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The first time Hisoka was in this garden he hadn't really paid attention to it; Tatsumi had mentioned later that there was something strange about the old restaurant, but at the time Hisoka cared only for getting to Tsuzuki and Muraki. And so the second time Hisoka found himself, rather unexpectedly, in the courtyard garden of the Ko Kaku Rou it took him a moment to recognise it.

It was quiet here, as though it wasn't in the middle of Kyoto, and more shockingly it was quiet inside Hisoka's mind--his empathy detected no one here, no emotions to batter at his shields. The garden's beauty took Hisoka's breath away for a moment, and then a sakura petal drifted slowly to the ground before him, drawing his attention to the tree that dominated the courtyard. It had been blooming then, in autumn, and it was blooming now, in the frosty chill of January. There was something unnatural here, Hisoka realised, and his uneasiness broke the peaceful spell of the place.

How had he gotten here? He didn't remember coming here, had no reason to come here, not now. He looked again at the sakura, at the moon peeking out from behind heavily laden branches, and the cloying scent of the flowers filled his lungs.

The moon turned red, and Hisoka's curse flared into burning, aching life.

Hisoka took a shaky step back, away from the tree, struggling to breathe. And then the clear, ringing sound of a sword being drawn, and a broad back filled his field of vision. Long, dark hair lifted slightly on the breeze, and a low voice said, "None of that, now."

Mibu Oriya's sword slashed out, seemingly at nothing, and the red moon cracked, shattered, falling away in pieces to reveal an ordinary gibbous moon.

Oh. I'm dreaming.

Oriya turned to face Hisoka, looking annoyed. "What are you doing here, bon?"

"Eh?" Hisoka blinked, looking up at Oriya. "I thought I was dreaming..."

Re-sheathing his sword, Oriya sighed a little. "You are, obviously. So am I. And no offense, kid, but I have no interest in getting dragged into your nightmares. So what are you doing here, in Kyoto?"

Just like that, Hisoka remembered. He and Tatsumi had been sent on a mission, because one of Watari's experiments had knocked half the department out of commission and there was no one else. But... "Not Kyoto. Osaka."

Oriya arched an eyebrow at that, still looking irritated but maybe a little impressed, too. And it clicked for Hisoka that he really did have to guess at Oriya's feelings--he couldn't sense a thing from the other man.

"Hn. Synchronising from that far away... you're full of surprises, kid." Oriya shrugged and walked back to the veranda of the Ko Kaku Rou. "I could just send you on your way."

More details were coming back, now, and Hisoka hesitated. They'd been investigating a kendo school, and it had brought back memories of that night and his duel with Oriya. "I have questions."

Settling on the edge of the veranda in a lazy-seeming sprawl that Hisoka suspected was deceptive, Oriya smirked. "I'll bet. Questions you think I'll answer?"

Hisoka shrugged and smiled ruefully. "Not really, no. So far I've ended up with more than I started with. But I feel like I have to try, anyway."

"Might as well have a seat, if you're going to hang around. Don't expect good service, though, being an uninvited and underage guest."

Hisoka hesitated for a second, then joined Oriya on the veranda. There was danger here, yes--he had no idea what Oriya's psychic abilities could actually do, especially not in a dream--and with his empathy giving him nothing he was flying blind. But the same was true whether Oriya was within arm's reach or halfway across the courtyard. Besides, Oriya had played straight with him before, when the stakes were much higher.

Thinking of their last meeting, Hisoka felt the spectre of Muraki seem to settle between them as he sat down, and he found he couldn't really give voice to the most important of his questions, after all. So it was Oriya who broke the uncomfortable silence. "Been keeping up with your swordplay, bon?"

Feeling a blush creeping up his neck, Hisoka stiffened. Maybe Oriya was an empath, like him--or stronger than him--to zoom in on that so quickly. Until this mission he hadn't touched a sword since that night, and while he was holding his own against the students at the kendo school all the sensei had noticed right away that he was rusty.

But instead of mocking, Oriya's voice was quiet and a bit sad as he said, "Yeah, me neither."

Hisoka sat up straighter, honestly shocked. Oriya had been a master of the blade, an artist. Not exactly something he had appreciated at the time, but now he found it offended him to hear that Oriya was neglecting his sword.

Oriya laughed, "That's a good look. I was wondering if all the spirit had run out of you since then." But he sobered quickly, and shook his head. "But you're right, it's time and past time I stopped wallowing."

His other questions forgotten for the moment, Hisoka asked, "Will you have a match with me again? Just... maybe not with live steel, this time."

That got another surprised-sounding laugh out of Oriya. "Even I wouldn't use live steel for a friendly match, kid. But sure, if you're ever in Kyoto again, when you're awake; bruises of the body heal better than bruises to the mind."

Hisoka had forgotten, for a minute there, that this was a dream. Oriya's reminder brought a sense of urgency with it--how long until he woke up and lost his chance to ask the things he needed to ask? In the end, just one question really mattered. The mysteries of the Ko Kaku Rou, of Oriya himself, they didn't really need solving, as much as they made Hisoka want to know; how and why a man like Oriya could still call Muraki a friend, could do the things he did to run the Ko Kaku Rou... maybe that, Hisoka didn't actually want to know the answer to. Which left only, "Have you heard from him?"

The silence became brittle, and Oriya sat up from his lazy slouch. He didn't look at Hisoka, his gaze instead going distant and vague. "Would I tell you, if I had?"

"I think you would." Hisoka wasn't sure why he thought that--maybe whatever kept his empathy from working on Oriya was breaking down, or maybe he just wanted to believe in the man who had helped him save Tsuzuki, for all that he was Muraki's friend and ally.

At first Oriya's only response was a wordless, bitter sound. Eventually Oriya said, "You seem pretty sure he's alive."

Rolling down his sleeve, Hisoka called the curse marks deliberately, as he had only once before. "It's not just in dreams that these are still there."

Oriya glanced at the angry red lines briefly, then looked away. Hisoka was glad that Oriya stayed silent, not trying to excuse or explain away what Muraki had done to him.

The light changed in the courtyard, and Hisoka looked up to see a faint tinge of pink rolling across the surface of the moon, like a watered-down version of Muraki's red moon. "Time for you to go, bon. This way lies nightmares, and not just for you."

Hisoka rose and turned to face Oriya, bowing low. "Thank you, for letting me stay this long."

With a nod and a wave of Oriya's hand, the garden started to waver and fade around Hisoka. Just for a moment, right before he found himself awake in his hotel bed, Hisoka's empathy hit him with a tangled mess of profound relief and deep, old anguish, and he felt tears that weren't his own start to fall.