When Jin met Yusaku properly for the first time it was easy to recognize him as Playmaker. Jin simply knew. Yusaku admitted he also had a similar sense of continuity within and outside of the network that he referred to as his “link sense.”
Jin didn’t dwell on it, as he typically tried not to do when the lost incident came up. It was frustrating to feel so many effects of the events in such tangible ways without being able to access the memories themselves. It was not unusual for him to have panic attacks for reasons he couldn’t immediately identify, stemming from fears he had otherwise forgotten.
Nonetheless, Jin enjoyed having Yusaku around. His brother had been excessively anxious for the three months Yusaku had been missing, staying up late nearly every night scanning the network for him. When Yusaku reappeared on their doorstep, drives of collected data in hand, Shoichi began to openly cry for the first time Jin had seen in at least ten years.
And so Yusaku began to stay with the Kusanagis while he and Shoichi worked to reassemble the dark ignis from fragments of code Yusaku had traced in the network. It was nice. Shoichi cared so much for Yusaku, it was evident in the way he lit up with pride when Yusaku made a breakthrough in their work and took care to always have a plate of food placed in front of him when he was too engrossed in his work.
Jin couldn’t help but share his brother’s adoration for Yusaku. After all, hadn’t he been the one to save him from Revolver in his duel with Lightning? Yusaku was such a selfless and brave person. It was impossible not to admire him to some degree. And Yusaku’s overwhelmingly soft spoken nature made it so rewarding to make him smile even just a little bit.
Jin didn’t even realize how deeply he had fallen for Yusaku until he and Shoichi had finished reassembling Ai. He watched the Android whir to life only to tackle Yusaku to the floor and kiss him with a thoroughly wild passion that Yusaku seemed to reciprocate in his own more reserved way, and Jin felt his world and new life he had built in Den City begin to crumble.
He couldn’t breathe. His heart ached in a way that was not dissimilar to the feeling of his lost incident memories being blocked, overwhelmed by powerful but unrecognizable emotion. He felt more present than he had in weeks, but that sensation only left him with bitter loneliness.
He knew Yusaku was right to love Ai. He knew he had no right to be upset with it. Jin would have spent the countless hours on the computer or done whatever it took to be able to see Lightning again.
So Jin did his best to numb his feelings and carry on with his day to day life, salvaging what parts of it he could. It was simple enough. He had plenty of work to do helping Shoichi with the cafe and around the house.
That was until another visitor from link Vrains came by the truck one afternoon asking about Yusaku.
Jin instantly recognized him in the same way he recognized Yusaku. He felt an electric anger boiling inside both at the mention of Yusaku and the presence of Revolver.
“Why would I tell you?” He seethed.
Revolver seemed taken aback, but only slightly. He narrowed his icy eyes. “Do you...know who I am?”
Jin ignored him.
“He’s not here. You should leave.”
Revolver seemed amused by this, his previous uncertainty already gone.
“There’s been an increase in data material in the network, enough that could only be the work of at least one ignis. My bets are it’s the dark ignis. And I only know one person who would want him back, and only two who would be capable of bringing him back.”
His gaze turned to something behind Jin and he smiled.
“Ah, Kusanagi. It’s been awhile.”
Jin felt his brother’s hands touch lightly on his shoulders as he walked over to Jin’s side.
“What brings you back to the city, Ryoken?” His voice was only slightly more familiar than the typical customer service one Jin knew well.
Ryoken laughed. “I’m sure you know. Where is Yusaku staying? I’m assuming he’s back in the city.”
Shoichi shrugged. “Who knows. It’s Yusaku after all.”
“I see.” Ryoken nodded with a sickeningly sweet smile. “Thanks anyway.” He turned away, giving them a brief wave as he walked back in the direction he came from.
Shoichi sighed and patted Jin on the shoulder once before opening the back door of the truck.
“Sorry about him. He has a habit of reappearing every time I think he’s gone for good. But if you’re nice enough to him he tends to go away faster.”
Jin frowned as he stared up at his brother in the window of the truck. “Doesn’t seem like you were being too nice if you lied about Yusaku staying with us.”
His brother shrugged. “Ryoken either already knows that and is on his way right now, or he doesn’t and we’ll be able to buy Yusaku and Ai a little more peace and quiet.”
“Peace and quiet? Aren’t you worried about them!?” A couple passing by them gave Jin an odd look at his outburst. He lowered his voice and continued, “You know what he’s capable of doing to an ignis. He doesn’t seem to have all that much respect for humans either. Shouldn’t we warn Yusaku?”
Shoichi gave Jin a sad smile. “Look, I don’t like him either, but I promise you he’s not as dangerous as he seems. If anything he’s just going to hurt Yusaku’s feelings.” He paused. “But yeah, it couldn’t hurt to give Yusaku a call I suppose.”
Jin gave Shoichi an odd look, but decided to call Yusaku anyway.
Yusaku has been weirdly distant on the phone, even by his standards, and while Jin tried not to read too much into it the vague wistfulness in Yusaku’s voice was driving him crazy. He hadn’t thought much of Shoichi saying Ryoken might hurt Yusaku’s feelings when he first said it, but now Jin was suspecting his brother was alluding to some kind of history the two had.
A more recent history at least. Yusaku has mentioned on the phone that Ryoken was the one who saved them all those years ago, and while Jin personally felt no emotional response toward that information, not remembering his kidnapping at all, Yusaku’s positioning Ryoken as their savior did spark an unexpectedly intense anger in him. One that was now turning into a headache the next day, as he had not stopped thinking about it.
The thought of Ryoken doing anything for anyone besides himself was laughable. Maybe Jin would be laughing now on his way to the store is he wasn’t about to throw up from all the tension in his body.
Running out to the store and watching the truck while Shoichi was away were really the only things Jin was comfortable doing alone. But he typically enjoyed the independence and the free time to himself, however brief.
Today, though, he was not able to enjoy it.
When he saw the same white hair and icy eyes from yesterday, he thought he had somehow conjured the image from his angry thoughts.
Jin considered ignoring him, still hopeful his appearance was some sort of delusion, but ultimately his rage got the better of him.
“Why are you here? Can’t you take a hint? Yusaku doesn’t want to talk to you.”
“I wish that was the case. But I’m here to talk to you.”
Jin stopped walking. “Why?”
“Lightning turned some of your consciousness into life points to allow him to win our duel, correct?”
Jin narrowed his eyes. “What do you care? He’s already gone.”
Ryoken ignored the defensiveness in his tone. “Well, he took your memories, didn’t he?”
Jin shrugged and continued walking. “I guess.”
“If you could get them back, or at least part of them, would you want to?”
“What are you getting at?” Jin snapped.
“I recently got access to SOL’s backups of certain parts of the network. It contains data from before Lightning took your memories. In theory, we could use that data to return them.”
Jin looked carefully at Ryoken’s expression. He looked back at Jin plainly, no obvious motive evident in his features.
“I don’t know if I want that.” Jin admitted quietly.
Ryoken shrugged. “You can think about it. It’s not certain it would work anyway, but in theory we could restore as much or as little of them as you’d like.”
Jin didn’t answer him, and when he looked up again Ryoken was gone.
Ryoken wasn’t sure if he was doing the right thing asking Kusanagi’s brother to test their theory about the backups. But he also figured if Jin wasn’t interested (and there was a good chance he wasn’t), he would just tell him no. And he could move on. Probably.
The other more annoying dimension of this whole project was that he was unfortunately very curious about the light ignis’s origin anyway. He had been able to keep fairly decent tabs on most of the children his father abducted throughout their lives, but Jin having spent so much time in hospitals, especially ones that kept largely paper records, had made him difficult to track.
He had his own theories on how the ignises related to their origins already from what he know about the others. The ignises seemed to have fairly similar dueling styles to their origins, but personalities that complimented certain things that their origins lacked. At least that was his assumption from knowing Ai and Yusaku, and gathering data on Earth.
But he also knew Lightning was the biggest failure of his father’s experiment, being the one set to doom both humanity and his own race. He had no idea if he was simply an anomaly, or if his origin was somehow different from the others in a notable way.
Not that any of this mattered now that (most) of the ignises were gone, but Ryoken was unfortunately raised by scientists, and his curiosity often got the better of him.
It was all a welcome distraction anyway from the larger issue at hand, which was the dark ignis’s revival. Yusaku brining Ai back was not unexpected, but still very troublesome.
Ryoken sighed and checked the time on his phone. The text messages he had intercepted led him to believe Jin would be on his way to the food truck to meet up with his brother soon, and Ryoken was hoping to walk with him.
And maybe he was hoping to actually order something this time. He hadn’t been expecting Jin to be there last time, and he had gotten a bit frazzled.
Soon enough Jin turned the corner and locked eyes with Ryoken. He looked only marginally less disgusted to see him than he had the previous times.
“Back to bother me already?” Jin asked as Ryoken fell in step with him.
“Indeed. Have you made a decision yet? Or do you want to know more details about it?”
“I might have.” Jin admitted, looking away. “But I do have one question.”
“Do you think I should?” The question was unexpectedly earnest.
Ryoken faltered. “I don’t know,” he admitted, “are there any specific things that bother you? I don’t think you should get them all back, since you do seem to be doing better without them.”
“Well, there are a few things that bother me. But mostly because I don’t know if Yusaku and my brother have told me the truth about them.”
“So you want those memories back?”
“Not really, no.”
Ryoken raised a brow. “So you don’t want to test the technology.”
“Ugh, of course not. That sounds terrible,” Jin grimaced. “I only can’t remember the time I was abducted, but I know what I’ve been like for the past ten years. I know it’s not worth it.”
“I understand. But what about those details then?”
“I figured you could sit down with me some time to talk about it.”
Ryoken must have made a face, because Jin finally laughed.
“You can have my number you know, you don’t have to track me or whatever you creep. You could exchange numbers with Yusaku too for that matter.”
Ryoken couldn’t find anything graceful to say, so he just accepted the piece of paper Jin offered him, and once again ended up parting ways with Jin before he could buy a hotdog.
Jin understandably disliked being alone in places that weren’t busy public places, so Ryoken invited him to a coffee place that was quiet enough that they could hear each other speak, but still busy enough that Jin seemed relatively relaxed.
And he was relatively relaxed, his face thoughtful as he sipped his tea.
“Shoichi really is much better at making coffee and tea than most of these fancy places. He could definitely have a real coffee shop if he could ever get used to the idea of settling down.”
Ryoken shrugged. “Your brother has many talents. I’m sure he could make good money getting a job at SOL or some place like that as well.”
Jin laughed. “You really don’t know my brother. That explains why he hates you so much.”
Ryoken frowned. “What did you want to talk about, Jin?”
Jin took a long sip of his tea. “Yusaku says you were the one who kidnapped him. Did you kidnap me too?”
Ryoken nearly spit out his coffee. “N-no, I wasn’t aware of the experiment at that point. You were the first one taken. I only remember my father struggling to find the final subject when he became worried someone would notice too many children being taken from Den City. You, the wind origin, and the water origin all lived in the city, but after that he had to start looking at surrounding towns.”
“So you don’t know how I was taken?”
“That’s a shame,” Jin sighed, looking into his tea. “My brother always blamed himself for not watching me carefully. I didn’t know if you chose the victims ahead of time or if you just took me because he wasn’t watching me.”
Ryoken pursed his lips. “I’d imagine it was a bit of both, but I don’t know for sure.”
“I see. So when did you find out about the experiment then?”
“This doesn’t seem like a question that would help you remember something you’ve lost.”
Jin shrugged. “Maybe not, but I’d like to know.”
Ryoken sighed. “I was aware there was a big project my father was working on, but I didn’t realize the true nature of it until several months into it. He showed me data at some point that he told me I’d helped him collect by finding the sixth subject, but I wasn’t shown the actual experiment itself until close to half a year in.”
“So why do you feel bad that you didn’t stop it earlier if you weren’t aware of it earlier?”
“I never said I felt bad about that.”
“Whatever. So why do you hate the ignises so much?”
“This is not at all what I meant for this meeting to be like.”
“What does it matter? Don’t you like making yourself feel bad about the past and getting the chance to talk about how the ignises shouldn’t exist?”
Ryoken wasn’t sure if these impressions of him cam from Yusaku, Shoichi, or Lightning, but he answered, “I don’t know what you’re getting at, but yes they shouldn’t exist. They’re a danger to humanity. I don’t know why you need this explained to you after everything you’ve gone through.”
Jin rolled his eyes. “But are they a danger to humanity if we don’t attack them? Both Lightning and Ai only had bad futures because we got scared of their power and decided they couldn’t have it.”
“Who told you that?”
“Lightning showed me.”
Ryoken’s blood ran cold. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, when he took me into Link Vrains, he showed me why he thought he had to do what he did. I think he knew there wasn’t a way he would make it out alive, but he wanted the chance to show me i mattered to him anyway.”
Ryoken stared at Jin as he took one last sip of his tea.
“Sorry, I have to go, but definitely text me when you’re free again!”
Unfortunately there was a next time. And another. And another. Ryoken learned a lot about Jin’s time in Link Vrains with Lightning and how strangely attached he was to the terrible ignis, and he discussed some of the more pathetic aspects of his childhood as well. Somehow, even though they seemed to be very separate conversations at times, it still felt like they were hearing each other. There was something refreshing about not feeling any pressure to defend anything he had done or thought since Jin’s opinion already seemed so low of him anyway, and his ideas about past events were so different from Ryoken’s own.
But at the same time, Jin did seem to be warming up to him in some respects. He let Ryoken walk home with him to the apartment he shared with Yusaku and his brother some days when they weren’t ready to end their conversation before Jin had to head home.
Today was one of those days. Ryoken waited for Jin to say his goodbye at the door, but Jin just looked at Ryoken for a long moment before leaning in close to him, hands resting lightly on Ryoken’s hips.
Ryoken’s eyes fluttered closed as he felt their noses lightly touch, and Jin’s breath ghost over his face. He only became aware of the fact he was holding his breath a moment later when he could feel himself getting dizzy.
Suddenly Jin turned away, covering his face with his hands. “Ah, you’re so frustrating!” He growled.
Ryoken blinked. “What —“
“This is exactly what happened with Yusaku and Homura, isn’t is? Maybe even Spectre too.” Jin was muttering, half to himself.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do! Shoichi told me how obsessed you were with Yusaku when you were on different sides, but the moment Yusaku reached out to you as a friend, or maybe something more, you ran away for months.”
“That’s not what happened!” Ryoken hissed.
“And you did the same thing with Homura! You were only interested in him when he was angry at you, but once he started to empathize with you, you just ran away again!”
“I didn’t!” Ryoken insisted.
“You just want everyone to hate you because then you don’t have to do any of the work of getting better yourself! It’s so exhausting. And I don’t know what to do, because if I actually start to care about you you’ll leave, but if I tell you to leave you just won’t!”
Ryoken didn’t know what to say.
Jin looked like he was about to cry. “I’m so tired of losing things. You loved to hate Lightning, because it was easy for you, but you never understood him. I miss him every day. Please…I just want to be alone.”
Ryoken only watched, confused as Jin slammed the door in front of him.
Jin was frustrated, but he could only really be mad at himself. His brother had warned him against putting too much faith in Ryoken for anything, but he continued to not only spend time with him, but get disgustingly attached to him as well. And while Shoichi was never the type to tell anyone he told them so, being stupid enough to disappoint his brother still stung.
And maybe he felt a bit guilty about wasting Ryoken’s time too. Or at least for snapping at his so suddenly.
So while being alone again was most definitely for the best, Jin couldn’t help but feel that familiar numbness creeping back into his life.
His brother definitely noticed, but didn’t say anything.
Yusaku noticed as well one afternoon when Jin was particularly absentminded at work, mixing up a couple of orders. He assured Jin in his typical monotone but certain way that Ryoken would be back.
Jin had told him he hoped he was wrong, and Ai laughed, then ran over to offer him a high-five.
It all wasn’t great, but Jin hoped things would blow over eventually. Hadn’t they with Ryoken and Yusaku after all?
His hopes were dashed about a month later when they received a strange knock on the door to their apartment one evening.
Jin opened the door without thinking to check who it was first, not especially nervous since everyone was home that evening. But words failed him when he found Ryoken staring back at him, expression as impassive as ever.
Jin heard a strange mechanical sound and felt a rush of air past his head before the door slammed in front of him. He whirled around to find Ai behind him, but his hand on the door, his wrist extended on some kind of metal cord in a nearly comical way.
He grinned sheepishly. “Someone has to do it!”
Yusaku and Shoichi ran out of the kitchen to asses what had happened.
“Ai!” Yusaku glared at him expectantly.
“Ugh, FINE! I’m not going to be around for this conversation, though!” Ai whipped around, his cape billowing behind him as he stormed off to the next room.
Yusaku rolled his eyes, then nodded at Jin. “You should probably open the door.”
Jin reluctantly obeyed, and revealed a now slightly more frazzled Ryoken.
“You’re keeping the dark ignis here?”
“He just left actually.” Yusaku folded his arms over his chest and looked at Ryoken expectantly in perhaps the most outwardly aggressive behavior Jin had ever seen Yusaku direct toward Ryoken.
“That’s a shame,” Ryoken sighed. “I figured he’d be interested in what I had to say.
“In any case, I’m guessing you intend to bring the other ignises back, correct?”
Yusaku didn’t answer, but unfortunately Shoichi did. “We haven’t been able to track their scattered data very effectively. Yusaku’s connection to Ai helped find his, but the others are going to take a lot more time.”
Ryoken shook his head. “Not … necessarily. SOL has backups of certain parts of the network. I have access to some of them that contain information about the ignises. It may be possible to revive them in a similar way to what the dark ignis did to itself while dueling Bowman.”
“And what’s the catch?” Yusaku’s duel disk, left by the front door glowed to life, and Ai emerged in his ignis form from the flickering screen. “Why would you want to bring them back?”
Ryoken huffed. “I obviously don’t want to, but I know you’re going to anyway, and I just want to make sure a couple of the more troublesome ones have Pandor’s more human-friendly protocols installed when you do. So I’m willing to help you on that condition.”
“We’ll think about it. Yusaku, shut the door!” Ai ordered.
Yusaku ignored him. “Is that ok with you Jin? Or do you want to think about it.”
Jin rubbed his eyes, desperately trying to hold back his tears. Were Yusaku and his brother really looking into bringing Lightning back? He supposed he could believe that they at least had been looking for the others. But Ryoken …
“That would be great,” he mumbled.
Ryoken nodded. “I have physical copies of the backups that I’ll bring when we’re ready to work on it. I’ll be in contact.” He turned and walked away.
Yusaku closed the door as Ai continued to protest. “I’m going to have to look at that code myself! Ugh, where did I leave my SOLtis?”
There was a rattling crash as Yusaku’s duel disk fell to the floor.
“Ai!” Yusaku gingerly picked up the duel disk, checking for damage.
“I think he left it out of the way in the closet, but he’s going to have a hard time getting it out again,” Shoichi sighed.
“Where?” Yusaku followed Shoichi to the next room.
Jin quietly slipped out the door and ran down the stairs to catch Ryoken as he was just about to leave the building. Ryoken turned around and Jin threw his arms around him and kissed him. Ryoken’s initial surprise melted into a sweet, if not slightly timid kiss. When they finally broke, they stayed with their foreheads together for a moment longer, as Jin wasn’t ready to let Ryoken go yet.
“Thank you,” he said simply.
Ryoken paused for a moment. “Of course.”
Jin gave him one more quick, but tight hug, and Ryoken had the decency to pretend he didn’t feel Jin’s tears on the side of his face. And for once, Ryoken didn’t feel like leaving anymore.