The Sun Scratched in the Stars
A Yu-Gi-Oh VRAINS fanfic
Summary: A boy on the run from a dangerous home situation falls asleep at a dojo in the countryside. Discovered and taken in by the owners, he grows to understand what love – and loss of that love – truly means, with the help of a rambunctious, fiery-spirited boy close to his age.
Takeru wanted nothing more than to curl up in his bed and stay there. He was usually full of energy, always fighting naptime and bedtime until Mommy's sweet singing voice gently pulled him to sleep. There was too much out there to find, too many pranks to pull.
But the pranks need at least two people to pull them off.
Takeru, his belly full of the night's feast of fish and rice, stared at a lower spot in the pale red wall, the rumbling voices of his grandparents and parents getting louder and louder until Takeru pulled his beaten-down pillow over both his ears. It was how he spent his evenings ever since Pretty Boy—Ryoken went missing. The days following the disappearance of the most beautiful anyone he's ever seen without anyone knowing had been the worst.
It was the same every. Single. Day. Morning time? Yelling. After any meal? Yelling. Naptime? Not even naptime was spared. It's a wonder Takeru got any sleep. He had asked Mommy if he could go live with Jii-jii and Baa-baa until Ryoken was found. And Mommy had been about to respond before Daddy cut in: "No, Takeru. You have that entrance exam soon and need to study." So, Takeru said nothing. But, Takeru couldn't study, surrounded by such chaos, even if he wanted to. It stunk. Colors? How to be nice to others? What did it matter when even Mommy, Daddy, Ojii-chan, and Obaa-chan were being mean to each other?
Takeru stared blankly at the chipped white spot on the wall, his eyes drooping.
Ryoken needs to come back.
A thought Takeru thought he'd never have, but he never dreamed he'd miss Ryoken, let alone so much, either. It was weird—a middle weird. Missing Kiku? That checked out. She was his first friend, his partner in pranks, his protector from scary, spooky things. They've done a lot together. Takeru really missed her, and the other way had to be just as true.
But . . . Ryoken? How could Takeru possibly miss that know-it-all, above-it-all, goody-two-shoes whom all the adults love so dearly no matter what he did pretty boy who did nothing but get on Takeru's nerves? How could it hurt Takeru knowing Pretty Boy might never come back when Pretty Boy never treated him right?
Yet Takeru knew the answers. Somewhere, somehow along the way, after the night his memory could never recover, something changed. Takeru's heart had given Pretty Boy a chance, but Takeru chose to hurt him instead. Takeru's heart wanted Ryoken around, but Takeru thought things had been better without him. So he said those mean, horrible, no-good things to Pretty Boy. It was Takeru's fault Pretty Boy was gone. Why Mommy and Daddy and Ojii-chan and Obaa-chan were looking everywhere for him, why they were high-strung all the time. And Takeru was sad about it.
Instead of things being better without Pretty Boy, they were worse. And Takeru didn't want that. He wanted those cheery days back, the days of everyone, even Pretty Boy, sitting around the table. He wanted those days when he flicked pieces of vegetables he found disgusting across the table at Pretty Boy. He wanted those days before things took a turn for the worse.
He wanted Ryoken. He wanted to say sorry to him, for everything he's said and done, even if he didn't remember. He wanted to make things right between the two of them, and maybe, maybe be friends with him.
But he might never get that chance.
Takeru's eyelids finally shut, the sounds of the adults yelling no more hearable than if he were underwater. A few tears escaped before he finally fell asleep, clutching his red and black stuffed dragon toy.
Exasperation and anger, hurt and numbness, tiredness and hopelessness—all the negative emotions imaginable, it felt, were caught in Ryoko's throat as she dialed that familiar number on her phone. Every day and night spent searching for that boy, for Ryoken, ended in an unnecessarily large argument with Hito's parents. And every night she was exhausted of it all. But she wouldn't rest until he was found, safe within their four walls once more.
Ryoko took a deep breath as she pressed the last digit, listening to the familiar buzz dial tone as it tried to connect. About fifteen seconds passed before she heard a click on the other side, she breathing a silent sigh of relief. But, instead of Dad, Ryoko heard Mom's voice shouting some annoyed command at Dad and shuffling along the carpet.
"Mom…?" Ryoko tried to get her attention. Fortunately, it was easier to get her attention than Dad's.
"Oh, Ryoko! I'm so sorry. Your father's being a handful again," Mom sighed. "But he's got his act together now." Ryoko laughed at the phrasing, temporarily forgetting why she called. Her parents were always like that, even before they got older. They fought all the time, but there was nothing malicious or biting about it. It was all playful, a comedy routine. If only her in-laws could take a few pointers from them. Remembering the in-laws, Ryoko abruptly stopped laughing.
Mom on the other side must have sensed the mood change since she asked, "How's the search for that boy going?"
It was Ryoko's turn to sigh. "Not well. We still can't find him. I've asked everybody I know in town and at my job. No sign of him anywhere. Even the in-laws want to give up at this point."
Mom gasped. "It's only been a few days!"
"That's what I told them," Ryoko agreed, her voice getting higher in pitch. "But the lot of them think I'm making 'such an unnecessary deal' out of this and I 'should let it go.' Ryoken could be in danger! How can I just 'let it go? He doesn't even know his way around town!"
Mom hummed on the other side. "You're just like your father. Can't bear to see or think about any child in danger."
Ryoko switched the phone to her other ear as she smiled at the comparison. She hadn't realized how much that was true until that moment, but all those days of walking home from school to find Dad having taken in yet another foster child had rubbed off on her after all these years. It'd felt like every day, Ryoko would come in, and Dad would always introduce her to some kid, usually around her age or even younger, telling her to play nice or get along with them. "They're just staying for a day or two," he would say. Sometimes, that "day or two" turned into several weeks or even months. Which would've been fine, except Ryoko never got along with most of them. They either smelled horrendous, were super shy and never talked with her, or gave her a hard time by always stealing her brushes or pens or hair clips.
After one boy whom Ryoko swore lived in a sewer had taken her favorite bright orange gel pen that Dad gave her for her eighth birthday, Ryoko, just finishing junior high, confronted Dad. She broke down in tears as Dad listened without judgment, but she still asked: why did he keep taking those kids in? They were uncivilized, dirty, and annoying kids who kept taking her stuff. Ryoko had known she shouldn't talk about people like that, but darn it, she was mad! But, after Ryoko had finished pouring out her complaints, Dad simply put a hand on her shoulder.
"Ryoko," he had said in an unusually level voice, "I get you're upset, and I get this hasn't been easy for you. But," Dad looked off in the distance, "these squirts can't go anywhere else right now. Their families don't want 'em, society doesn't want 'em. They need us, Ryoko."
"But why us?" Ryoko shot back. "Surely other families would be more than willing to take them in! I don't want to be around them!"
The way Dad had said her name that day sent a chill through her spine. Dad was usually very easy-going, but twelve-year-old Ryoko had struck a nerve she shouldn't have. Ryoko could never forget the look in Dad's eyes that moment that day—it was as though she had damaged him with her biting words.
"Ryoko, I don't want any child to go through what I had to," he had said. "All children, no matter where they came from, no matter what society wants us to think of them, deserve a shot at life. And if we have to be the ones to give them that shot, so be it."
"I'll get you another orange pen," he said, the easygoing nature returning. "Material things can be replaced. But you can't replace people or what you do to them. Remember that, Ryoko."
Twelve-year-old Ryoko didn't really get it at the time, but 35-year-old Ryoko, talking with Mom late at night, finally, in that moment, understood what Dad meant. And that's why Ryoko wasn't about to give up on Ryoken. No chance.
"I guess I turned out more like him than I wanted to."
"You were adamant about not wanting to be like him, true," Mom said. "But it makes me happy to see his good genes get passed down to you."
Ryoko smiled. "Which hopefully Takeru will get too."
"I have a feeling he will." Ryoko could hear the smile in Mom's voice. "Listen, I need to let you go, but take care of yourself, okay, Ryoko? You can't find Ryoken if you're not at your best. Especially since your body's changing a lot these days."
Ryoko sighed. "I knoooooow, Mom. I got it."
"I know you do. I love you Ryoko."
"Love you too, Mom."
Ryoko stared at her recent calls list, the sound of the wind getting louder, the chill more biting and penetrative through her clothes than she remembered the mountain air being. She needed to go inside and take Mom's advice. She was going to get sick at this rate.
Walking through the door, she promptly ignored Hito's parents and passed by Takeru and Ryoken's rooms. She stopped herself, deciding to check on her ever-unpredictable son. Quietly, she pulled the door aside to find Takeru fast asleep, his small chest rising and falling slowly, clutching his Christmas present from Dad close to him. A smile escaped as she walked inside, carefully stepping over all the toys strewn across the floor, until she was able to sit next to the sleeping Takeru. Ryoko had been through a lot these last couple of days—searching for Ryoken and convincing—or rather screaming at Hito and her in-laws that they shouldn't give up on the search—but the whole ordeal had to have been tough on Takeru too. It's no wonder he wanted to stay with her parents. If it'd been up to her, she absolutely would've let him stay with them.
But unfortunately, Hito's word trumped all, even when he didn't know what the hell he was talking about. How in the world was Takeru supposed to study in such a chaotic environment? Not liking her parents was one thing, but it wasn't about Hito—it's about Takeru and how he feels. It should've been like that from the start.
From the way he cried for Ryoken while they were with the Kamishirakawas earlier that day, Ryoko knew he was hurt more than she'd realized. She didn't understand why suddenly, he wanted to be with that ethereal-looking boy when they were such at odds that they had to be separated, but Takeru couldn't be upset like that again. He'd gone through too much in just his short five years of life. All Ryoko wanted was for her boy, her little firecracker, her little miracle to be happy.
"Sweet dreams, Takeru," she whispered, brushing a few hair strands away from Takeru's face. He shifted slightly, relaxing his grip on his stuffed animal, but still slept soundly. Ryoko rose to her feet and quietly left Takeru's room for hers, muttering a prayer to a god, any god that would hear her and do something. Not that Ryoko was spiritual, but she was desperate. Bring Ryoken back, give Takeru peace of mind, give her in-laws a change of heart—just something to show she's doing something right. She repeated the prayer in her mind as she carefully rolled into the empty bed, not wanting to press on her stomach too hard.
A miracle sure would be nice.
The next morning, however, a "Ryoko, Ryoko, get up!" jolted her from her sleep, although the sun was barely out. She slowly opened her eyes to find Hito's wide ones, an expression Ryoko didn't think she'd ever see. Sensing great urgency, she sat up quickly, triggering her motion sickness, but she swallowed the bile. It left an awful taste in her throat.
"Hito, it's so early. What's wrong?"
"It's already seven," he said with a sigh. But then, his face returning to the panicked look from before, he continued, "Tamiko's on the phone. She says it's urgent."
It was Ryoko's turn to widen her eyes. What could it be so early in the morning?
"Tell her to call me," she said. Whatever it was, it wasn't a conversation her in-laws should hear. Hito nodded and disappeared, only to reappear moments later with Ryoko's dark blue smartphone, buzzing wildly. Taking the phone, Ryoko pressed the answer button and put it on speaker. "Tamiko?"
"Ryoko!" came an unusually exasperated reply, especially for Tamiko. "Ryoko, oh my. Thank goodness you're up. I thought you'd still be asleep."
"And I would've been, had it not been for my loving husband," Ryoko sighed towards Hito, but he was oblivious to the conversation. Typical. "What's going on so early in the morning?"
A pause. "You're not going to believe this."
"Try me." It had to have been something awful if Tamiko, of all people, was displaying such emotional energy so early in the morning. She's the most level-headed person Ryoko knew, which came in handy whenever Ryoko had found herself in more tense situations in high school and university than she could count or when work was really stressing her out. When Tamiko didn't respond right away, Ryoko prepared herself for the worst. A death in the family? The family needed to relocate? A house fire? It could've been anything. A deep sigh on the other side heightened her nervous energy even more.
"We found Ryoken. Or rather—" A small laugh. "—Benji found Ryoken."
Ryoko's mouth hung open. Out of all the anythings she prepared for, that wasn't one of them. "Benji can't walk yet, Tamiko." She fought back the urge to laugh. "Surely Benji didn't learn how to magically walk at two months and search for Ryoken." Ryoko paused. Well, anything was possible at that point. ". . . did he?"
"I…think it's better you and Hito come and see for yourself," Tamiko replied, her voice low. A long sigh. "The more people Kiku can explain this to, the better."
"Kiku? What does your daughter have to do with this?" Ryoko demanded, but Tamiko didn't elaborate further. "Okay, fine, we'll come over. Give us a few."
"See you soon."
Ryoko tapped the red button on her phone and rose to her feet, the room suddenly blurring. She felt gravity pull her down before a strong grip caught her. Blinking a few times, she saw Hito, his eyes flooded with concern, and Ryoko gave a weak smile. Such a worrywart. "It's nothing, Hito," she said, "I'm only a little tired is all."
But Hito didn't seem convinced. He brought Ryoko to a chair by the mahogany rocking chair, the chair Ryoko swore she was attached to when Takeru was a baby. So many sleepless nights spent with him. At the time, she was so grateful to have a baby that it didn't matter, but she could only have so many sleepless nights in a row for so long. Once Takeru could sleep by himself, she swore she'd never sit in that chair again.
"I'm fine, Hito—" Ryoko started, but Hito shook his head.
"You need to rest." Hito's voice was surprisingly warm. "I'm going to the Kamishirakawas. Dad's going with me."
"But she's expecting me!" Ryoko tried getting up in her chair but promptly fell back, her arms as strong as well-cooked noodles. Ryoko sighed.
"We'll bring Ryoken here. So just relax," Hito said, cupping a warm hand around Ryoko's chin and cheek. It felt nice. Ryoko smiled and leaned in, her lips briefly meeting his.
"Okay, fine," she whispered as Hito pulled away. "Promise me you won't be too harsh on Ryoken? The poor boy's probably been through so much." She closed her eyes and sighed. "Tell that to your dad too."
"Got it," was the reply.
"Also . . . bring Ryoken here when you get back," Ryoko added.
Hito gave her shoulders a gentle rub before he gave a thumbs-up and walked out of the room. Ryoko wasn't sure if any of those directives even sank into his mind. All she could do was trust that he listened. Sinking further into the rocking chair, she felt a massive weight come over her body, as though the chair was reminding her of all those sleepless nights. She wanted so badly to get up, to go back to sleep, but she couldn't call out of work again. It was still too early.
Ryoko took in the calm of the room, the sheer gold curtains, the pale pink walls. Closing her eyes, she could hear small footsteps scampering out in the hallway. Takeru? But her body took her eyes closing as a sign to finally relax, her forehead gradually warming. Against her will, she fell asleep in that rocking chair.
Takeru wobbled to the kitchen and saw Obaa-chan standing over the stove, the tangy smell of salmon covered in soy sauce filling his nostrils. He quietly took his place at the table, staring at the empty plates and chopsticks. When Takeru woke up that morning, he heard Ojii-chan and Daddy's loud voices followed by the front door's loud slamming. While things have been anything but calm since Ryoken went missing, that kind of noise was usually at night. Takeru had waited a few moments, then ventured out into the hallway. He didn't want to risk anyone's wrath that morning.
"Obaa-chan?" Takeru spoke up, followed by a loud yawn. "Obaa-chan, where is everyone?"
Obaa-chan continued to stir the pot as she sprinkled a bit more soy sauce on the salmon. "Daddy and Ojii-chan are at the Kamishirakawas right now. They'll be back soon."
Takeru frowned. Over at their house again without him, huh? "And Mommy? Is she with them too?"
"Mommy's still here," Obaa-chan replied immediately, and Takeru perked up. "But you shouldn't bother her. She's not feeling well."
"Alright…" Takeru slumped back down in his chair. There it was again. "You shouldn't do this. Don't bother Mommy. You can't go out." Can't, can't, don't, don't, shouldn't, shouldn't. Takeru really, really, really disliked those words. There had to be something he could do. But Takeru somehow held his tongue as Obaa-chan set his breakfast in front of him. It smelled fresh and delicious. Giving thanks for the food, Takeru swallowed the fish first, the warmth traveling from his mouth to his gut. Takeru always liked how Obaa-chan cooked the fish. It had the perfect amount of sweetness to make it taste like dessert, and Takeru loved dessert.
As soon as Obaa-chan finished cooking and putting some of the vegetables on a plate, she took a chair across Takeru and sat, sighing. Takeru stared at her with wide eyes as he munched on the fish he wrapped in the seaweed.
"Obaa-chan?" Takeru said, his mouth full.
"Swallow your food before you talk, Takeru," she said immediately. Takeru loudly swallowed the last of the fish.
"Obaa-chan," Takeru tried again, "will I see Kiku again? Before I start school?"
Obaa-chan smiled. "Of course, Takeru," she said. But then her eyebrows shot up. "But I thought you want to see Ryoken first?"
Takeru frowned as he looked at the floor. "I do-well, I did, but . . ." he bit his lip. " . . . maybe Ryoken went back to where he came from. I might never see him again. I have a better chance of seeing Kiku than him now." Takeru shifted his attention when Obaa-chan's chair squeaked against the floor, Obaa-chan walking over to the sink and washing her hands. Then she looked at Takeru, his eyes tearing at the corners.
"Get dressed, Takeru." She smiled. "We can't just sit around waiting for your father and Asahi, can we?"
Takeru stared at her. "More studying?"
Obaa-chan laughed. "Nothing like that! We might as well have fun while we wait. You remember how to play otedama, right, Takeru?"
Takeru's eyes sparkled. That was his favorite game! "Uh-huh!"
After putting the dishes in the sink and waiting for Obaa-chan to clean up, Takeru, hand in Obaa-chan's, walked across the courtyard to Ojii-chan and Obaa-chan's house. Takeru immediately grabbed the bean bags and started tossing them in the air, trying to catch all of them in his one hand, Obaa-chan cheering him on. He was having so much fun that an hour had gone by, the air cooler than it had been when they first got outside. It wasn't until he heard footsteps climbing the stairs on the deck that he abruptly stopped to look towards the noise, momentarily forgetting he still had one bean bag in the air. It thumped on the grass next to him.
"Takeru?" Obaa-chan asked, but Takeru didn't reply. He saw Daddy and Ojii-chan side by side entering from the front side of the other house. But when Daddy went in front of Ojii-chan, another, smaller person came into view. That's when Takeru saw him. He recognized that snow-white hair and sparkling skin anywhere.
"Ryoken . . ." Takeru took one step towards Mommy and Daddy's house. Remembering the two of them weren't supposed to see each other and not wanting to get yelled at by Obaa-chan, he went no further. But his eyes, tearing at the corners, remained locked on Ryoken, Takeru's heart pounding in his chest, wanting to be free. But, as Daddy and Ojii-chan stood on either side of him, faces serious as they were saying something, Takeru saw Ryoken's eyes widen, then lower, teeth grit. It was a side of Pretty Boy Takeru never thought he'd ever see: defeated, helpless, in a big heap of trouble.
It was as though Takeru was looking in a mirror.
The rule-following, adult-pleasing, goody two-shoes who bounced away any trouble from him was finally in it, just like Takeru had always wanted. But instead of being glad, Takeru felt a pain in his chest. It hurt him to see Pretty Boy like this. And Takeru couldn't help but feel it was his fault.
Takeru picked up the bean bag next to him and brought it as well as the rest of them back to Obaa-chan, a confused expression on her face.
"Obaa-chan, I-I had fun," Takeru said. "But I have to go back. I. I need to make things right."
Obaa-chan rubbed the top of Takeru's head. "I don't know what's going on in that bright head of yours. But I'm rooting for you."
Takeru gave a weak smile and turned and ran towards Mommy and Daddy's house, hoping only he could hear how loud his heart was pumping against his chest. He had to say sorry. He had to make things right.
Ryoken. Ryoken. Ryoken!