Author's Notes: Wow, it's been a while! Urban Legend has been taking up all my focus. But Willows and I both recently noticed how long it has been since we updated our respective other fanfics. We promised ourselves we would update soon in the new year. Then she showed me up by posting a new chapter of "Sol" right away. So she got me to get my butt in gear. Hopefully, after this chapter the story will pick up the pace a little and the chapters will come out a bit faster.
The Knight and the Princes
Chapter Three: The Recalibration
Robyn awoke to the shift of a larger body and breathing in her ear. Her eyes opened to find herself surrounded by slumbering male forms, all of them placed haphazardly around her as they slept on the floor. It was Ryo who dozed in her ear, their heads right next to each other, their bodies pointed in opposite directions. To the left of her, Rowen's back was pressed against her side, her arm slightly pinned between them. To her right, Kento's face was buried in her t-shirt, his heavy arm draped over her abdomen.
Robyn lay there silently, watching the ceiling and wondering how she was going to get out from under the pile of bodies without waking them. As if summoned by her mental musings, Cye's head leaned into her view. For a moment, he just stood over her, hands on hips and smiling in amusement at her predicament.
Eventually, he bent over to lift Kento's arm with one hand and pull Robyn to her feet with the other. For a moment, they watched the three sleeping warriors; none of them had stirred. Sage was the only one missing—most likely the first to get up. Robyn then followed Cye out as he padded off into the kitchen. She plopped herself at the small kitchen table and stretched with a yawn.
"How did you sleep?" Cye asked as he sat in the next seat, turning it to face her.
"Pretty good. How about you?"
"Very well, actually. Slept so well, I just got up. Would you like it if I made us breakfast?"
She grinned at him. "You know I never say no to breakfast." The grin remained as she propped up her chin in her palm and watched him. "One of these mornings you'll have to let me make you breakfast."
The look on his face was indiscernible. Then he leaned forward and Robyn pulled him in as he tucked the bridge of his nose against her shoulder. She hugged him, one hand rubbing his back, playing with the hair at his nape. Behind him, standing in the doorway, stood Sage. He seemed to approve as his expression could be described as nearly serene.
"I'm glad you're back," Cye said into her shirt.
"Me, too." She rested her cheek against his hair as Sage smiled at her and she smiled back.
The day continued in far better spirits than the one before. Everyone was optimistic and with high energy as they tackled getting back into the swing of everyday life. More laptops were retrieved and several fingers were working away in various parts of the house in order to catch up on school work.
Robyn began to reconcile with her teachers on her new, sudden residence in Japan. Some readily accepted final papers through the internet, others were not so easy to accommodate such a rash action, but it seemed she was going to make it through the semester okay as long as she did the last of her school work.
Her former roommate Natalia had also gotten in touch by now. Bless her heart, she had wasted little time after stepping foot on American soil in retrieving all the abandoned luggage from the hotel and the important items such as passports, phones, keys and wallets were now in the mail back to Japan. All clothes and other personal effects, including the luggage, would just have to be a wash as none of the guys decided the price of shipping was worth the cost of said items.
Still, it would be a while before the package arrived, so most of the group was still forced to live off Mia's emergency credit card for absolute necessities and guiltily drove without their licenses until then. But the inconvenience of it all was only noticed from time to time as everyone still insisted on staying at the mansion.
As Mia walked into the kitchen, she marveled how full the house felt, even though it was so quiet. Very few words had been spoken in the last few hours as everyone was involved with working on papers, homework and pertinent e-mails. They were all scattered about the house as, earlier, most tried to sit together at the long dinning room table and quickly found they were all distracting each other and had to work in separate rooms if they wanted to get anything done. Mia found it most amusing, though she did not envy them at all. She had enjoyed college herself, but was happy when all the classes were finished and she had her doctorate.
A glance at the clock, as well as her empty stomach, told her it was nearly time for lunch. Feeling lazy, she merely set out some assorted fruit, chips and ingredients for sandwiches. The boys could grab what they wanted and get right back to work, hopefully continuing to avoid distracting each other from their school work too much.
Just as she left with an apple and a few chips in her mouth, Rowen appeared from the opposite doorway, rubbing the muscles of his back. He had gotten so into the research of his physics thesis, he hadn't noticed his horrible, hunched posture until he sat up to look at the time. Now he was regretting it as he attempted to knead the muscles between his shoulders while he eyed the spread on the counter.
As he moved to make himself a sandwich, Rowen felt little fingers poking him in the back. Robyn's voice made little robotic beeping sounds as if she were punching a code into a key pad.
"Hello," Rowen said, glancing behind.
"Boop, beep, boop," was her response, still pressing her fingers into his back. He found the action felt good to his sore muscles, which was probably her intention. She was always weird about touching them, as if she wanted contact, but thought they wouldn't like it if she initiated it. Though Rowen couldn't speak for the others, he didn't mind her touching him in the least. After that night, he understood there was a healing element to physical contact and that Robyn probably craved a friendly touch far more than she ever dared ask for it.
"Hungry?" he then asked.
Robyn joined him side by side at the counter. "Always."
He laughed, knowing that feeling of perpetual hunger. It was something that came with a metabolism such as his. The two set about making their sandwiches and filling plates. Their arms brushed as they worked and Rowen took a moment to recall the night before, how Robyn had such a difficult time asking for physical comfort when she needed it so badly. She always had a tough time asking for anything for herself.
Just in case she needed it again, Rowen spontaneously hugged her from behind, his arms draped loosely over her shoulders, his chin resting on the top of her head. Robyn paused momentarily at the contact, but then continued working on her sandwich without trying to remove him. After a while, Rowen became aware of a subtle, but growing change and it made him hug her tighter. He pressed his face into her neck with a deep sigh.
Now that caused Robyn to pause even longer. "You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah," Rowen said, his voice with a note of wonder. "In fact, I feel fantastic. Yesterday, if I even got close to you, my chest would get tight like I was about to have a panic attack. But today..." He tightened his hold. "It's like hugging pure sunshine." At that moment, Sage was noticed watching them in the doorway. "Sage, come over here and get some of this."
"I'm a 'this' now?" Robyn joked.
"Come over here and hug Robyn."
Sage approached, but didn't look too amendable to the idea.
"Seriously, I need an impartial party to confirm," Rowen insisted. "Just try it."
With all the dignity he could muster, Sage formally rested his arms lightly on Robyn's shoulders. She just stood there, staring at the chest mere inches from her nose. After a moment, Sage made a noise of pleasant surprise and pulled her in closer so his shirt now pressed against her cheek.
"See?" Rowen said with a grin. "It's nice."
"I wonder why that is," Sage mused out loud, not letting go.
"Maybe it's because you guys are pretty much my favorite people in the world," Robyn said into his shirt. Her hands floated up as if wanting to hug him back, but hesitated in mid air.
"Oh, just hug him," Rowen said, taking her by the arms and putting them around Sage. "He pretends he minds, but he really doesn't."
Robyn put her arms around him, hugging him as tight as she dared—just a little tighter than he was hugging her. Though what she really wanted to do was hug all five of them as hard as she could and never let them go.
Rowen came in from behind her, hugging them both and squishing the redhead between the two male bodies. The three stood in silence for a time, the warriors basking in an inner warmth they couldn't quite define.
"You guys have gotten really tall," Robyn's muffled voice said into Sage's shirt. Each had been taller than her in high school, but now they had surpassed the height of their fellow warriors and Robyn's head barely made it up to the chin of either ronin.
Rowen looked Sage in the eye as he smirked. "Sage doesn't like to lose, he keeps trying to catch up to my growth spurts. He's been growing by sheer willpower alone."
The female body between them vibrated with laughter.
"Any reason this is going on?" Cye asked as he walked into the kitchen and motioned vaguely at the three of them.
"Cye, check out these happy vibes. Come hug Robyn," Rowen called.
Cye just smiled at them. "I already know exactly what you're talking about."
The phenomenon, as well as the testing of it, went on for the rest of the day. Robyn quietly tolerated—even enjoyed—all the attention as each of the ronins took turns being in her space. First was the mere discovery as Rowen insisted every one of them get close to her to see if they felt the same thing. It was a unanimous consensus from all five that there was definitely something going on.
Mia was brought in for the moment as the warriors tested on her if they felt the same. Though more hugs were certainly welcome, none of them received the same warmth from the brunette that seemed to be radiating from Robyn's body that day. And a hug from Mia to Robyn confirmed that only the five warriors were experiencing this strange sensation from being near the redhead.
When the majority of the testing was finished, Robyn sat on the couch with Ryo's head blissfully in her lap. Rowen perched himself on the arm of the couch next to her, jotting down in a notebook and making a rudimentary chart.
"I'm going to keep a record of this," he informed her. "Yesterday: close proximity resulted in negative emotions, racing heart and general anxiety. Frowny face. Today: very calming when in the close vicinity, and lots of warm fuzzies upon physical contact. Happy face. You, Robyn, were very anxious yesterday and it was as if we could feel that anxiety from you. And today-"
"Today I feel fine, but 'warm fuzzies and pure sunshine'? I don't know if I feel that good. It's just relief. Kind of calm. You guys are definitely getting more from me than what I'm feeling." She glanced down at Ryo who was practically purring while she idly ran her fingers through his thick bangs. He had more color to his cheeks today and his fever seemed to be completely gone now. "Maybe a lot of it also has to do with you guys just feeling better. You've had more food and rest now, of course you're going to feel better than when we first got back home."
"No, Robyn, it's not just that. There's definitely an extra something going on. It's more like sitting next to a heater on a cold day versus just being in a warm room. Tell her, Ryo."
Without opening his eyes, he replied, "It's like laying on top of White Blaze while he's purring, but more so."
"Kay..." Robyn replied.
"I wish we could explain it better," Rowen said. "I wish you could feel it, too." He suddenly frowned at the realization that this was a one-sided experience.
"It's fine. I believe you. I do feel good. Being here with you guys, knowing nothing bad is coming, all of us just here together, it feels like home. I'm happy being here. I feel like I made the right decision to stay."
"Of course you did," Kento insisted as he came into the room. "Scoot over, my turn." He slipped himself in between Robyn and Rowen's arm rest. Ryo was forced to sit up to move and make room. He looked a little annoyed at that, but Kento cared not as he threw his arms around Robyn and pulled her in. "Ugh, why does this still feel amazing? When I'm not around it I want to be. What sort of witchery is this?"
"That's what I'm trying to figure out," Rowen said as he jotted a few more things in his notebook. He leaned close to Kento, as if gauging any sort of happy vibes from him before taking a few more notes. "This has to be more than just getting some food and a good night's sleep. There must be a specific factor to triggering this phenomenon."
Robyn opened her mouth in response, decided against what she was going to suggest, and closed it again.
"Yeeees?" Rowen asked, catching her actions. "You were going to say something about that?"
She began to enter into that familiar hunched posture, despite Kento's arms around her shoulders. She would always try to fold into herself when she began to feel unconfident about what she was about to say or do.
"This is kind of dumb," she said softly, looking at her hands clenched in her lap. "But last night, when we were all done talking and everyone was asleep, I kind of prayed... or hoped—whatever you want to call it—that I could make everyone feel better. It was hard listening to you guys last night. Yes, I had a hard time, too, but I don't remember it that well. All of you remember it and I could hear it in your voices: how you're still frustrated and heart sick and just so tired. I wished I could think of some way to make you all feel better. At least, I didn't want to be the source of any of those negative feelings just because I was having a hard time, too."
"So you wished on a star to make things better," Rowen said flatly. "And now you generate sunshine and happiness with your very being."
Kento and Ryo snorted at the same time. The latter flinched, holding his aching side as he tried to suppress a few chuckles.
"I don't know, Rowen! It was just a thought."
"It's an interesting thought," Strata added and scribbled something else in his notebook.
"Either way, we appreciate it when you think of us," Ryo said softly. He leaned closely against her other side, their temples nearly touching.
The sound of Cye clearing his throat caught everyone's attention and they all suddenly noticed Torrent standing in front of them, fists on hips. "Guys, what did I say about being too touchy with her? This is starting to look a little questionable."
"Platonic touchiness, we promise," Ryo sing-songed back, grinning and not moving away.
"Maybe this is not such a selfless act as Robyn has tried to explain," Rowen ventured thoughtfully. "Maybe this is a very selfish thing to get us all to keep manhandling her all she wants."
"What?" Robyn squeaked, her face going red. "I wouldn't! That's not... that's not it at all! I'm not that kind of person!"
"No, you're not," Cye agreed. And with a sigh, he dropped onto his knees next to her and folded his arms in her lap, resting his head on top. "Might as well make the most of it while we can, I suppose."
"You're not helping," she complained, but rested her fingers in his hair. Cye made a soft noise of contentment and didn't move.
"As I said," Kento put in, "when you're not near her, you want to be. Right Sage?"
Halo, who had been skulking around the back of the couch, trying to subtly drift nearer, balked at being caught and flushed a little. "Maybe."
"You guys," Robyn sighed, face still so much redder. She suddenly wished she knew how to turn it off.
Robyn closed the back door slowly, as quietly as she could as to not make a single sound. As much as she loved being back with her friends, they were getting a little too overbearing. It was nearly impossible to get a single moment to herself. Rowen in particular kept wanting to check her "temperature" as he called it every hour. The rest just kept coming up with excuses to be close to her.
For the first little while, she enjoyed it, then she began to feel stifled. She was used to being alone. She needed a little time to think, to breathe. The second she saw an opening, Robyn took it and slipped out the back of the mansion. She thought she heard a male voice calling her name as she silently shut the door, but she wasn't about to answer it.
It seemed she had made it this far undetected. Just as she was about to turn to step off the porch, she was aware of another presence and jumped.
"Oh, White Blaze, it's just you," she sighed in relief. The tiger approached and butted his massive head against her thigh. She patted him in return. "How about it? Do I give you warm fuzzies, too?"
White Blaze just yawned and sat on his haunches, daintily scratching at an ear with his hind foot. Robyn scratched it for him, causing him to lean into her hand with a sigh of contentment. There was another voice calling from inside the house and Robyn remembered she was trying to flee and quickly scooted off the porch and made for the nearby trees. After one more glance at the house himself, White Blaze stalked down the steps to follow her.
The two wandered off into the foliage, following a worn path that wandered around the lake. It was a stark contrast to the bleak, futuristic city of Tokyo where they both had been trapped for two months. The sun was brighter, warmer; the air fresher. There was the rustle of birds in the bushes and Robyn caught herself panicking as if she expected to be hunted. No unnatural monsters skulked the woods here, she was safe. It was a relief to feel so safe. So many people in this world took that simple feeling for granted.
Thinking of the future Tokyo reminded her of her selective amnesia. It reminded her of a world where she had no recollection of the amazing people she had in her life. It was a terrifying existence to have no one, demons or no, and she was so grateful the ronins came for her, despite how smothering they had been lately. Now she was back with them, back where she belonged. And though she was safe, a new kind of panic began to form as she took a moment to let the weight of her reality truly set in.
Her decision to suddenly stay in Japan meant she had just abandoned everything she owned. It was all just gone, left far across the sea. She now had nothing to her name. Everything she had worked hard for over the past year: her job, her apartment, furniture, clothes, friends. She gave them all up without a thought. Granted, she hadn't been allowed much time to make the decision, but now the panic was setting in; that fear that comes from hasty choices, whether they are the right choice or not. What if her important documents got lost in the mail? What if she was never able to access her bank account from here?
"What about my cat!" she suddenly exclaimed out loud into the woodlands around her. White Blaze looked up curiously from sniffing the bushes. Her hands went into her hair as a new kind of anxiety set in. The apartment had been ransacked when Natalia was kidnapped. The cat may have ran away. She had abandoned everything and left it a whole continent away.
The self doubt began to take over.
"Arg! I'm done!" Kento's voice echoed through the silent mansion. Cye looked up from where he sat on the couch in the main area as Kento came in from one of the other rooms. "My eyes are done, my back is done. My brain is done! No more homework today!"
"The more you do now, the sooner you'll be finished with all of it," Torrent said.
"I know, I'm trying, but I just can't do anything else right now. I need a break." He cracked his spine and then stretched his arms over his head. "I need some fresh air."
Cye went back to typing on his laptop. "See if you can find Robyn while you're out there. I don't think she's in the house."
"Eh, where ever she is, she's fine," Kento said as he walked toward the kitchen where the back door was. "This place is the safest place we've been for the past several months-slash-four days."
Cye smirked a little as he heard the back door shut. But then it quickly opened again.
"I need a laptop!" Robyn announced into the house.
"You can use mine in a minute," Cye called from the living room. He heard her enter a moment later as he tapped away on the keyboard. "Just a few more things I need to get down." After a while, he became aware that Robyn was pacing around the room in agitation while she waited. "You okay?"
She gave out a worried laugh as she continued to pace. "Just having a bit of a personal crisis. It suddenly hit me how I left everything I own—nearly my entire life—in another country and I didn't go back to clean up my mess." She worried around some more, running fingers through her unruly hair. "It's all just sitting there and I abandoned it! I left Natalia to deal with all my stuff, all my problems. I'm a bad person."
"You are not a bad person," Cye said patiently as he watched her stalk back and forth.
She covered her face in her hands. "I feel I made such a rash decision. I wish I had more time to think about it. Even though I know I would have made the same choice." She lowered her hands and looked at Cye. "I want to be here, with you guys."
He smiled at her. "For the record, I'm glad you stayed. I think the others feel the same way."
She managed a weak smile, though the trepidation was still palpable.
He tipped the laptop toward her. "Still need this?"
"Yes! Oh my gosh, yes, I need this." Robyn quickly plopped herself next to him. "I want to check in with Natalia. I think I'm going to be a wreck until I get all the important stuff squared away. Oh man, I need to get a job soon!"
Cye placed his hand on her shoulder. "It will be fine. Take a moment to breathe. We've all had our lives uprooted and stopped in their tracks. I know yours was a little more extreme than ours, but we're all going through it. And we're all going to take it one step at a time. Step one is that we're all still recovering from everything we've been through. It's time to allow ourselves to heal before jumping into the real world. Don't put so much pressure on yourself right now. Step two is finish school work. Worry about wrapping up the semester and then I give you permission to think about jobs and everything else."
Robyn inhaled and let out a deep breath through her mouth. She looked at the thick bandage that still adorned Cye's arm. They had all been through a lot, but Robyn had never adhered to the concept of rest after difficult days. Her world never left room for it. When something bad happened, when something suddenly uprooted her, she had to carry on the next day if she wanted to survive. That's what she was used to. Resting and waiting was... stressful.
Taking the laptop from him, Robyn dove right into a somewhat panicky e-mail to Natalia about the current situation of all her worldly possessions—including the apartment they rented—and what should be done about it all. It drove her nuts that she couldn't just text her ex roommate about these things and receive a quick reply. Even if she had her phone, she wasn't sure if either of their plans covered texting to and from Japan. She would just have to send the e-mail and wait for a response.
Robyn was in the middle of her e-mail, trying to make sure she covered every pertinent topic, when Rowen draped himself over the couch behind her. He wrapped his arms around her neck, face next to hers. Then he pulled back with a frown. "What's going on? It's not there any more. The warm fuzzies are gone. Robyn, what are you doing?"
"Gotta e-mail Natalia," she replied, not looking up from her furious typing.
"You just e-mailed her this morning."
"But I wasn't thinking this morning. I have so much crap I just dumped on her and we haven't talked about what she's going to do with the apartment, or all my things, or what happened to my cat. There's so much stuff I have to talk to her about. I just let her go home alone and deal with everything by herself."
Rowen looked thoughtful and then referred to his notebook. "4:15 PM: Warm fuzzies gone. Subject having anxiety; probably from talking to Cye."
"This is not my fault," Torrent insisted. "I've been trying to calm her down."
"Clearly, you are terrible at it."
Robyn gasped with comic exaggeration. "Cye is amazing! You shut your lying noise hole, Rowen!"
Rowen just returned to his notes. "Possible solution to get back the warm fuzzies: must return subject to a more relaxed state."
"Not gonna happen until I get all my stuff figured out," Robyn insisted. "I made a very hasty decision yesterday and now all the consequences are piling on top of me."
"Just keep reminding yourself that you're not here alone," Cye offered. "We're all supporting you. We all want you here."
"Not that you should have left in the first place," Rowen added.
Cye slapped his arm, making Strata jump away from the couch. "What Rowen means is that there's always been a place for you here with us. And there always will be. Whatever you need, we'll help you do it, okay?"
Robyn smiled. "Thanks. That makes me feel a little better."
Mia came home from work later that afternoon, putting in a short half day before the weekend. Apparently, it was a Friday. Everyone else at the mansion was still trying to get their mental calendars back in order. Upon returning home and finding everyone still camping out inside, she announced brightly that she wanted to see the armor's powers in action. Most agreed to the distraction willingly, eager to take a break from school work.
It was nice to step out in the afternoon sun and stretch sore backs and cramped fingers. Though still early spring, the heat of summer was already headed their way. Robyn, who was perpetually on the chilly side, was the only one who felt she needed a jacket to fend off the slight breeze.
Currently, Kento was taking his turn, giving Mia a small demonstration of what he could do—far away from the yard and the flower beds, of course. Mia watched with rapt attention as he created small, but deep fissures in the ground and then closed them up again. He built up a tower of dirt and then pushed it flat once more.
Then, since they were very close to the edge of the lake, Cye sprayed him and Mia with a bit of water.
"Hey, show off!" Kento barked as he and Mia both jumped at the icy splatter. The lake certainly wasn't feeling the warmth of the incoming summer yet.
"Mia said she wanted a demonstration, I was just demonstrating," Torrent insisted with a playful quirk of his mouth.
Kento made a quick gesture and Cye's feet sank into the ground up to his ankles. He squawked with surprise and fell backwards onto his butt. Mia ran for him, but did not check on his welfare as Cye first assumed. She was more enthralled with the dirt, marveling at how seamlessly Cye's feet were now a part of the ground.
"How did you do that, Kento? Did you make the dirt turn into quicksand?"
Hardrock took a moment to consider the question. "I don't... think so. It's more like I just asked it to be loose and then I packed it back together."
"In the blink of an eye," Mia marveled. "No sure kills to call out, just a quick motion of your hand. And Cye didn't make any motions that I saw."
"I did a little," Torrent admitted. "Maybe we can control the elements without moving our bodies, but it just makes it feel easier when we do."
"Like how you always jerk up the game controller when you make your character jump," Kento teased.
"He does do that," Mia remembered with a giggle.
Cye grinned back, being a good sport. "Yes, well, you do what you can. Care to let me go, Kento?"
As Hardrock released his teammate from the earth, Sage observed from where the rest of them stood in the yard. "We give Mia enough leeway with this and she's going to reduce us all to science specimens. We'll be running tests and trials with our powers for her in no time."
"She's not the only one," Robyn said with a glance to Rowen.
"Nothing wrong with having a curious mind and wanting to understand how something works," Strata defended. He then suddenly glanced at Ryo. "Speaking of which, I never got to see your bullet holes. Show me."
"Oh! I wanna see them, too," Kento called as he heard the last of the conversation. He and Cye both eagerly approached as Ryo lifted his shirt to show off his new battle scars. All the ronins' inner ten-year-olds groaned and oohed at the carnage and Ryo was proud to show them how the bullet came in one side and left out the other. None of them had seen bullet wounds before. None of them really considered the idea that one could live through them if one was ever shot.
"They still look a lot better than they did when we first got home," Sage insisted.
"Feel better, too," Ryo added as he pulled his shirt back down. "A couple more days of healing boosts and I'll be up for sparring with our new abilities."
"Oh, man!" Kento exclaimed, suddenly excited. "I didn't even think about that! We get to find out who's the best at our powers. I'm gonna beat all your butts."
"Only you would get this excited about fighting after we nearly died fighting just a few days ago," Sage said.
"Come on, you like it," Kento said, ribbing Halo in the side with his elbow. "You're the only one of us who fights for sport. You know as well as I do it's fun when we're not worried the world's going to end and everyone's gonna die."
The corner of Halo's mouth ticked up just a smidge. "Yeah, and we'll see who beats who's butt."
"Yeah! That's the spirit!" He clapped his taller friend on the back.
"Okay, then, you're up Sage," Mia said, eyes still sparkling with excitement. "Show me what you can do."
The lively conversation of the new armor powers, constantly stoked by Mia's questions and enthusiasm, stretched long into dinner conversation. All five warriors were right on board with her. It really was fun to take a moment to talk about this new development in the armors without the weight of the world's fate bearing down on them. It was nice to be able to have a moment to appreciate the amazing new powers they had and even lament over what had been lost to gain them.
"I am really missing our subarmors though," Rowen said. "We all could have used that extra protection in the last fight. I feel very exposed without it."
"Tell me about it," Ryo chuffed.
"Yeah, man," Kento chimed in. "I swear Hardrock deflected a bullet when we were in New York." He made the sound effect of a ricocheting bullet. "Too bad we aren't allowed to at least manifest the subarmor when they got to keep the big stuff in Falnan."
"Well, the subarmor, is part of the main armor, isn't it," Cye reasoned. "If the armor is sealed away, the subarmor is going with it."
"But if you're able to tap into the armor's power, why not be able to at least 'borrow' the subarmor when you need it?" Mia mused. "Perhaps there's still a way to call it, you just need to learn how."
"Well, the warlords didn't seem to know how and they had been living with the sealed armors for hundreds of years," Sage pointed out. "So it might be safe to assume it's impossible."
"Never hurts to try," Ryo said.
Sage smiled at him. "I knew you would say that."
Ryo shrugged. It was his nature to never give up and accept his fate without trying.
"Robyn," Cye cut in, gazing across the table at the redhead. "Are you feeling okay? You're not eating."
The redhead glanced up from where she had been absently stirring her food, but didn't stop what she was doing. "Just feeling a little stressed. I'm not very hungry." With the somber silence that followed she insisted, "I'll be fine. I'm not starving myself. Don't worry about it. I've eaten all day, I'm just not hungry right now." She added a little smile toward the table. "As you said before, we're all together, it's going to be okay. I just need some time to get my situation figured out. And it's going to be a little stressful for a while."
"You do know you can always go back," Mia offered. "There's still a ticket in your name."
Robyn dropped her chopsticks and covered her face. She didn't want to hear that. She didn't want to hear that after she had been agonizing about her decision that she could just pack up and leave at any time and all this would be over. At the moment, her biggest fear was that if she took the easy way out and returned to the states, she would never manage to get back to Japan again. There was something terrifying about that thought and she just couldn't handle it anymore.
"Excuse me," she said as she quickly left the table and retreated back outside.
Everyone tried to leave her alone that night as Robyn seemed to want her space. There was no more talk about going back to the states or all the overwhelming things that needed to be taken care of.
Upon getting ready for bed, Cye found Robyn already in the bathroom, brushing her teeth as he reached for the toothpaste himself. She regarded his entrance with a raised brow, as if worried of what he was going to say to her while her mouth was too full of foamy paste to talk back. Cye could feel the stress leaking from her. Earlier, when Rowen complained about the lack of good vibes coming from the redhead, Robyn had merely felt neutral. Now, it was slowly returning to how it was before. Cye could feel her anxiety seeping into him, making his heart jump. It was a horrible feeling.
"I'll use your ticket," Cye announced to the bathroom. "I will go back to Oregon. I will take care of whatever you need me to, and then I will come home. You don't have to leave."
Robyn's hand paused and she stared at his reflection in the mirror. She bent down to spit and rinse, leaving her damp toothbrush on the counter. "I will... keep that in mind," she said carefully.
Satisfied, Cye took his turn at the counter, brushing his teeth. Robyn hadn't left yet, but he didn't really notice that as an odd thing. Not until she hugged him from behind.
"Thank you for offering," she said against his back. "Just knowing that's an option makes me feel so much better."
Cye couldn't respond with a mouth full of paste, so he just continued brushing. Robyn continued holding him. And that cloying anxiety slowly melted away into something neutral again. Then, the warmth and calm from that morning returned and Cye was content to have her near him for as long as she would stay. She let him go when he bent to spit and rinse and backed up when he moved to leave the bathroom.
"Anything else I can do for you?"
Robyn looked thoughtful; nearly seemed as though she had another task for him, but then shook her head. "You have done so much already. I think I'm good for right now."
He quirked a smile at her. "Alright. Good night then."
She remained in the hall watching him as he retired to his bedroom and shut the door behind him. "Good night, Cye."
The nightmare came for him, as it sometimes came for all of them when they were least expecting it. Even long after the fight was over and everyone was safe. Even if they had been safe and calm for several days, it would still find them like some random happenstance.
The fever was the part Rowen hated the most. It got in his veins, made his heated muscles restless and achy. It messed with his head, breaking the synapses like corrupted files as it replayed past memories to him incorrectly.
Blood. There was so much more blood than he remembered. It dripped heavily from her lifeless body as she was suspended by her wrists far too high for him to reach her. He cut her down with an arrow, the body heavy and feeling boneless as he caught it in his arms. Suddenly he was pounding her chest, frantic as her heart stopped beating.
Rowen's body jerked in his sleep even though his subconscious knew she was still alive and all this was over. In his dream, the wounds were worse, the body just one big open sore that devoured the whole torse. As he palpitated her chest, trying to force her to breathe, blood would splash back into his face.
"Don't die on me!" he screamed. "Come on! Robyn!"
In the back corners of his dream, something stalked the halls outside his bedroom and he felt the presence as keenly as if he could see it. Someone wandered soundlessly into his room.
Blood splattered his face again and Rowen was instantly on a rooftop, surrounded by squat demons, their arms blades larger than a thing their size should have been able to hold. A female form in a cloak stood nearby and Rowen saw her just in time to witness one of the creatures slash deep into the face of her hood. Unnatural amounts of blood gushed from inside.
Suzu! Rowen ran for her as the body fell. He reached the prone form, turning it toward him to look in the hood. All that remained of the face was an open, festering slash of bleeding flesh.
Rowen sat up with a gasp, eyes popping open right as Robyn jumped back from his sudden movement. She looked as though she was reaching down to touch him before he jerked upright. The two stared at each other, made visible by the light of the full moon shining through the window. All was bathed in a blue filter, devoid of its true color.
Robyn's voice came as barely a whisper, aware there was one more sleeping body in the room. "Are you-"
Rowen grabbed her wrist and jerked her to him, cradling the back of her head with his other hand as he pulled her close. Robyn didn't fight him as they fell back into the bed. He was hot and sweaty from his fever, trembling. His heart still pounded from his dreams. She slid under the covers with him, one arm draped loosely over his side. She silently hoped those good vibes the guys kept talking about were working now as she pressed her forehead to his collarbone and they both fell asleep.
Though a Saturday, Mia still found herself getting up early. Sometimes it felt like her internal clock was in competition with Sage. If he was up, it insisted she get up. When the house was empty it was so much easier for her to sleep in on the weekend. But, since she was up, Mia padded into the kitchen in a robe and slippers and set to work heating both coffee and tea for the household. She only managed to beat Sage into the kitchen because he always took time to make himself look more presentable while Mia had no qualms wandering around in the morning in her pjs.
As usual, Halo had little to say if there was no need to exchange important information. He only engaged in small talk when necessary in social situations with people he did not know well. As Mia's place was practically a second home, he did not feel the need to engage on the type of good morning banter he found to be pointless and trivial. Mia understood this and was just as content to sit in his silent company while she sipped her coffee and booted up her laptop to check the usual news feeds and social media.
The two sat companionably for a good half hour before Cye came in. "Robyn's not in her room," was the first thing out of his mouth.
"She's up sleeping with Rowen," Sage responded from the lip of his cup. When Cye's brows furrowed in suspicion he continued to explain. "He was tossing all night, probably having fever dreams. I was about to get up when she came in to check on him. They both fell asleep soon after."
"Why was she wandering around upstairs in the middle of the night?" was Cye's next question. The room she was using was downstairs. Only the ronins were using the upstairs bedrooms. There was no reason for her to be up there, even to go to the bathroom. There was one of those downstairs, too.
Sage just shrugged. "That you will have to ask of her."
Mia watched with amusement as Cye poured himself some coffee and joined them at the table, his focus clearly on the conversation they just had.
"You're kind of a mother hen when it comes to Robyn, aren't you?" she said with amusement.
Cye just raised a brow at her as he sipped his coffee.
"Yes, he is," Sage answered for him. "It's how he shows he cares."
"Anything wrong with that?" Torrent challenged in a mild voice.
"Do you mind if I ask, is this a brotherly love or more a romantic thing?" Mia boldly wondered.
Cye set his mug down on the table, giving serious thought to the question as he stirred his coffee. Out of the two options, neither seemed to properly define how he felt. Certainly there were far more types of love out there than just those two. "Somewhere in the middle, I suppose."
They all looked up when Kento came in and the conversation was dropped. Hardrock grunted a good morning to the room in general before bypassing all hot drinks and immediately rooting around for the rice cooker.
"Making breakfast this morning?" Sage asked curiously. That was definitely not Kento's normal behavior.
"Nah, Robyn said she is. Said she told Cye she would. Asked me to pull out a few things because she doesn't know her way around the kitchen. She'll be down in a bit."
True to her word, Robyn came down a few moments later, thanking Kento who was already preparing the rice. Cye shook his head at both of them. It was like pulling teeth to get Kento to be of any help in the kitchen, despite the fact that he was the only one who actually worked in a kitchen. Robyn asks him once to just pull stuff out and he just keeps on going.
"How's Rowen?" Sage asked without glancing behind him to look at her.
"Still sleeping. His fever's gone, though. Maybe it was just a one-night thing."
"He had fever dreams?" Kento asked. "That's pretty typical. We all get them after a fight."
"Even this long after?" Robyn asked as she cracked some eggs in a pan. "He looked fine yesterday."
"I dunno, it's not like he got sick. It's like an armor thing..." his voice drifted off as he shrugged.
"We think it's just a combination of bad dreams and the armors reacting to our sleep distress," Sage offered. "Using the armors always taxes our bodies and they give out when they give out, hence the fever."
"Ryo always got them the most," Kento added. "Remember when the Inferno armor popped up and we thought Talpa was beat the first time? Ryo had fever dreams nearly every night for a week."
"And some even after," Sage recalled. "The rest of us just had them once or twice."
"What were you doing upstairs last night anyway?" Cye asked, breaking the flow of conversation.
"Rowen called me," Robyn responded. She had pulled out what remained of the fruit by now and was slicing it while the rice and eggs cooked. Mia would have to go to the store soon. Robyn wished there was a way to at least pitch in some money for food.
"I assure you, he did not," Sage said with another sip of his tea. "I was awake, listening to him toss and turn."
Robyn paused. "Huh. I guess I dreamed that. I was still half asleep, but I got up thinking I had to check on everyone and I just ended up at Rowen's bedside. It felt kind of like a dream itself until I woke up to Rowen snoring in my ear."
"You can join me in bed tomorrow night," Kento quirked.
He earned a slap in the side by the back of Cye's hand, then a kiss on the forehead from Robyn as she moved about the kitchen. "If your nightmares are scary, Kento, you can slide into bed with me. I'll protect you."
"What? No, I'm not a chicken or anything. I was just saying..."
Both Mia and Sage chuckled at Hardrock as he pouted.
After breakfast, Robyn made an attempt to actually dress herself, as opposed to yesterday where she bummed around in a worn t-shirt and sweat pants. Her attempts to get into an old pair of jeans from high school, however, weren't going well.
Sure, she had lost a little weight during her two months in future Tokyo, but it still put her nowhere near the weight she was at in high school. She had been a very unhealthy weight, nearly just skin and bones. Robyn's return to the states had her gaining more than just the cliched "freshman fifteen". She had filled out quite a bit and was now having a very hard time fitting into these stupid old jeans.
Sucking in her gut the best she could, she held her breath as she managed to fasten the button and zip the fly. Oh, it was a tight fit. She tried bending at the knees in hopes to stretch the fabric a bit, but the pants had little give. It was already pinching at her stomach. Maybe she could last for at least part of the day.
Robyn stepped out of the bedroom and immediately passed the long mirror in the hall, glancing at herself. Yikes, no. These pants clearly were no longer her size. She turned to retreat back to her room, but Mia had caught her before she could hide her shame.
"Oh dear, those don't fit at all any more, do they?"
"Yeah, I guess not. I just grabbed all the clothes Cye had at his house. I didn't think to try them on."
Mia motioned her to follow. "Let's see what I have that you can borrow."
A look through Mia's wardrobe found some jeans that were too long and high-waisted for Robyn. Mia then suggested skirts instead, to which Robyn hesitated. She wasn't opposed to skirts, but there was still a chilly breeze out and she didn't find having to sit properly in a skirt all that comfortable for just laying around the house.
"I've got some leggings," Mia then offered.
"Sold." Not her first choice of clothes, but it would have to do until she could access her bank account and buy her own clothes.
As Robyn shimmied into some gray leggings under a blue skirt, Mia said, "We've never really talked much, have we? We've only met once or twice though we have a few things in common."
"You mean certain five specific things?" Robyn smirked as she smoothed the skirt down.
Mia smiled. "Yes. And they're very important to both of us. I hope you and I can get to know each other better and become friends."
"I would be okay with that. Sometimes it's a little overwhelming being surrounded by guys."
"I know what you mean," Mia said with a laugh. "Though I'm glad they have someone else to help support them, someone who is also aware of their armors; aware of how difficult their lives have been."
"I doubt I will fully understand how difficult it was when they were kids. You were a kid too back then, weren't you? And no one had any idea what you were doing."
Mia gave her a knowing look. "I'm sure for you it's not a far reach to imagine what that's like."
Robyn glanced away, catching herself in Mia's large bedroom mirror. "Probably not."
Mia moved to stand behind her, two woman looking at their reflections. She touched Robyn's stringy hair. "This has seen better days. Maybe we can trim it so the ends don't look so sad." An idea suddenly struck her, and because she was eager to create a friendship with this girl she added, "Have you ever thought of getting some loose curls put in? That would look gorgeous. It would give you some nice volume."
"Yeah, I've curled it before, when I have time before school. It looks pretty good. Unfortunately, my hair holds a curl for maybe two hours and then it's gone."
"I think I still have a home perm kit in the closet that I never used. We should try it."
Robyn looked hesitant at the offer.
"Oh, come on," Mia urged with a wink. "Do you have somewhere else important you have to be today?"
Robyn laughed. No, she didn't. She was stuck at this house for days. Might as well find something to occupy her time.
After such a rough night, it was well after noon before Rowen showed his face to the rest of the house. Just in time for lunch. After eating, the girls said they were going to try something with Robyn's hair. The guys ended up wandering outside as a group to enjoy the sunshine. They meandered around the lake as if drawn to it, idly asking each other how their school work was going and who had what left to do to complete the semester.
There was an underlying sense of restlessness about them as they pretended there wasn't. Though they had lost the physical armors, they still felt the current of that mystical power surging through them. It was different than it was before, but it was still the same power. It seemed to urge them to test it, to know it better, to become one with it. But the urge would have to wait. Cye's arm and Ryo's side were still on the mend. Once their team was completely healthy, then they would put in some sparring practice to test their abilities. In the meantime, they would just have to settle for being out and about as a team.
As they talked casually, the group noted Rowen was uncharacteristically silent that day. Usually, his chatty nature drove most of the conversations. But today, Rowen held back, keeping to himself. Often, a silent Rowen was a plotting Rowen. However, he also had a very specific 'plotting face' which was nowhere to be found that day. Instead, he was more thoughtful and would often pause in their walks to gaze at the sunshine glittering off the lake, hands in his pockets.
"So... had fever dreams last night, huh?" Kento asked to try to bring Strata back to the group conversation.
Rowen glanced at him and they started walking again. "Yeah, they were pretty bad. Soaked my clothes and my sheets with sweat."
"But Robyn slept with you anyway."
Kento expected that comment to elicit some sort of smug remark from his friend, but Rowen just shrugged.
"Robyn said she went upstairs to check on you because you called for her," Sage said.
Rowen looked surprised. "Did I? In my sleep?"
Strata's brows furrowed. He was quiet for a moment and then said, "I dreamed about her last night. I saw her body, covered in blood and strung up from the ceiling of that castle. I will never forget that as long as I live." A grunt of agreement came from Cye at the other end of the group. "Then I woke up and she was standing in front of me, perfectly okay and everything was better. And I just fell asleep again. I guess she worked that good-vibes voodoo on me."
"If it even comes from her," Sage mused. "I'm not entirely convinced."
"It's not coming from Mia or any of us," Ryo said. "We all tested it. It only happens when we're near Robyn, so why wouldn't it be coming from her?"
"I'm not saying she isn't the cause, I'm saying she possibly isn't the source. That it has less to do with her and more to do with something in the armors and our connection to their power. Yes, this phenomenon seems to fluctuate with Robyn's moods, but she said herself they aren't quite on par with how she feels. And each time it goes up and down, the intensity is less and less. It feels like something is trying to calibrate itself; trying to find that steady neutral.
"That sensation we have experienced before: when we first encountered the Inferno armor. We felt our armors try to recalibrate from using Inferno. We were all drawn back to our elements to recharge and find our center."
"Yeah, and then you, Cye and I got captured by the Dynasty," Kento reminded. "I don't know if that was a good thing."
Sage merely shrugged. "It was just what happened. But we learned more about our armors from doing that, didn't we?"
The silence that passed through the group was one of agreement. Then Rowen spoke up.
"That doesn't mean Robyn isn't involved in the power now. She died, Sage. Robyn didn't almost die, she did die. We were all there, we saw it. And we've had people die around us before: Anubis, Luna. But for some reason, the armors chose to save her life when they have never done that before. In fact, it was the last thing they did before they were sealed away.
"They used their power to bring her back. There's no way you can say she doesn't have some connection to the armors—to us—and that's not even going into the whole priestess bullshit we had to slog through."
"I don't think I have ever agreed with Rowen more," Cye put in.
"And I'm going to throw something else out there," Kento piped up. "When I was near Suzu, I would get that calming feeling, like everything would be okay. It felt a lot like Robyn's deal."
Sage frowned at that. His suspicious nature had equated Suzu's calming vibe to that of a predator trying to lull their prey into a false sense of security before striking. However, the mysterious woman had not done anything else but try to help and protect them the entire time they were in future Tokyo and Sage felt a bit of guilt for judging her as he did.
"Maybe she was someone else the armors have saved?" Cye wondered. "And if that sensation comes from our armors and not from her, as Sage suggests, maybe it was the armors trying to convince us we could trust her."
"Then what are the armors trying to tell us now?" Ryo said. By now the group had looped around the lake and were nearing the house. "We already trust Robyn."
"I think it's her, I don't think it's the armors," Rowen said.
"Does it really matter?" Kento countered as they trooped up the back porch and in through the door. "Is thinking too hard about this going to help anyone?"
Any reply the others had to that was distracted from the sound of agitated female voices coming from the downstairs bathroom.
"You can't rinse it out," Mia's authoritative voice was heard. "It hasn't been in there nearly long enough."
"It's burning!" Robyn barked back. "I can't keep it in."
Cye and Ryo were the first ones to poke their heads in just in time to see Mia running a cloth under the sink. Robyn sat on the tub, a towel around her shoulders and her hair all pulled up in fat curlers.
"Tell me where it's burning, I'll try to wipe the scalp."
"Everywhere!" Robyn shot back. "I don't think this is good. I'm going to rinse it out." She knelt in front of the tub, turning on the water.
Mia looked like she wanted to stop her, but then conceded defeat. "Here, let me help. Maybe if we just do it a little you can still leave it in for a while." She tried to just lightly rinse little handfuls of water over the scalp, but then one of the rollers fell loose and clinked into the tub. Mia pulled back with a wad of red hair clumped in her hand, an acute look of fear on her face.
Sage, who had taken a turn to peer into the make-shift beauty parlor, gasped at the hair horror.
"Rinse!" Mia said with urgency. "Rinse it all!"
"Why, what happened?"
She shoved Robyn's head under the faucet. "Rinse it all out!"
There was a bit of domestic drama in the house after that. Robyn yelled at Mia a good amount while she apologized profusely. Then the redhead fled to the upstairs bathroom to pout and assess the damage by herself. She came down about an hour later, a towel wrapped around her head.
Kento noticed her coming down the stairs as he glanced away from the TV. "Well, what's the damage, Rob?"
With a sad frown, she yanked the towel off her head, allowing the damp, red hair to fall around her shoulders. It was a bit of a mess. Some parts were curled quite nicely, while others were only partially curled or not at all.
"It's hideous," she informed them.
Rowen danced up to her and grabbed a curl to pull it straight and then let it bounce back with a "Boi-oi-oing."
Robyn moaned and held her face in her hands. Cye kindly rescued her by pushing the offending Strata away and then kindly allowed her to hide in his chest while he patted her back.
"It will be okay," he soothed.
"It's ruined," she bemoaned into his shirt with a muffled voice. "It will be a long time until it looks okay. I will have to shave it all off and wait until it grows back."
Cye couldn't help but chuckle.
She pulled back and frowned at him. "I'm glad my pain brings you such joy."
He smoothed her damaged hair from her face with an endearing smile. "Believe me, if this was the worst that ever happened to you, I would be extremely happy."