Author Note: I do not own Yugioh or any of the characters from the show. I hope you enjoy this story and I look forward to seeing what people think of it. If you like it please R&R. I don't expect this to be a long story like my other two Yugioh fics, but I think it will be a fun ride as it moves along. Just a warning this story will contain spoilers for Battle City and possibly the Noah's Virtual World saga. This fic has been beta read by Minor Arcana; a big thank you to her for all her help and advice on the story.
Chapter Ten: Embracing Freedom
Morning light pierced the darkened room through the opening between the navy blue curtains, though no where nearly enough to disturb the two sleeping occupants. The two teens were out cold having stayed up far too late the previous evening. It had to have been close to two in the morning, before sleep began to claim the young men who were still resting quietly. They'd had a fun time playing games with Duke in the large room devoted solely to entertainment, and kicking back to relax watching television, snacking on whatever was convenient.
Meanwhile their host was already quite awake, and hard at work. Duke Devlin was sitting in his room in front of his computer working on some new ideas he'd had that had potential as possible new games he could develop. The farthest thing from the young man's mind was the other two teens sleeping off the late night celebration of Joey's first night free from his father's grip. He reached for his drink, an ice-cold can of soda, then took a sip before putting it back onto the coaster on his desk. Despite not being a programmer Duke had an amazing aptitude for articulating his ideas and scripting them out so that others could put them into action.
He'd already been working with some people to get a computer version of his first game Dungeon Dice Monsters released before the summer of next year if all went well and his association with Kaiba Corporation prospered. Duke had met with Seto Kaiba to arrange the terms of their working relationship, and at that time it was planned out that they would work together creating scenarios for a virtual role playing game based on Dungeon Dice Monsters. Making good use of the database Seto Kaiba had created of recreated holographic representations of the images of the cards and the hundreds of monsters his game had in common with the beloved game of Duel Monsters.
When he was working like this he didn't need to have eight hours of sleep under his belt, in fact Duke felt as though he could work better with far less rest. His mind was conditioned to respond to the desire of his will and he desired to create something as unique as Kaiba had with his own virtual role playing game. Being in the virtual world Noah had trapped them in had given the young man motivation to undertake the task of making Dungeon Dice Monsters a virtual adventure game.
It was fortunate for him that being around during the Battle City Tournament, he had impressed the young CEO enough that he had agreed to meet with him at all. One thing Duke knew, he had to keep up his end of their agreement because Kaiba expected people to mean what they said and to meet the deadlines they agree to. Anything else was unacceptable, and Duke knew it was a fantastic opportunity to help solidify his name in the world of gaming. As he continued working his thoughts did drift back to the young man he'd seen stand in defiance of the Ancient Egyptian God Ra twice and live.
'I hope he can find the meaning of freedom here; he's been through so much and I am sure his sister knows nothing about the abuse their dad puts him through. If I have anything to say about it she won't ever know about it if that is Joey's wish. A spirit as strong willed and good hearted as he is deserves to know the reward of the freedom to be what you are inside.'
As hours passed the young man became aware that his guest and new roommate were awake and moving about, taking a morning break from his work, Duke left to spend some time with his friends.
"Are you sure you can't stick around Yugi?" Joey asked, hoping his friend would change his mind.
Yugi shook his head, "I wish I could Joey but grandpa needs me today to help at the shop. You could come with me if you wanted to, but it will probably be pretty boring going through inventory like we have to."
"No, thanks for asking though Yug. I'll just sit here and work on some stuff. I'm glad you could stay over last night though. Call me later if you can," Joey said as he walked with Yugi outside.
"I will Joey. Bye!"
And with that Yugi was on his way back home. Joey felt better today, but he still wasn't fully recovered. He wondered what his dad was up to and if he'd be trying to find him. If he did there was a chance he might try to talk to Yugi. But Joey had already told Yugi to tell him that he hadn't seen him if that happened. Joey needed time to get his petition filed hopefully getting it granted without the need for a hearing. The bruises on his face would probably be enough evidence to earn him his freedom, but if they needed more his arms were still pretty battered.
'I doubt they would do anything to help dad though. He needs to stop drinking but I don't see him doing that on his own accord any time soon.'
Heading back up to his room Joey passed by Duke in the upstairs hallway. He decided that he should talk to him about his plans and now was as good of a time as any to do that.
"Hey Duke? I've been thinking and looking online and I think that tomorrow after school I need to go by the courthouse to file a petition to become emancipated from my father. Do you think you could take me by there after classes are over?"
Duke nodded, "Absolutely Joey. I knew you'd have to get the ball rolling on that. I already have a letter printed up that I'll sign in front of the clerk there so the judge can see that you'll be living here with me, going to school and working here part time."
"Thanks Duke. I think that will be enough to persuade the judge to grant it for me. Can I ask you something?"
"Sure Joey, what?"
Duke smiled and Joey's expression was dark as he thought about the best way to form the question that had been in his mind since Duke made the offer to him to move in here with him.
"What made you ask me to move in with you?" Joey asked, his tone serious and unmocking.
Duke's smile faded and he lowered his eyes, "I-I felt you needed to get away from your dad Joey. I knew your face was messed up and I hated to think of you getting beat up by your dad. It was your dad that did that to you wasn't it?"
Nodding Joey understood from the sincerity Duke emanated that Yugi had not broken his promise, "Yeah it was. So you just figured it out on your own that he was knocking me around then?"
Duke cleared his throat and looked very uncomfortable, but both young men knew that it was better that they got things out in the open now anyway, so he nodded.
"I thought so. But I wanted to make sure. Look Duke, I don't want to cramp your style or anything and I want to pay my way around here so I want you to treat me like you would any other guy working for you ok?" Joey winked and Duke laughed.
"Sure thing Joey. You don't have to worry about me though, I will let you know if something's bugging me. I hope you're not offended that I asked you to move in with me like I did."
"Not at all Duke. Actually quite the opposite, I am grateful you care enough about me to do such a thing for me. I just had to make sure you knew what I have in mind for the future, specifically getting out from under my old man's grip."
"You can count on my help Joey. You're too nice to be treated like that. If you want to give Serenity a call to let her know you're staying here you can just use the phone in your room or anywhere here instead of using your cell phone."
Joey grinned at the mention of his sister, "Yeah I should give her a call. Thanks for everything Duke; you're a real pal to be looking out for me like this. My sister doesn't know anything about all this and I only want her to know I moved out, not the reasons behind it. You know I don't think I could accept this kind of help from any other person, but you."
Duke returned Joey's smile and nodded as he reached a hand to the blonde's shoulder, "Well you and Yugi showed me what true friendship is and because of that there was no way I could just ignore what was happening to you Joey. Friends don't run away or ignore someone they care about in pain. They do whatever it takes to support and empower each other through good times and bad."
"I want you to know how much it means to me that you'd put yourself on the line for me like this. I have to give my notice to my boss at the newspaper that this will be my last two weeks with them as long as you're still sure you want me to start working here with you."
"Of course I'm sure, it's up to you though what you'd like to do. Whenever you're ready to start is fine with me. Getting your situation taken care of is more important so we'll focus on that first. What do you say we grab some lunch and maybe play a few rounds of backgammon on that board I saw on your desk."
"Sounds like a plan Duke, lead the way."
Duke gave his friend's shoulder a squeeze before he started off towards the kitchen to fix something for lunch with Joey right behind him.
The next day as school let out, a somber faced man scanned the groups of kids that left the campus. When a tall blonde appeared with a few other teens the man's beady red rimmed eyes narrowed hatefully. He obviously recognized the young man who waved farewell to three of his friends as he walked beside a black haired teen, heading towards an older styled light green Cadillac. Long fingers with dry cracked skin, scarred and callused from years of hard labor, gripped the paper-covered beer can, sitting on the seat between his legs. He waited for the dark haired kid to led him to where he needed to go; to find the hideout his son had fled to so he could forcefully take the little dirtbag back home to kick around his castle the way it should be.
On the other side of the parking lot was a black car with a man wearing sunglasses and a dark blue suit watched, following close behind Jim Wheeler, who followed Duke Devlin all the way back to the Black Crown. Although Jim drove past the Game Shop, he'd confirmed Joey was carrying his backpack as he walked up to the glass doors, which lead him to believe that this was where his son was staying. The man wearing the dark suit and sunglasses pulled a block away from the Game Shop in front of a strip mall where he then took out a cell phone, and made a call. As he watched the doors close and the targets go out of his view, he asked to speak to Seto Kaiba. When a deep voice answered from a speakerphone he recognized the voice of his boss.
"Kaiba here," came the slightly impatient greeting.
"Yes sir. Mason reporting in. You were right sir. They were followed. What are your orders?"
"Was it the same man from the photos you took of the house on Beacon Drive?"
"Yes sir, shall I stay and remain on guard for his presence?"
"Yes Mason, keep me informed if you see something that endangers my interests don't hesitate to use force to keep your targets safe."
"Yes sir Mr. Kaiba sir," the man said compliant as ever.
"Good." Seto said matter of factly.
Setting up the dashboard camera the man readied the tools his employer had given him to adequately fulfill his appointed task, to protect Duke Devlin and Joey Wheeler. As long as his orders were to tail the two teens, Arthur Mason would enforce Kaiba's wishes without a second thought. Even if it meant he had to get involved, he knew how to defend himself in hand to hand combat and was confident he could take down that fumbling drunk one that was a parent of one of his targets had fled from without even breaking a sweat.
'I half hope he tries something to give me an excuse to hand some pain to that bastard. No kid should have to put up with that bullshit. If Kaiba wanted to he could document the abuse from the dated photos I took that his kid was bruised and obviously beaten. Yes, I'm sure the police would be very interested in what we have on this low life scum.'
Anger boiled deeply within the man. Having seen the benevolent attitude of the cavalier young man he'd been following and seen in the library and at the apartment of the lady duelist who had been a beta tester Kaiba Corporation had employed before, Arthur Mason was impressed with him. He was glad the young store owner and game developer had opened his home to the kid, it was a good move for him to get out of the dangerous environment his irrational father created at the house on Beacon Drive.
Half an hour later Duke and Joey left with Mason following them from behind, the homing device he'd affixed to the Cadillac the night before capable of tracking their location so he could lose visual contact yet regain it easily enough. After having seen evidence of the young blonde moving in with the associate of Kaiba, the device had been deployed to help aid him in eluding detection by either the targets or anyone else. It was no surprise to him that Mr. Kaiba had predicted this next place so precisely, but he had. He'd told Mason that odds were heavily in favor of the young duelist going to the courthouse to take the first steps in taking control over his life.
The two young men were oblivious to the presence of a real life Jack Havoc type who'd taken on the business interests related to their safety. Had Joey been able to distinguish between Arthur Mason and all the other drivers around them, he would have been impressed by the equipment he had with him. Kaiba hadn't authorized him to directly spy and record the two teens, but rather to monitor the scenes from the outside to watch out for anyone who might be inclined to hurt them. Parking out of visual distance of the courthouse, the man got out of his black car, with a newspaper under his arm.
Carrying it over to a bench where people waited for the city buses to pick them up, Arthur Mason sat down and waited. It was almost forty-five minutes later that Joey and Duke appeared leaving the building. Mr. Mason waited until they were in the car before moving from the bench. He didn't even look at the two young men, instead allowed his very tiny camcorder to be his eyes as he trained upon them. Once they were on the road he got up and followed them back to the Black Crown. It was getting close to dinnertime and his relief would be here shortly. He didn't like to take evenings off, and tonight he felt especially opposed to just clocking out and leaving this task up to someone else.
'I just have a bad feeling about this weirdo. I think he is the type who could snap and try to take out as many people with him as he can, preferably his own son who he is angry at because he dared to stand up to him by moving out.' Arthur thought miserably. 'I think I understand why you assigned me to this sir. Because you wish someone had been able to save you the way you saved Mokuba. Seeing this young man in trouble brings back memories of your own abusive past at the hands of an adoptive father who held you in contempt like this man holds his son in.'
He knew better then to ever speak of this to his boss, but that didn't mean he couldn't think about it and understand Kaiba's motives for doing something like this. Mason had been with Kaiba Corp for over ten years so he could remember what things were like under Gozaburo Kaiba before Seto came into the picture. It was still as strong, if not a stronger knit company under Seto's control then it was under its first namesake. He admired Seto and this reaffirmed the older man's judgement of his employer being a good and kind person deep down.
As he waited for the second shift relief team to appear he played back the tape he made of the teens leaving the courthouse. He could easily see fear gripping the blonde despite his smile. His body language spoke of practiced fight or flight impulses, while Duke on the other hand walked with an air of confidence he recognized his boss also conducted himself with. But being a good reader of people, Arthur could tell that while he was walking casually, the raven-haired teen had been scanning around himself and his blonde friend as they'd made their way to his car.
'Smart kid. Hopefully that drunken fool will leave well enough alone and I can return to more Kaiba Corp related business again.'
Joey was sitting in front of his computer chatting with Mai as he was writing in another window. She was glad to hear he'd gotten the paperwork started that would grant him control over his life and that he was set to go before the judge next week. He had thought about calling his sister but decided to wait until he was closer to his goal of winning his legal rights to free him from parental control. It had been difficult filling the long statement form but Duke had sat with him, helping him along through it. Looking around this room, he knew that he'd made the right decision to act now because days ago he'd felt helpless.
Now he was beginning to feel something he'd only ever tasted when he would accompany Yugi and the gang on one of their adventures and they only had each other to lean on to get through it all. Then how he'd felt with Mai, how being alone with her made him feel and that he could feel it even now despite that they weren't in the same room together, just being able to talk in the chat off the Black Crown main site was comforting. He felt so good that he'd been able to get his petition filed and that he was in a safe place now, where he could relax for the first time in a long time.
'Things are definitely looking up for me now,' he thought to himself.
He'd asked Mai to go out with him that coming Friday evening since he was certain she'd agree to go out. They flirted playfully, with him asking her what she had on and her doing the same with him. It was a fun way to wind down after a long day at school. Joey was excited that it seemed that his life was at last moving in a positive direction after being in a dark hole for so long, it felt fantastic to step out into the light. He chatted with Mai for three hours before they finally said goodnight to each other.
Then he got up to indulge in a long leisurely shower, blowing his hair dry before heading back to his room for bed. His last thoughts lingered on how exhilarating it felt to be free, even if he didn't know what he would end up doing with his life, but for the first time in his seventeen years, he felt he was up to facing the challenge of finding out along the way. One thing his father had instilled in him over the years, was a hard working ethic and a general respect for other working people. He knew he wouldn't be working in a game store in ten years, but if working at one now helped him until he was set up with his desired career then he'd work at the Black Crown proudly.