(Just something to get me writing again (and also because I have not been able to find a 'Ryou gets the Puzzle' plot anywhere on FFNet- am I really the only one dying for a similar plot? Either way, when I saw the tragic lack of it, I knew it had to be done). (Also, anyone following ToP, it's not dead yet! Or it's becoming undead. Or something.)
When Yugi asks him to hang on to the Puzzle, Ryou doesn't know what to say for a long moment. As his silence stretches toward a third minute, Yugi tentatively clears his throat over the phone.
"Bakura..? It's fine if you don't want to, I just thought- Well, it was kinda stupid, huh?" He laughs awkwardly, voice slightly apologetic. "I mean, you probably want to forget all about... Well, anyway, just forget I asked, okay? I'll talk to you la-"
"Wait-! ...Um, that is... I-I wouldn't mind at all, Yugi." Ryou feels himself flushing and suppresses the urge to smack himself on the forehead.
"R-really?" He can hear the relief in his voice, and he remembers why he likes Yugi. It's been nearly two years since Atemu and the Thief King crossed into the afterlife, and since then things have been oddly quiet. Yugi and his gang go out and play, like normal high schoolers (except when it gets inexplicably quiet and everyone stares anywhere but at each other, remembering things no high schoolers should've had to see or do). Ryou frequently finds himself invited to these play-dates now, and he wonders if it's because the Ring Spirit is gone, because the Puzzle Spirit is gone, or because he was there (whether he remembers it or not) for much of the shit they went through.
Kaiba even shows up occasionally, dragged along by Mokuba. Ryou even thinks he saw him smile a few times (he has a terrible smile, but Ryou supposes that's to be expected of someone who only gets practice with icy smirks).
He and Yugi chat idly for a few more minutes- Yugi always sounds so happy to talk about nothing in particular, like it's a treat after spending so long with only life-or-death things to say- before they settle on a time and place for Yugi to give him the Puzzle. They decide after the end-of-summer graduation party, before Ryou has to leave for his part-time job. Then Yugi says he has to finish packing for the move to his dorm and they say their goodbyes.
Ryou sets the headset back into the cradle and stays there for a moment, letting himself absorb the idea that Yugi trusts him enough to leave one of his most precious things with him while he's at college. He hasn't seen him wear the Puzzle since that day the Pharaoh strode proudly into the light, but Ryou has seen it sitting on the desk in Yugi's room, kept polished to a heavy gleam amongst the dusty framed photographs of Yugi and his friends laughing and carousing. The Ring is in one of the cluttered boxes of junk in the attic, full of things Ryou doesn't want out in the public eye but can't quite throw away.
For the first time since he put it there, he ventures up into the dark attic and pulls it out. It rests in his palms emptily under the buzzing yellow light of the single low-watt bulb, a dusty clutter of metal points and hoops and a broken leather cord. The malice that he'd come to see in its shapes and movement is gone. Now it's only a gaudy old piece of jewelry. He tosses it back into the box he found it in and turns off the light as he leaves.
The party has a good turnout, all things considered. Better than anyone expected, really, especially since Marik managed to worm an invitation out of Yugi for himself and his sister despite living half a world away and neither of them attending school at any point in their lives, from what Ryou can gather. Mokuba shows up, which means Kaiba shows up as well to evacuate him if Yugi and gang get too friendshippy and start poisoning his little brother's mind further.
Tristan takes over the music, which is a relief after listening to Téa and Duke bickering over the stereo for nearly half an hour. Marik drags Ryou aside for a highly embarrassing string of unabashed apologies for his dealings with Bakura at one point, to which Ryou can only nod and smile and try not to wish the earth will swallow him up as Marik's loud voice draws a small crowd despite them standing in Yugi's kitchen.
"-and for telling him you were expendable and for offering to send you to the Shadow Realm so he could have your body- but don't worry, turns out that wouldn't have worked anyway- and for-"
"-Yes, well. Let's let bygones be bygones." Ryou smiles his best smile and holds out his hand, hoping he's not as red with a mix of embarrassment and anger as he thinks he is, because there are quite a few people watching and snickering and muttering at the kitchen door now. Marik beams and takes his hand, shaking it vigorously.
"Great! You know, Ryou, I like you. You're nothing like the whiny weakling Bakura always said you were."
Ryou's mouth twitches at the name, but he keeps nodding and smiling until Isis drags her brother away and he can escape. The rest of the evening is fairly uneventful. They 'watch' a movie (or rather watch Joey and Tristan act out a lively parody of the main characters, which ends up being more entertaining anyway), eat pizza and popcorn and drink- he swears it must be- kegs of caffeinated soda, play games (of course- it is Yugi's house, after all), and the evening winds down with everyone discussing with each other what they'll be doing now that they're free of the shackles of high school, even though almost everyone already knows what everyone else is doing. Duke Devlin is the first to leave, making his excuses and promising to get in touch again soon before he bows out, and then it's Ryou's turn. He lightly taps Yugi's shoulder as he heads toward the door, and Yugi looks up from his rapt conversation with Téa, meeting his gaze with a happy, relaxed expression that quickly firms with resolve as he nods and gets up to fetch the Puzzle.
"Are you sure you don't want to take this with you, Yugi?" Ryou holds the necklace carefully in his palms, though he knows it's quite strong, and Yugi is watching his hands and seems to understand that it's respect, not fear, that makes him handle it so gently.
"Yeah, I think I am. I kind of... Want to turn over a new leaf, you know? -I mean, I don't want to forget or anything, but..."
"I understand," and he does, very well. Yugi beams and his small hands clasp briefly over Ryou's wrists, warm and calloused from living.
"I thought you might. Thank you, Bakura."
And Ryou doesn't have the heart to tell him to call him 'Ryou'. He nods and wishes Yugi all the best at college, and then he hesitantly hooks an arm around his shoulders in an awkward hug, which Yugi returns without hesitation.
And he remembers why he likes Yugi.