I really hate ridiculously long authors' notes so I'll try to keep this brief, but I just got several more detailed reviews last time and I wanted to do a more personal thank-you to Bakushipping, as you reviewed as a guest and I can't find your account to PM you.

Bakushipping! - You've been with me since the first chapter, ever so redonkulously long ago, and just knowing that you've read and liked every chapter thrills me so much. (Also, I can't believe you went to the trouble to write a review on the Wii.) Thank you!

oOo

Yugi's cellphone rings exactly five times before it goes to his voicemail message. It's only then that Ryou realizes he has no idea what to tell him. He looks down at the pyramid hanging from his neck, shining innocently in the afternoon light.

"-Um, Yugi, it's-" he has caller ID, he knows who it is- "um, well, I..." He sighs and rubs his eyes with the hand not holding the phone. "I... Need to talk to you... Er, it's important, so... I know you must be busy, but if you could give me a ring I... Well, um, we can talk when you have a moment, so... I'll talk to you soon and- I hope everything's going well with you, and-... Er, talk to you s-" God, he wants to crawl back into bed. "-Okaygoodbye!" He slams the phone back into its cradle with relief.

'This is your fault,' he thinks venomously, glaring down at the Puzzle. But being disagreeable isn't going to fix anything, and Ryou still has a life to lead. He should, for instance, go buy groceries before he's completely out of food. He shakes himself, straightens, and goes to fetch his coat. To his chagrin, it isn't bulky enough to hide the Puzzle. There isn't much he can do about that. He briefly entertains the idea of yanking the Puzzle off by the cord- but he remembers just how swift Yami's reflexes are, and the thought is short-lived. Ryou sighs. There's no way around it: he'll have to take it with him.

And pray none of Yugi's friends will be in the vicinity.

oOo

Ryou makes it within two blocks of the supermarket before it begins.

"Ryou!" He barely clenches his jaw against the startled gasp in his throat to swallow it in time. He doesn't manage to keep himself from tripping on his own feet and stumbling two graceless steps before he can regain his composure.

"-Spirit?! Wha-what is it?!"

"What is that?"

Alarmed, Ryou whips his head around, but can't find anything out of the ordinary- except for the people glancing at him uncertainly as they pass, and he realizes his expression is probably more than a little strange. Flushing, he drops his gaze and starts walking again, embarrassed. "What is what?"

"Those growling things."

Growling..? -Ah.

"They're cars, Spirit," Ryou sighs, waiting at a crosswalk for the light.

"Are they dangerous..?"

He's silent for a time before he says, "Sometimes." The light changes and Ryou steps down in front of a rumbling SUV. "-But not usually, see?"

Yami, who had made an anxious noise when Ryou stepped off the curb, doesn't really seem to see, but he seems too proud to admit it. Ryou takes advantage of his uncertain silence and strides more quickly down the street. The grocery store, of course, is just another hotbed of questions though, and Yami wants to know what everything is, from the checkout counters to the freezers to the colourful boxes of frozen fake crab.

"Spirit..." Ryou didn't want to have to resort to this, but Yami seems eager enough to learn that he's going to be in here all night otherwise. "How about you go through my memories when you have these questions? It'd probably explain things better for you." He'll just have to hide anything to do with Yugi and Yami from him for now. -And Bakura, too, so as not to arouse questions.

There's a sulky silence for a moment before Yami answers stiffly. "I have attempted."

"...You... -Did."

"Several times," Yami replies, almost accusingly. He seems to see nothing wrong with rifling through someone's memories without permission- if anything, he seems to think it's his right. Ryou tries to stifle his irritation.

"You have blocked me. It's quite a thorough block." He says this with the same forced neutrality with which he 'complimented' Ryou's ability to leave the Puzzle. It seems too passive-aggressive for Yami, who'd always seemed like more the confrontational fighter. But then he did toss around trap and magic cards in Duel Monsters often, and Ryou can't pretend that he'd known him that well.

"Alright, I'll try to fix it." He digs around until he can recall the first memory without the Ring. It's years ago, on Christmas Eve- he received the Ring for Christmas that year. His father, home for once, was attempting to make gingerbread cookies at two in the morning, and after waking to the smell of smoke and the sounds of cursing and banging, Ryou had climbed out of bed to help in his pyjamas.

Ryou imagines scooping everything that happens after that early Christmas Eve morning into his 'arms' and pulling them towards himself; imagines erecting a solid stone wall around them. The barrier doesn't really need to be strong, he thinks. It just needs to hide them 'firmly' enough that Ryou will notice if Yami tries to see them.

That done, he goes in search of the mind link, and there it is, that vivid streaming thread of Yami. Ryou hesitates, trying to figure out how to do this part. He imagines himself standing in front of it, pictures reaching out to it with a hand. The golden thread flows forward, flooding into his 'hand' with what seems to be an almost questioning air. He focuses on turning and 'walking' back the way he came, until he can smell the gingerbread cookies and the coffee he and his father were drinking. Leading the thread of consciousness is both like and unlike leading someone by the hand, and Ryou decides it's more like that than anything else, so he imagines pulling that hand ahead of him to touch the edges of the memory before letting go, dissolving his non-body. The thread of Yami's consciousness curls eagerly into the memory, sending out a rapid muddle of excitement, confusion, and pleasure.

"That's the best I can do for now, Spirit. Later I'll try to put all of it in a room in the Millennium Puzzle to make it easier for you."

"You going to buy that, or are you waiting for it to turn into real food?"

Ryou blinks- and realizes that he's been staring intently at a box of powdered mashed potatoes since he first suggested Yami go through his memories, face screwed up in concentration. Turning red, he whips around and finds himself face-to-face with- …The buttons of Seto Kaiba's coat. His eyes draw a slow, mournful line up his chest to his face. Thankfully, he isn't smirking- isn't even scowling, just gazing down at him inscrutably.

"I, err…" It isn't Joey. Or Tristan. Or Téa. Duke, Marik, Ishizu, Mokuba… It's a good thing it's Kaiba, Ryou reminds himself. Deep breath, now. "What brings you here, Kaiba?" Good. That sounded nonchalant, right?

Seto Kaiba continues to stare silently at him, and then, without a twitch of an expression, raises his hand to show the box of Choco Sugar Blast-Os! he's holding. "Mokuba," he says flatly. It takes a great deal of self-restraint not to grin. Ryou strains, concentrates, reminds himself that this is a man who could very easily make him disappear and not a single person in the country would dare prosecute him for it. Innocently, doe-eyed as a newborn fawn, he says, "Oh?"

Kaiba, thank everything, only nods grimly. And then, inexplicably, his face darkens and he shoves the box in Ryou's face. Ryou flinches, expecting- he's not sure what, maybe to be shot through the box to muffle the gun blast, like one of those spy movies. (It's Kaiba, after all.) But instead the towering brunet leans down to him, growling, "Do you know how many chauffeurs we have..?" A lot, Ryou hazards silently. "And how many days off they have?" He would have guessed 'none' normally, but under the circumstances he's going to assume at least one. "Of all the days…" Kaiba trails off, seething silently to himself, and then slowly straightens, his face smoothing back into his usual unreadable, narrow stare, which he fixes back on Ryou's face.

"…I see," Ryou says after the prolonged pause seems to suggest he's waiting for a response. Kaiba eyes his basket, clearly asking one of his unspoken questions. Yami was always terrifyingly good at provoking and ignoring Seto Kaiba in equal turns, sometimes at the same time. He never seemed afraid of him, or even intimidated. Always he was cool, collected, ready, always half a step ahead. It was one of the relatively few things Ryou bothered to envy in Yami- and in Yugi, as well. Yugi has that same bravery- quieter, calmer, friendlier, perhaps not quite so regal and not nearly so proud, but undeniably there. Ryou wishes he had that same easy fearlessness when it comes to Seto Kaiba. But the sad fact of the matter is that the man has always scared him shitless.

He bows to Kaiba's forceful stare like a daisy in a hurricane. "I live nearby, so…"

"I thought you lived near Yugi and his pack," Kaiba grunts, losing interest in Ryou's basket and beginning to stride slowly down the aisle. It takes Ryou a moment to realize he's supposed to join him. He grabs a random box off the shelf next to him to excuse the pause and hurries to catch up, Kaiba's absurdly long legs making even his conversational saunter a notch above Ryou's regular pace.

"No," he says when he falls into stride next to him, "I've lived here since we came to Domino." And then, because he can't quite help himself, he blurts out, "-How do you keep Mokuba off the ceiling when he eats that?" because he's looked at the nutritional panel on Choco Sugar Blast-Os before in a fit of morbid curiosity and the sugar content made him choke. The corner of Kaiba's mouth quirks up and he says, "Tranquilizers in the milk." Ryou half-laughs, turns it into a stifled cough into his fist, and replies, "Hm." Kaiba loves Mokuba. He wouldn't actually drug him. Probably.

"That was a joke."

Thank god.

"…I didn't know you joked. You always seem very, erm… Serious."

"Because people are idiots."

"Um." Well then. "Does… Anything make you happy?" He's really toeing the line now, and the sweat beginning to bead on the nape of his neck keeps him from putting the emphasis he wants to on 'anything'. (He really likes his organs inside his body, not being sold on the black market, thank you.)

"Kittens."

"…You… Can't be serious."

"Obviously."

And Kaiba's smiling (truly, he should give up on that, it's terrifying)- or at least smirking in a less malicious way than usual- and Ryou's not sure whether to be happy he's not pissing him off or worried that he's having what amounts to a perfectly normal conversation with Seto Kaiba. A sudden stirring at the back of his mind distracts him from the urge to flee while he's still in Kaiba's good books. Now that he's aware of it at all, he can faintly feel the Pharaoh's essence rising from the Puzzle to eye the world around them through his eyes.

"A… Friend?" Yami's voice is a bit terse, and Ryou realizes he's probably picked up on his own anxiety from being in Kaiba's presence.

'…Well, not an enemy,' he thinks to himself, before replying to Yami.

" –Yes, a friend."

The agitated tension he feels in Yami's consciousness doesn't slacken in the least, but he says nothing more. He does not, however, retreat back into the Puzzle, apparently intending to lurk until- what, Kaiba tries to kidnap him? (Actually, Ryou has to admit that this is a somewhat valid concern- or would have been with Yugi. Ryou himself isn't interesting enough to warrant the bribes, no doubt.) He realizes the Puzzle Spirit's edgy presence has been distracting him and jerks his attention back to Kaiba. Thankfully, he doesn't seem to have noticed, apparently content to walk in silence (or maybe he's just forgotten Ryou's there- that's absolutely fine with him).

"That all you're getting?"

Or maybe he hasn't. Ryou follows Seto Kaiba's cold glance down to his own basket and its glorious bounty of oatmeal, milk, and… Fruit pectin. So that's what he grabbed. Pity he had no fruit. "Um." When did they reach the cashier? Bugger. He'd only really needed the milk, but… Kaiba's frigid blue eyes are narrowed on him. Ryou doesn't know what it feels like to be vivisected by lasers, but he's thinking that stare comes pretty close. "Yes? Yes, err, that's it." The brunet makes a disinterested grunting noise and turns away to drop his cereal in front of the startled cashier. She swiftly rings him up, stuttering through thank yous that he blandly ignores, and, apparently of the notion that Ryou is with him, gets through his items just as quickly. She looks a little dazed when Ryou thanks her back, as if just getting over having her life flash before her eyes. Ryou sympathizes.

Kaiba is still walking at the same casual stroll, which Ryou guesses means he's supposed to keep walking with him. They exit into the chilly air of the parking lot, and he tries to make himself look just as casual, as if they just happen to be wandering in the same direction. His new 'friend' jerks his chin up without looking at him. "You're parked over here?"

"Err, no. I walked."

Kaiba nods boredly as if this was the answer he'd expected and keeps walking until they reach, of course, the most expensive-looking car in the lot, silver and sleek as his beloved dragons. The door he opens, however, is on the passenger side. His stare pins Ryou to the concrete like a butterfly on a museum display. "Uh, th-that's really not-" His eyes narrow, and one eyebrow begins creeping toward his bangs. "…Th-thanks," Ryou mumbles, crawling meekly into the passenger seat. Yami is bristling.

"You said these were dangerous." His deep voice is the growl of a pacing panther, suddenly much closer to Ryou's own consciousness than he expected. He jumps a little even as he's clicking the seatbelt into place. "I said 'not usually,' actually." The Spirit growls again, but this time without words, and it appears to be directed at Kaiba as he folds his leggy figure smoothly behind the wheel.

oOo

Seto Kaiba is an unexpectedly safe driver. Ryou supposes it makes sense, if he often drives with Mokuba in the car, but even so, it doesn't quite fit with the image of him he's had in his mind all these years. (To be fair, though, that image usually involved sharp teeth and fire-breath.) He parks like a dick, though, pulling up right next to the fire hydrant in front of Ryou's house and killing the engine without so much as a worried glance. Ryou doubts he's ever gotten a parking ticket in his life that he had to pay.

"Thank you for the ri-" Ryou's hand is on the door handle when Kaiba's long, bony fingers are suddenly twisting in his collar, and when Ryou whips around, the brunet's face is hovering over him, his absurdly tall silhouette blocking him in against the door. Yami doesn't even have time to try to take over before Kaiba's hands are- Unzipping Ryou's coat..? The Puzzle gleams against Ryou's rapidly-working chest, and as soon as it's uncovered Kaiba coils back into his seat like a pleased serpent, giving Ryou a look that says, 'Well? Do I have to ask?' He does not, in fact, have to ask. Ryou isn't sure what the look on his face is right now, but whatever it is, it makes Kaiba smirk. Yami is practically writhing with fury, and holding him back is requiring more brain power than Ryou really thinks he can afford to waste.

"-Uh, Yugi asked."

"He asked you to wear it?"

"Well… No."

Kaiba pins him with a long, eerily silent stare. Then he turns and starts the engine. "Don't faint in my car."

Ryou nearly topples face-first into the lawn in his haste to get out, by some miracle still clutching his shopping. The brunet doesn't wait for another thank-you before pulling away without another glance.

"I find your taste in 'friends' less than satisfactory." The Puzzle Spirit is seething under a thin mask of control. Awkwardly zipping his jacket back up with one hand, Ryou silently agrees.