Summary: After Ryou touched the Puzzle, Yugi and Co. never approached him. It's his birthday, and he's completely alone.


Tender

Ryou walked out of school with a sigh. Nobody remembered. Because nobody knows.

Because nobody knows what? came the internal Voice, the one that seemed to drift through the boy's mind whenever he felt troubled.

Nothing.

Well it must be something if you're so sad.

Why are you so concerned?

It wouldn't do me much good if you got depressed enough to kill yourself.

Ryou gave an unnoticeable flinch and came to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk. I have no intention of doing so.

It crossed your mind.

It crosses everyone's.

Not as often or seriously as it crosses yours. What does nobody know?

Can't you figure it out for yourself? You seem to know everything else about me.

You're not letting me in.

With another sigh, Ryou continued down the sidewalk toward his apartment. As he came to the doors of the building, he finally answered the Voice, which had waited patiently. It's September second.

I believe that most people do know that.

They don't know that September second is my birthday. He returned the receptionist's wave before beginning to climb the staircase.

What is a "birthday"?

Just what it sounds like: the day I was born.

Ah…if you wanted people to know, why didn't you tell them?

Because that's rude.

HOW?

It…It…It just is. It's not polite to go around trying to get attention that way. And besides, I don't want attention.

Now that's just an obvious lie. You wouldn't be unhappy if you didn't desire to be noticed. To feel like someone cares. To be assured that there is at least one person who wants you to be alive. It's crossing your mind again. You have a father who cares.

Ryou closed his eyes. Does he? He never calls to make sure I'm all right. I could lie in a grave for months before he decided to check up on me. He tripped and fell forward when his foot didn't quite make it to the next step. With a moan, the boy pushed himself into a sitting position. He put his head between his knees and stared at the blood that fell to the floor from a small cut on his forehead, mixed with silent tears. Even fate wants me dead. I may as well bleed to death here and now.

I'm not going to let you.

The next thing Ryou remembered was sitting at his table, holding a washcloth to his head. He pulled it away and felt where he had gotten cut. It was dry. Things just couldn't be that easy, could they?

Dying is easy. Living is hard. Living is also far more satisfying.

Ryou stood and began rinsing the blood from the washcloth. "Not when you have to do it alone."

You're not alone. I'm always here.

"But you don't really exist. You're a figment of my imagination, born of my solitude. I've completely lost my mind sitting here alone, day after day."

Is that what you think I am? You are sadly mistaken. I am very real.

"No you aren't."

How would you explain your blackouts, then?

"Like I said, I've lost my mind." He squeezed the water from the washcloth and laid it on the edge of the sink to dry.

That's not why you have blackouts. But if you don't believe me on that, then how do you explain your gym coach? And the two girls? Explain why all three of them mysteriously slipped into comas after bothering you. Explain why they slipped into comas after you wished they would leave you alone. That was me. I granted you your wish. Just like when you wished that you and your friends could play Monster World forever. If I didn't do those things, then how did they happen?

"I…I…" Ryou wrung his hands together. The question had been running through his head for a long time, even after the Voice had come along and started claiming that it had done those things, claiming that it took over his body and trapped the souls of his friends and enemies alike inside Monster World pawns that it had taken the time and effort to create. The Voice's story was so implausible, so…impossible. But what other explanation was there? He stood and sighed before turning out of the little kitchen and heading for his bedroom.

Aren't you hungry?

"Not really, no."

You haven't eaten in three days. You're going to get sick.

"Good."

Why do you hate life so much?

"Because everyone is afraid of me. No one wants to talk to me."

You just said that's how you want things to be.

"And you just said that I was obviously lying. There's no point in being around if no one cares."

But you're still waiting for someone to care.

Ryou laid on his bed and closed his eyes. "Yes."

...

The bark was rough against Ryou's back as he slid down the tree. The ground below him was covered with large squares, dividing the world around him into a giant grid. He knew where he was: this was a Monster World board. He was at the edge of the forest, the forest that no one in their right mind would enter, no matter what they might be told about it. No one would be here. The familiar sense of isolation washed over him. He was alone, even in his dreams.

"This isn't a dream."

Ryou's head lifted. He looked to the right and to the left, searching for the source of the voice.

"Turn around."

He did as commanded. There, a few trees behind him, stood a man wearing a cloak, with the hood pulled up over his head. "Who are you?"

The man pushed away from the tree on which he had been leaning and walked forward until he was just beyond Ryou's reach. "I might ask the same of you, white wizard. But I know who you are. And you know who I am. As I said, this is no dream, Bakura Ryou. This is your mind's room."

"This is my what? Who are you? How do you know my name?"

"I believe you think of me as 'the Voice'. As I have explained many times before, I share your body." He advanced another step toward Ryou. "This is your mind's room. It is a physical representation—well, physical once you are inside it—of your mind. You are here, at the edge of the forest which, though infamous, is really shrouded in mystery. You've been wanting to explore it." He turned and set off back into the forest at a brisk pace. Over his shoulder, he said, "Follow me…if you dare to venture into the recesses of your own mind." The embodiment of the Voice was moving quickly; he would disappear from sight within moments.

Before his common sense could protest, Ryou hurried after him. "Wait!"

The Voice did not break his pace. If anything, he moved faster, and even as Ryou pleaded with him to slow down, he was putting distance between himself and the boy.

"Please wait…" Ryou came to a stop as the Voice disappeared among the trees ahead of him. There was no way he could possibly catch up. As he stood there, the already suffocating darkness of the forest deepened. It seemed that when the Voice left, he had taken the light with him. Ryou could feel the presence of sinister beings lurking within the shadows. A shock of terror drove him to his knees. The darkness crept toward him; he closed his eyes. He couldn't face it. There were whispers all around him, reminding him of his loneliness, making him relive the worst moments of his life. The torment was overwhelming. Ryou's hands flew to his ears and he choked back a terrified sob. The whispers gained momentum, conjuring horrific images of his own death, all involving suicide and cruel laughter. The boy shook his head, trying desperately to clear it. "No," he moaned. "I don't want to die…please make it stop…please…" There was no mercy within the darkness. It pressed around him, closer and closer… And then, at the same moment Ryou felt a hand touch his shoulder, it disappeared. He opened his eyes to the dim forest.

"Are you all right?" Behind him was the Voice, his face unreadable for the shadow his cloak cast over it.

Ryou recoiled from the man's touch. This was just another cruel trick his mind was playing on him.

The Voice's head tilted. "What's wrong?"

"Stay away! I want out of here! I should never have entered the forest!"

"Wha…ah. You don't trust me because you can't see my face." He reached up and lowered his hood. He chuckled as Ryou gasped.

"You…you…we're—"

"—very similar in appearance, yes. Now, are you all right?"

His fear of the Voice faded, only to be replaced with the horrible images the whispering shadows had put into his head. Ryou could not hold back the tears of fright and desolation that rose to his eyes. He once again dropped to his knees, his face buried in his forearm.

Ryou could sense the Voice kneeling before him. The Voice's words were incomprehensible, but the tone in which he spoke them was soothing in itself. Still, he could not keep the boy's tears from falling.

There was a magnetic energy surrounding the Voice that Ryou could not ignore. It drew him in, almost without his realization. He leaned against the Voice, crying into the man's shoulder. There was something comforting about being able to express his sorrow to another person, another person who at least pretended to care. Even if it was just an illusion, Ryou was grateful for the opportunity to break down without reticence.

The Voice had stiffened when Ryou first touched him, but, slowly, he had relaxed. He stroked Ryou's hair and continued to speak in a low voice. "You're really not as alone as you think you are. Like I told you, Ryou, I am always here. You hate all the things that I've done, but I've only done them because you wished them to be done. It's not true that nobody cares about you. Even if your father doesn't—but he does—I do. You're the only thing I have, and I'm not going to let any harm come to you, whether it be from other people…or from yourself. As long as I am here, you are perfectly safe, whether you want to be or not."

Slowly, the tears stopped falling and the sobs faded. The forest was silent; all was still. Ryou drew away from the Voice and gazed into his face. The boy's immediate impression was that this face belonged to a sinister, almost evil, soul. But, deep within it, there lay something much softer, almost tender, that made Ryou believe every word the Voice had just spoken. "Thank you," he whispered.

The Voice gave a slight smile in response.

...

Ryou's eyes opened to the white ceiling of his bedroom. He sat up, as—bit by bit—reality permeated his mind. He was alone. Completely alone. The tears Ryou had expected did not come. He was empty. The boy slid out of bed and returned to the kitchen. There they were, all in their proper places in the wooden block: the knives. Ryou pulled one out and ran his hand over the flat surface of the long, thin blade. The gleaming stainless steel was cool and smooth beneath his fingertips. It would be easy. It would be quick. It will be easy, he thought with resolve. It will be quick. But his hand faltered as he raised the knife to his throat. This was so impulsive. Ryou lowered it, almost put it away…but he caught sight of his slender wrist, turned up, perfectly exposed. This way wasn't nearly as decisive. He could stop. The boy pressed the tip of the blade to his skin, drawing a ruby bead to the surface. He stared at it in wonder. Despite what he knew he should be thinking, it struck him as almost…beautiful.

A frustrated sigh rose to the top of Ryou's mind as he began to press harder. I don't think so.

Ryou was sitting at the table again. There was a bandage on his wrist; the knives were no longer sitting on the counter. Tears rose in his eyes. It could never be that easy. His vision blurred. Through the haze, he saw a sheet of paper lying on the table. He dried his eyes on his sleeve and read it; the paper fell from his hand and he wept silently.

I know you'll think that you wrote it yourself, but I'm leaving this for you anyway.
I only stop you because you WISH for someone to stop you.
You are safe as long as I am here.
Happy birthday, Ryou.
-your "Voice"


I know, it's really sad for a birthday fic! I meant to get this up on the second, but it wasn't done. I'm not waiting for next year, so it's here now. I hope you liked it, and PLEASE review!