WARNING: mentions of kidnapping and rape (in further chapters)

we, the children who laugh at the dead

"It's not much, of course," Keigo says, upon opening the door with the spare key. He had offered a nicer flat than this, with a full wired-security system and password-locked doors. Ryoma had laughed at him. "But adequate, I daresay. For," he pauses, uncertain how to proceed, "for whatever you have in mind."

Ryoma carries a duffel bag that is half his size. Inside is stuffed with last-minute clothes and tennis shoes, but no racket. The boy's hair is matted and inside a frayed grey cap, not the one he usually wears. Ryoma raises his head enough for Keigo to see the mirth in his hazel eyes.

"It'll do," he says, and he walks in before Keigo, surveying the small living room with adjacent the bedroom. He steals a look at Keigo from under the cap. Keigo wishes he would shun that bloody thing altogether. "You'll visit, yeah?"

"Yes, of course I will." Keigo follows him inside; taking care to arrange his own shoes pointedly next to Ryoma's own scruffy ones. "I thought that was the whole point of this little…." He tries to search for words; fails. "This little plan of yours."

Ryoma sighs. He drops his bag and kicks it away, uninterested already, and (finally) takes off his cap. His hair, Keigo notes, is a mess. He needs a shower.

"I don't mean because of the trial," he says, mocking, "You know. Just popping round, taking a look in."

"Ah." He raises an eyebrow; this is familiar territory and fallback. "You mean to keep you company?"

"Yeah, that."

"I'll see what I can do." Ryoma gives him a quick half-smirk that is barely formed before it disappears. Keigo looks around his minimalist surroundings. This flat will need a sofa, he thinks. A TV. Some books, although it was doubtful Ryoma would read them. One never knows, in the face of boredom and anxiety.

"I'll need food." Ryoma breaks the silence and his thoughts, sauntering over to the small kitchen and looking around. "And a fridge. Do you think I'll need a fridge?"

"Depends whether you can cook," Keigo says.

"Some."

"I'll call up some stores." He looks out the window leading to the narrow balcony: the sun is about to set and purple hues streak the light sky. "Tomorrow, first thing."

"Before class?"

"Yes, before." He pauses, and ventures out, "And what will you be doing about school?"

"Skip."

"Very smart, this plan of yours," Keigo says dryly, "What happens if your teacher calls your father?"

Ryoma shrugs. This reality of such questions is starting to irritate him. "My dad won't care. My mom's in the States."

"So no one to report you missing?"

"I won't be missing. I'll be in the courtroom, won't I?"

Keigo levels a look at him. "Will you, though?"

"I said I will. Don't be a nag."

Keigo sighs. "I really try not to be. You seem to bring out the worst in me."

"Boo-hoo."

Keigo smiles, walks over and touches a strand of matted hair. He leans over and lightly brushes the crown of Ryoma's head. Ryoma stands still, obedient.

"You need a long shower," Keigo says. "You smell horrible."

"Pot, kettle." Ryoma grins and flicks his fingers into the empty air, near Keigo's ear. "Do you want to shower together?"

His thoughts dissipate and freeze. His answer is reflexive, "No. I'd prefer a bath, it's been a tiring day."

Ryoma shrugs, not put off by the refusal. "Your loss," he says, full of cheer, and with a wave, Keigo is out the door and away from the flat and building. Before he goes, he takes one last look at the closed door: a bleached grey color, full of dampness that fills him with morose. He sighs and walks towards his chauffeur.

/

The next day, he finds Ryoma squashed in a wooden chair, his legs cramped up the seat, playing with a packet of cigarettes.

"I hardly think this is the ideal time to be exploring vices," he says, positioning his and Ryoma's shoes in parallels. He straightens up. "A man will be here soon. I looked up a sofa and a fridge."

"Good for you," Ryoma intones. He has torn off the plastic wrapper, but has yet to open up the case. A lighter is nowhere to be found. "My dad always smokes these things. Figures, if a retired tennis player can, why can't I?"

"Because you're not of age, for one."

Ryoma clicks his tongue. "Don't be so prim, monkey king. How was school?"

"You don't really care."

"I don't." Ryoma shrugs and flex his toes. "I thought it'd be polite though."

"You don't do manners."

"I do. When it suits me." He gives a sweet smile to Keigo, one that he doesn't return. He frowns and walks past the chair and into the bedroom. The only furniture is a sparse futon, with an abandoned paperback. He picks it up: Kafka on the Shore.

"You'll need a bed as well," Keigo says, "Stupid of me to forget."

"The futon's fine."

"It'll get cold soon. You'll catch a flu." He walks out again and hands the book over to Ryoma. "And reading. I'm surprised."

"I was bored," Ryoma retorts, frowning, "That was all the store got in English."

"Shame."

Ryoma looks up at him and blinks, once. "Staying for dinner?"

"If you have something."

"I have noodles." Ryoma tilts his head. "But I can't cook them."

Keigo sighs. He turns around to the kitchen and sees a plastic bag, groceries spilling out: a pack of raw noodles, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese. "You are terrible at being bored," he says, and walks over to the disaster. He turns on the stove.

"You're good at being mother," Ryoma calls from behind.

The dinner is quick and silent. Ryoma eats huge gulps, not pausing to chew. Keigo watches the sauce smear itself slowly on pale lips and around the cheeks.

He looks very, very young.

Keigo looks down at his own plate. He cannot work himself up an appetite.

"Did you poison this? You're not touching your own food."

"Just," he says, absent-minded, "Just. Not very hungry. Here, you can have it."

"Spoiled bastard," Ryoma says cheerfully, and takes up on the offer. He doesn't talk for the rest of the meal, just a loud clatter of a fork against cheap glassware.

He wonders what Ryoma had eaten while he was taken. Bread, perhaps. Gruel. Cereal. Then again, perhaps he had starved.

/

When they fuck, Ryoma looms above him, his hands pinning down arms. The light is off, and only the shadow of the boy's figure is mapped ambiguously, as Ryoma moves up and down without a sound out of him. He is still and pinned; his back digs into the thin blankets and the hard floor is painful to his bones. His arms are held captive and he thinks, so this is how it must feel being fucked.

When he comes, Ryoma doesn't pull out, and they had used no condoms. Ryoma lets out a harsh sigh that sounds like a bark, and smoothly swings his leg over, and lies besides him. Their hands do not touch.

When the body shivers, it is Keigo who turns and reaches out and it is Ryoma who edges closer, slowly.

"We don't have to do this," he says, his voice never softer. Ryoma turns these words into sharp knives, ready and slick for battle.

"Do you not want to?"

"It doesn't matter what I want."

"Of course it does. It used to."

"I'm asking you what you want."

"How romantic." He wishes there was a bigger window in the bedroom. The moonlight does not reach to illuminate Ryoma's face, so he cannot see his face. The voice, Ryoma has mastered at fine scorn and mockery, a façade his eyes betray every time.

He traces the shadows. "Fine, then. I don't want to."

"Liar."

A silence folds, stretches. Keigo doesn't know what to say to that.

"You were interested earlier." Now Ryoma sits up, but his head hides the light, so that Keigo only sees a shadowy face. "I mean. Your cock was."

He rubs is eyes. He wonders what time it is. "Don't be crass," he says, and it comes out as a tired rebuke.

"Do you want to have another go?" Definitely a sneer now, and Ryoma makes a motion to straddle him, "You're not that old yet, surely."

Before he could though, Keigo moves his arm and his fingers grip at an angled nape, and his fingertips dig fragile skin.

His silence is a warning, and Ryomd visibly flounders, sags. He settles back.

"Sorry," he says. "I don't know what got over me."

"I shouldn't have said anything," Keigo mouths. But the shadows will hide his apology because they are, in this empty night, meaningless.

Ryoma stays awake, fiddling his hands, and he wonders where he had stayed. Would it have been a cellar, a palace, a hotel, the backseat of the car, or a house, simple and ordinary as they come?

"What was his name?" he asks, as such thoughts trail and string themselves together.

There is a pause, and some shuffling of the blanket. Keigo gives up his share graciously.

"K," Ryoma answers, after several beats. "Don't you have to go home?"

Literary, that man. That bastard.

/

His name, in the courtroom, is Keiji Tamura. He is a professor and he is well groomed, slick, and scrupulously polite.

He gives a little smile when he sees Keigo amongst the audience, one that he doesn't return. He would, if the law allowed him, to tear out those black eyes that glitter in the fluorescent light. He is on a trial, that man. Does he have no fear?

Before the proceedings start, the man is seen chatting with his lawyer; going over the cases, the materials, no doubt, but all Keigo could see is that little curve playing over thin lips.

One of the prosecutors walks over to him with a cup of coffee. There is a slight sneer and grimace hovering in his lips: he resents dealing with a kid, Keigo knows, but then again, the kid was all he had to go on, and Atobe Keigo was not any kid slobbering over the holy sectors of the law.

"Not with the kid, then?" the prosecutor asks with a nod. "Him, Echizen-kun, was it?"

"He's resting," he says coolly; he means, out with your business, we have no room to be friends.

Another brisk nod; the man sneaks a quick glance out at the professor. "It looks bad," he says in a low voice, "I'm just telling you this now before the cross-examination starts. But there is nothing against him except for Echizen-kun's testimony. That guy is clean. The bodies we found have no link to him whatsoever, or at least the parts we found. You know about the bodies?"

Keigo nods, curt.

"Burned, all of them. What we have to go on are photos that don't even resemble human flesh. I don't know what Echizen-kun saw, or what that guy was planning, but we can't even trace back whether he took Echizen-kun and planned to do the same thing to him."

Keigo tries to find his voice and hardens it. "He's the living proof, isn't he?"

"His word against them," the man quickly corrects. "Echizen-kun came back alone, didn't he? Out of his own free will—and he wasn't the one who reported the case first." A meaningful look at him, and Keigo frowns.

"So would it be my fault that I had called the police as soon as he returned after three weeks?" he asks, deliberately light.

The prosecutor does a half-shrug. "It's not that, of course. It just makes everything a bit muddled."

"Muddled," Keigo repeats.

"Echizen-kun still hasn't handed in any words or taped interviews. Without his witness testimony, we can't do anything."

"I'll talk to him tonight," Keigo says, and with that last word, the court is about to begin.

He was supposed to be here, Ryoma. I said I will, don't be a nag, is what he had said while looking around his new hovel. Keigo remembers that broken half-hearted promise, and words, these days, are all he has to go on. He curls his fingers.

/

He does not visit the grey slab and enter the bleak door that leads to Ryoma today. He is exhausted. He allows the maids to draw him a bath, and while he undresses, his phone rings.

He does not pick it up.

A week ago, a skeletal body that resembled Ryoma had collapsed on the front gates of his house; after weeks of searching and harassing the neighborhood and the school, the boy appears out of thin air.

He did not speak, at first. His hair was streaked with blood and dirt, and his eyes roamed everything; they did not linger long on Keigo, but searched for something that was not there, surely. In the end, what Keigo got out of was nothing, and it had been up to him to call the police. Ryoma had answered every question with a vacant affirmative.

"Would this be the same man that took off with the bodies near Shinjuku station?"

"Yeah."

"What was his name?"

A shrug.

"Would you recognize him if you saw him?"

"Sure, why not."

"How did he take you?"

The gaze that traveled to the walls landed on the young officer who had been interrogating him. The officer looked unnerved, but repeated, "Echizen-kun, this is very important. How did he take you? Did he drug you?"

"I followed him."

"Yes, but what did he do?"

Ryoma fiddled with his fingers, scratched his leg. Keigo's sudden thought then: he is apathetic. "He didn't do anything."

"You are hardly a child, Echizen-kun. He must have done something."

Ryoma shrugged again and a faint smile threatened to appear on his lips. "He offered me candy, I guess."

Keigo thinned his lips and intervened. "He's tired, officer. We could do this another time, yes?"

They never did have another time.

The phone is ringing, ringing, ringing. He sighs, an irritated huff, and goes over to take the call.

"I'm bored." Is the greeting.

He is silent, pondering. The water, he glances, must be cooling. He doesn't have time for this, he wants a bath, he wants silence, he does not want to think about leery professors and dead bodies.

"Monkey king, are you even there? I hear you breathing."

"You," he says, and the syllable is uttered with a single-driven contempt, "Are an absolute pain. Didn't we promise something?"

There is not even a pause as Ryoma answers, innocent, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"The court date. Your testimony."

"Oh, that." A shuffling can be heard on the other side. "I lost track of time. Reading, doing some stuff."

He feels too angry to even conjure sarcasm. "And reading was more important than putting down a murderer behind bars, is that it?"

Now there is a pause. "He's not a murderer."

"He killed five people. And," Keigo draws in a breath, grits his teeth, "He might have done the same to you."

"Yeah, but we don't know that."

"You saw. You told me you saw them."

"I didn't. I never said anything." Ryoma's voice is sharp now; he's panicking. "What the fuck, Keigo. I never said that."

He falls silent. No; Ryoma had never said. But he has dreams, nightmares that make him sweat, and when Keigo wakes him up, before Ryoma moved out of Keigo's room and into his own squalor he calls a flat, he had struggled with the tangles of bed sheets, and Keigo had shaken him, whispered, what's wrong, what's wrong.

Smoke, Ryoma gasped, Fire. The air's killing me, Keigo, we have to get out. You have to get out.

You're safe, Keigo whispered, you're safe, I'm here.

Smoke. Ryoma is delirious, he does not know what he is saying. He's burning them, and he promised he me he wouldn't, but he is and I'm next, I'm next, a gasp.

His voice soft, Keigo says, "You had nightmares. Before you moved out, you talked about it in your dreams."

A harsh drawing of breath is heard. "There were overrated," Ryoma snaps, and the coldness can be heard from across the line, "Did you report that to the police too? They were dreams. They weren't anything."

"They have photos," Keigo goes on, "Of ashes. They match with your story. I thought it best to let them know."

"Fuck," Ryoma repeats, "Fuck."

"Why are you even defending him?" Keigo says, finally, running out of patience and cajoling words, soothing promises, "I don't understand you. You don't talk about the things he's done, you don't want to help with the trial, but you want the trial to proceed. You wanted the trial. You told me that you would give out the evidence."

"I am," Ryoma says, strained. "I will. It's hard, okay? It's really, fucking hard."

He is pushing, Keigo realizes. With a sigh and a rub of his temples, he suppresses out the exasperation and all he is left with is an abyss of guilt.

"I know," he lies, because how will he ever know? He digs his fingers deeper into his forehead and looks out the window. The night is dark and empty. "Bored, you said?"

Silence, and a slow whisper. "No. I can't sleep."

"Moving out was a really stupid idea, wasn't it?"

"Was not. Your parents are there. It's weird. Do they know about me?"

"No," Keigo says, "You didn't want them to."

"Okay. Good." A draw of breath. "That's good."

"Do you want me to come over?"

"Do you have some Hitchcock films? Bring them with you."

Keigo lips form a smile. It looks terrible in the reflection of the window; he has not smiled enough to come out naturally these days. "Is my company not enough?"

"It really isn't," Ryoma says dryly, "You mope too much for the both of us."

"I'll bring something." He resolves to drain down the water. A waste. He dresses into casual grey jeans and a shirt, thinks, he must be calm and composed. He must not, in Ryoma's words, nag. He must wait, and be patient. In his dreams, he can have the luxury of stabbing the man, over and over again, instead of facing his present, of reminding himself of the three weeks he had bitten off his nails and waited for a miracle.

He takes the recorder though, just in case.

/

I realize that Ryoma can be a bit Ooc for this piece, but I honestly could not flesh out a bratty Ryoma when he had been kidnapped and brutalized. Hopefully I could pull that off for the next chapter.

This will be in two or three parts, depending on how long I'll write out the ending!

Thank you for reading, and reviews and criticism are always welcome.