One Badass…Woman?

In Which Bakura Is Something Other Than Previously Thought

Téa's line about simple things is attributed to the wondrous Wildwolf, another YGO author here on FF. Net. Go check her fics (and the amazing quotes in her profile) out.


Aibou – Partner
Ano – Um…
Chichi – Father (Your Own)
Kami-sama – God
Kokoro no Dorobou – Thief of my Heart

"Are you sure this will work?" Ryou asked worriedly.

"For the third time, yes," Malik said impatiently. "If we three put our Millennium items together, the magic will be able to create separate bodies for our yamis."

"He's just worried, Malik," Yugi soothed. "The papyrus that spell you want to use is on isn't exactly at the height of legibility. And if anything goes wrong…"

"It won't, aibou," Yami soothed, his ghostly form hovering just behind his soul-partner. "The spell will work."

"Keh! Why, because you will it so, oh, King of Games?" Bakura grumbled, separating from Ryou with a flash. The white-haired yami lounged back against a nearby tree and glared indolently at the other spirit. Yami had banished both Bakura and Marik to Shadow Realm, true, but he'd actually performed a similar maneuver to the one he had with Kaiba in Death T, crushing the evil from their souls. Once the two darkest spirits had been freed of their evil intentions, they'd been allowed to return.

But six people time-sharing three bodies would stress out even the most peaceful of people – especially when there were some things you just needed separate bodies for, not the least of which was a break from the constant, 24/7 togetherness – and while Ryou and Yugi could be considered mostly as tranquil as a still pond, Malik had never been patient. It was getting way too crowded in his head for his liking, so he'd gone looking for a spell to separate himself and Marik. Once he'd found one, he'd offered to share it with the other two hikaris and their yamis, knowing they'd appreciate it just as much – if not more – than he himself did. They'd all gathered in a grove of trees on the far side of Domino Park that morning, since the spell had to be performed at noon, with the sun shining down overhead; but even the fresh air and sunny day couldn't keep old animosities at bay.

"Because there is no reason it would not work, thief," Yami said simply, steel in his voice.

"That's 'Thief King' to you, Pharaoh," Bakura snarled. Ryou noted that there seemed to be an undercurrent of worry to Bakura's thoughts, despite the belligerent manner, and he couldn't very well blame the spirit.

"Stop it, you two," Yugi admonished. "We need to get the spell circle set up and we can't do that with you two fighting."

Huffing, Bakura subsided back against the tree. Yami nodded at his other and leaned against his own conifer.

"Alright, let's get to it!" Joey declared, and everyone went to their assigned tasks. Joey and Tristan sketched out the spell circle according to Téa's instructions, as she read them from the parchment Malik had handed her. Meanwhile Yugi, Ryou and Malik set up the protection wards, Yami lending his recently remembered expertise in spell casting when needed. Kaiba, who had invited himself along because 'it's going to be hard to explain three people who are your doubles, especially if they don't have the appropriate documentation, and I'm the only one who has physicians on call in case something goes wrong' stayed on the fringes of the group. He kept one eye on the tomb-raider while the other followed Mokuba – who was using this gathering as a way of getting tips about the Dungeon Dice Monster video game from its creator – making sure his younger brother didn't get in the way of any stray spells.

Half an hour after they'd first gathered, the spell circle was complete, the wards were set, and all that was left to do was get into their places and await the rising of the sun to its zenith. Only five more minutes before the golden orb would be centered in the sky.

When the appointed time was almost upon them, Yugi, Ryou and Malik stood at the three points of the spell circle, while Yami, Bakura, and Marik – who had remained inside the Rod during the preparations but came out for his part in the ceremony – gathered in the center. Joey, Tristan, Téa, and Seto backed up to the edge of the clearing, the latter's cell phone in his hand in case he needed to call for help.

At Malik's nod, the three hikaris all pointed their Millennium items towards the center of the circle and started chanting. Golden glows started to form around the Puzzle, the Ring and the Rod, before shooting out towards their respective yamis and enveloping them in the light.

The spoken part of the spell was actually short and the chanting soon died out, followed by the spell's light. The three hikaris were none the worse for wear, and the yamis…

…were apparently all right.

Yami himself stood in the center of the circle, regal as only one who had been the Chosen Son of Ra could be. He was adorned in the apparel he'd worn in his former life; a sand-colored cape hung from his shoulders, his chest bare beneath it. Golden jewelry glinted from neck and ear, wrapped around arms and legs, topped by a tri-spiked crown set in his tri-colored hair. Marik was dressed much as he had been during Battle City – in khaki cargo pants, a sleeveless purple shirt, and a dark cape – though this time there was no gleam of insanity or malice in his eyes. And Bakura…

Bakura was clad in a long, dark red cloak, the color of dried blood. Its swirling folds obscured most of the thief's body, but could not, however, conceal one startling fact…

"Bakura's a girl?!" Joey shrieked. He was apparently the only one of the group who was capable of speaking at the moment. Other than Kaiba, of course, who had dropped his cell phone into his pocket once it was apparent that no one would be in need of medical help and was now staring at the three yamis with calculated intensity, paying particular interest to Bakura.

"Oh, shit!" Malik cursed, lavender eyes going wide with panic. "There was something wrong with the spell. Damnit, Ryou, I'm sorry. But there's got to be a way to fix this."

Sighing in resignation, Ryou shook his head. "No, Malik, nothing went wrong with the spell." Turning to his yami, he asked, a slight hint of worry for, but no surprise at, the former spirit's appearance in his voice, "Are you okay, 'Kura?"

Scowling at the surrounding gawkers, Bakura turned to her light and nodded. "I'm fine, Ryou," she reassured him, her voice only slightly higher than it had been when she possessed Ryou's body. Ryou noticed that for all her bravado, she seemed agitatedly anxious over everyone's reactions to the revelation of her gender. Her muscles were tensed and the thoughts he was picking up through their mind-link were all focused on escape tactics. "But I don't think the baka Pharaoh is – he seems to have been struck mute." She chuckled maliciously, and everyone shivered as they realized it sounded just like it always did.

The 'baka Pharaoh' meanwhile, seemed to finally find his tongue when Bakura's insult made its way to his ears. "Tomb-raider?" he asked, as if unsure of what his eyes were telling him. "You're female? How can this be; you were known as the Thief King."

Another dark chuckle escaped the female former-spirit. "Oh, please, Pharaoh. As if any man in ancient Egypt would have admitted that a woman could have broken into – and made their way out of – Pharaoh's tomb and survived. Besides," she smirked, tossing her white-blonde mane over one shoulder in a mock-show of coyness, "no one ever got a good enough look at me to know for sure, one way or the other."

The others could see how that was possible. Bakura's cloak had been shrugged back along with her hair and they could see that she was dressed in a pair of body-forming leather pants, and, unlike Yami, who wore golden sandals, she wore sturdy boots on her feet. Her torso was clad in a sleeveless shirt, with an open black tunic overtop. She was thin, long and lanky, though well-muscled, with almost no curves. The faint white streaks of a scar crisscrossed her cheek in three intersecting lines. The only clue as to her true gender were the soft swells underneath the tunic, which would definitely not be so readily apparent to frightened guards in a darkened tomb who were more concerned with seeing the face of the thief than the rest of him – or her, as the case may be.

"I guess we'll have to call you the Thief Queen then, now, eh, Baku-chan?" Marik asked, giggling slightly. Everyone assembled was glad to note the lack of madness in his mirth, but none of them were crazy enough to laugh at the former spirit's joke. Except Mokuba, but he made sure that they were silent chuckles, and he was hiding behind his brother and Duke.

Bakura scowled darkly, the meanness in her expression not daunted one bit by her change in physical gender. "No, you won't. Not if you know what's good for you, baka. I earned that title fair and square, and I'm not about to let a group of arrogant men take it away from me just so they can feel better about themselves by demeaning my accomplishments."

Ryou was glad to see the evanescence of her former worry, even if it had been replaced by heated anger.

"Figures," Joey snorted.

"What, mutt?" Kaiba asked, mentally figuring out how much work it would take to redo the documentation preparations he'd made for Bakura to show that she was female, and not male, as he'd formerly presumed.

For once ignoring the patent insult, Joey said, "It figures that a female Bakura would be a man-hating feminist."

"What's a feminist?" Mokuba asked Duke from the corner of his mouth. Duke chuckled and, pulling the younger boy out of range of the ensuing conversation, said, "Well, kid…"

"Whoever said I hate men?" Bakura asked, the curiosity in her tone not obscuring the thread of steel woven through the core of her voice.

Joey gulped and wisely remained silent.

Tristan, however, decided to take his life in his hands. "Well, you're not the only woman in the group, so we're not entirely a group of men, Bakura. You're forgetting about Téa." He grinned sardonically. "And though I will admit that Kaiba is an arrogant ass, most of the rest of we poor males aren't all that bad."

Kaiba huffed. To hear Mai tell it, we are. "Arrogant I may be, Taylor, but the thief has a point. Throughout history, though a Queen may have been touted as being the female equivalent of a King, in truth that's not the way it really was. The Queen was always second to the King, and if there was no King, she was subject to her advisors." Casting the tomb-raider a droll glance, he finished with, "And if Bakura was known throughout ancient Egypt as the Thief King, then obviously, she was second to no one."

Giving the CEO a sweeping bow, Bakura said, "Thank you for your kind words, Kaiba." Before anyone could be too shocked by her apparent show of appreciation, she straightened and added in a scathing voice, "But I can defend my own honor, thanks."

Kaiba just smirked and leaned back against the tree Bakura had previously been lounging on. Although, in chess, the Queen does have all the best moves. Cutting his eyes across the clearing, he lighted on his brother, who was still talking to Duke. Straining his ears, he heard Devlin's fumbling words and chuckled. He was trying to explain the women's suffrage movement to an eleven-year-old. Kaiba wished him luck – the dice duelist would need it.

"All right, all right," Yugi cut in exasperatedly. "Now that we've heard from the peanut gallery, do you think the rest of the nuts could get a chance to chime in?"

Everyone blinked. Téa, who had previously been nodding in agreement to Kaiba's speech, cast an involuntary glance at Marik and Malik.

"Whaaaat?" Joey asked, confusion plain in his voice.

"Bakura may be alright, but what about the other two spirits?" Malik clarified. Turning to his other, he asked, "You feel okay, Marik?" his lavender eyes running down the tall form, checking for any problems.

The other Egyptian nodded. "I feel fine. But I just about busted a gut laughing over this whole deal." He chuckled darkly, while casting snickering glances at Bakura, who was lounging against a tree, observing the proceedings with a sardonic smirk on her face. Malik tried, but he couldn't hold back his giggles, either.

Giving the two blond Egyptians a withering glance, Yugi asked Yami, "How about you? Any side effects?"

"No, I, too feel fine, Yugi," Yami assured him. "But what are we going to do about Bakura?"

"Why do we have to do anything?" Yugi asked, rummaging in the backpack he'd brought along. "Bakura can take care of herself, and Ryou can help her adjust to this time. That was the plan before, and I don't see why it has to change now. Here," he said, handing a pile of cloth to the former spirit.

"What's this?" Yami asked.

"Clothes," Yugi said succinctly. "You can't go around in this time dressed like that, at least not when it's not near Halloween. Bakura and Malik can blend in if they take off their cloaks, but most men in this time don't wear the equivalent of skirts."

"It's a loincloth, hikari," Yami said acidly. "It was standard dress in most of ancient Egypt."

Yugi smiled softly. "I know. But technically, a loincloth is a type of skirt. And even if it wasn't, you can't go around with a bare chest, besides, no matter how good you look like that. Remember those restaurant signs you thought were ironic?"

Yami's lips lifted in a slight smile. "No shirt, no shoes, no service?" He'd thought they were funny because back in ancient Egypt, most people didn't wear shoes, or shirts. Of course, service wasn't nearly as good back then, either…

"Exactly." Yugi nodded and, grabbing Yami's arm, he started tugging his other away from the group, which had started to break up. "There's a restroom over here where you can change before we head back to the Game Shop. Come on."

Yami just smiled in barely-disguised amusement and let himself be dragged off by his over-exuberant light. Maybe he could convince Yugi to make out a bit before coming back to the group…

Bakura had taken refuge underneath the shade of a nearby willow tree. "Ra, it's scorching out here. No pun intended." She wiped a hand across her face, beads of sweat gathering on her fingertips.

Ryou chuckled softly. "Well, leather might be practical and durable, but it is an insulating fabric. And that cloak of yours can't be helping matters any."

"It is rather hot to be dressed like this," Bakura allowed. Untying her cloak and letting it slip to the ground, she shrugged out of her tunic as she explained, "This is what I wore when I went tomb-raiding. Clothes like these were more suited for sneaking into underground crypts; everything is cooler underground, especially in Egypt." Shrugging her hair back over her shoulders, she extended her arms straight up, clasping her hands together and bending them around her back in a stretch. Her shirt rode up, exposing a toned stomach and stretching prominently over a chest that, though not extremely well-endowed, had obviously never worn a bra.

Téa, catching sight of Joey and Tristan's wide eyes, and open, drooling mouths at the sight of Bakura's breasts, huffed and simultaneously elbowed them both in their ribs. The two would-be lechers inched out of range of her bony weapons, still surreptitiously checking out the only other – and definitely more deadly – female in the group.

Marik and Malik were huddled together underneath a large oak tree, seemingly having a rather serious conversation. Or, at least, Malik was serious; Marik was still giggling, and frustrating his hikari.

Seeing that all three soul-pairs were otherwise engaged – as were Tristan and the mutt, both of whom were drooling over the lone female former-spirit; his brother was still keeping Duke occupied – Kaiba decided to leave his instructions with Téa, the only other one of their sundry group not otherwise occupied. At least he felt that she was conceivably responsible enough to both remember them and repeat them correctly.

If Mai had been here, she would have been a good choice as well, but she was in Tokyo for the next three weeks, so he had to make do.

"Gardner," he said, and continued as her eyes flickered to him in acknowledgment, "I have a meeting I need to attend; make sure Moto and the others are in my office at noon on Saturday. They'll need to be prepared to spend several hours filling out paperwork and having pictures taken for documentation." At her nod, he continued, "They'll also need to come up with names for the yamis, and explanations for who they are. It would be almost impossible to pull off the twin brother – or sister – thing this late in life. Except maybe in Ishtar's case."

"And they'd be the only two who'd want people to think they were related anyway; it would be counterproductive for Yugi's situation; Ryou's, too, perhaps," Téa agreed. At Seto's raised eyebrow, she said, "Don't tell me you haven't noticed?"

"I thought I was the only one of this motley crew who had," he returned dryly. Well, Mai did, but then she likes playing matchmaker…

Casting a glance at Joey and Tristan – who, judging from their hand gestures had apparently gone from looking at to discussing Bakura's 'attributes' – she sighed. "What with all the trials and tribulations we've been through this past year – Duelist Kingdom and Pegasus, Battle City and the God Cards, Noah's World – I think most of the guys just want to take things at face value; accept things the way they are without trying to look for hidden meanings in everything. It makes things simpler."

"Simple minds, simple things," Kaiba said quietly, prompting a snort from the brunette.

"Simple minds are amused by simple things; complex minds are amazed by the simplicity of things. Is there really a difference?" she asked, exasperated.

Giving her a shrewd glance, Kaiba said, "I suppose not much of one," before heading across the green expanse of grass to drag Mokuba away from Duke's enthralling – if slightly inaccurate and greatly sensationalized – telling of the women's rights movement. By the time he'd managed to pry Mokuba away from his latest idol – and Kami-sama help him, Devlin was just as arrogant as himself, twice as popular, and not even half as responsible; couldn't Mokuba have picked someone better to temporarily idolize? Like maybe his penpal in New Zealand; that way he wouldn't have to put up with seeing the dice freak all the time – and was heading out of the park, Yugi had returned with a more modernly-dressed – and suspiciously rumpled – Yami. The former Pharaoh had apparently started up his argument with Bakura again, and Seto couldn't help but listen in; he'd never seen his archrival so flustered.

And all because the tomb-robber turned out to be a girl? Shocking, yes, especially considering how…insane, cruel and merciless she had been while under the influence of her darker impulses, but still…

"I am the greatest thief who has ever lived; I did something no one else has ever done. I broke into Pharaoh's tomb and lived to tell the tale," Bakura declared smugly, her low voice carrying clearly across the few yards separating the group from the Kaiba brothers.

Yami scoffed. "Tomb-raider, people today do that all the time; they're called archaeologists. You might have heard of them; Ryou's father is one, after all," he said smugly.

"But chichi had a team of diggers and a bunch of modern equipment to help him," Ryou pointed out. "And in most cases, a map to the booby traps."

Bakura huffed. "I had only a few knives, some rope, and my wits. I didn't have anyone to 'help' me, and I had to figure out the booby traps all by myself. I dare anyone today to do what I did with what I had. Indiana Jones is a crock, and Lara Croft relies too much on her technology."

"But while you may have been the greatest thief in the ancient world, you couldn't hack it in today's world," Kaiba put in, no longer content to just listen in on the conversation. "All security today is run by computers; you'd never be a great thief if you couldn't get past even the simplest alarm system."

Smirking, Bakura asked, "Like the one on your mansion?"

Kaiba's eyes narrowed. His mansion had the best alarm system in the world. He should know; he'd designed it himself. "What do you mean by that, Bakura?"

"Yes, what do you mean by that, thief?" Yami chimed in.

Yugi wisely stayed silent.

"You're not the only one who relies too much on your technology, Kaiba." Flashing the two rivals a grin which showcased her fangs, Bakura turned to her light.

Ryou blanched. "You didn't," he said, scandalized.

She dipped her head in a nod.

"When?" Almost before the question was spoken, Ryou shook his head vehemently. "No, never mind; Thursday night, right?"

Blood red eyes sparkled and she said, "Check your lower side pocket."

Ryou sighed in resignation and, reaching down his right leg, unbuttoned the indicated pocket of his cargo pants and pulled out a small wrapped parcel. Handing it to Bakura, he watched as she unwrapped it and tossed the contents to Kaiba.

"Thought you might like this back," she said graciously, a smirk lurking around her lips. "I found it in the CD tray on your computer two nights ago; it might be important."

By the end of her recitation, Kaiba's face had developed a tic, and Mokuba's eyes were the size of saucers. Letting out a hissing breath between his teeth, Kaiba growled, "I need to hire better security," before putting one hand on Mokuba's shoulder and steering him away, presumably to fire his current security and see about the hiring of new ones.

Giving Yami – who looked liked he'd just swallowed more crow than you'd find in a Kansas corn field – a smug, satisfied 'Take that!' look, Bakura chuckled and sauntered over to talk with Malik. Yami turned an alarming shade of red, almost as bright as his hair, before shaking his head and storming off with Yugi in tow.

Téa, seeing that Ryou was now free of the two fighting yamis and any spectators, strolled over, intent on broaching a rather…delicate subject. One that she never thought she'd be attempting – especially not in this situation.

"Ano…Ryou?" she started.

"Téa, hey. What's up?" Ryou asked, a tired smile gracing his face.

"In light of Bakura's…surprising revelation, I thought that I should bring up a difficulty that might not have occurred to you," Téa said, phrasing her concern carefully.

"I don't have any problem with Bakura being a girl; I never have," Ryou said, his tone slightly bristling.

"I know you don't; neither do I," Téa hastened to assure him. "But the fact of the matter is, the circumstances of being a girl have changed in the past 5,000 years, and neither you or Bakura might realize how much."

Ryou's righteous indignation – which, admittedly, was hard to rile up and slow to start – faltered in the face of her serious demeanor. "I'm not sure what you're getting at," he said carefully.

Heaving a sigh, Téa realized that she'd have to be blunt. "I know you like her, Ryou; she likes you too, I can tell. If you're not together now, you will be soon. Only unlike Yugi and Yami, you and Bakura have to deal with the fact that she could get pregnant."

Ryou blanched. "Ano…"

"Hadn't thought of that, had you?" Téa said compassionately. "And the difficulty I was referring to is that 5,000 years ago, the only birth control they had was a bunch of different herbs brewed into a tea that didn't always work. Bakura probably doesn't know anything about contraception, or menstrual cycles," she clamped down on her innate urge to blush at this delicate subject, but noticed Ryou was turning flame-red, "she doesn't even know all the intricacies of modern underwear. Never mind makeup or jewelry, or anything like that. You're going to have to talk to her about this before you two…do anything," she finished uncomfortably.

Ryou nodded faintly. "Oh, I can just picture it," he said, a slightly manic smile stealing over his lips. "She prefers action over words; me trying to talk to her about sex would be almost anathema to her. Couldn't I just get her a book?" He gave Téa a pleading look. "They've got those ones for preteen girls that should work, right?"

Téa shook her head, at a loss. Bringing up yet another point, she asked, "Does she know how to read? Not just Japanese, but anything? Most people back then didn't, you know. And even if she does, she probably won't understand most of it."

"And I will?" Ryou demanded, eyes wide with dread. "I'm not a girl, I don't know about any of this stuff."

Sighing, Téa finally faced the inevitable – with Mai off Kami-knew-where, she was the only girl in this bunch, and it fell to her to help Bakura, and by extension Ryou, out. "I could talk to her," she offered. "I know what she needs to know."

Finally shaking off his glazed and slightly panicked expression, Ryou turned to her. "You're a good friend, Téa, a really good friend, to even offer something like this, but I'm not so cowardly that I'd subject you to giving Bakura a sex talk," he said, a grin lurking around the corners of his lips. "Just…could you help me find one of those books? I'll read it first and hopefully I can convince her to listen long enough to tell her all the important bits."

Inwardly sighing in relief that she wouldn't have to face the wrath of a woman for whom the physical expression of the emotions embarrassed and enraged were probably almost interchangeable, Téa said, "Sure. I'll meet you at the library on Monday, okay?"

"Yeah, that'd be great. Ano…I don't suppose you could also help me out with the clothing bit, could you?" Ryou begged. "Men's and women's clothing is sized differently, and while it was fine for her to wear my clothes when we were sharing my body, I really don't think that's gonna work anymore. Especially seeing as how she's almost three inches taller than me. I need to get her some clothes of her own to wear, soon."

"I think there are size-conversion charts available on the Internet; I'll find one and print it off for you," Téa told him. "As for underwear…I don't really think Bakura needs a bra."

Ryou sagged in relief at this bit. "Well, that should make her deliriously happy – or it would, if she even knew she was supposed to wear one. But are you sure?"

Nodding, Téa said, "She really doesn't have enough up front to warrant one. If she gets any bigger, then that might change, but for now…just make sure she's aware of the fact that some guys," here her eyes cut across to Joey and Tristan, "are going to stare at her because of her lack of undergarments. I wouldn't want her to be surprised by anything."

Ryou uncharacteristically smirked. "I think 'Kura can take care of herself in that regard, but I'll let her know, if only so she can make sure to threaten the appropriate people," he said dryly.

Téa chuckled and made her goodbyes, heading off down the path to the bike racks so she could ride home.

By this time, Joey, Tristan and Duke had decided to leave. Tristan because Bakura caught him checking her out, Joey, ostensibly because he was hungry (but had, in reality, also been caught leering at Bakura and rightfully feared the thief's wrath), and Duke because he didn't want to close his shop down for too long.

Said thief had finished chatting with Malik and Marik and, after bidding them goodbye, went to collect her light so they could head home.

Walking across the grass until she reached the bench occupied by the white-haired boy, she came to stop less than a foot away from him. When he grinned up at her, shading his eyes from the sun, she gave him a small, real smile, one that no one but he had seen in over 5,000 years.

"You okay, Ry?" she asked quietly, her voice losing its hostile tone and softening as she spoke to him.

"I'm good, 'Kura. How about you?" he asked, scooting over so she could sit down. He'd folded her discarded cloak and tunic, and they sat on the end of the bench along with his backpack, which was filled with the remnants of their spell casting.

She sighed heavily, but nodded. "Yeah, I'm good. I was…unsure how everyone would take it when they found out."

Ryou knew her hesitation had been because she refused to use the word 'worried', even though it was probably more appropriate in this situation. Tactfully sidestepping that situation, he said, "I think Yami's really okay with you as you are; it's just that you're a very unladylike woman."

She half-chuckled, half-huffed. "You mean he's got an impossibly strong code of ethics, and since chivalry dictates that you don't hit – or try to kill – a woman, he's having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I've beat him up on more than one occasion. Bah! I'm the same person I ever was, if not as evil since my last stay in the Shadow Realm. He doesn't have to treat me any differently – we can go on annoying each other same as always."

"I don't think he really wants to be nicer to you; it'll just take him some time to realize that just because you're a woman doesn't mean he needs to be nicer to you," Ryou said.

"He needs to come out of the Dark Ages and realize that all women are not weak, simpering idiots who need to be pampered and protected," Bakura snarled.

Laying one hand on his yami's tense shoulder, Ryou said softly, "But there's nothing wrong with wanting to protect those you care about, right, 'Kura?"

Instead of answering, she shook her head slowly and leaned back into him. Realizing what she wanted – even though she herself most likely didn't – he curled his arm around her shoulder, pulling her closer to him.

They just sat there for a few minutes, enjoying this new, corporeal closeness, and each other. The wind whistled faintly through the branches of the willow tree overhead, bringing the smell of spring cherry blossoms to their noses, calming the both of them down from the hectic morning.

Finally, Ryou hesitantly broke the silence. "Do…do you think that everything will change now?" he asked. "I mean, because our circumstances are different?" He'd been remembering Téa's words; they'd hit him with all the force of a baseball bat. For while he and Bakura had come to terms with each other and mended the fences the latter's forced possessing of his body had originally broken soon after her second (and much shorter, thankfully) term in the Shadow Realm, they had only acknowledged their romantic feelings for each other a few months ago. They were both still testing the bounds of their relationship, hesitant about making the wrong move or moving too fast.

In short, they hadn't even gotten to first base yet.

Bakura was about as outwardly emotional as Kaiba on a good day – aside from random bursts of temper and sharp comebacks – and she wasn't really a very touchy-feely person. Or at least, she hadn't been. Ryou had noticed she liked cuddling with him, current circumstances included. Ever since they'd declared their feelings for each other, more often than not, they went to sleep in one or the other of their soul rooms, just holding each other while they slept.

It seemed to keep the nightmares – both hers and his – at bay.

He was brought out of his reminiscent musings by Bakura's delayed answer to his question. "I don't think change is necessarily bad," she said at length. "Especially not in this case." Flashing him a quick, albeit weak grin, she continued, "As long as…things…change slowly, we should be able to adapt to the differences without too much trouble."

After mulling that over for a few moments, Ryou gave a single, definite nod. "Sounds good to me."

"Hmm…" Heaving a sigh, Bakura pulled away – somewhat reluctantly, Ryou noted with pleasure, which was definitely promising – and got to her feet. "Ready to go, Ry?"

He grinned back at her and nodded. "I'm ready, kokoro no dorobou."

A lump formed in her throat at the endearment, as it always did whenever Ryou used one. This one was new, but so appropriate for their relationship. Though she was uncomfortable with being so open with her feelings, she couldn't let that go unanswered. "Most priceless object I ever stole," she returned softly, stepping into his welcoming embrace. "My treasure…"

Their lips met, not hesitantly, but softly, in a kiss that was almost chaste. It wasn't their first kiss, but it was the first time they'd ever been together outside of their soul rooms, and it was…new, and amazingly sweet, considering who they were. Despite being soft-spoken, Ryou wasn't exactly sugary, and Bakura, for all that she wasn't evil anymore, had never been anything but harsh.

Their lips moved against each other like two dance partners who knew each other's moves as well as their own. Giving and taking with no need to ask for permission, tongues tentatively twining around each other like Ryou's fingers were twining in the strands of her hair, holding her close with a security she found…strangely comforting. It was…nice, having someone who wanted to protect her.

Shivering slightly as a cool breeze ruffled her hair, Bakura pulled back from the kiss reluctantly. Maybe in the Shadow Realm, breathing wasn't an obstacle, but this was the real world. Leaning her forehead against Ryou's, Bakura stared into her light's dreamy, love-clouded eyes. A breath caught in her throat at the depth of emotion she saw in those chocolate-brown orbs.

Ryou's own breath formed a lump in his throat as he looked at his dark. Her cheeks were flushed with passion and breathlessness, her lips were swollen from the fierceness the kiss had achieved at its apex, and her eyes were bristling with tears from unspoken emotions. His heart swelled with everything he was feeling, and before he knew it, the words were out, the cat escaping from the bag before he could stop it. "I love you, Bakura."

Her eyes going wide with shock, she stuttered out, "I… Ryou, I…" Tears filled her eyes and she whispered, panicked, "I can't say it…not yet…"

"I know, 'Kura, I know," Ryou soothed her, his hand coming to comb gently through her hair. "But that doesn't mean you don't feel it." He poked lightly at their mind-link, which, when the intensity of the kiss swamped over them, had flared wide open, leaving their emotions bared to each other.

She nodded numbly in acceptance of his words, so relieved and happy that he understood. For the greatest part of her life, words had only been used to hurt, not to express the softer emotions. It would take time for her heart to heal enough to do so. But her inability to tell Ryou how she felt would change, albeit slowly.

And as Bakura held her love in her arms, she reflected that even if everything did change, it would only be for the better.