My friend once messaged me about how that little girl from Duel Links could be juasu's love child and I wrote 16k words of Judai and Asuka being parents.
There will be a second part!
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh! GX.
Adrenaline still pumping through his veins, Judai is walking along the highway, leaving behind some shady guy he's been dueling to free yet another spirit.
"With Watapon's hunter, this makes it five for today! Still one to go!" Since no one is around save for the few cars passing by him, he speaks out loud to Yubel whose spirit is floating by his side.
"How those weaklings keep getting themselves captured by some third-rate spirit hunters is beyond me. One would think they do it on purpose," Yubel dryly comments.
"Why would they let themselves be caught on purpose?" Judai laughs, amused. "But it ain't that bad, hm? If we manage to wrap it up before sunset, we can head straight to Jack's for dinner before it gets too crowded!"
Unamused, Yubel eyes their soulmate who is already drooling at the promise of a meal at one of his favorite places. They know Judai decided the next stop on their journey had to be America because he has been craving Jack's steakhouse burgers. "If you want me to be motivated, at least come up with a reward that I could possibly enjoy."
Judai doesn't reply, as he suddenly stands straight up, looking alert.
Yubel raises an eyebrow. "What's wrong?"
"Did you hear that just now?" His face has a serious expression when he steps up. "What was that?"
His spirit friend is confused since they sense nothing to be so concerned about. "What–" They gasp when a sudden wave of emotion hits them. Yubel attempts to decipher the meaning hidden inside the chaotic flow. "Someone's crying for help."
Judai wastes no time and rushes forward. "I feel an intense pain, they must already be engaged in a duel," Yubel presses him as he gets closer to the source of the outburst, and soon enough, Judai can also feel the crushing anguish.
"There!" Judai shouts as he spots a car parked on an emergency lane, mostly hidden by trees. He runs and calls, "Hey! Who's there!"
But when he gets around the car, he finds no one dueling. Only one person was standing there. A very little one.
"What is that?" Yubel says, sounding almost disappointed and disgusted as they stare down at the tiny human.
Judai kneels down in front of the little girl who is hiding her face in her hands and he can hear her sobs. "Hey, are you alright?"
She jumps at Judai's sudden calling, startled by his voice. When she looks up at him, she shrinks back in fear, so he is quick at reassuring her, "Don't worry, I'm not gonna hurt you!"
He holds up his hands to make a point of his promise. She visibly relaxes but her eyes are still holding a level of wariness. "Who are you?" She mutters, and Judai has a hard time catching the words choked with her sobs.
"A nice guy," he replies, not knowing how to come up with a better answer. "What are you doing here all alone? Where are your parents?"
At this, the girl tears up again as she points at the car. Judai's eyes follow the motion and land on two figures. Eyes widening in horror, he jumps to his feet and rushes to open the car door. A man and a woman are sitting at the front of the car, their eyes closed and their heads resting on their headrests as their upper bodies are held back by their seat belts.
Judai quickly inspects them, his brows furrowed. "I see no injury," he says before he reaches out to check their pulse. "They're alive," he sighs in relief.
"I can't sense their souls," Yubel informs him and he stops in his tracks.
A sinister laughter catches their attention and Judai turns around to face a cloaked figure emerging from the woods. He protectively stands before the little girl and glares at the newcomer, with his glowing bichromatic eyes.
"Who are you?"
The mysterious man reaches out his hand and smiles at them menacingly. "What lovely souls you have there. I shall make them mine."
The two men draw their duel disks, and the little girl holds onto Judai's leg during the whole duel.
Judai sighs tiredly as he leans back against the wall of a building.
His day had been going on smoothly so far, with a few duels he had easily won, until some maniac came and ruined it all.
The guy was another soul hunter. But when Judai usually has to deal with duel monsters spirits hunters, he scarcely comes across people chasing after human souls. His opponent escaped after his defeat but Judai is glad he managed at least to retrieve the souls of that child's parents. So it all worked out just fine in the end, he decides.
Except that he missed the opportunity to eat his favorite burger at Jack's.
And that he is somehow stuck with a child now.
"Leave her here and let us go," Yubel suggests and Judai sighs in return.
"I can't do that, it's dangerous to leave a child on their own," he patiently explains as he cluelessly stares down at the young girl standing in front of him.
Thanks to his powers, Judai was able to interact with her parents' souls when he helped them find their way back to their bodies. They are alive and just fine, but still unconscious due to the shock their brains suffered from. Yubel is positive they will wake up, but not before a few days have passed by. Weak humans, they had nicely commented.
Following their instructions, Judai drove their car to their house and carried their bodies inside. He was thankful night had fallen and the sky was dark, otherwise he guessed he might have ended his day in a prison cell rather than in the streets. The girl had asked many questions he had tried his best to answer without alerting her.
The parents asked Judai about their child and he assured them she was safe. So naturally they entrusted their only child to him until they wake up since he is so lucky that they just moved out recently and have yet to make acquaintances in this city.
Now Judai finds himself outside their house, at a loss of knowing what to do about the whole situation while the girl is looking at him with curious eyes.
"You okay?" she asks.
He nods, with a light smile. "Yeah." Then he kneels down to face her at eye level. "You didn't tell me your name. I'm Judai, and you?"
"Okay Emma, listen." He takes a deep breath, bracing himself. "Your parents are very tired, so they went to bed. And they need a lot of sleep. They told me to tell you that you're gonna stay with me for a few days."
Daitokuji, who was curious ever since he heard about what happened earlier from Yubel, was listening and he is suddenly opening wide eyes. "Judai, you're making it sound as if her parents died!"
He cringes at this but tries to ignore his former teacher. Give him a break, he's bad at this! He was chilling on the road one second, playing nanny the next!
Emma looks displeased with his words and she shakes her head. "No! I don't want to! I don't know you!"
"But you do! I protected you from that scary man and I drove you home, remember? We're buddies!"
Judai has to tune both Yubel and Daitokuji out because he can't focus, not when they so obviously hold back their mocking laughters and comment about how he sounds all but like a nice guy.
"No! I want Mommy and Daddy!" Her voice becomes too loud and Judai is worried she might alert the neighbors.
He tries to think hard -ignore Yubel and Daitokuji and think hard- until an idea comes to him. "Do you wanna play a game?" Emma is quiet again and back to staring at him curiously. "I'll give you a reward if you win!" He grins when he notices the sparkle in her eyes. "You in?"
But the girl is more clever than he thinks. "What reward?" She asks suspiciously with narrowed eyes.
He chuckles. "Well, what do you want?"
"Hmm…" She looks up, thoughtful. "Burgers. I'm hungry," she concludes with a pout.
Judai tries not to think about Jack's place crowded with people eating his favorite burger while he is not. "Deal!" He tells her with an easy smile.
"With fries?" she says, narrowing her eyes once again.
"Lots of them," he promises and she beams, satisfied by his answer.
After he is back on his feet, he jumps when Emma grabs his right little finger. "Where are we going?" She asks him and he blanks. Eyeing their linked hands for a second, he ultimately decides there's no harm in it and takes her little hand in his.
Where are they going, indeed? Back to the hard thinking, he senses the moment Yubel is startled by the answer that comes to his mind.
"Are you out of your mind?" They ask him in disbelief.
"Since it's getting late, let's go back to my apartment!" He tells her because it would be bothersome to explain to Emma he has no home to return to. Yubel would slap their forehead if they could feel it.
She nods with a smile, before admitting bashfully, "It's far from here? I'm tired."
Judai feels sorry, because it is indeed quite late and if anything, that child should be sleeping on her bed right now. He leans down and lifts her. "Not really, but I'll carry you anyway!"
She laughs, amused by his funny face when he grins at her, and she holds onto his jacket. "Thank you!"
He smiles easily and starts walking when she speaks again, "Actually, I think you're nice."
Judai glances at her before showing an amused smile. "Told you so," he answers, looking carefully both ways before crossing the street. "I'm also cool, y'know? I have superpowers."
She gasps, "Really?" Sounding excited, she pulls slightly on his jacket. "Like a superhero?"
"Yup! Like a superhero!"
"You're so cool!"
It has been a long day, but Asuka got through it like any other day. She doesn't mind the routine settling in, as long as she is being productive.
Getting up, eating breakfast, working all day, going home, eating dinner while reviewing her notes for the following day (her brother insists this is called working, but she tells him she is just being diligent so that she does not have to deal with work piling up), relaxing for an hour, going to bed at a reasonable time.
The same applies to weekend days like today as she has spent the whole time at university to mentor teacher assistants, because she never allows herself a break.
Really, Asuka doesn't mind the routine.
But that doesn't mean she does not enjoy surprises.
So when someone rings the buzzer to her apartment at past ten, she forgets about sleeping altogether and goes to her interphone. She doesn't open right away, as she takes in the sight of her friend's face displaying on the screen.
It's Judai, she affectionately thinks to herself, pressing her lips together in an attempt not to let go of the joy growing in the pit of her stomach.
She clears her throat before pressing the speaker button, "Come in." Asuka thinks she heard a thin voice overlapping Judai's when he thanked her, but she quickly brushes it off as she impatiently waits for him to get to her door.
It has been less than a month since his last visit. The growing pattern of his coming by lately has not gone unnoticed. She thinks it's a sign of progress for whatever is happening between them. Which is not much, frankly, since all that ever occurs is Judai crashing in her guest room and he and she eating together, dueling and laughing.
But he comes. He comes to her and stays a few days and he makes her laugh and she makes him laugh.
Which may be quite much, actually. She doesn't know anymore.
The doorbell interrupts her train of thoughts. Good, I was being an idiot.
Asuka opens her door, a smile slowly creeping onto her lips and her eyes are on him. "Ju…" He is grinning at her, holding a hand up in a friendly greeting, but she immediately notices his other hand along his body. It's holding another one, much smaller, and Asuka finds herself blinking at the little girl standing beside him. "... dai."
"Yo Asuka!" She is back at looking at him, still blinking. And then again, her eyes land on the girl.
"Daddy? Who's that?"
Asuka doesn't react right away. The first word that little girl (whom she is sure she never met before) said is echoing in her mind. Her breath taken away, she is gaping at them. Did she hear that right?
She might have, otherwise why would that little girl with brown hair like Judai's and tan complexion like Judai's stand by his side, holding his hand?
She must look like a pathetic fool because her friend is giving her a sorry smile. "Can we come in?" Too stunned, she simply nods. Judai walks in, the child (his child?) following after him obediently, and he closes the door.
With his free hand, he grabs her wrist and leads her to the couch. Before she knows it, she is sitting by his side and he has his hands on her shoulders. But Asuka can't take her eyes off the girl who stares at her quizzically, standing in front of her.
She finally turns her face to Judai. "What… Who…"
"Her name's Emma. I met her earlier and she needs my help."
"But she called you–"
"Yeah, I don't know why she does but on the way here she suddenly started calling me her Daddy."
Oh my God, don't say Daddy, she thinks. She can't believe she's lived long enough to hear that word coming from Judai's mouth. Is a meteorite about to hit Earth or something?
"I call you Daddy because you're my Daddy!"
Asuka looks at Emma who puffs up her cheeks, vexed. Judai laughs awkwardly. "Yeah, right! Sorry!"
Emma's eyes timidly flicker to Asuka, probably still wondering who she might be. As the girl stands closer to Judai, Asuka lets out a sigh, regaining her composure at last. "I may need an explanation."
"So let me get this straight," Asuka says in a low voice as she is leaning against her kitchen counter while keeping an eye on Emma who is playing with Pharaoh in the living room. Judai is sitting on one of her chairs, lazily leaning against it. "You freed that girl's parents' souls that were captured by some soul hunter you came across on your way to the city. They have yet to come around, so you just… dropped their bodies in their house and you came with Emma here since you didn't know where to bring her."
"They asked me to do this," he reminds her.
"They asked you to do this," she repeats. "In other words, you broke into someone else' house and instead of bringing her to the police, you decided that having a child whom you know nothing about save for the fact that her parents are currently comatose, crash with you at your friend's place was a better idea?" She says as if it was a question, but it truly isn't.
To his credit, Judai looks a little embarrassed. "Actually, she thinks it's my place since I didn't know how to explain to her that I don't have one of my own." She gives him a long look. "What? It's not like I could have crashed at her parents' house!"
"That's not the point!" she hisses. "Judai, you kidnapped that girl!"
His eyes open wide and he replies in the same tone, sounding offended, "I didn't!"
"From a police officer's point of view, you definitely did!" She tries to reason with him, but like every time she fails. "What about her parents? Shouldn't you have brought them to a hospital?"
"It's not like they're sick," he answers while tiredly massaging the side of his face, his long and exhausting day eventually taking a toll on him. "The process of a soul going back to the body it belongs to sometimes takes a few days. But it must not be interrupted, which might happen if I bring them to a hospital. They might wake up tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. In three days at worst."
"What if they don't?"
"They will," he insists. "Asuka, trust me on this, it's not my first time dealing with cases like these."
She sighs, giving in. The whole story sounds crazy, but crazy and Judai are synonymous. Just like he is used to dealing with spirits, she is used to believing his wild stories. "I still think it's a bad idea that you brought her here."
Sighing, he doesn't disagree. "I can't think of a better one, and you're the only person I know who lives in the area."
Judai's brows are furrowed and she can read his face easily. The expression looks familiar, she has the same whenever she is assigned with an important task at work. Responsability, she recognizes. A few years ago, Judai would not have been so serious about the same situation, but now he is concerned about taking care of that little girl. "You look tired," she comments softly, as she lays a hand on his shoulder.
He looks up at her from his seat, and a slight smile appears on his face. "You too, sorry we barged in like this," he apologizes as he lifts a hand to touch hers.
But it doesn't, because Judai pauses midair when a loud crash is heard from the living room.
Emma's voice is quick to shout, "The cat ran into it! 'Twas not me!"
Judai jumps to his feet and runs to the living room, while Asuka follows at a slower pace. She shuts her eyes tightly and bites her lips. "Please don't tell me she broke the vase Brother bought me last month."
Gently pushing Emma behind him so that she doesn't get injured from scattered shards, Judai examines the floor. "If you're referring to the green and blue vase that was in the corner next to the TV, huh, I think she did."
"I told you it was not me!"
Asuka sighs deeply. To be honest, she hated that abomination that had looked so out of place in her plain living-room, so she is almost feeling thankful she got rid of it. But Fubuki might not be so happy about his gift being smashed into pieces, and Asuka is afraid she is in for an earful that will give her a headache.
If Judai and Emma do not take care of it first, that is to say.
She turns to Emma. "Stay put, it's dangerous to get closer," she warns her and she might have been a bit too harsh because the girl's face darkens. Asuka kneels down next to Judai and looks at him. "Let me take care of it. Check she didn't cut herself."
Grateful, he smiles at her. "Sorry," he apologizes as if he was at fault and turns around to Emma. "You alright?"
The child is still sulking when she nods. "I don't like her," she confesses in a whisper as Judai is inspecting her little feet and her ankles. "She's mean."
He laughs and plays along, whispering back, "She's not mean. Actually she's very nice."
"She scolded me," Emma says as if making her point.
"To be fair, you just broke her vase."
She frowns. "Not me!" When she realizes she spoke too loud, she is back to whispering, "The cat!" She glances above Judai's shoulder, at Asuka's back as the woman is quietly picking up the shards, before looking back at the man. "You didn't tell me who she is."
He takes her small hands in his and looks closely at her palms, and her fingers. "Her name's Asuka, she's my friend."
"Why is she in your house?"
"Because… Huh, because she's my special friend."
"What's a special friend?"
"A special friend is… Huh…" Asuka should move and go get a broom to gather the broken vase safely, but curiosity gets the best of her and she just keeps her ears open. Her face is probably betraying her, but luckily Judai can't see her right now with his back turned to her. "Someone you're close with and who got your back, just like you got theirs, because you trust each other."
Emma blinks. "Why? Does your back hurt?" Asuka hides a giggle in her hand when she hears the frustrated noise coming out of Judai's throat. She eventually gets to her feet and comes back with a broom, a dustpan and an empty bag when he pats Emma's shoulders. "All right, no cut! You're clear, now go sit on the couch while Asuka and I clean the mess you– Pharaoh made."
He sighs in relief as Emma makes no objection, then he redirects his attention to Asuka. "I'll repay you the vase," he apologetically tells her as he watches her filling the bag with the shards she collected with her dustpan.
Chuckling, she peacefully answers, "I don't think you can afford it. This monstrosity was ridiculously expensive." He visibly gulps and she gives him an amused look. "It's okay really, I don't mind. But you will have to face my brother's wrath and there is nothing I can do about it."
He doesn't look thrilled at the idea, but probably also thinks it's easier to deal with Fubuki's outburst rather than Asuka's. "Will do."
He follows her when she walks back to the kitchen to discard the bag in her trash can. She turns to him then, elegantly raising an eyebrow. "Did you eat?"
"Yeah, we grabbed something on the way here." He doesn't return the question, she thinks he's positive meticulous Asuka would have already eaten dinner at eleven.
She turns her gaze to the living room, noticing Emma's lying on the couch. Stepping closer, she hums, "I guess it's past her bedtime." Leaning over the child's body, she can hear her even breathing. "She's sleeping," she informs Judai before turning around to face him. "We should do the same."
Holding back a yawn, he nods. "Agreed." With his thumb, he gestures to the door of her guest room. "Let's move her to the bed, I'll take the couch."
"I'll get the bed ready."
When Judai carries a sleeping Emma to the room, he notices Asuka has moved the bed all the way against the wall. "Most children move a lot in their sleep, so you can never be too cautious." He raises his eyebrows, looking genuinely impressed. "Lay her here next to the wall, I'll put a pillow on the other side of the bed."
Putting Emma down and watching Asuka carefully securing her sleep spot, he smiles at his friend. "You're good at this."
She sighed, not agreeing at all. "Please, I'm so bad with children." He turns off the light and she carefully closes the door.
Letting his voice be a little louder, he chuckles, "How can you be bad with children? You're a teacher."
"Yes," she drags her voice. "A university teacher," she emphasizes. "But I do happen to be very awkward with kids." She frowns. "Plus she hates me."
He laughs again and she wonders what's so funny. "She'll warm up to you in no time." She doesn't know where that confidence comes from, but it's flattering.
Not good at dealing with Judai's compliments, she clears her throat. "Anyway, let's sleep. I think we both need our well deserved rest."
"Yeah." Then he sounds more serious when he tells her, "Thanks, I owe ya."
"No, you don't." She gives him a long look. "You never owe me Judai, I told you so many times." Somehow, he always has a hard time accepting her help for what it is. She doesn't like it, because it sounds like he's bothering her when he definitely isn't. "I thought you couldn't top the time you brought another cat with you because Pharaoh wouldn't part from his new friend, but turns out Judai Yuki has a lot in store."
"I don't go around and bring a child to everyone's house but my special friend gets a special treat, y'know?" He jokes and she laughs. Special friend sounds nice, she likes it. Because he's also special to her. Very special.
"We'll discuss tomorrow about what to do about… this whole situation," she suggests and he nods gratefully. "Good night," she says warmly and his Night is just as warm.
Really, Asuka thinks she likes surprises.
Sundays are great because that means Asuka doesn't have to get up early.
But she does anyway. Her life goes like clockwork.
This doesn't apply to Judai's life, but the young man also finds himself wide awake at seven in the morning on a Sunday.
The reason: an overly excited Emma jumping on the couch, shouting how Sunday mornings are "Play-with-Daddy-on-the-bed" times, and dragging a half awake Judai into the guest room.
Frankly, Asuka did little to help. But in her defense, she was busy rearranging her schedule for the day since she had not expected to entertain guests this weekend.
For the first few minutes, she has felt sorry for him because he really looked like he could have used a couple more hours of sleep. But then she remembered he might have made her an accomplice for a case of child abduction so she is now enjoying the screams of anguish coming from her guest room. (Her theory is that Emma is jumping on his stomach while he is trying to lift her so that she can fly.)
Never the one to waste an opportunity to be productive, Asuka is preparing breakfast. She isn't usually putting so much effort into it -a cup of coffee and a piece of bread are enough- but nothing about the situation she's in right now is usual.
And Emma is still a kid, so she needs to eat properly, abducted or not.
Also that might make Judai happy. But that's definitely not the reason why she is cooking his favorite dishes right now.
God, how do I even know what he loves eating for breakfast?
Engrossed in her activity, Asuka doesn't notice the silence her apartment has settled in until Emma bursts through the guest room door and runs to her. The woman looks at the child, eyebrows up. "Emma? What's wrong?"
"I think Daddy is sick."
"What?" Concern washing over her, Asuka quickly turns off the heat.
She is about to head to the guest room when Emma replies, "He's been talking alone for three minutes!" She tells her, emphasizing on the three minutes, as if it was the most important part. "But I didn't say anything! He even laughed but Emma said no joke!"
Blinking, Asuka quickly understands what happened. She chuckles and kneels down to talk to the kid. "Judai is not sick. He is talking to his friends."
Emma's eyes grow big with surprise. "His friends? But there was no one there! Just Daddy and Emma!"
"Yes, but that's because you can't see them," she patiently explains. "Judai has superpowers, like a–"
"Like a hero! He told me about it yesterday!" she enthusiastically fills in. "So his superpowers are to talk to invisible people? Are they heroes like Daddy?"
"Yes, they are. And it's only one of his powers. He can do many other things," Asuka tells her, with a strange sense of pride.
"I want him to show me!" She excitedly exclaims. "Do you have superpowers?"
"I don't." She smiles at Emma's small expression, amused. "But I am skilled at dueling. Do you know about duels?"
Sparkle beams in Emma's eyes at the mention of the famous game. "Of course! I'm good at it!"
"Then we should duel sometime," she suggests, earning an eager nod from the girl.
"Daddy is also strong at dueling! He can do anything, he's the best!"
Asuka easily agrees to that. With a smile, she affectionately says, "Yes, he is the best."
Paying more attention to her surroundings, Emma picks up the smell of food. She observes Asuka's apron. "Are you preparing breakfast? I like eggs! Did you make eggs?"
Patting her head, Asuka finds she is taking a liking to this child. "I did. I'll make sure to give you an extra then."
Emma rejoices and throws her arms around Asuka's neck. "Thanks Mommy!"
The door of the guest room opens and a disheveled Judai with the worst case of bed hair she's ever seen comes out in the living room. Picking up the smell of food, he makes a funny face with his heavy-lidded eyes while he drags his feet to the kitchen.
"Good morning, Judai." She smiles innocently at him and he gives her a dirty look.
"Morning, you traitor."
"I take it your plans to sleep in didn't go smoothly." Letting go of Emma, she stands up to go back to watch over her scrambled eggs.
She has to contain her laughter when Judai grunts. "I tried to go back to sleep when she got tired of playing, but the pain wouldn't let me. I think she rearranged my whole skeleton," he mutters, still not fully awake. He jumps when Emma climbs on a chair next to him, noticing her presence, and protectively puts his arms around his stomach. "Yubel told me a joke and it hurt when I laughed," he adds, narrowing his eyes at Emma in case she feels like having a second round of playing flying Superman. The bewildered girl blinks at him.
Asuka wonders for a second what kind of jokes Yubel could possibly tell that would actually be funny and not just plain creepy. She finds none. "You're such a crybaby."
His eyes follow her as she puts two plates full of food on the table. "I would answer back something nasty but I think I just saw you putting scrambled eggs and pancakes on this table."
Asuka stares at Emma and Judai drooling over the breakfast and, even though she has been assured those two are not related, she still thinks they might have a lot in common. Judai hurries to finish setting the table while she is serving food to a chanting Emma ("Breakfast! Breakfast! Breakfast! Do you have chocolate milk? I love chocolate milk! Breakfast! Breakfast!"). It unnerves her how he is so familiar with her kitchen, but she tries not to dwell on that feeling.
Emma makes herself quite helpful in that regard, as she comments on every mouthful once they start eating. "Yummy!" she concludes and Judai nods in agreement, sitting beside her while Asuka is facing them. "Mommy is a great cook!"
Judai pauses when he was about to stuff his mouth with a full-sized pancake and raises an eyebrow. "Mommy?" His eyes flicker between the two girls.
Avoiding his eyes, she tries her best to keep a poker face, but she can feel her cheeks warming up. "It just happened." She knows he is smiling, ready to tease her about it so she quickly adds, "And I think she shouldn't call us that, it might mess up with her head."
"By 'that', you mean 'Mommy and Daddy'?"
This time, Asuka slowly takes her eyes to him, looking not nearly as entertained as he is, but then Emma gets down from her chair and looks at them. "Can I go watch the TV?"
"Sure! I'm gonna turn it on for you!" Asuka narrows her eyes at her friend escaping her menacing glare.
By the time he is back in the kitchen, Asuka is washing the dishes so he quietly joins her and dries them with a clean cloth.
"So, what's your plan?" she asks, handing him a plate which he takes.
"I have to go check up on her parents. Maybe Yubel and I can help them find their way back to their bodies," he answers pensively. "I'll keep mentoring their condition until they wake up, so… I was thinking of going there twice a day. In the morning and in the evening, just in case."
Judai sounds very confident that they will wake up from their coma. But it still isn't Asuka's case. "So bringing Emma to the police for a professional to take care of her is still out of the question?"
He turns his head to her and pauses before replying, "I think we both know she'll be better taken care of here than in some weird custody for momentary orphans."
"There is no such thing as custody for momentary orphans," she tells him quietly, partly because she doesn't want Emma to overhear their conversation, but she can hear the voices of the cartoon characters displaying on her television and her occasional childish laughter. "You have little faith in the authorities." It sounds like a statement, but Judai catches the question hidden.
He turns back his attention to the dishes and shrugs. "I just don't think she'll get the attention she needs. Kids need a lot of attention, and it sucks when they feel lonely."
Asuka pauses, not taking her eyes off the pan she's scrubbing but focusing on the odd sense of familiarity in Judai's voice. They never talked about his childhood, but from what she once heard from Chancellor Samejima, he must be speaking from personal experience. She isn't bold enough to pry, so she decides instead to be quick at making a decision. "Fine," she concedes, looking collected while he seems surprised and eyes her like he's not sure he heard her right. "If you really think this might only last for a couple of days, you and Emma can stay here until her parents wake up. But if it takes longer, we will have to do something about it."
"Really?" He breathes, disbelief and gratitude in his voice.
"Yes." Done with the dishes, she splashes the sink one last time with water before turning off the tap. "I get it. You don't want to go to the police, because you'll be asked questions you can't answer. This will inevitably lead to an investigation and then, you won't be able to prevent them from bringing her parents to the hospital."
He blinks stupidly at her, dumbfounded, and then nods. "Yeah. Yeah, exactly."
Asuka dries her hands and puts the cloth back to its place. "So we know what to do now. I trust you for helping Emma's parents the best way you can. And we'll both make sure she's not feeling alone." She smiles wholeheartedly at him and he is already smiling back at her. "The first step would be to be by her side in front of the TV now, I'd say. Pharaoh is good company but she might want someone who can speak back."
Judai chuckles at that. Then, he grins at her, visibly relieved he can trust her. She guesses he might have been feeling awkward about this, given the fact that he saw no other way to deal with that whole unexpected turn of events but asking for Asuka's help (or anyone's help, for that matter) must have felt like too much. But after all, he's her special friend, so his concern was truly unneeded. "You're the best," he genuinely tells her.
No, you are, she fondly thinks as they both head to the living room. Once again, he finds himself saving strangers, asking for nothing in return, and he is even being very considerate about that little girl's well-being. That's the Judai she knows, and after all she might be glad all that happened in the area she lives in.
Now she has to stop feeling like her brain is about to shut down every time she reminds herself that Judai and she are going to be Emma's Daddy and Mommy for a few days.
Standing in front of the couch where Judai and Asuka are sitting, Emma comments about the episode of her favorite cartoon she has just watched. Waving her arms, she thoroughly explains how Bunny saved Panda from the evil Tiger with the help of Lamb. Asuka is half paying attention and, while Judai seems to listen carefully to the story with his eyes on Emma, she suspects he is doing the same.
"Wow! That Panda buy sounds like a very bad guy!" He exclaims.
Looking disheartened, Emma sighs before shaking her head. "No, you got it all messed up! Panda is Bunny's friend! Tiger is the bad guy!"
"Oh," he says dumbly.
Shaking her head once again with purpose at Judai, she then turns to Asuka, "Mommy got it, right?"
"Yes," Asuka nods. "Bunny and Lamb teamed up to save Panda."
Emma beams at her and opens big eyes when turning back to Judai. "See, Daddy! It's not complicated!"
"Right, thankfully Bear was there to save the day!"
"There is no Bear!" Huffing desperately, Emma gives up on having Judai comprehending the complex plot of Bunny Bond and walks away.
Judai snickers, earning a jadded look from Asuka. "Having fun tormenting a child?" she asks with obvious sarcasm.
"That was a little payback for my broken rib," he jokes.
Asuka rolls her eyes and turns her attention to Emma.
But whatever was on her mind disappears, as her gaze lands on the girl. "Emma, what are you doing?"
Wrestling with her top, Emma's answer comes in a muffled voice. "Taking off my clothes!"
Asuka pauses, blinks and then says, "I can see that. But why?"
Removing the piece of clothing, she drops it on the floor and then reaches for her skirt. "My episode of Bunny Bond is over, so it's time for my shower," she casually explains.
Oh. Not quite liking where this is going, Asuka turns her head to Judai and–
She raises an eyebrow at her friend who is hiding his face behind his hands. "Judai, what are you doing?" she asks, repeating the same words she told the child a few seconds ago.
His flustered voice answers her loudly, "She's naked!"
"Judai, she's like six."
After briefly glancing at the almost naked Emma, saved for her panties, she notices Judai's ear tips turning red. "So what? Children don't get their privacy?" He accuses, still sounding very embarrassed.
Asuka takes a deep breath. "Alright." She stands and stares down at Emma. "Put back your clothes, you'll catch a cold."
"But my shower–"
"It can wait, we don't have a change of clothes for you here."
Emma pulls a face and runs to Judai. "Daddy! Mommy is being mean to me again!"
He moves his hands out of his face and focuses on not looking at her. "Nah, she's right. Just… Just put back your clothes," he pleads and Emma seems displeased with his reply. She leaps on the couch and crosses her arms on her chest, sulking.
Sighing, Asuka decides to put an end to Judai's misery. "Now's a good timing for your daily check-up," she suggests and he looks up at her hopefully. "While you're at it, bring back some clothes for her." She can't believe she is encouraging him to look into strangers' drawers, but this is a crisis.
"Good idea," he unsurprisingly agrees, grabbing his jacket and he rushes to the front door. "I'll be back soon!"
Asuka dismisses him with one hand, holding her head with her other hand. I think I'm gonna have a headache.
"You're kidding, right?"
"I am not. She's been insisting for the last thirty minutes she wants you to wash her."
Judai pales. If Emma hadn't floored her with her never-ending whining until he came back, Asuka would have found it funny.
"I've never washed a kid!"
Or anyone else for that matter, she hopes. "You think I have?" She deadpans.
Changing his tactics, Judai tries a kind smile. "Come on Asuka, don't make me do this…"
She thinks he's being ridiculous. He is willing to repay her a stupid vase that would have cost him more than all of his life savings, but he is making a scene about a stupid shower. "I am not. Emma is making you do this."
"Yeah, yeah, but–"
A ringtone interrupts him. Asuka steps forward and retrieves her phone from the bookshelf (she had left it there out of Emma's reach). "Sorry, I have to take it."
Judai raises an eyebrow and nods meekly. "Sure," he mumbles and eyes her intently.
"Good morning, Nick." Asuka smiles into the phone. Feeling Judai's stare on her, she weirdly feels embarrassed and turns around. "No, don't worry, I didn't forget. I'll be on my way right now." Politely smiling, she listens to the other person talking at the other end of the phone. "Sure, I already have them ready. You gave me the prescription the other day, do you remember?" Her tone is very patient, like she doesn't want to push the other person. "Alright. See you soon, Nick."
When Asuka turns back to Judai, a raised eyebrow is greeting her. "My neighbor is away on vacation and she asked me to take care of her father until she comes back. Since he's living on his own, I go check on him every day."
Judai hums thoughtfully. "That's nice of you." Shrugging dismissively, she steps forward to grab her coat. His eyes follow her. "When does she come back?" He asks conversationally.
"Tonight. So today is the last day I go to Nick's apartment." After putting on her light blue coat, she fastens her buttons thoroughly, like everything she does because she hates do-overs. "He's sweet, but also very stubborn. He makes it such a hard job to take care of him. For some reason, he's okay with me doing it, even though he refuses to have a personal carer." She sighs, wrapping her scarf around her neck. "Hopefully, he will take his medicine without putting up a fight this time."
Catching Judai's chuckle, she frowns slightly in confusion. "What?"
His brown eyes don't shine with mischief when he looks at her, but with something meeker, sweeter, more akin to fondness. It gives her heart palpitations, that she hopes are not showing on her face. "That Nick old man kinda reminds me of someone."
With her face flushing, it takes her great effort to focus on his teasing words, rather than on his warm expression. When he displays affection in such an obvious way, she isn't sure what to think anymore. Either he enjoys teasing her too much for her own liking, or he is providing her proof for something she does not dare assuming, as of yet. "I am not that stubborn," she mumbles as she turns her attention to her phone that she puts in her coat pocket and to the bag carrying Nick's medicine she had prepared beforehand.
Judai's steps echo in her ears and she looks up when he stands in front of her. Wrapped up in her coat and scarf in the warmth of her apartment, she feels a bit ridiculous staring back at him. "If you are being stubborn about not being stubborn, then that pretty much confirms that you are stubborn." That sounds like a lot of words coming from Judai's mouth, but Asuka has been witnessing his tendency to develop a smart mouth whenever he feels like annoying her.
She is about to reply, but her voice suddenly fails her when he brings his hands to her scarf and fiddles with it. "Don't mess with my scarf," she mutters sulkily. Inwardly cringing at her half-hearted attempt to stop him, she tries to fight back the urge to stare at his close-up face and stubbornly stares down at the floor.
"But you put it backwards."
Her voice sounds less and less strong, while he is still so composed. "I can't put a scarf backwards. It's a scarf."
Judai rolls his eyes good-naturedly. "Okay, professor, I meant that the tag is sticking out," he rephrases, smiling like he is very amused and there is nothing ambiguous about him standing so close to her and keeping her in her hall by playing with her scarf when she has just told him she has to go.
Usually, the-ever-so-oblivious-to-romance Judai would be the one to ruin such an intimate moment, but Asuka also has a knack of her own for getting herself out of those "dangerous" situations, as she likes to call them. And Judai just so happening to be the biggest threat to her sanity provides her a lot of practice. "Since I'll be out for at least an hour, I'll leave it to you to take care of Emma's shower."
Judging by the funny choking noise he makes and how wide his eyes open, he must have completely forgotten about that. "Wait, what–"
Since he is no longer looking at her like he's about to ruin years of friendship by taking a bold step forward (she knows he won't anyway, because he is Judai and she is Asuka and they are good rivals), she stares right back at him, casual and unfazed. "Make sure to dry her hair right after, so that she doesn't catch a cold." She doesn't have to remind him where she keeps her hairdryer, since he frequently uses it himself. "See you later," she concludes and steps back, holding the scarf to the lower part of her face.
Her moves betray her because she is too fast at closing the door, leaving Judai gaping at her.
Having no stable job of his own, Judai has made a habit of taking up small jobs every now and then to make some money. He doesn't make much, but it's enough to live by.
Living a messy life being his motto, Yubel insisted he followed Johan's advice (albeit, begrudgingly, given their strong dislike towards the man) to put together a list of jobs he could apply to.
Right now, as he is very awkwardly scrubbing Emma's shampooed head, he makes a point to mentally remove "babysitter" from his list.
"She's splashing the floor," Yubel remarks.
Judai sighs, not bothering to look down at the mess Emma is making in Asuka's bathroom. "I'll clean up," he tiredly answers.
"Daddy!" Emma cries out. "You're putting shampoo in my eyes!"
Coming back to his senses with a start, Judai hastily brings the shower head to the poor girl whose features are twisted by a sense of discomfort. "Shoot! Sorry!" He crouches down to face Emma and casts a concerned look at her. "You okay, Emma?"
The girl is silent, busying herself rubbing her eyes. "It stings," she eventually whines.
"Don't touch your eyes. Here," he offers as he brings her fisted hands away from her face. "Hold your breath for a sec and look up." She inhales and closes her mouth, her cheeks unnecessarily puffed but he thinks that is cute. Judai turns the faucet to a colder temperature and rinses her face.
A few seconds later, she blinks and then a smile is back on her face. "It doesn't hurt anymore!"
"Nice!" Grinning at her, he's back at washing her hair. The sigh he feels like letting out doesn't go unnoticed by Yubel though. Standing in their non-physical form next to the shower, they watch over Judai's battle with great amusement.
"You're doing a poor job at washing that little thing," they generously remark.
"Yes, thank you for your support," Judai's thoughts drily answer them.
"Should I remind you that I already went through taking care of you when you were a child? Now, let me enjoy your suffering as your turn has finally come."
Mindful of his hands to prevent another incident, Judai rolls his eyes. "I wasn't that bad."
"Funny how frivolous people's memories can be." They knowingly smirk when Judai gives them the silent treatment, like he can't deny it. "Oh, right. Should I tell that friend of yours all about your crying and whining from back then, my cute little Judai?"
When it comes to learning to share Judai's affection with others, there has been progress on Yubel's part these last few years. It was either that or they could spend the entire time Judai spent visiting one of his friends sulking. Though they insist they cannot bring themselves to tolerate Johan's or Sho's presences and most likely never will, Yubel has learned to stop calling Asuka "Whatever-Her-Name-Is" and "That-Friend-Of-Yours" sounds like a little step forward that Judai thinks he can be content with. "Asuka wouldn't care, she's not a sadistic bully like you."
While Yubel pretends to be hurt by his offending words, Judai isn't sure he just meant that. Just like any other of his friends, Asuka sure likes to tease him whenever she can. Probably restricted by her own maturity, she is hardly too taxing though and Judai has always felt like it is more a matter of her enjoying being smart and witty. It's a nice thing, he thinks, because she always makes it seem like she cares about his feelings and she would never mean to hurt him.
With a distracted thought passing through his head, he hopes she feels the same whenever he teases her.
Because she's his very dear friend and he cares about her just as much.
"Ah!" He suddenly shouts, jolted from his daydream by water splashes all over his pants.
"This is payback for my eyes!" Emma shouts over the noise of the running water, grinning at him.
Drenched just as much as the floor that has become a mess in the course of Emma's shower, Judai doesn't spend long pondering on his reaction. Time to fight back!
"Take this!" Bringing the shower head in front of her face, he sprays the little girl who cowers, protecting herself with her arms over her head.
"I'm already drenched!" She screams victoriously and laughs as Judai doesn't halt his offensive.
Both of their laughter echoes within the bathroom's walls. Commenting on their childish behaviour, Yubel's presence fades back into the depth of Judai's mind.
Dismissing him with a shake of her right hand, Emma informs Judai that she is old enough to know how to dress herself properly without his help.
Then why can't you shower on your own as well? He inwardly complains as he closes the door to the guest room behind him, on Emma's insistence to have her privacy. Children hardly make sense, he supposes.
Back inside the bathroom, Judai looks for the hairdryer. Feeling uncomfortable in his drenched clothes that stick to his skin, he sighs. According to Asuka's words, there should be enough time for him to dry Emma's hair, then to change and clean the mess she (they) made before his friend returns. He knows from personal experience that chaos doesn't go well with Asuka.
She made sure everyone properly ate breakfast before cleaning up and getting ready to go to that old man's apartment. Never one to procrastinate, she had the medicine already neatly packed. A smile creeps onto his lips at the memory of her flushed face when he played with her scarf. Surprises have this effect on Asuka, she never knows how to deal with them but her pride pushes her to keep her composure at all cost.
Judai isn't entirely sure why she would react that way around him. Sometimes he gets a vague idea but it makes him feel weird whenever he goes down that road. It's easier to think that Asuka is a rather serious person and he finds pleasure in attempting to break her self-control.
Alerted by Yubel's voice breaking him out of his reverie, Judai stands up and moves away from the drawers he had just opened. When he is about to walk through the door, he hears a familiar voice speaking in a low grave tone filled with dread, shock obviously heard.
"I think I might be your uncle."
Judai blinks, as he stares at Emma, fully dressed, and Fubuki standing in front of her in the living room. The newcomer quickly notices his presence and the sheer emotion in his eyes takes Judai aback.
"Judai," Fubuki snarls. It's quite amazing how his usual liveliness seems now incredibly threatening.
"Y-Yes?" Judai finds himself stuttering with a half smile, eyebrows shot up, having no idea what he could possibly have done wrong to anger Fubuki.
Oh shoot, is it about the vase?
All of a sudden, Fubuki is charging head-on at him. "I've always thought you were making yourself quite too comfortable at my sister's place," he shouts in a loud voice, wagging his finger around menacingly. "And believe me, that is not something I complain about!" He goes on and Judai briefly wonders why, then, he's even being scolded in the first place. "But this! This secret right here!" Fubuki points behind him, at Emma who tilts her head, looking as confused as Judai. "This secret is not something I'll ever forgive you for!"
"Daddy, who's that?"
Fubuki jumps. Turning around his head in slow motion, he stares down at Emma, his eyes wide with horror. His lower lip trembles with silent fury, and he shifts his attention back to Judai who unconsciously takes a safe step back. "I can't believe your audacity."
Growing increasingly irked by the situation still completely eluding him, Judai exhales through his nose. "What's the matter?"
His words seem to push his buttons further. The older man's strong hands grab Judai's collar who is now too stunned to utter a word and can only stare, dumbstruck. Is he actually about to hit him?
"Hey!" Emma runs towards the two men and pounds on Fubuki's back with her fists. "Let Daddy go!"
Judai would have actually focused on Emma's impressive display of courage, had he had the time to react before Fubuki does. The latter releases his grip and immediately kneels down at Emma's eye level. "Oh no, sweetheart! I wouldn't hurt him!"
The 180 turn in Fubuki's mood leaves Judai staring blankly at them, as his friend (or from the looks of it, ex-friend) gives an apologetic look to the girl who glares at him warily. "I won't forgive you if you do."
"So would your mother!" A dirty look is sent Judai's way before a smile greets Emma. "Uncle Fubuki is against violence, anyway!"
Why would her mother– His mind blanks. By her mother, did he mean–
For the second time today, colors leave Judai's face as the reason behind Fubuki's outburst finally dawns on him. This is definitely not about some broken vase. And for all it's worth (namely, probably ten times the amount of his life savings), he wishes it were.
Judai stares too intently at the floor, in hopes that if he stares long enough, a hole might swallow him whole.
"Emma, right? It's a very beautiful name, fitting for a sweet girl like you." Fubuki's attempt at a peace offer seems effective, since Emma's hardened features relax. "I wonder why you don't have a japanese name, though," he then mumbles in an afterthought, more to himself than to her.
"Thank you!" comes the earnest answer with a grin, her bad impression of the man quickly converting into liking at the compliment. "Uncle Fubuki?" She then tries to pronounce his name correctly with a tilt of her head.
"Right! On top of being the sweetest flower, you're also so smart!" He exclaims with great enthusiasm, sounding like he is not immune to her childish charm. Emma looks equally pleased with the new addition to her made-up family.
Not that Judai would notice the whole exchange. He is still trying to work his magic on the floor, so that the possibility of he and Asuka having a baby together during their high school days can vanish together with him.
Thankfully, Yubel is there to witness everything and they're doing so with great amusement.
Never getting tired of complimenting anything related to his sister, Fubuki gives Emma a hug and yells again, "You're so adorable! You must take after your mother. She is, after all, the cutest angel Earth has ever known!"
"What is going on here? Fubuki, I could hear your screams from the stairway." Fubuki and his so-called niece perk up at the same time at Asuka's sudden stern voice.
Standing in the front door frame, she discards her boots, coat and scarf. They both run towards her, not letting her time to process the whole situation but she somehow does anyway. "Fubuki, what are you doing here? And Emma, why is your hair still wet? Didn't Judai dry it for you?"
Voices overlap and she can't get a clear answer, but Asuka dismisses it quickly, walking towards Judai who is failing to recover from his initial shock, standing in the corner of her living room like he has been scolded. It's the same spot where Fubuki's gift proudly stood until yesterday and Asuka lets out a soft sigh. "Is the vase all this fuss is about?" She whispers to him.
He finally tears his eyes off the floor and looks at her. He opens his mouth, but closes it right after. She's standing too close. "Judai?" She calls, raising an eyebrow.
Your big brother thinks you and I engaged in sexual intercourse when we were fifteen resulting in us having a secret child and now he wants to beat my ass sounds awfully inappropriate to say out loud so he settles for a noncommittal shrug. "Beats me. You know your brother, any reason is good to make a fuss." Please, don't ask him about it.
He sighs in relief when Asuka nods dismissively, seemingly agreeing. Her attention shifts back to Fubuki and Emma who are engaged in a very lively conversation involving mentions of her favorite type of candy and a promise on his part to gift her an enormous bag full of it. Judai's eyes follow her movements as Asuka shakes her head at her brother's irresponsible answer before walking towards the bathroom. He cringes at her dismayed face as she takes in the state of the inside of the room.
He's quick at jumping at her side. "I was about to clean up when Fubuki stormed in," he offers with a sheepish smile. His eyes inadvertently avoid hers when she looks his way and he brings a hand on his neck. "Huh, I'll do it right now," he adds, without missing the puzzled look she casts at him.
Judai is still feeling too self-conscious to talk to her, so he enters the bathroom. With relief, he hears Asuka's footsteps retreating into the living room. "Come Emma, I'll dry your hair," she helpfully says.
"You're off to go," Asuka gently tells the girl who thanks her with a grin.
"I'll go play with Uncle Fubuki!" Emma excitedly informs her, before sprinting towards the door. Since Judai is busy with cleaning up the bathroom, she took her to her room to dry her hair.
The door opens before Emma can reach it, causing her to pause in her tracks. Fubuki smiles down at her. "Emma, sweetheart, would you go and help your dad? I need to speak to your mom."
The girl hums thoughtfully. "Okay!" She easily gives in, and that's when Asuka realizes Emma must really have taken a liking to Judai. Smiling tenderly, she waves back at the girl who swears she and Daddy are taking care of everything, so Mommy doesn't have to worry.
The door closes behind her and Asuka blinks at her brother who bothers locking it.
"Asuka." She furrows her brows with concern at the sudden very low tone of his voice. With a hand still resting on the handle, Fubuki takes in a deep breath and then turns her way.
She finds herself unable to stand the tension. "Is something wrong?"
Her anxiety rises with each step he takes towards her. Next thing she knows, his arms are around her in a tight embrace. "I'm sorry," he chokes.
"Fubuki? What is it? Did something happen?"
Putting her hands on his chest, she gently pushes him away so that she can meet his eye. Her brother's gaze fell, his face darkening. "I failed you, little sister."
Not quite expecting those words, she raises an eyebrow. "How so?"
He looks up to her face. "I really made it hard for you back then in your first year at Duel Academia, didn't I?" Confused as to why he would even mention those painful memories from years ago, she just waits for him to keep talking. "You went through more than what I thought, and I wasn't even here for you. It must have been so hard, managing the situation on your own. I guess he was there too, but given his clueless nature, I doubt he had been any help..." He sighs.
"I have no idea what you are talking about."
Fubuki seems a bit surprised at her answer and studies her face, like he's trying to figure out whether she's faking her obliviousness. Shaking his head, he sighs as he grips her shoulders with his two hands. "Emma told me she is seven."
How is Emma even related to his conversation? Asuka frowns deeper. "What about it?"
"And you're twenty-two. Which means you were fifteen when she was born."
She blinks at the correct yet irrelevant mathematics. Despite being plenty used to her brother's weird antics, Asuka wonders whether he hit his head somewhere before coming to her apartment. "I don't see how–" She pauses, repeating his words in her head. A gasp escapes her as she finally makes sense out of Fubuki's seeming gibberish. "Wait, you think–"
"I am not judging you for what happened, but know that your dear brother is deeply concerned and sorry–"
"Emma is not my daughter!"
Fubuki's face suddenly snaps out of its seriousness, his eyes blinking dumbly instead. "What?"
"I was never pregnant, and certainly not when I was fifteen!" She almost yells, too embarrassed at his crazy assumptions. Does Judai know about Fubuki's misunderstanding? Is that why he acted so uncharacteristically awkward when she came back earlier?
Fubuki furrows his brows in thought. "But she calls you her parents," he objects. Shaking his head, a sigh indicates he doesn't believe her. "Asuka, as I told you, I am by no means judging you. For one thing, it is not something to be ashamed about–"
Her face turning a deep shade of crimson, she blurts, voice loud, "Would you quit talking nonsense!"
Bewildered, Fubuki ponders on her strong reaction. After an agonizing long moment, he speaks again, "Emma... really isn't your daughter?" He finally asks, still blinking.
Feeling hot enough to sense an oncoming headache, Asuka huffs exasperatedly as she tries to calm her nerves. "No, she is not."
"Hm, explains the non-japanese name…" He mutters to himself, before raising his eyebrows, curiosity now getting the best of him. "Then why in heaven is she here and why does she call you and Judai her Mommy and Daddy?"
Still preoccupied with the very likely possibility that Fubuki already threw a fit at Judai about it, she tries her best to explain the situation to her brother. By the end of her speech which he didn't interrupt, she stares at the worrisome glee glinting in his eyes.
Fearing she might know what he is thinking, she says in an attempt to keep his focus away from his crazy shenanigans, "Promise me you won't tell anyone."
He nods hastily. "Of course, this is about Emma's safety after all!" Unfortunately for Asuka, her brother tends to have great focus. "Little sis, this is gold! You and Judai taking care of a child together!"
"It's only for a couple of days," she reminds him to no avail, if the grin on his face is any indication.
"Crazy story, right? Again, it's Judai we're talking about so I guess it's nothing to be surprised about." He amusedly rolls his eyes, then leans closer to her sister. "Now tell me, how do you feel about all this? It's the perfect excuse for you two to grow closer, don't you agree?"
"Fubuki," she warns him but she might as well talk to a wall.
"Maybe watching over a child together will make you two yearn to–"
"One word," she interrupts him, her voice as icy as her glare. "Utter one more word and I'll cut your tongue out."
Even Fubuki knows when he has crossed the line of Asuka's patience, so his reaction comes without delay.
"I think I'll go check on Emma, yeah?" He says, faking his composure in this life-threatening situation. Still glaring at him, Asuka nods curtly.
A deep sigh escapes her lips after Fubuki closes the door. Another one comes to her when she hears him gasp loudly in his over-dramatic fashion, a few seconds later, before he yells about his precious gift broken to pieces just feels like his own heart has been shattered, Judai assures him he's gonna work twice as hard to repay him, and Emma reassures him that she has been properly training the cat ever since the incident so that he won't break anything else.
Suddenly, Asuka finds herself missing the quiet tranquility of her empty apartment.
As much as she misses her overly busy brother since she has started living on her own, there are times where Asuka feels grateful his tight schedule keeps him engaged in his own activities most of the time. There is only so much shameless teasing she can take from his shenanigans, especially when it involves Judai and their non-existent physical intimacy.
On Emma's request to eat lunch outside, the three of them left her apartment after Fubuki went back to work, leaving Asuka wondering what the point of his visit was in the first place. As they walk down an avenue in the city center, Emma enthusiastically scampering between them (she makes a point to think nothing of the painfully obvious false impression of a young married couple walking with their daughter they're sending to passersby), she steals a quick glance at Judai's face. Looking as relaxed as ever, it brings her relief to know that at least one of them is keeping it together.
Then again, she doesn't expect Judai to make a big deal out of Fubuki's words, assuming he has been affected by them in the first place. With a sudden pang in her heart, Asuka cannot deny that there shouldn't be any reasons for Judai to care, since they're just friends. He blushed and laughed it off in Fubuki's face at best, then felt a bit awkward in front of her for a few minutes because physical intimacy makes him uncomfortable.
A sigh coming from her side interrupts her train of thoughts. She glances at Judai whose eyes are boring a hole into a restaurant shop window.
He sighs again, with more intent. "Why is Jack's," he turns to Emma then to Asuka, giving them both a wide-eyed look to express his annoyance, "always crowded?"
Emma raises an eyebrow before looking around her. "Who's Jack?"
Asuka rolls her eyes. "Because they make the best burgers in the world, you said so yourself."
"What is the point in making the best burgers in the world if I can never eat them!" He whines.
Her question left unanswered, Emma perks up at the mention of burgers and looks up to Judai and Asuka, giving each of them a look in turn as they talk.
"You would be able to eat them, if you actually went and stood in line like everyone else does," she argues back, unimpressed.
He waves her answer off, shaking his head. "Nah, don't have time for this."
She sighs. "And yet, you find time to take naps for hours on my couch." Sometimes, she really doesn't get him. He can sleep an entire day away without care, or spend the whole afternoon fishing, but can't bear to wait in line for less than half an hour to get one of his favorite dishes. She can only guess that is because he isn't fond of crowded places, just like her, but then is it worth complaining about it every time he comes by?
Feeling her coat sleeve tugged down, she turns her eyes to Emma. "Are we getting burgers for lunch?" The girl asks, sounding very hopeful.
Judai and she speaks up at the same time,
Judai's head spins back to her very quickly, looking offended, and he gapes at her. "Why?"
Asuka crosses her arms on her chest, studying them both carefully. "You did eat burgers yesterday night, didn't you?"
Silent, Judai and Emma exchange a look before looking again at Asuka. "No," they both say in unison.
Massaging her temple, she fights back a deep sigh. "No burgers for liars," she stresses. Ignoring their loud voices protesting, Asuka resumes her walking. "Children need to eat healthy food." She can hear Judai whispering harshly something from behind and she easily guesses he answered Yubel's snarky remark about her calling him a child.
It is Emma's turn to whine, but at least, she is an actual child. "Then what are we eating? I'm hungry!"
Asuka hums before flashing her a smile. "Vegetables."
The disgust in Emma's voice entertains Asuka who then glances at Judai's face looking equally repelled and she stifles her laughter.
"Vegetables are disgusting!" Emma complains, while Judai has at least the decency to keep quiet this time.
"That's not true, most of them are delicious," she argues back and Emma gives her an unimpressed look. "Really! Have you ever tasted well-seasoned zucchini? It's definitely better than fries."
"No way!" Emma shouts like she is told complete nonsense.
Asuka's eyes are on Judai, silently prompting him to help her. Despite a moment of hesitation, she enjoys that he tries, as he brings a hand at the back of his head and ruffles his hair, "Well, there are vegetables that taste good," he says in a tentative voice.
"Huh… Really?" Emma mumbles, not quite sure what to think anymore. It's almost vexing how much faith Emma puts into Judai's words, after she completely dismissed Asuka's. She might want to ask Judai to teach her his way of dealing with children.
"Yeah! Totally!" He grins at her. "I love watermelon! And it's super healthy!"
"Judai, watermelon is not a vegetable."
Staring at his bewildered expression, Asuka thinks she might have been too quick to rejoice. She also decides she might actually want to keep trying to deal with Emma her own way after all.
There are times where Judai genuinely impresses her.
It's not about the usual pattern of him saving the world that his surroundings have grown used to in his reliable presence. Asuka is left with a bigger impression whenever Judai acts like an actual adult.
He is an adult, she has to remind herself every time.
That is why he gave up on his precious junk food for today, brought them in a restaurant that offers a menu full of healthy dishes, insisted when Emma refused to eat her carrots, and offered to pay for everyone, stating that it's only fair he does when Asuka does so much to help him and Emma already.
She is sure he's just cut off three meals worth of his own savings for their sake and just like that, the warmth that she felt when he played with her scarf earlier came back.
When they sit on a bench in a park to watch over Emma playing with other children in a playground later in the afternoon, it's still there, caressing her heart.
"She's full of energy," Judai comments with a laidback smile at the corner of his lips. "Must be the carrots."
"I think most children her age are this lively," she answers while glancing at the noisy playground to prove her point.
His eyes are on her and that's how she realizes they're sitting way too close to each other. "Even you?" He asks with a faint yet amused smile.
"Before I was introduced to Duel Monsters, I used to play tag with boys and would throw a fit whenever I lost."
"Eh," he chuckles at that, "So you've always been scary."
Her eyes narrow menacingly, Emma whom she had to watch over slipped out of her mind for a second. "What was that?"
Judai raises his hands, looking like he's about to ask her to go easy on him, but the words never go past his lips because Emma's voice echoes in the air as she makes a dash towards them, "Hey! Mommy, Daddy! Look!"
Catching the two young adults' attention, she makes them look at her hands holding a pebble. "Look! Mickey gave me a present!"
Judai tilts his head, eyeing the small rock curiously. "Mickey?"
"Who is that, Emma?" Asuka asks, more concerned after the realization that she forgot to keep an eye on the girl the whole time dawned on her.
"My new friend!" She points at a boy that looked around her age, standing in the middle of the playground and calling out to her to come back play. "Comin'!" She shouts back before flashing a cheeky grin to Judai and Asuka. "He said he was giving me this because he likes me!"
Surprise stirs Judai's features while Asuka chuckles at the adorable gesture. "That's very sweet of him," she comments and Emma agrees with a firm nod.
"Right? He also said he's good at dueling but I don't have my deck," she then explains and turns to Judai, with pleading eyes, "Come play with us? Please!"
Not quite having expected to be involved in this, he looks a bit taken back and opens his mouth to speak before thinking about what to say, "Huh…" His eyes dart to Asuka, silently seeking her support.
"Why not go?" She suggests with a smile warm enough that Judai doesn't seem to find it in himself to scowl. "The carrots will supply you with energy," she adds teasingly.
Watching Emma's puppy eyes out of the corner of his eye, he considers it for a passing moment, and eventually shrugs. "Fine," he unsurprisingly gives in and Emma jumps in celebration.
"Mommy, hold this for me!" She hands the stone to Asuka who helpfully accepts it and drags Judai by his hand all the way to the playground still full of kids.
It's a funny sight, Judai awkwardly standing still, surrounded by children all calling for his attention. Asuka laughs wholeheartedly as she watches Emma moving around him with her arms spread out, as if she were trying to protect him. "Hold on! One at a time!" She orders the kids, all too eager to duel the man.
Looking like he wishes he were anywhere but there, Judai looks at her from the distance. His hollow eyes are indication enough that he already regrets giving in to Emma's demand. So Asuka makes an encouraging hand gesture and it seems that is enough for him, as he rolls his eyes good-naturedly and turns his attention to the kids.
"So! Who's gonna duel me first?"
Today may have proved her Judai can be a responsible adult from time to time, but Asuka is always quickly reminded of his childish side.
After mercilessly defeating half of the children around him, Judai realized he had gotten carried away halfway and adapted his game to a more lenient style, letting some kids snatch a few victories from him.
By the end of the afternoon, most children grew tired of playing and left, while he is still standing, ready to take on new challengers. At some point, Asuka took her phone out to check on some stuff that was definitely not work-related. (It's okay to reply to mails on a Sunday afternoon, if you ask her.)
She is in the process of replying to a teacher assistant asking for advice when Judai and Emma walk back to the bench.
"See, that's why I played Hero Signal here. That was a bit of a bet, but luck is part of dueling after all," he explains to a very attentive Emma.
"You won so that means you have good luck!"
Asuka looks up from her screen and smiles at the two newcomers. "Did you two have fun?"
"Yeah! Daddy is the strongest! He's nice too, so he let Amy and Riley win," Emma reports while Judai nods, smugness painted all over his face.
Asuka is about to comment, but Emma brings her hands closer to display two stones resting in each of her palms. "Daddy got me a present and I picked one for you too!"
Blinking at the plain rock, Asuka would rather not touch it because of germs, but the girl's big eyes are convincing enough. "Thank you, Emma." She smiles at her and takes the stone from her palm. The satisfied expression on her face is gratifying, after all that little thing is proof that she likes her.
"Sure! The stone Daddy gave me is bigger than the one I got from Mickey, so that means Daddy loves me more," she explains matter-of-factly like she is giving a lesson. "It's normal, since I only met Mickey today and I met Daddy yesterday."
"It is," Asuka agrees as if she was making sense, but indulging in her antics wouldn't hurt, she decides.
"That's why," Judai speaks suddenly while flopping back into his spot next to Asuka, catching her eye, "I'm giving Asuka the biggest one."
She stares down at the ellipse-shaped stone resting on his palm, before looking up at his grinning face.
"You can have the biggest present, Mommy, since you've been friends with Daddy for years," Emma claims, dragging the last word.
Asuka prays God to save her from the embarrassment of blushing in front of a rock.
"Like she said," Judai presses her as he puts the small item in her palm.
Her whole face growing hot all of a sudden, she is not sure her prayers have been heard. But she still closes her fingers around the stone and smiles at him.
"Thank you, Judai."
Asuka listens to Emma complain about the weekend coming to its end while she chops an onion on her kitchen counter. The girl is sitting at the table, behind her, her head resting on her hands as she puffs up her cheeks.
"You really have to go to work tomorrow?" She asks again.
"Yes," Asuka replies patiently, despite giving the same reply for the third time in a row. Emma whines. "But Judai will stay with you. You two can play together."
"It's not fun if Mommy's not here," she complains and Asuka has to bite the inside of her cheek not to react, because that's so adorable to hear.
"I'll make it up to you when I get home in the evening."
Emma hums a noncommittal answer before jumping from the chair to the ground. "When can Daddy bring me my deck? I want to duel too."
Despite busying herself with dinner preparation, Asuka reminds herself to keep an eye open on the girl's movement. Especially when she's the only adult around, with Judai away to check on Emma's parents. Hopefully, he'll bring back good news but Asuka is still skeptical, since it's only been one day.
Before he left, she worried about Emma's absence from school that would bring them trouble, but they realized it is school vacation, thus no school staff would report her disappearance.
Which didn't help Asuka to feel better about the whole situation. Emma may be smiling and having fun with them, but they might be doing something very wrong. Her anxiety started acting up again: what if her parents never wake up? What if they do, but only in a few weeks? What will happen to the girl?
Judai laid a hand on her shoulder and told her, "If you're not comfortable with doing this, I'll find another way to deal with it."
"It's fine," she hesitantly replied, but the next words she spoke carried only the truth, "I don't want you to deal with this alone."
He said nothing, only clutched her shoulder a bit tighter.
Asuka recalls the smile he gave her before leaving and decides to hold onto it. He most probably smiled because he didn't know what to say, but it had the same effect it had on her back then in their school years at Duel Academia.
Quelling her worries, bringing peace to her mind.
"I'll call him and ask him to bring your cards with him when he comes back," she promises to the girl who smiles at her.
Asuka ends the call after Judai assures her he'll be back in a few minutes.
She makes her way to the living room, a smile on her lips, "Good news, Emma! Judai told me he found your deck–"
Her voice dies in her throat as soon as she hears sniffles coming from the couch. Pharaoh is standing on his two back legs, trying to reach the cushion surface. His meowing doesn't stop, and soon enough Asuka finds out he's attempting to comfort a crying Emma.
She rushes to her side. "Emma!" The girl is silently sobbing in her hands. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?"
Emma shakes her head.
"Then what is it? Are you hungry? Dinner is about to be ready."
Another negative nod.
"Emma, please talk to me."
The kid doesn't move, so Asuka tries to take her hands away from her face but she won't let her, resisting with all her strength. Growing equally concerned and irritated, the woman decides insisting would only result in a counterproductive reaction. She tries to sound as gentle as possible when she says, "Okay then, when you feel like talking, you tell me what's wrong."
She is about to get up from the couch when the words choke out from her throat, "I want to see Daddy and Mommy."
"Judai is about to come back–"
"My real Daddy and Mommy!" The girl cries out, finally raising her face, revealing the tears strolling down her cheeks.
Startled by her outburst, Asuka remains silent. There is no time to ponder on her reaction, but what is she supposed to tell her? Fearing she might scare her away, she keeps her voice down, almost a whisper, "Judai told you, right? Your parents are sleeping, because they are very tired."
"They've slept enough! I want to see them now!"
"It's already night time. How about I take you to see them tomorrow?"
This wasn't the best choice of words. They only contribute to pushing Emma's buttons harder, as she starts throwing a fit and hitting the cushions with her fists. "Now! I want to see them now!"
Witnessing her tears growing thicker and thicker, Asuka feels completely helpless. Getting overwhelmed by the situation, she can't control her stuttering, "I-I promise we'll go see them as soon as they wake up–"
Inconsolable, Emma is no longer listening to her, only crying harder, "Mom! Dad! Please!"
In a swift and rather desperate movement, Asuka turns her head to Judai who has just stormed in through the front door, in panic. He's looking at them frantically, visibly freaking out after hearing Emma's screams.
His name escapes past her lips, like a serving grace coming with the right timing, "Judai." Her feet hurriedly bring her to him. "Emma wants to see her parents, she won't calm down." She hates how jittery she sounds, making it so painfully obvious that she is completely at a loss of what to do.
Judai looks at her face. He might have seen something she failed to notice, because he frowns before mumbling that it's alright and moving to Emma's side.
Asuka watches as Judai kneels down before her and starts looking for her eyes. "Emma?"
The shouting stopped as soon as Judai entered the apartment. Tears ravaging her face, Emma catches his stare. "Mom… Dad…" She chokes through her sobs.
"I've met them just now. They say hi."
"Take me to them," she pleas, on the verge of crying again.
"Okay." He smiles at her, gentle and patient. "They're still a bit tired, though. Asked if you could wait one more day."
Past the point of willingly being patient, Emma shakes her head. "I want to see them now!"
His hand reaches the back pocket of his pants. "Ah, but they gave me this," he explains as he pulls a deck and hands it to her. "They promise to come back soon if you can wait just one more day."
"But…" Her shoulders drop and she lowers her head in disappointment. Her hands come to her face, rubbing at her eyes. "I miss them…"
Silence falls on the room, save for Emma's sobbing and sniffling.
Asuka sends Judai an alarmed look. Afraid the girl might go through another hysterical episode, she is about to step in when Judai speaks again, "Hey, I have an idea!"
Emma takes a curious glance at him, staring at his grin. "If you feel lonely, I'll just sleep with you tonight! How does that sound?"
Liveliness finds its way back to her eyes, glinting at the suggestion. "Yes! I… I can?" At Judai's eager nod, she brightens up. "Really?" She says in a tentative whisper.
"Yeah, sure! You won't even need a blanket, 'cause I'm super warm!"
Finally, a smile finds its way back onto the kid's face. "Okay!" As in giving him a taste of what is to come, she jumps on his neck to snuggle into his chest. "Thanks Daddy!" She says as cheerfully as her running nose allows her to, before she has to sniffle.
He welcomes her in his arms with a laughter so bright it might have tricked the giggling girl, but Asuka knows better, as she notices how tense his shoulders are. She watches as he stands up, carrying Emma in his arms.
He makes his way to the guest room. When he turns around, their eyes meet and he gives her a meek smile. Like he's trying hard to assure her everything's fine, but he's not sure himself. Asuka doesn't know what to do with it, but she accepts it and answers with a slight nod. A silent thank you.
One moment later, she's left alone in the living room. Suddenly self-aware of her state, she eventually figures out what earned her that funny look from Judai earlier: her parted lips wouldn't stop trembling.
Exhausted, Emma fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Finding himself alone at last, Judai lets out a deep sigh.
"You did great. Her soul is soothed, she'll sleep peacefully," Yubel encourages him.
"If her parents don't wake up by tomorrow…" He starts, but doesn't finish his sentence. His tone is dull enough to let on about his concern.
"You will deal with that tomorrow, then. For now, you should rest."
Despite Yubel's insisting voice, his reply is evasive, like his mind is already focused somewhere else, "Yeah." Contradicting himself as soon as the word slips past his lips, he heads for the door and quietly closes it behind him.
His eyes immediately spot Asuka who is sitting at the kitchen table, her back facing him. The table has been set for three people and there is a platter covered with cellophane placed in the middle.
Noticing his footsteps getting closer, she stands up and turns around to face him.
Visibly surprised to find him alone, she is about to say something but he beats her to it, "You okay?"
She nods, dismissing his question because the main concern is not herself. "Is Emma asleep? She didn't eat dinner."
Worry is painted all over her face. It's obvious that the earlier incident took a toll on her. A very unpleasant feeling starts growing in the pit of his stomach; guilt, he recognizes.
"It's okay, I'll feed her if she wakes up later," he finds himself trying to comfort her with a gentleness he rarely shows.
"I'll wait with you."
Judai walks to the table, taking a seat in the chair next to hers. "You should rest. You're working tomorrow," he reminds her.
But she is stubborn. "It's fine. I don't mind."
She is still standing awkwardly, trapped between the chair and the table. So he taps quietly on her empty seat and, taking the hint, she sits down.
It's silent for a while. May it be because of the tension growing thicker than air, Judai gradually grows restless, and somewhat irked. The whole situation is causing too much stress for Asuka. He felt like he had no other choice at the time, but maybe he should have not come to ask for her help, after all. He felt so happy earlier, when she told him she didn't want him to face all of this on his own. But what good did it do her? For a splitting second, blinded by his self-loathing, he even feels irritated at Emma for her ungrateful outburst. Who in their right mind would lash out at Asuka, who's only trying to help?
Ah, I once did, he recalls.
"Focus," speaks Yubel in a crystal clear voice.
Right. There's no need to think about that kind of complicated stuff. Instead, he should focus on what's before him. "What did you cook?"
She blinks, looking like his words snapped her out her thoughts. It takes her a second to come back to reality. "Chicken curry. Not too spicy, so that she can eat it."
He hums, smiling, "Explains the nice smell."
"It's still hot, you can eat it now if you want." Smiling at the glint in his eyes that answers for him, she reaches for the platter to remove the cellophane.
They're eating in a comfortable silence. With Emma sleeping soundly, the usual quietness of Asuka's apartment is back, bringing the comforting feeling along. The dish is delicious, as expected from her cooking skills and Judai thinks Emma is missing out.
"Earlier…" Asuka's voice trails off for a moment, sounding so uncharacteristically unsure. It gives enough time for Judai to put down his spoon and look at her. "You did great. I was surprised."
He raises an eyebrow, a teasing smile on his lips, "Didn't expect me to calm her down?"
She opens wide eyes, realizing her message has not come across the way she intended it to. "That's not what I meant– That was impressive."
"Yeah, I just... went with whatever came to my mind," he admits and fakes a desperate sigh. "Now I have to share a bed with a seven-year-old and she might kick me in the chin when I'm asleep."
That successfully makes her giggle and it's like a weight is lifted off his heart. He doesn't have to force the next smile he gives her, and she must have felt it because she speaks with more transparency, "I freaked out when she wouldn't stop crying," she bashfully admits. He waits, because she seems like she isn't done talking. "It's… tough. Taking care of a child."
When he went to Emma's house and realized her parents were nowhere near waking up yet, he came to the same stress-inducing conclusion. It is a big responsibility, indeed. One that is easy to forget when the girl is satisfied with picking up stones on the ground and being fed carrots for lunch, but that is harder to accept when she suddenly starts missing parents she cannot return to.
"I think we're doing a pretty good job so far," he says, trying to convince them both. "Both of us," he adds.
She smiles at him, fondness and gratefulness alike in her golden eyes, so he feels bold enough to speak his heart out, "Must say I'm a bit worried too, though."
Having second thoughts, he clears his throat, feeling like he should be comforting her rather than adding to her frustration, "But it's alright, we–"
Her hand grabs his and his mouth instantly shuts. He forgets how to use his voice all of a sudden, only recalling how to move his fingers to squeeze hers in the gentlest way.
In the end, it's her smile that is the most comforting. "We'll get through it, together."
He's speechless for a moment, reveling in the remarkable way Asuka manages to bring peace to his mind, no matter what.
He squeezes her hand tighter.
She giggles quietly. "You asked twice."
Because I need to know you are.
His heart fills in : Because we're together.
judai: i gift the girl i like random stones i've picked up on the ground idk romance is hard