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The first days after Bakura’s return were… weird.

Everybody was celebrating the fact that the Pharaoh had returned and that he had, somehow, acquired a body, but nobody had expected that Bakura would be reborn too. And nobody knew what to do with that.

Ryou was the one that suggested that Bakura stayed with him. He fought off his friends’ objections by insisting that he was the only one who could handle him.

Bakura went along with it; it wasn’t as if he had anywhere else to go.

So the first days were weird. Bakura had no idea what to do with himself. He loitered in Ryou’s apartment, trying to get used to having a body of his own, but there wasn’t much else for him to do.

As for Ryou, he was strangely subdued about the whole affair. He pursed his lips a lot and his eyes had a hard quality about them, but he didn’t argue. Or talk. At all.

Bakura couldn’t tell if Ryou was nervous around him, or angry, or both. It was difficult to tell, because he hardly ever saw him to begin with, even though they lived in the same apartment. His ex-host spent an abnormally large amount of his day in his workshop, doing gods knew what; probably painting miniatures.

Bakura didn’t dare go in to take a look. One of the first things he learned was that the workshop was off-limits for anyone that wasn’t Ryou, so he stayed away.

The awkwardness in the apartment was so palpable that Bakura wanted to avoid making it worse, so he simply tried to be quiet. He moved from room to room as silently as a cat, trying to disturb none of Ryou’s things—or Ryou himself.

After a few days, though, this became more than a bit unbearable.

Sitting around doing nothing left him with lots of time to think, and thinking was… not good. It was horrible.

Thinking felt like drowning.

There was too much to think of. There were the things others had done to him, which still filled him with a rightful anger—even though this anger was nowhere near the blinding wrath he remembered feeling—but the worst part… The worst part was thinking about everything he had done to others.

That was a rabbit hole with no bottom in sight.

He couldn’t find words to describe it. ‘Feeling bad’ did not even begin to cover it.

The silence and loneliness made it worse so, after a few days, he decided to take action. Any sort of action—something to occupy his mind with.

And of course, the first thing he ought to do was improve that whole Ryou situation. Spending their days by being nervous around each other and isolating themselves had already gotten stale.

However, striking a conversation with Ryou was off the table. There was no point in trying to just talk.

Every time Bakura asked Ryou something, trying to kick-start a discussion, Ryou shut him down with a cold reply that left no room for further communication. The only words Ryou had deigned to exchange willingly were pointless formalities, which drove them further apart rather than bring them closer.

Bakura figured that maybe he could do something to bridge that gap between them. Something that would say ‘I’m here and I’m willing to work this out’ without him having to actually say it with words.

Maybe he could do something nice for Ryou, to show him that he was capable of something other than harm and destruction.

At first, it didn’t seem like it would be such a hard task. He figured he could start with something small.

He could brew some tea. Ryou had spent the day in his workshop again; he had been in there for nearly seven hours with no breaks and hadn’t even come out to drink a glass of water. So, some tea sounded appropriate.

Bakura had never brewed tea before, but how hard could it be? He found a few green tea leaves in a cupboard and a teapot in another. He let the leaves steep extra long, just to be sure, and then he carried the steaming pot and a mug to Ryou’s workshop.

He hesitated outside the closed door for a bit. Part of him wanted to just leave the teapot there and bolt, but he reminded himself that this was not why he was doing this. He was supposed to try and break the ice.

He bit his lip, took a deep breath, and rapped his knuckles against the wood.

A crash came from behind the door. Then he heard Ryou mutter something. Angrily.

Bakura was ready to turn on his heels and skitter back to the kitchen, tea be damned, when the door opened. Ryou appeared on the threshold, with a long smudge of blue paint on his cheek.

For a couple of beats, he stared at Bakura.

“What is it?” he asked.

He did not look happy with the interruption and that was not encouraging, but Bakura lifted the pot of tea nonetheless, nearly shoving it under Ryou’s nose.

“I made some tea.”

That seemed to throw Ryou a bit off. He blinked at the pot, then up at Bakura.

“No food and no drinks allowed in the workshop,” he said; there was no irritation in his voice, but there wasn’t any other distinct emotion, either.

Before Bakura had enough time to feel disconcerted about that, Ryou went back inside and closed the door, leaving him standing in the corridor with a scalding pot of tea between his palms and heat blisters forming on his fingers.

No drinks and no food allowed in the workshop.

Well, how was he supposed to know that?

He took the pot back to the kitchen and dumped its contents in the sink. Maybe Ryou not drinking it had been for the best: the thing smelled like burnt grass. And maybe next time he should look up the proper brewing time for green tea. If there was a next time.

Since e could take no peace offerings to the workshop, he would have to come up with some other way to approach Ryou. Problem was, he rarely left his workshop. What was Bakura supposed to do: blindside him on his way to the bathroom?

In the end, and after mulling over it for a day, he decided to water the plants around the house. There were plenty of pots with various greenery in the apartment, but Bakura hadn’t seen Ryou water them in days, so he took it upon himself to give the poor plants a drink.

He had never taken care of house plants before, but everyone knew water was good for them—and if a bit of water was good, lots of it should be even better. It was common sense.

He made sure to pour enough water to fill each pot to the brim. By the time he was finished, the soil looked a bit like slurry, but that was probably okay; the plants would drink that right up.

That night, miracle of miracles, Ryou got out of his workshop before midnight. Bakura had almost fallen asleep on the couch, watching TV, but the moment he heard the door of the workshop open, he perked up.

Ryou walked into the living room, dragging his feet and stifling yawns behind his palm. He dropped in the armchair across from Bakura like a sack of potatoes.

Bakura didn’t move. He watched Ryou, feeling like he was observing some sort of wild animal that, thankfully, was too sleepy to snarl at him. He didn’t say a thing; he didn’t want to scare him away.

Ryou rubbed his eyes and gave him a bleary look. Then, quite unexpectedly, he asked, “Did you eat?”

Bakura had to keep himself from blinking in surprise. After exchanging next to no words for days, such a casual question felt… weird.

“Umm…” he said intelligently.

Why the hell was he hesitating like that? It was a simply question, for shit’s sake.

“A bit,” he answered at last. “I made a sandwich.”

And then it occurred to him he should have made a sandwich for Ryou, too. That would have been a nice thing to do. Why the hell hadn’t he? That was a missed opportunity, idiot-

He huffed, trying to keep his inner bristling in check because Ryou was contemplating him with a smooth look. His expression, betrayed no distinct emotion, just like his voice did most of the times they talked.

“So how does this work?” he asked, gesturing towards Bakura’s general direction.

Bakura frowned. “How does what work?”

“I mean, your body. Do you… Do you feel hunger and thirst and… everything other people do?”

Oh, so it was going to be that conversation. About time.

“Yes. It’s a normal body, just like any other,” Bakura replied, trying to sound like he knew what he was talking about—even though he’d spent less than a week in a physical form and this was still very new to him.

Then Ryou’s expression twisted a bit. “You still look like me.”

“I noticed,” Bakura grumbled. Then, because he felt like he had to rationalize this somehow, he added, “And the Pharaoh still looks like the Mutou boy.” As if that explained anything.

“Yeah,” Ryou sighed. After a brief, awkward silence, he asked, “And you sleep… normally?” His tone was not exactly curious. It almost sounded concerned.

Bakura tried to hide his discomfort. “Yeah. Mostly.” He paused for a bit. “Lots of dreams, though,” he added as an afterthought.

“What kind of dreams?”

The air in the room turned thicker.

“Bad ones,” Bakura replied.

Had Ryou heard him wake up at nights? Had Bakura not been as quiet as he thought? Was that why Ryou was asking this?

None of them spoke. Maybe Ryou was waiting for him to elaborate, but Bakura would rather let this silence stretch for eons than recount his dreams. So he said nothing.

In the end, Ryou said, “Well, if you need to, I have some pills in the cupboard. It’s nothing fancy—just some herbal stuff—but it helps.”

That was unexpected. Not just the offer, but the fact that Ryou had such a product in his cupboard.

He wanted to ask, Do you have nightmares, too?, but he realized what a stupid question that was. Of course Ryou did. Who wouldn’t, in his shoes?

Bakura felt like maybe he should stay silent for an eon after all, to demonstrate penance.

“Thanks,” he managed to say.

Ryou nodded and got to his feet. “Anyway, it’s late. I’m going to-“ His sentence cut off as he blinked at something in the corner.

He moved so fast that Bakura nearly jumped up in response. He looked around madly, half-expecting to find some sort of threat coming in through the window, but Ryou simply marched up to one of the flowerpots in the corner.

“What- What did you do to my plants?” he asked in a shrill voice that definitely did not bode well.

“Uh… I watered them?”

“You drowned them,” Ryou corrected, still in that high-pitched voice that made Bakura almost cringe back.

“And… That’s not good?”

The glare he earned made Bakura cower back this time. He hadn’t seen Ryou this angry in a while. Hell, he hadn’t seen Ryou being anything other than distant or nervous even since he had set foot back in there.

He didn’t get it, though. Had he messed up? He’d only watered the plants, he hadn’t done anything-

Ryou ran his hands through his hair and took a long, calming breath.

“Just- Just keep away from my stuff, okay? You’ve done enough damage already.”

Bakura frowned, because what was that supposed to mean? Was Ryou still talking about the plants, or-?

Ryou didn’t give him a chance to ask; he stormed off to his bedroom and closed the door without another word.

Bakura rubbed his eyes and fell back onto the couch.

Great. This was just great.

.

Ryou was cranky the next day, and Bakura was even more brooding than usual, but the previous day’s incident didn’t lead to any other significant change. They still didn’t talk much. Ryou was still isolating himself as much as possible. And Bakura still had no idea what to do to make any of this more bearable.

He was itching to do something, even though he didn’t know why he wanted it so badly.

Sure, improving the mood in the apartment was a valid reason, but it wasn’t just that. There was something else there, in the background; a deeper source of this urge.

Maybe it was a sense of obligation. Maybe he felt he owed it to Ryou, for being such a good host. Maybe it was just this ingrained impulse to ‘pay his rent’.

Or, maybe it was guilt. Good, old-fashioned guilt.

Bakura was not sure what it was, but he didn’t care to analyze it. Giving it a name would change nothing; he was more concerned about the practical side of things.

It crossed his mind that he could cook breakfast, but he’d probably ruin everything and then Ryou would throw another fit.

Maybe he could clean the apartment while Ryou was out. That sounded doable. All he’d have to do would be to make sure to return all the cleaning supplies to their rightful spot, because Ryou was very fussy about that, and also make sure not to move Ryou’s things too much around while cleaning, and use the right product on each surface—

Yeah, no, fuck that. There was no way Bakura could do that without messing something up. So, no cleaning either.

This was way too hard. Not that it didn’t make sense: Ryou had grown to be incredibly self-sufficient, so he didn’t count on others to do his chores for him.

Still, there had to be something. Something that Ryou would appreciate no matter what.

Bakura raked his brain. What did Ryou like?

He liked games. He liked painting miniatures. He liked the occult and bad horror flicks. He liked profiteroles. He liked-

Bakura sat up with a triumphant grin. That was it: profiteroles.

Bakura had no idea how to make profiteroles—and he wouldn’t try to, in fear of making a mess in Ryou’s kitchen—but he could find the best pastry shop in all of Domino and buy a box of profiteroles for Ryou. A really big box. A really, really big and fancy box. There was no way this could go wrong.

He got to his feet, grinning to himself, and grabbed his coat. Ryou was out for D&D with his friends and wouldn’t be back for at least five more hours: plenty of time for Bakura to go pastry hunting.

.

He returned to Ryou’s apartment four hours later, tired but satisfied with himself. He had been exceedingly polite throughout his search, asking around for directions and recommendations for pastry shops and patisseries—and he might have mimicked Ryou’s polite manners to achieve that, but it was for a good cause.

So, according to seventeen different helpful passers-by, the pastry shop Bakura had chosen was the best in Domino. He’d bought an enormous box of profiteroles and had the lady wrap it in a nice ribbon.

“A gift for someone special?” she had asked him with a smile.

“You could say that,” Bakura had answered, feeling his face heating up.

Back at home, he placed the box on the kitchen counter, arranging and re-arranging the ribbons to make it look as nice as possible. The moment he heard Ryou’s keys in the lock, he stopped fussing with the ribbons and leapt to the couch, trying to look chill and unruffled.

Ryou opened the door a few seconds later and walked in. He still looked tired, but the pinch around his eyes and mouth had eased somewhat. When he spotted Bakura, he acknowledged his presence with a small nod.

“Hey,” Bakura said, feigning nonchalance. “How was D&D?”

Ryou arched an eyebrow at him, probably surprised that Bakura cared enough to ask. “Good,” he replied as he closed the door.

Bakura would very much like to keep him talking, but he decided to remain silent and wait for him to discover the box of sweets. It turned out that this was a small feat of patience, because it took Ryou thirty seconds too long to take off his shoes and hang his coat.

When he finally turned around, his eyes skimmed the room once before stopping on the kitchen counter. The moment he spotted the box, he went very still, looking at it without blinking.

Bakura had to keep his foot from jumping up and down.

The surprise in Ryou’s expression was quickly quenched by a frown. “What is this?” he asked in a low voice.

Oh no. Bakura did not like that tone.

“It’s... a gift. For you.”

“From whom?”

Bakura had to keep from rolling his eyes. He might have done it if he weren’t so nervous.

“From me,” he said.

Ryou kept eyeing the box as if it were a bomb. After a minute of impossible stillness, he finally decided to move: he approached the kitchen counter with caution, undid the ribbons and opened the box.

Bakura expected Ryou’s face to light up. He was expecting to see a look of delight in his face; to see his eyes open wide and look as round and bright as they once had. Maybe even see him smile. A little. Just a little.

Instead, Ryou’s face fell. He stared at the contents of the box, pressing his lips together in an expression that Bakura knew meant nothing good.

“Where did you get the money for this?” he asked in a frigid voice.

Oh.

…Oh.

Bakura looked away, because the expression on Ryou’s face was not pleasant to witness.

His brain buzzed as he tried to find a way around the question, or maybe to answer in a vague enough way to not admit to anything specific, or maybe—

“Bakura. Where did you get the money.”

Shit.

Shitshitshit he hadn’t thought about that, it did not occur to him that Ryou would be angry—but of course he would, it was stupid not to think about it, stupid stupid stupid-

“I umm…” he mumbled. “I found it.”

This was as pathetic an answer as it got.

Stupid stupid stupid.

“Where did you find it?”

There was no way around it. He had to say it.

“I… stole it.”

Ryou exhaled loudly and let the lid of the box drop. “So. Let me get this straight. You stole money to buy me sweets?”

Bakura shrugged and looked away, pretending to be way more unconcerned than he felt.

It hadn’t sounded like such a bad idea in his head, but now that he was hearing it from Ryou’s lips, he had to admit that it had been a stupid plan.

“Yeah.”

He ventured a glance towards Ryou: he had folded his arms across his chest and was pressing his lips together so hard they had turned white.

“Why would you do that?” Ryou asked him.

“Are you talking about me buying you profiteroles, or stealing?”

“Both.”

“Well, I would make the damn profiteroles myself if I could, but I didn’t want to make a mess,” he said, gesturing towards the kitchen.

“So you stole money?” Ryou asked, not missing a beat.

“I didn’t even think about the money!” Bakura said, throwing his hands in the air. “I did it without thinking. I was mostly focused on the profiteroles thing.”

“Why?”

“Well—you like profiteroles.”

Ryou blinked. He stared at Bakura, seemingly at a loss for words. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Bakura hesitated. The way Ryou was looking at him was not encouraging at all, but at least he was talking. He hadn’t stormed out of the room yet, and that could be Bakura’s chance to finally tell him-

“I guess I wanted to do something nice. For you.”

Ryou stayed stock still. He did not look any less angry, but his frown acquired a puzzled quality. He seemed to be trying to decipher Bakura’s words, as if they had some sort of deeper, hidden meaning that he failed to grasp.

“Why?” he asked at last.

Bakura huffed. “Because I never did before. All I knew how to do until now was… hurt people and— do harm. I wanted to show you that it’s not like that anymore. I’m not like that now. And I really want to do something… good. Something nice.”

He mentally punched himself for his lack of eloquence, but it was hard to keep his head straight when Ryou was looking at him like that.

“Something nice,” Ryou repeated, deadpan.

Bakura nodded.

“And stealing money counts as doing something nice?”

Bakura threw his hands in the air again. “I didn’t think this through, apparently.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yeah, glad we established that,” Bakura growled under his breath. “Whatever. Forget it. I’m just gonna throw the box away.”

Ryou’s expression changed. His look of annoyance turned into something strange, crumpling up his forehead. “That’s not the point. The point is-“

“That stealing is bad, yeah, I get it,” Bakura snapped. He really shouldn’t have said anything—he shouldn’t have tried to explain. He should have kept his fucking mouth shut.

Ryou, however, shook his head.

“No. What I wanted to say was that… If you want to do something nice, that’s not the way to go about it.”

This made Bakura shut his mouth and frown.

Ryou must have noticed his confusion, because he sighed and his expression softened further. “You won’t make up for the harm you’ve done by watering plants and buying sweets.”

Bakura was about to bark that he never said anything about wanting to make up, but he stopped himself. Was this what he was trying to do? Had he been looking for atonement, even on a subconscious level?

“If you really want to do something nice,” Ryou went on, “you’d better do something more substantial.”

“Like what?” Bakura asked at once, wary.

“Like apologizing to those you’ve wronged. Yugi, for starters. And Atem.”

Bakura nearly gagged. “You want me to apologize to that asshole?”

“Language,” Ryou scolded him. “And yes. If you want to make up for all the bad, that should be the first step. Not bringing home stolen sweets.”

“Not stolen, technically.”

Ryou’s eyes flashed. “I don’t care about the technicalities. And, either way, you were the one who said you want to do something nice. I’m pointing a finger to the right direction, but it’s your choice.”

He picked up his bag from where he’d dropped it on the floor, slung it over his shoulder and gave Bakura a stern look.

“Just know that I won’t tolerate any more stolen things in my house.”

“Fine,” Bakura hissed, annoyed both with himself and with Ryou—even though deep down he knew he was right.

Of course Ryou was right. Maybe that was why nothing had worked so far: because Bakura had been approaching this the wrong way. On the other hand, Bakura didn’t care about doing something nice for others; he had only been thinking about Ryou, so why should he do anything that included Pharaoh Asshole and his pet cheerleader?

The one obvious answer was that Ryou had asked him to. Well, he hadn’t exactly asked, but he had made it clear that it was the only deed that he would accept as nice enough.

So Bakura would have to go through with it. Wasn’t that lovely.

.

He spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the phone as if trying to melt it with the intensity of his gaze.

Call the Pharaoh.

This was ridiculous.

Not to mention unfair. The Pharaoh owed him an apology as much as Bakura did.

But there was nothing he could do about it. He wanted to prove to Ryou that he was committed to what he’d said.

He huffed.

Damn it. Couldn’t Ryou have asked for something more feasible? Preferably, something that included no talking?

Maybe he could try brewing another pot of tea.

Then again, it would be no use, would it? None of the other stuff Bakura had done had worked.

He just had to make the damn phone call.

.

Nighttime came and Bakura had still made no move to pick up the phone and dial. In the end, he postponed it for the next day and went to sleep.

.

He dreamed of fire again. He dreamed of people shouting, of guards chasing him. Of dogs chasing him. Shadows chasing him. He dreamed of dark magic and of bodies exploding in a shower of blood and gore.

He woke up with a strangled cry.

He expected to see ruins and sand, but all he saw was the foot of his bed and the rest of the dark guest room, where he was sleeping. The next thing he noticed was Ryou standing on the doorway, outlined against the light from the corridor outside.

Bakura swallowed and tried to calm his breathing.

“Are you okay?” Ryou said.

Bakura’s lips were trembling. His hands were shaking. He couldn’t calm down.

“Yeah,” he said hoarsely.

The lie was so obvious that Ryou arched his eyebrows. “You were…” he started saying, but he hesitated.

Embarrassment crawled up Bakura’s throat, which quickly turned into a muffled panic. What was he doing? Talking in his sleep? Whimpering?

When a few seconds passed and Ryou didn’t finish his sentence, Bakura snapped.

“I was what?

Ryou shifted his weight from leg to leg, looking uncertain. “You were… shouting.”

Bakura’s face went up in flames. Even the tips of his ears felt hot.

“Shouting what?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t recognize the language,” Ryou replied. His voice was quiet, and he hovered in the threshold, obviously at a loss of what to do. “I think it was ancient Egyptian,” he added after a while.

Bakura blinked. He couldn’t even remember what ancient Egyptian sounded like. But still. This was probably for the best; much better than shouting something embarrassing in a recognizable language.

“Do you need…” Ryou started, but he cut himself off again.

This was getting ridiculous. “What?” Bakura ground out.

Ryou looked even more awkward than before. “Well… Most of the times, I make myself some warm milk with honey.”

Bakura’s first impulse was to say that he was just fine and put an end to this painfully embarrassing exchange, but something inside him stopped him.

He looked at Ryou. In the half-light, the circles under his eyes looked dark, and the hunch in his shoulders spoke of a fatigue that went much deeper than just a few sleepless nights.

Right. He had nightmares, too. So he probably knew what he was talking about.

“Does it help? The milk thing?”

Ryou shrugged. “It helps me.”

Bakura contemplated it for a few seconds. “Okay, then. I might as well try it.” He wasn’t planning to go back to sleep right now, anyway.

He threw the covers off of him and got to his feet. The floor was cool, which felt nice; it was grounding. He made his way to the kitchen and turned on the light, flinching a bit at the glare.

Then he noticed that Ryou had followed him.

“What the hell are you doing? Go back to sleep.”

“I don’t want you setting fire to my kitchen,” Ryou murmured in reply and proceeded to open a cupboard and rummage inside.

“I wasn’t planning to,” Bakura said.

“I never said I thought you’d do it on purpose.” Ryou took out a saucepan and placed it on the stovetop.

Bakura narrowed his eyes at him. “I can make my own damn milk.”

“I want some, too.”

Oh. That changed things. But still, Bakura would feel better about it if he did it himself. It was bad enough that he’d woken Ryou up—by shouting, no less.

He fixed his eyes on Ryou and nodded towards the table. “Sit down. I’ll do it.”

Ryou didn’t move; he merely lifted an eyebrow. “Is this you trying to do something nice again?”

Bakura paused. He hadn’t thought about it that way but, even if it hadn’t been his initial intent, it checked out. Making warm milk for Ryou had to count as nice.

“Maybe,” he said.

Ryou shook his head; his expression turned serious. “You don’t have to do nice things for me.”

Bakura let out a dark chuckle. “Are you kidding? Of course I do.”

“Why?”

Why. What sort of stupid question was this?

“Because I wronged you more than anyone.”

Ryou’s hands stilled above the saucepan. Slowly, he turned to stare at Bakura.

His face was undecipherable. There was a bit of that wide-eyed look Bakura had expected to see when he gave him the box of profiteroles, but not quite as bright. Bakura couldn’t tell what that look was. Surprise? Wonder? Pity? Either way, it made him want to shy away from it.

He was acutely aware of how quiet the kitchen turned.

He wished that Ryou would say something. He couldn’t get his shock; it wasn’t as if Bakura had said anything mind-boggling. He had just said the truth.

Ryou kept staring at him as if he was seeing him for the first time.

Every second that ticked away charged the silence to the point that Bakura begun to expect an outburst. All the tension that had undoubtedly been building in Ryou, all the feelings he’d kept in check, not just these last few days, but for years, all the words he’d kept back would have to come out eventually.

When Ryou opened his mouth, Bakura believed that the moment had finally come. He braced himself for the storm.

Ryou, however, nodded towards the stove. “Could you turn it on for me? Low heat, please.”

His voice was soft in a way Bakura hadn’t heard it in a long time. It made his brain stutter for a few seconds, but he hurried to comply.

Ryou took the milk out of the fridge and then said, in the same gentle tone, “Pass me the whisk, please. Second drawer, on your right.”

Bakura did as he was told, trying to wrap his mind around what has happening. He gave Ryou the whisk and watched as he poured milk into the saucepan.

This was no outburst. No hidden anger or rightful accusations. This wasn’t even Ryou kicking him out of the kitchen—or worse, the house.

It was Ryou offering him the option to cooperate. To work together.

It was… good.

It was probably a compromise, but it was a good one; and it made Ryou’s voice sound like this, which was…

Unexpected. And pleasant.

Bakura had no idea what he’d done to cause this, but he was not going to ruin it. He followed Ryou’s instructions without complaint and, in turn, Ryou gave him enough to do to not feel left out at any point. It was soothing; there was comfort to be found in the simplicity of the process. They didn’t talk much, but they moved around each other with ease, as if they’d done this a million times before, taking turns in whisking and reaching for cups.

When Ryou filled him a cup with milk, sweetened with honey and scented with a bit of cinnamon, Bakura accepted it with a quiet, “Thanks.”

Ryou’s lips curled a bit; not enough to be called a smile but, still, it was enough.

Bakura observed him in the light of the stovetop, marveling at how less angular he seemed. Now that he wasn’t nervous, or defensive, or angry, his presence felt… warm. Gentle.

He felt more like the Ryou that he had known a long time ago.

They sat across from each other at the kitchen table, with their cups in front of them, and drank without talking. Nothing broke the silence except for the soft thud of their cups against the table. The building and the street outside were quiet, too; a quick glance at the clock showed that it was four in the morning.

Bakura felt a bit guilty for having woken Ryou up, but it was hard to feel too guilty when things had worked out that way.

This might change nothing, in the long run. It could be that, come morning, they’d be back to their regular bullshit—Ryou shut away in his room and Bakura brooding by himself—but still, having this moment was good, for now.

Bakura didn’t speak, for fear of breaking the spell. He savored the calmness and the stillness of the hour, looking at Ryou from behind his bangs while drinking, observing how the light hit his skin and how the shadows softened the edges.

It didn’t last long; after ten minutes, Ryou pushed his chair back and took his empty cup to the sink. Then he paused, not quite looking in Bakura’s eyes but not quite avoiding them, either.

“So, umm… I’m going back to bed.”

Bakura hesitated. He wanted to say, Thank you for the milk, or, Sorry for waking you up, but the words refused to come out. In the end, he nodded and said, “Okay.”

Ryou turned to leave.

“Goodnight,” Bakura blurted out before he could stop himself.

Ryou paused at the doorway. He turned enough for Bakura to see his shadowy profile and the small upturn of his lips.

“Goodnight.”

.

In the morning, Bakura woke up with a renewed sense of purpose. He didn’t know if whatever had happened last night counted as Ryou doing something nice for him or as both of them doing something nice for each other but, either way, Bakura was ready to even the score. And he was going to make the damn phone call.

But he’d practice first.

He spent his day rehearsing his lines, first in his head and then in front of the mirror. Sure, it was stupid, but it would be even more stupid if the Pharaoh picked up the phone and Bakura swallowed his tongue due to nerves.

A bit of rehearsing never harmed anyone.

He waited until Ryou went out for groceries before picking up the phone. He didn’t allow himself to think twice about it: he dialed Mutou’s number, which he’d jotted down on a piece of paper, and waited.

Unfortunately, the tiny Mutou picked up—which meant that Bakura would have to go through him, too. Wonderful.

“Hello?” Mutou’s voice rang through the speaker.

How the hell did this guy always manage to sound so cheerful?

Bakura swallowed, but he didn’t speak. He tried to remember his rehearsed lines, but his brain felt stuck.

“Ryou?” Mutou went on. “Is that you?”

Bakura steeled himself and said, “No, this isn’t Ryou. It’s—um—me.”

“Oh,” Mutou breathed. There was the slightest pause, and then, “Hello, other Bakura. That’s a… surprise. Is Ryou okay?”

“He’s fine,” Bakura said. “I… I actually wanted to talk to you.”

His face was on fire. This was so stupid.

“Me?”

“Yeah. Umm… I wanted to say… I’m sorry. For. You know. I—um—I wanted to apologize. Yeah. That.”

That was great. That was spectacular. A day of rehearsing lines had just gone down the drain.

“Oh,” Mutou repeated in evident surprise. “That’s… It’s okay, really. No hard feelings.”

No hard feelings. This guy was unbelievable.

“Can I… Talk to the Pharaoh, too?”

“You want to talk to Atem?” Mutou sounded flabbergasted and, frankly, Bakura couldn’t blame him.

“Yes.”

“Err—Okay. Hang on a second.”

In the silence that followed, Bakura considered hanging up approximately twenty-three times. He also considered setting the phone on fire and disappearing off the face of the earth forever. Maybe going to the Bahamas to harvest coconuts. Or perhaps the Ishtars would allow him to live in the underground tombs now that they were empty. He’d seal the exit and never come out again. He’d-

“Hello?”

Even when hesitant and unsure, the Pharaoh’s voice still sounded smug.

Bakura had to bite back the insult that reflexively leapt on his tongue. “Hey,” he grumbled instead. “It’s me.”

“Bakura,” the Pharaoh acknowledged. “Aibou informed me that you wished to talk to me.”

He was so annoying that Bakura had to rub a hand over his face. Focus , he told himself. Just spit it out. The sooner, the better.

“IwantedtosayimsorryforeverythingIdid.”

“Uhh… What?” the Pharaoh asked.

Bakura took a breath to compose himself. “I said. I’m sorry for everything I did.”

Silence followed. Bakura wondered if he could hang up the phone now. He’d done what he’d set out to do.

“Well…” the Pharaoh said slowly, “I accept your apology.”

Bakura had to close his eyes and inwardly count to ten to keep himself in check. Accept his apology. Who the fuck did he think he was? If it weren’t for Ryou, Bakura wouldn’t even bother with this asshole and his fucking entitlement-

“However, I feel that an apology is due from my side, too. From my family’s side,” Atem said then.

Bakura staggered. Had he heard this right?

“So… On behalf of my ancestors, as well as myself,” Atem went on, “I want to say I am sorry for the injustice that was inflicted on you and your people. It shouldn’t have gone unaddressed for so long. I hope we will both find a way to put old quarrels aside and make this a fresh start.”

Bakura blinked at the opposite wall.

This… This wasn’t even close to what he’d expected to hear.

If he were honest, he never expected he’d hear something like that, ever, in his life—especially from the mouth of the Pharaoh. And sure, there had been a time when he’d spit at such an apology, but actually hearing it now…

It wasn’t bad.

It wasn’t justice. But it was fair.

And it was something he had no idea he needed.

He swallowed past the knot in his throat.

“Okay, then,” he said, pretending not to hear the way his voice came out. “Good talk. See ya.”

He hung up without waiting for the Pharaoh’s reply and heaved out a great sigh.

.

That night, after he snapped awake trembling and gasping, he walked into the kitchen to find Ryou already at the table.

Bakura froze on the doorway, terrified that he’d woken him up again, but he quickly realized that couldn’t be the case. Ryou was already holding a steaming mug between his palms and the smell of something flowery hovered in the air.

The lack of surprise on Ryou’s face meant that he was expecting Bakura to show up sooner or later. Maybe he’d heard him tossing and turning. Or shouting.

He probably was shouting again; his throat felt rough.

Bakura decided not to address any of it and pointed at Ryou’s cup instead.

“That doesn’t smell like milk.”

“It’s chamomile,” Ryou replied.

Bakura couldn’t remember if he’d tried chamomile before. He wondered if that was soothing, too.

“Do you want some?” Ryou asked, as if reading his thoughts.

Bakura’s heart gave a hopeful thud as he remembered last night; the soft fragrance of a hot beverage, the shared quiet, Ryou being relaxed and soft and not as distant or scary as usual.

“Sure.”

.

“Yugi told me that you called,” Ryou said ten minutes later, as they were both sitting across from each other, drinking chamomile.

Bakura lifted his mug to his lips, trying to look indifferent even though his heart had started beating faster. He hoped that whatever Mutou had said hadn’t made him look like a complete idiot.

“He told me that you apologized,” Ryou went on softly. “That was very nice of you.”

Bakura’s heart gave a lurch. He kept sipping at his drink, pretending that he was not affected, but something in his chest relaxed; a knot of tension he hadn’t realized was there.

Ryou’s look was unexpectedly gentle. Bakura could not remember when was the last time that someone had looked at him like that. He wanted to both hide from that gaze and to soak in it.

“I told you I would do it,” Bakura murmured, to keep the conversation going, even though he’d be content with just sitting in silence and having Ryou look at him like that.

“I know,” Ryou said with a gentleness that reflected the one in his eyes. “I just wanted to tell you that it was nice.”

.

The next night, when Bakura stumbled in the kitchen, pale and trembling, there was already a steaming cup waiting for him.

Ryou was sitting across from it, with his head propped on his hand, stirring the contents of his own mug. His eyes looked tired, but his lips formed a thin, awkward smile.

“Linden tea,” he said before Bakura had the chance to ask.

.

On the fourth night, and as they were drinking lavender and lemon balm, Ryou was unusually somber. It took seven minutes for him to break the silence.

“You know… I got a call from the museum today.”

Bakura lowered his mug. He didn’t have to ask which museum. He knew perfectly well.

“What did they want?”

Ryou looked like the definition of uncomfortable: gaze low, darting from spot to spot, fingers fiddling with his cup.

“They still have my diorama,” he said. “They… They want me to take it off their hands. They told me to go and pick it up tomorrow.”

Oh. The diorama.

Bakura had forgotten about that. He hadn’t seen it around, so he’d assumed Ryou had thrown it away. He hadn’t expected it’d still be at the museum.

He didn’t like that at all. That diorama held no good memories: it was the place of his last—and greatest—defeat, a remnant of a plan that had been doomed to fail.

Judging by the look on Ryou’s face, he wasn’t enjoying this, either.

“Do you want it back?” Bakura asked.

Ryou bit his lip uncertainly. “I don’t know. I put many hours into making it, but…”

He trailed off. He glanced at Bakura, which caused guilt to crawl up his throat.

It was true: it had been lots of hard work. Bakura remembered. Ryou had spent weeks working on it without stop, carefully carving away an incredible amount of detail, molding clay and correcting colors according to Bakura’s instructions.

No, they hadn’t been instructions; they had been orders. Bakura had made him do it. There had been nothing willing or cooperative about it.

His face heated up. He looked at the cup between his hands—the beverage Ryou had made for him—and his guilt increased tenfold, constricting his throat.

“Why don’t they keep it?” he asked, trying to sound cool and not at all like he was having an internal guilt fest.

Ryou sighed. “The Egyptian exhibit is over, and they say it takes up too much space in the storage room.”

“Well, they are idiots.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the curious look Ryou gave him. “Why?”

“Any museum would be lucky to have it,” he replied. When Ryou blinked at him, Bakura said, “Don’t look so surprised. They’ll never find a more accurate depiction of ancient Egypt.”

Ryou pressed his lips together and lowered his gaze. “Right. They’d need an ancient ghost to tell them what to do, and not everyone is so lucky.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Bakura said hastily, feeling his throat going dry. “I meant that you did a great job. With the diorama. I mean—you are skilled in this kind of stuff.”

Ryou lifted his head; there was a dark look in his eyes. “Yeah, I guess I‘d have to be,” he said, his voice falsely quiet.

Shit. That’s not what Bakura meant, either—he had simply wanted to make a compliment, to make him feel better but-

Maybe Ryou had no need for compliments. Of course; why would he? What Bakura really owed him was an apology. He had apologized to the Pharaoh and the tiny Mutou, but not to Ryou.

It wasn’t easy, though. The words felt stuck in Bakura’s throat. He was certain that if he opened his mouth, all that would come out would be an incomprehensible gargle, and looking at Ryou’s face only made it worse.

Bakura clenched his fingers around his cup and lowered his gaze to his drink.

“I’ll come with you,” he said.

“What?”

“I’ll come with you to the museum. To help you.” He didn’t want to set eyes on the diorama again, but who cared? He had caused this shit, and he wasn’t going to let Ryou go through it alone.

“You don’t have to,” Ryou murmured.

“I do.”

Ryou huffed heavily. “Look. Stop with this ‘doing nice things’ thing. You don’t always have to-“

“No, I do,” Bakura said, looking at Ryou straight in the eyes and holding his gaze firmly. “It’s time I started undoing all the shit I’ve done. And the diorama is mostly my mess, so I am the one who should clean it up, not you. This has nothing to do with being nice. This has to do with me taking responsibility for what I’ve done.”

It wasn’t an apology, Bakura knew, but it was the next best thing.

Ryou stared at him, tight-lipped and silent; his expression was hard, but it held neither anger nor distrust. He looked at Bakura with a sort of curiosity, as if he was noticing something he hadn’t realized was there.

In the end, he nodded.

“Okay. You can come along.”

A bit of the weight on Bakura’s lungs was alleviated. He relaxed back in his chair and lifted his mug to his lips.

“Okay.”

.

For the first time, his nervousness wasn’t all negative. Sure, he wasn’t looking forward to the trip to the museum, but there was something hopeful lurking behind all of it. He knew that it was the right thing to do, and that somehow made it easier on his mind.

The walk to the Domino Museum was short. Bakura hadn’t slept much—and, if the shadows under his eyes were anything to go by, Ryou hadn’t, either—but they walked fast, eager to get this over with.

In the entrance, the receptionist recognized Ryou at once and let them through—thankfully without making any weird questions about Bakura, even though she frowned at him once or twice. An employee led them to one of the storage rooms in the basement and unlocked the door for them.

When he turned on the lights, Bakura froze.

He didn’t know what he expected. Maybe a bunch of boxes to carry, of a mess of scattered pieces that they’d have to sort.

That was not the case. The diorama was there, still assembled on its table, standing in the centre of the cluttered room. It was all there, in all its glory, without a single piece missing. With just a quick look, Bakura was able to recognize all the streets and houses and fields of his youth, all the little nooks he knew so well, the rooftops, the hills, the great river.

He heard Ryou’s soft gasp next to him. None of them made any attempt to approach it further.

“Take all the time you need. Call me if you need an extra pair of hands to carry it,” the museum employee told them before he left.

“Thank you,” Ryou whispered mechanically. He looked numb.

Bakura couldn’t blame him. He couldn’t feel his limbs.

He forced his gaze back towards the diorama and he found the exact spot where he’d lost to the Pharaoh. Then the spot where he’d died, millennia ago. Then the hundreds of little spots where he’d bled on across the span of years. Everything was right there.

He didn’t want to go closer.

He turned to Ryou, who was still standing next to him. His eyes were glassy, his gaze distant. Whatever he was remembering, it wasn’t good.

That snapped Bakura out of it. He remembered why they were there, just as he remembered that he’d caused Ryou enough distress to last for a lifetime. He needed no more.

He tapped Ryou’s shoulder lightly.

“I’ll do it.”

Ryou turned his head towards him, even though his mind was miles away. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you don’t have to deal with this. At all. I’ll do it. You go grab a coffee or something.”

Ryou shook his head. “I’m the one who put it together. I’m the one who knows how to take it apart.” He curled his lips into a small, tremulous smile, no doubt trying to make it look reassuring, even though it was anything but.

“We are going to take it apart?” Bakura asked, incredulous.

Ryou gave a single nod. “I’d rather have it in boxes than… having it lying around like this in my apartment.”

Bakura wanted to insist against it; to drag Ryou out of this room, if he had to, and force him to be anywhere else but here. But this would be him forcing him to do something again. Just like this diorama. And the whole point was to break away from these habits.

They could work together. It would be like making warm milk with honey in the dead of the night. Cooperating.

Bakura grabbed an empty box from a corner and took a step towards the diorama.

“Let’s get this over with.”

.

Looking at the diorama from up close was a whole new experience. Again, Bakura thought he remembered, but he was wrong. The details were overwhelming.

Ryou approached slowly, as if walking towards a slumbering beast. There was a faint tremor in his hands, but when he spoke, his voice was steady.

“Let’s start with the palace.”

Ryou had been right: he knew exactly where to grip or to pick at to dismantle the diorama without destroying it. He handled each piece with care, placing it in boxes as gently as if they were living things he did not wish to disturb.

It was impossible to tell if he hated the diorama or if he cherished it. It was his creation, so it made sense for him to be so careful with it, but the expression on his face was one of near pain.

Bakura had not really seen that expression on him before. He hadn’t had a chance to observe many of Ryou’s expressions. His point of view had always been an inside one; he had felt the echoes of Ryou’s emotions, and he knew what his thoughts were like when he was distressed, or when he was happy or scared, but he hadn’t experienced them as an outsider. Not until now.

He wondered what Ryou’s face looked like when he was happy. Did he smile widely, or was his joy mostly visible in his eyes?

What did he look like when he was fascinated? Did his face turn serious, or was there maybe a smirk on his lips?

He had seen what he looked like when he was relaxed and gentle, thanks to their shared late night beverages. He had seen what he looked like when he was nervous, surprised, stern, angry, or even uncertain.

Bakura would like to see more expressions. More positive ones; he felt he’d seen enough of the negative. What would it take to make him smile?

And—

Had he ever heard him laugh?

The question left him baffled. He couldn’t remember.

And he once thought he knew Ryou so well. He was stupid to have believed that. In truth, Bakura knew next to nothing. He hadn’t even known what to do to please Ryou without messing up.

But this was about changing, right? This was about trying again. Making up.

Maybe there was still time to learn what Ryou’s laugh sounded like.

For starters, Bakura could try exorcizing the haunted expression from Ryou’s face.

He looked back at the diorama and his gaze fell on one of the small alleys, carved between a bundle of clay houses, close to centre of the board.

“You know…” he said slowly, to catch Ryou’s attention. When Ryou looked up, Bakura pointed at the alley. “I had found a stray kitten here once. A tiny thing. Small enough to sit on my palms, even though I was a kid myself.”

Ryou didn’t speak, but something like intrigue shifted in his eyes as he looked at the board. Bakura took this as an encouraging sign and went on.

“I heard it meowing, so I went looking for it. I think it was the first time I saw such a small cat, and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to give it some apple to eat, but it didn’t like it. So I took it with me and tried to find it some proper food.”

Bakura pointed to a building on the edge of the city.

“I broke into this house, with the cat hidden in my bag. The owners were asleep, so I sneaked into the pantry.” He chuckled. “The moment the cat smelled the food, it went fucking feral. It clawed its way out my bag, scratching my neck in the process, and then it ran between my feet, causing me to trip and fall on a clay pot. The ruckus woke the owners up, so I had to run out of there with no loot.”

“What about the cat?” Ryou asked.

Bakura smiled. “I had to leave it there, but they kept it.”

“How do you know?”

“I checked on it a week later.”

Ryou smiled at the little house Bakura had shown him; it was a faint smile, but it was infinitely better than the hurt look he wore previously.

“It was nice of them to keep it,” he commented softly.

Bakura nodded.

Now that he’d started talking, he didn’t want to sink back into silence. He looked at the board, searching for another story to tell.

“Wanna hear how I pranked the Pharaoh’s guards?”

“Sure.”

Well, who would have guessed? Ryou did smirk when he was fascinated.

.

Bakura kept talking for nearly an hour. At first, he wanted to recount a couple of simple, everyday adventures, just to keep Ryou’s mind occupied with something more pleasant than the task they were dealing with.

After a while though, the memories started flowing out. Bakura didn’t even have to try: one story brought the next, and he was surprised to find that not all of them were bad. Sure, he had more than enough unpleasant stories to share—which he refrained from doing at the moment—but he also had lots of funny and exciting ones.

Back when he’d designed the diorama, those hadn’t been the stories he had been thinking about. He had been thinking about the pain, the hunger, the loneliness: everything that had propelled him forward while he longed for revenge. He’d built this world out of his worst memories, but in the process he had forgotten about all the good ones that were hiding in between.

Would things be any different if he remembered? If he had stopped to take a breath and think?

Probably not, what with Zorc pulling the strings of his soul. He wouldn’t have cared.

But there were still good memories there. Memories of people that had once existed.

This diorama was still a product of anger and hate, but it was also the last home of a long-lost world. It didn’t deserve to spend the rest of eternity hidden away in boxes, until eventually ending in the trash.

“Hey…” Bakura said, hesitating as he placed a handful of miniatures in a box. “You know… Maybe you don’t have to keep it if you don’t want to.”

Ryou frowned at him. “I know, I could throw it away, but-“

“No, I didn’t mean throw it away. I meant giving to another museum. Surely someone will take it.”

Ryou looked at the board uncertainly. “Who would want such a thing?”

“We can ask the Ishtars. They could put it on display in Egypt.”

Ryou bit his lip. “I don’t know…”

“It’s better than throwing your hard work in the trash. I know I-“ His words stumbled on his tongue, so he tried again. “I know you didn’t want to make this, but you still did a damn good job. Better than anyone could ever have. My stupid schemes did not deserve it, but it deserves to be displayed somewhere.”

He didn’t know what effect he expected his words to have, but he didn’t expect for the hurt expression to return to Ryou’s face.

“I don’t really mind,” Ryou murmured. “I just want to get this done and not deal with it again.”

“I know, I get it,” Bakura said. “But it’s too good to just throw away. And I know it wasn’t created under the best of circumstances, but maybe…” He trailed off, realizing how stupid what he wanted to say would sound.

“Maybe what?”

Ugh. To hell with it.

“I know it was created for evil, but maybe it will be worth it if someone gets something good out of it,” Bakura said. “If it’s used to teach someone, or help someone’s research, or… I don’t know. Something.”

A peculiar smile bloomed on Ryou’s lips. “Something nice,” he said.

Bakura nodded. “Yeah. Exactly.”

Ryou looked around them. They had filled eight boxes so far, and they were almost done.

His gaze stopped on the miniature houses that formed a tiny Kul Elna.

Bakura had avoided all stories about that, because he did not think he would be able to speak about it with a steady voice, but now he looked at them too. These miniatures were the only remnant of his village’s existence; the only proof that his family and friends had once been more than pieces of gold.

His village needed a better memorial than the Millennium Items. It needed to be remembered for what it was, rather than what became of it. It didn’t deserve to be buried again.

But this wasn’t Bakura’s decision to make. This was Ryou’s creation, so Ryou should be the one to decide its fate.

“It’s your choice,” Bakura said. “I won’t insist. But I think it would be a shame. To just keep it in boxes.”

Ryou nodded slowly. “No, I think you’re right,” he murmured. “It’s like you said. If someone gets something good out of it… It will be worth it.” He raised his gaze from the miniature Kul Elna to Bakura. “Plus, it’s better than having all those boxes in my apartment.”

“It is.”

“Yeah…” He sighed. “I guess I’ll call Ishizu.”

“I’ll do it,” Bakura said hastily. “I can arrange all of it. I’ll even help them put it back together.”

One side of Ryou’s mouth curled up in half-smile. “Yeah, I think they’ll need an ancient ghost to tell them how to do it.”

Bakura’s lips twitched, but his smile was short-lived. He stared at Ryou; at his soft brown eyes, the shadows under them, the pale skin. He was still so gentle, after everything; after all of Bakura’s failures, and after dealing with stuff no one should ever have to, he still managed to be so gentle, somehow.

And Bakura had once mistaken him for weak. He had thought Ryou was someone to use, not someone to care for.

He’d been such a fool.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

His voice was a low rumble in the silence of the room, but Ryou heard it. His big round eyes fixed on Bakura; he seemed bewildered, maybe wondering if he’d heard correctly, so Bakura repeated it.

“I am sorry. For everything I’ve done to you.”

The words came from a raw, live spot in his chest, and they made him feel vulnerable but, for once, he didn’t care. He wanted to say it.

Ryou stared at him. His brows had scrunched upwards, making his eyes look bigger, but he didn’t speak. Nothing could be heard; not even his breathing.

“I should have said it a long time ago,” Bakura went on. “I’m sorry for this-“ he gestured at the diorama, “I’m sorry for your hand, I’m sorry for… Fucking everything. I’m sorry.”

His throat felt tight and there was pressure behind his eyes; distantly, he wondered if this was what regret felt like.

Maybe. Well; he was long due for some of that.

Ryou gave him one of his small, tight lipped smiles. It looked so sad that Bakura thought they should invent some other word for it, because calling that a smile was absurd.

“I know,” Ryou said.

That response was so weird that Bakura frowned. “What?”

Ryou sighed. He took a step towards Bakura’s direction and stopped there, leaning with his hip against the table.

“I know,” he repeated. “I’ve told you. When you sleep, you are…” He trailed off, evidently uncomfortable.

“Shouting,” Bakura finished his sentence for him.

Ryou nodded. “One word. Every night. Over and over. I didn’t recognize it, but I looked it up.”

Bakura could feel the earth under his feet disappearing just as the heat in his throat became unbearable. Even before Ryou opened his mouth to continue, he knew what he’d say, so he looked away.

“’Sorry’,” Ryou murmured. “You were saying sorry, over and over.”

Bakura scrunched his eyes shut. He didn’t want to see the sadness on Ryou’s face, because he didn’t feel like he deserved it, but at the same time the pressure in his skull was growing too much to hold back and he—he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to let go. He’d embarrassed himself enough.

His exhales were too sharp and loud, so he tried to regulate his breathing.

“It’s okay,” Ryou said softly.

“No, it’s fucking not,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “None of this is okay.”

“Fine. Maybe it’s not okay yet,” Ryou admitted. “But it will be.”

Bakura finally turned towards him, if only to give him a disbelieving look. “How can you be like that? How can you still be like that after… everything I’ve done to you?”

Ryou gave him a humorless grin. “Well… It’s not always easy. You saw it.”

Yeah, Bakura had seen it: Ryou isolating himself, being cold and distant and snapping. But at least Bakura could get that. It had been understandable. This… acceptance, wasn’t.

Ryou took a few more steps towards him, pausing close to Bakura but not quite invading his personal space.

“I’ve seen that you’ve been trying hard. Even though you mess up most of the times, you are trying. And I believe that you really are sorry. So… Even if it’s not okay yet, it will be. Eventually.”

Bakura nearly flinched when Ryou placed a hand on his shoulder. He looked at it, almost unable to register what he was looking at.

Ryou’s hold was firm. It echoed his words with the same certainty his voice had.

It will be okay.

There was sadness lingering around Ryou’s eyes, and part of his frown was permanent by now, but he was still gentle and beautiful and so unbearably sweet.

Bakura’s brain was buzzing, but the hand on his shoulder was a constant that was easy to focus on. It was solid and simple and right, and he didn’t think twice before taking a step closer and pulling Ryou into a hug.

He felt Ryou grow tense in surprise, so he didn’t hold on too tight, to allow him to draw back if he wanted to, but Bakura wished he wouldn’t. He wished he wouldn’t.

When he felt Ryou’s arms wrap around him in response, something in his chest snapped free. It felt like his lungs expanding and his muscles finally unlocking. It felt like taking his first real breath.

Bakura might have messed up a lot of times, but he wanted to make it better. He wanted it to be okay. He wanted to try, every day, for as long as he could, not out of guilt or obligation, but because he wanted to. He wanted to do nice things for Ryou, until he’d get to see all his different smiles and all the ways his eyes could light up. He wanted to wash away all the bad memories with good ones. He wanted—

He wanted lots of things.

But he could take it slow. One at a time.

For now, he wanted them to get out of there.

He released Ryou, even though he felt a bit unstable on his feet, but he kept a hand on his shoulder, squeezing slightly.

“How about we finish up and go do something else?”

Ryou seemed a bit tender around the edges, but he was steady as ever, looking at Bakura with a curious half-smile. “Like what?”

They could do anything. He could take him out to have something tasty for lunch, or buy some ice cream. They could go to the arcade. They could play a board game. They could try and have these damn profiteroles, obtained legitimately this time. They had all the options in the world, and Bakura wanted to take each and every one of them.

He shrugged. “Dunno. Something nice.”

Ryou laughed. Who would have known—it sounded glorious.