Greetings. Surprised? Me too. But I did say I was going to finish this. You can expect another chapter after this one, and possibly another after that, and then this story will finally be complete.
Ryou awoke to the smell of waffles.
He opened his eyes to find himself lying in near darkness. Very slowly he pulled himself up into a sitting position, rolling his neck around from side to side. Stiff. He felt very stiff. How long had he been sleeping? What day was it? What time?
One glance out the window answered that one. The rising sun's faint light was just beginning to arouse the outside world. Ryou couldn't remember if he'd ever woken up so early. His first instinct was to go back to sleep, but the aroma that had stirred him from slumber was tugging as his growling stomach; Ryou sat in a daze, wondering when he'd last eaten, but his mind was drawing a blank.
'Tea.' He needed a cup of tea, and a big plate of waffles. Ryou stretched his body for a few more minutes until moving felt natural again. He wanted to go straight downstairs, but the dry, stale taste in his mouth drew him to the bathroom where he first brushed his teeth and then downed a glass of water. A glance in the mirror made him grimace. His hair was oily and limp. When had he last washed it? Again, he couldn't recall.
The unmistakable sensation of de ja vu suddenly swept over him.
After running some water through his hair, he headed straight for the kitchen, mouth watering at the thought of warm, fluffy waffles covered in a thick layer of maple syrup, just like his mother had made for him when he was a little boy.
"Mom?" He croaked softly, but was not his mother standing over the waffle iron.
"Oh, hey I didn't expect you to be up so early."
"Good morning," the blonde sang, looking much to chipper for such an early hour in the morning. "Are you feeling any better?"
"Better?" Ryou repeated, feeling incredibly thick-headed.
"Oh!" Come to think of it, Ryou realized, his throat was feeling better. "Actually, it doesn't even hurt."
"Good. Whatever that doctor gave you, it must have been strong. You slept like a rock. " Malik strode forward, a plate stacked high with waffles balanced on his palm. With his free hand he felt Ryou's forehead. "And you're way cooler than you were yesterday. I think your fever finally broke. Here," Malik set the plate in front of him. "I was making these for myself, but you can have the first batch."
"Thanks," Ryou took the knife and fork set out and cautiously began to eat, unsettled by the situation. However, his apprehension ebbed away as a bite of waffle melted in his mouth. "Malik, these are really good. I didn't know you cooked…or that you woke up at the break of dawn…Um, why are you awake and cooking this early…at my house?" He questioned, awkwardly.
Malik grinned. "I didn't break into your house, and this isn't a booty call. I've been here all night taking care of you. But," he said quickly, "I'm here of my own free will, so don't worry about it, ok? I didn't like the thought of you here all by yourself. Besides, I figured someone would need to drop off your missed homework assignments."
"Thanks Malik…I don't know what to say other than thank you."
"No problem." Malik joined Ryou at the table and munched away on his own stack of cakes.
Now that his stomach had some fuel, Ryou's brain felt more awake. "Hey…What day is it?"
"…So I've been out all week?"
"Yea. That's why I figured it I should check in. Marik—" Ryou's stomach did a flip "—told me how he took you to the doctor, so I figured it was my turn to be your nurse."
Ryou cracked a small smile. "Nurse Malik? Well...I hope I wasn't too much of a burden."
"Hey, don't worry about it. I told you, I wanted to help out. Besides, you basically slept the entire time I was here."
"I don't even remember you coming over," Ryou confessed.
"Seriously? Man, you really were out of it then." Malik swallowed a bite before continuing. "I came over on Friday. Marik swiped a key while he was here, so I took that and let myself in. I'll let you have it back though."
"Anyway, I let myself in, found you asleep in bed. You really just kept sleeping most of the night. I didn't do much more than watch TV and check in on you. When you woke up or started coughing I gave you medicine. I heated up soup but you didn't want to eat anything." At this point Malik pushed away his waffles and his expression changed. He was still smiling, but there was something in his eyes. The room suddenly felt a lot smaller.
"So," he began, reaching out to take his hand. "I know that we've haven't ever gotten to hang out together just the two of us, but I want you to know that I consider you a friend. I mean, if you ever need to, you know, talk about something, let out some steam, or just do something fun you can always come knock on my door."
"Thank you." Ryou was beginning to sound like a broken record, but he was both surprised and touched by the kind gestures Malik had shown him. Gratitude made him squeeze Malik's hand. Malik returned the squeeze but his expression didn't change, and it was starting to make the other boy feel uncomfortable.
"Soooo," he tried again. "Is there anything you want to talk about?"
"Um." Ryou could feel his own heart beating. What exactly was Malik talking about? "Like-" Ryou swallowed, wishing he had a glass of water. Or tea. "—like what?" He wished Malik would stop looking at him like that, but the other boy's eyes were focused intently on him.
In the gentlest tone imaginable Malik replied, "Marik wouldn't want me telling you this, but—," Ryou could feel the blood rushing to his head "—when I said I wanted to visit you he told me to make sure you didn't hurt yourself."
"Yea. He said you weren't in a "good place." I figured you probably just felt awful from being sick…but," as Malik continued to speak, flashes of the past week were starting to come back to Ryou. Ryou had stayed home sick. Marik had visited, Bakura had gotten angry…multiple times. The details were missing. He could only see pictures in his head, but the pictures were enough. "—while you were sleeping sometimes you said things or…" Malik seemed to think better of what he was about to say, "…and yea, so I child-proofed the house to be safe." When Ryou said nothing, Malik spoke again. "I don't mean to pry. I just want to make sure you're okay. I know what it is like to…uh…I mean, I live with Marik, you know? And he's a great guy. I mean I love him—" Ryou's breath caught in his throat, "—but he can be a real psycho sometimes. I imagine Bakura isn't too different. Maybe not psycho, but rough?" When Ryou nodded mutely Malik took it as a sign to continue.
"And Marik and I fight a lot. Really good fights where we shout and throw things and beat up on each other." Here he actually smiled. "And sometimes he gets carried away. We both do. I say things that I shouldn't. Stuff that I know will really hurt him. Guys like Marik…and Bakura…they can take any sort of beating, but just the right words can hit them where it hurts, you know?"
'I know.' Ryou thought, and the word reverberated off the walls of his mind. 'know, know, no, no.'
"Since Marik is such a big guy, sometimes he hurts me more than he means to—but he regrets it." Marik gave Ryou's hand another squeeze. "I can tell, because he gets even angrier. He gets angry with himself; sometimes even then he still takes it out on me, but usually he just storms out to go deal with it on his own. My point is," he in took a deep breath. "I think, from what I've seen of Bakura, that he isn't so different than Marik. So I think its fair to say that you and I can relate on a lot of things that other people wouldn't understand."
Ryou felt something dark and gruesome bubbling way down inside him. His stomach churned and he no longer wished to finish his waffles. He needed something to settle his stomach, to wash everything back deep down.
"Do you want some tea?" Ryou asked, suddenly pulling away from Malik's hand to put their dirty dishes in the sink.
"No, I'm not much of a tea person," Malik mumbled before letting out a sigh. The kitchen was quiet again, except for the sounds of dishes being washed. When Ryou had finished and turned his attention to preparing the tea, he finally spoke, "…Where is Bakura?"
"I don't know. Marik hasn't seen him since he showed up here, drunk off his ass." Again Malik tried to comfort Ryou. "Marik said things got kind of rough, but I bet Bakura feels bad about it. If he's anything like Marik that's probably why he isn't here."
"Yea," Ryou agreed, watching the kettle dance ever so slightly as the water inside began to boil. "Bakura…he…" What could Ryou say? "…he takes care of me," he whispered, finally. "He protects me. He brought me medicine and food and…"
"And he loves you," finished Malik.
Silence filled the room until the kettle let out a scream. It took Ryou a few seconds before the wail dragged him from his thoughts and back into the kitchen.
"Malik," he asked, his voice pleasant. "Does Marik tell you he loves you?"
"No," the boy admitted. "Not outright. He's not the type to say it like that, but he says it all the time, in other ways. The way he looks at me. The way he treats me compared to the way he treats others. I can tell."
"And it doesn't bother you, that he never says it?" pressed Ryou.
"No. I'm not really the type to say it outright either." Malik grinned. "But he knows how I feel about him. Actions speak louder than words." Ryou returned to the table with his tea and mulled this over.
"Thank you," he said, finally, and he smiled. "For sharing with me. I think this has been a big help."
"Anytime," he breathed, looking quite relieved.
"I think I'm feeling better enough to take care of myself, if you wanted to go spend the morning with Marik," Ryou suggested.
"Yes," he replied, firmly. "Whatever Marik told you about me being in a bad place, I promise, it was the fever talking."
Malik didn't seem completely convinced so Ryou added, "Besides, I really need to take a shower." They both shared a laugh and Malik nodded. "Right," he said. "But if you need anything—"
"Just come knock on your door," Ryou finished.
"Don't be a stranger. If you don't drop by for a visit," he warned. "I'll be back here to make sure you didn't slip in the shower and give yourself a concussion."
"I promise you, I will not kill myself." They exchanged smiles and said their goodbyes.
Alone in the house once more, Ryou stood in the steaming shower for a long time, thinking over everything Malik had told him. He thought and thought, and the more he thought the more he realized perhaps he had been going about things the wrong way.
I want you to know that I consider you a friend.
Malik was his friend.
Bakura was his savior.
Marik was his monster.
And they were his everything. The only ties that kept him from floating away into atmosphere. Without them, what would become of him?
"Sticks and stones may break my bones," he informed his washcloth. "But…"
But he regrets it.
And that was what really mattered. Wasn't it?
Actions speak louder than words.
"Then maybe," Ryou said out loud, this time to no one in particular, "Its time I take action."
Hopefully this chapter was to your liking. Reviews would be very much appreciated, so I know someone is reading, even if it just one person. If you are reading, I thank you very much and apologize for taking so long.