Chapter Nineteen

After a long bout of writer's block, I'm finally able to continue this fic. Keyword: stoned. Nearly done now… this will be the last Chapter, unless I decide to write an Epilogue.

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The pain didn't register at first, when Rei woke up. He knew there was pain, had come to expect it in fact, but his body felt only a sense of numbness. His feet and arms felt wet and cold and his lungs stung with the effort of breathing. That was mainly down to the way he was posed; as his vision cleared he saw the razor wire wrapped around his limbs. Thick coils secured his ankles to the handles on the sides of the bathtub,

(At least you're still in the hotel room. Thank goodness for small favours, eh?)

and a long wire was wrapped around his wrists, extending to coil around the shower rails and hang him, suspended, over the tub. A glance down into the tub showed a shallow lake of blood spreading to lap at the sides. Then the pain finally hit him, and he would have screamed if his chest hadn't been under so much strain. There was a tearing, burning sensation in his arms where his arms connected to his shoulders, and stinging that flowed in waves from where his skin was pierced by the barbs.

"I thought you'd never wake up. Good to see you again, Rei."

That oh-so-familiar voice came from behind him and hung in the air like a toxic fog. Rei sucked in another painful gulp of air.

"I know you're Chinese, but how much do you really know about Chinese history? If you'd understood more, maybe we wouldn't be here now."

Rei cast another glance at his feet, though his neck protested. His trousers were unevenly torn at the knee, most likely to facilitate the binding with the wire. He caught a glimpse of Cesare's

(Francis! Remember, they told you his name, even though you didn't want to hear it!)

hand as it tightened the wire around his left ankle.

"The Chinese Emperors always had concubines, hundreds of them. These days it's considered a form of slavery, but really it was a valuable part of society. The problem with people these days is that there's too much freedom and not enough boundaries. There are no obstacles to overcome. In those days, the ultimate goal of a concubine was to rise to the level of Empress. They used anything and everything they had to get ahead, sexuality, money, powerful contacts, anything. Once they finally reached the top, they had power over all the other contacts, and in some cases the entire kingdom."

Rei felt a cold hand stroke his burning shoulder.

"That could have been you, Rei. You were the best of them, the most beautiful, the most intelligent, and you seemed to know your place. I gave you privileges I didn't allow the others, because you pleased me."

"I never set out to please you!" Rei screamed mentally, because he was unable to say it out loud.

"You could have had more. I would have killed any one of them, Rei, if you had asked me to. All you had to do was know your limits. Instead, you betrayed me."

Cesare punctuated those last three words by tightening the wires around Rei's wrists, pulling back his strained shoulders even more.

"I believed you when you claimed you didn't know about that missing page. I didn't care about the book. I would have burned it if you had asked me to. What really made me angry was that you tried to contact the outside world. You didn't trust me to take care of you. So it's just too bad."

In those few moments, Cesare had allowed some emotion to creep into his voice. The next moment, he had composed himself and resumed talking like a college professor.

"I would have gone for a proper crucifixion, to make your death more romantic, like a religious painting. This will have to do, and it works just as well. It gives you a chance to decide your own death, too. My last gift to you."

(Like he's gonna let you go that easy. Wait for it…)

"The barbs in your arms need only a little more pressure to cut through the vein. If I pull on the wire, you will bleed to death in a matter of minutes. Leaves quite a mess, though. That's why I chose to hang you in the tub. If you don't relish the thought of being covered in your own blood, I could drop you an inch or so. The pressure on your lungs will cause you to suffocate. It's hard to say which is more painful, but if I were you I'd choose to bleed out."

(This is all very well and good, but he hasn't addressed the main issue. You already know you're gonna die, right? That's the least of your worries right now. In fact, I'd say you're pretty relieved to know you're gonna die, am I right? No more fighting off unwanted attention, no more wishing they'd all stop staring, no more pushing all your desires and dreams to the bottom and simply getting through another day without wishing you were dead.)

"If you choose to bleed to death, I'll have to clean you off afterwards. I want you perfect, pristine in death. You should thank me, Rei. To die now, so young and beautiful, is a gift. That is how they will remember you, preserved by death in eternal youth. They will never see you age and wither and decay. You will be beautiful forever."

(Young and beautiful forever, huh? Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's a damn good thing you don't have any kids, Rei! How could you ever escape the shadow of someone like that, preserved in everyone's memory as a paragon of perfection? Makes everything easier to take, doesn't it? The fact that you were responsible for her dying so young and beautiful. You weren't meant to live at all. It might have been better if she had died in childbirth, then you could have accepted that she made the decision to have you at the cost of her life. You took her life, you weren't meant to have one at all. It's fitting for you to go this way.)

"I'll look forward to those boys, the ones that took you from me, finding you like this. The one with the greyish-blue hair especially. I could see he was in love with you. I'd say he was an easy conquest."

(So what about Kai, Rei? He does love you, and he's gonna be the one to find your body. He'll never get over it. But, really, there's nothing you can do about that. It's a damn shame.)

"But before you die, I will take what you owe me."

Those ice-cold hands began tugging at his clothes.

(Ha! I knew it! So much for all his pretty words and academic philosophising, at the end of the day he's just a dirty old man. You're not sticking around for this, are you, Rei?)

With that last mental push from Europa, Rei blacked out.

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On entering the room, Kai knew something was wrong even before he saw that Rei was missing. In his head, a stern voice lectured him.

(Nice going, Kai. Why did you let him go to the room alone? If anything's happened, he'll never forgive you. And if the worst has happened, how will you forgive yourself?)

Dranzer seemed to fly into his hand as her readied her for attack. She glimmered lightly to let him know she was ready for battle. The bathroom door was slightly ajar. He approached it cautiously, and then kicked it open dramatically while holding his Blade at throat level.

He saw Rei immediately, suspended by barbed wire over the bathtub and bleeding heavily from the wrists. He was so pale and slumped over, Kai thought for one terrifying moment that he was dead. It was only when he saw the shallow flutter of the Chinese boy's throat that he could quell the panic growing in the pit of his stomach.

"You're back early. I wasn't expecting you for at least another half hour."

That dragged his attention back to the other person in the room, and when he finally saw Cesare's face he was shocked to the very core of his being.

This man, this maniac, this psychotic killer, he was so… ordinary! Middle-aged, balding, with a slight paunch. The face held no scars or warts, not even a hint of a double chin. He wasn't startlingly handsome, or hideously ugly. There was no slightly enlarged head, no strangely positioned eyes, nothing to suggest madness. The man was utterly average, to the point of being mundane. Kai wouldn't have spared him a second glance if he'd seen him walking down the street. Moreover, he didn't even have the decency to look alarmed at Kai's sudden presence. He looked rather bored.

(He thinks he's smarter than you, Kai. That's why he looks so relaxed. Remember what Tala told you, about sociopaths? He's waiting for you to put a foot wrong, to give him a reason to kill Rei and scar you for life. Play along, but be careful.)

"Aiming for my throat again with that thing? I wouldn't bother. There's really nothing you can do. He's half dead already."

(If he's half dead, he's half alive! Don't let that manipulative fucker convince you that it's a lost cause!)

"You're in love with him, aren't you?"

(Don't answer that! He'll use it against you!)

"Foolish, boy. Very foolish. You should never fall in love with someone so beautiful."

(What the fuck would he know? Don't listen to him!)

"They are poison, boy. Pure poison." As he spoke, the man's face contorted into a grimace, then a sneer, revealing some element of the monster he really was. "You can beat them, rape them, humiliate them, do any number of terrible things to make them humble. But they never lose it, boy. No matter what happens, they'll always find some way to hurt you."

He pushed Rei's limp form gently, so that the unconscious boy swung slightly as if caught by a gust of wind.

"Look at him. I did all sorts of things to him, things you can't even begin to imagine. I found myself falling in love with him, he got under my skin, just having him near me was enough to inspire love in me."

Kai found himself empathising with the man, much to the horror of his inner voice. He knew how hard it was to resist falling for Rei. He was listening closely, too closely.

(Kai, he's a fucking madman! Don't you dare listen to him!)

"In the end, he still managed to betray me. He betrayed me while he was dying. He could have saved himself if he had just shown me some love in return. Let this be a lesson, boy. They don't deserve love. They only deserve to die. They were born cruel."

Kai nodded. So many had fallen for Rei before, he had seen it happen. All had been turned away, heartbroken. Would that happen to Kai, too?

"They're only good for two things, boy; sex and death. You've never touched him that way have you?"

"No," Kai answered, swallowing hard. What Cesare was saying made sense to him.

"He will be dead soon. You're a sensible boy, aren't you? I can let you have a moment with him. Dead or alive, this would have been your only chance."

Despite the blood, despite the obliviousness of the dying child, despite the fear and sorrow which Kai had seen in those lovely amber eyes, Kai felt aroused. If Rei lived, who was to say he would return Kai's feelings? Dranzer wavered in his hands. His inner voice screamed at him, but was drowned out by Kai's longing and the sagacity of Cesare's words.

"Don't feel bad for him. He's broken hearts every step of the way. Take what he owes you for rescuing him in the first place. It's only fair."

Kai moved towards Rei's body as Cesare moved back and sat on the toilet. Kai's hand reached out and stroked a patch of Rei's bare skin, revealed by a torn section of his shirt. It was warm and soft, so soft. He lifted his leg to step into the tub, to stand behind Rei. Reverently, he ran his hands over the other boy's shoulders and back, and pressed a shaky kiss to the neck revealed by the lolling of Rei's head to one side.

(You sick pervert. And I bet everyone thought you were so noble, being so good to poor abused Rei. Showing your true colours now, aren't you? You're worse than Cesare, Kai. At least he knows he's bad.)

"Good boy. He deserves no less."

Those last four words reverberated in Kai's head and penetrated him to his very soul.

He deserves no less…

He deserves no less…

He deserves no less…

Memories burst in his mind, clouding his vision with images of Rei, smiling, laughing, crying, sleeping, eating, blading, turning away another suitor, brushing his hair, dressing, talking to friends, cooking, just everyday things everyone did.

(Feeling bad, Kai? Poor baby! That guy's talking out his ass! Rei's not a God, not an angel, not some villain you need to defeat. He's a goddamn kid, Kai! A kid, same as you and Takao and Max. Sure, he may be beautiful, but he's still human. It's not his fault nobody else seems to realise that!)

Dranzer flew once again to throat level as he wheeled around to face Cesare. This time, the man looked shocked.

"What are you doing, boy?"

"Rei doesn't deserve this. He never did."

"So what are you going to do, boy? Kill me?"

Kai froze. Although he was now in a position to protect Rei, there was precious little else he could do. He couldn't leave Rei to phone the police, and he had no way of contacting any of his friends. He'd backed himself into a corner.

"Should've taken him when you had the chance, boy. Now you both have to die." Cesare produced a pistol from underneath his jacket and pointed it at the boy's slate-covered temple. Kai's vision seemed to magnify on the man's finger squeezing the trigger.

What happened next was a blur. Kai remembered releasing Dranzer, and two shots were fired. There was a burning feeling in his shoulder and the noise of metal ricocheting off of porcelain deafened him to where he only heard the tiniest pitch of the resulting scream. It could have been him or Cesare, he didn't know which. When the pain began in his shoulder, he fell out over the side of the tub and crashed to the floor.

He stayed there, for almost ten minutes, listening to the sound of his own harsh breathing. At last, when he saw no movement from Cesare, he lifted himself to his feet.

Cesare was dead, though no-one could determine what had done it. There was a bloody gash on the man's throat, which could have been caused by bullet or blade. His face was frozen in an expression of cold indifference. But he wasn't important. Rei was.

Kai leaped into the tub and set about releasing the trapped boy. He unravelled the wires binding his arms first, slowly catching hold of them and pulling gingerly until they came loose. His hands were torn by the barbs again and again, his blood mingling with Rei's until the hands were scarlet. When all the wires were loose, he held the lifeless body close to tackle the wires on his legs. At his shoulder, he felt Rei's chest expand dramatically as the strain on his lungs dissipated and the comatose boy took in great gulps of air. Kai was so relieved he could have cried. He removed the wires binding Rei's ankles to the tub successfully and lifted Rei into his arms to carry him out to the bedroom. He laid him on the bed, and then grabbed some towels from the cupboard to staunch the bleeding from both their wounds.

"What happened?"

Kai looked up to see Max standing in the open doorway, looking terrified. Kai could see the conflict reflected in those wide blue orbs. Poor Max wasn't sure whether to stay and look after his two friends or run for help.

"I heard a bang…" he began, "… what's going…"

"It's okay, Max," Kai groaned, cutting him off, "he's gone. It's all over. But call the police and an ambulance, okay? This'll be the last time, I swear."

Max disappeared as fast as he'd appeared. Kai turned his attention back to Rei's injuries, to find that Rei's eyes were open and he was trying to focus them on the boy in front of him.

" … Kai? Are you dead too?" Rei groaned.

"I'm not dead, and neither are you," Kai whispered.

"I am dead," the Chinese boy murmured, "he came back for me. I knew he would."

"No. He's dead. You're alive."

Rei's eyes widened, and he frowned.

"He's dead? How? What…?"

"I caught him with you. I almost let you go, but I couldn't let him do that to you."

Rei seemed lost in thought for a moment. "You said you wouldn't let anything happen to me. I didn't think you could keep that promise, but you did."

Kai felt a burning sensation, guilt over his momentary lapse back in the bathroom.

"He's dead, Rei. It's over."

Rei closed his eyes, and there was silence. Then, suddenly, he burst into tears. Kai held him as he sobbed on his shoulder until the police arrived.

It really was over.