Alone Again, Naturally

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters from the show are not mine. The other characters and the story are! For six years or more, one of the things that has fascinated me the most about Duke Devlin is that he seems like a loner even though he hangs out with Yugi and the others. And this idea would not leave me alone. It's in a separate timeline all to itself and is not connected to my other fics (even though some elements, like Oreo, are mentioned). There are mentions of Seto/Téa, Tristan/Serenity, one-sided Duke/Serenity, and a failed Duke/Téa (before the Seto/Téa). And I should probably mention that the descriptions of Duke's friendships with the others aren't necessarily the way I think things are, just the way Duke might perceive them. Thanks to Kaze and Crystal Rose for plot help!

The door to the bar opened, emitting the latest late-night customer. Most did not notice, too caught up in their own problems and drinks. But the bartender, who tried to keep track of everyone who came in and went out, looked up in surprise as he cleaned a glass. The man had looked familiar out of the corner of his eye, and now that he was staring right at the hunched-over form, he could see that he was right.

Duke Devlin, one of Domino City's most prominent tycoons. Twenty-five, single, and well-sought-after by every eligible female in town---and even some not so eligible. Or . . . wait, he was married again, wasn't he? He was in and out of the news so much that it was hard to keep track. He had started his own business at sixteen, and though he had only run one store, it had become so profitable that two years ago he had opted to turn it into an international chain. He was loaded with money that this lowly barkeeper could not begin to fathom. But tonight he looked like death warmed over.

He went to the back of the tavern in determination, never glancing to the right or to the left. As he slumped down at the counter, he tossed a bill onto its surface.

"Give me something strong," he mumbled. "I don't care what it is."

The bartender nodded, setting down the glass. "You got it." He reached for a bottle. "Rough night?"

A dry, bitter laugh. "Try a rough year. Or . . . no, make that a rough five years. I'm a curse to myself. No wonder I never tried settling down before." He crossed his arms on the bar.

"Problems with the wife?" The barkeeper set the shotglass in front of him. He took it, attempting to gulp it down but wincing after the first drop went down his throat. He set it down, attempting to get used to the taste before trying again.

"Oh yeah, big problems," he said. "Do you know what I found on my desk today, just out of the blue? Divorce papers. She served divorce papers on me!" He gripped the glass. "I don't even know what I did wrong. I thought things were going fine and that she was happy."

"She didn't give you any explanation, huh?" The older man leaned on the other side of the counter, watching him.

"She said we didn't see eye-to-eye on anything. But we hardly ever even argued." He dared to take another sip. This time he was able to stomach it a little better. But he set it down again.

"It's always been like this with me. The girl I really loved married a friend of mine. At least I think he was a friend. Maybe he never was. I never did think I really belonged to that group of theirs. I was just an outsider. I could always tell." He glared into the shotglass.

"I tried to date one of the other girls from that group, but we decided it wasn't working out." He laughed humorlessly. "She eventually married Seto Kaiba. And is quite happy with him. I don't know how, but she is."

"Téa Gardner?" the bartender said in surprise.

"Yeah, that's right. Surprised I knew her?"

A shrug. "Nah. Everybody knows everybody around here."

"I guess." Duke leaned back, idly looking at his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. He brushed his bangs away from his face before continuing.

"And let's not forget the humiliation of being stood up at the altar by the next girl, the first one I actually tried to marry. Ironic, isn't it? I mean, everyone always said I was that type. Not that they could ever know. I didn't know, either. But you know what? I was there, and I was faithful to the agreement we made. She jilted me! She left me standing there for two hours until she finally called to tell me she'd changed her mind!"

"Tough," the bartender said sympathetically.

Duke took two more sips, then grimaced and pushed the glass half-away from him. "And this one is really rich. The next girl I actually got married to and things seemed to be going okay. But you know what? I found out she was a gold-digger. She married me for my money. That was right after I started opening Black Crown stores all over the U.S. And I dropped her like a hot rock as soon as I knew."

He traced a pattern on the bar with his forefinger. "And now there's this girl, serving divorce papers on me. She's already left, too. All her stuff's gone. That big lonely mansion I bought when I was getting married the first time is even more big and lonely now. Maybe I should sell it and move back into an apartment."

He looked up at the bartender. "I just can't help but wonder why. What's wrong with me that no one wants me?!"

"Maybe there's nothing wrong with you," was the reply. "Maybe you just have really bad luck."

Duke snorted. "Bad luck. Oh yeah, I have that in droves. You know, I'm no stranger to luck; I'm known as the dice master." He took out a die from his pocket and set it on the counter, then idly rolled it around with his finger. "I used to be pretty good. But for a long time now I've felt like I'm playing with weighted dice, tipped in everyone's favor but mine. It's a never-ending shell game, with me doomed to lose every time."

He sighed, propping himself up on an elbow. "I've been alone all my life, really. And heh, wouldn't you know it---the very first woman I ever knew, my own mother, abandoned me too. She wanted to get away from my father. Or so I thought. Maybe all along it was me!

"My father's life was a mess, though. And I never had any close friends. They were always scared off by him."

He reached for the shotglass, taking one more sip. But he made a face. He could not drink any more. He pushed it further away.

"That group I told you about . . . I thought they accepted me. I thought I was one of them . . . and yet I always knew I really didn't belong. I was invariably one of the first they'd forget about when running off on their little adventures. I said I understood, and I did; I mean, they had more important things to do than think about including me. But understanding doesn't mean it didn't hurt."

He frowned. "I wasn't the only one, either. . . . Ryou Bakura was another one who always got left behind. But he made do; he found someone else to hang out with. If I told you who, you'd never believe me. It's not important, anyway."

He took the die away, slipping it back into his pocket. "I guess maybe Ryou distanced himself, actually, for various reasons. But it still felt like he was being forgotten about. I mean, the times I was along, I never heard anyone say 'It's too bad Bakura isn't here' or 'I wish Bakura was with us' or something like that. No one ever told me it was good to have me along, either. I guess when I wasn't there, no one ever wished I was around. Oh well."

He stood up, drawing his dark winter coat around him. "I'm done here. I'm not cut out to be a drinker. Did I give you enough?"

The bartender nodded. "This covers it."

"Good." Duke turned to go. "Don't expect to see me back." He hesitated. "I could say thanks for listening to me rant, but that's just part of the job description, right?"

"You got it. Everybody unloads their problems on the bartender. I'm used to it." But the older man's gruff tone softened. "Good luck, though."

Duke laughed. "Thanks. I think you're the first person to wish me that in ages. I could sure use some, if Lady Luck sees fit to stop torturing me. She's actually quite the sadist." And with that and a half-wave he was walking out again.

No one noticed; they were much too involved in their own problems and drinks.


Duke sighed as he stepped into the chill of the night. It was not cold enough for snow, but it was getting close. He latched the belt on his coat before turning to walk up the street. Maybe he would call a cab. He had walked from his store all the way to the bar, but he did not feel like walking all the way home.

Or did he? Maybe he would just start and see how far he could get.

He glanced at the closed buildings as he walked, shoving his hands in his pockets. Domino City was the same as ever, thriving on the gaming industry. He and Seto Kaiba were both just as busy with their businesses; maybe moreso. Industrial Illusions was still coming out with new Duel Monsters cards and the game was still popular. Sometimes there were even still nutcases to save the world from.

Duke was not involved in that anymore, though. He had left it behind after breaking up with Téa. He had gone to her wedding with Seto Kaiba when he was invited, and still went to other events likewise, but mostly he did not associate with Yugi and the rest.

The Turtle Game Shop was still operating; Solomon Muto was running it in determination, despite increased problems with his back. Yugi helped out a lot, Duke knew; he had gone to college in town, as had most of the others, and was happy just to stay in Domino City unless he and the others were going off on some new adventure.

Joey had worked hard to have money for higher education, but so far had only managed to go for a year at the local community college. Now he was working again to save for another year. The last Duke heard, he was at one of the local grocery stores. He still dueled too, mostly for fun, but if a tournament came along with a monetary prize he would not say No to it.

Mai had finally returned to Domino some time back, finally feeling worthy enough to face Joey and plead for forgiveness. Of course, he had given it long ago. It looked like she had settled in the city for good, having taken an apartment in the same complex where Duke had once lived. Duke was glad that she had come back; he could sympathize with her and the feelings of being an outcast that had partially driven her to join Doom. He would have hated to see her stay away indefinitely.

Tristan and Serenity had settled down in a nice middle-class neighborhood and had a couple of kids. Serenity was happy; she loved being a wife and mother. Duke was happy for her, but that did not take away the ache that was still in his heart. He doubted he would ever stop loving her, deep down.

. . . In fact, maybe that was part of his problem. Maybe that was why his wife had served divorce papers on him; she had sensed that he did not really love her and that he was living in the past. He had tried to love her, hoping that he could throw himself into a new relationship and forget about Serenity, but he had failed miserably. Looking at it that way, it was no wonder why the poor woman would want to get away from him. He had not been able to give her his all.

But she still should have come right out and said that. And she should have tried to talk to him about it, instead of just going off and doing this.

Maybe when he got home, he would try calling her again, as he had several times that day. Either her cellphone was off or she refused to talk to him, but she owed him that much. He owed her an explanation too, if that was really the problem.

He kept walking, lost in his thoughts of his old friends.

Téa traveled with Seto and Mokuba a lot. The family divided the majority of their time between living in Domino City and New York, where Téa was fulfilling her dream of being a dancer. Seto had opened a branch of KaibaCorp in Manhattan, which had proved to be a smart business decision. Duke wondered if he had come up with the idea in order to be close both to Téa and his work. Of course, Seto would never say.

The Ishtars divided their time, too, between Domino City and Egypt. Ishizu's work with the government took her back and forth between countries, and Marik and Rishid always accompanied her. When in Domino City, Marik and Tristan still sometimes rode their motorcycles together. Marik also made sure to make time for Mokuba. They were still close.

And Ryou Bakura. . . . Duke smirked a bit. He was a computer programmer and repairman, working and living out of the same house as before, with Yami Bakura and their cat Oreo---and sometimes his father, when the man was not traveling. Technically Oreo was Bakura's cat, but everyone knew she worshiped Yami Bakura. Which no one, including the thief himself, could explain. She was getting on in years now, but still acted like a kitten most of the time. She could easily elude Yami Bakura somewhere in town, prompting a furious cry of "CAT!" and a wild chase.

Out of all of them, Bakura was the one with whom Duke still associated the most. In some way, Duke felt a kinship with the British boy, since they had both felt more like outsiders rather than full-fledged members of the group. But real-life got in the way, too; they did not see each other that much.

Duke was certainly much busier than he had been back then. Part of it was because of necessity and the heavier workload---but he knew he had also been trying to get away from problems in his love life and frustrations in general. He could understand how Seto had become a workaholic; when you threw yourself into your work, you didn't have to think about the demons of the past. Maybe Seto did anyway, though, since most of his demons originated with his stepfather Gozaburo.

He blinked, coming back to the present. Well, what did you know. He had walked all the way home after all. It was not as spacious or as security-driven as the Kaiba Manor, but it was still a large mansion---three levels of brick with a turret on the left side. It was old, too---built sometime around the turn of the previous century. But it had been fully modernized inside. He journeyed up the walkway and to the porch, digging in his pocket for his keys.

He had to admit, he had harbored a vain hope that maybe Annie had returned. But she had not. Her car was gone and the house was in darkness. As Duke unlocked the door and pushed it open, it made an eerie, echoing, creaking sound. He stepped into the entryway, flipping on the lights and locking the door as he went.

"Annie?" he called in vain. His voice echoed too, emphasizing the stillness.

He climbed the stairs and crossed the hall to their bedroom, pushing open the door. It was stripped of everything that had made it a room for two---her clothes, her alarm clock . . . even that crazy frog knickknack she loved. Annie had been serious about wanting to get away.

Leaving the light in the hall streaming in, Duke took off his coat and threw it over the foot of the bed before sinking onto the edge. Pulling out his cellphone, he dialed her number again.

One ring, two rings. . . .

A click. "What is it, Duke?"

He could not help the wave of anger rising in his heart. "Well, that's a fine 'how do you do'," he said. "You cowardly send divorce papers to my office without ever telling me anything's wrong and move everything out of the house. Not to mention, you won't even answer your phone."

"I was getting moved in elsewhere." She sounded tired. "And I did tell you, Duke. I tried so many times. You never listened."

"I always tried to." Duke passed a hand over his eyes. "But since I obviously did such a terrible job, what was the problem, anyway?"

"You should have known that, at least." Annie's voice thickened. "I did love you, Duke, but you were always so distant. You wished it was someone else with you. I could tell. And you were so busy. . . ."

"I had to work. . . ." Duke said, though he knew it sounded hollow.

"You don't have any excuse for the other part, I see."

Duke's shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry. That's all I can offer and I know it doesn't help. It's nothing against you personally. . . . I do love you, Annie, but . . ."

"You're not in love with me. I know."

"I've tried to get over her," Duke said. "I really thought I could. . . ."

"But you can't, and I'm not playing second fiddle to a memory. I'm sorry too."

Duke swallowed hard. "Can't you give me another chance?" he asked.

"I've given you so many chances. I wanted to throw in the towel ages ago, but I kept convincing myself to try one more time. No more, Duke. No more."

Duke felt the anger rising again, this time towards himself. "Okay then," he said, trying to keep his voice level. "Then I guess all I can do is wish you luck, Annie."

"Thank you." She hesitated. "And I hope someday you can get over that girl and find happiness."

She hung up, leaving the sound of the dial tone in his ear. He pulled the phone away and closed it, then gripped it in his hand. The urge to throw it at the wall was almost overwhelming. But he forced himself to lay it on the bed, as far away from him as possible.

". . . Me too," he muttered, running his hands through his hair. All he was doing was hurting others as well as himself. But he did not know how to stop.

Maybe that was even the reason why he had always been a loner.

He sank back onto the bed, staring up the darkened ceiling.