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A Price For Madness

by P L Nunn


Chapter Seven


A psychotic interlude


Snip. And a digit went tumbling to the blood spattered floor. A clean sheered bone where the second joint of a man's index finger had been became quickly obscured by blood. There were a few other chunks of discarded flesh and bone littering the concrete. The man might have screamed save for the gag stuffed down his throat. He made pitiful squealing noises regardless. Like a frightened piglet crying for the sow that had borne it.

The amputator giggled -- at the blood -- at the pain -- and chose another finger to ravage. Another stifled shriek and the air was filled with fear/terror/dread.

It wasn't enough to get Shuldig off. His mind was on other things. Things that it shouldn't have been on in the midst of a business transaction. The things that Farfarello was doing, were just not holding his attention. It wasn't this man's fear/terror/dread that he wanted. This game was not the one he preferred to play. Not while there were so many infinitely more interesting things he might be doing.

But he was half a continent away from his rather's, at Crawford's command and there was damned little to be done about it, other than finish the job quickly so he might return to his leisure time pursuits.

The muffled screams went mysteriously quiet. The sounds of Farfarello's amusement did. With an effort of will, Shuldig directed his attention back to the bloody body tied to the chair in a cluttered corner of a British warehouse. The man's head was slumped, his eyes bulging, his breathing quite noticeably ceased. There was no more fear/terror/dread in the air. Farfarello stood before the body, observing it clinically, a certain stumped curiosity on his face. His hands and arms were blood smeared. Shuldig was relatively free of it himself.

"What happened?" he asked.

"He stopped." Farfarello answered simply.

"You weren't supposed to kill him, yet. There were things we needed from him first."

Farfarello shrugged. It was Shuldig's fault. He was supposed to be the one with the leash on his rather insane, very blood-thirsty compatriot. He was supposed to be the one who sensed when enough was enough and called a halt to it.

He'd been daydreaming about more pleasant things. About things that looked better in blood than this aging brokerage agent who had given certain names of certain very powerful individuals, a portion of whose assets he had laundered, to certain nosy people in Interpol. They hadn't wanted to sift through lies and had thought to soften him up before they posed the important questions to him. It made for more interesting answers.

He said something foul in German under his breath and Farfarello cocked his head at him quizzically.

"Bad heart." Was the one eyed young man's assessment of the situation. "It didn't give him much staying power."

"Crawford's gonna fucking kill us." Shuldig felt for a pulse that he knew wasn't there. "You little, fucking psychopath -- you bled him to death. Bad heart my, ass."

Another shrug. Farfarello didn't much care one way or another. He mourned the loss of a victim. "Its not my fault. You were the one who was supposed to know when he'd had enough. He won't blame me, now will he?"

That was a fair deduction. It was more effort at reasoning out such things than Farfarello usually made. He was a creature that lived very much by the moment. He had a sly, cruel smile on his lips and it was directed at Shuldig.

"You little --- don't even think it." Shuldig grasped his lapels, dragging him forward. Farfarello put up no resistance, but the sick little smile remained.

"What do you think he'll do, if he finds out what you've been doing with the Weiss kitty? Wonder what he'll do when he finds out you didn't kill it when you had the chance. Bet'cha he'll be pissed. Bet'cha he makes you hurt for it. Maybe I can watch."

"Little shit." Shuldig shoved him away and Farfarello giggled. "He won't find out, because you won't tell him."

"Maybe I won't. Maybe I will. Depends on my mood."

"I'll kill you. You think I won't?"

"No. Can you?" An interested quark of the head. "Why don't you just kill him and get it over with? He's a dangerous kitty to have by the tail. The rest of them are."

"No. And its not your business what I do."

"Crawford won't think so."

"Fuck Crawford."

A giggle. Farfarello licked a wet smear of blood off the back of his hand. Shuldig didn't like feeling defensive. Especially with Farfarello who sensed that sort of thing with almost as emphatic an ability as Shuldig. He glared and straightened his jacket.

"Open your mouth and what I do to you won't hurt long enough for you to enjoy."

A snicker. A shrug. Farfarello didn't care about that either. Death was not a thing he found threatening. Pain wasn't. He was a hard creature to threaten, when there was nothing he held dear.

"All right. All right." Shuldig was thinking out loud. Disgusted at the delay when he wanted to get back to more interesting things. "He has a wife. He's bound to have told her certain things. Lets go talk to her, shall we?"

Farfarello was game. Fresh blood and a new victim made his one eye glitter with anticipation.

Early afternoon and Omi slipped downstairs to get onto the computer, after sleeping the morning away. It was a waste, but he was tired, he'd been up late every night looking for leads. He dreamed the internet sometimes when he slept, he dreamed of endlessly pursing electronic avuenes and coming up against static dead ends.

At the door to the rec-room he hesitated, seeing Aya asleep on the couch. He chewed his lip in uncertainty until Aya slitted his eyes open and fixed him with his amethyst gaze.

"Oh, I didn't mean to wake you up." Omi apologized.

Aya pushed himself up, shirtless, in black sweatpants that hung low about his slim hips. He took a moment to gather his wits, running a hand through sleep tousled hair, sitting there merely breathing for a heartbeat or two while he chased sleep from his brain. Aesthetically, he was nice to look at. He flowed when he moved, like a dancer or a cat on the prowl. He slipped on a loose white shirt that he'd had folded across the arm of the couch, as he padded towards the computer, beckoning Omi to follow.

"I found something last night. Maybe. It might be a dead end. I want you to look at it anyway." He sat down before the keyboard and Omi leaned over his shoulder.

"A car was found yesterday, abandoned with fresh blood stains in the front seat outside a town called West River Wharf. About twenty-three years ago a girl from that same town was killed in the city at a popular highschool make-out spot."

Omi's brows shot up and he got suddenly very interested. "That can't be coincidence."

"I didn't think so either. With what you said the killer said to you -- I thought perhaps -- her father. But he died mid-eighties."

"I don't think he was that old." Omi said. "Despite how messed up he looked, he couldn't have been more than forty -- if that."

"Look at the picture anyway." Aya brought up a newspaper photograph. Not a particularly good one. "Can you focus this and get a close up?" he tilted his head to look up at Omi questioningly.

Omi shrugged and shooed him out of the chair. "Maybe. Let me see what I can do." Aya moved for him and pulled up another chair to watch him work. In short order he'd managed to get a clear, close up view of the haggard looking man in the photo. Omi sat with his chin in his palm and studied it. Then he shook his head.

"No. Definitely not. It's still too coincidental to ignore, though. Okay, if this girl was killed twenty-three years ago, and I'm certain the killer isn't more than thirty-five or forty -- then it probably isn't the same killer. If it is someone connected to her, then twenty years is an awful long time to be holding a grudge."

"Unless he couldn't do anything about it until now. Besides which, the first killings were a few years back."

Omi scanned the contents of the articles regarding the girl's murder. She'd been pretty, but even in the school picture the paper had used, there was a sadness in her eyes. A beaten down, hopeless look. The look of a victim. Omi shivered and looked back at the photo of the funeral. Read the caption at the bottom, saying who was who in the family. Father, son, cousins, friends. The father looked tired, face long and haggard. The son looked as if his world had collapsed out from under him. Omi blinked and leaned closer to the screen

"What was the brother's name?"

"Ummm, Edward Patrick Phillipe, I think." Aya supplied.

"He'd be the right age now." Omi typed the name into the search engine and came up with a list of articles.

The first one mentioned a family disturbance in 1981 where the police had been called to the Phillipe house to break up a violent dispute between father and son. The second was in 1986 when Edward Phillipe had taken his girlfriend and her sister hostage in her house and held them at gunpoint for two days while the local police had surrounded the house. He'd tried to kill himself before he was taken and failed, the bullet only grazing his face. He had been institutionalized after that. Two years later he'd been released and returned to West River Wharf only to get into trouble again. This time burning down the house he'd grown up in. Unfortunately the family that had been living in the house at the time was asleep inside. Three dead. Edward had been reinstitutoinalized, found to be delusional and disassociate.

Omi looked at the last picture the paper had printed of Edward Phillipe, a police photo, and felt a little chill race up his spine.

"Maybe." He said softly. "It could be him."

Ken hit the mat with a thud and Yohji crowed victory, scrambling to take advantage of the vulnerable position. He met Ken's knee and shortly there afterwards Ken's fist flying for his face. He avoided the knee and narrowly missed getting clocked by the second. It gave Ken the time he needed to get to his feet and put distance between them. Ken was quick and agile, but Yohji had the longer reach. They worked out nice as sparring partners.

The mats on the floor saved them both nasty bruises and possible broken bones. The best thing about this building was the third floor gym. The whole floor was one huge wall-less space with smoked glass floor to ceiling warehouse windows that let gray light into the room. They used it as a practice room. Half the floor was covered in thick tumbling mats. The other half smooth wood flooring. Aya liked to practice on hard surfaces.

In the interim, while Omi and Aya were cloistered about the computer hunting down their lead, there was nothing to do but put in a little practice. They had both worked up an honest sweat. Yohji flopped down onto the mats after Ken had gotten in a good shot and lay there, rubbing the throbbing spot on his leg.

"I wish I could have kicked ass on those two bastards that attacked that girl. They so deserved it." Ken slammed a fist into the mat and sat there, one arm hooked about his knee, staring down at the indent in the mat.

"Yeah." Yohji agreed. "They'll get theirs sooner or later."

"I'd rather it was sooner. I should have hunted the bastards down before the cops got there and given them a little something back. The son of a bitches were even gonna try and make a go at Omi."

Yohji laughed. "Wouldn't they have gotten the surprise of their lives. He did look cute. Best date you've had all year, huh?"

Ken swung a startled, indignant glare his way. "Shut up, Yohji. It wasn't supposed to fucking happen!!"

Yohji blinked. "What wasn't supposed to happen --? Where are you going?"

Ken shoved to his feet, scowling. "Nothing. Doesn't matter."

"Damn, you're touchy. Its like talking to Aya. What's the matter?"

"Nothing. Jeeze, you're into everybody's business."

"Everybody's business? As in the three of you, who make up the entirety of my social calendar? Yeah. So what? Find me somebody else to associate with who doesn't wanna either kill me, have me kill somebody, or who I'm gonna kill ---"

Ken hesitated, still glaring, but there was an uncertain frown to go along with it. The frown grew deeper when Yohji added one last thing to his list.

" --- or somebody who's not gonna end up dead from the association."

"Fuck." Ken said quietly and Yohji smiled wryly.

"Yeah, that about sums it up."

"Fuck." Ken said again and flopped back down next to Yohji. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

"Ooookay." Yohji propped himself up on an elbow.

"The other night -- when we were like -- trying to keep our cover and all -- the first thing that came to mind was to look like we were making out -- and -- and our timing was off and -- I think Omi sort of liked it and -- damn it Yohji, I don't know what the hell to do about it -- he came up to me and asked me what had happened and -- I just flipped out on him and -- this is sooo fucked up -- and I didn't mean for it to happen ---"

"uuhhh, what exactly did you do that Omi sort of liked?"

Ken turned red. From ear to ear his skin flushed hot. He dropped his eyes like a ten year school girl talking about her first kiss on the playground.

"We sort of accidentally kissed."

"You accidentally -- wait a minute -- were there tongues involved?"

"That's none of your damn business." Ken flared, balling a fist threateningly. Yohji's head was spinning. He was quite, quite astonished, and there were so few things that astonished him nowadays -- not withstanding his own lustful thoughts about a certain redhead.

"So there were tongues involved."

"Fuck you. Yes, there were tongues involved. Sick bastard."

"At least I'm not a pedifile."

"He's fucking 17, you prick." Ken blushed again, blinking at his own defense of making out with Omi.

"In some countries --'

"Oh shut up. I don't know why I even brought it up to you."

"Did you like it, too?"

Ken took a shaky breath. "I -- I dunno. I've had worse kisses. For a second there -- it wasn't Omi -- well, not the Omi I always think about -- not the one that sits in front of the computer all day and pirates software -- I mean, it wasn't like it was Omi the guy -- or even like I was thinking of him as a girl -- it was just --"

"Comfortable? Safe?"

"Yeah." Hollowly said. "Maybe. How fucked up is that?"

How could he answer that and not seem the hypocrite or not give away the root of his own embarrassment/shame/uncertainty. How could he even begin to fathom how they'd managed to come up this road at the same time. Like somehow they had become such a well-oiled, analogous machine; so synchronized with one another that all their paths had begun to merge. Maybe it was karma. Or fate, if there was a difference. Depended on from what cultural standpoint one looked at it, he supposed.

"Maybe not that fucked up. Maybe-- it's better than nothing."

"Oh, right, this coming from you. Don't make me laugh."

"Listen, I'm not saying, go fuck Omi or anything -- it's just that sometimes you gotta have something. You gotta be close to something or you end up -- cold. And miserable."

Ken laughed. A Desperate sound. "Yohji, have you ever had thoughts like that about another guy?"

He didn't know why he said it. Maybe because Ken was being so blatantly honest with him. Maybe he just wasn't thinking. Maybe at that moment, as that question was posed, he was thinking about Aya's skin and the feel of Aya's hair and those all too brief moments when there was something vulnerable in his eyes that wanted Yohji to shore up his failing defenses. "- - - - - Just one."

Ken blinked at him. Ken hadn't been expecting that answer. He stared at Yohji, and a sudden common ground opened up.

The door to the gym swung open. Aya stood there with his hand on the knob, a pleased expression on his face.

"We know who he is."

Three days had passed since Omi had wounded their prey on the old church grounds. Three days for him to lick his wounds and maybe start contemplating the shedding a little blood. Three days for him to do nothing but think about getting his fix.

They knew what to look for now. They had a face to put to their prey and Omi and Ken were out patrolling the dance clubs looking for a sign of him. Aya and Yohji were on an information gathering quest. They'd undertaken the long drive out to West River Wharf to get a little solid information about Edward Phillip from the town he'd grown up in. The town he was probably skirting the edges of in his dementia. He'd gone back in the past and he'd go back again. He was following a pattern in both his murders and his migration. He'd been in and out of mental hospitals for the last twenty years. With a name to go on, they'd finally tracked down the last institution that had released him into the world. They'd come up with evidence but not reasoning. To track a madman, the latter was often more important than the former.

The road out could barely be classified as a highway. It was senic though. A long, quiet drive with nothing but the soothing tones of Yohji's favorite few new cd's to cover the purr of the engin and the whipping of the wind through the windows. Yohji's attempted conversations had been met with silance. Aya was in mission mode and nothing interfered with that. Focased, and silent and unsocial.

And maybe a little wary of Yohji's presense. Yohji picked up a bit of that, during the times when he had nothing better to do than sink into his seat and covertly watch Aya from under the cover of dark sun glasses. When his stare would get too intense and Aya would flick his eyes his way and tighten his lips in aggitation. He wouldn't snipe at him to quit it. He'd just turn his gaze back to the road and pretend Yohji wasn't in the car. And Yohji would grin behind his collar, happy that he'd gotten under Aya's skin. Forcing Aya into even quick flashes of emotion was a victory.

The road eventually began to run parrall to the river, and they sped by the occassional barge or fishing boat. The town, when they got to it, was outdated and rustic. The smokestacks of the factory across the river lent the air a thick, hazy quality. It was a struggling industrial town, on its last leg as the factory found it harder and harder to compete with modern facilities. When it shut down, it would signal the death of this place. But for now, it was still struggling. Still going about its day to day process of survivial.

Even though a river seperated them, West and East River Wharf were basically one town. There was a ferry that made hourly trips across the river, carrying people to and from the factory and the buisiness on the far side. The town record's hall and the sherrif's office were across the river. Edward phillipe had lived in West River Wharf. His neighbors were there, the places he might have frequented as a young man were there.

They split up. Yohji took the ferry across the river to do a little scouring of town records. Aya stayed on the west side to drive about and find the old neighborhood.

"I always knew that boy would come to no good." The tottering old woman who lived down the street from the vacent lot where the phillipe house had once stood said, after squinting blindly at Aya's very official looking city police identification. Most of the people he'd talked with either didn't remember Edward or they hadn't known him well enough to comment one way or the other.

"Why do you say that?" he asked.

The old woman spat something thick and repulsive onto the sagging front porch, a few scant inches from Aya's shoes. He fought the urge to sidle away from the yellowish flim.

"Just a perculiar boy. The sister was too, before she died. Both of 'em quiet and shy, but you'd look into his eyes and just see violence churning around inside that head of his. Not surprising considering that father of theirs. Odd bird that one. He beat that boy. I know that for a fact. Might have beat the girl too, afore the mother come back and took her off to the city for schoolin'."

"She didn't take the son?"

"Different mama. She died having him, if I recall. Father didn't let either one of them out of the house much, god knows what he was doing to them in there. Bad things, if you ask me."

"Abuse? Molestation?"

The old woman shrugged bony shoulders. "You didn't hear it from me. I'm not one to know such things -- but maybe. Like I said -- he was a strange bird, their papa -- afore he died."

"After the father died -- before Edward was institutionalized the first time -- did he have any particular friends that he might still be in contact with?"

"I wouldn't know. The young men stopped paying me heed fifty years past. He used to work at the tavern down on main street before he started getting into all that trouble though. His old girlfriend still works there. The Wetspot, they call it. Ask her."

The Wetspot. Charming. The old woman had been more helpful than he had hoped though. Much more helpful than the other two dozen people he'd tried to sqeeze information out of. He had insight now that he hadn't before. He started formulating theories in his head even as he drove back into the business district of town. It was getting cool with evening. The streets were marginally more busy with traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular as people got off from work and hurried to run their errends before the stores closed. The tavern was open all night, as the flickering neon sign in the front window proclaimed.

There were no parking spaces out front, but a battered tin sign claimed that there were more around back. He rang Yohji on the cell to let him know where he was in case the other was on his way back across the river. Yohji claimed to be back within the hour.

Aya went into the tavern and found himself immediately immersed in a world of country music, dim lighting, the smells of chewing tobacco and cigarette smoke and a great many, sweaty loud bodies, taking their relaxation after a hard day's work at the factory. A few couples danced to the strains of juke box music. Thank god he hadn't worn anything obviously fashionable. He would have stood out like a sore thumb. Even so, his black blazer and high necked black sweater put him in a class above the rest of the crowd. Or maybe it was the fact that he was a stranger amongst a bar full of people that were on a first name basis. He got stares. He was used to them.

He pushed his way through to the bar, signalling the bartender. The man waddled over, swinging a dirty towel over his shoulder.

"I'm looking for a woman named Jeanette Kordoux. She works here?"

The bartender stared at him, deadpan. "You drinking?"

"I'm looking for --" Aya stopped, realizing that wasn't the answer the man was looking for. "A soda please."

The man's face twitched in disdain. Aya met the gaze and repeated. "Pepsie, coke, I don't care. Is she here?"

"She's working."

"Then send her over with the drink." Aya gestured across the room, turned his back on the bartender and slipped through the crowd to a small, wobbly unoccupied table. It took a damned long time for the woman to show up. She came bearing a tray loaded with frothy mugs of beer, displaying the casual balance of an accomplished waitress. She was used up looking. Too much makeup made her look the floozy. Too tight pants and tee shirt told painfully just how far past her prime she was. The patron's here didn't seem to mind. She waded through them, calling names as she went, flirting here and there, ruling her small world.

She stopped in front of Aya with an accessing look. He was new to her world. He was fresh and vital and quite obviously beyond her abilty to captivate with her failing charms.

"Coke?" Her mouth twitched in uncertainty.

He nodded and she sat it down before him.

"Wait a minute. Can I ask you a few questions?"

She blinked at him.


"About an old boyfriend of yours. Edward Phillipe."

Her eyes narrowed. "Eddie." She sneered. "That crazy bastard. I don't wanna talk about him."

"It's important."

"Why? Who are you?"

He pulled out his false police id and she frowned even more. "I gotta deliver these drinks. I'll be right back."

He sighed and let her melt into the crowd. He dragged the soda over and sipped at it through the straw. He'd downed half of it before she came back with an empty tray and perched on the chair opposite him, leaning close to whisper conspiritorily.

"What's he done now? He's not back here is he?"

"I don't know. He's suspected of crimes in the city. I'm not at liberty to discuss."

"Nothing he did would surprise me. Not after what he did to me. He's one fucked up son of a bitch, let me tell you."

"If he were to come back here, and it's likely he might -- is there anyplace in particular he might hold up? Anyplace secretive that he might feel comfortable in?"

"I don't know. Only place he ever went regular was his sister's grave."

"Was he close to her?"

"He worshipped her. She was sort of a buffer between him and his old man. When she was gone -- he just lost it. He stopped going to school for a year. Never did finish high school. I felt sorry for him for the longest time. Its probably why I started dating the bastard. He got a little better when his old man died, but after a while -- I just couldn't take it anymore. He was nuts. Just plain crazy. He burned up his old house. To this day, I'll bet money that he thought his daddy was in it."

"Did he have any other friends around ----- town." The last word came out a little slow. It sort of echoed in his head. The woman shrugged and said something that didn't quite register in his brain. He saw her lips moving and heard the sounds but beyond that it was all garbled. It was the oddest thing, really. He had to concentrate for the words to begin to make sense.

"I have to get back to work." She was rising to go. He gave her a vague smile and nodded. There were other things he wanted to ask her, but at the moment they'd slipped his mind. He was cold. A little while ago it had been sweltering with the heat of so many bodies, and now he was shivering. He lifted a hand to his forehead, wondering if he was sick. Wondering what the hell had triggered it.

The grain of the pitted table top facinated him. He stared at the patterns, tracing the rutts with his fingertips, making wet little designs in the condensation left by his glass. He dipped his finger into the coke for more liquid and the glass toppled over. Cold soda and ice spilled off the edge of the table, soaking the side of his pants leg. He stared at it, hardly feeling the cold or the wet and very slowly stood up. The room reeled. The colors and the movements blurred together like some twisted stop motion photography.

He felt the beginnings of nausea. The beginnings of a indistinct, far away sort of fear. Nothing so spontaneous as panic, his head felt too sluggish for that, but the apprehension seeped in amongst the garbled avenues his thoughts were careening about. He had to get out of this place. He took a staggering step and crashed into somebody's shoulder. An irrate voice complained at him. His tounge was too thick in his mouth to form words of apology. Somebody put hands on him, slid them onto his shoulders and around his waist, forcing him to turn inside the circle of those arms. He couldn't focus on the face. Couldn't focas on much of anything at the moment. He smelled the faint scent of expensive cologne, felt the brush of expensive material, perceived a flash of pale skin and ridiculously green hair. Something was said to him. Something that had a meaning maybe -- but Aya couldn't work up the effort to care.

Hallo, der saugling. A breath in his ear. A hand that ran the length of his back and pressed him into a body that was by far stabler than his own. He didn't fight it. Couldn't make enough sense of it to fight it. He shut his eyes to fight off the dizziness.

Did you miss me? Don't answer. You won't remember it anyway.

Reasonable enough directions. He was willing at the moment to let someone else take the lead.

They collided with someone and angry words were muttered.

Why don't you take that somewhere else? This ain't that sort of place. He couldn't comprehend the meaning.

Mind your business. A soft, dangerous hiss from above his ear. We'll be gone soon enough.

He got manuvered into darkness. Into a cluttered, close place where he was pushed against a wall. He hardly had the strength in his legs to hold his body upright and began a floorward slid. He got caught and pulled back up, the body was back against him, a knee between his legs and hands on his clothing.

Just a few marks so you know it wasn't all a dream, yes? Mouth on the flesh below his jaw, the sharp indention of teeth. The pain was a distant thing. The hands that slid under his sweater were. The cold air on his skin made more of an impression.

So you can go home and wonder what happened and who had their hands on you. The arm around his waist pulled him forward. His head lilted backwards and a hand tangled in his hair. So complacent. We'll have to play like this again. For now lets see what we can do with that pretty mouth --

There was an echoing rapping. The walls shook. No the door did.

What are you doing in there? You can't do that here. Take that perversion somewhere else -- and worse things. Names called. He couldn't understand the emotion. The anger.

The hands slid from him clothes, from his flesh with a muttered curse.

Der mistkerl.

The door slammed open, or maybe it was pulled from the inside. There were the sounds of muffled impacts. The sound of human pain. He pushed himself to the doorframe, trying to get his bearings. Trying to focas enough to take himself from the kalidoscope of violance that was taking place around him. There was blood. It smeared red across his vision and someone's scream followed it. He staggered down the narrow hall between the bar and what might have been the kitchen.

Outside where the shadow's of dusk threw the back parking lot into darkness. Where his car was a black shape in the night. His eyes weren't adjusting to the dimness like they should. He made it to the car and pulled on the handel. It was locked. It took him a few fuzzy moments to make the connection between locked car door and the keys that would open it in his pocket. He fumbled for the key and inserted it into the lock. It wouldn't turn. He'd thought it was the right one. He pulled it out and looked. Blurry as his vision was, he was certain it was the key. He tried again and it wouldn't budge. He leaned against the door, baffled. The nausea was beginning to catch up with him, and the cold. He coudn't make his head stop spinning.

Aya? What the fuck's going on in there? A voice out of the shadows. A figure striding towards him like it had a purpose. A vaguely familiar figure. He vainly tried to turn the key again and thought or said or imagined himself complaining of it; I can't open the door, before the world slid away.

Yohji had found out things that were interesting, but hardly vital, as far as he was concerned. His eyes hurt from scouring old records. His feet hurt from walking all over East River Wharf. On the ferry ride back he'd shared the boat with a dump truck overflowing with garbage. It had been a wonderful trip. Aya had sounded as if he'd had better luck. Aya had sounded pleased with himself.

He'd shown up at the front of the Wetspot Tavern and walked into what was very obvoiusly a brawl. He avoided it, he was reasonably certain Aya would as well. Aya's car wasn't out front, so he walked around to the rear to see if it might be there. It was. Aya was, leaning over the lock with one shoulder propped against the side of the car.

"Aya? What the fuck's going in there?" he asked.

Aya's gaze swung towards him sluggishly. His eyes were unreadable in the shadows. The way he was holding himself was -- odd.

"I can't -- open -- the door." He murmered. Yohji could barely hear him. The words were slurred, disjointed. He knew something was dreadfully wrong even before Aya began to slid down the side of the car.

Yohji skidded to his knees next to Aya, catching him before he could completely crumple to the dirt of the parking lot, propping him up against the car door and grasping his jaw to make him focas on Yohji's face.

"Aya! Aya, snap out of it. What's wrong. What happened to you?"

Aya merely blinked at him, large eyed and disoriented. His pupils were so huge, only a thin ring of purple rimmed the iris of his eyes. He was about as fucked up as Yohji had ever seen a person be. And he sure as hell hadn't done it to himself. Not Aya.

"Shit." He murmered, scanning the shadows for lurking danger. If somebody had done this to Aya, they'd done it for a reason. He didn't care to hang around with Aya in the shape he was in, and find out what that reason might be. He reached over Aya's head to the key. It was frozen in the lock. He beetled his brows and pulled it out, rising to go around to the passenger side and open the door there. The key wouldn't turn in that lock either.

"Shit." He muttered again, beginning to feel vulnerable. Somebody had messed with the locks. A little crazy glue into the mechinism would have done the trick. Obviously someone hadn't wanted Aya going anywhere.

"Okay. Fine." He took out a pocket knife and sliced into the canvas of the fold back roof. Aya would freak when he saw the damage, but drugged out beggers couldn't be choosers.

"C'mon. Get up." He hauled Aya to his feet, got an arm around his waist and a shoulder under his arm and practically carried him around to the passenger side of the car. He didn't even bother trying to get him to climb over the frozen door, just dipped a hand under his knees and bodily lifted him up and over, dropping him into the seat.

His heart was thumping erratically in his chest as he peeled out of the back lot, his hands tight on the wheel. This was unexpected. It was frightening. They'd come here obscurrly to pick up a bit of background information. They weren't supposed to be targets. They hadn't come prepared to defend themselves against attack. Hadn't had the time to slip into that critical mindset.

Who the fuck had doped Aya? This was not the sort of town where one expected roofies in the drinks. He took a breath to calm himself, glancing over at Aya slumped against the door. Too damn still. He reached out a hand on impulse to check for a pulse. It was there, steady and slow. Aya's skin was a little cool. He slid his hand up to brush some of the hair away from Aya's eyes. Dark lashes fluttered against pale cheeks.

"Aya? Can you hear me?"

Nothing. Aya was well and truly out now. The town was behind him now, nothing more than the smoke from its factories indicating that it was there at all. Yohji pulled over to the weed cluttered curb and leaned over the gear shift to give Aya a more thorough inspection. He pulled him up by the shoulders and gently slapped his cheeks, looking for some indication of how far he'd plunged under the surface of consciousness.

A miserable moan. Aya listlessly turned his head and attempted to raise an arm to fend off the blows. Then his body convulsed and his eyes slitted open. He was going to vomit. Yohji knew that look, and that reaction. With reflexes born of fighting off one too many sick hangovers himself, he got Aya over the window and held onto him while he emptied his stomach into the overgrown roadside.

Aya leaned bonelessly against him while Yohji cleaned him up with a handkercheif. There was nothing in his half open eyes even suggesting free will.

"Aya?" Gently, he turned Aya's face up to him. "Can you remember what happened. Who slipped you the mickey?" If it was the sort of drug he suspected, he needed to ask the questions now, for chances were Aya wouldn't remember once he came out of it. Aya wasn't up to cooperation. His eyes slid shut and he pressed his face into Yohji's shoulder, the fingers of one hand weakly clutching Yohji's lapel. What would have happened, he wondered morbidly, if he hadn't shown up when he did. If he'd been twenty minutes later would Aya have just been -- gone. Swallowed up by the night and whatever sick bastard had done this to him.

Yohji ground his teeth and went through a mental inventory of every curse he knew. This was going too fucking far. Somebody was going to pay. If it was the stalker who'd left the cat in the bed, the roses in the car, the telephone calls and who knew what else that Aya wasn't talking about -- then Yohji seriously thought their priorities needed to be reexamined. Some major effort needed to be put into finding the sick fuck and putting an end to this.

He stewed over it the whole ride home. Aya slept the trip away. Yohji called Ken a half hour out from the city to let him know what was going on. To warn him and Omi that unexpected shit was hitting the fan and they'd better start thinking about doing something to clean it up.

Ken and Omi trotted out to met him when he pulled up behind their building, the both of them grim faced and worried.

"How'd it happen?' Ken wanted to know, peering over the door at Aya even as Yohji cut the engin and hopped over his own door to stride around the car.

"He followed us. Must have. Damned if I saw anybody on the road behind us, though."

"Maybe a tracer on Aya's car." Omi suggested and Yohji lifted a brow in serious consideration.

"Check it out, will you?" He shooed Ken out of the way and reached down to retreive Aya.

"Should we take him to the hospital?" Omi asked.

"He'll sleep it off." He hoped. He damned well better. Yohji straightened, grunting under Aya's dead weight.

"You need help--?" Ken offered.

"No. Get the door for me."

Inside and he faced the daunting challenge of the stairs. Had to crab-walk sideways up them so as not to bang Aya's head or have his feet get in the way.

"My room." He said when Omi ran ahead to open Aya's door. That other room wasn't Aya's anymore. It had been stolen -- desacrated. It belonged to somebody else. Having Aya wake up in it coming down off of this insidious attack was something Yohji wouldn't tolerate.

Between Omi and himself, they got Aya's shoes off, his jacket and the sweater with was flaked with bits of dried vomit. In divesting him of the latter, yohji noticed a mark below his jaw. A smear of red bruising that upon closer inspection proved to be a perfectly engraved bite mark.

"Son of a bitch." He murmmered, and Omi leaned over Aya to see. Almost he shielded the sight of it from the boy, for some reason wanting to protect Aya's privacy, wanting to sheild him from casual knowledge of what had been done. Aya held his injuries close. As far as Yohji knew, he'd never told anyone else about the rape.

"There are marks here too." Omi said softly, gently brushing his fingers over Aya's ribcage. Nail-marks this time. Three deeper gouges, one faint one running down Aya's left side. They'd bled a little, but not much. Yohji sat there and blinked, thinking hard and fast. Whoever it had been, had had at him inside that tavern. Had drugged him and gotten close enough to leave his marks. Yohji wondered if the brawl he'd almost walked into had somehow been connected. He wondered if anyone in that hick bar had seen anything of interest. Aya was memerable at the worst of times. Maybe the creep who'd been close enough to him to do this might stand out in someone's memory as well.

There was nothing to do but ask.

"Omi," he asked. "Find me a number, will you"



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