Well, ladies and gents, this is the last part. Hope you all enjoyed it; thanks for all the great support.

Warning: This part contains enough sap to make a year's supply of maple syrup.

Part Ten

I walk home in a daze. Nothing feels real. Reinstatement of the gauze? No, I think it's just my confusion. Believe me, there's quite enough of that. I make myself dinner on automatic pilot and eat it without tasting a single bite. I'm just sitting down to do some serious thinking when the phone rings.

"Kurosaki desu."

"Hisoka?" It's Akimiya. Who else. "Did Tatsumi-san talk to you like he was supposed to?"

"Yes." I don't volunteer any more information than that.

Unfortunately, Akimiya is not about to be put off. "And?"

"And what?"

Akimiya sighs. I allow myself a tiny smile. Even in the midst of all this confusion, it's fun to frustrate him. "And how did it go?"

"It went fine." I want to tell him to go away, I need to think, but I'm not really feeling mean enough. Not today. After all, he's only trying to help.

He sighs again. "All right, I can see that you're not going to tell me a damn thing, and I suppose that's your prerogative."

"Very good, Akimiya."

"I talked to Tsuzuki," he says brightly.

"Mm," I reply. "Tatsumi-san told me you were going to."

"It went very well," Akimiya says. I can almost see the smirk on his face. Damn the man anyway.

"That's good to hear."

Pause. Akimiya sighs yet again. "Hisoka, you are going to talk to him tomorrow, right?"

"I'll see if I feel like it."

"Because I have him convinced for the moment, but you know how Tsuzuki thinks; leave him alone for more than two consecutive days and he starts to question everything, and what I said today will completely fall apart. If you're going to grow a backbone and do it, you have to do it soon."

"Convinced of what?" I ask suspiciously.

"Any number of things, most importantly that you don't hate him, because he was damn well convinced that you do."

I must have missed that part of the conversation. "Why did he think I hate him?"

"Because you've been avoiding him like he's a carrier of typhoid, Hisoka. Will you please get a grip and talk to him?"

"Why didn't you just ask Tatsumi-san what I said?" I ask, annoyed.

"I did. He wouldn't tell me."

"Anyone ever tell you that you're a nosy little jerk, Akimiya?"

"All the time, Hisoka. Will you talk to him?"

"You'll just have to wait and find out, now won't you." I hang up on him, feeling a bit nasty. But self-righteously nasty. Akimiya really needs to learn to stay out of what isn't his business.

I flop onto my couch. I have to be reasonable here. I could be happy with Tsuzuki. And if I go by what he said to Akimiya, he's perfectly willing to be with me. To make me happy. Why am I trying so hard to deny it?

It's what Akimiya kept saying. I've lived too long without hope. When hope is dumped into my lap like this, I don't know what it is. I can recognize it, but I can't hold onto it. It just slides out from between my fingers.

I have to get past this somehow.

But before I talk to Tsuzuki, there's something I need to know.

~~~~

"Why didn't you ever tell him?"

Tatsumi-san looks up from his work. He appears to be startled. I suppose he is. I'm probably the first person who's ever asked into his personal life at all, let alone asked about his non-relationship with Tsuzuki. But I have to know. If Tatsumi-san tried, and something went wrong, I need to be prepared for that. Whatever mistake Tatsumi-san made, I don't want to make it.

He just blinks at me for a minute, then motions for me to come in and shut the door. I do so, and sit down, feeling ill-at-ease.

"I assume by 'him', you mean Tsuzuki-san?" he surmises.

I nod.

"Why do you ask?" He folds his hands and looks at me. It's bordering on glare. I sort of squirm in my seat. There's a definite 'it's none of your business' tone in his voice.

"Because I just . . . wanted to know," I say.

"You want to know how I can tell you to talk to him while I never talked to him myself?" Tatsumi-san asks.

"No, that's not it," I say. Though, in retrospect, he is being a bit hypocritical by forcing me to do something he could never do himself. "I just want to know what went wrong. So I don't make the same mistake."

"If you'd wanted to know that, you would have asked what went wrong. But you asked why I never told him."

"I guess I wasn't thinking."

Tatsumi-san just looks at me for a second. "You're more perceptive than you know, Kurosaki-kun. Because you're right. Nothing went wrong. I simply never told him, and he never realized."

"But . . . why not?"

"Because, between your relationship with Tsuzuki-san and mine, there is a slight difference. Tsuzuki-san returns your feelings. He didn't return mine."

"Oh," I say faintly.

"And I was smart enough to realize that, and also to realize that saying anything could jeopardize the friendship we had. I was content to admire from a distance. Perhaps he could have returned my affection, if I had told him, but it was a chance I didn't want to take." He gives me a long, steady look. "If you want to avoid making the same mistake I did, go talk to Tsuzuki-san."

I stand up. "Arigatou, Tatsumi-san."

"Good luck." He's already turning back to his papers, so I take my cue to leave, feeling more thoughtful than ever.

~~~~

I have really got to get it together. I spent my lunch break practically hiding. I had meant to talk to him then, but maybe it can wait until after work. Or maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow sounds good. I'm really not sure I'm up to doing this today. I think I may actually be panicking. This is just not good.

"Oi, Hisoka!" Akimiya pulls me aside after lunch. "The Gushoshin have figured out the new case."

My heart plummets to the bottom of my stomach. "Oh?" I manage.

"Yeah." Akimiya spends a while giving me the details. "We were supposed to leave right away, of course, but I managed to convince Konoe-kachou that we should wait until tomorrow morning."

"Why?" I ask suspiciously.

"Because you aren't leaving until you've talked to Tsuzuki," Akimiya says sternly. "I don't care if I have to lock the two of you in a closet together for tonight."

I blush. "I was going to talk to him after work."

"Sure you were, Hisoka. You just keep telling yourself that. But at this point, you had better, or you may not get a chance to at all."

"Right," I say, and take a deep breath.

Staff meeting. Discuss the new case. Look normal. Try not to look surprised or grateful at the edict that we're going to leave tomorrow morning rather than immediately. Try not to look at Tsuzuki. Try to keep stomach firmly anchored in its appropriate position. Work is over before I know it.

I find Tsuzuki in the staff lounge, getting his coat. "Um . . ." Oh, real good start.

He turns around a little too quickly. "Konnichi wa, Hisoka!" He sounds way more cheerful than he looks. But never let it be said that Tsuzuki is not extremely good at faking cheerfulness.

I take a deep breath. Force myself to spit it out. "We need to talk."

He doesn't look surprised, or even nervous. Actually, he looks miserable. Damn it, I think I waited too long. He's got some weird idea in his head. More deep breaths. Force oxygen to my brain before I pass out. "Tsuzuki . . . I'm not mad at you." I suppose that's better than 'um,' even if I didn't know I was going to say it until I did.

He gives me a timid look. "You're not?"

"No, I'm really not." C'mon, Hisoka, keep going. "And . . . I'm sorry. For yelling at you in front of everyone else. And for avoiding you."

"I'm sorry too," Tsuzuki says, looking away. "For not listening."

Well, that was . . . spectacular. Words have now completely failed me, for the second time in my life. I have no idea what I'm supposed to say.

"Why do you love me, Hisoka?" Tsuzuki asks wearily. I shudder, feeling deja vu wash over me. Tsuzuki gives me a curious look. "What's wrong?"

"Just . . . you asked me that . . . in one of the dreams. The one I never told you about." I force myself to keep talking. It's getting easier, the more I say. "The one where you said you would try to love me in return. Until I dreamed it had happened . . . I guess I didn't realize how badly I had been wanting to hear you say that."

Tsuzuki sits down in one of the chairs, and motions me to join him. I sit at the end of the table, resting my elbows on the table and my chin in my hands.

"This isn't a dream, Hisoka," Tsuzuki says.

"I know," I reply. "And that makes it even harder. I know I'm awake, which means that what I say and do right now will actually make a difference."

He sighs softly.

"It's hard to explain why I love you, Tsuzuki." Something inside me has loosened up. I'm not having trouble talking any more. I suppose I've accepted that this is something that has to happen. "I think I've loved you for a long time, and just never realized. I knew that . . . that I needed you. I told you that. I knew that I wanted to stay with you. I just didn't put it all together and realize it was love. I don't have much experience with that sort of thing, you know. And even once I had realized, I didn't mind so much . . . until that dream. I won't say I was thrilled with being just your friend when I knew I wanted something else, but I was dealing with it."

He says nothing.

"Tsuzuki, why won't you accept how much you're worth?" Oops. I don't think I meant to say that out loud.

"If you had lived through what I've been through, you'd understand . . ." Tsuzuki whispers.

"Then talk to me!" I lean across the table and look at him closely. "Tsuzuki, you never tell anyone what you really think, how you really feel, and it's killing you. You have to trust me. You think I don't know what it's like to feel worthless? My own parents called me a demon child and locked me in a dungeon, only letting me out at night when no one would see me. I was in the hospital, dying, for three years, and they never came to visit me once. I know what it's like. You have to talk to me."

Tsuzuki looks away. "It's just hard for me."

"I know that," I say. I'm being fairly patient for once. "It was hard for me, too. But I learned to trust, I learned to need. Because of you. I was hiding behind walls that were a half a mile thick, but you managed to help me get rid of them. Now please, let me help you."

"I . . . I want to," he says. "I don't know how."

"You can start by believing me when I say I love you, and believing that it's just because of who you are. There's nothing special or magical about this. At least, no more special than any sort of love is. It's just love. It's just that I think you're a wonderful person and I want you to stay with me."

Tsuzuki, true to form, changes the subject. "Why did you break the doll? You knew it might kill you."

"I did know that," I agree evenly. "But I also knew it might not kill me. It was a calculated risk, Tsuzuki. I wasn't trying to get myself killed. I was trying to end the nightmares."

"I'm sorry I yelled at you for going," he says softly.

"I'm sorry I yelled back," I reply. "Can't we just leave all that behind us? It was a rough time. I don't want to think about it anymore. I just want to think about the here and now."

"Okay," he whispers.

"Tsuzuki . . . how do you feel about me?"

He looks terrified at the question. That was probably a misjudgment on my part. Shouldn't have asked that. But I have to know. I have to hear him say it.

"I don't know," he finally says. Not the answer I was hoping for.

Still, something I can deal with. I reach out and cup his face in my hands. "Show me?"

He nods slowly, closes his eyes, and lets his shields down.

After being around Akimiya so much, my empathy is oversensitive when he's not nearby. The first wave of emotion that crashes over me surprises me so much that I nearly throw my own shields up instinctively. But I manage to hold steady, letting them flow over me and through me. Once I've steadied a bit more, I can analyze, and think, through the feeling.

"Hold on," I murmur, and send a wave of returning feeling back.

Tsuzuki's eyes snap open. "It's . . . the same," he says tentatively.

I can only nod.

"I guess that makes me pretty stupid," Tsuzuki says, and laughs a little. I let go of him, breaking the connection, and he puts his shields back up.

I shrug. "Empathy is a great thing sometimes. We could have talked around the subject for ages, trying to figure out exactly how we feel about each other. But now we know we feel the same, so everything's okay." Actually, I feel a large grin coming to my face. I feel better than I have in weeks.

"Do you think I can make you happy, Hisoka?" Tsuzuki asks quietly.

"I know you can," I reply. "You just have to try." I swallow the growing lump in my throat. "And . . . if you let me . . . I'll try my hardest to make you happy. That's all I want, Tsuzuki. I just want to be happy with you."

Tsuzuki looks thoughtful at this. "I don't think I've ever been happy," he says after a long moment. "Not completely, anyway."

"There's no such thing as perfect happiness, Tsuzuki," I say. "But I think . . . we'd be happier . . . together."

"What does that mean?" Tsuzuki asks. "To be 'together'?"

"It means . . . that we spend time together, and . . . care for each other . . . and maybe, after a while, if you're okay with it, not have to be alone at night anymore . . ." I'm stammering. I know it. "It's just knowing that I care for you more than anyone else, and you care for me more than anyone else, and . . ." My voice trails off.

"I think that I can manage that," Tsuzuki says softly, and leans forward. Then he stops. "Can I . . . can I kiss you, Hisoka?"

I can't manage to talk, so I just nod. He leans forward and I close my eyes, forgetting everything. Everything just fades and the only thing that's real is Tsuzuki's lips as they feather brush over mine. He's so hesitant, he keeps pulling away for a second after each contact. Finally, he seems assured that I'm not going to run away screaming, and puts his arms around my shoulders, pulling me in for a real kiss.

Which is, naturally, when the door opens. I have the worst luck. It's Tatsumi-san, Akimiya, and Watari. Much to my surprise, however, Tsuzuki doesn't let go of me, and he doesn't stop kissing me, either. I hardly have any objection, so I continue to kiss back. The others don't seem to think anything about this is odd in the slightest; they get their coats, chatting amiably, and leave the room.

Tsuzuki finally lets go of me, leaving me just a bit breathless. There's a short moment of silence, then he grins at me. "You want to go get dinner? Tatsumi told me about this great restaurant in downtown Tokyo . . ."

I let him babble, smile, and nod. I don't care where we go, as long as I'm with him.

~~~~~

I go back to Tsuzuki's after dinner. Neither of us have forgotten that I'm scheduled to leave on a mission the next day, but we're cheerfully ignoring it, pretending that we don't know. We make popcorn and watch a movie and have a popcorn fight. It feels like we're on vacation again. And, thankfully, the tension that was between us is gone. Tsuzuki seems to have realized that we don't really need to change anything. The difference isn't in how we act. It's just in how we feel.

Okay, and the kissing is nice.

I think part of the reason I love Tsuzuki is because I never feel the need to hide when I'm around him. I can always just be myself. I'm not sure I would've dared had a popcorn fight with anyone else. God forbid I act my age, right? But Tsuzuki doesn't care about any of that. He loves me for me, the way I love him for him.

He . . . loves me. As sad as it is, thinking that makes this little place inside me glow with happiness. Tsuzuki remarked after the movie that he could see it in my face. I'm glowing. How embarrassing. I don't even want to think about what Akimiya is going to say tomorrow.

Apparently I don't have to wait, because the phone rings and it's him. Tsuzuki hands it to me, looking puzzled.

"I thought I'd find you here," Akimiya greets me, the hint of a smirk in his voice.

I sigh. "What did you need, Akimiya?"

"Just to tell you one thing. Watari and I were talking after work and he suddenly got this brainstorm -- you know how Watari is -- and said he needed to go back to the office. He just called and said that lead we got this morning was a decoy, and he'll need at least another day to work on it before he can send us off."

I pause in suspicious silence. "Akimiya . . ."

"Yes?" He's the very picture of innocence.

"There wasn't really a lead this morning, was there," I say. "It was just one big office conspiracy to get me to talk to Tsuzuki, wasn't it."

"Come on, Hisoka," Akimiya says, quite unconvincingly. "Would we do something like that?"

"Yes," I reply. "In a heartbeat."

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, it took us almost an entire hour to convince Konoe-kachou to let us go ahead with it. He grumbled a lot about 'wasting office time.' Fortunately, as this case doesn't involve people losing their lives, he decided that losing one day wouldn't kill us. And we didn't really, because Watari still spent all day working on figuring it out."

"Akimiya?"

"What?"

"I hate you."

He laughs. "Okay, so we were a bit underhanded. Would you have ever gotten up the guts to talk to him if we hadn't been?"

"Maybe," I say. "In a couple days."

"At which point he would have it firmly placed in his head that you either didn't want him or were terribly mad at him," Akimiya says, still sounding amused. "We did what we thought was best for your relationship. Are you upset with how it turned out?"

I blush. "No."

"Then what are you complaining about?"

"Just the fact that everyone is against me."

"C'mon, Hisoka. Sure, everyone's against you, but we conspired for your greater good. And you know I'm right."

"Yeah, yeah." I yawn. "I suppose I should thank you."

"I didn't do it for thanks, Hisoka." Akimiya sounds smug. "I did it so you'd stop being so completely miserable and driving me crazy. See you tomorrow!"

He hangs up. I roll my eyes and hand the phone back to Tsuzuki.

"So you don't have to leave tomorrow?" he asks anxiously.

"No, apparently not," I say, and explain the circumstances of the conspiracy.

"Wah!" Tsuzuki is overjoyed. "That's great! We can stay up late and watch another movie!"

"We still have to work tomorrow," I point out. I think I'll always be the logical one between the two of us.

"Yeah, but we can sleepwalk through a day at the office," he says cheerfully, and starts looking through his stack of movies. He puts one in the VCR without telling me what it is and flops down on the couch. I shake my head and join him, curling up in his arms.

"You're just going to fall asleep," I remark.

"Of course I won't! I love this movie!"

"Right," I say. The couch isn't quite big enough for both of us, so I'm half lying on top of him, my head resting on his shoulder. It's very comfortable. Tsuzuki makes a good pillow. It helps that one of his arms is around my waist. I'm glowing again, I can feel it.

Tsuzuki starts to snore halfway through the movie. I turn it off and tug him up to bed, then climb underneath the covers next to him.

"You going to stay awake all night again?" Tsuzuki asks sleepily.

"No," I say. "I'll just risk sleeping."

"I was so worried," Tsuzuki says through a huge yawn. "When you got hurt . . . thought maybe it'd been because you hadn't slept at all . . . I felt so guilty . . ."

"Don't worry about it," I reply, smoothing his hair. He's so beautiful when he sleeps. So innocent looking. I reach over and turn off the light. I'm very tired; it's been a long day. Still, before I go to sleep, I brush my lips over his. "I love you."

He smiles sleepily. "Love you too, Hisoka . . ." And then he's asleep, his face relaxed and peaceful. I snuggle up next to him -- who would ever have thought I'd be using the word 'snuggle' in conjunction with myself? -- and pull the blankets over us. Even if we have nightmares, I don't care; it's worth it to sleep next to him like this.

So now are we supposed to live happily ever after, like in all the fairy tales? I know better than to hope for that. But I am happy. I feel like nothing can hurt me. And despite my misgivings about happily ever after, I have a good feeling about this. This is good.

Sometimes I think forever can't last long enough.

~~~~

--finis--

PS: I've had a couple requests for a sequel; apparently Akimiya has been growing on people ^_~ I hadn't really planned on it, but if I get enough requests, I might do it. So let me know if you'd be interested.

Other feedback is, as always, revered. ^_^