Disclaimer: Nightmarishly not mine.

A/N: I started a challenge on LiveJournal for people to provide me with pieces of fanart that I would attempt to write fic for. This was supposed to be a drabble. I fail at brevity.

Based on auroradragonkaya. deviantart. com/art/Sensing-a-Shadow-47213754

Sensing a Shadow

Fic © Scribbler, April 2009.

Image © Cassandra Matteis, January 2007.

There were times when Yuugi was so lonely it actually made his teeth hurt. Usually those were days when the bullies had been especially vicious, or some teacher having a bad day had decided to take out their bad mood on the student who wouldn't fight back. Most of the time he could get by with a smile and the thought that tomorrow would probably be better. He pictured the games he was going to play when he got home, or made up a new one to play as he walked to his grandfather's shop, but he wasn't inhuman. Positive thinking could only take him so far, and where it ended the loneliness began.

The sense of isolation was like a physical thing. It weighed on him. He didn't have the words or the capacity to describe it. Still just a child, he struggled to understand how an emotion could be bone-crushing, like a thump in the chest with a cricket ball. When Grandpa asked if he was okay, Yuugi would raise his eyes, smile, and murmur something about food that didn't agree with him.

Anzu was his friend. He reminded himself of that at least five times a day. She was one of the only people who seemed to genuinely like him, and the only one who hung out with him voluntarily. That is, until the other girls started stage-whispering and giggling in little groups. Then she'd get a strange expression on her face, and something unavoidable would come up that she just had to go deal with, and she was sure Yuugi understood, right? Which he did. He was lucky to have a friend like Anzu. He couldn't expect her to spend all her time with him. She was popular, and on a dozen committees for things. She was always campaigning for something. She had other commitments.

She was there when his dad died, and his mother started acting weird, telling people her husband was away on business whenever they asked. She even told people who knew the truth. If it seemed like they were going to correct her, or bring up the car accident, her mouth would pull inward and her eyes would flash like a cat about to claw your hand, and they'd stop. Not even Yuugi escaped this treatment, but Anzu was there when he needed her. She let him talk about his dad, his mom's new job in Tokyo, the arrangements for him living at the Game Shop, how he felt about all of it, and she never called him stupid or told him to shut up. No matter how many times she excused herself, or got that strange expression, or listened to the other girls' whispers, Yuugi would always forgive her and call her his friend because of that.

Then he solved the Millennium Puzzle, and suddenly, as if by magic, he had more friends than he knew how to deal with. Jounouchi, Honda, Anzu, Miho, Bakura … Yuugi's smile couldn't have stretched any wider if it'd been made of elastic. Suddenly the loneliness didn't invade his brain or make his chest tight. Suddenly a friendly voice was just a phone call away, even if Anzu was out, or busy, or couldn't come to the phone.

"I've been replaced!" she laughed, though she didn't seem to hold it against the others. "Soon I'll have to make appointments to see you, Yuugi. You'll have to schedule each of us in to your busy social calendar – one hour a piece, with no overspill minutes."

The greatest moment was when Jounouchi leaned back in his chair, regarded him pensively, and said, "You know, Yuugi, I used to think you were just some sad little wimp, but you're actually pretty cool."

He wasn't popular, but he had people to turn to – people who cared. He had friends. There were no more cricket-ball-to-the-chest moments; no more lonesome evenings, or lunch periods spent hiding from bullies under the bleachers. It was like magic – his own fairytale ending.

So why did he sometimes bolt awake in the small hours, breathing hard, covered in cold sweat, convinced he was somewhere tiny and dark and so, so lonely?

Why did he have nightmares about sitting alone in a room made of stone blocks, waiting an eternity for someone to open the door and let him out?

Why did he feel so inexplicably lonely, even while with his friends, laughing and running so that the Millennium Puzzle bounced against his chest and he had to hold it out of the way to keep it from breaking a rib?

He couldn't understand it; just like he couldn't understand why he shivered when it wasn't cold, or why every so often he thought someone was behind him, reaching for his shoulder, trying to tap it to get his attention, but when he turned around nobody was there.