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"...I will not stop until I am the strongest. Until I can break away from this damned fate, no one can stop me. Not even you."

 

"Robert, please! I know you're still there. You're a strong man, you've got one of the strongest hearts I know!"

 

"... strong… Yes. I am strong. And I will defeat ANYONE who gets in my way. Goodbye, Ryo Sakazaki."

 

The dark haired man lunged towards Ryo, nothing but cold murderous intent in his blank, violet eyes. The blonde's cries to him flooding his head until-

 

"RYO!"

 

Robert shot up from his bed, shaking as he took in the scenery. There was no defeated Bao, no Yukari standing horrified, this wasn't that riverside. It was just. His room in the apartment he'd rented for his team during the tournament. Sighing, he tossed his covers off of him and eased himself out of the bed.

 

"Another nightmare, huh. Why can't I be left alone? Is my subconscious trying to prove to me I'm a bad guy? ...ha. Ha ha… After using Ryo and his forced destiny to escape from my own? I already know that I'm a bad person."

 

Sitting on the edge of his mattress, the dark haired man felt himself start trembling as the thought of Ryo turning against him after all he'd done appeared clearly in his mind. He could sense tears threatening to fall, and barely held back a sob as he shook his head at himself.

 

"I already know… I'm the worst-"

 

A knock on the door startled Robert, who quickly wiped at his face and forced himself to bare any semblance of a positive emotion. If it was Bao… he didn't know what he'd do if the psychic progeny could sense his actual feelings. But even then, he could probably deceive the young man into thinking he was fine. On the other hand-

 

"Robert? Can I come in? I heard you call my name, did something happen?"

 

Son of a bitch. Fooling the leading source of his guilt into thinking he was fine was a completely different issue. So much had to stay locked up it was miraculous Ryo hadn't pushed him too far on his thoughts. 

 

"I feel I've been using you…" "You deserve a better friend than me…" "I think I might be in l-"

 

Another knock.

 

"Robert. If you aren't going to answer, I'll break down the door. Are you alright?"

 

Shaking his head to clear the scattering emotions from his mind, Robert cleared his throat to steel himself.

 

"You can come in, Ryo."

 

The door slowly opened as the blonde man quietly stepped in, then quickly shut behind him. He was smiling, but his gentle brown eyes still seemed to hold worry behind them.

 

"...Hey."

 

"Hi."

 

Noticing Ryo's hesitance, Robert shifted further down the bed and quietly pat at the spot next to him as a silent invitation. Taking the offer, Ryo sat down as the darker haired man looked at the floor. The two sat in silence for what couldn't have been more than a few minutes, but it felt like hours to Robert before the silence was broken.

 

"... I've.. never seen you with your hair down before."

 

"Huh? Ah!"

 

Robert moved his hand back and the realization hit him that he hadn't tied his hair back into its typical ponytail. He might've woken up just a few minutes ago at 2 in the morning, but he cursed himself for leaving it exposed nonetheless.

 

"I guess it is down. It's kind of-"

 

"It looks nice."

 

Surprised, Robert looked up to meet his guest's face for the first time, bright blue eyes meeting softer brown ones. Ryo gave a smile to him, before it shifted to a look of concern.

 

"Anyways, I wasn't kidding. You good? I could hear you yell my name and I was worried about you."

 

"It was… just a nightmare. Again. Forget it, Ryo."

 

The blonde furrowed his brow in confusion, considering what he had meant before his expression softened to one of concern and he placed his hand on the other man's shoulder.

 

"...Are you still dreaming about that time? Robert, it's okay. You and I both know you weren't in your right mind. It was that bastard who-"

 

"If I wasn't so weak, nothing would've happened in the first place. I could've KILLED you, Ryo. I…," Robert felt himself shake as the tears he had fought back were threatening to fall once again, "...I don't know what I'd do with myself if that ever happened."

 

"Robert…"

 

That tone. The "I'm worried about you" tone. Ryo was starting to grow concerned about him. That couldn't happen, he was supposed to be strong enough to keep everything together. Ryo had his own issues to worry about. There was no way that Robert would let him have to suffer through his as well.

 

The unconscious shaking of his body stopped and he was jolted from his thoughts as he felt the blonde's arms wrap around him and pull him to his torso.

 

"Wh-Ryo? What are you doing?!?"

 

"I'm hugging you, idiot. You wouldn't answer me and you seemed so lost and... alone. I'm not going anywhere, okay? I'll always be there for you, no matter what."

 

"Ryo… why-"

 

"Don't. Don't ask anything like why I'm doing this. I care about you. A lot. You're important to me. I'd do anything for you."

 

Robert felt tears falling, but couldn't bring himself to stop them as he returned the embrace and felt Ryo rubbing at his back. The feeling was soothing after a while, and the warmth from their hug was only aiding in that. Combined, he felt himself growing sleepy once again while he enjoyed their closeness.

 

"It might not be exactly what I want… but this is good enough for now."

 

"Hey, Robert. We both should probably get some sleep before Bao comes in yelling for us to meet up with everyone, huh? ...Why don't I stay… here for tonight?"

 

"What, like when we were kids?"

 

"...Yeah. Like that. I'm not going to leave you. I promise."

 

The two broke apart and Ryo stood as the darker haired man stretched his arms before repositioning himself back under the covers, moved aside to allow the other man to slip in with room to spare. Soon after joining him, Ryo once again felt Robert's arms around him and he felt no urge to stop him. Eventually, he heard the soft snoring that assured him that the other man had finally fallen into a restful sleep, not plagued by his own guilt or feelings. Gently, as to not wake him, Ryo moved just a bit closer to quickly place a kiss on Robert's forehead. He felt the other man pull himself closer and smiled before closing his eyes to drift off himself.

 

"Maybe for now… that's good enough."