An Overwhelming Question (Wind of Human Voices Acoustic
by Rana Eros
Written for Remix Redux 2008 as a pinch hit. The original story is "Moonlight and Wind," by Phoebe Zeitgeist. The poem partially quoted in this story is T. S. Eliot's "Preludes." The title is taken from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Audienced, coached, and betaed by Eliza, all within the space of twenty four hours. She is mighty, yo.
Do you regret it?
There's a level on which Tsuzuki suspects his mind doesn't work quite right. Maybe it's the product of age, the way thoughts break free of each other sometimes and rise or sink with no rhyme or reason. Maybe it's the product of other things, and Tsuzuki doesn't like to think about those, but the not thinking is one of those, and he could tie himself in knots speculating, and speculating on the speculating, so instead he lets it lie. It's not as if it's not a relief, most of the time.
Then there are those thoughts that rise sharp as thorns on roses, without the accompanying blooms, and it's only the rarity that makes those worth bearing for what he's forgotten in exchange.
Do you regret it?
Hisoka eyes him narrowly, and for a moment he can't summon the smile, can't summon the desire for something sweet with the taste of blood in his mouth, at the back of his throat. Ghost blood, dream blood, his blood. It doesn't matter. What doesn't he regret?
"Tsuzuki," Hisoka says, and he doesn't know why, but the sound of Hisoka's voice makes him want to protest that no, no, he didn't mean it, he'll think about the answer, he'll be careful. And Hisoka speaks again, impatient, "Tsuzuki."
"Sorry, Hisoka." He straightens up, looks around. They're in Chijou, and he stalls as he tries to remember the details of their assignment, what soul they've come to tear away from life. "Are you hungry?"
"Baka," Hisoka growls, "we just ate. You said you knew where we were going!"
"Oh." He's not even sure, at the moment, of what city they're in. He keeps walking, though. Maybe the memory will return in a moment, and he hides the wince at the surprising pain of that thought.
As though Hisoka needs the visual cue of a wince. "Tsuzuki, tell me what's wrong."
They're on the sidewalk of a busy street. Tsuzuki thinks they're visible. Sometimes he has trouble telling. "Hisoka...."
Hisoka steers them off the street, into a side alley where a lean cat blinks at them once with glowing eyes a lighter green than Hisoka's, and vanishes. Tsuzuki stares at the empty space it's left, momentarily dazzled. Momentarily....
"Yamaga." He makes himself look at Hisoka and smile. They're in the city of Yamaga, in the part that used to be the town of Kamoto, and a few blocks away, there's a bookshop whose proprietor doesn't seem aware she's dead. "I'm all right, Hisoka. I just wish we were going to shop."
Hisoka isn't fooled, he can tell. Hisoka is never fooled, but sometimes Tsuzuki is, and sometimes Hisoka lets him get away with it. This is one of those times, Hisoka only looking at him hard and saying, "Don't go off in your head while we're in there. She might resist."
"Don't worry, Hisoka, I'll protect you." It's a cheap diversionary tactic, but Tsuzuki's used to the self-hate that comes with such things, and Hisoka will hit him for it and that will be something.
Hisoka doesn't hit him for it. Hisoka doesn't even look angry, and that's what makes Tsuzuki flinch when Hisoka raises his hand, runs it down the side of Tsuzuki's face silently. It's gone before Tsuzuki can overcome the shock and press into it, tucked back into Hisoka's pocket, but the warmth lingers, warmth they shouldn't have, ghosts and monsters that they are. Even Hisoka.
Do you regret it?
"Come on," Hisoka says, and leads him back onto the street, where he blindly takes the lead, his mind momentarily filled with white and silver, the warmth of touch and the cold of metal, but they're all thorns left after the bush has been uprooted. By the time they stand in front of the bookshop, Tsuzuki remembers only that he doesn't remember, and perhaps it's best that way.
It's an older building with a traditional façade, the wooden door propped open to the deepening night, the light inside all the more golden for the contrast. Though Tsuzuki led them there, it's Hisoka who steps inside first; Tsuzuki's attention is caught by a wall scroll, painted with sakura and inscribed in precise calligraphy.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
"'Of some infinitely gentle,'" a voice says aloud, "'Infinitely suffering thing.' It's not traditional, I know, but I have always liked it."
Tsuzuki looks away from the scroll, to the woman sitting behind a low bookshelf that doubles as the counter, judging by the ancient register atop it, and the open ledger book. He notices these things as a part of her, as he notices her grey-streaked hair and a face that's not so very old. Her eyes are keen and knowing, dark as the night outside, and he feels as though they've stepped into her heart.
"I don't suppose," she continues, "that I might at least convince you to allow me another month. There's a book coming out that I'd very much like to read."
"And how many books after that?" Hisoka asks, not unkindly, which makes her smile.
"How many would you ask for, were it you?"
"I'm sorry," Tsuzuki says, helplessly, automatically, and the way her smile doesn't change makes him want to cry.
"I believe you are." She stands up, closes the book in her hand and sets it down. The gesture strikes Tsuzuki wrong, as though she's just removed a limb, and her fingertips linger on the cover for a moment before she straightens and looks at them again. "Very well, then."
"Do you have any arrangements to make?" Hisoka asks her. She shakes her head.
"Oh, no. My daughter can handle the place on her own. I raised her here." The corner of the woman's mouth quirks with gentle humor. "You might have to come back for her, when the time comes. Just let me close up for the night."
As she comes around the counter, Tsuzuki realizes he's still standing in the doorway. He moves aside so she can close the door and lock it, and for a moment she stands still, her back to both of them.
"I do wish...," she murmurs, so low Tsuzuki thinks he's not supposed to hear it, but even speaking to herself, she doesn't finish the thought. The word "wish" snags at him, the wistfulness behind it, but if it's a thorn, it's a blunted one. She turns to catch him watching her, and he's not sure what she sees that makes her smile again, sadly, and repeat, "'Infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering.'"
She moves past him, back among the bookshelves, around the counter and in through a doorway that opens on a tiny room. There's a sink and hotplate, a teapot and mugs on the counter, and a worn old chair tucked into the corner, next to a window looking out on a cobblestoned courtyard, barely large enough for two wooden planters and a handmade fountain. The woman sits down in the chair, and looks up.
"I'm ready," she says, and it's not necessary to touch someone to send them on, but Tsuzuki likes to do it, if they'll let him. It's all he can give them, that he'll remember their touch. That much, he never forgets. He steps forward, and she holds out her hand before he can ask for it. Her grip is strong, her skin no warmer than Hisoka's, and she smiles again as she closes her eyes, letting go.
Tsuzuki doesn't let go until Hisoka touches him again, clasping his shoulder. "She's gone, Tsuzuki."
She is, as simply as that, and Tsuzuki could almost, could almost--
The light in the shop seems dimmer now, colder, closer to white than gold as he and Hisoka pass through the locked door and back onto the street, where it's easier to shift to Meifu. They materialize among the sakura, and Tsuzuki's reminded of the wall scroll, of the poetry the woman quoted.
Do you regret it?
Hisoka moves beside him, walking toward the office and the waiting paperwork for this case.
"Go home," he calls to Tsuzuki over his shoulder. "I'll fill out the forms and see you in the morning."
Tsuzuki hurries to catch up, trusting instinct over thought; it's less broken. "But then you might get lonely! I'll help with the paperwork, Hisoka, and then let's go out for dessert!"
"Baka," Hisoka huffs, but he doesn't refuse either the offer or the plea, and if he doesn't touch Tsuzuki again like he did in the alley, still Tsuzuki feels the warmth. It might be a thing he regrets, or a thing he should. Yet he can't change it, and he can't stop craving it, and when all that thought supplies is the question, he feels instinct is as good an answer as any.