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Flip Of The Coin

by P L Nunn

 

The Flip of the Coin

 

It was Friday night and Kento was singing a loud and distinctly off key chorus with the jukebox version of It's Saturday night and I ain't got no money. His voice rose over the hum of the bar, over the din of conversation and the clink of glasses and beer bottles. It made one almost want to pretend not to know him. But that was a difficult task when he came over every once and a while, pool cue in one hand, beer bottle in the other and flung a thick arm around a bodies shoulder, blaring out the words of whatever song he was singing into sensitive ears.

Sai winced and smiled weakly as his friend hit a high note that had no business coming out of his barrel chest and pool players from neighboring tables looked over with the same carnival interest given bearded women and two headed calfs. Kento faltered slightly when Sage sunk three consecutive solid balls, then called out the corner pocket and slammed the 8 ball behind them. He looked up smugly, a slight smile playing about his lips, his blue eyes sparkling with the light of the uniquely talented, lording it over the ignorant masses.

"Damn. I still think he cheats somehow." Kento muttered, handing his cue over to Sai. "Your turn."

At least they weren't playing for money. Kento and Sai would be penniless. If Rowan and Ryo were here Sage might have had a little more competition. Rowan was a bit of a pool shark himself. Sai never played against him if he could help it. But they hadn't shown and it was an hour past the time they were supposed to meet.

"Ryo probably backed out." Kento said, downing the last of his beer and waving to the harassed looking waitress for another. "You know he hates to barhop."

"No. He promised." Sage assured him. He arranged the balls to his liking then lined up for the break.

"Besides, Rowan loves to barhop, he'd be here even if Ryo did chicken out. Maybe something happened ---?"

"Nothing happened." Sage said, looking up from his cue, golden hair falling in thick waves across his brow and over one eye. "They probably forgot where we were supposed to meet."

Sai got two shots in, made a miserable showing for himself and surrendered the victory to Sage. Kento declared he would take the next game. Sai wondered over to the jukebox. Part country, part seventies anthems, with a few dollops of alternative thrown in for variety. He put a dollar in and picked out some Depeche Mode and a Nine Inch Nails.

"Have you heard the new album?" Someone came up and hovered at his elbow.

"Nails?" he glanced to his left and into a narrow, smiling face. A few weather lines indicated the man might be ten - fifteen years his senior. Dark, intense eyes, short colorless hair. Tall enough to make Sai have to tilt his head to meet the stranger's eyes.

"Yeah."

"No. I've seen the first video on MTV, though." he offered out of politeness. The stranger put a hand on the curved face of the jukebox and leaned his weight a little forward. The proximity made Sai nervous. The man's nails were a little longer than normal, and manicured to perfection. His hands were large and heavily veined.

"You watch a lot of MTV?"

"Ummm. Not really. Just when there's nothing else on." He continued to stare pointedly at the jutebox, trying to ignore the stranger, hoping the man would go away.

"You believe in God?" The question caught him off guard. He blinked and shifted his gaze upwards, surprised to hear talk of Nine Inch Nails and God in the same conversation. He didn't quite know how to answer, not truthfully at any rate. With all the terrible things he had seen -- had watched visited upon innocent human lives -- it was hard to maintain a faith in a god that ignored all that.

He shook his head, refusing to relate that dilemma to a perfect stranger, especially one that made his skin crawl. He punched in his last selection and murmured.

"Ummm, excuse me. I've got friends waiting." He had to squeeze between the man and the wall to retreat. The stranger watched him go. He felt the dark eyes on his back all the way back to the pool table. He wasn't sure if the man had been making drunken conversation or had been attempting to pick him up.

Kento was actually holding his own with Sage when he got back. He slipped onto a tall stool and watched the play, letting himself slip into one of Depeche Mode's darker melodies. He nursed his beer and shook his head negatively when Kento offered the cue to him. He was tired of Sage making a fool of him.

"You live in the city?"

He started at the voice in his ear. The stranger was leaning on the rail that separated the bar from the sunken area that housed the pooltables. He had a beer in hand and the same veiled interest in his face.

Definitely a pick up. Sai sighed and tried to think up a polite way to say, no, I'm not interested, go bother someone else. This hardly ever happened to him when Rowan was with him.

"What's your name?"

"I'm sorry, but I'm with someone." He hated to be terribly short, even with insistent suitors.

The man's gaze slowly swept the gaming area, lingered on Sage and Kento, then drifted back to Sai.

"My name is Jergon. I'm new in town. Just checking out the local haunts. You come here a lot?"

It was as if he hadn't heard Sai's subtle cue to get lost.

"Off and on." Sai responded uncomfortably. He ran a hand through thick, tumbled doe brown hair, tucking it behind an ear then pulling it out. A nervous habit. The man -- Jergon -- smiled at him.

"You've got a sweet face."

God. Sai swallowed and hopped off the stool. "My turn to play." he muttered and figured he would join the game whether he had to snatch the pool stick out of Kento's hand or not.

"Let me shoot." he whispered to his taller, heavier friend.

"What's up?" Kento lifted a thick brow at him curiously.

"That guy over there won't leave me alone. Just let me play."

"What guy?" Kento was in no wise subtle in craning his neck and staring back towards the bar. Sai groaned and jerked the stick out of his hand.

"You never did know how to just say no." Sage quoted serenely. "At least that's what Rowan says."

Sai muttered something unflattering about Sage under his breath.

"I don't see any guy." Kento reported. Sai looked and sure enough, Jergon had vanished. He still felt as if he were being watched and shivered.

Even when they had finished the game, he couldn't stop casting wary glances around the bar, looking for Jergon lurking in the shadows staring at him.

"Listen, if Rowan and Ryo aren't here yet, they're probably not gonna be and if they show up and we're not here -- they'll figure we moved on. This place is making me nervous, let's go somewhere else." He cast the plea at Sage, who invariably ended up making or breaking such detours in decision. Sage shrugged and tossed his stick on the table.

"The music here sucks anyway."

Kento threw an arm around Sai's shoulders companionably and suggested. "Next time some scary ol' man hits on you, you just tell 'im you're my boytoy and I'll kick his ass if he keeps it up."

"Oh, that's exactly what I'll say." Sai retorted drolly, shrugging out from under Kento's arm.

"There's that new dance club down the street --" Kento suggested.

In this district, where the trendy clubs mixed with the old tried and true bars and gaming halls, it was hard enough to find parking, much less drive from spot to spot. Everything was within relatively easy walking distance, and the sidewalks were crowded with people out to celebrate the end of another workweek.

They joined the small line of people waiting to be carded to get into Little LA. Sage got another stamp added to the back of his hand, Kento did and when Sai got up to the bouncer at the door and fished for his wallet, he found it missing.

"Damn. My wallet's gone." he said stupidly. The bouncer stared at him blankly, as stolid and uncomprehending as a stone wall. And as unforgiving. No one got in without proof of age and Sai looked considerably younger than his twenty-two years.

"I must have left it at the bar when I paid for that last round of drinks." he said to Sage and Kento on the other side of the chain link fence that separated the carded from the uncarded.

"Right. Or someone lifted it." Sage said.

"No, I must have left it at the bar. I'm gonna run back and see if its still there."

"Its nice to see optimism is still alive and well." Sage waved a graceful hand at him.

"Want me to go with you?" Kento asked.

"No. Go enjoy."

He slipped out of line and jogged back down the sidewalk and to the pool hall they'd just left. At the bar he searched for signs of his misplaced wallet. The barkeep shook his head negatively when asked if anyone had turned it in. It wasn't as if it had a lot of money, but it would be a bitch to have to go and get another driver's license, and there were a few pictures of his sister and his mother that he cherished. He roamed about the gaming floor, at a loss and frustrated. The waitress came up to him with a tray and a shot.

"Here." She said and thrust the thing at him. He took it blankly. Hard liquor was not his poison of choice.

"I didn't order this?"

"Hey, the bartender told me to bring it."

Sai glanced back to the bar, but the barkeep was mixing a drink. He supposed it might have been a gesture of pity for loosing his wallet at the bar. It might even have been guilt, if the barkeep had found it and pocketed the few bills Sai had left. With nothing better to do with it, he downed it, winced at the bite, then sat the empty glass on the rim of an unused pool table.

Dejectedly he walked back to the dance club. With no wallet, he was effectively blocked from barhopping with the others. And unless he chose to sit outside each establishment and wait for them, their night had been ruined as well.

His footsteps veered to the right and his shoulder grazed the brick wall of an refurbished warehouse. He blinked for a moment, surprised he had lost the innate ability to walk a straight line. Three beers and shot were not usually enough to have him staggering. He put a hand to his face and his fingers swam alarmingly in his vision. He leaned over, dizzy and disoriented and becoming more so with each consecutive breath. People walked past him, the sight of a young man leaning heavily against a wall in an apparently drunken stupor no oddity.

I didn't drink that much. The thought kept cycling through his head, allowing little room for other thoughts. God, I do not want to throw up in the middle of the street.

He took an unstable step and his stomach lurched. There was the dark opening of an ally just a few yards down the sidewalk. If he was going to spill up his guts, he might as well do it in some semblance of privacy.

Into the shabby darkness of the alley and he dropped to his knees, waiting miserably for his churning stomach to expel dinner. Fingers wrapped around his shoulder, heavy and hard. For a moment his reflexes were too muddled to register it and when he did it took a moment for surprise to get past the disorientation. He twisted his head and looked up. The tall, shadowed figure of Jergon stood at his back. When he opened his lips to smile, the white of his teeth stood out eerily in the darkness.

"Hello, precious." Low, grating voice, full of promise or threat. Sai wasn't sure which at the moment. What he did know was that he did not want this man's hands on him, or this man's close proximity when he was in such dire straits. He lurched forward, scrambling to his feet awkwardly. Jergon's fingers tangled in his tee-shirt, his sharp nails raking the skin of Sai's shoulder as he tried to keep his hold. Material ripped. Skin did. Sai hardly felt it.

The alley tilted crazily around him. He crashed into a trash can and tumbled over it. Sprawled in the litter of the alley floor and lay there panting, weak beyond his understanding, sick beyond reason.

The shot, he thought, with a last bit of fading reason. There was something in the shot. He crawled to the wall, got his back against it and thought he would pass out, his head was spinning so crazily. All he could see of Jergon was his silhouetted outline as the man lazily walked towards him. The man held out his arms, as if to prevent Sai from darting past him. As if Sai had the ability to gain his feet, much less execute a graceful escape. As if he had anything with him that might give him the advantage regardless of the drug hazing his mind and body. No, one didn't bring that sort of thing with one when one went out barhopping.

He sobbed helplessly as the wavering dark form of his accoster leaned over him, blocking out the electric glow of streetlights from the mouth of the alley. A hand tangled in his hair, forcefully twisting his head back. Jergon leaned close, and Sai had the clarity to smell the mixture of beer and mint on his breath.

"What do you want?" he managed to gasp.

"What do I want? Not much, sweet. Dirty boy. Filthy godless sinner. Just want to fuck you till you're dead. Or maybe wait till you're dead then fuck you. I'll flip a coin."

And that was the last thing Sai heard before slipping into oblivion. One almost accusing thought lingered even after he'd passed out. Rowan, this wouldn't have happened if you were here.

Eventually even that drifted away.

 

"Nobody with any sense drives around without a jack in the trunk of their car. What's the point of having a spare tire? Gawd." Rowan cast Ryo a direct, meaningful glare. Ryo tilted up the beer Sage had put in his hand moments after the two of them had entered Little LA.

"It was there." he muttered, with the look of someone who had been harassed beyond his endurance on the subject.

"How'd you manage to change the thing?" Kento asked, still chuckling from the retelling of the blowout, which had involved swerving to miss a dog, running over a discarded piece of metal on the side of the road, then almost running off said road and into a ditch they would in no way have been able to get out of without benefit of a tow.

"This chick stopped and offered to help. She had a jack in the back of her truck."

"Shut up, Rowan." Ryo muttered.

"Where's Sai, again?" Rowan asked, craning his head to look around the crowded nightclub.

"Lost his wallet at the 8 Ball. He went back to look for it."

"Gawd! And he thinks it's gonna still be there?"

Sage smiled judiciously. "His naiveté is one of his most charming traits." He leaned over Ryo's shoulder and ordered one of the high dollar imports that he preferred to drink. Rowan perched on the stool beside him, watching the gyrating mass of people on the strobe lighted dance floor. Something industrial was blaring out of the high powered speakers. The hand holding the beer was streaked with black grease from trying to figure out how to change a tire without benefit of a jack. He had a smudge of it along one high cheekbone. Ryo had it all over his white shirt, where he had thoughtlessly wiped his hands.

"I'm going to the john to wash up." he said over the music. He slipped through the crowd, smiled luridly at a girl with an astoundingly impressive rack in a sheer stocking bodysuit, then plunged into the crowded confines of the men's room.

He was in the midst of squirting out liquid soap into his palms when he thought of Sai. Not the understandable, I wonder what's taking him so long. Or in the endearing or lascivious sense which usually accompanied thoughts of Sai, but something a little more personal. Something that tasted of Sai and smelled of Sai -- that just gave him the strangest sense that Sai was beside him or inside his head. And with it came a fleeting wave of fear and confusion and a very great need for him.

Rowan stood frozen, staring into the mirror above the sink, blue eyes wide and shocked. "Sai?" he said softly and did look around to see if he were behind him. A cold little knot of apprehension formed in his stomach. He rinsed the soap off his hands without scrubbing off the grease and pushed his way out of the bathroom, ignoring the glares and the mutters of indignity as he shouldered past people to reach his friends at the bar.

"How long has he been gone?" he broke into the conversation, staring at Kento and Sage with deadly earnest expectation.

"I don't know. Maybe a half hour. You just missed him." Kento said, frowning.

"Why?" Sage recognized the dismay on Rowan's face.

Rowan shook his head uncertainly. "I don't know. Something's wrong. I just feel it. I'm going after him."

"We'll go with you." Sage said.

Rowan hardly waited to see if they followed. Out the bar and down the street at a hurried walk, all the while trying to latch onto that elusive sense of Sai that had come to him in the bathroom. But it was gone. Not a trace of it left.

"Yeah, he came back here." The haggard waitress declared when the lot of them returned to the poolhall. "Didn't leave long ago."

"Did he find his wallet?" Ryo asked.

She gave him a dubious look. Looked at him a little closer and managed what for her must have been a flirtatious smile. "In a place like this? You must be dreaming, honey. Got a free shot, though."

"Come again?" Rowan said.

She shrugged and gestured at the barkeep. "Ask Fred. He sent me over with it."

"Some guy ordered it." Fred the bartender said when asked. "Then decided he wanted to send it over to your friend."

Kento and Sage exchanged wary looks. "Same guy who was hitting on him earlier?" Kento mused.

"Some guy was hitting on him?" Rowan asked. "What guy?"

"Don't know. I didn't see him." Kento said, but his brows were drawn and his face had fixed into lines of worry.

"Is this guy who sent him the drink still here?" Rowan leaned forward across the bar.

The barkeep looked around the hall casually, then shook his head. "Nope. I think he left after your friend."

"Goddamnit!" Rowan cursed and spun on his heel, stalking out of the bar in a growing sense of helplessness and fury.

"Rowan, wait a minute." Ryo caught his arm out on the sidewalk. "What are you going to do?"

"How the hell should I know? Look for him. Something is wrong. Something is so wrong."

"We'll all look. We'll split up." Ryo said reasonably. "Just calm down."

Rowan jerked his arm out of Ryo's grasp and glared. "You do not tell me to calm down. If you had a fucking jack ---"

"Rowan!" Sage stepped between them, cutting off Rowan's sight of Ryo's face gone pale and surprised.

"Listen. If he left here, he would have headed back towards Little LA. He couldn't have gotten in without his ID, so maybe we just missed him in the crowd outside. Ryo and I will go back and look there. You and Kento check out the way back. Maybe he took one of the side roads or alleys as a short cut. In a half hour meet us outside the club and we'll go from there. Okay, Rowan?"

Tightly, Rowan nodded. Satisfied, Sage urged Ryo down the sidewalk.

"C'mon." Kento said, clapping a hand on Rowan's shoulder. "He's probably playing video games in one of the clubs where he could get in. He can take care of himself."

"Yeah. Probably." Rowan agreed automatically, but he didn't believe it. He knew this feeling cringing in the center of his gut. He'd lived with it too intimately not so long ago when every day had been a battle to survive, not to trust it now.

 

*

 

The coin flipped.

Sai struggled through a morass of lethargy, vaguely aware of sound and shadow and the glint of light off the revolving coin. His vision grayed again. It seemed if he concentrated strongly enough he could hear the lapping of waves just beyond the veneer of disassociation that plagued him. He could hear the rhythmic beat of tide upon an invisible shore, almost smell the salt spray of an ocean, sense the unadulterated power of the sea. It was freedom and healing ---

-- and it was an illusion. He shifted back into awareness a hour or a second later and the coin was still flipping in the air.

In a nebulous sort of way, he marveled at the hypocrisy of a world that would let him survive a thing like the dynasty and yet allowed him to fall victim to something so morbidity mortal and obscene as this. Luck had her way of turning on a person. She never favored anyone forever.

The coin flipped.

He blinked in confusion, struggling up out of the darkness, focusing on a long, thick hand that snatched the coin out of the air above his prostrate body. The face was in shadow. The world around him was covered in shadows. There was the flickering light of a candle flame somewhere near his head. He couldn't take his eyes from the hand. The fingers opened and he heard a shifting in muscle and cloth and the man leaned forward, bringing his face into the scant light. His broad mouth stretched into a ghastly smile.

"Two out of three." the voice whispered. "Tails wins."

He dropped the coin onto Sai's chest, and with one smooth quick motion plunged the tip of a syringe into the big vein in Sai's neck. The heat of the prick faded quickly, replaced by the same languor he'd just fought his way out of. This time he went down with the distinct fear that he might not wake up again.


A pungent, peppery smell brought Sai back out of unconsciousness. He blinked, mind reeling and sluggish. He tried to lift a hand to wipe the sand out of his eyes, but his arms wouldn't respond. When he tugged, there was a pressure against his throat, a scratchy tightness that pressed against his windpipe. There was a rough rope looped about his neck. His arms had been drawn up and his wrists fastened to the noose at the base of his skull. To much pulling and he would effectively strangle himself.

He lay for a while, slowly taking account of himself. The lethargy that effected his mind and body was whatever drug had been jammed into his veins. He turned his head as far as he was able to take in his surroundings. A dark, high ceilinged room. Unfinished, with a few beams marring the broad expanse of planked flooring. Great gray industrial windows revealed nighttime outside. A warehouse studio, perhaps. One of the many that were rented out in this district. Or worse thought, one of the abandoned warehouses out by the river, where no one but vagrants dwelled. He was lying on a hard surface. A long wooden table. When he tried to roll over and off, he discovered his legs were secured by a rope running under the table attached to each ankle. His shoes and socks were gone and the rope bit harshly into his skin.

With a desperate little sob he tried to sit up, but the drug in his system was too overpowering. He couldn't summon the strength. So he lay there with a line of tears running down his temples into his hair, a hundred terrible thoughts running through his mind. A hundred things he had read about, a hundred atrocities he had seen in the aftermath of the Dynasty's reemergence.

Rowan. Rowan. Rowan. He thought desperately. Ryo. Sage. Kento. Please come looking for me.

"Sai." There was a creaking from the shadows. A weight rising from a spindly wooden chair that he hadn't even seen in the darkness. He blinked in shock at the sound of his name from strange lips. The man -- Jergon -- walked into his line of vision, holding the familiar brown leather of his wallet. "Twenty-two. You look younger. You look seventeen. I like that." He leaned down, traced a thick finger across Sai's cheek while Sai stared in horror. The man had taken off his jacket and donned a stark black, long sleeved shirt. At his collar a band of white stood out starkly against it. A travesty of a priest's collar.

Jergon's thumb moved to his mouth, crushing his bottom lip against his teeth. Sai jerked his head away and the man chuckled.

"I -- I h-have f-f-friends --" he couldn't concentrate enough to talk clearly. Either fear or the drug or the two combined made his tongue thick in his mouth. "-- they'll c-come loo--looking for me."

Jergon didn't respond. He had turned and occupied himself with something above Sai's head. There was the clink of metal. He turned around with a wide army knife in his hand. Sai inhaled with a hiss, eyes fixated on the blade.

"They can't save you. They can't wash away your sin. It's too late for that. You're going to hell for what you've done. Its only right that you're sent there begging for forgiveness."

"I--I'm not -- oh, God. Wh--what do you w-want?"

The blade slashed out, catching his across the ribs, shredding his shirt. "Don't speak God's name, you filthy little bastard." Jergon cried.

Sai clenched his teeth to keep from screaming. He could feel warm wetness running down his side. The wound itself was a numb ache. The blade went under his chin and he couldn't move his head back to avoid the press of its edge. "You all call on God in the end. But it's too late."

The knife slipped under the collar of Sai's pullover jersey and ripped down, bearing his chest, stomach and the slice along his ribs. Carefully, methodically, Jergon cut the rest of it off him. He laid the blade, tip towards Sai's head, on his chest.

"Look at all the blood." he said, almost in wonder and ran his fingers across the gash. One by one he sucked the glistening red from his fingers, then with a sly smile lowered his head and ran his tongue up the length of the wound, digging it into the separated flesh, suckling at the edges. It hurt. Sai cried out, trying to wriggle away, but Jergon grasped his shoulder and his thigh to keep his body immobile while he feasted on the blood.

He came up, bloody faced and fervent. "You taste so good, boy. The flesh of sinners always does. You bring the righteous man down to your level with the lures of your pretty flesh."

Sai shook his head. It was all he was capable of at the moment. Please, please, please, somebody help me.

 

But no one did. And Jergon took up the knife and sliced down the leg of his jeans. He could feel the press of the blade through denim. It was sharp enough to cut through even that rugged material if enough pressure was applied. He started shaking in terrified anticipation of what the madman would do next.

The knife traced up the inside of his thigh, lingering about his crotch. Pressing sharply in so that he could feel the prick. He gasped, and Jergon chuckled. He jerked his legs, trying to free himself, to at least lift a knee in defense and couldn't with his ankles fastened at the edges of the table. He was afraid to look and afraid to shut his eyes. Helplessly he clenched his fists behind his head.

The man's hand replaced the knife, touching him through the jeans, as if he were trying to arouse him. It made him want to shrink in upon himself. To curl up and die in shame and embarrassment.

"See what you do to me?" Jergon accused him, fingers tightening painfully, sending jolts of venom up Sai's body. He leaned across the table, half covering Sai's body with his own, rubbing his crotch across Sai's groin and hip, letting him feel the rigid erection beneath his pants. Sai had to shut his eyes then, to shut out the sight of Jergon's excited face so near his own. He tasted tears or blood, he didn't know which.

"Please --" he didn't even realize he'd uttered it aloud. Jergon stopped, resting prone upon Sai's chest, pressing him into the hard table.

"Please, what, boy? Please fuck you? Please slit your pretty throat?"

"No." he sobbed miserably.

"No?" Jergon pushed himself up, one hand going to his own crotch, then with a grimace shying away. He picked up Sai's wallet again, and casually slipped out a picture of Sai and Rowan that Kento had taken on a retreat up in the mountains of Japan a year or so ago. There was a folded sheet of paper safety pinned to the back. A diary ledger of Rowan's from the trip.

"Who's this?" Jergon asked. Sai turned his face away silently. Jergon shrugged and carefully unfastened the pin. He held it up in the dim light. He ran a thumb across one of Sai's nipples. Leaned down and fastened his wet mouth upon it, biting and pulling with his teeth, bringing it to reflexive hardness. He pulled back with a look of concentration and slowly, methodically worked the none too sharp tip of the safety pin through the nub of Sai's nipple.

Sai bit down on his lip, with a cry and a tortured groan, tossing his head as much as he could, bucking violently under Jergon's hands. No amount of fighting it, or pleading made it go away. He shut his eyes afterwards, turning his face away, trying to calm his breathing. Trying to come up with some rational argument he could use on his own behalf. Some thread of reason that might slip through the twisted mind of his tormentor. Anything that might buy him a little time. Time to wriggle out of this himself -- if it were possible. Time for the guys to find him -- God, less of a chance of that. If he could only think clearly he might be able to reason with this man. Or was that futile hope the drug talking?


"So what'd this guy look like? This guy that sent my friend the drink?" Sage leaned forward and smiled steadily at the bartender of the 8 Ball, while Kento kept Rowan a few paces away. The Bartender looked over Sage's shoulder to the other young man warily.

"Don't like to be threatened." the man said.

"It wasn't a threat -- it was a prom ---"

"Rowan, shut up." Sage didn't turn his head. The order was quiet and succinct. "He's distraught. We've lost track of our friend. This guy might have something to do with it."

"Don't like setting trouble on my customers."

"We're your customers. Five mouths drink more than one. Weigh the profits."

The bartender thought about that, then shrugged. "Tall guy, dark hair. Maybe thirty-five or forty. Quiet mostly. Don't talk my ear off when he comes in."

"Regular customer?"

"Been coming in for about a month. Don't ever cause trouble." he passed his narrow gaze over the three of them as if to say not like them at any rate.

"Anything else? Ever get his name? Where he lives?"

"Don't much care." the barkeep sniffed.

"All right." Sage nodded at Rowan and Kento, scanning the pool room for Ryo who was talking to the waitress. She bent down and scribbled something on a napkin and handed to him, then he started back towards the others.

"Anything?" Sage inquired.

"Maybe. She says he's come in a few times with a guy named Preacher Willy, who hangs out at the mission four or five blocks from here."

"A preacher?" Sage lifted an eloquent brow.

Ryo shook his head. "No. Just a guy who goes around quoting scriptures at people, so he got the name. Fire and brimstone sort of fellow, she says."

"What'd she give you?" Kento asked as they left the smoke hazed bar for the clear night street outside. Ryo shrugged, holding up the folded napkin between his fingers.

"Her number."

"She's like old enough to be your mom." Kento said. "But -- nice tits."

"Well, yeah." Ryo agreed.

Sage rolled his eyes, snatched the napkin out of Ryo's hand and tossed it over his shoulder.

"We're wasting time." Rowan hissed.

"No we're not." Sage said.

"Rowan -- we'll find him." Ryo said.

Rowan glared at him, needing something to blame for a situation that was well out of his control. "We'd better --" then without warning a felt a tingle of fear/pain/desperation wash over his subconscious. He staggered from surprise, and saw Sage blink as if he too had felt something out of the norm.

"What?" Ryo demanded. "Did you feel him?"

"I don't know." Sage said slowly, cautiously. "Something ---"

"Fuck that." Rowan cried. "It was Sai. He's being hurt. Goddamnit!!" He slammed a fist into the brick wall beside him. He did not wince at the blood on his knuckles. Kento stared at him in dismay. Ryo did. Sage was looking up the street.

"Lets get the jeep." he said. "I want to find this Preacher Willy."


"Let the sinners be consume out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the lord, O my soul. Praise ye the lord." Jergon cried out the Psalm like it was the closest thing to ecstasy he'd ever experienced. He held a drugstore bible in his hands and his eyes had the fervent, white rimmed look of a madman -- or a true believer.

"Does God tell you to do this?" Sai was weak from more than the drug now. Jergon had cut him again. Twice more, along the ribs. Echoing slashes that looked like the claws of some animal had racked him. The tabletop was wet with his blood.

Jergon's gaze swung his way, eyes narrow and glinting. "I told you not to speak his name, little whore."

"But I'm not." Sai said reasonably. "Y--you asked if I believed. I-I believe in all the things he stands for. This isn't godly."

"Shut up. Filthy, filthy sinner. A Righteous man falling down before the wicked is a troubled fountain and a corrupt spring." Jergon sobbed as he quoted this. With a snarl he ripped out the page and balled it up. "See. This you and those like you have made of me."

He fell onto Sai, grasping his face and stuffing the crumpled page into his mouth. Sai tried to spit it out when the man turned to reach for the bible, but Jergon clamped a heavy hand upon his mouth and with the other opened the book to read another meaningless quote. He tore the page out, crumpled it and forced Sai's mouth open by pressing fingers into the hinge of his jaw. The second wad joined the first. And another and another, until Sai thought he was going to have them jammed far enough down his throat to choke him.

He sobbed, helpless and muzzled. Jergon put the bible down, finally, pacing back and forth along the table. He took up the knife, shifting it with nervous tension from hand to hand. It was perfectly clear he wanted to touch Sai, but fought some inner battle against it. His dark eyes raked over the young man's body. Lingered on the bleeding wounds, on the safety pin pierced nipple, which leaked a small trickle of crimson that pooled in the indention of Sai's sternum.

He leaned over him, tasting the blood, the knife held in one hand pressing up alongside Sai's ribs. Jergon looked up into Sai's terrified eyes and said, almost apologetically.

"You made me do it. If you hadn't tempted me, this never would have happened. The blame is yours, not mine. I'm the righteous man fallen to the lures of the sinner."

His hand slid down to work the buttons of Sai's jeans, slipped inside and Jergon groaned in frantic eagerness, even as Sai made a stifled little sound of repulsion. He pushed the jeans down about Sai's hips, as far as they would easily go with his legs spread to either side of the table. He used the knife to split the soft cotton of his briefs, then put his trembling, wet mouth upon him.

If he could have screamed he would have. His hair was wet with tears that were his only outlet. Teeth bit into his skin, fingers clutched at his flesh.

"You don't like it, little whore?" Jergon looked up at him, holding onto Sai's flaccid member. "Maybe you'll like the feel of my righteous flesh inside you more."

Almost Sai began to wriggle and fight, until he realized that for Jergon to get his pants off and him in a position that was even vaguely accommodating, his legs would have to be released. If his legs were free, he might have the chance to escape.

He went still and Jergon looked up at his face in surprise. "You want that?" the madman asked.

Slowly Sai nodded. A willing victim might be given a little more slack than an unwilling one. A muscle in Jergon's cheek twitched. A sweat broke out on his face. "Slut." he muttered, trailing a hand down to Sai's left ankle, and jerking the knife sharply through the rope. Sai felt the slack immediately. Wait until the man's weight was off him. Wait until he had a little leverage. He shut his eyes and relaxed his body. Felt Jergon shift overtop him, felt the man's hands tugging on his jeans. They were half way down anyway. better to have them gone than about his knees and hindering his legs.

Jergon had to slip off the table to get the jeans all the way off. The moment Sai felt their weight gone, his eyes snapped open and he kicked with both feet against Jergon's chest. A second after the impact he was rolling off the side of the table. He hit the floor and staggered, off balance and disoriented. He didn't bother to scan the room, he just ran, bleeding, with his boxers hanging shredded about his hips and his arms trussed painfully behind his head.

Jergon was roaring in rage behind him. It occurred to Sai that even if he found the door, he couldn't open it. The windows were his only choice. He didn't particularly care how high up he was. Falling to his death would be preferable to the one Jergon wanted to give him. At any rate his chances were better that way than if he stayed here.

He bolted for the row of windows. If he hadn't of been drugged, he would have been faster. He might have run a straight line instead of a staggering one. He launched himself and impact hit him from behind. Arms encircled his waist and dragged him down, smashing him into the floor, careening them both into the wall below the windows.

Hysteria engulfed him. He kicked and struggled as if possessed, managing to spit dampened wads of newsprint out of his mouth enough to gather the breath to scream.

Jergon reared up above him and his fist came thundering down. Sai went out.


The old black man sat on the steps of the mission, giving a sermon to any who might linger and listen in a wavery, croaking voice. Only the winos that were too drunk to move on lay listening to his tirade. He talked about heaven and hell and how unlikely it was that anyone would ever see the former. It took a twenty dollar bill and a persuasive argument from Sage to get him to stop his preaching and pay attention to what they were asking him.

"The father? Zat who you asking 'bout?" The old man said.

"The father?" Sage inquired.

"Father Jergon. Used to be in the church. But --" and the old man's lips pulled back in a crafty smile. "--but the devil got into him too. Gets into all of us. We're all going to hell."

"Not anytime soon, if I can help it." Sage replied smoothly.

"Do you know where he lives?" Rowan demanded eagerly.

"Maybe. Maybe not."

"Listen you old bastard ---"

"Rowan." Ryo put a careful hand on Rowan's shoulder. "Let Seiji handle it."

Rowan glowered, but he backed off.

"It's very important." Sage rubbed another twenty between his fingers. The old man stared at the bill with hungry eyes.

"He used to be a man of god." Preacher Willy said. "The light of righteousness shines on men like him. Burns like a halo over their heads."

"Everybody's born with a halo," Sage said softly, gazing at the old man with brilliant blue eyes. "it's just a matter of how long they can keep it once they come in out of the darkness."

The old man blinked at him. His rheumy eyes widened a bit, as if he imagined he saw something that was not there around Sage.

"Ware house -- down by the river. Above what used to be the old bakery. That's where he stays. Never been up to his place, myself, but walked with him home before."

"Thank you." Sage said softly and handed him the bill.


Sai came back up a moment after the lights went out. He'd been hit by far worse and come out of it. Of course it the drug in his system didn't help. The combination of afflictions was beginning to overcome him. Drug, bloodloss, a fist to the temple, a fear that was starting to get the upper hand on him -- all combined threatened to spill him back into a faint. Jergon was dragging him by the ankle back towards the damned table. He saw, from his awkward angle on the floor the scattered array of metal cutlery that had spilled when he'd kicked Jergon off him.

Adrenaline spiked through him. He kicked out and slammed Jergon's knee out from under him. The man toppled forward with a surprised grunt. Sai scrambled backwards as best he could. Jergon snarled and lunged after him.

"You little fuck. You wanna do it right here?" Jergon slapped him and his head cracked against the floor. His hands cushioned the impact slightly, though it felt as if a finger jammed in the process. He brought a knee up hard between Jergon's legs and scored a moment's reprieve as the man gasped and crumpled in upon himself, grasping his groin with both hands. But it was only a moment. Hardly enough time to try and wriggle out from under the man, before he got hit again. This time a fist in the side where the knife wounds were. He screamed, vision going wavery and black around the edges. Jergon hit him again, muttering foul words under his breath. Bloody hands went around his throat, thumbs pressing into the soft flesh under his jaw.

He couldn't breath. He couldn't buck the man off his body. He figured it was time to die.

"This one time, we'll go against the flip of the coin." He could feel the warmth of Jergon's breath against his cheek.

It hurt and the pounding in his head drowned out everything else. Red turned to gray turned to black.


The stairs leading to the second floor were rusted and shaky. Metal grated steps no doubt deemed unsafe back in the days the bakery was still in operation. Now they were a deathtrap waiting for the right victim. It was dark, not even a single bulb burning to illuminate the vast bottom floor of the place. Echoes ran rampart. Kento found the stairs by luck alone.

"Somebody pays money to rent this dump?" Ryo grumbled, following Sage up the steps. Rowan had pounded up ahead of them, tense and worried.

"Maybe. It's not abandoned, at any rate." Sage said. It had been locked. Sage had picked the lock, a skill he'd picked up somewhere. One learned not to question Sage's skills to closely.

"Which way?" They joined Rowan on the second floor landing. It looked as if there used to be offices on this level. There was a hall with doors leading off it that ran in both directions. Rowan stood uncertainly, running a nervous hand through short blue hair. His eyes had a fevered, almost haunted look. He hadn't spoken since they'd left the mission.

"I don't know." He said softly, then his head snapped around, as if he were hearing something the rest of them were not tuned in to. A breath later there was a muffled thud from the left, then silence. It was enough.

Rowan started running and the rest of them followed.

"Which room?" Kento panted.

"I don't know." Rowan growled and kicked in a door. It slammed into the inner wall and glass shattered. There was nothing but darkness and piles of junk inside. Sage passed him and kicked in the next, on the opposite side of the hall. Another empty room.

Rowan kicked in a second door and there was the faint flickering light of a weak incandescent bulb from within. He took in a broad expanse of floor, a wall of filthy windows, a low battered table in the room's center. A few pieces of furniture along the shadowed walls. Something pale on the floor beyond the table. He took a frozen breath. Kento crowded in behind him a second later. Something came out of the gloom and metal gleamed dully in the poor light. Flashed down and would have taken Kento across the throat if Ryo hadn't lunged up from behind and shoved Kento forward. The blade sliced across his upper arm, and he cried out in anger and shock, clutching a big hand to the wound, staggering into Rowan.

A man came out of the darkness at Ryo and Sage who were in the doorway, a wicked army knife clutched in his hands, a square of white gracing the collar of his shirt.

Rowan didn't even glance back. One trusted Ryo and Sage and even a wounded Kento to deal with the situation. He had to see what was beyond the table. Then he saw.

"Oh, god, oh god, oh god." It echoed in his head. He didn't even realize he was saying it as he skidded to his knees next to an unmoving body. A blood covered, pale Sai, who had a rope about his neck with hands drawn up behind his head. Rowan sobbed, gathering him up, mindless of the injuries hidden by blood. Frantically he put his fingers to his pulse, feeling for the telltale sign of life. He couldn't feel it.

"Nononono." His teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. "Please don't. Please don't do this to me."

He pressed his face close to the still one on his shoulder -- and felt the faint warmth of thready breath.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you." He didn't know exactly who he was thanking -- Sai perhaps for not being dead. His fingers went to the knot in the rope, but it was too tight and he was shaking too badly to loosen it.

"Goddamnit -- somebody get me a knife." He shrilled.

And Sage stepped into the faint illumination of predawn light with a bloody blade in his hand. Wordlessly he held it out to Rowan.

"He alive?" Kento's voice was shaking.

Rowan swallowed not trusting his own and nodded. For the first time since he'd caught sight of Sai he looked to see what had happened with the son of a bitch who'd attacked them - who'd done this to Sai.

There was a crumpled dark heap on the floor not to far from the door. Ryo was standing over it.

"What happened?" Rowan asked.

Sage shrugged. "He came at Ryo with the knife. Ryo dodged. I turned it back upon the sender. He's dead."

"Good." He cut the rope around Sai's neck. Sai's arms feel limply to his sides. "Look what he did to him." Rowan moaned, cradling Sai close. He felt blood seeping through his shirt. Kento and Sage knelt beside them, the latter touching Sai's side where there appeared to be several long, rather nasty gashes. They were the major source of the blood.

"We've got to get him out of here. To a doctor." Kento said.

"Yeah." Rowan agreed, but he couldn't quite make himself loosen his arms around Sai enough to get up.

"Oh my god." Ryo whispered from across the room, standing and staring at the wall across from the door, which seemed to be covered with cut out newspaper articles.

"What?" Sage asked sharply, tensed for some new threat.

"This isn't the first time he's done this." Ryo sounded vaguely sick. "Or the tenth -- oh god, look at this."


Sai was amazed to no ends to hear voices. And not angelic ones at that. It took him a while to realize he was not dreaming. That he was on the verge of awareness. He wasn't certain he wanted to go back there. There were bad things awaiting him in consciousness. He would much rather have retreated into oblivion. Curled up into a hard little knot within himself where nothing and no one could harm him. At least not his ethereal self.

But the pain got through. It hammered at his awareness until he had to recognize it. He didn't open his eyes. He lay propped up with someone trying to squeeze the life out of him and hazy, indistinct voices yammering back and forth over his head. They were not quoting scriptures, which was a plus. They were talking about taking him out of here.

He opened his eyes a slit and saw white football jersey and shoulder and the bottom of a familiar jaw.

"Rowan?" he murmured. His voice sounded hoarse and weak in his ears. He couldn't understand what Rowan was doing here. What he was doing here? Where here was.

"Sai? Sai?" Rowan shifted him around and pain shot through him. He cried out and Rowan made a miserable, stifled sound and murmured apologies.

The pain. The pain brought back the memories. Sai gasped as if from a physical blow. It hit him in the solar plexus -- in the center of his chest -- the shock, the hurt, the fear, the humiliation. He began to shake, clutching at Rowan's shirt, pressing his face against Rowan's shoulder. Rowan rocked back and forth, murmuring things that had no meaning.

"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, love." He crooned, as if it had been his fault.

"Where is he?" Sai had to ask it. It came out a tremulous whisper.

"Dead. Sage killed him. We've got to get you to a hospital."

"No." Sai had the presence of mind left to him to know that he did not want to go to a hospital. He did not want to bring all the details of this terrible nightmare into the light of day. "I want to go home. Please take me home, Rowan."

"But, you're hurt bad, Sai."

"I'll go to the water." He murmured. He felt light headed, like he was falling from a high place, even though he knew he was firmly held in Rowan's arms. Blood loss, he thought. The water would fix it, when he could summon the armor. He hadn't had to in a good while.

 


There were forty-six articles from newspapers in various cities and towns of unsolved murders. There was no predominant sex or color to the victims. They had all been young. They had all been mutilated in one form or another, and all had been sexually assaulted either before or after death. The only outstanding similarity was a crude introverted cross burned into the flesh of each victim. No particular placement. When Ryo poked through the array of instruments that were scattered on the floor by the table, among them he found a handmade branding iron in the shape of a cross. He also found Sai's wallet.

"What do we do about him?" he jerked his chin at the body of the killer. Sage carefully wiped the handle of the knife both he and Rowan had held, then tossed it carelessly on the floor.

"We leave him. We call the police and tell them to come out here. We stay out of it."

"But --" Ryo opened his mouth to protest, uneasy with the notion of covering up what had happened.

"No buts. Sai doesn't want to report it. The monster's dead. What's the point?"

Ryo looked to Sai, who Rowan had released into Kento's arms, Kento being better equipped muscle wise to carry Sai downstairs and to the jeep. Rowan hovered at Kento's elbow and tossed Ryo a glare. "Don't even fucking think about it, Ryo. Just live with it."

Sai didn't say a thing, he might have fainted, as still as he was. Ryo nodded, uneasy, silent agreement. Kento took Sai out, Rowan on his heels. Sage took a last look around the room and curled his lip in distaste.

"This is as much a favor to the world as anything else we've ever done. C'mon." He stepped around the body and waited for Ryo to join him at the door. Ryo averted his eyes from the body. Sage didn't seem even vaguely interested.

"I've a bad feeling --" he started and Sage waved a hand sharply to cut him off.

"Well stop it. Sai's alive -- barely. And that's all that matters. Would you have rather I let him gut me, than turn the knife back at him?"

"No, Seiji."

So they left, with the door half open behind them and dawn's pale light making the blood on the floor into crimson, gleaming puddles. There was a bad aura in the air. They all had felt it, to one degree or another. It had perhaps dwelt with father Jergon for a long while. Perhaps it had even driven him to the madness and desolation that ostracized him from his faith and plunged him into madness. It lingered in the warehouse for a while, slowly drifting to improminance. It had better places to go. It had the living to haunt.

 

END

 

 

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