This was originally written in November 2018. I'll include some of the original author's notes below and at the beginning of next chapter as they feel relevant.

you ever start projecting too hard on chazz

Chazz Princeton was the top duelist at Duel Academy, in his year at least, and he always would be. None of the slackers around him could even compare. He was in the top dorm, Obelisk Blue, and from his throne he could look down at everyone who dared to try to beat him, and laugh at them for making the greatest mistake of their lives.

...Okay, yeah, that was going a little far, even for Chazz. Even he knew that none of that was true.

Chazz Princeton wasn't even the best duelist he'd dueled that month, and while he'd grown a lot in the last few weeks, he clearly still had a long way to go. He'd been knocked down to the lowest dorm, Slifer Red, and it's honestly where he probably belonged. But if anyone tried to say that out loud, be it to his face or behind his back, he'd make sure they would regret it. Chazz couldn't stop himself from feeling that way, but he could absolutely make sure no one else realized that was how he felt. He didn't even like realizing for himself. If he could go back to the sweet ignorance of thinking he was the best, he would.

But then Bastion had to happen, and North Academy, and Jaden, and Slade and Jagger...

Slade and Jagger. Yeah. His brothers. That was a thing that happened. They'd just had to go and broadcast his duel on TV, hadn't they? Try to show the world that the Princeton family dominated every aspect of life, including dueling. And Chazz probably could've proven it in a duel against most opponents, but against Jaden? He didn't stand a chance. He never had, in any point the two of them had ever dueled. That dumb Slifer was too good.

So Chazz lost, obviously. And then he was publicly disowned by his brothers. Now here he was, no family, no friends, sitting in a dingy room in the Slifer dorms that was so small his bed didn't even fit in there. Followed around by the most annoying duel spirit to ever grace the planet, to make things worse. Didn't get much worse than that.

All his life, all Chazz had ever done was work to please his brothers. They wanted him to be the best duelist in the world, and that's what he worked to be. He worked hard in prep school, made sure he made it to the top dorm in Duel Academy. And he was good, against most duelists he'd faced up to this point. Even Chazz didn't think he was the worst, he just obviously wasn't the best, either. It was the one thing his brothers had wanted him to do, to dominate the world of dueling. But as hard as Chazz worked, had always worked, it was never good enough for them. He could always be better, he could always do better, which meant that he just wasn't good enough in Slade and Jagger's eyes. And now, it looked like they'd decided he was never going to be good enough, either. They'd decided they were done with him. (That declaration still didn't feel real to him. Chazz knew his brothers had been fed up with him, but he'd never thought they'd throw him away like that.)

He'd just wanted to live up to their expectations, and he'd failed. Chazz was no fool, he'd always been a failure, but this time his incompetence had been too much.

All the Slifers, after that duel, had been pretty happy to welcome him in after he decided to transfer back to Duel Academy. But it wasn't their approval Chazz had been looking for. If he couldn't dominate the world of dueling for the Princeton family, then what was he supposed to do? Becoming a duelist had never even been on his mind whenever he studied or practiced, he'd always been foremost concerned with becoming a Princeton. With that option gone, what was left to him?

If Chazz was honest with himself, he wasn't even sure why he transferred back to Duel Academy. He wasn't even sure why he was still in school, or still holding onto his cards. What was he doing here? He wasn't even sure he wanted to duel, without several tons of pressure weighing him down.

He wasn't even sure what he wanted to do.

A loud meow broke Chazz out of a dream he'd already completely forgotten about. He opened his eyes just enough to see Pharaoh glaring at him. He must've kicked the cat in his sleep or something. Wait, why was this furball in his room, anyway? Shouldn't he be sleeping in Professor Banner's room or something? Did Pharaoh always make it a habit of breaking into people's rooms at (Chazz rolled over to check his clock) 6 AM?

Wait, 6 AM? Chazz rubbed his eyes before looking again, but no, he'd seen right the first time. Panic filled him for a second. He needed to get up, get ready for the day before classes started.

The panic then drained out of him, replaced with an overwhelming emptiness. Did it matter? Did he even want to go to class? Should he even care?

Before he could decide, the door to his room slammed open.

"Yo, Chazz!" Jaden yelled. "You in there? Waking up? You should get up soon, you don't want to miss breakfast!"

"Didn't anyone ever teach you how to knock?" Chazz asked. Pharaoh turned to Jaden, meowing with enough annoyance that Chazz hoped the cat was taking his side. He felt supported regardless, supported enough to add, "I can wake myself up, you know."

"Sure you can," Jaden replied cheerfully. Ignoring Chazz's question, he noticed. That meant the answer was probably no, good grief. "But this whole living arrangement is new, you know? I just wanted to let you know, you can sit with us at breakfast if you want. You can walk with us to class, too. We figured, your buddies are in Obelisk, and it's hard to eat with them or walk to class with them when you're here, so..."

"Save it. Don't feel like you have to offer just because I'm here and I'm new." Chazz rolled over, facing away from Jaden. "I'm not even sure I'm going to class, anyway."

"Aw, Chazz, don't be like that. Of course I want to offer, we're friends!" Chazz snorted, but Jaden kept talking before he could give a comeback to that. "What's eating at you? You never skip class."

"I never used to skip class," Chazz corrected him. "Now I'm a new and improved Chazz, and maybe The Chazz wants to skip class now."

"Come on, Chazz. I know class is boring, I sleep through it all the time, but I still go. Everything's okay, right?" Jaden pushed. "You're not sick, are you?"

"Not sick," Chazz agreed, even though his stomach had been upset enough to force him out of bed once during the night. That wasn't really him being sick, though, that was just stress. Not that he'd ever admit it, he'd fake food poisoning sooner than admit it. After eating Slifer food, that'd be easy enough to do, too. "I just don't even know if I want to go. I don't even know why I'm here."

"Of course you're here, you're a duelist. You're here because you like dueling."

Chazz rolled his eyes. "Do I have to spell it out for you, slacker? I don't know if I want to be a duelist. I don't know if I ever did, or if I was just doing what my brothers wanted me to do. I don't know if I want to be here."

After the duel had ended, Jaden had told Chazz he was free now, from his brothers' demands and expectations. And maybe he was. But Chazz had never really been free before, and he'd quickly become lost. He had no idea what he wanted to do, what he wanted for himself. It's not like he'd earned the freedom, or any of this. His sense of direction had just been taken from him.

Something on the bed moved. Chazz looked over to see that Pharaoh had jumped off, and Jaden was now sitting on the edge of his bed.

"A few weeks ago, before you left to join North Academy, I watched you duel another student. Another Obelisk Blue, I think?" Jaden recalled. "It looked close for awhile, and for a turn or two you had your back up against the wall."

"Yeah, I remember that duel," Chazz replied. "I turned it around using Infernal Incinerator and Chthonian Blast. I didn't realize you were watching that duel."

"As if I'd miss one of The Chazz's duels." Jaden grinned at him. "But you still remember that duel. Even with everything you've been through since then. That duel just proved how good a duelist you are. Even when things looked bad for you, you never looked worried. Not even once. I saw you smile during your last turn, too. You looked like you were having fun."

"You must've imagined it. It should be pretty clear by now that I never dueled for fun," Chazz muttered. "Just world domination, or something like that."

"Well, what other people want you to do doesn't matter anymore." As if that wasn't Chazz's whole problem in the first place. "Did you have fun during that duel? Or anytime that we've dueled, did you ever have fun then?"

"I don't know."

"Alright, then." Jaden stood up. "If you're not sure about the past, let's focus on the present. Let's duel, you and me, right now. We'll have a duel where it doesn't matter what you want to do, or what anyone else thinks you should do. You can stay in bed all day if you win, but if I win, you have to come to class. And maybe by the end of it, you'll figure out the answer."

"If it'll get you out of my room? Fine, you're on."

Chazz went into the duel knowing he was going to lose. He hadn't beaten Jaden yet, and he honestly didn't expect to anytime soon, no matter what he might actually say. He knew he'd end up having to go to class after that duel. And true to expectations, he lost.

But Jaden didn't rub it in his face, or remind him about the conditions of their duel. Instead, he asked, "So, did you have fun?"

"Have fun?" Chazz repeated.

"Yeah, during the duel! Do you think you figured out if you like dueling or not?"

Chazz looked down at the cards in his hand, thought back to the last few turns of the duel. He hadn't been concerned about the outcome of the duel, because he'd already known how it would end. But, the more he thought about it, the more he realized this was the first duel where the outcome had never truly mattered to him at all. He'd been free to live in the moment, without worrying the whole time. And with all that pressure gone?

"You know, I think I actually did."

Chazz's path as a duelist had been laid out for him as long as he could remember. He was surprised to find that becoming a duelist was what he wanted for himself, too.