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Breath Before the Plunge

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Kougami leans over the windowsill of the tiny rented apartment, watching the evening passersby going up and down the war-ravaged streets. Rows of concrete ruins and glittering lights populate the city skyline—a few squatters’ campfires, but mostly electric, thanks to the country's ongoing post-war reconstruction efforts.

They have been in Seoul for a couple of days. It was Makishima’s idea to recruit some hacker acquaintances of Gu-sung Choe, his right-hand man who—Kougami now knew—had been killed along with Kagari on that night which seemed a lifetime ago.

Kougami looks over his shoulder at the white-haired man sleeping on an old mattress on the floor, lying on his side with one arm drawn up to the pillow, long legs angled inward. Not long ago, if someone had told Kougami he would one day team up with Makishima Shougo, the man responsible for his partner’s death, he would have bashed their teeth in. But fate had other plans in store for him; and so, his priorities had shifted. He owes it to the living and the dead: to Sasayama and Kagari and Masaoka, but also Tsunemori and Ginoza and all who have been manipulated and hurt by the Sybil System. And if they make it out of this alive (and that’s a big if), he will personally see that the monster slumbering the night away across the room receives a punishment fitting of his crimes.

Kougami has (against his better judgment) come to learn that Makishima is an efficient if light and short sleeper, only lately, Kougami can hardly get a wink of sleep. This pisses him off to no end. Makishima is the one who committed unimaginable atrocities, so why does he not suffer from insomnia? “That’s a psychopath for you,” Kougami scoffs under his breath.

As if on cue, Makishima twitches in his sleep, tossing his head to the side, saliva-slickened lips now slightly agape. Even from where he is standing, Kougami recognizes the ever so slight furrow of Makishima’s eyebrows, lending a statuesque intensity to his sleeping face—like a preserved god about to open his eyes and spring into action, passing judgment on the human “livestock” he so despises and the “toys” who invariably fail to meet his expectations. For a blissful moment, Kougami imagines, as he has done many times before, how the man would look if he were to shoot him in the face at point-blank range or smash his pretty head to a bloody pulp with his fists. How Makishima’s chiseled features would contort if hit by the Lethal Eliminator, amber-colored eyes widening momentarily in pain and disbelief before bursting like eggshells.

Such fantasies, however, would have to wait.

Kougami is so lost in thought that when he finally notices Makishima peering at him through heavy-lidded lashes, the sudden eye contact sends a surge of adrenaline racing through his veins. Makishima picks up on his discomfort, of course, lips twitching upwards into a smirk. “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest,” Makishima quotes, surprisingly articulate for someone who just woke up. He tilts his head to meet Kougami’s stare unflinchingly. “To regret deeply is to live afresh.”

“Henry David Thoreau,” Kougami offers almost automatically. “Figures you’d be a fan.”

Makishima chuckles lightly. “You’re right. His philosophy of civil disobedience has greatly influenced my thought.”

Kougami raises a thin black eyebrow. “You’re hardly the pacifist, though,” he rebuts.

“Actually, Thoreau’s views on violence and nonviolence are often misunderstood,” Makishima’s voice is tinged with that same understated excitement he gets whenever they engage in academic debate. “If anything, Civil Disobedience poses a challenge to pacifism. If governments enforce an unjust status quo under the guise of so-called peace, then turning your back on those who use force to resist is simply to side with one version of violence over another.”

At that, Kougami sneers. “You have a way of twisting words to suit your selfish needs.”

Makishima smiles smugly, looking visibly pleased with himself, and gets to a sitting position, taking a few gulps of water from the bottle he keeps by his mattress. The night is hot and damp, enveloping their surroundings in a dark indigo hue, pierced by a beacon of moonlight that backlights Kougami’s austere features and his bare, powerful torso. His outline takes on a hypnotic glow, and Makishima thinks that Kougami looks like some sort of ancestral predator, all muscle and graceful gait.

Makishima raises, approaching Kougami in a steady plod. His smirk dies down as he speaks his next line. “Do you regret not killing me at the oat field?” Makishima asks, glancing absent-mindedly towards someplace or something outside the window. "Shinya.”

Kougami grimaces inwardly at the question as much as having his first name roll so casually off Makishima’s tongue. “Everybody has regrets,” he answers, carefully. “I just want to end up with the right ones.”

They stare at each other for several seconds, before Makishima breaks the silence, stretching his limbs with spontaneous elegance. “Come on, hound.” Although his tone is mocking, Kougami detects a nuanced note in his voice—aggravation, or yearning, perhaps. “Stop being so guarded.”

More than all else, Kougami deplores the air of easy intimacy hanging in the space between them. “Yeah, I regret it. I regret everything and anything when it comes to you—I would have regretted killing you, too.” He pours as much honesty as he can muster into his words: “I might as well use you to crash Sybil and dispose of the ‘trash’ later.”

He expects Makishima to laugh him off with some witty comeback, but the latter never comes. It is the monsoon’s earthy scent, or the smog-coated moonlight, that fill Makishima with an unreasonable longing for long-lost, long-buried things. Childhood memories, memories of his mother. Radiant, and kind, and safe—before Sybil took her from him.

“It works both ways, you know,” Makishima says offhandedly, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes.

“What,” Kougami states more than asks. He cannot keep the weariness from creeping into his voice every time Makishima strikes a conversational note.

“The Psycho-pass of criminally asymptomatic individuals cannot be scanned nor read. Latent criminals, of course, perceive this as an advantageous trait. But even the neurotypical can envy those who pass under Sybil’s radar.” Makishima's eyes open, turning towards Kougami, and he smiles. “To be a ghost, free from the chains of an oppressive system—that is the ultimate form of freedom.”

“Is this going anywhere?” Kougami interrupts. “You're preaching to the choir.”

Makishima laughs quietly, amused at Kougami’s reaction, as he candidly closes the distance between them. “It’s not that I consider myself to be exceptional—rather, isn’t that Sybil? Claiming the place of Gods above humanity.” In one swift, deliberate motion, Makishima brings up his hand and presses it against Kougami’s chest, who jerks back on instinct.

That's the hand that killed Sasayama, is Kougami’s visceral thought, and it makes him sick to the stomach.

“But Shinya,” Makishima continues, drawling Kougami’s name. “That time at the hyper-oats, you were right. I know what it’s like to be unheard and unseen, to be less than human.” He leans into Kougami. “That’s why I tell you, it works both ways. When you’re criminally asymptomatic, you can get away with many things, but no one can hear you scream,” Makishima whispers, clean breath against the shell of Kougami’s ear. “No one will come for you, or save you." His resentment is tangible under the controlled facade: "No one will help you if you are in trouble. Certainly not the Bureau.”

The blood surges to Kougami’s face. Makishima’s words are dangerously close to a confession—and that is a line Kougami is not willing to cross. He will not grant Makishima the benefit of a past, of becoming anything other than an enigma devoid of humanity; he had told Saiga as much. “I don’t care,” Kougami lies, holding his position despite the other's proximity. “Don’t touch me. And, don't call me that.”

Their faces are close. So close that, when Makishima moves to look at him, nose ghosting over Kougami’s cheek, the latter catches the gleam of something shockingly simple flickering in Makishima’s eyes: hurt, pure like his unpolluted Psycho-pass. Then, as surely as it crept in, the emotion is gone, expertly replaced by Makishima’s customary aloofness, so that Kougami wonders if he imagined it. He dismisses the uneasiness resembling a sharp pang of guilt in his chest.

“Really, Kougami.” Makishima pulls back, letting his hand fall from where it was resting on Kougami’s chest, and smiles coolly, icily, at him. “Sometimes I wonder who's the crueler one between the two of us.” As Makishima turns to walk away, the pressure of his fingers lingers on Kougami's skin, the man's rich voice echoing in his ear—so human, so there.

Before he realizes, Kougami grabs hold of Makishima’s wrist, as if his hand is possessed by a self-sabotaging will of its own. Makishima stops, looks down at the hand locking him in place, then stares at Kougami inquiringly. “Yes?” He says with an impassive expression on his face.

Kougami is at a loss for words. What the hell is he doing?

“Go back to sleep,” Kougami tells him, voice an awkward mixture of curtness and apologetic. “We have a long day tomorrow.”

Makishima rolls his eyes at Kougami. “You don’t have to tell me that. If these hackers are anywhere as sly as Choe, we have quite the task ahead.”

He gently tugs his hand from Kougami's grasp and walks back to the mattress, lying down and snuggling into it. Kougami pretends to go over their plan notes, conscious of Makishima’s silent stare on him. By the time he looks up again, the man is already asleep on his back. Kougami heaves a sigh, for once letting his eyes wander over Makishima’s sleeping form: his long limbs and slim waist covered in plain clothes, hair cut shorter than before. He memorizes the delicate curve of his jaw and the soft skin of his eyelids, taking comfort in that it will not be long until this thing—whatever nameless anomaly has been growing between them over weeks of cohabitation—is buried deep beneath Sybil’s ashes. Or, if worst comes to worst, their dead bodies.

After all, Kougami loathes it.

He loathes the twisted closeness with this man he is supposed to hate; a monster and a murderer, gnawing at the remains of his sanity and everything he holds dear. Kougami fears what lies down the abyss of Makishima’s distortion—and he fears how much he craves it. Kougami takes a deep breath through the nose, making a quiet, whooshing sound as he exhales and closes his eyes.

When his body finally gives in to exhaustion, Kougami sleeps a dreamless slumber. Like he is drowning, drowning in a pit of no return.