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Shake. 

Slosh slosh slosh. 

The sound was tiny, but reassuring. Snapping the lighter into the palm of his hand, Ryo clenched it tight. The hard plastic edges bit into his skin. 

Plenty of lighter fluid left. He needed to tell Seiji or Nasutei to start helping him look for more, though. They couldn’t risk running out while his armor was still trapped in Hobart. 

The sense of disconnect was still strong despite knowing where his armor was (sort of). Ryo had always carried a lighter, it was too useful when in the wild not to have, but he’d never felt he needed it until his armor had been stolen. 

By… whatever.

Byakuen padded over and laid down next to him, resting his great head on Ryo’s lap. A wave of melancholy swept over him, a return of the downward spiral of feelings that had been temporarily assuaged by Mami Wata. He dug his fingers into Bya’s thick fur, reaching past the soft outer layer to the courser layer underneath. 

He was alone. It wasn’t a strange feeling for him, but one that had started to feel less frequent ever since he’d met the guys. 

Ryo knew he wasn’t good at keeping in touch, but he did try. He replied to all the messages waiting for him every time he remembered to recharge his phone and looked forward to the digital flood when he returned from the forest or mountains or wherever he’d gone that didn’t have cell towers nearby. 

There was always something, a reminder that other people knew and remembered him, that someone cares for him beyond a sense of real, if somewhat distant and puzzled affection. 

He tried to remember to tell Nasutei whenever he was going somewhere or if he was going to be staying at his cabin for a while insteading being her semi-permanent house guest. She didn’t begrudge him the space or company, but sometimes even her small presence could be overwhelming, especially after a long, busy, and LOUD week of school. 

Ryo liked being in Tokyo for the most part, but it was just so big and filled with so many people. He could only stand it for so long before he needed to get away from it all. 

And now… they were here. In a world called Toilet by some of the locals. (He couldn’t remember the full, fancier name.) He liked it here. And he hated it. 

He liked the sense of mystery and mysticism that surrounded them. Meeting such a wide range of spirits and people was amazing, and Ryo knew they were doing good things here. People’s lives were being made better by them. He didn’t have to worry about tests or papers or grades, or how exactly to apply the degree he was working on to the life he wanted to live. He had ideas and still thought they would work… But he still worried. 

Just like how he worried about everyone. They were doing good, but it meant putting themselves in serious danger and Ryo knew better than to assume reclaiming all the armors would be as easy as Shin’s had been. (Relatively speaking. Some were going to fight back a hell of a lot more.)

Ryo worried about everyone. He worried about Nasutei’s safety (lasers or no, she was still new to fighting), about the guys, about Kayura, and even for the Masho. 

Shin seemed happy with his new abilities now that he understood them. Touma continued to display his particular brand of brilliance mixed with befuddlement (it still shocked him that someone could be worse than he was in dealing with people).

Shuu seemed to be going through some stuff but was approaching it with his usual forward-charge, no-holds-barred style. And it was funny as hell how Shuu though he’d managed to fully block Ryo’s hearing when he and Rajura had started talking about sex. As though Ryo didn’t know what it was. 

Seriously, Shuu, Ryo had seen so many animals having sex. It just happened when you were out in the wild, and not all of it was happening strictly for reproduction. (He’d seen doe-stag-stag threesomes. It was freaky as hell to just be walking along and suddenly find himself staring at three deer gettin’ busy.) And what were humans but extra sophisticated animals?

It wasn’t like humans were all base instinct, they had their guiding virtues, after all. Those came from something higher. The base programming was still there, though. 

Still. That moment had seemed important to Shuu so Ryo had gone along with it. 

Who did that leave? 

Oh, right, Seiji. 

Ryo worried about Seiji, like, all the time. He’s been through some serious shit and just tried to keep rolling with the punches. (And the kidnappings, torture, being knocked out, and hurt over and over again.)

Shin struggled with the idea of fighting. Shuu had moments where his confidence was knocked out of him. Touma thought himself into corners. Ryo himself worried about everyone.

Seiji was the one life seemed to want to hurt. 

Still. For all it was freaky as hell to be working and living with the Masho, at least Seiji had worked things out with Anubisu. They almost seemed to be friends? 

Hell, Seiji spent more time with Anubisu than anyone else now. 

It was almost like he had a crush on him…

Ryo blinked, fingers briefly pausing in the dispensation of pets and scratches. Where had that idea come from?

It… didn’t feel wrong, though…

Weird. 

The Masho just where. They were like how Ryo remembered them, just without the layer of pure evil slapped down on top of them. It was amazing to have Shuten back, a relief that Naaza wasn’t around all the time, and Kayura was just kind if cute now that she wasn’t being controlled. 

Shuu and Rajura hung out; Shin was still looking out for Shuu (and everyone else); Touma bounced between Seiji, Shuu, and Kayura; Seiji had gotten pretty fixated on Anubisu; Nasutei liked talking to Shuten and catching him up…

Shuten wasn’t talking to anyone much outside her and the Masho (and Kayura). The Masho only mixed a little bit outside their own circle. 

All of that…

Ryo was outside it all. 

He hung out with the guys, fought alongside everyone, talked back when talked to…

He’d never actually felt like he was being left out before. He liked being on his own, people were exhausting most of the time. 

He just… hadn’t really realized that he didn’t have anyone like the others did. He was friends with all of them (okay, not counting the Masho) but he wasn’t special to any of them in particular like Shin was to Shuu or Seiji with Anubisu now. 

“I guess it’s still you and me, huh, boy?” Ryo asked Byakuen. 

The tiger let out his deep, comforting rumble and Ryo added some extra deep scritches. 

It was okay. He was used to being alone. He always had been. 

And he had Byakuen now. He hadn’t even had him for most of his life. 

So it would be okay. 

It wasn’t safe for people to get too close to fire, after all.