I originally wrote this in June 2018. I think this was the first Vrains fic I ever wrote? One of the first, anyway. I really like Vrains a lot.

This is hardly the first time Yusaku's ever run into a dog before.

He's seen them before. He's passed by people walking their dogs on the street. He's seen in passing, lounged by the side of the road. Some people in Vrains even have dog-like avatars, and he's noticed them before, too, even if it's mostly as he's sped by them in the middle of a duel. It's not like he makes a habit of unnecessary trips to the virtual world or anything.

So, yes, this is hardly the first time Yusaku's ever run into a dog before.

But as the dog runs across the road to see him, panting as it bounds around him in circles, something takes hold in him. Seeing a dog, being around a dog, has never quite made him feel like this.

What is this emotion? Annoyance? Sadness? It's like his chest has gone cold. It's been awhile since he's felt emptiness quite this strongly. Perhaps it's loneliness.

"I'm sorry," the owner apologies with a laugh. She's running across the road now, too, to retrieve her dog. "She must think you're someone else we know. I think she thinks she recognizes you, or she probably wouldn't have run all the way over here."

Yusaku tries to smile politely, but words are escaping him right now. Even if he had them, he wouldn't know what to say. He bends down a little, tries to offer the dog his hand. The dog ignores him, electing to run circles around him instead. Must not have been the right greeting for a dog.

Her owner tries to make more conversation, but Yusaku is so, so bad at this, and before long she's crossing the road again, the dog following her. Yusaku continues his walk back to his apartment in silence.

The silence doesn't last. Ai sticks himself out of his duel disk before too long, propping himself upright with his elbows. "What was that about? You're acting all weird now. You don't usually stick around a conversation unless you need something from someone."

Yusaku shrugs. "I'm not sure," he admits. He's not sure why he didn't immediately brush off that lady and her dog, either. Or where that weird feeling came from. Dogs have never made him feel like this before, but something in him knows it's because of the dog.

The feeling itself is not unlike when he's forcefully thrust into the past, to the Lost Incident. But it's not the same. There's no anger, it just feels...hollow. Whenever he's forced back into the Lost Incident he actually relives pieces of it; he feels the literal sting of defeat, hunger claws at his stomach until he's so hungry he can't feel it anymore or even anything at all, a phantom whispers in his ear to remind him how to survive. This dog incident brings nothing with it. He relives nothing, remembers nothing, only feels the accompanying emotion. Like his brain is trying to recall a memory it can't access. But the question becomes as such: why has he never experienced this before?

Maybe it's the timing. What's changed recently? Well, for starters, his quest for revenge has ended. And without that revenge consuming his thoughts, he's allowed himself to think about other things. For the first time in years, he's let himself actually wonder about his past, really think about it. The last time he'd let himself engage in such thoughts, he'd been much younger, and had rarely gone outside. So...

"Maybe there was dog in my life, before the incident," Yusaku wonders aloud.

"Oh~?" Ai rests his chin against one of his hands. "Do you miss it? Maybe you should get a dog!"

"No," Yusaku shuts the idea down immediately. Ai slumps forward. Yusaku, for his part, doesn't even need to consider it to reach his conclusion. "First of all, I definitely don't have the time. Not between school and everything going on in Vrains."

Ai sighs. Here it comes, Yusaku always has three reasons for everything. He braces himself for two more reasons why his idea is, as usual, a bad one.

"Besides." Ai lifts his head up at that. That wasn't the word he expected to hear. "With you around, I basically have a pet already. I don't need a second one."

"A pet!?" Ai whines. "You really think so low of me? We're partners!"

"Shut up."

Yusaku exits the school, head held high. The second it's safe, Ai's head pops out of the duel disk. "You seem happy. It's weird. I haven't decided if I like it yet."

"Am I not allowed to be?" Yusaku snorts, staring down at Ai. There isn't any actual malice in his face, for once. "Besides, you're based off my data. I'd think you'd want me to be happy."

"It's just weird, is all." Ai sniffs. "I'm not used to it. And you went to the dog event and everything. I thought you didn't like dogs."

Since that incident with the dog not too long ago, Ai's made a few dog-related jokes, but Yusaku responded more harshly than usual to them. It didn't take long for Ai to stop. Since then, Yusaku's been avoiding dogs in general, too. Moving past any dog pictures before he has time to register it, looking away from dogs he sees when walking to his next destination. He's been pretending dogs don't exist whatsoever, to put it lightly. Ai had guessed that whatever Yusaku had felt caused him not to like the animals at all whatsoever.

Then his school announces there'd be some dogs visiting for an hour after class, and Yusaku goes without any prompting from anyone, without even telling anyone he would. And as he sat with the dogs, petting them and watching them, his face had been more relaxed than Ai has probably ever seen it. He actually seemed to be enjoying himself. That in itself is a rare sight. Ai's got some choice images saved so that he doesn't forget the sight too soon.

"I never said that," Yusaku retorts, rolling his eyes.

"You've been avoiding dogs for weeks," Ai points out.

Yusaku shrugs. "Maybe I just don't appreciate random dogs being thrust into my life." Since that incident, it seems like dogs have been practically everywhere. It just constant reminders of how he felt when he saw that first dog. Not caring to re-experience that emotion, Yusaku's been doing his best not to feel it again.

"Mm?" Ai leans forward. "Then why did you go to the dog event?"

"Like I said, I don't dislike dogs." Yusaku turns around a corner. The hotdog truck is in sight now. Kolter's watching them approach, obviously wondering why Yusaku's later than usual. "And I can't just feel like this about dogs forever. It has to stop someday, and I'd rather it did sooner than later. But right now, I'd rather just be around dogs on my own terms. I've discovered it's easier if I choose to be around dogs, than if other people force dogs onto me. So maybe I'll just get used to it from exposure."

If there ever was a dog at all, it's been ten years, Yusaku reflects. He would think he'd already gotten to that point long ago. Maybe it was just buried away too deeply before. Or maybe some things just take far too long. It's not like this is the only thing he's held onto for the past decade. There are many things people would probably think he should've gotten over by now.

"Well I suppose that's better than avoiding it altogether." Ai shrugs. "It's probably healthier." Then his face wrinkles; his nose would be wrinkled, if he had one. "Next time, though, maybe you should leave me home. You smell like dog. Especially the older one."

An older, big black dog, who had been tired but kept asking Yusaku for more belly rubs. At one point Yusaku had gotten up to move and give another dog more attention, but this dog had whined, flopped over, stared into Yusaku's eyes in a way that made him unable to resist giving the dog a few more minutes of attention. The dog had stared at him with eyes so hauntingly familiar, yet completely unfamiliar.

Yusaku snorts again, taking off his duel disk. "Do I? I didn't notice." For a moment he pauses, staring down at himself. Probably trying to identify the smell Ai mentioned, but apparently still failing. "Dogs have a smell?"

"Of course they do! You didn't notice!?" Ai would be rolling his eyes if it was in any way noticeable. "It's awful!"

"I still can't notice." Yusaku stares down at Ai, his feet still stopped. His eyebrows raise. "More like a cat then a dog, then."

"You still think I'm just a pet?!"