As Ryuuji Shimuzu left the last checkpoint at Santa Susana Field Laboratory, he turned onto the first of several circuitous roads that would eventually lead him to Highway 118. And Daiki.

Just as he turned his back on work, he turned his back on the frustrations inherent in being a safety professional in a world where people were unfailingly reckless and not just with their own safety. You'd think, after the fire in 1957 and the meltdowns in '59—both preventable with measures he had not convinced them to take—they would finally have listened to him. Might have saved the fuel in '64; damn sure would have kept it from happening again in '69. The radioactive fire in '71 was almost the last straw. Didn't these people learn anything?

How many times a day did he shut his eyes and remember the smell of charred flesh and metal as a haze in the air, see in his mind's eye the scorched emptiness that had once been a thriving community, left as shattered dust and the shadows of what had once been men? How many times did he see someone carelessly handling radioactive material and remember his grandfather, face swollen with blood from the radiation poisoning, pleading with him to let go of hate against the monsters who would kill so brutally. Now, he actively worked to try to save his former enemies from the same effects, but they were as callous with their own lives as they'd been with the Japanese twenty-eight years before.

Even their own accidents had taught them nothing. They were going down the same path, burning things they shouldn't, refusing to take even basic precautionary measures: radiation badges left in lockers, handling radioactive and toxic materials without so much as a face mask, fucking fishing in contaminated ponds! His being there checked a box with the AEC, nothing more, because he had no power. No one listened to him. Ryuuji was long past the point where he thought he could protect Daiki or anyone else.

So maybe he didn't shake off all his frustrations immediately.

He fished a canteen of water from his seat and took a swig. No way he'd drink water at the lab. Damn it, this was eating away at his normal optimism, making him bitter, and Daiki was bitter enough for the both of them, which was a whole other frustration.

Ryuuji was going to have to do something about that and maybe solving the issue with Daiki would give him the impetus he needed to leave his maddening job and find something more meaningful.

He turned into the parking lot of the YMCA. He wouldn't go around Daiki or anyone else without a good shower with uncontaminated water, both to wash off the sweat from the protective gear—to the ridicule of everyone else—and to wash off what might have slipped past the protective gear. On weeknights, he tried to come here and teach judo and aikido at least a couple of times a week. Perhaps he should toss his degree and teach that full time. Others had done so and more people could use an alternative to the more confrontational karate and Kung Fu. Maybe he could get Daiki interested.

Only as the water washed away the stink of his job did he manage to shed his thoughts of it and turn to his other equally frustrating problem. Daiki.

It wasn't just that they'd known each other since childhood or that Daiki had all but grown up in Ryuuji's household. Or that they had gone to school together, even to work at Ryuuji's grandfather's shrine together or that, thereby, they had survived the nuclear destruction of Nagasaki. Together.

Rather, it was that evening, twenty-eight years before, when Ryuuji and Daiki had walked down from the shrine into the stinking still-burning desolation that had been a bustling productive city just hours before. Daiki had cried as they walked, silent tears for a family that had never cared a bit for him, for a mother who had lost interest in Daiki after his father's death in the war, for older siblings already caught up in their own families, leaving Daiki alone but for Ryuuji and his family. Now, Daiki had wept for his family, already certain they were gone. That was Daiki's way, to see the worst.

Ryuuji had refused to believe his family was gone. True, their families had lived in houses between the factories that had been targeted, but some of the factories remained. Surely…

But, with the sirens and the screaming, the burnt and battered people they had passed, Ryuuji could offer no comfort to Daiki, could promise him nothing. Ryuuji could only let him weep alone.

When they rounded the crumbled corner of one of the fortified factory buildings, they saw the barren patch of land where they had once both lived, where Ryuuji's family should still be. Ryuuji thought of his mother, still young to the eye by looks and spirit, grateful to send her sons and husband to the factories and not to war, gleeful that at last she had a daughter, happily preparing that lovely child for the Shichi-Go-San ceremony in November. Ryuuji thought of little Midori, adorable in her tiny kimono, her round face always smiling. He thought of his brothers, hard workers who took time to tease and play not only with Ryuuji but with his gloomy best friend. His father…

All were gone, without a bone, a teacup, not even Midori's tiny geta to show they had ever existed. Just a patch of scorched empty dust.

It was only as the grief had overtaken him, as Ryuuji had fallen to the ashes of his life, thrusting his fingers into his powdered family and his home, as he had screamed his sobs to the callous earth, that Ryuuji had understood how alone Daiki had felt, perhaps how alone Daiki had always felt. Daiki had wept with no comfort, even from his best friend, at the loss of the little he'd had.

At this moment, Ryuuji felt more alone than he had ever been. Isolated. Desolated. Helpless.

Yet Daiki wept for him now, at a loss as to how best to comfort Ryuuji, suffering doubly for Ryuuji's loss as well as his own. This solitude, was it like that for Daiki? Had it always been this way for him? He's been alone, careful never to push himself on his own family that never wanted him or Ryuuji's family that did. That thought only made Ryuuji weep harder and when the sobs had finally receded, when he could push himself back to his feet, he threw himself in Daiki's arms and swore he would never leave him alone. That he would forever be Daiki's family.

That was the bond Ryuuji would never betray.

Ryuuji carefully cleaned his nails under the pounding water before starting his scrub again. Of course, with Daiki it wasn't that simple. It had taken years of devoted companionship for Daiki to believe in Ryuuji's vow, made more complex because Ryuuji knew Daiki loved him, heart, body, and soul.

But Daiki had never moved on it.

Ryuuji had lived with Daiki for years, working for the Americans before they left Japan and talking them into sending them to the States, going to college and grad school… Ryuuji had been sure that Daiki would finally confess and they could work out their relationship. Ryuuji didn't see himself as gay but then he wasn't really into female companionship either. The one relationship that mattered was the one he had with Daiki, which was reason enough to give Daiki whatever he needed.

But Daiki had never asked. He remained like he had that day in Nagasaki, unable to move, hurting alone but afraid to do anything to get closer in case he was rejected and lost everything.

As if that could happen.

As Ryuuji toweled off, he decided. Daiki would never do it, would never challenge the status quo. He'd stay in excruciating limbo forever. And, damn it, Ryuuji should have known that. Daiki had always been that way. Just like the management at work. If they managed to squeak by, however closely, without catastrophe, it was good enough. If they covered up the reactor leak and no one was the wiser, it was as good as if it never happened. If people were exposed to radiation and chemicals all day long and were too stupid to complain, no harm done.

Daiki had always looked for potential failures and flaws, ways things could go wrong. That's why he was such a terrific computer guru, hardware and software. Ryuuji did that, too, but, unlike Daiki, he didn't have the clout to make things change. Not at work.

But, by thunder, he could make a change with Daiki. They were forty-five years old. Ryuuji should never have waited. He was always the one who had to get things going, right? Why did he think it would be different this time? Time to work this out and make a new start together. Maybe in Silicon Valley where computer and technical people were in high demand.

Dressed in fresh clothes and only twenty minutes late—like always—Ryuuji pulled out and back on the highway to meet up with Daiki and get things rolling.

When he pulled into the gravel parking lot of Rowdy Rick's Beer and Billiards, and confronted the garish neon sign, Ryuuji thought, not for the first time, that they needed a different place to meet. Ten, fifteen years ago, it had been quiet, just a few farmers and no one really paying attention to them. Since "Rowdy Rick" had taken it over the previous year, it had indeed become rowdier and brought in an increase in locals who were pretty suspicious of anything foreign or college educated. With the backlash and anger both toward and by drafted veterans of the Vietnam War, Ryuuji had danced around more than one scene that could have turned ugly. Hell, maybe meeting in public was a mistake and he should buy a six pack and meet at a Howard Johnson's. Or maybe they should stay together.

He thought he'd be anxious or afraid of such a change, but what he really felt was anticipation, excitement. Something was going to change. He'd make it happen!

Passing by the dirty pickups, Dodges, Plymouths and a number of motorcycles, Ryuuji was pleased to see a marked police cruiser. Probably, after the bar brawl last week that Ryuuji and Daiki had narrowly missed, they were keeping an eye out. That was comforting at least.

The front door, still boarded up from the previous ruckus, was less reassuring.

Inside, furniture was sparse because, while whatever was broken from the fight had been removed, new functioning chairs and tables had not yet been supplied. And many of the surviving items looked none too reliable given the quantity of duct tape. As a result, the usual crowd stood at the bar or around battered pool tables, taking turns with the few remaining cues, apparently undaunted.

For some reason, the booths were in the worst shape. Some of the booth tables were broken beyond use. More than one of the seats had been torn into as if attacked by wild dogs, including the booth Daiki had been hiding in most Fridays when they met. This time, he'd taken a table as close to the dark corner as he could and far away from the noisy mobs.

Daiki was a month older than Ryuuji, but still looked like a gangly teenager with his fine features and smooth skin except for the habitual frown between his brows and the round glasses perched, as usual, at the end of his nose. His eyes were unfocused as they often were when he was otherwise disengaged, but Ryuuji knew he was thinking. And, when Daiki's mind was thinking, he was brilliant. But not aware. Ryuuji came right up to the table before Daiki noticed him.

"You are late." Daiki took a sulking sip of his beer. "You know they still card me every time? I've been coming here for more than ten years and they still card me."

"That's because you are forever young. Just look at you."

Daiki snorted. "Look who's talking. I cannot believe you still make me come out to this shithole every weekend. Or that you are still working at that nuclear plant." Well that greeting hadn't changed even if the place had, but now Ryuuji agreed with him.

"You are right about this place. We should find an alternate," Ryuuji said with a grin, sliding into a wobbly chair and lifting up the now-warm beer Daiki had ordered for him. "Though I would not say anything too loudly. The last thing we need is a fight." Ryuuji had positioned himself within sight of the policeman and where he could see anyone approaching the table. Fortunately, no one was within earshot.

"We would not have to meet out in the middle of nowhere if you were not still trying to keep that place from blowing sky high. They do not even make power anymore."

"They are more like experimental reactors and, let me tell you, that makes them more dangerous, not less. Not that they believe me on that. They are still making nuclear materials and waste and someone has to keep it safe."

Ryuuji heard Daiki mutter in Japanese and just caught, "It shouldn't be you. It's not safe." Well, Daiki was right about that, and truthfully, Ryuuji was tired of fighting a brick wall. Daiki was hitting all Ryuuji's points before he could even cue him. Daiki changed to English and spoke more clearly. "You are too good for that job and I worry, with the radiation you have already been exposed to, the radiation you are getting now. I worry."

"So," Ryuuji said, schooling his features as if this was the first time he'd ever considered changing jobs. "What should I do instead? Nuclear facilities do not grow on trees."

"Good thing." Daiki frowned."I could get you a job tomorrow at CalTech. Or there are several up and coming companies that would be interested in your safety expertise or your other technical skills. It does not have to be nuclear. And there are companies that take safety seriously. There are also several companies up near San Francisco that owe me a favor or want access to my patents. We could both work there in the private sector if you want."

Daiki wasn't exaggerating. He had forty-three patents, at least forty-three Ryuuji knew of, and a reputation for exceptional programming. First run Omoto, he was called because his programs were simple and generally bug free even the first time through. He set a standard and taught it to a whole generation at CalTech.

Ryuuji was touched, too. As fond as Daiki was of teaching, he would go with Ryuuji to Silicon Valley if that's what Ryuuji wanted.

Daiki raised his glass to drink, then set it down again with decision. "Or hell, I have plenty of money from my patents now. We could retire and see the world."

"We have seen it," Ryuuji said. Daiki was on fire. How many beers had he had before Ryuuji got there? "And we are only forty-five. It is too early to retire. But a change sounds nice."

"We have seen part of it," Daiki said with just a little slur. "It's not all ugly."

"Tsk." Ryuuji said, and smacked his mug down with a snap that made it slosh. "It is not ugly at all. You are always so gloomy!"

Ryuuji wasn't angry. Well, he was angry, but he was angry at himself. Daiki had a job he loved. He was in a free country, had respect and wealth, the dream. But he still wasn't happy. Ryuuji discovered that it was painful, physically painful, to realize how unhappy Daiki still was in his limbo. And it was Daiki's unnecessary limbo because Ryuuji could have fixed this, could have changed the dynamic of their relationship at any time the past twenty-eight years. Because Ryuuji had left the problem to Daiki—and, of course, it was not something Daiki would gamble with—Daiki had suffered alone.

Ryuuji fought the tears as he absorbed the guilt from his own betrayal to the man he loved most. "Daiki, is it my fault? Am I the reason you can never be truly happy?"

Daiki cleared his throat and the look in his eyes was the same one Ryuuji remembered from that evening in Nagasaki. Daiki looked away and tried to laugh it off. "What do you mean? You just have lousy taste in dives."

"Daiki wa boku o suki, ne?" Ryuuji found the Japanese on his lips, You love me, right? Still in Japanese, Ryuuji said, "All this time, you have loved me. Why have you never said so?" He gripped Daiki's hand so Daiki couldn't turn away, couldn't look away, couldn't find an excuse not to answer him.

"I did not want to lose you." Daiki's painful whisper cut him to the core, not just that Daiki had suffered alone, but also that he still didn't have faith in Ryuuji.

Ryuuji reverted to English and let a couple of his tears fall. "Did you think you could, Daiki? Did you really think you could lose me?"

Daiki struggled to find an answer as Ryuuji gripped his hand, but there was no missing the hope and elation in his face, the transcendental joy. How many years had it been since Ryuuji had seen it? Had he ever seen it?

With their gazes locked, Ryuuji thought but never had the chance to say, "Let's get out of here." He had lost track of their environment.

"Jeeesus Christ, we got a couple of faggots here, don't we, boys?" The man loomed over their table, intimidating in a dirty plaid shirt and stinking of sweat and beer. He was flanked by two similarly large and unfriendly fellows. "Bad enough you gooks have been making free use of this place for years while our men are shipped across the world to kick your sorry asses. But when you start to get smoochy, you're asking for a good ol' American beating." The man sneered down at them and flexed his tattooed arms, before cracking his knuckles. His eyes and voice were slurred, which meant he was probably already drunk, but his movements were still sure.

Ryuuji rose, automatically inserting himself between the aggressor and Daiki. "Please," Ryuuji said in the voice he used to defuse situations like this. "My friend and I were just leaving."

"I can just guess what you and your little faggot friend were off to do. Makes me sick."

"We mean no one any harm." Ryuuji studied the trio, but didn't see any guns. However, the attention they were getting didn't seem like a good thing as others in the bar started noticing the angry voices. The cop on the far wall didn't seem too concerned at that point, but he was watching. Maybe, he'd try to keep it from escalating. Maybe, he didn't mind a couple of Asians getting beaten and would bide his time.

The angry man took another step forward. "You already did me harm. My beer tastes like piss now." The man chuckled and his buddies—and some of those watching—laughed. "I'm going to pound some yellow faces in to get the taste out of my mouth." One fist slammed into the other.

Did his have to happen this week? This minute? So frustrating! With careful tone, Ryuuji said, "We won't be coming back. Please, just let us go." He stepped forward, hoping to gain some distance between the assailant and Daiki. He held his hands out in a sign for peace.

He saw the man's shift and knew the punch was coming. Fast but not so fast Ryuuji couldn't dodge it. Instead, he willed himself to just take it, moving with it to take out some of the sting, and rolling on the ground to get rid of the rest. Maybe that would be enough for them to be on their way, satisfied with that much damage.

He had not reckoned with Daiki. With a transformed Daiki.

When they had both immigrated to the States, Daiki had been resentful of the damage to his family and homeland, the antagonism he faced in the land of his enemy. His anger had seethed beneath the surface, but Ryuuji had never seen it put to violence, which is why Ryuuji had been protective. Since then, Daiki's anger had seemed to dissipate, perhaps because of the students so eager to learn from him.

So, for the first seconds as Daiki leapt from his chair with a snarl and moved directly for Ryuuji's attacker, Ryuuji was too stunned to act.

Perhaps Daiki had been keeping up with his judo, for he moved unerringly, dodging another wild roundhouse, then sliding in close to use the man's momentum to toss him over his shoulder.

"No!" Ryuuji shouted, knowing that, even if they were both skilled, they were no match for a bar full of angry patrons. His cry was lost in the outcry as the first man crashed gracelessly to the floor and slid to the bar.

Ryuuji started to rise, but Daiki moved faster, throwing the next one on his hip when the man tried an uppercut, and then knocking the legs out from under the third.

Poised to pounce and thus restrain Daiki, Ryuuji, was distracted by the cop's movements. At first he was shouting toward Daiki, but quickly turned in another direction reaching for his gun. Ryuuji turned too and saw the barkeep behind the bar, rifle at the ready.

For what seemed an eternity, time stood still, with Daiki in an angry man's sights.

For that moment, Ryuuji was tossed back to another moment that had lasted indefinitely.

Ryuuji never really saw the flash. He sensed Daiki's movement, his unbalance, then felt the light on his face, but, by the time he turned to face it, Daiki had already sent their ladder reeling and he was falling, reaching for Ryuuji's hand as the nothingness of falling engulfed them and an impossible brightness blossomed just outside his vision.

They landed with a brutal thud, though Daiki bore the brunt of it. Perhaps because Ryuuji had captured his hand, Ryuuji had landed atop Daiki, like two lovers twined on the shallow steps. Daiki wasn't holding him, though, but was limp and Ryuuji found himself screaming for him to awaken before all sound was swallowed by the hideous wrath of God that blew over him, a blast from the lowest hottest level of Naraka. The wall of sound and force caused the ground to tremble and the wall that shielded them to shake and drop large stones and debris. Just a few centimeters above his back, he could feel the hot wind roar past him with the stink of fire and death on it, the very breath of the dragon he was named for. Such was its speed that he could feel his flesh and clothing sucked by the vacuum it created in its wake, his yukata shredded and scorched from the brutal maelstrom of the bomb's shock wave.

As the din reverberated, Ryuuji could do nothing but shield his friend from the rocks and heat and pray the wall withstood the onslaught that seemed interminable but lasted only a second or two. Even after the hellborn kamikazi had passed, Ryuuji cowered in the shadow of the battered wall, able to feel the heat all around him, remnants from the conflagration. He shook and quivered, imploring Daiki to awaken and searching his body for injuries, praying that he had been shielded from harm.

Ryuuji started moving before he knew what he was going to do. There was no doubt in his mind the cop could not stop the barkeep in time, and the barkeep was going to shoot. The barkeep said something but Ryuuji didn't hear him, didn't see anything anymore but Daiki, who stood first in shock, then in patient resignation, even relief.

Ryuuji could not let him die.

Ryuuji slammed into Daiki, knocking him backwards with all his power. He managed to kick Daiki's legs and fell forward on top of him as he heard the blast that silenced all other sounds with its power and felt the dragon's breath slam into him this time, setting his neck into agony with its volcanic bite. There was no shelter from this pain, this kamakazi that would not be assuaged with less than one life.

For a moment, the world was lost in a flood of gray but he could still hear shouting, screaming, and scuffling. His body felt asleep. He could feel nothing below his neck, but his mind was still awake. It was Daiki's raucous sobs that forced him to open his eyes.

"Ryuuji! Ryuuji! Ryuuji!" Daiki wailed, his face awash with tears and mucus, his glasses gone, as he cradled Ryuuji on his lap. Ryuuji wondered when he'd lost the glasses.

Ryuuji tried to breathe but he could not draw breath. With all his effort his whispered, "Daiki, aishiteimasu, itsumo aishiteimasu." The shock silenced Daiki who focused all his attention on him, awed by words many Japanese had never heard from even their spouses. There was love, suki, but this was a different love, total adoration, and Ryuuji wanted Daiki to know he had always felt it for him. It was all he could offer. He already knew he could not keep that promise made so many years before. Daiki would be alone now and Ryuuji could not prevent it.

But he could love him.

Ryuuji could not draw another breath. My neck must be broken, he thought without fear, focused on giving whatever he could to Daiki before he died. But he couldn't speak.

Daiki must have sensed it and tried to breathe for him from his awkward position. How many times had Daiki dreamed of kissing him, of using his lips to teach Ryuuji of love? How many times had Ryuuji imagined it himself? Ryuuji welcomed the air he could not take in on his own and used it to give Daiki what love he could, to help Daiki live without him. Still in Japanese, he said, "I have always loved you. Do not let… this make you sad… or angry." He faltered again, his air gone and his mind starting to wander. Perhaps that was the blood trickling along the back of his head.

Daiki gave him another breath. Dear sweet Daiki, what Ryuuji would give to take back the years he had wasted waiting and give Daiki the happiness he always deserved. Perhaps Daiki could find his own version of love in Ryuuji's name. "Love, Daiki, love others and… let your love… be my… legacy."

And the darkness took him. He wasn't dead, not quite yet. He could hear sounds, muffled as if through water, of sirens and shouting, could hear Daiki screaming his name, sense a scuffle as they likely took him away from what was all but a dead body.

I will watch you for the rest of your life and love you, he thought as his mind, deprived of blood, finally began to shut down. I will not be reborn again, Daiki, not unless you can come with me.

You will never be alone.

Legacy Part IIa

Stephanie E Barr

Stephanie E Barr

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Recent Articles
Less Than Human
Back Seat Driver Pt 2
Return of Themis
Why I Don't Hate Men
Back Seat Driver Pt 1
The Monster She Lives With