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Right of God

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*

part one: pleiades

*

Atsushi wakes up, as is his usual, every day.

No, that doesn’t seem right.

Atsushi wakes up and rubs at the corners of his eyes using the pads of his fingers. It’s strange. There’s an inherent stillness in the air, almost like he’s sleeping inside a coffin, instead of the comfortable box of Kyouka-chan’s unused closet. It’s very strange.

He usually wakes up to four things: his phone’s alarm (right before he sleepily presses a number of buttons on it to quiet it down); his stomach’s alarm (which usually happens when it’s the last two days before getting his paycheck); his dream’s alarm (normally accompanied by beads of sweat pooling at his nape and at his temples, alongside a healthy dose of screaming); Kyouka-chan’s alarm (subsequently followed by Kyouka-chan knocking on the flimsy door before sliding it open to allow light to cascade into his space).

…None of those four things happen.

In fact, Atsushi feels well-rested.

Too well-rested, that is, that his back aches with disuse and his thighs are nearly numb from being locked in the same position for an immeasurable amount of time.

Atsushi wakes up and yawns, from the too-long sleep, and folds away his blanket in careful, practiced motions.

Before he comes out, he hooks his fingers against the cool metal door-clasp, calls out a, “Kyouka-chan, I’m coming out,” and receives nothing but the stone-cold stillness that roused him from his slumber.

Kyouka-chan isn’t there.

“Kyouka-chan!”

Atsushi bangs his head against the wooden beam above him, before he manages to worm out of the closet space. He half-collapses to his hands and knees, poised like an injured feline with its tail raised in alarm. He doesn’t have a tail, but his eyes are wide as he swishes his head this way and that, trying to calm his senses and getting nothing but panic in his efforts. His ears don’t hear anything aside from the rush of his blood, his nose doesn’t smell anything but the putrid stench of fear emanating from his body. He blinks rapidly, as though it can help refresh his eyesight.

The sight in front of him doesn’t change.

Kyouka-chan is still not there.

Her futon is left in the middle of the room. She never leaves it there, not when she’s awake. She’s made a point of allowing Atsushi space, so she always tries to clean up after herself the moment she wakes up. A small lamp is lit up a few steps away from her futon, the light that she keeps lit as they sleep. The room is small enough that most shadows are chased away by the faint light. Her phone and its bunny strap is there, on top of the unfolded blanket. As though she’s woken up in alarm, and her instinct was to clutch at her phone, flip it open and dial a number.

Atsushi’s breath comes out in spurts, breathless gasps interspersed with dread sinking to his stomach like he’s swallowed a stone whole.

He focuses his everything on his ears. He doesn’t hear anything from beyond the room.

“I’m a member of the Armed Detective Agency,” he chants under his breath, repeats it for however many times it takes for his legs to stop being jellified. And continues repeating it, a dizzying loop that gives him a shred of strength. This isn’t new. He shouldn’t panic. Something similar to this has happened before. Before, with the mist that enshrouded Yokohama. Before, Kyouka-chan was there with him, a symbol of grace and strength who took him by the hand.

Atsushi shakes his head. He needs to find clues about Kyouka-chan’s whereabouts. He needs to contact the Agency. He needs to find Dazai-san, because surely, Dazai-san would know what to do. He needs to stay focused instead of collapsing into himself. Atsushi pinches his thighs over his pajamas.

He repeats, with the desperation of someone at the end of their rope, “I’m a member of the Armed Detective Agency.”

He crawls towards Kyouka-chan’s futon. It’s cold. It shouldn’t be this cold. If only Atsushi didn’t enjoy sleeping too much, he might have woken up earlier and he could have prevented Kyouka-chan from disappearing—no, no, no, that’s the wrong way of thinking. He shouldn’t blame himself. No, he should blame himself, but more importantly, he should find Kyouka-chan so he could atone for his misstep.

“Sorry, Kyouka-chan,” he murmurs, before he takes the flip phone.

Strange.                                                                                                                                                      

He’s already half-dreading having to fumble with it for the passcode, but there’s no need for it, apparently?

Atsushi sees the last thing Kyouka-chan did on the phone, which is to call the Emergency Number for the Armed Detective Agency.

It’s still calling.

Currently, the call time is at 03h:47m:24s.

Kyouka-chan’s been missing for nearly four hours and Atsushi didn’t even realize it—!

He nearly drops the phone before he manages to place it against his ear.

Very strange.

“Hello?” Atsushi can’t hear anything from the other end of the line. No static, no ringing, no operator voice. No breathing either. “Hello? This is Atsushi, Kyouka-chan is—!”

Atsushi looks back at the phone display. It’s still stuck at the ‘CALLING – EMERGENCY’. And at 03h:47m:24s.

He tries to press other buttons on the phone. The buttons aren’t responding. He tries to use the littlest bit of force, but it’s like the buttons are painted over by a film that nullifies anything that Atsushi does. He puts Kyouka-chan’s phone back down on her futon. It’s still cold.

He slinks back to his closet space and stretches for his own phone. Flips it open. Tries mashing the buttons. It doesn’t respond either. Tries pushing at the power button to force-restart it. Nothing.

Tries to calm down his breathing as his vision swims.

No, he’s not going to cry. He’s not going to lose it. He’s not going to be this pathetic – he’s going to, he’s going to find out what’s going on.

With shaking hands, he tries to dislodge the case at the back of his phone, to forcibly remove the battery. It’s a no-go either.

It’s like both of their phones are stuck in some sort of stillness that cannot be disturbed.

Atsushi scrambles towards the desk flush against one of the walls.

There’s a notebook there. Atsushi’s been using it to keep track of his assignments and the things he’s learned in his everyday life. A coupon sticks out from it. 50% off chazuke, weekdays only, 1 PM to 4 PM. For the newly-opened stall beside the supermarket. Atsushi’s been wanting to treat Kyouka-chan there, because a growing girl needs to eat something aside from crepes and tofu. He shakes his head again. He’s going to find her, everything’s going to be alright. They’re going there tomorrow, even if tomorrow is a Saturday. They’re going to have many more meals together.

He flips through the notebook and finds a blank page. Tries to tear it from the notebook. The notebook is cheap, bought during a sale. Fifty-six yen, if he remembers correctly. Cheap glue and cloth binding.

Despite that, it takes a herculean amount of effort to tear one flimsy page. Herculean amount of effort that has Atsushi sweating and gasping, but he still isn’t able to tear a page.

His heartbeat swells inside his ribs.

“What is going on,” he says, voice tiny in the wake of the roar of his lack of calm. He fumbles for his phone again. Still nothing.

He goes towards the window and tries to slide it open. No go. He doesn’t dare try anything more forceful. He doesn’t have money to pay for possible repairs and he doesn’t want to trouble anyone.

“I’m going to the Agency,” he says aloud to the silent, small room. Hearing his own shaky voice brings a tiny bit of comfort. He’s still there. He’s still there and he can do something. He must do something. He scrambles towards the closet section reserved for his clothes. He changes to his usual clothes, but finds himself stuck with being unable to slide the plastic buttons of his pajama top free. It’s easy to slide down the pants, the elastic barely catching against his skin, but the top is hopeless. He tries to undo the buttons of his usual top too and finds himself unable to do so as well.

Seems like even his clothes are affected by the strange stillness.

He spends a few seconds debating whether he should just don on his clothes on top of his sleeping outfit.

…but that would entail squeezing through his top…

He decides to just fold a set of clothes and keep on wearing his pajamas. He’s gratified that he’s able to open his book bag, at least, the metal clasp allowing itself to be undone. He inspects its contents – another notebook, his purse with its truly pitiful amount of coins and bills, a foldable umbrella and a packet of biscuits. He pushes them about to make room for his packed clothes, then places Kyouka-chan’s phone, along with his, on top of the pile. He lets out a relieved sigh when he’s able to fasten the clasp back. He shoulders the bag’s strap and slowly slinks out of the room, the sliding door barely making a sound as he steps out. He shuffles into his shoes that are left by the door.

The dorm’s hallway is dimly lit. He tries to press the light switches once he reaches the end of the hallway. No go there either. Seems like even switches will not cooperate with him.

There is no sound in the hallway.

There is no sound even when he steps out to the sidewalk.

Yokohama is quiet, eerily so.

No cicadas, no birds, no insects.

No cars.

No people.

Just like when there’s that incident with the Collector’s Mist, it’s like Yokohama has become truly deserted.

Unlike that incident though, everything feels too orderly. No upturned cars, no traffic accidents, no spilled gasoline.

Atsushi spots a car stuck waiting in an intersection. The stoplight is at a red. Atsushi peers into the driver’s seat. The window isn’t tinted. There’s no driver. On the passenger’s seat, there’s a paper bag of KFC take-out. On the back-seat, there’s an unfinished chicken bucket, a half-eaten drumstick still soaked in gravy on top. Atsushi squints. On the car’s floor, there’s a phone still stuck in some music app. He can’t quiet read the song’s name, but he could see that it’s playing still. No earphones are connected, but Atsushi can’t hear anything.

He moves on.

There is no breeze.

Yokohama is a port city. There’s always some hint of sea breeze in the area. But there’s none of that now.

Atsushi looks up. Stays looking up, until his neck protests from the cramp. The clouds aren’t drifting to any direction. It’s like even the winds have been frozen. Luckily, the moon is only half-hidden by the clouds, so there’s additional moonlight guiding his way, on top of the streetlights.

The trek to the Agency office feels like forever.

Atsushi convinces himself that it’s only because he’s being cautious and not wanting to miss any clues. It’s not like he’s afraid of any g-g-ghosts or m-monsters. Like in those B-movies that Kyouka-chan likes to watch with Kenji-kun. It’s too quiet, that it feels like it’s just missing a scare chord.

He tightens his grip on his bag’s strap. No, he’s not going to chicken out. He’s going to reach the Agency, even if he only has his panicky thoughts and panicky heartbeat for company—

—BOOM!

Atsushi jumps in place.

The scare chord!

And then he looks up.

Before, the skies were still, thick clouds covering half of the moon. There’s only darkness and grays, small scattering of stars, faint silver moonlight.

But now—

There’s a brilliant flash of red.

It’s like the sky has exploded.

It reminds Atsushi of the documentary he’s watched with Kyouka-chan. Something about Northern Lights. Brilliant, natural, light shows in the far north. Purples, blues and greens, like curtains dancing and fluttering in the skies.

“But we’re not far up north,” Atsushi mumbles to himself as he watches the sky be covered by a huge red glow. “And this actually looks like…”

It’s like an eruption of red.

No, not like fireworks.

It’s like gigantic wings that have unfurled, large enough to cover the skies.

It’s bright enough that even the tallest skyscraper in the area, the Port Mafia’s Headquarters, is engulfed and overpowered by the light.

And then, just as suddenly as it appears, it’s gone.

The sky is back with its stars, moon and clouds.

Atsushi scrubs at the corner of his eyes using the pads of his fingers. It feels like an illusion. With nobody around to confirm what he’s seen, it’s possible that it’s really just him hallucinating things.

Should he go there and investigate…?

But it’s more important to go to the Agency…

Atsushi’s just two blocks away from the Agency office, after all.

The air is still.

Until—

Three coughs in succession.

Atsushi twitches.

He knows that sound.

Slowly, Atsushi turns towards the source of the coughs.

 “…Is this perhaps fate?” Another cough. “It seems that I am destined to meet you during these kinds of events… jinko.”

Clad in his usual ensemble as though he doesn’t exist outside of those clothes, Akutagawa Ryuunosuke comes from the direction of theHey Armed Detective Agency’s office. He looks torn, as always, between one-thousand and one-thousand-and-one uncharitable thoughts towards him. There’s a furrow on his barely-visible eyebrows, his expression grimmer than when he’s promised to give Atsushi six months to get stronger before he comes for his neck.

“Why are you here?!”

“I went to find Dazai-san,” Akutagawa tells him with a sort of misplaced pride. Like it’s totally normal for members of the Port Mafia to come find a valuable member of an enemy organization in the middle of the night. And then, as though Atsushi is the sort of person who needs things to be spelled out slowly for him to comprehend it, Akutagawa says very slowly, “He wasn’t there.”

“What did you do to the Agency?! Are you the ones behind—Hey! I’m talking to you!”

Akutagawa starts walking away from while he’s busy questioning the other, prompting Atsushi to run after the other man’s back.

“I’m talking to you!”

“Have I ever gave you the impression that I wished to waste time conversing with you?”

“You—!”

Despite his misgivings, Atsushi trails after Akutagawa, the two of them rapidly making their way to the Agency’s office.

Yokohama is still mostly quiet, but Atsushi feels like he’s less likely to go crazy like this.

“Have you even managed to gather some whit of information before you came running across the city in your deplorable outfit?”

Atsushi rolls his eyes.

Scratch that, there’s still a good chance that he’ll end up going crazy with his newfound companion here.

*

end of part one;

*

Chapter Text

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part two: the mansion of the azure heart

*

Their bickering tapers off the moment they arrive on the doorstep of the Agency’s office. The stillness remains, merely distracted out of Atsushi’s senses because of Akutagawa’s presence. He’s not exactly… comforted, by the presence of the mafioso, but it’s alarmingly close. It hasn’t even been a full year since he’s known the other man, but they’ve gone through a number of ordeals together and there’s a sense of… connection, that threads between them. Not something tangible that Atsushi can point to, unlike the ever-growing photo album inside his phone of his crepe dates with Kyouka-chan and Chinatown exploits with Kenji-kun, or even the occasional tea with Lucy-chan. But it’s there, ever-present.

Akutagawa halts on the doorstep.

Atsushi has a feeling that the other is raising an eyebrow at him, but…

“You know, I’ve always wondered.” Atsushi places a hand on the doorknob, feels the cold metal become even more chilled by the pre-dawn air. “Are you actually aware that I couldn’t really see your eyebrows, like, most of the time?”

“Are you actually an idiot?”

Atsushi scrunches his nose as he opens the door and the two of them start shuffling against each other up the stairs. “No?”

“Somehow, I doubt that assessment,” Akutagawa murmurs, the sound of his voice nearly deafening in the gaping chasm that is the stairwell cloaked in shadows. “Where are you leading me, jinko?”

“I thought you said you looked for Dazai-san!”

“I did.” If Akutagawa felt any sort of unease at the situation, he doesn’t really show it. “I called for him while downstairs.”

“Somehow, even without these weird shenanigans, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work…”

“I believe I can slice you up fifteen different ways before you can take your next breath.”

“Threatening me isn’t going to help us find Dazai-san,” Atsushi reminds his odd companion with a note that feels almost cheerful. That’s right, even in this bleak atmosphere, he’s not about to surrender a tiny amount of joy in being able to annoy Akutagawa to sullen silence.

The two of them move past the reception area and the orderly desks. Atsushi breezes past Dazai-san’s desk, mostly because he knows Akutagawa would probably take a moment to breathe in the paperwork or something weird like that. Paperwork that Dazai-san definitely did not finish on time and would cause Kunikida-san a conniption come Monday.

…There will be a Monday.

Atsushi will do his best to fight for it.

“It is not considered a threat if I aim to follow through with concrete actions, jinko.”

“Sure,” Atsushi says with a roll of his eyes, as he opens the door to the President’s office. “Whatever you say, Akutagawa.”

Akutagawa doesn’t say another word, but he does let out an unimpressed huff, sounding like a disgruntled cat. Atsushi should know. He’s seen some of the strays around the President.

Atsushi tries to push off the desk. He’d kick it, like Kunikida-san did last time, during the Collector’s Mist Incident, but he’s not sure he’d want to waste all the time beforehand to properly transfer the folders atop the desk.

…Tries.

It doesn’t budge.

Akutagawa looks like he’s seriously judging him right now, given how flat his lips look. And then, “Must you fail in even doing something as simple as this?”

“I’ll have you know,” Atsushi heaves, as he transforms part of his legs to a tiger’s to give him traction against the wooden floor, alongside his arms being covered in muscle and fur, “that this is really, really heavy!”

“Pathetic,” Akutagawa whispers under his breath, pointedly enough that it will not miss its mark. “Get out of the way.”

Atsushi nearly collapses sideways from the effort. His back feels drenched with sweat, as he pants up at Akutagawa, who’s deigned to come inside the office and stand in front of the President’s desk.

And then—

“Nooooo, don’t use Rashomon, you’re going to leave marks on the desk! You’re going to get me in trouble!”

As though spurred on by visions of Atsushi getting dropped as ‘Dazai-san’s favorite kouhai’—a position that Atsushi neither applied for nor does he actually particularly want—Akutagawa’s Rashomon springs out from the black of his clothes, sharp threads that slices into the air and space around them.

…And then, they push.

Atsushi chokes on air as he’s overcome by the strange hilarity of their situation.

Rashomon, blood-hungry blades formed from Akutagawa’s clothes, soaked in the blood of Akutagawa’s many enemies—is being used as some sort of a lever.

Akutagawa sneers at him. “Cease your foolish sounds, jinko. My method provides success. Which is more than what I can say for the likes of you.”

Atsushi continues chuckling, even as he’s imbued with disbelief at the sight of the desk being moved. By the time his humor subsides, the desk has been pushed all the way so it rests flush on the wall. There are scrapes on its wooden sides and there are scratches on the floor, but they’re barely noticeable.

“How were you able to do that?!”

Another sneer. “With my own strength.”

“No, seriously,” Atsushi bats his transformed paws towards Akutagawa’s direction. Akutagawa takes an instinctive step back, like he’s afraid of cats. “I used all my strength!”

“Then I suppose that answers the question as to who is stronger between the two of us.”

“There was a question like that?”

“Shut up, you fool.”

Atsushi doesn’t shut up, because he’s not a fool. “Seriously, there must be a trick somewhere! There’s a lot of things I can’t move!”

“Weakling.”

“Urgh, you’re impossible.” Atsushi groans and moves towards the odd metal plate under the desk. “But whatever, let’s think about that later.”

“Don’t order me around,” Akutagawa tells him, but Atsushi tunes him out, in favor of entering the code on the keypad that appears.

Since the Collector’s Mist Incident, Kunikida-san has informed them of certain emergency codes they could use in during times of crisis. The Emergency Number came about during that briefing too. Atsushi’s not sure if he can make a succinct report to the government envoy who’s supposed to pick up the line, but he’ll do his best.

“A direct line to the government, huh,” Akutagawa murmurs as he stands back behind Atsushi. Atsushi doesn’t dare think for one second that it’s Akutagawa deferring to him, no. It’s more likely that Akutagawa placed himself there so he can kick Atsushi’s head from behind should he say something disagreeable to the other man.

But minutes pass—five, ten, fifteen. And there’s no response from the other end. It looks like it’s connecting, • • • dots floating on the screen, but there’s not even a dial tone, a ringing tone, or even static. It’s like Atsushi’s connecting to the void, when there should be a government envoy on the other end.

They wait until thirty minutes pass. Atsushi’s ass feels numbed by the cold floor.

Akutagawa draws a breath before saying, “It appears we have been locked inside a closed-off world.”

“In less dramatic terms?”

Akutagawa aims a kick at the back of Atsushi’s head. Thankfully for Atsushi, he’s long anticipated that, so he rolls away with seconds to spare. Akutagawa harrumphs at him escaping, but he does continue with a, “A good possibility that this is a work of an Ability User that allows them to transport an unknown amount of targets to an enclosed space, which does not allow for communication with other parties.”

Atsushi lets out a relieved sigh at that. “At least it isn’t monsters. Or g-g-ghosts.”

“How childish. You live in this wretched world and you fear such paltry creatures?”

“…you’ve seen g-g-ghosts?!”

Akutagawa ‘tsk’s again, before stomping out of the President’s office. Before joining the other’s dramatic exit, Atsushi quickly finds a notepad and a pen and leaves a note.

…Tries to.

He tries five different pens and he’s unable to leave a mark on the sheet of paper.

“Akutagawa?”

“…What.”

“You’re seriously awesome. You truly deserve to be Dazai-san’s subordinate. You—”

“Spit it out.”

“Can you try writing down a message for me?”

Akutagawa’s usual withering look transforms to abject pity. “You do not even have the skills to write.”

“I can write!” Atsushi feels himself flushing. “I just can’t—it’s been like that earlier!”

Akutagawa considers him, scrutinizing him, shivering in his pajamas, before walking back to the office. Their shoulders knock together, as Akutagawa bends down and writes beautiful calligraphy using a ballpoint pen.

Calligraphy that says, I’m sorry for being such a fool.

“Hey! What the hell are you writing?!”

“Your message,” Akutagawa says, so matter-of-factly that Atsushi feels himself getting a whiplash. “Is it not what you wanted to convey to your comrades?”

“Hell no!”

“Is that so?” Akutagawa coughs and fixes Atsushi with a particular look that has Atsushi tensing. “That is truly a shame, as I have no plans on writing more.”

“You—!” Atsushi flails and not-so-accidentally tries to jab Akutagawa’s elbows. “I’m being serious here!”

“I do not care.”

“Urgh.” Atsushi rapidly goes through a couple of ideas, before, “Okay, tell you what. Write a proper message for me and I’ll show you Dazai-san’s current favorite manga!”

“Dazai-san has no favorite manga.” Akutagawa replies quickly. “He tires of them very quickly.”

“He bought two copies of this one.” Atsushi then sweetens the pot by adding, “Using his own money.”

“What is the bothersome message you want me to write?”

Atsushi grins in triumph as he instructs Akutagawa to write his message for any Agency members that might drop by in the office.

He watches the flourish in which Akutagawa holds the ballpoint pen, the way the ink glides on paper.

He’s caught up by the sight, that he catches himself flushing as Akutagawa pokes him using the sharp point of the pen once he’s done. Apparently, he’s been spacing out while tracking the motions of Akutagawa’s pale fingers.

“Where is Dazai-san’s favorite manga?”

“Geez, this kind of enthusiasm, huh…” Atsushi is a man of his word though, so he brings the two of them back out to the main office space, and makes a beeline for his desk.

“This is not Dazai-san’s desk,” Akutagawa points out as Atsushi fumbles with opening his desk drawer.

“Huh? How do you know?” Atsushi’s pretty sure there are no nameplates on the desks. They all look the same to him. How is it possible that Akutagawa can detect it so easily?

“Dazai-san would not leave a desk without a mountain of paperwork on top of it.”

Atsushi scratches his cheek. “…He hasn’t changed in that aspect, huh?”

“…Because Dazai-san knew that... there would be someone who would end up inevitably dealing with it anyway.”

“And that person was you?”

Akutagawa lets out a chilling laugh. “Foolish jinko. Dazai-san would never trust someone like me with such things of import.”

Atsushi frowns at that. “Sure it’s not because you take way too long to write things using fancy handwriting?”

Akutagawa’s lips curl without any sense of humor in them, but he doesn’t laugh in that bone-dry way again. He raises a hand as though to hurry Atsushi with his end of the bargain. “The manga?”

Atsushi rolls his eyes, as he unearths a copy of the book and deposits it on Akutagawa’s waiting palm.

Since they’re near the windows, the faint moonlight makes it possible for Akutagawa to read the title and flip through the pages.

“…You’re going to read now?” Atsushi tries very hard not to judge Akutagawa on that, because geez, really, must he be such a diehard follower for Dazai-san that he’s willing to read a manga, in the dark, in the middle of a possible attack by an enemy Ability User?

Akutagawa looks like he’s seconds away from backhanding Atsushi using the booklet in his hands. Still, with gritted teeth, he answers, “I am trying to ascertain if there is any clue here left behind by Dazai-san.”

Carefully, because he’s worried that Akutagawa would rip up the manga right then and there, Atsushi slowly says, “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but it’s… a romance manga.”

A twitch. “That is irrelevant.”

“The main characters are mostly just yelling each other’s names,” Atsushi points out.

Akutagawa glares at him. “Did you even read this?”

“Not really,” Atsushi says truthfully and gets handed an even fiercer glare. “I mean, I did try to read it, but it’s not really my thing?”

“Foolish,” Akutagawa mutters, before saying, “You mentioned that Dazai-san bought two copies of this. Where is the other one?”

“Dazai-san had it gift-wrapped.” Atsushi scrunches his nose as he remembers the sequence of events. “It was... two weeks ago, I think? Dazai-san then asked me to deliver it to a park and leave it on a park bench. Said something about being in a book club pen-pal thing?”

Akutagawa sighs heavily as he closes the manga volume shut. “As I thought.”

“Huh?”

“He used it to send a message,” Akutagawa looks like he’s bitten a wedge of a lemon as he says the words. “Bring me to this park bench right this instant.”

Unbidden—Atsushi suddenly thinks that this is the pushiest date request ever.

He doesn’t let those words slip.

Akutagawa hits the back of his hand using the manga volume, not so subtly telling him to hurry up.

“You think there’s a clue there?”

“There must be,” Akutagawa says with the same heavy sigh from before. “Have you no prior information about this at all?”

Atsushi bristles instinctively at the hint of accusation there, like he’s too useless and stupid to be trusted with important things. He takes a deep breath to calm himself down. He’s not going to lose himself. Even without Kyouka-chan to mediate or Dazai-san to force them to cooperate, he can coexist with Akutagawa. The two of them are stuck in this together. The two of them can work together to free themselves from this stranglehold. He can do this.

“…The only other thing was that…”

Atsushi recalls the events from two weeks ago.

Dazai-san had lunch with him. Somewhere new. They rarely ate together at such a bustling street, near the train station. Dazai-san usually avoided those places, preferred a quiet izakaya by the riverside, or an udon stall set up for the day. Dazai-san even brought his wallet with him – one of the rare wonders in the Agency. Atsushi remembered it, because it looked so starkly different from the rest of Dazai-san’s things. He remembered smelling crisp paper bills from it. Remembered noting that it looked new and expensive, gleaming black leather. There was a photo there, but Dazai-san flipped his wallet closed too fast for him to catch the finer details. Dazai-san said, with a laugh, that it was a stock photo, nothing more, nothing less. Atsushi remembered thinking that it felt like a truth and a lie woven in one. But Dazai-san was Dazai-san and he implicitly believed in him.

After lunch, Dazai-san steered him towards the bookshop next door. It had a number of floors and Dazai-san talked about attempting to strangle himself using the elevator doors as they went up, up, up. Dazai-san walked with flighty steps, like he was sightseeing, but there was a purpose in his walk, like always. Atsushi remembered trailing after his mentor, until they were surrounded by tall bookcases. Manga from the 90s, Dazai-san said. Picked up two copies of the same volume of a manga. Atsushi remembered the colorful cover. The interesting artwork. The title. Fushigi Yuugi. A mysterious game.

“…Dazai-san said something about gods existing in this world.”

Akutagawa’s grip on the volume tightens, briefly.

“Jinko. We need to get to that park. I am now certain that Dazai-san left a clue there.”

Atsushi’s heartbeat swells inside his ribs again. This time, it’s less about panic and more about the excitement that they’re at least getting one step closer to the truth.

The park isn’t too far away. Atsushi still remembers the bench he left the packaged manga on.

And it must be the right one, because Akutagawa finds the package easily. There’s a post-it note tucked in the middle of the book.

It says:

fuck you, shitty mackerel

Atsushi frowns. And frowns deeper at the sight of Akutagawa’s constipated look.

Atsushi plucks the post-it away from Akutagawa’s grip. On the flip side of the note, it has a series of coordinates.

Atsushi feels himself breathe easier.

Finally, a direction they can follow.

*

end of part two;

*

Chapter Text

*

part three: the star amongst the void

*

The relief that Atsushi feels is very short-lived.

For possibly the tenth time in the past five minutes, he asks, “What do you mean?”

For definitely the tenth time in the past five minutes, Akutagawa deigns him with a scathing glare. “It is currently impossible to go to these coordinates.”

“But, why?”

Tenth time is apparently the charm, or something like it. Not that Akutagawa and ‘charm’ can even coexist in the same zipcode. But Akutagawa sighs and jabs a pale finger at the five lines of numbers on the back of the post-it.

“The glue at the back of the post-it isn’t as strong, which means that this has been placed there for quite some time already,” Akutagawa starts, looking very much like he wants to crumple the piece of paper and have Atsushi choke on it. “We do not have means of using electronic devices and therefore cannot plug these coordinates into a GPS. The coordinates look like star coordinates and I rightly assume that if I do not possess the skills to navigate using the stars, then it is even more unlikely that it is something that you are capable of.”

Feeling that the other is holding back on saying one more thing, Atsushi raises an eyebrow expectantly.

Akutagawa adds a final jab, “…foolish jinko.”

Atsushi rolls his eyes. “What if I know how to read the coordinates, huh?!”

“Unlikely.” Akutagawa dismisses him easily. “You are not the type to learn such useful survival skills.”

Atsushi is torn about being flattered that Akutagawa spends time thinking about the things he’s knowledgeable about, and annoyed that Akutagawa thinks he’s that useless. It doesn’t matter if he actually doesn’t know how to read star coordinates, it’s the principle of the thing!

“Then, what are we going to do?” Atsushi’s starting to feel hungry and thirsty, as the two of them walk to the other end of the park. They’re approaching the port area, the Port Mafia’s Headquarters looming from a couple of blocks away. “I’m sure that Dazai-san wants us to be able to decipher this message!”

“The message is not for us.”

“…Eh?”

“Why would you think that Dazai-san would send you a…” Akutagawa’s face goes through a series of truly funny expressions, ranging from constipated, to very constipated, like uttering the next set of words would make him vomit. “…romance manga?”

“Maybe it’s Dazai-san’s way of saying that he likes his kouhai.”

“How foolish,” Akutagawa says, then stops at the park exit.

There’s an intersection ahead of them. If they proceed forward, they’d end up passing the Port Mafia Headquarters. If they turn to the left, they’d end up looping back to the direction of the Agency, passing by some libraries and bookshops along the way. If they turn right, they’d end up walking towards the train station, with its malls and convenience stores.

A couple of minutes pass in utter silence.

Atsushi breaks it before his stomach’s growling does. “Should we get something to eat and drink first?”

“I am not in need of sustenance.”

“Well, I am,” Atsushi retorts with a sullen eyeroll.

“We need to find a way to understand these coordinates,” Akutagawa sounds as excited as a limp noodle. “The library is the best place to go to.”

“Studying…” Atsushi murmurs, not with a small bit of dismay. “Even though the message isn’t for us?”

“Do you wish to simply sit back and do nothing?”

“Of course not! But I’m also very hungry and thirsty! And I’m sure you are too, even if you’re allergic to admitting it!”

“I am not hungry,” Akutagawa insists, but he’s also walking towards the roads that leads to the train station.

“Hmph. Maybe we should just split up first.”

“You are unable to do simple things, such as opening doors,” Akutagawa mercilessly reminds him. “You will be unable to obtain sustenance on your own, which would mean that you would be simply wasting your time, which means that you would be insufferable and even more useless than you already are once we meet up again.”

Atsushi rolls his eyes again. “You could just say you don’t want to split with me.”

“I would very much like to split you open, jinko. Do not test me.”

Atsushi mimes zipping his mouth shut. Honestly, despite his misgivings about working closely with someone so ill-tempered as Akutagawa, it is still much better than the utter empty solitude from earlier. Like this, Atsushi doesn’t have to second-guess so many things. Like this, it feels like he isn’t alone in this strange situation. Like this, he feels stronger.

Their footsteps echoing against pavements fill the air between them. Atsushi plays with the bag’s strap on his shoulders.

“What happened, on your end?”

“…”

“I woke up and panicked, you know.” Atsushi is aware that Akutagawa will never be the first option in the ‘who do you want to do small-talk with, without the threat of getting stabbed?’ department, but Atsushi’s dealing with dire options, you see? He can only talk to the still air or to Byakko inside of him and neither are good conversation partners. Not that Akutagawa is, but it’s by process of elimination. “Last time… there was Kyouka-chan, but she’s now gone too.”

More silence.

Akutagawa grinds his teeth, before speaking up. “Kyouka is strong. She will not falter in these kinds of situations. You’d best worry about your pathetic self before attempting to worry about another person’s wellbeing.”

“Wow, no wonder you have no friends,” Atsushi says, though a tiny, tiny part of him is astounded that Akutagawa is capable of saying nice things about others. Of course, it’s because it’s the truth. Kyouka-chan is strong. Atsushi sometimes wishes that he can have even just a small part of that strength. An even tinier part inside of him thinks that it’s actually kind of funny, the way Akutagawa speaks. It sounds like he’s telling Atsushi to not be worried, but that’s too sweet for someone of Akutagawa’s caliber.

Case in point: a cough, before, “I have no need for friends.”

“Only someone without friends would say that,” Atsushi points out. “Don’t you have someone you’re close to, though?”

“…my sister,” Akutagawa ends up admitting after the silence stretches and swells between them. And then, another lengthy pause, before, “…and Chuuya-san, I suppose. He insists on seeking me out during mealtimes and forces me to obtain unnecessary nourishment.”

“You can just say ‘food’, you know?” Atsushi considers the other’s admission. “Somehow, it still surprises me that you have a sister.”

“She can kill you fifty different ways, so do not even think about it.”

“I’m not interested in her.”

“Are you implying that she is not good enough for the likes of you?”

Rashomon is millimeters away from Atsushi’s throat. Atsushi rolls his eyes and bats it away using a tiger-transformed paw.

“I’m more interested in other things!”

Akutagawa huffs, before pulling Rashomon away. “Kyouka is too good for your ilk, as well.”

“I’m not interested in her either! Not like that!”

“…Pathetic.”

Atsushi thinks that he should stop rolling his eyes or else they’d roll all the way out of his head. Still, “What about you, huh? You make it sound like you’re interested in someone!”

“I have no need for things such as romance and attachment,” Akutagawa deadpans, like it ought to be obvious. And then, a razor-sharp grin forms on his face, his bloodlust spiking, as he states, “I am interested in you, jinko. I am interested in fighting you and ending you, once and for all.”

“So melodramatic,” Atsushi mutters to the side. Thankfully, he isn’t an actual fool, despite what Akutagawa likes to call him. He so didn’t panic when he heard Akutagawa’s ‘I am interested in you, jinko’. He knew what the other meant.

“Are you done with your pathetic attempts at idle conversation?”

“This is why you don’t have friends.”

“I told you, I have no need—”

Atsushi waves off the other’s words. “Sure, yes, whatever you say.”

The two of them finally reach a convenience store. It’s strange. Atsushi’s pretty used to seeing convenience stores every block, but it took them a long amount of time to reach one. Were they… actually enjoying talking to each other that they’ve walked slower than normal?

…Probably not.

Atsushi shrugs off that impossibility. He tries to push the door open.

It doesn’t budge.

“Move.”

Akutagawa tries it, but it doesn’t move either.

He shouldn’t feel vindicated, but Atsushi can’t help himself from childishly crowing, “Ha! You’re useless at opening doors too!”

Akutagawa quirks a barely-there eyebrow at him. “Why are you celebrating that, you fool? Me losing the ability to open doors means that we would be severely hampered in our progress.”

“…Try using Rashomon?”

“Don’t order me around!”

Akutagawa waits three minutes before using Rashomon on the glass door. The glass pane and the plastic handle don’t show any scratches from being sliced up by the Ability.

Atsushi feels his breath stutter inside his lungs.

Akutagawa starts marching down the street again, without bothering to wait for him.

“Hey, wait up! Where are you going?!”

“…Finding another store.”

“No, it’s okay!” It’s definitely not. “We can’t waste more time like this… let’s go to the library, like you mentioned earlier…”

Akutagawa’s shoulder stiffens. He doesn’t look back at Atsushi. If anything, his footsteps quicken their pace. “…You would be even more of a moron should you insist on going on without food or water in your belly.”

“It’s really okay! I’ll deal with it!”

“Do you take me for a fool, jinko? There is no need to lie to me about the pathetic state of your body. I assure you, I have no expectations about you at all, so you run no risk of disappointing me.”

…Oh.

Atsushi falters, left staring at Akutagawa’s back. Akutagawa, for his part, continues to test the next Lawson convenience store, then continues to find another store when the same lack of results appear.

“You…”

You can be quite kind at times, huh?

There’s no way Atsushi would say those words out loud.

So Atsushi instead jogs after Akutagawa.

Somehow, Atsushi feels lucky that he isn’t alone in this.

The spike of good feelings continue when Akutagawa ends up trying a different approach. He doesn’t go to a convenience store this time, and instead pushes open the wooden door of a restaurant near the train station..

“Oh! This is where I had lunch with Dazai-san, that day!”

“I have no need for your commentary.”

Atsushi, still feeling warmed by Akutagawa’s surprising words of comfort, goes on to say, “Once we get out of this, I’ll ask Dazai-san to get lunch with you here too.”

“I have no need for your childish efforts for matchmaking. There is no meaning if it’s not by Dazai-san’s own volition.”

“It’s just lunch,” Atsushi whines. “Fine, I’ll somehow find a way for Dazai-san to invite you on his own then!”

Akutagawa chuckles. It’s not the same bone-dry one from before. There’s a spike of humor, this time. Atsushi can’t help but feel that this one sounds nicer to his ears. Less knives concealed, less chances of stabbing his eardrums.

“You have no sense of subtlety or trickery in your arsenal, jinko.”

Instead of getting insulted by those words, Atsushi goes with, “You’re telling me that I’m too nice? Aw, Akutagawa, are you learning how to be friendly?”

Rashomon comes hurtling towards his face, but Atsushi’s already expecting it, somehow, so he scampers to dodge the blow.

“Must you always resort to violence?!”

“Must you always say inane things when you open your mouth?”

“Not friendly at all,” Atsushi mumbles. “I won’t treat you to lunch at all, then!”

“Good.” Akutagawa rummages around the restaurant’s pantry, in hopes of getting them food. “I have seen the pathetic thing which you call ‘salary’.”

“Hey! I’ll have you know my salary is the fruit of my sweat, blood and hardwork!”

“My salary is also the fruit of sweat and blood,” Akutagawa says, almost conversationally. See, it’s times like this that throws Atsushi off, because Akutagawa can sound so normal, even while he speaks of despicable things. And then, as though to remind Atsushi of his nature, he adds, “Of my enemies, that is.”

After being forced in close-contact with the other for so many situations, Atsushi’s already aware that there’s a certain need in Akutagawa to only exist in certain spaces. Like he can only function if he’s being treated as a bloodhound. It doesn’t make sense, not to Atsushi, but he supposes that it probably should, given that Atsushi still finds it hard sometimes to look at the mirror and think—‘I’m a member of the Armed Detective Agency’. Sometimes, Atsushi sees a crying child being told that he’s worthless and useless. Sometimes, all he sees is someone who’s powerless and needing to be protected and dragging others to his mess.

…Lately, he’s able to see someone strong enough to at least stand on his own.

That’s why, Atsushi fiddles with the bag’s strap as he pushes down on his urge to argue with Akutagawa over their wildly different stance when it comes to human life.

“…Should we really be messing around with their pantry?”

“Do you want to die of starvation?”

Atsushi huffs, before he looks for his purse. He empties its contents on top of the cashier box and makes a promise to come back as soon as possible to pay for everything they’re taking.

Akutagawa comes out of the pantry with a paper bag filled with food and drink. He purses his lips once he sees Atsushi trying to arrange his coins in an orderly manner. With a not-gentle shove to his shoulder, Akutagawa pushes him out of the way. Drops off the paper bag on the countertop, then digs out his own wallet.

“Now you’re just showing off,” Atsushi complains as Akutagawa leaves behind five ten-thousand yen bills.

Akutagawa’s staring hard at his hands.

Atsushi’s gaze is riveted, by Akutagawa trying – and failing – to pick up the coins.

Atsushi picks up the coin that Akutagawa’s struggling with. It’s easy.

Akutagawa hums, before he nudges Atsushi to pick up the paper bills.

They feel like they’re glued to the counter.

“…I don’t get it,” Atsushi says after spending two minutes trying to tear the paper bills away from the wooden counter.

“It appears as though you could only move metallic things.” Akutagawa hums again as he considers things. “Whilst I am capable of moving things made of wood.”

“…Bills?”

“Of plant origin,” Akutagawa amends.

Atsushi tries to lift the paper bag on the countertop and finds himself unable to.

“…Huh. Guess you’re right.”

Why though?

It’s a question that plagues his mind even as he tries to chew on the bread that Akutagawa procured. And finds himself feeling like he’s gnawing through steel.

“So I can’t even eat?!”

“Perhaps you can eat an aluminum foil, jinko,” Akutagawa suggests meanly. “Alternatively, I could make you bleed and you could use your blood as a seasoning.”

“Urghhh.”

It is a disgusting suggestion, but Atsushi finds himself trying it out, in spirit. He bites the inside of his cheek until he tastes a bit of blood, and then stuffs his mouth with bread again.

This time, he’s able to chew the bread.

Urgh.

“I hate it when you’re right,” Atsushi complains, but Akutagawa ignores him.

By some unspoken coordination, the two of them eat and drink on their way to the library on the other end of the city. The library’s wooden doors give way to Akutagawa’s palms, and Atsushi hooks his fingers against the metal clasp of the drawers with the library catalogue so they can find the books necessary for understanding navigation. Akutagawa also looks for a copy of the rest of the volumes of Fushigi Yuugi, presumably to inspect if they also have clues tucked in them, so Atsushi keeps his sniggers to a minimum.

In the dark library, it takes them a very long time to find the books they need.

Atsushi feels downright exhausted by the time he manages to find his share, as he carries said books to their agreed-upon spot: near the widest windows, so they can take advantage of the faint moonlight. All the lights inside the library are shut off, after all.

Like this, surrounded by empty desks and towering bookcases, the coldness is stronger than ever.

Atsushi grits his teeth and shuffles close to Akutagawa, the two of them seated on the carpeted floor, backs against a wide bookshelf, with the wide window in front of them.

The combination of fatigue, stress and chill must be getting to Akutagawa as well, because the prickly man doesn’t sever a limb from Atsushi for daring to stay that close.

Their knees and elbows brush against each other, and Atsushi starts to feel unconsciousness creeping up on him—

Slowly—
Steadily—
Surely—

He’s not certain how many minutes or hours have passed since he’s succumbed to slumber. He finds his cheek pressed against Akutagawa’s bony shoulder.

Atsushi would normally be more concerned about drooling into the shoulder of a prickly hedgehog, but his breath is caught in his lungs as he stares at the person in front of him.

No, no, no, to call him a ‘person’ feels off.

The other being looks so… majestic and imposing. Regal. Like there’s always a throne waiting for him to perch upon. Shades of red and black coil around his body like overly delicate and complicated plumes. Flame-red emanates from his face and flows into his curly hair, forming a fiery crown that seems to burn ablaze like wildfire.

He looks strangely familiar.

Atsushi keeps on staring at the other being.

His hand moves out of its own accord and curls around the sleeping Akutagawa’s shoulder, pulls the other’s thin body closer to him, as though a declaration of protection.

The other being stares back, before disbelief and amusement break into his porcelain-smooth expression.

“…Shit. Didn’t think I’d find you two together. Maybe I should have, huh? Byakko and Seiryuu…”

It is strange to suddenly hear an ethereal being suddenly speak… very casually.

And then, realization strikes Atsushi, as to why the being looks so familiar. With the hand not curled protectively over Akutagawa, Atsushi points at the being accusingly.

“The one from Dazai-san’s wallet! The stock photo!”

*

end of part three;

*

Chapter Text

*

part four: alphard

*

Stepping out of the car after leaving his usual chauffeur with a box of premium tobacco, Chuuya folds his overcoat over his left arm and accepts the dossier from the awaiting Hirotsu-san with his right hand.

“Good work, Chuuya-kun,” is what Hirotsu-san greets him with, followed by, “I hope the ride back was smooth.”

Chuuya hums as he scans the document in his grip. “Just a couple of small bumps.”

“I understand.” It’s not visible to the naked eye, but Hirotsu-san presses a couple of buttons on his communicator, in order to command the cleaner squad to deal with the injured stragglers that tried to ineffectively sabotage a Port Mafia Executive on his way back to the headquarters. “The meeting is in 45 minutes.”

“I’ll just shower real quick,” Chuuya says with a wry grin.

The mission he came from isn’t exactly difficult. Not particularly easy either. A trip to the mountainous outskirts of Yokohama, erasing a headquarters of an upstart group who’s trying to siphon off a quarter of the Port Mafia’s pharmaceutical deals. There’s a lot of members of that organization, but its top brass made themselves scarce, so tracking them down took quite a bit of effort. There are stubborn tracks of dirt on the hem of his pants and on the heel of his shoes. Some twigs got tangled in his hair when he ended up getting swatted to a nearby forest by one of the Ability Users who could transform to a golem. Chuuya can’t wait to wash them out. Then again, it’s a small price to pay for a successful mission. In comparison, the organization’s leader has gone from giant golem to literal dirt under his shoe.

Hirotsu-san bows down to him, and Chuuya hands him a box from his pocket. Another box of tobacco.

They part ways on the elevator landing. Chuuya up to twenty-sixth floor for his designated room; Hirotsu-san to the Executives’ boardroom to prepare tea for the upcoming meeting.

With motions borne of years of practiced efficiency, Chuuya strips out of his dirty clothes and redresses after a quick shower in a grand total of five minutes.

The dossier that he’s left on top of his bed is now missing. Instead of the folder that has the meeting’s agenda, the fedora is there atop his pillow. Quick inspection tells him that the hat is otherwise unharmed, if he doesn’t count the fact that it’s been touched by some disgusting fish.

A burst of irritation pricks at him.

“So I should be thankful that you left my hat alone, is that it?”

Chuuya’s not really expecting an answer. It’d be too good to be true, because it would mean he’d have an outlet for the sudden anger. But maybe it’s for the best, because there’s a meeting soon and he’s not about to miss an Executive meeting because he’s too busy burying the shitty mackerel’s body in the underground garage.

—especially since the meeting’s topic is apparently important enough that Dazai risked sneaking into Port Mafia Headquarters and stealing the agenda.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Dazai just wants to be a nuisance. Chuuya keeps that possibility at the back of his mind, but he’s confident in his initial assessment that today’s trespassing is pure business.

Chuuya huffs as he makes his way to the boardroom.

*

Chuuya fiddles with the sunglasses over his face.

The lack of layers is making him feel the slightest bit antsy. He’s pretty sure that his attempt at disguise wouldn’t work on someone of Dazai’s caliber, but he doesn’t want to simply waltz into the park without even the barest of efforts. Despite the fact that over the past couple of months, the Port Mafia and the Armed Detective Agency have been nursing a careful coexistence – it doesn’t mean that they’re actually allies. The possibility of getting caught dead being in the same breath as Dazai irks him. A lot.

Still.

He’s here.

The summer breeze is unbearably warm against his cheeks.

The Port Mafia is busy attempting to track down an unnamed organization made of a group of researchers that have splintered off from the government. It’s a request that’s been handed down to them during the recent Executive meeting. The government has its hands tied. As expected, they’ve turned to the underground to help them sweep off the mess they’ve made.

This is the last rest day he’ll have for the next couple of weeks, depending on how slippery the target is. It’s been difficult trying to get this slot, but Chuuya’s taken this from Ane-san in exchange for a truly extravagant wine selection.

June 19th.

Chuuya finds the park bench, tracks it location by process of elimination. The view in front of the bench is the expanse of Yokohama Bay, the sunset bloody against the horizon as it’s swallowed up by the ocean. Chuuya’s phone is inside his pocket, but it doesn’t vibrate with a message. He doesn’t expect it to.

He’s here for the message itself, after all.

There’s a wrapped package waiting for him.

There’s no name on it. The scent wafting from it tells him of leaves, of the perfume of the cashier who wrapped the package, of a slight hint of confusion from sweaty palms.

Dazai must have tricked some hapless individual to delivering it on his behalf.

Chuuya carefully unwraps it, ready to throw it to the bottom of the bay should it actually be a bomb, Dazai’s idea of a birthday gift to himself. It’s unlikely. Chuuya doesn’t sense Dazai in the vicinity. Something like Chuuya being blown up to smithereens is something that Dazai would surely want to witness firsthand.

…So, not a bomb.

It’s a manga tankobon.

Fushigi Yuugi. Volume 5.

Chuuya inspects the booklet gingerly for signs of anthrax powder or some sort of chemical weapon. The only irritation that arises comes from his eyes when he cracks the book open and reads a couple of pages. A goddamn romance manga? And knowing Dazai, the message would be hidden in one obscure panel that would require reading the next twenty volumes to understand.

He flips through the pages.

He finds two post-it notes pasted over the author’s postscript.

One is filled with a set of coordinates. There are five separate lines, which should correspond to five locations. Chuuya re-checks the volume number. Yes, five locations sound right.

The fact that they’re written in degrees and not with the actual location could mean several things.

One: that Dazai is a goddamn asshole who wants to give him a headache.

Two: that the locations need to be determined with pinpoint accuracy.

Three: that the locations would need to be accessed on a time when simply typing them up on a GPS would be useless.

Chuuya hums as he considers it. Knowing Dazai’s shitty personality, option one sounds the most likely.

From the quick read-through of the manga’s pages, the characters’ names seem to be references to constellations? So it’s probably a hint from Dazai that they’re meant to be deciphered using celestial navigation. Urgh. How inconvenient. He likes going on bike rides and feeling the wind against his face, but that doesn’t automatically mean that he’s interested in looking up at the sky! Just because he has gravity manipulation as an Ability doesn’t automatically mean that he likes anything to do with space!

Chuuya curses Dazai to hell and back (purely because Dazai would be ecstatic to end up in hell, and would probably end up ruling it, if he’s not brought back).

The Port Mafia is going to be really busy and Chuuya has to study celestial navigation on top of that?

Urgh.

Chuuya then gets to the second note.

He ends up tearing it apart in instinct as he yells “fuck you, shitty mackerel” at the sky.

Let’s have a date two weeks from now. You know the place.

*

Two weeks later finds Chuuya waking up just past midnight, not even an hour after he finally managed to clear off a block in his schedule to get some wink of sleep.

There’s an odd stillness in the air that rouses Chuuya out of his fatigued slumber. He sits up on his bed. He’s been too tired to properly go under the covers. His clothes are rumpled a bit. There’s a faint light from his bedside lamp, toned down to a warm amber. He finds his two phones undisturbed on the bedside table. His Port Mafia phone is stuck, none of the buttons working and the phone not even creaking when Chuuya uses gravity manipulation to crush it to dust.

His personal phone is stuck on a call.

MACKEREL – 00h:27m:35s

Just like the other phone, he’s unable to make the phone respond to any of the button mashing. He doesn’t try to crush the phone using strong gravitational force. He places the phone against his face. There’s no sound from the other end of the line – no ringing, no dial tone, no static. No breathing sounds either. It’s like he’s connected to an empty void.

His fingers clench against his phone.

He’s still connected though.

He keeps the phone sandwiched between his cheek and his right shoulder as he inspects his surroundings. He doesn’t bring anything with him aside from his wallet and his two phones. He hesitates about his hat, but ultimately decides against wearing it. He keeps it locked inside his closet. If he has to make a couple of trips all around Yokohama without an idea of how dangerous things could be, he might end up dirtying the hat.

He checks the hallways outside his room and yells the names of his subordinates.

There’s no response, his voice merely echoing in the darkness.

He focuses on his ears and nose and senses no living soul within the next hundred meters.

He flies up to the helipad on the roof of the headquarters. The moon is half-hidden by a mass of dark clouds. The stars are there. There’s none of the usual sea breeze from Yokohama Bay. There’s a deep chill that settles over his shoulders.

He extends a palm out as he considers his next course of action.

“A date, huh.” Chuuya doesn’t know if Dazai can hear him on the other end of the line, but it feels mildly comforting that he isn’t entirely alone in this situation. “And you’re making it difficult for me to pick you up.”

During Port Mafia’s hunt for the rogue government researchers, there have been reports of operatives suddenly going missing, without a trace. Like they’ve been spirited away.

Chuuya, to his consternation, ended up reading the entirety of Fushigi Yuugi. A story about someone getting whisked to an alternate reality.

“So I’m in an alternate world, right now?” Chuuya mumbles as he stares up at the moon. “Abilities wouldn’t work on the shitty mackerel, though. So he’s either telling me to destroy this world so I could meet up with him, or…”

Or it’s an Ability that cannot be cancelled by No Longer Human. Or an Ability that is stronger than No Longer Human.

Or—it’s not an Ability at all.

He thinks about the volume that Dazai sent him. Maybe he missed something about it.

Volume 5 is titled Rival. Which, fine, means him, he gets that. But then, what’s up with the titles?! Some of the chapter titles there… ‘Love Trap’, ‘Prelude to Love’…?! Fucking irritating!

…Or maybe…

He’s supposed to pick up the hint from ‘Heart Torn Asunder’?

“I’d like to tear you apart,” Chuuya mutters in annoyance. “Couldn’t you learn how to talk to others properly? Ask for help properly? And then I could have rejected your request!”

Torn asunder.

Chuuya lets out a sigh. “…Che. So I’ll have to find you, you waste of space.”

The temperature is steadily going colder, as though it only has a limited amount of heat that can be spread across Yokohama.

“A race against time?” Chuuya doesn’t receive an answer from the phone. “Or perhaps…”

He focuses on his palm.

Warmth.

He wants warmth.

The warmth needed to ward off hypothermia from Dazai after a suicide attempt by jumping off to a river. The warmth needed to ensure that Ane-san’s tea sessions are conducted well. The warmth needed to prevent Yokohama from becoming overrun by Russian rats.

He wants warmth.

Arahabaki is a being of fire. Black, red and blue fire.

And then, once he opens his eyes fully, he sees himself surrounded by flames. They don’t hurt. They feel comforting around him, five different shades of flames that curl all around his figure, as though they’re clingy vines that leech off his body.

He wants this warmth to be spread all over Yokohama.

And like the feeling of being peeled open, like wings unfurling, he feels the warmth spread out, out, out.

His vision is surrounded by a dazzling flash of flames.

Aside from reading up on celestial navigation, and creative ways to find poisonous mushrooms so he can kill Dazai once and for all for giving him this headache, he’s also read up on the mythology referenced by Fushigi Yuugi.

Four celestial gods that govern four directions.

Suzaku of the South.
The Vermillion Bird – of summer, of flight, of flames.

He looks down on his palm.

As per the government’s files on him, he was born in Yamaguchi, in the southern part of Japan. He is able to fly thanks to his gravity manipulation. Arahabaki is said to be a being of devouring flames.

Him being Suzaku feels like it makes some modicum of sense.

So he’s really in an alternate reality?

Are all the other operatives stuck in this same reality…?

Should he prioritize meeting up with Dazai or finding the other three ‘Gods’ then, if that’s the case?

The other gods…

Byakko, the White Tiger of the West.
Seiryuu, the Azure Dragon of the East.

“…Fucking hell. It’s that jinko, again?” And then he thinks about Seiryuu. “…and Ryuunosuke. Fuck. I’m here to be their babysitter?!”

…Oh no.

Genbu of the North.
The Black Tortoise – of winter, of water, of the void, of absolute defense.

…Chuuya’s read up on whatever’s available on Dazai’s file. Not because he’s interested or worried or anything like that. It only makes sense to familiarize himself with an enemy, right? Knowledge is power and all that sanctimonious shit.

Dazai hails from the northern, wintery part of Japan. There’s no doubting his affinity with water, one only has to look at how many times he prefers dying by drowning in a river. There’s also no doubting that he’s a man with impenetrable shields held up all over his mind and heart, as though to protect the hollow void inside him.

“So you’re a fucking turtle,” Chuuya ends up concluding. “Can’t wait to pick you up, drop you on the ground and see you crack your shell, then. And then maybe I can have some nice turtle soup, after.”

There’s no answer from the other end of the phone.

“I take it back, I doubt you’d taste anything remotely nice.”

Chuuya gets back inside the headquarters. He slinks back on the Archive Room. The doors don’t budge, but they eventually give way when he melts the metal knobs using the warm fire pulsing from his hands. If nothing else, getting additional abilities is pretty neat, he’d give their opponents that.

Thankfully for his eyesight, there are night lights left open. He goes to the archive drawer at the furthermost end of the room, the one that’s practically swimming in dust.

It’s Dazai’s drawer.

Boss Mori left it there, as though Dazai will ever come back.

Chuuya huffs, before he takes his wallet out. There’s a photo inside, of a portion of Dazai’s stupid mug. It’s mostly Dazai’s right-side profile, the murky blood-like color of his iris very prominent. He takes the photo out of the plastic sleeve and resists the urge to spit at it. He flips the photo over and checks if the taped fingerprint photocopy is still in place. Chuuya can’t quite remember when exactly did he steal off this fingerprint impression from his stupid ex-partner, but it must have been between the second and third time he’s had to finish off a mission report on soukoku’s behalf, alone.

He places the fingerprint impression against the scanner hidden on the lower left side of the drawer handle.

There’s a faint beeping noise, before the drawer opens.

The drawer is clean and not overflowing with garbage. Unlike the last time Chuuya had to open this. Which means Dazai’s been here over the past two weeks.

There are three files in the drawer.

First: is the mission agenda file that Dazai stole from his bedroom two weeks ago.

Second: is a stock photo of a turtle inside a tank. Chuuya rolls his eyes at that.

Lastly: the report on Shibusawa Tatsuhiko’s case. The file smells of Xerox. There’s Sakaguchi Ango’s name at the bottom of the coverpage. Chuuya sort of feels bad for the Professor Glasses, but then again, it’s his fault for subsisting on energy drinks, not having enough bodyguards and having Dazai as a friend to begin with.

There are night lights inside the Archive Room, but he’s not about to read a twenty-page report in that kind of shitty lighting.

He starts to walk out of the room, muttering about “I’m going to punch off your head clean off your neck this time, Snow White”, all the while.

*

He doesn’t end up punching Dazai once he sees him.

Dazai is floating off inside a tank, but he looks utterly serene, like he’s just having a fantastic nap, while Chuuya’s running all over Yokohama trying to fix shit for him. The story of their partnership, really.

Surihachi City is eerily quiet and right now, it feels like there’s only the two of them in the entire world.

Dazai is floating off inside a tank that’s in the middle of Arahabaki’s Blast Zone.

Whoever the enemy is, they’ve clearly planned to kidnap Dazai and take him out of the equation early in the game. But they probably didn’t expect that he’d be transported to this world as well? Of course, Dazai being Dazai, there’s always the possibility that he kidnapped himself and stuffed himself inside this tank, just to give more headaches to Chuuya.

Still.

The phone is now hanging off a lanyard he’s found, hanging from his neck.

Their connection still continues.

With this, two of the ‘gods’ have been found. He only needs to find the Agency’s jinko and Akutagawa.

Maybe he can rest for a while?

He feels unbelievably tired…

Chuuya presses a hand against the glass, right in front of where Dazai’s heart should be, should he actually possess one. His body falls forward, pressed against the cold glass. He can’t hear Dazai’s heartbeat from here, nor can he hear the whirring of machines or the bubbling of oxygen. Like this, he can only watch Dazai’s hair fanning out from his face, the calmness almost alien on his face.

Without the glass, his forehead would be pressed right where Dazai’s heart would be.

He closes his eyes as he thinks about his next course of action.

“…A prelude to love, huh?”

*

Once the phone call between them stretches to 09h:27m:35s, Chuuya steps away from the foggy glass and moves on to find Byakko and Seiryuu.

And once that’s completed, he can ask them about what exactly happened in Mukurotoride during the fight with Shibusawa Tatsuhiko and how that could help unravel the Ability they’re in.

*

end of part four;

*

Chapter Text

*

part five: the claws of the tiger

*

—“The one from Dazai-san’s wallet! The stock photo!”

As though the simple mention of Dazai-san’s name is enough to invoke his Ability to nullify Abilities, the majestic flames that curl around the other person seems to have been doused away by an invisible waterfall. It leaves behind someone who looks closer to Atsushi’s idea of what a ‘normal person’ looks like. Of course, there’s still that aura of untouchability, like the other exists on a whole different plane compared to mortals like him, but it’s muted, like it’s been tightly hidden under the layers of the other’s clothes.

“…That idiot actually possesses a wallet?”

Atsushi mentally debates whether he defend Dazai-san’s honor or risk letting the stock photo know that he, well, stars in said wallet.

As though roused by the simple mention of Dazai-san’s name, Akutagawa regains consciousness quickly. And promptly shoves Atsushi’s protective arm away, like he’s something irredeemably filthy. Atsushi wrinkles his nose and replaces his arm across Akutagawa’s shoulders, just for that. He takes a shower before bed, okay! He’s definitely not as gross as Akutagawa implies him to be!

Rashomon greets Atsushi’s arm. Atsushi scoots away.

All the while, the stock photo watches them, retaining a bit of amusement on his features. Lightly, like he’s not saying something that splinters at Atsushi’s nerves, he says, “Didn’t think you two get along this well.”

Akutagawa is quick to say, “We absolutely do not, Chuuya-san.”

A raised eyebrow. “Oh?”

“We do not,” Akutagawa insists, using Rashomon to form a wall between him and Atsushi.

Mostly because he knows Akutagawa won’t listen anyway, Atsushi doesn’t bother pointing it out that by doing something like this, it’s like Akutagawa is inviting more teasing about the alleged closeness of their relationship. Still, it is interesting to see Akutagawa settle for using Rashomon as a wall. Instead of, well, using Rashomon to stab this ‘Chuuya-san’.

…Wait…

Chuuya-san…?

“As in the ‘Chuuya-san’ that nags you to eat breakfast?”

Chuuya-san’s amusement grows. “Not just breakfast. He complained about me to you, huh, jinko? Should I be flattered?”

“I did not reveal any Port Mafia secrets,” Akutagawa says. “Not that this jinko has enough sense to use possible intel in any useful manner.”

“Hey! Just because I’m not acting like some brooding spy, doesn’t mean that I can’t do it if I must!”

Akutagawa calls Rashomon back, presumably so he can glare at Atsushi face-to-face. “Cease your foolishness.”

“Mm, Agency’s jinko, you don’t strike me as the type to be a spy,” Chuuya-san chimes in, raising both of his hands in a placating manner. It doesn’t actually completely erase the steady thrum of danger radiating from him, but it does make him appear the tiniest bit approachable. Like he won’t crush them to tiny smithereens in the next breath. “You should leave such things to shitty Dazai.”

Akutagawa bristles like an offended cat, but tellingly, doesn’t call Chuuya-san out for insulting Dazai-san.

Atsushi stares at Chuuya-san, awed. Atsushi’s seen the embarrassing (and at times, pitiful) lengths that Akutagawa goes to in order to impress Dazai-san (or do something to its approximation). But there’s something… interesting. And kind of adorable, with this sight. Akutagawa seems to respect Chuuya-san a lot, acting like a chastised child even before Chuuya-san can start to talk to him. Like he doesn’t even want to start disappointing Chuuya-san.

…It is unfair. Atsushi’s starting to want to see more of this relatively-docile Akutagawa.

Akutagawa’s voice loses the grating edge from before. “Has Dazai-san been transported to this space as well?”

“Don’t worry about him,” Chuuya-san waves off the other’s concern. “He’s having the time of his life acting like Sleeping Beauty, right now. I’ve got half a mind to strangle him with thorns.”

No,” Atsushi’s horrified gasp escapes him. “Please don’t kill Dazai-san!”

Akutagawa has the gall to roll his eyes at him. “He would never kill Dazai-san. Do not be overdramatic, jinko.”

“Never say never,” Chuuya-san mutters to the side. Then, he straightens out, and beckons for the two of them to stand up and follow him. “The three of us will take care of some things before we meet up with that shitty mackerel. I’ve got some things to check with you.”

Akutagawa snaps to attention quickly, the only thing missing is a quick salute.

Atsushi decides to follow the two Port Mafia members. The tiger inside of him growls each time he’s within a couple of steps from Chuuya-san, like the tiger is scared of another predator. It’s a strange feeling, because the tiger doesn’t even consider Akutagawa a threat anymore. Atsushi doesn’t think that it’s because Akutagawa’s gone through some reformation, nor does he think it’s because the tiger has slacked off in its vigilance. Chuuya-san is probably someone very, very, very strong.

Atsushi didn’t really manage to remember a lot of things from the debriefs done Kunikida-san and Ranpo-san about the Collector’s Mist Incident and about the Cannibalism Incident. But he’s caught the name, ‘Nakahara Chuuya’, gravity manipulator, Port Mafia Executive here and there. Kenji-kun has said something about an amazing city boy, Yosano-san’s mentioned something about someone who packs a lot of punch and she’d like to fight more seriously. Even Ranpo-san’s said something about absolute strength.

Dazai-san…

Atsushi remembers Dazai-san saying something about a walking hatrack, tacky fashion sense, needing a microscope to see a tiny, Thumbelina.

Byakko tells him to beware of danger. Tells him that it smells destructive fire.

“Right.” Chuuya-san suddenly stops at the threshold of the library doors. He turns, a graceful pivot, and offers a hand for Atsushi to… shake? “Haven’t introduced myself properly, huh? I’m Chuuya. Let’s get along well so we can get the fuck out of here quickly, yeah?”

“Um, I’m Atsushi?”

“Why don’t you sound sure of your name?”

“I’m Nakajima Atsushi,” he repeats.

A handshake. Akutagawa makes a face at him; Atsushi sticks his tongue out at the other.

Chuuya-san shakes his head. “You guys get along really well.”

“We’re such good friends,” Atsushi says with a grin and chuckles at the dirty look Akutagawa shoots him.

Tellingly, Akutagawa doesn’t bother with aiming Rashomon at him. Hm. He must be scared of getting scolded by Chuuya-san.

“We’re really, really good friends,” Atsushi adds, and outright laughs when Akutagawa can only respond by coughing and turning around, as though he can stop Atsushi’s continued existence if he doesn’t acknowledge him.

Maybe there’s a really good reason to stick with Chuuya-san, huh?

Turns out, there really is a good reason to stick with Chuuya-san, a reason separated from being able to annoy Akutagawa and not have to worry about losing a limb.

Chuuya-san takes them to the port area, where the sea waves are utterly pacified, no ripples, no sea breeze. There’s a secluded spot there, tucked in-between looming metal crates that could probably fit a hundred tigers. It’s also a metal crate, but it doesn’t look as weather-worn as the others. There’s no padlock; instead, there’s a fancy-looking keypad and a retina scanner that takes a red-glow-covered Chuuya-san to comfortably reach.

(Atsushi keeps his mouth shut so he can’t ask as to why would someone arrange for his hideout to be installed with a lock that would be… difficult for him to reach.)

As though he’s divined Atsushi’s unspoken question anyway, Chuuya-san grits out a, “I’m not the one who installed the locks”, before waiting for the doors to just, whoa, suddenly slide down to the floor, whoa, the Port Mafia is really flashy!

“So much budget wasted,” Chuuya-san mutters under his breath, probably not something that meant for Atsushi’s ears.

They all make themselves comfortable inside the lounge housed by the metal crate. There’s a soft jazz music that wafts out from some hidden-from-the-view speaker. The armchairs are heavenly and Atsushi lets out a sigh as he sinks into one. He sees Chuuya-san go towards the back, where there’s a giant refrigerator that is nearly double his height. Chuuya-san makes a show of uncapping all the drink bottles together—expensive iced coffee, from the smell—and taking a sip from the one he ends up giving to Atsushi.

As a show of trust, after thanking their host, Atsushi drinks from his bottle without waiting to see if Chuuya-san keels over from poison.

After all, if the two Port Mafia members wanted to kill him, he’s pretty sure it wouldn’t be via poison. Akutagawa would never want something so… cowardly, like that.

Chuuya-san chuckles as he settles into his own seat, the three armchairs arranged so that they’re facing each other in an equilateral triangle, a low coffee table in the center. “Your show of trust is appreciated, but you should have waited a few more minutes.”

“…Eh?”

“I wasn’t the one who stocked the fridge,” Chuuya-san explains.

“…Eh?”

“So.” Chuuya-san scratches at his cheek as he seemingly tries to rein in a growl. “There might be some laxatives there. Or arsenic? Something silly like that.”

Atsushi spit-takes as he hurriedly places the bottled drink down on the table. Arsenic is something silly? What do Port Mafia folks drink on a daily basis?! Is that why Akutagawa always looks so bitchy? Because they don’t have normal drinks?!

“Whatever you are thinking about, stop it.” Akutagawa cradles the bottled drink like it’s the Holy Grail, the carefulness of his gesture at odds with the caustic tone of his voice. “I assume that you are wasting your time with something inane, as always.”

“Babysitting,” Chuuya-san mumbles under his breath again, before he clears his throat. “While I’m all for building camaraderie and what-not, let’s get to the meat of the matter, shall we?”

He flicks his fingers and then there are papers floating in front of both Atsushi and Akutagawa.

“No fancy slideshows, so you guys will have to make do with good old paperwork.”

“It’s fine,” Atsushi finds himself murmuring, as he observes Akutagawa.

Akutagawa looks so serious, reading the file in front of him.

Atsushi refocuses his attention.

The words wash over him. It looks like a meeting agenda? About a group of rogue government scientists that have gone underground. And have been suspected of being able to disappear at will—and causing any pursuers and investigators to also disappear without a trace. There’s a note at the bottom, something about a hypothesis that it’s because there’s an Ability User in their midst that can create an alternate world, some sort of spatial alteration. There’s a handwritten note at the bottom, in black ink, the strokes firm like they’ve been written with conviction.

The first line says, ‘Randou-san. Transcendental?’

The second line is, ‘Poe-kun. Mystery challenge for you. Redemption?’

The first line is crossed out by a jagged line, the red ink bleeding into the paper. The second line is underlined twice with the same red pen; the word ‘redemption’ is underlined three times.

Atsushi has zero idea as to who ‘Randou-san’ or what a ‘Transcendental’ is, but he knows Poe-san. A new honorary member of the Agency? Someone who’s always with Ranpo-san, especially recently. Someone who can write mystery novels that can suck in unwitting people inside, who could only leave the world of the novel as long as they could solve it.

The Cannibalism Incident debrief said something about Nakahara Chuuya and Ranpo-san being trapped together inside Poe-san’s book.

So the blank-ink note is from someone who’s aware of that?

Someone from the Agency?

Someone from the Agency is keeping in close contact with the Port Mafia?

No, that doesn’t sound right.

Atsushi watches Chuuya-san’s face. The expression on his face looks something like… longing? He’s gazing into the distance, waiting for the two younger charges with him to finish reading. He looks like he’s thinking about something really important.

…No. Someone from the Agency is keeping in close contact with Chuuya-san.

Enough to exchange notes with him. Enough that he stocks the fridge of Chuuya-san’s portside hideout.

Atsushi’s gaze transfers to Akutagawa. Despite the constipated look on his face as he proceeds with reading his own set of papers, his grip around the bottled drink remains reverent.

Dazai-san.

Dazai-san is behind the blank ink, the handwritten note, the bottled drink—and probably even the way-too-high-for-Chuuya-san’s-height retina scanner.

Dazai-san is guiding them, helping them.

Atsushi relaxes.

It’s okay to trust Chuuya-san, then. Dazai-san would know what to do.

“Done reading?”

“Yes,” Akutagawa replies quickly.

“Then I’ll swap your papers,” Chuuya-san says, snapping his fingers so the papers would switch places.

And then Atsushi tenses.

The paper in front of him is—

A report on Shibusawa Tatsuhiko.

A half-strangled, “Why?”, erupts from his throat.

“Hmm?”

“Why is he involved?” Atsushi feels his breath being siphoned out of him. “H-H-He’s dead. I killed him. With my own h-hands!”

“Oh? So it was you.” Chuuya-san doesn’t sound like… anything, really. Like he’s just rattling off facts. Like he doesn’t have a fraction of an idea about the trauma that ate at Atsushi as he wrestled with the doors locking his memory about the other man. Chuuya-san is looking at him like he’s normal, like he isn’t someone who’s crushed Shibusawa’s skull in-between his palms. “Honestly, I’m surprised you had the balls. Good for you.”

“G-G-Good…?”

Chuuya-san’s eyebrows are furrowed. “He did experiments on you, right?”

“Hypocrisy at its finest,” Akutagawa murmurs. “You were fine with getting blood on your hands, as long as it was in the name of something you touted as justice.”

“Akutagawa,” Chuuya-san says sharply, but Atsushi’s mind is swimming.

“The boy had no choice!”

Atsushi has protected Yokohama, right? Kyouka-chan said so. Dazai-san said so. He didn’t just kill Shibusawa because of some bloodlust or some sense of personal vendetta, right? Shibusawa was going to destroy Yokohama and countless lives!

He didn’t kill Shibusawa because he personally hated him! It wasn’t out of revenge! It was out of the greater good! So Kyouka-chan could continue smiling! So Dazai-san could be proud of him! So Yokohama could keep on insisting!

“The boy had no choice!” Atsushi gulps down air, but nothing is getting to his lungs. “The boy had no choice but use his claws!”

There’s a heavy sigh from somewhere in front of him.

And then—

A slap.

Atsushi’s vision swims, until it refocuses.

Chuuya-san’s watching the proceedings with a careful gaze. His hands are poised, his shoulders are thrumming with tension.

And then—

There’s Akutagawa in front of him.

There’s Rashomon around Atsushi.

Like he’s in a straightjacket made of black blades.

Akutagawa’s expression is severe.

A flicker of disappointment, like he’s disappointed that Atsushi dared to lose control over something as trivial as the murder of one person.

“It was your choice,” Akutagawa tells him, heavy like a funeral bell. “It was your choice and do not even dare to abscond from the consequences of your actions. That would make you beyond pathetic, jinko, and someone who has earned the right to be Dazai-san’s subordinate simply cannot be that pathetic.”

“B-But—! The boy had no choice, but to—!”

“You had a choice,” Akutagawa continues, the silver-gray glint of his eyes like swords that stab into his core. “You had a choice whether to survive or let your own life be severed. I will not comment on whether it was the right choice. And nobody else but yourself should have the right to comment on it either. It was your choice and it was your actions. It is also your responsibility to shoulder the consequences.”

Atsushi gapes at him, unable to find the words to respond.

Akutagawa scoffs, before adding, “You have decided to shoulder the weight of attempting to save Yokohama using your useless shoulders, did you not? If you would crumble now, then allow me to end you, right here and now, before you could sink further down, worm.”

Several heartbeats pass, as Atsushi feels his panic over Shibusawa recede.

And then—

Chuuya-san claps slowly. “Akutagawa, that’s probably the longest monologue I’ve heard from you. Congrats.”

“I am simply stating what needs to be said.”

“Yes, I’m sure Atsushi here needs cheering up,” Chuuya-san says cheerfully. “Now, are you two good?”

Rashomon slithers away from Atsushi, leaving him feeling bereft. It doesn’t make sense that Rashomon should feel warm and comforting, but as the black fabric slides away from him, Atsushi feels like calling it back. Akutagawa doesn’t say another word as he sinks back to his own armchair, a sullen twist to his lips.

Atsushi takes a deep breath.

And focuses on reading the report.

It’s not anything he doesn’t really know.

He’s been there for most of the things described in the report. Some of it are from the briefing from the government liaison who originally gave the Agency the assignment to eliminate Shibusawa Tatsuhiko.

The only new piece of information here is about Shibusawa Tatsuhiko’s background.

He’s a scientist as well, originally hired by the government.

There’s a handwritten note at the bottom of the report as well.

It says, ‘The Pale Qirin in the middle of it all’. The black characters are underlined by red ink.

Chuuya-san asks after five minutes. “Finished?”

“…yeah.”

“So we’re probably dealing with the group of rogue government scientists. We’re trapped inside an Ability that is capable of sending us to an alternate space.” Chuuya-san begins, drumming his gloved fingers against his thigh. “I assume you two have seen the fifth volume of Fushigi Yuugi, no thanks to the shitty mackerel?”

“We have,” Akutagawa responds.

“Good. It’s a hint from Dazai. We’ve been transported to this space, corresponding to the ‘Gods’ in the story.” Chuuya-san starts pointing his fingers, as he enumerates, “I’m Suzaku. Shitty Dazai is the fucking Turtle. Jinko is Byakko, no surprise there. And Akutagawa is Seiryuu. Got it, so far?”

“…Um, yes…?”

Chuuya-san exhales. “Shibusawa is the scientists’ main target. Before his death, he must be working on some important stuff. That they want to retrieve. We’re probably meant to triangulate its location. I’ve decoded the five locations provided by the waste of bandages. He’s already in Location 1. We’re going to mobilize to the other locations.”

A pause, and then, Chuuya-san tilts his head. “Any questions?”

“None,” Akutagawa says resolutely. “Which location should I go to?”

“Um!” Atsushi feels his head ache. “I have a lot of questions!”

“They are probably useless ones,” Akutagawa says uncharitably.

“You don’t even know what I want to ask,” Atsushi hisses at the other man.

“We can discuss things as we move,” Chuuya-san settles their brewing argument with a compromise, his tone lighthearted, but his eyes steely. “Let’s not waste any more time having petty squabbles.”

“I do not squabble,” Akutagawa protests.

“Yes, you do.”

Akutagawa continues protesting, but does it at a markedly lower volume. Atsushi is awed, once again.

“The locations are all centered on Mukurotoride—the remains of it, at least.” Chuuya-san says as they start to leave the metal crate. “The rest of the locations are: the remains of Surihachi City, the forests on the western edge of Port Mafia’s territory, the abandoned building on the northern Yokohama border, and the orphanage on the east border.”

Atsushi’s breath stutters at the mention of the orphanage. Akutagawa’s face looks stony.

Chuuya-san barely spares the two of them a glance, as though he’s willingly not giving attention to their discomfort.

“Since shitty Dazai is on Surihachi City…” Chuuya-san trails off, before picking up his words after a few moments. “I’d go to the north. Atsushi – the western forest is yours. Akutagawa, don’t destroy the orphanage.”

Akutagawa makes a soft noise of disgruntled agreement.

“We’d reconvene in four hours.” Chuuya-san then tosses two sets of flares to each of them. “Green flare if all is good. Red flare if there’s a negative reaction. Or if you need me to come rescue you or something.”

Predictably, Akutagawa brushes off the offer for help. “I will not need further assistance.”

“Dazai went to the trouble of sneaking in these flares inside my hideout,” Chuuya-san points out. “I know that asshole likes to give me headaches, but this is probably a hint that you’d need them.”

Atsushi watches Akutagawa bristle at Dazai-san being insulted. And then, he tucks in the two flares handed to him inside his bag. He watches Akutagawa tuck his inside his coat, Rashomon seemingly swallowing them inside the ruffles of his shirt.

Then, he looks at Chuuya-san.

“Erm, what about you, Chuuya-san?”

A slow blink. “Me?”

“You don’t have any flares.”

“…Ah.” Chuuya-san smiles. “Seems like that shitty Dazai did know how to keep his mouth shut when it matters, hmm.”

“Chuuya-san would not be needing assistance,” Akutagawa says with a cough. “Stop dilly-dallying, jinko, let us proceed to our locations.”

With a grin, Chuuya-san waves goodbye at them with a flutter of his fingers, before there’s a sudden boom, like a rocket has just been launched. Dust flies up and Atsushi scrambles to find his footing as an earthquake seems to have rolled over the entire area. By the time Atsushi’s vision clears, there’s only a mini-crater that serves as evidence of Chuuya-san’s existence.

Above the sky, amidst the half-hidden moon and the faint twinkles of stars, there’s a red streak that flies up to the north, like a blazing comet.

“…So, the four hours are for us,” Atsushi mumbles.

A beat, before:

“Go on and kneel.”

“Eh?!”

“Transform to a tiger so we can proceed faster.”

“Wait, wait, wait, what is with this turn of events?!”

Akutagawa sighs, like he’s unbelievably disappointed by the extent of Atsushi’s idiocy. Which: so unfair.

Then, Akutagawa places his hands on his hips and looks down at Atsushi despite the scant centimeters separating their heights. Slowly, like he’s speaking to a toddler, Akutagawa starts giving out his commands.

“Make yourself useful, transform to a tiger and bring me quickly to the orphanage, jinko.”

“People flag down cabs nicer than that!” Atsushi hopes that the flush on his face is because of irritation, not because he’s remembering how Akutagawa pinched his ears and used them as steering controls when he rode on top of him while they were travelling inside the hideout of the Rats in the House of the Dead. “At least have the decency to say ‘please’!”

“I will be more than pleased to cut you down,” Akutagawa says snootily, “but it seems that you are a necessary component to undoing this Ability.”

“You’re just too lazy to walk,” Atsushi gripes, but he partially transforms to a tiger anyway.

“Silence.”

“Lazyass,” Atsushi adds, and resolutely doesn’t shriek when Akutagawa pinches his ears again.

With Atsushi on all fours and Akutagawa acting like a bossy backseat driver, the two of them make their way east.

Above them, the clouds, the moon and the stars remain impassive observers.

*

end of part five;

*

Chapter Text

*

part six: aldebaran

*

Atsushi keeps up a decent pace, considering that his stomach’s contents are meager offerings that were tainted by the blood from his bitten cheek. There isn’t a lot of wind resistance, given that there’s hardly any breeze at all, only something slightly cooler wafting against his cheeks as he gallops using all fours. That’s probably why he feels so flushed.

“…you’re heavy,” Atsushi complains as he slows down a bit when they reach an intersection.

“Must you always pause when in an intersection?” Akutagawa sharply kicks his flank using the heel of his shoe, as though he’s a racehorse who’s losing Akutagawa his money. “When would it sink in that there is not anyone else in this city?”

“Stop kicking me!”

Akutagawa sighs, then pinches the back of his neck. It’s covered in fur, but it’s not enough to properly cushion him from the sensation of slim, ice-cold fingers being so near a sensitive point of his body. “Perhaps this is to be expected. Things would take a long time for you to understand, for you have nothing but slush inside your skull.”

Atsushi growls, then adjusts his posture, more like a spear this time, hurtling forward on the streets without care for speed limits or the possibility that Akutagawa will be bucked off from his perch.

Akutagawa, for his part, merely mutters something like “how childish”, before curving forward as well, his hands on both sides of Atsushi’s neck, fingers curled over his transformed shoulders, his legs spreading out so he can grip Atsushi’s back more securely. And then, almost lazily, he says, “I will be more than pleased to buckle myself using Rashomon should you not cease this childishness, jinko.”

“I’m not scared of Rashomon,” Atsushi says with a roll of his eyes. And resolutely doesn’t let up on the quickened pace.

From his back, he can feel the huff of breath from Akutagawa, like it’s punched out of him.

It almost sounds like he’s unsuccessfully tried to curtail a laugh from escaping.

But Akutagawa laughing… That can’t be it, right?

And then, Akutagawa simply says, “You are not afraid of Rashomon, not anymore.”

Atsushi waits for Akutagawa to add something to his statement, something about it being a big mistake that will bite Atsushi in the ass, or something about it being a misconception that Akutagawa will make sure to rectify as soon as possible.

But no other words come forth, only Akutagawa’s heartbeat – steady and serene against his back – keeping Atsushi company until his limbs carry him to a familiar building.

Akutagawa steps down from his perch gracefully, ruining it when he not-so-accidentally lets his foot catch Atsushi’s head in a sweeping kick.

“Hey! You don’t even ask nicely for this ride, and then you do this?!” Atsushi is quick to stand up to his full height, pointing an accusing finger towards Akutagawa’s nose. “Where is my ‘thank you’, huh?!”

“Will a payment of ten thousand yen suffice to stop your stupid rambling?”

“I am not stupid,” Atsushi says primly, before thrusting a waiting palm demandingly in front of Akutagawa’s face. “Twenty-thousand.”

“You engaged me in useless small-talk during the ride, you do not deserve twenty-thousand.”

“You kept on kicking me like a horse!”

“False. I kicked you because you were a talkative idiot who dawdled on intersections.”

“You—!”

Akutagawa looks longingly at the orphanage building like he’d dearly like to burn it down while Atsushi’s trapped inside. “If it will put an end to this meaningless trifle, then I will give you the twenty-thousand you are begging for.”

Atsushi squints at Akutagawa and discovers the catch to the other’s sudden generosity.

“You planned this!” Atsushi, upon receiving the two bills on his palm, can’t move the bills away, like troublesome weights have been glued to his skin. “You knew I couldn’t get them like this!”

“Were you expecting me to bury you under a mountain of coins?” Akutagawa turns up his nose at Atsushi, looking very cold and impassive. Though Atsushi can see the faint twitch of emotion there. Akutagawa is laughing at him, though given that the other’s face suffers from an unfortunate affliction of always looking so bloodthirsty, the amusement looks kind of terrifying – to the point that Atsushi shivers at it. “Foolish jinko.”

“You’re a meanie who doesn’t have any friends,” Atsushi complains and slaps Akutagawa’s elbow with the palm that has the bills attached to them.

Akutagawa takes the bills away from his palm and returns it to his wallet. “Let this be your lesson. Asking for things you do not rightfully deserve will only end up in failure.”

“No, the lesson I got here is how your sense of humor absolutely sucks!”

“Good. I have no plans on applying to be a comedian.”

“Yes, I’m sure this is all going according to your career plans…” Atsushi mutters, but he starts to guide Akutagawa inside the orphanage.

The two of them continue to exchange insults here and there, the sounds of their voices mingling inside the stale air of a place that’s caged Atsushi within its walls. Their footsteps and their breaths are loud, dispelling any sort of permanent unease from settling over Atsushi’s shoulders.

A stray thought tugs at him.

Maybe this is a way for Akutagawa to distract him from thinking too much about his past here.

Atsushi spies Akutagawa from the corner of his eye. Akutagawa doesn’t look around like he’s curious. Or perhaps that’s mostly because it’s useless, because the hallways and the rooms are mostly cloaked in darkness, only bits of moonlight slithering past the glass windows that they pass by.

“It is an ordinary place,” Akutagawa says as soon as the two of them manage to make their way to the exact location computed by Chuuya-san. “An ordinary orphanage.”

Atsushi feels his fingers tremble as he takes in the outhouse covered in brick. He almost expects the orphanage director or Shibusawa Tatsuhiko to suddenly welcome him inside. But a click of the metal doorknob, and then there’s just empty space. Dusty air, very little light. Brick walls, brick floors, brick ceiling. Like this, it’s possible to determine if the bloodstains remained on the floor. None of the devices and apparatus that must have been used to experiment on Atsushi remain.

Just blank, abandoned space.

Atsushi shivers as his footsteps clack against the brick floor. “And you know all about orphanages, huh?”

“Yes.”

Akutagawa’s response lashes out whip-quick. Atsushi snaps his gaze to Akutagawa; the other man is looking impassively ahead at the blank space where he’s supposed to just… stand?

Five minutes pass like that.

“….Why are you still here?” Akutagawa faces him with a stony look. Moonlight washes his pale cheeks with an even paler pallor. “Staring at me will not grant you any sort of self-improvement, so it would be better if you scampered off to your assigned location instead.”

“I wasn’t staring at you.”

“Unlikely.” Akutagawa dismisses his words just like that. “This is an ordinary orphanage. During the Ability War, it must have been teeming with abandoned children from all parts of the city.”

“…?”

“Was it misfortune? Or was it fate? That you have crossed paths with a man such as ‘Shibusawa Tatsuhiko’ here?” Akutagawa shifts his weight on his other foot, shoulders hunched like a haunting specter, but looking impossibly strong, even as darkness swallows his lone figure in the middle of the cavernous room. “Do you fancy yourself the chosen one? That you and you alone were chosen to be the recipient of the entire world’s karma and suffering?”

“I’m not—!”

“Then you must accept that it had already happened and there is no use to dwell on it further.”

“Coming from you?! You, who clings to the past?!”

Akutagawa’s lips twitch. They look so pale and bloodless. “Were you not the one who told me that I have already gained Dazai-san’s approval when I was not aware of it?”

Atsushi takes a step back, only realizing now that he’s moved close to Akutagawa sometime during their conversation, close enough that his hands are fisted on Akutagawa’s collar, close enough that he can see those pale and bloodless lips up close.

Another step back. An exhale. A loosening of his grip.

“So you’re telling me that I’m the only one left in the past.”

Akutagawa scoffs and shoves Atsushi’s hands away from his person. “I am telling you to get going already, as you have already wasted too much of my time.”

Atsushi rolls his eyes at the other’s caustic tone. Still, it feels like Akutagawa is doing him a favor right now. It feels like he owes Akutagawa something for this. So he opens his mouth, a story about how a young boy could only use his claws to save his own existence about to tumble out of his lips.

And then—

A kick.

“You—!” Atsushi rubs at his stomach as he skids back. “Why did you kick me?!”

“You were about to bore me to tears with something inane.”

“You don’t even know what I was about to say!”

“My expectations about the level of conversation you can provide are already set at a very low bar, jinko. Do not sink it further.”

“You think I’m talking to you to meet your expectations?!” Atsushi blinks, before, “Wait, you said ‘very low’, so it’s not at an actual negative? Should I be touched? Are you attempting to be friendly again?”

“If you register getting kicked in the abdomen as a friendly gesture, then I am not sure you should be touting your ability to make friends. It just sounds as though you would be willing to be friends with anyone. Even those with killing intent towards you.”

“Can’t kill me, Dazai-san would hate you,” Atsushi reminds Akutagawa with a grin. “I am willing to be friends with you if you use ‘keigo’ with me and treat me to chazuke every day.”

“The price of your friendship is set at a very cheap 150 yen on a daily basis?”

“150 yen?! You think I’ll be fine with such a cheap one?!”

“I do.”

“How desperate do you think I am?!”

“You are willingly deluding yourself into thinking that me kicking you is a sign of friendliness. Me, a person who has, multiple times, told you I would like to very much kill you.” Akutagawa’s lips stretch slowly, a mocking smile. “That should provide you with the answer that you seek.”

“W-Well, how about you, huh?! You tell me that you want to kill me, but you never manage to in the end!”

“That is a sign of my own weakness.” Akutagawa clarifies, “It has nothing to do with friendship.”

“You’re weak for me?”

Akutagawa coughs. “You should leave. The stuffy air is worsening your delusions.”

“Are you embarrassed?”

“If I cared for such things, I would be experiencing secondhand embarrassment from breathing the same air as someone as foolish as you.”

“So you are embarrassed?”

Akutagawa glares at him, Rashomon crackling under him. “Leave.”

And that’s how Atsushi makes his way out of the orphanage, lungs buoyed by an odd lightness. He’s never expected that he’d manage going back to this place without going through a breakdown or three. Or at least, wallow in the remembrance of things that have happened to him.

But there’s none of that now.

Maybe it’s Akutagawa showing his kindness?

No, that’s not possible, right?

All that talk about friendship was just Atsushi wanting to annoy Akutagawa in retaliation, but maybe not completely so…?

He shakes his head, half in hopes that this weird thoughts would be dislodged from his mind.

He can’t get distracted.

Interacting with Akutagawa is too effective at diverting his attention. He should be thinking about how to get out of this Ability so he can get back to everyone. He should be thinking about how to follow the clues that Dazai-san left behind for them. He should be thinking about how to spoil the plans of the rogue scientists in getting Shibusawa’s research.

He shouldn’t be thinking about anything else.

He transforms back to a tiger and goes to the other end of the city.

With only his own breath and heartbeat as company, he makes it to the forests on the west.

Tall trees line up in front of him. No animals scurry about and no leaves rustle in the windless area. Only the sky above watches over him, moonlight filtering over the crown of leaves. Atsushi counts the steps to make sure that he doesn’t miss the location he’s supposed to reach.

But then—it’s fairly noticeable.

There’s a clearing ahead of him.

A stone boulder, just tall enough that someone could climb on it and sit on top like a makeshift throne. Moonlight casts a pale sheen on the stone’s jagged surfaces, shadows falling down from the other objects in his surroundings.

And then—

A glint of silver.

Atsushi approaches it slowly.

A bracelet…? No, a necklace?

He approaches it like it’s a bomb.

But it merely twinkles up at him, lying on the ground.

A silver necklace?

Atsushi circles it, half-expecting it’s going to explode. Or maybe come to life?

But nothing happens for the next fifteen minutes, so he touches it.

It’s sitting right on the spot where he’s supposed to be.

He holds the silver necklace as he stares up at the sky.

There’s nothing.

He waits.

And waits.

And waits.

There’s nothing.

His sense of time is skewed, but it doesn’t pose any problems for him, because two green flares light up on the sky near-simultaneously after Atsushi’s neck has practically been paralyzed by how he’s craning it upwards so he can observe the sky.

“Port Mafia training includes that, huh…”

It’s the previously agreed-upon signal for them to meet up on the central location – Mukurotoride’s remains.

Atsushi decides to bring the silver necklace with him. Maybe it’s a clue?

The trip to Mukurotoride flies by, with him transformed to a tiger and the necklace looped around his neck.

By the time Atsushi arrives there, Akutagawa and Chuuya-san are already there. Akutagawa looks green, like he’s about to hurl. Chuuya-san has an apologetic look on his face, back bent over along with the dry-heaving Akutagawa.

…Oh.

Given that they’re here very quickly, Chuuya-san probably picked Akutagawa up and flew with him?

“Nothing happened on my end,” Atsushi reports quickly, half-jogging to where Akutagawa has his hands on his knees. “Hey, are you okay?”

Akutagawa looks up to shoot him a glare, probably along with a combo of him telling Atsushi off for asking a question with an obvious answer.

But then his glare hardens into something more deadly as he nearly slices Atsushi’s neck off using his eyes.

“Why do you have that necklace?! Where did you find it, jinko?!”

Akutagawa looks like he’s about to stab the answers out of Atsushi and cough out more questions, but he ends up coughing wetly into his hands.

Chuuya-san watches them from three steps away, eyes assessing.

For a moment, Atsushi feels like Chuuya-san’s gaze belongs to Dazai-san. It’s the same atmosphere, the same feeling. But then he forgets about that train of thought, because Akutagawa does start to shake him by the collar of his shirt.

“That necklace belonged to Gin,” Akutagawa hisses, Rashomon hissing in the air along with him as the black cloth cuts off Atsushi’s escape routes. “Now answer me, jinko, how did it fall into your hands?”

*

end of part six;

*

Chapter Text

*

part seven: changing of seasons

*

Atsushi tries to explain, without getting his air cut off entirely, “I—”

“Answer me!”

“I—”

Akutagawa continues hissing and Rashomon squeezes Atsushi’s neck. “Ans—”

 “—okay, stop!”

Chuuya-san cuts into Akutagawa’s idea of a questioning—that is, not allowing the other person to respond with an intact neck—by clapping his hands together. It’s obvious that Chuuya-san knows just how Akutagawa can get, because the clap is accompanied by a surge of red glow in the surroundings.

Atsushi collapses to his knees, while Akutagawa is dragged away from him by an invisible force.

Gravity control.

Red wraps around Akutagawa, suspending him mid-air, a couple of meters away from Atsushi. Rashomon is pressed down tight, half-buried, imprints of it currently leaving deep-set marks against the ground. Rashomon crackles, nearly electric like lightning, the sound of the Ability fighting off the gravity control like small bouts of thunder.

Chuuya-san then moves his hands to his hips, sighing at Akutagawa and looking like a very disappointed parent called in for a parent-teacher meeting over a delinquent, rebellious teenage son. “Akutagawa. I’ve told you to attend that seminar for proper interrogation and torture methods, haven’t I?”

Atsushi coughs. “You have a seminar for that?”

“What do you think the Port Mafia is?” Chuuya-san looks offended. “We’re a proper organization! We provide training seminars for lots of things!”

 “Even torture methods…?” Atsushi doesn’t know if he should feel faint or awed about this.

“Hmph. No thanks to that shitty mackerel.”

“Dazai-san…?”

“His torture methods are too effective, but not just anyone could emulate it.”

Atsushi’s also not sure if he should point it out, that there’s an odd smile on Chuuya-san’s face as he says those words. Atsushi chances a glance at Akutagawa, who’s still hanging mid-air like a disgruntled cat, and decides that there’s no point trying to poke at the person who can defeat Rashomon so effortlessly. Because it’s true – Chuuya-san is facing Atsushi and doesn’t seem to be paying attention to Akutagawa, but Rashomon can’t even wriggle on the ground.

The tiger inside of him growls at the display of power.

Nevertheless, Chuuya-san apparently picks up on his hesitation and turns back to Akutagawa. “So? Are you ready to be more reasonable, Akutagawa?”

“…I am reasonable.”

“You definitely aren’t,” Chuuya-san says with a sigh. “I know that you’re worried about your sister, but she’s strong, you know? Plus, that shitty Dazai wouldn’t hide that kind of information.”

The expression on his face says a lot though. It says that Chuuya-san actually thinks that Dazai-san would hide such an important information – that their loved ones are here in this space too – if a huge enough of a reason presents itself.

Moments pass, before Akutagawa lets out a heavy sigh of his own, and then he’s slowly set back down to the ground. Akutagawa readjusts his coat as he calls back Rashomon.

Atsushi figures that Chuuya-san wouldn’t let Akutagawa back down if he’s still feeling more murderous than usual, so he decides that it’s his chance to speak up. “I found the necklace on my assigned location.”

“…in the western forests?” Chuuya-san sounds thoughtful.

“Yes.” Atsushi watches Akutagawa’s expression. “It’s on a clearing of some sort. There was a huge rock in the middle?”

Akutagawa’s mouth twitches.

Chuuya-san then says, “Back then… Dazai did say something about picking up a mad dog in the western forests.”

Akutagawa frowns as he reveals, “Gin and I… we met Dazai-san in the western forests.”

“Let me guess,” Chuuya-san rolls his eyes as he says, “he was perched on top of some rock, like a gigantic frog.”

“…He was on a rock, yes.”

“Posed like a slimy frog.”

Akutagawa twitches. “...That was when we had joined the Port Mafia as well.”

“Che. Typical mackerel.” Chuuya-san rolls his eyes again and flicks the screen of the phone hanging on a lanyard around his neck. “Shitty recruitment skills as ever.”

“That was also when Gin had lost that necklace. She wanted to discard reminders of our past as we joined the Port Mafia.”

Atsushi blinks. “…you still remembered the necklace, after all these years?”

Akutagawa levels him a flat look. “It was the first and only thing she wanted as a present when she was younger. I—” And then, as though sensing that sharing such details is already crossing the invisible line that he’s set for himself, Akutagawa cuts himself off and crosses arms over his chest, pointedly looking away.

Chuuya-san claps again, though this time isn’t accompanied by a surge of his Ability. “Okay, that’s enough for Akutagawa’s storytelling for now. Atsushi, make sure you level up so you can unlock the next part of his backstory, okay?”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” Atsushi confesses.

“You don’t?” Chuuya-san looks confused by his confusion. “You’re Dazai’s protégé, right? Doesn’t he bombard you with gaming terms or something?”

Atsushi scratches his cheek as he thinks about his mentor shirking paperwork. “Dazai-san likes to play mobile games on his phone, but he doesn’t really…”

“Ah. My bad.” Chuuya-san then points towards Akutagawa. “Our Akutagawa is weird enough and is allergic to friendliness, so you should pace yourself if you’re planning to get to know him.”

“I could hear you, Chuuya-san.”

“Oh? Then maybe you should speak to Atsushi directly then.”

Akutagawa looks away again.

“See?”

“Please tell me more,” Atsushi implores, if only because he knows how annoyed Akutagawa will be.

“Let’s grab lunch together after we get out of here,” Chuuya-san suggests. “You can choose the restaurant. Knowing that shitty Dazai, he’s probably never treated you using his own money, huh?”

“Things bought using one’s own effort are a sign of one’s strength,” Akutagawa says, “…is what Dazai-san had said.”

“Hah?! What bullshit is that?! He kept on stealing my food and my money!” Chuuya-san complains and adds a few more uncharitable words under his breath. “Don’t listen to him, he was just being a miserly bastard.”

“…He does have a running tab on the restaurant below the Agency,” Atsushi contributes, earning him an irate glare from Akutagawa and a supportive clap on the shoulder from Chuuya-san.

“See? I fucking knew it.”

Chuuya-san takes a few moments to fume about the numerous abuse Dazai-san has inflicted on his bank account. Given that Chuuya-san is back to business immediately – it seems that he gets over it quickly. Either due to a strong personality or because he’s too used to such things already. Atsushi wonders just how close the two of them are, to be able to act like this.

After all, Chuuya-san is smiling as he grumbles a long list of swearwords and death threats.

“…We got distracted. Let’s discuss our findings over there.”

Chuuya-san directs the two of them to sit down on the leftover steps leading to Mukurotoride’s remains. The tower’s windows are mostly smashed, but there are still some stained glass windows that remain, refracting moonlight like their home to a whole new galaxy inside them. Chuuya-san sits on the topmost step, looking relaxed like he’s merely out for a late-night rendezvous in a VIP-only lounge. Akutagawa sits two steps lower, to Chuuya-san’s right.

Atsushi makes a split-second decision to not tease Akutagawa over wanting to be literally Chuuya-san’s right-hand man. It is kind of endearing, to see Akutagawa acting like such a loyal subordinate. Just to be safe from Akutagawa kicking him down the steps and into the jagged rocks below, Atsushi settles by Chuuya’s left; this way, with Chuuya-san in-between them, Atsushi can make faces at Akutagawa without worrying about bodily harm.

“I assume each of us found something in their assigned locations?”

“Chuuya-san.”

“Hmm?”

“You have already solved the mystery behind this case, correct? That was why you were not surprised to see jinko with the necklace.” Akutagawa looks graver than usual. “I do not require an explanation, so you can just command me for my next course of action.”

Chuuya-san blinks, before laughing. He squeezes Akutagawa’s left bicep twice. Atsushi chokes back his words.

“You believe in me that much? While it’s true I did realize some things…” Chuuya-san trails off with a faraway look. “…Anyway. It’s important to always gather all the necessary information and such before making a move, right?”

“Dazai-san did say something like that.” Akutagawa says slowly, narrowing his eyes. “But you are Chuuya-san.”

Atsushi looks at Akutagawa and is surprised to feel a jolt of synchronization. Like he knows what Akutagawa plans to say next. Atsushi is reminded by his feeling from earlier – that Chuuya-san is exuding the same atmosphere as Dazai-san. The same assessing gaze, the same atmosphere. Atsushi’s chalked it up to the older men just having the same type of approach when it comes to getting sent to dangerous situations. Based on Akutagawa’s too-pointed-to-not-be-accusing words however, it appears that this is far from Chuuya-san’s usual behavior.

“So, tell me.” Rashomon radiates from Akutagawa’s back like a crown of spines, dark and bloodthirsty. “Who are you, really?”

Chuuya-san’s expression is a mixture of bewilderment and amusement. Eyes shine like blue-gray steel as he tilts his head, unruffled despite Rashomon threatening violence inches away from him.

“You really are a good subordinate, huh?” When he speaks up, he sounds like a proud parent, like Kunikida-san after Agency members have successfully submitted their paperwork without delay. “You don’t have to be so suspicious. I’m not so sorry a guy that I’d actually become a shitty mackerel.”

“Then, why—”

“Atsushi found Gin’s necklace from a time and place where it shouldn’t have been.” Chuuya-san cuts Akutagawa off with a placid enough smile on his face. “What did you find in the orphanage, Akutagawa?”

Akutagawa falls silent. He looks torn between subordination and wanting to stand his ground. He’s still suspicious of Chuuya-san, Atsushi could tell.

Atsushi decides to follow his lead on this matter, because Atsushi doesn’t know Chuuya-san well enough to know if he’s acting out of character. Of course, Dazai-san’s tales about Chuuya-san are mostly barely-veiled insults about the other’s height, naivety and emotionality. It all clashes horribly with how composed Chuuya-san has been for the past couple of hours he’s known him.

…Of course, Atsushi also gets the impression that Dazai-san isn’t exactly honest about his thoughts, given that he does have Chuuya-san’s picture—smiling so gently while propped up by pillows, warmed by an amber light that probably comes from a bedside lamp, beautiful in a way museum-worthy masterpieces only could be. Now that Atsushi thinks about it, it’s probably why he easily believed that the picture is a stock photo. The short glimpse that Atsushi caught is already enough to convince him that it looks too perfect, like it’s been manufactured solely for the sake of painting a beautiful image.

For Dazai-san to take a photo of that moment, for Dazai-san to keep that photo in his wallet—

…But Atsushi’s getting distracted.

Point is, Akutagawa thinks there’s something weird about this Chuuya-san. The tiger inside Atsushi hasn’t relaxed its vigilance against Chuuya-san either. So, Atsushi feels like he should come to the rescue, or something. Form a united front with Akutagawa. Or something like that. He decides to throw the question back to Chuuya-san. With a gulp, he asks, “How about you, Chuuya-san? What did you find?”

“Dazai’s bandages.”

Eh?

“Eh?” Atsushi blinks rapidly. He isn’t expecting such a quick response. For that matter, he isn’t expecting that response. “Dazai-san’s bandages?”

“Uh-huh.” Chuuya-san doesn’t seem like he’s ready to be forthcoming with an explanation as to how he knows a certain set of bandages belong to Dazai-san.

Perhaps there’s a name scribbled on the bandages? Is this part of becoming soukoku? As what Dazai-san has dubbed to be ‘shin soukoku’, is Atsushi supposed to eventually be able to recognize all of Akutagawa’s clothes immediately? Not that it’s going to matter. Atsushi can pretty much erase anything that has color aside from black or white… wait, he’s getting distracted again.

Atsushi decides to be brave. “Um, how did you know it belonged to Dazai-san?”

“It smells like him.” Chuuya-san looks thoughtful, as though he’s sincerely trying to think of a way to elaborate. “It just… smells so much like him. And, it makes sense.”

“No, no, it doesn’t make sense at all!” Atsushi’s not sure whether he’s hyperventilating because that’s how he usually reacts to watching love confessions on the dramas that Naomi-san and Kyouka-chan liked to watch after-lunch, if there are no cases for the Agency to handle. Or if it’s because he’s excited about winning a running bet in the Agency regarding Dazai-san’s lovelife. Or if it’s because he’s very disbelieving of what he’s hearing. “That, that sounds like—!”

Akutagawa clicks his tongue. “I found claw marks against the floor. Gouged into the floor, at least six-centimeters deep. Like it came from a wild animal.”

Silence reigns for a few more moments. Rashomon has settled back to simmer just-above Akutagawa’s shoulders, like a particularly irritable cloak. From Akutagawa’s dispassionate description, Atsushi has a good idea as to the source of those claw marks. He looks down at his palms, tries to recall the feeling of them transforming into a tiger’s claws.

“…I’ve got an idea.” Chuuya-san points to the two of them. “Before I say it, I’ll say this first. I will smack you both if you overreact, okay?”

Akutagawa’s face sours at the thought of getting disciplined like an unruly child. “As long as it does not involve something as disdainful as… kissing the jinko or something equally ridiculous, I will do whatever it takes to leave this alternate space.”

Chuuya-san’s eyes shift skywards.

A beat.

“Absolutely not,” Akutagawa grinds out, Rashomon hurtling towards Atsushi’s neck.

Atsushi, for his part, squawks indignantly and jumps away with tiger-transformed legs. “Why is kissing me disdainful, huh?! I’ll have you know that I’m someone who’s very nice to kiss!”

“So sayeth the pathetic fool who could not even say such things without blushing.”

“You—!”

“Relax. I was just messing with you two.” Chuuya-san looks amused. “Maybe you should just do it though, just to get it over with.”

“I would rather perish.”

“That’s what you say about breakfast too,” Chuuya-san points out, kind voice making it sound even more merciless. “Anyway, before you two end up getting distracted by flirting again, let’s discuss important things first.”

“I am absolutely not flirting with a foolish jinko,” Akutagawa protests, but it’s at a much smaller volume.

“At the risk of sounding overly melodramatic, I believe that the locations are places where we died.” Chuuya-san says it so straightforwardly that Atsushi takes a few heartbeats to fully parse the meaning of his words. “If we are all brought here to represent ‘gods’, even though we’re supposed to be ‘humans’, then it only means to say that we’ve somehow been ‘transformed’ to ‘gods’, correct?”

“Supposed to,” Akutagawa murmurs while looking at Chuuya-san.

Atsushi, for his part, feels his head ache.

“We have died, from those places?” Akutagawa prompts when tense silence settles between them.

“Died as ‘humans’,” Chuuya-san sighs. “And then subsequently ‘reborn’ as ‘gods’.”

After a moment, “At least, that’s how the Ability must have interpreted it. Perhaps the Ability is like that book, where it could only follow a story’s framework for the people it transported into its space. And that’s why the other operatives that have been transported inside could not leave – if they did not have a corresponding ‘role’, then it would be impossible for them to unlock the way to leave this space.”

Another breath, before Chuuya-san lets out a deep sigh. “A troublesome type of power.”

Akutagawa murmurs, “…And that was why they could not succeed with getting Shibusawa Tatsuhiko’s information’s location. The rogue group did not want to risk using it on their members, and they could not find people who fit the roles needed by the Ability.”

“Until us,” Atsushi mumbles into the lopsided triangle formed by their bodies.

“Until us,” Chuuya-san agrees.

“Then…” Akutagawa tenses as he speaks up. “Why have I switched places with jinko?”

…That’s right. Atsushi’s past is with the orphanage – where a part of him had died. The transformation from a normal boy to a test subject. The transformation of a test subject into someone who wouldn’t let anyone take his Ability away from him. And Akutagawa – the forests should have been his place. Where he had transformed from… probably the bitchiest-looking kid, into a Port Mafia member.

“Because Surihachi City is where I came from,” Chuuya-san says mildly. “And that shitty mackerel already took my place.”

Eh?

“Eh?!” Atsushi chokes on air again. “Just for that reason?!”

“Uh-huh. And the north was where that asshole last stood as a Port Mafia member.” Chuuya-san looks oddly calm for someone belonging to an organization that demanded death for traitors. “So I figured, it means that that we’re supposed to switch, connecting the north and south that way.”

“…I understand.”

Atsushi waves his hands frantically. “No, no, I understand nothing!”

Akutagawa’s eyebrow lifts, just so, asking ‘just how stupid can you be?’ using thinly-distributed facial hair that nearly melts into the pale skin. And, because Akutagawa’s the type to never let Atsushi have a moment of peace, he asks the question aloud anyway.

Atsushi ignores the condescending look and confronts Chuuya-san instead, with a yelled, “Connection?! You mean—?!”

“Oh?” Chuuya-san’s bewilderment this time looks slightly different compared to the others. This time, there’s a haze of the very pleasantly surprised. “That mackerel does know how to keep his mouth shut, after all.”

“Eh? I don’t understand…”

Akutagawa shoves Atsushi aside. “Chuuya-san. How long?”

“I don’t even remember. It feels like forever.” Chuuya-san scratches at his cheek as he considers that, before letting out an empathic, “Fuck.”

“Thank you for your hard work,” Akutagawa says, before bowing down, a neat bow with a straight bend of the back at the waist. “Please take care of Dazai-san well from this point onward too.”

“Eh? What’s happening…”

“I’d sooner kill that asshole,” Chuuya-san says, still scratching at his cheek. There’s a light blush on his face. And then, he seemingly belatedly notices Atsushi, who’s still very, very confused. “Oh, jinko. I didn’t know that you didn’t know. Sorry about that.”

“Um…?”

“Dazai is my partner.”

“As soukoku…?”

“Yeah.” Chuuya-san shrugs like Dazai-san is some sort of dust mote that needs to be flicked away. “As well as all manners of the word, I guess.”

A beat.

“…oh.”

“Stupid,” Akutagawa mumbles. Atsushi sticks his tongue out at him, because Akutagawa likes to pretend that he isn’t flabbergasted by this news as well. Like he knew all along, when he had to ask Chuuya-san ‘how long’ earlier!

“Anyway, so that only means that we’ve done our parts,” Chuuya-san then says cheerfully. Atsushi takes it back – Chuuya-san is perhaps the most evil person he’s ever met. Because Chuuya-san continues with a, “Now, you two. Go and connect the East and West, so we can all leave, okay?”

*

end of part seven;

*

Chapter Text

*

part eight: constellations in the sky

*

“No, no, no, I don’t understand!” Atsushi flails wildly as he feels his entire body dissolve into a sweaty mess. “Connect?!”

“I think you do understand,” Chuuya-san says mildly, seemingly unconcerned with how he’s cruelly stabbing into Atsushi’s fragile psyche. “And that’s why you’re panicking.”

Akutagawa takes that moment to speak up. “Chuuya-san.”

“Mm?”

“Please stop teasing the jinko.”

Satisfied, Chuuya-san gestures to the two of them. “Oh? Coming to his rescue, hm? You guys really do get along well.”

“Please stop teasing the jinko,” Akutagawa continues, “because he is too stupid to understand things.”

The warm and fuzzy feelings that have started growing in Atsushi’s stomach all disappear in a violent puff.  “O-Oi, that’s uncalled for!”

“He is probably thinking of something foolish and unnecessary at this point.” Dismissive tone, coupled with Akutagawa glaring at him. “Please give us our orders.”

“That is the order,” Chuuya-san says with a shake of his head. He then taps the screen of the phone hanging around his neck. “I’m already connected to Dazai. You two have to figure it out on your own.”

It’s all said with the tone and manner of a preschool teacher sending off precocious kids to the wild unknown, to a playground where they’re expected to make nice instead of shoving sand down each other’s clothes. Of course, given that there’s Akutagawa involved, it’s more likely that he’ll shove Rashomon towards Atsushi instead. Atsushi has this sinking feeling that he’s supposed to deal with feelings, on top of helping Akutagawa deal with his own feelings.

Is Akutagawa even capable of feelings that don’t involve murder?

Does Atsushi even want to know?

…Yes.

That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Atsushi—despite still continuing his battle with his own feelings of insecurity as to his place in this world, despite being filled with feelings of gratitude and protection towards this city that has given so much to him—is interested in wanting to know more Akutagawa, is interested in wanting to understand the complicated man who is battling with his own feelings of insecurity, just like him.

Atsushi eyes Chuuya-san. He’s fairly sure that this interest of his isn’t displayed with any obvious sign. After all, none of his coworkers, who are working in a detective agency, have been able to sense it. Perhaps it’s because Chuuya-san has gone through a similar sort of experience.

“Well?” Chuuya-san asks, head tilted. “Go on and figure it out.”

And then, he dips his head, a small grin playing on his expression. “I’ll go and check on other things if you want some privacy.”

“You’re going to Dazai-san?” Atsushi poses the question, but he’s pretty sure about the answer anyway.

Chuuya-san’s grin widens in response, before he disappears again in a now-familiar flurry of dust and accompanying earth-shattering boom.

Once the dust clears, Atsushi sees Akutagawa covering the lower half of his face with his hand, coughing slightly. Knowing that Akutagawa isn’t the sort to want anyone to fuss over him, Atsushi only hovers a scant distance away, but doesn’t do anything foolish, like rub his hand over Akutagawa’s back in a show of comfort.

…Actually, you know what?

They’re supposed to connect, right?

Atsushi gingerly bridges the gap between them, shuffling closer and extending his palm so he can rub Akutagawa’s back. Akutagawa glares at him, narrowing of eyes not enough to disguise the slight redness on them, from all the dust. Tellingly, he doesn’t bother verbally stopping Atsushi’s choreographed motions. Rashomon hisses like a bristling cat, faintly vibrating as Atsushi’s palm makes contact with the black coat over the back that looks so deceptively frail from afar, just before spines radiate from it like the blooming of a black flower.

Rashomon hisses again, juxtaposed by the odd contented purring by Byakko reverberating inside Atsushi, the moment his palm makes full contact.

Atsushi feels dizzy, like his blood flow’s gone haywire, spinning all over him. It’s almost as if Akutagawa punched him in the gut—and it really is like that. He bumps closer to Akutagawa’s arm, body almost curling into the other man, the tiger inside of him making strange winding motions with its tail, chasing the sensation closer, closer, closer—

Akutagawa sounds strangled when he asks, “…What are you doing, jinko?”

Atsushi isn’t sure, not entirely. His tongue feels heavy inside his mouth, and he can only let out a shuddering breath as his hand moves over Akutagawa’s back, like he’s the one who’s choking on the dust. An entirely different reaction from the tiger compared to how it’s been acting with Chuuya-san earlier. It’s almost as if Byakko has acknowledged Chuuya-san as an opponent; Akutagawa, on the other hand, is something that the tiger feels magnetized to.

The sky is quiet, the pale moon curtained by the clouds.

There’s only Atsushi’s heartbeat and the thoughts swirling inside of him.

“Let’s,” Atsushi starts to say, but then he stops. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say. But then again, the two of them have traded words so many times already.

Maybe it’s time to let actions speak.

Atsushi keeps his right palm splayed out over Akutagawa’s back as he presses up and sideways, their chests trapping Akutagawa’s arm in-between them. Akutagawa’s mouth is cold and unyielding, while Atsushi’s lips are trembling and chapped. There’s nothing soft about the contact between them, it almost feels inconceivable to describe it as a kiss. But there’s a gentleness there, Rashomon’s spines and Byakko’s claws both tucked away, just the two of them lost together in the middle of a desolate ground meant for gods.

…Ah.

There’s a ball of warmth that curls inside his gut. Byakko stretches out in a satisfied yawn. Rashomon’s hissing tapers off into a contented murmur. Akutagawa remains stock-still, like he’s been turned into a statue that won’t breathe. Atsushi lets out a huff of laughter against Akutagawa’s lips, presses closer for one more moment, before pulling away.

Atsushi withdraws from their kiss, eyes bright as he observes the ruddy color high on Akutagawa’s usually sickly-pale face. He waits for Akutagawa’s reaction, half-expecting for the arm still trapped between their bodies to suddenly sucker-punch him.

A moment of silence, before Akutagawa averts his eyes and coughs. “Did that suffice to fulfill the condition for the connection that Chuuya-san had talked about?”

Atsushi blinks, before he feels laughter being punched out of his chest by the sudden intensity of his emotions. “Y-You—! I didn’t kiss you just because of that!”

Akutagawa raises a barely-there eyebrow at him, but before Atsushi can wrestle with the conflicting desires to kiss Akutagawa again and waiting until they get out of this place to do a repeat, there’s a sudden crack in the sky.

Akutagawa adopts a battle-ready stance, Rashomon flaring out, as the sky continues crackling, lines appearing on the moon’s surface, splintering it into countless pieces. The stars above glow brightly, like they’re all about to explode simultaneously, lines connecting the constellations together as though to separate the sky into respective plates.

Amidst the fantastical, breathtaking sight of the world they’re trapped inside ending, Atsushi spots a red comet approaching them. Not even a few seconds later, a windswept Chuuya-san lands in front of them again, carrying with him a cylindrical tank that practically dwarfs him. Everything is happening so quickly, that Atsushi spends several moments trying to understand what he’s seeing.

“Dazai-san,” Akutagawa is the first to acknowledge the person floating off, sleeping, inside the tank.

Atsushi rapidly approaches, tugging Akutagawa by the arm with him. “Is he okay?!”

Chuuya-san’s gaze slides off the sight of the two of them acting so closely, linked by the arms. Atsushi does him the same favor by keeping quiet about how the landing this time is done much more gently, as though Chuuya-san absolutely did not want to jostle Dazai-san in his slumber, even slightly.

“You two, find the research,” comes the succinct order.

“Understood,” Akutagawa quickly accepts it.

Atsushi feels a spark of fondness, but also confusion. “Um, excuse me?! I still understand nothing?!”

“I’ll be busy fighting the stars above,” Chuuya-san says patiently, like that explains everything, when it really doesn’t. Thankfully, because Chuuya-san isn’t so unreasonable, he adds, “The ones observing our moves, the ones behind these, they’re transported to this world as the ‘stars’.”

“Will they crash down upon this land?” Akutagawa inquires, easily hopping onto his superior’s train of thought.

Chuuya-san shrugs carelessly, “They could try.”

Atsushi resists the urge to roll his eyes. It would have sounded and appeared so cool, if not for the fact that Chuuya-san’s hand is splayed out over Dazai-san’s face the entire time they’ve been talking. It’s over the glass cylinder, but it still counts! This kind of public display of affection is simply terrible!

…Yes, he has plans on speaking with Chuuya-san on the sly once they’re out of here, to get some tips on how to interact with Akutagawa better, but that’s neither here nor there.

“We will accomplish our part,” Akutagawa promises with a slight bow.

Atsushi feels that spark of fondness catching fire. How is it that seeing five seconds of Akutagawa acting like a docile workaholic makes him feel like he’s full after an entire day of eating crepes with Kyouka-chan? It really is terrible. Especially since he’s never expected to ever have a chance on acting on his interest. And now, it feels like a dam has been opened, and there’s a thread of electric giddiness thrumming under his skin.

“The gods inside you should be able to resonate with its location now,” Chuuya-san says. “Atsushi, you should be able to sense the metal safe the papers are in. Akutagawa, yours should sense the papers themselves. Knowing the Pale Qilin’s tendencies, he probably hid it near the top floors. Those types of fuckers like lording it over the world from above.”

Atsushi doesn’t comment on how Chuuya-san is also clearly thinking about how Dazai-san acted as an inside man to Shibusawa Tatsuhiko’s machinations.

Thinking over the rest of Chuuya-san’s words though…

The White Tiger of the West is ruled by metal and the Azure Dragon of the East is ruled by plant and wood. Atsushi looks up briefly at the stars that look like they’re about to burst into flames and fall down like meteors. The Vermillion Bird of the South is of the fire element, while the Black Tortoise of the North can douse the flames with its water.

…Oh.

All along, they were supposed to split the job this way.

Atsushi bows slightly as well, saying “Have fun, Chuuya-san,” before tugging Akutagawa along so they can search for the research papers together, and then leave this place for good.

*

Compared to what they’ve gone through over the past couple of hours, it’s surprisingly easy, finding the metal briefcase and confirming that they have a bunch of papers filled with jargon that makes Atsushi’s head dizzy. Perhaps it’s because the hardest part of the entire ordeal is being able to gather the right sort of people who can fulfill the novel Ability’s requirements.

Inside the abandoned Mukurotoride tower, Akutagawa’s very systematic and efficient in his search, probably because he looks like he’s slightly worried about letting Chuuya-san fend off the attacks from the descending stars alone, even though he’s also the same person who was so confident in the other’s strength.

…It’s kind of adorable, and Atsushi sort of hates himself for using that word in conjunction with Akutagawa. Only ‘sort of’ though, because there really is no other word that he can think of.

Akutagawa’s barely-veiled worry is for naught though, it appears.

By the time the two of them make their way back down to the ground, Chuuya-san is leaning his back heavily against the glass cylinder, smoke and ash surrounding him. The cylindrical tank is, unsurprisingly, devoid of any scratches or soot. Chuuya-san has his right hand raised to his lips, five different shades of flames curling around his fingers. His left hand is casually hanging beside him, fingers curled in a way that almost looks like it’s done on instinct.

Atsushi squints.

Inside the tank, Dazai-san’s right hand is curled just-so, tilted in a half-circle that completes the space left-behind by Chuuya-san’s hand.

…Oh.

“Really terrible,” Atsushi mutters, as he chooses to stare at the carnage around them instead.

Carnage is the best word Atsushi can think of, really. The land around them looks like it’s been bombarded by several bombs, the earth scorched asunder, still smoking at some patches. It’s almost a wonder that the Mukurotoride Tower is still standing in one piece, but Atsushi supposes that not even shooting stars can escape gravity.

Upwards, the sky is simply a kaleidoscope of cracked tiles, none of the stars present anymore. Even the moon is gone, leaving only an all-encompassing darkness above.

…So that’s why Chuuya-san is using his flames to help light up the surrounding area then.

For a brief moment, Atsushi suddenly understands why the tiger inside him is so wary of Chuuya-san. This space is supposed to bring over people based on a legend. They’re supposedly here to represent gods.

Atsushi can’t see the entire city, but he has a feeling that everything has been reduced to the same wasteland. At this point, he can’t even see any of the other buildings or skyscrapers, even though Yokohama is teeming with it.

They’re supposedly humans who have been ‘transformed’ to gods to represent the legend the Ability is following.

Atsushi glances at Chuuya-san. Looking so casual, not even a drop of sweat or a tear on his clothes. Hair a bit windswept still. So serene, like this level of great destruction isn’t something to even blink at.

A god of destruction, is all Atsushi can think of.

Noticing his gaze, Chuuya-san smiles and beckons the two of them over. He doesn’t adjust his left hand, content to hold hands with air. Atsushi doesn’t roll his eyes, but he’s not so brave that he’ll dare try to hold Akutagawa’s hands. He may have regeneration abilities, but he’s not a masochist. Even if he’s interested in seeing just how Akutagawa will react.

Chuuya-san taps Akutagawa’s shoulder, as soon as the two of them are within touching distance. “Good work, Akutagawa.”

Akutagawa coughs and covers the lower part of his face again. It does absolutely nothing to hide the glow that he has, from getting acknowledged.

“Yes, Akutagawa did very well,” Atsushi adds with a chuckle. “He did everything!”

“Cease your foolish words,” Akutagawa immediately retorts.

Atsushi pounces on the opening. “Ah, so you think I was helpful earlier?”

Akutagawa doesn’t exactly shove him away, but it’s close. “Shut up.”

“You can continue flirting in the real world,” Chuuya-san tells them mildly. “We should be transported out in a minute.”

Akutagawa sputters, but tellingly doesn’t refute the words. Atsushi feels giddy. And then he remembers, “What about Dazai-san? Should we take him out of the tank…?”

Chuuya-san’s face turns sour. “He can stay inside just fine, since he sorely needs a bath, that lazy ass.”

Atsushi blinks.

Akutagawa elbows him, as though to deter him from blurting out his next set of words.

Atsushi elbows him right back, as he gathers enough courage to say, “Chuuya-san, you do know that you’ve been trying to hold his hands the entire time, right?”

Chuuya-san’s face grows sourer, but before he can retort, a sphere of darkness suddenly swallows them—and then, nothing.

*

By the time Atsushi wakes up, it’s a Saturday morning. Instead of the usual sight that greets him when he wakes up inside Kyouka-chan’s closet space, he sees a white ceiling and smells the scent of antiseptics. Then, he feels a faint breeze from an open window.

Oh.

He’s in a hospital.

It’s at that moment that Dazai-san comes in, a cheerful “Good morning,” greeting him alongside Dazai-san’s wave.

“You’ve done well. With all of your hard work, we have managed to obtain important information and capture the rogue researchers,” Dazai-san adds, as he sits on one of the two plastic chairs pulled up to the side of the hospital bed.

“You wouldn’t wake up after you got out of the Ability,” Dazai-san takes the initiative to explain, as he grabs an apple from the extravagant fruit basket on the bedside table. Atsushi can’t even protest about a visitor being the one eating the fruit basket for the patient. Dazai-san continues talking as he chews, “Yosano-sensei says that it’s just fatigue, but a certain someone wanted to make sure you were alright, and has sent you to the hospital instead.”

Atsushi blinks. “Thank you so much, Dazai-san.”

“Oh, that someone isn’t me,” Dazai-san admits cheerfully. “My poor detective’s salary won’t be able to afford this premium hospital suite! Woe is me! This kind of depressing reality means that the only solution is to commit a lovely suicide! Now, Atsushi-kun, do you mind if I try to jump off your hospital room’s window?”

Atsushi’s first thought is, ah, should have known that it’s not Dazai-san’s idea. And then, “W-Wait! I don’t have money either!”

The previously-open window suddenly bangs shut, a glow of red surrounding it.

An angry man barges in, yelling, “Shitty mackerel, you’re the absolute worst in bedside manners!”

…Ah, it’s Chuuya-san.

The Port Mafia Executive isn’t wearing his black suit ensemble. There’s a fedora atop his head, and he looks so casual with just a button-up and pants. Apparently, even mafia has their respite from work and suits during weekends.

“I am the best in bed though,” Dazai-san replies shamelessly.

“Pfft, is that so?” Chuuya-san asks, nonplussed. “Let me punch you ten times and I’m sure you’ll look lovely on a hospital bed.”

“Chibikko, why waste the opportunity to send me straight to the morgue?” Dazai-san pouts like he’s not traumatizing Atsushi beside them. “Ah, but getting kicked to death by you isn’t very fun at all.”

Chuuya-san throws a punch that Dazai-san easily avoids. “Stop talking if you’re just going to fill Atsushi’s head with nonsense!”

Of course, their actions and words would be more convincing if Chuuya-san does not take that opportunity to sit beside Dazai-san, and for Dazai-san to casually lean back and drape his arm over Chuuya-san’s shoulders.

Absolutely terrible, these two.

Atsushi briefly fantasizes about getting Akutagawa to agree acting this affectionate in public to pay their mentors back. Maybe that can be their second date?

Chuuya-san interrupts his fantasies by passing over a business card that has Akutagawa’s grumpy face on it. Behind it is a number written down, along with what looks like a work schedule.

“A good incentive to get well as soon as possible,” Chuuya-san says simply.

Atsushi clutches the business card close to his chest.

And nods.

*

Monday finds Atsushi a tad restless as he leaves the Agency for lunch.

Kyouka-chan has only asked him, once, if he’s sure, before patting his hand to wish him well. Kunikida-san calls out a reminder for him that he needs to be back in two hours because there’s a case that’s going to be assigned to him. Kunikida-san also drags Dazai-san back to the office when the other man tries to follow Atsushi, complaints about, ‘I’m the one who chose that place for their date, why don’t I get to watch them?!’, ringing out even as Atsushi closes the door.

Atsushi makes his way towards the new restaurant near the train station.

The tiger inside him is restless as well, pacing all over him and scratching at him.

And then—

Atsushi sees Akutagawa standing there, by the wooden door at the entryway. He’s wearing a high-collared trenchcoat, and one of his hands is covering a portion of his face, but it’s not enough to hide his unguarded surprise upon seeing Atsushi arrive half-an-hour earlier than their agreed-upon time.

Just a simple weekday lunch, before they need to go back to their respective workplaces.

Atsushi feels the tiger inside of him purr in satisfaction.

There are so many ways this can go wrong, so many things they still need to iron out between them.

Right now, they’re writing their own legend, their own transformation from their past connecting to the endless future ahead of them.

Atsushi grins and says, “I am so hungry so you should be prepared to treat me well!”, as a greeting. Akutagawa responds by rolling his eyes and not avoiding the short kiss that Atsushi drops on the corner of his mouth.

It’s the start to the rest of their lives.

*
Right of God: END