With a dose of French charm and fast talking Osaka-ben, Touma and Nasti wrangled three plane tickets leaving the next day from Kansai International. Shuu and Shin were less lucky at Narita; the later flight time became an acceptable trade-off when they confirmed that Ryo had gotten tickets to the same flight.
Touma slept on the plane to LAX. In the line for customs, he made a deal with Nasti to handle the bags while she handled Jun. A frantic run for the connecting flight. When Nasti wasn’t looking, he popped a sleeping pill with his scotch, and slept on the plane to La Guardia.
He had no dreams. But Tenku hummed in his ear the whole way.
They grabbed an overpriced breakfast at the airport and went directly to the newspaper office. Touma tried to be excited - it was New York after all, and oh, there was the Empire State Building, there was Times Square and what were those bums doing to car windshields? - but he couldn’t. Beyond a few indicated landmarks to Jun, the city passed by and left only the impression of lead under his ribs.
The wind rushed between the skyscrapers like a spectral river. Tenku was no help. He could feel the armor whispering back to the towering shadows and it made him feel empty.
The office was easy to find, fortunately. Jun hurried after the older two, and as usual stated the obvious. "It’s a good thing we caught Ryo-niichan, or he’d be missing too."
Nasti made an aggrieved noise and agreed.
Touma traced the line of the building up to the sky. "We couldn’t just leave him... especially if Seiji’s armor was here." Oh, right, if Rekka can’t stand up to him, could Tenku? Could I? Touma hushed his inner critic.
Fortunately there was a lot to keep him busy. Nasti was all right at English, but only translated from French; so he swallowed his nerves and dredged up the pronunciation exercises to talk to the reporter. They found out the photographer was a freelancer, so it was off to find him. Touma made a call from a payphone while Jun fidgeted and Nasti yawned.
Touma was too keyed up to sleep. He didn’t want to know what he might dream.
"You and Jun go to the hotel, and I’ll check out Columbia University, then go see the photographer guy."
She raised her brows. "Ne, Touma, let us go to the university and ask about the Date sword. That’s too much work."
He didn’t quite meet her eyes. "But you’re both jet-lagged. This isn’t like Tokyo, you have to keep on your toes."
"Oh please. I can handle myself in Paris, and I can handle myself in New York. Besides, you won’t be able to make the subways before dark, and we’re supposed to meet Shin and Shuu in the evening."
"We’ll be all right, Touma-niichan!" Jun piped up.
Touma pulled Nasti aside. "Nee-chan, what if you run into Seiji?"
"What?" She blinked at him.
"That was Korin no yoroi on the television. You’ll be undefended."
Nasti drew herself up. "Look, Touma, the university is full of people. There’s security everywhere. Even if... there were something wrong with Seiji, he can’t attack in the middle of a crowded campus." She patted his arm. "We’ll be fine."
Touma swallowed. "There’s a chance it isn’t him. Maybe it’s just a specter, or an illusion..." He shook his head. "Even then, whatever it is would have to be powerful enough to take down Seiji."
"Now you’re being unreasonable. Who’s the historical expert? I know you’re smart, Touma, but I can make an identification on that sword faster than you can. You wouldn’t know where to start."
"I just..." want to find him first. Right now. Before the other guys get here.
"Touma." She put both hands on his shoulders. "Don’t pull a Ryo."
He nodded reluctantly.
"I’ll keep the photographer’s phone number, okay? So if we find anything, you’ll have a message. Then we’ll meet at Shuu’s uncle’s place." She tiptoed and kissed him on the cheek, which predictably made him blush. "Don’t get lost in the subway."
"We will! Come on, Jun."
Touma watched them go. As he turned to leave, the wind gusted at his back, pushing him towards the subway station. He tried to ignore Tenku’s answering call. It rang hollow with the realization that he had not felt Seiji’s bond at all.
The whole thing was a disaster from the get-go. After several futile tries, Touma punched the wrong number on the intercom, and cajoled an old grandmother in his cutest, and possibly most halting English to let him in. He had a headache, he’d sat on some gum in the subway, some lady or someone dressed like a lady had snapped at him for making eye contact, and sh’matta, when was dinner?
Of course this had nothing to do with Tenku humming like a loose wire in a lamp electrode. There had been a flash of tension over the armor bond, probably sparking the headache. Then a wave of placidity which could only have been Shin. Touma did his best to shrug it off. It was bad enough Seiji was missing; besides, the other guys could take care of themselves.
The photgrapher’s door was open, so he called out first. He didn’t want to surprise the guy in the middle of something, after all.
Later he wondered how he hadn’t smelled the blood.
The thick crimson trail lead from the threshold to the chair by the window, as if the man had been staggered or been forced backward when he was stabbed. Red light spilled from the open darkroom. Through all the physical and spiritual tortures of the Youjakai, Touma had never seen actual bloodshed, per se. He rushed forward.
And stopped. The panic and shock drained away into thundering dread. "This wedge..." A tie that bound? Tenku was buzzing angrily, and the next thing Touma noticed was the terrible cold emanating from the body.
From the blade.
His eyes narrowed. This wasn’t some pocket knife or even the sort Ryo used for hunting. It was a bare blade, real rayskin wrapped around the curiously smooth and narrow nakago. A ken or a...
"Touma, are you even paying attention?"
"Yes, Seij. That’s a hira-tsukuri, hamidashi, kanmuri-otoshi, kozuka, umabari-"
Umabari. He wasn’t sure, as it was thicker than usual. Yet it did look like a samurai’s blade.
It felt like a nightmare. Touma almost looked behind him to check if Kujuurou was stalking his shadow. The dagger emanated menace as though penetrating still, through blood, bone, and marrow. Like a black blade through hallowed stone.
Those first moments of startled realization were an eternity. It’s bad enough the guy’s already dead, but this siphon... eating his soul...! Touma had to do something.
Averting his eyes, he grasped the blade. He paled as it came free with a sickening crunch. He was about to examine it, when someone cried out behind him.
Touma jumped. "Who’s there?"
A girl with a dark braided hair stared at him, wide-eyed with fear. Then she yelled at the top of her lungs. "Murderer!"
She turned and ran. Oh shit! Only then did Touma realize that the blade was burning him. Much as a block of ice might burn, or a lover’s touch... Touma flung it away, sprinting after the girl.
Down the rickety steps, out—he scanned the street frantically. Good one, Touma, what if you’re arrested! It would be impossible to find her, and she’d likely accuse him or call the cops. Touma backed into the building, hand coming up to touch his heart. It was thudding sluggishly as though oppressed by some weight.
"My heartbeat should be racing," he murmured to himself, walking back up the stairs as nonchalantly as possible. Tenku promptly obliged. Ever helpful in the weirdest circumstances, his armor. Now in a full-blown panic, he slipped into the apartment, locked the door this time, and stood over the corpse again. The late afternoon gently baked the room where before it had been frigid.
The blade was gone.
"Fingerprints," Touma reminded himself. He gulped. He had placed his hands on the body to dislodge the dagger. He knew he wouldn’t show up in the police database, but if someone called Immigration he was sunk. Tenku, armor of wisdom and the heavens, was no help there.
But he knew how to obscure the evidence. He knew magic which could cloud the physical presence of a thing, from the slightest hint of a scent to a full grown man...
Correction. Worse: Yami’s magic.
Think, Touma, think! One stupid thing is enough for today. Touma closed his eyes. Either way he had to get out soon.
He raised his hands and called for the spirit of darkness.
If anyone saw the brief, blue glow from the upstairs window, they’d have thought it was a camera flash.
Touma dragged himself up the stairs of the Chinatown subway station. Once safely across town, he’d called the police with an anonymous tip. All his energy had gone into putting as many miles of tunnel between him and the crime scene. His stomach grumbled at the appetizing smells, but he went straight to Shuu’s uncle’s restaurant.
Nasti was walking briskly towards him, Jun in tow. She’d done some shopping already, and was swinging a small plastic bag. "I was hoping you hadn’t gotten lost," she said.
"Me? Of course not."
Nasti looked grim. "Come inside, we have to talk."
Touma’s stomach dropped. Not more bad news. He followed her down the street to the restaurant. They were seated at a table before she could relate her story.
It was terrible news. Nasti had wrangled a meeting with the president of Columbia University. He’d told her that there was no such research going on. No record of inviting a student from Japan. No one knew Seiji or knew of him.
It smacked of an elaborate cover story. But would Seiji really have sold his soul for a sword? His grandfather’s collection was already well-known all over Japan. Then again, he did have a thing about pleasing his grandfather.
"I think we’ve been tricked," Touma said lowly.
Nasti and Jun looked shocked. No, not by the university, Touma nearly corrected, but Nasti had a knack for following his train of thought. A trap. It had to be a trap, because it didn’t bear thinking that Seiji himself might be behind this.
Nasti mirrored his pensive frown. "Some entity sent him a fake invitation, to exploit him..."
It was Jun who stated the obvious. "Does that mean Seiji-niichan was kidnapped?!"
Fortunately at that point the food arrived. Along with an ebullient man who introduced himself as Shuu’s Uncle Chin.
Touma eagerly dug in, barely listening to Nasti thank Chin-san for the accommodations and taking care of canceling the hotel they had booked. He’d have to mourn the hotel’s spa later. Right now, he had plates to clean out and questions to mull over.
‘Entity’? It made sense. What ordinary human could trap Korin no Seiji? Even without the armor, Seiji was a hard guy to corner. Only Ryo was more dangerous when it came to hand-to-hand; Shuu surprisingly tended to talk his way out of non-evil-armor-dude confrontations. Then again, no one in their right mind messed with Shuu.
Speaking of Shuu, he and Ryo and Shin had arrived. It was like a burst of firecrackers popping through Touma’s depressed musings. Apparently not even Uncle Chin messed with Shuu. All that for one hand on her shoulder! Touma shared a grin with Ryo over Shuu’s possessiveness of Nasti. Shin stayed well back, sticking close to Ryo, he noted. No need to turn around to see the expression on Shin’s face. Look who’s possessive. Touma was tempted to lay bets as to who would be rooming with Ryo tonight. Biting back at Shuu seemed to be Shin’s big thing these days.
Then a wave of tranquil blue washed over him. It was Suiko. Whatever else was going on, Shin still looked out for his boys. /Are you all right, Touma? You seem tired./
/Just glad to see you guys. And trying to eat up before Shuu calms down./ Truths, but not the answers to Shin’s questions. Touma braced for a worrying.
That was when the servers started screaming. Everyone tensed.
The same girl who’d caught Touma with the dagger was coming at him with a knife of her own. A monster of a hunting knife it looked like, at least from the glimpse Touma caught four centimeters from the tip of his nose. He was already leaping back. The girl wasn’t about to stop, slashing at him relentlessly. She was screaming about her brother. Touma spared half a second to do the same to Tenku for not warning him. Her reflexes were nowhere near his armor-enhanced ones, but he couldn’t get past the knife to pin her down before she hurt someone else.
Fortunately Ryo was on it. He sneaked in with a jab and made her drop the knife. "Stop it!"
The girl shook him off angrily. "I’ll remember this!" Shuu went after her, but Ryo halted him, both physically and through the armor. /Let her go!/
Touma prodded Tenku to steady his breathing. It did nothing for his indigestion, though.
"Why did you stop us, Ryo!" Shuu demanded.
"She’s mistaken us for someone else," Ryo replied, voice rising. Hopefully that would put the fellow diners’ minds to rest about Touma’s career as a murderer...
"Then we should set her straight and go after her!"
Before he knew it, Shuu had grabbed Ryo’s shirt, not bothering to take the argument to the armor bond.
There was a tense silence. Rekka and Kongo snapped at each other over the bonds, Ryo for once holding back his temper. Just barely. He looked ready to lay into Shuu.
"You can be so clueless sometimes," Shin said to Shuu, all teasing gone from his tone. /What are you doing? Stop it! What are you going to do, call your armor? There are other people here!/
/Um, oh man, sorry, Shin.../
"...she’s in no state to listen to us..." Shin looked ready to spit nails. /Don’t apologize to me./
/It’s my uncle’s restaurant! Some crazy chick tries to knife the help, and Touma, kami-sama, what do you want me to do?/ Even then Shuu reluctantly loosened his hold.
Ryo stood by, fists at his side, chin up, stonily silent. His blue eyes blazed with anger.
Touma buried the sudden deep ache for Seiji by turning away. No, better to think of the problem at hand: the girl. The armors didn’t consider her a threat. After all she was just an ordinary girl, albeit grief-stricken, determined, and hunting for the same thing they were. She didn’t stand a chance, and would only get in their way.
"As long as she thinks we’re the bad guys, she’ll come after us. Even if we don’t want her to." /We’ll deal with her later, okay?/
/Touma, what was she talking about, anyway? What did you do?/ This from Ryo, who was dusting himself off. Shuu was suddenly on the opposite end of the table, talking to his uncle. Shin looked torn between them.
Reluctantly Touma recounted what had happened. Nasti and Jun stayed quiet, by now used to the boys’ silent communiqués.
/The dagger disappeared?/ Shin chewed his lip.
/Unless someone stole it. No, no one else entered that apartment. At least, no one human./ Touma refrained from going into detail about the sensations the weapon had caused. They were experienced enough that a blanket ‘it had evil shit’ would be heard and understood.
Chin-san entreated them to sit down to eat. It had been a long day for everyone and they started eating the suddenly tasteless food.
Shin, ever the diplomat, tapped him over the bond. /Touma, room with Shuu, will you? We’ve got to keep them separated. I’ll stay with Ryo./
He suppressed his quip of ‘I’ve heard that one before,’ and the following ‘We’re a team, we shouldn’t be dividing up,’ and sent an affirmative. /Don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on him./
It was Shin who said what he’d been thinking. "This wouldn’t have happened if Seiji were here."
Of course not. Seiji would have pacified Ryo and restrained Shuu. The gulf where he had been was glaringly obvious in the armor bonds as well. Four was such an unlucky number.
Then there was the dagger. Some twisted version of a samurai’s gear. No, the wedge. Maybe it was Touma’s imagination, but he could swear it had been prying apart the guy’s chest... trying to get at his heart. Kokoro. The seat of the spirit.
Despite the hot summer night, Touma went to bed chilled to the bone.
He was first aware of the crushing pressure on the small of his back.
It was his left wrist. He could not move it.
And Touma was startled out of sleep when his other wrist was pressed over it, suddenly recognizing whose hand was pinning him to the bed.
He opened his lips to cry out.
Something large and black and heavy was shoved into his mouth, levering his jaw open. Touma blinked and coughed at the taste.
Touma felt faint, moistening the dildo as much as he could, paralyzed by the steel grip on his wrists. The toy began to move around, thrusting into his mouth, and Touma flushed, working it like a cock, dizzied by his own suctioning sounds and the wolf-winter-dark scent so close to his face.
Then came the slow push towards the back of his throat. Touma gasped, choking, scrabbling against the restraining hand, the prickle of tears running down his face when he gagged on its plastic head.
He could not scream when his pajama bottoms were yanked off.
Before the cold air could hit his bare skin, a heavy hand came down in a stinging slap. Touma bit down on the dildo, unable to even ease it from his mouth, his choking cries muffled into pathetic grunts. Again and again, he was spanked. Again and again the pain shot through him, warming his skin, triggering more sobs as his blood rushed to his groin.
He was beaten until he couldn’t feel his fingers for the pins and needles. He was incredibly aroused.
Without warning the dildo was pulled from his mouth, dripping with saliva. Touma had not the strength to manage more than a weak mewl when the giant thing was forced inside him.
So full! His body arced up with the pain and this time was allowed to rise off the bed and spread his legs. He was shaking. A callused hand rested in his hair, still warm from hitting him, and he wanted to moan, he wanted only to please.
Pre-cum dripped off his cock onto the sheets. The thing was so heavy, and ridged just so that when it began to stroke Touma could feel it on every inch of his body. Fucked.
Motion stopped for a moment. The hand cupped his chin. Obediently he turned his head. And his eyes widened. Shuu was still in the room. Fast asleep, dark mop peeking out of the pillow pile, breathing slow and regular. And when Touma screamed at the toy shoved deeper inside, Shuu did not hear him.
Crying with shame and helplessness, his gaze locked on Shuu’s peaceful form as the toy slid out and was replaced by the weight of a heavier body. He wanted this so badly. He wanted the humiliation of one of his best friends watching him being taken, fucked, used. He wanted him to hear the slap of flesh against flesh, the hungry grunts, the sharp cries from his own lips.
This was being fucked.
Both hands grasped his hips as the thrusts grew more violent, his hands falling to his side. He hitched his hips up, his body a triangle on the bed, his cock bumping his stomach as he was pounded into.
The cock inside him jerked suddenly. There was a hot rush which filled him, a sudden pressure in his balls. At last, everything turned white.
And Touma woke up.
He couldn’t think. His hands trembling, he checked himself. Except for the uncomfortable hard-on... "N-no... it couldn’t have..."
He tried to hide, get under the covers, anything, but Shuu was already at his side, wrapping himself up with him. Still shaking, Touma hugged him back. Warm, strong, this was really Shuu, and the solidity of the moment drove home that it had been just a dream.
There was no such fucking thing as just a dream.
Touma slipped his arms around Shuu’s waist and kissed him, grateful and desperate at the same time. /Do you want me to do something about it?/ That too was real, Shuu cutting straight to the point. Touma realized he hadn’t even tried to send during... that. It could not have happened because Shuu would have picked up his emotions. Shin and Ryo would have too.
He couldn’t bear to send now, for fear that his dream would leak through. "Please..."
Shuu was gentle as he pulled his boxers down, unashamed as he touched the flesh jutting straight up. One last kiss and he lowered his head to kiss at the shaft. The shudders lessened as Shuu’s hands stroked the small of his back. Big hands, but careworn by hauling food crates, carrying children, moving garden dirt. Touma could feel their even roughness, so unlike the selective calluses of a swordsman.
‘Shuu. Not anybody else.’ Yet there was still a stab of guilt as Touma stroked his hair, so like the hands in his own hair...
/Hush, Touma-chan. Let me take care of you./ Touma nodded, clutching at Shuu’s shirt till he moved closer. Shuu took his time coaxing the pleasure out, making it that much more sweeter when Touma came. After, tucked safe on Shuu’s chest, Touma pledged not to think of the dream, or what it meant.
Not so easy a thing in the light of day.
"Red for Pleasure" copyright © 2000-3 Sameshima Shuzumi. All content is mine; HTML and layout are produced by me. Background and button graphics are courtesy Angel's Webgraphics.