This was written in September 2018. I'll post some of the original author's notes at the end of the story.

Getting used to his powers, dealing with rising threats, Jaden spent quite some time alone after the whole Dark World incident.

Well, not entirely alone. Yubel was there. They were always with him, now, and he was glad to have them there again, glad they were themself again.

But, well, it was just him and Yubel here now. He'd sent everyone back to Duel Academy, where they should be, where they belonged. They were home. And he was glad they were at Duel Academy again, but he missed them. He was lonely, despite everything. He'd barely spoken in at least three days now.

At one point, Yubel'd had to help him get through a panic attack, and boy, that wasn't a good time. Even now he just…it felt like the breath was constantly knocked out of him, and it felt like he could fall back into it at any second. He was glad Yubel was there to help, but right now what he needed was more quiet, more solitude, and they were giving him that space.

Jaden was lonely, he missed everyone at Duel Academy, but he needed to be alone, too. How demanding can you get?

Then, eventually, threats were resolved, and Jaden and Yubel had more control over this new living situation they'd made together. And Yubel knew how hard it was for Jaden to be alone like this. So, it was them who pushed him to go back. They reasoned him into it.

And, okay, maybe the two of them didn't have complete, absolute control over this whole thing. The landing at Duel Academy had been rough, but they made it, right? The commotion caught Syrus' attention, and soon all of Jaden's friends were there, welcoming him back, happy to see them.

And Jaden smiled, for what was probably the first time in days. Isolation hadn't done him any favors, and he was glad to be back, too.

He wasn't sure why they were so happy to see him, though. That part didn't make sense to him.

Pretty soon, someone informed him that the Slifer dorms had emptied out. No one was there, everyone had been promoted to either Ra or Obelisk while he'd been away. It made sense, honestly, the staff wished they'd done it sooner. It hadn't been good, keeping so many kids in Slifer without a teacher actually there. Not for the first time, Jaden was offered a promotion, but even now he turned it down. Red was his color now, and the views, the location…the Slifer dorms were the best place on the island. Besides, he pointed out, Slifer still had a teacher there, so he would be fine.

…That wasn't the full truth of it. He wouldn't admit the full truth of it aloud, to the teachers or to anyone else. But with all the students to promoted to Ra and Obelisk, that meant all his friends were there now, too. Even they'd abandoned the Slifer dorms. And if Jaden moved up with them, he wasn't sure he could handle being around them constantly, even outside class.

It wasn't anything against them. He'd love to hang around them all the time in an ideal world, and they seemed like they'd want to have him around, too. But that still felt so hard to believe. After everything that'd happened at Duel Academy, after everything he'd done…they'd all gotten hurt and worse because of him. That'd all been his fault. He could barely stand to look at himself, how could they stand him?

Not to mention Yubel. Yubel'd been hurt, manipulated, and hurt all his friends, too. They didn't know what Yubel was really like. If they knew he'd fused with Yubel, how would his friends feel? Would that finally be the tipping point? Would they finally realize his friendship wasn't worth having, that his involvement in their lives would just keep hurting them?

They next day, Jaden went to class. About halfway through, he made some excuse about needing to see the nurse and stumbled out of the room. He spent the next few hours quietly in his room, staring at the underside of the top bunk bed.

It wasn't that he just didn't want to be in class. It wasn't that class was boring. It was just…overwhelming. But…it was so bright, there were so many people, so many things to listen to around him and so much activity to look at. His vision since fusing with Yubel was better than it'd been in years (Yubel was telling him that his vision now, without activating any of their powers, should be normal for a human being). He was used to dark, quiet places now. Like his room. Not Duel Academy.

He stays where he is during class the next day, too. Yubel doesn't object, though Pharaoh is now sitting on his lap, purring. Someone slides a pile of papers under his door. He's not sure who it is.

About an hour later, once Pharaoh has decided he's had enough attention, Jaden gets up and looks at the papers. It's homework, mostly, from the last couple of days. Everything he missed. There's a copy of someone's notes, too. It can't be Bastion's notes, the handwriting is far too neat. But then, a small piece of paper in the middle of it all catches his eye.

He's been invited to a slumber party. For him and his friends, and no one else. Just them, hanging out and trying to readjust to life again together. That's not too many people. He can handle a small group, he's sure. So, this is what pushes him to leave his room again.

But, Jaden realizes the second he arrives to the party, he's underestimated his own emotions.

The party itself is about what he expected. All his friends are there, but only his friends, and no one else. Some of them have the cards out, talking strategies, one or two are currently doing homework, and the rest are mostly just mingling and hanging out. It's fairly quiet and calm. Not nearly so overwhelming as class turned out to be.

No, the problem came in the people that were there.

Jaden had nothing against his friends, truly. And none of them seemed to hold anything against him, somehow. But these are the same people that followed him into Dark World. People who he thought died because of him. He still remembered the looks on the faces of each person in this room the last time he saw each of them in the other dimension. None of those expressions were good. That itself was an understatement.

He liked his friends. They were great people. But the guilt was still eating away at him. He could barely look them in the eyes.

Jaden had hurt so many people he cared about before. And it always drove them away, turned them against him. And he understood. He got it. So why, then, were his friends sticking around despite everything?

Didn't they know they'd inevitably get hurt again because of him? He was a danger magnet. The longer they were around him, the more danger they were in. They had to know that.

There's no desire within him for his friends to be hurt.

In the middle of the night, while no one was paying attention, he slipped away and went back to his room.

Yubel seemed to think he can't hide away in there forever, and well, that's fair. When something happened he'd probably have to go out and face it. And, well, he should probably try to go back to being a normal member of society. That's what he should be doing, right? And he's had enough of a break now, class should be easier to deal with again, right? Jaden completed a few of his late assignments for good measure, and then braced himself to go back to class again.

After about an hour, he pulled another disappearing act.

He handled this fine for two and a half years, why did now have to be so hard?

At some point during class, they were supposed to have some sort of discussion, and someone had tried to talk to him. Jaden couldn't even remember who, now that it was over. But he didn't know what to say anymore, everything felt like it came out wrong anyway. And as he listened to himself talk, he knew he wasn't being…helpful, or interesting, or whatever they were supposed to be doing here. Literally nothing that came out of his mouth mattered.

Which…was weird, right? Jaden had been around people around his whole life, he wasn't very people-smart but he could manage before. For years now, he'd gotten through life just fine. Now, what, he fuses his soul with Yubel's, they spend some time away from normal life, and when they go back he just…suddenly forgets how to do it all?

At some point, he'd just wanted to have all his friends around, to hang around his friends, to spend all his time dueling.

Now, he couldn't bring himself to be around the people he cared about most, and dueling was a necessity, something with huge consequences, and he couldn't treat it so lightly. And to top it all off, there was just something in the air these days. Jade knew some new threat was on its way, ready to threaten everyone all over again. Chances were, whatever it was, it was his fault and it'd go after him. And if he stayed here much longer, someone would get caught in the crossfire.

He barely recognized himself in the mirror now. Where did Jaden Yuki go? Well, he was still here, but Jaden supposed that now he just knew better.

- chazz is the one who got the homework + notes for jaden and dropped it all off

-the invitation itself is from alexis and atticus

-syrus is the one who tried to talk to jaden during class