Author's Notes: Welcome to our shared project. As fellow fans of both Ronin Warriors and the horror/comedy genre, we decided to bring you a story of hot boys, Japan and monsters. This fic is an alternate sequel to "Demons in the Doorway" and also includes Willow's OC Regan who appeared in an equally old fic "One Flew Over the Robyn's Nest" which you can still find on my Samurai Reflections website. Though reading it is not necessary to understand what is going on in this story.
I do however greatly encourage you to check out Willow's other Ronin Warriors stories. You can find a link to her FF account in my author favorites.
By: Ghost of the Dawn and Willowsandgables
Ryo checked his phone again, frowned at the lack of messages, and shoved it back into his pocket once more. Despite all the noise of the busy airport, he clearly heard the familiar chime from Kento's phone, indicating he had received a new text message.
Sighing, Hardrock pulled out his cell and glanced at the message. Another heavy, agitated breath escaped him as his phone sounded another new message before he could even finish reading the first one.
"How many ways do I have to tell her to leave me alone before she finally gets it?"
"Your ex?" Rowen asked. "I thought you blocked her."
"I did! She changed her number and she texts me from her friends' phones." Right as Kento finished speaking, another text was intercepted.
Ryo, with his empty phone, all but scowled at Hardrock.
"Hey, believe me, Ryo, if we could exchange problems, I would in a heartbeat," Kento told him. And his phone dinged again. "God damnit, Fumi! Leave me alone! It's over!"
"Give me the phone," Rowen offered, extending a hand. "I'll respond for you."
"No way, Rowen." Kento took a step back from his taller friend. "You'll just make it worse."
Rowen grinned as if that had always been his plan.
"Maybe you weren't clear with her," Mia suggested from where she sat next to Cye, her fingers entwined with his.
"I was as clear as I could be. I have told her we're done in every way I know how—in every language I know. She's just... so crazy, Mia."
"That's not nice to say."
"But, it is quite accurate, love," Cye insisted in a gentle voice. "You only met her that one time. You never got to experience the real Fumi."
Mia looked around at the murmurs of agreement from the other Ronins and didn't push the issue further.
Kento's cell pinged again and he made a frustrated noise while simultaneously looking fit to slam the phone on the ground.
"Their plane just landed," Sage announced. He sat on the other side of Mia and had been watching the flight boards the whole conversation.
"Yeah, tell Fumi you can't talk right now, you're meeting two hot girls at the airport," Rowen told Kento.
Kento grinned back at him. "And you're supposed to be the smart one."
Robyn stared at herself in the busy airport bathroom mirror as she ran a comb through her hair, desperately attempting to not appear like she hadn't just sat through a ten-hour flight. To her left, she could also see the reflection of Regan, her best friend of the past six years, watching her impatiently.
Robyn threw a dark look at her friend for a quick second. With Regan's taller, dark beauty, a little disheveling from the plane only made her look better. Robyn momentarily despised her friend.
"I don't want to look like I just washed up on shore," Robyn said. Like I probably did the last time I came here, she thought to herself.
"You look fine. They're going to put the luggage out any minute, you don't want to keep your man-tourage waiting."
Robyn glared again. Regan never did pass up an opportunity to tease her over the fact that she had been mooning over these five men since she first left Japan. All five of them, according to Robyn's fangirling, were the most perfect, amazing people on the face of the planet. At the thought of seeing them after six years, her heart began to flutter, making her chest feel too small. This torture had gone on and off the entire flight over.
"I am so nervous. Half of me wants to jump right back on that plane. Tell me I'm being ridiculous, Rae."
"You are being ridiculous," Regan said in a firm voice. She grabbed her shorter friend's shoulders and bodily steered her out of the bathroom. "I have put up with you yapping about these guys for years. If you bail out on me now, I'm filing for a friendship divorce and taking you for everything you've got."
Robyn sighed as she allowed herself to be guided out of the bathroom and into the massive walkway. A sign written in both Japanese and English loomed ahead, pointing to the escalator that would take them down to the baggage carousels.
Her heart flip-flopped again with urgency. They were here, in this building. In mere seconds she would be able to see them. But what exactly would she find on their faces? Would there still be tiny threads of disappointment and anger?
Robyn had been a dumb kid when she fled from Japan in secret. If she had a chance to do it over, it would have been different. Maybe she still would have returned to the states, but it wouldn't have been the same way. She knew she left her friends very angry and confused, and she did not look forward to facing up to her mistakes. She did not want to find out how they would treat her now—even though she would most assuredly deserve it—and leave her memories of their happy faces smiling and untainted by what she had done to them.
They were at the carousels now, passing one after another. The airport was extremely busy and people from all over the world were everywhere. It would be difficult to find familiar faces among the crowd. But as the girls approached the carousel designated for their flight, it was easy to pick out that group. So much familiarity all gathered in one spot.
"There they are," Robyn said to Regan, nodding in their direction. She hoped Regan didn't notice it took some real effort to force air out of her lungs. It was suddenly so hard to breathe. She barely detected the supporting hand of her friend pressing briefly against the small of her back.
The boys seemed to notice her all at once and approached to meet them, a united front coming at her. Robyn's mind could barely process it. All five of them were there and her eyes flitted over each one at an almost panicked pace.
All too soon they were right in front of her and Robyn steeled herself to give them a normal, proper greeting. She wanted to rush at them all and gush like the smitten idiot that she was, but she wasn't sure they would appreciate that. Instead, she held back, put on her best smile, and prepared herself for whatever reception they planned to give her.
"Hey, guys." Her voice shook slightly, despite her best efforts.
No sooner had those words left her mouth then Kento stood before her, his impressive bulk taking up all the space around her. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the ground with a, "Finally!"
That warm embrace burst Robyn's bubble of trepidation. All the fear leaked out and only his warmth remained.
She laughed, a relieved, joyful sound, and hugged him back. "I know, right?"
As soon as Robyn pointed these people out to her, Regan was prepared. She had her phone out and was already recording as one of them lifted Robyn off her toes in a bear hug. By the time he put her down, Regan to could tell that shell of protection Robyn had been building around herself the entire flight had shattered.
The second the redhead was placed back on the floor, she attacked the next one with an excited, high-pitched "CYE!" Immediately she was fawning shamelessly all over him, cooing over his height, his hair, how handsome he had grown, and Regan couldn't fight off a smile. Cye took the flood of compliments with tolerance until he could get a word in.
"Robyn, you remember my fiancée?" He gestured to a tall, striking brunette standing next to him.
Robyn pulled away, only slightly embarrassed at being caught gushing over someone else's man. "Oh, of course! Mia, congratulations!"
The two women hugged.
"I'm so glad you came," Mia said.
"I am, too," Robyn admitted.
Regan continued to film the scene, unnoticed by everyone else. She had heard about all five of these young men from Robyn over the years, but it was difficult to take them all in at once like this. From Robyn's reaction, she finally knew who the infamous Cye was; the best friend, the light of her life, the little boy savior who continued to mean so much to Robyn, no matter the distance. The blonde one, of course, had to be Sage. The other three... she couldn't quite put names to the faces just yet.
There was also a whirl of Japanese going around the group as each one of the guys took their turns to greet her. Regan had been trying to learn the language but was still very much a novice. She could only pick out a familiar word here and there, so she didn't try very hard to follow any one thread of conversation. The gist of the scene, however, was very easy to interpret.
Robyn's reaction left her as an open book, her joy and relief apparent at being reunited with her old friends. Regan expected that of her, and was glad to see it after the hours and hours of quiet worrying and uncertainty from the past day. Robyn was good at hiding a lot of emotions, but never her exuberance for anything or anyone. That was why Regan was filming. Robyn was so cute when she was around something she loved. Even more entertaining was going to be her embarrassed response when she watched this video later.
What Regan wasn't expecting, however, was the reaction of the five men to her presence. From Robyn's stories, Regan imagined a dorky, teenage Robyn trailing this group of guys who merely put up with her to be nice. When she talked about them all, they gained near mythic status; demigods hanging around a mere mortal. But this…this reunion, in the middle of the airport, told a completely different story.
As Robyn unselfishly showered each one with praise and affection, these guys seemed to drink it up. They softened visibly at her presence, especially as her eyes watered with happy tears. They basked in her attention, looking very content to be near her again. Despite the noise and bustle of the airport, there was a profound sense of completion now that they were all together. Regan had a feeling her first assumptions about these relationships had been all wrong.
As the dark-haired girl continued to film, she tried to take the five in one at a time. She was going to have to remember all the names and faces, so might as well start now trying to tell them apart.
As the camera wandered from one to the other, however, Regan began to notice that all of Robyn's friends were extremely good-looking. She slowly took each one in, taking note of their physical features, their heights and physiques.
She quickly glanced up, her cheeks a bit rosy at the thought of being caught ogling.
"Turn off your phone and come over here," Robyn admonished.
Regan sheepishly shoved the phone in her pocket and did as she was told.
"Okay, let me introduce you to everyone," Robyn said, starting with the man their left. "This is Ryo." Ryo looked the most Japanese out of the group, though he had startling blue eyes that would never find true justice on Regan's little phone recorder. "This is Sage and Rowen." These two were near the same height and the tallest of the group. Though they seemed like night and day standing next to each other. Rowen nodded at her with a large grin while Sage merely blinked in her direction. The latter seemed quite detached and only softened his cold demeanor slightly when Robyn first greeted him.
"This, of course, is the amazing, wonderful Cye." Robyn moved on, hugging him around the waist with one arm. "And his gorgeous fiancée Mia."
"I'm going to be the one easiest to remember," Mia said with humor.
Regan couldn't help but chuckle, partially in relief. Mia seemed to speak perfect English. Despite Robyn's assurance that all her friends spoke enough English that she could communicate with them, Regan had worried it still might be difficult for them to understand each other. Now she was feeling a bit better about it.
"Last one is Kento," Robyn then said, gesturing to the man on the far right. He wasn't all that tall, but his broad chest and arms sure did an impressive job of taking up all the room around him. The
guy looked like he could bench press a horse.
"And this is Regan," Robyn finished up with the introductions. "She's awesome, be nice to her."
"So, you're the reason Robyn's out here right now," Kento accused of her. His English wasn't quite as good as Mia's with his gruff Chinese accent, but he was still understandable.
"Uh, yeah?" Regan replied in a small voice, unsure of how to read his tone.
"Good. If she had her way, we'd probably see her a day before the wedding and she'd be off before the ceremony was even over."
Robyn gaped. "I'm not that bad."
Robyn said something to him in Japanese that just made him laugh. Then the baggage carousel began to spew out the flight's luggage and both turned their attention to that. Regan caught Cye looking at her and he mouthed a "Thank you" her way. She smiled and nodded.
Cye had been looking forward to this day for the past three months, and even when he held his oldest, dearest friend close, he still couldn't quite believe it was happening.
It had been six long years since her sudden departure. He had honestly begun to convince himself that if they ever saw one another again, it wouldn't be until they were well into their thirties. Now that he was getting married, he knew he would have seen Robyn for the wedding in September, and it would have had to be enough to tide him over for the next six years or longer. But having the opportunity to visit with her as often as he wanted for nearly six whole months was beyond the scope of what he had imagined. This woman, Regan, was to thank for that and he hoped she, too, would have a good time here in Japan. Enough to make them want to come back again.
"Thank you for taking care of Robyn for us," he said to Regan as he helped the girls fish out their several articles of luggage. "I know you have done a lot for her and she speaks very highly of you."
"We look after each other," Regan replied with a smile, then smirked. "Though I'm jealous there were five of you to put up with her. When there's just one of me, she can be a bit of a handful."
Cye's ocean-green eyes lit up with humor. "My condolences. I should have sent along some care instructions."
"That would have been helpful."
"Standing right here, guys," Robyn grouched, gaining their attention. "And I'll have you know neither one of you are a walk in the park either. You're lucky I love both of you dorks very much."
They each grinned at her as Kento picked up a very heavy-looking suitcase with ease. "This the last one?"
"I think so." Robyn inspected the pile, making a mental inventory.
"So, one of those bags has the goods, right?"
Robyn didn't know what he meant at first, but then laughed. "Oh, yeah, of course! There should be a duffel somewhere with all the cookies."
"What cookies?" Regan asked, looking up.
"You know, all those Girl Scout cookies I bought for the guys," Robyn replied as she dug around.
Four years ago, Robyn had sent the guys Girl Scout cookies for the fun of it, and was surprised to immediately get a response asking for more. Then she felt their abject disappointment that those amazing American treats were seasonal. Since then, every one of them—even Sage—put in an order weeks ahead of time, and hounded her until the boxes were shipped to Japan. This time, it made her feel good to deliver their order in person.
"The cookies that were sitting on the kitchen table when we left?" Regan asked with brows drawn.
Robyn stared at her friend. "No, I put them in the bag. Didn't I?" The color drained from her face. "I swear I packed them."
The wave of disappointment that flooded through the group was tangible. Everyone seemed to be picturing a pile of forgotten cookie boxes left on the counter so, so far away.
"You left them?" Rowen's voice was full of hurt and betrayal. "I e-mailed you yesterday to remind you!"
"I did, too!" Kento blurted. "How could you forget them?"
"I know, I know." Robyn rubbed her forehead in worry. She had pretty much received a reminder from everyone to bring them. These guys were serious about their Girl Scout cookies and she had let them down big time.
"No, no. I distinctly remember, I put the boxes in the blue duffel," she insisted. Then looked desperately to Regan. "You grabbed that bag, right?"
Regan's face was as stone. "I didn't know we were bringing that bag."
Robyn fell apart right before the other woman's eyes. "Rae! If we packed all those bags, what would make you think we wouldn't be bringing that one? Why didn't you say anything! Why—just... I can't even..."
Robyn looked fit to tear someone's hair out, hers or Regan's, it was anyone's guess. Cye put a gentle hand on the redhead's shoulder.
"It's okay, Robyn. You can send them to us later." He glanced as his comrades. None of them looked happy at the situation. They were all trying hard to bravely school their disappointment.
"Six months later?" Robyn's voice rose an octave. "No, I can't believe I left them! I just—"
Regan was now smiling, holding up a blue duffel bag.
Robyn stared at her, wide eyed, with fingers clenching and unclenching as if ready to do physical harm. "Regan Sundari, I will kill you!"
At that point, Regan broke down laughing. "Your faces! Oh my gosh, Robyn! You looked like you were going to have a heart attack!"
"I was!" she barked back, stealing the bag away from her ex best friend. Robyn hugged the duffel to her chest, feeling the comforting sharp points of the cookie boxes pressing against her. "Thank God. Don't scare me like that again, you ass."
"Relax, Robyn, you're fine," Regan insisted, still extremely amused. "I wouldn't let you forget your cookies."
She looked up at the rest of the group to see that Robyn wasn't the only one glowering at her because of her prank. Mia, however, seemed to share the amusement of the joke while the blue-haired guy—she had forgotten his name already—had that universal 'damn, she got us good' look that was both sheepish and somewhat impressed. But the others were definitely glaring at her, especially Kento, who was giving her an impressive stink eye.
Regan grinned and said, "You've decided you can't trust me, haven't you?"
"Damn straight," he shot back. "You don't joke around about those cookies. That's precious goods you've got there, and if you forgot 'em, then it's back on the plane for you."
Robyn was kneeling in the middle of the terminal, already unzipping the bag to make double sure the cookies were there. She was treated to the gorgeous view of brightly-colored boxes.
"Yes!" Kento then announced, snatching up a box of Samoas and tearing into them.
"Don't give them to Kento!" Cye protested. "He's going to eat them all before we even get to the car!"
Now more collected, Robyn handed the duffel to Cye for safe keeping. "That's Kento's box anyway. If he eats them all he just won't have any for later."
At that cue, the group all helped to grab different articles of luggage before they trouped to the parking lot. In the underground lot, it was quieter and much easier to hear Kento's phone ping twice from his pocket. With a cookie still in his mouth, he paused to check the phone.
This caused Ryo to pause and do the same. Once again, his disappointment showed when he found no new messages.
"I'm going to text her again," he announced.
Kento swallowed his mouthful. "No you're not, Ryo. It's time to let it go. She's not texting you back. You're just going to end up being her creepy stalker."
Wildfire looked appalled. "No, I'm not."
"Then leave her alone."
"But I just want to talk to her!"
"That's it," Mia cut them off, standing in their midst. "This is not phone time, this is family time. Give." She held out her hand and Ryo, used to following her direction, obediently handed over his phone with a huff.
Kento's cell pinged again and Mia turned her attention on him. "Yours, too."
"Ugh, come on, Mia! Stop treating me like a kid!"
"Phone. Now, please."
Even Hardrock wasn't immune to her authority and dropped it in her hand with a frown.
"Now go." Mia pointed to the direction behind them where their blond companion was headed to his car. "You're both with Sage."
The two warriors looked at each other, but neither had it in them to argue their case. They slouched off to do as they were told.
All bags were packed in the trunk by the time Mia returned to her own car. She sat herself in the driver's seat as everyone else piled in: Cye in the passenger side and Regan and Robyn in the back. Rowen suddenly slid himself in the back as well, squishing Robyn in the middle with an "I'm coming with you guys."
Cye looked mildly annoyed at the extra passenger, as he still did from time to time on issues involving Rowen.
"I don't blame you," Mia said. "Between the two of them, I'd rather be in this car, too. Poor Sage."
"Why? What's going on?" Robyn asked.
"Girl problems," Rowen grinned.
"Both of them?" Robyn asked in surprise.
"Before we get into that," Mia interrupted. "Where are we going?"
"Oh! I've got the address on my phone." Regan dug it out of her pocket and swiped through the screen before handing it to the driver.
Mia then promptly put the address in her GPS system. "I'm going to send this address to Ro—" She stopped herself, reminded that Rowen was in her car. And the other two didn't have their phones, so... "Poor Sage," she repeated as she texted him the address.
"He can handle it," Rowen said. "If he can handle me, he can handle anything."
"Took the words right out of my mouth," Cye muttered.
Mia chuckled as she started the car.
"So, girl problems," Robyn said, tugging on Rowen's sleeve. "I want to hear about this."
Rowen seemed amused at her interest and was all too happy to dish. "Kento's been trying to break up with his girlfriend and she's having none of it."
"That girl he's been dating? Why is he leaving her?"
"Don't even make that sympathetic face, Robyn. You weren't there. They were dating for over a year, they gave it their best shot, but it was not a healthy relationship for either of them. And now we're seeing just how destructive and crazy this girl is."
"Yeah?" Robyn asked, wondering just how bad it was.
Rowen grinned. "Remind me to tell you some stories."
"So what does Ryo have to do with it?"
"Ryo has his own problems. There's this girl he has been dating for almost two years. We thought he was going to marry her. Then, out of the blue, she leaves him."
Robyn gaped, appalled that any girl in their right mind would drop one of her guys. "She left Ryo? What's wrong with her?"
Rowen shrugged. "I'm not sure if Ryo even knows. He keeps trying to talk to her about it, but she's having none of it. We're trying to get him just to let it go. But you know Ryo, letting go is not something he does easily."
Robyn nodded, almost absently. Her boys were all grown up, getting married and having girl problems. She suddenly felt immature and young, as if they had grown up without her on this island country while she stayed the same.
"Got a text from Jude," Regan announced as she checked her phone. "Wanting to know if we made it to Japan okay."
Rowen nodded in her direction. "Boyfriend?"
Robyn grinned. "That's her brother."
Regan laughed at her phone. "Jude says to let all of you know he won't take kindly to any inappropriate behavior towards his Robyn."
Rowen raised an eyebrow at the redhead. "Boyfriend?"
Breathing out loud and wistful, Robyn said, "Oh, to be one of the many, many who have dated Jude. Yes, that is my goal in life."
To that, Rowen placed an arm around her shoulder. "Well, you can tell Brother that Robyn's none of his concern and she is in very capable hands."
Regan decided to do one better and quickly snapped a picture of the two—to which Rowen snuggled in even closer. Robyn tried to look merely tolerant, but the truth was that she greatly enjoyed Rowen's proximity and to hear his voice again.
With a grin, Regan sent her reply and it was almost instantly responded to with a row of exclamation marks. She showed it to Robyn and they all laughed.
In the front, Mia glanced at Cye, taking note of the contented smile that played on his features. He had not said much, but everything else about him spoke volumes. To Cye, his family was complete now and he couldn't be happier. Mia smiled as well, happy that he was happy.
It was Regan's job that had brought her to Japan, and with her, she brought Robyn. As such, her company had a small two bedroom townhouse for the girls to stay in for the duration of the project. The building was nicer than either of the girls expected. The style was still Japanese, but the amount of square inch per room resembled Western housing development.
"This place is so empty," Mia complained as she stepped inside with the girls. Yes, the building was nice, but it didn't have a scrap of furniture.
"Eh, we'll be okay until we can pick up some stuff," Robyn said as she looked at the wide, open space of the living room. "I've slept in worse."
"It's going to get a little better," Kento said as he and Ryo brought in piles of blankets and futon mats.
The redhead's face lit up. "Awesome! You guys are amazing."
"Tell it to Sage," Ryo said as they walked past to drop their loads into the bedrooms, "he's the one who's letting you use them."
Sage was in the doorway, setting down the two bags he had in his arms. "We had several extras at the house no one was using, so…"
Robyn hugged him around the torso, cutting him off. "You are awesome."
"At last. My one true goal in life is achieved."
"Guess who else is awesome," Cye announced as he walked in behind them carrying bags of groceries."
Robyn's face of sheer delight lit up the whole room at the sight of food, real food.
"Holy crap!" Regan announced as she noticed what Cye had in his arms. "You brought food!"
"I told you, my friends are amazing," Robyn said as Torrent stepped behind the kitchen counter to unpack the groceries and put it in proper storage areas.
"And I'm buying dinner," Kento announced, checking for his cell, only to find it gone. "Or I would if someone didn't take my phone."
"I'll order," Mia responded to his accusing look. "What are we getting?"
"Eh, it will have to be something cheap. I saw a pizza place just down the road."
Regan, who was standing near the conversation, looked profoundly disappointed. "Pizza?"
"What's wrong with pizza?" Kento said.
"I didn't come all the way to Japan for pizza."
"You still have plenty of time to take in the local cuisine. Just not on my yen."
That was true, and Regan knew better than to complain about free food. She remembered her manners, thanked Kento for buying and went off to haul one of the bags into her bedroom.
As Mia and Kento worked on the food order, Robyn wandered from her room onto the back porch to check out the view. There was a large patch of grass in the back that served as a community yard for several other buildings adjacent to theirs. Hands shoved in the pockets of her jeans, she gazed at the buildings of the city and the thick mountains in the distance. There she stood for several moments; the hum of the people inside behind her seemed as a separate entity from her world as she took everything in.
Eventually, she became aware of a presence behind her before he joined her shoulder to shoulder on the porch. Robyn didn't have to look over to see who it was. Even after six years, she knew the presence of each one by heart. Each one of them came with a power, a certain vibe, and they all felt differently to her.
"What are you thinking about?"
That was new. Sage had never asked her what she was thinking; it was always the other way around. Robyn gave him a quick glance—she still couldn't believe how much taller he had become since last she saw him—and then continued to gaze out at the world.
"I forgot how old this country is. How you can sometimes feel the history of this place like a tangible weight."
Sage had a moment of uncomfortable nostalgia as the hairs on the back of his neck went up, something that would happen from time to time when in her presence. As a teenager, it unnerved him. As an adult, he recognized what he was feeling was an uncanny kinship to the way she perceived the world around her.
"I can understand that feeling," he said softly. "Sometimes the city feels so..."
"Restless," Robyn ended for him. The two looked at each other in surprise at the sudden common ground they could never find when they were young.
She quickly shrugged off her shock as fast as it came. "It just makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up sometimes. Weird, I know."
Robyn quickly turned and stepped back into the house, leaving Sage slightly wide-eyed outside, one hand aloft in the air as if meant to stop her retreat. Not even an hour in this country, and she was already throwing him curve balls again. He never could get a real grasp of that girl; who she was, what made her tick. It really wasn't that different from why Sage and Rowen remained friends. As annoying as Strata could be at times, Rowen was a constant surprise. Sage could never guess what was going to pop out of his best friend's mouth and that was why he liked him.
Now Halo had one more opportunity to embrace this girl for what she was instead of judge her. He hoped this time he would do it right. Stepping back inside, he almost ran into Ryo as Wildfire walked around the townhome, pausing to check the lock and glance out at the green space the other buildings shared.
"It's fairly enclosed," Sage said.
"Locks are pretty flimsy," Ryo commented. He shut them inside, flipped the lock, and reopened the door. "I'll pick up a bar to keep this shut, just in case."
"I'll bring something from the dojo."
"Everything okay?" Regan asked. They were speaking in Japanese so she couldn't understand what they were saying, but the way they spoke had her concerned.
The two glanced at each other.
"Uh, we were just talking about the locks," Ryo answered for them.
"They're just being safety freaks, it's how they show they care," Robyn cut in, grabbing Regan's shoulder and steering her off down the hall to continue moving bags. To the boys she hissed, "The locks are fine, the neighborhood is fine. Don't mess with this house, we don't own it."
To that, Sage's mouth ticked up a little while Ryo gave her a mock salute. "Yes, ma'am."
The doorbell rang, and Kento brought the pizzas inside a moment later. They sat in a rough circle on the tatami mats amidst the luggage and bags, a few boxes of Girl Scout cookies scattered among the pizza boxes. Robyn happily wedged herself between Cye and Ryo, feeling the earlier negative thoughts plaguing her dissipate as the room filled with the sound of their voices, seeming to burst at the seams with their presence.
"I'd be happy to take you both to some places to find nice, inexpensive things to make it feel a little more like home," Mia offered the girls as they tucked in.
"Thank you, Mia," Robyn said with Regan echoing the sentiment, "that would be fun! But I don't know how much we'd want to take in. We'd either have to ship it home, give it away or sell it. You didn't buy much on your last assignment, did you, Rae?"
"No, nothing that couldn't fit in one suitcase. It was a much shorter project, though."
"What work do you do that brought you to Japan, Regan?" Cye asked.
"I work for a design firm as an architectural engineer."
"Nice." Rowen lifted his slice of pizza.
Amused, Regan lifted hers in thanks. "The office here is a branch of the same company I work for. A few times a year, project managers within the firm will put out a call for an international team to work for a client, and when this project showed up last fall, I put together a portfolio for a spot on the team."
"What's the project?" Rowen asked.
The brunette's face brightened. She put down her pizza, gesturing as she talked. "It's an apartment complex, but the client wants a lot of communal spaces added to it, like a library, a solarium, and a rooftop community garden. He wants each floor to have a different architectural theme, hence the international team. The challenge is keeping the building costs low enough to maintain affordable rent so it's accessible to a wider socioeconomic range, so part of my job is taking the creative ideas of the architects and finding ways to make it work in the most cost efficient way possible." Regan stopped herself when she caught Robyn grinning at her. A little embarrassed at geeking out, she composed herself and finished quickly with, "So I'm here for the duration of the construction." She paused, glanced around and then added, "I think it's Robyn's turn to share."
"Yeah, what's it like in a day in the life of Robyn?" Cye asked.
"Ugh, boring," the redhead snorted. "I work, I eat, I sleep. That's pretty much it. Right now, not even working, so I'll be looking into that as soon as we get settled."
"Anything specific in mind?"
Robyn dug around the pizza boxes. "Meh, I'll take whatever. It will just be something temporary. You know me, I'm flexible."
Cye opened his mouth to, most likely, give his usual Cye-like motherly advice, but Robyn beat him when she caught the eye of Halo sitting across from her.
"Sage, did I hear correctly that you got your business degree?"
The blond nodded. "Yes. I am also taking over the dojo soon."
"He uses his degree to play the stock market," Rowen added.
"Kendo, correct?" Regan asked. Sage nodded. She didn't feel comfortable asking him anymore questions, so she turned to Cye. "Robyn mentioned that you spend some time in the ocean for your job."
"He saves the whales," Rowen mumbled between bites of pizza.
"He saves more than whales," Mia shot back, playfully swatting Strata.
Cye rolled his eyes. "I work in marine research and on the veterinary team at the local marine wildlife rescue."
"He's in the ocean all the time, anyways," Kento remarked. "Might as well make some money while he's at it."
"What's that like?" Regan asked, intrigued.
"Incredible." Passion that echoed Regan's earlier gushing lit the man's face, turning his boy-next-door good looks into something striking. "I recently got back from a four week outing in the Okinawa Prefecture, where there's a beautiful coral reef system in need of protection." As he elaborated, Mia watched him with a fond smile and Cye's arm eventually found its way around her shoulders.
Robyn nudged Ryo on the shoulder, and when he leaned toward her, she whispered, "They're so freaking adorable!" Wildfire, who had been uncharacteristically quiet the entire time, merely smiled and nodded.
Robyn watched as that dark brooding face he had been wearing earlier fell back in place and she nudged him again. "Everything okay?"
He smiled at her, though it was pained, and shrugged his shoulders. "It's fine," was all he said.
Probably the girl problems Rowen mentioned earlier. Robyn wanted to ask, but she felt it wasn't her place to get into his business, especially fresh off the plane after being gone for six years. Instead, she just leaned her head companionably on Wildfire's shoulder. When Cye finished talking about his work, Robyn reached out with her foot and nudged Kento on the leg. "You're taking over the restaurant, aren't you?"
"Got a few more years before that, but yeah, I'm doing a lot more behind the scenes work for Ma."
"Family restaurant?" Regan guessed.
"Yup. You ladies come by, I'll hook you up with some good food. Might not be Japanese cuisine, but it'll get the job done." He winked at the brunette to let her know he was kidding.
"It's so yummy," Robyn confirmed.
"Girl, you haven't had it in six years, how would you know?"
"Did everyone in your family forget how to cook?"
"You know, he still never cooks for us," Rowen lamented.
"You never cook for anyone either and I damn well know you can," Kento fired back. Rowen smirked at him unapologetically.
"Always the same excuse when it's your turn," Cye said, his eyes sparkling with humor.
"I have a class to teach," Kento and Cye mimicked at the same time. Mia's laughter rang out.
"I do!" Rowen insisted.
Sage dabbed his mouth with a napkin and said, "One class, Rowen."
"Does my research mean nothing to you people?"
"Are you a full professor now?" Robyn asked, her voice wobbling in an effort to contain her laughter.
Rowen was still giving Sage a dirty look when he answered. "No, I'm an adjunct assistant. I primarily do research in theoretical physics. Which is time-consuming, mentally taxing work that none of these peons understand."
"So much more important than saving lives, like Ryo," Kento jabbed back.
Robyn's gaze swung to the raven-haired leader. He looked down at his pizza, a little self-conscious at Kento's phrasing. "I'm just an EMT."
"Just?" Robyn and Regan said simultaneously. "That's an amazing, important job, Ryo," Robyn said, squeezing his arm.
"Don't shortchange yourself," Regan added. "How long have you been doing that?"
"About four years. I volunteer at the local fire station, too."
Robyn suddenly snorted at that, mystifying Regan.
"Ryo had an obsession with fire back in high school," Robyn explained.
The brunette chuckled. "Am I looking at a reformed arsonist?"
"He never reformed," Rowen said.
"You guys suck," Ryo told them and everyone laughed.
Mia next took her turn to explain what she did with her time and Regan was curious about her.
The only woman in this group of men. According to Robyn, Mia was a few years older than all of them, but the guys had known her while in high school. How they happened to meet, Regan had no idea. Robyn wasn't all that sure either. But clearly, Mia had forged a bond with these men that had only grown stronger with time. Strong enough for her to fall in love with one of them. She even worked at the same university as Rowen—hopefully Regan could remember his name now—in historical research.
Regan then watched Robyn as she drank everyone in like an island marooned survivor given fresh water, and wondered not for the first time at the self-imposed distance that kept her best friend from such a group.
"I don't get to see them all in one place anymore as much as I'd like," Mia confessed, bringing Regan back to the conversation. "Rowen, I think I see you the most often."
"I'm pretty sure you see Cye more than me."
"As it should be," Torrent sniffed.
Mia hugged him from behind, resting her chin on his shoulder. "Only because he lives with me. If he lived in the city, I'd never see him with his crazy schedule. They've called him out in the middle of the night before for emergency rescues. It's hard to get him away from that ocean sometimes." She kissed his cheek.
"Speaking of work," Kento announced as he checked his watch, "I need to go, I've got an early morning tomorrow."
"Same," Ryo said as he stood. "I should be in bed soon."
Robyn popped up as they all murmured similar agreements and gathered themselves to leave. She followed them to the door, hugging them each individually and thanking them for coming.
This time, Kento rode with Cye and Mia—after Ryo retrieved his phone—while the others hopped into Sage's car to be taken to their respective homes.
"That was nice," Mia said as they pulled out of the parking lot. "I'm glad everyone was free this evening. It's not often we can all get together like that. And you all looked so happy to see your friend again. It was cute."
"Yeah?" Kento asked from the back seat with a raise of his brow. Then he shrugged. "I'm just glad she's doing okay and not face down in a gutter somewhere. To be honest, those first few months she left, I half expected to hear that something happened to her."
Cye's silent, clenched jaw mirrored the same sentiment. Mia recalled that time several years ago. All five of them had really been in a snit over it. Quite often they would show up at her house either alone or in groups to vent and blow off steam out in the wilderness. Mia had half a mind to hunt that girl down and give her a good talking to back then, but that was long ago and everything had moved forward for the better it seemed.
"Robyn was actually looking real good, don't you think?" Kento then asked.
Cye nodded, inwardly quite pleased she appeared to be taking good care of herself. "You should have told her that. I think she would have appreciated it."
"I'll do it the next time I see her—whenever that is. I'm stuck at work all the rest of the week."
"I was going to take her out to lunch the day after tomorrow if you can manage to get away for an hour," Cye offered.
Mia glanced at her fiancé. "Honey, remember that's the day you have that elementary class visiting the center. And then we were going to look at flowers for the wedding."
"Right," Torrent sighed. "Sorry, love, slipped my mind. We'll figure something out soon."
"Not like she's going somewhere for the next few months," Kento smirked. "We've got time. Just so long as, this time, she doesn't have anything following her here."
Cye frowned, about to tell his friend off for the poor humor. But there was something deep down in his gut that worried about that as well.
Robyn lingered long at the door after they left. She would have loved to bask in their presence all night, but they had lives and jobs they needed to return to. Likewise, she and Regan were going to have a tough next day or two getting used to the different time zone in between unpacking all their belongings. Still, she would be willing to forego all adult responsibilities to be next to them a little longer.
"Awww..." came Regan's annoying voice from behind her. "You miss them already. So cute."
Robyn was still in too good a mood to be irritated with her teasing. "I just wanna put them all in my pocket and keep them forever."
"I don't blame you. They seem like really nice guys. I can't believe how much they did for us already."
Robyn beamed as she finally closed the door and faced the empty but cluttered living room. "I know. They're all just big sweeties, even when they're trying to pretend they're not."
Regan matched Robyn's grin with a much wider one. "And you were trailing after them all like a love-struck puppy. I have never seen you act like that. You had this stupid grin on your face the entire time. I'm surprised you even remembered I was here."
Robyn instantly frowned. "I was not that bad."
"Oh, I have proof." Regan instantly pulled out her phone and brought up the video she had shot earlier at the airport.
Robyn watched the taped reunion in confusion. "When did you even film this?"
"See? You didn't even notice I had my phone out. All you could see was your five boyfriends." Regan laughed in adoration. "Look at your cute little dorky face. You are so happy to see them."
By now, Robyn's cheeks were bright red with embarrassment, but she had no comeback. Seeing them again returned her to that happy haze she had been floating in all afternoon. Then, the camera began to waver from the scene as a whole and wander to each of the young men individually, looking them up and down. It was faint, but there was a soft sound of approval from Rae's voice as the camera panned over Ryo's broad shoulders before settling on his ass.
When the screen landed on Kento, there was an audible "Damn" from Regan as she zoomed in on his impressive biceps.
Robyn was appalled. "Regan! You saw them for five seconds and you were already perving on my friends?"
Now it was Regan's turn to look sheepish. "I couldn't help it. You didn't warn me they would all be so good looking. Even your friend Sage. I mean, you told me he was pretty, but I did not believe until I beheld him with my own eyes. I mean, holy crap, girl."
"I swear I didn't leave them that way."
Regan snorted. "I'm way sure they weren't hags in high school, Robyn."
"The way I love them has nothing to do with their looks." She glanced at the phone while the video continued to play. "Am I even in this anymore?"
"Of course you are, there's your elbow. Oh wait, that's Mia's."
Robyn sighed heavily and went off down the hall to the bathroom. Regan shut off the video and trailed after.
"I'm just saying I don't know why you left this group of good-looking guys who clearly care about you," Regan said as she appeared in the bathroom doorway.
Robyn paused from putting things away in the bathroom cabinet to stare at herself in the mirror. "You know why," she said softly. Then added, "And if I didn't come back to the states, who would look after you? Your brother? Please."
Regan laughed and hugged her friend. "That's right, what would we do without each other?"
The redhead let her head rest on Regan's shoulder as her earlier thoughts about Japan crept back in. "I don't want to know. I really am glad to be back. It's just…"
"Scary. But they seem to have really missed you; you worried over nothing. Now you can enjoy yourself."
"You, too." Robyn drew back and grinned. "All work and no play makes Rae a dull girl."
"Robyn, I can't believe you're quoting a scary movie."
"I live with you, I feel like I've absorbed them by osmosis. Did you take your meds? Jet lag is going to kick your ass if you don't keep track of when you last took them."
Regan waved her off and walked down the hall. "Yes, and I'm fine. I'm not as tired as I thought I'd be, so I'm going to unpack a little, set up the futons your boyfriends gave us, and play music. Sound all right?"
"And make sure you drink water!" Robyn called after her.
"Yes, ma'am! I love it when you boss me around."
Robyn smiled to herself as music began to play from the kitchen in their new home for the next six months. It was still hard to believe she was here, in this old country of her birth, in this place where she had found such dear friends and then left them all behind. Despite her hesitations, she felt blessed at the opportunity to be near her boys again. She wanted to see them smile, see how they've grown and found their places in the world. That would satisfy her, to see for herself that they were happy. She would take advantage of this opportunity and spend as much time with them as she could. And, this time around, everything would be normal.