Hello! I had this idea awhile back and really wanted to play with it, so here it is!
The apple rested in his hand. Long fingers curled around it, just brushing the fruit's smooth surface. They barely touched it as though it was made of glass and would break with too much handling.
Atsushi stared at the apple hungrily. It looked clean, cleaner than anything he'd laid eyes on in a long time. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten fruit that wasn't riddled with wormholes or rotting patches. How long had it been since he'd eaten something that wasn't in the form of mush in general? A week? More than that? He had a hard time remembering that far back.
"You can take it," the man offering the food to him said as he stretched a bandaged arm a little further between the cell's bars. "You look half starved."
Atsushi stumbled off the bench in the back of his prison and staggered forward before snatching the apple from the man and biting into it. The juice filled his dry mouth, the crunch delightful between his teeth. It felt like ages since he'd eaten anything he could actually enjoy. The man who'd handed him the apple stood there silently, watching him. "Th-thank you," Atsushi said, wiping apple juice from his chin, leaving a sticky layer on his skin.
"Do you know why you're here, boy?" He asked. His voice wasn't quite gentle, but it also wasn't harsh. He had bandages winding up his arms and neck, and a some covered one of his eyes.
Atsushi swallowed before responding. "No."
"Really?" He said, although he didn't sound surprised in the slightest. "You don't remember anything of when you were transformed?"
"Transformed?" Atsushi tilted his head. "What do you mean?"
The man wordlessly pulled out his phone, flipped it open, and held it up so Atsushi could see the screen. The boy stared at the phone, watching a video of a white tiger ripping apart cars and mauling men with guns. He remembered the threat of the tiger in the orphanage and how it had decimated the food supplies and land. "The tiger…" Atsushi murmured more to himself than the man before him.
"Shh! Shh!" The man shushed him quickly, pressing a finger to his lips. "This is the best part." Atsushi squinted at the small screen, straining to see what was happening. He could make out a man, the one that stood in front of him actually, walking calmly up to the big cat. Atsushi held his breath as he watched. A flash of blue light took over the screen and Atsushi blinked from the light the phone gave off. When the light cleared, the tiger was gone and a boy laid unconscious on the floor. "Recognize this person?" The man asked.
Atsushi shook his head, having a hard time seeing the picture clearly. The image was zoomed in. And the boy nearly stumbled backward as he recognized the choppy, uneven bangs, grayish white hair, and ragged clothes. "Th-that… That's-"
"Yeah, it's you," the man said with an amused tone, though his smile didn't reach his uncovered eye.
"Wha- How?" Atsushi raked his fingers through his hair, hiding his face behind his forearms. He trembled, trying to piece everything together. "No, that can't- No," he muttered, trying to deny it, but the tight feeling in his chest seemed to confirm his worst fear.
"So," the man continued as though the child before him wasn't hyperventilating. "Now you're in prison for that little stunt." Atsushi flinched, lowering his arms. "The city's deemed you a major threat. If you had any control over it, you'd be semi-protected, but that's not the case here." His eye glimmered."You're scheduled to be executed in," He paused to glance at the time on his phone. "Fifteen minutes." His voice was cold, but not cruel, just… detached.
Atsushi gazed up at him with terrified, wide eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, but the words didn't reach the air, they remained in his throat, suffocating him. He choked on them, coughing up bile and whatever little filled his stomach.
"Hmm," the man mused dully. "Probably should have held off on giving you the apple." Atsushi wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, still retching. His stomach heaved when all the information hit him again.
He was that tiger. He'd killed the livestock. He'd demolished the storehouse back at the orphanage. Atsushi felt his breaths come out in rapid, uneven bursts. He was going to die, executed…
"However, I can show you a way out."
Atsushi coughed, trying to clear whatever remained in his throat. "What?" He asked desperately, pulling himself to the bars and pressing himself against them.
The man smiled. "There's three options here for you. One, we can leave your fate in the hands of the government, see if you make it out alive." Atsushi shrunk back a little. "Two, I can make it look like you escaped and you can go about your life. Worst case scenario, you get hunted down again and shot dead."
"Shot dead?!" Atsushi yelped.
The man gave him a smile, no light reaching his eye. "Three, I'm in need of an apprentice. If you become my subordinate, I can teach you to get a handle on your ability." Atsushi's muscles tensed. "The choice is up to you, of course. Choose whichever you want." When the boy didn't say anything, the man released a breath. "I don't want to rush you, but if you don't make a choice in two minutes, I might just leave your fate to the government."
Atsushi stumbled forward, panicked. "N-no!" He curled his hands around the bars. "I'm just- I-" He lowered his head and swallowed hard. "Please," he managed, his voice slight and shaking. "I don't want to die."
The man looked at him. His expression of indifference unchanged even after Atsushi's outburst. "Make your choice," he said coldly.
Atsushi didn't know why he was trembling, but he could feel his knees wobble beneath him and his hands shake on the bars. "I'll become your subordinate," he said softly.
The man in front of him clapped his hands. "Excellent," he replied with that smile that didn't quite touch his eye. He turned away from Atsushi, his long coat flying out behind him.
"W-wait!" Atsushi yelled, his voice echoing off the cinder block walls.
"Calm down," the man responded calmly, not turning around. "I'm just making some arrangements so that tiger turns into nothing but an urban legend. You'll get out of here soon enough."
"Who are you?" Atsushi asked, baffled by the what he meant by arrangements.
The man actually turned around this time. "Right, how impolite of me, forgetting introductions and all." He made a slight, mock bow. "I am Dazai Osamu, Port Mafia executive." He grinned again. "And your name?"
"N-Nakajima Atsushi," the boy managed through his dry throat.
"Very nice to meet you, Nakajima Atsushi," Dazai concluded before turning his back to his new subordinate and leaving the room.
Atsushi felt a lump form in his throat, all he could do was slump against the bars as he watched the man walk away. He wasn't sure why, but he felt like he'd just made a huge mistake.
An hour passed. Or so Atsushi thought. He wasn't sure if it was really that long or if time seemed to slow down for him with the knowledge that he'd die soon. What if that guy, Dazai, suddenly changed his mind about Atsushi and left him to get put in front of a firing squad.
He scrambled to his feet when footsteps echoed through the prison. The movement brought on a wave of vertigo and he staggered forward, clutching the bars to steady himself.
"Look at you," Dazai's voice said. "You're actually up and everything." Atsushi breathed a sigh of relief. So, he hadn't been abandoned by this man… His knees gave out from under him. "Hmm…I spoke too soon." Despite, Dazai's obvious disapproval, Atsushi lowered his head, exhausted and relieved, too much so to care about what Dazai had to say about it.
There was a loud creak and Atsushi jumped. He looked over to see Dazai standing in front of the open door of the cell. The boy pushed himself off the floor and left the cell, his legs shook like a leaf in the wind. Hunger wasn't doing him any favors, but he still managed to stay upright and follow Dazai to a car.
"Ummm…" Atsushi began after sitting in silence for a while. "What kind of work will I be doing?"
Dazai shrugged. "Well, we'll need to train you first. You're far from having a handle on that ability of yours. We might start you off on something small… Assassinations maybe."
"Assassinations?!" Atsushi yelped. For a second he thought Dazai was kidding and almost tried to laugh, but there was no joking light in his eye… There was no light in his eye in general. Dazai, his new superior, was completely serious. Atsushi's hands got sweaty, and he felt them begin to shake. He tried to calm himself down, taking a deep breath. "I- I can't…" He began.
"You'll get used to it." Dazai had nothing more to say on the matter.
Atsushi's stomach clench and for a moment, he was scared he'd wind up retching his guts out again. "I can't… I didn't know…" He struggled to find the right words. "I can't kill people," he said weakly after a few moments of silence.
Dazai sighed at this. "You're making me be the adult here, aren't you?" He groaned, squirming around in his seat, stretching boredly. It was then that Atsushi saw how young Dazai actually was. He couldn't have been more than eighteen. Perhaps it'd been the darkness of the prison or the desperate state he'd been in that made Dazai look so much older in his eyes. Now, on level ground with Dazai, Atsushi could make out a certain youthfulness in his face and a slight whine in his voice.
"Not in the mood for this," Dazai muttered more to himself than to Atsushi. "Oh well," he yawned. "Guess this is what the boss meant when he said taking on another apprentice would require responsibility." He snapped back into a stiff posture, and turned back to Atsushi, suddenly looking dead serious again. "You made a commitment to joining the Port Mafia, you'll learn to kill." Atsushi flinched at the detached nature of Dazai's voice. His face darkened, a gleam coming to his eye. "And when you're ordered to kill or capture or fight, you will do as you're told."
Atsushi found himself wringing his hands, squeezing his fingers tightly to keep himself from shaking. "Can I be let out of this deal?" Atsushi said quietly.
"Please?" He asked, his voice growing weaker.
Dazai groaned again, leaning his head against the back of the seat. "You made your choice."
"But I didn't-"
"Know what you were getting yourself into?" Dazai finished for him. "You didn't ask before you agreed to that option, and that is on you," he concluded easily. Atsushi opened his mouth to protest, but Dazai cut him off. "Face it like a man," he said, clapping a hand on Atsushi's shoulder as though he was being supportive. "What are you? Eleven? Twelve?"
"Fourteen," Atsushi responded, his face growing red.
Dazai tilted his head. "Really? I could have sworn you were-"
"I'm fourteen," he muttered.
Dazai's eyes didn't shine with disapproval and he didn't lash out at his new apprentice for interrupting him. "You're sure?" Atsushi looked away and nodded. "Well, anyway, you're old enough to stick to your word."
The car stopped. "Huh," Dazai said, looking out the window. "Looks like we're here." He tapped Atsushi shoulder again. "Come on," he ordered, his voice bored.
Atsushi's eyes darted around when he got out of the car, trying to piece together where he was and where he could run. "Don't even try it," Dazai said, not even looking at Atsushi. He stretched his arms above his head. "If you're caught running around here, you'll either be killed on sight or dragged back to the boss, in which case I'd have to come in a pull you out of a prison a second time." He glanced at Atsushi. "Please don't cause me any trouble, okay?"
Atsushi looked around again before giving up. "Okay," Atsushi replied, his voice barely more than a whisper. Bile collected in his throat as he let his shoulders drop, resigned to his fate.
"Good," Dazai concluded, leading the way to his apartment. "I have a spare bedroom, you'll stay in there." Atsushi followed silently, shuffling behind him. Dazai glanced back at the boy, noticing the distraught expression on his face. He didn't say anything, the child would get accustomed to his life here after some training and a couple missions. He stood a distance behind him, biting his lip and trying to keep from fidgeting.
The spare room was simple. Composed of white walls, a dusty bed, and a window, it looked slightly less impressive than cheap motel room. It wasn't as though Atsushi needed much to get by, and compared to the orphanage, the room was better than anything he'd ever lived in. Dazai pushed the boy forward lightly and Atsushi stumbled into the room. "Hey-" He turned and was cut off by the door slamming in his face.
"Try not to take it personally, Atsushi-kun. The window's practically sealed into the wall and I'm pretty sure it's indestructible," Dazai said from the other side of the door. Atsushi stared at the door in front of him, his hand on the door knob. He jiggled it experimentally; it turned, but the door itself wouldn't budge. "Relax. I'll let you out tomorrow. I'm just making sure you don't tear apart my apartment if you transform." Atsushi banged on the door, more or less indignant by the turn of events. Dazai sighed. "Don't be so melodramatic. Once we get that ability under control, I can leave the door unlocked. Think of it as training wheels or incentive or something like that."
"If you trash your room, you can clean it up in the morning," Dazai said simply before Atsushi heard him retreat from his door.
His knees knocked together and for the second or third time that day, Atsushi found himself getting weaker. He sank to the floor and leaned the door, breathing deeply to calm down. Out of one prison and into another… He thought despairingly.
So, that's the start to this story. I have a lot of ideas for later chapters and I'm really excited to write more! (Already ahead on some future chapters).
On a side note, I kind of just came up with the title, which was really just my idea for the chapter title, so we'll see if it gets changed later. I'm totally open to suggestions!