A Rock & a Hot Place

    No one was really enthusiastic about the idea of spending two weeks of their summer holiday up in some cabin in the middle of the woods on a mountain in a place where the nearest town was twenty kilometers away . . . if Kento and Ryo were “no one”. Ryo had grown up in that same region as a child so it was foretold that he should beg and plead with his fellow compatriots to take a little time off and return to the forest like the Lost Boys, and Kento was an excellent hiker and backpacker and loved being in the outdoors just as much as Ryo; he needed no convincing.

    Of course, it was a little too far from a police station for Sage, not close enough to a large body of salt water as far as Cye was concerned, and Rowen had already broken the lock on his Doomsday supply of sugary junk food and figured out a way to run his Playstation off of a car battery. But that didn’t matter when Ryo told Rowen that the only television up there was about ten inches and in black and white, had no cable, no satellite and the only way it picked up any channels was with a wire cooking grill from a fire pit hogtied to the lightning rod on the side of the chimney. Rowen had to ask twice how long they would be staying; afterward he oozed away moaning about a quick death by bears or rabid mutant porcupines like in the science fiction movies. Rowen Hashiba did not make a happy camper.

    So they packed their bags one July morning with a two-week supply of essentials, crammed into Kento’s jeep and hit the trail to spend a much-needed holiday away from civilization and the worries that came with being a part of city life. No one was willing to say that perhaps this was the best way to bring all of them back together as a reminder of the bond that they had shared. Lately everyone had become so caught up in their personal lives that Ryo sensed the drifting apart of the five-man team that had once called themselves the Ronin Warriors. What better way to come together than spending two weeks complaining about the heat, the food and the bugs in the middle of no man’s land with your four best friends? Only Ryo and Kento were thrilled by this thought.

    Ryo had wanted to bring White Blaze with them since he thought it would be best if the tiger got out and about in the wilderness, so they stopped by Mia’s place where Ryo’s faithful companion lived these days and hitched a mini horse trailer to the back of the jeep. White Blaze was excited about seeing Ryo and going to the forest (Ryo had told him such) and after a few rounds of head-rubbing against Ryo’s legs and licking the skin of his arms raw, the tiger was hustled into the trailer and they departed for the cabin.

 

    They arrived at the remote location and had time to unpack their belongings before the sun set; White Blaze disappeared and Ryo hoped he wouldn’t be spotted by any of the local rangers or other campers, not that there were many at this time of year. It was far too hot to go anywhere during the day, even way up high in the mountains.

    The cabin itself was quite a humble, cosy thing, nestled away in a pine glen with a sandy river not too far away. The frogs that lived near the river made quite a symphony with the crickets at night, or a “racket” as Rowen called it, peeved about there being no central cooling system in the rustic cottage. It didn’t even have plumbing, something that made Sage absolutely ill. In fact, none of them liked the idea of the outhouse . . . but at least there was toilet paper.

    Water had to be pumped in through one of those old-fashioned hand pumps in the kitchen, and that meant no hot showers. Cye went raving mad for a few moments until his survival instincts kicked in along with a few good slaps in the face, and he accepted the situation with grim tact.

    There were a few pieces of dusty furniture in the small living room, and they had to chase out a couple bats that had been living in the rafters of the vaulted ceiling. Sage actually liked bats, but they had been leaving small piles of crap wherever they roosted and absolutely had to go, everyone else agreed.

    They split up, Rowen and Sage bunking together in one room and Cye, Kento and Ryo in the other, making a rather tight fit. Ryo said he’d probably take his sleeping bag outside and sleep under the stars. Cye muttered something about barbarians and Hagar the Horrible but Ryo didn’t quite hear him. Fortunately.

    Kento had brought his rock-climbing gear, so the Ronins spent much of their holiday learning how to scale cliff faces without cheating and using their armour powers. Rowen didn’t even want to use the safety equipment; he took to the solid flat surface of the mountain wall and shimmied up the side like a spider monkey. Cye was nervous about killing himself in the fall, but Kento said that he would be there to catch him if the safety harness didn’t, or at least be there to break his fall. Ryo was eager to learn but clumsy in his zeal. Kento practically had to walk him up the entire cliff.

    But Sage, with his fragile demeanor and unusual fear of heights, could not be moved off the ground. When he was at last coaxed five feet up the cliff, he looked down and began shrilling angrily at being caught in a situation where he was incredibly frightened and embarrassed. From the summit, Kento had to secure himself with ropes and rescue Sage, who arrived at the top clinging to Kento like a firmly rooted vine. Everyone teased Sage about his acrophobic incident for the rest of the day.

 

    Most of them were managing well during the first week, but by the middle of the second week they were beginning to tire of the novelty of “roughing it” and the restlessness began to set it. Finally, on the morning of their tenth day in isolation, and on their fifth day since the junk food supply ran out, Rowen declared that he was going to have a seizure if he didn’t get some sugar into his system and that he was taking the jeep to spend the day in the nearby town, where he could eat something he didn’t have to kill with his bare hands or forage from the forest floor. Sage and Cye had a wholly cow in agreement, but Kento wanted to stay and spend more time on his rock climbing. Ryo was having too much fun playing with White Blaze and said he’d rather stay and hold down the fort. So Rowen, Sage and Cye departed for the day, leaving Kento and Ryo alone at the cabin.

    White Blaze grew bored of playing fetch after a while and wandered off to go hunt for something, leaving Ryo all by his lonesome. So he decided to go find Kento and see what he was up to, walking to the nearby rock quarry where he found the macho, athletic Ronin halfway up a sheer granite mountain wall. Ryo admired Kento’s bravery and skill; he seemed to have no problem finding foot holes and ledges to grab onto, and being as strong as he was, Kento reached the top in a matter of minutes.

    Ryo waved from below and called out, “Swan dive?”

    Kento laughed and shook his head, wiping his sweaty brow on the hem of his tank top. “Swan die!” he replied, and neatly stepped off of the cliff as casually as one would step off a bus. He dropped neatly and landed on his feet, then flashed a mischievous grin at Ryo just as the orange kanji on his forehead ceased to glow. “But I ain’t no swan,” he said with a wink. “So what’s on the agenda for today, Mr. Boone?”

    “Dunno. White Blaze took off a while ago and I ran out of things to do at the cabin.”

    “That cat. Figures. Damn, it’s hot,” Kento huffed, looking up at the sky and then at his watch. “Ain’t even ten thirty yet and I’m sweatin’ like a buffalo.”

    “Buffalo don’t sweat,” Ryo said.

    “They do so sweat.”

     “Yeah, through their noses. Like dogs and cats.”

    “What about monkeys? They sweat, right?”

    “I dunno about monkeys.”

    Kento shrugged. “Well, then, that’s that.”

    Ryo was lost. “Huh?”

    The broad-chested young man laughed and clapped his friend on the back. “It’s a good thing you’re cute Ryo, cos damn, you’re dumb.”

    “Thanks! . . . Heyyyyy. That was mean.”

    “Chill out, man,” Kento laughed, throwing an arm around Ryo’s shoulders. “It’s all cool!”

    “Actually, it’s really freakin’ hot. And you know it’s hot when I’m hot,” Ryo muttered. “I’m so gonna spend the entire day at the river.”

    “When you’re right, you’re right,” Kento agreed. “Let’s get the hell outta here.”

    “Literally, man. Jeez Louise . . .”

    They stopped back at the cabin where Kento could drop his equipment off, change into some flip-flops and out of his cleated rock-climbing shoes. It was some relief inside the drafty cabin from the stifling heat outside, but they knew it would be much cooler down by the river. Ryo stood in the doorway and gazed outside at the forest, then asked unexpectedly, “Have you ever wondered what it would be like if we hadn’t become civilised?”

    “Not really,” Kento mumbled as he peeled off his sweat-drenched tee shirt and pulled on a tank top. “Whadda ya mean by uncivilized?”

    “Like . . .” Ryo tried to put it into words. “What if we were all still runnin’ around naked in the woods?”

    “The way I see it,” the larger young man said with a grin. “If we were runnin’ around naked we’d still have invented central heating. And we’d be covered with ticks and fleas. Why? You wanna go streakin’ through the forest, Nature Boy?”

    Ryo smiled in a way that Kento knew he had succeeded in embarrassing him. “Nah . . . Well, I mean yeah. Truthfully. Guess I just wanna get back to the earth.”

    “The call of the wild,” Kento joked. “It says ‘come run naked with us, Ryo! Run with the pack!’ Ha ha!”

    “Shut up,” Ryo chuckled.

    “Hey, ever seen Lord of the Flies?”

    “No. But I’ve seen Lord of the Dance. Is that kinda like it?”

    “No.”

    “Oh.”

    “Have ya ever read Lord of the Flies?”

    “It’s a book, too?” Ryo inquired.

    “Yeah.”

    “I don’t read books, man. I’m not the readin’ type.”

    “Bullshit, everyone’s a readin’ type,” Kento insisted. “Ya read magazines, right?”

    “Magazines have pictures. I’m a visual person.”

    “Words are visual. Ya have to look at ‘em to read ‘em-”

    “What about this God of the Flies now?” Ryo steered their conversation back to the subject.

    “Oh. Well, in Lord of the Flies, these preppy school kids get stranded on an island and they have to survive on their own. Some of ‘em wanna be civilised and some of ‘em wanna go wild and run around the jungle and hunt n’ kill things and paint their faces-”

    “I didn’t know you were such a bookworm, Kento.”

    “I’m not,” he said simply. “I saw the movie and heard people describe the book. They’re a lot alike.”

    “Ohhh.”

    They stood for a while in the cool silence of the cabin, listening to the birds outside in the trees and the sound of the summer breeze rustling through the leaves. Then Kento turned to Ryo and beamed. “Wanna find some berries and mash ‘em and paint our faces?”

    “Yeah!” Ryo laughed, and the two gleefully bolted out of the cabin, off the front porch and into the woods to search for berries.

 

    By mid-afternoon they had successfully located an entire brush of blackberries not far from the riverbank and a few scattered trees with wild cherries so tart that it hurt to eat them; they used most of those as paint and chowed down on the blackberries until their tongues were black. Kento stuck two cherries on his front teeth and pretended to be a hillbilly, and it made Ryo laugh so hard that he rolled over onto the bushes and got berry juice all over himself.

    They took off their shirts and painted make-believe tribal war paint on their chests, shoulders and necks, then staged a mock battle between The Fire Starters and The Rockmen. Of course, after a while the names were changed to The Fire Farters and The Cavemen. Soon, with the sun high in the sky, it became unbearably hot and the berry juice on their skin was beginning to attract gnats and such. They decided to hit the river to wait out the midday heat.

    They found White Blaze lounging casually on a rock in the shade underneath a large tree, gnawing on the remains of what had once been The Fish That Got Away. “Holy crap!” Ryo exclaimed. “I didn’t know there were fish that big in this river!”

    “I didn’t think fish lived on mountains,” Kento murmured, looking around suspiciously.

    “Maybe we can get Blaze to catch one for us. We haven’t had a fish dinner since we got here.”

    “Maybe Cye can explain why.”

    “C’mere, boy!” Ryo whistled and stood knee-deep in the water, slapping his thighs encouragingly. “C’mon, Blaze! Here, kitty!”

    Kento advised, “Dude, I don’t think he likes water.”

    “Sure he does!”

    “He’s a cat, man. I thought cats hated water.”

    “He’s not a cat, he a tiger,” Ryo corrected. “And tigers love the water. C’mon, boy! Help us catch a fish, okay?”

    As if on cue, the white tiger yawned lazily and lay down to take a nap. Ryo sighed dejectedly and Kento chuckled. “Never mind. We don’t need a cat to catch a fish. I can teach you how to catch ‘em with your bare damned hands.”

    “Really?” Ryo asked, blue eyes wide in wonder.

    Kento shrugged. “Sure! Cye taught me how. He has to catch and tag fish all the time in his marine bio class. Of course, with him being Aqua Boy and all, those suckers just jump outta the water and into his hand anyway. But don’t go tellin’ Cye we used his method to kill n’ grill fish, ‘kay?”

    Ryo laughed. “Okay.”

    The two rambunctious young lads set out to bring in a few fish for dinner and for the most part only succeeded in slipping on the bottom of the river and getting their clothes completely soaked. When they left the shallows and started really splashing, White Blaze got annoyed and wandered out of range. When at last they had calmed down enough and the fish ventured back into the shallows, their efforts seemed to focus upon keeping a hold of their slippery quarries and trying to avoid smashing into each other when they both took to chasing a fish around.

    Much laughter and shouts of mirth echoed through the forest that day, and by the time the sun was beginning to set, Kento and Ryo had managed to catch four fairly decent-sized fish and were finally beginning to feel the effects of their energetic activities beginning to set in. As they started to head back to the cabin, their clothes still soaked and their spirits high, Ryo said, “That was fun.”

    “Yup,” Kento agreed. “Damn, I can’t remember the last time I spent an entire day doing absolutely nothing and havin’ so much fun doing it.”

    “Well, I wouldn’t say nothing,” Ryo said. “I mean, we did catch dinner, right?”

    “Yeah, I guess so.”

    “I wonder what the others are up to?” Ryo wondered aloud. “I’d feel kinda bad for them to miss all the action.”

    “They snooze, they lose,” Kento shrugged. “If they wanted to go to town, it’s their loss. Besides, I don’t think Cye would particularly partake of our aquatic repast.”

    “. . . I didn’t understand that last part.”

    “Me, either. I’ve been hangin’ around Rowen too much.”

    They both laughed as they trotted up the steps to the front porch. “Hey, Kento?”

    “Yeah?”

    “Um . . . I hope you know how to cook fish, ‘cause I sure as heck don’t.”

    Despite the fact that the skilled chef of their team was absent, Kento had learned enough from observing his British friend and working in his parents’ restaurant to know how to prepare fish, although there was a certain lack of seasonings to be taken into account. Between Ryo’s outdoorsy knowledge and Kento’s know-how when it came to cooking, they succeeded in scraping together a rustic meal of roasted fish seasoned with salt and green onions cooked over an open hickory flame in the fire pit outside the cabin.

    Kento observed why Ryo never carried a matchbook (with a name like Wildfire, it should have occurred to him sooner) and Ryo observed that Kento was actually a pretty good cook, a much better one than himself. The bond between them seemed to run a little bit deeper as they sat together by the fire and told jokes and stories in the twilight of the early evening, a lesson in self-discovery being unearthed in the short time in each other’s company.

    “We rarely ever get a chance to hang out like this,” Ryo murmured, staring up at the sky in which the stars began to unveil themselves. “You’re always hangin’ around Cye or we’re both busy . . . It happens to all of us. That’s why I think spending time out here in the middle of nowhere really . . . helps.”

    “It’s a good idea,” Kento admitted, chewing on a kabob stick and meditatively gazing into the glowing ashes of the fire. “But I guess Rowen, Cye and Sage don’t like roughing it out for two weeks.”

    “It is nice to get back to civilization after all this. I guess human beings really were meant to be civilized and wear clothes n’ all . . .”

    “You sound sad, Nature Boy,” Kento grinned.

    “Me? Nah, I . . . uh.”

    “Ah, don’t worry about it. We all get that feeling sometimes, that urge to run back to the earth. I can assure you, Ryo, humans ain’t lost that animal instinct yet.”

    Ryo nodded. They sat around the fire until the embers began to die and the forest became obscured by shadows. With the sun down, the air had cooled significantly and in the barely dressed states Kento and Ryo were in, quite chilly. They doused the fire with a bucket of water and retreated to the cabin to spend the rest of the evening.

    The cabin was really cosy at night, in a rustic fashion that made one feel as if they had gone back in time. It was quite easy to imagine you had stepped a century into the past in a place like this, where bathwater still had to be drawn from the river, heated, and poured into a tub. Of course, with Ryo’s unique abilities, he had only to fill the old-fashioned bathtub with water and jump in; he had officially become the group water heater whenever anyone desired a good scrubbing. And catering to a cleanliness-obsessed Sage who always had to be well groomed and looking his best, Ryo was kept quite busy. The blond pointed out why such a “high maintenance” individual like himself never went camping.

    After Kento and Ryo had taken their baths, having to scrub extra hard to get the stain of blueberries off their skin, and after they had changed into some clean clothes, there was nothing for them to do but sit around in the small living room and wait for the others to return, if in fact they planned to return that night. Kento was sitting on the sofa, engrossed in Rowen’s GameBoy while Ryo sat on the floor and combed White Blaze’s fur; the tiger purred deeply and would have sounded like a growl to anyone else save for the people who knew him.

    Finally, around eight o’clock, Kento turned the GameBoy off and set it aside, yawned and stretched, locked his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. “I am so totally bored,” he stated restlessly. “Bored bored bored.”

    “Me, too,” Ryo admitted, rubbing Blaze’s head deftly. “At least when the others are here we’ve got something to talk about or someone to make fun of.”

    “Most of the time that ‘someone’ is you, Ryo.”

    “I know, but still . . .”

    Pause.

    “I wanna get raving, pissin’ drunk,” Kento said firmly, standing up and walking to the kitchen.

    “You what?” Ryo got off the floor to investigate in time to see Kento slap a deck of cards, two plastic cups and the biggest bottle of Bacardi rum he had ever seen in his life on the narrow table. Ryo was stunned, and pointed to the bottle like it was a viper. “Wh-where did you get that from?”

    “Don’tcha know the camp etiquette, Ryo?”

    “Huh?”

    Kento drew a chair and beckoned for Ryo to sit down at the table. “Every time a guy n’ his buddies go camping, you always bring some alcohol so you can all get blind, stinking plastered on the last night and have something to talk about till next year.”

    “Wha-? I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

    “Don’t worry, Ryo!” Kento laughed, reaching for the cards. “I brought another bottle. I just figured that since we had such a great day we oughta do something to celebrate. Now c’mon, wouldn’t that be righteous?”

    Ryo watched as Kento cut the deck and began to shuffle the cards with the skill of a Las Vegas casino tycoon. “I guess so,” he said hesitantly.

    “Know how to gamble?”

    “No.”

    “Know how to drink spirits?”

    “No.”

    “Perfect. I’ll be the teacher and you can be my student.” Kento bridged the cards with a loud flapping and shuffled them again. “Sorry about the use of plastic cups; I woulda brought glass if I knew it wasn’t gonna get smashed, or something biodegradable like paper cups . . . but this stuff would probably burn a hole through the paper and leave burn marks on the table, so don’t let your brew sit too long or else it might eat through the plastic.”

    “Kento, should we even be drinking this stuff? I mean . . . think of our livers.”

    “Ah, one good shit-facing ain’t gonna hurt ya,” Kento said nonchalantly. “Besides, this stuff puts hair on your chest.”

    Ryo sat sullenly in his chair as Kento dealt the cards out. “Okay, the name of the game is poker, but since we ain’t got any chips or money I’ll just teach ya the basics-”

    “You do realize that you’re corrupting me, right?” Ryo said with a meek grin.

    “Bah. It’s not so much corrupting as it is-” Kento thought a moment. “-necessary education. Okay, now I’ll explain to you the hands starting from the lowest. Lemme just pour us a shot and we’ll get down to it . . .”

 

    Two hours later, Ryo Sanada went from being a naïve, wholesome young man to a laughing, drinking, gambling, boisterous teenager. An incredible metamorphosis. Kento had underestimated the effects that the 151 proof, 75.5% alcohol rum would have on Ryo’s fairly virgin tongue, but was amazed that Ryo had downed three and a half cups and not gotten sick yet. Kento was managing to hold his brew successfully, although without the other three Ronins around to share it with, he had consumed more than he was used to taking. Despite the bleary vision, slight lack of coordination, an increase in body temperature that made him take off his tank top, and a lightheaded sort of dizziness, Kento was doing quite well.

    Ryo was another story. After his first cup he had become severely red-faced and glassy-eyed, hiccuping irregularly. Half a cup later and he was laughing at everything Kento said. Another half later and he couldn’t concentrate on the cards anymore aside from trying to build a house with them. Yet another half later and he was practically falling out of his chair with laughter. When his ass finally kissed the floor after his fourth cup, Kento decided that he might as well join his friend and they both sat side by side in front of the fireplace, leaning against the sofa and passing the rapidly emptying bottle of Bacardi back and forth. Now it was all they could do to hold a decent conversation with one another, at least it was on Ryo’s end.

    “You laugh real easy, don’t you?” Kento inquired once his raven-haired friend had at last taken a pause in his five-minute marathon of mirth.

    “Yeahhh, laughin’s good. Bass the Pacradi, man.”

    Kento handed the bottle to Ryo. “You know, there’s four different types of drunks,” he said in a casual legato, holding up three fingers. “Ya got your sad drunks, like the kind that go to a bar and just piss and weep into their shot glass. Ya got your mad drunks, the people who wanna tear your ass to pieces after just two pints-”

    Ryo laughed throatily and pitched his head back, lolling from side to side and repeating, “Tear my ass to pieces-! Uh haha ha! Ha haha ha haa!”

    Kento reached out one arm to steady Ryo’s swaying, unstable shoulders. “Ya got your happy drunks. You know anything about happy drunks, Ryo?”

    His friend’s only response was a burst of chuckles, and Kento grinned and tightened the grip on Ryo’s shoulder. “Happy drunks, Ryo, are the people that make the mad drunks madder and the sad drunks sadder ‘cause they can’t stop cacklin’ for two whole minutes-”

    “Ha ha! Cacklin’! I love that word!”

    “-and make complete dumbasses of themselves in public-”

    “I’m a dumbass,” Ryo said brightly, passing the bottle back to Kento. “Does that make me a happy drunk?”

    “Ry, you’re the happiest drunk in the world.”

    “I’m a happy drunk! Yaaay!”

    “And then ya got your indiff’rent drunks. Those are the guys that just sit there and don’t do a damned thing. Ya can’t even tell if they’re drunk or not. The only thing that sets them apart from the rest is ‘cause they don’t fit in with the rest. They’re not sad or mad or happy . . . they’re just there, ya know? Just plain old . . . plain old there.” Kento raised the bottle to his lips and took a gulp. “I always figured I’d be a happy drunk like you.”

    “Like me.”

    “But I’m not.”   

    Ryo’s grin slowly faded and he was quiet for a few moments. “Are you sad? Bottle.”

    Kento handed the bottle back to Ryo, sticking his bottom lip out thoughtfully. “Not really.”

    “Then you’re inderferd?”

    “Indiff’rent.”

    “That’s what I said.”

    “You said ‘inderferd’.”

    “I did? Heh heh ha! That’s pretty funny.” Ryo raised the bottle and peered into expectantly it with one eye. “So you’re the un-mad, un-sad, un-happy but, but not the sad type of unhappy, kinda drunk, right?”

    Kento nodded vaguely. “Yep. I guess so.”

    “Aw.” Ryo put on a pitiful expression and rested his head upon Kento’s broad shoulder. “I feel so bad for you. ‘Cause, ‘cause at least when you’re sad you’re feeling somethin’. Indiff’rence is, like . . .”

    “A stone,” Kento finished reverently.

    They were silent for a while, the neck of the empty bottle of Bacardi still in Ryo’s fist; he spoke: “Kenny . . . I am totally plastered, dude.”

    “Got double vision?”   

    Ryo closed his eyes tightly and squealed: “Da da duh da dup! Fill my eyes! With vat jouble vijin, deedeedododeedee dee dee,” he sang drunkenly. “No disgui-iise! Fer ‘at vouble dijin!”

    Kento chuckled under his breath. “Shut the hell up, Sanada. You sound retarded.”

    Ryo buried his face into Kento’s shirt and snorted with laughter, an obnoxious raspy laughter that would have made any other person crazy. “Oooooo-oooh,” he slurred, refusing to abandon Foreigner’s 1978 hit. “When ya get THROOOOOOUGH to me! It's allllways neeewwwda me-”

    “Did you just say ‘neuter me’?” Kento asked.

    “I said NEWDA ME.”

    “It’s always neuter me? What’n the hell does that mean?”

    “It’s new to me,” Ryo repeated adamantly, placing emphasis on the to. “New t-t-t-TO me.”

    “Great s-s-s-stutter there. You tryin’ to say toomi? Like a tumor?” Kento smirked mischievously, finding new delight in teasing his drunken mate. “Are you sayin’ ‘tune me’? Cause you sure damn need some tunin’, man. You are WOW! Off key!”

    Ryo was too busy warbling, “My jubble viddin’ gets the best ‘a . . . Hey! Hey hey hey! Nuh uh. I’mmot off key. You’re ears’re off key!”

    “Your brain’s outta key, Sanada.”

    “Your mama’s outta key, Rei Fran.”

    “Okay,” Kento sighed. “I was gonna let you off with the singin’ but now that you decided to bring my mama into this, I’m gonna have to put the smack down. C’mere, Sanada. I’m gonna whoop your ass.”

    Ryo shrieked with laughter and didn’t even fight as Kento threw his arm around his shoulders and was wrestled to the floor, not that Ryo was even capable of fighting back when he was laughing and squealing as hard as he was. Kento had a difficult enough time just holding onto him without denying Ryo the necessary oxygen to keep him breathing, but he was already getting tired of listening to his dark haired friend hee-haw like a jackass and decided to shut him up for the rest of the evening.

    Kento wrapped a muscular arm around Ryo’s neck and sat up, dragging the still-guffawing Ryo with him. “Quiet, Sanada! Or I’ll bend ya backwards ‘n fold ya three ways!”

    Ryo groaned mockingly, “Ohhh, BEND ME, REI FUAN! Bend me nike I’ve lever been bended before!”

    “Why you dirty li’l-”

    Ryo had been in the process of turning his head when Kento had ducked his own head down to try and put his friend in a half nelson; their lips brushed together accidentally and they both stopped what they were doing, their rough play brought to a grinding halt as if a very bold, distinct line had just been crossed and the whistle was being blown.

    Ages seemed to pass by where nothing moved at all, neither blood nor breath nor life.

    “Man,” Kento muttered finally, and silence followed. What else could be said?

    “Oh, for God’s sake,” Ryo sighed impatiently and placed his hand on the back of Kento’s head, pulling him down so that their lips met again, this time intentionally. Kento’s eyes flew open and his hands dropped away from Ryo; he did not want to push him away. It would hurt Ryo’s feelings. But what feelings? Ryo was obviously drunk and didn’t know what he was doing. Well . . . it wasn’t really that bad. They just had their lips touching. No big deal. No tongue or anything. So Kento waited until Ryo pulled away and gazed at him with warm, hazy blue eyes. “Well?” he prodded.

    “Well what?” Kento asked bluntly.

    “We kissed.”

    “I know.”

    Pause.

    “What didja think?”

    “I . . .” Kento shrugged. “I dunno. What am I s’posed to think?”

    “Didja like it?”

    “Look Ry, I may be drunk, but I’m not blind . . . or crazy.”

    Ryo leaned close to Kento’s lips and breathed, “Then close your eyes n’ pretend to be.” Ryo nuzzled the soft lips with his own while Kento sat unresponsive, expression confused and eyes wide. Ryo tilted his head and ran his tongue across his friend’s lips, his body beginning a gentle writhing rhythm that drew him ever closer to Kento’s body; he wrapped one arm around the broad shoulder and tugged demandingly backwards, wordlessly bidding Kento to lay on top of him, press him to the floor. But Kento was reluctant and perhaps a little too sober to willingly have sex with anyone right now, let alone one of his closest friends, let alone a guy, let alone the fact that he didn’t consider himself to swing that way.

    But something else was stirring inside of Kento, awakening slowly like a beast from winter’s hibernation. This sudden compelling desire seemed to be driven by the fact that Kento’s eyes were open. And when they were open, they were fixed upon Ryo. And Ryo, with his bronzed flesh and soft skin, with his deep blue, bottomless pools that were those beautiful eyes of his, with his moist, parted lips breathing slurred invitations to dance with the dark pink tongue behind them, and with all of that which came together to form Ryo, beckoned to Kento in a way that made even the most insatiable of fleshly desires pale in comparison. He would have never imagined that he could ever be so turned on by another boy; it didn’t seem right. This was Ryo he was thinking about, Ryo whom he was feeling all this for. Ryo was his buddy, his pal. Something had to be wrong with him, wrong with them both. But still the temptation and lust burned within Kento, starting in his loins and slowly branching to his extremities, making his hands take hold of Ryo’s waist and his voice grow dark with want. “Can . . . I?” he uttered.

    With half-closed eyes, Ryo whispered, “Yeah . . . yeah, yeah.” He leaned forward and locked his mouth to Kento’s, drinking long and hard, and breathing heavily through his nose.

    But one part of Kento was still conscious and sober, fighting a losing battle to save him from the sweet temptation of the ebony-headed young man’s body; Kento’s hands dropped away reluctantly but obediently, and he tried to break away from the overpowering kiss. He closed his eyes and tried not to think of what visual delights he was missing, and it seemed to be working as Kento’s sanity slowly beat back the lust with increased vigor . . . but then Ryo completely destroyed everything with a single touch.

    He didn’t even mean to brush his leg against Kento’s crotch, but Ryo certainly knew he had crossed something when the muscular young man grunted huskily and seized Ryo by the arms in a grip that was fearsomely strong. Kento broke the kiss forcefully by pulling the other lad away, and gazed down at him with an expression like the clouds before a thunderstorm. Ryo’s eyes flashed terror when he saw the soul of Hardrock rise up with all its fury, and the familiar amber glow start pulsing over Kento’s body; he knew that Hardrock had the power to crush his bones as easily as sticks, but as soon as Ryo felt the constricting of Kento’s fists into his arms, he felt them loosen gently, yet still remain firm.

    “Why did you do that?” Kento asked softly. “Do you really want me to fuck you, Ryo? Is that what you want? Y’ can’t just pretend it never happened after it’s over. You’ll remember it for a long, long time-”

    “I know,” Ryo whispered, leaning forward to rub his cheek against Kento’s neck. “T’day was one ‘a the best dayza my life. Nature, the forest . . . sunshine.” Ryo parted his lips and breathed heavy kisses onto the warm flesh before him. “I’ve never felt so happy n’ so alive. Like I finally was comin’ home.”   

    “Isn’t that enough, those memories?”

    “Do y’ need a fuckin’ formal vinvitation ‘r somethin’?” Ryo snapped irritably, placing one leg on either side of Kento’s lap and brushing his pelvis against Kento’s erection. “I’m right here in fronna ya. Fuck me already!”

    Kento was, needless to say, wide-eyed in shock at Ryo’s display of unabashed sexual desire — he had never seen this side of his friend before, and he never thought he would. “Ryo,” he said slowly, “what if I don’t want to?”

    His question seemed to fluster Ryo, who was wild, hot, horny and very impatient at this point. Kento could see the desire concealed in the crotch of his friend’s denim shorts as it slowly filled what space was not already taken up. He was astounded, to put it blandly, that Ryo was even capable of having an erection in the deplorable condition his sobriety was in; but he and his fellow compatriots were already aware of the unique effects that wearing mystical armour can have on one’s body, be it mentally or physically. Kento was stunned, but not too much. It certainly didn’t make his decision any easier to make.

    “Take me,” Ryo begged urgently, his voice carried in soft mews. “Take advantage of . . . me for granted.” He wrapped his arms loosely over Kento’s shoulders and gazed into his eyes. “Please.”

    Kento was caught between a rock and a hard place, or a hot one for that matter. What the hell. No one was here. The others weren’t back. They probably wouldn’t be back for another hour or so. All he needed was ten minutes, fifteen at the most. Sure, it was his first time ever doing it with another guy, but it wouldn’t take long. It was just sex, like what the animals did. It didn’t mean anything. Quick and easy, be done before anyone got back. Probably wouldn’t even remember it. He always wanted to experiment, anyway. Ryo was right here, hot, hard and aching for it. Fresh meat. An easy kill-

    Ryo’s hand slid down Kento’s chest, to his shorts where he fumbled to undo the button. His hand brushed against Kento’s groin once, twice and then it became impossible for Kento to think, to reason, to do anything. All he wanted to do was fuck Ryo like there was no tomorrow, and maybe like there was no yesterday, either.

    “Dammit,” Kento grunted, and he shoved Ryo down onto the floor and rose up onto his knees before him, the muscles in his arms flexing as he clenched his fists and gritted his teeth, an expression of guilty sin etched onto his face, making him look worried and at the same time powerful and intimidating. “Sorry,” he uttered gruffly before bending down and grabbing Ryo’s shirt by the collar, ripping it in half with a delightful tearing.

    Ryo cried out wantonly as Kento took hold of the top of his shorts and in a similar fashion, ripped them in half down one leg seam. Ryo’s briefs met the same fate as the articles of clothing before them; like the effect of adrenaline on strength, so it was with Kento’s passion, endowing him with a frenzied brand of strength that was thrilling and terrifying.

    The Ronin of Hardrock took Ryo by the legs and jerked him forward across the rough rug, and Ryo felt his flesh burn from the friction. Strong arms shoved his legs wide apart, exposing all of Ryo’s soft, beige flesh in the dim yellow light of the rustic lamps.

    Kento stared down at the prize before him, at the yielding beauty he would be a fool not to partake of, and lowered his head to Ryo’s groin, opening his mouth and taking in Wildfire’s almost fully erect length. The cock was warm and firm in Kento’s mouth, and it tasted the way Ryo smelled, a pleasant smell like that of faint spice and fresh air and virgin skin. Kento swallowed it down to the root, pressing his face between Ryo’s legs until his lips brushed against coarse hair and hot skin; he flexed the muscles in his throat as he sucked hard but carefully.

    Ryo clasped a hand to his forehead and moaned wretchedly, chest rising and falling heavily as he heaved laboured breaths for air. “Unhh . . . oh, God,” he panted raggedly, his hands finding their way into Kento’s dark hair where they clamped down into the thick mane. Ryo closed his eyes and submitted totally to Kento’s desire.

    The gasping and grunting piqued White Blaze’s curiosity, and brought him over to investigate the odd manner of mating rituals that his pet and the other human were currently engaged in. The tiger approached slowly, worried that his pet seemed to be in a state of pain, evident by the pronounced by the soft moaning sounds he was making.

    Ryo opened his eyes and saw a furry black and white head above him, brown eyes concerned. “Nnhh, Blaze . . .” Ryo raised a hand and petted the tiger’s thick fur; White Blaze gave a comforting lick to Ryo’s forehead that seemed to ask: are you all right? Ryo smiled weakly. “S’okay, Blaze. I’m okay. I’m okay . . .” Ryo’s breath grew short and he lowered his hand, his attention returning to Kento and their pointless carnal pleasures. The tiger turned away and settled down on the floor not too far from them, wanting keeping a watchful eye upon his pet in case he had mistaken orgasmic squirming for death throes.

    Kento sat up and released Ryo’s length, catching his breath and looking quickly about the room for something, anything, that could be used as a lubricant. He was quite constricted in the khaki shorts he was wearing, so he crawled to his knees, unbuttoned his fly and pulled his boxers down around his thighs, sighing in relief.

    Ryo leaned up a little and caught a glance of a swollen red erection that had to be at least eight inches long and five inches in girth, and he cried, “H-holy God! Geh-geh-get-find somethin’ t-to-”

    “I’m workin’ on it, Kento uttered, still looking around. Hurry. Hurry. Quick. Something. Anything. Kento went through a mental list: butter, shampoo, cum, Ryo could not possibly cum enough to grease him up, hair gel, dish detergent, suntan lotion-

    Kento’s eyes fixed upon Sage’s baby oil that was sitting on the small table next to the couch. Sage’s skin irritated easily and he always applied baby oil in the evenings after a bath to keep his skin soft. That was it. Kento clambered over clumsily and grabbed the bottle, muttering, “I will thank you for this later, Sage.”

    He returned to Ryo with the baby oil, popped the cap and fairly emptied the entire bottle into the palm of his hand. He worked hurriedly, slopping the oil haphazardly between Ryo’s legs, clumsy in his haste to get back to sex before he changed his mind, or before Ryo changed his mind. Kento doubted that he would be able to stop now, even if Ryo was begging him.

    Kento’s hands slipped easily over Ryo’s shiny, oiled flesh; the young man made satisfied mews in his throat as he enjoyed the sensation of sturdy, strong hands gliding over his cock. Kento paused to unscrew the bottle and shake the last bit of baby oil from it before tossing it aside; he had just enough to slick over his hardened length, making it gleam like a piston shaft, its inevitable purpose. Dripping, slippery hands delved once again between Ryo’s legs, this time in quest of another thing.

    “Aah! Nnnh!” Ryo groaned madly when he felt one of Kento’s large fingers penetrate his body. He bucked once and closed his eyes, gasping, “Nnhh . . . deep. Deeper.”

    Kento obeyed, forcing his way into Ryo and feeling the other boy’s body relax  and tighten responsively. He watched the expressions on Ryo’s face and wanted to smile; he never would have imagined seeing Ryo like this, sprawled out on the floor with his legs spread and head tossing back and forth in unbridled lust and pleasure, moaning and begging for it like any x-rated slut. Righteous Ryo, naïve, innocent, sweet little Ryo was going to get his sense and sensibility fucked right out of him.

    Kento withdrew and pried back in with two fingers; the raven-haired teenager shouted and bit his fist, grabbed the rug beneath him and clutched it desperately. The fingers slowly moved in and out, and Kento took hold of Ryo’s erection, hand sliding up and down its length. “Ah! Nnh! Hhaaahhh,” Ryo sobbed, tears filling his eyes and running down the sides of his head. “Oh, God. Kento . . . Kento-!”

    Kento felt dizzy with desire as he listened to the cries, his penis throbbing painfully and his balls aching for release; already thick drops of precum were drooling from his cockhead, and it was becoming hard to think of anything else but slamming himself into Ryo with a violence born of lust. Finally, after one last thrust of his hand, Kento let go of Ryo’s cock and retreated from the oiled heat of his body, grabbing Ryo’s thighs and lifting them up onto his shoulders. He nudged his hips forward, allowing his massive erection to rub against Ryo’s balls as he tried to find the place he had penetrated earlier. He found it shortly and pressed forward, Ryo’s body spreading slowly to hug the large, weeping cockhead, and closing around it once it had entered.

    Ryo began to scream shrilly, but it was not screams of pain. Kento could barely make out any of the words aside from ‘God’, ‘yes’ and ‘more’. Kento plunged forward, sliding halfway into the best feeling he had ever felt in his life. Tight, virgin, velvety heat, untouched, unexplored, unfucked. Ryo was tight and hot all around him, heavy, clenching and slippery. Kento thrust forward until his balls pressed to Ryo’s flesh; Ryo shouted and leaned upward, wrapping his arms around Kento’s neck and bringing him back down. Kento rocked forward and back, beginning the official deflowering of the team’s fearless leader, his considerable sex pumping in and out with ease as Ryo moaned in pleasure beneath him. Each time he pushed into the heat, he felt Ryo’s body part and then clasp around him like a lover’s embrace, willing, receiving, and needful.

    “Feels s-so good,” the dark haired young man gasped in Kento’s ear, chin resting upon his sturdy shoulder as their bodies rocked in unison. “Feels so good, so . . . so . . . good.”

    Sweat beaded on Kento’s brow — he felt it running down his bare chest as it met with Ryo’s, just like he felt Ryo’s cock press into his stomach each time he thrust inside. He reached underneath him and cupped his hands around the other boy’s shoulders, holding him close. Ryo’s ebony black locks brushed against Kento’s fingers, and Kento pulled away slightly to gaze down into blue, passion-filled eyes. It seemed sinful to want to kiss him now, as if asking for something more than his body would be too much. But Kento closed his eyes and kissed Ryo, and they at last were completely as one.

    They rolled, tumbled, clawed at each other’s flesh as if they were on their last moment of life, knocking into tables and chairs and sending objects crashing onto the floor. Ryo tore his lips away and gasped for breath, the atmosphere in the un-air conditioned cabin making his skin bead with sweat. Kento sucked on Ryo’s throat as his hips gyrated into Ryo’s, grinding rock hard flesh brutally in and out of the passive lad’s tender body. With each entry Ryo shouted, almost in joyous ecstasy and clamped tighter onto his new lover. “Unh, more . . . give it to me,” he panted heavily, almost daring for his body to be fucked to broken pieces. And Kento was giving it to him, giving it as hard as he could.

    Moments passed in heated whispers, chair and table legs scuffed on the floor each time they were knocked into, then finally, an orgasm hit Ryo like a hammer blow to the head, and he lurched up from his position lying on the floor, back arched and eyes shut tight, with a scream-like moan pouring from his lungs. He grabbed Kento’s shoulders and fairly smothered him against his body, shaking and trembling and writhing as if in agony of pleasure. He buried a hand in Kento’s dark, ash-blue locks, pulling them in feverish distress, and shouted a slur of nonsensical words as creamy warmth spurted from his straining cock.

    “Oh-! Ohhh, God! Ohhhhhaaaa-!” Ryo raved as he felt Kento’s massive length slide into him again and again; he arched his hips off the floor to receive the pleasure while sucking in gasps through his open mouth as if he were suffocating. He wrapped his legs around Kento’s waist and attached himself firmly onto the generous erection from which so much of his pleasure was derived, seated himself deep upon it like he never wanted it to leave him.

    It wasn’t Kento’s intention to come inside of Ryo, but the other boy would have it no other way; the two lovers couldn’t be pried apart, even with a crowbar. Kento growled and groaned like a raging beast as his vision became clouded by red-orange light, and he felt the pain and ache of his lusty desires suddenly rush from his throbbing length and into the warm tightness that embraced him. It was the best feeling in the world, that departing sin whose absence left him shaking and shuddering weakly.

    Ryo moaned and writhed as he felt Kento’s heat flow into him, nudging his hips against his lover’s appreciatively while his limbs went slowly limp, loosening from around Kento. “Never felt so good,” the dark-haired young man murmured sleepily. “Wantcha . . . inside f’rever.” Then he began to whine pitifully as Kento withdrew his softening cock from out of him. Kento sat back on his legs and steadied himself against the couch while Ryo lay outstretched on the crumpled rug, staring at the ceiling as if he were in a trance, dazed and satisfied. 

    A warm afterglow settled into them both, their bodies and minds adjusting to regain some sort of sense. Ryo smiled and closed his eyes, stretching his arms above his head and folding them down over his eyes. “I wanna be naked for the resta m’ life after this.” He sighed pleasantly and sat up slowly, looking over to Kento who was still trying to get his brain back after the ride he’d just taken at the festival of flesh. Ryo smiled. “Yer a hella la lover, Kenno. Yer a fuckin’ . . .” he blanked out, weaving back and forth. “Stud beast’s whatcha are.”

    Kento didn’t respond the compliments he was receiving; instead he was imaging how Ryo would feel in a few hours, how they were going to explain the broken furniture and booze to the others, and what sort of condition Ryo’s and his friendship — if it still existed by dawn —would be in. He was also thinking about Ryo, and his brow knitted worriedly and his face became concerned. “I hurt you, didn’t I?” he asked softly.

    “No, no. I’m fine,” Ryo said groggily. But Kento’s hand reached out and gently brushed over a fresh bruise on Ryo’s bicep, eyes wandering over his entire body in a full inspection, revealing more new bruises on Ryo’s thighs, shins, arms, torso, and even more red splotches where Kento had gripped him so hard that Ryo’s flesh had become raw.

    Kento was silently horrified. “I’m sorry,” he said throatily. “I shouldn’t ‘a done this to you. I shoulda done the right thing and, and just walked away.”

    “You woulda hurt me more that way,” Ryo murmured. “Bruises heal more easily than feelings.” He paused, then leaned forward and tried to kiss Kento’s lips, missing and instead kissing underneath his eye. And when he pulled away, Kento could still feel his cheek tingling, and knew that in all his life, he would remember that kiss even if he forgot his own name.

 

    Once their senses had returned, Ryo and Kento pulled their clothes back on (Ryo actually had to get a new shirt and shorts to wear since Kento had completely shredded the outfit he had been wearing) and proceeded to clean up the cabin as quickly as they could before the others got back. It was no easy task, especially with the beginnings of one wicked hangover beginning to creep in and the fact that they were both aching and sore from their little joint endeavor.

    After they had reassembled the cabin and made sure that all signs of intercourse had been either cleaned or concealed, Ryo and Kento sat out on the porch swing and stared out into the night in silence, now consciously aware of what they had done but too afraid to say anything about it. As wonderful and satisfying as it had been to them both, neither seemed willing to ever mention it again, as if bringing it up would destroy the whole experience and make them both regret it . . . and neither were ready for regret, not yet.

    The rusty chains creaked as they swung slightly, and White Blaze purred as he lay before the porch steps, no doubt waiting for the jeep to pull up on the narrow gravel trail. Kento stared down at lap for a long while, waiting, wondering, worrying. “So,” he said in a throaty whisper. “Are we still friends?”

    He felt a hand slip into his own, squeezing it reassuringly, and he turned his head to see Ryo very faintly smile and nod. “Yeah. We’re friends.”

    “Will we still be friends tomorrow?”

    “Only if you want to be.”

    Kento blinked rapidly and gave a gentle squeeze to Ryo’s hand. They both stared at the sky for a long while, feeling completely at peace with the forest around them, but most of all, with each other.

    “So.” Kento broke the silence. “How ‘bout we plan another camping trip this fall?”

Epilogue

    Rowen, Sage and Cye had arrived back at the cabin sometime very early in the morning, and the five young men were too tired to talk about anything. In the morning however, as Kento and Ryo sat at the kitchen table and munched on some granola bars and toast, Sage walked into the eating area as if greatly perturbed. He put his hands on his hips and looked around questioningly. “Ryo, Kento, have you guys seen my baby oil?”

    Ryo began hacking on his toast, and Kento hunched his shoulders down in an attempt to draw his head into his imaginary turtle shell. “Nope haven’t seen it you must’ve lost it you should keep better track of your belongings,” he uttered quickly, and Sage rolled his eyes and walked away.

    Four days later and at the end of their camping holiday, Kento was stuffing some useless things like maps and bug spray into the glove compartment when he noticed that the travel-sized bottle of AmsOil gear lube he usually kept there was gone. When they had all piled into the jeep and were heading back home, Kento asked, “Hey, Ro. Cye. Sage. You dudes don’t know what happened to that bottle of AmsOil, do you?”

    Three pairs of eyes went wide and all three babbled, “Nope haven’t seen it you must’ve lost it you should keep better track of your belongings.”

    Ryo, sitting in the passenger seat, glanced over at Kento with an expression of silent shock on his face. Kento kept his eyes on the road, but Ryo still managed to see the grin that was plastered on his face.

 

A/N: This was the last fic I wrote before my long hiatus from Ronin Warriors, circa 2004 or so.