Disclaimer: Standard one – not mine and never were.
A/N: This started out as a daydream while I was invigilating an exam back in April, and kind of spiralled from there. I always wanted to write a fic like this, but I never actually finished one before. Hopefully people will enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Feedback welcomed and always appreciated.
© Scribbler, June 2007
Six Years Ago:
The rain stopped just before school got out, so there were still plenty of puddles when kids streamed through the gate wearing brand new Wellington boots and smiles.
Still, despite the rain, Domino showed no sign of relief from the heat. The hydrocarbon level was high enough to etch glass, and the brand new highway on the edge of town hummed with road rage. Air conditioners were failing after weeks of humidity, dogs lay panting on the sidewalk, laundry mildewed in hampers after half an hour, and sinuses felt filled with cement. If the barometric pressure dropped any lower the whole town's guts would be sucked through the soles of their feet into the bowels of the Earth.
Yuugi dragged a wrist across his forehead. His shirt-back was soaked, and his hair drooped like an unwatered plant. "Are you coming over again today?" He couldn't quite keep the eagerness from his voice.
Anzu, recently minted best friend, looked at the rolling clouds and bit her lip. "Maybe I should go home today."
"I only mean, y'know, because I've gone to your house every day this week and my Mom's starting to forget who I am."
"It's all right," Yuugi was hasty to assure her. "I understand. It's just that Grandpa bought, like, twenty bags of potato chips and dip, and they had a sale on Hello Panda cookies so he got so many they don't even all fit in the cupboard, and I know how much you like them and everything, but -"
"Yuugi, stop." Anzu held up a hand and stopped herself, right there in the middle of the stinking hot sidewalk.
Their friendship was still new, and neither was sure how to handle it, or each other. Anzu had, until very recently, been one of the popular kids, while Yuugi had been relegated to the periphery of all things. It was still amazing to everyone that they'd become friends – especially Anzu.
She couldn't explain what it was about the geeky Yuugi Mutou that made her want to hang out with him. He wasn't cool, or even especially useful. All he did was play games, and not even trendy games like basketball or soccer. She was the first person he'd showed his collection to – all the board games, card games, computer games and the things he did with his spare time because no other kid would be seen dead with him.
Yet here she was, walking home with him again, in full view of Mikata Teki and her cronies. Did she have a death wish or what?
It scared her a bit, what this friendship meant to Yuugi. She wasn't sure it meant the same to her, or ever would. Anzu wasn't a cruel girl, though she could be selfish, and didn't want to see the little guy hurt because he'd invested too much in what could be a very temporary situation.
Her parents' marriage could be a very temporary situation, too.
She wondered if things would be different if Yuugi's house not been such a great place of refuge from arguments and slammed doors. Yuugi didn't demand to know gory details when she showed up on his doorstep, the way Mikata would've. And he hadn't even mentioned the Gameboy she broke. Mikata would still be demanding penance. Plus his grandfather was nice, the kind of jolly old man Anzu imagined her own grandfather would've been, had one not died when she was just a baby, and the other not lived far away in America.
Yuugi looked at her with eyes like a china doll.
Anzu turned her face away, embarrassed. "I really can't, Yuugi," she said, even though she could've. Mom was visiting her friends in Rubik City, and Daddy wouldn't be home until tonight. It would just be Anzu, the TV and a box of dry cereal until one of them came home.
Yet the thought of stepping into Yuugi's house, of sitting in front of Yuugi's TV, eating Yuugi's food and (heaven help her) enjoying herself filled her with mind-gibbering terror.
She couldn't afford to get attached to a kid like Yuugi. Her social life wouldn't be worth living.
So it surprised her when he hiked his backpack higher on his shoulder and shrugged like it didn't matter to him whether she went home or not. "No biggie."
Anzu looked up, confused. "What?"
"If you change your mind, you can come over whenever." The pleading note was not lost on her, but she appreciated him not trying to force the issue – or her.
Yuugi Mutou was deceptively simple to understand.
She squinted at him. "Yuugi, why do you like me?"
He frowned. "Because you're nice. And you didn't make fun when you saw my collection."
"But you didn't know that when you first made friends with me. I was evil to you, but you've never been anything but nice to me. Why?" In Anzu's experience, people were never nice in the face of difficulty unless there was something in it for them – reflected glory, massaged ego, financial security … Yuugi didn't fit into any of those. He was a mystery to her – an enigma with outsized eyes and bizarre hair.
Yuugi still looked confused. "You weren't evil."
"Yes I was."
"I never noticed."
She boggled. "You're not serious."
"I don't understand what you mean. I'm your friend. Friends are supposed to like each other, otherwise why would they be friends in the first place?"
A valid point, but not an answer.
"I like you. You're different than those other girls you hand out with. None of them would ever pick up my bag or chase off bullies for me."
Anzu blushed. "Yeah, well …"
Yuugi hiked his backpack again and turned in the direction of his house. "So … you're sure you won't come over?"
Anzu looked at him, at his rumpled shirt, scuffed sneakers and pleading expression. He looked so needy and pathetic, and yet … somehow endearing, like the last puppy left in a cardboard box next to a 'free to a good home' sign.
"I'm sure. My Mom…" She shrugged.
"Well, if you need a place to go later, don't think you need to call first."
She wasn't supposed to walk the streets alone after dark, but she'd done it before, snotty-nosed and blinded by tears. The tissue Grandpa Mutou gave her was still crumpled in the bottom of her schoolbag where she'd left it after he drove her home.
Anzu knew she could run to Yuugi in a crisis.
It was a frightening thought, and too much for a ten year old to comprehend.
"Yeah. Sure. Whatever."
"Seriously, Anzu. My door will always be open to you."
She looked sidelong at him. "Seriously?"
"Well, yeah. Of course."
Mikata once said something like that, and look how well that turned out. One falling-out over who Anzu was allowed to be friends with and their whole 'friendship' went kablooie. The hurt from that was still fresh enough to burn.
"Okay. Pinkie swear it."
"What?" Yuugi looked confused.
Anzu held up her right hand, all fingers curled into a fist except the smallest. "Pinkie swear, or it doesn't mean anything."
He looked at her, then at her hand, and then nearly fell over in his haste to grip her little finger with his own. His hand was clammy, but so was hers, so their fingers slipped and slid as Anzu began bouncing them up and down.
"What're you doing?"
"Pinkie swearing. Don't you know how to do it right?"
"I've … never pinkie sworn on anything before."
Man, he was an unpopular little nerd.
Anzu sighed and said slowly, bouncing their hands in a distinct rhythm, "Swear forever, swear forever, never break it, no, not ever – we agree. Okay. Now you make your promise, and if you break it…"
Yuugi solemnly repeated the words. "I swear that my door will always be open for you."
"Then it's official. And in return, I promise never to let anyone beat up on you or break your stuff."
"Hey, thanks! Wow, my very first pinkie swear."
"Uh, you can let go of my hand now."
He flushed crimson. "Whoops. Sorry."
Anzu nodded, and didn't even wipe her hand on her skirt. Then she cut her eyes at Yuugi again and said sincerely, "I'll remember this, Yuugi."
His grin could've powered air-conditioning enough to cool the whole of Domino. "Me too."
Side-flings, Homages and Downright Rip-offs
The hydrocarbon level was high enough to etch glass … the whole town's guts would be sucked through the soles of their feet into the bowels of the Earth.
-- Boosted from Four to Score by Janet Evanovich.
"… They had a sale on Hello Panda cookies so he got so many they don't even all fit in the cupboard…"
--Hello Panda is a popular brand of Japanese biscuits (cookies), manufactured by Meiji Seika. Each biscuit consists of a small hollow shortbread layer, filled with vanilla, strawberry, peanut butter or chocolate filling.
Mom was visiting her friends in Rubik City.
-- A reference to Rubik's Cube. I figured that since Domino is one type of game, the cities and towns surrounding it might be similarly named.
"Swear forever, swear forever, never break it, no, not ever – we agree."
-- This version of pinkie-swearing comes from the sub version of Monster Rancher, although there is another rhyme of which I'm aware. That one goes: "Make friends, make friends, never ever break friends."