Completed: 07/12/2003
Last modified: 07/12/2003

::guilty twitch::   Yet another rough draft of a YnM fic, which takes place 2-3 years before the events in the manga/anime.

There's going to be a companion fic to this story called "Convenant", which involves Touda giving poor traumatized Tsuzuki comfort in several different ways.  ^_-  Sorry, nothing explicit, though.  ::ducks shower of stale pocky::  

C&C always appreciated!   ^_^

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 = a BAD THING

Title: Retaliation
Author: Madamhydra
Email: madamhydra@aol.com
Status:  one-shot (completed!)
Archive:  www.madamhydra.net
Type:  "missing scene"
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers:  entire YnM manga and anime series

********* ********* ******** WARNINGS ******** ********* *********
********* ********* ******** ******** ******** ********* *********

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

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   RETALIATION
       A Yami no Matsuei fanfic by Madamhydra
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Text Conventions
   (  ) indicate thoughts of characters

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

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   [ 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 opponent but occasionally by their own partners.  Considering the nature of their work, a few incidents of 'friendly fire' should only be expected.  Most of the time, the injuries were caused by accident, a result of carelessness or plain bad luck.  Aside from having reports in the quadruplicate and getting scolded at by their boss Kanoe -- or if you were unlucky, Tatsumi -- it was hardly a big deal.  It happened to everyone.  Just a few months ago, Terazuma's cantankerous shikigami KokuShunGei had tripped and ended up sitting down on poor Wakaba.  Poor Terazuma was 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 intentional and deliberate.  Of course there was always the cases of Shinigami going rogue or turning on each other for personal reasons.  But there were also situations when attacking or hurting one's own partner was the lesser of two evils.

   Many shinigami would never have to make such a choice.  Unfortunately, Tsuzuki had been forced to face that dilemma not just once, but a handful of times.  It was hardly surprising, since 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 had ever alleviated Tsuzuki's overdeveloped sense of guilt.   

   However, this time Tsuzuki had done much more than simply injuring his partner Sitka -- Tsuzuki had very nearly killed him.  And considering the regenerative powers of a Shinigami, that was no small thing.

   Admittedly, Tsuzuki could be a terrible klutz at times and his penchant for causing expensive collateral damage was the bane of Tatsumi's existence and budget.  However, his friend's clumsy puppy-type of 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.)

   Unfortunately, because of Tsuzuki's notorious reputation for klutziness, every time one of his partners got even slightly injured, rumors blaming Tsuzuki inevitably began flying around JuOh-Cho.  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.

   Gossip about carelessness and incompetence was bad enough, but this time the rumours were 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 grouchy old Terazuma! -- could possibly believe such an outrageous accusation!) fumed Watari.

   Unfortunately for Tsuzuki, there seemed to be plenty of people in JuOh-Cho who were willing to believe, or at least repeat, such rumors.  

   (Poor Kanoe-kacho has got his hands full fending off the chiefs of the other bureaus.  Those stupid old geezers!  They're terrified of Tsuzuki and his power, so naturally they're eager to grab any excuse to get rid of him.  Even before they know any of the factual details of the case, the idiots!)

   With their boss fully occupied, 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.

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   While Tatsumi had concentrated on gathering information about Tsuzuki and Sitka's disastrous last mission, Watari had made it his personal mission to track down the source of the most egregious rumors.  Through a combination of diligence and sheer sneakiness, he had managed to identify the probable culprit -- Sitka, of all people.

   At first Watari hadn't wanted to believe it.  Surely it had to be just a stupid mistake, a careless or irritable comment taken out of context or 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.  It was nothing short of coldblooded character assassination.

   (I know Sitka can be a bit self-absorbed at times, but I never imagined that he'd be so cruel to start this sort of nasty whispering campaign against Tsuzuki!  And why?  Their partnership's already outlasted most of Tsuzuki's previous ones.  And I could've sworn Sitka really liked Tsuzuki!  Why would he turn on Tsuzuki like this?  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 all the essential facts to support their position.  Watari had very reluctantly agreed because he could understand Tatsumi's reasoning.  Merely forcing Sitka to shut up would not be enough, not with all the ugly rumors already circulating.  They needed to find solid evidence to clear Tsuzuki and prove that his actions during the Reizei case were fully justified.

   But sticking to that decision became almost impossible for Watari as he watched his friend's steadily growing misery.  The vicious gossip was clearly taking a terrible emotional toll on Tsuzuki, who already had quite enough problems coping with his guilt over the outcome of the Reizei case and Sitka's injuries.  Even Tatsumi found the waiting extremely difficult, 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 this was Tsuzuki they were talking about.  Instead of making his friend feel better, telling Tsuzuki about Sitka's involvement could easily 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 rage 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 I feel hurt, how much worse will it 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 his effort not to scare off yet another partner, had succeeded in concealing his own vulnerabilities and emotional scars too well.  Perhaps Sitka himself didn't fully understand how much misery he was inflicting on Tsuzuki.  A normal person would've had problems 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 attacking Tsuzuki so cruelly, especially given the permanent nature of the damage!)   

   Rumors were like weeds -- no matter how hard one tried to root them out, they never really go away.  Instead, they lay dormant, ready to spring back to life given the slightest opportunity.  The next time something bad happened, people would nod slyly and start whispering all over again.

   Now things had really reached the breaking point.  Just as the final critical bits of evidence had come trickling in, Tsuzuki had disappeared.  
   
   At first, his departure had appeared innocent enough.  Wakaba duly reported that Tsuzuki had gone off to the GensouKai.  Both she and Watari had been relieved, thinking that Tsuzuki had gone to visit his shikigami and spend some time in more comforting surroundings, away from all the nasty rumors.  Watari still didn't know what had induced Tatsumi to check up on Tsuzuki's whereabouts, but he was deeply thankful that the secretary had done so.  As it was, Tsuzuki was nowhere to be found.  He might be somewhere in GensouKai, but 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.  That would be no easy task if Tsuzuki didn't want to be found.  But there was one thing Watari could do and that was make sure Sitka accepted full responsibility for what he had done.

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   As soon as Watari and Sitka entered Tatsumi's office, the secretary pushed up his glasses and said coolly, "We already know that Tsuzuki 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 why."

   Sitka hesitated as a look of consternation, mixed with a touch 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, on the verge of pulling out his hair.  "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 he had the evidence to prove it!"  

   Reizei Mayoko had sacrificed her entire family and nearly done the same to hundreds of other innocent people, all in her insane pursuit of occult power.  A devious, ambitious, and conniving woman, she had played the helpless victim to perfection.  However, for some reason -- perhaps gut instinct -- Tsuzuki had almost immediately sensed something 'off' about her and suspected that she was somehow involved in the brutal serial murders he and Sitka had been assigned to investigate.  Unfortunately, it was now evident that while Tsuzuki had not been deceived by Reizei, his partner had not been nearly so perceptive.

   "Then he framed her!"

   Watari glared at the other Shinigami and retorted, "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 confused and clearly taken aback by Watari's challenge, then shook his head.  Instead of answering the scientist, he plowed doggedly on with his accusations.

   "Even if she was guilty, Mayoko 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 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 replied.  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!  Now I know why.  He wanted her to die!"

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

   "He was jealous, of her and of us!  He kept warning me to stay away from her and making these insinuating remarks about how I should be more cautious, that she wasn't as innocent as she appeared to be and other sorts of crap!"

   "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.

   "Then what happened?" Tatsumi asked, firmly getting the interview back on track.  Except for a slight trace of annoyance, the secretary's expression was inscrutable, his voice dispassionate.  Tatsumi appeared as if he didn't particularly care about Sitka's answer, one way or another.  

   For an angry instant, Watari wondered how Tatsumi could remain so calm and permit Sitka to get away with such ludicrous and outrageous accusations without so much as a protest.  But after calming down a bit, 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.  

   But at the present, the secretary's calm manner was having its intended effect of lulling his prey into thinking that he had a sympathetic or at least a neutral audience.  The tactic was clearly working because Sitka seemed oblivious to the subtle indicators of Tatsumi's true feelings, like the chill, restless shadows that were slowly gathering in the corners of the secretary's office.  

   "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 worried about innocent lives than her own.  Is that the behavior of a ruthless, conniving person?"

   "So you ran off after Tsuzuki, grief-stricken and furious.  And when you found him, you weren't interested in trying to stop him.  You just 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.

   "Don't tell me that after all these years, you guys don't know what he's really like!  Or maybe you do.  I guess the bureau's willing to overlook the occasional extra corpse or two because Tsuzuki's too damn useful to you guys!"  

   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 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-san for over a year and you can still believe that he would voluntarily harm someone?  Not out of necessity.  Not by accident, or in the heat of the moment.  By deliberate, calculated malice.  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 very deserving target.

   "You still don't get it, do you?  Under those good looks and that nice-nice act of his, he's really just a damn monster who enjoys hurting people!"

   "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."

   "He came looking for me.  He said he wanted to apologize.  As if a few pathetic words could ever repair 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, 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!?  By throwing him aside like so much trash, and all for some demented, greedy bitch you'd only just met!?"

   "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 smile 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.  A pity that he couldn't stay around and watch Tatsumi cut the smug, self-righteous bastard into bloody shreds.  Verbally, if not literally.

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   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 did the right thing, and that's all that matters."

   "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-san. Perhaps not in the beginning, but you eventually came 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 job."  

   "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 somewhat inconsistent.  On one hand, you accuse Tsuzuki of being a devious, sadistic murderer who's simply pretending to be a foolish bumbler, but 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 attracts other people.  You stopped viewing him as your partner, and started thinking of him as a rival.  So when a beautiful woman apparently became 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."

   "I...."

   "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 were willing to believe anything she told you, even when it was contrary to 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're clinging fanatically to the idea of Tsuzuki's guilt because deep down inside, you know that you're 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 inadequency.  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, in deliberate, calculatingly cruel ways."

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

   "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.  No, 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.

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   (You were very good at hiding it, but I still should have noticed your growing inferiority complex sooner, Sitka.  For that, I bear some responsibility for this situation.)  

   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 quirks.  Since the two Shinigami had apparently settled into a comfortable, productive partnership, 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 he 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 confidence, 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've been too easy for Sitka to dismiss Watari's angry words as the rantings of a biased, overly excitable naive fool.  

   (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.

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   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-san, being a sly, underhanded bastard, would do his utmost to shift all the blame to you.  But nowhere in this report does Tsuzuki-san 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 is 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-san'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 although 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."

   "I... I don't understand!"

   Tatsumi said, "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 jerked his head around to stare 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 broke the terms of that contract, keeping most of the spiritual energy she collected for herself and depriving the demon of its allotted 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 that offer the demon 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.  Unfortunately, Tsuzuki's 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."

   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 looked slightly stunned.  Finally, he blurted, "But if that's true and he didn't harm 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."

   "Is... is that true?"

   "You know it is," Tatsumi retorted coolly.  "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.

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

   "Because he had more important things to worry about than the life of a self-confessed and unrepentant serial murderer."

   "Such as?"

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

   Sitka could only shake his head, unable to cope with all this new information.  But Tatsumi was patient.  He waited until Sitka had calmed down a bit 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 threatened to unleash yet another monster."

   "Another... monster?"

   "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 suck the life out of the entire town and use that energy to save herself.  That's why she lied to you and accused Tsuzuki, because she was afraid that Tsuzuki would destroy her last remaining source of power."

   "Then why didn't Tsuzuki simply attack and destroy it!?  Heaven knows that with all those shikigami, he has more than enough power to just blow that damn thing away!  What was he waiting around for?" Sitka demanded bitterly.

   Tatsumi retorted acidly, "Unfortunately, the solution wasn't nearly so easy.  By the time Tsuzuki found Reizei's creature, it had already started to feed on numerous victims.  Any direct assault on the monster would have caused an energy feedback which would've killed all those people.  That creature was essentially a huge magical bomb and Tsuzuki was the person stuck trying to defuse it. The slightest mistake would have caused a catastrophe.  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?  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.

   "Perhaps you were too busy to notice, but there were a few eyewitnesses to your confrontation with Tsuzuki.  Or did you forget about them?"

   Sitka's expression made it abundantly clear that he had.

   "I was very interested in what they had to say.  You claim that Tsuzuki's carelessness caused the death of innocent bystanders.  But it wasn't Tsuzuki's fault that those people died.  It was yours."

   "You're wrong!" Sitka shouted desperately.

   "No, you're the one who's wrong.  You've been wrong from start to finish.  Tsuzuki was the only thing standing between those innocent people and a horrible death.  Every time you attacked him, people died.  I'd also like to mention that with his powers stretched to the breaking point, your repeated attacks almost certainly caused the protective barrier Tsuzuki put around Reizei to collapse.  And since that barrier was the only thing standing between that woman and a very irate demon...."  

   "No.  That can't be!"

   "If Tsuzuki bears any guilt for the lives lost in the Reizei case, how much greater should yours be?"

   Sitka shook his head wildly.

   Tatsumi continued relentlessly, "Tsuzuki repeatedly tried to warn you, to explain what he was doing.  He begged you to stop, but you refused to listen.  You kept attacking him and people kept dying.  Until he couldn't take any more and struck back the only way he could.  Considering how upset and desperate Tsuzuki must have been at that point, count yourself lucky to have survived."

   Sitka turned and took a stumbling step toward the door.

   "I.... I have to...."

   "What, apologize?  I don't think that a few pathetic words will repair 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.  

   "All right!  All right!  You've made your point.  Haven't you said enough!?" Sitka cried.

   "Enough, you say?" Tatsumi said softly.  "Oh, I barely gotten started.  Do you have any idea of the hell you've put him through?"

   In an icy, dispassionate voice, Tatsumi told Sitka about the things Tsuzuki had tried so hard to hide from him.  He told Sitka about Tsuzuki's physical and emotional scars, the cruel loneliness of his childhood, and most importantly, the lingering guilt that always haunted Tsuzuki.
   
   And for the very first time, Tatsumi reveal part of the real reason the secretary broke up his partnership with Tsuzuki.  Not all of it, but certainly more than anyone had ever known.

   And during this recitation, Sitka stood still, the accusations finally and truly silenced.

   "Why... why didn't he TELL me!?" he wailed.

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

   "No... no.  Of course not.  Not that.  But...."

   "No, Tsuzuki didn't tell you.  But despite his carefree act, Tsuzuki is not a terribly good liar.  Unlike you.  After working closely with him for over a year, even a marginally observant person should have guessed that Tsuzuki had endured far more than his fair share of pain."

   Sitka gnawed on his lower lip.  He looked oddly broken, his shoulders slumped in an admission of total defeat.

   "I hope that at this point, you have a fuller appreciation for the pure hell you put Tsuzuki through."  Tatsumi glanced down at his desk, then gave Sitka a chill little smile.  "And 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, contain several pages of heavy parchment and strangely sinister black characters that rippled with an eerie life of their own.

   "An official request for custody of her soul arrived yesterday ago.  The paperwork was duly filed, verified, and approved."  

   "I... I don't believe...," Sitka shook his head, a last feeble attempt at denial.

   Tatsumi neatly stacked all the documents in a pile before him and said, "If you choose, you can pretend that everything I've told you is part of some grand conspiracy, that all these documents are forged.  That's up to you.  I will say that everything I've told you about Tsuzuki and Reizei Moyoko is quite true.

   "But if you don't believe me, you're welcome to go to Hell and question your beloved Reizei Moyoko yourself."  Tatsumi gave Sitka a razor-edged smile as the very air in the room seemed to darken and take on a life of its own.  "I'll be more than happy to assist you there."

   Sitka, finally comprehending 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.

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   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 for Tatsumi.  

   Even without the interview, Sitka would have been taken into custody.  However, he would have gone with his head held high, smug in the knowledge that he had 'done the right thing'.  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 the slow, pitiless destruction of Sitka's pride, arrogance, confidence, and self-righteousness.  

   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 tortured 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.

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Keeper of Duo's Dark Side ~~~ Duo no Seishi
Saitoh no Koibito ~~~ Corruptor Extraordinaire
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madamhydra@aol.com              /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/:E

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The Full Disclaimer:
   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.

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