This story was actually written recently for a Valentine's Day challenge over on Deviant Art. I had trouble formatting it for the site because of the size of the fic so it was never entered. Instead, I will present it here. The pairing was just a challenge for myself but I had a great deal of fun writing about both the Message armors and one of the villains from the show. This is fic is also dedicated to the great Bon Jovi- patron saint of sexy fanfiction- who's "Bed of Roses" helped me write one of the later scenes.

This fic is rated M for non-explicit adult situations and mild language. Enjoy.


Ironically enough, it took Cye leaving Japan to inspire Robyn to return. It had been nearly three years since they had last seen her. Kento had been caught completely unaware at her arrival. He knew she was coming home, it wasn't that. It was the difference that blindsided him.

When he read her letters to him through the years, he always pictured that same skinny girl, face curtained by red hair, wide eyes peering out. The girl who stepped off that plane was not the one from his recollection. This new Robyn was a breath of sweet smelling air breezing in from across the sea. She was all soft curves, legs and skirts, and glittering voice. Whenever she spoke, Kento was drawn hypnotically to her pink lips that would quirk at him now and again with a secretive, flirty smile. The kind that ruffled his feathers more than he cared to admit.

Cye was going away on a twelve month trip. He was part of a scientific expedition, funded to study a particular orca pod; their migratory patterns, family hierarchy, and language from spring to spring. Kento thought it was a bit extreme, being away from solid land for a whole year, but this was Cye's field of choice. This was his career, his life now. He was so excited to go and Kento couldn't begrudge him that for doing what he loved.

Robyn came out two weeks earlier to spend time with Cye before his expedition. The day he was scheduled to leave, the two said their goodbyes on the pier. They made a terribly romantic picture in the early morning light, looking at each other with hands clasped, the sea in the background. Only a priest would have completed the scene.

But Cye never looked at Robyn differently upon her return. His gaze for her remained the same as it had when they were teenagers, even now at their goodbye. Only a few inches taller than she in high school, he was now almost a full head above her, having surpassed Kento's height as well. Robyn's forehead was the same height as his mouth and he leaned forward to kiss it.

"I'll miss you. Stay safe," she said sweetly to him.

"I'll miss you, too," he promised. Then added, "Take care of Kento for me while I'm gone."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Hardrock protested. "You don't think I can take care of myself?"

Cye just gave him an affectionate smile, patted him on the back, and climbed onto the boat.

The others, who all had other obligations that morning, had said their goodbyes the night before. Only Kento and Robyn stood on the pier, watching the boat chug into the horizon until it was gone. Afterward, the two went out for breakfast, neither saying a word outside of ordering their meal. On several occasions for the past two weeks, each had mentioned how weird it was going to be without Cye around. Now that he was actually gone, neither knew what to say. So they ate in silence, Robyn only finishing half of her eggs while Kento stirred his coffee without drinking it.

He glanced up when Robyn's foot pressed against his. Her toes continued to brush at his ankle, an indication that they had not touched by accident. Kento raised a brow to her, about to ask why she was playing footsie with him when she spoke.

"I miss him already." Her smile was a bit sad.

Kento nodded, understanding her loneliness and her need for the physical contact. He allowed her foot to remain where it was.

Contrary to what Kento expected, Robyn took her promise to Cye very seriously. She dropped by to visit him about twice a week. In between her visits, Kento finally realized just how much Cye had been in his life before he left. The two had seen each other nearly every day since they were teenagers. With Cye suddenly gone, it left an unexpected void in his life.

Robyn did her best to fill it. She often came over to play video games or watch TV. They had a few shows that they watched together religiously where sneaking a peek at an episode without the other one would be viewed as a cardinal sin.

Every two weeks they would have what Robyn coined the "Date Night" where they would go out. They always went dutch. Usually dinner and a movie, as most dates went. Sometimes they went miniature golfing. Robyn made him go skating once. Every date was platonic and Kento began to dread them.

The first problem it caused was with the girl he was currently seeing. She was a customer at the restaurant Kento flirted with while he took her order. She left him a nice tip and her phone number which he eagerly returned. They had gone out a few times- had a hot and heavy make out session once- when she suggested they go see a movie on a certain day. Kento, the ultimate doofus that he was, casually mentioned that day was no good because he had Date Night.

She gave the shrillest scream Kento had ever heard a girl make, called him a cheater and dumped him so fast he didn't even have time to formulate a proper explanation. When he was out with Robyn, she asked him how things were going with that new girl he was seeing. He only told her it hadn't worked out and left it at that.

That same night during dinner, Robyn paused to adjust the strap of her shoe. She always preferred wedges over heels. (A detail Kento couldn't believe he knew. Only boyfriends knew that kind of stuff about a chick.) And her dainty feet with painted toenails always looked fantastic in them. Kento found himself staring while she fiddled with the strap and then smoothed her hand up her calf.

Kento was suddenly bombarded with the acute urge to rest her foot on his thigh, slowly remove that naughty shoe and run his hand all the way up, past her knee to what the hem of her skirt hid beneath. He quickly shook the thought away, heart pounding in horror.

It wasn't so bad when she came over to hang. On those days, she usually wore dumpy clothes, half of them stolen from the wardrobe Cye left behind, and they would order messy take out. No make up, hair pulled up in a sloppy bun, and Kento could pretend she was one of the guys as they tried to beat each other at Mario Kart.

Date Night was far worse. Robyn always took the opportunity to dress much nicer than he did. She curled her hair, put tantalizing colors on her lips. Her legs and her ass always looked fantastic in those bouncy little skirts she wore. At times she would brush too close to him, giving him a full breath of her scent and his brain would plunge right into the gutter. The thought of pressing her against the wall, breathing her in as he tasted her neck made him disgusted with himself.

He did his best to ignore it. If they laughed and joked, if he didn't look at her for too long, he could avoid it. But he couldn't ignore her little flinch of pain one night when he playfully nudged her into the rail on the stairs leading up to her apartment.

"Oh Rob, sorry, you okay?" he asked, taking her arm to steady her.

She winced again. "Yeah, it's not you. I totally ran into an open drawer this morning while I was running around the kitchen."

"Ouch. How bad is it?"

Robyn looked down at the hem of her skirt. "Well it-" She paused, glanced around her, then opened her apartment door and motioned him inside. Once the door was shut, then she hiked up her skirt, revealing a dark arrow shaped mark on her thigh.

"Yikes," Kento said as he inspected the wound.

"I know! It hurt so freaking bad. Stupid thing gets more purple every time I look at it."

Without thinking, he caressed the damaged flesh with his thumb. She sucked air between her teeth and Kento suddenly pictured himself with one hand on each thigh, reaching forward to kiss the twitching flesh of her stomach.

"Well, I hope that gets better," he said, jerking himself away from her. "Sorry, I gotta run. I have an early morning tomorrow."

Robyn called her goodbyes to him as he all but fled the apartment. Driving home, he broke the speed limit several times in his urgency to run from his thoughts. Once home, he threw himself into a cold shower, sputtering and gasping at the frigid water, but refusing to get out until his body became used to the chill.

There he leaned against the wall, muscles tense as he dunked his head under the running water. If Cye knew what he was thinking he would kick his ass. Torrent would dive right off that boat and show up at Kento's door, soaking wet with his yari in his hands, and kick Kento's sorry butt to the moon.

Something had to be done. Kento needed to get himself another girl. Or he just needed to get laid. Probably both. If he managed that, then maybe his stupid hormones wouldn't be so out of control.

His plans, however, were quickly derailed when he came down with the flu two days later. He hadn't told anyone aside from his mother he was calling in sick for work, but Robyn showed up at his door full of supplies. He was sure he had his mother to thank for that. But with how lousy he felt, he was glad to see her.

She instantly took charge, telling him to go take a warm bath so he'd stop shivering and she would make him some food. The hot water felt amazing to all his aches. He drifted off once or twice before Robyn popped her head in.

"I've got some soup ready if you want some."

Despite his weakened state, Kento jerked at her appearance. "Jeeze! Some privacy, Rob?"

"You hungry or not?" she countered.

He sighed. "Yeah, I'm getting out."

"You need any help?"

"No! I'm not an invalid! Get out!"

He heard her laugh as she closed the door behind her.

Slowly, Kento pulled himself out, wrapped his hips in a towel and made his way to the bedroom, keeping a hand on the wall to steady himself. The shivers started again soon after. It made getting dried and dressed difficult, but he finally managed to put on thicker clothes meant for a colder time of year.

"Kento?" he heard Robyn's voice call.

"I'm coming!" he shot back. Damn, that woman would not stop pestering him. Couldn't he just be miserable in peace?

"There you are," she said merrily when he emerged. "You took so long I thought you had fallen into Narnia or something."

He managed to let out a chuckle and then stumbled as a wave of dizziness hit him. Robyn rushed forward to catch him, wrapping her arms around his torso, face pressed to his chest as she helped him regain his balance.

"You're shivering," she noticed, and rubbed his back. "Poor baby."

Kento closed his eyes and sighed as her hands soothed his aches. He rested his cheek on the top of her head and wished they could just stay like that forever. But Robyn had other plans. She guided him to the couch where she got him a blanket and then set a steaming bowl of soup in front of him. Kento's mouth watered at the smell. He had been too sick to make himself any food all day. His body thanked him for the much needed nourishment and a warm belly helped to make the shivers subside.

Kento awoke a few hours later, unaware how or when he had fallen asleep. The last thing he remembered he had been sitting upright. Now he was laying on the couch, his head cushioned on something soft but firm. He blinked blearily at the TV screen in front of him and then closed his eyes as the most amazing sensation came over him.

Thin, delicate fingers ran through his hair, brushing it from his forehead, knuckles running along his cheek. He sighed deeply as those little nails lightly scraped his scalp.

"That feels amazing."

Her fingers paused and then went back to running through his hair. "And how are you feeling?"

He sighed again, eyes still closed. "Like I'm in love."

Robyn chuckled and returned her attention to the TV, fingers now running along the nape of his neck. Kento was now wide awake. His body, even though weakened with fever, tingled pleasantly at her touch. Internally, his mind panicked over what just came out of his mouth.

Every few months, Cye's vessel would happen upon an area that allowed communication with the rest of the world. There was a screen set up at the marine research lab where Cye usually worked that provided contact with the scientists. Earlier, Cye's mother and sister got to talk with him. Kento had a time reserved for the afternoon. Robyn's shift at work had just ended and she would be rushing over to catch the tail end to say hi.

Kento sat himself down in front of the screen, Cye's face already there and waiting for him.

"Hey there Shaggy. What? They don't have any razors out there?" Kento teased.

Cye rubbed at the bit of stubble on his chin. His hair was thick around his shoulders. "I brought one. We're just really far north and it's cold up here. It's nice to have a bit more insulation."

Kento grinned. "You're turning into a real rugged sailor. The chicks are going to be all over that when you get home."

Cye chuckled and shook his head. "Speaking of chicks, how's Robyn doing? I hope she's keeping you busy."

Hardrock's face immediately fell as guilt seeped inside. "Yeaaaah... she's doing okay. She keeps visiting a lot, making sure I'm not lonely."

"What?" Cye asked, picking up on his best friend's change in demeanor.

"Nothing," Kento said a bit too quickly. "We're fine here. Everything's normal. No need to worry about us."

There was a patient silence before Cye spoke again. "Kento, what?"

Kento's silence was more stubborn, but Cye's patience always won out.

"Ugh! What am I going to do?" Kento moaned, tiredly rubbing his face. "She keeps coming at me with those short skirts and those legs and that hair."

Cye quirked a confused eyebrow at him. "She keeps hitting on you?"

"No, that's not what I meant. I just... tell her to stop dressing so sexy when we go out."

Now Cye was just straight up amused at his friend's distress. "I'll do no such thing."

Another frustrated noise from Hardrock.

"Kento, are you saying you're attracted to her?"

"Not on purpose!" he shot back. "I try to fight it, but she keeps getting into my head! No matter what I do, she's constantly- Cye, are you laughing at me?"

Torrent was indeed laughing on the other end, eyes closed in pure glee.

Kento grabbed the screen, wishing it were his best friend's neck. "Damnit, Cye! This isn't funny! I have to deal with this! What am I supposed to do?"

"Have you tried asking her out? Kissing her goodnight after you walk her to her door?"

Kento stared at him in utter shock. "But... it's Robyn!"

"It IS Robyn!" the redhead sang as she breezed into the room and plopped herself in a chair next to Kento. "It's so good to see you Cye! You look so rugged!"

Cye rubbed his stubble again. "So Kento tells me."

"How are you doing out there? Are you getting enough to eat? Did you find ALL the whales?"

Torrent laughed. "Yes, Robyn. Every whale in the sea. We found them all."

"Yeah, go Cye!"

He smiled at her. "It's so good to see you after looking at these ugly blokes for so long." A crude comment was tossed his way from somewhere off screen and his grin broadened. "I'm so jealous of Kento being able to see your pretty face any time he wants. Right, Kento? Kento?"

Hardrock, who had previously been distracted by how Robyn's breasts looked in that shirt when she leaned forward, suddenly shook himself.

"Don't you think Robyn's pretty?" Cye pressed.

"Well, yeah, of course." He playfully elbowed Robyn in the side. "We only let good looking people into our group."

Damn you bastard, he growled to himself through the smile.

"Well, my time's up," Cye announced.

"It was so good to see you," Robyn said. "We miss you, Cye. Love you."

"I miss and love you guys, too. And Kento, remember what I said, huh?"

Kento blinked at him and the connection was cut, leaving them with a dark screen.

Robyn turned to him. "Cye looks so happy, doesn't he?"

All his hackles were instantly smoothed under the radiance of her smile. "Yeah, he does."

"So what did he tell you? What were you guys talking about?"

Kento jerked back, embarrassed. "Uh, nothing. Just guy stuff."

She scrunched her nose cutely at him. "The friendship between you two is just adorable."

Kento forced a smile at her but inside, he was worried. What about the friendship between him and her?

A few days later, Robyn dropped by for their usual hang out time of eating sloppy food and playing video games. Her hair was up it its usual messy bun and there was a drop of sauce on her shirt. Another tiny bit sat at the corner of her mouth before her tongue deftly swiped it away and Kento found that even when she wasn't dressed in her short skirts, that mouth was still distracting.

"Hey Robyn," he said casually as they entered the last lap of Mario Kart, "do you want to go out on a date sometime?"

"Sure do," she replied automatically, eyes still glued to the screen.

"I was thinking of taking you to the festival next week."

"Sounds like fun. We've never gone to a festival for Date Night."

"This is for a real date. I'm taking you. I'm paying for everything."

Robyn crossed the finish line before looking at him. Kento had leaned back against the armrest of the couch, one arm resting on the back. A pose part casual, part defensive.

"A real date?" she asked, one brow raised in question.

His serious gaze met hers. "Yeah. I want to take you."

Her eyelashes fluttered at him as she processed this. Then she flushed, a bright red hue that plunged from her cheeks down her neck. She looked away self consciously, eyes on her hands as she fiddled with the controller. A shy smile tugged at the side of her mouth. "Um, okay."

Kento found himself grinning, his heart racing at her response. "Yeah? It'll be fun."

"Mmhm. But you have to dress up," she suddenly dropped on him, jabbing a finger in his face.

Kento dropped his head back. "Ugh! Fine! Only for you, babe."

Kento made good on his promise, though he had to purchase a brand new yukata for the event. He had an old one somewhere, but he couldn't find it. As such, he showed up at her apartment, dressed handsomely in rich earth tones. The material was a bit too crisp for his liking and he scratched at his neck while knocking on the door.

It immediately opened with excited green eyes glittering at him.

"Right on time," Robyn chirped as she turned to lock the apartment door behind her.

By then, Kento had been coming to terms with his feelings for her. Still, he felt unprepared with how damn cute she was in that getup. Her yukata was dark blue with white and pink flowers, her hair pulled up in a stylish bun with various colored clips.

The shimmer of pink on her lips drew his eye and he quickly shook himself to offer her a hand while they descended the stairs.

"This is going to be so much fun," she said. "I haven't worn a yukata in years." It was clear she wasn't too used to the geta on her feet either. She stumbled a little down the stairs and Kento quietly enjoyed being a sturdy pillar for her.

When they arrived, it was later in the afternoon and the festival was in full swing. It took a while for Kento to find a parking spot. Robyn was busy fiddling with her phone and let herself out of the car when they stopped. Kento watched her step out on her own, a bit disappointed. How was he supposed to be a gentleman on this date if she wouldn't let him?

He would have offered her an arm as they walked across the street to the festival grounds, but she was still texting on her phone. She didn't look up until he was paying for their tickets. At least she was letting him do that much. Once they were inside, she finally put that stupid phone away, tucking it into a small purse hanging from her wrist.

"Oh man, it smells amazing," she said, her nose pointing in the direction of all the food booths. "I want to try everything!"

"Whatever you want, I'm buying," Kento reminded.

Robyn raised a brow in challenge. "Are you sure about that? You may regret it. I can eat a lot."

He met her challenge with his own. "You forget who you're talking to."

Her hand slid to the crook of his arm and she laughed, leaning in closer. Kento drank it all up. Now this felt like a real date.

"Hey guys!" came the voice that shattered all his fantasies for the evening.

Kento turned to see a tall, blue haired man stepping out of the crowd.


Behind Rowen, Ryo emerged as well, both in normal every day clothes. Sage followed after, bedecked in full kimono instead of just a cheaper yukata.

Robyn brightened at them all, leaving Kento's side. She approached Sage, appraising his appearance.

"Sage, that's so nice. Can I touch it?"

"Go ahead," he said, arms casually folded in his sleeves.

Robyn fingered the silky material at his arm with envy. "I want to get a real kimono someday. But I know I'd never go anyplace where I could wear it."

Sage raised his head, looking squarely at Kento. "I'd take you some place you could wear it."

Hardrock's hackles instantly raised at Halo's superior look. Damn it all! He knew! They all knew exactly what was going on! With a hard look at Robyn, Kento knew exactly who had invited them to come and how those three found them.

At first, he was irritated with what she had done to him. Then, Kento's conscience rationalized that there had to be a reason she invited the others. Whatever that reason was, she obviously wasn't comfortable with just the two of them alone. That surprisingly hurt a little. But she seemed so happy to have the others there, and was still glad he was there as well. Maybe he had just blindsided her too fast and she got nervous. Robyn was funny about things like that. Nothing much he could do now but enjoy the company and talk with her about it later.

Robyn was sure Kento would be mad if he knew what she was doing. A quick glance when the others appeared confirmed it. She guiltily ran over to Sage, fully interested in his beautiful festival wear, but still grateful for a reason to give Kento some space. She regretted not mentioning she had invited the guys earlier, but she didn't know how to explain to him how she felt.

She would hang out with the guys day and night; anytime, anywhere. Alone with one of them, or all as a group. She was fine with all of it. But the second one of them said he was interested in becoming more than friends, suddenly he was terrifying.

Robyn had no way of putting it into words. She couldn't explain why she was now scared of being alone in Kento's company. He wasn't going to do anything to her, nothing between them had really changed. But she had never imagined any one of them would be interested in her that way. Knowing that he was now flipped a switch in her and she no longer knew how to act around him. She knew she was being an idiot, but she hoped he would forgive her.

"So what say we eat some over priced festival food, huh?" Rowen asked, rubbing his hands together.

"Yes!" Robyn cheered, fists clenched in excitement. She looked to Kento hopefully, knowing she was playing dirty by trying to get a positive response from him by mentioning food.

He narrowed his brows at her and she shrugged her shoulders a bit in apology. Then he gave a little huff, relaxing his shoulders and smiled. "Oh yeah, I'm totally ready to eat."

She threw him a wide thankful smile and was instantly confused when his cheeks flushed slightly. Robyn didn't have much time to ruminate on that response, however, as Ryo and Rowen each situated themselves on either side of her.

"To the food vendors!" Ryo announced in a leadership tone.

"To the food vendors!" Rowen agreed heartily.

"Yay!" Robyn squeaked happily.

Rowen sighed. "Aw, you messed it up. You were supposed to repeat what we said."

She just laughed.

Robyn knew exactly what she wanted first and made a beeline for the taiyaki stand where she got a whole bag of the little fish-shaped cakes with chocolate inside. She instantly told the others if they wanted some they would have to get their own with half a fish cake sticking out of her mouth.

Sage, the ever present voice of reason, suggested they get themselves some real food before going too crazy with the sweets. Soon the group was loaded with yakisoba noodles and sticks of yakitori. Robyn let Kento pay for all her food and quickly felt guilty over how much she enjoyed not spending her own money.

She also felt a bit guilty that when they sat down to eat, Rowen sniped the seat next to her- she was sure it was on purpose- and she didn't say anything about it. Kento seemed to take it all in stride and for that she was grateful. He looked only mildly annoyed at Rowen's antics and, since he was sitting across the table from her, Robyn could take her time to watch him while she ate.

She thought all the guys were good looking young men. But she had never dared to entertain the thought that she might find herself physically attracted to one of them. When she first met them as a teenager, Robyn's last boyfriend had been abusive and ultimately tried to sacrifice her to dark powers. Not exactly the type of relationship one bounced right back from. Back then, she had been extremely uninterested in obtaining another boyfriend and in her subconscious mind, she supposed she had stuck all the boys in the platonic part of her brain and left them there even as she grew older. Now she was forced to reevaluate the preconceived notions from her teenage self.

Robyn surreptitiously watched the warrior of Hardrock while she slurped her noodles. She took in the shape of his face, his deep blue eyes. His mouth, his strong shoulders, his tanned neck. She saw nothing any sane girl would want to say no to. She had seen Kento in a way few ever have: so very brave and impossibly strong beyond the strength of normal men. Those hands could crush boulders. What could they do to her?

What could those hands to do her with great restraint and infinite gentleness?

Kento noticed she was watching him and threw her a heart-melting smile. Robyn's face suddenly grew so warm she could feel the heat on her cheeks. She quickly glanced away and was suddenly aware of Rowen's voice in the background. Had he been talking to her all this time? She smiled at Strata with her typical "that's nice" face when he tended to prattle on.

When everyone had eaten their fill for the time being, they decided to wander the booths and check out the various games and all the items for sale. Ryo took his turn in focusing Robyn's attention on him by grabbing her wrist and merrily leading forward. It was a very typical Ryo move; something he had a habit of doing since Robyn had returned to Japan. Rowen had joked Ryo was paranoid Robyn was going to run away from them again. Cye said he was just tired of Robyn wandering off like a child any time something shiny caught her attention.

Whatever the reason, Robyn never minded it. She liked having Ryo's attention, seeing his smile close up. She never really thought much of holding his hand in public until that afternoon. Suddenly, she wondered if she should stop. But the thing was, she didn't want it to stop. She didn't want the relationship she had with one ronin affect the relationships she had with any of the others. Was it even possible to hope for something like that?

Still, at her first opportunity, she slipped her hand out of Ryo's, pretending to be preoccupied with looking at bracelets. Ryo didn't seem to mind at all as he had found a booth to hold his attention as well.

At that moment, Robyn became aware of an inch growing between her shoulder blades. The mixture of a thick obi and it being in a very hard to reach place had Robyn reaching all sorts of ways to get to it. Finally, she tipped her neck to the side and plunged her hand down the back collar of her yukata. Just as she was scratching that itch just right, something tweaked in her neck. Pain shot through her as her muscles seized.

"Son of a bitch," she muttered, her neck still kinked to one side. She tried to rub it, but the muscle continued to cramp, hard as steel.

"Hold on, I've got it," a deep voice rumbled in her ear.

Robyn had lost track of where Kento had been for the past several minutes, but suddenly he was behind her, his mere presence pressing down as if it were something physical. Warm, strong hands descended upon her, fingers sliding below the material of her collar, working the muscles. Robyn hissed at the treatment.

"Lower your shoulders. Relax."

"Ow, ow, ow," she complained.

Robyn's protests of pain caught Sage's attention and he turned around. "Are you alright? If you like, I could-"

"I got it, Sage," Kento cut him off.

"Yeah, don't you dare tell him to stop," Robyn added and then hissed again.

"I said relax," Kento murmured in a voice far more calm than she thought was appropriate for the situation. He jabbed two fingers into the connecting muscle between her neck and her shoulder. "This. Relax this part right here."

With another wince of pain, Robyn managed to will the muscle to loosen and she let out a shuttering breath.

"There we go."

She felt him press the heel of his hand into the problem area and relief flooded over her. Finally, the pain was subsiding. Hands trained in martial arts, familiar with every type of pulled muscle worked her over. Fingers delved beneath her collar, skin brushing skin. Robyn could feel the heat of the body behind her, his breath warm on her neck. Despite herself, she closed her eyes just for a moment.

When she opened them, Rowen's obnoxious face was grinning at her. "Do you two need some time alone?"

"If you would, that would be great," Kento shot back pointedly in annoyance.

Robyn's face was already flushed. Unable to even put into words why she was so embarrassed, she stepped away from Kento, giving him an awkward smile. "It feels better now, thanks."

The look he gave her sent her heart racing, his eyes meeting hers. His throaty voice remained low. "Anytime."

Feeling her cheeks practically on fire, Robyn fled, pretending to suddenly be super interested in something else. When she was able to get some space to herself and the flush in her face died down, she lightly touched the skin of her shoulder where those big, strong hands had been moments before. Robyn recalled with a small smile his firm but gentle touch. Even though he could easily break her in half with his bare hands, he had never used more force than what was necessary.

The festival wasn't that bad, Kento had to admit. He still enjoyed hanging out with the guys even though it wasn't in his initial plans. It was nice to see them, to joke around with them. As adults their schedules weren't as flexible as they once had been. It was rare to get them all together like this.

Even though Rowen, the ever-present cockblock that he was, constantly got in the way. Still, Kento would have been more irritated with it if Rowen wasn't already spoken for. It was no secret he had some sort of thing for Robyn when they were in high school. But by the time Robyn had returned to Japan, Rowen had been dating Achiko for almost a year. A cellist in the Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, the woman had more class than Rowen and all his ancestors combined. How Rowen managed to land a girl like her was anyone's guess. Her job often kept her in Tokyo which was why Rowen hadn't brought her, but everyone was expecting an engagement announcement from the two at any time.

Sage pretty much kept to himself most of the evening, as was typical for Sage. Though Robyn would often check with him to make sure he had fun. Sage's enjoyment in public activities seemed to be a concern for her. As far as Kento could tell, Halo quietly appreciated the gesture.

Ryo, he should have considered the worst of the three as far as the date crashers went. Wildfire clearly adored Robyn, always happy to bask in the glow of her smile and never strayed too far away from her. Since Robyn's return, the two had been mistaken for an item on more than one occasion. The fact that they had a habit of holding hands in public didn't help at all. But if Ryo had any romantic intentions toward the redhead, he hadn't told any of his teammates. Kento himself couldn't find many qualm with their interaction as, to him, it was about as innocent as watching baby pandas play.

When the sun went down, the fireworks came out and the group paused from scarfing festival food to watch the show. Kento's eyes were glued to the colors in the sky until he felt a presence move beside him. Robyn was there, nearly shoulder to shoulder with him, eyes watching the display with a soft smile on her face.

Kento patted her head, a playful gesture he did to her often. Then his hand moved down to rest on her shoulder. She allowed it to stay there and he pulled her in a little closer. Then, someone else's hand landed on Kento's shoulder, pulling him closer as well.

Hardrock glanced over in annoyance. "Can you not?"

"Ooh, sorry," Rowen said in a teasing tone, removing his hand. Then he flung both arms around Kento and held him tight. "You're right, this is much better."

Kento felt his temper boil until Robyn laughed and threw her arms around him, too. "You're right, this is much better," she giggled.

Remaining as he was, Kento let out a heavy breath as his anger deflated. When attempting to date Robyn, he didn't know why he would have expected anything different than this.

Robyn pulled herself up the stairs to her apartment, her feet complaining all the way. She should have spent some time practicing in her gata before wearing them an entire afternoon. Kento climbed the stairs next to her, waiting patiently by her door as she fished for her keys. Once in her hand, she lingered by the door, shyly facing the ronin while he watched her.

"Thanks for not getting mad about today," she said, looking down at her hands. "I haven't dated in a really long time. I kind of wanted a buffer this first time, I guess. But if, you know, you ever want to do it again, it will be just us."

"Of course I want to do it again," Kento said, causing her to raise her head. He smiled at her. "And I had fun with the guys, don't worry about it."

Robyn smiled self-consciously back, rubbing her arm.

"Muscles still hurt?"

"Yeah, a little. I thought it was just going to be my neck, but now it feels like I pulled something all the way down my arm."

"That's what happens when you tweak it like you did. Here." Kento took her hand, pushing up the wide sleeve so he could get to the muscles of her shoulder and upper arm.

Robyn silently watched him work as he rotated her arm from one side to the other, gently stretching the muscles. Since he was focused on the task at hand, she could get away with blatantly studying him. He was very handsome in his yukata which accented his wide shoulders and strong neck. Robyn suddenly had a mental image of herself slipping her fingers into his collar, loosening the robe and sliding the material off his shoulders in order to explore him any way she wanted.

Surprisingly, that thought didn't thrust her into another fit of flushed embarrassment. Instead, it felt like the most natural thing to think about. That was definitely a more preferred reaction than how silly she was being all day.

"There, that should help," Kento announced when he was done.

She moved her arm around. "You are like a magician. I bet you could work miracles on my sore legs, too."

He raised an intrigued brow at her while Robyn couldn't believe she let that slip through her mouth.

"I will take you up on that if you want," he offered.

She laughed. A self assured laugh, comfortable and confident this time. Did this mean she was growing up? "As tempting is that is- and believe me, it is temping- I don't think it's a good idea for tonight. But the offer is appreciated."

He just smiled affectionately at her and Robyn found she very much liked that smile aimed her way.

She reached out, taking his much larger hands in hers. "I had a very good time tonight. Thank you for taking me."


Kento allowed her to hold his hands in hers. Robyn appreciated that he seemed to understand and was letting her go at her own pace. She reached up to lightly kiss him, just a hair shy from the side of his mouth. Kento made no move to do anything further and she appreciated that, too.

When they said their good nights and Robyn had gone inside, she felt lighter than she had all day. She had to bite her lip to keep from smiling like a huge idiot. It was a pretty good night.

Good to her word, their next dates were exclusively theirs. The traditional every-two-weeks Date Night was no more in the wake of official date nights at least every weekend. Kento dressed nicer when they went out and would hold her hand in public. The video game nights mid week stayed the same with sloppy food and sloppy dress, but the other guys were usually invited now, making it a group affair.

It had been five dates now. Kento had lightly kissed her on the mouth after seeing her to her door at the end of the past three. With nearly every other girl he had dated, he made it at least to first base by now. With Robyn, he hadn't even kissed her twice in a row. Kento was fine with going at her pace, but he was starting to wonder if this was going anywhere at all. Or was he going to end up like Ryo in this weird platonic hand-holding limbo?

The upcoming date, Kento decided it was time for him to dictate the next move to see exactly where all this was going. He pulled out the big guns. He took Robyn to a scary movie- which was certainly no small task. Robyn absolutely hated watching horror movies. But Kento managed to get her to agree to one since he saw a super lame romantic flick with her the time before. Even then, he had to constantly convince her that he heard it wasn't really that scary and she should be fine.

That was actually a bold faced lie. He heard this movie was pretty intense and he was sure if Robyn had caught a trailer of it she wouldn't have gone. But they were in the theater now- Robyn making nervous jokes about anything she could think of- and there was no backing out.

The movie was about a woman who moved into a country house by herself. The house is empty upon her arrival, save for a tall body length mirror in the attic. Which she, of course, falls in love with and keeps it in her bedroom. What followed was the usual terrifying apparitions in the reflection, shadows lurking in the corners of the house and a deep horrible secret from the past.

The movie didn't rely too much on the cheap boo-gotcha type scares, which was what Kento was mostly expecting. Instead, there was something about the environment, the cinematography that made everything about the house feel wrong and it was creepy to watch. Even Kento got the chills on more than one occasion. And he spent most of the movie with Robyn plastered to his side, her nails digging into his arm.

She didn't seem sorry at all about the angry red welts she left in his skin when the movie was over. In fact, she was uncharacteristically quiet the entire ride back. The walk up to her apartment was also without words. Kento thought it was because she was still creeped out about the movie. But when she turned to him to say goodnight, he realized that she was, instead, pissed off.

"Uh... you okay?" he asked stupidly.

"Asshole," she said.

"What? Why am I an asshole?"

"You said it wouldn't be that scary! You know I don't like watching those kind of movies! I felt like my life was flashing before my eyes!"

Kento's eyes widened. Did she hate the movie because some of those situations were too similar to things that had happened to her? She was always so light and breezy, he quickly forgot how much darkness was in her past.

"And now I get to go sleep in the dark by myself!" she continued to huff. "Thanks so much for that."

"It's just a movie, Robyn. Nothing's going to happen to you. You're fine."

She didn't look swayed. "Well, I hope it was worth it, two hours of a girl clinging to you." And with that, she promptly whipped around and entered her apartment.

Kento, hardly done with the conversation, stepped in after her. Robyn was already retreating down the hallway as he shut the door behind him. A quick glance around reminded him that he had only been inside her place a few times. Usually, Robyn went down to visit him or they went out. He couldn't recall the two of them ever spending an evening here. The place felt unlived in, almost sterile. As if it were just a temporary space of residence, not a home. Maybe that was how all her apartments felt.

Kento went down the hall and found Robyn in the bathroom, wiping the makeup off her face.


She jumped and squeaked at his presence, clearly unaware that he had followed her in. "Damnit, Kento!"

"Heh, sorry. I thought you heard me come in."

She sighed at his reflection in the mirror then turned around to face him. "What do you want?"

He shrugged a little. "I just didn't want to end the night with you mad at me."

"I'm not mad." She brushed some stray hair from her face. "Maybe a little irritated. But as you said, it was just a dumb movie and you were just pulling the dumbest trick from the dating handbook to get girls to cling to you. It's no big deal."

Kento folded his arms over his chest, an act that made him look even more broad. He closed his eyes, one eyebrow twitching in his classic thinking pose. "It's the only trick I know to get some clinging."

Robyn was smiling though she looked confused. "What are you talking about?"

"I just want you to put your hands on me more, is that too much to ask?"

Robyn blinked at him, and then quickly looked away. One hand covered her eyes as her shoulders shook in soundless laughter.

"Hey, are you laughing at me?" Kento protested.

Robyn burst out in a fit of giggles, wiping the side of one eye.

"Why is this funny to you? I'm being serious!"

She waved at him helplessly, trying to control herself. Eventually, the laughter subsided, though she was still grinning widely at him. "I'm sorry, Kento. I've just never had anyone say that to me before."

"Good. Because if they did, I'd bust his lip."

Robyn couldn't help but continue to be amused. She rested her hip against the bathroom counter. "But if you say it to me, it's alright."

"As long as you're alright with it, I guess."

Her smile changed from mirth to endearment. She moved closer, flattening her palms against his biceps. "There, hands on you. How's that?"

Kento breathed loudly out of his nose. He was tired of taking it at her nonexistent pace. He had spent the past several weeks seeing it from her side. Now it was time to present his own perspective.

He moved in, cupping her neck with strong hands. With thumbs at her jaw bone, he tipped her head up to the angle of his choice and possessed her mouth with his. Held in his immovable grip, he kissed her long and deep- a stark contrast to the light, chaste kisses they had shared before. He pulled away and she tried to speak. Kento cut her off, kissing her again as she emitted a small sound in his mouth. It just made him want to kiss her more.

The second time he pulled away, her eyes had been closed. Her small fist clutched the front of his shirt. Her took her hand in his, prying the fingers from the material, pressing her palm flat against his chest. He skimmed her hand over his pectoral muscle, eyes telling her this was what he was fishing for. As if almost mesmerized, Robyn placed both hands on his chest, fingers splayed as she abraded the rock hard muscle.

Kento swept in to kiss her again, then quickly removed his shirt, tossing it aside. Robyn's hands went back to his chest once more, pale fingers against bronze flesh. Kento pressed in closer, his hips brushing hers. He nuzzled where her ear meets her neck and then gave it a light nip. Robyn gave a shuttering inhale, her eyes fluttering closed. That small sound set Kento's veins on fire.

He grabbed her hips, jerking her flush against him as he hungrily tasted her neck. She squeaked and gasped at the treatment. His strong hands grasped her thighs, hefting her onto the counter. Kento growled with satisfaction as her legs instantly clamped around him, her arms hugging his neck as she finally kissed him back with the ardor he was looking for.

Her fingers raked through his hair, sending his entire scalp into a pleasant tingle. The soft little whimpers he coaxed from her throat nearly drove him over the edge. He had never wanted her so bad until this point. He had to have her, he had to make her his.

His mouth attacked her throat, tasting the flesh, inhaling the scent like a creature of prey. He moved down to her collarbone as she clutched his hair. Then further, nuzzling the swell of her breasts while his hands slipped under her shirt.

It was at that time Robyn let out a surprised squeak and wriggled his arms loose, putting a bony knee in between them to gain some space.

"Woah, just a second," she said in a breathy voice. "That's just a little... a little too fast for me."

Kento closed his eyes, breathing out heavily. He clenched his fists to squelch the urge of his fingers to touch every inch of her skin. He willed his body to calm, his temperature to lower. "Yeah, sorry. I got a little carried away."

She was breathing a bit heavy herself at first. "Thanks for stopping. That was a little more than what I was prepared for."

Kento threw her a charming smile. "But it wasn't bad, right?"

Robyn flushed a little as she smiled back at him. Then suddenly blinked in realization. "Where did your shirt go? When did that even happen? I don't remember..." She flushed brighter, the red plunging down the neck line of her shirt and Kento found himself wanting to chase that blush to see how far down it went. But she had covered her face with her hands and groaned.

"Uh... you okay, babe?"

"Ugh, I'm so bad at these things," she bemoaned into her hands. "I don't know how normal people do this stuff."

Kento moved in, sliding between her knees as he gently removed her hands from her face. "Just stick with me and we'll do things our own way."

She smiled at him, running her fingers through his hair again to brush it from his forehead. Kento hugged her, pulling her close as he pressed his face to her bust. Robyn found she didn't mind at all and continued playing with his hair. Kento breathed her in deep, taking in the scent of her skin as his hands rubbed her back. He did nothing more.

After a few moments of silence Robyn announced, "I'm wet."

Kento raised his head. "Woah, what?"

"There was water on the counter. You put my butt in water."

He felt her ass, and Robyn found she didn't mind that either.

"Yup, so I did. Sorry about that." He gave her an impish smile. "I can help you dry that if you want."

She leaned forward so they were eye to eye. "How about you get your shirt out of my tub, I'll make us some hot chocolate, and you can sleep on my couch tonight to keep me safe from all the ghosts in that awful movie?"

He grinned. "Sounds good to me, babe."

She smiled into his mouth as they drew closer. "I kind of like it when you call me babe." And they briefly, sweetly kissed.

"So, you guys are officially an item now," Rowen announced one day at lunch. "Just thought you'd like to know."

"What do you mean?" Robyn asked.

"When we mention you, it's always Robyn and Kento, Kento and Robyn. You two are one entity now, congratulations."

Robyn paused thoughtfully to wipe salad dressing from the side of her mouth. "Huh. I never thought of it that way. That makes sense, I guess."

"And Ryo's just gonna have to come to terms with this development." Rowen threw a smirk in Wildfire's direction.

Ryo shook his head seriously at Rowen, indicating that what Strata was insinuating was not entirely correct. "I like that you're with Kento," he then said to further prove his point. "He doesn't care when you hang out with the rest of us. Remember that guy who tried to date you when you first moved here?"

Robyn remembered because she still worked with him. His name was Koichi and they had both been hired at the same time. Both were new in town as well so Koichi suggested they hang out together. Robyn didn't mind that at all, but Koichi sure minded when she introduced him to her closest friends. Cye had yet to set sail at that time and Koichi was not pleased she had five protective men in her life.

Koichi had suggested to her that if they were to be in a relationship, she would have to stop seeing these other men so often. Appearances and all that. Robyn's response was that if he wanted to date her, he would be dating all of them as a package deal. To which Koichi never asked her out again.

Kento, on the other hand, knew Robyn was currently out on a lunch date with Rowen and Ryo and didn't care at all. (Robyn called all her outings with the Ronins dates. It started because of Sage. Because she and him had gone to get ice cream and Robyn jokingly called it a date. Sage said he hated the term and thus, since they were friends, Robyn called all outings dates from then on.)

"Of course any man would feel threatened after meeting a group of good looking guys like us," Rowen said. "Though I'm not sure how, out of all of us, you ended up with that big lug Kento."

Robyn raised a brow at him. "If you saw him with his shirt off you'd know how."

Rowen looked a bit baffled at the statement and Ryo thought his expression was extremely amusing. Unfortunately, Rowen was never speechless for too long.

"So, have you seen any other part of Kento?"

Robyn dropped her jaw in a scandalized gasp. "That is so not any of your business!"

"That's a no." Rowen leaned back in his chair in satisfaction. "I'm almost disappointed. Kento usually moves much faster than that."

Now it was Robyn's turn to be speechless and she could not find her voice. Ryo shot Rowen a hard look and Strata sighed.

"Sorry, I'll behave."

Robyn kicked him under the table anyway. When Rowen seemed like he would retaliate, Ryo kicked him, too. Robyn threw Ryo a thankful look for always being on her side. Rowen slid a suspicious glance in Wildfire's direction. He still wasn't swayed that Ryo's affections for Robyn were exclusively platonic.

As they stepped out of the restaurant and onto the street, Ryo had a very distinct feeling they were being watched. Glancing behind him, he didn't notice a thing out of place. Ryo knew better than to ignore that feeling, but at the same time, it was a bright, beautiful day and he couldn't find a single piece of evidence to confirm his suspicion.

Maybe he was being silly. For weeks after Talpa's defeat, Ryo found himself glancing over his shoulder. Even though it had been several years since then, maybe he was just having some weird deja vu and it meant nothing.

Either way, when Robyn's hand found the crook of his elbow, he was happy to have it there. All the better she remain close, just in case.

The three of them had an hour to kill before Kento got off work. Then they were all going to a movie- the latest action flick Kento had been dying to see. Until then, they had planned to wander the streets and window shop. The three of them together goofing around, they could eat up an hour in no time.

As they walked, Robyn suddenly ripped her hand from Ryo's elbow. Usually, that meant she saw something shiny that caught her attention. Ryo glanced behind and it occurred to him that he was the one to break contact, as Robyn had paused while he walked forward. She remained a few paces behind, staring with wide, startled eyes as both ronins looked at her curiously.

"I'm... I'm stuck," she said in a hollow voice.

At first, they had no idea what she meant. Then, upon glancing down, they noticed one of her bare ankles was wrapped in what looked like silver sand. As if the concrete on which she stood liquefied and came to life.

As strange as it was, that seemed to be exactly what was going on as the solid ground at her feet gave way and Robyn began to sink right into the sidewalk. She gave a startled cry as she felt herself being sucked in. Ryo and Rowen lurched forward, grabbing her. Whatever had a hold of her leg was stronger than they anticipated. It took both ronins pulling together to finally yank her free.

Robyn broke loose with a sucking sound as her bare feet were freed. All three stumbled backward onto the ground, Robyn landing on Ryo.

"You okay?" Wildfire asked.

"Those were my favorite shoes!" she growled. Then suddenly hissed, grabbing her ankle.

Ryo gathered her in his lap, inspecting the damage. Raw open gashes had ripped through her flesh in the shape of claw marks. Claws in a shape resembling a human hand. The wounds were starting to bleed and Ryo growled as his temper flared.

"Ryo!" Rowen's call of alarm caused them both to look up as the sinking sands reversed themselves and a humanoid figure began to form. The creature was silver at first with yellow eyes. Then it solidified, the color darkening to a body clad from head to toe in dark green armor.

"Ryo of Wildfire, Rowen of Strata," a voice hissed from the creature.

Ryo scrambled to his feet, yanking Robyn up with him.

Rowen stepped in between his friends and the sand creature. "That's us. What do you want?"

"Nothing from you, ronin. Just that pretty thing you have with you."

Robyn glanced at her friends, wondering what they had with them. Ryo and Rowen were both looking at her. "ME?!" she squawked.

Ryo had her tight now, backing up from the threat as Rowen backed up as well.

"What do you want with her?" Strata demanded.

The thing hissed out a laugh like the whisper of dry leaves. "Revenge."

Ryo had heard enough. He picked up a startled Robyn in his arms, turned and ran. For her part, she blankly held onto his neck, trying to let all this sink in. Beneath Ryo's clothes, she was aware his sub armor had formed. Glancing back, she saw Rowen following behind. This was bad and she had no idea why this was happening or what that creature wanted with her.

Ryo rounded a corner and suddenly, the creature was right in front of them. No, the first creature was still chasing them. There were two!

"You can't run from us, warriors," the second one emphasized the last word in a mocking tone.

Before the ronins could decide how to react, the second creature rushed them, dissolving into a wall of silver sand. The first one did the same, both crashing down on them like a giant wave. Ryo clutched Robyn to his chest as he felt the rough sand bite into the skin on his face. She had far more flesh exposed than he and there was no way to protect her from it.

The sand attacked them from all sides, growing, surrounding them until it felt like they had dropped into another world. The city disappeared and all became a dry, relentless desert in every direction. Then, the sand suddenly retreated and they were back in the city.

Ryo's arms were suddenly empty and he glanced around in alarm. "Robyn! Where is she?" He clenched his fists, his temper flaring again as he raised his head to the cityscape around them. "Bring her back here! You cowards! Come out and fight me!"

"There is only one ronin we came to fight," two similar voices spoke together. The slithering voices seemed to come from all directions at once. "Tell Kento of Hardrock if he wants the girl back, he must defeat us."

Then, as suddenly as they came, the ronins could no longer sense the dark presence. The creatures had gone.

They weren't that far from the restaurant, so it made the most sense to the two ronins to run the few blocks.

"Why is this happening? What are those things and what are they going to do to Robyn if we can't find them?" Ryo asked as they ran.

"I doubt it will be worse than what Kento's going to do to us when he finds out we lost his girlfriend," Rowen replied.

Ryo swallowed at the thought. Kento was not going to be happy at all.

Kento was hosting and running the front of the restaurant when Rowen and Ryo barged in, nearly plowing over a middle aged couple to get through the door. Kento was about to yell at them until he saw their wide-eyed state; the sub armor beneath their sleeves. The fact that they didn't have Robyn with them.

Kento spun around, and it just so happened his mother was approaching him. His serious expression caught her right in the face. "Ma, I gotta go. I'm sorry. I think there's an emergency."

Now, Kento's mother may not have known everything, but she was no fool. And she knew when her son had an emergency, it wasn't necessarily the kind you can call 911 about. "That's fine. Go. And be careful."

Her son threw her a loving, thankful smile, ripped off his apron and took off out the door with his friends.

It was a mere matter of seconds until all three were racing down the street in sub armor, clothes discarded.

"Then they just disappeared," Rowen continued with the story. "And they said they wanted us to get you. It's you they want to fight. Kento, who are these guys and what did you do to piss them off?"

Hardrock's face was grave as he ran. "It sounds like the Sand Strikers."

Rowen balked. "Dais' lackies? Those guys you told us about? I thought you took care of them."

"Me, too."

"So let's find them and deal with them permanently this time," Ryo growled. "Where do we find them?"

Kento suddenly stopped in his tracks and the other two had to quickly put on the brakes or run into him. "Wait. You don't know where they are?"

Ryo and Rowen looked at each other guiltily. "Uh, we thought you did."

Kento dropped his shoulders with a cry of frustration. "How did you two idiots manage to accomplish anything, running around through the Dynasty without me?"

A dual shrug from his compatriots. A deep sigh from Kento.

Then, he felt a tug at his ankles.

"Kento!" Ryo called in alarm. Both he and Rowen reached for him as he sunk into the concrete.

Kento held up a hand to stay their rescue. "I got this guys. I was a kid last time I beat them. I can do it again. These guys are dead. And, depending on how Robyn is when I find her, you two might be, too."

He gave Ryo and Rowen one last warning look before he was completely swallowed by the shifting sand.

It was the same as he remembered it before and Kento took comfort in that. As a boy, inexperienced with the armor and scared, he had still beat them. As a man- confident, strong, well versed in his power- they would be no challenge for him.

Everything disintegrated into a desert world of sand, something beyond the natural plane of existence. Something that existed between dream and memory. And Kento stood in the midst of it, falls made of sand dropping around him from invisible sources. Beyond the sand was blackness and somewhere in the dark, a cackling laugh.

"Come out you cowards, I know it's you," Kento called as he glanced at the darkness in all directions.

"So, he has a new armor," a dual voice hissed from an unknown location. "It will not save you, Kento of Hardrock."

Kento glanced down to see that his armor- the new Hardrock armor given to him by Suzunagi- had appeared around his form without any invitation or fanfare. It was true he had not used this new armor before, but the ronins had all agreed there was something different about them. Something more in sync with them, something more powerful. And Kento was confident, standing armed with Suzunagi's gift as he crouched and waited.

"So, how did you guys survive the last ass kicking I gave you?" Kento called to his surroundings. "I beat you so bad, I thought you guys would have died for sure."

The cocky laughter in the voices disappeared as anger set in. "You know nothing, you fool! We are of sand! We cannot just die like your fragile kind. Break us to infinite pieces and we always merge together again."

"Then why did it take you pansies so long to get back to me, huh? Scared?"

That sickening laughter returned to the voices. "We had to wait until we found the one thing that could truly break you."

A form materialized out of the blackness. A concrete pillar, Robyn fastened to it with her hands tied behind her back. Her clothes were torn and dirty, her skin rubbed raw from exposure to the harsh sand. Her head hung down to her chest, lifeless as red hair flittered in the breeze.

The two Sand Strikers appeared around him as well, laughing. Kento saw red. He couldn't remember ever being this enraged. All other emotions were erased, all other thoughts chased away until there was nothing but death on his mind.

One of the Sand Strikers danced around him, mocking. But the other just stood there. If it had a face beyond that mask, Kento imagined it was smug and he would wipe that stupid look away. Wipe away their very existence from the fabric of time for what they did.

He reached deep down and called his armor. He called upon all its power, willing it to bring forth enough of its might to kill these bastards for good. Kento wanted them dead. Now. But the armor argued back. So much did it fight back against him that Kento's temper dropped for an instant, wondering what was going on.

For a moment, he panicked. Was it going to happen all over again? Would his armor suddenly stop working when he needed it most? But the armor was patient and it hummed gently.

Don't be rash, it whispered to him. Don't forget to look. Don't forget to see what is really there.

Then, Kento remembered. This was no ordinary sand. These were the sands of deception and he could never believe what his eyes told him. As the Ancient showed him as a boy, he reached out and saw what the armor saw.

The Sand Striker that laughed at him, the one that never moved. That one was the illusion. It was really Robyn who he had almost pulverized. The Sand Strikers meant for him to kill her himself. That realization set his temper ablaze once more.

Hardrock turned on the real Sand Strikers, power radiating at his core, sizzling in his eyes. There was no sure kill to call this time. The armor listened and obeyed. Kento turned and attacked. The armor's power ripped up the ground, the very world. The Sand Strikers squealed with pain as they were hit, disintegrating upon contact.

The power died down, Kento breathing hard from the exertion. Where the Sand Strikers had been, there was just a hole ripped through the fabric of the world. In its wake sat a hollow of nothing. Kento let out one last heavy breath. At last it was over.

Then, the cackles started again and ice jumped into his veins. All around him, the molecules of dust in the air swirled and mocked him.

"Fool! We told you! We are of sand! We are infinite, and you are pathetic!"

For the first time, Kento realized every time they used the word 'we' they did not mean the two of them. They meant every little piece. Millions upon millions of grains that gathered and hated and wished for his death.

Kento's eyes were wide in fear as the sand formed itself into the two strikers once again, laughing all the way.

I'm dead! Kento's mind panicked. That was my best shot! Hardrock's armor is the same element as them! I shouldn't have left the guys behind. This is all my fault!

So overwhelmed with his failure, Kento didn't seem to even notice as the Strikers stalked toward him, blades at the ready. They were nearly upon Hardrock when a golden arrow pierced the sand between them. All glanced up to see Rowen, fully armored, standing on a tall sand dune.

"Hey Dynasty goons! Didn't anyone tell you already? You lost the war."

"You should know the Sand Strikers never surrender!" they hissed together.

Rowen was unphased. "There's something you should know about us, too."

A new armor stepped between Kento and the Sand Strikers. Ryo was nearly nose to nose with the Dynasty creatures.

"You mess with one of us," Wildfire said lowly, "you mess with all of us."

The nearest Sand Striker slashed his sword at Ryo. Wildfire caught the blade between his armored palms, his blue eyes churning with their own energy. Then his voice took an even deeper tone as he uttered one world with the entire power of Wildfire behind it.


A heat leaped from his armor, concentrated and intense. It raged hotter than mere fire with the full inferno of angry red lava. The power stuck to the Sand Strikers like sticky magma and they squealed with high pitched screams of pain as their countless grains of sentience all melted and molded to liquid and died.

As the heat subsided, a pool of a foggy glass-like substance cooled and hardened where the Sand Strikers used to be. With a savage growl, Kento stamped it with the heel of his boot, shattering it. A pea green smoke escaped and dissipated like a body's last breath. Then he looked up at Ryo.

"Thanks, buddy."

Ryo just smiled.

Rowen slid down the dune and ran past them. Kento and Ryo followed at his heels toward the only other living being now in this world. With the blade of an arrow, Rowen cut the ropes that bound Robyn's body to the pillar. Kento and Ryo gently caught her in the net of their arms as her weakened body fell forward.

"Robyn?" Kento worried, brushing hair from her face. "Please, come on baby, tell me you're okay."

She groaned as her body came to life and her eyes fluttered open. She smiled weakly at the three warriors and their relieved faces. "Hey guys, I knew you'd come."

Kento caught himself trembling as he let out the breath he didn't realize he had been holding. He forced a smile though he almost felt like crying. "There's my tough girl." He took over from Ryo then, effortlessly carrying Robyn in his arms.

"Oh, your new armors are so pretty," Robyn cooed in a worn out tone. "Tell me what Cye's looks like."

"Maybe later," Kento said gently. "Right now, let's just get you home."

The home Kento referred to was his own. After what happened that day, he had no intention of taking her anywhere else than his apartment. Once he had the door closed and locked behind them, all Kento wanted to do was curl up in a corner, Robyn protectively wrapped in his embrace.

But Robyn needed more than that. She was hurt, filthy, and still somewhat in shock from the experience. She quietly clung to his neck as he carried her down the hall, not allowing her battered bare feet to touch ground until they were in the bathroom. Once there, she stood under her own power, arms wrapped around herself.

Kento left her briefly to fetch a towel, though he hated leaving her for even a second. As he returned, he even disliked the idea of abandoning her to give her privacy to bathe. He hated this whole thing and the part that hurt the worst is that he had no one else to blame for this but himself. If he hadn't fallen for her, the Sand Strikers would have never made her a target to get to him.

This thought plagued him, weighed heavily on his mind as he set the towel on the counter. Robyn was already running the bathwater, waiting for it to warm. She sat on the rim of the tub, gingerly assessing the angry claw marks on her ankle, now caked with sand and grit. The sight made his fists clench until they trembled.

"Robyn, I'm sorry," he said, gaining her attention. "It's my fault this happened. I wasn't there to protect you. I can't always be there to protect you. Maybe... maybe you and I shouldn't-"

She stood up sharply, arms embracing his torso, hugging tight. "It's okay. None of this was your fault. And everyone survived. It's going to be okay."

Her mere embrace took away all the frustration, though the ache in his heart remained as he held her back.

"I just don't like seeing you hurt."

"I'm fine. Don't worry about it."

Kento made a sound of disagreement. How could he not worry? He pulled away with the intention of leaving her to bathe. She stopped his retreat, fingers holding onto the sides of his shirt.

"Where are you going?" she asked in a gentle voice. Then, the one word that made his heart dance. "Stay."

Kento visibly settled at that request, content to remain in her presence for as long as she would have him

By then, the tub held a few inches of water and Robyn stopped the flow. Still dressed, she sat herself on the edge of the tub and stuck one foot in. Then came the other with the angry wounds. Robyn hissed as she introduced it to the water and gingerly dabbed at it with a wet cloth, trying to clean out the sand.

In the meantime, Kento kicked off his shoes and socks, and then rolled up his pant legs. He stepped into the tub and sat on the side next to her. Robyn's focus remained on cleaning herself up. She rinsed her dirty face and then set about scrubbing her arms and legs. Her skin held angry red sand burns everywhere and she winced several times as the warm water discovered all the burns and cuts from her ordeal.

Kento silently watched her as the water at their feet turned murky and brown. Robyn raised her toes out, the water trickling down.


Kento took that as a cue to empty the bathwater. Once drained, he turned on the faucet to fill it with a hot, fresh supply.

"Do you have any bubble bath?" Robyn asked.

"Me?" Kento protested. "I'm a grown ass man. I don't take bubble baths."

"Sad," she said, though her grin was practically laughing at him. Then as an after thought, "I bet Sage has bubble bath in his bathroom."

"Yeah, I bet he does, too," Kento shot back.

Robyn smiled down at the rising water, dipping her toes in it again. Without hesitation, she removed her dirty shirt and tossed it aside. Kento couldn't stop his heart from thudding as she sat next to him in a light blue bra, paying him no mind. Her attention, instead, was focused on the new flesh that had been exposed.

She couldn't see them, but her back was mottled with forming bruises. The Sand Strikers had not handled her gently and Kento's anger flared at the sight, though there was no one left alive to be furious at.

Gently, he touched a darkened splotch on her shoulder and she glanced back to look at it.

"It doesn't hurt," she insisted. "I bruise so easy, it always looks worse than it feels."

"It doesn't mean I like it," Kento grouched.

She looked down at the water. "I know."

"So... are you ready for me to let you get to it, or...?"

Robyn hunched a little, fists clenched on her knees. Her voice was small. "I want you to stay."

Then, Kento realized he wasn't the only one who was scared for her to be alone. And that was alright with him. He stepped out of the tub and moved over by the sink, his back to her. Slowly, he took off his shirt, pausing several moments before going about removing the rest of his clothes in case she changed her mind.

When he heard no protest, he carefully looked behind him. Robyn had stripped quickly and was now in the tub, her knees pulled up to her chest. She wasn't looking at him, but she sat forward, leaving room for him behind her.

Completely nude, he turned toward her. Perhaps he should have moved to cover himself, but he didn't. She wasn't looking at him anyway and, at this moment, it wasn't about that sort of thing.

She did give him one quick glance before he climbed in and Kento cared not what she saw or didn't see. He sat in the water behind her, legs stretched out on either side of her hips. Her arms remained crossed over her chest as he reached forward and enfolded her, pressing her against him. She leaned into his embrace, resting her head on his shoulder, temple pressed to his chin. Kento let out a long breath through his nose and the rest was still, save the running water.

They let it run until the tub was nearly filled to the rim. Then they sat there for the longest time in silence, each drifting in and out of their own personal thoughts. Every once in a while, Robyn would snuggle in closer and he would clutch her just a little tighter. Other than that they did not move and did not speak until the water grew cold.

When they finally decided to get out, Kento led Robyn to his closet and her eyes grew to twice their size when she found all the treasures hanging therein. Despite the fact that it was plenty warm outside, she picked out the warmest, softest sweater she could find and happily put it on. It went down almost to her knees.

Then she went to retrieve her panties, joking that it would probably be bad form to sit around Kento's apartment without any underwear on. Kento paused as she walked down the hallway, taken off guard at how hot he found that idea to be.

That night, they had dinner and spent time on the couch watching TV. Robyn sat with her bare legs flung over Kento's lap. She curled up to his side while he absently stroked her calf. Every once in a while his fingers would drift down to touch the bandage now around her ankle.

They didn't say much that night. All their language was expressed in touches, in closeness; neither wanting to leave the other's side. Then came bedtime and Kento knew they would have to part. If he shared a bed with her, he would need more intimacy than what they had shared that evening. He volunteered to take the couch while she had the bed.

Their good nights were like a tender parting on a several years' journey. They stood at the threshold of Kento's bedroom doorway, his arms around her, her hands pressed to his chest.

"Do you need anything else?" he asked in a throaty voice. His tone and his eyes told her if she needed him, he would not deny her.

There was hesitation, a deep breath drawn out and her fingers twitched against the material of his shirt. "I think I'm okay. Thank you."

Kento kissed her brow and then they said their good nights.

That night he lay on the couch in the darkness, arms folded behind his head, eyes staring at the ceiling and wide awake. He had never experienced this kind of restlessness before. It wasn't so much his brain couldn't stop, it was his body. His veins pulsed with electricity, his muscles continued to shift and twitch.

The young redhead was so close and her presence haunted him. Mere strides down the hall she lay, wearing his clothes, resting in his bed among his sheets. Did the smell of him touch her skin? Would he be able to smell himself on her in the morning? He pictured her stretched out and languid in his bed, among all his possessions. Everything there was his, except her.

Kento growled as he rolled over and breathed out heavily. His whole being radiated with the idea of going in there, pinning her down and making her his. Kissing her, claiming her, putting the scent of him all over her. It took all his willpower to remain where he was and Kento heaved another heavy sigh. It was going to be a long night.

After a few still moments of forcing his eyes closed, his warrior senses took hold, telling him he was no longer alone in the room. His eyes snapped open and he rolled over. Robyn stood over him like a pale apparition, eyes glittering in the meager city light that slipped through the blinds.

"Robyn?" he asked, sitting up on his elbows. "You okay?"

She continued to stare at him like a creature visiting from far beyond. Then she moved, sitting herself on top of him, straddling his hips. Kento continued to look at her questioningly, but she said nothing.

Large green eyes never leaving his, her fingers found the edge of his shirt and she slid it up his torso and over his head. His arms were still locked in the sleeves and Robyn pushed the material down to his elbows and left it there, binding his arms behind him. Kento allowed himself to be bound, though he could free himself any time he chose to. For whatever reason, she needed to feel he was restrained and Kento submitted to it.

Robyn's eyes now wandered over his bare chest, drinking him in inch by inch. Kento let her look all she wanted. He felt he should speak to break the silence, but something about the look in her face stayed his voice in his throat.

Finally, her gaze wandered back to his face and they locked eyes once more. She reached out, splayed fingers running through his thick hair, massaging his scalp. Kento closed his eyes at the sensation, her touch soothing every restless raw nerve in his body. Her fingers traveled lower, rubbing the base of his skull, then his shoulders. She touched his chest, palms firm as they ran up and down his skin. Kento heated and melted against her hands.

When her touch retreated, Kento opened his eyes again. His body was warm and ready, and he stared at her with question in his face, wondering what she wanted from him. Robyn's response was to lift the oversized sweater over her head and toss it aside. She sat atop him completely nude, her pale skin glowing with an unearthly light. All the abrasions she received from that day were lost to the darkness.

Her hands then returned to him, abrading his taunt abdominal muscles, which quivered under her fingers, before she touched the hem of his shorts. Kento took that opportunity to free his arms from his shirt and Robyn didn't object. With eyes never leaving hers, he raised his hips, helping her remove the last bit of clothing between them.

When she settled on top of him now, skin to skin, Kento finally touched her back. His broad, strong hands cupped her thighs, lifting as she raised up and slowly lowered herself onto him. Her arms went around his neck, her whole body stiffening and she gasped when he entered her.

For a moment, they were still; him breathing deep, her sucking in air in short gasps. Then they moved together, foreheads brushing. Kento had her in an ironclad embrace, crushing her to him, face in her neck as he breathed her in with sharp intakes. Robyn cradled his head to her, fingers clutching his hair, her mouth open in a silent gasp.

There was no sound but pants and deep intakes, and the hush of the couch fabric as they clung to each other, their movements desperate and needful. They rose and fell together as something more than just physical passed between them. Something raw broke and bled; and healed.

They crashed and collapsed together, foreheads touching again as they breathed out and shivered. Robyn closed her eyes and let out a shuttering sigh. The sound pinged deep in Kento's heart, making it ache. He smoothed the strands of hair from her face, caressing her checks and jaw with his thumbs while their noses brushed.

She folded in upon him, her presence shrinking as she hid her face in his neck. Kento enfolded his arms around her, pulling her in against him in a warm embrace. He stroked her hair, ran his hands comfortingly over her back and arms as her skin cooled.

Then she shivered in the chill of the night and Kento picked her up in his arms. He carried her back to his bed where he joined her under the blankets. Robyn curled up against his side, legs tangled in his. She flung her arm around his torso as if to prevent him from leaving. But this was exactly where he wanted to be. And the warm body next to him lulled him into a fitful and satisfying sleep.

Months passed and spring came around again. With it, a certain scientific vessel pulled into shore after a year's journey. They were all there when Cye took his first step on a Japanese pier. He saw Kento and Robyn standing hand in hand, their fingers laced together before Robyn broke contact and raced toward him.

She pounced Torrent with an excited squeal, hanging around his neck and gushing over how great it was to see him again. She asked a million questions, never giving him a chance to answer before firing off another one.

Behind them, Rowen glanced at Kento with a smirk. "Hope you get used to playing second fiddle for the rest of your life."

"Dude, shut up," he shot back before joining the two at the edge of the pier. With a happy growl, he bear-hugged them both, lifting Cye and Robyn in the air together.

They all laughed as the others moved in and talked excitedly together. Amidst the salutations, Cye threw Kento a knowing smile, to which Hardrock only shrugged. Cye could be smug about it if he wanted to. Kento still felt, with a glance toward the happy redhead, that he won this one.