“My name’s Jack! What’s yours?”
Yamikage is taken aback by the overexuberant blond extending a hand before him. He swears that this guy is older than he is, but he’s acting much more chipper than he probably should for the job description. Yamikage doesn’t answer him directly, instead taking a folded-up paper from his bag and reading it aloud to him.
“Charmed. It says right here that I’m supposed to be led around the training facility by…” He narrows his eyes and tilts his head to the side. “Jay-cra?” Jack takes the piece of paper out of his hand and reads it, then snorts.
“You mean Jecra, right? That’s just the Universal Code version of my name.” He gave an exaggerated bow. “Cavalier Jack, at your service!”
“Great,” Yamikage moaned. “My name is Masashi. Let’s just get this over with, shall we?”
What follows is a very long-winded response and explanation on virtually everything within the compound as the two of them walk through it. Yamikage sort of wants to smash his head against a wall from the sheer amount of exposition.
And Jack’s accent. Sweet celestials, that accent.
“So, what brings you here?” Jack asks after 5 seconds of reprieve.
“I came here to get away from my father.” Yamikage replies.
“Okay,” he laughs. “Now, why’d you really join?”
Yamikage takes this opportunity to tease him. He looks around as if he’s watching to make sure nobody’s listening in, and then leans in closer and whispers. “I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but Nightmare is a bad man.”
“Sheesh,” Jack’s less than amused by his sarcasm. “I’m just trying to make conversation. We don’t get a whole lot of ninjas from around this system.”
“It’s ninja. Not ninjas. It’s a loanword.” Yamikage explains. “Nin-ja.” He enunciates like he’s talking to a toddler and hisses “idiot” under his breath.
Suddenly Jack pulls him backwards and Yamikage worries that he might have overheard him. But no, it seems that in Yamikage’s half-minded marching he’d nearly walked straight into a shooting range, as evidenced by the arrow that flew a few inches in front of his face and hit a target.
Yamikage blinks in disbelief. “Uh, what did you say your name was, again?”
Yamikage knows he’s dreaming, he’s always been a lucid dreamer. He is ten years old again, playing in the woods behind his home. He’s alone, but it doesn’t bother him as much as it did back then. Of course, he also knows that his parents have been lying to him, they’ve been lying to him since he was born, but he puts those thoughts away and enjoys the ignorance of a child. There’s something he notices that’s off; the sliding back door to the home is wide open. Curious, he runs over and decides to check it out.
Within seconds of him entering, an intruder – no, his father – pins him to the ground with one hand, a dagger in his other fist, and his eyes blood red. He can’t see his mother, but he can hear her screaming, begging, pleading for him to stop. His father screams back that Masashi is a failure, a weakling, and the only way to ‘fix’ him is to start again from scratch. Yamikage desperately tries to squirm out of the way as the blade comes down hard onto his eye.
Yamikage wakes up drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. He feels tears start to form in his eyes, but quickly blinks them away and shakes his head, trying to regain some of his bearings. His father is on another planet. His father doesn’t know where he is. Everything should be fine.
Thankfully his bunkmate is still fast asleep, unbothered by his mini-panic attack. He catches his breath and silently makes his way out of the room, down the halls, and onto the roof. The ninja had managed to conceal a pack of cigarettes into the base from their last supply mission and pulls one out as he perches himself upon the ledge of the compound. He’s seconds from lighting it when he hears a voice from behind.
“Hey, are you alright?” He doesn’t even have to turn around to know who it is. Jack’s voice could cut through a crowded room, even more so an empty rooftop. The blonde walks forward and stands beside him, eyes full of concern.
“I’d prefer to be alone.” Yamikage says. He lights the cigarette and breathes in deep.
“Hold up,” Jack says as he yanks the cigarette out of Yamikage’s mouth. “You can screw up your lungs on your own time, but I’m not gonna have you mess up mine.” Jack puts it out on his forearm, a move that he would ordinarily respect but in this case, it was more obnoxiously self-righteous. Yamikage rolls his eyes and stares out into the night.
“Besides, I doubt you could sneak up on somebody with a smoker’s cough!” He laughs at his own joke, but Yamikage knows there’s no malice in his actions. Jack genuinely wants him to talk about his feelings, and he’s willing to lend an ear. Might as well play along, he thinks.
“It’s banal.” Yamikage mumbles.
“I don’t mind.” Jack reassures with a shrug. He rests his head on the ledge and waits patiently for a response. Taking a deep breath, Yamikage confesses.
“I had a nightmare about my family.”
“Something like that.”
As the years pass, Yamikage distances himself away from Jack, and Jack does the same. Through its more out of the fact they’re in differing factions rather than choice. This doesn’t stop people from assuming they’re the best of friends out of necessity. Jack thinks it’s hilarious, Yamikage is disgusted. Eventually he loosens up as Jack begins to endear himself to other people, the solitary Meta Knight from the former Grand Duchy of Shadow Spire and the quirky Garlude from Evenstar.
They make a fine trio of warriors, he thought. But even they attempt to help break down his walls, and an uneasy acquaintanceship emerges between the four. With all of these new social links and his increased training in ninja disciplines, Yamikage begins to forget where he’d come from, or why he’d left. And then, someone decides to come and remind him in the most innocent of places, stationed outside a small farm village.
“Yamikage,” The massive blue knight opens up his tent door, shocking him awake. She can barely fit her head through the hole as she continues. “There is a samurai in silver armor out here. I believe the two of you might be familiar.”
“This can wait until the morning, you know,” Yamikage says with a groan, closing his eyes and covering his face with his arm.
“He told them he knows you,” She replies. She opens the tent flap wider so that he can see the alleged samurai. It’s his father, chatting up Sir Arthur and Lancelot a few feet away. “He says he’s your old sensei. I kinda got a bad vibe about this guy, so I’d like to hear it from you if he’s truthful.”
“He was,” Yamikage feels a pit form in his stomach as he rises to his feet. “Alright, let’s get this over with.” He deeply sighs, ties his hair up, and pushes past her to reunite with his so-called teacher.
“Masashi!” The man calls to him.
“Keisuke.” He dully responds.
As Yamikage ‘joins’ the conversation, Keisuke proceeds to weave even more lies about their solid relationship and his tutelage. He once again tunes it out, he notes he’s grown rather good at that. In fact, the ninja gets through the entire conversation with a few lucky head nods and blank stares until he hears him mention his mother and the phrase ‘rest her soul’ in tandem.
“What?” he asks, looking up at his father with wide eyes. “My mother, she’s-?”
“Yes, Sayuri. She passed away quite some time ago.”
It isn’t so much the discovery of this that shocks Yamikage, but the way that his father brushes it off and continues with his story. Before he even knows what he’s doing, Yamikage runs from the conversation, runs and disappears into the town. Nine hours later Garlude, Meta Knight, and Jack find him inside a pole barn, perched up in the rafters.
“What are you doing up there?” Garlude asks.
“Take a wild guess,” He answers. “Or would you like that samurai to tell you all about it? I’m sure he’d love to tell you about how wonderful of a husband he was.”
“I was under the impression that your father was deceased,” Meta Knight says. “You do not talk about him much.”
“Yami’s dad is a living dumpster fire, long story short.” Jack explains, crossing his arms. “You gonna be alright?”
“I just want to be alone for a while, that’s all there is to it,” Yamikage says. “I never really learned how to process grief.”
With that final remark, the trio leaves him alone to sulk. The following day, Keisuke’s warp drive malfunctions and he’s sent halfway across the galaxy; Yamikage is more than sure he has a hunch on what might have happened. The three swear up and down that they have no idea what he’s talking about, but Yamikage counters that he saw Meta Knight hiding a wrench beneath his cape.
“GUYS, I’M GONNA BE A DAD!”
Meta Knight is reading and Yamikage is honing one of his shuriken with a sharpening stone when Jack practically kicks down the door with his announcement. Yamikage’s hand slips, and he nearly takes off the tip of his thumb as Meta Knight drops his book and loses his place. Jack pays no mind to either of these occurrences as he presses on.
He brings up something about the goddess NOVA, testosterone, miracles (many things that Yamikage drones out), and he lifts Meta Knight up into a hug and spins around with him out of sheer joy.
“That’s wonderful news!” Meta Knight finally says, and gently pats Jack’s arm to signal that he’d like to be put back down. “I’m- I’m very proud for the both of you.”
“So, you put your dick in a woman. You’re not special.” Yamikage puts down his knife and reclines back in his chair, unimpressed. “Although, when was the last time we were stationed near Zap Star? Something tells me you’re not the father here.”
Jack and Meta Knight look between each other, and then at him. “I’ll tell him.” Jack says, and grabs Yamikage’s arm, pulling him off the couch. “We’re gonna gave a quick little chat, you an’ me.”
“Jack, this is a closet.” Yamikage says as Jack brings him over to a door and opens it.
“Mm-hm.” Jack replies. He roughly shoves him in and enters, closing the door behind himself. Meta Knight watches for about a minute or two before both men exit.
“Alright, then.” Yamikage murmurs under his breath. He clears his throat and runs a hand through his hair. “My apologies.”
Meta Knight rolls his eyes, picks his book up off the ground, and resumes reading, until the gears in his head start to click. “You… you told him that in a closet.”
“Hey, I was hoping you’d catch that!” Jacks says with a wink.
Meta Knight rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Never change.”
The ship lands gently on the soil outside Jack’s village, and the three warriors walk out, excited as ever. Well, two of them are excited, and a certain ninja is less than enthused. In fact, he’s not sure what he should be doing and asks Meta Knight how he thinks he should approach the situation.
“Yamikage, it’s an infant, not a head of state.” Meta Knight says as he knocks on the door. “You just need to relax.”
“Then why are you bringing a bottle of sparkling cider?”
“You know who this is for.” Meta Knight dryly utters as Sarissa opens the door. Looking inside, Yamikage can see Jack holding a tiny purple infant. The dark circles under his eyes are huge, but his gaze is full of pride. Sentimental fool, Yamikage thinks.
“Oh, look at you!” Garlude trills at the sleeping baby as the three of them walk in. “He’s so small. Where’s Dolly?”
“Taking a nap. Nova knows she needed one.” Sarissa then turned to Meta Knight and Yamikage, taking the bottle from the spherical swordsman. “Either of you wanna hold him?”
“Oh, but of course,” Yamikage’s voice practically drips with disgust. “I’d love to hold Jack’s little crotch-spawn.”
Without missing a beat, Sarissa slaps him. Jack hands Joe to Garlude, and she sits down on the couch brushing his fluffy white hair out of his face. Yamikage scoffs in annoyance and stands in the living room looking between Jack, Meta Knight and Sarissa talking in the kitchen, and Garlude doting on the baby. Weighing his options, he sits down on the couch next to her, watching the baby coo and giggle as she plays with it.
“Don’t tell me you actually want one of those things now,” Yamikage says. “What is it with women and babies and their biological clocks?”
“Oh, come on, he’s adorable!” Garlude says, and without any warning, hands him to Yamikage. The ninja isn’t sure what to do with him, simply holding him at arm’s length as the baby reaches out to him with his chubby paws. “Joe just likes everybody.”
“Uh huh,” Yamikage rolls his eyes as the infant laughs and kicks its feet. “That doesn’t answer my question, however.”
“Maybe,” Garlude shrugs and leans back into the couch. “I mean, it’d be nice to have a baby like him, but I don’t know where to start.”
“Well, she does have a sister.” Yamikage offers up, only half-joking. Garlude’s face flushes a bit, and she looks away with a sheepish glance.
“Or course, you could always wait for Jack to die, and then you could have Doloire after the mourning period,” That earned him a sharp kick to his side from the swordswoman. He ignored it and continued. “And then you can have a bouncing baby boy of your own!” Yamikage swings Joe upwards and laughs.
From the other room, Jack hears Yamikage’s shriek of disgust as Joe vomits on him.
“You’re a demon beast.” Yamikage says.
Garlude sits atop the table in her underwear, sloppily dressing the gaping wound in her right side. She’s significantly more casual than she probably should be as her friends watch in stunned silence. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be an odd sight; many of the galaxy soldiers were forced to give themselves first aid while out on the field. The pitch-black blood oozing out of it is a different story.
“Astute,” Garlude replies. She slips her dress back on and hops off the table, grunting in pain and grabbing her side as she lands. “I’m just glad it was only you three.”
“You lied to us,” Yamikage growls, pulling his sword from its sheath. “You lied to eNeMeE, you lied to the entire GSA, and for what? So that you could run back to your master and double-cross us when you had enough? Or were you just bored?” He’s half tempted to kill her now, his grip tightening on the hilt.
She doesn’t reply, silently making her way to one of the lockers and opening it, using the mirror inside to help put her hair up. With a loud bang Jack slams it shut, startling everyone in the room. So far, this is the angriest that any of them have ever seen him, and the way he towers over Garlude with an icy glare doesn’t help matters.
Garlude becomes increasingly more aware that everyone in the room wants her dead.
“I knew you! I knew exactly who you were! Lanzer, the darkness emirate… whatever! You attacked my town and acted like a total-!” Jack cuts himself off and runs his hand down his face, inhaling and exhaling deep. He’s at a complete loss for words, thrown off by everything he’s looking at. But he can see she’s terrified, so he relaxes his gait and takes a step back. “I don’t get it. What changed your mind?”
She shifts gently on her feet. “You guys did.”
“Ew.” Yamikage sneers.
“I’m dead serious,” Garlude says as she walks to the center of the room, rubbing her arms tensely and lowering her voice. “I didn’t know what I was going to do when I left Nightmare. I grabbed Erasem and bolted, just so I could get as far away from him as I could.”
Yamikage’s grip relaxes.
“And then, I joined the GSA, just because you were against him. But you were so nice to me, everyone was. I truly felt like I belonged here.”
“They were only nice to you because you lied about who you were,” Yamikage said. “Do you really think they’d have been so welcoming if they knew the truth from the start?”
Meta Knight pushes Yamikage aside, finally speaking up. “Maybe so. But what Garlude has done, what she has chosen to do by defying eNeMeE, it makes her more than a mere liar.” Quickly shooting a dirty look his way, he walks over to Garlude and takes her hands. “What we do makes us monsters, Garlude. And what you have done proves you are no monster. I swear on my honor, no warrior outside this room will know about this.”
“Yeah, what’s a little secret among friends?” Jack pulls the two of them closer into a side-hug. Garlude smiles warmly and Meta Knight’s eyes flash pink.
“Pull me into a group hug and I’ll stab you.” Yamikage threatens.
“Now then, how are we going to explain this to Sirica?” Meta Knight wonders aloud after Jack’s grip loosens.
Garlude chuckles nervously. “About that.”
When Yamikage returns from a recon mission, he and his platoon of ninja are just about flanked on all sides by the entire base with stories about a massive attack on a major city in Zap Star. How the stationed soldiers teamed up with the civilians and kept the city from being run over. But what intrigued Yamikage the most were the names of the causalities.
And even if he hadn’t overheard her name, Yamikage felt like he would have been able to piece it together. Garlude was utterly inconsolable, Meta Knight was even more quiet than usual, and there was a shuttle ready to leave for the planet at the terminal.
Jack doesn’t say anything nor even acknowledge that Yamikage has entered his room. Deep down, Yamikage has always wanted to see Jack upset (or at the very least, less than perfectly cheery) but seeing him like this is nothing short of sickening. He hears his slow, labored breathing and watches him as he packs.
He’s half expecting some sort of self-deprecating comment from the man when he sees Jack’s ears twitch at the sound of the door clicking shut, but nothing. It’s like he’s broken, the ninja thinks. Desperate for some sort of reaction, Yamikage takes a breath and speaks.
“She had it coming.”
“Excuse me?” Jack asks, his voice low and shaky.
“Your wife. She should have known better than to go after a monster horde by herself.” Yamikage continues, blunt as ever. “I heard what happened. She could have prevented it, you know.”
“Yami, just stop.” Jack doesn’t look back at him, but the ninja can tell he’s crying. “I get that you’re not good at handling things like this, but just… stop.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, stop telling the truth? She was an idiot! You don’t face down half a squadron of monsters in your right mind, do you? How does that reflect on her, huh? Reflect on what she’s teaching her goddamn kid? How do you know that when your precious little boy grows up, he won’t walk right up to Nightmare and-!”
The ninja is cut off when his left temple gets smashed with a right hook. He’s unconscious before he hits the ground. The next time he awakens, he’s alone in the medical bay with one of his eyes swollen shut, caked blood all over his nose slits, and one very loose back tooth that he swears is seconds from falling out. He’s more surprised he wasn’t concussed.
Percival sits at the far end of the room, tending to another Star Warrior in a comatose state. The moment Yamikage’s eyes dart over to him, he leaves her side and walks over to him.
“Mind telling me why Jack hauled your sorry ass here, shaking and sobbing about how it was an accident?” Percival asks, his voice low and harsh. Yamikage tries to say something, but the words get caught in his throat. He opts to instead look away, refusing eye contact until Percival gets tired of waiting and returns to the other patient.
“What did I ever do to you?”
Yamikage is perched in a tree, a couple feet away from the camp. Jack stands at the base, glaring up at him.
“I said, what did I ever do to you?” Jack crosses his arms and narrows his eyes. It’s been a couple months since the incident, but the pain still lingers, and not just from Doloire’s murder. Yamikage’s left eye twitches involuntarily.
“You’ll have to be more specific.” He responds, looking out over the horizon. “There’s so much about you that pisses me off, and I’m sure you feel the same.”
“I don’t hate you, Yamikage.” Jack about chokes on the word. “I guess I feel sorry for you.”
“Don’t,” he gruffly replies. “I don’t need your pity.”
“Yamikage, you’re a dick. You’re selfish, you’re cruel, you don’t know when to shut up while you’re ahead, you cut everyone off because you don't think they're good enough to help you, and you really gotta learn how to talk to people who went through the same shit as you have. I quit liking you the day I figured all that out. I don’t pity you.” Jack pauses to catch his breath, and resumes. “But I don’t hate you, either.”
“Why not? You’ve got every right to.”
“Because I know that you can be a better person. I’ve seen it. You’ve just got to put in the effort to do it.”
Yamikage immediately knows he’s talking about Garlude. Were this conversation under any other circumstance, he’d brush it off and tell Jack that not everyone’s the same. Or maybe crack a remark about how the last time he’d checked, he wasn’t a brainwashed demon beast. This time, he offers a different approach.
“Don’t you ever get tired of this?” he asks. “Of talking to me. Trying to fix me. Tired of someone who, despite everything you give them, doesn’t give you anything back in return?”
“I don’t need anything! I just want to see you happy, that’s all.”
There’s an exceptionally long pause between the two.
“Are you telling me you’re nice for the hell of it?” Yamikage’s bewilderment makes it sound like he’s just described the impossible. “You’re kidding.”
“What’s so weird about that?” Jack asks. “We’re not gonna live forever. Might as well make the most of it while I’m here.” He smiles. “Like my gramps always used to say, follow the ol’ golden rule, and you’re set for life!”
Yamikage can’t help but feel like they’ve had this conversation before. Instead of pressing forward like last time, Jack simply leaves. Yamikage inhales and exhales deeply, and then jumps down from the tree, catching up with the knight and stepping on his cape to get his attention. Jack’s shocked for only a second, but his gaze doesn’t falter as he waits for the ninja to proceed. Yamikage rubs the back of his neck and looks down at the ground.
“I’m... I’m sorry about what happened. You didn’t deserve it.” He looks up and can already tell Jack’s smiling behind his mask. “Neither of you did.”
“It’s a start,” Jack said, patting Yamikage’s shoulder. He turns and heads back to the campfire. “Now get some rest, will ya? I swear, those dark circles of yours are starting to cover up your scar.”
Yamikage doesn’t remember how long it’s been since Jack was taken by one of nightmare’s monsters. Nor does he remember how long ago it was that Garlude and Meta Knight took it upon themselves to reclaim the holy sword Galaxia to save him. All he knows is that Jack’s gone. That Garlude’s gone. That waiting out here is a massive waste of time, that he knows that nothing good can ever come from a situation like this. Still, he waits.
Meta Knight returns alone, the holy sword soaked in blood.
“I… tried.” He whispers.
“I knew you were too weak.” Yamikage taunts.
This time, when Yamikage isolates himself, Meta Knight lets him be. It’s not like he was the one that was good at talking him down. He assumes it should all blow over for Yamikage in a month or so, but as a year comes to pass, he’s still MIA.
The next time Meta Knight sees him, he’s atop a demon beast in the middle of the battlefield.
And Yamikage’s eyes are blood red.