It’s 3:42 in the morning when the ghost starts whispering his name, rousing him back into consciousness. Content, sated, sleepy. Ryou won’t have the presence of mind to separate and analyze these emotions until a little later but it’s how he’s feeling when his eyes slowly blink open despite the scene that floods his vision. A low angle (a ground angle) of a tucked away alley complete with overflowing dumpsters, abandoned articles of clothing and vacant mattresses made of old newspapers so wet and distressed they can no longer be read. It reminds him of Paris, the damp and unmistakable stench of too many bodies over too much time. Urine, alcohol, cigarettes, sweat. Paris is a powerful, sensual enough memory to jolt Ryou back into the present. Into his own body- drivers seat, even. Panic, guilt, regret, guilt-
You are tired, aren’t you. I suppose I was a little rough on you, poor thing. Look again.
Corners and clippings of neon signs can be seen from the stained cement, hanging in the air like ominous, hyperactive beacons. Attracting all the wrong people to all the wrong things. Including himself, evidently. Well… Not entirely himself. More to the point- the signs aren’t in french or even english. That’s right... They’re in Japan. They have been for some time. The immediate seizure of fear subsides though it leaves Ryou’s arms and legs and shoulders shaking. He ignores it and leans against the side of the closest building for support as he attempts to stand.
Easy, poppet. Not too fast, now... All kinds of funny things rattling around in there, hmm? Feels a bit off, no doubt.
Ryou manages to fight back (most of) the bile rising in his throat as vertigo overtakes him. His pale, almost blue hand feels around without direction for extra support and finds the handle of the dumpster. It looks as though the world has been split and half remains on the ground with the newspaper mattresses while the rest keeps ascending up an invisible hill towards the twitching neon scriptures.
Nice and easy. Can you walk? Don’t put your hand in that pocket. We’ll talk about it later. One foot- that’s right.
A deep breath will help, his mother used to tell him that. Not that it ended up doing her any good. A nice deep breath. Ryou fills his lungs with stale air and puts his left foot out. Reluctantly his fingers uncurl from the dumpster and he steps out onto the sidewalk. What do I need to look out for…?
Nothing. Everything has been taken care of. The ghost laughs fondly and Ryou feels the sensation of a hand slide familiarly over his shoulder and through his hair, smoothing out the tangles. Very clean. I’ll handle it should we come across something... Unpleasant.
Strangely, Ryou doesn’t run into a single soul- a single person for maybe a mile. Maybe three. At least, he can’t distinguish between the two if he does and they don’t seem to want to bother him if they’re there. He has no idea where they are but the farther he goes the clearer his vision becomes, the less cartoonish the buildings seem, the less threatening the lights, the more hazy grey the sky.
There are no new memories in his mind which both relieves and unnerves him. He remembers resting his head against his pillow and trying to clear his mind, a hand pulling up his hair and kissing the nape of his neck, another one snaking around his waist. He remembers falling asleep a lot later than he wanted but much more tired than he had been when he first laid down.
Go three more blocks then take a right. I’ll buy you a coffee. Wake up those bright eyes, hmm?
Ryou walks past a high reaching building made of glass and sees a tall man next to him in the fleeting reflection. They look like they could be a couple. The man’s hand is tucked into the back pocket of Ryou’s jeans and his stomach drops to see a sleepy smile on his own face that he can’t feel. I think my wallet’s at home on my desk…
Didn’t I just say that I was buying? Just relax. You’re doing much better, love. Look, the shakes are pretty much gone.
Lifting his hand up takes more concentration and coordination than it probably should but the ghost is right. The only tremor remaining is the one that’s usually there. A slight jump in his left index finger. One his therapist assured him was nothing but a side effect of stress. She told him to think of it as the body’s subconscious outlet for pent up anxiety. He specifically remembers the ghost snorting in response to this and deciding it wasn’t the best time to admit that his subconscious was really more like an alterconscious and not sub in the least. There would probably never be a good time to admit that but he liked talking to her all the same. Even if the ghost was petulant about it and hated being dragged along and made it very difficult for Ryou to organize his thoughts and get anything worthwhile out.
It felt good to be looked at. Seen. Acknowledged. Listened to even if he did become disoriented and had the habit of trailing off to pursue an inner dialogue.
We need to have a little chat about those pills you’ve been taking, too- this is the turn. See the awning? It’s blue, love, open your eyes. Jesus, this is exactly what I’m talking about...
At least four hours of his night are unaccounted for so far. A lot can happen (had happened) in that slow spread of time. There are strange tastes on his tongue and behind his teeth but hopefully the coffee (how was he paying for that) will mask them.
“I doubt it’s my pills that are making me like this…”
The next thing Ryou knows he’s walking away from a register, warm paper cup in his hand and he’s not sure if he held the barista up at gunpoint or flirted with him and left a too generous tip from part of the wad of cash he’s just realizing is in his pocket. Are you even supposed to tip in Japan...? Ryou slides into a booth in front of a wide window that faces the street and stares into his black coffee. It’s 4:37 a.m. In the window's reflection he can see, after a beat, feel the ghost’s hand reach across the table and rub a thumb over his cheek.
I promise it was nothing like Paris. Just a bit of fun, really. You left me quite riled up last night and I couldn't settle down… Needed to let off some steam.
“Hmm… Why the alley dump off, then? That can't have been part of the plan…” Ryou moves his mouth as little as possible when he talks, something he’s gotten quite good at. Almost as if he’s a ventriloquist for his own body, faking his own words. Something else he’ll never be able to tell his therapist.
The reflection sitting opposite him in the window shrugs, a wide grin probably spreading across his face.
Needed to lie down, that’s all. Don’t tell me your mad?
It’s Ryou’s turn to shrug but it might as well be a completely different action considering how limp and unsure it is in comparison. He takes his cup in both hands and drinks. The particular pleasure that comes from the familiar, comforting liquid only lasts a moment before the scars on his chest begin to throb.
Don’t be stupid. Everything was under control. I have nothing to gain from hurting you, obviously so what are you worried about?
“Jail, mostly…” It’s so much more than that but he can predict the ghost’s reactions to any other answer and most of them end up with his chest stinging again. The threat of prison he at least can understand. Ryou takes another sip of coffee, more aware than ever of the heavy, hot, gold relic around his neck, against his skin.
Yes… That would be an inconvenience, wouldn’t it? But that sort of thing is for everyone else though, love. Not you. Know why?
Ryou can feel hot breath against his ear, a hand on his thigh. He shudders and lets his legs open, his eyes drift close. There’s nothing to see, anyway, “Why?”
Because you have me. Of course I have ambitions but… We’re free, Ryou. We can do whatever we want, whenever we want with no repercussions. I want you to think about that, really think. You’ll warm up to it…
There must be a sliver of truth in what the ghost is saying, some part of Ryou that longs for everything he’s being offered even though it terrifies the rest of him. He complies. He complies but he doesn’t feel free. In fact as the ghost kisses his neck and palms his thigh and curls around him- invisible in the middle of the 24 hour cafe- he can feel chains tighten around him and in the end it’s hard to say which specter is snatching the air from his lungs.