As the Fire Burns

A Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS 3-shot

Summary: Chapter 1: The day arrived for Takeru to go back to his hometown. He was ready to leave it all behind, to start over. But that's the thing about feelings - you can't just leave them behind. Firestorm. Post-Canon


Chapter 1: And the Word for It Is...

Café Nagi

Takeru smiled tiredly as he bagged a hot dog wrapped in tin foil, a container of onion soup, and lemon tea and handed it to the last of the customers of the day at Kusanagi Shoichi's hot dog van establishment. "Here you are."

"Thank you so much!" the woman beamed. Takeru gave a small wave in return.

"Thank you for your business. Come again."

The red- and white-haired teen sighed deeply once the customer was out of earshot. Normally, he'd be more upbeat on the job, yet, today, the thought of being upbeat drained him. He knew the feeling had to do with his leaving Den City behind, the first city he's ever visited and lived in after leaving his hometown all those months ago, a city he's easily been able to call home. Why wasn't he making the most of his last few hours, then? He didn't understand. The only thing he understood at that point in time was the feeling of his heart being especially heavy in the last couple of hours.

Takeru, deep in thought, was oblivious to the humming noises of the people walking around the city's center and the honking of cars and wailing of sirens when he felt a hand rest on his shoulder. He jumped at the contact, abruptly turning his head to find Kusanagi stationed next to him, his signature grin plastered on his face.

"Good work, Takeru," he congratulated, gently patting the boy on the back. "I gotta say you've been a huge help the last couple of weeks."

Takeru laughed. Always the grateful one, that Kusanagi-san was. If anything, he should be the one showering thanks on the man whom he's come to regard almost like his own family. He didn't think twice about bringing a random country boy into his and Yusaku's daily routines, even if some of the coding (and hacking) stuff did go over his head much of the time. And Takeru would always be grateful to him for that, for giving him that second home.

"It's no problem, Kusanagi-san. Besides, I can't exactly go home broke. My grandparents would have a fit," he said, putting a hand behind his head, a small, high-pitched noise equivalent to a "heh" escaping.

Kusanagi pulled down the screen over the side of the hot dog van and dusted his hands off. "Fair enough. I'm just happy for the extra help, especially with Yusaku being so busy these days."

At the mention of Yusaku, Takeru's heart pounded wildly in his chest, but he breathed just so he wouldn't give it away in his voice. "Yeah."

Ever since he and Yusaku, as well as others tasked with protecting Akira Zaizen, returned from fighting with Ai and Roboppi, Yusaku would race out of the school building and immediately head to Ghost Girl's place, spending his afternoons and evenings working with Ghost Girl and Akira Zaizen in trying to find Yusaku's former housemates in the network, as they vanished without a trace after Playmaker dealt with Ai.

Takeru wasn't upset that Yusaku was trying to find the two of them. If anything, he's glad Yusaku found a purpose, a mission to keep him on his toes, something to move him forward. The only thing that annoyed him was that Ghost Girl and Zaizen saw Yusaku a hell of a lot more than Takeru did. It wasn't fair.

The teen untied the Café Nagi apron and hung it on the hook inside the truck before grabbing his empty bookbag. "I'm off, Kusanagi-san."

"Have a safe trip, Takeru. And don't be a stranger now, you hear? You're always welcome to come back for a visit."

Takeru laughed. If he found the means to go back and forth to Den City like that, he would, but that didn't seem likely for a while. He couldn't possibly pester his grandparents or Kiku's parents for transportation money like that. It just wouldn't feel right. Still, not wanting to sound rude, he said, "I'll try and visit once in a while, promise."

"By the way," the purple-haired man said slowly, "does Yusaku know you're leaving today?"

The question choked Takeru. He so desperately needed water. While he'd told Yusaku he was going back to his hometown, that was before they went and reigned in Ai and Roboppi. On top of that, he never mentioned a date or a time. And the only reason Kusanagi-san knew was for business-related reasons. After all, if he just ran off without telling anyone, that wouldn't have gone over well. He didn't want to leave Den City like that because he needed as much closure as he possibly could so he could leave without regrets.

Yet, Takeru couldn't just bring himself to tell Yusaku the date and the hour. Not even when they crossed paths at school or even by text. It was strange. Back when they'd first met, they had no problems talking with each other about anything, whether it was about their Ignis, about school, or about their struggles coping with their lives post-Lost Incident. It was an open, no holds-barred relationship that the teen cherished, having someone who knew what he had gone through to talk to, someone who finally understood and didn't force him to get over it right away. But, those conversations – those talks that brought the two ever closer every time – eventually stopped, purely of Takeru's own volition, because his feelings for him – whatever those were - had gotten out of control, like a raging fire he couldn't stop. And he wasn't sure how Yusaku felt, so his best course of action was to keep his distance. It wasn't Yusaku's fault. It's definitely his. And he emotionally tore at himself from the inside for it.

"No…" Takeru's reply slipped out unwillingly, not too dissimilar in the tone he'd use with his grandparents when they would find out he got into fights again, and he'd brace for the reprimanding. But, instead of a lecture, Kusanagi-san simply crossed his arms and sighed, his face slightly scrunched, eyebrows pointing downward. The teen would much rather have preferred the lecture.

"W-What?" he asked, not making any effort to mask his uneasiness.

Calm down, Takeru. You're letting your unstable heart get the best of you.

"Never mind," said Kusanagi-san, opening his eyes. "So Yusaku doesn't know. I'll relay the news to him, if you want."

Glancing away and downward, Takeru shoved his hands into his jean pockets. "I'd appreciate that." Looking back at the other, he saw him smile and give a thumbs up.

"Not a problem. Take care of yourself now, okay?"

Takeru shrugged his shoulders, giving the same tired smile he gave the last customer. "I'll do my best. Thanks for everything, Kusanagi-san."


Takeru's Apartment – Den City

Takeru closed the door to his apartment and slid against the door until he was sitting on the floor, suddenly overwhelmed by a tidal wave of tiredness. He stared out the window, noting that the sky was indicating that dusk was near, which meant he didn't have much time left before he had to leave. But, rather than accidentally unpacking everything and tossing everything in sight, he sat there, the weight of his exhaustion pinning him to the ground.

Takeru, you should really get up.

Sure, he hadn't gotten that much sleep last night, but there's absolutely no reason for him to be as exhausted as he was. He was fine at school, more or less fine at Café Nagi, but here? His humble abode in the last couple of months? He couldn't even lift his arms. It was like someone had sprayed a fire extinguisher on his fervor, his passion for life.

Takeru.

He glanced around at his now-empty apartment, taking in the sights and smells: the bare walls that had once been plastered with posters (that he somehow found in a pop-up shop not too long after arriving) of Playmaker, Blue Angel, and Go Onizuka, the ones who defeated the Knights of Hanoi and his idols, even then, the faint smell of perfume that he couldn't get rid of no matter how hard he tried (since he's allergic) mixed in with the aftermath of one too many times he burned his food in the microwave.

Takeru's mind wandered as he rested his gaze on the outside, the red and orange hues blending perfectly with blue in the sky. Was he looking forward to returning to his hometown? He shuddered at the thought of what his grandfather would say to him, but, for the most part, it would be nice to be back, since he's finally faced his past and carved out his future with his own hands.

Takeru, isn't there something you're forgetting?

"Leave me alone…" the teen mumbled aloud to the nagging thoughts in his head. Ever since Flame, his partner, his Ignis, his guiding light had been taken from him, he's had these thoughts that only intensified since he made the conscious decision to leave Den City behind. He's tried everything to shut them out: headphones, ear plugs, screaming into a pillow. Yet, they're louder and more persistent each time.

Especially when he thought about . . . Yusaku.

Takeru hated the fiery butterflies that formed in his stomach when he thought about him. He hated the way his sentences refused to leave his mouth complete and only dispense fragments like tickets in an arcade game machine when Yusaku was on his mind. He hated the way gravity had a massive hold on him, and he couldn't just put one foot in front of the other. He hated how he couldn't properly function as a human being.

Yet. Those were the only strong emotions he's had. And even if they were emotions he didn't know what to do with, he's glad he had them. Better to feel passionately about something that'll never come to pass then to feel nothing at all. It was a shame, though. He'd go back to his hometown without ever telling him how he felt. But, that's something Takeru had decided to live with. And, if he was lucky, he'd leave that feeling behind along with Den City, even if it meant being an emotionless shell.

But fate, as usual, had other plans.

Takeru had been so engrossed in his thoughts that he hadn't noticed that there was a light tapping on the door until it became louder. He hastily scrambled to his feet.

Who on earth would be visiting now?! The teen thought to himself, his heart pounding wildly in his chest. Did he forget something with the landlord? Or did Kusanagi-san need something else from him? Takeru slowly opened the door to find neither of those individuals, but none other than the source of his fiery emotions, the pink and blue haired teen with the piercing green eyes, Fujiki Yusaku, standing at the door, pouting.

"I've been knocking on the door for two minutes –" he started to say, but Takeru, overwhelmed by his presence and unannounced arrival, hastily asked, "What're you doing here?" at the same time, leaving the two to look at each other for an uncomfortable five seconds.

"What do you mean?" was the reply, Yusaku's left eyebrow raised upward. The fact that Yusaku could nonchalantly ask that question made Takeru's fiery butterflies burn even more. He felt like he was going to hurl.

"Well, I'm-I. I never told you where I lived," said Takeru, leveling his voice so that Yusaku couldn't tell how nervous he really was. "How'd you find me?"

Yusaku looked at him as if he thought the answer was obvious. "Kusanagi-san told me you'd be here. I thought I'd pay a visit."

Kusanagi-san . . . Takeru should've known. He's the only one who'd know. But, from what it sounded like, he wasn't the one who convinced Yusaku to swing by – the teen did that all on his own, perplexing Takeru even more. Yusaku didn't really have the time spend with him, did he?

"Huh," mumbled the red-and-white haired teen. Remembering his manners, he looked at Yusaku and short laughed, nervously. "Oh, my bad. Do you want to come in? I mean, there's nothing inside, as you can see, but –"

"That's fine," said Yusaku, taking off his sneakers and stepping inside, with Takeru being incredibly grateful he'd taken the posters down not too long before. As the other teen roamed about his former living space, Takeru watched vigilantly, making note of his every movement, taking in as much of the pink and blue-haired teen's appearance, mannerisms, and aura as much as he could. After all, he didn't know when he would – if ever – see him again.

Yusaku placed a hand on the part of the wall that, eerily enough, once had the brightly colored Playmaker poster. Takeru felt as though his heart stopped, but fortunately, the other teen didn't ask. Maybe he wouldn't have minded the thought of one of his friends having a large poster of his Link VRAINS persona to be stared at every morning and every night, but Takeru wasn't going to take any chances in telling him. In Takeru's mind, their relationship felt strained enough.

"It's certainly a cozy space. A little more life to it than mine," commented Yusaku. "I wish I could've seen it before you cleaned it."

Was he serious? Well, yeah, he's Yusaku, of course he is. But was he serious? "But, you got the better end of the deal. You got two levels for your space while I was stuck with this hole in the wall. Besides, it was sorta cramped before, so," Takeru laughed, albeit still out of nerves. Why couldn't he just act normal? He wished his heart could stop pounding like it wanted to be let out too, while he was at it.

Yusaku glanced out the window. "Still. The view's nice from here. I'm really sorry I couldn't visit before you had to go back home."

"No, it's fine really—" Takeru choked out, a little more desperately than intended. He didn't want Yusaku to feel guilty for anything. That was Takeru's job. He's the one who strained the relationship, not Yusaku.

"No, it's not," returned Yusaku, stunning Takeru. He'd never engaged in that kind of back-and-forth with him before. "I'm your friend, aren't I? Isn't that what friends do?"

Friend . . . The red-and-white haired teen put a hand over his mouth and forcing air out of his lungs. Of course they were friends. Takeru wouldn't change that for the world. But, his heart was telling him that he also wanted to be . . . well, something else. He wasn't sure what it'd be called or what the feeling was, but whatever feeling dealt with wanting to hold Yusaku until he fell asleep in his arms, whatever feeling came with having intimate conversations until the crack of dawn because neither of them could sleep, whatever feeling came with knowing that the two of them were meant to be together.

That's what he wanted.

He made up his mind. He's going to tell him, after all. He wasn't leaving this feeling behind in Den City. It wouldn't be right, to him. Or to Flame.

"You're. You're right," he replied, his hand combing through his bangs. Then, suddenly, he turned to him. "You can come by, if you want."

"Huh? 'Come by' where?"

Get it together, Takeru. Takeru took a deep breath and walked over to Yusaku, placing his hands on his shoulders, noting that he didn't flinch. "I mean – well, it's a bit of a ways for you, but. I wouldn't mind if you visited my hometown, even if it's just once. I know you're busy with trying to find Ai and Roboppi, so I understand if you can't, but . . . I really want you there, even if it's for a short while."

Yusaku slowly blinked, and Takeru guessed he had sensed something was wrong – unusual, at the very least. Takeru's emotions could get out of control, but he swore to himself he'd never sound desperate, to show emotional weakness. Yet, that's exactly what he sounded like.

"Is everything okay?" Yusaku's expression was one of concern, his mouth almost forming into a pout. Takeru's heart and stomach butterflies took that as a sign to flutter even more out of control.

He's so damn cute . . .

But, never mind that – or especially keeping that in mind? Takeru wasn't sure. He had to tell him. He didn't know how to tell him, and his mind wasn't coming up with anything that sounded good, but he had to tell him.

"Yusaku, I'm. I. Uh."

Yusaku's emerald green eyes stared into Takeru's blue-gray ones. The flaming butterflies became a tornado, and words failed Takeru even more, until finally, they came out like Takeru's futile attempts at getting the last of his toothpaste out of the tube.

"I . . . like you. A whole lot."

Nailed it, thought Takeru sarcastically. He forced his gaze away from Yusaku and stepped back, suddenly embarrassed and hoping his face didn't show it too much. That wasn't what he wanted to say at all. To add more salt to Takeru's wounded dignity, he heard Yusaku mutter a "what?" just loudly enough for his ears to catch it. His hearing wasn't all that great, so maybe he was just imagining things. But, it'd make sense.

Forcing his attention back to Yusaku, Takeru saw him, expression still one of confusion. Neither of them said anything, Yusaku because he was probably processing the information and Takeru because he was just too embarrassed to speak lest he said anything else stupid. Yusaku was the first to break the extremely awkward silence.

"Uh, I like you a lot too. You're a great friend to be around –" Yusaku started to say, but Takeru frantically waved a hand, knowing exactly where he was going. Damn me and my poor word choices, he chastised himself. That wasn't what he meant at all.

"No, no, what I meant was . . ." Takeru bit his bottom lip and silently cracked his knuckles repeatedly, letting his statement trail off into the silence of the empty apartment. The words he wanted still weren't coming to mind, no matter how much he stalled or tried to think of all the words in his vocabulary. And Yusaku staring at him with such concern and with those striking emerald green eyes wasn't helping.

Suddenly, a light bulb went off in Takeru's brain. If Takeru couldn't express how he felt with words, then maybe it'll come across through his actions. He was always an actions first, talk later kinda guy anyway.

Takeru wasn't sure how it'd go. He wasn't even sure if his bond with Yusaku would ever be the same, but . . . it's the only effective way he thought of. Stepping forward, he put his hands on Yusaku's shoulders for a second time, noticing again that the teen didn't flinch or yank his arms away. Ignoring the wild beating of his heart and the fiery butterflies wanting to burn his stomach open, closing his eyes, he leaned in, gently pressing his lips against Yusaku's – unexpectedly smooth, almost like a cloud – forehead. He felt Yusaku shudder slightly in his grip but then relax.

But, whatever confidence Takeru had disappeared instantly, his nerves, his stomach butterflies, and his wildly beating heart taking full control of him, so he let go and took a step back.

Shit, shit, shit, too far, too far, Takeru's mind screamed at him. Even if that's the only way Takeru could think of to convey his feelings, he'd crossed way too many boundaries just then. Holding his breath, he anticipated the worst, watching as Yusaku – eyes widened – place his fingers on the middle of his forehead, where Takeru had kissed him.

"Oh," came the reaction, though not quite the one Takeru had expected. "Oh, that's what you meant."

Takeru scrambled his mind for anything, anything to say in return. But, all that came out was a series of noises that resembled something being caught in his throat.

Breathe, Takeru. It's going to be fine.

The red-and-white haired teen took a deep breath, although instead of helping, it just made the pounding in his chest and the flittering in his stomach worse. "Yeah, that's. That's what I meant."

"And you waited . . . you waited until now to tell me? Right when you're leaving?" asked Yusaku, his voice a higher pitch Takeru hadn't heard before, cracking.

Takeru was unable to look at Yusaku directly in the eye. Great, he was mad at him, just like he expected. The least he could do then was at least offer some type of explanation, though, so the entire relationship didn't burn to a crisp.

"I – I know it's cliché, Yusaku, I'm sorry," began Takeru. "But, I didn't know how you'd take it. You've been so focused on getting Ai and Roboppi back and I just didn't want to bother you with that stuff and –"

Takeru hadn't noticed until mid-sentence that Yusaku had walked up to him, and he was dangerously close. Dangerously as in he willed his body with all his might to not just shut down. Close as in his nose caught a whiff of Yusaku's sun-soaked Den City High blazer.

"You're hopeless, Takeru," murmured the pink and blue-haired teen.

Takeru let out a gasp. At first, he didn't think he heard right but then accepted the fact that Yusaku was too close for him to mishear anything. Takeru had always called Yusaku by his first name, but Yusaku had never called him by his, even after all the time they spent together and all they'd gone through. He never took it personally, though, because that's how Yusaku was – he preferred to keep his distance, names included.

Yet, he finally called him Takeru.

Out of habit, with his hard of hearing condition, Takeru blurted out, "Did you just call me—", but Yusaku cut him off, not with more words but with his lips lightly touching Takeru's. Takeru's face flushed, and his cheeks, he knew for sure, were on fire, but he didn't push Yusaku away – he didn't want to. Instead, he – surprisingly, for him – relaxed more into the kiss, grabbing hold of his arms to keep his balance. It wouldn't have been a good look for Takeru to fall backwards while kissing the one who changed his world, after all.

Regrettably, Takeru was the first to let go, sensing how late it was getting. He had meant to leave much earlier, before Yusaku came in, making a welcome mess of his life yet again. So much for that. He'd accepted he wouldn't be back in his hometown before barely before dark, but, knowing his town like he did, it'd be best to be on his way as soon as he could. That meant, however, leaving Yusaku behind. And while he had begrudgingly accepted that fact before, it was even harder to commit to then, knowing Yusaku didn't hate him. Far from it.

"You have to go," muttered Yusaku, eyes having softened to a point Takeru hadn't seen before.

"Yeah. But . . . you'll visit then, right?"

"Better give me your address first. I don't feel like doing detective or hacker work to find you."

Takeru laughed. "You could just text me, you know."

"I guess." Yusaku closed his eyes, resting his head on Takeru's shoulder, a gesture that, oddly enough, didn't induce painful stomach butterflies. "I'll miss you."

Takeru pulled him closer in a hug, taking in his presence one last time, forcing his brain to remember the moment forever. "I'll miss you too."


Between Den City and Shirakawa

"Shirakawa is the next stop. If you are not in the first six cars, please make your way towards the front, as the station is under construction. We apologize for the inconvenience. Once again, Shirakawa is the next stop."

Takeru jerked his head forward at the sudden announcement, blinking his eyes multiple times to adjust to the dim yellow light on the train. He'd forgotten how long the trip was, or maybe he never realized the journey from his hometown to Den City was that long to begin with. The last time he'd made the trip, Flame had been with him, and that journey flew by in comparison. Maybe it was because he and Flame had a lot to talk about then. Or maybe it was because Takeru was asleep halfway through. Or maybe both?

"Flame…." whispered Takeru under his breath. He leaned back in his chair and stared out the window, paying close attention to the low sunset right in the midst of his neighborhood. The reds, yellows, and oranges enraptured him, more so than usual. He'd always loved sunrises and sunsets, even before the Lost Incident, but that one made him especially relaxed, and he let what little warmth it managed to radiate past the window soak into his skin.

Inevitably and maybe oddly enough, since he's the one who resembled all things fire, the warmth reminded Takeru of Yusaku. His mind flashed back to his hug, the way he warmly accepted Takeru's confession (much to Takeru's surprise), the gentle way he – finally, finally! – said his given name., his warm li-

The teen's face flushed, thinking back at that moment, gently rubbing his thumb over his lips, lips that had kissed Yusaku's. Takeru knew he wasn't getting over that for a while. He definitely knew also that if Flame was around, he'd make fun of him for acting so juvenile. But, Takeru also knew for a fact that he'd be proud of him.

As the train slowed to a stop, Takeru grabbed his bag and made his way to the side door.

"This station is Shirakawa," announced a light voice over the intercom. The doors automatically flew open, and the familiar scent of the crisp water immediately washed over Takeru, as if it was welcoming back after a long journey. Tossing his duffel bag over his shoulders, he stepped determinedly onto the platform. His journey had been long, but he was back home with no regrets. Well, almost no regrets.

"Maybe," muttered Takeru under his breath, "maybe I couldn't fulfill that promise of defeating Bowman, but. I finally fulfilled a promise, Flame. I figured out how I felt and told him, just like I said I would."

With tears in his eyes, he made his way past the station and towards the Homura residence.


A/N: *KICKS DOWN DOOR* FIRESTORM FLUFF, ANYONE?

So. Yes. There's gonna be more than one chapter to this b/c it's what these Firestorm bois DESERVE. Plus I haven't written anything besides one-shots in a long while, so I figured why tf not. I'm not promising a schedule for this tho b/c this chapter alone took four weeks to write, so no telling when the other chapters are gonna be written and completed lmao.

Anyway... if you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed this! Many tears were shed in the process of writing this b/c...Flame... 😭 Pls leave a review if you can. Thanks for reading!