Halo
Chapter 6

    “As the great philosopher Popeye said: well, blow me down!”

    Cye arched a brunette eyebrow. “Kento, Popeye was a cartoon.”

    “Popeye was a genius,” replied the Brit’s husky companion, holding up an envelope. “We got mail from Sendai.”

    “RYOOO!” Cye called, and a short while later Ryo came shuffling into the kitchen, shaking water from his recent shower out of his hair.

    “You didn’t have to scream, Cye. I was on my way here.”

    “I didn’t scream.”

    “You screamed.”

    “Did not.”

    “Did so.”

    “Don’t push me, Ryo.”

    Ryo grinned and gave Cye a playful shove. Kento rolled his eyes. “Whenever you two are done acting all queer n’ gay with each other I’ve gotta letter to read.”

    Cye and Ryo glared at him but stopped taunting anyway. Kento tore into the envelope and withdrew a two page letter, neatly folded. Kento briefly scanned it.

    “It’s from Rowen,” he said.

    “Let me see-” Ryo made a grab at it.

    “Wait your turn, man!”

    “Just read it aloud,” Cye muttered.

    “No, he doesn’t have a good speaking voice,” Ryo objected, and a squabble began between he and Kento. Somehow or other Cye managed to get a hold of the letter while they were tangling and saved it from being torn to ribbons. In Rowen’s casual handwriting, it read:

    Cye lowered the letter and wiped a tear from his eye. Kento and Ryo had long since ceased their bickering and were now staring at Cye worriedly.

    “Cye . . .?” Ryo ventured. “Are you okay?”

    “Yeah, what’s the matter?” Kento joined in. “Did something happen to Rowen?”

    Cye looked up at them and smiled. “Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s fine.”

    Ryo and Kento breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God,” Kento grumbled. “With Sage’s libido I was afraid Rowen had died from being-”

    “Kento!” Cye said sharply.

    “-snuggled. Snuggled to death, yeah.” Ryo and Cye stared at him. “Look, I’m just trying my damnedest to keep this fic PG rated, okay?”

    They grumbled in agreement and Kento suddenly realized something. “Hey, guys. I just realized something.”

    “What?”

    “Rowen’s birthday is in two days. What’re we gonna give him?”

    Ryo turned to Cye. “Whip up one of those instant cakes and we’ll mail it first thing in the morning.”

    Cye crossed his arms. “Ryo, ‘ow dare you even suggest that.”

    “I’m sorry,” came the reply. “Any fool knows that you don’t make instant cakes.”

    “Bloody so. Make ‘em from scratch, just like me mum.” Cye began to go on a scavenger hunt around the kitchen for proper cooking utensils. Kento shot Ryo a death glare.

    “Man, now ya done it. We gotta sit here while Cye bakes one of his killer, to-die-for cakes without so much as a taste.”

    Ryo shrugged. “What wouldja do for one of Cye’s cakes?”

    “I’d kill something.”

    “Same here.”

    Both gazed wickedly at the young British chef as he went about completely oblivious to his comrades’ hungry stares. Kento shook his head.

    “Nah, we can’t sack ‘im. We need the rent and he’d never cook again. You know we’d die in a few days without Cye.”

    Ryo nodded. “True, true. Is there anything else we can kill?”

    Kento thought for a moment. “Each other.”

    Datier Dojo, October 9, 7:46 PM

    “Dageki!”

    Wooden staves cracked together like lightning at the sound of the commanding voice. Slipping. He had to shift his weight but that meant . . .

    “Shouten, Touma! Omoi!”

    He had no choice; he reseated his center of gravity and in doing so, left a hole in his defense. FWACK! The hard staff of the shinai struck the padding of his tare (the armor on his upper right torso) and he staggered backward, defeated.

    Sage sighed impatiently and pulled off his face shield. “You’ve got to focus, Rowen. You’re afraid to strike and be struck.”

    Rowen scowled and removed his protective mask. “I’m not afraid. I’m just nervous.”

    “You can’t be nervous in kendo,” Sage quipped. “You have to be bold and fearless, yet humble and merciful.”

    Rowen rolled his eyes and began to pull off the kote, or gauntlets off his wrists. “Yeah, well, forgive me for being un-bold, fearful, arrogant and bloodthirsty-”

    Sage stepped forward and held Rowen’s face so that he was forced to look into Sage’s ice-blue eyes. As much as Rowen loved Sage, those eyes of his still made him uneasy, especially when he was forced to look right into them.

    “Rowen,” Sage’s voice was smooth and even. “I’m not going to hurt you if I hit you. The swords are bamboo and you’re wearing a ton of armor.”

    “It’s not that.”

    “Then what is it?”

    Rowen’s eyes blinked rapidly. “I’m afraid ta hit you.”

    “Why? Afraid I’ll hit you back?”

    Rowen grinned slightly. “Yeah. That’s all.”

    Sage frowned. “No, that’s not all. There’s something else, I can sense it. Something is clouding your heart. An unclear conscience cannot fight and it . . .” He trailed off and Rowen pulled from his grasp, turning away. “Oh. I see. You’re still angsting about us . . . and the fact that my parents don’t know.”

    Rowen shrugged indefinitely. “Any person would be.” He sighed heavily. “Let’s just say I’ll feel a whole lot betta when we just get out with it.”

    Sage came up behind Rowen quietly and wrapped his arms around his waist, resting his chin on Rowen’s shoulder. Despite their bulky armor and the chilliness of the dojo, Rowen felt himself warm up like a small radiator and he smiled to himself.

    “I’ll tell you what,” Sage murmured. “Since tomorrow is your birthday, we’ll call it an evening, okay? Besides, you’re coming along just fine.”

    Rowen grinned widely. “Even though I’m a snivelin’, chicken shit, cowerin’, shameful disgrace-”

    Sage laughed and gently grabbed Rowen’s arm, placing it behind his back and grasping Rowen’s free wrist in a mock attack. Rowen struggled for a moment helplessly.

    “Come on, Touma-kun,” Sage teased. “Remember what I taught-”

    Rowen gave a twist of his wrist and Sage lost his grip; Rowen then reached behind with his free arm and locked onto the back of Sage’s armor. He brought back his leg, ducked his head and dragged Sage over his shoulder where he hit the mat floor of the dojo on his back. Sage was stunned but unhurt.

    “Why can’t you fight like that all the time? That was good. I think you-” He coughed once. “I think you knocked the breath out of me.” He coughed again and Rowen knelt down at his side.

    “I didn’t think ya hit that— augh!”

    Sage, ever crafty when it came to faking someone out, reached up and locked an arm around Rowen’s neck, rolling him over and feigning a potentially deadly blow to his face. Rowen was adamant.

    “Nuh uh! That didn’t count! I thought you was hurt!”

    Sage chuckled. “Still need practice. Don’t fall for tricks.”

    “I fell for you, didn’t I?”

    “You calling me a trick?”

    “I might be,” Rowen taunted, eyes sparkling mischievously. He reached behind Sage’s neck and pulled him down for a kiss.

    “No!” Sage resisted. “Rowen, don’t. Not now.”

    That was not what Rowen wanted to hear, and he allowed himself to become quite childish at that moment, beginning to whine:

    “Why not! There’s no one even near this place. It’s just you and me. Pleeeease, Sage. Just one kiss? I can’t remember the last time we kissed it’s been so long. Look, there’s no one around-”

    Sage placed his hand over Rowen’s babbling mouth, silencing him. “Rowen. Pardon my language, but I’d be fucking you right now if I thought what you said was true.”

    Rowen gulped in the awkward silence thereafter and felt his stomach do a barrel roll up into his throat. His heart was pounding like a five-piece timpani set, and Sage saw the distance set into those blue-green eyes and knew exactly what Rowen was envisioning. That passionate image that Sage saw as clear as the eyes he was looking into.

    “Don’t,” he whispered. “D-don’t think like that or we’ll both be-”

    “Why not?” Rowen swiped Sage’s hand from his mouth. “Afraid ya parents will read our minds?”

    “I’m afraid of my parents.”

    “Says the fearless kendo master who tells his student to be unafraid, yet is himself afraid of his family-”

    “It’s not fear!” Sage cried, sitting up off of Rowen.

    “Then what is it?” came the bitter reply.

    “It’s shame.” His answer was so soft and so delicate Rowen thought the oppressive atmosphere would shatter it like glass. He sat up and gaped at Sage.

    “What are ya ashamed of? Is it me? Are you ashamed of me, Sage?”

    Sage turned and glared at him with angry tears in his eyes. “No. You’ve never done anything wrong.”

    “Then it’s you who feels the shame. You’re ashamed because ya love me, that’s it, isn’t it?”

    Sage shook his head. “No, no. It’s not that . . . I. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s not shame and it’s not fear. I’m not uncertain, either. I know I love you.”

    Rowen’s face softened. “You feel ashamed because ya lyin’. To ya parents, ya family. To yaself. Now ya know how I feel, Sage. Now ya know why I wanna tell ‘em-”

    Sage darted over and hugged Rowen fiercely, possessively. Rowen tried to move but he could not; Sage held him much too tightly for that.

    “I am afraid,” he admitted, breathing into Rowen’s hair. “I scared to death of telling them, terrified even. I don’t know how they would react. I’m afraid they would send you away, somewhere on the other side of the world and I’d go crazy. I’d lose my mind because you’re the only thing holding my thoughts together now. I’m a coward, Rowen, and that makes me a hypocrite.”

    “No, ya just confused-” Rowen attempted, but was cut off.

    “Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night with this horrible fear in my mind that you’ve left me. You don’t know it but I’ve checked on you every single night since you’ve been here. I . . . I’m paranoid. I’m paranoid because I’ve never felt emotions like this before and I don’t know what to do with them . . .” Sage was sobbing now. “I love these emotions I feel when I’m with you and I’m afraid that if you left it’d bring about my ruin. I-I’d fall to pieces!”

    Rowen wrapped his arms around Sage’s shuddering body and squeezed tightly. “I won’t leave ya,” he affirmed. “I will neva leave ya, Sage. Do ya undastand?”

    “Those are only words.”

    “They’re my words.”

    “Sometimes it takes more than that.”

    Sage and Rowen milled noisily through the front door about an hour later, scuffing their shoes off as they entered. No words were spoken between them or had been on the trek back from the dojo. Mrs. Datier walked into the foyer and smiled, helping them with their coats.

    “What do you boys feel like having for dinner? I know Rowen always has a robust appetite.” She winked at the young man who seemed like a second son to her and Rowen smiled gently. “Thanks mom, but I think I need some sleep now more than anythin’.”

    She gazed worriedly as Rowen stumbled up the stairs and cast a fretful glance at Sage. “Do you think he’s coming down with something? You don’t look so well, either.” She put a hand on her son’s forehead. “Your eyes are red. You’ve got to stop this training so late in the evening, Seiji. I don’t want to have to take care of you two when you catch pneumonia-”

    “We’re fine, Mother,” Sage insisted, pulling away and standing on the first stair. “We’re just tired.”

    Geneva sighed. “Alright. I won’t pry. Your father and I are going out for dinner and we won’t be back till late tonight. Rose is spending the night at a friend’s but there’s some bread and stuff for sandwiches in case you get hungry later-”

    “Mother,” Sage sighed. “I’m twenty. I can take care of myself.”

    “And I’m still your mother no matter how old you get.”

    Sage smiled in defeat. “Oyasumi.”

    “Oyasumi, Seiji,” she replied.

    Sage walked into his darkened room but didn’t bother to turn the lights on. He went to the small bonsai tree that sat in his window and checked it, pausing to gaze out at the moonlit forest for a few moments. The soft light gleamed on the bare branches of the sakuras in the garden, making it look like a landscape from another planet. It felt so alien to him, yet he had lived here all his life.

    Sage turned away from the window and sat down on the edge of his bed, resting his elbows on his knees and staring at the wood floor. A few long tendrils of his blond hair fell forward, dangling threads of gold that caught what little light was cast into his black room. He fingered his hair absently, mind wandering on other things, everything, anything.

    He stood up and walked into the almost pitch black bathroom and peered through the doorway into Rowen’s room. A small sliver of moonlight fell across the bed where Rowen lay on his side on top of the covers, still in his clothes and his back to Sage. He watched Rowen’s side rise and fall evenly, and figured he was already asleep. Tiptoeing quietly into his room, Sage sat down on the side of the bed, springs groaning in protest and said nothing. Just listened to Rowen breathe.

    After what seemed like forever, Sage turned around and gazed at Rowen’s cold, lonely figure and felt something clench his heart like a fist. He gulped and knew what he had to do, even if the risk of being seen was high; the bed creaked loudly as he lay down next to Rowen and gently placed his arm around his waist, pulling him close and closing his eyes. Sage found Rowen’s cool hand and delicately weaved his fingers with Rowen’s in a loving clasp. Then he moved no more.

    Rowen stirred and blue eyes fluttered open. He felt warmth, heard soft breaths, felt someone holding him and he knew who it was. Only one person in his life had ever held him that closely. He shut his eyes and tears squeezed from them, running down his face sideways in hot trails that quickly cooled.

    Rowen fell asleep with a smile on his lips.