"And you're sure you've never done this before?" Touya says, trying hard to keep the scepticism out of his voice as the neon skyscrapers of Shindou's Shinjuku stretch and grow into fairytale towers. They pierce up through the smog and far into the atmosphere and finally disappear from view.
"Never," Shindou says cheerily, and waves a careless hand at the ground. Tectonic plates rumble, shift, crack. "It's kind of fun, isn't it?"
"Very," Touya says, stepping back carefully from the chasm suddenly yawning at his feet.
The ground continues to heave and slide beneath him, almost making him lose his footing. Shindou laughs as the crag of rock they stand upon rises upwards with a speed and surety that defies the laws of physics, until they're lifted high above the night-time city.
Below them the streets of Shinjuku glitter, spreading towards the horizon in an infinite grid that seethes with life and light and motion. The faint sounds of traffic drift upwards; a bird swoops past, and then another.
Amazing, Touya thinks, the detail and scale of it, his fearlessness and - Touya draws in a breath. Amazing.
He feels something twist inside his chest and thinks for a moment it's envy. It was only after months of training that his father had allowed him to try something as ambitious as this. On that first try, it hadn't lasted. The dream had started to collapse around him as quickly as he'd built it.
Meanwhile Shindou is grinning, unaware of the enormity of what he's done. He flings his arms wide and spins on one foot, perilously close to the edge. "This is so awesome!" He stops and grins at Touya, eyes bright with excitement. "So if I join up, I'll get to do this all the time?!"
Touya realises in that moment that what he's feeling isn't envy. Not at all. "Yes," he says, and for the first time since going under, he smiles. He feels like he's never going to stop. He's found his Architect. Finally.
But instead of smiling back, Shindou pales and stumbles backwards. The grin is gone from his face, swift as a cloud passing over the moon.
"What is it?" Touya says instantly. The lights of Shinjuku start to flicker and blink out; the sound of traffic grows discordant. "What's wrong?" The dream is slipping out of Shindou's control, Touya realises, and he's not yet experienced enough to keep it together. The crag shakes beneath their feet, the edges crumbling with alarming speed. "Shindou!"
"You," Shindou says hoarsely, but the word doesn't seem aimed at Touya at all and his eyes are fixed somewhere in the distance. He looks as though, and the realisation comes with another wrench, his heart is breaking. "It can't be-"
The crag twists beneath their feet again, larger and larger shards of rock breaking away to crash in the city far below. Touya stumbles forward and grabs at Shindou's hand. "Shindou!" he shouts. "Shindou, you've got to focus!"
Ignoring him entirely, Shindou reaches into the air. "I thought I'd lost you..."
Touya turns around just as the crag shudders and splits beneath their very feet.
Before he falls, before they both fall, he sees a glimpse of a flowing white robes and hair that billows like a black flag, a serenely lovely face-
The ground rushes up to meet them.
Shindou rips the IV line from his arm and scrambles out of his chair as though it's on fire. His bleached hair is mussed from sleep and it would be almost cute if his eyes weren't so wild, his chest heaving so hard.
Touya sits up rather more carefully, wincing only slightly at the complaints of bones and muscles that faintly recall being dropped from a very, very great height. "Well," he says, as mildly as he can. "That could have gone a little-"
Then Shindou is up in his face, grabbing him by the lapels of his carefully pressed suit and shaking hard. "What was that? What the hell happened? Did you do it? How did he get inside my dream?"
Touya grabs Shindou's wrists and pushes his hands down and away. He slips down from his seat, still holding on, but Shindou refuses to concede even half a step so they stand close as they can without their bodies actually touching.
"I didn't do anything," Touya says deliberately, biting out the words as clearly as he can. "I have no idea who that person was or why he was there. It was your dream, remember?"
For a moment they just stare at one another. He's acutely aware of the pulse in Shindou's wrists fluttering wildly beneath his fingers, the way his cheeks are flushed and bright with anger; and Touya feels his own heart start to race faster in response.
"Shindou," he starts to say, not even sure what he's going to say next. I just- Let me- I want-
The heat in Shindou's eyes snaps and turns to ice. "I don't believe you," he says thickly, and pulls his wrists out of Touya's suddenly slack hands. He backs away, scrabbling for his jacket and his satchel of textbooks. "I don't believe you, and I'm not taking your stupid job!"
Hands curled up at his side, Touya watches Shindou storm out the warehouse. He doesn't give Touya another word or even another glance, and the door slams behind him with an emphatic bang.
"What was all that about?" Waya says after a moment. "Kid sure seemed mad about something."
Touya tries not to jump - he'd forgotten Waya was even there - and turns around with as much dignity as he can muster while putting to rights the jacket that Shindou had wrenched so askew. "Yes," he says simply, straightening his cuffs. "By the way, that new sedative of yours worked very well," he adds, in a futile attempt to change the subject.
"Thanks," Waya says, grinning, annoying as ever, and turns the subject right back. "And how was he? Any good?"
Touya folds his arms. "Very good," he admits. "Brilliant, even. I've never seen anyone pick it up so quickly before. With some training he'll be better than Ochi ever was. But his projections," he says, remembering that calm, still figure - nothing at all like the aggressive, generic projections he's used to seeing inside other people's heads. Touya breaks off and shakes his head. "Very strange. His projections were very strange."
"Too bad he's not taking the job, huh?" Waya says, starting to pack up the PASIV. "'cause that Kuwabara job's coming up fast."
"Oh, no, he'll take the job. There's no question about it," Touya says.
Waya's eyebrows shoot up. "You sound very sure of yourself!"
"I am." He looks at the doorway and remembers Shindou's joy and the shock of creation, an echo of what Touya himself feels within the world of the dream. With a sharper pang he remembers too the look of utter loss on Shindou's face and the grief that made him forget Touya's presence entirely. And beneath the anger that made Shindou shake, there'd been something else... What was it he'd said? I thought I'd lost you.
Either way, one taste of the dream world wouldn't be enough for Shindou. "He'll be back," Touya says aloud. "I'm certain of it."
He pulls his cellphone out of his pocket and punches in Ogata's number; he'll want to know the news.