That first night after the incident at the University of Shion, all Asato Tsuzuki could do was sleep.

His imagination burst into dreams as he tossed beneath the stiff hospital blanket fitfully as he remembered. Remembered how tired he had been, remembered the feeling of the hot flames licking and biting at his skin and hair, remembered the roaring of the fire as it mingled with Hisoka's sobs.

He thought that he'd never wake up. He was so exhausted, his body aching from the intense heat, his eyes sore, his head throbbing in pain from where he had hit it on the wall after Tatsumi's shadow had enveloped them. He did wake up, though, his tired eyes opening as he thought hard about what he'd done, and he felt sick inside at the fact that Tatsumi had managed to stop him.

"Hey," came the voice from the door. All too familiar and tired like his own. Tsuzuki turned his head on the pillow to catch a glimpse of his burned partner, the pale skin not quite healed. Still blackened in places from the sticky soot, still a little too red.

"Hey," he replied, hardly more than a whisper because it hurt to talk. "Are you okay?"

Hisoka smiled, a rare occurrence, and it seemed to brighten up the dark corners of the room. "That's a question you should ask yourself."

Tsuzuki smiled a little, too, although he felt hollow inside now. "You should smile more often."

Immediately, it was gone, and the hospital wing delved into darkness again. There was a pause and then Hisoka said, "You should be fine to go to work tomorrow." Hisoka's voice was louder, more certain. He hadn't breathed in as much smoke as Tsuzuki had.

"Work?" Tsuzuki asked, and winced as his throat burst with pain.

Hisoka rolled his eyes. "Stop talking." He walked over to the small bed, shoes squeaking on the tile floor. "The assignment's in Kyoto. I thought you might want to know that." He paused before hesitantly sitting down on the sheets, as if the slightest motion would break Tsuzuki. But he wasn't a vase. He had withstood possession, had faced evil itself, had taken the hottest flame, and lived.

Well, as much as a Shinigami could.

"I can't go with you this time." At Tsuzuki's look of protest, he continued, "Konoe thinks it's not the best idea for us to work together for a while. I mean, after…" He couldn't say it, and the rest of his sentence was finished as he brushed the hair out of Tsuzuki's eyes. "Get some rest. You have a long day tomorrow."

Hisoka got up and went to the door before turning around. "Tsuzuki?"

Tsuzuki looked up.

"You really are an idiot."

He smiled. "I know."

With a quick nod, Hisoka left the room.

***

He couldn't help but smile as he heard the chatter behind the door. So many recognizable voices, all once looked forward to in the past. When he was younger at heart, when he was a better person. Now he dreaded seeing their faces, because he knew that they would all remember and that he would never live down the fact that he had tried to kill himself again. He touched his watchband instinctively.

With a deep breath that hurt his lungs, he opened the door.

The instant that Hisoka's head turned toward him, the crowd fell silent. They were all watching him as if he would break if they looked away, but he was stronger than that. So many pairs of concerned eyes, all on him, varying in hue: summer green, dark blue, brown like the earth. All looking at him.

"Hey," he said, in a voice that showed that his throat wasn't healed yet. If he were alive, his throat would've been permanently ruined by the smoke, but he would heal. Rough, scratchy, unlike the voice he normally used. He was anything but normal now.

There was no reply for a while. Still watching him, still silent, uncertain and afraid.

"Are you feeling better, Tsuzuki?" Tatsumi asked finally, and the silence was broken.

Tsuzuki shrugged. "More or less," he replied hoarsely. "A little hungry."

The tension relaxed, and everyone began to sit down around the tables. Noticing the spot next to Hisoka was occupied by Tatsumi, Tsuzuki took a seat next to Watari, who scooted over as though to give him room.

"As I'm sure Kurosaki has informed you," Konoe began, "you have an assignment in Kyoto. A young girl, around seven years in age, is… a bit overdue. I need you to retrieve her soul.

"It would be inappropriate, given the circumstances, for the boy to go with you," he continued. "Tatsumi will accompany you instead."

His attention instantly turned to Tatsumi, who sat there silently in his brown suit and tie, blue eyes looking at him from behind clean lenses. Tatsumi, his ex-partner. Tatsumi, who had left him years ago, years before Hisoka came along to pick up his pieces.

He was lost in thought for a long moment, hearing bits and pieces of the discussions, and hardly noticed when the meeting had been adjourned. There was a rustling of papers getting shoved into folders even though the briefing had gone by without him and then Watari's hand on his shoulder.

"Take care of yourself," said Watari, looking at him with concern. IDon't do anything stupid/I, his eyes were saying from beneath the shockingly blonde curls.

Tsuzuki nodded. "Okay."

The rest of them began to file out, Hisoka giving him an awkward pat on the back for his hatred of being touched, until the room was empty but for himself and Tatsumi, who stood up uncertainly.

"Well…"

Tsuzuki stood up, too, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Just like old times, huh?" Old times, when they were partners, when the days consisted of hurting one another until the relationship fell apart. Until Tsuzuki fell apart.

Tatsumi smiled a little, but it soon disappeared, flickering off his face as quickly as it came. "Yes, I suppose."

Tsuzuki looked to the ground. "So why'd Konoe make you partner up with me again? You piss him off or something?"

"He didn't," Tatsumi said. "I volunteered."

Tsuzuki looked up at him again, his smile fading. So many emotions flitted across Tatsumi's face in the span of a moment, a series of seconds in which the two men exchanged looks of knowing.

"You didn't have to do that," said Tsuzuki quietly.

Tatsumi shrugged. "Shinigami always go in pairs. Watari was busy with the boy's potion, and Kurosaki won't always be there to…"

ITo save you./I It wasn't spoken, but Tsuzuki could feel it there, behind his words, longing to be said.

"I would've been fine," Tsuzuki insisted. "I'm not fragile. I won't break."

Tatsumi cupped his face then, his thumb brushing carelessly across Tsuzuki's mouth, and the latter gasped because it reminded him so much of before, when they were still together, before everything became so broken. When they were happy.

"No," said Tatsumi softly. "You won't."

***

Tsuzuki ran a hand through his hair wearily. He knew he should be going home by now, judging by how dark the sky looked outside of the tiny office window, the sun low behind the horizon. The birds were buried deep in the cherry blossoms, and he knew that he should be buried himself, in blankets soft with Hisoka's fabric softener. Sighing, he set his papers down on the cool wood of the desk and rubbed at his eyes, which burned from lack of sleep.

He heard the clicking of heels on tile, and looked up just in time to see Tatsumi grabbing his coat off the hook. "Good night, Tatsumi," he said in his unnaturally rough voice.

"Good night, Tsuzuki," Tatsumi replied, opening the door, and a cool breeze blew in. He paused as if forgetting something important. "Tsuzuki?"

"Yeah?"

Tatsumi turned around to look at him. "What are you doing here?"

Tsuzuki blinked. "I work here," he said simply.

A pause. "Tsuzuki…"

"I have these mission reports to finish up, that's all," Tsuzuki said. He held up the papers. "I'll be done in a couple hours."

"You're always the first to leave. You hate work."

A shallow laugh escaped him, and his throat spiked with pain again. "Yeah, imagine that."

Tatsumi closed the door and fully faced him. "Tsuzuki, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Tsuzuki replied. He gave a weak smile. "I'm fine. Really."

Tatsumi kept looking at him, blue eyes unsettling on his own. IHe knows./I

"If you're sure…"

Tsuzuki kept smiling, because that's who he was supposed to be: happy, carefree. "Good night, Tatsumi."

"Good night," Tatsumi said, and hesitantly shut the door behind him as he left.

Tsuzuki sighed and laid his head on his desk. It was going to be a long night.

***

It was raining. Pitter-patter, pounding on the autumn leaves dyed red, gold, brown with time. The raindrops were oddly hot on his skin and the grass pressed a tattoo into his cheek as he tried to lay still. The blows came, fists, sticks, stones slamming into him, leaving marks that would eventually turn the same color as his eyes. His bright purple eyes, the same eyes that started this mess…

"Monster!" they cackled, their own eyes showing looks of hatred or enjoyment in their green, brown, blue. The colors of normality. "Monster! Demon!"

He felt hot tears stinging his eyes. Just lay still, Asato, it'll pass…

And then there was a warm hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently.

"Tsuzuki."

He whimpered in pain, although the beatings had ceased.

"Tsuzuki. Wake up."

Tsuzuki opened his eyes. His face was pressed to the desk and he felt tears in his eyes, hot and wet and painful. He had nodded off last night while he was working. Tatsumi stood over him, that hand still resting on his shoulder protectively.

"Oh… Tatsumi…" he said softly, and then he sat bolt upright suddenly, realizing that the secretary would yell at him again. "I'm sorry! I didn't realize… I didn't even lock the door, I—" He was dizzy; he had sat up too fast.

"It's all right," Tatsumi assured. "Don't worry about it." He gave a little smile.

"But… your report…"

"You can turn it in tomorrow."

Tsuzuki relaxed a little. He was shaking from the stress. "When are we leaving for Kyoto?"

"Now, if you want. We can stop by a café to get you something to eat if you're hungry."

Tsuzuki shook his head. "No thanks. I'll be okay until we get there."

Tatsumi frowned. "Well, I'm starving. We'll stop at a café."

Tsuzuki stood and grabbed his coat off the coat hook, while Tatsumi grabbed his own. There was nobody else in the building to greet them as they walked down the hallways in silence except Watari, who was wearing thick goggles that he quickly removed as they passed. His eyes followed Tsuzuki. He was getting a little tired of being stared at.

Tatsumi held open the front door for him with a little nod. Tsuzuki wasn't used to being waited on or helped with anything; he was usually the one to carry the burdens of others, to help people when they're down.

The bright colors of the outside made Tsuzuki's eyes hurt. Out-of-season pink-white cherry blossoms flowered in the trees and then drifted aimlessly to the ground, where they lay in mounds at his feet. The sky was a pretty sunrise-gold, the clouds framing it a delectable red. It was too pretty, a false promise of happiness and joy. Tsuzuki knew that those things didn't really exist, not for someone who had committed suicide, even as much as he tried to keep a smile on his face.

Tsuzuki kicked up piles of the pink petals until he was buried ankle-deep. He took a breath of unseasonally cold air, listening to the sound of Tatsumi's shoes scuffing against the concrete.

"We don't have to walk," Tsuzuki said quietly. "We could always just fly. It's faster."

"Well, I want to take the long way," Tatsumi replied firmly.

They walked in silence for a while. There were birds nesting in the trees, protecting fragile eggs from hungry animals. There was that word again: fragile. Something that Tsuzuki insisted he wasn't – he was strong, he was sturdy – and yet he could feel himself breaking down.

"Are you okay?" Tatsumi asked, voice laden with concern. "You've been awfully quiet since we left."

Tsuzuki looked up. "Mm? Oh. No, I'm fine. Just… thinking."

Stop looking at me like that.

Tatsumi's gaze never wavered until Tsuzuki managed a small smile. Happy and carefree and cheerful, that's who he was. Not this stranger who had taken over his soul. He was a husk now, just a husk.

A shell, empty and alone.

***

The café was a small little hut of a place on the very edge of Kyoto. It didn't look like a very appealing place, judging by the cracked windows and the cobwebs smothering the dark corners of the roof. Tsuzuki pulled his coat tighter around himself, his breath coming in a misty fog in front of his mouth.

Tatsumi turned to him. "Are you cold, Tsuzuki?" he asked worriedly.

"No, I'm fine," Tsuzuki replied, but Tatsumi laid his coat over Tsuzuki's shoulders anyway.

I'm fine. And not "therapy in forty years" fine. I'm really fine.

Tatsumi held open the door, which gave a rusty chime as the bell above it rang, and a burst of warm air hit him square in the face. As he stepped into the small room, he caught the scent of pastries being made, cinnamon being baked into small apple pies. Any other day, his mouth would water at the smell. Any other day, he would make sad puppy eyes and beg Tatsumi to buy him one of the many desserts that lined the walls in their glass cases.

Today was different. Today, the scent made him gag.

"Are you sure you're not hungry?" Tatsumi asked him. Tsuzuki hadn't had an appetite since it happened, since he tried so desperately to make the pain end once and for all. And failed.

He only nodded. "I'm sure. I can eat when we get to the hotel."

Tatsumi nodded over to the many tables. "Why don't you get us a seat while I buy some breakfast?"

Tsuzuki obediently and absently wandered over to a small round table beside a broken window. As he sat down, he noticed that this one had no spider webs in the jutting shards of pink glass. He guessed it must've been beautiful at one time, the tiny café, until time had worn it ragged.

He leaned his face up to the window and was pleasantly surprised as a beam of warm sunlight washed over him. He closed his eyes, the same eyes he'd always had, the color of blooming irises. That was the curse of immortality, wasn't it? Nothing ever changed. Everything would be forever beautiful or forever ugly, forever whole or forever torn apart. He was so tired of the consistency; he wanted something random and unexpected, like things were when he was alive…

No, don't think about that now…

"Tsuzuki?"

He opened his eyes again and turned to face Tatsumi, who sat across from him with a cup of coffee in his pale hands. "Hmm?"

Tatsumi's eyes were very bright. He didn't know why he hadn't noticed before how very bright they were. "You don't seem fine."

"What do you mean?" He raised his eyebrows questioningly. He was fine, wasn't he, perfectly okay with his smile and his laughter and…

Tatsumi sighed. "I just set in front of you a plate of apple pie, and you didn't even look at it."

Tsuzuki looked to the table. Sure enough, a fat slice of apple pie sat on a tiny china plate, and cup of hot chocolate was steaming next to it. The whipped cream on the beverage was sprinkled with flakes of chocolate and a huge strawberry rested on top.

"Oh…" Tsuzuki was sickened by the sight of the food, and looked at it uncertainly. "Thank you, Tatsumi."

"The Tsuzuki I know would be bouncing in his seat and shoveling pie down his throat right now," Tatsumi said sadly. "Where did he go?"

Tsuzuki just turned to face the window again, and never answered. He didn't know where the other Tsuzuki was.

Hopefully, wherever it was, he was warm there.

***

He had expected the hotel in Kyoto to be much like the café, a run-down little place on the outskirts of town. Instead, it was rather large and clean, with newly polished windows and a dark green lawn in the front that wasn't hidden by litter. He thought it very unlike Tatsumi to shell out the yen for something so glamorous and unnecessary, and for a moment wondered if he was all right.

Then he realized that Tatsumi was looking at him with those startlingly blue eyes again. "Is this good enough?"

"Good enough?" Tsuzuki asked, confused.

Tatsumi gripped his hand. "I can do better," he said quietly.

Tsuzuki inhaled sharply and pulled his hand back. He wasn't quite ready for touching yet. "This is fine."

Tatsumi let him back away, looking as though he'd been slapped in the face. "All right," he said. "Whatever you want."

Tsuzuki didn't say anything, turning away from the hurt expression on Tatsumi's face. At one glance, he realized that the hotel wasn't far from the University of Shion, and he could see where workmen were still cleaning up the smoldering remains of the lab. He stared at it, memories flooding back to him.

"I don't want to be alone anymore…"

He'd almost done it, he'd almost been free of this terrible aching soul…

A hand in his again. Pale, gentle.

"Come on," Tatsumi said, tugging him along. "You look like you need a break."

Tsuzuki let out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding and followed. The air conditioning was on inside the building even though it was cold outside, and Tsuzuki's steps were uneasy, shoes squeaking against the tile floor.

They got the card keys to the room without any trouble, only a shy smile from the woman behind the desk. Pretty and dark-haired, like his sister. As they walked away from her, Tatsumi looked at the little plastic cards thoughtfully as though to find a deeper meaning in them. Tsuzuki laid a hand on his shoulder uncertainly and Tatsumi only smiled.

Tatsumi slid his card into the slot on the door and the light turned green. The door popped open with ease, and he led Tsuzuki inside.

I'm not a baby. I know how to enter a room.

The hotel room in which they would be sleeping was just as magnificent as the hotel itself. Two beds – one by the wall, the other nearer the door – looked soft, warm, inviting, pillows and blankets fluffed up like a nest for him.

He turned to Tatsumi. "I'm going to take a bath. Before bed." He was still sore and tense from the heat of Touda's flames, and his head ached. He was already looking forward to the hot water.

"All right," Tatsumi replied, and set down the suitcase that Tsuzuki didn't realize he had been carrying. "It'll probably be best right now."

Tsuzuki gave a quick nod and shut the door behind him as he disappeared into the bathroom, leaning against the door heavily. He didn't know what was happening to him, why he suddenly had this sinking feeling in his chest. He sniffed and toed off his shoes, which were scuffed and dirty from the walk. His socks were damp when he removed them and there were bits of white cotton between his toes.

He turned on the water in the tub and listened to the water run a moment as he pulled his tie over his head. It was difficult for him to return to everyday life after such a bad experience, an experience that he'd hoped would end his guilt. He tried, even as he peeled off his shirts without unbuttoning them and as he slipped out of his pants and underwear. The clothes lay in a messy pile on the floor as he stepped cautiously into the water.

Tsuzuki hissed slightly at the heat and then lowered himself into the water that pooled around his shoulders, which were still very red and raw along with his chest. He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. Steam surrounded him and he breathed it in deeply, his whole body aching with gratitude. His left hand was on the slick tile of the tub wall and it wandered freely until it touched his watchband, the fingers dipping beneath it to run along his scar…

His suicide scar. He could still remember the feeling of the bandages around the wound, the crispness of the sheets in his hospital bed. He couldn't remember anything before, but it all came back to him now in razor-sharp focus. The butterfly, the bandage over his eye, the good Dr. Muraki, who was so intent on helping him, on testing him, on seeing what made him drift in and out of sanity.

His eyelids fluttered for a moment. His sister…

Luka held his hand tightly in her own softer ones. Her nails were painted, he noticed, a light pink that brought out the color in her cheeks. He sighed, trying to memorize the feeling of her, her pulse quickening… "Why do you do this to youself?"

He smiled. Suicide. The relief of death, which seemed so kind and gentle compared to the harsh, cold reality of life. Hungry, but what would you expect of someone who hadn't eaten in years? "I'm not crazy," he tried to tell her, but it was only said in his mind, in his heart. "I'm a God, Luka. I'm not insane, please…"

She had tears in her eyes. Tighter. He winced. "Asato… my little brother. I remember when you were very small and I would sing to you." She brushed the hair out of his eyes. "You're so different now. I miss the Asato from before."

Asato felt the tears coming into his eyes. "Luka," his heart said. "Luka, I'm not insane… Luka, please!"

She wrapped her arms around his neck. Gentle. "When you come home," she promised, "I'll teach you how to make my favorite kind of pie. How does that sound, Asato?" Her nose was soft as it nuzzled into his hair. "I love you." She stood up.

"Don't leave me…" Still silent. "Don't leave me here, Luka…"

She closed her eyes, turned her back on him, and walked away.

"Luka!"

"Tsuzuki?"

His eyes opened again. Someone was knocking on the door, and for a moment, he was hoping that it was Luka, deciding to stay with him after all. But then he realized the year. She was long dead, and he was only remembering.

"Are you okay?" Tatsumi asked from behind the door. "You've been in there quite a while."

The water around him was cold now.

"Tsuzuki?"

"I'll be right out," he replied tiredly, bracing the walls for support.

There were tears in his eyes again.

***

Snow.

"I don't know what I should do," Tsuzuki said. It was so cold, and the younger purple-eyed boy looked at him funny as he threw a snowball at the wall of the building.

"So what you did before," said the boy. "Take the easy way out."

Tsuzuki blinked. "You mean kill myself?" He ran a finger across his scar again, his watch absent, leaving the wrist bare. "But… my friends…"

The boy laughed. "Don't be so stupid, Asato. They all hate you. They wouldn't care."

"They care."

"Nobody's ever loved you before. Why should that change now?" Another snowball. "Who would love a demon? A monster?" The boy laughed again, cackling delightedly at the look on Tsuzuki's face. "Not even your own mother loved you."

Tsuzuki shook his head. "No! She did love me!"

The boy grinned. "Not enough to be there for you! Always gone, wasn't she? Couldn't even stick around to help her poor monster son."

"No!"

"It was Luka, pretty sister Luka, who was burdened with you. Nobody loves you, Asato! Not your mother, not your sister, not even in death is your soul loved!"

"Mother was busy!" Tsuzuki said. "Working!"

"Your mother was a whore!" the boy snapped. "A filthy, vile whore with a fetish for demon men…"

Tsuzuki sobbed, hands over his ears. "No! Shut up!"

"Nobody loves you! Tatsumi doesn't love you! You're a monster, Asato!"

"I'm human!"

"A filthy demon half-breed son of a whore!"

"I'm human! I'm human!"

The snow and the buildings melted away as flames appeared in their place, hot flames, and a snake slithered across the sky…

"NO!!!"

He jerked awake when he realized that he'd cried out in his sleep. He curled into a ball, shivering violently, and then sobbed without even trying to hold it in. There was a rustle of fabric and then Tatsumi was in the bed with him, arms around him, holding him steady as he cried.

"It was a nightmare, Tsuzuki. Only a nightmare."

He took a deep breath and sobbed again, tears dripping into Tatsumi's night shirt. His shoulders wracked with them and Tatsumi held him tighter, smelling of warmth and sleep. "Oh, God, no…"

Tatsumi was petting his hair. "Don't cry, Tsuzuki, please don't cry…"

"Tatsumi… I don't think I'm all right."

There was a hand lifting his chin and then a mouth on his own, and he gasped a little, lips still trembling from crying. "Don't cry," Tatsumi said, kissing him very gently. His hand pushed through Tsuzuki's hair and Tsuzuki's eyes fluttered closed, a sigh escaping him.

Tatsumi apparently saw this as an invitation, and pushed the kiss deeper, his tongue moving inside Tsuzuki's mouth. Tsuzuki whimpered and wriggled up against him, touching chests.

I want you now.

"Tsuzuki…" Tatsumi panted, and squirmed a little. "Is… do you want this?"

IMore than anything.

"Yes," Tsuzuki said, and Tatsumi's hand immediately flew to the buttons on his night shirt. They fumbled clumsily for a moment, Tatsumi's cheeks very pink. Tsuzuki chuckled. "Here." He pulled until the buttons popped off, scattering over the floor.

Tatsumi ran his hand across Tsuzuki's chest, teasing the skin with his fingers. "You know I'll have to pay for that shirt." His hand traveled down the flat stomach, causing the other man to purr appreciatively, and then easily slipped down the front of Tsuzuki's pants, touching his erection.

"Ah!" Tsuzuki gripped Tatsumi's shoulders hard. "Oh… please…"

What are you doing to me?

Tatsumi stroked him, and Tsuzuki felt the pleasure ripple up his spine. He pushed up, riding the now-slick hollow of Tatsumi's palm. Tatsumi twisted on the upstroke, and Tsuzuki wondered for a moment where his ex-partner had learned to do this.

"Tatsumi!" Tsuzuki moaned, and hardly even noticed when his pants had been removed. He heard another rustling when Tatsumi's hand left him, and when he looked again, Tatsumi was naked and just as hard, a desperate look in those brilliant blue eyes.

Please…

Tatsumi pulled him closer and then moved against him, erections sliding against each other. Tsuzuki shivered and rocked smoothly, pleasure shooting through him, and he was panting shallowly.

"Oh, Tsuzuki…" Tatsumi shoved his fingers into Tsuzuki's mouth. They were saltysweet, and Tsuzuki ran his tongue over them a few times, humming. "Oh…" Tatsumi could do wicked things with his fingers, Tsuzuki realized, as he removed his fingers and then slipped them between Tsuzuki's cheeks, pushing into his hole. "Ah…"

"Oh, God!" Tsuzuki cried out at the intrusion, but didn't object as the finger moved, stretching him. "Oh, God… oh…" It wriggled and twisted torturously slow inside of him and then brushed lightly against Tsuzuki's prostate. "Oh, yes… yes…."

Tatsumi smiled and added another finger, and the two worked inside of him. "There? You like that?" They brushed it again, rubbing.

"Tatsumi, please… oh, Tatsumi, please!" He was so desperate now, squirming and pushing back for more.

Tatsumi removed his fingers, making Tsuzuki whimper again. He got up on his knees and lifted Tsuzuki's so they rested on Tatsumi's shoulders. Tatsumi but his lip and, in one smooth motion, entered him.

"Ah!" Tsuzuki gripped handfuls of the sheets so hard that his knuckles bleached white.

Tatsumi thrust into him again, hair hanging damp in front of his eyes. "So tight… Tsuzuki…"

Tsuzuki pushed back, and Tatsumi went deeper, pressing into him. "Nng…" Tatsumi leaned forward and pinned Tsuzuki's wrists to the bed, one of his hands pressing against the watchband. He kept moving inside of Tsuzuki, back and forth.

Tatsumi pulled out of him a little and then thrust once more. "God, Tsuzuki!" He bent down and then his tongue swiped over Tsuzuki's earlobe, sucking it greedily. That soft mouth pressed against his ear. "Tsuzuki… Tsuzuki, please… ah…"

Tsuzuki moaned softly. "Tatsumi!" And then he came, spots popping in his vision.

Tatsumi pushed deep into him once more and then followed, gently pulling out of him and collapsed onto the bed.

"I… I…" Tatsumi was panting. "Oh, God… I…"

Tsuzuki took a deep breath. "Oh…"

Tatsumi pushed a wet lock of brown hair out of Tsuzuki's eyes. "Is that better?"

Tsuzuki, in response, turned over and then buried himself in Tatsumi's embrace. IThank you./I

Tsuzuki closed his eyes when Tatsumi's breathing evened out, and fell into a dreamless sleep.

I'm all right.

***

"I presume it went well," Hisoka said two days later, when the men had returned.

Tsuzuki looked over to where Tatsumi was filling out papers and smiled. "Yeah," he said. "It went okay."

Hisoka sniffed. "We've got another case tomorrow, you and me. Double suicide. Are you up for it?"

Tsuzuki's left hand touched his watch, but only for a moment, and Hisoka's eyes followed his movements. There was no sense in dwelling on the past. He looked into Hisoka's eyes.

"Hisoka?"

"Yeah?" Hisoka asked.

Tsuzuki gave pleading eyes. "Can we get some pie while we're there?"

Hisoka paused and then laughed, smiling like he'd done before, but genuine this time. He said, "Idiot," and Tsuzuki grinned.

There was no sense in dwelling on what had come and gone, and he was going to take steps to make life normal again. For nightmares are only dreams, and he was finally waking up.

Tsuzuki laughed along with Hisoka, and caught Tatsumi's eye from across the room. Tatsumi smiled.

I'm finally all right.