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 16

Izayoi-Hogan Residence, Neo-Domino

Either Ryoken was better than he thought, or Crow was rusty.

Of course, Ryoken never beat Crow the first time. Or the second. Or the fifth. Ryoken could never beat a former pro-duelist who learned how to read using the Duel Monsters trading cards, after all. But the way Crow's life points were at 200 with Ryoken having a substantial lead in almost every round gave Ryoken false hope before Crow completely demolished him.

Maybe Crow's life points dwindling to 200 was part of the plan, and Ryoken never had the upper hand.

Ryoken faceplanted on the table, the neutral smell scrunched against his nose. Even if Ryoken had no chance against a former pro duelist, not being able to get that win when he was so close made his chest hurt.

"Had enough, Pretty Boy?"

Ryoken jolted. He was so used to hearing that from only Takeru, anyone else using it just sounded weird. But, since Crow and Aki already knew who he was, it made sense they'd know. Sighing, Ryoken put Aki's cards back.

"One more time."

Kiku sighed as she crossed her arms, putting her upper body on the table. "Never guessed Ryoken was a Duel Monsters nut like Jii-jii."

"Aw, come on," Crow said. "You and Takeru both. And I'm trying so hard to leave Duel Monsters to you youngins too!"

Ryoken hummed. "Takeru's the grandson of two Team 5D's members and a multi-world Duel Monsters champion, but he doesn't like Duel Monsters?"

"Finally, someone gets it." Crow nodded. "He takes after Ryoko in more ways than one. She was dead set on not playing the game either. 'Too many rules, too many steps, too much thinking,' she says. So does Takeru." Crow sighed. "And Kiku over there says it's too violent."

"It is!" Kiku piped up. "It's too scary with the holograms."

Ryoken sighed. "Their loss."

Crow smiled as he did the same as Ryoken did with his cards, then the two exchanged decks. Ryoken quickly shuffled it before setting it in the center, but Crow only kept looking at the cards, spreading them apart.

"Crow?"

Aki put a hand on Crow's shoulder. "You've definitely seen my deck before. What's going on in that bird brain?"

Crow sat back, exhaling. Then he sat up, staring at Ryoken. "I was just thinking—" he said, "—Ryoken should consider the pro leagues. When he's a little older." Ryoken blinked and said nothing. He continued, "The dueling pro leagues."

Ryoken's mouth hung open. The pro leagues?

"But," Ryoken spoke up, "I can't even beat you. Why would you even say . . . ?"

Crow, however, laughed.

"Don't get too hung up. I'm not an easy guy to beat in Duel Monsters," he said. "But not many people can handle another person's deck with such ease like you have with Aki's. A skill like that is no other." Crow grinned. "You got what it takes, Ryoken."

Him? A pro duelist? Sure, Ryoken had taken such a risk, leaving Father's, going beyond that tight bubble, right into the Homuras' backyard. It would be nice to see the world even beyond there, beyond Crow and Aki's house in Neo-Domino. It would be nice to meet all kinds of people, see and visit all kinds of places he's only read about in those bulky books.

But Ryoken had to go back to Father's at some point. On top of that, there was no way Father would let him chase after that dream. If what Ryoken wanted to do wasn't science-related, Father didn't support it. And as long as Ryoken was a child, he had to listen to Father.

"I—" Ryoken muttered. "I think it's nice for you to say, but . . . I can't."

Crow raised an eyebrow. "You can't? Why?"

Ryoken looked over at Kiku, her eyes different from Crow's and Aki's. Ryoken didn't tell Kiku everything about Father like he did with Takeru, but from her eyes, she understood. Kiku mouthed, "Just tell them."

Tell them? Ryoken frowned. He only kind of told Kiku and plainly told Takeru because they had no power over Father. They wouldn't be able to do anything to or against him. But Crow and Aki could. Ryoko and Hisahito-san could. Homura ojii-chan and Homura obaa-chan could too. Kids have no power, no influence over adults—Ryoken knew that real well. But other adults do.

They couldn't know the truth. Even with everything Father's done to him, everything Father's planning to do, Ryoken couldn't let the other adults deal with him.

Ryoken forced his attention to Crow, still expecting a response. "I . . . I just can't." From the corner of his eye, Ryoken saw Kiku bury her face in her hands. "That's . . . That's all there is to it."

From the easygoing way Crow and Aki acted, Ryoken expected them to accept that and move on to the next thing. Adults were perceptive in a lot of ways, but Ryoken found they were completely clueless in others too.

But Crow and Aki were the perceptive type.

"Ryoken." Crow put the deck down on the table. "There's more to it, isn't there?"

Something in Crow's eyes, something in the tone of his voice, ripped Ryoken's heart open. At that moment, he wanted to tell Crow everything, even though there'd be consequences. Before he could think about it, his heart programmed his mouth to blurt out, "Well, yeah, because Father would never—"

Ryoken covered his mouth with both his hands before he could say more. No, no, no, Ryoken! You can't tell them that! Ryoken hoped he'd stopped talking before he revealed too much, before they got curious, before they did something to Father. But the way Crow's and Aki's eyes changed told him differently.

"Your old man wouldn't do what, Ryoken?" Crow asked. Ryoken shivered, the tone striking him. His hands still wouldn't move. He glanced at Kiku, her eyes matching Aki's. She kept mouthing, "Just tell them," but Ryoken couldn't do it. He couldn't. He couldn't possibly tell them.

"Ryoken, you can tell us," Crow insisted, having gotten up from his side of the table, over to his. "You really should. You don't have to hide anything from us."

But Ryoken refused to look at Crow, his own eyes watering. They wouldn't understand. Father . . . The way Father showed his love was too different from the Homuras, the Hogans. Ryoken might've ran away, but that was out of his own weakness. They wouldn't get it. But Crow kept at him, demanding him to say something.

Ryoken looked to Kiku, but he wasn't even in her line of view. Ryoken wasn't scared of his idol. But he was scared of what he could do to Father. As Crow kept hounding and hounding and hounding, as Ryoken was about to collapse under the weight of expectation . . .

"Jii-jii, stop. You'll hurt Ryoken!"


Crow saw his grandson standing there, healthy as could be, as though he wasn't incredibly red-faced a few hours ago.

"Takeru?"

But Takeru made a beeline to the side of Ryoken, hands on both shoulders before wrapping his upper body around him, the other boy's head resting on his grandson's chest.

"Ryoken, are you okay?"

"What? I should be asking you that!" Ryoken put a hand around his arm. It amazed Crow that these two had been at each other's throats—literally, according to Ryoko—only months prior. "You looked like a tomato before!"

"I asked you first." Takeru pouted. Then, his eyes softened. "Jii-jii didn't upset you, did he?"

Crow's heart dropped. Even worse, Ryoken didn't say a thing, but he didn't look at Crow either. Aaaaah. Crow messed up real bad. He was the one who said they shouldn't force Ryoken to talk, but what the hell was he doing?

Crow was no better than that boneheaded jerk or the other old man.

Getting up, Crow put himself at eye level. Ryoken still wouldn't meet his eyes, but Takeru did. Even when Takeru didn't talk, his eyes said a lot. It made Crow's stomach drop.

"Ryoken, I'm sorry," he said.

Ryoken shook his head, his face pink. "No, it's okay, you don't have to apologize—"

"I insist," Crow said, his fatherly tone taking over his voice. "I was out of line. I just . . . I don't know what came over me, and—"

It was at that moment that his loving wife gave a good hard whack on the back of his head. Crow yelped, then rubbed the sore spot. Damn. Maybe it was because he was an old man (though he'd never admit it), but Aki's whacks hurt more with time. As Crow was nursing his wound, Aki sat next to Takeru and Ryoken.

"Again, you'll have to forgive my idiot husband over there," Aki said, glaring daggers at him. Oh, he was really gonna get it later. "But," she smiled, "I should've stopped him before he started. You'll have to forgive us, Ryoken."

Crow opened his mouth to say that no, Aki, you had nothing to do with this, you don't have to take the blame, but Ryoken shook his head furiously. "No, no, you don't have to say that, really—"

"Ryoken, we're family." Aki took one of Ryoken's hands in her own. "Family should apologize when they hurt each other, whether they're five or sixty-five. It's . . ." Aki sighed, smile on her face. ". . . it's how families should be."

Ryoken's eyes widened. Even if he had to live with those two pigheaded morons as well as Ryoko and the other grandmother, surely Ryoken's familiar with the concept of forgiveness. It's one of the first things humans are taught. Or it should be. But then Crow thought about Ryoken's earlier outburst about his old man, what Ryoko said when Takeru and Ryoken got in that scuffle, Ryoken not saying a thing about his last name. Forgiveness probably wasn't even a thought where he came from.

What on earth happened to Ryoken before he wandered into Shirakawa?

Suddenly, Kiku's annoyed voice said, "Well, now that Takeru's okay, can we have lunch? My tummy's rumbling." Taken off guard, Crow laughed, and so did Aki. Things were definitely a lot livelier with the rascals around.

"You're right." Aki stood, hands on her hips. "We better get going before Crow and Ryoken duel anymore and forget about the time." Aki winked in Crow's direction. "Well, before Crow does."

Crow huffed. She didn't have to look adorable when pretending to insult him. Okay, maybe it was true though, especially if his four-hour dueling stints with Jack whenever he decided their house was worth visiting said anything. But, come on. Give the guy a break!

Aki only smiled. "It's my turn to make lunch, but I'll need some help," she said, looking expectantly at Kiku. Kiku gave a thumbs up, enthusiastically saying she'd help. She put Ryoken in a headlock, pushing Takeru aside. "Ryoken will help too!" she said, grinning.

Ryoken's eyes panicked as he tried making excuses, but Kiku wouldn't have any of it, like the Kamishirakawa she was. "You got to learn how to cook for yourself," she huffed, "so you can eat anytime you want!" Ryoken sighed. It was interesting, seeing Kiku and Ryoken interact. Crow had thought only Takeru had influence on Ryoken, but Kiku had just as much on him. Ryoko did say Ryoken had spent some time at the Kamishirakawa house, when everyone else thought he was missing. Maybe it had to do with that.

Crow smiled. These kids were something else.

"We'll be right back, Crow, Takeru," Aki said, hands on Ryoken and Kiku's shoulders. "It's a nice enough day, so we'll bring the food back out here when it's ready."

"Okay, Baa-baa!" Takeru grinned, and the three went back into the house. Crow noticed Takeru, his eyes soft, was staring especially at Ryoken.

"Takeru." Crow coughed once. Takeru snapped to attention, making his way over to him.

"Yes, Jii-jii?"

"Listen, Firecracker," Crow sighed, wrapping an arm around the boy's shoulder. "I wouldn't blame you if you were mad at me. For making Ryoken uncomfortable."

Takeru frowned, staring at the ground. "I could never be mad at you, Jii-jii," he said. A small weight fell off Crow's shoulder. "Some things you say come out of nowhere. But I know you dun mean any harm. Besides," Takeru folded his hands, "I never told you Ryoken dun like it when you bring up his papa."

Crow pulled Takeru closer. "You didn't, but Mommy did. Maybe not directly, but I still picked up on it." he said through his teeth. "And I still did that. I feel awful."

Takeru folded his arms against his chest. "Then that makes you the first adult to feel that way."

Crow tightened his hand around Takeru's shoulder. He hadn't expected that to come out of Takeru's mouth. "What do you mean?"

Takeru bit his bottom lip, the corners of his eyes tearing. Crow's mother hen instincts intensified.

"It's . . ." Takeru sniffled, ". . . it's awful at home, Jii-jii. Even with Ryoken back, Daddy and Ojii-chan keep yelling at Mommy, Mommy at them. How can Daddy expect me to study for that test with all that noise? He's unfair. He's so mean—" Takeru's small body shook in Crow's arms, Crow getting angrier with that no-good husband of Ryoko's by the second. "—he's so mean to Mommy. Why is he so mean to her? Why is Ojii-chan so mean to her? Family should love each other, right? I dun wanna go back home, Jii-jii. I dun . . ."

Crow picked Takeru up, Takeru settling in his lap, wrapping his arms around his stomach. "You can cry, Takeru. You're safe here."

And his grandson did just that, his body curling, face buried deep in Crow's shirt, his sniffles into wails.

Crow was livid. What kind of household were those jokers running where not even his own grandson could feel safe? Where Ryoko, his own daughter, his and Aki's pride and joy, couldn't even exist in peace? Unbelievable. Unforgivable.

But it was true too that Crow and Aki hadn't wanted to live under the same roof as that Homura Hisahito. Crow couldn't stand how everything had to be exact with that guy, how everything had to be in order—the order that Mr. Rule Man defined. Hisahito's parents might be able to put up with that, but he and Aki couldn't. After what they'd gone through as kids, as teenagers, living with a controlling nightmare was the last thing they had wanted.

Should Crow and Aki have just let Hisahito in, as demanding as he was? Would that have saved Ryoko the frustration, Takeru the heartache?

Takeru's wailing quieted down into whimpers as Crow smoothed the top of his head. Soon enough, the birds' chirping was the only sound. Crow pulled Takeru in for a proper hug, wishing he could take it all away from Takeru and Ryoko, only leaving happiness. But there was only so much he could do. And part of that meant being there for his grandson.

"Jii-jii," Takeru mumbled.

"What is it, Takeru?"

"Dun tell Mommy I told you?"

Crow smiled. "You got it, Firecracker."


Covered in grease, cooking oil, sweat, and bright blue barrettes Kiku just happened to have, Ryoken plopped in a chair in front of the stovetop as Aki finished the last of the meat, meat Ryoken's never seen before. Kiku stomped and stood in the small space between him and the stovetop, fists on hips.

"Who said you could take a break?"

Ryoken sighed. "My feet. They hurt."

"Oh come on!" Kiku whined. "It's only been five minutes!"

Aki laughed as she flipped the patties over. "Try an hour and a half. I think the boy deserves a break, Kiku."

"Okaaaaaay." Kiku moved away as Ryoken sighed. The patties sizzling filled the silence that followed as he took in a moment he thought he'd never have. Here he was, at two of his idols' house, being so close to them, interacting as though he's known them all his life. Well, he's known about them all his life, but to be able to talk with them as though they're family, something Ryoken's always pretended since he was very little . . . Ryoken smiled. It still didn't feel real.

He felt a hand rest on top of his head and looked up. Aki smoothed the top of his head.

"So, I take it you've never cooked before," she said.

Ryoken shook his head.

"No, and his papa's a lousy cook too, if you can even call him that," Kiku chimed in. "He's just had frozen stuff." Ryoken gasped.

"Kiku!"

Aki didn't need to know that much.

"Such a way with words as usual," Aki said, laughing. "But is that really true, Ryoken? Your family's only given you frozen food?"

Ryoken shifted in his chair. "Yeah. Father and his coworkers only heated frozen food for me. Takeout sometimes, but mostly frozen food."

Aki put the last of the patties on a small tray. "At least you're eating, but . . . it's good Kiku dragged you here." Ryoken looked up expectantly, but she said nothing further. Aki grabbed the tray and instructed Ryoken and Kiku to grab the other trays with the buns and fries.

"Come along now," Aki said. "The boys are waiting."

The three of them made their way back outside. Takeru was curled up in a ball against Crow, and Ryoken's heart skipped a beat. Takeru wasn't feeling unwell again, was he? But Takeru must've smelled the meat because he suddenly perked up, nearly knocking over his grandfather. Takeru's eyes had sparkles in them.

"Hamburgers?!"

Ryoken looked at the tray Aki was holding. So that's what those were?

"Yes, Firecracker," Aki laughed, as she set the tray. Ryoken also set the basket of fries he'd been holding. "Another one of your favorites. You haven't been with us for a while, so we wanted to go all out. I'm sure Ryoko and Harue don't feed you like this."

"No..." Takeru replied, suddenly withdrawn.

Before Ryoken could say anything, however, Kiku plopped next to Takeru and Crow, a tricksy grin on her face. Ryoken knew that look. He didn't like it.

"Baa-baa and I made the hamburgers, but—" Kiku made direct eye contact with Ryoken. A chill shivered down his spine. "—Ryoken made the fries. But this was his first time cooking, so no telling if they taste good or not..."

Ryoken huffed, his cheeks warming. She didn't have to put it like that. Ryoken half-expected Takeru to say, "I dun want them!" and turn up his nose. Instead, Takeru just stared. And stared. And stared . . . at him.

"If you have something to say, say it." Ryoken crossed his arms.

"You have . . ." Takeru's eyes were sparkling. " . . . things in your hair."

"Huh?" Ryoken raised an eyebrow.

Aki laughed as she set the swirly-decorated plates and metal silverware, a world of a difference from the paper plates and plastic utensils Father gave him.

"He likes your barrettes, Ryoken," Aki said. Ryoken's cheeks warmed. Shoot! He'd gotten so comfortable with his bangs pulled from his forehead, he'd forgotten Kiku had put those in.

Ryoken wanted to crawl in a hole and not come out. He moved his hand, but Takeru grabbed him by the wrist.

"You dun have to take them out," Takeru said, his eyes still sparkling. "You . . ." Takeru turned his head, mumbling something Ryoken couldn't understand, face turning red.

"What?" Ryoken scrunched his face. Crow laughed as he patted Takeru's back, Takeru getting redder.

"He said you look good with those things in your hair, Ryoken-chan," Crow said.

Ryoken blinked. Ryoken-chan? But Kiku wrapped an arm around him before he could think too hard about it.

"See, Ryoken-chan?" Kiku grinned. "You gotta play with your hair more. It's too pretty and fluffy not to!"

"Wh-Why are you calling me that?" Ryoken finally asked. But Crow and Kiku only grinned in unison.

"Okay, okay, let's stop ganging up on poor Ryoken-cha—whoops, Ryoken here and get eating," Aki said, clearly holding back a laugh. "You three must be starving, right?" Ryoken pouted. Why were the three of them calling him that? Wasn't -chan for girls? He wasn't a girl!

But after Ryoken and Kiku sat opposite Crow and Takeru, Aki set the hamburgers, complete with lettuce, slices of onions, pickles, and ketchup, Ryoken's stomach took over. The hamburgers smelled so good... It took everything Ryoken had to not start chomping on his food, especially when the seasoned fries that he helped to make were set.

"Thank you for the food!" Takeru called out, untangling his small body from his grandfather's arm. Ryoken, quietly, and Kiku, loudly, did the same as conversation gave way to eating and slurping.

"How is the food, everyone?" Aki asked.

"Yummy!" Takeru shouted, stretching his arms, almost whacking Crow in the face. Crow and Aki laughed. "The fries are super good too," Takeru added as he took a handful and dipped them in ketchup.

Aki smiled at Ryoken, and Ryoken returned with a confused smile. But a "hmmmmm" made Ryoken turn and look at Kiku, a frown on his face immediately. He knew that expression.

"Ryoken-chan made those, Takeru," Kiku said, not breaking eye contact with Ryoken. "Of course you think they taste good. Not bad for Ryoken's first time cooking, right?"

"Kiku!" Ryoken's face warmed, biting, muffling his scream in his hamburger. His eyes briefly met Takeru's. Takeru grinned.

"These are really good, Pretty Boy!" Takeru said.

Ryoken's heart pounded. What was going on? He usually wasn't this easily embarrassed over a compliment. But when it came from Takeru, Ryoken was so . . .

"Th-Thank you," Ryoken muttered, not looking at Takeru.

Thankfully, Crow changed the subject. "Ryoken, I take it this is your first time eating hamburgers and fries?"

"Yeah," Ryoken sighed. "I haven't had this at all before."

"Well," Crow said, "if you strayed from the city, finding stuff like this not in a fast-food joint is really hard. I got hooked on the stuff when I was in America. Such awful stuff in the meat, but it did the job. Even Jack, with his snooty taste, thought it was okay."

"America?" Ryoken raised an eyebrow. "You've been to America?"

"Sure have! Did a few Riding Duel and regular tournaments there. Real neat country to visit." Crow tossed a crinkled fry into his mouth. "Wouldn't want to move there though." He opened his mouth to say something else, but Aki gave him a look that snapped his mouth shut.

"You mean your favorite food is hot dogs, but you haven't had hamburgers and fries before, Ryoken?" Takeru tilted his head.

"Ah, so Ryoken-chan loves hot dogs, huh?" Crow dipped the last of his fries in ketchup. "We'll make some the next time you three rascals visit then."

The next time, huh... Ryoken smiled. If visiting Takeru's grandparents—his idols—was this much fun, then Ryoken could definitely do it again. As long as he stayed with the Homuras.

As long . . . as . . .

Ryoken's face fell. He'd gotten caught up again, caught up in something he couldn't have.

"What do you mean?" Aki asked, jolting Ryoken out of his thoughts. At first, Ryoken thought she'd read his mind, but then she continued, "You've never had hot dogs before, much less made them."

Ah, she was talking to Crow. Ryoken took a swig of his lemonade as Crow scratched the back of his head.

"I can look it up. It's not a big deal," Crow said. "It can't be more complicated than hamburgers."

Aki sighed. Kiku and Takeru laughed as they finished their food. The five of them carried on for a good while until Ryoken noticed dark clouds slowly rolling in, blocking the bright white and yellow sun. Within seconds, Ryoken felt water droplets on his hands.

"Oh no," Aki said, frowning, quickly covering up the leftovers. "It didn't say anything about rain today."

"Alright, everyone inside," Crow said as he slowly stood up. "Jii-jii and Baa-baa can take care of things here."

Takeru took off like lightning back inside the house, Kiku not far behind. Ryoken, however, stayed.

"Are you sure you don't need help?" Ryoken asked. The drizzle slowly turned into regular rain.

"We might be old, but we're still capable." Crow flexed a muscle. "Hurry inside now before you catch a cold."

Ryoken nodded as he ran inside.

By the time Crow and Aki stepped inside with the leftover lunch, the skies had opened, the rain difficult to see through from the windows. Thunder—Ryoken's newest word—continually rolled and lightning flashed. Ryoken couldn't help but stare. The weather was frightening, but it was also beautiful.

A whimper brought Ryoken back to the living room. Takeru was in Kiku's arms, and even Ryoken could see he was shaking.

"It's okay, Takeru," Kiku said. "It'll stop soon."

What, was Takeru spooked by a little rain? But Ryoken had no room to make fun of him. Father was a long distance off, but Ryoken . . . he admitted it. He was terrified of Father. As though at any moment, he could come and take Ryoken back to those cramped, lonely walls, cut off from the world altogether.

Ryoken didn't want that.

At least Takeru was spooked by something in front of him.

Ryoken walked over to Takeru and Kiku. Takeru looked up, his eyes on the verge of tears.

"Ry-Ryoken..." Takeru hiccupped. Ryoken mustered the softest smile he could, taking Takeru's hand in his. But, Takeru, unexpectedly, threw himself at Ryoken. Ryoken blinked, then looked at Takeru, face in his neck, then at Kiku, who gave a "I don't get it either" smile.

"Dun . . . Dun let the ghosts get me, Ryoken," Takeru said.

Ryoken blinked. Kiku too.

What?

Staccato laughter broke through the pales of rain and wind outside. Crow was walking towards the trio as he shrugged.

"Takeru," he said, "that's just something the other old man told you to get you to act right. You don't have to be scared."

Takeru stopped shivering, his whimpering lessening. But Ryoken frowned. What an awful way to tease someone. Even if Ryoken didn't think ghosts were real, he wouldn't mess with Takeru like that. He glanced at Kiku before his hand hesitantly stroked the back of Takeru's head. Such a weird gesture. But he didn't know how else to comfort the other boy.

But Takeru soon recovered, pushing himself from Ryoken's grip. "Thank you, Ryoken," he smiled, tears hanging from the corners of his eyes. Ryoken didn't know what he did exactly, but he only nodded.

"Looks like it'll storm for the rest of the day."

Ryoken turned. Aki had appeared with a tray of steaming tea, setting it down on the mid-sized glass table in the center of the gathering room. "Weather report says storms until tomorrow morning," she said.

"But we gotta get back!" Takeru said, saying exactly what Ryoken was thinking. "Mommy said . . ."

"I know, Firecracker, but we can't have you three being out when it's horrendous outside." Crow shook his head.

"But, Crow," Aki sighed. "Tamiko might let Kiku stay here, but Hisahito might not let Ryoken and Takeru do the same."

Crow put a hand to his forehead. "It doesn't matter what that numbskull thinks. He doesn't have them right now."

Aki looked over at the trio. "Could you three go into the kitchen? Jii-jii and I need to talk some things out."

"Okay!" Takeru belted out. Ryoken watched as Takeru grabbed his wrist, yanking him upward.

"W-Wait, Takeru," Ryoken said as he was pulled along, Kiku right behind them. When the three sat down in the kitchen, Kiku piped up, "Do you really think Jii-jii and Baa-baa will let us stay here?"

"They would, but the question is will Hisahito-san? Or Kamishirakawa-san?" Ryoken sipped his tea. The strawberry was very strong.

"Mama definitely will!" Kiku pouted. "And I'm sure Papa Homura will understand."

Ryoken wasn't so sure.

And from the way Takeru was oddly quiet, Takeru must've felt the same way. Even if that's true, Takeru was still a little too quiet. He's normally bouncing off the walls, not shutting up.

"Takeru?" Ryoken asked. "Everything okay? You're not talking a whole lot."

"Says the boy who doesn't talk at all," Kiku muttered, but Ryoken heard. He chose to ignore it.

"Uh-huh," Takeru said, rubbing his eyes. "Just . . ." he yawned, ". . . very sleepy."

Something in Ryoken told him that was a warning sign, but Ryoken shook it off. It's normal to feel sleepy after a huge lunch. Ryoken wasn't the most alert either.

Ryoken sighed, hoping the rain would let up soon.