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nakajima atsushi and the ongoing struggle not to kill anyone

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By the time Atsushi realizes his apartment is more of a dormitory than an actual, professional, open-to-the-public-for-rent building, he’s already a full member of the agency and owns not only a futon but also more than one blanket. In this way he’s essentially hostaged himself; blankets and futons are deceptively hard to carry around a city, and he doesn’t want to go back to sleeping without them. 

 

Dazai and Kunikida are his next-door neighbors, which is probably why he took so long to notice. Kunikida is always at the Agency exactly when he thinks he should be, which is way earlier than Atsushi thinks anyone should be, and absolutely no-one is required to be. Dazai always leaves the apartment either three hours into his shift or about five hours before, or he doesn’t come home the night before so the whole thing is obsolete anyway. Additionally, Atsushi never bumps into either of them on his way to work or on his way back, because Dazai either leaves work early or doesn’t show up and Kunikida essentially sleeps there.

 

He finds out about the dorm thing when his microwave officially breaks. The door has been hanging onto the body like gums to a way-late baby tooth and Atsushi has needed to move it up and to the left when he ever wanted to close it, but the microwave itself still seemed to work until he tried to make eggs in it like Dazai suggested.

 

“Never take advice from him ever again,” Kunikida orders. “Use the stovetop in the kitchen and try not to burn down the building.”

 

“Uh, what kitchen?”

 

Apparently, the first floor has not only a kitchen, but also some sort of living room and a haunted television. Atsushi has come home from work every day tunnel-visioned with the mission to find his futon and his two extra blankets and cocoon himself until the sun filtering through his moth-food curtains (or nightmares) forced him awake and then tunnel-visioned himself to work so he could get it over with and get back to his cocoon. So he never noticed.

 

“You need to work on your observational skills. You’re in the Armed Detective Agency now and that requires at least some ability to figure things out on your own.” Kunikida then pauses to push up his glasses in a way that they flash to conceal his eyes. It is both survival instinct and a kind of Pavlovian response to the movement that makes Atsushi tune out the rest of the lecture, though it continues for about twenty minutes. 

 

Living in the Agency dorms is nothing like living in the orphanage. There are less people to share food with, and most of them are older than him instead of the other way around. This means that Atsushi gets to make food whenever he wants, but also that he gets bossed around by senior members. 

 

“Crab for breakfast!” Dazai declares, breaking into Atsushi’s room on a day when they’re both off. It was unlocked. Atsushi is coming to expect things like this. 

 

Atsushi has made Dazai crab for breakfast. Atsushi has made Dazai crab for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, and each time Dazai just ate it out of the can as he was cooking and took barely a bite out of the finished product. “I’m making chazuke.”

 

“Chazuke again?” Ranpo pouts from somewhere in the hallway. Atsushi can, at this point in knowing him, imagine his exact expression— not that it’s much different from his regular face. Ranpo is pretty much constantly either pouting or eating food. “I want pancakes.”

 

“Crab cakes!” Dazai cheers.

 

“I don’t even know how to make those! Also, I really doubt they have anything to do with pancakes at all!”

 

Ranpo pokes his head lazily into view. “But even you can make pancakes, surely?”

 

“Yeah, but...”

 

Atsushi makes them pancakes. Chocolate chip pancakes. Dazai doesn’t eat more than two bites, but still somehow manages to be shoveling food in his mouth the whole time. Ranpo eats his own and half of Atsushi’s, which sucks because Atsushi actually wanted to eat his. 

 

Kenji also shows up for pancake time, and Atsushi actually volunteers to make them because Kenji is probably the only one in the building who will thank him for it. 

 

“Can they look like cows?” Kenji asks with actual stars in his eyes. 

 

Atsushi was never very good at art. “I can try.” 

 

Kenji also asks for tomatoes instead of chocolate chips, and also for tea with nine small spoonfuls of sugar and whipped cream. And a bendy straw. 

 

At the end of the ordeal, Kenji beams at his plate and declares: “They look like cow-spots! My favorite!”

 

Atsushi groans and finally drinks his coffee, though when he developed a caffeine addiction he has no idea. Probably from Kunikida through osmosis. 

 

Naomi and Junichiro are the only Agency members that Atsushi for sure knows don’t live in the dorms. When Atsushi asked why, Kunikida broke his third pen of the morning (the first two going 1. when Dazai tried to drink Kunikida’s special calligraphy ink and 2. when Dazai recommended dick acupuncture as a method of increasing longevity), so Atsushi figures it’s better he doesn’t know the reason. 

 

“How’s hazing?” Naomi asks cheerfully. Atsushi jumps, kind of forgetting she was there when focusing on the stack of paperwork she was handing him. At least half of the stack has Dazai’s name printed on it. 

 

“Hazing..” Atsushi mumbles, soul ascending about four feet. “I’m being hazed…”

 

Naomi grabs Atsushi halfway to the angels and stuffs him back in the prison of his own body. “You can’t tell me you didn’t figure it out yet.”

 

Atsushi considers this: Dazai harasses him even when they are not physically in each other’s presence, Ranpo orders him around like a little errand boy, Kenji lulls him into a false sense of security by being a genuinely good person, and Yosano scares the living shit out of him. 

 

Atsushi considers Dazai’s treatment of Kunikida. Atsushi considers everyone’s treatment of Kunikida. 

 

“Does the hazing ever stop?”

 

“Aw, poor baby,” Naomi coos. “You can always move in next to me and Junichiro! We have neighbors right now, but they’re always gone within the month!”

 

“No thanks.”

 

+

 

When Atsushi discovers Kyouka’s moved in with him, his inventory is: blanket (2), futon (1), tea kettle (1), tea boxes (2), microwave (parts), outfit (1), and pillow (1). After the fact, she takes the futon and one of the blankets and also the pillow and Atsushi sleeps in the dark, cramped closet. 

 

He wakes up every morning thinking he’s still in the orphanage. He wakes up hearing the headmaster’s voice, or nothing at all, and the latter is worse. 

 

He wakes up smelling tea Kyouka made (and chazuke, eventually) and knows he’s in the first place that he’s ever owned, sharing it with the first person he ever really saved. 

 

Kyouka is the fanciest person Atsushi knows, and she must have some mafia money stashed away because, although she burns through all of his, he knows he didn’t have enough for all her food and those kimono he shares his closet space with. It might be simpler just to ask the president to just wire both of our checks to Kyouka’s account, really, it all goes to her anyway— not that he minds, but as much as Kyouka wants to leave the mafia behind she by no means intends to leave the luxuries too. 

 

“Where did we get the money for this?” Atsushi manages, though his mouth muscles are stiff under the ever-tightening face mask. 

 

Kyouka doesn’t look up from where she’s applying Doctor Yosano’s (quite impressive) nail art. “Ane-san says that there is always money for basic necessities.” 

 

Dazai nods, face covered in some moisturizing cream that Kyouka had to forcibly apply. “Ane-san is a very wise woman. When does your next care package come, again?”

 

Atsushi has been homeless before. Dazai saved him from literally starving to death. If someone gave him a tube of nice-smelling face goo he would’ve tried to eat it. 

 

He has this weird feeling that Dazai’s never been poor before. Odd, for a man that eats crab straight from the can and wears the same pair of clothes everyday and only showers twice a week if Kunikida even manages to catch him that many times. 

 

“What’s this?” Kunikida says, walking into the common room.

 

“Kyouka doesn’t want ugly coworkers!” Dazai enthuses. “We’re making her feel more at home.”

 

Atsushi squacks, which is a weird noise to come out of a tiger. Kunikida makes the same noise. 

 

Kyouka nods. “The Port Mafia was hell, but no one was unattractive. Except Kaiji, maybe. And Akutagawa.”

 

Kunikida chokes, and so does Atsushi at first, but it’s also actually a fair assessment. Kyouka probably knows best, anyway. 

 

“It’s the neck thing,” Atsushi agrees. “The neck thing makes it weird.”

 

“I know,” Dazai says, deeply serious like he never is ever. “If he went for a high collar, and maybe cut the weird white shit off his hair, he’d be much better off. But no, he’s got to go completely goth. It’s so fixable— he refuses to help himself.”

 

They take a second to imagine it. 

 

“Maybe glasses, too,” Yosano adds. “To keep the weird poet vibes.”

 

Atsushi and Dazai chorus “Yes!” and then no one ever speaks about it again. Coming to an agreement with Dazai is a little traumatizing every time it happens, so Atsushi appreciates it. 

 

It’s happening more and more nowadays. 

 

+

 

Living with Doctor Yosano is a lot like being held captive by a serial killer, except you’ve reached the point in Stockholm Syndrome where she can let you out every day and you’ll just come back.

 

“I’m thinking of having a yard sale,” Yosano says, coming into the kitchen where Atsushi is making blueberry pancakes for half of the agency. 

 

“What’s a yard sale?” Atsushi asks, but by the time he gets to yard everyone but Yosano is already gone. 

 

“Aw, you’ll figure it out,” she says, sitting down at Ranpo’s plate where the most heavily stacked and syruped pancakes find their home. She stabs Ranpo’s discarded fork directly into a blueberry and lets it bleed out, grinning like it’ll split her face wide open. “Come to my room! You can help me pick out what to sell.”

 

This is when Atsushi’s inner voice says: God, I wish I could say no. Atsushi’s inner voice is usually drowned out by his Headmaster hallucinations and the Tiger, so Atsushi’s less concerned with the fact that he has three voices in his head and more just happy to know that none of them have killed each other yet. 

 

Yosano lives on the same floor as Ranpo, though they both have their own rooms and several more separating them. Kunikida says this is because neither Yosano or Ranpo need to be watched, either because they’re not suicidal or because they’re not former mafia assassins. 

 

(Dazai covered his mouth with one hand and explained very loudly to Atsushi that it’s actually because no one could ever stand to live with either of them. Kunikida then grabbed that hand and used it to swing him into the nearest brick wall.)

 

When she opens the door, the first thing Atsushi thinks is wow, that’s kinda cluttered, and the second is holy shit, that’s a whole shelf full of human fingers. 

 

“Come on in!” Yosano says, smiling. The Tiger, in a rare moment of charity, says We can eat her before she eats us, don’t be a pussy— but even she doesn’t sound sure. 

 

He goes inside, all three voices a little perturbed. The bed is covered in ripped-out and balled-up pieces of notebook paper, with a somewhat equal amount of books tossed open on the bed and the floor. The sheets and carpet are covered in stains that Atsushi recognizes as blood of differing ages and the whole room is humid with the disgusting smell of preservation chemicals. 

 

Yosano’s shelves are covered in various jars, coffee cans, and take-out tupperwares with taped-on labels. One of the larger glass ones reads KUNIKIDA and is mostly full of left big toes. There’s an empty cylindrical container that still smells vaguely like soup labeled NAKAJIMA. 

 

Half of Yosano’s face is covered in shadows, probably because her curtains actually work. “Atsushi, babe, why are you shaking?”

 

“I- I need to go. Please.”

 

Clawed hands dig into Atsushi’s upper-arm. “But you promised to help, didn’t you?”  

 

Yosano’s yard sale turns out to involve a lot of weighing jars and taking pictures of them from different angles. Never the ones labeled with the names of Agency members, but the ones like RICH MEN and DOCTORS WHO THINK THEY'RE BETTER THAN ME. She then uploads the photos with starting bid prices to a website she calls “Maybe when you’re older, Atsushi,” and “Somewhere on the deep web.”

 

The small one labeled STUPID DUMBASS MAFIA SCIENTIST sells to Lemon_God667 for about 300 million yen, which is about 300 thousand bowls of chazuke. 

 

Atsushi’s inner voice says: Hey, we can heal too, let’s sell Atsushi jars! And Atsushi is in total agreement until the Tiger tells them she’ll let them die. 

 

The Tiger also wants to eat the FRESH— TO BE SORTED jar. The Tiger has absolutely zero brainpower spared for good ideas. 

 

+

 

The problem of working an office job (or a half-office, half-get-yourself-murdered job) is that if the secretaries don’t like you, you’re screwed. 

 

The problem of working a job where there are only about ten people there (especially when most of them live together) is that gossip spreads like mono on a soccer team. Atsushi and Kyouka are especially good examples of this, being that they: 1. are roommates, 2. hate all the same people, and 3. are so overprotective of each other that they function as siblings. They generally spend the few hours between work and sleep complaining about clients, Dazai, coworkers who aren’t Dazai, Akutagawa, and everything else ever.

 

Kyouka told Atsushi who was overheard by Haruno that Haruno’s cat creeps her out. Atsushi told Kyouka that was overheard by Haruno (and Naomi who she had quietly signaled over) that even the Tiger didn’t want to eat it, which is actually a fairly good signal that the cat is not to be trusted. The Tiger judges good character by wanting to consume it. 

 

Now Haruno and Naomi and Junichiro are pissed at the both of them, and although they haven’t seen him, the President can hardly be expected to side against both a cat and Haruno.

 

The rest of the Agency, not wanting to endanger themselves by getting involved in drama with the people who screen their phone calls and give them missions and reports, are ignoring the Atsushi-Kyouka alliance. Even Dazai is only bothering them 60% the amount that he usually does. 

 

Being Dazai’s favorite and easiest target, Atsushi can’t help but wonder who is picking up the slack for him. Dazai has bruises on his neck, so he assumes it’s been Kunikida, strangling him.

 

“Not Kunikida.” Kyouka denies. “Ane-san says he’s in the on-again phase.”

 

“On-again with who?”

 

They’re interrupted by Haruno carrying an extra-large stack of paperwork that is not only Atsushi and Dazai’s, but also Kyouka, Ranpo, Kenji, and Junichiro’s. Kunikida’s calendar marks today as the day before Deadline Day, where Yosano has drawn a little skull. 

 

Haruno drops it on Atsushi’s desk, causing both a large thud and several needles to come out of the stack, which means that Naomi asked Yosano for advice, pitting yet another coworker against them. Awesome.

 

“Your ability turns you into a tiger, right?” Haruno asks. Atsushi has only seen popular girls in the movies that Kyouka watches because the internet says fourteen year-olds need to, but right now Haruno looks exactly like the evil bitchy ones. 

 

Atsushi nods. The movies have taught him that popular girls have recorders on them at all times, specifically to frame their enemies by sharing their words out-of-context on their school’s loudspeaker. It’s best to keep his mouth closed at all times. 

 

Haruno groans and rolls her eyes. “ Ugh . You’re telling me I have to come in and see your stupid crooked bangs every damn day when I could be looking at a fucking cat right now?”

 

The neutral, allied, and enemy parties all straighten up in realization. 

 

Dazai materializes in front of him and leans in, wearing an expression not unlike the time when he ate those poison mushrooms. “Why is it that we haven’t seen your tiger form since your first couple days at the Agency, At-su-shi?” 

 

“Uh…” because she wants to eat you and I’m pretty sure she’s eaten people before too—  “I can't control it very well?” 

 

“But the President’s ability should help with that,” Ranpo points out, spinning on the most expensive chair in the office (Kyouka is plotting to steal it, but the odds of her succeeding are about the same as Kenji going through an emo phase— which Atsushi has already bet against Yosano on because never happening ). The shadows of the Agency members grow up the walls and form evil grins of their own, except for Kenji’s which just has a regular smile. Atsushi gulps.

 

Kunikida huffs. “The President’s ability is great, but we have better things to do than indulge in petty curiosities. All paperwork is due in two days at fourteen o’clock, and I’ll not have you embarrassing the agency with late work.”

 

Atsushi’s ready to jump into Kunikida’s excuse, but Kyouka, his rock, his compass, his safety blanket, meets his pleading gaze with a much cuter, much more effective one. “I’ve never seen you as a tiger.”

 

Atsushi’s done. His fate is decided. Even before the President comes out of his office and orders him to try “for the better of the Agency.”

 

He’s never done it consciously, so it takes a minute:

 

This is stupid, says the Tiger.

 

Yes, says Atsushi’s inner voice. But, like, I kinda do want to try. Without you killing anyone.

 

See, that’s the stupid part. You’re stupid as shit. If we were different people I would eat you first.

 

The promise of If this goes well, I can let you out more often! actually sells it for her, and so Atsushi loses his body to the Tiger.

 

“Aw, he’s so cute!” Naomi and Haruno say, at about the same time.

 

Yosano laughs horribly. “Pretty sure that’s a girl tiger.”

 

Dazai laughs louder and even more horribly than Yosano. 

 

The Tiger growls. Atsushi, whose mind-scape manifestation is standing as far away as possible from the Headmaster and the Vault Of Repressed Memories, winces.

 

Has he ever tried suicide-by-tiger? I would like to recommend suicide-by-tiger. Atsushi, when you get out, tell him how great suicide-by-tiger is.

 

It’s kind of hard to argue against eating people when the Tiger’s instincts overwhelm any human ones. But if Atsushi had to choose an Agency member to eat, hypothetically, Dazai would probably be second-to-last after Kyouka for very different reasons than Kyouka. 

 

He’d love to give Dazai the one thing he actually wants— which is, you know, death — but twenty-two year-old skinny guys who don’t shower and regularly try to drown themselves in the polluted Yokohama harbor aren’t exactly the kind of people he’s going after when he finally succumbs to cannibalism. The first person on his list is Kenji.

 

Grass-fed... GMO free… The Tiger is drooling. There’s something to that health craze shit, I’m telling you.

 

“Can I… pet you?” Kyouka asks, startling the Tiger from her visions of Kenji-stew. Kyouka uses a lot of fun-smelling perfumes and hair products, so it’s not that they think she’ll taste bad , but even the Tiger doesn’t want to eat their Agency-assigned little sister. 

 

Ugh, no way. The Tiger murmurs, but lets Kyouka scratch behind her ears. 

 

Kenji, who joined Kyouka the second she managed to touch the Tiger, pouts. “Why isn’t she purring? Does she not like being pet?” 

 

“Big cats don’t purr,” Kyouka says with the 100% certainty of a girl who spent some of her first days of freedom watching tiger documentaries. “I think that if she didn’t like it, we wouldn't have hands now.”

 

Kenji gapes, star-pupiled eyes wide. “Wow, Kyouka, you’re so smart!”

 

Hm…. The Tiger tilts her head to give the two access to neck-scritches. Free-range hands… home grown…

 

Atsushi doesn’t know why he doesn’t spend more time lazing around as a tiger. Human morals seem so pitiful in the face of fun tasty human meat and fun comfy petting. Then he casts his metaphysical gaze on the looming form of the headmaster and the Vault and remembers. 

 

The President squats in front of the Tiger, holding a dried-out jerky approximation of a fish. 

 

The Tiger stares.

 

The President waves the fish back and forth like a little bell. With the same expression he wears when declaring war on enemy organizations, he says: “Pspspspsp.”

 

The President is third-to-last on his PEOPLE I WANT TO EAT list because of his old, stringy meat. But the President is only about forty-five, so… 

 

He doesn’t smell THAT old, The Tiger pouts. Just a little bite?

 

Atsushi considers: This is true, and it’s not like he’ll be killing anyone…

 

Ranpo elbows Dazai who jumps forwards like a particularly upset toddler. “No fair! I wanna pet Atsushi too!”

 

Atsushi screams when Dazai’s touch cancels his ability and leaves him red-faced on the ground. His coworkers are all affecting different shades of disappointment, except for the President who is wearing the sad version of his singular expression. 

 

“Please don’t make me do that again,” Atsushi begs. 

 

“Aw, why not?” Ranpo asks, wearing pout number 7 and slouching over forwards. When Ranpo asks questions it really means he just wants you to admit the answer out loud, so Atsushi doesn’t give him the pleasure of vocalizing what they both already know:

 

We were JUST about to eat that guy, the Tiger complains. Ugh, I hate your friends. Tell Dazai about that suicide thing, yeah?

 

I HAVE HUMAN TASTEBUDS NOW!!! THAT IS NO LONGER APPEALING!!! DO YOU HEAR ME TIGER IM NOT GOING TO DO THAT STOP GROWLING DO YOU—

 

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