I know him from somewhere. I know this aura, this feeling, and it's so familiar I could scream because I can't say where from!

Tsuzuki sat in the afternoon sun, gazing into the sky. Cherry blossoms moved lazily across his field of vision, the blue sky filling the gaps between the leaves. It had been two days now that he had left the Palace of Candles, two days since he had been declared non-contagious and had been allowed back with his friends. Watari had checked him from head to toe, but there had been no ill effects left. He was healthy again, whole and healthy, and there was no lingering pain, fever or sickness.

Hisoka had been there when he had been told it was time to leave. Walking out of the palace, the massive building at the edge of the underworld, so far removed from everything else, Tsuzuki had felt the gaze of his host on him. And he had sensed the aura. Now that he was better, now that his powers were back, now that his link to Touda was strengthening… now he sensed the sadness, the pain, the longing. He had never done so before.

He had never been what he was now before.

Tsuzuki chewed on his lower lip as he let memories pass through his fever-free mind.

He had developed his abilities a lot lately, mostly thanks to Touda's bond, and he knew that what he had sensed from the Count had been real. He had noticed the aura before, but he hadn't really given it much thought after the horrifying events in the palace throughout the masquerade. The Count had helped him, had supported him in a manner that was so unlike his usual approach, he should have noticed.

He hadn't.

He should have.

Now he had.

Tsuzuki closed his eyes, felt the darkness inside him move, and he felt Touda's presence.

What is he? he asked his shikigami.

I can't answer that, was the reply.

He's none of us. He's not a shinigami, but I know his aura. And I felt his sadness, his need… but it wasn't like before. It wasn't as if he just waited for me to fall into his bed. And… I saw him, Touda. I think I saw him…

You saw him?

His face… I remember a face and strange eyes, looking at me… someone touching me… holding me throughout the nightmares. It was him.

He showed himself.

Yes. We… talked, too. It was the first time we actually did so… normally. He's so alone…

It's his punishment, was the soft reminder.

Tsuzuki looked at the black shikigami and drew closer, feeling old memories of Touda's own punishment rise. He wrapped himself around the dark presence.

I wonder what he did

Touda chuckled darkly. There's only one person in this realm that knows. I doubt you'd get an answer.

Yes. Only one person. Enma-Daiou… And the Lord of Hades wouldn't talk. Tsuzuki wasn't inclined to ask anyway. The last time he had seen the powerful entity had been when Enma-Daiou had initiated the bond between him and Touda, and it had been a terrifying and painful experience.

He's only human, Tsuzuki murmured.

You all are.

There was movement in the outside world and Tsuzuki reluctantly drew back from the familiar anchor, blinking his eyes open. He met a cool, green gaze, a familiar expression in a young face that showed no emotions. That changed from one second to another as warmth chased away the ice, melted the mask into a human expression, and Tsuzuki smiled at Hisoka as the young shinigami sat down beside him.

"You okay?"

It was a redundant question from an empath but Tsuzuki appreciated it anyway.


Those green eyes penetrated his shields, searched for the true answer, and finally Hisoka nodded. Out of an impulse, Tsuzuki leaned forward and brushed their lips together. Hisoka hadn't moved away and now had the younger one's hand cup his neck, hold him, answer his loving contact, and Tsuzuki felt the mouth underneath his open willingly.

When he drew back, he pulled Hisoka into his embrace, snuggling against the familiar body, relaxing into the warmth.

"What did he do to you?" Hisoka asked after a while.

"Nothing," Tsuzuki answered, clearly aware of what was being asked. "He was a perfect host."

"Something's bothering you. If it isn't some perverted scheme from the Count, then what?"

He was silent for a while. "He's lonely, Hisoka. So terribly lonely. He can't leave, he cannot show himself to us… he's invisible to all and dependent on our visits. Whatever he did… whatever it was… it can't be so terrible that it deserves this eternal sentence."
Hisoka looked at him, face unreadable.

"I felt his aura, Hisoka. It was familiar, but I don't know why. And I felt his pain."

"And probably his perversion, too."

"I think I would be like him if I had been imprisoned for so long… I can't remember him not being there. He was there before Tatsumi, before Konoe, before all of us. Decades, centuries… more? Always alone, except for Watson. I think I would have lost my mind a long time ago." Tsuzuki sighed, instinctively searching for reassurance both from inside, from the bond, and from the warmth in his arms. He received both. He needed both.

"You can't change it," Hisoka simply said.

"No, I can't."

"So why do you think bout it?"

"I spent a week with the Count, Hisoka, three days of which I was out like a light because of the fever. The rest we talked. I think I glimpsed something familiar now and then… and I… I just wish I could ease his pain."

"You can't change the world into a better place."

He chuckled at the cool statement. Hisoka had always been the emotionally more controlled, the more logical and rational of them. He saw everything from outside, rarely got involved, but when he did it usually shattered him. Tsuzuki wanted to help, did get involved, and it more often than not left him hurt and bleeding inside.

Hisoka moved to straddle his lover's lap and leaned forward, capturing Tsuzuki's lips, kissing him with a depth and love the young shinigami rarely showed outside their private life.

"I love your compassion," he whispered when they parted. "I love your warmth and love and empathic ways when it comes to other souls, but you cannot change the facts."

"I know." He ran his hands over the slender back, feeling the living, breathing body under his touch.

It was like an instinct and whenever he sensed that need, that pain, he had to help. He knew he rarely could. He was an angel of death and bringing life and warmth wasn't in his job description.

Hisoka kissed him again, melting against him, bringing their bodies together, and Tsuzuki held him tightly, losing himself in the other, trying to forget what had been, knowing he never would.

Watson watched his master walk through the palace, checking the candles, his movements fluid, lithe, almost predatory. As usual. He was doing his job, but there was a new touch to his behavior.

Ever since Tsuzuki.

The presence of the young shinigami had both depressed and elated the Count. He was his life line and his bane. He was his most fervent wish and something he could never have.

Watson knew more about this man he served than any other. He knew of the atrocities he had committed in his former life, the very deeds that had brought upon him this eternal sentence. Tsuzuki would run from this man should he ever know; he would never be able to understand. Watson did understand, had seen more than anyone else, had been there when it had happened, and he had survived. His master had made him what he was today, a reminder of his past, never to be forgotten.

As if anyone ever could.

The servant turned to the table of dishes and started to clean them away. He didn't mind sharing his master's sentence, but sometimes he ached deep inside when he looked past the façade this man projected. He had gone through everything with him, had been there for the ups and downs, for the pain, the desperation, the despair and finally the perversions.

He didn't judge. He never had. That was someone else's job and it had already been done.

No ordinary man would have survived as intact as the Count had, and what he hid behind his pleasantries and his 'hobbies' was a wounded, keening soul that sought for nothing but companionship in any form given to him.

Because he could never demand. He could only beg.

Watson waddled off into the kitchen with his tray of dishes.

He could still remember the day Tsuzuki Asato had arrived in Meifu. It had been the day when the Count had suddenly changed, when he had stood on the balcony that faced toward the far away Judicial building, that was the farthest he could get from the palace. He had stood there for hours, just staring, and he had smiled.

So softly, so longingly.

Watson had been intrigued, and he had been even more intrigued when the young shinigami had come to the Palace for the first time. His master had flocked toward him like a starving man toward a buffet table. He had flirted, wooed and almost thrown himself at this young one, and Watson had watched.

"My salvation," the Count had whispered in a private moment later on. "My light, my life. Oh Tsuzuki… just a smile from you gives me more than any pleasure I could think of."

As time went past Watson began to understand. He witnessed the blooming of the shinigami's power, his gathering of shikigami, his influence on all around him, without even noticing any of it. And he saw his master change, come out of the shell that had kept the world from his torn soul. He had watched him turn toward Tsuzuki like a flower to the sun, open up, inviting him in, but he never let any of his real motivation show. He still hid.

Watson sighed to himself as he stacked clean dishes into the cupboard.

The Count would never be able to show his true self to Tsuzuki. Not the man who looked for an erotic adventure but the man who had committed a crime that he would never be able to pay off, the man who had been brought from the depths of Hell to another hell, a much worse hell.

A man who could never escape.