Title: Coming Home
Word Count: 5,249
A/N: Here's Chapter Two! It took a while to write, in part because it's rather long, and in part because my writing job is taking up a lot of my writing time, but it's done. As a reminder, this story is about Judai showing up on Shou's doorstep after ten years of absence. It deals with how the other characters react to his return. This one is also from Shou's point of view. Read on, and you'll meet Shou's wife Kotomi, and his older daughter Yukie, who can see Duel Spirits, just like Judai. Judai wants to act as her mentor, but Shou has other ideas.
They get Ryo. It takes over an hour to collect him and get him back to the car, because Dr. Nishikawa wants to go over his dietary restrictions and his exercise plan and his medications in exhaustive detail. Apparently he's meant to start meditating, to relax, because his high stress levels are contributing to his heart disease. Shou runs Ryo's life like a captain runs a ship. He wants for nothing, he has no reason at all to feel stressed. Shou is the one who should be stressed. This is, of course, totally unfair. Ryo has heart disease, what is he supposed to be, Mr. Happy Sunshine 24 hours a day? Of course his poor sick heart is crushed with stress. Shou sighs, and tells Dr. Nishikawa that they'll look into the meditation thing. Dr. Nishikawa recommends a class, and a book that they can check out at the library. Shou writes down this information on a blue spiral notebook that's dented from Yukie bending it in half.
Ryo scratches the spot behind his ear, rubs his chest, and stares at the linoleum floor of the doctor's office. He picks at the thin paper that he sits on, that will be thrown away as soon as he leaves. His eyes flick up toward Judai, but he doesn't ask why he's there. "You haven't picked up Yukie yet?" he asks, folding his hands in his lap. "Aren't you you going to be late? Or is Kotomi supposed to do that today? You guys need to write down your schedules, I can never remember them."
"We're not late," says Shou, adjusting the bundle of child on his hip. "I don't know if we'll have time to drop you off at home, though. You can nap in the car if you're tired, I guess."
Ryo says nothing, and slips a shaky arm into his leather jacket. It's similar to the spiky, menacing trench coat he'd worn after high school, but it's two sizes smaller and it isn't as long. He'd worn his old trench coat almost every day until he moved in with Shou. One day while cleaning the living room, Shou had knocked it off the coat hook by mistake. Knowing that the dog liked to go to the bathroom where it landed, he didn't pick it up. It was torn to shreds and shit on, rendering it unwearable. Shou hadn't planned to wreck the jacket, even though Ryo had started wearing it not long after joining an underground dueling ring and getting drunk off of being electrocuted, even though seeing Ryo's spindly body hunched into such an ugly symbol made Shou sick. He hadn't planned to do anything, and when he did he was flush with guilt. He bought him a new jacket immediately, one that fit.
They walk out to the car, Ryo still strangely silent about Judai. No one speaks except for Akira, whose dreamy babbling doesn't count as words. Judai swings his arms like a windmill, and then he starts to whistle. The whistling grows louder as they get to the car. Shou isn't sure whether or not to be annoyed. He's acting like he did when they were kids, but they aren't kids anymore, and they can't pluck their old lives from the past. They get into the car. Ryo asks Shou to hook his iPod up to the car stereo, and he does it, opting for a soothing ballad instead of the screeching guitars and guttural yells he's sure Ryo is craving. "Dr. Nishikawa says that listening to angry music increases cortisol," Shou says. "Which means that we'll have to go through your iPod and delete some things. Otherwise your cortisol is going to skyrocket."
"My cortisol is going to skyrocket if I keep having to argue with you about stupid bullshit," grumbles Ryo, grinding a fist into his closed left eye. Shou keeps his mouth shut, keeps his eyes on the road.
Due to a car accident two miles ahead of them, the roads become congested, and they're late to pick up Yukie. Shou ends up being berated by her teacher, Ms. Ando, over the phone. Shou is often late to pick up his older daughter, because he often has to retrieve Ryo from the doctor just before, and the roads are a mess in the afternoon. Ms. Ando doesn't appreciate this, because she can't go home until the children do. She has to go home and cook dinner for her husband, and it's this kind of thing that drives her husband to ask her to quit. Shou hopes that she does quit, and that Yukie will have a different teacher next year. They pull into the school parking lot twenty minutes after dismissal, and see Yukie playing in the sandbox, Ms. Ando standing over her with crossed arms and a scowl on her birdlike face.
As soon as Shou steps out of the car, Ms. Ando screeches her disapproval, prompting Yukie to clamp her hands over her ears. Shou apologizes to Ms. Ando, bowing so low that his chin nearly scrapes his knees. "There was a lot of traffic," he says. "I'm sorry for inconveniencing you." Ms. Ando sniffs, and hands him Yukie's pink school folder. Inside is a flier about the school's upcoming Sports Day, as well as a crayon drawing of something that looks like a car.
"I drawed that," says Yukie, digging up a clump of wet sand and depositing it onto a large mountain of the same. It is this action that causes Judai to burst out of the car and speak to Yukie with his Yubel-ruined mouth. He crows about what an amazing sandcastle she's made, and about how smart she is to use the wet sand to build it. He says that he never would have thought of such a thing at her age. At first, this makes Shou happy. It's nice that he's praising his daughter, and it's true, she is quite smart. But then Judai says the worst thing he possibly could. He tells Yukie that the castle looks just like a castle that he lived in, with Yubel, many years ago. Yukie's face splits into a grin, and she clambers out of the sandbox. "You lived in a castle?" she asks, eyes dancing with excitement. "Does that mean you're a prince? Is Yubel a princess?" After darting toward Shou and wrapping her arms around his leg she says that she wishes she were a princess. "Me an' Asuka were princesses yesterday, but for pretend, not for real."
"Asuka?" asks Judai, cocking an eyebrow at Shou. Shou explains that one of the little girls in Yukie's class is called Asuka, and she isn't connected to the Tenjoins at all. Judai's face sags, but he quickly regains his composure. "Do you know how Asuka's doing? Tenjoin, I mean, not the kid. Asuka from Duel Academy."
"She's fine," says Shou, peeling Yukie from his legs and herding her toward the car. Ryo is sitting in the back seat, idly stroking Akira's downy hair. "Do you remember Jim Cook? She married him. They have a little boy. I think she was living in Australia with Jim for a while, but now she's back here and she's working at Duel Academy. She's a teacher, like she wanted." Shou adjusts Akira's car seat, then lifts Yukie into hers. She kicks at the air and tells him that she doesn't want to sit in the car seat. "Sweetheart, lets not fight about this," says Shou with a sigh. He buckles her in despite her pouting, and slides into the driver's seat. Judai hops into the passenger seat, an idiotic grin still plastered to his face.
"I'm home!" chirps Kotomi, pounding on the door with her foot. Shou can tell it's her foot because the noise resonates from the bottom of the door. This means that her arms are likely full of groceries, so Shou opens the door and lets her in. He knows he should give her a peck on the cheek, but he doesn't. After tromping out to her car to take the rest of the bags in, he kisses her on the cheek and stares at the eroded grain of their floor. Their dog, a ikishu inu/i named Croquette who drools too much and doesn't mind when Yukie grabs at her tail, dances around Kotomi's feet, barking her greeting. Kotomi reaches down to scratch the scruff of her white neck, and then dumps the bags on the kitchen counter. While she's busy unpacking and putting away the groceries, Shou slumps at the dining room table, idly bouncing Akira in her baby seat. Judai amble into the kitchen, hands shoved deep in his pockets, and Shou finds himself too tired to stop him. Kotomi can hold her own against treacherous Judai, and devious Yubel. "We have a guest?" asks Kotomi, ponytailed head poking out of the doorway. "Is he staying for dinner? You should have told me, I would have bought more food. Now we're not going to have enough leftovers to put in Yukie's lunch tomorrow." Shou sighs, digging his palm into his forehead. He mumbles something about how he meant to tell her, but it slipped his mind. "It's fine," says Kotomi, disappearing back into the kitchen. "So stranger, what's your name?"
Ten seconds after Judai reveals himself, Kotomi is storming out of the kitchen and hulking over Shou like a predator. Black hair flies past her ears and drapes itself around Shou's cheeks, her fingers rake his shoulders, and her dark eyes peel open like curtains being drawn. Her mouth is the only part of her face that's smiling. She whispers, "is that the Yuki Judai you've been telling me about all these years? Because if it is, you have a lot of explaining to do. I'll be polite for now, I'll make dinner and small talk and all that other good-wife bullshit, but you and I are going to have a long talk once all that's done."
Shou nods. Stunned, he keeps mechanically rocking Akira's baby seat. The child is punching at the air with tiny fists, perhaps trying to break the tension that's been strangling them all since Judai came. Shou's projecting and he knows it, but he likes to think of Akira as a wise, old soul. He scoops her up, kisses her head, and hands her to Kotomi. "I'll unpack the groceries," he mumbles, shuffling off toward the kitchen. "You don't have to cook, either. You've been working all day, I'll do it. Ask Judai to help you with the kids. I need a break from him."
Knowing only that it was one of Shou's favorite foods, Kotomi had bought the ingredients for fried shrimp. He thinks about cooking the shrimp some other way—curried, or plain, anything but the food that Judai used to steal from him at Duel Academy—but Kotomi had promised Yukie fried shrimp yesterday. Shou has to leave a few shrimps unbattered for Ryo, but the others are studded with panko. It occurs to Shou that panko looks a lot like dried pus. The shrimp steals his senses, stinks so strongly that it makes him gag. He used to love this food, but now his hands are shaking as he tries to prepare it. It's a trigger now, like so many other things, thanks to Judai. Hero cards, comic book heroes, super sentai, anything to do with heroes makes him twitch. Card spirits. Jewels, because of Yubel's name, and Johan. Brown hair. The color red. Golden eyes, heterochromic eyes. The dark. Spikes. The title ianiki/i. The words isupreme/i, and iking/i. And fried shrimp. He lays the steaming shrimp out on a plate and lets the grease seep into a paper towel.
It takes a while to make dinner. Yukie runs in, shrieking and clapping at the air. Her grin makes her face appear unzipped. Shou expects to see Croquette chasing after her, or Kotomi, but he doesn't see anything. "Be careful sweetie," says Shou, halting her scurrying with a touch of the shoulder. Yukie calls him a silly kitty and asks him to meow. Shou obliges, but he can't get into it. Daitokuji-sensei used to meow when he spoke. Yesterday, that wouldn't have made his stomach ache, but today, it does. The rice cooker clicks off, so he gets out the plates and asks Yukie which one she wants to use. She has two small plastic plates; one is pink and emblazoned with Hello Kitty, the other is blue and covered in Vehicroids. She picks the Vehicroid, an unusual choice for her. Shou asks her to take the plate out to the dining room, and she skips off happily, staring at some distant spot of air.
Dinner is ready. Judai offers to help set the table, and Shou accepts. Because he doesn't know where anything is, it takes longer to get everything ready, and by the time they do the edamame is growing cold. They sit in grit-toothed silence, except for Akira who Kotomi has put to bed, and Yukie who is asking Judai about his adventures. She calls them iventures/i, which is fitting, if not exactly what she means. Shou doesn't want to hear about Judai's adventures. He wants to close his eyes and clamp his hands over his ears. But he sits quietly, and eats his fried shrimp, and tells Ryo he's on a low-salt diet when he asks for someone to pass him the salt. He lets the world of Judai's adventures open up like a crack in the earth.
"Yukie-chan, do you know what the spirit world is?" asks Judai, popping a chunk of fish-dusted rice into his mouth. Yukie shakes her head so fast that her braids swing out to the side. She bites her lip and giggles, bounces in her chair. She asks if that's where he lived with Princess Yubel. Kotomi shoots Shou a pointed look, and he shudders. Princess Monster, Lady Yubel, murderess entwined with Judai's soul, her name is dripping from his mouth like liquid shit.
"You know what Duel Monsters is, right Yukie-chan?" asks Judai, leaning forward. Yukie nods, her small teeth shining. "I thought you would. Your daddy and your uncle both play, and they got pretty famous doing it. You know how their cards have pictures of cars or robots, and other people have cards with chickens or kitties or people?" Again, Yukie nods. Judai continues, twirling a chopstick in the air. "Well, those pictures represent real creatures. They don't live in the same world that we do, so when they come to our world, they only show themselves to a few people. I can see them, and my old friend Johan can. I don't think that your daddy sees them, but he knows that they're real, right Shou?"
Shou starts to stammer about how they're real, but they're not really important and Judai shouldn't talk to Yukie about them as if they have anything to do with her world. But then Yukie surprises him. With half a fried shrimp dangling from her mouth, she says, "is the brown fuzzy guy next to your head one of those things? He's funny. He's saying Kuri Kuri. Can I pet him?"
Her parent's eyes swivel in unison toward the area next to Judai's head. Though they strain, they see nothing. Shou knows that Kuriboh is there, dancing around his master's head, and singing. Kotomi does not know this. Kotomi has heard about the worlds that Shou was thrown through as a child, but she's never experienced them. Kuriboh, to her, is a card that makes Shou flinch when he sees it. To Kotomi, this is Yukie pretending. To Shou, this is Judai seeping into his daughter's soul. "You can't pet him," snaps Shou. "He's intangible. And you shouldn't look at him, either."
"Daddy, you made him sad." Yukie stands up in her chair, and swipes at the air. Ryo, who is sitting next to her, reaches out to steady her chair. "Lookie, he's petting my hand with his head!" Kotomi tells her to sit down and eat her dinner, prompting Yukie to stomp angrily on the chair. Judai tells her with a grin that Kuriboh likes her, and then his face turns sober. He tells Shou that he wants to have a serious talk with him before he takes off. Not giving Shou a chance to respond, he turns back to Yukie, who is finally seated, and tells her that Kuriboh is indeed a card spirit. "Sometimes the humans and the card spirits don't get along. I've been trying to help them become friends. That's the simple version, anyway." This last part is said with a sheepish grin in Shou's direction, but Shou can't bring himself to respond to it.
Shou doesn't eat much at dinner. The two talks looming at him twist his innards like a wet rag. He plucks small clumps of rice and slowly raises them toward his mouth, before putting them down again. Kotomi clutches his hand under the table, strokes his palm with her clipped nails. This is meant to make him feel better, but it only makes it worse. He'll talk to Judai before he talks to her, and that won't make her happy. But his guts aren't only writhing from the future conversations. His daughter sees Duel Spirits. His daughter is destined for a life like Judai's. Bonded to torment, bound to wreck the lives of those who love her. Except, that doesn't make any sense. Shou knows that, but he needs to talk to Judai more to kill the fear. Kotomi will have to come later, but he can't bring himself to say that. Instead he stands up abruptly, collects the empty dishes, and takes them to the sink.
He looks back into the dining room. Judai is staring at him expectantly, while Kotomi is leading Ryo into his bedroom, Yukie trotting after her and claiming to be a horse. "Come," he says to Judai, angling his chin toward the basement. There isn't any other space to do this. Shou wants to talk to Judai alone, and any other space will be invaded by his family. Kotomi won't wonder about it, she'll be too busy putting Yukie to bed and helping Ryo with his injections. If Shou were a good husband, a good father and brother, he'd help her, but Shou isn't any of those things right now. He's his screechy, clingy, childhood self, clamoring to be alone with ianiki/i. Crying again, his eyeballs aching with it. They walk down the stairs, Judai bounding ahead of Shou.
Shou wipes his eyes, and leads them over to a musty, yellow plaid couch. He flops onto it, head lolling to the side, and mumbles that Judai should sit. "What did you want to talk about?" he asks.
After sitting down with his legs spread apart, Judai says that he wants to talk about Yukie. "It's amazing that she can see duel spirits," he says. "But seeing something that no one else can...it's hard. My parents thought I was nuts. I spent a few months in a mental institution, and I was in hospitals a lot. I had MRIs, CAT scans. Crazy shit. I wasn't sure if they were real or not until Duel Academy, and meeting Johan." He stops, casts his eyes to the ground. Shou bites his lip and wills himself not to speak until Judai finishes. "That was a real blessing, for both of us. Meeting someone else who could see them, who had always been able to...it was magical. I know you feel like I abandoned you for him, and I'm sorry about that, it's just that I'd never met anyone else who was like ime."/i Shou's stomach lurches. He doesn't want to hear about how Johan was good enough and he wasn't, and he doesn't want to hear about how things will be for his daughter. Judai says, "Yukie needs someone like that in her life, Shou. And I could be that. I'm getting ready to stop traveling, so I could settle down near here, and be like a mentor to her. Or something. I mean, if you'd let me."
Shou stares down at his toes, tries to focus on the shape of each toenail. One of them is busted in half, and one is as thin as a paper cut. He can't focus on the other eight. Judai's words are slamming around in his skull, and he has to answer them. Has to tell Judai that he can't be Yukie's mentor, not with Yubel hanging like a noose around his soul. Has to tell him that he can't make a decision like this without Kotomi. But Shou can't force himself to speak. He isn't thinking about Judai's words anymore. He's thinking about sitting alone with him, next to him. Thinking about watching his ianiki/i strut around their dorm room with his skin slippery from the shower, his waist barely covered by a thin, red towel. Thinking about Judai sitting on his couch, half-naked. Then, he'd only cared about his couch getting wet. Now he's flooded with memories of wanting him, of countless afternoons spent feverishly jerking off into the toilet as he tried to replace the Judai in his head with Dark Magician Girl, of writing reams of awful poetry about a love that burrowed into his bones. Now, he's drenched with wanting Judai, needing iAniki/i, now his blood is draining downward and his mind is static, fuzzed. i"Aniki,"/i he squeaks.
Judai swivels toward him, and cocks his head to the side. "Yeah?" he asks, not questioning why Shou's calling him iAniki./i Shou doesn't get it either. It's a strange endearment for the person you're burning for, but there's nothing else to call him, except Judai, which is what he calls him when he's Haou or Yubel or some other stranger. Heat drains into his face, and he stares pointedly at the wall. "What is it, Shou?" asks Judai, slinging an arm around the couch behind Shou's head. "It's Yubel, right? You're afraid to let Yukie spend time with me because of Yubel. Look, she's not like she used to be, okay? She's not possessed by the light anymore, and we've talked a lot about her behavior and she's just...she's different. She won't hurt your kids. If you want, I'll ask her not to talk to them at all." He leans toward Shou, his back arched and his forehead grazing Shou's hairline. "It'll just be me, Judai. Your ianiki./i You trust me, right?"
His mind miles away from the conversation, Shou can hardly bring himself to speak. This is crucial, but he feels floppy, exhausted. These thoughts have been marching through his mind for years. He trusts his ianiki,/i but not Yubel, and not Judai. His ianiki/i might not be a person anymore. Shou wants him to be. He wants the boy he loved to be here still. And so he puts a hand on Judai's knee and says he doesn't want to talk about Yukie right now. "I don't know what to say," he mutters. "We should discuss it later, with Kotomi. And I want to know more about how things are with Yubel, but I just...I can't hear those things right now. Right now I want..." He trails off, takes a deep breath, and stares at the blindingly white mini-fridge in the corner. "I want..."
"You want what?" asks Judai. His face is blank and dry where Shou's is twisted and sweaty. Shou gulps, and starts threading Judai's fingers between his own. They slide on his sweat, his fingers shake, and he snatches his hand away. He places it gingerly on Judai's shoulder, then leans forward and nips at his lower lip. Ice drifts through his veins, gets him feeling faint and shivery. He presses too hard, bangs his nose against Judai's when he kisses him, but he does it, slips his tongue into Judai's mouth like a mouse scurrying through a crack in the wall. Judai presses his lips to Shou's then pulls away. "What are you doing?" he asks, looking nervously at the stairwell. The door is shut, but they can hear footsteps on the floor above them. Judai turns back to Shou, his face painted with rage, his eyes heterochromic. It's Yubel, Yubel grabbing Shou by the cheeks and screaming, "you stay away from my Judai!" His eyes go soft and brown again, and he puts his arms down, folds his hands in his lap. "I'm sorry," he whispers. "Yubel gets jealous sometimes. You should have warned me. And you probably shouldn't have done it at all."
Of course not. His brain is tangled up in knots, he picked a string from ten years ago, confused it with the present. He doesn't love this Judai, doesn't even know him. It was brainless lust, which he let grow because he didn't want to talk about his daughter's future, about Duel Spirits and Johan and Yubel. Now he feels like an idiot, now his heart is thumping in his chest because of Yubel. If she can just appear like that, then Judai can't control her. Judai is talking. Shou presses his fists into his eyes, nudging his glasses upward. He's going to cry again. "Look, Shou, it's not because I don't like you." Judai tries to pat Shou's shoulder, but he quickly wrenches it away. "Shou! Listen to me. It's not that I don't like you. I mean, I'm not attracted to you or anything, but I ilike/i you. You're one of my best friends. But even if I were, we couldn't. I'm with Yubel, that's how it is. And you're with Kotomi. You love Kotomi, right? You love your wife?"
"Yes, but..." The lump in Shou's throat won't let him speak. Of course he loves Kotomi. He never fell for her the way he fell for Judai, because Shou just doesn't ifeel/i thingslike that anymore. He's a responsible adult, not a child mad with passion. He loves Kotomi because she's sane and stable and a good mother, because she thinks that Shou is strong and handsome. Because she never knew the whiny little boy who cried for his mother, clung desperately to his brother, needed his ianiki/i like air. He loves Kotomi because he idoesn't/i need her. Maybe that isn't love. He doesn't know.
"Let's go back upstairs," says Judai, standing up so fast he nearly trips. After flailing his arms to catch his balance, he puts his hand behind his neck and smiles. The smile fades almost instantly. He turns around and trudges toward the stairs. Shou follows him, tears dribbling down his face, his chest heaving.
Kotomi doesn't come to bed for two more hours. She pops in briefly to tell Shou that Akira's awake and that she'll handle it, but if Yukie wakes up, or if Ryo needs help, it'll be on him. Shou is lying in bed with a white duvet pulled over his head when she says this, so his reply comes out muffled. It would have, anyway, because he's choking on his own tears. Not wanting to keep Kotomi from Akira, he bites the pillow and tries not to cry out loud until she leaves. His throat aches with the effort, and when she leaves, he howls.
When Kotomi comes back again, she sits down next to him on the duvet, effectively trapping him. She rubs his back with her knuckles, and tells him that he'll have to cry more quietly, because the girls are trying to sleep. She shifts her weight, pulls the duvet up, and tunnels in next to Shou. "What's wrong?" she asks, plucking off his tear-streaked glasses and placing them on the bookshelf near their bed. "I know Judai being here is hard on you. I can tell him to leave if you want. You don't have to talk to him again if you don't want to."
Her kindness makes him shudder. He doesn't deserve this offer, or her gentle touch. He kissed Judai in the basement of the house they bought together. He remembers sitting with her in Kenzan's kitchen, leaning over her shoulder to reach into the bag of shrimp chips on the counter, to look at the house advertisements that she pulled up on her laptop. He remembers accidentally spitting crumbs of shrimp chips in her hair, and how she swatted at his hand and laughed. He remembers making love to her on the floor of their bedroom, telling her about the dream he had last night about being eaten alive by sandwiches, standing next to her in the bathroom brushing their teeth together, kneeling by her hospital bed and stroking their newborn daughter's downy hair. Everything. Their lives together. She ought to be his everything, but he kissed Judai. Judai who doesn't want him, Judai who's steeped in Yubel. How could he?
Kotomi has no idea. She rubs his back and doesn't say anything angry. She's sweet to him. She gets up and turns the light off, flooding their bedroom in darkness. She climbs back into bed with him, and waits for him to stop sobbing and hiccuping before she asks him, "why do you think he's here, all of a sudden? Do you think he knew about Yukie? That she could see those things? They're real, right? This isn't some kind of mass hallucination?"
"They're real," chokes Shou, pressing his face overheated face into his flat pillow. "Some of them are nice, like Kuriboh, but some of them are monsters, like Yubel. We can't let her get involved with them. I won't be able to help her if she does. Judai says he wants to be her mentor, but I don't want him anywhere near her. Not with Yubel still around."
She pins her body to his like a butterfly to a wall. "I disagree," she says, her words vibrating against his neck. "I believe you about Yubel being terrifying. I'm sure she is. But like you said, you can't help her with this. I can't either. Maybe a mentor is a good idea. We'd supervise their interactions of course, but this could be a great opportunity for her." Kotomi hugs him closer, runs her fingers through his tangled hair. "If she can see something no one else can, people are going to think that she's insane. That's tough on a little girl." After kissing him on the ear, she says, "I've changed my mind, Shou. We'll have to let Judai stay here for a while. Do you think you can handle that, darling?"
He can handle it. He may not want to, but if Kotomi thinks it's right for their child, he'll do it. She understands more than he thought she did, so he'll led her lead. He'll let Judai stay here, talking to his daughter about the monsters that ruined Shou's life, telling her the things he's learned that Shou won't listen to. He'll let him stay until Yubel sucks the marrow from his family's bones.