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Chapter Eight

Back in the Koji mansion, locked in the realms between sleep and vision...

      Alex smashes into his father, the armor feeling completely real to the touch. They hold onto each other desperately tight for long moments.
      "Thank Heavens you're safe!" Anubis whispers, pressing Alex's head to his chest with a trembling hand. "I was afraid I'd never see you again!"
      Alex sobs, clutching the overcoat of his father's armor. "Please don't leave me! I don't wanna be alone!"
      A dark gray, armored finger gently raises Alex's chin; forcing him to look up. "Alex, you're not alone. You'll never be alone so long as you're with Ryo and the other Ronin Warriors," Anubis says evenly, almost sternly. "I also wish I could remain. Talpa never gave me a chance to be a real father, like you and your brother and sister need."
      "Dad! Don't go!" Alex whispers brokenly, holding onto his father tightly.
      Anubis only smiles sadly at his son. He slowly removes his helmet and hands it to Alex. "Hardrock already calls you Ogre. It's time you defend yourself."
      Alex stares down at the faceplate of a grinning demon. The ghoulish red of the metal gleams up at him, as if welcoming him.
      Was he ready?
      The helmet vanishes in a burst of blinding light, leaving Alex staring down at his own armored hands.
      "It doesn't matter, Alex. Your heart is ready," Anubis says gently, now dressed once again as in the same garb as the Ancient. He reaches out and adjusts the hang of the dark black and gold overcoat. "Just remember what the Ancient told me."
      The storm growls in answer and Alex can suddenly hear echoing words whispered on the air:
      Your soul is loyalty, but you have the right to choose your own master!
      Alex looks up at his father, tears falling from his eyes. "I'll make you proud, Dad!"
      "You've been giving me great honor me since I saw you take your first breath." His father laughs; holding him tightly once again. "You don't have to prove to me that I must be proud!"
      The storm growls once more. His father stiffens; a listening look on his face. He sighs deeply and squeezes Alex tighter a moment.
      "Dad?"
      Anubis leans down and kisses his son's forehead. "Know that I have always loved you. Be brave through the coming storm!"
      With a sob, Alex sits bolt upright; smashing into someone's armored chest. A man grunts and then curses with the impact. Then strong, muscled arms wrap around him awkwardly as he sobs.
      "Good to see you're still with us," Cale states gruffly, reaching over for a cup filled with some liquid. He puts it to Alex's lips, and orders in a voice that left no room for Alex to argue, "Drink."
      He obeys, having learned a long time ago to listen to Cale when he spoke like that. The hot liquid ripples down his throat in a barely tolerable wave of heat; the bitter aftertaste of healing herbs chasing it down.
      Alex reaches up to wipe tears from his eyes; his hand bashing surprisingly into a metal faceplate.
      "You've been asleep for over a week," Cale tells him as Alex gets up. Alex takes a deep breath and banishes his armor; stumbling back onto the bed with the sudden drop of power.
      "Uncle Cale? What's this?" comes a little girl's voice from out in the hall.
      Cale sighs and then calls back softly in a growl, "Stop playing and go to bed!"
      "Awww... okay," he hears her whine, and then a muttered, "Meany."
      "Morgan!" Alex whispers, his eyes getting big with excitement.
      Cale nods, "We got back two days ago from rescuing her."
      His uncle reaches out to steady him as they walk for the stairs, Alex's mind a blur. Christmas decorations and a Christmas tree were already up; and the whole house smells of fresh baked cookies and bread. He'd almost slept through Christmas!
      As they pass the answering machine, he notes it's still flashing. He stops for a moment, leaning against Cale for support.
      He hits the messages button: {"Hi, Alex. It's Sharra, I hope you're doing alright, call me. Okay?"} The machine beeps to signal a new message. {"Hi, Alex. You coming to practice? We had the Christmas concert to practice for, remember? You got the solo!"} Alex moans and hides his face in his hands, his face turning bright red. The machine beeps again. This time there's the sounds of a band warming up. {"Alex, where the Hell are you!? We need you here!! Pick up the damn phone! -"} Then Cale's voice comes in, but the machine cuts off before Alex can find out what was said.
      Alex moans and runs his hands through his hair as Cale smirks. "< What'd you do, Uncle? >" he asks in the older form of Japanese he grew up with, dreading the answer.
      "< Well, she seemed pretty interested in your well-being... >" Cale smirks, lifting a very unwilling Alex up and carrying him to the kitchen. "< So I invited her to the Christmas party tomorrow morning. >"
      "YOU DID WHAT?!" the redhead nearly screams in English, twisting free from his uncle's arm. He falls to his hands and knees, then skids and stumbles back to his feet; his face as almost as red as his hair.
      Cale raises one eyebrow, his eyes twinkling in amusement. "< What's wrong, Nephew? >"
      "< She's... she's... I barely know her! >" Alex answers lamely; turning around in a circle, looking as if he's about rip his hair out.
      "< So? Your father barely knew you mother when he first met her. And look what happened, >" Cale tells him, his face even more amused.
      "< QUIT TRYING TO PLAY MATCHMAKER FOR ME!! >" Alex wails in protest, trying to think up a better excuse for not letting her come.
      "< You don't want her to come? >" Cale asks in mock disappointment. "< Then you better give her a call first thing in the morning... >"
      "< ME call her?! You're the one who invited her!! >"
      "As YOUR uncle. You call her back. I'm not doing it."
      "< Fine, >" Alex whines, looking for a hole to crawl into.

      >BANG<
      "Careful!!" Kento hisses as one of the huge bags of presents hits the doorframe.
      "Shhhhhhhhhhhhh! We'll never be able to sneak this past them if you keep making so much noise, Kento!!" Rowen hisses.
      As they slip into the living room, they stop dead still, horrified. Cye is asleep on the couch, wearing little more than his boxers and his "Goldfish" T-shirt; little Saen sprawled on his chest in a set of slightly too big Beast Wars, pajamas. His small thumb is jammed in his mouth; Cye's outside arm is draped protectively across the child's back. Next to the couch is a letter to Santa, a plate of cookies and a glass of milk; the glassware all in the festive Christmas design Mia took out only for the holidays.
      "Awww, shit! How are we supposed to get by them!?" Kento whines, looking back towards the door where the rest of the gifts were still waiting in his van.
      "You keep your mouth shut and we will!" Rowen hisses, easily slipping past them to the tree. He casts Kento a funny look before beginning to set the presents under it.
      Then they begin to set up Cye and Saen's gift upstairs in Saen's room. At first they weren't certain where to set it up, but Saen's room was so empty.
      "Is that everything?" Kento whispers as he and Rowen begin to fill the huge tank with water.
      "Yeah, all they need is Saen's favorite word to go in there."
      Suddenly a panicked scream comes from the vicinity of the kitchen: "YOU DID WHAT!?"
      "Awwwwwww..." Kento whines, turning the light out quickly.
      "Man!" Rowen finishes, throwing a sheet over the setup.
      The pair look at each other in the pinkish gold light of the Christmas lights washing through the window and begin to creep towards the door.
      "Ogre, you have BAD timing..." Kento moans, peeking out the doorway. When someone yelled like that, it tended it get everyone's attention.
      The hallway was still empty. Rowen and Kento leap out of the room and tear off in separate directions for their rooms.

      Rahne tosses and turns in her sleep. The letter kept bugging her, rising to her thoughts every time she closed her eyes. She hates this feeling of helplessness; like she could have been able to do something. But she couldn't.
      She'd never made it through the whole letter, the first three words that turned her blood to ice the second she read them:
      "Angie is missing."
      It wasn't like her friend to go missing. Angie had run away before, sure, but never went missing!
      Angie had had a rough life; and had the mentality that she had to "get" anyone that went after her...or she thought was going after her. Danie had once told her that Angie was borderline insane...
      Rahne shuts her eyes; tears running from them to fall lightly onto her pillow. She wanted to go to one of the guys, but she wasn't sure what they'd say.
      She curls up into a ball and cries softly into her pillow. Why did it have to be her friend? Why did the whole world like picking on anyone with the last name "Sanada"?
      The floorboards creak and then the bed sinks a little. Rahne tries to ignore the presence, but then the blankets pull tight around her as someone stretches out on top of the covers.
      Rowen pulls her against his chest, the covers between them, and holds her. Rahne turns and cries into his shirt, needing the comfort of being this close to another.
      Strata brushes her soft hair with his hand, and kisses her. He holds her tight as she cries, no words going between them.
      Rahne snuggles against him and finally falls asleep. Rowen smiles, still concerned about what that was about, but too exhausted to care. He pulls his pale shirt cuff away from his left wrist to get to his watch. He pushes one of the tiny buttons on the dark watch. A greenish light blazes from the watch face, nearly blinding him as it brings a set of black numbers into view. Nearly three am. Rowen groans, and stares up at the ceiling in disgust. He was going on twenty-three hours without sleep!
      "Hey, Ro' what's up?" comes Ryo's voice from the doorway; sounding too sleepy right this moment to be pissed. Rowen knew to give him a few minutes, then he'd be upset at him being in his sister's room.
      "I don't know, Ryo. I was passing by, and she was practically bawling!" The words pour out as Rowen hopes to avoid a rather painful scene. "I just wanted to-!"
      "S'okay..." Ryo wanders in, the pale light filtering through the sheer lace curtains throwing unusual shadows around the room, masking his movements.
      Rowen can hear him sorting though Rahne's closet. Then the unofficial leader of the Ronin Warriors and hands him a pale-looking blanket. He looked almost too relaxed.
      "Thanks, Ryo."
      Ryo's look then turns slightly protective. "Take care of her, Rowen, or I'll kick your ass! Misbehave and I'll do worse."
      Rowen makes a face; but Ryo was being pretty reasonable for once. "Okay."
      Ryo helps Rowen wrap Rahne loosely in the spare blanket. It seems to almost glow in the golden light filtering through the windows. The effect vanishes as they pull the covers up over her, the blanket placed so that it would be between them. Then Rowen kicks off his shoes and lays down beside her.
      Ryo leaves, frowning. Damn, I don't want to leave, but I know Rowen won't do anything to her... Gotta trust him... trust my sister... he thinks, swallowing down the urge to hurt his friend.
      White Blaze watches his master/friend walk away; his ears twitching lightly in an instinctive hunt for foreign noises. He knows that Ryo is worried about his sister, and that is enough for him. The white tiger silently pads into the room and lays down beside the bed. As Kaos had instructed so long ago; he would continue to guard the Ronin. His large head resting on his paws, White Blaze watches out the window between the lace curtains.
      Time passed unnoticeably for him; as it probably did for Kaos, but each day was as different was the armors themselves were...
      And outside in the silent winter night, all is still and peaceful like a song of eternity. The field of crystal snow around the mansion glitters softly like a bed of glitter-strewn silk under a velvet sky. The candles that line the driveway burn out one after another, in a slow, random march.
      Time turns and turns again under stars, sky and snow; before the golden and rose colored shades announce the coming dawn.
      White Blaze dozes lightly, waiting as he always did, for Ryo to awaken so that they could run. He loved running; but he knew from the decorations that it would be short this morning.
      Right on schedule, Ryo pokes his head into the room with a smile. White Blaze gets to his feet joyously, ready for his morning run.
      The air is cold, but comfortable to a tiger. White Blaze shakes his fur out and then stretches happily, flexing his toes revealing occasional points of his shiny black claws. Ryo gets onto his back and holds on.
      Ryo lets loose a whoop of joy as they fly through across the fields, just happy to be here on a morning like this. He always loved Christmas, and today was no exception.
      White Blaze leaps, nearly upsetting Ryo from his back. Ryo laughs and scoops up a handful of snow; he tosses it high and in front of them. White Blaze roars excitedly and leaps, catching as much of the snowball in his mouth as he can.
      Ryo yelps and laughs as small clumps of snow pelt his face in small nuggets of cold.
      Belatedly he notices a car pulling up to the house, and then only because of the blonde girl laughing at him.
      Blushing a little, Ryo directs White Blaze back for the house. White Blaze skids to a sloppy stop, his tail in the familiar horse-shoe shape of play. Ryo yelps as he flies off from White Blaze's back and tumbles to the snow at Sharra's feet.
      "Hiya, Sharra! Ummm, how are you?" Ryo laughs as he gets to his feet.
      Sharra smiles, petting the still playful tiger, "Doing great, Ryo. How's Alex?"
      Ryo grins and thumbs inside, "Go on in! The blush machine is inside, probably trying to convince himself that he's sick."
     
      Upstairs, Yuli watches the clock intently. Waiting so that he could get up and tear into the presents. Diagonally from his room, first door from the landing, he can see Morgan doing the same.
      7:28 am
      The guys said not until 7:30 am. Yuli pouts, anxious to see his presents.
      The number suddenly changes: 7:29 am.
      One more minute. Yuli gets out of bed and waits by the door. He pokes his head out to see Morgan scowling as she stares at the clock.
      7:30 am!
      "TIME TO GET UP!!" Kento bellows, launching himself from Cye's and his room before either child even took a breath. Behind him, Sage, Rahne, and Alex skid out of their rooms in stockinged feet.
      They race pell-mell down the stairs towards the Christmas tree and the inevitable chaos that would ensue.
      Cye opens his eyes and yelps as he sees them stampeding down the stairs, grabbing Saen and hoisting both of them out of the way.
      From the doorway, Ryo, Cale and Sharra laugh at them.
      Without even waiting, they start tossing presents to their recipients. Saen watches this, giggling at how silly they all looked.
      A tousled Mia wanders downstairs in her thick rose colored robe, smiling sleepily as he gets herself some coffee. She looks into the room briefly and then sits down at the table. It was safer just to wait until presents were opened.

      Alex slips out of the room as the others picked up the tatters of wrapping paper, the newly named kitten, Chintzie, perched on one shoulder. He still can't believe his uncle invited Sharra, but what was worse was what she was.
      She's a partially Dessanin like I am! Alex shook his head in disbelief. How could anyone who knew him miss it!? The white streak in and of itself wasn't unusual, but it was right there for the world to see!
      Alex sighs and sinks down the wall until he is sitting. Chintzie, forced to abandon her vantage point on his shoulder, leaps to the floor. She sits on the floor and gives him the look only an insulted kitten can give.
      How many more people like him lived here in the mortal world? Or were most of them refugees or descendants of refugees?
      The sound of catcalls come from the living room as a half comatose Rowen and a hyper Rahne "accidentally" meet up under the mistletoe. He glances out into the room to see Rowen grin and then plant an almost scandalous kiss on Rahne's lips.
      Yuli and Morgan both make gagging noises at the "yucky romantic stuff" and promptly go back to playing with their new toys.
      From upstairs come two screams of joy; one older and one very young.
      "WE CAN GET FISHIES NOW!!" comes Saen's shrill squeal of joy, as he and Cye race down the stairs. They both looked like they were on drugs, they were so hyper. Cye leaps down the remaining steps and slips on the floor rug, landing on his rear with a loud "thump". Saen squeals and hops into his lap, giggling in the rapid fashion he'd only heard a hyper Rowen make.
      "Alex?"
      "(Yes, Sharra?)" he answers telepathically, turning around.
      The taller, blonde girl lifts a hand to her temple in amazement, then sits by him. She stared at him, wondering why she liked him so much. "I... I know about... what happened..."
      Alex looks at her in a poker face, but raising an eyebrow slightly. He had found after a short while that it made him more like the Warlord he should be. "(Like?)"
      Sharra scowls, not buying his face. "About Zanaton... about you being kidnapped... and tortured."
      He tries not to let his own amazement show, but he fails. He looks down, heaving a shuddering sigh. All he can do is nod, while he tries to suppress the memories.
      "I... I wanted to let you know...." Sharra pauses as if collecting her thoughts, "I'm sorry about... what happened to you. No one should have to go through that."
      "(Yeah... but there's not much left to be done.)" Alex whispers, closing off his psi from her abilities. "(Sharra, listen to me. You're not human.)"
      "W-what?" She pales a little, but doesn't try to deny it.
      "(You're like me. That's why you can do things that most can't. You're born to be able to use them.)"
      "I knew I was supposed to have visions... to see the future! Everyone thought I was nuts!" Sharra looks up at him, surprisingly, the tears running down her face are of relief, not of denial. "I was right all along!!"
      Alex is so surprised he drops his barriers, and even more surprised as she hugs him. He feels an almost electric tingle where she's touching him. It's followed by a rushing sensation that flies across his psi and every nerve in his body like a river of power. His mother had once told him that he'd know he'd found his soul-mate if his psi did this. He'd never believed her... until now.
      Sharra looks up at him, her face full of joy. He'd never noticed how perfect her face was, or her hazel eyes that made him feel like he was drowning.
      "(Do people always look so totally gorgeous when you think you're about to kiss them?)" Alex asks, feeling giddy as his face closes on hers.
      Let's find out, her mind answers.
      > SNAP-flash-CLICK <
      > SNAP-flash-CLICK <
      "You two are such a cute couple!" Sage exclaims as he snaps off another picture.
      "Yeah!" Ryo laughs, "C'mon, say something!"
      The only answer Sage and Ryo receive from Alex is his middle finger which he deliberately turns at them as he continues to kiss Sharra.

End Chapter Eight


      Sorry about the wait on this, but most of this was written when our professors weren't looking. :-) Hope you enjoyed! Please! Let us know what you think! :-)

- The Authoresses