It wasn't like it would be suicide.

Suicide was the gun barrel against your temple. Suicide was the hard slide of the pills down your throat. Suicide was the hard crimson slash down your wrist. Suicide was the wind screaming against your skin instants before the impact.

Suicide was intentional. It was running up the white flag. I surrender. I've had enough. I give up. It was declaring that nothing on this earth was worth living for, that the most diabolical hells that awaited couldn't be more infernal than one more day in the miserable mess he called life.

This would be different. If he did go out into the snow, he wasn't intending to die, and it wasn't guaranteed that he would. This was no surrender. It was more of a tactical retreat, no, a forlorn hope. High in risk, but with a chance, no matter how small, at victory and success. Only, of course, a successful forlorn hope meant glory and great reward. He could hope for no such thing. Success in his case would mean days, weeks, maybe months or even years of avoiding the one person he most wanted to be with. A forlorn hope indeed.

Was that why the idea seemed so tempting? Did the idea of slowing freezing to death in a snowstorm actually seem more appealing than a life of making himself invisible just when Tea had begun to see him at last? The one took a short burst of courage, a few hours at most of self-sacrifice. The other would take a lifetime of it.

Ryou closed his eyes. He hauled in a deep breath and then opened them once more. There might be legitimate reasons to go through with this plan, but selfishness wasn't one of them. He would do what it took to keep Tea safe, but he wasn't going to take the easy way out. If he'd learned anything in the last five miserable years, it was just how hard death was on the living. He wasn't going to do that to Tea. Not if there was another way. He wasn't going to be selfish.

Leaving was a last resort. They weren't to that point yet. The first step—obvious when he stopped fantasizing about overblown dramatic gestures like some kind of Romeo wannabe—was to apply his "survival proviso" to right now: simply stay away from Tea. They hadn't tried that yet, not really. That had been part of the idea with their last scheme, but Tea had apparently never followed through on the leaving part. But the principle was still sound. And if Tea refused to cooperate—or the Spirit did—then that still left the storm as an option.

Ryou abruptly realized that he'd been wandering aimlessly through the hallways for who knew how long. He was now at the top of the staircase, absently picking at the chipping white paint on the handrail. He let out a sigh. He had to talk to Tea. He had to explain things to her, make her see reason. She had to understand that he couldn't be near her. She'd have to stay away from him and he from her for the rest of their time here. Something clenched painfully in his chest. Maybe for the rest of his life.

He couldn't think about that now. If he did, he'd lose his nerve. The important thing right now was talking to Tea. And for that, he needed to find her.

It was several minutes later, minutes so full of silence and empty rooms that Ryou had almost forgotten why he kept exploring floor after floor of the school, when he heard it. Somewhere, distantly, he heard water running. It took him a long time to process the sound and realize what it must mean. A shower. Someone was taking a shower. And considering that the school was abandoned, that someone had to be Tea.

He half-smiled at the randomness of it—and then glanced down at himself and realized the idea wasn't bad at all. He could probably stand some freshening up too. Besides, as long as Tea was in the shower, he wasn't going to be able to talk to her anyway. He might as well follow her example.

The sound of running water grew louder as Ryou headed towards the gym. The boy's locker room was just on the other side of the girls', presumably so they could take advantage of the same pipes. The painted cinderblock wall between them was too thick to allow conversation to pass, just a burble of water and words—though that didn't stop some of the guys from trying to eavesdrop on the girls they were certain were gossiping about them. Ryou wondered if any of the girls ever did the same.

Ryou glanced down the corridor that led to the girls' locker room. Somewhere, past those forbidden double doors and the rows of dingy lockers was Tea. An image of her, naked beneath the steamy spray, danced in his head for a few stunning seconds before he quickly banished the thought. That was exactly the kind of thing he couldn't allow himself to indulge in. For one thing, entertaining such less-than-pure thoughts of Tea was a surefire way to attract his attention. For another, it was also a surefire way to crumble his own resolve to stay away from her.

Swallowing hard, Ryou jerked his gaze away from the double doors—and the delectable sight they hid—and hurried off down the adjoining corridor. Maybe he'd better make his a cold shower.


Hot water rained down, in a steady, soothing pitapat against the tiled floor. Tea's eyes closed as she ran her hairs through her wet hair, scrunching the strands through her fingers. As far as she could tell, the soap had all been rinsed out, although some of the strands squeaked between her fingers. Guess that meant it was time to get out. Her fingers were starting to turn pruney.

But Tea didn't want to get out. Here, in this steamy cocoon, she was warm and safe. Safe from the outside world and the decision that loomed like an anvil above her head. Safe from the intense passions that scalded her from the inside out. Once she stepped outside the shower, she'd have to face reality once more. Was she prepared for it?

You can't keep playing ostrich, Tea told herself firmly. Part of her brain—the nerdy part that never shut and that Joey and Tristan never stopped teasing her about—reminded her that ostriches didn't really bury their heads in the sand to make themselves invisible to predators. It was just a misunderstanding of their behavior in swallowing sand and pebbles for use in their gizzards. The other part of her brain told the nerd part to shut up. She heaved a sigh and smiled at her own ridiculousness.

Thinking of Joey and Tristan interjected a much-needed dose of normalcy into her mind. It was sort of emotionally claustrophobic in here, shut up alone with Ryou and her own emotions. This big empty school was like an enormous echo chamber. It took everything she felt and pelted it back at her, over and over again, magnifying it each time. Now she was drowning in a cacophony so deafening she didn't even know what she thought, or felt, or even believed.

If you had asked her, Tea Gardner, Ordinary High School Student, on Thursday, if there was any chance that she would be seriously considering seducing Ryou Bakura and taking advantage of him in a carnal way, she would have laughed in your face. Actually no. She would have been too flabbergasted by the question to respond, and far too embarrassed to do anything as bold as laughing in someone's face. The most she would have been able to manage was a strangled titter.

What exactly had changed since two days ago was an open question. An extremely good question, too. Despite the romantic streak she'd maintained since childhood, Tea was enough of a rationalist to know that you didn't fall in love with someone in two days—not even if you were trapped in the same building all alone. Not even if they told you things they'd never told anyone else. Not even if you looked into their eyes and for the very first time, you believed the old saying that the eyes were the windows of the soul. Not even if they made you want to open your own windows and start semaphoring for dear life.

No, she hadn't fallen in love with Ryou. But something was different. Her eyes opened and she stared up at the dingy grey ceiling tiles. She was calling him Ryou. No, more than that, she was calling him her boyfriend. Just thinking the word sent a tingle through her—nervousness, yes, but also excitement. Something had been set in motion, something that couldn't be stopped now. Tea tried to imagine going back to the way things had been back on Thursday. The casual way they'd exchanged polite nothings, a nod in the hallway, a "Hello" in class, or a "See you later" in the cafeteria, the way her eyes had glossed right over him, taking him in with the scenery without really seeing him. They'd been like two joggers out in the fog—vaguely conscious of another shape in the mist, but not seeing, not caring. She couldn't go back to that. It was impossible. She was aware of him in a new way. If they passed in the hallway now, their eyes would connect and she would see, if just a tiny peep, into the endless mystery that was Ryou Bakura. If he was hurt, she'd see that hurt, feel it come to rest on her own heart. If he was happy, she'd see that too. And she knew—knew deep in the very core of her—that she couldn't keep seeing him and go on like it meant nothing.

There was no way back. There was only forward.

Her chest tightened even as her belly fluttered. Forward wouldn't be frolicking through a sunny meadow of soft green grass. Forward meant trudging through a morass of awkwardness and confusion, and maybe even danger. It meant hacking through a dense thicket of tangled emotions and twisted desires. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth. If her feelings for Ryou were still mysterious and perplexing, they were as simple as the cooking directions for a Poptart compared to what she felt for the Spirit of the Ring. She still didn't have the foggiest notion of how she could despise something with every fiber of her being, yet somehow melt beneath his touch. And did it have anything to do with the fact that it was still Ryou's body that touched her, Ryou's body that she was becoming increasingly aware of, or was it something else, something of the Spirit's own?

She didn't have any answers, only questions.

A ghost of a smile drifted over her lips. Mrs. Palmer, her fifth grade teacher, had liked to say that questions were only experiments waiting to be tested. She wasn't sure how Mrs. Palmer would have reacted to her words being applied in this situation, but she wasn't given any opportunity to ponder it. No sooner had the thought formed, then the lights overhead flickered once, and then cut out, leaving her standing in pitch darkness.