By Mirror and Image

"Attention, attention all cars, there is a chase going on at Kamakura Street southbound...pursue, the suspect is the one from the Ito murder...he is to be presumed armed and extremely dangerous..." The warning came in.

"We're near that street," said the Lieutenant.

"On my way sir," the officer in the driver's seat replied.

"Careful rookie, this guy has a rap sheet longer than I am tall," he said.

"I can handle it sir,"

"For the last time! We're partners so you can call me Eiji, Kojack," said Lt. Saguhawa.

"For the last time! My name is not Kojack! I am Officer Koji Masamari and I object to your obsession with American shows!" she said as she sped up even faster. "We're on the street. There he is!" Officer Masamari pointed up the hill. "It looks like he's going 190 kilometers per hour." For those who don't know Metrics, that's 120 miles per hour. Fast huh?

"Good eye Kojack; be careful though. This is a hilly area with a lot of blind intersections," Lt. Saguhawa said. He put on the sirens. "This should warn anyone who is close enough. Now speed up as much as possible. This slime ball is going back to prison!"

"Ryo, are you okay?" Sage asked as they drove down the street.

"I'm fine," said Ryo as he turned left.

"Are you sure? You're not as upbeat as you usually are when you drive."

"I'm just tired I guess." He turned right and followed the winding road. He came to a stop sign and crept out to see what was coming. He glanced over and saw Sage looking at a bunch of papers stacked in a folder. "What's in the folder?""

"Financial information on the dojo," Sage answered. "If I'm ever going to take over, I'll have to learn how to do some of this stuff."

"Like you're ever going to take over," Kento joked from the back seat. "Hey, can we get moving? I can't wait to get some of this food out of the bags."

"I would, but I can't see over the hill," Ryo answered. "I hate turning right on this road." He inched out a little further when a car came over the crest of the hill. Ryo slammed on the brakes, sending Sage's folder flying. All the papers fell to the floor of the jeep. "Sorry."

"It's okay," Sage answered. "I'll hurt you later." He bent over to pick up all the papers. Ryo glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Kento rummaging through on of the grocery bags.

"Hey, hands off until we get home!" he said.

"I just wanna see where you put the cake," Kento mumbled with his head in one of the bags. "Are we home yet?"

"No," Ryo answered. "And you're not going to find the cake. I hid it for that specific purpose." Ryo looked to the crest of the hill. He didn't see anyone coming, so he pressed the gas and hoped no one would come.

A European car came flying over the hill. "HOLY--" Sage looked up to see what Ryo was looking at. Kento was still leaned over the seat.

The car hit.

"Oh no!"

"What? What's going on up there?" Lt. Saguhawa asked on the radio. The helicopter pilot couldn't answer.

"Oh no! Oh no!" The pilot watched as a jeep crept out of a blind intersection. He watched as the suspect slammed into them on the driver's side at about the front wheel. "Oh no!" was all he could say. The jeep started to spin. Then he saw Lt. Saguhawa and Officer Masumari's patrol car head for the jeep. "Look out!" he called. It was too late. They clipped the front of the jeep, making the jeep straighten out. The jeep stopped by heading straight into a tree. "Oh no!" The pilot had seen a lot of crashes in his time, but this was the first time he could not keep his composure. "Oh no." He regained his composure just enough to call for help. "Uhhhhh... this is Chopper Three to base...y-you might want to call an ambulance. Ummm...sus-suspect has just crashed into a jeep...uh you might want to call the coroner as well...'cause I don't think anyone in that jeep had a chance."

"Uhhhh, what hit us?" Kento asked as he sat up. "OUCH!" He grabbed his wrist to find that it was probably broken. Kento looked out the window to see a powerful European car almost smashed to bits. There were to police officers arresting the scruffy looking driver.

"Yo, Sage, Ryo? I think they got the guy who nailed us." No response came from the front. Kento leaned forward. "Sage? Ryo, bro? Are you okay?" He looked to see Sage's head on the dashboard. Some blood was dripping down his forehead. "Oh my god no! Ryo! Sage is unconscious! Ryo?" Kento looked over to see Ryo's head on the steering wheel, which was slowly getting soaked in Ryo's blood. "RYO!" Kento tried to open his door. He had to get help for them. The door wouldn't budge. He tried the other door and shoved it open. "SOMEBODY CALL AN AMBULACE! MY FRIENDS NEED HELP NOW!

Pain. Sage's eyes opened a crack. What happened? The light hurt his eyes, so he shut them. He waited for his thoughts to clear. Something hit us... we were spinning... something hit my head... pain. The sound of Kento's voice filtered into his ears. He couldn't make out the words, but he sounded upset. Sage opened his eyes again. The light still hurt, but not as bad. He looked over and saw Ryo facing him, his hands still on the wheel. He was unconscious, and Sage could feel him weakening.

"Ryo" he rasped, his voice not working. He reached over with his left arm, but it wouldn't move. It must be broken. He lifted his right arm; that was working. He reached over and put his fingertips on Ryo's forehead. A soft green glow enveloped Ryo as Sage got a full view of the scope of Ryo's injuries. Sage winced in pain as his energy started to drain into Ryo's limp form. His fingers started to shake, not having the energy to stay lifted. His vision blurred as he tried to remain focused. Sage felt the last of his energy leave him.

His eyes rolled back into his head and he passed out.

He didn't get up.

Cye looked at the clock for the millionth time. Rowen caught the look and smiled.

"They probably just got caught in traffic. It is rush hour you know."

"Yes I know," Cye answered. "I just have this uneasy feeling that something's not right."

"If it makes you feel better," Rowen said. "I have the same feeling. But they've been late before. I mean, what's the worst that could happen? They got caught in a long line, and Kento was unable to resist eating at least a few of the goodies before they bought them. It's happened before. I should know. I was the one who had to pay the extra." Rowen half smiled at the memory of it.

Cye grinned himself. That's probably what happened. "Ok, Ok, you win. I'll stop worrying." He went into the kitchen to start supper. Rowen went into the living room and turned on the news. After some commercials, it finally came on. The newscaster was talking about some kind of crash that took place about an hour ago. Some suspect for the Ito murder had been caught after a speedy chase. He was stopped at Kamakura Street. Rowen sat forward in attention.

"Hey Cye," he called. "That guy who killed the Ito kids was caught a few blocks from here." Cye came into the living room to see.

"But unfortunately, the chase ended with a crash," the reporter said from the scene. The screen cut to a video tape of a European car flying down the residential roads. "We've acquired the police film of the chase and as you can see, it hit a red jeep turning onto the road." The camera went back to the young reporter. "Now, I'm standing right where the jeep was when the other car hit. As you can see, the intersection is a blind one. The road comes in at an angle, and the driver couldn't see over the crest of the hill, where the car hit him. And what's worse, the jeep was hit a second time, as you can see from the footage, by the lead police car on the pursuit. The jeep was then sent out of the spin and finally stopped at that tree over there." The reporter pointed to a bent tree. There was nothing there now, but it was obvious the crash had been bad. "To keep up with this breaking story, I'm going to go the Shinsha Hospital, where the three victims in the jeep were transported. This is Mahiro Maedo reporting live."

Cye and Rowen weren't there for the end of the broadcast.

The Emergency Room at the hospital was in complete chaos. Doctors, police, reporters, and people were everywhere when Cye and Rowen got there. They went over to the desk.

"Excuse me," said Cye. "Three people were admitted here, maybe about an hour ago. Uh, their names are Ryo Sanada, Sage Date, and Kento Rei Fuan. They were in a car accident on Kamakura street."

The nurse leafed through her clipboard at what seemed a painfully slow pace.

"Yes," she finally said. "Rei Fuan-san was released about fifteen minutes ago, but I don't think he's left the building yet. Date-san is still in the ER, and Sanada-san is either in of just out of OR. They wanted to look for internal injuries."

"Can we see them? Or maybe their doctor?" asked Rowen impatiently.

"Are you relatives of any of them?" asked the nurse.

"Well, no," said Cye. "We're their friends. Could you at least tell us who to talk to?"

"You're friends of the victims?" called a voice from down the hall. A short, brown-haired woman with glasses and a camera crew rushed down the hall. "I'm Mahiro Maedo from WTXJ 30 News." Rowen rolled his eyes and turned to Cye.

"I'll take care of this. See what you can find out." Cye nodded his head and went back to the nurse at the desk. "Look, I want to find out about my friends. I really don't have time for a bunch of mike-wielding-scoop-hunting-news-hounds. Ok?"

"How do you feel about this tragic accident? Do you want justice done to the driver of the other car, who is the prime suspect of the Ito murders? Is it--"

Rowen cut her off. "You haven't heard a word I said, have you? Let me spell it out for you: I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS." Unfazed, Miss Meado stuck her microphone into Rowen's face.

"Do you have any comment for the public?"

"Yes. 'I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.' And that means I don't have time for reporters."

"ROWEN! MI AMIGO!" Rowen turned around, along with Miss Meado and her crew, to see Kento running over to him.

"Kento! Buddy you're alright!" Rowen smiled widely and rushed up to meet him. Kento hugged him tightly and lifted him up off the ground. "Uh, Kento, put me down."

"Oh, sorry," Kento said as he let go.

"So what happened? It said on the news that you guys were in serious trouble."

"All the crash gave me was a broken wrist," Kento answered. "I was fixed up pretty quick, but they won't tell me what's up with Sage and Ryo."

"Are you one of the victims? How do you feel?" Rowen rolled his eyes.

"Dude, you got tagged with the press?" Kento asked.

"Yup, and they won't get off my back. Can you do anything?" Kento nodded and stood in front of the reporters, who were now growing in numbers.

"Yeah, I'd like to make a statement." Everyone listened intently. "GGGGOOOOO AAAWWWAAAYYYYYYY!"

"What's going on here?" asked an older woman. She had streaking black hair pulled very loosely into a pony-tail. She had dark rimmed glasses held securely at the bridge of her nose. She was wearing a white coat over a green operation suit. "Who let reporters in here? Go on, get out of here. If you want an interview, get into an accident. Now go on! Officer, get these people out of here!" A cop in his late thirties with jet black hair came over. He urged the reporters out with the help of a younger officer. When they finally disappeared, the doctor turned to Kento and Rowen.

"You're the friends of the boys in the car accident?"

"Yes," said Rowen. "Actually, Kento here was in the accident. Can we see our friends?"

"Come with me to my office. Your other friend is already waiting."

Cye was relieved when he saw Rowan walk in with Kento into the doctor's office. When Kento saw Cye he ran over and gave him a big hug.

"Kento! I'm glad to see you're all right!" Cye said.

"Cye, buddy, good to see you! Maybe you can tell me what happened to Sage and Ryo! They didn't look so hot when the ambulance came!"

"Actually, I was going to get to that when I heard the reporters," said the doctor. "As I told your friend, my name is Dr. Hisao Ohkawa. The three of you had better sit down."

"I don't like the sound of that," said Rowan. Cye noticed he was tensing up a little bit.

"As you can see, your friend Kento only suffered from a broken wrist and some bumps and bruises," she started off.

"We know that! How are the others?" Kento asked impatiently.

"They weren't as lucky as you, I'm afraid," she replied. "Date-san has fractured his left arm, probably from when it was on the dashboard and when the jeep stopped spinning. His left patella was bruised when his legs slammed forward when the jeep was stopped. His head landed on the dashboard hard and he has a concussion. He will be okay, he has been sedated so he can heal a little faster and will be that way for a day or so. He's going to be okay."

"A bad knee, broken arm, and concussion doesn't sound so bad but what about Ryo? You haven't said anything about him yet," Rowan interrupted.

"She was probably just getting to that Rowan, calm down and be patient," Cye responded calmly. "Besides, I'm sure he's okay, right Dr. Ohkawa?"

Dr. Ohkawa looked down. Uh-oh, I don't like that, Cye thought.

She looked up and started to state the diagnosis. "Sanada-san was almost at the point of impact during the crash. His injuries are more extensive than Date-san's. His right knee is broken. He has several cracked ribs. His internal organs are okay, but somewhat bruised..."

"But he will be okay? Right?" Kento asked.

"I have to prepare you for this, but he might not be."

""WWWWHHHHAAAATTTT?" all three of them shouted.

"Calm down!" Dr. Ohkawa ordered. "He also has a concussion, much worse than Date-san. He is in a coma. What's worse is that it is his choice to live or die. If he doesn't have enough fight in him, he won't make it."

"If there's one person in this entire world with enough fight in him, Ryo does! Don't even think about him dying!" Kento yelled. Cye sat back in his chair. This was a lot to swallow. Ryo dying? Cye knew they all ran the risk of death in Talpa's War, but just from a car accident? It didn't seem possible, but it was happening here and now. Cye looked over to see Rowan, very quietly, get up and leave the room. Doesn't look like he's taking this well. He must be off to see Sage or Ryo. Cye had no idea how wrong he was. Rowan was having a hard time swallowing this yes, but he had no intention whatsoever of seeing either Sage or Ryo.

Oh, my head. Ryo opened his eyes very slowly and looked around him. Where am I? The sky was a bright blue, and he got the feeling he was at a very high altitude. There were waist high pine trees (from the lack of oxygen) dotted all over the landscape. He walked around and found some small flowers popping up. He looked at the sky again and found a trail of smoke. Must be a fire. He followed the smoke to the edge of a great valley. It dipped down farther than he could see. To his right was a very small campfire, only there was nothing around it. No tents, not logs, no signs that anyone was there. Ryo bent down and stared at the fire. It's so beautiful. It would be a shame to put it out, but I don't want it to start a forest fire; such as it is. He picked up a fistful of dirt and threw it onto the fire. Nothing happened. Ryo double blinked. The blink brought him to a hospital room. There were machines and tubes hooked up to his body. There were huge bruises and cuts on his face, and his head was bandaged. A nurse came in, wrote something down, then left. What's going on? He blinked again and found himself at the fire again. He looked down and found himself in a dark red kimono. What is this?

"Ryo of the Wildfire. Bearer of the Inferno Armor, I bid you welcome."

Ryo turned around and saw the Ancient floating over the center of the valley. "Ancient, where am I? What's going on?"

"You are in the farthest recesses of your mind. You are here to make a choice. You stand on a dormant volcano. A representation of your life now. You sleep. Your body is in a coma, and you must choose whether to fuel the fire or not. This is a time of contemplation and reflection. As long as you are choosing, the small fire will glow. Be wary not to choose to hastily. Look at your life and make the choice carefully." The Ancient then faded.

"Ancient, WAIT!" He was gone. "So now what do I do?"

"Listen and learn," came a voice from behind him. Ryo swirled around to see someone he thought he'd never see again.

"Father? What are you doing here? I've missed you," Ryo said. He walked over to his father with tears in his eyes. Father and son shared a hug not shared in over a decade. "It's great to see you again dad."

"I know son," his father started.

"Hey dad, what's with your safari clothes and the camera? If this is where I'm going to make an important decision, why not a kimono?" Ryo asked as his curiosity got the better of him.

"This is how I looked when you last saw me," he smiled. "it's how you remember me so it's how I came." He frowned. "I only wish I could stay longer."

"What do you mean? You can stay here with me can't you? I have so many questions that I've wanted to ask you."

Ryo's father looked directly into his son's eyes. "You've grown into quite a handsome young man, and you still have your mother's eyes with the sparkle of life and virtue."

"Tell me more about my mother."

"She misses you very much and waits for you to join us. However, I'm not here for this. I have something very important to tell you."

"It can wait, I have all the time in the world to spend with you."

"She was as gentle as the summer breeze and more beautiful than a cherry tree in bloom. I wish she could have been with you as you grew up, she always had a way with children. I was crushed when she died." Ryo's father pointed to the fire. "Will you stoke the fire or put it out?"

"If I stoke it, will I see you again?"

"No, not for a long, long, long time."

"Then I'll put it out. I couldn't live through losing you twice."

"I disagree. Your mother and I have watched you grow into a strong young man. We could never be more proud. Who else can boast about having their only child save the world several times?"

"But I never knew you or my mother as I grew up and that was extremely hard. I want to know you."

"You will. Whether you choose to know us now or at another time is entirely up to you. This may sound cruel, but you mother and I would prefer if you stoke the fire and you meet us later." Ryo stared at his father.

"And go back to a world full of pain? You're right, that does sound cruel."

"But you have friends who need you and a world that might need to be saved again. Promise me something."

"For you father? I'd move heaven and earth if you wanted me to if I could see you and Mother again."

"Promise me that you won't put out the fire yet. Listen to your friends and then make your decision. As the Ancient said, this is not something you can rush into as you usually do. Just remember that no matter what you choose..." Ryo's father started to fade. "your mother and I will always be proud of you and..." he disappeared. "we will always love you."

"Father! Don't go!" Ryo fell to his knees before the fire. With tears streaming down his face he looked to the fire. "I promise. I'll wait. But my decision will still be the same."

Ryo heard the click of a doorknob. He shut his eyes tight to block the tears. When he opened them, he was back in the hospital, and he watched Kento slip into the door and close it behind him. He turned the lights off and the room plunged into darkness, the only light peeking from the cracks of the doorway that Kento didn't shut fully. He sat down in a chair to Ryo's left. Ryo shut his eyes from the tears again. He looked up to see Kento in the exact same kimono as him, only it was colored a dark orange. On his left wrist was a bandage, and he had some cuts on his arms and face.

"Kento, you have the worst timing go away," Ryo said.

"Hey bro, how are you doing?" Kento choked out. It sounded like he would cry at any moment.

"Me, oh I'm fine, just peachy. Now go away. I need to be alone right now," he replied sarcastic ally.

"Look, um, the doctors say that 'cause you're in this coma that you can't hear me," Kento started.

"I can hear you just fine and if you want to talk; come back later."

"I don't buy that so I wanted to talk to you. Now I know you can't answer back.."

"Yes I can, now go away before I kick you into the volcano. I can't talk to anyone right now," Ryo said through his tears.

"...but I have to say this anyway."

"Okay, okay, I'll listen to you. I made a promise that I would."

"Now the doctors say that you don't have the fight left to live all that much longer. That's not like're a born fighter, whether it be against being alone or Talpa, you've always fought for what was right. What happened?"

"I found my father."

"I couldn't live with myself if you died because that blasted accident was my fault." Ryo turned to Kento. All anger Ryo had at the moment left and he tried to comfort his friend.

"Kento, buddy, don't go blaming yourself for that. No one could have been able to react fast enough to that crook. Not even a Ronin Warrior, case and point!" Ryo smiled and put his hand on Kento's shoulder. "It was no one's fault but that murder. It was his life of crime that led him to that intersection, not your eagerness to go home and eat some stupid cake. It's not your fault."

"Well," Kento said as he got up. "I've said what I wanted," Kento wiped a tear from his eyes. "I'm going to go check on Sage; see if he's woken up from his concussion yet." Kento headed for the door. Ryo even wasn't even aware he had blinked. He turned the lights on as he went out the door. Before he shut it, he turned around and said, "Come back to us soon, okay bro?" Kento shut the door. Ryo blinked again and was back at the volcano.

"Kento, how can I prove to you that it's not your fault without coming back?" Ryo asked himself. He looked over to the fire. "I can't, can I?"

The next day, Cye was reading in Sage's room while Kento looked over Ryo. Rowen, strangely, refused to come to the hospital. Cye flipped through the pages of his book, not really interested in reading. His thoughts were all over the place, drifting from the news yesterday, the prognosis, the sight of both Sage and Ryo, the sleepless night, the gloomy breakfast, even the fight with Rowen about going to the hospital. That was still bugging him. Why would Rowen refuse to see Sage and Ryo especially? Cye knew he was taking this whole incident very hard, but this was a bit much. What was so terrible? Did he not want to see Sage and Ryo when they were weak? Cye didn't think that was it. Was there something that this reminded him of? Cye was leaning to that theory when he heard a deep breath. He looked over and saw Sage's eyes looking around the hospital room.

"Sage?" Sage looked over at Cye. His eyes were weak and a little glazed. The medication must not have worn off completely. "Sage, do you know where you are?" Cye asked, standing up.

"H--h--hospit'l," Sage groaned, his throat dry.

"Do you remember the accident?" Cye asked.

"W-whut a'sid'nt?" he asked weakly.

"You were in a car accident yesterday. The Ito killer rammed into you and you spun out. Then the patrol car in pursuit clipped you and you stopped in a tree. The ambulance took you to Shinsha Hospital where you are now," Cye reviewed. Sage stared at him with his ice blue eyes.

"Wuh--where're Ryo'n'K--K--Hento?" he asked, his face starting to look scared.

"Kento only had a broken wrist, he's with Ryo now," Cye explained. "But Sage..." Cye tried to figure out how to say this. How could he say it? What words would make this sound easy? Coma was too cold a word. It sounded so... impartial. So inhuman. But what other term could be used? Cye wasn't talking to some nine-year-old. Sage could handle it, the question was, should he tell him now or when he was stronger? Cye stared blankly into Sage's eyes. Sage's eyes suddenly looked terrified.

He grabbed Cye's arm. "H-he's not... not..."

"Oh no, no, no he's not," Cye said, realizing what idea he must've given. "It's just that I can't think of a good way of saying it..."

Sage looked into Cye's eyes. "Tell me," he said, in the strongest voice he could muster.

"Ryo's in a coma," Cye blurted out. "And according to the doctors, it's his choice whether he lives or dies. And Ryo doesn't see to have much fight in him." Sage let go of Cye's arm and sank back into bed. His eyes locked onto space; something he always did when something was bothering him. Cye wondered what he was thinking. The look on his face was that of shock, yes, but something else was mixed in. Cye couldn't put his finger on it.

"Sage, are you okay?" Cye asked tentatively. Sage sat up, swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and stood up. But the sedatives hadn't worn off yet. His knees buckled under his weight and he fell into Cye arms, who promptly put him back into bed.

"I g-'otta see'm," Sage moaned. "I 'otta mak'sure. I needa see'm. I--"

"Sage!" Cye said sternly. Sage quieted down. Once he stopped moving, he felt all the aches of his sore joints. He winced in pain and put his hand to his bandaged head as he lay down. "That's better. Look Sage, I know you want to see Ryo. But you only just woke up. The sedatives they gave you haven't left your system yet. Not only that, you have a concussion. I doubt Dr. Ohkawa would even let you out of bed for several days. Maybe even until your release. You can't do anything for him right now. Ok?"

"But I 'otta find out if what I saw b'fore was true," Sage said, his voice starting to get stronger.

"What do you mean?" Cye asked, confused.

"I saw sumthin'," Sage answered, more to himself than anyone else. "I wuzzn't sure. I need ta fin'out." Dr. Ohkawa came in to see how Sage was doing. Cye got up.

"Is he alright?" she asked quietly as she pulled him aside.

"Yeah, I think so," said Cye. "I told him about Ryo. He's mumbling about him seeing something before. I assume it was during the accident. But I don't know what he means."

"Well, I'll take a look at him," Dr. Ohkawa said. "If he looks okay otherwise, I'll take him off the sedatives. Then maybe when he's coherent he'll explain it to you."

She left Cye to check on Sage.

Cye came home alone. Kento wanted to stay longer with Ryo, but Cye finally convinced him to go to his restaurant and take his mind off everything. Cye could've used his own advice, but he wanted to talk to Rowen. He found him on the couch in the living room. He was nose deep in a book he'd found that morning about comas.

"Rowen, if you can read books about comas, why can't you see Ryo?" No answer.

"Well, I do have some good news, Sage woke up this morning." No answer.

"Kento's at the restaurant and will probably be home in about an hour." No answer.

"Talpa's returned and is demanding for the world's supply of deodorant." No answer.

Cye got fed up. He reached over and tore the book out of Rowen's hand.

"HEY! What do you think you're doing!" Rowen yelled.

"Getting you to listen to me!" Cye said annoyed. "Look, Sage woke up this morning and Dr. Ohkawa took him off the sedatives. Kento is at the restaurant and will be home in an hour. Ok!"

"Ok, don't be so grouchy!" Rowen said, grabbing the book back. "Geez, you'd think you were mad at me."

"Well I am a little annoyed at you," Cye admitted.


"Because you refuse to see either Sage or Ryo. Ryo especially."

"Well, now that Sage is awake, I can see him."

"But why won't you see Ryo?" Cye asked. "You were so adamant this morning. Do you not want to see him weak or something? Talk to me. Why won't you see him when he probably needs you most? I'm sorry, but it doesn't make sense to me. I'm trying to understand, but it would help if I knew more." Rowen looked at him. He opened his mouth several times, as if to say something, but he'd always shut it again. Finally he got up.

"I can't tell you," he whispered.

"Why? What can be so bad that you won't even tell your friends?"

"I just can't. I want to see Ryo, but I can't." With that, he left the room, leaving Cye alone.

"Cye, talk to me," Kento said. "You haven't said a word since you asked me to drive you to the police station. What's up?"

"Just get me there and I'll handle the rest."

"You know, you sounded like Ryo just then. Taking care of something by yourself." Kento looked over to Cye. "Let me in. You're obviously angry. What's going on in that skull of yours?"

"You'd be better off not knowing.'' Kento pulled into the police station and let Cye out. "I'll call you when I'm done. This may take a while."

"Fine, I know it's no good talking to you when you're like this." Kento drove off.

Finally, some privacy, Cye thought. He was here to talk to the...the...the...bastard that hit Ryo and Sage. If Kento knew that; he never would have let Cye go in with out him. Cye needed to do this alone. He walked into the station and asked the front desk if it could be arranged. The secretary looked at him weirdly. Cye understood it. He was just a kid compared to that crook. The secretary finally answered that it was possible. Cye told her to arrange it and to get something for him. With it in hand, he went to the Ito murder's cell.

The cell door opened and a young brown-haired boy came in. Yutaka Yamane looked up to see him holding a roll of paper in hand. If the old crook didn't know better, it looked like the whelp had tears in his eyes. Reason enough to kill him when I get outta here. Probably of friend of the Ito's, big whoop. The kid unrolled the list and looked up to him as he started to speak.

"So, you're Yutaka Yamane, career criminal and prime suspect in the Ito murders."

"Big deal, I could kill you right now with my bear hands if I wanted to. Now get out of my cell, boy, before I do!" he threatened.

The boy smiled. "The last time I was called boy was in one of my earlier confrontations with Sekhmet." The smile quickly vanished. "Don't presume to judge me. You know nothing about me and underestimating me would be a lethal mistake."

"Yeah, whatever you say...boy." This brat sounded like he could cry at any moment. Watta wuss, he thought.

"You have quite a list here Yamane-san. Burglary, arson, statutory rape, drug-dealing, arms smuggling, parole violation, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, murder: first degree, evasion of police..." the boy read all the most recent offenses Yutaka had committed of the paper which had rolled out onto the floor to end up being a list 20 feet long. "And of course," the boy said as he looked up from the paper. "Let's not forget the Ito murders. You killed a six-month old infant, a three-year-old boy and a ten-year-old girl. And days after that, speeding, evading arrest, resisting arrest, assault with a deadly weapon, assault in general, and there is a possibility of manslaughter. You have a lot to answer for."

"Big deal, so I have to wait before the fun begins again. If there's one thing I've learned over the years; it's that patience is virtue." Upon hearing the word virtue a single tear slid down his cheek. "Wussy brat."

The next thing he knew he was against the wall. Somehow this boy had grabbed him and before he could react, thrown him against the wall. This boy had exceptional speed and strength for his appearance.

"I said underestimating me could be a lethal mistake," he whispered in a cold harsh voice. "Would you like me to prove it?"

"If you do, you'll have every cop in the precinct on you in seconds," he said. This brat had some fight in him. Yutaka was starting to loose his cool.

"So I had to defend myself from you. I was warned about your violent tendencies." He smiled a downright evil smile. Yutaka looked into the boys eyes. Those eyes. They were sea blue and looked as if they were experiencing a hurricane. They quivered and shook with the wind and rain occasionally reared its head as a tear would well up. The eyebrows went down, pointing to each other. The eyes narrowed. They were hate filled. Worse they were angry. And Yutaka had a feeling he was the one they were mad at. This scared Yutaka. He felt sweat drip from his brow. He was getting really nervous and scared.

"You know," the boy said. His voice was filled with nothing but coldness. "I am not someone who you want to get angry. My anger is not unfocused or a blind rage. It is very focused, brooding and vengeful." Yutaka did not like the sound of this. Not one bit. "When I get angry, it can be weeks before I lose that anger. I won't talk to them, look at them, and be near them. In your case, you have the honor of bringing my anger to a new point of development."

"I'm thrilled," he said trying to stay calm. It wasn't working.

"You've got my anger to go to the point of harmful vengeance. And with me," he said with that evil grin. "You don't want to experience that." He moved back just a bit and Yutaka saw his chance. He ran for the bars yelling for the guard. He didn't get far however. The boy tripped him and threw him back to the wall. "You don't get it do you? You put three very good friends of mine into the hospital. One of them is in a coma. If he dies, not even solitary confinement will save you from me." Yutaka tried to turn away from those cold hate-filled eyes. "What you've experienced here is only a fraction of what I can do." His voice was still a cold whisper. "Think about who you piss off next time you want to 'pull a job'." The boy let him go and went to the cell door. "Guard? I'm finished here," he called. Then he was gone.

Yutaka Yamane had much to think about over the next few years he's be in prison. He would probably go straight if only to avoid those cold eyes and evil voice.

Rowen wandered the halls of the hospital in a blue mood. He had just spent a good hour and a half standing at Ryo's door, trying to go in. He would reach up then pull back. He didn't even have the guts to put his hand on the door knob. That was sad. Rowen's thoughts wandered, mainly focused on why he couldn't bring himself to see Ryo. He felt even more depressed. It matched the music playing.

Music? He stopped and looked up. Gentle notes hit his ear drums, whispering and tickling his ears. It's so beautiful. Yet so sad. Rowen followed the sweet melody. He half walked, half ran down the hall. He stopped, listened to the sounds, and then turned left. He walked quickly down the hall as he heard the music more clearly. More notes floated into his ears. Almost mesmerized, he followed the music.

He stopped in a hall. He found lots of people gathered around one room's door. It was closed. Rowen pushed his way through he crowd and snuck into the door. Just after he did, Dr. Ohkawa shooed everyone away.

Rowen didn't notice though.

The room had a sterilized feel to it normally, but now it felt very white. A window on the far side of the room let in the late morning sun, making everything look even whiter. The room seemed to shine. It radiated normally dull boring white into an almost heavenly glow. And on the bed in the center of this warm heaven sat Sage. His hair was highlighted in the morning sun as it shone on him and his face. Light seemed to radiate from him as he played a bamboo flute.

Rowen stared on. The music flowed sweetly and played with Rowen's ears. The melodies floated around the room, enveloping it in a warm feel, yet sad. The music, though beautiful, had a sad twinge to it. It sank Rowen's already low heart. Then the music stopped. Well, more like it trailed off, bringing Rowen back to reality. Sage leaned forward and wrapped his arms around his knees, staring off into space.

Rowen stared off into space, wondering if he should say anything. The moment was so beautiful that he wasn't sure if he wanted to interrupt it.

Somehow he did.

"That was..." Sage looked up in surprise, not even aware Rowen was there. "That was... that was... beautiful," he managed to whisper.

"Oh," said Sage distantly. "Thanks." He put his head back onto his knees, staring off into space. Rowen pulled up a chair and sat next to him, lost in his own thoughts. "My grandfather taught me... when I was a kid..." he whispered, almost to himself.

Rowen looked at Sage in the morning sun. The right side of his face was badly bruised and cut, but somehow he still managed to keep that air of beauty around him. His soft hair fell around his still glowing face and his eyes shined in the sun. Rowen noticed the eyes didn't look as cold. They were actually a soft sky blue, not ice like everyone said. The eyes stared off into space and trembled every now and then. He looked very gentle. His face and hair looked very soft, like his cool exterior had been washed away.

More like crashed away, Rowen thought glumly as his thoughts returned to Ryo. All day he had tried to picture what the crash had been like. He had seen the police footage on the news so many times it was memorized, but he wondered what it was like inside the jeep. Particularly in Ryo's head. He tried to picture spinning around and around, then feeling another impact as you straightened out, then the sudden stop of the car. Rowen wondered when he lost consciousness, when he realized he was going to hit, what he was thinking when the car hit.

None of these questions could be answered by anyone but Ryo. Unfortunately, Ryo was not talking any time soon. What made that worse was that Rowan didn't have the guts to touch the door knob, much less go inside the room. C'mon Rowan, get a hold of yourself. It happened almost ten years ago, he thought to himself. But even after all that time, he couldn't shake the fear. He couldn't see Ryo. Not like this. He just couldn't.

"Y'know," said Sage distantly, still lost in his own thoughts. "He shouldn't be there." Rowen knew what he meant. Ryo didn't belong there.

"He doesn't belong there." Rowen nodded in agreement, still brooding about his fear.

"I should've been able to heal him." Rowen looked up.

"What do you mean?" he asked. But Sage's eyes were locked onto space, deep in thought. He wasn't answering anytime soon. Rowen slumped back into his seat.

His thoughts returned to Ryo.

Ryo wandered around the volcano. Kento had come several times with pretty much the same conversation each time. Cye had come and given some small talk, but nothing really major. Sage hadn't visited because he still had his own problems. According to Cye. And Rowen hadn't come at all, which Ryo thought was weird. He blinked and watched Cye walk in with a serious look on his face. This can't be good, he thought. He blinked again to see Cye in his sky blue kimono.

"Hey Cye, are you okay?" Ryo asked. "Oh, yeah. No one can hear me talk. That REALLY stinks."

"Hi Ryo," Cye started. "There has been something I've wanted to talk to you about for some time now."

"Fire away, Cye. No pun intended," Ryo said cheerfully.

"I just needed to say that, that, oh Ryo how do I put this? I can't do this alone. I need your help," he said.

"What do you mean?" Ryo asked. "I don't understand, what can't you do alone?"

As if to answer the question, Cye said, "I can't keep being the rock everyone leans on. You've always had that job and I'm no good in your place. Sage is really upset about the crash and doesn't talk too much. I can understand that, but it's like he won't listen to what I have to say."

"Just keep talking to him," Ryo advised. "He may not show it, but he is always listening to us. He hears you."

"It's not only Sage either," Cye continued. "Kento is off the deep end on blaming himself for the accident. I'm supposed to be his best friend, but he won't believe me when I tell him if it wasn't us, someone else would have been hurt. Some friend I am, I can't convince him he's as innocent as you are in this whole ordeal."

"Tell me about it," Ryo agreed. "That's all he ever talks about when he's in here. Give him some time though. He'll eventually get over his self-blame and self-pity."

"If all that isn't enough, Rowan refuses to see you and he refused to see Sage when he was unconscious." Cye looked down. If Ryo didn't know any better, it looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

"Come to think of it," Ryo said. "I haven't seen Rowan in here yet."

"Ryo, I've tried to talk to him, but he won't answer why. He simply says he can't. It's so frustrating. If you were here, all you would have to do is start talking to him and he would open up to you. You're the thread that holds the team together. You know everyone and how to help them through crises without getting yourself depressed over their problems. Since you've been in here, none of the others have tried to help anyone else. So I am trying and I just can't do it. I need you here. I can't do it alone."

Cye got up to leave the room. Ryo reached over and grabbed his arm. To his surprise, Cye stopped and looked over to him. It seemed like Cye could feel his presence.

"Cye, you have no idea how strong you really are," Ryo started. "When we fought Talpa, I looked to you for support whenever I needed it. As far as not falling apart with the other's problems, don't you think that for a moment. I was just able to hide my depression with jokes and fun. You have always been the emotional rock of the team. This is just the first time you've had to do it up front instead of subtly. You don't need my help for that." Cye looked to Ryo and smiled a small smile. "Did you hear me, Cye? Can someone finally hear me?"

"Thanks for listening to me Ryo," Cye replied. "I wish you could have answered me, but at least you can hear me." Cye turned around and walked out of the room leaving Ryo alone once more.

"It REALLY is annoying when no one can hear me," Ryo said. Ryo looked down to the fire that was still glowing softly. "I don't suppose you can tell him everything I just said, could you?" The fire flickered in response. It was weakening a little. "Didn't think so." Ryo sat down at the crest of the volcano. He had much to think about.

Rowan stared down the hall towards Ryo's room. He and the others were in Sage's room to talk, but not much was being done. Sage wanted to play the flute. He still had that sad song playing though. It didn't help anyone in the room because everyone was down enough as it was. Rowan started to wish that Sage would stop if it weren't for the fact that it matched his mood so perfectly. Helpless and sad. Cye was reading a book by Sage's bed. Rowan felt sorry for him. He was trying very hard to fill up the emptiness that Ryo left, but it looked like Cye felt he couldn't handle it. Rowan had no doubt that Cye would be very good at it if it weren't for the fact that he was taking this just as hard as the rest of them. Rowan wished he could do something for him. The only problem was that whenever he wanted to talk to Cye about Cye, he would ask about why he wouldn't go to Ryo at all. Rowan just couldn't tell him. It wasn't a question of trust, just fear.

"WHY?" Kento suddenly shouted. Rowan forgot that Kento was pacing the room. Kento slammed his good fist into the wall. The music stopped. Cye looked up. Rowan turned around. "WHY DID THIS HAPPEN? WHY IS RYO IN A BLASTED COMA? WHY WAS THERE AN ACCIDENT? WHY DID THAT JERK GO DOWN THAT ROAD? WHY?" Kento turned to Rowan. If it weren't for the fact that it wasn't his element, Rowan could swear he saw fire in his eyes. He glanced at Cye who was looking over to him like Sage. They saw the fire as well. Rowan was in trouble. "AND MOST IMPRTANTLLY; WHY WON'T YOU SEE RYO? WHAT ARE YOU A COWARD?" Kento started to walk to Rowan.

"Now Kento calm down. I know you're angry at everything that happened but," Cye got between Kento and Rowan to try and do some damage control before the damage started. It didn't work.

"STAY OUT OF THIS CYE! THIS DOESN'T CONCERN YOU!" Kento yelled as he pushed Cye out of his way.

"Kento this is my business," Cye started very calmly. "We are in a hospital and you want to pick a fight with one of your friends. If you continue to do so, I'll drag you home kicking and screaming."

"Do you have any idea how much you sounded like Ryo just then?" Sage asked Cye from his bed. Cye smiled a little but went back to what he was doing.

"Kento, I'm serious, back off!" Cye said. His voice a little louder than normal.

"Cye, I thank you for that, but I can handle my own battles," Rowan said calmly. Cye had gone through enough. He didn't need to be Ryo right now.


"KENTO!" Cye shouted. Rowan put his hand on his shoulder.

"I'll take care of this Cye." He turned to face his verbal attacker. "Kento, now is neither the time nor is it the place for this argument."


Sage turned to Rowan with a puzzled look on his face. "You didn't want to see us?"

"I wanted to see you but I couldn't and I can't." Rowan turned to face Kento. "Just leave it at that."


Rowan was sick and tired of hearing all this from Kento. He was angry enough at himself. He didn't need Kento compounding that anger with displacement of Kento's guilt. Rowan had had enough. "AND YOU, KENTO ARE THE EQUIVILLANT OF AN ANTHROPOID!"

The next day, Ryo was sitting by the fire, deep in thought. He still had his mind made up, but now he started to wonder if he should go back. But his father and mother were a big consideration in his book. He heard a door open and saw Sage walk in. His head was bandaged and the right side of his face was still bruised, but Ryo noted how he managed to hold and air of beauty around him.

"How can you go through a crash like that, run a comb through your hair and come out smelling like a rose while I can't even look like that on a good day?" he asked rhetorically. Sage shut the door behind him and raised the walking cane he had over his head.

"Hey Ryo," he said. "I'm raising cane." Ryo smiled at the joke. "Y'know, I was discharged today. I took about two steps outta here, turned around and walked right back in to see how you were doing." Sage walked over to him and put his hand on Ryo's bandaged forehead. Ryo felt a distant warm glow surround his body. Sage let go and weakly fell into the chair by Ryo's body. Ryo blinked and found Sage in a dark green kimono.

"I thought so," he said.

"You thought what?" Ryo asked.

"Ryo, I know you can hear me--"

"Everyone keeps saying that."

"Because I know where you are." This caught Ryo be surprise.

"What do you mean?"

"I caught a glimpse of this right after the car crash, but I was too weak and with my own injuries, I couldn't stop your descent. Ryo, right now you're in a very peaceful place. Knowing you, probably in some sorta volcano or something. Everything is calm and quiet. There are no fighting, arguments, or anything bad. You've probably by now seen your parents or other relatives. It's a place you probably want to stay in."

"And you said you only caught a glimpse of this?" Ryo asked sarcastically.

"You might know this, but in case you don't, you've locked yourself up in the furthest parts of your mind. I realize now that I could've healed all of your injuries and even put you in perfect health, but you'd still be in this coma. It's not because of your injuries that you're there. This makes me feel better because I was blaming myself for not doing enough for you. It's because you choose to be there."

"Geez, everyone's blaming themselves," Ryo noted. "But why did I put myself here?"

"You're at a crossroad. You have to choose whether you live or die." Ryo was amazed at how dead on Sage was being about everything. "Now, I'm the one that likes to have a plan. But in this case I'll settle for an informed choice on your part." Ryo sat forward and listened intently.

"What would be the pros and cons of dying. Well, you'd be with your parents again. You wouldn't have to face Talpa anymore. Life would be a lot less hectic for you, and you'd be very happy. There'd be no more fighting, no more evil, no more.. bad I guess. And those are some pretty compelling arguments. Cons. The rest of us would be very sad over the loss of you, and all things considered, might split up. If, and this is a big if, Talpa ever comes back, we'd be short the armor of Wildfire and the armor of Inferno. White Blaze would be devastated. But then, we'd all move on, I guess. But we'll all feel very empty without you. Kento will still probably blame himself for the accident. Cye'll have a hard time entering the roll as leader which he seems to be doing right now. Rowen... I don't really know about Rowen. He's taking this hard, but I don't know yet what exactly is bugging him so much."

"Sage, you're making me guilty here," said Ryo. He has a point though.

"Living. I want to do the cons first. You'll be back in the fight with Talpa again. You won't see your parents for a long time. You'd have to put up with all of us again when you come out of the coma and fix everything. You'd have to watch Kento eat again, which he's not doing a lot of, by the way. You'd have to put up with all the idiots of this city that don't have their virtues and save their butts a few times. But now I'm getting a little ridiculous. The pros of living. We'd all throw you a party the day you came out of the hospital. You'd get to eat Cye's cooking. You'd see Kento make a fool out of himself and laugh till you cry. You'd be able to watch the sunsets while taking long walks in the back of the house, which I know you like to do. You might have the honor of saving the world. Again. You'd get to see people smile and laugh. You'd laugh as Kento tries to switch my hair spray for air freshener. You'd hear Rowen's jokes, then laugh hysterically after he explains them to you. We'd all laugh as we watched you try to give White Blaze a bath. You'd see all those soccer games on TV. Eventually, you'd get to drive again. If Kento ever lets you. And probably a lot more that I can't think of right off the top of my head." Sage looked down in thought.

"Wow," said Ryo. "I never thought of it that way." Sage then stood up.

"I just want to let you know. I'll respect your decision." He turned and left.

Ryo didn't even know he was gone. He was staring off into the blue sky, wondering what choice he'd make.

The fire shrunk in size.

A few days later, everybody was moping. Cye was cooking lunch in the kitchen. Not that anyone was going to eat much, but it kept his mind off everything. Rowen was wandering from room to room, lost in thought. Kento was on the sofa in the living room, his eyes locked onto space.

Sage came in with a bounce in his step, when he wasn't limping. Kento wondered why he was so cheerful. He sat down next to Kento on the sofa.

"Sage, I really want to be alone right now," Kento said, his eyes unmoving.

"Can't do that," he said brightly. "I need to talk to you."

"About what?" Kento asked annoyed.

"About you," Sage answered.

"Yeah, well, it's kinda obvious what you're gonna say. But it's not gonna work." Sage smiled and stared off into space for a few seconds; looking for the right way to begin.

"Y'know, I woke up right after the accident. I remember you screaming for an ambulance and there being a big commotion behind us. I remember seeing Ryo on the steering wheel." Sage frowned at the memory. "I saw that he was weak, so I reached out to heal him." Kento looked up, surprised. Cye continued to work, but more quietly to hear what was being said. "I saw how serious the injuries were, and I saw him descending. He was falling far far away. I felt him slipping. And then... I saw... I passed out after that. The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital. Cye told me Ryo was in a coma. And, just like you, I blamed myself. I thought 'what if I had stayed with him just a little longer? What if I healed just one more injury?'"

"And?" asked Kento, caught up in the story.

"And, I finally saw Ryo. I checked him out again and I saw what I wasn't sure I imagined in the car."

"Wait a minute, you checked him out, but you didn't heal him? You could've brought him out of the coma but you didn't? WHY?"

"BECAUSE, Kento, nothing I could've done would've brought him out of that coma!" Sage said, exasperated.

"What do you mean?"

Sage rolled his eyes. "That's not the point. The point is that I blamed myself for something that was out of my control, just like you're doing."

"But that crash was my fault!" Kento exclaimed, standing up. He started to pace around the coffee table. "If I wasn't so anxious to get home, Ryo wouldn't have--"

"Kento, tell me what would've happened if you weren't there," Sage interjected, holding his head. Kento opened his mouth and raised his finger, as if to scold Sage. He stopped, as a look of realization swept over him. He couldn't think of anything. Sage smiled. "You can't think of anything because nothing would've changed."

"But it's STILL my fault!" Kento shouted. Sage got a little mad.

"Kento," he said as he started to stand up. Suddenly, he grabbed his head and fell back into the sofa, wincing in pain.

"What, what is it?" Kento asked as he rushed over to Sage. In too much pain to speak, he pointed to the kitchen. "Cye, get the medication!" Cye was already heading for the 'medicine cabinet'. He opened the door and bottles and bottles of vitamins, aspirin, herbs, and other assorted stuff avalanched onto the floor. Cursing, Cye managed to find the prescription medicine and tossed it to Kento while he got a glass of water.

Sage gulped two pills and held the bridge of his nose. After about five minutes, he looked up. "Sorry about that."

"Are you Ok?" Cye asked concerned.

"Yeah," he answered. "Dr. Ohkawa said that after a concussion, it's natural to get migraines for oh so many days afterwards. She prescribed these painkillers."

"And that whole thing that just happened?" asked Cye.

"A good way to tell the medications worn off," Sage said with a half smile.

"So you're okay?" asked Rowen, who was standing in the doorway. Everyone turned, not even aware he was there.

"Yes, I'm fine."

"Oh, yeah," said Kento sarcastically. "I'm fine; you're fine; we're all fine! All of us except Ryo!" Sage smiled to himself. He wasn't blaming himself anymore. All he needed now was to release his anger, and he would be fine. Unfortunately, Kento found a focus for his anger.

"Ryo is in a coma, and YOU won't see him!" he yelled, pointing and accusing finger at Rowen. Cye sat up front his chair and stood in front of Rowen.

"Look, Kento, you're upset. You have to calm down, just--" Rowen put his hand on Cye's shoulder.

"Cye, I appreciate your standing up for me," he said. "But I can handle this." Cye stepped aside. Rowen walked up to Kento and stared at him, face to face.

"Look," he started. "I know you don't understand why I won't see Ryo. But they're my reasons and my business. I don't have to explain anything to you, and it's MY choice whether I see Ryo or not."

"Well then," Kento said coldly. "I guess we know what kind of friend you are."

Rowen stared at him, stunned. He opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it. "I don't have to listen to this." He turned and headed out the room.

"Oh, sure! Walk away Rowen!" Kento called. "Walk out just like you're walking out on Ryo!" Rowen stopped dead in his tracks. He turned around with a red face.

"Listen, you have no idea what happens inside my head! Honestly, I don't think you could comprehend it if I told you! Do you really believe that I don't WANT to see Ryo? Every thought in my head is about it! You have no knowledge of what I'm feeling! Do you have any clue what I'm going though here!"

"What YOU'RE going through!" Kento shouted. "What YOU'RE going through! WHAT ABOUT RYO? He's lying in a hospital bed, in a coma, and you're worried about what YOU'RE going through! There is not ONE good excuse for you not seeing Ryo!"

"FINE!" yelled Rowen. "But I can have REASONS can't I? I can have a REASON as to why I'm so scared to set foot in Ryo's room. I can have a REASON why I won't tell anyone. I can have a REASON for just about anything!"

"BUT IT'S NO EXCUSE!" Kento screeched, slamming his fist into the coffee table.

His bad wrist.

Cye and Sage rushed over to him, not even noticing Rowen go into the foyer. He grabbed the keys off a table by the stairs muttering, "You're right, Kento. It's a reason, not an excuse."

He left.

Ryo was still in thought about what Sage had said a few days ago. He hadn't moved, shifted, or even slept since Sage left. Sage had given him a true scope of what kind of decision he was making. It wasn't as clear cut as he originally thought.

Ryo blinked again, and found himself in the hospital. He expected to see a nurse come in and out, but instead found Rowen sliding into his room. He closed the door and put his back against it. Ryo looked at his face and found it absolutely petrified. What's going on? he thought. After a few minutes at the door, Rowen took a deep breath and cautiously stepped forward. After several deep breaths, Rowen sat in the chair by Ryo's bed.

"H-hey Ryo," he said. "How you doin'?"

"I'm fine, but how are you?" Ryo answered. "It's not like you to be so scared."

"Ok, you're probably wondering why I haven't been seeing you like everyone else." Rowen glanced down. "Uh, I haven't because I've been too scared. Heck, I'm terrified tight now. Um, but that's because this has happened before. Sorta." Ryo listened quietly. "When I was a kid, for the most part other kids kept their distance. But two houses down was this boy. He was a year older than me, and he was a bright kid, y'know? He didn't need any help in school or anything like that, so most of the time, we didn't talk about how smart I was. Well, he had an older brother who could drive. When I was nine and a half, real proud of that half at the time, this kid and his brother went to the store. I watched him get in the car and planned what we were gonna do when he got home. He... uh... he never came home."

"Oh Rowen," Ryo said. He was about to say more when Rowen cut him off.

"His brother was driving to fast or something and they crashed. He came out with some head injuries or somethin', I don't really remember that part, but the kid... my friend, was in a coma. Just like you are now. Well, I wanted to see him. I didn't know what a coma was; I thought it was a broken bone. So my ma takes me to the hospital. Dad was so lost in the lab I don't think he even heard of the crash. Ma let's me know that it's not good, but I'm not listening. I'm a kid. I just wanted to see him. So I come into the room... and he looked so small in such a huge bed with all these fancy machines hooked up to him. I get nervous all of a sudden, but I walk up to his bed. He looked a lot like you do now. He was very pale, his head was bandaged, and he had a huge black eye like you. I remember a nurse came in. I asked her when he was gonna wake up. She just looked at me real weird, y'know? Like I should've known what was gonna happen. But she left, and Ma went over to the doctor in the corner to talk to him. I started to get nervous again, like something was about to happen. I don't know, maybe I sensed it at the time. I reached over and touched his hand and held it. I remember thinking that everything felt very surreal. And..." Rowen looked down again. "He flat lined. He died. I got really scared then, like I did something bad and was about to get punished. So I run over to my mom and hug her legs. I asked her if I killed him. Stupid question, right? She said no, and I forgot about it. I pushed it outta my head. Then I hear that you're in a coma. I guess... I guess I still feel like I killed that kid. And I didn't want to kill you. I know this sounds stupid, intellectually I know I didn't kill the kid. But... I don't know, I just got really scared at the thought of comin' into your room."

Ryo stared at Rowan. He had no idea that Rowan felt this strongly about the situation. Try as he might, he didn't know how to help him through this. Ryo smiled softly to himself. It reminded him of something his father used to say when he was a child. "Sometimes, people have to face certain things by themselves." That definitely held true at this moment. Cye had mentioned that he didn't know how to help Rowan because Rowan never said what was wrong. Even if he did, there was nothing anyone could do. This was a fear and guilt that Rowan had to face by himself. The same way that Ryo had to face this decision by himself. The decision was made. He could not let Sage feel poorly about Ryo's decision, even if he did respect it. He could not let Cye try to take his place at this time. He could not let Kento blame himself. And most importantly, he would not let Rowan feel guilty about his death.

"Don't worry Rowan, I'm coming back," Ryo said reassuringly. He went over too one of the small trees and picked off some branches. Though he hated seeing nature hurt, this was an emergency. Besides, he could always bring it back in a flash. This was his mind after all. As Ryo walked over to the fire, he saw fear on Rowan's face. Ryo saw why.

The fire had disappeared.

"RYO!" Rowen yelped as Ryo flatlined. His body convulsed and he took labored breathes. Rowen stood up, not really knowing what to do. Fear gripped at his throat as a voice in the back of his head told him he did it again. He ran to the door to look for his mother.

He stopped dead in his tracks.

What am I doing? he thought to himself angrily. Am I honestly gonna walk out on him like I have been? Rowen shook his head. He opened the door and shouted at the top of his lungs.


He started to give CPR.

"NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Ryo screamed. "I CHOOSE LIFE RATHER THAN DEATH! LET ME LIVE!" He couldn't believe it. All that soul-searching and listening had shown him he was still needed! He was starting to fuel the fire! What happened? "ANCIENT! FATHER! HELP ME BRING MY FIRE BACK!" No response came. "What do I do; what do I do; what do I do?" Ryo was starting to panic. Then he remembered what his father said once. Ryo had just seen poachers in the forest behind their house and was panicking. His father said, "Panicking will only succeed in them getting what they wanted and you losing what you love." A certain amount of clarity hit Ryo. He calmed down quickly. The fire was dead and so was he if he didn't act quickly. He was already starting to feel like he was being pulled away. He was being pulled by a warm loving feeling. His parents. Ryo had a hard time resisting the love. Every time he felt himself slip, however, he remembered all the talks he had with the others over the past weeks. Especially Rowan's.

I must start the fire again, he thought. He grabbed two sticks and started to rub them. Nothing came of it. What was it the Ancient said? The volcano is the representation of my life? Bingo! Ryo looked down into the volcano. The fire the Ancient referred to was not the campfire, but the sleeping volcano. Sleeping like Ryo was. That was going to change, however. With one final look to the dead campfire, Ryo said, "I'll miss you father. Until we meet again." Ryo jumped. As he came closer to the heart of the volcano, he no longer felt like he was falling down, but rather upward. As he went up, he started to feel pain. Okay, I am definitely alive, ouch! Then everything went black as he slipped into unconsciousness and waited.

Waited to awaken as the volcano erupted.

Doctor Ohkawa ran into the room to see Rowen giving CPR to Ryo. She grabbed the intercom. "Code Blue! Room 228 stat!" She rushed over to Rowen and pulled him off. She checked all the instruments and started to prep Ryo. She pulled the IV off the stand and put it on the pillow. Some more people came in and she moved Ryo into ER.

"Will he be okay?" asked Rowen, pulling Dr. Ohkawa aside.

"I won't know until we get him into ER. I'm sorry, but I can't talk right now." She rushed down the hall, barking orders to the other doctors.

Rowen was still breathing hard, a mix of surprise and the CPR he was doing. A thought coming to his head, he ran to find a payphone. The others need to know about this. He found one at the end of the hall. He fumbled for change but finally managed to stop his hands from shaking long enough to dial home.

"Yeah?" It was Sage.

"Sage, get down here right now!" Rowen yelled.

"Rowen? Where are you?"

"The hospital! I was with Ryo. Sage, he's in cardiac arrest! Get down here now!" Rowen heard the phone slam on the other end. Rowen then ran to the ER and waited.

Sage, Cye, and Kento arrived in about ten minutes. Rowen wondered how they pulled that off without the rental he had taken. Even if they did have a car, it was a thirty minute drive.

"How is he?" asked Cye.

"I don't know, they haven't said anything since he went in."

"Rowen, you went into Ryo's room?" asked Sage.

"Yeah, I guess Kento talked me into it."

"But what about Ryo?" asked Kento rhetorically. The waiting began.

Fifty six minutes later, by Rowen's reckoning, Dr. Ohkawa came out. Her loosely held hair was all over the place, and her face looked very tired. Everyone looked at her with hopeful eyes. She sighed.

"It was tough going, but he's stabilized," she said. Everyone got up and cheered. Sage shook hands with Dr. Ohkawa. Rowen and Cye hugged each other and Kento did a flip in the middle of the hall. "Keep the gymnastics down!" she called. "Look, he's stabilized, but he's still in a coma. And there's a good possibility this could happen again." Everyone's hearts sank.

"Can we see him?" asked Rowen.

"Not now, no," she answered. "I want him to rest a while. Honestly, I don't think there's anything more we can do. Not physically, anyway. But I've always believed in prayer."

Sage got an idea. "Look, Ryo has a pet cat that's very dear to him. What if we were to bring him in?" Dr. Ohkawa frowned in thought.

"It's against policy, but I can't see why not. Ryo needs all the friends he can get."

An hour and a half later, Dr. Ohkawa was going over some patients files in her office. As she did, she kept thinking about the boy, Ryo Sanada. She had never felt so helpless in a case in all her long years as a doctor. She hoped that his cat would be enough to give him that final push out of the coma. One thing puzzled her though about all three who were in the crash. By all rights, none of them had a chance to survive, but the boy Kento got out with only a broken wrist. What kind of spirits did these boys have to all but shrug off what would be a lethal crash to anyone else? Another thing that puzzled her was the fact that some of Ryo's injuries were partially healed, though obviously gotten from the crash. Just what did happen? Dr. Ohkawa's thoughts were interrupted by screams in the hall outside her office. She went to the door and opened it.

She almost fainted from the sight she saw.

In the halls was a very large white tiger. Dr. Ohkawa didn't mind that as much as the fact that Sage Date was riding on top of him! Was this Ryo's pet!

"Stop right there!" she ordered. The tiger didn't stop until Sage, surrounded by his friends gently patted his head.

"What's the problem?" Sage asked. "You said it would be all right to bring in his cat," he said innocently.

"A housecat is one thing," she replied. "This is a tiger that might attack and harm our patients here. There is no way that I'll allow that."

"Aw, but White Blaze wouldn't harm a soul," Kento whined. "He's a smart kitty."

Dr. Ohkawa sighed. She did allow them to bring in a cat and this was a cat. A large cat but a cat nonetheless. "Oh, all right," she said. "Just stay with him at all times and make sure that he doesn't harm anyone in this hospital. It's bad enough he could scare someone into a heart attack." The boys smiled and continued on. The crowd parted like the Red Sea.

White Blaze ambled into the hospital room. He was nervous being around all these man-made machines, but he had not seen Ryo in a long time. He knew his master was hurt from what the other Ronins talked about. Though he wished he could be back in the forest, Ryo needed him more than anything right now. He couldn't let him down now.

Sage got off his back and watched with the others as White Blaze walked over to Ryo's bed. White Blaze hopped up to Ryo's side with his front paws. He purred softly and gave his master a small lick on the uninjured side of his face. He continued to purr as he nuzzled Ryo's cheek. His eyes opened ever so slightly and White Blaze continued to purr to relax him. White Blaze figured waking in a hospital might be unexpected for him.

"Oh great," Cye whispered. "Ryo isn't waking up." Apparently they didn't see what White Blaze saw. Ryo winked at White Blaze, which told him that he wanted to surprise the others.

"I really thought White Blaze would bring him out," Sage said.

Rowan sighed. "Well, we've done everything we can do for him."

"Now what are we going to do?" Kento asked.

"Well," a voice said from the bed. "You can stop worrying about me since I'm going to be fine." Everyone turned to Ryo who was trying to sit up in bed. Ryo winced and fell back down. He was glad to be back. He listened to the shouts of joy that everyone had. He saw a middle-aged doctor come in and she started to examine him.

"Welcome back," she said. "I'm Dr. Ohkawa, your doctor." She checked his heartbeat and looked into his eyes. "Do you have any idea how you got here?"

"Yes," he answered.

"Do you realize you've been in a coma for two weeks?"

"Yes," he answered. This appeared to confuse her.

"You had no brainwave activity during that time. You couldn't have known," she was surprised.

"I was to far deep in my mind for any machine to find me," he said calmly. He didn't really want to explain everything. "Can I have some time with my friends?" he asked as he stroked White Blaze's head.

"Okay, just take it easy. It'll take time to get you back up to what you were before the crash."

"Maybe not," Ryo whispered under his breath. Once she was gone he looked at the others. He owed all of them a lot for persuading him out of the coma.

"First off, I heard everything you said to me when I was in the coma." He looked over to Kento. "Kento, buddy, that accident was not your fault. It would have happened to anyone. The only difference was that they wouldn't have survived." He looked over to Cye. "Cye, you were the rock even before the accident. Especially for me. You just had a taste of being aware when you do it. Also, I mask my being upset with my carefree attitude. It's how I deal with it." He looked over to Sage. "Sage, I thank you for respecting my decision. You really put things into perspective." He finally looked at Rowan, who was in the back of the crowd, celebrating quietly. "Rowan, don't blame yourself for what happened almost ten years ago. I'm here aren't I?" Everyone smiled and started to talk at once. Ryo didn't mind. He looked down to White Blaze. He rubbed the fur under his chin.

"I'll see you again father, that's a promise," he whispered.