Halo
Chapter 5

    He had been through worse.

    That summed it all up; it didn’t kill him and it wasn’t quite as bad as say, getting a root canal or being repeatedly smashed over the skull with an iron mallet, but he had survived more horrible circumstances. To reiterate, it could have been a lot worse, but by Heaven’s mercy and Sage’s quick thinking Rowen managed to survive his first dinner with the Datiers.

    Sage made sure to sit right next to him so he could at least inconspicuously elbow Rowen whenever he did something wrong. The dinner party consisted of Sage’s mother, Geneva, whom Rowen had already met and Brett, Sage’s father. His hair was reddish blond and he sported a thick mustache. Unlike his more androgynous son, Mr. Datier looked capable of ripping a phone book in half with his bare hands, probably from being a member of the police force for nearly twenty years. Rowen had been glad that the unquestionable head of the house didn’t strike up a conversation — he would have probably ended up on his knees and told the truth (the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help him God) about his and Sage’s affairs. Then run like hell.

    Sage’s sister Cynthia brought her husband, Eichi Mistui (affectionately known as Itchy), to dinner and he greeted Rowen like one of the family. He seemed to be the only easy-going man at the table, often making humorous comments to the despair of his wife. Rowen wanted to laugh but he was too afraid of doing something wrong. Rose sat across from Sage and Rowen, smiling at them both through dinner. Sage got the feeling his sister was up to something devious.

    Seishiro Datier, known to his family as “grandfather” or ojii-sama, spoke very little but when he did so, everyone became silent. Rowen got the impression that he was god and master of the house and thought that if ojii-sama decided to strike it up, he would faint much like he did when Ryo read that poem out loud.

    “So, Rowen,” Sage’s mother stated, and all eyes turned to the blue-haired man in the midst. “What brings you to Sendai?”

    Rowen nearly choked on his pasta and stammered, “I-I’m here to learn kento.”

    Everyone stared.

    “I mean, k-kendo.”

    He heard Sage make a sound in his throat like that of one in severe distress. Rowen broke out in a sweat.

    “Ahh,” Mrs. Datier smiled. “So you’ve seen Sage?”

    “No!” Rowen declared a little more loudly and vehemently than intended. Sage made that sound again and bowed his head, messing the food about on his plate with his fork.

    “Fighting style,” Geneva re-worded. “Sage’s fighting style.”

    “Huh? Oh, yeah. That.” I am so friggin’ retarded . . . “Yeah, I like his style. That’s why I’m here.” Argh! Take it back, take it back! “I-I mean, I’m here ta learn kendo an’ Sage said he would teach me.”

    Grandfather Datier joined in the conversation with a grin. “I’m sure Seiji-san can teach you more than that-”

    Seiji-san had an abrupt choking attack at that moment, and Rowen’s face completely drained of blood, giving him the look of a day-old cadaver. Sage’s grandfather went on blithely, “He can teach you the art of bonsai just like I taught him. You will need to learn the basics of trimming and pruning, but all in good time. I’ll let Seiji acquaint you with that.”

    Rowen turned to gaze sickly at Sage and whisper, “Yeah, Seiji. Acquaint me with your bush.”

    Rowen didn’t mean to be funny, for to him, this certainly wasn’t a laughing matter. However, Sage seemed to think it was the funniest thing since Abbot and Costello and burst out laughing. Sage’s family stared.

    “Y’know,” Rose said slowly. “I’ve never seen Sage crack up like that. Ever.” She stared incredulously at Rowen. “What’d you say to him?”

    Rowen shrugged innocently and Sage caught his breath, regained his composure. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Gomen, minna-san . . .” Then he started laughing again. Sage’s father looked at Rowen with a hard, fixed gaze.

    “Mister Hashiba-” Rowen’s stomach churned. “I don’t know what you did to my son-” Ohmigod I’mgonnadie. “-but I haven’t heard him laugh out loud in years. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”

    Rowen sighed in relief and slumped down in his chair. Sage’s laughter trailed off and he wiped the tears from his eyes, taking a sip of water. At that moment, as Cynthia was preparing to take her plate into the kitchen, she dropped her napkin on the floor, slightly under the table. She sighed, bent down and lifted the table cloth, reaching out to pick up the stray napkin. Of their own accord, her eyes traveled to the other side of the table. She thought either Sage or Rowen were sitting with their ankles crossed, but neither Sage nor Rowen had two right feet. Her jaw dropped when she realized that they were sitting with their-!

    Cynthia jumped up, or tried to at least, before her head met with the underside of the table. The dishes and plates on the topside jumped and rattled, and there was an oath of, “Shit!” Eichi helped his wife out from under the table. Cynthia had her hand on her head, wondering why the ceiling dropped on her.

    “Are you alright, sweetie?” her husband asked. She nodded and wondered why she had been under the table to begin with and how she had bumped her head.

    Dinner came to an end and Rowen offered to help clean up, but Mrs. Datier would have none of that, saying that he was a guest, but Rowen helped anyway. After the dinner mess had been picked up and cleared away, the older adults retired to the living room and Sage and Rowen retired to their rooms.

    Rowen flopped down on his back in the comfy bed and tucked his hands behind his head, thinking that nothing makes a person feel better than a hot shower. He now was listening to Sage rummage around in the bathroom that connected their bedrooms.

    “You don’t know how nice it is to be sharing a bathroom with a guy,” Sage commented, towel drying his wet, golden locks. “No getting kicked out by your older sister, no worrying about walking in on her when she’s naked, no cabinet space taken up by makeup and curling irons, hair nets, hair curlers, big jumbo-sized pads and boxes and boxes and boxes of tampons-”

    Rowen laughed and Sage stuck his head into Rowen’s room, long blond hair limp and falling down his shoulders. “By the way, you did good at dinner tonight.”

    Rowen smiled softly. “Thanks.”

    “That comment about bonsai was funny. Just the look on your face when you said it . . .” Sage chuckled. “I can’t remember the last time I laughed like that.”

    “Me neitha.” Rowen stopped smiling suddenly. “Ya know, ya sista was tryin’ to play Footsie with me unda the table.”

    Sage’s jaw dropped. “That skank. That absolute hussy. I will get her-”

    Rowen leaped off of the bed and ran into the bathroom as Sage prepared to find his little sister, intending on rearranging her anatomy in very unpleasant ways. He grabbed Sage’s arm and pulled backwards, saying, “Don’t! She’s ya sista! Ya might give us away-”

    “The very nerve of that brat!” Sage fumed. “How dare she? The audacity she has to even think about hitting on my boyfriend . . .” He trailed off, and Rowen let go of his arm. Sage turned halfway and gazed at him. “My . . . boyfriend.”

    Rowen blushed. “Ya neva called me that before.”

    “I haven’t, have I?” Sage stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his beloved. “I’m sorry.”

    Rowen smirked. “S’okay. The trauma didn’t completely shatta my fragile ego.” He yawned sleepily, and Sage drew gently away. He smiled at Rowen and placed a soft kiss on his cheek.

    “Get some sleep. Tomorrow starts your pre-training, and don’t think I’ll go easy on you just because you’re my boyfriend,” he teased.

    Rowen giggled and performed a lopsided salute. “Yessir, cap’n-”

    “Don’t patronize me, Rowen,” Sage said, giving him one last kiss on the forehead. He turned around and walked toward the door to his room. “If you need anything, just shout. I can hear from my room,” Sage murmured. “Goodnight.”

    “G’nite,” Rowen replied, returning to his own room and leaving the bathroom empty and dark. He pulled back the covers and crawled into bed, turning off the lamp on the small bedside stand. He could hear the springs squeak in Sage’s bed as he settled in, then silence resumed.

    Rowen lay on his back and stared up at the dark ceiling. He couldn’t believe he was really going through with this. Of course he would — he loved Sage with all his heart and would do anything for him. When did he fall in love with him? Rowen couldn’t remember, it all seemed so fuzzy. Perhaps he had loved Sage all along but just hidden it so well that even he himself would never have known it.

    He shifted around, trying to find a comfortable position. It was a little chilly in the room; he tucked the covers up to his chin and closed his eyes, wishing he and Sage could share a bed. At least then he’d have something warm to curl up against. Suddenly, a very ridiculous interpretation of his current situation entered his mind, and Rowen’s eyes sprang open and he declared in a voice loud and worthy enough for a Shakespearean theatre address:

    “HOW DARE WE STAND THE INJUSTICE OF ALLOWING A BATHROOM TO COME BETWEEN US LIKE THIS!”

    And from over in the other room, he heard Sage laughing out loud.

A few weeks later

    Kento yawned and opened the front door, shivering in the cold October morning air. He paused, stretching with a small whine and began trudging to the end of the driveway. He watched his breath create little fog clouds, and tried to exhale a donut shaped one like the gangsters in old 1930’s flicks. No such luck.

    “Huh. Must only work on cheap cigars,” he muttered to himself, and reached the mailbox, opened it, grabbed the white envelopes and began the long journey back to the house. He didn’t know why in the hell he was up this early anyway — he had the day off and would usually awake just in time for lunch, that is if Cye didn’t get irritated about doing the morning chores by himself and decided to play a round of croquet in Kento’s bed, often hitting him in the head with the mallet.

    Kento walked into the house and into the kitchen, dropping the mail on the counter and taking a seat at the kitchen table across from Ryo, who was enjoying his morning coffee.

    Ryo looked up when Kento sat down. “Any word?”

    “Nope,” came the reply. “Not a peep.”

    “You don’t think they’ve forgotten about us, eh?” Cye asked with a somewhat worried expression, stirring his steaming cup of Earl Grey.

    “Nah,” Ryo huffed. “They’re prob’ly just-” His tone went sarcastic. “-soooo busy schmoozing all over each other that they don’t have any time to write us.”

    “Man, I told you guys this would happen,” grumped Kento. “It’s just typical. A guy passes up his buddies for . . . another guy.”

    “I wouldn’t say that’s typical,” Cye said.

    “Well, not the gay part. You know what I mean.”

    Ryo sighed. “Dudes, we’ve got some bigger problems.”

    “Uh uh,” Kento snapped. “I ain’t cooking again. The last time I had kitchen duty we all spent the night praying to the porcelain, remember?”

    “It’s not about your Possum Pot Roast, Kento,” Ryo bit back. “It’s about us.”

    Kento and Cye both made suspicious faces. “What about us?”

    “It was fine when five of us were splitting rent, even four, but when you got three underpaid-overworked college kids trying to pull in for the places of two absentees we have a problem, Houston.”

    Cye set down his cup with a clink. “I am not going back to that awful kelp farm, I’ll tell you right now. I don’t care how bloody much you pay me. The work was bad, the management was ‘orrible and quite frankly, the job stank to high ‘eaven. They can kiss me bollocks before I go back there.”

    “Tell it on the mount, brotha,” Kento muttered.

    “Okay, look.” Ryo leaned forward in his seat. “We have three choices. We can either A: quit college and go to work full time-”

    “Nyet,” Cye and Kento voted.

    “-B: get second jobs and try to at least live on a half hour of sleep-”

    “Nyet.”

    “-or C: put an ad in the paper and try to rent out those extra rooms.”

    Cye was quiet. Kento groaned, “Man, that means having to share living space with total strangers. What if we get some nasty, psychopathic dude who get his kicks outta gutting people alive and hanging ‘em from lamp posts?”

    “But whot if it’s a gehl?”

    The kitchen was silent.

    “A girl who can cook.”

    “And do londry.”

    “And has nice taste in underwear.” Ryo and Cye glared at Kento, who shrugged innocently. “What? A guy can dream, can’t he?”

    “So,” Ryo stated. “New roommate?”

    Cye shrugged and Kento nodded.

    “Well, looks like we’d better start working on an ad. What should it say?”

    “Lonely frat boys seek young, peppy blonde-” Kento began, and Cye flicked his ear. “Ow! To, uh . . . help split the rent— goddamn, that hurt, Cye!”

    “Serves you right,” he replied pertly.

    Ryo sighed heavily and hoped that today would not foreshadow the coming days ahead.

    CRASH!

    Rowen Hashiba stumbled backwards and landed on his rear end, biting the inside of his mouth in the process. The hard floor of the dojo didn’t exactly make for a soft landing, either.

    “Argh!” he winced and looked at the figure standing before him, fully clad in kendo armor. “Ya think it’d kill ya ta go a little bit easy on me?” Rowen tugged his protective face guard off and put a hand over his mouth. “A hinkus leedin’.” (Translation: I think it’s bleeding.)

    The figure knelt down in front of him and placed the long bamboo shinai aside, removing the face mask. Sage, a hopeless expression on his face, muttered, “You’ve got to stop flinching every time I make a strike.”

    “And you gotta stop hittin’ me so hard,” Rowen grumbled.

    “You’re wearing equipment. You’ll be fine.”

    “But every time ya strike it’s like ya movin’ in for the kill. Ya hit like ya really wanna deck me.”

    “Awww,” Sage mocked in a childish tone, putting on a sad face and petting Rowen’s hair. “Is Wowen afwaid of me? Is he a big wussy pussy?”

    Rowen responded by making a face halfway between a grin and a snarl.

    Sage, thoroughly amused, tapped Rowen’s shoulder and gasped. “Oh, I sawy, Wowen! Did that hurt? Are you bweeding?”

    “Cocky sonnova-!” Rowen swore, leaping onto Sage and causing the both of them to roll onto floor. Sage was laughing out loud as Rowen jokingly started to “beat him up”. The blond tried valiantly to stop Rowen, but the task was nearly impossible when one was laughing as hard as he.

    “Halt! Stop! Cease and desist, Rowen!” Sage managed to cry. “If my grandfather catches us horsing around we’re both going to be in trouble-”

    “Trouble, shmubble,” Rowen snickered, leaning down and playfully nipping Sage’s ear. Lavender-colored eyes went wide.

    “-especially this kind of horsing around-”

    Ignoring him completely, Rowen began to suck on Sage’s earlobe, startling him enough to spring up off the floor.

    “Rowen Hashiba, I am serious!” Sage said in a voice much higher-pitched than normal. His coy, significant other smiled back and stuck out his tongue. Sage pretended to be adjusting his bogu.

    “What are you doing, trying to give me a nosebleed?” he muttered.

    “Ya cute when ya bein’ teased,” Rowen replied. “Ya get this little blush goin’ on . . .”

    Sage cracked a grin and shook his head, a few blond tendrils falling free from the ponytail at the base of his neck. “You’re silly.”

    “Only ‘cause I’m around you.” Rowen flashed him a big and cheesy smile, but Sage appeared to be in deep thought.

    “You’re turning twenty next week,” he said, and Rowen suddenly looked surprised.

    “Are ya serious, it’s been that long already?”

    “It’s been nearly a month since you came here.”

    Rowen shrugged indifferently. “Well, time flies when ya havin’ fun . . . but this hasn’t been much fun.” Pause. “I guess time flies when ya with someone ya love.”

    Sage reached over and tousled Rowen’s azure locks affectionately. “What do you want for your birthday?” he asked.

    “What more could I ask for? I already have everything.”

    “Seriously, Rowen. What do you want?”

    “I toldja. I’m breathin’, I’m alive, I got you . . . that’s all,” he murmured. Sage gave him a dubious look, and Rowen sighed heavily.

    “Okay, okay. The only thing I could ask for is some time, y’know. Alone with ya. No family or anything threatenin’ ta barge in at any moment.”

    Sage nodded. “Sounds fair enough. But what if I told you I had a big surprise?”

    One blue eyebrow arched itself. “What kinda surprise?”

    “I’m not saying. You’ll have to wait.”

    Rowen’s mouth fell open in disbelief. “Ya can’t do that!”

    “Do what?”

    “Tell me ya have a surprise and then don’t tell me anythin’ about it. C’mon. Just a hint?”

    “Nope.”

    “Is it a party?”

    “I’m not saying.”

    Silence.

    “God damn you Sage Datier.”

    Sage snickered. “Damn me, just don’t leave me.”

    “Ahem,” came a new voice. Sage and Rowen glanced up to see Rose standing before them, arms crossed nonchalantly. The two young men were mortified.

    “How . . . how long have you been standing there?” Sage inquired timidly.

    “Not long enough,” she replied, then winked at a blushing Rowen. “You coming in soon? It’s late. Mom’s worried about you two getting the flu from staying out in the night air.”

    “She sure does worry a lot, doesn’t she?” Rowen asked, climbing to his feet clumsily in the kendo armor.

    “She’s just doing her job as a mother,” Sage sighed. “It’s what mothers do.”

    “Huh. Not my motha,” Rowen muttered. “She thought I was antisocial from studyin’ all the time, so she asked if there wasn’t a gang or somethin’ I could join, y’know, ta get a little group inna-action. Mailbox Baseball on Wednesdays, obscene graffiti on Sattadays, stuff like that.”

    Sage and Rose stared at him. Rowen laughed.

    “I’m just kiddin’!”

    The two siblings sighed in relief, and Rose waited as they changed out of their kendo gear and straightened up the dojo, then walked with them as they made their way back home in the early evening. Rowen tried to ignore the younger girl as she giggled and made idle talk with him, even going so far as to playfully grab a hold of his arm and cling onto it as they walked. From his other side, he heard Sage growling deep in his throat.

    When they got back to the house and Rowen pried Rose from his person and gone upstairs with Sage, the blond turned around and whispered vehemently, “I kid you not, Rowen. I am about a heartbeat away from calling up Halo and taking her out.”

    “Sage.” Rowen placed his hands on his shoulders. “She’s still a young girl, an’ young girls have crushes. I guarantee ya, one more month an’ I’ll be old hat to her.”

    “It’s not that I’m worried about.” Sage looked askance, and Rowen was quiet.

    “You’re afraid . . . that I’d leave ya for her?”

    Sage nodded slightly, embarrassed by his fears and uncertainties. Rowen smiled and hugged him tightly.

    “Ya worry too much. It’s not healthy.”

    “Neither is killing your sister,” Sage replied and put his arms around Rowen. They stood together in the dim hallway for a while, then slowly and reluctantly drew away. Sage’s eyes looked unusually shimmery and he sniffed once.

    “Well, just stay with me till next week, alright? Otherwise I’d look pretty stupid when I give you your present.”

    Rowen went into glee-mode. “Ya already got it for me? Ooh! Ooh! Gimme a hint! Is it bigga than a tape playa? Is it smalla than a matchbox?”

    “No.”

    “Oh, it’s bigga?”

    “That was a ‘no-I’m-not-telling’ kind of no.”

    “Aw, pleeeeeeaaaaase?” Rowen whined. “I can’t stand the wait. I’ve got zero patience-”

    “Patience and temperance are a few of the key virtues in learning kendo,” Sage said, enjoying this brutal teasing of his beloved. Rowen didn’t think it was funny at all.

    “Come ooooonnnnnn! Y’know, I am terribly, frighteningly smart, Sage. I can figure out what it is by next week.”

    “Don’t, you’ll ruin it.”

    “I promise ta give up guessin’ if ya just gimme a hint.”

    “No hints.”

    “ARGH!”

    This continued for the rest of the evening and long into the night.

    “Is it edible?”

    “No.”

    “Is it warm an’ fuzzy?”

    “Go to sleep, Rowen.”