Frantic Showstoppers pt1 ch1

For the current blurb/promo of this work, read this post on patreon. I’m not copypasting that massive thing here lol.

This is the first chapter from part one of what will be a full-length novel when I finally get it finished. If I post more chapters as I finish them, they’ll be linked at the bottom of the post for flow and comprehension. If I post enough of them I’ll make a Chapter Index and retroactively edit the posts to link to the Index.

CONTENT WARNINGS: violence, persistent hand trauma.


Kenji Masuda’s left hand hurts. He’d like to make a joke that would get him reported to HR, something about consequences of constant misuse, but the spike that was driven through flesh and muscle and bone to pin the hand flat to this brick wall isn’t helping him think on how to word it.

He was in mid-jump when the ghoul let loose this amazing and unusual attack of manifesting railroad spikes made of its own matter and shooting them right at him. Now he’s too high up for his feet to touch the ground, and he’s flailed his right hand back over his head to grip the top edge of the wall. The heels of his boots keep scrabbling against the mortar between the bricks, all so he doesn’t hang there like an idiot by a single spike.

Well, maybe he should let go. Not a lot going on here, all it’ll do is rip his hand to shreds. Should get at least a couple days off work for that. He could get drunk!

Gabriel Ferros is a few feet from the wall Kenji hangs from and has finally finished beating the ghoul into submission with a city-provided blue trash can. The plastic is all dented to hell, so there’s a bit of paperwork in his future just on that. Finite resources on the Islands means paperwork for everything.

Kenji hangs there and waits. Gabriel drops the ruined trash can to eyeball Kenji’s slapdash crucifixion with a judgment only people still firmly in their twenties can pull off.

“Doesn’t that hurt?”

“Of course it fucking hurts, I’m not up here for my health!”

Gabriel sighs. “Okay, I’ll call Miss Aguilar.”

Kenji kicks his feet against the bricks and yells. “No! Don’t call Yadira, just get me down!”

Gabriel steps around the unmoving lump of roiling muck that forms the unconscious ghoul to get to Kenji. There’s a stack of flimsy plastic delivery crates stacked nearby, he grabs two of them and shoves them under Kenji’s feet. It’s wobbly, but serviceable. Kenji doesn’t have to hold on so tightly to the wall with his free hand, and the cramping muscles of that arm are grateful.

Then Gabriel takes more crates and stacks those into a quick little pyramid so he can climb up to just reach the spike through Kenji’s hand. The sluggish flow of blood dripping from his palm down his wrist starts to go just a little quicker as soon as Gabriel touches the spike.

“It went right through the bone.” Gabriel clicks his tongue.

“Oh? Hadn’t fucking noticed!”

Gabriel yet again has the judgment of youth on his side. He levels the look at Kenji’s sweating face this time.

“I’m calling Miss Aguilar.”

Kenji tries to wrench his hand away from the wall. He nearly loses his grip on the upper edge with his uninjured hand for his troubles. The stack of crates wobble under his feet, they’re going to fall if he tries that again.

Gabriel gets his phone from his pocket with one hand and places the other against Kenji’s sternum, a heavy push to keep him against the wall.

Kenji’s throat feels tight now, he tries to swallow through it and almost coughs in Gabriel’s face instead.
After a moment to scroll to his contacts, Gabriel sends the call. He’s put it on speaker so the ringing is loud enough for Kenji to hear.

He looks at Kenji’s face and watches him swallow again without a single blink.

Yadira picks up on the fifth ring.

“What did the cranky bastard do this time?”

“A ghoul created a facsimile of a rebar spike and nailed his hand to the wall.”

“I’m not cranky,” Kenji insists. Gabriel ignores him.

Yadira sighs. “Fine,” she says, “I’m on my way.”

Gabriel pockets his phone but doesn’t remove his hand from Kenji’s chest, a warm weight against his sternum he can’t ignore. He has a smear of ghoul juice along the back of his hand, a little bit has run down to the cuff of his formerly pristine white dress shirt.

His jacket is somewhere else. Kenji has no idea when Gabriel even took it off. The guy insists on wearing suits all the time, these sharp-cut numbers that give off more glamor model vibes than run-down agent in a run-down agency that routinely deals with gross shit.

Kenji’s gotta think about something else. The hand issue isn’t enough, he needs to find something quickly or this squirming feeling is gonna get visible and Gabriel will have questions.

“She’s being judgmental right now, isn’t she?” Kenji asks, feeling a little desperate.

Gabriel raises one eyebrow. “I’m being judgmental, of course she is too.”

“I am your superior!” Kenji yells. “And where the hell is your jacket?!”

Gabriel reaches up with his other hand to poke a finger into Kenji’s cheek. “My jacket is none of your business. Sir.”

The headquarters for the Spiritual Wellness Center on the Third Island is in the middle of a cluster of residential blocks in the middle of Trillo Ward; the ground floor of their assigned building has a public-serving laundromat, while the SWC takes up the upper two floors with offices and storage for the Center, and also the basement where the cells for detainment are built.

The roof is covered in solar panels and satellite dishes, enough that the light reflecting off the panels has burned someone’s laundry put out on their apartment balcony across the street. They had to coat everything with a special film after that just to keep the “normal” cops happy.

The spike-flinging ghoul is snug in its cell in the basement to await the weekly containment truck’s arrival, so now Gabriel is doing paperwork from their shared desk. He gets to bask in the sunlight pouring in from the windows since their desk is against the far wall while Kenji is stuck in the small conference room turned infirmary.

Yadira Aguilar slaters the gaping hole in his hand with her patent-pending Goo.

“Funny how this is the hand that always gets injured,” she says.

Kenji takes a sip of his half-gone cheap beer. Yadira has her own fridge and allows patients to take some so long as they buy her a replacement six pack from the Golden Royal down the street every so often.

“Oh yeah, hilarious.”

“Have you considered maybe just talking to him?”

Kenji chokes on his beer, has to cough a little in his shoulder. “Considered it? Yeah, sure!”

Yadira rolls her eyes. “It’s harder to reattach a hand than it is to just talk to your partner.”

He glares at her with watery eyes. Some of that beer might have gone into his lungs, damnit.

“For you, maybe. For me? I’ll take the surgery.”

There’s a scuffle outside in the main room, something goes GWAR and someone yells “Oh no!” Kenji leans back and away from Yadira to peer through the open door.

Looks like Abe and Samuelson brought in the ghoul they were tracking. It’s on the smaller spectrum, comparable in size to a teenage girl than two hulking giant men crammed inside a tent of a trench coat, and it thrashes around, spits on the floor while Abe drags it across the carpet.

There’s no reason for it to be on the upper floors, and now the janitorial budget is going to have to cover a massive tip for the overnight cleaning staff again. Once Grove sees the mess Abe and Samuelson are going to be in so much trouble.

Kenji grins. He loves it when Abe is in trouble. Gives him the warm and fuzzies.

Yadira grabs Kenji’s wrist and yanks him towards her. He stifles a yelp and flops forward.

She’s almost done packing the hole in his hand with the Goo. She’s slathering it around the edges of the hole now, smoothing it over with the back of her application spoon.

“I made something,” she says.

Kenji tries to angle his head back to see out the door again. All he can see from this position is the growing puddle of sloughed-off ghoul material. “Good for you?”

“It’s a bracelet.”

Kenji stops giving himself a neck cramp to look at Yadira instead. She’s got her usual no-nonsense jeans and boots on, a screen printed t-shirt with an unplugged monitor on it and a cartoon face wearing sunglasses grinning from the screen. She’s not wearing jewelry now, and honestly he’s never noticed her wear any in the past.

“Does the bracelet… kill?”

“No, but it’ll lightly terrorize astral energies that emit from the arm it’s attached to.”
Yadira leans back to the open cabinet against the wall to retrieve a roll of gauze, then comes back to lean forward to start wrapping Kenji’s hand. “It won’t work until the Goo does it’s thing, but you can try it if you want after.”

If Yadira made something to help him out, he might as well try it. The way his week is going he’s very much expecting it to explode as soon as he puts it on, of course, but he can still try it.

“Okay, I’ll be your test subject. But if it makes my hand fall off I’m suing.”

Yadira tapes the top of the gauze down and rolls her eyes, stands and steps away to the cabinet. “If it takes your hand off you’ll have to tell Agent Ferros why you were wearing it.”

Oh that’s not ominous at all. Is this what she’s planning? It’s not to help him survive his affliction, it’s to force him to say something?

Yadira takes a bottle of clear and spritzes down the cabinet. “Come to me when the bandages come off, I’ll give it to you if the Goo is done by then.”

A surge of new rehabilitative construction on the Island means lots of “innovative” features are regularly added to make things look nicer. In the case of the Sunwheel Apartments over near the western border of the the Ward, that “innovation” is a miniature water park for kids to play in during hot days. From around eleven in the morning to five in the early evening, when the temperature is over 23 Celsius, water spurts from pipes and nozzles all over the play equipment.

Already two small children have brained themselves by slipping badly down a slide headfirst. A common discussion on the local news is when it’ll finally be closed down.

Right now it’s overcast and school is in session anyway, so no kids are around to play in the water. Instead a goblinade is sitting with its legs sprawled out and its back leaning against one of those pipes, crooning down at its crusty claw-tipped feet. Crumbled cans of cheap black label beer are scattered on the ground around it.

“How does a demon get the money to pay for that much beer?” Kenji asks no one in particular. There has to be the remains three six-packs worth at least on the ground.

Gabriel closes his eyes, breathes out through his nose, then opens them again to stare straight at the playground. He’s been doing that a lot lately, being cranky and scowling off into the distance while he cools off. They’ve been partners for almost a year now, he should be used to Kenji saying dumb shit.

“The report was that it was stealing the beer,” Gabriel mutters as he metaphorically melts the swing-set under the force of his gaze.

Ah. Well, Kenji would know that if he’d read the report at any time before now, but he hadn’t, so here they are.

He changes tactics. “No one these days has any idea of how to treat the demons. Toss a snack at the little guy and it’ll leave happy.” Kenji tries to wave his bandaged left hand but even that much motion makes the throbbing radiate down his wrist and into his forearm. He abandons the gesture, shuffles sideways on his feet. “Used to be everyone knew this shit.”

Gabriel watches him in that careful way of his, switches back and forth from watching Kenji’s face and Kenji’s injury. At least he’s not giving playground equipment the stink eye anymore. “Do you need to go home and rest? I can take care of this if you do.”

Kenji snorts. “Last time you had to touch a demon you nearly fainted.”

“I didn’t almost faint! The sludgepot breathed on me!”

“It breathed on me too and I didn’t fall back like a wilting flower.”

“Do you even have a sense of smell anymore?” Gabriel asks through grit teeth.

Kenji grins at him, pokes his tongue out a bit between his teeth and makes an amused “tss” noise.

Gabriel breathes out through his nostrils like a bull and spins away. Hesitates. Says, “Well, we have company.”

Kenji leans forward to peek around Gabriel, and ah. Teenagers. And they’re very interested in the goblinade, if all that whispering and pointing is giving the full picture.

“I’ll take care of them and you deal with the demon?” Gabriel asks, half-turns to look at Kenji in his weird side-dip of a lean.

Kenji raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, go say hi to the kids so you don’t faint.”

Gabriel exhales rough through his nose again and then off he stomps. The teenagers won’t know what hit them. It’s no great loss, they’re in school uniforms so if they’re dumb enough to play hooky while standing out like that then they deserve to get their ears pinned back by the force of nature that is Gabriel in an Indignant Rage.

Kenji makes his way to the goblinade. As he closes the distance the thing’s snoring gets more distinct. He didn’t even know demons could snore, he’ll have to tell someone somewhere so the information can be put in a database to enrich future generations.

Goblinades are fresh water demons, some kind of astral merger between a Japanese kappa of yore and an imp set to drown the unbelievers from the monotheistic countries. All of them have slimy scales for skin tinged brackish with algae, and are generally three feet tall when they bother to stand up straight. Kenji can tell from the way this one’s spindly limbs are sprawled that this is one of the larger ones of the species. If it didn’t have the sharp teeth sticking from its beaky mouth and the hair that looks like soaked moldy willow leaves stuck to the top of its head, it could be mistaken for a child covered in swirls of wet green and brown body paints.

Kenji crouches down and nudges the goblinade’s kneecap with the back of his uninjured hand. It snorts, shifts, but ultimately doesn’t react.

“Hey,” Kenji says, nudges it again. “Hey, you can’t stay here. You want kids to throw rocks at you?”

Its breathing and snoring rhythm does not change. Kenji looks back over his shoulder to check on Gabriel, can see the teenagers’ look of horror while he talks to them. He’ll have to ask what lecture Gabriel decided to go with this time once they’re done here.

He turns back to the goblinade, then grins. Its eyes are open to slits. It’s pretending to still be asleep, the filthy liar.

“You gotta go home,” Kenji tells it. He leans a little so he can nudge it again.

A three-fingered clawed hand swipes at Kenji’s head, followed by a hurdling scaled and glistening body. Kenji throws himself back and lands flat on the cold damp concrete while the goblinade soars over him with a wark!

The goblinade lands two feet over Kenji’s head, facefirst into a puddle. The splash is both uninspiring and weak, and it doesn’t cover the pissy follow-up wark the goblinade makes with its open beak smooshed against the ground.

Kenji rolls over onto his stomach, then shoves himself up with his uninjured hand. It’s a bit of a wobble while he tripods it, but he gets to his feet and stands over the grumbling goblinade without anymore bruises. His lower back hurts now, he’s going to have to lie flat on an ice pack when he gets home tonight.

“Very akido,” Gabriel says. The teenagers are gone, and Gabriel has his arms crossed. “If I didn’t know you so well I’d say that was done on purpose.”

“That was not akido,” Kenji says, “that was an instinctive avoidance technique.”

The corner of Gabriel’s mouth quirks up a bit. “Is that what you call it when you fall back like a wilting flower now?”

The goblinade coughs into the concrete, and Kenji throws his head back to laugh. Yeah, okay. He’s been caught.

Gabriel steps over to the goblinade and nudges it in the side with his foot. The creature groans a little at him in response.

“You can’t get your bandage wet,” Gabriel says. He looks around them, then points back towards the tall slide that’s got a lot of yellow caution tape criss-crossing the opening. “The shopping cart.”

Kenji looks. There’s a plastic and metal shopping cart from one of those mega marts he never goes to. Its upended in the bushes bordering the park, but it still has all its wheels.

He turns back just in time to see Gabriel roll the goblinade onto its back.

“Go get the cart. We’ll get it out of here in that,” Gabriel commands.

“Look at you, being the brains and the brawn today,” Kenji says to him. “I’m useless today, how annoying.”

Gabriel rolls his eyes. “If more teenagers show up you can deal with them, does that make you feel better?”

Ugh. Kenji shudders and goes to get the cart. No, that doesn’t make him feel better at all. They need to get this goblinade back into the water so he can avoid that.

The cart moves stiffly, probably has rust all inside the wheels and fastenings. Kenji shoves it over quickly to where Gabriel is trying to make the goblinade sit up, then tips the cart onto its front so all Gabriel has to do is wiggle a slippery bit of dead weight into it and then Kenji can lever the cart back up onto its wheels.

While Gabriel grunts and shoves, Kenji looks around the playground. This place definitely needs to be demolished. The teenagers are over by some storage sheds, a bit further away but still close enough to cause trouble.

There’s some decorative rocks along the edges of the playground. Kenji goes to pick up one painted bright yellow. Lobs it up and down in his uninjured hand while he stares directly at the teenagers and they stare back.

He makes to pitch the rock at them, full baseball star windup, and the little shits scatter. In less than ten seconds they’re out of sight, gone elsewhere to bother someone else.

Kenji drops the rock back where he got it and chortles a little. He turns around to find the cart back on its wheels, one single back foot of the goblinade sticks over the edge. Gabriel leans against the handle and watches Kenji.

“You’re a horrible role model,” Gabriel says. He doesn’t sound bothered by this stunning revelation.

Inside the cart, the goblinade grumbles.

Half an hour later they’re no closer to their goal than when they started out.

“Times like these I wish our beat was closer to the ocean,” Kenji sighs.

Gabriel has a grip on the front of the shopping cart and is lifting it a little to help Kenji get it up this set of stairs. He sweats a little at his hairline.

“These kind of demons live in freshwater, not salt.”

“Do we know this for sure?” Kenji has to hook his left arm up and under the handle of the cart to help lift it, to keep his injured hand out of the way. His arms are getting tired already. “Has anyone tried to put a goblinade into the ocean to see what happens?”

The goblinade groans inside the cart. Its eyes are closed so it’s probably just getting to the hungover portion of the bender, not responding to Gabriel and Kenji’s conversation.

Out in the middle of the ocean like they are, the Islands in the circle get a lot of rain so flood maintenance is an important part of keeping the load on the turbines that keep the Islands afloat as light as possible. There’s a canal that runs through the lower half of Trillo Ward and then heads North along the main light-rail until it enters one of many warehouse districts. A recent effort from Island Three’s local administration dumped money into sprucing up the artificial slopes that serve as flood maintenance. Already every available inch is covered in graffiti and loiterer camps.

After they hit the top of the stairs it’s back to a smooth walkway along the top railing of the canal. Kenji shoos Gabriel away from the front of the cart so he doesn’t run him over, begins to push it along as soon as the other man moves. He doesn’t need help with this part, his latest existential crisis can be put on hold until another day.

This part of the canal has steep slopes of straight poured ferrock for sides that go all the way down to a second narrow walkway that’s within a foot of water level. The railing down there looks like its crawling with algae despite only being a year old, tops. There’s a break in the top railing just ahead, they can use that to squeeze through and somehow crawl down to the water.

“I think we should just dump him out and let him roll down,” Kenji says.

Gabriel startles from where he’s walking beside him. He was staring off in the distance, at the shiny sign for the Golden Royal up ahead. “What?”

“To get it down to the water. Let gravity do the work.”

“You want to uncontrollably spin a drunk goblinade?”

They come to a stop at the break in the railing. Some steep metal stairs are sunk into the concrete. If they’re lucky the canal water scum hasn’t crept up this high, or else they’re in for a slippery time.

“Sure, his fault for getting drunk in the first place.”

He looks at Gabriel, who is now rubbing both hands over his eyes.

“No one has rolled you down into a canal yet,” Gabriel mutters. Then he drops his hands and gestures at the goblinade, who has started to groan a little. “We can carry it down between the two of us. We don’t have to make things worse for it just because it had a morning of bad choices.”

Kenji mouths to himself, a morning of bad choices. That’s incredibly kind. The damn goblinade has a legitimate snot bubble blowing out of one of the airholes over its perpetually open beaky maw, but sure. Sun’s up, make some choices, totally random if they’re bad or not.

A sour feeling is in Kenji’s stomach. He probably should’ve eaten more than some leftover rice this morning. The beer he filched from Yadira’s fridge has nothing to pad it out, he’s not doing himself any favors here.

That Golden Royal convenience store is up the road a little. They can dump the goblinade into the water and then grab something prepackaged there. He’ll even refrain from offering to buy Gabriel some milk to help him grow better.

Gabriel is unaware of Kenji’s running internal monologue– he’s too busy creeping down the stairs of the slope to look at the canal. He’s exaggerating his care of where he steps, so the scum is definitely there and definitely slippery.

“Glarck,” the goblinade says in the cart. All three of its eyes are wide open and staring right at Kenji. “Gwar!”

Ah, shit. The goblinade shifts to one side of the cart and Kenji reaches out to try and shove it back. “Hey, we’re almost back to the water. Cool it.”

The goblinade does not cool it. It rocks back away from Kenji’s hand, grapples with the other side of the cart instead. For a smallish creature that was passed out drunk less than an hour ago it’s recovering abnormally fast.

Well, adrenaline will do that to you. Kenji skitters himself around the cart to shove the goblinade back from that side. He’s not effective, he can only use his unbandaged hand and the skin of his palm slides over the slime of the goblinade’s sweating scales so he ends up rubbing its shoulder more than moving it back.

The goblinade wiggles its front over the edge of the shopping cart, gets its feet under it and uses those to propel it forward. Kenji shoves himself into the goblinade’s face and shoulders, yells, “Gabriel! Goblinade!”

Gabriel’s voice is distant, “What?”

“Nyarghabble!” the goblinade roars, then shoves again with its feet. The cart rocks away from Kenji, taking the goblinade with it. He grabs at the edge with both hands, a jolt of sharp pain goes from the palm of his left hand straight up his arm.

The cart slips from Kenji’s spasming grasp and topples to its side. The goblinade rolls out onto the concrete, goes wark wark in freedom, then skitters on all fours down the street, in the opposite direction of the canal.

“Crap!” Gabriel shouts. He scrambles over the edge of the canal and runs after the goblinade.

He’s still out of breath but he has no choice- Kenji tucks his left hand to his chest and takes off after the both of them.

The goblinade hauls ass all the way down the street and dives through the automatic glass doors of the Golden Royal store before Gabriel can catch up. Kenji gasps and wheezes his way in after them to find Gabriel with his arms out to keep a broom-wielding clerk away from the goblinade, and the goblinade itself on the floor cramming individually wrapped custard buns into its gaping maw.

“It wrecked the beer case this morning! I get to hit it!” the clerk bellows, waggles his broom too close to Gabriel’s head for comfort. “Vengeance!”

“Everyone just calm down,” Gabriel says. His head is on a swivel, he’s keeping the clerk and a couple customers who are pressed against the wall with the cold shelves in his sight line. One of the women holds a bottle of bargain brand champagne by its neck and out a bit from her body, like it’s a cudgel.

The goblinade makes a garbled noise from the floor, bites down hard on the buns. The clear plastic on one ruptures from the force of the lemon custard spurting out of its doughy prison and goes all over the floor.

“You’re not doing anything!” the clerk yells. He takes a step to the side, away from Gabriel and right onto a puddle of custard. His foot goes right out from under him and he topples into what would be the splits if he had the flexibility.

Something in the clerk’s hips makes a loud pop of a noise and he wails, falls back against a magazine rack that topples under his weight. Car magazines scatter everywhere with a flutter and crash. The goblinade coughs, tries to chomp down again, then hacks.

“Fuck, it’s choking,” Gabriel says.

Kenji grabs the goblinade by its flimsy ankles and drags it towards the door. His left hand is in agony under the bandages but he’s not going to let go this time. No pain, no gainfully removed goblinade from the premises. It keeps coughing as he slides it along– there’s a visible bulge in its throat, probably from an intact custard bun. Some of those things kept on the bottom shelves become like rocks once they go stale.

It bumps painfully over the glass door track, and then they’re both back outside. The overcast has gotten a bit darker, if they’re unlucky it’ll rain and really give the goblinade something to go drown in.

“I’m sorry sir, we’re removing it now,” Gabriel says as he backs out of the store as well. He bows as soon as he’s outside, back straight and arms held close to his sides. “Sorry for the trouble!”

Kenji drops the goblinade’s feet and rolls it onto its front. Then he kneels beside it and twacks his uninjured hand into the center of it’s bony back, once, twice, three sharp times.

The goblinade goes “yark” and retches. A slimy but otherwise undamaged bottle of protein-infused milk slides out of its mouth, rolls away from them and towards the curb in front of the Golden Royal.

“Chew your food next time,” Kenji tells the goblinade. It coughs and closes its eyes.

“My manager is going to file a police report!” the clerk shouts from inside the store. He’s still on the ground, but his legs are back together instead of spread.

“Go give him the card for personal injury, and I’ll start dragging this guy.” Kenji rolls the goblinade back onto its back, will give it less of a chance to scrabble at the ground with its claws while he drags it.

Gabriel scrubs both of his hands through his hair, makes it stick up weird when he’s done. “Your hand…”

Kenji bites down a grin. It’d only piss off Gabriel if he made a comment. “I’ll live. Let’s get this done.”

He grabs the goblinade’s ankles again and starts to drag it. The goblinade doesn’t let its arms flail around, it crosses them across its chest and keeps its eyes firmly shut.

“Sir, I have information for you to pass on to your manager,” Gabriel says, distant and back inside the Golden Royal.

Kenji speeds up his backward hop. He doesn’t go all the way back to the cart, just across the street and down a bit to get to the closest break in the railing. There are no stairs in this one, and no railing down at water level, which is great because if he has to go much further his hand really is going to fall off.

He gets the goblinade to the edge of the canal, drops its ankles, then nudges it with his boot until its balanced and ready to go over. He leans forward, braces himself with his good hand on his right knee, and he heaves for air with an open mouth.

“Enjoy the ride,” he wheezes at it. It ignores him.

With one gentle shove of his foot the goblinade goes over, tumbles over and over and over down the slope. It screeches, a frantic waaaaah as it rolls uncontrollably towards the water.

The splash is considerable, but not high enough to reach Kenji up on street level. There are waves, some bubbles, and then the goblinade’s head pokes up just far enough for the eyes and a few of the airholes over its mouth to be exposed.

Kenji’s breathing hard and he definitely needs to sit down, but he still raises his bandaged hand and waggles his fingers at it. It blows a raspberry into the water in response.

“You rolled it, didn’t you?” Gabriel asks, behind him. He sounds very tired.

Kenji groans out what could be a laugh in another life, takes two sideways steps down the slope, then flops down onto his ass. The goblinade is paddling around in circles now, getting a feel for the water.

“You’re lucky it didn’t vomit on you,” Gabriel says. He starts the short climb down to where Kenji has parked himself. Kenji drops himself backward to lie flat on the ferrock. Despite the cloud cover it still radiating the day’s heat. Feels good on his strained back muscles.

“It’s just going to go back once we’re gone,” Gabriel says.

Kenji wheezes a bit with his eyes closed, flops his injured hand over his sternum to protect it. Damn thing feels like it’s going to fall off, he probably needs to have Yadira check it again. “But if we’re lucky someone else will deal with it!”

“Mhm,” Gabriel hums. He steps to the side and drops down to sit next to Kenji’s sprawl, though he keeps his knees up and his feet flat on the concrete so he can sit up. His left hip presses against Kenji’s waist, the edge of Gabriel’s sneaker cuts a little into the meat of Kenji’s thigh.

“You’ve been really lazy lately. Is something going on?”

A jolt of tension sparks up Kenji’s neck. He grits his teeth through it, breathes heavy out his nose. “Nah, business as usual.”

He opens his eyes a crack, enough to see that Gabriel isn’t watching the goblinade while it pretends to be innocent, he’s looking down at Kenji with his mouth a flat slash across his face and his dark eyes hard as he stares down at Kenji.

“If you say so,” Gabriel finally says, after they’ve stared at each other for a bit.

Kenji shoves himself up by his elbows. Shifts an inch or so away from Gabriel so they’re no longer pressed together. Looks out at the water and the goblinade doing a little doggy paddle in circles while it keeps a beady eye on them.

That thing is definitely biding it’s time, damnit.

“Well, come on,” Kenji says. He wobbles up onto his feet. The angle of the slope has him with his feet under him and his uninjured hand braced against the ferrock to keep himself braced. “I’ll buy you some dumplings for dinner.”

Gabriel sighs and gets to his feet too. He doesn’t need to crab walk his way up the side of the canal, he very carefully walks like the dignified human being he is.

“Or I could buy my own dinner and you could fill out your share of the paperwork,” he says.

Kenji scrambles up the slope a little faster.

“What was that? Can’t hear you!”

End of Pt1 Ch1
Read on to Pt1 Ch2
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