Disclaimer: I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh or any of its characters. No money is made with this.

Puppet Life

Yuugi had told him, and looked a little embarrassed while he did, that Domino used to be a lot more dangerous for a while, before he moved to the town; and as egoistic and disloyal to Yuugi as this thought was, Ryou was quite grateful for that change. Still, there were parts of the town one should rather avoid, and one of them was laying on his way home from school: a series of small, dark streets and alleys, surrounded by old houses that were officially inhabited and really weren't. He could easily avoid going this way, and often did, especially when the days were beginning to get shorter like now, but...

When he and Amane had been small children, they had often played at scaring themselves: they would jump at each other from behind, tell each other stories at night, secretly watch horror movies they were supposed to be too young for, ...

Later, and the more their free time was restricted, they would learn to play these games during their daily duties: when they walked to school together, Ryou would tell, often quite convincingly (at least to him and his little sister), that what they were seeing was really only an illusion, and that, in reality, they were not walking on solid ground, but on a small passage between boiling lava, and any step could be their last; or that invisible monsters were all around them, only waiting for them to say the right word to attack – and no one knew what that word was.

And they arrived to school, shivering and laughing; and while, occasionally, a too recent memory of these tales would make Amane a little jumpy, they knew, though they never said it, that none of it was real: it didn't make the fear any less delicious and true.

This, Ryou decided, as he cautiously walked through the dark and dirty street, jumping at every sound he heard, was exactly the same. The adult version of the game: make-pretend fear. Constantly present, but the certitude of his safety was so much stronger – crushing, undeniable, no matter how creepy and terribly long the street seemed. Nothing would, could happen to him.

It was funny to suddenly live your whole life as a game – so many other things he continued to do, while they were really just playing as well, while it didn't matter whether he did: going to school and doing homework, making plans for the future, going to bed in the evening, removing his hand from under too hot water, ...

Funny how things that should just have been games had moved to become the focus of his life: playing role-playing games and making dolls and models and playing card games. And there was a hint of reality in shuffling and remaking his deck, even if, in practice, it turned out to be just as futile as everything else.

You're insane, the Voice whispered, pleased and interested.

Quickly, Ryou closed his eyes, because he could hear the difference, not just a powerful thought, forced into his mind, but a faint, forceless and terribly real whisper. Right next to him. But he could never keep this up for long: when he felt his presence, right in front of him, he looked up.

The ghost, an exact replica of him that managed, just by its posture and its way of moving, to look different, looked at him, appreciatively, an artist in front of his work, pride and wonder and self-criticism, while musing on what could still be improved. Ryou shivered.

He didn't answer. He would have argued, but he had found that accepting insanity made many things easier.

Instead, he stopped and waited for the ghost's next move: it wandered around him, his feet giving the impression of touching the ground, yet making no sound. Then, when Ryou thought that it was over, he raised a hand, and brushed it over, through his chin, and, as Ryou didn't move, gently trailed his fingers down his neck.

Ryou shivered again: the contact was unbearably light, but prickling and clearly noticeable, and pleasant. And he knew from experience – and his body anticipated – the way it would increase, the difference in less gentle contact, the faint humidity of the spirit's ethereal lips, the strange feeling from the closeness of the bodiless form... And how the spirit knew how to find every spot where he would react even to the so faint stimulation...

It's all in your head, the spirit would tell him, when Ryou wondered how there could be any contact at all. And that was like a codeword: instants later, he would be dragged out of his body, and deep inside his own mind, where nothing should be physical and real, and where everything felt as if it was, up to his parasite's body, warm and solid against him.

And his lips were no longer like a memory of humidity, but hot and alive on his mouth; his other's touch was surprisingly gentle – but never hesitating – as he planted a firm knee on the floor between his legs, upper leg brushing lightly against him when he leant forward, teasing and dangerous and insufficient, and bent down over him, in a large curve, hair ticking his face, feeling oddly different from his own. There would, at times, and he always became aware of the unreality of this only later, be a faint smell of sand and ashes and sweat, and soft earth beneath him where he would have expected hard stone floor.

Sometimes, Ryou would absently wonder when their clothes, which he was certain had still existed at some point, had disappeared; sometimes he would forget, and sometimes they would spend what felt like hours undressing each others, between long, deep kisses and embraces.

And the only thing that never changed, from the ghost's touches and from all previous times, was the flawless knowledge the spirit seemed to posses: for everything was, down to the details, like the realisation of a fantasy: every touch, secretly or consciously desired, and at that precise moment. Even each use of force and every hint of resistance on the spirit's part were, in some distant or close part of his mind, wished for, and would cease and fade as he desired. (Yet, when his mind was awake enough for it, he found himself craving the few moments of uncontrol, so much that he wondered if they were real.)

He would lose himself in pleasure and later he would find himself – and it felt strange to call it "in control of his body" – on his bed, cold and alone and unsatisfied and craving, his body only retaining a distant memory of what just happened inside his mind, making him wish to never having to leave his soul room again.

This, he occasionally reflected, was probably spoiling him for normal sex for the rest of his life.

For this, for this dependence, and was this anyone else he would believe he was in love, he hated the spirit: while he would not have chosen it, he had gotten used to his relative isolation; it had its advantages. He was glad to have friends again, but he wouldn't want to automatically be included in everything Yuugi, Honda, Anzu, and Jounouchi did. And as much he missed his father, he didn't think he could ever get used to the constant presence of a parent again: on a larger scale, the spirit had taken over his life, but he didn't care whether he had good marks at school, left his materials all over the apartment, or came home from Yuugi's after midnight on a school-day.

But now that he knew the spirit was here, he didn't think he could ever get used to his absence again: the thought of being alone within his own mind again seemed more horrible than anything the spirit could do.

An ice-cold wind on his face briskly brought him back to the present; the ghost was standing right in front of him, mouth half open. This was how he had come to imagine death: a cold but not fully unpleasant breath on his face, and then nothing. Or so he hoped.

Just as he hoped he hadn't spaced out for too long. The spirit was often like absent, but he didn't take well to being ignored.


Ryou relaxed a little. Tone and appellation neutral, and the brown eyes, far more threatening when lacking physicality, were not more piercing than usually; Ryou had no idea whether the spirit knew what he had been thinking about. He would easily catch his surface thoughts, like water lilies on a lake, but everything else would at least require to dive deeper, and he wasn't sure the spirit would deem it worth the effort.

And, certainly, the sudden sadness that arose inside him at that thought had been planted there by the spirit – not that he had any evidence he was capable of such a thing. If he was, he probably would have made him want to be a compliant vessel.

"Why should I? I like you fine the way you are."

Ryou pressed his lips together, and avoided to look at the ghost's face, which he knew would be mocking. Technically, that meant that the spirit judged him harmless enough as it was, which wasn't very encouraging; yet coming from him, it was unusually affectionate. He chose to take it as such. Whatever else he thought about the forced cohabitation, it was more pleasant not to be despised by the one person closest to you. The spirit hating the whole world instead (which, at some point, but without focus, involved him) was certainly much more dangerous, but, on a daily basis, easier to bear.

"But..." The voice was soft now, and close, and his face burned under the cold breath, and Ryou had a sudden urge to hug the person in front of him and then take him home for tea or hot chocolate. "You're strange."

Ryou looked at him this time.

"Any normally fearful and egoistic person would be grateful for what I'm giving you. And you..."

The transparent hand grazed through his hair gently, reassuring him that, for now, this was no reproach, but merely an observation. Ryou could have argued that the spirit wanted to destroy or take over the word – he had never quite figured out which, and wasn't sure what would be worse – and that he really had nothing to gain of this, and that everything the spirit gave had a price, somehow. But it usually was no good arguing with him. Besides, he wasn't certain he wasn't grateful, and this wasn't something he wanted to think about much.

In a way, it was a compliment too, contradicting the former one: he was still resisting, if only internally, and the spirit had said "you're strange" with the some sense of wonder with which he had said "you're insane". You had to do with what you could get.

"You should go home," the ghost concluded suddenly, voice still soft, but more businesslike. "You'll catch a cold."

At times, it was reassuring to think that there were dangers he was exposed to as much as other humans – but usually, he came to the conclusion that being ill could only make things worse, so he just nodded faintly, even though, here, too, he could have argued: after all, the spirit was the one who made them stop now, and besides, he wasn't near as careful when he was the one in control.

Still, it had started to rain, very faintly, and the sky had become completely dark, so following the advice was probably sensible.

The ghost smiled at this, approving: it was a rather wicked and evil smile, but Ryou saw no reason not to ignore this, and absently smiled back when, after walking next to him for a few steps, the spirit vanished. Ryou could still feel his presence, lingering closely to his own mind, and the ring was pleasantly warm on his chest. He walked home without haste.