The drive to her grandfather's house from Shinjuku wasn't a long one, maybe thirty minutes; but for Mia, so tired she could barely see the cars in front of her, the road seemed to stretch on endlessly. The dregs of adrenaline running through her system were the only thing keeping her awake, making her hands shake ever so slightly on the wheel and her heart race.
If she were tired, her boys were exhausted, plain and simple. Ryo was sprawled in the seat next to her, cheek mashed against the window, deeply unconscious; he hadn't twitched even once as Kento and Cye had manhandled him into the car. Being absorbed by Talpa— using that white armor, whatever it had been— had taken it out of him. He'd passed out as soon as they'd confirmed Shinjuku had been freed and Talpa really appeared to be gone.
Yuli was curled into Ryo's side, snoring lightly. The other four had somehow managed to cram themselves into the back seat, mostly by virtue of having Cye, the lightest of the four, sprawl across their laps. No seatbelts, of course, but although the people captured by Talpa had been freed, there were still very few cars on the road, and certainly no police.
Cye and Rowen were asleep as well, faint snores issuing from their mouths, and Mia expected the same of the other two; but when she glanced back in the rearview mirror, Sage's ice blue eyes flicked up to met hers, and she saw that Kento had his face turned to the window, watching the road going by. They were keeping guard, she realized, watching over their injured companions so they could sleep in peace. Mia felt her shoulders relaxing, soothed by the knowledge that she wasn't alone, and she smiled at Sage in the mirror.
By the time they arrived at her grandfather's house, Mia's eyes were burning with exhaustion. She pulled up as close to the front door as she could manage and then turned the keys in the ignition, shutting the car off. The sudden lack of noise threw everything else into sharp relief, the soft breaths of her sleeping passengers and the dull thud of her heartbeat in her ears.
"We're here," she said, into the quiet.
"Oi, Cye, wake up," Kento said, shoving at the Ronin who had ended up mostly in his lap by the end of the ride.
"Huh? Whazzat?" Cye muttered, shooting upwards and blinking bleary eyes. "Dynasty?"
"No, stupid, we're at Mia's place," Kento said, and Mia opened her mouth to correct him-- it was her Grandfather's house, not hers-- before shutting it again. Her Grandfather was dead, had been dead for weeks now, unmourned and unburied. She didn't know who he'd left the house to in his will-- likely her father-- but for all intents and purposes, at the moment, it was hers.
"Oh. 'Kay." Cye opened the back door and slid off Kento's lap onto the driveway, stretching his arms over his head as he gave a jaw-cracking yawn. His eyes were at half mast, his t-shirt was falling off one shoulder, and he had a bad case of bed-head, and Mia was suddenly, viscerally reminded that despite his maturity, he was only fifteen years old.
Kento got out of the car after him and stood with his hands on his hips, surveying the house and their surroundings. Still in the back seat, Sage shook Rowen's arm; evidently even the sound of voices hadn't been enough to rouse him.
"Don't wanna get up," Rowen muttered, and flopped forward so his forehead rested against the seat in front of him.
"You can sleep inside," Sage said, patiently. "There are beds there, and it will be far more comfortable." His words triggered something in Mia's mind, but the incipient thought was interrupted by the sound of the front passenger side door of the car opening. Kento lifted Yuli out and handed him off to Cye, who tucked him under one arm with apparent ease. Yuli continued to breathe softly in the deep sleep of the young, oblivious to the manhandling.
That left Ryo. Mia reached across and set a hand on his arm, but he didn't stir. "Wake up, Ryo," she said, and gave his arm a little shake. Still no response. That wasn't terribly surprising, Mia supposed. She sighed, and let her hand drift up to rest against his cheek, feeling the warmth of his skin under her palm. It was so mundane it was unreal. Not two hours ago she'd been certain he was dead, consumed by Talpa along with the others; and yet here he was, sitting next to her in her car, soft breaths fluttering the lock of hair that had fallen in front of his face. She could still see the ball of light as he floated upwards...
The door opened at her elbow and Mia flinched, dropping her hand as she twisted to see Sage peering in quizzically at her. "Are you alright, Mia?" he asked, holding out a hand for her.
Mia blinked, struggling to bring herself back to the present. "Ah. Yes, I'm fine," she said, summoning a smile. It was a wan one, she was sure, and to cover it up, she pulled the keys out of the ignition and grasped Sage's hand, allowing him to help her to her feet. Her muscles protested the movement; they'd stiffened up from driving for so long. Away from the car's heater, the late autumn air outside was icy on her skin. Mia shivered, rubbing her hands briskly up and down her arms. She wasn't dressed for this kind of weather.
Rowen was leaning against the back door of the car, barely awake; he offered her a lopsided smile as she stood. "Nice place ya got here, Mia," he said, nodding at the building that loomed over them. "You sure weren't joking when you said you had room enough for everyone." He put his hands behind his head and stretched. "Man, I can't wait to sleep in a real bed again."
"Me, too," Mia agreed, already envisioning sliding under soft, warm sheets.
"Me, three!" Kento chimed in from the other side of the car, a tired grin on his face. He ducked into the passenger side and then reappeared, cradling Ryo in his arms. The skin around the corners of his eyes tightened as he stood, belying the apparent ease with which he carried his fellow Ronin. Ryo might be the worst off of the five, but he wasn't the only one who had been injured in the battle with Talpa. The best thing for them all, Mia reflected, would be to be inside and resting.
Spurred into action, Mia shut the car door shut behind her and strode towards the front door, sorting through her key ring until she found the house key. The boys fell in step behind her.
The temperature dropped noticeably as she stepped into the pool of shade cast by the house. The place really was ridiculously huge, Mia reflected, and not for the first time; far too large for one lonely old man. That was part of the reason she'd taken a break to visit him before starting college back home in France; that, and her Grandfather's ever more dire warnings about the upcoming invasion by the Dynasty. She'd been the only one in her family who would even consider the possibility that the legends of the five armors might be anything more than myths, and even then she'd still been skeptical until she'd seen Ryo appear on her TV screen. Her father had hoped her presence there would calm the old man down, 'bring him back to reality'. She snorted softly at the irony. Instead, she'd been the one dragged into her Grandfather's world.
Turning the key in the lock, Mia pushed open the front door. "Tadaima," she called, out of habit; her voice echoed in the empty entranceway. Then she yelped in surprise as something brushed heavily past her leg, making her stagger a step to one side. She looked down to see Ryo's tiger disappearing into the house. "White Blaze!" she scolded. He must have only just arrived; too big to fit in the car, he'd made his own way home. Although how he'd managed that without anyone calling Animal Control, Mia didn't want to know.
She reached for the light switch inside the door. The sun was starting to set, and the hallway was gray with shadows. It was cold, too, she realized, as the lights snapped on with a barely audible hum. Her Grandfather must have turned off the heat before he'd left to go to the University that last morning.
Mia frowned. The nagging feeling that she was forgetting something was back. She tried to puzzle it out as she swept into the living room, turning on lights as she went. Something about the beds...?
Well, it would come to her in time. "Sage, could you go turn on the heat, please?" she asked, turning to look at the group still clustered in the hallway, politely taking off their shoes. Kento was struggling to both kick off his shoes and not drop Ryo, and Mia had to bite back a smile at the sight. "The thermostat's in the dining room, down that hallway," she pointed.
"Of course." Sage broke off from the group, and the other four filtered into the living room. Kento set Ryo down on the couch with a grateful sigh, pressing a hand to the small of his back and wincing. Ryo's head lolled limply backwards until it hit the back of the couch. Cye set Yuli down next to him, and the boy mumbled in his sleep, burrowing into Ryo's side in search of warmth.
"Bedrooms?" Rowen gave her a hopeful look. The artificial light only emphasized the dark circles under his eyes.
"Let me go get the sheets and blankets," Mia said, and turned towards the hallway that led to the back of the house, where the bedrooms were. Everything should be in the linen closet... "I don't know if there's anything still good in the fridge, but you're welcome to take a look, see what you can scrounge up." Kento perked up at that, of course, and he and Cye traded a look. "The kitchen is right across from the dining room."
"Bring me back something," Rowen said, collapsing onto one of the other couches as the two left. He propped his feet up on the arm rest and let his eyes fall closed, lashes sweeping dark across his cheek.
Looking at the peaceful tableau, Mia had to bite back the overwhelming urge to curl up next to Rowen and go to sleep herself. They had all bedded down in far worse places over the last few weeks, that was certain; at least here they had a roof over their heads. But they would all be so much more comfortable if she could just get the beds made up... Heaving a deep sigh, she went looking for bedding.
"Oh, no," Mia said a few minutes later, staring into the linen closet in utter dismay. Except for a few towels on the top shelf, it was completely empty. That was what she'd been forgetting, earlier. One of the many things she'd been helping her Grandfather with during her stay was much-needed spring cleaning; the morning the Dynasty had attacked, she'd stripped the beds and started a load of laundry before leaving to help her Grandfather at the university, planning to put the sheets in the dryer when she returned home. Except she'd never gotten the chance.
Mia took the stairs down to the basement two at a time. She flung back the lid of the washing machine and stared down at the mass of cloth tangled within. It was even-- she reached down a hand to check, and flinched back in revulsion-- it was even still damp, and icy cold, and heaven only knew what had started growing on it after sitting wet for so long-- she would have to run it all through the washing machine again just to make sure the sheets were really clean. It would be at least an hour, an hour and a half before they would be ready to be used, and whatever were they supposed to do in the meantime?
Fighting back a sob of frustration, Mia dumped a cupful of detergent on top of the sheets and shut the lid. With a twist of the dial, the machine rumbled to life. Propping her elbows on the lid of the machine, Mia set her head in her hands and tried to think.
"Mia?" A touch of a hand on her shoulder had her jerking upright, reaching for a weapon that wasn't there. Instead, her hand whacked into something soft. Sage was standing just past her shoulder, a hand raised to block her blow and a comically surprised look on his normally reserved face.
Mia struggled to regain her bearings, heart thudding in her chest as misplaced adrenaline ran through her veins. "Is something wrong?" she asked, glancing quickly around.
"Nothing's wrong," Sage reassured her. "You were just down here a while, and we were starting to get worried."
Mia glanced over at the dial of the washing machine; it had advanced several notches, indicating nearly ten minutes had passed. She pressed a hand to her her head. "I must have fallen asleep," she said. The catnap hadn't done her any good; if anything, her head was even fuzzier than before. "I-- the sheets were still wet," she explained, gesturing vaguely. "I had to put them back in the washing machine, and it's going to be a while before they're ready..."
The corner of Sage's mouth tilted downwards, an uncharacteristic display of unhappiness that highlighted how tired he must be. "Is there anything else we can use in the meantime?" he asked. "Ryo should probably be lying down."
And the rest of them should be too, Mia thought, noting how pale Sage looked. His skin, pale under normal circumstances, was nearly translucent. The black-and-blue mottling of a bruise across his cheekbone stood out in sharp relief, and Mia resisted the urge to run her fingers across it, soothing. Instead she tucked her hands into her armpits, trying to warm them up as she thought. Though she could hear the furnace valiantly rattling away in another corner of the basement, it hadn't even begun to touch the deep chill that had settled into the house, and she was beginning to shiver. What else was there...?
"Futons," Mia blurted out, a long-forgotten memory from childhood surfacing in the back of her brain. "I think there are some futons in one of the closets on the second floor." She and her cousins would sleep on them when the family came to visit, back when they were kids. She'd been raised mostly in France, and to her childhood self, sleeping on the futons had been the best part of the trip, every night a sleepover. They hadn't had a large family gathering like that since she had been ten or twelve, families too busy with work and school to get together all at once, but the futons themselves should still be lurking-- her grandfather had never thrown away anything in his life.
Sage's expression eased. "That should be fine," he said. He'd been raised in a traditional family, Mia knew; he was probably used to them.
When Mia just continued to stand there, he put a hand on her elbow and tugged her gently towards the stairs.
"But the sheets--" Mia protested.
"--will survive until tomorrow morning," Sage said, pulling once again at her arm. With one last despairing glance over her shoulder at the washing machine, Mia allowed herself to be led upstairs.
Back in the living room, Kento had evidently returned victorious from his kitchen raid; empty food wrappers and crumbs were scattered haphazardly across the coffee table, and Kento was midway through stuffing a handful of crackers down his throat. At the edge of the table sat a first aid kit someone had dug up-- Mia recognized it as the one normally kept in the downstairs bathroom-- and Cye had Rowen's forearm propped on his knee with the sleeve rolled up, doctoring a long, ugly scrape that was still bleeding sluggishly. Kento bore a bandage at the junction of neck and shoulder that indicated he'd already been on the receiving end of Cye's attention.
Everyone looked up when Mia and Sage came in the room. Cye set down the alcohol wipe he'd been cleaning the scrape with and picked up a package of sterile bandages, tearing it open with his teeth. "Is everything alright?" he asked, as he began to wind the bandage clockwise around Rowen's arm.
Mia rubbed her forehead, and quickly explained what had happened with the sheets. "I'm sorry, I feel so stupid," she finished, feeling tears of exhaustion burn at the corners of her eyes. "I know I promised you beds, but there are futons we can use, at least..."
Rowen groaned, sinking deeper into the couch. "Aw, man, I hate futons."
Cye whacked him on the shoulder, although he was careful not to jostle the injury. "Be polite," he said. "Mia's being very kind to let us stay here."
Rowen rolled his eyes up to the heavens. "I'm grateful, I'm grateful!" he said, throwing up his hands. The loose edge of his bandage began to unwind at the motion, and Cye grabbed it with a glare, taping the edge down firmly.
Kento grinned. "Well, I for one am just glad we have a roof over our heads," he said, throwing an arm across the back of the couch and patting his stomach with the other. "And food! My stomach was rumbling so loud you could probably hear it from the Dynasty—" mid-word, his mouth dropped open in a jaw-cracking yawn. Mia felt an answering yawn catch in her own chest, and it spread quickly from there to everyone else in the room.
Mia laughed, rubbing a hand across her face. "I think that's a sign!" she said. "I'll go ahead and put the futons down; you guys follow when you're ready."
She was halfway up the stairs when she heard a single set of footsteps following her. Turning, she saw Rowen grinning up at her. "Figured you might need some help," he said.
Mia smiled. "Thank you, Rowen, that's very kind."
He came up the stairs two at a time until he stood on the step below her; even then, he was tall enough that they stood eye to eye. Leaning a companionable shoulder into hers, he said, more quietly, "I really am grateful for you letting us stay here, you know."
Mia wrapped an arm around him and pulled him close. "I know," she said, and pressed a quick kiss to his hair. Rowen pulled back with comically wide eyes, a blush staining his cheeks.
"Um. Let's get those futons, yeah?" he said, and slid past her. Mia followed, smiling to herself. Rowen always seemed startled by physical affection, like he hadn't had enough as a kid, and sometimes Mia couldn't help but give in to the urge to pull his pigtails.
The futons were right where she had remembered them being, tucked away in a closet in one of the spare rooms on the second floor, vaguely musty with disuse. Mia sneezed as she picked one up. Clearly no one had bothered to air them out recently; Mia suspected her grandfather had forgotten about them entirely. Still, it was better than nothing, and they would get used to the smell soon enough.
Prior to her Grandfather's death, this room had been his secondary study, and there was a long bookshelf along one wall, a desk and chairs, and piles of paper stacked haphazardly on all the furniture. Hauling out another armful of bedding out of the closet— there were only five, Mia noted; someone would have to double up— Mia turned at the sound of wood scraping on wood to see Rowen dragging the desk out of the center of the room.
"Rowen, we don't have to actually sleep in here," Mia laughed. "There's plenty of other rooms. You could even each have your own!"
A set of hands pulled the futon from her grasp, and she jumped; she hadn't heard anyone come up the stairs.
"Don't worry, Mia; this is fine," Cye said. He began spreading the futon out on the floor; Sage, who had come up with him, grabbed the other end to straighten it out.
"I thought you'd all be sick of each other by this point," Mia shook her head, examining the room. It was going to be a tight fit for six people and one child.
"One more night won't make a difference," Cye explained.
"Besides, it's better this way," Rowen offered, collecting a few loose papers off the floor and stacking them in a neat pile on the desk. "Talpa may have been defeated, but we don't know if anyone else will be trying to come after the armors now that he's gone." While we're weakened, he didn't say. "If we're all together, at least no one can catch us by ourselves."
Mia shivered, and rubbed her hands up and down her arms. She hadn't thought of it that way. Looked at with new eyes, the room was easily defensible, with no windows and the only entrances two narrow doors that would prevent youja from attacking en masse. "Good point."
The wooden floor creaking under heavy steps announced the arrival of Kento, carrying Ryo in his arms like a child, forehead tucked into the crook of his neck. Yuli clung to his pants leg, rubbing his eyes sleepily and clearly barely half-awake. White Blaze padded in just behind him.
"Got a place I can put him?" Kento asked.
"Over here," Sage waved him over to the newly laid out futon in the center of the room.
Kento crouched and slid Ryo out of his arms, careful to keep him from hitting the ground too hard, then spent a few seconds straightening Ryo's limbs into a comfortable position. That done, Kento groaned dramatically and flopped down on his back next to Ryo, even though there wasn't really room for him on the same futon. His arm and most of his shoulder and hip dangled off the edge onto the hardwood floor.
"I am going to sleep for at least a week," he declared to the room at large.
"Count me in," Rowen said, tossing down a futon on Kento's other side. He collapsed onto it face first and buried his face into the cloth.
Kento reached over with his free arm and dragged the futon— Rowen and all— across the foot or so between them, so the two futons lay flush together and he was no longer lying half on the floor. This left him smushed uncomfortably between the two boys, shoulder pressed into Ryo's and arm into Rowen's side, but he didn't seem to mind or even really notice. He had four or five siblings, Mia remembered; he was probably used to close quarters.
Rowen, normally so protective of his personal space, turned his head to favor Kento with a weak glare and wriggled a little so he wasn't quite so squished, but Mia noted he made no other protest.
White Blaze padded over the futons and curled up at Ryo's head.
Together, Cye and Sage arranged the last two futons to their satisfaction while Mia went for the blankets. There weren't as many as she had hoped-- barely enough so they could each have one-- and they weren't very heavy, meant for the summer, not the winter. But it would have to do. Mia spread a couple on top of the three prone Ronins, and set the rest where they could be easily reached by the others.
Standing up, Mia felt a tug on her pants, and looked down to see Yuli staring up at her with big, tired eyes. "What is it, Yuli?" she asked.
"I want to go home," he said, in a small voice.
"Oh, kiddo," she said. "We'll take you home first thing tomorrow, okay? But right now we're all really tired, and it wouldn't be safe to drive, I don't think." Not to mention that she still needed to think up something to tell his parents about why Yuli'd been staying with her for so long— somehow, she didn't think 'we had to save the world' was going to cut it. With any luck, his parents wouldn't remember that he'd been gone at all, but Mia wasn't counting on it.
Seeing the tears gathering in the corners of his eyes, Mia impulsively gathered Yuli up in a hug. "Don't worry, you'll be back with your parents before you know it, I promise," she said, as Yuli clung to her.
After a moment she felt him nod against her shoulder. "Okay," he said.
Mia held him for a moment longer, then drew him out to arms length. "Why don't you go lie down, okay?" she said. Yuli nodded and crawled in on Ryo's other side, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. Soon he was curled in a ball and breathing softly, out cold once more.
Futons arranged to his exacting standards, Sage lay down on Rowen's other side, pulling the blanket up until it was bunched around his shoulders. Cye dragged the last futon into place and crashed next to Ryo and Yuli, curling up onto his side.
That left Mia. She surveyed the crowded floor, wondering if there was a place for her, wondering if she ought to try and wait for the laundry to finish. Surely she could dig some energy up from somewhere… it wasn't like she'd been the one out there fighting today...
"C'mon, Mia, don't just stand there," Kento said, nudging her ankle with his socked foot.
"Yeah, what're you waiting for?" Rowen asked, propping himself up on his elbows so he could raise an eyebrow at her.
Mia hesitated. She really should at least go and get changed; her pajamas were just a few rooms away, and she had been wearing this same outfit for what felt like weeks, now, so she was in desperate need of a bath— but it seemed like so much effort. And none of the boys had changed out of their clothing, although Rowen had shrugged out of his outer jacket. Really, it was no different from any other night they'd spent on the road— except that they were safe, and home.
Mia sighed. "I'm waiting for someone to make me some space," she said, raising an eyebrow right back at Rowen.
Instantly, every single one of them leaped to action in an attempt to make room for her. Somehow in the chaos, a space large enough opened up in between Rowen and Kento. Mia kicked off her shoes and divested herself of her jacket, shivering as the cold air hit her skin. She padded onto the futons, feeling the cotton compress under her feet, and slid into the open space. Rowen grabbed the blanket and dragged it up over her. Warmth from their combined body heat flooded into her, soothing her tense muscles.
"Alright?" he asked.
Mia looked at her boys arrayed around her: exhausted and injured, but beautifully, wonderfully alive, every one of them, and smiled. "Yes."
And she was.