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A Season Of Dragons

by P L Nunn


Chapter Ten


It took a day and a half of hard travel, but they made it to the pass. The weaker of the hun'ra were practically out on their feet, the younger children carried in the arms of staggering adults, the injured leaning heavily on the shoulders of the natari warriors.

Sai was up front, with the scouts that led the way through the twisting paths of the deep canyons that proceeded the pass, on the lookout for danger from the cliffs above, while Ryo and Kento trailed behind, watching their tail, which was by far more vulnerable. They'd survived two attacks so far. Darting attempts by the forerunners of their enemy to strike at their pitiful flank. Ryo had taken care of one before it had reached the hun'ra, taking out the side of the trail with a series of fire blasts and the ne'gal with it. The maneuver had left his already wearied body drained. When Kento and Sai had come bounding back to help, he was sitting at the edge of the demolished trail, head down and shoulders slumped, trying to get a grasp on the trembling that had taken over his limbs.

Kento had to help him up and Sai had bitched at him to take the damned armor off for a few brief moments of respite - - but he'd refused, stubbornly convinced that if he did banish it - - he wouldn't have the strength to call it back anytime soon if the need arose, not without its preternatural power to sustain him.

Sai called him a few choice names, thoroughly pissed off at him and stalked back to the hun'ra, leaving Kento to deal with him.

"You haven't taken a break since this thing started." Kento said dourly. "You're not going to be much use to anybody unless you get a little sleep."

"I'll sleep when they're safe."

Kento stared at him.

"We're almost there, Kento. If Rowan and Seiji did their jobs, then we'll have safe passage and haven on the other side. I'll be okay."

"You look like shit."


Kento shook his head and slapped Ryo on the shoulder. It took a quick shifting of his legs not to lose balance under the impact.

When they finally reached the towering wall that blocked the passage hun'ra wept, whether in relief or fear it was hard to say. It most certainly could have been the latter, for bunched as they were, trapped between impossible craggy cliffs and a thick stone gateway that was just - - damned impressive - - they were right to fear.

The second attack came as light was breaking over the top of the silent stone wall. A rumbling roar that made the hun'ra cluster together in this impassable box they'd broken themselves to reach and stare in dread down the dark shadowed way of the canyon. Something large moved in the darkness of pre-dawn. Not so large as the firedrake that Ryo had seen slithering around the side of a mountain days ago, but large enough to fill the passage with its bulk.

The hun'ra women and children and the foreign captives began to scream, scrambling in terror against the wall and the impassive doors. The natari braced themselves for attack against something they had no chance of winning against.

Ryo had faced something like this before, on the mountain with Seiji before they'd reached the others. He hadn't been dead on his feet then. He gathered his strength regardless and plunged forward to meet it before it reached the hun'ra. He sensed Kento and Sai behind him.

He recalled only bits and pieces of the fight afterwards. He recalled the ground shaking and exploding upwards from one of Kento's big attacks and himself loosing footing because of it and almost ending up under the great dragon beast when it faltered and fell. He remembered the beast's ear piercing scream when Sai jammed his trident into its eye and the resulting spray of blood and fluid that had drenched the both of them - - remembered himself hacking through thick hide - - remembered flesh flying in chunks and himself barely escaping the snap of sharp teeth only to jump back into the maw of the thing &endash; and then something had come out of the sky and impacted the monster and it had sent him and Sai and Kento tumbling. A bolt of power that ripped into the beast and tore a gaping hole where its spine should have been and smashed the great hulk of its twitching body against the cliff wall.

Not a bad show of power - - and most definitely not a familiar one. Ryo stood in the muck, both swords dipping earthward and started up at the silhouette of the great barrier wall. There were figures there and not human ones. He saw the distinct shape of impressive, unfurled wings against the rising sun. So they had succor from an unexpected source. He wasn't sure if he ought to be grateful or wary of the cost.

The beast was still alive though, despite its severed spine, but it didn't take much to finish it. Kento drove the point of his naginata trough the flat plate of the monster's forehead and that seemed to finish to job.

Ryo spat blood. It wasn't his own. The taste was bitter, acrid even, almost burning a split on the inside of his lip where his own teeth had jarred against flesh. He took a breath and another, regathering the strength it would take to leap down off the carcass and walk back to the gathered hun'ra at the wall. If those were not friends up there atop the wall, then they were in seriously deep shit.

"You two okay?" He asked when the three of them were on solid ground and trading the distance towards the gate.

"I've got that thing's blood all over me." Sai complained.

"I didn't know those dragon guys could pull off shots like that." Kento was squinting up at the figures on the wall.

"It was an impressive show of power." Sai seconded. "I wonder who's benefit it was for. Ours. The hun'ra's or the Ne'gal following us."

"Good question." Kento agreed.

Ryo's head was spinning. He focused his vision on the ground between his feet. There were hun'ra around him, chattering nervously, afraid to be jubilant yet, laying hands on their armor an appreciation. He heard the blatantly modern accent of the woman archeologist raised in the insistent demand to know just what that thing back there had been and just how they'd managed to kill it. He ignored her, slowly looking up at the massive doors at the bottom of the wall began to creak open. The hun'ra scattered back, the women and children cowering behind the men. The men cautiously standing back behind himself and Sai and Kento. If enemies came out that gate at them, he thought he would make a very poor showing for himself.

But, the ne'gal that appeared did not come bearing weapons and in their company were a handful of hun'ra who smiled welcome at them and beckoned them forward under the watchful eyes of the taller ne'gal.

"Thank God." Sai breathed beside him, clasping a hand on Ryo's armored wrist. "I hope Rowan and Seiji are all right in there." Then Sai brushed past him, helping one of the wounded into the shadowed recesses of the corridor that ran along inside the wall.

A small form pressed against Ryo's leg and he looked down. It took a moment for the lights and shadows to make sense, for the round planes of the small face to register in his mind. The little girl from the island. She looked up at him hopefully, small brow hands on his leg.

"It'll be okay, now." He said, and hoped he wasn't lying. Hoped that now that they'd gotten to this all important pass that the hun'ra would be safe and he and his could go about finding a path home.

He entered the shadow of the corridor, behind the last of the hun'ra and the ne'gal dragged the great doors shut behind him, casting the hall in darkness only broken by the light of torches. The little girl's hand snaked into his and she walked beside him up the long passage that finally fed out into a large hall where there was light and more ne'gal.

"Sai. Hey, Sai! Kento!"

Ryo recognized the voice before he found the body. Rowan wove through the crowd, looking well-rested, well-fed and well-dressed in sleek, brocaded robes. Ryo scanned the edges of the press for Seiji - - didn't see him and felt just a little race of panic. He swung his gaze back to Rowan, who'd reached Sai and had his hands on Sai's armored shoulders, grinning broadly. Okay. Rowan didn't look distressed, which was as good a sign as any that nothing terrible had happened.

Through the throng of hun'ra and he found himself by Rowan and Kento and Sai. Rowan was grinning at him, then down at the child who's hand Ryo still held. "Well, who's this? You got a mascot now, Wildfire?"

The girl shrugged behind Ryo's leg while Ryo blinked, trying to recall her name.

"Come here, sweetheart." Sai beckoned and the girl shyly stepped forward for him to pick up and hand over into the arms of one of the native women. "I think we have to go and meet the big dragon prince now, and I'm sure you'd rather stay here with these nice people than see the scary man."

"You're gonna have to shed the armor, guys." Rowan said. "They're not gonna let you in armed and dangerous."

"Do you trust them?" Kento asked.

Rowan's lips tightened and something in his eyes went a little hard - - a little angry. "Hell no, I don't trust the bastard - - but I think these folks are safe for the time being. The sooner we get them out of here and across the mountains the better."

"Why don't you trust them?" Sai asked worriedly.

Rowan's gaze flickered to Ryo, then back to Sai. "Later. The quicker we get the formalities over with the quicker the hun'ra can get a little food and rest and then high tail it out of here. You're our Kan'tara, Ryo, so make a good showing."

Ryo stared at him, not understanding. Rowan gave him a look, sizing him up under the shadow of his bloody helm. "Jesus, Ryo, you look like shit. What the hell have you been up to out there?"

"He hasn't taken a breather since we parted company." Kento beat Sai to the punch.

"Oh, wonderful." Rowan scowled. "Well, so much for good first impressions."

"I'm fine." Ryo scowled back at him. "What do you want me to do?" And where is Seiji? but he didn't voice that out loud.

Rowan sighed, chewing his lip in thought. "Just let me do the talking and - -I dunno, look bored or stoic or imperious - - whatever. God, I hope you guys aren't bloody under the armor."

It took an effort of will to banish the armor, he'd had it on so long, but once it started to melt away, it was like it sucked all the vitality, all the energy left in his body with it. If his vision had been tunneling before, it practically turned black around everything but a small pin prick of light and motion now. Ryo swayed and someone wrapped their fingers around his upper arm. He heard Sai say he'd told him so, but it sounded like he was talking through a layer of water. He managed to focus on their faces. Sai and Kento looked drawn and pale. Bruised about the eyes from strain. There'd been a time, Ryo thought, that they'd been able to hold up under the pressure of running battle better - - but, maybe there was more to it. Maybe passing through the gate here had started the process of decay. He wasn't sure he had ever fully recovered from that mind numbing, body jarring experience. He still thought he felt the echo of it in his bones - - or maybe that was his imagination. He ought to ask one of the guys who'd been here longer, if it still plagued them.

He shook off Sai's hand and starting walking on his own, following the swish of Rowan's robes along with Kento and Sai and a troupe of ne'gal. The hun'ra stayed in the entrance hall, attended by the ne'gal's servants, under the watchful eye of ne'gal guards.

The passing torches blurred in his vision. The carvings on the walls did, becoming lurid, shifting shadow. He was in a smaller hall in the audience of bejeweled, brocaded ne'gal and didn't remember getting there. A tall, golden skinned - - or was the skin a multitude of small scales? - - ne'gal sat in an ornate chair, listening to Rowan speak. It was hard to concentrate on what Rowan was saying and what was said in return. This ne'gal looked human, save for the odd skin and the furled wings. Long dark hair almost concealed long, sharp ears and the eyes were a brilliant gold with black slits for pupils. They were the most reptilian thing about him. They focused on him, gauging, measuring him up. There wasn't quite a threat there, but it was unnerving.

"Okay." Rowan bent his head close to Ryo, close enough that it cut off Ryo's view of the ne'gal lord and snapped his focus back to Rowan's voice and what it saying. "He understands you guys are bushed and we're gonna forgo anything formal today to let you get your wind back - - but they're gonna expect it tomorrow at the latest."

"Why can't we just pass through and get these people home?" Kento asked.

"He's not that generous." Rowan said with a slight showing of teeth. "I don't think he's going to do anything that doesn't give him some advantage."

"What's his name?" Ryo asked.

"Sarag'sa." Rowan supplied.

Hun'ra servants - - slaves really, Ryo supposed numbly - - prepared to lead them to rooms. He got to a set of broad stairs at the edge of the audience hall before his knee buckled at the first downward step. His vision went sort of watery then and his other knee folded before somebody got an arm around him and a collection of somebody's were whispering in alarm in strange, accented voices.

Someone else snaked an arm about his waist on the other side, shoring up his wavering balance. "I've got him." Soft, calm voice. "Ryo, walk." Firmer command close to his ear. "No falling down here where they can see, understand?" The grip tightened about his middle, demanding attention and compliance. Seiji.

Ryo nodded, and took the steps with Seiji on one side and somebody, maybe Kento, hovering close to the other. The press of the bodies in the audience chamber receded.

"What happened out there?" Seiji wore silk. Ryo could feel it against his arm and his cheek when it brushed Seiji's shoulder.

"Stubborn." Sai said. "He was just being bloody stubborn. Refused to take a rest. Had to take the most dangerous position. Wouldn't take the armor off."

Seiji didn't say anything to that. He thought Rowan muttered something under his breath. It sounded discourteous. The world grayed alarmingly - -

- - came back with his feet thumping into the side of a doorframe and his head rolling off Seiji's shoulder as Seiji pivoted to maneuver through and oh god the world was spinning so badly now it felt as if he were on the surface of an angry sea. He shut his eyes and it was just as bad. Even when his back hit the surface of a soft mattress it still rushed over him until he thought he would throw up, but his limbs were strengthless and he doubted he could even turn to the side to do it. Thankfully, he grayed out again.

Ryo slept. Seiji sat at the head of the bed, a little knot of sickness growing in his gut. Ryo would be fine after a little rest. Ryo reached this state on occasion when he refused to let down his guard and refused to accept the fact that he wasn't solely responsible for the welfare of all of them. He wore himself to the bone and then he paid for it. So Ryo's exhaustion and subsequent collapse was no great weight upon Seiji's mind. But leaving him for a second unguarded in this place in his current vulnerable state was unthinkable. Sai and Kento needed their own rest. And Rowan was hot to take care of Sai and probably hotter to tell all about what had been going on here while the others had been out fighting ne'gal and herding weary hun'ra to the relative safety of this pass.

Seiji narrowed his eyes, sending ill-thoughts Rowan's way. Rowan was far too concerned with his business and far too adept at seeing beneath the evasions and the silences, coming to disturbingly accurate conclusions that he'd had no hesitation confronting Seiji with. Anyone else would have thought twice. Seiji had damned well been actively trying to discourage Rowan's intrusion - - no little bit for Rowan's safety as well as his own while they tentatively enjoyed guest rights under Sarag'sa's roof. But Rowan was being particularly oblivious to Seiji's hints, or Seiji was loosing his touch, which was quite probably true, considering the state of his nerves lately. The calm he'd always so easily been able to achieve had become increasingly elusive since the return from Egypt. Not surprising when the foundations of his world had been so rudely shaken. It had been a very long time since Seiji Date had experienced anything close to a lack of self-confidence, even under the worst of conditions - - but it lapped at his ankles now and had for months, unshakable and insidious, coming upon him at the most inopportune times. It eroded his defenses as fast as he could shore them up sometimes and it was all he could do to paste on a serene face - - an aloof face - - to hide it.

Seiji shut his eyes, quelling a little tremor of nerves that made his hands shake. Maybe it wasn't nerves at all, maybe it was fear, but he didn't like to admit that.

Fear of Sarag'sa? Well, not exactly. Not of the ne'gal prince per say - - because he hadn't actually had the chance to go head to head when he had the advantage of the armor of Halo to back him up. Given the chance, with no lives in the balance other than his own, he'd have gladly tried to take Sarag'sa's head off his shoulders. The fear came from the fact that he couldn't. From the fact that he'd struck a repulsive deal to bargain for the safety of all those ragged people that had come staggering up the pass with a house sized dragon on their tales. For Ryo's safety and Kento's and Sai's. And walking willingly into Sarag'sa's cool, shadowed personal chambers took every ounce of courage he possessed and staying there and letting the ne'gal lay hands on him - - well, that went beyond courage, that went to will power and control and a rather high tolerance for pain. Without the healing powers that came hand in hand with the armor of Halo, he more than likely would not be walking about now. Ne'gal and human couplings were not physically - - compatible - - in any way that denoted comfort for the human.

He shuddered, drawing his knees up, allowing himself the show of weakness here, where no one was the wiser, where comfort of a sort lay quietly beside him, oblivious to his distress. Seiji shifted, leaning over a little to brush his fingers over Ryo's hair, moving overlong bangs away from his eyes, baring smooth golden forehead and dark brows. There was no anger on Ryo's face now. No grievances. No stress. Just exhaustion and vulnerability and youth. It had been a very long time since he'd touched Ryo and he supposed it would be longer still once Ryo found out about his arrangement with Sarag'sa. There was little enough hope that Rowan could keep it a secret from Sai and no hope at all that Sai would keep his mouth shut. Which meant that Ryo would look at him again with betrayal and accusation in those wide blue eyes of his and it damned well hurt - - in a way that Seiji wasn't used to being hurt - - to be the recipient of that look when he'd never been targeted with it before. Even when he probably deserved it.

Seiji hated acting the coward. It went against his nature. It went against it more still to admit the weakness to himself, much less the rest of the world. But it had been upon him today, no denying it, when Ryo and his group had come stumbling into the hall, tired and dirty and wounded. Seiji had balked. Just backed off when Rowan had gone running down to greet them, for no other reason than - - what? Shame? Fear? Whatever it was it had curled in his gut and made bile rise up in his throat and he'd melted back into the shadows, as wary of Ryo catching a glimpse of him as he was of inadvertently catching Sarag'sa's eye. What a miserable, intolerable situation this was.

He supposed with some bit of wry irony, that it was karma catching up to him. Ryo hated him - - well as much as Ryo were capable of hate - - and would more when he discovered all the dirty little details of Seiji's dealings here.

He was being used - - again. Only this time, he had a conscious choice in the matter, which didn't make it better or particularly more tolerable, it just meant he had marginally more control of the situation, which was a small enough consolation, considering the price.

There was a rapping at the door. Soft, polite and patient when Seiji did not immediately chose to answer the summons. If it had been one of the guys, they would have called out, which meant it was a minion of Sarag'sa and Seiji wanted very little to do with Sarag'sa at the moment. Managing to avoid that personage for the duration of the hun'ra's layover here would have been liken to an answered prayer. If Seiji preyed or believed in such fanciful things as divine intervention. Which he didn't. There were forces out there, of that he was most adamantly sure, but that they belonged to a benevolent god - - he'd seen no proof of such.

The knock again and he frowned, and carefully slid off the bed to avoid rousing Ryo, if such a thing were possible just yet, and padded to the door. A hun'ra servant peered up at him.

"My lord Sarag'sa requests an audience." The girl stammered into the face of Seiji's icy glare. Even though he was obviously foreign - - a shak'nor even below the status of the hun'ra - - they hesitated to look him too long in the eye. He wished it were so with the ne'gal, but they were not so easily intimidated.

"No." He said simply. He would not leave Ryo unguarded and at risk, even if it offended their host and put the hun'ra in hazard. The girl stared at him, not understanding the blatant refusal. One simply did not refuse the dragon prince. A little trickle of pity for the bearer of such ill news made him reconsider his answer. No reason for her to have her head bitten off merely because his back was to a wall and his courtesy suffered for it.

"Tell him, regretfully, that I attend - - my Kan'tara," Was that the proper word for warlord? "And will answer his request as soon as possible."

These people thrived on formality and honor and the call of one's sworn lord could not be ignored. He hoped Sarag'sa would see it that way. It would avoid a great deal of trouble. He shut the door in the servant's face and put his back against it, frowning. If Ryo could pull off the part of Kan'tara convincingly enough, he might even be able to avoid any future contact with Sarag'sa. Which was a damned big if. Ryo was not in any sense of the word, a good actor. He could manage the war part of the role just fine, being unquestionably the deadliest of the lot of them, it was the lord part that Seiji seriously doubted he could portray. If they'd had an inkling of what they were getting into, they should have thrust Rowan into the role and he'd have grudgingly enough played the part of the devoted servant to avoid ne'gal attention. Rowan's smooth tongue and quick wit and phenomenal talent for lying might have gotten them through this. As it was, he doubted things would go so easily.

Kento was snoring. Sai had talked through the rumbling, until he too had fallen off to sleep, leaving Rowan curled up next to him on the big bed that he and Seiji had shared, wondering why the hell he hadn't spilled the beans on the damned messy goings on here in the hall of the ousted ne'gal prince. It had been on the tip of his tongue several times and he'd just stopped mid-sentence, causing Sai to look at him expectantly, and hastily changed the subject. Maybe it was Sai's description of Ryo's single minded rampage against the ne'gal that had stalled him. He had visions of Ryo throwing down against Sarag'sa in the middle of the banquet hall and the ne'gal promptly taking up arms against the hapless hun'ra as a result. That wouldn't do at all. That would be damned inconvenient and as much as he hated - - just damned despised what Seiji was doing to garner Sarag'sa's good will and cooperation - - it very likely had saved lives. From what he'd heard from Sai, they'd been running on fumes alone when Sarag'sa had let loose the strike that had pretty much taken out the dragon they'd been fighting. He hadn't known the ne'gal were capable of such attacks. In fact he was pretty sure the lower class one's weren't, otherwise they'd have had a lot tougher time surviving the attack on the island. He hoped it was only the elite of the elite, otherwise they were in deep shit.

Eventually, Rowan drifted to sleep, lulled by Sai's even breathing and the comfort of Sai's warm body. He woke up, hours later at a soft knock on the door, got up without rousing Sai or Kento and padded over to open it. It was a hun'ra servant with an armful of clean robes and the whispered announcement that Sarag'sa would receive them at a late dinner that night.

He puttered about for a while, leaving Sai and Kento to their much needed rest, but after another hour, boredom became too painful to endure and he gently shook Sai awake.

"Ummm." Sai blinked up at him drowsily, sleep tousled and soft. Rowan could not resist leaning down and brushing his lips across Sai's. Sai's slid a hand over his shoulder to the back of his neck, pulling him back when he started to pull away. "How long have I been asleep?" Sai whispered against the side of Rowan's mouth.

"Mummm - -" Rowan sucked Sai's bottom lip between his own. "- - about eight hours - - or so." Sai's tongue flicked inside his mouth, tongue tip brushing against tongue tip. Rowan groaned and broke away with an effort, too much blood draining from his head and heading southward. He most definitely did not want to start tumbling about the bed with Kento snoring on Sai's other side. He'd had all the threesome's he could tolerate for the foreseeable future.

"You're dirty."

Sai canted his head and his smile turned a little wicked. "Wellll, I could be - -"

"No, I mean dirty dirty. As in smudged, smeared, smelly - - "

"I don't smell." The smile turned to an abrupt frown. Rowan's broadened.

"What say we all go and make use of the bathes before you guys put on the nice clean clothes that the ne'gal brought you?"

They got Kento up, no easy task, Kento having the unique ability to sleep through most natural disasters, and Rowan led them to the bathes where they wasted another hour or two soaking and relaxing and generally keeping the conversation neutral in the presence of the very helpful hun'ra servant girls. Kento asked about the hun'ra and the girls promised that they had been provided refreshment of their own in the form of bathes - - though one doubted the facilities were as nice as these - - clean clothing, food and drink and comfortable places to rest.

"I hope Karen's all right." Kento worried.

"So they didn't kill her outright?" Rowan asked.

"I hope she's not causing trouble." Sai groused. "She's a terrible woman."

Kento gave them both reprimanding looks. "She's not that bad." He grumbled. "She's just sort of - - goal oriented."

Rowan let out a bark of laughter. "Oh, God, is that what you call it? I was thinking along the lines of bitch."

"What a woman can't be focused?"

"I'm all for woman power, but she's a snake."

"How can you say that?"

"How can you not say it? You have the shortest memory of any primate I've yet to meet."

It went on like that for a while, until Sai got tired of the debate and moved on the last bathing room. The servant's wrapped them in clean robes and helped to towel dry their hair, a luxuriant experience to say the least, to just lay back and let a lovely young woman bend over you stroking your head. They offered massages, but Seiji's experience with that service left Rowan a little wary of letting down his guard that much and he declined for the three of them, to the disappointment of Sai and Kento. He vowed to explain later, once he'd figured out the most tactful way to go about it.

Back in the room, while Sai and Kento were donning their nice new robes, Rowan decided to go and see what shape Ryo was in and if it were even remotely possible to get him in presentable enough condition to go and sit through one of the ne'gal's formal dinners.

Seiji answered the door after Rowan softly announced himself. A very wary, very cold-eyed Seiji who stared at him with something akin to hostile accusation. Rowan knew exactly what was running through Seiji's head. He held up his hands at the door in truce.

"Chill man. I haven't spilled the beans - - yet." He shrugged past Seiji while Seiji was digesting that, and padded over to the bed. Ryo was sprawled under the covers, a little dirt smudged, a few small scratches on his face, faint purple half moons under his eyes. It took a lot for Ryo to actually show signs of exhaustion. He took damage really, really well.

"Think there's a chance of getting him up and presentable?"

Seiji shrugged, back to the door, as if he didn't want to get close enough to Ryo to try.

"They want us at dinner this evening. We're going to have to give it a shot and it'd be nice to sort of give him a rundown on what's expected before we go in there."

"You do it. I don't think he's going to be particularly receptive to anything I have to say."

Rowan snorted softly, rather thinking Seiji had hit the nail on the head with that one. "Okay, whatever. You gonna stick around or chicken out again and hightail it out of here before he wakes up?"

Seiji looked offended and hid it after a few heartbeats, exchanging the expression for one of disinterest.

"No skin off my teeth if you do. Go play with Sai and Kento if you want."

"I'd rather - -" Seiji hesitated, choosing words carefully. "- - avoid attention in the halls, if its possible. I'll stay."

A frown tugged at Rowan's lips, as he made quick work of the implication of those words. Seiji was playing it safe here, as opposed to wondering around like fresh meat for Sarag'sa's plate.

"You're not planning on keeping this up now that everybody's here?"

Seiji's face didn't give up a clue. He carefully brushed back the fall of his hair, tucking a portion of it behind an ear while he contemplated an answer to Rowan's question. Rowan didn't figure he was happy talking about it in front of Ryo - - asleep or no.

"Not if I can help it." Seiji finally said, neutral and cool, like he was talking about taking a detour to avoid roadwork instead of getting his ass pounded by a eight foot dragonman.

"You know, generally, I couldn't give less of a shit who you sleep with - - as long as it isn't Sai - - but Goddamned, Seiji - -"

"Rowan," Seiji made a small motion of his hand. "Could we not talk about this right now?" Or ever, the look Seiji flashed him added. Rowan conceded, for the moment and bent over to shake at Ryo's shoulder.

No matter how much Seiji would like for the whole thing to remain one big silent sore that everybody noticed but nobody talked about - - it was gonna hit the fan sooner or later. And quite honestly, sooner would probably be better for all involved.



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