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Walking With The Dead

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter five

 

Rowan always knew the best haunts. Whether it be in the city or in town or scattered about the area in-between. No matter what sort of entertainment a body might be in the mood for, Rowan would know how to find just the right thing. Ryo wanted away from the house. Ryo wanted just enough distraction to keep his mind from more disturbing matters. The suggestion of getting away for a few hours made Rowan's eyes light up. The blue tinted head tilted as the mind inside it mulled over possible retreats, then came up with just the thing Ryo was looking for.

The Side Pocket was not quite in town, not quite outside the local limits. It sat beside a greasy diner that Rowan swore served good food despite the run down appearance. Ryo had never eaten there. Ryo had been in the Side Pocket once. There always seemed to be at least one battered pick-up truck out side it, but hardly ever more than two or three vehicles. There were two worn out pool tables, a trio of pin ball machines, a video poker game and an ancient pacman game. About a half dozen tables with rickety chairs were scattered around the room. There was a soda machine and a sign on the wall claiming that food and drink could be gotten next door at the diner.

"You can bring your own booze." Rowan said conspiratorially to Ryo after they'd ventured into the dim interior. "'It's not legal, cause they don't have an alcohol licensee, but nobody ever checks. That's why its never busy. The pool hall in town serves beer, so they don't get a lot of customers here."

The old man who ran the place was asleep in the back room, according to Rowan. All the games operated on coinage, so it wasn't like anyone was going to rip him off. There was one skinny teenager at the row of pin ball games, methodically flipping flappers and ringing bells. He looked like he'd been at it for a while.

Ryo got a coke from the machine while Rowan put money in one of the pool tables and arranged the balls to his liking.

"Sai talking to you yet?" Ryo asked after Rowan had taken the break shot and scattered the balls across the table. A solid went in a corner pocket.

Rowan sniffed, lining up another shot. "He talks at me occasionally."

"Oh." A second solid ball went into a pocket. Ryo watched the slow roll of another ball across the green. "I told you he was gonna be pissed."

"Yeah, well, he's being a baby and a major pain in the ass to boot."

"Sorry."

"You and me both. Shit." Rowan missed the next shot by a hair's breadth. He leaned a hip against the table next to theirs while Ryo scoped out a shot.

"It's starting to wear on my nerves." Rowan complained sourly. "And you know what that fucker Seiji did? I walked into the kitchen on this lovely little conversation they were having where Seiji was telling Sai what an ass I was and how inconsiderate and god knows what else before I got there and they both just shut up and stared at me until I got my damn beer and left. I wanted to kick them both until they bled. I really did. No offense, but Seiji is really beginning to piss me off."

Ryo missed his shot. It was an easy shot, but the talk of Seiji shattered his concentration. He'd wanted to get out of the house to distance himself from the subject of Seiji. Not that Seiji was home. Seiji had been going out days and staying out till all hours of the night. Which was fine on the one hand, since Ryo wasn't particularly keen on sharing his bed of late. But on the other, it was so out of character that it worried him. That look on his face when Ryo had picked up the bottle of pills was still vivid in his memory.

"Yeah, well --- he's been a little --- off -- lately."

Rowan canted his head curiously. "Off? Is that what you call it?"

The pills bothered Ryo a great deal. He'd kept the fact to himself all week, but it gnawed at him. He wanted to tell Rowan and get his opinion so bad it hurt, but keeping Seiji's confidences -- even when Seiji was going through a particularly unpalatable period - -had always been important to him. He felt guilty when the words left his mouth.

"You know those pain pills he got last month?"

"Yeah." Rowan lined up another shot.

Ryo let him take it, and stood there twirling his pool stick nervously until Rowan looked up and lifted a brow to prompt him on. "What about them, Ryo?"

"He's still taking them. Or was, up until a few days ago. The bottle was almost empty then."

"Why? The damn scratch has healed."

"Yeah. I know."

"He put up such a bitch about taking them to start with, why would he ---" Rowan paused, a curious expression crossing his face. "Hey, remember the morning he passed out? The next night I came downstairs and he was popping one of those pills. He got snippy as hell with me when I said something about it."

"Yeah -- he wasn't too happy when I asked about them either."

Rowan straightened, forgetting his shot for a moment, tapping his fingers thoughtfully on the edge of the table. "You know, for somebody that just bought the mother of all cars -- he's been in a really shitty mood lately."

"The car's like only half of it. He's been spending like crazy, Rowan. He showed me this watch he got and claimed it cost like two grand. Two grand! For a watch! I could buy watches to last the rest of my life and not spend a quarter of that."

"You don't wear watches." Rowan pointed out.

"Well, if I did, I wouldn't spend that much money on them."

"You'd spend it on something like a motor bike or a really nifty sword if you saw one that caught your eye. Remember that little weapons shop in -- where was it? You know the one where the family had been making their own blades for like fifteen generations or something and you walked in and got like this instant hard on --"

"I did not."

"-- and started plotting how to sell your first born and White Blaze and whatever to get one of those swords."

"Yeah, well that was different. Those were works of art. And did I get one?'

"No. You didn't have the money and Seiji wasn't with us to beg, borrow or whore it out of."

"Rowan!"

"What I'm saying is that everybody's got priorities, man. The fact that he's spending some of that hoard of money he's got doesn't bother me half so much as his attitude lately. I mean, Jesus, it used to annoy the hell outta me that he didn't spend it more."

"I guess that doesn't bother me that much either." Ryo admitted, when what he really wanted to say was that he didn't care what Seiji bought as long as he didn't come home and think he could treat Ryo like something he'd paid for too. He'd never done that before. Sure, he had a possessive streak that was a mile wide, which wasn't all that bad since he never ever showed it in public and in private it made Ryo feel --- wanted and valuable, which was not a thing he'd ever felt growing up. Lately it was different. It was like -- like he was a car Seiji had bought that he was content to drive as long as it performed well, but at the first sign of difficulties, he'd trade it in for a more compatible model. He'd said as much.

"So what does?" Rowan was staring at him, a quizzical expression on his face, his eyes sharp and intelligent. Rowan hardly ever missed a thing. Ryo looked down, shuttering his eyes, afraid that something of those morose thoughts would get through.

"Same thing you said." He muttered. "Just his mood lately's been really hard to deal with."

"So's he take it into the bedroom, too?" Rowan asked bluntly.

"Rowan." Ryo said warningly. He didn't like to talk about his sex-life and Rowan knew it.

"What? You brought it up. So is he being a major bitch in bed too? You sporting bruises or what?" Rowan half smiled when he said it, jesting maybe. Ryo couldn't keep the instant of utter dismay out of his eyes. Rowan's smile faded. He opened his mouth. Shut it with an audible click.

"I was thinking --" Ryo said carefully, verbalizing a vague notion that had been forming in his mind for the last few days. "Of maybe taking a road trip for a couple of days. A week maybe. I dunno."

"Need a little more distance than the pool hall, huh?' Rowan said quietly, all humor gone.

"Yeah."

"I'd say count me in -- but -- but the thought of leaving right now sort of--" he paused, frowning, trying to come up with a word or a concept that didn't sound strange. " --weirds me out."

Ryo lifted both brows in question. "How?"

"You got me. Maybe it's just Sai carrying this little crusade of his to the max and Seiji going through a major case of PMS that has me on pins and needles, but I don't wanna leave the fort, so to speak."

 

Ryo really didn't want to either, but Seiji had him freaked, which was saying a hell of a lot, Rowan thought, since Ryo had the steadfast tendency to roll very effectively with most punches sent his way. It took a lot to make him jumpy. It took a tremendous amount of stress to make him contemplate flight. Even temporary flight. Ryo was not a run from his troubles sort of guy. Only when the trouble was Seiji, things just tended to get -- complicated.

They sat at the diner next door when they'd had their full of pool and contemplated what else they might do to while the time away. There was not a whole lot else available without heading into town or the city. Rowan wanted to avoid town and Ryo was not eager to make a trek into the city this late in the afternoon. So they sat there watching the occasional car drive past, Rowan drinking coffee and Ryo downing cokes, and talked about things that were not sensitive or important or impactful on the state of their well being. Which put a good deal of mutual topics off limits. They made do. Rowan regaled Ryo with his entire library of dead baby jokes, then progressed on to his ethnic and dumb blonde repertoire.

Finally when it was getting dark, they decided to head home. They were both in relatively good moods when they got there. Seiji's car was gone, which meant the house would be that much more peaceful. There was the smell of meat sizzling on the grill from around back, which meant Kento was cooking. Kento's claim to decent food preparation centered around packaged soup and outdoor bar-b-quing. He could burn a steak to hell and back inside, but let him flop it onto the grill and he'd cook it to perfection.

"Hey." Ryo nodded to Sai when they walked into the kitchen to track down the delicious odors. "Kento cooking?"

Sai was making salad. He was artfully dicing tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions.

"Yes." Sai said, eyes fluttering past Ryo and settling disapprovingly on Rowan. "Where have you two been so late?"

Rowan leaned against the refrigerator and smiled lazily. "I didn't think you cared."

Ryo shook his head and wondered out the back door. Sai frowned and sniffed, turning back to his salad. "I didn't say I did. We were just wondering if you'd be home for supper."

"Well, we are."

"Fine."

"Good."

And with that little bit of pleasantry out of the way, Rowan grabbed a longneck beer and headed outside.

Kento had a set of very nice steaks on the grill and more glistening red meat under the cover of plastic next to the grill.

"Where'd you get those?" Rowan leaned down to inhale.

"Butcher had a sale in town." Kento said with a grin.

"And you just happened to be hanging out there?"

Kento shrugged. His apron, which was one of Sai's and sported a very feisty, very cartoonish red lobster was spattered with a few faint pink stains of blood from very freshly cut meat. "I was in the mood for a nice fat T-bone."

"Or two." Rowan surmised, eyeing the pile of meat yet to be grilled.

"I'm a growing boy." Kento defended himself with mock indignity.

The grill was situated on the small deck protruding from the back porch., Sai's garden was just beyond that. All neatly weeded lines of sprouting greenery. They had built the deck after taking up residence here. The house had been in some disrepair, Mia's grandfather having spent few of the last years of his life here, more interested in his research, which was better accomplished in the city, with the resources of the university to back him.

Rowan perched on the railing of the porch and watched Kento grill, while Ryo wondered down the path towards the lake.

"Where you guys been all day?" Kento asked.

"Playing pool. Hanging out."

"Avoiding Sai?" Kento flipped a steak.

Rowan shrugged.

Kento glanced once over his shoulder to make certain Sai was out of hearing range and said conspiratorially. "He was worried you'd been in a wreck or something when you took off and didn't call."

"I don't know why." Rowan sniffed. "I'm such an ass, you'd think it'd bee a relief to hear I'd been smeared all over the road."

Kento frowned at him and concurred. "You are an ass, Rowan. And too damned stubborn for you own good."

"I'm stubborn? I'm stubborn?? Are you nuts? I'm not the one holding a grudge over something so trivial and stupid as -- as -- that damned piece of candy."

Kento lifted one thick brow and pointed the two pronged fork he was using on the meat at Rowan. "It wasn't trivial to him."

"Do you think it was all that serious to merit this?'

"No, but I'm not Sai I'd have handled it differently. I don't hold grudges. I'd have kicked your skinny ass then and there and gotten it over with."

"Yeah, right." Rowan snorted.

Kento canted him a ominous look. It was his best imitation of a threatening stare. "What? You doubt the possibility?"

"Only if you could catch me, buddy."

Kento grinned at him and put another steak on the fire.

"Where's Seiji?"

"I dunno. Out. He didn't say. I didn't ask."

"Oh, you getting the ice treatment, too?"

"Not really. He's just less talkative than usual. He probably told Sai, if you really wanna know. They've been chummy lately. Why, you dying to talk to him or something?"

"Oh, yeah." Rowan said, a tight, humorless smile on his lips. "Can't wait to have a few words."

 

The steaks were predictably delicious. Kento talked about his plans to buy an old engine from the junkyard and rebuild it for the rust bucket he called a car. Ryo talked about camping up in the mountains for a few nights and lamented the fact White Blaze wasn't around to take with him. Rowan and Sai didn't talk about much of anything and spent the meal avoiding looking at each other and focusing on their comrades. It was stupid and annoying and Rowan was about as fed up with it as he could be without resorting to physical violence.

Seiji walked in about an hour after midnight, smelling of smoke and alcohol and various perfumes that were not his own, which was a pretty good indication of where he'd been. Clubbing.

"Have a nice night?" Rowan asked dryly from the den, still half focused on the video game.

"Lovely." Seiji drifted into the den and leaned his palms on the back of the sofa over Rowan's head. "So good of you to ask."

Rowan glanced up at the tone, which was a little slurred. Those pale blue eyes of his were a bit on the glazed side. That perfect mouth curved up a little in a indulgent smile. He looked hazy and inviting, like a beautiful spider beckoning a cautious fly into its web. Rowan thought he was stoned. The look went beyond drunk.

"Fucking amazing." He muttered and Seiji lifted a brow at him curiously.

"What?"

"You taking the stick out of your ass. I'd love to know what happened to whip the prude out of you."

"You're rude, Rowan and tactless."

Rowan snorted. "What else is new? So I hear you're still popping pain pills. What else you into, coming home so high?"

Seiji's eyes hardened. The smile stayed put. He leaned down, the soft waves of his hair brushing Rowan's temple. "You heard that, did you? What else did you hear, Rowan?" His name issued from Seiji's lips like a caress. It made the skin on the back of his arms goosepimple and his breath catch in the back of his throat. The whole spider image came back to him. Fucking beautiful spider that wanted to suck the life right out of him. He drew back, giving Seiji a wary stare.

"Heard you were being a bastard to Ryo." He shouldn't have said that, really. Ryo would have kittens if he found out, but Seiji had him a little spooked now and a lot defensive, so things came out of his mouth that he didn't have control over.

"And this would be a concern of yours --- how?"

"Because he's my friend and as gung-ho as he is about most things, for some reason confronting you isn't one of them."

"He told you this?"

"He didn't have to -- not in so many words. Its pretty obvious, so don't come down on him for blabbing."

"What I --- do -- to Ryo is no business of yours, Rowan."

Rowan ground his teeth in irritation. "You are such a prick lately."

"Funny, Sai doesn't seem to think so." Seiji smiled down at him.

Rowan opened his mouth. Shut it with such force that his jaw popped. He surged up in a sudden bout of anger, snagging hold of Seiji's perfectly pressed lapel and jerking him close.

"Don't even fucking think it."

"Let go of me." Low warning. Rowan ignored it.

"You zero in on Sai and I will fucking kill you."

"Will you? How do you know I haven't already?"

That was it. Rowan's vision blanked. He shoved Seiji backwards. Hard. Seiji staggered a few steps and Rowan bounded over the back of the couch after him, shoving him against the wall, rattling the lamp on the desk next to them. He got an arm across Seiji's throat and put his weight against it. The fact that he got that upperhand against Seiji, who was by far the better martial artist, was amazing. He figured it was whatever Seiji was on, whatever had his eyes glazed and his movements sluggish. The haze in those blue eyes did not hide the fury. Murderous fury that Rowan met levelly and returned.

"Stay the fuck away from Sai." He hissed.

For a second, Seiji's gaze turned inward, the lashes fluttered down, then as if he'd gathered some inner burst of strength he struck out, shoving Rowan off him, lashed out and caught Rowan across the side of the face with a rigid hand.

"Don't touch me. Don't ever touch me." Seiji hissed. Rowan sort of heard it through the ringing in his ears. Of course he ignored it. He spat out the first curse that came to mind and charged back at Seiji and hit Kento who had appeared from the hallway in his PJ's looking irritated to have been woken and doubly so to have to haul Rowan bodily away from Seiji, who was standing with his arms crossed looking perfectly composed and unruffled. Rowan just wanted his feet on the floor so he could wipe the calm smirk off of Seiji's face, but Kento wasn't into that. Kento bodily hauled him into the kitchen, yelling at him to calm the hell down or he was gonna chuck him out the back door and lock him out. Kento got him as far as the little room between the kitchen and the back door and slammed him down on his feet, then stood with his arms braced on either side of the doorframe to block Rowan in.

Sai came into the kitchen, all tousled from a the rude awakening of a brawl downstairs. He heard Ryo's voice from the den.

"What is going on?" Sai demanded. Seiji came up behind him, with Ryo on his heels.

"Rowan's having a little tantrum." Seiji said sweetly, then placed a hand on Sai's shoulder and gave Rowan the most pleased stare over his head.

Kento was practically knocked off his feet trying to keep Rowan back. Kento got an elbow in the eye and a knee precariously close to the groin and finally between he and Ryo they got Rowan outside and onto the dew cold grass and the cold night air.

"What happened?" Ryo shouted, a fist still in Rowan's shirt. Kento's big hands were still hovering close to him.

"What the hell is your problem?"

"My problem?" Rowan gaped at him. "You ask that blonde sonuvabitch what his problem is? Fucking asshole. I'm gonna fucking kill him."

"You are not." Kento said calmly.

"Breath, Rowan." Ryo suggested.

"You fucking breath."

"Rowan." Ryo said with more authority, shaking him a little to get his attention. "Calm down."

Rowan stared at him. Stared past him to the light coming through the kitchen window. He took a breath. Another and felt some semblance of control seep back into him.

"You calm?" Ryo asked.

He nodded once. "Yeah. I'm calm."

"Good. Now what happened?"

"Nothing. Nothing, man. Forget about it.'

Ryo stood there and stared at him. Kento shook his head and grumbled something about Rowan being an idiot.

"Fuck you, too, Kento." Rowan muttered back.

Ryo slapped him lightly on the side of the head, glaring. "Rowan, stop it. I want to know what happened?"

"Ask your fucking boyfriend." Rowan snarled indignantly. "And if you don't like how he answers, then come see me and we'll commiserate together on what a bastard he is."

"Just leave me alone. I'm going for a walk."

"Rowan ---"

He ignored them, stuffing his hands in his jeans pockets and walking barefoot towards the lake. He felt sick. His head hurt and he tasted blood in his mouth. He wanted Sai out here with him and not inside listening to Seiji explain what a hotheaded fool Rowan was. He wanted --- shake Seiji violently until some realization of just what a bastard he was being sank in. He wanted to crawl into Sai's bed and let the frustration leak out in the embrace of inviting limbs and soft lips. But, of course, none of that was going to happen, because he was out here distancing himself by the lake while the rest of them were inside talking about the state of his mind, when it wasn't him that they ought to be questioning.

Yeah, sometimes life just wasn't fair.

 

 

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