Summary: It's a bad sign when you start to feel cold in July--not that you have to worry now. Domino hits a heat wave, Jounouchi can't get any sleep, nobody can keep the power on, and if Kaiba acts any weirder, the world really will end.
Type: Multi part, DF.
WARNINGS: Some disturbing imagery, explicit mentions of past disturbing content, people getting punched in the nose.
Disclaimer: Yuugiou is the sole property of Takahashi Kazuki, Shōnen Jump (Japan and America), VIZ Media, Konami, and those bastards at 4Kids who dubbed all the joy out of it for stupid Americans.
Masterpost (music, notes, etc.): h t t p : / / t e n i k a . l i v e j o u r n a l . c o m / 8 1 7 9 1 . h t m l
Notes: Okay. So this is many things, including an examination of insomnia as a psychological phenomenon, a sort of lame experiment with magical realism, a fresh chapter in my enduring and stupid quest to place Yuugiou in the real world, and also a thinly-veiled response of rage to the fandom fail trope of forgetting that Yuugiou takes place in Japan. SERIOUSLY, GUYS: I know 4Kids really fucked up dubbing it, but come on. Domino = a really sparkly Tokyo. Really. (Also, for the purposes of this fic, that equation is actually real; I've essentially written this in late-90s Tokyo, though the name Domino has been retained, as well as some of its amazing wtf factor. You heard me say magical realism, right? Right.)
Please ignore all cultural wanking and accept every scene in a spirit of loving good fun. And if you can't do that, go away. Also, please enjoy the gay. Chapters will be followed by notes as I feel them necessary. Honorifics have been retained for the sake of accuracy, particularly with respect to Jounouchi's character (that is, identifying the rare souls he actually addresses with -kun, -chan, -sensei, etc.). Also, I'm operating strictly within the manga verse here, and only through Duelist Kingdom. This fic is officially DF after that point. I apologize if you liked Kaiba's white jacket of insanity, but I'm excising all hijinks après Pegasus for this verse, in the interests of focusing the story more on characters and relationships than crazy awesome monster fights.
Special gooey thanks to Tyries and Tikia for their extra-awesome betas and comments.
So this was the thing.
Jounouchi hated tests.
The only thing Jounouchi hated more than tests were exams, and the only thing he hated more than exams was the first half of July, when all the teachers at Domino High inevitably came to the unanimous conclusion that they were about to lose their students to a full month of summer vacation, and that obviously the most important thing to do before this could happen was spend the last week leading up to the twenty first testing the holy fuck out of them. Specifically by giving them six straight days of mock examinations.
Now, this sucked even in a normal year, but senior year officially set the bar. They were, after all, not only getting ready for graduation, but for exam hell itself, when ninety five percent of the student body of Japan went swinging into the life-and-death struggle of racking up scores on the National Center Test that would ultimately determine not just their future choice of college, but also their entire future.
No pressure, though.
Jounouchi, ever practical, had been resigned since his first day of high school to focusing strictly on graduation, foregoing college in favor of getting a job right away. He'd be one of only a very tiny minority to do it, but so what? His chances of working out a way to afford college were slight at best--and besides, he wasn't nearly smart enough to test into any of the good places, and sure as hell not smart enough to do most of the career work those places would qualify him for.
But in his second year of high school, on what was probably the stupidest night of his life, Jounouchi had made a promise to Honda and Yuugi--who were planning on taking the National Center Test--to take it with them, and to do his damndest to go to the same college as them. He'd hoped they would forget about it later, once the insanity of the moment had faded, but this was apparently too much to ask of the universe. They had been holding him to it all year, and Jounouchi, who never went back on his word, had been trying to do the same.
Jounouchi, however, forgot things a lot. He forgot them easily, and he tended to forget them for a long, long time. So in the periods between their prompting, he turned his focus to other things; there were bills to pay, after all, and part-time jobs to work, his father's debts to whittle away at, gang wars to avoid, games to win, food to get. Jounouchi was a busy guy.
So when July of his senior year rolled around and Jounouchi realized that the hellish period of mock exams was fast approaching, he got a little nervous. Then he went back to his work and forgot again.
And then way the hell out of nowhere it was Friday the seventh, nighttime, and Jounouchi had a pre-exam test in the morning. So he pulled an all-nighter and studied, failed the test, and went to his last day of work before summer vacation proper, having gotten the next two weeks off for school.
That was where it all started, really.
To say that it had been an accident right from the beginning was nothing but the truth. Of course, that was the excuse he'd used for a lot of things in his life--honest, it was an accident--but this time it seriously had been. Seriously. If he'd known at the start the way things would ultimately unravel, he probably would have reconsidered the doing part of most of what he'd done. Or at least taken some time to laugh at himself beforehand.
But it had honestly started as a one-night thing. It hadn't seemed harmful in the least, even just potentially. After all, an all-nighter was by definition supposed to end after one night, not expand and decide to be innovative by going on and on and fucking on.
Jounouchi by his very nature was intimately acquainted with all-nighters, them being the norm for people who chose to catch a lot of their sleep during school hours. But that Saturday night, the night of his bombed test and failed efforts, Jounouchi got into bed and closed his eyes and...couldn't sleep.
He laid in his futon for hours, hours and hours, eyes closed, and every time he looked at his alarm clock he found a little more time whittled away, a little more of an ache in his eyes, and no apparent inclination on the part of his brain to hurry up and fix that.
Then suddenly it was Sunday, and for maybe half an hour in the afternoon Jounouchi dozed, a fitful and unpleasant sleep. The same thing happened shortly after dinner, two thin hours full of strange dreams, and though he woke up able to uncross his eyes, he still didn't feel rested. By Sunday night he was exhausted, he was crabby, he had only one week left to get ready for the start of mocks on the seventeenth, and because the bureaucracy of Domino was composed entirely of sadistic bastards, Obon was starting on the thirteenth, meaning he'd also have to figure out how he was going to make time to get to the festival on the fifteenth in between all the studying and freaking out.
But first he had to sleep.
A driver in the street below Jounouchi's window honked twice at something, grasping at some shred of politesse, then abruptly threw tact out the window and laid on the horn, simultaneously waking up and pissing off half the block of shabby apartments in the process. Within seconds his head was throbbing in time with it, the horrible, mechanical whine pushing fingers into his eardrums, endless; one continuous, numbing ache. Jounouchi squeezed his eyes shut, drew in a breath, and groaned.
Voicing his discomfort again (once wasn't enough, really), Jounouchi turned over and over and over a third time on his futon, shuddering as his skin stuck unpleasantly to the single cheap comforter. The air smelled thick and like sweat, and Jounouchi, though exhausted and sore from a long day and distantly hungry and unbelievably tired, was beginning to realize that lightning wasn't going to strike tonight, either. Which made this officially the first case of insomnia he'd ever had in his life.
To top it all off, a heat wave had rolled into Domino about a week earlier (week and a half? Hell, he couldn't remember), and he'd spent all the nights since soaked through, even the ones before his insomnia. He was seriously considering moving to the bare floor at this point, but that would mean he'd actually have to clear a spot amidst all the papers and dirty clothes and game magazines from Yuugi, which would require more excavation than he was really feeling up to at the moment, thanks but no thanks.
It was a rut. It was a rut and he knew it, but he didn't know how to get out of it. How were you supposed to force yourself to sleep when your brain just wouldn't believe that you were exhausted? He couldn't afford pills, and anyway, those things fucked people up. But it was two AM now, Monday morning, and he really needed to be at class in six hours. He had no problem with sleeping there, but the issue was sleeping now. He wanted to sleep now, and it simply wasn't happening.
This just wasn't cosmically fair. Jounouchi had been fulfilling a promise, trying his best, devoting himself for once to doing the things he was expected to do. He'd felt pretty proud of himself at the time.
Now he just felt stupid. Stupid and really fucking tired.
And he was still sweaty.
"Fuck it," he muttered to his ceiling, kicking the blanket into a rumpled wad at the foot of his futon and rolling out onto the floor. This wasn't much of an improvement, considering that he was still sweaty, and now stuck to a bunch of papers instead of his blanket, but it was a start.
Lying face down, Jounouchi sniffed at the paper resting closest to his nose. Placing it after a short moment as his most recent math exam (it smelled like cigarettes, and Sadamoto-sensei was the only one who smoked while grading work, even if he lied about it), he counted tersely to three, then pushed himself up to his knees and finally his feet, bracing himself for the inevitable wave of dizziness.
It was stronger than he had expected, sending him reeling to his left for a few dragging seconds, until he could close his eyes and center himself. When he felt balanced again he took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the light coming through his window from the street lamp outside, the dark shapes scattered about his room coming slowly into focus; his floor lamp, his papers and books, his school bag in one corner, and over it all a light dusting of old clothes.
Working a finger beneath the waistband of his boxers, Jounouchi scratched his hip for a few seconds, yawned, then grabbed the first relatively clean tank top he could find. Tugging that on, he found a pair of ragged jeans to match (he was pretty sure he'd seen a hole opening up below the left half of the ass part a day or two ago, but if people were curious, he wasn't going to object to a little public boxer exhibition) and threw on a pair of sandals to top it off. Reasonably--if not fashionably--dressed, Jounouchi grabbed his wallet from behind the peeling molding on the hinge-edge of the doorframe, yawned again, and headed into the main room of the apartment.
Hell with trying to sleep. At this point he figured his best option would probably be to walk around until he was too exhausted to move, at which point he could drag himself to school and bum his way into the nurse's office for a few hours of sleep. Or, even better, just walk around until he passed out and was (hopefully) dragged into an alley by a generous pedestrian. That would cut school out of the equation entirely, which would be...kind of cool, actually, Yuugi and Honda's irritation temporarily aside. He'd probably stink, but so what?
Peering at the couch, Jounouchi found that his dad hadn't come home yet, and wrinkled his nose. He'd have to leave the door unlocked. Doing this always made him instinctively uneasy, though he knew they didn't own anything worth stealing, except maybe a few family photographs and an empty blue and white bottle that had once contained souvenir Tequila from America. His dad claimed it had been a wedding gift. Jounouchi couldn't say he believed that, but it was nice enough that he'd considered selling it on occasion. Nostalgia for the pre-separation days was ultimately the only thing that kept him from carrying that thought through.
The hall outside the tiny apartment looked as dismal as ever, though slightly less awful in the dark. The only illumination came from weak light thrown in through the windows over the stairs at the far end, wide patches of shadow helping to mask dirty walls and cracking plaster. Eight years of living in the same building had given him enough knowledge of the bad spots in the floor to let him navigate them in the dark, moving in an efficient, quiet shuffle toward the stairs themselves.
Out on the street he managed to catch the tail end of a glorious, moving breeze, and for roughly three seconds was able to lift his arms and shudder at the wonderful coolness. Then it was gone, and he was back at ground zero, hot and miserable and standing with his arms out like some kind of psycho Christian on a slum sidewalk in the asscrack of an otherwise perfect city.
Put that way, he had to admit that his life sounded both shockingly depressing and hysterically funny. Unfortunately, neither point was earning him any sleep. He put his arms down and moved on.
It was basically an equal number of blocks in all directions before the neighborhoods and businesses began to improve in Jounouchi's portion of the city, which was without a doubt the lowest income area (he'd wondered a lot as a kid how it was that they'd ended up in the middle of it all, but not so much these days). Eventually he headed west on a whim, moving under the spectral shadows of once-attractive apartment complexes and mini-marts with cracked windows, billboards and elaborate graffiti. Some of the best taggers in the area lived near him, acquaintances from his days with Hirutani, and in the past he'd followed along occasionally to watch them at work, curious.
His favorite piece was one close to the edge of their neighborhood that coated the entire underside of a highway overpass; a huge, grotesque hell screen done in the old style, just like ones he'd seen in temples on holidays as a kid. The shunga somebody had put on the side of a Catholic outpost, however, was unforgettable in its own way, particularly since the thing never fucking died. For years he'd seen the missionaries white washing the wall over and over again, only to find their work undone within a few weeks. Eventually they'd just given up, and there it had stayed ever since, obscene and hysterical, and probably symbolic of something, though damned if Jounouchi could put it into words.
Having lived in this area for such a long time, Jounouchi was actually more comfortable here than anywhere else, but after his last break with Hirutani, they had come to the unspoken agreement that so long as the gang leader left him the fuck alone, Jounouchi wouldn't wander the streets within his turf late at night. This had worked out pretty well so far, though it had occasionally forced Jounouchi to explore parts of the city that he'd never had any interest in before.
Eventually the dismal sights of his own area shook out into the neater, cleaner lines of fresh food markets, cyber cafés and maid cafés, game parlors, restaurants, and finally changed into massive multi-storied business buildings and high-end coffee shops, bookstores and retails outlets, shopping malls and foreign stores. There were people in these areas no matter the hour, something that had shocked him as a kid, when his dad had first dragged him into the city from Iruma-shi after the separation. They'd never had enough money to live in such a busy place before that point (which had been part of the problem, if Jounouchi remembered right), but it seemed in the aftermath that his dad simply preferred to be poor here instead of in his family house.
Or maybe he was just ashamed to live there after everything that had happened, with all the ghosts of four generations of his family watching. Or maybe the company for old alcoholic fuck-ups was just better in Domino. Jounouchi had never really been able to figure it out. He'd never really wanted to try. He couldn't remember enough of Iruma-shi now to miss it, but even as a kid he'd understood that whatever the reason, his father had ultimately done nothing more than run away. It would have made him sad if it hadn't pissed him off so much.
But what the hell was he doing wasting brain space on this? The past was past. Fuck thinking about it. Jounouchi refocused determinedly on the outside world, frowning at his own weird behavior. It was probably just the insomnia screwing with his head. Didn't people start to hallucinate if they stayed awake too long? Jounouchi shuddered at the thought, hoping he wouldn't be up long enough to find out.
Though he had no idea for how long, when he at last looked around clearly, he found that he had stalled beside a long stretch of brick wall separating an office building from a bank. Across the street, the lights of a fancy coffee shop and an equally fancy tea house blinked, half-dimmed with respect to the hour.
A woman in a light summer kimono walked by--a wave pattern, he noticed, and wondered if the world was secretly mocking him, putting water somewhere so utterly out of reach in this ridiculous heat--and shot a pointed glance at his clothes. He grinned back, flashing a cheerful peace sign, unable to help himself; unsurprisingly scandalized, she turned quickly away and drifted across the street, headed for the tea house.
So what was her problem? She couldn't be doing anything reputable either, going to a tea house at this hour in full kit...Jounouchi snorted quietly, dropping backwards to lean against the wall. His tank top slid with an only half-dry whisper against the advertisements layering the brick face, the parts he'd already sweated through dragging somewhat more.
And then it wasn't enough to lean, really--sitting was the thing. So he let his body slide down, until he could rest with his back to the wall, his legs stretched out across the sidewalk before him.
People passing by began to glare immediately, irritated by the obstruction, but Jounouchi ignored them, basking temporarily in the relief of being off his feet. The air was fractionally cooler closer to the ground, though not nearly enough to take the pressure off his head.
He really didn't know what was wrong with him. Insomnia had never been a problem before--he wouldn't have even thought about it as a possibility three days ago, let alone a probability. When he was tired he slept, and when he wasn't he stayed awake; it was as simple as that. Except now it wasn't.
Drumming his heels in boredom, Jounouchi cracked his jaw and crossed his arms behind his head, glancing up casually at the advertisements on the wall above him. They were numerous, bold kana in a rainbow of colors and styles, some cursive and completely incomprehensible to him...and right over his head was a game poster.
How had he not noticed that five minutes ago? Excited, Jounouchi leaned forward and twisted around, ignoring the dizziness to peer at it. Rectangular and all black, with the exception of the characters and a single object floating in a spotlight in the middle, it was certainly one of the boldest pieces up there, if not the easiest to read in the relatively low light.
Then he actually recognized the trademark style, and almost tore the thing off the wall.
From Kaiba Corporations, it read dramatically (Fucker! his mind shouted, Fucker, fucker, fucker...), creator of the Duel Disk© and legendary 3-D Dueling System©, comes a new adventure...
This led to the item in the spotlight, which was, from the looks of it, a set of gold scales, a single white feather delicately placed in the left pan.
AMMIT read the title printed just below the picture, followed underneath by the small, plainly typed phrase, this Christmas season...
Intrinsic asshole vibes temporarily ignored, Jounouchi couldn't help feeling like he was missing something about the whole thing, and particularly about the scales. It took a long moment, however, for him to work out what this was--probably an embarrassingly long moment considering the amount of involvement he'd had in Yuugi's weird-ass life these last few years.
The design was Egyptian, from the curve of the scales to the title itself. He figured he'd heard it somewhere before (probably the guy in the turban had brought it up--it sounded like it would fit right in with the kind of mystical name-dropping he'd liked so much), but he was more preoccupied at that second with hating Kaiba's guts with a breath-wrenching intensity for sinking low enough to cash in on their lives for some crappy video game. There was no way Yuugi hadn't inspired this one, and Jounouchi couldn't see him credited anywhere.
Distantly Jounouchi remembered a happier time in his life as a boy of thirteen and fourteen; a time when, fresh-faced and innocent, he had enjoyed Kaiba's games without limit, free from any knowledge of what an utter prick the creator would turn out to be.
Even now he remembered those years with almost perfect clarity. Neither had been the best for him in terms of not doing things he would later come to regret, but they had nevertheless made up for that by being, in a number of really relevant ways, his most stable ones; things with the gang and Hirutani had more or less settled into a routine, he'd at last perfected the art of hating his dad without feeling guilty for it, and Kaiba Seto had never tangibly existed. They'd been going to the same middle school, of course, but he and Honda had been in a different class from the rest of them.
Then came high school, and Yuugi and Anzu, and out of nowhere Hirutani had developed a love as huge as Mt. Fuji for his growing reputation, and expressed it by staking a claim over the entirety of Jounouchi's neighborhood, trying to turn himself into a minor lord. In the end he'd managed to do both that and transform into the biggest dick on the planet, and he'd wanted Jounouchi to go along for the ride. Fortunately Jounouchi had recognized what a bad idea that would be even then, but it had still been hard, hard to get out and harder still to stay out.
Things had broken through with his father not long after, having escalated for years, until Jounouchi had at last been forced to admit that for all he couldn't respect him after everything that had happened, he also couldn't hate him just for the sake of hating him. He was only human. A fucking sad, pathetic human, but human all the same. It made it a hell of a lot harder to live with him, but recently Jounouchi had begun to realize that maybe that was better. They didn't talk, but Jounouchi stopped locking him out at night, and every now and again the old man brought a little money home instead of just taking a lot away.
And then, just as he'd finally survived fifteen, just as he'd started to really believe that it was possible to get over wanting to beat the shit out of people on a regular basis, Kaiba Seto had showed up, and everything had gone to fuck overnight.
Within hours the guy had become his living, breathing test from Shakyamuni to prove that he had really gotten over his old ways. And so it was that six days a week, eleven months a year, for the last three years, Jounouchi had been tested. Sometimes he'd failed, sometimes he'd passed with extra points, sometimes he'd almost, almost been able to see eye-to-eye with the asshole; but mostly he just wished he'd never met him. It wasn't really in him to hate for very long, but Kaiba had the unique ability to make him want to try.
There was just no way he could be human--and if there was, Jounouchi didn't want to know about it. Somewhere in the back of his skull he knew it was true, that Kaiba ate and breathed like the rest of them, that his devotion to his brother was real. But that wasn't a Kaiba Jounouchi wanted to be familiar with, because if he ever got there, he was almost certain he'd feel sorry for him, and it was kind of nice to have at least one person in his life to blame for everything that went wrong. Kaiba even owned half the world, which meant that half the time he did this, he'd probably be right. That kind of assurance only came along once in a lifetime.
All philosophy aside, however, what Jounouchi missed the most was being able to play Kaiba's games innocently, skipping school to screw around on a friend's computer and feel like a hero for a few hours. And in the end, that was probably what he hated most about Kaiba; that for all he came off as a total dickweed in person, he obviously knew enough about people to keep them entertained, which of course meant that he wasn't incapable of treating the people around him well. He just didn't feel like trying.
Jounouchi bit his lip, slumping down a little more and wondering why it was that no matter what he did, Kaiba always figured out some way to ruin it for him, even something as small as a walk in the middle of the small hours of the morning, and even when he was nowhere in sight.
This, however, was the point at which the universe chose to remind Jounouchi of something he'd figured out a long time ago; that being that whenever a guy (or girl--whatever) spent a lot of time thinking about a person, that guy (/girl) would, without fail, run across that person in the immediate future. That was just the way shit went down in his world experience. Likewise, it was an even bigger rule that when a guy spent a lot of time obsessing over someone, that person wouldn't just show up, he'd fucking trip over himself (or herself--fuck gender politics, anyway) to leap out of the woodworks.
Which was probably why Kaiba stepped out of the coffee shop across the street right then.
- Okay, so first a few notes on the Japanese school year: it begins in April and runs until March. Furthermore, it gives a lot fewer breaks. Summer break is by far the longest, and even that only runs from July 21st to August 28th (my birthday! :D); Golden Week in May is another of the lengthier breaks. Further-furthermore, the traditional school week runs from Monday to Saturday, not Friday. So basically you live at school.
The National Center Test, also mentioned, is a bit like the SATs in the States: that is, it's a standardized series of exams on various topics (math, biology, language/literature, etc.) that yield scores which the student will then offer to various colleges, along with the scores they receive on the individual entrance exams of those institutions. Depending on the prospective school a student might only take one or two of the Center exams. (Note on the note: all of the above is in tenuous flux currently in Japan--falling population is creating a rather alarming quota deficit, which in turn has led to lowered testing standards. But for the purposes of this fic, which takes place in the late 90s/early 00s, exam hell and the Center Test are still very relevant, insofar as they really do determine whether one can continue on to a university--don't forget all the competition, guys--or go to a vocational school or simply graduate and work construction for the rest of time.) The vast majority of students attempt to get into only a few top universities; those who fail to get into their top choice and decide to retake the Center Test the following year are called ronin.
- Probably everybody knows what a futon is, but what the hell: a futon is that padded cloth mattress you see all the time in manga with the really thick blanket on top (easily researched), often hilariously featured in Takahashi Rumiko's manga Maison Ikkoku. There's kind of a trend in more recent manga/anime of giving characters Western beds, but somehow I can't imagine Jounouchi's dad springing for one of those.
- There will be various clashing religious themes throughout this, by which I do not mean to give the impression that various characters will be proselytizing. Rather, I mean simply that Jounouchi as I'm writing him here has grown up in a country where Christianity/Catholicism is practiced consistently by less than one half a percent of the country's population. This means that he'll not only think of Christians as inherently separate, but will have an overall world view that has been intrinsically informed by Shinto and Buddhist practices. This is an underlying theme in the fic, but keep in mind that when he says things like 'oh my god', he means spirits, or Enma-sama, or Shakyamuni Buddha.
- Shunga are erotic illustrations. These were incredibly popular during the Edo period, particularly among women. Easily and hilariously googled.
- On Jounouchi's dad being ashamed to live in his family home because of how badly he'd screwed up his family: remember what I said two paragraphs ago about differing world views? Welcome to the wonderful practice of ancestor worship.
- Various kimono patterns are deemed appropriate for various months: the wave pattern is thus allotted to July. (Also, no, no reputable tea house would be open that late. Just go with it.)
- Ammit is the Egyptian beast of judgment--or, to put it more accurately, she's the monster who eats your soul very gruesomely if your heart fails Ma'at's feather test. With the head of a crocodile, the torso of a lioness, and the bottom half of a hippopotamus, she represented all those animals the Ancient Egyptians most feared. Something of a paradox, as she is viewed as both demonic (because of her physical composition) and necessary (for the removal of evil spirits).