A Real Friendship Thing
DISCLAIMER: This is a gift-fic for none other than the underdog-loving Scribbler! When I offered her a birthday present last month (and she finally got around to answering me), her request was a 'sorta kinda friendship thing' involving little!Yuugi and Anzu. And behold! The final product! Happy belated birthday again, Scribbler!
Slamming the door on the sound of her 'friends'' giggling, Anzu turned to lean against the wall outside, her face tightening against an emotion she refused to let out or even name.
Just because she didn't like to gossip. Just because she thought it didn't matter about Kasumi's pimples. Kasumi was a nice girl; she didn't deserve to be treated like that, even behind her back! And now here she was, cast out of her own dorm just because she wouldn't pretend she didn't like her.
"I hate girls," she muttered, then shoved herself away from the wall and started toward the stairs. The sun had almost set, but the teachers said they were free to do whatever they wanted, outside the P.E. tests. That was what junior high ski trips were about – getting out into the snow and enjoying yourself.
She was sure there must have been a time she liked school trips. Going to camps, ski lodges and the beach – they were supposed to be fun: a time away from school and family to just hang out with your friends.
But maybe that was the problem. She loved her friends, really, but they were just so… mean. They treated everyone else like some kind of insect to be stepped on, and if you weren't with them, you were against them. Usually, she could pretend or at least keep quiet, but after three days straight, she was sick of it.
She had almost reached the top of the stairs when she saw Kasumi herself. She was sitting on a window seat with her two friends Emiko and Eri. Those three weren't part of the popular crowd like her, and they only really had each other – no one else would hang out with them. But they were always together, and they were always smiling, like they really enjoyed being together. They always stuck up for each other, no matter what.
Anzu always found that kind of sad. Friends like that didn't really exist in real life; they were just kidding themselves.
She smiled at them regardless, giving Kasumi a little wave as she passed. The girl blinked at her once, then frowned defensively, as if Anzu had insulted her. Probably thought she was being… what was the word? Patronising?
But Anzu just kept walking. She was part of the popular crowd; she didn't have to care what people like Kasumi thought of her.
At the front door she pulled on her ski jacket and boots, and headed out into the snow. A lot of kids were still playing, and they would until dinner in an hour. She waved at the people that called out to her, but didn't stop, just headed for the forest.
It wasn't until she had reached a dark part of the woods, where she couldn't see the lodge anymore, that she stopped. She stood still for a moment, glaring at the tree right in front of her, then took a deep breath, almost ashamed of how it shuddered.
"Stupid girls. Stupid friends," she whispered. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
With that final shout she threw her fist forward, hitting the tree as hard as she could, only to freeze at a resulting cry. She cried out as well, falling back to stare at the tree. A wood sprite? She had punched a nymph?
It knew her name?
"Mazaki-san, what are you doing?"
She blinked as she recognised the voice, and looked around. "Yuugi? Where are you?"
He chuckled, and Anzu cried out again as a dark shape dropped down in front of her. It straightened up, and Yuugi—the school geek, with his gaming obsession, small stature, ability to make everything look mismatched, and downright freaky hair—grinned at her. Or as close as he ever got to a grin, anyway. "I was in the tree," he said, pointing upward.
She blinked again, then followed his finger to a relatively sturdy branch just above her. The entire tree looked way too thin to climb, but then Yuugi was a lot smaller and lighter than most people.
"What were you doing up there?" she asked curiously, and he shrugged.
"People don't look up," he said, as if that explained everything. "What about you? I thought you were going to spend the night drinking cocoa with your friends."
"Yeah, well," she said, folding her hands underneath her arms. "I didn't see you at the ski test today."
His eyes lit up for a moment, taking it the wrong way and assuming she had been looking for him. She didn't correct him, so he smiled brightly. "Mm. I had cleaning duty in the kitchen and came late, so I did mine last, after pretty much everyone was gone."
"I thought you had cleaning duty yesterday?"
"Hm," he said vaguely, and she watched him for a moment, then shrugged and turned away. She had become friends with Yuugi almost two years ago now, when they were in fifth grade, but that didn't mean she really hung out with him much. Yuugi was nice, but a total geek, and was always acting like a little kid. No one talked to him, and lately she had noticed that people had started to stop seeing him. Maybe it was the way he stood, hunched and bending his knees to make himself even shorter, or that he never voluntarily talked to anyone but her, but it was like he had started to become invisible.
Which made absolutely no sense with that hair of his.
She slumped down on a fallen log a few feet away, letting out a long, tired breath. "I hate skiing. It feels weird, those two long planks on your feet, and the poles. There's no grace in it."
"Mm, I'm not a very good skier either," said Yuugi, walking over to stand in front of her. He kept his hands in his pockets, his head slightly lowered, still nervous about talking to her out in the open. She felt kind of guilty about that, but it wasn't like she could do anything to change it. He hesitated, then smiled at her again. "Have you ever tried snowboarding?"
"Mm! It's so much fun! And because it's just one board, and smaller and stuff, it feels a lot less bulky and weird," he said, perking up ever so slightly. "And you've got great balance, right? I bet you'd be awesome at it! You should give it a try!"
She gazed at him for a long moment, a small, unconscious smile spreading over her lips, before reality came back and she scoffed, looking away. "No way. I can't learn here, everyone would see me falling over all the time! You want me to look like a dork like Naomi? You know what the other girls would say!"
"Oh, yeah, well…" He hesitated, and his smile was suddenly weak, even more nervous than before. "I mean, if you wanted—not that I'm saying you have to, or anything—but, if you wanted, I could, you know…"
Anzu blinked at him, completely nonplussed.
"I mean, my dad taught me, and I know this place, on the other side of the mountain, and, I mean, we're not really supposed to go there, but, if you wanted, to learn how to snowboard, I mean –" he stammered, his eyes flying in all directions but her gaze. "I mean, um, if you like, there's this place that I could, I mean, that you – we could go, and I could, you know, teach you, and you could learn, and…?"
She continued to stare at him, struggling to decipher what he had just tried to say.
"But you probably don't want to, and you want to hang out with your friends, and it's stupid and it's no big deal, just if you wanted to, but you don't, so no big deal," he said, even faster, but Anzu had only just figured out his offer, and she slowly smiled.
"You know a place we could go that no one would see us?"
He stared at her for a beat, then quickly nodded, a hot blush spreading over his cheeks.
"And you could teach me to snowboard there?"
He nodded again. "Not, like, pro-standard or anything, but the basics, and you would be able to ask for proper lessons without falling over so much and you wouldn't have to ski anymore and I thought you would like it better because –"
"Yuugi, shut up," she said gently, and his jaw clicked shut. Maybe it was because he had stopped talking to even the teachers this year, but he had developed a habit of rambling whenever he did speak. Didn't take much to make him stop again, though, so she sat back, crossing her legs to gaze at him.
Snowboarding was pretty cool – she had seen it on TV a couple of times. But the people that did it were usually such losers. They all said things like 'tubular' and 'radical' and that kind of stuff. But they always did look cool.
And it wasn't like she was looking all that cool on her skis.
"How long would it take, do you think?" she asked slowly, and Yuugi shrugged.
"I dunno," he said, and pulled a hand from his pocket to touch his chin in thought. "The basics only took me about a day, but Dad wanted me to learn, so I was doing it pretty much constantly. I guess it depends on how much time you want to spend with – on it."
They both carefully avoided thinking about what he had been going to say, and Anzu looked over her shoulder, back in the direction of the lodge. She scowled. "Let's start right after breakfast tomorrow. For as long as it takes, okay?"
She turned back to find him staring at her again, his eyes wide, before a dazzling smile broke over the disbelief. "Really? Alright! Okay, tomorrow morning then! I'll –" He paused, his smile fading slightly. "I'll meet you here, okay? By that log."
She nodded, silently grateful that he didn't offer to meet her for breakfast.
"So how did you find this place, anyway?"
Yuugi peered at her from over his scarf, and she bit back a smile. He had been playing a game with it when she found him—a kind of hopscotch with his scarf being a whip rather than throwing a pebble—so she had playfully snatched it away and bundled him up in it instead. When he had tried to complain, she had wrapped it up higher, until it almost covered his nose.
It had become a kind of game. Whenever she got frustrated with her slow progress on the snowboard, or he started rambling, she would grab the scarf and wrap it around him again. Eventually he had begun retaliating with fistfuls of snow—but not snowballs, because as he said, they hurt—and it occasionally denigrated into a playful kind of wrestling game before she would finally manage to wrap the scarf around him and demand he call for mercy.
He mock-glared at her, and she snickered as he pulled the scarf off. "I got lost the first day, when I went into the forest. I came out here," he said, waving at their surroundings. "I've been coming here whenever I've got the free time, and I figured that since we're not actually supposed to come to this side of the mountain, then no one else would."
She nodded, shifting her resort-owned board to the ground. Yuugi had a top-of-the-line one that his father had probably bought him, but she kept falling over and beating up the board, so she felt bad using his. "Uhh… the ice-skating test isn't for another few hours, right?"
"Mm," he said, pulling down the fold of his glove to check his watch. "We've still got two hours and fifteen minutes. You wanna go find your friends, yet?"
She noticed the nervous blush and slightly embarrassed look, but didn't comment, just shook her head. She didn't want to go find her friends until they tried to find her.
"They're not talking to me at the moment," she suddenly found herself confessing, though her tone was as hard and irritated as she felt. "They're all backstabbing cows."
She shrugged, looking away. "Girls are stupid, Yuugi. All they ever do is talk about people behind their backs, and if you don't, then it means you're not with them, which pretty much means you're against them," she said angrily. "So just because I don't want to talk about how fat Eri-chan is, or how Kasumi-chan's never going to get a boyfriend, then that means I'm stupid and not worth talking to."
"But, Mazaki-san," he said, leaning over his board in confusion, "if you don't talk about people behind their back, doesn't that make you a nice person?"
"And… and doesn't that mean more people will like you?" he asked, and she smiled at his naivety.
"That means you don't have the guts to be popular," she corrected. "It's not about being liked, Yuugi, it's about being cool. And cool people don't have to be nice."
He gazed at her for a long moment, then shook his head and blushed. "Well… I like you more. You being nice is way cooler than them being mean."
She blinked, staring at him, then smiled. For all his weirdness, Yuugi was sweet. Especially when she was feeling down. "Yuugi…"
He blushed again, and suddenly stood up, throwing down his snowboard and not looking at her. "Anyway! Let's get back to it, okay?"
She ate dinner alone that night.
Her friends were all sitting at one end of the dining table, but they kept glancing down past the boys to her. Yuugi was poking his okinomiyaki several metres away, as oblivious to the talk and scornful looks around him as he always was. Kasumi and her friends were on the other side of the table to her, but she didn't bother looking at them. She knew they didn't like her, because she was—or at least had been and probably would be after the trip was over—'popular'. The rest of the girls were all sitting in a pack at the very end of the table, laughing and shouting to each other without a care as to who was listening. Anzu knew she could probably go and sit with them, but if she did her friends would think she had officially left their group and she would never be allowed back.
Not that she was sure she wanted to go back, right now.
She picked a slice of onion off her okinomiyaki to look at. Yuugi's words kept going through her head; about how he thought it was cooler to be nice than mean. As weird as it had come out, he did have a point.
After all, she liked Yuugi because he was always nice to her, and usually interesting to be with. He never talked about anyone behind their back, he was always modest and kind, and he stuck up for people he didn't even like that much. The only reason people didn't like him—the reason she didn't used to like him—was just that they had never talked to him. He was weird looking. And always playing some even weirder game.
She tossed down the onion and took a full piece of the pizza-pancake to chew on. But Yuugi was nice, and so she liked him. Maybe that meant that what Yuugi said was, amazingly, true.
But her friends were mean. And they were popular.
She looked down the table at them. Seven girls, hunched together, separate from everyone else. Anzu frowned, turning her head to look at the general group of girls. There were about thirty of them, not including the boys that could occasionally be seen among them. They were all laughing and talking, and though it was usually in smaller groups, it was obvious those groups could and did talk to each other.
She picked up another piece of okinomiyaki.
"Mm?" he prompted, not looking up from his game. She had found him in the common room before breakfast, playing with something that looked like a cross between a preschool toy and a strategy game. Everyone else was still asleep, so she had decided to just sit with him while he played.
"Are… are you happy?"
He paused, his hand hovering over the next button he had to push as he looked over at her. "Happy?"
"Yeah," She shifted in her chair, leaning a little closer to him. "I mean, with yourself. Do you ever think about changing? To like, suit what's normal?"
He blinked at her once, then turned back to his game. "Nope. Mum would flip if I tried to dye my hair and wear platforms."
She giggled, lowering her face into her hand in amusement at the mental picture. "Yuugi!"
"That's not what I… okay, it is what I meant, but come on!" She pushed herself upright again to look at him. "I mean like your personality. If you like, talked back to people and stuff. Or fought with the other boys, you know?"
"Mm-mm. I don't think being mean to people does any good. It just makes people feel bad, and I don't want to hurt anyone," he said. "Besides, if I tried to fight with the other boys, then I'd just get hurt. No thanks to that."
"Mm," She propped her head on her hand and just watched him for a little while, her gaze wandering from his lowered eyelids to his long, floppy hair. She frowned. "Ne, Yuugi… why do you have your hair like that?"
"Like, I know it's that weird kinda three-colours thing—"
"Three?" he asked suddenly, his head jerking up. "Three, what three? Man, it's not turning blue, is it…?" He grabbed a handful of hair and yanked it down in front of his eyes, making Anzu laugh again.
"No, no, I mean, how it's so dark except for the ends – it looks three colours!"
"Oh… yeah, that's natural," he said, blushing as he let his hair go.
"—but why do you grow it so long?" she asked, smiling at his embarrassment. "I bet it would look pretty—well, kinda—normal if it was short."
Yuugi paused, looking up again. It was clear the idea had never occurred to him before. "You think?" He pulled down a tuft of hair again, blinking at it curiously. "Mum's always cut my hair, because the people at the barber charge extra for spiky hair. She said she cuts it like Grandpa's used to be when he was young."
"It doesn't look bad. Makes you a lot taller," she pointed out. "I'm just saying… it'd look cool. Hey, like that guy from that American show! You know, the school one. The bell thing."
Yuugi just blinked again. He didn't watch much TV.
"Oh, wow, that'd look so cool," she said excitedly, bouncing out of her chair to gently pull his forelocks out. "You'd have to keep these, but the rest would only be like two, three centimetres long. Or, or… ooh! Just have it really short, coz it'd stick up, and you'd look like that guy, and he is so funny, you would look so cool, Yuugi, you have to do it!"
She didn't notice the door open behind her, but Yuugi did, and he bit his lip, looking up at Anzu as she continued playing with his hair, smoothing it back and pushing it forward.
"Ooh, or you could gel it, like those Backstreet Boys. Gel it down, with some hanging across your forehead, that'd be awesome!"
Anzu blinked. Yuugi always used honourifics, so… She turned around, but when she saw it was only Eri she just smiled. "Hey, Eri-chan, what do you think? Would Yuugi look better with just really short hair or hair that hangs down?"
She stared at her blankly. "Mazaki?"
"Well, I think you should at least cut it, Yuugi," she said, letting go and grinning when Yuugi's hair sprang back up into its customary spikes. "Just to see what it does."
He blushed and nervously smiled, shrugging. "I guess… Two centimetres?"
"Maybe three… Dunno…"
He shrugged again, ducking his head, and Anzu smiled, not even noticing as Eri held out her hands in disbelief and walked out of the room.
One thing Anzu did like about winter was ice-skating. She was good at it; and it was kind of like a dance, which made it kind of like special training.
She had always wanted to learn how to figure skate, but her parents could barely afford her dance lessons, so the best she could do was skate and play around with a group of the other girls. They were part of the not-popular-but-not-unpopular crowd, and so by hanging out with them, her status was still okay.
She could see Yuugi in the stands surrounding the rink. He had been there since before she came out, scribbling in a black book and ignoring everyone around him. They were supposed to meet at The Place after lunch so she could perfect her balance and finally learn how to stop her board without falling over, but this was the first time she had seen him during the day outside their practice times.
It was weird to see him out in full daylight, and doing something other than playing a game, no less. But he had curled himself into the darkest shadows in the stands, and as usual it was as if no one saw him but her.
But then, she decided as she noticed her usual group of friends whispering on the corner of the skating pond, maybe that was a good thing. If no one saw him, then at least no one made fun of him. Yuugi deserved to be left alone, at least.
"Hey, Mazaki-san," called Hanyoa, one of the girls she was spending the morning with. Anzu blinked, suddenly realising she had stopped skating when she saw her usual friends. "Mazaki-san, are you still skating with us? Come on, we're going to play tag!"
"Ah!" She smiled brightly and took off after her. "Great! Who's It?"
"Rina-chan. Be careful, she's fast on ice!"
"Mm!" They waved to the rest of the group to show they were ready and the game began. Anzu didn't notice Yuugi's smile over the top of his book, or even the dark looks her usual friends exchanged.
"That's great, Mazaki-san! You've got it! You're amazing!"
Anzu smiled proudly, puffing slightly as she removed her snow glasses and shook back her hair. Yuugi said he had taught her all the basics, and she had managed to go down their little private mountain area without falling down once. It was weird, but it was nice to feel so accomplished about something that wasn't dancing. She smiled proudly and crouched down to unlatch her feet from the snowboard.
"It's all down to you, Yuugi! You're a great teacher!"
He blushed, ducking his head bashfully. "Nah…"
"Do you think I look good enough to try it on the legal slopes?" she asked. "Maybe ask that ski instructor guy if I'm doing it right?"
"Mm! Definitely! You're way better than me!" he said brightly. She gave him a pointed look to tell him she knew he was lying, but he ignored it, just grinning his weird little head off. "You look so cool when you push off!"
"Well, so do you. It must be the board," she said. And he did. He actually looked kinda normal on a snowboard.
"Nah. I skateboard, too, and I always look like a total doofus," he said, blushing again, but Anzu just blinked.
"Mm. I taught myself a few years ago. But… I'm kinda thinking about giving it up," he confessed, looking away. "I mean, I only got first runner up last time…"
She frowned, staring at him worriedly, before he suddenly brightened back up to his usual nervous self. "Ne, Mazaki-san! Do you… do you think maybe if the instructor teaches you some special tricks and things, do you think you could maybe teach me?"
"Sure! But tomorrow's the last day of camp, so I don't think we're gonna have time, do you?" she pointed out, and Yuugi slumped, the air seeming to leave him at the realisation.
"Oh yeah…" He fell silent, staring depressively at the ground for a moment, and Anzu tilted her head. Yuugi's emotions were so wild and random, sometimes she wondered just what the heck he was thinking about.
A sudden crunch of snow cut off her question before it was even formed, and Yuugi stiffened, his eyes darting around in instant nerves. Anzu ignored his antics, turning toward the woods, and raised her eyebrows as Kasumi and her two friends stepped out to stare right back.
There was a pause, and then Eri huffed out a laugh, turning to the others. "See! I told you she's was hanging out with him!" Kasumi looked at her sideways, and Emiko put a hand on her hip, silently judging the sight in front of her.
"Uh – uh –" began Yuugi, but Anzu waved him off. She didn't have to answer to these three; who were they to look down on being friends with a geek?
"Hi, guys!" she said, raising a hand in greeting. "Are you supposed to be here? Isn't this place off limits?"
"That's our line," Eri said coldly. "Shouldn't you be off backstabbing with the other Sailor Warriors?"
Anzu blushed, straightening slightly. "That's not all we do."
"Well, at least she admits it," muttered Eri. "Still, it's not like a cow can deny it moos."
Kasumi bit her lip, struggling not to laugh, and Eri folded her arms with a smug chuckle. Anzu could just imagine how she felt. Probably thrilled to have a chance to verbally beat her when she was away from her friends. But, prepared to be the bigger person, Anzu just held her chin a little higher. Unfortunately, Eri wasn't the one to get the next word in.
"A- Anzu's not like that!" cried Yuugi, suddenly. Emiko's eyebrow rose, and the other two stared. Anzu glanced back in concern as Yuugi took a step forward, his fists clenched in front of him. "Anzu's better than that – she's really nice!"
"Yuugi, don't," she murmured. He was just going to make it worse.
"Yeah, Yuugi, don't," jeered Eri. "Please, Mazaki, can you sink any lower? Bullying Yuugi into defending you!"
"She didn't –!"
"Yuugi," insisted Anzu, giving him a look before turning back to the others. "Eri-chan, guys, I'm sorry you think that way about me, but I don't have to listen to you."
"Why not? Because you're so cool and we're so not?" she snapped back. "Because we're losers, you can call us whatever you like, but whatever we say doesn't matter to you? Is that it? Honestly, Mazaki, you are such a little… a little… bitch!"
"Riko!" gasped Kasumi. She looked almost as horrified at the language as Anzu had expected Yuugi to be, but his only reaction was a slight stiffening, his eyes narrowed in anger.
"How can you call her things like that? When has she ever done anything to you?" he demanded. "You're just mean because her friends aren't that nice to you! That makes you worse than them! At least they're only mean because they don't like you!"
Anzu winced, already seeing the verbal carnage that was about to ensue. So far, Eri and Kasumi only looked shocked, and Emiko was still gazing at them quietly. That was the reason she wasn't liked, really – she rarely spoke, but was so full on that it was kind of creepy.
"If you ever tried talking to Mazaki-san, instead of just treating her bad, then you would know she's really a wonderful person!" he continued loudly, his face flushing bright red as he realised what he was doing. "She's really nice, and a great friend! And you picking on her doesn't do a thing but show how ugly you really are! That's why it doesn't matter what you say to her, because things like that aren't worth listening to!"
There was a pause, and Eri opened her mouth to shout at him, but Emiko suddenly let out a quiet sound that might have been a laugh. Everyone looked at her, and she smiled, shrugging as she slid her hands into her jacket pockets. "We were just exploring," she said quietly, as if the whole exchange after Anzu's first greeting had never happened. "But anyway, Riko, you have kitchen duty with Mazaki-san tonight, don't you?"
Eri and Anzu both stared at her. Eventually, Eri nodded.
"Maybe you could show Mazaki-san and the others your oden recipe," she suggested, and then turned her gaze back to Anzu. "Riko's a wonderful cook. I'm sure you'll like it if you can convince the other girls to try it."
Anzu had to fight very hard not to gape, before looking down at Yuugi. He was smiling broadly at Emiko, and Anzu's brow furrowed. Yuugi seemed to trust everyone, much too easily, but there was something different in his expression now. She blinked at him once, then turned back to the girls. "Oden sounds good. That's if you don't mind, Eri—"
"It's Riko," interrupted Kasumi, quietly. "She doesn't like the sound with the 'E'."
Eri stared at them both blankly, but Anzu just nodded dumbly. "If you don't mind, Riko… chan…"
"Uh…" She blinked, obviously as confused by her friends as Anzu was. "Whatever."
"Good… Let's go then," said Emiko, and she bowed her head toward Anzu. "Bye-bye, Mazaki-san."
"M- mm…" She waited until they had walked back into the forest before turning to stare at Yuugi, who grinned up at her happily.
"That was great, Mazaki-san!"
She just stared at him, completely at a loss for what had just happened.
Anzu woke up late the next day. Her 'friends' were already gone, probably trying to make the most of their last day, but Anzu found she didn't particularly care. She had really enjoyed herself last night, and thinking about her friends would totally ruin everything.
Eri—or Riko, really—had turned out to actually be a pretty nice person when you gave her a chance, which was a totally weird thing to discover. Anzu had taken Emiko's advice and asked the other girls that were on kitchen duty if they wouldn't mind trying her recipe, and the whole group of them had come together, trying all sorts of different things, using as many utensils as possible so the boys on clean-up duty would cry.
And then Riko had invited Anzu to eat with her and her friends, and she had learnt they were actually… pretty normal. And then she had spent the evening playing monopoly with some of the girls from kitchen duty. She had way more fun than she could remember ever having with her usual group of friends.
It was enough that as she had gone to bed that night, she had just lain awake for hours, thinking about Yuugi's weird outlook on 'coolness', and how he actually might have a point.
"Oh, man, I'm not supposed to learn stuff on field trips!" she groaned, rolling out of bed. "Especially not from Yuugi Mutou…"
But speaking of Yuugi… She brightened, suddenly remembering what she was going to do today. Since she could officially snowboard down a hill now, she had planned to go search out the ski instructor and ask him if she was doing it right.
She threw on the first outfit her hands touched, hurrying downstairs as quickly as she could manage without looking excited.
Outside, everyone was taking advantage of the fresh snowfall, enjoying their last day as much as possible. It was kind of sad – they would be spending most of Monday travelling, and then it was straight to school the next day. Not even a single day to adjust to being back in the very boring city!
But even Yuugi was out today. She could see him off to the side of the tobogganing slope, building what kind of looked like an intricate ice castle. She tilted her head, surprised to see he had the skill and patience to mould something like that, then shrugged and turned away in search of the ski instructor.
She managed to fool him into thinking she had just been too shy to ask for lessons beforehand, and had just completed a run down the ski slope on her board to show him what she knew when she saw them.
Her friends were running down the side of the tobogganing slope to where Midori—the unofficial leader and all round cow of the group—was picking up her sled, holding her head in a dramatic pretence of pain. How she had managed to get that far off course was a mystery to Anzu, until she noticed the figure at Midori's feet. Yuugi was sitting on the ground, gripping his shoulder and grimacing in pain. His ice castle was a lump of snow scattered over his legs.
Anzu narrowed her eyes, barely listening to the ski instructor talk about how it was such a shame she hadn't joined the snowboarding class at the beginning of their stay. Midori was a short, pretty girl, her pastel-green hair cut in a fashionable bob around her chin like most of the girls in their group. Her eyes were deep and green, and to look at them you would never guess the evil that lay beneath. As much as Anzu hated to swear, there really was only one word for her: bitch.
And from the look of it, she had just turned on Yuugi. Her voice rang out across the snow, high-pitched in sudden unreasonable outrage. "What do you think you're doing? Dammit, Yuugi, you could kill someone doing that!"
The teachers studiously ignored it, too used to playground arguments to care. Most of the closest students turned to watch, though.
"I – I'm sorry, Guriin-san…" stammered Yuugi, but Midori was quite obviously definite about taking something out on him.
"Did you say 'sorry'? 'Sorry'? That hurt, Yuugi! I could have broken my neck!"
Anzu frowned as the other girls surrounded him. Michiko and Tsubasa hung back – like Anzu, they was only part of the group for the status, but unlike her, were too scared to argue against the others. Unfortunately, four of them were exact copies of Midori. Aoi, Kiiroi, Murasaki and Momoiro were all pastel-coloured cows, brought up just like Midori and as nasty as they came.
A few more students turned their eyes on the group, and Anzu bit her lip, watching Yuugi to see what he'd do.
"I – I didn't think… the tobogganing slope is over there, so, I…" began Yuugi, and Anzu furrowed her brow. It was obvious Midori slid down to knock him over, but there would be no way to actually prove that. No one was going to point out the obvious, or stick up for him.
"Yuugi, try and use all that hair to just stop and think for a second, okay?" snapped Midori, glaring at him. "If you just sit at the very edge of a place where people are sliding down, and then suddenly jump out in front of them? Do you really think anyone will believe you were doing it on accident?"
"But I –"
"Don't waste your time on him, Midori-chan," laughed Kiiroi, flipping her straw-coloured locks over her shoulder. "He was obviously just doing this for attention. He's pathetic!"
Anzu hesitated, then smiled up at the instructor. "Thank you, but I'm sorry, I have something to do for a second."
"Mazaki-kun!" he cried out, but she was already gone, hurrying over to the group.
"Knowing Yuugi-chan he was trying to hurt Midori-chan, though," said Aoi, folding her arms. "We should totally report him to the teacher."
Yuugi bit his lip. "But I… I didn't do anything, I was just –!"
"Oh, shut up," snapped Midori, glaring at him. "Don't try and worm your way out of this – I'm injured!"
"Yeah, right," Anzu said loudly, as she slid to a stop on the edge of a group of boys. Everyone looked around at her, and she scoffed, pushing her way through to stand in front of Yuugi. "Yuugi, of all people, hurt you to get attention. Wow, that's so likely."
The girls stared at her. "Anzu, what are you doing?" asked Momoiro.
"I dunno. What are you?" she shot back uncomfortably, the question hitting home. What the hell was she doing, arguing with her friends over Yuugi? She glanced down at him, but there was no reassurance there, or even the justifying anger like yesterday. He was just staring back up at her, his mouth slightly open in shock, and it suddenly occurred to her that she could change her mind; just shrug and say 'he was probably just stupid enough for it to have been an accident' and walk away. From Yuugi's expression, she could tell that was what he expected – he wouldn't blame her. He understood schoolyard politics just as well as she did, even if he didn't agree with them. He would forgive her. She could turn and walk away and everything would be back to normal.
She looked up again, ready to give in, when she suddenly noticed all the eyes on her. There were at least twenty kids around them, some pretending not to look and others outright staring. She knew there were probably more who were doing a much better job of pretending not to watch.
The girls she had cooked dinner with last night had all stopped sledding to stare at her, waiting to see what she would do. Emiko, Riko and Kasumi were kneeling around a snowman several metres away; Emiko's eyes were narrowed into that intent gaze, and Anzu suddenly realised she was being judged.
And not just by Emiko.
She swallowed hard, glancing down at Yuugi once more. His eyes had dimmed and lowered. She felt her throat close in self-disgust as she realised he was waiting for her to laugh at him.
"Ne, Anzu-chan?" demanded Midori, eyeing her expectantly. "What, you think I ran over Yuugi?"
Everyone knew it.
Anzu felt her fists clench, and she was glaring at her before she knew what she was doing. "Yeah, actually. I do."
Although no one even blinked, you could feel the shock of the crowd. Midori let out a small sound, kind of like a disbelieving laugh. "What?"
"I think you slid down the wrong side of the slope so you would smash Yuugi's castle," she said coldly. "And I think that when you ran into him, you decided to get someone to feel sorry for you by saying it was Yuugi's fault, instead."
There was a pause, everyone staring in silence, before Midori shifted defensively. "You're wrong," she said, but Anzu just shook her head.
"No. And everyone knows it. No one is that stupid to jump in front of a sled! You were just gonna say it because Yuugi wouldn't fight back!" she snapped accusingly, her confidence rising as she surrendered to her social suicide. "You are such a loser, Midori-chan! What kind of a person would think up such a lame excuse?"
"And what kind of a loser are you, thinking I would make up something like that?" she shot back, but hesitated when there was no appreciative murmur from the crowd. She just scoffed, throwing back her hair. "Please, no one's falling for this hero-trip of yours. If you're looking for fake applause, at least try it on someone worthwhile. He ran into me."
"Yuugi's ten times your worth," she said softly. "So I don't care what you say about me."
She didn't wait for Midori's answer, just turned around and offered a hand to Yuugi. "Let's go, okay?"
He stared at her, but took the hand before it could look like he didn't trust her. When she pulled him up, he hissed, "What are you doing, Mazaki-san?"
"I don't know," she whispered back, before leading him away from the group.
They didn't speak until they had reached the stands surrounding the ice skating rink, and she gently took his arm. "Are you okay? I saw you holding this before."
"Yeah, it's where she hit me," he said quietly, but slowly pulled away. "I'm fine… but, Mazaki-san… what were you thinking? They'll never let you be their friend again!"
"Yeah, well…" She shrugged sadly, turning to face forward. "I don't know if I want to be their friend anymore anyway. And besides… I've got you, right?"
"Right," he agreed quickly, and she smiled at him. He grinned back, his hair flopping in his face, and she laughed, reaching out to ruffle it.
"Moptop," she giggled, and he laughed as well, pulling back.
"I saw you talking to the ski instructor. What did he say?"
"He said I was really good for a beginner," she said proudly, then winked. "Very cool considering I only had about six hours of lessons, huh?"
"Congratulations! But I guess you won't be learning much else, huh?"
"Nah… maybe next ski trip."
They grinned at each other, but a quiet voice stopped Anzu from saying anything more.
They looked up, blinking at the small group of girls clustered behind Kyoko, one of the girls from Anzu's class. She smiled at them nervously. "Um… we saw what you did… for Yuu- um… Motu-kun."
"Mutou," Anzu corrected automatically, but Yuugi just shrugged.
"Yuugi's fine," he said softly.
Kyoko blushed uncomfortably, then smiled at Anzu again. "Um… and… we know those girls are—were—your friends, and… that must've been… hard, and so, we… kinda…"
"If you wanted to," interjected another girl Anzu didn't know.
"Yeah, if you wanted to, you might wanna maybe… come skating with us?" she offered, and Anzu blinked, then looked around at Yuugi. He smiled, and she blinked again before turning back to the girls.
"You… you want me to?"
"Sure, we thought that was really cool, how you said that stuff," said another girl. "About like Guriin-san being worthless, cause she really is mean."
"I so couldn't have done that," said another. "You were so brave."
"I thought you were just like those girls," said Kyoko. "That's why I never talked to you before… Sorry…"
"No, that's… I get that," she said quietly.
"So… you wanna come skate?"
She hesitated, disbelieving for a moment, before jerking forward. "Yeah! I mean, I would, but I –" She turned to look at Yuugi, but he just smiled and shook his head.
"You can go if you want; I'm fine," he said, and she smiled gratefully.
"Thanks Yuugi. You're a real friend," she said softly, before jumping up to her feet. "Okay! I'll just get my skates, and let's go!"
The girls grinned, pulling her off the stands and into their group before hurrying off to the lodge.
Yuugi just smiled, folding his knees up under his chin as he watched her go.
The dining room was filled with the loud noises that automatically came with the last nights of school camps. The girls were all laughing, the boys all shoving each other. No matter which group you paused by you would hear some variation of the same thing.
"I wish we could just stay here forever!"
Anzu was with them. Sitting with the group of girls that had attached themselves to her at the start of the night, she felt strangely alive in a way she couldn't remember feeling for a long time. Her old friends were still sitting at one end of the table, all looking sulky and shooting angry looks her way, but she felt she just couldn't care. So what if seven thirteen-year-old girls that most of the year didn't even like had issues with her? She had other friends she could talk to. Other people that actually did like her, because they wanted to, not because they had to, or because she fit a certain mould they wanted.
It felt great to know that.
But even better… she knew it wasn't going to change when they went home tomorrow.
Something in the corner of her eye moved, and she blinked, looking around in search of the distraction. Yuugi had just entered the dining room, his cheeks flushed with the cold outside. He grabbed a plate and headed over to the buffet, looking over all the choices before deciding on what he would eat.
"Hey, guys?" she asked suddenly, turning back to look at the group of girls. "Can I meet you guys in the common room later?"
"Sure, if you dare!" teased Minako. "We're doing karaeoke…"
"I'll be there! I wanna see you guys make idiots of yourselves as much as you want to see me do it!" she said, laughing as she picked up her plate. She looked around to see where Yuugi had gone, then grinned and headed over. He had taken a seat at the very end of the table, and there was still one beside him, but he didn't look up as Anzu sat down beside him.
He blinked once, then looked up at her and jumped in surprise. "Mazaki-san!"
She grinned, and he smiled back, but still looked around in question. "Anything wrong?"
"Nope. I'm going to do some karaeoke with some of the girls later, but I wanted to spend a little time with you before we went home," she said brightly, and he blinked again. Her smile softened as she picked up her chopsticks again. "Actually… the real reason I came over here… I wanted to thank you, Yuugi."
He stared. "Thank me?"
"Mm. For what you did this week." He continued to stare at her in confusion, so she shrugged and picked up her rice bowl to take a few bites before continuing. "Hanging out with me when Midori-chan and the others kicked me out… standing up for me in front of Riko-chan and them…"
He blushed, looking down at his own plate. "It was nothing. You would've –"
"You know I wouldn't have," she said softly, and he bowed his head a little lower over his plate.
He started pushing a piece of chicken around its sauce. "But you did. This afternoon."
Rather than point out her reasons, Anzu just shrugged and ate a few more mouthfuls of rice. "Anyway. You were really nice this week. And I just wanted to say thank you."
"You're welcome," he said softly, looking up at her shyly. "Thank you for this afternoon."
"Anytime, Yuugi. Really." She met his gaze with a reassuring smile, and his blush deepened a little further. She grinned and nudged him. "And thanks for the snowboarding lessons! The tutor said he wished I'd come earlier, I could've been a real pro! You must be one heck of a teacher!"
"Nah, Mazaki-san, you're really good on your own!" he said, stuffing a mouthful of chicken in before somehow managing to say, "Real natural."
"Thanks, but…" she hesitated, then smiled, shifting to face him a little better. "Hey, Yuugi?"
"What d'you think of… maybe calling me Anzu?"
He froze, mid-chew, to stare at her. Unsurprisingly, an offer of familiarity was obviously a rare thing. "Anzu-chan?"
"No, just… just Anzu."
He continued to stare at her blankly. "R- really?"
"Mm. You're a really good friend, Yuugi," she said, her smile widening at the way his blush had begun to spread over his ears. "Nothing's going to change from you just calling me Anzu. And it isn't like you haven't earned the right."
"A- A-" He swallowed hard, his eyes widening to their full size as he struggled with the over-sized mouthful, before he gasped down a breath. "Anzu."
He blinked at her several times, before his face lit up in a dazzling smile. Anzu raised her eyebrows, amazed at how different it made him look. He almost looked kind of… cute.
"Okay, Anzu!" he said brightly, and she smiled back, tilting her head, before they turned back to their meals.
She continued to watch him out of the corner of her eye, completely satisified when she looked around and didn't see any nasty or disbelieving looks thrown her way. She nodded to herself, smiling as she turned back to her conversation with Yuugi.
She kind of liked this real friendship thing.