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I Keep My Visions to Myself

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Back and forth the pendulum swings. Hisoka doesn't know how long she's been staring at it, watching her own face flicker in and out of view; the shop has been empty most of the day, and since she came out of the casket on Mount Hikami, she often finds herself sinking into her own thoughts for minutes, sometimes hours at a time. Afterwards she can never remember what she was thinking about.

The jangle of the bell startles her out of her semi-trance. It takes her a moment to gather her thoughts, and the customer — client? — is already talking, forcing Hisoka to try and piece the sense together in reverse. Something about a missing ticket, train leaving in two hours, absolutely must find it — even as he's talking, she finds her gaze wandering back to the clock with its swinging, hypnotic pendulum.

She tries to snap herself out of it, aware of Yuri in the doorway watching, aware of the prospective client's expectant gaze as he waits for a response. "I'm sorry," she starts to say. "If it wasn't such short notice... but I'm expecting a stock delivery soon, and I can't go out right now — "

"I'll go," Yuri interrupts from the doorway. The man gives her a curious, hopeful look.

"My assistant," Hisoka says. She turns to Yuri and says quietly, "Are you sure?"

"I can take care of it." She smiles at the man and starts leading him back towards the entrance, asking him the usual questions as calmly and professionally as Hisoka would have done, a few weeks ago. The bell clangs behind them, and soon their voices are lost.

Hisoka turns resolutely away from the clock and walks back behind the counter, shuffling tea caddies back and forth aimlessly. When the delivery arrives, she puts the order away without bothering to check it, her thoughts far away. So much has changed in just a few weeks. Not so long ago, Yuri would have sidled off to hide in the back when a client came in; now she volunteers to take cases without hesitation, and Hisoka's the one who can't seem to find her footing.

From the corner of her eye, she sees someone standing by the door, swaying as if irresolute. Even as she starts to call out a welcome, she's thinking how odd it is that she never heard them come in. Even then, she knows that when she looks, there'll be no one there.

Trick of the light, that's all. The long shadows of the sunset can be deceptive. Only it keeps happening, whenever she's here alone, and sometimes even when Yuri's nearby. Ever since the mountain, it keeps happening.

Outside, the people pass by without so much as a glance through the window. The café was never exactly buzzing, but business has almost totally dried up lately. They're down to a handful of regulars and the occasional new client, and the new ones always seem to stumble in with a look of surprise on their faces, as if they've wandered in by accident. Yuri has noticed it, too. "It's weird," Hisoka heard her murmuring a few days ago, as if to herself. "Do you think maybe the café didn't come back all the way? You know, after..."

After. Ever since. Hisoka doesn't like living a life with such a clear dividing line. Who knows what else might have changed, between one side and the other?

"It's closing time anyway," she says to the grandfather clock, an old friend. At least the closing-down procedure is something she can still do, the chores as regular and familiar as the ticking of her clocks. She's almost feeling like herself again, when she heads down the hall to take a bath and sees the man standing in the garden.

No shadow this time, no trick of the light. He stands with his back to her and she sees him with an unnatural clarity, from the trodden-down heels of his shoes to the torn back pocket of his jeans to the beads of water dripping from his hair. She waits for him to disappear like all the others have, but if anything, his outline seems to grow sharper. He lifts his head. He starts to turn towards her.

Just a ghost, she's thinking, even as she's backing away — just a ghost, and not even a strong one, not like the ones she sensed on Mount Hikami. Just one of those wandering echoes that Yuri sees all the time and Hisoka could barely sense, before — before. But it's different, being able to see him, knowing he can look right back. He comes up to the glass — he could pass right through it, but he doesn't, only stands on the other side and gapes at her. She thinks helplessly of the Camera Obscura, but Yuri will have taken it with her; she never gave it back to Hisoka after Mount Hikami, and Hisoka never asked.

The light in the courtyard dims perceptibly. Somewhere off to the west, the sun has disappeared behind the summit of the mountain. The spirit hesitates as if something has called him. A moment later, he's gone.

Hisoka sidesteps into the office and slams the door behind her, the bath she wanted to take forgotten. Just a ghost, she repeats to herself. He didn't even touch you.

But it feels like he did. His suffering reached out to her, reached into her. That's the worst thing of all.

She supposes she ought to have foreseen something like this. How many times did she explain it to Yuri? A close brush with death can open your eyes to things you couldn't see before. Hisoka was in the casket for days, sinking into the black water; it would be an anomaly if she'd come out of that the same. After all her time helping Yuri, guiding her, she should have a better sense of how to handle it.

She holds out her hands. They're still shaking. She tucks them back under her tightly-folded arms, and lets her thoughts drift back to the pendulum, its steady back-and-forth, her reflection there and gone, there and gone, after, before, after, before, after...

Yuri gets back not long after, and by then Hisoka is calm again, or calm enough to do a convincing imitation of her old self. She makes coffee for them both, and pretends to be going over the accounts while Yuri sits at the little table, writing up the case report. In the lamplight she looks serious and grown-up and beautiful. Whenever Hisoka looks at her now, she feels a little ache settle into her heart.

Yuri won't be here much longer, that much is obvious. She's not the same unhappy girl who begged Hisoka to let her stay a little while. She's made her choice, and soon she'll want to find her own place in the world, not keep coasting along in Hisoka's orbit like a chunk of debris left over from her old life. It would be selfish to try and keep her here, just because Hisoka is the one feeling lost and lonely and afraid.

"You did well," she says, putting her hand on Yuri's shoulder, as if nothing's changed, and Yuri's the one who needs reassurance. "I'm proud of you."

"It wasn't that difficult," Yuri says, but her smile is sweet as a beam of sunlight. Maybe, Hisoka thinks, maybe she could be forgiven for being selfish, just for a little while longer.

"She always hated my mother," the new client says, twisting the key in her hands. "My dad didn't want a fight, so we never said anything. But I loved that bracelet. I couldn't believe Grandma would be petty enough to just steal it from my room, but I know it was her. I never would have lost it. She just took it because she knew it was my mother's and she didn't want me to have something my mother had given me."

When she unlocks the door, the scent of dust and unaired rooms pours out in a hot wave. "Sorry," the client mutters. "I wanted to find it before the house cleaners come in and take everything away. I've looked everywhere I can think of. I know she wouldn't have thrown it away, it was valuable." She stands in the entrance, peering tensely down the hall. "You don't need me for this part, do you? I haven't been here since I was a kid, and to be honest it kind of creeps me out. Is it okay if I wait in the car?"

With the client gone, Yuri and Hisoka head inside without much trepidation. As Yuri remarks quietly, it's not exactly Mount Hikami. It's just a cluttered old house, a little gloomy because the blinds are all drawn, and if the client hadn't told them her grandmother died here, Hisoka wouldn't have guessed. There's no sense of anything unnatural, at least not downstairs.

Hisoka holds the token, casting about for the weak, decades-old trace. Yuri has the Camera Obscura, but she holds it loosely at her side, waiting until it's needed. Hisoka has to resist the urge to go poking through the piles of old things, some of which look like they might be from the Taisho period or even earlier.

"Upstairs, I think," she says, peering at the photograph and then holding it between her palms to try and get a stronger read on it, sifting through the echoes of the slightly sorrowful woman it depicts, and trying to focus only on the bracelet. She and Yuri climb up a steep, creaking staircase into the airless heat of the second storey, but there the trace gets too faint for Hisoka. Shaking her head ruefully, she hands the photo to Yuri.

"I've lost it. You try," she says. On the left there's a half-empty room, nothing in there but a chest of drawers, an old iron bed-frame, and in one corner, a grandfather clock in desperate need of some polish. While Yuri heads off down the hall, Hisoka can't resist going to take a look at the old clock; it was beautiful once, with the sun and moon engraved on its face, but the brass is tarnished, and it hasn't been wound in a while. Hisoka reaches inside the workings to wistfully to touch the hanging weights, already thinking how it could be restored, and trying to think of a tactful way to ask the client if she might buy it, or even take it in payment...

When she looks again into the dull brass face, she sees not her own reflection, but the room behind her, as if the clock has gone back to a time before Hisoka was ever here. The room is no longer empty; she can see a confusion of old furniture and piled objects, and in the centre, the unmade bed, sheets and quilts piled up in the middle. Something is tucked away inside that heaped bedding, something twisted and dark and half-mummified, something weakly squirming and trying to fight its way free. An appalling smell rolls out into the room, making Hisoka gag. She wants to look away, but she's frozen, watching as a blackened, desiccated hand stretches out from under the quilt and starts feeling its way to the edge of the bed with careful deliberation.

The clash of a shutter makes her jump, and that breaks her paralysis. She turns, and Yuri is in the doorway, holding the Camera Obscura. The woman in the bed is gone; there's just the empty iron bed-frame, leaning up against the wall.

Yuri comes up to Hisoka and takes her hand. Her grip is warm and strong, and Hisoka wants to hold on forever, and never let go.

Neither of them say anything. They walk back downstairs. Yuri has found the bracelet, hidden away inside a small enamelled box, but Hisoka is too shaken and ashamed to ask about it. It feels incredibly foolish now, to think that she could hide anything from Yuri, of all people, after all they've been through together.

They sit together on the sunny back step, Hisoka shivering slightly in the lingering heat. She wants to apologise for everything, to explain, to confess, but where can she start? Start with the ghost, apologise for being frozen with terror of something more to be pitied than feared, but when she thinks of that hand reaching out, her throat locks up. Start with the secrets she's been keeping, then, but in her current state of mind she knows it will all come pouring out, not just the ghosts she can see but all her hidden weakness, all the wishes she won't even admit to herself, the thoughts she's had at night outside Yuri's door, or when she holds Yuri in her arms.

Yuri leans sideways until her shoulder is pressed against Hisoka's, and their heads are resting together. She doesn't loosen her grip on Hisoka's hand. "I know," she says.

With Yuri's hand in hers, Hisoka can see a glimmer of the setting sun, but nothing more. Even now she can't tell what Yuri is thinking. No matter how far Hisoka strays down this forbidden path, Yuri will always be ahead, out of her reach.

But there are flowers to cleanse away the smell of death, and Yuri's weight is warm against her, as if to say they have nothing to fear. They can be together here, even if it's just for a little while.

Hisoka makes coffee for them both. She can do that much. They haven't said a word all the way home. She understands now why Yuri is so quiet all the time; when there's so much simmering beneath the surface, it's hard to know where to begin. They drink in silence, on opposite sides of the table but seemingly miles apart.

Finally, Hisoka says, "I know you'll be leaving soon."

Yuri looks up. Hisoka tries to smile, fixing her eyes on her cup and saucer. Fine bone china, with an elegant pattern of maple leaves in blue and gold. Before Yuri came, all these beautiful trinkets were her company, her treasure. She was happy then, or she thought she was. She might not always be lonely.

"You don't need — this place," she says, stumbling a little, because it's her Yuri doesn't need, but she doesn't want to sound self-pitying. "I don't have anything more to teach you. I know that. But please stay. Just a little longer."

She doesn't dare look up as Yuri puts down her coffee cup, gets up and comes around the table. It's almost a shock when Yuri leans down and wraps her arms around Hisoka, hugging her fiercely. "I don't want to be anywhere without you," she says. "I'm not leaving."

Hisoka grips her tightly, eyes squeezed shut against tears. This is what it's like to have someone know even the secrets you've been keeping from yourself, and accept you anyway.

Finally Yuri pulls back. Meeting her gaze is hard, like staring into the sunset. But Hisoka does it anyway, searching Yuri's face for the answer to a question she's still afraid to ask, until Yuri closes the distance between them and kisses her.

A little while later, one of the clocks chimes once, as if to remind them they're in the main café where anyone could look in through the windows and see them. Even so, she can't resist leaning in once more to kiss the corner of Yuri's smile, which she loves so much to see.

"We still have to write up the report," Yuri says.

"It can wait." Yuri's hand in hers, and a glow inside her like sunrise. Nothing else in the world matters right now. She leads the way into the back and upstairs, and if there are any shadows in the garden that shouldn't be there, Hisoka doesn't see them.