Published: Nov. 7, 2016.
But that's too tidy, too straightforward. Nothing can possibly be that easy when it comes to Jack Atlas.
(Yusei and Jack meet before the Fortune Cup.)
this took a shamefully long time to write.
title taken from "i need some fine wine and you, you need to be nicer" by the cardigans.
This is how it should go:
Jack brings with him a grudging truce. It fills up the space between him and Yusei, demands a consensus of tolerance and cooperation. They're going to behave like adults here, no raised voices or demeaning language. And, they do. Yusei swallows down his need for confrontation (even though Jack must know, even though Jack might have played a part). Jack reins in his egoism, almost passes for a normal person with a normal temperament. They exchange civil words, suffocate a shared malice under a veneer of guarded stoicism. The facade only starts to slip when Jack finds it appropriate to return Stardust Dragon to Yusei by flinging it, and Yusei can't resist a glare, but that's it. They keep it together otherwise. No need to exacerbate their misery when they'll meet again in the Fortune Cup.
But that's too tidy, too straightforward. Nothing can possibly be that easy when it comes to Jack Atlas.
So, instead, it goes like this:
Jack makes himself the center of attention, kicks up a trail of dust behind his D-Wheel as he rides in. Helmet tucked under his arm, he casts a haughty stare around the small dirt lot, wildly uncaring for how he interrupted Himuro and Yusei's barely-begun duel. He passes over the old man, awestruck by the presence of a celebrity here of all places, and Saiga, but courteously deigns to pause for a moment on Himuro. Himuro grimaces, bears his teeth, and spits a greeting for his old rival. Jack's decorum doesn't extend far enough to provide for a reply, so Himuro's words go ignored. Yusei can't even feign offense because now Jack focuses in on him, and everything else is peripheral, a spinning backdrop to what Yusei knows is a tension threatening to climax.
"I heard you're going to be in the Fortune Cup."
Suspicion rears in Yusei and he retreats into the frightening coherency of its distrusting grasp. "How did you know that?" An accusation goes unspoken in his question.
"Does it matter?" Jack waves him off, like it's nothing, like he has no idea, and it burns under Yusei's skin. Jack continues nonchalantly, "I came to give you this."
Stardust. Yusei's eyes widen. Something clenches in him, twists violently in the pits of his stomach, and he loathes the feeling of it.
"It only makes sense for you to have it," Jack says. "Use it to settle that night with me."
His first instinct is to push back, insist on a lack of caring, but with every word Jack speaks Yusei can feel what remains of the world shrink around him. There's him, there's Jack, and there's that night with the baggage of two years ago trailing behind, threatening to close in.
And, when that first instinct falters, his second instinct is to center his gaze on the card held so carelessly by Jack. The rather unsubtle metaphor of it all is not lost on him, but he still hesitates.
"Jack." He pauses, inhales sharply, then asks simply, "Did you sell out Rally and the others?"
The way Jack tenses, the genuine shock that passes across his features--the world squeezes in so tight around them.
"What?" It slips out before Jack can recover, a small victory for the humanity he tries so hard to suppress.
A bitter twist of Yusei's lips, and, like a fool, he can't say no to trying to wring out Jack further.
"I'm only entering for them," Yusei says. Jack shifts, crosses his arms, and doesn't quite seem able to look Yusei in the eye anymore, so Yusei keeps pushing. "A man from the Public Security Maintenance Bureau gave me a photo as proof. If I don't enter, they'll be in danger."
"Oh?" Jack lilts, and it rings out like a challenge.
And how can Yusei not meet it. "Yeah," he says, takes a daring step forward. "Just for them."
Jack laughs, loud. "Then it's only fitting for you to have this." He brandishes Stardust once more before Yusei and, oh. (So, that's how it is.)
Responsibility comes crashing down, and Yusei, buried amidst the rubble, knows--knows so well, knows so clearly--he needs to be the better man, needs to rise above Jack's provocations, needs to think about the people that need him, but--
(Sometimes he just wants to let himself be weak.)
He blurts out stupidly, "Not yet."
An exasperated sigh, and Jack asks the most obvious question: "Why?"
Yusei's head buzzes with second thoughts; he wishes he had Jack's gift for selfish dissociation.
"Yusei." A long, drawn-out taste of his name. "We dueled like you insisted. Take it."
Jack isn't wrong, but it's a cold sort of righteousness. The feeling hollows out Yusei, makes it easy for him to yield.
Yet he doesn't, doesn't backtrack when Jack gives him the opportunity. That's the important part, one he struggles to parse. Arms crossed, patience waning, Jack stares Yusei down, and he--Yusei doesn't want to let two years come to an end like this, to sever the last thing tying him and Jack together.
The clarity doesn't hit hard like he would expect. It comes fast, but soft. It's been there all along, a parasite waiting for him to acknowledge it. (And, really, no wonder it took him so long. It's not all that palatable a concept, practically the opposite of why he claimed to come to the city in the first place.)
"Not yet," Yusei repeats, slow and uncertain.
"Enough with the childish games, Yusei," Jack barks, features darkening. "Take the damn card or don't."
A derisive laugh wells up in Yusei, simultaneously amused by Jack's vexation and at his own pathetic state. (This was never supposed to happen.) He swallows back against the mirth, but then wonders why he bothers. Because isn't this just some fucked-up prelude to what he apparently wants? So, why not--why not indulge and cling to what's near, why not finally recognize the precipice he's been teetering on for two years.
Jack watches in bemusement as Yusei's hand bypasses the card and grips Jack's wrist.
"Come on," Yusei says.
Jack stumbles when Yusei pulls him, jarring him into a protest, "Yusei, let go. I'm done here. Whatever you want, I don't care."
Jack struggles against Yusei in only the barest sense of the word. He grumbles and maybe drags his feet once or twice, but otherwise cooperates with an odd obedience as Yusei leads him away from three sets of gawking eyes. They round a corner, and Jack tries to shake off Yusei's hand with a huff and a muttered demand. And, again, Yusei could laugh, could let a fondness for Jack simply being Jack overcome him.
Because he missed this. Two years of bitter disappointment and repressed anger later, and, still, Yusei misses the before, misses when things were good, misses Jack.
Yusei knows the impossibility of resurrecting the past, but--Jack's hand is warm and heavy and present in Yusei's own, and he doesn't want to let go. So, Yusei fumbles open the door to the garage and pulls Jack in after him.
Inside, Yusei relents and finally allows Jack to withdraw, to render a distance. Jack passes over most of the garage interior, a variety of borrowed tools and odd equipment, but he pauses at the red of Yusei's D-Wheel. The moment proves fleeting, but it lingers afterwards, grasping outward like a black hole as it draws in all that surrounds it. Awareness breathes heatedly at the napes of their necks, and Yusei whispers not yet, not yet. He hangs back to observe Jack, an incongruous presence of eerie white amongst the grime and grit of Yusei's labor. Jack settles back against a free space with his arms crossed and casually regards Yusei, like he was brought here for a mere conversation.
(Colors bleed together, memories criss and cross, and a thousand thoughts assault him, all screeching in shrill, high voices mistake, mistake, mistake, and Yusei hates this, hates that this isn't what he wants, but it's all he has, and, and, and--)
"Yusei." A deep, resonating note that pressures clarity into Yusei's overcrowded mind. "Get on with it."
(Only, in some ways, this is worse. Because Jack is here, and Jack means nothing good for Yusei.)
Yusei surges forward, feels Jack jolt as his fingers form a vice around Jack's shoulders, and he hovers on the brink of mistakes and hate and Jack calls his name, tinged with vague concern, and two years, two painful years of wondering if it was Satellite, if it was just Jack, if--
(--it was him.)
"Yusei," Jack says, "what are you--"
Yusei cuts him off with a violent shake and a shout, "Shut up! Please, shut up. I can't stand listening to you, so, please, shut up."
A simple request. Too simple for Jack Atlas to abide by. He growls out a flurry of words in defiance to Yusei's plea, asks what the hell is wrong with Yusei, like Yusei is somehow privy to the answer. Yusei's fingers dig in deep and tight, but Jack keeps going, voice a dizzying cacophony in Yusei's ears. Until, in a fit of adrenaline-fueled loathing, Yusei drags Jack down to his level.
Pain rings out in the back of Yusei's head as their mouths meet in a savage crash. It wrenches him in close to the moment, to the reality of what he's begun all over again. He bites in past Jack's lips, takes advantage of him while still made pliable by surprise, and clenches his fingers until his knuckles show white. Jack grunts and Yusei swallows it down, tries to keep Jack quiet, but, of course, that can't be done. Jack recovers from his stupor with loud words, muffled by Yusei's lips, and a bodily shove, throwing Yusei stumbling back.
"This," Jack says. "This is what you wanted?"
From the dusty floor, Yusei laughs grimly. "Not exactly."
Silence follows, awkward and thick, leaves too much space for wondering.
"Two years ago," Yusei says, and trails off. Everything between them comes back to then, to years of trust sacrificed on the altar to Jack's egoism. There's only so much to say, but he makes an effort: "Do you regret it?"
"I won't apologize." Jack's response is immediate.
"I know you won't."
Their words hang in the air, wispy and strangely tangible. Yusei rises, Jack's gaze pointed on him, and the words--they cling and stretch over him, ensnare him in a web of false hopes and callous honesty. Weak, preyed on, Yusei asks, "Was it worth it?"
"Why?" A smirk tugs at Jack, begs to be released; Yusei hears it in his tone. "Did you miss me?"
Hard not to give Jack the satisfaction, harder to lie like this, stripped down and raw. "I shouldn't have," he admits.
"But you did." Jack closes the distance between them. With a finger, he urges Yusei's chin up as he leans in near. "And who am I to deny such earnestness?"
Jack presses in against Yusei, brokers little room for consideration or rejection, and he smiles, wide and toothy. He catches Yusei in a kiss, softer than the last, but it deepens with rapid ferocity, devolves into an uneven rhythm of teeth and tongue and soft noises. And, of course--it's horrible, too much like before, too much like what he wants it to be like again and what he can never have because it is Jack and Jack has changed and Jack has hurt him and will hurt him again, but, fuck, he wants this, he wants this, he wants this.
(But it's so hard to just let himself have it.)
He clutches at the sides of Jack's face and draws away just to have a second to soak in what he has simultaneously regained and lost. Jack's hand at the base of his head ushers him back into the fog of intimacy, doesn't let him think long enough to second guess himself. A thigh slipped between Yusei's legs, and he expels the last of his regrets in a shuddery gasp. He feels the crescent of Jack's smirk against his lips, sharp and winning, and surrenders fully to it. Jack dominates, steers the brutality of the kiss and guides Yusei over to a free space of wall where he can lean over Yusei with the whole of his height.
Into Yusei's ear, Jack whispers, "If you were this desperate, I might have even obliged you earlier."
Any hateful response he could muster falls to the wayside as dark mirth shakes through Yusei. "You wouldn't have. Too picky," he says, "too stubborn, too much of a pain to convince if you haven't already made a decision on your own."
"Really?" Jack's laugh vibrates in Yusei's ear. "Then what does this count as?"
Air chokes out of Yusei in something that could be construed as laughter. Always with the lies, always with the deflections--Yusei wheezes, feels his head growing faint, but the world moves ahead. It compresses into succinct flashes: the press and grind of bodies, hands hot on bare flesh, a heady heat unfurling, and--
--the sear of Jack's name on his tongue, a reminder, a brand, an end in its own way.
Jack is brisk in the aftermath. A tense beat, and he separates abruptly from Yusei, backs up a few paces to readjust himself. He spares a glance at Yusei, casually slumped against the wall, eyes trained on Jack. Their gazes meet, and Yusei stays silent.
"I'll see you," Jack says, and he's gone.