A Quick Note: This is my first attempt at Heartshipping (YuugixRyou), and I'm a little apprehensive. This is set one year after series end. While I know that the characters may seem a little more subdued and mature than usual, it was my intention to show them as having done some growing up over that time. Anyhow, more complete Author's Notes at the end. Now, off we go!

Disclaimer: These two are too cute for words, and I wish that I could claim to own them, but no. Alas...

Warnings: Shonen-ai, possible OOC-ness (mostly from Yuugi), angst, fluff, WAFF, and series-end spoilers. Don't say I didn't warn you...

-Strength of Spirit- -Begin-

It had been some time since any of them had seen Ryou – in the year since their other halves had left them, the shy, gentle boy had drifted away from the group. The others had never been that close to him, and though Yuugi had wanted to reach out, he had feared that his company might only serve to remind the other hikari of what he had lost. And so he had waited, trying to give the boy space to come to him if he wished.

It seemed that, at last, that patience had been rewarded. He wasn't sure what had brought Ryou to his door this evening, but now they stood silently on the roof of the game shop, staring out at the city.

Yuugi watched the as the dying light fell upon the other boy, casting his pearlescent hair in a thousand shades of gold and red. Ryou's eyes, however, remained shadowed, depthless pools.

"You're lonely."

Ryou turned, his wide eyes glistening ever so slightly. "You would suppose that I would've gotten used to it by now," he murmured. A strange look, like a ghost of pain, flitted across his face. "After my mother and sister were gone, I thought I couldn't get any more lonely." He turned back to the skyline, eyes blank again. "But then...Father started staying away more and more, longer and longer. I cried because I thought he had forgotten me, but at least I thought it couldn't get any worse...which was comforting, in a way." He sighed. "Only now... even the darkness has left me. And I miss him. I miss him because he noticed me, if only because I annoyed him. He reminded me that I was alive."

Yuugi took a step towards the boy, watching the last flickers of the westering sun trace down skin and hair like pale flame. "You're very much alive, with or without him." He searched for the words, feeling dark eyes turn towards him. "There's something about you, something rare and special." He paused. "I guess it's your strength of spirit."

Ryou stared at him for a moment, then moved away, settling on the roof ledge with his feet dangling over the edge. "You must have me confused with someone else," he said with a sad laugh. "I can't even protect myself from the weakest of threats. What strength could I possibly have?"

"There's more to strength than defeating threats." Yuugi followed him, moving to sit beside him. "You've been betrayed, mistreated...and yet you're still standing. Even now, when you feel so alone, you're still refusing to give up. That's real strength." He smiled at Ryou. " And deep inside, you already know it." A quizzical look from the white-haired boy. "Think about your dueling deck – it's the ability to come back, again and again, from the edge of destruction that makes it so strong. It's a reflection of you."

Ryou was staring at him now, cheeks flushed, brown eyes beginning to show a little of the warmth that had been so absent as of late. Yuugi gazed back at him, secretly thrilled to see his friend's heart returning. He leaned in a little closer. "You know, though, you're not really alone. Not anymore. I promise you, right now, that I'll always be your friend. Nothing will ever change that." His tone was much more serious than usual, but his eyes smiled.

Ryou's eyes went wide, and then a real, honest smile spread across his face. "Thank you," he breathed, looking into the other's eyes. Suddenly, a cherry-red blush tinted his cheeks, and he looked away. Eyes downcast, he murmured something inaudible.

"What was that?" Puzzled, Yuugi leaned up next to his friend, to better hear him. Blushing even more, Ryou tried again to speak. "I said...it's just that...maybe what I feel for you...runs deeper than...pure friendship..." he ducked his head, and Yuugi could see him shiver, but the white-haired boy didn't move away.

A blush painting his own cheeks, Yuugi smiled and gently slid an arm around the other boy's shoulders. "Look at me," he whispered. Ryou looked up, his heart in his eyes. Slowly, Yuugi leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to the other's lips. After a shocked moment, Ryou returned the kiss, reaching out to brush his fingers against the violet-eyed boy's cheek.

When they parted, Yuugi could see Ryou's eyes shining in the newly-risen moon. There was the happiness that he had been longing to see. Smiling softly, Yuugi brushed their noses together. "Once again you proved your strength," he said gently. Ryou, pink lips still softly parted, looked at him in confusion. "Even though you were afraid of being alone, you still took a risk because you knew you wanted something more. Not an easy thing to do," Yuugi continued, admiration showing in his gaze.

Ryou's face broke into a shy grin, and he moved to take the other's hand. " I'd risk much more than that for you," he whispered. Yuugi felt his heart swell with happiness at the words and the tone. He gave the pale boy's hand a gentle squeeze, and leaning against each other, hand in hand, the two boys watched as the night opened up before them.

-Strength of Spirit- -End-

A Much Longer Note: Hmm, that was a little...abrupt. And really Ryou-centric. Ah well, I still like it. Anyhow, Ryou's character here is based primarily on my own interpretation of him. I know that sometimes in the series he seems like a total pushover, and I suspect he might see himself that way as well, but I think he has more understanding of passive resistance then he's ever given credit for. He doesn't really have any control over most of the bad things that happen to him. All he can control is his reaction – and I think his calm refusal to lie down and die is very telling. He always rises for one more fight, even if he knows that all he can do is lose.

Now, as to the matter of his card deck – one of the things that struck me about Ryou's deck is that it becomes most powerful once its best monsters are sent to the graveyard. That seems to fit well with that quiet strength I see him as possessing. And I know, it was mostly his yami's deck, but the way I see it, if they really are two halves of a greater whole, then Ryou's personality must have had some part in the deck creation, whether he knows it or not.

Anyhow, hope you liked!