Hoops of Steel
Part V

Touma winced at the creak of the wood floor and hesitated, frozen.

As often as I've sneaked downstairs for midnight snacks, you'd think I'd be used to this. But this trip didn't have the kitchen as its final destination.

He tiptoed past the guys' rooms and downstairs, his mind and heart racing. He wasn't sure which one was winning yet.

He hadn't been able to sleep. He'd been irritable company most of the night and so had retired early but sleep wouldn't take him away from his thoughts.

So he'd slipped into Seiji's room. He wasn't sure what his intentions in going there were: to sleep or NOT to sleep, that was the question. Seiji assumed the second. And Touma certainly hadn't been - and still wasn't - complaining. But as Seiji had finally drifted off, Touma was still wide awake. Moreso than before, because now he had the reminder of Seiji and his dream and his armor.

He had hoped the soft repetition of a heartbeat and the warmth of a loving embrace would be enough to help him forget all of this.

He really hated it when he was wrong.

He slipped out into the night, eyes drawn skyward almost instantly. It was so still...it had to be past midnight now. Everything seemed almost...frozen. Like God had hit the pause button.

Touma looked back at the house briefly then wandered away a little ways. He didn't want to attract attention.

He drew out his kanji orb and summoned Tenku to him. Not ON him, to him. It sat, on nothing, before him, faceplate down. Empty, lifeless metal.

The wind suddenly, briefly picked up as Tenku shimmered into existence. Anyone else, standing outside in the middle of the night in nothing more than pajama pants, would've been cold. Touma, however, was absorbed in contemplation of his armor.

He could feel its pull on him. He could remember, as eyes ran over blue and gold, every battle he'd fought in it. How much of his life had depended on the armors.

Without the armor, he would never have met Seiji, or the others. He wouldn't have survived the battles - none of humanity would've. There would not have been any battles at all, and the Youjakai would've won outright. Without the armor, he might not have even survived that car crash.

These were what he was grateful for. It wasn't the armor then, but the NEED for the armor that bothered him.

It's been so many years...why have I even bothered holding on to it?

In case.

Just in case.

I pray it's never needed again...no. No...

I pray I'M never needed again.


Seiji rolled over and felt something was wrong. In his sleep-addled state, it took him a few minutes to realize what it was. He shouldn't have been ABLE to roll over. There should be a blue-haired, pale-skinned body next to him.

But Touma was gone.

Seiji frowned and sat up, peering around the room. Even after his eyes adjusted, he could see no trace of him.

He grumbled as he threw his sheets aside and fumbled for his discarded clothing. Normally, he'd just assume Touma had gone downstairs for a snack or gotten up to relieve himself. But where Touma had been was already cool, as if he'd never been there at all. It didn't take Touma this long to scarf down some food or go to the bathroom.

Perhaps he went back to his own room?

No Touma.

The computer then? To try to work out some more of the puzzle? I know that's why he had trouble sleeping, even if he wouldn't say so.

The computer had long been silent, the room obviously hadn't seen a human in hours.

Seiji frowned. He looked around the den for some clue as to where Touma might be, then happened to glance out the window. A half-moonlit figure and a faint blue glow...

Mystery: Solved


Touma was lost in the silent communion and contemplation of Tenku. He was suddenly struck with an overwhelming feeling of...solitude. It sat there, framed by shadow trees and star dotted sky, and just radiated loneliness.

The archer jumped when Korin shone into appearance next to Tenku, seated and waiting, just like its fellow armor.

Touma turned to find Seiji standing there. For a minute, it was as if the moon shone just a little brighter, and then everything dulled back to grays and blacks once more.

Everything except the two armors, who seemed to glow in resonance to each other.

Touma, looking at Tenku and Korin, no longer felt the sense of being alone. As Seiji walked up next to him, he didn't feel alone at all.


They greeted each other in joy and yet at the same time, longed for the others. They took what they could though: to be summoned and whole and formed and next to each other, next to a part of themselves.

//It feels so good!! I feel...alive.\\

//You aren't,\\ Korin replied sensibly.

//But it's nice, isn't it? Tell me you don't feel good at being OUT and WHOLE again.\\

//I do.\\ Korin's tone was wistfully happy. //But it won't last.\\

//I know that. So we should enjoy it while we can.\\ After a bit, Tenku added, //Do you think they understand yet?\\

//It might be for the best for us to just tell them.\\

//I'm not sure that's wise.\\

//Why not?\\ Korin was ready to respect Tenku's opinion of what was and wasn't wise, but it was curious as to the reasoning behind it. Once it would've understood; when they were one. Now it needed an explanation.

//They're not ready yet. It could scare them and then they'd never summon us again.\\

That was logic Korin could not argue with. //I miss this. I wish it was daytime. I miss sunlight.\\

//Someday...we'll see the sunny skies again.\\

//You're such an optimist.\\

Tenku replied, //Hey, sometimes you need a little wishful thinking just to get through the day.\\

//I see your point...\\ The ancient armor paused. //Did we just quote Evangelion?\\

Not being human, not really having eyes or a mouth or vocal cords, Tenku did the best imitation he could of looking innocent and whistling.

//Your wielder is a bad influence on you,\\ Korin grumped.


//And you in turn are a bad influence on me.\\

//At least it's influence of a sort.\\

Korin sent something like a nod. //It's better than being alone...\\

The armors sighed together.


Seiji laid a gentle hand on Touma's shoulder. "You won't solve anything by standing out here and catching cold. Your body is still getting back to normal from the last few days."

"I know, but..."

"Your mind is restless." Touma nodded silent agreement. Seiji couldn't say much to that. Finally, he let his hand slide down to Touma's waist. "Come inside. Try to sleep. If you're tired you won't get anywhere any faster."

Touma nodded again. Seiji's hand slid away and Korin disappeared, sent back to rest. Seiji turned to walk back into the house, then paused. "Coming?"

Touma still responded with nothing more than a nod. He unsummoned Tenku and turned to go. He couldn't stop himself from stopping one last time, from looking at where the armor had sat and he had stared into eternity.

He turned away from it again and caught up with Seiji, headed back to the warmth of their home.


Chapter 6:.
.:Wisdom's Sacrifice Fiction:.