Anzu says that a metaphor is when you say something is something that it really isn't. She says, "Like, 'heart of stone'," as though this will explain it to me.
When I try to think, my head starts to hurt. It seems like the day has gone on forever, but this is only the first class. All around me, students sigh and groan and tap their pencils, preparing for the coming test.
"Stone?" I repeat, feeling hot and heavy. My desk is too hard for my sore body.
"It's a metaphor," she says patiently, "The sea of glass. Something like that."
"Glass," I whisper, blinking as the room closes in.
"Yuugi, are you feeling well?"
"It's so warm in here," I complain. My eyes feel like they're full of grit.
Distantly I hear her voice ask the study hall teacher to get the school nurse. The cloth of my jacket scratches my pale skin. I hate these cheap uniforms. The back of my throat is parched and cracked with pain, like mud drying on a hot street. In my mind I hear Grandpa telling me cheerfully that his orange peel tea cures sore throats and all other ails.
"Stone," I say, looking into Anzu's wide, blue eyes. "Glass."
Many people say he has a heart of stone. I think he is more like glass. Tinted glass maybe, but still glass. He is so incredibly breakable that it frightens me and the fear chills me to my bones.
The voice is strong and confident, reeking of power.
"I'm here, Yami," I reply softly. In my left hand is a little Chinese souvenir doll with small, black eyes. My right hand holds a plastic truck painted fluorescent green. Scattered around me are the toys that carpet my soul room, simple and childish, but full of my love.
He looks out of place here, the fierce, mighty pharaoh standing over a pile of brightly colored building blocks, his brilliant purple eyes watching my every move.
"They're worried about you."
My fingers brush over the dark hair of the little Chinese girl.
"I'm fine. I'll come out soon."
His face doesn't change. Suspicion and worry are clearly visible. He's wondering about my uncharacteristic actions and fragmented thought patterns. Poor Yami. I wish I knew what was wrong with me so I could tell him.
"A metaphor is something that isn't true," I tell Anzu as she opens a container of strawberry jello, "It's nothing but a lie."
Her brown bangs brush over her eyes as she reaches for a spoon. Since I woke up she's been trying to baby me and feed me anything she can get her hands on.
"Yuugi, a metaphor is a great language tool. It makes for some beautiful imagery." Unhappy blue eyes focus on my face. "You should be resting now. We can do your homework later. I don't want you going all delirious again."
Suddenly as a whirlwind, Jou enters the house, fast and full of energy, his long legs flying as he dashes through the door. "Yuugi, you lucky dog! A whole week off school! I wish I could get a fever once in a while."
Honda enters a few seconds later, panting for breath. "Cheater! You started running before I even said 'Go'. I demand a rematch."
Grinning, Jou punches his arm. "You're just a poor loser, pencil-head."
Anzu lifts her fair gaze to glare at them both. "You guys! Yuugi is trying to recover here and you come in making all this noise and commotion."
I can't speak now, having them all around me. It's hard to believe how many friends I've made since the time I had no one at all besides Grandpa. Now I have everyone. My eyes ache with contained tears. Yami doesn't understand how I feel about my friends, how I feel when they're all around me, full of happiness and life. And if Yami can't understand, how could Seto Kaiba?
"It's okay," I murmur softly, "I like having you all here. Please don't leave."
"Aw, we're not going anywhere, Yuugi," Anzu says, her face glowing with affection.
"Yeah, Yuug, we're gonna stay and keep you from getting bored out of your mind." Jou assures me before he turns to Anzu, "Hey, show Yuugi that neat cat jump move you do at the ballet place."
She gives him a very frustrated look. "It's pas de chat—Step of the Cat—not 'cat jump move.' And I've told you a thousand times that it's called a 'dance studio,' not 'that ballet place!'"
"Aw…come on, Anzu!"
"Jou! Do you understand anything I say?"
Eventually they settle on ignoring each other for a short time and everything is peaceful again. Jou and Honda lay out their dueling monsters, insulting each other playfully while Anzu sits beside me and talks softly about happenings at school and what some girl said about some guy and her essay on the underlying psychological themes of some idol singer's lyrics.
Slowly, I find myself drifting into a contented haze of sleep. Yami's voice tugs at the edge of my mind but I'm too sleepy to listen to him. I came back to reality; what more does he want? My mind dissolves into mist, fuzzy with broken thoughts of metaphors and lies. Beautiful imagery, she said. But they're all lies. No one has a heart of stone, except maybe the stone dragons that guard the temple on Shima Street. Their teeth are chipped and someone broke the left ear off of one, but the eyes of the dragons still glare fiercely at all intruders.
He glared at me like that once. I think he wants to be stone, or at least he wants everyone to think he is stone, but it's all a lie. Metaphors are lies. Beautiful lies.
When I wake up the next morning, there is a package beside my bed wrapped in expensive paper with a tag addressed to me. Gingerly I unwrap it, marveling at the weight and texture of the paper. Inside is a cartridge for the new Duel Monsters VR game, complete with the latest technology from KaibaCorp. The note attached to it is in Mokuba's handwriting, imploring me to get well soon. He signed it "Seto and Mokuba," but I doubt his brother had much to do with it.
A machine answers to direct my call at the Kaiba Mansion. It asks for verification in a flat, metallic voice, devoid of emotion. I can't even leave a message without a password. Calling Kaiba's company yields no results either, as his secretaries are extremely uncooperative. I feel somehow like I'm trying to get through a brick wall and then I realize that all I have to do to talk to Kaiba is go to school.
Grandpa doesn't seem to think I'm well enough to go, but when I get up in the morning and put on my uniform and gather my books together, all ready to walk out the door, he has little chance of making me stay.
"You're still weak," Yami tells me sternly, "I can sense that your body needs more rest. Even if I take over, it will still be your worn vessel."
"I'm fine," I insist, trying to put his mind at ease.
School is the same as it always was with everyone trying to be somewhere or do something. Jou and Honda are scratching dirty words into the teacher's desk before class starts. Anzu is looking at another girl's magazine and I can hear both of them squealing from time to time and covering their mouths as they giggle. Ryou's desk is empty again.
In the back of the room, Seto Kaiba slouches in his seat, reading a book with a blank cover. His long, pale fingers clutch the smooth binding. Brown hair dangles in his eyes and he doesn't bother to push it away.
I see him glance up to watch Jou and Honda at the desk before moving his eyes to Anzu and her friend. Finally those blue eyes meet mine and, the instant he realizes I'm watching, they drop back to the book, his face showing no emotion or reaction to my stare.
Yami stirs in my mind, "Challenge him to a duel. That should get a reaction."
My deck is in my pocket, as usual. I pull it out and run my small fingers over the edges of the cards, shuffling them absently. Something in me is reluctant to face him like that again and stir up the old flames of rivalry and the fierce passion that consumes him every time he duels.
When I cut my deck, I look at the card on top, as it has become a superstition before I duel. Sometimes the card has a meaning for the duel, sometimes it doesn't. The card that emerges this time is a common trap card. I stare at it for a moment and set it on top of my deck. Things are becoming clear now.
Even the metaphors have some truth in them.
Sliding my deck back into my pocket, I walk steadily up to the desk occupied by Kaiba and wait skittishly for him to acknowledge me. The pale fingers do not move and the blue eyes remained fastened on the pages of the book. He doesn't even show that I exist.
"Um, Kaiba?" My toes roll nervously in my shoes.
His eyes blink once and turn to look at me coldly. The book doesn't move.
"Uh, I'd like to thank you for the gift…"
"Gift?" His shoulders fall back and he sits up a little straighter, confusion evident. So, the kindness was completely Mokuba's after all.
"I received a package with your new, updated VR game. The card was from you and Mokuba."
At his request, I open my backpack and show him the cartridge, which he promptly takes from me, glaring bitterly.
"These are NOT to be released to the public yet. They haven't even gone through our marketing department yet. Mokuba obviously made a mistake."
"Oh," I whisper, feeling completely crushed, "I'm sorry, Kaiba."
Yami is completely furious, but I won't allow him to take over now. He nearly killed Kaiba once for the sake of a duel.
Instead I pull my deck out of my pocket, a motion that immediately catches Kaiba's eye. My thumb brushes over the top card before I pull it off. I'm a little unsure of what is going on, but I know what I have to do.
"I wanted to give you this card, Kaiba."
He looks at me incredulously. "What?"
Biting my lip, I hand the card to him and his fingers close around it. For a moment he looks suspicious, but I guess I'm too naïve to be under suspicion for long because he takes it without saying anything, turning it over to reveal the picture of the shining breastplate, glowing with colors.
"Armored Glass?" he says, eyes narrowing, "What the hell is this for?"
The teacher enters and students scramble for their seats. I turn to Kaiba before I reach my desk and offer him a faint smile even while he glares continuously at me.
Sometimes metaphors are true.
When he comes to me after school, I give him another smile and watch how his shoulders are beginning to slump when he walks. Something is wrong.
"What do you want, Yuugi?" he asks harshly, his voice low and raspy, "I can give you one of the earlier versions of the game that is already released."
Shaking my head, I continue to beam up at him. "You should get out more and relax. Come to Miho's party on Friday. That's all I want from you."
"What?" He looks at me like I'm crazy. "A party? How much time do you think I have?" His eyebrows descend over his eyes and I can see his teeth clenched in his mouth.
"It's only a few hours," I assure him softly, "You can leave before it gets too late." It's obvious that he doesn't like the idea; he rather just dump a load of games and technology on me, but Kaiba would lose honor in his own mind if he didn't do anything for me, so I know I have one advantage.
Still, it does surprise me when I actually see him there on Friday.
"Great party," Jou laughs when I climb three flights of stairs to enter the large family room crammed with young people. He's talking with a couple of guys from the basketball team but waves at me when he notices I'm here.
As usual, loud music reverberates off the walls and teenagers in all forms of dress pack the small space with their excited voices and frantic movements. I quickly become overwhelmed in the crowd and allow Yami to take over. He is much more impressive and people seem to naturally move out of his way.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Miho grabbing a basketball from one of the boys and glare at them all fiercely. "My mom will kill me if you knock over the punch bowl on her nice floors and those windows are antique! Very fragile!" She presses a hand to her forehead wearily. "This party is killing me."
"Kaiba," Yami says suddenly, and our eyes our drawn to a figure slouched in a corner of the room, watching the moving people with his cool, condescending gaze. He's wearing his usual trench coat outfit and looks remarkably older and cooler than all the teens moving around in the room.
Seeing Yami, he stiffens, but our body stops in front of him and Yami retreats to his soul room, leaving me to talk with Kaiba. It's not an easy task.
"Hi! Having fun?" I know from the minute I say this, that it's a stupid question.
Cynical blue eyes look at me bitterly. "Just how many hours do I have to stay sitting here watching the primitive mating rituals of intoxicated adolescent idiots?"
"Hey Yuugi, what are you doing with this creep?" I hear someone ask. Turning, I realize Honda has come up behind me, his tanned face glistening from dancing the room packed with body heat.
"Although it's a good thing you came, Kaiba," he continues, turning his gaze to the young man beside me, "We can always use the air conditioning you bring in with that attitude."
Kaiba is silent and unchanged, but I think I hear a distant cracking sound of something small hitting glass. No, he's not made of stone.
"I'm fine, Honda," I murmur, "Go keep Jou out of trouble. I'll catch up with you guys later."
The tall boy shrugs and easily melts back into the crowd. The swaying bodies close around him, swallowing him up completely.
"Drink?" someone asks.
I jump, hearing a voice at my shoulder, but it's just a thin girl carrying a glass of red liquid in each hand. She's looking coyly at Kaiba, trying to get his attention.
For a moment I'm afraid that he'll send her off in tears with an insensitive comment, but he actually smiles when he takes the glass before looking pointedly away from her.
"Kaiba, you'd better watch out, that drink is probably spiked," I warn him when she leaves to return to the refreshment table.
He gives me a disbelieving look. "Why do you think I took it?"
When he tips his chin to swallow the cold beverage. his hair falls back from his eyes and clear drops of condensation cling to his long fingers. The music pulses around us and I feel dizzy again, as I if I were the one experiencing the affects of the alcohol. Blinking, I watch him brush away some of the liquid at the corner of his mouth with the edge of a knuckle, an expression of disgust marring his features.
"Damn idiots with their cheap vodka," Kaiba grumbles bitterly, "Tastes like transmission fluid." But he lifts his cup and drinks some more.
"Well, at least you were nice to the girl," I say timidly, "Do you like her?"
He gives me another incredulous look. "That bimbo? It's necessary to keep her happy so she'll keep bringing me drinks." Rolling his head, he pops his neck casually.
"Oh," I say. My eyes are on the floor. A few minutes pass without either of us speaking. Kaiba sighs but doesn't look at me.
'Well, Yuugi, are you 'having fun' yet? Is project 'Make Kaiba a Social Butterfly' working?" His acidic sarcasm scathes me.
My eyes are still on the floor, but I feel tears gathering and my face is burning with the effort to keep them in.
"Why are you like this, Kaiba?" I whisper, unable to keep the words in. "Do you like being this way?"
I can't look up at him, but in my mind, the sound of cracking glass is clearly evident and I wonder if I'm going crazy.
"Aibou?" Yami murmurs, "Is something wrong?"
Kaiba's voice stops me before I can reply. When he speaks, it goes low and raspy before rising suddenly with his anger.
"What do you want me to be like, Yuugi? Another of your mindless cheerleaders, spouting the values of teamwork and friendship and believing in yourself? Do you want me to be dependant? Do you want me to be weak?"
People are really starting to look at us now, but their faces all blur before the tears running out of my eyes. I feel stupid and pathetic and I hurt for Kaiba.
"But Seto," I say softly, "You're already weak."
In my head I hear glass splintering harshly. Turning away from him, I push into the crowd of people staring at us. When I raise a hand to wipe vainly at my face, I hear Kaiba address them with his usual charm.
"Don't you have anything better to gape at, you pathetic, mindless drones?"
One girl pats me on the back as I push by and I hear some people muttering stuff like, "Asshole," and "What a jerk!" as I move away from him.
He hates me. He hates the idea of being weak and breakable. Glass or not, he will always keep pretending that he is stone. "Heart of stone," Anzu said, as if that would explain everything to me. I feel so tired and the music is too loud. Where is Anzu? Where are Jou and Honda? And where is poor Ryou?
"Yuugi," I hear Yami say. He's worried about me and I wish I could make him happy. I wish I knew what was wrong.
"Who invited that rich snob?" Someone asks in a whiny voice. Drunken laughter pounds in my head. It sounds familiar. Jou? The lights are spinning before my eyes.
"Yuugi!" I hear someone call, but it isn't Yami.
More annoyed voices rise from the crowd as Kaiba tries to push his way through. I need to get outside. I need to get away from here.
Before me I can see a patch of dark, night sky, but it seems foggy and clouded over, impossible to reach. I start to run, dodging around teenagers, bumping into the towering forms around me. It's too bright in here. I have to find the night.
"How are you doing, Ryou?" I asked him, two weeks ago as we stood in the sun after school. He leaned against the side of the building and closed his soft eyes, white hair pushed up by the warm stone wall surrounding a gaunt, but not unhappy, face.
"I'm fine, Yuugi. Thanks for asking."
"Fine?" I whispered.
His eyes opened slowly and the sadness in them startled me.
"I'm content with my lot in life. But it hurts."
Maybe I would never understand, but I had to ask. "The spirit of the Ring?"
His smile lacked bitterness, but also warmth. "It's like loving a glacier," he murmured, "Or a block of ice."
I watched his fingers stroke the wall as he spoke. "Maybe as a child you tried to embrace a rose bush because it seemed so beautiful." His eyes closed again, reliving an inner pain and a cloud passed over the sun, covering his face in shadow. "God, it hurts."
"Yuugi!" I hear someone shout. I'm frantic to get away but I don't know what I'm fleeing. An angry voice fills my senses as I collide with the muscular form of some star athlete from school and arms are pushing, shoving, propelling me away.
"Yuugi!" Kaiba cries from a great distance and I wonder why he is so upset in the split second before the back of my head collides with something hard and brittle. The sound of breaking glass saturates my world. Someone is screaming my name and there's a voice in my head trying to take over.
Glass falls all around me and I suppose I'm falling too. It's raining a sea of glass. People are staring out of the square of light above me, but their faces blur together as I descend into the dark. Even as I hit the ground, the shattering of glass echoes in my ears over and over again. Surely the window cannot still be breaking.
Maybe Kaiba is up there in the room worried about me…or maybe he couldn't care less. It's like loving a glacier, someone told me once.
Heart of stone, sea of glass… Beautiful lies….
In my mind I see a boy leaning against the wall with the sun shining on his snowy white hair, hurt and forsaken, but happily shattered.