It was finally over. He could, at long last, leave the underground behind. He could dispose of the shock collars, the eyeliner, the darkened outfit he had been made to wear as a heel.

So why couldn't he bring himself to do it?

The Hell Kaiser stared into the mirror at his own made-up face, deep in thought. He should be able to start over again. He had rid himself of Saruyama, after all. He had gained enough power outside of the underground's deadly game to shed his marks of servitude. He could be the Kaiser again, or create some other title for himself. This mockery of his old name, "Hell Kaiser", he should just leave it behind.

But that wasn't right. He might return to his old appearance, shed this costume, replace his name, but he was not the same man as before. He had run the gauntlet and had lived to return to the civilian world.

So the Hell Kaiser made a decision. He would keep his name, his clothing, even the eyeliner that he had so begrudgingly worn. As a symbol of what he had survived. He had made it out of the underground, and he would allow the world to see.

The one thing he could not allow himself to do was use the collars. He would keep them, as another reminder of his struggle, but he had no desire to be further warped by the pain of those illicit duels...however pleasurable they might be...

He shook off the thought. He had never needed the pain before, and he wouldn't need it again. He would start in the minor leagues, but that would be enough. By the pro leagues, everything would be as normal as it could be.

-[ o ]-

Oh, goddamnit. This wasn't working at all.

For the first time since he returned from the underground, the Hell Kaiser was forced to admit that his respect for his opponent wasn't the only thing that he had lost in that first duel. He hadn't realized it until now, but during his years in the dojo, he had acquired self-discipline so strong that he barely noticed anything that he deemed inconsequential - in other words, nearly anything but Fubuki, Asuka, and dueling. Fortunately for him, this included his sex drive. Unfortunately for him, he no longer had the amazing self-discipline. In order to get rid of the "respectful duel" entirely, it was necessary to shed the restraint that made such a duel possible.

Naturally, as a mature human male who was asexual, masochistic, and denying himself any form of pain but the artificial sting of a duel disk, he was having a few problems.

Because, as realistic as Kaibacorp had managed to make it, the pain from a duel just wasn't enough. The duelists that the Hell Kaiser was facing were simply not good enough to inflict any major damage, but even if they had been, a duel disk couldn't even approximate what he felt from the collars. Every jolt only served to tease him, leave him on the edge, wanting more. As irrational as it was, he was even beginning to miss the Underground, if only for the lack of unpleasant side-effects.

The Hell Kaiser turned the GenEx medal over in his hands. An invitation, to an open tournament, outside of a stadium. If he was careful, if he stayed inconspicuous, he could use this as an opportunity to...experiment, a little. Hopefully, he could find a way to stay sane without being so damn uncomfortable.

-[ o ]-

The helicopter ride to Duel Academy was long and tedious, punctuated only by the pilot's awkward attempts at conversation (which, of course, Ryo ignored). The unfortunate man's alternately nervous and curious glances into the back seat grew tiring very quickly, and only ceased entirely when the Hell Kaiser reminded him sharply that if he didn't keep his attention on the actual flying of the helicopter, they would likely crash and die. Not that he would complain, he thought grimly. As much as he hated to admit it, his withdrawal symptoms had worsened to the point that he was having trouble sleeping, and concentration was becoming increasingly difficult. A libido, it seemed, was a rather inconvenient thing to have.

But, at long last, they had arrived at the island, and the Hell Kaiser could see a crowd of students forming around the descending helicopter through the tinted windows. From the size of the throng, it seemed that you could hear a helicopter landing from anywhere on the island. So much for staying inconspicuous. It seemed that he would have to conduct his duels in the middle of a crowd.

His stomach churned with nervousness, and it was difficult not to tell the pilot just to turn around. It was a terrible idea. Dueling this way, in front of a crowd of civilians, of high-schoolers, no less...

What have I gotten myself into?

The helicopter landed, and Ryo swallowed his fears. He needed this, and he knew it - and besides, he wasn't backing out now, of all times. He had entered the tournament, and he wasn't going to run off, tail between his legs. No use getting nervous about it.

He arranged his features into what would pass for a cool, dispassionate expression, and stepped out of the helicopter.

Murmurs of shock rippled through the crowd mobbing the helicopter, and the students stepped away, lining the path to the main school buildings but creating a gap for the Hell Kaiser to pass through. At least he wouldn't have to shove through a crowd. He could head to his room to prepare himself for the tournament.

As Ryo strode down the cobbled walk, though, he began picking up the conversations of the students around him. Most of them were simply excited about the presence of a professional duelist, or remarking on how "scary" he looked.

But then he heard another voice, brash and arrogant, not even caring enough to make his acidic remarks quietly.

"Oh, they all say he's back in business, but I personally think he should've quit as soon as Ed Phoenix proved how half-assed his strategies are. If you ask me, that ten-duel losing streak should've showed the world that he's just a poser with a nice deck."

The Hell Kaiser stopped in his tracks and slowly turned, irked. To hell with preparations. This boy, whoever he was, would make an excellent first test.

He could hear nervous laughter from the same direction that the voice had been in. "Shit, man, he heard you. We should get going."

"You're such a wuss, Goro. I'm not afraid of the big bad Kaiser."

"Show yourself." The command was less controlled than Ryo had intended, more angry in tone.

A young man stepped from the crowd, with an expression of smug satisfaction plastered all over his face. He had a shock of mouse brown hair cropped close to his head, a diversion from the usual style, and honey-colored eyes that gazed up at the Hell Kaiser with something like condescension. He wore the uniform of an Obelisk Blue student, unsurprisingly. "So, we meet at last," he said, smirking. "I can finally expose you for the fraud you are."

The boys and girls around them, now chattering excitedly, moved in closer, blocking off the exit of both the Hell Kaiser and his confident challenger. A dueling ring. Cute.

Ryo, with some effort, let his face fall into the same confident smirk that the boy across from him wore. Another useful thing he had learned from the underground - the place demanded quite a bit of acting, after the fear and anger of that first duel had dissipated. He took a step forward, and the crowd closed in to fill the gap behind him. "And who are you to make claims like this? "

The boy grinned, and adopted what looked humorously similar to a fighting stance. "My name is Michi Kanako, and, after I beat you, I'm going to be this school's real Kaiser."

A taller boy with anxious green eyes broke from the crowd, and dashed forward to grab Michi's shoulders. "Michi, don't do this, this is insane. I've seen him, he'll hurt you--"

Michi whirled around to glare at him. "Shut up, Goro! He can't do anything to hurt me. I'll win, and we'll be the kings of this place. I've never lost since I've come to this school, and I won't lose again."

He turned again, regaining his cocky grin. "Now, are we going to duel, or what?"

The Hell Kaiser knelt down, and placed his briefcase on the cobbled ground. "We're going to duel. But we're going to do this my way."

Michi stepped back, pressing against the wall of students behind him. "Is this some kind of trick? I'm not falling for one of your gimmicks."

"Just something to make the stakes a little higher."

The boy relaxed. "Well, that's fine. I'll beat you anyway."

The lock of the case clicked open, and the collars within were revealed to the onlookers. Immediately the swarm of students erupted with noise, clamoring and shoving to get a closer look.

"These are shocking devices," Ryo explained, reaching up to secure a collar around his own neck. Oh god, it was finally beginning. As unnerving as it was to be beginning a duel like this in front of a bunch of kids, he could finally have that pain..."Whenever you take damage to your life points, these will deliver a corresponding amount of electricity."

He handed a set of the devices to Goro. "Put these on him. Make sure they click when they shut. The light on the back should turn red." The tall boy looked sick to his stomach, but turned to fasten a collar on Michi's arm.

And finally, they were both prepared. The Hell Kaiser flicked a switch - the first time he had been able to turn on the devices himself - and the collars warmed on his neck and arms, humming slightly. "Give us some space," he ordered the crowd, and they swarmed back, creating a clearing large enough for a duel. The opponents' duel disks engaged, and the battle began.

The Kaiser set his traps, glanced over spells, summoned a mediocre monster to keep his field occupied almost by force of habit. He had his strategies, he knew what to do with them. He ended his turn as fast as possible...and he got what he had hoped for. Michi's first summon was a more powerful monster, and he attacked at once.

The collars crackled to life, and the Hell Kaiser's eyes snapped shut as electricity shot through his body. It was everywhere, all at once, so much more intense than the duels in the Pro Leagues that had barely sustained him, so much better...

To think, he would have left this kind of pain behind. Just left it in a briefcase, rotting in a closet. What a foolish thing to do.

He slowly opened his eyes as the shock began to recede, his breath erratic, and glanced at Michi, who was looking up at him with alarm. "What is this?" said the boy, stepping back. "What are you..."

Ryo ignored him. "Go on. It's still your move."

The next turn, it was Ryo's turn to attack. A clever fusion and sequence of spell cards allowed him to inflict 700 points of damage on his opponent. Michi froze as his collars lit up, and before he had time to react, he was jolted with electricity, tearing a scream of pain from his throat and causing him to fall back into the crowd behind him. A frantic Goro caught him and returned him to his feet, holding his shoulders for a few seconds to support him before disappearing back into the crowd.

The Hell Kaiser surveyed the crowd, watching their faces, hearing the nervous buzz that emanated from the throng. For once, he wasn't the one trapped, scared, fighting for survival. He was in control here. He could do what he wanted.

The duel ran on, and to the Hell Kaiser's relief, the boy really was good. Michi was definitely not on Ryo's level, but he could employ some impressive combos in battle. The one thing he didn't have was anything close to a poker face. Ryo could read his expression like a book.

The attacks came predictably, in a particular rhythm, every other turn. Surges of power ran through him, filling him up, sending the blood rushing through his body. His heart quickened. He no longer cared about the moans that were escaping his lips with increasing frequency, or his flushed face. This was all that mattered, that he feel this pain again, again, again...

But it was ending far too soon. Too quickly, Michi's field was empty, his gaze darting from his hand to the Hell Kaiser's face with a terrible panic. His lips moved in a pattern that Ryo knew all too well..."No, this can't be possible, this can't be right..." He had taken enough damage over the past few turns that defeating him would be easy. Ryo could finish the duel now, if he wanted. But he couldn't just end like this. He was too close.

No traps on the field. A hand that appeared to be nearly devoid of useful cards. He had 1900 life points left, and a combo ready to destroy Michi ten times over.

The Hell Kaiser let out a short, rasping laugh. He laid a trap card, looked over his hand one last time. No monsters on his field, nothing to protect him.

"I end my turn."

Michi's eyes widened. The boy expected a trick, but his anger was running high, his rage at being close to beaten by the man he had denounced as a fraud and a cheat, and he would not hold back. With a triumphant smile, he drew his card, and laid it down. "I summon Dark Blade Warrior, and attack you directly!"

1800 points of damage. Perfect. Ryo's--no, the Hell Kaiser's--face twisted into an insane grin. This was the end, this was everything, this was--

"Oh god...This is it..." The collars lit, the cells powering the devices jolted to life, and current swept through his trembling body once more, searing his skin, stopping his breath. Everything was a blur of color and light and motion. He couldn't think, couldn't see, couldn't speak except to scream...but it wasn't going to be enough. He needed more, but more wasn't coming, it would end too soon--

Frantic, needy, unable to think clearly, he suddenly remembered the sharpened spikes protruding from the collars and didn't think twice. He reached up and found the dangerously sharp blades protruding from the collar, put his shaking palms to the edges, and clenched his fists hard. The edges bit into his hands, another wave of pain rushing through his arms...

And then it was over. The Hell Kaiser let out one last strangled cry, and slumped to the ground, supporting himself with his still-aching arms, breathing hard. His hands had begun to bleed, dripping onto the path and dying the cobblestones red.

Michi glanced down critically at the man, flipped through his hand, and his air of calm disappeared. He looked over it again, again. "I play Level Limit Area B, switch Dark Blade Warrior to defense mode, end my turn," he said shakily.

The Hell Kaiser smiled slowly, and rose to his feet. Now, he could concentrate on finishing this boy. He needed to move on soon. His bags would undoubtedly have reached his room by now.

He summoned, activated traps, played spells, fused monsters. Michi looked on in terror at what was forming on his opponent's side of the field, frozen, helpless.

"Cyber End Dragon. It's been too long since I've played this card." The Hell Kaiser watched Michi, looked right into his eyes. "With Cyber End's effect, you'll take 2500 points of battle damage. Not only will you lose, it will certainly injure you after all of the shocks you've taken already. Are you still so sure I'm a fraud, Michi Kanako?"

The brown-haired boy stumbled back, fell into the crowd again. "Y-you're insane," he stammered, eyes wide and frightened and vulnerable. "You're psychotic, you h-have no idea what you're doing..."

The Hell Kaiser laughed mirthlessly, that same frightening grin fixed on his face. He had never before had this power, this total control. It was intoxicating. "Oh, I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm entirely too stubborn to back out now..." Something ocurred to him then, and his smile grew even more cruel, his eyes narrowing.

"Beg me."

"W-what?"

"Get down on your hands and knees and beg me to let you forfeit this duel. I just might do it."

And there it was. The defeated look, the helpless way that Michi sank to the ground. Just like the faces in the underground. Ryo had broken him.

What an excellent job you did, Saruyama. You made a real heel out of me, after all.

"Please," pleaded the boy, his head bowed towards the ground. "Please, let me go. I was wrong, I forfeit, I'll leave the Academy. Let me go. Please."

The heel standing across the path laughed, and his mouth curled into a mocking smile. "I'm not convinced." Blood dripped from his hands onto the ground. "I attack with Cyber End Dragon and end my turn."

Michi's collars exploded with energy, and he fell forward onto the pavement, his head hitting the ground with a dull crack. Immediately the crowd was upon him, all shouting and shoving.

"Shit. Shit. He's not breathing."

"He's still got a pulse! Does anyone know CPR here? Someone get a nurse!"

"Oh god, Michi, Michi, I'm so sorry, I should have stopped you..."

The students behind the Hell Kaiser rushed away from him, and he retrieved his collars from a Ra Yellow student who stood, petrified, next to Michi. Or Michi's body, nobody was quite sure about that. He wondered vaguely if he should be feeling sorry for the kid.

Whatever. He didn't really give a shit.

The Hell Kaiser began his journey to the academy, a smile on his face and blood on his hands.

-[ o ]-

It wasn't her ideal job, but apartment-sitting for the Hell Kaiser on a manager's salary wasn't a bad deal, and Ren Ishida was glad she had a source of income while she wasn't scheduling his duels or trying to find him sponsors. Occasionally he'd e-mail her with a shopping list or a vague reminder such as "Dust things", but it wasn't such an unpredictable job. It had gotten boring after a while, though.

She was starting to wish that it had stayed that way.

Since he had arrived at the GenEx tournament, the Hell Kaiser's requests had grown more and more strange. She had handled them all without a second thought. But, this...

Ren scrolled up and down the shopping list, glancing over some of the items. Copper wire, 50 meters. 12-volt batteries, 3. Alligator clips, 2 sets. Why on earth would he want this much electrical equipment just lying around the house?

She decided that, in the end, it would be better not to ask.

~FIN~