Well, here it is. The last gasp. There may be a sequel, if I think up a plot. I've got a few good ideas.... ::winks::

Chapter Twelve

Akimiya and I settle into the cafe that we spend a great deal of our lunch breaks in. The food is good and inexpensive, and we get really good service because we leave generous tips. On the whole, it's probably my favorite restaurant, but they don't have a dessert selection wide enough for Tsuzuki's taste.

"Man, Muraki's really gonna be out for my blood this time," I say with a sigh. "But since he's already determined to kill me, I guess it can't really get worse."

Akimiya nodded slightly. "We've just got to find a way to kill that man," he says darkly.

"It's been tried. He's notoriously hard to kill, believe me."

"I do believe you. If he wasn't, he'd be dead by now."

"Precisely." There's a brief pause while Akimiya and I order our food. We chat amiably for a while -- he has to tell me some of the things that have been going on recently, because the last five weeks are a total blur in my memory. I wonder if I should feel pathetic because I can't function without Tsuzuki. Maybe. But I don't.

"So," I say, after our food arrives, "are you going to forgive yourself now?"

He pauses, turns pink. "I suppose I should try, shouldn't I."

"There was no harm done in the long run."

"Except for five weeks of misery."

"You know," I say slowly, "a friend once told me . . . that you should always forgive, because you can't judge people's true motivations." I don't know if he remembers saying that to me, but he apparently does, because he gives me a sharp look. "Akimiya, you did it because you love her that much. If I can forgive you for that, why can't you forgive yourself?"

"It's just hard," he says quietly. "Knowing that I caused everyone that much pain."

"Akimiya, I would have done anything to get Tsuzuki back. Anything. And I won't deny it." I meet his eyes and hold his gaze. "I would have killed you, I think. So don't go thinking that I'm any better than you."

"I know," he says quietly. "And maybe I would've deserved it."

I shrug. "It all depends on how you think about it, really. Maybe you would've. I don't know. But you have to stop torturing yourself like this, Akimiya, because it's silly. Everything's okay now. And . . . I forgave you even before it was okay again."

"I know," he repeats.

"Look, just think about it this way," I say. "You helped me get him back, when no one else would've gone along with my plan. Surely that absolves your guilt."

"I hope so." Akimiya's apparently tired of hearing about it, because he deftly changes the subject. "Ah, I have something for you." He pulls a small lavender envelope out of his pocket. "I was handing them out this morning. I didn't want to . . . before . . . because of you and Tsuzuki. I didn't think it would be appropriate. I kept waiting, hoping that everything would clear itself up."

I open the envelope. It's an invitation to his and Rika's wedding, of course. For one week from today.

"How long were you going to wait?" I ask slowly, examining the curly script.

"I don't know," he says thoughtfully. "I guess I would have waited until you were okay. Because I wouldn't have wanted to do it without you there."

I still just look at the invitation, pondering.

"You know," he says hesitantly, "even before . . . in the wedding we had already planned . . . we hadn't picked a best man yet." He smiled slightly. "Rika wanted a Western-style wedding; she was always fond of big ceremonies and stuff. And, well, I thought maybe you could do it."

Surprisingly, I think I feel tears pricking at my eyes. "I'd be honored," I say, and quickly blink them back.

"Good." He smiles again. "I'll let Rika know."

There's a brief pause.

"You know," Akimiya finally says, "They'll probably put Tsuzuki back on field duty now."

It takes me off guard when he says it, but he's right. Tsuzuki's ready. There's no reason to hold him back any longer; he chafes from the inactivity of sitting around the office all the time. "But he won't have a -- oh." Akimiya is just looking at me.

He sighs slightly. "Yeah."

I'm in a bind here. I want to be Tsuzuki's partner because I want to be there for him if he needs me, but I also like being Akimiya's partner. And I know that when you have all eternity ahead of you like Tsuzuki and I do, it's probably not a good idea to spend every waking and sleeping minute of your time together. But Tsuzuki traditionally has trouble finding partners; he went through quite a few before he met me. Akimiya, however, has very little jitsu, so to get a new, untrained partner could be very bad for him. "I don't know what to do," I finally admit, and give Akimiya all the reasons I was thinking.

He looks relieved. "Thanks," he says.

"For what?"

"Well . . ." He twists his napkin between his hands. "I was sure that you'd just go back to him without even thinking about me."

"Akimiya," I say confidently, "you're a dork."

He laughs.

~~~~

After lunch, Tsuzuki is carried off by Watari and a few of the others to 'have a good time.' I don't think I even want to know what Watari has planned for him. I'd think Tatsumi would lecture them, given that they're all supposed to be working, but he's in such a good mood that it apparently doesn't even occur to him.

As for me, I go home, and put all of my energy into finishing the housecleaning. I do some shopping and bake some brownies for when Tsuzuki gets home. Then I start to throw some things together for dinner. I don't really feel like cooking. After all that, I'm ready for a nap. I'm beginning to wonder when I'll ever recover from those two weeks I spent without sleeping.

I wake up to a backrub, eerily reminiscent of the mission before this whole mess started. Damn, Tsuzuki is good at these. It's like he has radar on his fingertips that can find each ache. "Thank you for the brownies," he says, after a minute.

"Welcome." I'm still sleepy. The backrub is only making me more so. "I missed this."

His hands still for a second, and I can almost see him smiling. "I know."

"I missed everything about you. I missed your backrubs and your smile, and the way your eyes light up when you're happy, and your cookies and even the crumbs you left in bed, and I missed your bad cooking and your laugh and your voice." I sigh softly into the pillow.

"I missed you too." He leans down and kisses the back of my neck. "I missed your blush and your eyes, and the way you say my name and the way you hold me, and I missed your stubbornness and the way you persist on wearing bright orange even though I keep telling you it clashes with your eyes."

I laugh. "Jerk."

"It does!"

"This from the man who wears the same suit every day." I roll over and pull him down for a kiss. A nice, long, involved kiss. "Now let's eat dinner."

He sits up and looks at me thoughtfully. "I couldn't think of anything but you."

I reach out and touch his cheek gently. "I know the feeling."

Tsuzuki looks away. "He didn't like that much. He said, because of what I swore . . . that I had to forget about you. But I couldn't. I didn't know how."

"It's okay." I draw him into a hug. I don't know what else I can say to him. "It's okay."

"It wasn't," he says into my shoulder. "It wasn't okay at all. Not then. Not when he . . ." His whole body shudders in my arms. I have to fight back a wave of fury and the urge to go hunting for Muraki's head on a silver platter. I've been putting off thinking about what Muraki must have done to him. Apparently I can't put it off any longer.

"Shhh," I manage, though my heart aches. "It's okay now. I won't let him hurt you again."

"You did the right thing, though," he says quietly. "Don't ever let anyone tell you that you didn't. I would have rather you killed me than been sentenced to eternity with him."

"I know." Just as I would have rather us both been dead than been sentenced to eternity without Tsuzuki. I don't say anything else, because there's really nothing else I can say. There's nothing I can do that would take away the last five weeks -- not for either of us. So we just stay like that, holding each other.

"Come on," I finally say, "if you eat dinner, you can have those brownies."

He smiles and stands. "You know, Muraki seemed to think that he'd get me on his good side if he just showered me with sweets."

I pause. "Well, if you don't want the brownies . . ."

"Are you kidding?" he asks, and bounds into the kitchen.

~~~~

Tsuzuki doesn't sleep well. I'm tired, but I don't dare sleep beside him because I'm afraid of his dreams. Even with all Akimiya taught me, I don't think I could keep my cool if I saw firsthand what Muraki had been doing to him in these past few weeks. And if I don't keep my cool, I can't pull myself out of the dream.

But I don't want to let him go, so I stay awake, holding him in his sleep. Even asleep, he's still clinging to me. I finally have to wake him, though; the nightmare is getting too bad to let him sleep through it.

He cries, not a lot, but enough that I cry too. "I'm sorry," I say, when he's done. "I'm so sorry that I didn't get there sooner."

"You did the best you could," he murmurs.

"Sometimes that doesn't feel like enough."

"I know."

I lie back down and he curls up in our new favorite position, with his head on my chest. I wrap my arms around him. "Do you want to talk?"

He nods slightly, his hair tickling the bare skin of my neck. "You know . . . until you got there, I had never really even considered the possibility that Muraki might actually love me."

"I don't think he does."

"I don't know," Tsuzuki says thoughtfully. "Maybe not. But maybe he's so twisted that how he feels about me is the closest he can ever come."

"Maybe." Muraki is certainly twisted; I'll give the theory that much.

"But it's funny . . . even knowing that, I still hate him."

I can't help but laughing slightly at that. "I hate him too."

"He just doesn't . . . understand . . . I don't know. He doesn't understand anything, it seems like. But it's what you said. He cares more about whether or not he has me than whether or not I'm happy."

"Yeah."

We lie there in silence for a few minutes.

"I love you," he says.

"I know. I love you too." I kiss the top of his head. Please, please, never let me have to spend time away from him again.

"Muraki . . . he . . ." Tsuzuki's voice trails off. I know what he's going to say, and I know how hard it's going to be for him to say it. "He wasn't gentle," he finally says. "But I think, sometimes . . . he was trying to be."

I frown slightly. "You mean . . ."

"In bed." The words come out slowly, strained. "I thought sometimes . . . he wanted me to enjoy myself. And sometimes . . . it did feel good."

"You liked it?" My voice is incredulous. I can't help it.

"I hated it," he says flatly. "I hated every minute of it, and hated myself for reacting to it. But . . . the body is stupid. I've come to that conclusion. It disconnects from the mind, so all it's aware of is the physical. And no matter how much I hated Muraki . . . it kept insisting that it was good."

I'm not quite sure where he's going with this, so I don't reply, and just brush my hands through his hair.

"He used that," he says softly. "He used it against me, to try to make me believe that I had liked it . . . deeper than the physical, I mean. It didn't matter to him that I cried afterwards. If he could make me . . ." His voice falters, and he skips over the word, but I know what he means. "Then he thought that was all that mattered."

"God." I feel vaguely sick. But mostly I just want to go find Muraki and kill him.

He's silent for a long minute, which makes me feel terribly inadequate, like there's something I should be saying, some words that will help him with this. But no matter how hard I try, I can't think of a damned thing.

"I guess . . ." Tsuzuki sighs against my chest. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that . . . that if you're ready . . . I want to be with you. I want to be able to feel good without hating it, without feeling ashamed of it. And I want that for you, too."

I blush reflexively. In truth, I think I've been ready for a while, but the last thing I wanted to do was push him. I knew -- intellectually, at least -- that sex is good, and even without knowing that, the little we've done certainly hinted at it.

He takes my moment of silence as uncertainty, which I suppose it is. "Muraki . . . tried to tell me that even if I got away from him, you wouldn't want me anymore. Not after he . . . after what he'd done. He called me . . . tainted."

"You know that's not true, right?" I ask softly.

"I know," he says. "I knew then. He got awfully angry when I told him he was wrong."

"I'm not surprised." I breathe in the scent of Tsuzuki's hair. "I want whatever you want, Tsuzuki . . . and if this is what you want, I'm ready. I have been for a while."

Tsuzuki doesn't reply. He just kisses me.

~~~~

Well, I always said that when Tsuzuki and I finally managed to . . . uh . . . you know . . . that we'd have to get a week off because we'd be too euphoric to do anything. So I guess it was extremely well timed that we managed it right at the beginning of our week long vacation.

Suffice it to say, we did not spend much time outside the bedroom in that week.

Oh, we went out to lunch with Akimiya on occasion and we spent some time with Tatsumi, but we were here quite a lot. It's funny, looking back now, to think that I was ever afraid of it. I mean, I haven't turned into a nympho or anything like that, but it's . . . it's beautiful, really. That's the only word I can think of for it. Well, besides something along the lines of 'dear God'. But . . . to be one with the person that you really love . . . it's . . . all right, I can't think of a word, but whatever it is, I like it. So shut up.

And we talk a lot, maybe more than we've ever talked before. About everything and anything under the sun. Slowly, and very slowly, we both tell the stories of what happened to us during the five weeks we were apart. His is more painful than mine, and comes out so slowly that it's nearly agonizing for both of us. It makes me feel like a real wimp, to know that even though I was so lost without him, at least I was still among my friends. I still had comfort to accept, even if I couldn't accept it.

He tells me some, though not all, of what Muraki did to him. None of it surprises me, though most of it sickens me. I keep thinking that there must be some way to kill him. There must be.

Surprisingly, though, he doesn't seem to think I'm a wimp for how I spent my time. He says the fact that I managed to keep working is pretty surprising, and that he's proud of me for it. And that he's proud that I never did actually try to kill myself, no matter how close I came.

It's strange, the things he'd proud of me for.

For one thing, he said I was proud that I never got upset and wrecked the house. When I asked him about it, he turned slightly red and muttered something about Muraki being annoyed at having to buy a roomful of new furniture. Somehow I'm not surprised.

It's going to be tough now; I know that Muraki is going to be out for my blood in such a major way that it isn't even funny. I think . . . that I believe we can survive through anything now, but I'm terrified that he'll take Tsuzuki away from me again.

"Tsuzuki," I say. It's the second to last night of our vacation. Akimiya's wedding is tomorrow. I must admit I'm a bit nervous. I've never been a best man before.

"Hmm?" Tsuzuki rolls over to face me. We're lying in bed together, and it's been quiet. I thought he was asleep for a while, but you can't fool an empath.

"I don't want to lose you again," I say softly.

"I know." He reaches over and runs his fingers through my hair. "Muraki never tries the same trick twice, you know that."

"I know, but . . ." I want to ask him, and can't. I'm scared. I'm afraid that he'll say no.

"But?" he prompts.

"I want you to be mine," I find myself blurting out, to my extreme horror. "The way . . . the way you were his. I want to be sure that he can't take you away from me again. Please . . ."

He gives me a long look, his eyes unreadable. "Okay," he finally says.

"Okay?" I ask timidly.

He smiles. "Yeah. Okay." He gets out of bed, and I'm forced to follow him into the kitchen. He pulls a knife out of the drawer and makes sure it's sharp; it takes him a few tries to find one that is. "We'll have to do it quickly," he says.

So the wounds don't close. I nod and hold out my palm. He runs the knife across it, and I press my thumb into the wound to keep it from closing too soon. He cuts his own palm, then presses it against mine.

"I swear, by my blood, I am yours," he says. He seems very calm about this, like it isn't a life-changing decision. "Body and soul, forever and always."

My voice, meanwhile, is shaking like a leaf. Great. At least no one else is here, except Tsuzuki. "I swear, by my blood, I am yours," I echo. "Body and soul, forever and always."

He takes away his palms, and the wounds heal instantly.

"Better?" he asks.

I nod, feeling even better than I did previously, which is pretty impressive. "Aa," I say, and hug him. "Much."

~~~~

Akimiya's wedding is sweet and nice and cute. He hates me for calling him cute, but he really was. I mean, after all the moping he's been doing, to see him all polished up in a tuxedo and glowing like there's no tomorrow, it's adorable. Rika is beautiful, she really is, which is kind of funny because she's not really a beautiful woman. I mean, yes, she's pretty (from the point of one who doesn't really notice), but not beautiful. But today she is.

The wedding is simple, and I, well, do my best man thing. Which consists mostly of looking solemn, which I'm pretty good at. Though it's hard not to giggle because I can see Tsuzuki in the audience. And I can just tell that he's wondering when this boring ceremony will be over so he can go have some of the cake.

Which is very good. And so is the champagne, but I don't drink much. I think I've sworn off alcohol.

There's dancing. Akimiya and Rika get the first dance, of course, while everyone stands around and remarks on how cute they are. Then Akimiya drags me forcibly out with Tsuzuki and tells us that it's his wedding and we're going to dance, God damn it, and so on, and so forth.

"But I can't dance," I protest helplessly.

"It's easy," he said. "I'll put on a slow song, at which point you hold each other and sway. And sort of shuffle your feet around."

Despite my intial terror, dancing to a slow song really does seem easy. And sort of fun. I mean, the swaying is. With Tsuzuki holding me, which is always fun. After that, everyone gets up to dance (except Tatsumi, who is far too dignified). Even the Gushoshin are floating around in a sort of rhythmic manner.

Okay. Something must be done about this.

I take Tsuzuki's hand and tilt my head towards Tatsumi. His eyes gleam suddenly, and I know he's thinking exactly what I am. He bounds over to Tatsumi. I can't hear them from here, but Tsuzuki is tugging on his hands and trying to get him to his feet. Tatusmi is protesting adamantly. Apparently he doesn't dance either.

Unfortunately for him, Tsuzuki's enthusiasm beats all comers, and Tatsumi is dragged out onto the floor. They're so cute. Wakaba is taking pictures. Oh, I can see this coming back to haunt us. Or Tatsumi. I dunno, but someone is going to end up regretting this. The thought makes me giggle.

Everyone dances with everyone, and I have a feeling that no one is going to be on time to work tomorrow. (Akimiya was given another week off for his honeymoon and all.) Not even Tatsumi. Tsuzuki keeps plying him with champagne. It's really funny. I mean, you try picturing Tatsumi drunk. Isn't it funny?

It's near the very end when Tsuzuki nods at me, and I use the age-old trick of clinking my glass to get everyone's attention. I think I know why Tsuzuki was getting Tatsumi drunk. Once I have everyone looking at me, I propose the last of what have been many toasts to Akimiya and his new bride. I'm wondering exactly how Tsuzuki talked me into being the one who was going to announce this. Why me? I really need to start paying attention to myself.

"Uhm, and I have a little announcement to make, now that everyone's good and tipsy," I say brightly. (You think Tatsumi is a fun drunk? Try the Gushoshin.) "We thought it would be appropriate if we announced it at the wedding, so, um, Tsuzuki and I are kinda sorta um doing the same thing." My voice trails off into mumbles. Everyone yells at me to speak up. "We're getting married, for Chrissake!"

Shocked silence greets this statement, before everyone bursts into cheers and clapping. The wedding would just be a formality, after what we did last night; it means little compared to the blood bind. But . . . I like it this way. Though I'm way too young to be married, but that's not the point at all. I mean . . . it's Tsuzuki.

Tatsumi actually hugs Tsuzuki (I chalk that up to too much champagne) and Akimiya is practically falling all over himself with glee. Of course, he's stone drunk, so who can blame him?

We manage to get home, somehow. I'm the only totally sober one there, and Tsuzuki is only slightly tipsy. (He doesn't need alcohol anyway.) So we end up seeing almost everyone home, which is pretty funny. And finally we get home, and collapse into bed.

"Everyone was funny when you told them," Tsuzuki mumbles, and then he's asleep, his arm wrapped around my waist.

And I'm amazed how little the past five weeks matter. We got through them, and we're together again, and that's the only thing that I can think about. Well, that and spending the rest of eternity with him. Boring? Maybe. But you know, 'may you have an interesting life' is actually a curse. I think I'm quite content with boredom, thank you very much.

~finis~

Hope you all enjoyed the fun. ^^