Ryou Bakura trudged through the noisy and crowded streets, flecks of snow settling on and blending with his silver-white hair.
Despite the external mayhem, with cars honking and people shoving by each other on the crowded sidewalks, Ryou was encased in a world of his own creation. His thoughts. His fears. His headphones trailed to the CD player within his backpack, softly emitting calming, peaceful songs.
It was cold, and Ryou’s coat was thin. He pulled it closer around himself and shivered as he walked on, his sneakers penetrated by the dampness of the snow-piled sidewalks, his feet nearly numb with chill.
He tried not to think about the cold metal of the Millennium Ring, which lay heavy against his chest. No matter how much warmth his chest gave off, the ring was always cold. As if the physical metalwork was somehow aware of the dark presence that dwelt within it. It felt as if someone was pressing an icy knife against his chest.
It had been a long, hard day at school, with three tests. But school somehow seemed distant, like a long-faded memory. Even though it had only ended half an hour ago. He’d been having troubles with his memory ever since his darker half, a product of the Ring he wore, began to periodically take over his body.
He didn’t want to think about that either.
He continued to drag himself along the cold streets, not sure exactly where he was going. He liked to wander, to let some inner consciousness steer his path as he walked and contemplated. The music echoed inside his head, causing a temporary escape from the outside world with its troubles.
The spirit was more active during the night. He sometimes awoke in strange places or strange positions, having absolutely no memory of what had occurred during the night. Ryou wondered what the spirit did during these periods. He shuddered slightly as he considered the many gruesome possibilities and the possible repercussions. If his Yami killed someone, and authorities found out, he would have a heavy sentence. If he tried to explain the phenomenon of his darker half, he would just be labeled as mentally disturbed.
Ryou stopped his musings momentarily, again alerted to the outside world as he smelled a pleasant scent wafting through the air from nearby. He stood outside a coffee shop, and the aromas of various herbal and caffeinated drinks were alluring. Giving into the temptation, he turned and entered the shop, reveling in the sudden warmth he felt upon entering the building. He surveyed the shop, noticing a few of his classmates doing homework or studying. Some people were absorbed in books or were frantically scribbling in notepads. He knew everyone had problems, but as he felt the Ring’s cold metal press against his chest, he wished that, for even a few moments, he could be someone else, with someone else’s problems.
He bought a steaming cup of tea. He preferred tea to coffee, and the warmth of the liquid was a welcome contrast to his coldness. He felt uncomfortable remaining in the shop, however; the desire to wander was still strong. Clutching his cup, he left the shop and began walking again, the sudden cold causing him to gasp as he exited the shop’s heated interior. The cup of tea was hot against his hands, yet it felt good. He sipped carefully at it, not wanting to burn his tongue, as he trudged onward.
It was starting to snow harder. He pulled his headphones off and stuffed them in his backpack, not wanting the moisture and coldness to risk damaging it.
His brown, luminous eyes were tinged with sadness. He had no memory of what happened during the times his Yami took over, yet after Duelist Kingdom, he was well aware that the spirit was there and was definitely active. Yugi remembered that had happened during the Shadow Game. Honda remembered what had happened during Yugi’s duel with Pegasus, when Honda had tried to get rid of the Millennium Ring. Tried. It was impossible to get rid of it. Ryou didn’t feel complete without it, even though it hurt him.
Ryou’s feet took him to the end of the street he was walking on, and he glanced up, realizing he had unintentionally walked to the entrance of a large park. He came here often, though he still wasn’t sure what the park was called. He liked the gardens. There was a large conservatory in the middle of the park, and around it were various gardens with seasonal flowers and plants. In the spring and summer, the beds were bursting with colorful and scented flowers. But now, there was nothing but cold dirt.
Ryou finished his tea and threw away the cup, his warmed breath condensing and creating clouds of steam when he exhaled.
He hated the cold. He felt cold even when it was warm outside. Most of his companions at school seemed to love the snow, but he couldn’t stand it. Even when it caused school to be cancelled. It was cold and wet, and it made him feel even more empty inside.
Shivering, Ryou stopped to rest. There was a large park bench near where he was standing, yet it was covered in a layer of snow. Realizing it would be wet even if he brushed the snow off, Ryou just leaned back against a large tree next to it.
A holly tree.
Ryou loved holly. It was one of the few things he enjoyed about winter: the colors of the plants that flourished during the season. He thought the contrast of dark green against the white ground and gray sky was beautiful. He appreciated the beauty in such things, though most of his companions didn’t.
He wondered if his dark side appreciated the beauty in anything. Probably not. Unless it was beautiful in the sense that he could steal it, make it his own. He didn’t enjoy admiring things for the sake of it. Ryou liked to look around and notice things. He enjoyed art galleries as well. People often thought he was strange because he liked museums. They thought such things were boring. They just couldn’t see the beauty in it.
Like the beauty in the holly tree. The green, pointed leaves, and the berries, bright, piercing red.
Red like blood.
Blood on the snow is beautiful...
Ryou wasn’t sure where these thoughts came from, yet they streaked across his consciousness rather rapidly. They were his own – he knew they were his own, not that of the spirit – yet they did not seem fitting with his kind, gentle personality. The one that everyone thought he had. That he did have.
He sometimes wondered if his Yami was really an exterior spirit. Perhaps he was just the embodiment of all the negative emotions Ryou held within himself. There were plenty, even though he was usually afraid to talk about or even give into them. His Yami abused him, sometimes even physically. He hurt his own body in order to wound his host.
Ryou plucked a leaf of the holly tree and turned it over, examining it. He ran his finger along one of its points, marveling at the sharpness of it. The leaf ripped easily, if he tore it sideways, yet the thorns could easily pierce his skin.
In some ways he was like the holly leaf. He was easy to hurt – that’s why he was bullied at school, sometimes even abused at home. Yet he did have pockets of strength, thorns which could pierce an enemy that tried to hurt him.
But were those thorns truly a part of him? Or did they belong to his darkness?
Did he tolerate his darkness in order to gain strength – to have thorns? Did he nourish his Yami to stand up against those who hurt him? Is that why he didn’t banish him? Because he needed him? Because enjoyed having the strength his Yami provided him? Because he liked striking back?
His Yami certainly did make him stronger. But his darkness did bad things...it hurt people...it hurt Ryou himself. Yet was that price worth the power he gained from allowing his Yami to take over? Could he stand up against the darkness if he tried hard enough? Could he? He could probably banish him if he tried hard enough. Or at least weaken him.
But he didn’t. He didn’t. Why?
Guilt began to sink into Ryou’s stomach as he considered this possibility. Up until now, he had considered himself an unwilling victim in his Yami’s occupation. The Ring had chosen him, and he had no choice in the matter. He had to give in to the spirit’s demands for power. Yet now he realized that belief might not be true. That he might have been wrong all along. That he might be the one who allowed his Yami to be there.
That meant he hurt people.
He had never meant to hurt anyone...yet he still hurt people...
In a surge of self-hatred and anger, Ryou pushed the thorn into his finger, staring absently as it sank into his skin.
The berries are beautiful...beautiful like blood is beautiful...and they are poison.
He pulled the thorn out and tossed the leaf aside. A drop of blood slid out of his fingertip and dripped off the edge, landing in the snow. Red against white, the purity of the snow tainted. It was beautiful and frightening.
His finger didn’t hurt. It just bled.
Suddenly feeling embarassed, Ryou thrust his hand into his coat pocket and walked further along the pathway. He approached the large covered building that lay ahead of him, the conservatory. His favorite place in the park. It was warm there all year round, warm and humid and peaceful. It was always peaceful there, no matter how tormented his mind was.
Without really thinking, he walked to the entrance door and pushed it open. He was greeted by a blast of warm, humid air. He shivered several times, his body unaccustomed to the sudden difference. He entered the building, unzipping his jacket and staring around.
There were plants everywhere, crawling from the floor all the way to the glass ceiling. They were imported from all over the world, from all kinds of warm and tropical places. Places Ryou would rather be...He quickly glanced behind him to confirm that he was indeed in the midst of a park covered in snow. Then he advanced further into the room.
It was surprisingly empty. Normally when he came here after school, there were all kinds of people. I guess they’re staying at home because of the weather...
He passed through the first room quickly and entered another. This room was his second favorite. There was a large waterfall in it, with fish in the pool at the bottom. Ferns and climbing plants were rooted in the soil around the waterfall, and a bridge crossed the stream leading to it. There were benches scattered around, and brightly colored flowers took refuge in all corners of the room.
Ryou sat on a bench and closed his eyes, taking in the relaxing rhythm of the cascading water and reveling in the perfumed scent of the flowers. Here, he could almost find tranquility. He could almost find a respite from the troubles that plagued his soul. He loved it here.
He hoped none of the other students ever saw him in a place like this. They would probably torment him to no end. “Bakura likes flowers, doesn’t she?” He could imagine their taunts. They loved to pretend he was a girl. He didn’t really care; he knew he was rather feminine for a male, yet there was nothing he could do about it. They loved to prod at his sexuality as well, teasing him for (they assumed) being homosexual. They didn’t really know anything about it, though, and as he wasn’t sure of anything either, he never contradicted them. Which was actually a good thing: if he had been quick to deny the accusations, the other boys would probably have been even more convinced as to the truth of them.
After a few minutes, Ryou stood again, planning to move into his favorite room. It was beginning to get dark outside (regrettably, the glass ceiling connected him with what was happening in the real world) and he had to get home before his parents started worrying about him. He didn’t want them to get angry. He hated making people angry.
Ryou’s brown eyes widened in happiness as he entered the last room. This room wasn’t quite as warm as the others, but he didn’t care. It was always filled with roses – roses from around the world. They came in various shades of red, pink, yellow, white, purple and orange, and the myriad of scents was enough to taunt anyone’s senses.
Ryou loved roses. He wasn’t sure why. He knew this was just something else that the others could tease him for. But seeing all the flowers was one of the few things that could make him truly happy, if only for a few minutes.
He wanted to be a professional gardener someday. Or work in a flower shop.
Even roses have thorns...
The thought crept, unbidden, into Ryou’s mind. He narrowed his eyes, wanting to push it out, yet it remained.
He liked the thorns.
Roses were beautiful, but they weren’t weak. They smelled sweet yet had the potential to hurt someone. That was one of the reasons he liked them.
He wanted to be like the roses.
His thoughts unintentionally crept back to the subject of his Yami, and a wave of guilt similar to the earlier one swept over him. Sighing, he removed the hand from his pocket, examining the small puncture he had inflicted with the holly leaf. The blood had dried, and the wound stung a bit. It seemed inadequate. He wanted to slash up his entire arm, wanted to PUNISH HIMSELF for allowing his Yami to keep dwelling within hin, wanted to hurt himself for his weakness. Because he knew he wouldn’t be able to drive the spirit out. And he knew that was because somewhere, somehow, he liked the power that the spirit gave him.
Sighing, he leaned over, sniffing at one of the yellow roses. Yellow roses were his favorite. He wasn’t sure why. They just were. It smelled sweet, sweeter than any of the other flowers there. Yet its thorns were huge and jagged, arching out and practically begging to snag and tear into flesh...
Ryou shook his head. No...hurting myself isn’t the answer... Despite his reasoning, he was faced with another surge of hatred. Roses could be innocence, and he wanted to shatter and destroy that innocence with so many other people, wanted to hurt them! Even though the thought of hurting anyone scared him...he couldn’t get rid of his Yami...he had to somehow permit the evil spirit to dwell within him, and that meant, to some extent, he supported the pain it caused...
Ryou blinked and spun around, surprised to hear a voice. He hadn’t wanted to meet anyone he knew here. Now what would happen? Was he going to be teased? Or beaten up? He wasn’t sure which was worse.
...It was Yugi.
A slight pink blush sprang to Ryou’s face. Although he was glad it was only Yugi, and not one of the classmates who would laugh at him, he still was embarassed to be found here. Especially by Yugi.
“Yugi-kun! W-What are you d-doing here?” Ryou stammered, unsure of what else to say.
“I’m just finishing up my Biology project...” the spiky-haired boy responded. He seemed a bit curious about Ryou’s embarrassment. Bakura just blinked. “It’s due tomorrow!” Yugi pressed, trying to get at least a spark of recognition from the other boy. “You know...We had to find an example of monocot and dicot plants, and sketch them, and write about the different characteristics that make them what they are.”
“Oh! Yes!” Ryou had forgotten all about the project, but he scrambled to come up with an explanation as to why he was there. “I’m here to do that too...”
“Really?” Yugi looked relieved. “I was hoping you could help me. I forgot all about what makes plants monocots or dicots...I was thinking about Duel Monsters that day in class. Grandpa says my grades would be better if I paid more attention in class, and I try, I really do. But it’s just so boring, sometimes. I’d rather think about my deck.” Yugi put a hand behind his head and smiled a bit nervously. “You’re really smart...Do you think you can help?”
Ryou sighed quietly. He had hoped he could escape with as little contact as possible, but he didn’t want to act rude to the other boy. After all, Yugi needed his help, and he was supposedly a friend. He was Ryou, after all. He had to be nice and sweet. If he wasn’t, they’d think something was wrong with him. Or that his Yami was out. Even if that wasn’t the case. If he acted like anyone other than the boy they thought he was, they got worried.
“Sure,” he said, smiling broadly. He knew that Yugi was so naive he wouldn’t realize the smile was false. “Let me just get my Biology notes out of my backpack, and I’ll be glad to help you. I haven’t done the project yet either.”
The diminuitive boy smiled broadly. “Thanks a lot, Bakura-kun! You’re a real friend,” he enthused. Ryou could tell his excitement was genuine. He wondered why Yugi bothered with him – Yugi knew perfectly well about the spirit of his Ring. Well...the other Yugi did, anyway.
“Let’s see,” Ryou muttered, sorting through his papers. “Ah, here it is!” He pointed to a section of his notes.
Yugi’s face lit up as he peered at the writing. “Great! Now I just have to find a couple of plants and draw them...” He fumbled for a piece of paper and a pencil. “I’m going to ace this project, thanks to you! You’re so nice. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I mean, Jounouchi and Honda are my friends, but, they’re not really all that helpful when it comes to this stuff.” Yugi blushed slightly, obviously embarassed at even hinting his friends had faults.
Ryou sighed, then forced another smile onto his face. He wondered if the other boy would ever realize what he was going through. Probably not.
“No problem, Yugi-kun. That’s what friends
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