Hidden Scars by Maya Perez
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             A sharp, piercing sound awakened Joe hours later.  He sat up, feeling groggy and tired, and looked for the source of the annoying sound when it didn't go away.  As his gaze moved about the room, he realized that the lights were on.  The insistent sound blared in his head and he was able to trace it to an alarm clock on Ken's bureau.  He glared in annoyance toward the owner's bed only to find that it was empty.  Joe got out of bed, cursing beneath his breath as he moved to shut the annoying thing up.

             Impatiently, he smashed down on all the alarm's buttons not sure which one would shut it off.  After about a minute or so, he was finally able to find the right combination and got it to stop.  The digital face on it read six a.m.  Joe was half tempted to tear the thing from where it sat and hurl it across the room.  He knew he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep now.  Once he got awake enough, the task was almost impossible.  He'd make sure the little runt paid for this.

             Joe stomped over to the bathroom, but didn't find Ken there either.  He locked the door and took care of his business before stomping back into their room.

             Joe got his clothes from the dresser and jumped on the bed.  As he changed, he noticed that Ken seemed to have made his bed before he left.  Was that something they were supposed to do?  Joe eyed his own bed with misgivings.  The maids had always made his bed back home.  Rachel had always done it for him at the hospital.  He'd watched the process once or twice out of boredom, but had never actually done it.  Would the doctor be inspecting their rooms?  No one had mentioned it, but that didn't mean anything.  Ken wouldn't have done it unless they had to.  He was trying to make him look bad.  He'd show him!

             After several tries, Joe was able to get his bed to somewhat resemble Ken's.  Still not entirely satisfied with it, he left it alone, not sure he could get it to look much better.  Joe ran into Nambu as he made for the stairs.

             "Ah, there you are!  I was just coming to wake you.  I'm afraid I forgot to go over the schedule with you last night to let you know when to get up.  I guess it didn't matter though, did it?"  Nambu gave Joe a small smile.  "Feeling up to some breakfast?"

             Joe nodded and followed him down.  A schedule, eh?  Sounded like things would be a little less loose than they'd been at the hospital.  Had the mama's boy set the alarm to help him rather than annoy him?  Nah.

             Ken was at the table in the kitchen busily eating when the two of them walked in.  An old, wiry woman was there humming to herself as she dumped a second set of hot cakes onto Ken's plate.

             "Ah, Mrs. Pham, let me introduce you to my new ward, Joe Asakura."  Nambu led Joe forward where he could be seen.  "Joe, this is Pho Pham, our gracious cook."

             The old woman looked Joe up and down before giving him a gap filled smile.  "Good morning, young man.  Please sit down, your breakfast has been getting cold waiting for you.  You too, Kozaburo.  Sit, sit."  She shooed them both toward the table.

             Mrs. Pham looked to be over seventy going on three hundred.  Her small face was a mass of deep wrinkles, her hair a white gray which had been done up in a braid that ran down to the middle of her back.  She wore an old style, dark blue ao dais, Vietnamese dress, with the traditional long tunic with the slits on the side worn over loose trousers.  She put more food in all their plates and then hovered over them as they ate.

             "Mrs. Pham is a nutritionist as well as an exceptional cook.  She'll be looking after your diets and make sure that you're eating right."

             "And I'll also be making sure that you eat at least one decent meal a day, Kozaburo."  Pho leveled her spatula in his direction.  Joe almost burst out laughing as he saw the doctor actually blush.

             "Ah, yes, thank you, Mrs. Pham.  I don't know what I'd do without you."

             "Died long ago of malnutrition, that's what!  At least you had the good sense to get me to help you with these young ones."

             "Ah, yes."  Nambu seemed to decide suddenly that his plate needed his undivided attention.

             Joe ate his hot cakes with relish.  Nutritious or not, the quality of the food had sure improved over what he'd gotten over at the hospital.  Looked like there might be some bonuses to coming here after all.  Joe reached out for his glass of grape juice when he felt somebody's eyes on him.  Looking up, he spotted Washio staring at him.  As soon as he had, the other boy looked away.  Joe would have to see if the bonuses would make up with having to put up with him.

             Mrs. Pham kept putting food on Joe's plate until he finally couldn't take eat anymore.  "Come on, boy.  Just a few more.  You've got to get some more meat on those bones."

             A shiver coursed down Joe's spine.  Alan's mom had always told him exactly the same thing whenever he'd eaten over.  It didn't feel right that anyone but her should do that.  Joe shoved his plate away.  "I've had enough.  Thank you."

             Pho's brow rose at his tone, sensing that something had just gone wrong.  "Okay then, I'll just make sure you make up for it at lunch."  Pho turned away and planted what she'd planned for Joe over on Nambu's plate.  The doctor groaned silently, but ate what he'd been given.

             As soon as Mrs. Pham would let them go, Nambu took the two boys up to his office on the third floor.  The room appeared to take up the full third story, yet at the same time felt crowded.  There were books on shelves along the walls as well as rows of file cabinets.  There were two desks in the room, one occupied almost entirely by a computer.  The other, the larger of the two, was centered prominently on the far left.  Centered in the room and facing the second desk were four leather chairs.  Nambu motioned the two boys to go there.

             "All right then, gentlemen, let's get down to business."

             Joe sat down in the wide chair, his arms crossed, already sure that whatever Nambu had in mind wouldn't really be business.

             "As I mentioned to you earlier, Joe, I've worked up a schedule that you and Ken will follow during your stay here.  The two of you have progressed enough that we can finally start concentrating on the real things you need to learn."  Nambu settled back comfortably in the chair behind the desk.

             "You'll both be expected to rise at six and be down for breakfast by six thirty.  At seven thirty, you're to go down to level two for shooting practice until eight thirty.  After that, you'll report to level one for weight training, calisthenics, and martial arts depending on whatever your sensei has set for that day.  Lunch will be served promptly at noon.  You're to hit the books from one till four and then go back downstairs for more physical training.  Dinner will be served at six thirty.  After that, the rest of the evening is yours as long as you turn in by ten."

             The hospital's schedule had definitely been a lot looser.  Great.  Joe scrunched down in his chair.

             "You'll stick to this Monday through Saturday, but Sunday is all yours.  You'll each get a weekly allowance and I'll try to make myself available for you on that day to take you out and spend it if you so desire."  Joe was sure that the expenditures would pend on conditions and be highly monitored as well.  He sighed.  He had the sudden sinking feeling that he would end up with a lot less freedoms here than he had at the hospital.

             "Ken's already been on this schedule for a couple of weeks, so Joe, please check with him if you have any questions."  Nambu stood up.  "I will preside over the shooting practice.  Mrs. Pham's husband will watch over your physical training."  He came around the desk.  "Should we go get started?"

             Nambu led the two boys down to the basement.  "Joe, have you had much experience with guns?"

             Joe stared at Nambu wondering if he was asking this more for Ken's benefit than his own.  From the things Nambu had already seemed to know about him, surely he already knew the answer to this as well.  "Sure, I know a little."

             As it turned out, compared to Ken's knowledge and experience, Joe was a veritable expert.  Early on, Joe's father had made sure that he'd learned to handle himself around guns.  Through his tutelage Joe had come to respect them, and to fear them a little. 

             First, Nambu walked them through the steps of proper gun care.  It wasn't until almost the end of the class that they were actually allowed to shoot at the targets.  Ken was able to hit his target all six times, but all his shots fell in the outer rings.  Joe took his stance just as he'd been taught and fired off his rounds.  To his shock, he found that he'd missed the target twice.  Even when he'd first started learning how to shoot he'd never been this bad!  He'd never avenge his parents with a skill like this.  Stubbornly, Joe reloaded his weapon and continued to fire until their time was up.

             After target practice, Nambu led Ken and Joe to a changing/shower room up on the first level.  He showed the two of them where to get sets of exercise clothes and then walked them over to the row of lockers and benches so that they could get changed.  Joe chose a spot and paid no attention to Ken as he undressed.  He was stuffing his folded clothes into the locker when he noticed Ken staring at him.  "What are you looking at!"

             Ken's blue eyes quickly moved away.  His face turned bright crimson.  "N - nothing."

             Joe looked down in the direction of Ken's previous stare and saw the pink hairless scars that covered his legs and thighs.  Was that what the mama's boy had been looking at?  Joe had forgotten he even had them.  He risked a glance at the Japanese boy's legs and other than for some scabs on his

right knee he saw that they had no scars at all.  Maybe he was just jealous because he didn't have any of his own.  Joe had collected quite a number of them before these had ever come along thanks to his parents' murderer.  It only proved again how soft Washio really was.

             Joe put on the gray pants and top that had been given to him.  Both were extremely baggy but also didn't seem to hamper his movements at all.

             "Hurry up in there, you two!"


             The two of them rushed to meet Nambu outside.  "Come on, let's go meet your new sensei."

             Nambu led them off to a matted room not too far from there.  "Good morning, sensei, I hope we're not late."

             "Ah, Nambu Hakase!"  A wizened, bald headed old man turned to face them and bowed.  Nambu and Ken immediately returned the gesture, their bows lower than his.  Joe moved to follow suit.  A sensei, a real sensei!  Now they'd get down to some serious fighting lessons.  Joe grinned inside -- about time!

             "Please come in, boys!"  His smile was as gap filled as his wife's.  "Come in, come in."

             Nambu remained by the door as both boys went inside.  "Call me if there's any problems.  I should be up at headquarters all day if you need me."

             "There will be no problems.  Do not worry.  Have a productive day."  The two men bowed to one another again before Nambu took his leave.

             "Sit, boys, sit."  Pham waved them down and Ken immediately did so.  Joe followed more slowly, wondering how they were going to learn anything about martial arts sitting down.  "As you both know, Nambu Hakase has asked me to oversee your training in order to help you achieve your maximum physical and mental potentials."  Pham's accent was thicker than his wife's, but he

spoke clearly and slowly.  "Since the two of you have not worked together before and I need to measure Joe's abilities, I'll be putting the two of you through a number of katas and other exercises so we can all find out where each of us is at.  Ken, you will go first."

             "Yes, sensei."  Ken stood up and bowed.  He then moved out toward the center of the room and took a ready stance.  At Pham's signal, Ken moved through a number of katas that the sensei called out to him.  Most of them, Joe was already pretty familiar with.  Much to his surprise, however, the mama's boy went through them with a good amount of grace and precision.  After executing all that Pham decided on for about ten minutes, it became Joe's turn.

             Joe took his place in the middle of the room and poised himself to begin.  As he had during his training sessions at the hospital, Joe let his anger for his enemies rise inside him and pretended that every move he made was aimed at his parent's murderers.  He lost himself in the moment until he

 was done.

             "Very good, Joe.  Thank you.  Now please sit."

             Joe glanced at the old man, hearing the words yet seeing something in his eyes that didn't agree with them.

             "I have decided that today we will spend our time learning about centering our ki, or inner selves.  Only clear thoughts lead to victory.  Anger, hatred, petty jealousies, these emotions cloud the mind and can lead a warrior into making mistakes."  Joe noticed how the sensei's almond eyes had locked on his.  "We will learn how to put those things aside and gain true balance and therefore mastery over ourselves."

             For the next couple of hours, the three of them did nothing but sit and try to clear their minds.  Ken seemed to take to meditation like a fish to water.  Joe, on the other hand, couldn't keep his mind clear of distracting thoughts.  He had even less success as his frustrations over his inability grew.  What the hell did he need to do this for anyway?  He was here to learn how to fight!  He stomped angrily out of the room the moment they were dismissed.

             Their sensei was waiting for him outside of the changing room when he came out.

             "Young Joe, you left in such a hurry.  Yet I wanted to talk to you."  Joe sighed at this and leaned back against the wall wondering what the old man wanted.  "You did not get far today, but that will improve.  Do not let it discourage you."

             "Meditation is stupid.  It's a total waste of time!"  Joe glared at Pham, daring him to dispute it.

             "You are wrong, young Joe.  Meditation helps keep the mind clear, the ki balanced.  You will see.  For though your body is strong and your technique good, you lack balance.  And without balance, you cannot go higher.  If you do not try and learn, Ken will soon leave you far behind."  Pham half

bowed toward him and shuffled past him into the changing room.

             Joe swept his wet hair away from his face, watching the way the old man had gone.  Surely the old man was full of it!  That mama's boy wouldn't get better than him just because he couldn't center his mind, right?  Then he remembered the fluid grace Ken had shown in doing his katas.  No, surely

--  Joe was distracted as he heard Pham's voice echo from the changing room. 

             "Do you want to tell me about the pain now, Ken?"

             "P - pain?"

             Without being aware of what he was doing, Joe leaned closer to the entrance so he could hear better.

             "I have watched you train now for almost two weeks, child.  I know how you move.  Though you would have fooled the doctor had he been here, I am not he and I saw."  The sensei's accent was thicker than before.  "You've been hurt.  It showed in your movements.  You faltered here and there and it corrupted your flow.  Show me where you are hurting.  I want to see."

             Ken's response was almost inaudible.  "Y - yes, sensei."

             Joe ached to peek inside.

             "Ah, bet those smart."  Joe heard Ken gasp.  He guessed that the old man had poked at one.  "What happened?"

             "I - I fell out of bed last night.  There were some books on the floor and I hit them when I fell."  Ken's voice shook as he spoke.  Joe was sure he'd never make a good liar.

             "I see.  Maybe Pho-chan put a little too much curry powder in the casserole last night.  I'll talk to her.  She can sometimes be overly fond of curry.  Meanwhile, I want you to stay here while I get some salve for that.  It'll help it heal."


             Joe took off for the stairs not wanting to be caught eavesdropping.

             The mama's boy had lied for him again.  Joe wasn't sure how to feel about it.  He put it aside for now and made his way upstairs.

             Mrs. Pham had already overloaded Joe's plate with strange thin noodles over a bed of lettuce and bean sprouts as well as pieces of grilled chicken, and poured over it all a thick sweet and sour sauce by the time Ken made it over to the kitchen.  Joe ignored him, preoccupied with how he was going to possibly eat all the food.

             Pham joined them and his wife for lunch.  Though the old couple ate nowhere near as much as they pushed on the boys, the two kept themselves occupied by grinning at each other like young lovers from across the table.  Joe found the twin hole-filled smiles a little sickening, but was smart enough to keep his opinions to himself.

             "Here, boys, Kozaburo left these for you."  Pho pulled down a couple of sheets of paper that had been hung with magnets to the refrigerator door.  "They're your assignments for this afternoon.  He said that the two of you could use the study if you wanted.  Your books are there."  Joe noticed with chagrin that Ken eagerly reached for his assignment sheet.  He would!

             The study turned out to be a forty by forty room with a high vaulted ceiling.  Shelves covered every wall, most of the room's light coming from lamps and sky lights.  Large, comfortable leather chairs were set in strategic corners about the room.  Two stacks of books as well as pencils and papers had been left on a small table by the door.

             Ken grabbed his stack and quickly made himself comfortable in one of the large chairs.  Joe, on the other hand, took his books and headed right back out the door.


             Joe disregarded Ken's startled call and quickly made his way to their room.  He plopped the books on top of his desk and sighed.  It looked like he'd have to be on his own for this from now on.  There was no way he'd be asking Washio for help.  He wasn't too thrilled about this though.  He was

sure he'd be praying for Rachel's tutoring before long.  Sadly, Joe glanced toward his bed and the photos he'd hidden there.  He took a step toward them.

             With a snarl, he forced himself to turn away, cursing at himself.  Fool!  What would looking at those now help with anyway!  He needed no one!  He had to depend on himself alone!  Gruffly, Joe forced himself to sit down at the desk and take a look at Nambu's sheet. 

             By four, Joe was more than ready to stop studying.  He had a light headache that had been hanging around for the past hour.  He tried his best to pay it no attention.  Nambu's assignments never seemed to get easier, just more confusing.  What did he need to know all that crap for anyway?

             Joe heard someone else come into the changing room and looked up.  Ken seemed as content as ever as if the previous three hours hadn't been taxing at all.  Damn him!

             Pham kept their exercises light, mostly taking the time to school them in proper warm ups and stretching.  Joe found the whole ordeal boring to the extreme.

             Dinner was lavish -- salad with a strange sweet vinegar dressing, a thick soup that Joe was hard pressed to identify, followed by pot roast, russet potatoes, and several other vegetables.  Nambu joined them late, which earned him a stern look from Pho.  Silently, she piled his plate high and set it before him.  "This will not do, Kozaburo.  You must set a example for the children."

             His cheeks turned red.  "I apologize.  I tried to get away as soon as I could."

             Joe hid a smile finding the whole ordeal immensely amusing.  Seeing the mighty Nambu so easily humbled was just too good a thing.  Pho raised an eyebrow in his direction.  "Joe, you look like you need a few more potatoes." 

             Joe suddenly didn't find the whole thing so amusing anymore.

             Pham and Ken were eventually released, leaving only Nambu and Joe under Pho's vigilant gaze.

             "So, Joe, how was your first day?"

             Joe shrugged.  "It was okay."  He stared at the piece of potato at the end of his fork and wondered if he would explode if he ate it.  He was so full already, he was feeling ill.

             "I see."  Nambu pushed his food around his plate as if it might somehow go ahead and eat itself.  "Learned anything?"

             Joe shrugged again.  He was sure that if he told the doctor that he'd learned nothing and that the whole day had been a waste, he wouldn't believe him.  He continued to eye the potato with chagrin.

             "All right, Joe, you can go now,"  Joe got up before she could decide to change her mind.  Nambu started rising as well.  "Kozaburo, you stay."

             Joe got out of there fast.

             He hesitated in the hallway trying to remember their schedule.  If he remembered right, it was a free period.  With a grateful sigh, he slowly made his way upstairs, his bloated stomach making him unwilling to do much of anything.  He was sure that after tonight, his stomach would never be the

same again.


To be Continued...

Hidden Scars pt. 3



Written by Gloria Oliver

Input, editing, pushing by Wendy "It's all your fault!" Dinsmore




             Joe hesitated at the door to his room as he spotted Ken already inside.  From what he could see, the other boy looked busy building some kind of intricate model plane.

             Not sure of where else to go, Joe made himself go on in.

             "Oh, hi, Joe."

             Joe ignored the other boy and headed straight to his own bed.  He lay down and focused his eyes on the ceiling, trying not to groan as his dinner settled in his stomach.

             By the time ten o'clock came around, Joe had become uncomfortably familiar with the room's ceiling.  Worse, instead of having gotten sleepy from the boredom, he found himself intensely alert.  He got up, his stomach more at ease, and changed into his night clothes.  He watched with mild curiosity as Ken carefully put his model away, making sure that every piece got put back in the box.  Then, like a good mama's boy, he cleaned off the desk and put all his tools away.

             "What are you making anyway?'

             Ken turned around to look at him, surprise and perhaps something more filling his eyes.  "Oh, it's, it's a plane, a World War I prop.  Would you like to see it?"

             Joe was turned off by the open eagerness in the other's face.  "Naw, I don't think so."  He got into bed and shut Ken out.





             Over the next few days, the routine that had been established the first day stayed pretty much the same.  It slowly came to grate on Joe's nerves.  Also, unlike at the hospital, here he found that he rarely had a moment alone.  He didn't like it.  To make things worse, no matter how much he ignored him, Washio kept trying to find ways to make friends.  Was the mama's boy so stupid he hadn't gotten a clue yet?  His mere presence came to be enough to stand Joe's nerves on end.

             Having nothing better to do, Joe took to exercising during his free time.  He sorely missed the open roof of the hospital, a place that had been his alone.  The sleepless hours and bad dreams continued to plague him sporadically.  The only bright spot was that it looked like that first night had taught the mama's boy to leave him alone at night.

             Yet, overall, the restlessness that he'd hoped would be alleviated by the move to Nambu's place soon came back with even more force than before.  After almost a week, he'd yet to feel that he'd made any progress toward his goal since getting there.  But no better way for him to try and get what he wanted had presented itself to him.  Sooner or later though, he knew he'd reach the breaking point unless he found a way to let it go.





             Joe sat up in bed, gasping for air as the ghosts of cold dead fingers faded from his throat.  Reality slowly reasserted itself back into his consciousness.  The room solidified around him until he knew where he was once more.

             Joe stumbled out of bed and made his way toward the bathroom.  He glanced at Ken's clock on the way out and saw that it was almost six.  With a tired sigh, he quietly opened the room's door.  As he stepped out, he felt something strange poke at his foot.  He looked down.  There were two envelopes on the floor.  One had his name on it, the other Ken's.

             Joe bent down to pick up his and after a moment's hesitation took Ken's as well.  He went on to the bathroom and locked himself inside before switching on the light.

             With a tingle of unexpected excitement, Joe gingerly opened his envelope.  Inside was a crisp ten dollar bill.  Money!  As he stared at it, he remembered Nambu's words about an allowance.  That's right, tomorrow would be Sunday...  It would probably be as boring and worthless as the rest of the

 week.  Joe tucked the money back into the envelope but stopped as a sudden idea popped into his head.  Yes, there was still Saturday night!

             After finishing his business, Joe moved back into the room and sneaked both envelopes under his mattress.  He quickly got back into bed and pretended to sleep until the alarm rang.

             When Ken shut it off, Joe got out of bed and tackled the problem of making it with more enthusiasm than he'd ever felt before.

             Pho was astonished when Joe walked into the kitchen an actually bid her good morning.  Pham found him to be paying more attention to the warm ups and mediation exercises than normal.  Even Ken noticed that something was up -- Joe didn't growl or glare at him as much as usual.  Nambu also noticed the change in Joe as well, but like the rest of them, was loathe to bring it up and therefore possibly spoil it.

             Joe turned in promptly at ten but didn't go to sleep.  He listened carefully to the house as everything slowly grew quiet as everyone settled in for the night.  After all had gone silent, he waited a couple of more hours just to make sure.

             At around one thirty, Joe slipped out of bed and quietly got dressed.  He took the two envelopes out from under the mattress and stuffed them into one of his pockets.  He tip toed to the shared closet at the back and pulled down a jacket.  He was halfway to the door and freedom when a familiar voice brought him to a stop.

             "Where are you going?"

             Joe cursed beneath his breath.  "Mind your own business, will ya?  I'm just going to the bathroom.  Go back to sleep."

             He heard Ken sit up.  It was only then that he realized that he was standing in the light coming from the window.

             "It's past curfew!  You know the rules.  Hakase will skin you alive!"

             Joe snorted.  "I'm shaking in my shoes."  He started toward the door.

             "No, wait!  You can't!"

             Joe turned around a smug look on his face.  "Oh, and who's going to stop me?  You?"

             Ken got out of bed his stance determined.  "If I have to."

             "Try it and we'll see how long the racket takes to wake up Nambu."

             A look of indecision crossed Ken's face.  Joe knew he had him.  "Yeah, that's what I thought.  See ya!"


             Joe sighed with irritation.  "What now?"

             "I'm going with you."


             Ken opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of pants.  "If you're so set on going, you'll have to take me with you.  We're not supposed to be running around alone."

             "No way!"

             Ken's eyes met Joe's own.  "Then you'll have to make me stay."

             Joe bit back a curse.  Ken had called his bluff and had pinned him to the wall with it.  Joe didn't want Nambu to catch him anymore than Ken did.  "You bastard..."

             "If it's so awful, you could just forget the whole thing and go back to bed."

             "Like hell I am!"  Joe glared death at him.  "Hurry it up, will you?"

             Ken quickly finished getting dressed.

             Quiet as spiders, the two of them sneaked out of their room and made their way down the stairs.  Once on the main floor, they drifted to the kitchen.  Joe opened the back door, making sure that it would stay unlocked, and went on outside.  His veins ran with excitement as the two of them sneaked through the lush gardens to the front yard of the estate.  Neither of them said a word as they came to the front gate and found it closed.  The bars of the gate were set too close together for them to squeeze through and there were no horizontal bars they could use to climb it.  Joe headed off to the right and Ken followed.  The two of them moved parallel to the ten foot brick wall as Joe scanned the area for any trees that they could try and use to go over.  There were none.  "Huh, we're going to have to climb the wall on our own."

             "Joe, we really shouldn't do this.  You can still change your mind."  Ken's pale face was close to his, his voice a bare whisper.

             "Go back to bed if you're so afraid.  I didn't ask for you to come along in the first place!"

             Ken's eyes hardened, his face set.  "No.  I won't let you go alone."

             "Fine, then shut up and boost me up."

             Ken nodded his expression unhappy.  He cupped his hands together and after Joe had put his foot inside, he boosted him up the side of the wall.

             Once Joe had scrambled up to the top, he turned back around and stared down at the expectant face below.  Fool!  For a moment, Joe was sorely tempted to leave him there and go on his way.  He pushed the thought aside knowing that he would probably not be able to get back in without him.  Unhappy at the idea of needing the mama's boy, Joe reached down to help pull him up.

             When they were ready, the two of them dangled over the other side of the wall by their arms and then let go.

             "Yes!"  Joe grinned from ear to ear even as he glanced up and down the empty street before them.  He took a deep lungful of the cool night air.  He felt good!  It was nice to know he could definitely get out of here if the need ever arose.

             "What now?  What did you plan to do out here anyway?  Where did you plan to go?"

             Joe sighed, his excitement, damped somewhat by Ken's bothersome questions.  "Look, I didn't have anywhere specific in mind, just out!  All I want is a place where I can get some stuff."

             "It's the middle of the night!  Nothing is going to be open now.  And besides, Nambu is taking us out tomorrow."

             Joe gave him a smug look.  "Who cares about tomorrow?  Besides, you're wrong."

             Ken looked miffed.  "Okay then, fine, let's pretend that something is open.  What do you intend to get your 'stuff' with?"

             Joe reached into his pocket for his ten dollar bill.  "Why, with money, of course."

             Ken's eyes grew wide.  "Where'd you get that?"

             "You shouldn't ask questions about things you really don't want to know about."  Joe thought that the shocked expression that grew on Ken's face at his words was absolutely precious.

             "You -- you - you didn't!  That - That's Nambu Hakase's? How, how could you?"

             Joe grinned brightly, thoroughly enjoying himself.  After a moment, he reached inside his pocket and brought out Ken's envelope.  "Here, this is for you.  Nambu left them by our door last night.  It's your allowance." 

             "But - but -"  Joe's grin grew wider at Ken's obvious confusion.

             "Take it, it's yours."  He forced the envelope into Ken's hand.  He put his own money away.  "Let's go see what's off in that direction."  Joe started off leaving the still startled boy behind.  He hadn't gone far before Ken recovered enough to follow after him.

             The two of them walked along the empty street, Joe strutting on as if he hadn't a care in the world, loudly whistling the tune from Jeopardy.  Ken followed more sedately, his gaze darting from shadow to shadow as if expecting to be caught at any moment.

             As soon as they came across what looked like a major intersection, Joe turned right to follow the new road.  Within a few blocks, they found a twenty four hour Quickie Mart. 

             "Jackpot!"  Joe left Ken behind as he took off toward his goal.

             Joe went in and looked about to get the lay of the place.  His first target was the wall of refrigirated shelves he'd spotted in the back containing the bottled drinks.  He heard the front door ring as he made his way there -- Ken had finally made it inside.

             Joe scanned the wide variety of drinks set on the shelves until he ran across what he was looking for.  With a pleased grin, he reached inside and brought out two Cokes.  He immediately opened one of them and took a long swig.  Ah!  The strong taste assaulted his tongue even as the carbonated bubbles tickled his nose.  Yes!

             Joe tromped up to the front of the store and laid his ten dollar bill on the counter.  "Here, but I'm not done yet."  The clerk stared at him with a raised eyebrow but said nothing.  Joe paid him no attention as he spotted Ken standing nervously by the front door.

             "Here, be a man, take a swig of this."  He handed him the second Coke.

             Ken stared at the drink in his hand, a reluctant look on his face.  "I - I don't know.  I've never had one of these before..."  His cheeks colored at the admission.  "Nambu Hakase says that we have to be careful about what we eat..."

             Joe smiled, already having figured out that the mama's boy probably had been quite sheltered.  Between Nambu and the orphanage he was sure that Ken hadn't experienced much of the world at all.  So much the better.

             "Go ahead, unless you're chicken.  It's only a Coke.  It won't hurt you."  His mocking tone brought a flash of anger to Ken's eyes.  He took the top off the bottle and without hesitating took a long swig from it.

             Joe laughed with glee as Ken choked and spluttered at the Coke's strong taste.  "I guess you really haven't had that before, have you?"  Giggling, Joe left him on his own to see what else he wanted to buy.

             When he was through, Joe had picked up six candy bars, five comics, a couple of Twinkies, and six lunch sized bags of chips.  He ended up with a dollar plus in change.  A couple of other items tried to vie for his attention, but Joe decided to keep the rest in reserve.  He had the clerk bag up his loot and then went looking for Ken.  He found the other boy sitting outside on the curb.  The Coke was still in his hands and was about half empty.  Joe was amused to find a totally puzzled expression on his face.

             "You, you really like this stuff?"

             Joe shrugged.  "You get used to it.  After a while, you don't want to live without it.  Drink up!"

             Ken humored him with a half grimace before forcing some more of the stuff down his unwilling throat.  "Are you done yet?"

             Joe looked smug.  "For now."  He reached into his bag and brought out a large chocolate bar.  He wolfed it down as Ken got up and they prepared to go back.

             By the time they'd made it back to the outside of the mansion, Joe had gone through about half the food in his bag.  Other than the Coke he'd previously given Ken, he'd offered him nothing else from his loot.  Ken didn't look all that eager to have any anyway.

             They helped each other over the wall and then sneaked back into the house without incident. 

             Joe stashed the remainder of his loot in the back of one of his drawers, hiding it all as best as he could.  He ate half of yet another candy bar before crawling back into bed.  No dreams haunted him for the rest of the night.
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