The world was a desert.
LINK VRAINS was not naturally programmed with the textures of sand, hot with the gathering data of the tower it surrounded. The beaches of LINK VRAINS were picturesque, untouchable scenes, the backgrounds to dueling fields and gathering places. If one were to touch the gentle ocean, they’d find themselves consumed, drawn under the waves by a riptide and torn to pieces by the currents that bashed them into the rocky shores.
(More than he’d like to count already had, though by no will of their own. They were victims he’d made of circumstance, rather than curiosity.)
He stood then in the midst of desolation. Revolver had long since forgotten whose final touch the last stretch of forlorn desert was, but it stood as warning, clear as the crumbling world itself. Turn back. There is nothing left for you here save death.
They didn’t listen. They called themselves heroes and leapt forth, entrusting their cause one by one to the next- a relay of last wishes and desires gone unfulfilled. It was optimistic to think they would stand unopposed at the end of it all, and Revolver had long since resolved himself to wreaking as much devastation as he must. He’d failed once, and spent five years regretting it. To fail again was unthinkable, no matter the talent that rose against them in the final hours.
(The part of him that could acknowledge their bravery simply wished they had been cowards instead. Needless sacrifices, each and every one of them.)
And Playmaker most of all, with his sights drawn so narrow.
The consequences of his actions had all but been laid out for him, yet Playmaker had followed those tumbling dominos like a map to the base of the tower. Back to him, after a decade of searching. Back to him, fulfilling his half a promise they’d never made.
The data kicked up a storm as the tower neared its completion, and they took to the wind with a score between them to settle, a long-held truth to reveal.
One and two, together all alone.
(A part of him- a tiny, mourning part of him that had no place in Revolver’s goals- pondered the consequences of a different past.)
When he looked at that child through the camera’s lens- that child, even younger than even him- When he looked down at him through the laboratory screens… A thought had occurred to him. Despite knowing he wasn’t supposed to meddle in his father’s work, despite knowing there’d be consequences if he was found-
He simply had to act on it. Later, Revolver would call it destiny. At the time, he might have said it was a sense of pity.
Because the world was a desert. A desert of sandless white rooms and VR equipment, the occasional soft hum of drones carrying down half-empty trays and a number ticking slowly upwards the only hope for them to mark time within. And in the center of it all, stumbling blind, that child had been crying out desperate for an oasis. Revolver could only give it to him, fearing the consequence of a future where he didn’t.
Three. One (too pitiful)- Two (a set of coincidences)- Three, he counted. Three reasons to live. Anyone could think of that many, no matter how trivial they might be. There were a thousand things a child desperate for home could choose.
But he ran off before he ever heard the boy’s answers. His father was returning, and he couldn’t be caught meddling with the experiment. (Though perhaps, if things went well- perhaps then he could tell his father what he’d done and be praised for his small bit of brilliance. But until then, he vowed to keep it a secret.)
That too became a small regret to carry with him, unseen by anyone but himself. Because every day for months-turned-years did it haunt him. Mostly in the quiet moments, staring up at his darkened ceiling before bed, or taking the slow descent down to Stardust Road. Sometimes in the not-so-quiet moments- in the rush after winning a duel, in the middle of working out a bug in a particularly dense bit of code.
He wondered what the boy had chosen. He wondered if his words weren’t among them.
He only pondered that fanciful other world for a moment. They’d likely have ended up here all the same- only then would they be calling it a game of chance and the whimsical fates, rather than destiny. (And if in the consequence of that supposed past, if they didn’t meet here with a missed decade of burdens weighing heavy on their backs-
There was a dead-eyed child who’d already given up the struggle, by the time Revolver had seen him. In that future, perhaps there were less casualties. Perhaps there was just one more. He wouldn’t know. He couldn’t.)
They dueled, for this was a fight more noble than that of feelings. It was one of destiny and opposing goals not meant for the volatile tumble of emotions or sentimentality. (And yet here, at the end of his life, he rode the winds gathering for the storm in a space not fit to be called reality and felt impossibly alive.)
“You can stop this,” he told that child whose sadness had all burned into hatred, “You can stop this now.”
It won’t fix your broken past, was what he didn’t say. It won’t make the person you’ve promised to save anyone other than your sworn enemy.
He didn’t listen, of course. Revolver spilled his story- the full truth to his captive audience- and still did a few misguided words and a final foolish-hearted sacrifice sway him towards selfish revenge. Willfully blind, a final defense for his shattered justifications. Revolver could only scoff and goad him on- what other choice did he have?
(And so they finished the duel. Revolver had known he might lose, what with that meddlesome Go Onizuka forcing his hand, and the result of their first set of duels proof all their own.
Still. At the end of it all, he’d really believed that he would win.)
There was, of course, no escape plan left for him at the end of it all. As leader of the Knights of Hanoi, Revolver was the last line of defense- if he was to go down, then the tower would fall with him.
He simply hadn’t realized, before, how literal that would be.
Revolver tumbled fast to the ground in the absence of wind to prop him up. Data crumbled down in chunks with him, a veritable minefield as the tower consumed itself. He couldn’t say he wasn’t bitter. Yet again he’d honed himself to fight Playmaker, and yet again he’d fallen short. Not even the wind slipping through his fingers could change the fact that it had long since turned unresponsive to his grasp.
He’d made peace with his death, but not like this -
A figure, falling, slipping fast through the debris. A hand in his, pulling him up against the rush of gravity when all he’d expected was to hit the ground. A word, drowned out by the rush of it all-
His breath returned to him in a jolt and a gasp, a series of contradictory motions that near sent him tumbling from his chair. Something in him was aflutter with panic, or perhaps exhilaration- when he’d sat down that morning, he’d never expected to stand back up. But he went fast to the windows, hand resting against the glass as he searched for the speck he knew he’d find. And find it it he did. There was no time for anything else; Revolver made for the door and pushed his way out, a single word ringing like a mantra with every step.
Perhaps the fates were still with him- or perhaps they were waiting for him. In the end, it made no difference. Playmaker… Fujiki Yusaku leaned against the front door the of the van, arms crossed, duel disk nowhere in sight. Revolver couldn’t read the emotion in his eyes as they tracked his approach. He hadn’t sprinted down the slope, but he certainly hadn’t taken a leisurely stroll. Yusaku watched him blandly, silent as Revolver caught his breath.
The question burst from him. He couldn’t have said anything else if he’d tried. “You saved me. Why?”
The response was brief. “I told you. When we first met.”
And he had. One, two, three- To save the one who saved me.
But Revolver had never been captured. If he was prisoner, it was only to the burdens he himself had chosen. At the end of the earth he’d been saved by a hand in his, the culmination of a ten year destiny in a way neither of them could have anticipated. It wasn’t the same, but it was something.
“I’m not free,” he said, “as long as the Ignis and the Cyverse still live, then-”
“Then we’ll be enemies. I know.” It was a flat acknowledgement. Revolver, for the first time, wasn’t sure he knew exactly of what. The flow of their destinies had run its course, the threads that bound them cut neatly down their middles. Yusaku opened the door and said, cutting into his thoughts, “Until then.”
(Yet something still remained.)
Yusaku climbed up into the van and closed the door. Without so much as the splutter of the engine starting it drove off, leaving him alone in the dim early evening- the sun setting, lights dappling the pier flickering to life.
Revolver watched it go, and wondered if Yusaku remembered the days of the last decade as clearly as him- and if they’d remember the not-so-distant future just as so.
Something in his world had shifted, irrevocably changed. Revolver turned away and started back up the road, thinking that for Yusaku too, it had surely moved in the same direction. He muttered, soft to someone no longer there to hear it- “Until then.”