Wicked Games
Thr3e Words

       “Nnnh . . . Seiji,” Rowen moaned, clenching his fists into the shoulder of the blond’s shirt as his back pressed against the wall. Sage’s erection was buried full inside of his body, pushing in and out forcefully. He gripped Rowen behind the knee and hiked his leg up, making the penetration easier. Rowen’s pants and boxers were gathered in a crumpled heap around his one standing ankle, and Sage had his free hand on the wall near Rowen’s head, steadying himself as he continued to claim the body he had become so addicted to enjoying.

       Rowen loved to watch Sage take him, to dominate him like this. Rowen himself was not the like to be ruled in the public eye, no, he had an almost type A personality and was always in control, a trait lent to him by his incredible intellect. But sometimes, just these secret and private moments he shared with Sage, he liked to be rendered helpless and submissive. It evened things out, rounded off the sharp edges and gave everything a smooth finish.

       And he loved watching Sage fuck him rough. The expression on the blond’s face was so utterly lustful and pleased: eyes half closed and dark with passion, cheeks red and flushed, a light sheen of sweat on his forehead, those golden tendrils falling in his face with each thrust, and his lips hanging slightly open and breathing in the way he had been trained when practicing the art of kendo. Sometimes he would even kiss Rowen, a more frequented action than it was four months ago when they had first had sex, but Rowen would rather admire Sage than partake of him.

       The blond, as if sensing Rowen’s thoughts of him, looked up to meet his gaze. Ah, Sage, he is so much more than a casual lay. Look at those eyes, those pleasure-glazed, deep blues . . . those are for you. That soft skin, that silky hair, those lovely lips . . . those are yours, too. All of this, these and that which make up Rowen and make him this beautiful . . . it is all for you, Sage.

       Sage felt the words form in his throat; they flowed onto his tongue but he shut his mouth before he could spill them from his lips. No, he had to be careful. Words like those, a saying like that… once spoken, you couldn’t take it back. Only say it if you mean it, and at this particular moment, Sage didn’t know if he meant it. So he kept them to himself, repeated it in his mind and felt just a little bit more complete.

       Rowen gasped, gulped and closed his eyes, leaning his head against the wall.

       “Ro? You okay?” Sage asked softly and Rowen nodded, trembling a little.

       “I just came.” He opened one blue eye lazily. “You win.”

       Sage smirked superiorly and pushed Rowen’s leg up higher. “You held out longer than the last time.”

       “Betta run for the money.” Rowen smiled.

       They continued to have sex until Sage finally came and poured his seed into Rowen for another uncounted time. They had engaged in intercourse so many times that neither of them kept track anymore. Rowen figured they averaged three times a week; Sage said more. In any case, it was still a confidential and non-committed relationship that existed between them and had become as natural as eating or sleeping or any other thing that was a part of being human. It seemed to have positive effects on them both: Rowen was more sociable and studied easier while Sage was more apt to laugh out loud and even joke around with Kento. Their dispositions had become quite pleasant, unlike the jaded, misfit ex-warrior attitudes they could have had. They had almost become normal young men.

       Rowen sighed heavily as Sage withdrew and let go of his leg, zipping up his pants. “That was exciting,” the azure haired lad murmured, getting his clothes on his body where they belonged.

       “Indeed.” Sage smoothed his wild blond locks and turned to face the mirror, adjusting his appearance.

       “Ya think this unexpected quickie was really called for in a place like this?” Rowen opened the bathroom door of the Toyama Public Library and removed the Out of Order sign on the handle, then walked out of the building with Sage grinning at his side.

       “When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go,” he chuckled.

       “Hey, Rowen!”

       The two were on their way to the car when a female voice called out from behind. They turned to see a young woman with a strawberry blonde ponytail jogging toward them. Rowen caught his breath.

       “Holy shit,” he said under his breath in awe. “It’s Claris MacElhanen.”

       “Who’s Claris MacElhanen?” Sage muttered softly, narrowing his eyes at the slim, pretty girl.

       “Transfer student from Oxford,” Rowen explained hurriedly. “She’s studyin’ in my astrology course. Most wanted girl in the class.”

       “Is that right.” Sage crossed his arms over his chest.

       Claris finally caught up to the two young men, flashing a dazzling smile that would charm a cobra. “Hello,” she said in a lilting English accent. It wasn’t like Cye’s; hers was more crisp and formal.

       “Hey,” Rowen grinned shyly. “Imagine seein’ ya here.”

       She shrugged and held up a few library books. “Doing research for that paper on the theory of clockwise rotation in spiral galaxies.”

       Rowen’s eyes went wide. “Oh, crap,” he uttered. “I forgot all about that thing!”

       Claris laughed. “No need to worry yourself. I work ahead. The paper isn’t due for another month.”

       Rowen sighed in relief. “Wow, ya had me worried there.”

       The young woman smiled gently and gazed at Rowen, who smiled back and lost himself in her green eyes. A small clearing of someone’s throat brought him back to the present, and he turned to find Sage standing at his side with his hands in his pockets and a slightly disgruntled look on his face.

       “Oh yeah yeah yeah, silly me, where’s my head . . . Claris MacElhanen, Sage Datier.”

       She looked at Sage for the first time and extended her hand, smiling sweetly. “How do you do. Are you a friend of Rowen’s?”

       Sage took her hand and shook it weakly. “Yeah,” was all he said.

       “You didn’t tell me you had such a charming friend, Rowen.”

       “Aweheh,” Rowen fumbled idiotically.

       “I’m staying at the observatory late tonight. The professors may even let the students use the telescope,” Claris said. “Would you like to come with me?”

       “Sure!” Rowen said without hesitation. “Yeah, that’d be great.”

       She smiled brightly. “Excellent. I’ll see you around nine.”

       “Isn’t that a bit late?” he asked.

       “You can’t see stars in the sunset,” she teased, then shifted her books into her other arm. “Well, I must be off. It was nice meeting you, Sage.”

       The blond nodded once and the two young men turned to watch Claris walk across the parking lot. When she was out of sight, Sage said softly, “She sure is pretty.”

       Rowen nodded. “Yep. Every guy in our class would have killed to talk to her.”

       “She must like you, then.”

       Rowen turned to stare at Sage with large eyes. “Ya think so?” he asked hopefully. The blond shrugged. “Holy shit.” Rowen suddenly broke into a jog back toward the library.

       “Where are you going?” Sage called after him.

       “Gonna brush up on my galactic knowledge!” Rowen yelled back gleefully.

       Sage stood in silence for a while before unlocking the car and getting a pack of cigarettes out of the glove box. He lit one up and took a drag, stuffed his hands in his pockets and leaned up against the car.

       He felt a little better for having held those three words back.

       As the sun went down and day demised, Sage sat outside in the backyard like he did every evening and stared at the sky. He called this his personal time, time he spent in solitude where he could gather his thoughts and stresses together and sort them out. It was how he kept his sanity and his temper, these daily meditations.

       He closed his eyes and inhaled slowly, filling his chest with sky and letting his mind go blank. He parted his lips and exhaled. A breeze blew through the forest and in between the large deciduous tree trunks. New leaves of spring rustled faintly. The scent of earth and grass and life rose up from the ground. Sight, scent, sound, touch. North, south, east west. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Red, yellow, green, blu-

       Sage’s concentration shattered and he opened his eyes. His chest felt tight. The sky could no longer pour into it, and it made him want to hold his arms close to his body. His bones, they felt cold. There was something heavy sitting in his chest, just behind his ribcage . . .

       “Hm.” Sage frowned and placed a hand over his left breast. His mouth twitched uncertainly and he looked up at the sky. Ah, to be a cloud. So light, so free. Floating and flying and watching the Earth below. Nothing ever went wrong up there, seven miles from the Earth.

       A breeze of ice slipped into Sage as he recalled how a certain member of their team had been that far above it, above them and drifting in peaceful silence like those great, carefree clouds.

       Suddenly it became hard to swallow and Sage picked himself up, walking back into the house and trying to focus his thoughts on some hot tea to get rid of that tight feeling in his chest.

       He wasn’t to be so mercifully spared; Rowen and Kento were just outside the kitchen door, making idle chit chat when the topic of the girl at the library came up.

       “Oh my God,” Kento bleated, feigning a heart attack. “Claris? Claris Micklehicker Mackerel, what’s-her-fine-ass? The red headed chick?”

       Rowen grinned from ear to ear and nodded. “Yeah.”

       Kento grabbed his hair and bit his lower lip. “You’re shitting me, Rowen.”

       “I shit you not. But look, it isn’t an official date . . .”

       “You meeting her someplace?”

       “Yeah.”

       “Then it’s a date,” Kento said bluntly, then squinted his eyes. “You’re my worst enemy right now.”

       Rowen laughed.

       Sage tried to ignore the conversation as he set the kettle on the stove but he soon found that this particular subject matter couldn’t be ignored so deftly. In fact, it made his chest tighten unbearably. Then his condescending inner monologue began.

       Why do you feel this pain? Are you sick? Did you do any sort of exercises to bring this about?

       No . . .

       It’s Rowen. Are you jealous that he’s going out with someone else? Are you sad? Angry? Scared . . . ?

       Ryo sauntered into the kitchen with White Blaze following in his tracks. Sage turned around and leaned back against the counter top, watching Ryo, who stopped en route to the refrigerator and looked up.

       “Any reason why you’re staring at me, Datier?” he asked worriedly. He disliked it when those ghostly pale eyes settled on him.

       The blond crossed his arms and shrugged. “No reason at all, Sanada.”

       Ryo lifted his chin. “Ah . . .” he muttered vaguely, opening the fridge door and getting out the carton of soy milk. He then grabbed a large saucer from the shelves and poured the milk into the dish, setting it on the floor. White Blaze lapped it up and Ryo patted the large cat’s back. In no time at all, the milk was gone and White Blaze sat on his haunches and licked his whiskers and paw, bathing his face. Ryo grinned and scratched the beast between the ears, making him purr and rub against Ryo’s legs affectionately.

       “Blaze sure does like you,” Sage commented wearily.

       Ryo beamed. “Like me? You kidding?” He kneeled down and roughed up the white tiger’s neck and ears in a way that Blaze would let no one else touch him. “He loves me!” Ryo pouted his lips and talked in a silly voice: “Isn’t that right, boy? Who’s your favorite Ronin? Who’s your papa kitty?”

       The tiger licked Ryo’s face and the young man chuckled at the rough caresses. Sage, witnessing it all, sunk about six feet lower than he was already feeling. Even if every last human being on earth were gone, at least Ryo would still have someone who he loved and loved him back. It was severely depressing on Sage’s part to realize this. The kettle began to whistle and he took it off the hot eyelet, letting the water cool a bit before pouring it in a mug with a teabag and stirring it silently.

       Ryo caught a scent of the tea and stood, walking to Sage’s side. “You sick?” he asked in a concerned voice.

       “No. I just like herbal tea.”

       “Hm.” Ryo nodded, satisfied with the answer. “Hey, didja know that Ro’s got a date with-”

       “It’s not a date,” Sage interrupted more sharply than intended. “Rowen himself said so.”

       Ryo appeared miffed for a few moments before he caught on. “You’re jealous that Rowen’s going out with Candice?”

       “Claris.”

       “Whatever. You have a crush on her or something?”

       Sage gave Ryo a dull look. “Sanada, when have I ever had a crush on a girl?”

       “Oh yeah. I forgot you and Rowen do the hanky panky every night!” Ryo winked and elbowed Sage jokingly, causing him to nearly spill his tea.

       Sage closed his eyes, attempting to keep his calm. “I wish you wouldn’t tease about that.”

       “Aw, cos it’s the truth, ain’t it?”

       “Shut up!” Sage shouted so vehemently that the dark haired boy was rendered in a wide-eyed stupor. Sage was almost as stunned as Ryo. He hadn’t intended to burst out like that. “Damn it, Ryo. Aren’t you ever serious?” He added irritably, taking his mug and leaving the kitchen.

       Ryo stared after him for a long time before White Blaze strode up to him and rubbed his thighs with his furry face. Ryo reached down and absently stroked Blaze’s whiskers. “I dunno, boy,” he murmured. “I dunno.”

       Rowen left around 8:45 and borrowed Cye’s car to drive down to the observatory. He dressed in khaki slacks, and it took a momentous occasion to get Rowen out of his beloved jeans. He obviously wanted to look nice. He even wore a button shirt, not the regular worn t-shirts he would wear for days on end without washing. He fairly went through metamorphosis for this . . . ‘meeting’.

       After Rowen had departed, Sage became extremely pensive and moody, finally retreating to the safety of his room . . . well, his and Rowen’s room. It was part of the rotation; there were only four main bedrooms and Mia got one all to herself because, well, she was the only female and the owner of the house. The others had to shack up unevenly with one another. It was always a fight over who got the free room. Sometimes Cye and Kento or Ryo and Rowen would split a room, though the latter pair didn’t get along at all. Rowen complained of Ryo’s slob messiness and Sage felt badly for having an entire room all to himself. So a month ago he announced that he was going to give the room up for grabs and do Ryo a favor by settling in with Rowen. It made the whole process of sexual activities all the easier to get away with. Ryo gladly moved out and it was always easy for Sage to relocate, namely since he preferred to have few material possessions. His ‘clutter’ consisted of his bonsai tree, his kendo gear, his plain and formal wardrobe and his hair products (which was 65 of his luggage). Moving was easy for him.

       Sage pushed open the door the bedroom he shared with his currently absent lover and stepped in quietly. He glanced over at the empty bed, still unmade and littered with books, papers, pens, clean and dirty laundry, a few editions of MAD and National Geographic, and a couple of Buddy Holly cassette tapes along with a Walkman. Sage sighed heavily and turned his head, gazing at his own plain, bland bed, perfectly made.

       The blond strode over and tossed the pillows aside, mussing up the bed covers and striking the mattress with his fist. Such sudden outbursts of quiet turmoil were surprising even to he, and when he realized that he was letting his emotions get the best of him he let out a frustrated sigh and tossed himself down onto the bed. He rolled over onto his side and curled up, looking at the digital clock on his nightstand.

       9:29 PM

       I want to think now. I just want to think. Try to understand a little and just . . . think. It’s all I can do right now anyway.

       Sage closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself, feeling suddenly cold. He threw the blankets over his body and snuggled down. Alas, he still felt the cold. It was inside of him and radiating outward. He picked himself up out of bed and walked to the closet, opening the folding doors and fumbling around in the dark. His hand brushed against the familiar fabric of thermal fleece, and he took the article of clothing out and looked at it.

       Dark green, zipper front, large collar. One and the same. The very coat which started it all. Sage clutched it to his chest and breathed in. Rowen had recently worn it, too. It was the only other thing they shared with one another besides their bodies.

       Here. If you’re so cold, take my coat, Rowen.

       No, I’m fine. Besides, ya might get sick ‘a somethin’.

They had ended up sharing that coat on that freezing, snowy day . . . and so much more than that. Passion. Sex. Flesh. Sweat. Touches. Breath. Love . . . no. Not that. Sage grimaced and felt that pain in his chest throb. You gave him everything else but what really matters. He didn’t want that anyway, not if it was coming from you . . .

       Sage placed an arm around Rowen’s shoulder and began to kiss him but Rowen pulled away indignantly. “Don’t ya know anything! Ya not supposed ta kiss ya whore.”

       “You’re not my whore, Rowen. You’re my lover.”

       “There’s no love here. The aspect of loving ya I find very unnerving.”

       “You sure are strange.”

       “I have my reasons.”

Sage opened his eyes, which suddenly appeared misty and distant. Do you still have your reasons, Rowen . . . ? Baby boy . . .

       He gulped, unzipped the coat, put it on and zipped it back up. Almost immediately he felt the warmth slowly seep into his body like moisture, and walked back to bed and crawled in. As he threw the blankets back over himself and curled up into a fetal position, the burning words filled with bitterness came rushing into his mind in an uncontrollable torrent of self-loathing.

       Seiji, you arrogant, selfish bastard. He doesn’t belong to you. Let him go. He can’t be your fuck forever. You both agreed that you wouldn’t pull emotion into this. Perhaps now he’s ready to leave your side. Does that make you feel insecure? Knowing that you’ll have no one to senselessly screw around with whenever you feel like it? Will you miss that passive willingness? Will you miss that familiar smell of him in your bed sheets? Will you miss touching and grasping that flesh you’ve know so many times? Or will you miss Rowen, the person inside the body?

Sage gritted his teeth and fought back the recollection from earlier that day, in vain. Rowen sighed, sultry, lush, hot and heavy. “Seiji . . .” Cool fingers on the back of his neck. Soft lips against his. Gentle hands combing through his hair . . .

       You never kissed him with gentleness like that.

       Sage winced as if a small razor had nicked him. He wished the thought away and curled up tightly, realizing that the pain he was feeling within him could not be cured by hot liquid or blankets or medicine. No, this was not an ail of the body — his heart was aching.

       God fucking damn it, he thought bitterly. I said I wouldn’t do this. I swore that I wouldn’t get attached like this.

A voice, his voice, maybe his conscience, suddenly began to shout at him:

       Stupid little Seiji, you were so sure that you were too good to fall for something as transparent as love. You were a big man, weren’t you? Mister Cool. You thought you were tough and that nothing could get through to you, nothing and no one. You thought you were all that. Well now look at you, a swaggering, boastful, insecure little bleeding heart that can’t let go of an easy fuck. How pitiful is that?

       The words stung Sage more powerfully than any strike of a sword, and he felt tears blur his eyes.

       Yes. Go ahead and cry. You deserve to feel ashamed. Just think of what you’ve done to him. Think of how you fucked him up so he’d be just like you. Well Mister Cool, it seems like he’s ready to move on. How quickly he seems to forget. How easy he is to brush off an intense physical commitment and move on to the next new thing. Bad news, Seiji, you’re old hat to him. He’s ready for a real relationship, one where the partners actually care about and nurture each other, a relationship where he doesn’t get treated like a expendable toy. He wants what you can’t give him, Seiji. And that’s love.

       Sage put a hand over his eyes and bowed his head.

       Don’t think he’s crazy for leaving you. You’re paranoid and delusional. Why would anyone stay with a sleaze bag like you? Your good looks? News flash, Seiji boy, it takes more than just sex for a relationship to work. Love, dedication, commitment, all the things that you don’t possess and probably never will. You’re a sad, sad man, Sage Datier. And you will always be a sad, sad man unless you can figure out a way to snap yourself out of this juvenile acting game you’re playing and actually become human again. You’ve stooped to a level lower than animal; at least they have a purpose. What’s yours? What is your purpose?

       “Rowen,” came the throaty, hoarse whisper.

       What was that? I don’t think I heard you, Seiji.

       “Rowen!” Sage buried his face into his arms and into the covers, ashamed of his tears, ashamed of what he had done to himself and to Rowen, ashamed that he did not possess the courage or strength to ever tell Rowen how he felt.

       Aw, is Mister Cool crying? Is this what the tears of a stone look like?

       Let me cry, please, Sage thought against his aggressive side. It solves nothing, I know . . . but it makes me feel better.

       And the accusational voice that spoke of his own self-contempt fell silent and Sage slipped off into a dreamless sleep, wearing the coat that had inadvertently started a landslide of emotions that he was trying desperately to keep from burying him alive.

Well, as for now I’m gonna hear the saddest songs
And sit alone and wonder
How you’re making out . . .
I’m cuddling close to blankets and sheets
And I am alone
In my defeat.
Wish I knew you were safely at home.

-“Screaming Infidelities”, Dashboard Confessional

       Rowen arrived at nine o’clock on the dot and saw only a few other students from his class in the observatory, going over notes with the lab assistants or pestering Dr. Wanatabe to let them use the massive telescope mounted in the upper level of the lab. Claris was reading one of the books she got from the library that day when she saw Rowen walk in and waved to him. He approached and she stood. Rowen noticed she had changed clothes . . . with clearly a more feminine intent. She wore her hair down and it fell in waves almost to the middle of her back. She wore a calf-length red skirt and glittery black shirt that seemed rather snug-fitting and had a neckline that plunged down her chest. Rowen felt himself staring down down down before his manners kicked in and he snapped his head back up. He was used to people who were more direct — like Sage, he wouldn’t mind being ogled. He would take it as a compliment-

       Rowen’s thoughts froze. Right. Sage . . .

       He readjusted his gaze upon Claris and smiled, putting the blond out of his mind. “Hey. Ya look nice,” he said nervously.

       “Thanks. So do you,” she replied.

       We both dressed up like we had a date, Rowen realized. Maybe this is a date.

       Rowen sat down at a small lab table and they both dived right into the topic of the world outside their world. Rowen enjoyed talking to a person who shared his intense interest in the beyond, someone who “walked around with their head in the clouds” like he himself was guilty of. Claris had such a lovely voice, and eyes that held no secrets, a mouth that was always smiling. Rowen had often snuck glances at her in class and wondered what she was like. She was always so quiet in the classroom but here, out working with the things she truly enjoyed, she was robust and enthused, almost giddy in her earnest to learn about the universe.

       The night flew by on greased wings. Dr. Wanatabe gave lectures on the proper usage of the telescope and said that if none of his students were clumsy enough to break it, they could use it. The whole group of students spent hours eagerly checking the stars and discussing what they saw, noting this galaxy and that planet’s color and babbling excitedly. Only the students who really cared about the sky above were here. Gazing at Claris’ happy face, Rowen judged that she cared a lot. Just like him.

       In no time it seemed Rowen glanced at the clock on the wall and it read quarter till two. His body, as if suddenly realizing how late it was, reflexively yawned and stretched. He wasn’t used to staying up this late — he always tried to clock in around midnight, but this was Saturday. He had the whole day tomorrow to sleep in. No biggie.

       “Getting tired?” Claris asked, grinning at Rowen from the side.

       He shook his head and blinked several times. “Me? Nah. I could keep this up for hours.”

       “Ha! I’d bet that if you put your head down on a desk you’d be gone in no time.”

       “Ya got me there,” Rowen chuckled.

       Suddenly, Claris’ smile faded on one side, leaving a coy smirk as her eyes traveled downward. “Would you like to stop by my flat after this place?”

       Rowen’s heart verily stopped. He said the question over to himself. Would you like . . . to stop by my flat . . . after this place? It was nearly two o’clock in the morning and she was inviting him to her apartment. They would probably just have a cup of coffee or something, go over notes, put on some music . . . end up in bed. That’s what she meant. She was asking him to stay the night. To really stay the night. With her. At her place. Alone.

       Rowen blinked and thought frantically. Claris was pretty. She was a very pretty girl. Many had been the times that he looked her up and down and even stared at her, imagining talking to her. Would there ever be a night like this again? Could he give an excuse that he had just spent the night at the observatory? Would anyone believe him? Oh, but she was so beautiful. What would it be like to make love to her? To touch her skin, to caress that silky hair, to kiss those lovely lips and lay next to her warm body-

       “HEY, DOC!” one of the students shouted down to Wanatabe from atop the telescope landing. “WE NEED YOU TO TAKE A LOOK AT A HALO OF STARDUST AROUND THIS BLUE PLANET HERE!”

       A sudden flash of sheer ice pierced Rowen’s heart and he gasped audibly, reaching up and clutching the shirt over his heart without thinking.

       “Rowen, are you alright?” Claris asked worriedly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Do you need to sit down?”

       He did not answer. His eyes were distant, focused on something else beyond sight. Sage . . . The blond suddenly filled his entire mind and a feeling of treachery sank deep into his soul.

       No, it wouldn’t be cheatin’. We’re not even togetha. We’re not even a couple . . . so how come I feel like I’m doing Sage wrong? Why do I feel like I’m stabbing him in the back? He doesn’t care about me. He neva did. He doesn’t love me. In front of ya is someone who might love ya. Are ya gonna waste a chance like this . . . for someone who can neva say he loves you? Are ya gonna . . .

       The memory of Sage, lying underneath him after Rowen had just rocked his world for the first time, came back to him. All of it, that beautiful face, that golden hair, those eyes that seemed to be saying what he hoped yet he knew could never be true . . . he had to know. He had to find out now. He couldn’t do anything until he knew. It was time for Sage to hear the ultimatum. Did he or didn’t he? Will he or won’t he? Love or loss?

       Is that what Rowen really wanted? Did he actually want to hear Sage say that he loved him? Was all that sex meaningless? Was all this time, the months they had spent secretly in each other’s beds, a waste? Was their relationship expendable? Was it something that could be forgotten tomorrow? He had to find the reason. He had to find the purpose.

       Rowen recalled the “date” Sage had gone on a few weeks ago, recalled his own flaming jealousy. Was that how Sage felt now? Was he feeling that same feeling in his chest, that aching pain of his heart? Rowen needed to know.

       “Ro . . . ?” Claris ventured hesitantly.

       The azure haired young man snapped from his reverie and stammered, “I’ve got to get home now.” And without evening waiting for a reply, he turned around and trotted quickly out of the lab, leaving the girl standing and staring after him longingly.

       Rowen let himself in the front door quietly, removing his shoes and tiptoeing through the living room. He had almost reached the stairs when the light in the den clicked on and he turned to see Mia, dressed in her nightie and robe, walk out with her arms crossed and a tired look on her face.

       Rowen smiled weakly. “You really didn’t have to stay up, mom,” he said.

       Mia shrugged it off. “I worry about my boys. I just wanted to make sure you made it home alright. Did you have fun at the observatory?”

       “Yeah, it was a blast,” he replied hurriedly, glancing anxiously upstairs. “I’ll tell ya ‘bout it in the mornin’ I’m real tired thanks for waiting for me g’nite!” And he dashed up the stairs as quietly as he possibly could.

       Mia yawned, stretched, and thought that she might as well go back to sleep on the couch with the television on a late night talk show, like she had been doing when Rowen walked in and woke her up. Kids . . . who needed them when she had five of her own to look after?

       Rowen gently pushed the bedroom open and crept in softly, leaving the lights out. Depositing his bag and denim jacket on his mattress, he squinted into the darkness and peered over at Sage’s bed. He could just make out the blond’s form as he lay under the covers, on his side with his back to Rowen.

       The young man gulped. Where does one begin? What could he say? He might not even be awake. He might be grumpy if Rowen woke him up. No. He walked out on Claris because he needed to talk to Sage and couldn’t wait; he would shake him awake if he had to.

       He approached Sage’s bedside cautiously with feline stealth, holding his breath. Rowen feared that the blond would hear his heart pounding and be woken; it certainly seemed loud enough in Rowen’s ears. Trembling, he parted his lips and breathed, “Seiji . . . ?”

       “Rowen,” came the fragile-sounding reply. So he was awake after all.

       The archer sat down slowly on the edge of the bed and brushed his bluish hair back off his forehead. “We need to talk.”

       “Yes, we do.” The bed creaked as Sage sat up in the darkness and turned to face Rowen, who saw the familiar green coat and reacted with silent shock. “I can’t live without you,” Sage said bluntly.

       Rowen was speechless; his mouth shut tight and his eyes were wide and blinking, perplexed. Sage leaned over and took Rowen by the arm, pulling him close and embracing him tightly, holding him against his warm body. Rowen was expressionless and amazed at this strange behavior. Never had Sage acted this way . . . what was wrong with him? When they finally separated, Sage took Rowen’s face in his hands and held it closely and gently, staring into it like the pages of a book. Rowen fidgeted uneasily. What was that strange glow in Sage’s eyes? What was that strange glow that Rowen could feel radiating all about him like a light, encircling him like a halo . . . ?

       “S-Seiji,” he stammered worriedly, placing his hands over his lover’s and prying them away. “What do you mean?”

       Three words.

       Three words could explain it all. Sage’s eyes went wide. His heart beat once and stopped. His mouth went dry and his throat clenched and tied into a gruesome knot. Three words that were so easily spoken by others and had come to him before were now so terrifyingly difficult to grasp, now when it really mattered, now when he was confronted by the face of his angel before him, the angel whose eyes and ears were waiting to take them in, waiting for them to be spoken by his god, those three simple words had to be uprooted from the very depths of Sage’s bottomless, tortured soul and forced out with flaming steel and broken shards of glass. And even then, would he have the senses left to speak them?

       “Rowen . . .” Sage choked, blinking back tears that blurred his vision. “Rowen.”

       “Yes?” the archer replied earnestly.

       Three words.

       Sage cupped Rowen’s face in his hands, nose to nose with him and gazing into his eyes, hot breath mingling with his companion’s. “Rowen . . .”

       “Yes?”

       Three words.

       Silence.

       “I love you.”

       Rowen’s response came slow. His face went calm and he started to tremble, breathing quickly. “Sei-Seiji-”

       He didn’t get to finish. Sage leaned in and kissed him deeply, drank Rowen like the finest wine and savored the taste on his tongue. Softly, smoothly, wetly he plied Rowen’s lips and stroked his face, showing him that he was making every effort to prove how much he cared for Rowen, who slowly began to return the kiss. After an eternity in this private world of warmth, Sage pulled away reluctantly and licked his lips. “Let’s start over. We’ll do things the right way this time.”

       Rowen gazed at his friend, his companion, his lover and his comrade in arms with a fixed stare. “Wh . . . why this all of a sudden?”

       “Because at first I didn’t care. But then when I realized that I was losing you . . . it scared me more than anything in my life ever has.” He sighed heavily and closed his eyes. “We’re a part of each other now, Ro. Even if you don’t return my feelings, we can’t undo what’s been done. I’m sorry.” He opened his pale lavender eyes and smiled helplessly. “But you’re hard to get over. I don’t want to be a rogue anymore.”

       Rowen whispered, “Me neitha.” He leaned in close and gave a warm kiss to the side of Sage’s mouth. “I love ya, Seiji,” he murmured in the blond’s ear.

       Sage gulped. “Then let’s make love.”

       “But we’ve already . . .”

       “Not like the other times. That was senseless sex.” Sage placed his hands on Rowen’s sides and rubbed promiscuously. “This time . . . I want to make love to you. Because I love you.”

       The archer wrapped his arms around Sage’s neck and held on. “Alright.”

       Sage smiled tearfully and pulled Rowen down on top of him, into the warm covers of the bed that would be shared from that night on, forever.