Just like sunlight, thought Bakura dreamily.
Granted, there was plenty of sunlight around for him to be thinking about, and the supply was steadily increasing as the sun dropped westward and found ever more opportune angles through which to slide through the window. Real sunlight, however, was not what he was interested in today. He saw that nearly every day, after all. What he didn't see every day was Malik Ishtar, so that was what he was principally interested in looking at. The young man had returned to Domino for a brief stay, and he had been making the rounds of the city, visiting all his old acquaintances. Bakura was the lucky one who had been last on his list. That was probably not a surprise, since they'd dealt with each other primarily through their darker halves in the past, and even that was years ago, but Malik apparently didn't want to leave anyone out. He'd been sitting in Bakura's living room for the last fifteen minutes or so, making friendly small talk about his trip to Japan and what he'd been up to since last they met.
He really does have the most remarkable hair. When the sun shines on it like this, it's hard to tell where his hair lets off and the light begins. You really don't see hair that color very often. Much prettier than mine. Mine just looks all bleached and washed out...
"You're quiet," said Malik. "Am I that boring?"
"Oh, no, of course not! Don't even think it," said Bakura. "I apologize sincerely for not paying attention. I was just thinking..." He trailed off, suddenly realizing that it might embarrass his guest if he actually said what had been on his mind.
"Thinking what?" Malik persisted.
He seized on the nearest handy thought that was close to the truth. "I was thinking that I need to get a haircut."
"Ah?" Obviously, that was not what Malik had been expecting.
"Well, it is true," said Bakura, running a hand through his hair. "You can't deny that."
"Perhaps so," Malik agreed.
His eyes flicked appraisingly over Bakura, and the other young man felt himself fighting the urge to blush. He had been busy with college for the last couple of years, and the work of keeping up with his classes and the occasional evening of gaming with his friends had always crowded out such superficial worries as what to do with his hair. Now, though, summer was fast approaching, the weather was already getting unseasonably warm, and his hair was nearly down to his waist. Long hair would be a burden - a hot, itchy burden that got stuck to his face and the back of his neck. Even now, it was a chore trying to keep it clean and tidy. Its nearly pure-white color tended to show up even the tiniest amount of grime, and the ends were so ragged that it was impossible to make it look neat no matter how much he brushed and combed it. He was well aware that his split ends had split ends.
"Yes, you're probably right," said Malik. "Still, that's nothing to worry about, is it? Go to a salon and get it cut."
Bakura blushed a bit more brightly. "Maybe it isn't a problem for you, but it is for me."
"How can a haircut be a problem?"
"Well..." Bakura wished he hadn't said anything. He wished he'd told the truth. Admitting he had been ogling his guest's pale-gold tresses would have been nothing next to this. "I'm... a little bit... nervous about hair salons."
Malik laughed. Even in the depths of his mortification, Bakura found himself thinking that it was a nice laugh. He wasn't sure he'd ever actually heard Malik emit a pleasant laugh before, and he wished that it wasn't him that Malik was laughing at.
"You must be joking," he said. "After everything you've been through, how can you be afraid of something so..."
"It's ridiculous, I know," said Bakura. "But you would understand if you had been there the last few times I've tried. You just have no idea how awful it is."
"I confess, I always let my sister cut mine," Malik replied. "Maybe I don't understand. But they seem like safe enough places."
"Yes, but... I've had some bad experiences," said Bakura. "One time, I went to a salon, and the stylist there started rhapsodizing about how beautiful my hair was, and saying she couldn't bear to cut it. She made such a fuss that I walked out in embarrassment. Another time, I got someone to cut it, but there were some girls from my high school there, and they got into a fight over who got to keep all the bits that got cut off. It was a scary experience, believe me. Then I got fed up with it all and tried the local barber, and he decided I needed serious work, and cut off almost everything. I was so mortified, I wore a hat everywhere I went for months."
"I begin to get the picture," said Malik, raising one hand to not-quite-hide a smile. It was an tantalizing gesture, to almost but not quite see something so attractive. "Have you considered doing as I do, and getting someone you trust to do it for you?"
"I don't really know who I would get. I'm not sure anyone I know can cut hair," said Bakura. "It's a pity. My teachers here don't bother me about my hair the way my high school teachers did, but I want to get a part-time job, too, and they'll want me to look professional. I don't want it too short, though. I wish I could do what you were doing. Your hair is exactly the right length."
Now it was Malik's turn to self-consciously brush a few strands away from his face.
"That's a compliment I've never gotten before," he said. "Usually, no one notices. Working at a garage, I learned quickly that if I don't keep it covered, it turns black within a matter of hours."
"I notice," said Bakura quietly. "I like it the color it is."
Malik shrugged a little, uneasy with the compliment.
"If you like," he said, "I could try to help."
"What do you mean?" Bakura asked.
"I thought perhaps that if you had a pair of scissors..."
Bakura boggled. "Are you offering to cut my hair?"
"It's just a suggestion," said Malik. "I'm not a stylist, but I can make it shorter for you. It wouldn't be that hard, I don't think."
"Well... I suppose you can't make it any worse," Bakura said, thinking woefully of his ragged ends.
Malik's lips twitched into a wry smile. "I promise not to make too much of an issue over the destruction of your beautiful hair."
"Ah," said Bakura.
He said my hair is beautiful. Does he mean that, or is he being mocking? I hope he's not making fun of me...
"I see you don't like the idea," said Malik. "Very well. You don't have to."
"No, no! It isn't like that," Bakura assured him. "I was just... taken aback. I would much rather let you try than some stranger."
"I am almost a stranger, to you," said Malik, "but if that's how you feel, we can start right now - provided you have some scissors."
"I have some somewhere," said Bakura, his mouth on auto-pilot. Then his brain caught up to reality, and he said, "Right now?"
"Why not? I have nowhere else to be," Malik replied. "Unless you have a pressing engagement?"
"No. Now is good. I'll find the scissors."
A few minutes later, the scissors had been located, and Bakura was sitting in a chair with a tablecloth draped around his shoulders to keep his clothing marginally clean. Malik stood behind him with his tools laid out on the kitchen table: brush, comb, cutting implements. He ran his hands behind Bakura's neck and flicked his pale mane behind him where it could be easily reached. Bakura shivered a little as the other man's fingers briefly tickled his skin.
"I have my work cut out for me," was Malik's grim comment.
"I'm sorry," said Bakura, as if he had purposely grown it that way to inconvenience the young Egyptian.
"Don't apologize. I volunteered."
Malik took the brush and began carefully pulling it through Bakura's hair. His touch was gentle, and Bakura was grateful. One thing he had learned about long hair was that it was capable of forming Gordian knots that would make Alexander the Great think twice before tackling them; another thing he had learned was that encountering them unexpectedly with his hairbrush could hurt. Malik didn't pull at all. Even unraveling the toughest tangles was painless.
"I'm not hurting you, am I?" he asked, as he used the comb to pick loose a particularly stubborn snarl.
"Not at all," said Bakura.
"Good," he said. "I do my best, not to..."
"Me too," Bakura answered quietly.
"You understand," Malik said. "I knew you would. Maybe that's why I came here, even though we don't know each other very well. Even if you don't know me - about what I do, my likes and dislikes, my personality - you know a little of what it's like to be me. Or what it used to be like."
"I know what it's like to be controlled by the darkness."
"Yes. You're probably the only one who does," said Malik. "And even you are more innocent than I. You never asked to be possessed by the Spirit of the Ring. I created my dark side and freely gave him power over me. He did the things I wished in my heart that I could do, but knew I should not. At first, at least."
"You're wrong," said Bakura. "About me, anyway. Some of the things the Spirit did were things I wanted, sometimes. The people I was angry at, the people I wished I could hurt, but I was too weak to fight back against, he would... deal with. He'd make sure they wouldn't do anything to hurt me ever again. I'd feel terrible for wanting anything bad to happen to them, but..."
"I can't imagine you wanting anything terrible to happen to someone."
"I didn't," said Bakura. "I just wished they'd leave me alone."
"Then what he did wasn't your fault. That wasn't what you wanted. I was different - I truly wanted to hurt someone the way I'd been hurt." He sighed, and Bakura felt a gentle tug in his hair, like someone curling their hands into fists. Then they relaxed again. "Maybe that's why I'm doing this. Could there be anything more harmless than brushing someone's hair?"
"I don't know of anything," said Bakura. He felt Malik begin to brush his hair again, and he relaxed. He was very careful at school not to let any of the girls get their sweaty hands in his hair, despite their best efforts to do so. It was very seldom, in fact, that he let anyone touch it but him, but there was something soothing about a gentle touch and a deep voice, something very different and much more pleasurable than the squealing and pawing of his co-eds. "This is nice."
"You're enjoying this?"
Bakura felt himself go read again. "I didn't mean anything strange by that."
"I'm not offended. It's flattering to imagine I might bring pleasure to someone."
He could think of nothing to say to that which wouldn't make the conversation even more awkward than it already was, so Bakura said nothing. He concentrated only on feeling his friend methodically setting his hair straight a little at a time. He imagined how it must look: Malik's slim brown hands running across his pale hair. It made a pretty picture, he was sure, and rather envied Malik the view.
"There," said Malik. "That's the best I can do with it. Are you ready?"
"Ready as I'll ever be."
There was a clatter as Malik set aside the brush and comb, exchanging them for the scissors. Bakura closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as if he expected to have someone stick him with a needle. Instead, he heard the brrrrick sound of the first lock of hair parting company with the rest of him. He opened one eye to see a curl of pale hair, like a crescent moon, lying on the dark wood floor next to him. Another one fell down to join it, and then a few more. Soon they were piled up all around him like clouds, or soapsuds.
I wonder what I'll look like when I'm done? he mused. Then he realized: Whatever he wants to make me look like. The idea made him shiver a little deep inside. The idea of turning over control of his life to anyone, even something this inconsequential, was not something he was completely comfortable with. On the other hand, he suddenly realized that looking attractive to Malik wasn't an entirely unappealing idea. He hoped he wasn't blushing again, or Malik was going to wonder why the back of his neck was so red. Hot and sunny as it had been lately, there was still no way he could explain it as sunburn.
"There," said Malik at last. "All done. I think. I hope I got it even. Go look in the mirror and tell me what you think."
Hesitantly, Bakura got up and walked into his bedroom to have a look at himself in the mirror. His first thought was that he looked different. Most of his long shaggy mane was gone, and what was left had been clipped neatly into layers that still left some of its old spiky character, without making him look like a carnival wildman. Instead of being nearly long enough to sit on, his hair only just brushed his shoulders. He tossed his head a little, enjoying the new sense of lightness. He hadn't realized how much hair could weigh.
"It's perfect," he said. "You got it exactly right. Thank you so very much, Malik. No one could have done a better job."
"Someone could have," said Malik. "I'm just quieter about it."
He was quiet for a moment, and Bakura turned to look at him. He realized with a shock that the sun had gone down while Malik had been giving him his haircut, and most of the light in his room came from moonbeams. Even in the semidarkness, he could see that Malik had a thoughtful look in his eyes.
"What are you thinking?" Bakura asked.
To his surprise, Malik looked mildly embarrassed. "I shouldn't say. It will sound foolish."
"As foolish as confessing that I'm afraid of hairstylists?"
"All right, point granted. I was just thinking... that your hair is just exactly the color of those moonbeams. It sounds ridiculous, but the thought just came to me..."
"I don't think it sounds ridiculous at all," said Bakura. "I was... I was thinking something similar about you earlier."
"Were you really?"
"Yes. When you were sitting in the sun... and you asked me what I was thinking, and I was too embarrassed to say, so I said instead..."
"That you needed a haircut," said Malik. "I see. Well, now you have one... almost the same as mine, in fact. Actually, one could even go so far as to say..." A sudden look of mischief came over him. "You're just my style, Ryou Bakura. I'd like to get to know you better."
Bakura felt a sudden lightness come over him that was a hundred times better than the new lightness of his haircut. "I'd like to get to know you better, too. You know... it's past dinnertime. You like vegetable pizza, don't you?"
Malik smiled back at him. "Yes, I do. Are you proposing we should get some?"
"I think I'd like that. And I'd like to talk to you a while longer... about things besides hair."
"It's done well for us so far," Malik replied.
"Yes, but we can do better!"
They headed out the door together, into the night and the shadows. From a distance, all anyone would have been able to see of them were two shadows moving close together, with the moon reflecting off their pale hair. Different as they were by day, in the moonlight, they looked like a perfectly matched pair.