Completed (version 1): 07/12/2003
Completed (version 2): 07/22/2003

This is a repost/revision of my latest YnM fic.  I decided to do some rewriting in view of several very insightful comments/complaints I received regarding:
 1 - how OOC it would be for Tatsumi to tell Sitka anything about Tsuzuki's past and their relationship;
 2 - the lack of detail about Tsuzuki's reaction to the rumors.

The only other major change is toward the very end.  I made Tatsumi's threat a trifle more explicit and nastier.  

I hope that this rewrite will fix the above problems and that my other changes are an improvement.  ^_^;;  

C&C always appreciated!  See?  I  really do listen to you guys! ^_-


SUMMARY:  Tatsumi and Watari take a very dim view when someone starts circulating very ugly rumors about Tsuzuki.  

Lesson of the Day:  Pissing off Tatsumi is a BAD THING

Title: Retaliation
Author: Madamhydra
Status:  one-shot (completed!)
Type:  "missing scene"
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers:  entire YnM manga and anime series

Disclaimer: (Full Disclaimers at the end) Yami no Matsuei is the copyright and property of its creators and legally associated parties.  Used without permission.  Not for profit.

NOTE:  This fic takes place approx. 2-3 years before the events of the manga/anime.

CREDITS:  Theria, for providing all the wonderful translations of YnM!  ^_^

       A Yami no Matsuei fanfic by Madamhydra

Text Conventions
   (  ) indicate thoughts of characters


  retaliation - n., action taken in return for an injury or offense


   [ Enma-cho ]

   As Watari grimly escorted Tsuzuki's partner -- make that ex-partner -- through the dim hallways to Tatsumi's office, he knew that the upcoming interview with Nakayama Sitka was going to get very ugly indeed.  It wasn't because of the 'ex-partner of Tsuzuki Asato' bit -- there were lots of people who had THAT little notation in their personnel records -- but rather because the unpleasant circumstances of this particular breakup.

   ('Unpleasant circumstances'... now there's an understatement if I ever heard one!)

   Shinigamis frequently got hurt on the job, usually by an adversary but occasionally by their own partners.  Considering the nature of their work, a few incidents of 'friendly fire' were only be expected.  Most of the time, the injuries were accidental, caused by carelessness or plain bad luck.  It wasn't a big deal, aside from having to file reports in the quadruplicate and getting scolded at by their boss Kanoe -- or if you were unlucky, Tatsumi.  Stuff like that happened to everyone.  Just a few months ago, Terazuma's cantankerous shikigami KokuShunGei had tripped and ended up sitting down on poor Wakaba.  

   (Poor old Terazuma got so embarrassed by the whole thing that he actually brought Wakaba flowers!)

   A faint smile touched Watari's lips, then immediately faded as his thoughts returned to the impending interview with Sitka.  

   Yes, most of the time a partner got injured by accident.  But on certain rare occasions, the injuries were deliberate.  Shinigami occasionally went rogue or cracked under pressure.  But there were also situations when seriously hurting one's own partner was the lesser of two evils.

   Many shinigami would never have to make such a choice.  Unfortunately, Tsuzuki had confronted that dilemma not just once, but several times.  It was hardly surprising, given that poor Tsuzuki often got saddled with the weirdest and nastiest cases.  But in every instance, he had been cleared by the ensuing internal investigation. Not that official exoneration ever made Tsuzuki feel any better, especially with his overdeveloped sense of guilt.   

   However, this time Tsuzuki had done much more than simply injure his partner Sitka -- Tsuzuki had very nearly killed him.  And considering the regenerative powers of a shinigami, that was really saying something.

   Admittedly, Tsuzuki could be a terrible klutz at times and his penchant for causing expensive collateral damage was the constant bane of Tatsumi's existence and budget.  However, his friend's puppy-like carelessness never, NEVER extended to other people's safety and well-being.  If anything, Tsuzuki had a tendency to being overly protective, especially of his partners.

   (Which only makes him feel that much worse when those partners do get hurt, of course.)

   Unfortunately, because of Tsuzuki's notorious reputation for klutziness, he usually got at least partially blamed for his current partner's injuries, even the most trivial ones. Tsuzuki usually did his best to ignore the sly looks and whispered conversations, shrugging them off with a sheepish grin, but Watari knew Tsuzuki too well to be deceived by his friend's acting.

   The ever-present gossip about Tsuzuki's carelessness and incompetence was annoying enough, but this time the rumors had gotten infinitely worse.  This time, people were whispering about callous disregard for innocent bystanders, as well as the attempted murder of his own partner.  

   (Of all the...!  No one who knows Tsuzuki -- not even crabby old Terazuma! -- could possibly believe such an outrageous accusation!) fumed Watari.

   Unfortunately, while Tsuzuki's immediate coworkers found such accusations ridiculous, plenty of other people in JuOh-Cho seemed to be willing to believe, or at least repeat, such rumors.  

   (Especially those stupid old geezers in the other bureaus!)

   The other bureau chiefs were frankly terrified of Tsuzuki and his power.  So naturally, they were eager to grab any excuse to get rid of him.  

   (Even before they know any of the real facts about the case, the idiots!)

   With poor Kanoe fully occupied with the rest of the senior bureau chiefs, the task of investigating the circumstances of Sitka's injury had fallen to Tatsumi.  Which was a good thing, because Watari knew that Tatsumi would leave no stone unturned for Tsuzuki's sake.


   While Tatsumi had concentrated on gathering information about Tsuzuki and Sitka's disastrous last mission, Watari spent his time tracking down the source of the most egregious rumors.  It took a combination of diligence and a heft dose of deviousness, but he had managed to identify the probable culprit, who turned out to be Tsuzuki's own partner, Sitka, of all people.

   At first Watari had refused to believe it.  Surely it had to be a stupid mistake, a careless or irritable comment taken out of context and blown totally out of proportion.  But as he investigated further, Watari became convinced that the nasty rumors were no accident, but rather a deliberate, thought-out campaign of slander that amounted to cold-blooded character assassination.

   (Sitka can be a bit self-absorbed at times, but I never imagined that he'd be so cruel to start this vicious sort of whispering campaign against Tsuzuki!  And why?  I wouldn't blame Sitka for being a bit mad over being so severely injured, but it's not like he's been crippled or permanently harmed!  No, there's way too much malice involved here.  Why would he turn on Tsuzuki like this?  I could've sworn Sitka really liked Tsuzuki!  I mean, their partnership has already outlasted most of Tsuzuki's previous ones.  So what the hell's going on here!?)

    Watari had wanted to confront Sitka right away, but Tatsumi had argued for patience, preferring to postpone the inevitable confrontation until they could collect enough facts to support their position.  

   (Tatsumi was right.  I knew it then and I know it now.  Merely forcing Sitka to shut up isn't enough, not with all the ugly rumors already circulating.  We needed to find solid, unimpeachable evidence to clear Tsuzuki and prove that his actions during the Reizei case were fully justified.)

   But he hated sticking to that decision.  The vicious gossip was clearly taking a terrible emotional toll on his friend.

   (Like Tsuzuki doesn't have enough problems coping with his guilt over the outcome of the Reizei case and Sitka's injuries!)

   Just walking through the office hallways became torture for Tsuzuki.  It was hard to know what Tsuzuki found worse....

   ....the blatant stares, or the sly, sideways looks....
   ....the quickly hushed whispers, or the intentionally overloud comments....
   ....being ignored, or being pointed at....

   Not everyone was actively engaged in the gossip, but there were more than enough to make Tsuzuki thoroughly and wretchedly miserable.  Other people started to avoid him, clearly uncomfortable with Tsuzuki's presence, as if they were afraid of somehow being found guilty by mere association.

   Tsuzuki, who enjoyed both people and food so much, had ended up holed up in his corner of the office, barely talking or eating.  Even Wakaba failed to tempt him with her cooking.

   Witnessing Tsuzuki's evident and growing misery had been equally difficult on the other shinigami, but Watari knew that it was especially hard on Tatsumi, and the strain showed in the icy edge of the secretary's temper.  

   The two of them had repeatedly debated whether they should tell Tsuzuki about Sitka or not.  If it had been anyone else, Watari would not have hesitated, but he had a pretty good idea how Tsuzuki would react.  Instead of making his friend feel better, telling Tsuzuki about Sitka's involvement almost certain to make him feel even worse.

   (Knowing Tsuzuki, he'll probably figure out a way to blame himself for this whole mess.  We're going to have to tell him eventually, of course, but if we can figure out Sitka's motivation, maybe we can soften the blow a bit and convince him that this wasn't his fault.)  

   Watari felt a fresh surge of fury and downright hatred toward Sitka.  Tsuzuki may have injured Sitka physically, but what Sitka did to Tsuzuki was absolutely unforgivable.

   In a way, Sitka had betrayed not only Tsuzuki, but all his fellow coworkers as well.  Watari and the other shinigami in the Shokan office had thought of Sitka as a friend.  Not a close friend, perhaps, but someone to be relied upon and trusted.  

   (But how could you possibly trust a person who would deliberately hurt their own partner in such a malicious, underhanded manner?  How could you possibly rely on that person's judgment and sense of fairness?)  

   Not only had Sitka betrayed the other Shinigamis' trust, he had betrayed their hope that Tsuzuki would find a partner who would both accept him and stay with him.  

   (But if my feelings are hurt, how much worse is it going to be for Tsuzuki, who's tried so very hard to make this particular partnership work?) fretted Watari.

   But maybe that had been part of the problem.  Perhaps Tsuzuki, in an attempt to avoid driving away yet another partner, had succeeded in concealing his own vulnerabilities and emotional scars too well.  It was possible that Sitka himself didn't fully understand how much misery he was inflicting on Tsuzuki.  A normal person would've had difficulties coping with this type of insidious persecution, but for someone like Tsuzuki, the effects had been infinitely more devastating.  

   (Ignorance was no excuse!) Watari thought furiously. (Nothing could justify making Tsuzuki suffer so much!  Sitka, if you hate him so much, couldn't you at least have the decency to try killing him quickly, instead of this slow, agonizing torture?)   

   Watari wasn't sure of Sitka's ultimate goal.  Was he hoping to merely drive Tsuzuki out of Juoh-cho or was Sitka aiming for something more final, like suicide?  

   Even if Tatsumi and he managed to prevent the bastard from achieving that ultimate goal, Sitka had already caused Tsuzuki irreparable harm.  Aside from the fresh emotional wounds this incident was bound to inflict on Tsuzuki, Sitka's vicious slander would almost certain cause Tsuzuki problems in the future.  Rumors were like weeds -- no matter how hard one tried to get rid of them, they have a nasty habit of coming back.  

   And now, just as Tatsumi was receiving the last critical bit of data that would exonerate him, Tsuzuki had disappeared.  
   At first, his disappearance hadn't aroused any suspicion.  Wakaba duly reported that Tsuzuki had departed for GensouKai, and everyone had assumed he had gone to visit his shikigami and spend some time in more kindly surroundings.  

   (I don't know what caused Tatsumi to check up on Tsuzuki's whereabouts, but thank goodness that he did!)

   As Tatsumi had apparently feared, Tsuzuki was nowhere to be found.  If he was in GensouKai, he certainly wasn't at the palace or with his shikigami.

   Back in Enma-cho, Watari and the others could only wait as the shikigami attempted to find Tsuzuki, but that would be no easy task if Tsuzuki didn't want to be found.  

   However, there was one thing Watari and Tatsumi could do, and that was make sure Sitka accepted full responsibility for what he had done.


   As soon as Watari and Sitka entered Tatsumi's office, the secretary pushed up his glasses and said coolly, "We already know that Tsuzuki-san attacked and seriously injured you.  We also know that you were the one who attacked him first.  We have also determined that you were the one who started several unpleasant rumors about Tsuzuki-san.  I want to know the reasons for your actions."

   Sitka hesitated as a look of consternation, mixed with the faintest hint of shame, flickered across his face.  He then visibly regained his self-confidence and defiantly replied, "Because he deserved it for what he did to Reizei Mayoko!"

   "And what did he supposedly do to her?" Tatsumi inquired evenly.

   "He tortured, then murdered her!"

   "He WHAT!?" Watari yelled incredulously.

   "You heard me!" Sitka shouted back, slamming his hands down on Tatsumi's desk.  "He raped her, skinned her alive, broke practically every bone in her body, then left her in a deserted warehouse to die!"

   Watari simply stared at Sitka for a moment, mouth agape, totally and utterly dumbfounded.  As the scientist struggled to find something to say, Tatsumi coolly continued his questioning.  

   "What makes you think that Tsuzuki-san was responsible for what happened to her?"

   "Because she told me so!"

   "And you believed her," Tatsumi commented, much too calmly in Watari's opinion.

   "Why shouldn't I?  She had no reason to lie!"

   "No reason to lie!?" Watari shouted, clearly on the verge of pulling out his hair exasperation.  "A woman who's responsible for killing her own family....!"

   Sitka overrode the scientist by yelling back, "Is that what Tsuzuki told you!?"  

   "That's right, and there's more than enough evidence to prove her guilt!" Watari retorted.

   Reizei Mayoko had sacrificed her entire family and tried to do the same to hundreds of other innocent people, all in her insane pursuit of occult power.  A devious and ambitious woman, she had played the helpless victim to near-perfection.  However, for some unknown reason, Tsuzuki had almost immediately sensed something 'off' about her behavior and realized that she was deeply involved in the brutal serial murders he and Sitka had been assigned to investigate.  Unfortunately, it was now clear that while Tsuzuki had not been deceived by Reizei, Sitka had not been nearly so perceptive.

   "Then he framed her!"

   Watari glared at the other Shinigami and snapped, "The Goshoshin and at least three other Shinigami, myself included, helped Tsuzuki uncover the incriminating evidence, so are you saying that the rest of us are liars as well?  That we all helped Tsuzuki to frame a supposedly 'innocent' young woman?"

   For an instant, Sitka looked both startled and confused, clearly taken aback by Watari's words.  When he finally replied, he didn't even try to answer the scientist's challenge but instead plowed doggedly on with his accusations.

   "Even if by some infinitesimal chance that she WAS guilty, Mayoko certainly didn't deserve to suffer like that!"

   Tatsumi, who had been silently observing the heated argument between Watari and Sitka, said, "Do you have any independent evidence to support your allegation that Tsuzuki-san was responsible, other than her accusations?"

   "When I found her, she was trapped inside one of Tsuzuki's barriers, pinned to the floor like a damn butterfly!  If he didn't hurt her, why didn't he help her?  Why did he just leave her there to die?  How do you explain THAT!?"   

   Tatsumi made no attempt to explain anything.  Instead, he calmly proceeded with more questions.  "You said that you found her.  Were you searching for her?  And why?"

   "She called me on her cell phone," Sitka snapped.  He flushed slightly as Tatsumi raised an eyebrow.  Sounding rather defensive, he added, "I know, I know.  I probably broke a rule or two by giving her my number, but I was worried about her safety, okay?  She was in serious danger and Tsuzuki refused to help her!  But now I know why.  He wanted her to die all along!"

   "I see."  Tatsumi scribbled down a notation, then asked, "And what reason would Tsuzuki-san have for hurting her?"

   "Isn't it obvious?  He was jealous of us, of the bond we had!" Sitka said savagely.  "Oh, he acted so concerned, always telling me how I should stay away from her, and be more cautious, and other sorts of crap!  He kept trying to turn me against her with all his sly warnings and insinuations!"

   "Oh, you're a good one to be complaining about insinuating remarks!" Watari exclaimed angrily.

   "Well, turnaround is fair play, isn't it?" Sitka shot back in equally nasty tones.

   "Then what happened?" Tatsumi asked, firmly getting the interview back on track.  Except for a faint hint of impatience and irritation, the secretary's face was expressionless, his voice dispassionate, as if Tatsumi didn't have any strong feelings about Sitka's answers, one way or another.  

   For an angry instant, Watari wondered how Tatsumi could remain so calm.  How could he permit Sitka to get away with such ludicrous and outrageous accusations without so much as a protest?  But after taking a few calming breaths, Watari realized that Tatsumi was not allowing the other Shinigami to get away with anything.  Like any good predator, Tatsumi was simply waiting for the proper moment to strike.  

   For now, the secretary's calm, detached manner was having its intended effect of deceiving Sitka into thinking that he had a sympathetic or at least a neutral audience.  The tactic was clearly working because Sitka spoke freely, apparently under the delusion that Tatsumi could be persuaded to believe his side of the story.  But unlike the seemingly oblivious Sitka, Watari could sense chill, restless shadows slowly gathering in the corners of the secretary's office, ominously reflecting their master's true emotions.

   "Mayoko told me that Tsuzuki had gone off to her family's shrine to destroy an important seal.  She told me to forget about her, that it was more important to stop Tsuzuki before he hurt anyone else," Sitka said in reply to Tatsumi's question, then his voice faltered as he added, "She begged me.  She was dying and she was more concerned about innocent lives than her own.  Is that the behavior of a heartless and evil murderer?"

   "So you chased after Tsuzuki, understandably grief-stricken and furious.  But when you found him, you weren't interested in trying to prevent him from destroying this 'seal' she mentioned.  You wanted to kill him.  Am I correct?"

   Sitka looked away and said nothing.

   "Did you intentionally try to kill Tsuzuki-san?" Tatsumi persisted in an almost gentle sort of tone.

   Sitka glanced at the folder on the desk, then replied belligerently, "Is that what he said in his damn report?"

   "Just answer the question.  Yes or no?"

   Sitka gritted his teeth.  "Yes.  But as you can see, I failed miserably.  He survived, and a lot of innocent people died."

   Watari opened his mouth to correct Sitka's gross misconceptions, but Tatsumi's quick glance warned him to remain quiet as Sitka continued with his self-justifying rant.

   Sitka gestured wildly and shouted at Watari, "Don't tell me that after all these years, you don't know what he's really like!  Or maybe you do and just don't give a damn.  I guess the bureau's willing to overlook the occasional extra corpse or two because Tsuzuki's too damn useful to our superiors!"  

   The gleam on Tatsumi's glasses hid the way his eyes narrowed dangerously as he said quietly, "And that's why you started all those rumors.  You realized that you weren't strong enough to get rid of Tsuzuki directly, so you intended to force him out by making it impossible for him to work here."

   "Well, maybe it was an underhanded way of doing things, but I got what I wanted.  I've heard he's disappeared," Sitka said with an air of smugness and slightly forced nonchalance.

   Watari inhaled sharply at Sitka's callous remark and for an instant, his vision turned hazy red.

   "You... arrogant... BASTARD," he ground out.  "You've worked with Tsuzuki for over a year, so how can you possibly believe that he would voluntarily harm someone?  Not out of necessity, or by accident, or in the heat of the moment, but by deliberate, calculated malice?  And not just malice, but outright sadism and torture!?  You really think he's capable of that sort of cruelty!?"

   Sitka lifted his chin, looking so stubborn and self-righteous that Watari had the overwhelming urge to throttle him.  Not that mere choking would hurt a Shinigami, but at least he could vent some of his rage on a truly deserving target.

   "You still don't get it, do you?  Under those pretty looks and that nice-nice act of his, he's really a cold, heartless monster who enjoys hurting people and watching them suffer!  Why else would he keep working as a shinigami for so many years!?"

   "And you said as much to him, didn't you?"  When Watari glanced sharply at Tatsumi, the secretary added coolly, "That's why he disappeared yesterday."

   Sitka uttered a viciously bitter laugh.  "He came looking for me.  He said he wanted to apologize.  As if a few pathetic words could ever fix the damage he's done!  Mayoko and all those other people are dead and it's ALL HIS FAULT!"

   Watari stalked forward to confront Sitka.  In a low, harsh voice that was barely recognizable, he said, "You are the most unmitigated and unconscionable ASS I've ever had the misfortune to encounter!  What sort of delusionary world are you living in!?  Tsuzuki cared about you and trusted you, and you repaid that trust by stabbing him in the back like this!?  First, you throw him and everything he was willing to give aside like so much trash, and all for some demented, greedy bitch you'd only just met!  And then you have the unspeakable gall to try to get other people to do your dirty work by spreading your filthy slander all over the place!"

   "Watari-san.  Please allow me to handle this matter."  

   The chill in Tatsumi's voice sliced through the haze of Watari's fury.  He whipped around and stared at the secretary for a long moment, then a grim little grin/snarl appeared on the scientist's face.  He took a deep breath, then said tersely, "Fine.  You do that, Tatsumi. Personally, I've had all I can take of this idiot's garbage.  I'm going to see if Wakaba's received any news about Tsuzuki."

   Watari swept past Sitka without another word, his long gold hair lashing through the air like the tail of a furious cat.  A pity that he couldn't stay around and watch Tatsumi cut the smug, self-righteous bastard into bloody shreds.  Verbally, if not literally.


   In the wake of Watari's departure, Tatsumi gently closed the folder on his desk, then rose to his feet, his glasses flashing briefly in the bright sunlight.  He stared at Sitka in silence, as if pondering the best approach.  When he finally spoke, it was with unnatural calm, even for him.

   "Is there anything else you would like to say in your defense?  Any other factors that should be considered?"

   "No," Sitka replied curtly. "I don't care if you punish me.  He got what he deserved."

   "You sound very confident about that."

   "Why shouldn't I be?" Sitka said, sounding defensive.

   "I would agree that jealousy was a major contributor to the current debacle.  But not jealousy on Tsuzuki's part.  On yours."

   "That's the most absurd thing I've heard...!" exploded Sitka.

   Tatsumi continued relentlessly.  "You were jealous of Tsuzuki. Perhaps not in the beginning, but you eventually started to resent his power and abilities, didn't you?  You hated being stuck on the sidelines, relegated to little more than a humble support role.  You wanted to be the hero, the one in the spotlight, the way you used to be in your previous assignment."  

   "That's not true!" Sitka shouted back, fists clenching and his face going white.  "Jealous, of that lazy, incompetent twit!?"

   Tatsumi raised his eyebrow.  "You're being inconsistent.  On one hand, you accuse Tsuzuki of being a devious, sadistic murderer who's simply pretending to be a foolish bumbler, then you immediately turn around and say you can't possibly be jealous of him because he IS a foolish bumbler.  So which is it?  Or are you trying to say that he's both?"

   Sitka gaped at the secretary, momentarily speechless.

   "You envied Tsuzuki and everything about him -- his appearance, his personality, his charisma, and especially the effortless way he seems to draw other people to him.  You stopped viewing him as your partner, and started thinking of him as a rival.  So when a beautiful woman acted like she was attracted to you instead of Tsuzuki, you became both possessive and infatuated with her.  And when Tsuzuki tried to warn you about her, you refused to listen to him.  You couldn't accept the idea that she was only using you for her own purposes."


   "Whenever you were given a choice, you chose to believe Reizei instead of Tsuzuki.  Part of that was probably because you couldn't bear the idea that she might be lying to you.  But more importantly, you wanted Tsuzuki to be guilty.  You were so desperate to regain your feelings of superiority that you gladly believed anything she told you, even when it was contrary to common sense and your own experience.  And after you realized that you had absolutely no chance of defeating him in anything approaching a fair fight, you decided to get back at him the only way you could, through a campaign of malicious gossip and rumors."

   "I... that is SO...."

   "And now you continue to cling fanatically to the idea of Tsuzuki's guilt because deep down inside, you're beginning to realize that you were wrong about almost everything.  Because it's the only way you can silence your own doubts and rationalize away your guilt."

   Sitka could only sputter incoherent denials.

   Tatsumi continued in the same dispassionate tone, "I don't fault you for developing a sense of inadequacy.  You're certainly not the first, given the way Tsuzuki's abilities outclasses nearly every other shinigami's powers.  More than a few of Tsuzuki's partners have quit for that very reason."

   The secretary paused, then continued with a cold, harder edge now apparent in his voice.
   "No, I certainly don't blame you for feeling jealous.  However, I certainly can blame you for the way you acted on those feelings.  A single impulsive act could be forgiven.  Shinigami are human, even if our bodies are not.  But you acted against Tsuzuki, repeatedly and in deliberately cruel ways."

   Sitka could only stare blankly at him, apparently stunned into speechlessness by Tatsumi's quietly vicious dissection of his character.

   "But you were too proud to simply quit, as several of Tsuzuki's previous partners did.  You couldn't admit to feeling inadequate, even to yourself.  Instead of facing the truth, you preferred to let all those negative feelings grow and fester."

   For a few seconds, Tatsumi fell silent as if gathering his thoughts.  But Sitka seemed incapable of taking advantage of the pause to launch any sort of verbal counterattack.


   (You were very good at hiding your true feelings.  But even so, I still should've noticed your growing inferiority complex sooner, Sitka.  Therefore, I am also partially to blame for allowing this situation to go so far.)  

   Tatsumi had noticed the occasional signs of irritation and discontent from Sitka, but had carelessly attributed it to the stress of dealing with Tsuzuki's personal quirks.  The two Shinigami had apparently settled into a comfortable, productive partnership, so he had been reluctant to interfere in any way.  In fact, he had taken deliberate steps to distance himself from Tsuzuki more than usual in hopes of encouraging that relationship.  However, with the brutal clarity of hindsight, Tatsumi could now see the subtle, but unmistakable pattern of growing resentment on Sitka's part.

   Unfortunately for everyone, Reizei Moyoko had been much more perceptive than Tatsumi had been.  She had immediately picked up on Sitka's unhappiness and took immediate advantage of the situation.  Even without the use of any mind control spells, she had expertly exploited Sitka's resentment, simultaneously feeding his ego while steadily poisoning his mind against Tsuzuki.  In the end, she succeeded in turning Sitka totally against his own partner.

   Tatsumi returned his attention to Sitka, who was struggling to regain both his composure and his self-assurance, but failing miserably.  Tatsumi could see the growing sense of humiliation and panic in the other shinigami's eyes.

   (Yes.  I can see right through you, Sitka.  I can see all the dirty, sordid secrets you've been trying so hard to hide, even from yourself.)

   He had sent Watari away because it would have been all too easy for Sitka to shrug away Watari's angry words as the mere rantings of an obviously biased friend of Tsuzuki.

   (But I'm not so easy to ignore, am I?  I know your weaknesses, your flaws, the ugliness inside you.  And now you know that I know.  It must be unbearable for you to be this exposed.)

   His prey was wounded, vulnerable, and bleeding.  

   And he was glad.


   Tatsumi pushed up his glasses and said almost casually, "I have to congratulate you.  Nearly every assumption you've made and every conclusion you've jumped to has been completely and totally wrong."

   He picked up the report folder from his desk and held it up.  

   "For example, you assumed that Tsuzuki, being a sly, underhanded bastard, would do his utmost to shift all the blame to you.  But nowhere in this report does he assign blame to anyone except himself.  According to him, you accidentally attacked him while in a confused and disoriented state.  He goes on to take full responsibility for your injuries, stating that it was strictly his own fault for losing control of his power and overreacting.  In short, despite your flagrant and murderous assault, your partner was still trying to cover YOUR ass," Tatsumi finished in an icy voice so sharp that it could have cut stone.    

   Sitka bit his lip, but said nothing.

   "If there's any fault on Tsuzuki's part in this affair, it's in being overly protective of you and in misjudging the depth of your obsession with that woman.  He tried to warn you about her on several occasions, didn't he?"

   "Yes, but...."

   "But you refused to listen to him.  At that point, he should have reported the problem to me or Kanoe-kacho.  But he didn't, probably because he didn't want to get you into trouble.  And no matter how much you choose to pretend otherwise, loyalty is one of the keystones of Tsuzuki's character."  The secretary's voice remained calm, almost conversational, but no one could mistake the undertone of scathing rebuke.

   Sitka flushed and looked away, unable to meet Tatsumi's frigid gaze.

   "And for your information, Tsuzuki had nothing to do with causing Reizei's injuries.  That was entirely her own fault."

   "How can that...?  I don't understand!"

   Tatsumi said chillingly, "Then I will explain it to you.  At length, if necessary.  Not for your benefit, but so you can fully comprehend the consequences of your stupidity.  Reizei Moyoko was tortured and mortally wounded not by Tsuzuki-san, but by a demon she summoned with her own hands."

   Sitka stared at Tatsumi in shock.  "What!?  That's a lie!  She didn't.  She wouldn't!  She couldn't!"

   "She could, she would, and she most certainly did."

   "What proof...?"

   Tatsumi held out a thick bundle of documents, each sheet encased in a clear bag and heavily plastered with protective wards.

   "Will a signed contract with said demon, written in the blood of her own family and on human skin, suffice?"

   Sitka took the bagged documents with a shaking hand.  As he read through the explicitly worded contract, he grew steadily paler.

   Tatsumi continued, "It follows the standard formula for demonic contracts -- power in exchange for blood sacrifices and souls.  However, she foolishly broke the terms of that contract when she tried to keep all the spiritual energy she collected for herself, thereby depriving the demon of its agreed upon share.  Naturally, the demon became rather annoyed and came to collect its duly owed portion, along with punitive damages for the breach of contract.  You also might be interested in the addendum, written in Reizei Moyoko's own hand.  It appears to be a last ditch effort to placate the demon she cheated."

   Sitka hesitated before flipping to the very last page.  As he finished reading the hastily scribbled lines -- an offer of two shinigami in repayment for the souls she had cheated the demon out of -- Sitka closed his eyes as if in physical pain.

   "Fortunately for you, the demon did not accept her offer," Tatsumi added smoothly.  "In summary, Reizei Moyoko manipulated and used you from start to finish.  Unfortunately, Tsuzuki ends up being the one to pay for your jealousy and gullibility."

   "Did... did Tsuzuki know about... this?" Sitka whispered, holding up the demonic contract in a shaky hand.

   "Yes.  He was very reluctant to believe it, too.  And now I know why.  He didn't want it to be true, for your sake.  Despite the horrible way you treated him, he didn't want you hurt."

   Sitka choked out, "Why didn't he tell me!?"

   "Did you ever give him the chance?"  Tatsumi's chilly reply cut through Sitka's accusatory tones like a sword stroke.

   "I...."  Sitka's voice faltered as he groped for something to say.  Finally, he blurted, "But if that's true and he didn't hurt Moyoko himself, then why didn't he try to save her?"

   "For your information, Tsuzuki *did* try save her, even if she didn't deserve it.  He managed to drive off the demon, at least temporarily.  And if you hadn't been so blindly obsessed with that woman, you would've noticed that Tsuzuki's barrier was not intended to keep her in, but rather to keep something out."

   Sitka looked stunned as he stammered, "Are you saying that... that Tsuzuki was trying to *protect* her?"

   "That's exactly what I'm saying," Tatsumi retorted coolly.  "And you know that it's true, unless you choose to disbelieve the evidence of your own senses."

   By now, Sitka's earlier smugness and self-righteousness had long since vanished, to be replaced by shock and the start of a horrifying realization.

   "Then why did he leave her there to die?" Sitka stammered, scrambling desperately for anything he could blame on Tsuzuki.

   Tatsumi's lips thinned in tightly controlled exasperation at the other's stubbornness.  "Because he had more important things to worry about than the life of a self-confessed and unrepentant serial murderer."

   "Such as?" Sitka retorted, a fragile trace of defiance back in his voice.

   "Such as preventing that same murderer from killing even more innocent victims."

   Sitka could only shake his head, unable to cope with all this new information.  But Tatsumi was patient.  He waited until Sitka has assimilated, however unwillingly, the information Tatsumi had given him before continuing.

   "Tsuzuki saved her from being killed by a demon, the very same demon she had summoned, bargained with, and cheated.  But far from being grateful to him, Reizei Moyoko tried to unleash an even greater threat."

   "Another... threat?"

   "To be more precise, a type of magical construct, the physical embodiment of a complicated and powerful curse.  Think of it as like a giant spiritual leech, slowly draining the life energy of any human it encounters.  She was planning to use the construct to siphon the life out of every living creature it could find and use that energy to save herself.  That's why she lied to you and blamed Tsuzuki for everything, because she was afraid that Tsuzuki would destroy her last remaining source of power."

   "Then why didn't Tsuzuki simply attack and destroy it!?  With all those damn shikigami, he's surely had more than enough power to just blow that construct thing away!  So what was he waiting around for?" Sitka demanded bitterly.

   Tatsumi retorted acidly, "Unfortunately, the solution wasn't nearly so simple.  By the time Tsuzuki tracked down Reizei's creature, it had already started feeding on numerous victims.  Any direct assault on the monster would have caused a catastrophic energy feedback which in turn would have killed all those people.  That creature was essentially a huge magical bomb and Tsuzuki was the person stuck trying to defuse it.  And in the middle of this extremely delicate procedure, you blundered in and tried to kill him."

   Tatsumi put his palms flat on the desk and leaned forward slightly.

   "Didn't you wonder why Tsuzuki made no attempt to defend himself from your attack?  Your powers may not be anywhere as strong as Tsuzuki's, but you're quite capable of inflicting serious damage.  But despite the pain, Tsuzuki didn't try to protect himself.  Do you know why?"  

   When Sitka remained sullenly silent, Tatsumi continued, "It was because he was using every bit of concentration and power he had, in addition to all the power Byakko and SohRyu could give him, to simultaneously shield the victims and bind that monster just long enough to carefully take it apart."

   Tatsumi reached into a drawer, pulled out some more papers, and placed them on the desk between him and Sitka.

   "You are also very much mistaken about another major point.  You blame Tsuzuki for the death of all those innocent bystanders.  However, it wasn't Tsuzuki's fault that those people died.  It was yours."

   "You're wrong!  You can't blame me for that!" Sitka shouted almost desperately.

   "No, you're the one who's wrong.  As I've mentioned before, you've been wrong from start to finish.  Tsuzuki was the only thing standing between those bystanders and a horrible death.  With his powers stretched to the breaking point, your attacks seriously disrupted Tsuzuki's ability to shield those people from Reizei's creature.  So every time you attacked, people died as a direct consequence of your actions.  These autopsy reports prove it," Tatsumi said, placing his fingers on the new stack of papers on his desk.

   "I'd like to add that your repeated attacks almost certainly caused the protective barrier Tsuzuki put around Reizei to collapse as well.  And that barrier was the only thing standing between that woman and a very irate demon."  

   "No.  That can't be!"

   "So that's yet another death you're responsible for."

   Sitka shook his head wildly.

   Tatsumi continued relentlessly, "Tsuzuki repeatedly tried to get you to stop.  He tried to warn you about what would happen if you continued."

   "No, he...."

   "There were witnesses to your confrontation, but clearly you were too busy to notice them," Tatsumi said pointedly.  "They heard Tsuzuki begging you to stop, to give him a chance to explain the situation, but you refused to listen.  You kept attacking him and people kept dying, until he couldn't take any more.  So Tsuzuki did the only thing he could to save the remaining victims.  He struck back the only way he could, with the only power he had left to use."  

   "He nearly killed me!"

   "There's a very good reason why Tsuzuki prefers to use ofuda and his shikigami.  Considering how distraught and desperate Tsuzuki must have been at that point, count yourself lucky to have survived," Tatsumi said coldly.

   "So what do you expect me to do?  Thank him for graciously sparing my life!?" Sitka flared, but his brief burst of defiance faded almost immediately as Tatsumi, without taking his eyes of Sitka, coolly drummed his fingers on the stack of autopsy reports on his desk.

   Sitka gulped, looking both shaken and sick.  After a long pause, said reluctantly, "I guess I... maybe I should...."

   "You should do what?  Apologize?  I don't think that a few pathetic words will fix the damage you've done, not just to Tsuzuki's reputation, but to Tsuzuki himself," Tatsumi said, ruthlessly flinging Sitka's own words back at him.  

   Sitka twitched, visibly stung, then shouted, "All right!  All right!  You've made your point.  Tsuzuki was right and I was wrong!  There, now are you satisfied!?"

   "Satisfied?" Tatsumi said softly.  "Hardly.  I barely gotten started.  Do you have any idea of how much suffering you've put Tsuzuki through?  Do you have any idea of what he might be driven to do, out of misery and despair?"

   Sitka opened his mouth, closed it, opened it, then closed it again.

   "No, I didn't think so."  Tatsumi's lips thinned, the first clear expression of anger to appear on his face.  "I'd thought that a less... 'sensitive' partner would be work better for Tsuzuki, but I never imagined that you would turn out to be so self-centered and totally oblivious to how emotionally vulnerable Tsuzuki can be."

   "Why didn't he SAY anything!?" Sitka complained, sounding almost petulant.

   "Are you implying that it's Tsuzuki's fault for not telling you about his miserable and traumatic past?" Tatsumi said acidly.

   "No... no.  I didn't exactly mean that.  But he didn't...."

   "No, I'm sure Tsuzuki did his best to avoid discussing those particular topics with you.  But despite his carefree and frequently immature behavior, Tsuzuki is not a terribly good liar or actor.  Unlike you.  After working closely with him for over a year, even a marginally observant person should have realized that Tsuzuki bears far more than his fair share of emotional scars."

   Sitka gnawed on his lower lip, then started to say something, but Tatsumi coldly interrupted him.

   "No, if Tsuzuki didn't tell you himself and if you were too self-absorbed to figure it out on your own, I'm certainly won't enlighten you with the specifics.  I will only say that you did to Tsuzuki was crueler and more agonizing than any physical torture you could have inflicted."  Tatsumi put his hands on his desk and leaned forward for emphasis.

   "It.  Was.  Pure.  Hell."  Each word rang with quiet, but unmistakable fury.

   Sitka flinched visibly with every icy syllable Tatsumi uttered.  He bit his lip, then said in faltering tones, "You said something about what he might do.  Surely you don't mean....  Not over a few ugly rumors!  He wouldn't something as crazy as...."

   ".... killing himself?  Hurting himself?"  Tatsumi's tone was glacial.  "I wish I could be so certain."  He straightened, then gave Sitka a chill little smile before resuming a more conversational tone.  

   "Speaking of Hell, you might be interested to know this.  Reizei Moyoko's soul was damned the moment she signed her pact with the demon.  And while Juoh-cho generally disapproves of such transactions, we do recognize the validity of certain contracts.  Even those of diabolical origin."

   Tatsumi held up another plastic bag, also covered with protective wards, which contained several pages of heavy parchment with strangely sinister black characters that rippled with an eerie life of their own.

   "An official request for custody of her soul arrived yesterday.  The paperwork was duly filed, verified, and approved."  Tatsumi glanced at his watch.  "At this very moment, her soul should be getting acquainted with its new permanent home, somewhere in the pits of Hell."  

   "No... It can't be...," Sitka wearily shook his head, a last feeble attempt at denial.

   Tatsumi neatly stacked all the documents in a pile before him and said, "You can continue to delude yourself and pretend that you and Reizei are victims of some grand conspiracy.  Or you can face the unpleasant truth for once in your life.  That's up to you.  I will simply say that everything I've told you about Tsuzuki and Reizei Moyoko is quite true."

   Tatsumi gave Sitka a razor-edged smile as the very air in the room seemed to darken and take on a snarling life of its own.  

   "But whatever you choose to do, believe this.  If anything's happened to Tsuzuki, I will personally ensure that you end up keeping your beloved Reizei Moyoko company for all eternity."

   Sitka, his eyes going wide as he finally understood the true scope and depth of Tatsumi's wrath, rediscovered his long abandoned common sense and bolted for the dubious safety of the corridor.

   Tatsumi gazed at the hurriedly slammed door, then turned his head slightly as he tracked Sitka's hasty retreat down the hallway until the Shinigami ran into the enforcers from the Peace Preservation Bureau.  As Sitka was taken into custody, Tatsumi shrugged and called the shadows back to order.


   Strictly speaking, the whole interview had not been necessary.  The evidence he had gathered was more than sufficient evidence to clear Tsuzuki and fix the blame firmly on Sitka.  But that wasn't nearly enough to satisfy Tatsumi.  

   Even without the interview, Sitka would have been taken into custody and punished.  However, he would have gone with his head held high, proud and smug in his self-righteousness.  Tatsumi would not permit someone who had hurt Tsuzuki so cruelly to get away so easily.  

   He wanted Sitka to pay.  An eye for an eye.  Or in this case, misery for misery.  Sitka had made Tsuzuki suffer, so it was only fair that Sitka should suffer as well.  

   Thus the interview.  Thus his slow, pitiless destruction of Sitka's pride, arrogance, and confidence.  

   At the moment, Tatsumi could do nothing for Tsuzuki, but at least he could take some minor pleasure in knowing that in the short time Sitka had left, Tsuzuki's ex-partner would be tormented by the inescapable knowledge of his own overwhelming stupidity, shame, and guilt.  

   But compared to what Tsuzuki had suffered -- what Tsuzuki was undoubtedly still suffering -- Sitka's misery barely qualified as petty revenge.

   No, Tsuzuki was not a deliberately cruel person.  However, the same could not be said for himself.

   And at the moment, Tatsumi Seichirou was in no mood to be merciful.

Keeper of Duo's Dark Side ~~~ Duo no Seishi
Saitoh no Koibito ~~~ Corruptor Extraordinaire
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   All names, likenesses, and rights of Yami no Matsuei and its characters are trademarks, copyright, and property of Yoko Matsushita and legally associated parties.  The characters and associated materials of these works are used WITHOUT permission for the purpose of entertainment only.  The author of this work claims no ownership, part or whole, of the original plot and characters.  This work of fiction is not meant for sale or profit.  
   All original portions of this work is considered to be the sole property and copyrighted to the author Madamhydra.  No part of this work is to be reproduced, altered, or adapted in any way without the author's express permission.