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Walking With The Dead

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Two

 

"Hey."

Seiji glanced up from the glossy, full color brochure he was reading, the top one of a stack of similar brochures glorifying a range of luxury cars. He was in the market. He was very carefully considering his options.

Ryo loitered in his doorway, fingers shoved into the pockets of his jeans, chin down, which made him have to peer up through the overlong fringe of his bangs. It made the look seem bashful; charming. On anyone else Seiji would have sworn it was contrived. Ryo didn't do contrived. Ryo did honest.

"Hey." He echoed the greeting.

"I didn't mean what I said -- downstairs." Ryo scuffed the toe of his sneaker on the hardwood floor. It made a rubber against slick wood sound that was grating on the ears. Seiji didn't believe him. The same honesty that effected Ryo's expressions effected his speech. He didn't say things he didn't believe.

Seiji shrugged. "It doesn't matter." It wasn't as if it weren't true. It wasn't as if it bothered him what people thought. It bothered him what Ryo thought, though. Ryo didn't censure him often. It was odd how much it stung when he did.

He looked back down at the brochure, staring at stats that he'd already memorized. He had the choices narrowed down to three.

"Seiji?" Ryo was still at the door. "You okay?"

Seiji sighed. He'd thought he'd made that issue clear this morning. He was tired of people asking.

"I'm fine, Ryo."

"Okay." Ryo didn't sound convinced. Seiji swiveled around in the chair to face him.

"Ryo, I'm not mad. We just had a difference of opinion. We do that on occasion."

"Yeah. But this is ---this is scary. Not like, end of the world scary but --"." He searched for a word.

Seiji came up with one for him. "Mundane scary?"

"Yeah." Ryo agreed. "I mean we've never had the police come asking us questions before. It's freaky."

"It's not your fault."

"I know. But I can't help feeling -- like we're doing something wrong. Criminal."

Seiji sighed again. He felt --- tired. His head hurt and no amount of aspirin or meditation would make it stop. Despite what he'd told Ryo, he hadn't felt right -- really right since the night Sai had slipped the painkiller in his tea.

"Come here." He said.

Ryo came. Shuffled over and stopped in front of Seiji's knees. Seiji reached out and grabbed the front of his jeans, pulling him that last step forward between his legs. His fingers slid up through Ryo's hair, back behind his neck to draw his head down until their foreheads touched.

"Maybe it is. But we've got to protect ourselves. They won't understand what we are. They won't understand what killed that man."

Silently, Ryo nodded. Seiji tilted his head back, grazing his lips across Ryo's. A brush of soft flesh against soft flesh that evoked calm, rather than passion. He drew back and spun the chair around.

"Rub my shoulders, would you." Despite all his effort, his neck and shoulders felt laced with unyielding iron. It hurt when he turned his head too quickly.

Ryo laid hands on him. Strong fingers that knew what to do, and where to prod, that made him loose focus on the brochures and lapse into a zone of pain laced pleasure. He leaned forward over the desk, closing his eyes, momentarily faint and not understanding why.

"Do you want to do this lying down?" Ryo asked, thumbs pressing into the flesh on either side of his spine.

"No." If they took this to the bed, it would go further than therapeutic massage. He did not want to delve into sex, dizzy and sore.

He wanted --- relief. He wanted to shut his eyes and subtly make the throbbing ache behind his eyes melt away. It was hardly a tremendous feat. Yet all morning trying had gotten him exactly nowhere. It was frustrating, Ryo's hands felt wonderful. Ryo's presence felt good. The comfortable silence was nice. No words needed, merely that idealistic harmony of physical presence that the two of them sometimes achieved. During sex, almost always. Afterwards -- more than likely. Otherwise, not as often as one might like. They grated sometimes, on each other's sensibilities. They fought too frequently. Well, Ryo went through emotional fits of frustration while Seiji maintained distant, chilly silences. He supposed that was a sort of fighting - merely carried out on different levels. Ryo hated it when they argued. Strangely enough, sometimes Seiji almost welcomed it. Ryo was stubborn to a fault--but in those personal bouts between them, he almost inevitably gave in. His was always the first apology.

It was a heady thing, that power. He was not quite certain when he had gained it, or when it had become so addictive. It was a dangerous thing, a sharp two edged blade that could cut both ways.

He ran his fingers idly over the glossy surface of the paper before him, eyes out of focus, mind quite chaotically drifting from one thought to the next. He leaned the chair back, pressed his shoulders into Ryo's stomach and tilted his head back. He reached up, drew Ryo down into an inverted kiss. A lingering exploration of soft lips and slick teeth, a commingling of tongues, an exchange of tastes. Ryo's hair was a thick silken veil about both their faces. Ryo's hands slid down his chest, fingers splayed out across his stomach.

The chair, and his position in it prevented him from doing what he wanted to do. Which was ----- was -- it occurred to him that he hadn't wanted to do this at all. That sometime not too long ago, he'd made the decision not to make any more out of Ryo's massage than what it had originally been intended to be -- a therapeutic service. He was not quite certain when he'd so drastically changed his mind.

He was not in a position to easily pull away. Ryo's fingers grazed the front of his pants -- and shards of sensation danced merrily along his nerves. He drew breath and turned his head, breaking the kiss.

"Ryo," he said softly, a little too perplexed for elegance. "No."

Ryo was very good at accepting denial. By far better than Seiji. Ryo straightened a little, frowning, his eyes a bit hazed with the first stages of arousal. He shook his head once, flinging it off. It was that easy for him. Like he had a switch inside him that regulated his sex drive. Seiji still felt the faint brush of Ryo's knuckles across his crotch. The blood still flowed energetically in that portion of his anatomy. Seiji had to work a little harder at it. Granted, it might never show in his face, but he was slower to unwind that Ryo. He took another long breath and leaned forward to put a little more distance between them.

"What's wrong?" Ryo asked.

"Nothing --- I have a headache."

Ryo lifted a dark brow at that timeworn excuse. Seiji almost blushed having uttered it. He managed to keep both a neutral face and skin tone.

"Okay." Ryo accepted it. Ryo leaned over his shoulder, mindless of the space Seiji had tried to create and peered at the brochures. He made a disgusted sound.

"You're not going for a four door?" As if the notion of buying a vehicle with comfortable seats, lot's of leg room and a smooth ride were a sacrilegious act.

"It had crossed my mind." He said dryly. It had more than crossed his mind. He was very much thinking of something luxurious and expensive.

"But -- but -- old people drive sedans, Seiji."

"And responsible people who don't ram other people's cars into trees." Seiji added a category to Ryo's list.

Ryo opened his mouth. Shut it. There was a squealing of tires from outside.

"Speaking of irresponsible drivers --"Ryo muttered.

Rowan and Kento were back. Good. Ryo might be balking at denying involvement in the rancher's disappearance, but Rowan could be generally counted on to display good sense.

 

*

 

Rowan walked into the house, a bag in one hand, a mostly finished, mostly luke warm soft drink in the other. He got two steps past the door before Sai descended upon him. Sai was not in a favorable mood. Sai had that look on his face that hinted that Sai was teetering on the edge of a good long sulk and Rowan hadn't the foggiest notion why. He was about to find out.

"You had a lap dance from a stripper." Sai jabbed a finger at him and Rowan stopped short, eyes going a little round, breath catching a little painfully in his chest. Sai advanced a threatening step and Rowan backed up and into Kento who had blithely followed him into the ambush.

"You've been going to nudie bars and getting freebies from loose women. You must frequent them quite a lot, if they're giving you these --- these freebies. I thought you only looked at that sort of thing on the computer. How could you? And what did she give you? Ryo wouldn't tell. You can tell Ryo all about these things, but you won't tell me? What's wrong with me?"

There was an explosive sound of uncontrolled laughter behind him. Kento almost doubled over, knocking Rowan a step forward. The drink sloshed onto the floor. Sai glared down a the puddle. Rowan blinked in shock at Sai, mind working furiously.

"Shut the fuck up, man." He hissed at Kento, who had staggered up against the wall. Sai stared at Kento, then glared back at Rowan accusingly.

"Oh, he knows all about this freebie, too, I take it. That's just wonderful." He turned on his heel and stalked back towards the kitchen.

"Sai ---" Rowan had to take a moment to catch his breath. He couldn't imagine why he was short of breath, when it had been Sai doing all the babbling. He cast a dark look at Kento, then tossed his bag towards the couch in the den and trailed after Sai.

"Sai, you don't understand." There was a whine to his voice that didn't sit particularly well with him, but Sai was being unreasonable. You didn't just spring such accusations -- admittedly true accusations -- upon a body then turn tail and flee.

"I understand perfectly well." Sai sniffed. Okay, the sulk had descended. Sai was rummaging in the refrigerator, pulling out this and that. He marched towards the counter with an armful of various vegetables.

"Sai, what are you doing?"

"I'm making soup."

Rowan sighed. "Let me explain."

"Oh, don't bother now. Why should I care if you've decided to take up with --- with strippers?"

"I haven't decided to take up with strippers." Rowan's voice rose a little in frustration. "And who the hell told you about it anyway?"

"The policeman and what was this Mcboobs person, if she wasn't a stripper? A prostitute?"

He could hear Kento's mirth just outside the kitchen. He hoped he burst a gut, literally.

"No, she's not a prostitute ----- wait a minute, what policeman?"

"The one that came here looking to question you, Rowan." That bit of rational conversation came from Seiji, who appeared in the kitchen doorway with Ryo on his heels.

"What the hell for?" he looked from Sai, busily hacking up an onion at the counter to Seiji, who'd stopped by the kitchen table.

"Well, it certainly wouldn't be because you're associating with prostitutes, would it?" Sai quipped.

"Goddamnit, Sai -- she wasn't a fucking prostitute."

"Oh, there are other kinds?"

"Sai, shut up." Seiji suggested politely. Sai sniffed. Rowan stared expectantly at Seiji. Ryo looked absolutely miserable.

"What is going on?"

They told him. He sat down at the kitchen table half way through, shaking his head and cursing quietly.

"Shit, ohshit, ohshit." He ran a hand through his hair and looked up solemnly as Ryo pulled out the chair across from him and sat down with much the same look that Rowan imagined graced his own face.

"We didn't do anything." Rowan said, trying to convince himself. "I mean he was out there all on his own setting traps -- the thing would've gotten him whether we were there or not. Right Ryo?"

Ryo refrained from answering, and sat there just looking miserable. Seiji leaned against one side of the door frame, while Kento supported the other.

"Your mistake," Seiji said carefully, consideringly. "Was not letting someone know that the man had --- had an accident in the forest. A simple anonymous call would have sufficed."

"I fucking forgot." Rowan said. "I just didn't think. We were so busy chopping up that thing and worrying about whether it was gonna come back to life or that something else had maybe followed it through that --- we just sorta forgot about the poor guy."

"So wha'da we do?" Kento asked grimly.

"Rowan calls the policeman before the policeman comes looking for him again." Sai said from the counter, momentarily rearranging the hierarchy of his vexation.

"And lies." Ryo muttered morosely.

Seiji gave Ryo a cross look, which meant Seiji and Ryo had been at odds over this already.

"And tells an aborted version of the truth." Rowan corrected, already thinking up a story. "We were in the woods and we saw the guy out setting traps and that was that. We passed on by."

"I don't like the 'we' in that." Seiji said. "That might prompt the police to want to talk with Ryo."

"Yeah -- so?" Rowan started, then realized where Seiji was going. "Oh. Oh, yeah. So it was just me?"

"What's wrong with them talking with me?" Ryo sounded offended.

"Sorry man, but you have no capacity for telling a decent lie." Rowan said. "They talk to you and you look like you do now and they're gonna think we're serial killers and we've got chopped up body parts in our freezer."

Ryo's brows beetled in annoyance. It was not something he wanted to hear.

"Yes, Rowan should be the only one that talks to him. We all know how good he is at lying." That from Sai.

"Goddamnit, Sai -- I didn't lie!" His nerves were beginning to stretch very taught. He was making little nervous movements with his hands on the table. The salt and pepper shakers got clinked together repeatedly in his agitation.

"Jesus Christ!" Ryo reached out and snatched the threatened shakers out of Rowan's fingers. "Why don't you just tell him so he can get over it, already. He's gonna think the worst until you do anyway."

"Oh, yes, why don't you?" Sai turned around hands on hips, one set of fisted fingers clutching the handle of the knife he'd been using to brutalize the onion.

"What the hell are we doing?" Kento asked calmly. "Guys, we're freakin' out here. Pull it together."

Rowan blinked at Kento. Ryo did. Kento was not usually the voice of reason in an otherwise reasonless world. That was generally Seiji, or Rowan or on occasion Sai. But Sai was pissed and Seiji was unusually opinionless and Rowan was feeling hammered at from all sides. And Kento was right. They were bickering.

"Okay. Okay. Let me think about what I'm gonna say. This is not the end of the world. We can deal with this."

 

The dead guy in the woods was one thing. Sai was quite another. Sai made quite the most elaborate supper. Sai became particularly ingenious in the kitchen when he was annoyed. He was very annoyed tonight.

"Its not that big of a deal." He finally shuffled into the doorway of Sai's room after an evening of working up the courage to delve into this conversation.

Sai ignored him. Sai was busily cleaning a fish tank. You couldn't walk into the room without the sound of filters bubbling and water falling over the lips of various filters back into aquariums. When the power went out, Sai's room was just damned eerie without the constant, low grade noise.

"Listen, she was just talking with me, you can ask Kento."

Sai industriously siphoned gravel. Rowan fiddled with the assortment of fishy nic nacks adorning Sai's dresser.

"I mean, she sorta initiated the whole lap dance thing on her own. And it would have been rude to like shove her off or something and it only cost ten bucks and ---"

"You paid for her to sit on your lap and -- and gyrate?" Water splashed onto the floor as Sai spun.

"Well, geeze, don't be such a prude. I didn't have to pay for the other thing."

The other thing was muttered so low that Sai had to lean forward to try and catch it. "What other thing? Was that this freebie everybody knows about but me?"

"Yeah. That would be it. It was supposed to be a joke, I swear to God. And I'm sorry and I guarantee you you'll be happier not knowing."

Sai stared, not believing him.

"It was the goddamned tootsie pop, all right? She gave me one on the house and I brought it back to you, but I wasn't gonna let you eat it. You just got to it before I could stop you is all."

Sai blinked at him, baffled. Completely, utterly baffled. "The tootsie pop. She gave you a tootsie pop? Why ever would I care if she gave you a tootsie pop? The lap dance is so much more annoying. I can't believe you gave a strange woman money to do that."

"Sai --" Rowan took a deep breath and walked forward to put his hands on Sai's shoulders. "--It was where she put the Tootsie pop before she gave it to me that matters."

Sai just stared. Sai could be alarmingly naive at times. Sai had never been in a strip club in his life. It was like pulling teeth to get Sai to watch one of Rowan's precious porn movies and even then he complained of the bad acting, the poor sets, the unrealistic storyline like he was giving a review to Driving Miss Daisy.

"She stuck it in her twat, okay? She was selling them for a couple a bucks a pop, and she liked me, so she gave me one for free. That's the freebie. Nothing else."

Sai kept staring. "Twat?" Sai mouthed the word carefully, uncertainly, as if he were hoping it had some other meaning that what he suspected. Rowan shrugged helplessly.

Sai's color began a rapid fade. Sai turned pasty white, and his eyes widened in what could only be described as outbreak of the plague level horror.

"Geeze, guys were like lining up for them." Rowan muttered.

A little high pitched sound escaped Sai's throat. Both hands went to his mouth. He shrugged out of Rowan's grip and scurried from the room. Rowan stood there in the empty room, with Sai's forgotten siphon emptying water from the tank into the bucket on the floor.

"Well," he said to the various aquatic creatures contained behind the glass walls of their worlds. "That went well, don't you think?"

 

*

 

There was a slam of a door down the hall. One final testament to the running argument Sai and Rowan had been engaged in all night long. It ended in silence. Blessed, wonderful silence. Whether it had been settled and the quiet was the result of apologies made and accepted, or whether matters had been relegated to the realm of hostile truce, Seiji had no notion. Nor did he particularly care. The only thing that mattered was that they'd shut up about it. Even with door closed and the soft rhythms of a favorite CD wafting through his room, Sai's voice got through. Sai got shrill when he was upset. Sai lost all sense of decorum. Rowan got snide and defensive. But at least Rowan's voice didn't permeate the whole of the house. Kento and Ryo had taken to the downstairs den, immersed in some rebroadcast of one of the various sports game they pursued, to escape the fracas.

It was 11:19 and they'd decided hours earlier to wait and have Rowan call the deputy the next morning. They'd decided on the route of ignorance. No, Rowan hadn't seen the missing man since he'd talked to him in the bar. And no Rowan hadn't found out anything more about who'd shot his dog. At this point it was merely a missing person's case. No one was investigating a death. They wouldn't press.

None of them were happy about it. Seiji wasn't happy with it, but he was pragmatic and when it got right down it it, their choices were limited.

He pressed the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, trying to ease the pressure behind his eyes. It wouldn't go away and this whole mess was only making it worse. He could not recall, in all of his life, having such a persistent pain. He drained the last of his luke warm tea and thought perhaps it was time for another round of aspirin before bed.

Downstairs through the den to the kitchen. Kento was asleep on the couch, head back, snoring through a game -- it was soccer -- that still had Ryo entranced. Ryo hardly noticed Seiji when he passed.

He decided against another cup of tea and went for juice instead. The aspirin were in one of the cabinets over the sink. He opened the door and reached for the container and hesitated, his eyes passing over the bottle of prescription pain pills that had caused so much trouble last week. He hated the things. He hated having any portion of his wits stolen, but the urge to take the bottle down and spill out one of the nasty little pills was suddenly quite strong. Urgent almost.

He blinked, and had the bottle in his hands, staring at it in some small bit of confusion. The moment between thinking about it and getting it down was gone in his memory.

He opened the cap, thinking he'd cut one in half, thinking that a fourth of the last dose he'd gotten wouldn't be so bad, half wondering in the back of his mind, why he was considering it at all.

"Head still hurt?" Rowan wondered into the kitchen, looking tired, very much looking like he'd come out on the loosing end of the battle. The fact that he was down here with such an expression indicated that no treaty had been signed. Rowan got a long neck beer from the refrigerator, and came up next to Seiji to rummage for a bottle opener. He paused, seeing what was in Seiji's hand.

"That's a little heavy for a headache, isn't it?"

Something inside him took offense. He narrowed his eyes and suggested. "Shouldn't you be upstairs humbling yourself and begging for forgiveness?"

Rowan was not so easy to take offense. Rowan and Seiji had fought polite -- well, perhaps not polite, but generally not vicious -- verbal battles for years without either truly taking offense.

"I'll get around to it." Rowan waved a negligent hand and refused to let the subject drop. "I thought you hated those things?"

"I wasn't aware I required your permission to take a pill."

Rowan tilted his head. He lifted a brow and shrugged. "Oh, well, by all means, knock yourself out. Maybe it'll curb this attack of ultra-bitchiness you've been having lately."

The notion of halving the pill dissipated. Out of sheer perversity Seiji popped the whole thing into his mouth and chased it down with a swallow of juice. For some odd reason, Rowan made him jumpy. It was like something inside him was wary of Rowan. Distrustful. He tried to shake it off. Rowan was many things, but not trustworthy was most certainly not among them. Not in the ways that mattered to Seiji, at any rate. What Sai was thinking at the moment was anyone's guess.

He finished the juice and walked past Rowan, past Ryo who was giving encouragement to the players on the screen and Kento who was snoring through their efforts. Upstairs where he went methodically about his nighttime rituals before pulling back the fine Egyptian cotton of his sheets and settled between them. The hurt was blessedly fading. Being pain free was good, even at the expense of increasingly sluggish thoughts. He lay there, drifting peacefully, wallowing in the cessation of pressure behind his eyes. He let his mental guards melt, relaxed from the comfort and from the drug and drifting at the verge of sleep.

Something loomed up, like the shadow of the bird in his dream/nightmare last night. Silent, undeviating in its purpose, it waited until he was almost at that place where dreams met reality -- and it pounced. It wrapped the tips of its ebony wings around him and drew him down into the depths of oblivion. He had a moment's vague, sleepy panic, not quite certain if this were dream or not, then it overwhelmed him and he ceased to be aware of anything.

For a long time, he lay, perfectly arranged, the soft rhythm of his breathing the only sound breaking the silence of the room. The rise and fall of his chest, the only movement. Then slowly his eyes blinked open and stared into the darkness. His lips curved up in a smile. Nothing that was Seiji Date looked out upon world.

 

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