A/N See, I promised I would be back. This isn't the sequel to Between The Lines. BTL was more of an interlude before this fic. But not the prequel. Confusing but you'll all eventually understand. (grins secretively) I don't own Ronin Warriors, and constructive criticism is always welcome. Hope you like it.

Courting The Jester

Chapter One

The first two times that Kento hit the ground, he landed with a loud thump. This time when Kento hit the ground, he slid thirty feet before he came to a blessed stop, headfirst into a large shrubbery. Well, head and neck and shoulders and torso, and everything up to his waist. The unfortunate thing about shrubberies is that they are tenacious creatures, and they don't easily relinquish their prey. So as four heavily armored warriors ambled up to check on their comrade, all they could see was an armored orange rear-end shaking back and forth and occasionally flopping up and down, usually to the accompaniment of loud cursing and muttering.

"Do you think that we should help him?" Ryo asked, blue eyes glinting with amusement, lifting his helmet off of his head and shaking back sweat dampened black hair. Next to him a tall slender warrior in light blue smiled wickedly and shook his head, also removing his own helmet and tucking it under one arm.

"Naw," said Cye, shifting his weight off of his sore right leg. "Let him be. Serves him right for that sucker punch he got in back there."

"He looks like he's enjoying himself," the blonde warrior behind them chuckled, squatting down and resting. Sage too was covered in sweat. They had been working hard today, and for a while now. The sun glinted off his armor and reflected back towards the other Ronin Warriors.

"Yeah, maybe a little too much," Rowen quipped from his spot beside Ryo, leaning on his bow tiredly. But not tired enough that he wasn't going to have a little fun at his comrade's expense.

"You know Kento, flopping around like a fish isn't the best way to make a good impression. Especially not with the face you're presenting to the world." From the shrubbery came a muffled grunt that quite easily could have contained several unpleasant things, directed at all of them.

"What was that?" Rowen asked, cocking an ear towards the shrubbery. "Sorry buddy, it's hard to hear anything around that big old ghetto rear you've got there."

This time the growls coming from the shrubbery were much more audible, definitely contained some unpleasant things, and entirely was directed at Rowen.

"I think you hurt his feelings," Cye grinned at Rowen, watching Kento's butt flop around twice more before wiggling out a foot from the foliage.

"I think he wants a shrubbery," Ryo laughed, feeling pity on his teammate and walking over to grab onto Kento's armored foot. Sage moved to do the same.

"A shrubbery?" Rowen and Cye asked at the same time, Rowen's fake English accent much worse than Cye's real one. Ryo and Sage nodded at each other and both heaved at the same time. With a startled oath, the warrior of Hardrock came flying back out of the shrubbery and landed face first between Ryo and Sage. He spat dirt and leaves out of his mouth and muttered "Thanks" as he gingerly moved to stand up.

"Very funny you guys, very funny," Kento glowered at them all, saving his worst evil eye for the Ronin of Strata. Rowen grinned at him mischievously and Kento half-heartedly lunged for him. Rowen ducked away, but not before getting whapped on the top of his helmet with a hardrock fist. Rowen winced at the thump and then crossed his eyes and looked at Cye.

"He turned me into a newt!" Rowen yelped. Cye started laughing and even Sage cracked a smile. Ryo however stared at Rowen seriously.

"A newt?" he asked, this time in a horrific English accent, much worse than Rowen's. Rowen nodded with an equal severity.

"I got better."

"What the hell are you guys talking about?" Kento demanded, removing his armor and donning his undergear, stretching sore muscles painfully.

"We have to civilize Kento," Rowen announced, also stripping his armor. He sighed in relief as the weight came off and he too stretched long arms. "The man doesn't know good comedy when he hears it."

"Hey, buddy all I hear is you talking to Cye about lizards. I don't get the humor in that." Rowen looked at Kento, a serious expression on his face, and walked up to him, peering closely into his eyes. Kento looked up at him in confusion. Suddenly a look of horror crossed Rowen's face and he yelled and jumped back.

"A witch! A witch! Run away! Run away!" Sage sighed and shook his head, walking past the two and resting a hand reassuringly on Kento's shoulder. The warrior looked more confused than ever as the blue haired man jumped around dramatically in front of him.

"I knew that was coming," Sage said softly, a tiny smile on his otherwise solemn face. "Ignore him Kento. He's just a little crazy."

"Just a little?" Ryo joked, checking to make sure the rest of his team were unsuited before he did the same. It was small things like that that set him up as the leader of their little team.

As a group they wandered back in towards the huge house up on the hill, laughing and joking. They were tired, all of them, and they were more than sore. Ever since they had made the decision to don their new armors, an unspoken decision had been made, and they all reported daily to training. The training grounds once again became Mia's back yard, although no one had had the heart to call her and tell her that. White Blaze seemed to enjoy the company, despite the seriousness of the business at hand.

They had grown apart in many ways over the years, and now that they were all back together on a daily basis one could see the effect they had on each other. Ryo was smiling and laughing more, Cye was relaxing slightly, Rowen was enjoying having others that would put up with his crazier behaviors, and even Sage seemed to be enjoying himself. He laughed a little, despite his usual reticence. Often the others would see him having long discussions with Rowen. Sage would politely converse with anyone who came up to him, but talking very much was reserved only for his blue haired friend.

They had never discussed between themselves what had happened the day that they had all put on their armors again, but each had returned with a sense of purpose, and an attitude of getting the job done. They hadn't been that out of shape, but Ryo had wanted them to concentrate on remembering how to fight alongside each other. It was easy to get in each other's way when engaging an enemy and there had been times during the war with Talpa that they had stumbled over themselves, and nearly cost themselves some victories. Teamwork wasn't just getting along.

"Hey has anyone heard from Mia at all?" Cye asked from the front of the group. A chorus of three no's was his response. Cye shook his head.

"Don't you guys think that maybe we should tell her that we've been using her place as Ronin Warrior boot camp?" he ventured. Light blue eyes landed on his leader but Ryo only watched the ground as he walked and remained silent. The question was obviously directed at Ryo, especially since he was the one with the pseudo living arrangements worked out with her, and his silence was louder than words. Still Cye pushed on ahead.

"If something happens and it gets dangerous, her stuff could get trashed. Shouldn't we at least ask her?"

"Mia hasn't been home more than three days in the three months Cye," Ryo suddenly replied sharply. "Do you think that she would even notice if anything happened around here? She couldn't care less about her stuff."

That shut Cye up. He glanced at the other guys, but they obviously weren't going to help him. Finally Cye shrugged, feeling a wave of discomfort come over him. Unconsciously he shifted away from Ryo.

"You're the boss, Ryo," Cye murmured and followed his team into the house.

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"You're doing what?" a female voice yelped, the owner swinging around in a large leather backed chair and snapping one slim hand down on the huge mahogany desk in front of her. "Who said you could do that?" She demanded angrily. The voice on the other end of the phone buzzed on several moments before the female interrupted, slightly calmer but voice iron hard.

"Well you tell him that that entire project is under my control and has been for two months now, and if he's trying to skim off the top then he can go do it elsewhere. We barely have enough funding as it is." The voice responded and the female sighed, burying her face in one hand in aggravation.

"Of course I know it looks better to have more public figures on the scene, but this isn't exactly the most prestigious research undertaking now is it? We make do with what we have…No, listen. Tell him to back off or I'll make a few phone calls and find out how much of a headache someone in his position can get. Are we clear? Alight. Bye."

"Wow. That is probably the first time I've ever seen Mia Koji be a hard ass." The man sitting across the room adjusted his tie and grinned at the woman in front of him. Mia smiled halfheartedly as she set the phone down. She hated losing her temper, but sometimes when getting involved in politics it took more than being sweet to get heard.

"Yeah? You try living with five teenage boys and an overly curious exotic predator. It'll make you tougher than you could ever imagine."

"Huh?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow. Mia smiled, a real smile this time and shook back her long auburn hair.

"Don't ask," she advised. The man nodded and grinned, standing up and walking across the room. He perched on the corner of her desk and looked down at her. Mia fought the urge to stand up so that he wasn't looming over her. Instead she sat back and looked up at him.

"Yes?" she inquired.

"They're right you know. It would look good to have someone a little prestigious to go with you when you return to Japan. Someone that might help bring some notoriety to the project. Raising money for research is all fine and good, and I know you did a lot of great stuff during and right out of college, hon, but your name just isn't big enough. You need someone bigger."

"But who's going to front something like this?" Mia asked the man in the business suit. "How many globally recognized research scientists are going to jump up and say, 'Sure I have nothing better to do than to fly across the world to support a project to enlighten people on a teeny tiny little part of history of Japan that interests a teeny tiny number of people.' That's going to get more laughs than we could count."

"Then axe the project. Go for something more important. It'll make the bosses look more favorably upon you."

"I don't care about that! And it is important!" Mia replied, snapping her pencil down on the desk. "There's so much of our history that shapes our future! And it's all wrapped up in…" Mia trailed off. The man in the suit looked at her again and then rolled his eyes.

"Not that Japanese demon mumbo jumbo again. That almost got you axed after that convention at the UN. As it is they've got you tucked away over here where they think you won't make too much of a fuss." Mia just stared at him and the man gave up and shrugged.

"Suit yourself sweetheart. But you have a bright career ahead of you if you play your cards right. Part of that is knowing when to fold."

"It's important."

"Then find somebody to back you. What about that one American girl? Dark hair, irritable? A little cold?" Mia laughed at the description.

"Who, Nikki? Dr. Vanguard? Oh, I don't think so."

"Why? She's an expert in her field, she designed a lot of the current technology that they're using for dating artifacts found, and she at least likes you. I can't say much for anyone else, though when it comes to her." The man's face scrunched up and Mia bit in another laugh. More than likely Nikki had shot him down, and not very nicely, as she was prone to do.

"I believe she said, to quote, 'hell will freeze over before I go back to Japan.'"

"Hey it's your project. I couldn't care either way." The man stood again and smiled at Mia one more time as he left. Inwardly she sighed. He wasn't too bad as a coworker and friend, but the extended smiles were becoming cloying.

Mia stood and looked out the window. This job had taken her places, had shown her other countries and other ways of life. But deep down she missed her home and the security she used to feel when there. Sometimes it was hard going home to a microwave and a mini-freezer in the latest hotel room.

She was on the out, professionally,and had been for the last year. She'd given her dramatic speech at the UN about how they all had to be prepared for the rising demonic netherworld threat, and when nothing had happened…well…cuckoo was one of the nicer words that they used to describe her these days. But her project was important, and being able to design and carry out research expeditions was why she still had this job. Her good name might be trashed but Mia refused to believe that her work wasn't important. She knew deep down that it was. Things always worked in circles, and she'd felt this all coming for a while now. Any information she could find on the legends of the ronin armors, or these new armors might make or break them. Just because she wasn't around didn't mean she wasn't involved.

"I'll always be involved," Mia whispered sadly, staring at the setting sun. So far from home. But her ideas of home had shifted. She wasn't even sure she had one anymore.

After awhile Mia returned to her desk and sat looking at the phone. She knew Nikki's reasons, but this was important. Bracing herself, Mia picked up the phone. Thirty minutes, two cups of coffee, a Snickers bar, forty-three 'no way in hell's, and one resigned 'fine but you sooo owe me' later, Mia set down the phone contentedly, twirling the cord around her finger. Yes, she would always be involved, and like it or not, she would do her part.

A/N#2 I know it's a little short, but I wanted to get a little bit out for you guys. Enjoy!