Notes: Thanks so much to everyone who's been interested, both the silent readers and the reviewers! It's exciting to have this story done; it's the longest thing I've written in some time, and definitely the thing with the highest word count that I think I've ever written. I hope you'll follow me into my next YGO ventures!
Time Always Reveals
Duke took a last look in the mirror---his fifth in the past five minutes. For some reason, one of the brown contacts kept bothering him. But every time he went to adjust it, it seemed to be just fine. He could only attribute it to stress and nervousness.
He certainly had plenty of both. Once he came out of his office and went downstairs, he would be facing a press conference---one he had called himself, and only the second since he had taken on the guise of Ryuuji Otogi. But this would be a press conference unlike any he had ever given.
He turned away. He had to stop stalling and get down there.
He had requested for Yugi and the others to come. And though he was certain that some of them would be there, it was hard to know if Tristan would show up. Serenity had not been exaggerating about the other boy's anger. If anything, she had understated it.
He winced as the memory of their first conversation in weeks came back to his mind. To call it a "conversation" was laughable. That day, as soon as he and Serenity had approached the rest of the group waiting across the street at the Turtle Game Shop, Tristan's eyes had burned.
"So it's true," he said darkly. "Yugi was right."
And before anyone could stop him, he lunged forward, delivering a punch that knocked Duke off his feet. The raven-haired boy sat down hard, crashing into the inside of the door.
"Tristan!" Serenity cried in horror. She hurried over and knelt down by the dazed teen, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Duke, are you okay?"
He nodded, wiping the blood from the edge of his mouth. "I deserved that," he said. He pulled himself to his feet, gripping a nearby shelf for balance. Then he looked into Tristan's furious hazel eyes. "You can hit me again if you want."
"I want answers," Tristan retorted. "I want to know why."
Joey, who had come up next to Tristan in case he did try to hit Duke again, nodded. "We all do," he said.
"I did it to protect you." Duke's gaze never wavered. "Everything I did . . . I was trying to protect you. I knew you'd hate me for it. I knew I was probably doing something unforgivable. But I did it anyway. I was willing to risk our friendships if I could keep you from being killed."
Bakura bit his lip, looking down. He had often felt helpless because of not being able to protect his friends. On some level, he could understand why Duke had done what he had. He did not think he would have been able to go through with it himself, had he been in the same position. He did have to admire Duke's courage.
"Well, aren't you just so noble." Tristan's expression did not lighten. "Do you know what we went through? What Serenity went through?! How could you do that to us?!"
Duke clenched a fist. "I was hurting too," he said. "Don't you dare think I wasn't."
"Yeah? Well, as far as I'm concerned, you didn't just risk this friendship. You terminated it." Tristan pushed past Duke, storming towards the door.
"Tristan!" Yugi exclaimed.
"Come on, at least hear him out before you leave in disgust," Joey said with a frown. He was clearly not happy, either. But at the moment he was more rational than Tristan.
Serenity grabbed for the brunet's arm. "Please don't go," she begged. "Not like this!"
Tristan paused, looking to the girl he loved. "How can you even stand to be in the same room with him?" he asked. "Serenity, he's no good. He never was. He doesn't care about you, or me, or any of us!"
Duke visibly flinched. Téa laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Tristan, that's not true," she said.
Serenity shook her head. "If you just knew what he's been through . . . !"
"Oh, I guess he told you some sob story," Tristan said. He looked from her to Yugi, Joey, Téa, and Bakura. "Well, if you want to believe him, fine. But I'm through." And with that he pulled open the door, stalking onto the icy sidewalk.
They all watched helplessly as Tristan climbed onto his motorcycle and rode away. Then Duke's shoulders slumped. "I can't believe you're not all treating me like that," he mumbled.
Joey glowered at him. "It's gonna take a while before Tristan cools down," he said, crossing his arms. "He was actually starting to do better until Yugi put the pieces together and realized you were alive and deceiving us." But then he looked away. ". . . You did everything you could to save Serenity, though," he said. "You were right about the danger. Ma found our place trashed when she got home. So . . ." He looked back. "Thanks. For reaching out to her."
"I'm glad I could do something. Especially after all the trouble I've caused." Duke sighed. Even though he had expected Tristan's reaction, it hurt far worse to actually see it come true. He did not doubt that Tristan meant every word.
"Tristan cares about you very much," Bakura spoke. "He will remember it . . . sooner or later. . . ." He shifted, uncomfortable.
Serenity nodded. "This won't tear you apart," she said, but her voice was trembling. She could not bear to see two of her dearest friends at such odds with each other! And after seeing Tristan in such a state, she really was not sure at all that they would be able to mend things.
"In the end, it'll make us all stronger," Yugi said.
At last Duke nodded too. He did not really believe that, but they were trying to make him feel better---and maybe trying to convince themselves too. He would humor them.
"You deserve to hear the whole story, though," he said.
Téa looked at him in concern. "If it's still too painful . . ."
He shook his head. "No . . . I need to tell it," he said.
Yugi nodded. "Come upstairs," he said. "I'll fix some hot chocolate and we'll talk."
Duke came back to the present. He was messing with his contacts again. Now the left one had fallen out in his hand. Muttering, he turned back to the mirror. He had been wearing these in public for the most part, but they never stopped being a pain.
He and Tristan had barely spoken since that day. He had been trying to give Tristan some space, but several days ago he had sought the other out and tried to speak civilly. Tristan had not wanted to hear it.
"After what you did, how can I trust anything you say?" he had said, his voice cold.
Duke really could not blame him. But that did not take away the pain and the hurt.
At last affixing the troublesome glass back into place, he left his office before he could be tempted to waste any more time. Then, with a last glance at David's vacant office, he headed down the stairs. Cameras flashed, half-blinding him. He squinted in annoyance, gazing beyond the bright beams to the podium. As he arrived, he looked out over the audience. Then he could only stare.
Veronica Travis and Mary Cart were there, having at last emerged, well and safe, from their place of hiding. Gabrielle Valesquez was standing with them; she was the officer they had gone to upon their return. And though Veronica had turned herself in as part of the smuggling ring, Gabrielle hoped to vindicate her due to her motives and her help in bringing down the ring. In any case, Gabrielle had brought them here before they would go to the station. Somehow they felt that this press conference would be significant. They, especially Veronica, wanted to be present.
Veronica smiled when she caught Duke's eye. Mary was more serious, but she allowed a slight smile---as did Gabrielle. Duke watched the previously-missing women, glad that they were alright. It was a weight off his mind. And their testimonies would be key in court.
Yugi and the others were in the back. Yugi smiled and nodded encouragement, seeming to sense Duke's nervousness. Téa gave him a thumbs-up, while Bakura smiled too and Joey crossed his arms and nodded. Serenity beamed at him.
His eyes widened slightly as he looked beyond them. Tristan had slipped in and was standing by the door. His expression was a storm cloud, but he was there. Duke had not expected to see him at all.
He looked back to the microphones on the podium. He could not postpone this any longer. Gesturing for silence, he began.
"I've called you here to discuss the future of this store," he said. "As you know, it was originally founded by Duke Devlin, who was killed months ago in a cruel and tragic explosion. I was named in his will as his successor." He took a deep breath, reaching into his pocket. "But . . . things aren't always what they seem."
A confused murmur went up as Duke took something out of his pocket, a murmur which quickly changed to gasps as he pulled his hair back in a ponytail, only leaving the shorter bangs free. Then he removed the contacts from his eyes, allowing their natural green to show. Cameras flashed, their owners anxious to capture this scoop.
He dared to look at the back of the room. Yugi and the others seemed surprised. Serenity was looking at him in admiration. Tristan raised his eyebrows a bit, but otherwise did not visibly react.
"Duke Devlin didn't die in that explosion," Duke said, letting his voice slip back into its normal tones. "He survived and came back to avenge what was done to him."
The reporters exploded into a flurry of questions all at once. Again he held up his hands for silence.
"For weeks, I was investigating a smuggling ring operating out of my store," he said. "I didn't go to the police because I'd found evidence that there was at least one dirty cop mixed up in the ring. I didn't know who, so I couldn't take any chances. Instead, I tried to solve the case on my own. After a while, though, I knew I was getting in too deep, so I came up with a plan."
He sighed. "I wrote a will, naming Ryuuji Otogi as my successor," he said. "It was an alias I'd used once before when I needed to go incognito in Japan. I'd saved it in case I'd need to use it again. And with the pressure on, I thought I'd probably need to disappear and fake my own death. I wasn't expecting the smugglers to try to get rid of me first."
Now he gripped the edges of the podium. "I almost died on the highway, as the witnesses can testify. But I didn't. I got out a split second before the car blew up. I fell down the hill and then escaped before anyone could realize the truth. It was safer to not let it be known that my enemies hadn't succeeded.
"I only let one person into my confidence, out of necessity---my store manager, David Tanaka. He helped me through every stage of my plan. It's because of his bravery that the American branch of the ring has been shut down." He could not keep his voice from going taut. He paused to get himself back under control.
Serenity never took her eyes from him. She clasped her hands, silently willing him the strength to go on. Tristan watched him too, his hazel eyes narrowing again.
At last Duke looked up. "Pretending to be someone else meant I couldn't show anything of my normal personality. I couldn't let my friends know anything or even suspect. It would have been too dangerous, for them as well as me. I had to be around them, watching them mourn me, without being able to let them know I was right there." He swallowed hard. "I had to do it, but I'm sorry for it." He looked right at Yugi and the rest, including Tristan. "I'm so sorry."
Tristan averted his gaze, gripping his arms. Duke looked from him to the others and then back at the reporters.
"I've lost more than one friend because of my quest," he said. "I've said and done things that I can't ever take back." He exhaled shakily, straightening up. "I'm not the Duke Devlin this city used to know. In fact, I've been wondering who I am at all. But . . ." He looked to Serenity. "I'm going to have faith that Duke Devlin is still alive, somewhere in my heart. That's why I won't be Ryuuji Otogi anymore. It's why I'm telling all of you the truth."
He paused. "It's also because I'm going to keep David Tanaka's memory alive. He would want me to take back my true identity. If I stayed Ryuuji Otogi, I would be making his sacrifice in vain. He helped me catch the smugglers so that I could return to the life I once had. And now he . . ." Duke shook his head, feeling his heart twist. "He can't do the same. So . . . I'm going to live for us both. That's all I can do for him now.
"I'm going to press on, taking the Black Crown game store with me into the future."
For a moment there was silence. Then, from the back of the room, Serenity began to clap. He looked to her, surprised. Soon others followed suit, and then the entire room was alive with the sound of applause. Even some of the reporters had joined in.
His gaze traveled over the crowd. Tristan, at the back, was still stubbornly clutching his arms. But then, to Duke's amazement, he let go. At first he hesitated. Then he brought his hands together once, twice, in a half-hearted gesture. As he lowered his arms to his sides, he caught Duke's eye. His expression was unreadable, but it was not burning with anger.
It was a start. And better than Duke had hoped for. He relaxed, giving Tristan a nod of acknowledgment.
You did well, Dukey-boy. I'm proud of you.
Duke's eyes widened at the quiet, disembodied voice. Had he imagined it?
"David?" he whispered.
For the briefest moment, he was sure he caught a glimpse of his oldest friend standing in the crowd, applauding him too.
And for the first time in weeks, Duke Devlin smiled.