Part I: Dragon's Breath
Part IIa: Shelter from the Storm

Omoto closed the door softly, then contemplated closing the shop. It was not yet ten, but the rain made more visitors unlikely and he felt very tired, very old. Too old. His tiny apartment upstairs beckoned, with his books and his tablet and his bed much softer than the futon Kyle slept on. Poor kid. Over the past forty-two years, many kids had slept on it and the cots and futons that had come before that.

Too many.

Parents in America seemed eager for an excuse to turn away from their own children. Some kids had been gay. Some had been pregnant. Some brutalized. Some just damaged. Some were estranged for the dumbest reasons. A few parents came to find their children, bring them home.

Too few.

No one went from Omoto's futon to the streets. That was for Omoto's own sense of justice. And for Ryuuji.

Ryuuji. He'd been dreaming of him more and more.

When Omoto had lost literally everything, he had had Ryuuji. And for twenty-eight years, Ryuuji had been the center of his world. They had roomed together through university, helping each other learn the nuances of American English in a very unfriendly place.

They went everywhere together. Ryuuji said he was lonely, but Omoto knew he just wanted to protect his adopted brother. He didn't trust Omoto to keep his temper in check. And Ryuuji was right. Omoto's anger and resentment were always boiling just below the surface.

So, Ryuuji came, calming things down, smiling and bowing, standing between Omoto and a beating or jail. Ryuuji never lost his temper, never struck back, even though he took more than his share of blows, never complained, even to Omoto.

Through grad school, they roomed and talked and studied, and Omoto couldn't help but feel his rage recede in the face of Ryuuji's acceptance and patience and never-ending understanding. He'd lost everything but Ryuuji, but Ryuuji was enough.

Then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, after they had each gotten Ph.D's, Ryuuji in nuclear physics of all things and Omoto in this strange new world of computing, they parted. Ryuuji went to supervise safety in a nuclear and rocket test facility thirty miles outside of Los Angeles. And Omoto? He taught and researched and patented as a full professor at CalTech. They were not so far from each other that they couldn't meet regularly for beers or coffee.

And they did.

But Omoto remembered years of dreading to hear that Ryuuji had found someone and would start a new family. One where Omoto had no part.

"Why do we always have to meet at this shithole in the middle of nowhere?" Daiki grumbled into the beer he'd been nursing as Ryuuji sat next to him. It was how Daiki always greeted him every time they met on the weekend.

Ryuuji grinned. "Because it is quiet, just a few farmers, and convenient for me and my challenging schedule. And no one knows either of us here." He looked up at the barkeep. "Two more drafts please."

When Daiki said, "But what about me?" Ryuuji laughed and gestured to a booth in the far corner, a mug of beer in either hand.

"Unlike a highly respected genius in the computing world, I do not get to set my own hours and do things at my leisure. That is why you indulge me this way. Why don't you pick a booth and wait for me there, instead of waiting at the bar? I'll find you."

"And why a nuclear genius like you wastes his time checking for radiation badges and hard hats at a nuclear facility, I will never know. Did you not get enough radiation in Nagasaki?"

"I cannot let it blow up and kill you."

It sounded like a joke, should have been a joke. But there was no laughter in Ryuuji's eyes.

Daiki couldn't help wishing it was true.

"Do you realize you are thirty-five years old tomorrow?" Daiki asked to cover his own blush. "Why have you not found some patient woman to settle down with?"

"What about you? You turned thirty-five last month."

Daiki looked him squarely in the eye. "You know why."

Ryuuji's lips quirked. "I know why you have not found a woman, but why not a partner?"

Daiki shrugged. "I have partners, but no one I want to introduce to you."

"No one you want to make your family?" Ryuuji smiled. "It's the same with me. There are women, but none of them are worthy to introduce to you as your sister."

"Stupid. Brothers go and find their own families, without worrying about the comfort of their loved ones."

"I will not leave you alone, Daiki. Not now. Not ever."

For the millionth time, the urge to tell Ryuuji he loved him, in every possible human way including sexually, all but strangled Daiki. Did strangle him, because he knew Ryuuji knew. And, because Ryuuji knew and said nothing, Daiki was not going to gamble with the most important relationship he'd ever have.

Not now. Not ever.

But he believed Ryuuji. When they parted that night, Daiki knew there'd be another one, that he'd see Ryuuji the next week. That Ryuuji would not leave him alone.

The bell rang violently, and Omoto, drooling on his own counter, woke with a start. He didn't glance at the clock but suspected it was after closing time. He straightened his skewed glasses at the sopping figure in a black raincoat. The figure didn't move like a teenager. "I’m sorry," Omoto said briskly. "We are closing early tonight."


Two things stopped Omoto and made him turn back to his coffee pot. First, Omoto could not miss the desperation in that voice. Secondly, he knew that voice. It belonged to Kyle's father.

Omoto tossed some towels on the counter and rinsed out the pot. "Put your coat up and dry off, Daniel-san"

Omoto had taken Kyle's duffel to the back but his wet hoodie still hung on the coat tree. "O-san! He's here?"

"Do not shout," Omoto said, as the coffee began perking. "And do not drip."

Kyle's father, hung up his rain coat and started dabbing at his drenched hair. "I need to see him!"

Omoto shuffled over to the front door, clicked off the open sign and locked the door. "He is sleeping. And he will stay sleeping unless I think there is a good reason to wake him. When he wakes, I will tell him you came, if I feel telling him won't hurt him more."

"This is none of your business! How dare—!"

"Tsk!" Omoto's upheld hand was implacable. "Your child came into my shop, alone and unloved, feeling he had lost everything. Do you know what that feels like? I do. So it is my business to make sure that you do not have the opportunity to make him feel that way again."

Daniel stood, agape, perhaps stunned by a fury he'd never before seen from Omoto. Good.

"You know why he left?" Daniel said, his manner stiff.

"Yes. The key question is can you accept your son as he actually is with no hidden resentment? Or will you turn your back on him and go back to your home to contemplate what went wrong?" Omoto poured coffee, but did not offer cookies.

"Those are my only choices?"

"Yes, and by 'what went wrong' I mean 'What is so wrong with you that you would turn your back on your child or make him feel he is any way unworthy?'" Omoto sipped his own cup, inwardly pleased that it was a little bitter. "Another choice, where you let him come back resentfully but remind him he failed you and eat away at his sense of self for your own sense of self-righteousness is pure poison to a kid like Kyle, so that is not one I'll give you."

"You have no authority here." Daniel should have sounded angry. He looked surprised, actually, that he didn't.

Daniel had been a friend a long time, a good customer. Omoto spoke more gently than he might have. "Everyone has the authority to insist on kindness. To protect those that are hurting and provide them shelter. If you can only hurt him, I will not let you, for your sake as much as his." Omoto sipped again. "Someday, because you have a good heart, you would regret the pain you caused him. And the hole you rip in your own heart."

"He's gay."

"Yes, I know. But he is the same caring, untidy, thoughtless child he was yesterday."

"His mother took off when he was five. Kyle's all I have in the world."

"All the more reason to treasure him."

"Where did I go wrong?"

"By thinking your son does you a disservice by being himself."

"Do you have any idea how hard it is for gays in this society? Even here in San Francisco? He's making his life so much harder than it has to be."

"He made nothing. His life is so much harder than it has to be because people do not accept. Because telling his own father, his own family, could cost him everything he has. Because people he loves may be unwilling to acknowledge him for fear they, too, will be stigmatized. None of that was his doing. He did nothing more than be himself."

Daniel sipped, grimaced, and sipped again. "That sounds like the voice of experience."

"It is. But I had something your son did not. I had someone who would not turn his back on me, who never let me feel alone. Who became my family when I had lost everything."

Daniel glanced up at the picture. "You were there, weren't you? I've never seen anyone else post a picture of the mushroom cloud. Was it Hiroshima?"


"And you're gay?"

"I have always been gay. I do not think it changed the taste of the coffee or the caliber of my programming and computer designs. I was still the same person in all the years you have known me."

"And this person, he was your lover?"

"He was someone who accepted me as I was." Omoto shrugged. "You could do the same for your son if your own heart was big enough."

"I don't want him to suffer."

"He could pretend he was not gay, and he would suffer, wondering why people could not love him as he was. He could be overtly gay and also be ostracized. The suffering remains either way because the option he does not have is to be something else." Omoto sighed. "He would suffer less if he knew someone accepted him, someone he loved. His family."

Daniel sipped.

Omoto, started to tidy up, leaving Daniel with his thoughts. He wondered if Ryuuji ever struggled with his acceptance. Ryuuji never showed it, but then, he wouldn't.

"I cannot believe you still make me come out to this shithole every weekend," Daiki groused into his beer. "Or why you still work at that nuclear plant. They do not even use it to make power anymore."

"They still use it to make nuclear material and toxic waste. Someone has to keep it safe."

Daiki sighed. "I could get you a job tomorrow at CalTech. Or several up and coming companies. Several owe me a favor or want access to my patents. Hell, I have plenty from that already. We could retire and see the world."

"We have seen it," Ryuuji said. "And we are only forty-five. It is too early to retire."

"We have seen part of it. 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. Always so gloomy."

Daiki found himself swallowing the pain as Ryuuji gave him a tragic smile, tears in his eyes. "Daiki, is it my fault? Am I the reason you can never be truly happy?"

Daiki cleared his throat, hurt beyond measure at the sadness in Ryuuji's eyes, and tried to laugh it off. "What do you mean? You just have lousy taste in dives."

"You love me, right, Daiki?" Ryuuji had gone back to Japanese. "All this time, you have loved me. Why have you never said so?" He gripped Daiki's hand so Daiki couldn't turn away.

"I did not want to lose you." Daiki couldn't say it in Japanese. It was too painful.

"Did you think you could?"

Daiki struggled to find an answer, struggled not to be overcome by elation at what he thought Ryuuji was saying to him.

"Jeeesus Christ, we got a couple of faggots here. Bad enough you gooks have been making free use of this place for years while our best and brightest travel across the world to kick your sorry asses." The man, large, muscular, wore denim and plaid, and a filthy white cap stained repeatedly by sweat. His eyes were cold, same denim blue as his jeans, and his hair was blonde and straggly. His muscled arms writhed with tattoos, military tattoos. He was flanked on either side by a similarly dressed buddy. "But when you start to get smoochy, you're asking for a good ol' American beating."

"Please," Ryuuji said in his most conciliating voice. "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."

"Well you did harm me. My beer tastes like piss now. And I'm going to pound some yellow faces in to get the taste out of my mouth."

Ryuuji stepped forward, arms out pacifically and was clocked for his troubles, knocked down to the ground with a vicious right.

At that moment, Daiki lost it. Everything became a red haze. Ryuuji deserved pain least of all. Daiki would not let it happen again.

Daiki moved in. He'd never learned aikido, but judo worked well enough on men who thought their size and strength would be sure to carry the day. The first, who aimed a roundhouse at him, was tossed over Daiki's shoulder for his troubles, to come to dazed stop at the bar. The other two, off balance with their aggression, were thrown with similar dispatch, one over the hip and the other with his legs kicked out from under him. As Daiki turned from throwing the last, the barkeep stood behind the bar, a rifle trained on Daiki's face.

"Be a cold day in hell when a couple of faggotty gooks take down red-blooded Americans in my place." He somehow managed to spit around his cigar. "You just lost your last damn fight."

Behind the barkeep, Daiki saw a policeman, still in uniform, pulling his own gun and shouting something, likely to get the barkeep to stand down since that's where the cop was trying to aim. It was in slow motion, much like that day in Nagasaki, and Daiki thought, "Today, at last, I'll die." His eyes, noting so many details in the dilated time, saw the fingers squeeze on the rifle, yet somehow missed Ryuuji launching himself at him until Ryuuji was in his face, knocking him backward as the bullet flew where Daiki's head had just been and slammed through Ryuuji's neck as he fell forward.

Daiki cradled Ryuuji in his arms. Later, he would find out that the bullet had severed his spine next to the skull, that the cop disarmed the bar owner and called for backup. But at that moment, all he knew was Ryuuji was bleeding out his life into Daiki's lap.

Ryuuji gasped and strained to breathe and, when he couldn't draw breath, Daiki tried to breathe for him but Ryuuji used his last breaths to whisper, "Smile, Daiki. I always loved you. Do not let… this make you sad… or angry. Love and… let your love… be my… legacy."

"Here." Daniel offered Omoto a napkin. "I'm sorry."


"Were you thinking of Nagasaki?" Omoto was struck by the power of Daniel's eyes, the same blue as his son's.

Only then, did Omoto realize he was weeping. "No. Not Nagasaki. I lost everything twice." He sopped at his eyes. "You could lose everything, too, and it would be your own doing, just as it was mine." He returned Daniel's look squarely. "Will you?"

"No. I'll be there for Kyle. I promise."

He sounded sincere, but… "That is quite a turnaround."

"You gave me time to think. I'm not only all he has, he is all I have. I don't want to lose him."

"Good. I will wake him. Fifty cents for the coffee."

"But it was bitter!"

"You deserved it."

If Omoto surreptitiously shed a few tears at their reunion, Omoto comforted himself that he was old. He was entitled to a little sentimentality.

The years weighed on him as he painfully climbed up the stairs to his apartment. He lit incense and bowed in front of Ryuuji's picture where Ryuuji was forever smiling. From a pile of papers, he pulled one of bird's egg blue and began to fold with deft fingers, then set it among the many cranes, dozens, of different colors, that adorned the shrine. Some were students he helped when he was a professor. Many were lost souls who found his coffee shop a haven. All were to honor Ryuuji. Not a thousand yet…

"Your legacy, Ryuuji," he said, as the tears fell again. "And now mine."

Stephanie E Barr

Stephanie E Barr

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