The phone beeped in Akutagawa's ear— the familiar sound of rejection. Another stupid request from Dazai-san that has nothing to do with anything. Akutagawa knew he should bring the phone away from his ear now, store it back in his coat pocket.
"Dazai-san?" he said into the dead line anyway, just in case, and listened.
Then with a sigh, feeling hollow, he put away the phone and looked up face to face with the number one person he doesn't want to see.
"Jinko." Akutagawa said in surprise.
"That was Dazai-san, wasn't it?"
Akutagawa narrowed his eyes at the detective.
"I'm sorry." Atsushi said. "I know how that feels."
More visions? What else does he know? Suddenly Akutagawa felt exposed in a way he was not accustomed to. He was never one to shy away from any battle or death. Sudden attacks and strong opponents don't faze him, but this… this sick anticipation that someone would eventually get under his skin and into the core of the hollowness inside.
It was terrifying.
"Look, Akutagawa, I need to talk to you about all this. This ability attack is too…mysterious. Too coincidental. I don't know. We need to talk."
"The Port Mafia is working on it."
"Does it?" Asked Atsushi. "It's happened on only one member. They cut you off before— you would have died if not for Higuchi-san. I don't believe the Port Mafia is working on it very hard."
Akutagawa pursed his lips and glared. "That is none of your business."
"Look, the detective agency has given up, too, when Ranpou-san couldn't deduce anything about this. I know the Port Mafia wouldn't care about non-vital attacks on just one member, so we are the only ones who could solve this."
"We could start by talking, at least. Let's go to a safe place. Come on. Please."
For a moment Atsushi thought the mafia would dismiss his pleas and simply walk away. But then Akutagawa closed his eyes and nodded.
"Have it your way." He said, voice laden with resignation. "But first, I have to run some errands."
The reason Dazai had phoned Akutagawa was because his kouhai wasn't there to go off on his errands for him. Atsushi was skipping his job, but ended up having to do it anyway. At least, the silly part of it. The jobs that used to be Akutagawa's but is now Atsushi's has been transferred back temporarily.
One way or another, the two of them could not escape Dazai's insistence on slacking off.
Again, one way or another, they ended up delivering the groceries to Dazai's room in the same apartment building as Atsushi's, so the detective invited Akutagawa in after confirming Kyouka was on a spy mission that would run till tomorrow morning. It turned out that the "safe" place to talk indeed was this average 6-tatami room in a run-down apartment building.
Akutagawa didn't bother checking the room for bugs— the reckless tendency that probably prevents him from earning the respect he so craves.
You were made to kill.
He couldn't really blame Akutagawa for being so blind to it.
"So… has Port Mafia found out anything?" Atsushi started.
It turned out that they hadn't. No records both in the upper and underworld shows a potential ability user with such a long-range, targeted ability. The attacks itself also doesn't make sense. It doesn't target the organization, just two relatively low-ranking individuals in two separate ones.
"It doesn't make sense." Atsushi reiterated into the silence of the dusk.
"Unless it is simply fate," suggested Akutagawa, calmly, as though the implication of it doesn't occur to him. Red sunset painted the room with warm colors. It was a proposition that sounds preposterous until you really think about it.
Two unreconcilable individuals, unpredictably sent into each other's past, into the most intimate and closely-held secrets that they have— for what? In order to understand each other?
"That might be true," admitted Atsushi, "it might have been just a random coincidence. Strange things do happen in this city."
"True." Replied Akutagawa, sitting down leaning against the door. He looked exhausted. "Do you think it will ever stop?"
Atsushi didn't know if he wanted it to stop.
He knew it was inconvenient, and risky. If Akutagawa hadn't saved him the first time in battle. If he hadn't been there to drag Akutagawa out of the restaurant before the police arrived. If they were alone somewhere at all, blacking out would have been dangerous. Being delivered to the hospital could get them both arrested or in deep legal trouble.
But Akutagawa used to be incomprehensible to him. The violence, the hatred towards him, the obsession with killing and proving one's strength. It all made sense now. And it was transforming the way he sees the mafia.
Not a Rabid Dog. Just a stray who got picked up by the wrong kind of man. A man who set him on a destructive path. To whom his loyalty could never waver afterwards.
"I won't be too sad if it never stops." Atsushi said, and Akutagawa eyed him in silence.
It wasn't a surprised or disbelieving gaze— instead, it was an evaluating one. Like he was trying to discern something from Atsushi's expression, like he was trying to understand.
"I don't agree." For him, who regularly go off on solo missions to face dangerous enemies, the cost of those visions were too much to bear. "But I can see why you do."
And Atsushi thought that was the point of it. To no longer fight one another in endless incomprehension. To finally learn to disagree on the ground of understanding. To sit opposite a six-tatami room, talking without spilling blood, without even a raised voice.
It wasn't ten seconds after he thought that though, when Akutagawa decided to insult his apartment.
"This is a small and filthy place to live." He remarked out of the blue. Atsushi was not sure whether to laugh at the irony of his thoughts or be offended at the insult.
"This is like a palace compared to what I was used to, and you know it."
Atsushi expected another stream of insult at this point, baffling statements that seemed like they were aimed to hurt but stated like facts. His body tensed for an argument, or even a fight.
Then Akutagawa said,
"It is below your actual pay grade, especially if you have to share it with Kyouka. A dangerous work like yours should be compensated properly. You should ask for better lodging."
When Atsushi didn't reply Akutagawa looked back at him from his visual survey of the tiny room. His gaze was almost a glare, but by now Atsushi knew that was just how his wide eyes made him look.
"You certainly deserve it." Akutagawa said, and something broke inside Atsushi. Knowing where it comes from— a place of complete and total understanding of his feelings, his conditioning, the words felt heavier. Undeniable. The cold iron bars that existed inside him until now seemed to collapse. Letting him out into the world.
"I was only stating the truth."
A long, red silence.
"I'm just coming to understand, but you are stronger than most people already."
"I lost to you, many times."
"I don't mean physically. I mean morally. You have a code that I failed to see before. Extreme loyalty. Good will. Faith."
Akutagawa's eyes were closed, and he didn't make any sign that he heard what Atsushi had just said. For all he knows he might have fallen asleep. But Atsushi needed to get this out. To let him know.
"You just have a skewed view about killing and what strength means. That's not the kind of strength Dazai-san is looking for, Akutagawa. But you do have it. You just have to show it more. Don't try to be what you weren't really supposed to be."
"And what is that?" asked Akutagawa without opening his eyes.
"A killing machine."
"My ability was made for killing." I was also made for killing, he didn't have to say.
"Your ability is made for protecting and supporting, too. For making flowers and dolls for your little sister to play with. For winning food and survival. You don't need killing to accomplish what you were made to do."
Another long silence. The red is fading to darkness now, the streetlights are on. And when Akutagawa opened his eyes, Atsushi could see it glisten in the dim light.
Maybe this, too, is what the visions were for. To let them help each other break the shackles of the Past. To let them see and understand and give each other the permission to let go.
Akutagawa stood up. Atsushi followed suit, and with a silent goodbye, he left. The room felt warm with a red that wasn't blood.
"It seems like it worked." Kunikida said to Ranpou the next morning, before the rest of the agency arrived for their work. In the privacy of the quiet office, Ranpou nodded.
"The ability user has been dispatched now, so there will be no more attacks. Don't forget to remove the bugs, Kunikida-kun."
"Of course, Ranpou-san. It turned out well to keep your deduction a secret, after all."
"Dazai-kun and I worked on it. We need those two working together well. This seemed like a good opportunity to allow that to happen."
"Brilliant as always, Ranpou-san."
"Of course, I'm the great detective, after all."