I leave for college in less than 12 hours.
I spell it Ryoh instead of Ryou because people spell it YuGiOh instead of Yuugiou. Shonen Jump spells it Ryo because the "u" confuses people who can't speak Japanese.

Welcome to the Dollhouse:

A Series of Vignettes.

Four:

Hitting Below the Belt

---

Despite the fact that there was no feasible way to prevent himself from failing 11th grade, Ryoh continued to come to school for the final month before summer vacation. Truth be told, he saw no point in cutting class, since his only friends would still be in school maintaining their passing grades. Even though the only real time to socialize was during lunch, Ryoh showed up for the entire day of classes. The teachers were slightly perplexed.

Besides the motivation from being able to be with friends and not worry about guaranteeing their deaths by talking to them, there was Yuugi. Yuugi most definitely was not as happy as Ryoh about the loss of the Millennium Items. Ryoh's sentiments went along the lines of "good riddance." Yuugi, on the other hand, while he wasn't horribly depressed, wasn't quite as chipper as he used to be. Yet he was still in school, and he had far more cause to skip. So Ryoh continued to attend as well, despite his jealousy of the other boy.

The jealousy Ryoh felt toward Yuugi was for having had a kind, protective companion to share his soul with, and he was scared to realize it had been there ever since the end of Monster World. It was frightening to know that he had indeed felt negative emotions toward others even before the Ring Spirit had been banished a final time. While Ryoh knew that a little jealousy was a long way off from declaring himself King of Thieves and killing anybody who got in his way, being jealous of Yuugi was the factor that made him push any negative emotions down, suppressing everything but shallow happiness. Even one little similarity to the thief was one too many.

Yuugi was a good person, though, and it was hard to be angry with him while actually in his presence. He was painfully nice and gregarious. So Ryoh kept going to school each day to be around Yuugi and the others. But mostly to be around Yuugi.

---

Yuugi was quite proud of himself. After weeks of studying with Anzu, he had finally managed to score above fifty on a test, and was waving the paper with the red sixty-five at Jounouchi. It was proof that he and Anzu actually were studying when he went over to her house after school, he yelled at Jounouchi, not quite realizing that the rest of the class was listening with amusement.

Jounouchi and Honda, on the other hand, had scored a thirty and a forty-five respectively, so neither of them were particularly receptive to Yuugi's delight at his comparatively high score.

"Hey, Bakura," Jounouchi called, leaning over the back of his chair to see the white-haired teen, "what'd you score?" Jounouchi expected that Bakura had flunked just as badly as he had—Ryoh had told the others the week before that the teachers had let him know he wasn't going to make it to the next year no matter what. If Jounouchi had found himself in that situation, he would have stopped coming to school, or if he still came to classes, stopped trying. Therefore, Bakura's score probably wasn't anything to be proud of.

Ryoh looked down, face slightly red, as he held up his paper. The perfect one hundred percent glared at Jounouchi in all its glory. The blond gaped.

"That's not right," he yelled, snatching Ryoh's paper and glaring back at it, as though he could will the red marks to wiggle into a lower score. They rudely refused.

"I wouldn't mind helping you study." Ryoh smiled slightly as he lightly tugged his paper out of the blond's hands. "You could compete with Yuugi. We have two more tests in this class before the year ends, right?"

Honda grinned. Ryoh knew what he was doing; turn something into a competition and Jounouchi's enthusiasm level would shoot up. The brunet himself didn't really care much, though, and stayed silent. The blond predictably agreed.

"You're goin' down, Yuugi!" Jounouchi declared, pointing dramatically at his shorter friend.

---

Jounouchi's next test score was improved—a forty-six—but Yuugi's had risen to a sevent-two. Bakura tried to shove his test into his bag before his grade could be seen, but Jounouchi had grabbed the paper out of his hands and was complaining about the unfairness of it all before Ryoh even realized he was no longer holding it. Ryoh couldn't help but laugh.

"I'm sorry, Jounouchi, but I almost knew it would happen," he smiled, holding his hands up to show his defenselessness. "You don't retain anything from class, and studying with you, you're like a puppy. All you hear is blah-blah-blah, blah, Jounouchi, blah, blah-blah-blah-blah, blah." He laughed softly again, not noticing the look that had come over the blond's face.

Bakura had just called him a puppy. He was pissed.

If he had thought logically about it, there was actually no way for Ryoh to realize how much the word upset him. The white-haired boy had been around so rarely when Kaiba and Jounouchi were taunting each other—usually Ryoh had been injured or just not there—or else it had been Yami Bakura watching the pair squabble. Nobody had thought to tell him about the one insult that always got a reaction from Jounouchi, since it was practically a given. The fact was simply that he hadn't ever seen Jounouchi get so riled up from the word.

Except Jounouchi wasn't thinking logically, because nobody does when they're upset. Luckily for Bakura, he couldn't simply just punch the other teen, angry as he was. Bakura was, after all, a friend. He could, however, fight dirty.

"Eh, well," he said with feigned carelessness, and Yuugi and the others worried. They knew it was fake. Ryoh, though, didn't realize. "Even with my shit-awful grades, at least I'm not going to fail."

Ryoh's mouth dropped open.

"Though it doesn't make any sense to me," Jounouchi continued. "All your scores are perfect. Why are you being held back a year?"

Ryoh's mouth closed and his head snapped to looking at the floor, while his shoulders hunched over, and his hands balled into fists. Jounouchi still wasn't finished.

"You even have time to help me out. Besides that, you're still coming to school every day! I just don't get it." The blond shrugged, an exaggeratedly nonchalant motion. Ryoh's shoulder twitched, once, as though he were struggling not to start shaking. "Why're you still here?"

"Shut up," Ryoh hissed. "Just shut up. You have no idea." Though the blond did have an idea, Ryoh thought, and that was part of what made his remarks hurt so much. Jounouchi knew why Ryoh had always been absent. He knew why there were days when Ryoh had come in and done nothing but sit and stare at a wall, why Ryoh had been suspended for skipping detentions, and why there were holes in Ryoh's transcript where it hadn't transferred when Ryoh switched schools.

Ryoh's voice stayed steady, but only because he was speaking so softly it had no room to crack. "Do you know I've never gotten a grade beneath an eighty before this year? Do you know how much my dad hates me for failing? Do you know that with your pathetic scores you should fail too, but the city can't afford to keep re-teaching all of its dunces, and so they pass more than half of you morons who aren't fit for society?"

Ryoh lifted his head. His bangs were hanging in his face, the thin white strands halfway obscuring his eyes. "Do you want to know why I'm here now?" He swallowed visibly. Usually when he was this angry he froze, unable to react, but somehow now he had perfect command of his tongue and was using it. "Because you all are the only friends I've got, and I don't want to be at home by myself everyday, doing nothing. But, I dunno, maybe I should just stay home from now on."

He turned and grabbed his bag, beginning to leave.

Jounouchi was unable to let him get away with the last word, though. He hadn't taken two steps before the blond's voice reached him again.

"Man, if I didn't know better, I'd think we saved the wrong Bakura."

Ryoh froze, his eyes wide with pain and rage. He wanted to hit something. He wanted to hit Jounouchi.

He ran out of the classroom.