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Walking With The Dead

by P L Nunn


Chapter Eighteen


Boneless and limp. Gold tipped brown lashes a thick, steady fringe over snow pale cheeks. Warm though, and accommodating in his senselessness. Alive and devoid of malicious spirits. It was all Ryo could really comprehend at the moment. Everything else was hard to focus on. Everything but the rough texture of the burlap sacks he leaned on, the endless rhythm of the river and the chug of the boat's derelict engine -- and Seiji's quiet presence at his side. Seiji's utter warmth and peace pressed against his ribs and shoulder. Seiji's cheek resting on his chest and his soft hair tickling Ryo's chin.

A wonderful thing -- or a terrifying one. He wasn't sure which yet. He wasn't sure of a lot of things yet. His wits were too scattered to sort through the important things.

Seiji had roused once halfway back to the river, but not enough to be of any help in his own locomotion and not long enough to make much of a difference either way. It was goddamned ungainly supporting him between Kento and himself, so Kento had ended up, the last five hundred yards or so, swinging Seiji over his shoulder fireman style and lugging his unconscious self to the boat. They'd made better time that way. Rowan and Sai had made on their heels, Rowan lagging those last steps. Rowan with drying blood on his chin and gasping a little for breath. Ryo wasn't sorry he'd hit him. Not yet at any rate. He might be later. It depended on how fucked up Rowan was and how permanent Seiji's recovery. If Seiji was hurt from that stunt -- physically damaged as a result -- regrets about Rowan would be few and far between. Kento swore Seiji would be okay. Kento was adamant on the fact. But Ryo had seen the fear in Kento's eyes while Rowan had been about the deed and it had been real and full of uncertainties. He'd seen the same look on Rowan's face and heard it in his voice when he'd called for Kento's help.

Unforgivable not to have told him. He curled his fingers into fists and felt a sting of pain in his wrists. Felt the sticky wetness of the bandages Sai had wrapped around them.

"Ryo --?" Seiji's whispered voice. Seiji's fluttering lashes and unfocused eyes. He didn't quite move his cheek from Ryo's shoulder. His body was still pliable and strengthless. "You -- okay?" Seiji's voice sounded distant -- sleepy.

Almost Ryo laughed. Almost. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."

"Bleeding." Seiji murmured and Ryo looked down at his wrist lying across his stomach and the red soaked bandages around it.

"Yeah." He agreed.

Silence and for a while he thought Seiji had fallen asleep. Then. "I do that?"

"You? Her, you mean? No. I did it all by myself." He said softly. "Pretty stupid, huh?"

"m'sorry." Seiji's fingers curled a little in his shirt.

"I said it wasn't your fault." A little annoyed. More than a little tautly strung after more stress than he could easily recall enduring. But Seiji had drifted into sleep for real this time.

He lost track of time. Maybe he dozed, lulled by Seiji's quiet. It was dusk when the boat chugged into the docks of Cairo. Seiji roused a little and they managed to get him on his feet. With support he could almost master the skill of walking. They flagged a beat-up taxi and the five of them squeezed in. Got to the hotel as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon and trudged into the lobby, an exhausted, rag-tag collection.

It was a quiet trip up the elevator, what with Ryo pissed off, Seiji so far out of it, conversation was the last thing on his mind, Sai and Kento nervous as hell and Rowan -- Ryo didn't know what the hell Rowan was. Guilty, miffed that Ryo had pounded him, plotting something? Who knew.

Into the adjoining suites and Ryo started to guide Seiji towards one of the bed rooms and got snagged by Sai before he could make it that far.

"No. Let them take care of him. Come with me."

"What? Why?" Ryo wrenched his arm out of Sai's grasp, staring balefully.

"You don't do sullen well, Ryo." Sai pointed out. "So stop trying and come down to the hotel doctor and let him take better care of your wrist than I did."

He started to say something nasty. Started to say he didn't want Rowan's hands on Seiji and even looked that way in preparation before some small bit of conscience leaked its way past the walls of hurt he'd put up, before he noticed how tired and used up Rowan really did look. He bit his tongue. Shut his eyes a moment trying to get a grasp on reality -- trying to find that elusive bit of common sense and moral aptitude that had always served him so well in the past. It was right to bite at them when they were bone weary and down and had just gone to a helluva lot of effort to save Seiji. Even as -- bruised -- as he was, it just wasn't right. He took a tremulous breath and nodded. Followed Sai downstairs and let the dark skinned English speaking native doctor clean the wound. Stared dispassionately while the man put in fourteen stitches. Sai kept cringing and looking elsewhere, chattering nervously the whole time, expounding on the made up story of how Ryo had managed to inflict such a wound when Ryo refused to open his mouth and explain it.

"I don't see how you could stand to just look at him when he was stitching you up." Sai complained on the way back up. "I swear I was starting to feel faint." Sai had a bizarre sense of tolerances. In the heat of the moment, he'd never waver, but he tended to get all wobbling in the calm aftermath.

"Wasn't that bad. He numbed it first."

"Still - - Ryo, we did what we had to do. All of us. And we knew you wouldn't agree to it. Don't hold it against Rowan just because he -- gave Seiji the drugs. We'd all decided. He was just the only one who we thought wouldn't - - hesitate - - to go through with it. He didn't want to do it. And it hurt him to do it. So give him a bit of slack."

Ryo held up his good hand to silence Sai. "Sai -- just - - just let it go for a while, okay? I can't - - deal - - right now."

Sai chewed on his lip, but nodded, green eyes shadowed and worried.

The front room was empty save for Kento when they got back. The door to the bedroom was shut, as well as the door to the connecting set of suites. Kento was watching sports broadcast in a rapid fire middle eastern dialogue.

"Seiji's out in there," Kento glanced over his shoulder and jerked a thumb in the direction of the bedroom.

"Rowan said something about soaking away the latest set of bruises in the other suite." He jutted his chin at the opposite door just in case they weren't clear on his explanation. "Guess that means I get the couch, huh?"

Sai patted him on one broad shoulder and silently went to see how he could assert his mothering on Rowan now that he'd finished with Ryo.

Which left Ryo bereft for a moment of purpose. He stood blindly staring at the game on the TV, wondering what he ought to do with himself now that there was nobody yanking him around on a leash -- now that the danger had passed and there was nothing to do but recover in the aftermath.

"You okay, Ryo?" Kento asked him.

Ryo blinked and nodded reflexively. "Yeah. I'm okay." He turned and walked into the bedroom. Set his back against the door when he'd achieved the shadowed room and stood there staring at the human shaped figure under the sheets. A pale arm curled under a cheek mostly obscured by hair. Soft, even breathing.

It was Seiji. He had to keep telling himself that. This wasn't an enemy anymore, even though he wore the same form. It was Seiji. And Seiji hadn't done any of the things to him that made his gut clench and roll just to think about. It hadn't been Seiji -- even though it had been Seiji's face and Seiji's voice and Seiji's hands.

His cheeks were wet with tears and he hadn't realized he was even crying. He slid down the door and sat there in the dark because he couldn't make himself go over to the bed and crawl between the sheets with Seiji when he couldn't get the images out of his mind. His hands started shaking so bad of a sudden that he had to clasp them between his knees to control it.

It wasn't Seiji's fault. It wasn't right to feel this -- aversion -- that made his skin break out in a fine sweat and bile rise in his throat. And yet he couldn't not feel it. He couldn't control the emotion. He couldn't get the hurt out of his mind - - the violence done - - the pleasure taken at his pain - - the rape - - the degradation - - the how many weeks of forced submission that ate at his self-esteem like some sort of insidious acid. He sobbed outright in frustration and tried to swallow it back, not wanting to make a sound that would wake Seiji and force him to explain.

He got up, and soundlessly slipped into the bathroom. Shut the door and stood leaning over the sink until he got himself back under control. He splashed cold water on his face to chase away the redness in his eyes and stayed a while longer until he was certain he was okay --- that the fit had passed. Then he quietly escaped the bedroom, fleeing to the outer room to join Kento on the couch in front of the TV.

"Who's playing?" he asked, because it seemed the rational, normal thing to inquire.

"Hell if I know." Kento shrugged. "Can't understand a word they're saying, but its not a bad game."


For the longest while, Seiji lay there, listening to the humm of the air conditioning, to the sound of his blood pulsing through his veins, to the soft buzz of the television from beyond the closed door. Ubiquitous, unthreatening sounds. Not like the doleful sound of Ryo crying and trying to stifle it. Not nearly so devastating as that. His stomach clenched, threatening unstability and he swallowed, trying to calm it. Trying to soothe the growing ache behind his eyes.

He felt so distant -- so disconnected on the one hand and yet so solidly grounded on the other. The sounds were grating on his ears and the sheets less than pleasant against his bare skin. Something was missing.

It took him a while to figure out it wasn't her absence that created the gaping void. Her absence was a godsend. Her absence gave him all the freedom in the world. All the space. She was gone and he knew she was gone for good. There was no dark presence hiding in the depths of his subconscious. It was all him. For that, he supposed, he ought to be grateful to Rowan. He wasn't certain if he could muster thanks that Rowan had brought him back. That was a dubious boon at best. He'd rather have drowned in the darkness and paid for his weakness that way. Most certainly would rather not have faced the shame in the light of day.

He brought a shaky hand up to his face, running fingers through hair gone lank from a day and a night without washing it in this heat. The tremors brought back to mind that missing something. That craving need that burned in his belly and through his veins and inside his head.

The drugs. The fucking drugs. She might be gone, but her method of crippling him still loomed. He ran fingertips over the inside of his arm and couldn't quite feel the marks there. He thought she might have used other places to keep from marring the skin too badly. He couldn't remember all of them. He couldn't remember all of the times she'd flooded his body with poison. He felt the results of it now. Felt the weakness. The restlessness that had kept him from sleep. The cold that intermittently swept over his skin. Felt the fuzziness in his mind and the craving underlying it.

How wonderful a parting gift. He laughed. Threw an arm over his eyes and laughed again, the sound bordering on hysterical. Wetness leaked at the corners of his eyes. He hated it and pressed his fists against his lids, grinding them into his eyes until he saw dancing sparks of light in the darkness.

Damn her for using him - - -

Damn Rowan for bringing him back when he'd wanted oblivion instead - - -

Damn himself for letting it happen - - - for letting her hurt Ryo. And the rest of them as well. But mostly for Ryo - - - who he didn't blame for any of it. Who's look of aversion days ago he remembered all to well -- who'd sat here tonight and cried out of justified anger/pain/remorse. And hatred. Of course hatred was intertwined with it. Ryo wasn't that good at hiding emotions and Seiji was sure it was there. Was absolutely certain that it was directed at him. And why not? It was most certainly well deserved. Seiji hadn't stopped it. Hadn't been strong enough to stop any of it.

Weak. Weak and ineffectual. Hate was so well justified. Rowan should have let him die. He laughed again, shakier this time, then grimaced as his gut clenched up in an unexpected stab of cramping.

He cursed, shoving off the sheet and staggering for the bathroom. Skidded to his knees before the toilet bowl and knelt there, head bowed, dry heaving. The tears ran down his cheeks in earnest. His shoulders shook with helpless sobs of shame and rage and indignation.

Of its own accord his mind recollected the face and the name of the English speaking native who she/he'd bought drugs from in the city. He blinked, staring into the depths of the ceramic bowl, shocked. Floored really that for a second he'd been contemplating find that slimy little man and buying more poison. Better death than that.

He pushed himself up, staggered to the door and caught himself on the frame. Stood there trying to orient himself. Trying to sort out increasingly chaotic thoughts. He saw his pants lying across the end of the bed. He snagged them and pulled them on, then his shirt, which had fallen haphazardly to the floor. He didn't bother buttoning it. Didn't have the presence of mind to look for his shoes, just walked quietly across the carpet barefooted and opened the door a crack. The light from the TV was the only illumination from the outer room. Ryo was sprawled on the couch, dead to the world. Kento was in much the same state on the floor. There was no sign of Rowan or Sai.

Escape was a few scant yards across the carpeted floor to the door. He took it without hesitation, and slipped through the outer door with hardly a whisper of sound. Blindly he made for the elevator. Waited with his back to the wall for the car to reach his floor then stepped inside and froze with his hand poised over the control panel. Where? Down led to the city and the temptation. If he went down -- he'd find his way to that nasty little man and soothe the cravings of his body. He'd feed the weakness.

A trail of sweat ran down his temple. He blinked to clear wavering vision and pressed the uppermost button. Twenty-five floors. Not that long of a trip up. A shorter one down.




Kento came awake with a snort, jerking his head up and gawking like a deer caught in the headlights, baffled and confused for those few short seconds it took for him to realize where he was and what it was he was doing, which was lying at an awkward angle on the floor of a Cairo hotel room before a quietly flickering TV. Ryo was taking up most of the couch, dead to the world, his bandaged wrist dangling limply off the side of the sofa. It wasn't Ryo that had woken him. It was, he thought, the closing of the door. The click of the lock sliding back into place that was different enough from the chaotic static of the TV to make a dent in his sleep. Somebody leaving.

He frowned, glancing at the door to Rowan and Sai's suite and finding it firmly shut, then to the other bedroom door and discovering that one half open. Ryo had shut it when he'd come back in from checking on Seiji. Ryo hadn't moved since then.

Another frown. He turned the TV off and gently lifted Ryo's injured wrist to rest on his chest, then rose, stretching and padded to the bedroom door.

Empty. Rumpled sheets. Seiji's boots half hidden under the end of the bed, which meant he wasn't going very far. Maybe just down the hall to the little niche which held the soda and candy machines. Still, Kento felt a little nagging voice of unease. Wouldn't hurt to have a soda himself. He went out into the hall. Long deserted avenue with a row of closed doors and no sign of life. The elevator at the end softly chimed as the doors were closing. He thought he caught a glimpse of pale skin and golden hair. Thought maybe -- just maybe it had been Seiji.

"What the fuck - -?" he scratched his head uncertainly, wondering if he ought to rouse Ryo, then figured Ryo needed the rest and it wasn't like Seiji was still possessed or anything -- so maybe he'd just trail along and see what he was up to all by himself.

The odd thing was, the lights on the elevator were going up, not down towards the lobby and all the things the lobby had to offer, like restaurant, bar, rec-room and not least of all access to the outside world. Why the hell would Seiji be going up. The light stopped on the top floor and Kento waited patiently for the car to come back down, then pushed the button for the same destination.

There was nothing on this floor any different than the one he'd just left, save at the very end, a door marked "Roof: hotel personal only". It was where Seiji had gone and it was where he needed to go. He felt that as clearly as he'd ever felt anything and with growing urgency he trotted down the hall to that door. It gave way under his hand and led to a set of steps leading up and those to a gravel covered roof that was shadowed and purpled in the pre-dawn darkness. It took his eyes a moment to adjust. Nothing of note in plain sight. He crept around behind the concrete structure that housed the stairwell, past an array of what might have been air-conditioning units to the other side of the room. The gravel crunched softly under his sneakers. It must have hurt like hell under Seiji's bare feet - - if he had come up here. Kento was starting to wonder if he'd been right in his assumption. If maybe it hadn't been some other blonde in the elevator that he'd caught a flashing glimpse of.

Then, over by the edge, he saw him. A flicker of pale shirt billowing in the wind, shoulders haunched, palms on the stone of the thigh-high ledge, half leaning over it as if he were trying to see the distant ground. Kento took a breath, afraid to say anything and startle him when he was so precariously balanced. Wondering if the tremors in Seiji's shoulders were from the cool morning breeze or from something else. He took a careful step forward, formulating something to say that wouldn't make him seem like an idiot. Another step and gravel crunched noisily.

Seiji's shoulders tensed and he spun, glaring.

Kento's explanation for being here died on his lips, shocked out of him by the look on Seiji's face.

Devastation. Complete and utter devastation. He'd never seen anything of the sort on Seiji's face before. Never imagined that Seiji could fathom such an expression. Not Seiji with his perfect decorum and his rigid self-control. Not Seiji who frowned on excess emotion and never aired his personal tantrums -- if he had any -- out in front of the rest of the world. And here he was, lashes spiked with tears, face ravaged with emotion. Misery and pain and grief and hate.

"Seiji - - ?" Kento whispered his name, aghast.

"Leave me alone." Seiji spat at him.

"What -- what are you doing up here?"

"Leave me the fuck alone." Seiji screamed it at him. Seiji screamed at him. Seiji never screamed. Seiji never had tears rolling down his face while his hands were shaking so bad he could hardly make fists.

"What are you doing?" Kento demanded, starting to panic. Starting to have very bad suspicions of just what was going on here.

"What does it matter? Its not your business, so go back downstairs, Kento."

"Not my --" he shook his head, fighting to keep the fear from his face, wondering how he was going to get close enough to get his hands on Seiji without spooking him into doing something stupid. Rowan was so much better than he was at putting on the calm face in the midst of uncalm goings on. "Okay, you're right. Its not my business if you wanna stand up here and freeze your ass off. Ryo's gonna wonder where you are."

Seiji flinched at Ryo's name. The eyes went a little shadowed, the mouth tightened. "Ryo will get over it."

"Humm, yeah, guess so. So's how it feel to be ghost-free and all?" Kento forced a cheerful smile and Seiji glared at him for it. Seiji was pale and sweating. There was something desperate and hungry about his eyes. And frightened. He backed a step up, till his hips were touching.

"So -- I can tell him you'll be down in a bit, right?"

"Tell him what you want." Seiji glanced to the side, back towards the edge and the darkness beyond it. Kento took the chance Seiji's preoccupation gave him and lunged. He was quicker than he looked, with his broad shoulders and thick muscled torso and Seiji was off his game. Seiji was slow and distracted and Kento had his fingers around his wrist before he registered that Kento was aiming for it. Seiji hissed and jerked backwards and Kento grunted and yanked him towards him for all he was worth. Even a healthy Seiji would have lost that tug of war. As it was Kento got an armful of spitting mad blonde, who's bones felt more fragile than they'd ever felt before. So fragile that he feared he'd hurt him trying to keep him from hurting himself.

Seiji was cursing him, struggling to twist free, doing everything in his power to fully convince Kento that he was far from his right mind and needed very much to be taken somewhere and sat upon and force fed reason. Kento locked his arms around Seiji's waist and heaved him off his feet. One arm trapped inside Kento's embrace, the other loose and flailing, jerking back to smack Kento squarely in the nose. He tasted blood.

He got them to the door of the roof and preyed it hadn't locked behind him. It was open. He maneuvered them inside and got his back against it, blocking the egress and let Seiji go. Seiji staggered back, glaring daggers, shedding tears of rage and frustration. "You don't understand. You don't fucking understand."

"Enlighten me." Kento ground out, wiping blood from under his nose. Seiji took a breath, stared, then retreated a step. Got his back to the wall and stood there, shuddering. Floundering for a control that just wasn't there. Not willing to talk about it. Not willing to give up that much of himself.

"You gonna walk downstairs on your own, or are we gonna fight the whole way?" Kento finally said.

Seiji's head came up. His nostril's flared. He swiped a sleeve across his face, getting rid of the evidence of weakness. He was shaking so bad, Kento thought he might not be able to make it down those stairs on his own after all. But of course, being Seiji, he hissed and jerked his arm away from Kento when he tried to steady him. Glared indignantly and started down the stairs on his own.

"You have no idea what you saw." He said stiffly, without turning.

"What did I see?" Kento wished for clarification. He wished very much that he'd jumped to horrific conclusions. He'd apologize vehemently if that were the case.

Seiji couldn't come up with an immediate answer for that question. Maybe it was because Seiji, intrinsically, wasn't a liar. Because there was honor involved here to and he wasn't ready to throw all semblance of integrity away just yet. Not even to cover for his own irrationality.




The sound of raised voices roused Rowan from a perfectly lovely drowse. He'd been dreaming of Sai's hot mouth and gentle fingers on his body. Sort of an after the fact extension of the actuality. It had been a very nice bath. Sai had been very helpful indeed and very, very willing to ease Rowan's pain in any way Rowan thought necessary. Sai made a lovely nursemaid -- or a naughty one -- Rowan wasn't sure which fit better. He wasn't quite sure he was really hearing the argument coming from behind the shield of the door. It might have been part of the dream. It might have been a side-effect of the headache that had been plaguing him all day or the pain killers that he'd finally relented and taken, much to Sai's satisfaction.

So you're trying to drug me, are you? He had accused.

I like it when you're drugged, Sai had answered primly. You're quiet when you're drugged and still and I can take terrible advantage of you.

Rowan's eyebrows had shot up. Rowan's smile had turned lecherous and he'd put out his hand for the pill. Okay, but only if you promise - - -

It turned out to be a very good idea. The pain dulled, breathing eased -- Sai was true to his word. And the world went soft and comfortable for a while until the voices started up in the outer room.

Well - - voice mostly. It sounded like Ryo. When Rowan and Sai dragged themselves from a perfectly snug bed and into the room separating the two suites - - it turned out to be most certainly Ryo in the midst of a loud and somewhat violent tantrum.

Ryo was yelling at Seiji, which in and of itself was an odd occurrence. For Ryo to have his hands tangled in Seiji's shirt in a threatening and violent manner was even more unusual. Kento was hovering with a dark expression on his face and a nervous tick in his square jaw. Seiji was simply pale and silent and seemed rather distant from the whole affair.

"What on earth is going on?" Sai demanded stalking right into the affair without benefit of defensive armor of any kind. Ryo didn't spare him a glance, too busy glaring daggers at Seiji. Kento shrugged and said dismally.

"Seiji -- uh -- got a little confused up on the roof."

"Fuck confused." Ryo snarled. "He was planning on stepping off the fucking edge."

One had to blink. Ryo rarely ever cursed and even rarer in such abundance.

"Seiji did what?" Sai whispered, turning a bit white himself, staring aghast at Seiji, who wasn't looking at any of them, who wasn't resisting Ryo's hands on him even in the slightest.

"After everything I fucking went through for you - - everything - - I did - - you just figure you can stop so you don't have to deal with it?" Ryo was half sobbing in his fury. He shook Seiji so violently that his teeth rattled and finally shoved him backwards in disgust. Seiji hit the arm of the sofa and staggered back into the cushions. At least Ryo had good aim.

Seiji sat there, so white he looked unhealthy, shaking bad enough that he had to clasp his hands in a futile attempt to hide it. He looked nauseous. Rowan felt that way as he digested the impact of what Ryo was saying. Of what Seiji had attempted.

Sai was hurling questions at Ryo and Kento and Kento was mostly answering. He'd heard Seiji leave. He'd followed. He'd seen. He'd brought Seiji back very much against Seiji's will and Ryo had just exploded and attacked. Seiji wasn't disavowing anything. Seiji looked about as desolate and miserable as Rowan had ever seen him. And desperate. That was there too, in the fever bright intensity of his eyes. In the way he held himself. Pain of a different type than what Rowan was feeling.

"What did you fucking think you'd accomplish? Where you thinking at all? Goddamnit, Seiji -- look at me!!"

Ryo was pissed enough to be dangerous. It took a lot to get him to such a point. A lot to push him over the edge, past rational, past understanding anything but his anger. Emotionally, he'd always been as changeable as the weather, a flashflood waiting to happen -- or a fire storm. And Seiji could push his buttons at the best of times. Only this time, Seiji wasn't trying to light that particular fire. Seiji was hurting and Seiji was somewhat dazed from the look in his eyes, and god knew what else Seiji was at the moment, other than the certainty that at least he was Seiji and no one else. And it was plainly obvious that he was desperately trying to escape, one way or another.

Rowan took a breath and stepped between all the turmoil. Between Sai and Kento's desperate theorizing, between Ryo and the object of his ire.

"Back off, Ryo. You're not helping, here."

Ryo blinked at him and for a moment it took as if Ryo might do him more violence and - -god, god - - he wasn't up to another hit from Ryo right now, because Ryo didn't pull his punches when he was this angry and Ryo was a freaking master at handing out hurt when he put his mind to it.

But luck was with Rowan. Ryo didn't hit him. Ryo didn't say a thing, other than to narrow his eyes and spin on his heel, stalking for the door, breathing so hard that it seemed he might be in danger of hyperventilating. The door slammed in his wake. Kento and Sai stared at it in dismay.

Rowan eased himself down to his knees before Seiji, leaned forward with one hand on Seiji's thigh so he could get a decent look at his face.

"How bad?' he asked and Seiji flinched and looked away, focusing his eyes and his thoughts elsewhere. Which just wouldn't do. Rowan grasped Seiji's jaw and forced his face around, squeeze hard enough to cause pain and make Seiji refocas on his face. "Is it hitting you, Seiji? Coming down off the drugs? How long since she shot up last? Almost two days now? My cocktail dulled it, but its coming on strong now, isn't it? Fucking you up bad enough to take a thirty-story walk rather than deal with it -- or is there more?"

"Rowan - -?" Sai was hovering, uncertain. Afraid even.

"You want the armor to help purge it from your system. It'd probably help. Make it quicker and painless -- or maybe just quicker."

"No." A soft, definite answer from Seiji.

"Why?" Rowan asked.

"Because - - " Seiji couldn't finish it. Lowered his lashes when Rowan wouldn't let him turn away. It was some foolish honor thing, Rowan thought. Some ridiculous notion that to take the easy way out would belittle him. Idiot. Fucking, honorable idiot.

"Okay, do it cold turkey. But you're going to do it. You're going to get over this little bout of insanity and you've just earned yourself a baby-sitter or two until you do."

He let go Seiji's jaw and Seiji turned his face a little, lashes still lowered. He was shaking under Rowan's hand.

"Ryo's not thinking straight right now. He'll calm down." Rowan promised.

"You don't understand." Seiji's lashes fluttered up. "He - - you don't know what I -- she -- we --" he floundered, honestly disoriented by the singular difficulty of trying to separate himself from the being who'd stolen his body. " - - what we did to him."

"Not you. It wasn't you." Sai said sternly over Rowan's shoulder. "It wasn't your fault, Seiji. None of this is your fault and you've got to stop thinking like that."

"I could have stopped it. I couldn't - - it was easier just to - - I let them - - hurt - - him - - he's got every right - - you shouldn't have brought me back. Should have let me go." He pulled a leg up, making Rowan sit back on his heels, wrapped one shaky arm about it and shut up, gazing into nothingness.

Okay, okay, Seiji was on a major guilt trip. That was the rotten core a the center of this poison apple. Which took them right back to the whole irrational honor thing. It wasn't the withdrawal from the drugs that had gotten Seiji up on that roof - - well that may have helped - - but the other. The damned code of honor that demanded retribution for what Seiji had to be seeing as such a dismal failure on his part. She'd used him to abuse everything he had a care in the world about and he hadn't had the power to stop her. What a monumental failure for someone who prided himself on his mental fortitude. Bad enough the first time when they'd come back from hell and thought they'd left her behind. He'd shouldered enough misplaced guilt then to distance himself from Ryo and the rest of them. This time it had been so, so much worse. This time Ryo wasn't helping. Ryo was on the defensive in a big way and understandably so -- this time Rowan thought he'd seen something in Ryo's eyes that hinted at a certain lack of forgiveness.

He put out a hand to Sai, asking for assistance up.

"You guys stay with him, okay? I wanna talk to Ryo for a minute."

"Ryo didn't look like he was in the talking mood." Kento observed.

"Rowan, we really ought to leave him alone."

"If I'm not back in half an hour -- come mop me off the floor, all right?"


"Just watch Seiji, guys. Ryo's pissed, but he's not suicidal."

"Homicidal was more the term I was worried about." Sai said dryly, then waved Rowan away with a flick of his wrist.




Ryo stalked up the hall and back down. Up the hall again and down the L shaped corridor that lead to the far wing of the hotel. Back again and ended up in the small room that housed the ice-machine and the vending units. He hit the wall between the soda machine and the coin exchange. Hit it again so hard the plaster cracked and the skin tore on his knuckles. Again and again to take out the anger and the frustration and the hurt and the grief - - so many snarled emotions that he couldn't think straight.

Damn Seiji.

Damn Seiji for so many things, not the least or worst among them being the attempt to end his life.

He hit the wall one more time and left a bloody smear on the abused plaster. He stared at it, not even feeling the pain. He heard the sound of Rowan's bare feet on the carpet though. He was that sensitized to all the outside things, it was just the inner one's that were all jumbled and starting to go numb from overload.

He glared reproachfully for the intrusion and Rowan stopped, holding up his hands in a sign of truce.

"If you're gonna hit me, then I'm turning around and walking back right now.'

Ryo felt the numbness creep up and sighed. Just sighed and put his back to the wall and leaned there, miserable and tired and beginning to feel the hurt in his hand. "I'm not gonna hit you, Rowan."

"Good. You've broken enough ribs for one week."

Ryo blinked and frowned, not quite recalling doing any such thing. Then a hazy memory of himself loosing all control in the tomb came back -- a memory of Rowan's bloody face and Rowan's pain filled, shocked eyed.

"You could have warned me." He whispered.

"Yeah. Probably should have. Sorry. Really, really sorry, Ryo. It wasn't easy, you know. It -- hurt. Had to fight to get him back -- mostly because he didn't wanna come. He doesn't want to be here now."

"Bastard." Ryo hissed. "After all I -- we -- went through -- he pulls this crap. I hate him sometimes." That last came out a stifled sob. He felt wetness at his eyes and ran the back of his hand across them, ashamed to be leaking tears in front of Rowan.

"You hate him now?" Rowan asked carefully.

Ryo's head snapped up. He didn't quite know the answer to that question. It must have been in his eyes, transparent as they always were with his emotions, because Rowan sighed and drifted over to the wall next to him and slid down it, planting his butt on the floor at Ryo's feet.

"You need to cut him some slack, you know. He's not thinking straight now. Probably wouldn't have gone up on the roof if he hadn't been fighting with the withdrawal. I asked him if he wanted the orb so's he could call up the power of Halo and help purge himself --but he refused it. Probably just as well -- I don't know how comfortable I'd be with a suicidal Halo on our hands. He's blaming himself. For everything."

"I know." Ryo stared at the smear of blood on the wall.

"Are you?"

Another damned uneasy question. Rowan was good at them. "No." Was the immediate answer. "I don't know." Came out a moment later. "I can't -- separate it in my head sometimes. I wanna. Really, I want to just -- see him as him and not her -- but it's hard, Rowan, because all I saw while most of it was --- happening -- was his face."

"Shit." Rowan said softly. Then again, with passion. Ryo couldn't agree more. "So what are we gonna do?" Again with the hard questions.

"Nothing." Ryo said firmly. "Its my problem. I'll deal with it."

"Okay." Rowan said softly, not sounding all that convinced. Not sounding optimistic at all.

"We've just got to get home first off. We really, really need to get home." He hated this place. He hated being so close to where that angry spirit might still lurk. He wanted Seiji away from here. He wanted them all safe and sound and someplace familiar where he could get his head straight and figure out how to deal with this very personal problem.


The flight was miserable. Long and sickening and ripe with uncomfortable silences. Not as bad as the one over, though. He didn't have to sit next to a body snatching spirit who couldn't keep her hands to herself. He sat on the aisle next to Seiji, who couldn't have cared less he was there, so wrapped up in his own misery was he. A Seiji who wouldn't talk to any of them, who had consumed enough airline alcohol to dull the edge of the heroin withdrawal. Kento had the window seat on Seiji's other side and occasionally leaned over the back of his seat to talk to Rowan about the state of the clouds. Sai was reading, the thought of which made Ryo sick. Watching the inflight movie made him nauseous. So he let his seat back and shut his eyes and tried not to ask for the drinks that had lulled Seiji into a fitful doze. That would have been the easy way out and he refused to take now that he was his own man again. He would not succumb to it. Stubborn like Seiji, he supposed. Seiji, who could have rid himself of the drug born sickness if he'd really wanted to. He'd refused the orb back. Sai had it on his person.

It was a long flight. With a two long lay overs until they finally got home.

"So you gonna be in trouble, Rowan?" Kento wanted to know on the ride home.

"Trouble for what?" Sai wanted to know, suspicious and overly protective at the moment, of Rowan.

"For skipping town when he wasn't supposed to." Kento shot back.

"Oh. That." Sai said glumly and looked questioningly at Rowan. "Will you be? I'd hate for you to be put in jail again. That would be terrible."

"You'd hate it?" Rowan arched a brow. Rowan was a little high on pain killers. Seiji was on a low from lack of them. Ryo sat shotgun next to Kento and wondered sickly what else they were going to have to endure before all of this finally went away.

"I'll make a call." Seiji said softly from the backseat, squeezed in next to Rowan.

"What is you making a call going to do?" Sai asked.

"I got him in trouble -- I'll say -- something. I was angry at him -- it was a prank -- whatever."

"Won't you get in trouble, then?" Sai leaned across Rowan intently. "I really don't think you ought to be talking to the police when you're -- umm - in the state you're in."

Seiji shrugged, looking back out the window. "I'll get my lawyer to call, then."

"Oh, that would be much better." Sai approved.

And it went on like that, with Sai filling up the silence, Rowan and Kento putting forth the occasional comment and Seiji and Ryo brooding in silence.

Fall was turning into winter. The leaves had finished their changes and were blanketing the ground. There was a loud, indignant tiger on the front porch when they pulled up. He was a very welcome sight. The house was. Ryo got head butted until he dropped to his knees on the overgrown lawn and gave White Blaze the thorough scratching he so richly deserved. Oh and he very much deserved it. There were four dirty, saliva crusted little orbs lying on the front porch next to the tiger's favorite spot. Somehow, he'd found them from wherever it was the ghost inside of Seiji had discarded them.

"Good dog." Rowan patted a broad tiger head and the cat looked up disdainfully, as if he understood the words. "I'm going up stairs and I'm going to sleep. Wake me in a week." Rowan then announced. "Anybody that disturbs me will die." He paused in thought, then added. "Except for Sai, but only for massages or blowjobs."

"Rowan!!" Sai gasped at him, turning quite red in shock that such a thing had come out of Rowan's mouth. Sai never learned.

Ryo actually smiled. It felt good, the feel of it on his lips. It had been a long time since he'd had the impulse. He pressed his cheek into White Blaze's fur and hugged the thick neck. Seiji ghosted past him, into the house.

"Hey, Kento - - you okay with the luggage?" he asked, following Seiji's movements.

Kento nodded, motioning him away.

He trailed after Seiji. Up the stairs and down the hall to the door of Seiji's room. Seiji was standing there, staring at the closed door as if he'd suddenly forgotten how to open it. When he did, it swung open on the shambles from the night Seiji - - the ghost - - had left the house, had given Ryo an almost lethal injection of the same poison she'd been pumping into her host.

"Its sort of a mess." Ryo said softly, from behind him. Seiji flinched a little at his voice. Took a step inside and stopped, stricken almost by the degree of the damage.

"What -- happened in here?"

"You don't remember?"

A small shake of the head. A dazed flicker of blue eyes this way and that. "I can't - - oh - - oh." He cast a worried look at Ryo. Ran a shaky hand through his hair and asked. "You tried to - - stop - - her."

"Yeah. All I saw was a needle. I didn't know it wasn't you - - I thought - - I thought - - I don't know what I thought while it was happening. Maybe that you'd gone insane."

"Did - - I - - hurt you?"

Ryo shut his eyes, trying to push the flashes of memory away. It made his hands sweat a little just thinking about it. "Not a lot." A blatant lie. Seiji might have seen through it. Maybe he didn't in the state he was in.

"Doesn't matter. It wasn't you anyway. I'll help you clean it up."

"Not right now. I'm tired."

"Seiji -- there's blood on the sheets. You don't want to sleep on that." His blood. A fair amount of it. He walked past Seiji and ripped the sheets from the bed, balled them up and threw them out into the hall. He found new ones from Seiji's closet. Put them on while Seiji stood there in the middle of his room like a lost child. It was a sloppy bed. Ryo had never learned hospital corners. He pushed Seiji towards the newly outfitted bed.

"Get some sleep. I'll listen out for you."

"Ryo - -?"

"Its okay. You're okay. I'll keep an ear out."

He backed out -- just retreated and shut the door behind him so he could breath again. So the beating of his heart could slow to a normal rate. So he didn't have to feel so damned guilty over that lost look in Seiji's eyes. Seiji was never lost. Seiji was never that much in need of -- what? Support? He refused it. Reassurance? He was the most self-assured person Ryo knew. Forgiveness? God, god, god -- there was nothing to forgive him for. Ryo knew deep down that was true, but it was hard convincing his body of it. Not yet. He wasn't capable of it yet, no matter how much he might want to. Later maybe.

He went outside and sat down on the porch next to the tiger. Fingered the orb that was his physical connection to the armor of Wildfire. Wiped it clean on his pants and stuck it in his pocket. The big cat lay down, propping his heavy chin on Ryo's lap. Purrs radiated from the massive body. They seeped into Ryo. He leaned against the wall, legs stretched out before him, tiger body draped over his own.

It was over and the ending might not be deliriously happy, but they were home and whole and safe and that gave them the foundation to work with.

As with everything else, time make the difference. Time would heal the wounds.


The End



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