Thanks to Ariss Tenoh and Becky for beta-ing15/9/04 - minor editing.
Life at the Shoukanka went on after Kyoto.
There were still unexplained deaths to solve, and curses to dispel, and demons to exorcise, and people who delayed the JuOhCho court proceedings by living longer than expected. As the Shinigami in charge of the Second block, Tsuzuki and Hisoka faced an ongoing battle to keep on top of the paperwork.
Neither of them spoke of Muraki again. He was out of sight, although he wasn't completely out of their minds. During the Shion University fire, Hisoka sensed a terrible light enveloping his body, protecting him from Touda's black flames. He still carried Muraki's curse, an intricate latticework of red lines tattooed over his body, but they no longer glowed as brightly as before.
Tsuzuki noted this, but decided to keep silent. Muraki had already ruined enough of Hisoka's past. He would not allow the memory of the mad doctor to mar Hisoka's future as well.
Besides, they had not come across his handiwork for months. There was no point in bringing up his name again. Given enough time, Tsuzuki was confident that Hisoka would be free of Muraki's sinister influence.
For himself, however, there was no such refuge.
Dreaming of the lives he'd taken away was nothing new. It was the price Tsuzuki had paid for the past seventy years for being a Shinigami. During his short life in the land of the living he'd been plagued by similar nightmares, of children who died after bullying him for his amethyst eyes, and the villagers who died after murdering his mother and sister.
So why did he dream of Muraki? Why dream of a man who was still very much alive?
Perhaps it was inevitable given the nature of their previous encounters. Enucleated eyes. Bloody asphyxiation. Stabbings that bordered on decapitation. Bursts of energy powerful enough to split his torso in two.
Some dreams continued the brutal and bloody theme, with much blood and disembodied limbs and missing eyes.
Then there were the dreams that left Tsuzuki gasping, his skin covered in cold sweat, and his groin aching with frustrated arousal. The erotic dreams.
There are so many things I want to do to you, Tsuzuki-san. I'll tease you more, make you cry out more...and then I'll make you feel better. I'll show you things that no one else has ever shown you before.
I'll make you only mine.
Since the events of Kyoto, Tsuzuki's dreams of Muraki were overtly sexual in nature. Not only did Muraki catch him, Muraki took him, again and again. Loved him. Cursed him. Tortured him with pleasure and pain.
In his dreams, there was no escape.
One morning, Hisoka came in to find Tsuzuki at his computer. Having been born well before the invention of the personal computer, Tsuzuki used his two index fingers to hunt and peck at the keys. Needless to say, he was a slow typist even when he concentrated fully on his work. This was the main reason why Hisoka ended up doing most of their reports.
"Good morning, Hisoka! Ready to start work with a happy face?"
Hisoka stared at the discarded cups of coffee piling up on the desk. "Tsuzuki, how long have you been here?"
Tsuzuki looked up from the keys. "Oh, I only came in an hour ago."
"At seven o'clock? You normally don't come in until nine."
"Yes, well..." Tsuzuki put one hand behind his head and grinned sheepishly. "I know that I haven't been the most diligent of workers in the Shoukanka. But I've resolved to change my ways. As the most senior employee here, I should be setting a better example to the younger staff!"
Hisoka shrugged off his denim jacket and sat down at his desk. "It's about time. Chief Konoe was complaining about our late reports the other day. He says that if we don't hand them in by the end of today-" He stopped as Tsuzuki thrust a sheaf of papers in front of him. "What's this?"
"The reports. I finished them this morning for you. See?" Tsuzuki leaned closer to point out the forms. "I've even tallied up the out-of-pocket expenses, although my maths isn't always the best." He gave an embarrassed laugh.
Hisoka looked closely at the papers, then at Tsuzuki. "You couldn't have finished them all since this morning. You hadn't typed so much as a single line yesterday."
"I can be a very fast worker given the right incentive," Tsuzuki replied. He winked at Hisoka. "Besides, you've covered for me so many times. It's high time I returned the favour."
Hisoka lowered his head to cover the tell-tale blush of embarrassment. "I better check through them for mistakes. Tatsumi-san is very quick at finding errors in our accounts."
Tsuzuki straightened up. "Sure," he said, not in the least offended. Much as he liked teasing Hisoka, he didn't want to make the boy feel uncomfortable. "I'm going down to the library to do some reading if you want me."
Hisoka nodded, his mind already focused on the reports in front of him.
Tsuzuki knew his mood swings and patchy performance record had made it impossible for others to work with him. But Hisoka was still by his side. He hadn't requested reassignment or a new partner.
You're human. I guarantee it!
Tsuzuki smiled ruefully. His older sister Ruka had once comforted him as a child with almost the exact same words. In so many ways, Hisoka was the cute kid brother he never had.
Partners like Hisoka were one in a million.
Yes, it was high time he did more of the paperwork. Even though it was common for junior partners to do the reports, Hisoka deserved a rest now and then.
And now that Tsuzuki had resolved never ever to sleep again, he'd have much more time free to help Hisoka out, and avoid the kinky dreams in which Muraki did unmentionable things to him. It was the perfect solution to his nightmares. Shinigami could withstand physical trauma that would kill a human in an instant, so why wouldn't he cope with something as trivial as sleep deprivation?
Tsuzuki congratulated himself on coming up with such an excellent solution to his problem, then gave a huge yawn. All he needed was another cup of coffee and he'd be ready for anything.
He promptly set out for the new library premises. Unfortunately, sirens wailed and alarm bells clanged the moment his foot touched the doormat.
"Hey! What's going on?"
Steel bars crashed down over the entrance. Another set of steel bars slid horizontally across to block further entry.
"Intruder alert! Intruder alert!" a computer voice droned.
"Intruder?" Tsuzuki looked around wildly. "Where? Who?"
"Gushoshin! What's the meaning of this?" Tsuzuki ran to the barred doors, and was given an electric shock for his trouble. "Arrrgh!" He shook his tingling hands. Next time he'd remember to wear his black gloves. "Why won't you let me in?"
The two bird spirits glared at him from behind the metal bars.
"You know why!"
"Vandals are banned from entering here!"
"But...but it's been years since I burned down the library!" Tsuzuki reached forward, then quickly remembered the electrified bars. "The first time I did it, I was possessed! I wasn't in my right mind."
"And the second time?" both birds chimed together.
"Terazuma was there! Being around a grump like that is enough to send anyone out of their right mind! Gushoshin, please! I only want to look at the archives."
"Never! The library would never survive it!"
"No bad-tempered book-haters are allowed here!"
Tsuzuki fell on his knees, his hands together in prayer. "I'll keep away from the new books. I promise that I'm not possessed, and I won't even peep at Terazuma if he appears. Please, Gushoshin, I'm not as immature or reckless as I was before. I've turned over a new leaf." Inspiration struck. "I'm helping Hisoka with background material for a report that's due today. He's too busy to come here, so I'm here to do research for him."
The Gushoshin looked at each other. Hisoka was their favourite of all the Shinigami. He was a regular library visitor, and one of the few in the Shoukanka who gave books the respect they deserved.
The elder one finally relented. "If it's to help Hisoka-san, then I suppose we can make an exception..."
"But we're doing this for him, and not for a good-for-nothing person like you!" the younger one snapped.
The two sets of bars slid open.
"Thank you! Thank you!" Tsuzuki bowed before them, grateful that the shameless begging still worked.
The file on Muraki was massive. Tsuzuki didn't bother reading the reports; after all, he'd either written or proofed them in the first place.
He wasn't after background information. What they had was sketchy and incomplete. The source of Muraki's power was still an unsolved mystery. As for a psychological profile, it was much harder than it seemed. Muraki was clearly a psychopath with grandiose and manic thinking, but his erratic behaviour made it impossible for them to predict his next move. With each encounter he claimed to have a different purpose-eternal life, organ trafficking, the resurrection of his hated half brother-yet the resulting death and chaos remained the same.
No, Tsuzuki wasn't after speculations and educated guesses.
He wanted photographs. A photograph was worth a thousand words.
He studied database photos of Muraki in his gleaming white trenchcoat, the breeze ruffling his overlong hair. He looked at photos of Muraki dressed in a tuxedo on the Queen Camellia, as well as in a regular business suit and tie. Beneath the padded shoulders of a jacket, his physique was surprisingly lean. His torso, although broad at the shoulders, tapered down to narrow hips and long legs.
Tsuzuki frowned at the screen, blinking bleary eyes. He could have sworn Muraki possessed a more muscular frame. On the Queen Camellia, Muraki had pinned him to the deck with the weight of his body. With their hands clasped together, fingers entwined, his lips caressed Tsuzuki's cheek before drifting slowly across to his mouth. Tsuzuki was trapped, ensnared...as much by Muraki's dominance as his own helpless fascination.
The most powerful Shinigami in EnMaCho rendered catatonic by the sexual advances of a human...it was shameful. Disgusting. Humiliating. He despised himself for his weakness.
But what could he do about it?
Tsuzuki rested his elbows on the desk, and buried his face in his hands. If only he knew.
A silken male voice crooned his name. There was something oddly familiar about it.
"It almost seems a shame to wake you." A hand stroked his hair, lingered at the nape of his neck. "You look so cute when you're asleep."
Asleep? Wait a minute...he wasn't supposed to be sleeping!
"No...not asleep." Tsuzuki struggled to lift his head off his forearms. Where was he? His bleary eyes fixed on the computer screen in front of him. A glowing image of Muraki in his white suit smiled wickedly back at him. "I'm...not asleep," he repeated.
"But I was hoping to wake you with a kiss."
Oh no. It couldn't be. It simply couldn't be!
It was. Seated on the desk next to the computer, dressed in his sleek white business suit with one leg crossed over the other, Muraki loomed over him with the same devilish smile curving his lips.
"Would you like a kiss anyway, Tsuzuki-san?"
"NOOOO!" Tsuzuki jumped away as if he'd been electrocuted-something he'd already experienced earlier that morning-and took refuge behind his chair. "What are you doing here in the library? What are you doing here in Meifu?"
Muraki stood up in one graceful movement, chuckling to himself. "You always ask me the same silly questions. Then again, considering your true age, allowances should be made for your forgetfulness." He pulled out a dozen long-stemmed red roses from thin air. "I am here to make you mine, of course."
Tsuzuki couldn't help the embarrassed flush rising in his cheeks. But the rational part of his mind knew this was a dream. His dreams of Muraki always started with a typically outrageous proposition...but then so did his real-life encounters.
"You're not real." Tsuzuki stood his ground as Muraki approached him, his knuckles white as he clutched the chair. He held his head high, refusing to be intimidated. "You're...you're just a figment of my imagination."
"Just a figment?" Muraki's visible grey eye narrowed, making his expression more sinister than seductive. "Why, Tsuzuki-san, are you issuing a challenge?"
"I'm stating a fact, Muraki! You and your roses...you're just part of my dream!" He grabbed the bouquet and hurled the blossoms to the floor. "All I have to do is wake up and you'll be gone for good."
Muraki carefully pushed the glasses up his nose. "An interesting theory. Why don't we put it to the test? Why don't we see what a figment of your imagination can do, hmm?"
Tsuzuki didn't wait to find out. He needed pain to wake himself out of this nightmare. He lunged for the desk, seized a pair of scissors, and began stabbing at his forearms.
"Wake up! Don't sleep in the library!" he shouted to himself. "Wake up, you idiot!"
The point of the scissors made small lacerations in his flesh. A few bled profusely, but all healed within seconds. Damn his Shinigami powers! Tsuzuki grit his teeth, and stabbed the blade into muscle and blood vessels. For all the blood it released, the wounds hurt as much as a mosquito bite.
Muraki seized Tsuzuki's wrist. "Stop it."
"Let go of me!" Tsuzuki stepped away and tried to wrench his wrist free, but Muraki followed him back.
With the scissors held high, they lurched about the room together in a macabre parody of a slow waltz, Tsuzuki's blood dripping on the carpet between them. They were both too preoccupied with each other to notice the roses. With each deliberate step they crushed the delicate blooms underfoot.
Tsuzuki yanked and jerked his arm about, almost welcoming the pain inflicted by Muraki's crushing grip. The steel points wavered precariously in mid-air. Finally, with a flick of his wrist, Tsuzuki drove the scissors into the back of Muraki's hand.
Muraki hissed, but his grip did not waver. "I have no interest in re-enacting the events of Kyoto again."
"Then leave me alone!" Tsuzuki snarled through clenched teeth. "I never asked you to interfere!"
"Beautiful as ever, especially in your anger. You're still my greatest weakness." He eyed their joined hands with amusement. "Most appropriate ne, Tsuzuki-san?"
Tsuzuki turned to look. Rivulets of blood ran down Muraki's arm, staining the immaculate whiteness of his sleeve. It pooled between the webs of his fingers, staining Tsuzuki's wrist with red as well.
His failed suicide attempts looked uncannily like this. Blood flowed freely, and yet his body still wouldn't die...
"There's no need for you to torture yourself like this." Muraki's breath tickled his ear, his lips brushing against the lobe. It was merely a feather-light caress, yet it sent his pulse into overdrive and shivers down his spine. "Not when I can do a much more effective job for you."
Tsuzuki turned his head away, unwittingly exposing his neck to Muraki's attentions. The scissors fell from his nerveless fingers. The treacherous weakness spread through his body, the all-too-familiar response to Muraki's proximity. "I want to wake up," he whispered, trembling as teeth nibbled the pulse point at the base of his throat. "I want to wake up."
Muraki guided Tsuzuki's chin around to face him. "If you want pain, you only have to ask. If you want pleasure, you only have to ask." His false eye gleamed, now visible in close-up from behind his bangs. "These desires are nothing to be ashamed of. It's through the experience of intense feeling that we know we are truly alive, Tsuzuki-san. Take my word for it-there's no need to go without any longer."
Tsuzuki could not look away. That single eye transfixed him, hypnotised him. The wide vertical diameter gave the eye an eerie, almost unseeing quality. Unlike a normal eye, the entire iris was visible as a circle of luminescent grey. Within its depths was something bizarre: a second iris with a pupil shaped in a narrow slit.
Artificial or not, it looked like no eye-human or demonic-he had ever seen before.
"It's been so long since I've drunk your spiritual energy." Muraki moved closer towards him, his lips parted slightly. "So rich and sweet...one taste was never going to be enough."
The second iris suddenly lit up. Small glowing red lines extended out from its centre. Tsuzuki saw them coalesce into bizarre ornate characters, words that did not correspond to any known human language.
A jolt of recognition passed through him. Anagrams. The boy Hijiri had carried similar markings on his cornea...
A demon's contract!
Tsuzuki grabbed Muraki by the collar and pushed him away to see the entire eye clearly. "Your eye...who did this to you?"
Muraki's good eye widened in surprise. "Why, Tsuzuki-san, I never knew you cared."
"I don't care for you, idiot! Who marked your eye?"
With a wry smile, Muraki brushed back his bangs to expose his false eye. The inner pupil constricted as the light fell upon it, forming a narrow line. "Definitely your memory is not what it was. Don't you recognise the signature?"
"No. Why should I?" He'd encountered enough demons to last several lifetimes. Why should the signature of one mean any more than another? "Enough of the games, Muraki. Tell me who you've made the contract with."
Muraki shook him off, suddenly bored. "You are the one playing games. When you are ready to come to me of your own free will, then we will talk...among other things." He took out a white handkerchief from his breast pocket and calmly wound it around his hand to staunch the bleeding. "I must remember to buy more bleach for my washing. Our encounters are always so messy, ne?"
"You really are mad. Why the hell would I want to come to you?"
"For target practice, perhaps?" Muraki smirked at his joke, and turned away. "Farewell, Tsuzuki-san. If you want to find me, you'll know where to look."
The curt dismissal infuriated Tsuzuki-never mind that he'd wished Muraki gone a few minutes ago. Muraki never acted in a predictable fashion. "Answer me! Which demon did you make a contract with?"
Muraki didn't turn around. Before Tsuzuki's eyes, his glowing white form began to disappear.
"Muraki! Come back, dammit!"
Tsuzuki lunged forward, and brought something much smaller to the ground-something the size of a soccer ball. For one horrible moment, he thought it was Muraki, his head decapitated by the force of the tackle.
It began flapping and squawking. "I can't breathe! I'm being suffocated!"
Thankfully, it sounded nothing like Muraki's voice.
Tsuzuki opened his eyes and found himself sprawled face down on the floor, with something jabbing at his stomach. Relief washed over him. The dream was over!
"Someone's trying to smother me! Help!"
He quickly scrambled to his feet. On the floor was the younger Gushoshin, looking slightly squished.
"Tsuzuki-san! I should have known! Not only do you hate books, you hate librarians too!"
"Gushoshin, I'm so sorry. This is all a terrible mistake. You see, I had a dream that Muraki was here and I thought you were him so-"
"I'm going to tell my brother about this! Attempted assassination of a librarian deserves the highest punishment: eternal banishment from the library!"
"Please, Gushoshin, give me another chance! I beg of you! I promise it won't ever happen again-"
On the computer monitor, the image of Muraki grinned as if well pleased with itself.