Whatever's in Between
Ronin Warriors / Samurai Troopers
with the street lamp light to illuminate the grey
and the bells of New York City calling me to stay
Josh Groban - The Bells of New York City
It could have been any of them.
In fact, in that instant, Sage had felt each of them, all four, like parts of himself. He knew when they arrived without even opening his eyes. The clean fever-heat of Ryo's anger; the wave of Sai's concern like the tidal surge of a heartbeat restored. Kento was a steady, bone-deep strength, and Rowen-- Rowen's voice was the breath in his own lungs.
He had been living a nightmare, and his friends were there to save him-- and it could have been any one of them who lifted him down off that terrible star and steadied him on his own two feet.
But it hadn't been "any" of them. It had been Rowen.
Rowen. No helmet, blue hair falling in his face, and new lines of pain around his eyes. Sage knew then, in a horrible second, what his armor already knew: the unchecked Halo armor had hurt his friends. Wounds not just of flesh, but debts that all his courtesy would never be able to repay. They had fought his armor for their lives--
And yet here they were, and there was only relief in Rowen's face, not blame. For once, Sage and all his grace had no words, nothing to offer, in the wake of everything he'd been given.
Rowen had hugged him, then. Of course he had. Ripped him from the bindings from that sharp and shining star and held him for a moment, as if reassuring himself that he was real.
It was cliche. It was ridiculous. But it was also true-- he knew he would remember that moment for the rest of his life.
"Hey," said a voice at his shoulder, and Date Seiji jumped.
The voice laughed, and the world resolved itself back into focus-- city sidewalks, traffic lights, and Rowen gesturing with a gloved hand that it was their turn to cross the street.
Simple to blame the city, of course. New York might always bring back those memories. But awkward, to say the least, when that "rest of his life" was rising up to meet him, most of it remarkably mundane.
So what if his roommates happened to be armor-bearers, and sometimes they fought evil together. Most of the time they were busy trying to figure out who had eaten the last of the Froot Loops and flipping coins for who would get the shower first. A world full of kendo practice and high school exams and Christmas trips to New York City was difficult to reconcile with the feeling of ancient and honored yoroi resting beneath his breastbone.
They had walked another two blocks before Sage realized that Rowen's silence was probably expecting a response.
"Sorry--" he started, but Rowen was apologizing at the same time.
It made them both smile, pausing on the busy street and letting the crowd wash around them like a parting stream. "You first," said Sage.
Rowen shrugged, knocking his blue scarf askew. He didn't quite meet Sage's eyes. "Figured this might not be-- easy for you. Being here. Ryou and the others, we all thought maybe it'd be good, somehow? But I can tell you're-- far away. I just mean-- it's a lot to think about, right?"
"I know I'm being bad company," Sage answered quietly. He was thinking again of that moment, lifted from the star, clinging to Rowen's shoulder and wondering if life would ever be the same. Words came hard. "I'll try to--"
"Seiji." Rowen had a hand on his elbow, and the brightness in his eyes was warm enough to melt the slushy streets. "You don't have to try a thing. We-- I'm right here."
Adrenaline tripped Sage's pulse, like they were fighting again, only without an adversary-- Sage's reclaimed Halo singing promises in his veins, grace restored and repaid a hundredfold. Suddenly it was not difficult to imagine the rest of his life, sacred burden of an armor-bearer and Froot Loops and all, and there was nothing mundane about any of it.
He was trying to lean closer, to say something reasonable like "thank you for your understanding," but perhaps neither of them was surprised that the words never came, and instead they found themselves embracing, bustling crowds and heavy coats and honking taxis and all. It was somehow both earth-shattering and completely natural, that Sage could rest his forehead against Rowen's, and all their unspoken thoughts become perfectly articulate kisses.
No one passing by spared them a second glance, and somehow that was the most marvelous thing of all.