It had been another eventful month for the Kyushu two, and once again Shokan division secretary Tatsumi Seiichirou was having to deal with the administrative fallout.
As usual, it was taking some time. He’d finally cornered inveterate paperwork-dodger Tsuzuki Asato, but rather than a wallet of completed forms, all Tatsumi had got was a big-eyed plea for help with filling them in. Now Tsuzuki was sitting, or rather sprawling, in the swivel chair in front of Tatsumi’s desk, still looking mournful. His tie was all but undone.
Tatsumi sighed and gave his colleague a stern look through his glasses, making sure to angle them in the electric light so they would glint in a suitably cold fashion. Office hours were already over and he’d sent Kurosaki-kun home. Whine and drag his feet as he might, its was Tsuzuki’s shikigami who had fried a row of buildings last week and so it was Tsuzuki who had to fill in the documentation.
“You have to do this, it won’t take long,” Tatsumi coaxed, not wanting to be too hard on his colleague. He’d gathered from Hisoka’s brief comments – apparently diffident but in reality all too expressive, and accompanied by significant glances at his partner from under his bangs – that today Tsuzuki had once again been forced to take the life of someone who really didn’t want to die. Tatsumi could have looked into the details of the case, discovered whether it was another child, or perhaps someone in love... but there was no point getting dragged into Tsuzuki’s pain again. Tatsumi knew by now there was nothing he could really do for his former partner - except for practical things, like making him fill in his paperwork properly and so keeping off unwanted scrutiny from the higher-ups.
“I feel like I’m in detention,” Tsuzuki complained, shuffling his feet as he sat in the chair in front of Tatsumi’s desk. “I’ve been summoned to see the headmaster.”
Tatsumi could feel himself getting irritated. He still had plenty of his own work to do tonight and did not need this delay.
“Be sensible, Tsuzuki,” he snapped, leaning further over his desk and jabbing at something on the form which waited in front of his unmoving colleague. “This isn’t exactly the first time you’ve done this. You really should be able to fill in the paperwork by yourself now.”
Tatsumi sat heavily back in his chair, glaring. But Tsuzuki wasn’t looking at him. He was staring downwards.
Tatsumi wondered for a worried second whether Tsuzuki might be focusing on his right wrist. Although they were invisible under his watch strap, those scars could sometimes seem the centre of the shinigami’s whole body.
Not this time though. Tsuzuki simply looked sad and vacant. He was staring through his hands, through the floor, off into worlds Tatsumi could not reach. He made a slight movement, and untidy brown hair flopped over to obscure his face.
“Tsuzuki...” said Tatsumi gently.
“Hm?” The younger shinigami glanced up and gave his colleague a bright smile.
Tsuzuki was going to hide everything again, then. Well, so be it. Probably for the best.
“It’s no good,” said Tatsumi, smiling wryly and wagging a finger over his desk. “You’re not going to get out of this.”
Tsuzuki pouted. “Are you sure you can’t do it for me?”
“I may be clever, but I can’t fake handwriting. I don’t think I could write so untidily,” Tatsumi added, adopting a fastidious expression as Tsuzuki took up the pen he had provided and filled in the first box at the top of the form.
“Sorry,” said Tsuzuki, smiling cheerfully. “What can I say, education wasn’t big when I was a kid.... Oh. Oops.”
Tatsumi looked down at the form and once again felt his composure slipping slightly. Tsuzuki had actually managed to break the apparently indestructible modern-style pen. Ink dribbled across the form and onto the desk.
The secretary got up, swiped the form from under Tsuzuki’s nose, stuffed it into the bin and went to get another from the filing cabinet.
Behind him, he could hear Tsuzuki get up as well. It sounded like one of his desk drawers was being opened.
“What are you doing?” Tatsumi inquired neutrally as he turned round, not sure if he was supposed to play this latest move indulgently or angrily.
Tsuzuki had picked up the bamboo pointer which Tatsumi used for his occasional lectures and accounting presentations.
“I think you’re going to have to punish me,” said Tsuzuki, with an odd little smile.
After a second Tatsumi’s instincts for their old game kicked back in. He began to make a dry comment about the teacher’s desk being off limits, tapping the corner of some forms on the metal edge of the filing cabinet. But his voice trailed off when he saw Tsuzuki’s hand was shaking.
Tatsumi stuffed the sheaf of paper back into its folder and hurried back towards his desk, stopping little more than a foot in front of Tsuzuki.
“What is it? What’s the matter?” The secretary heard his own voice low and urgent, sounding more worried than the rules of their exchange should have allowed. He caught himself well before his hand could move up to touch skin against skin.
Tsuzuki’s expression was unreadable as he offered the cane to Tatsumi. The secretary took it automatically, telling himself how baffling this was. What silliness was Tsuzuki indulging in now?
He seemed to hear his name without Tsuzuki speaking it, and suddenly fingertips were burning through the thin sleeve of his shirt.
Tatsumi jumped back, scraping his shin on the desk. He leant down to rub it with his free hand and made the usual comforting expressions of annoyance and concern for the fabric of his trousers. When he looked up, he was certain all this... strangeness would have gone away.
Tsuzuki was still looking at him. With something like anger – and disappointment. His posture had changed from the exaggeratedly coy, pleading pose of their familiar game to something straighter, more virile and angry. One foot, in a poorly polished shoe, was twitching against Tatsumi’s immaculate carpet.
“Don’t, then,” growled Tsuzuki. “Never mind. I should know by now I can’t really expect anything from you. Now, as you’ve decided I’m stuck here until midnight, what would you like me to do? Alphabetise some filing, or maybe count paperclips?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tatsumi shot back. “Tsuzuki-san, you haven’t...”
But Tsuzuki had turned around and was moving away. Tatsumi came up behind the shorter man in two long strides and caught his shoulder in a firm grasp.
Tsuzuki instantly went perfectly still.
“You haven’t...” Tatsumi began again, feeling a strange current running up through his hand and seeming to paralyse his brain. “You haven’t... the forms...”
The muscles clasped between his thumb and fingers bunched and shifted. Then he was holding air, and Tsuzuki was facing him, very close.
Amethyst eyes, filled with that expression which Tatsumi did not – refused to – understand.
Tatsumi sensed rather than saw another movement. He looked down to see that Tsuzuki had brought his hand up between them, and was holding it there, palm up, just a few centimetres from Tatsumi’s navel.
“What do you expect from me, Tsuzuki Asato?” Tatsumi heard himself half-whisper.
Tsuzuki just kept staring. That awful, limitless stare that opened right into the agony at the heart of the man.
“Perhaps we should...” Tatsumi began to murmur, but cut himself short by bringing the cane down hard on the naked skin in front of him.
There hadn’t been enough room for a proper swing, but Tatsumi had put force into the blow. Tsuzuki let out a thin screech and clasped his injured hand under his arm, eyes clenching shut, body hunching in on itself.
Instantly Tatsumi was angry. Of course he was, that was why he had hit Tsuzuki. He stared at the cane, which had raised itself back to shoulder level for convenient inspection as if it were guiding Tatsumi’s hand rather than the other way round. Eyeballing his bamboo pointer, as if it might provide some explanation for all this, seemed so much better than remembering Tsuzuki at the moment.
Then Tsuzuki let out a pitiful little whimper of the kind guaranteed to make Tatsumi jump to attention even if they were in an expenditure meeting. Tatsumi dropped the cane on the desk, and instinctively stepped right up to his former partner, so close he could smell cinnamon rolls... and below that, something else.
He registered the sensation of Tsuzuki’s uninjured hand snaking around his waist as the shorter man opened his eyes and looked up into Tatsumi’s face.
“So you like it when I’m a naughty boy,” murmured Tsuzuki. “Should have tried that before.”
Tatsumi closed his eyes, deciding to ignore the arm resting on the band of his trousers. Tsuzuki had pushed the game too far, he wasn’t interested any more. Damage limitation was the job now. “Show me your hand,” he said. Guilt and self-reproach could wait, he had to check Tsuzuki was recovering. He gently gripped Tsuzuki’s elbow and began to tug the hand free of its protecting armpit.
Tsuzuki, for some insane reason, was resisting. One part of Tatsumi experienced the sudden urge to give a Hisoka-style growl of “idiot!” and exit the room in disgust. Instead he commanded, more sternly this time. “Show me your hand!”
“You might have trouble seeing it like that,” murmured Tsuzuki. But he relaxed and allowed his hand to be guided out of its refuge.
Tatsumi had to open his eyes to inspect the wounded palm. He just had time to register that the welt was unpleasant but already healing in the shinigami fashion, when the hand rose up and vanished from sight as it clamped softly around the lower half of his face.
Tatsumi opened his mouth to protest, but his lips met with skin. His tongue came out to meet the raised hump of the already smooth welt, and to lick it once, twice, feeling the tiny shifts of contour as the wound healed even while he worked.
Tsuzuki had let go of his waist. Their only point of contact, the only thing that existed in the world, was the heat of the shinigami’s fingertips on Tatsumi’s face, and the mending flesh that was tender and firm against his tongue.
In the distance there was a tiny sound, perhaps the building creaking as it settled into emptiness for the night.
For the second time, Tatsumi flinched backwards.
His tie flipped up and almost hit him in the face, which was comical, he noted with complete detachment. In front of him, Tsuzuki was leaning one-handed against his chair, back gently arched and eyes tight shut in what appeared to be rapture. His injured hand remained in the air where... where Tatsumi’s mouth had been.
Tsuzuki presumably moved out of that position, but Tatsumi did not see it happen, because by that time he had both his own hands flat on his desk, head down. He was trying not to pant.
The grain of the wood was fascinating. Some of the ink Tsuzuki had spilled had settled into one of the grooves. Must get that removed, Tatsumi thought, with a tiny thrill of efficiency.
Then he stated, as if it were the next order of business after the ink spill, “I am a monster, Tsuzuki-san. I killed my own mother, you know that. Do not entrust yourself to me.”
Someone else was saying this. His mouth had been borrowed, as his arm with the cane had been before. All this, everything, was beyond comprehension. An evening of paperwork, that had been all that was needed. Nothing else. Too late.
“I didn’t...” he heard Tsuzuki begin in a tone of quiet, disappointed defeat. A pause. “Tatsumi? Oh gods, I’ve hurt you, haven’t I.”
Tsuzuki had hurt him?!
Tatsumi wanted to whirl round and gather Tsuzuki up in his arms, but he didn’t deserve that relief, couldn’t trust himself with it. Tsuzuki had to get out of here now, for his own sake.
“Go,” Tatsumi managed to spit out. The patterns in the wood were complex and fascinating.
“Or you’ll punish...” Tsuzuki began in a weak, joking tone, but trailed off.
Tatsumi was astonished to see the ink stain blur a little, and spread along the groove. As the desk was moving backwards and forwards slightly, it was also logical to suppose that his arms were shaking.
“Oh gods,” repeated Tsuzuki. “I’m so sorry, Tatsumi. I’ll go. I’ll go now.”
Tatsumi wasn’t sure, but he may have felt the faintest ghost of a touch through the back of his shirt. Either way, it was followed by the sounds of a clumsy retreat, footsteps faltering as they nearly fell over a chair before hurrying out into the corridor, then breaking into a run.
Tatsumi waited for the sound to fade away before he straightened up, staring into the perfect black of his uncurtained office window
A door slammed in the distance. Beside him the cane rolled off the desk, bounced a little, and was still.