Chapter 7

    Toyama, 1:24 AM

    There are many ways to relieve stress: chewing your fingernails, smoking, drinking, gnawing on foreign objects, running around the block, excessive endorsement of caffeine, killing small creatures, placing your hands around your friend’s neck and squeezing . . .

    Ryo, Cye and Kento were crowded around the kitchen table. Ryo had bitten his nails down to the quick and Cye was constantly fussing at him for doing so, whereas Ryo had no qualms about giving Cye an earful about the three pints of lager he had tanked down in the last hour. Kento was smoking like a chimney in January; already he had chained his way through half a pack of Marlboros and the kitchen looked like the aftermath of a stove fire.

    Ryo watched nauseously as Cye chugged his third pint and placed the empty stein on the top of his head, curling his lip and unleashing a belch that shook the shutters.

    “As soon as we get past this semester, Cye, I’m checking you into an AA group.”

    “M’ not alcalacoholic. I jes’ drink like any self-respetin’ Anglo-ish man.”

    “Yeah,” Kento huffed. “And I’m Santa Claus.”

    Cye grinned. “Grow a beard n’ yeh’d look jus’ like the bahstard.”

    Kento half rose in his seat and Ryo threw himself on the table. Cye arched an eyebrow.

    “Well, Ryo. Tha’s someping new,” he muttered under his breath.

    Ryo ignored him and said calmly, “Guys, keep the peace, alright? We’ve got to figure out some way to make ends meet this month.”

    Kento smiled smugly. “I think we should dress Cye up as a girl and open a kissing booth. Ten bucks a smack. You’d like that, wouldn’t ya, Cyerene?”

    Cye peevishly grabbed a pork rind out of the nearby open bag and tossed it at him. “Shag awf, Kenno.”

    “Guys!” Ryo exclaimed, slamming both palms down on the table.

    “Oh oh,” Cye rolled his eyes. “Don’ make ‘im madder or he’ll squeal like a piglet-”

    Ryo reached over and grabbed the newly opened bottle of tequila out of Cye’s hand before he could put it to his lips. “Ey now, Ryeeeeo! Givvat back-”

    “No. You’re a real son of a bitch when you’re drunk,” Ryo snapped. “And unless you’ve got some almighty-wise, omnipotent idea to get us out of debt-”

    “Didn’t the roommate thing work?” Kento interrupted.

    “It’s the end of the fall quarter. New students aren’t going to be in till the spring and we need money now.”

    “Whodda ‘bout Kenno?” Cye slurred.

    “What about him?”

    The young British man began to point randomly at the walls. “Yeh know Kenno. E’s filthy smeggin’ rich-”

    “No I’m not, dude. What about your family?”

    “Ha!” Cye laughed spitefully and leaned back in his chair. “ Me family makes ceramic n’ porcelain pots for a living and Ryo ‘ere has no family! It’s oll up to you now, mate. Just hit your parents up for some.”

    Kento sighed. “Man, I hit them up last month. They’re gonna be-”

    “T’ hell wi’ them! This’s survivavivial of the fittest!”

    Ryo nodded, and made an embarrassed face. “As awkward as it is, bro, we need that money, like, yesterday. Please? Just for this month?”

    Kento took a hard drag on his cigarette and crushed it into a Heineken bottle cap. “Alright-”

    “Yeassss!” Ryo and Cye cheered, throwing arms around one another.

    “-BUT . . . you’ll have to promise we’ll never do it again, okay?”

    The two beamed. “We promise!”

    Kento glowered. “N’ cut that queer-ass shit out, too. It’s bad enough two fifths of our team is gay without you guys being all touchy-feely.”

    Cye and Ryo let go of each other and Cye said pointedly, “Ah you hhhhhhomophobic, Kenno?”

    “NO!” Kento shouted. “That word. Anything that has to do with the word ‘homo’ does NOT have to do with me. HomO, KentO, no NO. Got it?”

    “You’re a homosapien, aren’t you?” Ryo asked. “Homoerectus-”

    “AUGH!” Kento jumped up from his seat and pointed at Ryo. “Bad word! Bad word, you’re goin’ to Hell when you die, Sanada!”

    “What? I’m just acting like a normal homobeing . . . I mean, human being-”

    “Augh! The world! The whole world’s goin’ gay! Augh! Augh!” Kento ran from the kitchen, leaving a swinging door in his wake. Ryo buried his face in his hands and chuckled softly. Cye put a hand on his shoulder and grinned.

    “Jolly gud show, mate. We jus’ found a new wayda scare th’ bejeezes outta Kenno.”

    Sendai, October 10, 9:38 AM

    Consciousness came creeping slowly behind Rowen’s eyes, opening them languidly. First one. Then the other. Then both. He sighed comfortably and rolled over onto his other side, burrowing down into the covers like a warm little chipmunk in mid-hibernation. The next instant he sprang bolt upright in bed, panicking as he glanced at the clock.

    “Shit!” he cursed, and began to race about his room frantically. Sage was going to kill him now! How could he have let him oversleep like this?

    Wait a minute.

    Rowen stopped in his tracks. Today was his birthday. Perhaps Sage was planning something. Probably an extra hard lesson in attack moves today. Rowen grimaced at the thought and walked through the bathroom, peering through the door to Sage’s room. The bed was empty and didn’t even look as if it had been slept in. Oh, that’s right . . . Sage had slept with Rowen last night.

    He cracked a grin as he rolled the sentence around in his mind, enjoying the way it sounded. “Sage?” he called gently. He wasn’t in his room. Well, if Sage was giving him the day off the least he could do is enjoy it.

    Rowen turned around and wandered back into his room, deciding he could think about his day better under a stream of hot water. He pulled his tee shirt over his head and tossed it on the bed, shucking off the rest of his clothes and leaving them crumpled on the floor. He smirked as he thought of Sage nagging him about his slovenly living habits and grabbed a towel from the nearby pile of clean laundry, stepping into the bathroom.

    He emerged a short while later from the steamy room and shook the excess water out of his hair, again thinking how much a shower raised his spirits. He dug through his dresser drawers and decided that if today was his day, then by God, it was his day and he could wear anything he pleased. That’s why he dragged out his favorite pair of jeans, faded and fraying at the holes, which were everywhere. He called them his Sunday pants because they were holy. (Duh-duh tshh.) And of course we can’t forget his favorite white Mrs. Pac-Man tee shirt covered with stains and just a little bit too tight for him (he had gotten it for his fifteenth birthday and was actually surprised it had lasted that long). That and his lucky socks that came up to his shins, completed his half-ass attire and he decided to make his way downstairs and see what was up.

    He forgot to comb his hair, too.

    Rowen trod heavily down the stairs to make his presence known, but there was no one in the living room to be known of his presence. He puzzled and hoped no one would jump out and surprise him. The end results of the other four Ronin Warriors doing that in the past had often been disastrous. Rowen poked his head into the den. Dark and silent. Still not knowing what to make of it, he crept to the kitchen door and prepared himself to be shocked.

    He pushed open the door. The kitchen was empty.

    Rowen crossed his arms. “Ah, ya want me ta believe you were goin’ ta jump out and surprise me but ya not, which means ya prob’ly up ta somethin’ worse.” He talked to himself and nervously began to dig around in the cabinets for some breakfast. Ugh, everything was so healthy. Didn’t the Datiers ever hear of Dunkin Donuts? Damn, that’s just what Rowen craved then. A huge box of chocolate glazed, Bavarian-cream filled, rainbow sprinkle doughnuts. Two dozen of ‘em. With maybe some crullers on the side, or some cinnamon twists. And a huge, steaming hot cup of black, non-decaf coffee with a few shovelfuls of sugar . . .

    He reached up and grabbed a box of Rice Crispies, taking a handful of the tasteless pieces of dried rice and cramming it into his mouth. He grimaced and forced himself to imagine it was really a doughnut, and he swallowed.

    “I gotta have some sugar!” Rowen whined desperately.

    “Good mor-”

    Taken completely by surprise (for Rowen could never be scared, oh, hell no), he let out a screech and spazzed, throwing the box of Rice Crispies into the air where they hit the kitchen floor and coated it in a crunchy layer. More of it was flying through the air like something in a snow globe, and Rowen whipped around to see Sage standing there with a less than enthusiastic expression on his face. Crispies coated his hair and shoulders.

    Rowen tried to regain his lost dignity and reached over, swiping a few of the Crispies off of Sage’s shirt. “Sage, man, ya need ta do somethin’ about that dandruff problem. A little Head & Shouldas, maybe?”

    Sage smirked sarcastically and held out an orange and white box before Rowen, whose eyes widened and shined with glee.

    “Ya . . . ya got me doughnuts?”

    “. . . no. I just thought I’d bring back the box since it was so pretty-”

    Rowen threw his arms around Sage and cried, “I LOVE YA, SAGE!”

    “Rowen!” the blond hissed.


    Sage sighed in defeat. “You’re a lost cause.”

    “Maybe,” Rowen pulled away and snatched the box of doughnuts with a maniacal gleam in his eyes. “But I’m a lost cause with some DOUGHNUTS!”

    Sage was miffed. “Are my hands still attached to my body, or did you rip them off?”

    Rowen didn’t answer — he put the box on the counter and tore it open, revealing twelve glazed beauties shining like jewels in a treasure chest. Sage didn’t know what hit him; one instant Rowen was ogling at the contents of the box and the next instant he had his lips plastered against Sage’s. He fell back against the counter and Rowen fell with him; evidently the gesture of bringing him a few sugar-coated pastries had been a wise idea.

    Sage allowed him three full seconds before turning his head and breaking the kiss. Rowen looked miserably crestfallen and wheedled, “What is it now? Who’s around that’s gonna see us?”

    “No one, really. Mother and Father are down at the dojo with Grandfather and Rose is still at a friend’s house.”

    Rowen gritted his teeth. “Then what the hell is stoppin’ ya from slappin’ me down on the counta top an’-”

    “When did we decide that I was going to be dominant?” Sage quirked an eyebrow and Rowen ceased his lewd ramblings.

    “Well, uhh . . .” He rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re olda.”

    “You’re taller.”

    “No I ain’t.”

    They immediately straightened and stood face to face while Sage used his hand to measure.

    “Man, ya know that neva works,” quipped Rowen.

    “Yes it does. See, you’re taller.”

    “Stand against the wall. Okay, now put ya hand here. See, you’re that tall. Here’s how tall I am-” Rowen stood against the wall and measured off the top of his head, then stepped away. “Ha HA!” he cackled. “Same height. You’ve gotten talla, Seiji.”

    “Oh, shove off, Rowen.”

    The blue-haired young man smiled and stuck his tongue out. “Ah! Doughnuts! I forgot!”

    He walked over, grabbed the box and began to trough the whole thing down while Sage stared on, unable (and unwilling) to believe a human could consume that much sugar without suffering from a massive diabetic attack.

    “Wanna kiss me now?” Rowen puckered up and made kissy faces at Sage, lips coated with sugar glaze. “I taste sweet.”

    Sage grinned and shook his head. “What’s it like being so smart and acting so dumb?”

    Rowen bit off half of a doughnut in one bite and said, “If’f fnknn huwawy-uff.”

    “Well, when you’re done with your glut fest get ready to leave.”

    Rowen gulped down the doughnut and inquired, “Where we goin’?”

    “Little road trip.” Sage smiled sneakily. “I packed your things while you were sleeping and my stuff is already in the jeep.”

    “Are we goin’ ta see the othas!?”

    “I’m not telling.”

    “Then where we goin’?”

    “I’m not telling,” he repeated. “It’s a surprise.”

    Rowen frowned. “Is this somethin’ ta do with my birthday? It is. How long’s it gonna take? How long’s the drive? I’m warnin’ ya, I have to sleep in the back or else I’ll get carsick an’ you’ll have ta clean partly-digested pastries off the dashboard-”

    “Do anything you want, Rowen. Do what you have to do to not get sick.”

    “Okay then. Say, you don’t mind if I bring my one pound tubba Vaseline, do ya?”

    Sage’s eyes slowly grew to twice their normal size and he muttered, “Dare I even ask why?”

    Rowen grinned. “Chapped lips, of course! They get real dry when I travel. Why? What else could we possibly use one pound ‘a Vaseline for?”

    Sage put a hand over his nose just in case if he were to be struck with a horrific nosebleed and growled, “Get your stuff or I’m leaving without you, Rowen.”

    His blue-haired companion winked. “Awww, whassa matta? Can’t ya take a joke?”

    “No, I can’t.”


    “That’s so very, very sad.”

    Kento listened to the phone ring on the other end of the line and turned his head to glare at Cye and Ryo, wide-eyed and waiting. Kento put a hand over the receiver and snarled, “If ya don’t shut your gaping yaps I’ll shut ‘em with my fist.”

    Ryo and Cye closed their mouths obediently and looked away. Kento shook his head and muttered under his breath, “Freeloaders.” His whole demeanor changed when someone answered the phone. His two companions perked up and listened.

    “I hope this doesn’t take long,” Ryo whispered. “ That phone bill’s gonna kill us if Kento doesn’t get that gravy.”

    “Gravy?” Cye inquired, lip curled.

    “Slang for cash. You know. Dinero, moola, green stuff, bread-”

    “Ohhhh! We coll it bread in England-”

    “Shh!” Ryo put a finger to his lips.

    “Tart.” Cye scowled.

    Kento twirled the phone cord around his finger nervously. “Hey! It’s me.”


    “No, it’s not the cable guy. It’s Kento.”


    “Mom, you know I hate it when you call me Kenny.”

    Pause. Kento rolled his eyes.

    “I know, I know. Listen, I . . .” His face fell suddenly.

    “Oh shit,” Cye muttered.

    Kento said, “How did you know I was callin’ for money?”

    “Fuck, we’re busted,” Ryo moaned and Cye clapped a hand over his mouth. Kento flashed daggers at them both and turned his attention to his mother.

    “Well, I would be calling more often if I wasn’t spending every waking moment trying to scrap together loose change!”


    “Yes, we’ve already cleaned out the sofa and the recliner. All we found was eighty seven cents, two pounds and fourteen yen-” Kento glared at Cye and Ryo. “-and a bunch of cat piss stains, MOM! For God’s sake, think of your son here!”

    “He’s guilting her,” Ryo noted.

    “Your son is suffering in the midst of plenty! I’ve lost twenty-eight pounds in past three months! I’m wasting away! I’ll be dead by next year and you’ll wonder what happened to me and come down here and find a skeleton propped up against the sofa, holding a note that says ‘product of faulty parenting’ and then how will you sleep at night!?”

    “E’s good,” Cye breathed. “Betteh than I expected.”

    There was a long pause as they sat, waiting for a reply. Then Kento cast his eyes and free arm toward Heaven above and Ryo and Cye cackled and rubbed their hands together.

    “Okay, okay. Thanks. Alright, just hang on and I’ll converse with my brokers.” Kento covered the receiver and hissed to Cye and Ryo, “How much?”

    “One million ought to do it.”

    And Cye’s elbow found a new home up against Ryo’s ribcage that day.

    On the road again with Sage at the wheel. It was nice to be getting out again; Rowen had been too busy lately to enjoy the fall colors, as had Sage. The rode with the windows down, letting the cool autumn wind whip their hair about as the sun shone down on them from the clear blue sky above. Not a single cloud marred the crisp azure purity of the atmosphere. Leaves danced in the wake of the jeep and all seemed to be right in the universe.

    Rowen leaned out the open passenger window and closed his eyes, breathing in deep the cool air he felt rushing into his face. The sunlight warmed his skin and he smiled, heart content. Sage glanced over at him and grinned affectionately, shaking his head.

    “When you start panting and drooling, let me know.”

    Rowen ducked his head back inside the jeep and beamed, hair ruffled and sticking out all over the place. “I think I mighta swallowed a few gnats.”

    “They probably got caught in your teeth,” Sage chuckled.

    “Hey, I gotta joke! What’s th’ last thing that goes through a bug’s mind when it hits a windshield?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Its ass.”

    There was a pause and Sage laughed suddenly and loudly. Rowen joined him, amused by his own joke.

    “You know,” Sage said as he caught his breath. “Some things are only funny when you share it with a friend.”

    Rowen nodded wisely. “Laughter was born a twin.”

    The rest of the day went marvelously for them both. The arrived in the late afternoon in Kyoto Prefecture (why Sage decided to bring Rowen here was anyone’s guess) but it turned out to be a beautiful place for sightseeing. They caught a movie at the matinee and went to dinner afterwards, just spending time together alone, just as Rowen asked for his birthday.

    They walked around the city limits and drove to places nearby for nothing but the sake of driving and enjoying each other’s company. Without the dread of his family bearing down on his shoulders, Sage laughed a little easier, smiled a little more freely, and was even unafraid to hold Rowen’s hand, pull him close, or slip an arm around his waist and wear a enigmatic expression on his face that told the world that Rowen was his. He even gave him a peck on the lips, and Rowen never felt happier before in his life that he was now. Just him and the one he loved, alone and yet not alone in a world devoid of worries or troubles for the time being.

    As evening approached, Sage turned to Rowen with a smile and said, “Have you enjoyed your birthday present? It’s what you asked, right?”

    Rowen latched onto Sage’s arm and rested his head on his shoulder lovingly. “Yep. It’s all that I evah wanted. Thanks, Sage.”

    The blond patted the top of Rowen’s head. “It’s not over yet. There’s still one more place we need to see.”

    “But it’s gettin’ dark. It’ll be pitch black by the time we get there.”

    “All the better.” Sage winked mischievously. “It’s really pretty at night.”

    Rowen sighed. “Okay. Last stop. I’m getting tired.”

    “Last stop, I promise. Then we’ll call it a night.”

    They drove up onto a rocky crest high above the rest of the town that lay nestled against the coast and stepped out of the jeep, into the cold night air. Rowen shivered and flipped up the collar of his jacket, glancing down at the view of the bay below. A narrow strip of land bridged two shorelines together; it glowed warmly with lights like those seen on Christmas trees. Rowen recalled seeing the landmark from the days when they were still battling Talpa, many years ago it felt like.

    Sage walked to Rowen’s side, footsteps crunching the gravel noisily. He stopped and looked along with Rowen at the serene water. “You remember this place,” he murmured softly, seeing his companion’s eyes alight with recognition.

    “ I do,” he replied. “This’s . . . this’s where you guys all realized I was up in outta space when Talpa separated us . . . and afta you all nearly killed yaselves fightin’ Dais.”

    “True.” Sage nodded and gently reached over, taking Rowen’s cold hand in his warm one. “But do you remember the name of this place?”

    Rowen turned to gaze at the blond with a puzzled expression. “No.”

    Sage took a breath and smiled softly. “They call this landmark Ama no Hashidate.”

    “The . . . bridge to th’ heavens?” Rowen inquired. “I know the first part but the second part doesn’t make-”

    “Rowen, what’s your last name?” Sage interrupted.

    He blinked. “Hashiba.”

    “And what is my original family name?”

    “Date.” Rowen’s eyes went wide as the realization hit him. “Oh my God. Hashidate. Hashiba-Date. That’s our names . . . put togetha . . .”

    Rowen trailed off and stared at the narrow strait with Sage in a whole new light.

    “This is where I first learned you were still alive. When I saw you after you had fallen back to the Earth, I . . . I had wanted to show you then how happy I was that you were alive but it just wasn’t the time. And I was afraid that if you saw how I felt you wouldn’t return my feelings. I couldn’t deal with that so I just decided to keep it to myself.”

    Rowen squeezed Sage’s hand and grinned. “Just like you ta pull a cloak ovah yourself.”

    “Well, a man’s got to protect his dignity, right?”

    “Right . . . but a man’s gotta do whatta man’s gotta do.”

    Sage laughed lightly. “I can never say anything that you don’t have the perfect comeback for.”

    Rowen winked and tapped his temple. “It’s simply elementary, my dear Seiji.”

    “Come on, Holmes.” Sage tugged his hand. “Let’s go find a place to sit.”

    They walked through the darkness with Sage leading, until they found a perfect spot that overlooked the whole strait. They sat down together and were silent for a while, staring at the stars that peppered the velvet black sky. The ribbon of the Milky Way wound itself from horizon to horizon over their heads, and they breathed in foggy mists into the night.

    “Pretty, huh?” Rowen asked sentimentally.

    “I can’t believe you were up there.”

    “Me neitha.”

    Sage gazed up at the sky quietly. “Last summer we celebrated the Sendai Tanabata. Do you know what that is?”

    “I’ve heard of it,” Rowen replied, watching his breath form a misty shroud. “But what’s it about?”

    Sage kept his eyes on the sky. “It’s an annual festival in Sendai, and has been for centuries. See that star there?” He pointed to a particularly bright star.


    “And that one right there, on the other side of the sky?” He pointed to another star and Rowen nodded. “The first one is known as Kengyu the Herdsman star-”



    “That star is celestially know as Altair.” Rowen grinned. “Continue, please.”

    “Uh, where was I? Oh, yes. The second one is Orihime-”


    “-the Weaver star.” Sage took a breath. “Legend has it that they are separated by the Ama no Kawa.”

    “The heavenly river?” Rowen translated.

    “Or the Milky Way. It’s a river of stars. Anyway, the two lovers Kengyu and Orihime meet once a year since they cannot be together.”

    “Why not?”

    “A long story,” Sage sighed. “They did something to anger the supreme goddess Amaterasu, and she separated them by putting Ama no Kawa between them. So they were unable to bind with marriage. It’s a sentimental holiday when the two lovers supposedly meet on opposite sides of the river and gaze at each other longingly.”

    Rowen murmured, “That’s sad.”

    Sage nodded. “It happens on the seventh day of the seventh month, traditionally. People get all wishy-washy and celebrate Tanabata, or the Star Festival. Kind of like Mardi Gras and Valentine’s day all wrapped up.

    “One of the traditions is to write a wish on a piece of paper called tanzaku and hang it on a bamboo tree, or somewhere in your yard. We also light candles and float it down the river, hoping it will light the way so that the two lovers will find their way to each other again.”

    “But . . . doesn’t that go against Amaterasu’s intentions?”

    Sage shrugged. “Maybe.” He paused and listened to the wind whisper softly through the trees. “Do you know what my wish was?” he asked, as softly as the wind.

    Rowen turned and gazed at him, shaking his head vaguely. Sage smiled and reached over, grasping Rowen’s hand in his own. “You.”

    Rowen smiled warmly and snuggled closer to Sage, staring up into the heavens with him.

    “Did you know,” Sage said. “That the Sendai Tanabata was first encouraged by Date Masamune?”

    Rowen pulled away. “He . . . he was ya ancestor, the One-Eyed Dragon!”

    Sage laughed lightly and gave a flick to the blond hair falling over his right eye. “I guess it runs in the family. He was the first feudal lord of Sendai, too. He’s who made that place what it is today.”

    Rowen shuddered and huddled close to Sage, who wrapped his arm around his shoulders.

    “Do y’think this is all . . . destiny ‘a somethin’?”

    “What, Tanabata?”

    “No,” Rowen said. “Us.”

    Sage gave him a tender squeeze. “There’s nothing wrong in dreaming.” He was quiet for a while. “So . . . how does it feel to be twenty?”

    “No diff’rent than nineteen,” Rowen sighed. “I feel old. I mean, afta bein’ a Ronin Warriah and seein’ a lifetime of fightin’ and sufferin’ and even dyin’ once . . .” He shivered. “I feel like I’ve already lived a whole life.”

    “And how was it?”

    Rowen’s eyes left the stars and instead gazed into the darkness before him. “Lonely. Meaningless. We had a good reason ta fight as hod as we did, but where’d it get us in the end? We’re runnin’ as fast as we can an’ stayin’ in the same place.”

    “Rowen,” Sage began to play with a strand of Rowen’s hair affectionately. “Being a hero is a thankless job. We’ve saved this world many times, and we’ve got to learn to accept the fact that no one is going to be standing at the finish line with a big bouquet of flowers and a trophy.”

    Rowen scowled. “This whole damned world owes us but no one knows it. Why’d we even botha fightin’ ta begin with?”

    Sage quoted, “The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.”

    Rowen smiled faintly. “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Sage kissed the top of Rowen’s head and he grinned. “I had a nice birthday. A lot betta n’ last year’s.” When ya weren’t there . . .

    “I’m glad.” Sage gulped and tried to stop himself from trembling. “Rowen, I . . . there’s still one more present I have left to give you.”

    Rowen pulled away and looked at him in glee. “Really? I love surpr-” He noticed the worried, anxious look on Sage’s face and trailed off. “Sage, what is it? What’s the matta?”

    “It’s a present you can choose to accept or reject, and I’ll honor either decision.”

    Rowen felt his heart quicken. “You’re startin’ ta scare me. What’s . . .”

    Sage reached into his coat pocket and pulled something out. It caught the starlight and shimmered, and Rowen felt his heart fly into his throat when he realized that Sage was holding a small golden ring.

    Scared was not a word that could begin to describe Rowen; he was petrified. He gazed up at Sage fearfully, blue eyes wide. “Wha . . . what?”

    “My present to you,” Sage said in an unsteady voice. “Myself. Will you have me?”

    Rowen felt his senses swimming around him like a fog. No thought. No mind now. Only his heart and soul, bursting with emotion, was the thing controlling his every move. His instinct, his reaction, the reflexive phrase that poured from his mouth was, “I will.”


A/N: Please note that all locations and landmarks are indeed real, and if you flew to Japan you could go visit them and carve S.D. + R.H. 4-evah in a tree or something . . .