Hiro sat on the dirty, straw-covered floor and watched a centipede crawl up the cracked wall. The forlorn rays of a full moon shined through the single small window to illuminate a muddy pool, frozen from the cold. The spilled contents of a food tray were scattered about the cramped cell. He leaned his head back against the damp wall.
The cell was equipped with chains, but they had not restrained him despite his father’s threat. There was nowhere for him to go anyway. The window had iron bars and the door was bolted shut, with a sentry guarding just outside.
His mother had come that morning and begged him to ask forgiveness from his father. In the afternoon, Yoshi brought the same request. A few hours later, he’d heard his younger half-siblings talking to the guards. They’d demanded to speak to Hiro and had become angry when denied access.
Hiro wanted to cry, or hit something, or both. It was his first anniversary. He wished he could tear the bars away and break through the walls to get back to their hut on Mount Kurama. Would Ryū be all right by himself? Was he sad? Did he feel abandoned? Would he forgive Hiro? He vowed to do all he could to escape and return to his husband. He only hoped Ryū didn’t do anything rash in the meantime. But surely he wouldn’t. He had always been the rational one.
Hiro rubbed his crystal bracelet and clenched his jaw. He felt his panic rising as his brain painted the most gruesome scenarios.
He hadn’t slept in three days and his head was pounding. His stomach felt as if he’d swallowed rocks. Still, he had to sleep. His mind would work better in the morning. He would find a way out.
He lay on his side in the dirty straw, closed his eyes, and dreamed of Ryū.
“Wake up, sleepy head.” A cold hand caressed the top of Hiro’s head, sending sparks of electricity down his spine.
He groaned, still half-asleep.
“Happy anniversary, my love. I came to be with you as I promised.”
Ryū? Hiro tried to move, but his limbs would not obey him. He struggled to open his eyes.
“Shh, don’t do that.” He felt the cold palm over his eyes. “I don’t want you to see me like this.”
It was Ryū’s voice, but how was he in the cell? And why was Hiro paralyzed?
Ryū, what is happening? Hiro cried inside his head. I can’t move.
“We are on the bridge between the realms of humanity and the veil,” Ryū said. “Only ghosts, gods, and spirits live here. I came to fulfill my vow and be with you on our first anniversary. I wanted to tell you how much I love you and how happy you made me.”
What are you saying, Ryū? Hiro tried with all his might to get through to him. You’re scaring me.
“Every dream that I had came true while we were together.” Hiro felt frosty lips kiss him. “I will never forget your kisses and your words of love. And how safe I felt when you held me.”
Hiro began to jerk violently on the straw, frantic to break the spell that had immobilized him. Attempting to move his limbs was futile. They were locked as tightly as if he’d been cast in stone, so he focused all his concentration on lifting his eyelids.
“I have to go now,” Ryū said. “The shinigami came for me.”
As Hiro wrenched his eyes open, a trail of blood dripped down the corner of his lips. He had bitten his tongue in his struggle.
By the window, in a column of shimmering moonlight, Ryū smiled at him. He was transparent, his face as white as snow.
“Sayōnara, my love,” Ryū said. The most final of goodbyes. He disintegrated into a thousand glowing fireflies that vanished up the moonbeam.
“Ryū?” he whispered to the empty cell. “Where did you go?” Hiro’s heart was stuck in his throat. He tried to stand, and this time his feet and arms moved on command.
“Ryū!” Hiro crashed into the wall, beating it with his fists. “What have you done?”