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After Ever After: Snowglobe Wishes

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When Hiyori was growing up, he attended every kind of performing arts lessons that he could get into. Dance, theater, music, you name it – he bounced from one to the other, his parents gladly shelling out the money for each one.

“He's going to be a star someday,” his mother said. “He's going to have his name in lights on a movie marquee, or he's going to be dancing on the biggest stages in the world. He might even take our traditional style of dance to other countries!”

Hiyori, though, had another, very specific goal in mind for all those skills.

Every Tuesday night, he would race home from dance lessons and plant himself in front of the radio to listen to his very favorite show. It would begin with an announcer saying, “And now, Fujiwara Film, the film that captures the colors of your life, presents Sendai Kamotsu's You Aren't Hearing This! Here they are, ladies and gentlemen, those masters of mirth, Chiba! Satty! Fullface! Wen Chen Chen! And Gigaflare!”

What followed was an hour of uproarious comedy sketches, one after another. And Hiyori listened with rapt attention, laughing his head off, knowing in his heart of hearts that someday, he too wanted to be in a comedy troupe like Sendai Kamotsu. They were his idols, his life's goal. Everything he was trying to master – acting, dance, music – was so that someday, he could put it all together and make others laugh.

He studied Sendai Kamotsu's routines like a scholar studied ancient artifacts. When their sketches were filmed to be shown-before-the-main-feature short subjects, he made sure that he went to see them. He even made a pilgrimage to one of their live shows, saving his allowance for months to buy a ticket – and then sitting there at rapt attention like an acolyte at a ceremony for his god.

Someday, he thought, I'll be on that stage myself, making people laugh. And maybe – just maybe, if the group I form is lucky – we'll be opening a show for Sendai Kamotsu.

Except it was not to be. During Hiyori's last year of high school, they announced they were going on a hiatus. Okay, Hiyori thought, it's just a hiatus, right? They'll be back?

But time went on, and there were no signs of their return. Quite the opposite, in fact. The members moved on to their own projects. Fullface formed a new comedy troupe, Gremlins. Gigaflare did the same, calling his new unit THE LEGENDARY SIX-NINE. Chiba went solo, becoming a leading man in comedy films. Satty actually went into straight acting, taking on a new stage name, Jakigan Meister.

Hiyori eventually went on to live his dream, forming the comedy group My Dragon, which quickly started to gain popularity, to tour, even to make their own short subjects. And it was all because he'd had Sendai Kamotsu as role models.

But sometimes, he wished that they'd get back together again, just once more, so he could fulfill his teenage dream – for his group to open their show. Hell, he just wanted to see and hear them all together one more time.

* * *

He was thinking of that as the bus carrying the members of My Dragon and their management pulled into the town where they'd be performing the next night.

“I know it's not the kind of place where we usually do shows,” said their manager, Yamanaka-san. “But, um, I kind of made a bet with the owner of the theater here.”

The troupe members stared out the windows. Not the kind of place they normally did shows was an understatement. The town looked like it didn't even belong in the nation of Veekay. The country prided itself on being a mix of Japanese and European cultures, but this seemed to be neither. Nope, it resembled nothing so much as a stereotype of a small American town.

The bus rolled past a general store displaying jars of candy and bolts of cloth in its windows, a little restaurant called “Travelers' Rest” with a pot-bellied stove on its porch, a small library with giggling schoolchildren in front of it, a little hardware store with wheelbarrows displayed in front . . .

“Just what kind of bet was it?” Mitsuki asked, eying their new surroundings warily. They passed a two-story house with a picket fence, where a woman wearing a well-worn winter coat was sweeping leaves from the sidewalk. She smiled and waved as the bus drove by.

“I bet him if I was ever the manager of a successful act, I'd have to bring them back here to perform,” Yamanaka-san said.

“What do you mean, BACK here?” said Mahiro.

“I kind of grew up here,” said their manager. “It's, um, the kind of place that . . .”

“That people escape whenever they get a chance?” Mahiro said.

“Well, most people don't ever leave here,” Yamanaka-san said. “Everyone in this town is kind of one big happy family. There's been a couple who have escaped to the big city and become interior designers or publishing executives, but they all end up coming back here, eventually.”

The van stopped in front of a small inn. A chubby woman rushed out toward them. “Yamanaka Yuri, bless my soul!” she said. “I haven't seen you since you were in high school! Look at you!”

“Hello, Hanada-san,” Yamanaka said. “These are the guests I was telling you about – the comedy troupe that's going to be performing here, My Dragon.”

“Oh, my!” she said. “I've heard of you! Welcome to Joryokuju. We are so glad to see you here! You need to have a nice cup of tea at The Hot Pot. That's the little tea and coffee house down the road, doncha know! And then there's Traveler's Rest, our favorite eating spot. They serve a nice beef stew just like your mother used to make! Oh, but I need to show you to your rooms! Hold on, I'll get my son to help move your bags . . .”

The members of My Dragon looked out at the street. “One night, right?” Junji said. “We only have to stay here one night?”

“This place looks like it was designed by an American greeting card company,” Takemasa observed.

“It looks like a MOVIE made by an American greeting card company,” Mitsuki said. “A BAD movie.”

The woman came back, accompanied by a tall, broad-shouldered boy of about 17. “This is my son, Ban,” the woman said. “He plays soccer AND basketball! He'll be strong enough to carry your bags!”

“Yo,” the boy said.

“Ban, now, watch your manners,” his mother said. “Bow and be polite! You wouldn't want Yumi-chan to see you acting that way, would you?”

“MOTHER!” The boy looked exasperated.

“Yumi-chan is the most darling thing,” Hanada-san said. “Her mother runs the general store. One of the biggest attractions in town, doncha know!”

“Your general store . . . is one of the biggest attractions?” The look on Mahiro's face said it all – one night in this town was going to be one night too many.

“Well, not the store itself, even though it's got a swell selection of knickknacks and doodads!” Hanada-san said. “No, I mean the wishing snowglobe. People come in all the time to make a wish – and, of course, they always buy something while they're there!”

“What do you mean, wishing snowglobe?” Hiyori said.

“I mean, there's a legend that if you shake it while making a wish, your wish comes true,” Hanada-san said. “It's kept right by the cash register with a sign on it that says 'Not For Sale.'”

“Shaking a snowglobe really brings wishes?” Mitsuki said, as the strapping boy started the work of running their bags to their rooms, two at a time.

“Now, I'm not gonna say one way or another,” Hanada-san said. “But, you know, last Christmas we had a single dad and his daughter stop in the town for a night, and the child took the snowglobe and wished for a new mother – and that father and daughter are living in town now, because the father ended up marrying the local animal doc. She was gonna leave here and move to the big city, too. But she wound up staying here! Guess the wish worked on her, too.”

“That sounds, well . . .” Takemasa said.

“Awful,” Mahiro muttered.

“Miracles do happen sometimes, doncha know!” the innkeeper said. “Hold on, let me get you your room keys . . .”

As she left the room, Mitsuki leaned over toward their manager and whispered, “Never make a bet involving us again.”

* * *

When Hiyori was in his room unpacking his bag, he realized he'd forgotten his toothpaste.

He sighed. It figured he'd forget something important on the way out. You'd think he'd get used to it, since they were starting to travel more. Well, at least it was easily enough replaced.

Down to the front desk he went. Hanada-san was writing in a ledger. She looked up when she saw him. “Oh, hello,” she said. “What can I do for you?”

“Do you sell toothpaste?” Hiyori said.

“Well, no, but you can get some at the general store,” the innkeeper said. “Halfway down this block. Toothpaste is in aisle three.”

“Thank you,” Hiyori said. He bowed and left the inn. I'll get it quickly, he thought, and get my butt back here. We have a show to get ready for.

When he walked into the general store, his first impression of it was that it was, well, crammed. There were bicycles lined up against one wall, and opposite that was a shelf filled with potter's soil. The first aisle was stuffed to the gills with everything from bathroom rugs to lunchboxes. The second seemed to be mostly household repair items – screwdrivers, hammers, mousetraps . . . and, for some reason, tennis racquets.

He found the third aisle, and in the jumble of headache pills, foot creams, and bandages on display, he somehow managed to find his toothpaste. He grabbed it and ran for the cash register . . .

And then, he saw the snowglobe.

There was no way he couldn't. The thing was sitting on a little pedestal by the cash register. It seemed ordinary at first glance – a glass sphere mounted on a square base, filled with water, containing a scene of a little house – like so many in this town – surrounded by evergreen trees.

But the more you looked at it, the more you realized it wasn't ordinary. No, it was seemed to be . . . glowing. There was no light in it, no visible source of illumination, but it gave the impression of being aglow from the inside out nonetheless.

Slowly, Hiyori put his toothpaste down on the counter and picked the globe up in both hands. He shook it very gently, and watched the snow swirl around inside. Could it really work? he thought. If I gave this thing a shake, and wished for something . . . He shook it harder, and thought, I wish that Sendai Kamotsu would get back together.

The glow in the snowglobe suddenly seemed to get brighter. The snow inside swirled faster and faster, nearly obliterating the view of the house and trees inside. To Hiyori's surprise, it seemed to be lightly vibrating.

Then, suddenly, the snow settled to the bottom of the globe. The light faded. It seemed, well, ordinary.
Hiyori chuckled to himself. I'm letting this place get to me, he thought. I actually thought, for a few moments, that a snowglobe could grant a wish. Okay, I'm paying for my toothpaste, going to the theater and doing the show. And tomorrow, we're getting the hell out of this town and never thinking of it again.

But as he was leaving the store, little brown bag of toothpaste in hand, the globe behind him seemed to glow and swirl again.

* * *

Two nights later, Hiyori had pretty much forgotten the snowglobe. Heck, he was trying not to think about that whole town. They were back in the capital, back in the club where they had a residency, and he was never so glad in his life to see people rushing and bustling through the streets.

“That place,” he'd told his fellow troupe members as they rode the bus home, “was so overly nice and wholesome that it was almost creepy. You just KNOW that a town like that is hiding a dark secret.”

Right now, he didn't want to speculate on what that might be. He just wanted to get ready to go onstage. He sat before the mirror, applying the bright pink cheeks he needed for their opening sketch, as behind and around him, his colleagues struggled into costumes, sprayed their hair or, in the case of Junji, chugged an entire pint glass of water.

Yamanaka-san came rushing backstage. “Heads up,” he said. “There's a VIP in the audience tonight.”

The troupe members looked at each other. “VIP?” Takemasa said. “Who is it?”

“The staff said he's asked that we don't identify him – so no calling him out. But he walked in, and they recognized him right away, and they put a little table at the front of the club for him. He's getting comped on everything.”

“He came by himself?” Mahiro said.

“That's what they told me,” Yamanaka-san said. “Just try not to make it obvious that you know he's there, but at the same time? Do the best show you possibly can.”

“Don't we always?” Junji said, putting his glass down.

“I'm not going to answer that,” Yamanaka-san replied. “All right, get a move on, it's five minutes until curtain!”

“A VIP, huh?” Junji said. “Wonder if it's a movie star. Or a director who wants to put us in a film.”

“Probably a member of the royal family again,” Mitsuki said. “Now that they know that Mahiro is . . .”

“I'm the same me I've always been,” Mahiro said, hopping off the makeup chair and heading for the wings. “I'm a member of this troupe, period, end of story.” The others knew not to pursue that angle of conversation any further. His newfound status as illegitimate son of the king and Archduke of Kiryu was something he wasn’t particularly eager to talk about.

“The royal family doesn't show up alone, though,” Hiyori said. “Yo-ka never comes without Yuuki, and Subaru and Toya are stuck to each other like glue.” He did, however, quietly wonder who it was. The idea of a VIP wanting to see this little comedy group he'd put together was, well, flattering as hell.

“Okay, everyone!” Yamanaka-san shouted. “It's showtime! Come on, come on!”

“We're coming,” Junji said. “You don't have to drag us by the hair, you know.”

The lights dimmed, and their first sketch began. Hiyori resisted the urge to glance out into the audience and see who their guest was. Better to stay focused on what they were doing. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was throw off their timing – that could be fatal to their performance.

He kept his resolve to do so for most of the show. Except three-quarters of the way through, there was a scene where Hiyori, playing a gym shorts-wearing schoolgirl, ended up in a split at the very front of the stage – and he had to stay that way for awhile as his character struggled to get up. He thrashed around like he always did, the audience laughing their heads off . . .

And then, without meaning to, his eyes fell on the little table in the front of the club, off to one side. He drew in an audible gasp. Fortunately, the audience thought it was part of the sketch, so they just kept laughing.

The man had a dark kit cap pulled over his hair, and in front of him, on the table, was a pair of sunglasses – obviously, he had been in heavy disguise until the moment the lights went down. But there was no mistaking who he was. Hiyori knew the face well, even though most of the time he'd seen it, it had been covered with makeup and silly disguises.

Satty, he thought. It's Satty from Sendai Kamotsu! Oh, my God! What is he doing here? He came to see US . . . one of my heroes came to see US . . .

And then, he realized that he was in the middle of a sketch – and the audience had suddenly gone quiet. Oh, no, he thought. I've screwed it up. I have to fix this – I can't have us fail in front of Satty!

He was, at this point, supposed to manage to clamber back to his feet, making a lot of groaning noises as he did so. He made it twice as big, twice as dramatic, stumbling around flailing as the audience began to laugh again, the laughter reaching a crescendo, followed by applause. The sketch was back on track.

I wonder if he was impressed, he thought. I wonder if Satty liked our sketch . . . if he's enjoying our show. But there's no way I can know – is there?

* * *

When it was all over, Hiyori went backstage and took off his costume quickly. “So who was the VIP?” Junji said, as he sauntered backstage. “The show's over, it doesn't need to be a deep, dark secret anymore, right?”

“I don't think we need to . . .” Yamanaka-san said.

“Satty,” Hiyori said, quickly. “It was Satty, from Sendai Kamotsu.”

“How do you know that?” Takemasa said, heading for the makeup table while starting to unfasten the bandana he always had over his face during performances.

“I saw him,” Hiyori said. “When I was at the front of the stage during the schoolgirl sketch? He was right there.”

“You sure it was him?” Junji said.

“I KNOW it was!” Hiyori said. “Believe me, I know every sketch they ever did backwards, forwards and sideways. I'd know any of them if they were covered in burlap sacks!”

“Or you could have been imagining it,” Mitsuki said.

“I did NOT imagine it!” Hiyori said. “It really was . . .”

“It was him, all right,” Yamanaka-san said. “He was in the audience. I just spoke to him, briefly. He's on his way now to get a car back to . . .”

Hiyori suddenly dashed past his manager and toward a side entrance of the club. “I need to see him!” he shouted.

“Hiyori, what the hell do you . . .” Yamanaka-san called after him.

“Trust me on this!” Hiyori shouted. He rushed out into the street, where patrons were hailing cabs, headed back to trains . . .

And there, about to get into the back of an elegant-looking black car, was the tall, willowy figure that Hiyori had seen in the club. I have to move, he thought. I have to say something, or he'll be gone . . .

“Satty-san!” he shouted, running toward the car. “Satty-san, let me talk to you a moment!”

The man stopped, suddenly, turning toward him, looking confused. “You're . . . one of them, aren't you?”

“My name is Isshiki Hiyori,” he said, bowing low. “My stage name is Panty Hiwai. And . . . and I started My Dragon because of you. Because of all of you – Sendai Kamotsu. I've been a fan of yours forever. And I . . . I . . . I just want to thank you for coming to see us tonight!” He suddenly felt flustered as hell. He never even dared imagine any one of his idols would see them perform.

The other man let out a deep sigh. “That old stuff being brought up again,” he said. “The past is past.”

“But it was important to me!” Hiyori said. “My Dragon wouldn't exist without Sendai Kamotsu! You guys were there first – you set the groundwork for all kinds of comedy groups like ours! And, well . . . I want to thank you for that.”

“No need to thank me,” the other man said. “You're talented enough on your own to not have to stand on the shoulders of the past.”

“You think so?” Hiyori said, brightening. “You . . . you liked our show?”

“Yes,” Satty said. “Very much.” He paused. “I don't even know why I came here tonight. I just felt compelled to do it. I haven't been in one of these comedy clubs in years.”

“That's great, though!” Hiyori said. “Please feel free to come back and see us anytime! We're artists in residence here!”

The man paused, leaning against the car. “You know something?” he said. “I'd like to buy you a drink sometime.”

“You would?” Hiyori said.

“Yes,” the other man said, getting into his car. “You're cute.” He paused. “And my name is Sakito. Call me that.”

“Sakito.” Hiyori pronounced the name slowly, softly. He felt like it was an honor that he was permitted to speak it. He'd always been Satty on the comedy stage, Jakigan Meister in his straight acting work. How many people, he thought, even knew his real name? “How will I find you?” he said.

“Don't worry,” Sakito said. “I'll find you.” He closed the car door and the vehicle pulled away.

Hiyori stood there on the pavement, watching him drive away, as a gust of wind picked up some leaves and made them swirl in circles, like grains of white within a snowglobe.

* * *

He was standing in the lobby of that inn in Joryokuju, and Hanada-san was standing there, a too-big, too-warm smile on her face, holding out the magic snowglobe in both hands.

“Only a sincere heart can mend that which is broken,” she said. “Because the wish must be made with absolute sincerity. But remember – you must always lead with your heart to ensure the wish comes true.”

“What do you mean?” Hiyori asked her.

“You will know,” she said. “When the time comes, you will know.”

“Wait!” Hiyori said. “I DON'T know! What do you mean by . . .”

He sat straight up in his bed, gasping, the world seeming to whirl around him as he tried to re-orient himself to reality.

A dream, he thought. It was all a dream. Thank God, because I wouldn't want to be back in that insipid town. But what did it mean – any of it?

He lay back down, pulling the covers completely over his head, the image of the glowing snowglobe still burned in his mind.

* * *

Hiyori opened the door of the radio station, the warm feeling of satisfaction that always followed a successful broadcast settling over him.

And tonight had been successful, all right. They were all completely on-point throughout the show, to the point where Hiyori could almost hear the audience laughing in their homes. It was times like this that he felt like he was truly living up to the legacy of Sendai Kamotsu, giving his group’s audiences exactly what his heroes used to give him.

He was starting to walk toward the curb to get a cab when a voice called out, “So how about that drink?”

Hiyori turned – and saw the lanky figure from last night leaning against a car, hands resting on the hood, looking relaxed and casual. Oh, my God, he thought. He said he would find me, and he did.

“You're very good on the air, by the way,” Sakito said. “I was listening before. Your timing is amazing.”

“You were listening?” Hiyori repeated, looking surprised.

“I want to familiarize myself with a guy before I take him out for a drink, don't I?”

“Well, sure,” Hiyori said, quickly. “I'd be glad to go with you.”

“Good.” Sakito pushed himself off from the hood of the car with his hands. “Get in.” He opened the passenger side door.

“You're driving?” Hiyori said.

“It's my car,” Sakito replied. “I just didn't feel like it last night, so I took a car service.”

Hiyori moved toward the passenger side – trying not to make himself look too eager – and settled in. “Thank you,” he said.

“You don't have to thank me,” Sakito said, climbing in and turning the key. The engine leapt to life with a soft hum. “I was planning on driving tonight anyway.”

“To see me?” Hiyori said.

Sakito pulled out into traffic. “I don't know why I feel so compelled,” he said. “It's like, when I met you yesterday, I couldn't get you out of my mind afterward. It's weird – like schoolboy stuff.” He paused. “And it's been a long time since I've been a schoolboy.”

“You're a successful adult,” Hiyori said.

“Depends on how you define success.” Sakito headed for the bustling downtown of the capital, a district filled with theaters, movie houses, restaurants and swanky clubs. “I have my movie career, and I've done well with it, I guess.”

“Your movie career wasn't what I was thinking of,” Hiyori said.

“Oh, yes, that.” Sakito pulled into an indoor parking garage, one he was obviously well familiar with, and headed for the first open spot. “What I did before movies.”

“Yes, that,” Hiyori said. “When I was growing up, you guys were like the center of the universe to me. I wanted a comedy group because I wanted to be like you. I said last night that we wouldn't exist without what you did and I meant it.”

“We're going to the izakaya right outside of here,” Sakito said. When both of them had gotten out of the car, he locked it quickly. “It's a favorite of mine.”

“You changed the subject,” Hiyori said.

“I figured where we were going was a subject relevant to both of us,” Sakito said. He led the two of them out of the garage, and into a rather upscale version of an izakaya, with dark wood tables and chairs and red neon décor.

“You must want to talk to me about comedy,” Hiyori said. “Or else, why invite me out?”

“What would you like to drink?” Sakito said. “Beer, wine, sake?”

“Beer is fine,” Hiyori said.

“Yakotori and edamame?”

“Yes,” Hiyori said. “But Sakito . . .”

“I really don't know why I invited you out,” he said. “Other than the fact that you're adorable, of course. I just felt tonight that I had to drive around listening to the show, and then come to the station.”

“Do you think, then, that you DO want to talk about your days of comedy?” Hiyori said. “Maybe you miss it?”

“I'll put our order in,” Sakito said.

Hiyori sighed – would he ever be able to talk to his idol about what he really wanted to talk about?

When Sakito had finished talking to the waiter, he said to Hiyori, “So how did your group start, anyway?”

“I'd been around show business for quite some time,” Hiyori said. “At the time I was chosen to represent Kiryu in the Royal Culling, I was in a traditional dance troupe. That's how I met Mahiro – he was in the troupe with me. And we shared rehearsal space with a theater group, and the rest of the guys were involved with that. So, we all came together.”

“You were in the Culling?” Sakito said. “Really? The one for Prince Yo-ka?”

Hiyori nodded. “I got the title Viceroy of Kiryu from the prince because of that. And he became the major backer of My Dragon once we got started.”

“His Royal Highness had you to himself and he didn't want you?” Sakito said.

“Oh, we all knew he mainly had eyes for Yuuki – the Grand Archduke of Lycaon – from the start,” Hiyori said. “We were kind of doomed to be just friends. But he kept me around until the end of the Culling, even though I'd been officially cut. He said he liked having me around.”

“I would have kept you around, too,” Sakito said. “Only guys like me don't have Cullings. We're expected to find out own romantic interests.”

“You've never had a problem with that, have you?” Hiyori just wished he'd get back to the subject of comedy.

“I've had no trouble attracting people,” Sakito said. “I just haven't had much luck with long-term relationships. They keep falling apart.” He paused. “Lots of things in my life have kept falling apart.”

“Like Sendai Kamotsu?” Hiyori said, softly.

“That's past,” Sakito said. “And it needs to remain in the past.”

“But why?” Hiyori said. “It was such a great thing.”

“It was . . . when it started,” Sakito said. “It was the greatest thing ever. I used to wake up every morning and be glad I was alive, because it was another day of getting to do comedy with Sendai Kamotsu.”

“But, then, what happened?” Hiyori said. “Was it a fight with the other members?”

Sakito paused, picking up his glass of beer. “Not a fight,” he said.

“Then . . . what was it?”

Sakito paused. “There's nothing worse,” he said, “than starting to resent the thing you love most in the world.”

“Why?”

“Boredom,” Sakito said. “Just plain boredom.”

“BOREDOM?” Hiyori couldn't believe his ears. That's why Sakito ended the greatest comedy group of all time? Not a dramatic fight, not some sort of explosive incident, but . . . boredom?

“I was doing the same thing,” Sakito said. “Day after day, night after night, week after week. Even though we came up with new material all the time, it still started to feel like same old same old. When I first started, there was no more glorious feeling in the world than to make people laugh. I used to feed off that sound. It was like a drug. The most wonderful high anyone ever felt. But then . . . the high started fading more, and more. And pretty soon, I was just going through the motions, and not knowing why I was doing it.”

Hiyori was stunned beyond belief. But . . . but it looked like Sakito was having the time of his life, always! Even up through Sendai Kamotsu's last performances! “You weren't enjoying it?” he said. “Really?”

“It got to the point where I couldn't wait for performances to be over,” Sakito said. “And finally, I decided I just couldn't do it anymore. I told the others I was leaving the group. And they agreed that, well . . . if one of us was leaving, we were all going our separate ways.”

“You broke them up?” Hiyori was still stunned.

“It was a mutual decision,” Sakito said. “But, yes, I was the one who lost interest. The rest of them stayed in comedy. But I decided I wanted to distance myself from it and do something else for awhile. Maybe then I'd get my interest in my career back.”

“So that's why you took a new name,” Hiyori said.

“I wanted a name that was neither my real one nor my comedy name,” Sakito said. “One hundred percent a fresh start. And I wanted roles that were nothing like what I was doing, either.”

Hiyori knew very well that as Jakigan Meister, the man in front of him was largely known for acting in films that were daring or controversial. His debut had been in The World, a film about a vigilante killer with supernatural powers and the eccentric detective who was chasing him. His most recent film was Lost in Blue, a romance with the most explicit sex that was barely-allowable under royal censorship laws.

“So, do you understand now?” Sakito said.

Hiyori nodded. “But you do miss it sometimes – don't you?”

“Why do you say that?” Sakito said.

“You said you didn't know why you came to our show, and then met up with me after my broadcast. But the fact that you did . . . it shows you do miss it, on some level.”

“I told you, I was compelled,” Sakito said. “And I don't know why.”

“Will you come to our rehearsal tomorrow?” Hiyori said.

Sakito looked confused. “Your rehearsal?”

“Are you busy right now?”

“My part in the film I was making just wrapped.”

“Then you can come,” Hiyori said. “Come and watch us. Then maybe you'll realize what's compelling you. Maybe . . . just maybe . . . you might even want to participate.”

“No chance of that,” Sakito said.

“Just come . . . okay?”

“I'll come,” Sakito said. “But only because of how adorable you are. I can't say no to a face like that.”

“Fine,” Hiyori said. “I'll let you know where and when.”

“But right now, let's talk about your Culling. So just what kind of dates did you and His Royal Highness go on?”

Hiyori sighed inwardly. Another change of subject. At least Sakito had discussed his past a little – right?

* * *

The other members of My Dragon were huddled in a corner, gazing warily at the newcomer sitting on a folding chair at the other end of their rehearsal hall.

“We have never had anyone watch us practice before,” Mitsuki said. “Nobody not involved in our show, anyway.”

“Well, he IS Satty from Sendai Kamotsu,” Junji said.

“He's still not a member of the group,” Mahiro noted. “And I don't like thinking he's taking notes on us. What if he steals our stuff?”

“He's not an active comedian anymore,” Junji said.

Hiyori walked over to them. “What's this?” he said.

“We're just talking about . . .” Takemasa said, glancing over at Sakito.

“Sakito?” Hiyori said. “Look, guys, I just want to have him watch us. He's lost his love for what he used to do. He said comedy just bores him. I thought if he saw us at work, he might remember why he wanted to do it in the first place.”

“If he doesn't want to be a comic anymore,” Mahiro said, “that's his own decision, isn't it?”

“But, guys,” Hiyori said, “I used to listen to them, and watch their films, and I even saw them live, and, well . . . he used to love it. REALLY love it. And he said he didn't know why he was drawn to me – to us. I think, on some level, he misses it like hell. He wants to recapture it. So . . . I want to help him do that.”

They all looked at each other. It was obvious Hiyori wasn't going to budge on this. Not easily, at least.

“If he ends up stealing our material . . .” Mahiro said.

“He won't,” Hiyori said. “I give you my word, he won't. If he does, it's on my head, okay? I'll take full responsibility.”

“All right,” Mitsuki said. “Let's just . . . go on like we always do and pretend he's not there, okay?”

They took their places, and went into their first sketch. Hiyori glanced over at Sakito as they worked on it – refining their timing, adding and subtracting bits of dialogue. He hoped to see a spark on the other man's face, a sign that he had recaptured what he had lost.

He saw nothing. Indeed, Sakito sat there looking somewhat blank. Indeed, as the first sketch gave way to the second, and then the third, he looked flat-out bored.

Oh, no, Hiyori thought. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I shouldn't have done this. Maybe it's going to have the opposite effect.

He threw himself into the scene they were doing, putting in twice the effort he normally did, hoping his intensity would stir something in their guest. But . . . nothing. Sakito still sat there, looking like a painting.

When they were done, he admitted defeat. He wasn't going to take up any more of Sakito's time. He walked over to him and said, “I'm sorry.”

“For what?” Sakito said.

“For inviting you here,” Hiyori said. “I . . . I took up your time, and I'm making you do something you don't want, and . . .”

Sakito paused – and then said, “Your material is solid, for the most part. But that last scene? I would have handled your entrance differently. The way you're doing it, it throws the timing off.”

Hiyori just stared, blinking slowly. When he'd been sitting there, stiffly . . . he'd been studying them? He hadn't been bored?

“What do you mean?” Hiyori said.

“I'm going to show you,” Sakito said, standing up. “Can you do the scene again, from the beginning – and I'll do your entrance?”

Hiyori turned to the others. “Can we run that scene again?”

The others looked at each other. “You're going to direct it?” Mitsuki said to Sakito.

“I'm not directing it,” Sakito said. “I have no desire to do that. I'm just showing him a better way to do that one bit.”

“You're not . . .” Mahiro said.

“I'm not participating, either,” Sakito said. “Not past that one entrance. That's it.”

“Come on, guys,” Hiyori said. “Just once – okay?”

They all took their places for the scene – slowly and reluctantly. They started it from the beginning again. And when they got to Hiyori's entrance, instead of Hiyori walking in, he stepped aside and let Sakito do it.

Instead of striding purposefully, as Hiyori had done before, Sakito entered with a sort of stumbling gait. Everyone involved just stopped and looked at him – the way he was moving was comedy itself. Even Junji and Takemasa started laughing a bit.

“Like that,” Sakito said. “Can you do that?”

Hiyori imitated the stumbling gait the best he could. He knew he wasn't moving exactly like Sakito – he wasn't quite that practiced. But he could already feel the difference in the scene. He could tell it had been improved a hundred percent.

“Let me do it again,” Hiyori said. He went back to his mark for his entrance, and repeated the gait – making it a bit faster this time. His colleagues actually applauded.

“That's terrific,” Takemasa said. “He's right – that improves the scene.”

“It's brilliant!” Junji said.

Hiyori turned to Sakito. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you so much. I don't know why I didn't think of that. It's, well . . .”

“I'm just offering advice,” Sakito said. “That's all.”

He quietly went back to his seat and resumed watching the sketch. But Hiyori wondered if he'd made some sort of breakthrough.

* * *

Later, Hiyori and Sakito went out to a noodle shop together. Sakito kept the conversation away from the rehearsal at first – he asked Hiyori his schedule for the rest of the week, then complimented him on his outfit that evening and asked where he got it.

Hiyori decided he should bring it up himself. “I want to thank you for helping me tonight,” he said.

“I told you,” Sakito said, “I was just offering a piece of advice.”

“It was genius, you know,” Hiyori said. “It was the kind of thing I would have never come up with myself.”

“It was instinct,” Sakito said.

“But . . . it made you remember what it used to be like, didn't it?” Hiyori said. “What being onstage was like? When you performed that walk, it was like watching you back in the day.”

“It was just a moment,” Sakito said. “Like I said – I was helping you. Offering advice. For me, that moment's gone.”

“You DID get it back, though,” Hiyori said. “I saw it with my own two eyes. You seemed so into it.”

“Like I said – instinct,” Sakito said. “It just came out of nowhere.”

“That means it's still inside you,” Hiyori said. “You want it to come out, don't you? You want it to be part of you again.”

There was a long pause, and Sakito said, “So, tell me more about this restaurant. Is this a place where you come a lot?”

“I asked you about what you did during the rehearsal!” Hiyori said.

“And I told you – I was just offering advice. Now, this restaurant . . .”

Hiyori groaned inside. It wasn't as much of a breakthrough as he thought. Sakito was refusing to talk about it. He was just going to change the subject every time Hiyori brought it up.

Maybe, Hiyori thought, this is a sign that there WAS a breakthrough – and he's not going to admit it to himself. But how do I get him to stop being in denial?

* * *

Over the next several days, Sakito kept turning up wherever My Dragon were – the radio station, the rehearsal studio or the club – and taking Hiyori out for drinks, dinner, or both.

They had a lot of nice conversations during those times – mostly about Hiyori. His childhood, his training in all sorts of performing disciplines, his time during the Culling . . . he gladly shared it all, of course. He was genuinely starting to like Sakito as a person, so he felt comfortable discussing almost anything with him.

Sakito did share some information about himself, as well – his own childhood, the neighborhood where he was currently living, even his dramatic film career. He happily dished out gossip about co-stars and directors.

But whenever Hiyori tried to bring up Sendai Kamotsu, or Sakito's comedy career, he'd abruptly change the subject. He'd steer it back to Hiyori's career, or some other aspect of his life. Hiyori didn't force the issue – but he was quietly getting frustrated with it.

How do I get him to see that he's hiding from what he most loves? he thought. How do I get him to see that he's hiding from his deepest self?

After one date, Hiyori came home and went straight to his record cabinet. He pulled out a recording of Sendai Kamotsu's Raven Loud Speeeeeeaker sketch, put it on and sat on the floor in front of the player. He knew every word by heart, of course . . . but he needed to hear it. Needed to hear Sakito's voice at the time he was still Satty, so full of love for what he was doing, full of life.

What can I do, he thought. What haven't I tried . . .

He found himself drifting off to sleep still sitting there. And then came that dream again, when he was standing in the lobby of that inn in Joryokuju, and Hanada-san was there, a too-big, too-warm smile on her face, holding out the magic snowglobe in both hands.

“You need to move backward to move forward,” she said. “It's further back than you think.”

“What do you mean by that?” Hiyori said. “You're speaking in riddles.”

“Think,” she said. “Your heart knows. It's known all along.”

Hiyori awoke with a jolt. Why did that woman keep coming into his dreams? It was getting flat-out creepy. And the cryptic message . . . further back than he thought? What did she . . .

Suddenly, an idea popped into his head. It was crazy, it was a long shot – but the next time he and Sakito were together, he was going to try it. At this point, it couldn't hurt.

* * *

Instead of meeting up in the evening, they met up in the afternoon, before the radio broadcast. Since it was unusually mild for the time of year, they went to the park together, where they got a bag of roasted nuts and sat together on a bench.

“What kind of things did you do,” Hiyori said, “when you were a teenager?”

Sakito looked a bit taken by surprise. “It's been years since I thought about that,” he said.

“Was that time really that dull?” Hiyori said.

“No,” Sakito replied. “On the contrary. I had a lot of fun back then. I used to play baseball.”

“Baseball?” Hiyori said.

“Not to say I was very good at it,” Sakito said. “But I had fun.”

“Would you do it again?” Hiyori said.

“I haven't got a team,” Sakito replied.

“But you and I could take turns pitching and hitting, right?” Hiyori said. “We would just need a ball, a bat and a glove . . .”

“You're serious?” Sakito said.

“More than serious! I'll be right back!” Hiyori dashed off. He knew there was a general store right at the edge of this park, where he'd be more than likely to find the items he needed. He just had to get them and bring them back, quickly . . .

Sure enough, a few minutes later, he came back with the bat, ball and glove. “Here we are!” he said.

“You really went out and got them,” Sakito said, jumping off the bench.

“Did you think I wouldn't?” Hiyori said. “Come on, let's play!”

They went out into an open area. Sakito offered to pitch first – and Hiyori had to admit, he was right that he wasn't very good. It took him a few wide throws before he got close enough to Hiyori for him to actually hit the ball.

When he did, though, it flew over Sakito's head – and when the tall man leapt for it, he did so with an exaggerated gesture reminiscent of his comedy stage work. Hiyori laughed and clapped.

“Hey, I said I wasn't very good!” Sakito said.

“Maybe,” Hiyori said. “But what you did right now was great!”

“That's how I first found out I was funny,” Sakito replied. “I started covering up my mistakes in baseball by overreacting to them in a way that made people laugh.” He chased down the ball, tossed it into the air and caught it in his mitt.

“Really?” Hiyori replied.

“And then I found out that I liked the sound of the laughter so much that I started coming up with more and more ways to make people laugh,” Sakito said. He kept tossing the ball. “Before you knew it, I was the class clown. And I decided I was going to find a way to make humor my . . .”

He suddenly stopped, staring at the ball strangely for a moment. And then, he quickly handed the ball and mitt back to Hiyori. “Your turn to pitch,” he said. “I'll hit.”

Hiyori handed him the bat – but smiled inwardly. Had finally reminded Sakito of what made him love comedy in the first place?

* * *

The next evening, after Hiyori's rehearsal, they headed out to a bandshell in the middle of the park. “They normally don't have shows out here during the colder months, but since it's the holiday season now, they have musical acts performing seasonal songs,” Hiyori said. “You said you used to go to shows at a place like this at home.”

“Not just go to them,” Sakito said. “Perform in them. Sendai Kamotsu's first-ever show was in a place like this.”

“It was?” Hiyori said.

“Oh, yeah,” Sakito said. “We really didn't know what we were doing at the time, really. We were just a bunch of guys who'd met in a theater workshop and decided we wanted to try being funny. It was sort of a local variety show. We went up there and performed one sketch – and we found out the audience loved us.”

Hiyori looked at the taller man. He was staring at the bandshell with a sort of faraway look in his eyes – maybe, Hiyori thought, seeing that first, long-ago show.

“It wasn't perfect,” Sakito said. “Far from it. But . . . they laughed. Hard. And that made us feel great. We knew that we could do this. And, well. . . that led to us taking the act further. We kept on taking it further, too. Until . . .”

“Until you were a success,” Hiyori said, gently.

“Yes,” Sakito replied. He was still looking at that bandshell with a faraway expression. . . until he turned and walked away from it, quickly, as if its presence was continuing to stir things in him.

* * *

Two nights later, the capital held its annual holiday carnival to mark the opening of its Christmas market.

The market was one of the traditions that the country had borrowed from Europe. It took place in a large public square near the palace, and consisted of row after row of booths set up by local artisans selling everything from knitted socks to breakfast breads to handcrafted jewelry. The opening night was particularly festive, with performances by a dance band and a fireworks display.

Anyone who was everyone came out to the carnival – wherever you looked, there were nobility and gentry in fancy outfits, talking in cultured tones to one another as they sipped their hot cider and ate cookies. But that didn't mean it was a snobby affair – far from it. People of all ages and social classes moved among the booths, doing a lot of looking – if not necessarily a lot of buying.

Hiyori and Sakito were among those making their way through the crowd. “We had one of these in Kiryu,” Hiyori said. “But it wasn't nearly this big.”

“We had one in Naitomera, too,” Sakito replied. “I used to go every year. The first real date of my life was at the holiday festival.”

“It was?” Hiyori said, pausing at a booth that sold exquisite pendants. His eyes fell on a beautiful one that looked like a flowering tree branch, made of crystal and with tiny pink stones representing the blossoms. “How old were you?”

“Sixteen,” Sakito said. “She was a classmate. I always used to try to make her laugh. She said I could make her think the world was funny when nobody else could. She . . . had problems in her life. Her mother was ill a lot, and her father had to work like a dog to pay all the bills.” He paused. “It made me feel good that my humor had, well, a healing quality. It was like the best medicine in the world for her.”

“You were probably the best thing in her life at that time,” Hiyori said.

“I like to think I was,” Sakito said. “It didn't last very long. Partly because she moved two towns over, partly because I figured out that I preferred guys. But we both got a lot out of the relationship.” He looked over at the necklace Hiyori was eying. “You like that one?”

“Yes,” he said. “There's something about it that, well, speaks to me. Besides, it's got the pink flowers, and, well, pink is my color.”

“It suits you,” Sakito said. “She liked pink, too.”

“Sakito,” Hiyori said, softly. “You said you both got a lot out of that relationship. What did you get out of it?”

Sakito was quiet for a moment. Then, he said, “Confidence. I got confidence out of it. It was the first time I thought that my ability to make people laugh was something truly special. Maybe that's when I started thinking of it as my calling.”

“But you lost that calling,” Hiyori said, softly.

Sakito suddenly stopped, and stood still for a moment, as if he were considering what to say next. “You've made me think a lot about my time in Sendai Kamotsu, you know,” he said. “About how much I loved it – and what went wrong with it. You've gotten me to ask myself how I got into this in the first place – when we were playing baseball the other day? That awakened a lot of memories. A lot of feelings that I hadn't connected with in awhile.”

He moved over to a nearby bench and sat down. Hiyori sat next to him, taking the other man’s hand in his.

“Your love for what you do is so genuine and sincere that it made me want to get that love back again. Your heart is truly and absolutely in it. When I watched you at that rehearsal? You radiated joy. I wanted to learn from you, find out how you did it – and you guided me back to my old self. I’ve forgotten why I became bored with it all. In fact – I can’t wait to get back to it. It’s like I’d lost a piece of me – and you’re helping me get it back.”

Hiyori suddenly felt a warmth spreading inside him. He had done it. He had finally done it! He’d made Sakito want to go back to comedy! “I . . . I am humbled. Really.”

“You shouldn't be humbled,” Sakito said. “You should be proud. You succeeded where just about everyone else failed.” He suddenly pulled Hiyori into his arms. “And I have to thank you.”

“No need to thank me,” Hiyori said, lifting his face so his lips were close to Sakito's. “It . . . it was my pleasure . . .”

The two men leaned toward each other, slowly, and then they were kissing, their lips brushing each other lightly, then gradually deepening, their arms locking around one another as they kissed, pulled slightly apart, then kissed again.

Above them, the breeze picked up little bits of the festive glitter and confetti that were strewn about the site, making them swirl over their heads like the contents of a snowglobe.

* * *

Later on, when the dance band played, the two of them went to the center of the square with other couples. “I don't do much formal dancing,” Hiyori said.

“Neither do I,” Sakito said. “We'll just copy what everyone else is doing and hope for the best, right?”

Which was exactly what they did. They watched the others for a few moments, then copied their steps, whirling each other around the yard. Hiyori laughed. He really felt so comfortable with this man, so happy in his presence . . .

Maybe his initial wish had been to have Sendai Kamotsu back, to be able to see Satty again. Instead, he'd gotten to know Sakito. And in a way, that was even better than the idea of seeing his idols together.

After they'd been dancing for awhile, Sakito led him back to a bench. “Wait here,” he said. “I'm getting us some hot cider.”

The older man took off for the vendor booths, when he suddenly saw a very familiar figure wearing a well-tailored long men's winter coat and an equally well-made scarf. Sakito quickly bowed. “Good evening, Your Royal Highness,” he said.

“No need to bow,” Yo-ka replied. “And just Yo-ka is fine. How are you doing, Satty-san? I haven't seen you since I was a teenager.”

“It's been that long?” Sakito said.

“Twelve years since Sendai Kamotsu headlined the Royal Command Performance,” Yo-ka said. “I was the one who insisted on you guys. I was a huge fan. When I met you backstage, it was a thrill.” The Royal Command Performance was an annual variety show held on Christmas Eve, with headlining acts chosen by the Royal Family. It was considered the height of prestige to be selected.

“I'm glad you still remember it so well,” Sakito said. “So who's headlining this year?”

“Well, that's the problem,” Yo-ka said. “Our headliners just pulled out today. It was the Majeste Orchestra, and their conductor got into an accident. He's not going to recover in time. We're going to have to scramble to find someone now.”

“Maybe not,” Sakito said. “Is there a phone number I can reach you at, by any chance? Maybe the number of a secretary, or assistant?”

Yo-ka looked confused for a moment, then reached into his pocket for a business card. “This is the contact information for the Office of the Crown Prince,” he said. “One of my assistants usually answers the phone.”

“I should let you know tomorrow,” Sakito said. “Good evening, Your Highness.”

He rushed off to the first pay phone booth he could find. He searched his memory for the once-familiar digits – and he hoped they were still the same. He lifted the receiver, dropped his coins in and dialed the number.

The phone was picked up by a guy with a rather sleepy, grumbly voice. Sakito smiled to himself. The man known professionally as Chiba usually did make an early night of it if he had work the next day. Nice to know he hadn't changed.

“Hello, Yomi,” he said. “This is Sakito. Long time no see.”

“Sakito?” the other man said. “Really? Good Lord, what rock did you crawl out from under?”

“Look, Yomi, just listen to me for a moment,” Sakito said. “How do you feel getting the act together for a night – if it means headlining the Royal Command Performance again?”

* * *

A couple of days later, Hiyori got a call while he was at rehearsal. “Hiyori, I’m going to be late for our date this evening,” Sakito said.

“Did something come up?” Hiyori said.

“No. You’ll see.”

Well, that was strange, Hiyori thought. He went back to practice, thinking, did he get a new role that I didn’t hear about? Does he have to do publicity for his upcoming film again? It was the first time in their growing relationship that Sakito had missed a date.

But when they got together that night, Sakito didn’t offer him an explanation. He just said, “You’ll see” again.

“Sakito, what is it?” Hiyori thought. “What’s going on?”

“Maybe we can say I’m working on a Christmas present for you?”

“Christmas present?” Hiyori said, looking baffled.

“I’m not going to say anything else,” Sakito said. “Except I’m going to tell you that you’ll love it. A lot.”

Hiyori continued to be baffled – especially since Sakito was late for their next couple of dates as well. He was truly confused. Just what kind of Christmas present was this? But he couldn’t get any hints out of the older man – just another vague, “You’ll see.”

And then, after the fourth late date, the two of them were walking toward a restaurant near the palace when they saw workers putting up a huge billboard. “What is this?” Hiyori said.

“Oh, good,” Sakito said. “Right when they said it would be up.”

Hiyori turned toward the other man, looking more confused than ever. “Sakito . . . what’s going on?”

“It’s your Christmas present.”

Now Hiyori was so flummoxed that he nearly fell on the ground. “A BILLBOARD is my Christmas present?”

“No. What’s on it. Come on – I want you to read it.”

The workers finished posting the sign and moved away. Hiyori walked over to it and looked up.
“Royal Command Performance, December 24,” he said. “Starring, for one night only, the return of . . .”

He gasped, hands covering his face. Oh, my God. Was he seeing this? Was he REALLY seeing this? He blinked and shook his head. It was still there. It wasn’t his mind playing tricks on him.

My wish, he thought. My snowglobe wish has come true!

“The return of Sendai Kamotsu,” he said, in a hushed voice. He suddenly turned to his date and threw his arms around him. “Oh, Sakito!”

“I heard a spot opened up at the top of the bill,” he said, “so I called the others, and they were game to do it. That’s where I’ve been – we’ve been rehearsing. Just older sketches, mind you – but I don’t think the people will mind seeing them again.”

“They won’t mind at ALL,” Hiyori said, still clinging to the other man. “Thank you. Thank you so much . . .”

“No, Hiyori,” Sakito said. “Thank YOU. You made me WANT to go back to them again. And I’m really hoping that once we get fully into it? It won’t be the last time we’re all together again. I WANT to go back to it now. I think I can really appreciate it this time around. You’ve . . . been what I’ve needed for a long, long time.”

Hiyori leaned in to Sakito, and the two of them shared a warm, lingering kiss. Then, Sakito leaned back and said, “Keep reading – there’s another part of your present, you know.”

“Another part?”

“Look at what else it says, under our name.”

Hiyori turned – and there were the words, “Also featuring My Dragon.” His eyes opened wider, and he gasped.

“We’re opening for you?” he said.

“There’s a couple of other acts on the bill, of course,” Sakito said. “But, yes, you guys will be on right before us. You’ll only have time for a couple of sketches, but . . .”

“That’s okay!” Hiyori said. “I don’t mind! I . . .” He hugged Sakito close to him again. “I’ve wanted to open for you guys since I was a teenager. When I used to listen to your radio show, I’d dream of forming my own comedy troupe, and having us perform before you . . .”

“And now you will,” Sakito said. “You’ve earned it in every way possible, Hiyorin.”

“Oh, my God, we need to figure out what sketches we’re performing,” Hiyori said. “Stardust Dream – the vocal group one – I definitely want to do that. But . . . Nijigen Complex? Idol Sengen? We need to figure this out as soon as possible! This is . . .”

“A wish come true?” Sakito said, wrapping his arms around Hiyori’s waist.

“Most definitely,” Hiyori said, leaning his head on Sakito’s shoulder. “But . . . not just the performance.”

“Oh?”

“Being with you has been . . . you’ve made me happy, Sakito. Very happy, every time we’re together. I thought that all I wanted was to have Sendai Kamotsu back together, but . . .”

“I know,” Sakito said, leaning toward the other man again. “I feel the same way, Hiyori. I’ve gotten to know you so well these last few weeks, but there’s so much more I want to know. I want us to see where we can go with this thing. Hopefully, we’ll end up in a good place – together.”

“I want that, too,” Hiyori said. “Oh, God, yes, how I want that!” He brought his lips to Sakito’s again, and they kissed, warmly.

Above them, above the billboard, the wind swirled, making leaves dance all around them, like snow in a snowglobe.

* * *

That night, the dream came again. When Hanada-san appeared, holding out the snowglobe, she said, “It happened, didn’t it?”

“It’s going to happen,” Hiyori said. “They’re reuniting, Hanada-san! The snowglobe made the wish come true!”

“Was it really the snowglobe?” she said. “Or was it your heart?”

“But, you said the snowglobe was magic . . .”

“Is it magic? Or does it merely inspire magic? The magic of people truly believing in themselves and having the courage and motivation to inspire others?”

“But I . . .”

“It’s yours now,” Hanada-san handed him the snowglobe. “You take it, and bring its power into your life for good.”

“Where do I go from here?” Hiyori said.

“Wherever your heart leads you,” the woman said. “Wherever it leads both of you.”

Hiyori awoke with a gasp, sitting up. Well, that was the oddest snowglobe dream yet. He strained to recall everything the woman said, about his heart, and the magic of confidence, and whether it was the snowglobe or him that made the group get back together again . . .

In the end, he thought, do the particulars matter? Sendai Kamotsu are back together – at least for a night. And it may lead to more, and more, and . . .

But he knew that the most important thing wasn’t the comedy troupe getting back together. No, the most important getting together was him and Sakito. He’d set out to make one wish come true . . . and he’d fulfilled another, one he didn’t know he’d even had.

And that, in the end, was the real magic.

* * *

The Royal Theater was packed to the gills on Christmas Eve. As soon as the tickets for the general public went on sale, they’d sold out almost instantly. They were all too eager to welcome the living legends of comedy, Sendai Kometsu, back to the stage.

Hiyori was standing in the wings, still wearing his My Dragon costume, not wanting to miss a millisecond of it. And then the lights went down, the crowd roared . . .

And there they were in front of him. All five of them. They were back together, in their silly costumes, running through sketch after successful sketch. The audience didn’t care if they’d seen the material before – all that mattered was that the group was back together.

It’s happened, Hiyori thought. It really happened. And with any luck, they’ll never break up again.

He watched them go through the routines he’d loved so much as a teenager. He laughed uproariously where he’d always laughed, applauded when the audience applauded.

Once their last sketch was over and they’d taken their bows, Sakito suddenly asked for the main microphone. The audience fell silent, a bit puzzled.

“Thank you, everyone,” Sakito said. “Damn, I’d forgotten how much fun that was.” The audience applauded. “We’ve been away for awhile, and, admittedly, my career went down a different path, but now that we’ve done this again . . .” He paused. “I think we’re going to be back. With new material. We’re not going to let this slip by again – right, guys?”

The other members of the troupe applauded him. Of course, they’d already had this discussion backstage – they’d decided to give their collective professional relationship another chance for awhile and see where it led.

“And I want you all to know,” Sakito said, “what you saw tonight, and what you will see in the future, I owe to one man. One very, very special man. I’d kind of lost my faith in my funny self – but it was given back to me by the man you know as Panty Hiwai. Unless, of course, you’re the royal family” – he indicated the royal box – “in which case, he’s known to you as the Viceroy of Kiryu. Hiyori, will you come out here?”

Hiyori was stunned. He was really being called out there by Sakito? He walked onto the stage, tentatively, and the audience applauded, madly. He made his way over to Sakito’s side.

“This man,” Sakito told the audience, “believed in us with absolute faith. He said he became a comic because he was a fan of ours. And it was that faith that brought us back.” He paused. “Hiyori – this performance is for you.” The audience cheered loudly, and Hiyori stepped forward, bowing.

He felt Sakito pressing the mike into his hand. Oh, God, he thought, I’m being expected to say something. “Thank you,” he said. “My Dragon owes its existence to Sendai Kamotsu. We wouldn’t have existed without them. I had a wish to see them together again, and, well . . .”

An image of the snowglobe flashed into his mind. I am so, so glad we went to that stupid, too-wholesome town, he thought. Finding that damn thing was the best thing that ever happened to me. Maybe it’s magic, or maybe finding it just unlocked the power of my subconscious mind – but, in either event, it brought these guys back together again, and Sakito into my life.

“I am just glad,” he said, “that my wish came true.”

The audience applauded. Sakito hugged him, and he walked off the stage with his idols. I’ve never been happier, Hiyori thought. Never happier in my life.

* * *

Later, they attended a party at the palace for all the show participants. Sakito was dealing with a steady stream of people coming by and congratulating him, saying they were so glad to see them back again, that they’d waited for this all their lives. Hiyori just stood by and basked in it all.

During a break in the crowds, however, Sakito pulled Hiyori into a back corridor off the ballroom – coincidentally, the one that MiA and Subaru had snuck down the first night of the Culling to see the crown jewel storeroom.

“I have a couple of gifts for you,” Sakito said.

“You don’t have to,” Hiyori said. “This . . . the reunion, the show . . . is gift enough.”

“No, I need to do more,” Sakito said. He reached into his pocket and drew out a small jewelry box. “Hiyori, I’m not a prince, and I can’t offer you a Pledged collar. But I do want to ask you this.” He suddenly dropped down to one knee. “Will you, officially, be my boyfriend?”

He opened the box. There was the necklace Hiyori had been admiring at the Christmas market, the crystal branch with the pink sakura stones.

“You don’t have to ask,” Hiyori said, feeling a lump rising in his throat. “I already consider myself that. I think I have since we met.”

Sakito jumped up and pulled him into a kiss, fastening the jewelry around Hiyori’s neck. I’m never taking it off, Hiyori thought. Never. He pulled the other man closer, his lips caressing Sakito’s, just losing himself in the feel of being so close to him.

When he eased back, Sakito said, “Now, your other gift . . . I just saw this at the market and, for some reason, it made me think of you. I had to get it.” He handed Hiyori a small, rectangular, wrapped box.
Hiyori pulled aside the wrapping, opened the lid of the box, pulled out the contents – and gasped. He held it in front of him with both hands, just staring.

It was a smaller replica of the magic snowglobe, every detail absolutely perfect.

“Oh, my God,” he said. “You . . .found . . . this . . .”

“You like it?”

“It’s wonderful. It’s the most appropriate present ever – you have no idea. None at all.” He pulled Sakito close and whispered, “It was a snowglobe just like this that brought us together.”

“It was?” Sakito said.

Hiyori nodded. “I’ll tell you . . . someday.”

Right now, he was just going to enjoy being with this man, and knowing that every wish he’d ever had – and then some – had come true.

* * *

EPILOGUE

Sendai Kamotsu’s reunion did, in fact, prove to be permanent. Within weeks of their comeback performance, they were signed for a national tour, a new series of film shorts and several radio specials – a schedule that would allow them to continue their side projects if they wanted. (Sakito did elect to occasionally take serious acting roles under the Jakigan Meister name, but the Gremlins and LEGENDARY SIX-NINE projects soon fell by the wayside. In fact, the other performers in those troupes went on to form their own comedy group, appropriately called the Leftovers).

Despite both having busy schedules, Sakito and Hiyori continued to develop their relationship, to the point where, several months after the fateful show, they were sharing an apartment. The snowglobe replica was placed in a position of honor on a living room table, as a constant reminder of what brought them together.

My Dragon never performed in Joryokuju again. But Hiyori never forgot the almost creepily perfect little town. Their visit there might have been hell, but it ultimately brought him a little bit of heaven. And he vowed if he ever did go back there, he’d seek the innkeeper out and thank her in person. He owed his happiness, in a way, to her – and that snowglobe.