Author's Note: This short ficlit was inspired by the song "A Change in My Life" by Rockapella, and it takes place sometime during my mystery fic "Folgen Sie Ihrem Traum." It's my first try at anything Joey/Mai (other than the casual hint of feelings), but since it's a pairing I support, I decided to try it.
Moving on wasn't an easy task. Mai Valentine had learned that the hard way. And as much as she had tried to put her past behind her, sometimes it wouldn't leave her alone. And today was such an example.
Oh, these feelings were nothing new. She had dealt with them before. But why did they still hurt…?
It had started with a look through a magazine and seeing a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. The sight of San Francisco brought, unbidden, the memories of what had happened there.
She sat on a bench in the middle of the park, paying no attention to Weevil Underwood, who was skulking around somewhere, waiting for a passing duelist to challenge (and possibly rip off). He had approached within a yard of where Mai was sitting, but one glare from her sent him on his way fairly quickly. The events surrounding the Orichalcos fiasco hadn't seemed to leave a lasting impression on him. But Mai had not been the same after San Francisco.
I lost a piece of myself there, she realized. It was true. How else could she have allowed herself to act so cruel and cold to someone she knew she had cared for so deeply? And she had hurt him then. And in spite of however he tried to cover up the fact that he had been in pain, she knew that Joseph Wheeler had suffered directly because of her.
And, in spite of it all, he and the others had welcomed her back to Domino with open arms, and she had even solved a perplexing mystery with them. Everything was just as it had been before… except that it did not erase the memories, or the fact that they truly did happen.
But Joseph Wheeler grinned and bore it, just like he grinned and bore every other misfortune that rained on him. And he had had quite a fair share of them, too.
She smiled to herself. When she had first met him, Joey was nothing more than another opponent. How on earth had he succeeded worming his way into her heart…?
"Hey, Mai!" a voice said, jarring her from her thoughts.
"Joey…!" she chided. "Don't do that!"
"Sorry…" he grinned, taking the seat next to her. "So what're you doing out here all by yourself?"
"I could ask you the same question," she said, folding her arms in amusement. "You're not the one to wander around alone."
"Yeah, I guess…" he said. "Everyone's been doing there own thing lately… Téa's dancing around the world, Yugi's helping his grandpa run the shop, and Tristan's off cruising around on his motorcycle somewhere." His eyes narrowed. "He'd just better not be trying to ask my sister out again…"
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," said Mai. "Duke won't let him ask Serenity out so easily."
"Thanks; that makes me feel so much better…" Joey replied, sarcastically.
The blond woman merely shook her head in amusement.
"I have to say, Joey, you have it pretty well."
"I have what pretty well…?" the young man asked, bewildered.
"Life," she replied. "Look at you. Your biggest worry is trying to keep your sister single."
Joey, who had been slouching back, sat up now.
"Is something worrying you, Mai?" he asked.
"Nothing that can be helped… Not really anything you need to worry about," she said. "Just memories…"
But Joey knew exactly which memories were the worrisome ones.
"I thought you put all that behind you, Mai," he said. "You know, I hate agreeing with Kaiba, but in this case, I think you'd better take his advice and treat this part of your past as ancient history."
"I've tried, Joey; I really have," she said. "That's why I came back here. But it's every so often that I remember. I hate it. I hate that it happened. I hate that I have to remember it. I hate that I have to carry this regret with me wherever I go. Sometimes, I look at you, and I think how wonderful it must be to never have any regrets."
"No regrets? Me?" Joey asked, incredulously. "Man, have you got the wrong number!"
"You…?" Mai asked, her eyebrows arched. "What do you have to regret?"
"Plenty…" he replied. "I regret that I wasn't able to keep my family together. I regret that I ever joined Hirutani's little group when I was younger. I regret how I used to treat Yugi before I got to know him better. I regret the time I was brainwashed and turned against him…" He clenched a fist.
"Point taken," said Mai. She had been there, watching him struggle against the mind control, finally breaking free.
"And I regret that I wasn't able to help you when you really needed it."
"Joey, don't even think about blaming yourself for my own stupid mistakes," Mai ordered. "I got myself into that mess."
"You were able to get yourself out of it, though," Joey reminded her. "You broke free, just like I did."
"Oh, sure… after wearing you out to the point that the Seal took you without a fight…"
"You know, Mai, I still can't believe that you're the same duelist who used to hate me… The duelist whom I thought was spoiled and materialistic…"
"And this is supposed to cheer me up?" asked Mai.
"Heh… I'm just trying to show you how much you've changed," Joey replied, with a grin. "You didn't care about anyone else when I first met you, and now look at you!"
"I guess I have you to thank for that," she said. "I was just thinking about how you and the others were the first friends I ever had… You guys all mean a lot to me; you really do. But at the same time…"
"It took the Orichalcos to show me how much you meant to me," she said. "Losing you like that was… It was the worst I'd ever felt."
"Well, then maybe that whole mess was good for something," said Joey. "Just like I realized how much I missed you when I was fighting for you in Battle City."
Mai was not about to tell Joey that she knew what had happened during his duel with Marik's dark side. It was Téa who had told her all of the frightening details… How Joey's essence had been connected to his monsters'… How he had to face Ra's phoenix form… And how they had nearly lost him…
"You've changed a lot, too, Joey," she said, coming back to the conversation. "You already knew about fighting for others when I met you, but the Joey Wheeler I knew then wouldn't have faced a wild-haired psycho, laying so much on the line for someone like me."
"I would've risked everything," Joey said.
I know you did, she thought.
She glanced back at him.
"I guess we've both changed," she concluded.
"Yeah, but I wouldn't let that concern you," he replied. "I think it's a change for the better."
"Well, I hope that's cleared up a few of your worries," said Joey, getting to his feet. "And if it has, then I'd say my work here is done!"
"And where is your work taking you next?"
"Oh, I don't know…" he yawned. "Maybe to the pizza parlor… It's lunchtime…" He trailed off as the clock tower chimed noon. "See? Eerie, isn't it? I know these things right on the money…"
"That's what happens when you think with your stomach…" she replied, rolling her eyes in amusement.
"But wouldn't you prefer having lunch in a nice restaurant rather than pizza for what's probably the fiftieth time this month alone?" she went on.
"Yeah… if I could afford it…" said Joey, pulling a pitiful handful of small bills and change from his pocket. "And I know Kaiba will never lend me the money…"
"I mean, Genius, that I'll buy lunch—for the both of us."
"Oh…" Joey said. "Yeah, I'm all for that! Thanks! …But… you don't have to do that for me…"
"Think of it as a long-overdue thank you," she said. That doesn't come close to how much I owe you…
Joey grinned again, leading the way downtown as he whistled. After a while, he paused in mid-step.
"Hey, Mai… Is this a date?"
She was caught off-guard.
"Joey, come on…" she said at last.
Joey walked on, realizing that she never did answer the question. Mai knew it, too. And she also knew that she would be telling him what Téa had told her about his duel with Marik.
And perhaps there was something else in her heart that she needed to tell him.