Hidden Scars by Maya Perez
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             "Hey, get up you two!  It's almost ten.  I was hoping we could make it for brunch downtown."

             Joe cracked an eye open wondering what the heck Nambu was doing in their room on their day off.

             "Get moving sleepyheads.  I'll meet you downstairs by the study.  Start thinking about where you might want to go today."

             Joe made himself sit up and instantly regretted it.  His stomach cramped on him, for some reason extremely unhappy.  He swallowed a groan not wanting anyone else to notice.  He made himself slowly crawl out of bed.  His stomach cramped again, harder this time.  Joe cursed under his breath.

             "Joe?"

             "What?"

             Ken stared at him with wide eyes and blinked several times before he spoke again.  "Are you okay?"

             Joe growled at him before stumbling off toward the bathroom.

             He locked the door and then forced himself to drink some water out of the faucet.  His stomach cramped again.  What was this?  Joe used the toilet and then searched the bathroom for any medicines.  Other than for some towels, and some toilet and facial tissues, there was nothing there that he hadn't seen before.  He groaned softly.

             There was a knock at the door.  "Joe?"  Dammit couldn't the bastard ever leave him alone?  "Are you okay?  You don't sound too good.  Do you want me to get Nambu Hakase for you?"

             Joe lunged for the door and pulled it open.  The last thing he needed was for the blasted mama's boy to get the doctor into this.  He'd come to have the sneaking suspicion that the previous night's binge might have something to do with how he felt that morning.  If the doctor came and checked him, he was sure to figure out that something was up.  Didn't this idiot realize that?

             "I'm out, okay?  There's not need to call anybody.  I'm fine."

             "Are you sure?"

             Joe could have strangled him right there and then.  "Yes!  Now mind your own business!"  Joe pushed past him back to their room.  Ken stared after him for a moment before moving to look in the direction of the stairs.  After a moment, he shook his head slowly and went on into the bathroom.

             Joe got himself dressed, his mood darkening by the moment.  He got his bed halfway made before he gave up the project in disgust.

             As soon as Ken came out of the bathroom, Joe went back in to brush his teeth and hair.  When he'd finished, he came out and headed for the stairs.  He sat down at the bottom step.  Out of pure desperation, he tried to center himself as Pham had been trying to teach them.  To his surprise, the move seemed to help a little.  He hoped it would be enough for Nambu not to notice that anything was wrong.

             Ken came bouncing down the stairs minutes later.  He came to a dead halt as soon as he'd spotted Joe.  He opened his mouth as if to say something, but Joe never gave him the chance.  As soon as he spotted him, he got up off the step and went off toward the study.  Ken followed after him.

             "Ah, there you are!  Ready?"

             Nambu took them to the kitchen and out the back door to a garage.  Inside, they found a large red convertible.  At any other time, Joe would have been surprised and pleased that the doctor owned such a car.  At the moment he couldn't have cared less.

             The fresh air that whipped past them as they headed downtown helped Joe feel a little better.  Nambu took them to an open restaurant surrounded by pleasing plants and fountains. 

             Joe ate little despite the fact that he felt better.  He stared at the fountains and their streams of water thinking that the place would have been ten times more pleasing if they'd let them wade in them.

             "Aren't you hungry, Joe?"

             Joe looked up as Nambu returned from his third trip to the salad bar.  "No, I'm still full from Mrs. Pham's chicken last night."  Joe told the lie with as much candor as he could muster. 

             Nambu smiled knowingly at the response and didn't push him further.

             "So, what do you boys want to do today?"

             Joe shrugged, knowing he had very little money and not really caring in the least.  Ken, however, sat up straighter his face lit.  "Could we go to the hobby shop today?  I need to get some paints for my model."

             "Sounds good.  And if you boys don't mind, I thought we might drive around town some and get you both more acquainted with the place."  That perked Joe up a little.  He liked the idea.

             The afternoon passed by quickly and by the time Nambu took them home, Joe was feeling more like his old self.

 

 

 

             Once they got home, Nambu left the two boys on their own.  Ken immediately rushed up to their room to start coloring with his new paints.  Joe went up with him only long enough to grab his comics and hide them beneath his shirt.

             Wandering the halls, Joe picked one of the farthest guest rooms and locked himself inside.  He sat down with his back to the door and pulled out the comics.  These weren't the same titles as the ones Neal and Rachel had brought over on occasion, or even the ones he'd sometimes picked up at home,

but he hadn't really cared.  When he'd bought them, he'd picked up whatever had looked interesting at the time.

             The first one he'd picked up was called Wonder Woman.  He'd picked it up because the woman on the cover looked like such a babe.  Alan would have loved her.  With all that black wavy hair, Joe was sure that she had to be a Sicilian.  Another comic he'd picked up was called The Adventures of Superman.  Him he'd heard of before; everybody had.  Joe and the others had even watched his show on TV.  He'd been a little surprised that he had his own comic book.  The X-Men he'd picked because it had had a lot of good looking babes on the cover; he'd chosen it for grins.  He'd picked up Spiderman because it had looked too weird to pass up.

             The first one he read, however, the one that had caught his attention the most, was called Batman.  The cover had this oddly cowled figure hovering over a night scene where a young boy was framed by the light of a street lamp and stood staring in horror at the dead bodies of his mother and father.  The scene had given him a strange sense of deja vu.  He'd had to pick it up.  Surely only someone who had gone through what he had would have been able to draw such a grisly scene.

             As he read through it, Joe came to find out that the cowled figure on the cover was also the boy.  That this boy, on his own, had chosen a path of vengeance and made it come true!  The fact that he had succeeded filled Joe with the certainty that he would succeed too.  He would!

             Joe heard Ken walking the halls calling out his name sometime around seven.  Ken tried to open the door to the room Joe was hidding in but found it locked so he pounded on it to get Joe's attention. 

             Joe yanked it open.  "What?"  He considered giving the mama's boy a beating right there and then.

             Ken took a hasty step back.  "Ah, Nambu Hakase asked me to look for you.  Dinner's ready."

             "Fine."  Joe brushed past him and stashed his comics back in their room before going downstairs.

             Dinner was light, consisting of chef's salad and deviled ham sandwiches.  Nambu tried to make some small talk, but Joe had little to do with it.  Ken didn't seem to mind this and chattered enough for both of them.  They all turned in promptly at ten.

             

 

 

 

             Pho stuffed them full the next morning as usual.  The boys went on to target practice with Nambu and then more meditation practice with Pham.  The late part of the morning was taken up with warm-ups and new katas.  Joe saw a ray of hope that their sensei might actually try to teach them something useful after all.

             Ken was acting even more friendly than usual and actually tried to pull him into conversation several times at lunch.  To make matters worse, he also showed up downstairs during that evening's free period, as Joe was busily swimming down on the third level.  By that point Joe had had more than

enough of him for one day.  As soon as Ken dove in, Joe got out.  He'd grabbed his towel and left the room before Ken had even had a chance to come up for air.  While the outing on Saturday had helped some, it looked like taking Ken along had only served to make matters worse in other areas. 

             In the morning, he discovered that Ken had started straightening up Joe's bed after Joe had already done so.  What, the way he did it wasn't good enough?  Ken had even started hinting that if Joe ended up having any trouble with his school work that he'd be more than happy to help him out with

it.  Joe had already told him what to do with his advice.  Why the pompous son of a  ---

             Joe tried to maintain his cool, sure that, though he'd seen little evidence of it, Nambu was keeping a close eye on them.  Only through him and the ISO did Joe really stand a chance of doing what needed to get done.  He'd be damned if he'd jeopardize it all over a mama's boy!

             Yet by the fourth day of Ken's hightened, continuous dogging, Joe had a hard time remembering any of those things.  His fuse grew shorter by the hour.  Desperate to be away from him and gain some release, Joe went down to the main training room to warm up and work out some of the kinks in his performance of Pham's new set of katas.

             Joe was halfway through his warm ups when Ken came through the door.  Joe's ire rose at the site of him, especially when the mama's boy joined him in the warm ups.  Joe glared death at him hoping he'd take the hint, but the other didn't seem to notice.  Joe stopped his leg stretches and stood,

his fists bunching subconsciously at his sides.  Was he never to be allowed to have a spare moment alone anymore?

             "What are you doing here?"  Joe put as much menace and anger into the question as he could.

             Ken looked up at him with his wide, innocent eyes, a sheepish look on his face.  "I was going to practice with you.  Is that not okay?"

             "No!  It's not!"

             Ken met his anger head on.  "Why not?"

             The question made Joe furious.  Was the damn fool blind?  He turned and headed for the door before he could be tempted to give in to the impulse of pounding Ken's face to the ground.

             "Wait!"

             Joe stomped down the hall and walked into one of the smaller practice rooms.  He hadn't been there long before Ken came in.

             "Look, I know you don't like me much, but we have to learn to work together.  We're supposed to be a team.  And if you give me the chance, I know we can be friends."

             Joe growled at him and pushed him roughly aside and stomped out of the room.  He moved back to the main room.  With a curse, Joe punched the matted wall.  Fuck togetherness, fuck teamwork, fuck him!  He didn't need this shit!  Why couldn't the bastard just leave him alone?  No one could ever replace Alan and the others!  No one!

             "Joe..."

             Joe screamed and before he realized what he was doing, he reached out grabbed Ken's arm and jerked the boy inside and swung him around.  In one fluid motion, he slammed him face first into the wall.

             Ken's body bounced off the padded surface and then dropped to the floor.  A bright red trail flowed from his nose to the floor.  Before he could even attempt to recover, Ken suddenly found himself pinned by Joe to the mat beneath him.  Joe's forearm pressed hard against his neck.

             "Now you listen to me, you butt-licking mama's boy, and you listen to me good!  I want nothing, you hear, nothing to do with you!  I'm here for one reason and one reason only and being buddy buddy with you has got nothing to do with it!"

             Fear clouded Ken's eyes as if he only now realized the true extent of Joe's anger.

             "From now on, you're going to make like I don't exist.  Capish?  You won't talk to me, you won't follow me, you won't even look at me.  You'll stay out of my way and I'll stay out of yours."  Joe brought his face up close; his voice turning into a harsh whisper.  The metallic scent of Ken's flowing blood rose all around him but he paid it no heed.  "If you push me, I'll make sure you regret it for the short time I let you live!"  Joe pressed down hard against Ken's throat for a moment and then got off him.  Without a glance back, he stomped out of the room.

             Joe didn't see Ken again until it was time to turn in.  When he did, the other boy did his utmost to avoid him in everyway even as he got ready for bed.  Joe turned in with a satisfied smirk on his face.  It looked like their little talk had finally done the trick.  Good!

             The next morning, Joe made his way to the kitchen feeling better than he had in days.  Ken hadn't yet even glanced in his direction this morning and that suited him just fine.  His mood soured a little as he noticed that Pham was in the kitchen.  Though always there for lunch and dinner, Pham never joined them for breakfast.  Currently, Pham, his wife, and Nambu were talking quietly in a corner.  As soon as they spotted Joe, their conversation came to an abrupt halt.  His mood soured even more; something was up.

             Joe made himself not stare as he moved to take his usual seat.  Pho didn't rush over and overload his plate as always.  Something at the stove smelled like it was burning.  Something was definitely wrong.

             Pham and Nambu slowly came to join him at the table.  Pho returned to the stove, her face hidden from him.  No one said a word until Ken finally joined them a few minutes later.

             "Ken, please sit down."  Ken had hesitated at the door sensing that something was up.  Nambu's face was unreadable.  Ken hesitated for another moment, before moving to do as he'd been told.

             Nambu stared at both of them for a long moment and then spoke.  "Something has been brought to my attention this morning that I hope one of you can shed a little light on for me."

             Joe's stomach tightened.  Had the little bastard told on him?  Was that it?  It didn't entirely make sense, but what else could it be?  Ken would rue the day he told on him.  Tattletales were worse than cowards!  Even as he seethed inside, Joe made himself put on the most nonchalant look he had

 in his repertoire.  It had never worked on his mother, but Nambu didn't know him as well.

             "Pham found some blood on the mats this morning.  He also found it on one of the exercise suits you wore yesterday.  Would one of you care to tell me how it got there?"

             So, he hadn't told.  He might be able to get out of this yet.  Joe said nothing trying to appear pensive if not a little confused.  Ken started at his empty plate his face pale.  Nambu studied each of them carefully before going on.

             "Ken,"  the boy jerked upright in his chair, "is the blood yours?"  

             He wouldn't look the doctor in the eye.  "Ye - yes, Hakase."

             "How did it get there?"

             The boy said nothing.

             "Ken?"

             The expression on his face was one of pure misery as he made himself look up.  "I, I tripped, Hakase, and hit the wall."

             Nambu frowned.  Joe cursed inside.  The mama's boy was such a terrible liar.  "Do you know anything about this, Joe?"

             Joe tried to look shocked at the suggestion.  "No, sir, of course not!"

             "I see."  Joe was sure that Nambu didn't believe either of them.  "Ken, the minute you were injured you should have come to either Pham or myself."

             "Yes, Hakase."  Ken's eyes had returned to his plate.

             "And Joe, it was your responsibility to notice that Ken had injured himself and reported it if he didn't." 

             What?

             "Your health is too important a thing to have it taken lightly, even without the consideration of what it means to the Gatchaman project.  Every injury endangers the fulfillment of your potential and might prove hampering if not outright dangerous with the things you have yet to learn.

             "For your lack of responsibility, you will both go without breakfast and work at chores for the rest of the day.  Your allowance and your day off are revoked for this week.  You will use Sunday to make up for the lessons you should have been doing today."

             Joe glared at Nambu angry at the unfairness of the exchange.  None of this would have happened if it hadn't been for the mama's boy.  It was his fault!  Only he should pay!

             "Ken, you will go with Pham and get checked out.  Joe, you will wait in my office until they're through. Once Ken has joined you, we will go over your chores for the day.  Go."

             Joe, angry as he was, still knew better than to argue with Nambu at this point.  He'd seen that hard stone expression on Nambu's face before -- he'd get nowhere with him like this.  He felt the doctor's stare on him as he walked out.

             Joe made his way quickly up to the third floor and into Nambu's office.  He sat down in one of the leather chairs, his stomach complaining about his missed breakfast.  It wasn't fair!  Washio would pay for this... he'd make sure!  Joe busied himself running through a number of scenarios for pay

back as he waited for Nambu and Ken to show.

             Ken came in about ten minutes later.  The boy never once glanced at Joe and chose the chair farthest from him before sitting down.  The two sat in tense silence until Nambu joined them a couple of minutes later.  He walked up to his desk and then turned around to face them, a deep frown marring

his face.           

            "Pham and I have decided on what your chores will be.  After we are through here, you will meet with him down in the kitchen and he will assign them to you.  Since you cannot obviously be trusted, Pham will supervise you while you work.  The two of you will work together.  If Pham reports any problems with this, no matter how small, it will go even worse for you.  That's all.  Dismissed."

             Joe scowled at Ken on their way out.  It seemed that no matter what he did, he always ended up stuck with the wimp.  Running off and taking his chances on his own was becoming more and more tempting by the minute!  Screw all this!

             

 

 

             Their first task was to clean up the kitchen and the dishes.  Joe's stomach gurgled as he was attacked by the lingering odors of fried bacon and eggs, none of which had been saved for them.  A number of times he contemplated ways to make Ken slip on the wet floor or getting him to drop a dish,

but Nambu's parting words and Pham's never wavering gaze kept him from going through with any of them.

             After they finished with the kitchen, Pham took the two of them outside and made them clean all the windows of the house.  Both of them earned scrapes and cuts from having to battle the bushes to get at some of them.  Once the first story windows were done, Pham made them take turns holding a ladder for one another to get those higher up.  It took all Joe had not to tip the sucker over every time Ken's life came into his care.    

            By lunch, Joe was beyond ravenous.  He ate everything Pho put before him without complaint and more.

             In the afternoon, they were put to trimming trees and bushes.  After they'd finished with that, Pham had them chop up some large chunks of firewood that were piled in a shed beside the garage.  It was all hard sweaty work, but Pham never let them rest for long.  Throughout, the sensei lectured

them about meditation, teamwork, and control.

             Joe would have shut him out and just concentrated on his chores, but Pham wouldn't let him.  He kept asking them pointed questions here and there to make sure they were listening.  It made the double task of concentration that much harder to get the chores done to Pham's satisfaction.

             Joe would have jumped in jubilation, if he'd had the energy, once the time for dinner came around.  He ate eagerly, sure that their penance was now over.  He was wrong.  As soon as they'd finished their dinner, they were made to clean the dishes again and then made to oil the wood fitings and furniture throughout the house.  Joe ached from head to foot by the time they sent them to take a bath and turn in.  He didn't even have the energy to be angry anymore.  He crashed into his bed and fell instantly into oblivion.

             His sleep was haunted by dreams, but they weren't anything like his usual ones.  Everyone of them eventually turned to revolve around their sensei's parting words -- The two of you are too soft.  I will have to start to work you harder... 

 

 

 

 

             Joe had to drag himself out of bed when Ken's alarm went off.  From the length of time it took the other to turn it off, Joe guessed that Ken wasn't in much better shape than he was.  It was small consolation for all he'd been through the day before, but it was a start.  Joe ignored Ken in every way, Ken doing the same to him.  What grated on Joe's nerves, however, was the fact that though he'd now gotten Ken to leave him alone, he noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Pham were keeping a closer eye on them than ever.

             Joe was still pondering on what he might be able to do about that, during the latter part of their morning training session, when Nambu walked into the training room with Pho in tow.

             "Ken, we have to hurry.  Your mother needs you."

             The boy's face went white.  "Okaasan?"  Ken ran past him for the door.

             "Sensei, I don't know how long we'll be.  I'll call as soon as I know more."  Nambu followed in the direction Ken had gone.  Joe stared at the adults around him having no clue as to what was going on. 

             "The leukemia...  They don't expect her to last the day."  Pho sighed, holding onto her husband for support.  Joe had never seen the old woman look so tired.

             "It will be a mercy for her, wife.  She has only held on this long for the boy."  He wrapped his arms protectively about her.

             Both of them seemed to have forgotten all about Joe.  He listened to what they said, not sure how he should feel about it.  After a moment, he decided it really wasn't important enough to feel anything at all.  "Sensei, are we stopping for the day?"

             Both Pho and Pham turned to look at him an odd expression on their faces.  "Oh, young Joe, yes, that will be all for this morning.  We will pick up where we left off after your study period this afternoon.  Please go get changed now."

             Joe felt their eyes following him as he left the room.  Had he done something wrong?  Surely they didn't expect him to care about a total stranger.

             Joe cleaned up and then went up to his room until it was time for lunch.  Though he couldn't say why, he found his gaze more than once coming to rest on the opposite side of the room on Ken's empty bed.

             Lunch was simple and quiet.  Pho and Pham were unusually subdued.  From what little they did say, Joe got the impression that they didn't really know Ken's mother.  If that was so, why were they reacting like this?  People died all the time.  It was a fact of life.

             When he returned to his room to study, Joe found it even harder to concentrate than normal.  He occasionally found himself glancing back toward the room's open door half expecting to find the mama's boy standing there.  He didn't understand it at all.  He should have been overjoyed at the fact

that Ken wasn't around to pester him.  Troubled, Joe took out the last half of his last candy bar and ate it as he stared at nothing.

             Sometime in the afternoon, Joe heard a phone ringing somewhere in the house.  He tensed, expecting perhaps Pho or Pham, but no one came for him.  When it came close to four, Joe closed his books and went downstairs to get ready for that afternoon's session.  Pham was late.  When he finally showed, all he did was have Joe review all that they'd done that morning.

             Ken and Nambu returned as Joe came into the kitchen.  Ken passed by him without a glance, heading straight for their room.  Joe stared after him, the image of his face sticking in his mind.  Ken's features had been paler than he'd ever seen them before.  But it was his eyes that haunted him, his eyes had been wells of pure sorrow.

             "Come on, Joe."  Nambu's face was solemn as he pulled back Joe's chair at the table.

             "Is Ken not going to eat, Kozaburo?"  Pho stared at the doctor her face covered with anxiety.

             "Later, perhaps."

             "I'll fix him a tray after dinner.  He's got to eat, especially now.  You'll take it up to him for me won't you, Joe?"

             Joe shrugged trying hard not to care one way or another.

             "The funeral's been set for tomorrow afternoon.  I'd appreciate it if the three of you would consent to come."

             "Of course, Kozaburo!"  Pham seconded his wife's opinion.

             Joe frowned but said nothing.  Was that really necessary?  He didn't know this woman.  He didn't like her son!  Besides, he'd not been able to go to his own parents' funeral, why in hell would he want to go to someone else's!

             After they finished with the meal, Pho prepared a tray for Joe to take with him upstairs.  Balancing it as best he could, Joe took it up to his room.

             The room was dark, so Joe was forced to stumble in and put the tray on Ken's desk before he could turn on the light.  He found the Japanese boy laying on top of his bed his back to him.  Joe couldn't tell if he was asleep or not.

             "Hey, Mrs. Pham sent some food up for you."  He got no reaction.  After a moment, Joe shrugged and left. 

             He made his way down to the pool and did laps until it was time to turn in.  

             When he got back to the room, Joe noticed that nothing had changed since he'd left earlier.  The food he'd brought lay untouched on the tray and Ken looked as if he hadn't moved once in the last few hours.

             It occurred to Joe that maybe he should try to talk to him.  As quickly as it had come, he dismissed the idea.  None of this was any of his business and besides, what did he care anyway?  Joe undressed and got ready for bed.  He went promptly off to sleep.

             The night was filled with dreams, dreams where wide blue wells of sorrow followed him every where he went, wanting, needing something from him, but Joe was never able to figure out what.

 

 

 

             When he woke to the alarm, Joe discovered that Ken was no longer in the room.  His bed was made and the tray of food that had been there last night was gone.  Joe dismissed it all and went on about his business.

             Ken wasn't at breakfast.  Pho appeared even more concerned about him than she had the day before.  She even forgot to push Joe to have thirds.  Their sensei showed up and joined them, looking serene yet saying little.  Nambu appeared troubled.  Joe ate his meal and stared at them with disgust.

 What were they so upset about anyway?  Ken was nothing but a mama's boy!  He'd get over it.  People died, that was life.  It wasn't as if someone had gone out and killed her.  That would have been something else entirely.

             Nambu sent Joe off to shooting practice alone saying that there were a few things he had to take care of for the funeral.  Joe shrugged not caring one bit.

             As he made it down to the basement, he heard a noise coming from the weight room.  Though curious, Joe fought the urge to go check out what Ken was doing.  He made himself go on to the target range.

             After his hour of shooting was over, Joe quickly changed clothes and hurried over to the main training room.  He was brought up short as he realized that Ken was there.  The mama's boy was sitting not far from Pham in a lotus position, his eyes closed.  His sweat stained hair was plastered to his face and his clothes were wet.  Other than for the fact that he still looked a little pale, he looked to be okay.  Joe moved to take his place on the mats.

             As they moved through the usual mediation exercises, Joe found his thoughts drifting again and again to the boy sitting not five feet from him.  The more he tried to push the thoughts of him away, the more insistent they became.  Every word, every gesture, every annoying thing he'd ever done --

 one and all just kept drifting through his mind.  He couldn't make them stop.

             He was about to scream in fury and frustration when Pham finally called the meditation period to a halt.  Joe stood up, stiff and tense, grateful that the ordeal was over.  He tried to loosen his bound muscles as he tried to keep Ken in the corner of his eyesight.  He never noticed Pham's intense gaze lingering on him. 

             Ken's expression was totally devoid of anything, like a blank slate.  His eyes, however, were cold, dead as if the body housing them were empty.  Joe looked away from what he saw, an unexpected chill making its way down his back.

             "All right then, let's just go through some of our old katas today."  Joe and Ken both stood at the ready.  Pham called out one of the katas to them and they began.

             The grace and fluidity Joe had come to expect in Ken's moves was gone.  His katas had turned rough, choppy; the movements were those of one who was doing what was expected but nothing more.  Joe couldn't stand to look at it.

             After practice, Pham escorted them to the changing room and then made sure that Ken came with them for lunch.  Ken sat down with them at the table, but only made a pretense at eating.  Pho tried talking to him several times, but Ken only answered her questions in one syllable replies if he bothered to do so at all.  Joe kept his eyes on his food wanting to avoid looking at the pair of dead eyes across from him at all costs.

             Nambu appeared about midway through the meal.  He greeted everyone and even patted Ken gently on the shoulder before sitting down.  Ken never seemed to notice that he was there.

             "There's some bags in the foyer with clothes for the two of you.  A limousine will arrive at the house about one thirty to take us to the funeral home."

             As soon as Nambu had finished talking, Ken pushed back his chair and got up to leave.

             "Ken, surely you're not finished yet!"  Pho came around the table, her obvious worry multiplying the number of lines on her face.  Ken never acknowledged her words and continued on his way.  She silently watched him go.

             "He'll be all right.  Just give him time."  Nambu dipped a biscuit into his cooling stew.

             Joe stared at the doctor abruptly engulfed by a flare of anger.  Give him time?  He'll be all right?  Was he a fool?  Hadn't he looked at his eyes?  He didn't look like he'd ever be all right again!

             Joe opened his mouth to say something but brought himself up short, surprised by his vehemence.  What did it matter what Nambu said?  Ken was nothing to him.  He meant nothing to him at all!

             After he was finally dismissed from lunch, Joe walked over to the foyer but found no trace of the packages Nambu had mentioned before.  Having his suspicions, he made his way upstairs.

             Joe found the bags he'd been looking for in the middle of their room.  One of them was empty, except for a number of plastic wrappers that had been shoved inside.  Ken was laying on his bed again, his back to him, wearing a black suit.

             Looking in on the remaining bags, Joe found another suit, just like Ken's, waiting inside for him.  Not overly enthused, he got undressed and put on the new clothes.

             The white shirt was stiff and uncomfortable, the shiny black shoes just a little too tight.  Worse, he found that he was expected to wear a tie.  At least it was a clip on, so he wouldn't have too much trouble figuring out how to put it on.  But he still didn't like it.  Why was Nambu making him go anyway?  It was stupid.  He didn't want to be there.

             "Ken, Joe, the limousine is here."

             At the sound of Nambu's voice, Ken sat up and stiffly got out of bed.  Pho was out in the hallway waiting with the doctor and quickly ran a comb through their hair.  Joe took the combing without comment, keeping an eye on Ken's stiff back.  After she'd finished with them, they all went downstairs and met Pham in the foyer.  As a group, they went outside and got into the waiting limousine.        

             The limo was spacious though not as filled with amenities as some of the limousines Joe had ridden in before.  He wished that it had at least had a TV inside so he could have had something semi-interesting to do.  As the limo went out past the gates, Joe risked another glance toward Ken.

             Washio sat rock steady in his seat, his hands on his lap; dead eyes forward.  Joe quickly looked away.  The ride to the funeral home was mercifully short.

             The Yulo's Funeral Parlor was a one story affair, simply constructed with a small fountain and garden nestled in the center.  The proprietor met them solemnly at the door and escorted them to a room on the left.  Inside the room were several rows of padded chairs and four large stands of flowers.  Near the front was a large gilded chair set at an angle to a long white casket.

             Without a word from the proprietor, Ken moved forward to take his place at the gilded chair.  One by one, the others moved to the small table by the door and signed in on the guest book waiting there.  Joe stared at the book and the pen beside it for a moment, before finally deciding to sign in

 as well.

             Over the next half hour, seven other people trickled into the room.  From what Joe could overhear from their conversations, they were all doctors or nurses working at the institution that Ken's mother had stayed in for the past five years.  Eventually, two others arrived who had actually known

Ken's mother intimately.  They, like the others, moved forward to give their condolences to her son.  As he had during the entire time, Ken just sat in his gilded chair, indifferent to all his surroundings.  Other than for Ken himself, no other family members came to pay their respects.  This surprised Joe a little.  Didn't the mama's boy have any other family at all?  For some reason he found the concept hard to believe, yet still no one else came.

             Joe had no other family either, that he knew of.  His father's brother had died in the war, and Joe's grandparents had all died while he'd still been very young.  That he seemed to have this in common with Washio made him uneasy; though he wasn't sure why.

             The service started ten minutes after the last mourner had arrived.  The priest kept the sermon short and to the point.  Ken sat silent throughout the entire ordeal, almost as if he weren't aware of anything that was happening about him.

             Once the service was over, everyone returned to their cars as the casket was loaded into a hearse.  The hearse led the way to the cemetery as their way was cleared by a full police escort. 

             The sun sparkled brightly in the sky, not a cloud in sight, as the small caravan arrived at its destination.  The high contrast between the beautiful day and the grim occasion made Joe feel ill at ease.  It seemed that not even the weather particularly cared about the death of this woman.  Was

that how it had been when his own parents had been buried?  He forced himself not to think about it.

             The priest said a few more words before the coffin was gently lowered into the ground.  Joe watched it uneasily as it fell out of sight.  He saw that Ken was actually watching it rather intently as well, his face as blank and uncaring as ever.  Joe felt cold.  He fervently wanted to be anywhere but there.

             The ride back to Nambu's was solemn.  Pho tried yet again to get Ken to talk to them, to find some way to console him, but he ignored her efforts as before.  As soon as they got back, Ken headed straight for their room.

             Joe ached to go there as well just to be able to get rid of the constricting clothes.  He held himself back though, not at all relishing the prospect of being alone in a room with those dead eyes.  It wasn't that he was afraid of Washio or anything, but those eyes gave him the creeps.  They were wrong somehow.  The mama's boy was annoying, sure, but he'd always had a smile for everyone.  He didn't smile anymore.  It was almost like he'd been buried with his mother...

             Dinner was light, consisting of some turkey breast sandwiches and a fruit salad.  Pho took Ken's share personally this time, but came back minutes later with the tray untouched.  Joe himself ate little, bothered by the persisting somber mood of those around him as well as the funeral itself.  There was something very wrong with the way it had all gone down.  There was something very wrong with the mama's boy.

             After dinner, Joe still avoided returning to the bedroom.  Instead, he made his way downstairs.  Dumping the suit in a locker, he worked on his katas until it was time to turn in.

             The room was dark when he got there, just as he had expected.  Quietly, he changed in the dark and crawled into bed.  He tried not to think about how the room seemed as quiet as a tomb.

 

 

 

 

 

             The area was vast and dark.  Joe stared around him able to see little.  Where was he?  He spun in the darkness finding nothing to answer the question for him.  He froze.  Was that a dot of light?

             Joe made for it, caring nothing about possible obstacles in the dark.  Something told him that all the answers he sought could be found at the light.  He needed it!  The light grew as he approached.  So did the feeling that all he was looking for lay there for the taking.  Yet he slowed, an uneasy feeling brewing in the back of his mind.

             The light came from a towering mirror that rose farther than his eyes could see.  As he came ever closer, his feelings of certainty and apprehension grew inside him.

             Joe approached the mirror from the side, staying out of the light.  The mirror's surface shimmered like a lake, beckoning to him.  Joe shivered as it did so, abruptly afraid of the truths it might reveal.  The call died.  It would not force him.  If he wanted, he could leave and return to the dark.  But, if he did so, he would never know what it might have revealed to him.  With a look of pure determination, Joe squared his shoulders and stepped into the light.

             At first, the surface of the mirror remained cloudy.  With a swirl of shadow, it then cleared and revealed Joe's reflection.  His young face was marred with a perpetual scowl, his dark blue eyes cold.  Joe frowned as he gazed at himself.  Was that what he looked like to everyone?

             With an unsteady hand, Joe reached out to touch the image.  Before he could do so, the image shimmered and changed to another.  Almost instantly he recognized the almost pretty features and the friendly sky blue eyes.  But even as he watched, he saw Ken's expression go blank, his eyes losing their light and turning distant and lifeless. 

             Before he could try and figure out what it meant, the image changed again; this time a lot more subtly.  Ken's eyes changed to a deeper, more familiar shade of blue.  The face narrowed slightly, becoming more square.  The hair changed from Ken's dark, deep brown to a sandier, lighter shade.  Joe recognized the new reflection as his own, but the eyes, the eyes were as dead as Washio's.

 

 

 

 

             Joe jerked himself awake, his heart pounding in his ears.  He was in bed, in Nambu's house --  in the room he shared with Ken -- the mama's boy...

             Joe turned to look across the room to Ken's bed, the image of the other boy's dead eyes and blank expression on his own face still hanging in the back of his mind.  The bed was empty.

             Joe sat up, looking to see where the other had gone, when he heard the sound of movement out in the hallway.  Joe got out of bed and rushed to the partially open door just in time to see Ken turn a corner.  From the quick glimpse he'd caught of him, Joe realized that the other was fully dressed.  Where the hell did he think he was going in the dead of night?

             Not pausing to think, Joe rushed to get dressed and followed.  Moving as quickly and quietly as he could, he made his way downstairs keeping his eyes and ears open for signs of the other boy. 

             Joe headed for the kitchen, sure that Ken would head that way.  As he came in, his brow rose as he noticed that one of the kitchen chairs was missing.  He glanced out the window on the back door, and spotting no one, made his way outside.

             Crouching behind a bush, Joe looked for any signs of his quarry.  After several tense moments of nothing, he heard a rustling sound off to the right, somewhere near the garage.  Joe sneaked over and ducked behind a hedge as the garage's side door opened.  Ken came out carrying something from inside.

             Pausing only long enough to pick up the kitchen chair that he'd left there waiting for him, Ken headed off toward the front yard of the house.  Joe kept him in sight, following quietly behind him. 

             Once Ken reached the boundary wall, he sat the chair down against it and unwound what he'd brought from the garage -- a coil of rope.  Quickly, he tied one end securely to the chair and then sent the other over the wall.  After it had gone over, Ken climbed onto the chair and used it to help him over the wall.

             Joe rushed forward, not sure if Ken would pull the chair over the wall now or wait until he returned.  He jumped on it when it didn't move and used it to climb up high enough on the wall to take a peek at the other side.  He caught a glimpse of Ken as he quickly made his way down the street.  Joe waited several seconds before going over the wall after him.

             Cover was sparse, so Joe was a little apprehensive about being able to follow him without getting spotted.  As he found out, he shouldn't have bothered.  Unlike their previous night's foray, Ken paid attention to nothing but the way before him.  If he had any idea that he was being followed, he

gave no indication of it at all.   

             Joe tailed Ken through a progression of streets and turns until he finally got an idea of where the other was headed.  He was going to the cemetery -- but why?  Joe wracked his brains to come up with an explanation but couldn't find any.  Why would he want to go there?  They'd been there but a

few hours before.  It made no sense.

             But did it have to?  Joe slowed.  What was he doing here following him for?  What did he care about what happened to this guy, even if Nambu said it was part of what they were all about?  The image of his face with Ken's dead eyes rose up to haunt him.  It sent a shiver down his spine.  Joe didn't turn back.

             The gates into the cemetery were closed.  After only a moment's hesitation, Ken squeezed himself through the widely spaced bars.  Joe gave him a few seconds head start and then followed.  Once he got to the other side, he glanced quickly around and felt goose bumps rise up his arms.

             During the day, the cemetery hadn't looked all that unusual...  but at night...  The cemeteries back home had all been attached to the back of a church and had been rather small and private.  This place, however, was huge!  Acre after acre of tombstones set in neat rows pushed up from the ground like bony fingers reaching toward the sky.  Joe shook his head trying to dispel the eerie vision.

             Moving from place to place, Joe finally spotted Ken exactly where he had expected him to be.  The Japanese boy was standing as still as the tombstones around him before his mother's grave.

             There was a tree close to the spot and Joe headed for it to hide in the shadows of its branches.  He hadn't been there long before a pained wail pierced the night and Ken collapsed sobbing on the newly turned ground.  He dug at the ground with his fingers as if by will alone he could bring his

mother back.

             The pitiful sound wrenched something inside Joe.  He tried to pretend it was nothing, but it grew more insistent as he continued to watch.  Dirt flew in all directions as Ken dug into the freshly turned mound.  His pale hands turned dark from the soil and clumps of earth that stuck to them and

his clothes and hair.  Ken reached up absently to wipe at his falling tears only to leave dark streaks across his face in turn. 

             Joe turned away not wanting to see anymore.  This boy was no one!  He meant nothing to him!  The feeling inside him wouldn't go away. 

             Something in the distance flickered in the corner of his eye.  There was a light bobbing amidst the grave stones.

             Joe crouched down, his heart threatening to stop as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.  For a startled moment, he'd been sure that Ken's wailing anguish had summoned one of the dead back to life.  He watched the light intently, ready to bolt, yet wanting to see what it was.  His skin was cold even as he slowly came to realize that the disembodied light wasn't at all.  It was a flash light held in the hand of an overweight man.  With a hard swallow, Joe realized that it was probably some type of night watchman.  He was sure that the man wouldn't take too kindly to finding them there regardless of their reasons.  He thought hard, trying to figure out what he should do, even as the man continued to move slowly in their direction. 

             He could leave now, it would be quite easy.  But what about Ken?  Who cared?  Joe didn't move.  His eyes slipped once more toward Ken's prone form.  He would never see the night watchman, not until it was too late.  It didn't matter!  His stomach tightened inside him insisting that it did.

             The dream came to him again -- the image of his own face appearing before him with Ken's dead eyes.  What did that mean?  Yes, he'd come to find out that they had a few things in common, but...  Nambu would hold him accountable if Ken was caught.  The doctor might even decide that Joe had had something to do with it.  Not that Ken would ever say that...  If there was one thing the mama's boy had proven to him was the fact that he was no tattletale.  For that, and that alone, he would help him now.

             His mind made up, Joe made sure to remain well within the tree's deep shadows and called out to Ken.  The other boy seemed oblivious to his warning.  Joe tried again.

             By this time, the night watchman had come close enough to be able to hear Ken's cries.  The man took off in their direction at a run.

             "Washio!  Hide!"  Joe pushed back against the trunk of the tree as the watchman rushed in from the right his light falling on Ken's still laboring form.

             "Kid!  Hey, kid!  Stop that!"

             Ken paid the man no more attention that he had Joe's warnings.  Looking put out, the night watchman reached down and jerked Ken to his feet by his shirt collar.

             "Hey, kid, aren't you listening?  What the hell do you think you're doing?"  Ken stared wide eyed and uncomprehending into the large man's angry face.  "Well?"

             When Ken still didn't answer, the watchman shook him roughly still holding him by the collar.  Tears continued to run down Ken's cheeks, smearing the dirt on his face even further.

             Well, he'd given it his best shot but the mama's boy hadn't listened.  It was time to leave.  Joe made as if to move away only to find that he couldn't.  The part of him that had been moved by the other's pain just couldn't leave him there.  Joe didn't know what to do.  Then another thought popped into his mind...

             What right had this man to stop Ken from dealing with his grief in his own way, anyway?  Why should he be stopped from doing it just because it inconvenienced a few grown-ups?  It was important.  Joe had never had his chance.  Like hell he was going to allow someone else to take that away from anyone, even the mama's boy!

             Before he could talk himself out of what he was about to do, Joe ran out his hidding place and threw himself at the watchman's back.  The large man lurched forward inadvertetly releasing his grip on Ken's collar.

             "Ken, run!"

             A flash of pain flared on Joe's left temple as the falling guard struck out reflexively with his nightstick from the side.  Joe's vision went momentarily dark.  As it cleared, he found himself on the ground.  Half-dazed, Joe looked up behind him to find the watchman looming over him.  He knew he needed to run, to escape, but his limbs had turned to jelly.  A meaty hand started forward to reach for him.

             "Leave him alone!"

             Joe and the watchman turned to look in the direction of the voice.  Joe blinked several times, not sure if what he was seeing was real.  Ken was standing before them, his hands curled into fists.  All trace of the mama's boy had disappeared.  All Joe could see now was a young man with his face

set with determination and purpose, all backed by a core of steele. 

             Before either of them could react, Ken ran forward, easily avoiding the night watchman's reach, and kicked him in the side of the knee.  The man went down with a yelp of surprised pain.

             "Come on!"  Ken knelt at Joe's side and quickly helped the still shocked Sicilian to his feet.  Joe forced himself to shove all thoughts of what he'd just seen aside and ran for his life.  The two of them made their way to the cementary gates and beyond, not daring to stop until they could run

no more.

             Gasping for breath, both boys collapsed a few blocks away inside a narrow alley.  Every thirty seconds or so, Joe risked a glance out in the direction they'd come from looking for signs of pursuit.  He found none.

             Joe saw Ken wipe what were left of his tears away.  "Th- thanks for helping me back there."  Joe shrugged -- he knew that all things considered, he hadn't really done all that much.

             The two of them sat against the wall in silence, the perspiration they'd accumulated during their run cooling on their skin.  After a while, the silence made Joe nervous.  It wasn't like Washio to ever keep quiet for this long.  He glanced over at him needing to break the silence, half afraid that he'd find that Ken's eyes had regained the dead look from before.  "I'm sorry about your mom."

             Wide blue eyes turned to stare into his own, surprise and a deep sadness etched inside them.  "M- me too."

             Their previous silence was resumed.  Joe squashed a soda can with his foot, not sure of what else he should say, and not knowing how to ask the few questions that had surfaced in the back of his mind.

             "Why - why did you follow me?"  Ken's question came across as barely above a whisper.  He wouldn't look at him.  "Why did you help me?"

             The questions caught Joe off guard.  He wasn't sure how to answer them, even to himself.  He said the first thing that popped into his mind.  "Nambu would have had my hide if I hadn't.  He told us to look out for each other or else, right?"

             "Oh..."

             Joe glanced over at Ken at the strange tone in his voice and saw that his eyes had filled with disappointement just before they went totally blank.  Joe felt a touch of panic inside him, his gut telling him what would come next.  He had to stop it, it was wrong!

             "Look, I know I haven't been the most --," he shrugged, "you know.  But you've always been straight with me.  And tonight, tonight I saw something I hadn't seen before..."  Even as he said it, Joe realized that it was true.  When he looked at Washio, he no longer saw the mama's boy.  Though earlier, he would have been content if Ken had never spoken to him again, tonight, tonight he'd seen a whole new side of him he'd never suspected existed.  He knew now why Nambu had chosen Washio for his team.  He finally understood. 

             "Look, since, since we're both alone...  and there's Galactor to take care of... I was thinking that, I was thinking that maybe we..."  He shrugged again.

             "Really...?"  Ken's expression looked undecided on whether he should believe what he was hearing.

             Joe grinned at his doubt, not blaming him for it; he was as amazed by what he'd just said as Ken.  Yet now that he knew what Washio was really made of, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to have him on his side.  He'd definitely proved himself capable.  And whether he liked to admit it or not, Washio did have skills and smarts. 

             And maybe, just maybe, if they gave him long enough, Joe'd be able to pull off a miracle and make a proper man out of him while he was at it.  His grin grew.  "Yeah, really."

             Ken tried to smile at his answer.  The attempt fell a little short of the mark but it was enough to reasure Joe that the dead eyes wouldn't be back again.  Maybe, just maybe, he'd be able to make all this work out in his favor after all.

 

 

 

                          The End

Chapter End Notes:
Reedited in 2005 - updated archives in 7/07
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