Normal Human Teenagers
When Shiori came home from work and heard voices coming from the living room, she was so surprised that she stood stock still for several minutes, keys in her hand, concentrating on the noise. Shuichi was very rarely home from school this early. He couldn't be making that much noise by himself anyway-was the television on? He never watched television. What on earth...
Cautiously, Shiori went down the hall and peered around the doorframe into the living room. The sight that met her eyes stopped her dead in her tracks again-and then, slowly, put a smile on her face.
Shuichi and a dark-haired boy were sitting in front of the television and playing a video game-something violent about stealing things, she could never remember the name of it. Most of the noise she'd heard was the loud complaints of this boy, directed either at Shuichi or the characters on the screen. A third boy was sprawled on the ground next to them. He had a textbook and notebook in front of him but his attention was riveted on the video-game battle. Occasionally he added his two cents to the ongoing (and somewhat vulgar) commentary of the first boy.
Never-not once, in his entire life-had Shuichi brought friends home.
Shiori stood at the door, positively enchanted with the scene and unwilling to disrupt it by making her presence known. The dark haired boy's comments grew more and more colorful until, after a particularly violent video game explosion, he threw down his controller in disgust.
"Dude, you suck at this," the boy lying on the floor said immediately. "It's a good thing our real battles aren't like video games. We'd be dead."
"Shut up," the dark haired boy grumbled, getting up and aiming a kick at the other boy on his way to the couch. "It's your turn."
"Bout time! Watch out, Kurama. I, unlike Urameshi, know how to use a controller."
"So do I," Shuichi replied serenely. Shiori guessed the "Kurama" had been meant for him. "And I do have the home court advantage."
"Yeah, well I'm gonna kick the home court advantage's rear. Let's go!"
"Do you want me to check your problems first?"
"Didn't do any?" Shuichi guessed shrewdly.
The carrot top shrugged sheepishly. "Seriously, Kurama?" the dark haired boy said from where he was now sprawled on the couch. "Just so you know, normal human teenagers don't get together and do homework. They get together and play video games."
"Yeah. You wanna be a normal guy, right?"
Shuichi shrugged. "I was only offering."
"Only cause you want to delay the slaughter."
Shuichi smiled-such a smile! Shiori could swear she saw fangs in it, from her polite, reserved Shuichi. "That was, indeed, my intention. I thought you might want to retain your dignity for a little longer."
The boy on the couch snickered. "Okay, it's on!" the carrot top exclaimed, grabbing the controller.
Another violent video game contest began, complete with the dark haired boy's commentary. The carrot top wiggled around like the movement of his body would somehow affect the movement of his character onscreen, exclaiming occasionally. Shuichi's malicious grin lingered.
The whole scene was loud, undignified, and perfect. Shiori could hardly believe it. She worried so much about Shuichi being too solitary, never having friends. He was always so tense, so formal, so worried about her.
She'd never seen him looking so relaxed.
Until the boy on the couch spotted her. He jerked halfway upright, taking his feet off the couch. "Uh, hi, Minamino-san."
Shuichi's controller hit the floor. "Mother!" He looked frightened, like he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't have. "How long have you been there?"
"Oh, not long." Onscreen, Shuichi's character died a messy death, followed shortly by the other boy's character as he looked at her curiously. "I didn't mean to disturb your game."
Shuichi jumped to his feet, coming over to take her coat. "How long?" he asked again. His face was white.
Shiori felt her good mood drain away. Her boy was frightened. He'd been doing something he shouldn't have been. Sudden worried about drugs flooded her. "Not long," Shiori repeated, the smile she no longer felt frozen on her face.
There was a small, uncomfortable pause. Shiori broke it by gently reminding Shuichi, "Introduce me to your friends, dear." Her boy wouldn't normally have needed a reminder."
Shuichi seemed to come back to himself a little. "Yes, of course. Do you remember Yusuke?"
He indicated the dark-haired boy. Shiori looked at him, baffled. "I'm afraid not," she said apologetically, a little embarrassed.
"I brought him to the hospital once. You were very ill that day," Shuichi added, by way of excusing her lack of memory." And this is Kazuma Kuwabara. They go to Sarayashiki junior high."
"It's lovely to meet you. Again," Shiori added, a little flustered; Yusuke grinned to show he wasn't offended. Shiori felt a little calmer when she realized if Shuichi had brought Yusuke to visit her in the hospital, it was unlikely he was a drug dealer or other nefarious character. It must have been something more innocent Shuichi didn't want her to overhear; talk about girls, swear words, something of that sort. He was a teenager, after all. "Well," Shiori said, smiling warmly,
trying to dispel the discomfort caused by Shuichi's reaction. She could tell the other two boys were uneasy. "Would you like to stay for dinner? I was planning on ordering take out."
"Yeah!" the boys said, almost in unison. Shuichi smiled thinly. Confused, Shiori retreated, going upstairs to put her purse away and find the phone to order dinner. But instead of placing the call, she found herself creeping back downstairs again, too curious about what she might overhear.
There were voices, low and serious, coming from the living room-Shiori didn't dare get close enough to see, but she thought it was Yusuke who was talking. "Look, if it's a problem for you, we'll scram," he said, sounding annoyed. "But it shouldn't be a problem. I know you find ways to work things out around her. Neither of us is gonna say or do anything to blow your cover. Right, Kuwabara?"
"Right," the other boy said staunchly. "You need to relax, Kurama."
"Shuichi," Yusuke corrected. "See? I get the deal. But if you don't want us here we'll get out."
"No. I'd like you to stay." Despite her incomprehension of the conversation and its disturbing elements, Shiori was relieved to see Shuichi behaving politely. "I was just concerned with what she might have overheard, and very startled that she had come home without any of us noticing. Please just act normal, and I'll do the same."
"Then you gotta let me take your turn, 'cause me kicking Kuwabara's ass is normal."
"Hey! You just want another turn, you cheater. You lost fair and square to Kurama, it's his turn still!"
The conversation became an argument between the two, both of them ignoring Shuichi's protests that he would be glad to surrender his turn. Shiori moved away from the door and went to order dinner.
Shuichi's friends were on what Shiori gathered was better than usual behavior for them throughout dinner, and Shuichi seemed a bit more relaxed. Once Kuwabara started to call him by the nickname, Kurama, but stopped and corrected himself. Shiori pretended not to notice.
After the boys had left and Shiori and Shuichi were washing dishes, Shiori wondered how to broach the subject. It might all still be innocent, but the way Shuichi had instructed them to act normal, the way Yusuke had referred to blowing his cover, meant Shiori couldn't leave it alone. "Your friends seem nice," she started out hesitantly. "I was surprised that they're younger than you. How did you meet?"
"Mutual acquaintance," Shuichi replied.
"Anyone I know?" Shiori asked, without expecting a positive response. She didn't know anyone in Shuichi's life.
"No, I don't believe so." Shuichi hesitated. Shiori gave him a questioning look. "You were listening to us earlier," he said. "When you came home, and again shortly after. Did you hear something that upset you?"
Shiori felt herself flush. The way Shuichi put the question, so calmly, made her feel a little silly. And yet... "It just seemed like you were hiding something," she said, trying to make her tone as nonchalant as his. "I was worried. Is there something I need to know about?"
"Please answer one question, before I answer yours. Do you like Yusuke and Kuwabara?"
"Oh, yes," Shiori said, surprised by the question. Granted, both the boys seemed a little rougher around the edges than she would have expected her reserved, brilliant Shuichi to be associating with. But they were also the only friends he had ever invited into his home. "I like them very much."
Shuichi nodded. "Then I'll do it this way," he said, stepping forward so he was very close to Shiori and laying a hand on the side of her face.
"Shuichi?" Shiori felt a wave of tiredness coming over her, accompanied by confusion. "What are you doing?"
"I'm sorry," Shuichi said quietly. "I'm not ready to answer your questions. I know I have to tell you someday. But not today."
Shiori leaned into her son's touch, the tiredness sweeping over her. His other hand went to her waist, gently supporting her. Shiori could smell something sweet, and a vague sense of deja vu-like she was at once losing a memory, and remembering losing it before-came to her. "Shuichi?"
"I love you, mother."
"It was nice having your friends over yesterday," Shiori told Shuichi when she gave him his lunch for school the next morning. She recollected the pleasant dinner they'd all had together, although oddly she couldn't remember when the boys had come over. "Do you think they'll come over again soon?"
"Maybe." There seemed to be just a touch of reserve in Shuichi's smile, like there so often was. Just the slightest troubling hint that Shiori did not, could not, completely understand her son. "Maybe."