"So then, then I said to him, 'You know, I don't know about an olive, but I bet a fish stick would work!'" Watari laughed, wiping the tears from his eyes, but he was only met with a collective groan from Gabriel and Hisoka.
"Oh come on! It was funny!"
When the other two shinigami only shook their heads, Watari turned to Tsuzuki. "You at least thought it was good, right?"
"Huh? What?" the smaller man asked, looking up from his desk. Watari and Gabriel had been lounging around his office all afternoon, and when the scientist began discussing the finer points of bioinformatics, he started tuning the other man out.
"You weren't even listening!" Watari complained, touching his hand to his heart and pretending to look hurt.
"Sorry," Tsuzuki managed. He glanced over at Hisoka, hoping that the boy would at least be mumbling something about him, but his partner was pointedly ignoring him.
Hisoka had barely spoken to him all day, and he hadn't even seen Tatsumi yet. Watari had been keeping a close eye on him much to his displeasure, but he really didn't seem to have a choice in the matter. As much as he appreciated what Watari was trying to do, he was ready to throttle the other man. He couldn't even sneeze without the scientist looking over his shoulder, and he hated being monitored like a child.
"Oh, Tsuzuki," Watari said, looking thoughtful. "We're leaving on a new case later tonight, and we'll probably be gone for at least a day or two, so I was thinking–"
"I don't need a babysitter," Tsuzuki snapped, suddenly leaving the office.
A deadening silence filled the room before Watari slowly turned toward Gabriel. "There's something that I've been meaning to ask you . . ." he said quietly. "How did you know where we were the night that we went to go find Tsuzuki?"
Gabriel raised a slender eyebrow. "I thought that it would have been obvious."
"He's a seer," Hisoka interrupted, clearly annoyed that the other two men were still in his office.
"You're . . . ohh. Oh!" Watari paused for a moment. "So that's why your eyes . . ."
"Yeah, that's why I thought it was obvious."
"Wow, so you knew exactly where we were just by seeing it?"
"Of course not. I just saw you guys looking pretty tense in the lab, so I stopped by. You left your computer on," he said dryly.
"Oh," Watari drooped, looking mildly disappointed. "So how does it work exactly?" the scientist asked as he started searching for a pen.
"It really depends. Sometimes I'll see images or situations or even just a color or an object. They come and go on their own though. It's not exactly something that I can control," Gabriel paused as Watari started writing on his hand. "What are you doing?"
"I'm taking notes of course. You never know when this stuff will come in handy."
"Ah . . ."
Later that evening, Tsuzuki lay sprawled across the couch in his office, throwing sharpened pencils up at the ceiling.
He had spent the entire day avoiding people because everyone kept acting like they were walking on broken glass whenever he was around. It was impossible to clear his head with everyone casting him sideways looks, and he desperately wanted to just crawl into a hole and hide. The whispering had finally stopped, but only because his coworkers were too afraid that if they said the wrong thing, he was going to break. Watari and Gabriel were the only two people who were still speaking to him, and the truth was, that terrified him most of all.
Tsuzuki knew that it would only be a matter of time before they wouldn't be able to deal with him either. The only other person who had ever seen him in such a position was Tatsumi–right before he had ended their partnership. If the shadow master couldn't even stay, he couldn't expect them to either.
Tsuzuki threw another pencil up at the ceiling. It was a crazy idea, but Watari and Gabriel would be gone for at least a day or two, and Tatsumi and Hisoka had been avoiding him. No one would actually think that he would be stupid enough to go back . . . He yanked his hands through his dark brown hair and grabbed his trench coat before leaving.
Tsuzuki teleported inside Muraki's house, but a quick look around showed him that the other man wasn't there. Disappointed, he curled up in the middle of the bed, wondering what he was doing. It wasn't a good idea to be there, but he couldn't bring himself to leave. The bed was big and warm, and it swallowed him up like a bird in a giant nest. He knew that Tatsumi would never forgive him for going back, but things were already so bad between them that it probably wouldn't make much of a difference. Tatsumi hadn't spoken to him since that night, and he already found himself missing the other man. All of his tiny gestures made the long years seem a little more bearable, and without them, he was miserable. Even if the secretary was just straightening his tie or wiping his face, for those brief moments, he could pretend like he was the most important person in the world to the other man.
On some occasions, when he was feeling particularly lonely, he'd latch onto Tatsumi in a playful hug if the other man had done something exceptionally nice. He did it under the guise of being excited, but just for that one moment, Tatsumi would hold him, and that feeling would stay with him for days.
Tsuzuki had been vacantly staring off into space when he realized that he was looking right at one of Muraki's porcelain dolls. It was seated carefully on the bookshelf in a brand-new mauve, satin dress lined with Venice lace, and it seemed to be gazing back at him just as intently. Tsuzuki closed his eyes, hoping to block out that frigid, blank stare: he didn't want to think of how many times he must have had that same look.
He could still feel the glass eyes on him, and he couldn't get rid of the sickening feeling that he was being watched. That eerie lifelessness was probably the reason why Muraki liked the doll in the first place. He could imagine the doctor's fingertips ghosting over its blonde curls, stripping away its old, royal-blue dress and replacing it with the new one. After all, it was the same care that the larger man took while undressing him.
Tsuzuki sank deeper into the blankets and let out a tired sigh. He could practically feel the other man's hot breath on his neck and soft chuckle in his ear.
"It is not wise to let your guard down this much, Tsuzuki-san."
Tsuzuki flinched backwards so suddenly that he nearly fell off the bed, but Muraki caught him and seized his lips in a kiss before he had time to protest.
"I must admit. I am impressed. I didn't think that you would be able to get away so soon." Muraki stood and held out his hand. "Shall we go? I'd hate for us to get interrupted a second time."
Tsuzuki looked at Muraki's hand wearily. "Where are we going?"
"Back to one of my mansions in Tokyo."
Tsuzuki took his hand, and they reappeared in front of a large, wrought-iron fence which blocked the way up to the house. The mansion was clearly built with Western influences, and based on the pure size alone, Tsuzuki couldn't even imagine having more than one. Yet he couldn't help but smirk. "What, no gargoyles?"
"You and I both know that I prefer to keep my demons out of sight."
Muraki noticed Tsuzuki's skeptical look. "Don't worry. They won't be able to find us here. This gate isn't the only thing protecting this house."
Tsuzuki paused, glancing up at the other man. "Then why haven't we been coming here the whole time?"
Muraki flashed him an infuriating smile. "Hmm, I wonder?"
"You . . . you . . ." Tsuzuki sputtered helplessly. "You bastard, you wanted them to find us!"
"I suppose it did add a certain element of intrigue," the larger man said, closing the gate behind them. "Although I was slightly disappointed, I expected them to figure it out much sooner, but perhaps I gave them too much credit?"
Tsuzuki shoved his hands into his pockets and sulkily walked the rest of the way up to the mansion in silence.
"You should feel honored. Very few have seen my home," Muraki said, unlocking the front door. "Although you'll have to excuse the condition of the house, I've temporarily dismissed all of my servants."
Tsuzuki couldn't quite figure out what Muraki was trying to excuse. The front door opened up into a large foyer with black-marble floors and long columns that seemed to stretch on for an eternity before reaching the domed ceiling.
"They don't know that you're back, do they?"
Muraki cocked his head to the side with a smile. "Why Tsuzuki-san, I didn't know that you were so interested in my affairs."
"Don't flatter yourself," Tsuzuki replied as he wandered over to look at one of the renaissance paintings along the wall. He only caught a glimpse of the living room with its blood-red walls and monstrous furniture before Muraki led him up the staircase.
The giant labyrinth of the second floor had dozens of rooms, but all of the doors were closed except for one. Curious, Tsuzuki peeked in, but he only saw a tiny glimmer of light before the larger man shut the door.
Muraki led him into the bedroom at the end of the hall and closed the door behind them. The bed was displayed prominently in the center of the room, and a set of bookshelves filled with old medical journals lined the left wall, while a balcony overlooking the gardens was along the right. Muraki stood in the middle of the room, observing Tsuzuki who had backed himself up against the door out of habit.
"Well?" the larger man asked. "Did you come here to get acquainted with my walls, or was there something that you wanted?"
Tsuzuki swallowed and crossed the room, closing the space between them. He tilted his head upward and wrapped his arms around Muraki's neck, capturing the other man's lips with his own. Each movement was timid and unsure, almost as though he expected to be stopped, but as Muraki responded to his demands, he soon worked himself into a frenzied rush. Ripping Muraki's dress shirt off of his broad shoulders, he pulled the larger man down onto the bed and frantically worked at tearing their pants off.
If Muraki was surprised to see the smaller man's bandaged wounds, he didn't show it. He simply took his time worshiping every inch of the toned body beneath him. Entwining their hands together, he kissed along Tsuzuki's faint scar lines, offering apologetic licks over each one that he himself had inflicted.
Tsuzuki ground his teeth in frustration. "Stop it. Stop being so fucking gentle."
"You don't have to do it this way just because they found us together last time. I'm fine."
Muraki chuckled. It was a low purr at first, but his voice gradually swelled with volume until he was emitting great peals of laughter that made Tsuzuki's blood run cold. It was a few moments before the larger man was able to speak again, but when he did, his voice was deep and delirious with lust. "What makes you think that I'm doing this to please you?"
Muraki leaned down just inches above the smaller man's face with such a murderous look in his eyes that Tsuzuki couldn't help but recoil. "I love the way you look when I break you into thousands of pieces. So for tonight, I'll take you like this until you go mad with the realization of what you're doing."
He traced Tsuzuki's jaw line with his finger. "Is this how you imagined real lovers would do it?" he smirked with a hint of malice in his voice. "With so much tenderness that you'd rather die than endure it any longer? You're far too tainted for anyone else to ever want you."
"I know that."
"Do you?" Muraki nipped at his ear. "Then show me. Let me taste that dark power of yours. You've got it coiled so tightly; I can feel it just barely out of my reach."
"I can't . . . If I let go, even for a second, I won't be able to stop it. I can't do that . . . not-not again."
Muraki's eyes gleamed in delight. "So you do remember what happened while you were alive?"
Tsuzuki swallowed, ". . . Yes."
"Yes . . ." he whispered, melting into the other man's kiss.
Muraki's power was hot and dangerous, and it radiated off of him in thick waves as he devoured the smaller man. He moved so agonizingly slowly that Tsuzuki could feel every inch of his body reluctantly yielding to the larger man.
He shivered, but in disgust or in pleasure, he couldn't tell anymore.
In all actuality, it was the light that had woken Tsuzuki. It had timidly danced over his eyelids like a piece of melting chocolate rolling over one's tongue until he had stirred. His body ached in a painfully humiliating way that made sleep nearly impossible, so he lay awake, watching as the room was consumed by the ethereal glow of the moon. It washed the crisp, white sheets clean, and he lightly ran his fingers over them seduced by that silvery-blue hue.
Even the doctor looked different under the moon's cleansing light. It softened his strong features and cast a pearly incandescence over his platinum-white hair. He almost looked . . . peaceful. Tsuzuki smiled to himself. Human even.
He entwined his arms around Muraki's body and hugged him close, burying his face deep into the other man's silver hair. It was difficult to breathe with the larger man resting on top of him, but Tsuzuki didn't dare to move him. The weight was a solid, comforting presence. He tightened his grip, hoping that if he could just get close enough, he'd be able to lose himself in the illusion of love.
Tsuzuki closed his eyes, taking in the other man's scent. There had been so many nights like this while he'd still been alive. He'd lie awake in his hospital bed, staring out the tiny window with only his thoughts for company. He could only remember fleeting moments of clarity, but even then, he could feel his sanity slipping through his fingers as easily as the moonlight.
Muraki shifted, and he could tell that the larger man was staring at him because of the way the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
Tsuzuki glanced out the window at the silvery moon. "You know, you never answered my question," he said distantly.
"And which was that?" Muraki asked, propping his head up with one hand.
"When I asked about when we met in the church. You never told me why you were crying."
Running a hand through his hair, Muraki fixed his gaze on the ceiling. "Would I really do something so human?"
The smaller man sighed. "So you still won't answer me then."
"Trying to find some good in me, Tsuzuki-san?"
"I was just curious, that's all."
"And why would I tell the man who burned one of my finest laboratories to the ground, taking my dear brother and nearly myself with it?" his voice was dull and detached despite the venom in his words.
Tsuzuki was quiet for a long moment. "Maybe we really should have died that night," he whispered.
Muraki raised a slender eyebrow. "So what's stopping you now?"
"My shikigami. Eleven of them made a pact to protect me. They won't let it happen again."
"And what if I told you that I was close to obtaining such power?"
". . . Something that could kill a shinigami?"
"Perhaps. After all, modern science is advancing so rapidly that it really should not come as a surprise to you."
Tsuzuki felt so sick that he almost wanted to laugh. "So that's why you haven't told anyone that you've returned, isn't it? You didn't want to divide your time between your research and your work as a doctor. So this is your current obsession then?" he asked bitterly.
"Why . . . why can't you just . . ."
Muraki leaned over, silencing him with a kiss, and for one brief second, Tsuzuki thought that he saw a glimpse of emptiness in the other man's eyes.
". . . Why are you like this?"
"Because I can't be anyway else."
And with that, he was upon him once more.
Watari flipped on the lights in the lab and tossed the case report on one of the tables.
"You're lucky. For your first case, that actually went pretty well. It's always easier when they go willingly."
Gabriel rubbed his hands over his face. "Yeah, I can only imagine."
"We should celebrate. There's a bar in Tokyo that I really love and haven't been to in ages."
"What's been keeping you?"
"Well, I normally go out with Tsuzuki, but with everything that's happened, I really don't think it's a good idea to take him out drinking right now. And I would take Tatsumi, but he outright refuses to," Watari sighed dramatically. "Honestly, the man doesn't know how to have fun. I really don't think he's even capable of it anymore. That only leaves Bon, but he looks so young that they won't even let him in. And the Chief . . . oh God, don't even get me started."
Gabriel smirked. "What about the Gushoshin?"
Watari gave him a withering look and threw a pen at him. "Very funny."
The larger man laughed. "All right, all right. Let's go."
"Wait," Gabriel said, stopping dead in front of the building. "When you said 'bar' you never said anything about karaoke. Drinking I can handle, but . . ."
"Come on! It's not so bad," Watari encouraged, dragging the horrified looking man into the building. "Besides, they've only got karaoke on Friday nights."
"It is a Friday night," the larger man pointed out.
"Minor details, minor details," Watari dismissed easily.
As the two men took their seats at the bar, Gabriel immediately ordered a drink, downing it in one gulp. He was in the process of ordering his third when Watari began to sing.
Gabriel hummed along to Watari's song, and he couldn't help but smile. The other man looked genuinely happy. It was almost startling to see someone so cheerful. He still wasn't quite convinced that it was always real, but for now, he wouldn't question it.
The blonde ordered another shot, but before the amber liquid could reach his lips, his vision grew blurry and the bar faded from sight.
Sunlight pelted him from all sides, blinding him and forcing him to squint. When his eyes finally adjusted, he found himself in the middle of a forest clearing. A white sunrise peeked over the horizon, filling the forest with so much light that he could almost taste the honey-like warmth.
Overhead, the canopy of leaves swayed gently, raining viridian-green shadows down across the forest floor, and Gabriel closed his eyes. He could hear . . . music? No, not music. Whispering. The forest was talking to him . . . but what was it saying?
Gabriel shook his head in frustration. It was impossible to tell. Whatever it was, it was in no language he had ever heard before. The only thing he knew for sure was that something was calling him, and he couldn't resist the incredible urge to find it.
He took off at a run–unsure of where he was going until he came across an old tree with a trunk as knotted and twisted as a piece of Celtic jewelry. At the base of the tree, a small river trickled past him, but what caught Gabriel's eye was the single, white water-lily floating on the surface of the water.
He stared at it for a moment certain that he could feel the pulse of a heartbeat through that one, tiny flower. It was almost as though the forest itself was a living, breathing being. He swallowed and reached out to touch it, but right before he could, the lily vanished.
Gabriel woke to find Watari hovering over him. His face was drenched and the room spun dizzily, but he could still make out the empty water glass in the other man's hand.
"Hey, you okay? How much did you have to drink?" the scientist asked.
Gabriel pressed his palms to his face, trying to tame his migraine as he sat up. "About three shots of scotch."
Watari blinked. "That's it?"
"Yeah . . ."
After Gabriel managed to pry himself up off of the bar-room floor, he explained what had happened. Watari quietly listened to him without interrupting, and at the end, he only had one question for the other man.
"So . . . that means what, exactly?" he asked with a befuddled look.
"Actually, I was kind of hoping that you would know."
"Have your visions always been so arcane?"
Gabriel laughed. "What, you mean you don't think our next case will involve a talking forest with a pulsing flower? I'm shocked. But no, usually they're pretty confusing, but never this bad.
"You know what this means, don't you?" the scientist asked as he started heading toward the door. "We've got research to do."
Tatsumi hesitated before knocking lightly on Tsuzuki's office door. It was odd that Hisoka had already gone home for the night and that Tsuzuki was staying unusually late, but what really bothered him was the fact that the door was closed. The smaller man always kept it wide open so anyone could wander in and distract him, so it was slightly unsettling to see it shut.
"It's not locked," he heard Tsuzuki's distant voice say.
Tatsumi let himself in to find Tsuzuki leaning over his desk, lazily writing in his slanted, cryptic chicken-scratch. His eyes were partly lidded and he seemed to be nearly half asleep when he jumped slightly as he caught sight of the secretary.
Tatsumi wished with his entire being that the other man wasn't so startled by his presence, but there was no mistaking the panicked look in Tsuzuki's eyes. The worst part was that he knew he had put that look there. Too ashamed of his behavior, it had taken him two days to work up the courage to face the smaller man again, so he forced himself to resist the overwhelming urge to bolt from the room.
They silently studied each other for a moment before Tatsumi broke the silence.
"You've been working pretty hard lately, haven't you?" he asked gently. He crossed the room and sat down on the couch, placing a tray of tea on the small table. "Why don't you come take a break?" he asked, motioning to the seat next to him.
Tsuzuki was too shocked to do anything except nod and join him. He shakily took a hot cup from the other man and sipped it before setting it back down. "Tsujiri's powdered green tea . . ."
"You probably just came for the paper work–" he interrupted, staring down at his hands.
"I already finished mine, so I started on Hisoka's today, and I'm almost done with it; I just have a small stack left and then I've got–"
"Tsuzuki-san," the secretary said, placing his hand under Tsuzuki's chin and forcing the smaller man to look at him. "Tsuzuki-san, I am sorry . . . I am so sorry."
The smaller man paused, looking up at him with eyes that were so wide and heartbreakingly expressive like tiny treasures just waiting to be found, and in that instant, Tsuzuki was in his arms.
Tatsumi sucked in his breath paralyzed by the feel of the other man's warm body pressed against his own. It was just a hug he told himself. Tsuzuki couldn't possibly mean anything by it . . . But if that was the case, then why did he feel like his heart would burst at any moment?
"Tatsumi . . ."
Tatsumi rested his head against the smaller man's and held him close as though he were a child. "Shhh, it's all right now. Everything is all right now."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Tsuzuki choked, burying his face into the other man's neck. "I didn't mean what I said. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, I know. I know."
They held each other for a long while, neither one wanting to move, and it wasn't until after the tea had gone cold that Tatsumi dared to let himself speak. "Come, I will take you back to your apartment. It's not good for you to be here this late."
Tsuzuki nodded, and without breaking their embrace, they left the office.
Glancing around the room, the secretary found himself sitting on Tsuzuki's bed. It had been years since he had last been in the other man's apartment, but nothing had changed. The walls were still as pale and as blue as he remembered, and the bed was still in the middle of the room against the left wall with the dresser across from it along the right.
"You've been sleeping on the floor?" the shadow master asked as he caught sight of the blankets.
Tsuzuki only nodded into his chest.
"When I sleep in my bed, I always wake up . . . thinking he's here."
Tatsumi tried not to stiffen. "It's all right. He can't hurt you anymore, so just rest now."
He used his shadows to bring the blankets up over Tsuzuki's shoulders, and he started to move so that he could properly tuck the smaller man in when he felt Tsuzuki's grip on his shirt tighten.
"Can we stay like this? Can we stay like this, Tatsumi?"
Tatsumi's mouth went dry. He wanted to tell him how it would be inappropriate–how two men couldn't possibly stay in such a position, but he swallowed his words with one look at the smaller man.
"Of course, just get some rest. I'll be right here," he soothed, leaning back against the headboard.
"Good . . ." Tsuzuki whispered, closing his eyes.
Tatsumi didn't know how long he had been sitting there, watching over the smaller man as he slept curled up on his lap. Tsuzuki's hair had fallen over his face, gently moving with each light breath that he took, and Tatsumi longed to brush it aside. His hands twitched nervously before he finally succumbed to his own weakness and let the silky, dark strands slip between his fingertips. He would never admit to anyone how often he had imagined doing this, but he knew that he could only allow the indulgence just this once.
With that simple, repetitive act, Tatsumi could feel the long years that had slowly separated them vanish as though they had never existed at all, and the desire to protect the smaller man blazed as strongly as it had the first day they met.
A fragile smile graced Tsuzuki's lips as he stirred, and Tatsumi froze, horrified, as though he had been caught stealing. Much to his surprise, the smaller man simply snuggled closer to him and reached out for his free hand, pressing it to the side of his face.
"I missed you," he murmured sleepily.
". . . I missed you too," Tatsumi whispered silently to himself.