Disclaimer: Don’t own ‘em, not making anything from writing this.
Ryo was once more in his room, alone. Not even Byakuen was around to keep him company. Not that the white tiger was around much anymore, anyway. Shortly after the final battle to save the world from Arago, ‘Yaku disappeared. Ryo figured he was off doing some chore he’d been commissioned to do for Kaosu before the elderly man had sacrificed his life for the Troopers. Either way, Ryo didn’t much care. He was to preoccupied with his own thin spread life to worry about it. He had every confidence that the tiger would return when he was ready too. A small smile tugged momentarily at the boys lips before settling once more into a grim expression.
With a sigh, Ryo plopped down heavily on his bed, his eyes roaming over the room with its bare walls and drawn curtains of deep blue. The sun had set hours ago, plunging the room into total darkness until the moon had risen; casting eerie shadows across the floor as its rays spilled through cracks in the fabric partings. Ryo sat still for a while just watching the moonlight move slowly over the floor until a cloud passed over the moon, once again leaving him in darkness. Ryo wasn’t afraid of the dark. On the contrary, he felt comfortable and safe in its embrace. A yawn escaped and he grinned, realizing just how tired he was.
With a glance at his bedside clock Ryo curled up under the covers and let his mind wonder as he started to drift to sleep. It was only ten. The others where still downstairs watching TV or reading. It wasn’t unusual for Ryo to be the first to bed, he often was. But lately, he felt like he was sleeping more and more. He was the first to bed and the last to rise (aside from Touma, that is). Not that anybody had really noticed Ryo’s change in behavior. Heck, Ryo barely noticed it himself. While he was grateful for his friends’ blindness over the matter, he felt a tugging in his chest that was competing with the wave of relief.
He’d be lying to himself if he said it didn’t hurt. It hurt a lot. It hurt that his friends didn’t realized his increasing disappearances from their presence. It was no secret that the warrior of fire was often known to withdraw from the world when he was upset or weary. Rarely did it last long. If Ryo didn’t pull himself out of it, then his friends did before it turned into one of Ryo’s infamous ‘guilt trips.’ So what was different about this time from any other? This time, Ryo pondered, no one was simply backing off to give him time to deal with whatever was wrong himself. This time, no one had noticed. This time, he was on his own. That wasn’t to bad, Ryo was used to being on his own.
A sarcastic smirk ghosted his features in the darkness as he thought, They didn’t see the warning signs that I was keeping things from them, again. Oh sure, he still participated in the practice sessions, and played the role expected of him by the others. He still smiled and played games with Kento and helped Cye to clean the dinner dishes.
He had graduated the tenth grade last month with flying colors, thanks in part to the group study sessions Touma had insisted on. But he’d also spent some of the time he was alone studying too. Really, that was the only way he could study. The group thing was good for getting homework done though.
They were mid-way into the first month of summer vacation, but Jun had yet to visit. Nasty was taking the summer to teach some special courses at the University, and had accepted the kindly offered dorm room for the extent of the classes.
This left the five Troopers and one (on occasion) white tiger with the manor to themselves.
Shin and Shu had both gone to their respective homes for the first week of summer, but were quick to return. Something weird with the yoroi bond they shared. It felt like they were being pulled back, almost to the point of being painful.
Once back, the tug was gone. Touma still spent some time trying to research it, but wound up sending an e-mail to Nasty asking if she knew anything.
Seiji, upon finding out he had done so, immediately sent another, telling her to not focus on it at the moment. It wasn’t causing problems, there was no danger coming. It wasn’t something that needed an immediate solution or explanation.
Nasty still sent back a listing of a few books they might look into. She was kindly thanked, then firmly instructed to concentrate on her teaching.
As they’d expected, Ryo was worried over Shin and Shu’s announcement, but he didn’t seem to dwell or obsess over it. If anybody was, it was Touma.
Over the next two weeks Ryo stayed withdrawn, and continued to wear his jeans and long-sleeved shirts. Outside of practice, he didn’t really leave the house, which was kept at a moderate to cool temperature. So nobody really questioned his choice of clothing either and passed any suspicious behavior off as curiosity. After all, Ryo’s birthday was coming up in a few months and Nasty had said that she’d hidden Ryo’s present so he wouldn’t sneak into it early.
Saturday night found Shin in the kitchen chopping things up for supper and Touma looking through the TV guide for any decent movies. Across from him, Seiji was sitting in the living room’s "reading chair," a thick novel in his hands. Shu had managed to convince Ryo to play a video game with him, so both of them were on the living room floor in front of the television.
Touma, guide in hand, went to consult with Shin over his movie choice. Shu and Ryo were to involved with their game to care, and Seiji could be scarier than Touma when pulled from a good book. In his enthusiasm however, he forgot how involved Shin can get when it comes to cooking.
As a result, he wound up surprising Shin with his sudden outburst, causing him to miss the vegetable he was cutting. Shin’s fingers were more than willing to take its place, though.
"Shit!" he howled, dropping the bloody knife and grabbed for the closest dish towel to wrap around his bleeding fingers.
In the living room, Shu and Seiji were on their feet the moment the cry had left Shin’s mouth. Shu carelessly dropped the controller mid-jump and was half-way to the kitchen before Seiji started after him.
Seemingly unnoticed to the others, Ryo’s controller had slipped from his fingers just before the cry. Giving it a quick glance, a relieved Ryo also entered the kitchen to find out exactly what had happened.
They had all felt a flash of pain when Shin had sliced himself, but Ryo knew Seiji would have stopped the major bleeding by now, if he didn’t fully heal the injury.
"I’m so sorry Shin," Touma apologized, again. It was the first Ryo heard, shortly followed by another. Judging from Shin’s expression, it wasn’t the first he’d heard from Touma.
"I told you, it’s all right Touma. No serious damage. It was an accident. It stopped hurting shortly after it happened anyhow. If you don’t stop apologizing, the blade’s coming after you next!" he finished, a touch exasperated.
Touma just stood and stared at him in something akin to shock, but he shut up. Seiji however, had a question or two now, "What do you mean, it stopped hurting? Even if it’s healed, it should be throbbing."
Shin shook his head, looking at Seiji. "I know. I thought it odd, too; but it felt like the yoroi…absorbed it. Sounds strange, but I know I felt the Yoroi’s power before it and the pain vanished."
A thoughtful look in place, Seiji nodded. "Very odd indeed."
He glanced at each trooper present: Shin leaning against the counter, Touma sitting backwards in a chair using the back for a head rest, Shu sitting on the bar with his feet dangling, and Ryo leaning in the kitchen entrance. With an arched eyebrow, he turned and walked back to his chair and book.
With one last glance towards Shin, currently washing the knife, Touma also returned to the living room, Shu right behind him. Ryo got back up too, but went to the refrigerator for something to hold him off until dinner. Pulling out an apple, he went to rinse it off in the sink. Shin was already chopping again, and had his back to Ryo.
"You had better be hungry when dinner’s ready," Shin teasingly threatened.
"Just an apple Shin," mock exasperation. He paused as he started the water. "So, do I want to know how Touma managed to surprise you?"
"Uh…not really," Shin mumbled, ducking his head down and focusing on his chopping.
Chuckling, Ryo turned the water off and leaned against the counter, taking a bite of the apple.
"Ryo, get back in here before I slaughter Ryu!" Shu shouted, once more in front of the videogame.
Ryo just snorted and pushed off the counter. He waited until he was in the living room to respond, "Guile doesn’t stand a chance."
To Be Continued….