A/N: And out of the ashes of a "meh." chapter comes a chapter I actually like! ^^' Seriously, I'm sufficiently pleased with everything but the very end of this one. Also... IT. SO. LONG. *eye twitch*

So yea, someone commented on Mariku eating meat in the last chapter. I know he's a vegetarian, but I felt it fits his character better in this fic.

Also, people seemed to really like Amane and Bakura. THEY GET A LOT OF LOVE IN THIS CHAPTER. JUST SAYIN'.

WARNING: Mild shota. Nothing explicit... Now that I think about it though, I should probably add this warning to the story summary...

Disclaimer: I own nothing but my pride for writing this whole thing in one sitting. :D

EDITED EDITED EDITED AS OF 8/6/11: Changed ages AGAIN, of Bakura and Ryou. Sorry guys, I'll post the new ages at the beginning of next chapter as well, but it's not that much a difference. Just one year. *is stoned* I said SORRY, JEEZ!

Bakura shouldered his pack and crept quietly down the hallway. He peered into his mother's room, but she wasn't there. Not that he'd really expected her to be in her own bed… Sighing, he pushed open the door to Ryou's room.

Bakura swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat at the sight. Nothing had been moved since the day his brother had been taken. A cozy armchair, littered with an array of books, was next to the window. A pine-nut dresser stood in the corner, on which stood a few small knick-knacks, a hairbrush, and a little carving of a wolf that their father had made Ryou for his fifth birthday.

In the middle of the room was a small bed, covered with a blue-and-white spread. And on the bed… Mrs. Touzouku lay curled up, fast asleep. Her face was buried into Ryou's pillow, and she clutched his old, stuffed rabbit tightly to her chest, as though it were her last lifeline. Bakura edged over to her and carefully laid a note beside her head on the pillow.

He stared at her for a few moments, an uncomfortable twinge in his chest. This could be the last time you ever see her… He gritted his teeth at his conscience's reentrance into his thoughts. Couldn't that thing just leave him alone for ten minutes? …But it was right.

Slowly, he stretched out his hand and stroked her head. The paleness of his skin contrasted with her raven-black hair. His mother seemed to lean into his touch, and she shifted enough so he could see her face. Tear-tracks showed where her makeup had run, and her eyes were still closed, but she was smiling. It was a slight smile, but it was there.

"Sanosuke…(1)" she murmured. Bakura's heart skipped a beat. He never heard their father's first name anymore. Not since he had died almost six years ago. She must be really deep in sleep to think her husband was still alive and comforting her. He backed away until he reached the doorway.

Bakura took one last look around at the room. On a whim, he went and grabbed the wolf carving off the dresser and stuck it into his pack. If, no… when he found Ryou, his little brother would probably want it.

He turned and walked down the hall once more, opening the front door and stepping outside. Quietly closing the front door, he turned to face the world ahead of him. It was just dawn, and the sun was starting to tinge the sky orange. Not looking back at the cottage, he set off down the path. But perhaps he should have looked back…

They were several miles into the forest before Bakura realized he was being followed. Every time he turned around to try and catch the person however, they would hide behind a tree alongside the path. So they wanted to play, did they?

He continued to walk along casually for a few more minutes before breaking into a sudden dash. Running far up ahead, he hid behind his own tree, and waited for his follower to appear. He didn't have long to wait. The sound of pounding feet and panting soon reached his ears. When it stopped in front of his tree, he quickly popped out from behind it and grabbed…

"Amane?" Bakura felt like punching himself. He, the great Bakura Touzouku, had been followed for miles through the forest by his seven-year-old sister? So much for his renowned skills and expertise…

Amane looked up at him, her bottom lip set in a firm pout.

"I'm coming with you, big brother. I'm helping you find Ryou."

Bakura let out a disbelieving bark of laughter.

"Like hell you're coming with me! You think I need some little kid slowing me down?"

Amane smiled slyly, a smile Bakura didn't like. Where had she learned that? Probably from you…

"Well I can't go back alone! And you can't go back with me. We're already over an hour into the forest. Do you really want to waste that time?" she asked, triumph glinting in her brown eyes.

Bakura snarled. She was right… Damn kid's getting too smart for her own good. He let go of her, and started to walk again.

"Fine, you can come… if you can keep up."

"Wh-what?" Ryou stammered, eyes wide. Mariku grinned at him, unsuppressed glee written all across his face.

"I told you, snowbird, it's time for your bath."

"I heard you…" Ryou said, blushing furiously. "It's just… just…"

"Just what?" Mariku asked, mock innocence in his voice.

"Just…" Ryou swallowed, then burst out, "…just no!"

Mariku scowled.

"'No' isn't an option, I'm afraid." He unlocked the cage with a set of huge, metal keys. Ryou, terrified, pushed himself as far against the back of the cage as he could. Eyes clenched tightly shut, he whimpered as he felt a pair of muscular arms wrapping themselves around his waist.

"No no no no no no no…" he wailed, gripping the bars behind him. He heard Mariku growl in annoyance, and then strong fingers pried his hands away from the poles. One more yank and he was out of the cage.

"Let me go, let me go, let me go-" Ryou shrieked, writhing and kicking at the monster that held him in his arms bridal-style. He cried out in pain as Mariku slapped him across the face. Cheek stinging, he turned his head up to look at him.

"Finished?" Mariku asked, irritation flashing in violet eyes. Ryou nodded slowly. "Good." He walked out of the room, still carrying Ryou in his arms.

They moved through countless stone passageways and chambers. Ryou took it all in, not wanting to look at Mariku and having nothing else to do. Where on earth was this place? It seemed almost to be underground, but there had been a window in Ryou's room, and light and air had passed through it.

Finally they reached their destination: a door at the end of a particularly long hall. Mariku opened it and stepped into the largest bathroom Ryou had seen in his entire life. It was stone, just like everything else, but it seemed elegant somehow. There were towering pillars with grand designs in every corner, reaching up to the high ceiling. In the center of the floor was a great carved hole. It didn't seem to go deeper than five feet, but it was long enough to fit ten men shoulder to shoulder.

Ryou let out a startled squeak as Mariku set him on his feet. He stumbled forward a little, legs half-asleep from being carried for so long. He was going to bathe here? Back at home, their tub was just big enough to fit him sitting with his legs spread out. This…

"Well? Take your clothes off, pet!" an impatient voice said from behind him. Ryou reddened as he turned to face Mariku. The man stood there, arms folded across his chest, looking slightly peeved.

"Um…" Ryou whispered, chocolate eyes pleading, "C-could you… turn around?"

"Whatever for?"

"I…" Ryou began to scuffle his bare feet embarrassedly. "I don't want…"

Mariku's eye twitched. Mouth twisting into a livid snarl, he stormed over to Ryou, who cringed.

Grabbing hold of his wrists in one hand, he held them above Ryou's head. With the other hand, he roughly pulled Ryou's shirt over his head, and threw it on the ground next to them. Ryou, only half-clothed now, wrapped his arms around his torso and stood there shivering.

"Now, are you done complaining, or do you want me to do the rest as well?"

Ryou shook his head furtively, and without a word, undid his trousers and, pulling them off, deposited them with his shirt. Then he paused. All that was left were his boxers…

"Take them off, pet."

Crying on the inside, Ryou pulled them down and put them with the rest of his clothes. He turned to face Mariku, who had been staring at him with an odd expression on his face. Sorrow? Awe? …Hunger? Whatever it was, it made Ryou nervous. Mariku looked at him for a few moments longer, before turning on his heel and walking back out of the room.

"I'll be back," was the only thing he said as he closed the door behind him. Ryou heard him lock it.

Letting out a shaky sigh, he turned back to the bath. Well, if he was here, he might as well… Going over to the side of the bath, he found a faucet. Giving it a twist, water came roaring out and quickly filled the entire bath. Ryou put a finger in to test it. It was lukewarm, which was better than nothing he supposed. He had almost hoped for a steamy bath, cold as he was, but seeing as this was most likely spring water, he was just glad it wasn't icy. In an alcove on the other side of the room he found a small bar of soap and a bottle of sweet-smelling liquid that he guessed was shampoo of some kind.

Ryou walked slowly down the carved stone steps into the bath. As it reached his neck, he let out a long, contented sigh. It had been days since he had been clean, and he had to admit, it felt nice to submerge his aching body in water. Stretching luxuriously, as a cat might, he swam a lap around the bath as a kindness to his aching muscles. Then he sat down on one of steps and began to wash himself.

Mariku sat on the floor outside the bathroom, back against the door. He could hear the boy inside, splashing the water of the bath. As he closed his eyes wearily, Mariku heard him give a small, childlike giggle.

He felt a growl building in his chest. Why hadn't his pet laughed for him yet? All he had done was whimper, cry, and cower in fear before him. And while that was all well and good, (he did enjoy the terror his presence inspired), Mariku wanted… more.

He wanted enjoyment, amusement, something to entertain him. He wanted this boy to talk and laugh and sing for him. Other people came and went through his forest, but they were mere appetizers to fill the endless time he had. So when he had found this boy one day…

"I'll be the queen! Bakura can be my husband, the king of the forest! And Ryou… Ryou can be our court jester!" a high-pitched little girl's voice shrieked, piercing the usual silence of the forest with its sound.

Mariku winced slightly from where he crouched, high above in the trees. More visitors? And children, that was new… Most children wouldn't dare venture out into the forest by themselves. He smirked. This would be fun.

Mariku crept along the tree branch until he came right above the children's heads. There were three. A boy, and what seemed to be two girls.

"No way! I'm not going to pretend to be married to you!" the boy said irritably. He seemed to be about fourteen, with long white hair which seemed to rise unbidden above his head. Two pieces of hair in particular seemed to stick out, sticking up on either side of his head like white bat wings.

"Pleeeease, big brother!" the little girl pleaded, bouncing up and down. She had strange, sapphire-blue hair(2) which hung down just past her shoulders, and she looked to be about six. "Ryou, make him!" she said, turning to the other child.

"Why don't you make Ryou be your husband, huh?" Bakura asked, crossing his arms over his chest stubbornly. "He's a boy too!"

Mariku looked with new interest at the third child. Now that he thought about it, "Ryou", though effeminate, had a boy's lean body and stance. Another male then… But this boy was beautiful, smooth where his brother was sharp. Long white hair lay flat on his head, and soft, chocolate brown eyes differed from his brother's dangerous crimson.

"Bakura doesn't have to be your husband if he doesn't want to, Amane," the boy said softly. Mariku almost fell off the branch. Ryou had the voice of an angel! It was higher-pitched than that of his brother's, and sweet. It spoke of long days under the trees, hushed whispers under cover of darkness, glittering stars shining their cold light down upon the world, running through a meadow of violets, flying across the sky without a care in the world… freedom. He sounded like freedom. And Mariku wanted it… He wanted it. He wanted the purity, the raw innocence. He wanted it stuffed into his mouth. He wanted to tear it open, and feel it sliding down his throat. He wanted to clutch it to his chest and never let it go. He wanted to listen to that voice forever and ever, until the sun burned out and the world froze over.

"But-"Amane began, her face falling, and a pout forming on her lips. Mariku scowled. Let Ryou speak again, you little brat!

Ryou held up a hand to Amane and she fell silent. He turned to Bakura, who was still standing there, sulking.

"Bakura doesn't have to be the king of the forest, Amane." The boy's voice was crafty, and Mariku could hear the smile in his voice. He grinned to himself. Not only was the boy striking, but he had wit too. He knew his brother's weakness. "I guess I will have to step in and take control of everything in the kingdom. It sure is a lot of influence though… I don't know if I'll be able to handle it all." Bakura's eyes popped open.

"Oh no you don't, Ryou! You could never handle the absolute power that comes with being king of the forest! Only I could rule over this realm with the control and dominance needed to keep the people satisfied." Pride.

Amane clapped her hands delightedly.

"Hooray! Now come with me, my king," she said, adopting a grand and lofty tone. "Come and sit, and we will listen to the lovely music delivered to us by Court Jester Ryou." She grabbed Bakura's hand and dragged him to two nearby stumps, where they sat, her in excitement, Bakura with a grudging expression on his face.

Ryou smiled, and, bowing before his siblings, began to sing.

"Ashes to ashes,
Dusk to dawn.
Cloudy skies,
A world is drawn.

Happiness is a fickle thing-
Who knows when it'll stay?
Sadness, though, is a more loyal passion.
It clings to us the entire day.

However, if there's one thing
To be learned from this song;
It's that light can be found in the darkest of places.
That's all it takes to be strong."

Ryou bowed once more as his song ended. Amane cheered, and even Bakura looked marginally impressed. Mariku however, simply stared, enthralled. If he had thought the boy's voice had been wonderful before, it was doubled now. When he sang, Ryou shone with a kind of magic unlike he had ever seen. He was like a little bird. A perfect little bird. And with that white hair… Snowbird.

Mariku vowed that one day, not today, he would steal the boy for himself. Ryou would sing for him and him alone.

And so he had. Ryou had come back to the forest plenty of times to play in the forest. But something had always stopped him from taking the boy. For one thing, he was always with his annoying siblings. And another… he was so young. Only thirteen when he had first seen the boy, and that seemed to be cruel, even for him, to take the boy away from his family when he was still nothing more than a child. So he had bided his time, just watching, waiting for the right time.

And it had finally paid off. Ryou, now fourteen, had come into the forest, separating himself from his brother. It was too easy. He was picking flowers, and singing. Mariku had swept down from the trees and whisked the boy away. The brother was too late.

And now… to make Ryou his, he had refrained from calling him by his name. Only "pet", or "snowbird". He had left him alone for a while, knowing the boy needed time to adjust. And for a couple days, Ryou had even refused to speak! That had almost killed Mariku, knowing that he had that lovely voice in his grasp, but it couldn't even be heard. But then Ryou had spoken, and he began to breathe again.

Today, he had wanted to do something nice for his pet. He knew Ryou would probably like to be clean once again, so he had decided the boy would be allowed out of his cage for a bath. And how did that brat repay him? By crying and screaming, struggling even! Mariku scowled.

Once they were in the bathroom, he had refused to even take off his clothes. Mariku had had to literally half-strip the boy himself. When Ryou had finally gotten completely undressed, well… He had had to leave. Pale and perfect, the slight rise and fall of the boy's chest; it gave Mariku an unfamiliar feeling in the pit of his stomach.

And that brought him to where he was now- outside the bathroom, listening at the door like some kind of snake. He stood up, brushing himself off and giving his cape a twirl for good measure. Mariku squelched the strange feeling that had risen up inside of him. Ryou was his now. He wouldn't let anything this ruin for him.

So yea... that flashback took place a year ago. I decided to move ages around a bit. Please read below.

THEN- Bakura: 14
Amane: 6
Ryou: 13

NOW- Bakura: 15
Amane: 7
Ryou: 14

If it seems weird that they're all playing together at these ages, well... They live in the middle of frickin' nowhere. Bakura has nowhere else to go. Ryou... would have played with Amane anyways.

(1)- IRONY. The name means, "survivor", and "a fighter" apparently... And he's dead. ...IT SEEMED FUNNY AT THE TIME. X( *is shot*

(2)- Ryou's father was shown having that weird-as-hell blue hair in teh anime. Thought it seemed appropriate to give ONE of his children the same trait.

So anyways... Please REVIEW! I love you guys so much. Thanks for the warm welcome this story has gotten so far! :]

ALSO: I have an ending in mind! Hooray for me for planning ahead! XD

ALSO ALSO: Look at this picture I found! (take the spaces out) http:/ fuck yeah yugioh. / page/ 25 It's Ryou and Bakura! THIS PICTURE LOOKS JUST LIKE MY STORY. In fact, this is kind of what the ending looks like in my head, *Spoilers!* :P