Author's note: This fic was inspired mainly by the prompt "Some advice" at 30 Friends, but also by other prompts at various other communities on LiveJournal. This is meant to be a friendship fic. Disclaimer: the characters aren't mine, but the story is, and there's a slight reference to one of my other fics. Thanks to LuckyLadybug for plot help!
Joey Wheeler was known for being a bright and upbeat person; he was the one who, in the face of danger, ended up playing a game of broom hockey to trip up his enemies. He was the one who would always make some sort of ridiculous joke or comment to make his enemies cringe or roll their eyes. He was the one who always went everywhere with a kind word and a smile for everyone. So it was a concern to his friends when he showed up at the Kame Game Store one morning, looking visibly distraught and upset.
"It's nothing, guys; really…" he said, as they questioned him about it.
But he couldn't hide the truth in his eyes; Mai was the first to see it.
"It's your father again, isn't it?" she asked, in a soft voice. "Did you have another argument with him?"
"Uh…" he replied, wondering how to cover it up. But he was the world's worst liar; and now that she had found the cause, it would be impossible to deny it. "Yeah, it was him again…" he said at last.
"I knew we stayed at the arcade too long," said Yugi, apologetically. "Did he catch you coming in late again? I'm so sorry; do you think it would help if I went and talk to--?"
"No, Yugi," the blond-haired youth replied. The last thing he wanted was for Yugi to get yelled at by his father; no one deserved that, and Joey wasn't about to let his best friend suffer like that. "It's not your fault."
"Are you sure you're okay?" asked Téa, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"I'll be fine, you guys," Joey assured them. "He's going to forget about it after he comes out of his state, so there's no point in dwelling over it."
"Sure; he's going to forget it, but, in the meantime, what about you?" asked Mai, with a frown. "You're going to be dwelling over it for a while, aren't you?
"Nah; I'll put it behind me, too," he assured her. "I know by now that it usually takes less than a day--"
"I don't see why you're acting so casual about this," said Tristan, angrily. "You're out of high school, Joey; why are you putting up with all of that!? Just tell him you're hitting the road and finding your own place. If he wants to keep on drinking that stuff, then that's his problem. You shouldn't have to suffer for it."
"It's not me that I'm worried about," Joey replied, without thinking.
"Joey, I really don't see what you can do to get him to stop," said Duke. "It's his life. He's deciding to mess it up, and that's his decision."
"You should just pack up and leave, Joey," said Bakura. "Then he'd see that his actions have cost him his wife, his daughter, and now his son--"
"I'm not worried about him, either!" Joey snapped, causing Bakura to retreat a step backward. "I've given up trying to get him to change; I know it's pointless!" He caught himself. "Sorry, Bakura."
"Joey, what did he say?" asked Yugi. He knew that something Mr. Wheeler had said had struck a nerve in Joey. Yugi was thankful that, even in that state, Mr. Wheeler never got violent, but he knew that words could be just as painful as blows. And Joey was clearly hurting.
"Look… it's nothing, okay?" Joey insisted. "Don't think I don't appreciate you guys trying to look out for me and make me feel better… but I just don't think you can help in this situation." He sighed. "I need to clear my head; I'm going to go for a walk. Catch you guys later…"
He left the shop, the cheerful ringing of the bells upon the door providing a stark contrast to the blond-haired youth's mood.
"So… who wants to follow him?" asked Yugi, but his thoughts were diverted as the bells rang again, and as Mai and Téa left the shop. "Girls, wait for us!"
"I said I wanted to clear my head…" said Joey, as he noticed the crowd following him. "But, whatever…"
"Joey, if you'd just stop acting like Kaiba and tell us--" Tristan began, but he paused as Joey came to an abrupt halt.
"That's it, Tristan; you're smarter than you look!" Joey exclaimed.
"Thanks… I think…" the other youth replied, with a slight frown. "What did I say again?"
"Kaiba!" Joey said, picking up his pace again. "If he bothers to listen, he just might help--"
"Joey, you're going to Seto Kaiba for help instead of your best friends!?" asked Mai. "Wake up, oh poor, delusional child!"
"I told you, you just won't be able to help in this situation!" Joey insisted.
"Well, maybe if you told us--" Bakura began.
"Wait a minute," said Téa. "Are you trying to say that Kaiba can help you where when we can't!?"
"Defies all logic; I know…" the blond youth admitted. "But in some crazy way, it just might work!"
"But I don't see how…" Yugi began, but then he trailed off as he realized that Joey's predicament was one that Seto Kaiba could indeed advise… assuming, of course, that he would be willing to advise Joey Wheeler.
And Yugi was having his doubts about it; it had taken Mokuba's intervention to allow them entry into the Kaiba Corporation building in the first place. And now Joey was pounding upon the CEO's locked door; something that would definitely not work in the blond youth's favor.
At last, the door opened, and Seto regarded the visiting crowd with a scowl as Mokuba shrugged in reply to his brother's questioning glance.
"Joey said that he needed to speak with you," the boy said. "He says that you might be the only one who can help him."
"Really, Wheeler?" asked Seto, his eyebrows arched. "Well, if you're trying to tell me that you're starting your own company, let me just say that I doubt that even I could help you with that."
"Like I'd want to start my own company," Joey replied. "Nah, I wanted to talk to you about something else--"
"Then it's going to have to wait until my working hours are over," Seto replied, returning to his desk.
The others were about to protest, but Joey stepped forward.
"No worries, Kaiba; I can wait," he said, and he leaned against the filing cabinet, whistling a tune from Oklahoma.
"How long until Kaiba gives in?" asked Tristan, under his breath.
"I say ten minutes," Duke replied.
"Nah; this is Joey's off-key whistling we're talking about," Tristan replied. "I say five minutes."
Seto, with a frustrated sigh, slammed his fist onto the desk.
"What do you want, Wheeler?"
"OK, so we were both wrong…" Tristan mused.
"Well, the problem's with my father--"
"Wheeler, this is a gaming company, not a discussion group!" Seto retorted. "Why are you trying to waste my time with this!?"
"Joey, maybe we should go…" said Yugi, who had feared this outcome. "Maybe we can help you if you just calm down and tell us…"
"Okay; I'm sorry," said Joey, backing away. "I just thought that you might have been able to help me since you've been here before."
"Hold it…" Seto said, his eyes narrowing. "You've come to me with your problem, and you haven't even consulted your entourage yet?"
"They wouldn't understand…"
Seto rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"Fine, Wheeler; you have exactly three minutes. Start talking."
"I don't know how much you know about my father, but…" Joey trailed off as Seto started glancing though a stack of invoices.
"Go on; I'm listening," the CEO replied, half-heartedly.
"He drinks a lot," Joey went on. "And so we often get into a lot of arguments… especially when I walk in late. Normally, I'm able to ignore it, but--"
"What did he say about that sister of yours?" asked Seto, not even taking his eyes off the invoices.
"How did you…?"
"It stands to reason, doesn't it?" the CEO replied, still not making eye contact. "You've clearly put up with him long enough to ignore everything he says about you, no doubt due to the help of your little group of friends," he added, as Yugi, Mai, and Téa exchanged glances. "So the only thing that would send you to me would be if he said something about your younger sibling, since you would assume that I would have defended my younger brother against my stepfather. Is that it?"
"For someone who doesn't believe in psychics, you sure could give them a run for their money…" Joey said, with a shake of his head. "But… you're right. It's the first time he ever dragged Serenity into the conversation."
"What happened?" asked Mai, concerned for the girl as well.
"Well, my dad and I were arguing about me coming in late… he said that all the time I spent with my friends was time that I was wasting. He said that I could be working at a job and bring home some money. And so I told him that I wouldn't need to get a job if he just quit drinking and saved that money for something else... that it'd help his health… and that he might even convince my mother to come back if she realized that he had changed his ways."
"Something tells me that didn't end well…" he said.
"It didn't," Joey replied, looking furious. "Since I was stupid enough to bring my mother into the argument, he brought Serenity into the argument, too. He said that everything we're going through now is her fault, and her fault alone."
"What!?" asked Téa, horrified.
"He said that it was because of her eye trouble and all of her doctor bills that we ran out of money," Joey fumed. "He said that the stress from all of that was too much for the family, and between the stress and the lack of money, Serenity is the reason why he split up with my mom. He even said that I was the world's biggest idiot for giving all of my Duelist Kingdom money for her eye operation when I could've paid all of the family's debts!"
He threw a punch at the filing cabinet, but Seto didn't say anything about it.
"He mumbled something else about Serenity's 'misdeeds,' but by that time, he was so incoherent, I couldn't figure out what he was saying… and something tells me I'm better off not knowing what it was." He let out a deep sigh. "I know it wasn't really him talking, and that he's going to forget everything, but I just can't help getting upset over it."
"You have every right to be upset!" said Mai, her arms folded. "In fact, I'm half tempted to have a word with him."
"I'm telling you, Joey," said Tristan. "Just ship out."
"Well, that's why I'm here," said Joey. "I was hoping that Kaiba might know what to do."
Seto looked up from his work at last.
"Just how intent are you on ensuring your sister's safety?" he asked.
"As intent as you are on ensuring your brother's safety," Joey replied.
"Then I don't need to tell you the obvious; don't let him anywhere near her," Seto replied, turning back to work. "Less obviously, I wouldn't leave just yet. You have a sacrifice to make for your sister's sake; if your father finds out that you're too stubborn to argue with, he just might turn his attention to your sister."
"Seto, do you mean that you…?" Mokuba began, but decided to ask later. After hearing his brother's words, he had a feeling that it was no coincidence that Gozaburo had, for the most part, ignored him.
"But my dad's not always like this," said Joey. "He was once a nice guy. Actually, he usually is a nice guy."
"Then shouldn't you try to get him some help?" the CEO asked.
"I've tried that; he gets better for a while, and then it's back to square one," fumed Joey.
"Then keep trying," said Mokuba. "We didn't have a choice as to how Gozaburo was, but at least your dad has a good side. Go find it."
Joey nodded; it all seemed to make sense now.
"By the way, Wheeler, your three minutes are long over," said Seto.
"Don't worry; I'm going…" the blond youth replied, his spirits higher than before. He followed his friends out of the office. "Thanks, Kaiba."
The CEO, still not looking up, acknowledged him with the slightest of nods.