A raised hand knocks sharply on the door three times. "Carly!" The British voice comes out of an attractive blond teenager, and an impatient one. "Carly!" He calls again immediately.
The quick sound of footsteps hurrying foretells the open door and frazzled face with long black hair. She gasps. "Jack! You're early! And you're…" Her voice trails off as she notices Jack's more-elegant-than-usual clothing.
"Yusei's idea. Although I think he just wants time with his girlfriend." Jack feels slightly sick as he utters that last word. How can she not remember?
"So we're…" Carly waits for clarification and Jack sighs.
"Going to a holiday party. Honestly, you're a reporter, can't you figure things out?"
Carly's wide smile falters for a second, and then suddenly she is running down the hall, shouting over her shoulder, "Jack, can you just wait in the living room while I shower and get changed?"
Jack nods, although he knows she can't see it, and doesn't add that he prefers her like this. Carly in a dress isn't… Carly. She's prettier this way.
It's the first thing he'll never say out loud.
After ten minutes, Jack hears a shriek, a thump, and a loud crash coming from the bathroom. Within seconds he runs to the bathroom door and for the third time that day, bellows, "Carly!"
"No, no, it's nothing, it's all right, I'm all right!" Carly calls quickly. She's hoping he won't ask, it's too embarrassing, and the truth is sure to slip out while she's thinking of a good cover story.
"Carly, what happened?" Jack says urgently. Carly can't hear the tone in his voice, and even though she can't see him through the door, she blushes dark red.
"I- I, uh- Well, I slipped on the soap." Carly admits sheepishly.
Jack chuckles. "Pathetic." He's picturing her face, just her face, against the bathroom tile. He's pleased to see that her cheeks are bright crimson, since her blush is adorable.
That's the second thing Jack wouldn't admit for the world.
Carly finishes up her shower with a dark flush permanently fixed to her face. After the soap incident, it's relatively accident free – relatively because this is, after all, Carly.
Jack expects more loud noises any moment now, ready to jump to his feet. It's almost impossible to focus on the television, which is loudly blaring an ad for a ridiculous Christmas parade. The parade itself is childish, the decor tasteless, and Jack finds it hard to believe that the crowd of people in the picture were there voluntarily.
Carly rummages through her closet, sighing. She has nothing even halfway decent to wear, unless you count her old prom dress, and she doesn't. Then she wonders. Sticking her head out the door, she calls "Jack, is it formal or not?"
"You're asking me for fashion advice?" Jack calls mockingly back. "It's not formal, so don't wear that blue thing!"
The disgust in his voice is evident, and this gives Carly reason for another few minutes of thought, after which she decides on a long-sleeved button-up red blouse, long green velvet skirt, and black high heels. This outfit, she thinks, makes her look at least professional.
Carly wobbles down the hall. These shoes are going to be a problem; she just knows it. With all her weight on the rail, gripping it tightly, she manages to get three steps down the stairs.
Then, sure enough, her precarious right heel slips and Carly finds herself cartwheeling down the stairs, shrieking. Suddenly she is upright, being steadied by strong arms.
At the first scream, Jack, already on edge, finds himself instantly at the bottom of the stairs. He grits his teeth and reaches out with perfect reflexes to grab Carly's outstretched wrist. "Idiot." He says tightly.
Carly, staring up at blond hair and furious violet eyes, suddenly finds it hard to speak. "Well- But- Jack, it was an accident!"
"You say that every time." Jack says, his eyes traveling down to rest on Carly's bare ankles. "You're going to kill-" he cuts himself off abruptly. Kill is not a word Jack Atlas uses lightly anymore, not with Carly. "You're going to send yourself to the hospital in those."
"You're probably right," Carly admits, balancing herself against the wall. She takes a careful step, wobbles, and immediately latches onto the nearest thing available.
Maybe high heels aren't so utterly terrible, Jack finds himself thinking. When there aren't any stairs around.
But he'd never admit it, and that makes the third thing today.
"Congratulations, by the way." Jack says, smirking.
"Um… for what?"
"For stepping on the soap in the shower. I didn't think even you could make that much noise."
Carly blushes again. To her it seems like it's impossible to stop. How can Jack have this much of an effect on her from just a few sentences?
"Come on, let's go. You're going to make us late."
Carly doesn't say anything, not trusting her mouth and any words that might slip out. Jack pulls her gently to the door, bracing her and keeping her from another accident. As they reach the door, Carly's foot slips again, she falls, and her glasses clatter off.
Jack reaches for them at the same time as Carly, and they knock heads. "Oh, honestly." He gripes. Picking them up, he puts them on her and notes how enchanting her eyes are. Then he focuses on the spectacles, and frowns.
Those glasses are riddled with memories for him, and he struggles to tear his gaze away. It's just too easy to picture the glasses without their owner, in his hand. The glasses he's picturing are bent, crooked, slightly cracked, with a hole in one lens.
It hurts just to picture them.
"Jack, are you all right?" Carly's voice brings him sharply out of the reverie.
"Yes. Let's go." He replies curtly.
Jack Atlas will never tell anyone how much those glasses can hurt him.
Carly follows Jack out the door, confused by his sudden bad mood. But that's just how Jack is, she supposes – unpredictable and angry.
Going to the party, Jack says almost nothing. Carly doesn't try to make conversation, knowing that with Jack like this, it's really not worth it. He's relatively civil, but Carly knows him well enough to know that he could be furious in a moment, the way he's feeling right now.
They pull up, and Jack helps Carly out of the car, still silent. She walks timidly inside, and Jack follows, glaring at anyone who tries to meet his eye. Yusei comes over.
"Jack, are you-"
Jack cuts him off with a wave of his hand. "Fine." He says frostily. It's a lie.
No one, not even Yusei, knows how just much Jack misses the old Carly, and no one ever will.
Something occurs to him: another thing that he'll never say. Never in a million years.
If he hadn't lost the Fortune Cup to Yusei, he would never have met Carly. Meeting Carly was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Jack looks around, wanting something to take his mind off of Carly, the Dark Signer, and regular Carly Carmine. He raises an eyebrow, noting that Leo is almost attacking the buffet table, and Akiza's parents, who are there for some reason, have a mischievous glint in their eyes. That's a glint Jack doesn't like the look of, and one he isn't going to mess with.
In a short time Carly and Jack are arguing over something trivial, as a girl with long spiky blond hair and a bright red dress walks up to them. "Jack Atlas!" She gushes, as though his last name makes him the most fascinating person on Earth. "I'm Angela – a huge fan. Although," she glances sideways with disgust "Why are you talking with her?"
Jack looks at her. "Because it's important, and she's my friend." He replies frigidly .
"Well, than what are you two talking about?" Angela said brightly, obviously considering herself a friend of Jack's after thirty seconds of conversation. Jack doesn't even comment on how pathetic this is, too annoyed with her to bother.
"Isn't that only for important people to know?" Jack says even more coldly, his patience, whatever little he had, waning thin.
Angela stares at him, affronted. "Pardon me?"
"I think you heard what I said. Or is it your ears and your brain that aren't working?" Angela glares at him, absolutely outraged at his snubs.
"Well!" She gasps, and walks off snippily. Jack smirks. He always was good at getting rid of unpleasant people… and pleasant ones as well, sometimes.
Carly smiles, happy Jack would do that for her. She never likes Angela, but… dealing with her required a slightly different personality than Carly has.
They're standing next to the stairs, Jack's back turned toward Leo, who is hiding on the steps. It's easy to hide behind six-foot-tall Jack Atlas; that's just a fact of life. Leo smiles evilly. This is almost too good an opportunity to miss.
Jack and Carly are staring at each other, and Jack is once again reminded of just how short Carly is. She's tilting her head back, and he's craning his neck down, just do that they can look each other in the eye. Suddenly, there's a great whump! and something pushes Jack straight down, onto Carly's lips, from behind. Both their eyes widen, and they stare at each other.
Then Jack pulls up abruptly, spinning around, furious. His eyes light on a small boy with a blue-green ponytail, who looks terrified but elated at the same time, and Jack's face grows enraged. He storms off, infuriated, while Carly looks after him, wondering why Jack's so upset. It was just her, wasn't it?
Jack stomps through the halls, winding up in the restrooms and staring in the mirror. He wishes someone would try to talk to him; he needs to vent, and terrifying someone would help immensely. Then he scolds himself silently. That's not something a kind person does; it's the sort of thing the old Jack Atlas would do.
If Leo weren't so annoying, Jack might thank him. Might.
"Jack?" Someone raps on the door. "Are you in there? Are you all right?" It's Carly; one of the last people on Earth Jack wants to see.
"Fine," Jack says, coldly laconic. "And obviously, I'm in here, or I wouldn't be answering your questions."
No answer. Then, after a long silent minute: "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes." A vehement response bursts from Jack's mouth.
"Then will you come out?"
"That doesn't make it sound like you're fine." Sometimes Jack hates it when Carly sounds sensible. The door opens reluctantly, and Carly looks at him. "The famous Atlas pride wouldn't let you stay in there, would it?"
Jack doesn't bother answering, just walks past her.
"I thought so." Carly says quietly, watching Jack head down the hall. He can't hear her. But she wishes he would just let himself have fun, stop being so proud and isolating to himself. All right, it's partially because it was her Leo decided to prank Jack with, but still. Jack Atlas needs to have some holiday fun, before Mina sucks all the life out of him.
The party goes by, and Jack lightens up. He still remains awkward when he's with Carly, and Leo squeaks whenever he passes, seeing the look on Jack's face. But he's starting to have some fun, including a few jokes at Yusei's expense. After a while Akiza has had enough, and so has Carly. Jack, noting how both of the girls feel, stops, but Leo notices and imitates him. Both Akiza and Carly give up. One irritating boy, maybe, but two? They don't have a chance.
That night, Jack is in his bed. He can't sleep, and he knows the reason. Carly Carmine. Who would have known beforehand that the King of Duels would fall in love with a troublesome reporter? Not him, that's for sure.
Jack might never tell Carly he's in love with her. He's had his heart broken once; it's not going to happen again. Carly died, for heavens' sake! And now she has amnesia. It took him months to figure his feelings out, starting when he found Carly's smashed glasses in the building of the Arcadia Movement. And then… when he finally got up the courage to tell her…
No. He's not going to remember that, the memory's too painful. But he won't tell.
Not even Jack Atlas knows Carly's full power over him. His heart broke; he's never going to tell her, or anyone that. They might guess, but they'll never know.
As Jack drifts off to sleep, a face swims before him. A face with red cheeks, tinted green-black hair, and a pair of bulls-eye glasses, slipping off, falling, smashing.
Even in his sleep, a tear trickles down Jack Atlas' cheek.