Lead Me Through the Fire
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! For those who remember my older fics on this character, this one renders at least one of them (Where Will You Go?) as not canon to my timeline. (Also, it seems to assume that the events of Home for the Holidays did not happen, as you will see.) I prefer the anime on almost every point, except Duke Devlin's introduction. The cheerleaders, dog costume, and national TV humiliation were blights on his character that should not have existed. The manga version of Duke's introduction portrayed him in a much more sympathetic light, and for my timeline I've chosen to use a version of it as his backstory, with a few tweaks here and there to make it compatible to the anime. Also, David is a real character on the show, but he is unnamed (and is so in both versions, it seems). He is in episode 46, speaking with Duke near the beginning. It seems clear to me that they have known each other for a while, and hence, I've devised a backstory for them. Many thanks to Crystal Rose, Kaze, and anyone who has provided plot help!
The eighteen-year-old entrepreneur gave a weary sigh as he unlocked the driver's door of his classic turquoise convertible and slid into the seat. Shutting the door behind him, he off-handedly tossed several manilla folders into the passenger seat before inserting the key into the ignition and bringing the engine to life.
He gave a cursory glance to the gathering clouds through the windshield. There had been reports of rain, but as long as it was not starting, he planned to leave the hood down. He liked the feel of the breeze blowing through his raven hair; it gave him a sensation of being free while still having control over his life.
And at the moment, he felt in desperate need of such a feeling. Everything had been spiraling out of control for several weeks now. The folders he had just thrown onto the passenger seat told it all.
He had been stunned when he had opened a crate to do a routine inspection of the store's incoming merchandise and had discovered a small sack containing a white powder. At first he had thought it had been a mistake. But then he had stumbled upon a diamond and a second sack of powder in another crate. That had been when he had decided to lay in wait to see what would happen to those mysterious, unordered items. And he found, much to his displeasure, that they had been sent for---only not by him.
It just so happened that his store was being used as the center of a very successful smuggling ring. Jewels and drugs alike were coming in and going out, usually via ships. He had determined the identities of several of those involved and fully intended to bring them down.
But there were other aspects to this mess that only made it all the worse. He had learned through cryptic statements made by the smugglers that they were working with someone on the outside, possibly even a corrupt police officer. And not knowing who it might be made it difficult to think of turning this information over to any law enforcement. What if he would be unlucky enough to end up speaking to the secret criminal? As far as he knew, the smugglers did not yet know that he had caught on to their scheme. If he revealed all he knew to the police and it turned out that it was the smugglers' ally whom he had informed, all would be over for him.
No---as far as he was concerned, he was on his own---once again.
It was impossible to stop his mind from reverting to things of the past as he maneuvered around the evening traffic.
Some part of his father had really loved him; he truly believed that. But the tortured man had been so caught up in his rage and hatred towards Solomon Muto that he had let it destroy him as well as his relationships with his family. His sometimes-violent mood swings had frightened both his wife and their child. He had believed that their son's only purpose in life was to deliver the revenge he had sought for so many years. And his wife had finally left in despair, fading from existence. Her son had looked for her before, without luck. Whether or not she was deceased, she was dead to him. She had abandoned him when he had still been a young boy, leaving him to deal with his father by himself.
Not that he did not understand why she had left. He had wanted to himself, so many times. But he had not trusted his father to be on his own, not with his hatred having pushed him towards insanity. And he had loved and pitied the tormented man. He had wanted to help him. He had taken on his father's sadness and anger, vowing to get revenge for him.
But he had also wanted the Millennium Puzzle. All his life his father had drilled into him not only the story of his need for revenge against the Mutos, but the tales of the Millennium Puzzle and its ability to grant the one who solved it the power to become the King of Games. He had wanted that power. His father had always told him that he was the only one worthy of holding it. And while he had not necessarily believed that deep down, he had still desired it anyway.
He was not sure why. Maybe, he had thought, if he could complete his father's revenge and solve the Puzzle himself, he would be able to bring honor to the family name. Maybe he had just wanted to be the best. Or maybe he had been tired of always living in the shadow of his father's thoughts of revenge.
Maybe it had just sounded like an exciting legend to chase.
In any case, he had long carried the guilt of having tried to help his father bring about his retribution to the Mutos. He had decided to strike out on his own shortly before that, which had been a source of some contention between him and his father. But though he had still been intrigued by the Millennium Puzzle, he had resolved not to wait around to get hold of it before beginning his quest to make something of himself. Using the money from the success of the game he had then created, had ordered construction of a game shop that he was to own.
His father had come to him then, pointing out that he was in a perfect position to enact the long-awaited revenge on Solomon Muto by defeating his grandson Yugi and laying claim to the Millennium Puzzle. By that time, his son had already observed Yugi in school and had held conflicting thoughts about the plan. But his loyalty to his father---as well as his continuing interest in the Puzzle---had in the end taken precedence over doubts.
He never should have done it. Once the plan had gotten underway, and as his father had sank deeper and deeper into the depths of insanity, he had started to realize exactly what he had gotten them into. But by that time, it had been too late to get out.
He had tried, helping Yugi pick up the pieces after his father had shattered the Millennium Puzzle, and then outright refusing to assist the man any further when he had tried to strangle Yugi with the Puzzle's chain. His father had disowned him, both for that and for losing the Dungeon Dice Monsters game to Yugi. The crushing words were still ringing in his ears.
"The only reason you existed was to take revenge for me! Now that you've failed, you're no longer my son. You're not even worthy to live!"
Had it just been years of building madness talking? Or had his father truly felt like that? He would never know. He had been left alone once more.
He had vowed never to be used by anyone else ever again. And for a while, he had succeeded. He had built a thriving business in Domino City and had even joined Yugi and the others on several bizarre adventures to save the world from various enemies.
They had already been a close-knit group, and though they had welcomed him, he had felt a bit like an intruder. At the same time, he had never known people so devoted to each other no matter what happened. He had been jealous, even envious, of their friendships when he had observed them after first moving into the neighborhood.
And there were likely other reasons why he had never felt completely comfortable around them. Maybe it was lingering guilt for what he had done in the past, despite the fact that they had all---he thought---forgiven him. Maybe it was the insecurities he hid deep down. He used a facade of self-confidence and a bit of arrogance, which sometimes he actually believed. The real reason he had flirted with girls so often was that it had made him feel good, at least for a while. He had liked the positive attention and he had liked pleasing them. And since they had always moved on before long, he had never had to worry about growing close to them and needing to reveal any of the secrets he kept hidden.
He had never had to let anyone know he was lonely. It would sound ridiculous to say such a thing, especially when he had always kept people at arm's length.
His father had belittled friendship to no end, drilling it into him from an early age that he only needed and could rely on himself. And the man had used not only feeling betrayed by Solomon Muto, but his own wife's departure, as perfect illustrations of the fact. Even their neighbors, the Tanakas, had not felt at ease in their home, despite his father being polite around them. The only boy, David, had tried to strike up a friendship anyway---but he had been forbidden---by both families. Still, they had stayed in touch over the years, enough so that David had been offered the position of store manager when the Black Crown had opened. But though he had been a practical businessman and had not led the store wrong, he had some greedy tendancies. For all the store owner knew, maybe David had aligned himself with the smugglers. That was not something he had been able to determine yet---though he was inclined to believe that David was honest and would not betray him.
He would not tell Yugi and the others of his problems, even if he felt like going to them for help. The last thing he wanted to do was to get them mixed up in a mess like this, and of course if he told them, they would come rushing to give their aid. Then they likely would all be hurt. No, this was something he had to take care of on his own. He had been alone most of his life; it should not be hard to operate solo now.
His eyes narrowed in annoyance as a raindrop landed on his nose, followed by another. Up ahead, on the freeway, it looked like it was pouring. Muttering to himself, he reached and flipped the switch that controlled the canvas top. It whirred to life, making its way over the framework until it came to rest against the top of the windshield. But the rain was still coming inside. He rolled up the windows, sealing himself within the vehicle.
Without warning, the radio clicked to life. Immediately he looked to it, a deep and suspicious frown coming over his features. That was not supposed to happen.
"Greetings, Duke Devlin."
He nearly slammed on the brakes in shock. That was not the radio; it was a cassette! And the electronically-altered voice on the recording was mocking him.
"You think you've been careful. Unfortunately for you, we have eyes and ears in locations you apparently did not consider. And not only do we know all that you have discovered, we know that you have not told a soul. Therefore, once we have eliminated you, there will be no one to stop us."
Now an ominous ticking had filled the car. He gripped the steering wheel, staring at the clock on the radio. It was counting down---15, 14, 13. . . .
"Oh God," he whispered. There was a bomb in his car. It must have activated when he had closed off all escape routes. And he would never be able to get out, let alone to get the vehicle away from all the other innocent people on the freeway, before it went up in flames.
He glared at the slippery road ahead. At the moment, there were no other cars directly ahead of him in this lane. If he could shoot forward, towards the point where there was no guardrail at the top of a hill, maybe he would be able to keep anyone else from being hurt. A speeding ticket would hardly matter now.
He pulled hard on the lever as he pressed on the accelerator with all his might. Somewhere to his side, a horn blared angrily as its owner was prevented from changing lanes. He ignored it, his heart pounding in his ears.
He was going to die. There was no way out of it now; he had less than ten seconds before detonation.
And . . . was it all in vain? Would the information he had gathered against the smugglers be lost? There was another copy, one that he had already hidden somewhere else, but would anyone ever find it?
The recording was still mocking him.
"It's a shame for you that you didn't tell anyone, really. What does that mean? Was there no one you trusted enough? No one who cared enough about you to help? Not that it matters. You lived alone and you'll die alone, Duke Devlin. But there'll be plenty of witnesses."
He gritted his teeth. The car was coming up on the hill now while other horns continued to honk behind him, their owners in disbelief.
"No," he choked out under his breath. "That's not it. It was . . ."
The explosion shook the vehicle, instantly blowing it to pieces.
One woman screamed, stumbling out of her own car in horror. Shattered glass and twisted metal had flown in all directions, tumbling across the highway and shooting down the hill, the flames igniting the dead grass and the weeds.
A small square object turned over itself, rolling to a stop at the woman's feet. She stood frozen, unable to make herself move to grab for it. She just kept staring.
What it looked like was the charred remains of a six-sided die.
Duke Devlin dead.
Within thirty minutes the car had been identified from a license plate that someone had seen before it had exploded, and within an hour the police were certain that Duke Devlin had been the driver, based on several descriptions as well as the car's known ownership. His erratic behavior immediately prior to the explosion had been explained as a desperate attempt to save everyone else on the freeway from the devastation. He was being hailed as a hero and mourned as one taken far too soon.
It was a concern that he had seemed to know the car was going to detonate. Had there been something drastically wrong with it? Or could one of the darker possibilites considered be the actual truth? Could Duke Devlin have been murdered?
Gabrielle Valesquez feared it was the latter. Her partner, on the other hand, believed that something had been amiss with the car. After all, who would want to kill Duke Devlin? What would anyone have to gain from such an act?
Those were questions that no one could answer.
But all across Domino City, the news spread. And those who had known Duke were stunned.
A boy with multi-colored hair stared at the television screen in disbelief, his violet eyes wide. He shut them tightly, several tears slipping free.
A blond boy was also staring. His sister was going to take this hard. He himself could scarcely comprehend. Almost without him realizing, a fist clenched.
A brown-haired boy leaped up, throwing an empty soda can at the television before running outside to his motorcycle and revving the engine as he leaped aboard. It could not be true. It could not.
A brunet girl set down her pen, whispering a horrified "Oh no! It can't be!" as her heart raced.
And a girl with auburn hair collapsed on her bed in heartbroken tears.
David Tanaka slumped into a chair, shaken. Slowly he removed his glasses, raising his thumb and forefinger to rub at his eyes. He would not be surprised if he was still pale, as the police had told him he had been. Ever since they had come to question him, hoping he might know of some possible suspects in his boss's death, he had felt like he was in a daze.
Duke Devlin was dead? He had not believed it when they had first told him. When he had turned on the television and they had been reporting on a car explosion on the freeway, he had nearly dropped the remote control. There was not even enough left in the ashes to make a positive identification, but over a dozen witnesses had described a driver that had looked like Duke.
"Am I a suspect?" David had asked the police.
"For now, until we know more, everyone is," they had replied.
But he would never have hurt Duke.
They had grown up on the same street, and despite having been forbidden to hang out together, David had still managed to sneak time in with Duke. He had seen the younger kid as a little brother and had teased him accordingly, calling him "Dukey-boy" though they were only a couple of years apart in age. And though Duke had initially been annoyed by it, he had eventually grown used to David's sense of humor. In recent years he had not batted an eye at the good-natured ribbing.
He had always been the more serious of the two. David had suspected that not all was right at home, but Duke had never admitted to anything. David doubted Duke would have said a word about it even if he had ended up badly beaten, and sometimes David had worried wondering if that had actually been the case. Once or twice he had seen Duke sporting a strange and mysterious bruise that he had tried to hide. That had not happened since the failed attempt to take the Millennium Puzzle.
As far as David was concerned, Duke had been better off without his father. David had seen a change come over Duke when he had determined to find his own path and had then invented Dungeon Dice Monsters. He had become more confident and more bold. It was not just a facade, and yes, he was quite aware of the barriers Duke had built around his heart and soul. He had been so determined to keep people out because he had wanted to handle his problems himself---probably stemming from his confusion and pain over his mother deserting them. Unfortunately, he had kept people out a little too well. David had seen it clearly, but Duke had not.
And it was too late now.
The television was still on. David stared ahead at the screen, not really seeing it and yet registering the scene somewhere in his mind. The rain had put out the fire ages ago, and the crowd had been forced to move on. Now the freeway was closed while crews examined and gathered the wreckage. A helicopter captured the sight from above, its propellers whirring and chopping through the night air.
David fumbled for the remote, snapping off the television. He could not watch any more right now. He was still trying to process that his childhood friend, his surrogate brother, that stubborn Dukey-boy, was really gone. There was not even a body for a funeral. And in fact, hadn't Duke mentioned that he would put in his will something about only wanting a simple and private gravesite service? He had not wanted a big deal made out of his death.
David had found it morbid to have a will ready at age eighteen, but Duke had thought it necessary. Seto Kaiba had one, he knew, and he had written it up when he had been younger than Duke.
It was not common knowledge that Duke had written a will; he had only told David so that his manager would be prepared if anything happened. David knew next to nothing of the contents, only that Duke had finished the last draft only a few weeks earlier.
Had he thought something would happen? Maybe he had known that someone was after him. David clenched a fist, suddenly a bit angry. Duke should have told him, or someone, anyone, instead of thinking he could handle everything himself. Now he was gone.
A thump at the front door nearly made him jump a mile. He frowned, leaping to his feet. Who would be coming at this time of the night? More to the point, who would be making such a commotion out of it? Probably just some prankster, but after the events of the evening, he was on edge. He opened the door with care, standing his ground in case someone tried to push their way inside.
Instead a gasp caught in his throat. A bloodied hand was sliding down the storm door, leaving several parallel crimson streaks on the glass. Another hand fumbled with the handle, finally pulling it open as several folders slipped from its grasp, spilling over the entryway. A ghost slumped forward, grasping at David's arms in desperation.
"David, please . . ." Glassy emerald eyes stared up at David's dark orbs. "Help me. . . ."
David was too stunned to do anything but stare. The wounded teenager fell to his knees and then the floor, sinking out of awareness.