WARNING: Mentions of SUICIDAL thoughts, and discussion of various opinions therein. The views expressed are not necessarily reflective of my own particular views. If this subject is sensitive, please read with caution.
Suicide is a very difficult subject, and if you or anyone you know struggles with it, it is best to seek professional help. Speaking from experience of losing a loved one in this way, such a subject is not one to be taken lightly.
I write about subjects of this nature because they are pertinent and very current problems. I gain no pleasure from discussing these things, but they are important and people do experience this kind of tragedy (or the thoughts that may lead to it). Again, please: if this subject disturbs you, I beg of you, read with CAUTION.
The Price You Pay
Ryou had run. Of course Ryou had run. Malik cursed viciously, gnashing his teeth together. God, could he not do this right?
And for the love of the Gods, it was pouring out there. Ryou could not have picked a worse time to go and freak out.
But again, of course he had freaked out. What was Malik thinking when he suggested Ryou speak to the spirit that had been tormenting him for God-knows-how-long?
He was in way over his head. He was fumbling around, trying to fix something that hadn't ever been whole in the first place. It stood a good chance of never being fixed. Malik doubted that the trust, the understanding, the link, would ever be there. Ryou had been through too much.
Malik swore again, and grabbed the coat he'd been smart enough to bring. He shoved it on, almost certain that he was still going to freeze his ass off, and stormed out the door.
Perfect. Just bloody perfect.
Ayumi had never been a girl of many fears. Even in childhood, she'd been the first kid over the stream, the first one through the dark doorway, and the one leading the pack when they went out alone.
That said, it was this lifelong lack of fear that resulted in poor coping skills when she found herself indisputably and intensely afraid.
Her fingers twitched to her pocket, where her cell phone sat. She wanted to make a call. She needed to make a call. Well, she needed to make two calls, actually.
Her boyfriend was at work – he did some part-time work on the side after classes, because they allowed that at his school. His family didn't do as well as most, and they needed his help. Ayumi had always been so proud of him, so grateful to be with someone so responsible and driven. Right now, it just sucked. She wanted to talk to him. She wanted to tell him about what happened. Even though he'd asked that she…
…but she didn't know what else to do. Ayumi kept no secrets from her boyfriend. It was why they had lasted so long: total disclosure no matter what. Mistakes could be forgiven, but lost trust was a tough thing to get back.
Her mother had always said that.
Ayumi took in a shaky breath and pulled her phone out of her pocket, scrolling down the list of names. There was one that she paused on, very early into the list.
Her throat tightened, as if something were strangling her. She let out a choked noise and slammed the phone shut, tossing it onto the cushion beside her. She couldn't make that call. Ayumi wasn't sure if she could ever make that call.
"I apologize," he said, gesturing for her to sit at the couch, "for the reaction earlier today."
Ayumi opened her mouth to say something, but then glanced down the hallway. Ryou paused; he scrutinized her for a moment, then seemed to read her expression and smiled softly.
"He can't hear us."
She let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. She didn't trust his friend. She knew what had happened to her. She remembered what he'd done. Even if she couldn't explain it, she knew.
Ryou sat at the seat opposite to her. She took the hint and sat at the couch, rubbing her arms. She'd forgotten her coat in her locker, and it had gotten chilly. It was almost dinnertime, and she still had to get back to the school before she went home. Her parents were going to murder her.
But there were more important things to worry about.
Ryou closed his eyes, his fingers interlaced in his lap. He looked so serene, as if he hadn't run from her at school, as if he hadn't looked so betrayed in that moment before he'd vanished.
"You want answers."
No dodging. No pretense. In a way that Ryou had never operated before, he had laid it out straight and offered her the door…so, without hesitation, she opened it.
"I want to know what he," she glanced back to the hallway, "did to me."
Ryou opened her eyes. When this happened, however, she almost thought that his eyes looked redder than they did brown. She wanted to convince herself that it was just the light, but his hair seemed wilder, his jaw sharper, and his expression just a bit too cold.
This other Ryou stared at her with a strangely unguarded expression, his face clear of all fear or concern. She didn't recognize this face. "You must understand that you are only allowed to know due to your recognition of the event."
"That's not normal," she supplied. The shaky words were already out of her mouth by the time she realized just how scared she actually was.
How could she say "that's not normal"? Of course it wasn't normal. Clearly Ryou noticed the bizarreness of her statement, because he was watching her with something that almost resembled amusement. The emotion was too reserved, though. It was too controlled.
Ryou was cautious. Ryou was careful. Ryou tried to hide his emotions all the time. One thing Ryou was not, however, was a young man able to do it well. This person, however, was perfectly composed. She saw only what he wanted her to see. There was nothing revealed in this face that hadn't been already decided for her viewing pleasure.
This wasn't Ryou. It couldn't be.
"No. I'm not."
Ayumi jerked backwards, eyes widening. She'd said that aloud.
He smiled. "And no, I am not a brother, relative, or strangely identical stranger." He scrutinized her for a slow moment, making sure that he had her gaze. She shivered. It made her feel like a science experiment. "This is Ryou's body. I am the Spirit that dwells within the Millennium Ring that he possesses."
That was a bit difficult to digest. Scratch that: impossible to digest. Was he on drugs? Was that why he was so weird, the other day?
Of all of the questions in her head, only one surfaced completely, lifted from the scrambled mess her head had become.
"Why are you telling me this?" she whispered.
Ryou's…no, the Spirit's smile vanished. "Because there is no other choice but to do this," his shark-grin returned. "Or I could always dispose of you…whichever you would prefer."
This was impossible. She'd stopped believing in the supernatural years ago. She'd long given up on that "something out there" idea. She would not let herself fall into that trap.
Ayumi stood quickly. "I should really go."
Ryou stood too, looking much more intimidating than she could recall him ever being. "This is not something that you are to freely express," he told her.
"I get it," she snapped. "I'm not stupid. I figured that much out."
His mouth popped open in surprise. "You don't actually believe this," he deduced quietly, and there was a glimmer of expectation in his gaze. As if he'd known how she'd react. As if he'd already had the entire course of the conversation played out.
"I don't believe in the supernatural," she said, averting her gaze.
She lifted her head, taking a deep, cleansing breath. "However," she said, "I want to believe that Ryou wouldn't spin a crazy tale to cover up…whatever happened. I want to believe that this is the only way to explain what happened. God knows I can't."
"No Gods will save you now that you are aware," he quipped darkly, and she could clearly see the colour difference between Ryou's warm eyes and this person's alien gaze. They were nothing alike.
Ayumi could, for the moment that they held each other's gaze, make herself believe. If only for the hope that this cruel stranger wearing Ryou's face was something else entirely and not, in reality, her friend.
She quickly drew her hands behind her back. They were shaking again. Stupid hands.
"I'm going home," she said suddenly, and the Spirit looked vaguely surprised.
"Just like that," he mused, looking at her as if he were asking if she wanted anything more from him. She'd already, after all, managed to glean the truth from him. What more could he give her? She certainly didn't know, nor did she want to know.
She took another deep breath. "I got the answers I came for," she answered plainly, logically. The words sounded harsh and scripted even to her own ears.
"And you would not like to know anything further," he supplied, nodding to himself. "Interesting."
"I'm not a science project," Ayumi snapped.
His eyes raked over hers as if he were debating that statement. "Of course not," he settled on saying. She wasn't sure if she believed that he meant it.
"I'll…" she hesitated, searching for words and finding it difficult to muster any. "I'll see you…I mean, Ryou…at school."
She didn't give him a chance to say anything else. She was out the door and down the hallway faster than an arrow from a bow. Her body felt heavy, like it'd suddenly been saddled with a burden too much for it to bear.
In a way, that was true. Ayumi couldn't explain mind control. It wasn't hypnosis, it wasn't anything scientifically possible. So when Ryou…no…that Spirit sat her down and told her that there were things beyond her wildest imagination, things that were the stuff of fairytales and science fiction manga, Ayumi could offer nothing else but belief; belief that it was true, belief that Ryou was involved in this magic, belief that her friend was part of a world she'd stopped believing in as a child.
She shuddered, her hand twisting in her shirt, her other hand clawing for the door to the stairwell. She burst through the doorway and stumbled her way down a few steps.
Ayumi barely made it down a single flight before her legs gave out. She curled up there, in the concrete stairwell, and let herself mourn two possibilities: one, for the loss of a friend because of his elaborate lies…or if he was telling the truth, for all of the innocence that had been stolen from her.
Ayumi was jolted out of her reverie by her phone buzzing beside her. In a frantic daze, she scooped up the phone and fumbled with it, somehow managing to get it open and to her ear.
"H-Hello…? Who is it?"
The familiar voice nearly melted her. Her thoughts scrambled again, but in a totally different way. Jeez, she was such a girl, sometimes.
"Oh!" She gasped eventually, glad that her boyfriend couldn't see her embarrassed flush through the phone line. "Shuu-kun, it's you!"
"Of course it's me," he scoffed, but she could hear the humour in his voice. "What, expecting someone else? Should I be jealous, Ayumi?"
She giggled. "No. No one else. Only you." She smiled, feeling warmth rise in her chest. "It's only ever been you."
"Even when we were kids, and you'd beat me up on the playground?"
"Even then," she answered, smiling. Sometimes, it amazed her how long they had known each other. They truly were childhood sweethearts, even if they hadn't explored romance until high school.
His responding chuckle was throaty and calming. "You sounded confused when you answered my call. Is everything okay?"
She hesitated. Is everything okay?
She must have taken too long to answer. Shuu sounded worried. "Oh! No, I was just…um…well, I thought you were at work, and I don't get many calls, so I was wondering who it was."
The excuse sounded weak even to her own ears.
"They let me off early. We were really slow at the restaurant, and Yuki-san prefers not to keep us on schedule when we don't have much to do."
"I hope that she's good to you," Ayumi murmured. Shuu's last job, the one he had taken when he first moved, had been brutal. She'd been on the phone with him every night, listening to the horrible abuses his employer put him through. Eventually, he'd quit out of frustration and being sick of it. He'd only picked up this new job a month ago. So far, she'd heard very little negativity about it.
"She's a crazy obaa-san sometimes, but she's an old friend of my dad's, so she can't be all bad, right?"
"Right," Ayumi agreed with him.
There was a pause from his end, and then: "I got your text, from earlier. You wanted to talk to me about something?"
Ayumi blinked. She had forgotten that she'd texted him right when she got home. She had told him to call her, she needed to talk.
"Are you sure everything is okay?" Shuu ventured, his tone trembling over the line.
"I…" she began, but found herself unable to continue.
Was this right? Shuu was her boyfriend, and maybe they'd even be together forever, but did she have the right to betray Ryou's trust that way? Sure, he'd been distant, but Ayumi was pretty certain she was one of the few friends he had.
Her thoughts turned to Yugi. Was Ryou friends with him, and his friends?
No. There was companionable understanding between them, but she'd noticed a distance, too. Maybe it had something to do with 'the Spirit'.
"I just missed you," she offered weakly, her voice pathetically small. It wasn't convincing. The long silence on Shuu's end said that he wasn't buying it, either.
"Ayumi, what's wrong?" he demanded, his voice rising in urgency. "Did someone hurt you? Do I need to beat the crap out of some guy?"
If Shuu found out about this, would he do something to Ryou? Would he make sure that Ryou kept his distance?
Shuu would want to protect her. He wouldn't see this as anything but a threat to her safety.
But Ayumi didn't know if she shared that sentiment. She still needed to find out for herself. Maybe that was pushing it, maybe that was stupid of her, but she felt that she owed it to Ryou. She owed this Spirit nothing, but she owed it to Ryou.
She'd been trying so hard to be his friend for so long. She couldn't give up now, now that such a big wall had come down between them.
Did Ryou even know that she knew? Could he communicate with…whoever it was that possessed him?
Ayumi stopped. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and made her decision.
"I flunked a test," she said to Shuu, adding just the right tremor to her voice. "My parents don't know, yet."
"Oh," he replied, sounding relieved. She felt bad for worrying him.
She felt worse for lying to him, but it was a price she had to pay.
Ryou's shoes hit the wet concrete, and he took off at a sprint. He had to get away. He had to go faster than ever, so that Malik couldn't catch up to him. His heart was pounding, a thunderous roar in his ears. His muscles pumped painfully with the strain.
He would run forever. He could run forever. Could he run forever? A million thoughts raced through his mind, changing with every slap of his shoes on the ground. The rain came around him, but it wasn't heavy. He barely noticed it, really.
Above the clamour of his mind, he could only clearly ask one thing:
When will I ever stop running?
It wasn't even about Ayumi. Well, it was partly about Ayumi, but it was mostly about facing the thing that ruined everything that his life could have been. Ayumi was just the tip of the iceberg, just the newest person who had been ripped from his life, for nothing more than wanting innocent friendship.
At least she hadn't vanished.
How was Ryou ever supposed to live when he couldn't do so without fear of destroying every person in his path? Ryou couldn't bring himself to stop caring about others – he would never become that kind of person. He just couldn't do that.
So what did he do? Stop living?
He skidded to a halt in the middle of the street. The rain was just a bare misting now, not even enough to soak through his shirt. His head dropped back, exposing his face to the sky.
Yeah, right. The first time he tried it, the Spirit would stop him. It wasn't going to get rid of its plaything that easily.
Would it, though? Would it be able to stop him?
Ryou didn't know. He'd never felt this…lost, before. He'd never really pondered the concept of his life ending, because it just wasn't something that a boy his age did a lot of thinking about. Sure, he'd had a rough go of things, and sure, lots of kids killed themselves over less…
…but Ryou had never entertained that possibility. His father was so against it, he'd always been vocal if it came up on the news.
After losing Amane, his father had never been very patient with the idea of a child taking their life. It was a foreign concept to him – something that no one would ever do, because losing a loved one to accident was hard enough.
He glanced around. Beside him, there was a small playground area. He turned towards it, heading for a bench opposite the rickety-looking swing set. Ryou didn't even know where he was, by this point. His legs ached at the promise of release, alerting him to just how long he must have been running.
When he got to the wet bench, he sagged onto it, not worrying about the fact that this was going to leave his legs wet and his walk home – if he ever decided to walk home – rather uncomfortable. It didn't matter to him.
What would his father do, if he came home to find that Ryou was gone? Would he be angry? Would he be sad? Would he just throw himself back into his work, even harder this time, and work himself into his own grave?
Ryou didn't want to hurt his father. For all of the fatherly things the man wasn't, Ryou didn't know anything else. He could never bring himself to strip his father of the only family he'd been left with. Wasn't their family marred with enough tragedy, already? They had been hurting for so long. Ryou couldn't imagine prolonging that.
But wasn't he justified, this time? Didn't he have a good reason? Wouldn't it be worth it, to gain some semblance of peace?
The voice made him nearly jump out of his skin, and at first, he frantically looked around for the speaker, afraid he'd said something out loud.
Then, with dread that sunk through the pit of his stomach, he realized from where that voice had come.
"You don't know anything," Ryou hissed aloud, surprised by the harshness in his own voice.
There was a pause – if Ryou didn't already know that the Spirit was incapable of being surprised, he would have thought it was hesitation. The Spirit was probably just milking this, preparing to drop some kind of emotional bomb that would send Ryou spiralling into upset for another week. Maybe even push him off the deep end, just to see what would happen.
So Ryou was utterly shocked when the response was soft. Empathetic, even. "Violent action gains no peace."
Ryou's heart thrummed like a hummingbird in his chest. Why was the Spirit saying this? To what end? Its response bewildered him beyond logical thought. It had never spoken to him in this way, before.
"Hypocrite," Ryou whispered eventually, his voice breaking. His mind buzzed so loudly that he couldn't manage further words.
There was silence for a very long time. Then: "I am."
Ryou sucked in a breath, feeling his entire body begin to shake. He pulled his knees up to his chest, and he sat there in fetal position, his head against his knees and his entire body wracked with convulsions of fear.
He knew what came next. Next came the laughter, then the blackness, and then he'd wake up in his own room with barbed wire cuts on his body and some new object lying about. Maybe even with a note, explaining what had happened. The Spirit was too cruel to leave him completely in the dark about his body's actions.
It was always mind games. Ryou was tiring of them.
His head jerked up, and he looked around blearily, his eyes unfocused and his breathing still erratic. Someone approached, and as his vision cleared, he realized that Malik stood in front of him, hesitant and worried.
"Ryou…you okay?" the blonde-haired Egyptian queried softly, looking guilty and upset and concerned all at the same time.
Ryou inhaled shakily, gritting his teeth. He tried to even out his breathing, tried to calm his shaking body, but it wasn't working. He shivered, suddenly cold.
"M-Malik," he whimpered, "the Spirit…it…he…spoke to me."
First, the control without doing anything – to which Malik was a witness…bizarre, it'd never happened before. Then, Ryou seeing the Spirit control their body…so strange. Now, the soft speaking, as if speaking to a child that you had upset, revealing of something that almost resembled…
…that was almost human.
"What do you mean?" Malik asked with some difficulty, his eyebrows drawing down in confusion.
Ryou shook his head, his breath hitching, and then he dropped his head back between his knees. He didn't want anyone, especially Malik, to watch him as he cried.
Sweet Jesus, I put that boy through a lot. But perhaps things are to be looking up, soon? Hint-like hints are hinting…
I felt that Ayumi's reaction needed resolution. She's had a big part in this story, bigger than I'd initially expected, but I felt that last chapter left her feeling very impersonal and I didn't like that.
I've always sworn that I wouldn't write OC characters, but I didn't see any of Yugi's gang fitting into this story the same way that an outsider would. Ayumi was just the tool I needed to swing certain things into motion.
Don't worry, this is the bulk of her relations to the story. Her role will drop substantially, soon.