Halo
Chapter 4  

    “Woaah,” Rowen breathed as the jeep came to a stop before a large white house on the outskirts of Sendai. He had been surprised; he thought most of it would be cityscape but it turned out that Sendai was rather small and quaint, a pleasant little town still surrounded by much untouched land. It was, in short, a beautiful city.

    Rowen turned to Sage. “You live here?”

    Sage nodded, and they both stepped out of the jeep and onto the gravel driveway. It was afternoon and the birds were still singing. Rowen breathed in deep the pristine air untouched by pollution, and smiled. “Now I see why ya didn’t wanna leave home. It’s gorgeous here.”

    Sage pulled his bag and Rowen’s suitcase out of the back and glared at Rowen. “You haven’t met the five reasons why I left in the first place.”

    “Saaaa-aage!” a shrill feminine voice rang out from the house.

    Sage turned to Rowen with an acidic grin and said, “There’s number one.”

    A young woman of about seventeen or eighteen trotted from around the side of the house happily. She had long, dark brown hair pulled back into a braid and a face that looked like a younger, happier Sage. She was very pretty, and she approached without noticing Rowen.

    “Oi, ni-chan! How was the trip? Didja see your friends? I’ve gotta meet them someda-” She noticed Rowen and stopped in her tracks, looking surprised. “Oh, sumimasen. Who are you?”

    Sage sighed in an exasperated way. “Rosemarie Datier, meet Rowen Hashiba. He’s one of the team, and she’s my little blister-”

    She elbowed him roughly and he smirked.

    “I mean sister.”

    Rosemarie beamed like a lighthouse and shook Rowen’s hand. “Hajime mashite, Rowen!”

    “Hajime, Rosemarie-san,” he greeted back. Sage’s sister sure used a strange mix of English and Japanese in her vocabulary.

    “You can call me Rose,” the bubbly girl replied. “How long will you be staying? Why didn’t Sage tell me you were coming? It’s not often we-”

    “Rose,” Sage said sharply. “Quit badgering our guest.”

    “Badger badger badger,” Rose mimicked in a snide tone, and Sage gave her a look.

    Rowen giggled. “I’ve neva had a brotha or sista. I’m an only child.”

    “You’re blessed,” Sage muttered under his breath.

    Rose stared at him with wide, gleeful eyes. “Wow, you’re from the city, aren’t cha? Your hair is such a strange color.”

    Rowen and Sage looked at each other and smiled. “I get that a lot,” Rowen said.

    Rose continued to gab, “You sure are cute. Are you single?”

    “ROSE!” Sage came stomping from around the jeep and Rose made tracks that left smoke in her wake. They could hear her laughter as she ran inside to tell the whole family.

    Sage sighed and said to Rowen, “If anyone asks, you’re here to learn kendo.”

    “I am?”

    “Yes, and you want to learn it so badly that you had to move up here and quit college to become a master in it.”

    “I did?”

    “Yes, and you’re here specifically for my style of training since you liked it so much. Don’t mention anything about . . . us. I don’t think my family will take it too well, and I think my grandfather would have a heart attack.”

    Rowen stared incredulously. “Ya mean . . . they don’t know you’re h-hom . . . gay?”

    Sage blushed and looked away. “No,” he replied quietly.

    Rowen turned around and stared at the sky. “Well, that’s just perfect, Sage. Ya gonna pop this on ya folks all at once — I mean, for God’s sake, man! Ya brought ya boyfriend to meet parents who don’t even know their son’s gay-”

    “Shh!” Sage pleaded. “I promise I’ll tell them sooner or later, now’s not the time.” He grabbed Rowen and turned him around, and Rowen glared at him with one eyebrow arched. “Please?” Sage begged softly. “Please, just for a little while, Rowen, then I swear to God I’ll tell them.”

    “I don’t wanna lie to your folks-”

    “I don’t either, I hate lies . . . but I love you. We’re going to have to for a while.”

    Rowen was silent, and Sage leaned over and kissed his cheek, causing Rowen to crack a smile. “You’re a lunatic, y’know that, Sage?”

    Sage chuckled. “Only ‘cause I’m around you.”

    Rowen grasped Sage’s collar and pulled him close for another kiss; Sage gladly obliged before Rose’s call made them jump apart nervously.

    “Sage, are you gonna stand out there all day or are you gonna come inside and introduce that knock-out you brought back with you!?” Rose shouted out the front door.

    “I think my sister has a crush on you,” Sage glowered.

    “Great. Nothin’ like sibling rivalry in a gay love triangle.”

    “Sounds like a bad Jerry Springer episode.”

    “You sayin’ he does any good ones?”

    “You should be a comedian,” Sage said.

    “Nah,” Rowen jested. “Too much atmosphere.”

    Sage grinned. “Smartass.”

    “You betcha.”

    Sage and Rowen shuffled through the front door a short while later, juggling their bags and suitcases long enough until they could safely deposit them on the floor. Rowen straightened his back and looked around Sage’s home. He felt like he had walked into a picture book; the house was immaculate, everything in perfect order. Not a speck of dust was to be seen anywhere, and Rowen could not fathom that anyone had even lived here to begin with.

    “Wow,” he said. “So this’s where ya grew up, huh?”

    “Afraid so,” Sage replied. “My mother’s a bit of a neat freak.”

    “Yeah, I can tell.”

    Voices sounded from one of the other rooms and two women, one older than the other, walked into their midst. Both were tall, slender and had blue eyes. The eldest was talking to the younger: “Cynthia, you know your father would disapprove. It’s been two weeks since you’ve had a session and since you didn’t attend last season’s tournament, your grandfather has-”

    “Mother,” Cynthia snapped, giving a toss to her short brown hair. “I’m a grown woman now and I’m going to have to . . .” She trailed off and noticed Sage and Rowen standing in the foyer. “Back so soon, Sage?”

    “Yeah-”

    “Who’s your friend?”

    Sage made a formal introduction. “Mother, Cynthia, this is Rowen Hashiba, a very close friend of mine.”

    “How do ya do,” Rowen nodded.

    “Rowen, this is my mother Geneva Datier and my older sister Cynthia Datier-Mitsu. She just got married a few months ago.”

    “Yeah, I rememba you writin’ me about that. Congratulations, Cynthia.”

    She smiled politely. “Arigato, Rowen-san.”

    “Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Sage’s mother said. “Are you one of the Five?”

    “Yeah, I am.”

    “Splendid. I’ve always wanted to meet the others.” She looked at the clock on the wall. “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m meeting Sage’s grandfather for a training session this morning. Gentlemen, if you’d oblige.”

    And they moved aside as she stepped out the front door, leaving them standing with Cynthia, who crossed her arms and looked Rowen from head to toe.

    “You’re pretty cute, young man,” she said with a grin. “Watch out for Rose. She’ll get you when you least expect it.”

    Rowen shivered. “O . . .kay.”

    Cynthia winked and left the room. She seemed to share Sage’s piercing eyes, an almost ominous air about her. Rowen felt his skin crawl.

    “It’s okay,” Sage said, picking up his luggage. “She’s always like that.”

    “Does she still live at home?”

    “No, thank God. She lives on the other side of Sendai now, which means her room is up for grabs. Don’t worry, it’s right next to mine. I’ll show you.”

    And Rowen picked up his suitcases and followed Sage up the stairs.

    *

    Sage’s room was no different from the rest of the house in its spotlessness. It was also incredibly plain, just like his room back when he was still living with the others: a bed with dark green sheets, a desk with a lamp, a chair. No posters or decorations. It was like no one lived there to begin with. The single thing that showed the room was inhabited was a small bonsai tree sitting in the only window, forlornly.

    Upon entering, Sage immediately went and checked the small plant. Rowen grinned despite himself to see Sage stooping down and so meticulously focused on the tiny tree, like a mother tending to her infant child. And the way he looked so serious about it . . . Rowen laughed softly.

    “Didn’t know ya had a green thumb,” he commented.

    “I get the joke,” Sage replied, straightening with a smirk and shake of his head. With sudden, astounding swiftness he swooped toward Rowen, grabbing him in rough play fashion and crashing down onto the bed. Rowen screeched and laughed, trying to wrestle out of his clutches.

    “Remember that time Kento tried to teach us judo?” Sage snickered, pinning down Rowen’s flailing arms.

    “Sure I rememba!” Rowen cried. “I prob’ly still have the bruises ta prove— Sage?”

    Sage had abruptly ceased his power hold and cuddled against Rowen’s body, resting his chin on his shoulder. “I’m so happy when I’m with you,” he murmured.

    Rowen smiled sadly and wrapped his arms around the warm figure pressed against him. “Same here.”

    After a long while, Sage pulled away and gazed down at Rowen, who returned his adoring stare with a smile. Then, completely out of character for Sage, he burst into song: “Heeeey I think I love you! So what’m I so so afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of! A love there is no cure foooorrrrr . . .”

    Rowen let out a shriek of laughter and Sage, getting into the song, stood up and started to shuffle around in a pretty pathetic imitation of a dance. He looked very, very idiotic and if were caught on video tape he would never be spared from blackmail. Rowen could barely breathe he was laughing so hard.

    “Heeeey I think I love you, isn’t that what life is made of?” Grinning, Sage grasped Rowen’s hands and pulled him to his feet, dragging him around as he danced. “Though it worries me to say! I’ve never felt this way-”

    “Wooo oooh-oooh ooh,” Rowen joined in the vocals and now it was Sage’s turn to laugh uproariously. Then they were both forced to stop or faint from lack of oxygen. Rowen gasped, “Boy, we really are gay, aren’t we? I didn’t know ya were a fan ‘a the Partridge Family.”

    “I’m not,” Sage chuckled. “It’s just one of those songs you’re born knowing.”

    Since it was Rowen’s first time meeting the Datier family, Sage gave him a brief tour of the house. As expected, everything was tidy and neat and impeccably clean. Rowen felt like a speck of unwanted dust on the finger of a white glove. Though he was a brilliant mind, neatness and order were not a part of his genes. He reminded himself to never touch a piece of furniture without wearing a plastic sheet for fear of contamination.

    Sage then showed him around the grounds of the house where there were several Japanese gardens. Sage said it was more of an impressive sight when the sakuras were in bloom; for the time being the leaves were yellowing and falling off. It would have been a depressing sight if not for the bright colors.

    Since the Datier dojo was only about a half mile away, Sage and Rowen contented themselves by walking along the path from the house directly there. Sage talked about how his grandfather first started training him and made him run back and forth that same path several times a day, rain or shine. Rowen could just see the small figure of a blond boy scattering the leaves on the path as he ran on.

    Sage also talked of how he had been a sickly and rebellious child, bordering on spoiled rotten. Then “Grandfather Sensei” stepped in and began training him hard in kendo to break his ill health and bonsai keeping to calm his spirit. It wasn’t long before the once arrogant youth had refined himself to a serene, strong young man. Sage told the story of past kendo tournaments and how he had found his armor when he was sent down into the basement as punishment for behaving badly in a match. Rowen laughed at that part.

    “So lemme guess,” he giggled. “Ya burst outta the basement in full Halo arma, weildin’ a sword big enough ta split a mountain down the middle and your family suddenly regretted evah punishin’ ya, right?”

    “Not really,” Sage replied. “It was more like-” He put on his acting face, wide-eyed and frightened looking. “Mother . . . there’s a glowing, green, armored man standing down in the cellar.”

    Rowen doubled over and had to lean against a tree he was laughing so hard.

    When they had gathered their senses again, they reached the dojo and watched from the side as Sage’s mother and grandfather instructed the students. Sage’s grandfather wasn’t how Rowen had pictured him; long silver hair tied back and tucked under his do, kind of reminding him of the Ancient One. He had piercing, dark eyes and hard lines formed on his forehead from concentration, and a tall, thick build. Not at all like the stooping, senile old coot Rowen envisioned. He was in fact a very hearty, robust man, and quite intimidating when he was dressed in bogu, or kendo armor. No wonder Sage always obeyed him without question. Rowen would, too, after hearing him bark orders at his pupils whenever they erred.

    Sage gave a wave as his grandfather was examining the students’ form, and the elder man looked up and smiled briefly before going back to work.

    “You’ll get a formal introduction after training’s over. They’re both preoccupied now.”

    They stuck around for a little while, Sage introducing Rowen to the dojo and planning for his first training lesson with Sage as his personal instructor. Rowen dreaded the man-to-man combat — he much preferred striking from a distance as was his custom with archery. Perhaps he would learn to repress that urge to flinch whenever he saw a wooden staff flying at his face. All in good time.

    By the time they had walked back and Sage shown Rowen his room, helped him sort out his things and put his stuff away, it was growing late in the day. So they clomped down the stairs and Sage asked of his sister, sitting before the television with a video game, “Hey, Booger. Is mother planning anything for dinner?”

    “That’s a nice thing ta call ya sista,” Rowen teased.

    “What? Booger? Oh, we’ve been calling her that since she was little. She used to pick her nose-”

    “SA-AAGE!” Rose screamed, completely abandoning her video game and making a run at her brother.

    “Oo-oooh,” Sage wheedled sarcastically. “She’s gonna hit me!”

    Rose let out a growl and jumped onto her brother’s back, grabbing him (carefully) by the hair. She knew the kind of bodily injury her brother was capable of bestowing upon her. But nobody called her Booger.

    “Ow, Rose! Get off! You’re snagging my hair!” Sage cried.

    “I’m gonna cut that hair if you don’t take it back!”

    “Take what back?”

    “Booger!”

    “I won’t!”

    “You will!”

    “Booger booger booger-”

    Rose kicked him in the stomach with her heel and Sage got mad. “OWCH! You little leech, get off my back or I’ll throw you off!”

    “You can’t throw me, you pansy!”

    Rowen gazed at Sage sheepishly, smiling. “C’mon, Sage. You’re not a pansy, are ya?”

    Rose suddenly seemed to notice that Rowen had been standing there the entire time, and she immediately ceased rough-housing and slid off of Sage, blushing furiously.

    “Oh, h-hi, Rowen. I didn’t know you were staring there-uh! Stan-standing there, I mean.”

    Sage bristled jealously as Rowen tried to think of a way out of this one.

    “Um, yeah,” he stammered. “I . . . I like standin’.”

    Sage placed a hand over his eyes and sighed while Rose oozed closer to Rowen’s side, grinning.

    “If you’re gonna be here a while maybe we can go out sometime, hm? Get to know each other better and stuff.”

    Rowen gulped and shot a glance at Sage, who was making an incredulous face at his sister’s back, jaw hanging open and single eye wide. He looked like he was nearly about to erupt.

    “How does a movie sound?” Rose was laying it on too thick and Sage finally stepped in.

    “You don’t waste any time, do you!” he exclaimed. “Did you suddenly up and become a skanky flirt while I was gone?”

    Rose crossed her arms. “Takes one to know one — I learned it from you.”

    Sage’s face went completely docile but one eyebrow, one visible golden eyebrow, was twitching madly in a way that Rowen recognized as “Sage-preparing-to-put-the-smack-down”, and did the noble thing, stepping in between him and his sister before any blood could be shed.

    Rowen took Sage firmly by the shoulders and slowly walked him backwards. “She’s ya sista, Sage,” he said. “Rememba that-”

    “She’s going to be my late sister if she tries that again. I can kill her if I want. I have the right. I can do it-”

    “I know ya can do it, so I don’t need ya ta prove it.”

    Sage took a deep breath, drawing on all his self-control. “I know, I know. You’re right.” He smiled guiltily at Rowen. “As you can see, I’m the jealous type.”

    “Jealous my ass,” Rowen said under his breath. “You’re crazy.”

    Rose cocked an eyebrow suspiciously as inaudible words passed between her brother and his handsome friend. She cleared her throat loudly and they both looked up.

    “Excuse me if I’m interrupting your little ‘moment’ here fellahs but mom said she was planning on cooking something.”

    Sage looked at Rowen. “Think you can handle it?”

    “What, ya whole family?” Rowen replied in a higher voice than normal. “Sittin’ at a table togetha? With me? Asking me all sorts of questions that I don’t know how ta ans-”

    Sage put a finger to Rowen’s lips. “It will be alright, Ro, I promise.”

    “You know I’m not used ta-”

    “I know, believe me. Grin and bear it. I’ll be in the shark cage, too.” Sage noticed his sister staring at them, and he snapped, “What?”

    “Nothing, sheesh. Don’t be such a tightass.” Rose stomped up the stairs angrily and Rowen heaved a sigh of relief, laying his forehead on Sage’s shoulder.

    “I really hate this lyin’ business,” he mumbled. “We just dig ourselves in deeper. We should-”

    “There’s no other way,” Sage said firmly. “We have to do this. For now. For our own sake. And our families’.”

    Rowen pulled away and nodded reluctantly. “I hope ya right.”

    Sage gulped down the anxiety he felt building in his chest and whispered, “Me too, Ro. Me too.”