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Walking With The Dead

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Seven

 

It had been a good weekend. A relaxing, enjoyable weekend away from problems and hurt feelings and nasty conflicts. A three hour drive into the mountains and they'd been far enough away to just put everything behind them and go primal and woodsy. Civilization had been a distant memory. Other than a cooler full of various beverages they'd picked up at a mini mart on the way, the snacks Sai had packed and a few other odds and ends, they'd made due off the land. Which wasn't hard, considering the fishing was good at the spot they'd ended up.

Two days and Ryo felt good. Two days and he'd managed to convince himself that the whole thing at home was a dilemma that was mostly in his head. That Seiji was just going through a bad stage for some reason he refused to talk about and that sooner or later things would smooth out. He and Rowan didn't talk about it. Rowan would have slammed Seiji and Ryo -- even in the midst of uncertainty about Seiji's mood swings -- could only deal with so much Seiji bashing. Rowan respected that. It became a sort of unspoken agreement between them not to speak about the current problems with their significant others. So they hiked and fished off the shore of the cold mountain stream they'd sat up camp by, and spelunked in the various large caves that dotted the mountains nearby.

It was a good weekend. Regretfully it had to end. But, one had to be optimistic. One had to assume that things would be better when home was reached. They prolonged it by half a day when Rowan talked him into stopping in a mid-sized town a third of the way back, to see a matinee movie that Rowan had been waiting to see. So it was relatively late Monday afternoon when they pulled into the long driveway in front of the house. The day with purpling with evening, the weather pleasantly cool. The leaves starting turn on the trees surrounding the house, making the land seem vibrant and alive.

Kento came to greet them from around the side of the house. He was oil smudged and dirty, large hands black from grease, the bare arms under his T-shirt sleeves sporting a few red insect bites.

"Hey, guys, how was it?"

Rowan answered, giving a few of the brighter details. Ryo noted Seiji's car in the drive. Neither Seiji, nor Sai came outside to see them home. Ryo grabbed a load of stuff and hauled it into the house while Rowan was making tall tales taller to Kento. He heard them follow him in, lugging gear.

"Yeah, everything's been pretty quiet here." Kento was saying. "Sai's been a little freaky, but it might just be him sulking. He hasn't said anything to me. Guess he missed you, huh, Rowan?"

"Yeah, sure he did." Rowan snorted back.

Ryo carried his duffel bag upstairs, passed Sai's closed door and Seiji's half open one. The sound of soft music drifted out from that doorway. Ryo hesitated before passing, wondering if he paused and pushed that door open if Seiji would look up at him with his usual bland stare. If something in his eyes might change to acknowledge Ryo's return and welcome it. If he might say something Seiji-like -- short and to the point, lacking the sly cruelty that had infused his words of late. It would be very nice to see and hear such things. And Ryo was afraid to venture into that room and have his hopes vanquished. So he stepped quietly past and escaped into the musty environs of his own room. Two days with the windows and door closed and the room smelled like dirty socks. Not surprising, considering the pile of laundry he'd left on the floor at the foot of the bed. He sighed, tossed the duffel on the bed and went to open the window.

"Weren't you going to come and say hello to me?"

Ryo turned, with the window half way up, an excuse on his lips. "Sure I was, Sei ---ji." He had to stop and moment and look. Seiji looked particularly --- good this morning. A blue and black brocade silk robe hung loose about his frame. Equally silky black, drawstring pajama bottoms rode low on slim hips, revealing the pale skin of a well defined lower belly and the sensuous line of hip bones. His hair had that artfully tousled look that it usually did after he'd just risen from a long sleep. Seiji was the only person Ryo knew who could wake up looking better than he had before he'd gone to sleep. There was something in his eyes that hinted that he had indeed not been awake for long. Something sluggish and hazy. The slow, lazy smile that crossed his lips concreted the notion in Ryo's mind. It was past eleven. Seiji never slept past eleven.

"I was just dumping my stuff off." Ryo said warily, eyes still glued to Seiji. He looked appealing enough that even with the recent attitude one might not mind a little close contact.

"Dumping would be the operant word." Seiji commented, wrinkling his nose. "You really need to learn to clean up once in a while. Did you have a nice time?"

He moved into the room, trailing his fingertips across the slightly dusty surface of Ryo's dresser. It sounded like a pleasant enough query. Ryo was more than happy to answer, encouraged by the interest.

"Sure. Weather was great. Good fishing. We found the coolest set of caves to explore."

"And Rowan? How was Rowan?"

"Rowan? Umm -- Rowan was fine."

"Really?" Seiji traced a nail lightly down the front of Ryo's shirt. "Did you let him touch you?"

"Did I ---?" Ryo blinked, first perplexed, then outright shocked by the question. His face reddened and he slapped Seiji's hand away. "Damnit, Seiji. Rowan and I aren't --- we don't -- its not like that between us and you know it."

"Maybe not for you." Seiji smiled slowly. "But Rowan would spread your legs in a second if you'd let him ---" Seiji's head canted to the side, brows drawn slightly, as if trying to remember something. "He's tried already, hasn't he?"

Ryo drew in a shaky, angry breath, remembering all too well. "Fuck you, Seiji." He said softly. He'd hoped things would be different after a little time away, but it was the same. It made him want to shed tears in frustration. It made him want to bash Seiji's perfect face in, until he gained some glimmering of understanding.

"We'll get to that later." Seiji promised. "Right now, I think I'll go say hello to Rowan."

 

*

 

Rowan was staring at the gutted cavity of Kento's car. Kento was explaining with very excited hand gestures the wonderful deal he'd gotten on various old car parts at the local junkyard. He'd been industriously replacing car parts all weekend long. It looked to Rowan like a corpse on the slab at the corners office, with all the important parts taken out for inspection. He personally doubted Kento could put all the pieces back in their proper order.

He glanced back at the house and saw the curtains shift on one of the second story windows. Sai's room.

"Geeze." Rowan muttered under his breath. Then to Kento. "He been like that all weekend?"

Kento shrugged. "Pretty much. Got real upset when I mentioned you'd asked me to look out for him."

"You told him that!" Rowan exclaimed. "You dumbass! You weren't supposed to tell him that."

"Well, it sorta slipped out. Sorry. He was real pissed off at first, then he just stopped talking to me period."

"Bet he talked to Seiji." Rowan grumbled.

Kento paused in what he was doing, scratching his chin thoughtfully. "Nope. Didn't have much to do with Seiji all weekend either. Not like they had been. You know, all chummy, chummy and everything."

Good. Rowan thought, but didn't say it. He didn't want anyone to get the notion that he was jealous. He wasn't jealous. Really, he wasn't.

Back into the house to grab a soda and stow the scant amount of stuff he'd taken on the camping trip. Seiji met him on the way upstairs, a cup of tea in hand, a luxuriant robe belted loosely about his waist. He looked fuckable, Rowan thought sourly and rationalized the notion with the mantra that anything that looked that good had to be bad for you, which fitted Seiji to a tee. He was going to be reasonable and adult and not say anything inflammatory. He'd managed to cool down over the span of the weekend. Managed to convince himself that he'd probably overreacted the night he'd jumped Seiji.

He nodded, bending to scoop up the backpack that he'd dropped at the foot of the steps. Seiji smiled, sipping at his tea, leaning against the banister on the flat level that overlooked the main hall.

"The house was empty without you, Rowan."

Rowan shrugged, shouldering the pack. "Yeah, my presence is a godsend."

"All the quiet was nice."

"Whatever."

"Did you have a good time with Ryo this weekend?"

"Yeah, tons of fun."

He brushed past Seiji on his way up.

"Sai burned the sheets that were on your bed. I told him it was stupid."

Rowan hesitated, three or four steps above Seiji. Something fetid and awful curled in his belly. He didn't turn. Didn't say anything. His mouth felt suddenly dry.

"He was a sweet fuck, you know."

Rowan shut his eyes, nausea burning at the back of his throat.

"That little whimper he makes in the back of his throat when you've got his face pressed into a pillow -- your pillow by the way -- just adorable."

Seiji's voice echoed to him, as through a long, haze filled tunnel. He couldn't see clearly. He could barely hear past the static in his ears. He felt lightheaded and the dark was closing in.

"Tight little ass, but I guess that's because the two of you haven't been doing it lately, hummm?"

The pack slipped off his shoulder. He didn't even take the time to focus on where Seiji was. Just spun and propelled himself in one quick movement, launching into the body below him and taking the both of them crashing through the banister railing and onto the hallway floor. Seiji took the brunt of the impact; got slammed by the hardwood floor and Rowan's weight all at the same time. Must have knocked the wind out of him, but Rowan hardly noticed. Rowan was too busy smashing his fists into the flesh beneath him.

There was blood. It covered his vision. There was screaming in his ears and he had the presence of mind to note Ryo coming at him and to slam an elbow out to knock him back when he tried to lay hands on him to pull him off Seiji. But somebody else was there too. Maybe Sai, maybe Kento. He didn't know which. Probably Sai, since he was able to wriggle out of the hold and Kento had a damned stronger grip. He didn't care who was trying to haul him away, all he could think about, all his world had narrowed down to was beating Seiji to a bloody pulp.

Somebody got the idea that he wasn't going to retreat into rationality. Somebody got an arm around his neck in a chokehold. It was Kento this time. The arm was too big and the strength too much for even Rowan's adrenaline fueled rage to overwhelm. He started to gray out and the pressure didn't let up. He vaguely caught sight of Sai, who had a hand on Rowan's shirt and one wrapped around his arm; who had tears streaking his face. And Ryo, who was kneeling by Seiji with blood on his hands. Seiji's blood. Seiji wasn't doing much of anything.

Good. Good. He hoped Seiji was dead, because he hated what Seiji had become. What Seiji had become ---

--- it occurred to him as he was being choked in oblivion that in all the years he'd known Seiji, he'd only ever once acted so dishonorably and then it hadn't even really been him. It had been something else that he'd foolishly allowed access to his body. She'd acted this way. She'd raped Ryo and hurt Sai -- but it hadn't been Seiji. Not their Seiji --- odd that he was acting that way now.

Then he stopped thinking at all as his consciousness fell away from lack of oxygen and he slipped into oblivion.

 

*

 

Sai couldn't think. Couldn't do much of anything but shake and sit in the kitchen and hold an untouched cup of tea between his hands. He refused to go and see what Ryo was doing to help clean Seiji up. Refused for different reasons to go see how Rowan was, who they'd carried up and plopped down onto his own bed after Kento had choked him into submission. Which had been the only way to deal with him. He hadn't been sane. He'd been ready to kill Seiji. Might have done just that, had the crash of them going through the stairway rail not alerted Ryo and himself.

Which meant that Seiji had told him. Which meant that Seiji had probably told him in a detail that Sai cringed to think about. To hurt Rowan. It had to have all been engineered to hurt Rowan, because Seiji had certainly shown no interest in him after the act. Sai couldn't fathom it. It made him sick to try.

Ryo and Kento didn't understand it. Sai hadn't said a word. Couldn't say a word. Rowan was still out. Seiji had been up till a little while ago. Ryo came down finally, wan and tired looking, his eyes holding a hard, no nonsense glint.

"Tell me what the hell is going on." He said softly, pulling out a chair and straddling it to face Sai. Sai didn't want to tell. It would hurt Ryo as well, if Ryo could be hurt any more than he had been lately by Seiji. It was embarrassing, it was shameful. He still wasn't certain it hadn't somehow been his fault.

"You don't want to know." He mumbled. He was afraid.

"No. You can't imagine how much I do want to know. Rowan's up there unconscious, Seiji's beat to hell and you're down here with your tail between your legs like you've killed somebody. What the fuck is happening around here? If somebody doesn't start explaining things to me I'm going to go fucking insane."

Sai winced. Ryo didn't usually curse. He took a breath, then another and gathered his courage. "I would imagine --- that Seiji probably told Rowan that he --- that we ---" he faltered, a great obstruction forming in his throat, wetness blurring his vision. Ryo was a glimmery shape through the tears. "I'm sorry, Ryo. I don't know how it happened. I didn't mean for it to. I swear, I didn't. I never would have -- but he -- and the wine -- and he was so mean afterwards -- it was almost like the only reason he did it was to get at Rowan -- but that doesn't make any sense -- and Rowan's never going to forgive me and he shouldn't --- and all this time I was making a fuss over some stripper sitting in his lap and a piece of candy--"

"Sai -- shut up." Ryo held up a hand. "Just --shut -- up -- for a second."

Ryo bent his head, twined a hand in his hair and stayed like that for a moment. A second hand joined the first and his knuckles were so white Sai thought he was going to yank hair out from the roots.

"I'm so sorry, Ryo." Sai whispered when he could take the silence no longer. "I swear I didn't mean it to happen. Please don't hate me."

"I don't hate you." Ryo said from under all that hair. "But I think -- I might be learning how to hate him."

He looked up suddenly, eyes as bright and liquid a blue as Sai had ever seen them. A little red around the edges, all those thick black lashes spiked together from wetness that hadn't yet trailed down his cheeks. Sai had thought he might be hurt; in pain. But he just looked angry.

"Keep them apart." He said shortly and pushed himself up from the table.

"Why? Where are you going?" Sai asked warily.

"Out." Ryo started towards the back door. Grabbed his practice sword on the way. "To practice." He added.

"But --"

One hand shot up, cutting Sai off. "Not -- now. Okay, Sai. Just give me a little while."

Then he was out the door and pelting down the steps and across the vast stretch of grass that separated the lake and the forest and the places Ryo liked to go to practice in private.

"When will you be back?" Sai asked of the thin air. Small voice. Shaking hands. No answer but the rhythmic ticking of the kitchen clock. It was 11:33. Not even noon and lives had been wrecked. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to wish it away.

"Sai? You okay?" Kento put a hand on his shoulder. He hadn't even heard him come down. Showed how distracted he was. Kento was not in any sense of the word, soundless in his movements.

"No." Truthfulness was as good as approach as any. "Is Rowan awake yet?"

"No. Hope I didn't hurt him. Seiji kicked me out. He's pissed. Cold pissed. What happened?"

Sai let out a breath. He'd hear it sooner or later and it wasn't as hard to contemplate saying the words to Kento as it had been admitting it to Ryo. So he told him and tasted the salt of tears in his mouth in the telling. He couldn't stop crying. Funny that his voice didn't shake. Kento stood there staring, wide eyed, until he'd finished. Then his mouth pressed into a tight line and usually congenial eyes went hard and angry.

"That son of a bitch."

"It was my fault, too." Sai whispered, sniffling, feeling hoarse now from all the salt he'd swallowed. "I must have led him on ---"

"Oh, shut the fuck up." Kento snapped and gathered him into his arms, hugging him close. "Its not your fault."

"You don't know that."?

"I know you. Jesus, I shoulda let Rowan beat the crap outta him."

Sai pressed his face into Kento's rib cage. "What are we going to do? This is terrible. Terrible."

"I dunno. Wish I did."

 

*

 

Rowan blinked grit out of his eyes. He lay there, sprawled inelegantly on top of his immaculately made bed, in his immaculately clean room that smelled of pine scented wood polish and floral air freshener. The bed hadn't been made when he'd left. The furniture had not been polished. The air had not smelled so clean and fresh.

It was baffling. His head hurt a little. He lifted a hand to press the bridge of his nose and hesitated, staring wide eyed at red stained knuckles. There was blood on his hands. Some of it was his, from lacerated skin. Most of it wasn't. His right hand throbbed dully and slowly he flexed the fingers, still staring entranced at the blood.

He knew whose blood it was. It came back to him in hazy flashes of memory. He didn't really recall the actual bloodletting. Didn't really recall how it had ended. But he knew how it had started.

He shut his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. He pushed himself up, wincing as he put weight on his hand. Not broken, but bruised as hell. Dazedly, he went to the door. Opened it and looked out into an empty hall.

Seiji's door was shut across the hallway from his own. He blinked at it, frowning. His mind still wasn't functioning clearly. If it had been, he thought, he could have summoned more anger. All that came now was a dull ache, much like the one in his hand.

There was the echoing chime of the doorbell, followed by a series of sharp raps. Somebody at the front door. He walked down the hall to the stairs, was down them and starting towards the door when Kento and Sai came out of the kitchen. Sai stopped, wide eyed and staring at him. Stricken look on his face. Terrified look. Rowan could not at the moment, summon up the emotion to care.

Drained. He felt drained and tired and betrayed and he ought to be raging mad about it, but it just wouldn't come.

"Ro -- wan." Sai whispered, and Rowan turned his back on him and went for the door. Opened it and stared out at three men in uniforms. Three men with sunglasses and shiny badges and thick belts loaded with equipment and the polished grips of handguns. He recognized one of them. Benson. The deputy from town.

"Rowan Hashiba?"

He blinked and nodded, sensing Kento and maybe Sai close in on him from behind. The man knew who he was. He'd been in his office not that long ago.

"Yeah? What now?" he was not feeling tactful.

A hand reached out for him. Two sets of hands took him by the upper arms and pulled him forward out onto the porch.

"Rowan Hashiba you are under arrest for the murder of Victor Drummond. You have the right ---"

The words blurred, made chaotic by Sai's exclamation and Kento's assurance that they were making a mistake. They turned him around and he was facing Kento and Sai. He stared at them in confusion as the cold, hard circles of handcuffs were snapped around his wrists.

"But he already told you what he knew." Kento was saying. "Why are you arresting him?"

"New information." Deputy Benson said and would say no more.

"Where are you taking him?"

"The sheriff's office in town for the time being."

They were ignoring Kento and Sai. Firmly leading Rowan down the steps and toward a set of police cars. There was another officer waiting ominously. They guided him into the backseat of one of the cars. And with the grill mesh before his face and his hands pressed into the cool vinyl of the seat, reality snapped back into place. His mind started working again.

"You got a call, didn't you?" he said. "Somebody called you and told you I did it, didn't they?"

The officers did not deign to answer, other than to say he was free to call representation once they got him to the sheriff's office.

That son of a bitch. That son of a bitch. That -- bitch.

 

*

 

Sai flung assorted mail and magazines off the little table by the door in his frantic search for keys. It figured. The one time -- ever -- that Ryo didn't fling his car keys onto the table when he walked in. Sai let out a miserable little mewl of frustration.

"Keeenntoo." He wailed. "I can't find them. Why did you have to pull your car to pieces at a time like this? WHY?"

"I didn't do it on purpose." Kento strode back into the hallway, frowning. "Ryo's got his keys."

"I know that." Sai cried. "We're stranded. They've taken Rowan away."

"Let's go ask Seiji to borrow his car."

Sai opened his mouth. Shut it. Daunted by the notion of asking Seiji anything. Of even approaching Seiji.

"You do it, Kento."

"Do what?" Seiji appeared at the top of the stairs. Seiji had a swollen lip and several nasty bruises forming on the fair skin of his face.

"They've arrested Rowan." Kento stated flatly. "We need to get into town to find out what's going on."

"Really? He deserves it." Seiji said airily.

"He doesn't." Sai cried. "They said it was for the murder of that man. The one that got eaten by the hell beast."

"Can we borrow your car?" Kento asked.

Seiji thought about that. Tilted his head to one side and smiled.

"I'd sooner go back to hell than lift a finger to help Rowan. Get to town on your own."

Sai gasped. Kento blinked in surprise. Seiji turned on his heel and disappeared upstairs.

 

 

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