Smoke and Fox-Fire
Read it on AO3
Fandom: Bungo Stray Dogs/Mononoke
Characters: Dazai, Tanizaki, Ranpo, others mentioned/minor appearances. Background skk.
Summary: Dazai comes to a decision, Tanizaki is enlisted and then mildly traumatised, and Ranpo realises that he had made an error of judgement.
Notes: References to less than ideal childhood situations, and potential BSD manga spoilers.
(Part three of the “Not All Kitsune Have Nine Tails” ‘verse. Follows Denning Down.)
It was mid-afternoon, so far nothing interesting or dangerous had happened yet, and for the most part, it had been a day of normal work activity- with the only very recent addition of Dazai's more sensitive hearing picking up on more than he would have normally, and the way his tail moving around without him able to actually control it to the fine degree that he sometimes wished he could meaning that things would sometimes... wind up falling off tables.
Things like pens, and pencils, and Kunikida's paperwork...
Anyway, Dazai was bored, and a bored Dazai was never good for the office, far more than a Dazai who simply didn't want to do his work, and part of the reason why he was bored was... it had a lot to do with how much he'd hated pushing all of the things that had made him feel less like he was trying to fit into some role he wasn't suited to play for the past- it hadn't quite been twenty years. A fair bit less. But it was long enough.
Long enough he couldn't really remember that memory he knew that both Atsushi and Chuuya had 'seen' somehow, of him as a small child. Toddling toward his mother, an indistinct person his younger self had only referred to as Mofa-Mofa, something that had had a somewhat less indistinct man laugh and try to correct him to "Mama."
"He knows what he's saying. Don't you, Osamu? Because you like soft things. And Mama is soft."
Reaching out and up to her hair, to clamber into her lap, and getting visibly annoyed when the only thing he touched was hair, and as nice as his seat was, there was no soft thing to grab at or hold onto.
"Not as soft as he thinks, it seems. Maybe he just got attached to that ratty old sweater you were wearing for a while?"
She'd laughed, barking - a little too slow, and he'd somehow been able to hear that even then - and just said, "Maybe."
It'd been a lie, of course. He knew that now. More than that, Atsushi and Chuuya both knew all of the sordid details of childhood - had discovered them with him, all of the repressed memories of how his father had grown colder and had taken his mother for granted, of how she had left-
Too much time meant too much time to think.
It wasn't that the memories themselves hurt, exactly. They were so old, and he could barely remember any of the people in them, even thinking of himself as that small, soft person with no hard edges and no bandages wrapped around his small limbs was an almost alien thought.
Thinking about them for too long meant thinking about what they meant, though, and although there were many thing he had let go of, that he'd had to let go of, in order to stop and break away from everything and let himself start anew, even though he knew the truth... it was one thing to know, to come to a decision and move on. Another to know what to do after that.
Perhaps, he wondered, he still held more than a little resentment. Not directed at anyone in particular, anymore. But just in general.
The Agency's clock ticked another half hour gone.
Dazai blinked up at the ceiling from the sofa, and reassured himself with the familiar buzz of office noise and voices.
The point was - the point of it all was, that he didn't exactly enjoy going out and having to hide the fur under his skin in such a way, when it didn't want to stay under like that. It made him itch all over, like he'd wrapped his bandages on too tight, or too roughly, something catching at him all the time whenever he paid it too much mind.
The thought kept striking him, as he went to and from Chuuya's to the Agency and out again for other reasons, that even with everything hidden, someone would see him, and it wouldn't matter to them that they shouldn't be able to - someone from outside of the Agency or even the mafia who wasn't a spirit or demon themself would see, they would notice something off. He'd say something wrong. A stumble on the pavement. His heart would hammer in his chest.
He'd never felt so uneasy with the thought of being seen before, and he wasn't so bothered about it when he was in the Agency or Chuuya's place, so what was it that was so different? Other than the sheer amount of people, of course. And people he didn't know. People who would just look at him, and judge him.
It felt like having a loose bandage somewhere on his arm, or his neck, which he hadn't been able to fix and that at any moment, might unravel further than he could handle, but he was always a little too far from somewhere private enough to fix it.
He jumps maybe a foot in the air from where he'd been sitting at his desk, or it feels that way, and it shows by the amount of strange, unrelated letters and words that had just appeared on the report he'd been working on for the simple recon mission he'd been sent on yesterday.
It wasn't unsalvageable. At least he hadn't already pressed send.
It wasn't as if he's not used to Dazai's antics. He is. He's just not so used to them being aimed at him - Kunikida, yes, and Atsushi now too, but up until now he'd somehow managed to not get hit with the worst of it.
Perhaps this was only happening because Kunikida and Atsushi were outside, and from the sounds of things working on Atsushi's training.
And now his ex-mafia coworker is staring at him with wide eyes and a too-wide smile on his face for it to mean anything good, and those new ears of his are pointed upright at attention on the top of his head. Which would be more unnerving if it wasn't the second day of it, and he hadn't already seen Atsushi transform often enough to almost become used to human beings with animal features.
...Well. Mostly human, in Dazai's case. Which was also going to take some getting used to.
"You see Tanizaki-kun, I have a problem and I was starting to realise that you might be the only one I can go to who might be able to help me with this problem. You will help me, won't you?"
He found himself staring. Dazai didn't move. He only blinked.
"I, uh... are you sure I'm the only who can help you? I mean, there's everyone else, and-"
"Nooo.... no, see, it absolutely has to be you. I mean, as far as I'm aware, you're the only one I know who uses illusions. So it has to be you."
"Uh-" For a moment, his mind blanks out. But that's when one of Dazai's new ears twitches, and he starts to get a sinking feeling. "No... no. No, I'm not just following you around all the time so you can go out like that in public. It'd fail the moment I bumped into you anyway, so it'd definitely not work at all."
He gets the feeling that he's either said the wrong thing or there's something he hadn't thought of, because Dazai isn't smiling as much anymore, but hopefully if he's realised how this won't work he'll leave him alone and then he can just get on with his work.
"You misunderstand," Dazai says, sounding far too serious for someone several years older than him who's still crouching on the floor so that his head's just barely looking over the top of his desk. "I wasn't asking for you to use your ability. What I was after was a... second opinion, of sorts. I wanted to know how you use it."
"I need to know. Because of reasons."
"Don't you already know how my ability works, though...?"
And now he didn't just look serious, or frowning, he looks downright frustrated, and he doesn't even know what he's said wrong.
"If you want to say something, just come out and say it, Dazai."
Ranpo's voice comes loud and clear over the noise and distance of the office between them.
Ranpo, who doesn't seem all that surprised, or at all bothered, by what was going on. Which at least eased up the pressure of the idea that whatever was going on, it was another imminent disaster or emergency.
Dazai hesitated, and then stood up, which now meant that instead of looking across his desk to meet his eyes, Junichiro needed to look up given he was still sitting down. His hands were in his coat's pockets and his expression wasn't really giving all that much away, but something about the tail and ears moving - even if he didn't know all that much about animal body language, or fox behaviour for that matter - suggested that he was agitated. Which wasn't saying much, but when it was Dazai, and he wouldn't have known that if he couldn't see the fur move...
"What I've been trying to say is, I'm not asking for the sake of learning about your ability. I already know as much as I need to know about that. What I'm asking for is... I need to be able to learn more about how to control my own illusions. I thought that asking you would help."
For a moment, he didn't say anything, because he didn't know what to say-
"But you don't have an illusion-based ability?"
"Do the changes to my body look like the result of an ability to you, Tanizaki-kun?"
"W-well, when you say it like that- not... not really... no? I just. It's strange to think of you having that kind of ability- uh... is that even the right kind of term for something like this?" He sighed, and saved his work. Kunikida was going to be annoyed about the drop in productivity but... "Hang on, I'm guessing if this isn't an ability, that means the Director's doesn't work on it, right?"
"Nope." It was kind of unnerving, the way that while he glanced over to see Ranpo looking in their direction, Dazai didn't move at all. Actually, no, that wasn't true - a part of him did move. A single ear. "Youkai magic doesn't run on the same rules. Because of that, Dazai might be hit by magic that he'd have automatically nullified if it was an ability." Which wasn't worrying or anything at all, clearly. And reminds him of what they'd been told about Lovecraft. Which made remembering what he'd managed to do feel like some sort of small miracle. "Which is both good and bad. But right now, the important thing is that no, the Director's ability doesn't work on it, so if Dazai wants to take control back..."
...He'll have to learn it the same way everyone else does, if they aren't in the Agency, Tanizaki finished.
"I guess that does make sense," he admits.
"So... how did you first get Light Snow under control? Unless-"
A sudden warmth from behind is all of the warning he gets before he feels familiar arms wrap around his front, and Naomi's speaking from right beside his ear.
"No, nii-sama did have some control back then, didn't you~?"
His mind goes blank against his will as the memories come to him, and it's only partly because he still really wishes that she'd stop acting like that and making a scene in public-
It's like how when Atsushi had brought up their entrance exams. He could still barely remember his other than the sheer terror and adrenaline that had kept him going. He'd prefer not to remember, if that was an option. He'd really like not to.
"I, uh," his brain stutters back to being able to function, which is harder than it should be with Naomi still clinging onto him. "That's- how about, we just go with, um- something simple. Like, what your upper and lower limits are."
Dazai blinks at him.
He gets the unnerving feeling that he's just broadcast everything he'd just been thinking about and not meant to outright say without having needed to say anything. For once, he doesn't mind Naomi's public clinging, because it gives him that slight feeling of support that he really needed. Even if he did wish she wouldn't-
"Okay. I think that I can safely say that I know what my upper limits are... but I really need to figure out how to do anything smaller than that."
"I... okay? Okay. So. What... is that, exactly?" What's making this awkward is that he's really starting to wish that Dazai had been able to go to, say, Kunikida about this. At least he had experience knowing how to teach people! Meanwhile, he just had experience being anxious and not knowing what to do, unless it meant infiltration and covert ops, which was exactly why the Port Mafia's boss had singled him out from everyone at the Agency to do some sort of exchange program thing at some unspecified time- he had no idea what he was doing, or where to start. "I mean, are those upper limits big, or is it, something we're going to need to work on later as well?"
"My upper limits get people hurt, they don't need improving-"
"Kitsune illusions aren't hard light, Dazai," Ranpo says, cutting across the conversation and whatever Junichiro himself might have been about to say, and he sounds annoyed, frustrated. It's his 'people are being stupid' voice. "They just show people things that aren't there! Don't talk tough when all you can do is-"
"Allow me to correct myself, then," Dazai says, and all of a sudden Junichiro is wishing he was somewhere else, anywhere else. And, mostly, that Dazai wasn't using that tone of voice on another member of the Agency like that. "My upper limits have hurt people. Is that enough?"
"But it's impossible."
Dazai seems to just... stare, unreadable, while their best detective calms down. What was strange was that he knew perfectly well how destructive illusions could be - he'd done things he wouldn't normally even consider, when people had threatened Naomi, endangering lives easily, even. But Ranpo and Dazai were talking about kitsune illusions like they were something entirely different.
"...I'm sure that if you asked," Dazai said, the words sounding heavy and weighted, "about what happened the other day... then Kunikida-kun would say otherwise."
Junichiro had seen and heard things the other day that had told him as much, but if he hadn't believed it then, the odd noise that somehow came out of Ranpo when Dazai said that confirmed that there was definitely something up with him as well. He had to wonder if maybe he was showing it more because now it wasn't just him, but Dazai, and everyone else, so he felt more comfortable about it.
Part of him hoped that was the case, at least.
He feels Naomi hold him tighter, and the fact that her hands had stopped wandering a while back says a lot about how she just wants to have someone to hold onto as well, right now.
"...Inari bless you," he hears Ranpo say, quietly enough that if he hadn't been straining his ears to hear it, he thinks he probably wouldn't have. "That was you. You were- I mean, of course it was you, but I just- thought that-"
"Does any of that even matter? All that matters right now is me figuring out how to get a hold of and control what I can do now."
I was wrong, Junichiro admits to himself in the privacy of his own mind, watching the exchange in front of him, Dazai slipping back into his mafia game face isn't the scariest thing in the world.
The scariest thing in the world is Ranpo looking like he hasn't got a clue what's going on anymore.
Inari bless you is what keeps circling around in Ranpo's head, even through the rest of what he's saying, the rest of what Dazai's saying, even though he knows the others are watching.
Somehow, the fact that it had been Dazai who'd been the second mononoke, who'd come into work the next day small and red and fluffy and acting like everything was new, had caught him off guard. Because it was Dazai, who was one of his few equals in terms of intellect and smarts in not just the Agency, but anywhere.
Because it was Dazai, he'd just assumed without even thinking, that he'd just... forgotten everything, somehow.
With a mononoke that strong, it would have made sense if Dazai were older. And if he was just as young as he said he was, then to have become as powerful that quickly made sense too, because it was Dazai.
But there were two different ways a mononoke could be created.
One was the most common way - a spirit got mixed up with a human, or human emotions, and when everything got intense enough, usually because of grief or anger or confusion or hate or just needing things to be sorted out right, a mononoke would be born. Drawing people in and destroying them. Things that weren't supposed to exist, and that had to be exorcised.
The other way... was by the spirit and human sides of the equation being mixed up right from the start. Both more stable, but also a potential ticking time bomb if things really went wrong-
Hanyou. Half-human kids.
They weren't exactly unheard of, they weren't discriminated against or anything. They were just... rare. Because things went wrong. Because humans could be cruel, and petty, and just as fickle with their attentions as they thought cats were. People got hurt, and... the kids usually got caught in the crossfire.
Usually it wasn't too bad. Usually they could handle things, found their own place in the world, settled down either on one side or the other, or found a decent middle ground.
Dazai, though - if this was true, then Dazai was the worst case scenario, where none of that happened and they never did, and it- explained too much. About everything.
Dazai wasn't just young, he was practically a kit still, by normal adult kitsune standards, but by human standards he was already an adult. Not one thing or the other. Having somehow never learned anything.
"All right," Ranpo said, "how about we start off slow, then? Basics. I'm nekomata, not kitsune, but I'm not stupid, I do know some things you should be capable of. Other than the shapeshifting."
"But I want control," Dazai said, somehow sounding like he was whining even when he was almost completely blank-faced. "Not to learn how to do more."
"This is control. Most of what you should be able to do is going to come naturally to you at some point, so it's better you learn now, rather than have it all blow up in your face."
Again, he holds back from saying.
He knows he isn't good at reading when things are rude or not when talking with people, but Dazai's like an adult cat who's forgotten how to use his claws. Or what his whiskers do.
Which isn't even exactly right, because as a hanyou, Dazai probably hadn't ever even learned in the first place to be able to forget.
He sighed, when Dazai still wasn't doing anything.
"Hey, Tanizaki - you don't think about using your ability, right? Like, it's got to be activated on purpose, but it's like Kunikida's, you just do it."
"Uh- yeah, I... I think that's pretty much how it works? I just-"
"Right," he continued, now that the important things had all been said, "so just - stop thinking about how and starting thinking of... I don't know, what's the smallest and most simple thing you can think of, Dazai?"
For a moment, no response. Which was starting to get more than a bit frustrating, because it wasn't like he was asking much-
And now Dazai was probably thinking he was being subtle, which he wasn't.
As subtle as a kit with a crush pulling that person's tail, Ranpo thinks snidely, but doesn't say. Then again, Poe was an adult human and he was just as clueless about how these things went. Not to mention how long Yosano had been trying to drag Kunikida into loosening up, and... well. It wasn't like it was anything out of the ordinary, he supposed, but what it was, was frustrating to watch. Even Poe's cluelessness got frustrating at times, as cute as it was.
"Come on, Dazai, you can think of something, we haven't got all day, you know..."
He just hoped that mentioning something small didn't get them a miniature - if illusionary - mafia executive in the offices.
"Uh, Ranpo-san, do you really think it's a good idea to push him like that, I mean- if-"
"Psh- Dazai only knows what he can do under pressure." He rolled his eyes, and then looked back at Dazai. "You're not going to get anything done if you think it's a great idea to put a mental block on things just because you think you're suddenly dangerous just because you blew up one time. So stop making a firestorm of a little fox-fire."
He stares for a moment longer, just long enough to smugly catch the slight expression of shock on the former mafioso's face, and turned away again, reaching back into the open bag of sweets he'd mixed up earlier.
He's already started to lose track of how many he's chewed on by the time he hears footsteps outside near the door - that could only be Kunikida and an exhausted and frustrated Atsushi, back from their training session - and already starting to wonder how long it's going to be before he gets any more good cases, his hand reaching back for another one, when-
"Dazai." Kunikida's voice was level and quiet, which on anyone else was probably supposed to be giving the impression they were keeping their cool, but on Kunikida... "Why is there fire floating over your paperwork?"
The snack still in his hand, he twisted so that he could turn to see, and there Dazai was, staring at the pile, which certainly looked like it was only a moment away from being set on fire.
"I can't touch it," Dazai was saying, dramatically serious. "If I touch it, then it's going to turn real, and then it really will burn all my paperwork. And my desk. Which would be awful. Wouldn't you agree, Kunikida-kun? So as you can see, there's absolutely no way I can do any of it."
Kunikida stared at the fox-fire with the intensity of someone who really didn't know what was going on, whose brain had already come close to breaking just the previous day.
Slowly, he turned away from Dazai's desk, eyes wide like he was questioning all of his life choices at once.
"Is... is that true?"
Tanizaki just shrugged awkwardly. Kenji was staring, but seemed more entranced with the idea that it was possible than anything. Atsushi seemed like he was the only one who wasn't really sure what to believe, which made sense, given he was one of the only other youkai in the office.
Ranpo just grinned, and purposefully put the snack into his mouth.
"How should I know? It's Dazai, isn't it?"
Of course he knew the fire was just fake. It was the same stuff foxes in the forests used to both mess around with humans and to lead them back on track. But he couldn't just lead everyone around by the hand. For one thing, they had to figure things out for themselves, there had to be at least some things they could do without him - and for another thing, things would just be boring if he did.
AN: "Mama" is a common way for young children to call their mother, as much as "Haha-ue" and "Kaa-san".
"Mofu-mofu", meanwhile, is the Japanese onomatopoeia for "soft", and "fluffy".
Baby Dazai was basically mixing the two up and calling her "Muffy" or something like that - because his mama was fluffy, of course.
My first experience with hanyou was Inuyasha, but the way it was handled (only human on a new moon) annoyed me a lot, and I feel wasn't a good portrayal of a half-human character, so... this is more a mix of other things I've seen since then.
No offence, but I feel as if in this chapter, the author got tired of this entire ark in general, as the entire situation was solved ridiculously fast. Now, I don't really understand Japanese, so this may not be accurate. But from what I see, both highly powerful opponents were ridiculously quickly subdued, and somehow Fitzgerald decided to side with the Mafia and the ADA for no reason. We didn't even get to know Fyodor's ability yet, and he's already defeated.
I, too, was disappointed in this chapter, but after collecting my thoughts, I decided that it wasn’t a bad way of ending this arc, if this indeed is the end. Sure it may have looked abrupt, but it could have been worse… Or so I like to tell myself.
(Warning: I try my best to be unbiased and objective but this may read like a lot of whining. Only proceed if you’re fine with that.)
The good:Akutagawa’s promise to Atsushi; appearance of the rest of ADA and Port Mafia; Fitzgerald saving the day; Ango and his crew appearing; that not-so-subtle nod to Odasaku in the end
The “I don’t have much of a good or a bad opinion on this”:Shin soukoku new combo move; Chuuya still in the book
The bad:Quick resolution to the arc; implied lobotomy(!?); Dazai and his keikaku doori antics again; strange sense of déjà vu since they used practically same buildup as the last arc, but now it’s the remix version
First of all, I’ll just have to throw out my wildest (not really) theory out here: Fyodor is still the “final boss”. Come on, he gets the moniker “The Demon” and gets jailed off like that? No, no. It doesn’t make sense at all, at least to me. So my guess is that Agatha and the Order of the Clock Tower will swoop in to try and mess with the Agency, but when they’re on the verge of defeat, Fyodor steps in and uses this chance to strike ADA for himself. So uh Guild Arc 2.0. Or something along those lines. This could’ve been a test drive. Or he could have other Rats in Russia waiting for orders in case there’s a Phase II. Call me optimistic, but that’s what I would like to believe.
We jailbreak from Azkaban and invade Ministry of Magic now.
There really isn’t much to say about Dazai proving himself a formidable chessmaster again, other than I called it on an earlier ask. I just hope I’m not the only one tired of him being right all the damn time. No one can be that all-seeing…
People keep asking about Chuuya. Some were disappointed he only had one panel, some were rejoicing because it was “in-character” he stayed because he enjoyed fighting. But Ranpo kinda confirmed Chuuya stayed not because he wanted to beat people, but because it’s faster that way than using his brains? He’s not dumb, but come on, why would he prolong his stay if at that time his current concern was to protect Mori/kill off Fukuzawa? So yeah, his fate doesn’t really interest me, because I’ve always thought he was someone who is too popular to die… Not important, because sheesh let’s face it, Asagiri hasn’t really fleshed him out yet and doesn’t seem to have the intention of wanting to anytime soon. (Light novel soon please? Or a backstory in the movie if they wanna get dat yen lmao)
I’m more curious about how Ranpo got out, because the last time Poe trapped him, he was transported back with Yosano after solving the case. Was there some unwritten rule that a person can be selective with who he brings back with him? I hope we get clarifications on this, I’m a sucker when it comes to analyzing abilities and their corresponding limits and restrictions. It bugs me that in BSD there are a lot of additions and contradictions when it comes to abilities and that they come up only when it’s convenient to the plot. (For example, anyone can activate Doppo Poetry as long as they have a page with them. I don’t think it’s been mentioned before, but anyway it bothered me for some reason.)
Another big thing this chapter: Akutagawa’s promise to Atsushi. I got an ask talking specifically about this, so I’ll write a post about that later. For now, I can just say that it’s probably the best thing that’s happened to Akutagawa after the “You got stronger” shoulder pat. I’m not expecting him to turn over a new leaf, now full of hope and vigor for life, but he’s trying and he might come up with his own concluson to an unanswered question in his heart: “What is my life worth living for?”
Oh and Atsushi being able to rip out abilities… Imagine if Wolverine can No Longer Human enemies… I don’t like this at all, but what can you do, he’s the protagonist anyway so he gets a pass.So for now I’ll be bumping Atsushi to No. 2 of the most powerful known Ability users second only to Lovecraft. Granted, he had to team up with Akutagawa to come up with this Ultimate Dark Claw thing, but still. I guess I just like balance. In any case, one can argue that shin soukoku needs to grow stronger if they want to fend off the coming Europeans.
Food for thought: If Dazai can nullify abilities and Atsushi can also cancel out abilities with tiger claws, will they cause a singularity if they got into a serious fight?
Fitzgerald! He didn’t care about Fyodor getting his leftover assets actually, but remember, it was Fyodor who crashed Moby Dick. He also reasoned that while he has no interest in whatever he’s “left” behind, he didn’t want a rat using his leftover resources. In short, he did it to spite the Russian. So while I can respect that, I was still hoping that instead of Dazai coming up with the deal (how did he even know Fitz acquired Eyes of God?), it would be Katai who would call this to attention. After all, as someone who is knowledgeable about technology and electronics, he could have picked up information on Eckleburg. Of course, there’s a fair bit of chance that he heard about it from Ranpo or Atsushi (they were there when Alcott asked for help) but there was no explanation for how Dazai came to that knowledge. Ah. Well.
I mean, until now we don’t know how Natsume saved Katai.
Dazai then went on to say that Fitzgerald will declare war on them again so this + the yacht are the last friendly gestures they’re going to get from the Guild. Wonder what happens to Lucy and Poe now…
They totally could have asked for a Special Ability Permit in exchange for their services but okay Richard!
The victory afterparty. Kunikida and Katai were nowhere to be seen, so was Yosano. You know who else we haven’t seen? Hawthorne and Katsura. With Katsura, he could have been helped by Kunikida… who I believe is still mourning the deaths of the innocent children… They should really address that next chapter. Or whatever. As for our Winter Soldier, he’s either roaming around aimlessly or he was captured. Who knows? We don’t know how he got mind-controlled either (another Rat? or suffered a similar fate with Ivan…). But if his goal was to heal Mitchell, then Yosano is the perfect answer.
What else? Oh! Fuku wasn’t in the party too right? Meeting up with Natsume and Mori? I don’t know… As you can see, I come up with various scenarios and get them wrong 75% of the time. I was being dramatic too over Elise even though I knew she’d come back, but… This was fast. Glad to see her again though!
Oops. I rambled enough. Those were my thoughts, more or less. As I’ve said, it was a fairly standard BSD chapter. Disappointing, but still has a lot of loose ends which can be neatly tied up in upcoming chapters. I know a lot of people liked how this chapter ended, but… I’m not one of them, I’m afraid. I hope to be more enthusiastic about future chapters.