Chapter 3     

    Kento stewed quietly. “You’re not really going, are ya?”

    Rowen looked up from the suitcase he was packing and gazed at his friend, sitting backwards in his desk chair. He focused his attention on the shirt he was folding. “I’m already gone.”

    Kento sighed heavily and rested his chin on the back of the chair. “Man, I just can’t believe this. You’re really-” He hesitated. “-gay?”

    Rowen closed his suitcase heavily and turned around to give Kento a severe expression. “I love whom I love,” he stated. “Do ya believe in true love, Kento?”

    “I . . . I guess.”

    “Soul mates?”


    “And what if your soul mate was a guy? Would you throw away true love and true happiness just ‘cause the world doesn’t believe people of the same sex can fall in love?”

    Kento was taken aback. “I . . . I . . .”

    “Would you forfeit a life with the person you were destined t’ be with for the sake of a society that’ll neva undastand you?”

    Kento clenched his teeth, soundly punished by Rowen’s verbal assaults. He wasn’t aware he did anything wrong to begin with but he valiantly threw his word in.

    “But. Whatta ‘bout college? You just planning on quittin’? What about your profession?” Rowen looked away, and Kento scowled. “It’d be stupid of you to throw away your career like this.”

    “It’d be stupid of me to throw away a love like this,” Rowen retorted.

    “Man!” Kento raised his voice in frustration. “Have you even had a second thought about what you’re doing?!”

    “Kento,” Rowen snapped. “I graduated high school a year early as valedictorian with honors. Believe me. Trust me that I at least have the common sense ta think things ovah-”

    “Just because you’re smart in school doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing! Even geniuses can make mistakes-”

    “Well, this isn’t one of ‘em!”

    It had risen to a full-blown shouting match with Rowen’s last remark. Both aware of what they had been doing, they fell silent and Rowen turned his back to Kento, who slowly shook his head and exhaled heavily.

    “Rowen, man . . .” he said gently. “I just wanna be sure you’re doing the right thing.”

    “I am.” Rowen gazed at his friend. “I am.”

    Soft footsteps sounded, and Kento and Rowen looked up to see Sage standing in the doorway, looking for all the world like a glowing angel straight out of a stained glass window. He adjusted his shoulder pack and denim jacket, tossing his long hair over his shoulder. He smiled thinly at Kento — he glowered and looked away. Sage gazed across the room at Rowen, who shut his suitcase with a click and picked up his jacket.

    “ Ready?” Sage murmured.

    Rowen grinned.“I’m ready.”

    Morning sunlight shone bright and cold down on the front yard and driveway of the un-proclaimed Ronin Rat house, soon to be making another empty room. Ryo and Cye and Kento were gathered out front, watching as Rowen helped Sage put his duffel bag in the back of the jeep. It was a brisk September dawn, and they all wore thin coats to stave off the unpleasant chill in the autumn air.

    Rowen stood before the three friends he would be leaving behind and smiled sadly, rubbing his hands together and trying to think up the right words, something, anything to say.

    “Err . . .” Classical Rowen pre-speech address. “Guess we’ll be leavin’ now.” His comrades were silent. “It was fun, guys . . . if the school wants any info, here’s where you can reach me-” He handed Ryo a scrap of creased paper. “-it’s got a phone numba and a post box numba, so feel free to write me anytime . . .”

    Sage walked up slowly, hands in his coat pockets. He stood at Rowen’s side and stared at the gravel blankly.

    “ . . .and you guys take care ‘a yaselves, alright?”

    Ryo nodded once. “Are you sure you’re making the right decision?”

    Rowen gulped, reached over and slipped his hand into Sage’s, grasping it tightly. “I’ve neva been so sure of anythin’ else in my life.”

    Cye said gently, “We just want to be sure, Ro. That’s all.”

    Rowen grinned at Cye. “All I’ve evah wanted in my life was happiness.” He glanced over at Sage, who gave him a warm smile. “Now I’ve got it.”

    Ryo, eyes misting over, leaned forward and drew Rowen into a hug, saying with a cracking voice, “Shit, Ro. We’re already missing you.” He pulled away. “Take care.”

    “Good luck, mate.” Cye embraced Rowen briefly. “To both of you.”

    Kento, sulking bad-naturedly, stared at Rowen’s fist held out before him. “I ain’t doin’ that stupid handsha— oh, alright.” Easily defeated, Kento bumped fists, showed some love, and caught Rowen in half a rough hug. “Gonna miss you correctin’ all my grammatical speech errors, bro.”

    Rowen pulled away and gave him a noogie bop. “Hang around Cye much longer an’ you’ll all be talkin’ with accents.”

    They shared a last, brief laugh before Sage tugged Rowen’s arm gently and nodded toward the jeep. They said once last goodbye (for the road, of course) and watched Sage and Rowen get into the jeep, strap in slowly and disappear down the driveway, turning onto the road and vanishing around the curve.

    Ryo, Cye and Kento were left standing in the front lot, shivering. And for some inexplicable reason, Ryo felt his right arm and leg tingle . . . as if they were falling asleep. He knew why, and held his arm close to his chest, concealing it in his jacket for warmth.

    “I feel like I’ve lost a part of my body,” Cye murmured, speaking all of their thoughts at once.

    “Stay out here much longer and ya will,” Kento huffed. “It is damned cold.”

    Ryo gulped and shook his leg slightly. The tingling subsided. Cye and Kento had turned and were walking toward the house. Cye paused and looked over his shoulder at the lone, dark haired boy— no. He was twenty, a man now. They all were.

    Cye cleared his throat and motioned for Kento to wait, walked up to Ryo and put a light hand on his shoulder. “You should come inside, love. You’ll catch your death out ‘ere.”

    “Did you know,” Ryo ignored Cye’s adherence. “That if you cut a leaf in half and put it under a microscope you can still see the other half, even thought it’s gone?”

    Cye tightened his grip and stiffened his upper lip.

    “Rowen knew that.” Ryo’s voice trembled. “He told me.”

    “It’s not like they’re dead, Ryo. This wosn’t a funeral-”

    “Then why do I feel like half of me is gone?” Ryo turned to Cye, eyes red and looking like the dam would break any second if provoked.

    Cye forced a grin and whispered, “At least you’ve still got one ‘alf left.”

    Ryo gulped and nodded, allowing himself to be led toward the house where once lived a team, now a trio.

    “Hey, look on the bright side, Ryo,” Kento said cheerfully. “Three’s company!”

    “Three’s a crowd,” he countered.

    “Cye!” Kento called for assistance.

    “No, I’m not taking sides,” Cye said firmly.

    “Aw, please?”

    Ryo mumbled, “Great. Now we have to split the rent three ways.”

    And all three, groaning in despair, trudged into the house for some hot tea and biscuits.


A/N: A friend thought it might be wise to mention this: remember that Ryo’s arms and legs each represent on of the others when Ryo is in the Inferno armor. Sage is Ryo’s right arm, Rowen is his right leg, Cye is the left arm and Kento is the left leg. So you see, when Rowen and Sage were leaving together, Ryo felt his right arm and leg tingle, as if they were falling asleep. The armor of Inferno still connects their spirits together.