Published: Aug. 16, 2015.
Yusei can neither forgive or forget Jack after he leaves Satellite.
Yusei grasps weakly at the edge of the pier, hand quivering with effort, but, somehow, someway, he maintains a solid grip and heaves himself and Rally out of the water. His miraculous strength lasts until they are both a safe distance onto land, away from the churning waves, and, knowing that, he then collapses onto his knees. He sucks in greedy gulps of the night air and presses his palms to the firm, immobile concrete beneath him, uses it to ground his swaying body. The air spreads thick and shivering through him, numbs his limbs, and he loses the motivation to stay sitting up. He rolls over onto his back and stares up at the dark heavens (because with the luminous Neo Domino City so close across the bay there's never a chance to see the stars). His head lolls over in the direction of Rally, still tied up, and Yusei should do something about that, but he doesn't move. His mind is eerily blank, absent from it are thoughts of sincere gratitude to be alive along with Rally. There is nothing.
And it's almost nice. Except, he wonders if maybe it's the result of some internal defense mechanism, designed to keep him from overloading on panic and betrayal so he won't do anything rash in response. Or maybe it's just the fatigue from swimming through the stormy bay to rescue someone from drowning. In his daze, he barely notices the absence of his D-Wheel, barely even cares. Everything overwhelms him, so he shuts down, focuses on listening to Rally's coughing gasps.
They're both safe, and that's what matters. Who cares about Jack.
But, really, Yusei should quit laying around and get Rally out of that rope. His soaked clothes cling to him as he props himself up over Rally. Yusei sets to work on untying the rope, but it takes some time with his clumsy, shaking fingers.
"Are you okay?" Yusei asks, voice steady. A tempest lurks at the edges of his mind, but its cracking winds and peals of thunder echo in the distance, too far off to factor into his current emotional state.
Rally manages a jerky nod, drenched and trembling. He's a small, frail figure under the weight of his water-logged jacket.
Yusei carefully stands up and then helps Rally to do the same. Once Rally's balance is regained, he whips around, face scrunched up, and an apology comes wheezing out of his mouth. He repeats himself in a litany of "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry" that only gets more and more incomprehensible as his voice breaks. His hands curl into tight fists, and tears dribble in messy streams down his cheeks.
Yusei can only guess at what Rally's apologizing for, but he can reasonably assume. There isn't anyone else to point fingers at beside Jack.
"Rally," Yusei says, hunching over to be on his level, "it's okay. You have nothing to be sorry for."
"Don't worry about it," he says, and he smiles, small and a little forced, but it seems to set Rally at ease. Rally rubs at his eyes with his coat sleeve and succeeds only at smearing water and tears across his face.
Yusei picks up his jacket and deck, and motions for Rally to follow him. "Let's go home."
On the walk back, he feels the storm blowing in, but he tells it later. Tomorrow. Let him have tonight to be glad for what he hasn't lost. He'll grieve another time.
Yusei brushes off questions with terse answers, leaves all the explaining to Rally, who, really, does have a fuller picture of the situation than Yusei. So, Rally, changed into dry clothes and sipping at a warm drink, enthralls their other friends with all the gritty details. They try to draw Yusei into the conversation, but he resists, contributes the bare minimum they demand, a few confirming words here and there. He occupies himself with gathering up his scattered notes from when he first built his D-Wheel, now probably somewhere over in the city--and he's not going to think about that now.
His D-Wheel is gone. Nothing he can do about it. He'll make another.
He throws himself into the construction of a new D-Wheel, spends the ensuing days collecting scrap metal and working out a new design. It's better than dwelling, or, worse, moping. Sure, he hasn't slept well in the week since, but whatever. After a few querying probes, his friends seem to get the message and no one brings it or Jack up around him.
He doesn't want to think about it. Not yet, at least. He knows once he does he'll try to understand, will parse his memories for clues and hints in his determined belief that there must be something. He'll exonerate Jack without being otherwise compelled, and Yusei can't quite stand that hypothetical. So, until then, he'll live in this fragile reality of selective truths and recollections.
Two days later, a crack appears, and through it the harsh truth watches him. Wherever he goes, it follows, its gaze a pervasive weight from behind, from above, from all around. Its omnipresence strips him of the safety of ignorance, and what choice does he have then but to confront reality.
His first instinct is to hate Jack, and there's something oddly relieving about it. He wants to hate Jack like this. He wants to curse Jack with angry spittle flying from his mouth as he rants, to destroy any nostalgia he holds for their time spent together. Jack is a self-obsessed fool chasing delusions of grandeur at the behest of his own egoism who could have killed a child over a goddamn card and a motorbike. There's plenty of reasons to hate Jack Atlas; it's hard to choose just one.
But Yusei hates him for it all, fiercely, successfully.
He clings to this spite, anchors himself down with it. He drags it around, like a voluntary ball and chain. He convinces himself of a furious, ridiculous need to find Jack and make him pay, make him regret. It burns in him, fuels to take one step and then the next.
Everyone notices, comments that Yusei isn't acting like himself. But it's fine because one day Yusei will surrender, and he will think, and he will understand Jack. He knew Jack once, and he will Jack yet again. He will uncover why Jack did what he did, and, however, unpalatable it might be, will not hold it against Jack like he should.
So, he holds fast to this irascible hatred while he can.
Yusei sits before the skeleton of a new D-Wheel. It's an ugly fusion of scrap metal, a preliminary 3D rendition of the design before he commits quality parts to it. His friends like it, scrutinize it with nods of approval, comment on how they can't wait to see it finalized. They must be overeager to see his stolen D-Wheel replaced, to fill the vacancy it left in their lives, a gaping reminder of the person who took it.
Too bad it bothers Yusei and he's on the brink of trashing the design completely.
He can tell the design was drafted while he was in a fervor of trying very hard not to think about anything. It's lazy. Recycled. It's a slight alteration of his original D-Wheel.
He stares hard at it. The basic design is sound, proven with the predecessor model. But it's no good. The original is gone, gone, gone, driven far into a strange city by a stranger's hands. Reliving it all, hanging onto the past--it's useless.
Yusei turns and opens his laptop to a screen of green code on a black background. He sees himself reflected in it, and his fingers hover above the keyboard. Lips set in a neutral line, eyes focused--he's the same as ever, as before. He can't concentrate on the code; his vision blurs as he stares at himself. Thoughts rush in, prey on him while he's distracted, and--
Might as well admit it: Yusei is not the same. Sleep is sparse and scattered. He eats at sporadic times, usually something small Rally brings him. He snaps at his friends, cruelly and without apology, when they're just concerned. And, he denies it, but, really, Jack is always on his mind. Because Yusei hates him. Obviously.
In a way, it's comforting to hate Jack. Yusei resides in a narrow reality where Jack is a piece of shit and deserves a good punch to the face. And a good shake. And a few emotional shouts. And a chance to explain this.
But Yusei is looking right at himself, and how pitiful would it be if he lied to his own face. There's a reason for his behavior. He buries it deep since loathing Jack is easier than the truth. So, just this once, just here, he'll say it plainly: he's hurt. He's fucking furious at Jack for doing this to him, to their friends, to the physical amalgamation of all their efforts and hopes. And, underneath that, he's just hurt that this happened, that he meant so little in the end to Jack.
It didn't have to happen. Yusei could have intervened, paid attention and tried to reverse Jack's descent. (How long did Jack spend sitting there alone on that decrepit throne?) On some level, he blames himself.
Yusei looks down at his hands, spreads his fingers wide before clenching them. Nothing will be the same, but he misses Jack. It's sad, but he really does.
Everyone is fidgeting with an old television set, trying to get the signal to connect. Some big riding duel supposedly airs later in the day, and Rally is vibrating in excitement. He's crosslegged on the floor next to Yusei, chattering away, during the lulls in activity, but dives back into the other room every time they get the signal stabilized. Inevitably, they lose it again, and Rally will walk back to Yusei, slouched over, and drop down in disappointment.
Minutes tick by. Rally tenses as time inches closer to the start of the game, sighs loudly like the universe will hear him and fix the problem. The other three bicker--this is the best way, no this, what are you doing, that's not what you need to do. But it works out, and Rally pulls Yusei over to watch, so all five of them are gathered in front of the tiny screen.
Really, though, he likes moments like these. They're a nice reminder now that his anger has long faded and left only a raw pain in its wake. He carries it without complaint, and these sorts of moments strengthen his resolve to bear it stoically, to do something productive instead of moping. (Not that he never does. There's an occasional time that is too quiet, too lonely, and he can only think of what could have been.)
If only the moment could have lasted longer.
The warm mood dissipates when the contestants are revealed, careens sharply down towards bitter incredulity and uncertainty. Yusei's breath catches despite how much he would prefer not to react at all. Rally leans back, aims his wide eyes at Yusei, but Yusei can't meet them. He has to watch the screen. This is the why; this is the reason he craved, and it sits strangely inside him.
"Yusei," Rally says, so soft it's almost a whisper. "It's Jack."
A reply teeters on his tongue, Yusei means to acknowledge Rally, but he has to watch. An undeniable intensity grips him. This is it. Everything slots into place with this, and--
"I'm not surprised," Yusei finally says.
This is what Jack chose after all.
A palpable silence follows the conclusion of the game. Awkward glances pass from one person to the next, and they each consider words, weigh them carefully, but deem nothing good enough to speak aloud. Rally cringes visibly when a cacophony of static from the television fills the room. Yusei stares after it, unready to look away, but then he stands up, and this time everyone startles.
"I'm going out for a walk," he says. "Be back soon."
Four sets of eyes trail after him. Four sets of expectations pressure him to stay. His tongue is paralyzed, can't push out a weak excuse, or even the truth (that he needs to be alone). He almost hesitates, almost gives in and looks back and damns himself because how he can leave with friends right here. Instead, he digs his hands into his pockets and walks out to wander Satellite aimlessly under the setting sun.
His feet drag. His mind races. Fury possesses him once more, resurfacing after going dormant for so long. He crushes a hand through his hair, picks up his pace, and thinks so hard about he wants to go back, wants to be surrounded with those who love him and those who he loves back. But, no, he wants something else too, and then he's breaking out into a run through the barren streets. Adrenaline flows exhilaratingly through him, has him just going, going, going, uncaring of wherever the hell he ends up.
Air chokes and twists in his lungs. He comes to a gasping halt, stumbles forward one step, two steps, then nearly trips. He's not far enough. Keep going, he screams. Never stop. One day he'll be able to outrun everything he thinks and feels about Jack Atlas.
Yusei laughs faintly to himself, keeled over on the broken pavement of a decaying city. What a joke. Jack used him in a bid to achieve fame and fortune, and yet Yusei is the one pining. His inability to let go subdues his better judgement. What he wants (to see Jack, to make him listen, to go back to before when they were together, when Yusei could feel Jack beside him) is absurd. A pipe dream. Still, he wishes. Still, he desires.
Give up. Forget it. Oh, sometimes Yusei wishes he could. But he won't. He can't. He choose differently than Jack, after all, and he needs to remember that.
Jack wins them all, one game after another, ends each with proud assertions and an arrogant finger pointed towards the heavens. Round and round, he rides, basking as the camera sweeps over cheering crowds, enraptured by his confidence and genuine skill. The sky darkens above the stadium, and it glows brighter and brighter until it's somehow blinding, but everyone is irrevocably drawn to it, regardless.
They call him King. Jack hails above them as some sort of royalty. (Good thing he had all that practice. His posture on his throne must be exquisite.) Terrible, really, but they buy into his act, and Yusei does once or twice, too. Even if he does know the truth of Jack's origins.
Yusei grows to become one of many. He is an ardent viewer, rapt as tries to soak up the details of duels. It's almost masochistic, but becomes almost mechanical after a while for him to just settle down and watch Jack. Thousands applaud for Jack, for every victory he rightfully claims, and yet, somehow, it's never envy that festers inside Yusei. No, there's just a sad, limping ache, familiar like an old friend.
Jack's name starts as a whisper on the tongues of an odd few around Satellite. Yusei stops to take a cursory listen the first few times he hears a snippet of conversation about Jack, that rising star over in the city. He forces to himself to keep going, keep walking. Not out of ignorance, like he's trying to pretend Jack isn't real, that Jack doesn't haunt his life. Yusei is beyond that. No, it's just--
He struggles with the right word to describe what this is. A fascination. A scientific interest. A lackadaisical acceptance of something inevitable.
But, nor is it that he's longing desperately for a person lost. He doesn't do something weird like reach out and stroke the television screen with the mad hope his touch and feelings will communicate through it to reality on the other side. Nothing like that. Honestly. Yusei watches like anyone else would. He just happens to be a spectator who has a history with one of the competing duelists and a whole series of thoughts deeply contemplating that complicated history.
In a way, he likes seeing Jack doing well, to be able to witness his meteoric rise. At least Yusei can convince himself everything wasn't a waste. In another way, though, watching Jack is like picking at a scab, again and again, digging deeper each time. It's Yusei's own fault that time fails to dull the pain. He bleeds, and that's just that.
Two years later. Two years older. And shouldn't Yusei be so much wiser, so much better at differentiating good decisions from the bad. A pity, he guesses, that his great wells of experience refrained from comment on this latest daring endeavor of his. Still, doesn't everyone sometimes act contrary to their best interests? Sure, the consequences could have been grave, but he is only eighteen, on the bare cusp of adulthood, so maybe some recklessness can be forgiven, or even expected.
It isn't like he jumped into this blind. He spent months poring over calculations, engineering his timing down to absolute perfection to give himself the best possible chance at success. Clearly, his preparations had been enough, considering that he is alive and not a corpse suffocated under layers of refuse in an underwater tunnel.
So, does this really count as being reckless, or--maybe Yusei should stop trying to salvage an excuse that would sound good to more than just his ears. He arrived at his destination, after all, and is mostly certain that he is okay. His fingers flex on the handles as his D-wheel hums underneath him, stirring up wisps of anxiety, and his feet rest on solid ground. The moon shines high above in an otherwise empty sky, its dim light blocked out by the yellow glow of fluorescent lights surrounding him. He is here; Yusei is in Neo Domino City.
An accomplishment, he supposes, though it occurs to him ironically that he never really progressed forward. All that thinking and running only to end up back here, feeling young and distressed as he looks up at Jack Atlas with repressed emotion in his gaze.
Yusei takes his helmet off, rests it on his lap, and lingers on the coincidence of their meeting, on exactly who Jack is now. Two years worth of preconceptions color Yusei's view perhaps, but as he watches Jack, standing tall and straight above Yusei on a raised highway, Yusei can't help but believe that Jack embodies everything he has ever thought himself to be. There's a poised arrogance to Jack and the skill and charisma to back it up. Jack's stare is steady in response to Yusei's, almost challenging, like it seeks to strip the years back to when Yusei was that sixteen-year-old deemed inadequate and abandoned.
No words seem to fit right. They're all a hollow echo, resounding in the distance far from the raw feeling Yusei wants to convey. So, he opts for brevity with a loud, "Jack."
Anger boils low inside Yusei at the sound of laughter, at the scraping noise of condescension. Flippantly, Jack offers recognition: "Yusei, it's been awhile. How long was it?"
"Ah," Jack says, and it morphs into another ugly laugh. "As I looked at the moon earlier, I thought that I might see you tonight."
A sad gesture offered by destiny, then. Yusei could laugh, too, bitter and disappointed. They could both laugh at the other for how foolish he obviously is. Because Yusei values intangible things most of all, refusing to look out for himself foremost. Because Jack's egoism blinded him and he continues to walk away, alone and pitifully proud. They could both laugh at one another until the sun rises and sets and a cycle goes into motion until they decay as all humans will when death claims them. (A melodramatic thought, but the allure of being together in some way does appeal to Yusei.)
Nothing about it can even count as a perhaps: Yusei knows he would be better off forgetting his attachment to Jack. Jack cares so little, casually drops a reply when asked about Yusei's original D-wheel where he admits to trashing it. And then Jack tries to simply toss Stardust Dragon back to Yusei, like that will end everything.
Only it can't. Yusei won't let it, however easy Jack might find that option to be. Still too much to say. Still too much to do (necks to wring, hands to hold).
Yusei throws back the card, says, "We'll duel for it. I'm sure you didn't expect it to go any other way."
"Fine," Jack says, but it isn't the sighing reluctance of a king dealing with his lessers, isn't him humoring Yusei. No, in this small moment, it's almost like Jack respects Yusei, and Yusei can't shake off the shame of what this means to him.
It could be revenge. It could be a mere reclamation of his property. It could even be to show off, to pit ego against ego.
There's a lot of reasons Yusei could use to excuse why he is here, riding toward a duel with this person in particular. Just like back in the beginning, the hard part is in choosing only one when they all would serve perfectly well. So, why, he shouts, make his reason this one: his recurrent, self-destructive longing for Jack Atlas. Because: what Yusei wants, has wanted, and will continue to want is for Jack to acknowledge him once more. That fraction of a second, insignificant and small, where Yusei could nearly believe that Jack saw a genuine challenge and interest in him, brands itself in his mind, gets stuck in an endless loop that won't let him turn away.
It plays. Rewinds. It repeats.
Yusei hates Jack. Yusei wants Jack. Two years ago, Jack cursed Yusei to this, to the infinite pendulum swing back and forth between desire and animosity. (Not that the location really mattered, since, either way, Yusei cared, and that was enough to prolong his misery.) Yusei will never forget Jack, will never be able to let him go. So, for a bit, just for a bit, and despite the involvement of many others, Yusei relents and lets right now be about himself.
The stadium lies ahead, radiant and splendid with the promise of a settlement between him and Jack. His time runs short before his eyes as the stadium grows larger and larger, but he can't plot a decisive course of action. Yusei spins in the accumulation of two years of thoughts and emotions, a cyclical flow of convolution and confusion. It congeals into a knot stuck in his throat, renders his breathing shallow and choked, and he pulls off to the side of the highway to cough.
Jack slows and makes a wide curve as he turns back, stopping a few feet in front of Yusei. "Backing out already, Yusei?" he says, pulling off his helmet so Yusei can more clearly view his derisive smirk.
"No." Fury at Jack, a familiar feeling, joins the mess in Yusei's mind and tips the balance. Enunciating each syllable, Yusei adds, "Never."
Jack tilts his head to the side, bears his teeth, and makes a questioning noise. "I'll give you one last chance."
A reply teeters on the tip of his tongue, but Yusei swallows it back. Singularly, he realizes, surmises, and accepts what he wants to do, and chooses to respond with action rather than with words. He tugs off his helmet gently and dismounts his bike. Jack stares him down warily, confidence fading only slightly, as Yusei approaches, probably expecting a fistfight, probably forgotten what Yusei is like, but what does that matter. (What shock is there to find in being disappointed and betrayed by Jack?) Yet, there is a long moment of uncertainty when Yusei stands before Jack, where Jack anticipates and Yusei breathes deep. A flurry of movement succeeds it; Yusei's hand flies out and fists itself in Jack's hair as Jack shifts to strike out, but he is too slow. Yusei leans in and takes what he has craved and missed for two years.
This kiss starts brutal and wholly selfish. Yusei leverages Jack's head back and forces their closed mouths to connect. Yusei's free hand clamps down on Jack's shoulder, but it's a weak method of restraint. Jack regains his bearings fast, aims his eyes, narrowed and defiant, at Yusei's. His hands surge up to grip Yusei's forearms, his fingers digging in deep, bruisingly tight. Yusei ignores it all in favor of biting at Jack's lips, but one swipe of his teeth proves too hasty and Yusei tastes blood.
Yusei feels Jack cringe and the pressure on his arms weakens, and it's enough to jar Yusei into drawing away. Dazed, he mumbles a half-hearted apology, "Sorry."
Jack lets out an airy laugh, and it's like a wall breaks down between them. Jack pulls Yusei back in roughly, meets him with parted lips, and Yusei returns this newfound interest eagerly. His hands linger at the base of Jack's head briefly, but Yusei can't resist and they drift lower, slide down Jack's neck to his shoulders, to his arms, to his back. He takes what he can of Jack, commits it to memory before he must wait years again. (Yusei knows he will probably look tenderly at his bruised arms later.) There is nothing nice or slow to be found in this. It's a hurried mess of entangled tongues. It's the snatched gasps of air when they part. It's the pain of how much Yusei will regret to let go, how much he hopes it hurts for Jack, too.
Yusei leans back and Jack doesn't fight him. He raises a finger to wipe away blood on Jack's chin, really just smearing it around uselessly his touch is so soft. It should be over with that, but instead Yusei collapses forward and rests his forehead on Jack's shoulder, clenching fistfuls of his shirt. Jack's grip on Yusei's arms loosens and his hands trail down to ghost over Yusei's hips. An awkward imitation of an embrace, yes, but it's wrought with an intimacy Yusei waited two years to feel again.
But he will not (cannot) push it further. Yusei retreats--no eye contact, a resumed sense of space, quiet.
And that is finally that.
What happens next: a red dragon in the sky, his arm burning, and questions heaped on questions. Yet somehow through it they keep riding, keep playing until the end when explosions dazzle around Yusei. They come from every direction and whip his surroundings into a blur. Darkness creeps in from the edges of his vision. The hazy image of Jack melts away into it, and isn't that just like how it's always been.