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.
Dog Days Chapter Thirteen: Freedom
After leaving the courthouse, Joey and Duke headed out to Domino Mall. They were going to go do a little shopping as because Joey had a big weekend coming up with Mai, and so Duke had insisted upon getting him some new threads, as he put it. The radio was up, but not so loud that the two couldn't talk. Duke had put the top down so the wind was ruffling their hair. He liked to drive with the top down and Joey enjoyed the rush of air around him. It was an exhilarating feeling.
He looked back at how hard it had been to look at his father and wondered what he would do now. There hadn't been any fight from him outright and everyone involved from the court didn't know what kind of man his father was, or how vengeful he could be. Standing there, defiantly reaching for freedom as he had, was definitely the most empowering thing he could do in his life to make things easier.
'/I sure am lucky to have Duke, Mai, Yugi and the others. Dad doesn't have anyone, but that's really his own fault for not wanting to make friends or try to make an effort to make his family happy when he had the chance.' /
"So where are we off to first, Joey?" Duke asked, glancing briefly at the blonde teen.
"Eh, whatever. You decide, man. I'm in no hurry to go anywhere."
"Oh yeah? Well let's go to the leather shop. If you don't mind, I want to get a pair of boots and thought getting you a pair would be my way of saying how proud I am of you for standing up for yourself like you did. That was really something, man."
"Aw, Duke, it's me who be showing you gratitude. You've done so much for me. I didn't really expect that weasel guy that was defending Dad to go after us like he did. That really took me by surprise, but you; you knew it might come out, didn't you, Duke?" Joey asked, looking over to see Duke make a turn onto the road that led to the mall's parking lot.
"It was nothing, Joey. After what the Big 5 and Noah put us all through, I've learnt to anticipate trouble and prepare for it. It was no secret about our duel, or mine with Yugi. I am surprised he didn't go on about the Battle City Tournament though, you know?"
Joey murmured, "Mm hmm, me too."
Duke put the top up and skillfully parked his car. He smiled at Joey before opening his door to get out. Joey had the passenger door open and then stood, exiting the car. Slowly the two teens walked up to the mall entrance and talked quietly, neither seeming to notice the black sedan that drove around to find a parking spot. They were already inside when a man wearing a tan sports jacket, a ball cap and blue jeans made eye contact with the driver of the black sedan before following the two friends inside.
It was close to lunchtime by the time that they got done in the leather store. They walked towards the food court where they would get something for lunch before going back out to get some blue jeans. Duke had gotten Joey a couple of leather wristbands and they had gotten black leather boots. Joey didn't think he'd wear them too much as they were really stiff and would take forever to break in. As they were deciding which place to go to next, Joey's cell phone rang. He reached to his back pocket and answered the buzzing phone.
A soft feminine voice answered him back, "Hello, Joseph. How did it go? I couldn't wait any longer, I just have to know how it went."
"Hi, Mai. Things went fine. I got it and am at the mall. What's up?"
"Nothing now. I feel so much better. You did it Joey! You must be so proud to have gotten through this. I'm proud of you!"
Joey grinned, "Thanks, Mai. I couldn't have done any of this without you and Duke and the guys. It's good to know who your friends are."
Duke reached a hand up to Joey's back, squeezing his shoulder before he lowering his hand back to his own pants pocket. "I didn't doubt for a second that any reasonable judge would have seen how you needed to be set free from all that. I don't want to keep you held up, Joey; call me later, ok?"
"Ok, and thanks, Mai. Thanks for everything. I'll talk to you later then. Bye."
"Bye," Mai said, after which she hung up.
"Things are really turning around for you, Joey. I had a feeling you had feelings for Mai back even before we were on the blimp. It was obvious to me that she only had eyes for you."
"You really think so Duke?" Joey asked, his expression one of wonder.
"Well, duh! Hello? Earth to Joey? What planet have you been living on?"
Duke nudged Joey lightheartedly in his ribs, making him laugh, "All right, so I'm just shy about it. It is nice, though, to have you to talk to. I hope you know how much I appreciate everything you've been doing for me. No matter what that jerk dug up about us, none of it is anything to be ashamed of."
"In fact I was known to tease Yugi way back when. I was a little prick towards him, goodness knows why. Looking back, it was probably jealousy that he didn't seem to have half the shit bad I did in life. Anyway, as ashamed as I am of all that, nothing compares to standing there after he defeated me and went on to beat Pegasus; he still gave me the prize money so Serenity could get her eye surgery. That's the power of true friendship and friendships will withstand a little rocky road."
"Speaking of rocky road, Joey, I have a sweet tooth today so save some room for ice cream."
Joey laughed and followed his friend to go wait in line for some sandwiches and chips. They talked as they ate and Joey couldn't stop from smiling. Yugi was his best friend, of that there was no doubt, and Tristan and he went back more years then he could count, but Duke was proving himself to be as a true of a friend as either of them. It was days like this that made Joey feel anything was truly possible within the realm of potential; dream itandmake it happen That was just how he felt right now.
After they finished eating, they went out to shop some more; although neither young man would ever admit, even under pain of death, that they had enjoyed shopping together. Anyone who had cared enough to notice would have seen it evident in the smiles on their faces. All throughout their afternoon excursion they had been silently observed from a distance. Despite having noticed three different people acting suspicious, Duke was getting anxious to head back to the Black Crown.
Duke shook his head after spotting a forth man who was watching them from the level above, trying to look like he was just looking around once he'd noticed Duke staring at him.
'/Whoever is behind all this must have a reason for wanting to see what we're up to. I just hope I'm right and it's Kaiba and not something or someone much more insidious. That we definitely do not need to deal with right now.' /
Right now, he wished he wasn't so aware of the peculiar onlookers he'd been spotting lately. There had been two at the courthouse when they left. As they headed into a department store to get some jeans, Duke wondered if they had listening equipment focused on them whenever they were out in public like this. Of course, in the courthouse it would've been close to impossible to get any such device into the building, but here in the mall or out in the parking lot of the Black Crown there would be no such problem.
Looking at his watch, Duke noted it was after two. School got out at three and he figured that Joey would probably want to see or at least talk to Yugi.
Without even noticing, Duke nervously reached for a lock of his hair at his left temple, twirling it around his fingers as they went to the man's clothing department. Soon he'd put aside several pairs of jeans and some new accessories. It felt good to have someone to care about like this. For Duke, it was definitely a noticeable difference from the life he'd known before ever coming to Domino.
He'd been careless and haughty, so firm in his belief that Yugi was a cheater and that that was the only way someone as young and new to the scene could have beaten someone like Seto Kaiba, let alone Maximillion Pegasus. The whole thing had been a carefully orchestrated plan on his twisted father's urging. After Yugi had claimed the Duelist Kingdom Champion title and beaten his former idol, it had all become about taking that boy down.
He'd born a grudge against the Moutou family long before he or Yugi had been born. It went back over twenty-five years and wasn't a pretty story. Duke had somehow been able to forgive his father for all the abuse he'd endured during the final years he'd spent with him. But even though he'd forgiven him, he didn't feel he could ever trust or look up to the broken man again. He'd learned a lot about how hero worship is merely just misplaced energy; you get the power to defeat an enemy when you're fighting for more then just yourself. You've got to make out a plan, set it in motion and try to avoid any potential stumbling blocks along the way.
Now Duke found he admired people like Seto Kaiba and Joey Wheeler, though he knew if either of them were to hear that thought spoken aloud neither would admit that the other has admirable qualities about them that Duke had no problems seeing. Maybe in time he could open up to Joey about what he'd gone through.
As Duke handed Joey a leather choker studded necklace, he smiled innocently, preparing to deliver a small joke to focus him more in the present then allowing himself to get lost in thoughts of the past.
"I bet that fits you to a tee. I think it would look nice with that blue tank top. I bet Mai would like it on you with those acid washed jeans."
Joey scoffed the choker until Duke picked up another and then without even needing a mirror, Duke put it around his neck and snapped it into place. He then shook his head after spotting a forth man who was watching them from the level above, trying to look like he was just looking around.
"I'll get one too; what do you say?" Duke chuckled, watching Joey try to put the one on he'd handed him.
"Oh, what the hell! It looks cool on you," Joey said, snapping the choker into place.
"Cool! A new belt and a few bandanas and we're good to go."
"I'm right behind you, man."
Joey grinned as he navigated the racks of shirts and pants until they got to the area where they kept socks and hats. Joey rolled his eyes when Duke picked up a hat and tossed it over to him.
"What is this? It looks like one of those hats guys that drive cabs wear in the movies. It's kinda cool though,"
"I like this one in red. What do you think? Does it look better then the black and red one?" Duke switched to the second hat and Joey nodded.
"That one is better. This one's more my style. Of course, the hat and choker might be a little much in my case."
Duke laughed and left the hat on. As they passed the area where sunglasses were, Duke pulled Joey over and picked out a pair with small round black lens and took out a second pair for himself. After a look in one of the mirrors, they added them to their new acquisitions that they took to the checkout lane to pack up everything and get it all paid for. It was about fifteen to three when they made their way out to the car. Even though they had the sunglasses and hats on, Duke noticed the same people he'd seen before as they left.
'/I hope I'm not being paranoid, I'll have to run the videotape from home later and see what I notice from it. It might be time to talk to Seto about all of this, even if all it ends up doing is showing him that I am not stupid nor unobservant about people in my surroundings.' /
That thought reverberated within the raven haired young man all throughout the drive back to his haven; the black crown. It was the one place he was confident he could keep his friend safe from harm that would come of him had he been elsewhere. He drove home carefully, noticing one of the cars from the mall was following them, despite trying to appear otherwise, and Duke recognized the driver as one of the men he'd seen today at the courthouse parking lot.
There was no doubt in his mind that he would bring it up later with Seto to see his reaction to it. If he owned up to being the one behind the appearance of these unknown people being around the Black Crown and anywhere else he and Joey went, then Duke would thank him for his concern. He completely expected Seto Kaiba to deny it and say he'd had nothing to do with it. Still, Duke hoped that he could pick up on something, no matter how small, regarding his reaction that he could comfort himself with the knowledge that he'd been right.
"Hey, Duke? I'm going to call Yugi and let him know how things went today. Do you need me for anything for the next hour or so?" Joey asked Duke, as he was at the entrance to his room.
"Nope, you go ahead and call Yugi and if you want to have Mai over or Yugi just go for it. I gotta put away all these new duds, so if you need me I am going to be in my room for a little while." Duke smiled and Joey nodded.
Parting ways, both teens entered their bedrooms, closing their doors behind them.
'/I need to go over the footage the camera caught for the past few days. I bet I'll see those same men at least once or twice. If I can get some notes down about what I see from the camera then I should be able to have something to confront Kaiba with later.' /
With that thought in mind, Duke went to boot up his computer, laying his bags of new clothes on the bed. After entering his password, he waited for the computer to finish loading as he sat down at his desk. Then he began the tedious task of combing over the footage that his system had recorded from the camera pointed down at the parking lot and front of the Black Crown. It wouldn't be easy, but Duke was determined to see a pattern to all these sightings of men who had been following his and Joey's every move.
Joey put the bags on his dresser and reached for the phone on the nightstand next to his bed. He dialed up the number for Yugi's place and waited for someone to answer. On the third ring, Yugi's grandfather answered and Joey asked if Yugi was home yet. Solomon told him he was and that he'd get him for him, then he put the phone down and Joey chuckled upon hearing the old man call upstairs for his grandson to get the phone.
"Ok, thanks grandpa! Hi Joey! I missed you and Duke in school today. How did everything go this morning?"
"Hi, Yug! Yeah it all went over in my favor, thank god. I'm legally able to make my own choices with my life now. Oh man, you should have seen that judge! Yug, you would have flipped over at how she was acting to the guy defending my dad. It was hysterical, the way she bitched at him for trying to turn things around and spin it like everything was my fault somehow. Needless to say she didn't buy it."
Yugi laughed, "Oh wow! You won? That's great, Joey!"
"Yeah, it's pretty great that I don't have to live with all that anymore. It wasn't fun facing him today but I know I did the right thing. It does no good to try to help him; he doesn't want to be helped. But I did need help, so thank goodness Duke was there for me, you know?"
"Yup, I sure do. Duke really has been there for you and I'm so glad too. I knew he always liked you. I know you wouldn't have wanted to stay here with me and grandpa, but if I could have had you come here to live, Joey, I would have," Yugi's tone was solemn.
"I know Yugi; don't worry about it. That's part of why I hid this crap for so long. I didn't want to upset you with it all. And if your grandpa knew, well I would just be mortified if he found out."
"He won't, Joey, not unless you tell him. I'm just glad you did confide in me and that things are working out for you."
"Thanks, man. Hey, Yug? Did anyone suspect anything today when we both we absent?" Joey asked, concerned for what their friends might think.
"Nope, no one thought much about it, I just said I didn't know where you guys were. Thanks for calling, Joey. I was wondering how it went today."
"Yeah, I had to let you know, Yugi. I know how worried you've been over this. But it's all straight up from here on out now. Look, I'd better let you go. I know you've got homework and I should probably get a start on mine. Since I know what we were going to do in math and biology today I can get a head start on the make up work."
"Ok. Talk to you tomorrow, then?"
"Sure thing, Yug. See you in school."
"Bye," Yugi said, his voice cheerful and excited.
Joey hung up the phone and went to the deck in his room. It wasn't just something he'd said to Yugi; he was going to get a leg up on the homework that had been assigned today. He felt really happy to be freed from the bondage he'd endured to his father, and doing homework like any other seventeen-year old kid was something he could now feel safe doing. It struck him that he might even upload the next chapter to his story that he'd finished up last night. That would be the last thing he did before he went to sleep. Maybe he would even be able to see some reviews on his latest chapter before heading off to school in the morning.
Jim reached into the fridge for his sixth beer to console himself over the ordeal of seeing Joey in court. He was seething over how that social worker had been in to see his brat and the little bastard hadn't said one word to him about it. On the one hand, the upside to this turn of events was that he no longer had to be responsible for the boy anymore. But the downside was that he was alone now. It was something Jim Wheeler hated. It was quiet in the little house, too quiet.
Cracking open the pop-top on the beer, Jim strolled out to the living room.
"I bet you come back trying to get back in here to make my life hell. I give it a week before you come crawling back to me," Jim muttered, as he sat down in his recliner.
He reached for the remote and turned on the television, putting on some talk show. There was a teenage mother of two on, who was getting paternity testing done on three different men. She was certain that one of them was the father of one of her kids and the other she was certain of being the father of her infant boy. The moaning man was ranting about how she'd lied to him.
Jim laughed evilly, silently agreeing with the pissed off young man that women were liars and manipulators. Looking at the ceiling, Jim thought back to when his wife and daughter had been with him. He remembered the arguing and the night he'd lost control and hit her. That night was when she had taken Serenity away with her and left that whiney brat in his care. Sighing, Jim rolled his eyes as he remembered her angry words that had provoked his wrath that night so long ago.
"/Jim, you are so selfish! How can you just sit there when I am trying to tell you that your daughter needs help? She isn't doing well in kindergarten and the teacher thinks she might have trouble seeing. For god's sake! Don't you care that she might need glasses?" /
"/Oh shut up, woman! I don't care what some damned teacher said. The girl is fine and the teacher is the one with the problem. My daughter doesn't need to go see some damned doctor to get glasses that will only result in her getting teased by the other kids. Use your head!" Jim shouted angrily, slamming his fist on the kitchen counter. /
"/Shhhh! Jim, you're going to wake the kids! Lower your voice, will you; please?" /
"/Oh, so I will wake up the kids, eh? You come in here trying to get me to let you take her to some quack and let him put glasses on her just because some teacher said she might need them? You've got no brains in that head of yours!" /
Jim closed his eyes, trying to forget what had come next. How he had yanked her by the wrists over to him and then backhanded her with the force he had built up with his anger. The guilt was heavy, but in the scheme of things it wasn't as bad as how he'd gone after Joey when he'd returned from that tournament with the money to save Serenity's eyesight.
His thoughts moved to that memory and he grimly remembered how his ex wife had refused to let him see their daughter when she'd been in town. Joey had gotten to see her plenty, but when Jim had gone to the hospital he had been turned away, told by the nurse that he wasn't allowed to see her because of the restraining order her mother had out against. Mind you, it was nice that he didn't have to put up with that bratty boy asking questions or trying to push him into letting him go somewhere on his own with those friends of his.
"I'm better off without you, you stupid bastard. You can rot in hell for all I care."
Jim let his mind go back to the talk show and laughed when the results of the testing they'd done showed that none of the three men were possible fathers of the girl's two kids. He laughed so hard that he got a sharp pain in his side. It was funny seeing how the 'mom' ran off stage to try to compose herself, yet the three men followed, as did the cameras. He was glad for the distraction as he polished off his sixth beer and prepared to get his next one.
"Fine, keep me informed, Mr. Johnson," came the low voiced reply.
"Yes, sir. If anything happens we're on it."
"As I would expect you to be. If that's all, I have work to return to," Seto Kaiba answered, dismissing the man on the other end of the phone.
"Yes, Mr. Kaiba sir."
Seto hung up the phone and sat back in his leather chair, not at all surprised that things had gone in the mutt's favor. Joey had proven himself to be very resourceful when he needed to be and Seto smiled, thinking that now he was safe to try to go on with his life now that his father was out of it. An email came in just then and Seto went to open it. It was from Duke; he was asking to meet up with him and talk.
This probably has nothing to do with the game we're collaborating on and everything to do with the people I have tailing those two. It's time to throw Duke a bone, he thought, as he opened the instant-messaging program that would allow him and Duke to talk. Even if it isn't the truth he is seeking, I think he will get the point.
As he waited for the program to log him in, Seto sat back and smiled.