Friends Till the End
By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters aren't mine! Just the story idea; and many thanx to JP for the title and also for his help in moving the plot along! :^) Hope y'all enjoy, and this ISN'T slash! ^_~

It was a rainy day in Domino City, and best buds Joey and Tristan were hanging out at Tristan's house before school.

"So Tristan, man, you got any grape jelly?" Joey asked, leaning back in a kitchen chair with some slices of Wonder bread.

Tristan laughed and shook his head. "That gross stuff? No way! But I have something much better—raspberry preserves."

Joey brought the chair down to the floor with a crash. "Really, man? You don't like grape jelly? I never knew that about you, man."

"No, I never could stand the stuff, Joey," Tristan shrugged.

"Wow, man, that's kinda weird," Joey said casually, turning on the radio. "I thought everyone liked grape jelly."

Tristan covered his ears. "Oh, man, Joey, turn off that racket!!" he exclaimed. "It's making the furniture vibrate!"

"Racket?! Tristan, this is music, man! Get with it!" Joey jumped up and started to dance to the beat.

"You want music? *This* is music, Joey," Tristan said, changing the station. "That other stuff is just plain noise."

Joey froze. "You call that music?! That's horrible! That can't even be compared with music, Tristan! *That's* what racket is!!"

Tristan crossed his arms. "For you information, that's refined, cultured music."

"Refined?! Heeey, whaddya know about refined?!" Joey yelled.

"More than you," Tristan snapped. "You're just a wild, tough guy from Brooklyn who likes to pick fights and talk about yourself!"

Joey's eyes went wide and then narrowed in anger. "Oh yeah? Well, you're just a stuck-up, tight-lipped brat without any concept of fun! Man, you know, I don't even know how we could even stand to hang around each other! We don't have anything in common!"

"You're right there," Tristan said hotly. "Maybe we shouldn't hang out anymore."

"Maybe we shouldn't," Joey agreed. "Here—take your dumb preserves!" he yelled, shoving the jar at the other boy.

"Take your stupid music!" Tristan screamed back, throwing the radio at his former friend.

"Man, I don't wanna see you anymore!" Joey declared.

"And I'd be perfectly happy if you'd just drop off the face of the earth!" Tristan retorted.

"Fine," Joey said, heading for the door. "Maybe I'll do just that!" He slammed the door hard.

Tristan stared at the closed door for a long time and then said angrily, "Big dummy. Good riddance!"
"Hey, Tristan," Yugi greeted when he saw his friend coming into the school later that day.

"Hey, Yugi," Tristan said distractedly.

"Is everything okay, Tristan?" Yugi asked, concerned.

"Where's Joey?" Tea wondered.

Tristan shrugged. "Probably goofing off somewhere," he muttered. "That'd be just like him."

"Oh dear . . . did you and Joey have a fight?" Bakura asked.

Tristan didn't answer, which was interpreted as a yes.

"Well, I'm sure you can work things out with him, Tristan," Yugi said, trying to sound cheerful. "After all, you and Joey are best friends."

"Not anymore," Tristan grumbled. "I never want to see that idiot again!"

"Tristan, you can't mean that," Yugi gasped.

"I sure do," Tristan growled. "I'd be perfectly happy if he'd just go away and not come back."

"Tristan!" Tea gasped. "How can you say such a thing?!"

Tristan shrugged.
"Outta my way," Joey grumped, pushing past two confused students. He had tried to play hooky from school, but it hadn't worked out. He walked on down the corridor angrily and shoved someone else to the side, then banged into another boy.

"Do you mind telling me why you're on a rampage today, Wheeler?" Seto Kaiba asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You know, actually I do mind!" Joey snapped. "So why dontcha just shut up and go build some new technological breakthrough before I give you a knuckle sandwich?!" He pushed past Kaiba and entered the homeroom.

Seto's eyes narrowed. He hated for anyone to speak to him like that, especially Joey Wheeler. He wondered why the guy was in such a bad mood today.
"Drat!" Joey muttered at lunchtime. "The salt's on the other side of the table!" He turned to the person next to him. "Hey, Tea, tell Tristan to pass the salt."

"What?!" Tea gasped. "Joey, why can't you just ask him yourself?"

"Talk to that stuck-up jerk? You've gotta be kiddin'!" Joey said flatly.

"But Joey . . ." Yugi protested.

"No buts, Yug," Joey interrupted.

At the other end of the table, Bakura turned to the hazel-eyed boy next to him. "Tristan, don't you think . . ."

"No, I don't think," Tristan grumbled. "I don't want to talk to that empty-headed windbag!"

Joey stood up angrily. "Empty-headed?! Ooh . . . I'll give you empty-headed—I'll knock all your brains out—if you even have any!"

"Stop!" Tea cried, as people from other tables turned to look. "This is terrible! You two are best friends! You shouldn't be acting like this! Why can't you just shake hands and make up?!"

"Because we're not friends any more," Tristan replied, getting up and leaving the cafeteria.

"That's right," Joey agreed and also left in a huff, going in the opposite direction.
"Has anyone seen Joey?" Yugi asked worriedly after school. "I haven't seen him since lunch!"

"I saw him," came Seto's cold voice. "He took off in that junk heap of a car he's been trying to master as soon as the final bell rang."

"What?!" Tea gasped.

"He could get hurt!" Yugi exclaimed. "Joey drives recklessly, and when he's so upset he might not be paying attention to what he's doing!" He looked up at the sky. "And it looks like it might rain again, too!" he exclaimed. The rain had stopped a few scant moments before, but the sky looked as if it would split open again before long.

They turned to look at Tristan to see what his reaction would be to that. He only grunted in an "I couldn't care less" kind of way and walked off.

"I'll be on the lookout for him," Seto promised.
True to his word, Seto and his chauffeur watched for Joey's car as they drove down the streets. Seto let out an involuntary gasp when he saw the automobile had crashed at the edge of the road. "Stop," he ordered, and the chauffeur complied.

Quickly Seto got out of the limo and ran over to the car. Joey was slumped against the driver's door, motionless. He had been wearing his seatbelt, and that had probably saved him from being thrown out through the windshield, but he was bleeding from a deep gash on his left temple and several cuts on his arms. He looked as though he was injured very badly.

"Call 911!" Seto yelled to the chauffeur. He looked down at the ground. The crash had created a gas leak, and he knew that the car could go up in flames any moment. He had to get Joey out of there . . . and fast.

He pried the door open and grabbed Joey's limp form. "Wheeler, can you hear me?" he asked, not really expecting an answer. He didn't get one. After undoing the seatbelt, he gently pulled the boy's body out of the car and carried him over to a grassy spot off the road. He laid Joey in the grass and then knelt down next to him, checking for any signs of life. The blonde boy was breathing, but only very shallowly.

"Come on, Wheeler, don't die on me," Seto muttered. He noticed what looked like a picture held tightly in Joey's hand and gently pried it free. He stared at it briefly and then slipped it into his pocket for safe-keeping.

He looked up when he heard an ambulance's siren approaching. The vehicle stopped and two paramedics got out. Seto decided to let them take over. "How is he?" he asked after they'd examined Joey and were administering oxygen. "Will he survive?"

One of the paramedics looked at Seto grimly. "He's not responsive at all, and he's lost a lot of blood. People have been killed in car crashes less severe than this one." He paused. "Frankly, it doesn't look hopeful."

Seto nodded slowly and pulled out his cell phone. "Yugi?" he said when he heard the other boy's familiar voice come on the line. "I found Wheeler. He's been in an accident."

Yugi gasped. "What?!" He paused. "I was afraid something like that would happen," he said softly. "Is he hurt bad, Kaiba?" he asked.

Seto was silent for a long time, then finally replied, "They don't think he's going to make it, Yugi. You'd better gather your friends and get to the hospital fast." He hung up.
Yugi stared at the phone for a long time, then turned to Tea and Bakura. "Joey's hurt," he told them solemnly. "We need to get to the hospital . . . now!"

"Oh no," Tea said, her eyes filling with tears. "Poor Joey!"

The three teens headed for the door, but suddenly Yugi turned back. "Bakura, do you know where Tristan is?" he asked.

Bakura shook his head. "I think he went off sulking somewhere," he said. "Perhaps he went to the arcade."

"Well, we'll need to find him," Yugi said seriously. He tried calling Tristan's house, but there was no answer. Grampa Muto then drove the three teens to the arcade to look.

"I don't see him here, either," Yugi sighed worriedly.

"What should we do?" Tea wondered anxiously.

"We could try the park," Bakura suggested. "Sometimes he goes there to take walks."

"That's true," Yugi said thoughtfully. "Let's go there. He'll want to know about Joey," he said softly.

The others nodded, silently praying that Joey would live.
"Hey, is that him?" Tea exclaimed, pointing at an angry-looking figure in the distance who was kicking at the ground in apparent frustration.

"Yes, it is," Yugi confirmed and hurried over to him, with the others following suit.

"Tristan!" he called, and the other boy looked up.

"What is it?" Tristan asked grouchily.

"Tristan we've been looking for you everywhere," Bakura declared.

"We have some bad news," Tea said sadly.

"Yeah? Did Joey eat all the pizza again?" Tristan said sarcastically.

"Tristan, Joey was in an accident," Yugi said softly.

Tristan stared at him. "What?!" he demanded. "How is he?"

"Not good," Yugi told him. "We should get to the hospital right away."

Tristan nodded numbly and followed them out of the park. "Big dummy," he muttered. "He should've known better than to drive in the rain." He was trying not to show emotion, but the others could see the worry in his eyes.
When they arrived at the hospital, they found Seto in the waiting room.

"Hey, Kaiba," Yugi greeted. "Is there any news?"

Seto nodded slowly. "But it doesn't look good," he replied. "They almost lost him a couple of times, and . . ."

He was interrupted by the doctor coming into the room. "Are you Joseph Wheeler's friends?" he asked.

Yugi nodded. "Yes, we are," he said.

"Is he going to be okay?" Tristan demanded.

The doctor sighed. "It's a miracle he's even alive at all. The car was completely totaled." He paused. "If he regains consciousness he should be alright, but it's not as simple as that. He may never wake up."

"Isn't there anything you can do?!" Tristan pleaded. "He's my best buddy! He can't die!"

The doctor laid a hand on Tristan's shoulder. "We've done all we can," he said softly.

"Can we see him?" Yugi asked.

The doctor nodded. "Come with me."

He led them down a long corridor, finally stopping in front of a room and opening the door. "I'll bend the rules a bit and let you all go in at once, but try not to make a lot of noise," he requested as he turned to leave.

"Don't worry, Doctor, we won't," Yugi said. "And thank you."

Joey was laying very still on the bed, his messy blonde hair falling over his closed eyes. He had bandages over his left temple and on his arms. The machine monitoring his heart beeped slowly and steadily.

"He's so quiet," Tea said softly. She went over next to the bed and looked at Joey's lifeless body. "Please come back to us, Joey," she whispered.

"Did you find him?" Tristan asked Seto.

Seto nodded and pulled the picture out of his pocket. "He was holding this."

Tristan took it from him and stared at it. It was a picture that had been taken last year of him and Joey goofing off at a park. "Oh man . . ." Tristan shook his head, the full impact of what had happened only dawning on him now. "This is all my fault."

Everyone turned to look at him.

"Tristan, you can't think that," Bakura gasped. "Joey was driving recklessly in the rain and he accidentally crashed the car."

"Yeah, but he was miffed when he drove off," Tristan replied. "And why was he miffed? Because of that stupid argument we had! Man, I said some terrible things to him . . ." With that he turned and left the room.

"Tristan!" Yugi called after him in vain.

"Let him go," Seto told him. "He needs to be alone right now."

Yugi nodded slowly. "You're probably right, Kaiba," he agreed softly, sitting in a chair next to the bed.

"We all believe in you, Joey," he whispered confidently. "You can make it!"
Tristan spent the entire night walking the streets and thinking about all the adventures he and Joey had been through together. He couldn't believe the crazy things they had been arguing about just a few short hours before. Their long friendship had nearly come to an end because of grape jelly and a different in opinion about music! And now . . . now what if it was too late to set things right?

Tristan looked up and found that he had walked back to the hospital. After a moment's hesitation, he went in and back upstairs to Joey's room. When he walked in, he found Yugi dozing in the chair next to the bed, where Joey was still laying unconscious and pale. Yugi stirred and woke up when Tristan opened the door. "Tristan, you're back," Yugi smiled.

"How is he?" Tristan looked at Joey's still form.

Yugi shook his head. "He's not any better."

"Oh man, Yugi . . . what if . . . what if he doesn't pull through?" Tristan said softly.

From the expression of worry that crossed Yugi's face, Tristan could see that the violet-eyed boy had been thinking the same thing, but then Yugi tried to smile. "I'm sure he'll be okay, Tristan," he said. "You know what a tough guy Joey is." He stood up. "I'll be back in a minute," he told Tristan. "I'm just going to see if the others are back yet."

When Yugi had left, Tristan sat in the chair and sighed. "Joey? I don't know if you can hear me, pal, but . . . I have to tell you how sorry I am for what I said to you. I didn't mean any of that garbage . . . I was mad, and . . . it just kinda slipped out. It was stupid." He gently pressed the picture into Joey's hand. "You'll always be my best buddy, Joey. Nothing can change that."

Joey didn't give any indication that he'd heard, but Tristan felt somewhat better now that he'd said what he had.
By the end of that day, everyone had gathered in the hospital again, including Seto and Mokuba.

"Is he any better?" Seto asked when he and Mokuba walked in.

Yugi shook his head. "He's still about the same," he replied softly.

Suddenly Joey stirred, moaning softly.

Everyone perked up.

"Is he coming to?" Bakura wondered hopefully.

Yugi took hold of the bed railing and looked at his friend. "Joey? Are you awake?"

Joey was silent at first, but then his eyes slowly opened and he blinked, trying to focus. "Yugi? . . . Hey, man, is it really you?"

Yugi smiled and nodded. "We're all here, Joey," he said. "We've all been worried about you."

Joey looked around at the others and his gaze stopped on Tristan.

"Hey, pal, how're you feeling?" the hazel-eyed boy asked with a smile.

Joey paused, thinking. "I've felt better, man," he said finally. "What the heck happened?!"

Tristan looked down. "You were in an accident, Joey."

Joey ran a hand through his hair. "Eh, well, I don't remember it." He noticed the picture in his other hand. "Huh? What's . . ." He trailed off, a faraway look coming into his eyes.

"What is it, Joey?" Tea asked. "Do you remember now?"

Joey studied the picture for a while, then looked up. "It's all kinda hazy and everything, but I remember gettin' into some kinda argument with you, Tristan . . . and drivin' off . . . I was lookin' at that picture and wonderin' if our friendship was really over, and . . . well, that's the last thing I remember. . . . So I guess I crashed the car, huh?"

Yugi laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Yes, you did, Joey. Kaiba found you and called 911, and probably just in time, too."

Joey looked at Seto curiously. "Really? . . . I guess that means you saved my life, Kaiba."

Seto's expression didn't change. "I guess it does."
Later on, when Joey and Tristan were alone, Tristan turned to Joey seriously. "Man, I said some horrible things to you, Joey," he said. "It's my fault you got in that accident."

Joey shook his head. "Nah, I shouldn't have been drivin' when I was so ticked off. And if I hadn't caused such a stir about the grape jelly, we wouldn't have had that stupid argument in the first place."

"But I should have let it stop there," Tristan said. "Instead I went and made a fuss about your music."

"So we were both responsible for the argument," Joey told him, "but I'm the one responsible for crashin' the car." He paused, then smiled. "Hey, we both said some things we regret, but that's all behind us now, right, pal?"

Tristan nodded and smiled as well. "That's right. We'll always be best buddies."

"Hey, you said it, man," Joey grinned as he exchanged a high five with Tristan. "Friends till the end!"