This chapter was written in June of 2018.
When the Dark Signers were defeated, Jesse Anderson went home alone.
They won, the Signers won, but Chazz and Jaden were still gone. Jesse still went home to their dark, lonely apartment. He'd stayed with Leo and Luna for awhile after Chazz and Jaden were gone at first, but the twins were handling the situation a little better now and Jesse had imposed himself for long enough. He'd check on them in the morning.
Yubel's card sat heavy in his pocket as he entered the apartment. After Jaden had been defeated, he'd given the card to Jesse. As far as Jesse could tell, Yubel's duel spirit was gone, which made since since Yubel and Jaden had fused together. Still, he kept the card on him at all times. He couldn't bring himself to add it to his deck, but it was all he had left of them now.
Silently, he cursed himself. He knew Jaden tried to take everything on by himself these days. He should've kept a better eye on Jaden, he should've pushed Chazz out of the way of the Nazca Lines…
Somehow he managed to get himself to change into pajamas ("Bug off I'm sleeping", the shirt claimed) and collapsed into bed. Screams echoed in his dreams.
He didn't know what was worse, being awake, or dealing with his dreams. Life went on like that for far too long.
Chazz was the first to return.
He didn't show up right away. But when he came back, he acted like he'd never been gone. Jesse walked out of the kitchen, nibbling on a banana for breakfast, and Chazz walked in and demanded to know how Jesse disappeared when they were walking home together.
Jesse didn't have any words to respond with. He dropped his banana, ran forward and wrapped Chazz in a tight hug. Chazz insisted he didn't do hugs, what was Jesse doing, but his memory of what happened to him slowly returned. He finally accepted the hug, and Jesse managed to fill him in on what he missed.
They took a break from everything and didn't leave each others' sides for the next few days.
Not too long after that, Jaden returned, too. He walked into the apartment quietly, not trying to draw too much attention to himself, but Jesse and Chazz saw him almost immediately.
"It's about time you made it back here, slacker," Chazz said, though a crack in his voice threatened to betray his actual feelings. He didn't need to say it to either of then, they already knew.
Jesse grabbed Jaden in a hug equally as tight as the one he gave Chazz. Tears filled his eyes, his hands shook, as Jaden hugged him back.
Jaden remembered everything clearly.
"Don't blame yourself," Jaden whispered to him. "It's my fault, not yours. You know how I get when someone's in danger. You probably couldn't have stopped me if you tried.
"How did you…" Jesse trailed off.
"You've held onto Yubel's card this entire time, haven't you?" Jaden smiled sadly. "It's still Yubel's card, you know. We could still see you and hear you, even after we… There's no way we couldn't know."
Ever since Jaden came back, he'd been avoiding Leo and Luna. Luna was sure of it.
"Come on, you're just being paranoid," Leo muttered. His face was buried in a math worksheet, as if looking at it the right way would reveal all the answers. "He's not avoiding us. He wouldn't do that."
"No, he is," Luna argued. Needles flew subconsciously in her hands; she'd started to try out knitting a few weeks ago, but she still was undecided on whether she liked it. She was making a….potholder? She was just practicing stitches more than anything. "You weren't paying attention yesterday. It was like, he seemed free most of the day, you know? But the second Jesse mentioned possibly coming over here, something came up and he was busy all day."
"Maybe he isn't, maybe he is," Leo conceded with a shrug. "But you've been avoiding him, too."
"Yesterday when we were over at their apartment, you conveniently got hungry when Jaden stopped by and spent like twenty minutes hiding in the kitchen," Leo said.
Luna opened her mouth, then closed it again. Her brother had a point. She didn't want to admit it, but…
She really had no idea how to face Jaden now, or what to say to him. Neither she nor Leo were about to say it out loud, but they both knew Leo was doing the same thing, feeling the same way, too.
Jaden and Chazz were both back now, and Luna was glad for it, truly. Not just for Jesse's sake; the two of them were very important to him, and he hadn't been himself since they both disappeared. Jaden meant a lot to Luna, too. He was a great friend, a great caretaker, and he'd taught her and her brother so much. And he cared about the two of them, too, she could tell. And they…they killed him.
It wasn't like there'd been another choice. It wasn't like they'd wanted to. He'd become a Dark Signer, they would've died if he hadn't, he was going to pull everything into darkness with him!
But all Luna could think about was how she left him to the shadows, let the shadows consume him, how their duel became his demise.
They hadn't known then that he would come back…
"You need to talk to him." Leo grabbed her by the shoulder. Luna hadn't even noticed that she'd started shaking, or the tears stinging her eyes. "This isn't doing you any good. I know it's hard now, but you'll feel better if you say something."
Luna took a deep breath and nodded. She didn't want to, but she should. She should. She should just… She blinked her tears away, took another deep breath, and stood up.
When she entered the kitchen, Jaden was standing there, chugging a mug of hot chocolate that was getting a little too cool. His eyes darted around. Luna was still standing in the kitchen's entrance, and there was no other way out. Jaden's mug was now empty, but he didn't move the mug from his mouth.
"Hey," Luna said. She still didn't move.
"Yo!" Jaden said through the mug, a little too loudly.
The two of them stared at each other. Jaden slowly put his mug down on the counter next to him. Silence hung in the room. She should just say something, she should just,
"I'm sorry," Jaden and Luna blurted out at the same time. They both blinked, then frowned, almost mirroring each other. Silence filled the room once more. When Jaden didn't elaborate, Luna went back into her apology.
"I'm sorry," she repeated. "We had to win that duel, I know we did. We knew what would happen if we lost. But…we knew what would happen if we won, too. You…you were gone, and it was our fault. You shouldn't have had to…."
She didn't know what to say anymore. She needed to keep talking, she couldn't stop, because nothing she could say could ever be enough. But nothing would make up for her actions, their actions, and nothing she was saying sounded right. She was struggling to find the words at all.
Jaden shook his head. "If you think I'm mad at you, I promise I'm not. Honestly, I'm glad that duel ended the way it did. I wanted you guys to win, really. My time was up, anyway, that's part of…being what I was." He looked away. "Don't blame yourself for that. It's not your fault at all. Even if I didn't come back, it was for the best."
For the third time in as many minutes, the room threatened to fall back into an awkward silence. It nearly did, until Winged Kuriboh appeared to say something to Jaden, its expression nonplussed. Jaden sighed.
"Yeah, you're right, I know," he said. Winged Kuriboh made a content sound and disappeared. Jaden sighed again. "I'm sorry. That whole situation was…bad. I didn't want to become a Dark Signer. The Earthbound Immortals just…I don't know. It was bad. I needed to be stopped. But that shouldn't have been your responsibility.
"You and your brother are wonderful. I'm so glad you won that duel. But you never should've been put in that situation in the first place. I was terrified that entire duel of what would happen if I won. I didn't want to do that to anyone, least of all you. And I knew it'd be hard for you, too, because of the bonds we share. It was…it was bad. You never should've had to go through that. I hurt you both and it could've been so much worse, and I'm so sorry…"
His voice cracked at the end. As he spoke, he gripped at the counter with one of his hands; that hand had now started to shake as it held tightly onto the counter. He couldn't bring himself to look at her.
Luna took a step forward and placed her hand on the counter, over his.
"You didn't mean for any of it to happen," she told him. "And the whole time, you were doing your best to fix everything, even against unbeatable odds. Thanks to you, I got Ancient Fairy Dragon back, and Leo and I went on to fight another day. It wasn't your fault. We never blamed you for it. And it doesn't matter what could've happened, because it didn't."
"You kids are amazing, you know that?" Jaden mumbled. "We love you, all of us do. If anyone deserves to be Signers, it's you two."
"I'm just glad you and Chazz came back." Luna sniffed, fighting back tears. "We thought you were gone for good, and…and Jesse kept trying to cheer us up the whole time, and…and even if he kept pretending he was okay, he was just as sad as we were and we didn't know how to help him…"
"Just being there helped him," Jaden promised. He pulled her into a hug. "It's okay. It's over."
"It's over," Luna agreed.
"Don't you dare think of blaming yourself for what happened to me."
"Huh?" Jesse blinked, staring at Chazz over the table. This was completely out of the blue. Neither of them had said anything for awhile now, they'd been just throwing their cards on the table, playing their game in silence.
"You know what I mean," Chazz said as he slapped a blue seven down onto the pile. "The whole Earthbound Immortals thing."
"Oh." Jesse frowned down at the cards in his hand. What would be better, switching colors to get rid of more points or getting rid of all his blue cards? "Did I, uh…say something? Or, uh…" He placed a green seven onto the pile.
"No. Not to me, anyway." Chazz had clearly been planning on playing a specific card, but that plan appeared ruined with the abrupt change in color. He frowned. "Heard you blame yourself for what happened to the other slacker, though. You two are way too alike, he still blames himself for our last year of school. But I know you well enough by now to know you'd find a way to blame yourself for this, too."
He slapped a green reverse onto the pile. Good for getting rid of points, but otherwise meaningless in this two-player match. Then again, Jesse reflected, Uno wasn't really optimized for two players. He put down a green skip, then a four.
"I reckon I should hope you do," he mumbled eventually, analyzing his hand.
Jesse really should've seen this coming. He and Chazz knew most of each others' insecurities by now, they'd talked each other through it more than enough. They'd seen each other wake up from the nightmares more than enough, though they never approached that particular topic, not yet. They knew when to press each other and when to back off. It looked like Chazz had decided to press on, try to help Jesse out of the spiral he'd found homself in. Jesse wasn't sure he wanted it. Probably needed it, though.
"You disappeared right there, right in front of me," Jesse told him. "I should've done something. Pulled you to safety, or…"
Chazz shook his head. "Look, you're a dork, but I'll admit you've done some pretty amazing things. You have a dragon that can move people between dimensions. You've won all kinds of dueling tournaments. You're always there to save our hides when we need you. You don't just see duel spirits, you surround yourself with cool ones you actually like."
Something deep in Jesse wanted to protest that Jaden could do all of these things both better and without the help of a giant dragon. That wasn't the conversation they were having, though. He kept his mouth shut.
"But of all the cool things you've done and keep doing," Chazz went on, "I've never expected you to be able to see into the future. There's no way you could've done anything in time to change what happened."
Jesse scratched an itch on his head. "I guess I was lucky I didn't become a sacrifice for those things myself," he said.
"And I'm glad you weren't," Chazz told him. "You were still needed here." There was an unspoken, More than I was, that Jesse caught but didn't bring attention to. Not now. "It happened. And there's nothing you could've done about it. So stop blaming yourself for everything already. It worked out." He put a wild card down on the pile, quietly declaring the color to be green.
Jesse sighed. "I guess I can try."
Jaden Yuki still found himself haunted by the Dark Signer situation. That, in itself, wasn't that surprising.
He'd been there before. The similarities, as well as the differences, to what happened in Dark World were almost eerie. The experience helped him fight back before his defeat, but didn't do him much good now with getting over it.
The nightmares and flashbacks came at the same pace, but now they were mixed. He didn't care for this new wave of unpredictability, but he knew how to deal with this. He could deal with it.
(The fact that he could handle it didn't mean that it no longer hurt him. He still felt guilty, horrible, about everything. But he also wanted to be a functional human being. Yubel joked softly in his head that even with that, he had a ways to go. They were ignored.)
He'd lost a duel, died, but he could deal with it. Chazz had been gone again because of him, but he could deal with it. Jesse had been left all alone again, but he could deal with it. Leo and Luna, far too young for any of this, had nearly died because of him, but he could deal with it. He hated every single part of it, but he could deal.
That wasn't what was bothering him at the moment, not primarily. It was something altogether, before anyone else had gotten hurt because of him.
As the Supreme King, wielder of the Darkness of Justice, Jaden had probably already been a prime candidate for the Earthbound Immortals. They'd probably been eager to take him. But part of that process required that he had something to keep him going. For many of the Dark Signers, that had been revenge. Jaden had had his own reasons. And that's what bothered him.
He remembered it all way too clearly. What pulled him into the Immortals' grasp hadn't been the life he'd started to build here, or his friends. Instead, his last thoughts had been of the strong hold light had on this city. His last thoughts had been of darkness. His last thoughts had been of maintaining balance between the two, and not letting light win out.
Did everyone else really mean so little to him? Had he really learned nothing in his years at Duel Academy?
"Is that really all I care about?" Jaden mumbled aloud. Part of him was waiting for Yubel to give their two cents, but they were silent. Huh. Probably for the best; Jaden didn't really want to deal with himself right now either.
"Is what all you care about?" someone asked nearby. Jaden cursed under his breath. He hadn't been paying attention, hadn't realized he'd paced into the kitchen, where Leo was grabbing a banana, hadn't even realized he said anything out loud.
This was not a conversation he wanted fo have. But he couldn't…shouldn't really back out now, and he wasn't about to insult Leo with a lie or by brushing him off.
Talk about it, Yubel encouraged, it could help.
In Jaden's moment of distraction, his hand, seizing a mind of its own, grabbed an apple and he started eating it. Dammit, Yubel.
"You know how Dark Signers are made, right?" Jaden asked, mouth still full of apple. He wasn't sure the question was intelligible at all, but Leo nodded.
"Most of them seemed driven by…revenge," Leo said, carefully peeling his banana. He stopped about halfway through, looking like he was trying to stare a hole into the banana. "You didn't seem like you were, though. You kept talking about…correcting something with light, or something? It was weird."
Jaden frowned. "Yeah, for most of 'em, it was revenge. But I'm not really holding onto any grudges or anything." He took another bite of his apple. The last thing someone as young as Leo needed in their life was him, talking about his own death, but here they were. "As the shadows approached me, I kept thinking about why I couldn't die there. And my last thoughts were about balancing light and darkness, maintaining it."
"Uh-huh. Right. You have that darkness thing going on," Leo said. Jaden stared at his apple. Given that Leo's sister (and probably Leo himself, to some degree) was a strong force of light, that was probably weird for Leo to think about. But they had a good light, and Jaden's Darkness was…usually good, so maybe not. At the moment, Jaden couldn't remember how much he'd told Leo about his 'darkness thing'. He had no idea how much Leo remembered. It seemed to be enough.
Leo appeared to be waiting for him to say more, so Jaden kept talking. "…And, the last thought I had was about that. I wasn't thinking about you and Luna. Or about Jesse and Chazz. Or about any of my friends. Just…the balance."
"Well, it's like your job, isn't it?" Leo asked him. "That destructive Light keeps showing up and you have to deal with it, right? You spend so much time on that, it's bound to be on your mind a lot."
It didn't look like he was getting it. "Shouldn't I have been thinking about all of the people I care about, though?" Jaden demanded, attempting to glare his apple into nonexistence. Yubel pointed out that they probably could, but they'd rather he finish eating first. That commentary didn't really help, but it didn't make him feel any worse, either. "I mean, isn't that what most people do? If I was so busy thinking about other things, does that mean I don't care about anyone as much as I thought I do?"
"If you didn't care, you probably wouldn't be this worried about it," Leo pointed out. Finally, he took a bite of his banana. It was a whole fruit party up in here. Yubel couldn't be happier. Jaden wasn't super interested in their input.
"But…" Jaden couldn't find the words, but he was still very much worried.
Leo sighed. "Okay. You know that you matter a lot to us, right?"
"I know we matter a lot to you. So if you don't feel like you can trust yourself, or like you don't know how you feel, you can trust me, okay? I know," Leo finished.
"No doubts in your mind about that?" Jaden pressed.
"Nope," Leo answered. At that, he put his entire banana in the garbage, despite only eating a bite or two of it.
"Well, I know I can trust you, so…I'll try to believe it. Thanks.
It did not take someone as cool as Chazz Princeton to know that it was too hot to sleep.
His clothes were sticking to his body through a thick layer of sweat. He couldn't feel any of the cool air the fan was blowing directly at him. It was way too hot, way too humid, to try to accomplish anything, and yet, it was still too hot and humid to do nothing.
(If he was being honest with himself, Chazz was having some issues with sleeping regardless these days. But that didn't change how it was way too humid.)
That's how Chazz found himself in bed, reading a book. If he couldn't sleep as he was, he'd just tired his brain out until he couldn't stay awake anymore. As his eyes scanned over a line, he snorted. These characters really thought this one guy was clever because he used some kind of magical invisible ink. Chazz could do that too, you know. But he wouldn't, because anything written by the Chazz was so important that everyone should see it.
Wow, he was tired. Still not tired enough, apparently.
This insomnia, however, soon became a blessing in disguise. As Chazz skimmed through another pointless song, a voice whispered in his ear. He put down his book immediately. He'd gotten the signal, which meant there was no time to waste.
A few days ago, Chazz planted a certain Ojama Blue near the front door. Ojama Blue, unlike his other Ojama associates, knew how to keep his mouth shut and stay under the radar. And that's exactly what Chazz needed. This was a solo mission, Chazz only, and he couldn't risk the other Ojamas blabbing about this.
Ojama Blue quietly informed him there was still time. The target was still lingering around, getting prepared. At that, Chazz made his move, he quietly got up, silently left the bedroom, and made his way to the front door. He stopped in front of it, crossed his arms, and waited. It wouldn't be much longer now, Ojama Blue assured him. Chazz glanced at the time. 3 am... It was about the time he expected for this to happen, but he still couldn't believe it was so late.
Jesse hadn't woken up as Chazz embarked on his mission. That was good. The last thing Jesse needed right now was to deal with this. Chazz could fly this one alone.
He soon saw his target. The target was moving impossibly silent, which was to be expected. That's why Chazz had set up Ojama Blue as a lookout, after all. He had a few other quiet duel spirits watching out in other locations for good measure; he couldn't hear his target, but he knew one of them would see them. Almost too late, the target stopped in front of him. Then they took a step back.
"Chazz?" Jaden asked, his voice barely above a whisper. He had a bag over his shoulder, probably filled with whatever he'd deemed necessary, which couldn't be much, knowing him. Pharoah's head stuck out of the top of the bag. The cat was asleep, snoring softly.
"You didn't think you could just leave without saying anything, did you?" Chazz countered, raising an eyebrow. His own voice was even quieter than Jaden's; neither of them wanted to involve anyone else.
"You know that just standing in front of a door won't stop me from leaving," Jaden reminded him. "I can just go whenever I want."
"Yeah, but this way I can at least talk to you first," Chazz said. "Someone needs to try to convince you to stay here."
Jaden yawned, then ran a hand down his face. "The Light of Destruction doesn't take breaks, especially not because I went evil for a minute, again. It needs to be stopped, and it's my job to-"
"You're running away," Chazz interrupted him, still not moving away from the door.
"No I'm not, this is important!" Jaden protested.
"Okay, then what's the Light doing? Where is this emergency located? How bad is the situation?"
Jaden, for once, seemed to be at loss for words. Chazz smirked. Jaden's hands rose up in the air, surrendering.
"Okay, the Light hasn't made it's move…yet," Jaden admitted. "But I'm not running away. Not like you think. This is what's best for all of us."
"You think abandoning everyone here after we thought we lost you for good is best for everyone." Chazz lifted his chin. "That's the stupidest thing I've heard in awhile, and I have to listen to Ojamas all day. No offense, Ojama Blue."
"When you put it like that, but it's not- No." Jaden brought a hand up to his temples and took a deep breath. "You're looking at it all wrong. I'm not running away, and I'm not trying to abandon anyone."
"Enlighten me, then," Chazz offered.
"Instead of paying attention to the part where I died, look at the rest of what happened," Jaden told him. Chazz rolled his eyes, but let him continue. "I acted on impulse and got myself turned into a Dark Signer. You know, the bad guys everyone was trying to beat. My resurrection killed you. I broke a promise to a really powerful duel spirit. I let darkness take over a dimension of the spirit world that should be filled with light. I sealed away Luna's Signer Dragon, and tried to use it against her. I got into a shadow duel with Leo and Luna, who aren't even teenagers yet. During that duel, I was possessed by an emissary of the Netherworld that tried to force me to win that duel at all costs. I almost won that duel, and almost killed the twins. And that's just the most recent incident. That doesn't even count everything with the Sacred Beasts, the Society of Light, all the dimension hopping, Dark World, Nightshroud..."
"Yeah." Chazz rested his hands on his hips. "I'm assuming you have a point with all this."
"How much weird stuff happened at Duel Academy before I started going there?" Jaden demanded. "Don't answer, because I've looked it up, and the answer is 'none'. Then the second I start going there, we got into life or death situations at least once every year. Every single time, I was part of someone's plot to take over the world or destroy it or whatever everyone wanted. The Sacred Beasts wanted my Duel Energy, the Light tried to make me one of the first members of the Society of Light, Yubel wanted to fuse all the dimensions so I could rule them all with them, and my actions helped bring Nightshroud back. And then I became a Dark Signer. I always attract trouble wherever I go. And whenever I do, other people get dragged into it and they get hurt because of me. If I'm not here, you all stay safe."
"Do you really think we want that? Do you really think we want you facing everything alone?" Chazz asked. "Especially when you have friends willing to watch your back, willing to fight with you?"
"I don't want to risk losing you!" Jaden shot back.
"We don't want to lose you either!"
Jaden took a step backward, took another deep breath. Chazz gritted his teeth. This slacker just refused to realize he didn't have to do everything alone.
"I'll stick around awhile longer," Jaden mumbled. "It's probably bad timing to leave now. I don't want to hurt you guys more than I already have. But I can't stick around forever, it's better that way."
Without another word, before Chazz could get a word in, Jaden walked off. He ended up in the bathroom, probably putting all his stuff away. A couple of minutes later, Chazz stormed off to go back to bed. Maybe Jesse should've been awake for this after all. Clearly Chazz wasn't the right person for this conversation, not at 3 in the morning anyway.