Hoops of Steel
Part II

Seiji was glad he was going in by himself. The others had come and gone already, to see how Touma was doing. Seiji needed to know that he could be alone with him, and that no one was impatiently waiting upon his return, as he had waited on theirs.

Seiji hated hospitals. Well, he hated this one. Actually, he just hated the fact that Touma was here. That Touma was in any hospital. He calmed himself. Touma was in stable condition, he'd been told. He'd been asleep when the others came in, but the nurse had said that he was as good as could be expected, he was conscious, with a good strong pulse and no real problems breathing. She also noted his good-natured flirting with the nurses, which relieved Seiji greatly. It meant Touma really was okay.

If he'd been the jealous kind, it might've bothered him. But he knew Touma's heart was his; he only flirted innocently with women because it was how he was used to relating to them, and because it killed the time pleasantly. The point was.....Touma wasn't going to die. Hearing the staff nurse's report eased back the vise on Seiji's soul that had gripped him since he'd first heard...


The phone. An annoyance to everyone else, but to Seiji it was much more.

Everything was an annoyance as he waited impatiently for Touma to come home. Not that he showed his impatience. He sat impassively, drinking his tea, hoping no one had seen the slight jump he'd involuntarily made at the sudden noise of the ring.

Ryo and Shu were absorbed in their video game (since it was a one player RPG, Ryo was giving Shu tips as he played: "No dude, go back into the restaurant...then see, when she says this, you can blow her up and get a 1 up!! Seriously!"), so Shin got up to see who was calling at this time of night.

As Shin neared the phone, Seiji started feeling...almost queasy. Something was...wrong? So it was both a surprise and an expectation to hear Shin say, "Oh my god! What?? Where?? Is he okay!?"


Shin hung the phone up. By this time, the game had been put on pause. All eyes were on the auburn-haired former warrior of trust.

"Touma...Touma was..." Shin looked at Seiji sympathetically and suddenly there was nothing else in the world to Seiji but the words Shin was saying. "Touma was in a car accident, or rather, the cab he was in was. A drunk driver ran the light and plowed right into the car. Touma's at the hospital. They say he's got some broken and bruised ribs and a broken arm. Beyond that it's mostly just bruises and bumps. Nothing too serious, but they want to keep him overnight. They said we could come and see him since he's not critical."

Was this what the dream was warning me about? If I reach out for him...this happens? It left Seiji cold. If I hadn't asked him to come home...he wouldn't have been in that accident.

"Well come on, dudes, let's go!" Ryo exclaimed, flicking the game console and TV into darkness. Shu was already getting his coat.

Seiji worked very hard to remain calm, and to ignore the constant flickering glances from the others. They were expecting a reaction of some kind. He was not going to act the part of the grief stricken lover. And besides, most of his attention was focused on the mantra he'd taken up.

He's alive...He's alive...He's alive...


He entered the room. It was made for two, and the other bed had an older man in it, middle-aged, balding. Seiji moved silently to the other side of the bright, sterile room, pushing aside the privacy curtain.

He stopped as soon as he saw Touma. Asleep, hair mussed and thrown all over the place as usual. He looked exactly the same...except for the bandages. A sling on his left arm; bindings around his chest. A bit of gauze on a nasty cut near one temple. They seemed glaringly out of place and he supressed a silly bit of rage directed at the bandages. They were helping Touma. He supposed he wanted someone to blame. Who knew where the drunk driver was now? Seiji was used to clear battles, where the enemy was clearly defined. Nothing about this was clear. The dream, and all his questions...

He sat in the chair one of the guys had pulled close to the bed. After a moment, he reached out a now steady hand and lightly pulled Touma's fingers into his grasp.

Sky blue in the middle of all this white. He thought again about how Touma did NOT belong here, should NOT be here. How do you hold a piece of Heaven on Earth? He shook the sentimentality out, or tried to. If Touma had been just friend, just comrade, even just a lover, it would've been easy to do. But he was all of those, and more. Touma was more important to him than anyone else could ever be, had ever been.

He knew the bond between them wasn't open, but he hurt nonetheless. It was a sharp, pervasive ache through his heart, and it resurrected the guilt he'd set aside in favor of concentrating on trying to act "normal." He wouldn't be like this if it wasn't for ME...

"Seiji?" Touma groaned. He tried to sit up and hissed.

"Lay still, baka."

"Seiji..." Touma smiled and Seiji felt that "All is right with the world" feeling return. Touma was smiling. Touma was alive. "Seiji, I DO still have a pulse."

Seiji realized his hand had slid down, so that his fingers were resting on Touma's wrist. "I know that," he replied a tad sullenly, pulling his hand away. Damnit I am NOT the 'worried mother' you accused me of being earlier...

Touma frowned just a little. "I'll be okay." He shifted his left arm; Seiji was sure he had a full cast, but the sling obscured most of it.

Touma noticed Seiji's attention, and carefully swung his arm around, pushing the sling back. "Check it out. They let me pick out which color I wanted." Of course he'd chosen blue. What else would Touma pick?

He was a little boy showing off a scab to his friends. Seiji supposed it was better than the attitude of a veteran showing off battle scars, which made him think of their own battle scars.

If I could protect you...I would. My own life for yours...it wouldn't matter...I could defend you against Youjakai minions by the score...but even I can't defend you against one human's stupidity.


Seiji blinked. He hadn't broadcasted that thought, he was sure of it. So why was Touma resting his good hand on Seiji's shoulder?

"Seiji...I've been...thinking about the dream..."

"So have I. This is what it was telling us." Seiji stood. Touma's hand slid along the length of Seiji's body, as he was unwilling to just let go. "In mine, I reached out for you and you disappeared and when I touched your armor, it shattered. And then...yes, I got a little...concerned, and called you. I brought you home. I reached out for you...and you wound up broken."

Touma nodded. That was about what he'd been thinking. That had been his dream as well. Seiji's touch giving him pain...it had been a warning. "But was it a warning just about this?"

Seiji turned and looked out the window. He watched the cars moving sanely, soberly, below. "What was it then? A warning not to have anything to do with you?" Touma recognized the tone in Seiji's voice. That was Seiji being coldly civil, meaning that he was rejecting out of hand what he was saying. You'd better reject that idea, buddy, 'cause I sure as HELL am not leaving YOU alone... Touma thought. Aloud, "Not quite. More like...not to overdo it."

"A warning not to hold you too close? Not to suffocate you? I don't believe I'm doing that."

"Maybe...the armors think you will?"

"The armors?" The blonde swordsman half-turned to his brother-in-arms. "Touma, we haven't had anything to do with the armors in YEARS."

"Our virtues were glowing. We had similar dreams at the same time, leaving us with the same feeling. You wanna call that coincidence, you can, but I think the armors are the only explanation. Seiji...that drunk driver hit my door dead on. I should be in a lot worse shape than I am."

"So? Be grateful you aren't."

"I am. And I think I have Tenku to thank. We may have put aside the armors, but they obviously haven't rejected US."

"You're making them sound....as though they have minds of their own."

Touma shrugged carefully, sucking in the hiss of pain this time, and gave Seiji a significant look. Seiji turned back to the window for a moment. Touma picked at lint on his blanket.

Then Seiji turned back, crossed to the bed in two steps, sat on the edge of the bed and, taking Touma's head in both hands, kissed him. Touma blinked a little before returning the kiss. He could almost taste the desperate relief in Seiji. He wished he could put his arms around him, but his ribs and his broken arm wouldn't allow it. He was just glad to have Seiji here.

When he could, he asked, "So where are the other guys?" with a grin. Seiji shook his head as he recalled that Touma had slept through all of it and proceeded to inform his sleep-obsessed lover of their visits.


Back home, Seiji felt restless. Touma would be released tomorrow afternoon, and in the meantime, Seiji could do nothing. He wanted Touma home now. At home, at least, he could try to heal him. It'd been a long time since he had summoned any of Korin's power. He knew he could still do it, but it would take effort. And doing such a thing in public was not advisable. Even with just the old man there (Touma had said he was the cabbie, as it turned out), it was too risky. And the doctors would wonder at such a speedy recovery. So that had had to wait, which meant that Seiji had to as well. Usually patient, Seiji was filled with anxious energy that could not be put down or set aside.

Expressing this energy visibly would certainly mean being teased by the guys, and in the mood he was in, he could very well snap at them. So that was out...not that it had ever really been in. He had never been one to...vent publicly. The guys saw more than most people, and Touma more than the guys, but he still retained his control most of the time. So he had to find an outlet somehow. He worked sword forms for awhile, straightened up his already tidy room, and wrote a long-overdue letter to his family, but his mind kept returning to the armors.

So he decided to go to the source.

He strolled casually into the den where Nasuti's computer was. Actually, Nasuti's grandfather's computer. He closed the door, sat down and brought up the armor database.

He scrolled through quite a bit of data. It was something to do. Most of what his eyes scanned was familiar to him.

He didn't know how long he was there. His eyes were starting to strain; it'd been a long day. It was now actually early morning, almost dawn. The respect he already had for Nasuti Kouji grew as he realized she must've done the exact same thing countless times on their behalf before.

He began closing files, and was going to shut the computer down until he noticed a filename he'd just never seen before. It was simply "sidenote". So small and so easily overlooked. He shrugged. One more and then I am definitely going to bed. I don't have the first clue what I'm really looking for.

Clickclick. File open.


	It is interesting to note that the wearers
	develop an unusually close bond, even beyond
	the usual camaraderie of soldiers.  Whether
	this is an outcropping of the mental bond
	they share through the armors or something
	else is unknown.
	Perhaps further study of both the bond and
	this phenomenon would be warranted.


Which "further study" of course he did not get to complete. Seiji offered a moment of reverent silence and thanks to Nasuti's departed grandfather.

An "unusually close bond", hm? A nasty little thought snaked its way through his consciousness. Quiet and hissed in the back of his mind, it offered up, What if my feelings for Touma...what I call love...is nothing more than this "unusually close bond"?? What if I've completely misinterpreted things?

The thought was quickly rejected and Seiji quietly snorted at the thought. Granted, love is not an emotion with which I was familiar before Touma...but I've never been more sure of anything in my life. He repeated that last part to himself, shut the computer down, and quietly left.


Deep blue, vast and infinite.

Bright light, clear and pure.

They were both as old as time itself, it seemed. Certainly older than those who relied upon them now. Much much older.

They were old friends. More than that, they were part of each other...or had been, once. They reached for each other and although it was hard, found each other in the vastness of mental space.

//We tried to warn them...we tried. Why didn't it work?\\ Korin was confused.

//As long as we have known humans, we still haven't figured them out properly.\\ Tenku replied.

//But...it is because of them that we can do this. Surely we would have picked that up by now....?\\

//Not necessarily. Think, Korin.\\ The name Tenku called its friend was not necessarily "Korin" but had no translation. It was light and courtesy and armor and virtue and comrade and friend all at the same time. //Think of how complex they are. We cannot pick up everything. Besides, we are only really able to absorb any energy from them when they summon us.\\

//Yes. And it has been so very long...I miss you and the others. I miss them all. We were one and now...\\

//Yes I know. It is hard. But we cannot force them to summon us, Korin, you know that.\\

//I never said I would even contemplate doing such a thing!\\ Korin returned indignantly.

Tenku gave off an aura of amusement. //You become more like your current wielder every time I talk to you. You two are closer than I am with mine.\\ A note of regret.

There was a pause. //They need each other. More than any of our wielders have ever needed each other. That's why it's so easy to talk to you, Tenku.\\ Again, it was not Tenku, but wisdom, air, and so much more. Beyond one mere word. //Their bond to each other, beyond the bond we have with our brothers...\\ another ineffectual term //...is so strong. I know the others are there, but they seem so shut away. You are clear and bright and easier to find. Because our wielders share this other bond.\\

//I wish they had not shut us away. But they associate us only with war and with fighting.\\ If armor could sigh, Tenku did so now. //I protected my wielder as best I could...I'm not sure he's aware of the fact that he was in subarmor when temporarily unconscious. It was as sudden as any enemy attack. I couldn't do much more.\\

//I understand. I'm sure the wielders do too.\\ Another pause. //I'm not sure they'll understand what we were trying to say...but I hope they don't think we want them apart. They NEED each other. And if they aren't together....\\

//...Then we're completely alone...\\ Tenku gave off a brief sadness and Korin responded with reassurement. Then both realized what a strain it must be on their wielders, for them to communicate like this for so long and reluctantly parted ways, sinking back into solitude and darkness.


Chapter 3:.
.:Wisdom's Sacrifice Fiction:.