A/N: Inventive title is inventive… Actually, the real title is meant to be 'Back to School(crossedout) Life', but FF dot net doesn't allow for that. Sad face.
Whoo, my first ever piece written specifically for a contest! This was done for the deviantART group DN-YGO-Galaxy, and their theme was 'back to school'. XD Now that I've done it, I realize that I kinda suck at writing to a theme. Or it could have been the theme plus deadline that makes this feel so clunky to me. I may come back to it later when I have time to really flesh it out and explore the ideas, but the way it is now feels rushed to me, especially the end. (Ugh.) Oh, well. It's not awful – I think – and it's been beta tested twice, so we're going with it! :3
Course, I'll be out of the country and out of internet when the contest is actually taking place… so my Beta will be watching how it goes for me. ^/^
(Heartshipping is slowly becoming one of my all-time favorites… but in an angst-y, not innocent, way…)
Shippings: For those who don't have them all memorized:
Heartshipping: Yugi Muto / Ryou Bakura
Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh! and related characters are © to Kazuki Takahashi.
Back to Life
The day was bright, the skies clear and a cool breeze brought a tang of salt to the school campus off of the sea. Dozens of people milled around just outside the main school building. Some walked purposefully, knowing exactly where they were going, others looked around themselves to get their bearings, obviously new, while still others lingered outside to chat with friends. It was the first day of school for all of them. For some it was their first year of high school, and for others it was the beginning their last.
For those just starting their new lives as high school students, it would be a year of figuring out the schedule, settling in and making friends. Those in their second years would be focusing on where they would be going once they graduated at the end of next year, what degrees they would pursue. The ones whose this was their final year, it would be a packed one of preparing for entrance exams to their chosen schools.
Head up, look everyone in the eye, remember to smile.
One student, dressed in the trim, dark blue school uniform drifted through the crowd of teens, neither in a hurry nor dawdling. He walked sedately, school bag slung over one shoulder. He smiled to those he recognized or returned greetings to any who called out to him, always polite and personable. No one would have said that Ryou Bakura was cold, but he was shy. To those who knew him, he was practically gregarious this morning. It was a façade he was working to project.
If you're already happy, no one will try to cheer you.
He'd thought about calling in an absence for the day and staying home. Certainly he had a reasonable enough excuse for it. A transcontinental flight, just recently taken to bring him back from Egypt, would have gone some way to explain why he wouldn't feel up to coming into school. Jetlag and exhaustion would have excused him from one day. But then, if he skipped one then it would only be harder to make himself go the next day, and an absence was not an auspicious way to begin the year. Better to start off bright, with no marks against him.
Inside, the pleasant breeze and sunshine were replaced with fluorescents and the babble of voices that were held close by walls. Still, Ryou smiled his way through the halls, to his locker and to his first classroom. He listened to stories of summer vacations and plans already being made for the first long weekend and nodded greetings to the teachers. It was easy to settle into the routine of school. It took almost no thought at all, his gestures and words were all automatic, ingrained into him. He was the only one who noticed anything amiss, for only he could feel within himself to the place that felt hollow.
Numb, like anesthesia at the dentist. Everything still functions, but you can't feel it.
Eventually friends began filing into the classroom. Téa came in first, then Tristan, and finally Joey. It wasn't obvious, possibly it wasn't even intentional, but after the first exchange of greetings, they turned to each other and with subtle body language and wording, cut him out of the conversation. He wasn't slighted, or surprised. Ryou had never been as much a part of the group as the rest, and considering all that had happened over the past year, it was no shock that now he was even less so. Whether they were conscious of it or not, they were still uncomfortable around him, wary. So he listened as they talked animatedly with each other, volunteering nothing of his own.
Téa was full of energy, outlining her plans for the year. Everything was geared toward her goal of studying dance in New York after graduating. Extra English classes, physical training clubs and private studio instruction were all on her agenda. Tristan was more moderate in his ambitions, saying he was likely to end up taking a position in a corporation run by his uncle, who seemed willing to groom him into taking it over in future. And Joey, in typical fashion, loudly announced that he had no plans for his future and wasn't worried. Something, he said, was bound to pop up when the time came.
That's right, there's a future to plan for.
Time for class to begin crept closer, more students likewise filled the classroom and found their chairs. It wasn't until the teacher himself came in that Ryou realized that there was one seat conspicuously empty. Leaning over his desk, he tapped Joey on the shoulder.
"Where's Yugi?" He pointed to the empty desk.
"Said he was still jetlagged from the trip," Joey replied, fishing through his backpack for a textbook. "Wish I'd thought to use that excuse, I coulda used the extra sleep." He yawned hugely to emphasize the point.
The lanky boy returned his attention to finding his book, which he muttered to himself he had probably left at home. Ryou sat back in his seat, frowning.
The teacher began his opening speech for the year. It was much the same as any other opener, save for some more stress placed upon the seriousness of a year culminating in university entrance exams. Ryou let the drone of it wash over him, paying only minimal attention to what the words actually were. Instead, his thoughts turned to Yugi and his absence. What did it mean? It could, very conceivably, be just what Joey said, a case of jetlag… but Ryou seriously doubted the sincerity of that.
The rest of the day went quickly, a blur of introductory classes and learning the new routines for the year. At the end of it Ryou remembered only a long line of schedules, reading assignments and feigning interested conversation whenever someone chanced to speak to him. Privately, Ryou was thinking hard. He thought of Egypt, of the last few years, and of the last few days in particular. He thought of Yugi, and how Ryou had come to know the boy in all that time, and of the spirit of the Pharaoh he had harbored. He thought, tentatively, of the spirit he had harbored for so long, and of how it felt to so suddenly have his mind completely to himself again.
When the time came to go, Ryou was one of the first out of his seat, gathering his own things in a whirl and then stuffing his bag to bursting with what was intended for Yugi. Before any of the others could question him, or even properly register what he had done, he retreated to change his shoes and leave the campus. His own apartment was not the first place he stopped. The Game Shop, run by the Mutou family and where Yugi lived was in the opposite direction from Ryou's home, but it wasn't far from the school. Still, there was no point in pretending he had just passing by when he asked to see Yugi from the boy's grandfather working in the ground floor shop.
The elder Mr. Mutou smiled, though a line of worry between his brows accompanied it. "I'm glad you came, Bakura," he said as he stepped around the counter. Motioning for Ryou to follow, he started up the stairs leading to the living rooms of the shop. "He's only come out of his room twice today, and I don't think he's eaten more than a few snacks since getting back. I know this has been an ordeal for him, but…" he trailed away, unable to find the words to continue, but his attitude spoke volumes for the concern he felt for his grandson. Ryou chose to make no comment and climbed the stairs as a silent shadow to the aging patriarch.
He was led to the door, given an encouraging nod, and then left in the hall when Mr. Mutou made his way back to the shop without even announcing Ryou's presence through the door. For a moment the boy hesitated on the threshold, then knocked softly. "Yugi?" he called. "Are you awake? It's Bakura."
At first there was no response. Ryou was about ready to raise his hand and try knocking again when sounds of movement came through the door. Ryou backed up a step as the door opened, revealing Yugi. It was the first time Ryou had seen him since leaving Egypt, he had to cover his first startled reaction. He was still in his pajamas, his wild hair un-brushed and disheveled. His face was pale, as though he were ill, and the way he stood with his shoulders hunched made him look even smaller than usual. He blinked up at Ryou, his violet eyes ringed and shadowed. "Bakura?" There was surprise in the boy's voice. "What are you doing here, is something wrong?"
Ryou shook his head and smiled, the expression still feeling forced. "Nothing wrong, Yugi." He held up his over-packed school bag. "I just thought I would bring you your papers since you missed class today. You don't want to start out behind in material!"
Yugi stared at the bag blankly, then smiled back. His smile looked as tired as Ryou's felt. "Oh, right, thank you, Bakura. Please, come in." He stepped aside to let Ryou enter his room.
Ryou had expected it to be a mess. With Yugi still in his nightclothes, it would have made sense if the bedroom were scattered with the remnants of whatever Yugi had done during the day to entertain himself. Such was not the case. The room was tidy to the point of being severe. There were no games left out, no garage kits open and their contents spread across the floor, not even a stray book laying open. Either Yugi was being especially fussy in the cleanliness of his room, or he had been doing absolutely nothing all day, with nothing to clean up after himself.
While Yugi sat on the edge of his bed, Ryou settled himself into the desk chair. For the next hour Ryou outlined what had taken a full round of teachers an entire day to get through. It was all simple, not much different from what their sophomore year had been like, and the schedules Ryou handed to him were all more or less self-explanatory. Throughout that hour, the greatest challenge was not making the new routines understandable, but in keeping Yugi's attention. His eyes would wander, or become unfocused, staring straight through Ryou as he spoke, and any questions were answered with the briefest answers possible. Yugi sat not four feet from Ryou, but his mind was miles away.
When they were finished, Ryou stacked the books and papers neatly on Yugi's desk, then turned back to him. "I'm not in any hurry to go home," he said lightly. "Would you mind if I stayed for a little while? We could play a game, maybe."
Yugi's face tightened at the word 'game'. "I don't know, Bakura…"
"It's been a long time since either of us has played a game that was just a game," he pointed out gently. "And even longer since it was us together."
A small smile stole onto Yugi's face. "Should we play an RPG, then, or a card game?"
Ryou managed a chuckle. "No, neither of those… How about a videogame?"
The two of them sat themselves before Yugi's small set, playing through his collection of console games. First a logic puzzler, then a fighting game, then a sports simulator… all safe games that brought no evil memories with them. As they played, Ryou watched his companion out of the corners of his eyes. Gradually at first, then more and more noticeably, he began to brighten, to show more energy and interest in what he was doing. Almost as soon as Ryou tried to take advantage of that, though, to talk about their friends and the first day of school, Yugi withdrew again.
He only relaxes when what he has to deal with isn't real, Ryou thought with a small frown. As soon as anything from the outside comes intruding on him, he retreats.
It wasn't difficult for Ryou to notice Yugi's behavior, he knew the symptoms from experiencing them himself. He'd nearly done just as Yugi had, begged off the first day of school for 'personal reasons', to 'recover from the journey.' Except the kind of recovery needed would take much more than a day to achieve. One day would have become two, then three, then a week, excuse piled atop excuse until he would have come to school only to cut classes or been expelled.
But he had forced himself out of his apartment. As much as he had wanted to stay holed up the whole day, he had gone out, attended the opening ceremonies at Domino High, and begun the process of getting back into the pattern of normal life again. Yugi had not. He'd remained at home, isolated, not taking that first step out. He suspected Yugi was starting along the same path Ryou had himself avoided.
It was doubtful if anyone else in their circle of friends would even recognize the danger as Ryou could. They would remember Yugi as he had been before solving the millennium puzzle, as the shy boy who didn't put himself forward, who allowed himself to fade into the background. If he withdrew, they would perceive it as nothing more than a relapse.
Except that then, he had only been shy. A gamer with no real friends, he'd simply become a part of the scenery rather than put himself forward. He'd still gone to school, despite being bullied from what Ryou had heard. Now he was actively retreating. There were no external sources of grief to avoid, no bullies, yet he was attempting to escape. And Ryou was fairly certain he knew why.
Unconsciously, a hand came up to the place where, for a very long time, there had hung a familiar, brooding weight.
"It's strange…" he said slowly, addressing the screen where his and Yugi's characters leapt about rather than to Yugi directly. He licked his lips, continued. "For so long, I'd wanted to be alone inside my own mind." He felt Yugi go tense beside him, but kept his eyes resolutely forward. "The voice that would speak to me, that made those gaps in my memory, that did all those terrible things… for a while, I thought it was just another side of myself cropping up. That I was the one who was really responsible for it all."
Ryou paused to read Yugi's reaction as best he could without looking at him. He would have thought this would have been incredibly hard to say, but it was as though he were speaking to himself, focusing as he was on only the television screen. It was also a comfort that Yugi had yet to tell him to keep his thoughts to himself.
"I thought it would only be to the good to have that other side of me removed," he continued quietly. "That I would be able to function without that darkness inside. But…" Ryou paused to take a breath. The game had slowed to a crawl, but was still progressing. "It really is like losing a piece of myself," he finished. "Even though I know he was not a part of me, it's as though an entire section of my identity has been cut away. Where there once might have been some kind of… I don't know, feedback or resistance, there's nothing now. It's almost as frightening as when he had been there. I'm not sure I can explain why." Ryou chanced a brief look at Yugi. He was biting his lip, his eyes faraway like he was lost in thought.
"It's good that he's gone," Ryou said firmly to the screen. "Without him, I can live my own life and plan my future, not be dragged down by feuds of the ancient past. I can just be me."
For a while there was silence. Ryou felt that saying any more would likely be a bad idea, and Yugi only continued to play the game without looking at his guest. Ryou was fine with the quiet. He'd said what he had wanted to, hopefully it would be enough to get through to his friend. It surprised him when Yugi broke that silence, using the same tactic of not looking away from the television that Ryou had used.
"It's not like just losing a friend," he said slowly. "It's losing someone so close to you, you don't know where one finishes and the other begins. You're separate, but less distinct. Losing someone you've come to rely on for even the smallest things…" he trailed away without finishing the idea. Ryou didn't push him or more, but let him pursue whatever train of thought he'd begun privately. He could relate to some, if not all of what Yugi had said, but it wasn't his role to pick apart Yugi's experiences as a spirit's vessel.
The two of them played until the sun sank and shadows lengthened, with only the occasional word or two passing between them. When the street lamps began to blink on outside the windows, Ryou stood, gathering his book bag and excusing himself for having stayed so late. Yugi walked with him downstairs, through the dark, empty shop and to the door. As they were saying their goodbyes, Ryou paused.
"Yugi. You will be coming to school tomorrow, right?"
The shorter boy shrugged, his eyes dropping to the floor.
"It just—" Yugi began to retort sharply, the stopped, squeezing his eyes closed for moment before going on. "It's hard. I was happy when the Pharaoh could finally cross over. I was. But without him…" he crossed his arms over his chest in a purely defensive move. "I feel lost," he said softly. "Maybe I really wasn't ready to give him up."
Ryou shook his head, settled a hand on Yugi's shoulder. "Come back to school, Yugi. It's not his life you're living anymore, it's yours. You're stronger than you think, just getting back into the normal rhythms will prove that."
Yugi looked up, his darkly shadowed eyes locking with soft browns. Even though his face still spoke of his sorrow, he nodded.
Ryou let himself smile to that nod, and it was echoed weakly but sincerely on Yugi. It made him feel a little better, he discovered, to have someone in much the same position as himself, who faced the same struggles. It made him feel less alone, strengthened his resolve to both rediscover his life and return to the campus day by day. The two went hand-in-hand, it seemed.
Back to school, back to life.
A/N2: Ending is kind of meh. Oh, well.
Fwah. And I'm leaving the country as of tomorrow, so any reviews I'll be getting to in about 2 weeks. Or more, depending on how dead I am when I get back. ^^;
Thanks for reading, everyone!