Love Under Cherry Blossoms

Bryce Lynch had become quite the domestic type since he had been taken from Network 23 by Jake Takimoto.

Jake was the grandnephew of Shiro Takimoto, one of the board members of the Zik Zak corporation. Zik Zak was Network 23's main sponsor/

Jake had met Bryce five years earlier, just short of Bryce's seventeenth birthday. Jake himself had been twenty four. And though he did not yet love the young genius, Jake could not bring himself to let Bryce be hurt.

Bryce had, up until then, worked for Network 23 as their head of Research and Development. He had been hired at the age of eleven and was under their complete control. Every reward and consequence for his actions or inactions was determined by them. The contract he'd signed when he'd been hired out of ACS left no room for debate.

Grossberg had been crooked when it came to ratings and credits, but he had at least been fair toward Bryce. Cheviot had been also fair, though a bit more strict. He had felt like a grandfather toward the young teen and had taken it upon himself to try and correct any mistakes that Grossberg's leniency had caused. Still he was kind to Bryce.

When Cheviot died of a heart attack at the Ad Market, Ashwell had taken over the network. And he'd had a bone to pick with Bryce. He wasn't fond of signal zipping. And even though Bryce had already lost his pet parrot and had been docked five percent of his salary for the next four years to repay the financial losses, it wasn't enough for Ashwell.

Ashwell had decided that the best punishment would be for Bryce to lose that one thing that could not be restored. His virginity. And he would not lose it to one man or woman. But to a gang of thugs that Ashwell himself had hand-picked for their nastiness.

They had agreed, expecting to have to rough up an undesirable a bit. But when Ashwell had ordered them to rape Bryce, they had flatly refused.

Bryce, who was too naive in that respect to even know what rape was, wasn't sure what was going on.

"Ashwell wanted these men to harm you," Jake told him. "As long as you're under the custody of Network 23 they can order things like that. I won't let that happen."

"What can you do?" Bryce asked, tears welling up in his eyes for the first time in ten years. He wasn't sure why he was so upset. Ashwell wasn't someone he really trusted. Not after the man had kidnapped Max a couple of months ago. But he still had no idea how far the man's betrayals could go. Had he known, he would have been sick to his stomach.

"You're too old for me to adopt. And you're too young for me to marry. However, we Japanese have a ritual called the Kakari-Go-Mae. It means pre-engagement. It is a bonding ritual that would make me legally responsible for you. As your husband-to-be I would become your protector and your voice in medical emergencies. It would negate Network 23's control over you."

Bryce had accepted the offer and had pre-bonded with Jake according to the old tradition.

When it was over, he thanked Jake and followed him out to his car.

He had never returned to Network 23

That had been five years ago. Now he was quietly sweeping the porch of their simple home in New Tokyo. Although Jake was rich, he preferred to live a simple life. No servants; no mansion. He and Bryce lived in a modest house with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Outside there was a little garden that Bryce found he enjoyed working in and a little porch with a little pond, too small for koi.

"Bryce," Jake said, "You look sad today."

"I know that Network 23 had something terrible in store for me, Jake," Bryce replied, leaning on the broom. "But I still miss my friends."

"If you want to work for them again, it would now be safe for you to do so," Jake told him. "You are of age. You can break off our engagement and go back."

"I don't want to break it off," Bryce told his fiance. "I love you, Jake."

"I'm glad," Jake told him. "I also love you. So what do you want to do? Do you want to marry me?"

"Yes, Jake." Bryce replied.

"I think we should have a private ceremony," Jake said. "You're too important for me to risk losing you to an objecting uncle. "And even though you're of age now, Network 23 might try to loophole you back under the original contract by issuing a professional objection."

"Then let's do it now," Bryce said. "I do love you, but I miss Edison and Theora, and Max. Not being able to watch Network 23 so that Max couldn't blab our location hasn't been easy."

"Then now it shall be," Jake said.

They went inside to marry via the World One Vidi-Justice, leaving the discarded broom lying askew on the porch.

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