Assassins AU. Tension in the space between preparation and the kill.
They work to shrink that space to nothing, but although they are good there has to be some small margin for error or delay. The space persists. However many jobs they take.
"Tezuka," Fuji says into the waiting-space, "why do we do this?"
He's smiling. Still, that means little. He always smiles. Tezuka has seen his face without that smile only enough times to be counted on the fingers of one hand. When his younger brother discovered the nature of the life Fuji had chosen. When they made that kill, the one which led to the discovery. When else? It seems important that he remembers.
"Because someone has to take responsibility," he says, aware that Fuji is looking at him as though he actually expects an answer. But this is only why he does it. What about Fuji?
"That's not it," Fuji says. And Fuji is not smiling. The change is abrupt and it takes the tension, compresses it, balls it up inside Tezuka's chest. Fuji is looking straight at him or, perhaps, straight through him. "Of course you would say so. It must comfort you to think of it as a matter of taking responsibility."
This is not a part of the routine. They don't talk; this is a time for silent waiting. Mental preparation, maybe, to compliment the extensive plans they have made for physical action.
"Fuji," he warns. He needs to focus. Possibly Fuji would not understand. As far as Tezuka can tell, he has barely worked for anything in his life. It may be an illusion that this is the case; but if so, the reason for its existence is entirely obscure.
"You enjoy it, don't you?" Fuji presses. "There's something in your eyes, at the last moment."
His first thought is that he didn't know Fuji had been paying so much attention to him, and his second thought is that this is a lie in any case, because of course he doesn't enjoy it.
The third thought takes much longer to come, and concerns the depths of denial one can be in about one's own mind.
Fuji's expression shifts as though he can see the thoughts. Improbable; inference of mental processes can only be achieved by paying close attention to facial expression and body language, and Tezuka gives little to nothing away. He has worked to make sure this is the case. There are definite professional advantages to being unreadable.
"We kill people," Tezuka says coldly. "I do not think enjoyment is appropriate."
But the question has nothing to do with appropriateness.
"Mm. Probably not." Fuji's smile is back, more brittle than ever. "But the action of killing is inappropriate too. Isn't it?"
He doesn't answer. What can he answer? Nothing that Fuji is not already perfectly aware of. He doesn't know why Fuji is asking these questions. Not cruelty. Fuji is not cruel unless truly pushed. Curiosity, then? Perhaps.
They sit in silence for a while, and Tezuka adjusts his mental state, orders his thoughts. It is almost time.
But there's a thought he cannot dismiss: that he does this because he can no longer imagine not doing it. There must have been a time when he could have said no. He can barely even imagine such a luxury any more.
They take jobs and they do them. That's all.
Sometimes, most times, some part of him enjoys it. This is something he will never admit out loud.
"There's something very beautiful about you when you kill," Fuji adds, a good three and a half minutes later. "I enjoy that. Although I'm sure that's inappropriate too." He's standing now, knife which has been sharpened for far longer than strictly required dancing from hand to gloved hand, catching candlelight. Far too casual. He can see the hidden tension in Fuji's movements. They're both much more tense tonight than they're accustomed to, and he can't say if it will work for them or against them. Against seems more likely, but they can adapt, sometimes even work better when the pressure is on.
Fuji turns and looks at him, open-eyed but - strangely - still smiling. Not the same smile as before.
The tension between them isn't the same as it was before, either.
Fuji takes a step towards him, and another. Cautious. On the edge of a discovery.
But then he stops. Tezuka wills him to take another step, and then he realises why Fuji isn't moving.
"Time," he says; and they've begun.
They do the job.