Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
Willow lowered her hands and wiped her brow.
“That’s enough for today,” she told Matt. “We’ll leave the rest to you.”
She was stimulating the cells in his leg to recover at an increased rate, a little bit at a time.
“It feels all tingly,” Matt noted, running his fingers over the scars. Most of the external damage been repaired, he just needed full feeling to return.
Willow grinned. “You’ll be back home by the end of the week.”
“How’s Ryan doing? Is his head still…”
“He’s getting better. No need to worry. You just focus on yourself.” Willow smiled, patting him on the shoulder. “You’ll be walking with a cane for a few months while your leg’s on the mend.”
“I heard,” he groaned. “Guess I won’t be doing any jobs for a while.”
“Definitely not fighting Emergents,” she agreed. “Maybe you can help out at the library.”
Matt was just glad he was alive. He was alive, and no one had died.
Willow rolled her eyes. “Wipe that smile off your face.”
“Hmm? What smile?”
“That one. I recognize that smile. It’s the ‘I had the worst injuries of everyone, which means my job was a success’ smile.”
“Hey! That IS my job, remember?” Matt protested. “I protected everyone!”
Willow sighed and massaged her temples. “Yes, congratulations. You did a good job. You also nearly lost your leg. Be proud of what you did, but don’t be happy about it. You won’t be able to protect anyone else if you’re dead, remember that.”
Matt nodded. She made a good case.
“Now then, you just lie back and relax, and I’ll send your guest in.” Willow nodded to Emi in the doorway.
“Emi!” Matt said, propping himself up. “Hey, good to see you!”
“…Hey,” Emi mumbled. The awkwardness was unbearable. “…Are you okay?”
“Oh, my leg? Yeah, I-“
“I’m so sorry!” Emi cried, lowering her head in a quick apology. “I-I should have… I didn’t…”
She’d felt like shit all week. She began hyperventilating, scared that she would fall into a downward spiral now that she was here.
“Hey, hey, Emi, deep breaths, come on.” Matt was getting pretty good at telling when the girl was going through a panic attack. Luckily, she managed to calm herself down.
“…Sorry,” she apologized again. She was grateful her depression hadn’t swallowed her. “I… I should have come by sooner. I want to apologize.”
Matt knew that was coming. Whenever anything happened Emi wanted to apologize.
“Emi, you don’t have to-“
“You’re here because of me,” Emi interrupted him. “When that Emergent attacked… I ran and I hid. I coward in the car when I could have been helping! …And you got hurt.”
She felt like crying. “I took the job because I wanted to be brave enough to help, and I failed. I’m pathetic.”
She was slipping back. She could feel the familiar shadows of depression creeping up on her.
Matt wasn’t having it. “Emi, you hit the Emergent with a jeep, remember? That thing was about to have me for dinner, and you saved me. If you hadn’t done that, forget my leg, I would be in bite-sized chunks of Matt.”
Emi snorted out a laugh. “Bweh! That… yeah, I guess that was kinda cool, huh?”
“Ryan told me that my job out there was to do whatever I could do. And I did. I distracted the Emergent long enough for Serena to get Ryan to safety. And you did what you could do. In this case, car magic instead of wind magic.”
Emi felt herself swooning. Dang it! Why did Matt have to be so good at cheering her up and getting her to laugh?! She wasn’t feeling depressed anymore, but a different familiar feeling was welling up inside her, and it wasn’t one she wanted.
No! Keep it under control, you’re not like that! Emi screamed at herself, clenching her thighs together to try and smother some of the heat. Where were the others? This would be so much easier if they weren’t alone right now!
Emi got her wish a few seconds later. But not at all in the way she’d expected.
“Matti!” A loud girl with red hair burst into the room, her face a flushed bouquet of desperation. She didn’t even see Emi, her attention focused solely on Matt.
“Cynthia?!” Matt couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Had the tranquilizing effects of Willow’s Naturia started to kick in? How could she be here? “How… what…?”
Cynthia wrapped her arms tightly around him. Yeah. It was her. No one hugged like her.
“Matti, I… I heard you got hurt…” She sobbed. “An Emergent… they said you were in the hospital, that you… I’m so glad you’re okay…”
“Hey, come on, I’m okay,” Matt said, stroking her cheek. He gave her the gentlest smile he could. Cynthia was always so bright. He hated to see her down like this.
“I’m glad.” There it was. Her smile.
“Cynthia, what are you doing here?” Matt asked. The surprise had worn off and now he was confused. Wasn’t she working with Central Services?
“I… there was an incident,” she muttered, unable to meet his eyes. It must have been serious. “I fought an Emergent too. …Don’t worry, I’m okay, but my superiors said… I should take some leave. Then when I heard what happened to you, I…”
She wiped her eyes and glared at him. “Why didn’t you call? Why didn’t you tell me? I asked, and the hospital said you’ve been laid up for a week!”
Matt winced. He hadn’t called because he didn’t want to worry her. But he figured that excuse probably wouldn’t work. All he could do was apologize. “…I’m sorry.”
Cynthia sniffed, mollified by his words. She stood up straight and crossed her arms. “Well, good. As long as you get it. And don’t worry, I have a little bit more leave, so anything you need, just let me know! I can bring it in a flash!”
While Matt and Cynthia laughed, Emi just looked on from the sidelines.
The second the redhead entered the room, it was like Emi had stopped existing. Matt wasn’t even looking at her. He only had eyes for Cynthia.
The girl’s laughter was like a knife gouging her heart.
The squeak of her shoe dashed her hopes for a silent departure. Cynthia looked up, surprised.
“Oh! I didn’t see you there, hello!” She walked over to Emi and extended a hand. “Nice to meet you! I’m Cynthia Ross!”
“I’m… Emi,” Emi mumbled. She didn’t want to take her hand, but it would be awkward if she didn’t.
“Hi Emi! Are you one of Matti’s coworkers?”
She swallowed and nodded.
“In that case, thanks for taking such good care of him! I’m glad he has a friend like you who’ll come visit him in the hospital!” Cynthia could begin to know the damage her praise was doing. Emi laughed it off as best as she could.
“H-Hey, Cynthia…” Matt yawned. He was beginning to feel that tranquilizer now. “Um… I’m… really glad you’re here… but… I need to…”
He couldn’t stay conscious long enough to finish his sentence. All of his body’s energy was focused on recovery.
Cynthia let out a wistful sigh, smiling at her boyfriend. The two left the room.
Now that Emi had apologized, her plan was to run as far away as she could and hide. But Cynthia had other ideas. She took Emi by the hand, startling her.
“Hey, um… do you mind if we talk?” She asked. Emi was surprised by how timid she was acting. She hadn’t given off that air before.
Cynthia and Emi sat found a bench to chat on.
“Emi… can I ask you something? And… it’s okay if you say no, I get it. Guild stuff, privacy, all that.”
“No, it’s… okay,” Emi said. But it wasn’t okay. Emi’s heart was pounding a warning, terrifying her with the thought that this girl, who was so obviously Matt’s girlfriend, might have caught onto her feelings for him already.
But it wasn’t about that.
“Matti… is he doing okay? At the guild? I mean, obviously not, he’s in the hospital, I just…”
She groaned, shaking her head.
“That’s not what I mean. I… I’m worried about him,” she admitted. “So… is he okay?”
Emi had a lot of thoughts about him. She couldn’t stop them from escaping her lips. “Matt… is amazing. He’s brave and strong. He got injured trying to protect people. I… I wish I could be like him.”
That day brought twisted feelings into her chest. She hated herself for how weak she was then, but at the same time Matt’s heroic figure was seared into her brain.
“He is something, huh?” Cynthia gave Emi a relieved smile. “But wow… he protected people?”
Emi was confused at the surprise in her voice. “That’s weird?”
“Let’s just say that when Matti and I first met, he wasn’t exactly big on teamwork,” Cynthia laughed. “During practice drills, he would always throw himself headfirst into the fight, and it got him banged up more than a few times.”
Okay, now that sounded like Matt.
“He still does that,” Emi said. “Only now it’s because he wants to protect people.”
Cynthia wiped her eyes. “I’m glad. His Naturia’s perfect for it. It looks like he made the right choice coming here. When I heard what had happened I thought ‘oh no, it’s all my fault! If he hadn’t listened to me and commissioned with the Guardians none of this would have happened!’ but it sounds like it’s just Matti being Matti.”
She really does care about him, Emi realized.
“Can you do me a favor?” Cynthia asked, reaching into her pocket and taking out her phone. “Can I get your phone number?”
Emi wasn’t sure what to make of that. “My… phone? Why?”
“I’ll give you my number, too,” she added. “I just… I get worried about the dork sometimes, you know? And I know that he’s never going to tell me if he gets hurt again. So… if something like this happens, could you give me a call? Or even just let me know if he’s okay sometimes?”
The hopeful look in Cynthia’s eyes sang to Emi.
“…Are… Are you sure? You’re okay… with me?”
Cynthia beamed at her. “Of course! I saw it right away!”
“Huh? It? ‘It’ what?” Oh god, did she mean…
“You care about him, don’t you? I could see the way you looked at him. You’re a really good friend, Emi!” Cynthia’s pat on the shoulder should have come as a relief to Emi. It should have been confirmation that her secret feelings for the redhead’s boyfriend hadn’t been found out.
But it felt like a burdensome weight instead.
“Yeah, I… I do,” she admitted.
So this was Matt’s girlfriend. No wonder he liked her. She was everything Emi wasn’t. Bright and cheerful and friendly, with a smile that could power the whole hospital.
Emi knew Matt had a girlfriend. But there was a difference between “knowing” that and actually meeting her.
She was so much more than Emi could hope to be.