Hisoka wasn't used to being alone. Being lonely, yes. But he had never actually been alone before. Even locked away in the cell, he could always feel the household's emotions, rooting into his head unbidden. And the hospital had been a constant swell of bodies and feelings, mostly grief and pain.
Before dying, all Hisoka had wanted was to be alone. Now he was. Not during the day of course. The Shokan division was flurry of people. But at night, even his closest neighbors' thoughts were the barest whispers in his mind. It had never been this quiet in Hisoka's head before.
It wasn't a bad feeling. Hisoka would never go back to the raw anguish of the hospital or the cold misery of home. But it was strange.
Not that his own thoughts were such pleasant company. It had been three days since he'd finished his first case, which he suspected had been a spectacular screw-up even by new agent standards. Most agents probably managed to finish their first assignment without being kidnapped and getting their partner's guts blown out. Luckily for him, everyone seemed too surprised that he had agreed to stay Tsuzuki's partner to focus on the rest of it.
Tatsumi and the Chief appreciated his follow up work, at least. Apparently, Tsuzuki hadn't turned in a report on time for fifty years. Also, he didn't know how to use a computer, and his handwriting looked like a three year old's. (Hisoka had never used a computer before the Shokan division, but he was learning just fine. He wasn't an idiot. Unlike some people.) Hisoka had a feeling there was a lot of rewriting Tsuzuki's reports in his future.
All reasons it would have been nice to feel well rested and alert. But sleep kept eluding Hisoka. Or maybe it wouldn't, if he could just keep his eyes closed, but every time he shut them, he saw… things. (The knife, the woman, the blood, the moon, the sakura.) Not sleeping was simply the better of his options.
Even obliquely thinking of the curse marks brought them to the surface, and Hisoka suppressed a wave of nausea.
A knock at his door jolted Hisoka out of his thoughts, and the curse marks faded away. He looked at the clock. 9:30. Not terribly late, but too late for it to be a neighbor looking to borrow soy sauce or whatever it was neighbors did.
It was Tsuzuki. Of course it was Tsuzuki. He was looking equal parts sheepish and pleased to see Hisoka, and there was a softness to his thoughts that Hisoka recognized as the effect of alcohol, though he didn't seem truly drunk.
“What are you doing here?” Hisoka asked.
“I wanted to talk to you.” Tsuzuki wasn't quite meeting his eyes, and even with his empathy, Hisoka couldn't tell exactly why.
“At 9:30 at night?”
Tsuzuki waggled his eyebrows. “Am I interrupting something? Do you have a girl up there?”
“No! Again, no! What is wrong with you?” Damn it, he was blushing. How did Tsuzuki manage to do this to him?
Tsuzuki's joking tone and expression faded. “Sorry. I wanted to talk to you,” he said again
Well, Hisoka couldn't very well leave him on the front porch. “You might as well come in.”
Tsuzuki followed him inside like a puppy. “Sit down,” Hisoka told him, and pushed a glass of water into his hands. “Drink that or you'll have a hangover tomorrow.”
Tsuzuki grinned. “Don't worry about me. I'd never get a hangover from drinking so little.”
Hisoka rolled his eyes. “The fact that you think that's something to be proud of is really embarrassing.” He watched for a few moments while Tsuzuki drank the water anyway. “Didn't you have something you wanted to tell me?”
“Oh.” Tsuzuki looked down. “Not really.”
Tsuzuki squirmed. “You don't have to be my partner, you know. Tatsumi would find another place for you.”
Hisoka frowned. “Hey, I said I'd be your partner, didn't I?”
“Yeah, but you don't want to be.”
“What gave you that idea?”
“You told me so.”
Oh. Right, Hisoka had said that. Once or twice. Or more. “You smeared butter all over my desk. And knocked over my computer. And hid doughnuts in my top drawer.” He was getting annoyed just remembering it all, but he pushed past it. “I was angry, that's all. Tsuzuki, you annoy me. A lot. But...” But you came for me. I was cold, and alone, and afraid, and you came for me. You put yourself between me and him. No one had ever come for me before. “But I'm still your partner,” he finished. “Besides, I don't want to cause Tatsumi the paperwork.”
Tsuzuki smiled. “So, we're still partners?”
“Yeah, we're still partners. Now go home. Tatsumi will yell at you if you show up late and hungover.”
“I told you, I won't be hungover.”
It wasn't until after Tsuzuki had left that Hisoka remembered how tired he was. He went to bed not expecting to do anything other than lie awake, but while his dreams were not untroubled, he slept easier than he had since that first case.
Tsuzuki wasn't hungover the next day, but he managed to be late anyway. Hisoka threw an eraser at his head.
That was the first time Tsuzuki came over, but it wasn't the last. He never showed up on any sort of schedule, and he usually managed to arrive at the least convenient time, but Hisoka became accustomed to the idea that sooner or later, Tsuzuki would turn up.
After the battle with Surgatanus, Hisoka had hoped Tsuzuki would just come over without Hisoka having to say anything. Normally, Tsuzuki didn't require any encouragement from Hisoka for his gestures of friendship. But while Tsuzuki was (mostly) his usual self at work, he stopped bothering Hisoka on his down time.
Hisoka hadn't realized until then how much he depended on Tsuzuki to ride roughshod over his objections and show up despite all of Hisoka's pretensions of annoyance.
Tsuzuki needed comfort, that was clear. The problem was that Hisoka was terrible at comfort. It wasn't that he never looked out for Tsuzuki, but he did it by shoving antacids in his hands when he was hungover (or by nearly killing him to prevent the demon possessing him from killing everyone Tsuzuki loved, but Hisoka was trying not to think too much about that), not by saying the right things. For a mind reader, Hisoka was shit at knowing the right thing to say.
But Tsuzuki clearly wasn't going to anyone else for support, which meant it was Hisoka's job to help him. Somehow.
When he showed up at Tsuzuki's front door, he wasn't even sure that Tsuzuki was home. He might have been out drinking for all Hisoka knew. But he knew that if he had called in advance, Tsuzuki would have insisted he was fine. (It was what Hisoka would have done if Tsuzuki had ever called him before showing up.) Luckily, Tsuzuki was home, which meant Hisoka didn't have to feel any stupider than he did already.
Hisoka shoved the plate he was carrying in front of him. “Yamaguchi-san from next door made too many cookies. She asked me to give some to you.” Yamaguchi-san had made the cookies, but she made them because Hisoka asked her to. Which meant that he had had to listen to her coo over him and tell him what a sweet young man he was, being so concerned for his friend. Tsuzuki really owed him for these cookies, was Hisoka's point.
Tsuzuki's eyes lit up. “Thank you, Hisoka!”
Tsuzuki brought the cookies inside and his interest in them gave Hisoka a brief reprieve, but he knew it couldn't last. He had come here to talk to Tsuzuki. It was just that he still wasn't sure what to say.
“Hijiri's concert was nice,” he finally said. It was inane, but it was a start.
Tsuzki paused so briefly that even looking for it Hisoka barely noticed it. “Yeah.”
Hell, there was no good way to say any of this was there? “I know we couldn't save Kazusa,” Hisoka went on, “but you saved Hijiri.”
Tsuzuki looked at his hands. “No, you saved him. I killed him.”
Hisoka blinked. “But you didn't.”
Something shook in Tsuzuki's voice. “No. I thought I did. And then I found out I killed you.”
“Okay, you definitely didn't kill me. I'm not dead. Or, I'm not any more dead than I was before.”
“I felt it,” Tsuzuki said softly. “I felt you die.”
“Tsuzuki… it wasn't that bad.” It sounded useless, but it was true, mostly. Getting chopped up with a meat cleaver had hurt like hell, and Hisoka could go the rest of his immortal life without his eye ever popping out again, thanks, but dying had been worse and had taken longer. Much worse had been the moments just before the cleaver. Hisoka had known it was the demon, but it had been Tsuzuki's hands on his body and Tsuzuki's voice in his ear, and even remembering it was taking Hisoka places he didn't want to go.
Ever since, Hisoka would have moments when he would think of Tsuzuki's hands on him. Briefly, the thoughts would be good, but they never stayed Tsuzuki's hands. They always became the demon's or Muraki's. Then it would become the same old nightmare.
“Not that bad?” Tsuzuki's strangled incredulity brought Hisoka's attention back.
Hisoka shrugged. None of the things he had been thinking would have been the least bit helpful to say, and he didn't have any better way to explain it. “It was him, not you. It wasn't your fault.” He knew as soon as the words were out of his mouth that they wouldn't help. The idiot thought everything was his fault. “We're partners, okay? We just are. Nothing changes that.”
Tsuzuki smiled at that, slightly. “These are really good cookies,” he said after a bit.
“I'll tell Yamaguchi-san you thought so.”
“Would you like some tea?”
“Sure. Yeah, okay.”
As far as Hisoka could tell he hadn't fixed anything at all. But he hadn't appeared to make anything worse either. That was something.
After returning him and Tsuzuki to safety in the wake of the Queen Camellia debacle, Tatsumi had taken one look at Hisoka and told him to take the rest of the week off. Furious at himself and ashamed of the weakness he was showing, Hisoka had wanted to argue, but he hadn't had the energy.
The nightmare was different that night. The details were the same—the moon, the sakura, the chill of the air—but this time Hisoka wasn't just the victim, he was also his own attacker. And then the dream had shifted, and it was no longer Hisoka lying helplessly in the grass, but Tsubaki-hime, her eyes glassy, and her dress blood soaked. A shudder, and Tsubaki-hime was replaced by Tsuzuki. Hisoka desperately tried to stop himself, but he could feel the same sick, cruel lust that Muraki had made so familiar to him, but it was coming from Hisoka this time, and it was Tsuzuki being violated, and Hisoka knew that Muraki had been right, and they were the same after all.
Hisoka didn't try to get back to sleep after that.
He almost didn't answer the door late the next morning. He knew it would be Tsuzuki, and he wasn't sure he could face the man. But he knew that Tsuzuki would panic if Hisoka didn't answer, and he didn't want to deal with that. (And the only thing bringing him any comfort was the memory of Tsuzuki's arms around him in the helicopter, but that wasn't important.)
“Hey,” Hisoka said awkwardly.
“Hey,” Tsuzuki said back. “What are you doing?”
“Reading.” It had been more like staring into space while holding a book, but close enough.
“Oh. Is it good?”
“All right.” Hisoka took a deep breath. “I could read it to you?” Even if he hadn't been able to feel Tsuzuki's relief, he would have been able to see it.
Hisoka wasn't a particularly talented narrator, but Tsuzuki's normally flighty attention didn't waver. Hisoka read until he was hoarse. He closed the book and cleared his throat. “Do you want lunch?” Tsuzuki's beaming smile was answer enough.
Tsuzuki had been quiet the entire morning, which was all but unheard of for him, but lunch started his usual chatter. Hisoka didn't mind. The quiet had been strange, though welcome, but a Tsuzuki who could be silent all day wasn't really Tsuzuki.
It was during a brief lull in the mostly one sided conversation that Tsuzuki said, “It's okay.”
Hisoka looked at him, confused.
“It's okay to not be okay,” Tsuzuki continued. “And we don't have to talk about it. But I'm your partner. So, I'm here. But only if you want me to be.”
Hisoka let the silence linger for a moment. “Why don't you see if there's anything on TV. I'll be there in a minute."
He couldn't talk about this with Tsuzuki. Not now. Maybe not ever. But he had cried in in Tsuzuki's arms, and while he had hated himself afterward, in the moment it had just felt right. This felt right too, in a different way. It was enough for Tsuzuki to be there, and to know that he would be there for Tsuzuki in turn. Because there would be another time, for both of them. There was no point pretending otherwise.
But at least they didn't have to go through it alone.
Hisoka walked with a stiffness he knew was psychosomatic. Watari had sworn that all the injuries from Touda's flames had healed completely, but Hisoka could still feel them under his skin. Under his skin, where Muraki's curse lay whenever Hisoka wasn't thinking about it.
Muraki's curse meant Muraki was still alive. Hisoka should have hated that, but some sick part of him was glad. He didn't want Muraki to die away from him. He wanted—needed—his face to be the last thing that Muraki saw. His blood still cried out for vengeance. And not just vengeance for himself.
Hisoka did his best to banish his dark thoughts when he reached Tsuzuki's door. He needed to be be thinking of Tsuzuki now, not Muraki.
It took Tsuzuki a long time to open the door. He wore a plastic smile that, thankfully, dropped into something more natural when he saw Hisoka. “Hey, Hisoka.”
“I brought dessert.” Hisoka held the cake in front of him like an awkward offering.
“Cake!” Tsuzuki snatched it out of Hisoka's hands.
While Tsuzuki busied himself with cutting and serving the cake, Hisoka studied his partner's movements. There was something uncertain in the way he held himself. His emotions were quiet and subdued, but Hisoka could feel the familiar guilt and sorrow. But they were mixed with the genuine happiness to see Hisoka, and Hisoka took some comfort from that. “I'm not eating that,” he said when he noticed that Tsuzuki had cut a slice of cake for him. Barely a sliver, but still most definitely a slice of cake.
“Please Hisoka?” Tsuzuki implored, widening his eyes. “I can't eat it all by myself.”
“Of course you can,” Hisoka retorted. “I've seen you eat more than that.”
Tsuzuki smiled. “Maybe I just want to share it then.”
Hisoka rolled his eyes. “Fine. Whatever.”
They sat on the couch rather than at the table. Hisoka thought briefly of all the crumbs that would surely be making their way under the cushions, but he shrugged it off. Probably couldn't make the state of Tsuzuki's furniture any worse. The cake was too sweet, just as he'd known it would be. He ate very, very small bites, conscious of Tsuzuki's eyes on him.
“You don't eat enough,” Tsuzuki told him.
“I eat fine,” Hisoka said. “I'm simply not a pig like you.” He knew Tsuzuki was right though, at least recently. With everything on his mind, eating had become less of priority.
Everything on his mind. Everything that happened. Tsuzuki's fears that he wasn't human, his kidnapping at Muraki's hands, his suicide attempt. It was more than Hisoka knew how to deal with. It had seemed natural and easy, in the moment, to beg Tsuzuki to live for him, but now Hisoka was beginning to realize what that meant. Living meant a lot more than not dying.
He didn't even know if Tsuzuki really wanted to be here, or if he was only suffering for Hisoka's sake.
Hisoka didn't know how to fill silence that followed. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence, not really. But Hisoka still wished he was the sort of person who knew how to say the right thing at the right time.
“This is nice,” Tsuzuki said softly. “I'm glad you're here.”
But are you glad you're here? Hisoka didn't ask. “I'll always be here,” he said, feeling awkward. “Whenever you need me.” He shot a glance at Tsuzuki and saw Tsuzuki looking at him with such soft, open fondness that it took his breath away.
It would be simple to close the distance between them and press Tsuzuki's lips to Hisoka's own. But something inside Hisoka stopped him. He wasn't sure if he was the one who wasn't ready, or if it was Tsuzuki. Still, in that moment, Hisoka felt with a strange certainty that it wasn't a matter of if, but when. There was no rush. They'd get there in their own time.
Or maybe not. Bur for once in his life, Hisoka wanted a little optimism. “I'm glad I'm here too,” he said. Tsuzuki drew closer to him, and while Hisoka's first instinct was to move away, he stood his ground. This was Tsuzuki. Hisoka was safe here. They both were. As safe as they could ever be, at least. With the past biting at their heels and the nightmares that invaded their sleep, there was no place that could ever be truly safe. But this was close. Close enough.
Hisoka didn't know what the future held. He didn't know if he could be enough for Tsuzuki, enough to make up for the grinding guilt and misery of Tsuzuki's existence. But right here, right now, he was enough. He could feel that in Tsuzuki's thoughts.
Enough. Hisoka leaned in closer to Tsuzuki and felt Tsuzki's surprised joy. It was enough.