Italics: Ryuuji's thoughts.
Non-italics: Yami's thoughts and anything happening in real time.
Shut up. Please, just … no more.
He says it as though I can just turn my thoughts off, as though I can terminate this twisted bond between the pair of us but choose not to simply because …
Because why? Why do you think I would not break this connection if I could, Otogi?
Goddamn it, you insane spirit. Get out of my head.
You forget very quickly dragon child that you were the one who trapped me here, don't you? Do you not think I would be gone from your deranged soul room if given half a chance? Do you not think I would return to the one I belong with if I was the one in control, here?
But I'm not, Ryuuji. You are.
My bond with Ryuuji is different to the one I had with Yugi. This bond has been forged through forcefulness as opposed to fate, and the side effects are bitterly obvious. There is no filter between either of our thoughts; neither of us can tune the other out at any time. I can still see the outside world, but it is through a haze that distorts it in a manner that I cannot truly determine whether it is the fault of our screwed-up connection or if this is simply how the world seems through my new host's eyes.
Can't you be quiet for just a minute!
The outside world silences for a moment, and all eyes turn on us. You've been doing that more often, haven't you? Unable to keep such tight control over your own thoughts, they're starting to escape from the confines of your mind and slip unwittingly through your lips.
It terrifies you. Naturally.
But it scares you even more how you're becoming used to covering it up, and doing it so well, if I might say so myself. That line about getting in character for the upcoming school play auditions worked wonders, if the fact that the girls in the shop have returned to drooling over you as opposed to whispering behind their hands about how you might be slightly crazy.
I'm not crazy. I'm … not.
Are you so sure about that, Otogi? I think you might be, just a little bit.
I think we both are.
There is no place to hide within Otogi's mind. I have no separate soul room, instead have to live in some twisted crossbreed between his and mine. Spiral labyrinths and mirrors. A perfect horror house.
Hundreds of them, Otogi. Rather obviously they're originally from your soul room, not mine. Each one of them contains your reflection, although each reflection is different from the next.
I don't understand. If they all show me, how can they differ from each other?
You're very talkative today, almost polite. Why?
I just woke up. I can almost deal with you when there are no other distractions. Don't worry, I'll bitch at you later.
And he will. Everything will be my fault, of course. Otogi is very good at passing the blame on to anyone else. It's one of his most enduring traits.
Impatience is another one. You're just a wonderful, rounded person, aren't you, dragon child? But all right. The mirrors all show your reflection, true. But each reflection is distorted in some way, some to such an extent that you are barely recognisable. And every now and then one will shatter, and all that is left in its place is a pile of splintered glass.
Is that what you wanted to know, Otogi?
I have no control over his body. This whole situation would have been far easier to deal with if I could possess him in a similar manner to Yugi. I could walk over to Yugi, hand him the puzzle, and everything would be back as fate meant it to be.
There is no such thing as fate.
You don't really believe that, dragon child. You're just foolish enough to believe that the fate your father has set out for you is the true path you must follow.
If you were fated to be with Yugi, as you so believe, then you wouldn't have ended up with me. Fate should allow you take over my body and return to Yugi, but your one attempt at that failed miserably.
Would you like me to try again?
God. No. NO. You almost killed us both when you tried last time.
His thoughts tremble through our bond, although I cannot fault his fear. I can hardly remember the four days following my attempt to take control of his body, and it took Otogi longer than that to even regain consciousness.
A week. It took me a week. Another two on top of that to recover completely. It was as though my mind was being torn apart.
And this doesn't feel like that?
This is destroying both of us, dragon child. You cannot claim to not realise that. You have to do something about this before we both lose our minds. You're the only one who can.
I do not doubt that he can feel my desperation; I can most certainly feel his. His life is slowly falling apart, his bedroom becoming as much a trap for him as our soul room is for me. Otogi can barely face the real world anymore; he cannot find the balance between having two voices operating inside his head constantly and dealing with everyday life.
I can't just give you back to Yugi. You know that.
There is a hint of uncertainty in his voice, however, and it makes me irrationally hopeful, a feeling I haven't felt in weeks.
Hope? For what? This isn't something that can be solved so simply.
But it is, dragon child. It is. You do not want this, you cannot control it. Neither of us can. If you return me to Yugi, it will all be over. You will have your sanity back – your mind back. And I will have Yugi.
We have had this argument before, with Otogi always standing firm, an unrelenting wall of denial convinced that he would somehow be able to master all of this if he only tried hard enough.
But it won't matter how hard I try, will it?
He whispers the words aloud, speaking to both himself and me.
It will always be like this, always be hell.
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
No, it wasn't. But it isn't too late, dragon child. I know that you can feel how wrong our bond is, but if you give the puzzle back to him, then everything will be ok, I'll make sure of it. I promise.
He sounds just like a child then, and I am reminded suddenly of one of the mirrors in our soul room, the one where Otogi could not be any older than five years old. Sometimes I forget that he is still only a child, even though his eyes are haunted with adult worries.
But, but I don't even know where he lives. Do you? I couldn't just wander the streets hoping to come across him, and school doesn't start for another two weeks. I can't wait that long, and I don't think you can, either. The telephone book! He must be in the telephone book! But what if he is unlisted? He can't be unlisted, can he? He lives above a game shop, that would have to be listed.
I cannot keep up with Otogi's thoughts as he rushes out of his room, practically flying down the staircase. He is almost hysterical with anxious relief, and I can barely contain my own emotions. He finds the number quickly – both numbers turn out to be listed – but in his haste has to redial the number several times, over eager fingers hitting wrong buttons.
"Welcome to the Kame Game Shop, Yugi speaking."
I am sure my heart stops upon hearing him, cherishing the familiar voice even though there is an undying hint of sadness there that can not be hidden under the forced, cheerful greeting. Tell him, dragon child, please tell him how much I miss him and that we'll be together again soon, tell him that even though I'm in your body, that my soul is still with him. Tell him …
"Ryuuji, who are you on the phone with?"
And then, it all falls to pieces. The phone slips from Otogi's hands before he has even said a word, falling mutely to the carpet as his father moves to stand behind him. That man should not be here, he is supposed to be at a conference on the other side of town …
"No-one, Father. They dialled the wrong number by accident."
Oh god, oh god. Please don't let him find out, *please* don't let him find out …
Otogi is a good actor, but even he cannot control his traitorous body from shaking slightly, and his father, damn him, never misses a thing. We can both only watch as the man picks up the phone, bringing it casually to his ear.
"Hello? Are you there? Are you ok?" Yugi's voice is unmistakable, especially to someone who hates him as much as Otogi's father does. Without a word, he places the phone back on the hook, turning to us with dark eyes devoid of all emotion.
"I believe that we need to step up our training, wouldn't you agree, Ryuuji?"
Someone, anyone. Please, help me.
But even though he is falling apart inside, Otogi still nods his head, heavy feet forcing themselves to follow his father back upstairs.
I fall to my knees and weep. But this time, it is not just for Yugi and myself that I mourn for.
Behind me, another mirror shatters. I do not have to turn around to know which one.
Why do you call me that?
I call you many things, Otogi. Few of them pleasant.
You know exactly what I mean. 'Dragon child'. Why do you call me that as often as you call me Otogi?
You're not stupid, I'm sure you know that is what your own name means.
That is not the point.
I don't bother to ask him then what exactly is the point. Otogi's thoughts have become harder to piece together of late, not due to any loosening of our bond, but because he has had to try and stretch himself past the safety of his room and return to school.
He is coping … less than well. I allow a part of me to feel sorry for him, yet that sorrow is incomparable to the pain I feel every time I see Yugi at school. He always looks at us with those soulful eyes, and more than once I have caught them brimming with tears.
But there is nothing Yugi can do, just as there is nothing Jounouchi or Honda can do.
Can you believe that they tried to beat me up? Idiots. I let them know rather quickly that you would feel anything they possibly did to me, that stopped them pretty quickly. Although you never told me that your bond with Yugi faded away if he didn't have any physical connection to the puzzle.
I never saw the point.
Why is it then that no matter whether I'm wearing the puzzle or not, I can always feel you?
I wish I knew, dragon child. I wish I knew.
"You are not advancing as well as you should be, Ryuuji. In fact, you are not advancing at all."
"I … I'm sorry, Father."
I despise this room. It is almost as though any purity that was once here has been sucked out, leaving behind a mass of hatred and evil. There is nothing good here, only black occult and magic that should never be touched.
You hate it? You?! If you ever want to swap positions, I'd be more than willing.
I am the only one to see Ryuuji's slight glimmer or rebellion, it is something his father will surely never see, as Ryuuji is far too terrified of him.
Respectful, I am respectful. He is my father, and I am his son. Of course I do as he says. Terror has nothing to do with it.
He is evil, and you are not his son – you are his pawn.
"We know that the spirit has the ability to crush the minds of others. My research has shown that. That is just the brink of his powers, ones that he managed to use even when in that weakling's body. And yet, you can not even manage to do that."
I have all sorts of painful deaths planned for this man.
"Can you think of any possible reason for your constant failures when it comes to harnessing the power of the puzzle?" The words are said in a painfully soft tone, and even Ryuuji can notice the deadliness of them.
There is nothing 'deadly' about his words. You are exaggerating.
Even if he denies it.
"My, my bond is different with the puzzle. Yugi could only feel the puzzle when he was connected to it in a physical manner, where-as the spirit and I are melded together always. When he was with Yugi, the spirit only felt things such as pain or heat if he was in control of the body at that particular time. Through our bond he feels most things that I do, although on a much more limited level."
"Ah. So perhaps he has different powers when in your body."
Fat chance. More like he has none at all. Useless spirit.
That is hardly my fault, dragon child. Did you think all I needed to do was step into a phone box and suddenly I'd turn into Super-Spirit, cape and all?
How in the world does an ancient pharaoh know about Superman?
Yugi. Always, forever Yugi, regardless of what the question is.
I, I'm so-
"Ryuuji, are you listening to me?"
"I'm sorry, Father." If you are not scared of him, then why does fear creep into your voice? "Sometimes it gets difficult to focus on everything at once. The spirit's thoughts occasionally cloud my mind to the point where I cannot see the world through them."
"You should have learnt how to control that by now."
Such an obedient pawn.
Shut-up. Just, just … please.
"Do you think the spirit is hiding the secret of his powers from you? That could perhaps explain your incompetence."
"I don-" For a moment, it almost seems as though he is going to contradict his father, but he catches himself just in time. "If you believe so, Father."
"I do. I refuse to believe that anyone who shares my bloodline could be that inept, even you."
Do not listen to him, Ryuuji. Do not listen. He is a madman, one that-
He is my father.
I can barely here that single thought through his pain.
Ryuuji, men like that –
He is all that I have.
And it is as simple as that. Ryuuji will let him drag him down to hell with him, and I can do nothing but be pulled along, like it or not.
"But I was thinking, Ryuuji, that if he is hiding this knowledge from me, from us, then there must be a way to access those secrets." Ryuuji blinks a couple of times, and I know it is to clear the faint dizziness that comes over him whenever he finds himself drawn too far into our bond. He nods in a non-committable manner, his father has no doubt been rambling on as usual. "Even if it has to be forced out of him. You did mention that he can feel things physically through your bond, didn't you?"
The words take a moment to sink in. But only a moment.
Dragon child, leave. Now. I don't care where we go, but you have to get out of here!
He can't mean that. He can't!
Ryuuji takes one step backwards, then another. I can tell that his instincts are demanding him to flee, and it is only his own fear that is keeping him from doing so. All thoughts of respectful behaviour have flown out the window.
Come on, Ryuuji. You can do this. Your father is a violent enough piece of work as it is.
A third step, then a forth.
And then, nothing but wall. He has backed us into a corner.
There is nowhere to go.
"Come now, Ryuuji. You know I don't want to have to hurt you." Ryuuji's hysterical laughter echoes through our soul room. "And if you had only just been able to control the spirit like a good little boy, then I never would have had to resort to this." Gently mocking words that contradict hardened eyes and a dangerously pouty smile.
He has never called me that before, and I've certainly never offered the name up to him in the past. He must have drawn it from my memories and thoughts of Yugi, and perhaps I would feel somewhat violated if the name hadn't been uttered as such a desperate plea.
I'm here, dragon child. I'm here.
But that is all I have to offer, there is nothing else I can possibly do. At that moment, I hate myself almost as much as I hate the man standing before us, face contorting with unabashed glee.
Ryuuji? Ryuuji? Come on, talk to me.
I hate this fucking school I hate everyone here I hate that stupid Jounouchi and his big fat mouth I am not going crazy I am NOT going crazy notcrazynotcrazynotcrazy-
Please, dragon child. Let me help.
"I'm sorry to have to call you here, Mr Otogi. Did the nurse fill you in at all?"
"Not really, Ms Minoto. All she said was that my son had been involved in some kind of fight during class?"
"That is … one way to put it, I suppose. Your son had a strange episode in his maths class that has left us all somewhat concerned about his mental health."
I'm not insane! I'm not not NOT insane. I do not have a crazy pharaoh inside my head speaking to me all the time and I do not ever, ever speak back to that non-existent voice inside my head my father is not a deranged bastard and I did not have a strange episode in fucking maths class!
"Oh? What exactly happened?"
Ryuuji, breathe. Slow breaths, deep breaths. You can do it.
"For reasons unknown, your son just suddenly started … well … talking out loud in class, almost as though he was having a conversation with another person, but he was most certainly not communicating with any of the students around him. According to his maths teacher, Ryuuji did not even seem to even notice he was doing this, even when the teacher tried to regain his attention. He simply kept up this one sided conversation for several minutes, totally oblivious to his surroundings. When he did eventually snap out of it, he appeared confused and lost. Unfortunately, that plus his prior behaviour caused one of his fellow classmates to make a rather regrettable remark about your son's sanity."
I'm not insane, am I? Everyone in class seems to think so, even the principal does. Please let me be insane. I think I could deal with that much better than if this was all real..
Ryuuji, it's … Yami. You need pull through this; I know you can do it. Just try and focus on me and nothing else.
"Now, while the taunt from the other student was unforgivable, your son's resulting behaviour was simply unacceptable. He starting screaming and throwing things, before launching himself at the other boy, breaking the student's nose and practically dislocating his shoulder."
I sigh with relief.
Yes, just me. Unless you were expecting some other crazy pharaoh?
My attempted joke falls flat as I feel him tense.
Where, where are we?
I believe it is called the nurse's room. You were brought here after your fight.
My head is killing me. Fight? Oh, no. Maths. I flipped out.
That is one way to put it. I don't think Jounouchi's nose is going to be quite the same ever again.
"It took several students to refrain your son, Mr Otogi. Just as suddenly as he had become violent, he then collapsed on the floor, sobbing about how he wasn't going insane and similar such comments. He actually had to be sedated just to bring him here and to insure that he didn't try and hurt anyone else – or himself. Most of his classmates found the whole thing rather disturbing, and I must admit to feeling concerned myself. Your son used to be a very intelligent, popular student. These last few months however have seen him becoming more and more withdrawn, and he is failing most of his classes."
I broke down in front of the entire class. Everyone must think I'm nuts.
"Thank-you for your concern. I'll be sure to reprimand my son when I get him home. Such violent behaviour is not to be tolerated."
"But Mr Otogi, that isn't what worries me the most. Surely-"
"Thank-you, Principal. I believe my son is in the next room?"
No, I'm not. So why don't you just go home without me, Father. And I'll spend the rest of my life hiding under this blanket.
Ryuuji. Don't be silly.
I can't do this anymore, Yami. Even through our bond, his words come out quietly. I just, I can't.
I know, dragon child. I know. We'll sort something out.
"Ryuuji? It's time to leave. We're going home."
Did you know that I cannot even escape you in my dreams?
Oh? And you're lucky I don't offend easily, dragon child.
He snorts in response, but doesn't choose to take that particular line of discussion any further.
I always seem to dream about Egypt. At least I assume it's Egypt. You're there, as is a man who looks a hell of a lot like your Dark Magician card. And Seto, as well – except he's wearing less clothing and acting more like a prick than usual. There's this brilliant palace with the sweetest smelling flowers in huge vases in the hallways…"
I let his words wash over me, finding an aching familiarity in his descriptions that make me long for a world and a time that I cannot even remember. I can almost see myself walking through those halls, servants bowing as they step aside, trusted advisors always ready with warm smiles. The images are so close that I can almost touch them … and then are gone, leaving nothing but a bitter promise of what might possibly have gone before.
I can stop, if you like?
No, please continue. Could you retell the bit about the hidden garden?
Of course. It's an almost magical place, where …"
I let my eyes drift shut, seeing the lush green lawns and fig trees that seem so out of place in a desert.
Neither of us talk about the fact that Ryuuji's father pulled him out of the school system today, claiming to be 'home schooling' him, instead.
Every man has his breaking point. It's strange how I'd always expecting Ryuuji's to end with us both in some insane hospital, or with him just so mentally broken that he'd stop caring.
I have been in his mind, shared his thoughts, for over six months. And yet, I never saw this as a possible outcome.
Why did my father have to tie these ropes so tight? I'm never going to get Yugi out of here in time before this place burns down.
Slow down, dragon child. You're making the knots worse by tugging at them so tightly.
Backseat hero. All talk and no action.
Even with his taunt, he tries to take his time, eyes wearily glancing back occasionally at the growing flames that are slowly eating away at this hated room, burning away at its darkness and leaving it awash in a glow that reminds me far too much of blood. He never once looks towards the far corner, not that he needs to. The image has forever been imprinted onto both of our minds.
With one last tug, the ropes fall free. Ryuuji barely catches Yugi as he tumbles sideways, unconscious from the fumes. Ryuuji is not holding up too well himself, a never-ending cough racking his frame. Unsteadily, he pushes himself to his feet, Yugi in his arms. It is a stance that lasts only a few seconds, before Ryuuji collapses back down onto his knees, Yugi falling from his grasp and rolling slightly onto the floor.
I'm not going to be able to lift him. I can barely stand, myself.
Desperation seeps into his thoughts, before suddenly giving way to a completely uncommon peacefulness.
Do you think, Yami, that you will miss me at all? Just a little bit?
There is a hint of ironic laughter in his voice as he removes the puzzle from around his neck, and it takes me a second to catch on. When I do, I wonder why I hadn't come up with this plan, myself. Perhaps it is that part of me is so used to now being with Ryuuji that …
… that what? I'm not sure.
Will I miss you, dragon child? No. Not at all.
And for that I can hardly blame you. Good-bye, Yami.
The last thing I feel through our bond is a parting smile that holds no animosity, and then I am simply home. With a shuddering breath, I take in my soul room, my soul room, before remembering that the job is only half done. I close my eyes, and when I open them again, I am glancing up into Ryuuji's concerned gaze.
For the first time in six months, I can actually breathe. The effect is somewhat ruined when my first breath results in the inhalation of far too heavy smoke.
After a brief coughing fit that Ryuuji seems to enjoy far too much considering the situation we are in, I help him to his feet. I don't let go of his hand even when he is more or less stabilised, instead meeting his sardonic smirk and clouded eyes with a seriousness that few have ever seen.
"I will not miss you, dragon child, because simply being back with Yugi does not mean that we have no connection. Our bond is now not one forced upon us, but one given freely. Friendship." Ryuuji blinks at that, before letting his smirk settle into a some-what smile.
"And all this time I was worried that I was the one going nuts. Come on, we have to get out of here."
It is difficult, operating with this newfound silence inside my mind. Yugi remains unconscious in his soul room as I force his barely responsive body to its limits. As the pair of us stumble towards the door, it is impossible for us not to have to navigate around the dead weight that is Ryuuji's father. The large clay jar that Ryuuji had used to smash against the base of his head lays shattered on the floor, an unknown ointment staining the clown outfit black.
"Come on, dragon child. There is nothing we can do." Ryuuji just stands there, frozen, a blank expression on his face as he stares at his father's form. "We cannot carry him, and if we do not leave now, all three of us will die."
"I had no choice." He whispers the words, and I can barely hear them above the cackling of the fire behind us. "He was going to hurt Yugi. He might have even killed him. I couldn't let him do that, Yami. No-one else was supposed to get hurt, he took it too far."
Insanity. Death. Apathy. I could have never guessed that Ryuuji reaching breaking point would result in redemption.
He lets me pull him away this time, and soon we are half running, half stumbling our way out of the building. Firemen meet us at the entrance, and even as they are draping blankets around our shoulders, they are firing questions at us.
"Where did the fire start? How did the fire start? Is there anyone else inside?"
The last question is not mine to answer. Ryuuji looks torn for a moment, before nodding his head.
"Yes, there is. My father. He started the fire and kidnapped my friend, here. We managed to get out but he's still inside. I think he's gone insane."
Redemption and salvation.
We watch as they attempt to get the fire under control, watch as Ryuuji's father is wheeled away in an ambulance. Yugi wakes up soon after, and I'm flooded with a warmth and love that makes me finally feel whole again. I must have grinned like an idiot, because Ryuuji takes one look at my expression before rolling his eyes slightly. He doesn't say anything, however, eyes flickering almost automatically back to the game shop that is slowly burning to the ground.
It is only when there is nothing before us but dying embers and charred timber remains that he finally does speak, eyes never straying from the sight before him.
"I have an aunt up in Tokyo - my mother's sister. I haven't seen her since I was ten, my father cut off all contact with my mother's side of the family a long time ago. They all thought he was rather insane, for some reason." A bitter smile flickers briefly across his lips. "My aunt actually tried to gain custody after, after my mother died. She lost, rather obviously. The judge thought that it was more important for a young boy to have a father."
"Tokyo is far away, Ryuuji."
"Not far enough." He says it quietly, turning dark eyes on me. "But it's the closest thing to home I have, now. You're back where you belong, I think it's time I try and find somewhere I do."
As well as find yourself.
I don't speak the words aloud, but after six months, we know each other's thoughts too well, and a small smirk reaches his lips.
"Yeah. That too."
Ryuuji allows himself a small, actual smile, and for the first time since I've known him, the smile almost reaches his eyes. Pain and guilt still stain emerald many shades of jade, but there is a different hue there now, as weak as it might be.
I have a feeling that soon I will not be able to call him dragon child, any longer.