Stretching Towards the Sun

By Rose Argent

It was a graveyard, a sprawling lake of grass dotted with stones. Hisoka rested one hand on the cool, smooth surface of a new gravestone and said, "These spirits are already at rest. We shouldn't be here." He turned to look at his partner's reaction, but discovered that Tsuzuki wasn't there. He was alone.

And the more he looked around the graveyard, the stranger it seemed. It didn't belong in Japan, with all this wasted space, room for whole coffins instead of urns, so much valuable land given over to the dead. There was a Christian church just up the hill, but the gravestones all faced downhill, their backs to the church, their shadows stretching towards the setting sun.

Their shadows...

Something was very wrong here, and the air around Hisoka felt too close, too alive. There were whispers, constant niggling whispers of emotions like he was in a vast crowd. There was danger here, but where? The graves? The church? Suddenly, Hisoka hated having his back to that church. He turned, and looked up at it, and the world went dark.

"--soka? Come on, it's not like you to sleep so late. The boss wants us. Special job." Tsuzuki was shaking him, and Hisoka batted him away angrily, his dream pushed out of his mind by the flood of Tsuzuki's emotions.

"I'm up. Go wait in the office. Tell them I'll be there soon." Hisoka slipped out of bed on the side farthest from Tsuzuki and shut himself in their shared bathroom with a decisive click of the lock.

Tsuzuki was still sulking when Hisoka arrived at the office, some twenty minutes later, but Tatsumi mercifully saved Hisoka from having to say anything by immediately launching into a rapid-fire briefing.

"Recently the Castle of Candles reported the death of one Kato Ryota, while he was traveling abroad. His soul, however, has not been accounted for." As he spoke, he pulled up a handful of images on the monitor, all dated days or weeks after the date of death marked in Kato's file. "This is Kato Ryota. As you can see, reports of his death would appear to be somewhat premature."

A few more surveillance photos appeared in quick succession, each of a different person. "This... glitch... was dismissed as an isolated error, until several friends and family members of Kato began turning up 'dead' in the register, but alive in appearance."

Tatsumi pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes closed for a moment as he sighed, then he continued. "We contacted the responsible entities in Siberia, where he'd been vacationing when he 'died', and discovered that they have been experiencing similar problems, on a much wider scale. They've been able to determine that the common factor in the incidents was contact with a particular priest."

He brought up another file photo, this time of an older gentleman, the white of his Christian priest's collar visible at the bottom edge of the headshot. "This is Father Alexsandr Petrovich Kruglov. He's the pastor at an isolated church in the Sakhalin area of Siberia. All of the initial incidents occurred immediately after a visit to this church, and the problem spread from these early cases."

Once Tatsumi fell silent, Chief Konoe spoke. "We've arranged for two of our shinigami to travel to Siberia and perform our own investigation, on the condition that we share any and all progress with their agents already in the area. As Tatsumi speaks Russian, he will be returning to the field as the primary shinigami for this case. Obviously we can't send anyone into unfamiliar territory alone, so it was decided that one of you would accompany him. Hisoka, your empathy could provide extremely valuable clues, so you will be the one sent along with Tatsumi."

Very briefly, very faintly, Hisoka sensed annoyance from Tatsumi. It was gone almost before he could even put a name to the emotion, but it left Hisoka with the feeling that he was unwelcome on this particular mission -- Tatsumi had wanted Tsuzuki to come with him.

"But Chief..." Tsuzuki started to protest, but was quickly and efficiently cut off by Konoe.

"You'll have the Gushoshin twins to help you cover your area while Hisoka is in Siberia. Tatsumi, I trust you've made arrangements for the travel expenses?"

"Yes. The flight leaves first thing tomorrow morning, and I've made reservations at a small country inn close to the church. Don't worry, Tsuzuki, I won't keep Hisoka from you for long." Tatsumi smiled and ruffled Tsuzuki's hair.

But suddenly, inexplicably, Hisoka felt certain that Tatsumi was lying.

He was back in that graveyard, but there was a mirror where one of the gravestones should be. Warily, Hisoka approached the tall, silvery oval, shielding his eyes when the light of the setting sun reflected off the polished surface for an instant.

When his vision cleared, Hisoka saw his reflection staring back at him. Except it wasn't entirely his reflection. The Hisoka in the mirror had eyes like volcanic glass, shiny black from corner to corner. He reached out to touch the surface of the mirror, fascinated, mesmerized by those alien eyes.

His fingers touched cool glass for a moment, then cooler flesh. The Hisoka in the mirror threaded their fingers together, palm-to-palm, and gently pulled him closer. His free hand rose to cup Hisoka's cheek, his fingers ice to the touch. Frost crackled across the inside of the mirror, wreathing the other Hisoka's head in a crystal crown as he spoke. "All they want is their turn in the sun. Is that so wrong?"

Cold lips pressed against Hisoka's for a moment, and darkness overcame him.

That the drive to the church passed in silence was not strange -- Tatsumi had never been one to push Hisoka into unwanted conversation -- but the brittle feel to the silence wore on Hisoka. He could not shake the feeling that Tatsumi resented his presence here.

For his part, Hisoka found himself strangely reluctant to be reliant on Tatsumi's knowledge of the local language. All he would understand would be what Tatsumi chose to translate for him, and the vague impressions offered by his empathy. That his empathy was telling him nothing at all about Tatsumi's true mood was also unnerving -- never before had Hisoka been around someone so tightly closed off to his other-sense, a foreign text his power could not read.

And Hisoka's gut told him, he's hiding something from me. But what Tatsumi could possibly be hiding, or why, was baffling to Hisoka. Unless it was so simple as that Tatsumi didn't want Hisoka to know that he had been wanting to use this case to have time entirely alone with Tsuzuki.

The road began to slant upwards, and now Hisoka could begin to see the church at the top of the hill. His dead heart ceased to beat, blood congealing in his veins as the church came into view. He knew that church.

And behind it would be a sprawling lake of grass dotted with stones, their backs to the church, their shadows stretching towards the setting sun...

He must have made a noise, because Tatsumi gave him a sharp look and slowed the car. "What is it?"

"I..." Hisoka shook his head. What could he say? He dreamed about that church, about the graveyard he believed it overlooked? Prescience and visions were well beyond the scope of his power, and Hisoka hesitated to lay claim to either. "That place gives me a bad feeling."

Tatsumi nodded, his attention back on the road. "We'll go in very carefully, then. We have no idea what to expect, after all."

"Yeah." Hisoka stared out the window, troubled by the niggling suspicion that they were *both* lying.

The church appeared to be empty when they arrived, so Hisoka set to cautiously exploring the wide hall for emotional traces that might help explain the death- but-not-really that seemed to be linked to this place.

It was unusually cold in this place, despite the afternoon sun shining through the stained glass windows.

Tatsumi had remained by the door, back to the wall, eyes scanning the room in a slow sweep from the left to right, and back. He was barely visible, melting into the shadows in that uncanny way he had. "Anything?"

"Envy... a lot of envy. It's faint, though. Are you finding it cold in here?"

"Not particularly. I hope you're not unwell?"

Hisoka shook his head, then stilled, fingers resting lightly on the back of one of the long benches that filled the lower part of the hall. "Someone's coming."

Tatsumi nodded and drew himself out of the shadows, moving to stand at Hisoka's shoulder. "Kto eto?"

The priest emerged from a small door at the back of the hall, smiling lightly. "Menya zovoot Alyeksandr Petroveech. A tebya?"

The words meaning nothing to Hisoka, he concentrated on what emotions he could sense from Father Petrovich. But all he got was a sense of peace, of conviction, a feeling of relief at being right in one's skin, finally. "How strange..."

Both the priest and Tatsumi paused in their conversation and looked at Hisoka. The priest asked something in Russian, but Hisoka could only shake his head. "I'm sorry, I don't speak..."

Tatsumi said something else, his tone light and friendly now, and Father Petrovich nodded. It was dizzying for Hisoka, the flow of unfamiliar and half- familiar words, and he found himself sitting down hard on one of the high-backed benches. There was nothing suspicious about this priest, nothing suspicious here, except the cold that no one else seemed to feel. Nothing made any sense.

Then Tatsumi's hands were on his shoulders, the Russian words flying directly over his head now, the sound of parting pleasantries clear in any language. He was helped up and hustled out of the church with amazing efficiency, and with no sense of affronted hospitality from the priest as they headed back to the car after such a short visit.

"What happened?" Tatsumi asked once they were back on the road, heading back down the hill to their inn.

"I don't know. I think I was trying too hard to sense things that may not have been there. He didn't seem to have any darkness about him at all. And all I got from the church was that old envy..." Hisoka sighed, rubbing his temples. There *was* something there, though, deep under the surface. He just didn't understand it yet.

"I've arranged to have tea with Father Petrovich tomorrow afternoon, you can take a look around the grounds while I keep him busy."

"That's a good idea. If he's hiding something, it wouldn't be out front anyway." And Hisoka would have a chance to look for that graveyard he'd seen in his dreams. If he could just stand there in reality, maybe the answer would become clear.

"Rest up tonight. You're still looking very pale, and you had that chill before. Can't have you falling ill on my watch. Tsuzuki would never forgive me."

Hisoka glanced at Tatsumi, a strange flutter of something brushing the edges of his empathic awareness, but it was gone before he could say anything, and Tatsumi's expression seemed to be one of genuine worry.

This trip was making Hisoka paranoid.

"Is this place real?" Hisoka stared up at the starry sky, the lawn beneath him cool and prickly, his nose full of that sharp, fresh-cut grass smell. Full sensory experience dreaming.

"I can't help you with this. Not directly, and certainly not against him." The other Hisoka lay on the grass beside him, just the tips of his cold fingers touching Hisoka's, his obsidian eyes reflecting back the stars' own light.

"Father Petrovich? Is he behind it after all?" Hisoka turned his head to look at his double, unafraid of this place for the first time, with this mirror self lying there beside him.

"He was the first to be freed. He showed the others the way."

"Who freed him, then?" That question felt exceedingly important, the most important question he'd ever asked. And some part of him felt that it already knew the answer.

"I can't tell you that. I've reached the limits of what I can do."

"It's okay. You've pointed me in the right direction. I just have to figure it out..."

"... before it's too late?"

"Yes. But I have to know. Why are you helping me? Don't you want to be free, too?" Hisoka squeezed the hand of his other self, his mirror image. His shadow. That was it, the key. Shadows, stretching towards the setting sun. Wanting their turn in the light, in the warmth of the sun.

Father Petrovich had cast no shadow. None of the dead people in the surveillance photos had cast shadows.

"The cost is too high, his way. Will you do one thing for me before you go?"

"Don't take so much this time. I can't afford to collapse tomorrow."

The shadow smiled as he rolled over, braced on his elbows over Hisoka, hip-to- hip, their legs tangled together. "Sorry about that. It was my first time." He leaned in closer still, his lips touching Hisoka's, Hisoka's warmth bleeding into him through the contact.

And once again, the moon and the stars winked out, and the world went dark.

Hisoka slipped around the back of the church, once Tatsumi had been inside for a good ten minutes. There was plenty of afternoon light left, and Hisoka dared to hope that he wouldn't be still in the graveyard at sunset.

He no longer trusted the light of the setting sun, and the bloody shadows it cast.

It was exactly as he had dreamed. The freshly-cut grass was soft under his bare feet, and he left his shoes at the top of the hill, by the church wall. He wanted to feel everything he could, sense everything he could, and shoes only got in the way, when what he needed to find might be under the ground.

Fingers trailing along the rough stone tops of the unmarked gravestones, Hisoka slowly felt his way down the centre path. There was fear here, terror so pervasive he couldn't find any one source.

Think. How can a shadow become free?

By taking control of the body.

What, then, happens to the original inhabitants? Those missing souls? They can't pass on, or the body would die. They can't have simply traded places, becoming shadows in turn, because the shadow-people cast none.

So, what, then?

Hisoka paused, letting the feel of sun-warmed grass fade into the background, seeking something deeper, seeking his answer, knowing it was close.

For the shadow to be free, the original soul must be trapped, made helpless. And to the mind of a shadow, the very definition of helplessness would be... what?

Shadows require light to exist. And so, for a shadow, helplessness is... the absence of all light.

Under the ground.

All at once, the terror had a voice, a hundred voices, screaming for light, for freedom, for death. For anything but this box, this weight of earth. Mad, all of them, locked away too long, too close.

Hisoka fell to his knees, fingers scrabbling at the earth covering what his gut told him was the oldest grave. They were all down there, somehow. Trapped in coffins, under six feet of earth. And he couldn't possibly dig six feet down with his bare hands, but what else could he do? He had to know. He needed to know. Who? Who? Who? Who freed Father Petrovich's shadow, and taught it how to free others?

The spirit in the coffin wouldn't tell him, couldn't tell him, could only scream, insane with the terror of being so long trapped in the close, tight darkness. But if he could touch that first coffin, the one that held the priest's soul trapped, maybe he could sense it, could know who started this all.

So he dug. Though his nails cracked and bled and his arms ached, he dug. One foot. Two. A hole barely big enough to accommodate him and soon he would have to crawl in, headfirst down into the earth, if he wanted to keep going.

And the sun was setting behind him.

On his knees in the dirt, Hisoka dug like a man possessed. He was in four feet. Five. The earth was suffocating and he couldn't turn enough to see the top without losing his rhythm. The shadow's terror was infectious, this deep in the earth. Trapped. No light.

Keep digging.

Hisoka howled in pain as what was left of his nails tore away from his fingers and splinters stabbed into raw flesh. Wood. He'd hit wood. Cheap, rough wood, unpolished and porous. It had absorbed impressions well.

And Hisoka threw his head back, dislodging earth all around him as he shrieked with shrill, hysterical laughter.

Because *who else could it ever have been?*

The earth rumbled and shifted, raining down on Hisoka's head, and he scrambled for the top of his tiny hole, his fingers only just reaching the edge as the entire mass of dirt collapsed in on him. Clawing, desperate, Hisoka kept that precarious grip, and pulled, inch by inch, pulled himself out of the grave.

He would not die so easily. He hadn't given in quickly the first time, and his strength would not fail him so easily this time, either.

Coughing up dirt and the blood from a split lip, Hisoka emerged into the night air, crawling his way out of a grave that was not to be his own.

The shadows writhed and twisted in greeting, pooled obediently at the feet of their Master.


"Kurosaki. Has anyone ever told you that you are too sharp by far?"

"You're not the first." Hisoka wobbled to his feet, chest heaving as his lungs greedily sought air, and more air.

"You know I can't let you live. You've seen things you ought not to have." Tatsumi smiled, cocking his head to the side, the moonlight glinting off his glasses.

At least the moon wasn't red. Hisoka could only tolerate so much poetic synchronicity. "You know I'm going to fight you."

"Of course." Tatsumi bowed, still smiling, and the shadows leapt at Hisoka.

Blinded, choking as shadow tendrils wrapped around his neck and crept down his throat, Hisoka went down with a painful, jarring thud. He'd never been so cold, not even in the final days of Muraki's death curse. He struggled, of course, but how does one fight living darkness?

"I can almost understand it, now. What the good doctor saw in you, that time. What Tsuzuki sees in you. Like this, you're almost as beautiful as he is." Shadows forced their way between Hisoka's legs, and he would have laughed if he could draw the breath to do so.

Just how many times could he be expected to die this way?

It hurt, of course. It surprised him a little, though, that in comparison, Muraki had been almost gentle. But then, there had only been one Muraki, and Tasumi had a host of shadow creatures at his beck and call. And he used them all.

Of course, Muraki had also always trusted to something other than his cock to hold Hisoka down. And though he was blind, dizzy from lack of air, sick with the taste of Tatsumi's creatures in his mouth, Hisoka could almost smile.

His hands were free.

When Tatsumi bit him, all but tearing off his nipple, Hisoka lashed out. He felt a satisfying crunch under the heel of his hand, and the bite of broken glass. In the instant that Tatsumi reeled back from the unexpected blow, Hisoka grabbed blindly for one of the shards of Tatsumi's broken glasses, and thrust it forward with all his remaining strength.

There was a howl of pain and the shadows withdrew, roiling, curling in on themselves in reflected agony. Hisoka rolled to his belly and crawled, frantic, to the jacket Tatsumi had tossed away as he stripped him.

Tatsumi was on him even as he reached into his jacket pocket, savagely pulling him away and rolling him back onto his back. The rage in Tatsumi's remaining eye turned quickly to surprise as Hisoka brought his gun around with the roll, grinding the barrel into the bloody hole where Tatsumi's right eye had been.

Baring his teeth in a vicious smile, Hisoka pulled the trigger.

Slammed back into the dirt by the recoil, splattered with blood and brains and broken glass, Hisoka laughed up at the moon, his voice the raw howl of an animal.

The things he did to Tatsumi's dead body that night, with teeth and hands and gun, would sicken him in the morning. Sometimes, in his mind, it was Muraki's body he violated, desecrated. Sometimes it was Tatsumi's. Occasionally, it was his father's.

When there was nothing recognizable left, Hisoka crawled back up the hill to the church, and collapsed inside. Father Petrovich had vanished, probably fled, and for the time being Hisoka couldn't bring himself to care. Some other shinigami could find him, someone else could dig up that graveyard and free all the trapped souls.

Curled into a ball on the floor of the church, Hisoka slept.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be more help."

Hisoka shook his head, shuddering. "Don't. I just want to rest."

Hisoka's shadow kissed him on the forehead, pulling him into his arms and rocking him a little. "Then rest. As long as you need to."

"How can I know you'll give it back, when I'm ready?"

The shadow sighed, resting his cheek against Hisoka's hair. "I suppose you don't. Except that, you know I've been there with you for all of it. For the basement cell. For Muraki. For Tatsumi and his shadows. I can't imagine I'll be any more eager to have permanent occupation of your body than you are."

Hisoka chuckled, just a little. "Fair enough. If you need anything, any help..."

"I'll come find you here. Sleep a while, Hisoka. I'll take care of things for now."

The darkness was total, once the shadow was gone, but it didn't feel like the darkness under the earth had, in those terrifying moments Hisoka had spent buried. It was a changeable darkness, shifting and growing and shrinking under the light's influence, and it was blissfully empty of emotion. It was a good place to sleep, and heal.

And if Jung was right about Shadows, Hisoka was sure his could handle himself just fine.

Poor Tsuzuki was in for an interesting ride.