Summary: Building a D-Wheel isn't easy. For the people of Satellite, it isn't legal either, but Yuusei never cared much about the law. There's one slight problem. Jack does.
Notes: Gen!fic, rated for actions of dubious morality, and mild language. No romance intended.
It started, as always, with Crow, and the germ of an idea he planted in Yuusei's head.
"So maybe we can't change everything," the birdbrain had said on a rare foray out of his nest, "but I'd sure as hell like it if we could make the corners of Satellite safer, you know? Just so the people we can help aren't too beaten down to dream."
"And how would you go about that?"
"Well, first of all, I'd need to be faster."
"Crow, you're already the fastest of all—of us…"
Jack left the subway at that point, agitated by Yuusei's near-slip – why did Kiryu's spectre still haunt them? their former leader lurked in the cracks, forcing the wounds deeper with his absence – and so he never heard the rest of that conversation. Rally, of course, overheard everything; he snuck out to Jack's theatre at the first opportunity to tell him.
Bolger and Pearson, friends Crow had made after leaving the team. Their efforts to create a D-Wheel engine more powerful than anyone in the City could produce. Pearson's death, and Crow inheriting certain personal items of his – including the new Duel Disk he wore, replacing the old Battle City model of their Satisfaction days, and a sleek creation dubbed Black Bird, a D-Wheel, something that by all rights a Satellite dweller could not, should not possess.
"And Yuusei says he's gonna try making a D-Wheel too! It'll be so cool, Jack! Like those Rai-din-gu Du-eru-su," (Riding Duels, he said, correcting the boy's abysmal pronunciation on autopilot), "that he showed us when he hacked into the City, and have you seen how realistic it all looks? There was some guy with a dog-like monster and it was running beside the duelist and it was awesome! Can you imagine what it'd be like for Stardust – or – or Red Daemon's to actually fly?"
Jack shook his head: no. He'd never given the idea much thought. Neither had he thought Yuusei – logical, methodical Yuusei, with his head always on straight; the harebrained schemes were his and Crow's expertise – would be so easily swayed by the romance of it all. But he, Jack Atlus, was just the same. Just once, he thought, it would be nice to let Red Daemon's take flight.
It was impossible, though. Sooner or later Yuusei would realise this, and give up. There was no way he could possibly pull off something as risky and stupid as this.
Apparently he was wrong. And if there was one thing that Jack Atlus hated, it was Yuusei's insistence on proving him wrong when he should do the sensible thing and give up.
"What are you doing?" Jack hissed, outraged. He wanted to shout, but their situation was precarious enough as it was – on the outskirts of Sector M, the broken remnants of the penultimate Duel Gang still at large within; two members of Team Satisfaction being isolated in enemy territory was like handing candy to one of Crow's flock for safekeeping and expecting it to be there five seconds later. And the rest of the orphans would then tackle whichever adult was foolish enough to part with the treat, demanding more.
He and Yuusei were a hand wrapped gift, sitting just on the periphery of their notice, and Yuusei was as oblivious as ever.
"Most of this is salvageable," the sixteen-year-old answered at length, prising open a metal panel with his makeshift screwdriver; Jack would have to find a replacement later, or get Crow to scavenge a proper one. "The fire didn't damage it much."
The place Yuusei had led them to had, at one time, been a parking lot for some small business, back when Satellite was a real city and not some glorified cess-pit of junk and decay. These days it was a gathering place for gang members and the disillusioned youth, people who didn't give a damn about the laws, or consequences. Most of them had already been marked, and everyone knew the recycling plants refused to employ those with a criminal record. They had nothing. Authority told them they were nothing.
They hardly counted as rebels, either, since not one of them dared to challenge the system. Not since Kiryu, and everyone knew how that turned out.
Jack glowered at the nearest wall, half-heartedly noting the small dark stub marks where cigarettes and joints had been extinguished. The ground was littered with debris – broken bottles, beer cans, certain… items… he didn't even want to identify. Security vehicles that had been doused in petrol and set alight in pathetic displays of rebellion from people who had "supported" Kiryu's futile war, but didn't lift a finger to help the now-jailed young man when he most needed assistance. This place sickened him. It was a disease, a cancer on an already floundering society, and despite his instinctual hatred of Security he almost wanted them to do something about it. Even though the underlying attitudes would remain the same.
Yuusei had scavenged a small handcart from a trash-heap two weeks before, repaired it enough for it to be mobile, though one wheel had a tendency to fall off. It sat to his right, creaking in protest, while Yuusei's hands worked on autopilot, stripping away the ruined pieces, selecting the parts he could use, removing them gingerly (bright beads of blood blossomed where he snagged his palm against a rusted metal loop) before he placed them in the cart. His fingers were pale thin smudges against the complex carcass of the burnt-out D-Wheel.
Jack watched in silence, envying him the ability to turn the jumble of parts into a logical pattern. Jack watched, a stern guardian – but the walls were too tall, closing in and he couldn't concentrate – as Yuusei flirted with danger.
Disapproval and concern smouldered in his heart.
Nerve – one of Yuusei's new friends, the one with a tacky brass trinket around his neck and permanent stubble across his jaw – was eighteen, old enough to work in the recycling plants. Occasionally he would "strike gold" (in other words, usable parts) in his long, thankless job, and he snuck them out wrapped in one of his shirts.
Jack didn't have a problem with that. It wasn't stealing, really. Besides, the parts would end up on the junk-piles soon enough. Yuusei just got them faster, this way.
Nerve also smoked, on occasion. Cigarettes were an expensive luxury in Satellite, and Jack couldn't see how the older man could fund such a habit. One stormy evening, he spied on Nerve as the man made his way downtown, a battered leather bag slung across his shoulder. That was Jack's first experience with the black markets of Satellite – the only things you couldn't find there were "perishables or a wife", he heard someone proclaim – and from the dim wails of sirens in the distance, and the wary faces of street vendors, he read the truth. The people were constantly under threat of discovery. These markets were illegal. If Security found them, they wouldn't care about age or guilt – anyone frequenting the markets would be a viable target.
Sooner or later, Yuusei would end up in this place hunting for parts, no doubt led astray by Nerve's influence. Jack couldn't let that happen. He couldn't let Yuusei walk the same path as Crow and Kiryu.
He had already failed two brothers; it would kill him to fail the third.
The progression of Yuusei's D-Wheel was directly proportional to the deteriorating state of their friendship. Jack had known that from the start, but knowing and accepting are different things. When you have something you want to keep it, cling to it, guard it jealously like a precious item the world would steal away in a heartbeat. He could not give up. Any rationalisation – that he was simply letting go of a bond frayed and tattered – sounded too much like "giving up" to his own mind. Jack Atlus was nothing if not stubborn, and for three months he struggled to hold their friendship together.
Yuusei had yet to realise what was happening, he was so engrossed in his D-Wheel. The project consumed his every waking moment, and conversation was almost impossible – his mind would inevitably stray back to the strange world of construction and mechanics that Jack had no place in. Yuusei's new friends – Taka, Nerve, Blitz – resented his presence. Rally was too young and naïve to see the D-Wheel for what it really was.
Only Jack could see the truth.
It was an obsession, an infection which had taken root in Yuusei's heart and urged him on. It was all they could think about. It was their hope, and it would be their curse. One day, Yuusei would forget. Forget the safety procedures that Jack insisted on, bring something back he really shouldn't, bring Security down around their heads.
Nerve and the others never forgave Jack for pulling away. Of course, their only concern was Yuusei. Somehow the balance had shifted, and the inseparable brothers were strangers and the people who should have been outsiders basked in Yuusei's attention, linked as they were to the D-Wheel.
If Yuusei wanted to throw his future away on a harebrained scheme any sane man would have deserted immediately, so be it. Jack wanted no part of it.
If Yuusei wanted to wager criminal marks against illegal actions, let him. Jack would look out for Number One: himself.
If Yuusei wanted their friendship to fall apart, so what? Jack could not build a bridge alone. Like the Daedalus Bridge, his efforts would be doomed to failure because one side refused to reciprocate.
They had different goals, Jack would eventually tell Rally – the one person from the old days he still associated with (Crow was busy turning his face into a disfigured yellow mess, and Jack didn't dare face his foster mother and tell her what had become of her sons, once so close). Even now, days and weeks before that moment would arrive, Jack knew that it was hopeless.
Jack made sure to be there when the D-Wheel was taken on its maiden test-run, Rally having pleaded and begged until he caved – but he didn't belong.
Stardust was magnificent, of course, and Yuusei looked like he belonged on that D-Wheel, in another world, a world of speed forbidden to the people of Satellite. He had found his satisfaction in amongst the ruins of a dead city; Jack wandered listlessly from morning to dusk, defending his territory from the troublemakers and violence that plagued other areas of the Satellite, unable to shake the feeling there could be more to his life.
Jack Atlus had nothing here.
The thought sat sour on his tongue.
On his knees in the dust, Yuusei glared at him through angry cobalt eyes. Jack stared back, searching for the Yuusei he remembered. The teenager whose eyes were so defiant… was a stranger.
Yuusei had forgotten who he was. The D-Wheel had consumed all his genius, stripped him of the duelist. When was the last time he had taken his cards out? It must have been two months ago. He'd surrendered his pride as a duelist – and Jack, who had nothing outside the duel, couldn't understand why.
He left Yuusei with cryptic words, and a gesture even he couldn't explain. The looks he received from the others were millstones around his neck. As his footsteps carried him further away, back to the sanctuary of his theatre, he made out the dim murmur of voices – soothing Yuusei's battered pride, no doubt. Nobody thought to call out to Jack. He knew, then, that he was unneeded.
Jack would never return to that region of Satellite in person, only in dreams. He dreamed the mistakes of the past would be undone. He dreamed that forgiveness could be found. He dreamed that things could go back to normal.
He dreamed he had his brother back.
Then he'd wake up, face reality, and spend another day stalking violence across his turf. He'd climb to the top of a building, staring out across the channel of water separating Satellite from the City, and try to remember that day when he was seven, young and reckless, stowing away on a ship in his curiosity to see the other side. He'd strip away the last clinging remnants of the Satisfaction days (though like a weed, so long as the roots remained the plant would grow back) - perhaps Yuusei was willing to survive.
But Jack Atlus wanted to live.
The funny thing about dreams is that they never come true. Not really. At least, not in the way people expect. Perhaps one day his dream will become a sort-of reality, but that is months and years away, in a dim and distant future buoyed by the very mistakes he yearns to undo.
Jack didn't know that. Jack couldn't know that. So eventually he cast the dreams aside, and told Rally the fateful words: they were different in their goals, he and Yuusei, and something like that couldn't be unwritten.
The lonely King sat on his lonely throne in a lonely, lonely theatre, and pretended that all was well.