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.


Chapter 12

Homura Residence

"Ryoken!"

He had put only a foot onto the plastic wood floor of Ryoko and Hisahito-san's room before a shrill greeted his ears. He was surprised by how gigantic it was, compared to the other rooms in the house. It had to have been three times the size of Takeru's room. It was definitely bigger than Father's study.

Ryoken's attention, however, turned to Ryoko, sitting in a rocking chair. Even though only a couple of days had passed, Ryoko's appearance had changed a lot. The glow she had was still there, but she also seemed a lot more tired, worn down.

"How could you just run away like that? Don't you realize how worried sick we were for you?"

Hisahito-san's harsh words rang in his mind, having even more meaning as Ryoken stared at Ryoko. Ryoken's bottom lip quivered, guilt piling on his heart. He had done the right thing by running away, but seeing Ryoko made him second-guess all that.

"Ryoko, I—" Ryoken spoke, but Ryoko wrapping her surprisingly strong arms around him interrupted his thought. Ryoken froze. No one's ever hugged him before. The only reason he knew it was a hug was because he read it in that fairytale and folktales book.

"Ryoken, thank goodness you're safe," she said, strengthening her hold.

"I'm sorry for making you worry," Ryoken replied, leaning his head further into her shoulder. It's the first time he's ever felt a mother's fiery love, a mother's gentle concern. Soft, comforting—Ryoken wasn't used to any of it. But Ryoken wanted more, taking in the softness of Ryoko's shirt, the fruitiness of her lotion. He wanted this. He needed this.

Pulling away, Ryoko kept her hands on Ryoken's shoulders, her eyes glued to Ryoken.

"Why did you run away?" she asked, her voice cracking. "Was it something we did?"

Ryoken bit his bottom lip. He could be brutally honest, and he got that honesty back a million times over when he was with Kiku. But he wasn't sure if he could tell Ryoko the truth—not this Ryoko, anyway. The Ryoko he first met he would've told without a shred of a doubt. But this Ryoko seemed so worn down, so ready to fall apart at a moment's notice.

Then Ryoken thought of Takeru, how he cared so little what others thought of him. The little firecracker could say whatever he wanted and only got into a minimal amount of trouble, very unlike what Ryoken had grown up with. Even if Takeru was the real son, Ryoken was jealous of how easy, how loosely Takeru could talk about his feelings.

Ryoken took a deep breath. "It was. Not just you . . ." Ryoken paused, ". . . but Takeru too."

Ryoko's eyes widened. "Takeru?"

"He said things were better without me here, that everything was okay before I showed up."

Ryoko's worried expression softened into a smile, as if she had figured out something. "Listen, Ryoken, you can't take everything literally all the time," Ryoko said. "We all say or do things we don't mean sometimes."

"But isn't that lying? Isn't that bad?"

"It makes things harder, yes." Ryoko closed her eyes. "I wouldn't say it's bad, though. It's only human, and none of us are perfect. It just means that next time, we have to try harder to do the right thing. That's all."

"None of us . . . are perfect . . ." How could that be? Maybe everyone else wasn't perfect, but Father was. Nothing he said or did could be wrong. Ryoken was sure of it.

Ryoken hadn't noticed tears were falling down his face until a soft tissue wiped one of them off his cheek. He looked up to Ryoko's soft smile, understanding, caring, accepting. Even though Ryoken hadn't said much.

"I don't know what kind of home you came from, before you wandered into our sleepy town," she said, "but . . . I do know you should stay with us." She breathed slowly. "Your home is with us now, and I'll make sure it stays that way."

Ryoken thought back to that stormy night, the night the rift between him and Takeru grew, how much Ryoko and Hisahito-san were quick to separate them. There's no way he could stay if they had to be apart. But Ryoko's genuine, soft suggestion tugged at his heart. Maybe, like Kiku had said, they changed their minds. And maybe Takeru wanted him around, after all.

"Are you sure?" Ryoken sniffled. "If I can't be around Takeru, won't that make things hard?"

A pause.

"We'll . . ." Ryoko trailed off. Then, as if remembering she was in the middle of a thought, she finished, "We'll manage somehow."

They still won't let me see him. Ryoken's shoulders slumped. "Okay."

Ryoko then told Ryoken that she had to leave for work soon. Homura obaa-chan would fix breakfast for him, and he was to stay in his room until mealtime or until Ryoko and Hisahito-san got back from work. Absolutely no going outside, not even to the grandparents' house. Ryoken nodded, but he couldn't help but be disappointed.

He wanted to see Takeru, no matter what.


Ryoken set his satchel down on the floor and looked around his room, which was bigger than Kiku's. Most of the room was untouched since the last time. It was as if he'd never left.

"I'm back," he whispered to no one. It's odd. It wasn't his home—his real home—but walking in, Ryoken's shoulders sagged, as though someone took a huge weight off them. He never felt so relaxed to return somewhere—not even when he walked into his own room at Father's after a long day of staring and poring over books in the large, dark, and damp study.

But a weight still stayed on Ryoken's shoulders. He still couldn't do what he even came back for, and, from what Hisahito-san and Ryoko told him, it wouldn't happen anytime soon. Takeru needed to study for some big test to get into a school in a neighboring town. "So don't go messing with Takeru like you did last time," Hisahito-san had said. "He can't afford any more distractions."

Ryoken's face heated up, remembering the conversations. Was that all Ryoken was to the Homuras? A distraction? Maybe Ryoko had welcomed him back more gently than Hisahito-san, but she had said the same thing. Ryoken couldn't say anything, not even after her "you can tell us anything" speech. In the end, Kiku had been wrong. She had meant well, Ryoken was sure, but she still hadn't understood. Ryoken wasn't part of the Homuras—he was only someone to take care of temporarily until the adults felt satisfied with their job, until they finally kick him out. It was only a matter of time, and Ryoken had to brace himself for it.

It was his home, more of a home than even his real home, if it could be called that. But temporarily.

Of course it was temporary. He never meant to stay in such a town anyway. Father must have come to his senses by now and had abandoned whatever scary things he had planned that Ryoken had heard. Ryoken had to leave eventually. But, as Ryoken laughed, something got caught in his throat, his eyes smarting.

He didn't want to leave.

Ryoken was taking out his book of formulas and theories to finally finish it, when a light but persistent tap . . . tap . . . tap intruded his ears. He groaned. Not only couldn't he see Takeru, that stupid tapping was back! Ryoken huffed as he read his book, ignoring it at first. But the tapping only got louder, more persistent, faster.

Ryoken slammed his book shut and took a deep breath. He had enough. Ghost or whatever, he couldn't focus!

"Can you please stop tapping?" Ryoken finally asked out loud. "It's very annoying."

A pause. And the tapping stopped! Ryoken suddenly turned towards the wall he was sitting against. Wait, that really worked? Before Ryoken finished processing his newfound ability to communicate with annoying ghosts, a small voice pierced through from the other side: "Okay, Ryoken."

Ryoken jerked backwards. That ghost's voice sounded familiar. Then, it finally dawned on Ryoken.

Wait a second . . .

"Takeru?!" Ryoken asked, but a shush cut him off from saying more. Ryoken whispered, "You mean you were the tapping ghost all this time?!"

"What does that mean?" Takeru huffed. "I ain't no ghost. And I can't dance either . . ."

Ryoken blinked. Then, a light bulb went off in his brain.

"Takeru, tapping, not tapdancing."

"What's the difference?"

Ryoken groaned. "You serious?"

"As serious as you are," Takeru shot back. And it's Takeru, so of course he meant it. Ryoken sank farther into the wall.

"Forget it. I need to read. Leave me alone," he said, taking out his formulae and theories book. Ryoken heard shuffling and a light thud, then an unnecessarily drawn-out inhale and exhale. He turned his head.

"Ryoken, can we talk?"

Ryoken clutched his book tighter. "We can't, remember?"

Another exhale. "Can I talk then?"

"I can't stop you," Ryoken sighed. "I won't listen though."

"Okay," said an unusually weak voice. Ryoken's ears perked up, but the theories and formulae book had the rest of his attention. He was ready to tune Takeru out, thinking Takeru was only going to babble nonsense. But then, "Ryoken . . . I'm sorry."

Takeru . . . was apologizing? And using his actual name instead of Pretty Boy? Ryoken kept his mouth shut, though, as he went back to his book. But the words and numbers were blurs.

"I said some nasty things to you," Takeru said. "Things I didn't mean." Ryoken still didn't reply, even though it was getting harder to do. "So when you ran away, it really hurt."

Ryoken quietly closed his book and hugged it against his chest, his chest that was threatening to burst. No . . . no, that wasn't how it was supposed to go. Takeru should've been glad he was gone. Out of all the Homuras, Ryoken treated him the worst. So why? But a quiet laugh interrupted his thoughts.

"It was so bad without you," Takeru said. Another knife to Ryoken's heart. "Everyone fighting every night. Nobody getting along. But they want me to study, like everything is normal. And I can only stay here, not even go to Jii-jii and Baa-baa's house. I hate it. I hate it here, Ryoken."

Ryoken's arms trembled, his hold on the book weakening until the book crashed on the floor.

The Homuras are nice people!

Then what was Takeru talking about?!

A tense pause, followed by more shuffling on the other side of the wall, another thud. Ryoken's lungs were on fire. If the adults weren't telling Takeru what happened that night, if they were treating Ryoken as a distraction, Ryoken had no reason to stay. Again, however, his reasoning was crumpled paper in the hands of Takeru's words.

"But, if you stay here, Ryoken, everything feels okay. I . . . I need you. Even if we can only talk like this. Anything is better than nothing, right?"

Ryoken's heart pounded.

But Takeru needs you!

"Takeru, I—" Ryoken leaned his head against the wall, his words caught in his throat. Takeru had bottled his fiery feelings for who knows how long, and here he was, risking trouble by telling Ryoken how he felt. It was Ryoken's turn. But the words wouldn't come out. Of course they wouldn't. Right when it mattered most.

"So much for not listening, huh, Ryoken?" Takeru said in between hiccups.

Ryoken huffed, swallowing so that his voice wouldn't betray the tears in the corner of his eyes. "Your voice is too annoying to tune out, after all."

Takeru laughed, and Ryoken's heart fluttered. A nice sound. And infectious. Before Ryoken knew it, he was laughing along, clutching his stomach. It's been so long since Ryoken last laughed so much. After some time Ryoken was the only one laughing, but he hadn't noticed until there was a knock on the door.

"Ryoken?" Homura obaa-chan! "Ryoken, dear, is everything okay?"

Ryoken rubbed his eyes on his sleeves and sniffled loudly before opening the door, saying, "Sorry, Homura obaa-chan. Nothing's wrong."

Homura obaa-chan stared at him, then sighed. "Lunch is almost ready, but you'll eat after Takeru, okay?"

Ryoken frowned. Remembering Homura obaa-chan standing right in front of him, he smiled. "Okay, Homura obaa-chan." Homura obaa-chan walked away but stood right in front of Takeru's room. Ryoken closed the door just enough to hide himself, but he was able to catch a glimpse of the door opening, of Takeru stepping forward.

Takeru!

It was far from the first time Ryoken's seen him. Being away from him, however, made it feel like it was. Homura obaa-chan was telling Takeru something—probably the same thing she told Ryoken—but Ryoken was too focused on Takeru to hear. Takeru spoke very little to his grandmother. His body, though, spoke louder: the way he stared at the floor, the way he held his arms. Something in his eyes was off too: the sparkle that Ryoken vividly remembered wasn't there.

Takeru . . .

Ryoken closed the door and went back to his book—that thick formulae and theories book he had such trouble finishing. But, again, the words, numbers, formulas blurred. Ryoken, again, couldn't focus. He couldn't stop thinking about Takeru, about what he said, about how he looked.

After staring for a few moments, he heard a light rap on the door. When Ryoken opened it, he picked up a bento box lying on the floor, unattended, and went back inside his room, his mind swirling. Wasn't he supposed to eat with Homura obaa-chan? Where did this come from? Not too long after, the tapping returned. Ryoken smiled.

"Takeru, I know it's you."

"I wanna eat with you, Ryoken," he said. "It's been a long, loooong time."

"But won't you get in trouble?" Ryoken asked. "Everyone eats together, right?"

Takeru huffed. "Nobody eats together anymore. Too much fighting. I can eat lunch and dinner here as long as I study. That's what Mommy and Obaa-chan said."

"You're not gonna study. You talk too much."

"Yes, I will! I just . . ." Takeru sighed. "I wanna be with you. And talk with you. Even if I can't see you."

Ryoken stared at the soy sauce-covered fish and rice. "Okay."

The two of them gave thanks for their piping hot meals, and Ryoken heard Takeru greedily gulping down his food. He swallowed a laugh along with his rice. But Takeru at once stopped making noise.

"What's so funny?"

"What do you mean?" Ryoken scooped the last of the rice into his mouth.

"I heard you laughing!" Takeru said in that whiny, high-pitched sound Ryoken didn't miss at all.

"You're imagining things." Ryoken couldn't see how he and Takeru were alike. But Kiku and Takeru most definitely were.

"Oh, like how you imaged I was a ghost, huh?"

Ryoken sighed. "Imagined. And I did no such thing."

"Liar."

"Crybaby."

"Am not."

"Are too." Ryoken smiled. He did miss getting under Takeru's skin. His reactions were too funny. "You wanted to talk to me, right? About what?" It's not about that night, is it? He wanted to add but decided against it.

"I . . ." A sigh punctuated his lost thought. "We're friends, right? Friends should know more about each other."

Ryoken blinked. He came across that word in his fairytale book and in those dueling tournament videos he watched when Father wasn't looking, but he never understood what it meant. A character in the fairytale book would say "You're my friend, so I'll help you," and Ryoken knew it was a good thing. Even the one dark-haired man he idolized in the dueling tournament videos talked about bonds and friendship. A lot, actually. But, to Ryoken, friendship—as a word and as a concept—was still a mystery.

"I don't know what that means," Ryoken said at last. "Being friends."

"So you didn't have a friend where you came from?"

The way Takeru asked made Ryoken cringe. "No?" Ryoken braced for Takeru mocking him, saying something like "Wow, you're out of touch, aren't ya?" There was just something about Takeru that would get him a lot of friends—whatever those were. The little firecracker could be extremely annoying, but Takeru also had a spark, a flame, a light that could attract people. There's no way Ryoken was the only one who saw it.

Instead, what Ryoken got was "You and I . . . are alike then."

"Huh?" Ryoken said. Takeru shushed him. "But Kiku's your . . . friend, right? We're—we're not the same. I bet you have lots of friends."

"Kiku is my friend. My best friend. My only friend, besides you," Takeru said. "The other kids make fun of me. Call me mean names when I go to the playground. So Mommy and Daddy keep me away. Or take me when no one else is there."

Ryoken smiled, leaning his head against the wall. They kept Takeru from others and from most of the outside world, much like Father had hid him. Kiku's saying they were alike made more sense then. But Takeru was able to break into the outside world earlier than Ryoken. Ryoken needed to know what that was like.

So being Takeru's friend was something he needed.

"I still don't understand, but," Ryoken sighed, "I . . . We can be friends, Takeru." Ugh, that was so embarrassing! Ryoken's face warmed, he being thankful for the wall, for once.

A gasp. Probably a smirk. "What was that, Ryoken?"

"Don't make me say it again! It's too embarrassing…." Ryoken buried his face in his hands, face on fire. Takeru only laughed. Ryoken's heart beat a tiny bit faster.

"Then!" Takeru said. "Me first. What's your favorite food? I like ice cream best. But I'll eat anything Mommy and Obaa-chan make."

At that moment, Ryoken forgot everything he had ever eaten. Everything he'd eaten at the Homuras and at Kiku's was really good. But the only thing that came to mind was . . .

"Hot . . . dogs."

"Hot dogs?" The way Takeru asked made Ryoken flush with embarrassment.

"Y-yeah? Is that a problem?"

"No, no," Takeru said quickly. "I never had hot dogs before, even when I visit Baa-baa and Jii-jii in the city. They must be super good!"

Ryoken sighed in relief, then smiled. "They are. You can put a lot of things on top of it and it still tastes good."

"Really? That sounds amazing!" Takeru said as Ryoken held back a laugh. "Can you put chocolate syrup on top?"

"You can…" Ryoken said, making a face, "…but that wouldn't taste very good."

Takeru huffed. "You never know until you try."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Just try a plain one first."

"Fiiiiine," Takeru said. "Favorite color?"

Again, a question that stumped Ryoken. He never thought about simple things like that before, about what things were his favorites. He liked lots of things, but he's never picked favorites. So, he went with the first thing that came to mind.

"Blue."

"Blue?" Takeru repeated. "You mean like your eyes?" Ryoken's face must have been super red by then. "Booooring."

"Oh yeah?" Ryoken's insides warmed up. "Then what's yours?"

"Bright red!"

"Oh, like your hair?" Ryoken asked, hiding his grin. "That's boooring."

"Shut up…" Takeru mumbled. "Only part of my hair is red. Not the same thing. Besides, Jii-jii says my hair is nice! And his hair is super-duper awesome, 'specially the color. He would know!"

"Heh?" Ryoken relaxed against the wall between them. "What color is that then? Bright green?"

"Like a goblin? No way!" Takeru said. "It's orange and super spiky! I want hair like his so bad."

Takeru went on and on, but Ryoken stopped listening at orange and super spiky. There's only one person he knew of who had that hair—and he was one of the coolest people Ryoken's ever seen and read about. But there's no way he's Takeru's grandfather. Then again, Ryoko's hair had orange in it. It's about the same shade, though slightly darker. Could it be . . .?

No. No, that was silly.

"Ryoken? Ryoken."

Ryoken snapped to attention. "What is it?"

Takeru sighed. "I thought you went to sleep. Jii-jii does that a lot. I can talk and talk and Jii-jii can sleep without saying anything!"

"You sure talk about your other grandfather a lot." Ryoken said. "You must really like him."

Takeru giggled, something he didn't normally do. Ryoken's cheeks warmed.

"I do! Jii-jii and Baa-baa are so funny and cool and fun. Every time I get to go see them is the best day ever!"

"Really….?" Ryoken relaxed his legs. "You even like them better than Homura ojii-chan and Homura obaa-chan?"

Takeru went silent. Ryoken's heart raced. He brought up something he shouldn't have again. When a few moments more passed, Ryoken started, "No, I didn't mean—" but Takeru shushed him.

"You said it, not me, but…. yeah," Takeru said, his voice quiet. "But so what?" Takeru's voice got louder. Ryoken hoped the grandparents wouldn't walk by. "You have grandparents you like better, right?"

First, Kiku with the whole mother thing, now Takeru with the grandparents. They meant well, but they didn't understand he didn't come from a home like theirs. Ryoken forced an exhale.

"I don't have grandparents," he said. "I wouldn't know."

"Huh? But you have parents, right?" Takeru said. "They have their parents. You have to have them!"

"It's only me and Father and the people he works with. They're the only ones I've seen. Father never mentioned a mother or grandparents or any other family member, okay? I get it! I get it. I get I'm not like you or Kiku or anyone else! Alright? Quit asking!"

Ryoken gasped as soon as the last word hung in the air. The words tasted bitter, and he was sick to his stomach. He was taking it out on Takeru again. Of course Takeru wouldn't know about what Kiku told him or how Kiku had already asked about his parents. Takeru had no idea. It was unreasonable to not expect Takeru to ask.

He really was the worst.

"Takeru, I'm. Sorry, I-I—"

"You talking so much is…weird," Takeru interrupted. Ryoken could hear the smile in his voice. "I finally got you to talk, huh?"

Ryoken was silent, not wanting to say anything else out of line. But that pressure, everything that's happened over the last couple of days, the growing uneasiness, to face what was back there—it all built up in Ryoken's chest until he couldn't keep it in. He couldn't stop it. Tears were sliding down his face faster than he could wipe with his sleeves, sobs escaping from his throat.

"Ryoken?" Takeru's voice was soft. It reminded him of Ryoko's. "Ryoken, are you okay?"

"I don't want to go back…" Ryoken sobbed. "I don't want to go back to him. I'm scared. I'm really scared."

Only tapping and scraping of chopsticks and Ryoken's occasional hiccup, trying to catch his breath, could be heard.

"Is your Daddy mean?" Takeru's small voice asked. "Is that why you don't want to go back?"

"I don't know," Ryoken said. "But he wants to do something scary, and I. I . . ." Ryoken took a deep breath, tears from both eyes falling. "I don't feel safe going back there, Takeru."

"Then stay."

Takeru's sudden answer shocked Ryoken's core. Deep down, that was also Ryoken's answer, but Ryoken waved it off as impossible. He didn't belong in this town. The food he ate, how he thought—he just didn't fit in.

"I . . . I can't stay, Takeru," Ryoken sobbed. "I stand out too much."

"You stand out as much as I do," Takeru said. "If you stay with me, things will be fine."

"With you?"

"Yeah." Takeru's voice felt closer, as though he was leaning on the other side of the wall. Ryoken also leaned in. "Mommy and Daddy have to let us see each other at some point, right? And when Mommy and Daddy do—" Takeru exhaled, "—I wanna be with you and never leave."

Ryoken hoped Takeru couldn't hear the way his heart pounded or the way the inside of his head throbbed. He had to go back to Father's. That's what he kept telling himself. But Ryoko, Takeru—they weren't letting him off that easy. Here it was, Ryoken's chance to escape, his chance to feel he's not living everyday trying to please Father or his coworkers. His chance to live in a world embraced by the sun, not covered in the dark.

His chance to finally not be alone, and finally be free.

"Okay, Takeru," Ryoken smiled, the weight finally off his shoulders, heart pounding more than ever. "I'll stay. With you."