Contest Fic, Season 9.75, Fourth Round (adoption fic): Tendershipping (Yami no BakuraxRyou Bakura)

Sin, he had long ago discovered, was literally pitch black. And so, in a world where he could see every bit of evil, Bakura had grown up in a dark world.

Sitting quietly on the otherwise unoccupied park bench, he appeared normal to the other occupants of the park, if not slightly introvertive. But his sight differed vastly from those other mundane mortals, who watched the countless children playing recklessly on the playground with their parents observing from afar. Unlike him, they could see those bright children dancing in the sun, glowing with radiance and innocent joy.

In his own private reality, 'they' were a collection of shadows, reminiscent of blackened corpses with inky patches of rotten skin. Through impassive eyes, he observed with bored interest as a little girl took her friend's doll and threw it across the sand. The tiniest droplet of a shadow flicked across her cheek, a speck barely noticeable even to him.

He glanced over at the mother, who immediately rushed over, scolding her daughter for the action. The older woman had similar marks covering her skin, unhealthy splotches of oozing shadows sporadically spread across her hands, arms, and face. In other people's eyes the woman held flawless beauty, but Bakura couldn't see past her stained soul, no matter how hard he tried to look through the layer of lightless film. He could only observe as the woman told her daughter to apologize, knowing it was a pointless gesture. No matter how much one repented, the scars of darkness were permanent.

From an early age, before he'd even fully understood his strange sight, he'd found his ability shunned by society. A child claiming to see the manifestation of evil, after all, was not viewed upon kindly. No matter how clear the vacuous tendrils of shadow were to him, the very people they clung to were oblivious of their presence.

There were people less cruel, he supposed, who only had a few pieces of black ooze dripping off their skin in a sinister imitation of decay. Maybe their fingers would be a mass of gloom, or maybe they would only have one eye, the other obscured by a piceous hole. They might have stolen once, or lied to their spouse. At least he could see their features.

The younger ones were by far the purest, not having lived long enough to amass enough evil acts throughout their lifetimes to degenerate into the beasts of their elders. They looked almost normal until they grew older, but with years came sins, and slowly their clean faces and sparkling eyes wasted away as they lied and cheated and lived.

Of course, he witnessed the occasional monster, as well. A shadow creature who Bakura would barely recognize as human, walking amongst the others unnoticed, liquid darkness clinging to their every piece of skin and seeping off in puddles of black. Murderers, abusers, rapists. The darkness had consumed their hearts, unrecognizable to the boy who could see into their souls.

Everyone had at least a small portion of darkness marring their features. Bakura had become accustomed to it, had grown to expect it, the incurable evil of humanity he didn't so much as frown at when spoken to, or wince away from when touched by a painful brush of their fingers.

Which was why he was so surprised when a human, his own age, approached him- without so much as a hint of the tiniest, inky blemish visible on his flesh.

"Is this seat taken?" the boy asked, gesturing to the empty spot next to Bakura on the wooden bench. He pointed with covered fingers, a black glove trailing up his arm and beneath his shirt. An odd thing to wear in late spring, when the weather was warm. Even odder because the boy wore a glove only on one hand, his right.

But that was besides the point. Bakura watched him with narrowed eyes, searching for any aura of darkness. This boy had none, and for a moment, he wondered if he was staring at a reflection. The teen in front of him shared his pure white hair and pale complexion, and there wasn't a trace of darkness in his heart. Similar to Bakura's own skin, which was unmarred by darkness; when he sinned, the darkness fled from him.


Bakura didn't reply, staring at him with unhidden suspicion. The boy sat next to him anyway, not meeting his gaze and instead peering with morose fascination at the crowd of laughing, shouting people. Or in Bakura's case, shadow creatures.

"I'm Ryou," the boy said quietly, and Bakura peered at him from the corner of his eye. "I can see them, too."

The forlorn words were peaceful, floating idly on the breeze in the deceptively bright sun, but Bakura tensed.

His shoulders remained taut as he stared rigidly ahead, speaking with his head facing determinedly forward. "What?"

"The shadows," came the haunting reply. "Can't you?"

Bakura gave a sharp intake of air, not breathing afterwards for a long moment. It made sense, that this boy was only pure because he repelled the shadows as he did.

"Even if I can," he eventually stated, his voice carefully indifferent. "It has nothing to do with you. I don't need you."

Even if the other teen was the only one besides himself who could see the shadow monsters, he secretly found the boy even more unnerving than the creatures he'd grown so used to. An untainted human at their age was unnatural. He knew that no matter how human either of them looked to their own eyes, they were the least human of all. No matter how evil an act he performed, not a trace of it lingered in his soul. The same would be true for this boy. Bakura crossed his arms, his crimson eyes glaring in distrust.

Ryou didn't flinch away, nor did he even acknowledge the blunt rejection.

"They're fascinating, aren't they?"

Bakura froze, wondering if he'd heard the soft-spoken teen correctly. Fascinating-?

"If you like having the vision of a freak," he eventually drawled, forcing himself to relax. "If you enjoy witnessing the hideous true nature of humans."

Because he knew what they were supposed to look like; he'd seen the more innocent souls (though never pure) and the images painted and photographed. And he'd wondered, on more than one occasion, if his goals would have been different if he'd grown up without being able to see the embodiment of sin. If he would have forgiven humanity for taking away his entire family, and forcing him to watch as the shadows tore them apart.

"I don't think we're evil," Ryou said, and Bakura turned to stare at him incredulously, snapping out of his own nightmarish reverie. "We make mistakes, but we fight to keep the darkness away, even when it seems hopeless. They're grotesque, but they remind us of our imperfections so we can better ourselves."

"Spare me your preaching," he retorted, standing abruptly and glaring down at the teen on the bench. Though he had to admit, it was the strangest and most disturbing sermon he'd ever heard. "You're useless to me. Don't waste my time again."

An insidious pain entered his shoulder before he could make his leave, however, and upon turning he found one of the most malignant humans he'd ever seen. Every inch of his skin dripped with a tar-like substance, the shadowy liquid clinging to the vessel of his corrupted soul. The shadows burned Bakura's shoulder, seeping through the cloth of his shirt and disfiguring the skin. Automatically, he reached up to shove the creature away, and so his hands blistered with black calluses, oozing shadowy pus.

"You want to fight, kid? I told you to move," the human snapped, the normal voice contrasting with its zombie-like appearance.

Ignoring his already dripping hands, Bakura reached up to shove the man again, a feral snarl curling his lips as his eyes flashed with animalistic fury.

Disjointed memories of a murdered family replayed across his eyes, his family. A man with even more evil than this one had killed his family in cold blood, and at that moment he'd had his first glimpse of the true form of humans. This monster wasn't the same; he lived only as a pathetic, local gangster. But the familiar rage coursed through Bakura's veins, and he knew he could destroy this man. In his eyes, the monsters were all the same; decaying souls who had no hope of repentance, but with no more power than a weak human.

"And what makes you think you can order me around, you filthy piece of vermin?" he asked with a sneer, though his words were cut off as Ryou darted between them.

"Please excuse us," he said quickly, bowing low and creating a waterfall of wispy white hair as he leaned forward. Bakura was tempted to reach down and drag him upright, not finding an ounce of respect for someone who would humble themselves so completely for a person who deserved even less.

"Just watch it, brat," the man said, plopping down on the bench where the boy had been seconds before. Pulling out a cigarette, he took a long drag, seeming to find the nicotine much more satisfying than fighting with the two teens. The flame of his lighter flickered, looking incredibly out of place when held between his putrid fingers.

Bakura clenched his scalded hand, itching to spill blood and mix its red with the shadows of sin. But a firm, gloved hand placed itself on his back and pushed him away, and looking over the park, he realized they'd attracted too much attention. A fight with such an audience would only lead to unnecessary hassle, and so he allowed himself to be pushed into the shade of a nearby tree, if only so he could tell the boy off and make sure he never approached him again.

He was surprised yet again, however, when the teen grasped his elbow just below the injury and brought it up to study.

"Doesn't it hurt?"

Yes, Bakura wanted to say. Yes, it did, so what the hell made him think that grabbing it was a good idea? But he hid the stab of pain in favor of jerking away, but unfortunately, the grip on his elbow only tightened. Cloth rubbed uncomfortable against his skin, the glove between himself and Ryou's hidden right hand chafing the injury. He was about to shove his unwanted companion away by force, but the boy took him by surprise yet again.

"What are you doing?" he demanded through clenched teeth when the bare hand tentatively touched the black chaos sizzling on his arm. His face distorted into a furious scowl, his teeth gritted in pain-

Pain that was quickly fading, now that he paused long enough to tell. Where Ryou had touched, the shadows vanished with unprecedented speed. The darkness always fled from Bakura eventually, and unlike the typical person, his skin was never permanently marred by its dark substance. But an evil of the magnitude he'd just faced should have lingered for days before fleeing.

His head jolted up, staring at the teen, who offered him a small smile that appeared almost pained. The gesture went unnoticed, though, as he peered wide-eyed at the unexpected patch of white skin beneath the disgusting layer of immoral creation.

"What did you do?"

His question went unanswered, and Ryou spoke softly, gesturing to the previous, albeit incredibly faint reminders of the former cursed sores. "They'll scar if you don't let me tend to them right away."

Gentle, gloved fingers took his arm again, and this time he allowed the action with an eager, if not somewhat distrustful curiosity. Hesitant fingers trailed soothingly over the tainted, dripping abrasions, and the sin washed away without a trace. Ryou's lips pressed into a thinner and thinner line of discomfort as he worked, though it went unseen.

Studying his purified arms with a calculating smirk forming on his lips, he gave a startled laugh at the sight, reconsidering his earlier plan to abandon the lonely boy. A demonic gleam entered his eyes, not unlike the vicious delight of the shadows when they gathered around a corrupted soul. He made his decision, the first of his own decadence.

"It seems I have use for you, after all."

Ryou was a strange boy, he had learned early on in the six months of their acquaintance. Friendly and irritatingly polite, yet unafraid of the horrific, immoral creatures he attended school with. Soft-spoken, yet arguing vehemently whenever Bakura brought up his disgust with humanity, maintaining hope even as he saw the hidden murderers walking amongst the multitudes of other sinners.

The boy was also remarkable in the way that he was aggravatingly clingy, but still tolerated by someone who hated companionship. Even sparking curiosity.

"What are you hiding?"

Bakura spoke idly, and Ryou glanced up from the television, a pointless reality show that neither of them really enjoyed. He'd asked once before, but had given up after the the teen avoided answering, lacking the interest to pursue. He was bored now, however, and tired of the tv and accompanying silence.

"The glove," he specified, gesturing when all he received in response was a confused stare. His white hair glowed eerily in the unlit room, the only light coming from the television's dim gleam. Sprawled across the couch of his companion's apartment, he looked across the familiar room. He'd spent many, many hours sitting in the same place, waiting to be healed from his numerous entanglements with the mouldering shadows.

"It's nothing."

The same response from before, but this time Bakura wanted a real answer, and he would receive one. He sat up, and the other boy shifted away, uncomfortable from the sudden, close proximity on the small couch. He fixed him with a cold stare, reaching for the glove to see for himself.

Ryou grasped the covered hand with his left, flinching away from the outstretched arm, although he only escaped a few inches away before his back jammed against the arm of the couch, still within easy reach. Bakura's eyes narrowed at the action, unsure what the true source of his anger was: the boy's defiance or his apparent fear. He terrified others, but Ryou? He had never harmed him. The teen was useful to him; they were partners, perhaps, and he refused to have a coward as his partner.

"What is it?" he demanded, disliking the fact that there was something he didn't know. More specifically, something about the only person with whom he shared this strange connection.

He reached forward again, grasping the arm and trying to yank the glove off, but the other teen held on desperately, struggling and kicking and begging him to stop. The thrashes were weak, unable to break his grasp, and after only a few moments they both knew he would win if they continued. Along with many other useless facts, after their fated meeting Bakura had quickly learned that the boy was weak, almost sickly. One of his idle concerns, in fact, was that Ryou's health seemed to worsen as time passed, and he'd have no one to heal him if the decline continued.

"Don't," the boy said again, a combination of anger and terror tinging his voice. He held the black glove tightly, the fingers of his bare hand turning white with the effort. "Don't! I'll tell you, just don't make me show you- please-"

"Fine," Bakura hissed, allowing the boy pinned beneath him to sit, though they were still unconventionally close. The proximity went unnoticed in the dimly lit room and struggle. "Tell me."

"It's-" Ryou paused in order to cough, but Bakura didn't move away, if anything, he moved closer to hear the whispered words. "I...I couldn't always see the shadows, you know."

The tv murmured in the background, but neither of them paid it any attention. Bakura's normally vivid eyes were dulled in the soft light, but his interest was evident. He knew, after all, what the other referred to. He hadn't always seen the shadows, either.

"My mother and sister," the soft voice fell even quieter, and Bakura strained to pick up the words, leaning so close he could feel his companion's breath. "They died in a car accident. A criminal was speeding, trying to escape the police."

Ryou seemed to curl into himself, not protecting his glove anymore, instead wrapping his arms tightly around his stomach. "He hit the driver's side. I was in the backseat, on the passenger's seat side, while my sister was in the other. I saw the whole thing."

The boy paused to cough again, and Bakura frowned, a combination of unease and impatience in the downturn of his mouth. He almost said something, demanded that he see a doctor, if the cough never went away, that his hacking irritated him. But his mouth closed as he stared down at the trembling child beneath him, who continued without pretext.

"I started seeing them. The psychiatrists I went to, they all thought I was dehumanizing the criminal," Ryou said, and Bakura's face distorted into a scowl. "To have someone to blame so I could cope. Except I saw the shadows everywhere, not just that man. I could see whenever someone did something wrong, I could see how many wrongs they'd committed in the past, by the amount of shadows covering their skin. Eventually I had to lie, so that they would leave me alone..."

Glancing down at the gloved hand and arm, Bakura assumed it covered the scars of the accident, perhaps obscenely mutilated by shattered glass. But he decided he didn't need to see, now that he had something of more importance.

"That's interesting," he murmured sourly, ignoring the startled but concerned look he received in response.


"I started seeing them," he hissed the words in disgust, not realizing his hands were trembling until the boy beside him reached out to hold them. "When my parents were murdered in front of my eyes, by a man with a knife. As I watched, the shadows consumed him, and my parents' flesh rotted where they lay in their pools of blood. I-"

He was cut off as the white-haired boy in front of him yanked him down so his face was buried in Ryou's shoulder, his breathing ragged. The television switched to a commercial, the upbeat tune sounding oddly sinister given the situation.

"I can control them, now," he said after an immeasurable amount of time. "The shadows. I'll avenge him with them," he swore, his voice rising vehemently. "I'll kill him with his own darkness, all I need is practice."

"Bakura," Ryou repeated morosely, shaking his head with an anguished expression gracing his angelic, sickly face.

"I'll avenge him for you, too," he promised, and this time his partner didn't argue, now aware that this goal was the only thing keeping Bakura's soul from shattering. "I'll destroy all the evil in this world."

And so his descent into the darkness continued.

"Give me some money, kid."

Bakura approached silently as the giant of a teen punched the younger boy in the gut, unrepentant even as he sent an accompanying kick. He found the scene boringly cliche, having seen too many dark alleys, each with their own unfortunate passerby. The naive brat almost deserved to be beaten, for wandering into this territory. The child fell unconscious, and the gangster leaned over to search his pockets.

But the reason Bakura approached was not to save the moron; no, he had worthier motives. Tendrils of darkness slinked past him, occasionally brushing his skin and leaving black streaks which he disregarded. Ryou would heal them. And in this case for good reason; he did this for him, after all.

Focusing on the pools of liquified shadows at the man's feet, unbeknownst to the guilty person himself, he tugged the darkness toward him. The shadows detested him, and indeed they used to flee before he'd learned to control them, hating the taste of his soul. But he'd discovered how to use their distaste to his advantage, manipulating them to do his bidding.

"What do you want?" his victim noticed his presence at last, but it was too late.

Too late. Darkness swirled around him, dancing at his command in wicked anticipation. He let out an insane laugh, revelling in their power, appearing like a demon. His shadowy servants burned him, occasionally, but he barely noticed, too caught up in his overwhelming strength regardless of the price he had to pay to receive it.

"What do I want?" Bakura repeated the question mockingly, pretending to consider it while streaks of shadow flickered rapidly around him. His victim couldn't see them, but he must have felt the terror instinctually, because he took an unconscious step back.

"Well, let's see. I want to destroy your soul."

His own cruel laughter filled the street, accompanying the agonized screams of one whose soul was being ripped apart by the devil himself.

Bakura left before the earlier victim awoke, the unfortunate child who'd lost consciousness just after his arrival. The fool immediately discovered the soulless body of the large man who had threatened him just moments before, and even a block away, he could hear the horrified shouts of the pathetic adolescent. His face contorted into a sadistic sneer, causing more than one person to cross the street in order to escape the resulting crazed cackles.

At a leisurely pace, he reached his destination after a short walk and elevator ride, and Ryou quickly answered his sharp knock on the door. A mix of relief and frustration greeted him, a look he'd long grown accustomed to in the past few months, and he entered the apartment without a word. The place hadn't changed much in the year he'd known the boy, and he sprawled comfortably on the familiar couch without invitation. He turned off the nearby television without asking; he knew his host wouldn't mind.

Ryou watched mutely as Bakura tugged off his shirt, revealing searing black scars covering the pale flesh of his chest. The healed traces of already fixed injuries scattered over the skin as well, some of them overlapping with the fresh, darker ones.

"You shouldn't do this to yourself," the quiet boy stated, his voice uncharacteristically cold. It was a tone Bakura grew more and more accustomed to as he honed his skills with the shadows. He didn't reply, knowing Ryou would forgive him like always, and heal his wounds, as always.

True to his expectations, probing hands gently touched the wound on his shoulder, wiping away the atramentous liquid seeping from the unbroken skin. Bakura closed his eyes, soothed by the familiar touch. He had a duty to destroy evil souls, the beings decayed by the shadows leeching off their sins. But something about the other teen's gentle hands let him relax, a peaceful moment of blurred, dream-like rest amidst the harsh, nightmarish reality.

He never saw how Ryou whitened along with his wounds, or how the teen seemed to find his steady touches painful instead of relieving. A gloved hand grasped his neck, and he assumed the grip was to hold him steady, unaware that the gesture was not for the injured but for the rescuer.

"It's nothing you can't heal," Bakura said indifferently, unaware that his healer's head hung in exhaustion even as he moved from one wound to the next. "Besides, the monster deserved it."

"Who?" Ryou asked, his voice tight. The hand on his neck tightened, its warmth transferring through the cloth. "Who could possibly deserve what you do to them?"

"Please," he drawled, already having expected the protests from their familiar argument. But he tolerated the naivete, because it was Ryou. "You can't pretend that people don't deserve it. They're all corrupt creatures who'd have their souls consumed by darkness even if I didn't speed the process."

"People can learn from their mistakes," came the insistent response, the voice rising adamantly. "They deserve a chance-"

He snorted. "Even Ushio?"

He opened his eyes as the fingers on his chest froze, watching lazily as brown eyes widened in realization.

"Weren't you complaining about him?" he asked casually, an arrogant smirk tilting his lips. "Along with that old gym teacher of yours. I notice you haven't mentioned him giving you any trouble, recently."

"A coma," Ryou said dazedly, his already unhealthy complexion going positively gray. For a moment, Bakura wondered if he was going to faint. But perhaps the boy would grow healthier, now that he no longer had to deal with his tormentors. "All he did was bother me about my hair," the teen exclaimed, his voice rising in hysteria as he realized what Bakura had done. "What did you do-!"

"You should be thanking me," he replied, a hint of smug pride in his tone. "I always pay my debts, after all. Consider it my thanks for healing me the past year."

Ryou stared at him, as though seeing him for the first time. Bakura met the gaze steadily, an almost demonic glint of satisfaction visible in his eyes. He didn't expect to be thanked; he knew the boy didn't share his outlook of the world. He was satisfied with the simple knowledge that he'd dealt with the imbeciles, and that he'd done something useful for his partner while he waited for his real target.

"They're changing you," the boy said in horror. "The shadows..."

"They're making me stronger," he replied, unperturbed. "I don't have to avoid them anymore. I can use them-"

"They're evil!" Ryou burst out, his voice rising to a shout. "And just because they don't stick to you like everyone else, it doesn't mean that you can't sin, too! The shadows are corrupting you, Bakura. The power will change you, until you're not even yourself anymore. It's only been a year, and it's already happening-"

"So what?" he interrupted the terrified ranting, leaning forward and grasping Ryous' chin possessively, forcing him to look into his spiteful eyes. "You like shadow creatures, don't you? They fascinate you. You're not afraid of of them, and you're not afraid of me."

"I'm not afraid of them because I know they're human beneath what I can see," the teen shook his head, as though he could deny his reality. "I like the occult, but this goes beyond that. You're killing people-"

"Just like people killed my family," Bakura snapped, losing his patience. Humans were all the same; Ryou used the word as a compliment, but he saw the truth. "Just like someone killed your beloved sister and mother."

"That doesn't mean-"

"This power was given to me to punish humanity," he continued in a hiss, darkness surrounding him even without a source of evil to attract them. The boy beside him winced away, but he grabbed his ungloved hand, yanking him forward. Ryou stumbled, falling into his lap, but Bakura didn't shove him away; instead, he pulled him closer.

"You can only use that power because I fix what it does to you." The comment was whispered, the soft words brushing over the satanic man beneath him.

He reached up and grabbed Ryou's ungloved fingers, holding them to his face and enjoying the sensation of warm skin draining away the cold, black streak cut into his cheek. He maintained his hold on the hand, even when the injury had faded without a trace. The frail boy shuddered, coughing violently into the glove of his right hand since Bakura refused to release his left.

"But you won't stop," Bakura said, knowing the boy had grown far too attached to him to let him die from shadow-induced wounds. And perhaps he'd learned to appreciate Ryou, as well, in his own selfish way. An obsession to keep the pure boy away from the shadows, except for the ones he brought to the teen himself.

And even if those reasons didn't apply, he knew the boy wouldn't stop, if only because-

"If you stop, I won't have any use for you."

Bakura hadn't cared much when Ryou said that he suspected a connection between their strange sight and the legendary 'shadow magic' of ancient Egypt. In fact, he'd almost refused the trip to the museum, until his temporary landlord for the evening threatened to kick him out of the apartment, given that he planned to hunt souls that night instead.

A threat both of them knew he wouldn't follow through on, given that Bakura had his own key. After two years of spending so much time at the other's house, he had his own futon and closet, and he suspected he didn't even know where the key to his own apartment was. He hadn't visited there in a week, the key probably buried in his closet beneath piles of dirty clothes.

But regardless, Ryou did pay the rent, and Bakura had eventually agreed to accompany him. Though that might have been more because he could learn more about his shadow powers, rather than any interest in the ancient scriptures themselves.

And so, there they were, lingering in front of Egyptian artifacts, sculptures, and statues. At the moment he stood before of a display of golden items, his companion reading their description with rapt attention.

"It says here-"

The words broke off, a quivering mass of white hair shaking with racking coughs as Ryou gasped for breath. Bakura waited, keeping his face coolly indifferent, never sure how to react to his companion's increasingly frequent fits. Despite himself, however, his lips turned down into a displeased frown. No matter how many sinful humans he killed, the boy only seemed to get worse, becoming frail even as his own shadow powers grew.

"It says here," the teen continued, recovering from the outburst. "That the Egyptians thought that these items could hold darkness itself, or even entrap souls."

A golden ring on display glinted malevolently up at them, a wicked eye staring up at them with sinister radiance. Bakura stared at that one item in particular, the Millennium Ring, oddly drawn to it. If the item truly had the power the Egyptians claimed...

His train of thought was interrupted as a reflection appeared in the golden surface, and his muscles tensed at the aura of darkness that accompanied it. A man, shorter than either himself or Ryou, stood behind them, crimson eyes glaring suspiciously at the two. The shadows swirled around the visitor, never touching the man, but so attracted to him that they felt suffocating to Bakura's ability. His skin prickling at the repulsive presence; these shadows didn't fall under his control, they obeyed that man.

And they were the exact same shadows present during that night of screaming and terror, when Bakura had watched as the corpse-like creature had mercilessly destroyed his family.

Shadows fiendishly drew about his fingertips, and surrounded him in an array of captivating darkness. He roughly shoved the other white-haired boy behind him and out of the way, seconds before they overwhelmed him, slashing his flesh but obeying his will. The murderer shouted Ryou's name, but Bakura made sure the darkness didn't touch his acquaintance.

"How does it feel," he hissed, addressing the other man as shadows formed a dagger in his fingers, staining them black. "Having the blood of my ancestors on your unworthy hands?"

"Who are you?" the man demanded, shadows curling around him protectively, seeming to caress him rather than the violent clash between Bakura and his own. He laughed loudly even as black fluid dripped from his skin, leaving scorching marks behind. "What are you?"

"The judgement for your sins," he answered, preparing to strike as his opponent tensed, ready to defend and retaliate. His hair stood out in the surrounding darkness, a combination of black, gold, and red flashing as he held his head proudly high.

"Bakura," Ryou was shouting, and the human demon glanced over at the momentarily forgotten teen. He delayed his attack, but didn't give up the shadows awaiting his commands, and they licked impatiently at his tarnished arms. "That's not him! He carries the sin, but he didn't kill them-"

"How do you know?" Bakura spat, his eyes feverishly bright. He wanted to lash out, to kill, and to drown the man in his own blood. His vengeance had mixed with bloodlust, making it difficult to distinguish between the two, and the shadows encouraged the dangerous mania.

"I know him," Ryou said desperately, almost pleading. "Yami can absorb the darkness in other people's hearts, like me. I think- he must be carrying the evil of your family's murderer, but he couldn't have done it himself. He's a good person, and besides, he's too young! So please-"

"If he carries the evil," Bakura stated, his voice devoid of mercy. "Then I will judge him on his burden."

"And what about you?" the man, Yami, shouted. His deep voice reverberated across the room, almost kingly in its certainty. "You control shadows that are not your own, as well!"

"Then let's allow destiny to decide the victor of this shadow game," he sneered, turning away from the horrified boy behind him, growing impatient. "Unless you fear your enemy's idea of justice?"

Yami gritted his teeth, seeming torn. But Bakura wouldn't take no for an answer.

"Well, if you're not going to attack," he drawled, narrowing his eyes at his target, allowing the darkness to flow through him. They damaged him, distorted him, but he welcomed the resulting fury. "Then allow me!"

The shadows shot forward at his command, and at the attack his opponent responded almost immediately. Slices of darkness attacked Yami, leaving streaks of blood and jagged lesions. Bakura laughed victoriously, but the other shadow user hadn't taken the hit without response. Darkness streaked past the white-haired man, leaving a disfiguring cut down the right side of his face and over his eye. Growling and covering the mark with his hand, he watched as slimy, black fluid gushed from the wound instead of blood.

And all at once, he felt the pain coursing throughout his body, from both his enemy's attack and his own. Looking down, he saw that his body was deformed, blackened, and almost completely decayed. He staggered backwards, crashing into the display behind him, and the Millennium Ring clattered to his feet just as his knees gave out from under him. He kept his head held defiantly high, however, and watched as Yami lifted his arms to finish the attack-

But the attack never came, as his view was abruptly cut off by an angelic white.

"Bakura," Ryou was crying, the first time Bakura had ever witnessed the sight. Not even when the boy had recalled his dead mother and sister had he cried; it was one of the things he appreciated about the other teen. Gentle but strong, and he never had to deal with any aggravating tears.

It seemed cruel, that in his dying moments, he'd have to witness a sight that would haunt him forever in the afterlife.

"Don't," Bakura rasped, lifting a rotting hand to roughly brush away the stream of tears. His flesh repaired where he touched the boy, the tips of his fingers the only spot of white on his body.

Methodically, the other teen started to trace his hands, clearing away the unhealthy incrustations. His arms, and then under his shirt, until Bakura could breath cleanly again. There were leftover splotches, which Ryou would go back and retrace with a shaking, desperate hand. He only ever drained them away with one hand, his right, though his left hand held him steady when he winced in pain. The fingers eventually traveled to his face, lingering on his lips, and then to his eyes-

And for the first time, he noticed how Ryou went pale with the effort of healing him, because, he realized with a start, the boy wasn't really healing the putrid injuries.

He was absorbing them.

With trembling, dying hands, Bakura reached up as though to hold his savior's gloved hand-

And yanked the cloth off. The boy gasped and jerked backwards, looking between him and blackened piece of flesh where his arm should have been. Bakura stared, mesmerized into a disbelieving hiss as he saw the inhuman appendage before him. Disgusting, leaking scabs covered the length of Ryou's arm, continuing under his shirt and making it impossible to tell how far they stretched. The shadows ate away at him, continuing up and up and up-

It was growing, he realized, seeing a globule of insatiable shadows inching toward the boy's neck. He looked half angel and half demon; his left side almost unnaturally white, straining in his efforts to save his dying companion. But his right was obscured in shadow, and the darkness kept extending its reach.

"Stop," he hissed, shoving the boy away. But he was weak, and Ryou continued with barely a pause, ignoring his protests.

"Ryou, this is too much-" the voice of his opponent, Yami, spoke earnestly. He growled at the sound, but the man continued. "You'll kill yourself."

"If I don't do this, then I'll be killing him."

"He's beyond saving, regardless."

Bakura groaned as his body gave a violent shudder, almost as though giving up control to prove Yami's point. He closed his eyes in agonizing pain, unable to hold them open any longer. Ryou continued to work, undeterred.

"I'll save him," the boy insisted. "Even if I have to sacrifice my own soul."

And he did. His healing was imperfect, but competent, and when Bakura opened his eyes again, he found himself pained but alive.

He found Ryou the opposite.

Yami hovered over his dying companion, and Bakura's eyes widened when he saw the state of his savior. Gasping for breath, the boy drew pathetic whimpers, thrashing in agony. Black, oily tears of pain streamed down his darkened cheeks, even more disturbing than his earlier, clear tears of misery. Bakura stumbled to his feet, staggering over the few steps to where the other boy lay. His foot caught on the golden ring still glinting evilly from the ground, but he didn't bother to unhook it as he fell drunkenly at Ryou's side. After realizing he could do nothing, he turned to the only person who could.

"Save him," he demanded, facing the man he'd tried to kill moments before. "Do something to save him!"

"There is nothing," Yami stated somberly. "Unless you can take back the shadows he saved you from."

"I can't," he snapped, though he reached down to touch Ryou's cheek anyway. He forced it to remain even as the darkness scorched his skin, but it made no noticeable difference aside from contaminating him, as well. "I can't-"

Yami didn't reply, only staring sadly down at the dying boy. Bakura shook his head in denial, thinking there must be some way-

A glint of gold caught his eye, the Millennium Ring gleaming maliciously at him from the corner of his eye. Ryou's earlier words returned to him, and his eyes narrowed at the possibility. The Egyptians thought that these items could hold darkness itself, or even entrap souls.

"Transfer them," Bakura said, reaching out with scarred fingers to grasp the cold ring of metal. It gleamed with a foreboding blaze, and rather than lighting the blackened boy, Ryou appeared even more decayed. "Place the shadows in this."

Yami glanced over at him, and then looked down at the ring doubtfully. His lips twisted down in a dubious frown, and he took the item with clear unease.

"I sense evil in this ring," he said, shaking his head. "I fear this will end in tragedy..."

"I don't care what you think," Bakura snapped impatiently, aware that every second they wasted was another Ryou spent suffering at the shadow's whim. "Do it."

"I can only absorb, I cannot force them to leave..."

"I'll do that part, then," he insisted, though he was met with distrustful eyes. "I said do it."

Yami hesitated, but warily reached out so his fingers hovered several inches above Ryou's hand. The shadows wavered between the two, unsure where to go. Bakura reached out, repelling the darkness with the power he had practiced so long to perfect, and the shadows fled to the ring.

He had the urge to give the other man a smug smirk of victory, but a glance at Ryou's still disfigured form quickly sobered him. The two continued in silence, the eye of the Millennium Ring staring at them unblinkingly as they worked. The task soon became much more challenging, however, when the ring proved Yami's earlier suspicions. Just when it seemed the boy would be saved without consequence, Bakura realized that a thin, wispy white substance started entering the ring along with the darkness. And Ryou seemed to be fading.

Yami realized at the same time. "His soul."

Bakura scowled, trying to force the darkness away from the boy, but it only seemed to tighten its terrible grip. A sinister match of tug-of-war commenced, and Bakura tried to force away the darkness while it clutched relentlessly at the unconscious boy hanging between life and death. The silent battle continued, but eventually he realized the only way he could keep the Millennium Ring from stealing Ryou's soul and the shadows at bay: he protected Ryou's soul with his own.

He didn't even notice as his earthly body fell unconscious, his corporeal being repelling the shadows from the soul they so desired. They continued their attacks with hateful glee, pulling Ryou's soul towards the ring- and to his great frustration, him with it. Their demands grew more and more insistent as he continued to demand their leave, until Bakura could barely contain them. Their power was overwhelming, they would receive a soul, no matter how hard he fought. And if it was Ryou's, they would consume it mercilessly until no more remained, just as they had done to the child's solid form.

Bakura was going to be overpowered. He could feel it; Ryou was seconds away from eternal damnation, and he'd be dragged along for the ride. So he did the only logical thing. There was no need for both of them to die, after all.

And Bakura always repaid his debts.

He forced Ryou back into his own body, and the boy awoke with a startled gasp. The shadows, disoriented, took the only soul they had in their grasp. Bakura entered the Millennium Ring, and his already mutilated spirit reformed even more, altered by the darkness...

Until he was the darkness. The shadows he'd clashed so much with during his earthly reign made him one of their own, though he refused to submit to them. He controlled them in life, and he became their commander in death.

He sensed it when his mortal companion awoke, and he felt Ryou's delightful terror when the child discovered that his protector and protégé was missing. All the while, the shadows rejoiced that their pure soul was still within reach, and Bakura experimentally touched on his new control, finding his recently acquired form convenient. His powers were far beyond the mortal realm, and he could make sure that his soon-to-be host was never tainted by darkness besides his own.

Needless to say, his servants were delighted when the ring was picked up by the lonely boy who had narrowly escaped their grasp.

As was he.

...I have no idea what I just wrote. T.T