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Walking With The Dead

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter One

 

Seiji knew it was a dream because it was too perfect for reality. The sheets too feather soft, the sheer gauze of the curtains too shimmery pale as sweet breezes made them flutter inwards through arched, exotic windows. There was nothing in the room but the bed. No furniture, no door, no other opening but the window; and beyond that only featureless darkness. The floors were scattered with pillows and the bed itself was unfathomably luxurious. The body under him was pliable and smooth; welcoming and willing to comply with his every whim.

Strong, lean legs wrapped about him, pulling him deeper into all invasive warmth. He pressed forward, feeling the firm length of an erection between their bodies, seeking out the sensuous curve of a full lower lip, pulling that softness into his mouth, reveling in the slick feel of teeth beneath it, the whispery touch of a tongue lurking beyond.

A moan into his mouth. The taste/ scent/ feel that he knew so intimately. Of course it was Ryo. He hardly ever dreamed these types of things of anyone else. His subconscious was blatantly concrete on who and what it wanted. Sometimes it quite bordered on obsession, which was disturbing. Obsession was a weakness and weaknesses were things to be conquered.

But not now. Not while the dream had full hold on him. Not while he pressed Ryo down into the soft cushions with his weight, the skin of their chests and bellies sliding against each other. The hard little nubs of Ryo's nipples twin points of heat against him. The slick length of Seiji's erection was almost fully withdrawn as he moved forward to capture Ryo's mouth and lay there, his hands tangling in the dark spill of hair as he drowned in the moist, silken warmth between Ryo's teeth. He pushed himself back, onto his knees again at the juncture of Ryo's legs. He slid his hands up the back of those dark thighs, fingers pressing into soft flesh. He drove back inside, deep into tight, restricting heat. Ryo's back arched. He lifted his body to meet the thrust, eyes shut, that mouth -- god, that incredibly sensuous mouth open and panting in time with Seiji's own breath.

Ecstasy. Beyond ecstasy. He slid one hand down between their bodies to the heated flesh lying against Ryo's belly. Wrapped his fingers about the swollen length of it since Ryo wasn't doing it himself. Ryo didn't make a sound. Other than that one soft moan into his mouth, and the soft sounds of his breath, Ryo was unnaturally quiet. He realized he hadn't seen his eyes. Just the thick fringe of black lashes that lay against his cheeks.

That realization changed things. Altered his perception of the dream. Things became apparent that hadn't been before. Like the door. It hadn't been there before, but now it was. Only it was padlocked and impenetrable. And the graceful arched window was laced with bars. The ethereal room had become a prison. And Ryo was only a partially conscious piece of flesh beneath him. And he was fettered. Ryo's arms were bound behind him, wrist to elbow and there were faint streaks of dried tears on his cheeks, hidden almost by the wild tangle of dark hair that spilled over his face.

Not a completely unusual dream. Not a completely unattractive one. He had his perversions and was well aware of them; practiced them on occasion when the mood hit and Ryo was not entirely unwilling to relinquish a night's autonomy. But this was different. He was imprisoned as well, despite his obvious upper hand. He didn't quite like it. He didn't like the fact that his body continued to move rhythmically within Ryo's even though his mind had began to question the scenario. He didn't like the fact that there was blood at the juncture of their joining and there hadn't been before. With an effort of will, he forced himself to pull out. Sat there for a moment, out of breath and dizzy, then he turned Ryo over and tore at the bindings. They came off easily enough in the dream reality and Ryo curled away from him, bringing his knees up towards his chest and covering his head with his arms, like a child trying to escape the inescapable. He still wouldn't open his eyes.

Me next. A faint whispery voice taunted.

Something fluttered at the ceiling. Something dark that moved in the shadows with the quick, flighty motions of a bird. The shadows stretched like wings and seeped down over the walls. He saw a glint of yellow eye as it descended, and held out a hand to ward it off, leaning his body over Ryo's insensible one to protect him.

Go away. He willed it. He willed himself out of this dream.

No. Mine. Him. You. You most certainly.

No. Fear widened his eyes. The shadow was overwhelming him. He needed the light to stave it off. The light was his ally. It came at his bidding, a burning, potent glare that washed out all the details of the room. That banished the shadows and then it faded, spent and the shadows seeped back around the edges.


"God." Seiji sat up, sweaty and dizzy from the sudden jolt into wakefulness. His heart hammered in his chest; bile seeped up the back of his throat; breathing was an erratic, uncontrollable thing. It took him longer than it ought to bring his body under control and by that time the dream was fading. The last dregs of it slipped away leaving him unsettled and feeling slightly foolish because of it. He ran a hand through the disarray of his hair, finger combing long pale locks back from his face. His hand was shaking still and that bothered him. Made him clench his fist in his hair and hold it there, until his breathing was calm and his body tranquil.

It was all gone then, everything in the dream and he sat in the darkness wondering what nightmare had plagued his sub-conscious to effect him so. He let it go after a moment, glancing at the bedside clock. 5:37 am. Too early for even his tastes. He lifted a hand reflexively to worry at the itch on his healing arm and had to take a breath to control the need to scratch mending flesh. The bandages were off and the stitches itched abominably. There was no pain anymore, just a lingering soreness and the irritating itch.

He settled down next to the warmth beside him. Ryo slept undisturbed, no minor thing like Seiji bolting up in bed likely to waken him this early in the morning. Seiji rose at seven regular as clockwork; only intense hangovers or life threatening wounds -- or one had to admit sourly -- overdoses of drugs, keeping him from his schedule. Ryo had no such ritual. God only knew what skewered time table his internal clock observed, for he was as likely to rise at dawn as he was to sleep in almost till noon. From the lassitude of his sprawl across Seiji's bed, and the utter serenity that Seiji could feel, pressed skin to skin, he thought this was more than likely not going to be an early morning.

Just as well. On the occasions that they shared a bed throughout the night, Seiji preferred to wake first. He liked to lay in the darkness of his room and listen to the soft sounds of Ryo's breath. Liked to lay against Ryo's body when he was still and quiet -- which happened so rarely when he was awake -- and appreciate the serenity of a world just stirring to life again after the darkness. Ryo was not a creature of long, meditative silences. He was all emotion and energy and unbridled sensuality, and oblivious of it all. Seiji thought he might have been in the dream, but he wasn't sure.

He ran a hand down Ryo's arm, past it to the firm muscle and flesh of his belly. Almost all of him was smooth and hairless, a pleasure to touch. He lay for a while, contenting himself with the languid caress. He tried to slip back into slumber, but it eluded him. Tranquillity shattered by a dream he could not even recall.

So he lay there, fingers idly traveling over Ryo's soft skin, listening to the mating song of crickets outside.

5:52.


The glowing neon numbers on the bedside clock read 6:45. He'd lain dormant long enough, so he slipped out of bed, hardly creaking the mattress with his movements, making no sound at all as he lifted his robe from its accustomed hook inside the closet and donned it. Outside into the hall, tying the sash as he walked through a house leaden with sleep. Funny how all the sounds a house made were more prominent during the hours when its occupants slumbered When the lights were off and the shadows swallowed up the background static of moving, conscious human creatures. When the flesh and blood were asleep the wood and concrete moaned and settled and made all the complaints that old houses make. The stairs creaked here and there under his weight. The fourth and the seventh step down. He was always consciously careful to step lightly on those steps, offended by the imperfection.

There was nothing of life downstairs. The cat was long gone, let out to roam where ever it was he roamed, wound healed much faster than the one's he had given Seiji.

In the kitchen he turned on the light. A flare of brightness in a dark house. He sifted through the jar of mixed tea bags for an Earl Gray, in the mood for that particular flavor this morning. He was not a coffee drinker. Ryo and Rowan drank coffee. Loaded with cream and sugar and black, respectively. Sai preferred tea, but he polluted it with cream. Kento rarely touched either, consuming gallons of milk and juice with the cornucopia of food he called a breakfast.

There was a fresh melon on the counter, the ripe smell of it a faint aroma even before its tough skin was pierced. He found a knife to slice it and pressed the paper thin edge of steel against the brown, textured hide ---

---- and the world went black around the edges. Sense slipped away like water down a drain. Not quite so much dizziness as a sheer sense of falling. Of detachment from the here and now.

He came back to himself on his knees next to the counter, hands clutching at the edge of the countertop. He didn't remember falling. His heart was a slow, steady pounding in his ears. He gathered his feet under him, shaky and unnerved. Pulled himself up and stared down at the mess on the counter top. The melon was sliced into haphazard chunks as if someone had taken the knife to it in a fit of anger. The seeds spattered the previously spotless countertop. There were a few of them marring the skin of his hands.

He opened his mouth. Shut it. Looked around as if there might be someone else to blame. But of course, there was no one there. No one awake yet, but him. He stood there and stared down, not knowing quite what to do, stunned into abeyance. Something unfamiliar coiled in his gut. Uncertainty. A bitter hint of fear. He reached for the knife and his hand was shaking. Badly.

He took a breath. Another. Closed his eyes and forced the panic away, allowing room for calm to descend in its place. He closed his fingers about the wooden hilt of the knife. Ran it under the tap and carefully wiped melon seeds from the blade. He slipped it back into its slot in the wooden block, then went about cleaning up the soupy mess on the counter. Mechanically he scrubbed the counter into spotlessness and stood there after with the dish rag in hand, at a loss. Direction fled now that his task was finished.

"Seiji? You making tea?"

Seiji blinked, registering Kento's broad shape shuffling into the kitchen. Torn T-shirt, baggy boxers, barefoot and absently scratching at some annoyance at his crotch.

"What?" Seiji asked softly. He felt disjointed. Kento's words were fuzzy things in his head.

"Your water's boiling." Kento was in the refrigerator. He straightened, looking over his shoulder. His brows beetled. "You okay, Seiji?"

There was a peculiar heaviness behind his eyes. A lulling, soothing urge to fall into placidity. Into darkness. It felt --- alien.

"Yes." He said, slowly turning his gaze towards the whistling tea pot.

The world went away.


It came back accompanied by pain and the jumbled chaos of too many voices talking at once.

" ---hit his head on the counter when he fell."

"He pass out before or after?"

"I dunno know --- before maybe."

"Should we move him, do you think?"

"He's bleeding a lot."

"It's a scalp wound. They bleed. Chill out."

"You chill out, Rowan! Seiji? Seiji, can you hear me?"

He was on the hard, faintly gleaming tiles of the kitchen floor, sprawled inelegantly. Ryo was leaning over him, effectively blocking out his view of the ceiling -- of most of the room for that matter. The ends of his long, dark hair tickled Seiji's face. Seiji blinked, and lifted a hand to push Ryo back. At this particular moment, with his head spinning and a dazzling crescendo of pain pounding behind his eyes, he wanted as much personal space as he could get.

"Oh, you shouldn't try and move." Sai was kneeling on the other side of him. Sai had a white cloth in his hands and there was blood on it. He focused on the blood for a breath, and ignored Sai's warning, trying to sit up. His arms were shaky. Ryo made a grab for him and he hissed, shrugging out of the proffered support.

"Leave me alone." He said. He leaned forward, an elbow on his knee, one hand gingerly testing the area that screamed in the most pain at the back of his skull. There was a lump surrounded by wetness. He saw a variety of colors when he prodded it.

"What happened?" Rowan wanted to know.

Seiji hadn't a clue, so he refrained from answering.

"Get away from me." They were all clustering much too close. He was hardly in the mood for tactful politeness. Ryo sat back, eyeing him worriedly, but wise enough to give him the space requested. Sai was not quite so acute. Sai leaned forward like he wanted to inspect the bump on the back of Seiji's head. Seiji had had quite enough of Sai's doctoring in the last week. Seiji glared at him warningly.

"But -- its bleeding." Sai complained, casting a glance about the room at large looking for support of his statement.

"He's had worse." Rowan said with a dismissive shrug, and reached down to hook Sai under the arm and haul him up and away from Seiji.

Seiji got up on his own. Carefully, comparatively gracefully. He straightened his robe. He wanted to retreat to the upstairs bathroom to nurse his wound. To clean the blood out of his hair and from off the back of his neck where it had formed a sticky trail. His head wasn't spinning anymore, it just complained of the impact.

"Don't you think you ought to go see the doctor?"

He didn't bother telling Sai to shut up.

"You know, maybe he's right. It's just fucked up, you passing out like that?" Ryo was dogging his trail up the steps. Seiji glanced over his shoulder to give him a withering glare and Ryo pressed his lips together. The silence wasn't worth the ache in his neck when he twisted his head. It grated even more when he had to get Ryo's help to clean the blood. It occurred to him, as he sat there on the turned down toilet seat, with Ryo gently pushing aside hair to dab at the wound, that he couldn't recall passing out. That he could barely recall going downstairs to the kitchen to begin with.

Inside a little kernel of unease began to grow.


Rowan was out with Kento, headed towards the city on the prowl for some part or another for his computer that could not be gotten in the local town. Sai had no notion what part or why he needed it what it did. Sai was admittedly not computer savvy. Sai knew the basics, which Rowan had gone to great lengths to teach him. Sai knew how to cut the thing on. He knew how to check for E-mail (he didn't receive a great deal of it, but Rowan got an inconceivable amount. Sai hadn't known Rowan was acquainted with so many people) he knew how to operate the word processing program. Barely. He stubbornly refused to pick up the more intricate skills involved in being computer literate. It frustrated Rowan to no ends. It didn't bother Sai so much. Rowan spent too many late nights up cackling and doing other questionable things in front of the internet for Sai to allow the machine any fundamental trust.

He was contemplating the reseeding of the little herb garden beyond the kitchen porch when the front doorbell rang. He looked up from his assortment of seed packets laid out on the kitchen table before him, rather surprised at the summons. They did not get many callers out here. No one had called to prewarn them of a visit.

He glanced out the little window beside the front door and bit his lip. A very official looking man with a crisp, flat rimmed hat, dark sun glasses and a tan uniform stood waiting on the porch. There was a badge on the front pocket and a heavy utility belt with a large gun at his waist.

"Hello. Can I help you?" Sai opened the door and tried to plaster a pleasant look on his face, wondering what they might possibly have done to attract the attention of the local law. He had told Rowan a hundred times to pay all of his traffic tickets. Rowan never listened.

"I'm Deputy Benson," the name tag on his shirt read the very same thing, but there was a Robert in front of the Benson. "Does a Rowan Hashiba reside here?"

Sai's stomach lurched. It was Rowan. He was going to be taken away and imprisoned for the stack of unpaid traffic tickets that lay in a pile up in his room next the infernal computer.

"Ummm, yes, officer, he does. But, he's not home right now. May I ask what you want him for?"

The deputy contemplated answering. "When will he be back?"

"Ummm, I really don't know. He didn't say, you see and I didn't think to ask when he left. You never can tell with him, because sometimes he gets distracted and it'll be hours ----"

"What is your name, sir?"

Sai blinked, wondering dismally he could get in trouble for aiding and abetting a known ignoror of the law. "Sai. Sai Mouri, sir."

"Mr. Mouri," A card magically appeared in the hand of the deputy and posed rock solid under Sai's nose. "Have Mr. Hashiba contact me as soon as he returns."

Sai took the card.

"And this is about--?" he asked hopefully.

The deputy sighed, put upon. "We're investigating a missing person's report. A local rancher by the name of Vic Drummond has been missing for a week now. Mr. Hashiba had come by my office the day he disappeared, inquiring about any animal attacks. I sent him to talk to Drummond at the strip -- at a local bar. He was one of the last people to talk to Mr. Drummond, according to witnesses."

"Witnesses?" Sai was starting to get a terrible sinking feeling, remembering the gory tale that Rown and Ryo had come back with after their hell beast encounter.

"Well -- one, Miss --- Miss mchhoooves ---" the deputy whooshed out the word like a sneeze. Sai could swear he blushed.

"Miss what?"

Deputy Benson gave him a frown and enunciated. "Miss Mcboobs claimed that Mr. Has --"

"Mcboobs? Her name is Mcboobs? That's an odd name."

"Well -- yes. Ah -- I believe it might be a stage name."

"Oh? She's an entertainer?"

"A dancer."

"There's a dance club in town? I didn't know."

The deputy lowered his head and looked over the rims of his dark glasses at Sai. "It's a strip club, Mr. Mouri."

Sai's eyes widened. "Oh. Ooohhh. Rowan went to a strip club?"

"I sent him there, Mr. Mouri -- to talk to with Vic Drummond. Ms. Mcboobs claimed that he talked to Mr. Drummond for some time, before Mr. Drummond left."

"Well -- well, is she sure it was Rowan?"

"She's pretty sure. She spent some time -- talking -- with him after Mr. Drummond left."

"Did she?" Both Sai's brows plunged down. His eyes narrowed. "And what did she say she talked with him about, deputy Benson?"

"Umm, she didn't quite say." The deputy had the look of a man who sensed he were drifting out of his depth and fast loosing control of a situation. "Something to do with a lap dance and a freebie ---"

"A what dance?"

"What's going on, here?"

Seiji swept down the stairs, all crisply dressed in a pale silk shirt and immaculately pressed cackies, his hair caught up in a neat tail at the back of his neck, which served to pull the thick mane of it back from his face and allow one the full impact of both ice blue eyes. He didn't look any worse for wear, considering his faintness this morning. The deputy looked at Seiji like a lifeline to sanity. He started to open his mouth to explain, but Sai got there before him.

"Rowan had a lap dance from a stripper. And a freebie!! What sort of freebie? What does that mean, I'd like to know?"

"I'm investigating a missing person's report -- Mr. ---?"

"Date." Seiji replied, gracefully moving in and managing to shoulder Sai back out of the way without actually touching him.

"Mr. Date. Rowan Hashiba was looking for someone who might know about livestock attacks last week and was one of the last people to talk to Mr. Drummond - -the missing person. We were hoping to speak to him -- to see if he had any information that might help us."

"I would like to know what a freebie consists of?" Sai glared over Seiji's shoulder.

Seiji ignored him. The deputy fixedly stared at Seiji's face.

"Do you have a card?" Seiji inquired politely.

"I gave one to Mr. Mouri."

"Then I'll see to it that Rowan contacts you as soon as he returns home. Does it matter if its late? No? Then good day." Seiji smiled. A patently beautiful, patently false smile. It never reached his eyes. It didn't have to, it was distracting and stunning and riveted attention away from whatever lack of emotion Seiji displayed elsewhere. The deputy blinked at him, ensnared and slowly nodded. Seiji shut the door in his face.

"A lap dance. And a freebie?" Sai muttered in irritation. Seiji took the card from his fingers, looked at it once then tossed it onto the table beside the door.

"What do you think he meant by a freebie, Seiji?"

"Go find Ryo."

"How am I supposed to know where Ryo is? You're the one that chased him out of the house with your bad mood." Sai was quite, quite agitated.

Seiji gave him a long, slow look. "Sai. He was talking about the man that the hell beast killed while Ryo and Rowan were out in the woods. Go and find Ryo, please."

Sai blinked. "Oh. Oh. What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to call my lawyer. Now go, and god help us if the deputy runs into Ryo on the way out."


"Oh, Jesus! It didn't occur to me. I forgot all about him. How could I forget about that poor guy?"

Ryo sat down. Hard. A look on his face that foretold of the beginnings of a serious bout of guilt. Sai patted his shoulder, consolingly, although truth be told -- and Sai did feel derelict in this -- he was more upset over the notion of Rowan's encounter with the stripper.

Rowan had told him about the unfortunate Mr. Drummond, who had ended up hellbeast food. Rowan hadn't forgotten. Rowan was just more pragmatic that Ryo. You'd think after all this time, after all the death and destruction they'd seen and caused, that Ryo would be a little more jaded. You'd think he'd wouldn't be sitting there, pale faced and shocked over something that had happened almost a week ago and that had not been his fault in any way, shape or form.

"We should have told somebody straight-away. He's probably got family that's worried sick about him."

"Told them what?" Seiji was off the phone and in the doorway of the den.

Ryo looked up at him, gape mouthed, thinking hard, trying to come up with an answer that somebody might have believed.

Seiji answered his own question. "Told them, perhaps that a stray beast from hell happened to cross the boarder between our dimensions -- which was conveniently left open when the lot of us passed over -- fed by our armors mind you --and was wrecking havoc on the countryside. That the unfortunate Mr. Drummond happened to fall prey to said beast. Deputy Benson did not appear to me to be a man with the imagination to grasp the ramifications of that scenario."

"But --" Ryo said, a little helplessly. "But we should have done something."

Seiji let the breath out between his teeth in an irritated little hiss and leaned forward on the arm of the couch, putting himself almost eye to eye with Ryo.

"Was there a body?"

"Ummm, not that we noticed."

"Did you take this man out into the woods?"

"You know we didn't, Seiji." A little indignant anger from Ryo.

"Then it was not your fault. You and Rowan did the people of this area a great service ridding them of that beast. You and Rowan are not to blame. Are we clear on this?"

"I realize that." Ryo muttered. "We still should have let somebody know."

"They would have asked questions and wouldn't have believed the answers, Ryo." Sai said. "People never want to believe that things like that exist."

"So they would have created a mundane culprit. They already want to talk to Rowan." Seiji added.

"What did your lawyer say?" Sai asked.

"You talked to a lawyer?" Ryo cried miserably.

Seiji ignored him, shrugging. "No body. We're assuming the beast ate him, right?"

Sai made a face. "That's what Rowan thinks."

"They had nothing to do with it. There's nothing out there to indicate they were ever there. They disposed of the beast. Say nothing. People disappear in the mountains all the time."

"That fucking cold, Seiji." Ryo said. He ran a hand through his bangs, curled his fingers in to fists and stretched the hair taught. "We're supposed to be fucking better than that."

Seiji tilted his head, staring down impassively. A muscle at the corner of his mouth twitched.

"All right. I'm cold. Do what you want." He turned on his heel and walked out.

Ryo stared after him. Sai did, with the vague feeling that he was intruding. As soon as Seiji was gone, Ryo took a great breath and leaned over his knees, hair hanging almost to the floor.

"As much as it rubs against the grain -- he's probably right." Sai offered.

"I know that." Ryo snapped from under the fall of hair. Sai thought that Ryo was angry at himself for his neglect of the situation. Ryo was very much of a boyscout when it came to certain things. Certain beliefs. All the evil in the world or beyond couldn't seem to change that. It had changed Sai. God knew it had changed Seiji and Rowan. Even Kento beyond that good natured, laid back facade was well aware of the darker side of existence. And it altered a soul. It altered a bodies way of thinking. Of perceiving things. It let them talk about murders and devoured ranchers as if it were nothing alarming. It made Sai more concerned with a clandestine lap dance than the prospect of not reporting a brutal slaying.

It was frightening. He sat down next to Ryo, a rolling turmoil affecting his stomach.

"I think you pissed off Seiji."

"Yeah, what else is new?"

"He's had a rather trying morning. You ought to give a little leeway."

Ryo turned his head, peering up at Sai through a dark veil of hair. A rather critical stare that hinted that Sai really had no idea what giving Seiji leeway entailed.

"At least nobody gave him a freebie." Sai muttered.

"What the hell are you talking about, Sai?"

"The constable said the stripper gave Rowan a lap dance and a freebie. I can't believe Rowan would do such a thing. I mean -- first of all -- he doesn't carry protection about -- I've looked in his wallet and ----"

"Sai." Ryo held up a hand. "It wasn't that sort of freebie."

Sai blinked. Sai took a breath and asked. "You know about this -- this trip to the striptease club?"

"Yeah, Rowan told me."

"Rowan told you, but he didn't tell me." That was a statement, not a question.

Ryo sighed and shrugged. "Well its not the sort of thing you tell your -- boyfriend." He winced a little when he said it, as if the word didn't sit right with him.

Sai sniffed disdainfully. "So what was this freebie?"

"You really, really don't wanna know."

 

 

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