Notes: According to the timelines I looked up online, around now is when the war with Wutai is starting. It's important to know, but not something easy to work into the story, since this is done from Reno's POV, and Reno is only ten--he just doesn't think about the fact that a war is happening, because he's ten and a slum kid, so it has no real bearing, yet, on his life. Yet. And, yeah, he and Jie are still learning Wutai and English respectively, so there are, in fact, grammar goofs. But yay, this'll be the last chapter with them! Fluency is on the horizon for both! XD
Di liu hua: Zhu yin
Chapter Six: Bopomofo
"/Hey, Auntie Qian/..."
"What did he mean, you don't go to school?!"
Reno winced instantly and wished very much that he had something to duck behind, but unfortunately, Jie's mom swelling up like an angry chocobo was something that was unavoidable, especially with her being in the doorway.
"I/..."/]Reno managed to get out when he made his mouth move. He'd forgotten, somehow, how truly /terrifying Jie's mom was when she was really angry, and right now? Was a really angry moment, and he had no idea why.
"Reno, run for it!" Jie yelled from somewhere behind his mother, and in proof that Jie's mom had in fact started to pick up some English lately, she seemed to swell up bigger than ever, and Reno had the distinct impression that if he ran, he was going to regret it a whole, whole lot.
"Uh..." he started, and Jie's mom got the really scary look. "Uh...yeah. So. Um. [/I don't go to school. Ain't got no need for school."
And as soon as he had said the words, he realized he had said the absolute wrong thing.
He didn't know that Jie's mom's back could go straighter than it was or her eyes all but start glowing like she was summoning Ifrit or something, which went to prove that you learned something new every day.
The next thing he learned wasn't really new per se, but something that was simply reaffirmed: Jie's mom was /fast/, fast like someone put Haste on her, and it really really hurt when she smacked you upside the head and was serious about it.
"/What do you mean 'you don't need school'?" /she screamed, punctuating every other word almost with fresh smacks to the back of Reno's head. "Did your brains shrivel up and blow away?! Or is it that your brains turned to shit and now stupidity has taken root and is blooming in your head?!"
"What your problem/!" Reno yelped, covering his head. "/Lotta kids don't go to school!"
"You in house now!" Jie's mom yelled in broken, heavily accented English, and that was when Reno knew he was SCREWED.
And that was how Reno found himself slouching on the couch in the Qian's tiny apartment, getting screamed at royally in Wutai, wishing he was anywhere but where he was right then. Luckily, Jie was there, and getting reamed out right along with him. After a while, Jie's mom began to hit the"incoherent" stage, where she was just spluttering angrily. She finally screamed, "You stay couch!" and stomped off into the kitchen, and Jie and Reno could hear the sounds of pots and pans being slammed against things, along with snippets of angry, snarled Wutai; things along the lines of,"/Why, why, two idiot boys?! Bad enough one, but two/?!" and "/Both their brains, gone/!" and "His stupid is infecting the other!"
".../Dude, what got into your mom/?" Reno hissed under his breath, seriously contemplating sneaking out the window. Yeah, sure, it was a four storey apartment, but at this point, he'd take his chances with the "falling and dying" thing. It was seriously looking like a much better option at that point.
"/Shit if I know/," Jie said, slumping more. "Someone told her there was free school in Midgar. So she wanted me to go. I said I didn't wanna. She got all mad, and I said you didn't have to go, so why should I?"
"...You stupid shit!" Reno squawked. "This is all your fault!"
"Whaddaya mean, 'my fault'? It's your fault! You don't go to school so why should I have to?"
"/Drop dead, motorcycle/!" Reno yelled, smacking Jie's arm. "You got me in this mess! You suck!"
"No, YOU suck! /Drop dead/!" Jie yelled, and punched Reno in the arm. A few moments later, the angry Wutai woman in the kitchen was forgotten as they started whaling away at each other.
She was not, however, forgotten for long.
"THIS IS WHY YOU NEED SCHOOL/! /YOU IGNORANT LITTLE HOOLIGANS!"
Jie and Reno instantly went stock still, and Reno let go of the grip he had on Jie's long hair as Jie stopped mid-punch to Reno's stomach. They managed to throw each other panicked "Oh shit" looks before Jie's mom descended on them, smacking both of them behind the head, screaming at both of them. She knocked both of their heads together once, hard, and then stepped back, arms crossed angrily and eyes narrowed.
"Apologize to each other. NOW!"
"/But/!" Jie started.
"/Sorry/," Jie muttered under his breath, ducking his head in the quickest possible bow.
"/Yeah. Sorry/," Reno muttered, doing the same. And since they had both by then learned, then faced Jie's mom and muttered a mumbled "We're sorry and thank you," to her, and bowed at her from where they were sitting before she could start.
"Nngh," she muttered, still looking ready to start smacking them again. She waved at the kitchen. "Food made. Go eat. Tomorrow we go school," Jie's mom said in her halting, only recently acquired English. "I heard I can go and just register Jie-Jie and everything is OK from there." She turned and glared hard at Reno, so hard he started shrinking into the sofa and wishing he had stayed home that day, hungry or not--first he had passed that weird guy on the way here, and then this."And you're going too, so after you eat go home and get clothes, you're staying over here tonight. Or else I will go to your apartment tomorrow and get you/./"
And the way she said it, Reno knew she was most definitely not bluffing. He had a sudden image of Jie's mom meeting his mom and his face went pale, and that was /that/.
Reno knew that things were going to be bad in class right off the bat. He had known even before he got to school that things were going to be bad. He had passed /the weird guy/on his way, and the guy had wanted to talk to him. And when he got to school, the sinking feeling he'd had since that morning intensified. It wasn't just the rather decrepit state of the classroom--that was, at that point, not unexpected, not below the Plate--or even the glares from several kids Reno remembered far too well.
No, what clued Reno in to the fact that they were in for abad, bad time was the little smile the teacher got on his face when he saw Jie.
"Ahh, yes, the principal told me about you," he said, and Reno didn't like that smile. And from a quick glance at Jie, he could tell Jie was not all that fond of it, either. "Do you actually speak English or is this a waste of everyone's time? DO. YOU. SPEAK. ENGLISH?"
"Are you stupid?" Jie said, making a face. Reno let out a snicker.
"Guess that answers that, yeah?" Reno said, with an admirably straight face.
"You," the teacher, Rhisanx, said, suddenly turning on Reno. "That's right. You're the other one, the one that speaks that chocobo jabber," he said.
"/Yeah, you're stupid, that's for sure/," Reno said, smiling brightly and nodding.
The teacher narrowed his eyes at how Jie snickered at that, but didn't saying anything.
"You two, sit in the back. Don't disrupt the class," he said, and pointed at two seats in the very back of the room, glaring at them.
"Yessir," Reno said, and tugged Jie's arm. "C'mon, play along with it."
"Yeah, cool. He's a total motorcycle anyway," Jie said, and nodded. They headed to the seats they had been assigned to, and as they walked, some of the dumbasses in the classes started in at them under their breath in fake Wutai.
"Ching chong chang chang chong ping chong!"
"Ping ping poing pang chang chang chong!"
".../Your mom owes me big for this, yo,"/ Reno muttered.
"Hey, didn't know wonks came in redhead," one kid snickered. "Pang pong chang chang jong jang ching!"
"Tell me about it," Jie said, and they both slumped in their seats.
And from there, things pretty much went downhill. When recess came around, a pattern was fairly quickly established: run fast, before the bigger kids got them. Kids notoriously didn't like anyone who was strange, and between Reno's flamingly bright red hair and Jie's being Wutai in a time and place when that was a very bad thing and a year older than everyone in their year to boot (they had been put together since Reno was the only one in the school who spoke Wutai), the two of them found very, very quickly that they had a sign on them that said, quite clearly, "Try to Beat the Crap Out of Me!"
But as bad as recess became, the worst was class itself. Rhisanx made no bones at all about his distain for Jie and his inability to speak English very well and for Reno's almost gleeful pride in his own ignorance.
And so, life quickly settled into a familiar pattern. Every morning, Reno dragged himself out of bed, got dressed, if there was food he ate it, but as was more often the case there was none, and headed for school. If he got up early enough, he went by Jie's house, because there was always /food there, and he could get something for breakfast and maybe a couple of baozi for lunch. If he overslept, which was more often the case, the went straight to school and just kinda hoped that weird guy who always wanted to talk to him wasn't around. /That weird guy seemed nice enough, always saying hello and asking how Reno was and trying to get Reno to talk to him more than a few minutes, but something about that seemed weird, saying hi all the time like that to someone you didn't know and didn't have no connection to, and one thing he had liked about not going to school, aside from the whole "not going to school" thing, was that he never passed the weird guy, since he only saw him en route to school.
Days when he was late, he met Jie at the front of the school, and more often than not Jie's lunch had an extra baozi in it for him. They would drag their feet together and wait until the last possible moment to go to class, and from their public humiliation would inevitably begin as soon as Rhisanx saw them. And with the teacher making things difficult for them, the other students just fell in line, with that line being "Make Reno and Jie Hate Their Lives." Class was daily humiliation and recess was daily face beatings, but only if they got caught. And pretty soon, if the person who caught them was actually fast enough to /hit/them.
They were beginning to get very good at dodging.
"No way, man, Shiva."
"Oh, please, Ifrit would totally/ beat Shiva in a fig--/"
"Enough with the 'chang chang chong'!" Rhisanx yelled in exasperation.
Reno frowned. "But sir, I was just explaining--!"
The piece of chalk that the teacher had been holding then came flying out and hit Reno on the head. "You're always 'just explaining'. If he doesn't understand English by now, he's too stupid to do anything but work in a laundry somewhere."
Jie's hands tightened in to fists and his eyes narrowed slightly, and he muttered "/Go fuck your old mom," /under his breath.
"Reno! What did he say?!" Rhisanx yelled.
"Uh...he said he was sorry," Reno said, all innocence and smiles. "Yeah, sorry about your mom," he finished in Wutai under his breath, and Jie snickered.
"That's IT!" Rhisanx snarled. "NO more Wutai in my classroom!"
"But sir," Reno said, returning to his wide-eyed innocent face, "If we can't speak Wutai, how's Jie gonna understand everythin'? I'm helpin' him!"
"No, what you are doing is being a smartass/," he said. "I seem to recall Jie doing /better than you on the last test, not that /that /would be hard to do, so the last thing he needs is your help! So if I hear any more today in the middle of class and I will separate you both for the rest of the year! Maybe without a crutch he'll finally learn!" he finished, and turned back to the board, picking up another piece of chalk.
Reno glanced over at Jie, and saw Jie's hands were still balled into tight little fists, and he was clinching his jaw.
"/Hey, you/--" Reno started to whisper, when Jie shook his head sharply, and put his finger up to his mouth, shushing Reno. Reno slumped back in his chair and waited until the class ended, giving up because he knew there was no way Jie was gonna say anything until the teacher was gone. And Rhisanx, still seeming to be almost seething at the two of them, took great pleasure in calling on Jie every chance he got and at every "I don't know" Jie said.
"/This SUCKS/," Jie muttered, slumping in his chair at lunch. All morning, Rhisanx had continued calling on Jie, as if trying to humiliate him. Reno didn't care one bit when he had to answer "I dunno," but it grated at Jie. "I don't understand him when he talks fast and is facing the board. How'm Isupposed to know what he's saying if he won't let you tell me? And this sucks, ma is gonna get so mad if I get bad grades."
"This sucks so bad. Just 'cause he's a stupid old fart." Reno said, slumping in his chair as well. "Other kids talk in class. Other kids even pass notes, and he doesn't say anything. Too bad I can't write Wutai..."
Suddenly, Jie's face lit up. "/Bopomofo/!"
Reno frowned and stared at Jie as if Jie had gone crazy."Hunh?"
Jie immediately pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil."/Bopomofo/! Kids use it before they learn wuzi. It's like letters, but for Wutai! I teach you /bopomofo/, we can pass notes!"
Reno's face lit up. "Oh, score."
It took Reno a few weeks to get all of the bopomofo down, but once he did, they began passing each other notes in bopomofo and taking great pleasure in Rhisanx getting disgusted at not being able to read them if he confiscated them.
Not so much pleasure, however, in the detentions Rhisanx tended to pass out like candy whenever that happened. It didn't matter if the note was just a translation for the times, happening more and more rarely, that Jie didn't understand something--Rhisanx didn't believe they were ever harmless, even though truth be known they very rarely were, and that was that.
It was after one of those many detentions, when Reno was walking home later than was normal, that things went bad. He and Jie had gone their separate ways, and Reno was taking a shortcut home.
"Oh. Hi," Reno said, stopping out of habit. Great, it was /that weird guy/.
"You going home now?"
"Yeah," Reno said, brushing his hair out of his eyes.
"Me, too. I'm going to go home and make dinner. Would you like to come with me?"
The weird guy was always inviting Reno to come over to his place and have food, but one of the first things his mom had told him was never go nowhere with nobody grown-up that he didn't know. And Reno wasn't stupid; he knew there were pedos and pedos went after kids and did weird things to them, and while Reno didn't precisely know what it was weird that the pedos did to kids, he sure didn't want to find out the hard way.
"Can't," Reno said quickly. "My mom said for me not to go off with grown-ups I don't know."
The weird guy smiled. "But you do know me. I told you my name before, Maxith."
"...Yeah, but..." Reno said, frowning slightly. Yeah, so he did /know the weird guy, but he didn't really /know him.
"And I've got a PlaySystem and MatCube. Materia Combat is pretty good; you play it?"
"It's OK. I like Chocobo Raiders better," Reno said, figuring he could talk about games, that was OK.
"Yeah, that's a good one," the weird guy...Maxith...said."Two was really good, But so far, three is the best."
"You got Chocobo Raiders 3?!" Reno said, jaw dropping and envy washing over him. That one had just come out, and he and Jie both really wanted it, but it was way too expensive, and trying to nick new games was almost impossible, especially ones like Chocobo Raiders 3."Lucky..."
"And you know you can get unlock a gold chocobo after you beat the game once?"
"Oh, man..." Reno said, all but jumping at how much he wanted to play it now. Man, he and Jie had to find a way to get that game /now/....a gold!
He almost didn't hear Maxith. "Well, you wanna play?"
"Do I!" Reno said, unable to keep the wistful tone out of his voice.
Maxith...the weird guy...smiled, and something about it put Reno back on edge. "Well, I can set it up for you at my place, show you all the cool stuff you can do now." There was something about the guy trying to get him to his house that really put Reno on edge--it seemed like it was too much.
But, aw man, Chocobo Raiders /3/...
"Nah, I can't," Reno finally said, shaking his head even as vision of gold chocobo flashed through his head. Chocobo Raiders /3/...
The weird guy grinned, but it wasn't a good grin. There was something sneaky about it that Reno didn't like, and Reno had long ago learned that it was a good idea, listening to the little voice in his head saying"Something ain't right, yo."
"Aww, that's too bad. I really wanted someone to play with. I could make you dinner, show you all the cool stuff in Chocobo Raiders 3..." Maxith said, smiling.
"Yeah. Uh...Maybe another day, 'cause I...I gotta go, um, Maxith," Reno said, a bad feeling in his gut pushing out even the gold chocobo. The weird guy's smile was kinda giving Reno the creeps in a way he couldn't quite put his finger on, and Reno was starting to guess that the weird guy was a /pedo/, meaning Reno probably didn't want to go anywhere near where the guy lived. "I...I gotta go home. Bye," he said, and started backing away. "My mom is waiting for me," he said, lying.
The look on the guy's face turned ugly all of a sudden."Your mom, eh? I know about your mother," the weird guy said, looking all sneaky all of a sudden.
Reno's lip curled. "Don't talk about my mom!" he yelled, and swung at the weird guy. The weird guy caught it easily, and then grabbed Reno's arm, tight. "Hey, lemme go!" Reno said, trying to pull away.
The weird guy didn't let go; in fact he pulled Reno closer to him. "Are you like your mom, Reno?"
"Lemme go!" Reno said, breath starting to hitch slightly.
"No, I don't think you are like her, 'cause at least your mom is earning her food. And yours. How do you think she's getting the money to feed you? Don't you want to help her out? Or are you gonna run home and cause your mother more problems? Don't you wanna help her?"
Reno nodded, eyes wide, still trying to jerk himself free and not sure how to react to all this or what to do, or even where this was all going. His eyes felt funny, like he was going to cry and it was hard for him to breathe and he was scared and all he wanted to do was go /home/.
"Fifty gil," Maxith said, voice low. "You just have to come with me. Think about what you can get with fifty gil. Ipromise I won't hurt you."
Fifty gil was more money than Reno had ever seen in his life. He was scared out of his mind, but part of him was thinking, if he had fifty gil, maybe his mom would stay home a few nights. He hadn't seen her for more than a few minutes in days--he was going to school when she was coming home, or worse he would hear the sound of her bed creaking and knew to stay in his room lest he see some man he would never see again walking out after the creaking stopped.
"I..." he started, shaking. "You won't hurt me?" he said in a small, high voice. Reno knew enough to know he was trapped; the guy was bigger and stronger and had his arm tight, so Reno was gonna have to go if he wanted to or not. But at least this way, if he agreed, he'd get gil out of it, and maybe on the way he could think of a way to get loose. "You /promise/?"
The weird guy smiled. "I promi--"
"You...what you doing?" a voice said. Reno jerked and looked over to see Jie standing only a few feet from them, eyes narrowed in a way that Reno had never seen before. Reno had no idea how long Jie had been there, or even why Jie was there in the first place, but never had he been so relieved to see him.
Almost instantly, the man's hand dropped from Reno's arm, and Reno in one movement grabbed the guy's wallet (because fifty gil sure was an awful lot of money) and scrambled back and away so fast he skidded and stumbled, falling backwards and landing hard on his rear, which stopped his mad scramble back not at all. He got to his feet and half ran for Jie as he hid the wallet, barely taking the time to register the look on Jie's face.
But he did take the time, and the look on it was one he'd never seen. Not on Jie. He'd seen it before, yeah--Reno'd all but lived on the streets for most of his life, and he knew that look. It was the dangerous look, the look on the faces of the people you stayed away from when it was aimed at you, and there was something so almost feral about the look on Jie's face that even the man recoiled from it, coming as it was from a child.
There was something cold and dangerous in Jie's next words.
"Come near him again and I kill you. I find gun and shoot you 'til you die."
"Brave words, kid," the man said, but there was something uncertain in his voice, a false bravado, making Reno very, very glad he couldn't see Jie's face, hiding as he was behind Jie.
But Jie's next words made Reno feel cold. "Not words. Ishoot you 'til you DIE. One shot in head, you die."
"Whatever, kid," the man said, but Reno could see how suddenly jittery the man was, and feel how stiff Jie's shoulders were."See ya around, kid," the man said, and turned and walked off, and not until he was gone did the terrifying steeliness leave Jie's body.
That was when Jie turned to face Reno, and then.
"/You stupid idiot/!" Jie yelled, and yeah, suddenly, Reno could see that Jie was definitely his mother's child. "Don't you know how to take care of yourself?What if I hadn't come?! What if it had--!"
He hadn't even finished the last sentence before his fist came flying out. Reno ducked it, but only just barely, and then the fight was on.
"Why you try hit me, dumbass?!" Reno screamed, and aimed a punch at Jie's nose.
"You the dumbass, dumbass!" Jie yelled back, blocking Reno's punch and throwing one of his own.
"/Stupid motorcycle/!" Reno said, ducking.
"Dumbass! Idiot! Go to hell!" Jie said, eyes blazing when Reno ducked. Jie was bigger and stronger than Reno, but Reno's speed had always kept them even.
"/You go die/!" Reno screamed.
And the fight kept on, fists flailing, until suddenly Reno realized that Jie, who had by then tackled him and was now currently sitting on Reno's stomach and punching him despite Reno's efforts to block him, was crying, breath catching and hitching.
And then it was all kinda too much, all the stress of the day--school, the adrenalin and fear from the guy, the fight with Jie--and the next thing Reno knew, his breath hitched once and suddenly he was sobbing away like Jie. Jie hit him weakly one more time and then just gave up and cried, shoulders shaking, head bowed, and arms limply at his side.
When their crying settled back into hiccupping breaths and occasional sniffles, Jie finally got off Reno's belly, and they sat on the ground in the dirty alleyway, silent and jittery.
Reno finally spoke. "I'm hungry."
"...Me, too," Jie said, wiping his nose with his sleeve. "Ma is working late again but there's food at my place."
Reno nodded, not saying anything anymore, and followed Jie home. Once they got their, they bandaged each other up with an efficiency that came from having done it many times, and made themselves food. Reno had quickly started to learn how to cook, just from watching Jie's mom whenever she was home cooking as well as from pestering her to ask what she was putting in and what everything was, underfoot to the point where she started calling him her little red kitchen shadow, and that had recently somehow morphed into just"Xiao Hong," Little Red.
She was always slightly surprised by his interest in making food, and sometimes joked he would make a good wife one day. Which always made Reno scowl and her laugh and ruffle his hair. He couldn't cook very well yet, but Jie admitted Reno was far better at it than him, and left most of the heating up of the food to Reno.
They ate in silence, and when the food was finished, Reno washed the dishes and Jie started studying, saying his mother would kill him if it wasn't done. Reno shrugged, and began playing a video game--Jie had been smart and used all his New Year's money buying a system, and they had been smart, working out a system for getting games past the alarm systems. When Jie finished any of his homework, he passed it to Reno, and Reno dutifully copied the answers. Then they started playing Chocobo Raiders 2 together, and played until they were too tired to keep their eyes open any longer.
Jie was moving restlessly in his sleep, tossing and turning, and it woke Reno up.
"Nngh, what're you doin'? Shaddup...I'm sleepin'..." he mumbled sleepily, making a face.
"No...no, don't...don't...Mama, please, Mama.../Baba/.../Baba/!" Jie muttered in his sleep, face scrunched up.
"Jiiiiie, shaddup!" Reno whined again, and shoved at Jie.
"/I'll kill you/!!" Jie yelled in his sleep, then woke up with a start, breathing fast.
Reno stared at Jie, eyes wide. "/Jie? You OK/?"
Jie blinked, breathing fast and eyes wide. "A dream...a bad dream...I just had a bad dream," he said, and his breath hitched.
Jie startled, eyes wide, going stock-still.
"Well, you were sayin' it," Reno said, frowning.
"It means 'father'," Jie said, drawing his feet so he was sitting with his knees under his chin. He wrapped his arms around his knees and buried his face in them.
".../Yeah. I'm OK/," Jie said.
Reno didn't buy it for a minute, but had no idea what to do. He finally said, "We have school tomorrow. We need to sleep, OK?"
"/...Yeah, you're right/," Jie said, voice blank. Reno tugged at his sleeve.
"/You should lay down to sleep, stupid/," he said.
"/Yeah, OK/," Jie said, and laid down next to Reno. But he stayed stiff, staring at the ceiling.
"/What'd you dream about/?"
".../nothing. Just a bad dream/," Jie said, voice strange. "Night, Reno."
"Night," Reno said, biting his lip. He gave up and heaved a sigh, and buried his face in his pillow. Today had just been too weird, and he knew he should sleep, but he was too played up and nervous, his entire body starting to shake again. He was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling of wanting his mother; wanting someone to hug him and tell him everything was OK; wanting to feel /safe/.
So he moved closer to Jie and put his arms around him, hugging him tightly and laying his head on Jie's chest like he would against his mother's. He was half expecting Jie to punch at him, but instead Jie hugged him back, just as tightly even though his arms were shaking, and Reno felt something in him relax at the same time as Jie seemed to go a little slack himself.
The next morning when he woke up, he thought for a moment he had been tied up or something, since he couldn't move at all, what with the tangle of limbs that was the way they had wrapped around each other in their sleep.
Jie's mom was as she always was, eyes barely open when the two of them stumbled out of Jie's room. It took her a moment to register there were two boys instead of just one, but she just scratched her shoulder, yawned again, and took down another set of dishes.
Jie looked as dead as his mom, shoveling the food in his mouth and yawning.
"Hey, Jie. Why were you out there yesterday, anyway?" Reno asked suddenly. He had briefly wondered yesterday about it, then it had slipped his mind because getting away from the weird guy had taken all precedence.
"Hunh? Oh. /Ran into Sanith's gang/," Jie said. "As soon as we split up, they came after me and started chasing me. I managed to lose 'em, but Ididn't know how to get back, so I was trying to get to your place."
"Oh," Reno said, nodding. That did explain how Jie had come out of nowhere--Sanith was the worst of the ones trying to beat the crap out of Jie. Sanith had always been bad, but he'd gotten a lot worse after his dad got killed in Wutai a couple weeks ago, and running away had quickly developed into the best possible strategy for dealing with him and his friends.
"/Sanith's gang/?" Jie's mother asked, blinking from her cup of some kind of weird Wutai thing she drank sometimes.
"/Some of the guys that always beat up Jie/."
Jie's mom blinked again. "What?"
"I hate school!" Jie burst out with. "There are always these groups of kids trying to beat up me or Reno! It sucks!"
Jie's mother was still not a morning person. Still bleary-eyed and grouchy from not being fully awake, she gave both of them aLook. "But there are two of you, aren't there? Work together. One of you kick the biggest one in the crotch and then the other punch him in the face when he goes down. Stop whining and use your brains!" she said, sounding disgusted at them not having figured out how to take care of bullies themselves.
"/But that's fighting dirty/!" Reno finally said.
Jie's mother gave him another look. "Who cares about that? It's not about fighting dirty, it's about winning so you don't have to fight anymore. And besides, don't you two have each other's back? Why else be friends? And there is far more honor in defending your friends than there is in letting a dishonorable person take advantage of someone smaller and doing nothing. Bullies go after the ones they think are weak. So don't be weak."
Both Jie and Reno blinked at her for a long time, processing, and Jie's mom let out a disgusted sound. "Both of you! Your brains did turn to shit and stupid bloomed in the mess! Aiya!" She shook her head and went back to washing the dishes from breakfast.
After a while, Reno looked over at Jie. "You know what?"
"Your mom's pretty cool."
A smile lit up Jie's face. "Yeah. She's all right sometimes." Jie jumped up. "C'mon, let's go head on to school, then."
Reno gave Jie and grin, and then they headed out the door.
"/Oh, hey, you know that guy yesterday/?" Reno said, suddenly remembering just as they got to the school gates.
"/Yeah, what about him/?" Jie said, scowling at the memory.
"I got his wallet, /man." Reno grinned. There had been over fifty gil in the wallet. And, Reno thought pragmatically, if he gave the money to his mom, she'd snort it up her nose or something. And he'd earned it, dammit, it was /his/--he nicked it /fair and square off the pedo. "I checked this morning when you were in the bathroom, and there was enough for Chocobo Raiders 3!"
Jie suddenly grinned. "Oh, SCORE."
"Well, I hope all of you studied for your test today," Rhisanx said as soon as the bell rang for science class.
Reno felt the blood draining out of his face. "/Test/?!" he hissed at Jie.
Jie nodded, looking at Reno like he was dumb. "He said we had it yesterday. When you were sleeping."
"Quiet!" Rhisanx said, and began passing out the test.
They got the test, and Reno felt his stomach dropping."/Oh, shit, I don't know any/," he said under his breath.
"NO TALKING!" the teacher yelled. "Especially not in Wutai! If you have a question about the test, ask me!"
Jie's fingers twitched, and suddenly, a little smile curled his lips. He started working on the test quickly, as Reno just stared at his paper and wondered what on earth he was supposed to do. He chewed on his pencil tip and then started trying to figure out some of the answers. He got partway through when Jie kicked him under the desk to get his attention. He looked up and saw Jie had that same little smile on his face.
And written down the side of the test facing Reno, in bopomofo, were all the answers, along with a rather rude comment about what the teacher could go do with himself.
And Reno just smiled.
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