The Dark Comes Early
Author: Crimson Kaoru
Pairing(s)/Main Character(s): Overall: Adachi/Dojima (main), other: general mentions of the cast
Rating: Overall: PG-13
Word Count: complete at ~8,000 words
Spoilers: Virtual endgame spoilers here! Please don't read unless you've played through December.
Disclaimer: Persona 4 is property of Atlus.
Summary: Thinking back, he can remember an inordinate amount about the day it all started. What he was doing, wearing, planning; where he was sitting and what he said to Nanako before leaving that morning. Even if it was only a few months ago, it feels like an eternity now and he doesn't want to face the reality of that.
Notes: Hey, guys, no lie, the fangirl Japanese in P3 and P4 annoyed me a lot, so you'll see no Senpais here, or Dojima-sans, or Nanako-chans. I'm going all out. I'm even sticking with the Western name order — it's all about Tohru Adachi and Ryotaro Dojima now. Dojima Ryotaro? Adachi Tohru? Who are those guys?


Thinking back, he can remember an inordinate amount about the day it all started. What he was doing, wearing, planning; where he was sitting and what he said to Nanako before leaving that morning. Even if it was only a few months ago, it feels like an eternity now and he doesn't want to face the reality of that.

He was sitting at his desk, had been sitting there since he saw Nanako off to school. He remembered that someone offered to get him lunch, but not who it was — just that he declined. Chisato's file was in his hand, papers strewn across his desk and on the floor beside it, and his tie (the red, expensive one; the one Chisato gave him as an anniversary present the year Nanako was born) was loose around his neck. The first button of his shirt was undone; the heat in the office was stifling, unbelievable for early May, and he can still feel the sweat dripping down his forehead.

He remembers the chief calling to him from across the room, remembers looking up, catching sight of the bedraggled-looking young man (merely a child, must've been straight out of university; there's no way someone like that can survive on the force, he thought) standing in the doorway.

He remembers too much about that day.

-

"Dojima!"

Ryotaro heard his name, but didn't bother glancing up. Usually, when Chief called, it was just to rag on him about still being at the station at quarter to three in the morning. "You need to get home," he'd said once, a week after Chisato's funeral, and Ryotaro vividly recalled the sound his fist had made as it struck Chief across the face, the blood on his knuckles, and the bruise rising on Chief's clenched jaw.

"Dojima! If you don't get your lazy ass over here, so help me —"

Chief was known for his short temper and quick suspensions, if not for his way with words, but Ryotaro had been a constant in the Inaba PD long enough for the threat to roll off. Still, he chanced a look up in case Chief did have something relevant to offer, like a case, or maybe a new lead on Chisato's (but he dared never get his hopes up). Quite to the contrary: Chief had his hand on the shoulder of a nervous-looking young man in a charcoal-grey suit — mid-twenties, maybe, Ryotaro guessed.

Chief scowled when Ryotaro didn't budge from his seat, as if the newcomer's mere presence should've had him jumping up and holding out an overly-welcoming hand. "Get yourself decent," Chief snapped, eyeing Ryotaro's rumpled shirt in distaste. "You're at work, for god's sake, not drowning yourself in sake like you must do every night. Button up your goddamn shirt and say hello to your new partner."

Ryotaro's eyebrows soared. He pushed his chair away from the desk, stood, straightening his shirt a little as he went, and crossed the room in two long strides. Come to think of it, Chief had mentioned something about a new detective joining Inaba's short-staffed station a few weeks back, transferring in from the central office, and Ryotaro recalled now that Chief had added, "I think I might hand him over to you, Dojima. You're the only moron in this department without a partner, and considering your inability to juggle your life and work," Ryotaro could still hear the half-disapproving, half-sympathetic sniff, even in his memory, "I think he'll be a great help to you."

This guy didn't look like he'd be a great help to anyone. His dark eyes flicked around nervously, jumping from Ryotaro's face, back to Chief's, to the rest of the sparsely-populated station. The few other detectives there hadn't even looked up when he'd arrived, their attitude just the same as Ryotaro's, and they didn't spare a single glance even when the young man held out a shaking hand and said, "H-hello, I'm Tohru Adachi. It's nice to meet you." His short, messy hair flopped into his eyes as he leaned forwards in a shallow bow, and Ryotaro found himself staring at the crown of his head for a good thirty seconds before Tohru Adachi looked back up, his mouth pulled into a frown and eyes wide, as Ryotaro made his own introductions.

"Well!" Chief clapped his hands and turned away. "I'm sure you two will get along swimmingly. Dojima, show him around, would you? And don't even think about complaining. You're a grown man, aren't you? Grow some balls and learn to pick your battles." The door to his office was halfway shut behind him when Chief poked his head out one last time and said, "And Adachi, I'm sorry for sticking you with him. I assure you, should anything happen to him while you're dragging him back from the bar at four in the morning, you will not be held responsible. These things just happen."

With that, the door shut, and Ryotaro hated Chief a little for a moment, especially with the way Adachi was staring at him. "He's joking," he told Adachi a moment later, sick of his wary expression, and led him to an empty desk. He stood back and watched, awkwardly, as Adachi dropped a small cardboard crate on the table and began to unpack his things. Ryotaro saw him pick out several blank postcards, a coffee mug reading World's #1 Mom in red block letters (which Adachi hastily turned the other way), and a framed photograph of him and a bright-eyed young lady standing arm-in-arm in front of a tall apartment building. His girlfriend, Ryotaro speculated, or a sister.

Once the box was empty and Adachi was standing behind his new desk, fidgeting with the buttons on his suit jacket, Ryotaro squared his shoulders and said, "Well, Chief told me to show you around, so. Is this your first time in Inaba?"

Adachi blinked up at him and said, "Um," and then, "Yes," as if it had only occurred to him after to actually answer. This startled a confused chuckle out of Ryotaro, and Adachi seemed to relax a little. "O-oh, so you can smile," he said. "I was beginning to wonder."

Before Ryotaro could respond, pink tinted Adachi's cheekbones, and he was spreading his hands, palm up, in apology and saying, "Oh, no — sorry, oh man, I didn't mean — not that I thought —"

Ryotaro steered Adachi towards the exit. "Let's go."

Adachi allowed himself to be pulled outside, laughing somewhat nervously all the while. "Right behind you," he said, and looked a little giddy as he narrowly avoided tripping over his own feet to catch up with Ryotaro's long strides.

-

They ended up stopping at Junes, if memory serves. The manager's son, that Hanamura kid, took their order, and he only remembers that much because Souji later got so chummy with him.

He recalls asking all the perfunctory questions: where Adachi came from (Tokyo), if he liked Inaba so far (so-so) and why he chose to transfer there (no answer for that one aside from a grim smile), if he'd always planned on becoming a police officer (no, he'd always dreamed of being an astronaut), and whether he had any family here (no, and the woman in the picture was his sister). He'd answered a few questions of his own before showing Adachi around the shopping district and the pivotal locations nearby.

Back then, well. Maybe in the back of his mind, he noticed Adachi's wild hair, jagged like he took a scissors to it himself and always as if he'd tumbled straight out of bed. Perhaps he noticed Adachi's long, gangly limbs, the way the suit hung off him as if he were a child trying on his father's clothes.

But all it comes down to is that he remembers at the same time too much and altogether not enough.

-

"Adachi seems like a nice kid," he told Chief the next day. "But it's the kid part that's throwing me off. You sure he's going to be able to handle —?"

Chief peered up at him seriously through a knot of steepled fingers. "I don't know," he said at last, sitting back in his chair and propping his feet up on the desk. "Ask the chumps who dumped him on us from the central office. I'm sure they'll tell you just how spectacularly that kid performs under pressure, and how many tens of thousands of old ladies he's walked across the street."

Ryotaro frowned, but said nothing. It wasn't like he'd expected Chief to be helpful.

As he turned to go, however, Chief called him back.

"Dojima, hold on a sec," he said, and Ryotaro glanced over his shoulder to see Chief guzzling down candy with his eyes to the television suspended in the corner of his office. On the screen, a scantily-clad teenager — Risette, she reminded the viewers happily — flaunted her body and a bottle of pop. "Remember, this is Inaba. The worst we get here is some crazy biker gangs keeping old bags up at night and the mama's boys who take them down. It's not like Adachi's going to be doing anything extreme out here. He'll be fine — relax."

Ryotaro took a moment to nod, a little surprised by Chief's ability to speak meaningfully while watching day-time television, and stepped out of his office. As he shut the door behind him, the first thing he saw was Adachi, hunched over his desk and writing furiously. After a moment, he looked up and caught Ryotaro staring, and smiled a little shyly. Ryotaro tried to smile back, but judging by the way Adachi's face fell, taken over by confusion, he guessed he was entirely unsuccessful.

With a sigh, he turned away and returned to his desk. Chisato's file lay open in the centre, and he found himself staring blankly at his open wallet beside it, at the picture of him with his chin hooked over Chisato's shoulder; she held an infant Nanako, and she was smiling so wide his heart ached with it. The picture was old and dog-eared, with peeling edges and a long tear across one side. Their faces were tinted just a little bit yellow.

Ryotaro sighed and closed his wallet. He stole a glance over his shoulder, at Adachi, who was sipping from his World's #1 Mom cup and didn't notice his stare, and then turned back to Chisato's file. His new partner, he lamented, as he opened up the manila folder, was a child, however well-meaning. This could only ever happen to him.

He was sitting there for twenty minutes before the phone rang — the gangs were acting up again and, as always, Kanji Tatsumi was smack in the middle of it.

Ryotaro put away Chisato's file, shouldered his coat with a sigh, and took Adachi away from his tea and out with him, into the field for the first time. He needed to know if this kid would be okay.

-

Adachi handled himself pretty well that day, he remembers. Wilted a little in the face of Kanji's anger, but stood tall and took him by the arm and led him personally back to the station.

He thinks he was sort of strangely proud, looking back, and that he didn't know how to express it; he recalls the way Adachi's pleased little smile (the one that appeared, briefly, when Chief of all people told him, "Welcome to the force!") lit his narrow face, remembers liking how it looked. He remembers exactly the way Adachi's face fell, the flicker of something else that crossed his eyes, too quick to catch and gone in no time, when he demanded a coffee — for the first time in what would become a tradition.

He remembers, too, what came after, down to every word.

-

"Ask the chumps who dumped him on us," Chief had said, and Ryotaro sent Adachi out for coffee ("Black, and I won't take any of that instant crap," he'd said, making the route as roundabout as possible, "so go to Junes and buy the highest quality you can find. Don't come back here until you've got it, and if it's cold, you'll go out and get more.") so he would have time to do just that. After all, he didn't want Adachi breathing down his neck, staring at him with wide, dark eyes as Ryotaro fished for information, for how a kid like that could end up here, anywhere.

Once Adachi was gone, head hung a little between bony shoulders, Ryotaro took the nearest black, boxy receiver up off its cradle, punched in the central office's number without even thinking, and the Inaba division's extension even quicker, and sat there to wait — two beats, two rings, and a voice on the other line said, "Hello, Inaba Police Department, central office."

"Yeah, hi," Ryotaro said, peering up at the clock above Chief's door. He knew exactly who to ask for. "This is Detective Ryotaro Dojima — I was hoping to speak to Kazuo Sato. Is he around?"

"Hold on," the receptionist said, blankly, and Ryotaro scratched agitatedly at his knuckles as he waited, and it seemed an eternity before a familiar voice boomed, "Well, I'll be damned! Ryotaro Dojima, what are you doing calling me up? It's been years. You better have a good reason, boy."

"Hardly a boy any longer," Ryotaro said, with a short little laugh. It came off a little strained, and there was a long pause before his former mentor spoke again. It had been a long time, but Ryotaro had always looked up to Kazuo, from the very start. He could see Kazuo now — getting ever more wizened, though he had started off that way in Ryotaro's eyes: a brave old man who'd been on the force for one too many years. Ryotaro admired him for surviving alone.

"I see you haven't gotten any less socially awkward," Kazuo said, voice tinged with affection so strong Ryotaro could hear it through the phone. "What is it? Make it quick; I've got some phone calls to make. We'll have to catch up another time. How's your daughter? No, no. Come, tell me your problem before I end up missing my appointment."

Spurred on by Kazuo's apparent hurry, Ryotaro dove right in. "You had someone over there called Adachi, didn't you? Tohru Adachi?"

Kazuo was quiet for a long time. "Yes, we did," he said, at last. "Oh, he's over your end now, isn't he? Yes, yes. Kurosawa was in charge of heading that decision, rather than me, but — what do you want to know? Hurry it up, now."

"It wasn't his decision to transfer, was it?"

"Ah." Kazuo paused, long enough for Ryotaro to feel worry stirring at the pit of his stomach. "No, it wasn't."

"The higher-ups did it, right?" Ryotaro prompted. The frequent silences were worrying him, but at the same time he sensed that he wasn't going to get much out of Kazuo. "Why?"

"I suggest you take that up with the man himself, Ryotaro," Kazuo suggested, and however mild his tone was, Ryotaro knew the end of a discussion when he heard one. "He can most likely tell you a lot more about the situation than I can. I have to go now. Have a good day, Ryotaro. Take care of yourself."

Ryotaro didn't even have time to say goodbye before a definitive click sounded at his ear, and Kazuo was gone. Slightly bewildered and more than a little perturbed, Ryotaro held the phone away from his ear for a moment, staring at it as if it would answer all his questions, and it was that moment that Adachi chose to come bounding back in.

"Now, where the heck are those sugar packets?" he was saying to himself as he pulled up short in front of Ryotaro's desk with two cups clutched tight against his chest. He smiled, a little goofily, at Ryotaro before holding out one coffee and fishing a white packet from his jacket pocket. "There you go. Black, just like you said. Hope it's not too hot."

Without a word, Ryotaro took the cup and drowned it in one gulp. It burned the back of his throat, and his muttered "Thanks," was hoarse and barely audible.

-

Even at the time, he knew it was foolish, even stupid, to pursue the question of the transfer, the need to quell his curiosity, the urge to find out if there was really more to it all.

Of course, there was, not that he knew at the time. He remembers being insatiably curious for reasons beyond him then; now they're perfectly obvious and he hates himself for it, hates himself for never letting go, for not being satisfied with any answer.

He remembers a police function a few weeks after Adachi came to Inaba, remembers what they were wearing and where they were and the conversation he tried to have. Can't forget.

-

"You met Shirogane yet? Detective Prince, my ass! He's just —"

"Hey, have you seen our newest recruit? Guy can't even tie his own shoes —"

Ryotaro hmmed and huhed his way in and out of his colleagues' conversation, moving away from the gazebo where they were gathered and towards the riverbed. He hadn't been back there since Chisato, even though Nanako asked sometimes, in that way of hers, with a flick of the eyes and a quiet, high noise, with a few off-key notes sung; and really, there were only so many times a man could hear every day's great at your Junes! without going off the deep end.

He shook the tune out of his head as he took the stairs down to the bank two at a time. It was empty down there, except for an old man bending by the water, fishing rod in hand, and another figure, suited and standing with his back to everyone, staring silently out across the river.

Ryotaro recognised Adachi's wild hair and hunched, somewhat protective posture in an instant. He cleared his throat and padded over the flattened grass, calling, "Adachi! Why the hell are you all the way over here?" The words came out harsher than he had intended, had been coming out that way since the phone call, the coffee errand.

Adachi turned, quickly, as if startled, but his guarded stance relaxed a little when he saw who was coming towards him. "I could ask you the same question," he countered, with a small, nervous smile. "I just came out here to get some air. Plus, Takahashi keeps talking about 'the new recruit' and how he 'can't even tie his own shoes', so I, uh." He shrugged and didn't say anything more.

Ryotaro stopped beside him and watched as Adachi toed at a dying flower. "Huh," he said, eventually. At a loss, he let silence reign for a moment — he'd never known what to do in these situations; Kazuo hadn't been wrong in calling him socially awkward — before saying, "Why'd you transfer here?"

Maybe, maybe he could've come up with a better opener. Something more along the lines of conversation, rather than interrogation. But interrogation was what he was used to, so Ryotaro stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, glancing at Adachi out of the corner of his eyes, waiting to see if he'd get an answer.

Adachi turned to him, after a moment, eyebrows raised. A faint smile played over his lips, and something in it made Ryotaro want to look away, but he held his ground and met Adachi's eyes, kept them as Adachi said, "Why do you ask?"

"I heard that it wasn't your decision," Ryotaro said, flat out.

Adachi's reaction was little more than a slight widening of the eyes. The smile flickered and then came back, twice as strong. "Oh," he said, finally. "Hah, you're right. But," he stretched upwards, arms out, spread wide; his unbuttoned jacket parted, and his untucked shirt rode up, revealing a tiny sliver of pale skin at his waist, "it's not like it's a scandalous story, or anything. Just a silly mistake. Besides, I like it out here."

Ryotaro realised, with a decent amount of surprise, where he was looking, and pulled his gaze up to meet Adachi's. Adachi still had that gentle, goofy smile on his face, and Ryotaro knew without a doubt that he wasn't going to get another word out of him about his transfer. Resigned — maybe he was telling the truth, after all, no reason to believe otherwise, or maybe it was private, or hell, it doesn't really matter, come on — Ryotaro jerked his thumb in the direction of the gazebo and said, "Well. I'm going to go back."

Adachi nodded, but as Ryotaro turned to leave, a hand closed over his forearm, and he turned back to see Adachi standing close, a strange expression on his face; it looked as if he was caught between a smile and a frown.

"Thank you, sir," Adachi said, eventually, and released his arm.

Nodding, a little unsure, Ryotaro stepped back and away, and when he turned back to the party, he didn't look back.

-

After that day, regular coffee trips became the norm. If Adachi was in the office, he was better off fetching coffee than working on any sort of case or personal business; better off running stupid, inane errands, just so their eyes wouldn't have to meet across the room, so Adachi wouldn't give him that unsure, crooked smile, so he could concentrate on Chisato's file; on the memory of her hands in his hair, her lips on his, her smile.

But now more than anything else, he remembers the flash of hurt-and-something-else that kept on surfacing in Adachi's eyes; he saw it there for weeks before it vanished, before Adachi started meeting his requests with a long-suffering smile, before he started to make jokes and mournfully lament his slave status.

He can't forget it. He just keeps remembering.

-

"Adachi! Damn it, if you can't keep your lunch down, I will throw your ass right back home." The words were out of Ryotaro's mouth before he could stop them — harsh, angry, unsympathetic.

Adachi twisted back to look at him, hand pressed against his mouth, looking pale and sickly, and said, "Sorry, sir." He swallowed thickly and marched back to Ryotaro's side, though it took an elbow to his ribs to get him to look up at the roof. His hands were shaking a little as he raked them through his short hair. "Mayumi Yamano, huh," he said, after a moment.

"If you can't think of anything more helpful to say than that, you're better off getting me coffee," Ryotaro snapped.

Adachi backed up, hands spread in front of him in surrender. "N-no, I —"

"Get moving!"

Adachi didn't need any further prompting; he turned tail and all but ran down the street. Junes wasn't that far, so he was bound to be back in a few minutes, but that gave Ryotaro time to sneak in a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. He fended off another policeman's concerned question with a snappy reply and sagged against a telephone pole. When Adachi came back a few minutes later, coffee in hand, he was still there, staring blankly up at the antenna.

"Here you go, sir," Adachi said, holding out the cup to him. Adachi had been calling him that more and more often lately. It bothered Ryotaro, somewhere deep down, for a reason he couldn't place.

Ignoring that, Ryotaro snatched the coffee out of his hands so hard that Adachi almost dropped his own cup, and took a long drink. His heart felt like lead in his chest when he shoved the half-empty cup back at Adachi and snarled, "This tastes like shit."

Adachi froze, his hand still outstretched, standing like a marionette held tight. Then he seemed to give, like his strings had all been cut, and his head dropped between his shoulders. "Have mine," he said, finally, and held out his cup. He wouldn't meet Ryotaro's eyes, and Ryotaro suddenly hated it for all the time he spent trying to avoid it, wanted to grab Adachi's chin and force his head up, wanted to —

He took the cup without another word and knocked the coffee back, and didn't look at Adachi again.

-

He didn't know how to define his feelings, back then; didn't want to know how. He didn't want to give it a name — this painful pulse in his chest, heartbeat pounding double-time.

It stings to think back, now; to remember the hurt in Adachi's eyes, the smiles that came less and less (for reasons beyond just him, he realises; reasons that he never imagined back then, ones so alien they would've never even occurred to him).

He remembers being caught between wanting those smiles, wanting to catch them and cage them and never let them go, and hating them, hating how much he wanted them. When they began to vanish, somewhere in the back of his mind, he ached for ways to bring them back but never dreamed of acting on them.

He thought the coffee runs and screaming fits were all to blame, and he hated it, hated himself, hates himself for it; for never letting go, for falling too fast and too hard for a goofy, loudmouthed, loose-tongued young man who turned out to be everything but. He hates himself for falling at all, still can't believe it, doesn't want to accept it, because he never wanted to fall again.

He remembers the day it all went to hell.

-

"Sir?" Adachi stood in front of his desk, fiddling with the buttons on his suit jacket. He was staring down at them instead of looking at Ryotaro's face. "I thought it would be a, uh, a good idea to walk here this morning, get some exercise, you know? But now it's dark, and I don't really, um." Finally, he looked up, and his face was tinged slightly pink. "Since we're getting off at the same time, I was wondering if you'd maybe — I mean, if it's out of your way, don't bother, but maybe you could give me a ride back to my apartment?"

Ryotaro's hands stilled on the half-finished form in his hands, and he peered up at Adachi's open, nervous face for a long moment. "All right," he said, quietly, and looked down at the paperwork. "Let me finish this and we'll go." He paused, then, tapping his pen against his lip, and couldn't stop himself from saying, "Look, I've got to go home on the way. You can stay for dinner, if you want."

He could practically see Adachi's face lighting up, but he pointedly didn't look back at him, just nodded at the I'd love to, sir, thank you! and rushed through the form. His name turned out half-illegible and he skipped a few of the more complicated medical questions, but they were out of the office and piling into Ryotaro's white Subaru in five minutes. Adachi was chattering all the while, and when Ryotaro pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road, he turned the radio on loud and kept turning it up until Adachi shut his mouth.

Home wasn't far, but traffic dragged it into a ten-minute journey, and all the while Ryotaro sat in grouchy silence, hunched forwards, hands on the wheel. Every so often he stole a look at Adachi out of the corner of his eyes, and every time Adachi would be in the same position: chin propped up by one hand as he stared out the window and looked very faintly uncomfortable.

"We're here," Ryotaro snapped as they approached the house. The car slowed to a crawl as he swung into the garage, and he ignored how excited Adachi looked as he climbed out of the driver's seat and slammed the door behind him. "Hurry up," was out of his mouth before he could stop it.

Adachi rounded the car, beaming. "So I guess I finally get to meet your daughter!" he said as Ryotaro led the way to the front door.

"Nanako," Ryotaro agreed gruffly, and stepped inside. He toed off his shoes and walked into the kitchen; a few feet away, he saw Nanako's face fall a little as she saw Adachi trailing behind him, and a tired-looking Souji beside her. He explained the situation briefly and allowed Adachi to make his own introductions, all the while glancing between the cooling dinner on the table and Nanako's face, Adachi's small smile and Souji's quiet kindness.

Ryotaro massaged his temples and swallowed a sigh, got impatient at all the right moments, and slapped Adachi upside the head when it was appropriate. When they finally sat down to dinner, he realised that he would be a lucky man if this night went without a hitch.

As it happened, it was all right up until the ride home. All throughout the meal, Ryotaro looked over at Adachi, cheerfully downing Nanako's home-cooked food and commenting every few bites on how delicious it was, and he thought, over and over, This was a terrible idea. He watched as Adachi urged the somewhat stony Souji into conversation, watched the smiles shared between them, and was almost ready to revise that theory when he left Nanako and Souji to clean up, and walked with Adachi back out to the car.

But then Adachi stopped in front of the passenger door and pivoted around, and the smile on his face was wide and toothy. Ryotaro stopped in front of the car, caught halfway between Adachi's side and the driver's, and swallowed hard. Adachi's tie had come a bit loose, and his lips were tinged red from the sauce that Nanako had coated the meal with.

"Thank you, sir," he said happily, one hand on the door's handle. "That food was delicious! Nanako is a lovely girl. Souji seems — nice —?" Adachi's smile faltered, his words trailing off, as he took in Ryotaro's lack of response. He seemed to notice the direction of Ryotaro's stare, as well, and self-consciously rubbed a hand across his mouth. "Um, sir? Do I have something on my face?"

"Uh," Ryotaro said, and before he could stop himself, he was stepping around the car and forward, crowding into Adachi's space. He barely gave Adachi time to react before shoving him back against the door and grabbing him by the jaw, tipping his face up and leaning in, sealing their lips together before Adachi could protest.

Adachi's reaction was instantaneous: his mouth snapped shut and he planted both palms against Ryotaro's chest, pushing back with more force than Ryotaro had expected. He wriggled and bucked until Ryotaro grabbed both his arms and thrust a knee between his legs, pressing him bodily against the car.

Then Adachi went utterly, frighteningly still.

Ryotaro pulled away. His face felt hot, his clothes too tight; he swallowed around a suddenly constricting tie and looked down at Adachi — whose cheeks were flushed, his lips swollen and shiny. Ryotaro dropped his head and muffled a groan into Adachi's shoulder. "Please," he said softly, only half-aware of what he was saying. "Please."

"O-oh god," Adachi said.

Ryotaro squeezed his eyes shut and released his hold on Adachi's arms. "I," he said, pulling back and dropping his gaze. "I'm so —" Before he could go on, Adachi's long fingers wrapped around his head, clasping in his hair, and pulled him back down. His lips missed Ryotaro's the first time, kissing his left nostril before he groaned and switched paths to Ryotaro's mouth. Thrown off-balance both mentally and physically, Ryotaro threw his arms out to brace himself against the car before his brain caught up with him and he caught Adachi in his arms, spinning them around and slamming him up against the wall.

-

It wasn't easy, at first.

He didn't know how to act, after that hurried, desperate kiss in the darkness of his garage. Couldn't tell what Adachi was thinking (couldn't ever tell), so he went out on a limb and almost fucked everything up, except somehow Adachi was smart enough to get what he was trying to say (of course he was; so much smarter than anyone gave him credit for, so far beyond).

He remembers that it got easier.

-

"What are we going to do?" Ryotaro asked the following week, when everyone but he, Chief, and Adachi had gone home for the night. It was the first time they'd been alone together since, and Adachi was puttering around, running forms through the fax machine and signing paperwork. Chief was holed up in his office, and Ryotaro could hear the soothing sounds of soap operas from beyond the door, so he knew it was safe to talk.

Adachi had been bent over the nearest desk, penning his name on the dotted line; he stopped and braced his hands on the wood, head hung low between his shoulders. "I-I'm not sure what you mean, sir," he said, faintly, with his back still turned.

Ryotaro nearly stabbed his pen right through the desk in frustration. "Adachi," he snapped. "Quit playing dumb. Look at me!"

Obediently, Adachi turned to regard Ryotaro, a sheaf of paper clutched tight in both hands. The tiny, nervous smile on his face flickered like a dying oil lamp and then vanished, and Ryotaro watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. "Wh-what do you want to do?"

Ryotaro shook his head and gesticulated meaninglessly as if he could snatch the perfect words out of the air. He ended up with several fistfuls of nothing, and found himself saying, haltingly, "We could, I don't know — do you — I mean, maybe, sometime —"

Adachi's face split into a smile. "Yes," he said honestly, cutting off Ryotaro's inarticulate tirade. "I think I'd like that very much, sir."

Ryotaro felt all the air in his lungs leave him in one relieved whoosh, and he leaned forward, across the desk, propping his chin up on his folded hands. "Good," he said, and nodded towards the abandoned paperwork. "Now get back to work. And fetch me a coffee while you're at it."

-

He can't help but wonder if he just played right into Adachi's hands, if everything that happened between them was all part of the plan.

He hates the thought, can't bear it. (Because it can't have all been a lie. Not when the first thing he saw after the car accident was Adachi's worried face, not when Adachi stayed at his side, day in, day out, bringing him snacks and books and helping him to Nanako's room when no one was looking.)

And so he buries himself in remembering to forget everything else.

-

Ryotaro woke to a light snore and the hospital's machines beeping incessantly in his ear. His injuries restricted his movement a bit, but he could move comfortably enough to see Adachi slouched in a chair beside the bed. In a loose grip he held an empty cup of coffee that had obviously done little to keep him awake, and splayed out over his lap were several books and magazines. Adachi's head was bowed, his short fringe flopping forwards to obscure most of his face from Ryotaro's view.

Ryotaro relaxed back against the mattress with a groan. The loose neck of the hospital gown felt tight around his throat and he closed his eyes, exhaustion weighing heavy over him. Nanako was sick, alone in her bed, but Ryotaro knew his body well enough to realise that there was no way he could stand this early on. His middle was a massive, bloodstained wad of bandages, tying him down, and there was a constant, painful pound in his head.

Ryotaro heard the shuffling of fabric against fabric from nearby and forced his eyes open — to find Adachi standing at his bedside, staring down with an unreadable expression on his face. As soon as he noticed there was someone staring back at him, though, Adachi's face split in a wide grin, and he gingerly lowered a hand to clutch at Ryotaro's clammy fingers.

"Hi," he said, softly. "How're you feeling today?"

"Like shit," Ryotaro replied, and Adachi's answering smile made him want to smile too, but his face ached from the bruises and laughing hurt more than anything else. "How's Nanako?"

"Getting better," Adachi said patiently, kindly, because he was asked it every day, and the answer he gave was always the same. He turned and padded back to the chair, and Ryotaro was able to raise his head enough to see Adachi's shoes, empty and untied, by the door. "I got you some things," Adachi said, bending over the chair and resurfacing with the sports page of the local newspaper, a book called The O-Cha Way, and a box of donuts.

Ryotaro stretched out a hand and grabbed the book. "I think I saw Souji reading this," he said, bypassing the cover and flipping through the pages. After a moment, he frowned and let it flop shut on his stomach. "Adachi, this is a book on tea ceremony etiquette."

Adachi blinked, then took a closer look at it. "O-oh, is it?"

Ryotaro laughed a little, and regretted it sorely when it sent pain slicing through his insides. He hastily turned the chuckles into a cough, and wondered aloud, "Why was Souji reading a book about tea ceremonies?"

Adachi just smiled and went to the door. He toed on his shoes in silence, all the while looking back at Ryotaro with a thoughtful expression on his face. "I have to go," he said, apologetically. "I promised Chief I'd run errands for him today, since you're incapacitated and all." His smile was gentle, and Ryotaro bit back a request for him to stay. "I'm not sorry, you know," Adachi said, after a moment, as he turned away and stepped through the open door.

It was only after the door slid shut that Ryotaro thought of asking him what he meant.

-

For a month, he makes himself believe when Adachi said, "I'm not sorry," he meant about us, about what happened between us. But he's so, so wrong, and he knows that now, knows it deep down in his heart and there's no way to unknow it.

There's no way to forget that Adachi's affection and gentle nature were all a lie; even something as small as Adachi's smiles, his slipups, his preparedness to go for coffee runs in the rain — all an act, not him at all.

He doesn't want to remember, but he can't forget.

-

I-I have no idea what you're talking about.

What? Th-that's ridiculous! We already know Namatame's the one who put them all in!

I don't know! I-I said I'm busy!

The full reality of what just happened hit Ryotaro like a ton of bricks. His legs gave out beneath him, pulling the nurse supporting him down too; her startled cry went unheard as Ryotaro collapsed to his knees and pounded a fist into the linoleum. An agonised cry tore from his lungs, and he couldn't take a breath deep enough to regulate his heartbeat. His palms against the cold floor felt numb, detached, and through slitted, aching eyes he saw fat, heavy droplets of water staining the backs of his hands.

Tears, he realised, distantly, and then: I'm crying.

The nurse was already at his side, one hand on his shoulder, the other reaching carefully for his downturned face. "Hey," she said sharply, "answer me!" and it was only then that he realised that she'd been calling his name, over and over, mantra-like. "Are you all right? I'll get the doctor —"

Ryotaro shoved her hands off him and staggered to his feet, one hand over his eyes. "I'm fine," he said thickly; then, louder, "I'm fine!" before he whirled around and stumbled back the way they'd come, towards where Adachi had run to. Maybe he was there somewhere, in a room they hadn't checked, waiting by the window for Ryotaro to come, so he could explain everything; explain how Souji and his friends had it all wrong, how he was framed, coerced, fucking anything except — except this.

He got halfway to the ward when the still-healing injuries scoring his torso sent bolts of pain coursing through him. He was on all fours before he knew what had happened, staring blank-eyed down at the patchwork tiles, shaking and sore and exhausted. Before he could get up, there were four nurses flanking him and a doctor on the way; his arms were quite unceremoniously grabbed by gloved fingers, and he was slowly, carefully being pulled to his feet.

"It's okay, sir," one of the nurses said in his ear. "It'll all be o —"

He struck out before he could think to stop himself and sent her spinning to the floor, a hand to her reddening cheek, all wide eyes and open-mouthed shock. At once the other three nurses swarmed him, but he shook them all off, raging, shouting, furious.

"Let me go!" he screamed at one, pulling his arm free. Pain knifed through him, but he ignored it and staggered back, holding up both hands in defence. "Don't come near me, dammit. Don't —" He stumbled into a cart and overturned a tray of scalpels. The noise startled him, badly, and he almost sliced his leg open on a blade in his hurry to get away. "Don't — stay away —"

All he could see was Adachi, as he had been — smiling, clueless, hair plastered to his forehead and suit dripping from dashing out in a storm to buy Ryotaro's coffee. His ears were ringing with Adachi's terrified whisper of o-oh god after that first kiss, with the sound of I'm not sorry, you know replaying in his head.

"Oh god," Ryotaro said, weakly, and heartbreak pulled his feet from under him.

-

He doesn't remember much about the rest of that day, besides waking up in his cot with no sense of time — could've been hours later, days, even weeks, and it didn't make a difference, because he could (and still can, can't ever forget) remember Adachi's panicked face, Adachi's voice, angrier than he'd ever heard it.

They kept him there, in that claustrophobic, white-walled hospital, until Christmas. He can still hear the machines beside his bed, still see the faces of the nurses who attended to him. The strain on his body from daily trips to Nanako's room still hasn't fully faded; he still feels it when he gets up, hears the bones crack and groan.

He remembers that the weight of exhaustion on his body was especially strong that day.

-

The guard walked Ryotaro down the corridor in silence and stopped in front of the very last room. The window in the thick, steel door was tiny, more of a peephole than anything else, and the guard glanced through it before letting Ryotaro in with a lazy, disinterested nod.

He had to duck his head to get through the doorway. He kept his eyes on the ground until the door slammed shut behind him with a definitive (and, Ryotaro thought, a little irrationally, final) clang. Then, finally, he looked up, and emotion hit him like a bullet to the chest.

Adachi was sitting in the corner, back against the wall, legs swinging off the hard edge of his mattress. His mouth was turned up at the edges, but his eyes were cold, angry. Different. "Hello," he said.

Ryotaro heard his breath hitch in his throat, knew Adachi heard it too. "Adachi," he said, uselessly. He almost said, You know, I had a mental breakdown a few weeks ago, but managed to bite it back at the last moment, and chose to drop into a uncomfortable, high-backed folding chair instead. Some broken spokes cut viciously into his shoulders, pressing hard in a way that spoke of bruises yet to come. He cleared his throat, ran his tongue over his lips, and opened his mouth to speak.

"I wanted to," Adachi said before he could say anything. "Because I wanted to."

Ryotaro faltered. His words died in his throat before they could ever be said. "What?"

Adachi tipped his head back against the wall. "You were going to ask me why," he said, his voice sharp and brimming with hate and cynicism. "So I answered. I wanted to, so I did." He turned his head away, scoffing. "Fuck. What a waste of time you were."

Part of Ryotaro wanted to stand, stride forward, take Adachi by the collar and shake him and shake him until the old Adachi was back, until his mask came together again and stuck that way. Another part was grounded in the chair, heart a dying drumbeat in his chest. He was frozen in his seat when Adachi's head lolled forward again.

"I shot somebody," he said.

Ryotaro's head snapped up, but he didn't say a word, and Adachi just leered at him and said, "You always wondered, didn't you? Why I got sent out here? Though I did do my best to make you forget." He cocked his head, birdlike. "Though there's no reason to hide it now." Adachi's eyes were amused slits in a pale, sunken face. Prison wasn't kind to him. "Oh, don't look at me like that. It was self-defence — honest. Guy pulled a gun on me. I had to do something, right?"

He barked a laugh and rolled his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug. "Kid was rambling at me about protecting his mom. Please. I had to shut him up somehow."

Ice wrapped around Ryotaro's heart, pulling it to the pit of his stomach like shackles. "Stop," he said. "Stop it." Then, voice shaking, "'I'm not sorry, you know,'" and it was a poor substitute for what he really wanted to say.

Adachi looked up at him, lip curling up to reveal a glimpse of white teeth. "I hope you didn't think I was talking about you," he sneered, and when he spoke again, his voice sounded normal, sounded like how it should be. "Oh, sir! I don't regret a thing, I'd do anything for you, I love you for forcing yourself on me! It was the best time of my life," and he laughed then, at the way Ryotaro's face crumpled, at the way his body tightened. "You really are a poor, deluded sap, aren't you?"

Ryotaro was across the room in moments, his hands twining in Adachi's shirt, leaning in so close that he could feel Adachi's breath on his face. "Don't say that," Ryotaro said. It had sounded like a threat in his head, but came out like a plea. "You're lying." Please be lying.

Adachi's eyebrows soared. "Oh, I'm not," he said, and his fingers stroked a burning path down Ryotaro's face. "Sir."

Ryotaro jerked out of his grip, catching the delicate jut of bone at Adachi's wrist and wrenching his hand away. He stepped back, unsteady on his feet, backing blindly towards the door, while Adachi just stared at him impassively from the bed. Halfway to the exit, Ryotaro stopped, raised his eyes to the ceiling, and took a deep breath. "I," he started, but his voice failed him after that. Wrought with grief, he closed his eyes and laughed a little, stopped when he realised it sounded more like sobbing, and tried again.

I loved you, Ryotaro meant to say, but somewhere along the line, the 'd' got lost, and he ended up saying, in a broken and breathless whisper, "I love you."

Adachi blinked, slowly, and then said, "I don't," and called the guard to take him away.

-

His memory is static after that, everything else fading into shades of grey, and he can't bear to look up, to see Adachi gazing back at him from beyond the glass, silent. It's the last time they'll ever do this, and Ryotaro can do nothing but hang his head and close his eyes and remember.


notes a; the title is part of a line from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: "light goes with life, and in the winter of your years the dark comes early".
notes b; I figure a lot of people, including me, see the Adachi/Dojima relationship as a) no-strings-attached sexytiems, or b) Adachi pining for Dojima. I may be wrong in thinking this, but I always thought it was the latter, or a mix of both — at least before December, when my perception of everything ever got really screwed. So, anyway, in this fic, I thought I'd put a spin on things, and turn it around, especially taking endgame character development into account. I like a lot this way — and I think it's appropriate, considering.