Disclaimer – Not mine, never was, never will be.

A/N – Part of the Drabble Request Challenge on LiveJournal. That it's not, actually, a drabble is testament to my own lack of willpower and MyAibou's capacity to come up with good ideas. Her request: I want something about the handheld game from Anzu and Yuugi's early friendship. You never got that far in Dandelion Days and I really wanted to see your take on that.

Reality Always Knocks Twice

© Scribbler, April 2006.

Anzu felt like a total heel. If reincarnation existed, she was probably coming back as belly button lint.

Yuugi limped across the schoolyard. Kids jostled him as he passed. He'd always been kind of invisible, despite the hair, but Anzu got the feeling these shoves and bumps were less accidental, more to test the story of his hospital visit. His collapse had been the talk of the school since three weeks last Wednesday.

Three weeks last Tuesday he'd brought his precious Gameboy to school. He'd saved up his allowance for months to buy it and some game cartridges, and kept them under his bed, in a shoebox stuffed with bubblewrap. At recess he'd brought it to the steps behind Mrs. Ishigaki's classroom, where Anzu habitually sat. It was an out-of-the-way spot, and nobody much passed that way, which was why Anzu liked it. It was almost touching, that he'd trust her to handle the little device. Yuugi was a quiet boy who kept to himself most of the time, and never sought out company if he could help it. They'd only really gotten to know each other after being forced to work together on a school project. He was also the school nerd, social poison, but as long as nobody knew about how he really wasn't so bad to hang around with, her reputation remained intact. So it had seemed okay to let Yuugi sit beside her and try to teach her how to press all the right buttons.

That is, until Mikata Teki, Nen Fujioka and Umi Hibiki came giggling around the corner of the building and spotted them. Possessed by fear and already frustrated by her own incapability, Anzu had done the most terrible thing she'd ever done in her life. She'd thrown the Gameboy away from her, shrieking loudly that it was geeky and dumb, and she knew she should never have tried it.

She'd thought it would just bounce on the grass, but the force of her throw caught it against the handrail of the steps. It smashed, the light of little screen blinking out with a damp fizzle.

Until the end of time, Anzu would remember the look on Yuugi's face as he picked the pieces up off the floor. He'd looked so ... so hurt, but at the same time like he'd sort of expected it to happen.

That night he'd thrown up so violently he'd collapsed and been rushed to hospital.

Intellectually, Anzu knew that this wasn't her fault. Yuugi had been born with an upside-down valve in his stomach, which caused him to throw up several times a week, and had earned him the nickname 'Pukey Mutou' after he covered a girl'sponytail in vomit during assembly in the third grade. Since he didn't get as many nutrients from his food as other kids, it had stunted his growth, and was the reason he looked younger than he actually was – though Anzu had long since learned that the hunted look he sometimes wore had nothing to do with it. He'd actually been scheduled for an operation to fix the valve when he turned thirteen.

Still, she couldn't help but feel horribly responsible as she sat in class each day, conscious of the empty chair only a few desks behind her. She avoided Mikata and her group of friends, ducking into store cupboards and cloakrooms so she didn't have to walk with them. Guilt weighed heavy on her, and it only seemed to get worse when Yuugi finally returned to school, pale and shaky, but apparently none the worse for wear.

Anzu was one of Those Girls - the girls all other girls wanted to be. She'd worked hard for it. She'd had to earn her spot at Mikata Teki's side.

Yuugi was the school nerd. He was social poison. He was everything she'd worked away from - small and insignificant, not even holding onto the last rung of the playground pecking order.

But he'd been nice to her when Mikata took it into her head that Anzu wasn't good enough to be one of Those Girls. He'd invited her over to his house. She'd met his parents and grandfather. They'd all treated her like she was his friend, not just someone he knew, not just a classmate who'd drop him like a hot coal if Mikata crooked her finger.

Yup. Belly button lint.

Anzu closed her eyes, then counted to three, stood up and marched across the schoolyard. "Hey, bozo," she snapped, pushing a boy who'd deliberately elbowed Yuugi in the gut. He'd had to bend down to reach, and hadn't even tried to make it look accidental. "Leave off. Don't you know he's had major surgery?"

"I didn't do anything!" the boy protested, all mock-innocence and badly disguised sneer. "Besides, even if I did, what're you gonna do about it?"

Unconsciously, Anzu balled her hand into a fist. Dancing had made her legs strong, not her arms, but she could probably still smack the tartar off his teeth if she tried.

The touch on her arm made her look round – and down.

"It's okay, Anzu," Yuugi said. His voice sounded reedier than usual and sort of thin, like air seeping from a balloon.

"No, it's not okay," Anzu replied, perhaps a little too readily. Bashing this guy seemed a preferable option to talking with someone who viewed her as his best friend, even though she manifestly wasn't.

However, the boy didn't do her the courtesy of staying to fight his corner. He just shrugged and walked away, muttering something about stupid girls and sloppy kisses that made Anzu want to smack him for a whole new reason.

"Anzu," said Yuugi, "please."

She glanced at the rest of the student body, few of whom seemed interested in them outside of surreptitious glances and sidelong looks. Salvaging the tattered remains of her dignity, she pressed a hand against Yuugi's shoulder and steered him away, towards the corner where she'd been sitting.

Yuugi surprised her, though, by turning and going behind Mrs. Ishigaki's classroom. She hadn't been back there since the Incident, as her brain had labelled it, but she followed him. Her feet seemed to increase in weight with every step, but she followed him.

He was sat on the steps, rummaging in his rucksack. She paused, opening her mouth to … what? Apologise? Say what a louse she was? Ask whether or not he'd liked hospital food?

Yuugi pulled out something. It was small, rectangular, and grey. It beeped when he turned it on.

Anzu's words died in her throat.

"Dad got it for me. He made a promise that ifI came out of surgery okay, I could have a replacement.You never finished learning how to work the last one," Yuugi said, like nothing was wrong, and it wasn't unusual for your father to make deals that hinged on you living instead of dying.

A moment passed – a long moment, in which Yuugi looked up and the amicability in his eyes morphed into anxiety. His fingers flexed, as though deciding whether or not to put the Gameboy back in his bag and walk away – from the steps, from her, and from their fraught, tenuous seed of a friendship.

All she had to do to keep her spot as one of Those Girls was clam up and let him.

"That's because your fingers are thinner than mine," Anzu burst out. "Mine are too fat and slow to push the buttons before I get killed."

Relief washed through Yuugi's face. He smiled.

It wasn't the smile of the heartthrobs on the posters Mikata pinned on her bedroom walls. Neither was it the sneery smile Nen used when she was laughing at someone, or Umi's you're-this-close-to-being-kicked-out-of-the-group-if-you-don't-agree-with-me smirk. It was just a genuine upturn of the lips to indicate pleasure.

And it was possibly the nicest thing Anzu had ever seen in her life.