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A desolate wasteland, painted together in a series of gun metal greys. Every single aspect of it was harsh. Sands like tiny shards of lead, mountains like jagged spearheads, designed to gore the enemy both when pushed in and pulled out, the biting cold that ate away at you like piranhas, and the sky itself, with the ever-still comet, that stared down upon it all with it’s blazing red intensity. Despite its stillness, the world’s brutality was evident, just from the sheer dark atmosphere it emanated. It was a world of combat, a world of destruction and pain. But for right now, it was quiet. For right now, it was calm. Elsewhere there would be screaming, fire disrupting the usual cold air, all manner of terrible things. But at that moment, in that place, it was calm. And honestly, Jim couldn’t ask for much more than that right now.

In silence, he walked alongside O’Brien, the short distance between them seeming like miles. “Think we should rest in a second?” Jim asked, he didn’t really need to rest, he just wanted to sit down and relax for a moment. Granted, he wasn’t able to relax very much, given where they were and what was going on, but it would be better than nothing.

“We can go for longer.” O’Brien responded firmly, little emotion in his voice. There was a profound sense of calm and professionalism about him, Jim found it quite impressive.

“I know, but do we have to? We don’t even know what’s out there O’Brien.” he replied. “We’re just wandering, we can afford to take a break from that.”

He paused for a moment, before nodding and sitting down, looking at Jim and waiting for him to do the same. He did eventually, he just had to get Karen down first. “I just don’t want to get stranded out here.” he commented. “Deserts are awful places to get stuck. Especially in a world like this.” he picked up a few grains of sand, or whatever it really was, and let it fall through his fingers. It only hurt slightly.

“I’m not worried. We both know how to survive.” Jim dismissed, confident in their abilities. “We’re okay to relax.”. He ran his hand along Karen’s back, it soothed him. She always gave him a sense of familiarity, a sense of connection to his roots. A feeling of home no matter the distance he was from it.

Obrien huffed in response, staring up at the comet. He didn’t understand what Jim saw in it, sure, it was odd, but everything was odd in The Dark World. “Why does it stick out to him so much?” he pondered. “Does he just like it?”.

“Hey, Jim. What’s your favourite colour?” he said, seeking both closure for his question and some more knowledge about his partner.

Jim’s eyes widened a little, Obrien didn’t tend to ask questions about this sort of thing. He felt almost honoured.“Orange.” he replied. “Like my scarf.”

Obrien looked back at the comet and hummed. “I see.” he paused for a moment, before deciding to continue. “Mine is red.”

“I can tell.” Jim smiled, poking a little fun at the abundance of the colour in both his outfit and deck. He leaned back, looking up at the sky. Some disturbing combination of bird and monster circled above them. There was a chance it’d strike soon, it stared down at the two of them with an intensity, like a panther waiting for it's time to leap at it’s prey. “We’ll get to it when we get to it.” Jim decided, far more interested in O’Brien opening up than in the hellish beast.

“How did you start dueling O’Brien?” It was the first question that came to mind, but it was a fine one. He could learn a lot from it.

“My daddy, he taught me.” Jim stifled a giggle. “Wh-what?” O’Brien asked suspiciously.

“You still call your dad daddy?” He questioned, almost in disbelief.

“Yes. I do.” O’Brien responded with completely unshaken confidence.

“Guess you aren’t as tough as I thought you were.” Jim mocked, doing his best to keep it within the realm of banter. He wouldn’t want to upset O’Brien. Granted he didn’t even know if that was possible. He always seemed so calm and collected, even in the worst of times. It inspired Jim to do the same. Throughout their journey, many terrible things had happened, Jim didn’t know if he could’ve handled them without O'Brien's presence.

O’Brien’s smile was small and fond, he acknowledged the comment with his silence before continuing. “He thought it was an important skill. After all, dueling is a form of combat. So he taught me everything he knew and enrolled me into West Academy.”

“Is that what dueling is to you then? A form of combat?” Jim placed his duel disk down on the ground, removing his deck from it and beginning to look through it. “Don’t you have fun with it?”

O’Brien shrugged. “I suppose it is. Fun just doesn’t really come into it.” Spurred by Jim checking his own, O’Brien took out his own deck, scanning through it with a sharp efficiency. He identified the gaps and quickly rectified them, inserting new cards in place of the ones he had been shooting at the various creatures that lurked about the Dark World.

“Really? So you became the top duelist at West Academy without having any fun at all?” he questioned, perking up like a cat’s ears.

“Yes. The main reason I even did that was to get close to Cobra.” he admitted matter of factly. “All part of a mission.”

“I see. Well, how about we have a duel now? For fun.” Jim leaned back in utter relaxation, despite the fact he had pretty much just offered a game of russian roulette.

O’Brien stared at him, mystified. His eyes scanning him, searching for any sign of understanding for what he had just said. Looking from feature to feature on his face as he would targets he intended to shoot. There was no sign of understanding that he had, in essence, offered to have one of them die.

Despite his original goal, O’Brien found himself straying. Usually he never strayed from his intentions, but somehow he found himself lost in Jim’s features. Exploring his face not with an analytical coldness, but with a warm interest. It wasn’t long before he got himself back on track, but such an unprecedented detour worried him. “Are you insane?” he asked bluntly.

“No. You see, if we don’t use our duel disks, we won’t get hurt.” he placed a card on the sand to prove his point, nothing came of it, no monster, no magic, it was surprisingly just a regular piece of card.

O’Brien stared at him for a moment, he could easily say no, frankly he didn’t really think he’d get anything out of the duel. But Jim was so insistent and eagre, that he thought he might as well yield. “Fine. I’m not putting my cards on this stuff though.”

“Coming from the bloke who sets his cards on fire and shoots them at people.” Jim teased. He called Karen over, who lay between them, perfectly still. Jim placed his deck on her back, waiting for O’Brien to do the same. It was so ridiculous, playing duel monsters on a crocodile’s back. Although, compared to the terrifyingly unusual, like their friends dying and their likenesses appearing in a book, this was a rather nice form of weirdness.

O’Brien mirrored Jim, putting his deck down. They began to play, and as the duel ebbed and flowed, as it went back and forth between the equally matched opponents, Using the duel, Jim managed to pull a laugh from O’Brien’s lungs. For the first time, he was enjoying himself. Among the despair and bleakness of the world they were in, Jim had created a warm feeling within him, one that fought off the cloying cold that should be consuming him right now.

But all good things, of course. Must come to an end.

For whatever reason, this was the time the amalgamated vulture creature decided to swoop down and strike. It targeted Jim, and once he was in its crosshairs, it made it’s move, screaming straight down towards him with terrifying speed and digging its claws into his back. He let out a yelp of pain. Once he was firmly within its grasp, it began to lift him, starting to carry him whatever mess of material would make up it’s nest.

Panic. Fear. Anger. O’Brien was feeling three things he was never supposed to feel in a combat scenario. He was supposed to keep cool and calm, but the hot sensation of an anxious fury sweeping over him was enough to make him forget all that. Jim was important to him, and he’d be damned if he let anything happen to him. With impressive accuracy and speed, he loaded his duel disk flawlessly, even under anger’s influence his military training wouldn’t fail him. He fired once. The monster was hurt, slowing it’s ascent and leaving it susceptible to a follow up attack. O’Brien took the time to adjust his shot, ensuring that he was right on target.

The card fired, burning up as it flew. It collided with the creature’s head, knocking it out of the sky, Jim with it. Although he was sure Jim was safe, O’Brien couldn’t stop his legs from dragging him into a sprint to check on him. “Jim! Are you hurt?”

Jim groaned in pain, attempting to sit up but only ending up on the floor again. “Nah, I’m alright. My leg’s just a bit damaged, that’s all.” he muttered, trying to get up again, only to collapse. “Alright, maybe it does hurt…”

O’Brien sighed, despite the action they just had, and the worry that was Jim being injured, he couldn’t help but smile at him. Wordlessly, O’brien kneeled down and lifted him up, carrying him in a bridal position. He was surprisingly light, but still a bit difficult to carry, since he was so tall. “We’ll find a village, get you patched up there.” he said.

“Alright, sounds good by me. We ought to get some of those cloak things, we’d stand out less, so monsters like that can’t spot us as easily.” Jim replied.

“Right, camouflage.” O’Brien nodded.

They returned to the beginning, walking in silence as they had before, the only difference being that Jim was being carried and his head was resting comfortably against O’Brien’s chest.

“Wandering wasn’t a very good idea.” Jim commented, opening his eyes for the first time in a little while and surveying the barren desert. “We should do something else.”

“Well, what do you want to do?” O’Brien asked, subtly tilting Jim to be pressed further into him, his presence and the warm pressure of his body against his comforted him.

“We should go back for Judai.” Jim said determinedly. “I know we left him for a reason but I miss him.” his words seemed to carry some deeper meaning, it was understated but obviously there.

“Why? We can do it, I just want to know why.” O’Brien responded, continually scanning around him for any signs of danger, he wouldn’t let anything catch them by surprise again, he would be prepared to protect Jim.

“Well, I suppose Judai is just important to me, he’s my friend. I don’t want anything to happen to him.” he explained, an uncharacteristic lack of confidence permeating each word, contrasting the deep, heartfelt meaning that he was also imbuing them with.

“You’re in love with him.” O’Brien stated, blunt and curt.

“I-I guess.” his mouth smirked, but everything else about him indicated a far different expression. His tone was deflated, his body seemed to droop, his eyes were dim. “I know I don’t have a chance though, I mean he and Johan have got a thing going on. And that’s great, don’t get me wrong. Doesn’t stop me feeling this way though.” he chuckled, sadness dripping from it.

“Alright.” O’Brien managed. “We’ll go.” he looked up, avoiding looking at Jim at all costs. Both of them were in the same boat, being in love with someone who already has feelings for someone. It was killing him internally. But Jim would want him to be strong, so he remained stalwart.

Jim’s head once again fell against O’Brien’s chest, he nuzzled against it like a cat before finding the most comfortable angle. They finished as they had started, walking in silence through the wasteland. Only this time, it was less still, sand danced about the air, carried upon the winds of change.