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Maybe, in the end, It will be alright

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When the duel against Paradox was over, Stardust Dragon’s card materialized into Yusei’s hand, at last with its rightful owner.

 

 

But Judai was surprised to see that both Cyber End Dragon and Rainbow Dragon appeared in his own hand. These weren’t his cards, he maybe kind of assumed that they would go back to their owners by themselves.

Unless the spirits themselves wanted Judai to give the cards back in person.

-“Judai” Yusei’s voice snapped him out of his train of thoughts. “Come on, the Crimson Dragon will take us back”.

After they bid their final farewells to Yugi, Judai climbed on the back of Yusei’s motorcycle. He was still waving the King of Games goodbye when Yusei hit the accelerator and everything was enveloped in red. 

It was over before Judai knew it, he was back in the rooftops of Venice. He got off the bike and looked around to the plaza below them. All the destruction Paradox had caused was gone. The city looked like it always did at nighttime, bustling with activity, merchants, tourists and the sort.

-“I take it this is how this place usually looks like.” Yusei said as he stood next to Judai. The latter just nodded in confirmation. “Well then, I leave this timeline to you, Judai. And knowing that there is a future, I know it’s in good hands.” Judai and Yusei shook hands one last time. “Yeah, I guess so, uh?” Judai said as Yusei climbed back on his motorcycle “The future will be up to you, so good luck even though I have a feeling you don’t need it.”

-“Thanks” Yusei said as he put his helmet back on. “And don’t worry, I will do it, with the help of my friends.” He then reignited the bike and hit the accelerator. The bike was once again wrapped up by the Crimson Dragon before disappearing. Judai stared at the spot the bike was at just a second ago, Yusei’s words still ringing in his ears.

With the help of my friends...

Judai had not seen any of his friends since they graduated from Duel Academia, a little over a year ago. Unlike Yusei, who by the sound of it leaned on his friends to support him, Judai wanted nothing more than to keep them away from the dangers that being close to him implied. He had already experienced the worst possible consequences of dragging your friends and the people you care about with you into danger. And he wanted to avoid that at all costs.

Cheers from the plaza made Judai turn around and look back down. Seemed like a group of traditional street dancers were performing and both locals and tourists alike were enjoying it. He saw their carefree smiles and laughter, briefly jealous that they were oblivious to the fact that this reality was nearly destroyed just a few hours ago.

Judai stretched his arms up, fingers intertwined. He groaned a bit when he felt his shoulders crack. “Well, looks like everything is back to normal. Well, as normal as it gets, at least.” In that moment, Pharaoh popped his head out of Judai bag and yawned. A yellow orb of light came out, floating right next to Judai’s head.

-“Well, it’s almost back to normal, Judai. Don’t you still have Cyber End Dragon and Rainbow Dragon with you?” The familiar voice of Professor Daitokuji said. Judai put his hand in his jacket pocket and felt two cards in there, as he took them out he saw the two dragons. 

-“I have to give these back to their owners, don’t I?” Some uneasiness started pooling in his stomach at the thought. He dismissed his nervous thoughts as much as he could. “We should start with Sho.”

-“Sho?” Yubel’s voice spoke inside his head. “Judai, we are already in Europe. Getting to Johan will be easier.”

-“No.” Judai answered. “Sho is in the pro leagues, it will be easier to track his whereabouts if he is enrolled in any tournament soon. We’ll start with Sho.” His words carried an air of finality that left no room for any of the spirits to argue back.

But Judai knew that they knew that this wasn’t really about Sho.

 

———

 

A quick online research showed that Sho indeed intended to contend in a tournament in a week in America. It was actually one of the stops of the league Ryo and him had set up (Judai always felt so proud reading about the great success the Marufuji League had among Pro duelists.).

Judai felt a bit bad for his friend: Cyber End Dragon was one of the cards Ryo inherited him and it was now his ace. The card held more weight than any other in Sho’s deck, both duel and emotion wise. He could only imagine the wreck he was like without it and so close to an event in his own tournament.

And that’s how Judai found himself in the middle of New York City, admiring the lobby of the luxurious hotel the contestants would be staying at. He wasn’t really sure how to contact Sho, he just figured that if he stayed around the lobby long enough he would eventually run into him. 

He didn’t expect for it to happen so soon tho.

-“Big bro?!” A squeaky voice called behind him. Judai turned to find the two Marufuji brothers. Sho had not changed at all during this time, at least not physically. But Judai could tell there was an air of confidence around him that he didn’t remember feeling except for the day he defeated Makoto. Regardless of his actual height, he stood tall and proud, meeting Judai’s eyes. He felt a wave of happiness hitting him, he could tell Sho finally considered himself on equal ground with Judai with the way he was looking at him. Not that Judai ever thought otherwise.

Ryo was standing right next to his brother, Judai was glad he wasn’t using a wheelchair anymore. It reminded him more of the Hell Kaiser he knew, even if, from what he read online, the older had not gone back to pro dueling yet. 

-“Hey Sho, Kaiser.” Judai answered with a smile. “I was in the neighborhood and decided to drop by and see what the famous Marufuji League was all about” he teasingly winked at Sho when he said it. The blue haired guy smiled, but it quickly faded as he looked down.

-“Yeah well, it will be a Marufuji Tournament without a Marufuji duelist…” Sho said in a low voice. “A few days ago, some psycho challenged me to an ante duel, and he took Cyber End Dragon away.” The shortest had his eyes fixed on the floor. “I thought of maybe asking for your help, but I had no way to contact you and I had been enough of a burden to you for 3 years already. I needed to solve this myself.”

Judai felt a pang of pain at Sho’s words. It’s true, Judai knew he was the one his friends went to when they needed help. Some may have thought of it as unfair, but for Judai it was just the way their friendships had developed. And he cared very deeply for each and every one of them, of course he would jump into action if they were in need. And this past year he realized that helping duelists and Duel Monster Spirits was what he was meant to do.

But after he left Duel Academia he left everyone hanging. And in his attempt to keep his friends at a distance to protect them, he completely overlooked the fact that he was now unable to help them as they could not reach him. Judai couldn’t help but feel guilty at that.

-“But the guy appeared out of nowhere and disappeared when he got Cyber End Dragon. Out of thin air, I don’t know how that happened and I have no clue of who that person was…” 

Sho kept going, his eyes still fixed on the floor, as if ashamed of facing Ryo and Judai under these circumstances. All the confidence he saw in his friend two minutes ago was gone.

-“And I can’t duel without Cyber End Dragon. It’s my ace card, and I don’t want the Marufuji name stained by a bad performance of mine in our own League. It’s best for me to withdraw…I’m sorry you came over here to see this, Big Bro."                                   

Judai wanted to reassure Sho, to give him his card straight away and take him out of his misery. To apologize for not being there to stop Paradox from stealing Cyber End Dragon in the first place, for not being there for him or the rest of their group. But Ryo put a hand in his brother’s back in an attempt to provide some comfort, he spoke first, beating Judai to it.

-“Sho, don’t think that one card makes or breaks the duelist. You have a great talent and strength far beyond what any Cyber End Dragon can provide. If you believe in yourself and your deck, I’m sure you will duel at the level one would expect from the Marufuji.” Ryo gave Sho a small smile.

-“Brother…” Sho said as he looked up at him. Judai could tell that Ryo’s words held a very special place in Sho’s heart. Even if he wasn’t dueling, he was still held in the highest respect by everyone around him, specially Sho.

It was heartwarming to see how much the relationship between the two brothers had improved. Sho had become confident enough to feel capable of making Ryo proud, and Ryo had dropped his indifferent act and was truly supportive of his little brother who had grown into his own person to face the world. 

Judai didn’t want to interrupt this moment between the Marufujis, but he had a task at hand and he wanted his friends to smile again.

-“Well, guess that you won’t be needing this then.” Judai said casually. He reached into his deck holder on his jeans and pulled out a card, showing it to Sho. It was Cyber End Dragon. 

Judai would have given anything for a camera to catch the priceless faces of Ryo and Sho as they stared at the card.

-“Cyber End Dragon?!” They both exclaimed at the same time, Judai smiled sweetly at them as he extended the card to Sho.

-“Yeah, well, I heard about a guy using Cyber End Dragon to wreck havoc.” Judai smiled while sheepishly scratching the back of his head with his free hand. “I managed to get it back with the help of some friends…so here it is!” He stretched his hand again, waiting for Sho to grab the card.

But the teal haired duelist just stared at the card, unmoving. Judai was about to ask him what was wrong until the shorter looked up at him and he saw the tears pooling in his eyes. Before the formed Slifer Red could react Sho threw himself at him, hugging him with all his might. 

-“Big Bro! I can’t believe that even after we’ve graduated you’re still looking out for me like this! Thank you so so much, Big Bro!” Sho said as he cried against Judai’s red jacket. The latter smiled uneasily at Ryo, always feeling a bit embarrassed at Sho’s overreacting, specially with his actual older brother right in front of them. 

Ryo smiled with amusement and walked away after he thanked Judai for bringing Cyber End back to where it belonged. Even when Ryo told Sho he would meet him later the latter still didn’t let go of Judai, still crying his little heart out. Judai could feel Yubel chuckling at his struggle, but he decided to let it go. 

Sho has definitely grown throughout his years at Duel Academia and his time in the Pro Duelist Circuit. But perhaps seeing Judai again, helping him out, brought back the memories of their early days at school. If Sho felt like he could allow himself these moments of vulnerability because of Judai, then he would let him. 

He patted Sho’s back until he calmed down, he quickly wiped his tears, seemingly realizing he kind of made a fool out of himself in a hotel lobby full of duelists enrolled in his own tournament. Sho chuckled awkwardly while he scratched his head, and then he grabbed the Cyber End Dragon card which was still in Judai’s hand. His sigh of relief when he placed it within his deck holder was so intense Judai himself felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He could also feel Cyber End’s joy of being back where it belonged.

-“Big Bro,” Sho said, “I know this is sudden, but if you want to enroll in the tournament I can make all the arrangements, for sure. And Manjome and Edo are scheduled to get here soon, too. We could all catch up at least if you don’t want to duel...ok it sounds weird saying that.”

As much as Judai may have enjoyed seeing some of his old friends, he couldn’t stay. He still had some unresolved business to attend to, as much as he dreaded it.

-“Don’t worry about it, Sho. I really just wanted to give you your Cyber End back. My work is not done yet, I still need to give another card back to its owner.”

 

———

 

Tracking Johan down turned out to be much harder than what Judai expected.

 

Though the Scandinavian duelist did make the occasional appearance in the pro circuit (Judai knew tournament organizers must fall all over themselves to have him and his Crystal Beasts at their events), it wasn’t his full time job like Sho and Manjome’s. Regardless of the fact that he was a good enough duelist to be acknowledged by Pegasus, Johan liked to keep a low profile.

So low in fact, that not even Manjome Group’s data base could provide Judai of any information regarding Johan’s whereabouts. His address was apparently private and he wasn’t scheduled to compete in any tournament.

Judai sighed as he closed his laptop, munching on some sweet bread. After giving back Cyber End Dragon, he flew back to Europe, unsure of what to do. He was in Stockholm, as Professor Daitokuji had suggested since he could quickly get to anyplace in Sweden from there (he knew that much about Johan, at least). But Judai didn’t hold much hope, he couldn’t even find a way to track down Johan, let alone find him. Since when did he get so good at sneaking around?

Or maybe Judai just felt like he couldn’t find his best friend because in reality, he just couldn’t face him. 

Even after a year staying apart for his friends, Judai’s guilt over what happened to them in the Dark World had not diminished in the slightest. He doubts it will ever go away, he’s just learned to cope with it, push it to the back of his mind. 

But it comes back to hunt him at night sometimes. He sees Asuka, Kenzan, Manjome and Fubuki vanishing into thin air to form Super Polymerization. He sees Jim and O’Brien sacrificing themselves to bring him back out from the devastating Darkness of his heart. Edo and Ryo, willingly giving their lives away for others. Sho and the trust Judai broke, his eyes full of tears as he blamed the Slifer Red for what happened to their friends. How he stopped calling him “Big Bro”, his own name sounding foreign in the other’s voice. The empty looks he threw in his direction, the coldest he had ever been towards Judai.

He usually woke with a start those nights, similar to how one wakes up after dreaming of falling. It took him a while for his mind to catch up with reality, and he had to repeat it over and over in his head.

They are safe now, they are alive and well. They are okay, you are okay.

He took deep breaths every time, trying to calm his heart down. After a while, it worked. It was repetitive to the point of being tedious, but he could manage.

But when Johan was the one plaguing his nightmares it was a whole different thing.

His nightmares regarding Johan were worse than any other. He saw Johan in their duel against Martin, effortlessly sacrificing himself to save the others, leaving Judai in a state of helplessness.  He saw him again in the Dark World, Yubel’s demonic yellow eyes taking over the vibrant emerald green. He saw his best friend, or who had taken over his body, killing Ryo and Amon, and seemingly enjoying it. He saw him torturing Judai psychologically in their duel, putting him at odds of wanting to settle things with Yubel without hurting Johan. 

When he was awake, his rational side told him over half of these memories weren’t even Johan, not really. And everything was okay now with Yubel. But in dreams our rationality takes a back seat to emotions. Which was even worse when he dreamed of what could have been.

Sometimes Judai’s head messes with him even more and he dreams of the what ifs. He dreams of never being able to even cross to the Dark World, losing Johan forever. He dreams of actually finding Johan in Zure’s camp, only to watch him die in his arms at the hands of the duel monster a few moments later. He dreams of Brron saying the truth, that Johan had really died in that arena, alone and overwhelmed by enemies. He dreams of his duel against Yubel, him not being able to pull Johan’s spirit out of Dark Rainbow Dragon, being left with only the physical carcass of who he once was. He dreams of successfully beating Yubel, resulting in Johan dying, by his own hand, nonetheless.

Those nights Judai woke up screaming, drenched in sweat and feeling like his heart was going to pop out of his chest. Sometimes, he ran his hand through his face and found tears all over it. He was never able to go back to sleep after that. 

Judai knew that Yubel knew about these nightmares, but they never manifested themselves during those occasions.

But the thing about sharing a soul is that Judai also knew what Yubel was thinking all the time. They thought it would be best if the cause of basically all of Johan’s struggles wasn’t around when Judai just had a nightmare about losing his best friend.

But Yubel was wrong. Yes, they shared some of the blame, but they had no control over it. They were corrupted by the Light of Destruction, and Judai knew that his bound protector held none of that previous hatred for Johan anymore (even if he could tell they were still hit with a pang of possessiveness when Judai found himself thinking too hard about the blue haired duelist). 

Judai mostly blamed himself for what happened, for not looking after Yubel like he should have as a kid, and sending them to space. For growing so dependant on Johan so quickly, for putting him in a position of risk he never asked for, for being unable to stop him from sacrificing himself over and over for Judai. Johan had just wanted to become friends with someone who was just as passionate about dueling and could talk to the spirits like him, and that nearly got him killed on more than one occasion.

Judai didn’t even have the decency to bid him goodbye after he parted Duel Academia, too caught up in his new state as a duel monster-human merge. It was all so new to him, and knowing now what he was capable of doing as a simple human when he gave into the Darkness of his heart, he had no idea what could happen now. 

And he had a responsibility towards Yubel now, he had to look after them as well, being mindful of them. And he still didn’t know how they would react to having Johan nearby again (if they reacted at all, Yubel mostly kept to themselves, only making their presence known when absolutely necessary). 

Before they merged, Judai could see Yubel held a special dislike for Johan solely because of what he meant to Judai. And even though the Light of Destruction had been purged out of them, Judai felt like he owed it to both of them. To keep Yubel at peace, and to keep Johan safe.

And so, like he did with the rest of his friends, Judai pushed Johan away. After everything he went through to rescue him, he left him hanging with no explanation, he left his deck back in Johan’s room when he wasn’t around, he didn’t even see him off at the docks.

And yet Johan came back the moment O’Brien-

O’Brien!

Judai pulled his backpack from the chair next to him and quickly poured its contents on the table and the floor. Near the bottom, he found it. The satellite phone O’Brien had left for Judai after they came back from the Dark World. As far as Judai knew, that phone had been wired to communicate exclusively with the one the mercenary had. 

Johan had said O’Brien contacted him and put him up to date regarding the situation with Darkness. He asked Johan to head back to Duel Academia to help Judai. So he must know how to contact him at least.

Judai let out a groan when he tried turning it on without response. Dammit, he had not bothered charging it in months. Now he needed to head back to the guest house he was staying at and plug it in overnight (that thing took ages to charge, that’s one of the reasons why Judai never bothered with it). Another night of uncertainty, another night of dreading over meeting his friend again.

That night, Judai dreamed of Johan.

For once, he wasn’t in another dimension. He was in his favorite hiding spot in Duel Academia, the rooftop. The sunset painted the sky in a beautiful mixture of orange and pink, it brought warmth to Judai’s heart.

He saw Winged Kuriboh next to him, smiling. Something suddenly caught the little furball’s attention and he flew towards it. Judai turned in the direction Kuriboh went to and found him wrapped up around Ruby, little play fighting sounds coming out of them both. 

Johan came up the stairs a few seconds later. Judai would have been lying if he’d said this didn’t remind him of how they first met.

Both duelists put their attention on their spirit partners for a moment, watching them bicker with amusement. Those two got along so well and straight away, Judai sometimes liked to think of it as a sign that their masters would grow just as close.

He was still distracted by Winged Kuriboh and Ruby, and so he didn’t notice Johan walking towards him until he was seated right next to him. They settled in a comfortable silence, watching the sun setting over the island. After a while, Judai spoke up.

-“Johan” the guy in question looked at him. “Thank you. You know, for coming back here when I needed your help. I-I didn’t even said goodbye to you when you left and I feel like a shitty friend for that yet you-“

-“Hey”, Johan interrupted. “Stop it, you idiot. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Do I have to repeat myself?” He used a mocking tone now “You are my best friend, Judai. You saved my life, you went through hell to get to me. Do you think I would be petty enough to hold a grudge just because you were locked up in the Red Dorms when I left?” 

-“I said I felt indebted to you after you saved me” the blue haired duelist continued. “And it’s true, and I don’t know if anything I can do will ever make up for it”. Judai opened his mouth to object, what the hell was Johan saying? He’s sacrificed himself for Judai more than once, he was the one feeling in debt. But Johan beat him to it, rising a hand, asking him to wait. “Yes, I came back to help you beat Darkness in part because I feel like I owe you. But even if you didn’t, I will always come back to help you, Judai. No matter what. The bond you and I have is nothing I had ever felt before with anyone other than my Crystal Beasts. And I will do everything in my power to keep it, to keep you. Even if you felt like you needed to stay away from everyone after you fused with Yubel.”

Judai almost broke his neck with how fast he turned to look at Johan. He knew about what happened with Yubel? How? He never told him, he wasn’t there when he told the others, he- “Remember that I said O’Brien told me everything? I meant everything.” Johan focused on the sunset again. “I knew you were different after you came back, but I never knew for sure what it was until he told me.”

-“I’m sorry” was all Judai felt was appropriate to say. Because the Judai he was now was not the Judai that Johan first met, he wasn’t the Judai that Johan connected with after a few phrases. And now Yubel was part of his soul, and even though they were okay now, it didn’t take away the fact that Johan became the worst collateral damage in their twisted game with Judai. It didn’t take away the fact that they locked his soul away in his card, that they hurt him and his family, all because of Judai. The guilt he felt coming off both himself and Yubel made it impossible for him to formulate another coherent sentence.

-“What? For what?” Johan sounded truly perplexed. “For merging with them? For changing? Judai, you know my goal is to save humans and spirits through my dueling. I think I know what you felt like, and if you thought this was the way of saving them, of saving Yubel, who am I to judge you? Who am I to judge them?” Judai let out a soft gasp and he knew that came from Yubel. 

Everyone else thought Judai did what he did to save everyone else. But that wasn’t true, he wasn’t that noble, he was no righteous hero. He did it to keep his promise to Yubel, to save them. Of course Johan had to be the one to see it for what it truly was.

Judai suddenly felt hands on his shoulders, Johan’s hands, making him focus on him. “And even if you think you’re not the same Judai anymore, it doesn’t matter. I don’t think any of us are the same after what happened.” His green eyes were brutally sincere. “But you’re Judai Yuki, my best friend and one of the most important people in my life. Nothing you do will ever change that. You won’t get rid of me that easily, eh?” He finished with a mischievous smirk. 

What did Judai ever do to deserve someone like Johan in his life? To finally meet someone who probably knew him better than he knew himself, someone to whom explanations were not needed. Someone able to understand Judai before he even feels like he’s made his point across, willing to stand by him regardless of anything. Someone who is still incredibly attuned to him after months of being apart, after changing so much Judai feared he had lost his own essence. 

Judai doesn’t know what took over him. What pushed him to cup Johan’s face and slowly pull him towards him. They both closed their eyes as their foreheads meet, raveling in having each other so close. They were each other’s biggest source of human comfort, had always been since they met, because they knew exactly what to do or say to make the other feel better.  

Judai opened his eyes slightly and found himself staring at Johan’s lips, slightly parted even if his eyes were still closed. Judai could read him like an open book, he knew what the other wanted, and he knew he wanted it, too. He had no clue if there were any deeper feelings behind it. It was just them at that moment, with Darkness defeated, with school almost done, with Judai feeling like a new person after finally deciding what to do with his life after graduation, with the face of the person he’s felt he’s known his whole life right in front of him and with an incredible pull to feel him closer. At that moment, he really just felt like kissing Johan.

But before he gave in, the image of Johan sacrificing himself yet again, this time in the duel against Fujiwara, flashed behind Judai’s eyes. How he collapsed after his life points reached zero, Ruby immediately by his side, worried about its master. He remembered Fujiwara saying neither of them could be assimilated by Darkness, yet getting to the front entrance of the school to find Johan missing. He knew Darkness had him. 

After months of keeping his distance from those he cared about, it just took a few hours for Judai to lean back on Johan again, and for the latter to somehow end up suffering in the process. He couldn’t do this to him again. Johan was the light to Judai’s darkness. He couldn’t risk losing him again, he wouldn’t put him in danger. Johan was too important to Judai, maybe he didn’t fully grasp it until thinking he was death made him become the Supreme King, but he knew now. 

And then there was also Yubel. They sacrificed everything for him, so he intended to keep his promise. That’s why he needed to stick to his plan and step away, to stay away from him the same way he would with the rest of his friends. 

As much as that will pain them both.

Judai sighed and dropped his hands from Johan’s face, leaning back and facing the horizon once more. He didn’t have the courage to look at Johan, he knew his resolve would crumble if he saw even the slightest hint of disappointment in his friend. He stood up (taking a few moments to collect his emotions), extended his hand to help Johan up and squeezed it. They knew this was goodbye, right at the place where they first met.

-“Don’t forget you still owe me a rematch, Judai.” Johan smiled effortlessly, as if what Judai just did didn’t hurt him as much as it did to himself. Too bad Judai could see right through him. But he decided not to comment on it and kept the small talk going.

-“Of course, thankfully your dueling skills are much more better than your acting skills” Johan pushed him playfully while Judai laughed.

-“Hey! My “terrible” acting skills worked just fine! Good enough for Fujiwara to think I was really brainwashed but bad enough for you to see I wasn’t.” The Scandinavian duelist said this with some pride. If Judai was honest, Johan’s acting back then would have probably fooled everyone else but him. 

The Slifer Red didn’t know how to explain it, but one look into Johan’s eyes and he would know exactly what was going through the other’s head, and he was pretty sure it went both ways. That’s how it’s always been between them, they’ve never questioned anything, they just knew.

Just like right now. 

That would be the last Judai and Johan would see of each other.

It’s for his own good.

 

Judai woke up, not startled or feeling his heart beating erratically for once. But the tears were there. He sat up as he wiped his face with his hands. This was honestly surprising, even though Judai could recall that moment down to the very last word, he had never dreamt with it before. His dreams usually revolve around either his happy memories with Johan before being sent to the other dimension, or the ones around the Dark World, where Judai was so consumed by his own anger, guilt and sadness, he started wondering if he should just cease to exist.

But that evening at the rooftop was a very bittersweet memory, one Judai could never decide if he loved or hated. He was at peace, Darkness had finally been defeated, his friends were okay, he had found his calling as a bridge between humans and spirits. But he also had to push away the person closest to him to keep him safe. Judai wasn’t able to say if it outright broke his heart, but it caused him a lot of pain. And it hurt Johan as well. 

When will he ever stop hurting Johan?

At that moment he heard Pharaoh meow, asking to be fed from the foot of the bed. Judai saw the satellite phone charging right next to the cat. O’Brien. He needed to call him. To get to Johan.

He ignored Pharaoh’s insistent calling, that could wait for a bit, and retrieved the phone. The screen turned on after pressing the right button and then he just pressed the call button, getting the dial tone right away.

After a few moments, someone picked up the line.

-“Judai?” It was O’Brien’s voice. “What is it? Are you okay? Is something wrong?”

-“O’Brien. Yeah, everyone’s okay. Sorry for worrying you.” Judai felt a bit ashamed, thinking that O’Brien surely has better things to do after he graduated than helping his former classmate out. But Judai’s head had run out of ideas.

-“Oh, good to hear. Then…was there anything you needed?” The American sounded a bit awkward. Unlike Jim, he was never one for too many words or displays of friendship.

-“Oh right! Yeah, actually, I needed your help.”

 

———

 

Obviously, O’Brien knew where Johan was. Or at least he knew where he lived, he had no idea if Johan was there right now. Judai hoped luck would be on his side.

Johan lived in a small town a 2 hour long train ride away from Stockholm. But that meant 2 hours of leaving Judai to his thoughts, racking his brain thinking about what he’ll tell Johan.

-“Hello is usually a good way to start.” Yubel’s snark came from within Judai’s head. He rolled his eyes at his partner’s antics. Winged Kuriboh then appeared with an excited look on his face.

-“Are you excited to see Ruby again, Partner?” The furry spirit exclaimed happily as a confirmation.

-“He’s not the only one” Yubel’s tone was so casual they could have been talking about how cold Sweden is.

-“Cut it out, Yubel” Judai sighed in exasperation.

-“Well it’s not my fault your feelings are so loud and clear. I’m part of your soul, remember? And as scared as you are of hurting him, I know you still want to see him."

There was really no point in lying to Yubel. If Judai was honest, sometimes they realized things about himself before he did. And they were right, a part of Judai was scared out of his mind at the thought of seeing Johan again. Because he didn't want to put him in harm’s way once more, because he didn’t want to betray Yubel’s trust and his promise, either.

But another part of him couldn’t help but be excited. Johan was the deepest human connection Judai had, a part of him yearned to see the boy chosen by the Crystal Beasts. He could feel the eagerness growing within him just as fast as the uneasiness. Judai put a hand to his chest while Yubel chuckled in amusement.

-“You’re so dense you amaze me, Judai.” 

-“I have no idea what you mean” The aforementioned wasn’t in the mood to play into Yubel’s games. 

-“You do, but you’re afraid of acting up.” It wasn’t a question. “I just want you to know, that you don’t need to worry about me. I won’t do anything to him.” Judai knew that, he knew Yubel still felt guilty every now and then for what they did to Johan. That wasn’t-

-“Yes, I know you know. But you also need to know, that you’re not betraying me. I know the bond you have with me is different to the one you have with him. And I only want to protect you, to make you happy. And from what I’ve seen, that boy wants to same for you, and he’s very important to you. If you’re happy and safe, I won’t stand in the way.”

Yubel didn’t speak again for the rest of the train ride, leaving Judai more confused than ever.

 

———

 

The town Johan lived in was small, Judai could bet it wasn’t that much bigger than Academy Island. He noticed very few cars, people seemed to prefer walking or using bikes to move around. 

He also found out Johan was some sort of local celebrity here, his talent as a duelist and his legendary deck spoke for themselves. Judai found a cafe with a board full of old magazines and newspaper articles depicting Johan’s victories throughout various tournaments, as well as interviews from various personalities in the pro leagues like Edo and Pegasus. Judai snorted as he watched all of that, Johan was such a simple, down to earth guy that sometimes it was easy to forget he was kind of a big deal.

The address O’Brien gave him led him to the outskirts of town, in a small, ordinary house. As Judai stared at it from a distance Winged Kuriboh showed up.

-“So this is it, right Partner?” He asked the spirit, who confirmed with a small sound. Judai sighed loudly and walked up to the front entrance. He rose a shaky hand to knock on the door.

But the door opened before he even had a chance, coming face to face with Johan Andersen in over a year.

The latter’s eyes widened when he took in the person before him. “Judai?” He asked, seemingly in disbelief. “Judai!” Before Judai even had a second to react, Johan pulled him into a hug. And the Japanese duelist felt a huge burden being lifted off his chest at it. He didn’t notice it before, but after being freed from it he felt so relieved he thought he could even breathe better. Without him noticing, he hugged Johan back.

 

-“Johan! How did you know it was me before I even knocked?” Judai asked amused, still wrapped up in the hug.

-“You can thank Ruby for that, she sensed Winged Kuriboh coming.” Johan replied. “Judai,” He started after he pulled away. “you’re here…what happened? Tell me, is Neos still with you? Some man came after me some days ago and stole Rainbow Dragon and now I don’t know how to find it. He just disappeared and I can’t-“

A light emerging from Judai’s deck holder interrupted Johan. The blue-haired stared at it in confusion for a second before his eyes widened, the emerald in his eyes shining even brighter against the outside sunlight. Judai could practically see the engines working in the other’s head.

-“Judai…don’t tell me you-“

-“Oh well. I wanted to surprise you like I did to Sho and Kaiser with Cyber End Dragon.” Judai shrugged. “But I guess Rainbow Dragon is too eager to get back to you.” He reached into his deck holder, pulling out Rainbow Dragon and extending it towards Johan. 

The other grabbed the card, staring at it for a couple of seconds before looking down at the floor. His bangs were covering his eyes, and so he was unreadable to Judai.

-“God dammit, Judai.” Johan muttered. “When am I ever going to be able to pay back my debt to you?” His voice was a tad cynical and with hint of amusement. 

-“W-what do you mean?” Judai asked but quickly continued so he wouldn’t get interrupted like last time. “This is me trying to pay back what I owe to you for sacrificing yourself against Darkness!”

-“I did that because you rescued me in the Dark World.”

-“After you sacrificed yourself to bring everyone back home for something that was my fault in the first place!”

The two duelists stared at each other with a hint of annoyance for a few seconds before the frowns turned into smirks, then chuckles which turned into full on laughter. Winged Kuriboh appeared by Judai’s shoulder, to which Ruby emerged from inside of the house and climbed on Johan to stand on his shoulder to greet the other spirit. Then the carbuncle climbed down Johan’s arm and headed back into the house, with Kuriboh following suit. 

-“Winged Kuriboh!” Judai called. Johan and him stared at the two spirits as the entered the house, when Johan turned back to smile at Judai, the latter blushed “I’m sorry, guess he was too eager to see play with Ruby and just went in…”

-“Oh come on, did you really think you could just come here, give me my card back and leave?” Johan asked. “Come on, let’s get inside.” He entered the house, while Judai just stared at his back a bit perplexed before following him. 

Johan’s house was just as low profile and cozy on the inside as it was on the outside. It had the basics, without any pretension. One wouldn’t think one of the top duelists in the world would live here, but to Judai, this place screamed Johan all the way through.

Suddenly the rest of the Crystal Beasts materialized around Johan, showed them that Rainbow Dragon was back. After some cheering, they all turned to look at Judai.

-“Hi.” Judai said nervously, uneasy at suddenly having the spirits’ and Johan’s eyes on him all of a sudden. Sapphire Pegasus then stepped forward until he was right in front of Judai. 

-“Judai. Once again, you’ve helped us.” The spirit started. “You have our eternal gratitude, for everything you’ve done for Johan and us.” Judai smiled at them, relief going through him as he saw how protective the Crystal Beasts were of their master. He was glad Johan had them, someone as noble as him deserved duel monsters just as noble.

-“Don’t sell yourself short, Judai.” Yubel spoke in his head, but Judai did his best to not react at their words.

-“Alright guys, give us some time to catch up?” Johan asked his family, then they vanished one by one except for Ruby, who was too busy playing with Kuriboh.

-“So Judai. How did you get Rainbow Dragon back?” Johan asked as he sat in the living room, but instead of using the couch he just sat cross legged on the floor, pulling out his deck to set Rainbow Dragon back. He motioned for Judai to join him on the floor.

-“Would you believe me if I told you that I travelled back in time and tag dueled with Yugi Mouto and a guy from the future to stop the man who stole Rainbow Dragon from killing Pegasus and hence saving card games altogether?” Judai said this in a very flat tone, not really expecting Johan to believe him.

The Scandinavian duelist stared at him, blinking a few times until he shrugged and said “Oh. Cool.  Were the cards from the guy from the future fun? Do they change a lot from what we do?”

-“Yeah, but not THAT much.” Judai answered. “They have this thing called synchro- wait. How are you not surprised about it? Do you actually believe me?”

Johan sighed. “Judai. We’ve been transported into alternate dimensions. Twice. My soul has been locked away inside a Monster Card. We dueled against Darkness.” He said it all so nonchalantly he might as well be talking about what he had for breakfast. "Of course I believe you if you tell me you time travelled to save Rainbow Dragon, and the world….again” he snorted at that last part. Judai was left speechless as he sat down on the floor in front of Johan.

-“So,” Johan continued. “How was it like, tag dueling with the King of Games? And that guy from the future? Were they good? Did you have fun?” He wasn’t meeting Judai’s eyes, too fascinated looking through his deck apparently. 

-“Yeah, it was fun.” Judai said as he leaned back with his hands on the floor. “I just wish you had been there, too.” Johan stopped looking through the cards and directed his stare at his friend. “What?” Judai questioned “Don’t look so surprised. You know you’re my best tag duel partner. So don’t get jealous.” he winked at Johan, trying to cheer him up with a slight teasing. 

-“Don’t do that” Johan whispered as he looked down again, his bangs hiding his eyes. Judai hated that, he couldn’t read Johan that way.

-“What am I doing?”

-“You…you’ve saved the world, you've saved my Crystal Beasts, you’ve saved me. And every time, you’ve risked everything for it, and I can’t help but feel like….like part of it is my fault. You’ve been putting yourself in danger, and I’m one of the causes of it. And even when I haven’t seen you, and I kept my distance, somehow you still ended up wrapped around my problems. And on top of it all you are the one trying to make me feel better when I didn’t even do anything to try to help you….and I’m sorry” Johan didn’t look up but he wiped his eyes with his sleeve.     

Judai was stunned for a moment.

So Johan was feeling the same thing Judai did the past year? That the other was hurting because of them? Johan was avoiding Judai, in fear of hurting him? 

It just didn’t make sense, Judai never saw any of the things he did for Johan as a sacrifice, he just wanted to help someone he cared about deeply.  

And then he understood. He understood what Johan meant at the rooftop.

Johan didn’t see anything of what he did as a sacrifice either. Just like Judai. Because Judai was as important to Johan as he was to Judai. And neither of them could stand the idea of losing the other for good. They would both rather go through the pain themselves and keep the other away.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Judai crawled across the floor until he was sitting right next to Johan, their backs leaning against the couch behind them. He slipped his arm under Johan’s and he grabbed his hand, intertwining their fingers. He gave a light squeeze to get his full attention.

-“Johan, do you remember our last evening at Duel Academia? What you told me?” Judai whispered, and it was so low and soft Johan wouldn’t have heard him had they not been right next to each other. The Scandinavian gave a small nod. “It goes both ways, you’re too important for me. And although I know you’re more than capable of handling your own problems, know that I will never, ever stop helping you.

He stopped for a moment to asses the other’s reaction. But Johan didn’t move.

-“And I’m sorry. I’m sorry because I’m not a hero, in fact I’m very selfish. Everything I do, I do it because I want to keep the people I love safe and by my side. And losing you…I can’t even bear to think about it. Thinking you were gone made me the Supreme King, and even if that side of me is in control now, the pain I felt was unlike anything I had ever felt before. And I’m weak and selfish and I can’t go through that again.” 

Judai closed his eyes, holding on to Johan’s hand a little tighter, but the other didn’t seem to mind.

-“So whatever I have done to help you, I want you to know that it’s never been a sacrifice. Because the root of it all is my own selfish desires, I need you alive, and safe, and happy.” He didn’t know what else to say, and after a few seconds of having no reaction from Johan, he tried to let go of his hand.

But Johan held on to him.

-“I-I wish.” Johan started. He sounded on the verge of tears. “I wish we didn’t feel like we have to apologize to each other so much. And I wish you could see yourself for what you truly are, for the hero you really are.” Judai chuckled a bit. But he was right, their whole relationship revolved around risking themselves for the other, which they did gladly and blindly. And then apologizing because they were both so similar and too caring or reliant on the other. Whether it was selflessness or selfishness depended on how each of them saw it.

-“And maybe” Johan continued “we could stop trying to push each other away. If we’re both danger magnets anyway, wouldn’t it be better if we just faced it together? Even Darkness knew we were stronger together. I’m not asking you to stay if that isn’t what you want. Just don’t shut me out. And I will try to do the same.”

Judai contemplated it for a moment. Johan had a point, if danger was coming, he would rather be by Johan’s side than constantly worry, wondering whether he is okay or not. Maybe they should just stop feeling like they owe something to the other, and learn to accept that this is how their relationship has always been and will always be. Sacrifices without feeling like such, hurting together and apart because of how much they care for one another. 

He would much rather end this emotional tug of war type of relationship that was hurting them both.  

He took a bit too long to answer because Johan squeezed his hand to make him look into his eyes. 

As Judai got lost in the emerald green, he also understood what Yubel meant. He was really dense if it took him this long to realize that he was in love with Johan Andersen.

His feelings in regards to Johan had always been too intense. So intense that Judai didn’t know how to cope with them sometimes. That’s why he acted so recklessly when he went to rescue him in the Dark World, why he fell into the Darkness of his Heart when he thought the other was dead. Why he could have such a great time dueling alongside Johan he could laugh out loud even during life or death situations. Or why, when he felt like he could finally take a breather after 3 years of near death experiences, one of the first things he felt like doing was kissing Johan. 

It all made sense now, he was in love with him. His bond was too deep and special, it was only a matter of time. It was so obvious Judai almost laughed out loud.

-“Took you long enough.” He heard Yubel say. They were okay with it, because at the end of the day, Johan made Judai happy and he was also trying to protect him, just like Yubel. 

Judai felt like a weight was lifted off his shoulders at the realization. Without thinking too much, he grabbed Johan by the shoulders, making him look at him.

-“Johan. If you’re willing to forgive me...” Judai whispered.

-“Judai.” Johan whispered back. “There is nothing to forgive…I made the same mistakes you made. Guess we really are way too alike.” They chuckled after that, putting their heads together without even noticing they were doing it. 

And in a spur of the moment thing, Judai did what he should have done that evening at Duel Academia. He grabbed Johan by the face, searching for permission in those green eyes, still the most beautiful he’s ever seen, and leaned in to press their lips together in a chaste but sweet kiss. He felt Johan’s hand pulling his red jacket towards him, trying to make it last longer.

When they pulled away, Judai said “I don’t think I can stop traveling anytime soon. There’s still so many duelists and spirits that need our help. But…do you want to come with me? You’ve done this “bridge between humans and spirits” thing longer than I have, anyway.” He winked at Johan, but his insides were churning.

The blue haired boy just answered with another kiss and a slight comment of still owing him a rematch right then and there.

They were both giggling and laughing right afterwards. And for Judai, after 4 years of struggling, it just felt so right for the first time.