When Ryou turns 23, he cuts his hair.
It's a crude, impulsive gesture; He hunches on the stool in worn jeans and no shirt, grabbing it by the fistful and sawing fitfully at the bone-white strands. Above, the incandescent bulbs glow weakly, wallpaper and tile hued yellow-orange in the cramped bathroom. Rushing water and the hum of old wiring fill the space, the white noise of groaning pipes and bustling neighbors. At the end, the edges are ragged and uneven from the dull blade he uses in lieu of scissors.
Ten short minutes transforms him into an unfamiliar face in the mirror, parchment skin stretched over a thin frame of ivory, moss-green eyes flickering from the reflection to the collection of discarded hair on the floor. (His forehead- when was the last time he'd cut his bangs?) When he looks- really looks- he can see the silvered skin on his right hand where it was impaled on a tower, the crinkled rope of a long-healed knife wound on his left arm, five glossy slits on his stomach in a perfect half-circle. He shivers despite the summer heat, ambulating out of the bathroom into the adjacent bedroom to get dressed. Ryou leaves the knife by the sink, cold steel warmed by the artificial light.
In a few days he stops brushing away bangs that no longer exist, resists the reflexive throw of his head to toss his hair back.
Bakura? Is that you? Yugi and his entourage are startled by the sudden change, Jounouchi ruffling the rough cut of hair as the others stared bemusedly at the figure before them. They invite him for lunch, but Ryou declines, citing a rapidly approaching deadline for his current commission. He's just out to get some groceries, that's all. He wants to do his best for this client.
They stroll off, laughing and joking as they wave goodbye. Oh! Well- some other time then?
Yes, later. He waits for the twang of- jealously? Possessiveness?- to resonate through his mind but it never comes; the sky is sapphire blue and cloudless, the heat tempered by the constant breeze and Ryou stands alone on the cracked sidewalk, hand fisted in the hem of his shirt trying to shake the phantom pain of gold points digging into his flesh.
Empty, empty! his mind says, the words contemptuous, resentful.
You are empty!
It wasn't lying, exactly. He wants to do his best, devote himself to the project- it just happens that the client is himself. The attic used to be storage before he moved in, dusty and ancient, insulation peaking from behind the crumbling drywall. Now, it was a workshop, every corner crammed with parts: arms and legs, eyes, swaths of colorful silks and linens. A desk was jammed against the far wall, drawers stuffed with needles and pins, measuring tape, various adhesives. The sewing machine was ancient yet functional, off to the side, the scent of mothballs permeating the patchwork carpeting.
The doll watches his movements with lidless eyes; glassy unseeing violet set into the deep sockets. Ryou holds a hand in his delicate fingers, carving the cuticles along the base of the fingernails, glancing up every once in a while to stare meet the doll's lifeless gaze.
Moonlight streams through the window as he works, mapping out every scar, every inch of skin he can recall from his dreams, his hours spent just observing from the isolation of his soul room. He raises a brush to paint the scar under his (its) right eye and freezes.
Exhaustion, he tells himself, leads to hallucinations- waking dreams- inaccurate perceptions of actual reality. So he is unsurprised when the doll's porcelain lips curl into a smirk, when its (his) eyes go from deadened glass to shimmering vitreous humor (its the fatigue, he reassures himself, none of this is real). Ryou can feel the (imaginary) ghost of breath against his face as the doll leans in close, close (but not close enough-), the chest rising slightly with every shallow, rattling breath; smelling of ash and rot and natron, the faintest hint of blood.
Miss me, Landlord?
His hands close like manacles around his wrists, dragging him into a fierce kiss, the pointed tips of the other's canines catching on the peach-pink of his lips. Ryou twines his arms around his doppelganger's neck; Bakura tracing the sinewy contours of his hosts' body, slipping under the oversized work sweater to rest on the pale jut of his hips. He's flesh and bone and blood under the tips of Ryou's fingers, fever-warm and impossibly solid. They fall to the floor in a tangle of limbs, pressed flush against each other and grabbing at skin and clothing. Fingernails scrape down Ryou's spine and the breath hitches in his throat, pain morphing to pleasure under Bakura's knowing touch. It's better than anyone he's ever had, desire and arousal thrumming in his marrow, setting every inch of his body alight like a wildfire, all-consuming and uncontrolled. Bakura writhes underneath him, loose and wanton, holding Ryou in place as he cants his hips up, up-
Yes, yes, yes i did
He pants against Bakura's collarbone, eyes screwed shut, the tip of his tongue darting out to taste sweat-salt and sand, pelvis grinding downward with animal instinct, seeking friction. It just isn't enough, this superficial connection of skin-on-skin, he needs to be inside-
Bakura draws him into another kiss, this one soft, languid; Ryou feels the need drip like warm honey through the wind of his circuitry. He lets Bakura press his fingers into the dip of his illium, bruises appearing like charring, blackened burns under his touch. Don't forget who you belong to, Ryou he hisses, the syllables drawn out, spun like a spider's web to catch Ryou's attention. He smirks, nipping at the line of his jaw. You know I always return- always, always
I know- I know you do
The touch brands him, incinerating his cells like a supernova, and the man under him grins wickedly at his expression, his outline crinkling like paper held to a flame.
Bakura cackles as he dissolves into acrid ash; cloying, choking smoke that billows across the rough carpet, soot gathering in the corner of his mouth, running like water through his splayed fingers. He holds in a breath, charcoal coating the insides of his lungs. His vision runs like watercolor, chroma bleeding from his extremities, mixing with the greyscale scheme of the spartan attic as everything blurs into a fractal swirl; an oil slick over the darkness.
Phantasmal lips whisper into his ear, wet and raspy against the cartilage.
That's enough rest for now, don't you think?
Ryou jerks awake, sallow skin slicked with cold sweat, aching hard and slumped bonelessly over the desk, the fragile lifeless china of the doll's hand still grasped tightly in his own.
In the bathroom he scrutinizes his reflection, examining his topography; there are no marks along the swell of his hipbone and his lips are still pale, unkissed coral. Bakura's touch simmers under his skin, an afterimage burned onto the slow-shedding dermis and even if his eyes see no evidence of his midnight tryst he can feel calloused hands palming the spread of his scapula, scratching at the nape of his neck. Little patches of liquid heat, spreading like an infection through his body. Water vapor settles in the sweltering space, leftover from the scalding shower he'd just taken, condensation dripping honey-slow along his whiteness of his hairline.
Bloodshot sclera and emerald stares back at him from the fogged mirror and If there is a sharper tilt to the hook of his jaw or a paranoid edge to the narrowed shape of his eyes it is strictly, strictly his imagination, an illusion brought on by sleeplessness and desperation. Hand pressed against the glass, Ryou leans in until all he can see are the blotchy boundaries of his own irises, the skein of blood vessels under the transparent layer of the outer membrane. Beads of sweat form on his upper lip and he exhales, trembling slightly.
Something dances feather-soft up the valley of his ribs, coming to a rest over his chest, against the flat bump of his manubrium. He doesn't dare pull away from the mirror to see what (who) it is.
Flickering candlelight is the only thing illuminating the dingy garage, corrugated metal and scrap wood lining the unfinished brick. He pads across the floor, spreading the salt in a wide circle around the summoning sigil where hieroglyphs run in concentric circles, the points of geometric shapes set into the circumference. The room is swathed in helium red and sulphur, navy in the corner where the shadows lay like crude oil. Primary colors, base elements, boolean values of light and dark (true or false). Ryou feels unbalanced, a scale tipped too far to one side as he bends over the intricate symbols, flinching slightly when the chalk squeaks against the concrete. Incense burns in the corner, sage and spices, frankincense smoke curling in gossamer wisps before dissipating into the humid air.
Against his skin the knife is ice-cold and obsidian-sharp and he watches the blood flow, sluggish as it moves into the channels of his palm. Dripping onto the marked surface, the fluid carries away particles of powdery-white and pools in the tiny blemishes on the rough surface.
The incantation flows from his lips like wine; throaty, breathless chanting.
Reality gutters and tears along the inscribed lines, viscous liquid spilling from the rip in dimensions to coat the concrete; bubbling, acidic pitch that eats away at the carefully drawn diagram. Salt holds it in, the stygian essence crawling along the intangible walls, an bloated, rotting octopus in a jar.
The candles wink out leaving Ryou in absolute darkness, alone save for the something writhing against the salt circle; molasses-thick sludge pressing against the invisible barrier. His hearing strains to compensate for the blindness and the being's breath floats in the space, wet and gasping, attempting to extract oxygen through malformed lungs. It stares back at him, glowing jaundice-yellow and pupils ringed with waxy violet. One of its mouths groans and forges thin lips into a sickle-smirk, the staccato of the demon's heartbeat and the dissonant growl of its voice pounding against his ear drums.
MISS-ED ME, L-LANDL-LORD...?
Ryou steps forward until his toes are flush against the fine salt. The demon matches his movements, reptilian eyes dragging in long, savoring looks over his body. Something rips- a hand emerges from the ink and presses hard against the air, clammy and cadaver-pale . TR-APPED...
Don't you know any better? Hellspawn are masters of illusion, of deception. They can always tell what one most desires. Something flutters hummingbird-quick in Ryou's chest as phalanges scratch at the air, bloodless corpse-flesh around gleaming sterile white. Mucous pours from an orifice, sputtering when it touches granulated white.
He bends under the weight of the devil's gaze and reaches inside the circle where decay and necrosis devour his arm as tentacles curl around it like ivy, pressing deep into pulped flesh to stroke the line of his humerus.
In one swift motion he breaks the salt ring.
I want you to come back.
... FO-OLISH H-HOST.
When Ryou awakes, he finds himself in his room -unharmed- midday sunlight streaming through the panes of his window and the stink of sulfur clinging to his rumpled clothes like a lover.
In the garage there's nothing: no blood, no chalk, no spice or melted wax. Nothing but a tiny smear of slippery, blackened vomit on the floor.
It starts with little things, chintzy earrings and glass figurines, vials of ink and cheap plastic key chains. He wonders if it's just leftover from him, the skillful slip of thieving hands into pedestrian pockets, a little collection of pilfered goods gathering in the bottom drawer of the attic desk. He moves up, eventually, stealing wallets and rings, watches, scintillating white gold under fluorescent lighting. Not for wealth but just to have, the chase so much more satisfying that the kill. Precious gems and polished silver, he hides them away in the cobwebbed corners of his workspace for- safekeeping. Or so he says.
(Ryou stares at the growing pile, eyeing the metal like magpie. A beacon, maybe. He did always like the gleam of gold.)
It isn't until he finds himself picking locks on some stranger's door that his conscience rears up, berating him for the sudden dearth of morals. But pick pocketing isn't enough; there's no challenge in stealing from oblivious passersby on the subway platform and Ryou aches for some form of opposition, to fill the void left after a lifetime of internal conflict. It swings open, the interior obscured by darkness, and he slips in, swift and silent. The house is furnished with contemporary stylings, minimalistic metal and monochrome, picture frames and souvenir statues perched on the semi-gloss plane of the coffee table.
He rifles through drawers and cabinets, finding more pictures and trinkets, things of sentimental value. When he slinks upstairs he slips into the set of double doors at the end of the hall, a couple embracing in slumber on the king-sized bed. Jewelry lines the top drawer of their dresser, and he plucks them like fruit from a vine: ripened garnets and succulent amethysts and smooth, shiny opals. Pearls and peridot decorate his fingers as he stacks ring after ring on each of his phalanges, and Ryou is struck with a sudden bout of déjà vu- a scarecrow thief out of place in such a luxurious setting.
Absently, he raises a hand to poke at the stretch of skin underneath his right eye.
A rustle of cloth sets his hair on edge- the sleeping couple roll on the mattress before returning to a motionless state. He chooses that moment to vacate the premises, soundless as he tiptoes down the stairs and through the door into the backyard, the sky illuminated by the light of the full moon, stars burning in the celestial realm. Everything is soaked in silver-white. Ryou disappears into the chiaroscuro landscape, comfortable in his skin for the first time in years.
Liquid wells in the pinpricks, the path of the needle marked in scabbing burgundy. It's ill-advised, but Ryou doesn't trust anyone else for this kind of work, the intricacies of the image something only he could comprehend. His body adjusts to the pain, settles into a repetitive rhythm of in and out; he can't help but smile as he watches the tattoo take shape, the smooth curve of the Ring appearing on the plane of his abdomen. Ink shimmers in a cup by the sink, vibrant gold like the sun on desert sand. It spreads like bruises, soaking into the tiny crevices and grooves of his skin. Permanent. Binding. A blank canvas splashed with streaks of goldenrod and pyrope, he wipes at the fluids but traces of the pigment still remain, running like rivers along his hips to seep into the denim of his jeans. The sky is marbled pink and baby blue by the time he finishes, lavender where the sun begins to crawl above the horizon. By then the blood has dried into an irritating crust, flaky wine-red obscuring the rough outline.
He cleans up- fingers still stained yellow- and admires his handiwork; the Ring etched into the sensitive skin of his stomach. Ryou remembers the feel of furnace-hot gold slipping under his skin, anchoring itself in the layers of muscle and fat, feeling the split edge of his flesh caress the glimmering surface. Longing flows like venom through his veins, syrup-thick and stinging, and he wants, oh how he craves the feeling of invasive metal, the serpent-slide of another mind against his own. He's never been separated from the Ring for such a long period of time and the absence weighs like lead in his subconscious.
The knife is still balanced on the aging linoleum counter. Ryou catches his distorted reflection in the mirror-finish of the blade; thin-faced and hollow-cheeked, cropped ashen hair rumpled from where he ran his fingers through it. There's a smear of saffron on the ridge of his cheekbone, compliment to the deep purple of the bruises under his eyes.
It slices easily through the lines of scar tissue, severing the milky film of fibrous connective tissue underneath. His body twitches, thoughtless, instinctive actions in response to the flare of pain across his belly, but the blade is steady against the wound, warmed by his body heat. A transverse cut through each point. He violates the tangled mess of veins and muscle below the surface and breathes through gritted teeth, burrowing deeper into the twitching mass and hooking his finger around sinew and sarcomeres. A poor substitute, but if he uses his imagination it's almost like the Ring is there on his chest, completing him.
He sucks every last piece of gristle from his fingers, copper slurry against the rough wetness of his tongue.
Ryou thrusts hard into his hand, forehead pressed to the mirror and eyes half-lidded. He sees the dilation of his pupil, wide with arousal, and in such proximity the shadows of his iris are almost violet. Looking at his reflection he can almost pretend the grip on his cock is not his own.
An identical body presses him into the mattress and they twine together, two twins engaging in an incestuous union. When Bakura takes him it is always a shocking display of debauchery; he leaves fingerprints and bruises, bite-marks in his wake, calling cards to show that I was here I was real I have claimed you as m i n e. Ryou retaliates with his own artillery, carving deep grooves into the expanse of eggshell-white along his back, shredding it into ribbons under his nails, vital fluid saturating his skin. He draws a line of carnage across the hill of his clavicle, tracing the protruding tendons of his neck before letting a finger slide knuckle-deep into the wet heat of the other's mouth. Bakura sucks hard on the invasive digit, tongue curling lewdly around the slight bulge of the joint. Sparks jump across excited nerves; Ryou stares with dark, dark eyes as Bakura thrusts savagely into him, the temperature reaching a crescendo as they rut mindlessly against one another.
Pheromones and sweat; the scent of sex mingles in the air kicking his libido into overdrive. Above him Bakura laughs his throaty, mocking chuckle and purrs, the velvet sound drowned out by the throb of blood in Ryou's ears and the moan that escapes from his parted lips-
Orgasm hits him like a nightstick on the back of his head, starbursts popping against the back of his eyelids. He shudders and leans against the mirror, weak in the knees like a newborn deer, letting his breath puff warm and moist against cool glass. His knuckles rest with a dull thud against the glass, pressing until the skin goes as white as Egyptian sand.
You asshole why aren't you here why did you leave-
His punch shatters the mirror, red splattering the impact site. His visage is distorted from the fractures, shapeless, each part just a fragment of the whole. Blood and semen and glass litter the bathroom floor and Ryou feels utterly, utterly disgusted; pathetic in how hard he clings to memories of the spirit. But more than that he is afraid and frustrated and dead and alone so very alone with his thoughts and his dreams and nightmares and the harsh racking sound of his inhales and exhales. Sex and spells and stealing do nothing, draw nothing, nothing from the void that sits cavernous and gaping in his cortex.
Ryou slides down the parallel wall, the short cut of his hair reflected in each mosaic piece of broken glass. Without Bakura he is truly, truly-
Pain receptors flare as he grinds his teeth into the split skin along his knuckles, trying to distract himself from the tangle of emotions roiling in his gut.
He never does.
But Ryou isn't surprised; he's no stranger to being solitary.
Letters pile in the attic around the discarded scraps of material, stacked against boxes, in drawers, the no-man's-land between the wall and the desk. Amane's are written in a messy schoolboy scrawl, depicting the day-to-day monotony of his adult life. His father's are in neat, formal print; cursory politeness and shallow sentiments, just like their living interactions. Ryou stares at the sheet before him, pristine white against the ebon wood- it's the contrast the gives him the idea.
A low giggle rises in his throat and erupts into hysterical, hyena laughter, the force of it shaking his entire body. Hilarious, the absurdity of it all! Letters never sent, writing to the dead; his most intimate connections always with those who are no longer with him. Clinging to the memory of family, the illusion of companionship. (When was the last time he'd had a real conversation with someone other than himself?)
But he can't resist, can't stand the idea of letting go of the past, of severing the connection between the thief and himself because Ryou has nothing else but his dreams and constant gnawing emptiness in the back of his mind to remind him that he was once whole.
We are one in the same, aren't we? Friendless and orphaned, seeking closure that will never come.
(You and I are more alike than you realize.)
When he finishes he sets the letter alight and drags his fingertips through the cinders, letting the soot float hazy and indiscriminate into the stagnant air. Dreamlike swirls of shadow against whitewashed drywall.
Head tilted back, he lets the tension of unsaid words drain from the whipcords of his tendons, and sprawls loosly in the ornate chair, a light smile playing on his lips.
Sleep takes him, ash settling like stardust on the plateau of his torso.
- Dear Bakura,