A/N Hello everyone! Sorry about only one update this week but I've been sick since Easter. I don't have much to say, so enjoy the chapter. And no constructive criticism! Just kidding, I'll take all the advice I can get. lol! I don't own the Ronin Warriors, and critiques (good and bad) are always welcome.
Between the Lines
Cye sat by the edge of the small bed that Sage lay on, watching the steady rise and fall of his comrade's chest as he breathed. He'd been out for almost five hours now, and ever since they had rushed him away from the clearing in the woods next to his home, they had been taking turns keeping a vigil on the warrior of light. There'd been a small fight as to whether they should take Sage to his house or not, but Rowen had insisted that despite his condition, Sage would wake up furious if his family had seen him. The Dates always seemed to overreact when it came to the heir to their line, and even Cye had to admit that taking Sage home would probably end up being more trouble than it was worth. So they had ended up at Mia's, the closest of everyone's homes.
In the corner of the room, Rowen sat snoozing on the floor, long legs stuck out in front of him, and chin resting on his chest. Out of all of them he had refused to leave Sage's side and Cye knew the blue-haired Ronin enough to know the stress on his face included guilt. It had been his idea to go back. No one blamed Rowen, none of them could have known what would happen to Sage, except possibly Sage himself, but that didn't change the way Rowen held himself responsible for the well being of his friend. He was almost as bad about it as Ryo was.
The blonde man on the bed stirred and rolled over, and Cye could see the tension still on his face. Cye reached out and laid one slim hand on his friend's brow. The fever had died down a while ago, but it never hurt to check. Cye's hand tingled as it touched Sage's skin and he inadvertently shivered. For a moment he remained as he was, feeling the miniscule electric shocks that ran up his arm. Cye knew that Sage was somewhat of an empath, more sensitive to his surroundings than the rest of them, but as he sat there Cye could almost swear that he could feel the room. He could feel the presence of the other warriors, that was nothing new, but there was something more that he wasn't used to.
The hand resting against Sage felt warm, the deep inner warmth that comes with relaxing on the grass on a Sunday afternoon. A warmth that soothes and comforts. He could feel little bits of pain coming from his friend, but controlled and restrained. He could feel the worry coming off of Rowen, and knew that he was only pretending to be asleep. He could feel the pull to that side of the room. If he closed his eyes and concentrated on Rowen, Cye could feel an openness, a sense of being small and insignificant under an immense vastness that stretched on and on forever, and feeling one with that vastness. He could see the infinite stars and be swept away in knowing that there were far more than he could ever comprehend. It was beyond anything that he'd ever comprehended. Cye felt himself sink further into that great vastness and the meager insignificance of himself. Suddenly he felt himself get drawn firmly away from those feelings.
"You might not want to use Rowen as your first try into delving, Cye. His armor makes it hard to find your way back." A hand gripped onto Cye's arm and Cye shook himself, like a dog coming out of water. Intense violet eyes stared worriedly at him from beneath blonde hair and Cye forced himself to focus back on the present.
"Delving?" he asked Sage, voice coming out a little dazed despite his efforts.
"Delving. Or whatever you want to call it. Sinking into another person to feel what they feel." Sage was sitting up and watching him carefully.
"You do this?" Cye asked, withdrawing the hand still on his friend's head. Sage was looking at him curiously, but he shrugged.
"Sometimes. Not often. It's dangerous. Especially with Rowen." Cye shook himself again and with a start realized that Sage was finally awake. Jumping up he looked at his friend in concern.
"Sage! You're awake! How are you feeling? What happened back there? Do you want anything? Water? Tea? Biscuits?"
"Those would be cookies. Unless he means real biscuits. But he doesn't usually mean real biscuits. He might not even know what real biscuits are." Cye glared at the blue haired man across the room before turning his back on him deliberately.
"Do you need anything Sage?" Cye asked primly. Sage looked back and forth between the two Ronins and sighed.
"Water," he said softly. Cye nodded and left the room, looking as if he was sorely tempted to kick Rowen as he passed him. Rowen continued to lounge indolently in the corner until the door closed, but was instantly on his feet and at his friend's side as soon as it was shut.
"Are you okay?" Rowen asked quietly. "We're alone," he added. Sage nodded and fell back on the bed, letting a barely audible groan escape his lips. He rubbed his temples gingerly.
"I've been better."
"I don't know Rowen. I have no idea what happened. I know things went badly but I can't tell you what. I just remember hurting and…"
"And what?" Rowen pressed. Sage shook his head and barely whispered.
"And being scared."
Rowen sat back and looked at his friend. Schooling his face carefully because he knew how well Sage could read him, Rowen set another insolent grin on his face.
"Well, now that you're okay, I can say it."
"That you are officially the Ronin Warriors' drama queen."
Even after his ordeal Sage managed to move fast enough to clock Rowen a good one in the side before the Ronin of Strata could jump away.
"Asshole." Sage glared at him from under his blonde hair. Rowen continued to grin at him.
Cye returned with a glass of water and a small jar of aspirin, alternating between glaring at Rowen and watching Sage worriedly. As soon as the warrior of trust stepped back into the room, Rowen noticed that Sage immediately forced his body into looking relaxed and pain free. He responded to Cye's worried questions calmly and quietly and quickly had Cye convinced that he was fine, if only a little sore. Cye left and said that they would all be waiting downstairs whenever Sage felt like talking about what happened. He gave Rowen a pointed look when he mentioned that they were letting Sage get some rest before deciding what had happened and what to do. Rowen just smiled brightly at his friend and remained where he was. Cye sighed, shaking his head and left the room once more.
"Aww, Sagie now we can be alone."
"But you're my bestest friend ever!"
"What did I do to deserve this?" Rowen laughed and plopped down next to his friend, drinking some of his water. Sage rolled his eyes but smiled. He knew that Rowen was worried about him, or he wouldn't still be there. Sometimes the approach he took to keeping Sage company was irritating but the intentions were good.
"What was up with Cye earlier?" Rowen's voice was serious now and Sage knew what he meant.
"He was delving you, but I don't think he knew what he was doing. You're the wrong person to try that stuff out on."
"Why, because I'm so incredibly intelligent and complex?" Rowen asked cockily.
"Because you're an airhead. It's hard to find your way back." Rowen shot Sage a dirty look, but immediately his face scrunched up and he started rolling the jar of aspirin around in the palm of his hand.
"Delving…that hasn't happened in a long time." Sage looked at Rowen but knew better than to say anything.
"I didn't think that Cye knew how to do it," Rowen continued.
"I think we all can in our own ways, but usually if we really want to know something extremely badly." At this Rowen's eyes narrowed and Sage pressed on quickly. "But Cye seemed to be doing it inadvertently. And he was projecting what he was experiencing into me. That's what woke me and I brought him back. He shouldn't be wandering around doing that kind of stuff, not without help."
"He didn't seem to know he was doing it."
"Probably not," Sage agreed. "I think Cye's changing."
"He changed a year ago Sage. Did you happen to miss that?"
"That's not what I mean. I think we're all changing, being adjusted."
"That's what happened to you earlier?" Rowen asked sourly, muscles tightening as he gripped the aspirin jar. "The seizures and screaming and tossing us around like rag dolls. Just growing pains?"
"Stop it Rowen," Sage chastised him gently. "I'm fine so let it go. And it wasn't your fault so don't try to pull a Ryo on me." Rowen merely grunted but after a moment relaxed and settled back against the short headboard, again rolling the jar down his arm and over the back of his hand.
"Okay, so we're changing. Cye can delve. Go."
"Cye's never been truly empathic before, but now it seems like it might be coming on him. Gentleness and empathy are different. In the woods I could tell that he could feel some of the same things I did. For a moment he looked almost at peace again."
"So why now? What's changed to start this in him?"
"The armors? I'm not sure. Cye's fought fighting for so long. He was always afraid of the natures of the armors. And whether Suzunagi tricked him or not, he still made the decision to fight. He has to accept that before he can truly come to terms with what he is going to eventually have to do here."
"So you're admitting it, that something is going to happen."
"Of course it is Rowen. Why did we receive new armors if it wasn't?"
"So we're all changing, but is it for the better? You don't look any better."
"Forget me, will you for a moment? We're talking about Cye."
"Cye's scared, Sage."
"Maybe." Rowen rolled to his feet and started pacing around the room, tossing the bottle of aspirin over his shoulder and catching it behind his back. The look of concentration was back on his face.
"We're still missing something here. Something that's right in front of my face and I just can't seem to see it."
"Like why each of us is changing the way we're changing. Think about it Sage, you're the only one who's in direct contact with his armor, and it seems like that's not a particularly safe idea. But that aside, Cye is becoming empathic. Why? Why is the guy most likely to keep his head buried in the sand being inadvertently shown what others think and feel? Why are you being forced to lose control when that's what you pride yourself on? Oh don't look at me like that, you know it's true."
"Fine." Rowen glared at Sage for interrupting his train of thought.
"Anyways, why? Why, why, why? Why just you and Cye? And not the rest of us?"
"It isn't just the rest of us."
"Meaning that it's you and Ryo and Kento too. Maybe bizarre things aren't happening yet to you three but it involves all of us. Think about it, we usually take Kento for granted and assume that he's fine no matter what. But this waiting has been killing him. He never was the patient type and he keeps getting more impatient by the day."
"You're getting to it Sage."
"Ryo can't handle being alone. He's been alone all his life, except for White Blaze and then us and Mia. Now he rarely sees any of us and him and Mia had a huge falling out. He's virtually alone in his day-to-day life. It's hard on him, and he hates it. He still hasn't come to terms with whatever it was that happened between him and Mia. He looks like a lost puppy half the time. He just can't handle being alone but he always is."
"You always need to know what's going on. For a year you've progressively become more and more anxious and, for a lack of a better word, quirky. You're restless and irritable and go on rants about anything and everything, trying to discover the ultimate meaning of everything."
"Because I don't know the answer to what I really need to know. What's going to happen next," Rowen finished for Sage. He was starting to get excited and he paced faster.
"So we're all changing or being forced to change because of situations that we don't like. Control, loneliness, fear, patience, or lack of knowledge. Those things are what drives us and hurts us and makes us less of what we need to be."
"So this year was designed to push us out of our comfort zone, not that we necessarily were in it anyways. But what can control our lives like that? Some new demon? It's so subtle!"
"No Rowen, you're missing it still. It's all us. It's the armors. They are doing this and we've been fighting it. We have to be able to get past our weaknesses to be stronger. It's our demons we're fighting now."
Silence, then Rowen paused at the window and stared out of it.
"Sage, when we were in the forest and you were seizing, you screamed out and struck us. What did you see?"
"Sage I need to know."
"Haven't we decided that needing to know is your downfall?"
"Alright, alright…" More silence.
"I saw myself, Touma. I saw myself." Sage's voice was almost inaudible and he had once again closed his eyes shut.
"Then why did you fight so hard?" Rowen pressed confused.
"Because it was the most terrible thing I'd ever seen in my entire life."
There was silence in the room when Rowen was finished. Cye stared out the window next to him, watching the reflection of the moon in the ripples of the water. Ryo stared down at his clenched hands in his lap. Even Kento said nothing.
Finally it was Cye who broke the silence.
"I'm not empathic. I can't do any of those things that Sage can. I barely can tell what I'm thinking myself."
"Cye…" Rowen started.
"I'm not being ridiculous Sage!" Cye shot out angrily before gasping and turning white. Sage just merely looked at him. Cye turned away, refusing to meet anyone's eyes. Kento shook his head.
"Okay I don't know about all that stuff," he said, "but I for one can admit that the waiting has been driving me crazy. I can't focus. I hate not knowing what's next, what might be around the corner to get me, or all of us. I'm not scared, I just hate the waiting."
"Kento's not the only one that hates the waiting, but maybe we have to, you know?" Rowen ventured. "Maybe this is supposed to show us our weaknesses and make us stronger fighters."
"How exactly is playing off of our fears and weaknesses supposed to make us stronger?" Ryo asked softly, tiger blue eyes much harder than his voice. The intensity made Rowen take a small step back.
"I don't know. Maybe if we learn to get over them then it will be better. Maybe we'll know more about what's going to happen."
"We don't know anything's going to happen." Ryo spoke again, voice still disturbingly soft .
"Were you not there today, man?" Rowen asked, voice getting heated. "When my best friend started going spastic because of his armor? Did that tree you landed in not leave a huge bruise on your back too, or was that just two Kentos?"
"What we saw, Rowen, was Sage play with something he didn't understand, that none of us understood. He's sure it was his armor doing this. I'll trust that. But I don't trust anything else about this."
"You should Ryo," Cye whispered softly. "Because they're right."
"How do you know?" Kento demanded, still slightly irritated at Cye from earlier at the diner.
"I just do." The knowledge seemed to pain him and Cye once again turned away. Ryo stood and crossed the room, standing right in front of the tall warrior of Halo.
"If we put on these new armors, will we all lose it like you did today?" It was a harsh question and anyone else but Sage would have reacted in some way, but the blonde man merely shrugged at him. Ryo stared at him and Sage unblinkingly stared back. Finally Ryo nodded, seeming satisfied, but with what the others didn't know.
"We put on the armors. All of us. We see what happens, and see how we're affected. And we…" At this Ryo trailed off, a distant and sad look in his eyes before he continued.
"We deal with our own issues. On the off chance Rowen is right then maybe we'll have a heads up on whatever's coming."
"So we all agree at least that far, that we're being prepped for something?" Rowen pressed. Their silence was answer enough. Whether they wanted to admit it or not they all agreed.
They would all do this by themselves. It was a personal thing that didn't need any onlookers, even among themselves. It was more than one worried man that moved out into the surrounding countryside as the sun broke over the hills. It was more than one man who took a deep breath and closed his eyes tightly before calling his armor to him. It was more than one man who quivered in anticipation and dread when the metal wrapped itself around his body. And it was more than one man who fell to his knees, gasping, as this new armor took control. As this new armor showed them, one by one, what it was that must be done. And it was more than one man who wept silently in the corner of his mind from knowledge that cannot be unlearned.
And somewhere far to the north and somewhere far to the west, two women simultaneously gasped and looked over their shoulders, towards Japan, and towards something they had prayed would never come again.
A/N #2 Okay I guess I do have some stuff to say. I've decided that this is sort of an interlude piece that is meant to let everyone get to know the characters all over again, their relationships, and how they've changed since they were the teens we all know and love. I'm also trying to introduce some ideas, such as delving (empathically getting into another's psyche without their permission), and some personality quirks of the Ronins. This was primarily Rowen/ Sage centric but don't expect the next one to be. There may seem like there's a certain lack of action, but I didn't see the point of filling this full of action and battles and not having the reader understand just what those battles meant and their long-lasting effects on the Ronins. There will be battles, there will be action and fighting and demons and struggles, but all in their due course. So this is the end of this piece. Don't worry, I know nothing is resolved, but more is coming immediately (you all know I love to update). Thanks everyone for sticking with this and I hope you read the next part.
Also a special thanks to Teahleafs, Meira Evenstar, Inda, Arie Under Pressure, Haleykim and everyone else who reviewed this story. You guys are awesome!