Here it is finally, the last chapter of my so called epic Yami no Matsuei fic. After many months and a lot of ups and down I finally managed to finish it. I know it took me much too long to write this final chapter even though I had promised to post it sooner. Turns out, writing an ending to a story that is over 90000 words long is harder than you think. I had to look back at the whole span of the fic, evaluate and assess every relationship, event and character development, to be able to write a fitting conclusion. Add to that the fact that this hasn't been a particularly quiet time in my life (graduation, portfolio show, new job, Guild Wars) and hopefully you'd understand and forgive me this big delay.
Before I proceed I'd like to point out that this story in its entirety is dedicated to my reviewers, everyone whose name is in the review section, this story is theirs. A couple of new ones in particular really warmed my heart. Among them Amethyst-eyed Koneko whose praises almost brought me to tears. Thank you, all of you, so very much. I hope this meets your expectations.
What happened so far: Just as the shinigami thought Tsuzuki was lost to them when he was taken by the evil lord Mahorath, Enma-diao appears and claims that Tsuzuki belongs to him. Ayaka offers the last key to settle the dispute between the two gods by bidding herself as the trial. Enma wins and Tsuzuki is returned to Meifu, only to face the looming threat of the Apocalypse together with his friends. Huddled beneath the protection of Suzaku's shelter, Watari notices Isorou – who was cast out by his employer Mahorath – is facing the disaster head on and with no regard to his life. In an attempt to rescue the man, Watari tries to convince him to throw away his melancholy and start anew on the side of the good guys. Unfortunately it proves to be too late for the prosecutor. The Apocalypse comes and the shinigami are faced with one the most frightening events of their lives.
Now the conclusion…
The Trial Chapter 15 – The Conclusion
His room at the hospital was clean and small. There was a cherry tree by the window in full blossom all year around. It obscured a quarter of the view outside but it didn't matter much since the window was pretty large.
Outside was splendid. This section of the hospital was barely used, usually closed off and only used for special cases or if they had someone in intensive magic care. So he had never seen it before. It faced a beautiful grass field sprinkled with yellow flowers and flanked by a grove of cherry trees. You couldn't see the JuOhCho buildings from here and if you would let yourself believe, just for a moment, you could almost think you were somewhere else.
No one knew why, of the entire hospital complex, this was the section least damaged by the Apocalypse.
Tsuzuki leaned back against the pillows he had propped up at the head of the bed and stared out the window. It was a nice day. The wind was blowing through the trees playing with the blossoms and making nature look vibrant and alive. Everything was soft and clear, like the frilly tendrils of a dream after sleep was over. Of course it was like this everyday in Meifu but it was the first time Tsuzuki had looked at it through the eyes of someone stuck inside. His time here had shown him how little he paid attention to the beauties of the world he lived in, both Meifu and Chijou, and how much he wanted to go back and rediscover it all. He wanted to not feel sad anymore, not feel regret and not play with afterlife like it was a worthless thing, something he had done with his life before death.
He let his head fall back on the pillows and watched as birds chirped and jumped around in the sakura branches. One little sparrow got too bold and dived down, too fast for the eye to see, and swept through the fragile blossoms twisting and spinning its little body. A handful of the petals scattered around in its passage, floating on the wind and spreading across the expanse of the field. It created a gorgeous palette of pink, yellow and green. It made Tsuzuki smile.
It had been three weeks since the Apocalypse had happened. Three week which he had gone through many stages of his body and soul inching closer and then away from crossing over to permanent eternity. The first week was the fever. He didn't remember much of that time, except some flashes in his short bouts of consciousness. These were strewn and somewhat unrelated at times. Images of Hisoka lying in the bed next to his, of hearing Tatsumi and the nurse argue in the next room about something that had to do with cast, and Watari trying to calm them down. He also had memory snapshots of some of the other shinigami, particularly Wakaba and the Hokkaido girls, standing over him with arms full of sweets and worried expressions on their faces. In the background he could hear Terazuma and the GuShoShin brothers talking in hushed voices. There was even an image of white gloves and a mask, when he was coming out of a fever induced dream panting and crying. He remembered the gentle hands soothing him, wiping tears and sweat from his face, and a kind voice whispering in his ear that gave promises of comfort and health.
The second week saw him waking up, finally coherent enough to understand his environment and the people who shared it with him. On the second day of that week he was able to talk to them, and heard the story of what had really happened. It was important to know if only to be able to distinguish reality from his grotesque nightmares. From the others he heard that the Apocalypse had been in fact the most frightening thing they had seen in their lives, as humans or a messengers of death. Yet they confessed that it had also been far less destructive than it was rumored to be. It had created incredible explosions worthy of its reputation, yet nothing worse than the last time Tsuzuki or one of his Shikigamis had gone berserk and destroyed the library for example, and most of it had happened as it had passed through structures too weak to withstand its force. The center of that blast however – as Tatsumi had predicted – had been where they all had huddled, under the singular protection of Suzaku's wings. And that was why they had been the only people seriously injured yet still alive.
Suzaku had protected them, as had Byyako, and there was no doubt about that. The two Shikigamis had taken minor damages themselves. But all in all, the casualties had been low, a little explosion shock for Hisoka, a broken arm for Tatsumi, and Tsuzuki being the worst casualty of them all.
It was during that week that Tsuzuki had realized that there was someone sitting by his bed every night. He also noticed that most of the nights that person was Tatsumi. But he had also seen Watari and Wakaba do it. Hisoka had argued once to join in, he had heard his voice from another room yelling and stomping his foot. But the older shinigamis had kindly refused, saying that he was too weak yet from his own injuries to be able to withstand a night without sleep. The gesture wasn't lost on Tsuzuki though and his heart filled with a warm feeling for his young partner.
The nightmares wouldn't leave him that easily, even on those nights. Even with the fever gone he still saw images of hell and souls being tormented while their opened claws stretched out to him. And he saw himself more than once as a devil, perched on a high throne with demons all around him at his command. And higher still, observing him gleefully like a mentor would his pupil was the dark Makai lord Mahorath.
One night, when he had awakened from those dreams, his brow sweating and his eyes lined with tears, he felt a strong hand clutching his own as the owner dabbed at his face with a wet cloth. He opened sleep dazed eyes and looked up at the face hovering above him, and he recognized Tatsumi from the glint of moonlight catching the edge of his glasses. He opened his mouth to say something but all that came out was a choked sound, before the other Shinigami placed a finger on his lips to quiet him down with a comforting whisper.
"It's not real Tsuzuki-san. You are safe."
"…can never have you now. I promise you Tsuzuki-san, I won't let anyone take you away from us again, not as long as I exist."
He nodded gratefully, eyes filled with purple fire that gently glowed in the night. There was no question he was a demon, Mahorath had finally proven him that. But Enma and Ayaka had shown him things too. He wasn't doomed, he wasn't alone, and there was still a light shining in the dark depths of his soul.
A light he would carry like a spear to keep the darkness at bay.
The third week had been the week of visits. Many people from JuOhCho as well as other parts of Meifu came to see him. He had recovered enough to sit up in bed and greet them, although at the beginning his limbs were shaky and the nurse had to shoo everyone out whenever visiting hour were over and the visitors decidedly ignored it.
That had been the most eventful time of his stay.
He remembered the first wave of people showing up; which included almost everyone. Tatsumi and Watari and Hisoka were the first to enter and, just as he had thought that would be it, in came the GuShoShin brothers, the Hokkaido girls, Wakaba and Terazuma, and chief Konoe. Soon the room was filled with flowers and the whole crowd started chatting and mingling and offering him their gifts. It was a nice change from the calmness of the past days, having so many people around him, although his eyes remained on his three closest friends who had politely stayed in the background to give room to other less frequent visitors. It had given him the chance to observe each of them individually now that he was looking at them through fever-free eyes, and notice the changes that had occurred in each of them.
Tatsumi was his quiet self, straight and authoritative as usual. The way he looked at things, the assessing, evaluative glare he sent everyone and everything around him hadn't changed. Perhaps the man himself hadn't changed much, perhaps not at all, but Tsuzuki knew that if nothing else, something in himself had become different, about the way he looked at his friend. He now could see past the walls the man erected around him all the time, could see the gentle core inside, the love and care and the fierce protectiveness that in the past he had always mistaken for austerity. Maybe it was a change after all, in the simple fact that Tatsumi was /letting/ him see his inner self. Not worried about letting his feelings project or allowing him to see them for what they really were: not stingy strictness, although they were for sure tainted by it due to the nature of the man, but something much deeper, much more emotional. Something that had lodged its roots at the bottom of the older shinigami's heart.
Hisoka was somewhat the same. The younger shinigami was quiet as usual, frowning a little at the noise and the way Saya and Yuma intermittently tried to drag him into their circle. Tsuzuki couldn't help but to smile at the cuteness the boy exuded, the way he hid his timidity behind a screen of annoyance. Hisoka had been there for him during the hardest of times, had even risked his life and freedom, and later his sanity when he had plunged into his dream so close to the Apocalypse, just to make things easier on him. It was so endearing how the boy had tried, so helpless, so vulnerable but giving his best, to stand against such evil as Makai and its prosecutor.
And what had it cost him? What had he been forced to give of himself in order to draw out that inner strength from that small fragile body? Tsuzuki thought as he observed the blond in silence, the nervous moves, the quiet skittishness, still wary against any touch, even as innocent as the ones from the girls.
'He touched me in my dilemma. That night he came to me during the trial… to bring me food.'
He had to admit Hisoka's behavior had been a complete turn-around during that time. He couldn't have remembered a time when the younger shinigami had been more open and straight forward about his feelings. Had it been uncomfortable for him? Or was the stress too great for him to even notice? Was that why the boy was avoiding his eyes now, blushing fiercely whenever their eyes accidentally met? Tsuzuki couldn't help but to chuckle inwardly at how cute that image was.
Yet the laughter would immediately die as soon as he turned his eyes to the last member of the trio, the one who in his eyes had changed the most.
Watari was the only one actively participating in the activities going on around the bed. Talking, laughing and being his general cheerful self. But Tsuzuki could see, in the man's every move, in the quick silent moments where the forced smile would coincidentally slip away to reflect the sadness that lay just below the surface. He had played the same act himself for such a long time that it was simply impossible for him to miss it.
'What had happened to upset him? What could have possibly happened to /him?'
There was no way for him to know. Not with the gaps that filled his memory of that time like holes in an aged slice of cheese. Only isolated images from the last days of the trial, hiding in his own mind after summoning the Apocalypse, and then Mahorath's throne, where darkness had claimed him for a span of time that seemed much too long. He wasn't even sure if any of the rest had been real: Enma showing up, Ayaka's wager and again, another plunge into darkness.
It had been a long hard road.
That night, the night after the first visit, Tatsumi was the one watching his bed. Even though he was getting better and the nurse had confirmed he didn't need a watcher anymore, his friends and especially the secretary still seemed to feel the need to be with him. Not that he was ungrateful.
That night they talked. He initiated their conversation based on a need to know more. Tatsumi was first reluctant to talk, insisting that he, Tsuzuki, needed to rest until Tsuzuki convinced him that it was really all right and that this was more important than sleep. He needed to know, his mind pleading for answers. Tatsumi finally caved in and they began a long talk that went on well into the night. It was that night that he found out how it all had went down, about Suzaku and Byyako, the blast, and Isorou Masaki's fate.
Tatsumi hadn't been sure about many things in his story. But his guess as to why Watari was sad seemed to be as accurate as Tsuzuki's. He told Tsuzuki that the blond had been the one going after Isorou just before the Apocalypse had reached them. They had run back together toward the shelter but then he confirmed that Watari had been the only one entering. Whatever happened after that was anybody's guess since most of them had been shaken into injuries when the wave had hit them. There had been no remains, nothing found of the prosecutor to tell them about his fate.
Tsuzuki pondered that for a while. He knew that both he and Tatsumi, especially Tatsumi judging by the way he spoke, held no love for the prosecutor. But what about Watari? What if there was something that had happened between them that had changed the nature of their relationship.
As if sensing his thoughts Tatsumi had intercepted them. "I don't believe he felt anything but pity for the man." he said about their friend, "Watari told me, just before he went off to get Isorou, that there was a reason for us to care for his survival. I never got the chance to ask him what it was, and now it seems like he doesn't even want to bring up the subject."
Tsuzuki had turned his eyes away from him and their conversation had taken an unforeseen turn.
"I don't want him to be sad." Tsuzuki whispered into the quite night.
Tatsumi raised his eyes to him. "Don't be upset Tsuzuki-san. You've been through enough not to have to worry about another person's problems right now," he said.
Tsuzuki turned his eyes away.
"Don't be." Tatsumi snapped. Then, seeing his mistake in the wide purple eyes, he softened. "It's not your fault Tsuzuki-san. I tried to tell you so many times that not everything is your fault. People have problems and everyone has to learn to go through theirs on their own. It's not your responsibility to worry about everyone who's in trouble."
"If…if that's so, Tatsumi-san, then why did you worry about me so much?"
Tsuzuki's voice was soft, barely heard if it weren't for the silence.
Tatsumi's glasses flashed. The man tried to hide some particular emotion behind his mask, his mouth opening to deliver a routine answer, a denial, an excuse, something…he'd done it so many times, so many many times in the past, in his life at JuOhCho all those years when he had watched the purple eyed shinigami from afar. Hiding his feelings and keeping himself distant, denied the forbidden fruit…
Not anymore. Tatsumi swallowed his words. Thought about what he had learned from the difficult experience, and decided not to hide anymore.
His reply was carefully spelled out.
"Because I care for you very much, Tsuzuki-san. I've loved you for a long time, since the time we were partners, and always acted poorly on it. My actions hurt you more then they helped you, and I deluded myself into thinking I was doing it to protect you when in fact all I was doing was being a coward, protecting myself from having to face the truth. I don't want that anymore, so I tell you now Tsuzuki-san, my heart is yours. You can do whatever you like with it, mock it, break it, throw it away or accept it. No matter what you do, know this: you will always have my protection and I will always be there for you."
He stopped and looked at the other man with a steady gaze. He felt the tugging of a hidden smile at the sides of his mouth seeing the astonished look on the other man's face. Tsuzuki's purple eyes were googly wide and his mouth wide open. And were those puppy ears and a tail peeking out from somewhere?
Tsuzuki was adorable. It was too hard to remember what Tasumi had been so afraid of. This was a creature to be loved, to be cherished and adored and as the earl had said, there wasn't a single grain of shame in that.
Tatsumi let the smile show as he sat on the bed next to Tsuzuki and pulled the shocked man into his arms. Tsuzuki's eyes turned to him, brilliant purple pools of innocence and surprise.
"What, Tsuzuki-san? You didn't expect me to say that?"
"I--I had no idea, I mean I would have guessed something, sometimes had thought--but you never, I mean you always acted like--."
"--like I was mad at you? Like I despised everything you did? Gods, Hakushaku-san was right. You /are/ truly clueless."
Tsuzuki pulled back with a pout, clearly offended. "Hakushaku-san? You're taking cues from him? That invisible, perverted, to-old-to-even-be-your-grandpa, stalker?"
Tatsumi chuckled and pulled Tsuzuki back into his embrace. "Yes, Tsuzuki-san. Him. And you'd be surprised to know how useful he could be sometimes."
Tsuzuki made a face. "Yeah, right. What did he tell you?"
Tatsumi stroked the puppy's nose with his finger. "Now that's between him and I." He laughed when he saw Tsuzuki pout again.
'What did they tell me? What can I say to you Tsuzuki-san, now that you have officially become the most important person in my life, my responsibility?'
He remembered, a few days after he had been fit enough to leave the hospital…
He walked the corridors in silence, his footsteps echoing all around him. His outward appearance radiated calm, pride and a sense of self-confidence. His insides matched it. Never more would he feel any apprehension from the beings who resided in the upper echelons of the otherworld, never more would he back away in fear before he would make them listen to what he had to say. Even if it cost him his life he would be firm, and protect the ones he loved from the ones who intended to harm them.
That was his resolution as he walked towards Enma's throne room.
'Tatsumi-san, I need to discuss important matters with you. I want you to come to me the day after your injuries are healed. Meet me in the yellow room alone. Hakushaku-san will be there as well.'
No fear, no anxiety this time. He had been to hell and back and nothing they have planned for him would faze him anymore. And if it were about Tsuzuki – which he was almost certain it was – he would walk into it with fangs and claws bared.
The yellow room where Enma's throne was placed was not that different from Mahorath's room. Same prevalent darkness only broken in places by spotlights with indistinct sources, same extravagant carvings and decorations, same silent deity with an obscured face. Tatsumi walked the few steps from the door to where a single spot of light was illuminating the floor in front of the platform where the deity stood. He looked to the right once he reached that spot and slightly bowed his head to the mask and two gloves that currently hovered somewhere in the shadows. He received a similar greeting from the invisible being before turning his attention back to the god in front of him, an impressive form fully dressed in silken robes and a tall hat.
"We have been expecting you, Tatsumi-san. I am pleased you came."
"You expected me to bale out, Enma-sama? Don't you think that is a rather low opinion of my person?"
"You have become fearless, Tatsumi-san. A trait that is becoming for the task we are about to appoint you to."
"From this day on you are going to take on a new position in Meifu." It was the earl speaking. Tatsumi's head turned toward him.
"You will be appointed the covert personal guardian of EnmaDiao's successor"
Tatsumi's eyes went wide. "You don't mean--."
The count tilted his head in a gesture that could very much be a taunt, or a wink had the man had a face.
"Of course I mean whom you think I mean. You have to admit he's quite oblivious in many ways and needs to be watched over. Now Enma has noticed how his precious destined one could come under the attack of his foes. He is giving you the power to protect him should the necessity of it arise."
At that time Enma raised his hands and light shone from the tips of his fingers, wisps of it unfurling like cigarette smoke and surrounding Tatsumi. He didn't flinch and didn't take his eyes off Hakushaku.
"Like when I was fighting Isorou?"
"Now you can fight anyone, if it is to defend Tsuzuki-san. As long as you stay in touch with Enama-dono and consult your actions with him."
"Why aren't you giving this power to Tsuzuki himself?"
"Tsuzuki already has powers much greater than this. However, the darkness in him has such a predominant presence that makes it impossible for him to use his powers without risking loss of control. That is the reason that necessitates the harnessing of shikigamis, and why Tsuzuki has so many of them. He is perfectly capable of fighting without their aid; but he knows that if he does, there's nothing to guaranty the result won't be another Apocalypse."
Tatsumi shuddered at the thought, the weight of the responsibility assigned to him just making itself known. He knew why Enma had given him the task, understood the urgency of it being a secret. Tsuzuki hadn't called for any of his shikis during his last battle, had in fact blocked their connection to prevent them from getting involved. If Tsuzuki knew he had a guardian in Meifu he would most likely do the same, he would make sure he was the farthest away from that person whenever there was any hints of trouble, defying their purpose completely.
"Do you accept the duty, Tatsumi-san?"
Tatsumi closed his eyes and bowed his head. He had been willing to die for his purple eyed friend. If Enma even knew a fraction of what he felt inside, he wouldn't have seen the need to ask that question.
He turned to look over at Hakushaku-sama, who- he now was sure - had had a hand in all this. It was one of those rare moments when you could see a real visible smile appear on the man's non-existent face.
It wasn't as if life didn't exist this side of the afterworld. Tsuzuki could see the birds and the bees and the flowers from his room's window. It was just that no shinigami seemed to ever step foot in the field of flowers, making him think it were off limits, the beauty of its nature preventing JuOhCho employees to step in it and disturb its tranquility.
It was why he was surprised one day to see someone standing there. In the middle of the third week Tsuzuki was certifiably bored, looking out of the window at the beautiful field it took his eyes some adjusting to realize the dark speck he was seeing moving among the greens and the yellows was in fact a person. Since he could walk – though ordered by the doctor to take it easy – he had hopped out of the bed and gotten closer to the window to have a better look. It had proven him right. He /was/ looking at a shinigami in the field. It was far but he had had no problem recognizing the blond hair, or the kendo outfit, or the graceful movements accompanied by the swipes of a sword.
Hisoka had become a rather skilful sword player.
His hand had touched the glass longingly. Since the Apocalypse he had seen the blond often, but always either through fever soaked, delusional eyes or in the company of others. They hadn't had any time alone, not like he had had with Tatsumi. And he needed that time with Hisoka, as much as he had needed it with the older shinigami, to talk about things that had been left unsaid and to put some other things behind them.
He watched the younger shinigami's dance quietly, his stylish and agile movements, the shiny blade of the sword barely a blur through its dips and arcs. It was true; Hisoka had improved, though it was uncertain whether it had been because of extensive practicing or special tutelage. Tsuzuki remembered the boy starting to pick up swordsmanship right after he had been kidnapped by Muraki, when he had fought the mad doctor's friend Oria for the key.
He told him later how he had vowed to become a master swordsman like the long haired fighter himself. To protect him.
Wasn't it funny how they both had vows to protect each other?
At last came the day that was the last day of his stay at the hospital. The day he was well enough to be sure he could leave and go back. When he could finally feel that things have gotten back to normal and life had finally returned to what it was and no matter what anyone said he could finally go out and get some desert.
He was well again, his troubles were over regardless of what the doctors said and the way they insisted he be cautious for a few more days and not overdo it.
Everything was all right.
Despite the nightmares.
He was told his friends had planned a party for him at Hakushaku's estate. He was gathering his things when Tatsumi showed up to escort him. The older man had a small smile on his lips; one of the many Tsuzuki had seen him wearing often recently. In many ways, Tsuzuki was happy about the transformation recent events had caused inside the formerly cold and insensible secretary. Tatsumi's smile, precious and delightful as it was, was not a rarity anymore, at least not for him.
They walked out among the cheers and goodbyes of the hospital staff, some of the nurses blowing kisses and other flirtatious signals towards them. He had to suppress a grin at the thought of Tatsumi ever getting together with any of them, how the poor woman would have to watch him count every penny he spent on her. He turned to look at his companion, saw that rare smile again and his heart trembled with joy, even though through some mysterious wisdom he knew this would be one of the last chances he would get to enjoy it. That when they went back to JuOhCho tomorrow morning everything would be back to business as usual, down to the stoic Tatsumi with the icy glare.
But for now, he would soak up every bit of this uncharacteristic warmth and benevolence from the other man, along with the beautiful sunshine that poured on leaves and flowers and the breeze that slightly got caught in the folds of his trench coat and made it flap.
He was so deep in those thoughts he didn't notice they weren't directly headed for the Castle of the Candles but had taken a detour. Tatsumi was leading him to a secluded courtyard in one of Meifu's less visited sections. He wanted to ask him about it when they passed through a stone arch that lead to the yard and he saw three figures standing in the center of the area. His eyes took time adjusting to the shadows mottled by sunlight passing through the swaying leaves of the tall overhead trees but even from the distance he was able to identify two of the three figures. Suzaku with her customary red and black ceremonial robe and Byyako, wearing equally decorated garbs but mostly recognizable by his swishing black and white tail.
The third person, though he did recognize him, was hard to believe being there. The pale blue colors of SohRyo's majestic gown seemed to be in tune with the coolness of the shadows around him.
Tatsumi stopped when they reached the clearing at the center of the yard. He made a short bow to SohRyu and a nod to each of the other shikigamis who responded in turn. Then he turned to Tsuzuki, who seemed to be rooted to the spot, and beckoned him to step forward. Tsuzuki was too surprised to react immediately. Even when he did start walking toward the assembly it was with small tentative steps. Until SohRyu moved, ambling toward him, meeting him half way and then going down on his knees.
It shook the purple eyed shinigami to the core, so much so that he flinched back, as if hit by an electrical field. His face was contorted in an expression almost akin to pain.
"Master." The Water Dragon uttered with his head bowed and the folds of his gown pooling all around him.
"SohRyu, why are you on your knees. I thought I told you not to kneel in front of me. Stand up." Tsuzuki had recovered slightly from the shock of seeing his highest ranking shikigami, the golden emperor of Gensoukai, in a secluded courtyard in such condition. Tatsumi had never seen him interact with his guardians in a non-battle situation and it amazed him how much the creature's submission bothered the man.
SohRyu didn't rise at the command, didn't even raise his head.
"I'm here to ask for your forgiveness sire, and receive your punishment."
Worry and shock returned to Tsuzuki's eyes as he raised them to first look at Suzaku and then Byyako inquiringly. The phoenix was like a stone statue, standing ramrod straight and not looking at him but at a place beyond his right shoulder, as if to indicate she had nothing to do with whatever was going on in front of them. Byyako also avoided his gaze, but his posture was more that of a guilty child, scraping the floor with the tip of his boot while his tail moved from one side to the other in an arc. It was obvious that neither was comfortable in the situation and was willing to avoid it as much as possible, which meant Tsuzuki had to face it alone.
Tsuzuki turned his attention back to the Water Dragon still kneeling on the ground.
"SohRyu, please tell me what it is I have to forgive you for."
"The impossible sin of abandoning you to the fates and the cruel decisions that caused you so much suffering."
"But I never summoned you for help. It wasn't your responsibility when you didn't know I was in trouble."
"I knew…they told me about it one or two weeks before the trial. And I had agreed."
That made Tsuzuki stagger. He stood there staring at the top of SohRyu's head, not knowing how to respond. It was hard for him to believe what the shikigami was saying, that he had been in on the plot that had ended in one of the most torturous experiences of his unlife.
"Please punish me master. I deserve it because I listened to Enma-dono and Mahorath blindly. I should have protected you but instead I cowered in my awe and acted upon my fear of them. I thought it would be impossible to go against them but two lesser guardians proved me wrong."
Tsuzuki's eyes immediately snapped back to Suzaku and the tiger and this time they both met his gaze solidly. Things slowly began to make sense for the confused shinigami as he started to see the bigger picture.
Tsuzuki smiled. SohRyu was still on the ground, still not looking up at him or anywhere but a few feet in front of him when he found a pair of arms closing around his shoulders, Tsuzuki bending down to his level and starting to pull him to his feet.
"Come on SohRyu. You know what I've always asked of every one of you. You are not supposed to kneel. You are all my friends. Friends don't kneel in front of their friends, remember? How am I supposed to talk to you if I can't see your face? How am I supposed to have fun with my friends when I have to keep picking them off of the floor?"
Beastly golden eyes turned toward him as the creature in his arms finally met his eyes. Tsuzuki trembled at the raw power in that gaze, the knowledge that he was holding one of the most powerful beings heaven or earth had known. The storm beneath the calm, the spirit of the beast rumbling just beneath the surface.
This creature was tamed, and it was his guardian. And for one moment Tsuzuki felt it incredibly funny how a little insignificant guy like him could command such a legend.
The golden eyes never left his. The deep voice that came from the emperor felt as if it was shaking his whole body to the bone. "You are squeezing me too hard, Tsuzuki-san. May I have some personal space here, please?"
The rumbled command was so unexpected that it made the shinigami let go immediately and back off a few steps, his embarrassment evident by the blush that stained his cheeks.
It was such a funny scene that Suzaku couldn't contain herself and let out a short laugh. She stifled it quickly but that had been enough for Byyako to let go of his barely restrained chortles and start laughing out loud. Soon even Tatsumi had joined the laughter squad and Tsuzuki found himself in the centre of a gurgling group of happy immortals.
He looked up in time to see SohRyu was smiling as well. It warmed his heart that the mood had finally changed and they were all out of the uncomfortable situation.
"I trust that this means you have forgiven me, Tsuzuki-san." SohRyu said.
Tsuzuki gave him his best smile and held out his hand for a handshake. "Forgiven and forgotten. Although I don't think there was anything to forgive in the first place."
SohRyu took his hand but instead of shaking it he went down on one knee and touched his forehead to the back of it, a distinctly respectful gesture from a shikigami to his master.
Once again Tsuzuki found himself in an awkward place, not knowing how to react and blushing like a shy maiden.
Byyako's laughter was so loud he barely heard Sohryu speak.
"From now until the end of my existence I swear allegiance and duty to you and only you, my master and heir to the great Enma-diao."
SohRyu stood after that. Tatsumi who had been quiet all this time stepped forward and addressed the high ranking shikigami.
"Now that this is done, would you three like to join us in our celebration at Hakushaku's place?"
The dragon tipped his head. "No, we have duties on our own to attend. But we are looking forward to Tsuzuki-san's next visit to Gensoukai. We will be preparing our own celebration for his return."
Tsuzuki looked up and saw Byyako wink at him. He had intended to go to Gensoukai as soon as he had recovered but a celebration was more than he had expected from his friends. The steady look in the three shikigamis' eyes told him there was no room for argument. So he smiled and bowed his head. "Domo arigato you all. I promise I'll be there as soon as I can."
He felt Tatsumi put a hand on his shoulder and looked up as the older man spoke. "Well, if there isn't anything else, we should be on our way."
Tsuzuki nodded and they started walking out of the courtyard. Before their exit Tsuzuki turned his head to look at Byakko still laughing at an increasingly annoyed SohRyu.
"My gods, did you see his face? You know how much it freaks him out when you act all 'yes-master', yet you still had to do it, didn't you?"
"It is tradition, ignorant child."
"Oh, like he of all people cares. You just do it to make yourself happy…"
"Byakko. Shut up."
"Now that was weird. I could've sworn he said 'heir to Enma-diao' or something."
Tatsumi's barely perceptible frown was his only reaction to Tsuzuki's mumbling. They finally reached the English gardens around the earl's castle and walked amongst the tall trees to where the party was happening. Excited now, Tsuzuki was sprinting ahead when he saw Tatsumi slow down for a moment, looking in another direction before he stopped.
"Tatsumi-san, what is it?"
Tsuzuki's gaze followed Tatsumi's to a clearing in the garden where an empty gazebo was standing under the tall trees. It was a plain structure made of wood, nothing special about it, nothing that merited Tatsumi looking at it so pensively.
Tsuzuki was still confused and blinking when Tatsumi turned to him and said, "Sorry Tsuzuki-san. I'm coming, let's go."
For a moment it looked like Tatsumi wanted to say something but changed his mind. Instead he looked up brightly at Tsuzuki and said, "I'll tell you later. Let's go now or we will be late."
He started walking and Tsuzuki followed, still occasionally turning back to look at the gazebo. He knew there were many secrets inside Tatsumi's mind, things that happened to the secretary during the time he was on trial that he would never be able to find out. It made him wonder how deep the injuries went. Was it possible he had lost parts of his friend that he could never get back? The thought pained him, and so did the thought that Tatsumi wasn't the only one who had suffered like that and that in the end, it had all been because of him.
As he and Tatsumi rounded the last neatly trimmed hedge in their way, the path opened in front of them to a view of slim white patio furniture set tidily underneath the shades occupied by a group of people who immediately stood up upon seeing them.
His friends were all there.
Seeing them had a magical effect on Tsuzuki. His mood changed immediately and he started grinning. /Everyone/ was there. The shinigami of the Shokan Division, the GuShoShin brothers, the Hokkaido girls, Konoe kachou and the earl himself. They all rushed over to Tsuzuki, showering him with greetings and cheers and he was overwhelmed to see everyone so happy. He kept up the smile, laughing and chatting from one person to the other while Tatsumi stood back, watching him with caring eyes. Until the earl took a step forward and Tsuzuki - having heard from Tatsumi about his role in the events– turned to thank him, only to have a pair of white gloves close around him and the invisible body pressing onto him in an impossible hug. Even though the body was see through, its solidity was undeniable and when it was crushing one in a tight hug, it was a serious life hazard. All of a sudden Tsuzuki felt the wind knocked out of him as the mask came closer and closer, the invisible grin on the face vibrating the air.
The Hokkaido girls started laughing at the image he made, all squeezed up with nothing around him, but the earl got the hint and let him go. Tsuzuki staggered back a bit, rubbing his arms and neck in gasping relief.
"Welcome Tsuzuki-san. I'm so glad you are finally here," said the earl.
"Well, he would be back in bed soon if you give him another one of those body crushers." Tatsumi said while making his way toward them with someone in tow.
"Oh come on Tatsumi-san, it was just a hug. I am allowed to show my excitement in /some/ way, aren't I?"
The crowd blocked Tsuzuki's eye from seeing who was with Tatsumi. But when he got closer Tatsumi ignored the earl and turned to Tsuzuki. "Tsuzuki-san, there's someone here who very much likes to meet you." And from behind the faces Ayaka appeared, shy and reluctant, stepping forward only because Tatsumi insisted by pulling her arm and placing her in front of Tsuzuki.
"Hello, Tsuzuki-san." She bowed.
"Ayaka-chan! You are really…? How come…?"
"Enma-sama decided." She said blushingly.
"She is a shinigami now." Saya cheered, "Her division isn't decided yet but it's likely she'll end up in yours."
"Oh that's so great, Ayaka-chan. We can have a lot of fun. Do you like cooking?" Tsuzuki said joyfully.
"Awesome. I love to make food. I'll make something for you when you come to work, ok?"
He turned in surprise when everyone started making gagging noises and Ayaka laughed. "I'm sure I would love it." She replied.
They soon gravitated toward the tables where plates had been set for lunch and desert. Tsuzuki was in his best mood when the food started being served and he gobbled up fork after fork of the delicious meal the earl's kitchen had prepared for them. The desert was apple pie and ice cream and confirmed the general suspicion that the menu was primarily customized for Tsuzuki's taste.
The puppy shinigami felt in heaven. He had desert smeared all over his face and was putting piece after piece of pie into his mouth when a hand suddenly slapped him on the back of the head and made him cough the food.
"Eat slower, baka. You're gonna choke."
Tsuzuki turned and whined, "'Hisoka! You're so meeeean."
Hisoka ignored him as he took his place at the table next to Tatsumi and the younger Gushoshin.
"Hisoka-kun, where were you? You missed the meal." said the Gushoshin.
"I was practicing."
"Yes, Oriya-sensei had to end our last session early because of some business so he told me to go there today. I figured I'd make it for lunch but then I encountered a monster on my way back and had to kill it before--."
"Wow, what? Hisoka, you practice kendo with Oriya? You slay monsters on your own?"
Hisoka looked at Tsuzuki as if puzzled by his surprise. "You didn't know? I've been going to him for almost a month now. And yes, I can slay monsters because I can combine kendo with Fuda."
"Hisoka's been teaching Ayaka-chan how to use Fuda in fights." Wakaba chimed in from another table, "But Ayaka-chan prefers illusionary magic. They make quite a team."
"A team?" Tsuzuki said, "You mean I've been…replaced?" His eyes grew worried as he looked from Hisoka to Tatsumi.
Tatsumi put his hand on Tsuzuki's in reassurance. "No Tsuzuki-san, you haven't been replaced. Once you are ready to go back you'd be teaming up with Hisoka again. Only before Ayaka has found her division and paired up with someone she'll be accompanying you and Hisoka on your missions, to learn the ropes so to say."
Tsuzuki's expression immediately brightened up. "Oh that's really great. I'm sure she'll love my shikis." He turned to a quiet Ayaka and started ticking off fingers. " There's Byakko and SohRyu and Genbu and Tohda and Suaku-neesan and…"
"Tsuzuki! That's enough."
Hisoka's warning made him close his mouth and cower a little, looking at his partner apologetically. "Sorry."
"Don't be sorry, be happy and smile at Watari-san's exceptional, amazing all-purpose memory-maker, picture-taker Siiiiiiir Snippy." Watari's voice reached them before something large and wobbly was placed right at the center of the table. It looked like an old fashioned camera perched on a swaying unipod. It stopped in the upright position once its motion stilled and Watari pointed at it with a goofy grin on his face to make sure he got everyone's attention.
"No, Watari-san. Not another invention." Tatsumi sighed and shook his head. He was most likely thinking about the budget that had gone into making the ridiculous looking gadget and how much more it would cost them once it blew up or melted or was subjected to any of the other drastic fates most Watari's inventions ended with.
"What does it do, Watari-san?" someone asked.
"Well, on the surface it's just a camera. But look closer and you'll see it's so much more. It takes pictures that are magical. You take them now and look at them a month later and you know how everyone felt at the time the picture was taken."
"How is that possible?" Hisoka asked, a bit curious.
"Easy Bon. The pictures Sir Snippy takes are all mood indicators." He grinned.
A collective gasp, then, "What's a mood indicator?"
"It's a picture that indicates the vibe that comes off of its subject. It shows the mood through colors: green is happy, blue is sad, red is angry etcetera, etcetera. The mood shows up on the rim around the picture, looks like a frame but it tells you much more."
"You're not going to walk around the office snapping pictures of your coworkers while they're doing their job, are you Watari-san? You have a job and it's not office photographer," said Tatsumi.
Watari grinned as he turned to his superior. "No worries Tatsumi-san. Besides, this is a gift for Tsuzuki. He's the one who will decide how to use it. But first, to demonstrate the power, let me take a picture of you all."
He took the camera and walked a few paces away. Everyone gathered behind Tsuzuki as the picture was snapped. Watari waited for a few seconds before pulling it out of the camera like a Polaroid photo. He looked at it for a while and started chuckling.
"So what's the verdict camera boy?"
"See for yourself." He handed the picture to Tsuzuki who sat in the middle of a towering wall of people behind him. Everyone bent over the photograph and saw why Watari was amused.
The frame of the picture was a rainbow of colors. Obviously there were a lot of different vibes in the collective subject of the picture. Yet what was more interesting was how the colors changed where they got closer to a particular person. Saya and Yuma, standing on the right and both showing peace signs to the camera had a neon green edge while the edge closest to a frowning Hisoka was distinctly red.
Tsuzuki was in the center so his vibe was hidden, lost amongst the friends who surrounded him.
'Just like always' Tatsumi thought as he looked at his best friend's smiling face in the picture. 'Hidden by a smile, a cheer, an apple pie. Surrounded by a group of happy people. I wonder if there would be an invention in the world that could see through that closed off shell of yours, Tsuzuki-san.'
Later in the afternoon when everyone dispersed to rest and relax Tsuzuki approached Ayaka.
"How are you doing?" He asked the quiet woman who was sitting alone under a tree.
"I'm fine." She looked up with a smile.
"Um, I just wanted to say, what you did for me--"
"Don't even mention it. I did it for myself too. I needed to break free and you were the only option I had."
Tsuzuki sat down next to her. "So you're finally free of her?"
"Nourian? Yeah, I think so. I no longer feel her at the back of my mind."
"Wow, you mean you could feel her even when you were…you?"
"Yes, and I could see and feel what she did from the back of /her/ mind while she was in control."
Tsuzuki wrinkled his nose. "That's terrible. It's like someone hijacking you body."
Ayaka closed her eyes and grinned, raising her hand and putting a stray lock of her hair behind her ear. "Yeah. But thankfully not anymore."
The motion made Tsuzuki notice her hair. "Hey, you changed your hairstyle. No more loopy ponytails."
"It was her favorite style, not mine. I was too weary of changing it whenever I got hold of my body."
Tsuzuki leaned back and looked at the sky through the leaves. "So I guess it feels good to finally be free, doesn't it?"
"What about you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you're free from the trial."
Tsuzuki's brow tightened. "I don't know? Am I really? I hardly remember anything from my meeting with Mahorath and Enma-diao. But I know they were debating over me, and I know that Enma won in the end. But for how long? And what is this destiny that they were talking about? Why would they pay attention to a low level, broke and worthless shiniga--?"
Ayaka shushed him with a finger on his mouth. "Don't say that. You're not worthless. You are the only person who would be worth risking one's life for."
"You really mean that?"
"I really do."
"Ayaka, I want us to be friends."
Her expression clouded. "I don't know if I could ever deserve your friendship after all she did to you."
Tsuzuki blinked. "Huh? But she is gone, isn't she? And you, you were always nice to me."
Ayaka's eyes closed and she almost whispered, "I know. But she did it all with /my face./ You had to see /me/ hurt you like that, and I had to watch and cry while she did it. I'm not sure the shame of it all would let me be a real friend."
"Oh, come on," Tsuzuki put his arms around the ex-angel and drew her in to a hug. "You're worrying too much. It's all in the past. I've even forgiven her. Who knows, maybe she'd had a bad day, so let's not talk about it, ok? And please, please be my friend. You're the only one who's agreed to taste my food."
Ayaka, a little shaken by the sudden hug, looked back at the purple puppy look the shinigami was giving her and said, "Ok, ok. I'll be your friend."
"And eat my food?"
They both fell silent after that. Tsuzuki turned away, playing with a blade of grass distractedly.
"So…shinigami, huh?" he asked.
"Uh-huh," she answered, "It was Enma-sama's decision. He said to prove myself a pure angel I have to serve as a shinigami for a while. So that they know my dark side was really gone before they could accept me back into heaven."
"Hey, wouldn't that make you, like…the female version of me?" Tsuzuki said.
Ayaka laughed. "Kind of, I guess." She then sobered. "I'm happy they're partnering me up with you and Hisoka-kun. I don't know many people here and I really want to learn so much."
"Don't worry, I'm not too good at teaching, I screw things up most of times. But 'soka-chan is great, he'll help you become the best shinigami there is."
"I know, he's a very determined young man, isn't he?"
Tsuzuki nodded slightly, but his smile was a bit bitter. "I have a feeling he's been avoiding me after the Apocalypse," he said quietly.
"You think so? Why is that?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure what happened but I must have done something stupid again."
"Why don't you talk to him about it? He's over there." Ayaka pointed toward a spot under the trees where Hisoka was showing his sword skills to a small audience.
Tsuzuki looked at her apprehensively but got to his feet a moment later and started walking toward the younger shinigami.
"Yes." He turned back to see Ayaka blushing. "Ano, would you tell Hisoka-kun that I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused him and that I want to be his friend too?"
Tsuzuki's grin was like purple lilies blooming, all happiness and care this time. "Sure I will." He waved as he left.
Tsuzuki didn't talk to Hisoka that day. On his way to reach him he was intercepted by Watari who asked him to pose for Sir Snippy. He did it with Saya and Yuma giving peace signs in the background and Watari yelling 1-2-3. Then he snatched the camera from the blond and took a picture of him while he wasn't looking. Since Wakaba showed up at that moment with a handful of fudge Popsicles for everyone they decided to relax and Watari and Tsuzuki found themselves sitting under a tree while licking their popsicles.
"Hey, Watari," Tsuzuki interrupted the silence while rolling his tongue around the head of the Popsicle.
"Hmm," Watari was sucking on his own, too busy getting all the delicious juice out to pay much attention.
"Watari, why are you sad?" Tsuzuki asked.
"Huh?" Watari looked up, surprised by the question, "who said I was sad?"
"Mr. Snippy." Tsuzuki pulled out the photo he had taken of Watari off-guard and handed it to him. There was Watari at the center of the picture looking the other way and he was surrounded by a dark blue frame going all around the picture.
"So?" Tsuzuki asked.
"Hmm, I don't know. It wasn't supposed to be like this. There must be something wrong with Mr. Snippy's circuits."
"What about Tatsumi-san, and myself?"
"What do you mean?"
Tsuzuki looked down. "We sensed something too, you know. Like you were hiding something from us. As if you weren't as happy and cheerful as you were showing on the outside."
"Look who's talking." Watari laughed but his laugh was hollow and stopped after a short while.
"You aren't that wrong." He said thoughtfully.
"Really? So you are sad." Tsuzuki said.
"Not sad, more like unhappy. I know things worked out in our favor in the end. I just wished everything had been better."
Tsuzuki nodded softly. "I think I know what you're talking about. I heard from Tatsumi, about you and Isorou at the end."
Watari turned quickly, trying to gauge from his friend's expression what he thought.
Tsuzuki gave him a smile. "Don't worry Watari-san. I don't blame you for trying to save him. I would have done the same."
Relief washed over Watari's face, although it was somehow obvious that he hadn't expected anything else from his friend. He then looked down, allowing some of his grief to show.
"I wanted him to have a second chance. I know it might be impossible for you to imagine this after what he did to you, but he hadn't had a good lot in life. He was always alone and when he tried to be my friend I rejected him too because of how mad I was at him. Come to think of it, I should've used the opportunity to know the man better, maybe change his heart."
Tsuzuki was completely silent, neither confirming nor objecting the idea. It was fine anyway because now that he had started talking, Watari seemed to be lost in his own confession, reciting his thoughts of what might have been.
"He kept saying he hated us shinigami, yet he took every opportunity to talk to me and kept calling me his friend. If he could contradict himself like that, maybe he would have changed his mind if I pushed him a little in the right direction. Maybe a little kindness could have made an ally out of him against that evil bastard Mahorath and saved us a lot of pain."
He felt the roughness of Tsuzuki's sleeve against his cheek and came out of his reflection to see his friend had put an arm around his shoulder.
"It's not just that, is it?" Tsuzuki asked kindly.
Watari looked him in the eyes, guilt and resolve warring on his face. "Would you hate me if I said no?"
Tsuzuki smiled. "Nothing in the world would make me hate you, Watari-chan."
"Then yes, you are right." He closed his eyes.
Tsuzuki didn't speak, just waited patiently, looking at his friend, waiting to see if he would add anything.
When Watari opened his eyes, he didn't look at Tsuzuki.
"In the end, I guess I /did/ want to be his friend. His first friend."
Tsuzuki nodded, and then they hugged each other and Tsuzuki thought he heard the faint sound of a sob.
But when Watari pulled back he was grinning again. Tsuzuki watched him jump to his feet and take up the camera.
"No point sitting around, ne? I have a lot more pictures to take. And I want you in every single one of them." He grabbed Tsuzuki's arm and dragged him to his feet despite the other's protests.
They spent the rest of the day snapping pictures and acting happy. Everyone was glad sensing the ordinary way of life slowly beginning to come back to Meifu. The storm was behind them.
The next evening saw Tsuzuki and Hisoka sitting in the small kitchen of their apartment eating dinner together. It was unnaturally quiet, the silence only broken by the sound of crickets chirping outside and the splashes of water in their garden pond.
Tsuzuki finished eating and put his chopsticks down, looking at Hisoka through sober eyes.
"'Soka-chan, I think we need to talk."
Hisoka was still eating but seeing the serious look on Tsuzuki's face he put his bowl down and looked at his partner.
"Talk? About what?"
"About… everything. You, me, us." He squirmed a little in his seat, then looked up again. " 'soka-chan, why are you avoiding me? Is there something wrong?"
"What do you mean? I'm not avoiding you. Where by Enma did you get that idea from?"
Tsuzuki sighed. "I don't know, maybe it's just my intuition but every time I see you, you are either working, or reading or practicing kendo."
"That's what I've been always doing, even before…" He cut himself off before he finished the sentence. He especially didn't seem ready to be reminded of their most recent experience.
"I know 'soka-chan. But you still talked to me. We used to go on walks, have tea together. Now it's just sword practice. I'm wondering if it is my fault that you don't like to spend time with me."
Hisoka didn't answer right away. He looked down at his lap and a bit later, said in a low voice. "It's not your fault."
"Then what is it? Please Hisoka, tell me." Hisoka looked up at the urgent tone in his partner's voice just before Tsuzuki schooled his sad expression and said more evenly, "Please 'soka-chan, I miss you so much."
Hisoka looked down again, as if afraid or ashamed to meet the other's eyes. "I feel like…I-- I failed you. With Isorou and Mahorath. Just like with Muraki in Kyoto--"
"'Soka-chan! What are you talking about?" Tsuzuki sounded shocked.
Hisoka didn't look up, but his hands turned into fists in his lap. "I didn't do anything. When Muraki had me it only took you half a day to find and rescue me. When he captured you I was too late. And then this trial…I should have done so much, but I just sat there and watched…until you were almost beyond our reach. I couldn't even prevent the Apocalypse."
Tsuzuki's eyes softened. "I think you're being too hard on yourself 'soka-chan."
"No," the boy slammed his fists onto the table, looking up with angry eyes. "Why? Because I'm a kid, not old enough to be useful. I tried so hard, so hard. It just…it wasn't enough."
"But you don't have to--"
"I'm going to practice so hard, become so good. And I'll beat anyone who tries to take you away again. I have promised myself and I'm not going back on it. Like this, you won't need me for anything, nothing. I'll make sure my presence means something, that I am what you need when the time comes."
He stood up, took his bowl and plate to the sink and left the kitchen.
Tsuzuki just stared. He wanted to tell him that he /was/ what he needed right now. That his presence meant everything and that all he wanted was Hisoka himself. But the boy had already gone into his bedroom and closed the door.
Later at night Tsuzuki woke up from a nightmare. He couldn't clearly remember what it was just that it had been disturbing enough to wake him up. He closed his eyes but his vision immediately filled up with images of hell and demons and moaning, suffering souls. His eyes opened wide and he tried his best not to tremble. It was nothing new, he was used to nightmares. His life, and after-life, provided enough source material for the most colorful of them.
He saw someone standing in the middle of the room. Blinking, he tried to adjust his eyes even though he knew who it was. Hisoka was the only person living in the same apartment and he must have somehow awakened him.
Tsuzuki propped himself up in the bed and looked at the boy through squinting eyes.
"Soka-chan, something the matter?"
"You're the one asking? I came because you were moaning so loud you could probably be heard all the way in Chijou."
"Were you what? Moaning?" Hisoka said as he approached the bed and started getting into the bed beside Tsuzuki. "Yes, and you were very loud."
Tsuzuki's cheeks darkened. "Sorry, I didn't mean--"
"Baka." Hisoka cut him off as he pulled the blanket over both of them.
Tsuzuki didn't ask if Hisoka meant to stay with him that night. Didn't question if he was allowed to put his arms around the boy's small form. He even hid his amazement as Hisoka turned to face him, wrapping his own arms around Tsuzuki's body. He only knew that once they settled and he closed his eyes, the nightmares receded far far away, to a place where they couldn't touch him anymore. He felt that no one could touch him, nothing bad could happen to him as long as they stayed like this together, each one providing a fragile protection around the other.
And it was fragile, not strong, not even close, seeing as whom and what they were, the past they shared and the future they feared. But for now, for this one moment in time, against all the ghosts of his powerful enemies and the horrors that lurked within his own mind, it was enough.
They both fell asleep.
Somewhere, far away from the little apartment in Meifu where the two shinigamis slumbered, someone was watching them with intense angry eyes. Someone made of air, with no physical form attached to the spirit yet a spirit dangerous enough to destroy many happy lives.
"You think you escaped Tsuzuki Asato? You think you defeated me and proven yourself the hero. Hah, you're wrong. And I am going to show you just how wrong you are. You are as much a demon as any of us, even worse than me. You just hide yourself better but you can't hide forever. Now I know your weaknesses, your most intimate desires and fears. I'm coming for you Tsuzuki Asato. I'll come and I will take back what's mine and send you to the pits of hell where you belong."
The being dissipated after that like mist, the echo of its last words drifting through the air and carried by the wind to the furthest recess of the land of dead.
Hisoka cracked his eyes open. He listened intently to make sure the whisper he thought he heard over the wind was just the rustle of the trees. When there was only silence that greeted him he closed his eyes again, tightening his arms around his partner and going back to sleep. His night was dreamless.
So there you have it. I hope most of you liked this conclusion to the story. I know a number of you won't but there's so much I can do as an author. I did my best to cover all bases, tie all loose ends and pay attention to all characters that deserved attention. This isn't by far the end of it. There is a lot more that could be said in this universe, like what will happen with the shinigami pair and Ayaka as they go on their missions, what happens to Tatsumi in his new task, and most importantly who is the threat that has vowed to take revenge on Tsuzuki (and I think most of you can guess that one.) But as far as a sequel goes I don't see it happening anytime soon. I am a bit busy with real life and desperately need to take a break, try out some other things, perhaps writing some of my original fiction. But I wanted to let you know that it isn't out of question.
Since this is the last chapter and the last bit I'll write, I want to take this time to thank everyone who will review the story after this. You are very kind to let me know what you thought about my long rant and like I mentioned in the beginning, this story belongs to you.