Petting the Tiger
Atsushi was ninety percent certain there was some ulterior motive in Dazai assigning him to stake out the office of a certain official to record his comings and goings with Akutagawa of all people. Not that Dazai was the kind of person to explain his motives, nor was it Akutagawa’s to explain what interest the Mafia had in this information that Fukuzawa could possibly go along with.
“Stop being so obvious,” Akutagawa muttered. “You’re tense.”
“We’re hidden in the bushes,” Atsushi pointed out. If anyone noticed he was tense, it would be much less of an issue than that they noticed him at all.
Akutagawa looked utterly unimpressed by this logic and returned to dutifully recording exits and entrances in his little notebook. Which Atsushi was also supposed to be doing. Right.
“This must seem boring compared to your usual thing,” he commented.
“My usual thing?” Akutagawa skewered Atsushi with a disdainful look.
“You know.” Atsushi faltered but brought it out valiantly under that withering gaze. “Killing, mayhem, kidnapping.” Akutagawa really was a terrible person now that Atsushi thought about it. Why did he have to be so pretty?
Akutagawa sniffed and made another mark in his book. “Dazai-san requested me for this job.”
Well, Atsushi may not have any reliable way to interpret Dazai’s hidden, sneaky motives, but Akutagawa wouldn’t even bother. It was Dazai, so of course, he’d come along.
It really was a long stakeout, and no one could stay tense forever. Akutagawa seemed disinclined to criticize Atsushi’s philosophy and existence or spear any innocent passersby with Rashoumon, and Atsushi’s notetaking was hardly stimulating. As the sun grew stronger through the day, he found himself relaxing into its warmth a bit. Less tense, just like Akutagawa wanted. If he’d had the tiger’s tail manifested, it would have been twitching with contentment.
As it was, Akutagawa seemed horrified when he demanded, “Are you purring?”
“What?! No!” Atsushi bolted straight up and suddenly realized he’d been leaning against Akutagawa. He felt himself blush hotly, mortified. And what was that feeling against his back?
“Are you petting me?” Atsushi demanded, even more horrified than Akutagawa had been.
“Of course not,” Akutagawa snapped, and both of his hands were on his notebook and pencil, but…
“Your demon coat is hugging me. Make it stop.”
The two separated, scooting rapidly to opposite ends of their hiding spot, and glared at each other.
By the time night came, they’d both written tedious reports with lengthy notations, not to be outdone in thoroughness. Atsushi had eaten once. Akutagawa had declared himself above needing to eat for such a short stakeout. Atsushi didn’t think overnight was that short of a stakeout, but there was something in Akutagawa’s tone that implied he’d imbibed that particular bit of idiocy at the fountain of Dazai, so Atsushi didn’t bother to argue, just left a half sandwich where it could inconspicuously disappear later without comment.
Usually, Atsushi found he was able to stay awake if he told himself firmly that he needed to. Telling himself it was important to stay awake all night worked a lot better, Atsushi found, if there was an immediate life-threatening emergency to stay awake for. He was wakened abruptly enough that he would have made a noise of surprise, had Rashoumon not been covering his mouth as it dragged him away from the edge of their hiding spot back toward Akutagawa, who was scowling at him.
“I was going to let you sleep,” Akutagawa commented, Rashoumon’s tendrils unwinding from Atsushi’s limbs and furling back into Akutagawa’s clothes. “But your snoring would have given away our position.”
To the nonexistent passersby. Right.
Atsushi crossed his arms and scowled back. “I don’t snore.”
“Your purring then,” Akutagawa corrected.
Atsushi felt his cheeks heating all the way up to his ears. “I don’t purr either,” he protested.
Akutagawa just gave him a baleful, disbelieving look.
Atsushi muttered and went back to staring at the building. The night guard glanced at his wristwatch and was replaced moments later by a new one. Atsushi almost nodded off several times and pinched himself to stay awake. It would be so easy to take another nap. It was late. No one seemed to be coming or going. Even Akutagawa had dropped his pencil back into the notebook and let it lie on the grass beside him. It was warm and comfortable and… There was a little soft rumbly sound that made him perk up a little, wondering what it was.
“You’re purring again,” Akutagawa said with look of absolute disgust.
Warm, comfortable, soft… Atsushi sat bolt upright and glanced back at the rustle of cloth behind him. “You’re petting me again!” Did he just purr on demand whenever Akutagawa’s coat got handsy? Did the coat get handsy against Akutagawa’s will or was it really Akutagawa doing the petting?
Akutagawa’s disgusted look hadn’t changed at all. “I like cats,” he said matter-of-factly.
Atsushi stared, dumbstruck. He felt like his face was on fire. He could never look at Akutagawa again. He sputtered and protested, “I’m not a cat!”
Akutagawa had never been easily impressed. He just sighed now, squinted toward the office building, picked up his notebook and pencil, and jotted down another note. “Whatever you say, jinko.”
Morning couldn’t come soon enough. Atsushi slouched down in his misery before suddenly turning to Akutagawa. “What did you just write down?”
Akutagawa frowned at him, seeming puzzled. “The tally.”
“I didn’t see anyone!” Atsushi protested and whipped his head back toward the building, almost rising from his place.
A soft sigh of exasperation and Akutagawa’s coat dragged him back beside Akutagawa with a firm coil of fabric. “It was only Dazai.”
“He’s probably breaking into the office. Stop worrying about it.”
“Stop worrying!” Atsushi snapped his mouth shut. Dazai surely didn’t still do things like break and enter. “I’m going to go in.”
“Jinko.” Rashoumon tightened its grip.
“I’ll just ask him–”
Rashoumon abruptly released him. Akutagawa’s look said it was Atsushi’s funeral. “He’s probably just testing to see if he’s on your tally.”
Atsushi stared at the building, thinking for a long moment. Maybe that was all.
“An interesting theory,” Dazai’s voice said quietly directly behind them.
Atsushi nearly jumped out of his skin. Rashoumon was magically there again, wrapped around one of his wrists and holding him still. “Dazai-san!”
“Ah, I see you’re both getting along,” Dazai said, beaming. “Well, come along. We’re done here.”
The two exchanged skeptical looks and by some mutual unspoken agreement, did not ask Dazai what that had been about.
“Think they can work together without killing each other?” Chuuya asked, almost in passing.
“They didn’t kill each other last time,” Dazai countered. “You are overly concerned.”
“You’re not dealing with Akutagawa anymore.”
Atsushi with a crush was far more manageable than someone like Akutagawa.
“Awww, Chuuya! Are you playing matchmaker? How about you find me a beautiful woman willing to commit suicide with me?”
But Chuuya just groaned and waved him off on his way to receive Akutagawa’s report.0