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lifetime agreement

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scene art by @BellareVivet

 




Fittingly for a showdown where one’s life is going to be decided, the sky is electric with thunderstorms, silver lightning cleaving into the cloud-filled sky as though to compete with the commercial lights that form the Yokohama skyline.

Rashomon seethes like a livewire, defiant to the end even as Akutagawa collapses to his hands and knees, lungs protesting and clawing for air. His mouth is swollen with the taste of defeat, the cut on his lip dripping tears of blood into his chin and into the pavement underneath him. His muscles protest against any miniscule movement, but a quick assessment of his body that is barely being held together by Rashomon woven over and around his skin tells him that he hasn’t actually broken anything that is impossible to repair.

Akutagawa’s lips twist.

Typical jinko.

It would have been infinitely better if the weretiger crushed him thoroughly and ground his bones into something that cannot even be scattered as ashes.

Anything else feels like it would have been infinitely better than what he ends up with.

“This is…” The victor, the man in front of him, Nakajima Atsushi, is barely standing up on a leg that’s twisted in an odd angle. Victorious he may be, it appears as though he has not excised his propensity for stating the obvious. “…This is a fight to the death.”

“…Yes,” Akutagawa manages to spit out, because he is already weaker compared to the man in front of him, he cannot be more cowardly too.

Gin is already aware—displeased, resigned—of this fight; Chuuya-san would soon be, as well. He has no worldly attachments, unless what would count his desire to make that person look at him and say, ‘you’ve become strong’.

He is prepared for death, given that it is a path that he walks and seeks on a daily basis. He is not afraid to die, even if he has his reservations about Nakajima Atsushi being able to kill him in one blow. It is entirely too possible that the jinko would end up second-guessing his actions while in the middle of severing his life, and that would lead to an unnecessarily drawn-out death.

…But, it ultimately does not matter.

It is his stipulation for this fight, his resolution.

“Yes,” Akutagawa repeats as he gathers himself to say words that taste as foul as a week-old corpse left to fester under the summertime humidity: “My life is now in your hands.”

A sharp intake of breath.

Akutagawa does not have enough energy in his veins to clench his fists at that sound nor does he have any energy left to spare himself some skewed dignity by looking up at the jinko in front of him.

“Your life belongs to me now,” Nakajima Atsushi says after a few moments of simply breathing the sea-salt of Yokohama’s breeze. “…Then, I want you to listen to me.”

Akutagawa bristles but bites his tongue, so he does not snarl ‘Do not order me’ only to end up with a hacked lung.

It is a bit odd, in a way, because he did not expect the weretiger to use his wits a bit more in this matter. But it does not matter. This is the way of the world, he reminds himself. The loser, the powerless one, will follow what the victor dictates. He readies himself for an order to betray the Port Mafia by feeding information to the Agency, for a command to act as a dog for the jinko’s beck and call.

He is prepared for a multitude of things, which is why he is thrown aback when instead, what he gets is this, spoken with a solemn dignity that clashes against the feral, battered remains of their fight: “Your first order is to visit the infirmary and get all of your wounds checked. After that, you’ll eat three meals a day, every day.”

Akutagawa coughs wetly into the pavement as his head snaps up in disbelief, strain on his neck muscles soundly ignored.

Perhaps he is the actual victor of this match, because he has clearly caused enough brain damage to the already-stupid weretiger. The fact that the other man can still stand on his own legs can simply be attributed to the fact that the weretiger does not use is mind for such basic physiological functions.

“You can’t decline,” Nakajima Atsushi tells him, as though reading his thoughts.

Akutagawa feels a shudder course through his frame at that possibility, just before he discards it. To be so transparent to someone, much less the jinko, is impossible. Transparency toes the line with understanding, uncomfortably close. To be understood that well, that easily, by someone, much less the jinko…

Nakajima Atsushi’s voice is knowing but gentle. “That’s an easy order to accomplish, isn’t it? Anyone can do it.”

It is such a blatant and clumsy manipulation, that it almost feels genuine.

Lightning cracks the sky above half-open, painting the other’s face with a type of brilliance that almost feels painful to look at.

Akutagawa wrinkles his nose.

How distasteful.

-

The following week finds the two of them inadvertently meeting in the middle of a fairly-busy street.

A voice nearly overflowing with warmth cuts into the bubble that he has created for himself, with no other civilians daring to even breathe in his vicinity, “You didn’t follow my order, did you?”

Akutagawa does not respond by lashing out by driving Rashomon into the wide-open stance of Nakajima Atsushi, which he supposes is enough of an acknowledgement of their tacit agreement from before. Instead, he coughs into a curled fist, and curtly says, “Jinko.”

There is a spot of cream on the edge of the weretiger’s mouth, as though the other had succumbed to his more animalistic tendencies and had lapped up a bowl of milk messily. It is an irritating sight to settle on, so Akutagawa diverts his gaze and glares straight into the other’s eyes. For his part, the weretiger does not seem to notice his messy appearance nor the scathing glare being stabbed into his person.

Nakajima Atsushi has the gall to sigh at him. “What if your wounds get infected?”

“I know how to take care of myself,” Akutagawa snaps testily at the younger man. The sheer idea of needing someone to coddle him brings enough acid to churn at his insides. “I have managed for—”

“Yes, yes, you’re strong and independent and need nobody,” comes the interruption. “Well, I have some time now, so let’s go!”

It is such an odd turn of events, that Akutagawa takes a moment to parse through the words. After mentally replaying their conversation three times and finding no such thing as logic or sense in the weretiger’s words, Akutagawa ends up with, “What are you talking about, jinko?”

“I’m checking your wounds,” Nakajima Atsushi says so matter-of-factly, that it stutters the breath in Akutagawa’s lungs.

While he is unfortunately aware of the circumstances when the man in front of him is able to be decisive to the point of stubbornness, he definitely is not expecting it to make an appearance here, in the middle of a sidewalk, in broad Yokohama daylight, about something that does not involve life-or-death situations.

“…then, I’ll feed you chazuke,” Nakajima Atsushi continues, seemingly unaware of the fact that Akutagawa is looking at him like he is a certifiably insane person.

“I do not require your assistance,” Akutagawa rejects the other’s words and harebrained schemes. Really, the weretiger has never been the smartest, but it appears that the sudden onslaught of peace across Yokohama has caused his brain to rot even faster due to inactivity.

The weretiger shoots him a look, something that speaks of being unimpressed, but it is much more comedic and infinitely lighter on his face, unlike the unimpressed expressions that Akutagawa is sorely familiar with: from Dazai-san and his crossed arms over the chest, from the man that Akutagawa has to face every time he sees the mirror.

And then, in a flat voice that somehow manages to sound the slightest bit amused, “I won, didn’t I?”

Akutagawa inhales his acerbic retorts and grudgingly acquiesces to the weretiger’s ludicrous schemes. He reminds himself that he is prepared for this, to lose his life in the jinko’s hands. He familiarizes himself with the feeling of losing his patience as well.

Of course, Akutagawa also makes sure that he is not trailing behind the other man, so when the two of them occupy the sidewalk, he aggressively protects his personal space, to the point that he ends up half-shoving the weretiger towards an incoming car one too many times.

-

Nakajima Atsushi brings him to the supermarket where they had previously run into each other.

As expected of an airhead with cotton inside his brain, the weretiger busies himself with greeting most of the workers that he passes by, sunny smile and cheerful platitudes starkly bright even under the glare of the fluorescent lights.

…As expected of an airhead with cotton inside his brain, the weretiger also does not seem to notice that the people that he greets so enthusiastically are unable to return the enthusiasm in his greetings, all of them wisely perceiving the ominous aura that Akutagawa brings just by breathing and occasionally coughing. They shoot him surreptitious glances, some done with more stealth than others, but to Akutagawa who is used to melting into the shadows and striking out quickly, he possesses enough self-awareness about the gazes that land on him.

One of the braver supermarket staff even stage-whispers, “Is he the one…?”

Akutagawa coughs when the weretiger enthusiastically agrees without even waiting for his conversation partner to finish his sentence. One of the weretiger’s major character defects is his propensity to cut into another person’s words. Of course, it is not as glaring as his stubbornness to his beliefs and his moral philosophy, but it is a trait that Akutagawa is starting to become very familiar with.

“Oh,” the staff member says with an odd note to his tone, something that Akutagawa could not decipher and would not waste time on. It is probable that the staff member has sensed his very illegal line of work, even if Akutagawa has been advised by Boss Mori that the previous warrant of arrest for his person has already been rescinded.

…Heh, this person has a lot more self-awareness for an ordinary civilian. Unlike the jinko, who seems unbothered by the fact that he is starting to get associated with an unsavory character in the eyes of the neighborhood supermarket staff.

Far be it from Akutagawa to clue the jinko in though.

Nakajima Atsushi takes hold of the end of his coat’s sleeve and starts to drag him towards the pharmacy section of the supermarket. Akutagawa physically jolts his hand away, but the jinko has apparently transformed his fingertips to that of a tiger’s claws. The coat he is currently wearing is a purchase from Gin; it is the only reason why Akutagawa does not make a second, more violent attempt in dislodging the jinko’s grip on his clothes. Rashomon rumbles from its resting spot, woven into the fabric of the coat, clearly dissatisfied with the possibility of its current residence getting torn.

Akutagawa reminds himself that his life is forfeit anyway, so he should just treat himself as deceased. That way, he would not have to feel so affronted whenever the jinko does something irritating—which, if the jinko would insist on making him his dog, would be a permanent source of annoyance.

By the time Akutagawa deigns to listen to the babble spilling out of the weretiger’s mouth, the other man is in the middle of idly chatting with air, loudly wondering about different brands of bandages and antiseptics.

“…Dazai-san mentioned something about a favorite brand of bandages, but they all look the same to me…”

There is an odd twitch inside his chest. There is the reminder that Dazai-san willingly reveals bits and pieces about his personal likes—even if it is something so mundane as brands of bandages—to someone like the jinko who does not even know how to begin to appreciate those morsels of candid honesty from someone who has always resided inside an armored fortress of his suits, of his plans, and of Chuuya-san’s gravity wall. Something that Akutagawa has longed for, if in lesser intensity compared to gaining Dazai-san’s respect and acknowledgement—is being casually displayed in front of him.

“What do you think?” Seemingly oblivious to his worsening mood, Nakajima Atsushi then turns to him, eyes bright under the lights.

Akutagawa grits his teeth. “It does not matter.”

“Of course it does,” Nakajima Atsushi counters easily. “You’re the one who’s going to use them, after all.”

Akutagawa does not roll his eyes, but he comes close. “What a foolish sentiment.”

“If you went to the infirmary like I had asked,” Nakajima Atsushi says, the blame drawn in his words, but oddly absent in the way that his tone softens, no intention of punishment in it, “then we wouldn’t be doing this.”

Akutagawa reminds himself that everyone calls him the Mad Dog of the Mafia anyway, that acting like a dog in this situation is not so far-fetched. And that he is technically on an indefinite leave, which means that he is not under the Port Mafia’s umbrella of protection, if he ends up not-so-accidentally stabbing the weretiger in the stomach to shut him up. It would be all for naught, because the jinko would regenerate and would probably be even more insufferable afterwards.

Still, despite his resolve to accept these things, Akutagawa still rankles at the thought of willingly going with the jinko’s schemes. So, with a haughty sniff, Akutagawa then points at the display, using the hand that is not caught in the weretiger’s hold.

“Get the most expensive one then.”

“Oh, now you’re just being a showoff,” Nakajima Atsushi complains with a whine, but grabs the priciest one anyway.

It is far from a hard-fought victory that he desires, but Akutagawa has a foreboding feeling that he would need every one of these petty victories to keep himself sane.

-

“I actually don’t know a lot of recipes,” Nakajima Atsushi confesses his shortcomings easily.

Despite being aware of such a weakness, he still barrels on, filling up a plastic crate quickly with an abundance of fresh produce. It gets to the point that he ends up requiring a second plastic crate. It also gets to the point that Akutagawa—who has been planning on simply acting like air who occasionally grunts and glares whenever the weretiger is acting particularly foolish—has to help out in carrying their purchases.

Of course, they could have gotten a pushcart instead, but something about the image of the two of them walking side-by-side with a grocery pushcart is too… much. It feels too domestic, when Akutagawa is fairly certain that the people they pass by all look at them and think, ‘domestic violence’ instead, given that Akutagawa’s face is stuck on a permanent glower.

And now, because his hands are occupied—his left with the crate that is filled with loathsome vegetables, his right hand still hostaged by the tiger’s claws—he cannot even take a moment to push up the tinted glasses up his nose whenever they start to slide down. It really is quite infuriating.

Chazuke does not require a lot of finesse or technique,” Akutagawa points out with something that is not quite a snort. And because he can’t resist the urge to prod at the other man, “It is quite fitting that it is one of the things you know how to make.”

Instead of rising to the bait, Nakajima Atsushi’s tone remains conversational. “Do you know how to cook?”

“Naturally,” Akutagawa responds, oddly victorious at finding something that he is definitely better at, compared to the jinko. “I have managed to survive with my own strength and my own—”

“Yes, yes, you’re a strong independent man who needs no restaurants,” Nakajima Atsushi cuts off with a chuckle. How foolish, to laugh at one’s own (lacking, if one asks him) comedic prowess. “Teach me how to make your favorite foods then.”

“Impossible.”

“I can learn them,” the weretiger insists.

“I do not possess such childish things,” Akutagawa declares imperiously. “Food is merely a means of obtaining sustenance.”

Nakajima Atsushi blinks at him for a few moments, before his face scrunches to a look of utter childishness. “Whoa, you really are so boring.”

“I do not recall ever claiming that I am a man of excitement.” Akutagawa does roll his eyes then. “You do not have to worry, I have never aspired to bring you entertainment in any way, shape or form.”

“No, I’m having fun,” Nakajima Atsushi denies his words, but Akutagawa has a feeling it is a statement brought in the heat of the moment, the instinctive sense of competition taut between them, even in an environment tucked away from the battlefield.

“Good for you,” Akutagawa says very insincerely.

“Uh-huh.” The weretiger willfully ignores the sarcasm. “I guess that just means we’ll have to work hard on finding your favorites then.”

“Impossible,” Akutagawa repeats. “Cease your foolish endeavors, jinko.”

“Why?” Nakajima Atsushi asks, like he is genuinely interested to listen to him. But then, because he is childish, naïve and apparently under the misguided impression that he can pull off manipulation, “Afraid that we’ll actually find you something you can’t dislike? Oh, are you afraid to discover that you’re actually a fan of sweets?”

Akutagawa feels his stomach flipping slightly. He is reminded of his attempt to eat a lot of sweets, brought by Chuuya-san, years ago. It was from an international mission done by ‘soukoku’, and Dazai-san had apparently nearly emptied out the Duty Free supply of different sweets, all charged to Chuuya-san’s card. Akutagawa tried to eat the same sweets that Dazai-san had gorged on, in a futile effort to tread the same path as the other man. It only ended with Chuuya-san having to accompany him to the infirmary. Of course, when Dazai-san had dropped by the infirmary minutes after that, it was not to congratulate him on his attempt or comment on his condition; it was simply to drag Chuuya-san out by the elbow for some mission briefing.

By the time Akutagawa bothers paying attention to the jinko, there are wide eyes blinking at him, bisecting into his personal space.

“Hmm, maybe not sweets,” Nakajima Atsushi says thoughtfully. “That wouldn’t fit your image, would it? Maybe you’re the type who’d only drink coffee black or eat bitter gourd raw.”

“How foolish,” Akutagawa snaps, elbowing the jinko away from his face. “I would rather drink a cup of tea than your inane ideas.”

“Oh, you should have said!” The weretiger exclaims, as though the two of them share a relationship that allows for such an open conversation. “We can go back to the aisle with the tea.”

Akutagawa does not disguise his disgusted shudder at those words. “Those… things… are not tea.”

Vividly-colored eyes blink at him again, before the jinko says, with an air of defeat: “…Should have expected that you’d be a snob when it comes to those, huh. ‘Yatsugare will only allow tea leaves harvested by a thousand virgins to grace my teacup’, huh?”

“Is that abysmal attempt supposed to suffice as an impression of how I speak?” Akutagawa asks, unimpressed. “Moreover, you clearly are too pathetic to appreciate proper teas.”

“I like tea in chazuke,” the jinko casually drops such a horrific line, prompting another disgusted shudder from him.

“Absolutely disgusting,” Akutagawa declares and Nakajima Atsushi has the gall to laugh at him. Really, really foolish.

-

Despite Akutagawa’s many misgivings, the two of them manage to come out of the supermarket unscathed, if one does not count the sheer battering his patience and sanity have suffered.

“Let’s go home,” Nakajima Atsushi tells him as soon as they have finished paying for the purchases. Rather, the payment has been deducted from Akutagawa’s card, while the jinko busied himself with making mournful noises as to how his wallet is filled with nothing but air.

“…I assume you are referring to my apartment,” Akutagawa says, warily watching the other man.

Gin is out on a mission in Kyoto at the moment, as part of their agreement to get her out of the way and possible suspicion if Akutagawa ends up dead and unaccounted for by the Port Mafia. He does not think that Gin’s presence is something that the jinko is able to account for, but he cannot help but feel a bit suspicious.

“I still live in Kyouka-chan’s closet,” the weretiger then admits casually, and Akutagawa’s suspicion is wiped clear. Of course, he should have counted on the weretiger being pathetic even in matters of real estate.

“Heh. Willingly entering the den of the enemy?”

“If it’s comfortable enough, I might just not leave,” Nakajima Atsushi fires back and Akutagawa bites down on his urge to stab the other man, if only he could stop him from spouting off these words.

-

The walk back to Akutagawa’s apartment is filled with the sound of Nakajima Atsushi’s voice talking about so many mundane things. It is a bit bewildering, about how the weretiger’s everyday life is what one could call as ‘normal’ or ‘boring’, but one would not know it from the way he regales him with his colorful recollections.

The yellows of a twin yolk that he’s discovered while eating breakfast two days ago. The woodsy browns of the office desk where he’s drooled into during an afternoon nap. The sweet-sour of the orange kumquats from a ‘Kenji-kun’ and his family in a far-off province. The red of the plump strawberries that he’s tried with Kyouka earlier today. The purples of the bruise that Dazai-san showed up with three mornings ago, too high up on his neck to be blamed on mosquitoes. The greens of the broccoli shake that a ‘Kunikida-san’ is asking the Agency members to drink so that they stay healthy.

Akutagawa’s only known the world in two colors: following those who are worthy and crushing those who aren’t.

But, before he knows it, Akutagawa ends up listening intently to all of these colors, ends up paying attention to all of these ordinary things.

-

Something unfathomably close to nervousness winds around Akutagawa’s insides, the moment that he unlocks the door to his apartment. The urge to slam the door right on the weretiger’s face rises up, but that feels too much like running away. So with a shade of stiffness, he commands his limbs so he can shuffle up to the side and remove his boots on the genkan.

He half-expects an exclamation from the weretiger, something about how expensive or how empty his apartment is. He half-expects it, but he is still mildly taken aback when the weretiger whistles, low.

“It really is like you,” the jinko muses as he takes in the décor.

Akutagawa huffs, crossing the expanse of his apartment’s space so he can drop off the grocery bags on the mostly-unused kitchen. “I do not require this place to be anything more than a space to crash in, should my body is unable to continue on.”

“I mean, it’s all black,” Nakajima Atsushi points out with a chuckle. “Would it kill you to have some bit of color or is that too clashing against your brooding image?”

Akutagawa does not quite sigh, but it is close. “All the black would hide your blood splatter once I stab you.”

“Ooh, testy. Fine, I’ll stop making fun of your all-black aesthetic.”

“It is simply because—”

“Yes, yes, serious men need serious colors.”

Akutagawa does not manage to curtail his urge to sigh this time. “…Ridiculous.”

-

Despite claiming that he is not very familiar with most of the appliances in Akutagawa’s kitchen, jinko is able to get the rice cooker going to start off his promise to make chazuke.

Akutagawa can only watch, an odd tightness in his gut, as the jinko fills up the cupboards and his refrigerator with all of their purchases. He supposes that it is for good that Gin is out on a mission, because she might stab him first and ask questions later, assuming that he has been replaced by an impostor, for allowing this to happen on his watch.

Nakajima Atsushi is a blur of white, flitting around the space like it is Akutagawa instead who is the reluctant visitor between the two of them.

Akutagawa cuts his gaze away from the shirt-covered back once his phone vibrates inside his pocket. It is a message from Chuuya-san, an oddly-restrained text message of: Enjoy your time-off, make sure you actually relax! Most of the time, when Chuuya-san is aware about the existence of his rare time-off, Akutagawa has to succumb to being dragged along—by gravity manipulation or otherwise—to Chuuya-san’s whims and plans to fatten him up.

“…You.”

Akutagawa looks back at the jinko.

There’s a teasing smile on his mouth, as he says, “Why are you texting other men when I’m here?”

“The other man texted me first,” Akutagawa says with a roll of his eyes, prompting a laugh from jinko’s lips.

It really is ridiculous, how he seems to be having better success at making the jinko spill laughter, as opposed to making him spill blood.

-

As soon as jinko finishes in the kitchen, he drags Akutagawa to his bedroom, seemingly instinctively knowing where it is despite there being two identical bedroom doors tucked side-by-side near the end of the hallway.

“I’ll check your wounds,” jinko tells him, a plastic bag filled with purchases from the pharmacy section hanging off his wrist. “Take off your clothes.”

I do not need your assistance nor your meddling, sits heavy on his tongue. Surrounded by the black wallpaper and the dark décor even inside the bedroom, the weretiger is splash of color, the white standing out effortlessly. The lights are dimmed and the curtains are drawn, but jinko’s eyes seem to glow as they stare at him.

Akutagawa reminds himself that it is simply the progression of things: Nakajima Atsushi defeats him and as the proven stronger one, gets to decide the fate of someone weak like him.

With slightly shaky fingers, Akutagawa starts to unbutton his coat, Rashomon rumbling against his skin. He does not shrug off his coat even after he has successfully unbuttoned it all the way. He leaves it parted around his chest, as he starts to work on the buttons to his white shirt. He stubbornly ignores jinko’s sharp intake of breath as soon as the motley of bruises and barely-stitched together wounds over his torso are revealed.

Oddly hushed, jinko asks, “How about your back and your legs?”

“They are in acceptable condition.”

“Somehow I don’t think our definitions of ‘acceptable’ match,” jinko quips, but does not push further, verbally at least. But he does push closer, knees bumping against each other’s, fingertips reaching out to trace the outline of a deep purple bruise right above his liver.

Akutagawa does not quite shove him away, his limbs feeling like they have been weighed down by stones. “Now you have witnessed the way your victory was etched upon my form. You may leave.”

“No,” Nakajima Atsushi denies him. “Your life now belongs to me,” he adds, as though Akutagawa needs a reminder. “And that means…”

Akutagawa swallows as he meets the other’s gaze. Even though he is the one who possesses a scant height advantage over the other, with the way the weretiger approaches him reminds him of the moon eclipsing everything in the night sky, iridescent in its brilliance.

“…It means that I’ll take care of you,” Nakajima Atsushi declares with the kind of imperiousness fitting of kings, instead of some orphan who has been thrust into the world without a guiding hand being offered until he had the golden opportunity of meeting someone like Dazai-san. “Got that, Akutagawa?”

“…You are crazy,” Akutagawa tells him. Because there is no other explanation for this turn of events. The weak give way to the strong, that is true, and the strong have no need for the weak. There is no need for them to smile at the losers and to offer them a helping hand. There is no need for them to talk to him like they are equals, like they genuinely want to listen to his side of the conversation. There is no need for them to dole out this kind of gentleness that illogically chafes more than serrated knives being driven into his gut. And because it bears repeating: “You are crazy, jinko.”

“Is that what you really think?” Jinko asks with a slight tilt of his head, momentarily dragging Akutagawa’s gaze towards the line of his throat, carelessly displayed in front of someone who’s announced his intention to kill him multiple times. A quiet smile plays on his mouth. “Ah. Think of it this way, because I’m crazy, I’ll do crazy things. Right?”

“You are crazy,” Akutagawa says again. He can say it again and again, because there really is no other word for this situation.

Jinko’s fingertips press harder against the bruise, eyes retaining their glow as he looks up at Akutagawa and overpowers his senses. “I’ll check your back too. It’d be unfair if you end up dying just to get away from me, don’t you agree?”

-

There is something strangely hypnotizing about the jinko’s presence, that it almost comes as a surprise to Akutagawa to find himself getting led to the en suite bathroom. It is lavish compared to most apartments in Yokohama, with a full tub that Akutagawa never uses, always preferring to go for a brisk shower to lessen the amount of time that he has to spend without Rashomon on his skin.

Jinko leads him to sit on the edge of the tub, their small height difference rendered non-existent this way.

There is a faint scent of something sweet—and Akutagawa ends up realizing it is the mixture of whipped cream and strawberries from the crepes that jinko had with Kyouka just before they ended up running into each other. Even armed with that knowledge, it still takes a moment to remind himself that the scent is merely because jinko is too much of a messy eater, not because of jinko himself smelling sweet.

Sweetness has no room inside their space, after all, especially since some of his smaller wounds break open from his movements, red droplets blooming over his pale skin. Jinko soothes them away with the sting of alcohol; Akutagawa does not hiss at the sensation, even as he thinks of the minute possibility of jinko harboring a streak of sadism, a desire to see him hurt and weakened. He bristles at that thought, because of how alien that kind of uncharitable possibility feels.

“Sorry, sorry,” jinko says, just as he shuffles even closer into the space that is usually devoured by Rashomon instinctively, hands gentle as they lift the back of his clothes. “I’ll do this fast.”

Akutagawa is filled with the strange feeling of being read so easily by another person. He dislikes parting with Rashomon, but he did not have to vocalize that feeling and the jinko read it on him anyway.

It is… very odd.

“Done,” Nakajima Atsushi declares after a few moments, pulling back from the odd half-embrace, looking so satisfied that Akutagawa fails to reconcile it with something born from interacting with him in such close quarters.

Akutagawa can understand it on Gin, because they are siblings whose bond has been forged through fire and death. Akutagawa finds it difficult, but he can understand it on Chuuya-san, if only because Chuuya-san is the type of person who genuinely enjoys checking up on the people around him. Akutagawa is slow to warm up to it, but he can also somehow understand it on Higuchi, because she looks up to him in the same way that Akutagawa seeks acknowledgement from Dazai-san.

To see that kind of expression on jinko, on an enemy, on someone who is his opposite in every which way possible, is—

“Why are you insisting on this farce?”

“…farce?”

Why?”

Nakajima Atsushi hums, before reaching out to lay his palm over the bandaged portion on Akutagawa’s upper-left part of his chest. Akutagawa gets the foreboding feeling that even without transforming his hand into a tiger’s, Nakajima Atsushi need not do much aside from curling his fingers the slightest bit, to scoop his heart out directly from beneath his ribs.

With a smile, Nakajima Atsushi looks like a white reaper, mere moments away from robbing Akutagawa of something that he never even thought he possessed.

“Tell you what. If you can do a hundred of my… requests, then I’ll tell you.” Nakajima Atsushi’s hand is warm enough to boil him from inside-out. “I’ll tell you the reason why I want to take care of you. Agreed?”

A hundred ‘requests’.

There is no guarantee that Nakajima Atsushi really will honor his deal, even if a part of him instinctively knows that Nakajima Atsushi is not the type of person who would allow his promises to fail.

Akutagawa swallows and dips his head slightly.

More than his refusal to act like a dog towards the jinko, he wants to know.

“…Your chazuke is going to burn,” Akutagawa says instead, to break the odd spell that seems to have settled over them.

Jinko blinks rapidly, before rushing to his feet, yelling about a rescue operation for the food.

-

Honestly, Akutagawa does not expect to be able to finish his serving of chazuke and to even go for seconds. Getting food has always been about getting something to temporarily appease his bodily functions, not something to really think about or look forward to, definitely not something that he does while surrounded by a lax atmosphere that borders on indulgent.

But jinko’s chatter fills the rarely-used dining room with twinkling laughter that go in accompaniment with the click-clack of chopsticks against porcelain bowls. Anecdotes about someone from the Agency having pollen allergies that they’re pink in the nose for an entire day, about finding some moss-green frogs on the nearby playground, about escaping from a sudden flash of rain and witnessing the rainbow that formed afterwards.

It is all things that do not matter, not in the flow of the world. Inconsequential and yet so colorful.

Akutagawa takes a sip of the green tea broth, surprisingly not incensed by the fact that the tea that he prefers is being used as a mere broth, even as he belatedly realizes that jinko has already ladled another serving on his bowl.

-

Washing the dishes afterward is a surprisingly muted affair. Akutagawa does not protest to jinko wordlessly getting him to help out in the drying process, if only because he does not want to keep an uneven score between them. They manage to finish without any accidents, even if Akutagawa’s sorely tempted to spray water towards the jinko’s face, in order to dislodge the grain of rice that sticks to his cheek.

-

It is the afterwards where things become strange again.

“What do you mean you are staying here?”

Akutagawa digs deep for his most irritable tone, because it is mildly difficult to be snappy when one is too full. Perhaps this is jinko’s strategy from the get-go, to lull him to a state of bloated fullness, before using him as a means of improving his living situation. Of course, that would entail jinko possessing above-average mental acuity, something that Akutagawa is loathe to concede, since jinko keeps on spouting nonsense such as ‘having fun’ and ‘Akutagawa’ in the same sentence.

Jinko looks at him, really looks at him, like he is the stupid one between the two of them. “How would I know if you’re actually doing my requests?”

It is such an uncalled-for look, that Akutagawa finds himself baring his teeth at the other, before snarling, “You can languish on the couch, jinko.”

-

…In retrospect, Akutagawa should not have succumbed to the strange instinct that is being nurtured inside of him, which is to compete with jinko in any possible circumstance.

‘Eat three meals a day’ morphs into ‘eating together three times a day’, which gains an addendum in the form of ‘make sure to eat at least one serving of vegetables per meal’.

Akutagawa keeps on slapping away jinko’s pathetic coin purse every time the two of them queue on the checkout registers. It only makes sense, because eating vegetables has become a competition between the two of them, and if Akutagawa has to soldier on with ingesting deplorable greens, he is going to eat only the very best kind, no pesticides, GMO-free.

He has never been afraid of catching illnesses, but with jinko hovering around him near all hours of the day is enough to make him allergic to the thought of getting sick while the other is hanging around. He does not have extra patience for dealing with a jinko acting like a drunk hummingbird.

-

“Let’s go to a bookstore at least once a week,” is jinko’s thirteenth request.

Akutagawa finds himself not protesting as much at that, because bookstores entail the comforting scent of paper, and more importantly, it brings with it a sense of quiet, something that he has sorely missed over the past eight days.

While it is true that the Port Mafia is not devoid of people who are rambunctious on a regular basis, said people are not near-omnipresent in his life. It is possible to avoid Kajii as long as he makes a detour that is sure to take him away from the laboratory; leaving Higuchi behind is a skill that he has near-perfected; Chuuya-san only has a tendency to be really noisy whenever Dazai-san is involved, which means that the loud outbursts are a relative rarity.

“Let’s find you a nice hobby,” comes the fourteenth request. Along with it is the unspoken, aside from stabbing my guts open.

That is how Akutagawa finds himself standing in front of the writing supplies section of the bookstore, shelves upon shelves with different brushes and ink. Aside from the imported, expensive tea, calligraphy is one of the things that Akutagawa finds himself tolerating more than others. There is something serene and beautiful with blank ink making broad strokes over unmarred paper, the impermanence of its creation belied by the end result.

“You look very constipated,” is how jinko chooses to ruin his moment of pondering over the metaphors underlying calligraphy writing. “Should we cook a light soup for dinner instead?”

Akutagawa shoots his companion a dirty look. It seems as though the tiger’s regeneration does not extend to things such as jinko’s neurons, because the more time he spends in close quarters with the other, the more ridiculous he ends up seeming. “Your stupidity has indeed exceeded my expectations, jinko.”

“That just means that you thought about me long enough to have expectations, didn’t it?” Jinko asks him with a tone that comes uncomfortably close to awed wonder.

“It did not even take a full second for me to think about my very low expectations of you,” Akutagawa tries his best to nip this misunderstanding in the bud. He would have preferred nipping off the other’s tongue so he could stop making such baseless accusations, but #5 is all about limiting violence.

With a clap of his hands that reminds Akutagawa of Dazai-san whenever he was in his more playful moods (of course, that happened when he was off teasing Chuuya-san in the training room, because Dazai-san was never in a light enough mood when it was the two of them), the jinko incorrectly concludes, “So you already instinctively know what to expect from me. Isn’t that even better?”

Akutagawa ignores his chatter. He has already done his part in attempting to dissuade jinko from such a severe misconception. He is not such a charitable man that he would put too much effort into ensuring that the jinko does not make a fool of himself. After all, it is prevalent enough to be jinko’s second Ability, the ability to make a fool of himself without outside assistance.

Instead, Akutagawa silently peruses the selection of brushes in front of him, before selecting five. The ink, he spends about ten minutes on, hyper-aware of jinko’s presence beside him. The other man is not even breathing noisily, but there is something about his presence that brushes against the invisible barrier that he has erected around himself, to ward off anything with the prickliness of his behavior.

As though sensing that he is done with his selection, jinko starts up his chattering once more.

Once they reach the checkout counter, jinko asks, “Why do you need five brushes?”

“Because I have money to pay for them,” Akutagawa says snidely as he plucks the books from jinko’s hands. They are mostly about various recipes, with some odd book about herbal medicines, and about bonsai trees. Apparently, jinko is on a mission to make him tolerate plants ever since he has learned that Akutagawa despises them.

Jinko lets out a couple of distressed noises, culminating in, “I can pay for my books!”

Akutagawa hands over his card to the cashier, steamrolling over the protests with a casual question. “Is that an order?”

The cashier shoots the two of them an unreadable look, slightly pausing in her bagging of the purchases.

Jinko rubs the back of his neck, sheepishly. “…No.”

“Then shut up and carry the books, jinko.”

They decide to swing by Akutagawa’s apartment to drop off the books before going to a seafood market near the northern border of the city. The two of them have decided on going there at such an odd hour, because seafood means crabs means possibility of running into Dazai-san.

Despite having been granted that one brief moment of acknowledgement from Dazai-san, Akutagawa is still ravenous for more. It is that exact hunger for acknowledgement that stops him from wanting to run into Dazai-san now, because there is no dignified explanation for him accompanying jinko.

…Of course, it is possible that Dazai-san is already aware of this, in the same way that he has his fingers on the pulse of information that beats all throughout Yokohama. Then again, given how Dazai-san has acknowledged jinko as his subordinate, it does not make sense to Akutagawa that Dazai-san would then allow jinko to willingly associate with him so closely.

Perhaps, jinko’s ridiculousness is the one thing that is outside of Dazai-san’s plans?

…How vexing.

“Now you’re looking constipated again,” jinko cheerfully notes, locking the apartment door behind him as they begin their travel towards the seafood market. “Did I cook something weirdly earlier?”

“I am not constipated,” Akutagawa hisses, even more vexed at the fact that such a deplorable sequence of words has to leave his mouth in this lifetime. “Cease your nonsensical blabbering already.”

“Earlier, you never said why you bought five brushes.”

“Perhaps you should spend more time focused on your hygiene during your extended morning bathroom ritual,” Akutagawa says slowly, loud enough because there is not another soul in the sidewalk that they are on. “Since it is becoming evident that the time you spend caterwauling awful tunes that masquerade as songs is rotting your ears.”

Jinko, as he has come to expect after spending an inordinately large amount of time in close proximity recently, ignores the acidity of his words and focuses on the wrong thing. “Oh, you can hear me singing in the bathroom?”

The fact that both bedrooms possess their own bathrooms separate from the one for their (used to be) non-existent guests is something that Akutagawa feels infinitely grateful for.

“The next time I hear you making an unnecessary racket, I will skewer you with Rashomon, mark my words.”

“You mean you’ll charge into the bathroom while I’m taking a shower?” Jinko sounds mystified. “Isn’t that quite forward of you?”

“I have never possessed high expectations regarding your brain’s capacity, but I believe it is difficult to forget that you are, in fact, making a nuisance of yourself in my apartment.”

Instead of looking flushed or sheepish, jinko simply snarks, “Is that so? Your guest-handling etiquette could really use some work.”

Akutagawa wonders how is it that six months is enough to mold the other into this person. Or perhaps, the six months and the life-and-death experiences merely served to peel back the layers of self-doubt and insecurity, in order to reveal the core personality underneath. Or maybe, it is him who brings out this personality trait of the other?

“The four other brushes are things I brought in anticipation of you making a fool of yourself,” Akutagawa ends up saying after a lull in their conversation. They cross an intersection, arms brushing together. The noontime sun is partially veiled by the clouds, making the heat appear bearable.

“Hmm?”

Akutagawa pauses briefly, suddenly caught up in a notion that perhaps he has done something unnecessary. But he has never been the type of person to back down, so he presses on. “Were you not planning on insisting that you are capable of the discipline required in doing calligraphy?”

Jinko pauses as well, so that the two of them are in the middle of the sidewalk, half-turned towards each other. “…Oh.”

What does he mean by that…?

Akutagawa squares his shoulders and starts walking briskly away, irritated beyond belief at the wide-eyed bewilderment on the jinko’s face. He does not manage to get away successfully, thwarted by the warm hand around his wrist, a tangible reminder of the request to limit violence. Rashomon crackles, but does not activate, having grown acclimatized to jinko’s tendency to slither inside his personal space.

“I just… I didn’t expect it.” Jinko’s tone is even warmer than his grip. “You already know that I want to do things with you, huh?”

Akutagawa pulls his hand away, resists the urge to rub his wrist as though to soothe the invisible burn around it. “I already expect that you would make a fool of yourself and end up doing something so thoroughly idiotic, that you would end up needing another brush.”

“Is that so? How about the remaining brushes then?” The warmth in jinko’s voice does not leave, but it is now accompanied by something light and teasing.

It reminds Akutagawa of the times when he had been present when soukoku had left for a mission together, all exchanged barbs with blunted bites, especially considering the fact that actual knives and daggers had flown as they had sniped at each other.

“It is for when I need to stab you and make a painting out of your blood,” Akutagawa retorts, but even he has to privately admit that the words lack the menacing edge that has used to be omnipresent in his tone.

As it stands, jinko merely chuckles and lets out a light quip about his temper.

It is still vexing, he tells himself, even as he finds himself not feeling as caustic as the two of them continue walking down the street.

-

Three weeks pass in relative calm.

There is something to be said about routines, that even the most irritating of things can become the slightest bit tolerable.

Case in point: jinko’s hopelessly off-tune attempts at crooning into the guest bathroom’s showerhead every mornings have become something so expected, that when Akutagawa finally wakes up without having his ears assaulted by the awful screeching that belongs to a slaughterhouse, he actually… is rather alarmed.

(Of course, there is also that fact that his sleeping hours have become extended, following the routine of most of the civilians in Yokohama. Jinko’s cooking skills may not have a lot of depth, even though he is continuously working on expanding his repertoire, but he is adept on warming milk and stirring honey in it. He is even more adept at nagging, sometimes outright and oftentimes passive-aggressively, for Akutagawa to drink a cup of it every night with him, in hopes of lulling him to sleep before midnight.)

In any case, it is the first time in three weeks that Akutagawa has the pleasure of not having his eardrums abused as soon as he wakes up. Rashomon responds to his distress, quickly radiating spines as soon as he rolls out of bed, briskly going for the bedroom door, bypassing the house slippers on his wake.

He did not sense anything during the night, but if it is an enemy that possesses a stealth-related Ability, then it would make sense. Alternately, he can blame the fact that he has allowed himself to be lulled into the sense of relative calm. It has blunted his senses, his bloodlust, and now, it seems as though jinko is the one who has paid the price for his—

“Hey,” jinko croaks out, wrapped in a thin blanket bunched up until it reaches his chin. There is a redness on his nose and a pink flush on his face. “Good mo—achoo!”

Oh.

Akutagawa stares at the jinko, with snot dripping unattractively from his nose.

Oh.

“You are sick,” Akutagawa says flatly, an unknown ball of emotions knotting itself together inside his gut. Annoyance, definitely. An urge to strangle the other, certainly. A surge of something like relief…?

“You’re barefoot,” jinko points out, voice hoarse, the redness on his cheeks spreading like an ink blot over a blank canvas.

Akutagawa drops his gaze to his feet. Autumn has started to assert itself with its chilly winds. Akutagawa, given that he did not foresee having to spend an inordinate amount of time inside this apartment upon his purchase, did not equip it with heated floors. It means that the floors are cold and even colder because he is currently barefoot, and he is currently barefoot because he has succumbed to an instinctive reaction, instead of assessing the situation and expecting the worst.

…Oh no.

And the ‘worst-case scenario’, that has been processed by his instincts, is Nakajima Atsushi getting kidnapped by one of Akutagawa’s many, many enemies, thereby preventing him from performing an unwanted concert during his morning shower.

“Also,” jinko continues talking, even though his throat sounds like it is being grated over sandpaper, “why is Rashomon acting all prickly like a hedgehog?”

Akutagawa transfers his glare from his feet to his coat, an odd feeling of betrayal simmering inside him. Even Rashomon’s instinctive reaction has apparently been led astray.

“Akutagawa?”

…How vexing.

He finds himself crossing the distance between them, his footsteps quick as he approaches the couch that jinko has claimed for his bed over the past three weeks. He reaches out to pinch off the jinko’s nose, before changing his angle once he notices that there is still snot there. He ends up cupping a hand around jinko’s right cheek—

And squeezes.

“Ow, ow, what is this harassment so early in the morning ow, ow—!”

Despite his complaints and his one-armed flailing, jinko does not actually move away from Akutagawa pinching off the side of his face.

“This is not counted as violence, is it,” Akutagawa murmurs. The odd ball of emotions inside his stomach slowly start to unwind, the longer he pinches the other’s cheek.

Jinko lets out a weirdly strangled sound at that, before a part of his neck and his face starts to become covered in plusher skin and softer fur, partially transforming to a tiger.

…Heh, that is fair. He has Rashomon on his person, he is not afraid of getting mauled by the tiger, even if he has already been defeated by it.

Instead of growing saber-sharp tooth, jinko parts his lips and lets out a rumbling purr, turning his head so he ends up nuzzling against Akutagawa’s hand.

“I will not have you spreading germs in my apartment,” Akutagawa ends up saying after a few moments of getting lost in the sensation of petting the weretiger’s face. “Gin is returning in a few days and I will not have you infecting her with your diseases.”

“I can move back with Kyouka-chan for a while,” jinko says with a pout, sounding very mournful.

Akutagawa cannot help but pinch off that stupider-than-usual expression off his face. “You wish to impede Kyouka’s life with your sickness?”

Jinko lets out another weirdly strangled sound, before asking, “Then, uh, where do you want me to go?”

-

“My place is not a honeymoon suite!” Chuuya-san shrieks as soon as he opens the door to the two of them.

Jinko, still with his partially transformed face, sniffs at Chuuya-san’s door. Chuuya-san’s face reddens upon seeing that, rummaging around the glass bowl beside his doorway that has a number of keys in them. In less than ten seconds, Chuuya-san throws a key towards them and a rattled series of coordinates, before slamming the door on their faces.

Akutagawa then turns to his companion. “Chuuya-san’s safehouses are known for having cleaners that can handle biochemical hazards.”

“This is just the flu,” Jinko says with a roll of his eyes, but he does not protest further about getting manhandled towards the safehouse that Chuuya-san has inadvertently lent to them for the duration of the jinko’s sickness. “Also, I think I smelled crab on Chuuya-san. Do you want to get seafood for breakfast?”

-

Chuuya-san’s safehouse is well-appointed like a five-star hotel penthouse suite that happens to be tucked in an expansive property by the mountainside. A small, well-maintained vegetable garden surrounds the periphery; there are fig trees clustered on the far end of the property border. Akutagawa is fairly certain that he has not revealed his preference for the fruit to anyone, even his sister, but it is also unsurprising that Chuuya-san would be the type who would send him to spend his day here.

Jinko murmurs something like, “This is a great honeymoon suite”, but Akutagawa is too caught up in breathing in the scent of the surrounding nature to comment on the other’s words.

-

“You’re not going to spoon-feed me?” Jinko’s petulant voice asks around his spoonful of chicken soup for the seventh time in the past fifteen minutes.

Akutagawa peels back another fig and eats it, before returning, “Is that an order?”

“Should I make it one?”

From his spot on the other end of the room, Akutagawa peels another piece. “If you infect me with your sickness and I succumb to it, then you would be even more insufferable, correct?”

“…wow, I can’t believe you just made being too stingy to help out a sick guy actually sound romantic…”

Akutagawa generously ignores the sick person’s words and continues eating his own food, keeping half an eye on the jinko who is continuing to pout from the sofa-bed.

-

[I’ve been assigned on another mission to another prefecture, will be back in three weeks. Brother, when are you going to formally introduce us?]

The message from his sister continues to haunt him even a day later. Akutagawa finds himself not having the right words to respond to Gin, a rarity in itself because their interactions have never been the type to require a plethora of spoken language.

He will not do her a disservice by feigning ignorance as to who she is referring to, but he also does not know how to condense the entire situation into something that can be sent in an electronic mail, certainly not when even he himself who is in the thick of things finds himself swept away by the currents every-so-often.

There really is something to be said about routines, because even though his mind is foggy with threads of things that he feels like he can grasp but is ultimately unable to, like spindle wires of gossamer spider threads, he still manages to get himself out of bed at the usual time, so he can check up on jinko if he is still alive.

“It’s just a flu,” jinko tells him each time, the color on his face losing the fever-bright intensity, but is still pink-cheeked for the most part. “It won’t kill you to sleep in sometimes.”

Akutagawa clicks his tongue as he curls his palm over a fever-soaked forehead. “You are supposed to take your medicine every eight hours on a full stomach, are you not?”

Jinko then curls his own fingers around Akutagawa’s wrist, warmth entirely separated from his fever pulsing across his touch, a crescent smile dawning up at him. “I want chazuke for breakfast.”

“You always want chazuke.”

“Exactly.” Jinko nods sagely, in agreement with himself over something stupid and ridiculous, probably. “I never change on what I want.”

“Your lifelong loyalty to chazuke is duly noted,” Akutagawa says with a wry not-quite-smile. “And rejected. You are having the ginseng chicken soup again today.”

“Eh? Eh? I mean, your cooking is nice, but soup again?”

Akutagawa pretends to ignore the other’s whines, but he finds himself using a bit more care in slicing the chicken breast and mixing in the spices.

-

“I can do it,” jinko insists, the stubbornness in his tone blunted by the fact that his voice comes out nasal and that his eyes remain glassy with traces of the flu. “It’s supposed to be a daily exercise, right?”

Akutagawa is not someone who believes there is any usefulness in feeling regret, but he comes very close to it, right this moment. Not skewering jinko on Rashomon whenever he attempts to join him on his daily calligraphy practice has brought about this turn of events, when a still-sick person dripping snot all over the place has the gall to insist that he is feeling well enough to sit up straight and make dignified sweeps of the brush.

Of course, jinko has never even managed the proper posture and discipline during the times that he was not laden with a flu, so Akutagawa really cannot fathom where this idiot is getting all of this confidence from.

“I’ll be really quiet,” jinko insists, fingers forming warm loops over Akutagawa’s wrists as the other tries to convince him.

It is not your irritating ability to make a ruckus over every little thing that I am concerned about, Akutagawa does not say.

Ever since coming to this safehouse, Akutagawa has been doing his calligraphy practice on the porch overlooking the garden, so he can let the tranquil environment guide his hands as he dips his brush into the ink bottle, as he writes down the characters for ‘shut up, jinko’ in fluid strokes.

This is all done while sitting in a proper seiza, something that jinko has had trouble maintaining because he prefers to flutter about and make a lot of unnecessary movements. Given that jinko currently is nursing a flu and is therefore, cannot be trusted to maintain such a stiff posture for long, Akutagawa is filled with despise at the thought of allowing jinko to accompany him and then afterwards deal with a dizzy idiot who would fall gracelessly into a bottle of ink.

“I’ll stick to the easy ones,” jinko wheedles even more, apparently assuming that his prolonged silence is a sign that he is starting to succumb to the unreasonable request. “I’ll just practice writing your name, I promise.”

Akutagawa feels his eyebrows twitching. “That is all you ever practice, you fool.”

“Exactly,” jinko beams like he is relishing victory. And then, he tugs at Akutagawa’s wrists, excitement replacing the sickly glassiness in his eyes. “Come help me up already, Akutagawa.”

Not even half an hour later and Akutagawa is already very close to sighing in regret.

“How very foolish. You cannot even hold a brush properly,” he grumbles, but he keeps his right hand folded over the jinko’s, guiding the slide of the brush over paper. Fifteen minutes back and he has already been roped into assisting jinko into keeping upright, which means having to sit together with his left hand wrapped around the other’s waist to steady him.

It results in Akutagawa not managing to finish his own writing practice, along with dozens of wobbly versions of his name, plus a distressing lack of brushes being utilized in stabbing a jinko and making a painting out of blood.

Somehow, Akutagawa cannot find it in himself to regret anything.

-

“Do you think Chuuya-san will let us return here?”

Akutagawa inclines his head as he sets down his cup of lavender tea on the tabletop already with a plate filled with sticks of dango and a bowl of figs.

Overlooking the garden, the porch is furnished with a pair of rocking chairs and a low end table between them. Given how closely the chairs are angled, it gives off an aura that it is meant to be used by a pair of lovers, perhaps a pair of people who would spend the rest of their lives entwined together.

There is a thread of something there, of understanding that could be plucked free. Akutagawa chooses to ignore it in the meantime; he settles against the chair and the cushion that’s been thrown towards his arms.

Autumn paints the garden in a smattering of yellows and oranges, while the moonlight above peeks over the mountain’s peak, casting a silvery glow around his vision. Today’s dinner is still present at the tip of his tongue, braised duck with grilled figs, a recipe that jinko’s wanted to try for a few days now. They have only managed to cook it together today, because it is only today that jinko’s managed to last an entire day without coughing or feeling nauseous.

I think this is intended to be a honeymoon suite, sits on his tongue as well.

“You would not be able to afford buying this property from Chuuya-san,” is what Akutagawa ends up saying.

Jinko reaches a hand over from the other armchair beside his. Even amidst the cool autumn breeze, jinko remains warm, the kind of warmth that suffuses across his skin, seeps into his veins, settles deep into his marrow.

“But you can,” jinko says lightly, like the two of them are talking about something inconsequential, not something that is akin to an entirely new apocalypse about to burst like a pulsing supernova. A moving mandala of colors catches on the jinko’s eyes, as though to balance his voidance of colors.

Akutagawa breathes in and shifts his hand so that the warmth of jinko’s hand falls snugly on his upturned palm. “Is that an order?”

It is more of a teasing question than anything, because try as he might, he cannot even remember how many requests has there been between them. It is more of a quip between the two of them, because the new routine that the other has set for him is already etched too deeply into him, that he cannot imagine himself going through the motions of his life without it otherwise.

“…No.” Jinko—Atsushi says. Warm and kind like his name suggests, Atsushi curls his fingers over his, intertwining them. Firm enough that he’s tethered to him, loose enough that it doesn’t feel suffocating. “It’s a confession.”

“Of the sorry state of your finances.”

“That too,” Atsushi laughs. “More importantly, I haven’t said it yet, have I?”

“You have already prattled on long enough,” Akutagawa cuts in with a light cough, something like embarrassment crawling like spider-trails underneath his skin.

“Before our fight,” Atsushi starts, voice weaving mellifluous melodies into the air, “Dazai-san told me a story about his dog.”

“Dazai-san hates dogs.”

“Right? I was super suspicious!” Atsushi’s smile glows under the moonlight; Akutagawa’s eyes hurt looking at him, but he continues to do so anyway. “Especially since he was all, ‘you’ve got to learn how to keep a dog for life, Atsushi-kun’! And then he started saying stuff about ‘wielders of violence’ and ‘control’!”

Akutagawa has an inkling that the two of them have neatly fallen into Dazai-san’s machinations, once again, but there is something surprisingly relaxed about him, upon encountering this revelation.

“…anyway, what I mean is, even though I got the idea from Dazai-san, this… this isn’t something I did because it’s what he wanted, okay? I really just wanted to try to understand you, and then it was fun seeing you look so obviously angry, and then…”

Akutagawa interrupts the other’s rambling. “Jinko. Do you want to bleed all over Chuuya-san’s porch?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Then shut up already.”

“And…?” Atsushi prompts him.

Akutagawa sighs.

Atsushi sighs as well. “You’re supposed to say, ‘then shut up already and kiss me’, right there! The romantic moonlight set-up is already there!”

The two of them are still on their respective seats, but they have turned towards each other as though in complete synchrony, the need to face each other fully settling them into place almost instinctively.

“Jinko.” Akutagawa meets the other’s stare head-on, as he takes a deep breath before plowing on. “You are the most infuriating person I have ever had the misfortune of crossing paths with. You manage to retain your naiveté even if you are stubborn enough to nose in on other affairs that have nothing to do with you, thinking that you have shoulders big enough to carry the weight of the responsibility of taking care an entire city, much less a mafioso who has lived his life knowing nothing but death and darkness. You are idiotic enough to consider yourself weak, even when you already have the respect and acknowledgement, not only from Dazai-san, who is notoriously difficult to impress, but also from a bevy of goody-goody two-shoes that is the Armed Detective Agency. You are strong enough to be able to save even Kyouka, to bring her to the world of light, and yet you have the gall to consider yourself without a place to belong to.”

Atsushi is gaping at him, open-mouthed.

Akutagawa clears his throat as he continues, “Your calligraphy skills are atrocious and I refuse to hold your hand to guide you in writing down your own name again. Your gardening skills could use a lot of work as I had never thought it was possible to actually kill a bonsai tree before meeting you. You have a truly awful singing voice, but I have already grown used to listening to your caterwauling at early morning hours, so you should ensure that you never get sick enough that you cannot wake up earlier than me.”

Atsushi is still gaping at him, eyes wide enough that an entire galaxy can fit inside them, and yet they only have Akutagawa in their sights.

It is still difficult to reconcile himself with this person that has been nurtured by Atsushi’s warm presence, but Akutagawa can try his best, just as he has worked hard for every single thing in his life.

So, it is with the gentlest of tugs that he pulls Atsushi closer so he can whisper against the other’s ear: “In your words, were you not supposed to shut me up and kiss me while I was talking?”

“Oh, now you’re just showing off,” Atsushi mutters, but he is grinning, as he pulls Akutagawa even closer, seals the next chapter of their lives together with a kiss.

Fittingly for a moment that changes their lives, there is something electric in the way their lips brush against each other, silver moonlight enveloping the two of them in an ephemerally-beautiful atmosphere, which only highlights the way their tacit agreement feels permanent and unchanging.

Akutagawa pulls away after a few moments, but Atsushi sidles in close, not minding the chair’s arm digging into his body, chasing after him and knocking their foreheads together. Akutagawa huffs as he fumbles for his phone so he can finally respond to his sister.

“Ooh, I never thought you were the type to gossip about me as soon as we kissed!”

“I am introducing you to my sister,” Akutagawa says as calmly as he can, given that he can still taste Atsushi’s warmth on his mouth.

Atsushi’s cheeks redden as he fumbles with his own phone, presumably to commit social suicide by going public with his colleagues at the Agency. “If that’s the case, please gossip away!”

“I am introducing you as the idiot jinko also known as Atsushi,” Akutagawa holds on to his calm, even if he falters just the slightest bit on the other’s name.

Atsushi surges close and knocks their foreheads again. “You know, I’ve always wondered if you actually knew my name… I guess that answers my question? It would have been so uncool if my boyfriend doesn’t even know my name… Dazai-san would never stop laughing at me…”

“Of course I knew your name,” Akutagawa says with a roll of his eyes, “…idiot jinko.”

Atsushi sputters, “Now you’re just being mean!”

The rest of their words are swallowed by the moonlight, a peacefully warm autumn night heralding the rest of their lives.

-
end