Where Will You Go?

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters aren't mine and the story is! These are my views and possible theories on Duke Devlin, so if you don't like him or if you don't want to agree with my thoughts, that's just too durn bad. XD And I know that in the manga, Duke's father was mentioned and he was supposed to have been a real jerk, so I tried to expand on that, though I'm following the anime. This story will carry a warning for abuse. And oh yeah, this is friendship cuteness—nothing more, nothing less! I'm sorry about the removal of the song, but with the newly stated policy I had to remove it. Try listening to Where Will You Go by Evanescence as you read. It was the inspiration for the story.

The raven-haired boy watched as the last customer went out the glass doors. It had been a very busy day, with people going in and out of the store constantly. He talked to any that noticed him, especially flirting with every beautiful and single woman, but it was all the same as ever. He still felt just as empty inside as before. That never seemed to change, no matter what he said or did. He was almost about to give up trying. It all seemed hopeless.

"Yo, Duke! I'm gonna leave now. Okay?"

The boy looked up at Jason, one of his employees. "Yeah, sure," he said nonchalantly, waving his hand. "Go ahead." Duke leaned back against the counter, playing with his dice. People had called him many things—dice master, Dungeon Dice Monsters creator, womanizer, uncaring, arrogant, a cad—and most, if not all, were true at least to a certain extent. But Duke didn't always feel as confident as he appeared. Yes, he sometimes wound up toying with girls' hearts, but it wasn't as if the girls truly loved him even if they thought they did. At least that was how Duke saw it. He had seen so many come and go. They were all the same—googly-eyed, absurd things who idolized famous people and called it love. After a few months, weeks, or even days, they moved on to someone else. Duke saw no reason why he shouldn't do the same. Why wait around on a girl that he knew was too ignorant on the subject of what love truly is? He gave them what they wanted—attention and a date or two—and then went on to another.

Oh, admittedly, he did have a bit of fun with it all sometimes. It was nice, to live in the illusion that he was someone truly important. But he knew the truth. His life didn't really matter, not even to those who were supposed to be his friends. Oh, perhaps Yugi cared. Or maybe he just was polite and tried to tolerate Duke, the way the others seemed to. Duke sat up on the counter now, idly throwing dice in the air as his thoughts wandered.

Joey had accused him of being removed and cold, like Seto. He had said he didn't like trying to talk with people like that because it seemed hopeless. Duke had shrugged and replied, "Then don't deal with them." Joey had then gone into a spiel about how Duke had treated him so badly, making him wear the dog suit on national television. Duke knew now that had been a treacherous thing to do. But he had thought he had been forgiven for that.

Tristan had gotten into a physical and verbal fight with him over Serenity, telling him in no uncertain terms that he wanted something bad to happen to him. "You're just a jerk!" he had yelled. "And you're always trying to move in on my girl!" Never mind that Serenity had never conclusively picked either of them; Tristan still thought of her as his girl. "One of these days, Duke Devlin, it's all gonna catch up with you—all this crummy stuff you've done. And I'll be looking forward to it."

And Téa had told him that he was still conceited and arrogant after watching him talk to another girl. "It's really disgusting, Duke. You act like you think you're God's gift to women or something!" Oh, Duke didn't really expect her to understand. No one had before. But though he appeared egotistical to some, it was only a facade. He didn't have a lot of self-respect. In truth, God's gift to women was the last thing he thought he was. But if he could give off the illusion that he was, he tried to say it made him feel better.

Duke had had plenty of experience with never being good enough to please anyone. He had grown up around his cruel father, who was (thankfully) dead now. But while the man was alive, he had found uncountable opportunities to torment his son. No matter how Duke had idolized him and tried to do what he wanted, his father had been a complete perfectionist, hating all of Duke's efforts and striking and condemning him for not being able to do exactly what he desired of him. Duke had only wanted his father's approval and acceptance, though eventually after so many beatings, he had begun to hate him. He wondered what the man thought of him now that he had invented the internationally-known game Dungeon Dice Monsters. Was he watching from whatever afterlife he had gone to, still shaking his head in disapproval and disgust? Duke felt that he would always be a failure to that man. And to everyone else. He couldn't deny he was relieved when his father died, but his ghost seemed to linger on.

With a sigh he got down from the counter and headed for the door. There wasn't any point in staying there. But then again, no matter where he went, he would always be alone. He had realized that a long time ago. And he supposed he would just have to accept that it was true.

Duke wandered down the lonely streets, his hands in his pockets. Idly he wondered where Serenity was. Probably somewhere with Tristan, he decided. She'd be happy with him. But then he really knew Serenity liked him as well as Tristan. It was just that sometimes, when he was depressed, he doubted everything. Especially himself. There was no one he could really turn to. No one who honestly understood him. He felt envious of those who had siblings to watch out for and be close to, and those who had close friends. He didn't have either. The friends he had weren't really that close to him.

As he went to walk around the corner, a knife was suddenly pressed against his throat. "Don't move another inch if you want to live," a dark voice growled. A dark, vaguely familiar voice.

Duke froze, his eyes narrowing. "What do you want?" he asked coldly.

"You think you're so smart, don't you?" Several dark shapes emerged from the alley, surrounding him. Duke glared, clenching his fists. He recognized them now. They were members of the drug ring he had infiltrated last winter in order to get them arrested. The police hadn't ever been able to round all of them up. These were some of those who had eluded the law. And they were not happy about Duke's betrayal.

The one who had been holding the knife now slowly brought it away from Duke's throat and held it in front of him as intimidation. "Maybe you thought that you'd be acknowledged for your services in getting our drug ring shut down. But you're still nobody. And you'll suffer."

Duke frowned. While he did believe that he wasn't really important, it hadn't come to the point where he would just resign himself to death. No, he would fight now. He wouldn't give these scum the satisfaction of knowing they'd killed him. "Maybe I will," he said coldly, "or maybe all of you will go to prison for attempted murder." He flicked a die right toward the man's eye, forcing him to turn away so it wouldn't impact. Duke took the opportunity to kick him harshly, sending his would-be assailant back against another. Perhaps Duke wasn't as skilled in fighting as Seto Kaiba or Joey Wheeler, but he could still hold his own.

"Dead man tell no tales," was the hissed reply as a strong chain went around Duke's neck from behind. The boy's hands flew up to loosen the pressure, but it seemed impossible. He felt the rough metal of the links digging into his flesh, attempting to cut off his oxygen. But he wouldn't give up. Not yet.

"There's no one around to hear you scream," a second voice declared wickedly, stepping closer and raising a club. "And when we're done with you, we'll put your body someplace where they'll never find it." He lashed out, striking Duke hard in the stomach.

Duke wanted to double over in pain. He tried to. But he couldn't, not with the chain still being held firmly around his throat. He staggered forward instead, forcing his captor to follow in order to keep the deathgrip on his weapon. Duke refused to go down so easily. He could fight this. He had a possible plan. But for it to work he would have to let go of the chain for a moment. He hoped that wasn't too great a risk.

Abruptly he moved backward, arching his back hard into his assailant's waist. With a grunt of surprise the man momentarily slackened his grip on the chain and Duke reached up, flipping him over. He coughed and gasped for breath as the pressure on his throat was finally released, but he had no time to enjoy this as he was instantaneously attacked by all of the others at once.

For what seemed hours they lit into him with all manner of wicked weapons and their own fists and heels, beating and pounding at this hapless teenager they hated with all their hearts. Duke had infiltrated their ring—only a stupid kid in their eyes—and had succeeded in getting many of their number arrested. Now they would prove to him that he was nothing, no match for their strength and anger. They wouldn't let him go until he was dead or dying.

Duke kept struggling as he was being beaten to the very edge of death. He reached up desperately, clawing at one of his attackers, but he couldn't seem to get a good grip. Always his hands were slammed away, usually by a harsh club or crowbar. He felt the weapons rip through his clothes, tearing into his flesh painfully. He felt the blood running down his skin and pooling around him. And he heard the taunting. Again and again he heard the foul voices, cursing and whispering obscenities. And between their vile words, they only fueled Duke's earlier feelings. He didn't know how they knew what they obviously did, but he supposed they must have been spying on him for quite some time. That made him all the angrier and all the more determined to fight.

"Who will come for you? You know that you don't really have any friends. They all hate you. I guess they only see you as being superficial and a womanizer. None of them know about your true feelings, but if they did, they wouldn't care anyway. You never had anyone, did you? No one who would care if you lived or died. Too bad we only care if you're dead."

Duke snarled, feeling the hard crowbar hit him over the head. His vision had started to swim in and out of focus several minutes ago, but now it increased. Consciously he didn't realize it, but he was whispering over and over for someone to help him. He realized that he was likely going to die. It all seemed such a miserable existence he'd had, but there was a part of him that still wanted to live. The other part was screaming for the pain to end in any way possible, and it seemed that the only way it would end would be in death. His dice evaded him, falling into the pools of blood and becoming coated. It didn't help that it then started to rain, washing the redness down the streets and gutters.

Alone . . . yes, he was alone. All alone. Forever alone.

Duke felt a knife pierce through his chest, but he was too far gone to really notice or care. "I'm sorry," he rasped then, seeing the faces of Yugi and the others in his hallucination. Maybe . . . maybe he should have been more open with them. Maybe some part of him didn't trust them . . . or maybe he hadn't trusted himself with them. Yes . . . that was it. He had been afraid they would be disappointed in him, the way everyone else always had been. But with the actions he had taken, he had sealed their disappointment. Yes, he would die alone. But maybe he had brought it upon himself. With this depressing thought Duke found his will to go on slipping away. Weakly he clutched at two of his dice, blood trailing down his bare arms. His world went black, not to be light again.

Tristan was out late this night as well, unbeknownst to Duke and his murderers. The boy's motorcycle had stalled nearby under the viaduct and Tristan couldn't do anything with it. In frustration he started walking ahead, hoping to find a parts store still open. He stepped down harshly, nearly stumbling over something before catching himself. With an angry grunt he kicked what he had stepped on. A bloodied die bounced into his view.

He blinked in stunned surprise. If it was an ordinary die, he wouldn't have given it a second glance. But this one, with its haunting red hue, caught Tristan's attention. He bent down, picking the object up. The blood came off on his fingers. It was fresh.

Now Tristan grew concerned. Someone was hurt. He looked up frantically, seeing blood running down the nearby gutters. "Hello? Hey! Where are you?" His voice sounded empty and hollow when no one answered. His imagination started to run wild as he made his way down the street. Had there been some sort of massacre?

When he came to the entrance of the alley he found himself stepping in a puddle of rainwater laced with blood. Tristan swallowed hard, squinting into the near-darkness of the alley. He could see a body laying supine on the ground, very still. Again Tristan called, but received no answer. He knew he had to go over. The person might still be alive.

As Tristan hastened over and knelt down, he noticed the shock of tangled raven hair, the long bangs resting on each side of the form's face. It was a male, Tristan could see, but the face was turned away from him. He noticed the familiar clothes, the crystal pendant amidst the blood, and the knife protruding from the still chest. Horror started to envelope him. He knew the poor soul who lay here. He didn't have to see the face to know. It was Duke Devlin.

"No," he uttered quietly. "I don't believe it. Who would do this!" He took hold of the knife with shaking hands, knowing he had to be very careful with how he removed it. Not that Duke was still alive to be affected by it. His chest did not rise and fall as it would if he were alive and breathing. He was laying so still that Tristan knew he had to be dead. But he narrowed his eyes, gently pulling the bloodied weapon out of Duke's body. He let it clatter to the ground, the sound echoing. Duke didn't even jerk in pain.

Tristan swallowed hard, touching his fingers to the base of Duke's neck. As he expected, he found no pulse. Slowly he leaned down, struggling to hear even the faintest hint of breath. "Hey, come on!" he cried finally. "Is this it! Are you just giving up! Say something, buddy!" He leaned back, gripping Duke's shoulder. "It's me! Tristan Taylor! Who hurt you like this! Tell me!" He remembered nothing of the words he had spoken in anger to his friend, the words that had helped to break Duke's spirit. The only thing on his mind now was that Duke was badly hurt. He had to do something, he just didn't know what. The thought of doing artificial respiration was repulsive to him. And after all this time he doubted it would work. He could try CPR, but he was afraid of causing further damage to the wound. It seemed hopeless.

In anger he slammed his fist into the ground, splattering Duke's blood. "Wake up!" he yelled. "For crying out loud, Duke! Cut this out and get up!" But he knew his friend would not. Duke was dead.

Or was he? Had Tristan possibly seen the other boy's fingers move, ever so slightly? He leaned closer, trying to see for certain. "Duke?" he whispered cautiously. "Are you still with me?" If Duke was still alive, Tristan knew he had to get him to the hospital. He just didn't know how he would. This was the middle of nowhere.

"DUKE!" Tristan grabbed the raven-haired teen's shoulder again. "For Pete's sake! Do something!"

Then Duke tensed, starting to weakly cough. "It . . . hurts," he choked out. He wasn't consciously aware that Tristan was there, or even that he was still alive, but the pain he could feel acutely. To him it seemed that he was almost disembodied, floating above the scene, even though he truly wasn't.

Tristan gasped, momentarily freezing. He hadn't expected a response—not at all. "Duke. . . ." he breathed softly. His buddy wasn't dead yet, miraculously! There was still a chance to save him.

But how would Tristan do it? His motorcycle wasn't operating correctly, and even if it was, he couldn't even think of taking Duke back to town on it, not in his condition! That might only hurt him worse. Tristan was at a loss. He didn't know how he could try carrying the other boy, either. But obviously something had to be done immediately or Duke truly would die. As it was, it seemed that he was just barely clinging to life.

Tristan swallowed hard, bending over his friend again. Perhaps, if he could clean up the worst of the wounds, he would have to attempt carrying Duke at least to the main road and from there pray that some axe murderer wouldn't pick them up if he tried to hitchhike the rest of the way. Time was precious; he knew he couldn't risk carrying Duke all the way back to the city.

"Hang on, buddy," he muttered, pressing a clean handkerchief over the chest wound and holding it there to stop the bleeding. "You're gonna be O.K., you got that? I'm not gonna let you die on me now!"

Perhaps, in Duke's tortured oblivion, he heard Tristan somewhat. Or perhaps he thought he was only hearing things. After all, why would Tristan help him? How could anyone help him, anyway, even if they wanted to? He was dead. And even as Tristan struggled to help him, Duke's thoughts drifted to the past . . . his past, and the pain he had endured at the hands of one he had trusted.

"You insignificant cur! Why don't you ever obey me? Why don't you ever make something of yourself?" The blows came down hard on his body and he curled up tightly against the wall, trying to defend himself against the raging madman that was his father. It was always like this, every day. His mother had told him that his father was mentally ill and that he always took out his anger on everyone around him without really realizing he was doing so. But it seemed to him that the man realized. How could he always pound on his son and not know he was doing it?

"Stop it!" Duke screamed, struggling with all of his ten-year-old strength to hide from the harsh kicks and punches. His raven tresses fell over his face, concealing the emotions he was feeling—the terror, the pain, the outrage, the anger. . . . His father had no right to treat him like this. He was another human being, deserving of kindness and love. But still, despite his feelings of how this wasn't right, he was still capable of being pierced by the man's words. He could still be made to believe that nothing was good enough . . . that he wasn't good enough. And really, that was what his father wanted. He wanted the sensation of knowing that he could strike fear and self-hatred into another living creature. He wanted to know that he was the best and that no one could intimidate him again as they had in the past. It didn't matter that Duke was only a child. He didn't care.

"Don't talk back to me, boy!" Cruel fingers grabbed at the back of Duke's shirt, forcing him to get up. "Stand here and accept the punishment for your failings!" Again he began hitting and beating at the boy. Duke's mother, as she had done so many times, was across the room slumped in a chair, crying helplessly. She didn't try to stop this from happening anymore. It was useless, she felt. She had tried before and the only thing that had happened was that Duke had been beaten even worse and she had been thrown down the stairs. So, perhaps, she thought, the best thing to do was just to let her husband take out his frustration and his anger for a while until he was satisfied. But she couldn't stand to watch, nor to hear her son's anguished pleas.

Duke didn't understand. He felt understandably angry towards his mother for simply standing by and doing nothing. It seemed cowardly to him. Was she that afraid of being hurt herself? When he caught his father beating her, he always tried to get him to stop. True, he never succeeded, but he would feel disgusted with himself if he just let it happen without even trying.

"Quit hurting me!" he yelled now, struggling to grab his father's wrist and hold it away from him. "Quit hurting us! Everybody makes mistakes sometimes. You don't have any right to treat us like your own personal property, just things without feelings!" He felt unbidden tears leaping to his eyes. Though he was only ten, he had experienced so much, more than a child should ever have to. His innocence was long gone, though when he was at school he put on the air of being arrogant and conceited. It helped to have a facade, he thought. He didn't want the other kids to know how horrible his life truly was. They could think that everything was fine and that he was as vain as he pretended to be. That was better than if they knew the truth—that he was suffering from an extreme lack of self-confidence and that he often hated himself. He didn't want them to know how weak he truly was. He couldn't stop his father's rages, he couldn't protect his mother . . . he couldn't protect himself.

"I don't have a right!" Mr. Devlin grabbed his son, lifting him into the air. "I have a right to do whatever I wish in my own household! And you'll pay the price for your insolence!" He threw the child down harshly onto the floor and Duke cried out in pain, hitting his head hard on the coffee table as he went down. Then his father was beating him again.

This time Mrs. Devlin wasn't able to stand it. "No!" she screamed, running forward and trying to get her husband to stop. "Leave him alone! Please! He didn't mean to do anything wrong!" The tears filled her eyes as she struggled with him in vain. So often she had wanted to go for help . . . or to take Duke and run away . . . but they were always found. There was no escaping the cruel, wicked man who was now trying to beat their son to death. He always found them.

He shoved her now, glaring with eyes full of hatred. "I've had enough of your incessant blubbering!" he yelled, cursing at her and using words that Duke had never dreamed existed. Then he lunged, grabbing a nearby vase. Duke heard it shatter and his mother scream.

As the boy struggled to pull himself into a sitting position, he realized that now his father was beating her again. Blood streamed down his face and clouded his vision, but he could clearly see the broken vase shards on the floor and the blood that wasn't his. He struggled to stand—though he was already badly wounded and his left arm was temporarily useless—and looked for something he could use, anything to get his father away from her! All he could find was an empty liquor bottle. He grabbed it in his right hand and threw it with force, striking his father on the back.

Instantly the man whirled around, his features twisted in rage. "After I'm done with her, you'll be next, boy," he hissed. "And there won't be any getting away from it this time. You won't have anyone to protect you." He picked up the bottle and Duke screamed when he saw his mother being hit with it. It happened again and again until the woman was sobbing on the floor, blood pouring from her wounds. But still she wasn't given peace. And even though Duke tried to get the man away from her, he knew with horror that there was nothing he could do. When he was thrown into the wall and pain exploded through his mind once again, the last sight he saw before losing consciousness was his father's expression of pure hatred as he beat his wife and Duke's mother. And he knew that they were both going to die.

Duke looked down, feeling the wind whipping against his skin as his generous locks of hair blew away from his face. Tears threatened to emerge from his eyes, but he was determined to hold them back. He didn't cry in front of people, even if he thought they couldn't see. He couldn't display such weakness.

Weakness. . . . That was what his father had called it. He hated Duke and everything about him. And Duke hated him in return. The man had killed his own wife—Duke's mother. And even though Duke had been disgusted and confused when she hadn't tried to do more to help him when he was being beaten, he still loved his mother. He was confused now, and upset, watching as the priest said a few words over the casket. His mother was dead now. . . . She'd died when she had tried to protect her son. Maybe that was part of the reason why she had tried not to interfere before—because she had known things would turn out the way they had now. And she hadn't wanted Duke to be without her. He had failed to protect her. . . .

He had regained consciousness in the hospital many hours later. There he had been informed of his mother's death and his father's arrest. The man had then killed himself in the jail, apparently not wanting to face either a drawn-out trial or a long prison stay. The unfair life Duke had known for his ten years was now changed, for good or ill. After all, things might not get any better. He was certain they wouldn't.

He clenched his fists, willing himself to look up and stare ahead stonily. He remembered the facade he'd always put on in school. Now he would be going to a new school, as he was going to move in with his wealthy aunts. And he would use the same facade again. He wouldn't be weak. He would be strong. He would play the role of the arrogant, conceited child and keep anyone from knowing how much he was hurting inside, how confused he was to have had such a mixed up family . . . how hateful he felt towards his father. This facade would be his escape from reality and his means of isolating himself from other people.

And for years he had used it. He was seventeen now and still pretending to be the vain, internationally known Dungeon Dice Monsters creator and champion. He had adopted a slight "punk" appearance a while back, painting an odd mark under his left eye and opting to wear an earring that was actually a die. He flirted with the women, dated some of them, and somewhere deep in his heart knew that he hated being alone and he hated the alternate personality he had created for himself. He had been that other person for so long that he wasn't even sure who he really was. Sometimes he wished that someone would see through it all and be able to tell him.

The one who had come the closest to that was Serenity. She was so innocent and pure and such a change from most of the girls Duke associated with. He loved her, he recognized, but he was certain she didn't love him in that way. She was too young for that yet, really. But when she was older and did fall in love, Duke was certain that it wouldn't be with him.

Duke didn't know how long he hovered between life and death. It could have been days, weeks, or merely hours. Between his dreams of the past, he experienced terrifying re-enactions of the horrors he had witnessed as a child. His father, indeed still haunting him, would beat him in a dark, black space and curse his shortcomings once again until Duke didn't know how he would stand it. It happened again and again and he would find that he was utterly helpless and unable to defend himself. He felt just as he had when he had been a child—worthless and alone.

But still there was something that kept him clinging to life. There was still the spark of determination for survival. Duke wasn't going to give up. That just wasn't his nature. He hid behind his mask and wasn't sure at all who the "real" him was anymore, but he wasn't a quitter. He pressed on from day to day, sometimes just surviving, sometimes managing to enjoy life. That was all anyone could do, really—endure to the end. And Duke's end wasn't yet.

Slowly consciousness began to pour over the teenager once again, awakening his senses and allowing him to hear and see what was going on around him. He heard machines beeping and several worried voices talking. They were discussing someone else . . . him, perhaps . . . and seeming genuinely concerned. He recognized Yugi's voice as he became more aware, as well as Joey's and Tristan's. He allowed himself to feel surprised.

"But really, though—do you think he's gonna make it?" That was unmistakably Joey. "I mean . . . you thought he was dead and all, Tristan, when you found him. . . . And then when Yug and I found you, he didn't look much better." He sighed, leaning back in the chair. "I dunno . . . it doesn't seem like there's too much hope for him."

"Don't talk like that, Joey!" Yugi scolded. "Duke will pull through. But he needs our support and our friendship."

"Yeah?" Joey muttered. "What does he know about friendship anyway?"

"Hey, he's been a good friend." Duke was stunned to hear Tristan speak in his behalf. "True, he's my rival for Serenity's affections right now, but that doesn't mean he's not still my buddy. He's come through for us a lot of times. I'm not going to give up on him now."

After several moments Duke was able to open his eyes just slightly and found himself focusing on the railing of the bed where he was laying. He blinked slowly, making out his friends sitting by the window nearby. "What's going on?" he asked weakly, not really able to think of anything else to say. They had been worried about him—at least Yugi and Tristan had. As they came over now, surprise manifested in their eyes, he did realize that Joey seemed relieved as well. But maybe, he thought to himself, it was because he knew Serenity would be sad if he had died.

"What's going on!" Tristan repeated, gripping the bed's railing. "You almost died on us, man! A couple of times, too." After Yugi and Joey had miraculously been able to find them and they had gotten Duke to the KaibaCorp infirmary, he had flatlined in the emergency room. They had been able to bring him back and get his condition more or less stabilized, but still things hadn't seemed very hopeful for him. Though Tristan had tried to be confident that Duke would pull through, he was surprised that the emerald-eyed boy was awake now.

Duke looked up at him, trying to remember. He didn't know how Tristan would have managed to find him after he had suffered the treacherous beating, but from the conversation he had overheard, it seemed that Tristan had been the one to come upon him then. Carefully he tried to move and get into a more comfortable position, feeling his wounds crying in protest. "Then you saved my life?" he asked weakly, knowing that he shouldn't be trying to talk too much in his condition. And he was so weary he barely felt like talking, but still he wanted answers before he attempted to rest again.

"Well. . . ." Tristan shrugged, looking slightly embarrassed. "I guess you could put it that way if you wanted to. But I didn't really do much. I couldn't even figure out how to get help for you. If Joey and Yugi hadn't driven up then, you probably would've died anyway." He looked down.

Yugi came over now, looking at Duke worriedly. "How are you feeling, Duke?" he asked in concern. He couldn't forget the horror he had felt when he had first seen Duke's tormented, bloodied body. Tristan hadn't known at first who would have tortured their friend to the point of death, but when he had remembered the drug ring he had been certain it had been some of those in their ranks. And Yugi had realized that Tristan was most likely right. Who else would have had a reason to hurt Duke that way? Yugi didn't see as how anyone else would.

Duke sighed, shrugging weakly. "Sore. . . ." That was an understatement. His whole body was aching and felt as if it were on fire. Sleep sounded wonderfully enticing at the moment.

Joey frowned at him, crossing his arms. "Yeah, well, you'd better make sure you don't die on us or something," he said gruffly. "Serenity almost went into hysterics when she found out what'd happened to you." He hadn't really wanted Serenity to find out until they knew better whether Duke would recover or not, but when she had called on Joey's cellphone to find out why he was being gone so late, he had wound up being forced into telling her the story.

Duke gave a weak smirk. "Tell her I don't plan on dying anytime soon." He noticed a slight flicker of annoyance in Tristan's eyes and he wondered if the other boy was feeling jealous because of Serenity being so worried over Duke. But then Duke knew that if the situation was reversed, she would have been just as upset over Tristan being hurt. She loved them both, but Duke knew that for them both, she loved them only as friends.

There was a bit of a silence before Yugi ventured another question. "Duke . . . the doctors asked us if we knew of any family members who should be called about . . . about you being hurt," he said slowly, coming over and placing his hands on the railing. "But we had to say we didn't know. . . ." He smiled sheepishly. "You've never really told us about your family." He wouldn't be asking him about this now, except that if Duke did want them to call someone, they should do it right away.

"Nothing to tell." Memories flashed through Duke's mind—memories of pain, of agony . . . of being beaten by his father . . . of seeing his mother dying. . . . His aunts had been kind to him, when he had lived with them, but they had been confused and unsure of how to deal with him. Even they, his own family, hadn't been able to see beyond the carefully crafted facade. And they were both dead now as well. Duke lived alone in his apartment. "And . . . there's no one to call anyway." He still spoke weakly and matter-of-factly, exhausted from everything he'd come through.

Tristan blinked in surprise. "You mean they're all. . . ." He trailed off, looking uncomfortable. This hadn't been something he was expecting and he wasn't quite sure how to handle it. He hadn't ever really had that rough of a life. When he realized someone he cared about had experienced one—or was even still experiencing it—he didn't really know what to say to them or how to react. It was all a foreign world to him.

"I'm sorry, Duke," Yugi said quietly, his violet eyes wide. He couldn't imagine what it would be like if all of one's family was dead. He only knew a select few people who were in that category, mainly the former Doom soldiers. And even they had since formed a strong bond with each other. But Yugi recognized that Duke didn't seem to have anyone. He never let anyone get very close to him, even though he was usually friendly and helpful towards all of them.

"It's not like I was close to them anyway." Duke coughed a bit, looking away. He was better off without any of them, he was certain. His life now was strange, but at least it wasn't filled with daily beatings and watching people suffer. He could deal with it. And maybe, maybe someday, he would feel like these people were close enough friends that he could confide in them. Oh, he doubted that would ever happen, or that if it did, it was a long way off, but he wasn't denying the possibility. And he wasn't denying that he didn't want to be alone. He wanted to have friends. These people seemed to want to be his friends, too, if he would only allow it. Perhaps he would.

"Well, yeah," Yugi said slowly, "but still. . . ." He bit his lip.

"Don't worry about it." Duke sighed, feeling his raven hair falling into his face again. And he was so weary and tired by now. . . . But he also felt a certain peace. For the first time in a while, he felt that perhaps things could be different someday. Maybe it was because these people had worked to save his life. He wasn't sure. But he did feel grateful for them suddenly.

"We were worried about you for a while there," Tristan remarked. "When I found you, Duke, I thought you were already a goner." He shuddered inwardly, remembering how there had been so much blood all around. Duke had looked for all the world that he was dead. It had been a horrid, morbid, grotesque sight. Tristan was certain he wouldn't forget that sight for a long time, if ever.

Duke pondered over how to respond to this. "Well, I obviously wasn't," was all he came up with. Then he paused, thinking again. "But thanks," he said quietly, looking at all three of them. "For saving me, I mean. . . ." And for worrying about me.

Tristan relaxed a bit. "No problem," he smiled. "What are friends for?"

Duke smiled slightly as well. Friends. . . . That had a nice ring to it. He knew he was cared about at last.