Ryou shot out of Bakura's apartment in the manner befitting a comet slashing the night sky. At the moment the door slammed shut behind him, he heard an ash tray shatter against it. But the sound didn't quite reach him, as if it were traveling through water. Ryou's mind was lightyears ahead. The thunder seemed impossibly clear, however, like canon bursts on a battlefield. He ran. He ran for his life. Not in the literal sense, but he ran for his happiness, away from his prison of compromise and suffering. For too long his virtue of loyalty had been turned against him. He wouldn't cut out his own heart and serve it to Bakura besides.

He thought that people in distress usually sought the comfort of cathedrals, 'I can do even better: I have a rational man.' Raindrops crashed against his face, blurring his vision. He dashed through massive puddles that in turn soiled his pristine trousers with mud. The sky was so heavy and gray. Most would be deterred by such antipathy, but not he; he was serene as a star unabashedly sure in its firmament. The wind left him breathless and propelled him forward because of it. His legs were burning from his sincere effort. All this pain, it was a pinnacle. It was for him. If the buildings that towered over him like indifferent judges were to suddenly tumble down and crush him, he would crawl through the fractured concrete and steel, putting the broken bones and blood loss far from his consciousness. There was only one vision in his mind: Marik's bare, bronzed form sprawled atop perfectly white sheets. He ran faster. Marik was the only thing he couldn't ignore. In his dreams at night, in his waking thoughts, in every movement of his arm, in every step, he felt Marik's presence, his ownership. Ryou finally saw his apartment building, a veritable beacon in the night. He flew up the stairs, taking two in stride, to the third floor. He knocked against Marik's door with unadulterated desperation and need.

Marik answered the door with haste. The pale, wet boy he encountered on the other side brought a smile to his face. The light from the hallway bulb refracted gloriously through the countless beads of water that clung to Ryou's hair. Marik was reminded of a cloudless night sky. Ryou smiled in turn. Marik's was of joy and mocking triumph, Ryou was of joy from being able to witness joy. Marik's face quickly contorted to a look of abject horror and concern as he became aware of the monstrous bruise that seemed to consume the left side of Ryou's visage. Ryou turned his gaze to the doormat.

"Get in here now."

"Yes."

Ryou inhaled deeply the scent of Marik's abode and took selfish delight in glancing at all of Marik's possessions. 'No one else sees this. This is all his, and all mine. For he is mine.' Then something clicked in his mind, "I understand now why you smile at me the way you do whenever I come here."

Marik laughed knowingly; he noticed how Ryou regarded his surroundings when he entered.

"I'm sure. But let's take care of your face first, okay?"

"Okay."

After Marik had dressed Ryou's wounds, he took him to bed, laying him on top of himself. "What happened this time?", Marik's voiced was laced with worry for Ryou, and hatred for Bakura.

Ryou rested his good cheek on Marik's firm chest, and absentmindedly played with the Egyptian's hair, "He wanted to have sex with me. After you and I finally consummated our relationship, I couldn't stand to have him touch me, much less allow him inside me. So I refused. He got angry, which I thought was weird because he didn't even seem to enjoy sex anymore. He did it as a soldier would perform a march: automatically. But, at any rate I guess it was some sort of phantom reaction to my denial of the dominance he expects to exert over me. It looks worse than it is. The thought of defiling our relationship hurt much more."

Marik raised the chin of his partner in a gentle grip and kissed him passionately. Ryou returned it eagerly. This is what he wanted so much: being in Marik's arms, hearing his heartbeat, feeling the suppleness of his lips and the hardness of his erection increasing against his thigh. He felt safe. And, what's more, desired—no, loved. Marik was his angel, his reason for living. Ryou couldn't imagine an existence without him.

"I love you, too," said the older man. Ryou smiled against Marik's shoulder, 'This is life as it should be,' he thought.

That night, after participating in the greatest act of reverence possible to man, Ryou fell asleep in Marik's arms, as he always did. His sleep was never troubled when he shared it with his dearest one. He dreamt of the morning after their first time together:

He is caught somewhere between Sky and Earth, teetering between infinite pleasure and normalcy, descending on a cloud of lead. The touch has been broken, so he has no right to claim. Consciousness seeps back into his head, even though it never left: the difference between awareness of the exultation and the everyday. The linen is still clutched in his fists—he touched it! The connection remains...as does the luxurious concavity of his frame, in response to his mate's unstoppable force. The placement of his hair across his face, the angle of his shoulders, the poise of his legs, they are all a tribute to him. He opens his eyes: he's at the window, now. The morning sun vulgarly bathes him with its light. He is jealous of the intimacy, and it stings his eyes. He turns to him, granting him his gaze. He smiles, because he knows what's running through his mind. He winces in pleasure and pain—but what's the difference?

"You know, this is the greatest tribute you could offer."

"I do." He smiles again. Nothing separates them. "This happiness...it will always be here, always mine to claim?"

"Yes. But only in this way. You understand that?"

"I do, now. I offer up everything I am to you, for you to do with what you will. Not because I want to make you happy, but because I want pleasure, to enjoy life, and the knowledge that I have met the greatest of the world. He has conquered me, and I have conquered him."

He laughs silently. His eyes are heavy with desire and admiration. There is no frenzy, desperation, or immolation. The calmness of the execution is the greatest demonstration of reverence.

A temple with two worshippers of the only religion: the will and integrity of man.

Skin to skin, hand to face, eye to eye: the only prayer.


Ryou awoke without opening his eyelids. He had no desire to acknowledge that which surrounded him. The darkness his eyes encountered was comforting. 'If only all my waking hours were filled with this uniform black. Nothing would hurt, for there would be nothing for my mind to integrate.' His thoughts were often of this bleak nature nowadays. Ryou always believed happiness to be the natural corollary to life. Then he grew up, and found that to be anything but the case. He didn't seem to realize that the consequence of keeping one's eyes shut was blinding one to the happiness that indeed filled one's life.

He felt the sheets clinging to him ignobly. Sweat, and the liquids of the proceeding nights activities, bound the luxurious fabric to Ryou like a second skin, refusing him the evasion he wanted so desperately. He felt the sunlight of early morning fall gently across his weary visage. He knew he must arise completely and begrudgingly opened his eyelids. Carefully did he extricate himself from the powerful arms that encircled his body; he didn't want to disturb his beloved Marik. 'He gives me so much...the least I can do is allow him a full night's sleep.' He made his way to the marble shower and ran it as hot as he could stand. He didn't need to remove any clothing: Marik never neglected to deprive him of it as long as he remained in the domineering Egyptian's apartment.

'Why can't life be as easy as a shower?', thought Ryou whilst he untangled his hair and removed that which coated his abs. He washed his face gingerly, all too aware of the hideous violet mark that marred his otherwise immaculate countenance. 'Bakura will be expecting me soon...I better hurry up...' Ryou gave a start as a pair of strong, tanned hands clutched his hips with the simultaneous confidence and ease of an owner who knows his property as well as he knows himself. Marik's chin rested lovingly upon Ryou's fragile shoulder, and the pale boy let his head fall gently against Marik's own.

"I cannot stay..."

"Why? Why must you return?"

"He's so alone...I know what he does is indefensible...but...I can't bring myself to abandon him..."

"Is this not enough cause?" Marik turned Ryou around and indicated his savagely bruised cheek. "What about this?" Marik grabbed Ryou's arm and traced the scar that dominated it, from when Bakura had slashed his bicep with a broken bottle of Svedka. "Or this?" Marik placed his hand on the wound that graced Ryou's temple from when Bakura had hurled him against the corner of a wall. "In God's name why do you continue to run back to that monster?"

"I-I loved him once...he wasn't always this way...there was a time when he was..." Ryou faltered, he rarely allowed himself to reflect upon the Bakura he once knew. He continued, "In the name of that, Marik, I must remain with him."

"But what about the love you hold for me? Do you know what it's like for me when you leave, and when I see what he's done to you when you return?"

"Please Marik, don't..." Ryou could feel his tears despite the hot water that struck his face, for they burned with even greater heat.

Marik forcefully shut off the shower, hurriedly left the stall, and grabbed a towel for himself, while flinging another in Ryou's direction. "I know what he must have meant to you...being so alone as you once were. But Ryou! I'm so afraid that one night you won't come back to me, because you'll no longer be of this Earth!" Marik had turned to face Ryou, who remained in the doorway to the bathroom. Slowly, Ryou, wearing only a towel around his waist and a sad smile on his face, walked to the man he regarded as a cloistered monk must regard Jesus. He placed his hand on Marik's cheek with unimaginable tenderness and Marik's flew to cover Ryou's with unimaginable rapidity.

"I know the hurt I must inflict upon your heart...please believe me when I say it's my greatest regret. I realize the gamble I take every time I enter Bakura's home, the gamble I take with your patience. But I chose to be with him. No one forced me to. It was a conscious decision I gladly made at the time. I've betrayed him by being with you. There's a sense of duty I cannot escape. It must seem terribly irrational, yet my mind refuses not to consider it." Tears had begun to flow freely once again. Marik pressed the wounded dove that faced him against his own immovable form.

"Ryou...life shouldn't be an exercise in sacrificial offerings. The minute he first struck you were relieved of any 'duty' to that man."

"Maybe you're right...but I must reach that point of guiltlessness on my own."

"I cannot say I understand this...but I can say you are the kindest soul I've ever encountered." Ryou stood on his toes and kissed his dearest one.

"Even were I to die, I know I wouldn't be without you for long." It was Marik's turn to initiate an impassioned meeting of lips. He mustered up all his strength to quit that kiss and allow Ryou to dress.

Marik had heard the front door close some time ago, but he never could quite believe Ryou ever really left him. He would wait. He would always wait. He was Atlas...he was stronger than Atlas. There was no burden that could bring him to his knees, for he had Ryou's undying love.


"Bakura? Bakura? Are you here?"

Ryou had finally made his way back to that ignominious dwelling. Except, this time, he wasn't as afraid. He kept hearing Marik's words in his mind, "The minute he first struck you, you were relieved of any 'duty' to that man." He walked through the apartment to the bedroom and found Bakura asleep or passed out on the bed, with numerous emptied bottles of vodka strewn about him. "You may not be the most noble man alive...but I cannot blame you entirely...I drive you to this...with my betrayal..." Ryou said aloud. The sad shell of a man that he saw before him reignited his dying flame of guilt. He left and fell gracelessly on the couch. He held his head heavily in his right hand, his elbow resting upon his knee. Little did Ryou know that as soon as he exited the bedroom Bakura's eyes opened with surprising alacrity.

"I'm glad you are cognizant of the part you play in this little tragedy, my dear Ryou."

Ryou raised his head in one swift movement. He had not heard Bakura enter the living room. He expected Bakura to remain unconscious for quite some time. "Ahh Bakura! Beg your pardon?"

"Hmmhmm. Don't feign ignorance hikari. I heard your confession in the bedroom."

"Oh. You did?"

"Yes. Though, I'm curious. What is this betrayal you speak of?"

"I do not love you anymore."

"Hah, I've known that for quite some time. Is that all, Ryou?" Ryou noticed that Bakura's laugh was hollow. There wasn't even a sadistic edge to it. He looked at Bakura's face. He seemed so much older. There were lines of bitterness on his mouth. But, most of all, he appeared tired. Ryou wondered why he never realized this before.

"No. But that's all the information you have a right to."

"Is that so?"

"Yes."

"Either you've finally grown a spine or you're just being reckless with words."

"It's something much greater than both of those, Bakura. I don't expect you to understand. However, I'm curious now, too. If you've been aware that I've lost all love for you for so long, why do you still claim me as yours?"

"Watch it hikari."

Ryou looked into Bakura's eyes. They were empty. There was simply nothing there except for a faint flicker: it was Bakura trying to be the Bakura he once was. He was working so hard to convince Ryou that he was still a threat, and to disguise his fear. Ryou felt as though he were approaching the answer to a riddle he had been trying to unravel for some time. What was Bakura's motivation?

"I'm free of you, Bakura."

"What did you say?"

"You only possessed me as long as you had my sanction to use that which is best within me against me, as weapons: my loyalty, my kindness, my morality. So long as you made me feel guilty, I was yours. Your abuse? As long as you duped me into believing that's exactly what I deserved and had no expectation of being treated any better, I'd keep coming back for more. Your drinking? You don't enjoy it. You kill two birds with one stone. You evade reality and you inflict pain upon me because somehow I thought I was responsible for you depravity. Well? I'm responsible for no one, except myself, my own actions and my own happiness. You live for me. Not in the romantic bromidic way. You live so that I may suffer, that I'll never discover my own happiness. You know that that discovery would invalidate your existence. You need me to confirm your it, your existence, that is. You used to call me a coward because I ran, because I couldn't face you. I couldn't, until now. Because guess what? I've found happiness. But, it is you that are the coward. Your power was an illusion. You had no virtues upon which to build a good life. So, you sought to destroy them. What more contemptible a person is there who hates others because they might be or are happy?"

Bakura hadn't moved at all. His face seemed to deflate. "You have no idea what you are saying."

"But I do. That is my strength. I will no longer allow myself to be your victim. You lived by sacrificing me to yourself. Tell me, what are you going to do now?"

Ryou had thought he had felt pity for Bakura, but now he was certain of it. Pity is given when someone cannot earn any other emotional regard. It's the sentiment of bankruptcy. It was an ugly thing, almost as ugly as Bakura's soul.

As he walked to the front door he heard Bakura fall to his knees. His last thought of Bakura was that he reminded him of a discarded marionette.


Marik seated himself at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. Rarely did he allow himself to indulge in one of those, for he knew Ryou was bothered by his smoking. But, he needed the solace of nicotine. Marik never felt fear. It just was an emotion of which he was incapable. He was certain of his strength to conquer any obstacle, physical or otherwise. However, at this moment, fear was the most accurate word he could think of to describe what he felt. 'What can Ryou possibly use to shield himself against the pure malice Bakura wields? What can any man do to fight evil? I should've gone with him...No. He needs to win this battle on his own. If I were to intervene and use force, or aid him in any way, his victory would be meaningless. It's his life. His mind is strong. I know he escape Bakura...he must.' Marik glanced at the clock, 'He's been gone about two hours...I wonder how long he'll be.' As soon as his thought ran its course he heard the door open evenly. He got up and raced to the hallway. There, Ryou stood, his body holding a posture of pride, his mouth holding a smile of serenity. Marik mused internally, 'This is the natural state of man!', and gathered Ryou in an passionate embrace.

"It was so easy, you know."

Marik let the boy go, "What do you mean?"

"Ridding myself of Bakura. All the way back here, I wondered as to why I didn't do it sooner..."

"Well?"

Ryou shrugged one shoulder, as if he were considering a matter not worthy of his time, "I finally looked at him without any distorting lens. No sadness, no regretfulness, no guilt, no compassion. I regarded him as I would a complete stranger: with simple observant objectivity. And it all hit me, his impotence, his reliance upon me, his emptiness. I thought to myself, 'This is the end product of one's hatred for life.' I pitied him. He had no idea."

"He's not worthy of pity!"

Ryou laughed genuinely, "Actually, it's exactly what he deserves, if you contemplate the nature of pity."

"Ha! I guess you're right." Marik found his anger dissolving, and admiration filling its place. Ryou looked so young! He seemed to radiate an ethereal luminescence. Marik knew this loving boy was all his and that they had a wonderful life ahead of them. Marik took Ryou's face in his steady hands, and kissed him with the utmost tenderness. It was a salute, a seal, binding all the troubles they had conquered to a place never to be thought of again.

"None of it mattered Ryou, the pain...the waiting. We're here now. We've made it."

"Yes...Marik?"

"What is it, dearest?" Marik had moved them to the couch, where he sat, with Ryou sitting on the floor, his lovely head resting upon Marik's knee. Marik ran his long fingers through Ryou's silky mane of silver.

"I think I can say I love you know...I've finally earned the right to say it."

Marik gasped lightly. He never felt so proud of his life, and of his love for Ryou. They both were truly worthy of the happiness they now shared. "A thousand times over you've earned it..." Marik's voice was barely a whisper. Ryou closed his eyes, tears of joy clinging tentatively to his eyelashes, like a string of diamonds, only more precious. He wrapped his arms around Marik's waist, a let out a sigh of pure and complete contentment.