What Might Have Been
By: Ghost of the Dawn
Chapter Six: Robyn Part 3
The next morning started as usual, as if the turmoil within the group of warriors still wasn't stirring inside them. One by one, each came to the table, roused by the smells of Cye's cooking. Kento was the last one downstairs and it was clear by the looks he received that the others knew he hadn't trundled out of his own room.
Cye kept up no pretenses over what had transpired.
"Is she still asleep?" he asked.
"Like the dead," Kento confirmed as he sat down. "She was exhausted."
"And what exactly happened last night that made her so tired?" Rowen mumbled. He still wasn't awake enough to give the question his usual sardonic tone.
"Robyn didn't sleep at all the night before," Cye said calmly, setting the last plate of food on the table before sitting down himself. "She's utterly terrified that if she goes to sleep, that thing- whatever it was- is going to take her again. Kento and I caught her attempting to stay up last night as well."
"Yeah," Kento added, "apparently, whatever it was just made her wake up in these worlds. Unlike us, no previous memories, just suddenly there and she just tried to... go with it, I guess."
Sage narrowed his eyes in thought over this new information. Ryo kept his poker face on.
"Wait, wait," Rowen said, now a bit more awake. "So you're saying a lot of the things we remember doing with Robyn, we may not have actually done with Robyn?"
"Looks like," Kento replied as he dug into his food.
"Well, what kind of time frame are we talking about here?" Rowen continued. "We had a lifetime of false memories lived in one afternoon. How much of that did Robyn live through with us?"
Cye shrugged. "I didn't think to ask her that. It could be anything, I suppose. A day, a few days, a week, maybe even a few years. No more than high school age at the most. She told me she remembered her old life and she just wanted to get back home- back here."
"So?" Ryo grouched. "What difference does the time mean?"
"It's a whole hell of a difference if it means we didn't all sleep with her when we thought we did," Kento shot back.
"Uh, morning Robyn," Cye quickly said as he stood.
Everyone glanced behind them to see the bedraggled visage of a skinny girl with red hair and bloodshot eyes staring at them. She had put on a hoodie and warm socks with her pajamas and looked a bit dead on her feet. Cye quickly escorted her to a chair between himself and Sage.
"Here you go," he said, setting a plate of waffles in front of her. "I hope you're feeling better this morning."
Robyn just stared at the food, her mouth salivating at the first sign of warm sustenance in twenty-four hours. She picked up her fork in a shaky hand and dug in. The first bite she swallowed threatened to come back up as if her stomach didn't remember was solid food was any more. She ate the second bite more slowly, though it wasn't any easier to get down. Maybe it wasn't her stomach. Maybe it was the five pairs of eyes staring at her. Eyes all attached to so much emotion.
Robyn put her fork down, looking a little sick. "I can't do this any more," she croaked in a hoarse voice. She drank some milk and cleared her throat.
Sage was already getting up from the table.
"Sit down," Robyn ordered with a force in her voice that surprised even her.
Sage stiffened and froze for a moment, then silently reclaimed his seat.
Robyn cleared her throat again to expunge the morning fuzz. Then she let out a heavy breath to steel herself.
"I'm still not sure what exactly happened or why it happened," Robyn began. "But I'm done not talking about it. This is what happened to me. I woke up in a strange reality, able to remember everything about my real life except for how I ended up in those... dream worlds- or whatever they were. I was shoved into each world one by one, only staying within it for two or three days, never knowing when I would be taken again. Usually, it would be after I had fallen asleep and I would just wake up in another bed with..." She glanced around the room and then down at her hands, "with someone else.
"I didn't know what was going on. The best explanation I could come up with was that I was in some alternate reality with an alternate version of you guys and I was taking the place of an alternate version of me. I didn't know how else to define what was happening to me and I was afraid to tell any of you guys the truth. I thought you would think I was insane. I thought I would be ruining the life of the other Robyn who's place I had taken. So I just pretended I was a part of that world and played along the best I could. I'm sorry for lying like that. I should have known better. I should have figured out what was going on and tried to do something."
The room stayed quiet for several moments. Robyn's shoulders stiffened in the awkwardness until she looked like she was sitting in a permanent shrug. She finally found the confidence to glance around the room at the others.
Before anyone else could say anything, Kento heaved out a big sigh and set his fists on the table. "I'm really sorry to ask this, Robyn, but I think it would be best to clear the air about this now. Did you actually sleep with any of us while in those worlds?"
Robyn's jaw dropped and she looked appalled. "No!" she barked at him.
Kento balked at the unexpected reaction and even looked a little hurt. "You didn't have to say it like that..." he murmured despite the fact that her answer was a relief to all males present in the room.
"Certainly not for lack of trying on the parts of most of you," Robyn added as she sipped her milk.
Then room went quiet again as accusatory glares were passed around the table.
Robyn forced herself to eat another bite even though her stomach didn't really want it. Her confession and the silence didn't seem to be helping.
"I guess this isn't going to fix itself," she finally said. "If I have to talk it out with every single one of you separately, I will. Who's going first?"
The Ronin still remained quiet. None of them wanted to do it. It almost seemed to do with the fact that it was Robyn ordering them to, so they were against it. They were used to telling her what to do. After a good few minutes of silence, Cye stiffened and prepared to be the first to volunteer. Robyn was right, they needed to do what they could to get past this.
Before he could make any move, however, Robyn decided for them.
"You," she said, pointing to Ryo, "you're first." She got up and started for the back door without looking to see if she was being followed. Once there, she held it open expectantly.
Ryo didn't move for a while. He had a stubborn aura about him that his friends were far used to. But Robyn stayed by the back door, holding it open and watching him. Finally, Ryo stood, his chair scraping shrilly on the floor. With hands in his pockets, he skulked outside and Robyn followed him to the back porch, shutting the door behind them for privacy.
Ryo continued down the steps and a few yards away from the house before he stopped and stared moodily at the trees, refusing to look at the redhead standing next to him.
Robyn watched his stubborn profile for a moment, zipping up her hoodie against the morning chill.
"Look, I'm sorry for how your life was in that world," she started. "It must have been a horrible feeling to live with day by day. If I would have known it was really you stuck in that place I would have tried harder. I would have told you from the beginning what was going on with me. I would have done everything I could have for you. I still tried, even though I thought it wasn't you. You were still Ryo even if you weren't m-" She cut herself off from saying 'my Ryo' and instead went for "the real Ryo."
She moved a bit closer, leaning over to try to catch his gaze. "I didn't want to leave you there, no matter who you were, but there was nothing I could do. I was powerless." Robyn looked at her shoes, her hands hiding in her sleeves. "I'm always powerless. I can't ever do anything to help. But that horrible person in that world wasn't me, Ryo." She said his name with extra emphasis, but he still refused to look at her or say anything.
"I would never stop caring about you, okay? You will always be important to me. Anything else you saw in there, anything else you believe is a lie. I'm real and I would never do that to you."
Ryo glanced at her once, then looked at the ground. The expression on his face had softened.
"Now," Robyn continued. "You can continue to be a grouchy pants about it if you want, but I'm still going to give you a hug."
Ryo kept his hands in his pockets as she advanced, but he did not move away as she threaded her arms through his and hugged him lightly around his torso. She remained there only for a few seconds before pulling away. But then Ryo's arms came to life, wrapping around her and holding her tightly against him-much tighter than she had. They stood there for a bit longer, Ryo resting his cheek against the side of her head.
"I'm sorry," he said in a soft voice.
Robyn just clutched him tighter to let him know he was forgiven.
When they finally pulled away, Ryo didn't say anything else. He gave her a small smile and it looked as though a weight had been taken off his shoulders. He turned and started off down the path. Robyn understood Ryo's penchant for long walks in the woods and let him go. When White Blaze saw where his master was going, he bounded out the door after him.
Robyn watched them disappear in the foliage before going back inside. She returned to the table to find it empty. Of course she would be a fool if she expected the rest of them to still be sitting there, waiting for her to confront them.
Then Sage came into view, placing a steaming plate on the table.
"I warmed up your breakfast," he said easily. "I didn't think you'd want it cold."
"Uh, thanks," Robyn looked stunned as she sat down.
Sage sat across from her, taking upon his normal detached facade as he sipped his tea. At first, Robyn wondered why he of all the Ronin had chosen to stay behind. Then she reminded herself that Sage liked to be in control of the situation. He knew this confrontation was coming whether he wanted it or not. He would have rather chosen the time and place himself so he could be properly prepared instead of waiting for Robyn to corner him.
Robyn, however, quickly found herself distracted from Halo's presence by the warm breakfast before her. Suddenly she was famished. Maybe talking to the boys was good for her as well. Sage waited patiently as the redhead polished off her food and gulped down her milk appreciatively. She looked happier and healthier when she finally turned her gray green eyes at him again.
"Well, I'll never think about flower pedals the same way again, I'll say that much."
Sage choked on his tea. He had to pat his chest a few times to dislodge it out of tubes it was not meant to be in.
"That... that was..." he floundered.
Robyn just smiled at him in such a way that Sage was a loss for words. For a moment his expression was full of trepidation of what this girl knew and what she would say to him.
"Sage," Robyn started slowly, "one day you're going to meet a girl who you can be silly around and laugh with and you will feel safe to be yourself. That's how you'll know you've found the right one."
Sage's fearful expression turned thoughtful as he mulled that over.
"You know that was me when I freaked out on you and locked myself in the bathroom, right?" she continued.
He nodded slowly.
"Yours was the last world I went to. By the time I got there my sanity was fried. I was so done, Sage. I didn't have the strength to put up with much more." She sighed. "And then you got hurt. Well, I guess you didn't really get hurt in, you know, real reality. But I thought you, or someone who looked exactly like you, got hurt and it was my fault and I didn't want anyone hurting because of me. So I'm sorry about that."
Sage just gave her a shadow of a smile and shook his head as a motion of dismissal.
Robyn sighed again, more heavily this time as if unloading a large burden. "Anything you want to say to me?"
The blonde young man across from her stayed quiet for several moments. Robyn wondered if he planned on saying anything at all.
"You can leave those dishes," he finally spoke. "I'll clean them for you."
Robyn was speechless for a moment. Then a little disappointed. "Oh, okay," she said as she stood. "Thanks."
What else was she expecting from him? Just because she had seen him with his shields down, just because she had laughed with him and kissed him didn't mean anything. None of it was real. It might as well have all been a dream. And maybe that was a good thing. It was probably for the best to have nothing change, no matter what happened. Reality needed to stay as it was and Robyn decided she could be okay with that.
Still in her pajamas, she climbed up the stairs to return to the bedroom she was using. But instead of dressing for the day, she flopped tiredly on her bed. She was glad she hadn't encountered any of the other boys on her way up. Talking to them like she had a handle on things was exhausting. It was so much easier to let them take control of the situation and tell her what to do. She needed some time to rest before she could steel her nerves enough to confront the next one. Not to mention her body was telling her she had more sleep to catch up on.
It wasn't long before Robyn had drifted off, curled up in her blankets. Thoughts of getting her boys stable were at the forefront of her worries. Having talked with two of them pressed her fear of being taken again to the back of her mind. As she slept, however, it still niggled at the edge of her thoughts.
Robyn awoke to being curled up tighter than she remembered when she had fallen asleep. The second thing she was aware of was that she wasn't alone on the bed. Her eyes popped open and she immediately sat up. The hand that was resting on her shoulder fell away. Robyn stared in alarm into Rowen's calm blue eyes. He had been reading a book, her head resting on his thigh. For a moment, Robyn felt that panic of the whole thing happening all over again.
"You're still in the cabin," Rowen informed her when he saw her scared expression. "The others are downstairs. Sage is outside."
Robyn sat back on her heels, rubbing her sore neck from sleeping in such an odd position. It was still bright outside.
"What time is it?"
"Around two, maybe." Rowen handed her an apple. "You missed lunch."
Robyn hungrily tore into it as she settled next to him, both of them sitting on the bed with their backs against the wall.
"So," Rowen said after a while of listening to Robyn crunch her food. "Is this going to be one of those things we're going to look back on and laugh?"
"Oh, I'm sure in a few years it will be hilarious. But right now, it's still too soon." Then, after a few moments, Robyn chuckled to herself. Maybe it was a little bit funny. "What is it with you and boobs anyway?"
"What's wrong with it?" Rowen defended. "I am a straight, healthy young man. It's normal to like boobs. Ask those guys downstairs. I bet they all like boobs, too."
"You left Sage out of that."
"He likes them, too!" Rowen barked louder. "I would bet my life on it! Not that I'm meaning yours specifically-or lack thereof..."
"Of course." Robyn sighed heavily.
Rowen glanced down at her. "What was that for?"
"Nothing, I'm just glad things are getting back to normal. It's also nice to have someone who will actually talk with me instead of just letting me talk at them," she added. "Ryo and Sage didn't really have anything to say."
"Maybe they'll think of something to better articulate themselves later. You did sort of spring it on all of us pretty quick."
"Well none of you were doing anything," Robyn countered hotly. "How are you supposed to keep everyone safe and save the day if all of you are sulking in your rooms?"
Rowen abandoned his book and used his long arms to pull her in. He tucked the smaller form against his side, chin resting on the top of her head. "We still would have protected you if anything happened. We wouldn't have let you go through that again."
Robyn, who was still a bit gun shy from her world hopping, instantly stiffened in his arms. When it was obvious he wasn't going to do anything else, her body slowly relaxed and she began to appreciate the sanctuary that was his embrace.
"Just tell me one thing," Rowen then said. "Being in that other world, it wasn't so bad, was it?"
Robyn quietly thought about the world they shared together. She recalled their date, being trapped in the rain, snuggling in bed. Even that crazy breakfast argument. It was a new feeling to share living space with someone who loved you more than anything else, who was supposed to be your partner going through life, who's existence meant you never had to do anything alone.
"No, it wasn't so bad," she said softly. "Maybe one day we can all have happy lives like that. But that particular world we were in wouldn't have really made us happy. We didn't choose it and our friends weren't in it. How could it really have been a full life?"
"I suppose you have a point there."
"When we do find our own happiness, it will be something we've built ourselves. It will be something we can fully accept without any guilt. Maybe even a happily ever after, if you will."
Rowen's chin continued to rest on the top of her head. "You've thought about this quite a bit, haven't you?"
A sigh from Robyn. "I've had plenty of time and opportunity to wish for it, yes."
She felt Rowen hug her a little tighter.
"I need to shower," Robyn announced.
"Yes, please do."
She smacked his arm and he let her go.
"I better not come back here to find you still skulking around my room, going through my underwear, you pervert," she warned.
Rowen laughed. It looked like everything was returning to normal.
Robyn stayed in her steaming shower longer than one needed to for a hot summer afternoon. The isolation was therapeutic. It was comforting to know she was alone in the bathroom, but there were still five young men around, watching out for danger. That was how it was supposed to be. This was her reality.
As the water sprayed over her, Robyn's mind idly wondered what it would be like to have another person in the shower with her. Strong arms pressing her against a hard body, skin on feverish skin. She shook her mind of the thought the second it entered. At the same time, she realized that she was unable to put a face or identity to that body. It could have been any of them. Or none of them. Either way, she vowed to entertain the idea no more.
Once cleaned and dressed, Robyn dallied in her room, working on drying her hair. Then she finally decided she should go back downstairs and see if she could face the remaining two Ronin before the day was up.
Like ripping off a band-aid, she reminded herself. Get it done as quickly as possible.
As she descended, she heard the familiar voices talking below. To her relief, the tone was light and happy, like it should have been all long. She slowed her steps so she could listen to them for a while before her presence interrupted it all.
"A college professor, really?" Kento's voice was heard. "Cye, that's so boring. I'm disappointed."
"What do you think I should be then?" Torrent remarked. "We're not all going to keep fighting bad guys like you're obviously going to do."
"I'm not saying I'm going to go be a cop now, that's a tough job," Kento shot back.
"And you know how Kento doesn't like a challenge," Rowen put in.
"Screw you, Rowen. You don't know me."
"I was thinking more like a Jacques Cousteau for Cye, always filming the ocean wildlife," Ryo said. "Or Steve Irwin."
"Cye, say crikey!" Rowen told him.
"Or maybe working at Sea World."
"Oh Sage, not you too."
The laughter instantly died down when Robyn entered the room and she regretted being the cause of the silence. But it was nice to see there was still an air of good humor about them when they all turned and looked at her.
Robyn lingered a few feet away from the couches, not saying anything. Even with their laughter and smiles, seeing all five at once was a bit intimidating for her. Now she was the one being weird. Her mind berated her to snap out of it and act normal.
She didn't get the chance. Kento was standing up, looking right at her.
"Hey Rob, how about you and me go for a walk outside?"
She hesitated for a moment and then stepped forward. "Um... kay..."
Pausing to put on her shoes, Robyn shuffled out the door, having the feeling there were a few different pairs of eyes on her when she left. She heard Kento's heavier footfalls on the porch steps behind her and she fought the urge to pick up her stride as if she was being chased. There was a small trail through the tall weeds that led around the back of the cabin. It was too narrow for more than one person so Robyn was forced to keep walking with Kento at her back.
Even though he extruded a calm aura, Robyn's shoulders would not relax, though she tried her best to appear as nonchalant as possible. Soon, the path opened up as they neared the lake, allowing the two to walk side by side. Robyn preferred this to him staring at her back, but Kento still didn't say anything to her.
Then he chuckled to himself. "I keep wanting to walk with my arm around you, like how that fake dream told me we always walk together."
Robyn lifted her eyebrow at him, giving him a dubious look.
"But I know it's not real, these feelings, these habits I'm trying to break. All of us know it's not real. But those places messed with us pretty bad. I mean, I had friggin' kids, Robyn. Two of them. And I loved them more than I thought I could love anything. Now they're just gone because they never really existed. And my wife-" He cut himself off as he glanced away from her. "I had a whole family. I felt whole. But all of that was just nothing. Smoke and mirrors. I'm trying to forget. It gets a little easier every day. But you've gotta give us a break, Rob. It wasn't the same for us as it was for you. We need some time."
Robyn watched her feet as she walked. "Sorry, I know I'm being selfish about this. I was trying to hurry this along to help myself, so that you guys would be able to protect me if anything happened again. I was only thinking about me."
Kento halted her by grabbing her arm, turning her to look at him. "No, you're not selfish. I heard you in there, we all did. You were willing to stay with that thing all alone if it meant the rest of us could go home."
Robyn looked away, embarrassed.
"Then what would have happened to the five of us if we came back here without you?" Hardrock pressed.
Robyn sighed. "I don't know what else to tell you. I was trying to save you and I didn't have much else to bargain with."
"Hey, we do the saving around here and don't you forget it."
Though his tone was sharp, Robyn still had to check his face to make sure he was being serious. He was.
"Yeah, okay," she said quietly.
"And... I love you," Kento mumbled as he turned and looked at the lake. "Not like- in that way, but... you know what I mean."
Robyn couldn't help but smile at his sudden insecure posture. "Yeah, I know. Me, too."
Robyn and Kento returned to the smell of dinner cooking and the others rifling through a pile of VHS tapes to feed to an outdated TV.
Rowen looked up first when they came through the door. "Hey, did Kento tell you about our plan? That all five of us are going to date you at once and it will solve all our problems?"
Robyn's eyes went wide and Kento pounced on the bearer of Strata.
"Rowen, joke about that again and I'm going to drag you outside and kick your ass for an hour."
"But we'd put her on a rotating schedule, Kento. You'd still get your fair turn."
Rowen squawked as Kento tried to punch him and they tussled around on the floor. Cye was standing next to Robyn shaking his head at his immature friends.
"Food's ready guys."
"Alright!" Kento punched Rowen's bruised shoulder one more time and then gave up his victim for something better. He was the first to the table as the others shuffled in.
Cye put a hand on Robyn's shoulder to catch her attention. "It's your turn to help with me with the dishes, okay?"
Robyn nodded. She knew what that meant.
After dinner, while the others were eating popcorn and watching Alien, Robyn stayed in the kitchen as requested. She stood over the running water, scrubbing plates while Cye dried.
One more, she told herself. I just have to talk to one more and I'll have done all I can. The rest will be up to them.
They stood together in silence for several minutes. Each seemed to be waiting on the other to speak first. Robyn figured it was her responsibility to start the conversation, but she wasn't drawing up a blank on what to say. Cye had been exactly himself in that world, she wasn't sure what they needed to discuss. What could she talk about to him?
"Um... the costume thing..." Cye said awkwardly.
Oh yeah, that.
"That wasn't... I don't even know where that came from. It's not me. It wasn't even-"
Robyn spoke up to put him out of his misery. "That wasn't you," she said with conviction. "We were all played with. We were all set up with false realities. And we certainly don't have to speak of that again, I'm not judging."
Cye looked relieved.
"Yours was the first world I woke up in," Robyn continued, watching her hands clean. "I was so confused, so terrified. I would have had an emotional meltdown if you weren't there."
"But I didn't help you," he reminded softly. "I didn't know there was anything wrong. I wasn't in there telling you we would figure this out together and everything was going to be okay."
Robyn looked at him. "But you were still there. You were still you. As scared as I got, I knew you wouldn't let anything happen to me. It was how I managed to keep it together. I just wish I had known better what was going on. If I did have to do it again, I would be smarter next time. I would try to help you remember the truth..."
She drifted off when Cye's hand landed on her head. He looked at her with a stern face.
"There won't be a next time," he vowed. "She's not touching you and you're staying with us."
Robyn smiled gratefully. It was reassuring to hear him say it out loud. She believed him.
"I'm sorry this has been hard for you guys, too. Kento told me to cut you all some slack and give you more time. I understand that this was way different for you than it was for me. If you need me to do or not do anything, you can tell me and I'll try my best to make it easier for you guys."
"We'll be fine," Cye assured her as he put away the last plate. "We were emotionally invested in those worlds by force. But in the end, the truth is it was all synthetic, a trick of the brain."
He patted her on the shoulder. "Nothing real or important came from those worlds and eventually it will be as if it never happened."
Cye walked off feeling lighter while unbeknownst to him, Robyn suddenly felt a pressure in her chest she was not prepared for. For him, perhaps for all of them, nothing lasting came from that experience. Given the proper time frame, they would move on and their hearts would revert back to as they were before. Because to them, everything that happened to them was fake. A farce, a lie.
But for Robyn, even though in a false world, her emotions had been real. She had not been manipulated, given fake memories, or counterfeit feelings. Everything she had felt for each one of them had been her genuine affections and she suddenly felt like she had been given the worst part of this horrible deal.
After drying her hands, she wandered back into the living. The lights were off and Cye had already found himself a seat with his fellow warriors as the movie flashed across the screen.
Robyn stayed in the light of the kitchen, watching them all from behind. Taking note of the lights flickering off their profiles. Whatever they had felt then, they would all eventually shrug it off and move on. They would never be aware that there were times when she had kissed each of them with genuine affection. That the promise of those worlds did often sweep her away and she fell for them one by one for real.
She had been so swept up in the stress and the worry of being out of control, her other emotions had been ignored. Robyn was good at locking such things away when life got hairy. It helped her survive, to keep her wits about her so she wasn't ruled by emotion.
But now, she suddenly felt another wall shoot up between them, separating herself from her friends. Her feelings toward them would stay and theirs would not. Knowing that made her chest ache.
That night, Robyn's dreams were a disordered mess. There was no plot to them that could be described. Each Ronin played a cameo, causing her emotions to roller coaster. But one main character remained a constant. The blonde woman with the red eyes.
Robyn could almost feel the physical heaviness on her body despite her dream state as her last confrontation with Mary Anne played itself over and over in her head.
Her eyes popped open, light streaming in through her window. Mary Anne's words were still very clear in her mind and Robyn felt a palpable truth to them. They had all been missing the big picture, what Mary Anne had been trying to do with all of them.
Robyn felt as if her entire mental state had been altered with so many emotional revelations having crashed upon her in such a little time. She wandered downstairs, fully dressed but almost in a daze.
All Ronins but Rowen were in the kitchen eating when she walked in. Just coffee, toast and fruit was on the menu that day. They would be packing up and heading for home soon.
Robyn put an orange in her jacket pocket and grabbed a bottled water from the fridge.
"I'm going out for a bit," she announced to all present company in general. "I want to do some thinking and I should give you guys some time away from me, too." She kept her tone light and a smile on her face as she next pilfered herself a piece of toast from a stack on the table.
"Don't stay out too long," Cye called after her just as lightly. Her presence didn't seem to distress the warriors too much any more, though they did appreciate her giving them some space.
Robyn's response was completely garbled by the toast in her mouth as she slipped out the cabin's front door. White Blaze wasn't around to go with her this time and she didn't mind. She was pretty sure Mary Anne wouldn't come back for her again. Robyn had now received her message loud and clear.
The sky was bright and cloudless, the forest already warm despite the shade from so many trees. Robyn circled the lake, taking idle steps, in no hurry to make her way around it. It was large enough it would take her about an hour to walk the entire circumference anyway. But only when the trees had completely hidden the cabin from sight did Robyn allow herself to fully open up to her feelings and the thoughts raging around inside her head.
She paused to stare out at the water, the tiny bugs causing ripples on the otherwise smooth surface. The truth of the matter was that she had completely fallen for five different men. She had let each one of them kiss her and she had kissed them back with true affection. And if she was honest with herself, she knew if she would have stayed in any one of those worlds long enough, she would have succumbed to it. She would have eventually given in and given each one of those men what they wanted. And she would have wanted it, too.
It felt like a shameful secret. She could never admit to them that she was in love with all five. It sounded ludicrous. What kind of girl was she to love so many like that? How could she even begin to explain it to them when they were trying to get over any and all romantic inklings toward her?
And from the very beginning, her subconscious had been working to block them out. Her feelings toward them were put on hold so that she could make sure she was safe first. Robyn felt like a horrible person. She was always thinking of herself first. As much as the being had scared her, Mary Anne had given Robyn a way to do something for her boys instead of just for herself.
If you love them, then understand that they are better off away from you. That's what Mary Anne had told her. Taking you out of their lives will be a blessing to all of you.
It was probably true. Robyn knew she was tainted. Despite the defeat of Nago and his minions, there was a darkness in her that would be there her entire life. It seemed it would always attract danger. It wasn't fair to the Ronins to ask them to constantly stand up to defend one person. Their responsibility was to the entire world, not just her. It was selfish to continue to put them in that kind of position.
There, in the silence of the woods, Robyn made a choice for her future. In the end, she hoped they would all understand and, eventually come to forgive her.
Upon nearing the end of her sojourn around the lake, a tall figure came out of the brush, hands in his pockets. Robyn was surprised to see any one of them.
"Hey," Rowen greeted as he approached. "Do you mind some company?"
"Do you want some?" Robyn tested. "I kinda got the feeling you guys were getting a little tired of dealing with me. I was out trying to give you some space."
Rowen just shrugged. For some reason, he was taking the entire situation far better than any of the others. Robyn wasn't really sure if that was a credit to him or not.
She lifted her shoulders lightly herself. "Well if you're fine with it, I don't mind the company."
She continued on her route and Rowen fell in step beside her, seeming content to just be in her presence. Robyn thought maybe he had something specific to say to her, but he was keeping silent.
"So how do you think everyone is doing?" she decided to ask. "I remember when I woke up, all of you looked so pissed off. And the five of you were moody for so long. I tried to help, but maybe I made it worse in a way, I don't know."
"We're fine," Rowen insisted, gaze remaining on the trees. "None of us may be happy about what we experienced, but the truth of the matter is that nothing bad really happened to any of us. None of us were attacked or hurt physically. We're just all sore because it was like someone showed us a big, chocolate cake. The best we've ever tasted. And then it was suddenly taken away from us and we were told it never existed in the first place."
"That the cake was a lie?" Robyn joked. "Yeah, I can understand that scenario. And then you wake up to remember you didn't even like chocolate in the first place. And now it's weird whenever you look at chocolate."
Rowen glanced in her direction. "I don't know if I would take it that far. I know those worlds were fabricated with you in mind, but do you really think there weren't things in there we wanted as well?"
Robyn almost tripped on a rock as she looked at him with wide eyes.
"All of us wish for a life like that. No armors, no nether realm, no battle scars. Someone who cares about us. Normal lives. We finally got a taste of that, too. It's hard to be pulled away from something you wish you always had."
Robyn didn't say anything. She watched her shoes as they walked.
"Can I ask you something?" Rowen said, stopping in his tracks.
Robyn had already gone a few more paces before she paused to look behind her questioningly.
"Do you mind telling me exactly when it was you came into my world? When it was actually you?"
Robyn took a moment to think about it. "It was the day I kicked you out for being a pervert," she said flatly.
Rowen looked away and scratched the back of his head self-consciously.
"Then the next day, you took me out on a date," she continued quietly. "It was the first real date I think I've ever been on."
His smile was soft, as was his voice. "My pleasure."
He continued to watch her quietly and Robyn was frozen by his gaze. She remembered that time when he held her in the rain. It almost made her feel like smiling. That is, until she noticed he wasn't necessarily looking at her face.
She folded her arms over her chest with an angry sound, turning away from him. "Stop ogling at me, you asshole!"
Rowen coughed out a laugh, though it was still as gentle at his gaze. "Sorry, force of habit."
The other Ronin were loading things into the car when Robyn stomped angrily out of the woods, barking about how she didn't believe in using such lame excuses. Rowen was stumbling after her, trying to keep his balance while he was laughing so hard.
The scene broke what little tension was left among them that day. As the car drove away from the cabin, the teens let their odd experience stay behind in the woods. Perhaps the strange energy would be absorbed by the forest and remain there to haunt the next group of unknowing campers.
Either way, this group was putting it behind them. Only the future really mattered and they were determined to look ahead, not a single glance behind.
In the days to follow, Robyn set to work preparing herself. She dug up her passport, gathered her meager savings and bought a plane ticket for the US. She knew this was the right thing to do. She had to distance herself from them or the danger would start again. Only she didn't know how to tell them.
When all was ready, she packed her things and just left for the airport, hoping none of her boys would find out in time catch her. It was time to run again. Running was all she knew how to do.