A High Price

Chapter 22

By Lizard


Muraki's mocking laughter was soft, almost like an adult amused at a child's temper tantrum, no real venom in it. The shadows couldn't touch him. Their Master had spent so much energy attempting to shred the doctor to pieces that he was now sweating profusely, barely able to stand after having watched each and every attack pass through the wispy form as if there was nothing there to strike. When the shadows had failed, Tatsumi had resorted to trying to attack him physically, to be more precise, with his fists. That too had proved futile, and now all he could do was glare maliciously.

"Tatsumi-san, you cannot harm me. Not here." The doctor crouched down, at eye level with the Shinigami, who finally collapsed to his knees from his efforts.

"How? How is it possible?" The Shadow Master hissed at him between his teeth, nails sinking into the damp soil as if he were imagining it to be the doctor's face.

"That's not important. Besides, I did not come here to fight with you. I only came to see my Tsuzuki."

The shadows lashed at the spectre again, reacting to Tatsumi's rage, rather than any real commands. Those two words had summoned immeasurable rage in him. "My Tsuzuki." He had no right to call him such!

"He is not yours! How could you ever think he was?" The Shinigami practically roared at him, taking the doctor somewhat by surprise.

"Well, Tatsumi-san. Such outbursts from you really are unexpected. I had always imagined you to be so collected and in control of your emotions. Obviously my first impressions were wrong. That's a shame, I had so much respect for you."

Tatsumi was stung by those words. What Muraki had judged him to be was correct. He was calm, austere, usually untouchable emotionally. But Tsuzuki's involvement had changed all that. He wanted to break down and sob, but he couldn't. Not there. Not in front of his own enemy.

"Stay away from him." The secretary forced the words to flow confidently, force back the tremor.

"Things are not as simple as that. Do you think I ever intended to develop any feelings for him beyond lust? Because it is more, you know. I harboured passion for months, thinking that one night with him, might set my mind at ease, sate my needs enough for me to set him aside, take him down from his pedestal." Muraki sighed softly, never once breaking eye contact with the kneeling Shinigami. "But that one night, only developed what I felt for him. Something so strong that all my other plans were abandoned."

"Why are you telling me this? I don't care what feelings you may think you have for him! What real feelings could someone as twisted as you really have for anybody?" Tatsumi growled, bitterly.

"Tatsumi-san, you amuse me. Surely you know that minds are more complex than pure evil or pure good. Don't presume that just because of my actions, I am incapable of feeling. That would be most ignorant of you."

"Shut up!" Tatsumi was struggling to get to his feet, but hadn't the energy. He didn't want to hear this creature's reasoning, scared that he might hear some sense in his words.

"I fail to understand why you take this relationship so personally. Unless, of course." Muraki paused, musing over his own words. Tatsumi knew he would come up with the answer before long, it was too blatantly obvious.

"That's enough. I won't discuss this any further!"

"Ah but Tatsumi, it's too late for that. I already know your little secret. Tell me, was it you, by any chance, who happened across us in the park and then took off so suddenly?" One silver brow arched in question, lips curving in a faint smirk. He continued, not waiting for an answer. "But of course it was. And you couldn't bear to watch."

Tatsumi let his head drop, eyes closed tightly, forcing back tears. That the doctor should use his own feelings to torment him was pure torture.

"Yes, I don't know why I didn't realise it before. You always were so very protective of him." Muraki stood up, folding his arms, gazing off through the Sakura trees towards the main building. "I must pity you for that. I too know how painful it is to only watch from a distance, not to be able to make anything a reality."

"Don't compare what I feel for him, for whatever twisted feeling you may label love." Tatsumi hissed, finally managing to force himself upright.

"Condescending as ever. Very well, we have come to the end of this discussion. I think it best for the both of us if I put you out of your misery now."

Tatsumi watched the doctor fearlessly. He could only hope that whatever he might conjure up in this realm would prove to be as insubstantial as Muraki himself seemed to be.

The three-headed dragon, which came forth at the command of the pale man, was far from lacking in substance. This he could fight though. This he could defend himself from, if only he had the energy. Maybe it had been Muraki's plan all along to let him wear himself out earlier, therefore leaving him defenceless when the real attack came.

Tatsumi backed away. Monster and man followed, both decidedly calm. Until all were distracted by a familiar voice, shouting in sheer panic, and coming continually closer.

"Muraki! Tatsumi! Stop!" Tsuzuki was running as fast as his legs would carry him, stumbling over the roots of the trees, and finally coming to stand between them, chest heaving, arms spread wide. "Both of you please! Muraki don't hurt him."

Muraki couldn't help but smile. Tsuzuki looked so divinely beautiful standing there, distress written all over his face. It was reactions like this one that had made him fall for the Shinigami. With a wave of his hand, he motioned the dragon to back down, which it did reluctantly, feral eyes still locked on Tatsumi.

"Tsuzuki, you were here after all." Muraki murmured quietly, a genuine smile on his lips. The resulting smile he received from Tsuzuki was breathtaking.

"Tsuzuki, please don't get involved. I am not in need of assistance." Tatsumi closed the distance between them, one hand on his fellow Shinigami's shoulder. He couldn't help but notice him flinch slightly at his touch. Muraki too, stepped forward, feeling distinctly possessive.

"Tatsumi I'm not going to let you fight. This is ridiculous." Tsuzuki turned to face him, amethyst eyes pleading. He was still unsure of what Tatsumi thought of him, almost wary of him, but he couldn't let either of them be hurt. He simply cared too much about both.

Muraki reached forward, laying a hand on Tsuzuki's shoulder carefully. He could feel his form changing, becoming denser, heavier. He had stayed too long already, and if he took shape fully here, he would never be able to return to the body that Oriya protected. The idea was almost tempting, staying with Tsuzuki was all he wanted, but he would be too vulnerable. If Tatsumi or one of the other Shinigami were desperate enough, they could destroy his real body, and he would cease to exist in either place.

"Muraki, you should go, Oriya is worried about you, says you've been gone too long already." Tsuzuki reached for the hand at his shoulder, but felt his own fingers pass through it, as if he were touching water rather than something solid or gaseous. It panicked him. Surely he shouldn't feel like that. "Go, now!"

Muraki nodded slightly, not feeling particularly at ease with his new state as it was. He turned, facing the dragon he had summoned, and chanting a few quiet words to send it back to its own realm.

It stayed put.

Again, Muraki chanted the required words, more firmly this time.

The three heads snaked downwards, eyes on a level with him, mouths slightly open, tongues lashing between enormous teeth. Something was very wrong. By this point, Tsuzuki and Tatsumi both seemed to have noticed the creature's insubordination as well, and were backing away, Tsuzuki readying himself to raise a protective barrier if need be.

Muraki remained where he was, still trying to command the beast, and having varying results. It seems uncertain, not entirely bound to the doctor in this world as it was on earth, and yet still recognising him as its summoner. It gave a sickening screech, almost bird-like, and took a step closer towards him.

"Muraki get back, I'll summon Suzaku!" Tsuzuki sounded desperate, and Muraki knew he should do as was suggested. Pride prevented him from doing so. Pride and determination.

It took another step, this time almost upon Muraki, as if it were restraining itself from killing him. It stumbled awkwardly, will divided and ended up off balance. Tsuzuki could see what was going to happen. He tried to call out in warning, tried to run to Muraki, but Tatsumi held him back firmly by the shoulders. The beast toppled, falling forwards, colossal chest directly above the doctor's head.

Tsuzuki screamed, unable to watch, covering his ears as the crash of splintering trees and a deafening thud announced the creature's fall.

Tatsumi could only stare, torn between sorrow for Tsuzuki and his own sense of joy at the doctor's possible demise. No sooner had the dragon fallen than it vanished, not a trace of it left, and only the ruined trees evidence that it had existed at all.

Muraki was nowhere to be seen.





Author's Note: As usual, that all got blabbered out without any initial planning, but that's how I have to write things these days, so blah. I've been mean these past few chapters, especially with Tsuzuki, but like I said, things are coming to a close, so it's to be expected. I know there are lots of things left hanging at the moment, but it'll all get sorted out eventually. I think.

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