Chapter 15
Nightmare Relived

Shit Face-

'Well, what do you know? I think I've finally broken him.' Shit Face watched as Ryo was led away by the man he'd hired to lure the boy to Bishop Brannon. Ryo said something to Jack Lung and Jack Lung pointed to where Shit Face stood. 'Damn. Jack Lung's going to have to learn to keep his mouth shut.' Shit Face smiled brightly when Ryo saw him and waved cheerily. His smile only brightened at Ryo's stricken expression. Shit Face didn't like it when his underlings went blabbing and it would have been better if Ryo hadn't known that Shit Face was behind all of this.

Still, Ryo let Jack Lung lead him away without so much as a fight and Shit Face was pretty well pleased with how well this was working out. It seemed as if his prediction was coming true and Ryo was getting desperate for money. 'Soon, he's going to be mine. He'll find out that it's easier to work with me rather than against me.' With Ryo as one of his boys, Shit Face knew it wouldn't be to difficult to get the blue haired boy, Touma, as well. They'd more than make up the money he was losing from Joji and Yoko. 'Yes. This is going to be a good night.'

Shit Face pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and started to make his way home. Though he walked as if he didn't have a care in the world, there were a lot of questions in Shit Face's mind about Ryo. 'I wonder whose house he was at. I saw that good-looking blond kid with him, taking a bath with Ryo, no less.' Shit Face chuckled at the memory of when he'd looked into the bathroom window and saw Ryo taking a bath with the blonde. 'He be a pretty addition to my collection. I wonder if I could tempt him away from his home.' But when he thought of the voyeuristic peek he'd gotten of Ryo in the bathtub, Shit Face had to remember the mysterious fire that had broken out when he'd shown Ryo the little souvenir he'd gotten from Joji, the chunk of pink hair.

There was no way that Shit Face could think of that the fire could have started. The only fire in the bathroom had been a small candle that had been nowhere near the curtains when they'd suddenly burst into flames. 'I'll have to solve that little mystery.'

Shit Face had just gone into his house when he realized something was wrong. He was about to leave when a large hand wrapped around his throat and threw him into the still dark house. Shit Face landed with a crash when he hit the floor lamp and it broke, shattering glass on the floor.

"What the Hell!?" Shit Face quickly sat up and pulled out the small knife he kept hidden under his shirt, but he couldn't see his attacker in the darkness. "Who are you?" He demanded, hoping that if the attacker spoke, he'd be able to know where he should aim his knife.

Unfortunately, his attacker didn't seem to feel the need for words, but easily grabbed the knife from Shit Face's hand and then Shit Face felt a slicing pain though the middle of his chest that ripped up slowly toward his neck. Then, it was over.


Joji could see very well in the dark and he watched Shit Face die without a shred of emotion. He didn't feel sorry about what he'd done, but he also didn't feel happy. Joji didn't feel a bit of sadness that he'd just taken a human life nor did he feel as if he'd done something that Yoko would be proud of. She was such a gentle woman, so caring and kind. Yoko wouldn't have liked killing anyone, not even Shit Face.

'But it had to be done.' Joji lightly held Shit Face's knife in his hand and made his way to the couch without looking at the apartment around him. 'He just had to die.' Joji put the knife to his wrist and drew it carefully across, then up the length of his arm, making a cross on his wrist. It didn't even hurt, really. 'He had to die, so I could die.'

Joji let the warm blood run freely down his arm, setting the knife on the couch beside him and leaned back his head. 'Now Ryo and Touma will be safe. I don't have to worry about them. Yoko, I'll be with you soon, I promise.'

There was a feeling of fading, drifting away, but Joji wasn't afraid. Yoko had promised that she'd always be with him and he had complete faith that she would be waiting for him. He felt warm and cold all at once, but he wasn't afraid. Joji let his one good eye close. "Yoko..."


"What's your name, kid?" The man holding Ryo's arm asked casually while they walked together. Ryo didn't answer. The last thing he wanted for this person to know was who he really was. "Quite right." The man said after a moment of Ryo's silence. "There's no need, now is there?" He laughed pleasantly. "It's not as if this is going to be going for a meaningful relationship, after all."

'Kill me now and get it over with.' Ryo thought, feeling sick to his stomach. The man wasn't being unkind and Ryo thought that he should feel grateful for that, he'd heard enough horror stories from other prostitutes, but he just couldn't stop thinking about what was about to happen. 'I have to do this. I can handle it.'

The man led Ryo though the dark, rainy night, holding his umbrella over Ryo's head to keep him dry. "You'll get sick if you get cold on a night like this." He told Ryo. Then he leaned down and whispered, close enough that Ryo could feel the man's breath on his ear. "I'll dry you off soon enough and warm you enough to make your blood boil." There was a strange, uncomfortable silkiness to his voice and Ryo fought the shiver that ran down his spine. The man laughed happily, seeing Ryo's reaction. "You really are new at this, aren't you?"

Ryo couldn't help but move a little away from the man, but the man's hand was heavy on Ryo's shoulder and held him close. "Don't be shy." The man laughed. "You can call me Jack Lung. It's not my real name, of course, but it'll do for now." He looked at Ryo to see if he'd get a reaction and, getting none, continued to talk. "You should talk a little more, kid. You'll get more clients if you smile a bit."

'Smile?' Ryo thought to himself. 'How am I supposed to smile?' Still, to make sure he got his money, Ryo managed a weak, watery smile for Jack Lung.

"Well, it's a start, I suppose."

Ryo stared at the large, well-kept house. He'd expected a motel room or a slightly more expensive hotel, but to be brought to someone's house was almost unheard of, according to what Joji and Yoko had told him. Jack Lung gave Ryo's arm a tug. "Come on, then. No getting cold feet now, little one." Ryo swallowed hard and somehow forced his feet to move; following Jack Lung up a brick walkway.

Through sheer curtains, Ryo could see someone's shadow moving around inside the house. Jack Lung must have seen that Ryo noticed because he said, "You don't mind, do you?"

Ryo numbly shook his head. 'Two people?' He hadn't been expecting that. 'Is it gonna hurt more? do they do it with three people?' The thoughts ran round and round in his head, not stopping long enough to calm himself, but moving far to quickly to actually panic him.

Jack Lung's hand on Ryo's shoulder unexpectedly tightened when they reached the door and Jack Lung rang the doorbell. "This is nothing personal, kid." His voice was suddenly different from his easy going, cheery manner was gone and he seemed more distant. "It's only business." Jack Lung wouldn't look Ryo in the eye when he spoke. "I'm not your client tonight. I lied to you, I'm sorry. I was employed to bring you here for someone. He was worried that if you knew who he was, you wouldn't come to him. I'm sorry about all this."

Ryo, alarmed by the man's cryptic words, would have run away then and there if Jack Lung's hand hadn't been holding him so tightly.

The door swung open and Ryo's heart stopped. The world froze when Ryo saw the familiar, older face. It was the same strong, handsome face, though the dark hair was turned grey and there were more lines on his face. "B-B-B-Bran-n-non." Ryo almost choked at the sight of Father, or rather, Bishop Brannon.

"Hello, Ryo. It's been a long time. Come in." Bishop Brannon stood aside graciously to let Jack Lung lead Ryo inside. "I've missed you." As Ryo passed him Bishop Brannon gave Ryo soft pat on the shoulder.

"I've done my part, I got the boy here." Jack Lung turned abruptly to Bishop Brannon. "My money, if you don't mind."

"Of course." Bishop Brannon reached into his pocket and pulled out several large bills. "You've done well; tell your employer that I thank him."

Jack Lung gave him a disgusted look. "Don't insult me. It's degrading enough doing this work without you trying to act as if I'm delivering a newspaper." As he turned and started out the door, Jack Lung cast an almost guilty look at Ryo, who looked like a deer trapped in headlights, and then back at Bishop Brannon. "Take it easy on the boy. He's a good kid."

"Don't worry." Bishop Brannon told him, turning his hungry eyes to Ryo. "I always take good care of my flock and Ryo is no exception." He took a step towards Ryo. "He'll be treated very well."

Several hours later-

As the sun was rising, Ryo staggered back to Seiji's house. He clutched the precious, hard-earned yen in his hand, trying not to feel the shame that was almost crushing him. He felt so dirty and sore and a kind of numbness that made the world around him seem foggy. 'I can't...I can't believe I did it.' But he did do it. He'd done everything Brannon had wanted him to do.

"Just like the last time, Ryo." Brannon had said when Jack Lung had left them alone. "I want to see you just like the last time we were together."

God, it had hurt! But not so much as the first time. Ryo supposed he should be happy about that, anyway. The last time it had felt like his insides were being ripped out. There had been blood this time, too, but Ryo tried not to think about that to much.

'But this wasn't rape.' Ryo told himself. 'I can't blame Brannon for it, this time. I let him.' The money in Ryo's hand felt icky, but he held on tightly to it. Getting paid for letting Brannon touch him made it seem worse. Far, far worse.

Strangely, though, Ryo couldn't remember much of what had happened. 'I remember when he told me to sit on his lap and I remember when he took off my shirt...I remember when he took me to his bedroom and said to lay down. I...I think I remember...he put his hands on my back. Everything got dark."

Ryo stopped walking and put a hand to his head. There had been pain and a hot breath on his face; there had been a feeling of being to hot and a feeling of...of...Ryo struggled to reach the memory, but it slipped away from him. 'Probably a good thing.' He thought, continuing on his way. 'I don't think I'd want to remember it, anyway.'

Ryo had a sudden flash of a memory that he couldn't quite connect to anything. "Is this how much your body is worth to you?" Ryo stopped when the unfamiliar voice, deep and guttural, echoed in his mind. "Such a small amount, really."

Ryo shook his head to make the strange memory go away. 'I must be imagining things.' He told himself. 'I've never heard a voice like that before.'

As quickly as he could, trying not to think about what he'd done for the money in his pocket or the strange memory of the voice, Ryo ran the rest of the way to Seiji's home. He didn't bother to knock when he finally got there, but instead ran straight in. "Dr. Date, I h-h-have the money!"

"Ryo, we're in here." Seiji called out and Ryo found Seiji's family waiting for him in the living room. Dr. Date looked like she'd been crying and Seiji's grandfather looked as if he was just barely holding back tears. Ryo frowned at their somber expressions when everyone looked up at him.

Ryo went cold, but the fire started to build. 'Let me out, Ryo.' The fire told him.

Dr. Date wheeled himself to Ryo and took his hand. "Ryo, should sit."

Ryo didn't move except to take his hand away from her. "What's wrong?" He dug into his pants pocket and pulled out the fist full of yen. "I got the money you said g-granma needed. I heard you talking to Mr. Date. You said granma needs money for the h-hospital." He was so happy, but couldn't understand what was wrong with them. Why weren't they happy for him? He'd worked so damned hard for the money.

" should save the money, Ryo. Your granma won't be needing it."

Ryo swayed as her words sunk in. 'No. Please, no.'

Seiji, who had been standing behind his mom, came forward, touching Ryo's shoulder gently. "After you left...the ambulance came, but it was to late." Ryo stood frozen when Seiji put his arms around him. "I'm so sorry, Ryo."

'Let me out!' The fire yelled, fueled by Ryo's churning emotions.

Ryo jerked violently away from Seiji, trying not to cry. "N-n-no! You're l-l-lying! Where's my g-g-granma!?" The fire inside was steadily growing, but Ryo did very little to control it. Let it burn.


'I hate seeing him hurt like this!' Seiji watched Ryo shake and clutch desperately at the large wad of yen. 'He must have done something desperate for the money.' But Seiji wasn't all that concerned with the money. Ryo's eyes were very wide and he staggered forward a step as if he couldn't control his own body.

Seiji heard a distant whisper in his mind. 'Don't touch him. He wouldn't like it and he'd try to hurt you.'

Seiji went cold. Voices?

The distant whisper spoke again. 'Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you.'

Almost forgetting Ryo's grief, Seiji broke out in a cold sweat. 'I'm hearing dad.'

Seiji's mom came forward again, but didn't try to touch Ryo this time. "I had the ambulance take her to the morgue. We'll help you to make all the arrangements..."

But Ryo put both hands to his face and was muttering. "No. No. No. No. No." Ryo let his hands drop away from his face, falling to his knees, throwing his head back as a scream ripped from his throat. He screamed and screamed like he'd never stop.

"Oh, Ryo, honey..." Seiji's mom reached out to Ryo again, but when her hand came within an inch of Ryo's face the sleeve of her shirt burst into flame. "Ahhhhh!" She cried out, lurching away from Ryo and swinging her flaming arm wildly.

'Shit!' Seiji grabbed his mom while his grandfather slapped the fire out. It was a panicked moment, but it didn't last long before the fire had been put out. Seiji's mom slumped in her chair, panting heavily, even through the entire arm of her shirt had been burned to ash, and her skin was completely untouched. She was pale and shaking, but otherwise, looked fine.

Ryo had stopped screaming when Seiji's mom had caught fire, but he'd just stared while they rushed to put out the fire. With tears still in his eyes, Ryo looked at her with horror. "I'm sorry." He whispered, standing slowly. "I didn't mean it."

Seiji looked at Ryo. "What do you mean? What didn't you mean to do?" He really didn't see how Ryo had anything to apologize about. It couldn't be the fire, Seiji would have seen if Ryo had done anything.

Ryo backed away from them and toward the door. He looked so afraid. "I didn't mean it!" Ryo turned and bolted out of the house.

Seiji followed him to the wall of the family compound. "Ryo!"


He couldn't cry. Nothing felt real, even with his heart being a cold lump in his chest. He was cold all ready from the winter rain and wore nothing but his pants and a T-shirt. He felt like his mind was in a fog. Granma was dead and he'd almost burnt up Seiji's mom. He was monster.

'You're not a monster. You're just new at this.' The fiery voice told him. 'We are...'

"Shut up!" Ryo snapped out loud, not caring who hear him talking to himself. "This is your fault, anyway!"

'Is it?'

"You burnt her up!"

'I can't do anything unless you let me, Ryo. If I could have, I never would have let that man touch you. You stopped me and you wanted to make Seiji's mom leave you alone. You could have stopped me then, too, but you didn't even try.'

'But...' Ryo didn't have an answer. He'd been able to control the fire often enough in the past that he knew it was probably right. Maybe, deep down, he really did want to hurt Seiji and he'd just used the excuse of his granma's death to hurt Seiji's mom. Ryo was distracted from the voice by a warm something brushing against his hand. "Byakuen?" Ryo looked down, to find the white tiger looking up at him with mournful, understanding eyes. "She died."

Byakuen made a moan like noise and rubbed his head against Ryo's side, showing his sympathy, before sitting on his haunches next to Ryo. Together, they looked out at the sun as it hung over the horizon and Ryo leaned on the rail of the park's only bridge, to depressed to think of what he should be doing. Byakuen didn't seem to think there was any need to do anything and simply sat with Ryo, waiting.

'I should hate him.' Ryo thought, looking out of the corner of his eye at Byakuen. 'He's never here when I need him. I wonder if he can smell Brannon on me.' Ryo was almost sure Byakuen could and he couldn't understand why Byakuen could stand to be near him. 'I can practically smell him on me and I can't stand myself.' Ryo had a sudden desire to take a very hot shower and scrub himself for a week. He still felt nasty.

Byakuen didn't show any sign of hating Ryo, though. He leaned against Ryo's side and tilted his head up to lick Ryo's arm. "Why weren't you there?" Ryo asked, knowing that it wasn't fair that he should blame Byakuen. "If you'd b-been there, granma wouldn't have w-w-wandered away." He put a hand down to scratch Byakuen behind an ear. "If I'd stayed a-a-awake, she wouldn't have wandered away." Ryo felt the tears starting again, but he fought not to let them fall.

Slowly, Ryo slumped down until he was resting against Byakuen's side, retreating into Byakuen's soft, warm fur.


Shin was running in the park, as he did most mornings, trying to sort out his many problems. 'What am I going to do? Touma's got a meeting with his lawyer this afternoon, and his dad made it through surgery. Damn.' Shin had rather hoped that Touma's dad would have died, but at least the news they'd gotten last night had made Touma feel better.

'Not to mention that Touma wasn't able to get Ryo to talk about what he was doing the other night; that whole...eating dog thing. Ewww!' Shin shuddered at the memory. Just the thought made Shin want to throw up and the hunted look on Ryo's face when he'd turned to find Shin standing behind him had frightened Shin more than he wanted to admit. 'He looked like some wild animal.'

The park was usually deserted this early in the morning and Shin was so lost in his thoughts that as he crossed the bridge over the small river that ran though the park, the last thing he expecting was to trip over Ryo. Shin tumbled right over Ryo and landed on his face. "Oh, Ryo! I so sorry, I not watching where I going!"

Ryo didn't answer and just lay there on the ground, his face buried in his arms.

"Ryo, you all right?" Shin asked, as he leaned over Ryo and gave him a little shake. "Ryo?"

Shin felt hot breath on the back of his neck and looked over his shoulder to find a tiger. Shin blinked, trying to figure out if his mind was playing tricks on him or if this tiger was real. A huge white tiger with bright blue eyes looked down at him and then at Ryo. The tiger nosed Shin out of the way so it could get a better sniff of Ryo and give him a lick.

Whatever the tiger was trying to do must have worked because Ryo groaned and rolled to the side. "Yaku-Chan." He whispered, opening his eyes and putting his arms around the tiger's head for a hug. The tiger lay down with Ryo, putting one paw protectively on Ryo's chest before he turned to look at Shin, his eyes clearly showing that he was judging whether or not Shin was worthy to know Ryo. At least, that's how Shin interpreted it.

Ryo stared up at the sky, ignoring everything around him, though his fingers wove through the tiger's fur in quick spastic movements.

Shin gulped kept his distance from Ryo's protective...friend. Ryo had never said anything about a tiger. "Ryo, please, look at me." Slowly, Ryo did as Shin asked and focused on him. "What happened to you?" Ryo looked destroyed, as if his heart had been ripped out of his chest.

Ryo closed his eyes and buried his hands further in Byakuen's fur. "G-granma died."

Shin didn't know what to say, so he said nothing and waited for Ryo to continue.

"I did s-s-something awful, S-S-Shin." Ryo's voice grew quieter as he spoke and he wouldn't look Shin in the eye. "I did something so h-h-horrible." He wrapped his arms around his stomach and curled himself into a fetal position.

"You tell me what happened?" Shin inched closer to Ryo, keeping a close eye on the tiger. "You trust me not to tell, if that what you want." Shin had always been very proud of the fact that he'd never been one to tell secrets and he wished that Ryo could trust him as easily as Touma did.

"You'll hate me if I tell y-you."

"I never hate you, Ryo. You're my friend." That was the truth, anyway. Shin gave his trust wearily and when he did chose to trust someone, he was possessive and didn't like giving them up. Ryo was his friend and Shin would stick with him. When Ryo said nothing for a moment, Shin touched his shoulder lightly, but Ryo flinched away violently at the touch. "You don't have to tell, if you don't want. Come to my home and warm up?" Shin stood up and tried to move to another subject that might be less painful.

Ryo sighed and nodded, but when Shin held out a hand to him, Ryo refused it and grabbed the tiger's fur to pull himself up. The three of them walked in silence with Shin trying to make small talk, but Ryo didn't answer. The tiger walked between them, as if it wanted to shield Ryo from Shin. 'Ryo trusts it, so I suppose it's all right.' Shin watched the tiger warily out of the corner of his eye, not quiet sure how they managed to get all the way from the park to Shin's house without meeting a single person at this time of day. 'If anyone saw that tiger, there'd be a riot or something.' But they were lucky as Shin's house wasn't all that far from the park.

Shin was about to say that Ryo should tell the tiger to stay outside, as he really didn't think his mum or his okasan would appreciate having a kitty cat the size of a small horse in the house, when the tiger leapt up, putting its paws on Ryo's shoulders. Ryo put his hands out to steady his friend and they looked at each other for a minute before the tiger gave Ryo's face a small lick. Then it jumped down and walked quietly back into the park, vanishing into a thick corpse of trees.

"Come in, Ryo." Shin opened the front door and Ryo walked in sluggishly, just letting himself be led. When he led Ryo though the house, Shin caught a glimpse of his okasan in the living room with Touma. They both looked up at him, but he shook his head, motioning for them to be silent. Ryo didn't see the movement and never even looked up from where he was staring at the floor. "You lay down and rest, I call the school and tell them you won't be in today." Shin took Ryo to his bedroom and gestured to the bed before he left the room

"Okasan!" Shin ran down stairs, back to where Touma and Shin's Okasan were waiting for him.

"What happened to Ryo?" Touma asked, sounding very worried. "He looked like death warmed up. Why didn't you bring him in here?"

"He's in trouble." Shin said, reverting to English so he could speak faster and he knew they could both understand English. "Ryo said his granma died and he's really broken up about it." Shin looked back and forth between Touma and his okasan. "I found him in the park and he had a huge tiger with him! Ryo said he'd done something awful, but he didn't tell me what and he looks like he just wants to die." Shin hoped one of them would know what to do because, beyond comforting Ryo, Shin had no idea.

Okasan went to the phone. "I'll call the police and see if anyone's looking for him. A tiger in the city should have escaped from the zoo or something, so there's probably people looking for that, too."

"I'm going to run to Seiji's house. They were pretty close, so Seiji's gonna want to know about this. If anyone can help Ryo, Seiji can." Touma took off out the door, without a thought to the restriction that he couldn't go anywhere alone and Shin knew better than to remind him. Touma could get awful stubborn when he wanted to and he certainly wasn't going to wait around if Ryo needed help. Besides, Seiji lived close enough that by the time Shin's okasan got off the phone, Touma would probably be back with Seiji.


Shin's room was nice, cleaned and well organized with a large fish tank and many potted plants decorating the place. It was the kind of place Ryo had always wished for in a home. Ryo slumped down on Shin's bed and lay down. He just felt so damned tired.

"Please, don't give up."

Ryo didn't bother to look up at Shin's voice and he didn't answer. The bed shifted slightly and Ryo knew that Shin sat down next to him. Ryo didn't like it; it felt to intimate, to much like when he'd been with Bishop Brannon. But he didn't have any energy to move away from Shin.

"Ryo," Shin's hand touched Ryo's arm tentatively, as if unsure of it's welcome there. "You trust me. I never hurt you."

Ryo's eyes were burning and he felt his lips start to shake. 'I don't want him to be nice to me. He'll be so disgusted when he finds out what I did. He'll hate me.' Ryo didn't want to cry. He really didn't want to cry again. It felt like he'd been doing nothing but crying for so long.

Shin moved, shifting around so he was leaning over Ryo, looking down at him and Ryo had no choice but to look at Shin. A hand landed on Ryo's shoulder and he looked up at Shin's worried face. 'God, no one should worry about me,' Ryo thought. 'I'm not worth it. I let my own granma die. Couldn't even save the person I love most in the entire world. I sold my self. Granma would be so ashamed.'

"Ryo, let me help you. Let me do something. It hurts to see you hurt."

Unable to hold back anymore, Ryo burst into tears and put his face into Shin's pillow so Shin wouldn't see him. Confused, Shin crawled over Ryo, and knelt on the floor in front next to him, rubbing his arm. "Shhh. It fine. Everything okay. I take care of you." It kept going like this, with Shin speaking softly and gently, coming close enough to put his cheek on Ryo's and then backing away and wiping tears off Ryo's face. Shin touched Ryo's hair, running his fingers through the black locks from where it curled near Ryo's ears and down the straighter hair in the back.

Eventually, Ryo took a deep breath, to ease the crying and turned his face enough that he could see Shin. "G-g-granma, d-d-died." He managed to force the words out. He'd said it earlier, but he needed to say it again.

"I'm sorry." It seemed inadequate, but there was nothing else to say. Shin sat next to Ryo and let the other boy cry. It was the first time he'd seen Ryo cry. Ryo sat up slowly, as if it was almost painful, and hunched over, putting his head on his knees and wrapping his arms around his head, looking like he was trying to hide.

"All alone." Ryo whispered, seeming to calm down enough to speak properly. "I'm all a-alone."

"Silly." Shin put a hand under Ryo's chin and lifted his face so Ryo would look at him. "You're not alone. Never alone with us."

Ryo shook his head. "I-It's not the same as f-family."

Ryo felt a touch on the side of his head and Shin pulled Ryo to lean against him. Ryo looked up at Shin's gentle smile, but pulled away. "I d-don't want you t-to touch me."

Shin didn't try to stop Ryo from moving away, but said, "Ryo, I won't hurt you. You not alone, please remember that."

Ryo forced himself to relax and ran a hand over his face. If Shin knew what a horrible person he was then maybe he wouldn't want Ryo near him. He didn't want to touch anyone, ever again. "I'm a whore." It just sort of came out without Ryo really thinking about it. If he'd taken the time to think, Ryo might not have said anything.

Shin froze.

'This is it,' Ryo knew. 'Shin will turn away from me and he'll tell the others and they'll all hate me!'

Instead, Shin put both arms around Ryo and sounded like he was going to cry himself. "Oh, poor Ryo. Why you do such a thing to yourself?"

Surprised at the sympathy, Ryo answered. "Granma needed to go to the h-h-hospital and I didn't have enough money. I had to get it quick." He gave a disgusted laugh at his wasted efforts and let his chin rest on Shin's shoulder. "Didn't even w-w-work in the end, she d-d-died anyway."

Finally, Shin let go. "I know it's awful to lose your granma, but why you run from Seiji? You could have told him about what you did to help your granma, he understand. You did it to save her after all, so it's not so horrible. You do it for good reason."

"I...I set fire to his mom."

Shin blinked. "What? Why?"

Ryo moved away from Shin. "I didn't m-mean it. It just h-happens when I get angry or upset. I can usually c-control it, but she s-surprised me. I burnt her shirt all up." Ryo sniffed miserably. "Seiji m-must hate me."

"I might hate you if you ever do something stupid like running away from me again!" Seiji stood in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face. Behind Seiji Ryo could see Touma and Xiu, all looking equally worried.

Ryo paled and looked for a place to run, but the imposing Seiji, who looked far more frightening than Ryo had ever seen him, was blocking the only door. "I didn't mean it, S-Seiji! It just happened. I really didn't mean to hurt you m-m-mom." He repeated what he'd said to Shin, but now it sounded desperate and pleading and he cringed away from Seiji.

Seiji stormed into the room with slow, measured steps. "You had us so worried!" Seiji said, almost growling. "I had my grandfather put out a report for all the police to look for you. My mom was in tears when I left her, she thinks you've killed yourself." Seiji was suddenly in front of Ryo and looked down at him with blazing eyes. He grabbed Ryo by the shoulders and gave him a shake. "You idiot! Don't you ever run away from us again! We were so scared for you."

Ryo wanted to pull away, but he was shocked at the same time. Seiji wasn't angry! Seiji's hands tightened on Ryo's shoulders, digging into Ryo's skin. "Ryo, you're practically my brother. My grandfather loved your granma and he wanted you both to live with us. You can have the spare room, Ryo. My mom said she'd adopt you, if she can."

The others moved in then, surrounding Ryo and almost making him feel smothered. Touma patted Ryo's back. "You shouldn't keep things from us, Ryo. How are we supposed to help if you don't talk to us?"

Seiji agreed. "Thankfully, Shin had the sense to let everyone know what was going on when he found you."

"Trust us, Ryo." Xiu said with a grin, slapping Ryo softly on the shoulder. "We take care of each other. We'll take care of you, too."

Ryo couldn't speak. His mouth just seized up and anything he might have said was lost in a choked sob. Maybe, just maybe, with a little help, he could still make his granma proud.


Cousin D: Well, that's the end of the story, folks.

ELgoW: What do you mean, that's the end?! You can't end it like that! What about Touma's trial? What about Xiu's dad finding out about Seiji? What about our psycho little Shin? What about Seiji hearing voices?

Lil' Demoness: I'm afraid ELgoW is right this time. You just can't leave readers, hanging like that. Half the story is unfinished. Be reasonable, you can't end things like this.

Cousin D: But I was just going to add to the original. This is getting a bit long, don't you think? It's your fault, anyway, that all that extra stuff got added. I wasn't going to do all that.

ELgoW: We're having fun! We are NOT stopping here! You haven't even put our Ma-Sho into the story. How could you forget them?!

Lil' Demoness: You just go to bed, Cousin D. Let us handle things, now. You just relax.

Cousin D: Relax? With you two mucking around on my keyboard?

ELgoW: Hee, hee. Trust us.

Cousin D: Oh, dear.