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what a catch

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His neighbour moves in 3.32 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

 

Akutagawa had been lying awake then, willing sleep to come to him when he hears the sounds of footsteps along the corridor. They don’t really bother him, but hearing the sound of furniture being dragged about makes him sit up.

 

What kind of idiot decides to move his furniture in in the middle of the night?

 

It isn’t until a while later, and Akutagawa can’t really justify why he’s still sitting up, listening, that he hears voices. There are two of them (male, sort of young he tries to identify) and one seems to be apologising to the other.

 

Akutagawa catches himself straining to hear their conversation before realising it doesn’t actually matter. He knows from the one and a half years he’s lived in this complex that the walls are thin. So, if he has to strain his ears to listen, his new neighbour is hopefully quiet the rest of the time as well: a notion that’s just the slightest bit comforting. He’s not really familiar with the others living in his complex as he perhaps, should and could have been; but truth be told, he isn’t intending to exchange pleasantries any time soon either.

 

(Dazai was the exception – and Chuuya, who happened to be his boss – but that’s only because the man somehow wormed his way into most things).

 

He figures he would probably catch sight of his new neighbour sometime in the next week, at least, and listens aimlessly to the movement on the other side of the wall until it eventually comes to a stop.

 

It’s another hour or so before he finally manages to drift off.

 

***

 

Akutagawa doesn’t meet him until Wednesday evening.

 

An emergency had cropped up at the publishing house Saturday aftenoon and all Akutagawa could remember of the past few days were the rush and headaches that came with a delayed manuscript. He’s flipping through a new author’s work, a reprieve from having to listen to Chuuya and the sales manager yelling at one another at the office, while Rashomon stalks up and down the coffee table, vying for attention he was unable to give at the moment. Clearly discontent, the black cat leaps onto his lap, jostling the mug he had balanced on his knee.

 

Akutagawa swears, frowning at the new weight in his lap.

 

“Did you get fatter?”

 

Rashomon ignores him, but Akutagawa’s sure the claws had dug in.

 

(Gin had said once before, when they were visiting, that Akutagawa spoils Rashomon; they had also pointed out just how much Rashomon resembled his owner but he had ignored them.)

 

He’s certain that he hasn’t been leaving extra food out for Rashomon and even though his hours at work sometimes drag on longer than they ought to, Akutagawa has always made sure the cat has had his exercise.

 

“Have you been eating the food Dazai-san leaves out?” Akutagawa accuses.

 

It started a few months after they had moved in. Rashomon had taken to escaping through the cat door and parading through the flat; which had been a headache in the beginning but he always returned just in time for dinner and no complaints had really gotten around to him. He’s sure that’s largely because Fukizawa-san, the landlord, was an ardent cat enthusiast (since Rashomon was not exactly the friendliest cat) but Akutagawa knows better than to question it.

 

Despite Rashomon’s semi-antagonistic nature to the other residents and their pets, he had no reservations when it came to accepting their food and predictably, the cat had gotten sick. With Rashomon at the vet’s for a couple of days and Akutagawa behaving pricklier than usual, everyone had mostly stopped offering Rashomon food, except Dazai, of course, who was to this day trying to convince Akutagawa that it was not his fault.

 

(It’s most definitely not what I gave him, Akutagawa-kun Dazai had said. He had rolled his eyes and decided it was easier to train Rashomon than argue.)

 

Rashomon’s hiss lets Akutagawa know the cat was offended. He scratches behind Rashomon’s ear, in place of an apology, contemplating if he should take a day off work soon.

 

It doesn’t register when the doorbell rings at first, but Rashomon is immediately off his lap and pacing in front of the door. It surprises him; Rashomon usually stalks off into the kitchen when the doorbell rings.

 

There’s another chime from the doorbell before Akutagawa remembers that he should open it.

 

He’s not surprised to see Dazai; no one else really ever shows up unannounced. But he can’t recall having seen the gray-haired boy with him.

 

“Akutagawa-kun, that took long.” Dazai says, but Akutagawa doesn’t respond, taken aback by the sight of Rashomon (was he purring?) slinking around the boy’s legs.

 

Rashomon never took to people this easily – even with Gin, it had taken multiple attempts before Rashomon let them get near him.

 

“Oh! He’s your cat?” The boy asks, crouching down to stroke Rashomon’s fur.

 

Akutagawa nods, Rashomon’s weight gain suddenly made sense.

 

“Akutagawa, this is Nakajima Atsushi-kun. He moved in next door, remember?” Dazai introduces. Dazai’s probably prompting him to introduce himself further but Akutagawa doesn’t know why he tries.

 

“Did you feed Rashomon?” he questions instead, though it comes out as more of an accusation. Dazai doesn’t look too surprised that Akutagawa ignores him, but there’s an expression on his face, bordering between amusement and something like thoughtfulness, which he, perhaps, should have paid more attention to.

 

Atsushi looks up from where Rashomon was nosing at his palm, confused.

 

“Is that his name?”

 

Akutagawa doesn’t stop the scowl that spreads across his face, honing in on how Atsushi had clearly not answered him. Seemingly understanding his slip-up, his new neighbour adds quickly. “Ah yes, that was me.”

 

Akutagawa is irritated; his newly traitorous cat clearly has no intention of returning to his side, too busy nuzzling into Atsushi’s side and Dazai’s presence has never had a calming effect on anyone.

 

“Don’t.” Akutagawa says, more curtly than he’d intended.

 

“Um – sorry?”

 

“He gets sick when his diet changes.”

 

Atsushi looks increasingly horrified, as if he had somehow managed to poison Rashomon without even realizing it.

 

“I’m sure Atsushi had no idea, Akutagawa-kun.” Dazai steps in then, the relief on Atsushi’s face is obvious.

 

There’s a pause before Akutagawa finally says, “Well, pleased to meet you, Nakajima Atsushi.” He doesn’t sound pleased at all. “Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.”

 

Rashomon, thankfully, stops his adoration of Atsushi when the boy straightens from his crouch, sparing Akutagawa from the embarrassment of trying to have to coax the cat back to his side in front of the two.

 

“Uh, you too, Akutagawa-san.” Atsushi manages to choke out as Akutagawa closes the door on them.

 

“He’s scary.” Akutagawa hears; the walls really were quite thin.

 

“I told you, Atsushi-kun. Anyway, have you met Ranpo-san yet? What about Chuuya? Actually, let’s go see Chuuya.”

 

The voices travel further away and Akutagawa closes his eyes, leaning back against the door, feeling worn out. When he opens them, his eyes land on the couch where Rashomon is stretching, a sort of self-satisfied expression on his face.

 

“Traitor.”

 

***

 

Akutagawa tries for over a month to wean Rashomon off Atsushi.

 

It’s almost as if the worse his relationship with Atsushi is, the more attached Rashomon gets.

 

When Chuuya had suggested that he might just be jealous, Akutagawa pretended not to hear him. Dazai repeats it to him on another occasion and Akutagawa wishes the two of them would stop spending time with one another; what did they even do besides argue and, apparently, discuss Akutagawa? 

 

Either way, it’s not as if the unfortunate relationship between them really prevents Akutagawa from getting to know his neighbour. On days when Rashomon forgets that Akutagawa is the one who feeds him, he has to go over to Atsushi’s to persuade the cat back for dinner. He makes sure his frustration shows.

 

Nevertheless, it’s only because of these visits that Akutagawa knows the things he does about Atsushi:

 

He finds out Atsushi is still in his final year of college, majoring in photography. He had lived with an uncle before moving in and his move out from there had been pretty sudden. (Akutagawa doesn’t know any more; he hadn’t bothered standing around to listen to the rest of Atsushi’s hushed phone conversation once he’d retrieved Rashomon.)

 

Atsushi, who had seemed quiet and unassuming at first, had somehow, over the course of just a month, gotten friendlier with the other residents in the complex than Akutagawa had ever managed to.

 

Atsushi cuts his own hair because he thinks a barber is too expensive. Akutagawa only needs to take one look at his hair before he decides he isn’t particularly surprised by this discovery.

 

All cats adore him, but only ever cats; he has no luck with dogs or hamsters or any of the like. This brings some consolation to Akutagawa, who had only ever been adored by Rashomon.

 

Yet, after the initial unease and misgivings from their first encounter had run its course, the thing Akutagawa learns about Atsushi that frustrates him the most is how quick the younger is to respond to his contempt. Akutagawa thinks it’s one of those rare times that someone is not afraid of the words he spills so easily, meant to hurt and push away.

 

Still, he’s not about to become friends with someone Rashomon might love more than him.

 

(It’s silly but Akutagawa knows he’s not likeable; knows he’s easy to leave behind; and he would never admit this out loud but the thought of even Rashomon leaving him tears him up more than he likes.)

 

In light of this, Dazai, most definitely for his own amusement, insists that Atsushi and Akutagawa come over for dinner. He masks it as a general invite for everyone on their floor but the only other person living there was Fyoder Dostoyevsky, a man Akutagawa had maybe seen twice. He points out as much to Dazai, who ignores the underlying accusation.

 

“I expect to see you there, Akutagawa-kun.” Dazai smiles.

 

Akutagawa doesn’t think he wants to push his luck.

 

***

 

Friday evening sees him in front of Dazai’s door, Rashomon in his arms. He had considered leaving Rashomon in the apartment but the cat seemed starved of attention and to be honest, Akutagawa didn’t have the heart to leave him behind anyway.

 

Atsushi’s the one that opens the door. Akutagawa can’t help but be pleased that Rashomon doesn’t immediately pounce on Atsushi.

 

“Come in.” Atsushi mumbles. He’s just being polite.

 

“Thanks.”

 

Akutagawa already wishes he were back in his apartment.

 

There’s a third pair of shoes at the entrance and he entertains the thought that maybe Fyoder Dostoyevsky had actually showed; it doesn’t change the fact that he recognizes those shoes.

 

“Chuuya-san. You don’t live on the eighth floor.” Akutagawa says when he spots his boss raiding Dazai’s wine cabinet.

 

“That shitty bastard,” Chuuya’s referring to Dazai, “made me come over to cook dinner for you brats so I’m,” he pauses then to inspect a bottle, “staying.”

 

Akutagawa secretly thinks it isn’t possible to force someone to cook for another but Chuuya’s at least into his fourth glass; he knows better than to argue with a near tipsy Chuuya.

 

There’s only one couch at Dazai’s and he sits as far as possible from Atsushi. When he lets go of Rashomon, the cat slips to the center, stretching out in between them. For all the rude comments exchanged when they would pass each other by in the corridor, the two had absolutely nothing to say in close quarters. Akutagawa’s busy inspecting his nails, willing the tightness in the atmosphere away, while Atsushi pulls at a loose string on his sweater, equally tense.

 

When Chuuya turns to look at them, taking a break from criticizing Dazai’s wine cabinet, Akutagawa catches the upward twitch of his mouth that he quickly hides.

 

“Dazai-san, you said to be here at 6 and it’s already 7,” Atsushi complains. Akutagawa’s glad he does because it interrupts whatever it is Chuuya was about to say.

 

“It’s because Akutagawa-kun was late, Dazai’s voice calls from the kitchen.

 

Akutagawa’s about to protest at this when Chuuya shoves a wine glass into his hands; he doesn’t have to look to his side to know Atsushi has one as well.

 

“Shut the fuck up, Dazai,” Chuuya mutters, disappearing into the kitchen.

 

It’s Chuuya’s way of attempting to dissipate the awkwardness between them, Akutagawa can tell. He’s suddenly desperate to know what Dazai had said to convince Chuuya to come over but the sudden movement at his side distracts him.

 

“Nakajima,” Akutagawa asks slowly. “Did you just drink all that at once?”

 

He knows from experience that Chuuya has no inhibitions when it came to pouring wine, for him or for others; what he thought of as “one glass” was closer to two.

 

“So?” Atsushi says. His voice rings louder in the space around them but he doesn’t sound tipsy; Akutagawa wonders if he has a high tolerance or if the wine has yet to go to his head.

 

Rashomon looks up at the sound of Atsushi’s voice and letting out a yawn, takes all of three steps towards Atsushi to snuggle into his side.

 

Akutagawa decides Brutus would be a better name for his cat.

 

***

 

Atsushi is a lightweight.

 

The realization hits when Akutagawa sees just how much the wine he had gulped down helps in easing his nerves. Except, a relaxed Atsushi had fewer reservations when it came to picking fights with Akutagawa and the tension hits its peak when Akutagawa snaps at Atsushi, again, for sneaking food under the table to feed Rashomon; Atsushi is quick to retaliate.

 

“Get the fuck over yourself, Akutagawa.” His hesitation only lasts a moment; he’s never heard Atsushi raise his voice like that.

 

“I’ve already told you not to give Rashomon anything you want to.”

 

“You don’t have to be so goddamn overbearing about it.” Atsushi’s voice rises.

 

“I’m worried. Has no one ever worried about you, Nakajima? Do you not know what it means?” Akutagawa continues, his voice cold.

 

“Why can’t you worry in a less obsessive way?”

 

“Obsessive?” Akutagawa scoffs.

 

“You’re so frigid with all these rules and for what? Literally, whenever I do something – anything really, and it has nothing to do with you, you have something to say; why the fuck won’t you just drop it?”

 

“And what? Let you murder my cat?” Akutagawa doesn’t know why he says that; he's not stupid enough to think they're still arguing about the way he raises Rashomon.

 

“Akutagawa-kun.” He hears Dazai say and he only vaguely registers Rashomon’s meows by his feet.

 

“Fuck you, Akutagawa.” Atsushi spits out. There’s a twist in his gut at the expression on Atsushi’s face but he can’t bring himself to stop.

 

“Don’t project your issues on me.” Akutagawa snarls and he thinks he might have said more if Chuuya hadn’t kicked him under the table.

 

“Akutagawa, accompany Atsushi-kun to his door please. He’s drunk.” Dazai says after a long pause, in a tone that doesn’t leave much room for argument.

 

“I’m not; he doesn’t have to.” Atsushi mumbles; he’s not as loud as he had been but there’s something like defeat in his tone that Akutagawa thinks he doesn’t want to hear again.

 

When he gets up, Atsushi stumbles a little. Akutagawa doesn’t offer his help, though he does wait for Atsushi to leave the apartment before nodding in farewell to Dazai and Chuuya.

 

Rashomon is subdued as he follows the pair past Fyoder’s apartment, then Akutagawa’s, to reach Atsushi’s. And Akutagawa knows he needn’t have followed Atsushi to his door, Dazai wouldn’t have found out if he hadn’t; or even if he had, he wouldn’t press the matter.

 

But there’s an apology sitting somewhere in his throat that he can’t quite choke out and guilt wasn’t a feeling he dealt too well with.

 

What he had said, about Atsushi not having someone that worries over him, he wishes he could take it back; it wasn’t right of him to have said it. In fact, it was downright hypocritical, coming from someone like Akutagawa, whose own parents had left him before he could remember. It doesn’t surprise Akutagawa that he doesn’t know how to apologise; how is he supposed to say he’s sorry for accusing Atsushi of something he can’t quite put into words himself.

 

He knows how to burn bridges, to choose the words that would cut the deepest, leave a scar; but the other words, that fix and heal, Akutagawa doesn’t know where to find them.

 

Atsushi stands at the doorway when he gets his door open, looking at Akutagawa as if he wants to ask him something.

 

“Don’t forget to drink water.” Akutagawa speaks instead, turning back in the direction of his own apartment.

 

He hears the door close behind him.

 

It’s another restless night; Akutagawa’s lying in bed, trying to burn the image of Atsushi’s expression (broken, the word comes to Akutagawa, unbidden) from behind his eyelids.

 

If Akutagawa hears a sob from the other side of the wall, he pretends it has nothing to do with him.

 

***

 

When he awakes, it’s earlier than he would have liked.

 

He feels like shit and Rashomon had, sometime when he was asleep, made himself comfortable on his chest. His mood isn’t improved when the cat scratches at him as he’s shifting it off. But Akutagawa’s made it through days with less sleep than this and it doesn’t take long for him to slip back into his daily routine, last night’s events pushed to the back of his mind.

 

They come back to him anyway, slowly, while he’s brushing his teeth, pouring milk for Rashomon, flipping through the newspaper. There’s no reason for him to feel guilty, Akutagawa reminds himself. Whatever Atsushi’s past had been, Akutagawa had no knowledge of it and if he had been more neurotic about Rashomon than usual, it was only because Atsushi had somehow triggered it.

 

(He knows that isn’t it, but it’s easier to lie to himself.)

 

It’s noon when Chuuya invites himself over to Akutagawa’s apartment.

 

He’s not sure what to expect, Chuuya hardly ever came over to Akutagawa’s, unless it’s Dazai dragging him along; but he remains on guard. Akutagawa doesn’t think the other man is here to question him about the previous night, he’s sure Chuuya doesn’t care enough; but he’s still prepared with an arsenal of excuses for his behaviour.

 

“You can’t bring the cat with you.” Chuuya says, foregoing all greetings.

 

Akutagawa blinks; he hadn’t been planning on going anywhere.

 

“Sorry?”

 

“Did you fucking forget?” Chuuya demands in return.

 

Akutagawa remains silent, trying to recall if he had committed to something but his mind draws a blank.

 

“The annual tea Mori arranges for the writers; it’s out of town this year. I left a memo with Hirotsu.”

 

“Oh, that. I can’t come.”

 

“Why the hell not?”

 

He’s about to say it’s because no one could take care of Rashomon; Gin was out of town and even after he had swallowed his pride to ask, Dazai had refused.

 

(“I don’t want Rashomon scratching up my face in the middle of the night, Akutagawa-kun.”)

 

Akutagawa couldn’t think of anyone else that Rashomon could be around for a weekend without being overly difficult.

 

“I’d rather not.” Akutagawa says instead. It’s not far from the truth; he’s not exactly on pleasant terms with most of the authors he oversees.

 

“Akutagawa,” Chuuya starts and Akutagawa can tell he’s irritated. “If you want to make sure you actually get that promotion you want, you’d better show up.”

 

“Chuuya-san –“

 

“Spare me if this is about your cat.“ Chuuya snaps. “You’re too attached to that animal. Get Dazai to take care of it; or that kid from yesterday – no, don’t look at me like that; your cat liked him.”

 

Akutagawa wishes Chuuya had been wrong. He knows he could, probably, trust Atsushi not to accidentally starve or leave Rashomon out for too long; he just doesn’t want to.

 

“I’ll think about it.”

 

“Your tickets are with Higuchi.” Chuuya tells him in farewell.

 

It’s only after the door closes behind him that Akutagawa realises Chuuya had only come over to warn him against stowing Rashomon away.

 

***

 

“I’m not avoiding Nakajima.” Akutagawa tells Dazai over what was supposed to be tea.

 

It’s been close to a week since Chuuya’s visit and he’d made it very clear to Akutagawa, every day at work, that he expected him to be there. Akutagawa, on the other hand, still has no idea what to do with Rashomon. It’s why he’s at Dazai’s again; hoping the older man would change his mind about cat sitting.

 

There’s a rational part of him reminding him he could always just ask Atsushi; except, ever since that dinner, the two had yet to speak a word. Even the usual snide remarks when they’d see each other along the corridors had disappeared. It doesn’t stop Rashomon from sneaking into Atsushi’s apartment; the only difference being that he returned in time for dinner.

 

(Akutagawa’s lucky Rashomon is aware of what goes on around him; he doesn’t know what he’d do if he had to call on Atsushi’s to retrieve his cat.)

 

He has nothing to apologise for, that’s what he tells himself time and time again; it doesn’t matter to Akutagawa whether or not they’re on speaking terms but there’s a discomfort in his chest that gets harder to displace every time he sees Atsushi.

 

“Chuuya said you’ve been showing up to work earlier than usual,” Dazai says.

 

Akutagawa’s miffed at the accusation but he doesn’t know how to deny it. He had been leaving his apartment earlier than usual, which naturally meant fewer run-ins with Atsushi; but that was definitely not the reason for his improved work ethic.

 

“Why do you and Chuuya-san keep discussing me?” Akutagawa scowls; he’s aware of just how petulant he sounds.

 

“Why not?” Dazai looks genuinely confused at this. He has to tell himself to keep his temper in check.

 

“Anyway, Dazai-san, I’m sure Rashomon wouldn’t even be a bother; will you please reconsider?”

 

“Are you avoiding Atsushi-kun because you’re guilty?” Dazai ponders, ignoring him. Something must have shown on his face because Dazai looks delighted.

 

“I’m not guilty.” Akutagawa retorts.

 

“I never thought I’d see the day, Akutagawa-kun; you really do have feelings.”

 

Akutagawa considers walking out of Dazai’s apartment but then he remembers Rashomon.

 

“Dazai-san –“

 

“I know I haven’t said anything about that night but weren’t you just, a little, out of line?” The way he says it, Akutagawa knows it isn’t a question.

 

Dazai wouldn’t demand he apologise to Atsushi; but Akutagawa can’t guess why he seems so intent to have them be friendly – or civil, even – with one another.

 

“I apologise for what happened with Nakajima here.” Akutagawa says; it’s not sincere and he knows Dazai can tell. “But, Nakajima’s issues don’t matter to me; I don’t need to pander to them.”

 

Dazai gives him a look, he’s not sure what it’s supposed to mean. There’s an uncomfortable silence hanging in the air that he realises he can’t count on Dazai to disperse.

 

“I’ll ask Nakajima if he’ll watch Rashomon.” Akutagawa finally concedes with a sigh. “I won’t apologise, though.”

 

“I never asked you to do anything.”

 

***

 

Akutagawa’s standing in front of Atsushi’s door; contemplating if Chuuya’s wrath would be easier to face than asking Atsushi for a favour like this.

 

He knows it’s not too late to walk away, maybe even beg Dazai one more time, but the decision’s made when someone taps him from behind: it’s a girl Akutagawa’s seen before at Atsushi’s. But they hadn’t looked like they were related and Akutagawa tries his level best to stay out of his neighbour’s business so he’d never wondered who she was.

 

“Do you need something?”

 

Akutgawa tries not to shift under her gaze; feeling, for some reason, like he’d just done something he couldn’t walk away from.

 

“I have to ask Nakajima something,” he says coolly, refusing to be the first to break eye contact. She doesn’t say anything, only nods in return, moving past him to ring the doorbell. Akutagawa wants to tell her to wait, he’s not ready, but he doesn’t.

 

“Kyouka-chan!” Atsushi greets; there’s a smile on his face Akutagawa has never seen before.

 

“Someone’s here to see you.” Kyouka says, slipping past Atsushi into the house.

 

It’s only then that Atsushi notices he’s there and if Akutagawa had been less observant, he wouldn’t have noticed the slight shift in his expression.

 

“Akutagawa?” Atsushi sounds wary, like he’s not sure what to expect.

 

“Are you free the weekend before Christmas?” It’s like ripping a band-aid off. Once the question escapes him, Atsushi gives him an incredulous look, reminiscent of the days before they had started giving each other the cold shoulder.

 

“What?”

 

“I need someone to take care of Rashomon that weekend.”

 

“Didn’t you say I’d murder your cat?”

 

Akutagawa definitely hasn’t forgotten he had said that; he’d just hoped Atsushi wouldn’t bring it up.

 

“I’d rather not ask you but I don’t have a choice, Nakajima.” Akutagawa tries to bleed as much irritation as he can into his tone; it doesn’t work, Atsushi just looks amused.

 

“Most people say please.” Atsushi says, a different sort of smile on his face, one that makes Akutagawa want to punch him.

 

He grits his teeth instead, swallowing the last dregs of whatever pride he had tried to hold on to.

 

Please take care of Rashomon that weekend.”

 

“Okay.” Atsushi shrugs easily, surprising Akutagawa; he had been expecting more disagreement.

 

Akutagawa nods his thanks and he’s just about to go back into his own apartment, preferably to hold his head under water and pray for his dignity to return, when Atsushi calls after him.

 

“Most people say thank you out loud!”

 

“Thank you, Nakajima.” Akutagawa spits out; he thinks the effort on his part ought to be commended.

 

Except, Atsushi still looks pleased and Akutagawa is relieved to find that some of the discomfort in his chest eases.

 

***

 

“Whatever Nakajima’s been feeding you as a snack, don’t eat too much of it; if you get any fatter, we’re going to the vet.” Akutagawa’s fixing the cuffs on his dress shirt, repeating to Rashomon everything the cat has probably already heard more than a dozen times.

 

Rashomon simply yawns, nuzzling his head against Akutagawa’s calf; he feels a burst of fondness; tinged with something like melancholy, swell up in his chest. He crouches to lift Rashomon into his arms, the cat barely resisting.

 

“Don’t you dare let Nakajima steal you.”

 

His phone rings then, Higuchi’s name flashing across the screen. He’d told her not to come upstairs to collect him or his luggage; no one needed to see him fawn over Rashomon.

 

When Akutagawa’s locking up his apartment, balancing his duffel and Rashomon’s bag on either shoulder with Rashomon’s pattering about around his feet (it’s too close for comfort, but Akutagawa doesn’t push him away), Atsushi comes out his apartment. He's silent as he unburdens him of Rashomon’s bag.

 

“I wouldn’t steal your cat,” he says all of a sudden. Akutagawa’s hands still where they’re securing the second lock; he’s not sure where this sudden declaration has come from.

 

When he turns to look at Atsushi, the younger is fiddling with the bag strap on his shoulder. He’s wearing the same sweater he was the other day; it’s just coincidence but Akutagawa doesn’t think he can forget it.

 

“I heard you, when you were talking to Rashomon.” Atsushi blurts out. “I didn’t mean to; the walls are just really thin.”

 

“It’s fine.” Akutagawa feels his cheeks heat up; he wonders what else Atsushi has heard him say and he thinks he would very much like to be in a car away from here as soon as possible.

 

“That day, at Dazai-san’s, I shouldn’t have called you obsessive, or frigid. I mean, I think I might have been drunk, but that’s no excuse and I’m sorry.” Atsushi bows a little when he apologises and something flares in Akutagawa’s chest.

 

“Don’t apologise.” Akutagawa says, the words coming out fiercer than he had meant it to. “You don’t have anything to apologise for, so don’t.”

 

“But –“

 

“I overstepped, said things I shouldn’t have. I should have apologised earlier, Nakajima, but don’t you dare apologise.”

 

The words come out easier than he’d expected, it’s not exactly an apology, yet, but it’s the best he can do; Atsushi’s looking at him like he’s trying to figure something out. 

 

His cell rings once more; Higuchi again and Akutagawa’s grateful for the interruption.

 

“I need to go now but my number’s written on the side. Give me a call later so I have yours.”

 

Rashomon’s meows sound a little more desperate when Akutagawa nudges him over to Atsushi; Akutagawa can only pretend he doesn’t hear.

 

***

 

When Atsushi texts him within the first hour of his departure, Akutagawa’s convinced it’s an emergency; wonders if Chuuya will overlook him not showing up just this once.

 

But it’s only a picture of Rashomon, yawning and draped over a stuffed tiger twice his size. Akutagawa tries to disguise his smile with a cough but Higuchi definitely notices. Atsushi continues to send him pictures of Rashomon over the weekend and he's grateful for how it helps dull the ache he feels.

 

He hadn’t been sure how to respond to Atsushi at first; he used too many emoticons and Akutagawa had never been one for casual texting. His replies are clipped; even more so than they would have been in person, but it doesn’t deter Atsushi. Maybe his carefree nature was infectious because it doesn’t take long for Akutagawa to ease up.

 

 

akutagawa!!!!! guess what we’re doing!!!! o((*^ ▽^*))o      [picture attached]

 

Get Rashomon off your head. Start a circus with someone else’s cat.

 

( ╥_ ╥)

 

He saves that picture to his phone anyway.

 

***

 

Akutagawa’s not ashamed to admit that the first thing he does when he returns is go over to Atsushi’s.

 

It’s not the first time he’s been inside Atsushi’s apartment; but it is the first time he’s had to hover around. For someone that doesn’t own a lot of things, the apartment is needlessly chaotic.

 

He’s sitting on the edge of the couch; waiting for Atsushi to pick up Rashomon’s things while said cat is sprawled over a pile of clothes on the couch, pretending Akutagawa’s appearance doesn’t concern him. But he’s shifted himself close enough that Akutagawa knows he’d missed him.

 

“Nakajima, don’t you own a closet?”

 

“I do; I just forget to use it sometimes.” Atsushi’s voice carries from the kitchen; Akutagawa doesn’t bother responding to that. There’s a folder lying on the floor next to the couch, a couple of photographs spilling out; he spots one of Rashomon and curiosity makes him pick it up.

 

He knows Atsushi is majoring in photography, but he’s never actually seen any of his photographs (apart from those he’d sent Akutagawa of Rashomon, that is).

 

He immediately recognises the girl from the other day, Kyouka, in the pictures; for a brief moment, he wonders if maybe she’s Atsushi’s girlfriend. But there are others too: a boy with hair a muted orange, a girl with deep red hair, green eyes glinting, there’s even one of Dazai; Akutagawa can’t remember the brown of Dazai’s eyes ever being this rich.

 

“Ah, Akutagawa.” Atsushi sounds surprised.

 

“You’re good at this.” Akutagawa doesn’t take his eyes off the photos.

 

“Uh, thanks.” Atsushi sinks into the couch next to him, Rashomon’s bag at his feet. Akutagawa can see, even from his peripheral vision, just how red the tips of his ears are.

 

“This one’s my favourite.” It’s a picture of Rashomon, asleep on the windowsill with the sun illuminating his fur, turning it a deep brown.

 

Akutagawa cocks his head to the side when he feels Atsushi’s shoulders shake against his; he’s laughing.

 

“What?” Akutagawa demands.

 

“No, it’s nothing; it’s just, I had a feeling that would be your favourite when I was developing it.” Atsushi’s looking at him, eyes practically glowing, and something in Akutagawa’s chest tightens.

 

He’s quick to look away.

 

“You can keep it; I still have the film to develop another one.”

 

“Film?”

 

It starts Atsushi off on a short exposition about photography, easy enough to follow at first but there are terms he doesn’t understand; Akutagawa doesn’t stop him though, doesn’t want to stop him. Atsushi cuts himself off anyway, embarrassed, though Akutagawa can’t tell why.

 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to ramble.”

 

“I didn’t mind.” Akutagawa says, meaning it.

 

He hates how apologetic Atsushi has suddenly become; but he doesn’t know what else to say or how to ask. Instead, he hoists Rashomon’s bag over his shoulders.

 

“I’ll see you around, Nakajima.”

 

***

 

Akutagawa doesn’t expect Atsushi to text him again. They’re still neighbours, after all; Akutagawa isn’t going anywhere, neither is Atsushi, and they’re bound to see each other again every other day.

 

But his cell lights up when he’s in the middle of instructing Tachihara, Nakajima flashing across his screen; it’s rare that he gets a personal call, even rarer that it’s a text, and he very pointedly does not respond to the questioning looks his subordinates shoot him.

 

It’s Higuchi that asks first, hesitant; as if he would eat her alive if she crossed a line.

 

“Akutagawa-senpai?”

 

“Hmm?” He’s busy typing out a reply to Atsushi, informing him winter breaks don’t last forever and ‘some of us have jobs, Nakajima.’

 

“This Nakajima... is he your boyfriend?”

 

Akutagawa freezes, fingers hovering over the keypad. The look he gives Higuchi must have been terrifying because he’s sure he hears her squeak.

 

“It’s – I mean, you’ve been in a better mood lately, so we were wondering...” Higuchi continues; Akutagawa only has to sweep his eyes across the workstation to see that the rest of them were most definitely eavesdropping.

 

“No, he isn’t.” Akutagawa says, the words cutting through the silence that had suddenly fallen. “But, if I seem so cheerful, then maybe you should all be doing your jobs; so my mood doesn’t change.”

 

There’s no need to be this stern with them, they probably don’t even believe him; except, it’s become something of a reflex. But when he notices Hirotsu and Higuchi exchange a look – Hirotsu looks smug, while Higuchi just rolls her eyes – Akutagawa decides not to comment.

 

 

If you’re that bored, take Rashomon out on a walk.

 

he hasnt sneaked in yet

oh nvm he’s here (((((((( ゜□゜)ノ

 

Where the fuck do you find these emoticons

 

***

 

He can’t recall how they had become friends.

 

Maybe it was New Years’ Eve, after an office party, when he had to drop an inebriated Chuuya off at his apartment before he could return to his. Rashomon, predictably, had snuck into Atsushi’s. He was exhausted, and it’d been easier to join Atsushi on the couch than coax Rashomon off; they had watched the fireworks on TV, it hadn’t been a big deal, but Akutagawa remembers thinking at the time that it was the first New Year’s in a while that he had gotten by sober, without getting blackout drunk alone.

 

Or maybe it was sometime later, when Atsushi had somehow managed to lock himself out his apartment and he’d showed up at Akutagawa’s apartment.

 

“Kyouka-chan says she’ll be over in an hour with the spare keys.” Akutagawa’s only surprise comes from the fact that the gray-haired boy had had enough foresight to pass his spare keys to someone else.

 

“Is she your girlfriend?” Akutagawa had asked that day, without really meaning to.

 

“No – foster sister.” Atsushi hadn’t said anything more and Akutagawa decides not to press the matter; if Atsushi wanted to elaborate, he would.

 

Or it might have been the nights Atsushi invites Akutagawa over, when Akutagawa is too spent to cook. (Rashomon shuffles in between them, basking in the attention.) Or the weekends Atsushi spent at Akutagawa’s, finishing up one essay or another, trying to convince Akutagawa to help him out.

 

Dazai mentions it to him once, how heartening it is to see ‘Akutagawa-kun actually making friends’ – he had shut the door on him.

 

But he’s no longer surprised when he sees Atsushi’s jacket draped over his kitchen chairs, or his textbooks scattered across the coffee table. And Rashomon doesn’t mind the extra affection; it’s obvious from how he takes every opportunity to nuzzle into their sides, purring ever so often.

 

And Akutagawa thinks, as Atsushi flings himself on the couch next to him, whining about his classes, maybe, neither does he.