Title: Just Don't Look Back
Overall warnings: AU, implied sex, insanity, violence
Summary: Before he met Yugi, Yami spent his days panhandling alone. Yugi put his heart into changing Yami's life, giving him companionship, a home and his love. But even he can't save Yami from the control of his past, nor the dark path he is set upon.
Yugi slept in on July 18th, waking up around ten and bopping out of bed. He dressed quickly, accepted a few orange slices from his mother and walked downstairs while munching. His grandfather was already settled in behind the counter, helping customers. Yugi waved hello and propped himself against the counter.
"Are you waiting on someone?" Sugoroku asked.
Yugi nodded. "Yami told me there was something he wanted to show me today. He said he'd be by around ten-thirty."
"I wish he'd come by and train the new help," Sugoroku muttered.
"Grandpa, Ari-chan is a great worker."
"Sure, but she never goes the extra mile. Yami would offer to take care of all sorts of little chores without me even having to tell him to."
"Yami was working for different reasons and needed the extra work. She has school, she can hardly be expected to handle full-time duties," Yugi replied reasonably. "You were the one who decided you didn't want to hire him back."
"He said he wanted to explore his options."
"Then let him," Yugi said, "and stop trying to get him to train your employees for you."
His grandfather knew he was teasing, but grumbled anyway. "So what is Yami coming over to show you?"
"I don't know, he said it was a secret." Yugi rocked forward on his toes, slightly restless. "He looks good now, doesn't he? Healthy again."
"If you mean not-on-the-verge-of-starvation, sure. He's still awfully scrawny if you ask me."
"Grandpa, you say that I'm awfully scrawny."
"Well you are! When I was your age–"
"No, not another 'when I was your age' story, please," Yugi begged, laughing. Sugoroku smiled as he watched him. It had been awhile since he'd seen Yugi so happy. Although he had never come out and asked, he had the impression that Yugi and Yami had reached some kind of agreement. One that included kissing and hugging as much as possible, if the last couple weeks were anything to go by.
Still smiling, Yugi leaned back against the countertop. The last few weeks had not necessarily been easy, but they'd been worth it. He had hoped that Yami might move back in, but Eve had told him she was planning to move, and he had chosen to move with her into their new two-bedroom apartment and had found work in a large clothing store during the day. Yugi didn't mourn for long – Yami had his own room and his mother worked late now at a hotel. They had months to catch up on and Yugi found plenty of excuses to visit. There had already been several long afternoons spent playing games before ending up curled together on his bed.
Still, ghosts remained. Yami would often turn his head, glancing around as if some unseen person had walked by or spoken to him. He still had nightmares and there were still flashbacks. Another baby earthquake had left him hiding in a corner in tears. And all the time, but especially when he thought nobody was looking, there was a distracted appearance to his face, as if always dwelling on something. Sometimes Yugi felt as if nothing had changed at all, and the same old sickening fear would start to churn.
What if everything goes back to the way it was?
It was a fear he couldn't put aside and it made him go cold to think that this, like Yami's other attempts at changing, might just end in failure.
His consolation was that Yami was making efforts, if small ones. When Yugi asked him why he was upset, he answered. He no longer hid behind vague responses or lashing out. He didn't starve or refuse to sleep.
For now, Yugi was fine with taking things one day at a time. It hadn't even been a month yet since Yami had come back. Yugi was willing to give him a few months before evaluating whether or not Yami was keeping his promise to change.
The shop door opened and Yami stepped inside, waving. Yugi straightened up and dashed over for a hug.
"Hello Grandfather," Yami said, noticing him watching from over Yugi's shoulder. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," said Sugoroku. "Though, I did want to ask you–"
"You don't want to ask him anything," Yugi said, waving over his shoulder. "I'll be back later, have a good day Grandpa."
"What did he want to ask?" Yami said as he was pushed out the door and back onto the sidewalk.
"Nothing, he's fishing for free employee training." Yugi waved his hands impatiently. "Now what's the secret you wanted to show me?"
"Well…it's more like a question."
"Okay, what's the question?"
"Do you want to go on a trip?"
"A trip where?"
Yami pulled two pieces of paper out of his jacket. Yugi peered closer. Train tickets?
"A trip to Omachi," he said. "I…there's something I need to do."
Yugi stared. "You…want to go to Omachi?"
"Only if you want to come with me."
"You don't have to if you don't want to," he added hastily. "I just–"
"No, I mean…of course I want to come with you! It just seems like such a personal trip."
Yami shook his head. "It is, but you should be there. I'll explain when we get there, okay? That is, if you're sure you want to go?"
"I'm sure." Yugi nodded and accepted his ticket. "Let's go."
On the train, Yugi wasn't sure what to say. He didn't know how to act, if this was a trip that called for light, cheerful conversation, serious conversation, or complete silence. Yami was giving no indication, staring out the window, but as time passed, Yugi noticed his eyes seemed darker. And he'd known Yami long enough to know it wasn't just a trick of the light. He tried to be quiet, but there was a question he just couldn't hold back.
"Um…Yami…?" he finally spoke up tentatively.
"Hmn?" He turned.
"Is this…I mean…have you been back to Omachi ever since…?"
He shook his head. "Not since we left. After we found out we weren't going to get any more help, there was no point in staying."
Yugi reddened. "I'm sorry…that was too personal."
"No, it's fine." He smiled slightly. "No shame in asking, remember?"
"Why haven't you been back? Because of money, or not wanting to, or…?"
"Both. I thought about it a lot. At first we didn't move far away. I could have walked back. I even tried to a few times." He paused. "I don't know…something always stopped me. Mom has been back, she invited me to come with her, but I always refused. It hurt…and I was afraid. It was a relief to move far enough away that going back would have been too much trouble."
He didn't elaborate, but Yugi understood. He could appreciate the guilt Yami might have felt, and the relief of getting away from a place so full of bad memories.
I wonder how he'll react to finally being back.
Not wishing to let Yami know he was worried, he didn't say anything about his concerns as the train pulled up to the platform.
On the sidewalk outside the station, Yami seemed to stiffen. Yugi reached out, taking his hand gently to remind him he was there. He didn't know where they were going, so he asked, "Which direction?"
Yami looked over at a nearby street sign, and then glanced down some of the streets. "It looks a lot different…" He paused, then pointed. "That way. I'm pretty sure."
As they walked, Yugi didn't dare let go of his hand. A few times he felt Yami's grip tighten. But it wasn't till they'd made it a few blocks that Yami stopped walking, so abruptly that Yugi found himself yanked off-balance.
"I'm…I'm fine." He brought one hand to his forehead. "It's just…being back here…" He gulped air, sinking to the ground.
"Yami!" Yugi knelt beside him. He knew what was happening, had expected this even, and gently shook his shoulder. "Yami?"
He was gritting his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut as the memories washed over him. Yugi's words reached him as if through a long tunnel, fading away. He struggled to stop the flashbacks trying to force themselves on him, but it was impossible.
Just, everywhere he looked…he couldn't see the houses or the street or the neatly-trimmed trees. It all morphed into broken concrete, bloodied bodies, and oily smoke. There was the taste of dust in his mouth, the dull murmur of people staggering around him in shock.
"Mom?" he whispered through dry lips, his throat too choked and raw to raise his voice any higher. He looked around anxiously, having no idea where he was, if he was still in the refugee camp or if he had wandered out into the city. It all looked the same. He slowed to a stop, wondering how long it had been since the quake. A day? Had night fallen yet? It seemed darker. The sky had grown dark with smoke from rioters and gas explosions, and he grew dizzy if he stared too long upward in search of a clear patch. Exhaustion, hunger and terror had begun to turn him into one of the thousands of drifting souls. "Dad?"
"Yami?" In the distance he heard a shriek. "Yami, oh thank God…!"
"Mom!" Bursting into sobs he ran forward with the last of his strength, throwing his uninjured arm around her as they both sank to the ground in relief. "Mom…"
Despite it only being an illusion, he could feel her arms as if she was there right at that moment.
No…it wasn't his mother's voice he heard, it was a different voice, low and soft and comforting. It cracked the memory and reminded him that it wasn't real.
For several long moments he struggled to calm his chaotic thoughts, slowly coming back to the present to discover Yugi holding him, hugging him tightly.
"Yami, we don't have to do this," Yugi was saying, stroking his back. "We can just go back to the train station, it's no big deal. Nobody would fault you."
"No…I'm going to be okay," he finally said, pushing himself to his knees. "I just got overwhelmed for a moment…too many memories…I think I'm fine now. I expected this to happen."
"Please, don't force yourself," Yugi begged. "We can always come back later, when you feel more ready to face it."
"No." He took Yugi's hand. "Help me…stand up."
Not knowing what else to do, Yugi helped him up.
"Yami, I swear, you don't need to force yourself to do anything. I'll understand."
"I'm not forcing myself, I want to do this. I can't let the fear of this place stop me." He took a few deep breaths. "Ever since I told you about Shoua I've felt like this is something I need to do."
It was the first time since their talk that Yami had brought up Shoua. Yugi wasn't sure if he should find this encouraging or not. He chose to take it as a positive sign.
"Okay," Yugi finally said. "But if you have too many more attacks like that, we're going back. I don't care what you say. I'm not going to watch you collapse like that over and over. Got it?"
"Okay." Yami nodded, taking a step and testing his balance. He reached back out for Yugi's hand. "I'm okay. Let's keep going."
Because Yugi could tell Yami was under enough pressure, he didn't speak. Not until Yami led him to an open gate and said, his voice raw, "This is it."
Yugi looked around. He was starting to understand. "A memorial?"
Yami nodded, his voice far away. "They created this…for the earthquake victims. I've only been here once before, just before we left town."
Yugi could see a few other people around the field, some standing or kneeling, one simply walking quietly among the markers. Some graves were decorated with flowers, others left bare.
Yami's hand gripped his, leading him forward slowly. He seemed to know where he was going so Yugi followed quietly until Yami stopped. In front of them was a small row of markers, each with the surname of Atemu on them. Yugi looked at them for a moment, then looked up at Yami.
"I never…got to introduce you to my family," Yami said quietly. "I wish…"
Yugi understood what he didn't say, and squeezed his hand. "I wish too. I know I would have liked them."
He gave him a quiet smile back. "They would have liked you, too."
Then, silently, Yami let go of him, knelt, and bowed his head, and Yugi, without knowing why, followed suit. He wasn't sure what to do; the closest he'd ever gotten to honoring ancestors was the occasional festival. Yami wasn't speaking and had never brought up his family being religious, so maybe there wasn't anything specific he was supposed to say or think. After a moment he began to feel something peaceful about it, kneeling in the warm sun; a powerful, yet not entirely bad, ache in his chest as he simply allowed the importance of the moment to sink in. He felt tears under his eyelids at the sheer sadness of it, and at the same time couldn't help feeling a kind of happiness at being there to share such an important moment with Yami.
They both sat in silence until Yami softly touched his shoulder and Yugi looked up to meet his eyes.
"If it's okay…there's another grave I'd like to visit alone."
Yugi nodded. "That's fine. Go ahead, I'll wait here."
Smiling a little for Yugi's benefit, Yami stood and walked away quietly. He had never visited the grave he was looking for, but with the cemetery arranged by family name, it was easy to find. He felt his heart thump painfully as he sank to the ground at the foot of the marker.
"Shoua," he murmured, voice trembling. He felt a deep, sick feeling inside him and had to force himself not to bolt. As the urge eventually faded, he sorted through the words he'd been thinking about for weeks, ever since he'd revealed the last bit of his story to Yugi.
Then, without really planning to, he found himself speaking.
"I know I will always hold some of the blame for what happened," he whispered. "If I hadn't begged you to go to the nurse you probably would have stayed in the classroom and survived. I'm sorry. I'll always be sorry." He sighed heavily, running one hand through the grass. "But I can't let it control me anymore. Whether those dreams…really were how you feel or just my own guilty conscience…it doesn't matter. I can't fix what happened and giving in to my fears is hurting people and hurting me. Shoua, I think…if I don't let go of you, I'm going to lose everything." He swallowed hard around the lump in his throat.
"I loved you. You were my best friend. You might have been more someday, I'll never know. But soon it will be five years and I'm ready to move on. I want to move on. I thought I'd finally reached the turning point once before and this just dragged me back down. I don't know how long it will be before I succeed, but I think, if I want to survive this, I have to start forgiving myself and I don't want to start doubting again. I did love you, I'll never forget you, but you belong in the past. So I have to leave you here." He stopped, feeling as if he hadn't said enough, but finding that he had nothing more to say. So he got to his feet and turned, about to walk away.
For just a moment he paused, then looked back. "Good-bye Shoua."
Although he had to wipe away tears as he began walking back to Yugi, he noticed the sickness in his chest had faded.
On the walk back to the station, Yugi didn't say anything, thinking that Yami might prefer silence after such an emotional afternoon. He wanted to ask about what happened at Shoua's grave, but didn't. As curious as he was, he'd already decided he would let Yami keep that moment personal. But they hadn't gone very far before Yami broke the silence, saying, "It was good…to come here today. This needed to be done. I'm glad you were here. I'm not sure I could have gone through with it…if you weren't."
"I'm glad I was here, too," Yugi replied softly.
"All these years I've been too scared…too scared of how much it might hurt or what it might trigger or what I might find…" He sounded thoughtful. "Just another way of running, I suppose."
Yugi squeezed his hand. Yami took a deep breath and announced, "So I've been thinking…about seeing a therapist. Or a psychiatrist actually, I guess. I think that's the right term, if I need medicine."
"You mentioned it in the hospital, wondering if you should force me to get help. I know you weren't trying to hint at anything, but you had a good point. My mother has brought it up before too, and when I was in the hospital from the car accident, a hospital psychiatrist came to talk to me. He gave me his card and said he could recommend someone. At the time it was pointless, I knew they wouldn't have the answers. But now...I have the money for the fees and I've come here and done what needed to be done. I've been thinking it might be a good idea. I did some research, you know." He looked down at Yugi. "And I read that with the right therapy and medicine, even long-term symptoms of post-traumatic stress can get better in less than a year."
"And you're really okay with going? You aren't just forcing yourself, you want this?" Yugi asked, trying to hide the hopeful excitement in his voice.
"I want a turning point. I don't want whatever is inside me to screw up my life," he said. "I almost lost you because of all of this and I need to do something soon. I don't know if I'll ever be completely okay. There might be too much history there. Maybe it will help, maybe it won't, but I should give it a try, because if things get even a little better, that's a plus."
"Yeah…I guess that's true." Yugi felt a little of his excitement wane, knowing that was the truth all along. Some sicknesses never went away. Yami noticed and stopped walking, taking both of Yugi's hands.
"But regardless, I do think that things will get better now. Maybe not perfect, but better. I think I can forgive myself. Apparently, that's the first step. And I owe this to you." He let him go, putting both arms around Yugi and embracing him suddenly. "Yugi…I like to think that in time I could have fixed everything by myself. But without you, I wouldn't be where I am now. I'd be someplace…much worse."
Yugi hugged him back as Yami's voice broke. "It wasn't just me," he said. "If you hadn't fought for this, nothing I did would have helped. You're the one who made the difference, Yami. I'm just glad…that you did."
He suddenly felt himself being lifted up as Yami swung him into his arms and kissed him softly. Despite himself, Yugi laughed and kissed him back. But it wasn't until they broke apart that Yugi saw something that caused complete, shining happiness to wash over him. Yami was smiling.
Yugi reached out to touch his cheek, smiling back. It was the most beautiful smile he'd ever seen, even from Yami. His eyes weren't only bright; they were alive again, lit by the fire that he'd seen there when they first met.
There were no guarantees. Yugi was still afraid of what the future may or may not bring; after worrying the way he had for months, it was a hard fear to let go of. This was love, but he knew that alone wasn't necessarily enough. The day might come again when one or both had to let go and he understood that, but he wanted this to work. Right now, he could believe that it would.
Yami felt the difference as well. As he stood on the sidewalk in a town he barely recognized, surrounded by strangers and memories, he found himself feeling happier than he could remember. It almost felt as if he would just burst out laughing at the sheer thrill he got from feeling so happy about absolutely nothing. All he could do was gaze back at Yugi.
The demons were there inside him whether he liked it or not and he could either let them win or fight them. In the end, those had always been the only two options. But only now did he realize that whatever future came from it was his choice, not the demons'.
Yugi could live without him. He didn't have to want him in his life and yet, despite the pain Yami had caused him, he'd given him a fair chance. A fair chance Yami didn't even feel he deserved, but Yugi had given it to him anyway.
For that, Yami would fight. For that smile and that kindness and that heart which had captured his own, he would fight for as long as it took.
"Thank you," he finally whispered, before capturing Yugi's lips again in a far more passionate, but just as soft kiss. Yugi took one last look before his eyelids fluttered shut and he melted into his lips. And Yugi wanted to thank Yami too, wanted to thank him for coming back, for accepting help, for doing what must have been painful because Yugi had asked him to, but to speak meant he'd have to stop kissing him.
And that was a sacrifice he didn't feel like making quite yet.
- Owari -
X - X - X
Notes: Looking back, this is almost more of an epilogue than a final chapter.
Yeah, I know there's some cheesiness, but…I happen to like a little bit of cheese at the end of my angsty romance. x3
With Coming Forth by Sundown I had fun listing the previous ending possibilities. Truth is, this fic has undergone so many changes I'm not even sure I can remember them all. It was a long journey to get to here from the original version of 2007. (Which had the working title Nature's Fury and no planned ending. Though I had a vague idea of either a happily-ever-after ending in which everything was lovely and Yami somehow magically healed forever…OR Yugi dying in another earthquake and Yami being locked in an asylum after losing it for good. …So yeah.)
As it has come to an end, I would love to hear your thoughts on the fic as a whole, rather than on just this chapter. I have loved and valued every encouraging comment and bit of concrit you all have sent so far, and although there won't be another author's notes for me to gush at you in, I appreciate your thoughts on the fic now more than ever. Your feedback ensures that I improve as a writer, and that is a priceless gift. It is, after all, Thanksgiving, and I am truly thankful to you all for your support. 3
An extra-special thank you goes out to my beta reader Micah, who had to put up with entirely too much "Waah, everything I write is horrible angstangstangst!" anguish from me, and without whom this fic would not be what it is.
Thank you all again so much for your support. I hope to hear from you on future fics!