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NB: This is set during the King of Swords arc, when Tsuzuki accepts Muraki's bet. There are flashbacks to and memories of earlier incidents (both canonical and non-canonical), but the chronology ought to be fairly clear. I've gone with the manga version of the events (thought I've added more than a few between-the-panels moments). At this point in the story, the manga differs from the anime primarily in that Tsuzuki does not set a victory stake for himself. Interesting, ne? The information about Eileen comes from a source other than Muraki in the manga.

All manga dialogue is quoted with permission from Theria's translations at

One last warning: kinkiness ahead. This is rated NC-17 for a reason! No explicit smut yet, but we all know that real sex is all in the psyche, don't we?

Prelude to a Flush in Hearts
Amy the Evitable

"What game would you like, Doctor?"

"Poker." The word rolled off Muraki's lips like cognac. Like cognac, it burned all the way down Tsuzuki's body, heating his skin. Like cognac, the flavor was far from sweet, a flavor too complex to be entirely pleasurable but too enticing to be forgotten.

Tsuzuki had known this game was coming. Even before the Muraki's threat to expose him as an impostor, he'd known it was coming. From the moment he'd looked up to see the figure in white descending the stairs, he'd known the hunt was under way.  

Knocked flat by the wine bottle crashing against his head, it wasn't pain or surprise that kept Tsuzuki down on the floor. It was Muraki's gaze that thrust through his chest, pinning him to the floor as Muraki inspected every inch of the dealer's uniform, which was so much less concealing than Tsuzuki's usual trenchcoat. Under that gaze it was so difficult to move, even to think – to be anything other than the object of Muraki's desires. All the voices telling Tsuzuki what he ought to do, what he needed to do, receded beneath that gaze, becoming as empty and echoing as the sound of the sea in a shell.

Perhaps there was a part of Tsuzuki that didn't want to climb to his feet. As he lay there, sprawled and exposed, his pulse raced beneath that gaze, and raced still faster at the restrained smile that promised Tsuzuki would spend a great deal of time in that position.

That part of Tsuzuki looked up at Muraki standing over him, knew precisely what Muraki offered him, and said one word. While Tsuzuki could stop the word from leaving his mouth, he was certain it escaped through his eyes. "Please," it said, shameless in the desire for Muraki to keep that implied promise. "Please. Pleasepleaseplease."

Muraki had taken his hand and pulled him up a little too forcefully, so that Tsuzuki had stumbled into the taller man's body. Tsuzuki had been caught by those impossibly white hands. Hands which clutched him hard enough to draw forth bruises, and then relaxed, even caressed, becoming all solicitous gentle support of the dazed Shinigami. Tsuzuki had whimpered at the sensation, and again at the shame of letting free such a revealing sound before his enemy.

Always that combination of harsh and gentle, stinging punishment and encouraging support, pain and pleasure, left Tsuzuki trembling, unable to move, unable to speak. Even the slight hints of that treatment Tatsumi from time to time provided-- strong fingers pinning his face, harsh words paired with gentle fingers that brushed skin just the barest moment longer than necessary to clean his face-- left Tsuzuki breathless. In those moments, he was barely able to suppress the urge to collapse against Tatsumi, to wrap his arms around the man and beg without the slightest dignity for more. All that, from just the hint Tatsumi offered.

Muraki gave so much more than a hint.

Muraki was a murderer. He tortured people, used them, chewed them up and spat them out. He'd done all that to Hisoka, left the boy broken in ways Tsuzuki was only barely beginning to comprehend. Ways Tsuzuki would probably never be able to heal.

Despite that, Tsuzuki had been unable to move away as Muraki's arm, firm around his shoulder guided him to that small table. Weak. He was so humiliatingly weak. It wasn't until a new bottle of wine was ordered, delivered, and approved that Tsuzuki found the willpower to even speak.

"You're still alive," he'd said. Scarcely a declaration of war. Muraki had even called him cute. Muraki had been amused, damn it-- or damn Tsuzuki himself, if he wasn't already. There had been too many conflicting emotions surging within Tsuzuki to even begin to sort them out.

Thank god Hisoka hadn't been there. It was a betrayal of the boy to feel this way around Hisoka's torturer. Hisoka would despise him, rightly, and that would be terrible, as Hisoka was just beginning to try investing the slightest bit of trust in his partner. It might be a foolish trust on the boy's part, but to shatter it would be unforgivable, and Tsuzuki's soul couldn't handle many more unforgivable acts.  

He would not let Hisoka walk up and find him this way.

That need to protect Hisoka-- that boy whom nobody else had ever protected-- had been a fire hot enough to burn away the invisible silken ribbons that Muraki and his promises wrapped around Tsuzuki's limbs and throat.

Just barely.

"Stop with this nonsense! What are you scheming this time, Muraki!"

Tsuzuki could keep himself free of the snare of shameful desire and hypnotic fascination for a few moments, at least. He'd lashed out, then, attacking Muraki with the litany of the doctor's sins in Nagasaki.

Had it really been Muraki he was lashing at?

The question didn't really matter. All that mattered was the moment Muraki had answered. His words snapped tight around Tsuzuki as the trap the doctor had fashioned was sprung.

"So then...what are you going to do?"

No words would come to Tsuzuki. None. No promise to stop Muraki, no threats of ending the doctor's life, not even a quiet declaration of his opposition to hurting any more innocents. Tsuzuki stared at those white hands that now caressed the wineglass, and couldn't speak. He'd tried to make the encounter a confrontation, but somehow each defiant word only added new layers to the seduction that Muraki was spinning.

"If I, on this ship, desire a new victim, what are you going to do, Tsuzuki-san?"

All Tsuzuki could do was keep the words from escaping his mouth. To struggle against that horrible weakness within himself that cried, 'Make your new victim... me. Please.'

If they hadn't come across Hisoka and that girl, what might have happened? What might Tsuzuki have allowed without the wounded look in Hisoka's eyes to save him? Would those words have finally escaped beyond all possibility of revocation?

Now, with the cards in his hands and Muraki again before him, Tsuzuki tried desperately to convince himself that all he'd wanted at that moment and all he wanted even now was to make sure that no one else was hurt. That no other innocents fell before Muraki's bloody enchantment. That was all he'd meant, all any part of him had meant. If Muraki wanted to pick a new victim, Tsuzuki was far from innocent and he was strong enough to survive anything the doctor could do. That was all.

The sound of the cards shuffling through his fingers was mocking laughter to his ears.

"Ne, Tsuzuki-san. Will you have a match with me?"

A redundant question, wasn't it? But it seemed to be Muraki's nature to coat his most coercive actions with the politest of words. To imply that refusal was a choice.

What sort of words would Muraki use in bed? Nothing vulgar, Tsuzuki was certain, such coarseness was anathema to the urbane doctor. Nor, he suspected, would the doctor raise his voice in anger or passion. No, Muraki would offer gentle words of encouragement as he bound and struck, would offer gentle exhortations to bear the pain and instructions to take pleasure in it because that was what Muraki desired.

Muraki would offer commands made all the more chilling, all the more irresistible, for the civil, almost deferential, language they would be couched within.

Oh, gods. Which was more dangerous to Tsuzuki's will-- Muraki's presence edging into Tsuzuki's space or Tsuzuki's own imagination? Hisoka was off with Tsubaki-hime, whom he seemed to find so very fascinating. There would be no rescue from that quarter for Tsuzuki tonight. He shuddered, gooseflesh spreading across his arms beneath the thin shirt.

"Not with chips, but betting something else...Wouldn't that be more thrilling?"

Against his will, the roses on the table beside Tsuzuki captured his attention. There were so many of them, without a single wilting petal. They had been so heavy in his hands. Had he ever received flowers before?

Yes. Yes, he had. More than once, in fact. There had been a spontaneous gift of wildflowers from Watari, a corsage from a dance partner, and even a single daisy given to him by a passing child because 'oniisan looked sad.'

But none of those flowers mixed petals softer than velvet with hooked thorns. None of the givers, certainly, had brushed the flowers down Tsuzuki's cheek, catching one of those thorns in the skin so that a single line of pain was bracketed by all those petal caresses.  

Muraki had chosen the color carefully. The blood that had painted the petals as Muraki had spoken of Tsuzuki blossoming beautifully beneath him was nearly invisible now. Tsuzuki remembered how he'd tried to avoid Muraki's gaze as the man had teased tormented him with the roses, staring instead at the petals. But there were so many, and so close, and they had made Tsuzuki lightheaded, almost dizzy. Against his will, Tsuzuki's eyelids had fluttered shut as Muraki loomed above him.

By the time Tsuzuki found enough outrage to open his eyes, to pull his face away from the roses, to squeak out a protest, the scratch was healed as if it had never been. The roses had been pressed into Tsuzuki's hands and then placed on the table, where Tsuzuki was again staring at them. They were still dizzying.

Muraki let his prey scurry before him for a few lazy moments, babbling and falling and protesting. Then that feline voice pounced.

“Isn't it just a game? Are you afraid of losing, Tsuzuki-san?”

"Um...If...If...I lose?"

"Isn't it already clear?" The voice was a purr, filled with the sensuality of fur rubbing against skin as well as the promise of teeth and claws.

It was just a game. Was he afraid?

Of course not. What was there to be frightened of? Muraki’s perverted stakes-- one night to do as he liked to Tsuzuki’s body? What was there to be frightened of in that? He was 96 years old, no virgin--

...even if it had been decades since the last time he’d climaxed to a touch beside his own...

-no stranger to the intricacies of the dance between two men--

...Eyes blurring the subdued pattern of the silk tie binding his hands to the headboard into an infinite watercolor spill of blue, overwhelmed by the sensation of Tatsumi. Tatsumi was thrusting into him, into the ass Tsuzuki had offered, held raised, open and vulnerable, kneeling in a silent plea for this very treatment. Deliberately relaxing that ring of muscle, banishing every piece of defensive tension from his body, finding that space in his head where he was utterly receptive to anything his lover put to him. Tatsumi’s hands on Tsuzuki's hips, inflexible, irresistible, pinioning them so each precise, measured stroke stabbed against that spot deep within his body. Yes, Tatsumi was as precise and measured and perfect in this as in every other task...

-and even if it hurt, even if Muraki took no care to avoid damage, Tsuzuki was Shinigami. Almost any wound would heal. It was just a game. He couldn't really be hurt. There was laughter at this thought, cackling, too frantic, too frenzied to be mocking, laughter from someplace deep inside his head--

...Tatsumi leaving his bed that night, too distraught even to unbind Tsuzuki's wrists before he'd stumbled out of the room, the clumsiness of alcohol that had abandoned him during their lovema... no, during their sex, returning in full force. Tsuzuki had left his hands bound through the rest of the night, the pain in his shoulders providing no incentive to move, no more than the pain in his knees and hips had provided. He stayed locked in that pleading, kneeling position until dawn crept into the room.

Only then had Tsuzuki shifted his hips out of the angle Tatsumi had chosen for them; only then did he untie his wrists, fingers slow, clumsy, and prickling with agony from the long binding; only then did he finally remove the shirt that Tatsumi had all but torn open yet not stripped from his shoulders. He cleaned himself and dressed. Forcing his appearance into an appropriate state was the only apology he could make, white-faced and wordless, when Tatsumi returned that morning. Tatsumi, who was all formal apologies, promises of no further lapses, and a stiff request for the return of his tie.

Tsuzuki had handed the tie over with great reluctance. Tatsumi had seemed so angry, so ashamed, of what they had done that Tsuzuki suspected the tie was certain to be sacrificed.  Tsuzuki searched the trash, even the ashes, for that tie later, but never found a trace of it, and Tatsumi had never worn it, or any other tie in any shade of blue again.

And Tsuzuki had taken care to never again be alone with Tatsumi during the annual office vacation. Not for a moment, not during any of the dozens of trips taken since... Tsuzuki knew Tatsumi had wanted that night as badly as he had. If that craving hadn't faded in the decades between the end of their partnership and that night, Tsuzuki thought it might well never fade. Even that agonizing morning-after scene hadn't quenched Tsuzuki's desire, and he didn't trust himself to resist temptation. He didn't want anyone to be hurt again...

Still there was that mad laughter, from a part of him that did not feel like him, but Tsuzuki had long practice at drowning it out with the constant, overwhelming rush of the momentary minutiae of living. Say whatever else you would about the man, but Muraki was rich in striking, even magnificent, minutiae.

Holding himself elegantly, Muraki watched Tsuzuki. His pose was full of the patience of a man who knows what is to come and finds the journey there amusing. For a rare moment, that other eye-- wide and unnatural-- could be seen beneath the long fall of bangs.

Muraki was wrong, Tsuzuki realized. It wasn't his own freakish purple eyes that had the power to bewitch-- it was Muraki's eyes, with twin promises, that captured the soul. That fearless silver eye watched, narrow and aristocratic. The one visible eye held no doubts whatsoever-- only desire. Never fear. Even when faced with the flames of Suzaku, Tsuzuki had seen no fear in Muraki; the doctor's desire had only burned the brighter.

Even Hisoka had been skittish around Tsuzuki after that little display, alarmed at the amount of power his fool of a partner could throw around. Oh, nothing that couldn't be managed. Tsuzuki had long practice at diffusing that kind of fear; he knew how to play the fool, play the klutz, and play the ever-suffering victim. His lies worked so well upon his friends, keeping them friends, keeping the fear down to a twinges of worry that only surfaced after a particularly impressive fit. Those lies had even seduced Hisoka into remaining Tsuzuki's partner, although the boy had been forcibly shown that Tsuzuki couldn't protect him from Muraki.

But Muraki didn't need the lies. Muraki might be the one human being who had some idea of what Tsuzuki could do, and didn't fear him in the least. No... If Muraki really knew the truth, he might well be afraid. He certainly ought to be. Yet Muraki's display of absolute assurance that he could control Tsuzuki, could chain the unnatural power that came with those violet eyes, was almost enough to make Tsuzuki believe him. It made Tsuzuki want to roll over and bare his belly, beg Muraki to do anything to him just so long as Muraki would keep him from hurting anyone else ever again.

To be able to lay down that ever-present terror would be worth almost any cost, if the promise of control in that silver eye could be trusted.

The promise of destruction implicit in that other eye, the one Muraki kept habitually hidden... It was that duality. Pain and pleasure. Protection and destruction. Muraki would make him feel, would overwhelm his skin until pleasure became pain, and pain became interchangeable with pleasure, all spiraling into overwhelming sensation. Sensation that could silence memory. That could overwhelm Tsuzuki's very self, leaving him a creature of instinct and blind need.

The fear of what Muraki might do, of what Tsuzuki could see Muraki wanted to do, transmuted into aching heat in his cock. And the knowledge that Muraki would eventually do it called to something even deeper. If pain sang loud enough through his body, everything else was dimmed. Guilt. Fear. Misery. All would be subsumed beneath the kind of pain Muraki's mad eye promised.

And if that eye promised something beyond that... Ah, well. Tsuzuki had heard the siren call of suicide before, and he could not deny that it held a temptation still. Would it be so bad? Might everything else Muraki promised be worth the risk?

If he gave in to Muraki-- in the end, he would get what he deserved.

What he wanted.

The words echoed in Tsuzuki's ears: "It's just a game. Are you afraid of losing, Tsuzuki-san?"

Oh, yes, he was afraid. But more afraid of himself or of Muraki, he didn't want to say. Muraki was a man of his word. After one night, Tsuzuki would be allowed to walk away.

If only he could be sure that he would be able to.

If only he could be sure that he would want to.

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