I'm very sorry for the wait. I have no excuse. This chapter is a tad longer to make up for it.

Ch. 9

For both Ryou and Malik, waking up turned out to be far harder than falling asleep.

Now that the majority of the pain medicine had worn off, their bodies began to protest the harsh treatment they had received the night before. Any minor movement or gesture was agony on their marked backs, and each step they took caused the muscles in the boys' legs to burn with fatigue. Groans of pain and sharp intakes of breath accompanied the two human servants as they rolled out of bed and prepared themselves for the night, both hoping the workload would be lightened on account of their wounds.

The evening hadn't been made any more pleasant by the doctor's own special greeting. After a quick check of their injuries (which by now had mostly scabbed over due to the healing salve), he spouted off orders for them to visit Otogi in the supply area of the slave quarters. Of course, it would have been easier and far more convenient for the Head Servant to simply visit Ryou and Malik himself to tell them his plans for the night, but this castle had never been run with a slave's convenience in mind.

With his orders given, the doctor proceeded to offer them a series of angry grunts and shouts, demanding they dress and clear out of the healing tent to make room for more deserving patients. Malik had wished to point out the lack of injured or ill demons lined up outside the tent, but wisely held his tongue. He didn't need to start his first night back to work with a snarky remark and another whipping for his effort.

Unsurprised to find they were not offered fresh tunics, they grudgingly clambered into their bloody clothes from earlier and washed their faces in the water bowls beside their beds, mindful of the bandages adorning their injuries. Figuring they would have time to visit the bog and bathe themselves fully, they decided they would simply have to wash their clothes then and hope the soggy material didn't upset their lesions.

So, having been figuratively (and almost literally) kicked out of the tent, the two began the painful trek to find Otogi. Their bare feet slapped lightly against the cool stone floors of the servant quarters as they went, their eyes finding it hard to adjust to the dim lighting of the large room. Working their way from the healing tent (located in the far right of the room), they walked several yards before they reached the edge of the sleeping area, which spanned almost the entire right side of the slave quarter's expanse. Finding it difficult to bypass the random assortment of cots strewn about with the aid of the candlelight, they made their way slowly through the throng of demons getting ready for work, and those who were simply milling about.

Crossing his arms and flicking his eyes upwards to peer at the stone ceiling arching high above their heads, Malik signed deeply, the lashes on his chest objecting the action. Lowering his gaze, he noticed a large number of glowing eyes peering at them from the gloom, and glared halfheartedly. It would appear that the other slaves were more interested in watching them pass than getting ready for the grueling labor of the night. The blond youth couldn't exactly blame them for their inattention to duty, but nevertheless, he found it extremely irritating.

"I wish these idiots would get back to their own business." He muttered, leaning close to Ryou so as not to be overheard. "I hate this feeling of being constantly watched."

Nodding in agreement, Ryou continued on, careful not to stub his toes on the uneven stone floor or the edge of a cot. He could hear his friend carrying on under his breath, his grumbles drowned out by the collective murmurs of the demons crammed into the sleeping quarters, their numbers easily reaching into the fifties. It would appear that a majority of the slaves had already woken and begun their work, or were simply lazing about in the cooking area located in the far left corner the room, hoping to scrounge up what they could of breakfast before beginning their nightly labor.

Thinking about the kitchen area had Ryou's stomach rumbling angrily, and it was only then that he realized he and Malik had yet to eat. Rubbing his midsection apologetically, the pale-haired boy snatched at his friend's shirt sleeve in order to get him to pause. When the blond came to a halt and fell into a confused silence, his gaze flickering from Ryou's hand to his deep brown eyes, the younger boy lowered his voice and spoke.

"Malik, are you hungry?"

"Well, I…" Taken aback, the taller boy assumed a perplexed demeanor, his head tilting to the side and his brow furrowing. After a few moments, understanding dawned, and he realized why Ryou had asked. "Yeah, I am, actually." He answered, grabbing the other's hand on his sleeve and squeezing it gently. "Are you?" Honestly, Malik was used to going for long periods of time without adequate food, so the hunger gnawing at his stomach wasn't too bad. However, if Ryou needed something to eat, far be it from him to refuse the shorter boy a meal.

"A little." Ryou replied sheepishly, acknowledging the kind gesture with a nod of his head before releasing Malik's shirt sleeve. He noticed that the blond immediately let go of his hand when he moved to pull away, and was thankful that his friend wasn't babying him too much. "Would you like to go get something to eat really quick, before we go see Otogi? I don't want to start work on an empty stomach." He continued, dropping his arms to his sides, his fingers playing with the material of his tunic.

"Yeah, that sounds fine to me." Grinning, Malik motioned for his companion to follow him and made his way through the cots toward the back of the room. It took several minutes to get past the last of the beds and crowd of demons, but they were finally able to break through the throng and reach the kitchen area in the far corner. Bypassing the few low wooden table and chair sets around the perimeter of the area (only a few of which were occupied), the two boys came to a stop near the three large fire pits set against the wall.

There was a short line of demons before them, so they took their time in collecting one wooden bowl and spoon each from the stone-carved counters jutting from the adjacent wall. Glancing over quickly to peer at one of the cooks - if they could even be called such a thing – Ryou noticed the woven basket set beside the dark-skinned demons bare foot, the material of his silver tunic rubbing against it idly as he moved. Noting the strong smell coming from the basket's direction, the pale boy supposed it contained the rice and herbs used in making their breakfast for the night.

Making a small noise in his throat, Ryou raised his eyes to look at the cooks face, surprised to see that this demon looked somewhat normal. Though his head was adorned with devilish brown horns like most of the other demons here, he had sleek auburn hair which cascaded down his shoulders in gentle waves. Used to seeing servants with dark, dull hair (or, in the case of a few of the guards, no hair at all), the sight of something different made the pale-haired servant blink and try to better focus in the dim light.

The cook's skin appeared darkly tanned in the low candlelight, the toned muscles of his exposed arms appearing to shift gracefully as he worked. Dipping his wooden ladle into the pot, he would collect a generous amount of white goop and dump it unceremoniously into each bowl presented to him. He did all this with a stern expression, his pale lips set in a thin line and brow furrowed slightly in thought.

Of course, it wasn't his skin color or hair that caught Ryou's full attention. What was truly shocking, besides the fact that he was relatively handsome for a demon, were the cook's eyes. Unlike the rest of the servants (with a few exceptions, such as Otogi), his pupils were not a muddled brown or deep crimson, but were instead a bright blue.

Blushing slightly, Ryou cast his gaze to the ground and tried not to outright stare. What on earth was wrong with him? Was he really checking out a demon? 'Have I really sunk that low?' Sighing halfheartedly, the pale boy followed his friend from the counters to the line nearest the counters and hoped his momentary mental lapse hadn't been noticed.

While patiently awaiting their turns, the two boys were constantly aware of the hateful glares they were receiving from the slaves around them. Time seemed to drag on endlessly as the line dwindled and the demons and two human boys moved closer to the enormous cooking pot set over a fire pit near the corner. Both Ryou and Malik's stomachs growled as the smell of food, no matter how fowl tasting it may turn out to be, reached their noses, and their steps forward became hurried as they came near the front of the line.

Minutes more passed, and they finally reached the cooking pot and the handsome demon cook, their bowls held out expectantly and their eyes downcast. Ryou's face burned as he stood there waiting to have his bowl filled, not daring to steal another glance at the young demon when it would be so utterly obvious. Both boys had realized early on that it was best if they humbled themselves in front of the cooking staff, since it wasn't worth suffering starvation to uphold one's pride. Now more than ever, Ryou was extremely happy that his stubborn friend agreed with this notion, taking on a meek demeanor whenever he came into contact with a demon from the kitchens.

There was a noticeable pause in the cook's movements, his ladle stopping inches from the surface of the white bubbling porridge. Several tense seconds passed by, the murmurs of the slaves behind them easily heard in the sudden stillness of the moment while the heat from the fire pit licked at both of the boys' ankles. Swallowing thickly, Ryou truly hoped the cook would take pity on them and offer them a ration of food, if only so Malik didn't cause any sort of scene out of blind fury at their unfair treatment.

Thankfully, the demon's hesitation only lasted a short while before he dipped the ladle into the pale goop and gave the two humans a scoop each. As the food sloshed dangerously in his bowl, Ryou released a nervous breath and bowed his head further, quietly thanking whatever god existed for taking pity on them.

With full bowls in hand, the two made their way from the line of glaring demons and over to one of the open tables on the outskirts of the kitchen area. Sitting in the stiff chairs, they placed their bowls on the tabletop and dug into their porridge. Surprisingly, the food didn't taste too horrible tonight, though that may have had something to do with how hungry they were. Polishing off their breakfast quickly, they stood and took their bowls and spoons to a bucket sitting next to the stone counter, placing the items gently into the soapy water within.

Having finished their food, they now turned their attention to the front of the slave quarters. There, tucked into the right corner of the room near the entryway, they would find the supply area and, hopefully, Otogi.

Walking a straight path from the kitchen area toward the front of the room, they spotted a familiar figure near the entrance to the quarters. The man's back was turned to them, and he appeared to be giving orders to three of the demon children occupying Bakura's hordes of slaves. The kids - two boys and a young girl - looked to be around eight years of age (though it was hard to tell the true age of demons) and were all wearing shabby black tunics. All three had closely cropped dark brown hair and matching eyes, and their skin color was an odd shade of olive green. Small black horns erupted from their temples, while an array of multi-colored scales decorated their cheeks, elbows, and lower arms. Considering how closely they resembled one another, it could only be assumed that they were somehow related.

From the wild hand gestures, mop of ebony hair, and stiffened shoulders, the demon spouting off orders to the children could be none other than Otogi. Throwing each other knowing glances, Ryou and Malik took their time in getting to the head servant, wary of catching him in what appeared to be a tantrum. Slowing their pace, they shuffled along toward the front wall, ears perked to see if they could catch any of the dialogue being thrown about during Otogi's rant.

All too soon, they saw the head demon step back, allowing the three children room to escape him and carry on to with their work. Each grabbing their own bucket of cleaning supplies, the children quickly bowed their heads in a show of respect to Otogi before hastily making their way to the slave quarter's entrance. Ryou watched them practically run from the room, and felt pity rising in his gut. No child, demon or otherwise, deserved such treatment.

Unbidden, memories of his own childhood assaulted him. Even now, he could picture himself – small, weak, skeletal – living out his days at that proverbial feed lot; that prison where he and Malik were being raised as nothing more than servants or livestock. Honestly, he wasn't sure which was worse: living the rest of your life in servitude to someone who couldn't care if you lived or died, or finding your end at the hands of a hungry demon.

Glancing down at his bare feet, Ryou rubbed the sudden moisture from his eyes and tried to compose himself. 'It won't do me any good to cry over my past.' He thought, frowning. 'Crying never helped me before, and it won't help me now. In any case, it won't earn me pity from my new master or the rest of his slaves.'

A sudden shout made the white-haired boy jump and tear his gaze from the floor, only to find an irate Otogi stomping toward him and Malik with murder in his eyes. Swallowing thickly, Ryou could only find solace in the fact that his tears had subsided.

"There you are!" Otogi yelled, jaw set sternly and eyes blazing as he came to a stop mere inches from Ryou's face. "What took you so long? There's work to do!"

Taken aback at the outburst, the smaller boy took a step back. He had figured Otogi wasn't one to enjoy the early evening and all the work that came with it, but he honestly hadn't been expecting such a reaction to their appearance. One would think that by this point in the night, the unsatisfying task of forcing the servants out of bed and getting them started on the night's work would have been almost completed. Having that done would be a huge weight off the ebony-haired demon's shoulders, so there shouldn't be a logical reason for Otogi's fury at their tardiness.

The demon in question began shouting expletives and threats at the stoic blond beside Ryou, Malik's expression one of utter boredom. At first surprised at the other's lack of reaction, Ryou slowly began to understand. Smiling softly, the pale boy acknowledged his friend's silent message: This was Otogi they were dealing with. Nothing more, nothing less.

Suddenly, the irate man's actions made a bit more sense.

At the annoyed grunt from Otogi, Ryou returned his glance to the incensed demon, noticing the man glaring at him heatedly. Realizing that perhaps smiling at a time like this was not a good idea, Ryou stood up straight and let his arms relax at his sides. Dropping his smile, he attempted to take after his best friend and put on the sternest expression he could muster. The head demon offered him a simple sneer in return, but opted to turn back to Malik and spout off more derogatory words, leaving the pale boy with the impression that he had managed a stony exterior more appropriate for the situation. Proud to have finally done something correct, Ryou listened closely to whatever mountain of a tangent Otogi was currently climbing.

"-Completely unacceptable! I don't care if you were in the sick tent! I don't even care if you've managed to lose a limb or severed a major artery! When evening comes, come hell or high water, you are to drag your worthless carcasses here to receive your orders for the night! Having lived through a life-threatening injury is not an excuse when the good doctor has released you from his care!"

Not really listening to the tirade, Malik stood passively and let his mind wander. Every few moments he'd look from one corner of Otogi's face to the other to make sure that his eyes didn't glaze over and give away his inattentiveness. The last thing he needed or wanted was to give the dark-haired man another reason to nag them incessantly.

Finally, after what felt like hours of complaining followed by massive amounts of insults, Otogi took a deep breath and put on his "I'm very important and you need to listen to what I have to say" face. This usually meant that he had reached the end of his tirade, and was now composed enough to give them their long-awaited orders. All Malik could think was, 'It's about damn time.'

Standing tall to give off an air of superiority (and probably to steal attention from his comically reddened face, Ryou supposed), Otogi cleared his throat with a hearty cough into his fist and began to speak once more. Albeit a little raspy from his earlier yelling, the head servant's voice was noticeably calmer as he addressed the two human boys with his arms crossed causally in front of his chest.

Ryou found it hard to believe Otogi could consider himself menacing in the gaudy purple button-down top and tight black leather pants he was wearing, but chose to ignore the demon's posture. It wouldn't do to think too long on the subject and end up laughing in the head servant's face.

"Anyway," Otogi continued, deciding to get to the point, "enough about that. There is work to be done around the mansion and I can't stand around all night wasting valuable time to inform you both of your inherent human deficiencies."

'I bet you could.' Malik thought dryly, trying desperately to keep his face a controlled mask of attentiveness and polite concern. In actuality, his greatest wish at the moment was to throttle the demon in front of him, consequences be damned. Oh, what a wonderful scene that would make – Otogi turning blue in the face while the other demon servants stood nearby, dumbfounded by the scene.

Malik smiled wistfully as his imagination ran wild with the idea. Yes, the high it would give him would almost be worth the swift death he would receive for murdering the head servant.

"Wipe that smirk off your face, human." Otogi growled, his emerald eyes piercing as he glared at the taller of the two boys. The demon turned up his nose, snorting softly as the blond complied with the order. Taking in the young man's relaxed stance and the return of his bored expression, Otogi huffed, but let the issue drop. "I don't have time for your games. Master Marik's welcome dinner will be held later tonight, and the dining hall needs to be cleaned and set before then."

Placing his hands on his hips, the dark-haired demon gestured toward the cleaning supplies in the corner of the room with a nod of his head. "One of you will be taking a bucket of water and some rags to the hall to begin helping those who are already there. The other will see to the young master and get him ready for dinner." Staring pointedly at Ryou, Otogi made a quick decision. "Since Master Bakura has already trusted you with the care of his heir, then you will be the one to care for our young master."

Groaning inwardly, Ryou swallowed past the lump forming in his throat and tried to imagine what hell he would be put through by the undoubtedly excited boy. It was obvious Yukio cared for his uncle, so the idea of a dinner spent with the oddly tan vampire would make the child horribly impatient for the coming hours to pass. Ryou could imagine few circumstances worse than an overactive and increasingly bratty charge.

"I suppose that leaves me to clean the dining hall." Malik stated, cutting through the silence which followed the demon servant's announcement. He was irritated that Ryou was to be sent to the opposite end of the castle to take care of Bakura's heir, but at least the younger teen wouldn't be forced into doing labor so soon after his injuries had healed. Malik wasn't worried about himself since he knew his limitations well, but the white-haired boy still seemed a bit tired and unsteady on his feet. He would have to look at Ryou's new chore as a blessing, rather than a nuisance.

"Of course that leaves you with the dining hall, idiot. There are only two of you, after all." Otogi sneered, ready to get rid of the two slaves before him. "However, before either of you start I want you to visit the bog and bathe. I can't have you smelling like filth around our masters, now can I?"

Ryou shook his head at the rhetorical question while Malik simply stared forward, looking put upon. Satisfied with the silent answers, Otogi waved the two boys off to their work and turned to begin addressing a group of female slaves gossiping near the front of the room.

With a wary glance at one another, the human servants wandered over to the area filled with empty buckets and rags, the blond snatching one of the wooden containers as he walked past. Heading through the open doorway of the slave quarters, Ryou and Malik made their way to the small pond located nearby. The sound of bare feet loud on the cobbled stone of the hallways, the friends chatted quietly about the work ahead, Malik making sure to promise the other that he would stay out of trouble and not cause a scene.

Once arriving at the edge of the bog, the boys stripped and quickly washed themselves in the stagnant pool, Ryou's nose scrunching at the amount of insects atop the water. Dunking themselves beneath the surface of the slightly acrid pond, the servants scratched their scalps and ran their fingers through their sweaty hair in an attempt to clean the locks of dirt and grime.

Finishing in a matter of minutes, the pale-haired youth stepped out first and proceeded to squeeze excess water from his hair. He heard Malik come up behind him and stepped to the side, allowing the other to snatch their tunics from the empty bucket, the both of them having preferred the container over the muddy ground. Dressing slowly so as not to upset their newly mended wounds, the boys enjoyed the tranquility of the moment - something which came rarely in the house of Bakura.

Clothed and ready for work, Malik took the bucket and rags in hand as he waved Ryou ahead. Following the pale youth through the dimly lit halls, he watched as the wet locks at the boy's lower back weaved back and forth with each of his careful steps. The innocent movement brought attention to the slim waist hidden under the loose fitting tunic, one of his friend's many features currently causing the blond concern. It wasn't the fact that Ryou was underweight that bothered the older teen, but rather the idea that the pale servant could inadvertently draw attention to himself with his looks alone.

Malik scowled as old thoughts assaulted him once more – dark thoughts concerning the fearful event of either Bakura or someone else from the house eventually noticing Ryou's appeal. With the youth's rounded face, pale complexion, and soft features, it wasn't hard to envision such a situation coming about, especially since the young man was completely oblivious to how he appeared to those around him.

Sick at the idea of a demon or the vampire lord himself finding interest in Ryou, Malik hoped the other teen would be able to keep a low profile in the castle – at least until Yukio lost interest in his new caretaker. Hopefully at that point, their 'master' would forget that Ryou ever existed and allow the young man to go on with his meager life as a servant. It wasn't much of a future, but it was better than the pale boy becoming the play thing of a sadistic vampire lord.

Reluctantly parting ways at the top of the first floor stairs, Malik headed toward the kitchens and dining hall while Ryou made his way to Yukio's quarters. Huffing with irritation that he was going to be forced to put up with dozens of anxious demons fluttering about and tossing around orders, Malik crossed his arms and glared at the polished floor tiles of the hallway. Honestly, putting all this work into a party for that horrible vampire's equally awful brother was like a sickening and dismal joke.

If anyone deserved a party, it was Ryou and him. They had put up with enough bullshit to fill the entirety of the manor's basement, and it didn't appear that their hardships were anywhere near finished.

Mind wandering into dangerously bleak territories, Malik didn't notice his arrival in the dining hall until a shrill-voiced female servant began harping at him to get out of her way. Offering her a lazy smirk in reply, the blond teenager gave her a mocking bow as he stepped clear of the walkway, his elbow rubbing against the smooth satin of a wall scroll. The female demon turned up her flattened nose at the action and walked swiftly past the human boy, her shoulder-length honey colored hair looking frazzled and haggard. Malik could only imagine that working all evening in the kitchens and scrubbing the floors of the dining hall didn't leave much time to get gussied up.

Taking a moment to look around the room before heading off to work, Malik took in the sight of the gorgeous high ceilings, decorated with numerous paintings of war murals and battles long past. The walls, too, were adorned with scrolls and assorted art, each picturing a bloody scene from a massacre and other macabre scenarios. Raising a fine eyebrow, the young man wondered why vampires wished to revel in the horrors of the world. One would think that after an eternity of seeing the absolute worst of man and the beasts of the world they'd be tired of it all.

Aside from the room's less-than-wholesome ornamentation, the rest of the room appeared like any other you'd find in a hall of royalty. The long wooden table stretching from one end of the hall to the other was stained a rich smoky black, while the matching chairs contained beautiful seats with cushions the color of fine red wine. More than the furniture, it was the collection of expensive cutlery and plates that caught Malik's eye and drew his attention. He had never seen silverware and glassware that shined so wonderfully in the bright candlelight of the chandeliers hanging over his head, and he wondered what it would be like to be offered the chance to eat off something so clean.

Shaking his head, he realized that scenario would never occur, since he was just a lowly slave in Bakura's household until that Marik person took him to the Southern Realm to keep as a pet. Humorlessly, he wondered if perhaps the blond vampire would be kind enough to give him a shiny new bowl to use when he reached his new home.

Ryou sighed quietly as his mood dropped to a level of "miserable" he hadn't experienced in quite some time. Taking care of Yukio was about as simple as pulling an uncooperative tooth from a mule. The boy was constantly demanding jobs of his caretaker that Ryou frankly didn't care to do (such as being his playmate when tearing the stuffing out of his plush toys became dull), and the servant was nearing the edge of his sanity. If he didn't get a reprieve soon, he only hoped he could make it out into the safety of the hallway before he began spouting a slew of curses no child needed to hear, even a bratty vampire child.

"Servant! I need to take my bath before Uncle Marik's dinner party! I can't show up dirty or Father will be furious." Yukio spouted succinctly, not moving from his seat on his cushy bedding.

"I realize that, young master." Ryou said, doing his best to clean up the few toys left haphazardly strewn on the floor of the boy's room. He was glad the tiles and decorative area rug had remained mostly clean and stain-free in his short absence, since that meant less work for him now that he was fresh out of the doctor's care. "I wanted to put away your toys before dinner, since you might be tired afterward and wish for me to go back to the servant quarters."

Ignoring Yukio's muttered words of "I won't be tired," Ryou continued addressing the child's worries. "If you wish, you can get undressed and wait in the bathroom while I call someone to fetch some hot water and locate a nice suit for you."

"It's cold in there. I don't want to."

"Alright, if you wish." It honestly wasn't worth fighting with this child. No matter his point or how lightly he put his words, Yukio would usually refuse point blank to do anything Ryou suggested of him.

After another few minutes of Yukio's complaints and unneeded reminders, Ryou had gathered the remainder of the toys on the floor and put them away. He had also stuck his head out into the hallway and stopped a group of passing servants to inform them of his need for hot bath water. Though they gave him some smarmy comments in return, they eventually agreed to fetch the water, if only so they didn't have to remain near Yukio's quarters. It appeared that no one enjoyed being around the little tyrant for longer than was necessary.

Well, except the child's uncle, but he seemed to be a bit touched in the head, so that could explain his affection for Bakura's heir.

With the bath eventually filled with steaming water and Yukio's fancy suit laid out crisply on the bed, it was time to get the boy to take his bath. This turned out to be a bigger challenge than Ryou had feared, since, despite his earlier words, the child was like any other and wished to drag his feet when it came time to clean up. Luckily, the pale servant had enough patience left to wait out Yukio's fumbling and complaining, and eventually goaded him into stripping and hopping into the bath.

Quickly collecting the discarded clothing, Ryou dropped them into a laundry basket in the corner of the comfortably-sized bathroom and set about the chore of washing his charge's hair and shoulders. He refused to baby the boy any further, and after rinsing and ringing excess water from Yukio's hair, the pale-haired teen gave the child a stern order to finish washing while he went to fetch the clean clothes from the other room.

Once the bratty heir was dressed and his hair relatively dried thanks to some vigorous squeezing with a plush towel, it was time to sit and wait to be called for dinner. Ryou was generally surprised at how well Yukio cleaned up, his miniature black suit making him look quite dignified while bringing out the icy-blue hue of his wild and untamed hair. It actually gave the child some character, though his caretaker was reluctant to admit such a thing. Ryou was interested in seeing if Yukio was able to contain his more irritating personality tonight in order to better fit the image of a prim and proper heir.

The time ticked by slowly as the young servant tried desperately to keep Yukio entertained. He tried telling the boy stories, listening to any of the useless and snide chatter his young master had to offer, and even going so far as to attempt to soothe the child with songs. Nothing he tried worked for long, and by the time an exhausted female demon came knocking to inform them it was time for dinner, Ryou was thankful for the reprieve.

That was, however, until the woman dropped a verbal bomb neither he nor Yukio had been expecting.

"By the way, human, Master Bakura says he wishes for you to join his son at the table. He wants you to be there in case the young master needs anything or must be escorted back to his rooms."

Shock kept the pale-haired teen in place, his mouth agape in flustered bewilderment. He was going to be joining the master vampires for dinner? Was Bakura insane? Why would he want a lowly servant sitting at his table if not for-

Slowly, the truth behind the vampire's actions began to dawn on Ryou. It wasn't that Bakura particularly liked his company, it was because of Bakura's vehement dislike of his family's company. The master of the house would give anything to get this night over with as smoothly as possible, and if that meant keeping Ryou close in order to drag Yukio out of the dining hall if the boy began to act up, then that was what simply had to be done.

In fact, the young human was sure that if Bakura could get away with it, he would have called the entire dinner off and sent Marik back to his own home, never to be heard from again. Unfortunately, etiquette called for him to treat his brother with at least a little dignity – otherwise, the horrible man might take it upon himself to teach his pale sibling why it was unwise to earn the ire of a family member.

Slowly nodding his assent to the demon in the doorway, Ryou waited for her to leave before turning to Yukio and taking a moment to wipe non-existent dust from the sleeves and shoulders of his blazer. Surprisingly, the child put up with the compulsive action, his own surprise at the idea of his caretaker sitting with him at dinner leaving him more compliant for the moment. He wasn't sure how to react knowing that the pale-haired human would be there to claim some of his Father's irritable remarks and casual putdowns. It would be nice to know he wasn't the only one being held under the older vampire's scrutiny for the duration of the meal.

"Well, then." Ryou said, finished with his nervous nitpicking. "Are you ready for dinner, Master Yukio?" At the young vampire's jerky nod, the two headed for the door and out into the hallway, following the female servant until they reached the entrance to the dining hall. The demon bowed to Yukio and excused herself, hurrying off to take care of the rest of her night's chores.

With a deep breath, the pale-haired servant turned to his charge and ushered him toward the door. Giving the child a few moments to collect himself, Ryou opened the door as silently as he could and allowed Yukio to walk past him into the brightly lit room. Taking in the decorations, the painted ceiling, and the two equally poisonous glances directed at him from the beautifully crafted dining table, the teen gulped and patted down his hair self-consciously, hoping that tonight didn't end in disaster.



WHOO! This chapter is finally done.

I don't know if you all noticed, but I'm trying desperately to change my writing style. I really need to work on keeping the unnecessary detail to a minimum in order to move the story along. I realize these chapters seem to drag on and nothing gets done, but please believe me when I say I'm trying to fix that.

Anywho, the next chapter will be filled with Bakura and Marik shenanigans and dinner banter, so look forward to it!