Authors note: Takes place in my fanfic universe between DitD and GS. Rowen's first year of college.

Black Umbrellas
By: Ghost of the Dawn

The rain pittered feebly that morning, making half hearted sounds on the umbrella. The young man who held it matched the sounds with half hearted foot steps. The world took on a hazy shade of grey that day, just like his eyes. Two girls ran past him, trying to stay dry by holding their sweaters over their heads. They cursed the rain under their breath, obviously not ready for the summer season to be over.

The young man didn't care, however. Now the weather finally reflected the way he felt inside. The rainy season had come early this year. Almost as if formed to match the mood that had been growing within him slowly for weeks now; dreary and dull.

He tromped through the different pass ways over the expansive Tokyo University campus. Past all the impressive buildings with their authentic and not so authentic architecture. Almost to the steps of the building which held his first class, the young man paused as he noticed something on the sidewalk.

A worm had been called up to the surface by the drumming of the rain as worms often did. Now it was squirming on the concrete, lost. When the rain stopped, it would be stuck on there and would slowly dry up in the sun and die. This also was customary for worms and hardly a single person thought anything of it. Except one.

He was suddenly reminded of what she always did when it rained. Under that purple umbrella with the baby pandas all over it she would glance around to make sure no one was looking. Then she would quickly pick the worm off the sidewalk and drop it in the grass before trying to act like she had done nothing in the first place.

He had caught her doing it once and she looked up at him with an embarrassed smile. Like many countless times, he asked her why she did what she did. That time she had shrugged. "I dunno. I guess I just feel bad for them. It seems kind of stupid when you're able to do something and you don't do it."

Then he, of course, had to grin at her and asked why that embarrassed her so. To that she had flushed a little pink and mumbled something rude before quickly walking off. Whenever she did that to him, he would just saunter slowly after her. She was so entertaining. It made getting up in the morning worth it some days. But now, when he got up, she wasn't there any more...


He looked up as a body ducked under his umbrella and clapped him on the shoulder. It was one of his school mates. Obviously one of the lesser prepared ones as he did not have an umbrella and was a bit damp because of it.

"Class is almost starting! You going to go in or are you going to stare at your shoes all day?"

Rowen gave one last glance at the worms on the sidewalk before he allowed himself to be hauled inside. Once in his first class, he headed for the windows. Rowen always loved himself a window seat. He used to sit around the middle row when he first started college; mostly keeping his eyes front and glancing out every now and then just to check the weather. Lately, however, that had changed.

Professor Kawakita watched as Rowen settled into his new favorite spot. Still by the window, but at the back of the room. The second his student sat down, Rowen boredly fixed his gaze out the window, sighing visibly. The professor frowned. Rowen did that a lot these days. He was a star pupil from the beginning and stood out as an energetic student. Every teacher that worked with him had to admit that there was something different about the blue haired young man. His ways of thinking and his reactions to the world of knowledge were so odd they could be considered refreshing. In a society that worked hard to turn its young minds into a work force of carbon copies, Rowen stood out. He was bright and enthusiastic and exciting and utterly refused to be pulled into the typical Japanese mold. When he first came to the university, everyone had high hopes for him.

But as time wore on, the professor noticed Rowen's enthusiasm for his studies waning. The light in his eyes began to dim and he fell more easily into the background, no longer fighting for his individuality. By all appearances, Rowen was losing his battle to the giant machine of typical society and there he surrendered at the back row of Professor Kawakita's classroom. He knew these days he would have to count himself lucky if Rowen Hashiba even looked in his direction the entire lecture.

Today was no different. As the rain pelted harder outside, Rowen continued to ignore the classroom as his gaze remained fixed out the window. When class was over, it even took Rowen a while to realize it was time to go. Professor Kawakita waited for him as Rowen slowly gathered his things and wandered down the stairs.

Mr. Hashiba," Professor Kawakita called as he passed.

Rowen paused and made his way over to the professor's desk. He still looked listless, but expectant at the same time. Like this was just another thing he had to go through and he was waiting for the professor to say his piece so he could leave.

"Mr. Hashiba, I am concerned about your progress in my class. Lately you've seemed... less enthusiastic about your studies. Is there something going on?"

Rowen regarded him placidly, hands in his pockets.

"Are my papers not good enough? Are my grades slipping?" he asked cooly.

"Well, no," the professor admitted. "You still are one of the highest in the class but you're just not handing in the type of work I expected of you."

Rowen's expression never changed.

"What do you expect from me?"

"More than this," he replied, holding up Rowen's last research paper. "It's still an A paper, but its all generic text book answers. Your work used to have more originality, more flare than this."

To this, Rowen only shrugged. "Please talk to me again, Professor, if my grades start falling."

And with that, he trudged out the door.

Professor Kawakita looked after him as he went. Even Rowen's posture had changed. The young man used to walk with purpose in his stride. He had a mischievous and curious glint in his eyes when it came to knowledge. But now his eyes had dulled with boredom and disinterest. His shoulders slumped and he walked slowly. Professor Kawakita had a notion that it wasn't from boredom of his class that was the case of this. It was something personal his student would have to overcome on his own.

Later that afternoon, Rowen stepped out of one of the college campus buildings, his classes over for the day. Where it had been drizzling that morning, it was falling hard and heavy now. Rowen reached into his bag and pulled out his umbrella. It was black as most generic umbrellas went. He opened it and stepped off into the crowd. As he made his way down the street, he mingled in with all the other people– business men and students– making their way home for the day. His black umbrella fell into the sea of countless other black umbrellas.

Rowen walked slowly back to his dorm, not really paying attention to much. He knew how to get there and was on automatic. But something caught his eye. Amidst the back and grey of the hazy afternoon there was pale yellow.

A girl was standing under her yellow umbrella. She looked high school age and was in uniform. She was gazing around when her face brightened. Another girl ran up with a pink umbrella and boots to match. They laughed with each other and walked off happily, gaining the attention of those around them with their brightness. But no one noticed Rowen. He faded too well into the background. The greyness suited him these days and he didn't try to fight it.

Once inside the dorm, he paused to fish out his keys. He could already hear people talking inside. His roommates were home before him, as usual. That was the way it typically was.

"Hey Ro, is that you?" one of his roommates, Koji, asked as he came in.

"Yeah, it's me."

"Pretty bad weather today, huh?"

"Yeah," was Rowen's response as he shook out his umbrella and put it by the door.

He walked into the main room to see Koji sitting on the couch with a young woman their age.

"Hey Rowen," Maki waved at him. "How was classes?"

"Fine," he said automatically and wandered off to his room.

Maki's face fell when Rowen left. Koji pretended not to notice. He liked Maki. She was slim and pretty and very nice. And in truth, one of the reasons he had gone to college was to find himself a wife. He certainly wouldn't mind having a girl like Maki to fill that position. But Maki seemed to have her sights set on Rowen.

Not that Koji blamed her too much. Most girls who attended this high of a college were either career women or looking for a smart guy who would be successful in the real world and make a lot of money. Rowen certainly fit the bill for that one. Even though the campus was large, many of the students still knew who Rowen Hasiba was and what a promising mind he had. And as such, Maki wasn't the only girl at school who had an eye on the young genius.

But Koji hated seeing Maki's pretty face disappointed, even if it was because she was pinning for another man.

"Hey Ro," he called. "You got a package today."

Rowen poked his head into the hall, looking a bit more interested than he had been earlier.


"Yeah. I put it on the table."

Rowen came out of his cave and wandered over to the table which was right next to the couch. The package was long and rectangular and Rowen stared at it dubiously.

"What is it?" Maki wondered as she leaned over the arm rest.

"It's from my mom," Rowen said blankly.

Maki leaned forward. "Are you going to open it?" She was curious what kind of woman his mother was. Maybe she would end up Maki's mother-in-law.

Rowen just picked up the package and tucked it under his arm. "I already know what it is," he said as he retreated back into the sanctity of his room and closed the door.

Maki slumped on the couch, disappointed again. Koji couldn't help but chuckle.

"Stop that," she shot as she shoved him in the arm. "You think its funny, do you? But I'm worried about him."

Koji sobered a bit. "Really?"

"Well, yeah," Maki insisted. "Don't you think he's been a bit gloomy lately? I know finals are coming, but he's really been in his own world lately. Don't you remember the first of the year? He was a big goofball and now he hardly smiles. He doesn't even respond when I shamelessly flirt with him any more! There's definitely something wrong."

Koji rolled his eyes but was instantly schooled by Maki's glare.

"Alright, alright," he relented. "I'll tell you what; we'll give the guy until finals. If he doesn't shape up after that, we'll have some kind of intervention, okay?"

Maki eyed him. It was hard to tell when someone like Koji was being serious or not.

"Fine," she finally said. "But I'll hold you to that."

Koji nodded.

The phone rang.

"Moshi, moshi," Koji sang as he answered it.

The line was quiet for a moment.

"Um... is Rowen home?" came a quiet female voice.

"Rowen?" Koji asked to clarify.

"Rowen Hashiba? Do I have the right number?"

"Yeah, I'll see if I can get him." Out of that cave he calls a bedroom...

"Okay. Can you hurry? This is a long distance call."

"Okay," Koji complied, still a bit stupefied.

Nevertheless, he set the phone down and made his way to Rowen's door, wondering who it was. Rowen did receive his share of calls, but they were usually other guys– his friends from high school. The only other female to ever call him was his mother. And she was loud and chipper enough not to be mistaken for any other person. This girl with the soft voice had never called there before.

"Hey Ro," Koji announced as he knocked on the door. "You have a phone call."

"Who is it?" came the response.

"I dunno, some girl."

Silence from behind the door.

"She says its long distance," Koji tried again.

The door opened. Rowen glanced at Koji to see if he was joking. Then he made his way to the phone in the small kitchen with purpose in his stride.

"Hello?" he asked in uncertainty.

Koji joined Maki back on the couch, only a few feet away from the phone. He had seen Maki's reaction when he said the caller was a girl. Now Maki was trying to look like she wasn't paying attention to the conversation. Though Koji would bet money that she was. This would be interesting.

Rowen's eyes went wide when the caller revealed who she was.

"Wow, hey!" he exclaimed, still surprised at who he was talking to. "How did you get my number? From Cye? ... How did he get it? ... I don't know. I didn't give it to him."

There was a pause as Rowen listened. He then looked puzzled and glanced down at himself. "I don't know... a blue jacket, white shirt and–HEY!"

Koji saw Maki's surprised face and tried not to laugh. That girl on the phone just asked Rowen what he was wearing! Who was he talking to?

There was laughter on the phone as well.

"Gee Rowen, what's the matter with you? You're getting slow there."

"Hey, be nice," Rowen shot back. "It's been a long day."

"Sure, sure."

"So where are you now?"

"I'm up in Oregon. It's pretty up here. Rain's a lot though. But I don't mind."

"Yeah, we're hitting rainy season here, too," Rowen replied. "It's going to rain for a couple of days, the weatherman says."

"Yeah, but you don't mind the rain Rowen. I know you."

Rowen had to smile at that. "Yeah," he said quietly.

"So how's school over there? You still wowing them all with your genius?"

Rowen chuckled. "Sometimes."

"Not all the times? I don't know. Sounds like you're slipping there, Rowen."

Though her voice was playful, Rowen thought back to the earlier conversation he had with his professor.

"Maybe," he admitted.

The voice on the other end turned a bit serious. "Hey, are you okay? Did I call at a bad time?"

"Oh no! No! It's fine! Actually, I'm glad you called. My day's just been kind of...blah. You know?"

"Yeah, I got you. I wasn't having that great of a day either. So I thought I'd give you a call. I figured if anyone could put all my complaining into perspective, it would be you. But maybe we're both being pulled down by the hum drum."

Rowen smiled into the phone. "Maybe."

"And as always, you never fully admit to anything. That's my Rowen."

Rowen's grin grew wider. "So you think of me as yours, huh?"

Though Maki's expression was surprised, the voice on the other end was unfazed.

"Yeah well, I tried to give you away, but no one else wanted you."

Rowen actually broke into laughter then. It felt good to laugh and Rowen realized that he hadn't had a good laugh in quite a while.

The conversation drifted to simple things like classes and jobs and such. Rowen found he was listening far more than talking which, even he had to admit, was strange for him. But he was hanging onto every word of that voice. It represented something different and new from his boring routine that he had been stuck in and he clung to that little time full of color and life. Though they could have talked for hours, the long distance call had to be cut short.

"Well, that's about all I have on my phone card," said the female voice on the phone. "Wish I could talk to you longer. Though I do kind of feel like it was just me talking. Sorry about that."

"It's fine," Rowen replied.

They settled into an awkward silence.

"Well, um, I guess I better go," said the voice Rowen hadn't heard in what felt like a long time. In that moment, he would have done almost anything to keep her on the line a little while longer. There was so much he wanted to say to her. Not with other ears hearing though. And not when he couldn't say it to her face. It just wasn't fair that way.

"I'm glad you called," Rowen said.

"Me, too. It was really good to hear from you and my day doesn't feel like such a bummer any more." There was a pause. "I miss you. I miss all you guys."

Rowen's throat constricted as he went over the thousands of things he could say to her in his head.

"Yeah," was all he managed to get out.

Another pause

"Well, good bye, then. And Rowen? Don't let them beat you down, huh? College doesn't last forever. You can make it."

Rowen chuckled. "I'll try. Bye, Robyn."

The line went dead and Rowen stared at the buzzing receiver for a while. Then he slowly returned it to its cradle. Then he leaned forward, thumping his forehead slightly against the wall, his gaze far off.

Maki had stopped pretending she wasn't listening by then and was now looking right at him. She had never seen Rowen act like that nor had she seen the face he was making right now. He looked somewhat deep in thought and lost at the same time. Maki was about to ask him if he was okay, when Rowen suddenly stood up straight again, his eyes bright.

"Oh!" he announced as if an idea had just struck him. He picked up the phone again and quickly dialed a number. Rowen tapped his foot impatiently while he listed to it ring.

"Hey, it's me," he announced when the person on the other end picked up. "Guess what, she called me... Yeah, just barely." He grinned wider. "She didn't call you, did she. She called ME! Ha HA!"

There was a pause on the other end before the voice got louder in the tone of giving Rowen a stern talking to. All Rowen did was smile as he placed the receiver back on its cradle in the middle of his tongue lashing. Looking similar to the cat who had caught the canary, Rowen strutted away from the phone.

Mere seconds later, it rang again. Before Koji could get up, Rowen ran back to it and picked it up and put it back down again. This time, he pulled out the cord to keep the phone quiet. Maki and Koji just stared.

"Don't worry, it was for me," Rowen informed them before walking back to his room in a considerably more lighter mood.

Professor Kawakita sat at his desk as he watched his students file into the room. Once again, he noticed Rowen Hashiba quietly come in and take a seat at the back of the room next to the window. Same as usual and the professor thought no more of it. He had been so used to it, he failed to notice there was something different about Rowen that day. The young man didn't seem so engulfed in what was going on outside. He gave off more of a restless than listless vibe that day. As if he were just waiting for something to happen.

"Welcome everyone," Professor Kawakita announced as he started class. "Before we get into today's lecture, I want everyone to be aware of the next assignment due." He motioned to the black board that gave all the guidelines and due dates of the next research paper. He gave his students a moment to jot down all the information and then began his usual daily lecture.

As the class hour went on, Professor Kawakita slowly became aware of an odd scratching sound that would reach his ears every so often when there was a window of silence. Progressively, he also began to become aware that more and more of his students were no longer paying attention to him. Finally, the professor had to stop all together and take notice of what was going on in his classroom.

Far in the back, near the window, Rowen Hashiba had his note book open and he was writing furiously. Such purpose and intent the teacher had never seen in his student since the beginning of the semester. Rowen would stop only every once in a while to flip through his text book before he would continue with his frantic quest.

By the time the hour was up, Rowen had several pages of notes filled out and was looking quite pleased with himself. This time, he shot his professor a meaningful smile before continuing out the door.

Maki was happy when her classes were finally over for the day. But she frowned when she reached the steps and saw how bad the weather was outside. It had been fairly clear out when she left that day and so she did not think to bring an umbrella. Now it was pouring outside and she was stuck. Luckily, a familiar young man was also intending to go out in the rain.

"Oh Rowen! I'm so glad I ran into you," Maki smiled her most charming smile. "I totally forgot to bring an umbrella. Do you mind walking me back to my dorm?"

"I actually have an extra one," Rowen replied, digging into his book bag.

Maki was a bit disappointed they couldn't share an umbrella, but kept it to herself. She watched as Rowen pulled out a generic, black umbrella. The type that everyone owned and used. Herself included. There were millions of them out there just like that one.

"You can keep it if you want," Rowen told her as he gave it to her. "Yours looked ratty anyway."

"Really, thanks!" Maki beamed. But she didn't leave quite yet. First she had to have proof that Rowen really was able to go home with an umbrella on his own. To her surprise, he pulled out the package she had seen yesterday. The one he said was from his mother. He tore off the wrapping and opened the rectangular box. The first thing Rowen pulled out was a small card which he read quietly to himself.

"Don't forget to be yourself. Love, Mom." It read in bright pink print with lots of hearts. Rowen smiled at it and put it in his pocket. Then he pulled the object from the box– another umbrella. Only this one was the most brilliant shade of fire engine red Maki had ever seen.

Rowen threw away the box and then opened the umbrella with a sharp snap. He turned his head and smiled over a Maki, looking her up and down.

"I like that outfit," he informed her with a smirk. "It really brings out your legs."

She gawked at him, too caught off guard to think of a come back. Rowen was already down the way, whistling tunelessly to himself. He joined the wave of other students and businessmen heading home, but even at a distance, one could still see him. He was the bright red spot in the sea of black and he was not afraid to be so.