Title: On The Edge Of The World
Summary: Jack has a moment of insight while contemplating the decisions he has made.
Warnings: A bit of angsty Jack, but that's about it
Author's Note: Nothing much to say, really. This is my first story on here, and I usually write more humorous pieces, but I wanted to post something serious before I dove into the crack. Constructive criticism is welcome. Enjoy! :)
"Jack, wait up!" Yusei called as they ran up the rickety stairs of the abandoned building.
Jack laughed and took the stairs two at a time, racing ahead of his best friend. "Can't catch me!"
Behind him, Yusei shouted a word that would have made Martha wash his mouth out with soap, causing Jack to laugh even harder. It wasn't as if they could get in any more trouble once they got back to the orphanage. They had snuck off during chore time to run about in the cluttered streets and decrepit buildings of the Satellite, unable to resist the call of summertime and adventure and just being young together.
Jack burst through the door to the roof, basking in the shine of the sun and his victory. Yusei emerged moments later, and they collapsed together on the rooftop, catching their breath in short-lived silence.
"Aww," Yusei said, getting to his feet, "who'd wanna chase you, anyway?"
Jack got up too and playfully shoved him. "You'll always chase me and you know it."
Yusei stuck his tongue out and walked to the edge of the rooftop. "Look, the ocean's down there! I bet we could dive in from up here! Come on, let's do it!"
Jack frowned, leaning over beside him. It was an awfully long way down from the roof to the water. He shook his head. "No way. It's too far down and I don't wanna get wet."
Yusei looked up and grinned. "You're not scared, are you, Jack?"
Jack bristled. "No, I just don't want to get wet!"
Yusei snorted, not believing him for a minute. "Come on, it's fun. I've done it lots of times. Look, I'll show you." He walked to the edge and balanced there.
Before Jack could do or say anything to discourage him Yusei tensed and jumped into the empty air.
Startled, Jack yelled out and ran forward, but Yusei was already shooting down, down, down into the ocean below.
He should jump in after him. Jack knew that he should, but he couldn't. Even when Yusei broke throught the surface and waved for Jack to follow suit, he chouldn't. Staring down off of the rooftop, Jack felt like he was looking down on Yusei from the edge, the end of the world, and no matter how much he wanted to, Jack couldn't jump off to reach him.
"You should have jumped, really." Yusei told him that night, after they had been sent to their room with no supper and a thorough tongue-lashing from Martha. "You just can't think when you do it. It's not bad when you get going. Jumping off's the hardest part."
Jack started out of his thoughts and turned to glare at Mina from his seat on the couch. "Leave me alone."
Why had he even been thinking about that? Stupid memories.
The young woman stepped back, frowning apologetically. "Director Goodwin wants to know how your training for the Fortune Cup is coming along."
Jack snorted and turned his back to her once again, still mulling over his thoughts. That summer day couldn't be farther from where he and Yusei were now. "You can tell him that I won't be dueling in the Fortune Cup."
He heard Mina's gasp of shock behind him but couldn't be bothered to care about her. He didn't care about anything anymore.
Don't you? Part of him thought. Jack ignored it.
Mina was rambling on now, something about how the king just had to duel in the tournament. Like she knew anything. The king had lost his crown, stolen by a common street punk who just couldn't stay in his place.
Jack Atlas wasn't the king. The real champion was sitting in a cell in the Facility and probably wishing Jack to the innermost pits of hell. Yusei Fudo, his former best friend.
Yusei, who had been too proud to just take the damn card back. He'd wanted to settle the score, to win his card back instead of just taking it and slinking back into the sewers where he belonged, and look where it had landed him: a 6-by-10 concrete cell with no duel runner, no deck, and no way out.
Of course, Jack would have done the same in Yusei's position, and probably would have been a whole lot pushier about it, but that didn't matter. Jack would never be in Yusei's position, simply because Yusei would never be in Jack's. Yusei would never choose fame over friendship. Yusei would never betray the people he cared about. Yusei would never be the king, because he never wanted to.
Yusei, who chose his pathetic existence in the Satellite over the life he could have had in Neo Domino and then had the nerve to come crawling after Jack like a stray dog begging for scraps. Jack hated Yusei for coming to Neo Domino. And he hated Yusei for staying in the Satellite.
Because for one moment, just one moment, hadn't he wanted to hold out his hand? For just one moment, hadn't he wanted to say, "Come with me"? For a split second, he'd seen it in his head – the two of them in the arena, surrounded by screaming fans, victorious. Atlas and Fudo, together all the way to the top.
Yusei had just stared at him like he'd never seen him before. Without a word, he had shed his jacket and dove into the water. He never looked back at the shore. Jack knew Yusei had made his choice. He'd never looked back either. But all through the tunnel, all the way to the City, part of him wanted to turn around and jump into the water after Yusei.
Even now, that same small, crazy part of him wanted to just hop on his runner – the runner that Yusei had built, his brain reminded him – and drive all the way out to the Facility to demand Yusei's release. So he could beat him, of course, Jack told himself. So the king could take back his crown and forget that Yusei Fudo ever existed and end this whole mess. The mess that you got him in, that small part of his mind pointed out viciously.
Jack Atlas, the great Duel King, the traitor.
For what seemed like the millionth time, Jack looked at the card in his hand. He stared at the Stardust Dragon without really seeing it, instead picturing Yusei's face when he had summoned the dragon during their duel. The first time in two long years that he had used his favorite card.
He hadn't smiled, Jack thought suddenly. When they were in the Satellite, whether they were busting duel gangs or just having a friendly practice match, Yusei would smile and laugh throughout the duel. Dueling was his livelihood. It was all they had, besides each other.
A sudden thought struck Jack like lightning.
Now, they only had dueling.
I... Did I really...?
Jack stared numbly at the card. For the first time, he had an inkling of just what he had done.
Wha... what did I do?
Out of nowhere, everything from the last two years hit him with the force of a bomb. He'd had everything. He had thrown away his best friend. He had tossed Yusei aside like a child discarding a toy he no longer cared for.
Yusei, who chose the people he loved over dueling.
Yusei, who should hate him.
Yusei, who had followed him to Neo Domino. Who, no matter how much he loved dueling, would never go through everything to get to the City just for a card.
"You'll always chase me and you know it."
And Jack finally understood.
Once again, Jack Atlas was teetering, staring down into an abyss from the edge of the world. Once again, Yusei was down there and Jack had no way to reach him. Unless...
Abruptly, Jack stood and stomped out the door, brushing past a startled Mina and punching the elevator button to take him to his garage. Minutes later, he was on his runner, tearing down a road out of Neo Domino to the beach. As he drove, Jack thought, and planned, and schemed.
He couldn't actually go to the Facility and tell them to let Yusei out. He couldn't just demand that Goodwin give the order for his release, either. But, but...
He came to a stop on a sandy cliff that overlooked the water. Standing and removing his helmet, Jack walked to the edge and stared down at the ocean, then looked up across the water to the smudge on the horizon that was the Satellite. His playground. His prison. His home.
"Yusei... why did you follow me? You don't belong here. Neither of us do." Jack fell silent, as if expecting an answer. He received none except for the steady rush of the waves. He shook his head and looked down at the water again. He had come here for a reason.
His heart was pounding as he stepped to the edge. You can't think, he told himself. You can't think.
Jack closed his eyes, took a deep breath... and jumped. For a few breathless seconds, he was weightless, flying, and then he hit the cool water and sank under.
He stayed underwater for as long as his breath held out and during that time there was nothing in the world except Jack and the water and freedom. When he broke through the surface, Jack opened his eyes and it was as if the world and everything in it had been reborn.
Goodwin stared incredulously at Jack. "What?"
"You heard me," Jack said with his usual air of superiority. "I won't duel in the Fortune Cup unless Yusei does."
Goodwin looked at Jack speculatively for several long moments before nodding curtly and turning to leave. "Very well. I'll see to it that you get a chance to repair your damaged pride." There was a condescending note in Goodwin's voice, but Jack ignored it. He turned and dropped himself down onto his usual place on the couch as Goodwin exited.
Yusei had been right. He always had been.
Jack had gone over the edge of the world and discovered that it was not the end after all. That small, sane part of him was free and would not be locked up again. Jack's mind finally understood what his heart had known all along.
Jumping off is the hardest part; after that, you just have to fall.