A/N: A revised version of my Conflictshipping (Valon/Mai/Jounouchi) for the YGO Fanfic Contest. If anyone wants the original for the contest archiving purposes, let me know, and I'll figure something out.
I know it still has pacing issues. But I can't look at this fic anymore. It's been in my folder for 9 months. It's time to let it go.
Valon has no canon age, so he's twenty, four years younger than Mai, and three or four years older than Jounouchi.
Rated T for strong language and some sexual references.
Footsteps echoed in the stone room as the five Warriors of Doom entered Dartz's temple, fresh from their first battle with the pharaoh. Thousands of carved faces stared down at them. The youngest of the Warriors felt decidedly uncomfortable with so many eyes upon him, even if they were only etched in stone.
"Nice job!" Valon cheered, thumping Jounouchi on the back, snapping him out of his daze. "Tying a duel with the pharaoh! We all thought you were gonna lose for sure."
"Thanks," Jounouchi replied sarcastically. "Duel him yourself next time."
"You tied against the pharaoh?" Dartz appeared from nowhere. Even Valon quieted down as their master approached. The group bowed their heads. Dartz stopped at the top of the steps, far above them.
"He went easy on you." Rafael stepped forward. "You won't get off that easily again."
"I know that," Jounouchi growled, but only Mai could hear him. Rafael knelt before Dartz and presented the gods. Jounouchi looked at the cards that so recently belonged to his classmate. The pharaoh's words during their duel rang in Jounouchi's head.
"I know you!" Yugi pointed at him.
"No you don't."
What little time Jounouchi devoted to school was spent trying to be as unmemorable as possible. Given the choice, Jounouchi would rather never gone to school. Dartz sent him to Domino High to keep an eye on the pharaoh. But the pharaoh… no, that kid Yugi, had recognized him.
"You're in my class at school! Jounouchi, right?"
"Yes, you are!"
"No - I'm not — Just shut up and duel!"
Jounouchi was forgettable when he wanted attention, let alone when he was on a spy mission in a school full of people he hated. He and Yugi had exchanged pleasantries once and never spoken again. How did that kid remember his name? Jounouchi's own father couldn't remember his name when he had a few beers in him.
Valon nudged him, and Jounouchi stood up straight. Dartz was still talking. The three Swordsmen were fixed on him. Jounouchi tried to catch Valon's eye, but Valon didn't respond. A quick glance to Jounouchi's left showed Mai didn't care about the speech any more than he did. But he gritted his teeth and listened. The kid of the group still had to show up and look good, even if they'd never give him anything but time-wasters and suicide missions. Never anything in the middle for the lowly scapegoat. Sacrifice him to the pharaoh or send him to play with the other kids.
Dartz finished and dismissed them. For a hopeful second, Valon turned to Jounouchi, but looked right through him to Mai. She ignored him and left before he could get a word out.
"Hey Valon," Jounouchi said, but the older Warrior put a hand on his shoulder, already turning away from him.
"Later kid, gotta run!" Valon dismissed, following Mai. Jounouchi stayed where he was. The rest left without a word, but at least that, Jounouchi was used to. He waited for the room to empty, and still, he waited. He listened to the fire crackle and watched it throw shadows on the wall. He traced the faces of the people trapped in the walls and floor.
"I told you not to get attached to them." Jounouchi jumped. Dartz descended the stairs towards him.
"Which ones?" Jounouchi knew what he meant, but he lashed out anyway. "The people we're killing or the ones we're killing with?
"All of them," Dartz answered. His hand on Jounouchi's shoulder was warm, but comfortless.
"Shouldn't be too hard right now," he laughed bitterly. Valon was too busy chasing ass to talk to his old friend.
"Hey, Valon, where you been?" Jounouchi stuck his head in the open doorway. Valon was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. Jounouchi was only too familiar with the far-away look on his face, though Valon's was much happier than the depressed variety Jounouchi usually sported whenever he couldn't escape from his painful thoughts.
"Nowhere," he said, sitting up. "Doom business."
"Dueling." Jounouchi sighed, fed up with his comrades' constant dueling and soul-taking, while he sat around doing nothing. "Anything interesting happen?"
"You that bored, that you want to listen to me talk?"
"Nothin' else to do around this damn place," Jounouchi complained, sitting down in the lone chair in the corner of the room. "Just 'cause I'm the youngest, I'm stuck here all the time. It's a load of crap. I could out-duel all of you."
Valon would normally laugh and tell Jounouchi something infuriatingly patronizing, but he said nothing, stood up, and opened the door a crack. He looked both ways down the hall before shutting it and whispering.
"No dueling this time. Recruiting."
"We do that?" Jounouchi blinked. Dartz found all the Warriors. They weren't even supposed to talk to each other that much once they were in, let alone anyone on the outside.
"No. But I don't care. This one... she needs us."
Jounouchi looked up at the celing of his room, remembering the last night he'd had a proper conversation with Valon. It gnawed at him slowly, tugging and poking at him, but never hurting. Magic washed over him and emptied his head before anything could hurt him. A knock at the door brought a welcome interruption from his thoughts.
A very welcome interruption. Mai entered before he could stand up to let her in. His heart beat a little quicker, like it always did when she was close to him. He sat up and got a look at the expression on her face. Ah, crap, she was angry. Typical. It was so rare she ever spoke to him when she was in a good mood. Only Valon ever got to see her happy and even then, she usually wound up getting pissed off and punching him.
"You knew them?" she hissed at him. His heart sank; not so welcome, then. He was doing his best to forget the pharaoh and his friends.
"Hello to you too," he replied sarcastically. "How am I after the duel? Fine, thanks for asking. It was a tough duel, you know. He's the King of games, and all."
"Cut the crap, Jounouchi!" she yelled. Jounouchi couldn't look her in the eye as she yelled. Part of him knew he deserved it, but most of him wanted to yell right back at her... which at the same time most of him also did NOT want. "You know them. Yugi, Honda, Anzu, Bakura, all of them! You went to school with them, and you never said anything about it!"
"I never talked to them or nothing. I hardly ever even went to school. Dartz made me go." Jounouchi kept his eyes down, trying to control his temper. He didn't have to tell her about them.
"They're the reason that Egyptian bastard screwed with my head, and you knew them!" She yelled. Jounouchi clenched a fist. It was none of her business who he knew or what he kept from her.
"I'll tell you the next time I might have been maybe-kinda-sorta-acquainted with the people whose souls we're stealing, then," he said through gritted teeth.
"What was that?" She pressed, and Jounouchi snapped a little bit.
"Hey, you're not the easiest to talk to, you know!" Jounouchi shouted angrily, standing up and advancing on her. "What was I supposed to say? 'Oh, yeah, I go to school with those guys! They were super cool! We were all best friends!' How the hell was I supposed to know you wanted to hear it? Or that you'd even listen to me long enough to say it?"
They were only a couple feet apart. He was practically yelling in her face, but she didn't move. He stopped and turned his back on her, realizing he'd gotten carried away.
"You're denser than I thought if you couldn't tell. You pay enough attention to me," she accused. "I see you looking at me. I know what you're thinking."
"You don't know anything."
"I'm the only girl in this place. It's not hard to figure out."
"You're not going to get any, if you've been wondering."
"SHUT UP!" he roared, whirling around. "I don't want- you're not- just GET OUT!"
She left without another word, slamming the door behind her. Jounouchi kicked at his bed in frustration. Dammit, that wasn't what he wanted to say. It was never what he wanted to say. She always twisted his thoughts around till he could hardly string a sentence together. His anger fizzled down to nothing but the usual emptiness.
Sighing, he sat back down on the bed and slid a crumpled picture out of his pocket. He put it on his knee and carefully smoothed it out, feeling the years and years of creases from just shoving it in his pocket. But he could never bring himself to leave it out of arm's reach. He traced the outline of a young girl as he always did, and felt the Orichalcos try to numb the pain. When he couldn't stand it anymore, he shoved the picture back in his pocket and flopped onto the bed. He closed his eyes, waiting for a dreamless sleep.
They shipped out early the next morning. Jounouchi stifled a yawn just as Valon passed him on the way to the hangar. Valon ignored him. Jounouchi would've called him out, but caught mid-yawn at bumblefuck in the morning, he wasn't so talkative himself.
So he kept his mouth shut, not just in front of Valon, but everyone. The flight to the states took hours. Jounouchi spent them silent. It wasn't any different from usual.
Jounouchi was the youngest of the Warriors by far, and had never gotten along with any of them. Dartz kept him on a tight leash, since he was "inexperienced" and "inefficient" and the youngest and some other crap like that. It meant Jounouchi watched, never dueled, and shut himself in his room the rest of the time. He'd come to Doom to fight. The world was screwed-up, and he was going to take it on, barehanded, and beat it into something worth living for, right? Cards weren't exactly "barehanded" and "feeding souls to a giant mystical lizard" wasn't really something worth living for, but it was a start, right? This was the only thing he could do, right? At least with the Orichalcos, he didn't have to feel the pain, or see her face in his dreams every night. He could forget. Forgetting was better than the pain, right? Right?
It used to be better. He didn't spend all of his time sulking and begging for duels. Jounouchi'd been sort-of friends with Valon till Mai showed up. Or till Valon dragged her in. She'd spurned Valon's obvious advances, but she still spoke to him twice as much as the rest of them combined. Ten times as much as she spoke to Jounouchi.
He did like her, but he wrote it off to being a teenage boy in close quarters with a really hot woman. And damn, she was hot. People like her made him want to quit being a Warrior and have a normal life where he'd actually be able to meet girls and date and stuff like that. But he had no life to go back to. It was either Doom or prison, and he didn't fancy the turn his sex life would take there.
So here he was, in a chopper with 4 people who he mostly-hated-but-could-sort-of-tolerate, going to kill a bunch of teenagers, an eccentric American card designer, and Seto Kaiba. Yep. This made sense. They dropped Amelda at Duelist Kingdom to take care of Kaiba, then kept going to Industrial Illusion to grab Pegasus and wait for the kids.
"I want to duel," Jounouchi complained when Valon offered to duel Pegasus. He was still ticked from the previous night and morning, and he wanted to fight, dammit.
"You had your shot against the pharaoh," Rafael said. "Kujaku. You do it."
Mai raised an eyebrow. "Me? You're letting me do something, Rafael?"
"Don't get smart with me about it. Just duel the man."
"Afraid you'd lose to him?" Mai accused. "Coward."
But she entered the building. The boys did the grunt work of breaking in and taking out guards, and Mai got all the fun of actually dueling. They sat and waited outside the room when she went in. Valon hovered near the door. Rafael eventually left and waited with their bikes.
Jounouchi stayed sitting on the floor, anxiously watching Valon put his ear to the door every now and then.
"Hear anything?" Jounouchi asked after Valon pressed his ear to the door again. Valon shook his head.
"Can't make any of it out. Duel's still going, though."
"Hmm," Jounouchi grunted in assent. He didn't feel like starting any more of a conversation.
"Hey," Valon said suddenly. "What's up with you and Mai?"
"What?" Jounouchi blinked. That was an odd question. "Nothin'. Why?"
"She was talking to you last night. Looked pretty pissed after she came out. What'd you say to her?"
"Nothin'," Jounouchi repeated, feeling stupid. Their argument wasn't any business of Valon's. Jounouchi wished it wasn't any business of his, either.
"See, I could hear your voice, so I know that you actually did say something. What was it?" He wore the same grin as always, but his tone was far too serious. Jounouchi knew Valon was trying to get involved with Mai, but this was crossing the line.
"Shove off, Valon," Jounouchi growled. "It's none of your business!"
"Because if you do anything to hurt her-"
"You know, you've become a real asshole since she showed up!" Jounouchi ignored the threat. "You used to be the only one who was halfway decent to me, and now you're giving me this crap-"
"If you do anything to hurt her-!" Valon repeated, yelling over him.
"What?" Jounouchi challenged, standing. "Look, I didn't say anything. Even if I did, I don't have to tell you."
"Hey, I'm not picking a fight. I just don't want her getting hurt."
Jounouchi snorted. "That's a load of crap. You always want to fight. And you're getting to be really creepy. She's not yours, and this ain't 'protecting' her. It's stalking."
Valon's hand clenched and his smile faded. Jounouchi half-expected him to throw a punch, but he finally released his grip and said with the same grin, "...no, she's not mine. Good luck, then!"
"I don't care about her," Jounouchi grumbled.
"Keep telling yourself that, mate," Valon laughed. "It might come true."
The door burst open and they both jumped. Mai looked from one to the other.
"What are you two doing out here?" Her eyes narrowed. "Checking up on me? Think I can't handle myself?"
"Of course you can handle yourself, Mai!" Valon chimed in. "We're just waiting."
"Good. You can leave now. I'm staying here to wait for the rest."
She forced them out, amid Valon's vocal protests and Jounouchi's silent ones. When they met Rafael at the bikes, he stepped in. He forbade her from dueling, which she reluctantly agreed to. They let her go back into the building to await her former friends.
"You know she's lying," Valon said.
"She beat Pegasus, which is more than I thought," Rafael replied, not really caring. "Let her do what she wants. We'll come back to check on her."
Valon argued some more to stay the whole time, but Jounouchi was relieved and happy with the compromise. They found a motel for the night. Jounouchi managed some sleep and woke up in a pretty decent mood. They set out for Industrial Illusions again.
The duel was underway when they arrived. Malik Ishtar, of all people, was the unlucky opponent. Jounouchi did a double take. Ishtar wasn't supposed to be traveling with the kids. Valon grinned.
"Well, that saves us some trouble. Everyone we need to beat is right here."
"Kujaku!" Rafael called, frustrated. "You weren't supposed to duel them!"
"Shut up! Ishtar's here!" she screamed. "I'm not letting him get away!"
"You're not getting away with this!" Honda shouted back. "How could you betray us like this?"
"Me? Betray you! After he-" she pointed to Malik. "Screwed with my head and left me to die? I'm going to take his soul, like he deserves!"
"Mai!" Yugi shouted. "Listen to us!"
"Shut up!" she cut him off and the duel continued. Malik apologized over and over, but Mai refused to listen. She recounted her life after Battle City, the unsatisfying duels, the nightmares, and the loneliness. she couldn't sleep, couldn't feel, couldn't find any joy in life. How the mind-rape didn't end with the magic. It just kept coming back, night after night.
"You didn't know?" Valon asked at the stunned look on Jounouchi's face.
"No," Jounouchi couldn't take his eyes off the duel. "I thought… I dunno… he was just one of those mental players, I didn't think he actually… like, really fucked up her head."
"Yeah," Valon said, grimly. "It wasn't pretty."
"Damn," Jounouchi muttered. Valon's weird obsession with her wasn't as creepy. Jounouchi thought she'd just been a spoiled brat. He couldn't have imagined she was hiding all this pain.
Malik offered to surrender, but the pharaoh-Yugi-stopped him. Malik didn't pull any punches after that. Both Valon and Jounouchi grew more anxious as the duel wore on. Something weird happened, and the Egyptian played a card none of them had ever seen before. It worried Rafael. Mai started losing her nerve, and the duel turned against her.
Jounouchi stepped backwards, away from the balcony. Neither Rafael nor Valon noticed. He sneaked into the stairwell. He couldn't just stand there watching her throw away her soul like this. The stairwell door opened silently, and Jounouchi peeked out. Something was really wrong now. Mai was hunched over, arms around herself, mumblings things about nightmares and hourglasses. Jounouchi threw the door open, but stopped.
Before Rafael could stop him, Valon vaulted over the edge to the duel below. He smashed his Orichalcos stone into the barrier, blinding everyone. When they could see again, all three were unconscious, but still had their souls. Rafael dropped down from the balcony. He was furious, but hid it from the pharaoh. Jounouchi jogged out, surveying the scene, confirming there were no soul cards lying around.
"Take her," Rafael instructed, hauling Valon up and throwing him over one shoulder. Jounouchi looked down at Mai. That carrying method was clearly not an option. Knowing that she'd give him grief about it later no matter what he did, he slid an arm under her shoulders and another under her knees and hoisted her into his arms. He staggered as he stood up. At least if she bitched about it, he could tell her how heavy she was.
Valon woke when they got to the bikes. Rafael pretended not to notice until he started complaining, and then deposited him unceremoniously on the ground. Valon brushed himself off, and then caught sight of Jounouchi and Mai. He said nothing for a moment, mouth open, staring at the pair. He couldn't really tell Jounouchi off, but he wasn't happy.
"Ride with her. Let's get out of here," Rafael commanded. Jounouchi complied, but Valon didn't move.
"I can take her," Valon offered as Jounouchi started to seat Mai on his bike.
"You worry about yourself. Jounouchi can do it," Rafael interrupted. "Stop making things difficult, Valon."
Valon threw him a look, but when he tried to grab the throttle and yelled in pain, he knew Rafael was right.
"You okay, Valon?" Jounouchi asked, one arm around Mai and the other hand on the bike. He revved the engine.
"Don't rub it in," Valon grumbled, taking off, forcing his broken arm onto the handlebars. Jounouchi shrugged.
"I was serious," he said to no one in particular, and followed the other two.
Valon's arm forced him to stop after only a few kilometers. He all but fell off the bike as soon as he stopped, clutching his arm.
"I'll be fine," Valon lied, sitting on the ground next to his bike. "Just give me a minute."
Rafael put his kickstand down and went to help his injured teammate. Jounouchi waited to see if he was needed, steading the bike with his feet.
Mai stirred, and he dodged just in time to avoid her head hitting him in the face as she woke up. She looked at the arm around her waist and twisted around to see Jounouchi. He tried to rearrange his expression to something indifferent, but he knew he must have a stupid concerned-for-her-safety/worried-she-was-going-to-punch-him/happy-that-she-wasn't-dead expression.
"You!" she exclaimed, pushing his hands off of her and jumping up. Jounouchi tried to get away in the opposite direction, and caught his foot on the seat as he tried to swing his leg over. The whole bike toppled over on top of him.
"I'm okay," Jounouchi said in the awkward silence that followed, sliding away from the bike. All eyes were on him, but he could only see Mai. He felt like an idiot. They'd have probably all agreed with him on that point.
"What happened?" Mai demanded. Jounouchi, lying on the ground, couldn't get the words out fast enough for her. She turned on Valon and Rafael without giving Jounouchi a chance to answer. "Why did you do that?"
"He saved your life," Rafael said. "This is your gratitude?"
"I didn't ask him to butt in!" She showed no remorse, no sympathy at all for Valon, who was cradling his arm, clearly in pain. She looked between the two men, expecting some kind of answer or apology. Valon kept his head down, and Rafael glared back at her. She threw Jounouchi a split-second glance, made a beeline for Valon's bike and was moving before anyone could stop her.
"Hey! Mai!" Valon sat up, good arm stretched out after her. "Come back!"
Dust billowed in his face as she tore down the hill. Jounouchi pushed his bike back up, and it roared to life. Before he could take off after her, Rafael grabbed the back of his shirt. Jounouchi turned to him, and Rafael just shook his head. Jounouchi didn't want to listen to him. What did he know? Rafael didn't care if she got herself killed. She was disposable to him. Jounouchi clenched the throttle, wishing he could do more than shout curses in his head. The bike quieted. Rafael, satisfied, let go.
"She'll be back." Rafael helped Valon to his feet.
"She better be," Valon said, and Jounouchi knew it wasn't just so he could get his bike back. Rafael sent them on ahead, staying behind to duel the pharaoh. Valon was forced to ride with Jounouchi.
"Don't get me killed, kid," Valon said, reverting to the rude ways he'd addressed Jounouchi before they'd become almost-friends.
"Hope your arm fucking falls off," Jounouchi muttered. If Valon was going to treat him like a child, fine, he'd act like a child. He revved the bike and shot forward. Valon hadn't been paying attention, and threw an arm around Jounouchi's waist to keep from falling off.
"Not that tight, you creep," Jounouchi yelled over the engine, speeding up.
"I said DON'T kill me!" Valon shot back.
"Whoops, must have missed that," he grumbled.
"What's your deal?" Valon shouted when they'd gotten back to headquarters. Jounouchi ignored him, but Valon grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. "Hey! I'm talking to you!"
"That's a first!" Jounouchi shouted back. "You've been so obsessed with you imaginary girlfriend, you haven't said a thing to me besides "lay off Mai" in months! I'm not after your damned woman! She won't so much as look at me, in case you haven't noticed! I don't have a chance with her! You win!"
Jounouchi kept his head down. Shit, now he'd done it. Would he ever learn to keep his mouth shut?
"...didn't mean to blow you off, mate. You were doing alright… I thought... I thought you wanted to be left alone."
"Yeah, well... just forget it."
But Jounouchi just stalked off, ignoring Valon calling after him.
The next day, Rafael came back, unsuccessful. He'd stolen the vessel's soul, not the pharaoh's. Jounouchi looked at the face on the soul card.
"Jounouchi, right? Nice to meet you!"
They kept talking, but Jounouchi could only stare at his classmate's face. Dartz made him go to school when he realized Jounouchi came from the same town as the nameless pharaoh's host. Jounouchi wasn't friends, per se, but he'd met them all before, and they were decent people. Yugi didn't do anything to deserve this. None of them deserved this. What was Doom doing, targeting people like this? He reached for the card, but the doors flew open.
Rafael was right. Mai came back. She stood, wordless, at the end of the giant table.
"Now that everyone is here, we can begin," Dartz said. "Rafael and Amelda, your assignments have not changed."
They nodded, their faces so serious, Jounouchi could have laughed. Amelda's whole life was devoted to getting back at some guy that didn't have anything to do with his kid brother. Not that Jounouchi didn't understand… but this Kaiba guy, he didn't build the weapons that blew up the tank. He built the duel disks that would take his soul, though.
"You, however, will duel Malik Ishtar instead of the Honda boy." Dartz said to Valon, who only nodded. Mai was furious.
"What? We had an understanding, Dartz!"
"How dare you speak—" Rafael growled, but Dartz waved him off.
"Malik Ishtar now holds one of the legendary dragons, which you are not powerful enough to face. The Claw of Hermos was supposed to choose Honda Hiroto, but your earlier duel with Ishtar apparently changed that."
"Screw this!" Mai yelled, turning her back on them. "You can't stop me."
No one stopped her as she slammed the doors behind her. Valon only stared at her. Jounouchi expected him to jump up and follow.
"Anyone going to stop her?" He asked the group. One of the rules was not to get close to the other Warriors, but he thought they'd care at least a little. She was obviously going after Ishtar, and going to get her soul taken.
"No. Sit down," Rafael ordered. Jounouchi hadn't realized he was standing.
"What if she screws things up?" He stayed on his feet. "You're not just going to let her go."
"The worst that will happen is that she will lose her soul. Or die, I suppose," Dartz added as an afterthought. "But her soul is no more valuable than any other duelist. It will not matter whether the Leviathan receives it or not."
"But… " Jounouchi glared at Valon, who would not look up. He wasn't going to say anything? Not caring if she lost a soul was one thing, but just letting her die… they'd never been so indifferent before. They were supposed to be helping mankind. Cleaning up the bad people so the good ones could live in a better world. So drunks wouldn't go to visit their ex-wife and kid and wind up killing them when he hit their car. Not leaving their comrades to die.
"Go, if you want to save her that badly," Valon said. "She'll probably try to take your soul. She doesn't care about what we're doing."
"Valon…" Jounouchi muttered. He didn't care about her anymore? What was his deal? "Fine!"
"Hey-!" Rafael started, but Jounouchi was out the door, in the garage, and on his bike before he thought about what he was doing. He decided to go out of the city. She probably would head back towards Industrial Illusions.
"Jounouchi!" Valon shouted. Jounouchi stopped with his hand on the key. "What are you doing?"
The younger Warrior didn't have much of an answer. "Going after her."
"Why aren't you?"
"I wasn't going to jump up in the middle of the meeting and take off like an idiot!" Valon said. "I only said that stuff for show! I'm going after her now."
"Making sure I don't steal your girl?" Jounouchi asked.
"No, I'm making sure you don't get killed."
"Don't bother. I don't care." Jounouchi felt the picture in his pocket. He'd give Shizuka his life if he could.
"How's throwing your life away going to help Mai? She doesn't want a knight-in-shining-armor."
"But she needs one."
"And it's you?"
"…I don't know."
"Do you want it to be?"
"Yes—no!" He corrected. "I don't… dammit!"
Jounouchi twisted the key, the engine cutting Valon off. He shot out of the garage, and headed out of the city. Mai would probably head back towards Industrial Illusions.
But by the time he got into the desert, he felt like an idiot. What was he doing? He was almost ready to turn around when he saw Valon in the side mirror. Great. Jounouchi kept riding. Let Valon chase him.
Jounouchi saw a group of motorcycles ahead and his heart leaped. But they were all in black, no purple or red. No, wait… one of them slowed down, and he saw her blonde hair flying out from under the helmet. There were four men surrounding her. Jounouchi sped up.
A Harpie appeared and started tearing the men apart. A couple just swerved off the road, but two of them were thrown. Jounouchi swerved to miss their bikes flying at him. One went straight at his front wheel, and he couldn't dodge in time.
He hit on the brakes and slid his bike away from the oncoming one. Sparks flew as he dropped the bike, and it scraped the pavement. Jounouchi tumbled away from the bike, again just missing getting caught underneath it.
Mai was stopped in the middle of the road. Valon shot past him, heading straight for her. Jounouchi got to his hands and knees, and painfully stood up, looking himself over, testing joints. He'd hurt like hell the next morning, but nothing was broken. He winced as he let his weight onto his right leg. Up ahead, Valon reached Mai. She left, cutting him off so he couldn't follow immediately. Jounouchi watched, and remembered once again, how much of an idiot he was.
After about 50 meters, mai pulled a sharp U-turn, confusing Valon who was following again, and she stopped right in front of Jounouchi.
"What were you thinking?" Mai shouted. He blinked. This was the first time they'd spoken since he threw her out of his room. A whole bunch of sarcastic remarks came to mind. He knew he'd wind up blurting something stupid out again. He always did in front of her.
"I don't know," he answered honestly, surprising both of them. "I didn't think. I just went after you."
"Typical," she scoffed, looking up at him with something rougher than affection, but gentler than pity. He took a step towards her, wincing again. Walking was not such a fun activity right now.
"…are you okay?" she asked. He tried not to look completely baffled by her sudden concern.
"Yeah, I'll be fine," he shrugged. He walked over to his bike, hiding a limp. Valon pulled up.
"You okay, Jounouchi?" he called.
"Yeah." Jounouchi wasn't sure what to make of Valon right now. Why had he followed? He picked up his bike, listening as Valon tried to tell Mai how he was going to duel Malik for her. She didn't want to hear any of it. They argued until an approaching car interrupted them. It was… Jounouchi struggled to remember his name. That dice kid. Odoki? Otogi! He didn't know the little girl, though. Their car was pulling a trailer. It stopped at them.
The little girl jumped out, screaming things about Yugi. She pointed at Jounouchi and accused him, he had been Yugi's classmate—how the hell did she know that?—and he'd let them take Yugi's soul! Jounouchi was taken aback. When her duel disk activated, it was Valon who stepped forward and accepted the challenge. Otogi ran in, trying to force Valon into uneven odds. Jounouchi felt his own duel disk slide open.
"No, I can handle them both," Valon grinned, and started dueling before Jounouchi could jump in. The dice guy and the little girl taunted Valon, but Jounouchi knew he wasn't overconfident. Jounouchi and Mai could win the duel just as easily. Jounouchi didn't even watch, but kept his eyes on Mai. If she made it to her bike, he'd have no way to catch her.
"Why do you keep running?" Jounouchi asked quietly, so Valon and the rest couldn't hear.
"I have to beat Malik Ishtar," she said simply, pretending to watch the duel so she didn't have to keep talking to him.
"Is that it? You don't care about clearing out the rest of the bad people or any of the other stuff we do?"
Mai scoffed. "'Bad'? Who's 'bad'? Are Yugi and his friends 'bad'? Is this little girl 'bad'? We're in this for ourselves. Like Amelda, trying to get the Kaibas. He doesn't care about a 'better world', and I bet you don't, either."
"Yeah, I do," Jounouchi answered automatically, but he didn't believe it anymore. "So what happened to us doesn't happen to anyone else."
"And what did happen to you?" Mai dared him to answer. Jounouchi fingered the picture in his pocket and said nothing.
Valon appeared in front of them. Jounouchi jumped. The two, dice guy and the little girl, were backing off. Valon never used the Orichalcos, so they were still alive.
"Shit," Mai swore, backing away. She intended to leave before Valon had a chance to get back. Before Jounouchi could stop her, she sprinted to her bike and hopped on, but Valon threw himself in front of it, pressing down on the windshield.
"Hang on!" he started, trying to calm her.
"Let go!" Mai demanded. She revved the bike, threatening to run him over, but he stayed put.
"No." Valon stared her down, daring her to leave. She took the dare, twisting the throttle and jumping forward a few feet. Valon dug his feet in and tried to hold on as the bike shoved him back. Dust kicked up as he fell on his back, hard. The bike stopped, its front wheel inches from him.
"No," he repeated, lying on the ground. Mai revved the bike again.
"Hey!" Jounouchi couldn't articulate actual words as he ran up next to them. He just saw Valon fall and sprinted to stop them. "HEY!" He held out his hands to… calm them down? Hold the bike back if she tried to run Valon over?
Mai and Valon stared each other down, while Jounouchi stood uselessly behind them. Valon propped himself up on his elbows, but otherwise didn't move. Mai gradually—very gradually—took her hand off the throttle.
"Take the key," Valon ordered, his eyes wide and staring at Mai like a snake charmer coaxing a cobra back into its basket.
Jounouchi glanced at the two of them, and reached towards the bike, expecting Mai to smack it away. When his fingers closed around the small key, her eyes flickered down. He froze. But instead of glowering or yelling at him, she just resigned herself with a faraway, sad look on her face. He twisted the key and snatched it away. The engine died.
Mai slumped forward, hiding her eyes from them both. Valon got up and dusted himself off. In the distance, the truck and trailer faded into silence.
Jounouchi turned his bike off. It was running, at least. For how much longer, he had no idea.
"Any luck?" Valon called from the campsite, where he was poking a stick at a small fire. Jounouchi sat down on the ground next to Valon.
"It's fine." Jounouchi lied. He didn't want to go with them so much as he just wanted to keep quiet.
"How long do we have to stay here?" Mai asked in a voice rough from non-use. She hadn't spoken all afternoon. It was night now.
"Till we get the go-ahead from Dartz or Rafael—speak of the devil." The comm device on Valon's bike chirped. "I'll tell you in a minute." He grabbed it off the handlebar and headed out into the desert a bit, where they couldn't hear him.
The crackling fire covered up the indistinct sounds of Valon's conversation. They both watched him so they wouldn't have to acknowledge each other. Jounouchi finally stood to get some food, and something slid out of his pocket. He yelped and snatched at it. It fluttered away every time he grabbed for it, dangerously close to the fire. He dropped to his hands and knees, slamming his hand down on it before it could get away again.
He felt Mai's gaze on the back of his neck, but he tried to ignore it, palming the picture and sitting back down. He chanced a peek at her, and she was staring at him, one eyebrow raised. His embarrassment in front of her knew no bounds.
"What is that?" she asked, kinder than she would have a week ago. A few seconds ticked by before he got up the courage to acknowledge the fool he'd just made of himself.
"Nothin'," Jounouchi muttered. "Just a picture."
"Who is it?" Mai asked.
"Doesn't matter," Jounouchi shook his head and felt the familiar spark of magic cut off the pain. Mai threw him a dark look, a little offended at being brushed off after trying to open up.
"It's his sister," Valon answered for him, sitting down. Jounouchi felt a jolt, but he kept still, clenching his hands to keep from trembling. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck as the two of them kept their eyes on him, but Jounouchi tried to brush them off.
"Just forget it," Jounouchi muttered. He kicked at the dirt like a child, trying to distract himself.
"You haven't told her yet?" Valon asked, feigning surprise. "We're all comrades, aren't we? You know her story, so why shouldn't she know yours? Go on!"
Jounouchi mumbled something about 'none of her business' and fell silent. Valon nudged him, but he couldn't have pried his mouth open with a crowbar.
"They were really close siblings," Valon took the liberty of starting the story without Jounouchi's approval. "Then their parents split up when he was eight, she was six."
"Hey!" Jounouchi shouted, elbowing his partner, hard. "Valon!"
Valon ignored him and continued. "His dad was a drunk. His mom took his sister, but not Jounouchi."
Jounouchi put a hand on Valon's shoulder and shoved him, as a warning. Valon flew to his feet, grabbed Jounouchi's collar, and threw him to the ground. He continued the story as if nothing had happened.
"He stayed with his dad even though he was a drunk. Tried to make him sober up. It almost worked. His dad tried to patch things up with his ex-wife. One day he's going to meet his ex and daughter somewhere. But he was nervous. So he had a drink."
"Stop it!" Jounouchi yelled, hiding his eyes.
"One drink led to another. His dad got in the car to meet them, totally hammered."
Jounouchi stood up, shaking. "STOP IT!"
"He hit their car. They all died. His sister was eleven—"
Jounouchi's fist cut him off. Valon flew to the ground. He swore he heard Mai gasp.
"I said SHUT UP!" Jounouchi roared. "It's none of your business!"
Valon half sat up, putting a hand to an eye that was already starting to bruise. "She needed to know," he replied grimly. "You weren't gonna tell her."
"The hell she did-!" Jounouchi whirled around to Mai. Fear and… and… pity mixed in her face, and maybe something else, but he couldn't bear to look at her long enough to figure it out.
"Dammit, Valon, why…" His voice cracked, and he tilted his head back, looking up to the sky. "…why don't you tell the whole thing? Tell her about how Dartz made me go to school once he knew that Yugi kid was the 'pharaoh'! Tell her how we never talk to each other, because we're all so dedicated to this damn mission! How you were the only one who'd treat me like a human being, and when she came, you left me alone again!"
Valon stood up, hesitating, waiting to see if Jounouchi would hit him again. But Jounouchi just stayed as he was, head back, fists clenched, trying not to… cry.
"I'm sorry," Valon finally mumbled.
Jounouchi didn't move, and Valon wasn't sure if he heard. "I'm sorry, alright? I thought… I thought you were okay, and she'd been mind-raped by that psycho and… and I didn't want to drag you into my mess…" Valon babbled, apology spilling out in a pent-up rush. Jounouchi finally moved, brushing past him, escaping into the desert.
Valon started to follow, but Mai cut him off. He hung back, watching her walk after Jounouchi.
Jounouchi turned just enough to glimpse her, but she could still see his face in the moonlight.
"…hey," he muttered, putting his back to her again. Mai walked forward until she was even with him. He shifted his weight, but didn't hide his face this time.
"…what's her name?" Mai asked gently. Jounouchi stiffened. She didn't look at him, but just stood with him and waited. After an age, he opened his hand and stared at the picture.
"Shizuka," he murmured.
"…beautiful name," Mai replied.
"Mmm." He fiddled with the photo for a moment before holding it out to her. Mai looked at Jounouchi, questioning, and he nodded. She took it carefully.
"How old is…?"
"And how old were you when- "
She handed the picture back. "Thanks."
"Mmm." He pocketed it.
"I'm sorry for… everything."
Valon's comm device chirped again and echoed in the empty landscape. It was time to go.
"Thanks," Jounouchi mumbled, too quiet for her to hear.
They went back to the city. Stars faded from the sky as they left the desert. Something about it gave Jounouchi a bad feeling. He followed them, even though Valon was in no place to order him around anymore and he had no will to fight. But he had nothing else, either. Without Doom, Jounouchi had absolutely nothing. He belonged to no one.
So the three of them rode single file; Valon in front, Jounouchi in back. The orders were simple. Find the pharaoh and his friends. Beat them. Duel at will.
The city was swarming with Orichalcos soldiers and Duel Monsters. The shadow of a giant serpent blocked out what stars were left. An Orichalcos lit up the sky, right above their headquarters. That must be Rafael. The streets were swarming with Orichalcos soldiers that couldn't tell friend from foe. The three of them had to weave and fight their way through.
Something bigger than an Orichalcos soldier ran around the corner at them. Valon slapped a card on his duel disk and drove straight at it. Mai swerved and stopped, and Jounouchi followed suit.
"Valon!" Mai shouted. He ignored her; his fist glowed and when he punched the monster, it was with his techno armor. The monster fell and disappeared. Valon wheeled around and drove back to them.
"What?" He looked between them, questioning why they'd pulled over in the first place.
"This isn't working. We should split up," Mai said, revving her bike. "We'll never find anyone this way."
"No," Jounouchi finally spoke. They stared at him.
"He's right," Valon added after no one said anything. "It's too dangerous."
Mai took off, clearly unhappy with the decision. Valon hung back for a moment.
"Hey, Jounouchi… I'm sorry."
"Been hearing that a lot lately," Jounouchi muttered. He'd been waiting for this apology for a long time,
"I might've… gone too far before."
"Shut up," Jounouchi took off after Mai. Why didn't he want to hear the apology? Was he still that raw about it? Or didn't he need it anymore?
They went a few more blocks, and without warning, someone came flying around the corner. It was Honda. Mai and Jounouchi pulled over again, getting ready to duel, but he raced towards them. Valon kept going, intending to challenge him. But Honda wasn't playing chicken. He dodged Valon and kept going, shouting something.
"What'd he say?" Mai asked Jounouchi.
A huge dragon slithered around the corner and stopped right in the middle of the road. It opened its mouth to attack. Valon was on a collision course, with no time to stop.
Jounouchi swore and took off after Valon. His duel disk flipped open, and he pulled the first card from the top of his deck and slammed it onto the disk, all while trying to keep driving. Anyone who tried to use a duel disk while riding a motorcycle had to be insane.
Flame Swordsman blocked the brunt of the dragon's attack, but the dragon swiped at Valon as he tried to swerve, throwing him off his bike. He landed ten meters away in a heap, and didn't move.
"VALON!" Jounouchi screamed. Flame Swordsman disappeared and Jounouchi drew again, a man with a huge sword appearing in a flash of lightning. The dragon died immediately.
Mai was already running towards Valon before Jounouchi got off his bike. Honda, who had pulled over, hung back.
"He's unconscious," Mai said as Jounouchi approached.
"Alive?" Jounouchi could barely get the word out.
"…for now," she said quietly. Jounouchi swore again. Damn it all! What were they doing this for? Doom… Doom wouldn't even care if… they would just be mad they didn't get his soul. They didn't care about the world, it was just all for Dartz's stupid scheme. It always was, and Jounouchi knew it. He just never cared. So long as he could fight, so long as the Orichalcos could numb the fact that his sister, the only person he'd ever cared about, was dead. The Orichalcos used them, and threw them away just as easily. Now Valon was going to die. Jounouchi whirled around. Honda was still there.
"You want a fucking duel now, or what?" he screamed, walking towards Honda. The duel disk was still open. "Huh? That's why you were following, right? Because we're the bad guys and you have to beat us and save the world! So go ahead! Duel me! See what good it does!"
Honda didn't move. Jounouchi stopped walking forward, leaving space for a duel. "DUEL ME!" he screamed again.
"Jounouchi!" Mai called.
"DUEL ME!" He didn't even know what he was saying any more. Valon was going to die, the world was probably ending, and he wished he was dead. He wanted to lose the duel. He wanted to go into the Orichalcos and end everything.
"Go take care of your friend," Honda said finally, and drove off. Jounouchi shouted after him, was going to chase him, but he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Mai looked awkward. "He wants you."
It took a moment for Jounouchi to calm down and process what she'd said. He sprinted to Valon.
"Valon," Jounouchi said, so many things to say, but no words to say them with. Valon was lying out on the sidewalk, unable to sit up. One arm curled around his chest, clutching at some internal wound. There was blood at the corner of his mouth. Shit, no… Jounouchi thought.
"Don't die," Valon managed. "Even if you think you want to… just… don't."
"Alright, I won't," Jounouchi promised. "Now you shut up. We'll get some help."
"Aw… didn't know you cared…" Valon tried to crack a smile, but it hurt too much.
"Shut up!" Jounouchi ordered. "I don't… I just… you… you took care of me when I came to Doom."
"I tried… didn't… Mai... I thought you were okay… she needed help more…" Valon coughed, and Jounouchi wanted to knock him out just to get him to stop talking. "I didn't want … alone… like you and me…"
"Valon, dammit, stop talking," Jounouchi said through gritted teeth. "Mai, get… someone…" But who was there to get? The city was being destroyed, the Leviathan roared over their heads, and monsters roamed the streets. "Valon…" he was unconscious again. "Valon!"
"He's… is he…?" Mai asked.
Jounouchi screamed in wordless anger.
"Hey, new kid, what's your name?"
Jounouchi said nothing. Dartz looked at him, satisfied in spite of—or perhaps because of—the silence.
"Katsuya Jounouchi," Dartz answered for him. "Make him feel welcome."
"What happened to you, Jounouchi?" Valon asked him later that night. "What made you turn to magic and a giant planet-destroying-snake?"
"…my family's dead," Jounouchi mumbled.
"That seems to be a common theme around here," Valon mused. "Seems morbid to be that casual about it, I know, but the Orichalcos makes it hurt less. Trust me."
"…my dad killed them. He was drunk. Crashed his car into theirs," Jounouchi said without prompting. He just needed to tell someone. "My sister… she was only 11. We hadn't seen each other since I was 8. I never got to tell her…"
"…that you loved her." Valon murmured, when Jounouchi couldn't finish. He put a hand on Jounouchi's shoulder.
Jounouchi's bike had enough. He turned the key, kicked at it, but it refused to start. Mai pulled up next to him.
They took off towards Doom headquarters, passing more monsters and soldiers. None bothered them this time, though. Neither knew what they were going to do now. Go back and attack Dartz? Fight the nameless pharaoh? Run away?
The bike slowed. Jounouchi asked why, but Mai said nothing. Malik was standing in front of them, offering himself to her.
"Hey…" Jounouchi warned as she got off the bike. "Mai, wait!"
"I can't… he's right here," she whispered. "I can't let him go."
"Mai, it's not worth it!" Jounouchi had no right to preach to her. He didn't know what was right or wrong anymore. "Valon…"
"He didn't say anything about me not dying," she said bitterly. "I have nothing left now."
Where had he heard that before?
Malik was ready to duel. Mai drew five cards. The gold writing of the Orichalcos flashed at Jounouchi. Mai picked up the card, and Jounouchi knew it would take her soul.
The Seal burst forth beneath them, shooting into the night sky. Mai was thrown to the ground outside of the Seal. They all stared at Jounouchi. The field spell slot on his duel disk slid closed, and red glinted in his eyes. He turned to face Malik.
"What… why did you do that?" Malik asked. Mai was speechless, staring at the Orichalcos on Jounouchi's forehead.
"I don't know. But I don't want to duel you." He looked at the ring on his finger. "I think you're a heartless bastard for what you did to her, but I don't want to duel you."
"He didn't," Mai admitted, finally. "It wasn't him… there was another one… magic… but it wasn't his fault." All her months of trying to get revenge were for nothing. She knew it the whole time, she just couldn't accept it. And now that she finally faced the truth, Jounouchi was going to lose his soul. "Jounouchi, you… why did you do that?" she screamed at him.
"…to save you," he admitted. He felt hollow. Valon was lying dead, still warm, a couple blocks away, and he felt nothing right now. Everything was just numb. He thumbed the stone on his ring, but raised his head to the starless sky. He wanted to feel again. The ring slid off his finger easily. He dropped it to the ground.
"If this doesn't work," Jounouchi looked at Mai. "I really liked you. And I don't think it was just 'cause you were the only woman around."
"Jounouchi!" she shouted. He brought his foot down on the ring, and the world disappeared.