Halo
Chapter 9

    They numbered six in the Ronin household that day: Ryo Sanada, Sage Datier, Rowen Hashiba and his father Warren, Cye Maury and Kento Rei Fuan. Though Sage and Rowen had to wind their way back to Sendai so that Sage could break the news of his recent engagement to his family, invitations of Cye’s home-made cuisine and free showers were all too tempting and they ended up staying, at least for lunch.

    Rowen and Sage borrowed some clothes from Ryo and Cye (since even Kento had trouble fitting into his own clothes after the Ronin Pantry Crash of ‘93) and went upstairs to take showers — separately, at Mr. Hashiba’s request — while Cye prepared to scrap together various ingredients to form something that could be remotely called lunch.

    A while later Sage and Rowen came downstairs and over stir-fried rice and beef went over the game plan. Cye and Ryo were especially helpful, offering advice and posing scenarios to give Sage adequate practice for any unexpected reactions from his parents. Kento was always there to pop in a pessimistic or smart remark and that accounted for the unpredictability of the situation.

    Mr. Hashiba observed in silence, watching the very thing that saved the entire world at work; this team, this camaraderie, this unbreakable bond between five young warriors that would exist for the rest of their lives. Now they were coming together to help each other once again but for a less earth-shaking reason. This was not one person for the sake of the world — this was for the sake of person that meant the world to another.

    Warren saw the anxiety and stress riding Sage’s shoulders as he struggled to answer his “parents”, the parts of whom Cye and Ryo were playing. Warren saw the desperation, the near madness, the passionate will behind Sage’s icy blue eyes and realized that the young blond really was in love with his son. And when he looked into his son’s eyes, seeing them sparkling and alive, Warren knew Rowen loved Sage, too. He didn’t know how, he didn’t need to see their hands locked together underneath the table to convince himself, he didn’t even want to know why his son had chosen this path. Well, it was his path to choose, after all. Ever since that day in October, the time Warren had held Rowen in his arms as a small life no more than an hour old, sitting in the emergency room with his wife Caroline recovering from a grueling, thirty-six hour labor, he had known that he would have to let go one day.

    And now, twenty years later which seemed like only a day, he sat across the table and watched his son, his little boy, his greatest creation, sit next to someone who was more in love with him than could be imagined, who would love him for years to come and even unto death. In fact, Warren would rather it be Sage than any other man Rowen chose to spend the rest of his life with. They had known each other for years, they had been friends before any romantic feelings arose between them, and Sage was very sensible. He was a good man. He would take care of Rowen. He had a good head on his shoulders and he could make his son happy . . .

    Mr. Hashiba sighed. Let go, Warren. Stop giving reasons. He’s not your little boy anymore.

    But as his eyes met his son’s, a near reflection image of himself, he only wished he would have played more of a part in Rowen’s life when he was a child. Why do they grow up so fast? Warren smiled sadly.

    Not my little boy? Never. You’ll always be my little boy, Rowen. Always.

    “Are you sure you don’t want us to come along and back you up?” Kento asked, standing out in the driveway with the others, preparing to send Rowen and Sage out to the road again.

    Sage smiled and put a hand on his shoulder.

    “Thanks, Kento. But this isn’t a battle for the world or anything. It’s a personal matter between me and my family and I don’t think I’ll need Kento of Hardrock offering to waste any of my siblings.” Sage laughed. “Although you’ve got my permission to have at my little sister if you want to kill something-”

    “Saaage,” Rowen said warningly.

    “Don’t start on me, Ro.”

    “She’s gonna be my sister, too,” he quipped.

    “That’s going to devastate her.”

    “You’ll love that, won’t ya?”

    “I’ll try not to cackle with glee or anything.”

    Mr. Hashiba sighed and gave Rowen a hug. “I’ll call your mom and tell her about all this.” He released Rowen and Sage took a step forward.

    “How do you think she’ll take it?” the blond asked.

    Warren shrugged and Rowen crossed his arms, trying to conceal a grin. “Why don’t ya hug ya future son in law, pops?”

    The older man gave his son a dubious look with half-closed eyes and muttered, “That’s asking for just a-” He held up his fingers and indicated the miniscule amount.”-little bit too much right now, Rowen.” Then he narrowed his eyes at Sage, who gulped and began to mentally go over escape routes in his head should Daddy Hashiba suddenly decide he needed a blond throw rug to go in front of the fireplace. Then Warren smiled grudgingly and leaned forward, giving Sage a reluctant embrace.

    “Might as well get it over with,” Rowen’s father muttered. “I never thought I’d end up having two sons one day.”

    Sage was nearly in tears by the time Warren let go, but it wasn’t because he was touched. He looked like he was strung out on crack he was shaking so badly in nervousness and anxiety.

    “Um. Well . . .” Sage blathered. “Aheh. Thanks . . . dad. I guess.”

    Ryo, Kento and Cye broke into simultaneous smiles. “Aww. Ain’t that sweet, mates?”

    “Bloody so,” Ryo mimicked Cye’s accent.

    “Y’know,” Kento said. “ Once you get over the fact that they’re queer as a three dollar football bat you actually start to-”

    “Okay, Kento, time to say goodbye.”

    “-but they just really grow on ya. Kinda like a malignant tumor or a fungus-”

    Ryo and Cye hustled Kento toward the door as Sage and Rowen climbed into the jeep, waved one last time and slowly backed out of the drive. Warren stood, arms crossed and watched them disappear down the road. Then he let out a heavy sigh.

    “Human lives are too short,” he murmured to himself. Then he turned around and walked back to the house.

    “Okay, so what do we do if ya folks aren’t home?”

    “Oh, they’ll be home, Rowen. Trust me.” Sage tightened his grip on the wheel as they neared the stretch home to Sendai. “They’ll be there, lying in wait. I’m sure I’ll get the third degree about being irresponsible-”

    “But you said it wasn’t ya fault,” Rowen objected. “The traffic was really bad and we got stuck and-”

    “They’ll never believe that, especially after we tell them our big secret. They’ll be either horrified or extremely pissed that we spent the night together, and I can guarantee they’ll assume the obvious. Besides, they always find a way to redirect the blame so it all comes down on me.” Sage sighed and fidgeted. “This shirt is really, really tight.”

    Rowen eyed the long sleeve, dark maroon shirt Sage had borrowed from Cye and smiled suggestively. “Looks just fine to me.” He didn’t go on to mention how well it outlined the firm chest muscles and accentuated the curvature of his arms. Sage was already blushing modestly.

    “You’re just saying that because you like the way it looks on me.”

    “Would ya like it better if I lied?”

    Sage chuckled softly. “Alright, alright. You win.”

    “Heh. You’re whipped.”

    “I am not.”

    “Babe, you are so whipped.” Rowen folded his arms behind his head and leaned back in the seat, smirking. “Wheneva we fight — and we will fight, goddammit — you’re gonna be the one sleepin’ on the couch.”

    “In that case I’m buying a really nice sofa.”

    They shared a brief laugh and grew quiet, not speaking for a while. As they neared closer and closer to home they could feel the oppressive atmosphere bearing down, seeping in like a black fog and causing the warmth between them to fade. Rowen, in an attempt to resurrect some of that lost warmth, whispered, “I really . . . liked it last night.”

    Sage blinked several times. “I hope I wasn’t too rough. I . . . I kind of found myself getting carried away sometimes and . . .”

    “No, you were fine.” Rowen smiled. “You were perfect.”

    “Be sure to tell that to my parents when they ask how it was.” Pause. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to sound cynical. I enjoyed last night, too.”

    They turned onto the home stretch, the final road. Rowen could almost hear Sage’s heart pounding and wished there was something he could do to comfort him. But alas, the only path to comfort lay in the baring of truth.

    There wasn’t an angry mob with torches and pitchforks waiting for them as they pulled up. At least that was reassuring. The parents were at home; their car was in the carport and uh oh, so was Eichi’s and that meant he and Cynthia were at home, too. What were they doing here?

    Sage turned off the jeep. “Rowen, whatever happens, I want you to know that I love you with all my heart.”

    Rowen grasped Sage’s hand gently and murmured, “You’ve told me. Now tell them.” He nodded toward the house.

    Sage set his jaw determinedly and took a deep breath.

    “Rememba, I’ll be right there beside ya. What’s the worst thing they could do, huh?”

    “Don’t invite bad ideas, Rowen.”

    “Gimme some wood ta knock on first.”

    Silence descended.

    “Are we just gonna sit and wait for ‘em ta come out here?” Rowen asked. “Or are we gonna go in there and tell ‘em how it is?”

    Sage, feeling a rush of adrenaline, opened the door and proclaimed, “Oh, we’ll show them how it is! For once I’m going to stand up for myself and they will rue the day — come on, Rowen!” He was so taken with his self-righteous pilgrimage that he dragged his fiancé across the center console and out the driver’s side door. Hand in hand, Sage marched up the driveway muttering convincing pep speeches to himself and dragging Rowen behind him. They trotted up the front steps and paused at the door. Sage drew in a breath, raised his head and opened the door, pulling Rowen inside and shutting it.

    “I’M HOME!” he shouted loud enough for everyone in the house to hear him. He kept a firm grip on Rowen’s hand, who found himself a little nervous, too. Rose was the first one to appear, running breathlessly into the foyer.

    “Ohhh, Sage,” she uttered, glancing pitifully at her brother. “You’re in big and I mean big trouble.”

    “Wh-what?” Sage squeaked, all confidence in himself lost.

    Rose giggled. “Just kidding! Mom and Dad were worried is all. They were . . .” She trailed off as she suddenly noticed how closely her brother was standing to his friend and her eyes widened when she saw their hands locked together. “. . .why’re you two holding hands?”

    “Because we’re engaged,” Sage answered without faltering. “And because we love each other.”

    Rose stared. “You’re kidding . . . right?”

    “No.”

    “But . . . but he’s one of the five.”

    “So? I am, too.”

    “But. How long have you . . . ?”

    “Since forever. End of story.” Sage looked over at his beloved, blue-haired other. “We’re here to break it to everyone.” Rose gaped in disbelief and Sage turned to glare at her. “What do you think this is, a freak show? Quit staring.”

    Rose closed her mouth and blushed. “I didn’t know . . . well, jeez. No wonder you always got so touchy when I flirted with Rowen. I mean, if I’da known you two were together . . .”

    “See, all ya had to do was tell her,” Rowen said with a smile to Sage.

    “Yeah, but unfortunately some people in the house were blessed with big mouths.”

    “Oh, go easy on her, will ya, Seiji?”

    “I’ll go easy on her when she’s married.”

    Cynthia sauntered in coolly, unannounced. “Well well well,” she crossed her arms and grinned. “If it isn’t the two lovebirds back from their flight south. So tell me, how went the night at the motel, boys?”

    The boys gulped in unison and said nothing.

    “Yeah, I should have known from the first night at dinner that you two had something going on. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t know if it was true or not . . . now it seems you’ve jumped ship without a life vest.”

    “You mean,” Sage squeaked. “You knew the whole time?”

    Cynthia shrugged indifferently. “I was a little wary at first but after seeing you and Rowen together every waking second of the day . . .”

    “Were we that obvious?” Rowen inquired and Cynthia smiled.

    “You couldn’t have been more obvious without having pink triangles painted on your foreheads, sweetie.”

    Brett and Geneva Datier slowly walked into the foyer and Rowen felt Sage’s pulse quicken through his palm. “Mother. Father.”

    They didn’t look angry, in fact, they looked worried. Mrs. Datier sighed heavily and her husband put an arm around her shoulders.

    “Um, let’s all sit down,” Cynthia suggested evenly. “Then everything will be explained.”

    It was a sort of déjà vu feeling, being seated in the living room with questioning eyes gazing at you intently. The looming presence of Sage’s grandfather didn’t ease the tension either but by this time anxiety was second nature to the engaged couple, who sat together on the small sofa and held hands in silence.

    “Is there anything you’d like to tell us, Sage?” Mrs. Datier asked.

    Oh, no. Nothing at all. How’s the weather?

    Sage thought sarcastically. Well, it was now or never, do or die, eat or be eaten. It was time to get over a year’s worth of secrets all off his chest.

    “Yes, there is.” Sage took a breath and Rowen squeezed his hand reassuringly. “I’ve been lying to you. Rowen isn’t here to learn kendo, he’s here to be with me. We both realized we loved each other a year ago and we couldn’t stand being apart. I couldn’t survive without him so I asked him to marry me last night, and he accepted. His father knows about us and gave us his permission. I felt awful for lying to you but I was so afraid you would send Rowen away if you knew about us so I had no other choice . . .”

    Pause.

    “Is that all, son?” Mr. Datier asked.

    Sage nodded, head bowed.

    His father sighed and gazed at his wife. “I told you, Neve. We shouldn’t have dressed him up as a girl when he was a child. Now he’s . . . I have three daughters now.”

    Cynthia grinned and Eichi tried not to laugh. Rose was still in shock and speechless and Grandfather Datier was like a rock, not moving, not speaking, not even blinking.

    “So . . . you’re not angry?” Sage ventured.

    His mother smiled gently. “Well, we can’t say we didn’t expect something like this to happen. I suppose there was always the chance you might change your mind about the opposite sex . . . I just . . . we didn’t expect your chosen, ah, partner to be one of the five. But I suppose it’s better that way. No bother of having to tell the whole story about the armors all over again.”

    Sage turned his head to gaze at his grandfather. “Ojii-sama?”

    “Magomusuko,” came the gruff answer.

    “Sumimasen, ojii-sama. I’m afraid I’ve proven to be an unworthy heir to the Date family dojo.” Sage bowed his head and shoulders respectfully to his grandfather, who gazed at his grandson and muttered, “Muimi, Seiji-kun. You will always be my finest student. But before that, my finest grandson. You’ve helped save this world many times. Know that I am always proud of you no matter what path you may choose.”

    Tears were in Sage’s eyes when he raised his head. “Arigato, ojii-sama.”

    “Iie.” His grandfather smiled and bowed slightly in his seat. “Arigato, Seiji-san, or should I say, sensei.”

    Sage’s eyes widened. “What? You mean-! I’m . . . ?”

    “The dojo is yours, my grandson.”

    The bearer of Halo tried to hold his glee and excitement in but a little managed to escape. “Wonderful!” he cried. “Marvelous! I can’t . . . thank you, ojii-sama!” Then Rowen happened to catch his eye, sitting forlornly with a sad smile on his face.

    “Congratulations, Sage,” he said, trying not to sound too gloomy. “I’m happy for ya.”

    Sage frowned and turned his head away. “Grandfather, do I have your permission to be wed?”

    Grandfather Datier shrugged and sighed helplessly. “It is your life now. Do with it as you please.”

    Sage stiffened his lips boldly. “Then . . . the first part of marriage is commitment, and that means willing to sacrifice your needs for the sake of your spouse’s. Grandfather, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline my inheritance.”

    “What!?” Rowen, Cynthia and Rose cried together.

    “Sage, are you sure?” his parents asked.

    Rowen gazed at his fiancé wildly. “Yeah, Sage, I mean. God, this was the whole reason I came here. It was for you! Don’t be silly and throw everything you’ve worked so hard for away-” He stopped suddenly as he realized what he was saying, and Sage smiled sweetly at him.

    “You sound just like your father, Rowen.”

    “Well, he is right about some things . . . but Sage, that dojo is your life!”

    “No. You are my life, Rowen. That’s why we’re moving back to Toyama so you can go to college.”

    “What?” Rowen gaped, more shaken than when Sage chose to decline his grandfather’s offer. “Are ya serious? Uh, I mean. I know you’re serious and all but . . . but what about the dojo?”

    Sage glanced at his grandfather who nodded slowly with a wise smile, and Sage felt his chest swell with love and the freedom of having such a heavy burden on his shoulders. He turned to the person he would spend many happy years of his future with and leaned forward, kissing him gently on the cheek. When he pulled away he found a room filled with smiles and support but most of all, that shining face of still-boyish beauty before him, gazing adoringly, and Sage whispered,

    “It can wait.”