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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.

Chapter Text

Learn how to touch Tsuzuki was harder than he’d thought, Hisoka found. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity or will-- he just didn’t know how people touch each other. Tsuzuki, of course, touched him all the time-- tousling his hair, or putting a hand on his arm. It felt like he didn’t even think about it. That didn’t feel natural to Hisoka. He tried exactly once to tousle Tsuzuki’s hair and discovered that he had to reach up so high as to feel stretched and ridiculous. He could put his hand on Tsuzuki’s arm, but then how long did he leave it there? It all felt so tentative, even though Tsuzuki welcomed anything he cared to give. Hisoka hated feeling so uncertain about what he was doing. Kendo, at least, had set moves to practice until you got them smooth and skillful. Was there a manual for this?

He crept into the library one afternoon to find out. He felt exposed and out-of-place, though he was sure it would look to anyone else like he was just standing in front of the computer, searching the card catalog. The difficulty came when he tried to figure out what to type into the “subject” box of the search engine. He didn’t have a word for this. “Love,” maybe, but that brought up several thousand titles, and half of them were poetry. “Love and sexuality (400 titles)” was definitely not it, even less so than “Love and the samurai code (2 titles).” “Love and relationships” might be more promising, but most of the titles looked like they could easily have been cross-referenced with “pornography,” and he didn’t see why people had to make this so complicated. I just want to know how to do what he does, Hisoka thought. He makes it look so easy. How does he do that?

“Hisoka-san?” Hisoka jumped at the cheeping voice behind him. It was hard to be alert to the Guoshoushin, Hisoka had found to his dismay. For one thing, they could pop out of the air at any time, moving just as easily in three dimensions as most people did in two. For another, their sunny helpfulness didn’t follow them, but seemed to have soaked into the library, so that he sensed them the instant he walked in, and couldn’t track them afterwards. He choked. He could close the search window, but not subtly, not without raising suspicion. Besides, the little god was hovering behind Hisoka’s shoulder now, reading the screen. He gave a squawk. Hisoka thought about teleportation. “Ah,” the Guoshoushin said. “Hisoka-san, did you find everything you were looking for, or can I help you search?”

“Um,” Hisoka said. “Love and relationships (148 titles)” blinked back at him. “No, thank-you, Guoshoushin Younger. I’m fine.”

The Guoshoushin’s beaks were not made for smiling but they always managed somehow. “All right.” The librarian moved away, fussing with books on the next shelf.

Hisoka stared at the screen, humiliation writhing in his gut. He knows now, he thought. It’ll be all over the damn office. Not that I care about that, why should I? But this is private. It’s between me and Tsuzuki, it’s got nothing to do with anyone else, and I don’t want them thinking about us. I’ll hear them. And if I don’t even know what we’re doing, why should they get to? “Guoshoushin?”

“Yes?” The Guoshoushin turned cheerfully, radiating helpfulness.

“I,” Hisoka said. “Library searches are confidential, aren’t they?” It was the best he could come up with.

The Guoshoushin winked at him. “Of course they are.”

Hisoka glared, annoyed by the wink. “It’s for a case.”

“Oh?” The Guoshoushin took a minute to process that. “Sounds interesting.” He hovered in front of Hisoka, hands clasped in front of his belly. “Do you have any questions about it?”

He doesn’t believe me, Hisoka thought. I should leave now, before this gets any worse. But then he wouldn’t know anything and he needed to know... “How do people touch each other?” Hisoka blurted.

The Guoshoushin sweat-dropped. “Um...”

“Not like,” Hisoka snapped, and did not care to finish the sentence. “As friends. I need to know how friends act.” After this, he swore to himself, he wasn’t coming back into the library for a month. Maybe a year. Maybe a few decades.

The Guoshoushin mused, hand on beak, and Hisoka hoped he wasn’t wondering why Hisoka was looking up love if he wanted to know about friendship. “Hmmm,” the Guoshoushin said, bobbing up and down thoughtfully. “It depends on the person, Hisoka-san. Different people have different things that feel right to them. The real answer is whatever feels natural.”

”Nothing feels natural,” Hisoka said. “I don’t know what natural would feel like.”

The Guoshoushin was so intrigued that Hisoka could barely keep from hitting him. “Why not just try something and see what happens?”

“I did,” Hisoka ground out.

“Mmmm?” the Guoshoushin said, leaning in attentively. Hisoka said nothing. “Did something bad happen?”

“N... no,” Hisoka said. “Nothing.”

“Then why worry about it?” the Guoshoushin asked. “Try that again, and see if you get used to it. Do whatever you feel like doing.”

Hisoka waited. The Guoshoushin just kept beaming at him. “That’s it?” he said. “That’s all your advice?”

“Have fun,” the Guoshoushin said, giving him a big thumbs-up.

“Fun?” Hisoka said, not sure where that came into the matter.

The Guoshoushin winked, and punched him in the arm with a feathery paw, not hard enough to hurt. “Do your best, Hisoka-san!” Then the little god fluttered away, his work here done.

Hisoka left the library, walking the halls without seeing them. Fun, he thought, mystified. This wasn’t fun. This was strange and scary and sometimes shiveringly wonderful, but he wasn’t doing it for entertainment. It wasn’t some trivial little thing, some passing amusement. He wasn’t doing it for no reason. It mattered. He needed to let Tsuzuki know how he felt, because Tsuzuki felt so hopeless when he thought Hisoka didn’t care. Then he’d start to feel rotten about himself again because loving Hisoka uninvited became one more thing for him to feel guilty about. Hisoka hated Tsuzuki’s guilt with a passion and he wasn’t going to add to it, not when there was no reason to. So I have to let him know, he thought, and wondered why he didn’t just tell him.

He didn’t want to just tell him. That would be... embarrassing, he thought. How do you bring that up? ‘Here are your case files, and by the way, I love you’? And what would he say afterwards? No, Hisoka thought, that would be stupid. What he was doing worked better. Tsuzuki seemed happy with it, anyway, and that was what mattered. Besides, this was interesting. It gave him something to think about, something to look forward to when he woke up in the morning. He would keep doing this. He just had to figure out how. ‘Do whatever you feel like doing’ was horrible advice. He didn’t know what he felt like doing. How was he supposed to recognize it when the things he felt lately were like nothing he’d ever felt from the inside before? Where was he supposed to get a reference point? How was he supposed to know what felt right when he didn’t know how anything was supposed to feel?

His dilemma came out of an office down the hall, and spotted him immediately. “Hisoka!” Tsuzuki called, waving a piece of paper as he approached. Whatever had been irritating him the moment before vanished when he saw Hisoka. “Tatsumi said we can’t count lunch as an expense if we’re working in Meifu, so I told him he should talk to you about it, and he said that if you redo our budget for the month and write up an invoice for each time with a memo justifying it, he’d let us. You will, right?”

Hisoka punched him in the arm.

They blinked at each other for a moment, both equally startled. “Hisoka?” Tsuzuki complained, startled. “What was that for?”

Hisoka paused. ”I felt like it,” he said thoughtfully.

Tsuzuki punched him back, not as hard. “You hit too hard,” he said, but he didn’t feel like he minded. Hisoka shrugged. They went on together back to the office, arguing agreeably all the way.

Punching Tsuzuki, Hisoka found over the next few days, was remarkably satisfying. Much better than sighing or glaring or, at the times he hated most, blushing. It was easy. Tsuzuki would usually accept it as his due with a good-hearted whine. Sometimes he’d hit back, feeling playful, and Hisoka was left wondering what to do next. Hit him again, he decided one evening, because Tsuzuki deserved more than one punch for being that cheerful about stealing Hisoka’s dim-sum. (It didn’t matter that there were five more in the bowl, or that Hisoka was starting to feel full, or that he could always make more if he wanted them. It was the principle of the thing.) A hint of challenge glinted purple in Tsuzuki’s eye. He dipped his hand into his water glass, grabbed an ice-cube, and jumped, faster than Hisoka could see, to drop the ice down the back of Hisoka’s shirt. Hisoka yelped. “Idiot! What the hell are you doing?”

“Nothing,” Tsuzuki said, but he felt like he was laughing.

Hisoka shook the freezing chip out of the back of his shirt. “It’s not funny.”

“No?” Tsuzuki asked. “Sorry, Hisoka.” He didn’t sound very sorry, Hisoka thought. Which was a change, actually-- sometimes, it seemed like Tsuzuki apologized for breathing. Sometimes he actually did. This felt different, though. It was all part of the same thing-- the offense, the attack, the apology-- and that should have bothered Hisoka, because surely Tsuzuki spent too much time being hit and apologizing for it. But Tsuzuki felt so much more relaxed right now than he usually did. Playful. A game, Hisoka realized, startled. It’s a game. That’s what a game is. And I’ve been playing, too. “Hisoka?” Tsuzuki said, snapping him back to the moment.

“What?” Hisoka said, and stole Tsuzuki’s dim-sum.

“You--!” Tsuzuki snapped with a fine imitation of outrage, and went for him.

Fun, Hisoka thought quizzically as he fended off Tsuzuki’s attempts to take the dumpling back, fencing with a chopstick. Tsuzuki was grinning, intent on the food on Hisoka’s plate, and Hisoka could just barely hold him off. This might be fun. Right up to the point where Tsuzuki grabbed his wrist, trying to hold it down and reach over. Hisoka jerked away, knocking over his chair as he sprang to his feet. “Stop!”

Tsuzuki stopped instantly, a painful shock of recognition going through him. He knew exactly what he’d done, Hisoka felt, and was immediately sorry for not having thought about it beforehand. “I’m sorry,” he said, sounding nothing like he had a moment before. “Are you all right?”

“Sure,” Hisoka said, and Tsuzuki wilted. That sounded sharper than I meant, Hisoka realized. “I’m fine. It-- you stopped.”

“Of course I did,” Tsuzuki said. He hesitated, feeling that the few feet between them was a terribly large distance to cross. “I always would.”

Hisoka nodded shakily. “I know,” he said. “Just-- just watch your hands next time.”

Tsuzuki started to apologize again, looking stricken. Then he paused. “Next time?”

I said that, didn’t I? Hisoka thought. I must have meant it. He moved forward, picking his chair up off the floor, until he was standing just in front of Tsuzuki. Keeping his eyes on Tsuzuki’s face, he picked up the dumpling and popped it into his own mouth. Tsuzuki’s lip trembled, his emotions twisting over each other as he tried to figure out what was going on. Hisoka reached up and put a shaky hand to his face, too gently to even pretend it was meant for a slap. Tsuzuki leaned his face into it, closing his eyes. “Next time,” Hisoka said.

It was later that night that Hisoka had the dream.

The dream was different from most-- blurry, indistinct, unconnected by narrative. It wasn’t terrifying, either, not even the sort of dull horror that shaped his calmer dreams. This one was warm and he could see Tsuzuki’s face lit by sunlight. Tsuzuki was smiling open-mouthed, his pupils huge and dark and very close to Hisoka. Hisoka could feel his breath on his own mouth and he could feel Tsuzuki’s body under his hands, warm and solid and full of movement. Their clothes had gone somewhere else and he was trying to say something, but he kept forgetting what it was. So instead he murmured Tsuzuki’s name, making the syllables into a kind of poetry, a mantra. Tsuzuki smiled at him, and nothing had ever felt better than that smile exploding through him.

Waking from the dream was odd, because it felt like he’d had a nightmare. His heart was racing, he was panting, but when he thought about it, he realized that he wasn’t afraid. He felt relaxed, somehow very satisfied. He also felt sticky.

Oh, Hisoka thought, squirming, one of those. He knew he’d had “wet dreams” before. He’d wake up to find himself stuck to the front of his pajamas, the sheet disgustingly crusted. It meant laundry that morning, a hassle and an inconvenience that he tried to get done with and forget as quickly as possible. He’d never remembered the dream before. I’m glad I didn’t, too, he thought. How weird.

Because he knew Tsuzuki wanted to do that, he spent a lot of time every day trying to ignore it, but he didn’t see how Tsuzuki’s emotions could be affecting him now. Surely Tsuzuki was out of range? He’d felt him go when he left that night, he’d felt him move further away than Hisoka could track. Maybe there was something about dreams that increased his empathic powers? But surely, that would have shown up before now. And he hadn’t felt Tsuzuki’s feelings in the dream. He’d only felt Tsuzuki. A shiver went through his body at the memory and he gasped, astonished by the sensation. This isn’t Tsuzuki, he thought, not right now.

Maybe it’s me.

Ridiculous, Hisoka thought sharply, sitting up and turning on the light. He bundled the sheets in the hamper, grabbed a spare pair of pajama bottoms, and went into the bathroom to wash off. What would make me want to do that?

Besides the fact that I’m in love with him? The thought was annoyingly persistent. Maybe I wasn’t just feeling his desire, all those times. Maybe I was feeling mine, too, and I just didn’t notice.

But I don’t ‘desire’ that, Hisoka thought, flipping on the light switch in the tiny white-tiled bathroom, and running a washcloth under cool water. I don’t want to let him hurt me, and I really don’t want to hurt him. But he’d let the images into his head with the thought, just when he’d started cleaning himself off, and he felt something. Something persistently physical, even after the release of the dream. Hisoka closed his eyes, just wanting to clean up and go back to sleep. That’s not me. That’s not actually me.

There’s no-one else here it could be.

Hisoka changed quickly, throwing the soiled pajama bottoms into the hamper and slamming the lid down over them. He sat on the couch, arms curled around his knees, staring out the window at dim lights among the trees. What’s wrong with me, that I want to let that happen? Am I really that sick, that there’s some part of me that likes pain? And fear, and degradation, and I can’t tell if it would be worse if I wanted to do that to him, or if I wanted to let him do that to me. The feelings were indistinct on that question-- they just seemed to want Tsuzuki. They wanted to touch him, really touch him, without having to be civilized about it. They wanted to be close to him, to smell his smell, to hear his voice soft and rough and wanting. I don’t have to be that, Hisoka thought. Just because I feel it, that doesn’t mean I have to follow through. Tsuzuki feels things he doesn’t act on all the time.

Hisoka breathed out a shaky sigh. All right, he thought. That’s true. I don’t have to do anything about this. I can just let it go, and do what we’ve always done. And then both of us can restrain ourselves. And we’ll be fine. So we don’t have to worry about that.

That’s settled, Hisoka thought, standing up. But he didn’t feel settled. He felt distinctly unsettled, and he didn’t know why. He went into the kitchenette and poured himself a cup of water, trying to concentrate on nothing except the cool weight on his tongue. Because it’ll get worse, he thought. The more I do with him. The more I touch him, the more I let him know how I feel, it gets worse. His-- my-- whoever’s feelings those are, they keep getting more intense, more frequent. I’d have to stop, if I really wanted to avoid this.

There was an instant howl of rejection from somewhere inside him. But I can’t, Hisoka thought. I can’t let this go on. How long will it be before one of us runs out of control? And then we’ll have to end the partnership, because I couldn’t stay with him after that. I hope he couldn’t stay with me. But part of him hoped he could, part of him could see them going on like that for years and part of him liked the vision. No, Hisoka thought, slamming the cup down on the counter. I’m not like that. I don’t have to be like that. When I said I’d get over Muraki, I didn’t mean by becoming him. No. Dammit, he should have known having Ajari Joan in his head like that would affect him for the worst. Maybe he should try exorcism.

Actually... Hisoka froze. That was it. Exorcism. He’d had a ghost in his head, and he hadn’t done anything about it at all? He’d thought he’d expelled Ajari with his last spell, but clearly he’d been wrong. Hadn’t the world been looking different for weeks since he’d gotten back? Had he really thought that that had nothing to do with the grasping ghost? “Idiot,” he cursed himself. Still-- at least he’d caught it in time to do something about it. He could do the spell this morning-- he glanced at the clock, which assured him that yes, it was morning. He’d exorcise these left-over feelings before they could do any real harm, and everything would go back to normal.

Resolved, Hisoka showered, dressed, and headed over to the Ju-oh-cho offices.

His footsteps got slower as he approached the offices and the basement level where Meifu employees went to practice spellcraft. Maybe he should wait for back-up, he thought, signing out the practice room, then dismissed the idea. Who would he tell? “Tsuzuki, I need your help-- I must still have the ghost in my head, because I keep thinking about--” No. It would just make things more complicated. He would be careful, and do one simple exorcism, and things would go back to the way they were. He ignored the protest in his mind at that idea. That was just one more piece of evidence that there was something still in him, something not right.

The practice room was simply that-- a bare room, its stone floor polished smooth by years of drawn and rubbed-out chalk lines. The walls were reinforced; the hundreds of overlapping scorch marks burned onto them showed why. Hisoka said a few words to activate the spell lighting the room and took candles out of the supply cabinet in the corner. All right, he thought to himself. I won’t try anything complicated.

He set the candles around himself in a pentacle and lit them. The words of the spell were a meditation in themselves, raising power around him, letting him channel it. Let me see what doesn’t belong here. Give me the power to cast it out!

Nothing. Hisoka panted in the flow of glowing power at the end of the chant, but it wasn’t working. He couldn’t see a thing out of place. That shouldn’t be, he thought, running over the words in his mind, checking that the circle was cast correctly. He could feel the energy swirling around him, but the ghost stayed hidden. Let me see the trespasser, he chanted, louder. Give me the power to cast him out!

Nothing. Hisoka tried again. And again, and again, starting to shake with exhaustion and frustration. These feelings, he shouted, throwing all his strength into the spell. These desires, these things that I don’t want. Get them out! Catch them, do away with them, destroy them! Now!

Hisoka screamed. The spell hurt-- he hadn’t realized how much it would hurt. It felt like being ripped in half. He was being torn to pieces, he couldn’t tell where he stopped, he couldn’t find his hands any more, he could just feel pain. Abstractly, he noticed the sounds of his own sobs, the writhing of his body on the floor, and he tried to pay attention to those because it might block the agony. So deep, he thought, I hadn’t known he got so deep. This feels like I’m ripping out my own heart. I can’t, I can’t do this. I have to. I can’t stop. He tried to pull himself together, to keep chanting, but all that came from his throat were screams. I can’t find the ghost, the thought screamed at him. I can’t see him anywhere. He’s not here. There’s no-one here but me. That couldn’t be, that wasn’t possible, but the spell was catching nothing. Only him. Only him, and he could feel himself coming apart...

Chapter Text

“Hisoka!” The shout came from very far away and a voice that might be his cried out in relief. Sound filtered through: the candles snapping out, a well-loved voice barking a harsh word to dismiss the spell. Tsuzuki was chanting and Hisoka could feel himself returning, sense by sense-- Tsuzuki’s racing heartbeat in his ear, Tsuzuki’s arms almost crushingly tight around him. The pain faded. Hisoka found himself again, curled up and sobbing in Tsuzuki’s arms, home and safe. “Hisoka!”

Hisoka tried to answer, but he couldn’t stop sobbing. “Hisoka,” Tsuzuki said again, voice shaking, “are you all right? Hisoka!” Hisoka managed a nod. He shouldn’t be doing this, he thought, but his arms gripped Tsuzuki’s waist so hard it hurt and he couldn’t make himself let go. He couldn’t stop crying, either. Tsuzuki rocked him, stroking his hair, his own terror slowly easing. Hisoka just held on, feeling the heat in his face against Tsuzuki’s skin, letting the sobs rock his body, feeling a strange release. It felt almost safe, crying like this, letting everything he felt flow out, emotion made physical. Like he didn’t have to name the feelings or try to control them, just let them take over. It was all right. Tsuzuki had him, protective and warm.

And still concerned, Hisoka felt, coming back to reality. His face was slimy, his head was starting to hurt, and Tsuzuki was worried. “Hisoka, what happened?”

“Spell,” Hisoka said. He didn’t want to go into it. “How did you know I was here?”

“Suzaku told me,” Tsuzuki said. “She’s been keeping an eye on you, lately.” There was a little guilt there, from which Hisoka gathered that it hadn’t been Tsuzuki’s idea, but he hadn’t tried to stop his shikigami from watching. “What were you doing?”

Hisoka sat up, his head aching more. He wiped his nose and eyes on his sleeve. “I thought Ajari Joan was still here,” he said, not looking at Tsuzuki. “I was trying to do an exorcism.”

Tsuzuki started. “What happened?”

”I don’t know,” Hisoka said. “I couldn’t find him.”

Tsuzuki flowed into action, holding a fuda to Hisoka’s face so smoothly Hisoka didn’t know he’d done it until he felt the paper shaking against his forehead. Tsuzuki shook his head. “Nothing there but you,” he said. “Not that I can find.”

“Mm,” Hisoka said, still not meeting his eye.

Tsuzuki looked at the wall, where new scorch-marks were gently smoldering. “When I got my body back, that time,” he said, “from Sagatanas, I didn’t feel right for a while.” He shivered. Hisoka said nothing. “It was like finding someone had broken into my house,” Tsuzuki said. “Like I couldn’t trust myself anymore.” Not that he ever did usually, but worse. Hisoka felt the old guilt reinforced, like a track trod one more time into a road.

“It’s not that,” Hisoka said. Maybe it was, but that wasn’t all. “Everything looks different. This-- this isn’t the way I feel, usually. This isn’t me.”

”No?” Tsuzuki said. “You seem like you to me.” He cocked his head, considering. “It seems like you care more than you used to. You notice what’s around you more.” His old anger flared. “He didn’t care at all.”

“I suppose,” Hisoka said.

Tsuzuki’s eyes glinted. “And it’s hardly all bad. You certainly cook better than you used to.”

Hisoka punched him in the arm. “Idiot,” he said. Tsuzuki felt reassured, and his arm was solid. And much easier to feel than normal. Hisoka actually looked at him for the first time since he’d arrived. “You-- she got you out of bed for this?” He cursed himself for saying anything about it, but Tsuzuki wasn’t dressed. An untied robe thrown on over pajama pants did not count as clothing. Especially not when the robe had come open, hanging off of one bare shoulder, and Hisoka could see every muscle in his partner’s chest, every curve and line, every inch of skin. He was staring, he realized, and shut his mouth with a snap.

“Huh?” Tsuzuki said, noticing Hisoka’s stare. Then he laughed. “Yeah, she had to wake me up. She’s good at that.” He felt uncomfortable to be stared at, but also terribly not uncomfortable. Almost pleased, Hisoka thought. He looked away, blushing so hard he could feel the heat rising from his face. This feeling, he thought, this isn’t me. This isn’t mine. I’m not like this. He wanted Tsuzuki to go away, and he wanted to stare at him some more. “She worries.”

”Mm,” Hisoka said. He could still see Tsuzuki at the corner of his vision and he couldn’t keep his eyes from turning there. He stood up, walking across the room, turning his back on Tsuzuki. “I should have told you I was doing this,” he said, still feeling Tsuzuki at his back. It wasn’t just his emotions-- he could feel Tsuzuki’s presence, could feel the space between them. “It would have been safer.”

“It would have,” Tsuzuki said. “I could have told you that you didn’t need to do the spell in the first place. He really is gone.” Hisoka heard him stand up and tensed. He’s going to come over here and touch me. I don’t want him to. I want him to. I don’t want to want him to. Tsuzuki didn’t, just put the candles in the ‘used’ box and shut the cabinet doors. “You don’t have to worry about him.”

“I’m not,” Hisoka said. “Not anymore.” He leaned a hand against the wall for support, shaking. I can’t look at him right now. But I can’t see him, either. “You should go home,” he blurted. “Or you’ll be late for work.”

Tsuzuki’s concern peaked again. “True,” he said, consideringly. “Hisoka.” There was command in his voice, and Hisoka turned around. Tsuzuki had closed his robe and Hisoka was horrified to realize that that didn’t matter, because he could remember exactly what Tsuzuki looked like and now he couldn’t stop thinking about it. “Hisoka.” Hisoka looked him in the face. Tsuzuki’s expression was stern, but Hisoka could have seen the worry in his eyes even if he hadn’t been able to feel it. “What are you going to do next?”

Hisoka hadn’t thought about it. “Go to work,” he said. It was two hours too early for that. “Or get tea and go out to the park. Why?”

Tsuzuki wasn’t convinced. “You aren’t going to try that again?”

Oh. Hisoka hadn’t thought of that. I could, he thought. If I tried the spell again, more carefully. Even my own feelings could be expelled if I did it right. Then I’d be like I was before, if I could stand the pain of the spell. If it didn’t kill me. That was what Tsuzuki was worried about, he realized-- that Hisoka would be so desperate he’d kill himself trying the spell again. That was insulting. You think I’m that much of a coward? That I’d try to do that on purpose because I couldn’t face what’s really here? Like... The anger on his face surprised Tsuzuki, and Hisoka hurried to speak before he could ask for an explanation. “No,” he said. “I’m not.”

Tsuzuki still hesitated. “I promise,” Hisoka said, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d sworn something.

Neither could Tsuzuki. His partner nodded, convinced. “All right,” he said. He wanted to touch Hisoka again, to reassure him, to reassure himself. He didn’t. “We could go to breakfast later, if you want.”

“No,” Hisoka said. He hastened to amend that. “Since when do you eat breakfast before work, anyway?”

Tsuzuki shrugged. “Maybe I should start.”

Hisoka shook his head. “Not today.” Tsuzuki wanted to say something else. “I’ll see you at work, all right?”

Tsuzuki nodded slowly, doubtfully. “All right,” he said, hating it, scared. Hisoka wished he could do something about that but he felt frozen in place and all he could think about was getting Tsuzuki away. He needed to be alone right now. His own feelings were more than enough. “Look,” Tsuzuki said, trying desperately not to sound desperate, “you can talk to me, if you want. About anything. Any time.” He cut himself off. “I’ll see you later.” He blinked out of sight, leaving a boom of displaced air behind him.

Hisoka sank to the floor, letting out a long sigh. Too much, that was too much, and he wished he could go to work now and bury himself in writing reports or something. Something clear and absorbing that would save him from having to think about this. He stood up, moving blindly out of the practice room, trying to put some distance between himself and it. It’s not Ajari, he thought. It’s not Tsuzuki. It’s me.

He headed up a staircase, trying to remember how to get to the commissary from here. Up a level, through the main building. Will it be open now? Have I got money on me for breakfast? My head hurts. And that didn’t work, and it won’t work, and how could he think I’d destroy myself to get away from that? It’s just feelings. It’s just a feeling. Idiot. God, he’s beautiful. It’s so weird to think of Tsuzuki as “beautiful.” It’s not what he’d say about himself. But he is.

The commissary was open, and the yawning night-shift worker gave Hisoka over-brewed tea in a cheap cup. Hisoka burned his tongue on it. I could try that again, actually, he thought, sitting down in a booth in a corner. Not that exactly, I promised I wouldn’t. But there are ways to cut off desires magically. I could research those-- but that would mean going back to the library, wouldn’t it? Then he’d have to explain himself to the Guoshoushin, of course. Hisoka frowned around another sip of tea. It was his fault, anyway-- the Younger Guoshoushin’s. If he hadn’t pushed me to go punch Tsuzuki, this wouldn’t have happened...

Hisoka stared into the tea, struck by the thought. Wouldn’t it? he wondered. If these things I’m feeling are really mine, then... when did they start? I didn’t notice them until the dream last night. But... was that really the first time I had them? They feel exactly as repulsive as they did when I thought they were all Tsuzuki’s, there is no difference. And... and what I felt this morning, when his robe... wasn’t... I mean, what I felt, seeing him, wanting to... to look at him, to... to do things to him... that wasn’t unfamiliar. Awful, but not completely strange. It felt... like trying to talk to him feels. Or like how trying to understand him used to feel, when we first met. It’s unnerving, but I want to go further. It always feels like there’s more I could do, like I could be closer to him, and I want to.

This didn’t just start with Ajari Joan. This has been coming for a long time. Maybe from that soda he gave me, that first morning. Maybe from the first time he looked me in the face. It hasn’t been physical, not until now, but it’s been there. And now there’s this, it is... physical, and I can’t figure out how to separate them. I can’t just cut out one part and save the rest. It all feels the same.

The tea was lukewarm against Hisoka’s lips. He ignored it. So when I tried to exorcise myself, he thought, what would I have done if it had worked? What would it have been like? If I’d been successful, if I were free of these feelings-- would I stop trying to get closer to him? Would I stop wanting to eat dinner with him? Would I stop wanting anything from him at all? The thought was appalling. I don’t want to be without him. I never want to be without him again. I was so lonely, like that.

Hisoka leaned forward, head in his hands. It’s going too fast, he thought. There’s too much of this. I can’t-- I have to want him like that, if I want him at all? The thought felt true. He tried to rail arguments against it, but they crashed against the truth of it. There’s no difference. Between wanting him to stay with me and wanting him to... do that, with me. I can’t find a difference, I can’t tell where the line is. There is no line.

Well, Hisoka thought sharply, the first rational thought in a while, there’s the line between assaulting him and not. That line’s pretty damn clear.

Except... well, it was ludicrous to think of assaulting Tsuzuki. He’s a head taller than me, maybe fifty pounds heavier, and he’s got twelve shikigami at his call. And some of them wouldn’t think twice about killing me to protect him, whether he wanted them to or not. Hisoka sighed, deeply relieved. I couldn’t force him. I’m not physically capable of it.

So, then... he’d have to force me? Except he isn’t going to. He said he wouldn’t, and he hasn’t. And he’s been driving himself nuts for weeks making sure that I don’t even think he wants to. I see him do that, trying not to think about it, trying not to think about anything to do with his body at all. Though I think he has a harder time of that, the more I do, the closer we get. I could make it harder, if I kept on like this. Maybe so much that he does it no matter how hard he tries not to. But then... Hisoka winced, thinking about exactly how guilty Tsuzuki would feel if he failed to stop himself from forcing Hisoka. Killingly so, probably. Damn. That doesn’t work. So how do I do this? How do I make that happen without making him hate himself even more?

Except-- if I want him to, how is it forcing me? The thought was a very odd one. But... all right, I don’t know why I feel... that, why that feeling is wrapped up with everything else I feel about him. But it is. And if I want it to happen, and so does he, then... does it have to be an attack?

No. Of course it doesn’t. Otherwise, how would anyone do it often enough for the human race to survive? It was different with two men, of course, he didn’t see how it could happen without hurting. But people did it anyway.

Hisoka shook, arms wrapped around himself, glad that the commissary was mostly empty. I have to, he thought. What else can I do?

I can leave. I can get transferred. I can try to forget that I ever felt like this, that I ever knew him. I can live the rest of my life alone, cold as I used to be, and never touch anyone. I can ignore it when I feel like I want someone, and I can forget my dreams.


Hisoka returned his cup, and walked to the office, feeling as if he’d swallowed stones. His back was so tense he could barely move his arms, and he was sweating under his shirt. All right, then, he thought. I can do this. I will. I’m a shinigami, I can handle pain, I can handle what scares me. It’s worth it. He’s worth it. I can. I will.

He decided not to tell Tsuzuki for a while.


The day Hisoka thought I want to sleep with him was a long time coming.

It didn’t help that Tsuzuki spent the entire day after the botched exorcism worrying at him. Tsuzuki kept hovering, never letting Hisoka out of his sight, and all his frantic cheer did nothing to fool empathy. Hisoka finally cornered him by the water cooler. “I’m fine,” he snapped in an undertone. “Relax!”

Tsuzuki wasn’t reassured. “I know,” he said brightly, “Of course you are.” Hisoka glared at him until Tsuzuki lost the smile. “You didn’t seem upset enough to do something like that when I left last night, Hisoka.”

“I,” Hisoka said. The thought of putting all of last night into words was appalling. “It was a mistake,” he said. “The spell was aimed at Ajari Joan. I didn’t mean to catch myself in it.” Not that Tsuzuki was anyone to talk on that score, Hisoka thought angrily. “I know better now.”

Tsuzuki nodded. “But Hisoka,” he said, “I can stay away, if I’m bothering you.” He smiled one of those painful smiles. “Just because you’re my partner, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with me all the time.”

Hisoka gaped. “Idiot,” he snapped, punching Tsuzuki in the arm. “If I didn’t want you around I wouldn’t have asked you, would I?” Heads turned, and Hisoka realized his voice had risen far too loud for the office. He flushed and muttered more quietly, “You aren’t bothering me. Just... leave it.” Then he turned and went back to his desk, avoiding all the eyes pretending not to follow him.

Dinner with Tsuzuki that night was awkward, with Tsuzuki bouncing between babble and staring silence, and Hisoka failing to respond to either. “Look,” Hisoka said, finally. “You don’t have to worry.” Tsuzuki met his eyes across the table, waiting. “I’m not going to do anything stupid. I told you that. And you’re not doing anything wrong.” Tsuzuki waited for the caveat to that. Hisoka didn’t give him one. “I mean it.”

Tsuzuki studied him. “Are you sure?”

Hisoka sighed with an exasperation almost as real as he made it sound. “Yes. I’m sure.”

Tsuzuki’s eyes lost their hard, fugitive look. “Good,” he said, relieved. “Good.” Hisoka shrugged. They met each other’s eyes for a long pause. “Then,” Tsuzuki said, “can I help?”

Hisoka shook his head. “No. Not yet. I need to think.”

Tsuzuki nodded. “All right.” He stood, clearing his plate. “Take your time.” Hisoka nodded, and followed Tsuzuki to the door. Tsuzuki wanted to touch him, Hisoka felt, but was fighting himself over it. Hisoka didn’t much want to touch him, either, but he wasn’t willing to let Tsuzuki go out the door like that. He grabbed Tsuzuki’s hand in a rush, squeezing his fingers against his partner’s palm, and held it just long enough to register before he let go. Tsuzuki ruffled his hair. “Have a good night.”

”You too,” Hisoka said, and shut the door behind him. He leaned against it, eyes closed, feeling Tsuzuki slowly leave the building.

Then, nerves jumping, Hisoka went to the dresser, and pulled from the bottom drawer the thing he’d been thinking about all evening. The plastic bag bore the name of the chain bookstore he’d popped down to earth on his lunch break to visit, and the book inside was large and heavy-- a college textbook, he thought. Understanding Human Sexuality, the title proclaimed in discreetly lurid colors. The curves of naked bodies below that were, Hisoka supposed, lacking in enough detail to be indecent but he still hadn’t liked buying the thing. He locked the door and sat down to read.

Ten pages in he stood up, put up a shield around the apartment, and sat down again. He felt flushed and he couldn’t shake the thought of what he must look like right now. It’s just a book, he reminded himself. I’m just reading it. And nobody knows, anyway, and nobody will know. So this is ridiculous. He flipped through the section on history, not seeing much point in dwelling on it. This was distasteful enough already. He checked the table of contents, turned to the chapter on “Techniques of Arousal and Communication,” and read it carefully. It was quite detailed. With illustrations.

How interesting, Hisoka thought, and went to the bathroom to throw up.

This is ridiculous, he thought, wiping his mouth. It’s not supposed to do this to me. The book described vasocongestion and myotonia and pleasure. Terror was not meant to be one of the side effects. He rinsed his mouth and hands in the sink, glaring at his pale face in the mirror. People enjoy this, he thought, though he couldn’t at the moment see why. And yes, I’m a freak, I’m cold, I’m unnatural, but I don’t have to let that stop me from enjoying it too, if I want to. And I do want to. I’m sick of this dance. I’m sick of being scared of what I want. He turned away from the mirror, resolved. I’m going to do this.

He sat down with the book again, and studied the section on “One-Person Sex.” There wasn’t much point, after all, in bringing Tsuzuki into it until Hisoka had some idea what he was doing. The procedure described looked simple enough, and Hisoka was reassured that apparently, “for men interested in speed, an orgasm can be reached in only a minute or two.” That’s not so bad, Hisoka thought. I’ll do it once, to prove I can, and have the rest of the evening free to read something more pleasant. Fine.

He hesitated at the foot of his bed. I’m going to do this, he reminded himself, unbuttoning his shirt. He undressed quickly, determinedly, feeling more vulnerable with each piece of clothing he dropped in the hamper. I don’t care, he thought, lying down on the bed, naked on top of the sheets. He poured hand-cream onto his palm, not sure how much lubrication the book was recommending. It was cold against his skin, unpleasantly slick. He was shivering. All right, then, he thought, and reached down to take hold of himself.

The hand was hard where he was tender and its grip hurt. The moon-silvered man laughed, his face too close to Hisoka’s. No-one ever came this close to him. He couldn’t start to name the emotions swamping him, but they felt like his softness stiffening inside an alien fist and they smelled like sakura and blood. He wanted to scream, he wanted to get away, he wanted to wake up, and the murderer’s hand moved faster...

Hisoka leapt from the bed across the room, slamming his back against the wall. “Stop it,” he heard himself panting, “stop it, stop it, stop it, stop...” He cut himself off, furious. That bastard, that utter bastard, he’s still here. It doesn’t matter what happened after that, I can still feel him. Hisoka’s scars hurt, pulsing all over his skin, and he could feel the blood running down from them...

No, he reminded himself, he couldn’t. They weren’t bleeding. He wasn’t bleeding. He wasn’t thirteen and Muraki was nowhere near him. He focused his staring eyes on the dresser next to the bed, making himself see what was really there. I’m fine, he thought firmly, forcing himself to move away from the wall. He unwrapped his hands from his shoulders and formed fists by his sides. I’m eighteen years old, he thought. I’m a shinigami. If Muraki tried that again, I’d kill him. I’d take a sword and slice him in two. The thoughts felt foolish, like swearing to turn the sky red. He’d never managed to do anything to Muraki before. No, he’d just let the psychopath walk in and hurt him, hurt Tsuzuki, hurt Tsubaki-hime, hurt anyone he’d cared to. Hisoka had just watched.

I’m not watching now, he thought. Enough. He doesn’t get to control me again. Hisoka crossed the room and lay down on the bed. I can do this, he thought, and closed his eyes.

The tree tossed in the wind above him, shaking like the rest of the world. Petals rained onto Hisoka’s face, into his mouth, and he coughed through his scream...

The phone woke Hisoka into a groggy half-consciousness. “Yes?” he grunted, blinking in the dimness of the room, lit only by sunlight poking at the edges of the blinds.

“Hisoka?” Tsuzuki sounded worried, which was normal for him these days.

“Tsuzuki.” Hisoka’s hand was sticky on the phone. He glanced at the clock and swore.

“Did I wake you up?” Tsuzuki asked. “It’s 9:20. We’ve got a meeting in ten minutes.” Tsuzuki lowered his voice, making it hard to hear over the office noise. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Hisoka said. “I’m fine. I overslept.” He wanted a shower desperately, but then he’d be even later. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

You overslept?”

“I was up late,” Hisoka said. “Tsuzuki, I have to get dressed. I’ll be there soon.” Tsuzuki hesitated. “I’m fine.”

“All right,” Tsuzuki said doubtfully. “I’ll see you in ten minutes, then.” Hisoka didn’t need empathy to hear the implied or else I’ll come over there whether you want me to or not. Hisoka sighed and hung up.

The phone was sticky now, Hisoka noticed. He gagged. This was all so repulsive. He couldn’t remember when he’d passed out, only that it couldn’t have been very long ago. That had been one of the most appalling nights he could remember. He’d lost track of how many times he’d tried. It had become mechanical after a few hours; put his hand between his legs, crumble under the memories swamping him, panic, swear. After a while, he hadn’t even needed to try to touch himself for the reaction to set in. His eyes were red-rimmed, his face tear-stained, his voice sore. And I didn’t even manage anything, he thought bitterly, washing quickly at the sink. You’d think I could have at least managed to do something-- ejaculate, whatever-- once, after all of that. The book had made it sound so easy. So there is something wrong with me, Hisoka thought, angry but not surprised. He picked up the book on the way out of the apartment, leafing through the table of contents. There had been something about abnormality, hadn’t there? A whole chapter. It would probably tell him something about himself. He scanned the pages, trying to find it quickly. Then he slowed. Sexual Coercion, the chapter heading said in block green letters. A few lines below that, toward the end of a list of subheadings in gentle italics, were the words Men as Victims of Rape.

Hisoka stared at the page for a long moment. Then he hurried out the door.

Chapter Text

The day dragged unbearably, one uncomfortable situation following another without break. Tsuzuki was horrified at the sight of Hisoka’s shadowed eyes and pale face, and he spent the entire meeting jumping with nervous energy, twisting his hands, completely missing anything anyone said to him. His worry was obvious enough to worry Tatsumi, and that got Watari concerned and intrigued, and after that it went like dominoes. Ten minutes after the meeting the entire office was buzzing with nerves. It didn’t help anything when Hisoka staggered to his desk and buried his throbbing head in his hands. Too much, there was too much, and it was all centered on him. He fumbled in his desk drawer, looking for aspirin.

“Here,” Tsuzuki said, handing him the small bottle. Hisoka took it and swallowed two capsules dry. Tsuzuki glanced around, as if he could feel the presence of people trying not to stare as well as Hisoka could. “Come outside for a minute, Hisoka.”

Hisoka hesitated, then followed his partner out the door.

The sound of the office door closing behind them seemed to clear his head. The concrete walls of the huge corridor around them echoed with the sounds of footsteps down the hallway, but at least they were away from the closeness, away from the eyes. Tsuzuki led him away from the office door, and Hisoka followed numbly, trying to get his head together. The pain was easing a little as he got away from the pressure of all those minds, but his thoughts still felt like they were rattling against the inside of his skull. He had an image of his head breaking open from the inside, like Tsuzuki’s back splitting to let the demon out. The things that came out at the moment would probably be just as horrific... What am I thinking? Hisoka wondered, snapping to awareness of his train of thought. What’s wrong with me?

“You’re not okay,” Tsuzuki said, and Hisoka jumped at the prescience of it. Tsuzuki glanced at him sidelong, noticing Hisoka’s startlement. “You can stop telling me you’re fine. You aren’t.” He stopped walking, putting a hand on Hisoka’s shoulder to stop him. “Hisoka, what is going on?”

What startled Hisoka most in the next moment was how strongly he wanted to tell him. Why not, he wondered. I need advice. I can’t handle this on my own. I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s driving me crazy. And it would be so nice to just let it out, to have Tsuzuki listen and smile and say something perfectly simple which Hisoka could never have come up with in a thousand years of trying. Because he’d be right. Tsuzuki understood the impossible workings of incomprehensible people and feelings and feelings about people. Tsuzuki would know what to do.

Except that he’s the problem, Hisoka thought quickly, turning away from Tsuzuki’s gaze. Or I am, but telling him what’s going on would make him feel terrible. I know that much. He brushed Tsuzuki’s hand off his shoulder, hating to lose the contact. “Nothing,” he said.

“No,” Tsuzuki said, not moving away. “It’s not nothing.”

“It’s nothing I want to talk about,” Hisoka snapped. “I can handle this on my own. I don’t need you meddling in it.” That hurt, he could feel it hurt, but it didn’t sap Tsuzuki’s determination. “Please... Tsuzuki, just... stop asking.”

That hit home, Hisoka could feel it. There was understanding and frustration, almost in words; He’s going to tear himself apart, and nothing I can do will stop him... “All right,” Tsuzuki said. “I’ll stop. But Hisoka-- you could talk to somebody besides me. There are a lot of other people who... care about you, too.”

Not true, Hisoka thought. There are people who wish me well, but none of them know me, not really. They all see that I’m smart and competent and efficient, because that’s how I act around them. Tatsumi-san... Watari-san... they don’t know what’s wrong with me. I couldn’t cry on them, it would ruin our working relationship. “Yeah,” he said, nodding. “All right.”

Tsuzuki was still stewing. “And you don’t have to do everything right away, either. You’re pushing yourself too hard. You look like death warmed over.”

He didn’t make the obvious joke, which Hisoka took as a sign of seriousness. Tsuzuki felt so worried, so frustrated. “I just didn’t sleep well,” Hisoka muttered.

The door opening behind them was politely loud, and Tatsumi paused in the doorway long enough for them both to recognize his profile before he came into the hallway. “Kurosaki-kun,” he said, “are you feeling well?”

Hisoka stepped away from Tsuzuki, his spine straightening as he looked up at Tatsumi. “Yes, sir. I’m fine.”

Beside him, Tsuzuki ground his teeth, and looked imploringly at Tatsumi. “Is your headache gone?” Tatsumi asked.

How did he--? Hisoka wondered. But of course, he had collapsed on his desk right before Tsuzuki had handed him the bottle and hurried him out of the office. It was an obvious conclusion to draw. And if Tatsumi were watching him closely enough to notice that, then he wouldn’t have much luck at hiding the continuing pain. “Almost,” he said.

“Hm,” Tatsumi said. “Kurosaki-kun, there’s not much point in coming to work if you’re not fit to do your best. I’d like you to take the rest of the day off.” He smiled a kind, implacable smile. “Come back tomorrow when you’re feeling better.”

”Tatsumi-san!” Hisoka protested. “I don’t need to go home.” He couldn’t help but notice how appealing the idea was, though. If he went home, he wouldn’t be stuck here trying to concentrate on paperwork while everyone watched him sit stewing next to Tsuzuki. “I’m okay.” Tsuzuki snorted. “I am.”

”But you’ll be much better tomorrow,” Tatsumi said. “You look like you’ve caught the flu. You should get some rest, and drink some hot ginger tea. I’m sure you’ll be over it in no time.”

The flu, Hisoka thought. Tatsumi didn’t believe that any more than he did, but at least it was something to tell people. “I suppose.”

“Good,” Tatsumi said. “Feel better, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning at nine o’clock.” There was enough emphasis there to let Hisoka know that yes, his lateness certainly had been noticed, but would be forgiven-- this time. Tatsumi smiled again and turned back to open the door to the office. “Tsuzuki-san?”

“Hm? Right,” Tsuzuki said. He hesitated, looking at Tatsumi out of the corner of his eye. “Feel better, Hisoka.”


Tsuzuki sighed, and he and Tatsumi went back into the office. Hisoka drew a long, shaky breath. All right, he thought. I’m free for the rest of the day. He walked slowly toward the huge front doors. He didn’t, he realized, have the slightest idea what to do with a sudden day off. He could go to Earth and sight-see, or haunt a bookstore. He could do laundry. He could go home and read that other chapter.

Hisoka scowled, trying to come up with a good reason why that would be an awful idea. It’s obsessive, he thought, coming out into the sky-lit main lobby of the Ju-oh-cho building. I must have other things to think about. He passed through the great iron doors and down the polished front stairs. I could just take a walk, he thought, and that was when he smelled the sakura.

Hisoka stumbled on the stairs. He’d teleported to work this morning to save time, and he’d arrived inside the building. He hadn’t seen the sea of pink, the shapes of trees looming through the morning mist. He hadn’t smelled the blossoms. He hadn’t felt the spray of petals, loosed by the breeze, strike him in the face and choke him with their scent against his cheeks, against his eyes... Hisoka felt his feet go out from under him. He managed to tuck and roll so that he didn’t hit his head on the stairs as he went down, but the world spun and hard stone struck him sharply all over as he tried frantically to stop the fall. He ended up at the foot of the stairs, too sore and bruised to move, with the tree branches swaying above him. No, dammit, he thought, feeling his heart race, his breathing quicken, not again. Not now. His ankle twinged when he stood up to run and he staggered again, head spinning. There was nowhere to run to except back into the building or under the trees. I can’t, he thought, and fell forward again.

“Hisoka!” The ground stayed where it should. Tsuzuki’s arms were around him, holding him upright. Tsuzuki’s fear only enhanced his own, but Tsuzuki’s relief at having caught him was wonderful to feel. Hisoka grabbed him like a life-line, clutching Tsuzuki for support. He rested his head against Tsuzuki’s chest, and his partner’s rising ease slowed Hisoka’s racing heart and calmed the frantic flight of his mind. “It’s all right,” Tsuzuki said. “I’ve got you.”

He does, Hisoka thought. It’s okay. It’s okay. Slowly, the images faded and the trees became only trees, just as they had been yesterday. Hisoka still held onto Tsuzuki, hearing his partner’s heartbeat against his ear, feeling how warm and thin and alive he felt to Tsuzuki. He never thought of himself as warm. He never thought of himself as strong, or salvation, either, but those associations were there too, tied up in the physical feeling of himself in Tsuzuki’s arms. The Hisoka in Tsuzuki’s thoughts was so different, he thought, but-- he could almost recognize it. That is almost me, isn’t it? That’s what I would be if I had my choice. That’s... that’s parts of me I’ve never thought about. He rested there, drifting for a long moment in Tsuzuki’s feelings. This was safe. This was right. This was just good.

“Hisoka,” Tsuzuki sighed, not wanting to move away either. His awareness of the rest of the world caught up to him, though. “Are you hurt?”

Hisoka moved away. “No,” he said, testing his ankle. “It’s healed.” The petals fell around him, and he shivered, but didn’t panic. They’re just trees, he thought. It’s fine.

“Good,” Tsuzuki said. He looked Hisoka up and down and the earlier mix of frustrated worry disturbed his new peace. He said nothing about it. Hisoka supposed there was nothing to say. “You’re going home?” Hisoka nodded. “I’ll walk you there.”

“But,” Hisoka said gladly, “you’ll miss work.”

”I know,” Tsuzuki said. “They’ll dock my paycheck. It’s so unfair.” He started toward Hisoka’s apartment with a sweep of his trenchcoat.

“It’s not unfair,” Hisoka argued, hurrying behind him. “Why would they pay you for work you don’t do?”

“But then I’ll be broke again,” Tsuzuki said. “And how will I pay for dessert?” He set his chin, resolute. “But somehow, I’ll struggle on. No matter what the obstacles, I will find a way! No meal will end without sweet satisfaction!”

“Idiot,” Hisoka said.

They walked on until they came to the rows of apartment buildings and the trees fell away behind them. Hisoka stopped at his door. “Tsuzuki...” he said. “I don’t want you to worry about me.”

Tsuzuki twitched. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Hisoka said sharply. “Just don’t think there’s something wrong.” The apartments were silent around them, all the inhabitants gone to work. “This is something I need to do. Or I’ll never get over anything that’s happened.” Hisoka clenched his fist. “And I’m not going to let that run my life.”

Tsuzuki nodded. “Good for you,” he said quietly. “Do your best.”

“I am,” Hisoka said. And it would be enough, he was determined it would. He was not going to let a memory beat him. “Thanks.”

Tsuzuki smiled at him, feeling an emotion that could just be called love, Hisoka thought. Easier than trying to describe everything that went into it. Tsuzuki sighed, tousled his hair, and walked away, coat billowing behind him. Hisoka watched him for a moment, then went inside.

The silence of the empty apartment building was almost physical. Usually, there were hundreds of other people here talking, watching television, cooking-- living their afterlives. Hisoka sometimes felt more like a ghost here than anywhere else. His neighbors were courteous enough when they saw him in the hallway, but he hadn’t been approachable enough to befriend easily, and nobody had bothered. So every evening he’d pass the sounds of conversation and laughter behind closed doors as he walked silently to his silent apartment. Right now, the silence was everywhere, as if the whole building were his empty home. If I still had Tsuzuki with me, he thought, I’d never hear how quiet it is. He makes enough noise for ten. Except that it wasn’t just noise. Tsuzuki filled his empty apartment just by being there, and Hisoka didn’t have time to think about what was going on behind closed doors.

The apartment looked chaotic. He’d been rushing this morning and the bed was un-made, the bathroom door open, the teacup unwashed. And the book was still open on the table. Hisoka hesitated in the doorway, wishing he’d had more time at work. No, he thought. Like I said to Tsuzuki. I’m going to beat this. I’m going to get past it, so I don’t have to keep putting him off. I owe him more than that. He sat down at the table and looked up the page number he needed.

It took him a while to get there. He paged past diagrams of women’s bodies which told him things he hoped never to need to know, past birth control advice which he never would need to know, past a page of sexual positions which, well, he might want to know at some point. The line-drawn models looked... odd, he thought. The woman’s expression was hard to interpret, and the man lying underneath her could well be asleep or dead. Her hand was on his arm, holding it down, though Hisoka supposed he could get free easily enough if he tried. He wasn’t going to try, of course-- the book said that these people were having fun. Hisoka just wished it didn’t have to be fun with so much skin in it. There hadn’t been any skin involved when Tsuzuki had held him just now at the foot of the stairs, and that had been fine. That had been good. The book, Hisoka thought, flipping past adultery and sex research and pornography, didn’t have any pictures of how it felt to hold onto someone and feel like you’ve come home. It was all about blood vessels and statistics and... he found the page. And rape.

Hisoka hadn’t thought about the word ‘rape’ to mean what he and Muraki had done that night. It wasn’t that he avoided the word, but it was so short. It didn’t feel like it had anything to do with him or with the feelings of that night. ‘That night’ usually did just fine as a description. The only words then had been Muraki’s-- lovely, here, fortunate, yes. Scream for me. The night I screamed, Hisoka thought bitterly. That’s what I call it. He didn’t rape me. He didn’t even see me. He just saw his own madness, and I was right there for it. He... he held me down and did that to me, and he killed me, and then he just left. Not that I would have wanted him to stay, but it didn’t matter to him. He’d done it a hundred times before, he’ll do it again. How can I let it get to me like this when he didn’t even think about it again? How can I let him control me like this?

I won’t. He looked down at the page in front of him, and started to read.

He flipped first to the section about men and wished he hadn’t. All it told him was that it was perfectly possible for a woman to rape a man, which was surprising, but didn’t seem very relevant. That’s not what happened, he thought. Well... not exactly. It doesn’t matter. ‘Nonconsensual,’ that’s the word. It was. I didn’t want to. So even if he-- if he made me-- when he put his hand on me and I-- “Research shows,” the book said in clean, uncaring black-and-white, “that men may respond with an erection in emotional states such as anger and terror.”

Hisoka shook. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to. He was lying when he said that he could see I did. I was right, when I thought I just wanted him to leave me alone, when I thought I wanted him to stop. I did want him to stop. Hisoka read the rest of the section carefully, the words skimming the surface of his mind. “I felt forced into sex,” one man said in the book, and it was true, Hisoka thought. I was forced. That wasn’t my desire.

That’s not what my desire feels like.

He wanted to cry. It wouldn’t do any good. Bastard, he thought, goddamn son-of-a-bitching fucking bastard. Pages of the book fluttered. That hurt. I was hurt and terrified and he was laughing. He enjoyed that. I didn’t. Light flickered at the corners of his vision, static charge sparking in his hair. I was feeling his pleasure, not mine. And his pleasure is sick and twisted and its favorite thing is when I scream and that’s not me. I hated that. I felt his feelings, and they were more powerful than anything I’d felt before, but I felt my feelings, too. And I was scared. And I was hurt. And he made me think that that’s what sex is.

The shock-wave boomed out of Hisoka in all directions, crashing into the walls with an explosion of thunder and light. The walls shook around him. Hisoka stood at the center of it, burning with rage. Bastard, he thought again. I won’t forgive him. Ever. I will never let him control me like that again.

Then he thought, my curtains are on fire.

Hisoka hurried into the hallway for the fire extinguisher and applied it where needed. Scorch-marks streaked across his walls, burned black into the paint. Hell, Hisoka thought numbly, I’ll never convince Tsuzuki I wasn’t trying to do another spell now. He was still shaking with fury, but it didn’t feel helpless. He felt strong, standing there, his power settling again around him. I was wrong, he thought. I’ve been so afraid, for years. And I was wrong. That’s not my desire.

I need to figure out what my desire is, then.

Hisoka put his shoes back on, his thoughts settling into a calmer awareness of the world around him. It was lucky he had the afternoon off, because he’d need it to fix this place up. There was a company hardware and supply store a few blocks away which should have the right colors of paint and cloth. I need to figure out what my desire is, he thought again, shutting the door behind him.

He hadn’t thought about it like that, Hisoka thought as he walked the quiet streets, not even enough to figure out a “sexual orientation.” He had felt something for Tsubaki-hime, he knew that-- love, liking, something, he didn’t know what. But with Tsuzuki, it was... more, somehow. More definite. More real. He didn’t know whether he could feel that with a woman or not-- or with anyone else at all besides Tsuzuki. It didn’t seem to matter particularly. After all, he couldn’t possibly disgrace the family name any more than he already had. Nor was he going to marry and raise children. Anything he ever did, with anyone, would be just between the two of them, irrelevant to outside considerations. It was an odd position to be in, though one in which he found himself quite often. I’m usually an outsider, he thought. I always was until I met Tsuzuki. It’s ironic that I have to go all the way outside of life to find people with whom I fit in.

He was getting distracted. Deliberately. So I love Tsuzuki, he thought, bringing himself back to the topic. So I’m attracted to men. It wasn’t exactly news, but he hadn’t thought the words aloud before. All men, or just him? I’ve never noticed myself noticing anyone else. But then, no-one else was safe to notice. I don’t... with Muraki, I don’t think that was attraction. Though it had been so long since anyone had touched him, back then, it was almost-- Hisoka opened the door of the store and turned his attention to looking for curtains. No, he thought, it wasn’t. And my curtains are brown-and-grey striped, like those over there. It was an awful color, he thought. Maybe it was time for a change.

Speaking of change-- the door to the shop opened behind him, and Meifu’s expert on the subject bounced in. “Kid!” Watari called, sweeping past the clerk welcoming him. “Shouldn’t you be home in bed?” The flicker of amusement at the words went by too fast for Hisoka to understand, but the owl on Watari’s shoulder seemed to get quite a chuckle out of it.

Security cameras, Hisoka thought. There were security cameras outside his building and the store, and they must be hooked into a computer network somewhere... “Watari-san,” he said, “were you watching me?” He didn’t think he’d done anything wrong that would mean they’d need to be monitoring him, but this didn’t feel coincidental.

“Of course not!” Watari said, sounding just shocked. His emotions were always a puzzle-- flickering and multilayered, so that Hisoka could never track down just one. One kept reappearing, though: determination, lurking like a whale at the bottom of a koi pond. “I had a little accident in the lab.”

“Again?” Hisoka said. It was perfectly plausible, but...

Watari shrugged. “What can you do?” He crossed the aisle, looking at glassware. “But it seemed like a good chance to re-stock.” He opened a box and peered inside. “You redecorating?”

Hisoka shrugged, holding up the curtain he’d found. “I wasn’t busy.”

Watari nodded sagely. “Very nice colors,” he said. “I like the purple.”

Hisoka looked down at the cloth, wondering why it had felt like Watari said that with a wink. Oh, he thought, annoyed. Hisoka turned away, walking toward the paint aisle. Watari followed. “I’ll be back at work tomorrow,” Hisoka said.

“Good,” Watari said, examining paint samples. “I’m glad to hear it. It gets so dull when you’re not around, kid.”

Hisoka compared colors, frowning. “I’m not that interesting.”

“Mmm, well,” Watari said. “Maybe not.” That felt like teasing, but Hisoka never trusted Watari’s teasing as much as he did Tsuzuki’s. Tsuzuki meant just what he seemed to mean by it. Watari-- Watari had too much going on in his mind to be certain of. “More that people mope. It’s very annoying. Of course, it meant that Tatsumi didn’t say much about the lab this time...”

Hisoka put a hand on a paint-can. “Were you working on your sex-change potion?”

”Formula,” Watari corrected. “Yep. I think I figured out what I did wrong this time-- I just have to change the proportion of estrogens to...” He reined himself in. “What about it?”

Hisoka shrugged. “Why do you want to do that?” he asked.

Watari thought about it. “Maybe I want to be my own invention,” he said. “The way I am now is nice and all, but what does it have to do with me? And why should I be stuck with it?” He shook his head. “I don’t know if that makes sense...”

”It does,” Hisoka said.

Watari smiled. “Change is good,” he said.

Hisoka nodded, though that seemed too simplistic a way of thinking about it. “What did you mean, people mope?”

Watari was delighted he’d asked, and Hisoka kicked himself for falling for it. He wanted to know, though. “People,” Watari said. “Tsuzuki ought to be happier about it when he comes back from a lunch break that long.” He shook his head. “Though that’s an improvement, too, come to think of it.”

What, Hisoka thought, because he came back at all? “What do you mean?”

“He’s changed a lot, knowing you,” Watari said quietly. “He’s stopped trying to look so perfectly happy all the time. It’s kind of a relief.” He paused, weighing his words. “I don’t know how things have been this past month, but I can’t tell you how much better off he is just having you around. No matter what else is going on.”

That isn’t any of his business, Hisoka thought. “You’re nosy, Watari-san.”

”I’m a scientist,” Watari said, sounding entirely unashamed.

Hisoka counted cans of paint as he picked them up. “Don’t you have anything else to study?”

“Oh, sure,” Watari said. “Absolutely. I’ve got this idea for a pheromone mixture to make shinigami relax and take it easy for a while. Should catch on like hot-cakes, don’t you think?” His eyes lit. “I could mix it into hot-cakes...”

“Watari-san,” Hisoka snapped, “I can’t stop him from worrying. He feels what he feels.”

Watari blew out his breath. “Frustrating, huh?” he said. “But we’re all here for you two, you know? You’re not the only one who’ll be there to protect him.”

Protect him? Hisoka thought. But he’s been worrying about me. The thought instantly felt appallingly self-centered, but... what does Watari think Tsuzuki is worrying about, then? He opened his mouth to ask, then shut it. He’s afraid of hurting people, he thought. He’s afraid of not being able to keep people from being hurt. And... Muraki. He used to be afraid of what Muraki would do to other people, but now... Hisoka wrapped an arm around himself, hating the thought. He’d counted on Tsuzuki being more angry at Muraki than afraid of him, being strong enough not to fear Hisoka’s personal nightmare. But.

“Kid?” Watari said, concerned.

But now he’s got reason to, Hisoka thought, doesn’t he? Muraki almost killed him. And he kept him there, for days, and he...

Hisoka stared straight ahead of him, seeing nothing. I saw what he was wearing, when I found him, he thought. I saw the blood. I knew how Muraki felt about him, what he wanted. Hisoka shook. He did that to him, didn’t he? To him. To Tsuzuki. Held him down and grabbed his shoulders so hard it bruised, twisted his wrists above his head, shoved his legs apart...

“Kid!” Watari said. “Kid! Hisoka!” There were hands on his shoulders, and then there were spring breezes on his face, and a wall against his back. “Come on,” Watari was saying, and his frantically racing mind scurried across Hisoka’s consciousness as the scientist tried to figure out what was happening. Sobs, he sounded so ridiculous, sobbing like a child, and the silver-haired man made a sympathetic noise and cut him deep and he struck back, a flash of power and fists as he dodged away from his attacker. Watari winced and disappeared, reappearing on the other side, hands held defensively in front of him. “Kid!”

“Watari-san,” Hisoka gasped.

Watari put a hand to his bleeding lip. “You know me?” Hisoka nodded. “What day is it?”

”Thursday,” Hisoka said, confused. “I--” He was shaking, arms wrapped tight around his shoulders, wanting to crawl out of his own head. He did that to Tsuzuki, he thought. To my Tsuzuki. He did that to him. He did that to him.

And Tsuzuki still wants me?

It didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense at all. How? Hisoka wondered. That was a month ago. Less. That happened to him. How can he ever want to touch anyone again? How can he--

“Kid,” Watari said, peering into his eyes. “You with me now?”

Hisoka nodded. He did that to him. Tsuzuki... He dashed at his eyes with the backs of his hands, trying to get control of himself. “Fine,” he said. “I’m fine.”

Watari doubted it. “What happened?”

”Nothing,” Hisoka said. That wasn’t the answer Watari was looking for. “I just... realized something.” He shook off Watari’s attempt to take his pulse, awareness growing enough for him to start to feel embarrassed. “It’s not a problem.”

“It’s not?” Watari said. “I’ve never seen you cry like that, kid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cry at all.” Hisoka stiffened. “Does that happen often, lately?”

Hisoka shook his head automatically. That didn’t matter. He didn’t matter. What mattered was-- “Watari-san, you took care of us, when we came back from Kyoto. Of Tsuzuki.” Watari nodded. “He,” Hisoka said. “When Tsuzuki-- Muraki--”

Watari drew in a breath. “Well,” he said slowly, “I think that killing is exactly what Muraki deserved. It’s just too bad you two couldn’t torture him first. Burning his research makes a good start, though...” All of which somehow managed to say, yes, he did.

Hisoka stood away from the wall, straightening his shirt. Watari stepped back. “Yeah,” Hisoka said. I’m glad that Muraki’s not really dead, he thought, because it means I can kill him myself.

That won’t help Tsuzuki, though.

“But we got you both back,” Watari said. “That means that from here on, if you’re smart about it, things can start looking up.”

“You’re right,” Hisoka said. Does Tsuzuki need help? He must, he can’t have just gotten over it like that, but he acts like he’s just fine. Of course, so do I, most of the time. Of course, I am fine, most of the time. It’s not like that was the sum total of my life. It was one event, that happened once.

But it changed me. It gave me all of this to deal with. And it could be that Tsuzuki’s just stronger than me, that he can deal with it better-- but. Still. “Thank you,” he said to Watari.

Watari cocked his head. “Thank you?” he said.

“For looking out for me,” Hisoka said. “You’d better go back to work, though. Won’t Tatsumi-san be mad at you for wasting company time?”

“Possibly,” Watari said. He stared at Hisoka for a long moment, emotions tumbling over each other. A hopefulness came up last. “Good luck, kid.”

Hisoka nodded seriously and turned away, heading back toward the offices. It was still early afternoon-- Tsuzuki wouldn’t get out of work for another few hours. That’s all right, Hisoka thought. I could use the time to think. I haven’t been thinking about him-- just how I felt about him. That’s not the same. That’s not enough. That’s not enough at all. I don’t know what’s going on with him, not really. I’m an empath, and I don’t know what’s going on with him.

That’s not all right.

Chapter Text

Tsuzuki was startled to see Hisoka standing outside the Ju-oh-cho building that evening after work. Not just startled, Hisoka thought, but his own wash of emotions at seeing his partner there was too much for him to tell what Tsuzuki was feeling. He looks just like he always looks, Hisoka thought. You can’t tell what happened by looking at him at all. There’s no difference. “Hey,” Hisoka said, trying for nonchalance, “did they dock your pay?”

Tsuzuki shook his head. “Nah. The Chief yelled at me, though.” He sighed.

“Too bad,” Hisoka said. He didn’t think he could keep up the conversation. Instead, he led off into the park, and Tsuzuki followed.

“Yeah,” Tsuzuki said absently. “You feeling better?”

“Sort of,” Hisoka said. He glanced around. Other workers were trailing out of the building, disappearing, walking home along one path or another. None of them were coming in this direction, though. “Tsuzuki,” he said, “are you all right?”

“What?” Tsuzuki asked. “Sure. Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

That didn’t help. That didn’t tell him anything, and he couldn’t feel what was going on. Hisoka took a deep breath. Then he darted forward, and threw his arms around Tsuzuki in a tight embrace.

Tsuzuki started, but put his own arms around Hisoka. “Hey,” he said. “It’s all right. Hisoka...” Hisoka didn’t answer, just shut his eyes and felt. Surprise. Comfort. Concern. Like coming out into sunlight after a dreadful night, like a hot bath after frost-bite-- startlingly warm, a sharpness as accustomed pain released. Tsuzuki rested his face against Hisoka’s head, breathing in the scent of his hair tickling his cheek, and it felt right to him. The whole thing felt right, Hisoka thought. It was right to feel Tsuzuki’s arms around him, to hear his heart beating, to move with his breath. But he couldn’t tell which of them felt right. The emotions intermingled with the physical sensations, so he could feel his own shoulder-blades under Tsuzuki’s palms, could feel the tensions of Tsuzuki’s day lifting away, could hear and love his own breathing. But some of this must be mine, he thought. “Hisoka?” Tsuzuki asked.

“It’s okay,” Hisoka whispered. “Could I just hold on for a minute?”

It felt good that he’d asked, that he wanted to. It felt like absolution. “Sure,” Tsuzuki said, and closed his eyes.

That helped a little. All right, Hisoka thought with a sigh. Let me sort through this. This coat against my cheek, that’s my feeling. The breeze against my face is his, the breeze against my back is mine. That guilt is mine, for once, it feels different than his. Tsuzuki lived in moments, Hisoka thought. Day-to-day would have utterly worn him out by now if he’d let it, but instead he lived in these flashes of intensity, bright or dark enough to be whole worlds in themselves. At this moment, for him, there was nothing else, no past or future-- just this embrace, Hisoka in his arms, all right with the world. My feelings are harder to see, Hisoka thought. Unacknowledged. They’re mostly so familiar I never even see them. There’s my anger, there’s my fear, like two spines running at the base of me, even when there’s nothing around to cause them. Here’s my exhaustion-- I hadn’t noticed it, but it’s a weight dragging everything down. Here-- this is love, here, this cloud of homecoming and wanting and hope. He studied it, thoughtful. His was so different from Tsuzuki’s. Tsuzuki’s love was his core, making a yin-yang with his despair, with everything else building off of them. Hisoka’s was so much more tentative, so much newer. But it’s there, Hisoka thought, glad to see it, and watching his own gladness spark against the depths. It’s there.

So was desire. Hisoka could feel it. The space between them disappeared and was transformed into wanting, into the need for closeness. Clothing felt like an obstacle, stillness seemed like a waste, when there was all this warmth to taste. They should be moving together, sparking each other’s murmurs, speeding breath, speeding pulse. Hands should be running through hair, over clothes, across faces. They should be making love, Hisoka felt, because he is so very desirable, and there is so much of him to want.

And that, he felt, is not Tsuzuki’s feeling. At all. He wants to hold me, he wants to know I’m here with him. He wants to feel safe and loved. That’s all he wants right now.

The desire-- that’s mine. Only mine.

Hisoka watched his own dismay pool at his core. I’ve been wrong, he thought. I’ve been wrong the whole time. All the time I’ve been afraid of his wanting me, all the time I’ve tried to get away from him-- I’ve been trying to get away from myself.


I don’t want to hurt him. I’d never want to hurt him. But my body loves him, too. It wants to be with his, the same way I want to be with him. There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t feel wrong. It feels obvious. Like of course I want him, why wouldn’t I? He’s him.

Idiot. Idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot.

If he were by himself right now, Hisoka thought, he’d be smashing his head against a wall or something. He’d been appalled when Tsuzuki had tried that, but he could understand now. The things in my head, he thought, are stupid, and nasty, and don’t have anything to do with truth, and if that were the only way to get them out... But it isn’t, any more than it was for Tsuzuki. Because Tsuzuki was holding him now, and that made it all right. “I’ve made things harder for you,” Hisoka whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Tsuzuki’s arms tightened around him. “Never,” he said.

Hisoka buried his face in Tsuzuki’s chest. “I love you back,” he said.

Tsuzuki didn’t say anything. His breath caught, and there were tears on Hisoka’s forehead, and Hisoka held on tighter.

The sakura fell around them, and it didn’t matter at all.


The evening Hisoka thought So I’ll wait until he wants to sleep with me was the first of many.

It wasn’t that first evening. That evening, they held each other for a while and then went out for dinner. Dinner was fun, which Hisoka hadn’t been expecting. The food was very good and the company was exactly right. They spent a long time exchanging less-painful stories of their childhoods, and the good thing about talking to Tsuzuki about that was that Hisoka didn’t have to worry about it when he slipped into the other memories. Tsuzuki had them too, after all; he knew when not to push. So they talked about festivals and autumn leaves and big dogs, the way things had and hadn’t changed over seventy years. After dinner they walked together for a while, and then went their separate ways. Hisoka sighed over his battered room, then changed for bed. I should... he began as he lay down, and was asleep before he could finish the thought.

The next morning was better. The next day was better. Hisoka watched Tsuzuki, thinking, all right, so he’s dealing with it. Mostly by thinking about other things, but sometimes he’d catch Tsuzuki staring out the window, fingers tracing his right wrist, emotions in turmoil. Hisoka would go up to him and put a hand on his shoulder, and Tsuzuki would turn and smile, the dark mood forgotten. It took a little while for Hisoka to learn how to go to him so that the mood didn’t disappear, but was just eased by his presence. I was wrong, Hisoka thought-- touch isn’t that hard when you know what it’s for. For a while, it was good just to be together, taking their ease and comfort in each other’s presence.

For a while. Maybe a week. Then came Friday evening.

They were at Tsuzuki’s apartment for once, because he’d hit on the idea that Hisoka should give him “pointers” at cooking. It would have been a good idea, but Hisoka kept running into Tsuzuki’s dearly-held principles of cooking, like “If one teaspoon tastes good, five teaspoons will taste five times better!” and “Recipes are all well and good, but you have to put some of your personality into it to really call yourself a cook,” and the food preparation simmered into chaos. It didn’t help that Tsuzuki was distracting, Hisoka thought. It was a small kitchen, and a tight squeeze to fit two of them in there-- they kept bumping into each other. Tsuzuki had rolled up his sleeves, and Hisoka kept noticing the elegance of his wrists’ flicking when he stirred, or the way his fingers caressed an egg. Hisoka felt the heat rising to his face. Tsuzuki dipped a finger into the sauce and popped it into his mouth to taste, sucking it enthusiastically. “Mmmm...” he murmured.

“Good?” Hisoka managed to ask.

“Delicious,” Tsuzuki said, and dipped a spoon in the bowl for Hisoka to taste. On impulse, Hisoka leaned forward, putting his hand on Tsuzuki’s to guide the spoon into his mouth. He met Tsuzuki’s eyes.

Tsuzuki’s emotions swirled. The arousal wasn’t all his own, Hisoka thought, some of it was Tsuzuki’s too-- but so was the surprise and the dismay. I thought he wasn’t ready? Hisoka caught. Not now, I’m not fit for him now, what do I say? Hisoka dropped the spoon and Tsuzuki’s hand. “Too watery,” he said. “We have to thicken it.”

“What?” Tsuzuki said, a little shakily. “But it’s perfect!”

Hisoka shook his head firmly. “Too watery.” He turned away to grab the flour.

It’s not perfect, he thought. I could... if I asked, he’d touch me. He wants me back. But there’s all that, as he felt Tsuzuki trying to regain his composure behind him. And I don’t know how to talk to him about that, or what to do. I don’t even know how to talk to him about what happened with Muraki. And I don’t know how to ask for... that. The images and directions from the textbook were all here in his mind, but they seemed so far from this reality. I could make it work, he thought. I think. He stirred flour into the bowl. But I’m not sure yet, he thought. I’d like to be sure. I’d like to not be stupid about this. I’ve been stupid about all the rest of it. This time, I’d like to know what I’m doing.

So they cooked and ate, and the various tastes of the food were an impressive distraction. They argued over most of dinner, and while Hisoka could appreciate his partner’s passion, he still wasn’t persuaded that cinnamon made a valid substitute for curry powder. He’d agree it was an “interesting” taste, but that wasn’t a recommendation. They gave up on the argument about when Hisoka gave up on the meal, and talked about other things while they cleaned up.

Was that right? Hisoka wondered, walking home. Maybe I should have said something? He could still feel Tsuzuki’s hand on his shoulder. The sense of his partner faded slow and sweet as he walked away, so that Hisoka couldn’t tell when exactly he slipped out of range. He could smell Tsuzuki’s scent on his collar.

I just sniffed my own collar, he thought, unnerved.

It smelled good, though. Musky.

Hisoka sighed. Maybe I liked it better when I didn’t know, he thought. Because now I know I want him, and I can’t stop noticing the way his hair falls into his face. Or the way his skin burns if I brush it away, and his eyes fill up with me, and I can’t breathe.

Would I want to stop noticing?

He arrived at his building, and rode the elevator up to his apartment. No, he thought. It’d be like being blind again, when there’s so much of him to see. No.

On the other hand, noticing meant he felt like this at the end of an evening-- twitching out of his skin, not ready to open his door and enter a room where Tsuzuki wasn’t. Hisoka took his shoes off and shut the door behind him. So damn empty, he thought, flicking on the light and glaring at the bare walls. It looks like nobody lives here. What am I doing here alone, anyway?

Except that being with Tsuzuki right now would have been... unwise. Hisoka had kept losing track of the conversation. How do you listen to one more rant about subtleties of Sri Lankan cuisine when the person who’s ranting keeps waving around long-fingered hands and all you can think about is how they’d feel on your... hands? And the expressions he got-- wide-eyed pleasure at a mouthful of store-bought cannoli, with a sigh that went straight down to the core of him...

This, Hisoka thought, this is what I meant. When I thought “desire.” It’s this. This wanting to be closer to him, to touch him. Wanting to run my hands over his cheek, through his hair, into his mouth and out. Wanting to taste his breath, to press against his body. Wanting to be hard and alive and focused, letting everything in the world disappear except the need to fill and increase that desire. And I thought these jeans fit-- when did they get this tight?


Hisoka looked down and blushed. That’s so ungainly-looking, he thought. And it felt odd. The flush wasn’t fading, his breathing was harder. It’s hot in here, he thought. I should turn down the heat.

Or maybe I should get out of these clothes.

Hisoka examined the idea. Yes, actually, he thought, almost smiling. There was a surge of elation. I don’t have to give up after just one night. I can do it, if I want to. Not because he’d want me to-- because I can.

Besides which, if I don’t, I’ll twitch out of my skin. The... erection was still there, and he was so very aware of the cloth pressing against him, uncomfortably intense. The book did describe “increased sensitivity,” he thought. He ached. He wanted to do something about that.

So get on with it, he told himself. Prove it.

The bed was uninviting, though. Looking at it brought back all the frustration and fear of the last time he’d tried this. He frowned, not taking his shirt off, standing in the doorway with arms wrapped around himself. I can, he thought. I can. He didn’t want to. He’d be exposed again (cold with the roots and pebbles digging into his back) he thought, shaking, blinking hard. No, dammit. No. I can. He can’t stop me. I won’t stop me. No. He tried to grab the bottom of his shirt, but his hands were shaking too hard to get a good grasp. I have to, he thought.

Except-- no, he didn’t. There’s nothing under my shirt I need to reach, he thought. Or keep clean. I could, actually, keep it on. Why not? Why should I make myself do something that makes me feel that way when all I want to do is soothe this ache?

Soothe might not be the right word. He didn’t know the right word. He might know the right action, though. The zipper rippled roughly against him, tooth by tooth, and he was immediately more comfortable, but missing the contact. All right, he thought, putting his jeans in the hamper. He glanced down and was struck by the ludicrousness of his body, worse now with the stretch of skinny legs (exposed by the discarded kimono) between underwear and socks. He didn’t know what Tsuzuki saw in him. Hisoka flipped the lights off again. I don’t need to see myself, he thought. Just feel. His hand grazed the front of his underwear, and he felt himself pulse toward it. He gasped, not sure whether that feeling was pleasure or increased ache, but he needed more of it. He skinned quickly out of underwear and socks and lay down on the bed.

All right, he thought, and grabbed as he would a bokken. His hand felt oddly cool, damp and tight around himself. All right, he thought again, and tugged experimentally. He winced-- too hard, too much and the killer wasn’t stopping, was purring his fascinated pleasure and then that pain was nothing compared to being stabbed through the core ripped open shoved down his arousal hurt so much his pleasure hurt so much he spurted against the man’s quickly moving body and he couldn’t tell pleasure from pain but it had to stop it had to stop it had to stop why didn’t it “STOP!”

It didn’t stop with his shout. Hisoka could still see Muraki’s open-mouthed face, could still feel him inside. But here was the room, too. He’s not here, Hisoka thought. I don’t want him here. This isn’t about him.

It’s about Tsuzuki. And it’s about me.

He could still see Muraki. He shut his eyes.

Tsuzuki, he thought.

Tsuzuki’s laughing face. Tsuzuki flying into battle, fuda raised. Tsuzuki whining for cake. Tsuzuki reading, glasses perched on the end of his nose. The images of Muraki couldn’t stand against that. They started to lose their grip, and Hisoka brought up more images to displace them. Tsuzuki’s kind smile. Tsuzuki brushing his hair out of his eyes. Tsuzuki’s real laugh, the rare one, the one that said it all really was okay. The low rumble in Tsuzuki’s voice. The way his eyes got so focused when he thought. The way his coat swirled around his body.

The sound of his breath. The beating of his heart. The way he felt like coming home.

Hisoka felt himself begin to stiffen again.

The way his arms felt around Hisoka. The warmth of his body, pressed so close he touched every inch.

(Now, Hisoka thought, with the careful timing of a conjuring trick, and began slowly to move his hand.)

The sight of his bare chest, the night of the exorcism. The way the light flickered across the muscles, shading his skin.

(He moved gently, absently, a soft stroking touch up the length of himself and down again. Then again, a little faster, still soft.)

The sight of him when Watari ripped his clothes off after Sagatanas’ attack. There was an image seared into Hisoka’s memory. The way he blushed under their scrutiny, the color spreading over his body, highlighting every curve and angle.

The way he’d looked in the dream, Hisoka thought. How it would have felt to touch him then. To run his hands over Tsuzuki’s skin (as he ran his hand over himself, faster, harder. The tip was so sensitive, he’d scraped it the first time, but his left thumb stroked it and it felt good, it felt like) feeling that skin against his own. To taste Tsuzuki’s mouth, to be that close and that encircled. To put his hands on Tsuzuki’s bare hips and bring them closer. To hear Tsuzuki making the sorts of noises he only made for sugary cream, but to make them for Hisoka (there was slickness against his thumb, and he shouldn’t be wet there unless he’d had an accident, how humiliating for someone else to see he’d done that, he felt sick with shame)-- Tsuzuki, he thought fiercely. I’m thinking about him. I’m seeing his face smiling at me. I’m hearing his voice telling me it’s all right. He drew up more images, more sounds. The scent of him that you have to be very close to catch. The way his hair clings to his face in the rain, like his clothes, so that his body’s outlined under them and you can start to see everything of him. The way it would have felt if I’d licked sauce from his finger tonight. The way it would feel to touch him like I’m touching myself (his hips bucked, startling him with the movement but also with the surge of pleasure he felt at the hard new stimulation, and he hesitated, then let them thrust as they would), the way he’d pant, like I’m panting now. The way he’d feel in my arms, the way he’d move (faster, he spit on his hand to make it slick enough to move as fast and hard as he wanted, and it felt just right, and it felt unbearable that he wasn’t moving faster, harder, that he wasn’t touching every inch of his length at once, but he was moving so fast he felt he was) his face in the dream, contorted with pleasure as Hisoka felt his own mouth open, heard his own moans, they sounded ridiculous, but he was so close, he felt so close, and he could hear Tsuzuki’s voice in his ears, and then it felt right, just right, just so good.

Distantly, Hisoka knew he arched his back, heard his voice cry out. He wasn’t quite there for it. Feeling, this was just feeling, his body taking over. For an instant, he was just his body, just his own physical joy, and there were no words. His mind let go, his worries disappeared, and for just that moment, he was nothing but release.

Consciousness returned slowly and incompletely. Mostly, he knew that he felt good-- relaxed, sated, better than he ever remembered feeling. He could recognize all kinds of tension just because suddenly, they weren’t there any more. It was good, he thought. It was perfectly good.

And he’d done it. Nobody had done this to him or for him. He hadn’t needed rescuing. He hadn’t been held back by being too young, or too distant, or too much of a freak. I did it, he thought. It was good. I could do it again.

That thought was a little daunting. This had been so much effort, so much concentration to keep from freezing, to make the images what he wanted. I suppose, though, Hisoka thought, it would get easier with practice. And the thought’s not entirely unappealing. A soft shiver of aftershock went through his body, and he gasped. Not unappealing at all.

All right, Hisoka thought. I’ll practice, then. I’ll get to where I can do this anytime, without thinking about Muraki at all. I can do that.

By the time he’s ready, I will be too.

He smiled, quietly, even without Tsuzuki there to see it. And then... we’ll see what happens. He and I.

Let’s see just how high we can climb.