AN: Here it is, the last chapter! I hope everyone had as much fun reading this as I had writing it. My original idea was for a short, simple piece about Hisoka stealing Tsuzuki's pillow, but then it grew. I have a sequel in the works, but no idea when it'll be ready to start posting. Many thanks to Trans for being such an excellent, insightful beta reader, and thanks to everyone for reading. Enjoy!

Scent of a Man

Chapter 6

They rematerialized on the polished marble steps of the Count's magnificent house. The heavy wooden doors swung open when Tsuzuki knocked, and Watson, the Count's tiny, corpse-like butler hurried to greet them.

"Good evening, sirs," he said, taking Tsuzuki's coat. "The party is taking place in the garden. Please, follow me." He tottered away, leading them past the great staircase that Hisoka knew led to the Hall of Candles, and into a cavernous room filled with statues. Hisoka tried not to look too closely at the statues or to notice the things that some of them were doing to each other, and was amused to see that Tsuzuki's eyes were similarly averted, a flush of embarrassment staining his cheeks.

As they came to the far end of the gallery, a set of French doors swung open by themselves, ushering them onto a marble terrace that overlooked a courtyard filled with blooming cherry trees. Hisoka knew this place. He'd been here for one of the Count's famous cherry blossom viewing parties, though tonight the place looked completely different.

It was snowing, for one thing. Normal snow, thankfully, not the tiny naked men, although the fact that it was falling from a cloudless, star-packed sky was itself a little odd. The trees were hung with sparkly lights that glowed and shimmered like fireflies. There was a Christmas tree, too. It was set on a low stage, its branches draped with holly garlands, and levitating near its top was Yuma. She was wearing a dark green dress trimmed in white faux fur and a matching elf hat, and was carefully maneuvering a glowing tree-top angel into position.

"Tsuzuki! Hisoka!" she cried out, waving when she saw them.

Saya, who'd been attempting to drag Chief Konoe on stage for a round of karaoke, glanced up as well. "Hey! Nice to see you guys actually made it!" she called out to them. Her outfit was identical to Yuma's, only red.

"Not like we had a choice," Hisoka muttered. After the peace and intimacy of the supply room, being here felt like a shock of cold water to the face.

Tsuzuki gave his shoulder a quick squeeze. He stepped away again as the Count, who'd been playing croquet against the Gushoshin twins, set down his mallet and came gliding up the steps towards them. Due to the fact that he was invisible, the Count's mask, gloves and smoking jacket appeared to be making the trip on their own. Hisoka couldn't help wondering if the man was naked apart from those three items.

"Merry Christmas," the Count purred. He took hold of Tsuzuki's hand and raised it to his unseen lips. "I must say that you look simply delicious tonight, Tsuzuki-san."

On that point, Hisoka was forced to agree. Tsuzuki had left his tie hanging loose and the top three buttons of his new purple shirt undone. This was probably for ventilation, or simply because he'd lost interest in the buttoning process rather than out of a desire to show off, but the effect was riveting. Hisoka edged a little closer to his side, subtly placing himself between his partner and their famously lecherous host.

"My, my," the Count chuckled. "Apparently my friend Konoe-kun was right. Things certainly have changed. Kurosaki-kun, it's a pleasure having you here tonight as well, and I must say you look extremely handsome in that tuxedo." He took a flower from the lapel of his jacket and tucked it into Hisoka's buttonhole, his mask tipping forward in a slight bow as he did so. "A green carnation to match your eyes," he said. (1) "Now please, both of you, step into my garden and join the festivities."

Tsuzuki and Hisoka were about to descend when a blur of brown feathers shot from nowhere, hooting wildly. Hisoka glanced up and saw 003, Watari's pet owl, circling above them. In her claws, she was gripping a twig covered in white berries.

"A-ha!" Saya cried, charging up the steps towards them. "Looks like the two of you have been mistletoed!"

"Hold on everyone, wait for me!" Yuma ran up behind her. "Okay, now," she said, taking aim with a large Polaroid camera. "Don't be shy, boys, we want to see a kiss!"

"Yeah!" Saya agreed, and together the two of them began chanting, "Kiss, kiss, kiss!"

All eyes were upon them. Yuma and Saya, the Count, the Gushoshin twins, and even Chief Konoe were all watching them expectantly. It was humiliating. And yet, at the same time, there was warmth behind their teasing. And acceptance, too. This must be what it was like having a family, Hisoka thought. A real one, that cared about them and wanted to see them happy. Just the same, though, he didn't want their first kiss to be in front of all these people. He glanced at Tsuzuki for help, but his partner looked as lost as he felt.

Just then a voice rang out, cutting through the chant. A clear, feminine voice, which might just as well have been a choir of angels, as far as Hisoka was concerned. "Merry Christmas, everyone! Who wants to be the first to try my new triple-decker chocolate cake with ganache filling and orange glaze?"

It was almost comical how fast everyone's gaze snapped towards the top of the steps. Wakaba looked elegant in a sleeveless brocade dress with long satin gloves that covered most of her arms. Terazuma was hovering beside her like a security guard, seemingly afraid that their co-workers might mob her. Judging by their expressions, that seemed like a distinct possibility. Hisoka noticed that Terazuma was carrying a bow slung across his shoulders, and guessed that Wakaba's trip to the Night Market had ended with success.

"Me! Pick me!" Tsuzuki cried, bounding towards her.

A general stampede followed, leaving Hisoka standing alone on the steps. Wakaba waved to him above the heads of the feeding frenzy, and he mouthed the words "Thank you." She just winked at him.

003 fluttered down to settle on his shoulder with a soft hoot of disappointment. He reached up to pet her, while simultaneously extracting the twig of mistletoe from her claws. She let it go without a struggle, and he dropped it in his pocket where it couldn't cause any more trouble.

Once the cake had been reduced to crumbs, Yuma and Saya dragged Tsuzuki off to sing karaoke with them, and everyone else began to dance. Everyone except Hisoka, anyway. He watched for a minute, then wandered away and pretended to examine the food table. Parties had always been a bit of a mystery to him. He'd never understood what was supposed to be so much fun about singing off-key and jumping around on a dance floor.

Something pink caught his eye, and he noticed a large shape poking up, mountain-like, from the surrounding landscape of cakes, pastries and tiny sandwiches that covered the food table. Its summit was crowned with fresh berries and an artfully sculpted whorl of whipped topping. The raspberry trifle. Hisoka snatched the lid from one of the serving platters and clapped it over the dessert, hiding it from view.

"Oh, don't worry about that," Watari's disembodied voice floated from the shadows beneath the trees. "I never did have a chance to spike it."

He and Tatsumi materialized from the swirls of snowflakes, somehow managing to look as if they'd been there all along. "Kurosaki-kun," Tatsumi said, tipping his head in a dignified nod of greeting.

"Um, hi." Hisoka didn't know what else to say.

"Looks like we came at a good time," Watari observed as he scanned the party. "We can join right in, and no one'll know the difference."

Except that Tatsumi's glasses were on crooked, Hisoka thought. And Watari's ponytail was sticking out from the side of his head. And they both looked more relaxed than he'd seen them since, well... ever.

Tatsumi didn't answer right away. He was staring at the stage with mildly horrified expression, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. "Kami-sama," he breathed at last. "I knew Tsuzuki-san couldn't sing, but this..."

"Oh Seii," Watari crooned. "I'm sure you could do sooo much better."

Tatsumi snorted. "Anyone could do better than that."

"Oh, goody!" Watari grabbed his arm and hauled him towards the stage as the song came to a merciful end. "We're next, everybody! We're neeeext!"

Hisoka saw Wakaba hide a smile behind her satin-gloved hand as the pair began arguing about what to sing. She exchanged a knowing glance with Terazuma, then Konoe, and Hisoka guessed that you didn't need empathy to tell that something had changed between the two of them. Something profound. Finally Watson started the karaoke machine, and Watari began to sing.

"Baby when I met you there was peace unknown," he began. When Tatsumi remained stonily silent, he jabbed him with his elbow.

"I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb," Tatsumi growled back at him. His baritone singing voice was surprisingly melodic, but he spoiled it by muttering, "These words are ridiculous!" (2)

"Just shut up and sing," Watari hissed back, just as audibly. Everyone laughed.

A hand landed on Hisoka's shoulder. "There you are! Where'd you get to? I was looking for you."

Tsuzuki's presence beside him was warm in contrast to the cool air. He was sweaty from the energetic song he'd been singing with Yuma and Saya, his dark hair plastered to his forehead. "Having fun?" he asked, and his gaze was so warm and shining that Hisoka could only nod yes. There was a smudge of chocolate on his cheek, right near his mouth, and it seemed as if an invisible string kept pulling Hisoka's gaze back there. To the curve of his lips. So gentle. So... inviting.

Tsuzuki was licking those lips nervously. "Hisoka?"

Hisoka stopped breathing. Because he knew, somehow, what his partner was going to say next.

"Will you dance with me?"

He took an automatic step backwards. "I can't."

"Sure you can," Tsuzuki argued reasonably. "I've seen you, you're good."

"Idiot." Hisoka rolled his eyes. "I know how, it's just..."

"It's okay," Tsuzuki said softly. "Everyone else is dancing too."

They were. Yuma and Saya had dragged Chief Konoe onto the dance floor and were alternately dancing with him and with each other. 003 and the Gushoshin Twins were orbiting one another like the atoms of a very active, feathery molecule. The Count was dancing by himself, his empty clothes moving eerily in time with the music. And Tatsumi and Watari, while technically not dancing, were swaying together just perceptibly, and it was obvious by now that the words they sang were meant only for one another.

"Is-lands in the stream, that is what we are..."

Even Wakaba and Terazuma were waltzing, slowly and carefully. The reason for Wakaba's long gloves was now obvious. They made it possible for the two to touch each other without causing Terazuma to transform, though it clearly wasn't easy for them. Hisoka could see the lines of strain on Terazuma's face, and feel the effort of will it took to hold himself back. All this so they could have this one moment together. This one dance.

"And we re-ly on each other, uh-huh, from one lov-er to another, uh-huh..."

Hisoka put his hand in Tsuzuki's. "Okay."

Tsuzuki's fingers trembled just slightly as they wrapped around his, which was reassuring in a way. It was nice to know he wasn't the only one who felt nervous. He squeezed Tsuzuki's hand in a tacit gesture of reassurance--yes, I really mean it--and saw Tsuzuki's eyes light with pleasure. Tsuzuki took a step backwards, then another, drawing Hisoka with him onto the dance floor. Then they were moving together just as easily as that, their bodies swaying with the flow of the music.

He could tell people were looking at them. He could feel furtive glances dart towards them and then away again, smiles quickly hidden. It was easy to ignore that when Tsuzuki's delight was soaring through him, emanating like a pulse from their linked fingers. He let it pull him deeper into the music, and found that he wasn't thinking about the steps, or about who was supposed to lead. There was nothing he had to think about here, nothing that needed to be figured out. Dancing with Tsuzuki felt natural, as if they had always just done this.

He leaned closer. A strong arm settled around him, and he let his head fall against Tsuzuki's chest. He felt a low vibration against his cheek as Tsuzuki began humming along with the music. He was still humming several hours later as they climbed the steps to his apartment.

"That was the best Christmas party we've had in years," Tsuzuki said happily. He fumbled for his keys while Hisoka waited behind him at the top of the stairs, gripping the rail for balance. The sky was getting light along the eastern horizon, but the bulb above Tsuzuki's door had burned out, leaving the landing in pitch darkness. "That raspberry trifle was just incredible, wasn't it?"

Hisoka sighed. The trifle had eventually re-emerged, and Tsuzuki had devoured a sizable chunk of it in spite of Hisoka's efforts to steer him away. Luckily, Watari seemed to have been telling the truth about not spiking it. Either that, or his potion simply hadn't worked because rather than turning into an orgy, the party had become a fiercely competitive croquet tournament when a group of employees from Taisencho showed up and challenged them. The Shokan division won, thanks to an invention that Watari cheerfully dubbed his "Magic Balls," and after that the competition had switched to a karaoke contest. Which the Shokan division decisively lost.

When Tsuzuki finally announced that he was going home, Hisoka offered to walk with him part of the way. Part of the way turned into all the way, which came as no surprise to either of them. Carried along on the euphoria of the party, of dancing, good food and the company of dear friends--and the little quivers that stirred alive in his belly whenever Tsuzuki looked at him--it had seemed like the natural thing to do. Now, he was nervous again.

What was supposed to happen next? Would they kiss? He knew he wanted to. He wanted it more than he could ever have imagined possible, but he was also pretty sure he'd be awful at it. Tsuzuki was going to be disappointed. Wanting something in your imagination was one thing, but the reality of Hisoka was that he was scarred and scrawny with hands that were too big for his half-grown body, and that his only previous experience with kissing came from the man who'd raped and killed him. What if he couldn't do it? What if he froze? In his dream he'd known the difference, that Tsuzuki wasn't Muraki and sex with him wasn't the same as being raped, but this was real. His body had always betrayed him in the past, why should this be different?

"Damn keys!" Tsuzuki hissed. He rattled the door, jolting Hisoka from his thoughts. "Stupid things aren't working!"

"Let me try." Hisoka reached past him, and the knob turned easily in his hand. "Ever thought of locking up when you leave the house?"

"Oh." Tsuzuki looked shamefaced. "I guess I had a lot on my mind." His hands shook as he repocketed the keys, and he gazed down the empty hallway as though it were the path to the gallows. "You... uh. You don't have to--"

"I guess I should--"

They both stopped and looked at each other. Tsuzuki shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "I got you something. I know it's not exactly Christmas yet, but, um... do you want to come in for a minute?" Light from the end of the hallway bathed his cheek in a halo of soft gold. His eyes seemed fathomless, their purple irises swallowed in shadow, and for a moment he looked like the ancient being he really was. "Please," he whispered.

Hisoka swallowed hard, and wondered how long Tsuzuki had been waiting. For this exact thing, for someone who would stay. "I... um," he said intelligently. Then bolted past Tsuzuki into the hall. "I got you something too." He pulled out the watch case. "Here."

Framed in the doorway, Tsuzuki looked the way he had in the dream, a black silhouette against the surrounding night. But when he came forward into the light, he was just Tsuzuki. He took the wooden case in both hands as if he were accepting a precious relic.

"I forgot to wrap it," Hisoka added regretfully. And then realized that he hadn't thought of buying a card, either. Not that he'd even know what to write in one.

Tsuzuki's eyes widened comically as he opened the case and lifted the watch from its velvet nest. "'Soka," he breathed. "This is too much, I don't--"

"If you even think of saying you don't deserve it, I'm going to smack you."

Tsuzuki fell silent. And stared at the watch for so long that Hisoka began to worry. Then, finally, he nudged the door shut with his foot and moved past Hisoka, heading for the end of the hallway. Hisoka trailed after him, not sure whether he should take this as an invitation, but then realized that Tsuzuki was heading for the bathroom.

"I'll just be a second," Tsuzuki said with a wink. "Why don't you go in the living room and get comfortable?"

Hisoka flushed. Had Tsuzuki thought he was going to follow him in? "Idiot," he growled just in case, and stomped into the living room.

It was messier than he'd seen it on previous visits, which was saying a lot. A blanket and various stuffed toys were strewn haphazardly on the couch. The hardened remnants of a half eaten donut sat forlornly on the coffee table, surrounded by empty ramen cups and an untidy stack of LP records. Hisoka flipped through those, wondering if he ought to buy the man a CD player for his birthday. Then again, most of these albums were at least half a century old, probably not even available now.

He suddenly realized how tired he was. How long had it been since he'd slept? He sank down on the couch, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. A heavy residue of emotion lingered on the upholstery, as if Tsuzuki had been spending a lot of time there. Hisoka picked up sadness and shame and... oh. That feeling. He knew that feeling, that aching, shivering need that made him want to climb out of his own skin. He got up again, uncomfortable with having invaded his partner's privacy in such a way.

It was a relief when the bathroom door swung open and Tsuzuki emerged, still carrying the watch. He walked over to Hisoka and held it out to him in his right hand, palm side down. His wrist was bare.

"I was wondering if you'd put it on me," he said with a small, uncertain smile. "I threw the other one out," he added, apparently noticing the direction of Hisoka's gaze. "It never worked anyway."

Hisoka took the watch from him in a dreamlike state, only dimly aware of the cool metal against his palm. He felt like a sleepwalker, his mind oddly disconnected from what he was doing as he took Tsuzuki's hand in his and turned it over. The scars came in view, maggoty white against the soft caramel skin of Tsuzuki's inner wrist. They crossed one another like ropes, and all Hisoka could think was how narrow Tsuzuki's wrist looked, really, how fragile his bones appeared beneath that layer of tissue. Tsuzuki flinched when he reached to touch them.

"Do they hurt?"

Tsuzuki shook his head. "It's just... they're so ugly."

"They're part of you." And then, realizing that Tsuzuki wasn't going to see his point, Hisoka bent his head and pressed his lips to the scars in a firm kiss.

Tsuzuki made a strangled noise at the back of his throat, and Hisoka pulled back, his eyes watering. His fingers felt clumsy and too big as he clasped the watch into place. "I have scars too."

"But mine are by choice," Tsuzuki whispered. He reached to trail his fingers along the curve of Hisoka's jaw. "You fought so hard to live, but all I wanted was death. And no matter how often I tried..." he glanced down at his wrist, now covered both by the watch strap and by Hisoka's hand. He laid his free hand over Hisoka's. "I'm glad now that I couldn't. But it's going to take me some time getting used to this. If... if you can be patient with me?"

Hisoka scowled at their joined hands. "If you ever try hurting yourself again, I'm going to--"

"No, no, no, I mean..." Tsuzuki laughed nervously. "I meant with this," he gave Hisoka's hand a squeeze, "with us. Is it okay if we take things kinda slow?"

Things...? Hisoka searched his partner's face, trying to decipher what he meant. Then, Oh. Oh crap, he means-- He diverted his gaze to a bookshelf in the corner of the room, suddenly fascinated to notice how many of Tsuzuki's books had been bookmarked using old candy wrappers. He managed a nod, just barely.

"It's not like I don't want to," Tsuzuki went on, "I just need... well, some time, I guess, before--"

"Yes! Okay!" Hisoka interrupted. This was not a conversation he wanted to be having. Wasn't sex something that people just did? He'd sort of been prepared for that, but he hadn't counted on having to actually talk about it. "That's fine," he added in a lower voice, when he felt Tsuzuki's worry-fear spike into predictable self-recrimination. "It's all right."

"It is?" Tsuzuki sounded doubtful.

"Yeah." Hisoka studied the pattern on the carpet. It was better this way. Probably. Tsuzuki obviously knew about the rape, though he'd never said anything. But of course, he wouldn't.

"Would you stay for a while anyway?" Like forever, came the thought-echo behind his words.

Hisoka sighed. There was a part of him that wanted to be just about anywhere else right now, but... "Yes."

"And... could we dance a little more?"


Tsuzuki squeezed his hand again. And glowed. There really was no other word for what his emotions were doing. "And...?" Tsuzuki was leaning towards him now, his expression hopeful.

Hisoka's stomach did a little flip. He gave a shaky nod and felt Tsuzuki's happiness wash over him, weightless as sunlight. A quick, shy kiss planted itself on his forehead, and then Tsuzuki was gone again, bouncing across the room. "Wait here, 'kay?

Hisoka caught a gulp of air and realized, with some irritation, that he'd been holding his breath. "Where else would I go?" he grumbled.

Tsuzuki flashed him a bright grin and scurried into the bedroom. Rummaging noises followed. Then a crash, accompanied by a soft curse. And then Tsuzuki was back again, poking just his head around the corner. "Close your eyes."

"Tsuzuki, what the hell are you--"

"No peeking!"

Hisoka did as he was told, figuring it was easier than trying to argue, and heard footsteps coming towards him. Then Tsuzuki's voice again, much closer. "Hold out your hands."

Hisoka did, and a smooth, cylindrical object settled across his palms. "Can you guess what it is?" Tsuzuki asked in a soft voice.

Hisoka closed his hands around the object. It was made of something hard, like wood, and had a smooth polished surface. As he held it, a thrum of hidden energy stirred alive beneath his palms and sent goose bumps marching up his arms. In his mind's eye he caught a flash of bright steel, of moonlight glinting on bared teeth and he thought... no. It couldn't be.

He opened his eyes, and saw that it was.

The sword was encased in a scabbard made from dark wood, scarred with age. The hilt was long, intended for a two-handed grip, and wrapped in black cords that formed a diamond pattern. A snarling tiger was embossed on the tip of the handle. The weapon was devoid of any other form of ornamentation, but its simplicity gave it a certain deadly elegance. Hisoka gave his partner a questioning look.

"It's, um, pretty old I think," Tsuzuki said. "An antique. Made by some guy... Maso-something."

"Masamune?" Hisoka asked in disbelief.

"Yeah, that sounds right. Why, is he famous or something?"

"You could say that." Hisoka eased the sword from its scabbard. The blade was mirror bright, and the ghostly temper lines that ran the length of it formed swirling patterns that reminded him of clouds. "So this is what you bought at the Night Market," he breathed.

"You knew about that?"

"I was there. I saw you with Tatsumi."

"Ah." Hisoka felt a ripple of embarrassment from his partner, and wondered if it was due to the hand-holding incident. Tsuzuki's next words proved him wrong. "It was actually his suggestion," he admitted. "I wanted to get you something really special, but nothing seemed like enough. So I asked Tatsumi what he thought."

"And he suggested this?"

Tsuzuki nodded.

Hisoka gazed down at the blade in his hands. It was light as air and perfectly balanced, yet he felt the crushing weight of responsibility that came with it. He realized that his body had automatically shifted into a fighting stance. "Did he say anything else?" he asked softly. "Did he tell you why he thought this would make a good present?"

Tsuzuki frowned. "No, he just... seemed to think you'd like it."

Well. That was a relief, anyway. Tsuzuki didn't need to know about his duel with Oriya, and as long as Hisoka had anything to say about it, he never would.

"You do, don't you?" Tsuzuki asked, sounding anxious. "Like it, I mean."

Hisoka carefully re-holstered the blade. He gazed into Tsuzuki's worried face, and suddenly couldn't help himself. He threw his arms around the taller man's neck and hugged him close, burying his face against his shirt collar. "It's perfect," he whispered. "Thank you."

And it was. Even if it also carried a not-too-subtle hidden message that Tatsumi expected him to be Tsuzuki's protector from now on. That was okay with him. It was all he wanted anyway, and he planned to do everything in his power to be just that.

Tsuzuki slipped his arms around him in turn, and he felt a surge of hesitant joy rising around him like bubbles through soda. He kissed the side of Tsuzuki's neck and tasted the salt of his skin, loving the feel of his warm pulse throbbing against his lips. "Asato," he murmured, kissing again softly. He felt a tremor of surprise from Tsuzuki, and long fingers tensed against his back.

"Sorry," Hisoka said, starting to draw away. "I didn't--"

Tsuzuki pulled him back again. "No. Please, don't be. It's just... it's been a long time since anyone's called me that." His presence was a swirl of emotions that Hisoka could scarcely identify. It reminded him of the sensation a bandage being yanked away, that odd mixture of pain and relief that came when old hurts were exposed to the air so they could start to heal. "I didn't say I minded," Tsuzuki added, nuzzling Hisoka's hair. His breath was a warm tickle against his scalp.

"You better get used to it then." Hisoka took a deep breath. "Asato."

He felt rather than saw Tsuzuki's smile, and the aching sweetness that came with it. In his mind's eye, he saw the little boy on the riverbank smiling through his bruises when the firefly landed in his hand. I could be that firefly, he thought with a giddy sense of realization. He disentangled himself just long enough to set the sword on the coffee table and led his partner over to the couch. "Sit down."

Tsuzuki sank down heavily, as if his legs weren't really supporting him anymore. His fingers dug into the seat cushion, knuckles whitening as thought it were his final link to reality. "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up," he said with a shaky laugh.

Hisoka sat down cautiously, worried about being swamped once again by the emotional residues that clung to the couch. He found that he needn't have worried. Tsuzuki's current emotions were enough to drown out any lingering remnants.

He studied his partner. "Tsuzuki." Saying his name felt different now, as if it had taken on some new, hidden meaning. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the sprig of mistletoe. It was a little squished but still perfectly recognizable, if Tsuzuki's wide-eyed reaction was any indication. Wordlessly, he raised it above his own head. When Tsuzuki just stared at him through a long, awestruck moment, he said, "I don't have to be patient about everything, do I?"

Tsuzuki leaned forward slowly, like a man in a dream. An eternity seemed to pass before he felt the first brush of his partner's mouth, as light as falling snowflakes against his own. Tsuzuki's kiss tasted like chocolate and raspberries and something else, something nameless and sweet. Hisoka learned in that moment that kissing wasn't as difficult as he'd imagined it to be. He found that he didn't have to think about how their noses should fit, or what he ought to do with his hands--they both slid into Tsuzuki's hair pretty much automatically--or whether it mattered if he opened his mouth a bit. Or how he was supposed to breathe.

Breathing stopped being important around the same time that Tsuzuki opened his mouth, and a groan of uncertain origin hovered between them. Hisoka let himself fall into that sound, let it fill his chest with its sweet vibration. Warm hands cupped his face, thumbs tracing light circles against his cheekbones, a wordless encouragement. He opened into the kiss and felt a rush of piercing delight as Tsuzuki's tongue gently stroked his. It felt so nice, so intimate. Almost playful. So completely different from his chilling memory of Muraki's mouth crushing down against his own. Kissing Tsuzuki wasn't the same thing at all. The actions might be similar, but the feelings were like night and day.

When they finally broke for air, he wrapped his arms around Tsuzuki and hugged him close. A warm heaviness settled over him. He let his head fall against his partner's shoulder and tucked his face into his shirt collar, breathing his scent. It was getting light outside. Stripes of pale pink sky were showing through the gaps in the blinds, heralding the start of a new day. "I love you," he whispered, and felt the truth of that statement resonate through both of them. Tsuzuki's arms tightened around him, pulling him closer against his side, and he felt the answering swell of emotion as clearly as words.

My Asato, he thought. And smiled. His partner made the perfect pillow.


(1). Besides matching Hisoka's eyes, green carnations were also worn by Oscar Wilde and his contemporaries to signify homosexuality during an era when it was a crime to be gay. (As it sadly still is, in many parts of the world.)

2). These lyrics are from the song "Islands in the Stream," originally written by the BeeGees and recorded as a duet by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. It's pretty sappy, but makes a good karaoke song.