Title: Coming Home
A/N: Ever since I finished watching GX, I've been thinking about how what happened in the Dark World, and Judai's subsequent actions, would affect the other characters emotionally. Canon makes some reference to this in Season Four, but they skimp on psychological development in favor of more action. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it did make me rather curious as to how certain people felt about it, in particular Shou and Johan. Thinking about that gave birth to this fanfic.
This story takes place ten years after the events of canon. That means spoilers, so stop reading right now if you haven't seen the whole series. Everyone has been living their own adult lives for years, without Judai. One day, after years of being out of contact, Judai reappears on Shou's doorstep. The first chapter deals primarily with Shou's reaction to his return, but later chapters will deal with other characters as well. This isn't going to be a joyful reunion story. It's about the complicated relationships the characters share, and the trauma caused by the events of the Dark World. I hope that this sounds good to you, and that you'll enjoy reading the story. This is a work in progress, so suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Special thanks to ich_bin_puppy and aphotic, for their invaluable help!
When Shou opens the door there's a blast of frigid air. This sudden wind blows a leaf in his face, and it takes a few seconds to disentangle it from his hair and look outside. Slumped against the doorway is someone filthy and bedraggled, someone who looks like he's been wandering for weeks. At first, Shou doesn't recognize him. It's only when he flashes his sunshine smile, wide as a river and rocky with broken teeth, that Shou knows who it is in his doorway. The teeth are wrecked but the twitch of the lip is the same. The eyes are red-veined and raccoon-ringed, and the nose is dancing with flakes of dry skin, but it's the same face. The voice hasn't changed. It's Judai, precious aniki coming back after five years of no contact, ten years of absence and the occasional note. Judai is here and the sun is lighting up his tangled hair like a halo. Shou slams the door in his face.
As soon as he slams it he can't believe what he's done. This is the moment that's been cartwheeling around in his head for years now, the moment that's stolen his focus and his sleep. There were times when he would have been willing to sacrifice his children just to see Judai's face once more. And here he is with his back to the door, blocking Judai, his heart throbbing in his chest. Two light taps on the door make him edge away from it, make his hand hover over the lock as he considers what to do. Should he tell him to leave, stand there paralyzed, or let him in? Standing there paralyzed is easiest, but easiest isn't always best, so Shou stands back from the door. He peers through the peephole, and watches Judai kick at the welcome mat. Judai knocks on the door again, wheedles a high-pitched hello. "Dude," he says. "If you don't want to talk to me that's cool, but could I at least use your bathroom? I've got a long bus ride back home, and it's not the kind of bus that has a toilet."
Shou isn't about to let Judai wet himself, so he opens the door and drifts off to the side. He finds himself standing on a rubber dog bone, which squeaks loudly when it's pressed. Judai barrels into the house, and stares at the entryway in confusion. "Should I take off my shoes?" he asks. "If I'm just using your toilet it's probably not worth forcing you to smell my feet."
Judai stretches, rolls his neck. When he tilts it his hair shifts slightly, and Shou can see a buildup of grime behind his ears. "You can take a shower," Shou says, pointing limply toward to bathroom. "We can run your clothes through the washing machine, too. You can borrow some of Ryo's clothes when you get out of the shower."
"Thanks a lot, man! I haven't had a chance to wash up in a couple of weeks. Been on the road for a while now. I should probably have found someplace to bathe before barging into your house like this, but hey, what are you gonna do?" A heave of the shoulders, a heave of the chest, and he asks where the bathroom is. Shou points him toward it, his fingers shaking slightly. He plods mechanically toward the linen closet, takes a soft powder blue towel, and hands it to Judai. He tells him where the shampoo is, and the soap. He tells him not to use the green razor, it belongs to his wife, but he can use the red one if he needs to shave his face. He tells him to clean up any water that gets on the floor with the sponge that sits on the sink. Judai agrees to do all these things, and soon the door is closed, his clothes are hanging on the doorknob, and the water is roaring out of the faucet. Shou sits on the couch and buries his head in his hands.
This shouldn't strike him as a tragedy. In the five years since Shou last heard from Judai, he had come to believe that he was dead. The first time he thought that, he had cried—not just a few brief tears squeezed out out of obligation, no, Shou had wept with his chest heaving and his eyes burning and his head locked between his knees until he could breathe again. His wife Kotomi had assured him that crying made sense, that grieving for Judai made sense. She didn't fully understand their history, but she had said that and she was right. But crying now makes no sense at all. He ought to be thrilled that Judai is alive and apparently well.
He pushes his fists into his eyes, gulps and swallows until he drags himself into the land of calm. Now is not the time to get upset. He has to put Judai's filthy clothes in the washing machine, and put out clean ones for him to wear when he's finished in the shower. He drags himself away from the couch, and takes his clothes from the doorknob. They are sodden with sweat and grime, and their stench makes Shou gag. He heads down to the basement and tosses them into the washing machine, and adds more detergent than he probably ought to. Ten minutes pass before he works up the nerve to plod upstairs. The creaking of the wooden stairs makes him wince, and the brightness of the hallway light hurts his eyes. It's nearly half an hour before Judai ambles out of the bathroom. The floor is splattered with water, which Judai ignores. He flits about the living room in his towel, waiting for Shou to bring him his clothes. This makes Shou furious, but he isn't sure why, so he stuffs the anger down and smiles at him. He can only smile for a second before his lips sag into a deep frown. "Judai," he says. "What are your clothing sizes? I can't guarantee that we have anything that will fit you, but I'm sure we have something. Ryo's weight has fluctuated a lot, so he has a lot of different clothes."
"How is Ryo, anyway?" asks Judai, landing on the couch with a thump. His towel crumples around his waist, leaving his genitals covered, but obviously grazing the couch. Shou gets another towel from the linen closet, and tells him to sit on it. The brown towel is nearly the same shade as Judai's sun-darkened skin. He asks again after Ryo. Shou bites his lip, not sure whether to answer. Part of him does not want to share the life he's led since Judai disappeared. He doesn't want to talk about caring for Ryo. He doesn't want to talk about feeding his limp arms into a tee-shirt after giving him a sponge bath, or trying to figure out which brand of adult diapers to buy, or feeding him mashed-up pills mixed with apple sauce, or watching him sit slumped in his wheelchair staring endlessly out of the window. This is tragic and this is private, and Judai wasn't there for any of it. He does not deserve to know.
He sits down on the couch next to Judai, folds his hands, and stares down at them. The ridges of his knuckles are getting dry, and he will need to moisturize them soon. It takes a moment to force himself to speak, but he does. "Ryo isn't doing too well," he says. "He had another heart attack a few years back, and since then he been pretty much bed-ridden. He's been living with me since then. But, he did manage to get back into the pro leagues for a few years, so that's something." Shou sighs, rubs his droopy eyelid with an uncut fingernail. "Is there anything else you'd like to know?" he asks, not sure if he means to sound as biting as he does.
"Oh, man, really?" says Judai, leaning backward on the couch. His wet hair drips onto the pink, fluffy rug where the dog usually sleeps. If it gets too wet then he's going to have to wash it, which means he'll have to gather up all the rugs and wash them too. He wants to offer Judai another towel for his hair, but this seems a bit much. Judai says, "that really sucks. Last I heard he'd gotten a lot better. I figured it was going to stay that way, but I guess not. Nice of you to take him in. Um...what have you been doing? You were in the pro leagues too, right? How's that going?"
"It's fine." Shou sighs, and rubs his forehead with the palm of his hand. His shoulders hurt and his head feels leaden and his eyes are aching with unshed tears. He doesn't want to tell Judai about his life, but he can't just sit here. He has to say something. "I'm still in the pro leagues, but I've had to decrease the number of duels I participated in, since I had kids and since Ryo got sick. I haven't been as popular because of that, so I ended up having to take a second job. I'm an accountant for a publishing company. Not very glamorous, but it pays the bills."
"You're married? That's um, that's great. Didn't exactly see that coming, but great." Shou stares at Judai, shocked that he would insult him after all he'd done to wreck Shou's life. Of course he didn't expect Shou to be married—shrimpy, useless, cowardly Shou, how could any woman ever want him? How could he ever be a husband, a caretaker, a human being who counted in this world? He shakes his head, bows it to the ground, and mutters that Judai should leave. Judai backtracks, says, "dude, I didn't mean anything bad by that. Just that, everything's changed so much. I just kinda thought you'd be going on like you had been. Which I guess doesn't really make sense. Of course you'd be married. Kids, too. What are their names? Are they here?"
"Yukie's at pre-school, I'm going to have to pick her up in two hours. Akira's asleep. I'm going to have to wake her up when I get Yukie, so...you can..." Shou trails off, not sure if he wants Judai to meet his children. He should never have let him in in the first place. Kotomi will be furious with him, she's told him time and again to forget his aniki, to focus on the family and the life that he has now. He should have listened to his wife.
Just before he tells Judai that he should leave before that happens, Judai says, "oh, great, that means I can meet them! When does your wife get home?"
"Around eight," he says, bothering his temples with a curled index finger. "It's later than usual because she's picking up groceries. Are you staying for dinner? If you are, I need to call her and let her know to buy extra food." Shou stands up, then slinks off to the bathroom and plucks a container of aspirin from the medicine cabinet. His emotional headache isn't likely to budge with because of pills, but he needs a moment away from Judai. He unscrews the childproof lid, and swallows two pills with a sip of water. Once finished, he plods back into the living room. Judai says that he'd love to stay, and that he hasn't had any food for three days, except for handful of mixed nuts offered to him by an old lady on the bus. "That long? You should have said. I'll get you something to eat, just let me get you some clothes first."
He does not wait for Judai's reply. Instead he stalks into Ryo's bedroom, and pulls out the first suitable outfit he can find. He feels awkward taking Ryo's underwear, but as long it's clean it shouldn't matter, so he takes it all the same. Entering Ryo's room reminds him of his other errand for the day—he has to pick up his brother from his doctor's appointment. He'll need to leave in thirty minutes. The thought worsens his headache. This means he'll have to wake up Akira now, which means he'll have to let Judai meet her. Yubel is a contagious disease, and he does not want this sickness seeping into his little girl. Still, he must go on with the day.
After handing Judai an armful of clothing, he heads to the kitchen and plucks an apple from the vegetable drawer in the fridge. He hands that to Judai too. He doesn't ask if the clothes are the right size or if he likes apples, he just tells him why they'll have to leave sooner than expected. "You'll have to come with me," he says. "I should call Ryo, too, to let him know that you'll be...well, then again he probably won't care. I just don't him to be too surprised, that would be bad for his heart...anyway, get your clothes on. I'm going to wake the baby."
Forty minutes later, the two of them are standing in the driveway, awkwardly avoiding each other's eyes. Shou straps his daughter into her bulky car seat, then runs his fingers through her short, wispy hair. "Are you a comfy baby?" he asks, brushing his lips against her scalp. Her hair needs to be washed. He'll have to take care of that, later. "We're going to pick up Uncle Ryo, okay? Sorry that Daddy had to wake you up." After pulling the yellow fleece blanket up to her chin, he turns to Judai and says, "you can sit in the passenger seat. We're already late, so let's hurry." Being late doesn't matter much. Ryo's doctor isn't very good with scheduling, so the appointments sometimes spill over into the next time slot. Even when they don't, Ryo often needs a little time alone before he'll get in the car. The point of rushing things is to fill up the world with some pressing activity. Driving requires careful attention, and it won't seem strange if he doesn't speak to Judai while he's doing it. He also doesn't like him hovering so close to the baby.
"She's beautiful," he says, lingering over her in awe. Akira's mouth gapes like a fault line, and she burbles happily at him. Yubel is looking at his baby, too. Drinking in her joyous noises, her innocent, sparkling eyes. Shou thanks Judai, and tells him to get in the car. They crawl out of the driveway and onto the highway, without conversation or radio or any other sound at all. Judai spins a pen with his thumb and forefinger, and then he starts tapping his foot. "Hey, Shou?" he says, speaking out of the side of his mouth. Shou ignores him, and eases the car into the lane closest to the exit they'll have to take in a few minutes. Again, he says, "hey, Shou?"
The trees whipping past them look blurry when Shou's glasses fog up with unshed tears. He takes them off and wipes them clean on his windbreaker. "What," he says, voice crackling. "I can't really talk right now, I need to concentrate on the road."
"Don't worry man, I've had conversations while riding a motorcycle, I'm sure you'll be fine." Judai leans back, draping his neck over the headrest. "I don't want to push, it's just that I doubt we'll have much time to talk later. And this is important. I get the feeling that you're mad at me, and I don't blame you. I'd be mad at me too. But I want to try and get us past that. Maybe try to be friends again. I want to tell you about what's been happening to me all these years, and..." He stops, and heaves a leaden sigh. "I've missed you. I really have. I've missed all of you. There were so many times where I wanted to come back, but I couldn't. And you've all moved on without me, and I don't blame you, but I just..." Another sigh, and some toneless drumming on his thighs with his fists. "I just want things to go back to the way they were. I know that's impossible, but couldn't we at least talk?"
No, they can't talk. Shou is powering a death machine toward a doctor's office, Shou's brain is tainted with the dark world, and Shou doesn't want this darkness and this death infecting his child. This day has been dancing through his mind for years, and he's paralyzed. He wants to run the car off the highway and send it crashing down the hill, screaming expletives at Haou and Yubel and everybody else who wrecked his life. He wants to burst into tears and tell his aniki how much he's missed him. Gripping the steering wheel with bloodless knuckles, he says, "okay, we can talk."
"Great," says Judai, sunshine smile brightening his bloodstained face. "We can start with why you're mad at me. I mean, I can guess, but I want to hear it from you. What's bugging you? Get it off your chest. You won't hurt my feelings, I promise."
Through a clenched, aching jaw, he starts to insist that he isn't angry, that this conversation is a waste of time. This charade doesn't last long. He can't pretend he isn't angry when he's furious, or that everything's okay when there's a lump in his throat the size of a fist. "You just left," he snaps. "After everything that happened in the Dark World, after everything that you put us through, you just left. I tried to be understanding, I really did. I thought I did understand...I don't know why. I was so stupid back then. I thought we were soul mates. I loved you so much. But you made it abundantly clear that I was last on your list. Johan was more important than me. You let me go through hell for Johan when I never even liked him." He swallows hard, and swipes at the tears inching their way down his cheeks. "And then, Yubel. I never understood what that was about, but once she came around I didn't mean anything to you. And we were best friends." Shou slows the car a little to account for increased traffic. He's crying now, and he doesn't want to be crying. Not in the middle of the highway. Not in front of Judai who he had hoped would respect him.
"We were best friends," says Judai, refusing to look at him. "I still thought that we were, after the Dark World. It seemed like you didn't really feel that way, though. You were hardly talking to me, after. I know you were pretty shaken up, and I know you were busy dealing with Ryo, but sometimes it felt like you were scared of me. Or angry, or..."
"I wasn't!" Shou clamps a hand over his mouth, not wanting to scare the baby. "I mean, I was, sort of, but all I wanted then was to go back to how we were. To be kids again, you know?" Judai is nodding along, his chin propped in his left palm. "I wanted to be your best friend. But you were doing all these things, and you weren't telling me about any of it, and I wanted to help you, but I couldn't. You could have asked for my help with Truman, or Fujiwara, but you didn't. You could have talked to me about Yubel, but you didn't. You cut me out of your life, Judai." Another sigh, more tightening of the knuckles. "I wasn't so much angry then as I was hurt, but now...now I'm angry."
"I didn't mean to cut you out." Judai says, rubbing his coal-ringed eyes. "I just didn't want to put you through anything else, you know? I let my friends tag along when I was trying to rescue Johan, and everyone ended up suffering. I thought it was better to go it alone."
"But you didn't! Johan was helping you all the time. Johan was strong enough, and good enough to help you, even though he was the one who needed to be rescued like a fucking princess!" Great, now he's cursing in front of his daughter. Now he's the one poisoning her. He should tamp down his agitation, not fight with Judai with Akira right there. The child gurgles in the backseat, and the beautiful sound makes his headache worse. "Sorry for cursing. Sorry for...I shouldn't be yelling at you, not when you're probably exhausted."
"I'm fine. I told you I wanted to talk about this. It's been ten years, so there's bound to be a lot of stuff pent up." Judai puts his feet up on the dashboard, and Shou winces. If they crash, Judai's legs will shatter and shoot up inside of his body. He isn't wearing a seat belt, either. Shou tells him to fix this. "Sure," says Judai, strapping himself in. "Sorry, I forgot. I was driving this beat up pickup for a while, and it didn't have seat belts, so it didn't occur to me...anyway, yes. I did get Johan involved, but it wasn't because he was better than you, or because I liked him more. It was just...you were obviously busy with Ryo, you know?"
"I barely survived that without you," whispers Shou, sliding the car toward the exit off the highway. The sky is growing pink and hazy, which makes Shou nervous. It'll be dark soon, and he hates driving at night at the best of times. Right now, tears are dripping down his face, and he's having to let go of the steering wheel every moment or so to wipe his nose or wipe his tears away. "My brother was dying. I saw him die. He was so sick and weak afterward, and it was so hard to watch that, and to take care of him without having anyone to talk to. That was my whole life for years after you left, Judai. You were my best friend, and you weren't there to help me through it. I know it wasn't saving the world or anything really important, but I still...look, we'll be there in a few minutes, okay? Can we stop talking about this? I need to get myself calmed down before I pick up Ryo."
"I'm sorry," says Judai, staring down at his mud-caked red high tops. "I didn't even think of that. I was just going through so much stuff of my own, and I did have to save the world, so I guess I dropped the ball." They fly past street signs, past convenience stores and department stores and movie theaters and dentist offices and pet stores and grocery stores and kid's clothing stores, all manner of everyday places that Judai, in his fascinating life, has forgone. Shou hasn't asked him a thing about that life. His grudge shackles him though, and he cannot bring himself to do it. They circle the block in search of a parking space in silence. When they find a spot, Shou extracts his infant from her car seat. Akira has fallen asleep, and when she's shifted she begins to howl. Twisting her body, arching her back, her face crumpling like red construction paper; she wails as if she's been struck. Shou leans again the car door, and jiggles the girl on his knee, murmuring platitudes and stroking her back as he does. "You want me to try?" asks Judai, reaching out with cupped hands toward the baby.
After shaking his head and clutching at Akira's fuzzy brown bear jacket as if it were a life preserver, Shou changes his mind. They're in public. There's a police car parked across the street. Shou is on the alert. If Yubel seizes Judai's soul and makes him try to chew up Akira's intestines, Shou can stop her. He'll take a chance and let Judai hold her with his poisonous hands.
He passes Akira to him carefully. "Make sure to support her head," he says, voice cracking with fear. "Don't drop her." Akira writhes in Judai's arms, her banshee shrieking growing louder by the moment. A song warbles out of Judai's mouth, but it isn't his voice and it isn't him singing. It is a muted voice in an ancient language, as sweet and slow as syrup. As dark as dirt, as alive as worms, as deep as the core of the earth. It almost relaxes him before he realizes, he's heard that voice before. He's heard it shrieking death and love in Judai's ear, heard it blaring out of Johan's mouth as its source prepared to end Shou's brother's life. This is Yubel singing to his daughter. And she's beginning to calm down.
He doesn't want to believe it. Akira should be weeping with terror, clawing to get back into her father's arms. But Akira doesn't know who Yubel is or what she's done. All she hears is a song drenched in honey, lulling her to sleep. "Let's go inside," moans Shou, forehead planted in the palm of his hand. "Please, Judai, let's just...let's just go get Ryo."