Ronin found himself, after the adrenaline and the high-stakes, full-on dizzying events after Queen Tara's death, at a lost. Now that he had no "mission" to focus on, the rush of on-going, deadly fighting, and the need to take down the Leafmen's greatest enemy…Ronin seemed unsure where to go from there. He continued his duties, trained his soldiers and new recruits, and helped the new Queen where and when he could.
And that left him to remember Tara and to thoughts of what ifs and what else could he have done. Sometimes it caused him sleepless nights, and yet he would still be able to function through the next day. But somehow, it was still obvious to everyone that he wasn't doing well.
Queen Marigold, the new Queen of the Forest, began to slowly give him less work to do, until suddenly she requested that he just take time off for himself.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd ever taken time off.
"It'll be good for you," Nod told him, after he'd practically been ordered to this vacation. "You need some rest. You're starting to look like a cranky old man, Ronin!"
He halfheartedly swatted at Nod's head, but he didn't really feel up to bantering with the younger man. He just wanted…
"Rest," Ronin echoed. "Maybe I really do just need to rest."
So he went off to do exactly that.
It wasn't so easy after all. Resting in his home led to more thoughts, thoughts that he wanted to ignore. Instead, they plagued him all the more, now that he had nothing to preoccupy his mind and keep him too busy from thinking about things best left be.
Because everywhere he went, Tara went with him.
He was always thinking what ifs about her. Did he love her? Yes. No. Maybe? He had never let himself explore his feelings too closely before, knowing his role and knowing they had to have a clear distinction between each other. But he knew he had cared a great deal about her, and could have gone over that edge into love if he'd let himself…But he hadn't. And he wouldn't now, when it was far too late.
He also wondered about times if he could have treated her like he did when they were younger; foolish but happy friends. If he could just have smiled more for her. If he could have put less emphasis on his duty, and more as a friend.
Everyone was so quick to comfort him and say they knew what he was feeling, that they had lost Tara too.
But it wasn't the same, and they had lost Queen Tara when he'd just lost Tara over and over again through the years.
If he closed his eyes, he could picture her again…
Then the cycle just repeated all over for him for the day.
Ronin found himself traveling to the spot where Tara had died. He hadn't been near this place since the day she'd died there, but for some reason he felt like going there now. Maybe he needed to grieve there. If he was there, maybe he could find some closure…
To his surprise, he saw that there was already someone else there.
Mary Katherine, the girl who'd shrunk and help them save the forest and helped protect the pod, was kneeling at the spot where Tara had died. The place was still blackened, but now a new decorated stone was placed in the middle of the tarnished site, a bright spot in the middle of such blackness.
He could see the 'Queen Tara' etched out onto the stone, as well as a crude daisy drawing underneath that, and felt his lips twitch up, though he never fully smiled.
"You didn't have to do that," he snuck up on her, guessing that the stomper girl had gotten a stone and carved all that onto it.
Surprised, MK turned and caught sight of him, giving a sheepish smile that she'd been caught.
"I felt like I did," she told him honestly, and he noted curiously that neither needed her father's equipment to communicate to each other.
He made it to her side, and gazed down at the marker.
"I didn't know her for long, or even at all, but she'd changed my life the moment I met her," MK confessed. "And it felt like she'd been reaching out to me, and I couldn't ignore her call or leave her side."
Ronin looked at her and remembered that this strange girl held and protected the Queen in her last moments, even though she hardly knew Tara, and even was willing to keep her safe from him and the other Leafmen, who had been just as much strangers to MK as the Queen had been.
And Ronin smiled sadly inside as he turned back to the stone and that horrible spot, and thought that at least there was one other person who grieved and knew Tara as Tara, and not as the Queen.
Nod was excited and chattering a mile a minute. He finally had free time and was looking forward to going to one of those strange block things that would allow him to talk to MK. It amused Ronin, but he wasn't going to ruin Nod's excitement and happy cheer.
Especially since Nod was still upset over the agreement he and MK had over the two of them being unfit for each other. Beyond their size difference, they simply had different temperaments. Most of the time, Nod was simply too immature, where oppositely MK tended to be the more mature one. Even with Nod seemingly grown up more after the whole 'saving the forest,' that fact hadn't changed.
And even if Nod had agreed, he was still upset and had lingering feelings for MK.
Then again, Ronin knew that differences like those could be minor in a relationship, and who knew if those two could find themselves drifting back towards each other anyway, despite that. Or maybe Nod would finally grow up enough and be more mature (well that he kind of doubted and wasn't too sure would ever happen).
"Hey, Ronin, why don't you come with me?" Nod asked as he got onto his bird.
Ronin glanced at him in surprise. "You want me to come with you? Are you sure?"
Nod grinned at him. "Sure, why not? I gotta get you out of this place before you turn all dark and gloomy. Not that you aren't already!"
Ronin rolled his eyes, but easily hopped onto the bird behind him.
"Then hurry it up!"
The ride to one of those things was quick. MK's dad fitted one closer to them, so that they didn't have to travel so far away to find one so they could talk. It wasn't long until they'd set down and Nod had activated one of those things, and then they were hearing MK, though they couldn't see her.
Ronin also just had the thought that this was the first time he'd interacted with MK since the day they'd grieved by Tara's grave. He felt awkward and unready.
"Hey, MK! Guess who I have with me?" Nod enthusiastically said into the clunky box.
"Who is it? Mub?" they heard her voice, though Ronin was sure she sounded clearer than ever to them.
Nod made a face. "As if. No! It's Ronin! He's on break from work right now, so I thought I'd drag him along."
"Hey, Ronin. How are you?" and he was glad that she sounded normal and not treating him like glass. Even Nod had a tendency to do that most of the time these days.
"I'm alright, MK. Thanks for asking," he quirked one side of his lips as he stepped closer and into view of the box.
"Oh! Is that a smile from you, Ronin?" he heard MK teased, but he felt a pang in his heart at such similar candor over the same topic Tara used to tease him about as well.
He smiled sadly. "Yeah, it is," he said simply, though he probably sounded off.
"Well, good! About time, Mr. Brooding," MK continued, treating him normally, even when he was sure that she'd caught his tone and could see him slump a little.
It made him feel a little relieved and grateful.
Nod then stepped up to the box and practically demanded MK's attention, redirecting her focus to him as he began to tell her all about what he'd done lately, updates about the Boggan situation (that wasn't so dire anymore), and miscellaneous stuff.
Ronin stepped back and let himself become part of the background.
Ronin dropped by the box thing, getting off his hummingbird with ease. He examined it, fingering the knobs and buttons in curiosity.
"Ronin?" he heard MK's voice out of nowhere, and he just barely kept himself from jumping in surprise.
He stepped back from the box and gave a small wave and a tinier smile.
"Hello, MK. I was just observing one of these box things."
"Cameras," he heard her say. "They're called cameras."
Ronin blinked, but at least had a name for these camera things now. He began to pepper her with questions about them, and she did her best to answer.
He didn't want to tell anyone, even to her, that aside from his curiosity at the cameras, that he'd wanted to come and talk to her.
She was, after all, the only person willing to talk to him and talk to him normally.
It had become a frequent thing for Ronin to visit a camera, and wait for MK to come and talk to him. It felt nice to talk to someone so candidly, and he couldn't remember the last time he did. He used to with Finn, before Nod's father died. And before that, he had talked casually and like friends with Tara and Nod's father.
And then Nod's father died and before and after that, he'd let duty and his single-minded focus on his job dictate the way he interacted with everyone.
It felt relaxing and freeing to be able to be so casual with someone again. And MK never treated him as if he was going to break, not even when she accidentally or purposely brought up Tara.
He talked about himself, about Tara, about life as a jinn and Leafman. She talked about herself, her mother, her father, and life as a stomper. He learned about "university" and how she was planning on attending it soon. She learned about how life in Moonhaven was going, now after everything had happened.
Ronin couldn't remember ever letting anyone know so much about himself, or learning or knowing so much about another. He hadn't even let Tara in as much.
But here he was, being so personal and intimate in a way that he had never been, and with a stomper no less.
He found that he was okay about it. That he was…okay.
He was okay.
Ronin had just gotten back from another visit to MK, when he was surprised to see Nod waiting by his door. The younger man looked relieved to see him.
"There you are. I was worried," Nod shrugged nonchalantly, but Ronin could see he'd honestly worried the other by disappearing off to somewhere and not letting anyone know.
"I was just by one of those camera things, talking to MK," he reassured the other.
But something flickered across Nod's eyes and the brunet pursed his lips while furrowing his eyebrows.
"MK? What for?" Nod asked in confusion and something else.
Uneasy, Ronin brought up a semi-truth (but still a white lie).
"I was asking about the cameras. I've been curious about them."
Nod scrunched up his nose and pretended to gag, thrown off by Ronin's excuse. Ronin just rolled his eyes, but he was still feeling uneasy.
Perhaps it was best to keep his visits and talks to MK to himself.
He was curious and surprised to find MK, as he'd taken to visiting her house instead these days, in her backyard. She was tending to some part of the ground, in the middle of all the grass and soil, and then she was carefully spilling water onto it.
She turned slightly and he could see her green eyes scanning the yard for him, and he jumped from the porch's deck to land on the railings. He waved a bit until she caught the movement, and her face broke out into a smile.
"Hey, Ronin! Feeling bored again? They still have you on break?" she walked closer to him, and once by his side, set the contraption that held water right on the porch's floor by her feet.
Ronin's smile faltered. "Actually…I'm supposed to be retiring," he admitted reluctantly.
She didn't look at him in pity, though she did sigh. "Aww, man! Sounds like you need some new hobbies to take up instead."
And he felt better about his (sort of) forced retirement, especially when MK doesn't go all totally sympathetic on him, but merely empathizes and commiserates. It's not all "I'm sorry, Ronin" or "It's just best if you just start taking time for yourself more." It's more "Aw, crud, Ronin. You're probably going to be bored as hell. Those recruits are gonna suck now without you!" or "Maybe you should be one of those bird racers that Nod told me about. You're an awesome flyer!" And personally, he preferred the "Aww, man!" that she first came out with, and that was very reminiscent of that time after the mouse incident, and where she thought he and Nod and the whole thing had been a dream…and actually wasn't.
It made him chuckle a bit.
And after joking about his retirement, which was a nice change from the death sentence everyone else was acting like it was (and was making him feel like it was), Ronin finally inquired about what MK had been doing just before he'd come in.
"I've been working on a garden," she explained, beaming at him happily. "I wanted to grow some tomatoes, pomegranates, and maybe some flowers too."
He'd never figured MK for the growing things type, but it was a pleasant surprise that reminded him a bit of Tara's joy in growing things herself.
He smiled at the thought and maybe, with his retirement, he should try growing things himself.
He wasn't sure what he was looking for, but then he saw the flowers that belong only in Moonhaven. He blinked and then a smile threatened to spread on his lips. Instead, he grabbed a few seeds from the different kinds, and then headed home.
He looked at his bare home, and then where he'd tentatively thought to plant some of the seeds. He frowned and looked thoughtful, barely glancing back at that spot as he turned to leave.
That night, in MK's little garden, he planted his seeds and found a way to water them with that "pail" MK used to water her own seedlings.
He continued to do so for a few days, and he could see tiny sprouts already popping up and spreading some Moonhaven beauty and magic in that charming little backyard belonging to two wonderful stompers.
MK was quick to notice the additions to her garden, and gave him knowing looks as soon as the sprouts showed up. He gave a deadpan look back, but his lips twitched and his eyes twinkled.
"They're beautiful," MK noted wistfully.
"They are," Ronin agreed, feeling at peace.
"You know, that means this is our garden now. You helped add to it," she gave him a glance, but she was grinning widely.
"Our garden," he gave it a try, and it sounded good on his tongue. He smirked at her. "I guess I found my new occupation."
"Ronin the Gardner," MK teased. "Sounds like the perfect deal!"
He laughed, and it felt so good. He didn't remember the last time he felt so good, or had even laughed so sincerely and so much.
"I think I'm okay with that."
He visited her late at night; a strange occurrence. His visits usually stray towards the morning and last through the day. He'd never came late at night, and he was sure she was sleeping already.
But that night was different. He couldn't sleep, couldn't stay still. He felt restless in his home, and the silence and stillness bothered him more than usual. He'd felt nothing but caginess, like the walls of his home was boxing him in.
So he'd escaped and found himself heading to MK's home.
But as he'd neared, he thought that this had been a silly idea (notwithstanding that he'd just headed over and hadn't actually thought about it). Then again, his instinctive journey seemed like it wasn't for naught in the end. He could see the lights of her room on, and maybe it wouldn't be so terrible to head up to her room and see if she didn't mind late night company.
Ronin took his usual route, and found himself knocking on her window. The sound was magnified by the microphone MK had explained she'd put out her window, so she could hear him when he came. The window slid open, and Ronin slipped inside and passed MK's leaning figure, dropping onto the desk that was set up right next to it.
"Late night visit? Something the matter, Ronin?" she asked, though she had a genuine tone of worry seeping through.
He gave her a brief upturn of his lips. "No, I just couldn't sleep tonight. I decided to drop bye, say hi, maybe hijack a few Boggans and bait them into a brawl for fun."
"Ha ha," she rolled her eyes, closing her window and taking a step back. She offered her hand to him and he nimbly climbed on, letting her gently pick him up and bring him over to where she was working on some kind of machine.
"What's that?" Ronin pointed it out.
"It's a star projector," MK told him, even though he still didn't understand. "It's a machine that can show stars on the walls and ceilings when it's turned on."
He was amazed at the piece of technology, and wasn't sure how it could do that. But he wanted to know and he wanted to see it.
"Are you going to turn it on?" he asked, a bit of his eagerness showing.
She gave him a wry grin. "I'm actually working on fixing it. It hasn't been used in years, and a few wires are loose."
Disappointed, he nodded and stayed by her side quietly, as she focused on the machine and went back to work. The serious look on her face was endearing, as well as her focus being so determined and single-minded on her self-claimed project.
He briefly looked outside and caught sight of the sky outside. He got distracted when a triumphant shout from MK caught his attention.
"I've got it!"
She then got up and turned off the lights, and then headed back to him. She turned on the machine and he looked around in awe, as he saw the starry sky surrounding them.
"Amazing," he murmured.
"Isn't it?" she hummed happily. "I love the stars. I've always thought my mom, after she died, became a star and watches over me now from the sky."
Ronin glanced at her before moving around in a circle, gazing around the starry room.
Was Tara a star now too, and watching over him?
"I like that thought," he told her honestly. "I like it a lot."
It was fitting. Tara had been such a bright soul.
She'd shone so brilliantly when she was alive, so it was just right that she became a shining star after her death.
Ronin visited the next night, wanting to see MK's room covered in stars again. MK could only look at him in apology as she held up the machine and put it away, sliding it under her bed.
"It finally broke completely," she sighed. "At least it had one last good use last night, and you got to see it."
He nodded, grateful for that experience. It really was too bad.
His eyes strayed outside again, and he saw the night sky. Pulling at MK's sleeve, he pointed out her window.
"We should go outside then. The sky's full of stars right now."
MK smiled as she saw where he was looking and agreed, carefully grabbing onto him and going out of her room. Quietly going down her steps and then out of her house, she headed to her backyard. Once she'd reached their little garden, she set him down before lying down herself. He mimicked her position, lying on the grass by her head.
Together, they stared up at the sky and felt the peace and quiet settled around them nicely.