Hisoka hated dreaming.
Not while he dreamt, of course. The dreams set their own rules, and he couldn’t tell the difference between them and rationality. It seemed perfectly natural that he should be wearing his paper-cheap hospital gown in the Ju-oh-cho offices. It seemed perfectly natural that they had been waiting for Chief Konoe's arrival for so many weeks that snow had fallen high enough to press in at the windows. “Like cherry blossoms,” Tsuzuki said, pressing his hand against the meeting-room window in return.
Hisoka rolled his eyes. “You wouldn’t think about food so much if you’d ever had enough,” he said.
Tsuzuki’s hand clenched around the window pane, which shattered, and Hisoka tried hard not to jump. It was important not to show a reaction, not to let anyone see what he was thinking. I thought I gave that up, though, he thought, but there were blossoms dripping down Tsuzuki’s hand, blossoms starting to blow into the meeting room. “No,” Tsuzuki said. “Should I take more, Hisoka?”
He doesn’t sound like himself, Hisoka thought, trying hard to look at Tsuzuki’s face to see whether it was really him. His eyes wouldn't move upwards, so he all he could see were Tsuzuki’s hands reaching toward him. “Tsuzuki--” he stammered, disbelieving. Tsuzuki laughed. Hisoka stood up, trying to get away. His gown tangled in the chair behind him. “What are you doing?”
“Taking,” Tsuzuki said. “I always wanted to, but I didn’t want to bother you.” He leapt onto the table, terrifyingly tall and fast, and Hisoka tried harder to get the sash of his gown loose. He’d rip it if he pulled too hard, he’d be exposed and defenseless, and he couldn’t find where it was stuck.
“Stop it,” Hisoka said. “It does bother me. Don’t.” Tsuzuki laughed again, and Hisoka thought that surely it was him. That was Tsuzuki’s laugh, the one Hisoka used to find so irritating. It was him, so he ought to be safe, but he wasn’t. “Please, Tsuzuki!”
Then the dark shape on the table was leaping down at him, and Hisoka tried one more time to get away, but the hands were on him, shoving him down, ripping the gown away. “No!” Breath panting in his ears, and Tsuzuki’s hand on his wrists hurt so sharply it distracted him from the cold air on his skin, the hot breath on his neck. “Tsuzuki! No, please! NO!”
Hands hard on his shoulders, shaking him, he was tied down and helpless. “No!”
“Hisoka! It’s all right! I’m here!”
Tsuzuki’s voice was urgent, and Hisoka felt his concern tugging as hard as his hands. “Stop it!”
“It’s all right,” Tsuzuki said, warm and worried, “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. Look at me.”
Hisoka tried to open his eyes, found them open already, saw Tsuzuki’s attempted half-smile. He’d been trying so hard to look at his face, to see if it had really been him, and now it really was. “Get away!”
“Hisoka?” Tsuzuki’s voice sounded uncertain for the first time, adding a different concern to the pastiche of worry and guilt and-- “Wake up. It’s just me.”
I know that, Hisoka thought snappishly, but managed to bite it back. “Tsuzuki?”
Tsuzuki’s smile grew wider, relieved. “There, you’re awake,” he said, turning on the light with a wave of his fingers. “Just a dream.”
“Y... yeah,” Hisoka muttered, looking away. He was, unnervingly, still wearing a hospital gown, because he was still in the infirmary, still hurting from Touda’s fires and Oriya’s blade. That explained how Tsuzuki had been there to wake him up, but he wasn’t sure he was grateful for that. The Tsuzuki in his dream had been simply, undeniably malevolent-- horribly familiar, but no more complex than that. The Tsuzuki who sat on the edge of his bed... “What time is it?”
“Hm?” Tsuzuki looked up at the clock. “About... a little past four.”
“Right,” Hisoka said. “You should go back to sleep.”
Tsuzuki sounded doubtful. “Will you be all right?”
“Are you sure?”
“Tsuzuki!” Hisoka snapped, turning away to switch off the light. “We’re supposed to be resting, aren’t we?”
“All right,” Tsuzuki’s hand, now just resting on Hisoka’s shoulder, moved to ruffle his hair. “Sure you don’t want me to tuck you in?”
“Idiot,” Hisoka said, working hard to keep the panic out of his voice. “Go to sleep.”
Tsuzuki sighed, and moved with perfect ease through the dark to his own bed. “Sleep well,” he said softly. Hisoka grunted. He heard Tsuzuki roll onto his back, then nothing, not even deep breathing. It would take Tsuzuki a while to get to sleep, Hisoka knew. He still felt an anxious twist of emotions; left-over adrenaline from waking up to the sound of screams, worry-- probably about what Hisoka wasn’t telling him, probably about Hisoka himself-- guilt, both his habitual background guilt, and the new, sharper one which Hisoka had felt from him ever since Tsuzuki woke up after Touda’s fires. The new guilt was so strong that he could almost hear it in words: I just wanted to stop hurting people. I just wanted to stop hurting. I hadn’t realized I’d give you nightmares of-- of losing me. I didn’t realize the way things are (the trap I’m in, and there was a hint of anger there)-- that I’d hurt you by going, just as surely as I’d hurt them by staying. And maybe I shouldn’t have let that decide me, because their deaths will surely be worse than your hurt, but.
That was where the problem lay for Hisoka. Because what followed that was warmth that pressed against him even when they weren’t touching. It could wrap around him too close to breathe. But I won’t have you hurt, Hisoka. These feelings sang together, not like the earlier mess. These harmonized: protectiveness, familiarity, fondness, gratitude, reliance. And under them all, weaving through, crept the new feeling, the one that had never been more than a flicker from Tsuzuki before-- desire. It all became a reaching out to him, trying to enfold him and not let go. Like he’d enfolded Tsuzuki inside the inferno, holding on so tightly that he could feel Tsuzuki’s pulse, feel his breath, his shoulder-blade bruising-hard against Hisoka’s cheek. And now Tsuzuki was reaching back as strongly as Hisoka had reached for him, welcoming the embrace.
It wasn’t that Hisoka never thought about sex. It wasn’t even that he never thought about sex with Tsuzuki. His body was sixteen, after all (though he was well over eighteen by now, with hundreds of years to go). Being able to feel anything at all meant he was stuck with feeling this, too--sweat and desire coming on him at any hour of day or night. So yes, he thought about it. He simply didn’t enjoy the thoughts or the sensations that went with them. He didn’t like knowing that his face would flush or his breath would catch without his having any say over it. It seemed like one more way for his body to betray him. He’d felt his body collapse around him during his years in the hospital; he’d known he couldn’t trust it. And then Muraki had made it perfectly clear that Hisoka’s body was his, really. His to claim, his to use, his to mark, and then his to destroy as often as he liked. He might lose interest, but the body would never feel like Hisoka’s again.
It wasn’t just his body, either. Really, he was nothing but his soul now, and his soul was mortgaged to Enma. His emotions, of course, had never been his own. It had been years before he knew that, for other people, emotions were personal. He’d had no idea until his mother had screamed it to him. Then came a long while of trying to sort out which feeling was whose in the wash of fears and pains. He still couldn’t manage it-- wasn’t sure how much of that disgust with himself was hers, how much his father’s, how much his own. It took careful work, thinking clearly and logically: do I have a reason to feel that? If not, then it’s not mine. It’s someone else’s. He relied on his mind to tell him what he felt, and it was complicated. He’d much rather ignore his emotions completely when he could and think things through. He could trust his own mind, anyway.
Except when it was channeling his hormones. Except when memories were taken and returned like spare change. Except when he slept, and his subconscious could ambush him. Except when Tsuzuki was feeling at him, wanting him, day and night. Damn him. Couldn’t even shut up when he slept. Hisoka curled onto his side, facing the wall.
He almost managed to get away clean. He briefly considered going out the window, dismissed it as being ridiculous, and regretted the dismissal when he ran into Tatsumi, who was obviously patrolling the corridors before settling in for a day of work.
Tatsumi smiled. “Kurosaki-kun. You’re feeling better?”
Hisoka nodded. “Yes, thanks. Watari-san said I could go.”
Tatsumi smiled. “That’s good to hear.” He glanced at the pack on Hisoka’s back. “What’s this?”
Hisoka shrugged. “I’m using some of my vacation days now. I have a week stored up.”
“Oh?” Hisoka wondered whether or not Tatsumi was going to bother him about missing more work. He hoped not. He wasn’t in the mood to argue. “That’s probably a good idea. Where are you going?”
“Hakkotsu-san,” Hisoka said. The Younger Gushoushin had promised him that the mountain was the most sparsely populated of any of the places he could afford and had pretty nice views. Right now, he didn’t care if the place was a sewer as long as he could be alone in it.
“Hakkotsu-san? For vacation?” Tatsumi raised his eyebrows. “Was that your idea or Tsuzuki-san’s?”
“Mine,” Hisoka said, not sure what Tatsumi’s tone meant. It took work to read the Shadow-Master’s emotions, and he didn’t want to make the effort at the moment. “Tsuzuki isn’t coming.”
He didn’t need to work to feel Tatsumi’s concern at that. “You’re leaving him right now?”
“He has another few days in the infirmary,” Hisoka said. “I’ll be back by the time he’s ready for work.”
That didn’t seem to be Tatsumi’s point. “I see,” he said. He looked like he was about to say more.
Respect for his superiors notwithstanding, Hisoka wasn’t in the mood to hear it. “I’ll be back in a few days, Tatsumi-san. I’ll see you then.” He turned, not waiting for dismissal, and headed out.
The mountain views were indeed pretty nice, Hisoka supposed. For a while he’d found heights and open spaces unnerving, but he was mostly over that. He had no rational reason for it, after all, and it could get in his way if he let it. So he hiked up the path, watching his feet, watching the road before and behind, and letting the views trail along as background. The isolation was all he’d hoped for. He hadn’t seen a single person since he’d left the town below, and he almost felt he could relax a little. Not completely, obviously, not that he ever did. But at least here he wasn’t constantly straining against people pushing at him.
It wasn’t that he missed the time he’d spent locked up in the cell in the basement. He tried not to remember it too clearly-- hours of staring at the wall, too miserable to summon up the energy to want to do something else. But he had gotten used to it. If nothing else, it had been safe. Routine. Nothing since he’d left his parents’ house had been predictable-- he kept having to unlearn everything he knew, and it wore him out. If he hadn’t gotten sick, he wouldn’t be feeling like this.
Damn right you wouldn’t, he thought sharply. You’d be feeling empty and pointless and trapped and so bored you thought about slitting your wrists just for something to do. You’ve done more that was worthwhile in the year since you died than did in your entire lifetime, and you know it. You are more than you were then. You had no idea your empathy could be useful. You would have frozen screaming if you’d seen a demon. You didn’t have the slightest idea how to talk to people or that you’d want to. You’d never even had a friend, let alone people who’d charge into a fight for you. You couldn’t imagine why anyone would.
And you could never have saved someone’s life just by talking to him.
Ah. Hisoka walked faster, bending his legs deeply to climb steep, rough-cut stone steps. And here he was, on exactly the thought he’d been trying to escape. Because that was true. He had saved Tsuzuki’s life just by asking. Begging. Curling up around him and sobbing and demanding that he live... and he had. He had bent his head and assented, and now he was living “just for me.”
So. Now what?
Hisoka paused, panting. The stairs stopped by a little shrine so old and worn that he couldn't tell what kami might have been honored there or how long ago. Around it, ferns and twisting conifers stretched up the mountainside, the darkness among them too deep to see how steeply they climbed. His lungs rasped, and he wasn’t sure whether it was the exercise or left-over searing from the smoke he’d breathed in. He could have died again. He would have died if Tsuzuki hadn’t agreed to come out. No-- because it would have been too late for that, if Tatsumi hadn’t managed to get to them. He still didn’t know whether that had been his intention, to die if Tsuzuki wouldn’t live. He hadn’t thought about it at the time, about what the odds were he’d actually be able to save him. He’d just known he had to stay with Tsuzuki.
And he had. And Tsuzuki had lived for him.
Which meant Hisoka owed him something to live for. Didn’t it?
Hisoka started climbing again, more slowly. It had been easy to say then, desperately sobbing out the words-- I need you. Live for me. I don’t want to be alone again. He hadn’t been thinking about consequences or about all the things he usually kept so carefully from saying. He’d been too busy trying to find the right thing to say, the thing that would keep Tsuzuki from leaving him, and he didn’t have time to think about why that threat scared him so much. Or what it would mean to admit that it did. What else it was admitting about what he felt, what it meant to the two of them.
He didn’t know what Tsuzuki had thought then. His partner’s face had been so empty, his voice so defeatedly sad. But then he had held Hisoka close, and Hisoka had felt life sparking inside him where it had been so set on smothering out. When they’d awakened back in Meifu, the spark had been blazing, more so every time Hisoka met his eyes. Days and nights in the infirmary beds, Hisoka kept noticing Tsuzuki notice him and smile. He’d felt warmed for a while.
He just didn’t know how to stop it. And he was starting to smell smoke.
Hisoka looked up the hillside, wondering how long he’d been smelling it without noticing. Probably just a cooking-fire, he thought-- the mountain couldn’t really be as deserted as it looked, or there would be no need for a road. Nothing to worry about, probably-- and he was not going to add fire to his list of incipient phobias. There was no real reason to worry about it, and he had just determined not to when he heard the screams.
Hisoka jumped, blinking from the path to a spot further up the mountain. From here he could smell the smoke, too harsh and stinking to be just firewood burning. It sounded like dozens of people screaming, terrified. He ran, forgetting the pain in his lungs, racing upwards toward the fire. He couldn’t see it yet, but he must be getting close. He stumbled up the path, almost tripping over loose stones, picking up speed as he ran over the flat ground. The screams were deafening. The screams were behind him.
Hisoka turned. The fire roared all around him; he coughed in the smoke, but he saw nothing. Just the stone foundations of some ancient building, the forest growing through and around them. Someone screamed next to him. He spun and saw nothing except the ferns shaking in his passage.
“Who’s there?” he called, throwing up a shield. “Where are you?”
Silence. The smoke started to clear, blowing away on the passing breeze. Hisoka was alone in the ruin.
“Who’s there?” he called again.
There was a rustle in the ferns behind him. Hisoka whirled.
“Just me,” Tsuzuki said. He waved sheepishly. “Hi.”
“Tsuzuki!” Hisoka wasn’t sure what the expression was on his face, but it couldn’t have been terribly welcoming from the way that his partner’s fell. “Did you hear them?”
Tsuzuki shook his head, looking around. “Who?”
“I don’t know.” Hisoka sniffed, but there was only a hint of smoke left in the air. “I heard screaming. But when I got here-- nothing.”
“Hm.” It was always odd to watch Tsuzuki’s face when he switched into work-mode. He got so focused so abruptly, eyes narrowed, mouth looking like it didn’t know what a smile was. “Did you notice anything else?”
Tsuzuki sniffed the air. “What do you think it was?”
“I’m not sure,” Hisoka said. “Illusion, maybe. Or ghosts.” He could deal with Tsuzuki like this, as a partner. That still worked. He was glad of it. As long as they kept it like this.
Tsuzuki nodded. “What do you feel?”
Or not. “I haven’t tried to,” Hisoka said reluctantly. He could feel Tsuzuki already, even as he tried to focus on anything except his empathy. If he actually tried to reach out with it...
“Why not?” Tsuzuki asked, looking intently at Hisoka. “Is there something else?”
He had to ask. “I’m not sure,” Hisoka said, not meeting his eyes. “The screams were so frightened already...”
Tsuzuki’s eyes were so kind. “It’s okay, Hisoka.” He looked around at the trees twisting their way through the ruin. “Did you feel cold?”
Hisoka thought back. “Yes,” he said. “A ghost, then.”
Tsuzuki nodded. “Maybe a lot of them,” he said. He sighed. “Well, so much for vacation. We sure have that kind of luck, don’t we?”
Hisoka blinked, reminded. “What...” are you doing here, he’d started to say, but it would sound as if he didn’t want to see him. He didn’t, of course, but he couldn’t bring himself to say that to Tsuzuki. “How did you know where to find me?”
“Huh? Tatsumi told me,” Tsuzuki said. “I guess you didn’t think I’d catch up with you this quickly.”
There was a hint of uncertainty hidden behind the words, Tsuzuki wanting one more reassurance-- so you do want me with you, right? You really don’t hate me for everything I’ve done? Hisoka wasn’t sure how to answer it because what Tsuzuki had done in the past really wasn’t the point. “I thought you had another few days in the infirmary,” he said, stalling.
Tsuzuki shrugged. “Watari said as long as I take it easy, it’s no problem. I’ll be okay to check this out.”
“What for?” Hisoka said. He crossed his arms, still chilly. “Ghosts aren’t our job. They’re already dead. The onmyouji can handle it.”
“That bunch of paper-pushers?” Tsuzuki shivered. “As long as I don’t have to talk to them. They always give me the creeps.” He brightened. “I’ll call Tatsumi later and tell him to tell them.”
Good, Hisoka thought sharply. Serves him right. “Fine.”
“Okay,” Tsuzuki said. “So now what?”
Hisoka had no idea.
Tsuzuki snapped his fingers. “Dinner!” he said. “The sun’s going to set soon. We’d better find somewhere to stay for the night.” He looked around. “I didn’t see any inns yet...”
“There aren’t any,” Hisoka said. “I brought a tent.” And one bedroll. Tsuzuki, from the look of him, had brought a trenchcoat and whatever was in the small bag slung over his shoulder. Hisoka frowned. Maybe I can send him back to Meifu to sleep... He pushed the thought aside to deal with later. “We should go further up.”
Tsuzuki nodded. “Let’s go,” he said, leaving the ruin with a sweep of his coat. Hisoka followed.
The ferns behind them glowed red in the setting sunlight.
It didn't take long before Hisoka realized that the tent was easier to set up without Tsuzuki’s help and sent him to get firewood. Or, rather, it was easier without Tsuzuki there, period. The vague awareness which had set in when Tsuzuki arrived grew clearer and stronger every time his partner looked at him. It made it hard to think, hard to concentrate on anything without constantly noticing him. Hisoka found himself remembering how annoying he’d found the other shinigami when they were first working together. He just won’t go away.
Except that he almost had, of course. Hisoka scowled at the tent peg.
“Want me to take a look at it?” Tsuzuki asked, dropping a load of clattering branches to the ground.
Hisoka jumped. “No. I’ve got it.” He made a few adjustments, stood, and looked down at the one-person tent. “It’s set.”
Tsuzuki also looked over at the tent, and his smile shook a little at the edges. “Good. I’ll get the fire started.”
Hisoka watched him. “Those twigs are too small to burn for long,” he complained.
“They’re kindling,” Tsuzuki said. “Don’t you--” He stopped, then went on with a barely perceptible pause. “worry about it. I’ve done this plenty of times.” He struck a match and set the flames to licking at the larger logs piled above.
Hisoka looked away. He hadn’t made a campfire before. He hadn’t, for that matter, slept outdoors before (unless you counted eventually collapsing unconscious that night, which he did not and would not and did not care to think about at the moment). He’d set off assuming that he could figure it out easily enough-- how hard could it be? Harder than he’d thought, like most things he’d never bothered with. He wasn’t sure what the difference was between something he’d never bothered with and something he’d been too scared to try.
Tsuzuki hummed as he went through Hisoka’s bag, pulling out cooking supplies. “Eh? Hisoka, where’s the mochi?”
“I didn’t bring any,” Hisoka said.
“You didn’t?!” Tsuzuki stared at him, aghast. “What are we going to have after dinner?”
“I hadn’t been planning to have anything,” Hisoka said.
“You hadn’t? That’s horrible! You can’t go camping without mochi! How could you do such a thing?”
“I really didn’t care,” Hisoka snapped. “What difference does it make?”
There was a long pause. “I’ll cook,” Hisoka said, finally. “Curry, all right?” He looked down, setting up the cooking equipment.
“Hisoka,” Tsuzuki said quietly, “do you want me to go back?”
“I--” Hisoka said, not looking at him. His hand slipped onto the brazier he’d just set over the fire and he jerked it back, burned. “No. Of course not.”
“I don’t want to get in your way,” Tsuzuki said. “If you don’t want me along. I should probably be in bed still, anyway.”
“No,” Hisoka said. “I’m glad you’re here. I just...” He fumbled for words. “I wanted to think. About... Muraki.”
Tsuzuki’s eyes widened. “Hisoka...” Then he nodded. “It’s a good idea.”
“Right,” Hisoka said.
None of which answered the question of whether Tsuzuki should stay or go. Nor was it going to. Hisoka swallowed hard and said, “I thought we should sleep in shifts. We don’t know what’s out here besides ghosts.”
“Shifts?” Tsuzuki said. “Aw. Does that mean you’re not going to share the bed with me?” But he felt happier.
Hisoka didn’t. “Shut up! Idiot!”
Tsuzuki looked wounded with perfect cheer. Hisoka turned away and tried to think about nothing but spicing the curry. It didn’t work.