It was supposed to be an easy assignment. Something to start you off with as you transitioned between working full time as a nurse and working for the Armed Detective Agency. After being convinced that your ability would be useful, that you could help even more people, you were excited to get started.
You were given a sealed letter to deliver. What was inside, no one explained further than to say it has to do with the uneasy ceasefire between the Agency and Port Mafia.
“It’ll be one of their low-ranking members,” Dazai had said. “Just hand it over and leave.”
But you know for a fact the man in front of you is not a low-ranking member.
The only time you’ve seen him is when Kunakida showed you a picture and told you never to get involved with him. You remember how Atsushi’s face paled and how empathetically he agreed. A chill had gone down your spine.
Except, now, in person, it’s hard to feel the same way. He’s the same height as you, thin to the point of looking frail, and every so often a cough wracks his body. The only thing that seems frightening is how empty his grey eyes seem.
“So, this is the reception we get? They send us a receptionist? I’m insulted.”
You were told to run but for some reason you take a step forward, the envelope extended towards him and the blonde woman with him.
The words remain unfinished for now. Inky blackness lined in red shoots out from him towards you and you stumble back. I’m going to die, you think, but the black stops at your neck. Like a scalpel pressed against skin and you know better than to move.
“This is the information for you,” you say, voice shaking slightly.
“Are you afraid? You face death.”
All the times patients have died while you worked the night shift at the ICU flashes through your head.
“Yes. I always am. I still have to do my job.”
There might have been a laugh but it turns to coughing as soon as it starts.
“Higuchi, take the envelope.”
She moves forward, eyes full of suspicion and plucks the envelope from your hand. You couldn’t move even if you wanted to and it hits you now how vulnerable you are. Then the blackness retreats. A sigh of relief escapes you.
“Until next time, receptionist.”
You wonder if next time you'll feel the same fear.
“Dazai-san, please see how strong I’ve become!”
The words ring out, desperate. You feel rooted to the spot in horror and fascination. You’ve never seen a fight like this before. Atsushi – who until now you’ve thought of as a slightly naïve coworker – is breathing heavily, the arms of his shirt torn to accommodate the transformation.
Kneeling on the ground is the man you’ve been warned about, the one who almost killed you for a simple job. Akutagawa. Blood trickles from his mouth. He only has eyes for Dazai and Dazai looks… bored.
“Everything I’ve done! To make you proud—”
“And yet you’ve still failed. Look at you, on the ground again,” he says.
Akutagawa clenches his fists and tries to stand but a sudden coughing fit drops him back down.
“Tch. Even the new hire is better than you.”
Finally, Akutagawa looks away from Dazai. There’s hatred and pain as he looks at you. You shake your head, trying to say that’s not true. The now familiar sight of Rashomon lashes out and you flinch but its target is Dazai.
The gunshots make you flinch even more.
Onetwothreefour. In quick succession.
Your eyes follow the barrel of the gun from where Dazai holds it to Akutagawa. Three bullets hover in the red-black space Rashomon created. Blood seeps from a hole in the shoulder of Akutagawa’s coat. The bullets clatter to ground as another bout of coughing over takes Akutagawa.
“Not quick enough. You’re still weak,” says Dazai and then to you and Atsushi, “Let’s go.”
They begin to walk away but you can’t move.
Your ability lets you see people’s emotions as if they were paint on a canvas. Lets you manipulate them as well but you’ve never liked that part, unless it was to ease the fear of a patient. Staring at Akutagawa, all you see is anger and pain. His eyes are unfocused, looking towards the ground. You’ve never seen anything like it. Even in the fearful and dying, they still retain memories of happiness and love. There's nothing else within him.
It strikes you as terribly sad.
When you finally do begin to move, it’s not to follow Dazai and Atsushi. Unthinking, you find yourself in front of Akutagawa. You drop down abruptly, an ache in your chest, and wrap your arms around him. He tenses and then the ache in your chest becomes real pain.
You expected this. The tendrils of Rashomon pierce your side. Not deep, you notice, but it hurts all the same. Pressing one hand against his back, you curl the fingers of your free hand into his hair. You can feel him shaking, still tense, and you hold on tighter.
“I’m so proud of you,” you say, voice almost breaking with emotion. You lean your head against his. A sharp intake of breath from Akutagawa – surprise – and the tendrils of Rashomon pull back.
“You’ve done so good and you are so strong.”
You mean it. You’ve never meant anything so much and unbidden you can feel your ability spill over. Not just telling him with words but letting him feel it as well.
“I am proud.”
The attack from Rashomon was expected. What wasn’t, was the feeling of his hands gripping you. Your positions are almost mirrored; one of his hands is against your back and the other pressed against your neck. You can tell this is a hug from someone who is unfamiliar with the gesture but needs it. It’s desperate, like his words from earlier, his face buried in your shoulder.
Someone is calling your name.
For now, they can wait.