When he closes his eyes, he can hear them.
So Judai tries to sleep with his eyes open, to little effect.
His spirit may no longer be purely human - whether it was before the fusion, Judai does not think about - but his body is, and a human body required rest. Judai remembers days lazily spent under trees in the shade, the warm breeze and soft spray of the ocean lulling him into a light slumber and easy sense of security.
He remembers sleeping there, too, and remembers nothing but darkness and the sound of breaking glass.
So he takes to sleeping where the sounds of screams will inevitably be drowned out. Pharaoh isn’t pleased with having to rest outside so constantly, but the hum of insects and rush of the ocean, coupled with the far off memory of days under trees creates a place where Judai can, at the very least, close his eyes for a few hours and think of nothing at all.
He does not inform his friends of this, and sometimes he will listen to the sound of nearby footsteps, the opening of a door, a greeting shouted to an empty room, and silent disappointment so thick he could feel it. He listens to their doubts, their huffs of annoyance, promises to hunt him down and have fun. Maybe even duel.
He’s forgotten how the two of those fit together anymore.
Johan finds him, because Johan always does.
Because Johan was there longest, but also the shortest since his stay was an exaggerated nap outside of his own body filled with nightmares and loneliness, Johan understands in a detached way, that Judai wants and craves someone who can be both, because it is not as personal, not as deep, but still so very real that Johan spends hours and days listening to the sounds of Judai’s whispers, confessions to the air and secrets he tells no one.
Johan hums along to the tune of Judai’s sorrows and apologies, to his regrets and his repulsion, and talks about how the sun’s light can turn into seven different colors, each beautiful and previous, when it hits a crystal just right. Brown wasn’t exactly one of those colors, he says, but chocolate is brown and everyone like chocolate, right? It’s warm and happy and sweet. Johan holds nothing against Judai, and lies under trees with him as day turns to night and night turns to day.
He shines his light when Judai finds himself drowning in the memories of darkness, and Judai thinks if his love wasn’t already someone else's, he might have loved Johan more than anything else in the world. He still treasures Johan, for his friendship, his similarities, his differences, and above all else, for being alive.
Judai tells him that. Johan simply smiles, and challenges him to a duel.
Judai only accepts because Johan gave him chocolate, and it’s the last - and only - duel he has before the end of the year.
Rainbow Dragon ends up knocking him off his feet and completely blew away the secret part of his secret forest hiding grounds because stupid holograms apparently don’t have a shrink option so Johan summons it and everyone on the entire island sees the giant fifty-foot-tall, brightly colored lord of gems trying very hard to annihilate Judai’s life points with a blinding beam of color, but in the end Neos punches Johan in the face a few times and Judai laughs until he cries.
(They tie, and Judai holds his breath until he’s sure Johan isn’t dissembling into particles of light.)
Waving goodbye to his friends hurt, but it was like a dull pain in his chest, and echo of something worse, a stitched up wound still trying to heal.
Judai gets to see their faces - so many, when did he get so many friends - for a fraction of moment, and the maybe the ghosts of the transfer students who took a different boat to homes in different countries, before his vision is obscured by his family. They each in turn try to convince themselves he’s truly there by reaching out and holding him, a family walking the line of pure joy and misery bundled up into a mess of people all clutching onto Judai.
Some of his friends call out, promising letters or emails, before being swept away by a whirlwind that is Atticus (and, because she’s caught in the wind of her own blood’s eccentricities, Asuka) reuniting with his family and Manjoume’s loud argumentative greetings he exchanges with his brothers, and scattering off to return to their roots, their homes, their lives.
Waving goodbye to his friends hurt, but it was balanced by his feelings of peace and relief, which his parents seem to misread as a sign that he’s happy to be back.
Judai’s just happy his friends are safe - which is anywhere away from him.
Yubel whispers in his ear, from time to time.
She’s happy, so very, very happy, and he can feel it every day. It’s a warmth that engulfs him, enveloping his thoughts and spirit with an ever comforting presence that murmurs old promises and nonsensical tunes in a language he’s long forgotten. Sometimes it staggers him how she can love him so much, how any being could love a flawed person so much, and then she whispers the same question back into his heart, and he answers her the same every time, with the same words she would tell him.
Because my love is for you, and you alone.
Despite the red that coats his hands, despite the things he did and did not do, Super Fusion is not one of those regrets, no matter how much it should be. Yubel’s soul is safe, content and literally inseparable from him. She was at peace, and that, Judai does not regret.
He wonders then, why his heart still feels so heavy, and why he tries to let his bonds with his friends fade and loosen, like a rope that’s been pulled too tight and was falling apart at the strands.
Misawa once told him, Haou was not another entity that had somehow invaded his body, but rather the other side of the coin that was his soul. He never did understand that, how Haou could both be and yet not be him, another half and a polar opposite, how the actions Haou - Judai - took, could have been his.
Haou offered salvation, companionship, and a goal, to a broken shell of a boy who did everything he was expected to yet somehow failed because of it. He was expected to charge in headfirst, to duel first and think later, and above all, to win. He did all that. But his friends died and ones that didn’t left him. He wasn’t… used to that.
Haou was everything he was not, but Judai neither wants to deny that the darkness stemmed from something inside him, or that Haou could’ve done the things he did if Judai had not let him. Haou asked to be let in, but was it into his spirit or into his mind? There was such a difference, but Judai simply gave up everything, and could not tell whether Haou was a piece of him given all control, or a separate being left with free reign because Judai simply did not care.
His thoughts then are less than clear. At least, what Judai can recall, is mirrors and mirrors, reflecting nothing but truth and ugliness, and when Judai looked at them he saw himself, and listened to the sound of screams and shattering glass. There is a vague memory of someone shouting Judai and an urging to do something, but when he looked, there was nothing there.
Yet he remembers the outside, the smell of burning buildings and the cries of children, of families torn apart and their spirits ripped out of their disapparating bodies, all for the sake of the most powerful card Judai ever held. Judai recalls doing these things, but does not remember whether he thought about them.
Judai wonders if Haou is a creature born of evil, or simply himself, drowning in evil with no choice but to become it to survive. If Haou was a reflection of another life, or became him after accepting that Haou and Judai were, regardless of the past, one coin of the same soul.
He never does come to an answer.
His parents are making an effort.
Judai sees that.
Sees how they use up more vacation days staying home than they have in years, cooking meals, watching movies with him, holding him and singing praises and apologies, for things Judai stopped thinking about years ago.
It’s unsettling, for the most part. Summers of the past were filled with Judai sitting alone at the kitchen table, fiddling with his deck and maybe watching some duels on a local channel, chattering to Yubel, or later on, Hane Kuriboh. The emptiness of the house would soon start to suffocate him, and he’d take to leaving it, because whether he was there or not made little difference. His parents were nice people, but distant, like relatives he saw once or twice a year, ones that took him to dull, closed-in places and treated him to fancy dinners he had to be quiet at because it was an important business meal or something. He didn’t know them, not since he was small and loved them like all children do, and no longer understood their lives or their passions, because he was never a part of them anymore.
Yubel mutters, one night, that they only realized what they had lost when he hadn’t come back to them. How they had forgotten, and how they could recall how precious he had been to them once, and somehow lost sight of that.
He is surprised every time they hold him and promise to never let go.
He can’t remember the last time they promised him anything.
Three nights before the school year is set to begin, Judai is wandering through his house with his thoughts a muddled nest of worries and hopes, a mess of ‘what if’s’ and ‘what could have been’, when he catches his reflection in the mirror.
His hair is long. Really long.
His parents usually left him money every summer to get it cut at some salon a few streets over, but with their minds preoccupied with Judai simply being within eyesight and Judai’s mind preoccupied with regrets over mass genocide and memories with Yubel, haircuts must’ve fallen through the cracks somewhere.
Judai tugs at the strands and then pulls them, hard. The reflection does not shatter, so he takes a closer look.
Long hair, spiky and messy. Green and orange eyes that with a blink return to a muddy brown. Judai spies his old clothes, bundled in a corner of his room, clothes he tried on last week and found too small, too tight around his shoulders.
He’s - he’s taller, now, too, and as Yubel tells him, a grown man. Grown up, new body with old memories and promises, hundreds of years old, from a maze of fog and faded edges that Yubel is gently guiding him through.
He wants to touch the mirror and understand the change, maybe feel shocked, maybe excited, at the stranger he’s seemed to morph into. But any excitement he might’ve dredged up wasn’t attributed to things he used to find enjoyment or interest in.
Judai’s just relieved he no longer looks like the kid that he used to be.