Hoops of Steel
Part IV

Seiji nearly tripped as he left Touma's room. "What is this?"

"What is what?" Touma asked. He was pulling on his t-shirt and grinning idiotically at his no-longer-broken arm, appreciating the ability to use it again.

Seiji kneeled down and gave the unexpected obstacle a critical eye. "Miso soup, a sandwich, some steamed rice and vegetables..." He tested the contents of the mug and the glass with one finger. "...cold green tea and warm, watered down coke."

"Oh crap! I forgot!! Shin said he was going to make me lunch."

"Well it's dinnertime now," announced an amused voice as a pair of socks stepped into Seiji's field of view. The blonde stood and came face to face, or rather, considering the height difference, face to top of head, with their former leader.

"Shin said to check if you two were going to be joining us, and if you were, to bring the tray down so he can dispose of that food he worked so very hard on."

"Yeah, sandwiches take a lot of work," Touma commented, finger combing blue hair from "outrageously messy and tangled" to its usual state of "just in need of a comb".

"I wouldn't dream of missing one of Shin's dinners," Seiji replied.

"But it's okay to miss lunch, hmm?"

"Why didn't he knock?" Touma asked, picking up the tray.

Ryo's grin got wider, if such a thing was possible. One would think Byakuen contagious, Ryo looked so cat-like. "Well, he said he could..err...tell you two were...otherwise occupied and he didn't want to interrupt."

Touma blushed, cleared his throat, and pushed past Seiji and Ryo to return the tray. Seiji merely arched an eyebrow at Ryo who arched one back. "Don't give me that, Seiji. We're all glad he's home and safe now."

Seiji gave a slight inclination of his head. "Of course. We shouldn't keep everyone waiting any longer."

Ryo snorted. "Yeah we have to go save Touma from the merciless teasing I'm sure he's getting."

"To say nothing of Shu's merciless hugging."

Ryo laughed as he and Seiji headed downstairs.


Touma adjusted his shades. Damn fine day to be outside.

Nothing to do and all day to do it in. I love summer. He stretched in the lounge chair. He supposed he should be doing SOMETHING: mowing the grass, or cleaning his room. But after all, the doctor's orders...no strenuous physical activity.

So he left Shu and Nasuti and Shin and Ryo to the physical labor of keeping up a large house on an even larger plot of land. Seiji was deep in the forest, meditating, so for now, Touma was alone, kicking back and relaxing.

He returned to the book he was reading. Trying to read. He was sure he'd love the book if he could get past the same part that he seemed to be reading over and over.


    Elaida shook her head.  "I will not hear of difficulties, daughter.
    Tomorrow you will place before me a list of everything you have   
    done, including all measures taken to see the world does not learn
    of any dissension in the Tower."  That was deadly important; there
    was a new Amyrlin, but the world must see the Tower as united and 
    strong as ever.*


What was this? The seven-THOUSANDTH time he'd read that? Okay, well that was obviously exaggerating, but...something was troubling his mind, and he couldn't get it gone.

"Touma, I found something on Nasuti's grandfather's computer...I think you should take a look at it..." Seiji's voice, in memory.

"Oh fine, fine...I'll never get any peace if I don't look up the damn thing." He slammed the thick paperback to the grass and strode determinedly into the house. "One of my favorite writers and I can't even enjoy it because of THIS."

He flipped on the ancient computer and waited impatiently for it to boot. Tap tap tap...

"Come on, come on, come on, come on, Come ON...FINALLY..."

He scrolled through the files. "Here we go."

The entry flashed up before him.

"Further study...Well...yeah, but how do you go about studying it? It's not the easiest hypothesis to test, you know?" Touma's impatience faded as his mind began to rev. If it isn't the armor bond...maybe it's the armors themselves?

Are they...sentient? Alive? Or have I just been reading too much science-fiction? Maybe I'm just getting paranoid. It's just an extension of my reaction from being in a rather nasty car collision...that I should've been seriously damaged in.

I KNOW Tenku protected me somehow. I'm not sure how, but it did. And I sure as hell didn't do anything to summon it. I didn't even think about it. That means it acted On Its Own. Is it a reaction, part of the armor's mystical nature, to automatically protect its wielder? Or is it something more?

Touma shut the computer down and absentmindedly wandered to his room, mind trying desperately to figure things out. He'd think himself into a headache, most likely, but he couldn't do otherwise now.


The Kouji mansion slowly rose before him as he trekked back to relative civilization. Meditation had been a waste of time today. No matter what he tried, he could not clear his mind. When all else was gone, the puzzle of the last few days remained.

I would've done better staying and helping with the chores. At least then I could say I accomplished something. But this....I haven't had this much trouble for years. Not even when I was yearning for Touma so desperately. It was terribly hard to clear my mind and my heart of everything, but it could be done, after some time.

He came across one of the lounge chairs and a large, heavy paperback. Touma, without a doubt. He retrieved the book and looked at the cover a little, flipped through some. Fantasy. And yet it hadn't been engrossing enough for the imaginative archer.

Touma was worried about something then. Seiji was fairly certain he knew what it was.

He set such thoughts aside as he carried the book back to the house. He had no desire to let the others know about this conundrum, or his own confusion. It was easy enough to push the thoughts back some, out of even Shin's detection; it was making them disappear that was difficult.

He checked the kitchen first. He'd seen Touma engrossed in thought on previous occasions, idly nibbling on whatever was at hand. Apparently that wasn't what he'd had in mind today though.

Searching the rest of the downstairs yielded similar results: no Touma. Not that he'd really expected to find Touma anywhere else downstairs, but one could never tell.

So upstairs he went. As he passed the study, he noted the door was open and peered in. No one here at the moment, but the chair had been pushed back; someone had been in here recently.

This made things much easier. Seiji knocked on Touma's door.

"Come in," in that distracted voice of his. Seiji complied and found Touma staring out the window, leaning against the windowsill. The sunlight shone in around his still form, and Seiji remembered again how much again he loved him. Not that he ever forgot.


He turned and looked back over his shoulder at his unexpected guest. "What's up? Done meditating?"

"Mm." Noncommital noise. "Daydreaming?"

"Not really."

"You're thinking about the armor again, aren't you? You looked up the entry."

Nod, turn back to staring out the window. Seiji crossed the room and put a hand on Touma's back.

"I found your book outside." His other hand offered the book to its owner, who looked at it, accepted it, and tossed it carelessly on the bed. "Touma, you can't figure it all out right now."

"I know that but until I do..." He sighed, stood, ran a hand through his hair. Seiji half-turned to see what it was Touma had been staring at outside.

Ryo and Shin gardening, at least until Shu came up behind them and sprayed them with the hose. That started a playful fight as Nasuti, carrying a tray of iced tea, came out and began laughing at the sight.

"Touma...you need to take it easy. That means letting your mind rest too." Seiji took firm hold of one of muscular arm and pulled his lover away from the window, and towards himself.

"Put it aside for now. Clear your mind of it."

"Maybe you can do that like that," Touma snapped his fingers as demonstration, "but I can't." He was sullen, irritable. He hated not being able to figure things out.

Seiji frowned again. He considered a number of things to snap Touma out of his mood, but he knew they'd all be temporary fixes. The only way to be permanently rid of this was to solve it.

He exhaled softly and pulled Touma close for a tight embrace. "We'll find the answers." After a bit, Touma's arms wrapped around Seiji's waist, accepting the comfort. His mind still raced a little, but the rest of him was calm in the arms of the only person who really understood who he was.

"Together," he whispered against Seiji's chest.


*[Note: Passage from The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan. I didn't write it, I'm not saying I did. Read the book, it's in his "Wheel of Time" series, which is just incredible.]


Chapter 5:.
.:Wisdom's Sacrifice Fiction:.