Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
“So how’s the leg feel?”
Willow was helping Matt walk down the hall. He’d been discharged from the hospital and allowed to finish recuperating at home. He’d be out of action for another few months while his leg recovered; right now, he was walking with a limp.
“It’s… strange. It’s not moving the way I expect it to.” It would take time getting used to walking with a cane.
By the time they left the hospital, he was a little more sure of himself.
“I’m surprised you asked the others to stay home. You didn’t want your girlfriend to see you limping?”
Matt shook his head. “I just wanted some time alone with you.”
“…Listen, Cynthia’s a nice girl. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I’m not about to-“
“What?! No, not like that!” Matt sputtered.
“…Oh. Sorry. Kneejerk reaction.” Willow had known Nick long enough to expect the worst out of lines like that one.
“I wanted to talk about my recovery,” he confessed. “If that’s okay with you.”
“Of course! That’s what I’m here for!”
Willow didn’t smile as often as Serena, but when she did people took notice.
“Let’s talk about your leg over lunch. I know a great place!”
“Actually, Nick told me about this restaurant called ‘The Storm Burger’,” Matt suggested. “He said the food there was amazing.”
Willow flinched. Her face went pale.
“Uh… I guess… we could go there…”
Following Nick’s directions, they arrived at the restaurant. To Matt’s surprise, a sign hung in the window reading “Favorite Restaurant of Guardians Member Willow West”.
A few pieces fell into place. He turned to Willow.
“They just hang up stuff like this!” Her cheeks were pink. “I’ve only been here a few times!”
She stomped inside.
Everyone took notice of her immediately.
She averted her eyes from Matt’s. “…Okay, maybe more than a few times.”
“…It says you have a reserved booth.”
They sat down and a waitress skipped over. Her eyes turned towards Matt, shining excitedly.
“Welcome! Are you new? Willow, this is the first time you’ve brought a date-“
“It’s for work,” Willow snapped.
“Yeah, we’re not… that.”
“Oh, okay, got it. Getting your usual, then?”
Willow glanced at Matt. “Um… no, not today. Just a couple of menus.” She looked embarrassed.
“Alright, here you go. I’ll be back with some water soon.” The waitress handled them a couple of menus.
“So what’s good here?” Matt studied the menu.
“Oh! You have got to get the chili cheese fries! They’re delicious! …I mean, that’s what I hear anyway. Not really my thing.”
Matt raised his eyebrow. A master of lies Willow was not.
The waitress came by a few seconds later to take their orders. “A Storm Burger and chili cheese fries for the not-date, and Willow, you’re getting…”
“Just a small salad.”
The waitress blinked. “…Really?”
Willow glared at her.
“…Right, small salad it is then.”
Matt was surprised by his burger and fries. It seemed this restaurant’s secret sauce was grease-based.
Willow ignored her salad, staring longingly at Matt’s food. She was practically drooling.
“You’re right, these are delicious!” They may have looked disgusting, but they were the best damn fries Matt had ever tasted.
“Of course, my recommendations are perfect!”
“You haven’t even touched your salad though.”
“That’s… I was getting to it!” Willow huffed. She nearly devoured her food like a ravenous Emergent before she caught herself.
At this point, Matt was starting to feel bad for her. There was no point talking about his leg while she was distracted.
“Hey… do you want my fries?” He offered.
Willow brightened but then she shook her head. “Uh… no, I’m… I’m not the kind of person who would eat junk food like that.”
Matt stifled a laugh. “Then why is my order called ‘The Willow Special’ on the menu?”
Willow turned as red as the tomatoes on her salad.
“…You can’t tell anyone,” she hissed, pulling the plate in front of her. She began to dig in, relishing the greasy food.
As they finished their food, Willow got down to business.
“So what did you want to talk about?”
A throb of pain shot through Matt’s leg. “I was just worried. Are you sure that my leg’s going to be okay?”
“Of course. Remember what I said before? Positive attitude. Your recovery was amazing, better than I projected. Your leg’s going to be fine.”
Matt wasn’t reassured. “Is it supposed to hurt this much?”
Willow frowned in concern. “Your leg hurts? No, that’s not right. The painkillers I gave should still be working. Some discomfort, maybe, but pain?”
“Where is it?”
“Well… all over, I guess?”
“Is it when you’re trying to walk? When does the pain start?”
He shrugged, not sure what to say. It would come and go without any real regularity. “I don’t know, it just… hurts sometimes.”
“…I’ll take a look when we get back home,” Willow promised. “I think I know what the issue is. For now, I wouldn’t worry.”
It didn’t sound like the most encouraging advice in the world.
“But you just said it wasn’t supposed to hurt.”
“It’s not. But if there is any pain, then it should go away over the next few days. Trust the doctors, Matt, and trust me. Your leg is fine.”
“Well, I guess I’ll have faith in your health conscientiousness, Miss Chili Cheese Fries.” Matt got a napkin in the face for a response.
“Let’s see if you can make it back home okay. It’s not interfering with your walking ability, is it?”
Now that she mentioned it, no. Even though his leg was hurting, it didn’t seem to affect his limp at all.
Still, he wasn’t thrilled by Willow’s suggestion that they return to Strayhaven on foot. She said it was part of his physical therapy, but he thought that would be pushing it. His legs would be sore on a good day.
The pain had flared up a couple of times on the walk back to Strayhaven but otherwise his leg was doing fine. He arrived back home to open arms and happy smiles. He hadn’t even made it to the common room when he was ambushed in the hall by an eager redhead.
“Matti! You’re okay!” Cynthia gushed, hugging him tightly.
“Hey, there he is!” Ryan walked up next. “The triumphant hero returns!”
“Hey Cynthia, you’re still here?” Matt grinned, hugging her back. He was glad that she’d stayed here and waited for him.
The others were happy to greet him. Even Chloe’s tired smile was a comfort. Emi was the only familiar face that was missing.
Nick came right up to him and clapped him on the shoulder. “Matt, glad to see you walking again! Feeling better?”
“Yeah, I’m making do. It’s gonna be a lot of work getting used to this cane, though.”
Nick had a witty retort prepared, but he never had the chance.
Willow rarely smiled. This was one of those times. But the smile on her lips wasn’t like the ones Matt had seen before. An aura of malice wafted off of her like fumes from a swamp, choking everyone around them with the venom of her stare.
“…O-Oh. Hey, Will.” Nick’s grin had a hard time staying on his face. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. I just wanted to thank you. Because of your recommendation, Matt and I had a very interesting lunch. And I would like the opportunity to share my gratitude with you personally.”
Nick had a good head over the girl, but right now he seemed dwarfed by her presence. He meekly nodded.
Willow grabbed him by the collar and dragged him down the hall. “Feel free to keep the party going, Nick and I need to have a little private chat about boundaries.”
Then they were gone.
Matt was relieved to rest his tired legs on the common room couch. The throb in his shin had returned with a vengeance.
“Anything you need, Matt, just let me know!” Cynthia assured him. “Just consider me your extra pair of legs!”
“That’s okay, you don’t need to do that. You’re a guest,” Matt laughed. “Even I can do something as simple as getting a glass of water.” He grabbed his cane to stand but his butt hadn’t even left the couch in the time it took Cynthia to run to the kitchen and back.
“One glass of water on the house!” She beamed at him and handed over the glass, eagerly awaiting her next orders.
“…Thanks. But you didn’t have to.” Matt felt kind of bad for Cynthia. “You don’t need to get me anything. I’m just glad you’re here.
Cynthia’s stubbornness was one of her cuter qualities. She shook her head and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Nope! I only have three days left of leave before they expect me back, and I’m going to spend every minute of it making you as comfortable as possible, Matti!”
Damn it. How could he say no to someone so adamant? He couldn’t, simple as that.
“I’m sorry you have to leave so soon. I’d have liked to get to spend a few more days with you.” Matt missed having Cynthia around to talk to. He’d been spoiled having her in town.
“Hey, that goes for the rest of us!” Ryan called from across the room. “Who do I talk to in Central Services to see about trading Matt here for you?”
Even Matt had to laugh at that one.
“I’m glad you’re getting along with the other Guardians. I think they like you better than me.” Matt glanced pointedly at Ryan.
“Yeah, they’re a lot of fun! We’ve all been getting on great. Chloe, though… we’re not the most compatible.” Cynthia’s active nature clashed with Chloe, who was already back asleep.
“Speaking of getting along with everybody, where’s Emi?” Matt asked, looking around the room. He’d made a note of her absence earlier, but she was still nowhere to be seen.
Serena had a funny look on her face. “Emi… she wanted to be here, but she had a job. So she went out to go do it. Sorry. I’ll let her know you were looking for her.”
She wasn’t happy with her friend’s decision. Emi had been looking forward to Matt getting out of the hospital, but this morning she had woken up and told Serena she couldn’t do it. She’d been afraid of seeing Matt be all lovey-dovey with his girlfriend. Serena had understood, and found a nice, easy job picking up little.
Serena could understand how hard it would be seeing Cynthia and Matt getting on so nicely. She hoped that Emi would get over her crush soon, before it crushed her.