He found Adachi in the back of some rundown, fire-gutted storehouse in a city outside of his jurisdiction. His partner – his newest partner, the third in as many years since Adachi had been put away – was out searching another building, trusting him to take care of this one, and knowing better than to be around him right now.
Adachi smiled lopsidedly at him from where he stood behind a pile of cardboard boxes. Too stiff, right arm held back, possible gun – Dojima took notice automatically, adjusted the grip on his own weapon pointed at Adachi's chest, and part of him balked at that, wanted to turn it aside. You didn't point your weapon at your partner. "Ah, Dojima-san, I knew it'd be you. Is it just me or do the sirens seem louder than usual? Guess it's different when you're the one they're coming for."
"Can it, Adachi." It'd been a long time since Dojima had seen him without a shatterproof glass in the way, and though he wasn't close enough to see the lines he knew had starting appearing around his eyes, he thought Adachi looked worse than ever, gaze wary like a cornered animal. It made him angry, tightened his jaw; if one of them had to fall apart, it should have been Dojima.
"I'm not allowed to talk, sir?" He could pick up on the faintly mocking tone now, the one that had gone unnoticed for so long. "That's hardly fair."
"You're an escaped convict; you don't get to talk about fair." They'd wanted to put him in maximum security. Dojima'd fought against it, and they couldn't justify it in the end, not with the evidence and confession they had, but if he'd spoken the other way, if he'd pushed, Adachi would have been watched closer, might not have been able to fool the guards and slip out.
He wouldn't be faced with the possibility of shooting his ex-partner.
He took a deep breath. "You've got a weapon back there. Slide it my way."
"A weapon? Nah." Adachi showed his hands, both of them empty, fingers splayed wide. "Messed my arm up a few days ago scaling a fence. Hurts like a bitch."
"Step out where I can see you."
He did, nice and slow. He'd gotten a coat somewhere, too big but clean enough, and a change of clothes that looked almost new. His hair was still a mess. "Nothing's changed, huh? You're still ordering me around. You know what's funny, though? I missed that."
"I'm doing my job – your job, dammit, Adachi, why…?" Another deep breath to quell the frustration threatening to take him over. "I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and taking care of a criminal."
Three years hadn't made that thought any easier.
"You're not calling for backup." Dojima didn't say anything. Adachi lowered his hands. "Going to take me in by yourself, sir?"
"I don’t need anyone else to deal with you." His jaw hurt. He was clenching his teeth, standing too stiffly, had to relax or he'd flinch when Adachi made a move, make a shot he'd never be able to forgive himself for.
"Don't make me go back there." Adachi's voice was pitched so low he almost couldn't hear it, but the plea was clear on his face. "You don't know what it's like, I don’t tell you when you visit, but it's hell, Dojima-san."
He was wrong there; Dojima knew, got reports and updates from the guards, sheets that he bent over late at night – Adachi has refused to eat for three days in a row, forceful measures will be taken if this continues; Adachi has been admitted into the infirmary with multiple bruises resulting from an altercation with another prisoner [name withheld]; for his own safety, Adachi has temporarily been placed in solitary and will not be allowed to receive visitors.
Dojima pulled string after string for him until there was no give left, but he could only do so much.
"You got yourself into this," he said, and he'd said the same words to himself for so long that they sounded hollow. "I'm going to radio Haramaki and—"
"Ah," Adachi said, "your new partner? How's he working out?"
He made his coffee wrong, organized the files wrong, made Dojima acknowledge the way he'd messed up simply by existing. How many times had he snapped for Adachi only to see an unfamiliar face turn towards him, to see the rest of the office tense uncomfortably? Things would be better if he locked Adachi up himself, snapped the handcuffs around his wrists, and closed the door behind him. It'd sink in then – he's a criminal, Dojima had never known the real him, it was time to move on and stop the visits, stop remembering, stop calling favors to make sure some lowlife didn't corner Adachi in the showers and stab him for some perceived offense.
He'd waited too long to answer. Adachi shook his head. "That bad, huh? You're a hard man to get along with, Dojima-san, but give him some more time and I'm sure you two will get along great. You'll forget about me in no time."
The melancholy in his tone had to be false, but it matched the feeling that welled up inside Dojima. His aim faltered.
"He can't make a damn cup of coffee to… I came all this way out here to bring you in, Adachi, left Nanako and Inaba because everyone thought I'd be able to track you. If anyone could do it, it'd be the man you partnered with, right? How'll it look if I come back empty-handed?"
"Nanako-chan…" Adachi sounded wistful. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been lying in a hospital bed and couldn't breathe on her own. "Who's watching her now?"
"Souji. He came into town, volunteered to…" He shook his head, steadied his aim again.
Adachi nodded. "Yeah, he'd be the person you'd turn to for that, wouldn't he? He still with…?" He held his hands to his ears, mimed wearing headphones.
"Yeah." Souji hadn't said anything when Dojima told him where he was going, just tightened his mouth and looked away, but Yosuke had found him later, too full of pent-up anger to do anything but tell him to drag Adachi back and put him away to rot.
Something shifted outside, fell with a metallic crash – a trashcan. Dojima came back to himself and the matter at hand. They'd been standing here too long.
"We're leaving, Adachi."
"You're doing it then, taking me in?" The way look hadn't left his eyes but there was no sign of fight in him, nothing but a resignation that was worse.
"It's my job." The words fell flat between them.
"With no backup?" He laughed. "You need to…what? Clean up this mistake on your own, that's it? Single-handedly bring down the partner gone bad, prove yourself to those losers at the precinct, make yourself feel better about not seeing—"
"Dammit, Adachi," he burst out, "you know how I felt, you know I regret… You think I don't stay awake wondering, hating myself for…"
He had to lower his gun, afraid he'd pull the trigger and not sure who he'd be aiming at. His breath sounded loud in the empty space.
"I know, sir," Adachi said, and damn him for sounding sincere. "Let's go then, I'll come without a fight."
If Dojima had paid more attention to him, hadn't been wrapped up in his own grief and troubles, been so short-tempered, would this have happened?
He thought about looking at Adachi through a sheet of shatterproof glass, year after year of carrying on conversations through tinny telephones designed not to be pulled free from the walls.
He turned his back on him and headed towards the door. "Wait ten minutes then leave through the back. Straighten yourself up so you don't look suspicious."
"Don't." He sliced a hand through the air, cut the word off sharply. "Just… Don’t make me regret this, Adachi."
He didn't look back.
Haramaki was jogging his way when he closed the door behind him. Dojima barely spared him a glance as he started away. "Building's clear, let's check the next block. And turn those damn sirens off! Do you want to let him know we're here? If he slips away from us, it'll be on your ass."
The trail went cold after that, no good leads, no solids sightings to follow-up on. Souji didn't say anything when he came home with nothing to show, and he told himself it was just anger that made Yosuke say what he did. Thankfully, Souji was there to keep things from coming to blows and after spending a few hours holed up in Souji's room with him, Yosuke came back downstairs and apologized. His eyes were red, but Dojima didn't ask, just patted him on the back and told him gruffly not to worry about it.
When the letter came, there was no return address, no stamp, no sign of postage, only a familiar, sloppy-ass scrawl spelling out his name on the front and a phone number written inside. The paper was worn as though it'd been worried by anxious hands for too long, and Dojima cursed as he turned it over, thought about tearing it in half and burning the remains.
Instead, he called at midnight while rain sounded heavy against the roof, and listened to Adachi laugh and choke on the other end of the line.
"You—you called! You really, haha, this is… I didn't actually think you'd… Ugh, am I really…?"
"Wipe your noise, Adachi, you'll drip snot everywhere."
There was a loud sniff. "Sorry, sir, I just…"
"I know," Dojima said, and didn't care if the emotion he was hearing was real.
If it got him Adachi back, he found he couldn't care at all.