A/N: Deathshipping (my adopted pairing) for the Yugioh fanfiction contest, season 9.75. Beta-read by sitabethel. Concrit and feedback welcome!

If I've messed up my representation of Catholic religious practices anywhere, please let me know.

Warnings: Violence involving children and atypical use of holy water.

The Boy's Confession

The priest waited patiently inside the tiny booth. He had a long day of work ahead of him, work that was undeniably fulfilling but often left him depressed. Person after person would come to him and confess the stains of their souls, forever reminding him of the absolute depravity of humanity without God's help. He never gave up because guiding others to the light was his duty, and as long as he remembered that, he had the strength to press on.

Of course, it was always nice to discover his first visit was from a child who hurriedly crossed himself. Little kids never inspired his pessimism; they cried about a white lie they told their parents or begged to be forgiven for stealing candy from a store. Through the slit in the divide, he noticed this child was a boy around nine or ten, with short white hair and green eyes. He felt confident he could erase the troubled frown from this boy's face with a little encouragement and advice.

The boy looked through the slit, piercing the priest with a guilty, desperate look. "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. My last confession was one month ago." Then, in a trembling voice, he divulged the story that led him to confession. It began with a chilling admission:

"I killed my best friend."

/…/

Ryou had made just one friend since starting school, and he was the mean, angry kid everyone else left alone. His name was Malik, and they'd developed an understanding over the years. Ryou knew Malik wasn't really a bully, and Malik knew Ryou wasn't actually a freak. Neither was accepted by their classmates, but it was okay as long as they had each other. Since kindergarten, Ryou wouldn't run away when Malik lashed out, and Malik kept Ryou from feeling lonely when everyone else avoided him.

The other kids teased Ryou because, in his naivety, he'd revealed a huge secret during his kindergarten class's first show-and-tell. "I can see ghosts," he'd proudly proclaimed before going on to describe the silhouette of a dead janitor that still mopped the halls every morning. Aside from the two girls that had gotten scared and cried, everyone else had laughed and called him crazy, and even the teacher had reprimanded him. "Show and tell is for true things, Ryou." She hadn't listened when he'd insisted it was the truth, and eventually he'd stopped telling people about the hanged man on his neighbor's tree or the bloody girl who peeked in his math class's window each day at seven past nine.

For fear that his only friend would also find him crazy, Ryou never brought up the ghosts he saw to Malik, though he probably knew about it through the school grapevine. Ryou's intended to never mention it in conversation, but one spring afternoon it looked like he might have to break his own rule. That was the day he saw the ghost clinging to Malik's body.

It was different than any ghost he'd seen before, because he recognized it. He didn't know how or why, but the ghost was identical to Malik, from his clothes to his blonde hair to the marks drawn on his cheeks. Ryou watched him wrap translucent arms around Malik and Malik feeling nothing, just kicking a rock by his feet and yelling at Ryou to hurry up.

They walked home together every day, since Malik's house was just a little past Ryou's. Even though it wasn't uncommon for Ryou to have to catch up with the impatient Malik, today he didn't know if he wanted to. When the ghost turned around and looked Ryou up and down, he became rooted to the ground, fearful of the cruel light in his eyes, the grin that seemed off somehow. The ghost spoke directly to him when he realized something. "You can see me, can't you?"

"I-" Ryou broke off, unsure of what to say, or what he could say without seeming strange to Malik. Malik just stared through the spirit and repeated his order to hurry up.

"I can't be late, Ryou. Come on or I'm leaving you."

Ryou remembered how strict Malik's father was with his only son and for the sake of saving Malik from his wrath, he forced himself move ahead and walk beside Malik the rest of the way. He did his best to ignore the ghost, but it wasn't it easy. He kept appearing in front of Ryou and swiping at his face or chest, making him flinch and causing Malik to give him a questioning glance.

"Are you scared?" he taunted. "You should be."

From that day on, the ghost was always with Malik. He didn't pay much attention to the human he was attached to, and in fact usually looked bored. But when he spotted Ryou, he would grin in a horrifying way. He'd whisper in his ear for an entire class period, keeping Ryou from learning anything except for a vivid description of the pits of Hell the ghost swore Ryou would go to one day. Still, Ryou refused to say anything to Malik. Ghosts weren't supposed to be something that affected him or those around him; they were unfathomable beings that existed everywhere but bothered only those who'd wronged them in life. They weren't supposed to be identical to his best friend, and they weren't supposed to appear for no reason.

When Malik missed a week of school it terrified Ryou, certain that the spirit had harmed his friend in some way. When Malik finally reappeared one morning, he ignored Ryou and stalked past his friend towards the school's entrance. Ryou chased after him, reaching out tentatively and placing a hand on his shoulder before he made it inside. Malik froze and glared at Ryou, but Ryou barely noticed. Instead, he took in the fading bruises that peeked out from Malik's armbands and clothes and how Malik awkwardly carried his weight on one side, like his left leg was injured. "Malik, what happened?" Ryou whispered, pulling his friend around the corner and away from the crowding entrance.

Though Malik seemed tempted at first to jerk free from Ryou's grasp and leave his friend without answers, the evident concern in Ryou's eyes made him reconsider. He looked away and murmured, "It was… My father got mad at me. I-" Ryou was shocked to see his proud friend start to shake, a stray tear falling down his cheek. He pulled Malik into a tight hug, letting Malik hide his crying against his shoulder.

The ghost, who had been hovering nearby the whole time, tugged on Ryou's arm. "You can stop this from happening again."

Those words echoed inside Ryou's mind all day and into the night. He barely got any sleep as he tried to decide if the malevolent ghost should be trusted. If there were really a way to save Malik from his pain, Ryou was willing to do anything to make it so.

He got the chance to question the ghost the next morning. As had become routine, the ghost drifted away from Malik towards the back of the classroom where Ryou sat, making himself at home atop his desk. "Do you remember what I said yesterday?" the ghost asked.

Ryou turned to a new page in his notebook and wrote, What are you? Are you more than a ghost?

"What am I…" he echoed." There isn't a name for what I am. Maybe you could call me Malik's guardian angel. Or you can call me a demon. It's all the same to me." He gave another of his unnerving smiles. "There are plenty like me, but is there anyone like you? Humans can't see ghosts and spirits. They walk through life unaware of the beings that walk among them. If you're going to question me, I'll question you back."

Okay, fine. Can you really help Malik?

"I said you could save him, didn't I? Of course, you'll need my help, and you have to stop doubting my sincerity."

You've given me no reason to trust you. You've only been cruel.

The spirit shrugged. "It's my nature. But I will help Malik, I promise you. I'm extremely interested in his well-being. Do you think I hang around him constantly for his personality?"

Ryou sighed and tapped his pencil against the paper, wondering how he could make the ghost or spirit or whatever he was prove he was being honest. He glanced at Malik and remembered how his friend who was so tough had shaken in his arms.

What do I have to do?

"Hardly anything. Humans aren't good for much." He motioned to Ryou's rosary. "Bring me some sacred object from your church. Holy water works well. I'll need it during the full moon, so next weekend come to Malik's house. Then I can stop his father from laying a finger on him ever again."

Are you going to hurt him?

"Does it really matter as long as Malik's safe?"

Ryou's heart thudded painfully in his chest as he considered that. Was the life of a tyrannical old man worth more than the happiness and well-being of his best friend?

I'll be there.

It took a lot of begging and convincing, but Malik finally agreed to let Ryou spend the night with him the following Saturday. He was given specific directions on how to stay out of his father's way and what manners would be expected of him. Ryou was at his most polite as he walked to Malik's house that afternoon and was let in by his older sister. She gave him a bright smile and led him to Malik's room.

Ryou had never been inside his house before, so he curiously observed his surroundings. Malik's room was full of old books and Egyptian paraphernalia. So much of it was golden, including the thick silk curtains on his window. Ryou placed his bag in a corner, hearing the faint slosh of water from within it.

They spent the afternoon playing games. The spirit kept catching his eye and smirking. He said once, "Tonight, Malik's pain will end."

Dinner was a tense affair. Malik's father was there, and he was every bit as imposing as Ryou had imagined him. He didn't understand how he could smile at Malik and explain to Ryou that he knew his son would go far in life when only days earlier he'd beaten him for mild disobedience. Fortunately, the man retired to his study after dinner, and Ryou could focus on his friend again. His older sister and adopted brother watched a movie with them before it was time for bed.

Ryou'd brought a sleeping bag and he stretched it out on the floor in Malik's room. Malik climbed into his bed, adjusted his pillows, and switched the lamp off. When it was totally dark, the spirit told Ryou it wouldn't be long. The moon rose in the sky as Malik's breathing deepened.

"All right, he's asleep. What did you bring me?"

Ryou crawled over to his bag and withdrew a bottle filled with holy water stolen from his church. It was bad to steal from anywhere, let alone a place of holiness, but Ryou thought he could be forgiven if this helped Malik.

The ghost grinned and settled in front of Ryou on the floor. Ryou awkwardly held it out, unsure of how the ghost was supposed to drink it when he had no solid form.

The ghost rolled his eyes at him. "I can't just take it. You know, I asked you earlier if there was anyone like you in the world. Well, there is. There's a handful people who can see and help us get along in the world of the living. So you have to trust me; I've done this before."

He explained what Ryou had to do. Unsure of himself, Ryou took a gulp of the water and held it in his mouth. The ghost leaned forward and pressed his mouth against Ryou's. Ryou parted his lips and the ghost drank the water. "More," he hissed, and Ryou repeated the process.

He sighed in contentment. "Perfect… I can't enter sacred places, you see, but when a human willingly gives me something holy I can draw power from it. I'm no longer limited." He laughed, holding up his hands. "You see?" They were solidifying in front of Ryou's eyes. "And now, now I can complete the ritual."

He smiled and Ryou felt his limbs become heavy. They were like anchors; he couldn't move. His voice wouldn't work either as he watched the spirit approach Malik's bed and draw the covers back. When Ryou redoubled his efforts to free himself from the invisible hold, he felt his back pushed harder against the wall. He was helpless as Malik woke up and saw the ghost's face for the first time.

Before he could scream, the ghost created some sort of shadow material out of thin air and stuffed it in his mouth. Only faint whimpers escaped him as the ghost lifted him up and lay him in the middle of the floor, only a couple of feet away from Ryou. Ryou watched with tearful eyes as the ghost pinned his wrists and ankles to the ground with the same shadowy stuff. Malik struggled and looked to Ryou for help, but neither of them could do anything as the ghost pulled a dagger from his pocket and caressed Malik's cheek with the flat of the blade.

Ryou wanted to scream as the dagger was used to slice away Malik's shirt, leaving trails of blood all over his body. The ghost chanted in a language Ryou'd never heard before as he worked. He traced a pattern across Malik's chest, a star with too many points that bled more as the cuts were deepened over and over. Malik's eyes were shut tight; Ryou could only imagine how he'd scream if he could. He tried again to make a noise, some sort of alert that could bring Malik's siblings to the rescue, but it was no use. They were both bound and helpless before the ghost that Ryou couldn't believe he'd trusted.

When the ghost was satisfied with the star, he carved another symbol below that Ryou couldn't make out. The blood from the cuts was starting to puddle around Malik, painting his body and the floor crimson. It was weak of him, but Ryou wished he could look away instead of being forced to watch his friend tortured.

The ghost stopped chanting and cutting at the same time. He grinned down at his work and grabbed Malik's jaw as the boy's eyes glazed over. "This is mine," he whispered victoriously. He became a shadow himself, the shapes on Malik's chest glowing and drawing him into the corpse of his friend. Ryou watched the chest start to rise again, the bleeding stopping on its own. Malik sat up and gave Ryou a smile, and Ryou knew what was in front of him would never be his best friend again.

When the blood was wiped up and a new shirt covered his body, the new Malik knelt on one knee and looked Ryou in the eye. "I suppose I should thank you. I've been merging my soul with Malik's for the last month, but to replace his life with my own I needed a small favor. Maybe one day I'll repay it." He gripped Ryou's hair and the feeling returned to his limbs, though his voice was still gone. "Or maybe one day I'll kill you for fun. Just like you killed your best friend." Tears blurred hiss vision as the spirit laughed under his breath released Ryou's hair. With his body completely under his control again, Ryou ran out of the house and back to his own, not caring that it was past midnight, for nothing in the darkness outside could be as frightening as what he'd just witnessed. He had to escape from the monster wearing his friend's face like a mask.

/…/

Throughout the long tale, the boy paused only occasionally to emit a choked sob. "I wish I could've die in his place," he admitted. "I deserve it! The spirit tricked me, and now my only friend is gone."

The priest was at a loss for words. Of all his years listening to the public's secrets, he'd never been told such a wild, improbable tale, and the fact a child had told it made it that much stranger. He tried to formulate an appropriate response when none truly existed. "My child," he began awkwardly, but then he heard the door to his confessee's side being flung open.

"He knows I'm here," the boy breathed. "And he can enter holy places now. I- I have to go."

"Wait a minute," the priest said, exiting his side of the booth and willing the boy to calm down. "Just have a seat, and I can call your parents-"

"It's too late," he blurted out. He dodged the priest and flew down the aisle. When he shoved open the door, the midday light obscured him to a tiny, frail silhouette. Then he was gone.

Ryou wondered if the priest were praying for him as he wove through alleys in a desperate attempt to throw off the spirit. He could sense it coming ever closer and remembered those words it had left him with: "Maybe one day I'll kill you for fun."

Ryou tripped over some litter in an alleyway and hit the ground with a cry. He started to spring up again but changed his mind, bowing his head and murmuring a prayer over folded hands. "Save me, oh Father, blessed Mother, I never meant for this to happen." His earthly father had not believed him and the priest may not have been convinced either, but surely someone in heaven would hear and protect him.

"They won't listen."

The demon's presence had faded away but now it burned Ryou with its nearness. Ryou was flipped over and forced to look up at what was once his best friend.

"They won't listen to someone who freed an evil spirit."

"Leave me alone!" Ryou shouted. "Give Malik back."

"Don't be silly." He planted a foot on Ryou's chest, pushing him down. Gravel dug into his back. "I am Malik, now and forever."

Without taking his eyes off Ryou, the spirit reached down and picked up an old glass bottle someone had thrown out. He swung it against a wall and pointed the jagged result at Ryou.

"If you keep running to priests, one of them might eventually believe you," he growled. "Better take care of this problem now. I've been exorcised before- it isn't pleasant."

"No!" Ryou struggled anew, but the spirit was too powerful. He merely laughed at Ryou's efforts and raised the broken bottle high.

/.../

Christmas was particularly cold that year. There was no snow, just biting wind and a sky of dark gray. The priest wound his scarf snugly around his neck before exiting the church, bracing himself against the cruel temperature.

The shortest route home was one he rarely took. He made an exception that evening, walking by the cemetery he'd started avoiding ten years prior. After so much time had passed, he knew he should have been able to face the resting place of the boy who'd been brutally murdered on the same day he'd confessed to him. Time had not softened the guilt he felt for not finding out what truly plagued the boy, for not convincing him to stay in the church a little longer. When he was parallel to the stone marking the boy's grave, he shivered despite his many layers of clothing.

As he peered through the darkness, the priest saw someone standing in front of the grave. If it were a family member, he felt obligated to offer his condolences or maybe a little comfort. He sighed and stepped through the gate of the cemetery.

The person at the grave was in his late teens. There was something familiar about him and the priest's eyes widened slightly when he recognized him as part of the deceased boy's story: blonde hair, gold jewelry, dark marks under his eyes. Those eyes seemed to shine as a cat's would in the dim light.

"Were you a friend of his?" the priest asked anyway. The teen didn't answer at first. After a minute of silence, he smirked at the priest.

"Yes. His best friend."

Then he turned and strolled out of the cemetery.

Coherency inexplicably abandoned the priest's mind, where that smirk was permanently etched. His heart blanched in terror at the evil he'd seen lurking under the teen's skin. Every detail of the boy's story came flooding back and what had seemed ludicrous now rung true. "Oh, Father, I have seen a demon." He crossed himself and gripped his rosary the rest of the trek home.

The cold never left him that night. The priest gazed into his fireplace and prayed for the impossible, as everyone did now and then. He prayed to fix the past, for what he'd learned of the present was unbearable.