Pride

"What the !#$ do you think you're doing?"

Kujaku Mai didn't even look up from dealing a game of blackjack. There was always some drunk, frustrated idiot who caused a scene. So, although everyone at her table was turning to look at the commotion, Mai calmly finished dealing out the cards and waited.

CRASH.

Mai still hardly responded, but her eyes flicked up briefly to assess the damage done. Oh, a slot machine, she thought unconcernedly. He'll enjoy paying for that when he's sober.

The man was shouting again. "Get your hands off me! You can't do this to a Jonouchi!"

Suddenly Mai's head shot up, her eyes widening. Jonouchi…!

It certainly wasn't Jonouchi Katsuya, the seventeen-year-old duelist Mai knew. But there were similarities between him and this man, both in face and voice, although this voice was thick with liquor.

She stared with pity as the man was forcefully evicted from the casino. It's Jonouchi's father, Mai realized sadly. This is the man Jonouchi has to depend on for support…

"Dealer," a frosty voice from Mai's blackjack table said suddenly. "I said, hit."

Mai tore her eyes away from the door Jonouchi's father had been thrown out of and forced a blank expression onto her face. "Last game of the night for me, folks," she announced, laying out the cards that were called for. "I have business to attend to after this."

She finished the game blindly and stood, then headed for the door.

But she was stopped by the manager before she could leave. "Just where do you think you're going, Kujaku?" he asked. "Your shift's not over."

"I'm taking the idiot you just kicked out home," Mai answered impatiently.

"You know him?"

Mai shrugged. "You could say that."

"Then you're going to give me his address tomorrow so I can bill him for the machine he destroyed."

The slot machine. Jonouchi would never be able to cover that cost. "I'll pay for it," Mai said firmly. "See you tomorrow night."

And with that, she pushed open the door and left, leaving the manager to stare after her in confusion.

Jonouchi's dad was still lying on the ground, a few feet from the door. He was mumbling to himself about indignity and damaged pride.

"Oi, you," Mai said loudly. "Get up, I'm going to take you home."

The man squinted up at her. "Who're you?" he slurred.

"Kujaku Mai. I'm a friend of your son." When the man made no effort to move, Mai sighed. "Don't go anywhere," she instructed. "I'll drive my car around."

Once she'd done that, Mai hauled Jonouchi's father into the front seat. "There are two rules to riding in my car. One: Stay buckled, and two: if you have to puke, lean out the window. Got it? Good."

And the ride began, Mai driving more slowly than usual so as not to bother the drunk's stomach. In a minute, Jonouchi's father raised his head. "You said you know my son?"

"Yes, I know Katsuya."

The man's face twisted into a scowl. "Lazy, irresponsible brat. Good-for-nothing fool. Ya know? Can't even spare some time to take care of his old man."

Mai frowned. "That's a lie and you know it," she said coldly. "How much of his time do you think he spends trying to work off the debts you got into?"

"He doesn't care about his poor old dad," the man continued as if Mai had not spoken. "You know, once he left me alone for almost three days to play a stupid card game on some island. Do you call that responsible?"

Mai gritted her teeth. "He did that to win money for Shizuka-chan's operation. Or had you forgotten that?"

"Why should I care?"

Her hands gripping the steering wheel as if to choke it, Mai replied, "She is your daughter, you know."

"She ain't. She's that #!$ wife of mine's brat, not mine."

Mai was speeding up, letting out her fury through the gas pedal. "You are," she said clearly, "the biggest jerk I have ever met."

The man swore obscenely at her, then fell silent.

Finally, Mai screeched the car to a stop in front of Jonouchi's apartment complex. "Okay, you," she said flatly. "If I just leave you here, will you be able to find your way up to your apartm—"

"Mai?" said Jonouchi's voice suddenly. Mai looked up just in time to see the boy approach her car. "What are you doing here?" Then he saw his father. His shoulders sagged and he gave a deep sigh, refusing to meet Mai's eyes. After a long moment, he said, "I was just about to go look for him. Thanks."

"You're welcome," Mai replied quietly.

"Where did you find him?" Jonouchi asked, his voice low.

"He was kicked out of the casino I work at."

Jonouchi gave another sigh. "I'm not surprised." He looked at his father bitterly, silent for almost a minute, and then, in an empty, almost hopeless tone, continued, "Did he break anything this time?"

"No," Mai lied immediately. Somehow, she doubted Jonouchi would accept the idea of her paying for the ruined slot machine.

But then Jonouchi's dad spoke up. "'Course I din break it. It was already friggin' broken when I got there. I lined 'em up, but it never stopped when I told it to. Whole place is rigged, I swear…"

Jonouchi looked at Mai, reproachful. "A slot machine?"

Mai nodded apologetically.

"How much does it cost?"

"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."

"No," Jonouchi said loudly, suddenly glaring at Mai. "I don't want charity, Mai. I'll pay for it."

"With what money?" Mai asked. "What makes you think you can afford it?"

"I said, I'll pay for it."

Mai rolled her eyes. "Don't be stupid. You can't possibly have enough money to pay for the machine."

"I'll find a way."

"Just let me do it, Jonouchi!" Mai insisted. "It's not a problem for me. I want to help you out."

"I told you, I don't want your charity. I'll get the money myself."

"Idiot."

Ignoring Mai, Jonouchi turned to his father. "Can you walk, Dad?"

The drunken man got out of Mai's car tipsily. "'Course I c'n walk." He took a few crooked steps and almost lost his balance before Jonouchi grabbed his arm and held him upright.

But the man shook Jonouchi off at once. "I don' need yur help to walk, brat."

Jonouchi once again took his father's arm to support him. Mai observed as the two walked away from her for a minute, then said to Jonouchi, "You're still helping him."

"Of course I am. He needs my help."

"He doesn't want it," Mai pointed out.

"That doesn't change the fact that he needs it," Jonouchi replied, casting a look over his shoulder at Mai. But as he saw her raised-eyebrow expression, he realized immediately the comparison she was making and scowled. "Mai, if I don't receive a bill for the slot machine, I'm never speaking to you again, got it?"

"Idiot. Is your pride that important to you?" Mai asked incredulously.

"Yes," Jonouchi answered, and continued to walk his father home.