It’s strange. Not in a bad way, but it’s strange, and Edgar has grown to be wary of change, for good reason.
But after that first day, Ranpo continues to invite him to the Agency. His methods evolve from texting him for lunch and then dragging Edgar back to the office with him, to outright showing up at his doorstep (with a bedraggled Kunikida or a sleepy Nakajima) in the morning, far earlier than Edgar is used to, and tugging him along. Sometimes he’ll send Edgar a random location in Yokohama, and leave Edgar to rush for a train because that usually means Ranpo is lost from trying to walk to Edgar’s apartment on his own.
That’s not what’s strange, though—well, alright, it’s a bit odd, but nothing Edgar hadn’t expected. What is strange is how he’s becoming more and more welcome in the office.
He doesn’t notice it, at first. But one day he loses a pen in the office and frets over it for several minutes before Tanizaki passes by to subtly whisper that Ranpo’s hidden it in a clerk’s desk drawer. Nakajima asks him to come with him to visit Lucy at the cafe, and then insists on being called Atsushi when Edgar calls him Nakajima-san, protesting that it’s too formal. Tanizaki Naomi pampers Karl every time Edgar brings him along, and she always compliments his clothes—“Where did you buy those heels, they’re just amazing!” or “That coat looks so designer! It smells a bit like blood, but that adds to the whole goth aura you’ve got going on, Poe-san!” Ranpo laughs himself to tears upon hearing that.
He helps Kyouka retrieve items from the top shelves. Kenji introduces Edgar to his potted plants—all five of them with a first and last name. He and Yosano Akiko exchange book recommendations. Even Fukuzawa Yukichi nods at him whenever they happen to pass by each other, which, thankfully, isn’t very often.
It’s Dazai Osamu whom Edgar is most uncomfortable around, unsurprisingly enough—he seems nice enough at first, sort of like a polite nuisance who’s just as obsessed with pranks as Ranpo is, which probably explains why they’re good friends. But what bothers Edgar most, aside from the irrational jealousy, is how he catches Dazai watching him from the corner of his eye, the lighthearted smile he’s always got plastered on his face dropped like a discarded mask in favor for what Edgar recognizes as a calculating gaze. It reminds him of himself, and that sends a chill down his spine.
Edgar remembers what Dazai’s information file had read—his ability No Longer Human can cancel out other abilities through physical contact, and he defected from the Port Mafia four years ago. There had been little else about him, and for someone like Louisa to not know much about someone… well.
So Edgar watches back. Dazai is intentionally letting Edgar catch him watching, so Edgar does it back. He lets his glance linger a split-second long enough for Dazai to notice, and the third time he does this, he hears a darkly amused chuckle from behind him that raises the hair on the back of his neck. Trust a former mafia executive to creep him out, Edgar thinks.
The more he watches, though, the more he picks up on how many of Dazai’s habits he recognizes; his gaze, most noticeably, never seems to settle on one thing for too long, like he’s trying to assess every single thing in his immediate surroundings all at the same time. There’s a shuttered light to his eyes, some kind of hesitation Edgar can’t quite pin down without Dazai averting his head or turning away to prevent him from looking too long—from what Edgar can tell, it’s almost like he doesn’t want to be happy, but that doesn’t sound right.
He doesn’t believe he deserves to be happy, a voice murmurs. Edgar glances up and catches Dazai seated across him, picking a book up, but with his eyes visibly fixated on Edgar himself. Like you.
That book. Edgar’s eyes slide down to the cover. The Complete Manual of Suicide.
“Interested?” Dazai asks, an amused smile dancing on his face. “It’s quite the comprehensive book. It might help in giving you some story ideas for Ranpo-san.”
“Thank you for the offer,” Edgar cautiously says, chancing a glance around them. No one seems to be paying special attention to their conversation, and Ranpo is on the opposite side of the room, asking Kenji for tips on how to take care of his cactus. “But I’ll, um, pass.”
“Oh, shame.” Dazai turns a page, never taking those piercing dark eyes off of him. “Well, you probably know all about this book’s contents, don’t you, Poe-san?”
“I’ve run into some cases where prisoners killed themselves, yes,” Edgar allows. He has absolutely no idea where this conversation is going, and he’s slightly terrified. Has he overstepped his boundaries? Had the Agency members being friendly all been an act, and now they’re going to kill him for infiltrating their office near-daily then make it seem like he had committed suicide to draw attention away from themselves?
Dazai cocks his head to the side. “I meant because of your ability.”
Oh. Right. “I… I suppose?”
“Don’t tell me you haven’t held a conversation with my favorite book,” he says, pouting. His tone is playful, and he sounds a bit like Ranpo, but Edgar isn’t lowering his guard. “Ranpo-san didn’t tell me about that part of your ability, incidentally. I figured it out myself, since you like to stare at books without actually reading them sometimes. What does my book say about me?” He places the book next to him on the couch so he isn’t touching it, his smile looking a bit more real now.
“Hold on.” Edgar forces a smile that probably looks more like a grimace, then tunes out all background noise and reaches out to the book. Hello?
There’s a moment of silence before it speaks again. Hello, it greets. Its voice is soft and low, a bit like how Edgar imagines a younger Dazai might sound. Did you hear me? I spoke earlier.
I did. You’ve been with him for a long time, then, if you know that much about him.
Oh, well… the book pauses, and if it had a face, Edgar imagines it would look unsure. Yes. A long while now. I, ah, didn’t mean to… make assumptions about you, though. I’m sorry.
It’s no problem. Edgar looks back at Dazai, who still looks amused, as if he can hear their conversation. Honestly, Edgar wouldn’t put it past him. You heard him, right? What do you think about him? Or—is there anything you’d like to tell him?
Another pause, longer this time—then, when the book speaks again, Edgar has to strain his ears to hear it. Tell him everything is alright, it whispers. That everyone here cares about him. That his happiness is valid. That he’s… home, here, and that I’m happy for him. If—If that’s okay?
Edgar swallows and nods without thinking; Dazai leans forward, looking like an excitable child. He and Ranpo really are so alike. “What did it say? Or… what did he say? She?” He frowns down at his book. “Do books have genders, Poe-san?”
“As far as I know, they’re all gender-neutral. Unless they want to be a specific gender, but that’s not common. They’re not really concerned with social constructs like that.”
“So they’re different from people in that way.”
“Well, a bit? Plenty of us don’t care about such petty things either.”
“Like you, then?”
Edgar feels his brows rise of their own volition. “And you, Dazai-san?”
Dazai leans back, his smile genuine. “I can see why Ranpo-san likes you so much. So what did they say?” he asks, before Edgar can dwell too long on his former words.
Edgar relays the book’s words, slowly, so Dazai can take the time to commit each one to memory, which seems to be exactly what he’s doing—when Edgar finishes, Dazai is motionless for a moment. Not staring into space: motionless, completely frozen, in the way Edgar realizes he’s stopped moving before, when he’d been inches away from being discovered by his target during a mission. “I see,” Dazai says, when he’s relaxed again. He had only stopped moving for a second, maybe less. “My book cares about me that much, huh! That’s so sweet!”
His voice is meant to be light and upbeat, Edgar knows, but the light in his eyes seems to be more obvious, now, and less hesitant.
Ranpo asks Edgar to wait for him, that day, so they can get dinner together again, so Edgar does so—he likes having dinner with Ranpo, not just because of the whole, well, love thing, but also because he gets to try out new recipes he would be too lazy to cook otherwise. It’s probably a little strange, that he finds a bit of a hobby in cooking, but the process is peaceful and he likes seeing the result of some honest hard work.
(Maybe he’s a bit more similar to Lucy than he thought he was.)
But when the sky begins to fade into the soft orange of the sunset, Edgar finds himself nodding off in his seat, even with the in-progress poem on his lap—he’s grown used to falling asleep to the light, airy voices of papers, and the quiet bustle of the office is so, so familiar to an office he had worked in, once, before everything had gone downhill…
When he blinks awake, it’s to the smell of coffee under his nose. Edgar cranes his neck to look up at Kunikida, stern-faced as always, holding the mug out to him. “Here,” Kunikida says. He doesn’t sound suspicious, or annoyed, or… anything, really. Like he’s done this a hundred times. “You seem like a coffee person,” he adds, when Edgar doesn’t react.
“O-Oh. I am. Thank you.” The mug is pleasantly warm, and Edgar takes a sip. Just as bitter as he likes it. “You didn’t have to. Um, Ranpo-kun—”
“Restroom. He asked me to make you coffee before you left.” Kunikida shrugs, and at first Edgar thinks that’s that, but the man doesn’t leave—he looks to the side, expression torn, and Edgar patiently waits another few seconds before Kunikida sighs and turns back to him. “I happened to, er. Overhear your… conversation, with Dazai, earlier.”
“Ah.” Edgar takes another sip, giving Kunikida time to speak again. When he doesn’t, Edgar carefully ventures, “Do you want me to talk to your notebook?”
Kunikida visibly stiffens. “That’s, ah, well, you don’t have to, but—well, I was just—thinking, and it might improve my performance in combat if I understand it—them a little better, because I never thought that they would have their own feelings and thoughts, and I understand it’s quite presumptuous of me after everything, but—”
“Kunikida-san,” Edgar gently cuts in, “it’s, um, fine. I don’t mind. Take it as a thank-you for the coffee.”
“That doesn’t… seem like very equivalent exchange.”
“It’s fine,” Edgar repeats. Kunikida looks at him a little longer, before sighing and taking a seat opposite him, placing his own coffee mug on the nearby desk. When Kunikida makes to hand over his notebook, Edgar shakes his head. “I don’t need to, ah, touch it or anything. Just being near it is enough.”
“Ah,” Kunikida says. It’s both a sound of affirmation and a sigh of relief, which Edgar can relate to—he, after all, can’t imagine handing over his own notebook to someone who’s still practically a stranger. (Ranpo is… an outlier.)
Edgar clears his throat, then reaches out for the green-and-white notebook clasped in Kunikida’s hands. It’s worn, but still somehow in decent condition. Hello? Can you hear me? It’s no ordinary notebook, after all, and he’s never heard it talk before, not even occasional murmurs from when Edgar had happened to stand near it or Kunikida.
Silence. A long silence. Edgar counts the seconds and nearly reaches a full minute before a voice remarkably like Kunikida’s rings in his head. What? it asks, short and sharp. Edgar’s not sure if it’s angry or if it just naturally sounds like that.
Um, it’s nice to meet you. We’ve crossed paths, but we’ve never really spoken.
Yes. Because there had been no need to.
Edgar’s come across standoffish and outright rude papers before, but he’d never had to interact with them for very long—his book had been an exception. He swallows and decides to get straight to the point. You heard your owner, right? He’d like to know what you think of him, or if you have anything to say…
Why should I tell you? the notebook snaps. Edgar nearly bites his tongue in surprise. You—I don’t trust you just yet. You’re still an unknown factor. You haven’t done anything to make me trust you. I don’t care if you can talk to me, I’ve lived all my days doing perfectly fine without conversation partners, I’m not letting my guard down. If you touch a hair on my writer’s head—
I won’t hurt him, Edgar reassures. He’s not sure if interrupting the notebook’s angry tirade had been a good idea, but the notebook is silent, so he continues. If you want, you can access my thoughts, I’ll let you—and you can see if I’m trustworthy or not. He focuses, closing his eyes and hoping Kunikida doesn’t mind, and relaxes himself as much as he dares, enough that the notebook shouldn’t have any problems delving into his thoughts. If this were a person, he’d rather jump off the top floor of a building than even think about letting them get inside his head, but—he’s always trusted papers before, even ones that weren’t his own. Maybe too much, but they had been his only friends, once upon a time.
The notebook stays quiet for a minute, and Edgar can feel himself getting a headache, one of the usual side-effects—thankfully, it ebbs away before it can get worse, and the notebook speaks again. Fine, you won’t hurt them, it grumbles. But I still don’t feel very safe telling you anything.
I suppose I can’t force you, Edgar replies.
The very moment he tries to come up with what to tell Kunikida, though, the notebook mutters, Take care.
What was that?
Take care of himself. Tell him that. That’s all. And the notebook goes silent again.
Edgar relays as such, leaving pretty much everything else out—Kunikida’s ears go pink, and he looks down at his notebook incredulously. “It—er, they said that?” he murmurs. “Nothing else?”
“Well, it had quite a lot of side-comments, but nothing important.”
“Oh.” He blinks, and Edgar wonders if he should leave before Kunikida abruptly stands up and bows at a scarily perfect 90 degree angle. “Thank you very much for your kindness, Poe-san.”
“I will do my best to take care of myself,” he says, though Edgar has a feeling he’s talking to his notebook more than to Edgar. “Please enjoy your coffee. If you’ll excuse me now.”
Ranpo returns a few minutes later, wiping his hands on his pants and heading to his desk to gather his things (specifically, he throws some candy wrappers into the trash bin and tucks his Nintendo DS into his pocket). “What’s for dinner?” Ranpo asks—they pass by Yosano on the way out, and she clearly overhears the question, because she turns to give them a baffled look Edgar studiously ignores.
“If you don’t mind waiting a little, I can make us karaage—I bought the ingredients this morning.”
“‘Kaaay. I’ll read your new manuscript. They’re getting less predictable, you know.”
“Really?” Edgar turns away under the pretense of scratching his neck, but he really just doesn’t want Ranpo to see his reddening cheeks. “That’s high praise, coming from you.”
Ranpo glances up at him, and for a moment he looks like he’s realized something—but Edgar wonders if he’d just imagined it, because then he just says, “Duh! I’m me, after all.”
His papers don’t complain anymore when Ranpo holds them, and Edgar has a feeling that’s because Ranpo is more careful with them now, or at least less careless—he only ever accidentally sits on them when he’s distracted once in a while, and Edgar can usually stop him before he does so. He spouts off comments while Edgar cooks, most of which Edgar memorizes and files away for later—but when he quiets in the middle of a chapter Edgar knows he’d meant to be suspenseful, he glances up from the frying chicken. Ranpo is staring off into space, obviously thinking. “What’s wrong?” Why does this always seem to happen when I’m cooking?
“Nothin’. Just thinking.”
“Hmm.” Edgar turns back to the chicken. “About?”
“Just stuff.” Though Edgar doesn’t look at him, he can feel Ranpo staring at him now, manuscript forgotten. “Poe-kun, what’d you do before you joined the Guild?”
Edgar nearly knocks the entire pot of oil onto the floor. “What?”
Ranpo blows a flyaway strand of hair out of his face, turning away from Edgar. “Knew you’d say that.”
“What, what? Well, it’s—quite the sudden question.”
“S’fine if you don’t answer,” Ranpo says, obviously not meaning it. Edgar appreciates the attempt, all the same. “Just curious. I mean, I think I already know, but I wanna hear it from you.” He shrugs. “Not from something I wasn’t supposed to see.”
“Oh.” His notebook. Right. Ranpo had never brought that up again, and neither had Edgar, for obvious reasons, but he supposes someone as constantly inquisitive and impatient as Ranpo has limits. “Let me… Let me finish dinner. Then we can… um, talk.”
“Okay.” And then Ranpo returns to criticizing the main character’s fashion choice, like the past few minutes had never happened. Edgar allows himself a sigh of relief, and tries to prolong the cooking for as long as possible.
He can’t avoid it forever, though, and when he sets the plates on the table, he has to stare at his food for several long seconds to calm his thoughts down. Ranpo, thankfully, doesn’t bring it up, though that might just be because he’s too preoccupied with the chicken to speak just yet. Now or never, Edgar tells himself, again and again until he can’t bear the oppressive silence another second and blurts out, “I had a cat.”
Ranpo blinks, chopsticks halfway to his mouth. “Unsurprising.”
“His name was, um. P-Pluto.”
“Pluto, huh?” Ranpo’s accent lengthens the word a bit. Pu-ru-to. “Was he a black cat?”
“What do you think?”
“Well, your ability name kind of makes that really obvious.”
Edgar chokes out what he’d meant to be a laugh—it sounds more like a sob, and Ranpo looks somewhat alarmed, but Edgar speaks again before Ranpo can say anything. “He was my first, um. Friend. That wasn’t… someone or something I created, anyway.”
“What do you think happened to him?” Edgar asks. There’s no way Ranpo doesn’t know, after all—he may have only caught quick glances at the pages in his notebook, but at the same time, he doubts Ranpo hadn’t gathered as much information as possible on him and the rest of the Guild members. That almost undoubtedly includes news articles.
Ranpo shrugs, but the movement looks forcibly casual. “He died, didn’t he?” Edgar watches him a little longer, and Ranpo mumbles, “Killed. But I don’t know how. No details. I can’t talk to newspapers like you.”
“There were these… these boys. My age, a year older.” Edgar closes his eyes, breathes, forcing his voice to stay steady. He can still remember their faces, a bit blurry around the edges but clear enough that he could describe each of them in perfect detail. (He can still remember their voices. The sobs, the screams, the threats. The apologies. And then—and then nothing, nothing but the gray of his arm.) “I was walking home from school when I saw them—saw them kicking this c-cat around. A kitten, really, he was so—small—”
Breathe—he thinks he tells himself that, but he realizes it’s a paper’s voice. For once, he can’t identify which one it is in the immediate vicinity. Maybe it’s all of them.
Ranpo doesn’t press, seemingly focused on the plate of chicken. Edgar can see tension in his shoulders, though, and the way his eyes flick up to look at him every few seconds. Edgar sighs, gives himself a moment to calm down again, and continues. “Anyway, I—I don’t know why I d-did it, but. I walked up to them, and. Brought one into a poem. It killed him.”
Ranpo nods. He looks unsurprised—this had probably been in whatever news article he’d read. Edgar thinks, for a second, about how thorough Royster had been in collecting information from his notebook. “So I brought that kitten home—washed him and fed him and—named him—and when I came home the next day, he was dead.” He’d been so small. So young. The branch didn’t even bend. “The other four boys, they hung him from a tree.” It was my fault.
“Oh,” Ranpo repeats. He doesn’t sound sorry, or angry, or anything. Just oh, like he’s collecting information like he always does. “So that was your motive.”
“For k—k—” Breathe. “Killing the rest of them. Yes.”
“I see.” Ranpo chews another mouthful of chicken and rice thoughtfully. When he swallows and speaks again, Edgar’s managed to push the heat out of his eyes. “Then you left, right? To Portsmouth, wasn’t it? And worked there as a journalist, for a little while.”
“That’s… yes, that’s it.” That’s not all of it, but it’s probably nice to be succinct.
“Then some guy found you out.” Ranpo’s brow furrows. “Aren’t you the sloppy culprit, Poe-kun.” He doesn’t sound teasing, but he doesn’t sound serious either. Just stating facts.
Edgar tries to smile, and predictably fails. So much for being succinct. “It’s not quite as simple as that, unfortunately.”
Ranpo stares at him for about a second, which is apparently all the time he needs to figure out what exactly Edgar means. “Ah,” he says, after the longest second of Edgar’s life. “Still sloppy,” he adds, “but at least it’s a tiny bit more understandable now. Just a bit, mind you. If my boyfriend were a journalist, I’d just make sure to be even more careful with where I leave my damning evidence sitting around.”
“It was a bit of a life-or-death situation, at the time.”
“Oh, you used your ability in front of him.” Ranpo shakes his head. “If you were the culprit in one of your mystery books, I’d toss it in the trash.”
Edgar rolls his eyes. “Thanks.”
“No problem, I live to serve. Then—” Ranpo’s face twists into something resembling confusion for a moment, before he continues with, “Then you joined the Guild? Right after?”
“I…” Right after doesn’t sound correct at all, not when it feels like so much happened in between: Lenore, crawling through the streets, Fitzgerald and Louisa (Alcott, then), meeting Lucy, living in Midtown… and his first step into Japan. “You could say that,” he murmurs.
Ranpo pouts. “Don’t leave important details out!”
“You mean yourself?” slips out before Edgar can stop himself. He can’t exactly grab the words out of the air and stuff them back down his throat, so he swallows and looks down at the table instead. Belatedly, he realizes that his food has been pretty much untouched. Maybe he can heat the leftovers and have them for lunch tomorrow.
There’s a second of silence, then Ranpo says, “Me?” For possibly the first time in the conversation, he sounds almost surprised. “That was… You meant it?”
Edgar looks up. Ranpo is staring at him, the green in his eyes reflecting fluorescent lights. “Meant what?”
“When you said you joined the Guild to challenge me. You actually…”
“Why are you so surprised? It’s making you sound humble,” Edgar dryly remarks.
Ranpo probably has some sort of phobia for anything related to humility, because he physically recoils and says, “No way! I’m not surprised, just… okay, I’m surprised,” he admits, “but only at how single-minded you are! Meeting me was what made you join the Guild? And all so you could challenge me again? That doesn’t sound like a motive I’d come across in your books.”
Because I can’t put what I feel into words, Edgar thinks, turning away to focus on a spot of dirt on the dining table. Because it wasn’t a motive for murder. It never was. “Do you remember that day, when… when Atwood attacked?”
“That bad day you had.” There’s an odd tone to Ranpo’s voice. Agitation, Edgar thinks, but he can’t pinpoint what kind of agitation again. Not anger, not impatience…
“Yes. That. I…” Edgar sighs. “It’s happened to me since I was a teenager. Everything just feels wrong, and I don’t want to—to do anything. Because I end up thinking—” What’s the point? “—that… that I just don’t want to. Sometimes there’s a reason, sometimes there isn’t. But it was never very bad, especially when I was younger. What made it worse was—” He cuts himself off, there, because when he looks at Ranpo’s face, he can finally pin down that emotion.
It makes sense, in hindsight. Edgar doesn’t remember a whole lot of times he’s encountered it. Maybe Louisa, or Lucy, on those late nights on the Moby Dick, but those are fuzzy memories at best, nothing but footnotes amidst every other emotion he’s had plenty of experience with throughout the years—anger, fear, panic, pity. He could identify those in an instant.
“It was me,” Ranpo says, when Edgar can’t bring himself to speak again, “wasn’t it?”
“I remember it well.” Ranpo picks at his empty plate, the chopsticks clicking and clattering. “When we first met. I saw you and I thought—that you were like me.” A pause—Edgar doesn’t bother filling it up. “That you were bored with everything, too,” Ranpo continues, voice low. “Everything was too easy, too obvious, and everyone else was just too slow, right? No one saw the things I saw, thought the same way I thought.” He swallows. “But I saw you, and—I just thought, it’s someone like me. Someone who sees the same things and thinks the same thoughts. So I probably kind of… got excited, I guess.”
“Excited?” Edgar weakly repeats.
Ranpo huffs. “You know, like I-wanna-make-a-new-friend excited. ‘Cause that was the first time I met someone who might—match me, aside from my parents. And you didn’t even need my ability.”
What ability, Edgar nearly asks, before he bites his tongue. He’s not sure if Ranpo truly believes in the existence of Super Deduction, or if it’s some sort of coping mechanism he’s hiding behind, but it’s not in Edgar’s place to press on that. “I didn’t know,” he says instead, voice soft.
Ranpo looks at him, somewhat amused, and for a moment Edgar sees that young face from six years ago again, looking up at him in—excitement, that’s definitely the word to describe how he had looked, back then. Edgar just hadn’t known all those cheeky grins and casual Poe-kuns had meant he wanted to be friends. “I see that now.”
“Don’t apologize. No one can have as perfect social skills as I do, after all!”
Edgar scoffs. “If that’s what you tell yourself to sleep at night.”
“But—” Ranpo pauses, looking contemplative for a moment. “I didn’t know, either.”
“I told you, I remember what happened. And what I said.” He’s not looking at Edgar, and he doesn’t seem keen on doing so anytime soon, gaze fixated on the table. “It didn’t seem important at the time, right? For me, at least. But it made things worse for you. I should’ve…” His face scrunches up. “I’m…”
“Don’t,” Edgar gently interrupts. Ranpo’s head jerks up, green eyes boring into his own, and Edgar has to tamp down the instinct to look away. It’s times like these that he’s grateful for his hair, because it makes eye contact easier than it otherwise would’ve been. “It’s fine.”
Ranpo scowls. “No, it’s not fine, don’t be an idiot. I know you’re not stupid.”
“Thank you?” When Ranpo makes an irritated sound, Edgar pulls up a smile, and finds that it does come a little easier this time. “Alright. It’s not fine. But the things you said—they pushed me to chase after you, didn’t they?”
Ranpo gives a jerky nod, though he doesn’t look very happy about it.
“And I found you again,” Edgar continues. His voice is growing softer, but there’s no need to be loud, not when it’s just the two of them right now. “You wanted to be friends, didn’t you? I hope that hasn’t changed. Because I—” He swallows. “I’m here now.” I want to stay this time.
The silence that follows is lighter than what Edgar’s used to—there’s the faint hum of the ceiling light, the distant caws of the crows outside, Karl chewing noisily on some chicken on the floor. Perhaps silence isn’t quite the right word, Edgar reflects, as he waits for Ranpo to say something. Calmness, maybe.
“No,” Ranpo mumbles, “it hasn’t changed. Of course it hasn’t, isn’t that obvious, Poe-kun? I told you, I know you’re not stupid, so quit trying to prove me wrong.”
Edgar smiles, and realizes his eyes are hot again, and there isn’t enough time to stop them from watering before Ranpo looks up and catches sight of them, even through his bangs. “What the—are you okay? You don’t need a hug or something, do you?” he sputters.
“N-No, I don’t—” He can still remember the warmth on that morning, arms around Ranpo’s smaller body, the way he had felt completely at home— I don’t want to remember, I don’t want to be reminded. “I don’t. I’m fine.” He coughs out a laugh.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t sound as miserable as he thought it would.
did u finish the revisions for the golden circle?? bring it when u come overrrr
its so hot today!!! (；￣Д￣)
It is. Edgar’s tempted to tell Ranpo he’s busy and can’t come to the Agency, if only because he wants to stay in his air-conditioned apartment longer, but instead he texts, It’s Golden Hour, not circle, then reluctantly gets up to change out of his pajamas. He has something he wants to surprise Ranpo with, as surprised as someone like Ranpo can get, anyway, so.
The fifteen-minute walk from his place to the office sounds like absolute torture in this heat, so Edgar digs through his (far from sizeable) wardrobe and finds a relatively thin white dress shirt he can roll the sleeves up of. It feels jarring, walking around without his coat—he feels so exposed like this, but he tells himself, again and again, that there’s nothing to fear and that if worse comes to worst, he has a paper folded up in his trousers pocket.
After a moment of consideration, he opens his desk drawer, then sits down in front of his bathroom mirror, hair tie in hand.
As expected, he begins to sweat a minute after he steps outside, and he hurries to shorten the fifteen minutes into ten, breathing out a sigh of relief when he enters the Agency office and feels a rush of air conditioning sweep over him. “Good afternoon,” he murmurs, nodding at the workers nearest the door. (He used to whisper pardon my intrusion, before Tanizaki Naomi had heard and told him that isn’t how he should greet friends.)
Instead of nodding or smiling back, like Edgar’s grown used to, nearly everyone does a double-take when they see him—well, except for Kenji and Kyouka, who are the same as usual—and Dazai, especially, stares at him shamelessly. “Well, good afternoon, Poe-san,” he says, clearing his throat perhaps a bit louder than normally. “It’s a hot day, isn’t it?”
He clears his throat again, and this time Edgar’s sure he’s being purposely loud enough that the sound carries over to the opposite side of the room. “You’re here for Ranpo-san, right? Ranpo-san,” he calls, voice sing-song—Edgar can hear Kunikida twitch from his own desk—“look who’s here! Ranpo-san? Look, it’s—”
“I heard the door open, Dazai,” Ranpo says, rolling his eyes. He hadn’t looked up from his DS, though Edgar knows it’s because he’s likely busy with a tough battle or something.
“Well, yes, but I thought you’d like to be notified,” Dazai says, a little grin creeping onto his face. Edgar watches him warily as he makes his way to Ranpo’s desk. A grin like that is usually a harbinger of destruction. Maybe there’s a prank waiting for him somewhere in the office?
Ranpo looks up at Dazai, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why would I—”
His gaze flicks over to Edgar, who carefully takes a seat on his usual chair. “I brought the manuscript,” Edgar says. There isn’t a fart cushion on the chair, then.
“Uh,” Ranpo says, after a lengthy second, “okay.”
Dazai bursts into laughter—Edgar watches him be abruptly shut up by Kunikida drop-kicking him in the face.
Ranpo coughs. “Give it here.” He shuts his DS and sets it atop a small stack of books on his desk, then snatches the manuscript out of Edgar’s hands and pores over it right away. “Oh, good, you followed the stuff I said. Is it a little longer than before?”
“Character development for the dentist. I saw an opportunity.” Edgar glances over at Dazai, who’s still smiling to himself. Right. Definitely some sort of prank. He fiddles with his ponytail as he runs through a list of possible pranks—it’s a bit odd, having the back of his neck exposed, but at least he still has his bangs. He hadn’t realized how soft his hair actually was until he’d begun tying it again, more carefully than he had the first time around.
Ranpo swallows. “Oh. Right. Okay.” He looks vaguely like he’s having problems breathing.
“Are you feeling alright, Ranpo-kun?” Edgar tentatively asks.
“What? I’m fine! I’m great. Anyway—” Ranpo points at Edgar’s bag, and his loud voice does make him sound a little more like himself. “What’s that you’re carrying around? It looks suspiciously like a certain something.”
“You make it sound like a—” Edgar stops.
Ranpo grins. “Like a whaaat, Poe-kun?”
“Like a nothing.” Edgar retrieves his laptop out of its bag, setting it on an empty space on Ranpo’s desk. It’s not like Ranpo ever actually uses his desk for work, anyway. Ranpo oohs and peers at it. “It’s just a laptop, no need to get so excited.”
“Just a laptop? Sheesh. I don’t even have enough cash for one.”
“You have a Nintendo Switch,” Edgar points out.
“Duh? It’s essential for my continued living?”
“You’re just bitter ‘cause you don’t have a Level 99 Eevee.”
“He’s gonna be 100 soon. Just give me some more time, it’s hard leveling up in Let’s Go.”
“If you say so.” Frankly, Edgar has no idea what Ranpo is talking about—games hadn’t exactly been a priority in his life—but he has seen what an Eevee looks like, and he has to admit they’re adorable. He’d probably want one, too, though he wouldn’t want it to battle or whatever it is Ranpo does in his Pokemon games.
Ranpo grins and pushes his revolving chair nearer to Edgar, propping himself up on his elbows atop his desk. “Sooo. A laptop, huh.”
“Yes. A laptop.”
“What’cha gonna do with it?”
Why do you sound like you’re setting me up for a dirty joke? “Use it?”
“Fine, I’m using it for Google Docs,” Edgar sighs. “It’s quite convenient. Um, more convenient than I thought. It’s certainly easier to edit and revise than if it were on paper, but…” I can’t talk to it, he wants to say, but by the way Ranpo’s cheeky expression sobers into something more understanding, he supposes he doesn’t need to. “Well, that’s about it,” he mutters. “Sometimes I play chess.”
“What else do you expect me to do on it?”
Ranpo shrugs. “You would like chess. You’ll still write your stories down and bring them here, though, won’t you?”
“Of course. I get to talk to them first, that way, before I transfer them to something more convenient for sharing,” Edgar muses. “And I don’t want to link you to any of my documents. I know you’ll leave ugly kaomoji all over them.”
“What the—you really do think I’m some kind of barbarian, don’t you! I can’t believe you!”
Ranpo has an errand to run with Fukuzawa that night, so he doesn’t go to Edgar’s apartment for dinner—still, he gets long strings of messages detailing exactly how bored he is, along with the ever-present kaomoji. Edgar’s never seen the same one twice. It’s a bit admirable.
LOOK AT THIS, the most recent text reads, followed quickly by an image of a candy store front. IM HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE!!!!!
That’s nice, Edgar writes. Dinner consists of cup noodles, expired by a few days. They still taste good, and food poisoning is the least of Edgar’s concerns.
the president didnt even give me that much cash he is EVIL (`皿´＃)
want anything poe-kun??
too late, bought u somethin
arent i so kind?? <(￣︶￣)>
You can keep it. I’m not that fond of sweets
u take me for a fool!??! of course i remember how uncultured u are
and its not that sweet cuz its coffee flavored
i wouldnt waste my money like that!!! ٩(◕‿◕｡)۶
That’s the creepiest one you’ve sent so far.
Edgar heads out to his bedroom’s balcony to feed the crows, as has become the usual—they caw a hello and dive for the peanuts. He doesn’t fight the smile that comes up unbidden; he thinks he can differentiate them well by now, despite the few differences they have in appearance. It’s mannerisms, mostly, like how there’s one friendly crow who lets him pet her, and another more standoffish one who ignores him and perches furthest away from the rest of the group.
They always show up at lunch and dinner time, and sometimes they wake him up in the mornings with their cawing, asking for breakfast. He’s taken to leaving the balcony doors open at night—they never enter, though, and it’s fine that way. Edgar doubts he’s even legally allowed to own them as pets.
He looks at them, and feeds them, and greets them all hello—they only remind him of Lenore on some days.
Leaving the doors open means the cool night breeze comes in, too, and he can listen to the wind whistling outside on the nights he can’t get to sleep. He remembers when the wind had roared into a furious tornado, when it had hovered and swept around him while searching for lost items, and both of those times had been because of one woman. The wind has always brought things back to me, she had said, and he wonders if it still does, when until now she hasn’t woken up.
It’s odd, that there are so many things in the apartment that remind him of the Guild—he talks to the row of potted plants on his windowsill whenever he waters them, and Edgar thinks about that flower Steinbeck had given him, how it had liked books. It had withered and died after maybe a week—he plants more now, and reads to them when he can. When he makes Karl sandwiches, he wonders where Lovecraft might be now—Edgar had never quite figured out exactly what Lovecraft is, human or god or in-between, and he supposes he’ll never find out now. The guest room still smells of Hawthorne’s blood, and the poem box Twain picked open for him is still sitting on his desk; the calendar on his table has October 26 encircled because he’d forgotten to stop remembering Scottie’s birthday, and the cartoon whale print on one of his mugs reminds him of Melville.
When he makes tea, he thinks about Louisa, wonders if she’s accomplished what she set out to do, and if he’ll see her again.
He drops by the cafe Lucy works in every so often, too, for good coffee and the occasional plate of cookies when it isn’t her shift—she presented with him a little hand-sewn doll the other day, looking remarkably familiar with its white hair and cat tail. “I found out by accident the other day, but I can control other dolls besides Anne,” she explained, setting it on the table and flicking her wrist. The doll had shuddered, as if brought to life, and began to walk across the table’s length. “Can’t do much with it yet, but I’m definitely getting there. And aren’t they cute?”
“He certainly is,” Edgar had levelly replied. Lucy scowled, snapped her fingers, and sent the tiny tiger-doll pouncing onto his arm.
On his way out the door, though, something tugged at the hem of his pants, and he looked down to find a small doll with messy dark hair tagging behind him. Ranpo had seen it the day after Edgar had set it on his desk, and now he always makes it a point to barge in the bedroom and pet its head with his finger every time he visits.
Karl climbs into bed with him when Edgar shuts the lights off, curling up close to his side as always. “Goodnight,” Edgar says. A chorus of goodnight s from the books and papers in the room answer back.
It’s pleasantly warm, with both a raccoon and several layers of blankets to keep out the evening chill, and his phone buzzes from another text message. He closes his eyes and feels that rightness again—that feeling of home.
“Help me sort some books, Poe-kun?”
For some reason, the office had gotten a little banged up—apparently a robber had come in the middle of the night, but Kunikida had been working overtime, as usual, and had taken the man down with his ever-grumpy notebook. Edgar had offered to help, but everyone practically forced him to sit back down—he supposes that’s typical Japanese politeness or something, but sitting still and feeling useless is worse than rearranging upturned shelves.
It’s odd that Ranpo, who had had his feet propped up on his desk, would actually get up and tug Edgar with him to a smaller storage room, but Edgar isn’t complaining.
The shelves there are nothing new for Edgar—he’d scanned the entire office top to bottom the first time he’d come here, after all, and many times afterwards, he can probably pinpoint the exact location of the rat that lives in the walls. He hasn’t had to check his surroundings for danger during visits anymore, and it’s strange, that he can feel comfortable in a space outside of his apartment—that he doesn’t feel threatened anymore, because there are others here who make him feel safe.
The books had been swept right off the shelves and fallen in a heap on the floor, complaining incessantly enough that it hurts Edgar’s ears, so he gathers them up in his arms as quick as he can and whispers reassurances to their covers. Ranpo finds a chair by the side and makes himself comfortable, which is more along the lines of what Edgar had been expecting. “You treat them like they’re your babies, don’t you.”
“They are virtually defenseless,” Edgar says, probably a bit defensively.
“Unless they’re within, like, fifty feet of you, I get it.”
The books tell him their positions, and though they’re all talking over each other it isn’t so hard to slot them in the right order as Ranpo… sits there. Well, sits there and watches him, really, though Edgar’s not sure why—but he can feel those eyes on his back, as if waiting for something. “What is it?” he asks, after the pile of fallen books has decreased significantly. “You look like you want to say something.”
“Eh. Just thinking.”
“That it’s nice.”
Edgar pauses shelving to look Ranpo’s way, a couple of books still in his arms. “What is?” On good days, his face doesn’t protest when he smiles, and sometimes his voice goes soft when he doesn’t mean for it to. He thinks about what Lucy had said, about being happier now, and decides that maybe she’s right. It’s been a long time since he’s felt so at ease with everything that he can smile without feeling like he doesn’t deserve to.
Ranpo shrugs and gets up to stand beside him, eyes skimming the book spines on the shelf. “Being with you.”
Edgar nearly drops the books. “Wh—um—What?”
“It’s nice being with you,” Ranpo repeats, as if Edgar needs to hear it again. “And I like that you like being here, too. You like this place, right? The Agency, I mean.” He looks up then, blinking up at Edgar. He doesn’t say the office, and Edgar thinks that’s important.
“That’s…” Edgar turns away. It’s true. He likes this place, and he likes the Agency, but above all he likes Ranpo, but unlike Ranpo himself, he can’t just come out and say something as embarrassingly sappy as that. “That’s… t-true…”
Ranpo clicks his tongue. “Poe-kun, look at me.”
“I-I can’t, I—” If I look at you right now, I might explode—
“This is unfair,” Edgar mumbles. His heartbeat is so loud, it’s resonating in his ears like he’s trapped in one of his own books. When he turns to face Ranpo, he can see that knowing expression and immediately looks away again, because God, he should have expected this, of course Ranpo would know about his feelings, of course—“If you knew, you should have said so earlier,” he rambles, staring at one of the books in his arms, “so that—I could—”
“What, hole yourself up in your apartment?”
“You don’t understand,” Edgar snaps. It feels like the room’s shaking and shivering right along with him. “It’s not like—I didn’t want to feel like this, not when I know I don’t d-deserve it—and I was scared the same thing would happen if I told you, so you don’t get to say that to me, d-don’t—” I’m sorry, he can already hear—“don’t—p-please—”
“Poe-kun,” Ranpo is saying, softly. He’s never soft. “Look at me.” A pause. “Please?”
Edgar squeezes his eyes shut, tightens his hold on the books, and sucks in several shallow breaths—if he tries to speak, he’s almost certain all that will fall out of his mouth is some wordless sob. He’s shaking, so bad, and it’s so humiliating that Ranpo has to see him fall apart again, but he can’t stop, not when all he can see is Royster’s face, the shape of his lips forming an apology when they had whispered sweet nothings just days before—
“Poe-kun—you’re doing something—”
“The books. They’re…” Ranpo trails off, and that’s when Edgar opens his eyes and sees—that the room had been shaking, but it’s because the books are humming with power, the ones nearest him already emitting a faint darkness oozing anger. The ones in his arms have flipped open, pages spitting and cursing—kill, they’re hissing, who’s hurting you kill them kill them kill him—
(Kill him! He deserves death. He deserves me!)
“No,” he whispers—“No, stop, please, I-I’m sorry.” Accidental ability usage. It’s been so long, but this level of hatred, the way he’d poured his panic into books he doesn’t even own—how close they’re coming to targeting—“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
The blackness shifts, slowly, into dim blue glows, then into nothing—the room seems to settle. Edgar doesn’t, though, because he can’t possibly turn around and face Ranpo, now that he’s seen what he does. The same thing had happened, with Royster, when he couldn’t control that stolen letter, when he’d nearly killed two men—but it’s worse now, because it had been himself he couldn’t control, and this time it’s Ranpo on the receiving end.
The only thing he’s good for, the only thing he’s ever been good for, is hurting, and hurting, and killing.
“You okay?” Ranpo finally asks, after several long minutes of silence.
“I s-should be asking you that,” Edgar mutters.
“I’ve had worse, Poe-kun. Will you look at me now?” His voice is still soft, so unlike his usual self, and maybe that’s supposed to mean something, but Edgar can’t think.
“Didn’t you see that?” he blurts out. “Didn’t you see how—how bad it can get? How bad I can get? I kill people, Ranpo-kun, I’ve told you this again and again and—I know you’re getting tired of hearing this, but I’m just so terrified that I might hurt you again, that I might lose control and do something I can’t fix, because I love you—” Edgar shakes his head, clutches the books closer to his chest, thinks about anything but how easy the word leaves him, “so much that if anything happened to you, if you got hurt because of me again—but that d-doesn’t matter, s-so you should just—leave, alright, just leave me here f-for a while, please, I promise I’ll—I’ll go away soon, I just—” wanted to stay, I just wanted to stay here with you and Lucy and the Agency in my apartment and feel like I don’t have to run anymore, that I’ve finally found somewhere I don’t feel like the devil, somewhere I can call home—
There’s a familiar tug at his sleeve, and Edgar reflexively tries to pull away, but Ranpo grabs his wrist and turns him around with surprising strength. “Poe-kun—Edgar,” he says, staring up at Edgar with those green eyes—those sharp, piercing eyes that haunted Edgar’s dreams for so long, and still do. Edgar bites down on his tongue, looking down at the floor—except there’s barely any space between them anymore, because Ranpo is stepping closer until Edgar can see every individual strand of hair on Ranpo’s head. “Look at me, alright?” he’s saying. “Just—Just look at me for a sec.”
Edgar swallows, but forces his gaze back to Ranpo’s eyes—no, a little lower, to his cheeks. He doesn’t think he can stand looking into those eyes for too long, or else he’ll collapse. “Just say it,” he breathes.
Ranpo’s brow furrows. “Say what?”
“That you—that you’re—y-you’re—” Again. Again. “You’re—s-s-sor—” But he can’t, he can’t do this, and he’s shaking his head again, if only to gather his bangs in front of his face again. He remembers what his relatives had said, whenever they saw him—he’s the child of the devil, look at those eyes. He doesn’t want Ranpo to see them and see him for what he really is, doesn’t want Ranpo to look into the devil’s eyes and realize that they’re nowhere near as sharp or piercing or beautiful as his own blinding green ones. He doesn’t want another apology, can’t hear another one, because then he doesn’t know what he’ll do after—run away again, drag himself through unwelcoming streets again, leave again, find himself back to mindless murder again just to drag his thoughts away from another I’m sorry.
“I’m not sorry,” Ranpo says, when it’s quiet for another minute. “Why would I be? I didn’t do anything I need to apologize for.”
“If I wanted to reject you,” Ranpo cuts in, words almost too fast to follow, “then I would’ve done it a long time ago, as soon as I thought you might like me. I wouldn’t have let it drag on, Poe-kun—God, I wouldn’t have slept with you, I’m not that awful of a person.”
“But… Then…” Edgar stares at him. He’s so close now, it’s almost scary—if it weren’t for the books still in Edgar’s arms, they might be chest-to-chest by now. “What are you…?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Ranpo sighs. “You can figure it out. I know you can. You’re smart, Poe-kun.”
It isn’t you’re not stupid, and that definitely means something. Edgar worries on his lower lip, and sees the way those green eyes flick down to his mouth. From a purely objective viewpoint, there’d only be one conclusion he could draw from this—but that can’t be, because—because he’s him, and Ranpo is Ranpo, and… and. “You can’t,” he murmurs, which is as far as he gets before his throat closes up at the touch of Ranpo’s finger to his chin, angling his face downwards and closer to Ranpo’s own.
The first time Ranpo had done this—it had been to make Edgar look at him, too. That time—that time, Edgar had swallowed, and Ranpo had watched that movement. Even after Edgar had told him to let go, he hadn’t moved away. Their faces had been so, so near—too near, for two people alone together.
That time, Edgar had almost jerked away. That time, he had asked Ranpo to let him go. Now, he doesn’t do either.
“I’m going to kiss you now,” Ranpo says, like he’s describing the weather.
“Oh,” Edgar breathes. He’s sure now—Ranpo is definitely looking at his mouth. “Oh, God. Okay.”
Ranpo remembers to tilt his head a bit, thankfully, because Edgar doesn’t have a single coherent thought in his head aside from how soft Ranpo’s lips are, and that he had never thought this constantly curving mouth would be against his own right now—alright, so he’s actually thinking quite a bit, but those thoughts, too, are wiped clean out of his mind when Ranpo’s hands find their way down to his hips. “Poe-kun,” he’s murmuring into Edgar’s mouth, thumbs hooking into Edgar’s belt loops and using those to pull Edgar closer until they’re pressed flush against each other.
Ranpo tastes sweet, almost too sweet, but for once Edgar doesn’t mind—he wants more of it.
There’s a series of thumps, which Edgar vaguely notes are the books in his arms tumbling onto the floor—he cups Ranpo’s face in his now-free hands, whispers Ranpo’s name back, parts his lips when Ranpo’s tongue prods at his mouth and begins to lick at the inside of his cheek. “R-Ranpo,” Edgar gasps, forgetting the honorific for one blissful second; Ranpo shudders against him and pulls back to suck in air before sliding their lips together again, his hands drifting lower. Edgar’s breath hitches. “Ranpo-kun—”
“Not now,” Ranpo purrs, voice breathy.
Edgar almost squeaks, “W-We’re in your—workplace—”
“Come on, like that’s ever stopped anyone—”
“Yes, plenty of people, for good reason,” Edgar gasps, fending off another attempt to kiss him. Ranpo huffs, but he doesn’t try again. “And—And you… are you—”
“I’m sure,” Ranpo interrupts, looking seconds away from rolling his eyes into the next dimension. “You tried to kill me, you can probably kill me again, yeah, whatever, it’s honestly kind of hot sometimes, Poe-kun.”
“Kidding. Not really. But I am sure.”
“But—” Edgar sighs, resisting the urge to look away. “But… me? Why?”
“Because I love you.”
Edgar nearly kicks himself, or Ranpo, or both of them. “Wh—y-you can’t just say that out of nowhere!”
“You did,” Ranpo points out.
“You… are not wrong,” Edgar admits.
“Duh. I never am.”
“But—” The rest of Edgar’s words die on his tongue when Ranpo tugs him down by his coat lapels and kisses him again, lips still as sinfully soft and sweet as two minutes ago. “Ranpo—kun—just, wait—”
“I have been waiting so long,” Ranpo sighs, pulling back. “You must be a real sadist to make me wait even longer. What, so you’re into BDSM? How vanilla.”
“I—I don’t even know what to say to that.”
“Really? So can we kiss again?”
“No, wait—” Edgar pulls Ranpo’s hand off his coat, then belatedly realizes Ranpo had probably planned that, because the skin-on-skin contact is enough to make Edgar freeze up all over again. Ranpo, unexpectedly, stops after a light peck, grinning to himself the whole while. “Sneaky of you,” Edgar mutters. His face has been feeling hot for a while, but now it just feels even worse.
“I know.” They haven’t let go of each other’s hands. “So? What do you want to say so badly that you’re delaying—”
“How?” Edgar asks, before he can bite the question back—“How can you do it?”
Ranpo stares at him. “What? Kiss you? Give you a handjob? Correctly guess your fetishes? Be a little more specific, Poe-kun.”
“H-How can you love someone like me?” Edgar stammers—he catches a glimpse of Ranpo’s brow furrowing before he looks down, staring at the fallen books. He should apologize for dropping them, but under these circumstances, they’d probably understand. “It’s—I just, I don’t understand, because—I never thought—I still don’t, and…” How can you love someone like me? How can you love someone who doesn’t deserve it?
Ranpo reaches up, and with his free hand, he brushes Edgar’s hair out of his eyes—his fingers linger on Edgar’s forehead for the briefest of seconds, just long enough for Edgar to notice and for Ranpo to notice he’s noticed—and then Ranpo’s hand drops back down to his side. “Don’t be silly,” he says. He’s speaking slower than usual, eyes wide and scanning every inch of Edgar’s face. It’s then that Edgar realizes Ranpo’s probably never seen him without his bangs in the way before, and that only makes him want to sink into the floor more. “I love you because you’re Poe-kun. Isn’t that enough?”
“I…” You can’t say that, Edgar wants to tell him. You can’t just come out and say that, even after knowing everything I’ve done, everyone I’ve killed—after I tried to kill you and set your home on fire, you can’t… But Ranpo is still looking at him, his eyes greener than green, and Edgar remembers a time his chest had twisted sickeningly every time he thought of those eyes, and how he had mistaken the feeling for hatred.
He looks down again—without his hair in the way, everything looks oddly brighter, and he’s not used to it until he’s facing the floor and thinking about that night in Seoul, about a man with vibrant green eyes and who had called him sweetheart. “I don’t understand,” he whispers miserably. Look at me, he’d said, that time. He can’t remember much, considering it had been quite some time ago and he hadn’t been in the most sober state of mind—but he can still feel the shiver that had run down his spine when those green eyes fixed themselves on him, brilliant and shining in the dim light.
This time, though—this time.
Ranpo huffs. “Fine. I’ll show you, then.”
“Look at me, Poe-kun.”
Look at me. Edgar swallows and drags his gaze back to Ranpo, desperately wishing he could flatten his bangs over his eyes again. But he knows Ranpo would probably just sweep them back, so he bites down on the inside of his lower lip and watches Ranpo fumble with something in his pocket before retrieving his cell phone. “Okay. Watch.”
He goes silent.
There’s a picture of him on Ranpo’s screen, probably taken during one of the times they had gone out for lunch somewhere—Edgar hadn’t noticed, and he realizes that’s because he’d been focused on writing something down on his notebook. A plot idea he had gotten on the spot, most likely. But what’s most jarring about the image is how different he looks—it might just be the afternoon sunlight coming in through the window beside them, but he looks less pale, less starved, less sleep-deprived, less everything he had thought would always stay with him.
He’s smiling, very faintly. He looks happier, like what Lucy had said. Not just freer, or less tired—happier, plain and simple.
“That’s not the only picture I have, you know,” Ranpo says, when Edgar’s stared at himself—he doesn’t even look like himself—long enough. “I have one of you taking a nap, that time at the office, and one with Karl on your head, and a bunch of others. But my point is—” He double-taps at the image, zooming in on Edgar’s face—“look at your eyes, will you?”
“Just do it.”
Edgar does. At first he doesn’t see much difference, though the bruises under his eyes are far less prominent than they had once been—but then Ranpo turns the brightness up, and Edgar has to stare again, because they don’t look as hollow and sunken as he remembers. They don’t even look gray anymore, more—he can’t remember the color, but—
“Violet.” Ranpo closes his phone and tucks it back in his pocket before leaning in to kiss him again. Edgar doesn’t tell him to wait this time, not when he doesn’t know why he’s ever wanted to stop Ranpo from kissing him. “With a bit of blue, in the sunlight,” Ranpo adds breathily, when he pulls back for air.
Ma’s eyes, Edgar remembers. The kind of eyes people fell in love with.
Edgar doesn’t realize the wetness on his face are from his tears until the adoration on Ranpo’s face turns into alarm. “Wh—Poe-kun! Don’t cry! Aren’t you supposed to be happy?”
“I—” Edgar coughs out a laugh, or a sob, or both at once. “I am, I—really, I really am—” And, okay, it’s definitely a sob, and he’s definitely sobbing now. Everything inside him feels like it’s about to burst—his lungs, his throat, his stomach, his heart. All of me, he thinks—you have all of me. “I love you,” he says, even when he knows Ranpo’s aware. The words are so easy to say—he doesn’t stumble over them at all, doesn’t falter or second-guess their meaning, because he’s known it for so long. He’s known it since he had woken up with Ranpo in his arms, since he had watched Ranpo solve the mystery of his book, since he had first looked into those green eyes and seen that curling grin. “I—I’m in love with you.”
Ranpo sighs and presses his face against Edgar’s chest. “I know, silly. I am, too.”
Edgar takes a deep breath, holds it, and lets it out in an even deeper exhale. “What, in love with yourself?”
“Ugh. You’re the worst.” Ranpo smacks his arm, but reaches up and pulls him down for yet another kiss Edgar complies to. Edgar doesn’t think he’s ever going to get tired of this, of touching and touching and loving, and feeling loved back, like he deserves it just because he’s him. When they separate for air, Ranpo stares into his eyes, lips red and kiss-swollen, and breathes, “Gorgeous.”
Edgar freezes. “What?”
“I said, you’re gorgeous,” Ranpo repeats, tongue curling teasingly over the word. Edgar can feel his whole body heating up. “You like that, don’t you?”
“W-What do you…”
“I figured it out some time ago. Praise kink.” Ranpo grins, the curve of his mouth so sharp it looks like it could cut. His hands are wandering again, dragging themselves down Edgar’s sides, hips, thighs—“Aren’t you adorable?”
“I locked the door. No worries.”
Edgar buries his face in his hands—either Ranpo’s forgotten he can talk to every single book around them, or he thinks Edgar likes exhibitionism, too—but whatever complaints he might have wanted to voice are drowned out when Ranpo presses close and kisses him again.
“… and the athlete’s motive was way too obvious, I bet even Karl could figure it out,” Ranpo finishes, petting the raccoon in question. “But I think that’s it. Aside from all the other stuff with character development, that’s your problem.”
“Come on, that’s all? Thank me for all my hard work!”
Edgar rolls his eyes. “Thank you, Ranpo-kun, for all your hard work. Your turn.” He sets the dish of fried rice on the dining table, watching as Ranpo and Karl alike race for their usual seats. The sky is clear outside, just beginning to fade into the sunset’s pink and orange hues.
“Thank you for the hard work, Poe-kun, but don’t expect me to compliment you on how good a cook you are tonight. Just doesn’t roll off the tongue right.”
“Save the dirty jokes for when you’re not in the kitchen.”
“So I can say them anywhere but the kitchen? Hm, sounds like an awful lot of choices to me.”
Edgar lets Ranpo dig in first, and heads over to his windowsill—he’d been busy all day and forgotten to water the flowers there. Persephone is lounging by the catnip, meowing up at him when he comes near. “Hello,” he greets. “Hungry? Your bowls are full.”
She meows again, then stands up to stretch before hopping off the windowsill, nearly knocking one of the pots over, and trotting over to where her food bowls are. Edgar wouldn’t exactly call her friendly, but she and Karl play with each other a lot—probably unsurprising, since they’re both strays. She also happens to be scared of Ranpo, which Edgar has found amusing since the rainy day he had taken her in.
He waters the flowers, noting their conditions and murmuring greetings he knows they can hear. Ranpo is talking to Karl at the dinner table, and then half-shouting a side-comment to the book he had left on the couch. It’s still strange, for Edgar to see his words, once scrawled messily on the margins of his already-filled notebook pages, now printed neatly in a hardbound book with a pen name on the cover. It hasn’t been very long since it had gotten published and started selling in bookshops, but the reviews online have been nothing but kind and encouraging.
Ranpo, of course, still manages to find things he dislikes, even after he’s reread it for the seventh time, but mostly Edgar knows he just likes having something new to say.
“Poe-kun, are you dooone? If you don’t come back in the next thirty seconds, I’ll finish everything and then you’ll have to go without dinner,” Ranpo calls.
“In a minute.”
Edgar watches the flowers sway in what little wind comes in through the window, and thinks of what they might tell him now. Run, they had whispered, all those years ago, cowering in fear on his bedroom floor; run, they had urged, when he had left Richmond in the middle of the night; run, they had cried, when he had tore away from Royster and left his apology dangling in the air; run, they must have said, when Louisa had told him about the fate of the Guild.
He had always listened to them, had always run away—it had been the only thing he knew how to do. But that last time—that last time, he had stayed put. He had made up excuses. I will, he told them, in his head. But not now. I can’t leave yet.
Edgar looks around him—at the daffodil-print wallpaper, at the shelves crammed full of his books, at Persephone curled up by her food bowls, at his bedroom where he knows the crows are waiting at the balcony within, at Ranpo and Karl at the dinner table.
He looks back at the flowers and thinks, No, I can’t leave. All his life he’s been running away—from places, from people, from what-could-have-beens—but this time, this time, he doesn’t want to run away. He doesn’t think he can, when Ranpo is here, feeding Karl bits of fluffy egg—when he’s finally found somewhere he can call home.
What do I do now, Mother? he thinks. Her voice had always been flower-soft.
And, here—he thinks the flowers might tell him to run, to save himself from what must be another disaster waiting to happen. He thinks they might tell him, run, because no one will ever know how to love someone like you. He thinks he might not be surprised. He thinks he might listen.
“Edgaaar. Thirty seconds is very nearly up.”
“Alright, alright.” Edgar heads back to the table and slides into his usual seat, raising an eyebrow at the nearly depleted plate of rice. “Ranpo-kun, you know it’s important to be honest in a relationship, right? You can tell me if you have a black hole for a stomach, I won’t judge.”
“Please, Poe-kun, do you hear yourself? ‘Honest.’ You probably have a million other secret fetishes I still haven’t figured out yet. And you should be happy I held back. That’s just how compassionate I am.”
“Yes, yes.” He smiles. “I’m happy.”
No, the wind whispers in his ear. Edgar thinks of Mother’s feather-light touch, of her voice telling him she loves him. This is where to stay.