The soft familiar voice invaded his dreams, one of beautiful simplicity, of walking down a corridor lined with shoji on one side, time-worn wooden panels beneath his bare feet, the stark gravel-raked lines of a rock garden to his other side. Hisoka walked in quiet punctuated only by the tapping sound of bamboo, overfilled with water and striking the stone beneath it, pouring out the liquid only to repeat the cycle.
He stepped onto one of the stones that punctuated the neat raked gravel, a series of stepping circles that led to another garden beyond the pool of water. There was something he had to do, he sensed, and quickened his steps.
"Hisoka..." The voice was tantalizingly familiar, just below the level of conscious recall. "Open..."
Hisoka pushed open the wooden gate by the pool, and the bamboo cracked against the stone again, loud in his ears. There was someone standing beyond the gate, a tall man with dark hair.
"Hisoka, open your eyes."
He frowned, rubbing the back of one hand across his forehead. "My eyes are open," he protested.
There were flowers in the garden, a riot of color and shapes that pulled his eyes in a hundred different directions. After the quiet simplicity of the rock garden, it was enough to give him the kind of headache that sprang on him from an overloaded touch. Hisoka ached for the quiet, but...
The man turned, hands in the pockets of his Western-style suit, face aggravating in the sense that he should recognize him, and couldn't. It was important... "Hisoka, you're not fooling anyone." His violet eyes were smiling.
...he'd been alone.
"Who..." he began, and a sudden breeze cut across his face. Panic tumbled in his stomach. This man was very important, and he'd forgotten...and if he didn't remember, then the man would vanish. That was the way these things worked. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"Come on, Hisoka," the man's voice turned coaxing. "Please wake up."
Hisoka widened his eyes. "...wake...up?" he repeated uncertainly. The wind blew harder. The scene before him shattered into a million fragments and he felt himself breaking up in the same way. No, no, if that man disappeared, he would never find out why... He felt a hand on his wrist, and Hisoka gasped. Concern crackled through him. And playfulness. And something else, something more elusive, and *that* was the reason this man was important...they weren't his own feelings, but the emotions of *him,* that annoying person who was always there, who seemed to know too much about him, who...
"Aha!" the voice said triumphantly. "You're awake now, no use denying it."
Hisoka found himself huddled in a ball, pillow dragged over his head with one arm while the other was being hauled on. His sheets billowed around him like a sea in high storm. The near-despair of the dream dissolved into irritation. "Tsu-zu-ki," he gritted, angry. Only one man would be audacious enough to burst into his quarters and wake him up like this.
"Pin-pon!" Tsuzuki said, cheerful as a puppy, and he could hear the grin in the older man's voice.
"Get off me," Hisoka said, trying to sit up. Fingers uncurled from his wrist, and he pushed the pillow off to one side. "What are you doing here?"
Tsuzuki brandished a slip of paper. "We've got quite a task ahead of us."
Hisoka palmed his golden bangs back, blinking in the hard morning light that slanted through his blinds. "It's Sunday."
"Well, good deeds don't wait for Monday!" Tsuzuki said with an insane amount of enthusiasm. "Climb out of bed, put some clothes on, and let's get going!"
Hisoka, to his disgust, felt heat spreading across his cheeks. "Well, if you'd give me half a chance and get out of my bedroom," he mumbled. He was suddenly self-conscious of the light summer sleeping clothes he wore. Tsuzuki was in his 'working clothes,' a Western suit as usual without trench coat or suit jacket as a concession to the summer heat.
"Fine!" Tsuzuki beamed. He held up one hand, fingers spread. "Five minutes. Then I'll come in to wake you up again."
"Baka," Hisoka said to his retreating back.
He was ready in four minutes, to make sure. Tsuzuki said weird things sometimes and he could never be sure which ones he'd follow up on. As he dressed, snatches of the dream came back to him, the sense of melancholy he'd felt in the spare rock garden, then pushing open the gate...violet eyes, and...feeling as if he was on the verge of finding something important. Hisoka shook his head irritably. That was ridiculous, it was only a dream. It must've been something he ate last night.
"So what's the job for today?" Hisoka asked, tugging the hem of his green turtleneck, then giving his hair a brief finger-combing. "Something so dangerous it won't wait for me to wake up nomally?" He had planned for a quiet day of study in the library, having pinpointed some important books about shikigami with Gyushoshin the younger's help.
Tsuzuki consulted the slip of paper. "The target is downtown," he said, then tucked it into his pocket. "I don't think it will take too long, in fact, I could have done it myself, but..."
"We work together," Hisoka interrupted him with a scowl. Shinigami worked in pairs; even when Tsuzuki had been partnerless, one of the Gyushoshin brothers had gone along with him to supervise. Even someone who'd been working as long as Tsuzuki wasn't above that rule.
"Ah, I'm glad you said that, Hisoka!" Tsuzuki said, super-cheerful. "Well, then, let's go!"
Hisoka viewed him with suspicion. "You're strange," he stated, but he was speaking once again to Tsuzuki's back. He took quick steps to keep up with Tsuzuki's long strides. He hated it when the man left him behind. "So what's the target?"
"Ahh...well, I can't tell you." Embarrassment threaded Tsuzuki's apologetic tone.
Hisoka blinked, catching up. He could see Tsuzuki's profile and the neutral expression there. "Well, tell me if it's human or demon," he persisted. At least he would know that much? Tatsumi wasn't so disorganized as to send him on a mission completely unprepared...then he thought twice about that.
"Well, umm..." Tsuzuki hedged, glancing briefly at him, then away. "You see..."
"You don't know," Hisoka said flatly. He should have expected that. Guessing further, he continued, "And all you know is we're supposed to go downtown, right? What will happen then? We'll automatically be pointed in the right direction?" He laid the sarcasm thick. Sometimes Tsuzuki's more intuitive approach to cases really got on his nerves.
"It's not like that!" Tsuzuki protested, one hand lifting to brush errant dark strands from his eyes. "There has been a disturbance downtown, starting last Friday, and I'm sure once we get there we'll be led right to the source!" He looked straight at Hisoka now, giving him one of his unrestrained smiles.
Hisoka blinked and looked away. "Well, if it's like that," he grumbled, tossing his head.
It was only a matter of minutes to go from Meifu, the land of the dead where Shinigami resided, to the heart of the largest city in the Kyushu district that Hisoka and Tsuzuki looked after. They alighted unseen in an alleyway and Tsuzuki brushed at his clothes and hair. He had donned his trench coat before they left, something sure to guarantee he'd stick out like a sore thumb. It was *summer.*
"Are you sure you don't know anything more about this?" Hisoka said doubtfully, keeping pace with the older man as they walked up the street. There was something awfully dodgy about this...Tatsumi was good enough to give them *some* kind of description on the irregularity they were to expect. Besides that, Tsuzuki seemed unusually happy to be up and about so early on a day he was promised to have free.
"Ah, well, as to that..." Tsuzuki had a hand on his chin and he squinted off into the distance. Puzzled, Hisoka followed his gaze -- it looked like a normal street to him. "Aha - over there!" With that, he broke into a run.
"O-oi, Tsuzuki! What -- Tsuzuki!" Dropping his hand, Hisoka sighed. The mystery deepened. Tsuzuki knew something, and he wasn't telling. "That idiot." He began to jog after the flapping black trench coat. Well, this was all part of his job, too. Despite how much older the dark-haired Shinigami was, born in the Meiji era, working for JuuOuChou for seventy-one years, there were moments here and there where Hisoka felt like he was looking after a child.
Tsuzuki had stopped ahead of them, and he was standing over an overturned bench. He gave Hisoka a wide-eyed look. "We're getting close, I can feel it!" The enthusiasm in his eyes boiled over into a grin. "Ne, ne, Hisoka, touch the bench! You'll do it, won't you? You can tell us where to go next -- whoever knocked over that bench is..." He stopped, wringing his hands.
Suspicion mounting, Hisoka approached the bench. He couldn't say why, exactly, he was so distrustful but for his basic knowledge of Tsuzuki's nature. He laid a hand on the bench, mouth thinning as he steeled himself for the contact. It was never easy, even with the gentlest of emotions. The invasion of his privacy was like a small violation. He lurched back, seeing a man with a newspaper, a small cluster of people around him, then a couple of women exclaiming. People broke from the knot and scattered, knocking over the bench, running around the corner.
"They're gone," Hisoka said, blinking a few times to clear his double vision. The paper lay in scattered leaves at the foot of the bench. "They went...that way?" He lifted a hand to point, mulling over the brief flash of jumbled images. There had been nothing in that moment of insight to provide him with any clues to the disturbance. He'd felt...excitement? A keen anticipation, urgency, in the moment before the people began to run.
"Right, let's go!" Tsuzuki exclaimed, starting to run again.
"W-wait," Hisoka said, though knowing it was futile. Tsuzuki was on the trail like a bloodhound. "I want some answers!"
"The answers are just around the corner!" was Tsuzuki's excited reply.
Hisoka shook his head. "Useless," he muttered. He started to run, too, loathe to be left behind. Well, if the answers were just around the corner... He thought back on the newspaper. There hadn't been any unusual headlines, no strange newsbriefs; the top-most leaf had showed a full-paged ad for a...Hisoka's eyes widened.
"Tsuzuki, if I'm right about this, I'm going to *get* you," he said between clenched teeth.
Around the corner and two blocks down, Tsuzuki had been brought up short by a crowd of people. He bounced on the balls of his feet, trying to look over the heads of the sea of backs. It wasn't so much a line as a herd. Hisoka took his time catching up. Now he was fairly well certain of the reason the older man had dragged him out of bed early.
Tsuzuki was whimpering something under his breath as he came abreast of the dark trench coat. Everyone else was wearing summer clothes, so the Shinigami stood out starkly in a crowd of short-sleeved T-shirts.
"Excuse me," Hisoka said politely to a balding middle-aged man in a polo shirt, "but what is everyone in this line waiting for?"
The middle-aged man looked at him with a bemused smile. "You haven't heard? Every sweet-lover in the city knows about the opening of the new branch of Madame Renee's famous Cake Shop!"
If there had been a street lamp nearby, Hisoka would have been tempted to thwack his head against it. Repeatedly.
He approached Tsuzuki with gritted teeth. The dark-haired man was jittering from foot to foot, still trying to look over the crowd at the swamped store in the heart of the commotion. "Tsu-zu-ki..." He drew out the name, tone like an insult. "You got me out of bed early on a free Sunday morning for..."
"Champagne truffle cake," Tsuzuki said with emphatic nods, fists clutched to his breast, eyes sparkling. "It's Madame Renee's specialty! I've been waiting for this branch to open for-e-ver!"
"And why, exactly," Hisoka inquired acidly, "did I have to be a part of this venture? You led me to believe we'd gotten a case from Tatsumi!" He reflected on Tsuzuki's exact wording. He hadn't lied outright, after all...but he should have suspected from the beginning.
He knew that Tsuzuki liked to start out his day with cake, but this...this was ridiculous! Why, it couldn't be any later than seven o'clock! And if he stayed...the amount of time it would take to get through a crowd this size... His quiet morning at the library was slipping through his fingers.
"Hisokaa~..." Tsuzuki bestowed a wounded puppy-eyed look on him. "You won't wait with me? I'm sure it won't take too long...I'll buy a champagne truffle cake just for you! Or something else...a strawberry torte? Chocolate mousse cake? Fruit tart? Or maybe all of those for me and you can try a bite of each!"
"Stupid," Hisoka told him, flushing again, turning his face away. Why was Tsuzuki so carelessly enthusiastic? When he glanced back, Tsuzuki was still looking at him, head tilted slightly to the side, smiling. "I already had plans for this Sunday."
"I know you probably had a morning at the library planned," Tsuzuki said, a little serious though his eyes were still warm. "But I figured it would do you good to get some fresh air first! You can always coop yourself up with an armful of books later today, huh?"
Hisoka shrugged, expressionless. When he said it like that, it was hard to be angry. Sometimes he seemed so thoughtless, carefree like a child. And then there were the times he felt that Tsuzuki was watching out for him with that same smile, making sure he was not alone.
He'd hated that...being alone...
So he folded his arms, turning his head as he said stiffly, "Do as you like."
"You'll stay!?" Tsuzuki said eagerly. He could practically hear the swish of a happy tail.
Hisoka kept his head turned, looking down with a frown. "I guess I can spare a morning." He held up one finger. "But remember! You said you were paying, and I won't forget!"
"Of course!" Tsuzuki replied, sounding injured. "We just got paid the other day, so I've got plenty. Even for Madame Renee's cakes."
Hisoka snorted. "I'm surprised you haven't spent it all on sweets already, like that time a Piffle Princess opened in--"
"All right, all right," Tsuzuki said, chagrined. "I won't spend *all* of my money on sweets today." He grumbled something under his breath that sounded like a complaint about Tatsumi's stinginess.
Hisoka nodded. "Good, because the budget's tight enough--"
"Just *most* of my money!"
Hisoka staggered. "Tsuzuki..."
It took nearly three hours to get to the head of the line in Madame Renee's. Hisoka thought of the cool air-conditioned library a few times, truth be told, as Tsuzuki gave him a discourse on French pastries throughout history. If it was something about sweets, naturally Tsuzuki knew all about it. After awhile, Hisoka realized there was some genuine historical information in Tsuzuki's monologue and paid attention. He touched on subjects from the Sun King, Louis XIV, to the French revolution and Marie Antoinette up to the current menus of a well-stocked patisserie.
With a bag of cakes in each hand, Tsuzuki beaming from ear to ear, they pushed their way through the swarm of people who were still surging to the bottleneck at Madame Renee's door. There was a park nearby, and as luck had it they found an unoccupied bench near the pond. "Hai~!" Tsuzuki told him, placing an entire bag in his hands.
"Tsu-Tsuzuki," Hisoka said, startled. When all he'd done was stand with him, he didn't think it rated an entire bag of pastries. Besides, he liked cake but nowhere near approached Tsuzuki's passion for the stuff.
The dark-haired man held up a finger. "You can have one." He tilted his head to the side, smiling. "But you get to pick which one!"
"Ah, okay." Since he'd been taken out of bed so early, he wanted to see what was so great about the champagne truffle cake for which Tsuzuki was willing to wait in line a whole morning. He opened the bag, setting it down once he removed the topmost cake. "This one, right?"
"Un!" Tsuzuki handed him a plastic fork, beaming. "This is great, isn't it? Ahh, thanks for coming with me this morning, Hisoka! Now...bon appetit!"
Hisoka regarded him with mild eyes. Tsuzuki was oblivious, already savoring his first bite with a blissful expression, mumbling something about it being worth the wait before cramming in another forkful. When the other man looked up, eyes quizzical, he smothered a smile and bent his attention to the cake.
"This...is wonderful!" Hisoka said with some surprise, after he'd swallowed the first bite. It was normal for Tsuzuki to be this effusive about any particular cake, so when there was an exceptional one it could be hard to tell.
"Isn't it, isn't it?" Tsuzuki replied happily, almost done with his first cake. "I'm glad you like it~!" He started on a second cake, and crumbs of the spongy material clung to the corner of his mouth.
Hisoka looked down at his cake, eyeing the upper layer with a sober expression. He toyed with his fork for a moment. "Hey, Tsuzuki..."
"Umm?" Tsuzuki responded around another mouthful. His eyes were bright and sparkly.
He really is a sweet fanatic... Hisoka felt the urge to smile, and quashed it. "Thank you for the cake." And thank you for the morning...and...just being here, I guess. Couldn't he say that much? He hesitated. "I'm glad you wanted me to come with."
Tsuzuki swallowed. Madame Renee's had provided a stack of paper napkins with the purchase and he made use of one now, blotting at stray crumbs that had escaped. He was giving him that look again, the one that made Hisoka look down and flush. That...understanding, that sense of having found what was missing, after all.
"I'm glad you joined me," Tsuzuki told him, then winked. "Even if you had no choice 'cause I tricked you!"
Hisoka flushed, looking down at the hands in his lap, where his fingers had twined together. "About that," he said in a low voice. "It's all right. I guess. I don't get out much, I know. So thank you." Tatsumi was always telling Tsuzuki to take better care of his partner...he supposed this was the kind of thing he'd mean.
"You're welcome," Tsuzuki replied, eyes crinkling in a smile. "Any time."
They finished their cake in silence. The pond gleamed with reflected sunlight, dazzling their eyes. That was all that needed to be said, Hisoka thought, but the sensitive part of him remarked that much more had lain beneath the words. This morning he had passed through a gate and found something beyond it better than solitude.
When they stood, Tsuzuki scattered crumbs from his napkin for the birds to find. "Come on~!" he urged. "I'll race you home, and if you win, you get another cake!"
"You think you'll beat me?" Hisoka said, competitive instincts nettled. "You're on!
Tsuzuki laughed, carefree and joyful. "You'll have to catch up to me, first!"
After a heartbeat, Hisoka's laughter joined in. With Tsuzuki he always flew far and high, and he was never afraid of falling.
It was a good Sunday, after all.
~end~ 12/09/01 Christmas giftfic ...For Whitecat!