The team of AXQA, Aishuu and Xandra jointly present:
Rite of Resurrection
Disclaimers: Yami no Matsuei is copyright of Yohko Matsushita.
NOTE: Yami no Matsuei had a distinctive vocabulary of terms; if you are unfamiliar with the series (or need a refresher), go to http://theria.net/yaminomatsuei/index.html.
They were on a case, of course.
It seemed lately, the budget of JuOhCho was stretched tighter than ever, which meant the shinigami were forced to work longer hours, and their expense accounts were slowly being cut back. Tsuzuki had whined predictably, but not even his puppy eyes had convinced Kanoe and Tatsumi to loosen the purse stings.
Still, Hisoka knew there was only so much his partner could take, and every now and then he let Tsuzuki do the shopping, even though it was guaranteed to send them over budget and supply them with foods that had no nutritional value whatsoever. Hisoka never told his friend, but the difference between the allotted expenses and what Tsuzuki spent came out of his own pitiful paycheck. Tsuzuki probably knew, but he didn't press.
Friendship required such sacrifices.
So it was that Hisoka didn't worry too much when Tsuzuki failed to show up that morning at the appointed time and place. Really, the man was such a flake sometimes; it always amazed Hisoka that Tsuzuki was the most powerful shinigami in Meifu.
A few hours later, Hisoka was beside himself with concern. Despite his best efforts, Hisoka did worry about his partner. He knew Tsuzuki was not capable of taking care of himself at the best of times. Wild thoughts were now racing through his head. What if Muraki had shown up again? Hisoka knew Tsuzuki had a tendency to go all to pieces when confronted with his particular bogeyman.
It had only been three months since Tsuzuki had tried to call Touda down upon himself... what if? Hisoka thought, wondering if something had pushed the older shinigami over the edge. Tsuzuki was simply too powerful for his own good, and when it came to guilt trips, he won the prize, leaving the nearest contender in the dust. Maybe...
Hisoka looked in all the stores nearby, and wasn't surprised that Tsuzuki had never made it to any of them. His efforts began to grow more frantic as he called the fire station, inquiring if there had been any unexplained blazes. When a confused "no" met his nearly hysterical queries, he hung up, and decided there was only one thing to do; call EnmaCho.
It took an inordinately long time to connect to Tatsumi, and when he did, it was an even more worrying conversation. All he got was a curt, "Come back to Meifu immediately," before the phone was hung up.
After what seemed an interminable time later, Hisoka found himself back in their familiar office. Watari brushed past him and waved urgently, "Come on Hisoka, you don't want to miss this meeting."
That didn't sound good and Hisoka was practically running when he burst into the meeting room. "Will someone tell me where Tsuzuki is?" he demanded.
The look on Tatsumi's face scared him. Konoe, Tatsumi, Wakaba and Terazumi sat at the table, with the GuShoShin siblings flying around, fluttering frantically. Tatsumi's expression was grimmer than it normally was, though it was well masked, and Hisoka became convinced that his concerns over Tsuzuki's welfare weren't paranoia. Tatsumi's careful non-expression was more eloquent then the frown Kanoe wore, Wakaba's confusion, or the GuShoShin's frantic bustling.
"Tsuzuki... is not..." Konoe began, but a sharp look from Tatsumi stopped him.
"Last night, around ten, a most remarkable thing happened," Tatsumi said softly. "Tsuzuki's name was erased from the Kiseki."
"What!" The shocked exclamation burst from Hisoka. "What does that mean?"
Tatsumi lifted a finger to push his glasses up his face as if trying to delay saying something terrible. Heaving a deep sigh, he said, "We don't really know. It's... quite unusual."
"Hrrumph, unusual's not the way to describe it!" Kanoe retorted. "It's never happened before! Shinigami do NOT go missing from the Kiseki!"
Tatsumi nodded in acknowledgment of the point.
"There's got to be some way we can find him!" Hisoka was trying to keep the desperate worry from his voice. He looked about his friends only to see their eyes fall down to avoid meeting his. No, he would not give up on Tsuzuki so easily.
"There's an added complication. There's only a limited time for us to find him before EnmaDaiOh makes his decision," Tatsumi added reluctantly.
"What decision?" Hisoka demanded. He really didn't like the way this conversation was going.
"Tsuzuki... has a week until EnmaDaiOh breaks his contract as a shinigami... even if it's not his fault... shinigami just can't go missing..."
Hisoka felt the blood drain from his face. "That's not fair!"
"Oh course it's not," Watari said, sounding utterly flat. "It's called bureaucracy."
Tatsumi gave him a dark look. "It's a sound idea, in theory. Shinigami, especially ones like Tsuzuki, wield powers beyond mere mortals. We need to know where they are. And... EnmaDaiOh needs to maintain control over them- especially ones like Tsuzuki. Tsuzuki's power level is near that of... well, he controls 12 shikigami."
"What can we do to find him?" Hisoka was now really afraid.
Tatsumi seemed to sense the near panic Hisoka was feeling. He appeared to understand that Hisoka was having trouble keeping a grip on his powers as an empath. Tatsumi laid a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder and said, "Let's not panic yet. GuShoShin, why don't you try the library and see if you can find any reason to how shinigami can disappear from the Kiseki. Watari, you check and see if there's some way to trace Tsuzuki through physical means. Terazuma and Wakaba, you guys do a physical search, see if you can scan for his whereabouts. Everyone report back here in 12 hours."
The decisive way Tatsumi handled the apportioning of tasks would normally have impressed Hisoka but today he was too distraught. He turned to the secretary inquiringly for his assignment. He was not going to be left out of the search.
"Hisoka, you'll search with me. We could try to see if you can feel Tsuzuki's emotions. You're closest to him after all." Tatsumi said the last statement with just the tinniest bit of regret.
Hisoka looked at the kagetsukai, or shadow master, and tried not to shiver. Tatsumi was just so... intimidating... and sometimes, Hisoka had the distinct feeling Tatsumi felt strongly in some way about him, especially when Tsuzuki was involved. "Understood. Where do we start?"
Tatsumi's eyes narrowed. "We return to the scene of the crime, of course."
Tsuzuki stood in the courtyard of the house that was eerily familiar, in front of a woman he'd never seen before. "Saa, what am I doing here?" he asked, even though deep inside, he knew something was seriously wrong. He felt his stomach turn over and over, and his breathing was too quick.
Keiko stood staring dumbly at the figure in front of her. In a tiny corner of her heart, she never expected she would actually succeed- and what she got was certainly furthest from her wildest imagination. The man, yes, that was the only way to describe him, appeared a lot more clueless than she thought a powerful demon would be. In fact, he hardly seemed a demon, rather more like an angel. Dark hair fell attractively in wisps over his forehead, his fair skin so smooth that she was hard pressed not to feel jealous. He was dressed in, of all things, a modern western suit. But the most remarkable thing about him was his brilliant violet eyes. Liquid pure purple orbs that invited her to drown in them.
The same eyes her son had.
It was what convinced her she had summoned the right spirit. Part of her told her to lay him back to his grave, and leave him in peace, but Rui's life depended on this cruelty. Keiko was, by nature, a retiring woman, and she almost flinched away from the bright curiosity in his face.
Still, she needed to establish the way things were going to be. "I am..." she began in a weak voice, then resolved herself. She pulled her shoulders back, and rose to her full height, even though it was an uninspiring 5'1. "I am Kuzuha Keiko... your sister, Tsuzuki Ruka, was my great grandmother," she said more strongly. "And I summoned you here."
The look of total surprise on Tsuzuki's face was rather amusing to watch. Keiko didn't think someone could show their emotions so openly. Then dismay and a tinge of fear flashed across his eyes as he assessed his situation.
"You can't do this. Quick, dissolve the spell and send me back!" Tsuzuki was saying desperately. He began shivering, a combination from the cold rain and reaction to his sudden transformation to human form.
"No," Keiko replied hardheartedly. "I need you to do something for me!"
"Like grant three wishes?" he snapped sarcastically. "Doesn't work that way, ojouchan!" he said, and his eyes started to dart around, obviously seeking something. Then they fell upon the bone fragment she held in her hand, which was still stained with her blood. "Break that!" he ordered, and his voice was deeper with authority, and something in his eyes was crackling with energy.
Keiko almost did as he asked, but she remembered all the books she had read and stopped. "No! This is what binds you to me! If I break it, that will give you free reign!"
His eyes softened. "I wouldn't hurt you," he promised. "I just..."
"Do you know what you're doing? Do you know the consequences of binding a spirit to the living realm?" Tsuzuki demanded.
"Yes, I do," Keiko replied stubbornly. "I'm sorry I have to do this to you, but it's absolutely necessary; you're my only hope."
"You have a totally wrong idea about what I can do. How can I possibly help you? Do you want somebody dead?" Tsuzuki asked suspiciously. He knew all too well why people usually wanted to summon demons.
"No!" Keiko protested. "I need you to save someone! And if you won't do it, then you'll suffer along with me!"
Her outburst set him aback. He blinked once, and opened his mouth, but just then another flash of lightning split the skies, chased by a loud clap of thunder. The wind was picking up, and he realized that he was cold.
He hadn't been this cold in years.... Ever since dying.
Tsuzuki held his hand in front of his face, and the reality of exactly what had happened dawned on him. "My... god... you performed a rite of resurrection, didn't you?"
Keiko nodded. "It's my last chance to save my son!" she said, and the wind whipped her sopping hair around her tiny body like a banner. She stood defiantly, waiting for him to condemn her.
Instead he stood there shivering helplessly. Realizing that it would do no good to resurrect her ancestor and then have him catch his death of cold, she reached out a tentative hand to him. "We'd better get into the house and talk there. Please."
Tsuzuki nodded his head and followed her like an obedient child. Once inside, he stood there dripping, looking lost. Keiko busied herself rummaging through her linen closet. With a muffled cry of satisfaction, she pulled out several towels and blankets and shoved them at Tsuzuki.
"I'll go make some tea. Wait here," she commanded. She knew he would obey her, as there was really nowhere he could run to now.
Tsuzuki took off his soaked jacket and shirt before doing his best to dry himself. He couldn't seem to get warm. Finally he huddled into a chair with the blanket and contemplated his situation.
He was back in the one place he had sworn never to return to... bound to the earth by a girl who had some task for him to perform. He heard her moving around in the kitchen, and wondered if she was insane, or just that desperate.
He hoped it was just desperation... Tsuzuki knew that his time was limited. He had four days until...
"I hope you like green tea," she said, setting a tray down on the table. A large honey cake was beside it, and she gave him a weak smile. "Ruka-san's diary said you loved sweet things."
"Sankyou," Tsuzuki cried before diving into the sweet. Even being in soul imperiling danger was not enough to dampen his appetite.
Keiko watched him eat with a little smile on her face. He was rather like her son, so innocent. She had to force herself to harden her heart. She couldn't think of him that way. He was the source of all her troubles and she would make him fix them.
The cake vanished with amazing speed. Tsuzuki looked hopefully at her, wondering if she would produce more. When no more was forthcoming, he asked, "Why don't you explain to me why you've bound me here?"
She set her tea cup down daintily, and her face turned grim. "It's because... you cursed us," she said. Tsuzuki's face lost its color as well, and she held up a hand to forestall his immediate denial. "I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but since you died, there's been a curse the children in Ruka's line... in every generation, a few are born with purple eyes..." she said softly... "and those always die."
Tsuzuki looked troubled. "Couldn't it just be a genetic condition?" he asked helplessly.
"Shi..." she whispered. "We are touched by death. On the child's fourth birthday, they die... and die in excruciating pain. Shi... the Chinese number four which also means death.... Shi... has haunted us... ever since you- you were the first one in our records with purple eyes- and you lived a decent life!"
"To be called a demon?" Tsuzuki asked bitterly. "To be chased by the children who should have been my friends? To want nothing more to die- and be unable to? To know that humanity is beyond my reach? I don't know what you consider decent, ojouchan, but that isn't it..." he said softly. "I'm sorry about the curse, but I have nothing to do with it. I would never hurt anyone who Ruka loved... she was the only one who loved me."
"No, you must know! You have to lift the curse! You're Rui's only hope!" Keiko exclaimed as she darted forward to clasp Tsuzuki's wrists.
Tsuzuki was startled by her sudden movement. He sat there in stunned bafflement. How was he to help her with something he had no clue about? Finally he asked, "Who's Rui?"
Keiko appeared to recover from her agitation. She released him and fell back to her chair. "Rui is my son, my only son now. He's going to be four in four days time."
"How do you know what will happen to him, maybe he'll be fine?" Tsuzuki was trying to be optimistic.
"Because I had another son, and he died," Keiko said accusingly. She turned wide pleading eyes at him, "Please... I have no one else..."
He blinked. "There's nothing I can do. I... have nothing to do with this," he insisted.
Her eyes turned fierce and she grabbed him again, though this time her hold was not so gentle; her nails bit into his flesh. "It was only after you died that this began!"
He looked down at her half-dry hair and was unable to find the right words. "Keiko-san..." he tried, "I died... do you know what that means? The dead do not weave fates together with the living; those that do only bring sorrow and suffering to those they try to help," he whispered. "If I tried to help you, something dreadful would result... it's called the threefold rule. Please- break my binding, and return me to where I belong," he begged.
"No! You will come up with something to save my son!" Keiko declared stubbornly. "I'll leave you to think this over." She got up and slammed out of the room, disappointed in not being able to accomplish her goal immediately.
Tsuzuki sighed as he gazed after her retreating back. What was he supposed to do now? Tentatively he exerted his powers, hoping he'd be able to get back to Meifu.
Nope, no luck there.
He wondered how long it would be before anyone realized he was missing. Heaving another sigh, he huddled into the sofa and decided to get some sleep. He'd worry about everything tomorrow.
Tatsumi and Hisoka sat alone in the conference room, staring at each other uncomfortably. Hisoka's discomfort was written clearly on his face, but Tatsumi's was more subtle. Only those who knew him well would have noticed the very slight, almost minuscule furrow on his brow.
Hisoka didn't. Hisoka thought Tatsumi was perfectly at ease and in his element. Which suited Tatsumi fine. He still was unsure what to make of the green-eyed boy, and while his most fervent wish was to make Tsuzuki happy, it was impossible not to wish that it was him who Tsuzuki was happy with.
Hisoka... came from nowhere... and managed to convince Tsuzuki to live.
Tatsumi would have let him die.
Who loved him more?
Tatsumi didn't know. He sat there in frozen contemplation.
Hisoka was growing thoroughly uneasy with the long silence. The secretary which everyone knew was the real power in EnmaCho was usually a mystery to him. He never could sense much coming from him, not that he usually extended his empathic powers towards him. But just this once he decided to try. No, the shadow master was too good at keeping a lid on his feelings.
Finally Hisoka cracked. "How are we supposed to find Tsuzuki?"
Tatsumi blinked. He shook himself from his reverie. "When was the last you saw him?"
"Last night... around nine. He was whining about being hungry, so I sent him out to get a late dinner. He said he was going to bring breakfast back..."
"You let him shop for food...." Tatsumi sounded slightly disbelieving.
Hisoka smiled slightly. "Food is one thing he adores- I made him promise to buy pre-cooked things, and only one sweet. And..." Hisoka trailed off, and his eyes lost their shine. "He went shopping. He told me he'd see me in the morning, and have something ready to eat- but he wasn't there. I waited, assuming he'd wandered off to do something, and when he didn't..."
"I see..." Tatsumi said. "Let's try tracing his steps and see if anyone noticed anything."
As Hisoka followed his co-worker out the door, he was struck by how elegant Tatsumi always performed every action. Unbidden a little tinge of envy flashed through him. He clamped down on it. So what if Tatsumi was Tsuzuki's partner. So what if he had known him for decades longer. Hisoka was now Tsuzuki's partner and the closest friend he had.
The two made a strange pair as they materialized in the room Hisoka had recently vacated. Hisoka shivered slightly. The place felt barren without Tsuzuki's cheerful presence. "I... went to sleep... and he was in trouble," Hisoka said, unable to believe that his partner had been removed from the Kiseki as he slept.
Tatsumi straightened his glasses. "Don't blame yourself. It's never happened before, and your link as partners wouldn't have kicked in over it... it was something none of us anticipated. Right now, we need to find him."
Hisoka firmed his shoulders and nodded. Right, it was more important to stay focussed on finding Tsuzuki. He'd had enough of self-doubt in the years since he was cursed to die by Muraki. "Tsuzuki usually likes to buy from the grocery store near the park. He says it has a wider selection."
A small indulgent smile curved Tatsumi's lips. "You mean, it has more choice for desserts," he said. They both knew all too well Tsuzuki's penchant for sweet things. Both had indulged him in his craving often enough. "Let's start there then."
The grocery store was much like any other small shop, managed by a woman in her forties. Hisoka had been in there a few times with Tsuzuki before, and she easily remembered his partner. It wasn't often that people forgot Tsuzuki's dreamy violet eyes, after all. When questioned, she denied him ever being in the night before.
"Is he alright?" she asked in concern.
Hisoka forced a smile onto his face. "He's fine, just lost, most likely. He just has no sense of direction. Gets lost trying to get into a paper bag, and he forgot his pager. Will you call this number if you see him?" he asked, handing her his cell phone number.
Her expression grew relieved. "I will! Nagasaki is such a confusing city- I'm sure he'll find his way back!"
Tatsumi observed the exchange silently. He hadn't expected the grocery store to turn up any leads. It was more a way for him to occupy Hisoka. The boy had looked like he was about to climb the walls with worry. He studied the young shinigami's crestfallen expression as they left, and put a hand on his shoulder in comfort.
Hisoka appeared to appreciate it, nodding briefly before lifting his chin up in determination. "What do we do now?" He was really out of ideas.
Tatsumi frowned in concentration. There were few options. "Shall we check out his apartment in Meifu? He could have left some clues there."
That sounded as good an idea as any and the two found a quiet corner on the busy street to duck into before fading away to return to Meifu.
Tsuzuki's apartment was warded up to the teeth, and it took Tatsumi nearly fifteen minutes to cut through all the "keep out" warnings and traps that had been placed against intruders. Hisoka fidgeted, wishing his partner wasn't so paranoid. Still, when someone like Muraki had openly stated they wanted your body.... Well, Hisoka couldn't blame him. The chances of Muraki getting into the Meifu were slim... but it was Muraki, after all...
When the last ward broke, Hisoka darted in, only to be forced back by a wave of heat. He rolled to his feet, his eyes widening in horror as he saw what was happening. "Tatsumi!" he gasped, trying to warn the older shinigami against entering.
Too late. Tatsumi had been right behind him and came to a screeching halt at the sight inside the apartment.
The sound of an enraged Suzaku screaming was something Hisoka didn't want to hear ever hear again. Yet he could feel that underlying her anger was a strong undercurrent of fear. Where was Tsuzuki?
Hisoka was bent down, huddled in a corner, trying to get away from the heat and the strong emotions emanating from the fiery phoenix god as it screamed fire and beat its wings. Tatsumi reflexively seized a shadow up to shield himself and his co-worker from the flames. Confused thoughts were running through his head. Why was Suzaku here? And how on earth could such a large phoenix fit into this tiny apartment? With a sinking awareness, Tatsumi realized that it had it been the wards that were keeping her in. And he had just taken them down.
As if confirming his thought, the red phoenix uttered a final cry before bursting through the window, leaving a fiery trail behind.