Considered to be set around ep 28, between the dinner with the eyeball soup and Honda and Ryou knocking on Anzu's door to drag her off on exploratory escapades.
Honda almost missed the knock at first, it was so light, but then it came again, and so he rolled himself off the far-too comfortable bed in Pegasus's guest room with a groan and opened the door.
Ryou Bakura, his across-the hall neighbor in the guest wing, stood fidgeting. "Ah, hello. I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's okay, I wasn't sleeping. Is everything OK?"
"Well," the white-haired boy said, "I came to ask you that question. You've seemed upset ever since we got to the castle."
"Nah," Honda looked down at the floor with a shrug. "I just ate too fast at dinner. There weren't gold eyeballs in any of the other food, right? Because if there were I might have swallowed one."
"No, I think it was just the soup." Ryou blinked, and fixed his eyes on Honda's shoulder. "I have something that can help with your upset stomach, if you don't mind my coming in."
"Um, sure." Honda opened the door, surprised that Ryou walked past him and into the suite's bathroom. "What's the cure, doc?"
"Take off your jacket and shirt and lie down on the bed," came Ryou's voice, the tile adding an odd echo. There was the sound of water running and a sharp laugh. "Don't worry, I'm not going to seduce you."
"What?" Honda liked to make sense of his perceptions of people, and he thought he was pretty good at it most of the time, but Ryou – Ryou had him stumped. Take that comment just now – it was so out there, didn't quite fit, but Honda still hadn't put his finger on what it was that was out of place.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. He had a sort of – not really an idea, more a gut feeling – about Ryou, but it didn't really make sense itself. It had come to him while he'd been watching a nature show about "blue holes," big vertical tunnels in the ocean bed near the shore. They were called blue holes because they were so deep you couldn't see the bottom, and so their water was a lot darker than the water in the shallows around them. Honda had found the holes fascinating. Mysterious too, even though there was a scientific explanation for them – some geological thing from millions of years ago. The show said that nothing lived in the water, well, nothing but bacteria, yet he felt that there had to be more to them than just water in a hole. Not that he thought they'd been made by aliens or anything, but he sort of wanted to get a submersible or even scuba gear and dive down, explore where they went, how deep they were. And then, just as it occurred to him that if there was something hiding way down at the bottom it would be very scary, he'd inexplicably thought of Ryou, and even though it was silly, there was a part of his brain that went click and decided that Ryou was just like those blue holes. Which was ridiculous, because Ryou was even less frightening than Yugi, but ever since then there was still a part of his brain that had insisted that Ryou and the holes were the same, that what seemed lifeless was hiding something mysterious and deep and possibly scary.
And Honda hadn't been able to shake the thought. It aggravated him a little, that such a stupid idea was so … stubborn.
The water shut off, and then Ryou came out of the bathroom, a wrung-out bath towel in his hands. "Fold this up and use it like a hot-water bottle. It's what I do when I wake up with stomach pains."
Feeling foolish that he kept thinking of this sweet shy guy as scary, Honda pulled off his jacket and shirt, then lay on the bed and pressed the folded towel over his belly.
"Is it helping?" Ryou asked. He was looking, not at Honda but at the bedside lamp. Being in a room with a shirtless guy on a bed seemed to be making him very uncomfortable.
"Um, yeah," Honda said, then said with sincerity, "yeah, it is. Thanks."
"Good." Ryou edged over to the chair next to the bed and sat gingerly. "Let me know when it starts to cool down, and I'll go get another one ready."
"Okay," Honda said, trying not to think too much about how rare it was for anyone to take care of him. Not that he needed it, or wanted it really, but he knew how good it felt to feel useful to someone, so he might as well let Bakura enjoy playing nurse.
"Um," Ryou asked, tilting his head a little, "I don't mean to pry, but it really seems like something else has been bothering you. Before the dinner, even. Ever since we got here. If you ever feel like talking about it … sometimes having someone listen helps." When Honda shrugged he added with a small smile, "And it's easier on your hands than punching people."
The brunet grinned. "Okay. I'll spill my guts while you go get me another towel."
"Coming right up," Ryou said, bouncing from his chair.
Honda chewed on the inside of his cheek as he listened to the water splashing in the bathroom sink again, thinking of the best place to start. He was pissed about so many things lately, things that he hadn't planned on talking about because he had a feeling that it would be impossible to pull just one out of the pile, but on the other hand Ryou was the only one in the group he could talk to. Jou was clueless, Anzu was a girl, and Yugi … he wasn't gonna talk to Yugi about this. "Hi, you're a nice guy and all, but you ruined my life."
As Ryou handed him the hot damp towel and took the cold clammy one Honda said, "Jou called me a sidekick." At Ryou's questioning look he went on, "And I definitely feel kicked sometimes."
"Kicked? As in kicked aside?"
"Yeah." Honda sighed. "Pegasus is doing all this crazy stuff to people. Did you see? He had that little Kaiba kid in chains! It's just not right, and … everyone's acting as if only Yugi can stop him, and only through a card game. Well, if I had five minutes alone with that creep, I could straighten things out."
Ryou shrugged. "This is Duelist Kingdom. Duel rules apply."
"You play too."
"I only started – " Honda could feel the rest of the pile shift, and knew that he should probably shut up, but Ryou seemed to want him – to need him – to talk about it. "I only started playing because Jounouchi did. To see why he was so obsessed with it."
Ryou didn't say anything; his large brown eyes were patient, and accepting. Honda wondered if throwing all his resentments about Yugi and Jou down a deep enough hole would stop the thoughts from bothering him.
"Jou and I used to be really tight," Honda said. "I always backed him up, bailed him out of places his big mouth got him into. And I like Yugi and Anzu, don't get me wrong. They got Jou to calm down, stop getting out of trouble, more than I ever could. But ever since Jou started this card stuff – well, I hardly ever see him."
"You feel like Yugi and dueling stole your best friend from you?"
Honda laughed and rolled his eyes. "That makes it sound like I'm a complete girl." His face got serious. "But yeah, it's like Jou's moved to … I dunno, another country or something."
"And left you behind?" Ryou asked this so mildly that it wasn't offensive. "I don't think that's happened. True friends will be with you always."
"Eh, I guess so." He took the second towel, now also cold and uncomfortable, off his stomach and handed it to Ryou, then pulled on his shirt.
There was an gleam in Ryou's eyes, an earnestness that was a lot like Yugi's. "Jounouchi seems like a big, excitable dog, the kind that likes to chase passing cars. But dogs always come back home when they get tired of running down the street and barking. You'll see."
Honda didn't see any reason to remind Ryou that the current street was a weird one, where old men collapsed and men in suits beat up kids and zombie classmates turned into grotesque clowns, where there was talk of souls being sucked out of bodies and through videotapes into playing cards. And the fact that the car Jou was currently fixated on was sleek and fast and so far out of the blond's league that it might as well have been in another solar system, and Honda was still sorting out the feelings he had about that, because he was pretty sure that Jounouchi had no idea why he was driven to chase and bark at that particular piece of chrome ...
"Unless he gets run over by the car," Ryou said, and for a moment there was that odd tone in his voice again, and his eyes were sharp.
"Serve the damn dog right," Honda said. "Damn stupid dumb dog." He'd seen how Jounouchi and Yugi had reacted to Kaiba's defeat, and though he didn't share their dismay – since everything the smug asshole did and said and stood for pissed him off – the fact that Pegasus had cheated meant that Yugi and Jou were next in the Screwed Over by Pegasus line.
"Well," Ryou said softly, the intensity gone, "it's not bad. Dying while you're happy, doing something you love. Or with people you love. Or for a good cause."
Honda raised an eyebrow. "You're kind of morbid."
Ryou hung his head. "Sorry, I don't mean to be."
"It's okay." Honda walked over the the window, pulled back the drape. "You know, I get it. I really do. This dueling thing, it's just another way for a lot of people to work out their issues."
"Uh, sure, I guess. Unless they get too carried away and forget that it's not real."
"Well, but it is real," Ryou said. "It's not just a metaphor for life. It's also a part of that which it symbolizes."
Honda turned his head and stared at him.
"Symbols have their own reality," Ryou continued dreamily, but he was twisting the towels as if hypnotized. "If you identify with the archetype represented by a certain card, it makes sense that when that card is attacked it feels as if your own psyche is threatened."
"Do you know all the words there are?" Honda asked, slightly awed.
Ryou flushed and looked down at what his hands were doing. "Oh, of course not! I just like … reading about these things. My father has a lot of books."
"So is there a word," Honda asked carefully, "for there not being a word for something?"
Ryou thought for a second, then said, "Yes. Ineffable."
"Eff-able? That sounds like ..."
"Fuckable?" The word snapped out from under the mane of white hair.
Ryou hadn't raised his head, and Honda could feel something strange in the air, something stirring in the depths. His eyebrows went up. "Wow, it's true. The quiet ones do surprise ya."
"Because you can't hear us coming?" Ryou said, looking up with a grin that was almost a leer – and then a beat later seemed to catch up with his own double-entendre and looked away. "So," he asked quickly, "did the towels help?"
"Yeah, thanks. And the talking too." It was around that moment that Honda realized that the swirly feeling in his belly, mysterious and a little scary, had little to do with food and a lot to do with something he'd never seen coming. Something startling, like the sudden blast of a car horn.
Question was, where was his porch?
Fortunately he recalled what Ryou had said during Yugi's duel with the Player Killer. "You remember how you said that words had the power to break through the darkness? Well, so do actions." He clapped Ryou's shoulder, firmly setting aside for now how surprised he felt that there was a solid shoulder under the white sweater. "We might not be duelists, Bakura. We might just be sidekicks. But I say we go grab Anzu and figure out how Pegasus beat Kaiba before he beats our friends."
Ryou didn't say anything to this; he just bit his lip and looked apprehensive. "So we're going to sneak around?" he asked.
"It depends," Honda said, taking his hand away in a way he knew was reluctant, then reaching for his jacket as he turned off the lamp, "on how you define it."
~ The End (and the beginning :p) ~
Only the second time I've ever written Ryou (the first was as the comic target of omnisexual Devlin's innuendo in Egg Hunt.). I'd have a better handle on the character if only I knew where to attach it.
Faint overtones of Battery (YB/R/H), Mori (YB/H), Buddy (H/J), Snark (H/J/K), Polar (J/M), and Wish (J/Y). OK, and Pup, but more like tiny sprinkles. Really tiny sprinkles.
If this all seems abrupt and somewhat disjointed, blame the painkillers.
(10) 18 March 2011 ~ minor edits.