Jonouchi grinned as he stretched out on his sofa, sighing contentedly. His gaze roved around the room, taking in its features: bare walls, plain tan carpeting, some unadorned furniture. Beyond this room, a cramped combination of kitchen and sitting room, he could make out an equally small bedroom. While he couldn't see it from here, he knew there was also a pocket- sized bathroom nearby, just big enough to turn around in. Most everything showed signs of wear and tear. The limited floor space was compromised considerably by a large stack of battered cardboard boxes, from which the corners of odd things protruded. It was a sad, bleak little apartment.
"I think I'm gonna like it here," he said.
Yesterday evening, Jonouchi had celebrated his birthday by packing up all his worldly belongings, tossing a casual goodbye to the man snoring at the old kitchen table next to an empty liquor bottle, and moved into this drab, cramped, beautifully empty apartment. It had taken every cent he'd saved from working odd jobs, plus a small monetary birthday gift from the Mutous, to get him here, but he was completely happy with his decision. There was only so far familial loyalty went, especially when it involved a thwarted attempt to sell of Jonouchi's prized Red- Eyes Black Dragon to pay off a bar tab. Jonouchi wasn't going to miss his father very much. At last, he had a place of his own where he didn't have to worry about his belongings going mysteriously missing and being replaced by cases of cheap wine, and where he could bring friends over to stay without any embarrassment.
Speaking of which, he was expecting company. Today, Yugi had promised to come over and help Jonouchi unpack his belongings and get settled in. Some of the others were coming over later to pitch in, but Yugi would be the first, since today was Grandpa's chosen day off, and the Game Shop wasn't going to be open today. Honda, Anzu, and various others would be dropping in at various points throughout the day; even Otogi had promised to turn up around dinnertime with a few boxes of Chinese takeout to feed the hungry workers. Jonouchi suspected that this was mainly because Otogi was hooked on Chinese takeout and would use any excuse to get it, but he appreciated the offer nonetheless. One of his few concessions to leaving his father to fend for himself was to leave all the food behind.
"Guess I'd better get started," he said, hauling himself to his feet. Anxious as he was to get situated in his new home, he wasn't looking forward to unpacking. It was too much like cleaning his room on a grand scale. Still, he couldn't make it very long while his clean underwear and his toothbrush were packed away inside one of many indistinguishable cardboard boxes. He pried one open and was pleased to discover it contained his stereo and his CD collection. He plugged it in to give himself some music to listen to while he worked. It made things a bit more tolerable. Humming along with his favorite band, Jonouchi began haphazardly poking through his boxes, idly putting away a pair of pants here and tacking up a poster there as the whim seized him. It didn't really matter in what order he unpacked things, because most of his possessions had been packed the same way: grab whatever was close at hand and shove it in a box.
Within a few minutes, he heard a rap on the door, and he hurried to open it. He found Yugi waiting for him.
"Hi, Jonouchi!" he said. "So, this is your new place!" He peered inside, looking around eagerly. "Hey, this isn't too bad! It's bigger than my room, anyway."
"Yeah, it's all right," said Jonouchi proudly. "Would be better if I had a TV set."
"Read comic books," Yugi suggested.
"Guess that's what I'll have to do. Gotta figure out where they are, first."
With Yugi around, things got a bit more organized. Jonouchi was usually more focused when his best friend was around, and today was no exception. He settled into unpacking his clothes while Yugi found the box containing his collection of videos and comic books and began stacking them on a shelf. As they worked, other people began drifting in, contributing their various skills to the project. Bakura had brought a housewarming gift: a model of the Red-Eyes Black Dragon that he'd made himself. Anzu contributed some curtains that she'd made. Honda surprised everyone by bringing a small television and DVD player.
"They used to belong to my nephew," he explained, grinning at his friends looks of shock, "but my sister caught him watching porn on it, so she gave it to me."
"That explains it," said Anzu, wincing.
"How long has this been going on before she caught him?" asked Jonouchi.
"Long enough," Honda said, "but if my sister was smart, she wouldn't have had Johji in the first place. Here, lemme get this contraption hooked up."
With all five of them working together, the piles of boxes swiftly diminished, as each package was emptied and its contents put in their correct places. The tiny apartment became a center of rapid activity, a constant whirl of teenagers bumping into each other as they tried to get the contents of each box to wherever they belonged, and occasionally tripping over Honda as he attempted to get the machinery wired up correctly. In the middle of all this activity, Otogi finally made his grand appearance, laden down with bags of food.
"All right! Food!" Jonouchi cheered. "Hey, you got curry! My favorite!"
Otogi glanced down at the plastic bags he was carrying. They were opaque, showing no signs of what their contents were.
"How did you know?" he asked.
Honda laughed. "Didn't you know? This screwball has a nose like a bloodhound! That's why he never gets lost."
"Oh, is that so?" said Otogi. "See, I always knew you were a puppy at heart, Jonouchi!"
"Yeah, well, that's better than what you are," said Jonouchi, but without much real annoyance behind it. "I'll forgive you for that remark if you give me some of that food."
"Of course! I didn't bring it for you guys to look at, you know!"
There was indeed curried rice, procured especially for Jonouchi, and also a selection of items from the local Chinese takeout place. It was lucky that the food came with its own containers and sets of disposable chopsticks, because one thing Jonouchi hadn't managed to get hold of were his own sets of plates and utensils. They made do with what they had, picking out places on the sofa and chairs or even on the floor, since there were only two places at his kitchen table. Most of them were a bit winded from unpacking, and were glad for the chance to sit back and admire their work.
"Not too shabby," Honda admitted. "You're lucky. I'd love to have a place of my own."
"I couldn't have done it by myself," said Jonouchi. "I had to pay ahead for the first four months in advance before they'd even let me sit down in here. If Grandpa hadn't loaned it to me, it would have been a while before I could afford that. I'm going to have to bust my butt as it is, but it'll be worth it!"
"I hear that," said Honda. "Your old man makes me glad Johji is all I have to contend with in my family."
"Do I want to know about this Johji?" asked Bakura.
"No!" said Anzu, Yugi, Honda, and Jonouchi together.
Bakura looked vaguely baffled. "Well, forget I asked, then."
When dinner was finished, a new problem presented itself: there was no garbage can to put anything in, or even any garbage bags. They settled for shoving everything into an empty cardboard box.
"We really are going to have to get you some basic essentials," said Anzu. "Plates, cups, garbage bags, dish soap..."
"I'll make a list," said Yugi. He grabbed a pen and started scribbling everything down.
"You don't have to do that," Jonouchi protested. "I'll get it all together, sooner or later."
"No, it's okay, I'll cover it," said Yugi. "Everybody else gave you something, and I haven't done anything yet."
"You already gave me a job at the store, and helped me make the down payment..."
"That was Grandpa, mostly. I just gave him the idea," said Yugi. "I'll do this for you."
"Not alone, you won't," said Honda. "You won't be able to carry everything."
Yugi blushed a little. "Well, maybe not."
"Then we'll all go with you," said Anzu.
"Great! Let's go shopping!" Otogi enthused. Everyone looked at him. "What? Just because I'm a guy doesn't mean I don't like shopping."
"Oh, whatever," said Jonouchi. "Okay, we'll go shopping - but I'm paying for at least half of it."
"No, you're not," Bakura said. "This is your birthday celebration! We can't let you pay for your own presents! You stay here and finish unpacking, and we'll be back soon."
Jonouchi settled down. Yugi looked over his shopping list one last time before tossing the pen down on the kitchen table.
"Okay, all done," he said. "Let's get going before all the good stores close. See you later, Jonouchi!"
The rest of the group filed out of the apartment, leaving Jonouchi to his own devices. He sighed, torn between embarrassment and gratitude. The good feelings won out; he really did have the best bunch of friends in the world, to help him do something like this. This really did rank as the best birthday party ever. His gaze roved over his new home, which had undergone a remarkable change in the last couple of hours. It looked like someone with some personality lived here now.
I'm going to have to bring Shizuka over here to visit soon, he mused. When they met, it was always either on neutral turf, or he would go visit her at her place. She never went near their father anymore. Last time she had seen the man, he had been too drunk to recognize her, and had even tried to make a pass at her - an action that Jonouchi had angrily circumvented. Now he didn't have to worry about that happening again.
He glanced over at the gifts Honda had brought with him. He pressed the "eject" button on the DVD player, and was mildly surprised to see that there was still a DVD inside. It had a picture of an inadequately clad woman on the front, and he debated briefly between keeping it and giving it back. He decided to give it back; it would annoy Johji no end to know he had it and couldn't watch it anymore.
Come to think of it, I've actually got a place to bring a girl, if I ever actually find one, he mused. Maybe he would invite Mai over for a visit, next time she was in Japan. He had gotten a letter from her last week, postmarked from China. It seemed she had teamed up with Vivian Wong, of all people, and they were currently making the rounds of the Chinese dueling circuit, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. It was nice to hear that Mai was making new friends, even if he did wonder how the independent Mai had found common ground with the man-chasing Vivian. He wondered what kind of influence they'd be on each other.
I need to write her and tell her my new address, he realized.
Well, there was still paper and a pen on the table from where Yugi had been making lists. He sat down and began scribbling out a note to update her on this latest turn of events, and a strong hint that she needed to come around and visit him. It had been several months since she'd gone off on her own, and he liked his friends close by where he could keep an eye on them.
While he was still occupied with this, there was a knock on the door.
"Back already?" he wondered. Then again, Yugi, Honda, Anzu, Bakura, and Otogi weren't his only friends, just the best. It was possible that some of his other school chums might drop in and say hello. It could even be the apartment manager coming to make sure everyone was in order. He got up and opened the door.
Someone punched him very hard in the gut. As Jonouchi staggered backwards, more surprised than injured, two masked men of about his age muscled their way into the apartment. That, he could have handled, but they both had small firearms pointed at him, and while he was fairly sure he could disarm one, it wasn't likely to be before the other one did something unpleasant to him.
"Easy, easy!" he said. "I just got this apartment, okay? I don't want anyone putting holes in it just yet."
The thugs were not impressed by his humor.
"Are you Katsuya Jonouchi?" one asked. "The one who hangs out with that Yugi kid?"
"Yeah, that might be me," Jonouchi admitted. "What's it to ya?"
"We want you to come hang out with us for a while."
"Hate to say it, but I don't much feel like hanging with ya. Kinda made a bad first impression, ya know?"
"You don't get much choice in the matter," said the other thug. "Get moving. And don't make a sound. We don't want anyone to know you're leaving, got it?"
He prodded Jonouchi with his gun, and Jonouchi began taking hesitant steps toward the door. He looked around desperately, searching for something that would help him, and his gaze fell on the letter he'd been writing. A tiny plan hatched in his mind.
"Hey, my buddies are coming back soon," he said. "If they come home and I'm not here, they'll know something's up. They'll find you before you have a chance to hide. They might even call Seto Kaiba and get him on your case. How would you like that, huh?"
That got their attention.
"All right," said the second goon, who seemed to be the leader. "You write 'em a note telling them you've gone somewhere. Tell 'em not to wait for you. Make it sound natural - and don't even think of trying to stall until they get back. We've got a lookout posted at the end of the hall, and as soon as someone starts heading this way, he'll signal us, and we might be forced to take drastic action, got it?"
Jonouchi nodded, his mouth going dry as he thought about what kind of "drastic action" they might take. He sat down at the table and began scribbling down a note - a mere eight sentences that he hoped would convey the right message. Then he stuffed the pen in his pocket. He glanced over his note one last time, hoping its contents would be clear to the one it was addressed to.
Please, Yugi, figure out what this means!
"Okay, I'm done. Do what you've got to do."
In response, the gunmen jerked him to his feet and pulled his hands behind his back.
"We're going for a little walk," said one. "Don't try anything funny. We don't have to keep you alive."
"Figures," Jonouchi muttered. "Fine, fine, I'll play your game. If you go getting blood on my carpet, I'm gonna be pretty ticked."
"Oh, you don't have to worry about that," said the boss, chuckling. "If we kill you, it won't be here. Now, move."
A few minutes later, Yugi and the others arrived on Jonouchi's doorstep, their arms laden with shopping bags.
"I didn't think we were going to buy this much stuff!" said Yugi, struggling to manage a bag that looked nearly as big as he was.
"Well, you kept seeing more things you thought he'd need!" Otogi replied. "Hey, Jonouchi, open up! We've got more stuff for you to unpack."
There was no answer. Jonouchi's stereo was continuing to blare music, but other than that, the room was empty.
"He's not answering," Honda muttered. "That lazy bum. Bet he got bored of unpacking and went to sleep."
He tried the door and found it was unlocked. Entering the apartment, they all could see that the main rooms held no sign of Jonouchi.
"Maybe he's in the john?" Honda said.
Bakura wandered over to the bathroom door and rapped on it. It swung inward at his touch.
"Not here either," he said.
"There's a note on the table," said Anzu. She picked it up and scanned it. "It says he went to the video store, and to get some groceries. It says we shouldn't wait for him."
"Why would he do that?" Honda said. "It's not like him to skip out on us."
"Maybe he just needed some fresh air?" Bakura suggested. "It's been pretty claustrophobic in here, with all five of us running around."
"Yeah, I heard him say once that he hates small, enclosed spaces," Honda said.
"It still sounds wrong," said Yugi. "Let me see that note!"
Anzu handed it to him, and he read it over carefully. It read: Kinda boring waiting for you guys. I'm gonna buy some groceries, and then run down to the movie place to look at video games. Didn't think you guys would like having to go out twice in one night to buy stuff for me, so I'm just going to do it myself. Next time, wait until you know everything I need before you run off to buy me stuff! As punishment, I'm leaving the rest of the unpacking to you. Please take special care of my cards, especially my Dragon Capture Jar. Put that one somewhere extra safe. Everyone knows it's my favorite card! Don't wait up for me - I might be out pretty late. It was signed with Jonouchi's name, and was in Jonouchi's handwriting, but Yugi was nevertheless not fooled.
"There is something wrong," he said. "Jonouchi wouldn't write this!"
"What's wrong with it?" asked Otogi, who had been reading over his shoulder. "It looks okay to me."
"It's not," said Yugi firmly. "Look at this bit about the cards. He doesn't even have a Dragon Capture Jar - and he knows I would know that. He must have mentioned it for a reason. Hm..."
He read over the letter again silently, running his finger along each line. Sometime he would pause and mutter something to himself, as if making calculations in his head. Then he snapped his fingers.
"Jonouchi's been kidnapped!" he exclaimed.
"What?" Anzu exclaimed. "How can you know?"
"Just because he mentions the Dragon Capture Jar, doesn't mean Jonouchi himself has been captured," said Bakura. "Not that I blame you for being paranoid, after all we've been through, but..."
"No, I'm positive," said Yugi. "He wrote it himself, in every sentence. Look at the first letter of each one! They spell K-I-D-N-A-P-P-E-D!"
"Hey, you're right!" said Otogi. "There's no way that could have happened by accident."
"We should call the police or something!" said Anzu. "Where's the phone?"
Bakura picked it up, and then put it down again. "No dial tone. It looks like they haven't gotten it hooked up for him right now."
"We'll go to my place," said Yugi. "It's the closest. We can call from there, and then we'll start looking for him ourselves."
Even in his current condition, Jonouchi was finding inspiration to make jokes.
What a change! I go from having a tiny little apartment to rooming in a building with a few thousand feet of floor space! Am I lucky guy or what? Well, I guess my new roommates aren't so great...
He took a moment to listen to his captors, who were just now chatting quietly to each other and ignoring their captive. Why shouldn't they? After he had been marched out of his apartment building, they had bundled him into a car and dragged him into this place, which he was guessing was a warehouse of some sort, judging by the way voices echoed around him. That was the only thing he had to go by, because they had blindfolded him to keep him from seeing where they had taken him, as well as tying his wrists behind him and gagging him. Once they had marched him to his holding place, he'd had his feet tied as well, and they had taken the further precaution of fixing the bindings on his wrist to the wall by means of a bicycle security chain. They didn't think he'd be going anywhere any time soon.
At least now he had a general notion of what they were up to. Judging by the scraps of conversation they were picking up, they were part of a local video game store that had been looking to get Yugi to do commercials for them. Jonouchi even remembered something about that deal, vaguely. Ever since Yugi's victory in the last few tournaments, his notoriety and popularity had skyrocketed. People came from all over the country or even from other parts of the world, just to buy cards from the Mutous' humble game shop, so they could have the honor of owning a card that had once been handled by Yugi, or even believing some of his good fortune would rub off on them. Yugi was trying his hardest to downplay all of this and stay out of the media as much as he could, particularly in the wake of his other self's passing. He didn't want any more publicity, and had told the agency to go away and let him sell toys in peace. Obviously they weren't happy with being told no, and had decided to do something a bit drastic.
"Should we go ahead and call the Mutou kid?" asked one of his captors.
"Nah," said the other. "Let him sweat a bit first. He won't get really scared until his friend has been gone for a couple of days. We need to give him just enough time to get worried, but not enough for him to get the cops on our tail. I figure it'll take them a while to search all of Domino, so we've got some time to play with."
"Guess you're right," said the other. "We'll let our guest get some sleep and talk about this in the morning, huh?"
The other man agreed, and the two of them shuffled off. Jonouchi listened to them as their footfalls echoed around him and died away. He waited a few moments to give them time to take themselves far away. Once they were gone, he set about taking stock of his situation.
Man, you'd think these goofballs would realize I know about being kidnapped by now.
He tested the bonds on his hands. The bicycle chain had plenty of leeway on it, but his wrists themselves were so tightly tied that he was amazed his hands hadn't fallen off from blood loss by now. His feet, however, were only loosely bound up. He supposed they thought he wouldn't be able to get his bonds free without using his hands. Well, that was their problem.
He wiggled around a little, rubbing the heels of his shoes against the concrete floor. He had always been fond of these shoes - they were the ones he had gotten from the Junky Scorpion some years ago, and while they were no longer quite as stylish as they had once been, and one still had a small hole in the top, they were still good shoes. They were, in fact, very comfortably padded, and had plenty of decoration on the outside. They took up some space, and whoever had tied his ankles had thought of this when he had done it. Those shoes wouldn't fit through small spaces... but Jonouchi's bare feet might. He managed to kick the shoes off, and then began carefully maneuvering his socked feet through the twists of rope. Within seconds, he had kicked them away. Now to deal with the rest of his bonds.
At least they'd had the decency to use a bicycle security chain instead of something a bit more solid. He gave it a touch-inspection and discovered that it was held in place by a tubular lock. He grinned a little. As if he really couldn't get past one of these! He fished in his pocket and took out the pen he'd been using to write with earlier, and unscrewed it, fishing out the plastic barrel. That was the nice thing about tubular locks - they were exactly the right size and shape to be picked with a common pen. The plastic barrel was just flexible enough to mold to the shape of the lock, forming itself into an instant key. It took a little more tinkering than usual to manage it blindfolded and backwards, but he got himself free in the end. Unfortunately, he could not bend his hands around far enough to get the blindfold off. He was free to get up and walk around, if he chose, but he'd never be able to see where he was going.
Time to get out of here.
Using the wall for support, he was able to climb to his feet. It felt good to be standing up, after a few hours of sitting on the floor listening to his captors gloat over him. He kicked around until he found his shoes and shoved them back on again. He was pretty good at that; he was the sort who laced his shoes up once and left them that way, and he had his doubts that the weather- beaten knots he'd put in his laces would ever come undone. Now to find his way back out of here. He began to walk, slowly and carefully, so as not to bump into anything, keeping one shoulder to the wall.
Definitely a warehouse, he decided, carefully maneuvering his way around a stack of crates. Not like that tells me much, but it's nice to know I was right.
His slow explorations gave him a good feel for what the inside of the building was like: smooth walls, with a metal strut braced against them every ten feet. He found a staircase in one corner and worked his way around it. If he went up there, he would only encounter his captors, and that would land him in more trouble than he wanted right now. They had probably put down their weapons, confident that he couldn't get away from them now, but he still didn't want to fight them blindfolded while his hands were tied behind his back. He suspected he could do one or the other, with only two men against him, but doing both at once was out of his league. He settled for identifying the spot where the pattern in the walls was disrupted. That could only mean one thing: he had found the door. He pressed his ear against the crack, and was rewarded by the distant sounds of moving traffic.
"Bingo," he said softly.
With a little careful positioning, he was able to get his hands around the doorknob and twist it. An intelligent criminal would have locked it, but he had already decided that these were hardly masterminds of crime. Even Hirutani could have taken these petty crooks! The door swung gently open for him, and he escaped into the glorious cool night.
"Okay, now what?" he wondered aloud.
Even if he couldn't see right now, he could guess that it was fairly late. It had been about eight when Otogi had arrived with the food, and it had taken about an hour for everyone to get settled down and eat, so the gang would have left to go shopping at about eight-thirty or so... so, yes, figuring in the amount of time he'd spent sitting doing nothing at home, and the time he'd spent sitting doing nothing here, it would have to be after midnight. He wasn't likely to meet anyone helpful wandering the streets at this time of night, certainly not in any part of Domino where there were industrial warehouses. He was more likely to meet someone who would decide that a guy who was blindfolded and tied up was a ready-made punching bag - or worse. He remembered some of the things Hirutani's gang used to do to helpless looking people they caught on the streets.
I am going to have to be so careful. Man, the next time I see these guys, I'm going to tie them up and leave them in the back alleys and see how long they last out here!
Okay, first things first. How to get to safety? Where was he, anyway? He listened, but the city noises didn't give him any clues. Feeling frustration rise, Jonouchi took a deep breath to steady himself... and as he did so, he caught a whiff of a familiar scent. Now, what was that? Soap. Something nearby smelled strongly of soap.
Okay, hotshot, here's a riddle: when does a grungy back street smell like soap? When people are washing stuff. Where would you find lots of people washing lots of things? At a laundromat, that's what!
He checked the wind, trying to work out exactly where the soap-scent was coming from. He knew of several laundromats in the city, and was sure there were more that he didn't know about, but it was a place to start. Certainly he would feel closer to a coin laundry than he would hanging around the building where he'd been chained up.
It didn't take him long to find the source of the detergent smell he'd been sniffing, and there he paused to get his bearings. It really must have been late, because in his experience, people haunted these places at all hours of the day. Surely someone would notice him had there been anyone around to do the noticing. There was a bench outside he could sit on, anyway, so he settled down to take stock of his situation.
I've gotta find help, somewhere, he decided. I wonder how close I am to home?
No answers would come to him, and after a while, he began to grow uncomfortable. The scent of cleaning solutions was almost overwhelming, for someone with his sensitive nose. It was beginning to make him sneeze, and if there was anything more annoying than having his hands tied behind his back, it was having his hands tied behind his back while his nose was running. Time to get out of here, or at least walk a little further away from the smell. He picked a direction and started walking.
"Whew! That's better. Who'd have thought it was this hard to find fresh air outside!" he said aloud.
He paused to rub his back against the corner of a shop front, trying to ease an itch between his shoulder blades.
Shoe store, I think, he mused idly. Shoe stores had a distinct smell all their own, one he rather liked. He'd hated shopping as much as any little boy, when he was young, and had been perfectly happy to wear his clothes until they fell apart at the seams, but shoes were another matter. Any little scuff or scratch had been enough to send him whining to his mother that he needed new shoes. He loved the feeling of walking into that cool, quiet room full of shoes and breathing in the distinct scent of leather...
Definitely a shoe store, he decided, just up the block from the laundromat. Hmm... isn't there a setup like that near Uonome Street? Yeah, that's right. If I remember, there's a pizza parlor just around the corner. If I can find that, I'll know where I am!
Enthused now that he had a plan, he began striding briskly up the sidewalk. Then he walked into a utility pole and decided he had better go back to the shoulder-against-the-wall routine. His memory of Domino's street layout was good, but he couldn't trust himself to remember where every last lamp post and telephone pole was. He made his way to the corner at a more dignified pace, and was rewarded as his sharp nose picked up a definite scent of garlic and tomato sauce.
"Woohoo!" he cheered. "I'm on the right track!"
Hope rose within him; Uonome Street wasn't all that far from where Yugi lived. He might just be able to make his way to the Kame Game Shop. Once he was there, he'd be free and safe. He'd often said he could find his way to Yugi's with his eyes closed, but this was the first time he'd actually been forced to try the experiment.
"Well, let's give this a shot!"
Okay, what was his next goal to be? He'd have to pick landmarks that he could find by smell. After a bit of thought, he set out around the corner and began making his way up the sidewalk, keeping his senses alert for the telltale scent of motor oil and metal that would mean the local garage. Beyond that was the all-pervasive stink of a fish shop. After that, he had to move slowly so that he didn't miss the faint, musty, slightly moldy scent of a used book shop. Feeling that he'd reached the home stretch, he picked up his pace as he rounded a corner. He was in a better neighborhood now. That enticing scent that hung in the air here was a local boutique that stocked top-of-the-line soaps and other body products, a smell that differed subtly from a nearby store that sold perfumes and intimate apparel. Just past those was the mouthwatering aroma of a coffee shop. Someone was already in the back, making cookies and cinnamon buns for the next day's business. Unable to contain his enthusiasm, Jonouchi broke into a jog. Now there were floral scents to guide him - he was entering a residential area now, and spring flowers were peeking out from window boxes and small patches of ground. At any moment, he'd reach the end of his journey...
The next thing Jonouchi knew, his feet had gotten tangled up in something, and he toppled over and fell helplessly onto the sidewalk. He had forgotten about the sign in front of the game store, and now he had tripped over it. To add insult to injury, the sign toppled over and smacked him on the backside.
"Ow," he said vaguely.
There was a clatter somewhere off to his side, and a jingle like a bell being run. Then there were footsteps, many of them, and a babble of voices.
"Jonouchi!" Yugi exclaimed.
"Yeah, that's me," Jonouchi answered, with some difficulty. His chin was sore from banging into the sidewalk.
"Let's get you inside." That was Grandpa's comforting voice. Jonouchi felt hands picking him up and helping him to his feet, and he allowed himself to be helped into the building.
"Look who we found!" Yugi called.
"Jonouchi! You're okay!" said Anzu.
"Looks like you've had an interesting night," said Honda.
"No kidding," said Otogi. "Were you really in trouble, or were you just out having a good time?"
"Very funny," said Jonouchi.
"Here, hold still," Yugi told him.
Jonouchi held still, and felt Yugi brushing a cold, damp cloth against his bleeding chin. Someone else, maybe Grandpa, was tugging at the ties that bound his hands. They were numb from being tied up so long, but he could feel his arms being jostled as the knots came undone. A moment later, he discovered he could see, as well, as the blindfold fell off. He was greeted by the sight of the familiar game shop, and the concerned faces of his friends. He smiled slightly.
"Man, you guys are a sight for sore eyes," he said.
"Where the heck have you been?" Honda demanded. "We've been looking all over for you!"
Yugi nodded seriously. "We were kind of hoping you might find your way back here. You usually do, when you're in trouble."
"Aw, it was no big deal," said Jonouchi. He winced as the feeling began coming back into his fingers and began trying to rub some life back into them. "There were only two, maybe three guys, and only two of 'em had guns. They didn't put up much of a fight."
"So how did you wind up with your hands tied behind your back?" Otogi asked skeptically.
Jonouchi gave him his most serious look. "Oh, come on. You don't think I couldn't take out two guys with my hands tied behind my back? I mean, that's seriously the only way to do it so it's fair." Noting the looks he was getting from his other friends, he added, "All right, all right. They came at me with guns, so I couldn't put up a fight, could I? They tied me up and locked me down with a stupid bicycle lock, like they didn't think I could pick something that easy."
"Even with your hands tied behind your back?" asked Bakura curiously.
"Even with my hands behind my back," said Jonouchi. "It's easy. You could do it. See, you just-"
"So you picked the lock," said Honda loudly. "Then what?"
Jonouchi shrugged. "I walked home."
"In a blindfold?" asked Anzu.
"Yes," Jonouchi said. "It wasn't that hard, once I got the hang of it. I just followed my nose."
"You did?" asked Honda. "Man! I used to kid about you having a nose like a bloodhound, but I didn't really think you could sniff your way home."
"It's called 'street sense'," said Jonouchi.
"Is that spelled S-E-N-S-E or S-C-E-N-T-S?" asked Yugi.
Otogi groaned. "Lame pun! Shame on both of you!"
"Hey, he made it, not me!" said Jonouchi. "Anyway, maybe we oughta talk to the police or something? I bet those two guys are still sound asleep, thinking I'm tied up in a warehouse."
"Good idea," said Grandpa. "You wait, and I'll be right back."
"Ha! Wish I could be there to see the looks on their ugly mugs when they wake up with the cops breathing in their faces," said Jonouchi. "But right now, I'm glad enough just to be able to see."
"How come? Looks like your nose served you pretty well," Otogi teased.
"Why do I get the feeling this story is going to be spread all over town?" asked Jonouchi.
Yugi giggled. "Well, if the police are going to get involved, there's probably going to be a news story, and we are kind of local celebrities..."
"So they're going to get a nose for news?" Bakura offered.
"Not you too!" Otogi complained. "I thought you had better taste than that."
"It's not taste we're talking about," said Honda.
"Your jokes all stink," Jonouchi declared. "And I am saying so because I am the official expert now."
He laughed as his friends began to pummel him. Yes, it was good to be back among his favorite people.
A short while later, the police arrived to escort Jonouchi and his friends to the station, so they could get everything straightened out. The kidnappers were apprehended not long after Jonouchi himself arrived, and he was able to confirm that they were the ones who had abducted him. They'd still had their firearms in their possession, and the bicycle chain with its picked lock was found in the warehouse. Jonouchi was able to produce the dismantled pen and show how it fit into the bicycle lock, and offered the blindfold and the rope that had tied his hands as further evidence. On the whole, it seemed like a fairly straightforward case, and Jonouchi was praised for his bravery in escaping these armed hoods. He accepted the praise modestly and wondered what the police would think if he informed them that he had several times escaped having his soul stolen by insane magic users. He settled for thanking everyone politely and leaving them his contact information so he could be easily found later.
The sun was just beginning to rise as he left the station, bathing the city in pale gold light. He grinned, thinking once again just how wonderful it was to be able to see everything. He really was going to have to have a serious talk about this with Shizuka. She would be interested, and probably amused, to hear how her brother handled the challenge. He was going to have to tell Mai, too - and possibly jazz it up a little to make the adventure sound more impressive. She wouldn't believe it, but she expected it from him, and would be disappointed if he didn't have at least one swashbuckling tale of adventure to tell her next time they met. He mused on this as he wandered along, making up exciting embellishments as he walked.
It wasn't for a while that it occurred to him that it had been a long time since he'd been in this part of town, and he didn't really know how to get back to his new apartment from here. He sighed.
Oh, well, he thought, at least I know the trick to finding my way home...