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Surpassing

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The day Hisoka thought I love him was otherwise unremarkable.

He was stuck in the office, as he and Tsuzuki had been ever since Hisoka’s abortive ‘vacation.’ Oddly, Chief Konoe hadn’t assigned them any new cases when they got back from Hakkatsu-san, just muttered something about ‘end-of-the-quarter’ and ‘paperwork.’ They hadn’t argued.

That day, Hisoka was trying to make sense of Tsuzuki’s desk, having long since finished reorganizing his own. (Twice.) He sighed and pulled out another used fork. At first, he’d been relieved for the chance to rest, but the dragging days gave him too much time to think. Writing the reports for the last two cases had been strange-- putting all that flame and fury into black and white lines on paper. He kept running over phrases in his mind; “My partner and I were removed from the laboratory by Tatsumi-san, sustaining some injuries.”; “The demon appeared to be the same entity as the ghost by which I was possessed...”; perfectly true statements, professionally phrased, telling nothing. I don’t see how I could do better, Hisoka thought, pulling out a tattered movie ticket and some greyish files dated “July, 1973.” He shook dust off the files and carried them to the filing cabinets. What else would I say? “I then threw myself at my partner and demanded he... what did I say, ‘stay in my heart forever’?” He knelt behind the cabinet and opened the drawer, flipping through decades of other people’s carefully documented deaths. And he agreed, the thought came on a mix of emotions so tangled he couldn’t try to make them out. He will.

Not, Hisoka thought, that I need to dwell on it all the time. He slipped the file into place and was just about to return to Tsuzuki’s empty desk when he heard giggling. He froze. Speaking of unprofessional...

“No,” Yuma was saying with a laugh as she came into the office, “A Ferrari.”

“What’s this?” Hisoka heard Wakaba ask cheerfully.

“Oh,” Saya said, “We were discussing the Ideal Man.” Hisoka heard one of them giggle-- maybe Yuma. He wasn’t coming out from behind the cabinet to find out. Last time, the dress they’d tried to make him wear had had ribbons. Pink ones. “After all, if you’re going to fall for a man, you may as well go for perfection.”

“Oh?” Wakaba said.

The two Hokkaido shinigami fell silent for a moment, then went on, slightly chastened. “Of course!” Yuma said brightly. “We want the best! Nothing else will do! Right, Wakaba-chan?”

Wakaba sounded like she was smiling. “I’m sure you’ll both find just what suits you.” Hisoka, behind the cabinets, stretched his aching neck and closed a heavy drawer very, very quietly, then sat down on the floor to wait them out. He knew more about his coworkers' lives than he had any real wish to, and while he wasn’t sure that Terazuma was ‘just what suited’ Wakaba, the man certainly wasn’t ‘perfection.’ Still, he’d rather listen to Yuma and Saya make fools of themselves in front of Wakaba than invite them try to make a fool of him.

“Right,” Saya said. “Because it seems like so much trouble dealing with him once you’ve got him, so there’s no point doing that unless you’re sure he’s worth it. So we want to be totally sure we know exactly what we’re looking for, so we can be sure to get it!”

“Because, like you said,” Yuma said, “we want just exactly what suits us. You know about that, right, Wakaba-chan?”

Wakaba laughed. “I don’t know,” she said. “I think maybe that’s the whole point-- not knowing until you meet the person.” Yuma made an inquiring noise. Wakaba laughed at herself but went on. “That when you find someone you love, your life with them has nothing to do with what you imagined, because they’re so different from you. And all of a sudden, your life is full of them, and you change when they’re around-- you’re more than you were.”

Stupid, Hisoka thought. That’s not love. If that were love, then I--

He went absolutely still. Wakaba went on. “So it’s not that you can’t live without them or anything like that-- you just can’t live the same life without them as you can with them. And then part of you would die, too.”

Hisoka found himself analyzing the pattern of grey-green dots in the green-grey carpet. He was shaking, arms wrapped around his knees. But I don’t, he thought. I can’t. I know he loves me, I can feel it from him, and that’s strange enough. And so of course I feel that around him, that warmth, because I’m feeling his feelings. And, yes, I said I wouldn’t live without him, I held him when he cried, I let him touch me, because there’s something different about him. But I can’t love.

He’d come to that realization one long grey afternoon, watching the windowpane weep raindrops. The window had no bars on it, unlike the rest of the cell-- he could have escaped, if he’d thought to make a rope ladder. They would have liked him to escape, maybe, if they’d known he wouldn’t come back. He’d caught himself thinking that way, bitterly, and wondered yet again why it was that he felt nothing for his parents except a betrayed, furious disgust. There was a longing sometimes, but he couldn’t tell himself that was love, not when he spent so much time thinking idly about how nice it would be if they’d just die. If the house caught fire, if their car crashed, if some madman came up and shot them both with an automatic, slamming them with bullets again and again and again. That wasn’t what you were supposed to think about your parents. That was not filial devotion. That was something twisted. Fine, he’d thought, bleakly, that’s another thing wrong with me. I can’t love. He’d been eleven.

He’d been wrong.

Hisoka came out from behind the filing cabinet with wide eyes that didn’t quite seem to see what they were looking at. He ignored Wakaba’s curious smile and went back to filing. He was a marvel of efficiency for the rest of the afternoon, and refused to speak to anyone, particularly his partner. At the end of the day, he went home, alone.

But the next morning, when Tsuzuki smiled a big good-morning at him, Hisoka smiled back. It felt rusty, the muscles of his cheeks uncertain and awkward. But it mostly felt like Tsuzuki’s dumbfounded joy at the sight of it. And maybe his own at Tsuzuki’s, because he didn’t see how that much emotion could come out of just one person without knocking him over. He actually did stumble a little, but he recovered. And they went into work, the two of them, and that was that. Not perfect at all. But more.


*****************************************************************************


The day Hisoka thought So I should sleep with him was something else entirely.

After he smiled, Hisoka found himself at a loss. The day felt different, unfamiliar. He didn’t know how to get used to being in love. He found himself glancing at Tsuzuki, thinking, I love him, and not knowing what to follow it with. Books always made it seem as if love came with a whole set of wishes, a perfect blueprint for an imagined future life. Hisoka couldn’t even imagine what to do with Tsuzuki now. Especially since, ever since their return from Hokkatsu-san, Tsuzuki had hesitated to do anything that might seem like pushing him. It was considerate, but it didn’t give Hisoka much idea of what to do. So he just stuck close by and watched. He spent a lot of time that day watching.

When Ajari took over his body, Hisoka had been amazed at how much he felt. The ghost swam in a shocking wealth of sensations, a world of scents and sounds and desires that Hisoka usually tuned out. As Ajari, though, he’d welcomed them, diving with delight into every breeze, every spot of color. Now that Hisoka was back, everything came to him differently. Food had taste, he’d noticed that with the first bite of the meal he and Tsuzuki had in Takurazuka. It wasn’t just something you put in your mouth because your body or etiquette demanded it. He’d been aware that he liked hot spices, but this time he really noticed the way the sharp burn brought out the subtly different flavors of each bite. Shrimp was light and distinct and sea-flavored. Supersweet things were cloying, which meant that, to Tsuzuki’s delight, Hisoka handed over his dessert in favor of some hot, black coffee. It bit at the inside of his mouth and he found himself savoring the rich, harsh, complicated flavor. He drank coffee every morning now, although if Watari told him one more time that it would stunt his growth, Hisoka thought he’d blow up the scientist’s lab. It wasn’t to wake himself up, as it would have been before-- he liked the taste. He began to see why Tsuzuki went to so much trouble.

It wasn’t just sense of taste, either. He had walked into the office the next day and instead of checking out the exits and escape routes and directions someone could be coming at him from, he’d been distracted by the turquoise of the walls and the sharp angles of the desks. He’d always been able to look at art or listen to music, if he tried, but he used to have to pay attention to it. Now it just came at him from all directions. The world showed off for him. When he walked home from work, he didn’t need to think about something to keep from getting bored, he just had to look around at the falls of cherry blossoms, or the way the light shifted across the grass. There was so much to see.

Especially his partner. It was odd to think this about the physical shape of the personality he knew, but Tsuzuki was simply beautiful, as much as any piece of art Hisoka’d ever studied. More, because Tsuzuki moved, the many purples of his eyes reflecting everything he saw. Hisoka usually had no use for facial expressions, but with Tsuzuki they were a show in and of themselves. They made a visible exhibition of his ever-changing internal weather, sunshine and storms. And it wasn’t just his expression-- it was the frame of his face, the slant of his chin, the way his deep brown hair drifted haphazard over his pale skin, the way he moved, the way his coat swirled around him. It was all very hard to ignore, now that Hisoka had noticed it. He didn’t want to ignore it. He wanted to stare.

Tsuzuki noticed him staring late that afternoon, but he didn’t seem to mind. He looked up and smiled surprised curiosity, and Hisoka glared at him for noticing. Tsuzuki winced away quickly. Damn, Hisoka thought, I didn’t mean-- He’d been so absorbed in the aesthetics of Tsuzuki’s eyebrows that he’d almost forgotten they were Tsuzuki’s eyebrows. But it wasn’t Tsuzuki’s fault that Hisoka had forgotten where he was, and he hated to make him think it was. The next dozen times Tsuzuki noticed him staring, Hisoka simply looked away, fussing with paperwork, pretending that he hadn’t been looking and didn’t feel a blush burning his cheeks, or Tsuzuki’s pleased surmise growing more certain every time. That was annoying. He might be in love with the man, but that didn’t mean he wanted Tsuzuki getting... ideas. He didn’t know where that could lead. But Hisoka couldn’t keep from looking again.

It went on like that until finally Hisoka simply couldn’t think of anything else to look at and instead met Tsuzuki’s eyes. His partner’s smile deepened, his hope flickering higher. Then Tsuzuki actually winked at him, and looked back down at his own work, silently giving Hisoka leave to stare as much as he wanted. Hisoka did so for a moment simply out of outrage at the... the presumption of it before looking fiercely down at his desk. But the next day he was looking again, and kept looking until Tsuzuki smiled at him and suggested they go to lunch together.

The general commissary for all the departments was always open, and cheap, but his coworkers seemed to avoid it. Hisoka only managed a few bites before he realized why. “This is awful.”

Tsuzuki munched a bite thoughtfully, his attention shifting for the first time to something other than Hisoka. “Doesn’t taste much different from usual.”

Hisoka put down his chopsticks. “It doesn’t taste like anything,” he said, glad to have distracted Tsuzuki. He thought he was glad, anyway. Wasn’t he? “There’s no point to it.”

“Oh?” Tsuzuki swallowed, looking at Hisoka more alertly. “You don’t usually seem to mind.”

Hisoka leaned back, crossing his arms, staring down at the bowl in annoyance. “I didn’t notice it before,” he said. “This is like eating glue.”

“Tatsumi says,” Tsuzuki said with a growing hope, though his voice stayed casual, “that it’s perfectly nutritious. He says we could eat nothing but this for hundreds of years and be in perfect health.”

Hisoka snorted. “Except that we’d all want to kill ourselves within a month.” He flinched-- he hadn’t meant to bring that up so casually.

Tsuzuki didn’t seem to have noticed. “Hisoka!” he said, eyes shining with delight. “You agree with me!” He clasped his hands in front of him, chopsticks clattering together, bits of greyish rice flying. “Food is too important to waste your time eating this stuff!”

“Yes, all right,” Hisoka said, his partner’s enthusiasm surging through him. “Calm down.”

Tsuzuki sighed. “So you don’t want to finish eating here?” he asked, and Hisoka could all but see his tail wagging.

“No,” Hisoka said.

“Great!” Tsuzuki said. He checked his watch. “We have just enough time to go down to Earth and eat at a noodle stand before lunch break is over.” He bounded to his feet, tossing the contents of his tray casually in the garbage. “Come on!”

Hisoka followed. “But you let me bring you here,” he said, falling into place beside Tsuzuki as they left the mostly empty commissary.

“Mm?” Tsuzuki pulled a restaurant guide from his pocket, studying it intently. “You want to save money,” he said. “I didn’t want to fight with you today. Ah-- here it is! Go to the north entrance of Takeshita Street in Harajuku, all right?” He blinked out of Meifu with a grin.

So enthusiastic, Hisoka thought. He’s so easy to wind up-- just mention one thing, and he’s off. The jubilance had faded now that Tsuzuki had disappeared, but it wasn’t entirely gone, Hisoka realized. Even with Tsuzuki gone, he still felt something good. Anticipation, he thought. Huh. He blinked out, following Tsuzuki.

They started eating together regularly after that. Sometimes Tsuzuki persuaded Hisoka to go to Earth again, but more often they’d eat at home. Since letting Tsuzuki cook was out of the question, they usually went to Hisoka’s place. Hisoka was only slightly surprised to discover how much he enjoyed cooking-- he’d gotten used to that sort of surprise lately. He was more surprised at how easily he invited Tsuzuki over the first time. No-one had ever been to Hisoka’s apartment before, and he’d always liked it that way. With the exceptions of a few pieces of art and the books, the pre-furnished room looked exactly as it had the day he’d arrived. He kept it clean and well-organized, books lined up neatly on all the available shelving, clothes hanging in the closet or folded in drawers. It was a refuge, a clear breathing space uncluttered by noise and emotion and hurry.

Tsuzuki, of course, was nothing but noise and emotion, but he wasn’t hurry. After a moment’s pause coming through the door, he relaxed completely, sprawling on one of the chairs. “So what’s for dinner?”

“Tempura soba,” Hisoka said, shutting the door behind him.

“Really?” Tsuzuki perked up. “You know how to deep-fry, Hisoka?”

“Sure,” Hisoka said, shrugging. He hadn’t done it before, but it was easy to be competent at most things if you read the directions and kept a cool head.

“Coool,” Tsuzuki said, bouncing up to poke his nose into the kitchen. Hisoka almost smiled-- it certainly was neat to be able to do things so well and so easily. He hadn’t thought about it before. Except-- he blinked, bringing down his knife sharply on the chopping board. He wasn’t thinking about it now; Tsuzuki was. This was his partner’s admiration he was feeling, not his own. I feel like I’m wonderful, Hisoka thought. How odd. It was hard to dislike the feeling, whether he believed it or not. Tsuzuki did, and that was more than enough.

Hisoka let Tsuzuki chop the vegetables, figuring that he couldn’t do much damage that way, although some of the yams did come in out shapes Hisoka had never imagined. Tsuzuki babbled cheerfully as they cooked, and the kitchen seemed warmer and brighter and much louder than usual. Hisoka wavered between feeling crowded and cozy.

He settled on cozy after a week or so of getting used to the strangeness of having someone else around. Some of that coziness was undeniably Tsuzuki’s feeling, Hisoka thought one evening, passing the soy sauce without needing to be asked. Tsuzuki felt perfectly at home here, more so than in his own apartment. He’s in a really good mood, Hisoka thought, feeling the reflected cheer. He’s been in one all week. It’s unusual. Tsuzuki thanked him, pouring sauce onto his plate and dipping with gusto. Of course, he does keep getting free food. “This is great,” Tsuzuki said around a dumpling. “Hisoka, you should quit your job and open a restaurant.” Hisoka stared at him. Tsuzuki kept playing. “I’ll be your chief taste-tester...”

Hisoka sighed, not sure whose amusement this was. “I might as well. They haven’t sent us on any cases in weeks.”

“Fine by me,” Tsuzuki said. “It’s nice to get a break.”

Hisoka didn’t know what to say to that. He silently served himself another helping of rice. I don’t want anything like the last two either, he thought. Ever again. “It’s our job,” he said.

Tsuzuki’s good mood trembled at the edges. “Yeah,” he said heavily. “But don’t you ever dream about just walking in one day and saying, “That’s enough! I’m out of here! See ya!’?”

“No,” Hisoka said. His dreams were usually more unpleasant. So were Tsuzuki’s.

“Oh,” Tsuzuki said.

They ate in silence for a while. Tsuzuki’s mood got darker. “What else would we do?” Hisoka said softly. “We can’t go back.”

Tsuzuki looked so still just now. He sat perfectly upright, and his expressive eyes were just blank, giving nothing away. “And I’m not allowed to go on,” he said. “I’m tied to this world, just like the rest of us.” Even if, he almost went on, the thoughts and feelings forming in his head, I didn’t make those ties myself.

No, Hisoka thought, heart racing. I did. His voice shook. “Tsuzuki...”

Tsuzuki looked up and Hisoka saw him snap back into himself, or at least the self he wore all the time. “Good thing, too,” he said. “If it were left to me, I’d just drift off accidentally, don’t you think?”

Idiot,” Hisoka said. He stood up, grabbing Tsuzuki’s plate and carrying it and his own to the kitchen. They rattled against each other in his hands. I knew it, he heard himself thinking. I knew he wanted to leave. I’m glad I said that, because at least now I know. He leaned heavily on the edge of the sink, clutching it for support.

There was a noise behind him. “Hisoka...” Tsuzuki said, putting down the rest of the dishes on the counter beside him. “I’m glad I’m here. You know that, don’t you? I want to stay with you.”

What for? Hisoka wondered. “You hate it here.”

“No, I--” Tsuzuki started before he remembered he was talking to an empath. “Not all of it,” he said. “Not right here. I don’t hate being in this kitchen at all.”

“You do,” Hisoka said. “I can feel it. Your anger and fear and...” Startlement, Hisoka felt. And affection, and worry, and guilt, those all had the violet shading of Tsuzuki-feelings. The others-- oh. Those are mine. “I...”

“Hisoka,” Tsuzuki said. “I don’t want to leave you.” There was old grief at that but it felt true. Tsuzuki came closer, standing just an inch from his side. “I don’t.”

Words were hard, Hisoka thought. They came out wrong, they didn’t say what he meant. He nodded and started to wash the dishes. Tsuzuki fell into place beside him, drying them and putting them away, not breaking the silence. Words were no good. He didn’t even have any words inside his own head, none that could hope to contain all the feelings. Trying to think of something to say to convey even a tenth of it would be hopeless.

So when the dishes were done, and Tsuzuki had put the last one in the cupboard, Hisoka moved, very slightly, and leaned sideways.

Tsuzuki barely managed not to jerk away just from shock. Hisoka almost jerked away himself but he didn’t want to. He wanted to hold onto this. He’d touched Tsuzuki before, more often than he’d touched anyone else, but that had always had some reason-- backing him up in a fight or otherwise, holding onto him because Tsuzuki needed to be held. This was different. This was touching him just for the purpose of touching him. It felt so odd, Hisoka thought. He was so aware of the solidity of Tsuzuki’s side against his shoulder, of the warmth of Tsuzuki’s body through his clothes. It felt like every nerve in Hisoka’s body was concentrated in the skin touching Tsuzuki. The water drained away through the pipes, the kitchen light buzzed as it always did, and he leaned against Tsuzuki’s arm and tried to keep breathing.

It was scary. It was worth it. Because Tsuzuki’s shock didn’t quite wear off. Instead, it turned to wonder, to delight, and that was almost enough to distract Hisoka from his own feelings. How often did Tsuzuki feel really delighted, after all? Not just the passing pleasure of a dessert or a sunny day, but this sort of ringing bone-deep rejoicing? It blended with the physical sensation of Tsuzuki’s side against his shoulder, of his shoulder against Tsuzuki’s side, so that the touch seemed to vibrate colors almost too intense to handle. Hisoka sighed and realized that some of the pleasure he was feeling was his own. This... this is okay, he thought. This is all right.

He felt Tsuzuki hesitate, and wondered whether he’d done something wrong. But then Tsuzuki’s hand moved behind him, very slowly, trying not to startle him, and laid itself across his shoulder. Hisoka stiffened. Held down, trapped in place, can’t get away-- Tsuzuki, dismayed, took his arm back. No, dammit, Hisoka thought. I’m not going to wreck this, I’m not going to let myself wreck it. He took a firm mental grip on himself, and leaned in more, resting his head against Tsuzuki’s chest with a shaky sigh. This close, he could smell Tsuzuki, soap and sweat and strength. He could hear the other man’s heart beating fast, could feel him breathing. It was overwhelming, like Tsuzuki’s emotions, but this time it was the physical truth of Tsuzuki himself that overwhelmed him. This was a good intensity, Hisoka realized. He hadn’t known something this powerful could be good. Strange. He hadn’t had this much contact with anyone without that element of danger, but there was no danger here, not really. There was only Tsuzuki moving his arm and saying softly, “Is this okay?” Hisoka made an affirmative noise, slightly annoyed at him for bringing words into it. Tsuzuki put his arm around Hisoka’s shoulders, drawing him close. There was no danger here, Hisoka told himself, and realized he already knew it. Tsuzuki felt like he was holding his breath, like he wanted so hard for this to be real that he was afraid to grasp it. He couldn’t keep holding his breath, though. He exhaled, and inhaled again, and Hisoka breathed with him.

They stood that way for a long and timeless while. Hisoka wasn’t sure how to break away. He didn’t really want to, he wanted to stay like this, but his feet were starting to tire and complain and they couldn’t just stand in the kitchen all night. They could sit together, maybe, but that felt odd, and wouldn’t Tsuzuki get bored? Maybe not, but still, what a ridiculous way to spend an evening. Nobody, from anything Hisoka’d ever heard, just sat together all night. No, actually, other people did... other things... all night, in this situation.

Hisoka froze, his eyes snapping open. No, he thought. I won’t. That won’t happen, I won’t let it, that’s disgusting and sick and has nothing to do with this. This is... this is good, this feels right, I’m not going to mess it up thinking about that. No.

“Are you all right?” Tsuzuki asked, going absolutely motionless.

Hisoka nodded. “Yeah,” he said. He’s not going to make me do that, anyway, Hisoka reminded himself. He.... he feels like he wants to, but that’s always there a little bit, these days. He never acts on it. He’s Tsuzuki. He won’t hurt me. Not if he has any say over it, and he does. He stays in control. Besides, he doesn’t feel bothered, Hisoka thought, leaning in again. He feels happy.

Tsuzuki held him for a few more moments, then tightened his arm around Hisoka’s shoulder in a quick hug, and tousled his hair. Hisoka took the cue and moved away, feeling suddenly very strange about looking Tsuzuki in the face. I’m blushing again, he thought. I hate when I do that.

“Thank-you,” Tsuzuki said, “for dinner.”

“Sure,” Hisoka said, following Tsuzuki’s lead, because he hadn’t the slightest idea what other direction to go. He could still feel Tsuzuki through the empty air between them.

“I can bring some more miso paste over,” Tsuzuki suggested, “tomorrow night?”

Hisoka looked up at him then and the hope in Tsuzuki’s eyes was almost blinding. “Yeah,” he said. Come back. “You’d better-- mine is all gone, thanks to you. I didn’t think anyone could eat it all that fast.”

“Sorry,” Tsuzuki said, grinning from ear to ear. “It’s just so good, here.”

“Whatever,” Hisoka said. He didn’t want to just go back to their usual spatting right now, though, no matter how comfortable it felt. So he smiled. Smiling was starting to feel more natural. It helped that Tsuzuki lit up inside like a sunrise every time he did it. “Good night.”

“Good night,” Tsuzuki said, feeling better than he had in weeks. He let himself out, and Hisoka tracked his emotions down the corridor and out of range. Even when Tsuzuki had completely gone, Hisoka could still feel the memory of him, warm against his arm.