It was a typical day for Keith Kogane; wake up, fifty-fifty shot of eating breakfast, go to school, get into a fight, have his parents called in. It was all routine by now. His mother seethed as she drove his car home as her husband followed behind in his truck. Keith could tell from her tone alone that she was exasperated, but he could care less about the words, he's heard it all before.
Once the door to their home was open, Krolia pointed to the couch; “Sit.” she ordered.
So he does, crossing his arms over his chest and watched her pace back and forth, now seemingly repeating her thoughts and rant from the car ride.
“I am at my wits end here, Keith. This is your fourth fight in two weeks. You've been lucky so far with detention or ISS, but you heard Principal Sanda; you are well on your way to expulsion if you keep this up.”
“Who the fuck cares...” Keith muttered under his breath, but not low enough for his mother not to hear.
She stopped her movements, a glare only a mother could give in her violet eyes; “What was that?”
He let out a long breath, returning the look with equal intensity; “I said; Who. The. Fuck. Cares. It's the same thing every goddamn time, so why don't you just punish me and be done with it.”
“Oh, your punishment is coming, but not before we have a little chat.”
“Right, chat, meaning listening to you bitch about me. So why don't I save you the trouble. I fucked up, no one cares why the fight even happened; it's automatically my fault. I am a complete failure and disappointment to everyone. Does that about cover it?”
“Keith!” her voice rose, anger slipping through.
“Krolia.” he retorted back.
“Keith, that's enough.” his father says, as calmly as he can. He stood between them, keeping them at an arm's length. “Go to your room while I talk with your mother.”
“Gladly...” he replied, getting off the sofa and heading up the stairs. Once in his room his door shuts with a slam, causing the dog on the bed to lift its head and look at him. Keith's footsteps slowed on his approach to the mattress. The anger he felt now washing away, tears threatening to fall.
The dog let out a whine at the sight, hopping off the bed just as its master collapsed to his knees. Keith reached out, wrapping his arms around the animal, giving it a hug. The dog whined again as if to question the boy's current state, causing Keith to bury his face in the animal's fur, unable to hold back his sobs; “You're the only one who cares about me, Kosmo...” he chocked out.
Downstairs Krolia shook her head when she heard the loud bang of the slamming door. “I don't know what to do with him anymore.” she sighed out after a moment.
“Come here, Darlin'.” her husband said, taking her hand in his, pulling her into his lap once he seated himself on the couch.
“I don't know what to do...” she repeats, her own anger slipping away into something more sorrowful; “I'm so worried about him. He used to have all kinds of interests and was so creative... When was the last time we saw him draw or play his guitar?”
“I know...” he tightened his grip.
“I feel like we've tried everything. He won't talk to anyone... I feel like we're losing him, that he's one step away from stealing someone's car or worse.”
Her husband slowly ran his hand up and down her back, listening intently. “Maybe it's time we think about trying a different approach.” he said after a few moments of silence.
“Like what? Aside from shipping him off to military school, I can't think of anything we haven't tried.”
“I was thinking maybe he should try an online game.”
“A video game?” her voice was full of shock.
“I know it sounds strange-”
“Sounds?” Krolia interrupted; “We're supposed to be punishing him and you want him to play games.”
He chuckled; “Well when you say it like that, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but-” he raised the hand that resided on her hip to the side of her face, gently caressing her cheek with his thumb; “as you said, he won't talk to anyone and ever since he was little he has had trouble making friends, unfortunately for reasons we do not know. This might be a good and safe outlet for him to socialize.”
She leaned into his touch, sighing as she took in his words; “You might have a point... But if this is what we're doing, there will have to be ground rules and he still needs to be punished.”
Another chuckle escaped the large man beneath her; “Knowing him, he might see it as his punishment, but we'll think of something. But for now, why don't you get dinner started and I'll talk with Keith.”
“Alright...” She climbed off his lap, assisting him up off the cushions. Once he was on his feet again she draped her arms over his shoulders; “I love you.”
“I love you too, Darlin'.” They leaned in, briefly pressing their lips together. They soon parted with Krolia making her way to the kitchen and her husband up the stairs.
Keith was lying on his bed, his back to the door and an arm draped over the dog. He didn't acknowledge the soft knock that intruded upon the silence, but heaved the tiniest of sighs when he heard the door creak open.
“Hey, Son, I want to talk to you for a minute.” His father waited a moment, but when Keith didn't answer him, he let himself in, closing the door behind him. “I want you to know that whatever is going on, you can always talk to your Mom and I.” he sat on the edge of the bed, waiting again for his son to say something.
It was faint, barely above a whisper; “No, I can't...” Keith said, tightening his hold on his pet.
There was a soft sorrow in Keith's voice, the words barely hung in the air, but it was enough to make his father's heart sink. He placed a gentle hand on his shoulder; “Of course you can... We're here for you, Keith, no matter what.” he paused again, but continued after a few seconds of silence, not wanting it to linger long. He moved the hand from his son's shoulder to moving some of his wild hair to the side of his face, in an effort to see his eyes. “Downstairs you said no one cared why the fight started. So tell me your side of it.”
To his father's surprise Keith turned to face him, but his expression and voice returned to the angry sixteen year-old that talked back to his mother moments before. “I said; I can't! So why don't you just deal out my punishment and get it over with already?”
The older man sighed, standing up from his spot on the mattress; “Fine. Come with me.” He stared directly into his son's deep violet eyes. The gaze he received was full of disdain and frustration; the teen making no move to leave the bed. “This isn't a request, Keith. Get up and come with me, now.”
An exasperated sigh escaped his lips; “Fine.” he muttered, rolling over to swing his legs off the side of the bed.
He was silent as he followed his dad out of his room, down the stairs and out the front door. “Now what?” Keith questioned, his tone still quite irritated.
His father gestured to the truck; “Get in.”
He does as told and the moment his seat belt clicks, he hears the roar of the engine and before he knew it, they were out of the driveway and on the road.
The ride was relatively quiet, with only the low volume of the radio with classic rock filling the small space. Keith rested his chin within his palm of the propped up arm he had by the window, his gaze fixated on the passing scenery. When the city came into view he heaved a heavy sigh; “So where are you dumping me?”
“Dumping you?” his father repeats, more than a little confused by those words.
“Don't play dumb. You and Mom have done everything, aside from literally throwing me in jail, so what, you taking me down to the station to give me a hard look of what I will become if I don't 'straighten up and fly right'?”
“Keith...” he stopped at the on coming red light, using the time to look at his son; “Your Mom and I want to help, but we would never imagine just abandoning you; alone or with someone else, we wouldn't do such a thing...”
“Then what are we doing?” Keith asked, once the truck was in motion again.
“You'll see.” A tender smile played on his face as he side-eyed his son; “Just enjoy he ride and relax a little.”
Keith returned to watching out the window.
Roughly twenty minutes pass when the truck pulls into a plaza parking lot, picking a spot closest to the local game store Keith quirked a dark eyebrow as he eyed the sign; “Dad, why are we here?”
“You'll see in a minute, come on.”
The two of them entered the store, Keith's father waved to the clerk who greeted them, while Keith himself avoided the eye contact of everyone in the small building. He followed the older man to the back corner where a small amount of PC games resided. “I want you to pick a game you can play online.”
Keith's jaw dropped, now hearing the answer to his original question; “What? Why?”
His father placed a hand on his shoulder, “I think it would be good for you, get you to socialize and talk to people. Hopefully, make some friends.”
A hurt kind of sigh found its way through Keith's lips; “Why? No one wants to talk to me in real life, why would this be different?”
“Because you'll already have one thing in common; you'll be playing the same game. No one is going to know it's you behind the screen and I think a little anonymity will do you some good.”
“Ugh... Can't you just throw me in jail instead?”
His dad laughed, petting his shoulder; “Now, now, it's not going to be that bad.” he turned to look through the selection. A bright smile appeared on his face as he took one of the game boxes into his hands; “How about this one?”
Keith glanced over the box, resisting the urge to facepalm; “I'm not one of your fire-fighting geeks.” He says flatly.
“Geeks? I'll have you know we have been playing the same campaign since we were in college. Monsters and Mana is so much more than a game, it's quite the bonding experience.” His dad defended, the smile never leaving his face; “And you used to be quite fond of the world too. I remember reading stories to you based in that realm.” His smile brightened; “I also recall you asking to make a character when you were little. Remember Yorak?”
Keith felt his face flush. As quickly as he could he shoved the game box against his dad's chest; “Yes, fine, get the game. Just stop talking.” And just as quickly he moved towards the entrance, leaving his father to go to the checkout.
The blonde behind the counter smiled, seeing the purchase; “Would you be interested in the collector's edition or just the standard today?”
The smile was radiant; “Oh, the collector's, please.”
The two returned home just as dinner was being put on the table. Krolia eyed her husband as they entered the kitchen, “How did it go?”
He held up a large box; “Great, we'll start installing after we eat.”
“They made an online game for Monsters and Mana?” she asks with a quirked brow, taking her seat at the table; “Is this a punishment for him or a present for you?”
“That's what I said.” Keith commented, taking his own seat.
Krolia's husband merely smirked as he sat the box down next to his chair; “You joke, but you know how close the guys and I are because of the tabletop version, imagine what kinds of friendships can be forged with a version that reaches players all over the world.”
Keith had to resist the urge to shudder, no pressure at all...
“You didn't need to buy the special, more expensive, version though.” he states, hoping it would divert any attention his apprehensiveness might have drawn.
Krolia gave her spouse a knowing look; “There was a cheaper version?”
“Yes, but this came with some in-game items, plus a really nice statue of a wolf. Keith likes wolves.” His father reasoned.
“I like cheesecake too, but I don't see you dropping a hundred and fifty bucks on a flavor I might not like.”
“If there is a cheesecake that costs that much it better be the best dessert in the universe.” his dad retorts.
Krolia simply shook her head. She knew well enough her husband's love for the game, “You might end up liking it and are glad to have those unique items.”
“And if I don't?”
“The we'll find something else, but we really want you to keep an open mind and give this an honest try.” she replied, handing him a plate of meatloaf. She began to load up another plate as she continued; “Though we will have to have some ground rules.”
Keith rolled his eyes, his focus now on the peas on his plate that he was idly playing with.
“School still comes first, so all of your homework needs to be done before you play.” she paused for a reaction, but didn't wait long when she didn't receive one; “I still expect you down for dinner every night with us; I am also well aware that online games do not pause so I am willing to give you some wiggle room, but always be mindful of the time.” Another pause, no reaction. “And lastly, I want you to play at least one hour a day, whatever happens, happens. Sound good?”
“Great...” He muttered in response, taking in small forkfuls of food.
Keith picked at his dinner as the conversation between his parents shifted to talking about their workday prior to the school calling them. Few words actually made it to his ears; like his mother working out an internship opportunity for the Marmora Foundation or his father saying it was rather quiet at the firehouse. It wasn't more than fifteen minutes into their eating that Keith rose from his seat. His dad looked up to him, then to his half eaten meal. Keith followed his concerned gaze; “I'm not really that hungry.” he says, as if to ease his parents' worry; “I'm just gonna get started on my homework.” he pushed his chair in, the made his way to the staircase.
Unlike earlier, his parents could only hear the small creak from the door's hinges as it opened and closed.
Once inside Keith made his way to his bed, kneeling down to the carpeted floor, bending down all the way to reach for something that resided underneath the mattress. After a few moments, he finally managed to get a grasp on it, pulling the box forward and into view. He ran a hand along the top, clearing it of dust. Slowly and carefully he opened it; inside, on the top of the stack of papers was a crayon drawing of a purple figure with the name 'Yorak' written in all capital letters and a backwards R.
Though he wasn't going to admit it to his parents, he was secretly excited to start this new adventure, to bring back a piece of himself.