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Walking With The Dead

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Twelve

 

Ryo jerked awake with a start at the rattling of the door handle. Someone outside in the hall was having problems with the antique lock. It was damned dark in the room. He'd spent the whole of the day with his wrist cuffed to the bed frame with very little movement available to him. He was stiff and thirsty and seething mad.

"Goddamned you---" he hissed when Seiji came in. "You left me here all day, you bastard!"

Seiji leaned against the door, all in shadow, and stayed that way for a long moment, then pushed himself away from it and took a step into the room. Or a stagger. His left knee gave way two strides in and he almost went down. He thrust his arms out for balance and stood there precariously for an indrawn breath while he regained it.

Ryo stared, one knee on the bed, the other foot on the floor. "Seiji?"

No answer. With an unsteady lurch Seiji started towards the bed, sank down on the opposite side from Ryo and curled up. Just pressed his face into a pillow and lay there with his back to Ryo. Ryo kept staring.

"What's wrong with you?" he had to ask.

Long even breaths, as if he'd drifted asleep, then finally a drowsy voice. "I don't know where I am."

"You don't ---?" Ryo blinked and stood there for a long confused moment. Seiji didn't move. He was all limp and boneless, sagging into the mattress like all the strength had been drained out of him.

Slowly, Ryo took a breath. "What do you mean, Seiji?"

Nothing. Ryo shifted onto the bed, the cuff jangling as it moved along the metal rail. He leaned over Seiji's still figure, tentatively touched his shoulder and repeated. "Seiji, what do you mean?"

Seiji sighed and turned against him, pressing his face along Ryo's thigh, bringing a hand up to rest on Ryo's knee. "Can't think." He murmured, breath a warm touch on Ryo's skin. "Let me sleep."

"Seiji, why can't you think? Seiji?" Dare he hope?

"Leave me alone, Ryo." Soft, sleepy irritation. There was an unfamiliar, sickly sweet smoky odor clinging to his clothes, to his hair. Ryo took a breath and shook his shoulder.

"Wake up, Seiji. What have you been doing? Are you -- you?"

Seiji's fine brows drew down at the none to gentle touch. He stared up at Ryo, sloe eyed and distant. His pupils were large dark things in the center of icy rings of blue.

"Ryo, stop babbling. I'm not in the mood."

Which was the most encouraging thing Ryo had heard in quite a long while. Seiji was often not in the mood, for one reason or another. Possessed Seiji had been on sex overdrive since day one.

"Oh, God, it is you. Seiji, don't you dare go to sleep on me. Wake up! Please, wake up!"

A sigh and the lashes fluttered open. Seiji looked up at him, faint irritation mixed with the drowsiness.

"Seiji, find the key to the cuffs, okay? Where's the key to the cuffs?"

Seiji's gaze drifted up Ryo's body to the arm trapped in the embrace of the handcuff bracelet. His brows drew together.

"Who put those on you?"

"You did --- sorta. Please look for the keys. Maybe they're in your pockets. Here let me help." Ryo slid down the bed, down the length of Seiji's body, till they were belly to belly, then he plunged his free hand into Seiji's left hand pocket. There was a wad of money and a plastic packet of brown pellets that looked rather like rabbit turds. It had something of the smell that was clinging so adamantly to Seiji about it. Drugs. He had no notion what sort. He'd never had the interest in such things to educate himself, although considering the locale, he thought it might be some sort of opiate.

"Did you take some of this, Seiji?" he dangled the bag, infuriated.

Seiji stared at it. He blinked slowly, confusion welling up in his expression.

"May ---- be." He whispered. "I think so. Oh -- my --- god."

Ryo barely heard the last. For a moment he forgot the search for the key in lue of staring at the growing comprehension and the budding horror in Seiji's eyes.

"What have I done?" There was a drifting, hazy incomprehension in his voice. So unlike his Seiji, but then again it was unlike the other one too. It was the drugs that were making him that way. Maybe it had been the drugs -- this opiate that she'd pumped into his body instead of the heroin Rowan said she'd been using back home, that had thrown her off her balance and allowed Seiji to resurface. Ryo didn't pretend to understand the whys and wherefores of the situation. He just wanted the key and come to think of it, Seiji's power crystal while he had the chance to get it. A possessed Seiji without the benefit of the mystical armor could be dealt with.

"Not you --her. Roll over, let me find that key." He urged Seiji to shift, but Seiji went rigid of a sudden. Seiji got wild eyed and panicked and jerked away from his touch, pushing himself backwards towards the edge of the bed. His balance wasn't good enough not to go tumbling over it and onto the floor. Ryo's reach wasn't long enough to stop him or reach him once he'd hit the threadbare carpet.

"Seiji? You okay?"

"Don't --- touch --" He could barely speak his teeth were chattering so badly. He tried to scramble up and couldn't quite manage the feat.

"Seiji, please, please look for the key." Ryo stared at him beseechingly. He held out his hand and beckoned. "I need your help to get out of this, okay? Look in your right hand pocket. I think its there."

Seiji stared at him, sprawled inelegantly on the floor, hair tousled, expression far too dazed to expect any semblance of reason from him. Ryo repeated his need, slowly, carefully, as if were speaking to a child. If Seiji had had a spark of coherency he'd have hated that tone. As it was, it seemed to get through. Seiji slipped a hand into his pocket. Fumbled about and came out with a small brass set of miniature keys.

"That's good, Seiji. Toss them over." Seiji did. Fucked up as he was, his aim wasn't half bad, but he always had been able to function well physically under the most dreadful of circumstances.

Ryo caught them and lunged for the handcuffs. He released his wrist with a heartfelt sigh of relief then didn't know what to do with himself first. The driving urge to relieve his bladder was top on the list, followed closely by turning on the tap in the bathroom and gulping down as much water as he could. He'd probably regret that later. The water was luke warm and not the crystal clear he was used to and tasted of metals and other impurities. It would probably make him sick as a dog when it got into his system. At the moment, he didn't care.

He straightened, the wet ends of hair that had gotten in the way of his water consumption, dangling below his collar bones, dripping onto his skin. Okay. Okay. Think. Clothes first. He found the scattered articles of his clothing. Pulled on his pants hastily, glancing repeatedly at Seiji's huddled form against the wall. All he could see was a fall of golden hair. Seiji had his knees pulled up and his head drooped between them. Seiji's hands were white knuckled, clutching the material of his trousers. Ryo didn't know how to approach him. Even if it was his Seiji -- images kept popping into his head. Hurtful things done, shameful things done and all of it perpetrated by this body. It hardly mattered to the nausea in his gut that Seiji hadn't been home during those sessions. It had been Seiji's beautiful face and Seiji's hard, lean body that had done it. It had been Seiji's voice in his ear telling him it was okay to scream.

He stopped a few feet from Seiji, assaulted by a sudden bout of vertigo, of revulsion and fear. He didn't want to touch him. It wasn't fair to Seiji, really it wasn't, but he couldn't fight off the abhorrence. He couldn't find that line between Seiji and the thing that was inhabiting him. Between Seiji and that something that delighted in his pain and humiliation.

"Fuck." He whispered, stunned by his own inability to differentiate between something he loved and something he hated. His hands were shaking. There was wetness at the corners of his eyes and bile at the back of his throat.

"Seiji?" he asked softly. "Do you have your power crystal on you?"

A soft shudder from Seiji. He didn't look up. "I don't know ----- yes."

"Can you give it to me, please?" He dropped down to his knees, half a body length from Seiji. Slowly, Seiji looked up. His eyes were red rimmed but dry, pupils so large it was just eerie.

"Why?"

"Because if she comes back and has access to the armor, I'm screwed. We both are."

"Oh." Seiji didn't move.

Ryo sighed. "Please, Seiji."

"Did I hurt you, Ryo?"

How could he answer that. How could he say what he was feeling to Seiji, who looked so damned vulnerable, who was so damned confused.

"You didn't hurt me. She did." The words were reasonable. The words were correct in every sense of the word. Seiji hadn't been there. It wasn't his doing. He reached out towards Ryo and Ryo flinched away. Seiji's hand stopped. A flicker of something, of bewilderment. of hurt and finally some brief flash of understanding, went through his eyes. Then the lashes came down and he pulled back.

"Okay." He said softly and dug into his pocket for the crystal. There was a knock on the door. It swung inwards on its hinges. Seiji hadn't closed it fully when he'd staggered in. Seiji froze. Ryo did.

Three men filled the door. Ryo recognized them from the cantina the night before. Their dark eyes took in the scene inside the room with wry curiosity. One of them made a comment that Ryo couldn't understand. They looked to Seiji expectantly. Seiji stared at them as if they were rats crawled in through the walls.

They moved further into the room, wary, asking something else. There was a plainly visible gun in the belt of the one in front. The men's eyes darted about the room suspiciously. Ryo carefully pushed himself to his feet.

"Listen, you guys need to come back later, understand? We're in the middle of something here."

They ignored him. They asked something else of Seiji, who hadn't bothered to get up. The one reached into his belt and withdrew the pistol. Suspicious men. Dangerous men who had obviously expected a different welcome than the one they'd gotten.

The gun waved at Ryo and he stepped back reflexively, having little liking for firearms of any type. His hips hit the footboard of the bed. The muzzle of the gun pressed under his chin and he stared up into the stubbled, dark face of the man wielding it. Another question that he was helpless to comprehend.

"I don't understand." He said.

They hauled Seiji up by the arm and pressed him against the wall, spewing questions at him in their foreign tongue. It angered Ryo, the fact that they had their hands on him, the fact that he let them do it without the faintest trace of resistance.

"Leave him alone." He protested and the one with the gun shoved him backwards. He sat down hard on the end of the bed with the gun pointed at his forehead.

They were angry. They were angry with Seiji for his lack of response, for the utter blankness of his expression when before he had handled them so suavely. They were spooked a little. Ryo could see it in their eyes. They chattered among themselves, not bothering to keep their voices down. Practically yelling in their agitation, waving hands and guns about wildly. Ryo sat and stared steadily into the dark muzzle of the gun still aimed at his face, waiting for them to reach some conclusion or for an opening to make a move of his own. Not while the gun was on him though. Not while the man that held it watched him impassively, calmly. Ryo had taken lives, but never lightly. Never without regret and guilt. He felt a responsibility even for the enemies he had felled. This man would feel nothing. He would pull that trigger as easily as he would lift a hand to shoo away an annoying fly. It was in his dark, passionless eyes, that look that said very clearly that the blessing of life held no value for him.

They made some. A few words spoken and Ryo was hauled to his feet and jerked towards the door. They shuffled Seiji out before him and the both of them down the hall. Shoes would have been nice. A shirt would have been. They didn't allow him the grace of either. Seiji staggered a little ahead of him and he twisted out of the hand holding his arm to move ahead and take hold of Seiji's. They didn't begrudge him that. He wanted Seiji close in case an opportunity presented itself, because Seiji damned sure wasn't in the condition to look out for himself.

There was a beat up van outside the hotel. They were herded into the back of it. Ryo settled onto the dirty floor and Seiji listed against him. It was windowless and hot. The air smelled of sweat and gasoline and faintly of urine. He could see nothing of where they were going. The driver was a maniac though. The van careened around this turn and that with wild abandon. Ryo put one arm around Seiji and held on to a strap on the inside wall of the van with the other. Seiji murmured something; faintly annoyed, head drooping against Ryo's shoulder, lashes trembling against his pale cheeks.

"Its okay." Ryo murmured, even though he knew that it wasn't. He'd have given anything to have known what they'd been talking about last night at the cantina.

They'd driven for maybe a half hour and when the van screeched to a halt and the doors were yanked open they were in what was apparently a very old, very run down section of town. They were in front of a stone building with a crumbling facade and bordered up windows. There were other buildings of the same ilk surrounding it on the narrow, dusty street.

Ryo didn't like it. He didn't like the feeling the air, or the fervent looks of the men in the van. He didn't like the man that came out of the building when they pulled himself and Seiji out of the van. If the one's that had brought them here had the air of stone killers, then this one had the look of a fanatic. It was in his white rimmed eyes and the intensity of his dark pupils. In the way he carried himself and the aura he put off.

Ryo wanted out so badly he could taste it. And he got the chance as the men from the van began a loud and excited explanation to the man who'd come out of the building. There was only one left at their side and he was paying more attention to his fellows than Ryo and Seiji.

Ryo made a decision and he acted on it . . . .

 

. . . . . He wanted to sleep. Seiji had never yearned for the embrace of silent, warm darkness as much as he did at that moment. Never felt so inclined to just sink into slumber regardless of place or time or circumstance. There was warmth next to him, that enveloped him pleasantly. Ryo's warmth, he thought. He wasn't certain. His head was a little too hazy to be absolute about anything. Perhaps it was only wishful thinking. He might have been content with that fantasy if there had not have been other annoying distractions. The jolting of the van. The offensive odor permeating the air. The incoherent chatter of the non-entities that occupied the same space as himself and Ryo. He didn't care for their presence, or their smell or their garbled speech. He could not quite bring himself to care for anything save sinking into Ryo, who felt good and who smelled Ryo-like and who was blessedly silent. Curling up with Ryo somewhere soft and clean was all he might have asked for at this particular juncture of his life.

But the distractions kept worrying at him. They kept him from the apathy he so desperately wanted. The physical irritants were only a backdrop for the niggling little mental ones that tore at his subconscious. Flashes of imagery. Bits of emotion. Strange little snippets of understanding that he knew --- that he just knew did not come from any sudden inspirational cognition of his own. He heard a line of incomprehensible conversation that made no sense at first, and then dozen beats later something inside him reasoned it out and the words took on meaning.

He slumped with his head against Ryo's shoulder and Ryo's arm protectively around him, vaguely intrigued by this phenomenon. They were upset with him. They were spooked by him and angry. He couldn't reason why. He found he truly didn't care. He cared -- in a hazy sort of way -- about the look in Ryo's eyes before they'd come. He cared about the revulsion and the abhorrence to his touch that had flashed over Ryo's face. That look and that flinch passed over and over through his reeling thoughts and even Ryo's firm grasp on him now could not chase it away.

He couldn't fathom why. Or perhaps he could. Perhaps the other memories and images and fleeting sensations had something to do with it. Things he'd rather not deal with. Things he couldn't reasonably interpret in this present state of mind. Things that frankly terrified him. Things that were therefore to be avoided and denied and pushed away with a vehemence. Terror was not an emotion that Seiji practiced. Terror was a weakness not to be tolerated.

But it lurked there all the same. He pressed his face into Ryo's smooth shoulder in helpless frustration and Ryo's arm tightened. Ryo whispered a soft encouragement. Seiji's awareness faded . . .

. . . . And came back with a jolt as the van shuddered to a halt. Someone laid hands on him and Ryo snarled and swatted them away. Ryo got him out through the back door with an arm around his waist. Some remnant of dignity made Seiji try to stand on his own. Made him try to keep his knees from buckling. Confusion reared up to smack him in the face yet again as the strangeness of this place assaulted him one more time. Things fuzzed around him. The heat, the smell, the sound of impatient voices. He leaned against the side of the van and drifted, subtly disassociating himself from all of it.

Until Ryo silently and efficiently slammed an elbow into the face of the man standing next to them and yanked Seiji's arm in no gentle manner to get him moving. He wasn't quite prepared for that and staggered, loosing all semblance of grace and dignity as Ryo hauled him forward. There were yells behind them. And the sound of pursuit. The buildings and the shadows melded into a mosaic of sickening shapes. He had no choice but to trust Ryo's hand on his arm to guide him. His vision betrayed him at every step.

Into a dark alley between buildings. Ryo avoided obstacles on the ground and kept Seiji upright when his feet tangled in them.

A gunshot whizzed by them, impacting in the stone wall of a building. Shards of stone pelted the ground. Ryo hardly paused; with a bunching of muscles he bodily flung Seiji to the side. Seiji hit the wall and slid down, the impact bringing with it a moment of crystal clarity.

He saw Ryo dart towards the two figures in close pursuit. Saw him dodge the outstretched arm of the closest one, grab the wrist and arm and twist it and the gun it held towards the other one. Who squeezed the trigger was anyone's guess, but the gun went off. The second man staggered and went down. Ryo slammed the heel of his hand up into the chin of the man he grappled with. Blood splattered as teeth bit through tongue. That one went down too, moaning.

A second pair thundered down the alley and one of them held a wicked looking curved sword. Almost Ryo laughed at them.

"You do not want to come at me with that."

Of course they did. They couldn't understand him, or they didn't care. They had no idea how dangerous he could be once his fighting instinct had been engaged. They found out. The sword wielder was quite shocked at the ease at which he was disarmed. He went down with a shattered nose from the hilt of the blade. The second one brought up a pistol and actually got a shot off before he lost his hand. He went down to his knees screaming to his god and leaking his lifesblood all over the dirty alley.

"Shit." Ryo whispered. He hadn't meant the severity of that blow. Seiji knew he hadn't. It had been instinct. Pure survival instinct.

Bodies in the alley. The smell of fresh blood in the air. The screams of a man in pain. Ryo standing there with a bloody sword in his hand, waiting for the others to arrive, as others surely would. Seiji pressed his hands against the rough stone of the wall in mystification, trying to process it all. Trying to clear his mind of the haze that subverted all his thoughts. Something squirmed about at the back of his mind, blossoming into languid awareness. It was the oddest sensation, like some pod of newly hatched snakelings coming to life inside his mind; reaching out with their sinuous, muscular little bodies and delving into the passages of his thoughts, his awareness, his consciousness -- his very being. It had been asleep. For the first time in a very long time it had been dormant, but now it was awakening.

It? Not it. Her. He recalled the flavor of her presence and it left a sour, acrid taste on his pallet. He recalled what seemed a lifetime of walking dreams -- nightmares. Only they hadn't been dreams, they'd been reality. Her reality while he had been pushed to the rear, imprisoned in a shell of her making while she had her way with his body. And Ryo's. And Sai's. And -- god, god -- Rowan ---

No. He mouthed the word as panic washed over him. As her overwhelming presence did. Even coherent he hadn't had the strength to drive her away, in the state he was in now -- the state she had put him in in her attempts to drown his consciousness with drugs -- he had no hope of it. He tore his nails bloody digging his fingers into the wall behind him, trying to find the will to voice a warning to Ryo, trying not to relinquish control to her -- and failing.

He spiraled into a pit of her making, surrounded by her anger and her mirthless triumph. It occurred to him as he fell, that if one of the guns scattered on the ground had been within his reach, he'd have put a bullet in his brain without a second thought. He could not fathom any other way to defeat her, no other way to atone for his weakness in letting her do what she had done. Death seemed the only way out.

 

Ryo stared at the havoc he had wrought and cringed. These were human men he'd bloodied, not the undead, or demonic warriors from some other dimension. At least one was probably dead. The one holding the stump of his wrist was probably on his way to that end unless he got help soon. Ryo didn't have the time or the inclination to provide it. There were others coming and there was only so much luck to go around when it came to avoiding bullets. He needed to get Seiji out of here. Find a safe place to hide until they gave up looking. He gave the mouth of the alley one last look for pursuit and started to turn. Something flared behind him. Something that oozed power and made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He was well familiar with the sensation. He took a shuddery breath and turned, clutching the well worn hilt of the blade tightly. The faint greenish glow coming from the armor threw the alley into soft relief. It made the filth not so filthy. It made Seiji's eyes almost turquoise in the shadow of his helm.

This was either a very good thing or a disastrously terrible one.

"Seiji?" Ryo asked in a small voice.

Seiji smiled at him. And the point of that damned big sword of his lifted slightly from the ground. "Would you care to try that little blade against this one?"

No, he'd really rather not. He took a cautious step backwards. One had to figure that Seiji wasn't home anymore. One had to make the very difficult decision of whether to stand fast or run like hell.

"What are you going to do, Ryo?" The question came out of Seiji's lips like a purr, as if he'd sensed Ryo's dilemma.

"Nothing." Ryo said softly and let the blade clatter to the ground. He didn't have a choice if he wanted to stay close to Seiji. He'd almost had a chance before the Egyptians had come bursting in. Almost gotten that stone away from Seiji and from there, he could have taken Seiji, or whatever chose to resurface in Seiji, in hand. If he was patient -- if he could manage to endure her presence and her touch -- then he might get the chance again.

Seiji's smile faltered, almost in disappointment, then the sword whipped out with a speed that was patently inhuman and the flat of it caught Ryo against the side of the head. He promptly hit the wall as a result of that impact. Somehow he kept consciousness, despite the screaming pain in his head and the swimming of his vision. Warm blood trickled down behind his ear. Dazedly he lifted a hand to his hair. Felt wetness and a lump of pure pain at the root of it. The impact had broken the skin more so than the sharp edge of the blade. If Seiji had wanted, he could have lopped the top of his head off with as much ease as slicing through warm butter.

"What were you trying to do here?" A quiet shifting of armor and Seiji loomed over him. "What did you hope to achieve?"

"Nothing." Ryo said hoarsely. "To protect him -- you. From them."

"From them? They worship me, you fool."

Ryo blinked, not understanding. Seiji leaned down, tangling his armored fingers in Ryo's hair, yanking his head back even as he dragged his body forward. Hard armor pressed into the bare flesh of his chest and tummy.

"I know what you were trying to do. You were trying to get that oh, so interesting little crystal. That was very bad of you."

Ryo pressed his lips together, saying nothing. Footsteps sounded. Men appeared with more guns. The one with the fanatical eyes was in the forefront with an automatic weapon. He had a red checkered turban and a brown robe on over desert colored kackies. He had on a gold watch and necklace that glittered against his dark skin. He said something and the others halted behind him, all of them wary of the armored being they beheld in the alley.

Seiji turned his head and responded in the same language. They almost relaxed. At least the guns weren't pointed at them any more. They scampered to see to their fallen comrades.

Seiji's eyes followed them. "You were very bad, Ryo." He chided and the hand in his hair shifted, moving around to cover his face, fingers with strength beyond anything human pressing into his temples and cheeks. He could have crushed his skull without breaking a sweat, but he chose instead to slam Ryo backwards hard enough that his head bounced off the wall behind him. The stars came back with a vigor. They were replaced quickly enough by a moonless, soundless, thoughtless night.

 

 

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