Disclaimer: I do not own Hot Gimmick or any of its characters.

"Solemn Vow"

By: Nova Starlight

The sun was setting and the world seemed at peace. Shinogu looked around the temple grounds. He loved being outdoors, observing the temple. Tucked quietly away amidst the busy city streets, was his little oasis of nature and peace. He came out here in the evenings to meditate and wind down from the day. He took a seat on an empty bench and allowed himself a few moments to observe the people who passed by the temple, returning home from work. As the sun faded further from view, he reflected on how of all the people who passed by, none bothered to look inside. Everyone out there was too busy focused inward to notice a monk, sitting on a bench in a temple. It was very rare for anyone it seemed to walk inside. As he had this thought, a young woman wandered through the gates and made her way to stand in front of a bamboo fountain. She looked around anxiously as if she were waiting for someone or looking for someone. The more he watched her he was struck by the thought, "She looks like Hatsumi."

When that thought crossed his mind, he felt the familiar pain in his heart. It had been years since he had left home, leaving her and the rest of his family behind. As time went on his memories faded, but his memories of her were as vivid as if he had only seen her yesterday. Even now, she would cross his mind at unexpected times and every time it happened, he felt this same pain in his chest. Another glance at the woman and he began to notice more and more. She even wore her hair the same way Hatsumi did. She was well dressed and he wanted to be closer to her; get a better look at her face.

He thought back on the day he left. When he had disappeared he had only told Kazama what his intentions were. He had known that he would tell Azusa but it did not matter. Despite the fact that he had hidden his whereabouts, he had been surprised when no one came for him. He was ashamed to admit that he had subconsciously hoped that his little stunt would have spurred Hatsumi to come looking for him again. After days, weeks, and then months passed, he had lost his hope that she would come for him. He had once thought that maybe when he finally put his feelings behind him, he would have been able to return. Now, he knew that day would never come.

When he thought about Hatsumi and his family, he had many questions. Was Hatsumi still with Ryoki? Did Akane graduate from high school? How had the family grown, changed? Maybe Ryoki was a member of the family now. Would Hatsumi have actually married him? He took a deep breath to calm himself. This was the last thing he needed to be thinking about. Though he tried to focus his gaze elsewhere, his eyes kept coming back to the young lady. She had now taken a seat by the fountain and he thought again that she really did look like Hatsumi. He sighed and realized there would be no use in trying to meditate, he would be too distracted. He stood and made his way over to her. "Excuse me, do you mind if I sit with you?" he asked her.

"Of course, go right ahead," she insisted.

At the sound of the young woman's voice, his breath caught in his throat. Though his eyes searched out every facet of her face, he did not need it to confirm what he already knew at that second. It was her, it was really her! What should he do? She looked back at him and smiled. "Please have a seat," she insisted, moving down on the bench to make room for him. He realized that she did not recognize him. He supposed that it had been years since she had seen him, and his appearance was a different. His head had been shaved and he was wearing the traditional orange garb of a Buddhist monk. He should make an excuse and get away before he revealed himself, but he could not stop himself from taking the seat beside her.

He wanted to speak, make conversation, but he was too scared. What if she recognized his voice? She did not seem unnerved by his silence, just continued watching the bamboo fill with water and once it was full then tip with a resounding clang. After a few moments, she sighed and said, "I hope I'm not bothering you."

"Uh…of course not," he replied without thinking. His voice seemed thick and gravelly, different enough to his own ears to fool a stranger. He was tense and waiting to see if she said anything else. He looked over to see that she was looking at him with a smile on his face.

"Do you come out here to meditate?" she asked.

"Yes," he answered. "I like the sound and rhythm of the fountain."

"It is very peaceful," she agreed. "I have visited many temples, in recent years but this one seems to be very tranquil."

"You have visited a lot of temples?" he asked with surprised tone of voice.

"Well, I…you see…my brother left home a few years ago and went to a monastery," she explained with a nervous laugh. "I know he probably does not really want to see me, but I thought maybe if I could see him…see that he is happy…it would make me feel better."

"You worry that he is unhappy?" Shinogu asked, trying to keep the gravelly feature to his voice.

Hatsumi smiled and folded her hands in her lap. "He is not really my blood relation, my parents adopted him. He always knew that we were not related, and he told me before he left that he loved me, but I was already in love with someone else." Shinogu's eyes became drawn to her folded hands' as she began to interlace her fingers. It was then that he noticed the prominent diamond proudly shining from her left ring finger. If he had been a smart man, he would have excused himself, put some distance between them. Instead, he reached out his hand and laid it over hers. Her head snapped up and she seemed to be embarrassed, "I'm so sorry, here I am rambling out my life story to a stranger."

"A stranger?" he thought. It was cruel for him to be this close to her, but she had no idea who he was. He withdrew his hand and placed it on his own lap. "I apologize for embarrassing you, that was not my intention," he repented. "You can tell me anything you want."

One of her graceful eyebrows raised as she seemed to give him a second glance. His breath was caught in his throat. As he waited for the realization of who he was to come to her, he could not move. After a few moments, she laughed and smiled at him. "You are very caring, you remind me of him." She looked back at the fountain and the silence was once again heavy between them. There were so many questions that he wanted to ask, but he did not want to force her. Was that just an engagement ring or a wedding ring? Was she still with Ryoki? He found his eyes could not stray from it for more than a few seconds. If he tried to look back at the flowing water, the setting sunset, he would catch a glimpse of the reflective light that bounced from the diamond and he would be transfixed again. She noticed his gaze and moved her own hand out in front of her, appraising it. "You noticed my ring?" she guessed.

"It is beautiful," he observed; really wanting to bitterly remark that it was gaudy. "The young man who gave you this ring, is a very lucky man." He could feel himself getting choked up and tried to clear his throat with a forced cough. She did not seem to notice anything strange about his behavior and simply blushed as she clasped her hands in her lap once again.

"It's my wedding ring," she explained. "I have been married nearly four years now." Shinogu barely suppressed a gasp at the information. If she had been married that long, she must have married Ryoki right out of high school. The thought that she had married so quickly after he left, put that familiar pain back into his heart. What had he expected? What a fool he had been! Despite everything, Hatsumi only cared for him as a brother, it seemed Ryoki had truly won the battle for her heart. He snapped back from his thoughts as he realized that she had produced her wallet from her purse. "Would you like to see a picture?"

He could only nod, not trusting himself to speak. She opened her wallet, revealing a flip book of photos. The first one was of Ryoki and Hatsumi on their wedding day. She wore a traditional kimono and she looked stunningly beautiful. Ryoki's face was bright with a cocky smile; as if he were proclaiming to everyone in attendance that Hatsumi was now completely bound to him. He could understand the feeling, of wanting to bind someone to you completely, and never let them go. He had always followed the advice that if you truly loved someone you would let them go, and if they came back it was meant to be, but maybe that had been a mistake. Would things have turned out any different if he had been more assertive?

"You had a Buddhist wedding?" he asked. Attempting to keep the conversation light was going to be difficult. It was torturous for him to be near her, without being able to touch her. Despite it all, he needed to know that she was happy.

"Yes," she answered. "I told you I have visited a lot of temples. Any time I pass one by, I go in and look for Shinogu. I actually thought I might have seen him at the temple where my wedding was held."

"You are happy? With the man you chose?" he asked. He chose not to address her continued talk of searching for him. If he had to hear anymore, he was afraid that he would break down and reveal himself.

"His name is Ryoki," she informed him. "And yes, I am very happy with him." She dropped the open wallet down to her lap and continued, "To many strangers he seems abrasive, and sometimes even cruel, but there is more to him. Once he lets you in, you can see a very different side of him." She chuckled as she seemed to remember something. If someone who knew him just five years ago met him today, they would be surprised by how much he has changed. Of course, I don't take all the credit for that." She raised the photos up to his face again, but this time it was flipped to a photo of a beautiful baby, nestled in his mother's embrace…Hatsumi's child.

"This is Shino," she noted with a voice thick with emotion. He could feel the love that wrapped around the words. The way she spoke the name of her child, he could feel that it was the most important thing in her world.

"Is it a boy of girl?" he asked, his own voice becoming deep and filled with sentiment.

She opened her mouth to answer, but they were cut off when the call of "Hatsumi!" came intruding through the air. The pair turned and saw Ryoki entering the gates of the temple with a sleeping toddler nestled in his arms. Shinogu watched cautiously as they approached. Hatsumi might not have been able to recognize them, but Ryoki was much more astute. Once again he was too anxious to move or speak. Every step that drew him closer, he waited for the axe to fall. When he was within a few feet, their eyes met, and Ryoki's expression instantly become one of surprise. Oh no! Ryoki recognized him. He tried to communicate wordlessly through his pleading gaze, to remain silent.

"Oh Ryoki, I lost track of the time," she defended. She moved to him and had quickly embraced him. "How is little Shino?" she asked.

"He's sleepy," Ryoki answered. "Apparently, Hikaru made sure to take him outside to play and he got worn out." The entire time he had been speaking, his eyes had been fixated on Shinogu. "When you were not at your mother's, I thought you might be here."

She scratched the back of her head, a little embarrassed at having been so easy to figure out. "Well, I was just sitting here by the fountain and this nice monk came over to speak with me. I was just telling him all about you." It was then that Ryoki seemed to realize that Hatsumi had genuinely not realized just who she had been speaking with. He seemed to relax and his arm wrapped around Hatsumi's waist.

"We should be getting Shino to bed," Ryoki said, changing the subject.

"Oh, you're right," she agreed. She held out her arms and Ryoki passed Shino into her arms. "Come on little one," she cooed to him softly as he stirred. She started to walk away and then turned to speak, "Thank you so much for listening." Then she began to walk away. Shinogu's eyes met Ryoki's once again and then Ryoki turned to see if Hatsumi was out of earshot.

"She really didn't recognize you?" he demanded to know.

Shinogu shook his head sadly and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he forced a smile and stated, "It's better this way."

It was Ryoki's turn to shake his head. "You are a better man than I. I am too selfish to ever let her go." He spared another glance to Hatsumi, who was now standing beside the gate. "She named him Shino in honor of you. She wants you to be happy too."

"Happiness is not a part of my vows, but I am at peace," Shinogu discerned with a thoughtful tone of voice. Ryoki nodded as if he understood and then turned to walk away. Shinogu watched the two of them embrace at the gate, their child nestled between them. He was certain that she was happy and that she was right about Ryoki being changed. He felt a smile come to his face as they disappeared back out into the world of busy streets, and a tear trace its way down his face.

The End

Author's Notes:

Okay, I just wanted to note that I did a little research for this story but found it difficult to find direct answers to my questions regarding Buddhism in Japan and Buddhist monks in particular. So, I apologize for the vagueness of the story on those points. Hope everyone enjoyed! Please Read & Review