Through the Eyes of the Blind (Or, five times they saw the truths they didn't want to see.)
Genre: Angst/Friendship (note that 'friendship' is subjective and, with ZONE involved, rather likely to be unconventional.)
Warnings: Spoilers for the 10th Anniversary Movie and most of 5D's, particularly Season 3 from #103-149. And yes, I'm fully aware that the series has only aired up to #142. Trust me on this one (no, I'm not a member of Iliaster, don't be silly).
I am dedicating this story to Makoeyes987 from Janime – it was a post of his that inspired this, after all. The most relevant excerpt can be found at the bottom.
Hate was an emotion Sherry knew all too well. It was a tool, something she could use, the writhing snakes of anger and fury and diamond-edged wrath, mounting into a spiral that would cease only when her enemies lay crushed and her parents were avenged. Sherry Leblanc, the girl who had survived her parents' murder through sheer luck, knew hatred and it served her, or she served it; she cared nothing about the details so long as her path obtained the results she craved.
Life just was. That was all that mattered. Living, getting stronger, until she could stare her parents' murderers in the face and laugh as she consigned them to hell.
She and Fudo Yuusei were opposite sides of a coin. Iliaster had robbed them both of the families they should have had; but Yuusei fought only to defend his city, the people he had claimed as his, even though he had the potential to be so much more! She saw it in him, in those brilliant blue eyes, and she goaded him into the chase to understand—why? How could he be so hideously noble? It made no sense. He made no sense.
But she trusted him regardless, even when it was just his faltering grip between her and certain death, even when she lost all hope and in that final moment entrusted her whole raison d'être into his hands. She had faith in him. Fudo Yuusei would always do what was right. Always.
Somehow she survived the wormhole. The entity waiting there for her, in that world of white she had entered once before, alongside Yuusei and Bruno, promised it could tell her the truth. Like a fool she agreed – but what else could she do? And all the pieces started to slot into place as he explained in that awful, mechanical voice that sounded so awfully, heartbreakingly familiar – this thing, this ZONE, was the creator of Iliaster? The reason why her parents were dead? She could scarcely believe it, didn't want to believe it. Why did you do it? she wanted to scream, Why did you have my parents killed? She couldn't bear this agony of not knowing.
"Who are you?" she demanded instead, anger warring with a sickening numbness that spread through her like the chill of ice. "Answer me. Who are you, to manipulate everything like this?" Ce n'est pas juste! her thoughts protested, railing against the storm of her floundering resolve, why—pourquoi—tu n'as pas le droit!
She knew before he said it, had known from the moment she glimpsed brilliant blue through the slit of his mask. The truth still broke her heart: "I am Fudo Yuusei," said the warped creature who called himself ZONE, because of course it would be him; it was always him.
Fudo Yuusei would always do what was right; Sherry Leblanc hated him for it, because his hideous righteousness would be the death of him.
(But because it was Yuusei, she'd make it quick.)
Fudo Yuusei never slept much. When he did, it was in fitful bursts that lasted barely more than an hour before he forced himself awake again. He dared not risk more. Fortunately he had always been an irregular sleeper, so Jack and Crow noticed no immediate difference in his routine, but when they did – of course they did – he had to become cannier about his habits. Crow operated by routine, especially now his business was taking off; Jack was harder to work around, but he managed, to varied success. It was always rather awkward, managing to doze off while still sat at the dinner table. Once, Saiga (out of Martha's earshot) took him aside and suggested he tried sleeping pills, but after some research and no thought at all, Yuusei declined. He dared not risk it. Best if he simply avoided getting deep enough to dream at all. It was the dreams that were the problem, not the sleeping. He could manage.
Sometimes, though, he forgot to wake – or perhaps Jack had meddled with the alarm clock, trying to trick him into sleeping for longer than usual (they didn't know; Yuusei hadn't told them) – and in the fitful throes of slumber, he relived the horrors of the Underworld, those snatching clawing hands, those empty eyes, those ghastly mouths stretched into eternal screams… They hated him for reasons beyond his comprehension; hated him, the living symbol of his father's greatest failure; hated him for being given the chance to live, when they, and so many others, had perished. You, was the message those hands imparted, You, You!
His father's ghost never came to save him. The last he remembered was the hellish glow of the Underworld being cut off abruptly, as the ghouls finally dragged him under to share in their miserable fate for all eternity… and then he'd wake, heart pounding and fingers clenching and oh god, oh god, he was alive, alive but damned.
The first person he told about the nightmares was Crow, one morning over breakfast (Jack had already gone out; Crow said he doubted the blond had come home at all), just as his brother was dumping a third sugar into his tea. The shock of hearing Yuusei speak caused Crow to jump and the teaspoon to judder, scattering the last granules of sugar across the table; the dark-haired young man frowned slightly; was he really that quiet?
"Why are you so upset about this?" Crow asked eventually, refusing to look at him, to Yuusei's increasing sense of frustration. Crow had been there at Old Momentum; Crow knew better than anyone the potential darkness in Yuusei's heart; but he refused to see the truth Yuusei felt so keenly. "It's not like you could have done anything about it."
Yuusei closed his eyes for a moment, before opening them again. Nobody would understand. Parts of it he didn't understand, either, but every time he remembered those clawing hands, he felt nothing but a leaden lump of guilt – even though Crow was right: what could he have done to prevent it, when he'd been only an infant? The guilt still remained. He stood and cleared his plate away, staying silent, even when Crow came up beside him and asked if he was okay. He nodded absently. Of course he wasn't, though he'd never admit it.
Before he returned to his machines, he said to Crow with quiet resignation, "I just feel like I'm responsible." They never discussed the nightmares again.
(In a way, of course, he was.)
"This will never work," he remembered saying to his oldest friend and companion, Antinomy, the night before the experiment that finally killed them.
"ZONE knows what he is doing," Antinomy had replied, writing columns of numbers across the leaves of a notebook; upon looking closer, he noticed the repetitious strings of binary were spiralling out of control, betraying the inner doubt his friend also felt. "Have faith," the mechanic told him, "All will be right eventually."
…Part of him, a very small and vindictive part, wanted nothing more than to say I told you so when his eyes opened to a spiral ceiling, the scuttling motion of wires, and ZONE staring down at him with what might have been regret, or calculation. Paradox could never be certain. He knew he was supposed to trust ZONE. After all, ZONE was their friend. But ZONE was human and just as fallible as the rest of them (a fact Antinomy and Aporia had ever been eager to forget; they needed a hero, somebody to look up to, to the point where it clouded their judgement); and if ZONE, their leader, made mistakes, then how could they feasibly hope to change the future? With every risk they took, every mistake they committed – actual or almost, in this case, both were counted – the margin of error increased exponentially.
It took him a while to reconcile his current state, a mechanical representation of the human he had once been, with the body he stumbled across while exploring the limits of his new form. When people spoke of "out of body" experiences, he doubted this was what they had in mind. Two versions of the same man existing in tandem. Admittedly, one was dead and the second a mere copy. He had no place in nature. That bothered him a little. So: was he a replacement or an upgrade, became the next question to demand answers. His mind was as clear and sharp as ever, and he concluded it to be of no consequence. Especially in the face of his mission, which ZONE revealed to him thirty-nine days after he awoke: "Kill the creator of Duel Monsters". Paradox agreed. It made sense. From what he understood, Aporia and Antinomy had already started to move against Momentum—but Paradox had always been one for alternatives, and Synchro, no Duel Monsters itself had played just as much a deciding role in their world's destruction.
"Will you take on this responsibility?" ZONE asked him under the canopy of Momentum's hateful light. "It will be dangerous. You must be careful."
"I trust you," Paradox replied. Slipping his mask into place, he smiled at the opportunity to put all his genius into action. "Anyway, it's just another experiment."
(In the moments before his second death, Paradox decided that trusting ZONE with your life was like playing Russian roulette with six rounds in the revolver – in other words, suicide.)
Antinomy would always maintain that he had wanted to remember his past. Honestly, he would. No matter how brilliant it had been to be, for lack of a better word, 'alive' again, nothing had ever fully distracted him from the deep-seated knowledge that there was something out there he should be doing, something that lingered just out of his reach. Like Tantalus, whose offending of the gods earned him the punishment of standing in a pool of water with a fruit tree nearby, yet whenever he tried to pluck the fruit the boughs moved out of reach, and when he tried to drink the water flowed away from his hands… But that was only myth, after all; it wasn't real, and if the gods were punishing him then surely he had to know what he was doing wrong. He didn't, of course. So that had to count for something.
Remembering what he'd lost in the crash, though, cast everything he had lived since that moment into doubt. Never had his name seemed so appropriate. Just who was he, now – Antinomy, loyal follower of ZONE? Or Bruno, friend of Fudo Yuusei? His separate lives thrown together, now, in a manner that prevented him from seeing clearly.
The unfairness of the situation pressed down on him, much as the ocean had all those months before. Antinomy, or Bruno? His mind said the former. His heart – metaphorical, machines had no need for organs – insisted on the latter. He wanted both. He deserved neither. His mission was to protect Fudo Yuusei. Now he had to decide: which one. An impossible choice.
(He was never meant to befriend Fudo Yuusei; ZONE's plan had been derailed by, of all things, a kitten.)
He never expected to survive his defeat.
It was useless. With despair, he was blinded. Without, he was crippled. What use was he to ZONE like this? He could do nothing. He was a failure.
He wondered what had become of the others, in the end. Paradox. Antinomy. If ZONE had brought him back, unworthy as he now was, then surely their oldest friend would have extended the favour to them too. Their worth had always been greater. That was the way of the world. Some blazed bright; others faltered, and fell.
In the ashes of his defeat, Aporia lay broken and blank. He felt nothing but a numbness that reminded him of times after despair. What did it mean? Nothing remained for him. A broken puppet—bah, what use was he? Better he died. Better the Signers had finished him… but no, in their infinite capacity for 'mercy' – a cruelty of its own; such hypocrisy – they had left him in this state, not quite in despair, not quite capable of rising again.
He wondered if he had met them unknowingly. To Aporia's knowledge, only ZONE himself held all the pieces. Only ZONE knew where the others might be now, information he would impart only under the direst of circumstances. Still, Aporia wished he had seen them, even once: in passing, across a battlefield, anywhere. The bond he shared with his old friends, though tattered and frayed and barely holding together, was the last anchor against him descending into despair once again.
He lay there, mired in doubt. Could their methods be wrong? Could the Signers be justified? Answers that hovered just beyond his reach; only time would tell…
Aporia opened his eyes. After years of despair, he finally dared to hope.
(ZONE had manipulated them, misled them, lied to them… but still Aporia loved him. And he had to hope ZONE would forgive.)
"[...] It's like some sick, tragic Oedipal curse. If Zone literally is Yusei Fudo, he's killed his father, the families of his friends, and thousands, if not millions of innocent people. And all those nightmares and feelings of guilt Yusei's been crying about since Season 2 are validated. The bitter souls of the underworld weren't just mindlessly clawing at him and trying to drag him down. They were angry and resentful of him for a reason." – Makoeyes987, 01/08/11
"Why are you so upset about this? It's not like you could have done anything about it." - "I just feel like I'm responsible." – Lines borrowed from Heleentje with permission