"Tadaima!" Touma kicked off his sneakers. Lover or no, he had exams to study for. His arm was already aching from lugging the backpack around the subways. The strap was broken and he’d forgotten to fix it again. Maybe a shopping trip while he was in Tokyo was in order.
He blinked. There were extra pairs of shoes besides his mother’s. Four pairs. He cracked open the long-dormant links a second before their owners came rushing in.
"We were so worried!"
"Where’ve you been, man?"
"Almost called up a search party!"
He grinned at their five-way hug. One look at Seiji, though, and he knew he was going to be busybodied to death before he could hit the books. "Hey guys... what’s up?"
Seiji shook him by the shoulder. "You’ve been missing for a month."
For once, his mother had exquisite timing. "Touma-kun! Come say hi before I leave." He broke free from the hug-trap. She glanced at him worriedly when he entered the kitchen. "Here, why don’t you take your jacket off? It’s much too thin for this weather, na! I told your friends you’d be in Osaka with Genichirou-kun, but they said you weren’t there."
Touma counted to ten, pulling his jacket closer. "I stayed at a friend’s instead of with Dad. Sorry I didn’t call."
"Oh! That’s all right. Maybe he told me, and I misplaced the note. Or maybe he forgot to call."
Touma’s eyes lidded as her words streamed over him, soon accompanied by the guys’ nervous chatter. He hated lying to them. It made him feel so cold.
So she was going to Bangkok for two weeks. She was going to get him a little Buddha figure, which piqued his interest given her luck in finding mystical artifacts. Rajura would appreciate an addition to his collection. Then she left him alone with the guys.
Touma crossed his arms over his chest as they gave him the third degree. What else had he expected? He’d forgotten to write a see-you-later note again, and closed his armor bond to boot. It was as good as being dead.
Can’t you just tell us where you go, when you leave?
He was used to Seiji’s voice in his head. Today, it was like a crowbar.
Touma stood up suddenly, the chair nearly tipping behind him. "If you guys don’t mind, I have to start studying for finals." He rounded on them and faltered. Bemusement and anger on Shuu’s face. Confusion on Ryo’s. Hurt on Shin’s. Betrayal on Seiji’s.
He clenched his hands and steeled himself not to run, not to escape back to the Youjakai and into Kujuurou’s lair, or seek him out among the biker hangouts in the city’s seedier districts. "I... I’ve papers to write too. Later, okay?"
Shin smiled at him reassuringly. "Of course, Touma."
That shining faith pouring through the bonds was too much. Touma shut off the connection once more, not needing to look at Seiji when he did. The quiet in his mind was an awful relief.
Behind closed doors, Touma sat on the bed and pulled his knees to his chest. He could hear the guys slowly filing out. He had to tell them someday...
Work beckoned to him. School was something soothing, scheduled and logical. The others knew it too. They felt the truth of it deep in their bonds, and did not protest when Touma asked to shut them off during class hours. During weekdays. They didn’t say anything when Touma forgot what day it was. He’d forgotten his own birthday before, it was nothing new. Nor did they argue when Touma said he wanted to be alone.
The lines on the page were blurring together. He hated to hide. Yet he knew that once the bonds were opened, there would be that rush of worry and speculation that the guys were hard-pressed to dampen. How much more if he told them the truth? It wasn’t so much that they wouldn’t accept his choices. It was that the Masho were still the enemy, the demon generals, the torturers and fiends. Especially nightmarish for Shin. Shuu. And Seiji.
Seiji would never forgive him.
He had to protect them. They couldn’t find out.
So here he was, alone inside himself. He was used to it. Had been all his life until his friends came into his life. And even in the deepest danger, all the dark places of his life were illuminated. But back then, the darkness had been something to fear.
Here, alone, it was almost lulling. Where the light couldn’t reach him, Yami could. Where there was no warmth, Kujuurou was there, even in the brilliant spangle of upper orbit. Like snow blowing through the pines. Singing him to sleep.
Touma felt very cold.
Something pricked at him in the back of his mind.
And entwined was a memory, a scrap of a conversation with Kujuurou. If you are trapped in the snow, do not fall asleep.
In his last moments of wakefulness, Touma grasped for Tenku, and not knowing what to do, told it to take him to the safest place. And as the song numbed his senses, he called.
"This GODDAMN snow!"
Seiji slammed the gear shift as he wove through traffic. The whole prefecture seemed to be crammed into Yokohama, and for the hundredth time he cursed himself for not taking the subway. The snow was making people cautious and slow. It was also blocking the sun, and he threw in an extra curse for that. At last the parking garage loomed, a block from the Chinatown restaurants it served. Shuu, wait for me on the underground level.
The motor was running as Seiji hopped out to meet his friend. Shuu was in his waiter’s uniform, his usually cheerful demeanor replaced by a grim frown.
"What do you need me to do, Seij?"
"I can’t get a read through Korin with the clouds filtering the light. Can you reach...?"
Shuu’s eyes widened. "We’ve been practicin’ but I’m not that good. If he’s out of link range--"
"Fuck it, Shuu, he’s in trouble, at least try."
The big man nodded quickly. He’d only caught a sliver of the communication but anything that made Seiji lapse into vulgarity had to be serious. This wasn’t another of Touma’s vanishing acts.
The blond clenched his hands as Shuu pressed his hands to the wall, just a half meter away from solid earth. He could feel the air shift as Kongo managed not to lash out and shatter the wall, moving subsonically towards its fellow Tenku armor.
If anything happened to the blue-haired boy, Seiji couldn’t forgive himself. He was the one who’d driven him away from the relationship. And then that incident in the locker room-- he should have told Ryo or Shin about it. But Touma had been insistent about keeping it secret. Since then Seiji had tried to keep an eye on him. That was when he started disappearing from their links.
Seiji had rationalized it. Touma had always complained that he didn’t give him enough room. We’ll always be together. The Trooper armors belong together, forever, and its bearers won’t ever be parted. Even inside that demon, we knew. Can’t you stand a little time apart?
Shuu was sweating, his chest heaving at the effort. The blond snapped out of himself and poured in his ki to help. This close, he could feel Shuu fighting the armor, reaching, his soul like a twig about to snap. Seiji almost wanted to stop him, or try to. In this state, Kongo was irresistible. Despite the bright promise of forever, they each feared this: to be buried alive, blinded, drowned, consumed by the armor.
With a shout, Shuu leaped away from the wall. "Sh’matta!" he swore.
"What!? What did you find?"
The big man was almost doubled over, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Seiji crouched down, ready to call his full armor if need be.
Seiji gripped his shoulders, his lavender eyes impossibly wide. "The island!" Quickly he stood, supporting Shuu so he could sit in the car seat. "Kongo followed the trail through the sea bottom... oh, Shuu."
"I’ll be okay. I don’t know if Touma... I’m sorry, Seij, I couldn’t locate him for sure." Shuu looked more crushed by this than the soul-deep strain of reaching.
Seiji frowned. "I know where he is."
Shuu had to shake his head to clear the spots in his eyes. The sensation of mismatched horns over his head was also difficult to banish. When he looked up again, green armor glinted back at him. He tried to stand up, about to ask what the blond was thinking -- calling the full armor in a public place -- when the lightning bright glow of Korin blinded him. His arm came up to shield his eyes and, unbalanced, he stumbled to his knees. "Seiji!! Wait...! You didn’t say where..."
The blond warrior was gone. Shuu rested his head in his hands, feeling a monstrous headache coming on. Ryo and Shin were probably still en route to the other side of Tokyo, and neither had cell phones. He couldn’t trust himself to send a mental message that wouldn’t be drowned out by Kongo.
"GAH!" Concrete exploded under his fist. Now two of his friends were in danger.
"Red for Pleasure" copyright © 2000-2 Sameshima Shuzumi. All content is mine; HTML and layout are produced by me. Background and button graphics are courtesy Angel's Webgraphics.