burning strongly in the open space.

“Still here,” he mumbled, not sounding disappointed. He hadn’t exactly expected a magical crawlspace that had appeared out of thin air to be his grand escape from the depths of his mind, but it didn’t hurt imagining.

Well, maybe it did, if his henceforth silent repose on a cold floor was indication of it.

He slowly sat himself upright and brushed the sand off himself. His knees were beyond sore at that point, having been the part of his body that had been most abused carrying his entire weight. It was a miracle the constant grinding forward against stone hadn’t shed blood. The fabric of his pants around his knees had seen better days. The palms of his hands were scuffed and pink, but nothing worse.

It was as if he were experiencing déjà vu—if that were even possible inside his own mind already.

He hadn’t emerged from the crawlspace into a completely open territory. The area was much bigger than where he had been previously imprisoned, but still enclosed. The features written ancient on the walls—clear glyphs by light, either myths of something or someone, or instructions of old rites that Ryou had limited ability to decipher. As of then, it was close to nil.

He stood up, patting down his legs, moving them, measuring them for stiffness. As he allowed himself for a moment of thinking, unintruded upon by a man and the insisting dread to find him, Ryou sensed the fleeting emotion of it all wrapping around him. Although it was him and only him there, with no inhibitions to possibilities of wandering, there were limitations on what he could really do.

The room, previously liberating, suddenly became a second prison.

He was nowhere near escape, yet, he wanted to chase after the phantasmal haunting his mind—his dead relatives. Ryou could sense, somewhere within him, a morbid acceptance of his trapped fate if it meant immersing himself in the sense of comfort he had felt upon seeing them.

Completely aware of what that entailed, though, he knew it was impossible to forget his current life, barren as it may be to him now, for the possibility to return to a lost childhood. Sooner or later, he’d run out of memories, few they were, the repetition of things he could not have driving him to madness.

Getting lost in his musings led him to an archway, where he rested a sore hand against the frame. Cautiously, Ryou leaned out, but at the edge of his vision, just beside the edge of the bend, he saw a man leaning back against the wall, a long weapon gripped tightly in his hand.

Quick to retreat, Ryou waited behind the frame of the open doorway again for him to pass, make a sound, or give any kind of indication that he had gone another way, or the very least, not sensed Ryou was there. Perhaps his escape from the enclosed room hadn’t been a favorable change in fortune.

As he listened, he could not pick up on noise, no matter how much he focused, other than the occasional crackle of the strong fire going on behind him. Ryou again steadied his breathing into silence and peered around the bend.

His breath escaped him unceremoniously when he found the “man” was actually a large statue, embedded into the wall itself, tethered to the rock bedding, and nothing of a threat. Ryou deflated, realizing he hadn’t thought of a plan if the statue had turned out to be an actual threat. The room he was situated in was more of a rat trap as the large entry way was his most immediate means of escape. He looked around it once more, finding nothing new or eventful, but somehow struck with the inescapability it harbored. Just to the other side of the minute crawlspace had been the climax of his despair, and standing there on the other side, was the beginning of another descent into further unknown parts of himself.

What else, if any, would he see?

Already, Ryou had come upon the realization that inside himself there were few things that reflected him. Within him was time, ancient and unchanging, something that could hardly resemble the metropolis and modernity of his current life. If he were truly a stickler for details, Ryou would say everything he had chanced upon up until then hadn’t even been him. The tombs and chambers Ryou had explored with on excursions with his father, even those had had a modern touch. Not having himself been to the hearts of them, he remembered crude light bulbs—something Ancient Egypt certainly hadn’t had—hanging from loose wiring along walls and ceilings. Light and electricity had been ever present in his childhood adventures with a busy father. Unlike that, this place—Ryou scanned eyes along a new hall space—was barren, devoid of current advancements, yet rife with authenticity that echoed of a time long lost.

Ryou went along, gliding his fingers over the bumpy stone. Already aware of his circumstances, he didn’t waste much time in wonderment. His focus was set course for escape. Although—

How exactly could he do that? Staring up at the statue of a man holding a spear, Ryou paused. His left index tapped on the rock, chipping away at any loose pebbles. He looked down the length of the corridor and then the opposite.

Another concern that had been eating away at his mind for some time already was, would he need the Millennium Item the man had used? The source of Ryou’s being there had been because of it, and not fully knowing anything about it other than what Shadi had told him, he was starting to suspect its role in this attempt to escape.

Previously worried for the return of said man, Ryou had planned to avoid him if he had another run in, but the lack of him had left him both disappointed and relieved. Disappointed, because now it looked as though his exit depended on him. Relieved—well, that was certainly obvious.

He leaned his head back to think. There was plenty of time for it, Ryou concluded, and hurrying wouldn’t do much help. It was unlikely Shadi would appear again. His plan sounded as though it revolved around trapping Ryou within his mind, and if the man had decided to linger, his presence would have been already, either hostile or escalating into worse.

By now, Ryou thought cynically, the man would have made a magic door for himself to peacefully stroll out of the unending labyrinth, leaving Ryou to his demise.

It didn’t seem as though there would be an exit, he himself could waltz through and fall right out of the nightmare, though—

Ryou righted himself off the wall as if shocked.

“Nightmare,” his mouth said, enunciating the syllables one by one. He frowned underneath the statue’s blank gaze. He recalled to his encounter with the beige robed man, his seamless control of the mindscape available to him. Ryou had thought it had been solely because the Millennium Key granted him the power to do so—the man had said so himself—but it hadn’t occurred to him that the same power had been the biggest clue of all. The Millennium Key held the power to change that mindscape, but was it only because the user wasn’t using that power on himself? Was the power to transform only used if the user hadn’t had control in the first place? In other words, Ryou felt a faint dampened bubbling excitement, could Ryou himself modify this place without it?

Dabbling in occult, he was aware of astral projection, but in this case, something more relevant had wormed its way out of his jumbled brain: astral projecting and the sister practice, lucid dreams.

A dream was similar to what he was experiencing, wasn’t it? His heart thumped erratically with the sudden charge in energy. A dream, or nightmare, certainly was like this. After all, he’d read somewhere that dreams represent the inner desires and reflect the turmoil of a person’s mind. Whatever they dreamed about had a symbolic meaning or ten, but that was hardly relevant right now. What Ryou did latch onto, were the parallels in the man’s explanation of this plane— “reflections of the soul,” he’d called them—and the theory of dreams.

If he were aware enough in them like in the practice of lucid dreaming, and Ryou decided he was in his case, thoughts could turn a dream into whatever he wanted. Including, Ryou’s breathing had begun to steady, changing the inside of his mind to his own set purposes.

Right now, more than anything, Ryou envisioned, was a chance at escape.

He swallowed his doubt down and addressed the dead stare of the stone statue.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” he breathed.

He tore his gaze away and wrung his hands.

Everything was perfectly vivid—it could work.

Not actually having done it himself—too much of a deep sleeper—Ryou had only a faint idea of what he should be doing, which was...thinking really hard.

It was impractical to believe he could think his way to an exit, but perhaps, he could trigger an awakening into the other side. It wasn’t as if his entire body had melted out of existence and into a separate realm. His insisting suspicion was that he was probably in a profound sleep, and if that really were the case, his best bet was somehow jolt himself awake from the inside.

The problem was, what exactly could jostle his brain so much that it sent him from a state of unconscious to one not? He had seen already the horrors set upon him by the robed man, and that hadn’t exactly set him off into the real world—but then again, that was hardly an ideal scenario. The wielder of Millennium key had had all control. The prospect of Ryou’s escape had probably not been foreseen. Further yet, neither the idea that he could formulate a plan to get out.

Ryou wouldn’t know where to start, but the fact of the matter was, if he could attain some kind of control like the robed man, he would have an easier time exploring for the trigger he sought. But what kind of control? He understood the basics of centering himself—Karita had been unwell for a short period and the school had sent a man in his late 50s to teach a class on yoga. Although no one took him seriously for the first half, eventually the class appreciated he wasn’t Karita and decided to cooperate with the humble man.

His focus was soon directed to breathing, as the substitute had been most concerned with. Starting with what he did know, the rest would surely come naturally—is what he thought. He maintained a series of deep concentrated breaths but after a while…Ryou kept getting distracted looking for a sign that something happened that would help. Deflating like a balloon, he saw nothing had.

Not that he had actually tried too hard.

Ryou sighed and pressed his forehead against the wall. He closed his eyes for only a moment, trying to not force something to happen, which was much harder than it seemed. His liveliness of before waned down to zero, until his mind was practically blank. After several seconds, he hadn’t noticed the fall into nothing until he opened his eyes and saw a rather different scene unfolding before him…

He came upon the face of a smiling woman, not his mother, rather someone he did not recognize. She had a hand reached out in maternal gesture, however, swiping errant hairs out of his face, all the while, fussing in a language he had trouble understanding at first. In the end, she clicked her tongue and straightened herself to full height, the colorful scarf on her head moving slightly with the turn of her head.

She walked to a white-haired man, bartering, it appeared, with another of shorter stature. After his conversation ended, he turned, wide frames pronouncing the size of his eyes comically as he looked at her. Her lips moved with round, rouge vowels and a slender finger pointed at Ryou. Her voice carried in short terse tones, over the hot dry air, but Ryou instead looked at his hands, dusty and cracked.

“Ryou,” his father’s voice called with a concern the woman seemed pleased with.

His hand stopped on the fleshy part of his knee and looked up, suddenly noting the strangeness of it.

For one thing, Ryou was looking up at his father’s approach, feeling rather shrunken in comparison.

“Papa?” A voice that wasn’t quite his but instead meek and light, like a child’s, answered.

The wrinkles around his father’s eyes had not yet set in, and so, in spite of the white hairs sprouting from his face, the skin was smooth, albeit, starting to redden from the harsh sun.

With a solid looking hand, Ryou’s father lifted the hat from his head and peered down at him, furrowing his brows.

“Are you feeling all right, Ryou?”

He lifted his hands, palm-side up, in gesture.

“Ah, I see. You’ve had a tumble, haven’t you?” his father said, extracting a kerchief from one of his pockets.

The woman came up behind him again, urging with a new resolve, even adding hand gestures, pointing from Ryou to the wide mouth of a river flowing calmly. Ryou saw from the corner of his eye, another little boy clinging to her skirts.

His father turned from her down to him and sank to one knee.

“Ryou, would you like to stay here while I go out on some business? It’s getting dark and I won’t take long—” He was cut off by a pair of needy small hands tugging on his bigger ones.

“Ah—” he cleared his throat nervously and gave the woman a shaky smile. “You see it’s a dangerous cross on the river…” he said, although his hesitance demonstrated his lack of belief in his own words.

The woman interrupted, suddenly, and pointed at Ryou’s stomach, speaking as though agitated.

Ryou’s father, nodded trying to get a word in. He finally threw his hands up after a series of quick clipping words, and agreed with a short response, to which the woman happily accepted. She extended a friendly hand to Ryou, beckoning him towards her.

His father took out a clean cloth and began wiping his glasses.

“It’s still a few minutes until we go,” his father said, glancing at a small tarnished boat sitting on the shore. He huffed onto his glasses, gave them one final polish, and placed them back on his head. “She wants you to take a bit of lunch before you go.”

Ready to protest, Ryou was instead tugged gently along by the woman before he could respond. She smiled down at him warmly.

“—nice—with—father?” was all he could understand before he was unmistakably brought back.

When he returned to the chamber, his legs were wobbly. Sometime while he witnessed it, Ryou noticed it had been one of the excursions where his father had taken him along. The woman’s presence, however, and his father’s general disposition while he referred to her told Ryou that this was a rare one in which his mother hadn’t gone along. Odd as it was, the memory had at least been striking enough to maintain itself embedded in his mind after so many years.

Ryou’s attention was caught by a faint glow at the far end of the hall, around the bend where the statue stood guard.

He figured, that if one entry into memory land wouldn’t be enough to jolt himself awake, then maybe one more would do it. There was a string of them to choose from, all manifesting for him to take his pick. Like the falling of dominos—or rather, a fall down a rabbit hole. Ryou was unsure of how deep he’d have to go.

His foot rested against the glow of light that would surely lead into somewhere else. Looking up at the stone man, he said, “You’re not doing a very good job, but thank you,” before he took another plunge.

Again, and again, Ryou was transported into memories, some of which he did clearly remember happening, and other, where he was at a loss at what was going on. He entered lively marketplaces where he tugged at the coattails of his father, not wanting to get lost. He passed sleazy merchants trying to sell his father snake-oil derived from one part of a nameless snake that would ensure growth and health for his son. At other times, he would see glimpses of his mother—the back of her hair, neatly brushed and tucked behind her ears, the stretch of a hand toward him or his father’s cheek, the sway of a skirt as she went into another room.

Things he did not recognize, though, were small caves carved into faces of cliffs where Ryou could see shiny trinkets stashed underneath a bigger pile of rubble, discarded pits of miscellaneous fruits, and old rags that resembled makeshift shoes. He wondered if this was a clever hiding place he’d found at some point while playing hide and seek with the children he’d meet on his father’s travels.

When he was carried into another suspended moment in time, Ryou was standing in a familiar desert again, unaccompanied by his father, and far from anything civilized. The sand stretched beyond the curve of the Earth, while the clouds roamed across the sky, their shadows forming silent gray whales gliding along a golden sea.

The ground underneath his feet crunched as he walked and while he did, Ryou felt…breezy. It wasn’t until his approach towards a horse and the easy mount that Ryou remembered he had never even been on a horse. And that his legs, when he lifted to get on, weren’t his at all.

Upon the realization, Ryou was abruptly pulled out. That time, though, instead of a light sense of levitation, it felt as though he were being lifted out of water—cold and disconcerted. His muscles were tense with confusion and his throat clasped by an invisible force. He coughed and was able to breathe again.

It took a second for him to gather his thoughts. What first came to mind was, what, if not of himself, had he seen?

Ryou rubbed at the lump in his throat and slid the hand to gently prod behind his neck. He took another glance around himself, ruminating in silence.

Nothing made sense. Was this really him? And, were these really his memories? Logic pointed to no, but that only made everything more confusing. Whose, then?

Sluggishly, he stood up, pondering the previous encounter, all while trying to maintain focus on the one he would go after. His trek along the path was slow until, Ryou understood he wouldn’t get anywhere remaining there, numb. He stuck his foot out and into another manifested rectangular opening where he was eagerly pulled through.

For just a moment after his arrival, Ryou’s stomach flipped when he saw the inside of his apartment. Only until he noticed the much more modern furnishings, and spacious living space did he realize it was his old apartment and not his current one, and that this was simply another memory he had walked into.

Almost immediately after his observation did he notice something else. While his previous apartment was newer and chic, he never remembered the air inside to be murky. The lights were on inside, giving off a soft orange glow, yet they did little to illuminate anything save the immediate area around them.

Ryou took a step forward into the distorted space, taking note of the spongy texture of the floors, as though he were walking atop a current of very thick air. While he tested for mobility issues, his hand landed on a nearby table, his weight, enough to move it.

The knocking around resounded against his ears, and while he was busy pondering when exactly it was that he could touch things to that extent, he almost missed the soft voice carried from down the end of the opposite hall.

“Who’s there?” Ryou heard, and his blood froze when malicious laughter followed. He instinctively whirled around, having to remind himself that in there, anything he came across were just memories.

A hand came up to touch his chest, only to clench halfway and be brought down.

Ryou walked quietly past his living room and down the hall, listening to the voices.

“So, you can hear me now?”

He didn’t need to see anything to know, already, what he had walked into. Those words uttered were something he could never fully forget.

The door to his old bedroom was ajar, and without a hand having to push it in, it opened in time for Ryou to see himself rise from behind a desk. The letter he had been writing slipped when he pushed away from the table, and the paper slid dangerously close to the edge.

The present Ryou, meanwhile, pressed his lips together into a tight line as he watched the series of events unfold.

His memory self blurted a series of questions, one after another, hardly without stopping. With someone thought they were once well versed in ghost lore, Ryou thought, his old self had been incredibly unprepared to meet an actual spirit so suddenly.

“Now that I’m able to speak to my host, it’s truly a day to remember!”

Ryou winced. It really was an occasion worth remembering, but not for the reasons the Spirit had. As his past self spat out a flurry of “who are you” to someone that would only answer with vague remarks, Ryou could only watch. Even if he did try and change the outcome of the situation, it wouldn’t change what actually happened. The letter that had been precariously near the edge floated to the ground in equal silence until—

“Instead of paying rent, I grant your wishes!”

A set of mocking words cut through that silence.

His gaze lifted sharply to the slightly younger Ryou, frenzied with disbelief.

Ryou himself remained rooted with equal incredulity. Of all the things he hadn’t anticipated in hearing again, the one which he did, snapped a missing piece of the puzzle right into place.

Listening to the Spirit’s voice within that memory, his words constructed a narrative that Ryou hadn’t noticed, not yet, not until then.

“Why, I’ve granted them almost every day! Hearing your thoughts while you were playing those games with your friends, I was there—and I made them come true!” The voice laughed.

He involuntarily took in a sharp breath but set his mouth closed in a firm line. The fist he had clenched had become slack. Ryou paid little attention to the rest of the conversation, knowing how the exchange unfolded. When the Spirit possessed him, his vision was overtaken by a blinding light, the nature of the words “Sleep, Ryou Bakura,” tainted by the wicked laugh that accompanied them.

He stood at the corner of another hallway, a faint drip of water unseen heard nearby. Ryou’s breath was shaky, his arms were numb, and his legs ready to give out at any moment.

“I’ve been granting all your wishes!”

The voice resonated over and over. He could still hear it.

How could he forget?

Ryou’s mind was leagues away, replaying the encounter, watching himself as through the memory, but also, as he had lived it.

Everything he wished for—granted. Every thought, a wish at the very core.

His mind reeled—stopped, and Ryou landed on the possibility that everything had been happening from the start. Unbeknownst to him, Ryou had been asking for things from the beginning—passage and passage, door to door. The torch that never seemed to go out, the crawlspace that had appeared seemingly from nothing—all of them.

His mouth was dry with the realization. There was a power that had more than once rooted itself, under his very being, his thoughts and heart. It had been there with him always and, it felt, forever: that of the Millennium Ring—of the Spirit, whether either of them knew it or not.

Everything until then, had it not been all by himself? Had none of what he had done be attributed to his own efforts?

Ryou mouth twitched and his breath hitched. He looked at the bare wall that signaled the end of his journey.

This was it.

“I—” He hesitated, shaking his head slightly. If what he theorized was true, all he had to do was ask. There was nothing stopping him.

“I wish—" The words got stuck in his throat. He could sense a flurry of emotions welling up beneath his desperate attempt to calm himself. He couldn’t afford to remain at a standstill, not after everything it took to arrive at this point. But going through with this—what would that mean for him?

Before he stood paralyzed with fear, Ryou, in a rush of words, declared— “I wish for an exit…!”

And with a finality that would forever ring in his ears, a memory tore open, and Ryou was pulled through.

 

 

Already, Ryou felt the difference between this and everything he’d seen. He felt as though he’d fallen down a vent—watery and humid. The earth under his shoes was solid enough, and Ryou landed, a soft thud that somehow managed to echo, announcing his arrival.

Fire crackled nearby. Pillars held the tall dark ceiling from falling.

He was underground—that explained the stuffy air and the echo.

There were voices in the middle of an animated conversation. He couldn’t tell who the speakers were, but there were two, while a crowd of children gathered nearby. By the sound of it, the voice closer to him was doing most of the talking, frenzied, loud, in a sort of pitiful mourning for his demands to be met. The other person, still not clearly seen, interjected occasionally, only to be drowned out in further proposals, one more urgent than the last.

Ryou caught sight of a small boy hiding not far from where he was, watching the scene unfold with wide curious eyes. He wore a brown ensemble, remaining crouched, hidden from the firelight, and from those that could see him. Ryou briefly wondered who he was and what he was doing there before his attention was caught elsewhere.

A surge of power from beyond swallowed the light, so quick, Ryou thought he’d been submerged in darkness itself. His heart came up to his throat in a way that he felt a rawness clawing its way up against the inside. The happening was abrupt, frightening. The whole underground shook; the crowd of smaller children had huddled together in fright behind a more distant pillar. It was evident from the reaction of them all, that no one had expected something like that to occur.

An awful scream came next—and Ryou, worried, still with the little boy on his mind, shifted his glance to where he had seen him last.

Only until he heard the thin yell of “Papa!” did he register the sprinting small form headed towards the man, who he now knew was the boy’s father. He was lying on the floor, evidently knocked over by something Ryou had missed. The man who he had been speaking with watched him with fear and resignation, but he made no move to help either of them.

Then, Ryou heard the man’s waning voice, “The Ring…” like a jolt awakening.

He blinked, took a step forward as if he was pulled along, like the boy in the memory.

“I’ll go get it,” he said.

He held nothing in his hands, but there was a solid sensation as he watched the small boy pick up a golden object.

The Ring, Ryou thought, remembering the words of the lying man.

He was there, then, next to the smaller boy. It was the memory of a younger self, and he knew it. Dread crept up from the back of his spine. They both looked down at the golden object residing in their hands, clenched tight.

He had been there before, hadn’t he? He had lived through this?

From behind, the second man shouted out to him, the huddle of children cried, but by then, a wave of black had overtaken his vision. It was as if it impaled him repeatedly—once, twice, five times, until it coiled around his neck, sank underneath his skin and nested there like Ryou now belonged to it.

It was all dark but inside the shadows he could see.

He could see people

Ryou shut his eyes but he saw them there too, behind his eyelids.

No escape.

A memory of a memory.

Where he looked or didn’t, they were there.

He saw them burning. Heard their screams.

Then, heard his own scream, too.

His arms reached for salvation, blindly, only to meet with empty air when finally—

His hand grabbed something solid, and his fingers instinctively clutched around it until—

It was with a gasp of air that Ryou was jerked forward, into a solid room that stabilized him and a solid body that held him upright. His breathing was erratic as if he couldn’t remember how to do it. When his heart fell into a neat rhythm, the horrific sounds he had heard faded into echoes within the depths of his mind, distant, but unforgettable. Slowly, he grew calm, accepting that he had finally escaped, that this was real; he was safe. Ryou opened his eyes and the nightmares melted away.

The blurry surroundings became recognizable shapes. Though a sense of vertigo remained, he recognized his drawer, the sheaf he’d gone to fetch, folded and forgotten on the floor. How much time had passed? he asked himself upon seeing it.

Not until he noticed the dark coat discarded near the unwritten letter did Ryou realize just what he had clutched on to.

There was chest against his cheek, and he could hear a heartbeat, steady and alive, under it. Arms, too, entangled themselves behind Ryou’s back, stiff with the gesture.

Ryou let out a sharp breath and his muscles stiffened. And as if burned, he pushed against him, scrambling to stand up, to get away—

The Spirit did the same, rising with Ryou, equally quick.

Ryou saw the flash of gold gripped in his hand and took an instinctive step back, banging his ankle on the bed post. He would’ve cried out, but currently, he looked at the Spirit, waiting for him to do something. Instead, the Spirit kept his eyes level to him. There was a look on his face Ryou couldn’t find the energy to decipher.

They stood, rooted to their respective sides of the room, neither wanting, nor mustering the courage to move.

It was Ryou who, after long stretched minutes, interrupted the silence.

“I saw them—" he croaked at the Spirit.

A shine appeared in his eye that signaled the Spirit’s attention. He took a step forward while Ryou moved his other foot back.

Ryou cast his eyes down, struggling to form words.

“I saw them,” he repeated, “burning.”

The Spirit went rigid and his face went white.

“Were those—your memories?” Ryou asked, as if he were unable to believe it just yet.

Ryou felt his lip tremble and bit down hard on it. Why was is so difficult to speak suddenly?

He gasped in a breath of air and found he couldn’t look at the Spirit without something breaking. Whatever that something was, it had been fragile.

“All those people,” Ryou continued, voice trembling with a wave of emotions. “Was it you?”

He found the Spirit bristling, ready to defend himself from whatever came next.

When the Spirit didn’t answer, anger burst through, demanding answers.

Did you kill them—?!”

A hand he never expected shot out like a snake, and then he was looking into the depths of darkened eyes. He followed the darting of them from side to side, felt the vice grip of a hand tighten around his mouth. Ryou clasped a hand of his own around a wrist that wouldn’t let go.

The Spirit was having trouble keeping his temperament under control. Ryou dug his fingers into the fine bones of an almost identical wrist.

“You—” The Spirit said, only to cast his eyes to the side when Ryou met his gaze. The grip on his mouth faltered, and Ryou took his chance to remove the hold on himself. He advanced on the Spirit, but the other, just as quick, met him halfway and bared his teeth.

 “You don’t know anything!” the Spirit hissed. His voice cracked. Whether it was in anger or no, the crack tore through Ryou—made him fragments.

Ryou had frozen with only four words. Four words that happened to ring true. Ryou, after months of struggle, came to the realization that he really didn’t know anything. And what he did—he looked at the Spirit, regarding him back with something akin to dislike, almost crazed from the accusations—what good did that do?

“Then—then—” Tell me. He moved his mouth but nothing else came out. What he felt forming in himself were not words, but emotions he couldn’t possibly hold back if he let himself go for even a second.

Not with all his anger could Ryou change anything that had happened. Not with any trust could he change what he had seen the Spirit do within that memory.

From afar, he heard metal, clothing rustling, then footsteps, and finally, a door.

His body fell heavy onto the bed, where he sat for hours after.

The memory of countless bodies dangling over melted gold was seared into his mind; a memory, that hadn’t been his, but forced into him by the Millennium Ring. Accidental, maybe on purpose, Ryou couldn’t say.

However, all the while, to the question he had asked the Spirit—of whether he’d killed those people—

Ryou had wanted him to say no.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: “In Limbo”

The mornings after became routine.

He’d wake up at six, rise out of bed, brush his teeth, eat breakfast, and was ready by seven, early enough to catch the busy commute.

Packed with people, it was difficult to find a seat, and though Ryou seldom did, he would withstand the throng of office ladies and salarymen on their way to work cramped up against him until they reached the other side of the city.

The days at school were repetitive and dull, but for the first time in the semester, Ryou’s mind was preoccupied with lessons, his hands were busy writing notes, and his eyes were focused on the teachers up front, ears tuned to their every word of lecture.

People wondered if something good had happened to Ryou Bakura, the shy and quiet student of class 3-A. Suddenly, he greeted back those who uttered good mornings in passing. He waved to students who addressed him in the halls.

At the end of the day, he would turn in his assignments ahead of time and would pack a spare textbook to take home for a long night of studying. At the lockers, Ryou would turn down Jonouchi’s offer to walk him home, pause at Yugi’s invitation to play games on the weekend—

Miss the worried glances they exchanged when he left.

Taking another rush hour train in the afternoon, Ryou would stand closest to the doors—alone.

Always the same time, always the same train.

He would watch the reflections on the glass bump and melt into one another, becoming one large blurry shape marring the surface.

Sometimes he thought he saw white hair on the other side of the glass, beyond, and standing on another platform— His heart would leap, just once. Sometimes a trailing coat in black followed shadowed footsteps on the concrete—His heart would echo in return.

But white hair wasn’t uncommon, especially in the older population who often used public transport.

A black duster wasn’t either, he soon learned.

He told himself those things many times over, killing the fleeting emotion with logic anytime his mind whispered—

Maybe it’s him.

 Yet, even with all the logic and facts and statistics of underground train commuters, Ryou couldn’t understand why he tried to rationalize the impulse to seek out black and white together, side by side, until that same impulse vanished and held no more than a hope's weight.

The reflections on the glass became indistinguishable blots against a moving stone scenery of the underground.

Ryou would cast aside his glance, let others pass in absent mind—Until the train emptied, until his stop was announced and Ryou stepped off at his station and would begin a solitary walk home.

 

He left after that night—the Spirit—leaving Ryou amongst sighless whispers of nights too long and a persistent silence that brought upon him unease.

There were dreams cultivated by that unease that hounded him in the muted dark, tormenting night after night after night waking him at dead hours.

In his room, he’d sit and see what he had seen on that terrible day. He’d imagine it often, coming out of the walls like a persistent plague—Heard the screams of anguish, saw the falling curls of bubbling skin, burning into thick drops of tainted gold—

 Then he’d wake for a second time and touch the reality of his bedroom. He’d look around—no faces, no fire—expecting someone else to be there after another turn of the head—but they never were.

It left him empty and tired and yearning—until the sun rose, and the light would show the walls were just walls and that the hollow in his chest was just the cavity of a well-made body trying to hold him all together.

After the fourth week, though, Ryou began to think the Spirit was gone for good. That he was never going to return.

There were no signs of him treading into the apartment in secret. No open latches to tell of his trespassing, nor a hidden pile of contraband left as evidence, nor an ever-watchful presence haunting the night air.

Ryou began to envision himself settled into what he’d decided wasn’t possible anymore: a normal life. He attended his classes at school, in another two semesters he would graduate, and if all went well, his entrance exams could be formidable enough to let him enroll at a university. After which—

His hand clenched around a cup, the tea in it having become tepid with neglect.

There was still the matter of the Spirit himself, something he couldn’t ignore. Even if his presence wasn’t hovering around him or the apartment, the Spirit was still out there, loose and out of sight and Ryou hadn’t the slightest clue about what he would do on his own. What he could do was something better left unsaid.

The Spirit was capable enough for survival, that much was known, but his other tendencies weren’t exactly on par with peace and tranquility—

Ryou frowned, set the cup down on the table, and let the weak dying wisps rise until they disappeared with his heavy sigh.

In truth, at the start of their relationship—whatever it had begun as and whatever it had left off on and if it could even be called that—Ryou had agreed to it solely for the purpose of extracting secrets from the Spirit—how had he come to be, and how could Ryou send him back? He had wanted the Spirit to disappear as soon as possible—to be left alone with the newly attained sense of freedom after having thought him gone. Ryou wanted to stop him all on his own from unleashing more harm into the world and onto his friends. After all, Yugi had had a responsibility to Atem. It could be said that Ryou felt it was much the same with he and the Spirit, however different it was between the two of them compared to the aforementioned pair.

The Spirit, though, still held on to a hatred Ryou couldn’t understand, and it was evident to him that the Spirit would pursue his vengeance until his end.

He was unsure if his lack of understanding that need for vengeance was what held him back from making progress with his moral responsibility, but he wasn’t sure, either, if unlocking that piece of knowledge was necessary for progress to happen. The Spirit was forever an enigma—he’d lived another life which Ryou couldn’t possibly access if he tried. What the Spirit was living, was something akin to an echo of a lost time and if he wanted to keep chasing it, who was Ryou to tell him not to?

Even if his incapacity to fully reach him was true, something between them—Ryou, too, had become aware of it—something between them had undoubtedly changed.

Ryou couldn’t place his finger on it, but he could point to those moments when the air tingled, when it tickled his skin with a buzzing electric feel.

Maybe it was the way he spoke to Ryou recently, how his voice had lost a jagged, violent edge.

Perhaps it was how the Spirit looked at him sometimes, when Ryou would turn to him and catch glimpses of a—

Of a misplaced something from a not-so-secret gaze.

The Spirit’s presence had become to feel—permanent—up until then. Not that it was permanent in the sense that they would tolerate their existences together forever, rather—

Permanent, as though the Spirit wouldn’t exit his life anytime soon, and Ryou saw no reason to make him anymore.

Permanent like that—

Until it suddenly and truly, wasn’t.

Maybe that change he felt had happened again—a reversal—when Ryou had shouted those things at him that made him leave.

Alone, to his thoughts, he’d ponder—

Why the truth would make the Spirit leave, so defensive, angry, so quick to ignite and lash out—

Because who else could have done those horrifying things? he asked himself, mind replaying those memories which had remained with him, haunting.

“Those were his memories,” Ryou mumbled, slumped over the table staring at a cold cup of abandoned tea.

Ryou thought those things, sometimes all at once, looking across at an empty table set for two—caught a glimpse of himself reflected on the faded green-yellow tinge of his tea after another awakening from yet another stretch of nightmare-ridden dreamscapes.

On a night, when his nightmarish visions spurred him from his sleep and when his body couldn’t take any more sitting and questioning—

When he resorted to wandering his apartment like the hollowed shell of the person he had been—could still be but wasn’t—

The Millennium Items re-discovered at the back of his closet told him the opposite of what he’d concluded.

When he found them, a wave of relief swept over him, like a cool and welcome breeze of fresh air on that hot July night.

Ryou, at the edge of his closet, picked one up gently, weighing the item in the palm of his hand, touching the surface of a golden reality. All of them were there, he calculated.

All of them were there—

All except two.

Ryou subconsciously counted the days that passed since.

People wondered if something had happened to him—but nobody could say what it was they saw different in him.

The only thing they knew was that one day, Ryou Bakura had returned to school with a completed workload of assignments he’d missed, got his grades up, and hadn’t had an absence since. He hadn’t been late, either. Ryou had become the dependable upperclassman to the first and second years, had become the coveted student Ms. Chono had always dreamed of—handsome, reliable, and polite.

It wasn’t until a few days before the end of the first term, just before the beginning of summer break that Bakura, returned.

Ryou opened the door of his apartment, took his shoes off at the entryway, and let the bag on his shoulder drop onto the edge of the table, loaded with extra study materials.

His breath, half-way sighed, got lodged in the space between his lungs and his throat. The arm holding the bag, froze, extended.

Slowly, Ryou exhaled.

The Spirit leaned on the edge of the sofa, lazily shuffling cards, and looking as if he’d never left. He didn’t even look up when Ryou had come in nor when all had gone silent and it was painfully evident that Ryou had noticed his presence.

He wasn’t sure what emotion he felt first when he saw the Spirit, clothed in nothing but a black attire, wearing things that had never at all belonged to Ryou. His hair, Ryou noted with surprise, seemed shorter, too. The hood of the loose jacket he wore was lifted, but the same tint of dirty white poked out in small tufts from underneath, with an unfamiliar hue of gray-lavender.

Ryou wasn’t interested nor did he have time to unpack the new look.

After a second’s pause, he’d decided he was feeling an innumerable amount of emotion, but at the surface he was both saddened— and outraged.

A lungful of words felt as though they were ready to burst out from his chest to demand answers to things that had worried him—plagued him. 

Bakura sauntered over to him, the arrogance in his gait purposefully placed. He still didn’t look at him, kept his gaze down, chin jutted out, and a mouth closed firm and motionless. He tossed something onto the table, that something hitting the base of his school bag. Ryou didn’t look at it, kept his eyes level, followed instead, with an unforgiving gaze, the Spirit.

The Spirit’s firmly lined mouth curled, the same smug aura Ryou had memorized deep in himself, twisting lips to form words—

“We leave in three days,” he said with a voice like gravel, teeth accentuating the sharpness behind his words.

Ryou couldn’t see his eyes from underneath his black hood. All he could catch was a glimpse of his mouth, upturned at the corners, looking as though it teetered between a bite and a growl.

He had known the Spirit would eventually return, most likely for the Items if they were of any importance to him, and possibly the only reason, he told himself right then—

But it hadn’t crossed Ryou’s mind what he would do when he did—

Nor had he envisioned himself meeting with him face to face, so casually like that.

The ringing in his ears grew intense—

He glared at the Spirit but couldn’t tell if he was staring back.

Ryou swallowed his pride and fought off the bitterness paralyzing his tongue—

“All right,” he said.

So, they did leave.

Both of them, together.

The Spirit’s time frame gave Ryou enough opportunity for him to finish the last of his tests and collect the summer break homework from all his teachers in advance. Given that he had been doing well in recent weeks, they all obliged, admiring what they called the “studious nature” Ryou had recently adopted.

Ryou packed.

Bakura lingered.

From a distance—

“Take the cards,” he said.

“All right,” Ryou complied, grabbing decks and backups.

“You don’t need that many clothes,” he said.

“Okay,” and Ryou gutted his briefcase.

At the door, one late morning on the Monday they were supposed to set out, Ryou dressed light for travel, holding his suitcase in one hand and his school bag in another, stopped at the entryway. Bakura, in front of him, placed his palm on the doorknob.

“Ready?” he asked, without much animation, head bowed, and tilted toward the floor.

Ryou didn’t move or answer, not even as the Spirit turned the knob, letting a strip of sunlight through. He placed his hand on the edge of the door, holding it for Ryou.

Evidently, he was waiting for his host to comply without rebuttal.

Ryou’s hold on his luggage tightened.

The silence seemed to make the other uncomfortable.

Without further word, however, Ryou stepped past him through the sunlit entrance.

The day was as any other July day in Japan: hot, sultry, and with an unbearable humidity. Behind him, he heard the Spirit shut the door and lock it, but Ryou didn’t look over his shoulder to bother checking. His legs took him down the shoddy metal stairs, acute to a presence he hadn’t felt shadow him in almost two months.

On their walk to the train station, he never received help with his luggage, nor asked for it. It was a silent journey, but Ryou preferred it that way—not because he wasn’t looking for answers, but because he didn’t know how to ask for them just yet.

As the impending station loomed in the distance, Ryou realized he hadn’t the faintest idea where they were headed, and the ticket given to him by the Spirit, all of a sudden made its existence known, each step adding to the uncertainty of his choice.

Upon entering, the Spirit put a hand on his shoulder to stop him from wandering too far. Ryou felt the weight of his arm on him like a shock. He whispered close, leaning into him so he could be heard above the babble of late morning passengers—

“Use the pass I gave you.”

With that, the Spirit easily slipped in front of him and through the gates, scanning a pass, Ryou saw, belonging to someone named Ikegawa. Ryou fumbled for the train pass that had been provided to him days prior and was thus inclined to believe they were headed somewhere a little more local than say, bolting to an entirely different country altogether. The station near his apartment didn’t travel more than a few miles outside the city limits.

He scanned his own pass, name on it, Tanaka, and the arms of the gate gave passage.

Stepping through the barrier, Ryou understood why the Spirit had chosen such a strange time for traveling. The trains were less crowded, although not by much. With it being just before noon, though, there were few, if any, uniformed students walking about, and so, he was relatively safe from being spotted by any classmates. More importantly, it kept anyone who simply knew him from seeing he and the Spirit together.

Ryou tugged at his luggage, falling behind the Spirit at a respectable pace and distance. The wheels on his suitcase occasionally hiccuped on uneven parts of the pavement, causing an uncharacteristic frustrated pull to keep the thing from sticking.

He measured the distance between he and the Spirit. 

He was smart—He kept the hood of his jacket up and had hidden the unruly parts of his hair way underneath. The steps the Spirit took exuded confidence, lack of nerves, and he maintained his head high and alert without giving anything of his caution away.

Their train hadn’t yet arrived, and the Spirit stopped at the indicated lines as he waited, occasionally glancing around the perimeter of the station. Next them, men and women alike filed behind them for the same reason.

Ryou inched closer, noting how the body in front of him went rigid with the sudden and close proximity.

“Where are you taking me?” He looked up not exactly expecting an answer, but at least a response, an indication that the Spirit was listening to him.

Bakura regarded him for the first time since their reunion. He spoke in cold, even tones, eyes lacking the amused sparkle Ryou had grown used to seeing during their exchanges.

“You’re not a hostage—,” the slightest pause—a curve of the lips that could almost be a snarl, “Landlord.” He turned away and Ryou understood the meaning of a cold shoulder.

The rails screeched as the subway approached from beyond a tunnel, grinding to a halt in front of them. The awaiting passengers directed their gaze to it much like birds in a flock act, and all packed in together to allow as much room as possible for the arriving commuters. The commuters disembarked in straight lines, dispersing at the gates as soon as they were on the other side.

Ryou followed the mob of boarding travelers, feeling very acutely when his arm was grabbed, and he was held back from finding a seat. He looked over his shoulder, his lips forming a firm line that bordered on degrees of distaste.

The Spirit let go instantly, folding his arms in front of him.

“Stay close to the doors,” was all he said.

Not soon after, Ryou understood why.

No more than three stops later, they exited both train and station. Ryou carried his suitcase up the stairs and across a busy intersection, rife with life as noon approached.

As he followed the Spirit’s footsteps, Ryou thought he could easily be stepping on his coattails had he worn his usual garb.

They descended, Ryou by that point, absent in mind, keeping his eyes trained on the heels of leather boots telling him where to go. As he reached the final step, a wave of familiarity hit him. He raised his head and absorbed the bright lights, read the kanji splayed in white lettering on a sign hanging above.

“This is,” he paused, starting to feel the strain of one travel bag too many, “the Tokyo Station.”

The Spirit stopped briefly, to glance in the direction Ryou was. He looked as though he was going to supply additional information, perhaps nod, but he turned, quickly caught up in the rhythm of the threads of bodies that walked to their destined lines in one of the busiest stations in Japan.

The lines wormed towards one and another, forked at strange sections, or circled back to the surface, headed to another unseen part of the city.

Ryou was caught up in the speeding moment. The people around him didn’t seem to ever stop walking.

Looking at the number of directories, Ryou wasn’t sure how far they’d go.

Having boarded the local line, he thought at most a town over. Maybe the outskirts of Domino.

Seeing the Tokyo station, however, which included nearby cities like Yokohama, but could extend into reaches as far as Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima. Any number of stops between could be their last or—further, stations confined to those cities and towns and villages could take them into an even more distant Japan, not to mention, the multitude of buses that traveled deep into the countryside.

Thus, prompting another question—

Why now?

Had it been of matter of maintaining Ryou safe, would it not have made more sense to have left—or at least—migrate to somewhere other than Domino, his apartment, when the threats had been first apparent?

No—Ryou quickly made away with that line of reasoning.

Ryou never would have left, even when he’d felt the terror of golden eyes stalking him. He had a school life that would have been left behind, and though he didn’t think the Spirit understood his ties to his friends and the normalcy of academic study, Ryou didn’t think the Spirit would have forced him to follow him into some unknown destination to get away from possible danger.

He’d seen it first-hand, that night, when he had accompanied Ryou with a much-needed presence of stability. However irksome he’d seemed, the impatience to seek out the menacing owner of those golden eyes had been quelled, and he’d instead, remained with Ryou through the late hours.

The Spirit was the type to encounter the danger head-on, as he’d demonstrated to Ryou when he’d appeared out of no-where to protect him from a multitude of extortionists, eager to shed blood.

Ryou cautiously lifted his gaze and found the Spirit waiting a bit ahead, near one of the information kiosks.

Why now? he asked himself again.

Was it because something had finally happened that solidified the vague notion of a threat into a real one?

Would Ryou not have agreed otherwise had he not experienced the sharp end of that danger?

If the Spirit had said they had to leave Domino when Ryou had come to him in desperate need, would Ryou have agreed to it?

He asked himself and found half an answer on the tip of his soul.

Ryou would have believed him.

The Spirit had earned that much trust.

There was always a truth in his words when it came to matters of Ryou’s safety. There was a sincerity in his eye wherever Ryou was concerned.

It made a part of Ryou feel guilty over how they’d parted that night—how he’d obviously been there, waiting for him, waiting for his awakening, for his escape from an endless labyrinth of mind.

Ryou would have believed the Spirit, but he would not have followed him when Ryou still had things which anchored him.

With a shy gaze cast aside, he crossed the distance between himself and the Spirit, the other stepping into the zigzagging crowds and toward their designated location.

Ryou observed him as he walked, measured the length of his stride—too long for Ryou to keep up at his regular pace. He noted the straightness in posture, upheld by a deep-rooted pride.

A pride that was now known to be sensitive to scorn—sensitive to spurn and rejection.

You’re not a hostage, Landlord.

He swallowed, thinking back on the frigidity of the reply—aftereffects of a slighted pride, whose angry waves were still tightly packed with intensity.

Apart from the frigidity, there was another truth in his words.

Ryou wasn’t a hostage, not really.

It was up to him if he wanted to follow the Spirit or turn back. He could have said no on the eve of the announcement of travel. He could have denied the Spirit to return altogether.

But he hadn’t.

He hadn’t objected to either and now, he followed the Spirit, practically stepping on his heels.

The Spirit held no power over him, he saw, not after what Ryou had said to him.

He’d retained a sharp edge, but it was one which had always been there. It was something else that had been lost between them and it left a chasm in the accidentally constructed connection, only recognized once it was no longer there.

Ryou blinked, tracing the back of the Spirit’s head, following the lines down to his shoulders.

Had it been—friendship that had been lost between them?

Unconventional, perhaps was why Ryou hadn’t seen it sooner. The Spirit wasn’t like his human friends who wore their hearts on their sleeve, who demonstrated the bare minimum of courtesy and platonic affection that was necessary to upkeep a relationship like that.

But the Spirit hadn’t been one to do those things, having existed in Ryou’s soul.

Maybe that was why his words had always retained a serrated, sarcastic edge to them.

Maybe that was why his actions never went beyond simply being in the same room.

The manner in which he spent time with Ryou was confined to card games where he liked to be the winner.

Maybe it was his take on what he thought friendship between two people was.

He stepped aside, shadowing the Spirit’s movements as he strolled in another direction. The bustling station was beginning to ebb as noon struck and the rush hour faded completely. They had passed the Chuo line, Yamanote, amongst others, but the Spirit kept walking, sidestepping strollers, ticket lines, reload machines…

What did Ryou think of him in return?

He paused any other thought, searching for an answer to satisfy himself.

There was a sea of unspokenness between them, one which gnawed at him.

Ryou had doubts—many of them recently—and questions which piled and piled with no foreseeable end.

He didn’t know what to think anymore.

Voices over the intercom spoke mechanically and informatively, detailing the departing lines and those which had already left, both in Japanese and the occasional English.

Just then, the head in front of him twitched the slightest bit and the body attached to it swerved to the left.

Ryou blinked and in that split second, he lost the Spirit to the crowd. He looked in the direction he’d seen him off to, but the only thing his eyes could catch movements of were unfamiliar faces, blurring and speeding past him. He searched for black and found a myriad of suits of the same color blending into one another.

His stomach dropped, left stranded, and he couldn’t pick up his bearings enough to move.

Up ahead, between two pillars, the Spirit stood. Ryou saw him, sighing a nervous breath of air. He saw a pair of slender fingers slip inside the pocket of his jacket, and then across the myriad of patrons, they set eyes on one another. The other made no motion to return to his side—he remained between the signs indicating the Tokaido line.

Ryou then knew which of trains they were boarding. The Tokaido-Sanyo stretched to the center of Japan, sometimes even further than that depending on time of departure. Ryou had only ridden it a few times in his life—the remaining amounts of travel had been by airplane, and certainly not anywhere local.

The Spirit’s hand went up to his face and smoothed the area around his mouth, dropping after, with an exasperated motion. With a turn of his heel, Ryou was once again staring at the back of him—left to watch him walk away and blend with a crowd.

Before that could happen, by way of an impulse, his foot stepped forward, looking to close the distance.

He bumped into someone in his haste, a rushed apology tumbling between his lips, fighting to extract himself from the precarious tangle of limbs and luggage hurrying through the station.

The people passing to the Tokaido area went in so fluidly, easily, carrying their personal effects, others carrying nothing at all. Some were accompanied, and some were alone. They all seemed to have a purpose which led them to their travels, a call to work, tourism, a simple familial visit.

So, what was Ryou doing, following a dead man who he knew had done terrible things to him?

To his friends?

To—

Images of melted gold and blood came to him in sleep—

When awake.

He closed his eyes for a moment, carried by sheer momentum to an area where he wouldn’t block passage.

Ryou could turn back. He could walk up the stairs of the station, head home, and never look back.

He didn’t like to think about his nightmares, the traded memories, but what other way was there to decipher those cryptic images he was left with? Incomplete snippets of another life he couldn’t possibly entertain with the little he had of them. All he had were notions, accusations—to fill the missing pieces.

But that did not make them true.

The story was incomplete. There was more than one side—truth, conjecture, forever inaccessible. Like the two faces of the moon: seen and unseen.

One side was there to be witnessed and cause wonder, terror, give hope. Another was dark, riddled with conspiracies and mystery.

Ryou didn’t understand him.

He didn’t understand the gleam of pleasure in the Spirit’s eye when he spoke to Ryou of misdeeds he’d performed.

He didn’t understand that look of hurt—because that’s what it had been—when Ryou accused him of one.

You don’t understand anything.

Ryou caught of glimpse of the Spirit, waiting no more than a few meters away, looking casual, but leaning his head in the direction where Ryou stood.

A clamor of citizens weaved between them.

He wanted to understand him. Ryou still did.

But there was so much that remained unknown of him—so much that he did know which had terrified him.

Often, in life, it’s a matter that’s left between two choices.

The Spirit hadn’t given Ryou an answer that night, leaving Ryou lingering with want, reaching for fragments of him which could help piece together an explanation.

There was a terrible side to the Spirit, one whose face he brandished to the whole world.

And then, there was another, which he’d thought he’d hidden well behind arrogance and pride, behind insults, behind a cold shoulder and walls of silence and scorn.

That mystery of the dark side of the moon was what had allured many people to it. It was the same with Ryou on how he was drawn to that mystery, the inaccessibility of the Spirit’s hidden side whose glimpses into it had left Ryou stunned by its different nature.

It wasn’t vast, the difference.

But it was enough for a possibility—

The Spirit hadn’t answered Ryou—his heavy question of yes or no—which left everything down to those two choices. In his case—

It was the possibility of an innocence.

It was the possibility that he could still answer no.

And it gave Ryou hope.

To what, however, he couldn’t rightly say.


 

The line they boarded wasn’t express. Out of the three that were grouped into the Tokaido lines, the one they were riding on was the slowest. The Spirit had given Ryou a ticket right before they approached the gates, and flicking it in his direction, it was almost claimed by the air-conditioned wind. The Spirit went ahead of him, leaving Ryou to insert the small orange paper into the rectangular slot of the machine and retrieve it on the opposite side of the dispenser when he was let through.

Being noon, the seating was strictly non-reserved. The Spirit had most likely bought the ticket to ensure passage only, and though the length of time it took to complete a passage was the longest, their train was the more crowded of the three. The limited express was slightly more expensive, reaching its last station in about two hours. This one, he understood, made a complete trip in a little more than four—hence the reduction in price, and increase in capacity.

Every major station from Tokyo to Okayama could be their stop.

Not to mention the amount of ports waiting on all watersides. Japan was surrounded by water and there was no shortage of ships anytime soon. They could end up on an island, remain inland—

Ryou’s heart beat to the rhythm of anxiety. He could simply ask, but his initial inquiry hadn’t exactly been successful.

Discreetly extracting the ticket from his pocket, Ryou read the destination on there—Okayama. It was the last stop, but any prior was also fully accounted for by the purchased ticket. In other words, any station, and up until Okayama, could be their final one.

At least he knew the general direction they were headed in—West.

He pocketed the slip of paper back into his front pocket, moving aside to let passengers slide past him, and maneuvering with some difficulty, further back.

The single wheeled suitcase and the bag with all his summer assignments—and then some—were placed in the compartment overhead the seat he’d chosen, one away from the busy doorways.

People from all over Tokyo with different backgrounds filtered in one by one, taking their preferred seat, plopping down, and tuning out the world with sleep or headphones. Important looking businessmen and businesswomen directed themselves to the green car in groups, leaving Ryou to wonder what the other passengers did, who they were, where they were headed and why.

The Spirit had disappeared somewhere and Ryou hadn’t seen them since they boarded. It made him nervous, not because he was alone—Ryou had done most of his traveling in solitude—but because there was no guarantee he wouldn’t leave again, stranding Ryou on a soon to depart train.

He sat down and drummed his fingers on his lap. His eyes roamed toward the entrance anytime a new traveler entered. Spotting a figure in a similar black jacket step through, Ryou immediately blew out an air of disappointment when the young man wearing it pushed his hood back, revealing his brown hair buzzed almost to the scalp.

Ryou squirmed in his seat, noting every passenger who walked by and past him in unstoppable, worming lines. For a second, he tried to decide on whether it was a better idea to take out his homework from his bag and start on it right then, as a distraction.

When he could no longer endure the wait, growing uneasy with impatience, Ryou pushed himself off the seat and crossed the small space between seating to look out the window which faced the boarding platform.

He didn’t have to wait too long. He caught sight of another figure in black step through the doors, who not soon after, halted to a stop nearby when he saw Ryou stretched across two seats, bracing himself on the frame of the window.

The Spirit looked at Ryou in the same manner he had all day, and Ryou couldn’t remember the last time the Spirit hid himself behind such an enigmatic gaze. It made something in his chest tighten.

“Did you forget something?” the Spirit asked. His lips moved, Ryou heard his words, but it was as if his voice traveled through him.

More people began to enter the train en masse as the intercom warned of the imminent departure.

Ryou slid off the seats, shaking his head and turning his face away.

“No, I was just—,” he pressed his lips together. “No. It’s nothing.”

The train departed five minutes after the announcement.

Trains in Japan were always punctual. When they weren’t, it was either due to an accidental delay or mechanical failure, both of which were rare. Ryou, then, shouldn’t have been thrown into such a state of surprise when the doors closed and the locomotive moved forward, the speed of it gaining rapidly.

It was rather packed inside. Much of the seating near the doors being the most crowded, with the proximity to them being highly coveted by short-term riders.

Okayama on the other hand, was a formidable distance away. And being on the slowest of the shinkansen, Ryou was in for a long, silent trip.

His hands clutched at his knees.

The Spirit had situated himself in the section across from him, on the left.

Ryou thought perhaps the journey would provide ample opportunity for speaking with him, to have some of his questions answered. But distance meant fractured communication. The Spirit wasn’t there to converse with him. He made that clear with his sitting apart.

Ryou may as well have been traveling alone.

To distract himself from the evident avoidance of the other, Ryou directed his attention to the passing scenery outside his window.

It was probably a little past noon, the sky crisp and blue and cloudless. They were still within city limits, and the buildings had not yet melted away into the landscape. Beyond the skyline, of course, beyond those erected concrete barriers, was the promise of greenery, country, and solitary peace in the mountainous lands of Japan.

The steady ride left no room for the jostling and bumps of ineffectual paved roads. He couldn’t begin to speak to the Spirit. His homework was lodged tightly between books and piles of notes—he didn’t want to get up and dig it out. A seed of isolation grew inside him, stretching roots of sadness throughout him.

The smooth movement of the shinkansen, coupled with the murmur of low-toned voices, soon lulled him with the promise of escape from his dejected state of mind. Ryou’s seat, ample in space, left him enough comfort to doze the first hours away in a peaceful slumber.

He awoke sometime later to find the sun, its fiery hue hanging in the middle of the sky. While he slept, the train had become almost barren. He and the Spirit were some of the few passengers left, and the latter, strangely, had fallen asleep too.

Perhaps it was because he had seen Ryou close his eyes and welcome oblivion, that the Spirit thought it acceptable to do the same.

Ryou rubbed his eyes, thinking how was it that he’d allowed himself to sleep in such a public place—or that he’d even gotten any sleep at all. Remembering the patrons who’d done it before him, at least, let him feel less self-conscious about having done so.

The nap hadn’t been as comfortable as he thought. It left his chest pulsing at the seams of aching old scars. He groaned, squeezing his left hand’s discomfort. The supposed restful slumber had done next to nothing to dispel his anxieties, either, and Ryou instead, was left with an unsettling sensation crawling up his spine.

He placed a hand on the empty headrest in front of him, pivoting his body to stretch his legs and glance out the window. The time past must have led noon into early evening as he saw the tinge of orange spreading itself across the blue of the atmosphere.

With the current trajectory, the train swayed side to side, rocking like an unsteady boat.

Ryou blinked, scanning eyes over the water, the suspended orb spewing fire.

It was then that Ryou came to the realization that the train wasn’t moving forward. There was movement, but no progress on the tracks.

The sun had been in the same position in the sky, glowing like a hazy golden ring on the blood red backdrop.

He looked around, using the same seat he held on to, to balance himself as he stood.

Nobody else seemed to think there was anything amiss. The passengers who remained maintained their line of sight forward, towards the doors, calmly sitting as though the occurrence was normal. Seeing them, Ryou thought maybe he’d missed an announcement explaining the interruption in service but—

He looked out the window, the train swaying calmly left to right in a waving motion, and the sun burned itself onto the surface of the red ocean. Part of him thought it odd, that the water’s blue could be overtaken by such harsh tones, but he couldn’t explain to himself why.

Everything felt …off.

The disquiet of his surroundings traveled up and along his arms, raising hairs.

People didn’t move, didn’t turn their heads. They only responded to the oscillating movement of the train, allowing their center of gravity to follow it.

Ryou snuck a glance at the Spirit, hidden under the blanket of his black clothing. With him facing the other direction, Ryou couldn’t tell whether he was awake and aware, or if he was as deep into a sleep as he seemed.

His eyes darted next to the other travelers, looking between the ones up front and ones nearby. With one swift motion, Ryou crossed the distance from his seat to the Spirit’s, taking the space beside him.

Though they weren’t comfortable with each other at the moment, Ryou trusted that his worries wouldn’t be brushed off, especially if his suspicions that something was very, very wrong were proved to be correct.

Ryou reached a tentative hand over to the sleeping form next to him. His fingers trembled as his palm connected with the other’s arm, and Ryou took a hold of it, shaking the Spirit gently. He expected the Spirit to be a light sleeper, but finding no success the first time, Ryou shook him harder. When there was no reaction again, his movement grew frantic.

He leaned in close after, whispering to him.

“Wake up.”

His fingers clutched to the fabric of the Spirit’s jacket.

“There’s—there’s…” Ryou began, trying to explain to him what was happening. His words failed him, though, since he himself was unable to grasp the situation he’d awakened in.

On the outside, there was no change in scenery. No birds flew in the sky. No airplanes cut through the red. No boats navigated the waters.

It was as if everyone was dead, and the only life forms that remained were located inside the moving confined space of the shinkansen, and Ryou, the only one aware of it.

The silence was ringing.

The metallic rhythmic sounds grew maddening.

His dread increased with the time past, turning the fear-riddle images racking his mind into things much worse. He wasn’t thinking clearly anymore; his vision had become as hazy as the reflections on the ocean waves beyond the glass.

Ryou closed his eyes to block out the view but saw the robed man’s blue ones behind his lids. He opened them, horrified, his hand clenching tighter around the Spirit’s jacket.

When he could take it no longer, he grabbed at the Spirit’s wrist in a desperate tug, his hand falling into liquid.

Ryou stared at it, the shaking of his fingers distorting the yellow globs dripping down their length, to his wrist, onto his lap. He blinked, legs extending from shock, inability to comprehend.

He didn’t understand any of it.

Behind him, passengers had turned their heads—their eye sockets were a black abyss, their mouths expressionless in their gape. They crowded him, extending arms that melted red.

Ryou turned to the Spirit again.

His mouth opened; a name was cried out.

“Ba—”

 

The first breath he took awakened him.

The blood rushed past his ears. Ryou felt the arrhythmic pumps of a heart reminding him he was alive, leaving the rest of his body heavy with leftover adrenaline.

His eyes took several seconds to adjust to the harsh light of day still streaming through the window, and they did so while Ryou recovered from the nightmare which left his head woozy with pain from an uneasy sleep. The blood slowed its course and when it finally regained its normal pulse, the murmur of voices around him settled into a babble of comfort.

Tucking his legs out from under him, he rubbed the bleariness from his eyes, body tired from an interrupted rest, but mind protesting a return to its throes if Ryou wanted to keep himself sane.

He looked around, grasping at the fabric to test its authenticity, another part touched it to keep a sense of balance about him.

Sitting up with stiff movements, he noted first, the quiet murmuring of the people still inside—alive—talking amongst themselves in a casual everyday manner. He listened to their words, each one clear in their meaning, proving to him that he was no longer within an incomprehensibility that was a vivid bad dream.

The sky outside was still a tranquil shade of cyan, although, some thin strands of cloud had gathered in chaotic sheep-like bunches to decorate the atmosphere.

Ryou took a deep breath, exhaling as steadily as he could, after. His hands were still shaking and trembling with lingering feelings he didn’t know if he could get rid of. He smoothed away strands of hair that had stuck to his cheeks and brushed away any possibility of them looking unkempt. Discreetly positioning himself to pretend he was reaching for the longer strands on the back, he turned just slightly to glance at the row next to him.

He discovered that its inhabitant had already been observing him. Briefly, their eyes met in silent acknowledgement of the other’s presence and Ryou felt the subconscious urge to blink and look away.

“It’s nothing,” he told the Spirit without being prompted. It was in irrational urge to explain a situation he hadn’t been asked about.

What made it worse was the Spirit, instead of brandishing sarcastic remarks, had shifted in another direction, leaned back in his seat, and closed his eyes.

Ryou stared for far longer than he should have. The odd sight of seeing the Sprit like that for a second time made his hair stand on end with the recollection of the events of his nightmare. He had to remind himself that even if the Spirit was doing something he had never seen him do before, it didn’t mean he was still stuck in a hellish realm.

Luckily, he was forced to turn away when the food cart arrived on squeaky wheels, pausing between the rows. The attendant greeted him with a customary expression, which thanked him for traveling with them, and then offered a small bento lunch.

Seeing his expression, the attendant changed hers into one of sincere apology.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Ryou shook his head, attention returning to the Spirit for a mere moment.

The attendant, keen on facial cues, smiled, wanting to make up for her previous blunder.

“You’re traveling with your brother?” she said looking between he and the Spirit.

“What?” Ryou asked, question sharp with astonishment.

On the other seat, the Spirit cracked an eye open, and assessing the woman as no threat, placed an arm over his face.

“He’s not my brother,” Ryou blurted, not at all mindful of the tone he’d taken, bordering on rude. It may have been the fact that he was still on edge, or perhaps because he still struggled with the fact that the Spirit and he were practically identical to outsiders.

The woman’s smile remained, nonetheless, unsure of both herself and the young man she’d chosen to address. Taking one last glance between Ryou and the Spirit and judging that neither of them were interested in a boxed lunch or beverage, she moved onto the next compartment of passengers, ready to offer them a small bit of sustenance in the shape of a rectangular pre-packaged box.

Ryou had no desire to fall asleep after the woman’s lunch offer, nor did his body insist that he return to another unregulated slumber. The Spirit on the other hand, didn’t look as though he had any qualms with doing that, but watching him for a while, Ryou came to suspect that he wasn’t asleep, and instead, only kept his eyes closed in mock suggestion. It wasn't until he caught himself crossing a line which went beyond observant, or worse, obsessive, that Ryou did look away, if only to uphold his sense of politeness in respecting the other’s privacy.

Regretting not having brought a book, and no longer interested in doing his homework, Ryou resorting to people watching, then reached into the front pocket of his shirt to pull out his phone. He clicked it on to see one message in his inbox. The preview read it was from Yugi, though, he couldn’t read it.

He checked across the aisle, making sure that the Spirit hadn’t moved from his seat. His arm remained draped over the top half of his face; knees spread apart to deter anyone sitting near him. His jaw clenched and his throat bobbed in a swallow and Ryou looked away, swiping his finger over the screen of his phone to tap the hour-ago message icon.

“Hey Bakura we missed you at lunch. Are you going to be here tomorrow?”

His thumbs hovered over the keyboard, positioned and ready to type out a response.

In truth, Ryou was unaware of how long the Spirit would keep them away. Ryou couldn’t tell Yugi he was sick; those words would take him right to his apartment doorstep to check up on him. What he needed to say was something that would deter him—or anyone else—from bringing up summer plans or asking about sudden visits.

His fingers began to type out a reply.

“No sorry. I’m at the airport waiting for my flight. I’m taking the summer to visit my father for a little while.”

Perhaps it had been a necessary skill to develop, but the ease that came with lying left Ryou feeling a tad guilty over doing so. He clicked the power button, ignoring the notification which had just arrived, and pocketed it. Bringing his legs up for comfort, Ryou watched the softening of blue and yellow lights out the window.

It was at some point in his ruminations that the landscape outside had transformed from the naturally occurring to the mechanical. Concrete buildings of grey had risen from the ground and metal fences clawed areas around them with neat confining squares and rectangles. A voice over the intercom announced the approach to Okayama station, and Ryou clutched his knee.

People in other sections began to whisper.

“Well, this is our stop.”

“Hey, want to get something to eat? I’m starving.”

“I know just the place right outside the station.”

Ryou swayed forward as the train came to a stop while his stomach flopped, unsure on whether they actually had. The heavy metal body of the traveling constraint screeched to waiting people on the platform of its arrival. He watched as passengers stretched their arms and legs, how others were itching to rise from their seats as the final break was pulled and the shinkansen halted movement altogether. The doors opened and a collective swarm of passengers rose, filing out with bags in their hands. Others extracted heavier belongings from above their seats and set off in lines of gray and black suits until they disappeared into the crowds outside.

When the last stragglers exited, Ryou, sensing the Spirit’s presence beside, craned his neck up. He stood at an arm’s distance, acknowledging him with a steady gaze.

“Get your things.”

Ryou blinked and saw him step ahead and down onto the platform.

Hauling his increasingly burdensome bags in tow, Ryou landed onto the concrete pavement himself, tugging the luggage out of the way as people started to board. Standing there behind the yellow line, Ryou began with uncertain steps, an unsure walk into Okayama. He inserted his ticket, granting him access across. The clock mounted on the wall read twenty past four, behind it, the sun visible behind a gray building.

Ryou must have looked lost, taking slow, deliberate steps, around the station. A guard waved him over, asking if he was looking for a specific exit.

Startled with the address, he shook his head.

“No, I’m waiting for my—,” he blanked on the term, “—my…”

“Ah, I see!” the man shook his head in apology. He let Ryou go on ahead, as a pair of travelers joined together at the arms approached him with legitimate inquiries.

The Spirit joined him shortly after, something already being inserted in his pocket and out of sight.

“It’s this way,” he muttered to Ryou when they were both at an acceptable distance away from the herds. The exit they were approaching was the east exit, and the Spirit, expected Ryou to follow without argument.

When it was apparent his host wasn’t behind him, he turned, dodging a group of people traveling in the opposite direction.

“I haven’t said anything about it all day,” Ryou began. “But I want you to know, I’m not here because—because I want to be.” Upon speaking his mind, it was though the strain that had built up between them grew taut, like it increased its tension. He took one step forward, very aware of the reverse rejection that could happen. “I want you—I want you to tell me things—answers. Something," Ryou insisted, waving an arm.

The Spirit blinked down at him and moved to turn away.

“We’re heading to Okabe.”

On the surface, he looked to be an impenetrable wall.

Ryou shook his head, frustration building with the stoic reaction he'd received over and over, more than once already, to his advances in trying to dismantle the other's defenses.

“That not what I meant,” Ryou’s arm extended, reaching for the Spirit's. They were starting to receive looks from those passing nearby.“That’s not—” He shook his head again, managing to circle his grip on a thin wrist.

Before he could pull him forward, Ryou was met with a sharp tug from the Spirit and his grasp, insufficient, was unable to keep the connection between them. Ryou was left holding only air.

“Where have you been?” His words were exhaled like the final sigh of a person losing strength. His lip trembled. He pressed his mouth together.

The Spirit didn’t even look at him. 

“You treat me like—like I’m some sort of liability,” Ryou told him, bitterness engulfing his last word. “You can—” His mouth lingered on a name, but when he looked at him, at the Spirit, he didn’t see the point in using one. “You can tell me things,” he finished, a plea.

“We both know you are,” the Spirit said, ignoring the rest. There was nothing in his voice. He paused. “If you die, I die.”

It was the first time he’d acknowledged that.

Ryou shut his mouth, then opened it again. He thought of all the things which had happened to him and his friends since the Spirit came into his life. Ryou thought of the things he himself did, too, which continued to hurt everyone around him.

“Is that such a bad thing?” he muttered.

Immediately after saying it, his foremost emotions plunged into guilt and shame. He'd let his the most vanguard feelings, anger and resentment, dictate his words. Ryou knew he had no right to think like that, not when his death included someone else.

People continued dodging them; neither cared for anything except what was standing in front of them.

The too-long stretch of silence was broken by the Spirit, his heels scraping the concrete floor underneath as he began to stride away.

“Maybe not for you,” he said.


 

The ride up the mountains was uncomfortable.

After disembarking the Tokaido shinkansen, the Spirit and he had traveled some minutes on foot to the bus station situated just across Okayama station.

Accompanying the other without an exchanging of words, Ryou had tuned out the world until the summer heat made itself evident sitting within the small, sauna-like contraption.

The bus was an old model, with no air-conditioning installed. With the sun suspended up in the humid July sky, Ryou had stripped himself of his jacket, which he found made everything much worse when his arms kept sticking to the cheap plastic seating.

A grove of trees overtook their path as soon as the city was out of sight, surrounding them with green whispers of leaves and cicadas. The path became dirt mixed with gravel, and not long after, all he saw were roadside shrines.

On the outside, Ryou might have looked placid in mind, but within him, calm was an impossibility. It was of the things he’d said and the things the Spirit hadn’t that maintained the chaotic turmoil abound. Ryou didn’t know how to begin approaching him—when he tried, it was almost like the Spirit sensed it, and stopped him from getting any closer.

Shadows crossed his face, and, occasionally, sun cut through the leafage, but Ryou stared at the line of little carved stone statues adorning the side of the road hidden in the moss, stacks of rocks at different heights sometimes right beside them. They were Jizo statues. They were abundant in cities, often, hidden around a bend, underneath bushes, benches, and trees. He closed his eyes, remembering the small prayer that accompanied the sightings of Jizo statues. In the midst of everything, it brought a small sense of peace.

On the way up the mountain, Ryou had watched how the forest had closed on the city and opened into a peculiar hidden part of the country that rarely was the poster-village, tourist-attracting area that were so many of the red-roofed Shinto shrines and pink-canopied sakura trees lining the port cities.

It took his mind off things. He absorbed the sight of dashing animals who crouched hidden in treetops when the bus chugged along, spewing gas clouds of toxins. He was witness to the bug-catching skills of small boys comparing beetles and putting them away in nets for their collection. There were times where he almost missed the local, more primitive shrines made to look like miniature houses of cement, rooted in rock, roofed with white paper talismans, and knotted protectively in red. He thought, if this were any other time, he might have been excited. He might have been eager to venture into the unknown place.

But the way he felt, their strained relationship, he couldn’t see how any of that unrestricted, carefree part of the country could be liberating.

Ryou was sensitive to the pessimism which came with thinking—it could almost be a prison. Knowing the Spirit would die without him, he saw him then as the cautious, ever-watching guard and Ryou, his burden—a weakness.

It was some time before sunset, while the sun still overlooked the undulating hills, that the town of Okabe welcomed them into its territorial boundaries. There was no pause between the announcement of arrival and the halting of the bus, the young driver, waving everyone a nice trip before they even got off.

The Spirit and Ryou, along with two other passengers unboarded onto a steep road embedded with large, round, smooth stones of varying shades of brown and white. The bus left the them coughing in a tornado of smoke and debris, and then the Spirit was off, glancing at paper he’d extracted from his pocket.

A map, Ryou thought, catching a brief look at it.

His deduction had been correct, for the final stop was declared when they both stopped in front of a large, traditional Japanese house. The floors, stacked one on top of the other, had their window gates shut, the wooden slits lit with a yellow, ambient light, easily mistaken for candles.

Without notice—

“Check in,” the Spirit said from behind.

Ryou hadn’t had time to unpack the meaning behind the words and the Spirit strutted off in the direction of another house, a shop on second look.

“Check in?”

He looked up at the wooden building with its heavy beams of timber, the bonsai adorning the numerous sills sliced into it, the cobblestones decorating the small gardens of maple just beside, and the rocky bench set right underneath their multi-length branches.

His mouth couldn’t have gone drier.

If he had been thinking clearly, then maybe the realization would have come to him sooner, but where else exactly did he think they were staying during their travel?

Ryou saw the Spirit trotting up the hill, the hood of his jacket, now that they were in an unfamiliar place where nobody knew either of them, pulled down. He’d been correct on his initial assumption—the Spirit’s hair was shorter.

Too late to even think of returning to Domino, Ryou mechanically headed for the open sliding doors, walking past the umbrella holder, and entered the spacious guest house. 

There was a maze of rice paper doors as he went in, potted plants extending their leafage of deep tinted green at him. He saw the curved chairs near another door that opened into a pond, a low-legged table sitting close, ornamented with a tea kettle and clay cups.

From another side, he heard the welcome of a small-framed woman hunched over a desk, evidently waiting to greet any guests.

“We don’t get many young people this time of year,” she said, her wrinkled lips extending into a warm gesture.

Years of watching his father do it, Ryou, standing there in front of the innkeeper, had doubts on how to begin. First, though, he made sure to ask his most pressing question.

“How much for a night?” he said, a hint of bashfulness in his voice. He hadn’t a clue on whether he could afford more than two days with the amount of cash he’d taken from his savings.

“Is it just you, boy?” she replied, opening a glossy black book and taking out a pen. 

“Uhm—” A pair of unsure eyes looked down.

“Oh, I hadn’t seen you. You must be traveling together.”

Ryou looked up. She was looking at somebody behind him. When he glanced himself, the Spirit was there, hands thrust into the pockets of his jacket.

“You must excuse me. I will get something while you sign in. Please.” Giving Ryou the pen and setting the book at his reach, the old innkeeper extracted herself off her seating, small wiry limbs carrying her behind a screen and out of sight.

Ryou peered down at the lines, a myriad of names scribbled in different fonts, indented and visible from the backs of previous pages. He placed the nib of the pen on top of the paper, jotting down the memorized kanji letters which made Bakura Ryou.

Somewhere near his ear, the Spirit berated.

“Don’t use your real name,” he hissed when he peered over Ryou’s shoulder.

The aged woman behind the service counter, returned with a small plastic card which she slid across the surface of the wood. Along with it, she passed a folded set of clothing of a dark shade of blue to each of them, and then two pairs of slippers for them to exchange their shoes for. She readjusted herself on her stool, waiting patiently for Ryou to fill out his name on the checklist.

Instead of finishing quickly, Ryou’s hand remained frozen on the guest book, staring down at the permanent black ink that he had mistakenly etched two names on, each on a separate line of the paper.

Thinking he was supposed to have written it in the customary up and down manner since it was a traditional inn, he had separated his two names on the lined section.

The top one listed his family name, customarily written first.

The second line listed his given name, which normally followed the family name.

Panicked to an additional degree with what the Spirit had said and the patient observant eyes of the innkeeper, Ryou didn’t think he could scratch off either without looking suspicious.

The innkeeper, interested in why it was taking Ryou to fill out two names, gazed down at the paper.

“Oh, what lovely names. Which one of you is,” she squinted at the strange usage, “Bakura? Did I read that right? And which one is Ryou?”

The Spirit said nothing to her question, though the primary attention of the innkeeper was him. She lowered her eyes to Ryou whose mouth couldn't form much for words.

"I'm—no—" His eyes lowered to the paper, pen waving between it and the Spirit and then himself. "He's…"

"He's Bakura?" She nodded and continued making conversation. "You're brothers, yes?"

Ryou moved his head, not quite a shake, not quite a nod, but the old innkeeper took it as the latter, despite his lack of clarity in the matter.

She moved her head back and forth in the same manner all other wizened people do.

"Then you're Ryou," she concluded, tapping an arthritic finger onto the lone hooked kanji that made up the name.

Ryou nodded stupidly, unable to deny that part of her conclusion.

“Good. It’s very nice to meet you,” she said, bowing slightly. Ryou did the same, stammering in his movement.

“I will need to fill out your last name though. Just to keep a record, okay?”

“Y-yes,” Ryou said in understanding.

Without any more preamble, he jotted down Honda, next to Ryou and Bakura, closing the book with a sound of finality, and gave it back to the innkeeper.

From behind a screen, a much younger woman, probably in her early thirties, and likely the inn-keeper’s daughter, seeing how their eyebrows and mouths looked very similar, emerged to show them to their room.

Ryou approached her first after exchanging his sneakers for the softness of slippers, feet moving of their own accord, and him, still trying to process where they were, what had happened, and the horrible mix up with a pair of names.

The Spirit, now being addressed as Bakura by the okami, remained behind. Glancing one final time at him before letting himself be escorted by the younger woman, Ryou thought he saw him discreetly slide a large stack of bills toward the old innkeeper, muttering something to her right after. The older woman looked apologetic, shaking her head, but nonetheless took the money with a bow.

The young woman, who introduced herself as Nanao, didn't walk too far from the main entrance. They remained on the ground floor, walking to just about the width of the house, where not far where they stopped, was a formidable view of the gardens Ryou had seen on his way in.

The room itself was incredibly wide, the two futons already laid out on the floor looking shrunken in the vicinity. The room was probably meant for four or five people, as many guesthouses lodged at most eight in one room at a time, but being so late in the summer for tourists and summer vacation not officially yet started, the room was barren of extra guests, and only the necessities took up space.

A lamp illuminated one corner of the area; the lampshade tilted for ambience. Just beside it was a welcome basket of tangerines with a small card folded on top. Ryou set down his bags next to them, shoulders relieved of their burden.

It had been more than five hours since his departure from Domino. The sun was burning a deep orange behind the groves of green canopied trees and undulating hillsides of Okabe, leaving the sky streaked with intense yellows that erupted from behind what little clouds there were.

After telling Ryou of the mealtimes, that dinner was served at seven in the common room, and the alternating times for baths, Nanao excused herself from the room, telling him breakfast would be ready early in the morning and that she would bring it up around eight.

Ryou thanked her without much enthusiasm, though she didn't seem to mind.

Kneeled at the entrance, she was about to slide the door closed but the Spirit strode past her without acknowledgement. She waited for him to pass, and when his feet carried him completely through the threshold, the door was shut, and Nanao's sandals padded away.

The unbearable silence settled over them again. Ryou walked the stretch of the room, stopping at the other side, glancing uncertainty between the bags on the floor. He brought his gaze up, settling on the Spirit, then cast it aside again.

"How long are we staying here?" His voice had lost much of its energy with the hours long trip. The remaining lethargy made him placid—or maybe it was knowing that any other topic would raise a formidable defense from Bakura.

He didn't answer, and as the quiet stretched, Ryou didn't think he ever would.

The Spirit looked around the room, seeing that Ryou was settled and not fighting the shift in location. His fingers perched themselves on the solid part of the door, sliding it just enough to announce his intention.

Ryou raised his head, shifting his weight in the Spirit's direction.

Bakura put his foot on the other side of the threshold, stepping out into the hall. He still had many things to do for the night, one which included assessing the accuracy of the map he'd taken from the shop just below the hill.

His host had begun to move around the room, casting strange looks to the pair of futons on the floor.

Bakura hadn't thought it was necessary to move such a long distance, but the anonymity of moving to a new town, along with the smaller population, meant only a decrease in the danger, which wouldn't be the case if he and his host stayed in Domino.

He had to find a way to locate the only remaining obstacle in his path, even if it meant having to hide himself and his host, first, in order to safely do that. 

Bakura could wait.

He could wait until the Ring reacted to his requests and found Shadi.

He could wait, holed up in the middle of nowhere with a host who thought he was being punished with imprisonment.

Bakura knew it seemed that way. It was no better for him, knowing he couldn't act without putting Ryou—and himself—at risk.

He could wait next to the person who he had protected and who in turn, grew to despise him.

He could wait just as he'd done times before.

Bakura had learned he was quite good at waiting—if anything.

He turned away from Ryou, whose softness of face now always bore an accusing glare.

"As long as it takes," he said.