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The Road To Hell

by P L Nunn


Chapter Ten


It had been surprisingly easy to talk Charlotte the Red into leading them back to the hill. Even with evening coming on, and the resident lavender of the sky turning dark purple. She didn't seem much to mind, saying that the creatures that roamed the day were no better or worse than the ones that lurked in the night. Rowan got another bow. This one, to his disappointment, was handed him by a leprous looking pirate instead of the glorious, bigger than life Robin of Locksley. Sai cooed at him consolingly when he grumbled about the injustice as they were leaving camp. But Sai didn't really understand. Sai was quite willing to be optimistic over the possibility of finding a way home and the trivial matter of a bow did not enter in the equation as far as he was concerned. Rowan bitterly regretted losing the first one in the river. But one had to resign oneself to the fact that even if he'd had been able to hang onto it -- he couldn't have taken it home with him. If mystical armors couldn't manage the translocation -- a mundane bow most certainly wasn't making the trip.

Still he would have liked to play with it a bit more.

"Rowan, stop sulking about the silly bow." Sai reprimanded him gently. Sai was strolling beside him down the barely perceivable trail Charlotte led them down. Charlotte was striding ahead with long, unfeminine strides.

"S'not silly." He murmured.

Sai let out a patient breath, and tactfully changed the subject.

"I wonder how long we've been gone from home?"

"I dunno. If the whole time difference thing has any credence -- not long."

"What if its been long enough for somebody to find the wreck and maybe go looking in the woods around it? Ryo's armor was just lying there -- do you think the rest of the armors are too? What if someone stumbled upon them?"

"Well, its not like they could do anything with them. Especially with them resonating energy. I wouldn't think anybody not attuned could even touch 'em without getting the shock of their life."

"Anyone mortal." Sai reminded him.

Rowan grunted assent. There were plenty of not quite mortals who would love to get their hands on those particular armors. The chiefest among them being the culprit of this little fiasco -- the oh so mighty -- oh so egotistical lord Tulpa, who they kept toppling and who kept stubbornly rearing back up to annoy them again. This time he'd done it from the other side of life, going for petty vengeance when garnering power wasn't an option. But he had a fair amount of lackeys who hadn't died with him still skulking about the mortal realm and places damned close to it -- who more than likely still kept a mental ear tuned for what was going on with the powers that be. Namely them.

"So what do you think about Ryo?" Sai asked.

"What do I think what about Ryo?"

Sai gave him a look. "Do you think he's gonna be okay?"

"Course he's gonna be okay. Soon as we get home."

"Did you talk to him?"

"Did I---oh -- uh, no. Never really got the chance with Seiji hovering like a mama hen."

"Well you should have, Rowan."

"I know. I know, Sai." He waved a hand to fend off more reprimands. "I will. Promise. Soon as we get back to the camp."

"You know some times things just get worse the longer you wait."

"Aw, Sai, he's probably forgotten already. This is Ryo, we're talking about."

Sai slanted him an arched brow stare. "Don't sell him short. Just because he forgives easily, doesn't mean he forgets."

"Okay. Point, score, match. You win. I already said I'd talk to him."

Sai sighed, veering a little to the side to bump shoulders with Rowan. His fingers snaked down to twine with Rowan's, a little hesitantly, a little secretly, as if he were afraid Charlotte would turn around and see and make some nasty comment. "Okay, Rowan. I'm just a little tense. I'm worried we won't find a thing and we'll be stuck here and I really, truly don't want to have to make a home in this place."

"Nooo, that wouldn't be a good thing." Rowan agreed and thought that just might have been the most understated thing he'd uttered this lifetime.

One moment he was walking. Past strangers embroiled in all the labor intensive activities it took to survive in the primitive wild. No clear destination in mind. Seeking solitude and quiet to wash the traces of extraneous thoughts from his mind. He thought he could do it. He possessed a self-confidence in his own mental control that made him more than simply optimistic. It gave him a dogmatic self-assurance that was generally unshakable.

And then -- with no more warning than the strike of a hidden, coiled snake -- an overwhelming will rushed up and drowned him. Between one step and the next he wasn't the same person. Between one step and the next and something that was not Seiji Date looked out from crystal clear, ice blue eyes.

And thrilled at what it had done. Thrilled at the feeling of utter self that it had not experienced for close to three thousand years. A little stagger to the left, unnoticed by those around, because it had been so very long since the feeling of having limbs -- of physical form -- had been a part of its existence. But the body corrected the lapse. It had stopped thinking of itself as a thing with identity at all. The body was precisely and crucially aware of things like balance and equilibrium. This body was a thing to which grace of movement was an ingrained reflex. This body had memories that lurked at the surface of the essence which belonged to it, things that the stranger could sift through and use to predetermine its course through the little community, and out into the woods beyond.

It. It. No, that wasn't right. There had been an singularity once. A vivid, intense identity. She. It had been a she a long, long time ago. A she unrightfully set aside for a fault not her own, and then rightfully persecuted for things done in retaliation. Ah, those memories were faint, painful scars in her past. Power and position meant nothing if you were a woman who failed to give a man a son. Power and position were nothing if you were a woman ruled by men.

He/she approached the little stream that he had found meditative. He was selective and precise in the things he did and thought, her host. She had only overwhelmed him because she had come upon him unawares, while his thoughts were distracted. He was worried about escaping this place. He was worried about his friend/comrade/lover. He was greatly disturbed over his unwilling alliance with her. He wanted her gone. She never wanted to leave.

Seiji. She said his name, and shivered at the soft, smooth tones of her vocalization. His name. Her name while she used his body. Her other name had become incidental. No one had said it to her for millennia.

She moved to crouch by the stream, attentive to its cheerful gurgle, oh so sensitive to such small things as the mere song of water over rocks. The water was calm and clear here at the shallows and it gave her back a hint of refection. A glimmer of the form she possessed. Ah, pale and golden when she was used to darker hair and sunburnt skin. But, elegant, she thought, running a hand up one high cheek. Aristocratic, which pleased her sense of justice. If she found automation again in the form of a man, it ought to at least be a aesthetically pleasing one. And he was beautiful, like a perfect, marble sculpture.

She leaned forward, dipped her hand into the water and brought a dripping handful to her lips. Clear and sweet and so very exhilarating to have the need for such things once more. The feel the moisture on his/her skin, the cool kiss of the breeze wafting through the trees. The texture of her own skin, as she rubbed moist fingers across a forearm. Smooth skin, lightly haired. She rubbed a cheek against the inside of an arm, purring at the sensation. Just for the stimulation of it ran her nails down the same soft skin and marveled at the white marks that were left. Marks that turned slowly to pink and faded.

She giggled and the sound of it coming from his throat was foreign even to her. There was something held back beyond barriers of her making that surged time and again to be released. She cooed at it. At him -- trying to tell him that she would do this body no harm. That this was only fair, considering the service she had done him. Anger, panic, indignation radiated back at her. She pushed it aside, holding relatively little concern for his protests. After so very long with no corporeal existence of her own, she found she had little care for any need but her own.

She stretched, running a hand down his/her body, and her fingers grazed that part of her that she had never in all her existence possessed. A foreign part that she was well familiar with on the body of another, but had never gleaned or imagined having herself. Even temporarily.

Quite, quite sensitive that part. Alert to the slightest touch of her hand, as she explored a bit more thoroughly. One might never have guessed how connected that part of a man was to the pace of his heart and the tempo of his breathes -- to the very blood running through his veins. She slipped his/her hand under the waist band of the trousers, wanting to touch and feel that oh so demanding part without the barrier of cloth between skin and skin. Fingers circled the width of it, stroking the incredibly soft skin. Heat radiated, pulsing with the thud of blood. She gasped, as shock waves of sensation ran through this body. It begged more aggressive attention, so she slipped the other hand down to join the first, moving her firm grip down to the tip of it and back. She worked his/her hands over the solid heat of his/her sex, instinctively knowing the things this body liked. Instinctively knowing the rhythm to find and the pressure to exert. That imprisoned part -- him -- Seiji -- was aware in a distant, sort of dazed fashion of what she was doing. He wavered, all the explosive sensations washing past her barriers to include him in the euphoria. It stoked memories. Many, varied and diversified images and emotions flashed across her consciousness. The things that made him burn. The things that made this self-induced gratification pale in comparison.

Then he/she came, spilling hot, thick moisture into her hands. She crinkled her nose at the mess, smearing her hands on the leaves even as her body shuddered in pleased reaction.

Quite, quite amazing. She wanted more. She wanted the promise of ultimate ecstasy that she had seen in his memories/imaginings/thoughts. And what he desired was that wounded creature they had dragged out of Anenhotep's cozy little illusion of power and prestige. A poisoned thing that none the less still managed to radiate a certain vitality. Pretty.

Not like her host. Not that cold, god-like perfection that might repel the approach of an admirer by the simple fact that he looked unattainable.

No, Ryo was more --- earthy. Alarmingly appealing. Disastrously sensual without ever even trying. That came across in a hundred myriad little things she snatched from Seiji's furious consciousness. Ryo never tried to be seductive. Ryo was continually baffled that anyone might find him attractive at all. Ryo was a fool. That was a shared consensus between her and Seiji.

She recalled looking down at him in the hut when she had shared a consciousness and a control with Seiji -- when she had only had a moment of dominancy before he whipped her back. Those eyes were intriguing. Large, black rimmed blue eyes, exotically uptilted and filled with --- what? Trust? Optimism even in the face of death? Naiveté? Perhaps even a little touch of uncertainty in the face of his/her intense stare. What Seiji thought meant a great deal to him. Pleasing Seiji was important, even if he didn't always know how to go about it. All the things that a woman or a man who needed to feel she/he held the upper hand -- the control -- in a relationship -- in his/her own life for that matter, might look for in a partner.

Seiji rebelled against that introspection as well, wanting her thoughts off Ryo and back where they belonged. Which was far away from him and his.

She ignored him, becoming comfortable in her control, and rose, idly adjusting the laces which had become loosened on the trousers. Back towards the primitive little village with its laughable palisade, with a purpose in mind. Past the natives -- all the dead souls -- who struggled to exist here and towards her destination.

"Hey -- Seiji! Are you deaf?"

A hand snagged her arm. Seiji's arm. And jerked her/him to a halt. She looked up the scant distance that separated her/his eyes from her accoster's. Kento. The name popped into her mind. A dozen little details of his personality, his behavior came to her. It seemed she had full access to the memories of her host.

She said nothing. Merely narrowed her eyes and stared pointedly down at the hand on her arm. The fingers removed themselves as a result.

"Geeze, Seiji, don't get in a snot over it." Kento muttered. "Just wanted to know where you were goin' is all?"

"It has some bearing on your existence, my whereabouts?" She asked coldly and he blinked at her, gray-blue eyes confused.


"I didn't think so." She started to walk again.

"So where're ya headed, Seiji?" He trotted to catch up, like a large, overly needy dog. "Wha'cha up to?"

She took a breath at the persistence and tossed back blandly. "I'm going to fuck Ryo, is that a problem?"

Kento didn't quite have an immediate answer for that. He stopped and one might imagine his mouth drooping open. One could imagine the faint blush staining his cheeks.

"Uh -- you sure he's up to it, Seiji?"

Charlotte loitered at the bottom of the hill, wanting nothing to do with whatever eccentric and wholly peculiar thing Rowan and Sai were doing. She didn't ask questions and had clearly indicated she had no wish to be offered explanations. Which was fine with Rowan.

Rowan didn't know what exactly they were supposed to do anyway. They mulled about the grassy hill where the lot of them had ended up, buck naked, not so many days ago. And waited for something to pop up and wave a red flag in their faces.

"This is freakin' hopeless." He groused and flopped down. Sai walked around him, looking up into the sky as if he thought a sign -- or a gateway might magically appear there.

"You mustn't say that." He scolded absently. "We've got to try."

"Try'n do what, Sai? This was stupid. There's nothing here but grass." One feared-- one very much feared the only way out of this predicament was confronting the person responsible for bringing them here. He really, really didn't relish the notion of approaching Tulpa with the request. Not without one hell of a lot more power than they had at hand to back them up.

Sai thumped down beside him, pulling dejectedly at the grass between his knees. "What are we missing here, Rowan? We should be attuned to things like this. God knows we've had enough experience. Shouldn't we be able to feel something?"

Rowan sniffed disgustedly. "Other than frustrated and scared? I dunno."

He flopped onto his back, folding his arms behind his head, squirming a little to avoid a few particularly prickly spikes of grass. Sai looked down at him, large eyed and worried. "What do we do?"

"Where's Charlotte?"

Sai looked down the hill, eyes scanning the line of woods. "I don't see her. In the forest somewhere. Why?"

"Just cause I don't like her staring." He reached up and caught Sai by the collar, drawing him down onto the grass beside him, wrapped both arms around him and just held on, trying to think. Trying not to let disappointment gain too strong a grip.

Sai hugged back, sighed against Rowan's neck. Warmth and security in a crazy, crazy place. Frustrated and scared. When had they ever achieved anything without the benefit of clear heads and united hearts?



"You scared?"

A little breath of laughter, which was answer enough.

"Maybe -- maybe that's why we can't get a clear signal or whatever. Maybe we can't latch onto the armor when we're so muddled."

Sai tensed a little and shifted to one elbow so he could stare into Rowan's eyes. "What do you mean? That all these -- negative -- emotions are interfering with -- with the signal?"

"You think maybe?" He lifted both brows in question. Sai leaned down and kissed him on the lips.

"I think you're brilliant, but we can't just turn all the conflicting emotions off."

"Sure we can. Do that meditative thing that Seiji does all the time. You know, clear the mind of all extraneous thoughts and all that bull -- but it might work."

"Well, I'm game if you are."

"Okay -- but you have to sit over there. There's no way I'm clearing my mind of anything when you're so close. So scoot."

He shooed him away. Sai beamed, a goal and a plan of action making all the difference in the world.

There were, Ryo was quite certain, small creatures dwelling within the furs and blankets of his borrowed bed. The longer he lay there thinking about them, the more worrisome they became. If his head didn't spin so erratically when he sat up, and his body not betrayed him with bouts of fatigue that no amount of will power could overcome, he would have shaken the things out thoroughly, which might have eased his mind if not the actual presence of the bugs. Fleas were one thing -- two summers ago the whole house had been infested with the things after White Blaze had picked up a colony of the little parasites in his wonderings through the woods surrounding the house. They'd all been scratching for weeks until Seiji and Rowan had brought back a box full of flea bombs and demanded Ryo either keep the big cat outside or attempt the dubious undertaking of giving a six hundred pound tiger a flea dip. Ryo had tried the dip. He really had. There were just some things tigers did not tolerate --even from the creatures they normally considered their own. Ryo had gotten more of a bath than White Blaze. Ryo had gotten a scratch down his arm. The first injury White Blaze had ever done him. It could have been worse. One imagined it had been an indignant slap with claws retracted, but tiger claws were tiger claws and the tips had gouged flesh. A mostly dry tiger had bounded out of the yard and not come back for a week.

He stayed out for the remainder of the summer, which one supposed was no big thing for a tiger. And in the winter he'd just disappeared, as he sometimes did for months at a time, until he showed up again at spring thaw. This time Seiji, who sometimes came up with the most practical solutions to problems that stumped Ryo to no ends, came back from a trip to the local vets with a bag full of tiny vials that supposedly claimed to keep an animal flea free with only a dab of the stuff at certain points under the fur. It seemed an equable solution. It actually worked, though the stuff was god-awful expensive and they had to use six times the recommended dosage to treat the very long, very large cat.

But White Blaze got to stay in the house and they were blessedly flea free. Which was not the case now. At least he hoped it were only fleas. He imaged there were worse insects plaguing the denizens of hell. He imagined spiders and lice and other unsavory things and even in a brief moment of fevered lunacy envisioned tiny squirming snakelets slithering through the fur upon which he lay.

He had shifted then, despite the protests of his head and his body, and run his fingers through the fur, looking for the culprits of all the imagined itching. The leather flap that served as a door was moved aside, letting in a little patch of shadowed light and Seiji stood there, catching Ryo in the midst of searching for non-existent snakelets. He blushed a little in embarrassment, because Seiji usually frowned at such eccentricities, and Seiji had been acting a little odd of late. A little -- and one hesitated to use the term in connection with Seiji -- schizophrenic. Going from unusual protectiveness to -- silent and very cold distance.

"Hey, Seiji." He said, squinting through the shadows to try and see what mood Seiji was in now. It was impossible with the light at his back and his eyes in shadow.

Seiji let the flap fall behind him and moved into the hut. With effort, and little chaotic swimming of the vision, Ryo pushed himself up to a sitting position. "Are Rowan and Sai back? Did they find anything?"

He wasn't certain if he'd slept and time enough had passed for them to go and check out the hill or not.

"No." Seiji said and sank down on the edge of the pallet, staring at him. Intense gaze. Intense perusal that made him a little nervous. Seiji's hand moved to his foot under the covers, slid up his leg to his knee even as Seiji moved closer to him in a graceful, predatory crawl that made Ryo want to scoot backwards. It was a vaguely familiar look --- the Seiji on the hunt look -- but not quite -- and even at the best of times seeing it made Ryo apprehensive. At the moment he was quite certain he could not deal with whatever predacious mood Seiji was in.

"Ummmm -- Seiji --"

Seiji's hand slipped down his thigh and to his waist where the blanket's protection ended. Cool fingers splayed across his lower belly, traveling languidly over his skin. He took a labored breath, trying to formulate words in the chaotic tumble his thoughts had fallen into.

"Seiji -- I -- don't think --"

"Quiet." Simple request as Seiji hooked his wrist out from under him and without its support he flopped backwards. The impact on his bad shoulder hurt like hell. For a breathless moment his vision went black around the edges. None of which deterred Seiji, who swung a leg over his hips to straddle him and leaned forward to brush his lips across Ryo's jaw. Then upwards to nibble at his lower lip, in a peculiarly un-Seiji like fashion. Seiji didn't generally nibble. But it felt good. And Seiji's hands skimming over his ribs felt good. He could almost forget the initial uncertainty. Could almost forget anything but Seiji's moist, soft mouth enveloping his. Seiji's warm tongue exploring the cavity of his mouth, stroking the slick surface of his teeth, the roof of his mouth, sucking his own tongue out of his mouth and demanding cooperation. Which he couldn't help but give, caught up in the languor of it. He could have laid there and let Seiji kiss him all day, it was mind numbing and pleasurable, and Seiji was doing most of the work, only Seiji wasn't content with that. Seiji's mouth wondered down the line of his jaw, trailed down his neck, nuzzling the cleft between his collar bones, then down to tease the sensitive nub of his nipple.

Ryo reflexively arched as warm mouth and teeth worked the flesh. He clenched his jaw against the sharp sting of Seiji's teeth. The nip turned into a bite and he drew in a hiss of breath and reached down to shove Seiji's head away.

"Seiji -- that hurts."

Seiji caught his wrists, pinned them to the bed with relatively little effort and looked up under the fall of his hair with a hungry, almost cruel expression in is eyes. Ryo didn't like the look. Ryo didn't want this to continue in this place, with this weakness coursing through his body. He tried to jerk his hands free and Seiji's fingers tightened painfully.

"I don't want to do this, now." He said, trying to keep his voice from shaking. "Stop it."

Seiji tilted his head curiously, fingers still biting into Ryo's wrists, weight pressing his body down into the furs. "Can you make me?"

Can you make me? It was almost laughable. She/he almost did laugh, but it ended up a sly twisting of the lips as she leaned her weight onto Ryo's wrists and saw him flinch. It was doubtful he could stand by himself, much less defend against him/her. Which pleased her immensely. That power, that dominancy that she had never known sexually before. It was exhilarating to have the upper hand. It was intoxicating to hold complete power over another being. And with Ryo in this state, he/she could overpower him, could use him to her ends and he could not prevent it.

The Seiji-self railed against her dark notions, but deep down she thought he felt some connection to that darkness himself. She thought that some of his buried desires and hidden emotions fed her own passions. How could they not. It was his body and a body held echoes of the self that belonged to it long after that self had vacated. They were just things he didn't like to admit to himself.

She released her hold and moved down his body, tasting the slight salty flavor of sweat sheened skin. Taught, flat belly, smooth skin over ridges of muscle. She plunged her tongue into the crevice of his navel. Delectable.

"Goddamnit, Seiji -- I said no." He twisted under her, trying to scoot backwards. "What's wrong with you?"

A little spike of anger at his continued denial. She lashed out in response, the back of his/her hand catching Ryo across the mouth, snapping his head to the side. He lay there blinking, shocked. A little trickle of blood seeped out of a split caused by impact of flesh against teeth.

She took a breath at the blood. At her capacity to cause it. At his look of trepidation and accusation. He didn't understand. He couldn't understand and that made him all the more vulnerable, which made him all the more desirable.

To both of them. Seiji might have wanted her banished to the darkest, deepest corner of the Abyss, but something about that blood and the look in Ryo's eyes excited him. Made his annoying presence pull back abruptly and fade from her awareness.

She did laugh then, the thing between her legs as hard and demanding as it had been when she'd first explored it there by the stream. More so. Gods of Earth and Sky, it ached to find fulfillment within the flesh beneath her. She dug his/her fingers into the waistband of Ryo's trousers, dragging them down over his hips. He came to life, trying to stop her, but he was weak from fever and poison and another casual slap sent him curling onto his side, reflexive tears streaking the thin layer of dirt on his face.

Bafflement. Complete and utter bafflement at this treatment. She found she could read him easily, even without help from her secluded host. She pressed her fingers into the golden brown flesh of his thighs. He was a uniform color all over, just a little fainter tone on his buttocks and groin area. There was a patch of dark hair there, but otherwise his skin was smooth and unflawed. She took his sex into his/her hands, its flaccidity proof enough that Ryo was not enjoying this. But then, his gratification was not the object of this activity.

She freed herself, desperate to sate the hunger that made her whole body rigid with expectation. She caught Ryo's leg, even though he tried to avoid her and trapped his knee between shoulder and arm. His/her body knew how to subdue a man -- knew how to take one even against his express desires. She had him in a position he couldn't easily get out of in his current weakness and he knew it. She felt him submit under her. Saw him roll his head to the side and close his eyes, those thick black lashes fluttering against his cheeks, those even white teeth of his biting his lower lip.

And without preamble or preparation he/she took him. Ripped into him without benefit of lubrication save for what leaked from the tip of his/her sex. Ryo cried out a little, and stifled it out of what she was sure was sheer stubbornness. She could hardly think for all the waves of intense pleasure that assaulted her body. She jerked spasmodically into rhythmic, desperate thrusts of animalistic intensity in attempts to sate the pain/pleasure/impending eruption of sensation beyond her ability to comprehend.

She was bent over him, her growls mixing with his inarticulate gasps of pain/pleasure. She wanted to rip him apart from the inside out. She wanted to delve deeper than the physical restraint of their bodies would allow. Or was that Seiji who had come drifting back at the lure of Ryo's body like a moth to flame?

And then with a blinding crescendo it was over and she collapsed atop him, reeling in the aftermath, astonished that a body could feel so much pleasure and not expire of the experience. There had been nothing in her physical life that had ever equaled this. She pushed herself up. There was blood on Ryo's chest from new gouges made by his/her nails. There was blood on his thighs along with his/her leavings. His eyes were still shut. He wouldn't look at her. His breathing was a ragged, tremulous thing. He tried to turn onto his side and away from her. She caught his body in his/her long arms and prevented that small escape. She licked the blood from his chest, tangled her hands in sweat damped hair and pulled his head back to nuzzle his throat.

It was amazing really, this body's capacity for passion. Already it was ready for more.

"Hey, guys! What'd ya find?" Kento came trotting up, dirt smudged and outlandish in his mish mash of borrowed clothing. Rowan was grinning ear to ear. One could just feel the satisfaction radiating from him, so Sai decided to let him break the news. It had been Rowan's idea anyway.

"You tell him," Sai leaned in to whisper, "I'm gonna go and tell Ryo."

"God, what happened?" Kento was practically bouncing.

"Well, its sort of like this ---"

Sai heard the beginnings of Rowan's colorful narration and smiled himself, walking briskly through the night dark village towards Charlotte's hut. They had not actually triggered the gate way, but they'd found it. The clearing of mind and soul had worked. It had taken a little while, neither he nor Rowan being much for the practice of meditation, trance-like states, but after some time, he had begun to feel the presence of a familiar power. A familiar, and distant essence that was as much a part of him as his skin. The armor of Torrent. Or the mystical dynamism that made it up. Rowan had felt it too. And between the two of them, they had almost been able to reach across dimension and distance and trigger something. Almost been able to summon that portal that the power of their armors was feeding.

But not quite. With all of them trying, Sai knew -- he just knew -- it could be achieved.

He saw the hut. Small, round, one of maybe a dozen that size that he supposed were delegated or claimed by the dominate personalities in the community. Charlotte was certainly that. He cringed imagining anyone telling her no regarding anything she felt strongly about. He'd cringed when Rowan outright provoked her into argument on the way back, having vividly pictured her knocking Rowan onto his ass and promptly slicing his throat for the impertinence. But Rowan had survived the bickering and Charlotte had left them as soon as they'd come within sight of the palisade.

He reached for the flap and it was pushed aside before he could touch it. Seiji stood within the doorway. A rather disheveled looking Seiji, who's shirt hung open and who's tousled hair fell in un-Seiji like disarray over his eyes.

"Oh, Seiji." Sai started to blurt out his and Rowan's good luck, when he noticed the blood smeared on Seiji's chest. A little of it on the side of his face. He blinked in surprise and reached out to touch it. "Seiji, are you bleeding?"

Seiji caught his wrist before his fingers could touch the smear. Seiji's eyes glittered dangerously down into his own.

"Don't." Came the suggestion. And Sai's eyes widened in dumbfoundment.

"Don't what? You don't have any cuts. Who's blood is that?" He tried to yank his wrist away, indignant at the treatment. This was most certainly not a tolerable mood Seiji was in. "Is it Ryo's? Is he okay?"

The fingers shifted, and rather without him realizing it was happening, his thumb was bent back and his wrist twisted frightfully hard. He yelped, having no option, under the circumstances but to give under the pressure. It was not a friendly warning. It was enough intense pain to make one knee buckle in his attempts to relieve the pressure. It felt like the bones in his wrist were slowly fracturing and he could not quite convince himself that it was happening.

"Seiji!" he gasped. "Please!"

Seiji leaned down, and there was nothing of his usual cold, disinterest within those blue eyes. There was heat and emotion and utter disregard for the pain he was inflicting. "Don't worry about Ryo."

Then to add alieness to alieness, he smiled, and gave Sai's wrist one last sharp twist before releasing him and striding off without a backward glance.

Sai dropped the other knee to the ground, clutching his throbbing wrist to his chest, staring after Seiji in utter --- astonishment. He could not even think of words to express his shock. Seiji was the last person in the world he would have expected such a display from. Seiji embraced honor. Seiji embraced emotional control Seiji did not act like the worst kind of bully under any circumstances. It was not seemly.

And where in hell had that blood come from? He climbed to his feet, still cradling his hand protectively. It throbbed in a most alarming manner and if one were to be purely pessimistic one might hold illusions that one had heard a faint snap with that last cruel twist.

Sai bit his lip and pushed past the flaps and into the hut. Mostly dark now with dusk having fallen. Just shadows and small sounds and the faint smells of oiled leather, and moldy straw and that vague airborne scent of sex.

"Ryo?" he asked in a small, worried voice. He stumbled towards the pallet. Hit his shin and grimaced. The wrist was starting to scream at him in bright red tones that he saw rather than heard. He sat down hard and repeated.

"Ryo, you okay?"

"I'm fine. Go the hell away, Sai."

Wonderful. Two foul moods.

"What just happened with Seiji? Is this whole mad world infecting us, now?"

A moment's silence. Then a heavy sigh. "I have no freakin' idea. I can't even begin to ---" He broke off, drawing a shaky breath. "God, Sai, I don't know."

Sai's eyes adjusted. Sai leaned forward to squint at Ryo. He had the blankets pulled up around him, but his eyes were wide, staring ceilingward. There was blood on his face too, a trail of it at the edge of his mouth.

"Ryo! What did he do?"

Ryo shook his head. "Nothing --- just --nothing."

Which was a flat out lie and Sai knew it and didn't know how to accuse otherwise.

"Hey, did he tell ya?" The flap burst back and Kento barged in with Rowan on his heels. Ryo drew a breath and threw an arm over his eyes, blocking out the lot of them for a brief moment. Then he asked without moving the arm. "Tell me what?"

""bout the gate maybe still being there." Kento said, cheerfully oblivious to the tension in the air. Rowan was sharper. Rowan stopped at the edge of the pallet, staring between Ryo and Sai with narrowed eyes.

"What's goin' on?" he asked, low voice, skeptical tone.

"For cryin' out loud," Ryo snapped, anger and frustration overwhelming the shell shocked mood he'd been in when Sai had found him. "Nothing's wrong, okay?"

Kento blinked. "Huh?"

"It was Seiji weirdin' out again, wasn't it? What'd he fuckin' do?" Rowan didn't skip a beat. He leaned forward and met Ryo's glare. Ryo broke the stare first. Ryo's stubbornness was tempered by his ailment, while Rowan's had no impediment. Ryo was blushing. Ryo refused to meet his look. It took Rowan about ten seconds to put two and two together.

"He did not come in here and ---"

"Rowan, just drop it. Its none of your business, okay?" Sullen hurt from Ryo. A great deal of embarrassment. Casual discussion of sex in general made him nervous, much less his own sexual activities with Seiji.

"What'd Seiji do?" Kento was still lagging.

"I told you he was acting strange from the day he went into that cave with you, Kento. Just goddamned weird. And if any of you tell me you didn't notice him being totally whacked out after we got Ryo out of little Egypt, you're blind."

"Well -- Just a little." Kento admitted, "But I thought it was ---"

"I know what you thought, and you were wrong." Rowan snapped.

"What's the matter with him?" Ryo asked softly.

"Man, I wish I knew. But he's been mood changing worse than Sibyl on crack."

"I think --" Sai said, because it was becoming just a little more painful than he could easily endure without somebody doing something about it. "-- he broke my wrist."

Rowan's eyes got particularly round and the words that exploded out of his mouth were enough to make a body cringe. Then Rowan was storming out of the hut. Kento swept a bewildered, panicked glance over Ryo and Sai, then scrambled to follow. Sai moaned, wishing he hadn't said anything. Ryo was struggling to sit up, looking very much like he wanted to go after Rowan and Kento. He also looked rather like he was on the verge of fainting. Sai stabbed his good hand at him, drawing his brows in his best authoritarian stare.

"You just stay there. I'm not picking you up off the floor with a broken wrist."

"But, Sai ---"

"I'm on it. I'm on it."

At which he heaved himself up off the pallet and hurried in the footsteps of his friends. Through the village, which was one large dark series of shadows now, save for the large bonfire in the center. He looked for the familiar shapes of Rowan and Kento. Saw Kento finally heading towards the edge of the fire, and ran that way. Caught up enough with him to see Rowan not far ahead of him, and what the both of them were heading for.

Seiji who stood apart from the villagers a little bit away from the fire. Seiji who was unaware of Rowan's approach. Who was plainly unaware of anything until Rowan stalked up, snatching an arm length limb set for the fire as he walked, and without hesitation or warning, swung it full tilt at Seiji's head. Seiji might very well have caught the hind end of that movement, for he started to turn, which only moved the point of contact from ear to jaw. It was a hard enough hit that Sai heard it from his distance behind them. It sent Seiji back a good two yards and when he hit the ground he did not move thereafter. Which might have been a good thing or a bad thing, considering Rowan was still holding the limb and still bristling.

Sai rather thought, that with the look on Kento's face and Rowan's palpable rage, it was the former. But of course, that remained to be seen.



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