Chapter 1: Prologue
Domino City had a way of using you up and tossing you out at a moment’s notice.
Like a duel monster card, good for a singular moment in time. But ultimately, each one was discarded at one point. An unplayed card did no good remaining stagnant in one’s hand, and once played? Gone. Useless.
But a skilled strategist would even consider the discarded cards, for, with the right plan, they could always make a comeback. Rise from the ashes as something greater.
Oh, Yami did think that life could be good within the glittering city, alight with rife nightlife. That what lay in the graveyard did not have to be a collection of past mistakes. That the hand he held was not entirely useless to him.
Night had fallen over the domino skyline, but it was untouched by the darkness. There was opulence in abundance, from the sea of skyscrapers lit up like advertiser-friendly Christmas trees, to the holographic monsters that illuminated the sky, drowning out the natural light of any stars that hung above them. Dragons roared in victory, and fuzzy beasts simply cooed, and gestured the tourists to the many casinos in the city, or various eateries and hotels… So that perchance they can regain their strength to try their hand again at the one of many Duel Monster themed casinos that lay at the core of Domino’s tourism industry.
Duel Monsters was the name of the game. And duels projected onto every surface imaginable, from the small television sets depicted in storefronts and nestled in the corner of diners, to the screens that wrapped around every building that stretched up like glass spires towards the synthetic-light-bleached sky. And if one wished to feel the pulse of the city. one only needed to step out onto the streets of Domino, and mingle among those who now worshiped the newest craze. Whisper the name, show a single card, no matter how worthless, and the excitement was infectious. The electricity that ran through the people was just as much as the thousand and one screens and ever lingering, like the charge in a battery.
After all, the last tournament hadn’t been too long ago. Less than a year. But it proved the staying power of the game. Dungeon Dice monsters was still played, but the patrons at the tables were slim pickings at the Black Crown casino, or even the most run down, back alley pop-up ones.
The newly popularized game was proving to be a true contender to the addicted gamblers of the world. Duel Monsters was relatively simple to master, its gameplay just like the city, where fate was weaved by the turn of a card.
Domino in and of itself was a tumultuous game. That when you invested a life within it, you stood a chance in hell of making it big, breaking even or losing it all. And like any good game of chance, one could be convinced that the deck was evenly balanced. That, when shuffled, everyone had an equal chance of being dealt a good or bad hand.
But for all games of chance, there was one golden rule.
The house always wins.
Five players stepped up to the table. A looming structure of steel and neon lights. A holographic white dragon soared overhead.
“Yeah, I can get us in.” Blonde hair, blue eyes. She was the techie. The gadget and gizmo specialist. There was something wild in the way she assessed the building as if she saw ones and zeroes, and not steel and concrete walls that housed a casino that had placed Domino on the map.
“Getting in is easy. There’s a front door for a reason.” Brown hair, blue eyes. She was their dancer, their distracting femme fatale. Flexible, charming. There would be no resisting her once those baby blues were set upon you. Any man with a hetero bone in his body wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to set their gaze on her, rather than keep them on their cards, or their wallets.
“And there’s a backdoor for another.” He was the shortest. But the most loyal. If ever he needed a partner in crime, he could imagine no one better than his own flesh and blood. Certainly, no one who could solve a puzzle quite like him--His hair was a testament to his patience.
“...Is that, like, a double entendre?” The blonde butchered the word, French was never supposed to be spoken by someone with such a thick Brooklyn accent. But where he lacked in intellectual linguistics, he made up for in brawn and razor-sharp reflexes. Any poor sap who found himself underneath his fist would soon question their life choices.
“For you, Jou, no.” His own appearance was nothing notable, not when they had already seen his twin. Many had told him it was the timbre of his voice the most attractive feature of his person. And while he was inclined to agree, for compliment’s sake, he knew the true value of his character lay in his brain.
How else would have cooked up such a harebrained scheme, and convinced four others to take the hands they had been dealt, play the cards, some face up--some face down, and wager that by the end of next week, their lives would be turned for the better?
And somewhere, maybe up there, maybe in the penthouse of the most notable building in Domino, with its flashing ’K.C.' initials, maybe even looking down upon them, was the unknowing, unwilling sixth player.
No hard feelings.
When one gambles, it’s never the dealer the players are after.
It was just about money.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
Thank you so much for the kind words and the kudos already! I was nervous about just uploading one seemingly random prologue while I was finishing up the first chapter, but I do hope you find it worth it! As always please leave a comment, even if it's just a hand smashed against your keyboard, and let me know what you think!
He had to start playing in better establishments.
This pop-up scene was really only for the low hanging fruit.
Six days a week, it was a warehouse like any other. Sitting at one of many impromptu tables, fashioned out of crates and stacked pallets, one could smell the lingering stench of red snapper and fancy tuna. An ice chipper even remained in the corner. A hint, or a warning. Yami decided it really depended on how well your cards were treating you that night.
He had promised to stop coming here. Places like this were just a slippery slope, and not because of the melted ice that once sat in neat stalls during the work week. But because this is what was expected of you when you knocked on the wrong door come Saturday night and slipped a couple of bills to the doorman.
Yami liked to sweeten the deal.
The Doorman paid him.
He received double at the end of the night. Guaranteed. And in return? Well, he had long since learned the benefits of a long-term investment. One never knew when they needed a financially motivated wall of flesh to be in their pocket.
Yami thought he just might need to cash in that favor tonight.
From his looming figure to the neck tattoos, and his habit of cracking his knuckles every second turn, his opponent looked like a sore loser.
They were at one of...How many tables? Probably to the tune of two dozen. It was hard to tell through the haze of smoke and people, the sour aroma of a lesser brand of nicotine. He himself had preferred the flavored, single pack cigarettes. A little on the bougie side, but keeping his sweet tooth in mind, he often felt like he was dealing with two monkeys on his back at once. He had one tucked into the box he kept strapped at his hip--the one that would hold the cards that were now splayed on the table. He thought about lighting it if only to add something to obscure the face of the miserable son of a bitch he had the misfortune of being paired with tonight.
Instead, he added another bill to the pile.
“Yeah Mutou, getting fucking cocky with two lousy cards on the field. What you got?” He supposed that was one way to call an attack.
Yami lazily tossed his face down monster over. Circus Clown.
He withheld the urge to shudder. Who the fuck actually enjoys clowns? The minute he found a card that he could work into this combo that didn’t look like a Cirque Du Soleil reject, this card was out. Circus Clown’s effect sent Mr. Neck Tattoo’s four-star monster into defense mode.
He even had the audacity to scoff at him. “You’re just delaying the inevitable.”
“That’s not how I see it.” He usually didn’t bother talking. Not unless his opponent looked especially twitchy, or packing heat. In which case, he switched on the charm...Though a set of strong cheekbones and intelligent eyes were known to set his chin wagging, cranking that charm up to eleven.
Mr. Neck Tattoo wasn’t his type. But he would enjoy watching the vein throb in his neck, it made the skeleton there appear as if it were having an epileptic fit.
“As I see it, I’m guiding you just to where I need to you be.” Using his Circus Clown card to flip over his trap card, Tragedy was quick to join the playing field. Eliminating both of his opponent's defense position monsters.
One attack and it was over. Circus Clown wasn’t even that strong, but a good opening hand had won Yami an early lead. He was never in any real peril. At least, not where the cards were concerned.
He blew a blonde lock of hair out of his face.
Though if he had waited just another minute, Mr. Neck Tats would have obliged him, lunging over the table, grabbing the edge of the jacket he kept thrown about his shoulder, acting more like a cape than anything else.
Mr. Neck Tat had a case of halitosis. Pity. His eyes were an almost charming shade of blue.
“You sneaky little shit. Rematch. Now.”
“Against the rules.” Because what other use was there for rules? Other than to be ignored, until they worked in his favor? These underground rings liked to remain underground. Such a thing was hard to do if the police had to turn up every weekend because of a sore loser filling someone full of lead after a miserable losing streak.
Yami braced for the punch, baring his lesser side to where he expected the brunt of the hit to be felt. He already had a scar marring his right cheek, he could do with some more collateral damage. Something he could garner a little sympathy from--he wasn’t above using the tactic to secure a few free drinks, or just a warm body and a warmer bed to grace for the night.
But before Mr. Neck Tat could gift him a free meal ticket, at the small cost of temporary loss of the usual pleasing symmetry of his face, his cheap cigarette and dentist-neglected body was lifted off of him.
Yami was nearly brought back across the table too. The grip on his jacket was death-like. But Ushio--bless him-- had quicker reflexes than a man who was likely dipping into the powder Yami had seen dusting one of the tables as he maneuvered to his usual spot. Mr. Neck Tat was escorted--none too kindly--to the floor, leaving Yami swipe both his cards and the ‘pot’ off the table.
Ushio would be getting a tip on top of his usual cut today.
The air outside of the warehouse was much more agreeable. No stench of acrid smoke, or the low roar of a hundred voices murmuring at once. Just a few lights that lead to the docks of Domino Pier.
Yami enjoyed his weekly walk from the underground gambling den. The scent of salty sea air and the gentle sloshing of waves beneath the boards under his feet were the perfect backdrops as he counted his take for the night. It was never anything substantial, never enough to evaluate his circumstance, but it was just enough to keep him coming back.
All was pierced by the generic ringtone of the mobile in his pocket.
His mobile phone was an ancient thing. One of those flip phones that had people at the bus stop rolling their eyes at him when he whipped it out in public like they didn’t understand the point of a mobile phone that didn’t double as a computer to hold his hand and navigate him through life.
Leaning against a guard rail, Yami inspected the caller ID. Yugi. His poor twin. Probably spending another night worrying about him. Or maybe he needed something from the corner store as he made his way home.
“What do you need, Aibou?”
A muffled sob. Ice replaced the blood in his veins.
“How did this happen?”
Hospitals were truly wretched places. Yami held no fondness for them in his heart, no matter how skilled the staff, or how respectable the medical profession was. There was just something inherently disturbing about sterile white halls, too clean tiled floors, the scent of antiseptic hand sanitizer and latex gloves, and the constant beeping and paging and codes called out over the speaker system.
But Yami felt none of them, numb to the off-putting stimulus for once in his life.
It all seemed to be elsewhere, occurring outside of the glass dome he and Yugi seemed to be under. Trapped with the one other family member they had left in this world. With far too many wires and tubes attached to him for any one person.
Yami had seen gambling den brawls that resulted in being attached to far fewer medical instruments than his grandfather was at this moment.
Tubes with red, clear tubes, tubes with the oddest shade of green to them. He shuddered to think if it was just the color of the tubing, or whatever was held in far too many bags, or one of the too many machines. All going into a man who didn’t look as if he needed them. He was just sleeping.
It would almost be fascinating, how many machines it took to keep a human being alive, how many bags, with tubings so convoluted he couldn’t clearly follow any one line, was needed to do the job of one heart.
If it wasn’t his grandfather.
His grip was vice-like on his twin’s shoulders. Yugi had not stopped trembling since he met with him outside of the Domino Emergency bay. The slighter boy had collapsed into his arms, like a poorly built house of cards, shattered by a stiff breeze. And for a moment, they had simply sat, half sprawled in that small parking bay meant only for emergency vehicles and police.
“They had to induce him. It’s the best chance they have.” But Yugi didn’t sound convinced. Yami just held him tighter, as they watched the barely there signs of life. The slight rise and fall of his chest, the incessant beep of the heart monitor. It was incessant and annoying, the beeps just that right frequency that it had set off a nonsensical agitation in his shoulders...But he was thankful for it.
It meant not all hope was lost.
“Twenty percent is still a healthy chance.” Not one that he would like to bet against, but he had raised on slimmer odds.
Yugi scoffed through a fresh wave of tears. “Not for heart function, Yami. I want it to be a hundred--He was just fine, Yami. He just was going to count some stock in the back. He was laughing and joking about the thought of Kaibacorp Casino buying us out.” It had been a looming threat. Their shop was small, only dealing in Duel monster cards and paraphernalia. Being a family run business, it would be easy for any big tycoon to buy them out, or squeeze them out by selling cards for the popular game in their own establishments.
Sugoroku Mutou was always hopeful that it would never happen to them. That their place had a heart. And every city, no matter how big and consumed by greed, needed to have a heart somewhere.
It all felt painfully ironic now. For him to be found face down over his own glass case of cards, gasping for breath, before succumbing to the unrest in his own aging heart.
Yami wished it had been him who had found him. Yugi’s shoulders were too narrow to bear this burden.
“What are we going to do, Yami?” His twin lifted his head, peering at him through dyed bangs, much like his own. “They don’t know how long he’s going to be like this. And we…We’re still behind in last month’s bills, so we can’t close the shop…”
If only a shop with a big heart could mean a big payout as well.
But being kind was hardly profitable in this day and age.
“I can take care of things.”
Yugi’s hand covered his own. When their violet gazes met again, his naive twin seemed to have aged ten years. “We can take care of things.”
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
So I cannot help but notice I'm getting a ton of Kudos, but not so much in the way of comments. I usually dislike the whole ordeal of holding the next chapter hostage until there's at least a comment or two...But I'm not entirely above it :p
I won't beg or nag. But I'll bat my eyelashes? I promise I don't bite! <3 Anyway, without further adooo~
“We can’t take care of things.”
It had been three days.
One would think they would have had a safeguard in place. A little money put aside for rainy days such as this. Sugoroku Mutou was no spring chicken, after all. And heart attacks and strokes had proven to strike even those previously thought to be in peak condition. Heart disease was on the rise on a global scale. They should have been prepared.
But they had access to nothing but the keys to the shop.
The accounts were all in Sugoroku’s name, after all.
The only ‘rainy day’ fund they had was locked within a safe, hidden in the back of Sugoroku’s closet, underneath a pile of neatly folded linens. One that Yugi had parked himself in front of, staring at the lock as if he could will it to open out of sheer desperation.
Yami sat on the bed, several feet away. “We could take a hammer to it. Grandpa would understand. We can’t run the register without the keys.” It was always the small things. Like a loose thread that had the power to unravel and perfectly good sweater. Keys. Petty cash. The very paperwork that would give them the power to access Sugoroku’s accounts in his stead. All useless to them when it was stuck inside a fireproof box. “Surely Grandpa gave you a way in. Do you not have the combination?”
“I don’t know the combination!” Yugi snapped his head back. Bags had begun to develop underneath his eyes. It was a Herculean effort to get him to leave their grandfather’s side. But there was little they could do from bedside in Domino’s ICU.
And the bills wouldn’t stop. The work awaited.
Yami felt his brow rise. “He’s never told you?”
“Grandpa never trusted me with it.” Those violet eyes held an accusation that remained silent on his tongue. But Yami nodded, aware. He had just been hoping that his sin was not to be carried by another. Not someone he considered to be full of light.
But their grandfather was perhaps right. Yugi was loyal to him, after all, the bonds of twins is a hard one to outweigh.
And Yami was well aware that his moral compass was shaky at best.
Yugi fell back onto his backside, from his crouched position in front of the safe, his hands propping him up. “I could try and pick it if we’re desperate...Can’t be harder than that puzzle Grandpa brought me back from Egypt.”
His twin. The eternal nerd. If one was to cross the hall into his room, they would find a bedroom befitting a child much younger than the university hopeful. Yugi had been graduated with high honors from their high school, even was elected to give the commencement speech that brought down the whole house in tears. And yet he spent all his time with children’s toys and board games. And far too many puzzles than any one person should own. Had they not the shop, it would raise many a question. But as it stood, Yugi could still fall back on the crutch that he was merely ‘play-testing’ the goods, before they hit the shelves downstairs.
A bell chime from downstairs alerted them. Neither one of them was manning the shop.
“Shit.” They both chimed in unison, before making a sprint for downstairs. Yami pulling an easy lead.
Yugi had spent more time with his puzzles, but Yami had tested his stamina on the streets. Yami was first to hit the stairwell banister, hopping atop it and sliding the railing down. With their luck, it could be another hoodlum looking to grab whatever wasn’t nailed down. Or Mr. Neck Tattoos, salivating for that rematch.
Relief was found in a familiar mop of dirtied blonde hair. And a bittersweet smile that could light up the shop, darkened by twilight. Yugi pulled in behind him, passing Yami as he made move to lock up the shop. They had clearly used up their one stroke of luck for the week that their visitor was a friend, and not foe.
“Yug, my man!” The thick accented blonde was quick to embrace in Yugi is what was almost a hug, but a headlock was far more appropriate a descriptor, his fingers flicking at his highly gelled do. His comically pointed hair did, in fact, wiggle underneath Jou’s ministration.
The blonde warm honey brown eyes met Yami’s gaze, and both men did still.
It was easy to see those invisible scars in one another when they had both walked the same path. Days like this, situations like this, no matter how few and far between, it had a way of making transparent the things that were often hidden in the average day to day life.
Yami could see the heaviness in Jou’s soul from the dull shine in his eyes. The sorrow and sympathy there.
“They’re more hopeful now,” Yami answered. Moving behind the counter, he shifted to the useless register they had yet to access. All the money from their transactions thus far had to be dealt with out of pocket. Yugi had taken to keeping track of the transaction in a journal beneath the sales counter. He senselessly re-organized the pens that lay there. “His heart seems to be recovering, albeit at a snail’s pace.”
“They don’t know if he’ll wake up.” Yami hated that that was the tidbit that stuck in Yugi’s mind. He had always been the eternal optimist. “There might be permanent brain damage.”
This trauma was changing him.
It shouldn’t have been him. Yugi deserved to keep his naivete. Yami knew his own shoulders could have handled the burden of discovering their grandfather, slumped over the counter where he stood now. He had seen worse sights. He could have steeled himself.
Jounouchi nodded, patting the younger, tri-color haired boy at his side. “I actually came ta ask about...Well--I don’t want you guys to take it the wrong way. But, like, I thought, maybe I could help out? I could...Well, I could use some extra dough, and you guys shouldn’t both have to work yourselves to the bone here.”
“Oh Jou, you don’t have to,” Yugi sighed. “You have so much on your plate too...Didn’t you take a job at the mall as one of those suited mascots?”
Honey brown eyes flared, his light brow vanishing into his hairline. “Yug, Yam. You know I’m good. And with Gramps in the hospital, I know you guys could do with another pair of hands around the place.” There was something frazzled about Jou...
“Jou, everything’s kind of...Frozen. We’d have no way to pay you!”
But Yami knew that look of desperation. Yugi had been wearing a similar expression as of late.
He had seen it looking back at him from the mirror too often.
Yami took a second to pull back, sharp eyes looking for the same tells that he often looked for in his opponents when they had the misfortune of sitting across from his table at the docks. Clenched fists, red-rimmed eyes. Jou wasn’t the kind to go delving into drugs.
He had only been here yesterday and offered his help without asking for a payment. It just wasn’t in his nature. They had known the man since their high school days, since the day the blonde had made the mistake of preying on Yugi.
It had taken one visit from the older twin for them to end their tumultuous relationship as would be bully and victim, and to become friends, thick as thieves.
Something had changed in the past twenty-four hours. And seeing as it wasn’t on their end…
“This… Isn’t about discount booster packs, is it?”
Jou’s face fell then, his head dipping in that way that his shaggy mop of hair fell into his eyes, as if well aware of how Yami could read him.
But Yugi was just as sharp. “Guess I’ll put a pot of tea on.”
The three boys sat around the low set table in Yugi’s room (There wasn’t enough room to congregate in the hole in the wall that Yami’s room had become) amongst boxed board game sets and half completed puzzles. The scent of jasmine tea leaves emanating from the pot in the center for the table, a cup in each boy’s grip.
Jou threw back his share as if they were shots of sake. He had been silent since the offer.
Yami was preparing himself for the shoe to drop.
“Shiz… She’s got a tumor.”
The air went stale.
Jou folded over himself then. Elbows on his knees, fingers clutching white-knuckled in his golden blonde locks. “An ocular tumor. It’s taking her vision.”
Yugi’s empty cup clattered against the table, but the both of them reached Jou’s side simultaneously, encasing the boy in their twin embrace.
“Jou! No...How long does she...Have?”
Jou’s shoulders were set in a tremor. “They can fix it! They caught it in time...But, fuck. Treatment is an arm and a leg. Ma’s is already doing overtime to try and pay for all the costs of something like this--she can’t take time off work to help her out and pay for everything as well…I gotta do whatever I can ta help them. I can be there for Shiz, but money helps too. And Well. You know what my old man is good for.”
Beer empties. It could fund half the treatment if the bastard would stop throwing them at his son.
Clutching at his head, the blonde’s knuckles burned white. “I’m going to work around the clock if I gotta--That’s my baby sister, guys. She’s gotta see! Like, how is she going to watch me be a high roller in the dueling circuit one day?!” A laugh escaped him then, one that was deprived around the edges
“Not to mention, like, she loves her art man. I can’t watch her squint at her homework and--Last time I saw her she couldn’t keep it together, she couldn’t read the print on the screen and she just started crying! I couldn’t do anything! Like, what can I even say? Her world is going dark, and it’s a joke because she’s my light. What kind of big brother am I if I can’t provide for her?”
There was a silence that enveloped the room then, one that could be weighed, like the lift on a sarcophagus, and just as suffocating.
Yugi remained in his tight embrace of his friend, not afraid to let the tears fall.
But for Yami, the wheels began to churn.
Perhaps another trip to the docks was necessary.