I used to yearn for freedom. It was my deepest desire and my fondest dream, but I could never have it. Not really. I'm committed to a boy–no. A young man, a teen rapidly growing out of his former innocence and opening his eyes to the realities of this world. A juvenile whom I cherish with all of my being and to whom I am chained for eternity. And to add insult to injury, I am chained to what is essentially a part of myself through an object that was once my prison for years. Yes, I used to live in what is now a necklace. If you could call it living.
So I could never be free, not really. Oh sure, I can manifest by myself now; I can act as I please and I can go where I want, but I must always return. Like a dog to its master. I think that makes me a servant, or a slave. Yes, I must return to him because I am, by all means and reasoning, owned by a master. A big step down from Pharaoh, so I think I have the right to be bitter.
I'm not sure why I wanted out of the arrangement that had been cosmically decided for me at some point in my foggy past. It must be some basic instinctual need that even I possess. But it still doesn't make any sense. I was happy, I had a purpose and a sense of fulfilment, and I had as many rights as could be granted considering my 'circumstances'. Being a dead spirit instantly eliminates my right to vote for example, not that I bother with anything outside of my life and assigned purpose. But even with all I had, I was still not free.
It confused me, and being this confused I swallowed my pride enough to go to desperate means to get my answers. I went to a source who I have always considered worldlier than myself in most respects, hoping that perhaps with his present situation combined with his own experiences, he would be able to help me. My supposed 'shaman' is behind me now, having calmly sat himself against a low wall to watch me with slanted eyes and a thin smile. I think he's finding this as amusing as I am beginning to.
"Just back off the ledge and we can talk this through, all right? No-body needs to get hurt here."
The voice from the crowd below reaches me slightly distorted with the height and wind, not that I'm really listening. I do look at them though, the currents of air that are working against my eyes forcing me to turn my gaze downwards. The wind is making my eyes water giving me the appearance of someone who's been crying for quite some time, which is a far cry from the truth. I've been too wrapped up in my thoughts to cry even if it were from frustration. Actually, I doubt that I'd notice salty tears streaming down my raw skin with my mind as turbulent as it is.
The ledge I'm standing on is made of some sort of metal apparently, smooth and devoid of even the smallest crack. If it were raining now this surface would certainly pose more of a problem. As it is the tips of my boots overhang the outcropping into the air.
Looking down is quite interesting with that added feature; I focus on my shoes and the ground blurs, I focus on the ground and I am left with two smears of colour in the foreground. I believe I could amuse myself with this revelation for a few minutes if I took a respite from my circular musings later on. However, despite being up here for so long that I've lost track, I feel that I haven't actually accomplished anything. Not that I'm bothered about how long it's been since I first took this position on this ledge, it's just that my efforts are starting to feel futile now.
I've decided that I don't like this ledge. It isn't how I imagined it would be, how I saw it in one of my daydreams. I actually imagined something more natural such as a cliff overlooking the ocean, or perhaps the top of an ancient temple. Once or twice my fancy has taken me to what I imagine my temple would be. Either way I expected the ledge to be brittle beneath me, crumbling when I ground my boot into it so that I could watch as the little bits of it tumbled freely to the ground far below, nipped at by the gentle breeze that would also catch at my hair, slipping between my fingers and weaving smoothly across my body.
My thoughts never revolved around suicide when my mind drifted to such places, nor did I imagine anything particularly extraordinary happening to me, such as launching into flight from that place. I was simply there, entirely alone with only the quiet and the wind.
I didn't plan any of this ledge business when my spirit became troubled over my freedom, or lack of it.
I didn't even consider finding such a place. It is only now that I realise how ironically fitting this all is. Except for this ledge. I hate this ledge. It's immaculate and pompous with the purpose of its existence and it won't wield beneath me, very alike the one who designed this building actually. How fitting. I don't have my solitude either. The creature with me I can ignore, but the crowd beneath me is noisy and desperately attempting to distract me.
All those people are so small from up here, so insignificant. It's a detached thought of mine, starkly different to what I thought of them when I was fighting and sacrificing to protect them all. I saved their lives and their world at the cost of mine and they won't even leave me alone when all I want is to be left that way. I think I can feel justified in calling them ungrateful because of that.
Bakura has deemed them all insignificant as well, although I don't think he's ever done anything to warrant them feeling grateful to him. So very different to me. He's seen them as irrelevant for years, from a height as well as when he's on the ground with them, moving amongst them. My negativity towards them is fairly new, and partially due to the fact that they look like little more than inconsequential swarming ants. We're different like that, but not so different despite what most people think.
Everyone has us pinned down as different, cut and dry with no room for contradiction to the statement. Ignoring the basic truth that we are both of the same time and same essence, Bakura and I are still very much alike. We're creatures of the dark, neither of us particularly benevolent before we were sealed in an Item and both of us deeply affected by our imprisonment. His insanity is just more apparent than mine, although the times I've issued one of my more severe 'Game Penalties' have caused my friends to think twice about my own sanity. Not that it ever really bothered me.
Our attitudes are almost identical as well. We'll both tackle a situation head-on without too much fussing over the repercussions at the time, displaying aggression and astuteness simultaneously. I rely more on tactics than on aggression most of the time, but it's simply in Bakura's nature to be a borderline sadist. In all, we're generally both ruthless, cold and calculating when it comes to making decisions and then carrying them through. A clear example of that would be when I chose to carry out an attack against Kaiba that may have resulted in him plunging to his death.
That changed my relationship with my Hikari a great deal. In fact, I believe I lost even more of my freedom on that day. Yugi was certainly more afraid of me, scared for the longest time to let me out of my dark little cage because of what I might do. I even picked up on stray panicked thoughts from him that I would forcefully possess him, as Bakura does Ryou. At the time I didn't understand his fear of me. I had made the decision to go forward with my attack logically, come to a conclusion wherein the outcome was acceptable, and gone ahead.
I didn't believe for a moment that the force of my move would unbalance Kaiba enough to send him off of the wall, and I stand by that. The rift between Yugi and myself only widened when he refused to allow me to explain that to him though. He trusts me more now, but that experience did have its repercussions. He's certainly more wary when I get 'over-excited', as he calls it. But all of that is of little consequence at the moment, aside from the fact that it took me a few steps closer to feeling trapped to the extent where my spirit is almost suffocating.
Somehow I knew that Bakura would understand my feelings, and the decision to actually turn to him for help was made far easier by the fact that we are very similar in nature, my desperation playing a hand as well. I think that's the only thing that allowed me to approach him, working in combination with my overwhelming confusion against my pride and better judgment, of course.
It took a little time, but he admitted to me that he used to feel the same way as I do. He is bound to the Ring, and he used to be bound to a shared body, something he was glad to loose. Ryou was pleased as well, although there was initial sorrow mingled with some fear over the fact that he was no longer needed. Ryou realized as quickly as I did that if Bakura no longer needed him as a host, then there was nothing stopping him from going all-out if he happened to lose his temper and unleash his aggression on his Hikari.
And so I gained yet another commitment the day when yami and hikari could separate, making sure that Bakura didn't go for Ryou's throat with a knife or one of his other toys. The reason behind the actual dividing is something that I'm still trying to puzzle out myself. Isis believes that it was simply meant to happen but I'm not so sure, and neither is Bakura.
Anyway, Bakura coped with his condemnation in a most remarkable way, one that can only be learnt through experience. He changed his perception of freedom. It seems ludicrously simple, but apparently it works. He hasn't disclosed how he actually did this, but he got me to understand the basic principles.
Everyone is conditioned to a degree to some level of thinking and perception: this sensation is hot, that sensation is cold; too much of this feels bad, not enough of that isn't fulfilling; feel in awe of that because it's better than you; you're nothing on your own; got to settle down and then add to the surplus population; need to do something worthwhile every day, the list goes on, from the most fundamental facets of good and evil, to the most minute details such as living in misery 'for the good of the children'.
Many break away at least a little from that which is imposed upon them from birth, deciding that they don't believe in higher powers, that they like their independence, think that children are more trouble then they're worth and will do as they please, deeming that which is worthwhile and that which is not themselves. Our thoughts on the larger pieces in this puzzle that we have deemed life are harder to alter, those basic principles that we base our existence on. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we have become separate from conditioning in that respect, but few are ever truly free.
Good and evil was one such concept that Bakura gave his own opinion on, one that I understand but can't change the way I think over. He's travelled his own path to get to his understanding. Bakura explained that, in his mind, he saw good and evil as individual perceptions of actions rather than two individual forces in the universe supported by the powers that be. If to be evil is to murder and we do not murder, does that make us good? Similarly, if good is to aid the injured and we either don't or can't, are we evil? What if a creature was beyond all help and living only for its own suffering? To kill it and relieve it of its misery would seem the charitable thing to do, but it would be murder and so more a sin than a righteous action. It all comes down to perception. Whilst not given as much reflection as good and evil, freedom is apparently based upon the same principle.
Some part of me has decided that the level of freedom I have is unacceptable and I feel tormented because of it. However, there isn't a great deal that I can do about my situation, so rather than alter my autonomy to satisfy myself, I should alter my perception of freedom to an extent where I no longer feel incarcerated. At first the idea seemed positively ludicrous to me, but Bakura has found that it's worked for him quite nicely. He couldn't do a whole lot about his situation when he and Ryou shared a body, and so he experimented in this way to alleviate some of his own discontent. It took years of abusing his hikari to fine-tune the idea, but in the end the spirit claims to no longer feel trapped.
"Look, just calm down and back away from the ledge. If you want, we can bring one of your friends up to talk to you. Okay?"
Oh, this is getting laughable now. Soon I'm going to make that man eat the silly device that's amplifying and distorting his voice in a very annoying way, breaking my train of thought and obstructing my progress. Stupid mortals. It's not by my choice that I'm up here. Kaiba.Corp was all Bakura's idea. He said that the CEO needed to 'learn a lesson'. What exactly that lesson is, I have no idea; the Tomb Raider hasn't divulged that particular piece of information to me just yet.
I think Bakura just wanted to frighten him, something that he's done surprisingly well considering. At first my old rival was just annoyed that I was stood on the top of his building and showing no inclination of coming back down. Talking through that contraption earlier Kaiba certainly didn't seem very happy. But after an hour when he talked to me again, he seemed genuinely upset and frightened.
He wouldn't be able to hear anything I said, so his attempts to question why I was up here were quite stupid, but he sounded afraid all the same. Afraid of what I'd do, afraid of why I was doing it, and afraid that if I did do what he feared I would, every single day he'd have to walk past where I landed into the building that I dived from. He's frightened all right. I think Bakura's aim in choosing this building was to bring Kaiba down from his 'High and Mighty' status. The Tomb Raider nearly always has to gain something satisfactory from anything, and this time he's chosen to debase the CEO of head of Kaiba.Corp. It seems to have worked.
I can ignore Kaiba though. This is for a greater cause. Even his challenge that he'd never be able to go against me at his best in a duel if I nose-dived didn't break my resolve. Yugi's tearful words nearly did however. I blocked off the bond completely, put up every shield that I possess, when I started walking up the first flight of stairs in this building. Bakura stopped me from backing down though whenever my Hikari undid me, talked to me in firm tones without moving from his spot behind me.
I haven't looked at him in a while come to think of it, not since we got up here. I've been too wrapped up in my own thoughts to grant him a look, and he hasn't exactly reminded me of his presence by speaking.
Ah, he's smoking. That's new. I wonder when he started that habit? Ryou must be glad that he has his own body now so Bakura doesn't go saturating their shared one with all those pollutants. I for one am glad that he's down wind of me so I don't have to habitually inhale it. I'll bet he's just doing this to reaffirm his badass image; somehow he got the idea that smoking was 'cool' into his head. Whatever. It's not like it's going to kill him.
He seems pretty confident that this little stunt isn't going to kill me either. I must admit that I do feel some sense of liberation at this height, the savage wind whipping through my hair and around my face, tugging at my clothes and, ironically, pulling me back from my significantly lower destination. It's quite invigorating actually. But it's not quite the freedom I was hoping for, nor the change in my thoughts over it. Actually I'm not too sure what I'm hoping for anymore. It might be the altitude, it might be 'Officer Kea's' loud, distorted and annoying voice, or it could have been that I was completely deluding myself into believing Bakura's words up until this point and now I am regaining my common sense.
I have no idea anymore.
"Yami, please! I don't know why you're doing this or-or why you think you need to, but please just come down."
Yugi again. It's starting to get cold now, but the wind's numbed my skin so it's not bothering me too much.
"Are you going to jump then? It's getting a little tedious now, all this waiting around," Bakura asks smoothly, taking his little glowing-stick-of-coolness away from his lips long enough to speak. His silence up until this point makes me wonder if he's been lost in his own thoughts as well, too distracted to notice that I'm still stood here in the same stance that I've held for an untold amount of time, doing absolutely nothing.
"I don't know." I might as well be honest with him. He said he was going to help me change my perception of freedom, and although I don't know exactly how he means to do that, I naively and potentially stupidly trusted him. And now I'm cold and wind bitten with a headache from over-thinking.
"I promise it won't hurt." He smiles around those words. I can't see him but I can tell. I also heard him take his cigarette back to his mouth on the last word. I get the sense that he's not taking this as seriously as I am. But then, he's not the one on the ledge.
The people on the ground most likely don't even know that he's up here. To most of them, I'm just some teen that's cracked under the pressures of life and has decided to end it all by pasting himself to the pavement from a great height. Either that or I'm making an extreme 'cry for help', attention seeking. Officer Kea is down there probably thinking that I'm doing all of this because something in my life has gone terribly wrong, and that I'm acting under the misconception that if I make myself look as desperate as possible then someone will sweep in and take all my troubles away from me. Unlikely. I may be a little messed up in the head right now, but I'm not deluded enough to think that that could possibly happen. Life doesn't work that way. My few friends on the ground who don't believe that either of these possibilities is true don't have a clue as to what's really going on in my head either.
Maybe this is what Bakura meant: creating my own little world in my mind that nobody but me can understand and perceiving that as freedom. No, that's stupid. I could do that before I talked to him anyway. Now it's just a bit more extreme because whilst I'm actually up here looking for the answer in my own little world, everyone else thinks I'm going to off myself. That's not quite what I want.
"If you don't move soon I'll push you, Pharaoh. I'm starting to go numb here."
Maybe death *is* the freedom that Bakura is raving about, at least for me, and that all this 'altering my perception' stuff was just a way to get me up here. Maybe he doesn't think I'll be satisfied with the perception of freedom that he's achieved and believes this more extreme method of 'release' will make me happy. It would certainly make him happy. But I'm already dead, so how could I kill myself? I guess I could die in that I went into a sort of limbo, suspended for all time away from everything. But that would be like being inside the Puzzle again. No, that wouldn't be something that I would even remotely refer to as freedom. So what is?
"I don't understand any of this." Finally I admit to it. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do now. I'm scaring my friends, although I'm too preoccupied at the moment to really care, I'm starting to go stiff because I've been motionless for too long, and the fact that my confusion has only gotten worse and worse has brought about a headache equivalent to someone sending a spade through my skull over and over. All in all, I'm not feeling very free or having my perceptions changed a great deal.
"I'll help you, but you have to make the first move. Make the decision."
Thanks. That helped a lot. I'm starting to lose patience and all of this is feeling very hopeless to me. If I go down 'nice and slow' like Officer Kea keeps telling me to, I'll have to face what I've done. I haven't actually done anything other than scare a crowd of people, but even that will undoubtedly have its repercussions. It makes me wonder what exactly Officer Kea's definition of everything being 'all right' is. Pretty different to mine I believe.
That's an interesting thought. His idea of everything of everything being 'all right' is me coming down using the stairs and collapsing into an emotional mess to be later sorted out through the use of heavy medication and a psychiatrist. My idea, on the other hand, is of understanding what Bakura has been talking about and getting what I want. Both of us have totally different perceptions of what is essentially the same thing: having what we want. If things go our way, then everything is all right. For two people with different perceptions of what 'all right' is in a situation, one of them is bound to go home unhappy. It's the same as our perceptions of good and evil, something that we would likely disagree on as he's a law enforcement officer and I'm not.
Still, I'd rather it not be me who comes out of this with things not having gone my way. Apparently we have opposite ideas on the correct course of action in this particular situation. At least at the moment. Vertigo is starting to wriggle into my brain and around my chest again, so jumping is starting to feel more appealing than just standing here and letting my joints freeze. I don't want to do what Officer Kea wants me to do because that's not what I want. Would that make all of this an act of defiance? If I jump simply for that reason, I'm going to feel pretty stupid on the way down.
I think I know what Bakura is doing now. He's giving me freedom of choice over what is technically my existence. I can't die, but I can leave this world, but I have the choice not to. I have the basic freedom of choosing between life and death at this exact moment. This realisation is not as wondrous and fulfilling as I thought it would be, but it's a step in the right direction.
Right, I've got my choice, so what do I do with it? Well, in everyday life there are few ways in which I could be 'killed', but the ways that do work could send me hurtling into oblivion before I even knew what was going on. I'd have the freedom of choice over my continued existence stripped from me in one go. That doesn't seem right. There's also the fact that Bakura is practically goading me into jumping, which makes this quite confusing. Perhaps he's testing me. But for what possible purpose would he do that? If I died, he'd be happy, if I lived, he'd just find another way to do it. At the moment he seems happy to help me 'realign my perceptions' so I'll leave his motives alone for the moment. I have enough to ponder as it is.
Right, the sum of the last few hours is my realisation of freedom of choice. I didn't appreciate that before so I guess that could vaguely be classified as an alteration in perception. Yugi's talking to me again. This time I don't listen. I think I'm on to something at last.
I had choice before this realisation though; I could eat or not eat, I could materialise or sit in my Soul Room, I could play the Dark Magician or leave him in my hand until the next turn. But there were some choices that I didn't -and still don't- have; I have to protect Yugi–I don't mind doing it but it's an obligation still-, I have to return to the Puzzle every now and again to 'recharge', I have to wear whatever Yugi was wearing when I materialised. So does that taint my freedom of choice? Does it make it less or unaccountable entirely? Or does it not matter and I should appreciate the freedom that I do have. Maybe Bakura wants me to be grateful for what I do have. Maybe that's it and there's no divine enlightenment waiting for me at the end of this little journey that I'm taking.
"You're going to have to get down one way or another. How do you want to do it?" Bakura's prompting me again. It was nicer when he was content to just sit and smoke whilst I stood here and watched all the flashing lights congregate beneath me. But he is right in that it's time I got down and it's my choice how I do it. The question is how am I going to use it. He hasn't moved from where he's sat, so he's not going to violently make the decision for me. This is purely my decision, my freedom of choice being used. It's pure and no one is going to take it from me. I might as well enjoy this.
I'm tired of this now and I haven't really gotten anywhere. I haven't learnt anything spectacular aside from the fact that Bakura isn't a very good teacher. I've had enough of all this standing around and thinking in circles now. So I walk away from the edge. There's a fair bit of noise from over it as I retreat and then a whole lot more when I run off it into a swan dive.
The wind on the ledge was nothing compared to this. This feeling of plummeting, of being away from absolutely everything around me, of feeling like I'm floating in a wild and savage environment. It's exhilarating. The ground approaches fast but every moment of this feels like a sweet eternity. Breath leaves me and I close my eyes for the final few storeys, wanting to experience it fully for the last few mortal seconds through senses other than my eyes. I want to appreciate it fully, every single moment of it. The darkness I bring about myself has nothing to do with me not wanting to see the ground greet me and break my fall; I simply want to feel without the distraction of seeing.
I didn't really hear anything before; I was too distracted by how wondrous it all felt, but the sirens, the screaming, and the gasping breaths of those I'm fast approaching have all suddenly gotten louder. There's a whistling sound as I plummet what I believe to be the final few meters, a distance far too small to me. Then everything goes quiet.
Then there's something solid beneath me, and the air is humming with energy. I slowly, lazily, open my eyes to darkness. Is this death for a spirit then? The Shadow Realm? Am I stuck here for all eternity from now on? If so, that feeling was worth it.
"Now didn't you enjoy that?" Funny. I didn't think I'd hear voices here. "I knew you would." Hang on…
Twisting my head to the side I see Bakura sat a few feet from me, in exactly the same position he was in atop Kaiba.Corp, only now he's leaning his weight on his knees rather than against a protrusion from the ground behind him. I'm definitely in the Shadow Realm, and unless Bakura dived right after I did, he brought me here just before impact.
He's watching me intently with bright eyes, his bangs drooping over his face to obscure his vision. "Wasn't that liberating? Those moments of pleasure, of abandonment?" he asks, his eyes betraying the fact that he is remembering his own experience of this as he speaks. I can see the bliss in them, an emotion I don't see in them often. "You've been searching for freedom in the literal sense, whereas I experience it as a lack of restrictions as you just have. You've been looking for something that lasts, pure and untainted, which nothing you knew of before now could ever be. You can only experience it on occasion, and then it's the memory you treasure."
At last it's all made sense. I understand. All that waiting on the ledge, the craving and the confusion, it only made the experience sweeter. For a few seconds, I felt alone in the best possible sense, my constant burdens of duty lifted and immeasurable relief assaulting me because of it. I felt that I was solely to myself, caring about nothing other than sensation. Total and complete abandonment. Freedom, you could say, from responsibility, entrapment, emotion, everything. And I will treasure that feeling. I won't yearn for it anymore.
Now, lying here on what's been labelled the floor, I feel relieved and satiated, that splinter of need that had been steadily driving me insane finally removed the second I took to the air. The fall itself was nothing short of exhilarating, an experience that I chose to undergo through my own power and free will. I gained a greater sense of independence and liberation through my own choice. It's a shame that I had to scare a lot of people to accomplish that, but I did it, and the memory of it is enough to keep me so I'll never need to do it again. Surprising as it might be, Bakura was right; like so much in life, freedom is only a matter of perspective.
*** End ***
'The only thing that mankind has never been able to grasp is that death may be the only absolute freedom there ever was.'
My thanks go to Pachelbel, Blue September, Logo, Seraph Reaver, ShadowSpirit and GothicDJ for nitpicking this for me. Also a second thanks go to Logo for bringing the above quote to my attention, which seemed to suit this story well.