Home is Where the Stomach is
By Mrs. Strata
Sage strolled along the sidewalk, smiling as he turned the single red rose he was carrying between his fingers. He looked up to see Ryo, Kento, and Cye joining him from across the street.
"He ya Casanova!" Kento called.
"Ohayo Sage!" said Cye.
"Rowen's not with you?" Ryo asked.
Sage shook his head. "He wasn't at the spot we usually meet to walk here, so I figured he just-"
"Slept in again," the trio answered.
"Really, we need to find a way to break this habit of his before he ends up missing a day of school," said Cye.
"Like that would be a bad thing?" asked Kento. "Then the teachers wouldn't think he's so perfect.
"It's not his fault the teachers think he's wonderful because he's the highest scoring student in Han`a High," Ryo argued. "I'm sure if you were in his shoes you'd feel different." Unlike Kento, Ryo was aware of the torment Rowen received at the hands of some of the more vocal students at Han`a High, and how much he hated his rank in the school sometimes. He tried to change the subject, catching sight of the flower Sage had in his hand. "Who's that for?" he asked.
"Oh, this? It's for Venus. I figured it's the perfect gift to give her, right before I ask her out tonight."
"Um, don't you have a date with Ayako tonight?" Cye asked.
Sage frowned, suddenly remembering his promise the day before. He didn't know why, but Ayako didn't seem to interest him much anymore – in fact, she was becoming a bit more of an annoyance. "Chikusho!" Sage muttered under his breath. "I'll just have to ask her out tomorrow or Sunday."
Ryo opened his mouth to say that Venus had promised to spend the day studying with him tomorrow, and Sunday she had a "date" with Rowen, but then decided it would be best if he didn't speak for her.
"Here she comes," Kento pointed smugly. "Watching you strike out with her again will be funny!"
"Kento, get a life!" Sage snapped, before turning around to walk towards Venus. She was a few feet behind them, with her head to the ground, the wind tossing the bangs around on her forehead. "Venus?" Sage didn't think it would be good to scare her before asking her out.
She looked up and smiled. "Ohayo Sage," she said, bowing a little. "It's a nice day today, no?"
Sage nodded. "Where's Selena?"
"She had to be to school early today because she got into trouble again." Venus sighed, and pushed a wind tossed curl out of her face.
"I'm sorry to hear it. Venus, I wanted to ask you something yesterday, but you left." He tried his best to look hurt.
"I'm terribly sorry Sage, I didn't mean to leave like that. I thought I was upsetting your girlfriend."
"My girlfriend?!" Sage made a face, listening to Kento and Cye snicker in the background. "You mean Ayako? I'm afraid she is not, not will ever be, if I can help it, my girlfriend."
"Oh." Venus let her fingers brush up against the brick of the wall. She seemed unhappy about not having Selena with her.
"If I were going to have a girlfriend," Sage said with a smile, "she'd be more like you."
"That's kind of you, Sage. What is it you wanted to ask me?"
Sage started walking in front of Venus, holding the rose up to her face. "For you, although it's beauty dulls in comparison to yours."
Venus took the rose with a smile. "Thank you." Her smile widened as she looked over Sage's shoulder to see Kento and Cye gagging, and Ryo shaking his head.
"Before I ask you anything," Sage continued, "you'll promise you won't say no, because it would just break my heart-"
"You mean be bad for your image," Kento snickered.
Sage turned around briefly to stick his tongue out at Kento, before turning back to Venus. "As I was saying, it would break my heart if you said no."
Venus raised an eyebrow. "Well, I have to know what it is you're asking first, but I promise you, as long as it's nothing like having me jump off a cliff, I'll say yes."
"Great! Then you'll go out with me tomorrow night!"
Venus stopped, looking horrified. "Go-go out with you tomorrow?" She looked over his shoulder at Ryo again, her eyes begging for a way out. He shrugged, mouthing that he couldn't help her.
"What's wrong, Venus?" Sage asked. "You promised you'd say yes…"
"Yes, yes, I'll go out with you, but can I ask you to make it later in the evening, say seven-thirty? I have an appointment all afternoon and won't be home."
"Seven-thirty is fine," Sage's smile was huge as he put a finger under her chin. "See you then." He turned around and walked into the school yard.
Venus breathed a small sigh of relief and ran up next to Ryo. "Hiya!"
"Good save!" Ryo grinned. "I guess this means you have to be back home from my house earlier than we planned."
"You expected me to spend all day studying?" Venus teased.
"Ah, it's fun!" Ryo laughed, also joking.
Kento turned to Cye as they walked up the steps behind Ryo and Venus. "You think they'd be the ones going out," he commented.
Cye shrugged. "They're friends. I think Sage is happen to have 'won' Venus finally. Where is Rowen?"
Suddenly a dark shape with blue hair came speeding towards the school. Ryo, Cye, Sage, and Kento turned around to welcome him with their usual barbs at his lateness, when two students nearby whispered to each other, one sticking his foot out just as Rowen ran up the steps. Rowen yelped, him and his books sprawling out on the last step on the school. The students walked past him, smirking.
"What's the matter genius boy? Can't stand as well as you can suck up to the teachers?" the one sneered, before they left into the school, laughing.
"Rowen!" Sage ran over to help his friend up.
Ryo looked to the doors, his eyes dark with anger. "Those chimpira!" he hissed.
"Why did they trip Rowen like that?!" Venus asked, obviously upset as the others.
"Because they hate me," Rowen answered, looking up. "Or more accurately, they hate my intelligence. And I really don't blame them. I hate it too…" Rowen looked back to the ground, brushing off his shoe.
"You shouldn't," said Venus, picking up a couple of his books. "You have a gift."
Rowen laughed harshly. "Some gift."
"It is Rowen," protested Cye, helping Venus. "Come on, we'll be late." The group headed inside the school. Cye turned around as Kento didn't follow. "Are you coming?"
"Huh? Oh yeah, I'm coming."
"You didn't say anything. What are you thinking?"
"That I'm going to be in detention for the next week or so after I get done with school today."
"Hmmm, what's on the menu for today…" Kento mused, standing in the lunch line, tray in hand. "Maybe some of this, a little of that, hmmm, wonder what this tastes like…" He picked up a nikan, peeling it and biting into it. "Not too bad, I'll take a couple, this looks good, but I should see if it tastes all right-"
"Kento!" Cye yelled from behind him. "Will you quit picking at the food and just get something! You're holding up the line."
"Cye, selecting food takes time!" Kento whined. "Here, you'll buy this for me, won't you?" Kento put a sandwich on Cye's tray, which contained – in Kento's opinion – barely anything. No wonder the little guy was so slight built.
Cye frowned a little. "Everyday you pick stuff out, and everyday, half of it ends up on my plate. But," he sighed, "we're buds, so once again, I'll give in."
"Thanks so much!" Kento cried, his mouth full with a new item.
"Does he really do this everyday?" Venus asked Ryo, the two of them behind Cye.
"It's hard to believe," smiled Ryo, "but yeah, pretty much." He looked out to the crowded tables, spotting Sage and Rowen, already at their spot. He noticed Sage was sitting by Rowen, apparently talking with him about something. Probably what happened this morning, he thought. Ryo felt his anger flaring up again. He thought he knew the extent of Rowen's abuse by some of the students, but he's never seen them sink to physically hurting him. Weren't the verbal attacks, made almost daily at times, enough?! His grip on the tray tightened. It wouldn't happen again, Ryo would make sure of that.
"Yes, Sage?" Rowen looked up into Sage's worried face. It was then he realized he hadn't been eating, but stirring the food around on his plate.
"Are you okay? You're still upset about what happened earlier, aren't you? Please don't-"
Rowen held up a hand, silencing Sage with a smile. "That's not it Sage. I've been putting up with that for years. It lost its hurt a long time ago." That was a bit of a lie, but for the most part, Rowen had learned to care less about others' remarks.
"Then what is it?"
"Nothing. It's nothing," Rowen said quietly, pushing his food again.
"Yes, there's something wrong," Sage prodded gently. "It's about your dad, isn't it?" Sage almost wished he had not said anything. Rowen's face contorted into a mask or pain and sorrow, and it looked as if it was taking him a large amount of effort not to slap Sage for bringing up a painful subject – again.
"Yes," Rowen finally answered. "I hate the thought of going home, and finding him waiting to pick me up and take me away for a weekend in hell."
Sage sighed, for the millionth time, wishing there was something he could do to help his best friend. But he could not heal Rowen's wounds – especially when Rowen chose to keep them open. "I'm sorry," he offered lamely. He tried to be cheerful, draw Rowen away from thoughts of the end of school. "Hey, why don't I give ya a call this weekend? And did I tell you I finally got a date with Venus? I can't wait for that! I'll give you all the juicy details, okay?"
Rowen looked at Sage again, surprised. "You got her to agree to go out with you?" He smiled and so did Sage, happy he had managed to make Rowen forget – for a while anyway – their talk about his family. "Good job! Haha, I bet Kento was shocked. He swears up and down that Ry and Venus do more than study when she's over at his house."
Sage laughed, too. "Naw, they're too much alike to ever be a couple. Besides, she's mine now!" There was a sparkle in those violet eyes Rowen knew all too well.
"Kento! I can't believe you! I just spent one thousand and five hundred yen on a lunch of which half, no, most of it, was not mine!" Cye and the others were approaching the table, Cye and Kento having their usual spat about food.
"Ah, c'mon Cye!" pleaded Kento. "I'm a growing boy! I need this! I can't help it if my parents don't believe in giving me more than three hundred-some yen for lunch!"
"I'm just going to start packing mine," Cye grumbled. The group laughed loudly.
"So what were you two talkin' about?" Ryo asked, taking his seat.
Sage and Rowen exchanged a glance. "We were talking about my next track meet," Rowen lied.
"Cool! You're on track?" Selena asked, appearing with a lunch tray in hand.
Ryo chuckled. "He sure is! How do you think he makes it to school on time when he sleep in? He's probably got the fastest legs in Tokyo."
Rowen felt his cheeks burning. "I'm not really that fast…"
"That's amazing," Venus said. "hey, I need to ask you guys what other stuff the school offers. What are you all in?"
"Well…" Ryo thought for a moment. "There's the drama club, which Rowen, Sage, and I are in."
"I love drama!" Venus cried. "Could you help me get in?"
"Sure," Ryo answered.
"What about wrestling?" Selena asked. "Do you have that? I'd love to join."
The table was silent for a minute. "You're a girl," Kento snapped suddenly. "Girls aren't on the wrestling teams! You'd get your ass kicked."
"Shows what you know, fatty!" Selena shot back. "I happen to be one nasty fighter."
"Yeah, right," Kento snorted. "You?"
"Why don't I show you!" growled Selena, getting up.
"I'd like that!" Kento stood up too.
"Selena!" Venus yelled, standing up also. "Stop! I want to stay here, at this school! I don't want to move again! Don't get into any more fights!"
Selena blinked, then backed off. She would not do anything to make Venus unhappy. She would just have to take this over stuffed jerk out some other time. "Fine," she said stiffly. "l won't fight him." She turned around, starting to sit down again.
"Chicken," Kento muttered. "You're just afraid to fight me."
Selena stopped. Venus watched in horror as she got up again, facing Kento. Her eyes dark with anger. "I'm not afraid of anything you dumb ass!" she screamed, punching him in the face, hard enough to send him tumbling backwards.
"Selena NO!" Venus cried. The others stated at the two in shocked silence.
Kento recovered quickly, touching the blood flowing from his split lip. "Good job you little bitch," he muttered. He threw a punch of his own, sending Selena smashing into the lunch table.
"Back at yal" Selena hissed, striking Kento again. Venus suddenly leapt from the table, running out of the cafeteria.
"Venus!" Ryo yelled, getting up to follow her. "Venus, wait!" Venus ran ahead of him, seeming to ignore his plea for to her stop. Hot tears had already begun to spill down her cheeks as she reached Principal Hojo's office, pounding on the door loudly.
"Yes?" Hojo came to the door, surprised to find one of the new students sobbing bitterly. "Young lady, what is the matter?"
"There's a fight in the cafeteria! Please, stop it!"
Hojo frowned. "Right away!" He strode down the hall in the direction Venus and Ryo had come from, passing the youth on his way.
"Venus," Ryo said softly, gingerly putting a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, it'll be alright."
"You don't get it Ryo!" Venus' words were muffled as she put her head in her hands. "This is the fourth school we've been in since, since…"
"Since what?" Ryo asked.
Venus didn't answer, instead looking up as Principal Hojo dragged a very sullen and angry Selena and Kento back to his office. He stopped in front of her. "Thank you, Miss Yasu, for telling me about the fight. These two will be punished accordingly."
"Yes, sir." Venus mumbled. She glared at Selena, who wouldn't meet her gaze, her head lowered shamefully. Hojo took Selena and Kento into his office, the sound of the heavy door slamming, making Venus' heart sink.
A few uncomfortable minutes passed, Ryo staring at Venus. Since what? What happened? He thought, noting for the first time that those hazel eyes – usually so cheerful and bright, were now filled with grief. He turned around suddenly as someone behind him cleared their throat.
"Ryo, is she…?" Rowen trailed off, nodding to Venus. Cye immediately went to her side, taking her hand.
"I'm sorry about Kento," he apologized. "He's such an idiot! I'm sorry he provoked Selena like that. I'll make sure he tells the principal he started the fight so Selena doesn't get kicked out of Han`a High."
Venus smiled. "Thank you, Cye, but Selena's partly to blame for this too, even if it gets us kicked out of another school."
"No!" Ryo said fiercely. "We won't let you get kicked out. We'll make sure of that." The other three nodded.
"You can always stay here," Sage suggested. "I mean, you don't have to leave because of something Selena did."
Venus shook her head. "If Selena leaves, I leave. We've never been apart." And we never will be. She's all I have left… Venus thought sadly. The bells rang loudly, and the group broke up, walking off to their separate classes.
Cye took a seat under a large maple tree outside the school, waiting for Kento to get out. He would've gone home with the other four and left Kento to walk home alone, but since he was staying at his house, he had to wait. He was angry at Kento for starting another fight, this time involving someone innocent. Poor Venus, she'd seemed so upset. And Selena… Cye's thoughts wandered to the young girl who had taken Kento on without a second thought.
"She's got to be one tough cookie… and pretty, too…" Cye's cheeks flushed with color, embarrassed by his thoughts.
Cye's head snapped up as he watched Venus come down the school steps, Selena a ways behind her.
"Venus, wait up! I told you I'm sorry!" Selena pleaded. "What else do you want from me?!"
Venus whipped around to face her friend. "I want you to make a promise you'll keep for once! You lied to me Selena! You assured me you wouldn't get into a fight, and what do you do?! You beat up Kento!"
"You expect me to take the insults he was throwing at me?! I had to!"
"You didn't have to! If you would learn to control you anger... !" Venus clenched her fists and looked to the ground for a moment, trying to control her feelings. "I'll be home from Ryo's at eight. See you then."
"Venus..." Selena watched her walk off, then started in the opposite direction for their house.
Cye stared after her, then looked back to the school as Kento came out. He got up and brushed some leaves off his uniform before meeting up with his best friend.
"Man, can you believe I got a weeks detention?! This really sucks."
"It should be two!" Cye snapped. "Do you realize you could get Venus kicked out along with Selena?!"
"What? Naw, Venus isn't gonna pull up and leave just because Selena does."
"You didn't see her this afternoon! She was so upset about you starting that fight with Selena that-"
"Hey, I didn't start that fight! She did!"
"You did Kento! And Venus said if Selena leaves, she will too."
"I don't know," Cye took a deep breath, relaxing some and pondering the question. "Ryo mentioned something about her saying this wasn't the first school they'd been kicked out of... maybe Venus just doesn't want to be where Selena isn't."
"Why ? I mean, talk about being attached to someone."
"This coming from the guy who wouldn't go to school in Yokohama, but instead rides the train to this school and back home everyday," Cye smiled.
Kento opened his mouth, then closed it, smiling also. "Yeah, but we've been friends forever."
"And how do you know they haven't been? Which reminds me, we'd better hurry if we want to make it in time to catch our ride home."
"Yeah, you're right." The two started to walk away when one of the students who had tripped Rowen earlier came walking past them. Kento's eyes suddenly narrowed and he turned around. "Hey!"
"What?!" the kid yelled back, scowling at him and Cye.
"I got a bone to pick with you geek, about my friend."
"What, the Brain? Come on, don't tell me you didn't enjoy that!" the kid scoffed.
"Actually, what I would enjoy more is seeing you with a few teeth missing."
"Kento," Cye warned, coming between him and the boy. "I don't think you need to be in anymore fights today."
"Hey, Gyaruo-kun, stay out of this," the kid barked. "This is a matter that concerns us men, not people like you, whose own fathers ditch them 'cause they act too much like a lady!"
Cye drew in a sharp breath, feeling the words cut through his chest like a dull knife. The name-calling was bad enough. but the comment about his father...
"That's it!" Kento bellowed, angrily pushing Cye aside. "It's one thing to attack Rowen, but mess with Cye and you get your ass kicked TEN times worse!" With that he launched into a flurry of blows, him and the kid tumbling around the yard. Cye was sorely tempted to let Kento knock this one up good, but decided not only was he already in enough trouble, but they were going miss their train if they didn't leave now.
"Kento! Come on, people like him aren't worth your effort."
Kento drew back, then straightened up, staring down at the boy. "Don't you ever touch Rowen, or make another comment about Cye again, or next time, I may not know when to stop," he threatened. The two turned, and walked away from the school area, and out onto the street.
Cye grinned a little, as he looked at Kento's cut face and torn uniform. "Bad form Kento. You're better than that."
"Well, he made me mad!" Kento growled. "It doesn't matter that much that I missed getting all my punches in, does it?"
"You should remember to always keep your head in a battle." Cye reached up to wipe away some of the blood. "I'll clean you up when we get to the train, okay?" Cye had made it a habit to always carry a few first-aid supplies in his school case, especially with Kento.
"Yeah. Say, what time is it?"
"About a quarter 'till five, why?"
"Oh man! We're gonna miss the train! Come on!" Kento grabbed Cye's wrist and sprinted down the street.
"Come on Cye, you're lagging!" Kento teased, as the two wove their way around the crowds in Yokohama.
"Sure, pick on me! You know I'm not used to the city."
"Even after all these years of coming home with me?"
"I don't live here," Cye pointed out. "Living here would be different. Besides, I know some stuff."
"Yeah, okay," Kento said distractedly. He grabbed Cye's arm and made a sudden right turn down an ally.
"Where are we going Kento?"
"Through the back of the restaurant. I don't think it would do the business good to have Ma yellin' at me in front of everyone because I got in another fight." Kento slid open the door to the kitchen of his parent's restaurant, calling for them on the way in. "Ma! Pop! I'm home!"
"Kento!" A short, plump. and very pleasant looking woman, ran around from behind a floor to ceiling cabinet. She rushed forward and grabbed him in a hug. "And Cye!" She let go of her son and folded her adopted one in an equally crushing embrace. "My, you get so big everytime I see you! How is your mother and sister doing?"
Cye smiled a little, trying not to squirm. "They're fine, Aunt Rei Fuan."
"I swear, I've been meaning to get over and see your mother, but the restaurant is so busy this time of year..."
"It's okay, Ma, I'm sure Aunt Mouri understands," said Kento. "Where's Pop?"
"In front, working. You were in another fight today weren't you?" It was more of a statement than a question, as it was easy to see Kento had been tussling.
"Um, well, maybe a tiny one," Kento admitted.
"Cye, how bad was it?"
"Uh, well..." Cye looked to Kento, then back at his mother. He decided it would be best to tell a half-truth for now. "He did get in a fight, BUT it was for a good cause. See, there were these kids that tripped Rowen today on his way to school, and Kento wanted to-"
"The nice young man who's so smart? Light blue hair?" Cye nodded to his aunt's questions. "Why in Buddha's name would they do that?"
Kento rolled his eyes. "Come on Ma, why do you think?"
"Don't you get smart with me young man!" his mother warned playfully. "I taught you to respect to your elders, and if you don't remember that, then perhaps you need to skip a meal or such, hm?"
"Ma!" Kento protested loudly.
"Arisa, we need more-" An equally plump and cheerful looking man rounded the corner and stopped. "Koban wa boys! It's about time you got here. Cye," he came up and smacked the young man on the back so hard he about fell over, "ready to help me with the cooking?"
"Ye-yes, Uncle Rei Fuan, I'm looking forward to it," Cye gasped.
"Kento, get into another fight, did you?"
"Good boy! Who was it this time huh? Some punk-" his father stopped when Arisa gave him a nasty look.
"Husband, do not encourage his fighting! Well, in this case it was okay, but other times!"
"Hush Wife, we're Wasting time here! Later we can discuss this. Kento, Cye, get you an apron and come to the front!"
"Yes sir!" the two chorused, running off.
"Hmmm?" Cye looked up from where he lay on the floor, doing his homework.
"I can't figure out this equation," Kento complained, plopping down next to his friend. "I've worked it three times and I still can't seem to get the right answer."
Cye leaned over, inspecting Kento's work. "Well, here's your problem," he said, pointing with his pencil. "You did the equation backwards."
"Oh," Kent grinned sheepishly. "Right." He re-did the problem, then turned back to Cye, poking him in the arm. "Check it."
Cye looked up again, and silently reviewed the work. "You're still tripping up on the last part. Here, you have to do it like this," he pulled Kento's paper over on top of his and worked the problem out on the margin. "There, see?"
"Yeah, thanks buddy!" Kento gave Cye a good slap on the back, and took his paper away. "What would I do without you?"
"Flunk?" Cye teased.
"Haha, you think you're so funny," Kento sniffed.
"Yes, I do."
"Hey, why didn't ya tell Ma that I got into more than one fight today'? It's not like you to lie." Kento relished Cye's wince.
"It wasn't a lie! It was a half-truth. And I did it for two reasons. One, I was afraid if I told her, you'd be grounded and I'd get sent home-" Kento opened his mouth to say something, but Cye shushed him. "And two, she would've been furious if she'd found out your other fight was with an innocent girl-"
"Innocent?" Kento sputtered angrily. "God, she's really messed you up hasn't she Cye?!"
"I can't believe I'm losing my best friend to some crush on a bitchy little-"
"Hold on a minute Kento!" Cye cried, his cheeks colored with embarrassment and rage. "You're not losing me! And I never said I had a crush on her! AND she's not a bitch!"
"That's your opinion!" Kento spat. "I don't even know what it is you see in her!"
"I never knew what it was you saw in my sister!" Cye returned darkly. Two years earlier Kento had nursed a deep crush on Sae, and Cye suspected he still liked her - although Cye couldn't understand why.
"Why you...!" Now it was Kento's turn to be red with embarrassment. "I don't even like her anymore!"
"Or so you say," Cye taunted, sticking his tongue out. Kento said no more, instead leaping at Cye and throwing him backwards. The two tumbled around the room, fighting and cursing each other, knocking over a lamp, clock, and books in their scuffle. Finally, the two exhausted boys ﬂopped over on the floor, panting.
"Wha-what... was it... we were... fighting over again?" gasped Cye.
"I do-don't... remember..." Kento puffed. He sat up. "You're getting better."
"Naturally. I have a good sensei," Cye smiled.
Kento chuckled. "I don't know whether to be pleased or worried." Cye joined him in a few minutes of laughter at the joke. He then cleared his throat, and ran a hand along the back of his auburn head.
"Well, whatever we were upset about, it's cool now. Friends?" He held out his hand
"Always." Kento took the hand and they did their secret childhood handshake, before turning back to their homework.
"Husband, Husband!" Arisa rushed into their bedroom, an excited light dancing in her eyes.
"Yes, Wife? What is wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong. Come see Cye and Kento."
"Are they still up?"
"No… Oh never mind!" Arisa huffed. She turned and left, shutting the door behind her. He most likely would not appreciate it anyway, she thought, opening the door to Kento's room again. She smiled at the sight of the two boys, fast asleep in Kento's bed. Cye had most of the pillows, using them to shield his ears from Kento's constant, opened-mouthed snoring and Kento had practically all of the single blanket they shared. Cye shifted and reached over, grabbing a handful of blanket and pulling it all onto his side. Kento did not protest at first, but then wrinkled his nose, yawned, and snatched the covers back, rolling over to curl up in them. Cye muttered something in his sleep and kicked Kento in the leg, who snorted, but did not wake up.
Arisa giggled, then went into the hall and pulled an extra blanket out of the closet. She tip-toed back into the room and draped it over Cye. After giving both boys a last, loving look, she quietly left them to their slumber.