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The Naming of Cats

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"Really kid?"

The man's voice is surprisingly deep. Atsushi doesn't respond. He's still seeing stars, vision gone static bright behind the skin of his eyelids, the back of his head one huge blaring concentration of pain from where it had cracked against the concrete. There's a pressure on his chest, heavy and settled. A boot. He's pretty sure that it's a boot. When he tries to move, awkwardly, the owner of the boot stomps down hard.

Something creaks. Atsushi muffles a yelp between his teeth and kind of wants to cry.

He's not sure what this says about his own luck or just karma in general. It's probably his luck--Atsushi's luck is terrible, no good, useless. Atsushi himself is terrible, no good, useless, kicked out of his orphanage and left to starve, desperate to the point of committing theft in order to survive. And really, at this point , getting beaten up by the person he was trying to rob doesn't even come as huge surprise.

Although it still is a surprise.

Above him, colours are starting to blur into focus. A boot, leading up to black slacks, to a crisp looking shirt, then black gloves and startlingly bright hair underneath the tipped brim of a hat. It's the same man Atsushi had tried to rob, no doubt about it. Slim and short, with delicate, androgynous features and expensive clothes. Alone, walking at an unhurried pace, Atsushi's first impression of him had been easy target. This is what he gets for that, he thinks dazedly, a minute and a failed lunge into the future.

The man is scowling down, looking distinctively unimpressed. Atsushi can feel the tip of his heel digging into the soft space between his ribs. "Oi," he says, sounding faintly incredulous past the ringing in Atsushi's ears. "Did you try to mug me in broad daylight?"

"I'm sorry!" Atsushi yelps. It comes out as a pathetic kind of whimper. His head is swimming and his back aches and he can feel the hard edge of rock digging into his palm. Oh god, what did he get himself into. Atsushi is an idiot and useless and he knew he was going to die alone and homeless, he knew, but now he's going to get a criminal record on top of that. "I'm sorry. I am so sorry. Please please please don't call the police. I know I shouldn't have I know but I was so hungry it was my first time I won't do it again I promise. I promise." He's babbling. He's going to jail. He has no money for bail and he's going to jail because he decided to rob a random stranger, and Atsushi will not survive in jail. "Please, I won't do it again! I won--"

"Kid," Stranger interrupts.

"--t! I'll be good! I won't even think of doing an--"

"Kid," Stranger repeats, harsher. Atsushi snaps his mouth shut, quickly enough for his teeth to click. Sometime through that desperate ramble, the boot on his chest has been generously removed. He keeps very very still as Stranger leans down, still frowning. Tries not to breathe or even blink. "How old are you?"

Atsushi stares at him for a moment. Blue eyes narrow, impatient, and he scrambles for a response.

"Um. Eighteen?"

"You don't sound very certain," Stranger says dryly.

"I'm eighteen," Atsushi reaffirms.

In response that this, Stranger makes a sound kind of like tchht, and Atsushi wonders belatedly if he should have lied.

Gloved fingers pinch his sleeve. The stranger eyes him, a crease in his brow, eyes bright and frightening in their intensity. Atsushi wonders if this is what prey feels like when cornered, somewhere between terror and petrification and well, more terror, helpless in the face of some larger, meaner predator. Resisting the overpowering urge to scramble away is hard; there's a weight settling like cold lead in his stomach, spindly fingers digging into his neck, a voice, quiet but furious, hissing run-while-you-can even as he's being scrutinized.

"You look like you got kicked out of a hospital," he says finally, shifting on his heels.

"I... got kicked out of my orphanage." Atsushi replies weakly.

Stranger's eyebrows hitch up. "Yeah? Just like that when you turned legal?"

"No. There was..." Atsushi pauses. He's not sure why the stranger is asking, but at this means he's not being hauled away in a police cruiser. "There was downsizing. And crop failure," and also a terrifying, man-eating tiger, but he isn't about to mention that. "Mostly downsizing."

A head tilt. Contemplative. Atsushi hopes, anxiously, that it's a "I feel pity" sort of contemplative and not a "law enforcement kind of contemplative. "Huh," he mutters.

Then he snags Atsushi by the arm and rises in one fluid smooth motion, heaving Atsushi up with him. The grip is strong, a vice clamp on the delicate wrist bone. For a moment Atsushi's wobbling. His legs feel like soaked noodles and he still hurts everywhere, and the abrupt motion of standing has him blinking away a dizzying amount of vertigo, colours blinking out for a moment, bile on his tongue. Stranger waits until he's steadied before turning sharply on his heel.

"Let's go."

Atsushi blinks at his back. "What?"

It earns him an impatient look pointed over one shoulder. "Let's go."

... Go? Go where. Oh god. Is he going to be frog marched to a police station? Is that what's going to happen? A step back, his shoes seem very loud on the road, and the trepidation must have shown on his face because Stranger takes one look at him and rolls his eyes. "To a restaurant, kid. You look like you need a solid meal."

There are a lot of things about this situation not making sense. This right here is more outrageous than Atsushi getting flipped onto his back by someone who's a good five inches shorter than him, even with the hat. ".. You're going to feed me?" he edges.

Maybe he's dreaming. Nothing good ever happens to Atsushi. Maybe, very likely, this is a dream.

"That's what I said." Stranger tells him.

"But... I just… tried to rob you?"

He wants to take the words back the moment they leave his mouth. Atsushi is in absolutely no position to pass up on free food. Thankfully though, the stranger only snorts. "Kid," he says, and there's a catch like a laugh in his voice. "You couldn't rob a five year old."

This is a very demeneaning but not exactly inaccurate assessment of Atsushi's life skills.

He crooks a finger in Atsushi's direction. "Come on."

He turns, and doesn't look back to see if Atsushi is following him, which Atsushi does, after a heartbeat of indecision and a scramble to catch up. He pinches himself on the side just to be sure. It's not a dream, somehow, even though it should be, even though this is too good for reality in anyway without a catch. Maybe Stranger is a serial killer. Maybe he's a gangster. Luring Atsushi in for the sole and express purpose of dicing him up to little bits and harvesting his organs.

But Atsushi is hungry and tired and he doesn't have it in him to refuse, not on the rod-slim chance that the offer might be genuine, not on the chance that a warm meal is just a walk and a kindness away.

"I'm Nakajima Atsushi," he offers, hesitantly.

The slanted look he gets in return is mostly unreadable: a half raised eyebrow, a set of the mouth that isn't a frown but isn't a smile. "Nakahara Chuuya," the stranger introduces. And then he's walking faster, picking up the pace in long, brisk strides, and Atsushi has to adjust accordingly or risk lagging behind.

*

Nakahara-san is shaping up to not be a serial killer. Unless, of course, he's the type to lure his victims into a false sense of security and gratitude before finishing them off. Atsushi follows him into a restaurant that's far too nice for him to even think of standing in its front lobby, all ornate furniture and floor polished to a gleaming chrome, and tries very hard to hunch into himself as they head towards the hostess.

They get seats near the windows. The chairs are covered in a cushion of leather, and a bouquet of fresh flowers is arranged in the center of the table. Nakahara-san orders as Atsushi grips the strap of his bag and tries to not bite his nails. Everything is expensive. And although Nakahara-san fits right in, suit charcoal and tailored, not a hair out of place, Atsushi most certainly does not. He clutches at his tea mug as soon as a waitress brings the pot and occasionally sneaks glances at his surroundings.

Then the food comes in, and Atsushi forgets all about that.

Chazuke had been Atsushi's first choice, but whatever. Whatever. Atsushi is in no way complaining. There's duck congee on the table, soups that smell sweet and salty and heavenly, platters of steaming vegetables. Atsushi scalds his tongue on the first bite but doesn't care for it, doesn't stop or slow down. It's food and it's hot and it's food, and his stomach is going to rebel if he doesn't get it into him right now.

He inhales four family-sized portions in maybe twenty minutes, and he's still somehow hungry. But that's alright, because then another bowl comes, steaming, wafting up the scent of fresh herbs and seafood, and he polishes that clean too.

And the bowl after that.

And the bowl after that.

He only begins to slow down after maybe ten servings, starts to taste the flavour on his tongue instead of straight out stuffing his face. All the while, Nakahara-san sips his wine, one leg tossed carelessly over the other. He's scraping off the last of the sauce from his (twenty-fifth) plate when Nakahara-san sets his glass against the table win a precise click. "Done?" He asks. Atsushi starts, glances up to see the man's head tilted, amused, and he rubs the back of his neck sheepishly.

"Absolutely," he says."I haven't eaten this much in forever." His voice comes out ridiculously happy and a little fervent, and he means it so much he doesn't even feel ashamed.

There's a pointed look at Atsushi's stomach."I can see that."

Atsushi can feel the blush reach his ears, warm and tingling. He grins, wryly. "Yeah, I don't know how that fit either." That was a lot of food. A lot of good food. Expensive food. "But really. Thanks. I don't-- You don't know how much this means to me. I honestly thought I was going to die out there. I don't have anyone and I thought--"

He stops, not quite sure how to go on.

For a moment, Nakahara-san is silent as well, and Atsushi thinks, too heavy too heavy why did you say that. He has a hand already half raised to wave it off, a not-quite laugh stuck in his throat, but then Nakahara-san leans back and tosses back the rest of his wine.

"You have anywhere to go?" he asks, when he's finished swallowing.

"Um," says Atsushi, shoulders hunched. Then, "No."

Atsushi never has anywhere to go. That's the basis of his life. He doesn't know where he's going to sleep for the night. He's got to move, too, otherwise, the park bench would be a pretty appealing place to lie down and take a break. The tiger is following him. He remembers that in a terrified rush, followed by a bone-weariness. He has no idea how the tiger is following him, but it's definitely following him.

"It's fine." He lifts his head and tries for a smile, finds it small and self-decapitating."That's how it always is."

There's a pause. Very keenly, Atsushi can hear the soft clinks of china from the other tables. Nakahara-san fingers his wine glass, reaches for the dark amber bottle at his elbow to pour more inside. It's a quick elegant motion, all smooth practice. Atsushi watches and he's anxious. That's what this emotion is, he thinks. His heart is thudding and his palms are cold and hot at once, and he's anxious, because Atsushi has always cared too much about what people thought of him when people have never thought good of him, when they have always thought useless and failure, and now there's this nice stranger that's picked him off the street and Atsushi is so grateful, so grateful and he just--

"You wanna stay at my apartment?" Nakahara-san asks, something like a sigh in his voice. He laces his finger and rests his chin on the tent of them, looks at Atsushi with the same look he did on the street, half scrutiny and half something undecipherable.

It is a very, very tempting offer. 

Atsushi blinks. Swallows. His nails dig into the cushion of his chair. 

"I can't possibly--"

"I'm not offering you permanent residence," Nakahara-san interrupts, bluntly. "It's just for a night."

"I don't--"

"You just said you don't have anywhere to go."

"But I can't--"

"You really, really need a shower, kid."

There is a man-eating tiger following me, Atsushi does not say in hysterics, because that is one topic of conversation he in no way wants to breach to anyone, let alone nice people that give him food even after he's tried to rob them. He can't do that to Nakahara-san. Doubly so, he can't lead the tiger to Nakahara-san's apartment.

Atsushi rewinds that sentence through his head.

Apartment.

He doesn't think the tiger could... but no. Nope. Atsushi is not risking it. The tiger has been pretty set on tracking Atsushi so far. Atsushi will not underestimate its abilities.

So Atsushi tries to formulate a polite, thankful way of turning the him down. He gets as far as "I really appreciate the offer --" before Nakahara-San rolls his eyes and leans forward again with a soft, dismissive noise.

"No one calls me Nakahara," he drawls. "It's Chuuya-san to you."

"Uh." Atsushi readjusts. That is a thing he can do. "Well. Um. Chuuya-san, then--"

Evidently though, Chuuya-san isn't having any of this, because Atsushi gets steamrolls right over."You need clothes," he begins, paying Atsushi's flailing hand gestures no mind. "And maybe a checkup at the hospital. And possibly a haircut. You look like a five year old took scissors to your head." He eyes him up and down. Atsushi opens his mouth but doesn't manage to get a word in edgewise. "Kid, do you even have a legal ID?"

"Um. Yes? But--"

Chuuya-san holds up a hand. Atsushi goes quiet.

Fingers tap against the fine silk of the table cloth. Just as Atsushi's scrounged up enough courage for a third try, Chuuya-san rises, and Atsushi is half out of his chair to follow him before he remembers where this is going. There's a hand snagging his elbow, a wallet being flipped open, bills being slapped onto the table. "Shower first," Chuuya-san tells him decisively, in a tone that says "no" is not an appropriate response, and shortly after Atsushi is being half dragged out the restaurant.

Chapter Text

About a block out from the restaurant, the protests peter out, likely when the kid finally realizes the futility of his half-stuttered objections and stops trying to dig his heels into the sidewalk or wriggle out from the clamp Chuuya has on his arm. He goes limp then. Still wide eyed and unsure but compliant, not that he was fighting very hard in the first place. If he had been, Chuuya probably would've just tossed him over one shoulder and lugged him back, no ability needed. The kid is apallingly skinny. Chuuya can actually feel the hard bone underneath his grip.

They enter the lobby of Chuuya's apartment, and the kid has a look on his face exactly like the one he had two steps into Chuuya's favourite restaurant, all craning neck and shoulders drawn close and white knuckles hands, like he wants to see everything and touch absolutely nothing. He skirts the long cream carpet. Jolts when he bumps into a wall, and when the elevator dings open, Chuuya has to nudge him to go inside. The kid does a half stumble, eyes huge, and immediately goes to occupy a corner.

"Relax," Chuuya says. He punches in the button for the twentieth floor.

Half cowering as he is, the kid really does bear resemblance to one of those fluffy, frightened rabbits. There's a lot of nervous movement. Small finger twitches. A constant shifting of his weight from foot to foot and uncertain peering around the elevator space. Then the doors slide open to a tan carpet, and Chuuya can see the moment Atsushi goes even tenser, posture hunched and spring-coil rigid.

There's a wild, panicked look in his eyes. "I don't --" he starts, and Chuuya steers him out before the doors close.

"How about you take a shower first."

The kid wrenches away like Chuuya's hand is a live wire. Which, well, there have been instances where that's more than an apt comparison, but if Chuuya wants to hurt the kid the kid will know, very explicitly. "You don't understand--" he says, tone pleading. "It's dangerous. I'm dangerous. There's a thing following me and I can't--it's not stoppable!!

"Yeah," Chuuya says, clicking his tongue, "I figured."

The kid stops. Stares.

"Huh?"

Now nominally on the side of law and justice or not, Chuuya doesn't actually make it a hobby to pick up stray charity cases. There had just been something about the kid, even skin and bones and so undernourished Chuuya could count the blue webbing of blood vessels under his skin, something in his bleach-white hair and the uneven, florescent colour of his eyes that had sent the alarm bells blaring in Chuuya's head. He'd survived this far trusting his instincts, and right there and then his instincts had been itching, had been saying pay attention. Something is up with Nakajima Atsushi.

Like, you know, a dangerous ability. Because serial killer and mafia grunt had been kicked off the list two seconds in.

Very little can set Chuuya off quite that much, and a dangerous ability is one of the few exceptions. Something to do with superhuman strength or speed or regeneration, going by the kid's metabolism. Abilities tend to cheerfully disobey most known laws of physics, but they have restrictions. Limitations. Energy equivalents. Ones that directly effect physical strength usually require a massive amount of calories one time or another in order to avoid burnout.

And the kid has absolutely no fucking idea this ability exists. Like, none. That mugging attempt had been one of the singularly most pathetic things Chuuya has never witnessed.

As for the stalker... Well.

That's new information. Chuuya is working on it. Process of elimination say that it's not the Port mafia, because none of them are incompetent enough to be seen. And frankly speaking, if it is the Port mafia, there's no chance the kid would have made it far enough into Yokohama to run into Chuuya. He would've been snatched away by now. Orphan, desperate, no where to go; the kid checks all the boxes for recruitment, forced or not, and then some.

Maybe one of the smaller gangs, then. Those fuckers lurk. God knows Yokohama has plenty, even though Kenji's recruitment into the Agency six months ago means that they've steadily become as unintrusive as possible while still maintaining shady business.

Yeah, that makes sense.

The kid's still staring, so Chuuya offers his conclusions to hopefully elevate the startled rabbit look. "Yokohama's home to more small timers than you can count. They probably had an eye on you."

"An... Eye," Kid repeats weakly.

"For recruitment." Chuuya shrugs. The kid makes a small, squeaking sound, somewhere caught between a hiccup and a whimper. "You look like shark bait," he graciously elaborates.

The kid goes even whiter. Anymore, and he might be liable to faint.

"Ah...ah," he says, distantly. He sways a little.

Chuuya puts on a steadying hand on his (unfortunately) taller shoulder. It would be kind of annoying if the kid decided to keel over in the hallway. Or worse: throw up. Honestly, it's not even a bad thing to be targeted by small-timers. Chuuya can dust them off with a hangover, a cracked rib, and four hours of sleep. The Port Mafia is not nearly as nice.

... Delicate constitution, this one.

In any case, Chuuya takes the moment of distraction to tug the kid down two doors, slot in his key, and herd him inside.

Kid goes in almost on autopilot. Kicking off his own shoes, Chuuya leaves his hat on a hanger behind the door, showing his stumbling new street-rat to the living room and depositing him onto the couch before his pallor can get even more alarmingly sickly. It's not huge, the apartment. The kitchenette and living areas are open-space, full of well-worn furniture and the occasional scattering of poetry and sheet music across the counters, and further in Chuuya has a bedroom and a spare converted into a study. But it is home. Cozy, lived in. He has a cello on a stand, wine bottles sorted by brand and age behind a glass cabinet, food in the fridge and plants on his balcony.

The kid sits down like a puppet with all the strings cut. Just--slumps over. His eyes are still glassy and not-quite there, breaths shallow, hands white and ghastly.

Okay.

Chuuya scrubs a hand through his hair. Okay.

He leaves for a minute to rummage through his closet. Clothes, the kid needs clothes. Because he needs a shower, because it doesn't look like he's seen hot water for a week, or in fact, the inside of a building for a week. All of Chuuya's suits are tailored though. They're not going to fit.

In the end, he drapes a pair of sweatpants and a loose T-shirt over his arm. The kid is really not taller than him by that much, and Chuuya is pretty sure that he weighs more. When he makes his way back to the living room, the kid is still looking somewhere in the land of comatose. Chuuya snaps his fingers. No response. He drops the clothes into the kid's lap. Still nothing.

"Kid," he sighs, and flicks him on the head for good measure.

It seems to work. The kid jolts. Looks down at his hands. Looks up, at Chuuya. And the part of his brain feigning zombification must have finally switched back online, because he makes a squeaking noise and blinks huge startled eyes in bafflement. He squints at the clothes. "Are these. Um what are these?"

Chuuya looks heavenward for patience.

"Shower," he enunciates slowly. The kid stares at him. 

Oh for the love of -

With an impatient yank, he levers the kid up and points him in the direction of the hallway, giving him a push between the shoulder blades for good measure, and repeats. "Go take a shower." He has been repeating a lot of things today. He is actually out of practice at this--Kenji is ninety five percent self sufficient and Rampo doesn't count, and normally Chuuya doesn't go out of his way to interact with kids.

"Show-" says kid. There's a look of dawning realization, and before he can start off the stuttering apologies like a leaky faucet, Chuuya gives him another shove.

"I'd like for this to be done before the end of the day," Chuuya says dryly.

Finally, finally, kid scrambles off.

*

While the kid does that, Chuuya starts brewing coffee.

He likes to it hot and strong and with a dozen spoonfuls of sugar stirred in. Alcohol is great for Friday evening engagements, because Saturday is his day off and he can nurse his hangover in peace, but not as great when Chuuya has a report to write and Agency work the following morning. He pulls out the draft he'd scribbled a few days earlier. An illegal smuggling ring he'd gone to take down with Yosano. Chuuya had jotted down the information while it was still fresh in his mind--Location, date, numbers, major ringleaders-- and the paper is crinkled and a little torn at the edges.

His laptop is still in its messenger bag. He yanks that out too, along his charger and a red pen.

Outside, the sky is dark, velvet edged with thin wisps of cloud, the moon one translucent dime hanging high above the horizon line. It had been sunset when Chuuya had been accosted, and by the time he'd made it home, kid in tow, evening had since rolled by.

He takes a sip of his coffee. He's not sure exactly what he's going to do with the kid. Figure out the specifics of his ability first, he supposes, and then make sure he's not bird food when and if the Port Mafia comes knocking. For now though, he's fed, and clean, and he has a warm place to sleep tonight. Chuuya can deal with it tomorrow.

A page and a half through, the sound of running water from further inside cuts off.

Kid comes out, towel draped over one shoulder, the bathroom door opened a notch and wisping thin curls of steam behind him. So his hair is that weird beige-white. Chuuya had been or more less sure it was an excess of grime at work there. He walks down the hallway to the living room, footsteps stop and careful, stopping a feet away from where Chuuya's clack-clack-clacking on his laptop. For a moment, he looks at Chuuya, the couch, and the dining table, and manages to convey the anxious air of someone in dire need of instructions.

"There's coffee if you want," Chuuya tells him, already back to the report. He's having trouble remembering exactly how many units there had been, which is unfortunate, but the difference between ten men and fifty is all rather non-existent when Chuuya has adrenaline pulsing in his ears and his ability glowing in a red haze at his fingers. That's something he'll have to cross-reference with Yosano, later.

"...Thanks," the kid murmurs. He still sounds a little disorientated, as if the shock still hasn't cleared out of his system.

Very carefully, he goes to the kitchen. He takes the mug on the far left, and after a second's deliberation, pours coffee into it.

Then he comes back, scoots out a chair, and just... holds the mug. When no other noises seem forthcoming, Chuuya glances up from finishing a paragraph to make sure the kid hadn't, you know, just stopped breathing. That would not be a great conversation to hold with his colleagues.

He looks okay though. Spots of colour are back in his cheeks, which is an improvement from the pasty pallor he had earlier. His fingers are wrapped around the rim of the mug, the steaming coffee inside untouched. He's just... sitting. And looking at Chuuya with an almost disturbing intensity. His eyes are gray and very big and despite the lack of physical resemblance, the tilt of his head gives way to the thought of tiny, soft furred puppies.

Puppies, yes. But other baby animals as well.

Like ducklings.

Ducklings ready and a little desperate to imprint.

Chuuya pauses on tapping the enter key.

He looks at Atsushi again. This time, really looks at him. No one one will say that Chuuya is bad at reading people. It had been a necessary survival skill in his former line of work, even and maybe especially with his ability, and he'd grown up with Dazai. Dazai is self explanatory.

The kid looks back for a full three seconds, and then his gaze switches down to his coffee. His grip on the handle tightens.

"Um," he says, hesitantly.

Chuuya can feel the migraine building.

Oh for the love of god. The kid has - he's imprinted hasn't he. Of course he has. Of fucking course. 

The kid is still fidgeting with his mug. Chuuya stares at him for ten long seconds trying to convey Why would you no seriously why with his eyes.

The kid does not look up. There is no way Chuuya wants to deal with this tonight. "

You can take the couch for tonight," he says. It's late. It is, in fact, ten o'clock. Chuuya needs his beauty sleep. "I'll get blankets. make your self comfortable."

"Oh. Uh. Sure!"

Luckily, the blankets are in his room, which leaves two walls and a lot of empty air between Chuuya and the kid.

This is... not a favourable development.

It had seemed natural at the time. Habit, even after four years away from the Port Mafia, leaking over and into his present actions without a hitch in thought. Find kid. Feed and water kid, get information, assuage whatever weird alarms his intuition was spouting, and by the end of it Chuuya had someone's unconditional loyalty and the the Port Mafia had a new member. It hadn't been hard. Chuuya had never been good with kids but he was charismatic and bluntly honest and he never took more than he gave. Chuuya's men had always been loyal to Chuuya, because Chuuya was loyal to them in return. He was fiercely, fiercely responsible for what he considered his. If they were Chuuya's, Chuuya would take care of them, end of story.

But he isn't in the mafia anymore. Atsushi is... Chuuya has no idea where the hell Atsushi is going to go, but that's why the Agency exists, for connections.

He scowls fiercely at the blankets piled at the top of the closet.

Chuuya had been eighteen when he left the mafia. Two years spent underground, Two years spent at the Detective agency; four years total outside, and twenty-two now. He knows responsibility. In the mafia responsibility had been three bullets to the heart and a crushed jaw, Kouyou's soft hands in his hair, every single time he'd dragged Dazai-fucking-waste-of-air-Osamu out from death's grasp by the skin of his teeth and every single time he'd stamped down on the urge to just wring his hands around that stupid, bandaged neck and squeeze. Responsibility outside is--the same, but different. Lighter and tighter somehow. He'd read a book about it once, about a boy and a fox and a rose. You become forever responsible for what you've tamed.

Chuuya is twenty-two, and he knows responsibility in two weights, two distinct yet blurred balances on a scale. He also knows he is in no way going to be responsible for an eighteen-year old, fresh onto the streets, too-skinny kid with an untrained ability.

Just. No.

He takes a deep breath in, then out. He counts backwards from ten.

Chuuya is very familiar with breathing exercises. This, like many things, is primarily Dazai's fault.

Then he levitates the blankets down with flick of his wrist, steps out, into the living room, where the kid has awkwardly perched on the edge of the couch like he's afraid the couch will, somehow, overcoming the limits of its inanimate status, eat him up in the near future. He hurries up as soon as Chuuya comes into view.

Chuuya drops the blankets at one end of the couch, along with a pillow.

"Do you have a toothbrush?"

"Yes," says the kid.

"Great," says Chuuya. "Then I'm going to retire too. We're figure out what we're going to do with you tomorrow." There are government programs for people like the kid, especially Gifted ones. Kunikida knows more about it than Chuuya does. It'll work out.

Chuuya will make it work out, because there is still no way in hell he's going to be responsible for the kid.

*

Chuuya wakes up at five in the morning, an hour and a half before his alarm, dark ceiling above and the blinking green lights of his digital clock to his right. The smell of ash and dirt and blood on sizzling concrete is just a moment and an already fading dream away. He pushes himself up, takes a deep breath in, scrubs a hand through the tangled mess of his hair. There's no way he's going back to sleep now. Coffee, then. Coffee will be good. He throws on a pair of sweatpants and makes his way to the kitchen.

The living room is dark and quiet, moonlight a faint edge of illumination through the balcony windows, silver against the floor. Two steps in, and he can feel the hair on the back of his neck prickle. A silent warning.

There are eyes on him.

Chuuya's gaze flits.

In the end, the disturbance is not very hard to pinpoint, mainly because it's doing absolutely nothing to hide itself.

It's following me, the kid had said. Beast, he'd said. Chuuya had deduced enhanced strength and metabolism but not the activation requirements, and this last piece clicks everything into place, orphanage sob story included.

There's a very conspicuous lump where his couch should be. It dwarfs it entirely, lounging directly over, a hulking mass of pale fur and dense muscle, eyes glowing like two gold coins in the dark.

So this is where Kunikida's newest job had gone.

Chapter Text

For a moment, they're at a standstill.

The gleam of the cat's eyes are soft, pupils twin dark slits, the surrounding rings like pinpricks of static electricity. Tail flicking languidly, paws dangling over the side of his armrest, all raw power and momentum behind the deceptive ease of its sprawl. Chuuya holds his ground. Feet planted, not a twitch or blink of a motion. The tiger stares at him. Chuuya stares back.

Muscles bunch.

There's a split second where the tiger has to gather together the energy for the lunge. Stripes ripple, fur silver where the moonlight strikes. That's all the warning Chuuya gets. It's enough. It's more than enough.

The tiger is fast. Like, honestly fucking fast. Not quite enough to match bullets, but still nothing but a blur of motion as it uses Chuuya's poor couch as a springboard to hurtle forward. Thankfully, it goes straight over the low sitting table and doesn't knock anything askew. Thank fuck actually, because Chuuya has a vintage bottle of wine sitting right there. Why the hell did he put the wine out in the open? Okay yes, he's not usually expecting a fight in the middle of his own apartment, but considering his occupation, it should've been anticipated. Agency raids are common and irritating and there's always furniture being ripped apart.

Chuuya's apartment is actually too small for this bullshit. The tiger not smacking the ceiling at the height of its jump and putting a hole in the plaster is fortuitous in and of itself, although that just might mean the kid is more coherent in there than originally thought.

Hot breath wafts across his face. Chuuya is already pivoting. The tiger's not quite on top of him but it's close, and so he dives into a roll, skimming the bottom of its belly before coming up into a low crouch. He snags the tail on the way too, wrapping it twice around his wrist for leverage. The way this looks like it's going, the tiger seems very likely to be punching a few holes into his wall, of which Chuuya neither wants nor needs.

Gravity manipulation sparks red at his fingers. Half a second for activation, and then the tiger's light, light as helium, no more of a weight than a balloon on a thread-string. He yanks its tail and it makes a sound that's half outrage and half screech, but Chuuya's already moving by then at a dead sprint towards the balcony. For a fraction of a heartbeat he pauses, just to make sure the tiger doesn't crush his plants in its twisting and failing. "Don't be a baby," he scowls. Honestly, manners. And then he yanks the glass doors open, shifts the gravity back to heavy for a second, and heaves the entire weight over his shoulder.

There's a moment where the tiger's past the glass and steel railing, plummeting in free fall over open air, and then the gravity shifts again, goes light, lighter, and it lies suspended where it is. It looks very, very confused at this change of events. Rolling the kinks out of his shoulders, Chuuya switches his attention back to his plants. Not a leaf out of place. Good.

"You are really lucky you didn't break any of my wine," he informs the tiger, stepping lightly onto the balcony to balance on the railing. "Or the antique table. Or my cello."

Otherwise, the kid would have very shortly had his necked wrung.

The tiger takes this noise as opportunity to snarl at him. It tries out a few more motions swiping motions, all to no avail, because the only thing it manages is to turn itself upside-down.

"Yeah, good luck with that."

It hisses at him.

Chuuya should... probably call Kunikida.

The problem behind this is that Kunikida has a schedule, and his schedule says that he's not going to be awake until 6:45. Emergencies are exemptions. This is sort of an emergency, but not particularly, considering the kid's not hurting anyone or terrorizing any warehouses right now.

Also knowing Kunikida, Chuuya is likely going to get lectured whether he makes the call now or during office hours.

He debates his options.

... Yeah. Whatever. It is way too early to be dealing with this. He'll call Kunikida once the guy has his morning caffeinated beverage in him. This has the side effect of making him more coherent, but it also means that the lecture time will likely be sliced down by half.

For now: five hundred kilograms of floating bengal tiger.

... Yokohoma's citizens have seen stranger. They'll get over it.

He drags out his laptop and his files out from the dining room along with a paperweight and arranges everything neatly on the balcony table. Tiger attempts another twisting motion. It looks vaguely painful.

Chuuya considers knocking it out. But—no. He has no idea if the damage will transfer to the kid after the transformation wears off, and the kid, at this point, seems unfortunate enough without adding brain damage to the mix. He'll just have to wait it out.

Tiger does not seem very content with waiting it out. He twists again, coils together like a spring and attempts to go for a lunge, only to move a measly half a meter.

"It'll be better if you stay put," Chuuya sighs.

Then he remembers that the reason he decided to venture out of his room in the first, and makes a beeline for the coffee pot.

He thinks that the tiger gets quieter as the morning trudges on. Slowly but surely, its huge sweeping motions gives away to the edge of exhaustion, each flare and twitch growing less and less pronounced. Chuuya squints at his draft papers (why his handwriting always looks like ant print after high-combat assignments is a mystery, but it's one mystery he hasn't yet solved), refills his coffee mug twice, and lugs the tiger back to it's original starting point a good five meters away from Chuuya's balcony after it propels itself away enough to be worrying. He also gets himself an apple and considers tying a sheet to the tiger's hindleg in substitute for a leash, but figures halfway down that train of thought that it'll just use the support as a way to rip the railing off the balcony. 

Sunrise begins sometime just a little after six thirty.

Chuuya is a paragraph away from completion, but he pauses his fingers on the keys as the horizon line goes alight in pales. Yokohama is a port city. From his vantage point, Chuuya can see the ocean cradled in the curve of the high-rise buildings and expanding beyond, blue-grey water turning to glittering red as if set on fire as it edges towards the horizon line. Glass and steel catch the light, paints it across their windows in gold smears. The moon is nothing but a sliver of mist in the sky.

There's a flash. A thin breeze ruffles Chuuya's hair. Enveloped in white light, the tiger shrinks and shrinks and shrinks, light sparking against the red tint of For the Tainted Sorrow's presence, until only Atsushi remains, small and fragile against the backdrop of concrete and steel.

*

Cold.

Goosebumps on his skin. Hair in his mouth. Inside of his skull, cotton stuffed. Peeling open crusted eyelids. First one blink, and then two.

Everything is bright.

Also cold, but he's almost always cold in the mornings. Outside is not a great place to sleep. He's used to it.

Atsushi shakes his head, trying to dislodge that odd, swimming-underwater feeling that's taken up residence in his brain. He squints. Shining things are blurred in the distance, colors and shapes jostling into one another like a watercolour painting left to smear in the rain. They look kind of like buildings. Small, tiny buildings, which is strange. Reds and golds play over fluffy wisps of cloud.

That's... really strange.

He cranes his neck up. More red and gold. He glances down. Blurred, wobbling shapes again, but in mottled spots of green this time. Brown like tree bark. Ash grey concrete.

It takes a second for his vision to sharpen.

And then Atsushi freaks the fuck out.

The scream that rips its way out of his lungs and up his throat is loud and shrill and completely utterly terrified, because somehow for some reason he's a good few hundred meters above the ground and oh god, oh god, he's going to die. He's going to plummet and fall and be nothing but a pancake splatter on the sidewalk. What the hell. How the hell did he get up here. Did he sleepwalk? Was he thrown out? Did the tiger finally find him and decide Atsushi wasn't worth its time so he got tossed off of Chuuya-san's balcony instead? What. Just. What.

Except none of this matters, because Atsushi is falling. He's so high up and he's falling and he's never been good with heights and he's going to die.

He keeps screaming.

And screaming.

And—

"....Aaah?"

He trails off.

He only has so much lung capacity, okay? Also his throat is beginning to sound like some terrible hideous slum monster. Atsushi stops, because even in his stupefied terror he can recognize that somehow, despite having been screaming for a good while, the ground has not actually deigned to be any closer. Wind isn't rushing furiously through his hair. His mouth isn't jiggling from the force of plummeting at a hundred meters per second. Gravity is not dragging him down screaming and windmilling. He's not falling.

He's just... dangling.

In mid air.

At what looks like a good three hundred meters above the ground.

He stares down blankly. He wiggles an arm, then his leg. Apparently, he can move fine.

"Oh thank fuck you stopped," comes the disparaging mutter.

The comment sounds from Atsushi's left, a quiet under-the breath thing that Atsushi catches without the presence of any other noise to overlap. He cranes his neck. A balcony, glass dividers, green plants. Chuuya-san, with both hands clapped over his ears and the corners of his lips tugging down in a grimace.

"Awake too," he remarks, tone bland." "You going to try to trash my apartment again?"

Whatever Atsushi has to say—somewhere along the lines of "oh god what happened Nakahara-san what is happening why am I floating" dies off. "Of course not!" he says, aghast and a little offended. "I wouldn't—That's just." He tries to make a gesture to convey the sheer no of that possibility. "I wouldn't repay anyone like that!"

Chuuya-san's expression does a thing that Atsushi can't parse, although if makes a wild guess he'd say it seems resigned. "So you really don't remember."

Atsushi is baffled. "... Remember what?"

In response, there's makes a thin sigh. Then Chuuya-san kicks back his chair and goes up to the metal railing in two brisk steps before proceeding to vault over, much to Atsusbi's squawk of terror and confusion. Red light glows under his skin. A flash, gone quick as it had appeared, and then he's walking on air, footsteps precise but purposeful. He grabs Atsushi's elbow, tows him back. Atsushi's brain abruptly switches over from doing mind-boggling acrobatics of what why how to being very, tear-inducingly grateful of having a solid platform under him.

Then all of a sudden it's like there are weights dragging down on his limbs, everything heavy, and he crashes in a heap on the floor.

His forearms throb. His knees, too. Something is tugging him up by the collar, so his head hasn't made contact with the cool stone unlike the rest of him. There's a hand at his back, moving in wide, soothing circles.

"You should really be sitting for this," Chuuya-san says.

That... does not sound very promising. It sounds, vaguely, like Atsushi should be preparing for a panic attack.

With help though, he manages to stagger up and steer himself into a chair. It's a nice chair. Striped wood, metal legs, next to the polished balcony table. Chuuya-san drops into a seat opposite of him, ankles crisscrossed. Now that Atsushi's looking at him clearly, he looks... tired. His hair is disheveled and he's wearing his pajamas and there are bruises under his eyes.

He also looks annoyed. At Atsushi, or the at the world in general, it's hard to tell.

Atsushi watches him anxiously. He has questions. Many, many questions.

"Frankly," Chuuya-san sighs, "it's a lot easier to see rather than explain."

It's a very foreboding sentence.

"Um," says Atsushi.

He slides his phone over the table.

Warily, Atsushi picks it up.

The picture is a little terrible—bad lighting, weird angle—but the central subject is easy to pick out. It's the tiger. It is definitely, definitely the tiger, huge and white and looking pissed off, red-haloed, backlit by the very familiar view of the city.

Atsushi's mind blanks. Wiped clean. Nothing but sudden, fizzling static.

The phone slips from limp fingers.

There's a screech. A sharp clatter. Before he realizes it he's on his feet with the chair tipped back behind him, crashing to the floor in a muffled, distant sort of way.

The tiger found him. Atsushi suspected it would, but it actually found him. "I need to go," he hears himself say, in a frantic rush. "There's—Something came up. I need—"

"That," says Chuuya-san, in the same, vaguely annoyed tone he uses when discussing toothbrushes and blankets, "was you. An hour ago."

The words register.

Atsushi pauses.

It's like a puzzle piece. Or a clock gear. One thing clicks into place and Atsushi's going over the entirety of the last week in his head, recounting late-night wanderings, glass wall reflections and all the times he woke up in places he hadn't remembered falling asleep in. He snatches the phone up and brings the picture up close, until his nose is nearly pressed up to the screen. He thinks about the Orphanage head's words. The ravaged chicken fields. The broken warehouses. The torn up, dirt ridden fields.

"Get out you useless thing."

He can't breathe.

He can't breathe. He's shaking and he can't breathe.

Oh god. Oh god.

His vision shudders, swims, all the colors over-saturating. He looks at the picture and it's three days ago and he can see the glint of a slitted eye out the side mirror at the intersection, acid yellow sharp. It's seven days ago and a tiger has ravaged the warehouses, the fields, the chicken coups. It's seven days ago, the orphanage worker is saying: "you will never amount to anything." It's seven days ago and three years ago, ten years ago, twelve years ago, Atsushi small and cowering, and they are saying "monster" they are saying "useless." And now everything they said makes sense.

"Kid? Kid."

Black spots flash. The phone clatters. Pin-spark loud. There's buzzing in his ears, wet cotton down his throat.

Atsushi blacks out.

Chapter Text

He wakes up to a white-washed ceiling.

Atsushi blinks blearily. Sunlight stings at his eyes, clean and warm. There's a weight over his shoulders: blankets, smelling dustily of closet corners and detergent. His head feels achy. He feels, actually and abruptly, exhausted.

So for a moment, he just stares at the ceiling. This is a task he feels like he can accomplish for the time being.

He thinks he stares for quite a while. He's not sure how long exactly. The inside of his skull feels hollowed out and strange. Underwater. There was—a tiger. Himself. A tiger in the photo. A tiger that was Atsushi.

It doesn't make any more sense no matter how he rephrases it, even though, in context and retrospect, it makes a lot a sense

Somewhere near there is a clock ticking. The air smells sharply of coffee, fresh and bitter and strong. Atsushi closes his eyes again, watching bright spots blur and flicker in the red-black of his eyelids.

"Honestly, if you're awake don't just marinate."

Eight days out of the orphanage and one life shattering, brain-eating revelation or not, the displeased irritation of the tone is still enough for Atsushi to reflexively snap to attention. He rises, blankets pooling in his lap. He just barely misses smacking his face on the side of a coffee mug.

"Hmm," Chuuya-san says, unimpressed. He holds out a plate: eggs, bacon, toast. Then he shoves his the coffee mug in the vague direction of Atsushi's hands. "Drink that first. I'm not risking you fainting on me again."

Thinking back to whatever happened is kind of hard. There had been—a dizzying swoop of fear. An arial view of Yokohama from a horribly high vantage point. And—oh yeah. He did do that, didn't he, the fainting part. Inconveniencing people is pretty much the story of Atsushi's life.

"Sorry," he says, after a pause.

Mustering up emotions is very hard right now. It feels as if he'd used everything up and now there aren't even dredges left for a reaction.

He takes the mug.

Against his palms, the ceramic is very warm. The liquid inside is brown like caramel and smells just as sugary, and there's a generous dollop of cream floating at the surface. He takes a sip. It's hot nearly enough to scald, and very rich.

Perched on the back of the couch, Chuuya-san watches him at he eats. It's a very assessing gaze, one that Atsushi wants to fidget under as much as he wants to pretend it doesn't exist and focus on the coffee. He feels wrung out and worn dry, and he doesn't think he has the energy for...

.... Well. Pretty much anything.

Food is good though. Atsushi can probably eat all day and still be hungry for more. He sets the coffee mug on the arm of the couch and pops a slice of toast in his mouth. Then the bacon, which he's still awake and conscientious enough to use the offered fork for. Meanwhile, Chuuya-san sits perfectly still, head tipped to the side with half-narrowed eyes and strands of red hair falling into his face. He is miraculously patient. Atsushi manages to clean the bowl and drain the coffee from its mug, licking cream absently and automatically from the sides of his mouth, before Chuuya swings himself over in one light, graceful motion and slides to a sit on the soft leather.

He pries the plate and the mug from Atsushi's hands. His look hasn't changed, still half-lidded and heavy and hard to judge. "So, questions?" he asks.

Atsushi blinks at him blankly.

Chuuya-san pinches the bridge of his nose.

And then he reaches over one small pale hand and smacks Atsushi over the head.

Apparently that was the end of his patience. Or at least, the end of his patience concerning Atsushi. His palm makes contact with the side of Atsushi's skull and it's like something jars loose in the murky, dragging confines of his mind.

Atsushi twitches and feels his pulse absolutely hammer in his ears. He's awake. He's present. He just...

He just ate breakfast. Right.

That was a thing that happened.

"Er." He fumbles.

"I told you not to marinate," says Chuuya-san, equal parts aggrieved and exasperated.

Atsushi slants him a glance from his peripheral. He rubs at he fading sting at his temple. "... Sorry."

It's a lame response response and Atsushi knows it.

"I suppose it can't be helped," Chuuya-san sighs, flicking a stray strand of hair out of his eyes. "But we are leaving soon, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't zone out and get into a car accident on he streets."

Um. What.

"We're leaving?" repeats Atsushi.

Chuuya-san jabs a finger in the direction of the clock on the opposite wall; it reads 10:30. "Yes," he says. "I'm late for work. We can sort you out there as well, but I figured you'd want some privacy for this." He stares at Atsushi intentedly, as if this will miraculously get Atsushi to grow a spine and start spouting questions. Atsushi does not start sprouting questions. Atsushi, for one, genuinely does not know where to even start.

"No?" He eyes him. "Alright fine. What do you know about Ability users, kid."

"...Nothing?" Atsushi professes weakly. Very little. "Um, the government. The government has a... Special division?" Or at least he thinks. Chuuya-san makes a small gesture, go-on, and Atsushi swallows and kind of squirms on the couch.

Chuuya-san sighs. "Right. Good enough. The government do have a special division, they're a corralled bunch, as well as some other less... Regulated organizations. Ever heard of the Armed Detective Agency?" He peers at Atsushi's face, which is probably reflecting his internal replenished horror well enough, because Chuuya-san continues on. "What's less well known is that Ability-users are a lot more common place than just that. No one's determined a test that actually roots them out, see, and there are a lot of variation. Undiscovered ones mainly carry on as ordinary citizens. Maybe they don't know they've an ability. Maybe they're hiding it. Maybe it's an absolutely useless ability and no-one high up cares for it." He gestures all-encompassingly in Atsushi's direction. "You fall into the first category."

"The tiger," Atsushi connects bleakly.

"Yes the tiger. And judging by the activation requirements, I'm going to guess that pretty much everyone in your orphanage knew about but you." Chuuya's-san's mouth twists down. "Honestly, a moon, and not even a full one. It's not an easy thing to miss."

"Yeah," Atsushi says. "I—yeah."

The blankets on his lap are suddenly very interesting. Cream with a striped blue pattern. Atsushi knew all this before—he did. He isn't the brightest light-bulb in the shed by any measure, but the moment he saw the picture on the phone he knew. It makes sense. It's the logical conclusion. He wonders why it still hurts for it to be laid bare and blunt.

There's silence. Chuuya-san doesn't push, which Atsushi is absurdly grateful for.

"So," he says finally, tentatively, still staring at the pale ridged line skittering across his blanket. "Now, um, what happens?" Chuuya-san has so far generously avoided handing Atsushi over to the police. He hopes this is a trend that'll continue, even with the new revelation that Atsushi is secretly a giant ravenous moonlight tiger.

"Now I go to work. You follow."

"Um?" Atsushi blinks.

He remembers something along those lines being said minutes prior, but Atsushi's not exactly sure how exactly this affects him. On second thought though, why would it have to affect Atsushi? God, he's already made Chuuya-san late. And generally people better things to do than suddenly changing their daily routine for dangerous, homeless strangers. Chuuya-san's already gone out of his way to make sure Atsushi had a place to sleep and a good meal. He shouldn't have to deal with all of Atsushi's other burgeoning problems.

Chuuya-san stands, peeling his coat from where it's draped over the back of the couch and swinging it over his shoulders. "I told you, we'll get it sorted out at the office. There's funding and specialty programs for ability-users. Blankets off—Yes, good. Don't make that face like you're gonna get eaten on the streets, alright? Because you're not." He fixes his gloves with his teeth, tugging them up as Atsushi rises on wobbling legs. "So far in you've only been charged with massive property damage. No murders. No real injuries. Possibly a few adrenaline jumps and shrieks of terror, but that's irrevelant. I didn't have a great look at your dossier, but if there were civilian casualties they'd have assigned two members instead of just Kunikida."

Atsushi's first thought is one of profound relief. No casualties.

His second is: "I have a dossier?"

"It's in my colleague's hands," Chuuya-san explains, which is not actually helpful.

Something is not adding up here. Atsushi tries to sort through this new reel of information for a second and then goes to coax more information out of Chuuya-san. "This... Kunikida?"

"Mmm. Police couldn't handle it, so they gave it to him. Or well, us, but it's his case." A quick turn, and then Chuuya-san is striding over to a closet next to the front door, dragging it open, and shaking something out from inside. Atsushi gets a split second warning of, "look up,"  before there's a jacket flying through the air and smacking him square in the face. He fumbles for it. "Wear that. We're walking."

"Thank you," Atsushi says reflexively. "Um. Case?"

"Yes." His tone switches to dry, and then Chuuya-san abruptly cuts himself off, blinking thoughtfully. "I didn't tell you my job, did I."

No he didn't, but Atsushi is beginning to have an inkling of despairing suspicion. Not the police. Someone who handles dangerous cases. "No?" he tries.

"Ah. Well then. It's Nakahara Chuuya of the Armed Detective Agency."

*

People move out of Chuuya-san's way when he walks. Atsushi can't figure out if it's a conscious or unconscious gesture. One one hand, Chuuya-san is a good head shorter than the majority of the crowd, even with the few extra inches his hat gives him. On the other hand, there's something explicitly intimidating about his body language, shoulders back, chin pointed, strides quick and purposeful. Atsushi follows him through the moving throng, watching for the flash of candy-red hair and the bobbing top of Chuuya-san's hat.

Eventually, he stops at the front of a pretty, western style, brownstone building in the middle of a series of restaurants and smaller boutiques. Lagging behind, Atsushi has to squeeze past a waning green light at a sprint to reach the opposite sidewalk. He doubles over for breath at the brownstone's front entrance.

He was probably being indulged yesterday, when Atsushi could actually keep up. Chuuya-san walks fast.

"Office is on the third floor kid!" 

There's the quiet click-clack of shoes on concrete. Atsushi peers uncertainly upwards, craning his neck for a better view. It looks. Normal. He doesn't know what he expected, although haunting images of a jail cell and white walls and an interrogation room had been pretty prevalent. But the place looks like any other office-worker building, if slightly more expensive. There are flowers potted along the tall windows and the windows are clean and sparkling, the brickwork maintained.

His heart still feels like it's trying to escape his chest. Swallowing dryly, Atsushi tries to rally his nerves.

He can do this. It's just a step. Maybe fifty steps. Upstairs.

He can do this.

Atsushi's feet remain frozen to the ground.

Then, like a clap of thunder: "Oi hurry up."

He jumps.

Aaaand suddenly Atsushi can move again. But maybe it's just a side-effect of nearly having a heart attack. Hurriedly, he calls back. "I'm coming!"

Chuuya-san is waiting for him in the corridor of the third floor, leaning against the frame of a closed mahogany door. Like the rest of the building, it's surprisingly mundane, the paint is unchipped and the brass knob is ocher yellow in the thin light. From inside, Atsushi can pick out the muffled traveling of faint sounds: a keyboard's clack, the rustle of papers. He licks his lips, finding them dry and cracked. A woman's laugh sounds.

A hand settles on Asushi's shoulders, black gloves on a brown coat. Chuuya-san nudges him forward and Atsushi reflexively digs his heels into the carpeting. He looks back at him wildly - how was this ever a good idea - and gets in return an eyeroll and brisk,  "Don't make that face. They don't bite." Chuuya-san smiles. It is small and wry and the first that Atsushi's seen yet, not a scowl or a look of unimpressed flatness, and it lights up his features into something terribly pretty. "Although I won't say they don't bark. If we're lucky though, Kunikida's already left and we won't have to be subject to his yelling. C'mon."

He turns the knob, swings the door open.

Atsushi takes a deep breath and walks in.