The worst weather the people of Kyoto ever experienced during winter was a light dusting of snow, perhaps a bit of sleet if they were unlucky. When Old Man Winter struck them hard, they were far from prepared; the wind was brutal and the snow was piled high. Youngsters in Kyoto were seeing snow for the first time but the majority of people were opting to stay inside where it was warm.
The streets are deserted and oddly still, but one man wanders down them. He moves through the stillness as though he is a part of it. The wind teases his trench coat but seems to go right through him. He moves, but the movement isn't quite right, and only his eyes look alive.
No one notices this solitary man walking at night. The black coat stands out well enough against the white snow, and the streets are well lit, but somehow this man manages to pass without being seen.
No one notices him because no one notices the dead.
After 80 years, Asato Tsuzuki could still find it and he didn't need a map to do it. The whole landscape could change: the city could be reduced to a pile of concrete chips, Hell and high water could come, and he could still find it under all the rubble or at the bottom of the sea.
He walks blindly through the snow. He doesn't pay attention to where he is or where he's going, and he always, always winds up in front of the headstone, staring at his faded name, body and soul calling out to each other.
It reminded Tsuzuki of a big brown box, only made out of cement with marble flecks. His name had once been on it, but it was long gone, worn off by rain, the stone eroded into sand and blown away. One day the headstone would all be sand since there wasn't a family member to take care of its upkeep. One way or another, every member of the Tsuzuki clan had been coaxed to death and buried in Tokyo, all except the last member.
Tsuzuki thought it good that he was buried in Kyoto. His family hadn't wanted him in life, why bother them in death? Ruka Tsuzuki would be the only member who would want him sharing their afterlife. Maybe his mother would have wanted him there, just to keep up the appearance that her family had been united and happy, but now that there wasn't anyone to visit, appearances didn't matter.
Tsuzuki sighs deeply to himself. He can't help but notice the lingering ghosts nearby, watching, unsure what to make of him. He had a body, but on closer inspection he wasn't breathing. Was he dead or alive?
Tsuzuki didn't know himself sometimes.
Ever since he was young, Muraki had found peace in graveyards. He'd hidden from his mother, that wicked woman, amongst the stones, watching from a place she would never find him and could never reach him. He'd gazed at the stares and slept on wet earth in the summers, on the nights when it had been intolerable to go home. He'd fled to graveyards when he was young and the habit had stayed with him through adulthood. They bought calm and peace.
He walks through the new snow, through the rows of stones piled on top of one another to save space. He isn't afraid, and he prides himself on knowing this: grown men wouldn't walk into a graveyard at night. They wouldn't go visit the ones they loved, bearing roses, when it was this cold. For Muraki, this was the only time to do just that.
But it seems that Muraki isn't the only one visiting his beloved dead. He feels a pang of annoyance at the discovery of a trail of footprints, but then he thinks, it might be Tsuzuki-san.
He hopes. The timing of his visit is peculiar enough, the weather bad enough. Why visit relatives today, at night, nonetheless, unless the date held significance? Could he ever be so lucky as to find Tsuzuki here, among the living?
There weren't footprints leading away.
In the heart of the graveyard Muraki finds the stone. A small thrill runs through him when he sees it. Tsuzuki's body, his remains were so close. If Muraki were inclined he could steal the ashes, release them or better yet, keep them, so Tsuzuki would be drawn to where ever he was, but Muraki respected the dead. They were the only people worthy of it.
He's glad when he sees the footprints in the snow stop in front of Tsuzuki's headstone. He'd been here, and might still be. Muraki aches for him. It's been so long since they last saw each other, since he could feel Tsuzuki's hair, his soft neck, take in his scent…. It's enough to drive anyone mad.
He lays the roses, two dozen tied with a white ribbon (what other color?) over the grave in reverence, aware that there was a possibility the man they were for could be watching him, merely a ghost at the moment.
He rights himself, two lilies in hand, and sets off to find his grandfather's grave.
When Tsuzuki returns from his walk, he stares down at the flowers for a good minute, watching them in disbelief. He can't decide how to feel. Should he be touched? A part of him is, but he knows he shouldn't be. He should be angry. He should be seething with rage. But he can't. He can't be angry at a gesture of love, not today. Wasn't that what he wanted?
Eventually he picks the flowers up and cradles them in his arms like a newborn. He looks for a card and then realizes how odd it would be to find one. No one wrong greeting cards to the dead.
Unless they knew the dead could write back.
It's an almost blinding white, more of a sturdy piece of paper than a card; it doesn't open. In black-inked kanji it reads, with all my love, M, in simple strokes without the usual Asian flair.
Tsuzuki doesn't want to keep the roses, but he knows they'll freeze and die if they're left in the cold, and vaguely, sardonically, he wonders if that wasn't the point: frozen in a perfect and beautiful physical form.
There were crueler deaths.
It isn't with great care that Muraki lays the lilies on Yukitaka Muraki's grave. He has nothing to say to his grandfather. Nothing Yukitaka would like to hear, anyways.
He looks up at the angel on the stone, blowing her trumpet, leading the way to Judgment. It's nicely carved, good and crisp detail. Somehow the emotion its placement is supposed to evoke escapes Muraki. It only inspires those afraid of Judgment and Muraki is not. He knows what he is: darkness. There can be no other outcome at the Gates.
A wisp of white catches Muraki's attention. At first he thinks it's a ghost, but he realizes it's only a snowflake. Now that his attention is diverted to the weather, he looks up and sees several flakes in the light of the lantern. He smiles to himself, and if he knew for a fact that he was alone he would cup his hands and try to catch the falling crystals.
Muraki's eyes slide from the clouds to the side, and then he turns to face Tsuzuki. Tsuzuki has the roses in his hand, Muraki notices. His chin is down and he's looking at him with curious eyes, questioning his motive, no doubt. The purple catches the light of the modern lantern above them and his eyes glisten gold, an innocent fire.
"Tsuzuki-san. I thought you might be here."
"Why today?" Tsuzuki asks softly, but it sounds more like an accusation.
Muraki tilts his head. "You mean, why on the day you died?"
Tsuzuki nods once. He almost looks hurt, Muraki thinks, as though bringing him flowers was an insult. Tsuzuki was far from mentally stable, but Muraki didn't think it was this bad. Who would ever object to two dozen of Kyoto's best roses?
"Why didn't I bring them on your birthday?" Muraki stalls by rephrasing the question, thinking of how to vocalize his answer. It was a feeling, not something he could say. The thought of bringing them in February honestly had not occurred to him. It seems almost inappropriate to celebrate the life when the person was dead.
"Because I've been wedded to death since the day I was born. Why should I celebrate your life when it's your death I love?"
Tsuzuki shudders and Muraki steps foreword. He can tell Tsuzuki wants to step back and he knows he won't. He shrinks instead, shifts his weight, trying to make himself look small. Muraki reaches out and runs his fingers through Tsuzuki's bangs, brushing them aside so he can see his eyes.
Such a peculiar color.
"But you, you're married to life." He leans in and Tsuzuki's eyes widen slightly in distress. "Cupid is cruel like that," he whispers.
Tsuzuki pushes on Muraki's chest with the hand holding the roses, and for a second Muraki can only see red flowers. Tsuzuki begins to speak, but Muraki doesn't give him the chance. He grabs Tsuzuki's wrist and pulls. The roses fall into the snow as Tsuzuki is knocked off balance and is slammed into Yukitaka Muraki's headstone.
Muraki doesn't want to wait anymore. Death never became impatient – it had eternity, but he was not Death. He kisses Tsuzuki gently. Tsuzuki's hands pushing him away don't register, but it wouldn't matter if they did. Nothing would stop Muraki from getting to Tsuzuki. Not his family, not the Ministry, not Death.
Tsuzuki stopped fighting him. His hands fell to his sides.
Muraki didn't understand why Tsuzuki didn't just give in to what he wanted. A man who'd never been loved was being offered everything he wanted, but he refused to take it. Muraki had seen the way Tsuzuki had looked him in the church. He'd felt the desire in Nagasaki. Tsuzuki had turned away but Muraki could feel it. Tsuzuki knew they were perfect, two of a kind, but he wasn't letting himself feel it, and when he did he fought the feeling back with everything he had, denying his instincts and cravings so he could fit in with the humans who didn't want him anyways.
He pulled back but only a few inches, keeping himself as close to Tsuzuki as possible without having to strain his eyes.
Tsuzuki's eyes were wet, and after a second he shakes his head sadly. There wasn't resentment or anger in those eyes, merely sadness.
"You kill people," he said, reminding himself. Though which one of them he was referring to, Muraki or himself, Muraki could not tell.
Muraki laughed. "Of course. The only place life and death meet is over a body. The only place in the world where they co-exist is in a graveyard."
"That's why we're here?"
"Why we can be here," Muraki corrected.
"You're going to kill someone every time you want to see me."
Muraki pulled back and cold attacked the areas where their bodies had been touching.
"That is the plan. But…" Muraki pushed his glasses into place, and Tsuzuki winces. "No one died this time."
Tsuzuki swallowed and looked at his feet. "I understand."
Muraki smiled warmly at him. "I knew you would."
Tsuzuki watched Muraki leave, white coat billowing in the wind, his lips tingling in the night air. He didn't want Muraki to go, but he watched him leave. He'd be back, anyways. It was agreed upon though no words were passed.
Tsuzuki slams his head against Yukitaka Muraki's grave. He wants to let his knees give out and relax in the snow. It wouldn't be all that bad. He couldn't feel it, after all, when it melted against his skin and gave him frostbite.
Finally a few tears escape from under his eyelids. He's shaken, though he has no idea why.
He lowers his head and his eyes come to rest on the roses nestled in the snow, red on white.
Tsuzuki shakes his head – "pull yourself together, Asato" – and stoops to pick up the flowers.
At least he can save the roses.