Yuuma was not a big fan of history. It was not that he was not seldom inspired by what he read, but he would always prefer to look ahead, to rise to the sky. That was the motto his father had taught him. There was one myth – one that his father had told him of – that stuck with him since his early childhood; the story of Pandora's box. Sometimes it annoyed him that Zeus would give an object so dangerous, so tempting, to a mere human. Curiosity could be all-consuming, impossible to ignore or overcome. No matter how strong the person, the inevitable allure – the thrilling fear – of the unknown would create an inescapable tomb. There was one thing that Yuuma truly loved about that story, though. Even if Pandora opened the box and unleashed the evils unto the world, she also released something vital to not only all of humanity, but something that was the cornerstone of his life.
Standing at the threshold of this abyss, the fates of three worlds resting upon the shoulders of himself and his comrades, hope was the only thing keeping them alive. At least, it was what kept the remainder of them alive.
Standing before Don Thousand, however, in his true and most powerful form was never supposed to be a part of the equation. They were supposed to face him, but... but not like this... Not with the Seven Varian Emperors brutally slaughtered and absorbed ("Shark!" Yuuma screamed as he watched the light in those ocean blue eyes flicker out, and felt that body disintegrate into nothing more than chaos particles, reunited with those who had gone before him.); not with Don Thousand being in control of the Numeron Dragon; not with Don Thousand forcing apart their Zexal and paralyzing Yuuma, drawing him near and cupping his face, those haunting eyes seemingly memorizing every inch.
"Tsukumo Yuuma..." he breathed, a smile forming on his yellow lips.
"Yuuma!" he heard Astral yell, Kotori's own frantic cries intermixed, but Yuuma could make no reply. His entirety was frozen so completely that he feared even his breath would cease as well if he did not concentrate on it.
"The time has come for us to be together once more."
"Don Thousand! Let him go!" Astral forwent the duel that had never even begun, and made a beeline for the duo, only to have a powerful shock wave knock him into Kotori.
"Astral!" she cried, allowing the glowing being to lay on her lap. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine... It's Yuuma -"
"- you should not be concerned with what does not concern you, Astral," Don Thousand chastised before returning his gaze to the tanned boy before him. "Now, my dear boy, it is time to unlock your power."
"W-What do you mean?"
"You cannot mean that you still do not remember."
A powerful strike from the level-headed Astral put his villainous mouth in check, and the paralysis that held Yuuma withered. He barely dropped a foot before he found himself in Astral's arms, the creature shielding him and taking him to safety, but never once did his glare leave Don Thousand's form.
"How dare you interfere!" his voice thundered as he pursued them. "You will not take what is mine again!"
Again? What did he mean by again? Yuuma never belonged to him. Yuuma was Yuuma. The boy with the Kattobingu soul; the boy who inspired countless. Still, Astral could not shake the nagging worry of Don Thousand's true form too strongly resembling his partner.
It took him no time to pelt Astral aside and reclaim the struggling child. "If you choose to repress your memories, then I will force you to remember." Number 100 appeared between his fingers, and Yuuma could not utter a protest before an elongated bay of pure agony escaped his lips at the burning sensation of that card being absorbed by his body, entering him like a key. "My precious other half," was all he heard the malicious entity whisper before he was bombarded with knowledge that he would have rather not known.
Don Thousand was lonely, a castoff who grieved and was nearly corrupted. The Numeron Code sympathized, offered him companionship in the form of a creature most identical, a creature that possessed the Strength of Stability of the Numeron Code, and the Power of Chaos that dwelt within his darkness.
The being's colors varied from ethereal greens to vibrant reds to whites so luminous that the even the golden rays of sunlight was incomparable. At first, the frightened Don Thousand fled, but his companion followed and engulfed him with its inviting radiance. From that moment, the god knew that he was a goner. He would love this divine source - that quelled his rampant soul - for all eternity.
The rawness and vulnerability of what Yuuma beheld made him quiver, made him want to look away, but found himself unable to do so because of the unadulterated purity of the love these two beings shared. They did not simply coexist, they completed each other, two halves of the same whole, unable to exist except in harmony.
He could not entirely comprehend what he was witnessing at first, but continued to watch what appeared to be a story in the making playing out before him. The intricacy of his involvement whisked him away into their world, making him more of a participant than a mere onlooker.
The darkness loved its light, wanting to please it in any form or fashion. They lived in a little paradise made just for them, where they would love and explore each other everyday, melding their essences so intimately together, becoming one in ways that seemingly paralleled Zexal.
While the holy light loved its darkness, it was quite the adventurous little thing. Sometimes it would flutter away from its other half, exploring not only the world made for them, but the worlds that neighbored it, frequenting one that had a strong semblance to Earth, if it was not Earth itself. It never went far enough to make its darkness worry, though.
Wherever the negativity of its darkness spread, the light permitted his own energies to flow, filling the afflicted with courage and happiness and hope, combating its own other half. It was almost as if these two had invented a game. The malevolent darkness would wreak as much havoc as it could within predefined limits, while the healing light would see how quickly it could negate its effects.
The game resembled a primordial version of Duel Monsters, almost. The darkness represented the trap cards; the light represented the magic cards; and the pawns in the game of life were the monster cards.
Yuuma was Don Thousand's counterpart; the light to his majesty's darkness; the good to his bad; his perfect complimentary, as well as the herald of the power of the dragon who created the infinite galaxies.
At that moment, Yuuma understood, and though he wished that he had never known this, he could not deny the truth. That was when he realized the answer to the riddle that had been eluding him for so long. He would lose what was most precious to him, that was what that demonic door had told him. Yuuma had always thought Astral to be that which was most precious to him, but he was wrong. It was not to say that he did not love Astral deeply, but he was not what the door had referred to, not him nor any of his other beloved friends and family.
It was his own life. Without that sacred, fragile breath, he would never be able to do Kattobingu; never be able to spend time with his friends; never be able to be with Astral...
When Yuuma neither prohibited nor encouraged his caresses, Don Thousand said, "It is time to finish the union of the Varian World and the Earth."
"Since you love that place so much, I've decided to bring it here," he clarified, as though that reason would justify his decision. "I'll create a world that my precious other half will love. A world just for the two of us."
"Don't! Everyone will die!"
"This world will not stabilize without that union. That will be the end."
"It... It doesn't have to be," Yuuma replied with some hesitance.
"What do you mean?" Astral interjected, chancing a foot or two closer to the pair.
"There is a way to protect all three worlds." He did not satisfy Astral's curiosity, taking Don Thousand's hand into his own instead and seemingly telepathically transferring the information to him. Eyes of red and blue widened, and he actually asked Yuuma if he was sure of such a route, as though the answer pleased him greatly, but he did not want Yuuma to suffer.
'What in the world...?' Astral thought, feeling the enmity he had felt once before, when Yuuma showed blatant preference for Shingetsu than his own partner. "Let him go," Astral commanded, but that earned no more than an irritated sigh from Don Thousand. It was only when he touched Yuuma did he evoke a raw, startling violence.
"You will not touch him." His voice was calm, but held the undertone of rage that they both became cognizant of.
"Let. Him. Go."
"Both of you knock it off!" Yuuma growled, pushing away from Don Thousand and straight back into Astral. That move only served to enrage the God of Chaos even further.
"Always... Always you choose him." Astral was forced back, and Yuuma was paralyzed once again.
"Yuuma! Astral!" Kotori cried, trying to think of a way to help them, looking around for something that she could utilize as a weapon. Then she made a sprint for the fragmented Variarite, taking a few pieces of the darkened crystals into her hands and chucking it the demon. "Leave my friends alone, you jerk!" she yelled, hazel eyes set in a penetrating glare as she continued to disrespect the already furious deity.
"Stop, Kotori!" Yuuma warned, struggling to get free so he could go to her. "Just run away!"
"No way! There's no way I'd abandon my friends!" She spun around, picking up momentum before she swung with a war cry of, "Kattobingu Kotori!" That last piece hit him square between the eyes with a painful thud.
Astral caught her just then, directing her toward the airship lest Don Thousand seized the opportunity to annihilate her as well.
A panicked frenzy ensued as Don Thousand heeded not Yuuma's complaints and focused on Astral and Kotori. The airship had been irreparably damaged by his wrath, and he and Astral were set to relaunch their duel. The battle between these two had brought chaos and misery to multiple worlds once upon a time, and it would surely have a disastrous outcome once more if they were allowed to proceed again. They just could not fight now! Not when all this pain could be avoided.
They ignored Yuuma's ceaseless imploring, though, gearing up once more. With his resounding cry of, "Stop!" Yuuma felt that awful, burning sensation from earlier before red eyes flickered a misty green.
Within those pivotal moments, an effulgence so brilliant overcame the chaotic land, washing away what was drenched in sin, enveloping it in its holy embrace until nothing but a uniform world of light remained.
All Yuuma could think, though, was that he was dead. He had to be. There was no other way. He was weightless and warm and in a world bathed in golden light. He was either in the sun or he died, and he was smart enough to know that being even within close proximity of the sun would have had him incinerated in mere seconds.
Once he gained the courage to open his eyes and face his maker, he was stunned to be met with Hope's unflinching gaze, armored arms encircling him as well as Astral and Kotori. Hope was protecting them, keeping them safe from harm's way.
Around them, the freed souls traveled the golden land, fluttering happily about. The souls of their fallen comrades, as well as the other nameless thousands, were drawn to the light of Hope, and that of the Numeron Code's herald.
Their auras revealed their identities, and Yuuma shed tears of relief to see that each and every one of his fallen comrades were present. III, IV, V, Tokunosuke, Tetsuo, Gauche, Droite, Fuuya, Anna, Rokujuro-sensei, Yamikawa, and the Seven Varian Emperors. 'Even Vector...' he thought, watching the orb of dim purple sometimes try to near him, but shrink away in shame immediately afterward. He wished to whisper that he did not despise him, that he could forgive him, but, he felt that it was not a suitable moment for such personal reconciliation.
A soul with a royal blue aura approached and fit itself snug in Yuuma's palms. "Shark?" he asked, causing the soul to brighten slightly in affirmation.
On the opposite side of the field, Astral spotted a person that looked almost exactly like Yuuma. His hair flowed like Don Thousand's, however, his eyes were no longer a mismatched demonic red and eerie blue, but were entirely bloodshot instead, as if every vessel had painfully burst and blinded him. It could not be... "Don Thousand?"
"Yeah," Yuuma replied, gently prying himself from Hope's grasp and floating out into the soothing warmth. The pressure of the souls forced him back, though, especially that of Nasch's. They were part of Don Thousand once, and they had seen what Yuuma had revealed.
No one liked the idea of Yuuma disappearing.
"Shark... It's the only way," he said in an attempt to persuade him.
"What is 'the only way', Yuuma?"
"Light cannot exist without Darkness, nor Darkness without Light. Once something is let loose, it can never be contained again, but -" those eyes zeroed in on Yuuma "- can be laid to rest."
"'Laid to rest'?"
"Don Thousand can be put to sleep for eternity," Yuuma answered, "and then the worlds can be restored once the chaos permeates the universe. However, in order for it to work..."
"What, Yuuma? What do we have to do?" He shook his shoulders sharply, commanding Yuuma to speak.
With a sorrowful sigh, the boy continued, "In order for it to work, both creatures who bear that power must be sealed."
"The Power of Chaos?"
"...But, Yuuma, you also have that power... You and many others. What do you mean by, 'both'?"
"There are two originals. Don Thousand, who bears the darkness, and the bearer of light. Me."
He had a role he was destined to fulfill. Once unleashed, evil could never truly be locked away, but neither could hope. Even if he and Don Thousand were to fall into eternal slumber, residues of the game they had created together would pervade throughout eternity... That was the best he could ask for.
It was what had to be done, what had been preordained for eons.
Why then was it so hard to fulfill this prophecy?
Perhaps it was the horrified gasp that escaped Kotori's sweet lips, and the tears that brimmed those pretty eyes.
Perhaps it was the way the souls of their friends drew nearer, some pulsing with anger, while others dimmed in a pained dejection.
Perhaps it was the way Don Thousand looked at him, the doleful ecstasy the god felt visible only in those haunting eyes. Briefly, the little one wondered if the god had forgotten after so many centuries, had his memories been laid to rest when he was sealed within that sea, or did he recognize Yuuma the moment he saw him, patiently awaiting the moment his other half would return to his rightful place.
Perhaps it was the way Astral clung to him after observing the look of tranquil resolution that settled on his features.
Astral tried to forcibly re-initiate Zexal, pointing out how shallow and foolhardy his intentions were, trying to goad Yuuma into an argument, snap his resolve like a twig and keep his partner. This time, the boy did not bend beneath his words. He was not stirred to anger nor tears. Instead, he stroked Astral's hair, memorizing the soft chill of that winter white, the way his aura dimmed in realization, and – especially – how heterochromatic eyes widened before he burst into tears.
"No! Yuuma!" he wailed, clinging to the boy, nuzzling against him, whimpering incessantly. "Don't go. Don't go. Don't go!" became his mantra as he refused to be pried off. They were not supposed to be separated! Yuuma promised! He promised that he would never let him go again! His Kattobingu spirit declared that he would never break a promise!
"- no! You idiot! You don't know what you're doing! You never do! You're always so brash and that particular trait has brought upon you innumerable troubles!" Yuuma held his quaking partner tighter.
"- you told me once, that I should 'beg and cry more'. That I should fight for my existence and not follow blindly what you say. Then -" he cupped that tanned face, tilting Yuuma's head so that tearful eyes of liquid gold and lucid white met with forlorn, red ones - "I beg you -"
"- don't -"
Astral was supposed to be the logic to his emotion. It was not to say that he believed Astral to be a heartless cynic, not at all. It was just surprising (and downright frightening) to see him so utterly broken.
"Astral... You don't get it."
"If we find the Numeron Code, you won't have to!" came his attempt to sway Yuuma's decision.
"- Don Thousand was defeated once. Surely, with its power -"
"- Astral -"
"- we'll be able to -!" A slap to the face silenced him, but Yuuma's action did not go unpunished, as he became the recipient of one himself. "I'm sick and tired of you always jumping to conclusions when you clearly don't -"
"- you still don't get it, don't you? We already have the Numeron Code." Well, that certainly put an end to his ranting. Without a word, he looked to Hope and stretched his arm towards him. The Duel Monster (my very soul...) permitted the boy to brush his glowing, emerald centerpiece, a move which both Astral and Kotori mimicked.
"It's... It's here?" the girl asked, rubbing the pleasantly heated orb.
"Mm-hmm. Always has been."
"Number Thirty-nine was initially a part of Yuuma, Astral," Don Thousand added. "Yuuma gave that card to you for safe-keeping before... That incident."
"It matters not now," he reply with a crooked smile, demonic red eyes that lacked pupils gazing upon his other half.
"He's right, Astral," Yuuma concurred, stunning those around him, save for Hope, who would listen to his master without fail.
"You want to save the Astral World, don't you? Well, I'm giving you the way."
"You were willing to accept Shark as your enemy, willing to fight no matter what the cost to protect your world. Now -"
"- do you think that I'm not hurt by this as well?!" Yuuma shrunk back at his outburst, but refused to ease up on his verbal assault.
"Every war has casualties." One of the souls (Alito) bumped him angrily, as if to say that he did not approve of Yuuma's change of heart. "I'm sorry..."
"...You promised that we'd always be together," Astral sighed in resignation. "Are you breaking that?"
"We will always be together," came his firm reassurance. Yuuma thought that he was being rather hypocritical. Hadn't he gone through hell just so he could glimpse Astral once more? So that he could bring him home and never be separated from him again? There was a difference in this situation, though, and Yuuma knew that Astral could see it. That Yuuma's departure was both voluntary and essential, and if Astral truly wanted to fulfill his mission, he would listen here and now. "That's why I need you to do me this one favor."
Don Thousand was becoming impatient with them, straining to hear their incoherent whispers and whimpering. It was satisfying, though, to have seen such a display from Astral. He perked up when Yuuma disentangled himself from Hope's hold, and bid an anxious Astral to stay back, and cautiously made his way to the god. In a space with no gravity, he quickly became a source of entertainment, rotating a full 360 degrees sometimes, flailing as he made too large of a step at others. It drew soft chuckles from his twin.
Gently, he grasped those human hands, having decided to spare the boy further mishaps by gracefully gliding out to meet him.
"Don Thousand... Will you... Will you truly...?" Yuuma's gaze narrowed, as if expecting Don Thousand to back out of his end of the bargain (honestly, he did not seem like the type to keep his promises). As expected, he roughly seized the boy and attempted to unify the chaos within their respective bodies. The powers responded positively to this procedure, seeping out of their hosts' bodies and melding with each other.
It stung, as if his very life force was being drained from him, but Yuuma held firm, having already anticipated treachery on his part. He had dealt with Black Mist, after all, and he was a part of Don Thousand.
"I know your plan," he practically spat at Yuuma. "You plan to seal me away again, trick me so that you can stay with Astral, but I won't let you. I'm going to absorb you and destroy Astral and his filthy world. After that -" a leer, twisted and malicious, formed on his lips "- you and I can spend eternity together." He failed to take into account his light's power, assuming that it had been sealed with his human birth. The god flinched and tried to pull away when his other half seized his wrists, allowing his gift from the Numeron Code to surface and cause a minor paralysis. "You -!"
"- you're scared, I get it. I left you alone once, alone to slumber in that cursed world. I'll always be sorry for that." His body began to change, began to assume the ethereal form that he had been born of. Even as his eyes widened in acknowledgment of his light's power, he struggled against his hold, swearing violently at him.
"You want to be the hero?! The martyr?! You think that I'll become a sacrifice with you?!" he howled, gnashing his teeth and snarling at the boy, whose last act in his human form was to grace the demon with his winning smile.
"No." He felt the words resound within his core when Yuuma spoke, making him shudder. As his energy surrounded him, warmed him, created a little haven for him, Don Thousand felt a tranquil dreariness that he had not felt in millennia. At first, he fought the sensation, not willing to be fooled by this brat, yet he could feel the hope his next words brought invade the heart he thought had ceased to exist. "We'll stay together, this time. I promise."
It was then the god let himself sink into the purest form of chaotic energy, forming a little ball amidst the swirling wisps around him.
Kotori attempted to reach out to her friend, calling out to him, but Astral stopped her, allowing her to cling to him and cry into his shoulder as Hope completed this sorrowful ritual.
Even as he began to fade, his energy being reabsorbed into the Numeron Code along with Don Thousand's, he could hear his friends' pleas (the voices of their souls) and cries and hurt words of parting, and all he could think was how much he loved them, how he cherished them so, and how he wanted nothing more than for them to be able to live their lives to the fullest.
The creator heard his selfless plea.
~ OoO ~
Heartache could never stop time, and sometimes the fact that the sun continued to shine in all its glory, day after day, felt insulting.
Memories could be suppressed, altered even, but they could never truly be erased.
Only those who had been close to Yuuma were permitted to retain snippets of their time together, while some only recalled his Kattobingu, straining to remember where they had gotten such a worldview from, but pledging to live by it for the rest of their lives. The rest of the world was reset, in a sense, so that none of the calamities that had befallen it would bear lasting effects.
There were those like Astral and Nasch and Kaito (he still remembered how Haruto wept when he was embraced by the brother he believed to be long dead) who kept their full memories, lamenting over the loss, but still choosing to grow from it, still choosing to accept what had been taught that day and build a brighter future together. Even without Yuuma being physically present, he could still feel the power of those residues that healed the fractured worlds, that healed the afflicted denizens.
There were days when Astral felt that he could not do the job that Yuuma had entrusted him with.
"That's why I need you to do me this one favor."
It was a privilege to guard Number 39, nonetheless, fulfilling his mission of protecting the Numeron Code while simultaneously watching over his resting partner.
"Don't let the hope in this world fade. Please, keep it alive."
At first, he did not fully understand this instruction, but he was blessed with the intelligence that allowed him to figure it out. Hope was such a fragile thing, and if it is not nurtured with the utmost care, a disaster akin to the one that stemmed eons ago would surely arise again.
"I trust you, Astral."
Maybe he could have persuaded Yuuma differently (that his sacrifice was not the sole option) and have him here today, but – in a way – they were never truly apart.
"I know that you'll do the right thing."
Some lessons... some memories...
He held the card before him, delicately tracing the artwork with his thumb, a wistful smile on his face as he allowed a single tear to slip from his golden eye.
"Kattobingu da ore!"
Stay with us forever...