Hisoka knows how to keep the ghosts away.
They are not quiet enough.
He likes the cellar because none of them dare to come down here. He's drawn protective circles across the floor with his fingers. They fade when the maids sweep them away and he has to draw them again and again and again. He would ask the maids to leave them, if he could. But the maids don't listen to him, and duck their heads and scamper away when he looks at them with his green, green eyes.
There is a young maid called Keiko who is a Christian. She did not believe in ghosts when she first came, but she does now. /Lord protect me/, she says and makes the sign of the cross. Hisoka is not a Christian. He puts his faith in circles of dust and silence and prays to nothing at all. It is better that way.
He hasn't touched another human being in a long time. He misses human contact with a dull, gnawing ache. Skin is warm and cold; soft and tough like leather hide. Nothing to hold onto but his own arms when rocks backwards and forwards in the dark, afraid to dream.
He touched Keiko once. Or she touched him - he isn't sure anymore. But he remembers her hand on his forehead, his hand curled around hers, her thoughts running through him and -
"You love her," he said, and she pulled back, eyes wide and frightened.
"Demon child," she whispered and tugged herself and ran and ran. He did not see her again, but he knew the taste of her thoughts: denial and faith and naivety and /fear/, as warm and thick as honey.
/Demon child/, they call him, and perhaps they're right. There is nothing in him but them, after all.
Hisoka sees a ghost on a night when the moon is nothing but a sliver in the sky. He leaves his cellar because it is dark and the ghosts are quiet, too quiet. They are planning something. He has to find them.
And there is a ghost, outside by the lake. He feels it before he sees it, his legs moving of their own volition across empty halls, out of the doors and into the grass fields that spreads out for miles. He walks towards the lake because it is waiting for him there, watching him.
The ghost does not look like Hisoka imagines a ghost should. He is alive, for one. He is taller than Hisoka and as elegantly built as a statue carved from marble. His dark is very dark and very wild, falling in an untamed mess around his face. He wears old, ragged clothes; clothes with hems like frayed manacles, the cloth so worn that it no longer has any colour to speak of. The ghost smiles at him. Its eyes aren't quite human.
"You shouldn't be here," it says. "You don't know what you've done."
And Hisoka says: "You're not a ghost."
"A demon," the man says. "I'm a demon."
"No," Hisoka says. "You're not that either."
The man never allows Hisoka to touch him, but he allows him to sit close, so very close. Close enough to feel the heat of his body and count the fine hairs of his lashes. Hisoka is good at counting things: days and nights. The number of footsteps on the floor above him. The minutes, blurring together like tears.
The man has a quick smile and an easy laugh, but he is not happy. Hisoka feels it. The man makes Hisoka feel sad, but Hisoka does not mind. It is a companionable kind of grief.
The man teaches Hisoka how to skim pebbles on the lake. Hisoka is afraid to do so at first. He presses the pebbles between his fingers, his grip possessive. Tight.
"I will not disturb the ghosts," he says. "I can't."
The man does not laugh. He leans forward and dips one hand into the water. His long fingers vanish; pale skin sinking into the cold, wet dark.
"It must be lonely in there, don't you think Hisoka? People don't like being lonely." He lifts his hand from the water; wet and dripping. "Not even the dead."
When Hisoka skims pebbles on the lake he thinks, I'm here. The man watches him for a while, then joins in. The voices whisper in the distance, the night is dark and Hisoka feels strangely safe with the man beside him, talking about nothing at all.
The ripples spread across the stillness and the dark. Reaching out.
Hisoka grows. He is bony; all angles with his vague childishness softness still melting away from his flesh. The man fusses over him like a mother hen. He brings Hisoka food. Sweets, at first, until he realises that Hisoka does not like them. Then he brings other things.
The man has not changed. He is still unkempt and pale; dark-eyed and inhuman in a way that Hisoka finds almost comforting. The ghosts have not aged either. But they older, regardless. One, two, three. Time ticks on.
One day he gives the man a comb. It is bone white and one of the teeth are chipped. The man holds it carefully in his hands, face screwed up in helpless confusion.
"What is this for, Hisoka?" He asks.
"Combing your hair."
"I didn't mean it like that."
"I don't know when your birthday is," Hisoka explains. "It is a present." He pauses, then adds: "And your hair is a mess."
The man smiles then, all slow and sweet and warm. Hisoka has never felt him smile. Not like this.
"Here," he says. "Let me do it."
He takes the comb from the man's hand and starts to comb his dark, dark hair. The man shivers for a moment, tensing up with /fearpanicneedguiltguilt/. He relaxes.
The man has soft hair, thick and pliant beneath Hisoka's hands. Hisoka tries to be gentle.
Keiko is the first to leave. She packs her bags one morning and walks out of the door. She does not say goodbye, not even to her master and mistress. No one hears from her again. Hisoka draws a cross on the ground, and brushes it away when he cannot feel her anymore. He does not know where she has gone. He cannot bring himself to pray for her.
The ghosts follow next. He wakes up one night, breath short and chest tight with something unnameable. He runs through the corridors, too scared to be silent. But they are gone, gone. The night is loud. The night is not loud enough.
He rocks back and forth in his cellar, too cold to make sense of anything at all. He sleeps. He wakes. Keiko is not in her room. The ghosts are not in the house. The man is not at the lake. The man won't come back.
Please come back/, he thinks and he lied, of course he lied, because then he prays. /Please come back to me.
Hisoka is not dead. He does not want to be alone.
The maids sweep away his protective circle, and Hisoka does not build a new one. He lies unmoving, lethargic on the floor of the cellar, face pressed against the dirt. There is no window, but light creeps in from the crack between earth and door. He concentrates on the light; squinting until his vision blurs and there is nothing but darkness and shadows.
He isn't angry. He can't bring himself to be angry. There is a vague emptiness inside him now. He mulls over the remnants of Keiko's soul, chewing at the shreds like a dog with a bone. He can't let go.
He tries not to remember the man.
Hisoka sees a demon on a night when the moon is whole in the sky. He leaves his cellar because he can feel the pull at the corner of his mind; a tug like the winding of a string, the drip of water from a cold hand. It isn't the man. It will never be the man.
Hisoka does not want to be alone anymore.
He walks up stairs and across the floor. The grass outside is cold and soft. The air lies unmoving around him and it is cold, very cold. There are no voices to moves him and he walks. And walks.
He smells the blood first. The grass is damp with something that is not rain and there is the demon, standing there. The demon standing there with the woman's blood all over his hands. The woman in his arms. Hisoka cannot feel her. She is dead.
But Hisoka can feel the demon, and perhaps that is why he does not run. Why he came at all.
When the demon pushes him down and carves curses into his flesh Hisoka pushes at the cold, cold skin, smooth beneath his hands. Every touch pulls Hisoka deeper, until he can think of nothing all of all.
Hisoka presses his face into the wet, wet grass and closes his eyes. He's drowning.
His vision bleeds red. A different kind of darkness.
Hisoka's bones are heavy wooden things, tied together by muscle as thin as string, wrapped up in skin so brittle that he thinks it may tear like rice paper when rolls onto his side and tries not to cry out in pain. The bed is soft. No more cellar for the Kurosaki heir, not when he is dying so young and so foolish.
He misses the cold and the dark, and softness seems to swallow him at night. And he is dying - he is allowed to mourn for everything lost. He is allowed to cry, if he wants to. He does not want to.
The maids bring him watered-down soup and thin slices of bread to eat. The doctors bring him medicine in glass and jars, bitter on his tongue like salt. He has no appetite for any of it. He watches instead. The world spins in stillness around him, light falling and rising on the shadows wrapped around his skin like scars. The air is quiet, and no ghosts speak to him anymore.
Hisoka's heart keeps beating. One false step at a time.
He dreams of water. He is feverish, hot, but there is water on his lips and in his hair. It drips onto his eyelids and slicks his forehead, running down his arms like the lick of a snake's tongue. He moves his head and the muscles in his neck twang with pain. He's thrumming with it, the heat of it and the burn that won't fade, never fades.
He'd make a circle. Keep out the pain. But there are circles inside him now. He presses his hand to his stomach and feels with shapes there. Blood script and lies; nets to hold him in while he flops and gasps and chokes in the air. You don't know what you've done.
He hears laughter.
Hisoka opens his eyes.
Hisoka is good at counting.
"Three years," he says hoarsely. "It's been a long time."
The demon looks at him and smiles, all stark whiteness and light that makes Hisoka's eyes burn and tears slither down his face. He takes a step forward and the air moves for the first time in so long. Hisoka can't breathe.
"Hello, bouya," he says, leaning down. His breathe is cool against Hisoka's lips. "I've come to say goodbye."
The demon smiles.
"You were always my favourite doll," he says, and kisses him.
Hisoka feels cold and he can't breathe he can't breathe /lustvictoryminefearguiltshame/. The sun rises and the demon warms above him. Light to dark. Demon to man.
"Oh, Hisoka," the man says, moving back. His dark eyes are wide and broken and his lips are bruised and Hisoka cannot breathe. "I'm so sorry, so sorry, I just..."
He stops. Holds out his hand. Sunlight falls through the air, gold on his palm.
"I'm sorry," he says finally, and it is not enough.
But Hisoka takes his hand.
There are ghosts in the house. Little girls and women young and old with pale hair and eyes like summer. They run down corridors and whisper through the dust. They slip beneath still waters. Hair like fronded weed. Eyes like glass and mirrors, and no child with his dreams and circles shuts them out.
Beware/, they say. /Beware, beware the demons that are mortal men.
And no one hears them anymore.