Wrote this at the beginning of last summer. I think. Felt like posting it 'cause I'm on a posting binge. Heart. Spoilers for Kyoto, obviously. I will assure you now, despite what seem to be strong suggestions that we're heading that way, there's nothing of the lemon here. Sorry to anyone disappointed. No pairing at all, really, though a little work with the concept 'love.'

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Asato Tsuzuki was unaware. He could not have thought of where he was, or who he was with, or even, beyond a certain identifying color to his daze of guilty horror, who he himself was. He didn't want to know. He didn't want to be. He hated himself, in complete earnest, in a way that would have been vicious if he had had the energy, and in that way he wanted the suffering to go on and on forever, as the punishment for being the selfish creature he had always been (if he knew nothing else, he knew that,) but he also wanted it to end and go away, stop hurting, stop punishing, and to simply be at peace, like some faces he had seen with glazed eyes and soft smiles that were so still…still in relief, he was sure, as the awfulness went away. To suffer, or to hide away. The argument in him went on, gnawing at itself, but since neither course demanded any action he could lie still and alternately bury himself in soft grey unknowing and sharp, acid misery. He noticed faintly that he was being bundled about, like baggage or meat being measured, and he wanted to get away from that reminder of existence, the meat around him that was making him feel, so when Muraki rolled Tsuzuki out of his shirt, Tsuzuki rolled on out of himself. He rose like a breath of warm air and hung, insensible nothingness, until a breeze shook him and he looked down and recognized what he saw, though it meant to him nothing. One Muraki folding the last of a Tsuzuki's raiment aside, then coming to the head of his high cot, to brush dark hair from the pair of wide dark eyes.

"Love," a woman's voice said sadly from his left, "the only way my little one understands it."

Tsuzuki turned. The source of the voice showed as a disturbance in the air, the colors of peaches and cream. He was startled, but sluggishly so, and it was only as he watched a round, sad face and dimpled pair of hands salt themselves from the air that he felt any interest at all.

The woman turned the largest, saddest pair of soft brown eyes he had ever seen upon him. Her lips were set as if tremulous on the brink of smiling, but smiling in kindness rather than in joy. The outline of her body glimmered softly to the knee, where it vanished, while her face and folded hands remained the only parts with any definition. An old, thin spirit. Someone's failure. So sad was she, and so lovely, that Tsuzuki felt moved to do more than look back. "Who are you?" he asked her. His voice, the voice of his spirit, was low and weak and cracked and barely more present than her body. He looked down at Muraki, and wished he hadn't. The doctor was murmuring something now, into his body's ear, like a lover, or a woman with her child. Except that Tsuzuki's eyes still stared off lifeless behind Muraki's head, so it was most like an earnest child, pretending her doll was a living infant and telling it not to be afraid. 'Little one…' His gaze wandered up to the woman again. "His mother?" he asked, in some doubt.

She gave her hesitating nascent smile full birth at that, and it was a smile to break even an uncracked heart. "No," she said. She looked down at Muraki. "I was his first nursemaid."

"Why?"

She knew what he meant. She was that sort of person. She turned his hoarse word into its complete question. "I loved him." Tsuzuki frowned. He didn't want to hear a thing like this, not now, not when he was only just floating here as a half-self, and the rest of him was back there, locked inside, twisting like Ourboros. But the nursemaid was too sorrowful for him to hold it against her, and he simply looked and waited for her to go on. She did. "I had never had anything to love before," she said softly, gazing down at Muraki. "And he was so beautiful and helpless, and he was mine to protect. I would have made sure he was happy."

"But you died." He had heard so many stories with this in the middle. So often: the prelude of love, the turning of death, and then the story of still being there beside the loved one, and sometimes in fury, and sometimes in regret, clinging to what could have been.

She nodded, gazing mournfully down at Muraki's gentle depravity. "It was a brain aneurysm, and he was only three months old. I never got to teach him his first word, or catch him when he tipped over after his first steps. I never got to hold him again. I left him with the lady of the dollsAnd so this is the only love he knows." She looked away from Muraki now, as if he pained her, and yet she would plainly look again in the future, and watch him with that same awful tenderness, when Tsuzuki was not there to look to. It was harder to watch her when she was looking back at him, but he had not the will to look away, even though she was so achingly sad that it was making him feel things when he had come out here to stop feeling.

She unclasped her little hands for the first time since she had appeared, and the right one opened toward him and stretched forward. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry he's hurting you so much. I can't stand to see the way he hurts and puts the hurting into other people. It never helps."

The hurting didn't come from Muraki. Did it? No. He was pretty certain it came from himself. But perhaps Muraki had helped. He didn't remember just now. Still didn't want to. "It's okay," he said. It was inane, when nothing was okay, but he didn't think of that. She was just so sad that he wanted to tell her that, those absolving words, so there was nothing extra to be sad about from him.

Again she smiled that terrible smile. "Thank you." Then she began to speak again, thoughtfully and quickly. Talking about the infant Muraki had been easy for her; this, the present Muraki, was hard. "He's been very bad lately. He thinks more often of his brother than of you. If we go to the warehouse in Kyoto…" She visibly forced herself to continue. "He'll try to give your body to his brother, so he can hurt him." Tsuzuki tried to think while trying not to think. He wondered if he would stay alive if his head was all by itself. He didn't know. He'd never lost his head. Or rather, since the 'him' was in the head, he'd never lost his body…

He looked at the vagueness of the woman. He, Tsuzuki, who was death, had never sighted her before, and he saw the dead very easily. Muraki had little to do with spirits.

"Can he see you?"

She shook her head. "Never. But I always try. Over and over. I'll stay as long as there's any hope."

There was never any hope.

But she was so serene in her sorrow. She reminded him of someone. Luka. Though Luka had never been this sad.

"You'll always stay with him?"

"As long as my little one lives."

Muraki had wrapped Tsuzuki now in a white yukata. He tied the sash with greatest care, then slid his arms under Tsuzuki and lifted him at the knees and shoulders, as though he weighed no more than a mannequin. "Kyoto," the nursemaid predicted regretfully. Her almost-disembodied hand reached out toward him again. "I don't want you to die."

Now it was his turn to smile at her, though it felt strange and wholly disconnected from him, and he wondered if his smile was as terrible to her as hers was to him. He wondered if she realized that he was already dead. In absolutely every way that counted, except one. As Muraki carried his body from the room the two spirits drifted after, but Tsuzuki was going faster than she, drifting back toward his flesh. He didn't mind. Things turned out to be too clear and sharp out here anyway. She was making him think and feel, and before long he would start remembering out here, too. He twisted around to watch her recede. "What's your name?"

The first person who had ever loved Muraki smiled just a little less sorrowfully than before. "Fuyuko," she told him, and then he was back in the muddy swirling pain and darkness with the rest of himself, staring into nothing and feeling it stare back (no, no, feeling it turn away disgusted at finding something even less than itself) still unmoving and unseeing, but not quite as submerged as he had been before. Not tugged between self-loathing terror and internal catatonia. Now, he found, he was decided. He could not do nothing. He could not run forever between escape and penance and wait for Muraki to cut him self from self. There would be no more Tsuzuki. There would be no more Muraki. He would call down the peace of ashes and dust.

For Fuyuko. For her love.

He would set all of them free.

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I don't believe this at all. It is not the obvious answer to why Tsuzuki did what he did. But Fuyuko wanted to exist. So I let her.