Notes: The characters are not mine and this oddness is. The idea has been forming for the past couple of days, but the 31 Days prompt Memoirs of an Amnesiac really pushed it into being. It is a random branch-off for a dark story I did called Lead Me Through the Fire, which eventually left Duke Devlin emotionally traumatized and his store manager friend, who appeared in episode 46 and whom I call David Tanaka, dead. I don't picture the following events to take place in my main timeline, and probably not in the Lead Me timeline either, though I can't help being intrigued by the concept.
He was standing alone in a dark room when the shot rang out.
At first it was so surreal. It had not really hit him, had it? It couldn't; that was impossible. He should not have been shot.
But he had been; the blood was running over his chest and soaking through his shirt. The pain was all at once numbing and flaming and very real. He clutched at the wound, his vision growing dark and dizzy as he stumbled backwards, tripping over a fallen curtain rod as he crashed on the carpeted floor.
A gun clicked somewhere above him in the darkness. "You're a dead man, Mr. Tanaka."
He started awake, his brown eyes flying open in the unlit room. He was gasping for breath and clawing at his chest, for the moment not even trying to adjust to the darkness around him. But then he slumped back into the pillow, staring up at the blurred ceiling as he willed his breathing to even.
"Just a dream," he muttered. "It wasn't real. It couldn't have been real."
He reached up over the top of the bed, switching on the lamp on the side table and groping for his glasses. As he slipped them on, the mixture of colors and shapes in the room melted back into recognizable objects. He sighed, pushing himself off the mattress and wandering into the hall, which was illuminated by a dim glow. He turned the light on the rest of the way before proceeding into the bathroom and coming to stand in front of the mirror. The light from the hallway shined into the bathroom, but it was not enough. He turned on the bathroom light as well.
Slowly he unbuttoned his shirt, pulling it back on the left side. Yes, there it was, like always---the round birthmark just above his heart. And odd; it was hurting tonight.
He frowned. The mark had always been there, of course; there was nothing unusual about it. Except that sometimes it looked more like a scar from a bullet hole than anything else. But that was crazy. He had never been shot in his life!
In fact, he had never even had a broken bone, a fairly common childhood injury. He had always stayed as far away from danger as he could; not because he feared it, but because he considered himself smarter than that. He was far more content to be safely inside his home or another building, making plans for how to get more money. Why risk his welfare if he did not have to?
Gingerly he reached up, touching the birthmark with two fingers. Immediately he flinched, pulling them away as it burned. Something was strange, alright. A birthmark should not hurt at all.
He glanced out the window as the autumn leaves blew past the glass. Now that he thought of it, this was not the first time the mark had bothered him. It had hurt before, but always and only in October.
He turned away, his fingers working deftly to close his shirt. He should try to get some sleep. He would never be fit for a day at work if he showed up looking and feeling like a zombie after a jamboree. And Duke Devlin liked to make a good impression on his customers. It would not do for his store manager to be in such a state.
He paused, his hands on the middle button. Duke. . . .
"No, David! You can't die!"
"Please, forgive me, David. I have to go. . . ."
"I'm sorry. I never meant for this to happen. It's my fault you're . . . gone. . . ."
He shook himself out of his daze. Where were these thoughts coming from? Had he dreamed them some other night? Or even tonight, but just had not remembered until now? They could not be real, any more than him being shot could be real. Duke was his boss, nothing more.
Oh, he had tried to be friendly with the guy. Obviously Duke had some level of respect and trust for him, to give him the position of store manager and to even put up with his good-natured teasing. But he kept David at arm's length. He did not want to be friends.
Either that or he was too afraid. David had sensed that Duke was keeping a lot of pain bottled inside. But as long as Duke refused to open up to him, David could do nothing for him.
He finished closing his shirt and again turned down the hall light. There was still plenty of time for sleep before he had to go in to the store. And no matter how badly those dreams seemed to be shaking him up, he did not intend to waste that time. Someone running around as both a college student and a business manager could not afford to.
He collapsed onto the mattress, taking off his glasses and setting them on the table before relaxing into the pillow. Yes, sleep was what he needed now. A good, restful, dreamless sleep.
And an agreeable birthmark that would quit hurting.
Duke Devlin had always been an odd duck for the few years David had known him. A wealthy entrepreneur at sixteen, he had opened the Black Crown game store with his own money and had even created an internationally-successful game to go with it. He enjoyed the attention---basked and reveled in it, more likely---and was always doing some parlor trick or another to impress the girls at school. But he did not take their oohing and aahing to heart; they were just shallow fangirls who moved from one Prince Charming to the next, week after predictable week.
Despite knowing Duel Monsters' champion Yugi Muto, and even having accompanied him on several adventures to save the world, Duke did not consider himself a part of Yugi's "gang." His time was spent either traveling or, more frequently, working in the Black Crown. Sometimes it seemed as though he was deliberately closing himself off from everyone else, though David could not imagine what would cause him to do it. No one else seemed to think that was what he was doing, however, so David wondered if he was mistaken. And yet he was sure he was not---even though he wondered too why he would be able to read someone like Duke.
The only person whom Duke ever seemed warm with was his long-time girlfriend Serenity Wheeler. David tried to give them space when he saw them together, though they usually tended to slip away to Duke's office when she came. There was a light in Duke's eyes when she was with him that David never saw when Duke was with anyone else. And she must be a special girl, alright, if she could understand him.
She always acknowledged David when she saw him, too, though for some reason there was something melancholy in her eyes when she did. For someone so young, she had definitely seen a great deal of pain. Duke never explained it, of course, and David never asked. It was not his business. That did not mean, however, that he did not wonder.
Occasionally David heard whispers among the other employees that Duke had not always been as he was now. These days, they said, he just went through the motions of life without really living. But in the past, unless he had hidden it well, he had held a certain zest for life. And among other things, he had always kept his hair pulled back in a ponytail, leaving only the bangs to play around the sides of his face. He never did that anymore; he kept all of his hair loose, almost as if to hide behind it.
Maybe it was just to hide the faint scar on his cheek. No one could quite remember how he had received it, just as they could not quite recall how or why Duke had become such a devastated man. He was a complete enigma, and seemed content to be so, or so everyone said.
But in spite of all Duke's eccentricities, when David arrived at work the following day, barely in time after hurrying from his morning class, the kid acted more bewildering than ever.
"Duke?" David called as he breezed through the automatic doors. "Sorry if I'm late. The professor kept talking after the time was up, and . . ."
But he trailed off. Standing at the counter, Duke Devlin looked for a brief moment like he had seen a ghost. He also looked like he had not slept at all.
David frowned as he advanced further into the room. "What is it?" he asked.
Duke turned away, shaking his head. "Nothing," he mumbled. "It's nothing." His voice turned rough, as it usually was. "Nevermind. You're on time anyway, Tanaka."
David pushed up his glasses with a finger. "I know something's up," he tried again. "What's with you, Dukey-boy?"
As soon as the words were out of his mouth he froze in stunned shock. He had no idea where that had come from, but it was too late to take it back now.
In any case, it had a most bizarre effect. Duke whirled, his bloodshot eyes aflame with pain and anguish. His shoulder-length black hair, flowing freely, whipped around his face and neck. "Why did you call me that?!" he demanded.
David started. "I don't know," he said. "It was just a crazy nickname. . . . I didn't mean anything by it. . . . I mean . . ."
"Don't call me that again!" Duke snapped.
"Okay." David flinched. "You're touchy today." He held up his hands in defeat. "Nevermind. Have it your way." Shaking his head, he walked past the counter and to the stairs. "I'll just go up to my office and take care of some things."
Duke was silent as the older man went up the steps. But it was when David had reached the halfway point that his boss weakly spoke.
"David, I'm sorry. Maybe . . . maybe someday you'll understand. . . ."
David froze. The statement was so odd in and of itself, but in addition to that . . .
"That's the first time you've ever called me by my given name," he observed, turning to face the dejected store owner. Duke was leaning forward, his hands spread on the glass countertop and his head bowed. He looked thoroughly miserable.
David went back down the stairs, compelled for a reason he did not understand to not leave Duke here in this state. The other Asian-American boy merely shrugged his shoulders in response to David's remark, clearly unwilling to explain himself further on the matter.
"Duke, what's wrong?" David tried again. "You're not yourself."
"You wouldn't know what it's like for me to to be myself," Duke said, at last looking up with a resigned sigh. "And it's because of me," he added in a quieter tone.
David stared. "Sometimes I really wonder what's going through your mind," he said. "Like now. But if you mean you've been pushing me away so we can't get close and I can't learn what it's like to be you, then yeah, I agree."
Duke shook his head. "It isn't that," he said. He straightened up. "But nevermind; we have a lot of work to get done today."
And David sighed. Duke would tell him nothing.
But he was not willing to back down. He stood there at the bottom of the stairs, his arms crossed. "Tell me after work, then," he said.
Duke gawked at him, clearly not having expected the insistence. ". . . You're serious," he said.
David nodded. "Of course."
At last Duke gave a weary sigh. "I didn't know how much longer I could keep it secret anyway," he said. "Especially because of today. . . ."
"If it involves me, why should you have kept it secret in the first place?" David countered. "I'd want to know."
Duke opened his mouth, then closed it again. "Because . . ." He shook his head. "No, I'll tell you later."
"After work," David pressed.
Duke only managed a weak nod.
The workday was tedious and long. David found it almost impossible to get anything accomplished. Instead he caught himself continually looking at the clock, waiting for the signal to close up shop and get Duke to tell him whatever he had been hiding all this time.
His thoughts were a confused tumble. What on earth had the store owner been talking about in the morning? He had acted so vulnerable and despondent, but his words had not made sense. Still, no matter how much he wondered about it, it would not make the day end any faster. He sighed, returning his attention to the open file folder in front of him.
Duke was looking at the clock too, but mainly dreading that time. All the same, he also wanted it to come and get over with, now that what he had been fearing was upon him. David had never stopped trying to befriend him, to reach out to him, and it had shattered his heart every time to reject the other. Once David learned the truth behind it, he would hate Duke. He had done what he ought not.
As soon as they knew they were alone in the building that evening, David locked the doors and went upstairs to Duke's office. He nearly collided with Duke coming out.
"Let's go in here," Duke mumbled, leading him down the hall to the employees' lounge. A comfortable room with soft couches and chairs, tabletop tennis, and vending machines, Duke's employees were grateful to go in there to relax after their shifts or before going home.
Duke sank onto a light green couch, gesturing for David to join him. When the other man was seated, gazing at him curiously, Duke took a deep breath.
"This is always a hard time of year for me," he said. He turned slightly, looking over at David. "This day . . . it was when . . ." He looked away. "No, it's too crazy to spring it on you. You won't believe it."
David just narrowed his eyes. "You made a promise," he said.
Duke clenched his fists. "I know!" he said in frustration. "I'm just trying to think how to say it without messing things up even worse."
He leaned back with a tired sigh. ". . . What would you say if I said that, long ago, you and I grew up together?" he said. "That you were always trying to make friends with me and I never really accepted you, because of my father's disapproval . . . and because I was just afraid to care?"
David shrugged. "It doesn't sound much different than now," he said. "Except for the father part. And of course, we never grew up together."
Duke passed a hand over his eyes. "What if I told you that years later, after I hired you, some smugglers were operating out of my store and they tried to kill me?" he went on. "And without anywhere to turn, I went to you for help?"
David frowned now. "Is that what's happening now?" It could explain Duke's odd behavior, anyway. Having someone out to kill you could stress the calmest of people.
But Duke shook his head, his hand still on his eyes. "We fought against them every way we knew how," he said. "I pretended that they'd succeeded in killing me and then came back as my alter ego Ryuuji Otogi."
A bolt of lightning struck David in the heart. "Ryuuji Otogi," he repeated, his voice barely discernable. "I know that name. I don't know how I know it, but . . ."
Duke finally removed his hand. "You tried to infiltrate the smugglers," he said. "The credit for cracking the case really goes to you; you learned the identity of the ringleader. But . . ." He leaned forward, shaking his head. His dark hair fell forward, concealing his face. "You paid for it with your life."
In a flash David's nightmares returned to the forefront of his mind. A dark room . . . a gunshot . . . the pain . . . the blood. . . . Duke sounding agonized, even grief-stricken. . . .
A cold memorial stone in a cemetery, with a name carved into the granite. . . . His name. . . .
His heart pounded. Suddenly he was dizzy, his mouth dry. "No," he gasped. He straightened, his hands clammy as he grabbed Duke's shoulders. "That isn't true!" he cried. "Tell me it's a joke!"
But as he turned Duke to face him, the anguish and guilt and grief he saw in those emerald eyes was far too real. He fell back in horror, releasing the younger man.
"It's true," Duke said. "I managed to bring down the gang because of your courage. But I could never get over the fact that you died trying to get me out of a mess." He clenched a fist again, staring at the carpet. "Today was the date when it happened---the day you died."
For a moment David was silent, feeling increasingly uncomfortable. ". . . Please don't tell me you did some voodoo that brought me back as a zombie," he said.
Duke did not even crack a smile. "No, I didn't," he said. "But I did mess with something I shouldn't have."
He sat up straight again. "I went on for over a year, trying my best to move on without you and get over my grief and guilt. For a while I thought I was doing okay, but I finally realized I'd been fooling myself. It was just getting worse. I was dating Serenity Wheeler, but I told her I needed to think about things for a while and that I needed some space.
"During that time, I started researching some of the stuff Ryou Bakura's father is into. He's the museum director here, you know. . . . He has a Doctoral degree in Egyptology."
David gave an uneasy nod. "Yeah . . ." He leaned forward, watching his boss. This was more and more eerie. According to Duke, they had been close friends. And as much as he wanted to deny the story about him giving up the ghost, it made a horrible, frightening sense. Duke did not know about David's nightmares, yet what he was saying fit right in with them.
Maybe this was a nightmare right now. Maybe this whole day was a dreamed nightmare and he would wake up. But no . . . that would be expecting too much.
". . . I found out about a forbidden power I could use." Duke gave a humorless laugh. "If I was willing to go looking for it in the Pharaoh's tombs. And I really was."
He shook his head. "Serenity found out, somehow. I didn't tell anyone, but she knew something had changed in me. She could tell when she saw how determined I was about something. And she managed to weasel the truth out of me. I said I had to go alone, and I couldn't put her in danger like that, but she insisted on going too. So . . . to make a long, Indiana Jones story short, we went there and got it."
David just kept looking at him, not sure how to even react. ". . . And what was it?" he said.
Duke looked back. "If I messed with the space-time continuum, I could bring you back," he said. "But I had to pay a price. I could pick what it was." He drew a deep breath.
"I chose to have you not remember anything of the past, especially not your death or our friendship or anything about us being close. It was my fault you went to your death. I . . . I thought if I could keep us from becoming close, I . . ." His shoulders slumped and his head dropped. "I could keep you from dying again."
Upon David's silence, Duke cautiously looked up at him. The other man was just staring, shocked and in disbelief. Duke sighed, running a hand into his hair.
"So . . . I guess you could say I rewound time," he said. "No one else remembers how it was in the . . . past? Future? What would you call it?" He gave a mirthless smirk, then sobered. "Only I and Serenity know the truth. We always have. That was the Hell I placed on myself, the punishment I felt I deserved, for getting you into that mess . . . and then for being so selfish as to bring you back using forbidden powers. And Serenity . . ." He shook his head. "She willingly entered that Hell with me."
David was still silent, trying to process what he was hearing. Duke stared at him, his eyes now filled with fear---the fear of rejection. David saw, and in spite of himself, his heart was pricked.
Still, no matter how he tried to look at it, he was not sure what on earth to make of it. He frowned, clasping his hands.
". . . So basically, you missed me so much, and felt so guilty, that you brought me back," he said. "Rewinding everyone's lives in the process. And you were so terrified of everything happening again that you thought pushing me away and treating me cold was the answer." He crossed his arms, losing himself in disturbed thoughts. How many major events in people's lives---not just bad, but good---had been changed due to Duke's actions? . . . Due to Duke's feelings for him?
How did he feel about this? Part of him wanted to yell at Duke, to ask him how could he have done such an irresponsible thing. But the other part . . .
The other part . . .
". . . I'm sorry," Duke said, his voice hollow. "I . . . I don't know what I was thinking. I only changed the events that directly came from the smuggling mess and your death. Everything else in the world happened just the same as it did before, but . . . who knows what all I've altered.
"And you were probably happier where you were. I . . . I just . . . I didn't know how I could take it." He shook his head. "I wanted to see you again. I wanted to know you were alive. But I didn't want to make history repeat itself. I wanted to make it go different this time. I thought, You'd have your family, and they'd have you again, and none of you would remember that you'd been killed. I thought it would work. I thought if I was the only one who suffered from it, it would be okay. But then Serenity joined me, and . . . and . . .
"It's hard. . . . It's been so hard! . . . I . . . I've wanted to tell you the truth so many times. . . . To let you see that I'm not what I've been trying to be. . . . To beg your forgiveness. . . ." He ran his hands into his hair. "Even though I know I don't deserve it. I'm sorry, I know I'm just rambling now."
David let out a long breath. ". . . This is all pretty twisted when you think about it." He finally looked to Duke again, making his decision. "It's kind of nice, in a weird way, to think that someone would care about me that much. Especially when I've thought you didn't care at all."
Duke flinched. "I'm sorry," he said again. "David, I . . ."
David shook his head. "Duke . . . you've been in your Hell long enough," he said. "I still don't understand the details or much of the past, but . . ." He hesitated for a moment. "I've had a birthmark for as long as I can remember. It looks like a bullet hole."
Duke's eyes widened in astonishment and he gasped. "What?!"
Slowly David unbuttoned his shirt. "It bothers me every October," he said. "Sometimes I have dreams . . . snatches of memory, I guess? . . . I dream about being shot and dying. I dream about you in agony, not able to get over it."
Duke's gaze was fixed on the mark as David pulled his shirt back. Shaking, he looked from it back to his friend, his face tortured.
"You have that," he rasped, "and I . . . I have this. . . ." He reached up, running his fingers over the scar on his cheek. "I didn't choose to keep it, but when time rewound, I found I had it anyway. I wondered why. . . . I figured it was just another constant reminder, another element to my punishment."
David stared. ". . . So that's why no one knows how you got it," he said. "It's from the forgotten future."
Duke barely heard him. "But . . . what about you?" he said. "Why are you carrying the scar from that night? Why are you remembering how you got it?" He almost looked sick now. "Does that mean I've failed in everything? The price was for you to have those memories sealed away, or taken altogether, or . . . or something. So if the price is failing, doesn't that mean the time rewind won't hold? Doesn't it mean that we'll go back to how things were? You . . . you'll be dead again, and I . . . I'll . . ."
"Duke . . ." David gazed at him, his heart going out to this long-unremembered friend. "For me to start remembering the past, maybe that is the way it's supposed to be. But it doesn't mean it'll work against us. Look---I'm still alive. If I'm meant to live, then we'll find how to keep it that way. And if I'm meant to die . . ." His hands shook slightly as he rebuttoned his shirt. "Then it will happen anyway. Don't put yourself through this any longer." He gripped Duke's shoulders. "I want to remember, Duke. I want to remember everything."
"No," Duke choked out. "No. . . ." He looked so different now, nothing like the callous, cold man he had been for most of the time David remembered. He looked like a helpless and lost kid.
But David was not willing to back down, for his own sake and for Duke's. "It's my life, Duke," he said quietly. "You may have given it back to me, but it's still mine. I want to know. And I don't want to see you suffering like this." He looked into the green eyes. "I want to remember you again," he said. "I want to remember the man who wanted me back so badly he was willing to give up his happiness for it. I want to remember the friend I wanted to help so much that I was willing to give up my life for it. Can you teach me---about him? About me?"
Duke stared at him, now overwhelmed. "You haven't changed since then," he said. "But I have. I have. I'm a mess. Look at me---I scoffed at friendship, I sneered at love. . . . I made mockeries of them, and of people, and of everything decent in this world. And now I . . . I've become this. So desperate to not lose someone that I turned time on its head to bring him back." He shook his head. "I can't take this anymore. I . . ." His defenses crumbled. "David. . . ."
Suddenly he was diving at his old friend, clutching him in desperation. He did not want to go back to how it had been. He did not want to pretend he was not interested in David's friendship. He did not want to accept David's friendship and then watch everything crash down again. He could not go through that a second time. He could not, he could not.
Stunned at first, David finally returned the gesture, awkwardly drawing the owner of the Black Crown into an embrace. "It's going to be alright, Duke," he said quietly. "I don't know when and I don't know how . . . but I believe it will be. For both of us."
"Both of us," Duke repeated.
"Yeah. . . ." David gazed off into the distance. "Someday I'll remember everything. I'll live, and you'll be able to heal. Everything will be fine."
"It sounds like a dream," Duke mumbled.
"This one's going to be reality, my friend," David said.
It was good to call Duke that again. Somehow he knew that he had, long ago.
And from the way Duke began to relax, David knew that Duke was, even if ever so slightly, beginning to hope.