Very odd little fic I conned myself into writing. Though I'm not too terribly happy with how it turned out, I'm posting it anyway. Go me. ^.~ Anyway, I tried to get some insight into Jou's character, and it ended up with him have a bit of a crush on Yugi. Ah well.

Vow

"It is the loss of family that fuels the search for family; not necessarily family of blood but of heart."

- Artemis Zephyr

We always knew he was a monster. Mom, sis, me…we all knew. We just thought that maybe he could learn not to be. He worked hard, and he provided for the family. And mom was so religious then. She could have been married to Satan and she wouldn't have turned her back on him. It was only when dad went after Shizuka that Mom had to do something. I mean, he hit Mom, but never really hard enough to do any damage. Not that I would know what 'too hard' was when it comes to hitting women.

I was brought up never to hit women by my father who beat his wife. Interesting.

Mom always said that is was never anything she couldn't handle. I would see her with bruises sometimes and I would ask her why she was crying but she always dodged the question.

"Jou, why don't you take your sister to the beach. It's not too far on the bus. You two could use some time to have a little fun. I have to clean up around the house before your father gets home, anyway."

"You think it'll be okay?"

"What's do you mean, sweetheart?"

"Your eye, do you think it will be okay?"

"Yes, Jou, it will be fine."

Honda once asked me if I was hurt by the fact that Mom left, and the truth is I was. Well, the real truth is, I still am. I felt betrayed, and when I was old enough I told her so. We haven't spoken much since then. She and I have never really patched up that wound. It sits there between us, like a barricade in the middle of a road. Neither of us is really willing to go past it. We just don't care that much, I think. I know she was torn between taking one or both of us, and I think the truth of it is that she couldn't support two kids on her own. But to leave me with him?

I never would have told her to leave Shizuka in my place. Never. I may be hurt about the whole thing, but I would never have allowed Mom to leave her there. With him. I make it sound like he did terrible things, and he did. I mean, I'm not sure how one kid can fall down the stairs five times his entire sixth grade year. Don't get me wrong. I'm clumsy, but not THAT clumsy. At least my teachers bought it.

It hasn't been too terribly hard. You eventually fall into a rhythm of the day-to-day things in your life, and you just go with it. I tend to avoid him and he tends to not seek me out as much now. I'm as tall as he is, maybe not as strong but he knows I could put up a decent fight. Well, that's my bluff. He's my father and I don't think I could ever strike him. Hate him? Yes. Despise? Sure. Beat the hell out of him? Not likely.

My mother, even though we don't get along, loves me. I'm sure off it. And even though half of my family has been torn away from me it's still my family. The only thing I regret is not having been there…

"We'll always be together, right Jou?" Her eyes had sparkled that day. "You'll always be there when I need you, cause you're my big brother!"

"Yeah, Shizuka. We're brother and sister. Nothing can tear us apart." And with that said I had given her a hug and fondly messed up her hair, a feat for which she smacked me on the arm while giggling.

I wasn't there when she needed me.

I had run into the house from school, as I was and still am a rather hyper person. I hadn't noticed anything strange until I had looked in the garage. Both cars were gone. This was weird because Mom was normally always home by the time I got home from school, and she wasn't even in school.

I went upstairs to throw my book bag on my bed when I heard the crying. Not unrestrained sobs, but soft, muffled choking noises. They were coming from her room. I had learned long ago that girls, even my little sister, liked their privacy. So I knocked.

And then entered.

The moment her little body rammed into mine I sank to the floor in the doorframe. She had stopped making choking sounds and was now sobbing into my shirt. I was shocked. What had happened?

I realized that I had asked the question aloud when her little head came up and I saw the bruise on her cheek. It was huge in comparison to her small face, and stood out against the smooth skin.

"I—I made him mad, niisama, and—and he hit me—I'm so sorry!" She buried her head into my chest and started crying again, now with unrestrained sobs and I could feel the tears wetting my shirt. She continued to cry and talk into my shirt, her voice becoming muffled among the cotton of my uniform for school.

"You—you have to tell him! You have—have to tell him I'm sorry! He was so mad he couldn't talk straight! And—and he was stumbling around and—and—" I cut her off with a small shush and held her to me. So…Dad had been drinking on the job. His work had called once or twice in the last few weeks inquiring about where he went on his lunch break as he had been coming to work drunk afterwards.

Dad normally came home for lunch and then would leave. He had an hour for lunch, but he always left after about twenty minutes or so. He said that he liked to get back to work early so he could try and get off early every once and a while. He had actually been going to bars. This discovery had led to a fight between them and more bruises for Mom, but it had stopped for a while.

"Niisama…he—he wanted Mommy and his sandwich, but Mom—Mommy said he wasn't coming home today and he came anyway! She had gone to the store for something and I wanted to watch TV and—and—and I don't know how to make sandwiches!" Her voice was filled with horror and shame. She couldn't make my drunken father a sandwich. So he hit her. That bastard.

I held her and told her he wasn't mad anymore. That it wasn't her fault, the small things that you say to someone to stop their crying and to vanish their fears. She was all right a few minutes later and I heard Mom coming in through the door.

We wandered downstairs and Mom smiled at me, and I watched with silent understanding as it slipped from her face when Shizuka ran into her arms. Perfectly fine at the moment, having stopped crying a while ago and chipper as any 4 year old would be.

She looked at me and I looked back. She didn't accuse me. I didn't hit girls. Boys? That's a different story, but not girls. Never girls. She picked up Shizuka and told me to make a sandwich for myself. For a third grader I had a decent grasp of when to leave my mother alone.

Later that night I heard the screaming from my room.

"You hit her! You fucking monster! She didn't even know what you wanted! She's a child!"

"Well what kind of a mother leaves her three year old kid home alone!?"

"She's four…"

"Whatever! You need to explain yourself, whore. You can't even raise our kids! I go to work and I feed this family—"

"Shut up! You hit her! You hit her and she didn't even know! Get out! Get out of this house! Get out of it now!"

There was a door slamming and the sound of crying. He must have hit her on his way out. A few weeks later the divorce papers were drawn up and Mom and Shizuka went away and I was left with him.

Like I said, you fall into a rhythm of the day-to-day living.

You're laughing and giggling and just having a nice time out here. We all are. Well, all of us who aren't thinking about the mistakes we've made. I don't know much about that puzzle and I don't know much about what that spirit has in store for us, but I do know I'm going to be here the whole time. That there will never be a moment where I can't protect you.

You may not care, and you may never notice that I care, but in the long run that doesn't matter, does it? I'm here and anything that wants to get to you had best think twice, because they're going through me first.

And it's because of the fact that I couldn't be there for Shizuka that I vow to be there for you. I may not have been there for you and that's something I have to live with forever, but I'll be there for you. A bit of atonement, if you will.

You and Anzu and a few of the others are playing tag with Anzu as 'it'. You come bounding over towards me and touch my shoulder.

"Jounouchi-kun is base!"

A few of the others laugh and continue to run around, but you sit down beside me and smile cocking your head to the side with that curious expression that you get sometimes.

"What are you thinking about?"

You. Shizuka. My father. My failures. Why I can never seem to do the things I say I will. Wondering what's going to happen to us. Why my mother and I don't get along. If I will ever become a somebody…the list goes on and on, Yugi.

I look you in the eye and smile. For the moment I think I can keep this promise. I think I can save someone. Just once.

"Nothing much."

~ ~ ~ Owari ~ ~ ~

Ugh, that is quite possibly the most awful one-shot I have ever dared to write. Jou is…not right I think, and Yugi seems kinda oblivious and they're playing tag! Do high school students even play tag?! Okay, I do, but do other high school students? Ah well. It's done and finished and I can forget about it.

~Artemis