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[personal profile] elementalhero
oops random wrote a 2 am fanfiction what is this world coming to.

---


that lonesome road

if I had stopped to listen once or twice
if I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes
if I had cooled my head and warmed my heart
I’d not be on this road tonight



There was a second letter inside his bag. It had slipped out of Pharaoh’s collar while he was in there, and Juudai only found it later that night, while making camp in the shelter of a large red rock. “What’s...?” he had muttered, feeling something unfamiliar graze his fingers as he rummaged around for a pocketknife or something useful. It was a sealed envelope, not just a folded sheet of paper. Juudai sat with his back to the rock, ignoring the sun going down. He wasn’t worried about night falling before he’d made a fire; with Yubel’s help, he could see in the dark just fine.

The writing on the outside was in Roman lettering, and Juudai had to squint by the last reddening rays of the sun to decipher the cursive.

(But in his heart, he already knew who this was from.)

J-U-D-A-I, he mouthed to himself, touching each letter (there was a half-slanted macron added as an afterthought over the U) and tracing it with his finger. Juudai’s name looked alien in someone else’s hand, someone who had way better letter-handwriting than he did. Someone like...

Pharaoh mewled reproachfully, and Juudai realized it was getting chilly and he should get around to making that fire. He hesitated. Then he tucked the envelope back into his bag. “In the morning,” he murmured to himself. He would read it then.


But morning came and it was time to look for water. And night fell and it was a job for the next day. And morning and night came and went again, and again, and again, because it was easier to just trace his finger along the sweeps and curves of his name in that hand and wonder a little. But not for too long. Then it was back to the road, to avoiding calls to his cell about KaibaCorp wanting him for questioning related to the collapse of their skyscraper in Domino City, to pay phones where he’d dial his home phone number and tell his parents he was doing just fine while the cool female operator responded in his ear Please insert one hundred yen to make a call, to cold day-old cans of beans and running his hands discreetly along convenience-store racks to listen for strong spirits inside the booster packs stacked there.

O’Brien called every once in a while, to keep him updated. That was good. They had developed a working understanding, that words were cheap and sentimental feelings even cheaper. Less frequently, Shou would call, and leave messages about the status of the Marufujis’ pro league, and ask when Juudai ever planned to enter. Sometimes Juudai returned those calls, and they would talk for a long time, sometimes to hear each other and sometimes just to keep the silences from stretching and rolling back in.

Asuka left a message once, and only once. Juudai listened to it after a day. There was the sound of a soft intake of breath, and a click.

Through it all, he read, and reread, and reread the note he’d received from his friends, until the paper was so crumpled and the ink so smudged that no one could tell what it said. Only Juudai knew. He had burned the image into his mind.

But the other note, he would simply take out of his bag. He would trace his name, and run his fingers along the edges of the envelope, and curl a nail against the seam without tearing it, and wait. And then he would lose his nerve, and put the note away again.

Why are you doing this to yourself? Yubel finally asked once, in the back of a ferry Juudai had stolen onto to get to a small shore town he’d heard was having some problems with spirits disappearing. He had the note clutched tight against his chest, to keep the salt spray from wetting it. “Doing what?” he’d said, under his breath. Just open it, she’d said, and stop torturing yourself. “Oh, coming from you, that’s rich,” he’d said. She’d bristled at the back of his head. Do you think you can hide things from me? I who share your inmost being, Juudai? she’d snarled. I know what you are afraid of. I know you know what should have been said, and wasn’t.

He shook his head. “I can’t,” he said. “I just—” He looked up to meet the eyes of a nervous-looking woman, halfway across the car docking area. Juudai was suddenly aware of the picture he presented: two days since he’d last tried combing his hair, let alone catching a shower; a once-fat and now-thinning cat stretched across his knees; his hands clenched around a scrap of paper as he muttered to himself and answered questions no one had asked.

He ducked his head and picked his way to a different, less-discoverable location. That was the last time Yubel felt it necessary to bring it up.

---

Eventually, it became a ritual. Look at the letter before going to sleep, wherever and whenever that was. Otherwise, don’t think about it. Otherwise, it didn’t exist.

Juudai fought his fair share of battles. Though the largest threats to the stability of the dueling world had been eliminated while he was at Duel Academy, small-grade trouble popped up now and again; rogue spirits, upstarts who tried to hunt down cards too powerful for them to handle, the occasional stirring of forces Juudai didn’t have names for, because he was learning this as he went, whatever this was. His job. His purpose. His burden.

Juudai loved his friends more than he could ever have articulated. He missed them. It felt like an ache in his chest sometimes, this loneliness, this distance. But he’d learned the hard way what it was to bring pain to the people he loved. So he called every once in a while, or wrote a letter, and pretended that this was something normal. That it was totally normal to speak more with spirits than with people.

---

Finally, there was a duel. An ancient spirit in South America was stirring and some idiot was trying to wake it up. Juudai found him. They fought on a bluff overlooking the sea. He had some kind of dragon deck; Juudai barely remembered, these guys all blended together after a while. But once, when he took damage, a lucky rake of the beast’s claws grazed Juudai’s side, opened a gash near his ribs and tore through half of Juudai’s bag, hanging from its worn strap. He’d almost forgotten the damage to the bag. Once he won the duel, he’d worked on staunching his bleeding and making sure Pharaoh was alright. Then he remembered.

Half his things had broken out, the water canteen was punctured and useless, a bag of food was gone, and it appeared that Juudai had lost the letter for good. Except – he ran his hands around the bag and found a crumpled, torn fragment – the letter had been slashed in half, and it was bunched up where the raking action had driven it up against the canvas of the bag.

Juudai straightened the torn edges and, slowly, numbly, slid out the half of the letter that was left. The one thing keeping his breathing steady was the pain in his ribs.

He saw the remnants of a greeting remarking on the summer weather – it was now the following spring.

He saw an apology that they’d have to go their separate ways for a while.

He saw:

—wanted to tell you I don’t think that
—it’s not your fault. I hope you never
—f you ever wanted a place to stay or a
—and Ruby misses you. Come by before winter and
—han Andersen


Pharaoh rubbed Juudai’s hand. Juudai didn’t notice. He read the lines over and over. Traced Johan’s writing with his hand: his basic, neat foreigner’s kanji, blocky and half again as big as the kana next to them.

Then, in one swift motion, he crumpled the sheet in his hand, and raised it to his face.

Yubel stirred inside his mind. You were afraid of this, she said, softly. Of his forgiveness.

Juudai didn’t answer. He couldn’t have if he had tried. He was too busy erasing those words with the tears he was trying not to let fall, with everything he wanted and knew he couldn’t have. Knew he couldn’t let himself have. Too busy forcing himself not to imagine what he might have done if he’d read it that night, by that sunset, before the night ran in.

A phantom sensation, like arms going around his shoulders.

Oh, Juudai, Yubel said.

It was cruel – to the both of them, because each felt the other’s pain as acutely as their own – but for a second, Juudai let himself pretend that those arms belonged to someone not them, someone who could see spirits, who might have come with them except for someone else’s pride and fear and unwillingness to forgive himself.

For a second, Juudai let himself pretend he had an answer.
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