Disclaimer: No, Dustbunny still doesn't own YGO! in any way, shape or form. You don't have to rub it in
A/N: This is my entry to the second round of Computerfreak101's fanfiction contest. You can be relatively sure that I wouldn't be writing this couple otherwise. It's not all that high on my list. Anyway, please excuse the slightly wonky writing style in this; I thought I'd try something new.
Edit: Now that the round is over, I can post the beta'd version. Much thanks to my reader Jentsi
He looks around at nothing, the darkness too thick, and wonders how he got here-- and, for that matter, where here is. The last thing he remembers is bidding Yugi goodnight and retreating to his soul room for the night. Events simply don't add up; such action has never before led him into a void of dark silence. A feeling in the pit of his gut tells him to keep the silence. It also tells him, though he can't see why, that he shouldn't stay in one place for too long.
After a moment's hesitation, he sweeps his foot tentatively in front of him. He can't make out the texture of the ground, but there doesn't seem to be anything there-- no traps, no drops, not even something to trip over. Frowning, still not altogether certain, he takes a step forward.
A door appears before him so promptly that he jumps back in shock. For a moment he is sure he hears someone chuckling, but it stops the instant he looks around. Not feeling quite so alone, which is distinctly not comforting, he turns back to study the door. It looks like one that he might find in his soul room, which does not ease his weariness. Long has he learned that doors in his soul room cannot necessarily be trusted.
On the other hand, this door might be the only way out. He cannot, after all, recall what he had been doing before ending up here. Isn't the most likely explanation for the situation that he wandered haplessly through this very door into this place? In that case, shouldn't he go back through into the familiar catacombs of his mind? Besides, he's feeling more crowded by the moment, even if he can't see anyone or anything else. No, he shouldn't be here, wherever here is. This door, though... this door will take him where he needs to be. He isn't sure how he knows this, but he does.
Resolute, no longer unsure, he grabs hold of the knob.
The resulting pain that courses through his head is almost enough to send him to his knees. He reaches up with his free hand, the one on the knob refusing to heed his frantic commands to let go. Painfully white light explodes soundlessly before his eyes, and he can hear what sounds like a strong wind blowing-- no, crying. Someone... something is crying out in fear and pain. But that is the least of his worries; sweat pours down his brow as he feels himself retch. In the midst of it all, a snide voice that he can't place through his pain is speaking to him.
You don't remember?
Remember what? All he can remember right now is pain.
You really don't remember. Tsk. I remember it well...
So fast that it leaves him dizzy, the pain is gone. He's left shaking and sweating, holding the doorknob in a death grip to stay on his feet, but the pain is gone and he feels he could sing from relief is he weren't so tired. His ragged breath catches in his throat as, seemingly by its own accord, his hand turns the knob and pushes the door open. There's a flash of light, as if he's walking out into a clear morning, and he's blinded for just a moment before--
You weren't supposed to be walking the streets, were you, but you were doing it anyway. Perhaps hiding from lessons, or were you simply curious about life outside your precious palace? In any case, that's when you saw me first, even if I'd seen you many times before.
The sun was high and burning bright, and the market was crowded. You held your hood securely over your head and a good half of your face, lest you be recognized by the passing guards. Walking along uncertainly in the midst of what must have seemed like chaos to someone who grew up the way you did, it was no wonder you kept bumping into people. I could tell, even from a distance, that you were shocked at how rude they were about your apologies.
I recognized you immediately. How many times had I snuck through the gardens or peered over the walls? I knew the face and walk of every guard, let alone of the young prince. Not that you would have known me, of course. My business was better served by not being known. But for this special occasion, your first venture into the town, I decided to give you a treat. It was the least I could do for a fellow breaker of law.
So I watched and followed and waited, and didn't have to do so for long. You always were something of a scrawny thing, weren't you? It should not have been surprising that you, walking like a girl through a bar, would eventually be knocked down by one of those people who didn't care if you apologized because they couldn't see your face. Oh, but your look of shock as that burly behemoth repaid you stumbling into him with a rough shove was a sight to see indeed.
No one apart from myself bothered with you when you hit the ground-- though the keeper of the fruit stall might have, if you hadn't missed his wares by several inches. I let you sit there for a moment in your little daze before I hurried over to help you to your feet.
You didn't notice me swipe several figs from the display...
(I grumbled as I collected my bearings. Were all peasants so rude? None of them were even bothering to help me up... Oh, wait--)
You didn't notice when I snuck a few of them insecurely into the inside pocket of your cloak as I helped you to your feet...
(A boy who looked like he might be a little older than me-- although even boys my age tend to look like they're older than me-- knelt and helped me to stand and straiten out my clothing. Even knowing it was rude to stare, I had to work hard not to. His hair was white, as if he were much older than his face led to believe, and looked startling against his dark skin. There was something about his eyes, too. They made me want to trust him, even though they also seemed to warn me not to. Weird...
"You should be more careful," he said with a friendly smile-- which became a knowing smirk when he bent in close and added, "your highness."
"What-- how-- I mean--" I sputtered, clutching at my hood.
But he only chuckled and winked before turning and walking away, somehow melting into the crowd in spite of his eye-catching appearance.)
Oh, but you noticed when the fruit fell from your pocket-- and you weren't the only one.
(For a moment I stared after the boy, wondering how he knew who I was. It was unsettling, and I had the feeling that I should get back to the palace quickly. But as I tried to fight my way back through the crowd, something landed at my feet. I thought I might have dropped my money bag until--
Did you suspect that I was still nearby, watching as the only thing that saved your pampered hands was a guard come to see what the matter was?
When the flash of light is gone, it is dark again. There is no door, and he turns just in time to see the frame disappear behind him. He is sweating again, and his breathing is harsh. What just happened? Was that... could that have been a part of his past? It feels fuzzy, even now, as if he's just awoken from a dream. It felt... almost detached for a memory, and most of it felt more like someone telling a story. Such an odd sensation. Who could-- What was that?
He whips around, eyes searching vainly in the stubborn dark; he heard something, he's sure of it. Someone-- or something-- else is here with him. Call it paranoia, but he doesn't think whoever or whatever it is is friendly. Still casting his gaze around as if the darkness might part if he wills it to, he walks on carefully, his footsteps echoing louder than he'd like and his brain buzzing in his ears. Distracted as he is by whatever just happened and whatever is hiding in the dark, he almost walks into second door.
"Another one?" he mumbles under his breath, letting his gaze roll over the seemingly harmless entity before him. It looks the same as the last, but somehow he knows that it won't lead to the same place.
Not that he's going to try to get through. That would be stupid, making the same mistake twice. Granted he has nowhere else to go and this door might not even carry the same booby-trap as the last; granted a part of him is hungry for what might hide beyond; granted one hand is already reaching out to turn the knob, never mind heeding his command to fall back at his side--
Pain, white-hot, excruciating pain, hits him as his palm makes contact with the smooth metal of the knob. His head feels like it's being beaten with hot pokers and he'd bet money that something is trying to claw his way out of his stomach; his dry throat clenches, blocking the way. For a few seconds it feels as though his eyes might be bleeding, and it is not encouraging that the light this time is splotched with red.
I'm only glad I don't have such a short-term memory.
Who's there? He can't remember how to make his mouth work, how to voice the question.
So much you forget so easily.
Nothing about this is easy, he'll thank whoever-that-is to know.
Shall we venture to see what's behind door number two?
And just as it did before, the pain disappears, though not without a trace. He's pale enough that he could lead travelers through a fog, and so soaked in sweat that he may have just been pulled up from the bottom of a lake. It is through sheer will that he cows whatever beast is fighting to free itself from the pit of his stomach, and his head is buzzing uncomfortably. If he's ever been this tired before, the memory is hidden somewhere in the jumbled maze of his broken mind. But even as he shakes from the aftershock of whatever curse he's experienced for the second time now, his traitorous hand is turning the knob into--
I was disappointed when you didn't try again to escape the palace walls that made up what was in affect your prison. Instead you sulked around the garden, scowling at the heightened guard. They all thought you wanted to get back out, but I could tell that, to my annoyance, you resented that it had not been so difficult the last time you thought to run off into the village. Of course difficulty is a subjective thing; I got inside without much trouble.
A week after our first meeting, I was watching you laze about on the grounds as the sun began to sink. The sunset was bloody red, with just a hint of gold, and I must say that it set off your skin and hair rather nicely, even if purple would have been better for your eyes. Not that you noticed the lighting; no, you seemed to be in something of a mood that day. You had a selection of fruit with you, but you paused when you found a fig in your hand; you looked at it as though it had insulted you before biting into it with unnecessary force.
I licked my lips and decided I'd stayed quiet long enough.
(I was alone outside in the garden, not counting the guards way over at the gate entrance-- or at least that's what I thought until I heard someone behind me chuckle. I'm not sure who I expected to find blatantly disrespecting the prince, but it was a shock anyway.
"You!" I yelled as I jumped to my feet, dropping my bowl of fruit.
"Me," he agreed casually, perched on the low wall as if he owned it. He was smirking at me, too, the low-life.)
It was fun to watch you try to form words for a few minutes; you obviously couldn't decide whether to start flinging curses or demand to know how I got into the garden. I decided for you.
"It's all over the village, what happened with you and that fruit stand," I said, mocking the stern attitude of a parent. "Imagine a prince trying to steal from his own people. You ought to be ashamed."
That did it, and I must admit that I was impressed by what came pouring out of your mouth. There were even a few words that I was unfamiliar with, and I never understood where you might have picked them up. It was little while before you started forming appropriate sentences in any case.
"Why would you do something like that?" you demanded.
("Do what?" he answered, and he seemed so sincerely curious that I hesitated. Then I noticed that his smirk was growing across his face, and I spat out a few more curses before I answered him.
"You know what you did!" I sputtered. "You planted those figs on me so that it would look as though I'd try to steal them!"
"Oh, that," he shrugged as if he'd been expecting something else, which made me worry just a little.)
"Well, as a citizen of this fine community, wasn't it my duty to see that you were properly punished for leaving the palace? And to see that you were found out and led back?" I asked, and you turned a lovely shade of purple indeed as you puffed up in rage.
"That had nothing to do with anything!" you bellowed. "You were just trying to get me in trouble-- surely you know the penalty for stealing!"
"Of course I do-- doesn't everyone?" I asked. "That being the case, I don't see what you're on about."
"If you'd been someone else, you think they'd have accepted that you hadn't done a hasty job of stealing from that poor man's stock?"
"No they would not have-"
"But you weren't someone else were you? Your identity was ousted, that great oaf fell over himself apologizing and offering you free fruit, and here you are now-- all in one piece and quite well. And I knew it was you, didn't I?"
"Alright then," I said as I hopped down and walked up to you as one might an old friend. "So there's really no harm done, is there?"
"No harm?" you demanded, but half-heartedly. You couldn't think of a proper argument.
"No harm," I agreed. "Now that we're past that--"
(It wasn't that I trusted him or anything, but I didn't plan on calling for the guards. After all, he wasn't really doing me any harm, even if he was trespassing, and I was sort of curious about him. I wanted to know how he'd gotten in, for one thing. That's the real reason I was so snippy later- no wounded pride at being rescued about it- after that nosy young guard had raised the alarm and chased him off.)
It is with a lurch in his stomach that he finds himself back in the dark, as if he's fallen out of a moving vehicle. That... that memory or whatever it was felt much more real than the last one. He felt more like he was part of it, less like he was watching something. His legs continue to tremble slightly as he makes his way forward, no longer afraid of whatever it is hiding outside his field of vision; he has the feeling that he'll be allowed to pass on undamaged. Someone wants him to keep going, someone wants him to see these things.
By the time the next door fades lazily into existence, his heart is hammering with anticipation. There is no hesitation as he steps up to it and, with a deep, bracing breath, takes hold of the knob.
You haven't forgotten this as well? Dear, dear. Does "third time charm" help?
Familiar pain washes over him, but in short time it is washed away. His ears are left ringing, but none of the other aftereffects seem to be afflicting him this time around. Perhaps he's becoming accustomed to it? But no matter; he doesn't regret the loss in the slightest. And without further ado, he consciously turns the knob and pushes the door open, inexplicably with the air of a hungry man being led to a feast--
I'll never understand why, with your lavish facilities, you would beg to be allowed to swim out in the river. But beg you did, and you eventually got your wish, dear little prince that you were. It was cooler than usual, I remember, but you seemed pleased to be there. I was watching from the shadows; I hadn't expected you to be there that day.
(Even solid gold that sparkles with the precious jewels set within will never be as beautiful as the rising sun over the smooth surface of the river. Heated, perfumed water will never compare to the bone-chilling river depths that bury the scent of aquatic nature into your pores. Bathing attended by beautiful servant girls isn't quite the measure, I wouldn't think, of racing friends to the river and trying to swim farthest out. I could see it all from my bedroom window, and after wringing the matter dry, finally managed to convince my father to let me out to experience the thing for myself. Sure, I would be with an attendant rather than a friend, but that could be just as well, I reasoned, if it were Mahaado or Shaddah.
It wasn't. I was determined to enjoy the experience anyway.)
I had come down to the river for a bath of my own; I never dreamed I'd see you there, even though I'd overheard your pleading many times. After the incident at the market and my subsequent open intrusion upon the grounds, I thought they'd have you held tight under lock and key. This to say nothing of sending along an inexperienced keeper.
(It took a long time to convince Father to let me go, or else I would have complained at being escorted by an unfamiliar guard. I had hoped for someone I could think of as a companion rather than a nanny, but I was in good position to count my blessings. I think everyone was surprised at my maturity after all the near fits I'd thrown to get my way.)
I watched, hidden behind the large rocks just off the bank, as your guard settled himself and you walked forward to test the water. You couldn't have looked more pampered.
(When I watched the peasants from my window, they tended to jump right in; only a few hesitated. Considering that and the sun beaming down on the river, I wouldn't have expected the water to be so cold. Wetting my toe was enough to send me jumping back in shock; if I'd been any younger, I probably would have yelled. The guard chuckled at my anyway.
"Is this your first time at the river?" he asked kindly, not being more than a few years older than me.
"Yes," I answered, a little disgruntled. He chuckled again.
"The water takes getting used to," he said unnecessarily. "Anyone you've watched just jump in is accustomed to it."
He expected me to demand to be taken home; I could tell by the way he looked at me. But I hadn't put up all that fight for nothing. I turned resolutely back to the water and shamelessly stripped my clothing. If the peasant children could take the temperature, so could I.)
Your body was beautiful for being so stringy. More toned than one might expect, and skin taut and flawless. Dear, pampered little prince, had you ever before been marred? Not to my already trained eye.
Really, I couldn't have that.
(I kept feeling like I was being watched as I eased myself into the water, but whenever I snuck a glance over my shoulder the guard had his eyes respectfully averted as he scanned the bank. I didn't see the point; wasn't I more likely to be recognized if I had someone looking over me? I shrugged the feeling off, blaming it on the first experience of being undressed in such an open place. The sound of footsteps, though, I maybe should have paid attention to.)
Easy is dull, but I didn't complain as my dark magic, already strong at that age, I'm pleased to say, crept over the guard. You never even noticed his mind leave this plain, never realized that his body was all there was left of him. Not that he mattered. You and I, alone-- that's what mattered.
(There's something unsettling about silence in company; I'm not sure what it is. In any case, the guard was being a little too quiet, not even humming as he had been, and I felt lonely all of a sudden as I thought of the many times I'd watch boys running and jumping along with friends, splashing and skipping stones and shouting playful warnings about beasts that supposedly dwell in the river. Somehow I didn't think it would be a good idea to splash the guard, even if he did seem friendly. I was considering asking him if he knew how to skip stones, though, when I heard the voice.
I whipped around so fast that I slipped and went underwater. For one terrifying moment I thought I was drowning, but then my head was above water, my feet were firmly planted and I was breathing bracingly. And I was looking at that boy-- I still didn't know his name-- as he let his clothing fall slowly from his body-- more toned and larger than mine in more than one respect-- and came towards me. Quite suddenly, as I watched him eye me over, I had a good idea why I had been sent along with a guard.
"What-- how--?" I looked over his shoulder at my guard, who continued to stand and stare at nothing. Something was wrong.
"Never mind him," the other boy said, and his voice sounded very much like the cats that we keep at the palace. He was naked now, and I was struck anew by the fact that I had been for some time. I tried to duck deeper, even though the water came just past my waist, but he didn't seem to appreciate that at all.)
Did you think you would be faster than me? Or were you simply to naive to realize what the look in my eyes meant? No matter; you learned soon enough.
(He was in the water with hardly a splash, right in front of me, holding onto my arms to keep me in place. He leaned in very close and licked his lips, and for a moment I thought he was going to take a bite out of my neck. Instead his lips skimmed along my shoulder and up my neck so that he was breathing steadily into my ear.
"Pampered little prince," he whispered, and I couldn't correct him, "do you like exploring the way the common folk live? They don't have guards to protect them. They don't flash their names to get out of trouble."
"N-no," I agreed, thinking it the best course of action, "of course they don't." He chuckled, but not in a friendly way like the guard had.
"No, they don't. They don't have this expanse of perfectly cared for skin, either. They work, you know. They get hurt; they get cut, bruised, battered.
"Yes, I-I imagine so."
"You imagine so?")
Imagination can be a useful tool, but misused it is little more than a child's plaything. No matter how you might look, no matter how you'd been spoiled and sheltered, you were not a child. If that meddling priest hadn't put his nose into the business then, his timing worse even then that idiot guard of our last meeting, I'd have made it irresputable fact indeed.
This time there is no lurch into sudden darkness. Before he has time to catch his breath, someone who he has no time to glance at, let alone identify, has him in what might be a bear hug if it were a little less feral, and a foreign mouth is upon his. It's a dizzying feeling, not unlike the aftershocks of whatever curse haunted the doors. The kiss isn't comfortable on any level, and a blare of alarms is going off in head. But there muffled, like Yugi's alarm clock unceremoniously buried beneath a pillow in the morning. His body has a fuzzy feeling about it, as if his consciousness is set apart from it by a layer of cotton. A chuckle echoes through his chest, but it doesn't come from him.
There's one too many tongues in his mouth, he realized suddenly, disturbed that he wouldn't notice right away. Teeth are gnawing painfully at his lips, and it feels like they're bleeding; the strange tongue seems pleased. He tries to struggle, but his body doesn't respond. It feels heavy, like he might fall asleep any second. Paranoia has nothing to do with the sense of dread that floods over him.
This will not happen. It did not happen before, he knows in the back of his mind, and it will not happen now.
Concentrating as he never has before, he conjures up images of his friends, of his best monsters, of faces that he cannot place outside of fuzzy dreams. With a burst of energy, by grace of more willpower than should be necessary, he bites down hard on the intrusive tongue. He feels the surprised yelp in his mouth before he pushes his attacker away with strength renewed. There's just enough time to be shocked at the face of his smirking assailant before he is alone in the dark again-- or alone as far as humans go. Now that he's been through the doors, now that he's seen what we was supposed to have seen, the things in the dark have no problem closing in on what must be a very rare treat for them indeed--
It's odd to feel solid one moment and weightless the next. Just as odd is being in what amounts to a void and suddenly being in a familiar bedroom, a familiar face appearing over a mound of blankets.
"Nmuh... s'matter?" Yugi asks sleepily, trying hopelessly to focus on the ghost-like presence beside him. "S'wrong? Yn'kay?"
"I'm fine, Yugi," said presence assures. "You can go back to sleep."
Yugi doesn't need telling twice; in less than another instant he's snoring softly, looking for all the world as if he had never awoken in the first place. With a rueful, if weak-hearted, smile, his companion directs his attention back to himself. His lips, such as they are, still feel raw. Not knowing what to expect, he touches a translucent finger to them and dares a glance-- nothing, of course. With a shudder and a sigh, he decides the best thing to do is chalk it up to the eating contest Yugi was coerced into a mere hour before bed, and try to drift back off.
Out on the walkway stands who those that don't know better might call Bakura Ryou. But the eyes are a touch too crimson, a touch too slant to be the quiet, polite boy who dabbles in the occult. This is an expert of the dark ways, as he'd gladly tell you himself. He secures a deck of Duel Monsters cards back into his pocket before casting one last leer up at the closed bedroom window and walking away, licking his lips and relishing the coppery aftertaste of blood.
All in all, not a bad night's work.
You have no idea how glad I am that's over-- unless, er, you do...
Praise appreciated, concrit treasured, flames raspberried