Death's Dark Shadows

by Tenshi

Author's Note: This is anime canon only.

The garden of Kokakuro was a blue and white maze of moonlight and darkness, still and frozen beneath the stars. Every leaf was heavy with snow, every windchime mute in a case of glassy ice, every bird slept. And yet still Oriya knew something was wrong.

The light of the open screen cast a golden square over the porch, Oriya's shadow a black pool in the middle of it. It was stark, compared to the other shadows in the garden. They were shades of winter, the navy-blue and frozen grays of Oriya's winter kimono, nothing so tangible as his own black, breathing silhouette. Save one.

It caught at the corner of Oriya's vision, too-dark for the tree that covered it, furtive in its uncast motion. Oriya saw it and lunged, a length of perfect steel flashing from its sheath and biting deep into the bark of the ancient cherry. His sword caught the shadow and pinned it, and Oriya thought he heard an intake of breath, a noise of shock and surprise but nothing so base as profanity.

"I've got you now," Oriya said, to the faint darkness on the tree trunk. "You might as well have the decency to come out and wish me a happy new year."

A sigh, then, from the cherry tree. And then the shadow swelled forward, no longer cast by nothing, but by a tall man in a brown suit, the sleeve of which was caught in the point of Oriya's sword. "Happy New Year," he said, with the warm indifference of a shop clerk. "Now, if you don't mind, I think I'd like to keep the hole in my jacket as small as possible."

"Hmph." Oriya yanked his sword free and the cherry tree shuddered, scattering thick clumps of snow down from the branches. "I remember you. It's been a year, hasn't it?" Oriya did not let it show just how well he knew how long it had been since their last meeting, and how heavy those days weighed on him.

"Slightly more than a year," the shinigami in his garden replied, inspecting his ruined suit. The moonlight reflected in his glasses in a way that made Oriya's abdomen clench. "You will forgive the intrusion, I hope. But the ministry feels it best to keep an eye on those who have gotten... entangled in our business."

"Meaning you were spying on me." Oriya picked his katana's sheath from the snow, and slid his weapon back inside. "You wouldn't be the first. Are you looking for him, then?"

Tatsumi shrugged. "As I said. Merely routine business." He brushed snow from his shoulders, deliberate in his nonchalance. "Why, has he been here?"

Oriya's eyes narrowed. The man was dangerous, deadly dangerous, behind his salaryman veneer of polite distance. He had thought so a year ago, and he thought so now. "No," Oriya admitted. "And I doubt he will. My aid to him became a burden long ago. He will not come back here, nor to me."

The shinigami raised one perfectly-groomed eyebrow, and Oriya knew that even the little he had said had been too much. "I see. Well, thank you for your cooperation." He bowed, crisp and dismissive, and would have vanished where he stood had Oriya's sheathed sword not landed heavily on his shoulder.

"Wait. That kid I had a little tussle with last year. Is he all right?"

"Kurosaki? Yes, he's quite well, thank you."

"He rescued his friend, didn't he? Tsuzu--something."

Tatsumi pursed his lips before answering, and Oriya felt a grim surge of pleasure. So I'm not the only one here whose lover has moved on, am I?

"Mr. Tsuzuki has recovered from his ordeal," Tatsumi said at last, careful as a barefoot man negotiating a path through broken glass. "Though as can be expected, our work keeps us all very busy." Tatsumi pushed the sword away. "You'll forgive them, I hope, for not stopping by to pay their respects." He turned to go, annoyed enough, Oriya realized, to walk out of the garden as through he was human.

"I will," Oriya said, "but only if you come inside and have a drink with me." The shinigami stopped walking, considering the offer or considering how to refuse it, Oriya couldn't tell. He raked Tatsumi over with his gaze, wondering what arcane unknowns bound up his soul to his superhuman flesh. Muraki would have known, but Oriya would never have asked. Oriya had never wanted to know. Being alive had troubles enough of its own. "...You can drink, can't you?" Oriya persisted. "He used to go on all the time about how much that Tsuzuki liked sweets."

It slipped out unbidden, the shadow of jealousy, of frustration, and this time it was Tatsumi who saw it and knew how it had been cast. Shadows were his stock in trade, after all. Something moved behind his glasses, a reflection that had never been in Muraki's. Understanding.

"I can," Tatsumi answered. "I enjoy tea in the Kyoto style."

"Tea in the Kyoto style is best before dinner in the Kyoto style, followed by sake in the Kyoto style." And several other things in the Kyoto style, Oriya thought, studying the line of Tatsumi's shoulders, and how it crossed just so at the back seam of his jacket. He did not care for western tailoring, but the Shinigami did it justice. Oriya had a brown crepe silk kimono worked in a pattern of cedar branches; it would look splendid on him. Or off of him, flung back over the tatami cushions in a moment of passionate abandon that Oriya was suddenly fiercely determined to inspire.

First, though, the polite refusal to satisfy decorum, ever a proper Japanese gentleman. "I am on the clock, I'm afraid."

"It's New Year's even in the otherworld, isn't it?" Oriya shouldered his sword. "I'm lacking a decent partner for uta-garuta. I assume you know your poetry."

"I would not wish to brag, but yes." Tatsumi adjusted his glasses, a gesture distinctly different from Muraki's, and Oriya found it a relief. Too long had the shadow in his life been Muraki's. There were others who could bend the light of the moon around them. "I might have to interrogate you, though, in order to validate my reason for staying."

"Interrogations are better indoors." Oriya crunched back along the frozen gravel, and a moment later, he heard Tatsumi's footsteps echoing him. He held the shoji back to let his guest inside, and then he called one of the maids to take Tatsumi's coat and to bring tea for two. The screen rattled in its track as he shut it, enclosing them both in the golden light of the paper lanterns and locking out winter shadows cast only by memories.


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