Author's Note: I really wanted to write a story about Mai coming back to Domino and trying to make amends, especially with Joey. This is a friendship story, but I could end up writing a Mai & Joey story later on depending on how this story is received. There are a few references to the series in this story. Disclaimer: I don't own these characters.
The young woman stared at the approaching pier as she looked over the railing of the boat. A light summer breeze was lifting her blond hair as memories returned to her, some of them pleasant, others not so much.
"I didn't think I'd ever come back here," she thought. "And so soon, too."
And yet, she was here, approaching Domino.
"I promised myself I'd never come back," she went on. "I could never face them again… I could never face him again… So why am I here?"
Her mind knew the answer; even though she couldn't face her friends, she still wanted to see them again. But were they still her friends? After everything she had done to them, after betraying them all, would they still consider her a friend?
"Yugi would," she said to herself. "That kid would welcome me back in a heartbeat. And at this point, I'm grateful that he would. Come to think of it, Téa would welcome me back, too, after a while…"
But she wasn't sure about the others.
"I doubt Kaiba could care less whether I'm back or not… Mokuba might say 'hi,' if anything. And I barely know Bakura. But Duke and Tristan wouldn't trust me at all… not that I can blame them…"
She blinked a few tears back, promising herself not to cry as the boat arrived at the pier.
"And Serenity…" she continued. "She once held me in such high regard. I doubt she'd think that now, after what I did to her brother…"
Her heart seemed to cringe as her thoughts turned to him.
"What would he think of me now?" she asked herself. "Oh, Joey, if you only knew how agonizing this feeling is… Sometimes the pain of the betrayer is greater than that of the betrayed. I know you won't believe me, but it's true."
Her thoughts were diverted now by the announcement to disembark. Her feet reached the familiar Domino Pier. She remembered coming here during Battle City, and she remembered how she felt that day, when she almost lost Joey after he had been pulled underwater by an anchor.
"I almost wish I could turn back the clock to Battle City," she thought. "If I could, I would have been the one to save you. And I never would have gotten involved with Dartz afterwards."
She sighed again. It was time to face the music; that was the whole reason she had come here. She decided to walk; it would give her time to prepare what she was going to say to all of them.
She walked in silence, passing by familiar places. She remembered these sights; the seaside town had grown on her during her brief stay during Battle City. Some of the occupants had grown on her, too… until she denied them all and betrayed them. That thought was always there, taunting her.
The first familiar face she came across was Seto Kaiba; she had been passing by the Kaibacorp building as he was leaving for the day. He barely gave her any inclination of recognition whatsoever, save for the slightest double-take. She paused as she watched him head for his waiting limo.
"Kaiba…" she said, and he turned back. "I see things haven't changed for you, huh?"
"Not especially," he replied, cold and curt as always. "And I see you've lost the biker look."
This was true; she had gone back to her old wardrobe. She didn't want to be reminded of those days, even if she had found a friend in Valon. But at what cost? She had abandoned her closest friends in the process.
"So… so I have," she said.
"Any news from that Alister?" Seto asked, half-heartedly.
Seto could tell that she was in no mood to talk about those events, so he dismissed it.
"Tell Mokuba I said 'hi,'" she offered.
"I'll do that," he answered, in his typically brusque fashion. With that, he got into his limo, which pulled away.
She had expected that reaction from him; Kaiba would be at odds with anyone else, too. He had no grudge against her; then again, they had not crossed paths during the Orichalcos fiasco. But she was still grateful that he harbored no ill feelings; after all, Kaiba was not to be considered a trusting person.
She watched the limo turn the corner, and her thoughts turned back to Valon. Her memories of Valon were bittersweet; she was grateful for his friendship, but he always reminded her of the one she had cast aside: Joey Wheeler. Valon was no fool; he knew that her feelings for Joey were still there, and like the Phantom releasing Christine to Raoul, Valon had been the one to insist that she return to Domino and at least talk to Joey. He had seen it in her eyes; she had longed to return to the life, and the friends, that she had abandoned. So he told her to do so, even if it meant that he would now be the one to be cast aside.
She silently thanked Valon for understanding, and she continued on, praying that Joey and the others would understand, too.
She now approached the Kame Game Store in apprehension. Her hand rested on the door handle, but she was reluctant to open it.
"This is my moment of truth," she realized. "It all comes down to this… If someone had told me in my younger days that the most difficult thing I'd ever have to do was to talk to someone, I'd have said that they were crazy. But I guess I'm the crazy one here… crazy to ever throw away the first friends I ever had… crazy to lose something so precious… Whatever happens in here and whatever they say to me, whether good or bad, will be what I deserve."
Summoning all of her mental strength, she opened the door and stepped inside. The bells upon the door chimed, signaling her entrance, and a half-dozen heads turned in her direction.
Their faces were alight with awe and amazement; they had never expected her to return, either. She glanced over all of them, but her eyes focused on the blond boy who was standing behind the counter, holding what seemed to be a newly-purchased Duel Monster card that he had just retrieved off of one of the shelves. His eyes met hers, and the card slipped from his grasp.
"Mai!?" he blurted out, not even noticing the dropped card.
He immediately vaulted over the counter to get a closer look and see if he was hallucinating, but he caught his foot on the edge of the countertop, and he ended up flat on his face.
"Wow…" he said, his face muffled from the floor. "I must've fallen asleep on my feet; I just dreamt that Mai walked through the door."
"Then, wake up, Wheeler," Mai said, a smile finding its way onto her face for the first time in months.
Téa helped Joey to his feet as Mai approached them. He stared at her, still trying to convince himself that she was really here.
"How's it going, Mai?" asked Yugi.
She felt like hugging him for that; it was as though nothing had ever come between them at all. That was so typical of Yugi.
"It's… it's been alright, I guess," she said, trying to sound like her old self. "But I really did miss you knuckleheads a lot, so I decided to come by and see what's been going on here."
"That's our Mai!" said Téa. "She's definitely back to normal, guys!"
The gratitude inside her was increasing by the minute, even though Joey hadn't said another word yet; he was still in some sort of trance.
"Listen," said Mai. "This is really difficult for me to say, and I know it doesn't come anywhere near to making up for everything that I've done, but--"
"Mai, you don't have to apologize," assured Yugi. "We know that you didn't mean those things."
"You can forgive me so easily?" she asked, almost in disbelief.
"Why not?" asked Tristan. "Bakura's Millennium Ring used to make him turn on us all the time; we didn't--"
Téa elbowed him to keep him quiet as Bakura gave him a slightly cold look.
"You guys haven't changed a bit, have you?" Mai asked, smiling again.
"Not for the most part…" said Yugi. "But it hasn't been the same since Atem left."
"Atem?" she asked, confused.
"The Pharaoh," he explained.
"He's left? What do you mean…?" Mai trailed off as she noticed that Yugi was no longer wearing the Millennium Puzzle around his neck. "Oh… Yugi, I'm so sorry…"
"It was meant to happen," Yugi assured her. "And I know that he'd have been happy to see you again."
"He would have been, wouldn't he…?" she asked, more to herself.
"So what have you been doing, Mai?" asked Téa.
"Oh, a lot of traveling," she said. "Mostly in my own mind… trying to find answers to questions that I thought I could answer before… and I'm still trying to find some of those answers."
"Well, we're all glad that your search led you here," said Duke. "Don't be a stranger now, got it?"
"I don't intend to be," she promised them. "I'll be back before you know it. Thanks for everything."
They all returned her sentiments, except Joey, who still hadn't said a word. She glanced at him again for a moment, and upon realizing that he still hadn't grasped the situation, she decided to take her leave of them. With a round of goodbyes, she departed the shop.
"She was actually here…" said Joey, speaking at last as he stared at the door. "She was really, really here…"
Téa glared at him.
"And you are 'really, really' dumb!" she quipped.
Mai walked away from the shop, her heart more content than it had been in a long time. She was still disappointed that Joey hadn't said anything to her, but she could understand his confusion. After everything that she had put him through, her arrival must have been a huge shock for him.
"He needs some time…" she decided. "And maybe I do, too…"
"Mai!" a voice called behind her. "Mai, wait!"
"Or maybe not…" she went on, tears of gratitude making their way onto her eyes.
She turned as Joey approached her.
"I… uh… Well, there are a few things that I wanted to say, Mai," he said. "But I didn't get a chance to back there…"
"No, really?" she asked, not sure whether she was going to laugh or cry.
"I really missed you, too, Mai," he said. "And… I'm sorry that I ever made you so unhappy back then."
She couldn't believe him; he was apologizing to her!? After betraying him and casting him aside, he was asking for her forgiveness!?
"Joey, don't you ever say that again!" she ordered.
"Joey, you're the reason I broke free in the end," she said, her voice softening. "And you're also the main reason why I came back here. I hurt you deeply, and I am so sorry for that."
"I… I didn't need… you didn't have to say--"
"I know." She sighed, grateful for him, too. "So… how's Serenity?"
"Oh, she's great!" said Joey, perking up again.
"How did she… handle it when you told her what happened?"
"I never did tell her…" Joey admitted. "I still wanted her to look up to you… the real you. But I'll be glad to tell her that you're back. You are back, right? I mean, are you leaving again?"
"I will, but only for a little while," she said. "It's like I told the others; I'll be back before you know it."
"And we'll be waitin' for you!" Joey promised her.
"I know you will," she said. "Thanks for everything, Joey."
She and Joey parted ways.
Mai would have to leave Domino for a little while; she would have to meet Valon… and say her goodbyes to him. She would be coming back to Domino, and this time, for good. She had found the friends she had sought, and she wasn't about to lose them again.