Well, here's another Yami No Matsui fic; standard disclaimers apply (translate that as "Go ahead-- make me laugh! SUE me; try to squeeze money out of my poor, pathetic bank account! If VISA can't do it, you sure as hell can't!" Yami No Matsuei was written by and belongs to much more creative folks than I; I'm just playing with their toys…….. Ysabet
Chapter One: In the Beginning
(Scene: The Meifu, place and time indefinable.)
They never knew just exactly how they arrived at the brightness; no-one ever did, not even in the *usual* circumstances. It just happened.
One moment Tsuzuki and Hisoka were following the Earl through the Mansion of Candles, their charge cradled in the older shinigami's arms--- and the next thing they knew, there they were: suspended in nowhere, in the dark, facing a shining brilliance that hung like a star in the void.
But that was okay; that was just fine. That's where they needed to be, to do what had to be done….. even if the brilliance pierced the soul, even if its cutting brightness almost hurt---
Tsuzuki sighed, his arms tightening for a moment around the small girl-child that had nestled herself so comfortably against him. He glanced down; she was staring clear-eyed and unafraid straight into the brightness, her red-gold hair gleaming like freshly minted copper. Carefully the shinigami knelt, standing Kazusa upright on the nothingness and straightening her clothes with a gentle hand.
*Ne, 'Zusa-chan, poor little girl. You don't belong with us; there's nothing to bind you here--- no sins upon your head, nothing to tie you to the living…..*He burned inside for a moment, remembering how her small body had looked when they had found her; then the feel of the child's warm hands on his arm brought Tsuzuki back to the moment. He forced a smile on his weary face. *For you, I can smile….. mustn't seem sad, Asato, mustn't scare her; let her go and be happy for her.*
*Send her on.*
She clung to him for a moment longer, her small fingers wrapped around a fold of his sleeve; beside him, Hisoka reached out to smooth her hair back from her face in a rare and uncharacteristically gentle touch. "Are you ready, little one?"
She beamed up at them both. "Is that where I'm supposed to go? That pretty place?" Kazusa pointed at the brightness with a small finger. "It's shiny!" She squinted into the light, her large eyes wondering. "Are my mama and daddy in there?"
Tsuzuki winced; this was a touchy subject. Otonashi Kazusa's mother, probably; but her father….. He glanced up at Hisoka for help, but his partner shook his head briefly; the green eyes held no more certainty than his own did.
"Well….. why don't you go and see?" She had to move on--- the little girl had died under half a ton of broken rubble in the damage done to Juuouchou by the demon Sargatanas. The Shokan district had only held off from sending her on so that a promise could be kept; after her small spirit had coalesced, Kazusa had been surprisingly adamant that she "go and see Hijiri-niisan play." So, like a pair of fond uncles, the shinigami partners had carried their charge to the violin concert. And Hijiri had played for her and for them also, all unknowing. The promise had been kept.
But the music had ended at last, and now it was time for her to go.
Gently Tsuzuki turned her around by her small shoulders to face towards the light. "Do you remember what we told you, 'Zusa-chan? There's a place waiting for you over there, and you'll be happy; there are people waiting for you. I don't know who, but somebody's waiting--—look, you can see them!" Several shadows moved dimly against the light, making the unearthly brightness waver. "Be a good girl and… go home."
The little girl clung stubbornly to his sleeve, lower lip pouting a little. "Can't you come with me, Oji-san? It's so pretty--- " Trustingly she turned back to him, hugging the dark-haired shinigami tightly; he smiled a little and shook his head. "Not now, little one, not yet; if I went with you, who would stay with your Hisoka-niisan? He's terrible at looking after himself, you know; he needs a keeper!" And he chuckled, glancing up at his partner. Kazusa giggled, the small sound echoing sweetly through the dark.
Staring over their heads, Hisoka swallowed; the light was… so warm, beckoning… He remembered seeing it for the first time not all that long ago, remembered resisting the peace it promised--- all for a chance at understanding, a chance at revenge. The light was neither for him nor for Tsuzuki, not yet; their places were in Juuouchou, beyond and yet within the darkness.
*There's too much darkness inside us for peace; no wonder the light seems almost too bright.*Hisoka looked away.
But this child….. He glanced over his shoulder; the Earl stood silently behind them, a ghostly presence in the void. The darkness rippled and gathered around him; his unseen eyes seemed to flash behind the mask for a moment as he nodded at the green-eyed shinigami.
"Your duty, shinigami; send the girl on."The deep voice echoed in his bones.
Hisoka knelt before the little girl. "Kazusa-chan," he said firmly, trying to keep all sadness from his tone, "It's time to go. Turn around now, move towards the light--- look: Is that your mother there?" One of the figures was kneeling, holding out shadowy arms.
The little girl squinted against the brilliance. "Kaa-san?" she whispered wonderingly. "I don't know….. Kaa-san went away when I was a baby." She loosened her hold somewhat on Tsuzuki, taking a single step away. "Are you my Kaa-san?" she said, directly addressing the kneeling figure. A shadowy head nodded, and the arms reached out entreatingly.
She let go of his sleeve, taking another uncertain step. Silently the shinigami each rose to their feet, moving a little back. The child walked slowly forward, her small feet silent against the dark nothingness; the light began to surround her, and they could hear her soft voice only dimly: "…so bright… Kaa-san?"
And then there was a deafening silence, and the light engulfed her completely.
*Gone. Goodbye, 'Zusa-chan; be happy, little one.*Tsuzuki turned his eyes from the shining, back towards shadows that seemed a little colder now, a little emptier.
Scene: The Meifu, dawn, fourteen months later; Tsuzuki Asato's living-room.
"Mrmmph….." Tsuzuki tried to bury his head a little deeper in the couch-pillow; the sun was too gods-be-damned bright this morning… Of course, maybe that had something to do with all that saké he had consumed with Hisoka and Watari the night before---- *What the hell am I doing on the couch? Oh, right.* He vaguely recalled several failed attempts to lurch up the stairs to his bedroom, culminating in a headlong dive into the furniture's nappy embrace.
Squeezing his eyes shut against the light seemed to help a little; as Kami was his witness, he would never, never, ever go drinking in Tokyo with Watari again. How the hells had they made it back the night before?!? The three of them had probably flown sideways, singing drunkenly all the way back to the Meifu.
This was all Watari's fault. *"Tsuzuki, you need a break." "Tsuzuki, you're feeling a lot better now, aren't you? Muraki hasn't popped up since that mess at Kyoto and it's been six months; let's take the boy down to the Chijou and show him how to have fun." "Tsuzuki-san, you need to get out more!" Thanks, Watari-san….. Hope your head feels like mine does.*
(Still, behind the pounding of the hangover some small part of him was ever-so-faintly grateful; Watari meant well, in his own genki fashion ("Tsuzuki--- we're worried about you….. are you okay?"). But right now that part of him was also holding its head and groaning pitifully.)
The Watari-barcrawl episode would explain the coating on his tongue, too, a phenomenon known as Evil Saké Mouth. Well, either that or something foul had crawled in there overnight and died. And hey, how about that pounding behind his eyes and the dreadful ringing in his ears?
Ringing? No, more like singing: tuneless, toneless, terrible, off-key singing….. Coming from outside his window. Not birds-- not even 003 sounded that bad (not that she had ever tried to sing that Tsuzuki knew of). In blurry succession he considered and dismissed several prospects (the GuShoShin? Wakaba? Yuuma or Saya?--- he found himself to be obscurely proud of the fact that Hisoka had never even remotely made the list, proving that a few of his braincells still worked), but nothing quite fit. Not that he was thinking any too well this morning.
The shinigami sat up with infinite slowness, cradling his aching head in his palms; a pity it was so difficult for his sort to die--- death would be a blessing just then. His hair hurt, and his teeth felt furry.
Whatever-It-Was was still singing….. Tsuzuki winced and fought the urge to crawl back under the throwpillow. *Urrrgh; be a man, Asato--- go out and kill whatever's making that horrible noise. Then you can suffer in silence, if nothing else.*
One foot in front of the other; gods, where were his clothes? Scattered everywhere, as usual; never mind, underwear would do just fine to strangle the unknown noise-maker to death in. The shinigami began to make his slow, painful way across his too-brightly-lit living-room, ignoring the sprawled and snoring forms of Hisoka and Watari (at least they had made it to the guest-futons that he had spread out before the great Let's-Teach-Hisoka-How-To-Drink,-I-Know-This-Bar-On-Earth-Where-They-Won't-Care-About-How-Young-He-Looks adventure had commenced).
He nudged Watari's somnolent form with one foot, trying to ignore the ripples of pain that the movement caused. *I think Watari-san needs to be up and around this morning too, weekend or no weekend…..* Pathetic animalistic whimpers resulted from his nudge, indicating at least partial consciousness. A few feet away Hisoka moaned pitifully and attempted to crawl under his futon.
*Up, both of you. If I have to suffer, you do too. Especially you, Watari-san--- this is YOUR hangover, my friend, and I'm gonna make certain that you enjoy it….. just as soon as I murder whatever's making that noise…..
Halfway to the door he had to step over 003, who lay in a shivering, loose-winged heap on top of Watari's discarded labcoat. From the sad little hisses and cheeps emitting from the owl's beak she had apparently tried the saké as well. Tsuzuki had a faint memory-flash of the bird drinking from everybody's cup at one time or another.
*Door. Take a deep breath, squint your eyes as shut as they'll go, and open the door. Gods, it's gotten even louder…..*
He threw open the door, warding off the evil, silvery rays of the Meifu's sun (it was almost always a beautiful day in the Afterlife) with one hand-----
"Good morning, Oji-san….." said the little girl perched on the lowest branch of the sakura tree, breaking off her singing. A pause. Then: "Why are you in your underwear, Oji-san?" Large grey eyes stared at him.
Tsuzuki felt his jaw dropping; he couldn't have been more shocked If he had been confronted with Tatsumi dancing naked on his lawn. *Ah, well, perhaps by that---*
"Uhhhhhh….." A few more braincells managed to spark. "Kazusa? Kazusa-chan??….. What are you doing here?!?"
The child giggled. "I came to play with you." She swung her feet and balanced precariously on her branch, trying to reach a particularly enticing spray of flowers with one chubby hand. "I missed you and Hisoka-niisan, and Kaa-san was busy; so I came here." The flowers were just out of reach; still stunned, Tsuzuki moved across the grass to pluck the twig, placing it in Kazusa's hand as he gently lifted her down from the tree. She smiled at him and hugged his neck.
*She's… warm; she's really here and completely corporeal, far as I can tell. And she seems to be okay. What the HELL is she doing HERE?!? We sent her on, and nobody ever comes back to the Meifu from there. To the Chijou, maybe, but not to the Meifu.*
He placed the little girl on the grass; she was wearing the same outfit that she had worn when he had seen her last, passing into the brightness.
"'Zusa-chan," the shinigami said, speaking very carefully despite the throbbing in his head, "how did you get here?"
The child bent down to tug her shoes and socks off, wiggling her toes in the soft grass. "Through the open place" she said calmly, sounding completely unconcerned. As if deceased children wandered back and forth between…. Wherever… and the land of the restless dead all the time.
'Wherever' did not let its inhabitants go casually. Tsuzuki could feel a chill rippling down his back, making the hair on his neck rise. Of course, that might also be the morning breeze--- he became aware once more of his state of undress and flushed. "Ahhh, 'Zusa-chan….." The little girl was now attempting to climb the sakura tree again, her bare toes providing better purchase than when shod; she turned a beaming face back towards Tsuzuki. "Oji-san?"
He managed a smile. "Why don't we go inside? I'll fix you some breakfast---" (if she was corporeal, he thought, she should be able to eat) "--- and you can say hello to Hisoka. Do you remember him?" She nodded, turning from the tree to bounce past him towards the door. "Watari-san's here too--- do you remember him, 'Zusa? He's the one with the pet owl--- I remember, you liked the owl---" Tsuzuki realized distantly that he was babbling slightly. What with the hangover and all, this was turning out to be a rather trying morning.
The small girl nodded, her coppery hair bright in the early sunlight. "I remember; I told Kaa-chan all about the funny bird." She cocked her head to one side, looking a little birdlike herself. "Can I play with him after breakfast?"
The shinigami took a deep breath, running one hand through his untidy hair. "We'll see, 'Zusa-chan. Right now, let's go in. And---" a sudden and uncharacteristically wicked smile crept across Tsuzuki's face "--- why don't you wake up Hisoka and Watari for me? You can sing for them….. they'll like that." The little girl giggled; he grinned down at her despite the throbbing in his temples.
"Be sure and sing as loud as you can, won't you, 'Zusa-chan?" He shepherded her through the door with a rather evil chuckle.
(Scene: The Meifu, mid-morning. Juouchou, main boardroom.)
"So."The word hung in the air like a thundercloud, heavy and promising rain to come. Tsuzuki shifted nervously, glancing sideways towards his partner; Hisoka was pale and slightly unfocused-looking, obviously still suffering a little from his hangover.
Tatsumi-san steepled his hands and leaned forward on his elbows over the boardroom table, frowning as he continued. "The child came back of her own accord? No-one had any indications of her return--- no odd dreams, nothing like that?" Blue eyes glinted in annoyance behind lenses; this was a complication, and The Secretary From Hell hated complications.
The three shinigami shook their heads meekly. 003 ruffled her wings and shrank back a little further into Watari's hair, muttering indistinct owlish mutters.
"Hm." Shafts of mid-morning light reflected off glasses as Tatsumi abruptly stood up, pacing over to the window. From his vantage point he could see the little girl running across the grass beside the pond, Wakaba-chan in laughing pursuit. The child's shrieks of giggles were faintly audible as she was caught up and swung onto the young woman's shoulders.
Tsuzuki cleared his throat. "Ne, Tatsumi-san, she just… showed up. Has anything like this ever happened before in the Meifu?"
The secretary raised an eyebrow. "Not that I'm aware of; after all, this is a rather unusual case." He sat down again, ticking off items on the fingers of one hand. "Firstly, she was brought to the Meifu as a living being. Secondly, she died here. Thirdly, her spirit regained its form here rather than in the Chijou post-death as per the norm. Fourthly, she was sent on to her proper place. Fifthly, she apparently returned of her own volition and without any outside help." He sat back, looking displeased and more than a little perplexed.
Watari rubbed at one temple; a strand of long blonde hair fell unnoticed into his eyes. "Her dying here….. Tatsumi-san, has that ever happened before that you know of? A living person dying in the land of the dead?"
Now Hisoka was frowning as well; the younger shinigami blinked against still-painful sunlight and ventured "Wouldn't that be sort of a double-negative? Tatsumi-san--- would one thing cancel out the other?" Green eyes darkened at the memory of the child's death.
(So still, the tiny body buried under rubble and dust, a legacy of Sargatanas' invasion of Juuouchou---)
He looked out the window as if for reassurance; Kazusa had slipped her shoes and socks off again and was now dabbling her toes in the edge of the pond (he noted with amusement that Wakaba-chan was doing the same). *Alive, she looks alive--- or as alive as anyone can be here.*
Silence then, the silence of deep thought broken only faintly by distant giggles and splashes.
To Be Continued…………
Ysabet's notes: Hiya! This has been burbling in the back of my brain for some time now, and I originally intended it to be a one-part simple little fic; no such luck, though. It has its own ideas what it wants to become, and I'm just along for the ride. Hope y'all like it--- it's going to be a little, well, odd. I'll have the next chapter up as soon as possible……..