One year and two months later, December 24, 9:27 PM

    “Cye? Couldja perhaps gimme a hand here?”

    Ryo grunted as he strained and stretched on his tiptoes to put the star on top of the Christmas tree. The living room had a high ceiling, so they had a good eight-foot tall fir this year, and Ryo was a good two and a half feet shy. Cye finished placing a nicely wrapped present underneath the bristly pine and stood straight, crossing his arms and smiling smugly at Ryo.

    “I hope you hit a growth spurt sometime within the next few months.”

    “I’m done growing. This is as tall as I’ll ever be,” Ryo quipped.

    “Pity. You could’ve gotten a job as one of Santa’s elves down at the shopping center,” muttered Cye, taking position behind Ryo and placing his hands on Ryo’s hips. “On three, then I lift. Olright?”

    “Don’t grab my pants, dude. You’ll gimme an atomic wedgie.”

    “Whot’s a wedgie, dude?”

    “When your underwear gets yanked way way way way way up into your ass. Commonly called a crack attack.”

    “Olright, you’ll just ‘av to get on my shouldahs.” Cye crouched down and Ryo stumbled clumsily into position. “On three and I stand.”

    “Okay. One-”



    “Hmphh!” Cye struggled to raise the heavier lad up just enough to reach the top of the tree. Ryo, about to lose his balance, clapped the star on top and then fell forward, wrapping his arms around the tree.

    “Shii-iit!” he cried. “Put me down! Put me down!”

    “You’ll wreck the bloody tree! Leggo!”

    “I’ll fall backwarrrrrrds!” Ryo squeezed his legs tightly around Cye’s head and the unfortunate lad was suddenly without sight or air.

    “Mmmph mmr mmhhhhr!” he cried.

    “I don’t wanna die on Christmas-!”

    Cye finally jerked backwards and Ryo lost his grip on the tree. Sharp needles rained down and several ornaments and yards of tinsel stuck to his sweater. Cye struggled to keep his footing while fighting for air and sight. Ryo, feeling like he was flying around the room, latched both fists in Cye’s brunette hair and attempted to steer him around the room. Cye did not like having his scalp yanked around like a feed sack and he certainly didn’t want two bald spots for Christmas so chaos ensued.

    “Leggmph mph hairmph!”

    “Augh! Augh! The candles, Cye! The candles!” Ryo steered the human automobile away from the mantle where several candles were burning and likely to catch the dangling tinsel of Ryo’s sweater ablaze. Cye, howling for Ryo to loosen his legs, needed air before he passed out and he decided the only way to do it was to rid the burden from his shoulders. So as soon as he was oriented, he made a break for the kitchen door like a lightning bolt.

    The last thing Ryo saw was a wooden doorframe right before his head put a gigantic dent in it. Barely conscious, he fell from Cye’s shoulders as the Brit passed through the door with no trouble. Ryo landed flat on his back, a mini solar system haloed about his head and two gigantic stars where his eyes used to be. Cye sucked in a gasp of much-needed air and circled back to survey the damage.

    Ryo moaned. “ I’m . . . gonna be pickin’ . . . fuckin’ splinters outta my skull till Halloween.”

    Cye kneeled down and grabbed Ryo by the wrists. There were more than a few strands of reddish brown hair stuck to Ryo’s hands.

    “You betteh hope there’s no bald spot on me ‘ead or else you’re dead, Ryo.”

    “You nearly killed me with the door, you foul rotter,” Ryo bit back as Britishly as he could.

    Kento came barging down the stairs with Rowen in hot pursuit, shaking the shutters and causing quite a loud hoopla. After listening to their heated discourse it came to pass that Kento was illegally possessing the coveted Santa Claus hat of which Rowen claimed ownership. Cye, normally the mediator but not caring about a little squawk every now and then, ignored them and helped Ryo into the den, insisting that there was no horrible bruise on his forehead and that the migraine he was experiencing was merely a side effect of the collision and not a mild concussion symptom.

    Sage came trotting down the stairs and saw Rowen still heckling Kento for the Santa hat back. Sage tossed a lock of golden hair behind his shoulders and strode up to the two, snatching the hat from them both and saying, “I know how to solve this. Let us just cut the hat in half so you can both have a equal piece.”

    “I don’t want to wear half a hat,” Kento glowered.

    “Me, neitha. I’ll look stupid.”

    Sage beamed. “Alright, then!” He placed the hat on his own head and tapped Rowen’s nose teasingly before walking away.

    “Rowen,” Kento seethed, pointing to the blond’s back. “Your husband is a cocky son of a bitch.”

    “I know.” Rowen blushed and grinned. “Ain’t he great?”

    In the den, Sage whispered to Ryo and Cye, “Look, we had a tradition at my house where we always let everyone open one present on Christmas Eve.”

    “Sage, everybody has that tradition,” Cye muttered.


    “Okay, well, glad to see it’s backed by global enforcement. Anyway,” Sage rolled his eyes. “I was wondering if we could give Rowen his-” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “-special present.”

    “Already? It’s too soon!” Ryo complained. “I say we make him wait for it.”

    “It’ll keep ‘im occupied. You know Rowen ‘asn’t any patience,” Cye countered.

    “True, true,” Ryo grumbled. “Okay, let him have it.”

    Sage turned his head and shouted, “ROWENNN!”

    A shock of blue hair popped into the den and spouted, “Yes, my little kumquat?”

    “Come on. We’re going to let everybody open one present tonight. Youngest first by default.”

    Rowen skipped into the room (rather odd to be twenty one and skipping like a four year-old) with Kento following at his heels. Instead of sitting down like a normal person, he jumped into Sage’s lap and wrapped his arms around his neck.

    “I wanna horsie and a choo-choo and a few ounces of sodium nitrate for that physics project I’m working on-”

    “Rowen, what are you doing?”

    “Why, you’re Santa Claus.” Rowen tugged the fuzzy red Santa hat off Sage’s head and put it on his own. “Now I’m Santa Claus. Bwa ha ha ha ha.”

    “He’s been dipping into the eggnog,” Kento muttered.

    Cye shook his head. “Ro, I think you’ve ‘ad a bit much to drink.”

    “Says the man who was a raving drunk a few months ago,” Ryo snapped.

    “Looking at the midget who can’t even put a star on the top of the tree.”





    Sage dumped Rowen off of his lap and stood up, asking, “Have the Asses reached a verdict yet?” Cye and Ryo quieted down and Sage shook his head. “I swear. You two can be like a couple of kids. Rowen, close your eyes. I’m going to get your present. Kento, make sure he’s not peeking.”

    “Aye aye,” Kento affirmed and turned to Rowen. “If I see those eyelids so much as twitch the chiclets will fly, agreed, Hashiba?”

    “Hashiba-Datier to you,” Rowen smirked and closed his eyes tightly. A few moments later, Sage appeared carrying Rowen’s gift in his hands. The others laughed quietly and Rowen asked, “Is this a prank gift? Does Sage wanna spend Christmas Eve sleeping on the couch?”

    “No, it’s not a prank,” Sage said. “Okay. You ready?”

    “I’m ready.”

    “You’re not peeking?”


    “Yes you are.”


    “Close your eyes or I’ll get the blindfold!”

    “Liar, liar, pants on fire, hangin’ from a telephone wire-”

    Sage tried not to laugh. “Rowen, do you want your present or not?”

    “Okay, I’ll close my eyes,” Rowen feigned disinterest. “Sheesh. Get ya shorts in a wad about it why don’t ya.”

    Kento snickered. “Rowen, this Christmas present is gonna-”

    Cye swatted the top of his head. “Quiet, you!” he hissed. “Don’t tell ‘im whot it is!”

    “I wasn’t! Where’s your sense of suspense, Cye?”

    “The same place where his sense of humor went,” Ryo giggled.

    “Alright, children,” Sage announced. “Will you settle down, please?”

    “Tch,” Kento huffed, whispering to Ryo. “Just ‘cuz he’s married he thinks he can boss us around like we were-”

    “I can hear you, Kento.”

    “You can bite me, Seiji.”

    “Gimme my damned present already!” Rowen sighed impatiently, fidgeting in the easy chair with his eyes shut tight.

    “Okay, let me pick it up.”

    “Yay! Sh shshshshhh!” Cye hushed everyone.

    “I’m holding it now,” Sage said. “It’s really heavy, Rowen, so you’ve got to be ready when I hand it to you, okay?”

    Rowen nodded madly and stuck his hands out in earnest.

    “Be careful. It’s delicate.

    “Delicate and heavy? What is it, a chandelier from Buckingham?”

    “Aw, damn,” Ryo muttered. “He guessed it.”

    “He was just kidding, Rowen. Keep those eyes shut. Now then . . . here it is.”

    The four friends watched in glee as Rowen’s blind hands fumbled over a small furry ball of fluff. It let out a little yip and Rowen opened his eyes and looked down to see a small puppy squirming in his lap. It stumbled around curiously and Rowen’s heart melted like a stick of butter on a hot July day. He held the pup to his face and it sniffed him happily, licking Rowen’s cheek while its tail wagged a million miles an hour.

    “Oh, Sage! It’s so cute! Is it a he or a she?”

    “It’s a he.”

    “Awww!” Rowen cradled the small pup in his arms like an infant and looked up at his beloved blond husband with a grin from ear to ear. “Thank you, koibito,” he gushed, leaning over and giving Sage a peck on the cheek.

    “Does this mean you’ll stop bugging me about kids?” Sage teased.

    “For the time being.”

    Ryo said, “You’d better watch that thing around White Blaze. He might think it’s a sausage and eat it.”

    “Ryo, don’t antagonize the lad,” Cye said crisply.

    “What kind is it?” Kento asked, creeping closer.

    “It’s a German Shepherd mutt,” Sage replied. “Part shepherd and part something else. Maybe akita.”

    “Guten tag, meiner kleiner Freund!” Rowen cooed. Sage looked at Kento and shrugged. “I think I’ll name ya . . . Sebastian!”

    The others did a collective face vault and Ryo said, “But . . . what if he was half French poodle?”

    “Sebastian Francois, then.”

    “Or Chihuahua?”

    “Sebastian Francois Fernando.”

    “Whot if ‘e was part English bulldog?”

    “Sebastian Francois Fernando Churchill. Hey, that has a nice ring to it.”

    Sage muttered, “Ro, remind me to never let you name our kids.”

    Rowen squealed, “We’re gonna have-”

    “If. I mean, if we have kids. Take care of a dog first. There’s less commitment there.”

    Sage flopped down on the sofa next to Rowen and clasped his hands behind his head. Rowen let the pup who would come to be known as Bastian (Bastian-Baby affectionately), crawl all over his “daddy” like a clumsy ball of fluff. It was a delight to spend Christmas back home with the rest of the guys. Rowen was about to enter his third year of college that spring (all credits restored) and Sage had found himself the founder and president of the kendo club at the university, acting as both teacher and trainer. On weekends he offered private lessons to younger children and Rowen was able to pick up where he left off at the observatory.

    Thus, Ryo and Cye and Kento were salvaged now that they had a more steady income than the year before. For once, they could actually sleep in on weekends again. It had been so long since that had happened that when Rowen and Sage first returned, they were usually up at the crack of dawn (Rowen had yet a few weeks to get those early morning kendo lessons out of his system and Sage was always an early riser).

    It was agreed that the five were never to venture for too long out of each other’s company unless it was extenuating circumstances, such as a death in the family or something. A wise decision if it were looking at the world’s security perspective of it but rather lonesome on the other hand; Cye had family in the United Kingdom and Kento had an uncle in the States and family all over China, so of course they missed their folks. However, they were just a phone call away. Sage thanked God for that. No more annoying Rose and tactical Cynthia or the oppressive air of adults, though Rowen’s father was known to drop by every now and then to see how everyone was doing, but he was like one of the guys. Right now it was perfect, absolute bliss. Just the five of them, the Ronin Warriors, and peace at last-


    “Oh my God!”

    Spoke too soon.

    Ryo screamed as White Blaze came soaring over the couch and landed on the coffee table, knocking over a bowl of walnuts and a vase of poinsettias. He merely wanted to greet the new member of the family but for some strange reason all his human friends thought something else and a great row was created. Humans were so strange. All he wanted to do was take a whiff of the canine stranger, perhaps swap fleas with him or-

    Rowen had Sebastian raised over his head and Sage had his arms around the neck of a 500 pound Siberian tiger trying to hold him back. Some were shouting, others were laughing.

    Ryo shouted to Kento, “I’ll grab his back legs! You get him by the tail!”

    “Hell NO, Sanada!” Kento shrieked. “Have you seen what those fucking claws have done to Dynasty soldiers?! Cye, get your ass over here and grab this tiger!”

    “Cye’s arse is staying right ‘ere,” Cye replied.

    “Fine, you chicken!”

    “Oh, but I am fine, thank you.”


    “Lookout — OOF!”

    Crash. Bam. Shatter. Rip.

    “I just had that sofa reupholstered!”

    “I think this would be a good place to end the story, mates.”

    “Good! Go! End the story, already! HURRY! Before one of us ends up in the hospital!”


    “Seiji, are you okay?”


    “Are you okay?!”


    “Are you okay, Seiji?”

    “Stop singing that stupid song!”

    Boom. Smash.

    “Aw, well, so much for the tree. WHITE BLAZE! LEAVE THE POTPOURRI ALONE!”

    “Um, fellahs? I don’t know how to end this.”

    “Just say the end! It’s not hard, Cye!”

    “Uh, okay. Then . . . it’s the end of this story as we know it-”

    “It’s the ennddd.”

    “Of the story as we know it! And I feeeeel finnne.”

    “C’mere, Cye. I can fix that for ya.”

The End