The word hung in the frosty air like a whispered promise. It snuck through the over-crowded hallways of Domino High, rumbling like a jolly laugh, spreading like an infectious disease. It tiptoed through the teacher's lounge, where tired women making copies and coffee stopped complaining of aching feet and endless piles of grading and smiled a silent, secretive smile.
It slipped under the heavy, creaking doors of the classrooms and danced through the air, wild as a Maenad, giddy as a child at Christmas. Students tapped their feet to its silent, fickle rhythm. They sighed in time with its frosty breath. Drooping heads perked at its approach, dull ears pricked at its murmur, and glazed eyes brightened to see its faint twinkle. And outside, high, high, high above the sighs and whispers and expectations, high, where the grey clouds gathered, it began to fall.
Tea Gardener watched the first few flakes fall through the smudged glass of the window. She frowned abstractedly. Snow did not figure into her weekend plans, the way it did those of all the students around her, who had been talking about nothing else since assembly this morning, when the principal had "happened" to review the school's plan for inclement weather. Her plans involved working a double shift at Mama Gina's and then a straight six hour dance rehearsal. The Spring Showcase was coming up, despite what the weather suggested, and if Tea wanted to attract any scholarship offers, she'd have to be at the top of her game. She let out an almost-inaudible sigh and brushed a stray strand of hair from her face, before turning her attention to the lecture that even the teacher didn't seem to care about.
Across the room, Ryou Bakura also looked towards the window, but he didn't see the tell-tale white flakes spiraling through the February winds. All of his attention was caught on the girl beside the window, on the way the harsh classroom lights brought out the warm highlights in her chocolate brown hair, on the way she tugged absently at the colored bangles on her wrist as she stared out the window, on the tiny crease of her forehead as she frowned, on the soft part of her lips as she sighed, on the round curve of her cheek as she turned towards him.
Immediately, he let his eyes fall to his desk. His heart raced just a little. Had she seen him? Had their eyes met for just a split second? His breath hitched as he peeked once more across the room. But no, if she had noticed him looking at her, she gave no sign. Her eyes were fixed on the front of the room, fingers absently tracing the curve of her bracelets. He released his breath. He was safe. He was invisible.
Ryou stiffened. He clenched the pencil in his hand so tight he thought it might break. He tried desperately to listen to the lecture he had been ignoring all class period, hoping the words, however boring, might distract him from imagining things he shouldn't.
Only you're not imagining things and you know it. The voice was a little louder this time, the familiar edge of scorn a little sharper.
Ryou shifted lower in his seat, folding his arms on the desk in front of him. It wasn't real. It wasn't. It wasn't. He was gone.
"Mr. Bakura?" The teacher was looking at his, eyebrow arched, radiating disapproval. "Is something the matter?"
"No," Bakura managed softly.
"Then I suggest you put your head up and pay attention." The teacher sniffed slightly. "This will be on the test."
Ryou just nodded. He sat up straight and copied down what the teacher had written on the board. His notes for the rest of the period were flawless. Almost flawless. Just as the bell rang, he glanced down at his notebook. At the bottom of the page, underneath the tiny, precise lines of notes were three words, scrawled large, but undeniably in his own handwriting.
You can't escape.
Ryou stared at the page for a minute that felt like an eternity. Then, without the slightest change of his expression, he ripped out the page and crumpled it into a ball. He swept the rest of his belongings into his bookbag without looking at them, shouldered the bag, and walked to the door, pausing for just a second to toss the wad of paper in the trashcan.
He was staring so intently straight ahead that he didn't even notice Tea pausing by the calendar to check the due dates for their class project. She scribbled it down in her planner and straightened at exactly the wrong moment. Their bodies connected with an audible thud as Tea's planner shot out of her hands and Ryou's bookbag fell to the floor and its contents went flying.
"S-sorry!" Ryou stuttered as he knelt to retrieve the items. But that too went wrong as Tea knelt at the same instant and their heads bumped. "Sorry! I'm really sorry!" he stammered as he grabbed his bookbag off the dingy tile floor.
Tea smiled, her easy manner never faltering. "Don't worry about it. It was my fault just as much as yours. I should have been paying attention to my surroundings." She picked up Ryou's notebook and handed to him. "Here. This is yours."
He snatched it from her and stuffed into the bookbag. He stopped short, aghast at himself. Tea was staring at him. "Bakura? Are you okay?"
His cheeks grew hot and his knew his face must be tomato red. He silently cursed his pale skin. "Y-yes. Sorry, Tea. I was thinking about something else."
She looked skeptical, but didn't press him. Silently, she helped him collect his pens and pencils. Ryou spotted her planner under one of the nearby desks and retrieved it. "Here," he said shyly, offering it to her.
"Thanks." She flipped through the pages before closing it and putting it in her yellow backpack. She sighed. "So much to do, so little time."
Ryou wouldn't know. Once he left school, his days were filled with emptiness, with reading books by himself, with playing games for one player, with looking out windows onto empty streets, with sitting in an empty apartment that was never going to have anyone else in it, and with pretending, desperately pretending, all the while, that he was alone. But he nodded and made a sympathetic noise like he understood.
"And now there's this project," Tea was saying as she got to her feet. She rubbed at her forehead. "I don't know where I'll ever find the time."
"Maybe I could help you," he heard his own voice say.
Tea blinked, startled, and then smiled. "Sure, that would be great."
"Sometime this weekend?" he said and he could scarcely hear his words over the pulse throbbing in his eardrums.
Her brow puckered. "This weekend? Oh, I don't know… I'm really busy…"
"Today, then. During study hall."
Her face cleared. "That would be perfect. Thanks, Bakura."
"Don't mention it."
Don't worry, she won't.
He froze dead in his tracks, but Tea had already walked past and didn't notice.