Steal

The future is ours.. isn't it?

86 posts in this topic

(To make up for about a week and a half... WORD SALAD)

The lights suddenly flicked back on, and Yusai was momentarily stunned. He withdrew his hands from the door to felt them tingling and sore, the sides of his palms red and swollen from pounding so hard. His knees were buckling. He felt trickles of sweat beading down his back despite the room being on the cooler side. He was terrified—fine, physically, as far as he could tell—but he was trying to process the events that had just transpired and was not coming to any satisfactory conclusions.

 

But then Steal approached, reminding Yusai of his previous worries that his friend had been in danger. He was glad to see that the younger man was unharmed and about, however, he himself was still caught up in his own adrenal rush and was not able to greet him with the same geniality. Which... Seemed odd, given the circumstances.

 

For the time being, Yusai didn't give Steal's manner a second thought, as he was trying to bring himself down from the state of panic he had approached. He only half-heard what Steal had mentioned about the key, the door, but it was not a topic of immediate concern for him. He wanted his body to just calm down... For his hands to stop shaking, his knees to stop buckling, and he wanted to catch his breath.

 

And now Steal was pressing up against him, crooning into his ear. For some reason, this did not bring Yusai any sense of comfort. In fact, something about Steal's unusually affectionate manner struck him as odd and alarming. As if reacting on instinct, Yusai brought his palm to Steal's chest and pushed him away, sending the young man tumbling backwards.

 

“Stop it!” Yusai said sternly, eyeing Steal, “What are you doing? What's gotten into you?” There was a pregnant pause between them with Yusai staring Steal down, his look demanding an answer. But he didn't respond right away, and Yusai was having a difficult time discerning the look on Steal's face. His brow was knotted tight and his lips twisted in a horrific grimmace that Yusai had never seen on him before, and he wondered briefly if he had hurt him.

 

Marshaling his reservations, Yusai slowly approached Steal, his hands raised in front of him placatingly.

 

“Oi, hey, sorry... I didn't mean to hurt you, I just--” And then Yusai was interrupted, taken by surprise for the third time tonight when Steal suddenly looked up at him, his blue eyes a piercing, horrible visage, and then lunged at him, knocking Yusai onto his back into a pile of toys.

 

This attack had taken him off guard completely. He was even more surprised at Steal's strength, which was disproportionately strong given his slim frame. He listened to the sickening growls and hissing coming from Steal's mouth and winced in pain as the younger man dug his fingernails into his shoulders, and dragged them down his chest. Yusai raised his elbow to Steal's neck and tried to push him away to free himself from the scuffle, but it was no use.

 

“Aaoow! Steal! Stop it!” Yusai shouted as Steal, with his talon-like fingers, tore into him again, this time drawing shallow, bloody abbrasions along the side of his neck. Yusai, still with his forearm pressed into Steal's collar, tried to grab hold of Steal with his spare hand, but couldn't find his grip anywhere. He was like a wild animal. And he was beginning to attack like a rapid one, too.

 

Now, Yusai found himself fighting back in earnest. He withdrew the arm from Steal's neck and reared his fist back, going in for a right hook, but missing when Steal dodged at the last minute. He retaliated by punching back, getting Yusai square in the nose, which immediately ruptured into a bloody mess. Yusai was stunned, but only for a second. Automatically, he responded by grabbing Steal by the cuff of his shirt and drawing his head down, raising up his own to give him a head-butt, and returned the bloody nose. This action somehow seemed to amuse Steal more than anything, however, if the wicked grin plastered on his face was any indication.

 

Yusai threw his weight to the side and was able to send Steal tumbling off of him, and before he could get up to attack, Yusai was on him, pinning his legs to the ground. Then their arms were a scuffle again, an aimless mess of punches and scratching and grabbing until Yusai felt a hot, seering pain shoot up from his hand, Steal's teeth having found a grip there. He wailed in agony.

 

“Aaah! Let go—STEAL, LET GO!” Yusai hollared, feebly attempting to prise his hand from the younger mans jaw. But it was useless—any attempt Yusai made to wriggle his hand free just made Steals jaw clench tighter around the muscle there. He tried to pull his jaws open with his spare hand, but to no avail, as Steal just grabbed with his free arm and dug his fingers into the soft flesh around Yusai's elbow, making him hiss in further pain.

 

God, what was happening? Yusai couldn't make any sense of it. What had he done to prompt this fight with Steal? Why was Steal acting this way? He was in pain, he was frightened, and he was angry all in one. This whole night was a total mess and it wasn't at all what Yusai had come into it expecting. He wanted this to be over. He wanted to wake up and find out that this was all some kind of stupid dream, and that the horrible cat had been tearing him up in his sleep.

 

But, there was no denying this pain, and there was no denying that this was real. There was no denying the sinister look in Steal's eyes as he was drawing blood from Yusai's hand like a vampire. It was an awful look that Yusai had never seen in Steal's eyes before. It was unnatural and out of place. He could've sworn he was looking at a completely different person, even... Like some kind of creature had crawled into Steal's body and was running the show.

 

Not that Yusai really placed stock in that sort of thing—demons, posession, and other spiritual nonsense of the like were all things Yusai had abandoned shortly after his friend had passed—but he couldn't help but feel a slight twinge of doubt that he had been wrong about this all his life. What a revelation to come to now, though. And to what use? Yusai was the furthest thing from a holy man. It wasn't as if he could perform an exorcism on his friend. It wasn't as if he knew any spells or incantations to ward away spirits. These were all ridiculous scenarios Yusai mulled about in his head and... God, his hand hurt... All of him did. The pain was all he could focus on right now.

 

Yusai could feel his body starting to submit to the pain almost completely now, and his struggle to free himself was becoming more feeble. But then he heard something, the sound of a familiar voice, speaking to him in a strange and soft whisper,

 

“Look over there... The angel!”

 

He looked up and around frantically, wondering where the voice had come from first, seeking out this angel second. Was there another supernatural being in the room he had failed to address before now?

 

No... That would've been silly. There was, however, in plain sight and sitting just in Yusai's reach, another angel statue, similar to the one he had found not long ago, but this one in pristine shape. In fact, it was the only non-worn and un-battered looking item in the entire room. Strange how he hadn't seen it around before—and he certainly would've noticed it earlier, as it was practically irredecent—but Yusai didn't think about it too much. He made a quick swipe for the statue and in a similar quick movement, did the only thing he could think to do with it:

 

He hit Steal in the head, and knocked him out cold.

 

 

 

 

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Steal felt terrible, his control of his own body had completely left him, and now he had no idea what was going to happen, other than that Yusai was likely to want to kick him out of the house after whatever was going to occur.    When Yusai pushed him away after the intruder's behavior Steal was a bit relieved, it was good to know that this other being was not going to get anything he, himself was not going to get.  Strange that was his first thought, but it was.  Then things plummeted really fast.

Yusai was apologizing for what he had done when the being inside of him snapped and went feral.   Clawing, scratching and mauling ensued, followed by the other biting Yusai.  Steal the whole while screamed silently wanting to make it all stop.  He wanted to say he was sorry, but it was not happening, all he could do was weep silently inside, pleading for it all to end.

When Yusai struck him in the face, sparks covered his vision, and the being backed off just enough to ensure that Steal himself got to feel the pain, laughing in his head the whole while.  Nice, good of this thing to share the pain with him.  Now if only he could free himself.  Nope not happening, a moment later he was a passenger again, struggling against the tightening grip.   Then Yusai ended the struggle for all of him,

Thunk....

Darkness....

He had no way of knowing what hit him, as he tumbled away.

The other being did though.   With a howl it's shadowy form withdrew from Steal staring angrily at Yusai, not liking that it's fun had been thwarted.  It knew that someone else had stepped in and told Yusai what to do and it was not amused.   Throwing what could only be called an other-wordly tantrum it tossed things about in the room before withdrawing.  The lights came back up, and the camera feed turned back on letting the workers see Steal laying unconscious and bloody, his head bleeding (which as any head wound, looked terrible.) and both males with bleeding noses. 

~~~~

Did they get in a fist fight?

I don't know, but someone better let them out before they sue the hell out of us.

~~~~~

The voice that had spoke to Yusai murmured softly.  "I am sorry, it was the only way, he wasn't going to let him go."

It was a time before Steal finally woke again, in agony.   He let his eyes open slowly before the whole situation poured onto him in a rush.  Scrambling back into a corner, the younger man pulled his knees to his chest and bowed his head.  "I.. I.. didn't, I .. I didn't want to.. it wasn't me..."  The words tumbled out, amidst tears and trembling.   Yusai was bound to hate him now and he wasn't even able to control himself.

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Yusai still had the angel in his grip, his hand trembling with the wane of adrenaline in his body. He looked down at the unconscious man underneath him, and his stomach sank. Oh God, what had he done? Automatically, Yusai tried to gently shake Steal awake, a new fear taking over him: He knew he was stronger than Steal. He could’ve hit him harder than he thought and killed him. For the last time tonight, panic took the front seat of Yusai’s emotions and he started shaking Steal in an effort to rouse him.

 

Then there was a rush of noise, like a violent wind in a tunnel. Yusai jerked his head to look behind him and saw nothing, but in returning his attention to Steal, he saw a huge, black, oily creature quickly slithering away from underneath the younger man’s head. Yusai gasped, and hurriedly pulled Steal upright and held him to his chest, watching in horror as the creature disappeared into the mess of toys, causing them to stir violently.

 

There was another noise then, one that sounded like a thick cloth was being torn up. Yusai watched blankly—all rational thought having abandoned his head for the night—while toys and other debris from the room undulated for a moment, then stopped suddenly. Then, there was another loud crash that shook the entire room. Yusai closed his eye and buried his face in the nape of Steals shoulder, the noise having startled him, and he resided that he did not want to be witness to any other horrors that the evening had to offer. He just wanted everything to be done, for the night to end, for all of this mess to go away, and for Steal to wake up.

 

The room had stopped shuddering, and silence had taken over once again. Yusai looked up and around at his surroundings; Toys were still strewn everywhere, and what appeared to be black skids that resembled scorch marks were now splattered throughout the room, centering around the middle of a dark, black ring where Yusai had seen the creature crawl last. And, there was a hole in the ceiling. That was new.

 

Yusai didn’t dare move from his spot, far too afraid now, and also the pain he was feeling with his scrap with Steal was starting to creep back ten-fold. His face was numb and his hand was still bleeding, the searing pain was also beginning to migrate up the length of his arm. Still, in spite of this, he couldn’t help but worry about Steals condition. And then, as if by some miracle, Steal began to wake in his arms.

 

“S..Steal? Are you alright?” Yusai asked, his voice strangely quiet. Steal took a minute to come to, but when he did, his eyes shot open wide with alarm, and he was squirming out from Yusai’s grip.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” Steal said, trembling, his bloody face suddenly wet again with tears. “It wasn’t me, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—“  Yusai watched Steal distance himself against a wall and huddle into his knees. This was a reaction that seemed typical for the younger man, as much as Yusai hated seeing him like this.

 

Instinctively, Yusai outstretched his good hand to Steal, though it quavered with the pain and adrenaline strumming through his own body.

 

“It’s okay, it’s alright… I’m fine, I’m—“ He stammered to find words. “Steal, it’s alright, I know you didn’t mean it.” Yusai said finally, not sure what else he could say that would assure either of them that there would be no more horrors from here on out.

 

He shuffled over to Steal on his knees, and slumped against the wall next to him, giving the younger man a cautious look. He wasn’t sure how to approach Steal right now, as he was pale and shivering in fear. He wasn’t even sure how to look at Steal either, as he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t lash out at him again. He wasn’t sure how to even talk to Steal, since Yusai was still in disbelief and shaken up by the events that had just transpired, and all of him felt like shutting down.

 

In fact… He wasn’t so sure that the room wasn’t getting darker, or if he was just imagining it. And God, his hand hurt. His whole arm hurt, in fact. So did his head. He suddenly felt very heavy and like every ounce of energy in him was fading. Maybe he could take a rest, just a small one…

 

“Hey, Steal,” Yusai said, his breath escaping him rapidly. “I think I’m… Gonna pass out,” And the last thing Yusai remembered doing that night was grabbing Steals hand and giving it a squeeze before everything went black.

 

While he was out, Yusai thought he saw a small boy and a younger man that looked an awful lot like a late friend of his waving at him from the room. The younger man was holding the lion. Yusai didn’t know who the little boy was, but he had the angel statue he had hit Steal on the head with at his feet, and then it occurred to him that it must’ve been some kind of grave marker. Huh. Strange that he would be seeing his, but he didn’t question it. He waved back at them and watched them fade away into the spiraling nothingness around him.

 

The sound of sirens and worried talking flooded into his ears briefly before he fell deeper into sleep.  He could also hear Steal too, and wondered if he’d be okay.

 

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Everything had happened so fast.  Why though?  He had just wanted to have a nice day, a fun time with Yusai and all of this stuff happened.  His head hurt so bad, his face..felt like it was on fire, and Yusai, oh Yusai looked terrible and it was his fault.  When the other man came over to him and took his hand, saying his was going to pass out Steal reacted instantly, holding Yusai's hand and cradling his head, still weeping.

Then he saw them, a man and a boy, both standing a bit away from them,  Steal blinked a bit, his eyes blurred and teary but they didn't vanish, at least not right away, the man, holding a lion toy smiled and murmured something.  "Take care of 'em, ey?  'E's a good one.. and give 'em... that.."  Something seemed to shimmer at Steal's free hand and he curled his fingers around it not looking.   The boy just smiled a little and waved his fingers taking the man's hand and walking off.

Yup, he was loopy with pain.  He hugged Sai's head and just closed his own eyes, letting the darkness take him again.  Better that way than to feel the pain.

****

Hours must have passed, Steal and Yusai were taken off to the hospital.   The people in the hotel had a hard time explaining what they had no proof of.   What had happened in the room.  Had it been some kind of lover's quarrel?  Both men would have to be questioned to find that out.   The other parties in the hotel were packed off and sent home, refunds to be processed.

****

Steal woke in the antiseptic smelling room, not sure where he was.  He was alone, under a plain sheet, bandages on his head and his nose feeling stuffed with cotton.   The pain was less though.  Someone was sitting in the room by his bed, with a note pad and a sympathetic look.   "Do you recall what happened?"  Steal looked around before murmuring a negative.  "Did he hurt you?"

That set Steal off.  "NO!  Sai wouldn't not willingly... I hurt him..  I hurt him.."   He dissolved into sobs turning his head into the hospital pillow.

The sound of writing.  "Are you sure?  He said he hurt you..  But he didn't know what happened either."

Steal remained adamant.  "No, it was my fault.  Something weird.. I don't know why.. it wasn't.. I didn't have control."

~~~

In the other room Otto sat by Yusai looking down at him with a mild frown. 

"Seriously Yusai, what the hell happened?  Shadows, strange sounds.. and than you end up here?   Are you sure it wasn't some kind of.. drug thing, the kid using drugs and spazzed?  It is happening more and more often now.  I know he is a good kid, but strange things happen."

The bar owner rubbed his hand over his eyes.  "Nah, I guess that isn't so likely, he cares too much.  Shit, but what does this all mean?  He was holding the cross you gave Richard!  The one matching yours.  How the hell did he get that?"

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Yusai opened his eye. He was in a beige room, surrounded by curtains. He could hear beeping and the scuffle of shoes nearby, and he wasn’t sure what it was about the sound of that particular walk, but, without having to look around, he knew he was in a hospital. Briefly, he wondered how he had gotten there.

 

“Hey,” A low, honeyed voice said beside him. Yusai turned over and was surprised to see his friend—and boss—Otto sitting in a chair beside him, absent-mindedly leafing through a magazine. “Look who’s awake. How you feeling?”

 

Yusai went to rub the bleariness out of his eye, and winced violently at the shock of pain that shot down his arm. His breath hitched and he immediately lowered it, only then noticing that it was bandaged up.

 

“I’ve been better,” Yusai said, his voice heavy and tired. “What time is it?”

 

“It’s two in the morning. By the way, thanks for using me as an emergency contact, you piece of shit.” Otto said in an effort to strike friendly rapport, but to no effect on Yusai, who looked genuinely remorseful.

 

“Sorry—“

 

“I was kidding,” Otto interrupted, his brows knotting. “What happened to you? You AND Steal look awful. Got some word you guys went to a haunted house down in Queens and they messed you up pretty bad over there?”

 

“Something like that,” Yusai replied. His mind was working slowly to remember all the evening details, though much of it was too bizarre for him to absorb still. “They locked me and Steal and a bunch of others up in these rooms. Thought we were gonna go on a bloody scavenger hunt… Then it all got kinda squirrely.”

 

Otto nodded, his chocolate brown eyes searching around the room for a moment before he spoke, “I heard they had to bring some other people from the house here, too. There was some woman screaming bloody murder down the hall across from Steal’s room about it. She sounded crazy. They finally shut her up about an hour ago.”

 

Yusai just stared soupily at him, his mind still chugging away at half its normal capacity. But oh, Steal, he heard that part, and his ears pricked to attention.

 

“Oi, where’s Steal at? Down the hall, you said? Have you seen him?” Yusai went to sit up but immediately felt a rush of dizziness hit him. He groaned softly and slowly leaned back down, defeated by the weird, dull pain that was radiating through his head. Otto simply watched as Yusai reeled.

 

“Yeah, I saw him. He’s been up for a while. I talked to him first about everything. He’s real shaken up by whatever it is that went down tonight. By the way? He says he’s sorry for that,” Otto pointed to Yusai’s bandaged hand. “And—“

 

Otto was suddenly interrupted by a gentle rap on the doorframe. An officer stood outside, looking in with an expression that read plainly, ‘Can I come in?’ Before deciding for himself to enter the room. Yusai looked up at the officer, a man who appeared to be in his late 30’s, a mixture of blonde-to-copper colored hair cut square and short on the sides, but quaffed on the top of his head, all of which was groomed finely to match with his trimmed beard and mustache, which covered some of his rosy complexion. The hairs on his strong looking arms were pale and mostly blended in with his skin tone. In those arms, the officer was carrying a bulky clipboard, a walkie-talkie, and some other gadgets Yusai couldn’t be fucked to name.

“Hello, mister… Pairoopay?” The officer looked at Yusai, who only nodded in affirmation. “Hi. I’m officer Andrews. I got a call from the hotel you and your spouse were staying at this evening regarding a potential assault. I’d like to speak with you about that, if you have a moment.”

 

Yusai could feel whatever color was left in his face draining, and his brows knotting.

 

“Officer, there wasn’t an assault—“ He started to say, but Andrew’s raised his hand to quiet him.

 

“Don’t worry. This isn’t an interrogation, and nobody is being accused of anything… Yet. There were some related incidents at the hotel that I was called in to investigate, and that’s all I’m here to do. So, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

 

Yusai recounted all the details of the night that he could remember to the officer, including the bizarre incidents that had taken place in the room they were locked in. It was here the officer had given him a firm-but-pleading glance, which halted Yusai’s story-telling.

 

“That should be enough, thank you,” The officer said, finishing his jotting notes. “I just have one more question—Have you or your spouse taken any substances tonight? Alcohol, drugs, prescription medication?”

 

“No?” Yusai answered, confused. But the question did make him think: the strange things he saw, Steals irratic behavior… What if at dinner, there was something put in their food, or drink?  “… I mean, I could take a test, if you’d like…” Yusai said earnestly. The officer simply clacked his pen down under his thumb.

 

“Don’t worry about it. You and the others will get samples taken later while we go investigate the facility. In the meantime, why don’t you just focus on getting some rest and taking it easy for the rest of the night?” Then Andrew’s was ambling for the door before Yusai could protest, and disappeared down the hall.

 

Yusai looked over at Otto, and Otto returned his glance, the two silent for a moment before Otto spoke.

 

“... That uh, sure does sound like some shit alright,” Otto said, baffled. “Seriously Yusai, what the hell happened? Shadows, strange sounds… And then you end up here? Are you SURE it wasn’t some kind of drug thing? The kid using drugs, and then spazzed? It’s happening more and more now. I mean, I know he’s a good kid, but stranger things have happened…”

Yusai shook his head and turned away, exasperated by Otto’s insinuation.

 

“It’s... Look, it’s not possible. I know Steal and I know he wouldn’t… Willingly… take any drugs or start beating me up for no reason. It was just… I don’t know,” Yusai shook his head, stammering to find the right words. “I’m telling you Otto, he was like a man possessed.”

 

“Yeah, well, the fact of the matter is that he took a big bite out of you and messed up your face. You think maybe he’s got some underlying mental issues that are just starting to come up?”

 

“No—Christ, I’m not a doctor! I don’t know!”

 

“Calm down dickhead, I was just asking!” Otto barked, the two of them giving each other severe looks before collecting their sensibilities. Yusai took a deep breath and sighed.

“Look Otto, I don’t know what happened back there, and I’m still tryin’ to make sense of it, okay? I don’t think Steal was hopped up on anything and I don’t think he’s gone mental. I don’t know what to think about anything that happened.”

 

Otto nodded and sighed, too. “Right, right… And I mean, besides… The kid cares too much to do any of that.” He placed his palms together and rested his chin on the tips of his fingers, staring blankly ahead at nothing in particular. “Shit though… What does this all mean?”

 

“I don’t know,” Yusai answered, staring ahead at nothing in particular himself, exhaustion starting to get the better of him again. His head was a mess of thoughts but none of them were coherent. He kept replaying the events of the night over in his head, and the officers questions. For some reason, his mind kept swirling around the possibility of being drugged.

But, would the event hosts do that? They certainly could have, however, very illegally. The more Yusai contemplated the possibility, the dumber it sounded. But… In a way, he was desperate for it to be the truth. He wanted some other explanation for the strange and supernatural things he witnessed—thought he witnessed—because otherwise, the reality would be that he and Steal did have contact with some strange and terrible beings.

 

Yusai was snapped out of his brief reverie when there was yet another knock on the frame of the door. This time, a nurse was standing there, wheeling behind her a cart with what looked like an oxygen mask with an accompanying difibulizer, and two tanks.

 

“I’ve just come in to replace your oxygen, don’t worry,” She said, wheeling up to Yusai’s bedside and immediately throwing herself into the task of switching over supply units. Yusai hadn’t realized until now, but he had two plastic prongs stuck up his aching nose. And here he just thought the pressure on his face was from when Steal had punched him…

 

“There, you’re all set mister Perupe,” The nurse said, clicking on the machine that was supplying him with oxygen. “Now, how are you feeling?”

 

“Like garbage,” He answered, taking a few weak sniffs. “Why am I hooked up to this thing? I can breathe just fine.”

 

The nurse gave him a strange look, as if he had asked the most stunning question of her career in nursing to date.

 

“Uh, breathing wasn’t the big concern when you folks got brought here from that hotel. It was what you had all been breathing all night that put you here,” She said, and then placed her hand gently on Yusai’s shoulder. “You had all been breathing in carbon monoxide for several hours. It’s really a miracle that you’re all alright.”

 

The information hit Yusai like a hammer on the head. Carbon monoxide? Good God. He only had a brushing familiarity with what it was and its subsequent affects it had on people, but he did know that it was something you shouldn’t be huffing for hours on end, and he knew that it could kill you.

 

“You’re kidding!” Otto exclaimed for him in disbelief. “Carbon monoxide? It really IS a miracle nobody died over there!” He began to absently pat Yusai’s upper arm, the firm but ginger touch showing an undisclosed affection that would never be vocalized. The nurse nodded in agreement as she busied herself assembling some tools at Yusai’s bedside.

 

“It sure is. Unfortunately for you and the others, you’ll have to spend a night or two here so we can monitor your condition. Now, lend me your arm…” She said, and Yusai obliged. She briefly explained she was going to draw blood and run some tests, and seamlessly slipped a needle into his elbow and took a small sample. After that, she placed the tiny vial into a tray, and seemed contented to leave.

 

“I’m going to take these down to our lab for testing to see what your CO levels are. You and your friend can page a nurse any time with that button there if you have any trouble or need anything, okay?” She lifted a finger from the tray to point at a button on Yusai’s bed cradle. “Just take it easy!” And then, she was gone, too.

 

Once again, Yusai and Otto shared a look, neither of them knowing how much their own faces were telegraphing a silent fear, yet thankfulness, to how circumstances from the night turned out, but seeing it plainly written on each others features. It was a weird moment of morbid silence they shared, until Otto broke the quiet.

 

“… Guess that explains all the weird shit you saw.” He said, his mouth pulling sideways into a peculiar smirk.

 

“Yeah, I guess…” Yusai replied quietly, simply absorbing it.

 

“And I guess that explains why Steal went off on you, too. Although…”

 

“Yeah…” Yusai said again, still quiet, but with an upward tone; In a way, he was a little glad that an explanation for all the weird things that happened tonight existed. Even if it meant being near-fatally poisoned…

 

Otto paused for a length, and his face softened into something a little more serious. Yusai saw this change in expression and was curious.

 

“What?”

 

Otto shook his head gently, giving a little shrug.

 

“I got a weird question. Did you ever… Did you give Steal your cross?”

 

“My cross?” Yusai asked, baffled momentarily until he suddenly remembered what he was referring to. There was only one cross he ever had, and it was one he had parted with a long time ago, back when his friend Richard had died. He remembered it vividly and remorsefully; And shook the memory away before it could begin to fester in his mind. “…No, why?”

 

Otto shrugged again, but he looked pensive. His eyes darted from Yusai’s, then straight ahead at the wall, and he sighed.

 

“Just wondering how he got a hold of it, is all.” He said finally, and leaned back into his chair, attempting an air of non-chalant about his musings.

 

This statement baffled Yusai. What did Otto mean? What was he talking about? How could Steal possibly have the cross he’d laid down on Richards’ gravesite… All the way back in Australia, no less? Otto had to be mistaken. And why was he even bringing this up?

 

Whatever, Yusai thought decidedly, but sat up in his bed and swung his legs over the side. He took hold of the handle for the oxygen cart the nurse had rolled in, and started to make way for the door, his motions entirely automatic and his brain in this bizarre haze, as if he himself was the possessed one, now.

 

“Hey, Yusai—Where are you going?” Otto called, sitting to stand. “Stay put you idiot, you’re not supposed to leave the room!”

 

“Gotta piss,” Yusai said, lying. It was a fairly obvious lie too, since he just passed the door to the bathroom in his own room. Luckily, it didn’t seem as though Otto had noticed this, and settled himself back down in his chair, contenting himself with his phone for a minute.

 

So, Steal was just down the hall, right? Yusai was glad to see that they were mostly empty at this time, save for a few nurses scurrying between rooms some length down the way. He wouldn’t have to worry about getting in trouble, or being coerced back into his room.

 

He made his way down a length of doors, peering in to each one to see who inhabited each. A few faces he recognized—but only barely—as other patrons from the hotel. They were rigged up with oxygen units the same way that he was, although some looked more battered and bruised than he likely did. He had yet to look into a mirror to know what his condition was truly like.

 

He was able to find Steals room in a short manner of time; he could tell by the slick of peppery, silver-grayish-white hair he saw tufted up on a pillowcase. Yusai entered his room to see the younger man looking miserable and tired.

 

“Hey,” Yusai greeted him quietly, shuffling to stand by Steals bedside. “How you feelin’?” He felt stupid for asking, as he could see very plainly that Steal was not in the best condition. The area around his lips were swollen, and all around his nose and along the apples of his cheeks were bruised. Some of his hair had been parted and shaved aside to the right to allow for some stitches in the temple of his head. What was exposed of his arms were also covered in bruises and scratches as well.

 

He stood there and listened to Steal recount his injuries, and he sounded very tired, very weak as he did. He tried to tell what had happened over the night, but like Yusai, seemed at a loss of words to properly talk about everything, and it was here that Yusai told him about the carbon monoxide leak in the building.

 

“Don’t worry about what happened, ey? I know you didn’t mean it. Guess we aren’t the only ones who turned out the way we did, either,” Yusai said, placing his hands over Steals. “Don’t keep thinkin’ I’m angry about any of this, ‘k mate? I’m just glad we came out of everything alive.”

 

Yusai leaned to sit on the edge of Steals bed, suddenly remembering what it was that had possessed him to visit Steal in the first place. He made himself comfy at Steals knee and spoke gently;

 

“Oi… Steal… Otto told me you had something with you when we got escorted out of the hotel,” Yusai began, looking up at steal from under his blond fringe. “He said you had a particular cross with you. Could I see it?”

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The questioning had gone on only a short time but to Steal it had felt like a lifetime.  He felt himself getting more and more annoyed yet somehow managed to keep his temper.  Finally when he felt like he was going to lose his temper, a wave of nausea hit him like a brick wall, doubling him over and causing a high whimper of pain to leave him, moments before he lost what had remained in his stomach of dinner.  That though embarrassing was nothing to the other response from his body, as he felt his bladder let go as well.  

Shame was not the word for his feelings.   The officer seemed shocked as she left the room and rushed to get a doctor, and by the time the doctor got there, Steal had slid from his bed and was trying to make his way to the bathroom.  

The doctor, seeing the pale young man on his journey barked out something to the nurses while grabbing at Steal's arm.   "Where is Mr. Masters' Oxygen?  Crap get it in here right away."   He was gentle as he started to speak to Steal. reassuring him that nothing was wrong with him due to what happened, and that he would soon be on Oxygen and being properly monitored.

By the time the Doctor coaxed Steal back to the bed, the sheets were being changed and the Oxygen was being wheeled in.  The young man was still murmuring softly about being sorry for what happened, not aware that it was a possible side effect of what had happened to him.   Sickness, loss of bladder control, memory loss... even his shift in behaviour.  To him it was all just a shameful happening.

A short time later Steal was in the room alone, Oxygen in place, blood drawn and silence descending.  It felt terrible to be alone, he would have rather the officer remained.  Turning his head into the pillow he whimpered softly.   What had gone on in the house?   He had seen things, heard things.. but they were telling him that others were brought in as well, something had gone wrong but he had failed to get proper details.

He tried to piece things together in his mind, they had mentioned some issues happening with the other couples in the building, that people were seeing and hearing thngs, that some of the rooms were not set up right and that as a result almost everyone there was now in the hospital.  It didn't excuse what he had done though, hurting Yusai was not something that he could pardon.  The officer mentioned that he had bit Yusai, but he could hardly remember any of that, he just could remember solving problems, and the air feeling thick.  He had been getting a headache, but he hadn't really been thinking of it, he had just wanted to have a good time.   Then something happened, it was like.. he had been a shadow in his own body.  

Steal shook his head a bit, wincing at the pain it caused.  He was not going to talk about that to anyone.  No way, from what he was hearing no one would believe it anyway.

As he felt himself falling into depression someone came to the room.  Steal turned his head slowly and tried to smile as he saw Yusai.  After recounting what he knew of what happened and the treatment he had gotten, he felt tears slide down his cheeks.  He felt terrible, no matter that Yusai told him not to.  Still feeling Yusai's hands on his made him feel a bit better.

"Cross... yeah it.. they said I was holding it when they brought me in... not sure where it came from."   He swallowed thickly and reached over to open the bed side table drawer, holding out the intricate cross that he had.  ".. Yusai.. I remember.. They.. the doctors said it may just be lack of oxygen..   I remember.."  He squeezed his eyes tight.  "Someone with a lion.. and the words..  'Take care of 'em, ey?  'E's a good one.. and give 'em... that.'  I know .. I know what the doctors said but it feels like it was real."

He opened his eyes slowly expecting to see Yusai looking at him like he was insane, but not to see the look of sorrow that he was faced with.   Yusai looked like someone had told him that he had lost his best friend, and.. and maybe he had.  Could the person he remembered be someone Yusai knew?   If that was true, than what did it all mean? 

"Yusai.. I..."  He started to speak then clamped his lips shut as Yusai, holding the cross just got up and walked out of the room. 

Steal held his hand out a moment, then dropped it back to the bed.  Yusai would come back if and when he wanted to.  He had taken the cross though, and seemed to have been holding it like it was a precious token.

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Yusai looked with a mixture of awe and fright when Steal pulled a cross from his bedside table and displayed it to him. It looked exactly like the cross he had laid to rest on Richards’ gravesite: but how had he obtained it? There was just no way… None…

 

 

Wordlessly, Yusai shakily reached for the necklace and delicately took it from Steals palms, his focus entirely on the cross and his mind dully racing around a singular thought: How? Over and over he was repeating it in his mind. It was like he was stuck in a loop. But he couldn’t help it. By all means, none of this could be possible. There was no conceivable way Steal would have possession of this precious item without knowing… Without being there…  Just, how?

 

 

Without saying anything, even so much as a “goodbye” or “goodnight” to Steal, Yusai clutched the necklace weakly to his chest and shuffled out of the room, lost in a daze. To anyone who could see him, he looked like a haunted man, shambling to his grave.

 

 

Somehow, he had made it back to his room, barely taking notice of the concerned look on his friends face, taking no heed to his inquiries. Yusai just slumped to his bed, his hands firm around the cross he held, and he stared beyond the ceiling tiles above with the cross in his hands on his chest. Somewhere between Otto’s pestering questions and Yusai’s non-committal grunts of assurance that he was fine, he drifted off to sleep.

 

**

 

 

That night, he dreamed. He dreamed he was back in his last year of high school. Back in Adelaide, back in Australia. He was sitting in the last period of the day—What American’s would call English—and was nose deep in a book that he could neither read nor understand. That was the way of dreams, after all.

During his reading he heard a whisper from his right and felt a poke at his ribs. Yusai turned to look, instinctively knowing who to expect to see there while simultaneously knowing that it wasn’t possible. A small, nagging voice inside his head was telling him that this was only a dream and that was all, but the part of his subconscious that was engaging in the dream didn’t care; To be able to see his late friend again, sitting beside him in class and giving him that mischievous look he always used to was a welcome and overwhelming delight.

 

 

Yusai felt his chest swell and his throat tighten. He closed his book and immediately threw himself on his friend and embraced him as tight as he could. Then suddenly he was back in his chair again, as was Richard, and they were sitting normally, attending to their reading.

 

 

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Yusai said lowly, but his cheeks pulled in a smile. “I’ve missed you, so, so much—“

 

 

Richard shook his head and laughed, giving a casual shrug and holding out his hands from his sides. “What’s there to miss?” He said, smirking, “We always hang out.”

 

 

Yusai was a swirling mess of emotions, even if he didn’t outwardly show it, even in his dreams. His eyes were burning hot with tears, but none fell. His chest was heaving, but he felt as if he was wearing the world’s tightest vest to keep his lungs from bursting out. He felt as if he was being strangled but a cool, clean breeze was wafting up his nose, down his throat, in his lungs. Forgetting all this, Yusai replied;

 

 

“You’ve been gone for a long time. Eleven years now, in fact.” He could feel himself trembling over the words but couldn’t stop. It was a truth that was grappling Yusai, keeping him grounded in the dream, reminding him that none of this was real. Still, a loftiness in his heart wanted to keep him here.

 

 

“Yeah, I know,” Richard said, shrugging again. “But I still hang out with you sometimes, you just don’t notice.”

 

 

At this, Yusai felt himself freeze. Richard had been hanging out with him? He hadn’t noticed? How was that possible? His vision darkened for a second and he could see his sight vanishing from his left eye.

 

 

“Ha ha, yeah, like that,” Richard said. “Remember how I’d do this?” He picked up his book from his desk, saying “Think fast!” and before Yusai could prepare himself, Richard had chucked his book at Yusai’s head, the binding hitting him across his eyes. Yusai recoiled and wailed, but it was odd: He felt no pain. He didn’t even feel the rise of anger he’d sometimes get when Richard did this to him. As a matter of fact, he felt happy. He began laughing, uncontrollably at first, as he was truly happy to re-live something—even if it was a dickish thing—with Richard all over again.

 

 

“You fuckin’ asshole—“ Yusai started, rearing his fist for a backhand, secretly relishing Richards instinctive flinch. “Besides, you couldn’t have done this… Some bloke in the club put it out with a bottle six years ago.”

 

 

Richard shrugged.

 

 

“Yeah, you’re right. I guess I wasn’t there that night, or I would’ve kicked his bloody arse.” He leaned back in his chair and propped his long legs up on his desk, tucking his long fingers into the pockets of his trousers. “But, I’m still around, just not all the time. Anyway, I wanted to ask you something,”

 

 

“What?” Yusai replied, feeling his guts sink as if he already knew what the question was.

Richard was silent at first, his strange blue eyes twinkling for a second before he asked,

 

 

“How come you didn’t come see me?”

 

 

All the feelings Yusai had been suppressing internally suddenly came spilling out, all at once, in one big display of overbearing emotion. The vest tore, the hands around his throat clenched, and his eyes began pouring tears.

 

 

“I’m sorry,” Yusai sobbed, once again throwing himself at his friend, sinking into his chest. “I’m sorry I didn’t see you. I’m sorry I didn’t visit the day before you died. I’m sorry I didn’t come to your funeral. I’m sorry that I hung up on you, I’m sorry, I wish I could go back just one more day and talk to you and—“ Yusai’s head was throbbing and his chest aching. He was absolutely wretched in agony from years of hoarding guilty feelings, and it felt as if the burden was only getting heavier as he spoke, because in the forefront of his mind, he knew none of this was real or taking place.

 

 

“—I wish I could’ve said something, anything, to save you. I’m sorry I was such a terrible friend.”

 

 

He felt a cool embrace around his shoulders, and wetness on his forehead. Tearfully, Yusai opened his eyes that he had slammed shut to weep unabashedly into Richard’s chest, and looked up at his friend, who was crying as well.

 

 

“It’sok, mate. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just missed you too, is all. I thought you hated me.”

 

 

Yusai peeled away and shook his head, frantic with the thought. Hate Richard? How could he ever hate him? They had spent so much time together, short as Richards life was, and there wasn’t a thing in the world Yusai would trade the memories he had with him for.

 

 

“I didn’t. I don’t. I couldn’t ever,“ He was crying so desperately, so hard now, that it hurt. His face was hot and his chest felt like it was on fire. “Rich, I—“

 

 

Suddenly, yet subtly, Yusai felt himself sinking, fading into blackness. He was still weeping as hard as he had been, but he felt like he could catch his breath now; the air was cool and refreshing. His face didn’t feel so hot, his head wasn’t throbbing anymore. But, his heart ached. It ached more than he ever thought it could, stinging with a fresh but familiar pain he thought he’d never have to feel again. For some reason, Yusai looked at his hands and saw how large they had become, how weathered they were with callouses and wrinkles that came with age.

 

 

His tears stopped, and he took a deep breath. He had to compose himself. He was an adult now: A man. He had come to terms with Richard’s death long before this dream. This dream didn’t change anything. When Yusai would wake up, his friend would still be dead. There would be nothing he could do or say to change that. But still…

 

 

He clutched his hands to his chest, feeling the imprint of a cross there. The cross… That’s right. He had it, now. Steal had given it to him. But how had Steal gotten it, again? As he wondered this, he swore he could hear Richard laughing in the distance somewhere, saying something unintelligible that he couldn’t quite make out. Yusai turned to face him, but his friends visage was a faded thing, and he resembled nothing more than dying wisps from an idle cigarette.

 

“Rich… How did Steal get this?” Yusai asked. Mumbled, really.

 

He couldn’t understand Richard’s answer, and couldn’t see anything now but a brownish-white haze. He felt the cross slip up from his hands though, and was contented by this, somehow.

 

“Just let him hold onto it, you big baby,” he heard a voice say, thinking it was Richard.

 

**

 

Then he woke up. There was daylight streaming through the window. Everything Yusai had dreamed immediately puffed up and away from his memory like a cloud of smoke, but residual feelings of pain and sorrow hung in his heart with every beat.

 

 

He felt awful. Physically, he felt alright, despite the still-fresh sting in his arm from Steal’s bite. His face didn’t feel like it was pulsing in agony anymore, and the pain he felt there now was a duller ache. All the scratches Steal had inflicted with him were minor, if not itchy, stings. Yusai figured he looked worse than he felt.

 

 

But outside of physical ails, Yusai was grappled by an all-consuming misery. He wasn’t sure why, exactly, but he felt heavy in a way he had never felt before.  It was as if the air around him had suddenly taken on weight, and he was completely powerless to lift it off of his shoulders.

 

 

When he opened his eye fully and observed his surroundings, he saw that Otto was no longer at his bedside. Hmm, he must have gone home several hours ago, he thought. Briefly, he wondered if his friend would return, but ultimately he didn’t care one way or the other if he did. Yusai didn’t feel much like company, anyway. A larger part of him just wanted to be alone, wanted to sleep for a long time.

 

 

Of course, he’d be granted the opposite of his wishes. A nurse had scuttled in with a tray without so much as a peep and surprised Yusai, which made the nurse laugh.

 

 

“Sorry, sorry! I didn’t mean to frighten you,” She said, placing the tray down across Yusai’s lap. “I’m just bringing you breakfast. Don’t eat it too fast, it’s still hot.” She said, and opened the silver dish top to reveal some scrambled eggs and some overwhelmingly fragrant sausage patties. Neither looked particularly appetizing to Yusai right now, but he thanked her regardless, and was relieved to see her contented by this and leave the room.

 

 

He lifted his tray and put it on the table beside him, then turned over on his bed. Yusai was suddenly aware that he could feel a breeze on his back and ass, and looking down at himself, saw that he was donning hospital garb. He noticed he was also clean now, too, and was wearing a fresh bandage on his injured hand.

 

 

“Huh,” Yusai uttered aloud, but didn’t wonder about it much further than that. He summized that at some point during the night, he had been instructed to change—or was changed—and was just too tired to remember the other details. To be honest, he couldn’t remember many details from last night, now that he thought about it. But, maybe that was for the best?

 

 

He remembered visiting Steal in his room though, and Yusai wondered how he was doing. He wondered if he was wearing the same stupid get-up as he was. A little pang of him was curious what his butt looked like, sticking out the back of the garment. He also wondered if Steal felt as lousy as he did, too. But, he supposed he’d have to wait and see.

 

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Steal felt weird when Yusai left, it had been like he was seeing someone who was lost in the past, which would make sense since that likely was exactly where Yusai was.  There was nothing else Steal could do but close his eyes and wait for the next day to come,then possibly the day after that... or however long it was going to take for things to work their way to rights.

When the next day did dawn, Yusai didn't appear in Steal's room, so the young man slid out of bed, and decided to make his own way there.  Assuming he could find the room of course.  The hospital was not one Steal had ever been in before, being that they had driven a while to get to the area, they had of course been taken to the hospital closest to the Haunted Manor rather than being taken back to their local hospital.  The downside was that Steal was hopelessly unsure of where to go.

His first stop was the nurse station, where, unfortunately no one was located.  With a sigh of frustration he then turned to the halls and just started walking and peering in the doors.  In some of the rooms were people he had seen at the event, and most were starting to look well, though one lady still seemed to be pretty riled up.  She kept looking around nervously and even gave a little whimper when she noticed Steal looking at her.   The fear he saw in her eyes was enough to make him back away and move forward down the hall rather than linger a bit.   He didn't want to get her anymore upset.

More rooms, more people who were not the ones he was looking for.  In one room a teenage girl peered at him, and started to giggle wildly when he left.  He wasn't sure what that was all about.   Unlike Yusal, the thought of his backside showing from his gown was not something that had crossed his mind.   Oblivious of the thought he kept walking down the hall, until he nearly collided with the young nurse who was leaving Yusai's room.  Steal gave a weak smile and spun around to let her pass, inadvertently giving Yusai a lovely view of his bare backside. 

Steal seemed to live in his own world at times like this.  Rather than feel shame, or even being aware, he just waited for the nurse to leave and moved into the room.  "Uh.. h-hi..  I.. well, you left so sudden..."   Steal stammered, padding over to the bedside.  Turning around the room he looked for a chair that he could sit in, again not aware that his robe had no back.  Times like this, modesty would have been a good thing.

Not finding a chair left Steal with only one option, to sit on the side of the bed near Yusai, which he did.  He climbed up and rather than sit, snuggled against the other man's side, much like a child or lover would.  "I.. thought you may be mad at me.. or something like that.  Are you?"  He asked softly, nuzzling against Yusai as much as he could without doing any harm.  "You left so fast, I guess you were thinking about things.."

Steal closed his eyes wondering for a moment as to what the cross could have meant to Yusai.  It had some meaning and even the voice he could have swore he heard had said something like that.  It puzzled Steal though.  Trying to keep up with the thoughts running through his head made him feel sleepy.   Yusai would want to eat, and Steal didn't want to go back to his own room, so he just cuddled up, going silent and letting the other man eat. 

Just doze a bit... just.. rest.  Soon someone would realize he was not in his own room.. that he didn't have the oxygen or meds anymore and they would hunt for him, but until then he just wanted to be close to Yusai..

((sorry it is short.  TnT))

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Yusai had just began drifting back to sleep when he heard a sudden commotion outside his door, and then Steal appeared in the doorway, his cheeks slightly flushed and his hair tussled around one side on his shoulder.

 

His spirit lifted a little. It was good to see Steal up and about. He waved at him weakly and invited him to come in. Steal nodded and looked in and around, attempting to find a seat but there weren’t any in his sight; he settled for sitting on the edge of Yusai’s bed, giving the larger man quite the peep-show from where he was laying. Yusai couldn’t help but grin.

 

“Oi… Looks like the doc forgot to stitch this up,” Yusai said, giving Steals butt a little poke, then retreating when his gesture was returned with a severe-but-engaging look. Steal squirmed and turned over, forcing himself onto the bed and nesting himself close against Yusai’s body.

 

A small sense of relief came over Yusai then, just laying like this and having Steal close by. It was strange, but nice, how the younger man had this effect on him. Yusai relaxed against Steal and pressed further into his pillow. Steals hair puddled into the divot with him and Yusai, too lazy to brush it away, simply blew what he could out of his immediate breathing space. He felt Steal shudder a little and asked if he was cold. His inquiry was returned with a question of his own, asking if Yusai was mad at him.

 

“Mad at you? Why would I be mad?” Yusai asked, letting the question float for a minute and before Steal could answer, he spoke again. “You didn’t do anything wrong.  Don’t be sorry about last night. None of what happened was your fault.”

 

He guessed that little statement was enough to content Steal for the time being, as he only heard a soft sigh in response. To further assure Steal that there were no hard feelings, he wrapped his arms around Steal’s shoulders and gave him a little squeeze, trying to be a little delicate too, since Steal still looked in rough condition. The smaller man nuzzled against him like a contented housecat and returned the gesture by wrapping his own arms around Yusai’s waist (which resulted in shirking up Yusai’s hospital robe to expose his nads, but he didn’t even notice, not with Steal so close)

 

They were silent for a little while. Yusai could feel Steals breath becoming shallow and knew that he was beginning to fall asleep. He’d let him, as he didn’t mind the company. He lay there and let Steal drift deep into sleep, staring at the ceiling and listening to the gentle hum of hospital machinery, his own thoughts wandering lazily for a time.

 

There was still a feeling of misery Yusai couldn’t quite shake. He had initially chalked it up to waking up in poor spirits but the more he thought about it, his head was cycling around what remenants there were of his dream he remembered. Something about being back in school…  Looking at his hands…

 

Yusai slowly lifted his hands up, doing his best not to disturb Steal, and examined them blankly. His left hand was still bandaged up, still stinging, and even gently clenching his fingers sent dull throbs of pain up his pinky and ring finger and down his wrist. He could see a bold, dark crescent of dried blood in the bandage wrapping where Steal had bit, just around the knuckle and his palm. What was showing of the crescent was large. Yusai could hardly even believe Steals mouth was as huge as the bite mark on his hand had looked.

 

He glanced down at Steal, whos head was resting just on his shoulder. He crooked his head to get a look at his mouth, which was bruised, cut up, and a little swollen still. While sleeping like this, his mouth certainly didn’t look so big. Under normal circumstances, Steal had a thin set of lips that shielded a very surprising smile. Surprising because it wasn’t the kind of smile you’d expect from the younger man, who’s features were more delicate and… Slightly feminine? However, when he happy  or was getting a good laugh, he had a very dog-toothed grin that pulled just slightly beyond his bicuspeds, which replaced any femininity he had with a certain boyish charm unique to younger men.

 

Yusai himself was self-conscious about his own smile. He didn’t have bad teeth or anything, but he knew his smile was too toothy, his laugh just too boisterous… And he knew he took after his father in that regard. He wished he had his mother’s smile and her laugh, which he (among many others) considered very charming. At least he got his mother’s eyes.

 

Meanwhile, he wondered how Steal was able to take as big of a bite out of him as he was able, and stupidly, he gently raised his bandaged hand and bore the crescented edge to Steals lips, seeing if he could measure how large the mark was. He couldn’t, of course, but Yusai fancied for a minute that he could surmise. He drew his good hand up to his mouth and opened as wide as he could, then gently-yet-firmly gave himself a bite. Just hard enough to get indentations on his hand.

 

It was at that moment another nurse had walked in, and immediately paused after entering through the door. She beheld the sight of two men squished together in bed, one with his cock and balls out and chewing on his hand while the other lay asleep, pitching his own tent.  She stammered for a second to find words and Yusai, surprised to see company had entered the room, spit out his hand.

 

“Uh—“

 

“…Mister Perupe?” The nurse interrupted, her face flushed. “I just wanted to inform you that you’re going to have an MRI this afternoon. Your clothes have been stored in the locker in your bathroom here,” She gestured toward the bathroom door. “Just page a nurse when you want to change into them. They’ll bring you a key.”

 

“Thanks.” Yusai said with a nod. She lingered momentarily and bit the corner of her lip. Her eyes shot down his body and back up to his eye again, and without another word, she was off. A few minutes later, there was giggling down the hall.

 

Meanwhile, Yusai was left lying to wonder what the MRI was for.  He’d never had one before, and admittedly, what he knew of them sounded kind of scary. They put people on these planks and shove them into a big, magnetic coffin essentially… Then run a bunch of tests. He supposed that the hospital wanted to test him—and Steal too, probably—for any sort of abnormalities or deeper injuries they might’ve acquired at the haunted house.

 

He wondered if the other patrons would be undergoing the same treatment. He was sure they would. Yusai could faintly recall bits and pieces of conversation he had with Otto last night, remembering the little tidbit of information he had dropped about one of the women there who seemed to have suffered a fair amount of trauma in particular.

 

Yusai glanced down at Steal again, resting his arm along the one Steal had overlain on his waist. Poor Steal was still in such rough shape, he thought, his eye focused on the small strip of stitches in the midst of a shaved bald patch in the middle of his long hair. Briefly, he thought with some regret that Steal would likely need to get his hair cut, just to even out the look. He’d resolve to get his hair cut, too, if that was the case.

 

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Steal's rest felt sweet, as he snuggled against Yusai, the dreams running around his head leaning more to the sweetly romantic.   Not just flowers and rainbows, but a more deep feeling that came from being with someone who was his best friend as well as the one he loved.   Maybe that in part was why his body had reacted as it did when he slept leaning against the other man.   Part of him enjoyed the thought too that the people in the hospital thought he and Yusai were married.   Perhaps it was a kind of common law thing, but they had still not solidified anything..

In the halls the nurses were chattering about what the one nurse had seen in the room, and slowly the others walked past, glancing in at the pair in the bed.  One made a comment about bringing in a larger bed, or moving two together and letting the pair share the room.  The nurses were in part swooning at the idea of a cute pair in the room.  It wasn't everyday you got something like that to gaze at.

One of the giggling nurses knocked softly on the door, bearing with her a bag of Steal's clothing a slight blush on her cheeks as she walked in and put the garments on a chair.  "They will be here in a bit with Mr Masters' files and.. um.. medications and stuff.  She glanced at the younger man's flushing brighter as she indeed saw what the others were talking about.  With a soft stammer she left the room rushing back to tell that she had been there.  It was something like a game now, to steal glances at the room and add to the story that was building.

It wasn't long though, before Steal was waked and asked to get dressed for a test, the paler boy staggered a bit, nearly falling over as he dressed in his clothing finally settling on just putting on his pair of briefs and the robe again.  It seemed no one minded at the moment, as they guided him down the hall to the MRI, where they lay him down on the table and slid him up in the giant donut whole shaped machine.

It seemed things would be fine, but the noise that came from it sent a screaming headache through the younger man's frame.  It was a terrible bass sound that had no real beat to it.  It just hurt to hear it at the moment.   He wanted to squirm out but he was strapped in, and told to stay still.   I want out.. please.. I want out...

The scan kept going and by the time they let him out, he felt like he was going to be sick again, slumping down he covered his head with his arms.   By the time he was back in the room he felt like his head was going to fall off, and Yusai was already on his way for his own scan.    The room he was in though, was the same as Yusai's and the beds were moved close.   He crawled onto one and curled in a half ball waiting for the other man.

When Lunch came Steal didn't touch it, and just slept.   When Yusai came back, Steal remained asleep, and stayed so, until Otto returned.  The bartender had been at their place, taking care of the cat for them, and he was still concerned about what was going on.   How long would they have to stay and how bad were the test results for them to not let them leave yet.

Steal woke up, and looked at Yusai and Otto, a bit surprised to find himself cuddled close to Yusai again, the beds connected.   He murmured softly and tossed his arm over the other man once more before truly noting that Otto was there.  Instead of a look of shock though, Otto just shot him a grin and nod.   Well it was good to be on the positive side of a look again.   Steal smiled a little, but it hurt his lips instead he just wriggled against Yusai more, pressing as close as he could.   Heh, if he was not able to do anything naughty he could at least enjoy the feel of the other man's body.  Mm... yup blanket covering him and no one but Yusai to know what he was doing. 

Steal blushed a bit and wished it was the other way around though, Yusai pressed against him.... or more.   Damn what would it take for Yusai to catch on and make some move.  He had done everything he could to let Yusai know it was okay, but still nothing.  Maybe.. did he have to get Otto to ask him if he was interested at all?  That would be hard but it would at least let him know if he was still wasting his time.

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The day carried on listlessly and without much disturbance, outside the occasional nurse butting into Yusai’s room every now and then to check up on him and Steal. It was around noon that a nurse and practitioner of some kind entered the room with, summoning Steal for his MRI.

 

Yusai shook him awake and quietly told him it was time for his scan. Steal had sighed—nervously, Yusai thought—in response and got up from the bed, sat down in the wheelchair the nurse had brought in, and was promptly wheeled out of the room. He was gone for some time.

 

While he waited to be summoned himself, Yusai took this time to finally pick at his breakfast, which had become even less appetizing now that it was cold. He choked it down, then resigned himself to the bathroom to freshen up a little. He was just in the middle of dabbing his face dry with a cloth when he heard his name being called, and Yusai hobbled out of the bathroom, just in time to see Steal being wheeled back while the doctors instructed him to take a seat so he himself could be escorted to his appointment. He obliged.

 

Preparation for the MRI was more intimidating than the process itself. The machine was large, yet had a small opening that Yusai was convinced he could never fit through. His concern was barely quelled when the doctor said that the machine was able to accommodate large patients, but he let himself be subjected to the machine anyway. There was no sense in prolonging the inevitable with frivolous questions and worries.

 

When it came to the actual scan, Yusai was surprised at how obnoxious the machine was. And he hated that he couldn’t move. Toward the end of the process, he was getting a little anxious to get out, as the enclosure was starting to make him feel claustrophobic. He was out and done before he became too agitated though, and Yusai was thankful when he was being wheeled back to his room. He was even more thankful to see Otto there, sitting bedside to Steal, who was asleep. The doctor and nurse had dropped him off and Yusai quietly slipped back onto the mattress, shirking himself next to Steal.

 

“Ey, you came back,” Otto said conversationally, leaning back into the chair. “How’d your CAT scan go?”

 

“Dunno yet,” Yusai replied, also making himself comfortable. “Hopefully well. I’d rather not do that again any time soon. How’d you know, anyway?”

 

“Steal told me before he fell asleep,” Otto said with a sigh as he stretched his limbs. “Hey, I went over and fed your asshole cat, by the way.”

 

Yusai sighed as well, and the corners of his lips flinched to a smile when he heard Otto badmouth their pet. “Oi… Thanks.”

 

Steal lazily squirmed at his side and stretched his arm over Yusai’s waist again, as he had earlier that morning. Yusai gently shivered at the sensation, as it was just a soft and delicate enough maneuver that it slightly tickled. He was oblivious to the look Otto and Steal had exchanged just then.

 

“So, what are you doin’ back here, anyway?” Yusai asked.

 

“Just thought I’d check back in, make sure you hadn’t died overnight or something. You know, you worried me a little last night—You disappeared for a while and when you came back, you practically just collapsed on the bed.”

Yusai was having trouble recollecting this particular detail, but he took Otto’s word for it.

 

“Oh? I guess I was real out of it.”

 

“I’ll say,” Otto said, scratching at his gotee. “Are you feeling any better today?”

 

He shrugged, not sure how to answer Otto honestly. “I suppose. My hand doesn’t hurt so much, anyways. I feel like I could stand to sleep for another day or two, though.”

 

Otto nodded.  “I guess that’s what carbon monoxide poisoning does to you. Don’t bother coming into work for the next week until you’re clear in the head and your hand is at least functional.”

 

“Thanks.” Yusai said, sighing again and bringing his arm just around Steal’s shoulder. He had squirmed again, his arm just shifting over his lap with his hand resting along the ridge of his pelvis. Yusai shivered slightly again and goosebumps rose along his arms, legs, and thighs. He was starting to feel a little squirmy himself.

 

Otto, suddenly taking a mischievous look, leaned forward in his chair, prepping to stand.

 

“Looks like Steal has the right idea,” he said, pushing himself up.

 

“Huh?” Yusai didn’t realize, but his face was flushed.

 

“Sleep, dumbass. I’m gonna get going. I’ll swing by your place again tonight and feed your cat, if you want.”

 

“Oh. Yeah, thanks… I’ll keep in touch, let you know what’s going on tonight,” Yusai said, eyeing his friend as he nodded affirmatively at him again, and then was up and off on his own way, leaving he and Steal alone.

 

It was quiet for some time, Yusai not wanting to make noise or rouse much at the risk of jarring Steal awake. He was moving around an awful lot, though, his arm and hands seeming to be unable to find a comfortable spot to rest. Yusai was starting to feel a bit like a piece of braille paper, the way Steal’s hands and fingers were roaming.

 

His leg bent up instinctively when Steals fingertips just barely grazed a spot around the top and inside of his thigh, close to his groin. A sheet of goosebumps covered his whole body then, and Yusai was definitely aware of the bashful blush creeping over his face. He felt a little uneasy, in a strange way, caught somewhere between having liked the sensation but a part of him scared to death of ever admitting it. Gently, he put his hand over Steal’s, and re-directed a few inches north of his southern parameters. His whole body was strumming with something and he swallowed thick for a few minutes afterwards. But, after a moment, he was fine, and he and Steal settled back into a comfortable doze until their next interruption.

 

A doctor had come by late in the afternoon, waking both he and Steal from their slumber. She stood at the foot of their bed with a big manilla folder cradled in her arms, and began explaining some results they had gathered from their earlier testing.

 

Blood oxygen levels had been low last night, but were now normal. Brain activity was predictably sluggish, but they both appeared to be “normal” with no signs of brain damage. Their wounds were treatable, stitches would be removed after a week or two, and at worst, would be a cosmetic blight unless they decided not to take care of them properly. Yusai would have to be delicate with his injured hand.

 

“So,” the doctor was finishing up, “You should both be fine to go home this evening.”

 

Yusai was a little stunned to hear this, but glad in a way. “You sure? We’re not gonna drop dead if we do?”

 

“Anything is possible, but… No, not based on these results.” She said. “If your symptoms suddenly change though, please don’t hesitate to put in an emergency call.”

 

And that was that. Yusai shook Steal, not realizing he was already awake.

 

“Oi, you hear that? Guess we can go home tonight,” He repeated, sitting forward. “I mean, are you doing alright? You don’t wanna stay another night, do you?”

 

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It was quite a relief to know that his cat was being taken care of, so when Yusai let him know that, he gave a bit of a smile.   He half listened as Yusai and Otto talked about what was going to happen next, then with a sigh fell back to sleep.  

When they were given the news that they were going to be able to go home, Steal smiled.  It would be good to be back at their place again, where he could relax a bit more and just do things that he wanted to do, and not worry about who was going to be looking at what.   He would also be able to do something about his hair.  He had come to the decision that rather than cut it all really short, he would layer it, using that to kind of fluff up the hair around the missing area.  With the natural length of his hair, there was enough to at least camouflage the mess.

When it was time to leave, Otto was there waiting for the pair of them, with a nice Mini Van set up.   He mocked and joked the whole time about being used as a Taxi service, and kept bad mouthing the cat.  "It tried to eat me... several times.  I think it plans to knock me down and eat my face.."    Steal laughed softly and rolled his eyes a bit.  Everyone seemed to react the same way.

"Prince has yet to kill anyone, at worse he maims them a bit.."   Steal commented as they arrived back at the apartment.   The place was so comforting or at least it had been.  As soon as they entered Steal was blind sided.   His bed... it was gone.  

A frantic rush of panic ran through him.  No bed.. just the sofa.. which was too small.. and..other furnishings.  What was he going to sleep on.  Steal spun around to look at Otto who crooked a finger at him.   Pulling him to the side he murmured softly.

"Your going to have to SHARE Yusai's bed now.. it will get you two closer at the least.  Try it out for a while."  Out loud he said.  "Yeah it sucks but the fire department is cracking down about beds in the wrong rooms.  It is a single bed room apartment so only beds in that room.   Sorry.."

Yusai didn't seem to mind or care or was just in his own world, so Steal merely nodded and looked around.  Everything else was normal, he was just going to have to... Wait.. going to have to?  No this was a gift.   It took a moment for Steal to clue in, and brighten up a bit.   He smiled and took his stuff into Yusai's room, where another small dresser had been put, and he sat for a moment on the side of the bed.   This would be nice.

"Yusai's bed is plenty big enough for both of us."   Steal walked back out and joined.  Prince seemed to like that there was more room, and he was attacking shoes with glee trying to kill the laces.   It was nice to be a cat it seemed.. able to cuddle when you want, fed when you wanted it.. yup nice.   Steal didn't realize that he had kind of the same style life.  He was a bit spoiled at times, but it was worth it for the people around him at times too, he tried his best to be a good friend.  "Thanks Otto..I'm glad you were willing to brave time with Prince to help us out."

When the other man finally left, Steal slumped a bit, slinking off to bed, where he curled in a small ball off to one side.   He didn't want to take up too much space.   This was the easy part, the next day he would have to contact his family.. or they would call him.  He was unaware that the news had published a story about what happened, and it had some rather unflattering things to say about the child of the Masters' family, and they were not happy with him.   The shit was going to really hit the fan soon..

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hat evening, Yusai and Steal were discharged from the hospital under strict instruction to monitor their symptoms for any abnormalities, and to take their prescribed medications to completion. Orders typical from any health care clinic.

 

Otto had generously played their escort back to their apartment and dropped them off, sassing Yusai for his car keys so he could then go and pick up his car from the haunted hotel. Yusai simply obliged to his kindness, knowing full well that arguing to the contrary would just agitate Otto, and that he’d just do it regardless. Yusai simply thanked his friend profusely for everything he’d done. Otto shrugged and said, “I owed you one.”

 

Then it was just he and Steal left in their “newly” arranged apartment. Otto had mentioned before leaving that he had found a notice under their door, mentioning some new fire code that disallowed for large and obtrusive furniture in any apartment that was less than three bedrooms. Yusai was barely affected by this, as it was Steal who had to make due sleeping on an air mattress for as long as he had been living there. Steal seemed pleased by this news, and Yusai figured it was because it meant no longer having to sleep on furniture he had to inflate every night.

 

Besides, sharing his own bed for a while was no big deal. Yusai’s mattress was large enough as is—one of the few luxuries he allowed himself (besides his car) from the settlement after he had lost his eye—and it wasn’t as if Steals company was unwelcome. Having a bedmate would take some getting used to though, no matter how Yusai looked at it.

 

Meanwhile, Steal was already making himself comfortable on the bed. Yusai looked to the clock on his nightstand and read the time: it was 7:15. So much of the day had just been a vague, numb blur. Yusai was surprised at how tired he still felt even though he had been resting most of the day.  He yawned and stretched, then proceeded to remove his shirt and trousers, leaving him there in just his briefs.

 

“Oi, this is my side of the bed,” Yusai said as he was sitting down, feeling one of Steals limbs before he even hit the mattress. “Are you trying to colonize my bed? You’ll be hurt to try. It’s a king sized mattress, and I’m the monarch here.” He gave Steal a sideways grin, then a push when the smaller man wouldn’t budge.  Before Steal could slink his way back over to his portion of the mattress, Yusai sprawled his arms and legs out.

 

“This… Is my land,” was Yusai’s muffled declaration, face-down in his pillow. Steal squirmed underneath his arm and leg, which he had slung over his body when he laid down, and Yusai chuckled. He removed his limbs off from Steal and turned over on his back, making himself comfortable.  He exhaled a long sigh, and reached for the remote to his television on the nightstand, turning on the TV in front of them on his bereau.

 

He skipped around channels idly, not really looking for anything in particular to watch but wanting the background noise anyway. While he channel surfed, he suddenly came across a familiar image: the hotel he and Steal were at last night! The local news was airing a piece. He turned the volume up a little to hear the report.

 

“—leak in the gas pipes. Six participants, as well as twelve other staff members were hospitalized and treated for minor injuries, but are reported to be in stable condition. Among those admitted was Stephen Masters, son of Lawrence Masters, President and CEO of Master’s Banking. It is unknown whether Lawrence will be seeking legal action at this time, and declined to comment on the—“

 

“Who the hell is Stephen Masters?” He asked aloud, puzzled by this reel,  no longer paying the story much mind. He heard a meek “Um” at his side, and like a slow moving train being thrust into full speed, Yusai suddenly realized he knew the answer—and was completely, utterly shocked.

 

“Your name is STEPHEN?” Yusai said with a peculiar, incredulous smile spreading across his face. He couldn’t believe it. In all the years Steal had been living with him, he’d never once heard the name uttered. It was like discovering treasure. Then, there was the fact that he was the SON of this banker… Hell, he KNEW the bank by name! He drove by a Masters Bank on his way to work every night!

 

“AND you’re one of THE Masters? Coooor! What else haven’t you told me!” Yusai asked, completely animated now. Judging by Steals expression, it didn’t look like the younger man knew how to react. He looked a cross between mortified, stunned, and wishing he was dead. Yusai tried to dial back his own surprise, but admittedly, it was difficult. He had so many questions now, and wanted to ask them right away.

 

“I mean, I ‘spose I know why you wouldn’t tell me you’re one of the Master’s,” Yusai pondered quietly, a fleeting ransom scenario going through his mind, or knowing Steal, the worry that his peers would only value him for his name and fortune. “But… Stephen. I would never have guessed that was your real name! What’s your middle? Is the birthday you got comin’ up your real birthday? Are you really turning 21?” Yusai tone was joking, but there was a hint of speculation to them that Steal must have picked up on, as he was stammering to answer.

Yusai, seeing the pleading look on Steals face, raised his hands placatently.

 

“I was kidding! Steal, I don’t think you’re some liar con-artist or nothin’…” He said gently with a grin. “I’m just… I’m sorry, I just can’t believe I’ve not heard your real name until now. I thought I knew everything about you, and then it turns out I didn’t even know what your name was!”

 

Yusai rolled onto his side, facing Steal and looking deeply into his shimmering blue eyes. It was strange. He was the same person he’d always been since Yusai met him, but he was also different now, too. Something as simple as a name had this bizarre effect on his perception of the younger man. He wondered if there were any other secrets he had.

 

“Oi… You know, normally I ask this question for people who come to me bar, but… Steal, what brought you here? Or in your case, what made you wanna ditch home and change your name?”

 

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Things seemed to be going great, Steal lay on the bed snuggled against Yusai's side, just glad to be home and relaxing, but little did he know that was going to be changing... in minutes.   He had been so amused at Yusai's reaction to the bed, it being so huge that Steal could have slept corner to corner and still not really reached the ends.   Plus it was nice to be able to play kitten for a time.. just enjoying the feel of being near someone else that seemed to enjoy him being there.

With a sense of peace starting to lull over him, he inhaled softly and listened with half an ear as the news came on the television.  That was when he heard his own name spoken for the first time in a while.  Then his father's... then the bank..

No no no no... not this.. please not this.. please..  It was like a nightmare hitting him like a tidal wave.  He was drowning.  All the bad memories.. all the past.   It rushed him making everything around him fade out for a moment.

"Um..."  Steal said in a tiny voice.   He couldn't hide forever.  He had to mention who he was, come clean and face the music.  Face the feeling of being lost again, in a past that didn't want him.

Why... why can't I just be me..?  How much can I tell?

He could see the room again, a mockery of a happy place.  A gilded cage fit for a prince, but a cage none the less.

"I had to leave..  They didn't want me, never wanted me.  I was broken from the day I was born."  He tried to pick his words carefully, but how could anyone understand?  He looked up, tears in his eyes.  "I.. changed my name.. I .. I wanted something truly free, and... while I was locked up.. I kept asking if anything in life was free..  I could only think, the only way to get something free would be to steal it.. so... so to be free, I had to 'steal' myself.  So... so.. Steal.."

No, he wasn't telling it in order.  He could see that Yusai didn't fully understand.  He had to go back.. try again.

"I.. I was born.. my dad, he hated how pale I was.. how sickly, how..not like him and Mom..  my mom is..  Felicity Masters.. you know.. the.. the jewelry store.  "Felicitations."  My dad wanted a strong kid, but.. I was never good enough.  They hid me.. no one knew.. they.. they thought I was.. I don't know, Somewhere.. but.. no one looked for me.  I was locked away.    He hit me...they punished me all the time.  I was never..."   His words were a stumbling mess.   "F-Finally I ran.  I.. I broke out.. I just wanted to be free for good."

He knew that now that his father would get word of the area he was in, the hunt would start again.  They couldn't have their 'precious' son loose now could they?  Just thinking about it made him shudder.   He wanted to hide again, to run once more, anything but face what would come.  "S-sai.. they.. they will hunt me..."

He looked up in time to see an image of him on the screen, when he was younger, a small child, a fake smile, but fear in his eyes.   His mother and father standing by him, not touching him, not looking at him.  It was like they were trying to be a good family, but they wished he was gone.  Under those pale cute clothing were bruises and cuts, no one would see them though, no one would know that the child on the screen was in pain, and was being forced to smile. 

Reports state that Stephen Masters, as well as several other parties were taken to xxx Hospital, and were treated for Hypoxia, as well as other conditions, stepping from the gas inhalation, as well as mental stress.   Several witnesses state that Stephen Masters left in the company of another man, who has not yet been identified and it has been suggested that they may be in a relationship.   We will keep you posted as the story develops.

N-no... no!  If he hears about it.. if my Dad hears that I am even thinking about.. no he will KILL me, literally Kill me, not just hurt me.  There is no way he will let a son of his...  NO..no what about Yusai, if he.. what if he thinks I am gross?

His stomache sank further and he slid from the bed, eyes brimming, the burning tears feeling like they were scorching him.  He staggered from the room, paler than ever.  I.. I will be alone forever... no one can love me.. no one.. why do I try.. I.. I should pack.. but.. Prince.. will Sai take care of him?  He wont make it on the streets.. he needs.. Oh God, what do I do?  "Don't hate me.. please don't hate me.. I just.. I can't take it...."

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Yusai listened as Steal explained his story. It was disjointed and didn’t piece together well, but that was just the nature of Steal’s story-telling in this case. It was obvious that it was a hard subject for him to talk about, and Yusai regretted having asked, as Steal seemed pained just thinking about it.

 

From what Yusai could make sense out of in the vague details was that Steal’s upbringing was not particularly pleasant, if not downright abusive. He should have guessed, given Steal’s withdrawn nature and aversion to conflict (rare as it ever came up), and it brought Yusai no comfort to hear a subconscious suspicion confirmed.

 

He listened for a while, wanting to interject and reassure Steal that there was nothing in his past that was his fault, wanted to apologize to him for having broached the topic, but there wasn’t an opportunity for him to do that. Not until Steal slipped up and off the mattress, his bruised face wrought with distress, and headed for the hallway, saying something about gathering his things.

 

Yusai wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but he didn’t want Steal to leave him abruptly in a state like this. He pushed himself up off the mattress himself and tailgated Steal, yelping “Wait!” before the younger man could go any further. He bumped into Steal in the hall, tripping over him almost, but catching Steal in the commotion.

 

“Oi, it’s okay,” Yusai said, his voice just above a whisper. He wrapped his arms around Steals shoulders and clasped his hands, hugging the smaller man. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you pick at an old scab like that. Your life sounds like it was right shit. I’m glad you got away from it. I’m glad… That I met you.”

 

He leaned forward and rested his head in the crook of Steals shoulder and neck, and squeezed his arms a little. Steal trembled and sniffled. Yusai could feel warm tears dripping from Steal’s cheeks and onto his forearms. They were both silent in this moment.

 

Yusai unclasped his hands and brought them to Steals upper arms, and turned the smaller man around so that he was facing him. Steal hung his head, maybe to keep Yusai from seeing him cry, but he didn’t care; He pulled Steal toward himself and gave him a proper hug, as well as a proper shoulder to quite literally cry on. They stood like that for a little while until Steal sucked in a breath and composed himself, and pulled away from the embrace.

 

“Don’t worry, it’s alright. I won’t tell anyone,” Yusai said, putting his right hand to his chest and raising his bandaged left, a motion he did when he made promises.  “…Prince might, though.” He added in quietly, jokingly, just as he caught glimpse of Prince scurrying around the corner into the hallway where they were, then past them, then into the bedroom where he quickly made a home for himself on the bed… Much to Yusai’s annoyance. 

 

“Oi, the little bastard,” Yusai muttered, hoping to lighten the mood a little. He looked at Steal and saw a hint of a smile, but there was still a clear, invisible burden on Steal’s shoulders, and Yusai knew it was one of those things that he couldn’t lift from him even if he had wanted to.  Just like Steal could never lift the burdens Yusai carried on his shoulders no matter how much he wanted to.

 

Still, he’d be there with him to try. It was a sentiment he could never vocalize, but existed in thought and action. Yusai gave Steal a pat along his shoulders and stepped aside.

 

“Go on and get comfy, alright? I’m going to order some food.” He gently pressed Steal forward toward his bedroom, then brushed past him and headed toward the living room where the phone was. He didn’t exactly have an appetite, but figured maybe some comfort food might be in order if not just to make the both of them feel a little less shitty tonight.

 

The food order was quickly placed and not too long afterwards, arrived. Yusai brought their dinner into the bedroom and ate quietly and complacently, simply observing Steal for any improvement to his mood. He looked like he was enjoying the meal, little as he ate, but like Yusai he probably felt more overwhelmed by tiredness than anything. As soon as they were finished eating, Yusai packed up their leftovers, stuffed them into the fridge, and when he returned to the bedroom, saw that Steal was out like a light.

 

It was 8:34 when Steal had fallen asleep. It was 9:35 when Otto had returned to the apartment with Yusai’s keys and car, and some odds and ends of information.

 

“They had a whole bunch of investigators over there, and a news crew. They wouldn’t let me get a good look at anything though,” Otto started in, shucking the keys into Yusai’s palm.

 

“Yeah… I just saw the news earlier. They just did a small report, nothin’ we didn’t already know.”

 

“I figured,” Otto said conversationally, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “How you guys holding up?”

 

Yusai sighed gently. “Steal’s in the bedroom sleeping… I’m about to join him. I’m fair knackered.”

 

“How’s he doing?”

 

“Ah… Well. Not great, I ‘spose. I hope when he wakes up he’ll be better.”

 

“Oh? His condition getting worse or—“

 

“No,” Yusai interrupted, “I just… Ah, nevermind. I’ll tell you about it later. I’m gonna hop in the sheets though. Thanks for picking up me car.”

 

Otto eyed him speculatively for a moment, then nodded.

 

“Anytime.” He said, then turned and ambled down the stairs to the entrance of the building, giving Yusai one last look before heading off.

 

Yusai was not sure what to make of that exchange, but he closed the door behind him feeling as though he were the object of suspicion for a crime he wasn’t exactly sure he was committing. Whatever. He tossed his keys onto the counter and yawned, the last of his energy being expelled with the exhalation, and he resigned himself to his bedroom for the remainder of the night, the name “Stephen” a vague pulse in the back of his mind.

 

… S’good name…

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Maybe Steal had reacted badly actually he had over reacted pretty strongly, but it was how he was feeling.  He had felt that he was going to be back on the street and that he was going to have to leave poor little Prince behind.  His crying likely would have been nothing short of a terrible embarrassment had he even been thinking of pride, but that was not a concern.  His mind was locked in the past, locked in the fear of being yelled at, hit.. sent away.   Only Yusai's embrace was holding him in place as he sobbed himself into exhaustion.

When Yusai promised not to tell, not to share what he had learned Steal nodded mutely.  He knew that the promise was true, but also that he would want to tell Otto, and likely Steal knew that he didn't mind if Otto found out, so long as that was as far as things went.  Murmuring softly he mentioned something about Prince likely telling Otto when he next came by.  To which the cat, flicked his ears a little but ignored them, turning around several times before laying between the pillows on the bed.

Steal wiped his eyes then gave a weak smile to Yusai, pressing against him a bit more, as he took several steadying breaths.  Then he headed back to the bed, laying down, his right hand stroking the slick fur of the small cat, who promptly rolled over to get a belly rub, kicking lightly at Steal's arm, though not clawing him as he would others.  Maybe the cat just had a higher level of respect for Steal than anyone else.

When dinner had come, and he had eaten a small amount, he curled onto his side, and fell asleep, Prince nuzzled against the back of his neck now, as he lay facing Yusai's side of the bed.  One hand was reaching in repose for the other man, but Yusai still had things to do, and Steal wasn't aware of Otto's visit.  It wouldn't be till the next day that he found out Otto had come by.

~~~~

Morning finally came, and with it another torrent of news, trumped up and mashed together to sound more interesting.  During the night it seemed that people had come forward, to tell stories of what they thought was going on, and with them came some of the others that had been at the haunted house, some who decided they would like to tell stories about what they had 'seen' going on, including some false ones about Steal and Yusai.

Steal clicked off the television and lay back down with a groan.  It was stuff like this that made him want to stay in bed all day and never again walk out of the apartment.  He touched his gloved wrists and traced some of the fine lines etched into the skin.  It was stuff like this that had made him hurt himself.   He grit his teeth a bit and looked at the sleeping man next to him.  If this all kept up it would make him more of a burden than he already was.

With a soft mutter he slid out of bed and headed to the sitting room, Prince following behind him curious to see what he was doing.   Steal slid his laptop out of it's carrying bag and turned it on, and for the first time in years, signed into the messenger service that he had dreaded so long.

Father:  So.. I wondered how long before you came running to tell your side of this story Stephen.  What the fuck is going on?

Steal:  What is it you want to know?

Father: Everything.. who is the man you are with, what were you doing?  How do you expect me to react?

Steal:  |

Steal looked at the flashing cursor, not sure what he should put down.   There were many answers he could use, but none of them would satisfy the man.  None really satisfied him either.   What was Yusai to him?  A friend, companion and rock.. but was there more?   What was he doing?  Heck, when did that refer to?  One would think the party had been self evident.  How did he expect his dad to react?  Like a stable normal human.   That was too much to hope for.

Steal pressed his fingers to his closed eyes a moment.   He had to wake Yusai.  He needed help.

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(sorry to keep you waiting!)

 

In the bedroom, Yusai was still sleeping soundly with Prince languidly spread across Yusai’s neck in a halfhazzard fashion that only cats were capable of. Yusai—and Prince—barely stirred when Steal had entered the room and had slipped onto the bed, and made an attempt to rouse him from his slumber.

 

Steals touch had been gentle, yet firm on Yusai’s shoulder. When he trailed his fingers down the length of Yusai’s arm and stopped at his hand, a sheet of goosebumps rose along the path he drew. Yusai shifted a little and crooned, his eye cracking open for a split second before squeezing shut again.

 

“Mmm, s’too early…” Yusai mumbled, taking a long, hitching breath that developed into a full-body stretch. Now sensing movement, Prince woke, wriggling onto his feet and giving his head a shake before slowly making his way over to Steals hand for petting.

 

Yusai started to settle back into that cozy state of half-awake, where the warmth of sleep was still welcoming but the awareness of the world was somewhere mildly in his attention. Steal asked him some questions about their living situation, but Yusai couldn’t make sense of whether or not Steal was asking if he was a leased roommate or if Yusai and he were friends, or what was going on.

 

Yusai groaned as if to ask “What?” and Steal started to repeat himself, but seemed to find the effort futile, and eventually settled into silence. Yusai lazily wondered if he had left. He shouldn’t. The bed was so comfortable and inviting. Steal should just come back and get some more sleep, he thought.

 

He slowly, clumsily, lifted his arm and reached out to where he thought Steal was sitting, and finding his… Arm?... Yusai grabbed on and gave Steal a gentle tug forward, inviting him back to the mattress.

 

“Sleep now… Talk later…” Yusai protested, wrapping his arm over Steal’s waist in an effort to “pin” him down, and also because he didn’t feel much like moving anymore and was comfortable. Steal seemed to relent, giving no arguments to the contrary of being held prisoner to the mattress. With the smell of lemongrass faintly taking over Yusai’s nose—the smell of Steal’s shampoo—Yusai drifted back to sleep.

 

When he woke up an hour or so later, Steal was already up and quietly eating breakfast. Through a yawn, Yusai said “G’Mornin,” and paced slowly to the kitchen to fetch himself something to nibble on, and throw a pot of coffee together while he waited for it to brew. A few minutes later, he had hot toast lathered in butter and a steaming cup of black coffee at his disposal. He leaned on the counter that divided the kitchen from the livingroom and ate, staring blankly ahead, only dully aware of the silence.

 

Steal looked pensive as he was finishing up his own breakfast, punctuated by the trembling way he settled his spoon into his bowl, and hesitated with it in his hands until he decided to get up and bring his affects to the sink.

 

“Oi… Something the matter?” Yusai asked after swallowing a mouthful of coffee. Steal answered with just a shake of his head, but it didn’t convince Yusai otherwise that there wasn’t something on his mind. “Come on, what’s up?”

 

Steal only bleakly mentioned a conversation he had earlier, but wouldn’t go into detail with whom… Or what about. He only gave vague details, and seemed troubled when Yusai gave him pleading looks for more information.

 

Not wanting to agitate or upset Steal, Yusai just let the subject be, although there was a part of him that was frustrated and a little hurt that Steal didn’t seem to trust him enough to talk about what was going on. Of course, he was one to talk.

 

----

 

The next few days after their return from the hospital were a blur. The moment of Yusai’s week that stood out with any distinction was receiving a phone call from the haunted hotel crew, stating that if Yusai and Steal agreed to it, they would receive compensation for the mismanagement of the event. Having been in a similar position before with his eye, Yusai declined compensation until he knew all the legalties and rights he and Steal were entitled to…. It was a non-descript segue into an otherwise lazy recovery week.

 

Yusai’s spirits had improved a little. He didn’t feel quite as heavy with the sense of misery he had come away from the event with, but there was a distinct lingering of sadness still on his shoulders and the uncomfortable reality he was trying to suppress was, it was November, and November was the month that his friend had died.

 

He didn’t like that several years later, his friends death still had the ability to affect his mood this way. Although it wasn’t just Richard’s death that happened during the month—His father had a near-fatal brush with walking-pneumonia years back in November. He lost his eye in a bar fight in November six years ago. A few years back, Yusai had struck a stray dog with his car in November (not killing it thankfully, but it was still upsetting)  An elderly neighbor he was friendly with had died just last November. It seemed like the month was tainted with heart-ache and misfortune. It was a month that he loathed and worried over. The masochist in him idlely wondered what sort of shit was on the horizon for this year.

 

Meanwhile, Steal appeared to be in a world of his own since the whole hotel ordeal. Yusai guessed Steal was blaming himself for everything that had unfolded there, which was a way of thinking that Yusai tried to coax him out of, but to little effect it seemed.  His whole manner was downtrodden, and at times, frightened. Steal was spending a lot of his time peering out the windows of the apartment as if looking for something, and Yusai’s inquiries yielded no satisfying answer as to what. He only got vague snippets of Steal’s worries—Something about his family, something about his father, something about being taken away--He decided he’d not bother him for information any further until Steal was ready to talk about whatever was going on in his mind. Still, it troubled Yusai to see Steal this way. He wished that Steal would talk to him more about the things that bothered him…

 

…It was a hypocritical sentiment.

 

Soon it was the weekend again, and Yusai’s weekly routine would be resuming by the end of it, regardless of his physical state. Besides being in a strange mood, he was otherwise physically fine. The ace-bandage and gauze wrap on his arm had been reduced to a large, rectangular band-aid, and the pain that had constantly seared up his forearm had been reduced to a dull searing pain that only occurred if he gripped too tight, or stretched his arms over his head. It still hurt of course, but it was a tolerable pain now at the very least.

 

Steal’s wounded face had gone down in swelling, and the dark, purple bruise around his nose and eye sockets where Yusai had head-butted him were now a pink-green-yellow hue. He looked more like he was wearing odd make-up versus having been in a violent brawl, and if nothing else, Steal seemed a little relieved to be looking more like his old self. Speaking of…

 

Saturday was the day Steal had approached Yusai, mentioning needing a haircut to better mask the stitches and shaven spot on the side of his head. Yusai asked him if that was something he was sure he wanted to do—remembering his own secret promise to do the same so Steal wouldn’t be alone in the endeavor—and Steal seemed unsure, then mentioned that maybe taking a walk down to the hair dresser’s might help him make up his mind. Yusai obliged.

 

They were soon on their way with Yusai mulling over what he’d do with his own hair while they walked. He’d worn it at neck length for so long that he had a hard time picturing himself with short hair. He then looked down at Steal, who was close by his side. His hair was the color of storm clouds, silver, with traces of white; thick but wispy and often worn down the length of his shoulders. Yusai had a hard time picturing him with a different haircut, too, since he’d only ever known Steal when he looked like this. Still, the stitches were noticeable through his hair at the length that it was, and maybe he was becoming a little more self-conscious about it?

 

Without even thinking about it, Yusai had put his hand on Steal’s head and was petting through his locks of hair. Steal had looked up at him, his blue eyes wide and curious, and Yusai paused, having only suddenly realized that maybe what he was doing was weird.

 

“Sorry,” He apologized, a bashful smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth. “I was having some trouble picturing you with short hair.” He knew his explanation hardly explained the motive behind his compulsion, but honestly, he had no explanation for himself, either. He tucked his hands into his pocket and heard Steal sigh. They continued walking.

 

Soon enough, they were at the hair dresser’s. Yusai and Steal stood outside and looked in through the windows. There were two rows of seats in front of vanities, only a few of them filled with hairdressers working on the clients inside. Yusai’s attention focused more on their reflections, particularly on Steal’s, since the decision to go through with a haircut remained in his hands.

 

“…So,” Yusai uttered after a moment of them staring inside, “You wanna go through with it?”

 

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Each day had been a nightmare of fear, waiting for his father to arrive, for lawyers to show up, or just for the shit to hit the fan in general.  Steal felt like he was walking on glass, each movement about to topple him into an abyss, but for Yusai being there.  The down side was that he knew the other man wanted to know what was going on, and he didn't know how to tell him.  How could he say that he needed to know what their living arrangement really was, so that he could at least say for certain.  Yusai didn't even know...

He waited, and the nervous clock ticking in his head kept counting down till the moment when all would change.  He needed to do something, and after a week of waiting he finally decided that the first step would be to do something about his hair.  He didn't WANT to cut it, he liked having his hair long, but the stitches showed so much, and they had to be hidden in some way.  So finally he took a deep breath and told Yusai that he was going to go and see a stylist and find out what could be done.

So started an interesting adventure in the salon with Yusai standing by and watching.  "I CAN'T cut it!" Wailed his usual sylest named Sabine, who wrung her hands and started weeping.  She looked around as if begging someone to come to her aid.

"It has to be done, look at the mess it is.."  Steal said with a fake kind of calm.  He glanced in the mirror and cringed.  "Will you really let me run around like this?"

The weepy girl sniffled and started pawing at his hair.  "Maybe we can hide it till it grows back?"

Steal shrugged a little and sat down, and for a time there was silence as some of his hair was snipped and some more shaved a bit.  In the end it was kind of a side style, with a bit of an under shave, longer hair pulled over to one side  (Kind of a Brad Pitt and Thor type thing), enough length that it could be pulled back in a kind of tail, showing short sides, but shorter than he had in years...  Even so.. it was a huge shock, causing the young man to swallow hard, and fight back tears.

To his surprise though, he looked over and saw Yusai getting his own hair cut.  Why?  Nothing had happened to him, and he had no reason to do this.   Inside he was screaming for Yusai to stop to not make a mistake, but it was too late and the cutting had started.

"T-Thanks... Sabine.. I mean.. it would have been horrific had anyone else done this."  Inside he was screaming that it was horrific anyway, that he would never be the same and part of his identity was gone.  He just wanted to curl up and lick his wounds.

Pushing the self pity away he went to stand with Yusai, one hand resting on the other man's forearm to show that he was there.  He knew first hand the shock that was coming and he would not force him to face the surprise alone.  It seemed silly being just hair and all but if you wear it one way for so long, anything else is like a kick in the teeth, particular when it is a forced situation.  "You didn't need to do this Sai.."  As he said that, his hand slid down the other ma's forearm and his fingers curled lovingly with Yusai's.  He knelt down and tried to put all his feelings in the look he gave.

At the back of the room several girls murmured about how romantic it looked but he didn't give them a glance as he kept hold of Yusai's hand.  When it was all done though, he bit his lip, saying in all honesty that Yusai looked great.. though he almost said that he looked sexy..

 

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Steal had opted for the haircut, reluctantly it seemed. Yusai had asked him again to see if it was sure it was something he wanted to go through with, and Steal just nodded. They both entered the salon and were soon seated for their haircuts.

Steal was off with a woman he had been receiving haircuts from for many years. Yusai had met her a handful of times before. She fussed with Steal for some time about cutting his hair before finally starting. 

Meanwhile, Yusai was serviced by a sharply dressed young man, somewhere around Steals age (if not a few years older). He was tall (but shorter than Yusai, who was the tallest in the room), had angular features, a boyish face, and dark brown almond-shaped eyes that much like Otto’s, gave an aura of mischeviousness.

He introduced himself as Lance, and asked Yusai some questions about what he wanted to do with his hair. He ran his fingers along Yusai’s scalp in a way that made Yusai shudder. Half-distracted, Yusai said he just wanted it “cut short or whatever”, and pointed toward Steal for visual direction.

Lance looked over at Steal and stole a few glances at the younger mans face in the styling mirror. He smiled approvingly, then turned back to Yusai, clapping his hands on Yusai’s shoulders and saying “Alright, you’re the boss!”

He began cutting. The first snip was all it took for Yusai to feel like his guts had immediately sank to his feet. Oh God, what am I doing? He kept uttering over and over again with every snip. It was a bizarre reaction that Yusai himself hadn’t anticipated having. It was just hair, after all. But he was looking at himself in the mirror, and the shorter his hair got, the more self-conscious he became about his appearance. He hadn’t worn his hair short since he was a teenager. He felt like a fat, bloated stooge who had been thrown back in time to relive his teen years in an ugly adult body.

 Yusai didn’t fancy himself a vain man, but seeing himself this way, he felt like he was like looking at a complete stranger and he hated it. He was barely able to hold back whimpers and moans of agony as the final snippets of hair were cut from his head. Lance rubbed some styling product through his hair while Yusai reflected on this change.

God, he was hideous. Yusai tried desperately to mask his blatant, obvious dislike for this look. He thanked Lance for his time with a sick sounding voice. If Lance was offended, he certainly didn’t act it, but he wasn’t oblivious; He could see Yusai’s discomfort and quietly apologized for the cut. Yusai just shook his head and assured Lance that the cut was fine, that he did a good job, but he was just having a hard time looking at himself this way.

Lance had stepped back when Steal had approached Yusai’s side. Yusai looked down at the smaller man and was stunned by his new appearance. His hair was short along the sides but he had a manner of long fringe that looked a bit spunky. The shaven spot along his stitches was mostly covered up by the shorter strands that were tussled over the mark. He looked great. Steals haircut complimented him perfectly.

You look good.” Steal had said, wrapping his fingers around Yusai’s hand and giving a slight squeeze. Yusai looked down at him, a devastated look plastered on his face. He felt like Steal was just being kind for its own sake.

“I look stupid,” Yusai muttered, taking his wounded hand and running it through his hair. The more he looked in the mirror at himself, the more he felt like an idiot. He shied away and gave Steal his full attention. “You look good. Short hair really works for you.” He patted along the short strands of Steals hair, playing with it a little. He thought he sensed some relief from the younger man, and realized that maybe Steal was feeling just as lousy about his cut as he himself was then.

“… You wanna go down to the strip mall and get some hats?” Yusai had asked quietly, and with a laugh. He was half joking with the suggestion but in the back of his mind, he was considering it. Steal shook his head, seeming wary all a sudden and suggested they go somewhere a little more secluded. Home seemed like the best bet.

So, they paid for their haircuts andwent to leave—but not before Lance suddenly approached and asked for Steals time for just a minute. Steal shot Yusai a funny look before he went to a corner to speak with Lance in private. Yusai returned Steal’s glance with a baffled look and shrug of his own, as if to say, “I dunno!” before he was off for a chat.

The chat itself seemed brief. Lance's body language… Yusai was familiar with it, but his suspicions were thrown off because he was not used to seeing it used on another man before. Lance was looking at Steal in that way men look at objects of special interest; He was smiling, shifting his weight around nervously. Steal was slightly easier to read, but only barely. He looked surprised, and his cheeks were bright red.

What Yusai wasn’t hearing was Lance telling Steal that he thought he was cute. One of the cutest guys to step into the salon since he had started working there. He apologized for being so forward and said he didn’t typically make it a point to put the moves on clients that walk in, but he just couldn’t stop himself and didn’t want Steal to leave without atleast knowing what he thought.

He apologized for doing this in front of his boyfriend, too. But then Steal mentioned that they weren’t together that way, and Lance seemed surprised (and of course, relieved). For a second he looked worried and asked if Steal was gay, knowing full well how dangerous things could suddenly turn if he wasn’t, but Steal quietly admitted that he was and again, Lance was relieved.

“Well, if you ever want to go out some time, maybe see a movie or something, you can call me.” Lance said, and quickly jotted down his number and handed it to Steal. He glanced over at Yusai, who was looking at them confused, but then shifted his eye away and pretended to be looking around the salon. Lance chuckled and broadened his shoulders a little, a surge of excitement suddenly coursing through his veins. He watched Steal and Yusai walk out of the salon together, catching Steal glancing over his shoulder and at him, and Lance gave him a little wave. He hoped Steal would take him up on his offer.

--

Yusai was bristling while they walked back to the apartment. He felt strange. He had come out of the salon feeling ugly, humiliated, and now there was a new feeling tremoring inside him that he had never felt before. It was an electric sort of feeling, leaving him heated and his stomach full of butterflies.

For some reason, he couldn’t stop thinking about Lance and the way he had been looking at Steal while they talked. He looked so… So… Yusai couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he quelled with irritation just the same. And Steal! Steal had looked so surprised, and nervous, and shy, and interested. He’d never looked at Yusai like that. He bristled at that thought, too.

He caught a glimpse of himself in a passing window, and saw that he was scowling. The scowl on top of his haircut made Yusai feel all the uglier.

Without even thinking, Yusai had blurted out, “What was all that stuff about back there?”, only realizing his tone sounded far more aggressive than he intended after the fact.  Steal’s pace faultered for a second and his face went pale.

“S… Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like that, I was just…” He trailed off, feeling very stupid now. “…Forget I asked. It’s none of my business.”

Steal didn’t seem placated, and was silent for a bit while they continued to walk. They stopped at a crosswalk, and it was there that Steal gently asked what they were, exactly.

“What do you mean?” Yusai asked back, unsure what Steals question was, exactly. Steal stammered for a moment as if searching for the right words, then asked,

“Are we just roommates? Friends? Lov—“

Yusai was all too quick to answer before Steal could finish his question. “Aren’t we both?” he asked back, still confused as to what Steal was getting at. Did Steal think they were something else? Nothing else? The question didn’t sit well with him. Yusai was starting to feel like a rug was being pulled out from under his feet. Why was he even asking, anyway?

“Why do you ask…?” Yusai inquired, pulling the hood of his jacket over his head as they passed by some people on the crosswalk.

Steal didn’t answer—not audibly, anyway—and just shrugged. His brows were up-turned slightly and he wore what could unequivocally be called a ‘mona-lisa frown’. Yusai thought he saw Steal peer down at something in his hands before tucking it away in his pocket, and he bristled again. Yusai bit the inside of his cheek as they walked.

Soon they were rounding the corner to the familiar stretch of road that lead to Yusai’s apartment complex. Not too far ahead, a sleek, black car was parked along the curb that looked far too fancy to be hanging out in this side of Brooklyn. Steal quickly made a move to Yusai’s other side, putting himself between Yusai’s right and the buildings, and ushered Yusai to walk faster.

“Wha? How come? What’s going on?” But his questions didn’t receive an answer, for Steal was peeking very intently at the car as they walked by. Yusai looked over as well, seeing an older, stern-faced woman sitting beside a man with a shaven head, who was idely fingering through a newspaper on his lap. The woman’s steely blue eyes darted up and caught Yusai’s face, freezing Yusai in place for a brief moment where he instinctively raised a hand and gave a stiff wave, saying “G’day!”

His pleasantries yielded a scoff from the woman, and the man reading his newspaper peered up briefly before resuming their place on the funnies section he was leafing through. Yusai continued walking, feeling awkward from the exchange, on top of everything else. What he didn’t see the woman peer at him again, but, he felt Steal’s pace quicken. By the time they were at the stoop to the apartment entryway, he was practically tripping over the younger man to get inside.

“Oi, what was that about?” Yusai asked when they were inside. Steal peeled in front of him and went to the window, keeping some distance from it as he looked out. Steal said that the woman was his Mom, and with worry in his voice, said she and that security guard were out to get him.

“What? But why?” Yusai realized he was asking a lot of questions and he wasn’t so sure he wanted answers, since a lot of the answers didn’t make much sense to him. And maybe Steal was getting fed-up with his inquiries, too; The younger man huffed, shooting Yusai an exasperated look.

Because they don’t want anybody to know that I exist!” Steal barked, his brows knotted and lips trembling. There was silence for a while, then Steal stammered to apologize.

“It’s alright,” Yusai said gently, slowly approaching Steal. “They did a pretty lousy job hiding you away in the first place, and they’ll have an even worse time trying to put you away again. Don’t worry, I’m here, and I won’t let them take you.”

 

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Steal had took note of Lance the several times he had been in the salon recently, as the other man was rather new to this establishment, and it seemed that Lance had been taking note of him as well.  The man waited until after they had paid for their cuts before he asked to see Steal privately...  Reluctantly Steal went along to talk to him.

The last thing Steal had expected from the other was an admittance of attraction, not that Steal had been so shocked that the man was gay, that wasn't a big deal particularly in this business where everyone assumed it anyway.  What Steal had not been expecting any interest in him.  When Lance asked if he and Yusai were seeing each other, it was  with a heavy heart he managed to say that it wasn't like that.  He wasn't about to lie and cut any chance of ever being with ANYONE. 

“Well, if you ever want to go out some time, maybe see a movie or something, you can call me.”

Well that did sound nice, and Steal took the paper nodding his head a bit, a flush spreading over his cheeks.  This guy was serious, he did like him.   Stammering something about giving it serious thought, Steal walked back over to Yusai.   He wasn't really aware of just how it showed on his face how he was feeling, and that there was a kind of glow around him.  He couldn't help but look over his shoulder and wave to Lance, who was chuckling and seemed quite happy now.  How strange, did talking to HIM make Lance that happy?  Another thrill of pleasure ran through him, along with something else he hadn't felt in a while.. the feeling of being truly wanted.

The walk home though, that was like hell.  Yusai was sullen and silent and seemed to have gotten himself in a mood.   He must have really been taking the hair cut badly, or that was what Steal thought at least, since he couldn't think of any other reason for the strange dark funk.  When Yusai finally spoke for the first time in a while Steal nearly jumped out of his skin.  The words held such a dark and angry tint, and they were so rough.  Steal stammered as he looked at the other man, who seemed to be glaring at him.  "What.. what was what all about?"  He found himself recoiling, from the aggression that seemed directed at him,

Yusai took note of it though and seemed to backtrack a bit but Steal found it a good chance to finally ask, or rather ask again, what they were to each other, and once more Yusai missed the point by a mile.  Instead of getting the word Lover out, Yusai pounced on the terms of friends and room mates.   It was getting tiring really, they were walking in an endless circle, and Yusai was not going to let Steal break it.  Steal was about to ask again, in a different way when he noticed a sleek back car... one he had seen many times before.  Hissing between his teeth Steal slid between Yusai and the wall, blocking the view of himself and pushing Yusai along a bit faster.

Instead of faster Yusai waved at the people in the car, causing Steal to shrink a bit more, his head bowed.  Really?   No way, no don't see me, I am not here.. nope invisible...  The couple shook their heads and ignored Yusai and seemed not to notice Steal.  That could have been very bad.. Yusai .. sheesh no need to be nice to everyone..

When inside not surprisingly Yusai asked who they were.. what was going on and Steal gaped.  "That was my Mom and her security man, they were here to get me!"  He yelped the words out and drew the blinds closed.  "They must have an idea of where I am staying to be out here, and if they take me back, that will be it, I will be locked away again.  They do not want people to know I exist!  I am a shame to them!"  His words grew more and more shrill as he spoke until he finally collapsed.  When Yusai said they did a bad job to start with Steal laughed.  "No.. they didn't.  It took years for me to be able to get up the nerve to slip free... I dont know what they will do this time.."

He was terrified.  The joy of earlier was gone.  Soon enough.. it would all come to an end, and he will be locked away again, and Yusai will still have no idea how he felt.  "I.. I don't want to go back."  As the words slipped from his lips he wondered though, maybe it would be doing everyone a favor if he did.   Yusai could be himself again, but..

Steal shook his head slowly.  "I don't know what to do."  Yusai's words that he would not let them take him, it sounded so good, but how could he stop them?  "A-Anyway, you have work tonight.. so... I don't know.."   He sighed and grabbed Prince who was happily attacking a shoelace and hugged him.  "If my mom is here, my dad's guys wont be far either.. and if they find out you were who I was with, they will be on you to question you hard."

Skipping work was not going to be an option for Yusai, and that meant that Steal was going to be in for the night.  He closed his eyes, drawing his knees to his chest.  "You better get ready for work, I won't be going anywhere for the night, so.. ugh.. don't worry about me."  He made a little waving gesture of his hand to shoosh Yusai off to get ready.

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Steal spoke about his parents and their intentions in a defeated manner, as if he had already resigned himself to being taken away. Yusai’s stomach surged as he mulled over the possibility that Steal leaving, and he stepped forward and placed his hand on Steal’s shoulder.

 

Oi, why don’t you just come down to the club with me tonight? You can help me tend the bar, and that way I can keep an eye on you and make sure nobody tries to take you away?” He hoped Steal would accept the proposition. Besides, it would be nice to have his company for the work night anyhow.

 

The sullen expression on Steals face did not convince Yusai that he had proposed the right idea, but, Steal hesitantly accepted it regardless. Yusai assured him that everything would be fine, and that if Steal got bored helping him at the bar, he could play something on stage there, if he wanted. The crowd the club drew in was mostly regular customers, and by now, they were used to Steal making occasional appearances on stage so he could perform a piece or two. He would be welcome.

 

***

 

They arrived at the club that night, and were welcomed by Otto and a few other staff members as well. After the typical “Welcome back” pleasantries and inquiries about the status of their injuries, Yusai and Steal got to work.

 

The club was fairly busy. The dance floor was already packed with people bobbing to some non-descript electro-funk number Otto was playing that Yusai had not missed in his absence from work. Of the ten booth tables they had in the room, six of them were occupied with guests chatting away, taking pictures on their phones, and engaging in other forms of drunk duebatchery that was natural to the club environment.

 

Yusai and Steal sauntered over to the bar and started to work. It was weird; it had only been a week of absence but Yusai felt rusty getting back into the swing of things. He was distracted, and unfocused. He wasn’t engaging with the customers like he usually would. Vanity was getting in the way; he felt ugly and unapproachable and perhaps that was coming through in how he was conducting himself with people. At least he wasn’t screwing up drink orders, he thought to himself.

 

Every now and then Yusai would look over his shoulder to see Steal cleaning up the rear bar area. He was quiet, his eyes soft and glazed. He looked distracted, too. When there was a pause in bar service, Yusai tapped Steal on his back and asked how he was doing.

 

Fine,” Steal replied quietly, with a sigh. He brought his fingers delicately through his short strands of silvery hair that had gotten tussled in his face, and tucked them aside.

 

You sure?” Yusai asked, putting both of his palms on Steals shoulders and staring down at him, trying to read his expression better. A whisper of a smile came across Steal’s lips, and he nodded. Yusai returned his nod with a grin of his own.

 

Well, alright then… Oi, thanks for helping out tonight. It’s nice having someone actually doing some work back here,” Yusai mentioned, and shot a glare at the other bartender working on the other half of the counter; She shot him the stink-eye, and there was a pregnant pause where they glared at each other until she crumbled into laughter, saying to Yusai “Asshole,” then resumed her work.  Yusai turned away, focusing on Steal again.

 

Here, Steal, why don’t you take a break from drying glasses and come have a drink?” Yusai offered, and was already fixing up something for the younger man. He heard Steal ask if it was an alcoholic drink, to which Yusai promptly replied, “Are you kidding? You’re not 21 yet. Don’t worry, I plan to get you fair stonkered on your birthday, but for now, have this—“ He turned and handed Steal an orange drink, marbled with a red syrup. Steal took it into his hands and gave it a little sip, the top of his lip coming up with a thin sheen of froth.

 

You can take a load off and hang with Otto… I think he’s taking a break from his set. He’ll probably let you play something, if you want.” Yusai looked up at Steal, who appeared to be contemplating his options. It looked like Yusai would have to make the decision for him, and he swooped his arm around the small of Steal’s back and twirled him out from behind the bar counter, ushering him toward Otto with a spank.

 

If you’re not gonna play, atleast tell Otto to play something less shit!” Yusai yelped to Steal, who was making his way through the crowd and to the stage. He smiled to himself and resumed prepping some items behind the bar, since now that the planned music had died down, people would be approaching the counter with parched mouths.

 

And, they did. Yusai and his coworker were quickly bogged down with orders. It was here that Yusai started to regain his sense of focus, since he had nothing to distract him. At least, for a little while he didn’t.

 

Otto had made an announcement that the music would be resuming and called for “Everyone to get on the dance floor”, and like sheep, they herded around his booth. Yusai looked up and saw Steal behind the DJ stand with Otto, who was smiling in an almost sadistic way, with Steal catching Yusai’s eye and giving him a pleading look as if to say “I had nothing to do with this”.

 

Yusai sighed, knowing full well that whatever Otto had lined up would exist to torture Yusai’s ears. He looked away, going back to his work, but had to double-take, for his eye had caught something interesting.

 

He looked up again, toward one of the more dimly-lit area’s of the club just outside the hallway that lead to the bathrooms to see two young men facing one another and leaning close to each other against the wall. They looked to be somewhere in their early, if not mid-twenties. From what Yusai could tell in this light (and with his one eye) the taller of the men had short, blond hair tussled about so it looked as though he had just woken up and hopped out of bed. He was wearing a simple plain t-shirt that hugged his muscles, one side of the shirt tucked into his jeans while the other half hung over his hip. The shorter man had dark hair, a tan complexion, and dark eyes. He sported a similar outfit, the difference being he had more accessories—a sterling necklace, leather wristband and watch—while the blonde was otherwise plain.

 

It appeared that they were talking. Their faces were in very close proximity to one another’s but the music starting up must have been too loud for them to hear each other; The blonde had tilted his chin toward the shorter man’s ear, and was talking to him that way. His hand had come up and brushed some of the shorter man’s hair aside, his hands and fingers then trailing down behind his head, along the length of his neck, and in front to his chest.

 

The shorter man lurched forward then, stopping short just as he was inches from the blonde’s face. The blonde had a grin creeping over his face, and his hands slithered down the shorter man’s torso.

 

Yusai watched, curious, unaware he was staring and had slowed down his working pace significantly. A part of him knew what he was witnessing while another part of him felt that he should stop looking—it was making him feel funny, conflicted.

 

The blonde’s arms wrapped around the small of the darker haired boy’s back, and the smaller one brought his hands up along the blonde one’s muscles, giving his biceps a little squeeze before finding the hem of the sleeve and giving them a firm tug. The blonde responded by bringing his own hands down lower, onto the smaller mans buttocks, and cupping his rear hard. The smaller mans eyes went wide for a second, his mouth agape, then he pulled the blonde toward him and planted a hard kiss on his lips.

 

Their hands were suddenly exploring each other. The blonde’s hands ran up and down the smaller mans back, always coming down to his ass. The shorter man just rubbed his hands up the blonde’s biceps, to his shoulders, came down and around to his chest, and squeezed his pectorals. Their make-out session became progressively more and more heated, with Yusai last witnessing the blonde’s hands tuck themselves under the seat of the shorter mans pants, and grope so firmly that Yusai could see the imprints of his knuckles through the jeans. It was here that Yusai felt his face explode with warmth, his breath suddenly woosh out of him, and he could feel his heart beating wildly in his chest. He looked away, flustered and confused. He could hear blood rush in his ears.

 

Yusai looked down at his hands, which were clenched around a beer glass and rag. They were trembling, and sweaty. He turned to place the glass with the other clean dishes on the shelf and noticed that his knee’s felt shaky and weak, too. All of him felt prickly and tingly at the same time. What brought this on, he wondered briefly, but wasn't allowed much time to dwell on it, as his focus was quickly broken by a customer ordering a drink.

 

He tended to it absent-mindedly, his mind operating on two seperate forms of instinct, and one seemed to be screaming at him the most to have dominance. It was the part of him that wanted to relish in the physical feelings some more, but the part of him that knew where he was and the job he had to take care of was putting up a good fight as well. As a result, Yusai screwed up his first drink order ever in his career as a bartender... Much to the displeasure of the customer, who was already a little drunk and as a result, surly. She barked at Yusai to make another, and this time to “Not fuck it up”.

 

Yusai's mood was immediately soured then, and all the good feelings he had just moments ago subsided. He made the woman another drink—correctly this time—and she sauntered off, leaving Yusai tipless, sour, and feeling like an idiot. He looked up again toward the bathroom entrance to see if the two men were still there, but discovered they had disappeared somewhere. For whatever reason, his gut sunk.

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Steal had not been expecting to go to the club, and when he got there it didn't take long at all to realize that he was not going to have a very good time.  The noise was loud and he felt sour listening to what others thought of as good music.  He noticed how happy others were and also how not happy Yusai was.  Then there was the self confidence lacking from the change in look that had been forced on him.

 

Yusai even noticed that something was off abut him, and he was fast to point it out, Steal was fast to tell him that he was fine and even managed to give a small smile as Yusai looked at him closely.  He even managed a soft laugh at the banter between Yusai and the bar girl, but when he was asked if he wanted to have a drink, which he took with relief when he found out it was not alcoholic, he could only imagine the mood he would be in if he got anything in him like that.

 

When he joined Otto later he had been sent with a smack on the backside that sent a pulse of pleasure through him, that he had to shake off fast.   That would be bad.  Okay think of the music and being something near to good company.  Too bad the music still sucked.  Otto didn't want to change anything that was torturing Yusai that much, or so he said with a laugh.

 

The mood in the building was twisting a bit, as Steal listened to the beat and tried to think of being anywhere but here.   He kind of wished he was in the apartment still moping.  If he was there he would feel at least closer to being able to be himself.    The people on the floor seemed off to him too, they danced too close seemed too loud.   Then he noticed someone on the floor he recognized.  Lance was standing on the floor before the stand kind of trying to force Steal to see him, and when he took note that he did, Steal slid off the stage to see what he was doing there.   Had Lance ever been here before?

 

"Steal!  I didn't think I would see you here, come dance with me."  Hesitating a moment, Steal nodded and started to dance with Lance, the movements fairly normal for the kind of song that was being played, at least at first, as the songs changed the attitude of the dance started to change, until Lance was pulling Steal close, almost grinding.  Still the mood kept changing, Lance was breathing heavier and the touches on his body were caressing, warm..  Confusing.   Steal had to bite back a soft moan, at the sudden friction of Lance pressing his knee against his groin.  The color washed over his face, trembling starting.

 

Soon he had no idea who was looking at him, he just panted softly, Lance gazing at him with hunger.  Lance tried to pull him off the floor to a shadowed corner.

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“Sorry,” Lance apologized once he and Steal had retreated to another corner of the room. “It’s hard to talk so close to the booth.”

 

Lance brushed aside some loose strands of his black hair away from his flushed cheeks, and gave Steal a look-over as subtly as he could. He knew he had seen him earlier that morning when he had gotten his haircut, but boy, he looked just as cute as he remembered. He hoped he wasn’t being too aggressive with his looks, but the way Steal seemed to shy away from his eyes—also adorable—made Lance pause and stammer another apology.

 

“I’m sorry! I don’t mean to keep staring… It’s just, you are really cute,” Lance said sheepishly, his eyes now staring down at his feet. He felt unable to meet Steal’s gaze, fearful he might be coming on a little too strong for someone who was essentially a stranger.

 

Steal responded, sounding stunned, or surprised, as if this was the first of this sort of conversation he had ever held. Lance couldn’t believe it, if that was true. He imagined Steal must be surrounded by adoring company all the time, people who were as encapsulated by his humble brand of charm that was only accentuated by his gentle demeanor as Lance himself was. God, and he had only met Steal today, he had to keep reminding himself of that to pull himself down from the cloud 9 he was all too quick to scramble toward.

 

Lance realized he had started staring again, and his cheeks were starting to hurt from smiling. Crap, he had to make conversation to deter from the fact that he had been gawking like an idiot. Lance sprung to the first thing he could think of conversationally:

 

“You’re a pretty good dancer,” He said, tucking his hands into his pockets, “Do you come here often? I’m sure I would’ve seen you before if you do… You’d be hard to miss.”

 

Damn it, there he went again, coming on too strongly. He was lying, too, as this was his first time ever coming to the club after having badgered one of his coworkers for more information about Steal… But Steal didn’t have to know that.  He looked at the blush rapidly creeping over Steal’s face and Lance couldn’t help but chuckle, if only because his other reaction would’ve been to have his heart beat out of his mouth. It felt like it was doing that, anyway.

 

He had to calm himself down before he scared Steal off completely. Reaching for Steal’s hand, he said, “Let’s go over to the bar and get something to drink while we talk. I’ll buy.” With that, he gently wrapped his fingers around Steal’s hand and lead the way to the bar counter.

 

Yusai had his back turned to the crowd as he was pulling out some ice from the cooler. He had just put some empty glasses aside and was in the process of filling them with said ice when he happened to turn around in time to see two familiar faces cutting through the crowd to find seats at the bar.

 

It was Steal, and… The guy who had cut his hair earlier? What was he doing here, Yusai wondered, hackles rising.

 

“Oh, hey! It’s you!” Lance exclaimed, surprised to see one of his clients behind the bar. He was a little puzzled himself as well—He was sure Steal had mentioned that he and this guy weren’t together, but what were the odds that they’d be together in the same place? He briefly wondered what their relationship was, exactly, if they weren’t lovers… And they certainly didn’t look related. And judging by Steal’s drink order, he wasn’t of age so it couldn’t be that he worked here…

 

Yusai’s mind was similarly racing with thoughts, and none of them made sense. He kept circling around what this guy was doing here, circling around the way he and Steal had talked earlier, circling around Steals demeanor now, which seemed to him like he was… Yusai didn’t know. But he certainly never acted this way around him.  He was so bothered by it, and he didn’t know why, and that upset Yusai more because it was like he was watching a stranger taking control of his mind.

 

He didn’t realize it, but he was fighting with himself. He hadn’t ever felt jealousy before, and it was a completely alien concept to him until today.

 

But Yusai kept his mouth shut, only opening it to return Lance’s pleasantry, and to ask Steal how his night was going. Steal appeared to be in better spirits. He was smiling and his cheeks were flushed. He looked happy, Yusai observed. Happy in a way that Yusai couldn’t recall seeing before.

 

Lance, remembering his manners, introduced himself properly to Yusai, reaching out his hand for a shake, which Yusai took. Yusai tried to pass himself off as indifferent and non-chalant about the exchange, but his handshake was firm, and one of Lance’s eyes squinted slightly. A small part of Yusai was a little proud of himself there, feeling as if it “won” something.

 

“You ever been here before?” Yusai a

sked, trying his best to be conversational. Lance nodded and took a sip from his own drink.

“Yeah, a couple of times on the weekends…” he replied, unaware he was being scrutinized by the larger man. “Although it’s funny, I didn’t know you worked here. What a funny coincidence!”

 

Yusai just grunted non-comittaly, something in his gut telling him he was being fed a crock of shit, but he wasn’t sure that he should call attention to it. Eyeing Steal, who was looking back at him in a sort of desponent manner, Yusai wasn’t so sure he should continue talking at all. He didn’t want to upset Steal, and it sure seemed like he was beginning to in some way. Yusai resigned himself back to his work, saying, “Oi, right, well. Speakin of work, I better get back to it.” And left it at that. He busied himself at the other end of the bar tending to other customers, leaving Steal and Lance to their privacy.

 

“… He’s kind of an intense guy,” Lance said quietly, and rubbing the divot of his palm where Yusai had crunched it a little. “So tell me, is he like your dad or something?” he asked as a joke knowing what the answer would likely be, but Steal’s answer still amused him.

 

“I mean, he seems awfully protective of you. He’s only got one eye but I could feel it piercing right through me,” Lance mocked a knife being shirked into his own eyesocket, recoiling in mock pain. “..Like that,” he finished, turning to Steal and smiling.

 

“I’m sure he’s a good guy though. You hang out with him, so he must be,” Lance said, giving Steal a very earnest look then. God, every time he looked at him he found another thing that made his heart skip a beat. Lance took another swig from his drink, hoping that the alcohol would kick in soon and level out his elation, because if he wasn’t careful, he was sure he’d say something stupendously corny or embarrassing and end up creeping Steal out. He wasn’t so sure he hadn’t already.

 

“So… You want to tell me a little bit about yourself? You go to college around here, or something…” Lance tried to edge the conversation over to Steal and let him talk for a while, hoping that by then, he’d know more about this guy that had him so smitten.

 

**

 

Meanwhile, at the other end of the bar, Yusai was stewing. He was working, but in a manner unlike his usual self. During another intermission of his set, Otto came over to join Yusai in spirits and conversation.

 

“Hey, gimme some water and tell me what’s up. You’ve got ‘salty’ written all over your face.” Otto commanded as he took a seat. Yusai quickly slipped a glass of water into Otto’s palms and grunted.

 

“Nothing is up,” Yusai muttered, lying. Everything was up, but he couldn’t articulate what.

 

“Bullshit, you grouse. Is it the music? Stop being a pussy and suck it up.”

 

“That’s only part of it,” Yusai admitted, his tone lightening up a little.

 

“Well, what’s the rest of it then? And where’s Steal at? The little bastard’s supposed to be my free labor tonight.”

 

Yusai tossed his head toward his shoulder, ushering Otto’s attention behind him. “He’s over there, talking to Lance.” Otto’s eyebrows raised and his mouth cinched.

 

“Who the fuck is Lance?” He asked, peering beyond Yusai’s shoulder and catching a glimpse of the guy. He and Steal were chatting, looking quite happy.

 

“Well, he’s the one who cut my hair…” Yusai said, his voice lowering to a meek tone after reminding himself of his appearance, and how self-conscious he was of it now.

 

“Oh, you look fine, you big baby,” Otto groaned, and leaned forward to slap Yusai upside the head. They had a short-lived scuff that ended with Yusai giving Otto a firm nipple pinch, which caused Otto to yelp and resign from the tussle. He rubbed at his pec, out of breath and amused. “Is that all? He’s just your hairdresser?”

 

“I ‘spose,” Yusai said, unsure what else he could say on the subject. Just admitting the former, he felt like a moron. Lance was just the guy who cut his hair that morning. To him, he was a perfect stranger.

 

A perfect stranger trying to take your best friend away from you, His instinct was telling him.

 

Otto stepped away from the conversation looking perplexed, telling Yusai to not worry about it and to keep himself busy. Yusai simply nodded, returning to his duties again, glaring over his shoulder one more time to catch a quick look at Steal, who he couldn’t help but feel like he had just missed seeing something, if the peculiar look on Steals face was any indication. But to his relief, he didn’t see Lance anywhere in sight. He must’ve left for the night.

 

Had he turned to look back a few seconds earlier, he would’ve seen Lance steal a quick peck on Steal’s lips, then dash off for the night. Yusai would also never know the mix of elation and fright and shame Lance had running through his head, in sheer disbelief of himself for doing something like that only hours after having met the guy.

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Steal's head was reeling after the night.  Lance had certainly been flirting with him, and not very subtly either, but he had never had anyone treat him the way that Lance had, as if he was something to be cherished.  Yet, there was also a feeling in his stomach that it was all wrong, none of this should have been happening.  He didn't WANT Lance, he wanted Yusai, but Yusai apparently didn't want him.  It made him feel sick and confused inside.   He had even been forced to face Yusai with Lance beside him.  That had been a new level of awkward.

The evening was over now, and he could still feel the chaste kiss that had been left on his lips a tingling burn that kept the uncertainty in him awake and alive.  Slumping in an empty booth he bowed his head into his hands, trying to puzzle through everything.   Not long after getting into that pose someone shuffled into the booth beside hm, planting one hand on his head.  "Mmrrph.."  Steal commented.

"What does that mean exactly?"  Otto asked in amusement.

"It means..."  Steal trailed off.  "It means I am confused, and don't feel well.."  He shook his head slowly.

"By... this Lance person, that has the dummy at the bar all worked up?" 

Steal mumbled again, hardly moving.  "Uhn.   He.. is nice but.. not Sai.."   Steal didn't exactly feel better after saying that, but at least he had.

Otto thought a moment.  Ah.. love triangle of sorts, with Steal at the point.  Both want Steal, but Steal only wants Yusai, but if Yusai keeps making him wait.. he may take Lance.  What a mess.  He shook his head slightly before mussing Steal's hair a bit.  "Drink your drink and calm down."   He sat down and glanced at the still worked up Yusai off at the bar.  He felt bad for his friend, but it also served him right.  If he would only admit to himself.

After Otto had gone back to the stage for the last set, Steal was left suffering in silence.  He had no idea how to think of anything that had happened.  He didn't want Lance to have been there, he had wanted a good night without pressure but now it was all so much worse.   There was someone who had been willing, if just for a time to show him feelings, to have wanted him, but it wasn't the right person.  Lance was nice but would never be the one, but.. would he be someone who could care for him for a time?  No that would be wrong.. wouldn't it?

If nothing else it had for a time made him stop thinking about his parents, but now even that re-surged.   They were out there..

****

"So Mr. Masters, your son goes to a bar at this location, it seems he is rather known there for hanging out with the owner and bartender."  The man slid a couple of pictures to the silent man across from him, flinty eyes looking down at them.

"The boy also seems to sing there from time to time, which the crowd likes.   His hair has been cut shorter as you can see, but it is most certainly him."   The man across from him grunted in agreement.

"Should I make contact with him, or would you like me to keep waiting?"

The angry looking man crumpled one of the pictures.  "Wait for a little longer, I want to know more about his relationships, what is he doing?"

"Well.. he was dancing rather provocatively with another man on the dance floor, then they went to a booth.  I lost sight of them for a moment before they went to the bar for drinks.   I am not sure if they are a couple, but Steal was. flushed.."

The silence that followed seemed to bristle with anger.  "Couple?"  The word cut like ice.  "Are you suggesting.. what I think you are suggesting?"

He has to know it is an option.  "Well, it,"  He took a breath.  "It could be true sir."

"Get close to him, get to know him.. flirt if you must, but bring him to me."

The investigator nearly jumped out of the limo in a rush to get away from the anger.  This was going to be hard, but he would do it.  The trap was going to be set.

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