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Payoff

Dazai throws Chuuya the knife with thoughtless habit. He doesn't need to aim, doesn't need to care that Chuuya will cut himself on it, doesn't care about the dark of the basement or how his feet slip on the dust that Chuuya's destruction has caused. Chuuya catches the knife by its handle without missing a beat and without flinching.

It doesn't strike him immediately, that he's done that. That Chuuya could read the lack of intent on him so easily.

When it does, he forces a chuckle past the defensiveness rising up his throat. "You should know," he says, and he doesn't remember what he's even talking about.

Chuuya clicks his tongue impatiently and turns around. Dazai wants to look anywhere but the silhouette of him walking away; his eyes catch at Chuuya's shoulder, where his hair is thrown messily—longer than…

He looks away.

But Chuuya turns to face him suddenly, and his face is dark with emotion again, though not the same kind as the shaking of anger, excitement, worry that he's demonstrated before.

"No one caught you, right?" he asks.

It takes a shamefully long second for Dazai to understand what he means. He forces his shoulders to sag and says, "Of course not. Why, want to make sure no one could if you couldn't?"

Chuuya scrutinizes him with downturned lips. He's silent, focused, and the sight isn't unusual but it's also different.

Chuuya at twenty-two looks and acts the same as he did at eighteen. Dazai doesn't doubt that he's matured, is persuaded that the executive's position Chuuya now boasts is more than well-earned, that Mori must have gained a trust in him that he never thought he could when they both acted like children. But Dazai also knows that Chuuya will always rise up to the challenge of him. No amount of maturity can change that.

Dazai taunts, Chuuya snaps back. This is how it goes.

Chuuya's face has thinned, his eyes have darkened, the posturing he did as a teenager now sticks to him like a second skin, natural and easy. But his straightforwardness is real. His emotions run genuine. He's always been made of tougher stuff than Dazai; the lifestyle they once shared will never get under Chuuya's skin the way it did his own. Now with the years the image Chuuya makes isn't a perfect fit. It's similar enough to be recognizable, to be played; it's different enough that Dazai feels something clench at the pit of his stomach.

Dazai wants to smile at the thought, and he also wants to clench his teeth hard enough that his jaw breaks.

He doesn't know what Chuuya sees on his face in that moment. Dazai used to be able to read Chuuya like an open book, but his mind remembers less than his body; Chuuya's expression is inscrutable.

It makes him feel vulnerable in ways he hadn't expected.

"Right," Chuuya says. He sheathes his knife, secures his coat atop his shoulder where his—longer—hair is resting. "Now get that place looking like a kidnapping happened and get the fuck out of here."

Dazai plays Chuuya a little, after this. Makes him ridicule himself, tears an honest laugh out of the bleak depths of his own chest. Just to prove that he still can.

He's not sure whom he's proving it to.

 


 

This question—no one caught you, right?—stays with him, and Dazai doesn't know why. He knew his assumption that Chuuya had looked for him was wrong even as he made it, because Chuuya would've been too busy fuming that Dazai said nothing at the time to even want to see him. Dazai doesn't think Chuuya has spared a second's worth of his time in trying to find him.

So he doesn't know why Chuuya asked at all.

(Dazai remembers Chuuya in superposed images:

The colorful flash of a young woman's clothes as the man who smells like death tugs him along the wide halls of the port mafia's headquarters for the first time, pace brisk, and it's all cloudy because Dazai is high on painkillers for his leg and the burns along his shoulder blades that shift painfully every time he leans on the crutch, but it's not enough that he doesn't notice the little boy she is holding loosely. The information travels at a snail's pace to his brain, so they're already past him and Mori when Dazai turns around to look and meets the surprise-open face of the boy with red hair—

The red glow on Chuuya's body once the old man who teaches English at their school turns around, and Chuuya floats up, scowling, until he can crawl on the ceiling and escape through the open window right beside Dazai's desk. That is until Dazai reaches up to tickle the skin between sock and pant hem and Chuuya crashes painfully on top of him, swearing like a sailor—

"Cut your fucking hair," Chuuya says after Dazai falls for the third time because he can't see in front of him with one eye wrapped shut. They're twelve and Dazai is taller than Chuuya now, but it's night, they're out of the city, traipsing through a muddy riverbank until they're completely filthy with it. The dirt covers the taint of blood that won't come out from under their fingernails no matter how hard they try, and there's laughter trapped in their chest, almost as painful as sobs. They ache with it.

"Grow yours," Dazai replies, and Chuuya rolls his eyes, but he does.

Dazai remembers Chuuya's fist connecting with his face, the crack of his bones under such small, powerful hands, the spar's referee making a face and saying, Again, because that's what Mori told him to do.

He remembers Chuuya getting angry instead of sad, filling the heavy silence inside him with white-hot rage in a way Dazai will never achieve. He remembers spying on Chuuya's room in Kouyou's quarters just to annoy him and witnessing a fight that was not his to witness. Remembers discovering that not all is green on the other side of the pasture as Chuuya goes to bed without undressing, face red with shame, fingers swollen and bleeding from a grown woman's discipline.

He doesn't make fun of Chuuya's fancy gloves after that. He knows the scars underneath.

The phrase childhood friend is not one that Dazai feels he can use to describe Chuuya. Every good memory is weighed down by ten bad ones. Every stolen smile they've shared breaks in the face of all the times Dazai has hurt Chuuya or let Chuuya hurt for him, all the times Chuuya has worked out his own pain through sparring with his full strength even though he knows Dazai can't compete, leaving Dazai bruised black and blue.

It doesn't change the fact that Dazai still knows the feeling of Chuuya's hair under his fingers when Chuuya falls asleep against him, vulnerable like he never is with anyone else; knows how to make Chuuya laugh and how to make him cry; knows how much of his slow fall from empty to emptier came once he stopped looking at Chuuya to look at work instead. He remembers Chuuya smiling at ten and he remembers Chuuya glaring in silent worry at eighteen. He doesn't think he can ever forget.

Chuuya is a vivid reminder that he can never have this: a boy to call a best friend, to traipse through mud with at nighttime, to fall asleep next to. The facsimiles they created are stained with violence, and Chuuya is embedded between Dazai's ribs not like heartache, but like a stab wound.)

Maybe Chuuya was worried, Dazai thinks, which is absurd, because he knows Chuuya was worried.

Maybe Chuuya's stopped making sense to him, is what he doesn't want to think about.

 


 

Kunikida is the Director's liaison with the special ability department most of the time. When Kunikida is unavailable, the role falls into Dazai's hands almost sweetly.

Dazai personally thinks that Yosano or Ranpo could do it, but one would interrogate him about it over their weekly drinking, and the other only needs the incentive to want to look and see what Dazai wants no one to look at.

As it turns out, Kunikida is busy.

Spring is an amusing time of the year because half of the office has allergies, and if one of them sneezes then all the others do by reflex. Dazai has induced quite a few sneezing chains during downtime, and Naomi can look innocent all she wants, but Dazai knows a prankster when he sees one.

Kunikida has a mask over his mouth and nose because both his hands are too busy writing and typing to bother covering his face and avoid spitting in everyone else's; his voice is curt, a little rough, when he says, "Just go, Dazai, Sakaguchi's been waiting for ten minutes already."

Dazai stretches his arms above his head, digs his behind further into the formerly neat stack of paperwork he's sitting on. Kunikida is too tired to even glare at him for it. "But I don't want to see Ango."

"Well I don't want to have to see your face every day, but here I am, aren't I?"

Dazai grins, is about to reply in kind, but someone touches his shoulder and gently pushes him off Kunikida's desk. Atsushi doesn't look apologetic at all once their eyes meet. He picks a folder from the stack Dazai has ruined and says, "Dazai-san, just get to work."

And, well. Atsushi is very hard to say no to.

So Dazai drags his feet to the booth at the entrance of the office floor from which Ango has probably heard everything, sits down in front of the man, and doesn't try not to let his impatience show.

The bright fury and ache he felt when he met Ango again months ago are easy enough to hide, now. Dazai makes this effort at least. Ango's gotten the message already.

Ango clears his throat, opens the purple folder he was holding in front of them and points to the map in the middle of it. "We've tracked the stolen data there, but…"

Dazai hums. "That's port mafia property," he says, eyeing the map.

"Indeed," Ango replies. "Which is why that's all we can do for you. And why I highly recommend you drop this case altogether."

Dazai picks up the folder—doesn't smile when Ango pulls his hand back as if scalded—and cradles it in his lap, trying to think.

Ango doesn't let him. "Dazai-kun," he drawls, in that same concerned-condescending tone he's always used and which used to make Dazai laugh but now makes him want to spit bile, "the department really would like to avoid any further all-out conflict between the agency and the mafia."

"Too much work?" Dazai mutters.

"Too much risk," Ango retorts. His face is pale and tired. He looks thirty-five, not twenty-six, and Dazai has to snuff out a spark of something too close to sympathy inside of him, despite everything. "Between the two of you, you possess way too much destructive power. I shouldn't be telling you this, but…"

Dazai lifts his head to look at him. Ango looks sincere, but he did back then as well. There's no telling how sincere Ango is in any given situation.

"We were lucky that you focused your efforts onto getting rid of common enemies these past few months," Ango says heavily. "And that your conflict about Nakajima was resolved through individual fights rather than an all-out war." Dazai almost looks behind, almost seeks the shine of Atsushi's hair as if to make sure he's still here, as Ango continues: "The department can't do anything to shut either of you down because you both have a permit, but we are only the surface of the government's actions toward gifted individuals."

"You think I don't know that?" Dazai replies evenly. His fingers are caught between the pages in his lap, paper digging into the pad of his thumb.

Ango looks pityingly at him and says, "I don't think you do, no."

Dazai is so surprised that he doesn't react when Ango's fingers reach for the folder and take it back. The paper cuts against his thumb, draws a drop of blood to his skin that he sucks into his mouth absently. The taste is as familiar as sugar.

"Sorry," Ango whispers—about the cut.

He immediately looks guilty for saying it.

Dazai almost, almost feels too angry not to respond.

"The special ability department can't—and won't—do anything to stop you even if you declare war on the mafia again. But that's all I can promise." Ango tugs at his collar and looks through the window. The crawling vine that covers this side of the building has grown thick with the warming weather, and sunlight pours green and gold through its leaves and onto his face. Ango's eyes flutter for a moment as if he hasn't felt this sort of warmth on him for eons; and Dazai's mind offers to him a similar sight, whiskey on his tongue and muted yellow light overhead, as three friends relax on uncomfortable bar stools.

He swallows, slow and easy, so his throat won't knot up. "We need the data erased, though," he says. "For our client's safety."

The spell is broken; Ango turns back to him, looking severe and exhausted. "Stop accepting clients who get tangled in the port mafia's messes, then. But don't break into their facilities."

"It wouldn't be the first time. I'm sure I can squeeze in some leniency from them even if they catch me." Dazai's smile aches. "My previous boss still likes me very much, after all."

"And how long do you think Mori Ougai's leniency will last?" Ango questions, teeth clenching almost unconsciously. "I do hope you're not naïve enough to think his offer to have you back was more than a ploy to beat your opponents of the time, Dazai-kun."

Dazai isn't. He doesn't think Ango knows Mori like he does, however. He sits back into the couch, sighs some of his tension out, and crosses his arms across his chest.

"Can you do it?" he asks, looking directly into Ango's eyes, and Ango tugs his glasses up deliberately slowly before answering.

"You know perfectly well that we can't even consider the thought of encroaching on mafia property."

"Miss being the arbiter, don't you?" Dazai smirks joylessly. "How I wish I'd been there to see your boss hand that permit to Mori. I bet Mori laughed until he couldn't breathe."

Ango's face doesn't twitch, but Dazai reads the truth of his assumption on it anyway.

"As I said," Ango says, breaking away from Dazai's eyes. "You'll just have to tell your client that they're free to hire any private contractor to retrieve the data instead of you."

"Sure." They both know no private investigator will risk encroaching on mafia property either.

Dazai waits for Ango to move out of the way so he can rise to his feet as well; his mind is already set on letting Kunikida deal the blow of this response to their client and on what he can do to occupy his afternoon in the current lack of pressing matters.

But Ango doesn't move.

When Dazai throws him another annoyed glance, he says, "There is a way," in such a low voice that Dazai has to strain to hear it.

"There is?"

Ango broods in silence for a moment. His eyes roam over Dazai's face thoughtfully, his fingers toy with the edge of the pocket where he probably keeps his phone; then his shoulders sag, and he says, "Follow me."

Dazai doesn't hesitate.

He doesn't need to, but he texts Atsushi quickly to let him know he's gone. Atsushi is so bad at using phones that he probably won't notice for hours anyway, so it's as if he hasn't told anyone at all. Dazai rather likes the thrill of following someone he hates into the unknown with no warning.

Kunikida will notice, but will be too busy to care for a few hours anyway even if he disappears.

Once they're out of the building, Ango walks away with a look that orders Dazai to stay put and takes his phone out of his pocket. Dazai feels strongly enough about being ordered around by Ango that he almost steps close to listen in anyway, but refrains; it's more interesting to try to guess who Ango might be calling. His face is pinched, his voice too low to discern any specific tone. He doesn't look comfortable, but he doesn't look scared either.

Dazai quits his quiet compliance when Ango cuts the call and gestures to his car. "No thanks," he says. "Wherever we're going, we're either walking or taking the train."

Ango eyes him tiredly. "I'm not going to cause a car accident to kill you. Not my style," he adds, bitter.

"Forgive me if I'd rather not give you the opportunity," Dazai murmurs.

"Dazai-kun, I wouldn't—"

"Don't finish that sentence, Ango."

Ango shuts his mouth. The sound of his teeth knocking together isn't as satisfying as Dazai thought it would be.

"Fine," Ango says, and Dazai wonders how much longer he can push this man before he snaps.

Ango tells him that he needs to fetch something at the offices he occupies when he's in Yokohama. "I'd offer to drive you to the meeting point, but since you don't want to, I'll let you go alone," he declares. "I need to drive back to Tokyo."

"Meeting point?"

"Someone from the port mafia owes me a debt. They agreed to retrieve the data for me." Ango takes a slip of paper and a pen out of some hidden pocket in his jacket and scribbles an address down quickly. "Here. They should be there in an hour, so don't be late."

"How do I know this isn't a trap?" Dazai asks, mouth twitching. He doesn't take the paper.

Ango throws him a look so heavy with irritation that he can't help but smile.

Of course, Ango ends up coming with him. They stop by the department's offices, and Ango spends a cigarette's lifespan upstairs while Dazai waits at the bottom, leaning silently against a wall. He comes back down with a thin file caught under his elbow and without his tie.

They walk tensely in the warm spring sun. Dazai feels a tad regretful that Ango doesn't seem to have allergies himself, but it stands to reason that someone who once played three gifted agencies at once would have a solid constitution. The trees lining the sidewalks have bloomed pink and yellow; the stroll would be almost peaceful if it were anyone but Ango walking by his side. Dazai watches the shifting patterns of shadows on the ground and doesn't say a word.

He doesn't care much what sort of debt a low-ranker of the mafia owes to the special ability department's advisor. He doesn't care much about Ango in general. That weakness died with Odasaku's last breath. But it's his job, and the situation is curious enough that it staves off the boredom.

The meeting point, as it turns out, is by the docks, nearer to the beach than the port itself. It's just outside of mafia territory but Dazai tenses anyway; in these parts of town there's always someone watching.

Dazai is in the process of wondering what sort of idiot set a meeting between mafia and ministry here—what sort of a fool Ango is for accepting—when he hears, "Sakaguchi."

They both breathe in at the same time, Chuuya coming out from behind a shipping container's shadow and Dazai stuck in his tracks watching him with no time to school his face into something less telling.

They don't stay like this—frozen in place staring at each other—for long. Chuuya's fury turns to Ango, and no one could've stopped the way he throws himself at the man, grabs his collar and shoves him against the ridged side of the container. The thing bends under the weight that Chuuya has given his motion.

Ango cries out from the shock but doesn't have time to speak—Chuuya leans into him and says, "You told him?"

"I didn't," Ango replies between his teeth. His glasses are askew, his forehead shiny with sweat. "Nakahara—"

Chuuya drops him, looking stung. It's a miracle Ango stays standing at all, but he manages, under Dazai's surprised staring. The file he was holding is on the floor. He bends down to pick it up.

Chuuya has his back to Dazai now, so Dazai walks to Ango's side to see him properly. His coat is on his shoulders but he's made without the extra layers today; all he's wearing under is a white shirt, no waistcoat or jacket.

His face is red, for some reason.

"Chuuya," Dazai greets.

He barely gets a glance in answer. Ango holds the file out and Chuuya snatches it from his fingers without a word, and when he makes to give the USB drive he's holding to the man, Ango shakes his head, looking toward Dazai.

"Is that the data?" Dazai asks lightly.

Chuuya's glove makes a small leathery sound when he tightens his grip on the drive. "It's what Spectacles told me to get him."

He hands it over, however reluctantly. Dazai takes it from him and doesn't allow himself to think about the way Chuuya's fingers shudder at his touch.

"Well," Ango says. They both turn to look at him. "Now that this is settled, I'll take my leave."

He doesn't wait for an answer and doesn't offer for Dazai to follow him. Dazai can't pay too much attention to Ango's retreating back when Chuuya is standing right next to him, anyway.

He slips the drive into his pocket. Looks sideways at Chuuya. Finds that no, his appearance hasn't become less striking in the weeks since their last meeting. Dazai knows that Chuuya cuts the most impressive silhouette at night, when the glow of his power rushes over his skin and makes him look less human; but even in tranquil daylight, even standing between rows of rusted ship parts, Chuuya catches the eye. A shiny thing for a magpie's nest.

So of course, Dazai says, "I almost didn't see you coming, shorty."

"That's because you've become dull and mindless," Chuuya replies instantly. He makes a hissing sound then, too angry to be a sigh. "Whatever."

Dazai realizes, when Chuuya turns around to leave, that he doesn't want him to.

"Why did you owe Ango a debt?" he asks.

It seems to be the right thing to say, because Chuuya stops, and his foot digs deep into concrete. "None of your business."

Dazai's head is rushing. Chuuya's words and actions since they've met again run through his mind in loops, in sequences, broken down to every breath and every movement, every standstill and wordless agreement. "Isn't it?" he presses. Chuuya is tense as he looks over his shoulder, blue eyes prudent and embarrassed.

This is definitely the most interesting thing Dazai's seen all day. Possibly all week. And he spent the night pouring over Yosano's research notes.

"You don't owe debts," he muses aloud. "You've always avoided owing anything to anyone like the plague. Everyone owes you, Chuuya, not the other way around."

"Why do you even care?" Chuuya growls, annoyed now. "So I owed this guy one. Big deal. We're even now."

"But you didn't want me to know about it."

"I didn't want anyone to know about it."

Dazai smiles. "No," he says, stepping forward. Chuuya turns toward him fully, tense as a bow; his collar is open and Dazai can see the press of tendons under his skin, at the crook of his neck. "You didn't want me, specifically, to know about it."

Chuuya wouldn't have reacted so violently if it didn't have anything to do with Dazai. Dazai's always been the exception to all of Chuuya's careful control; the screw that finds its way through skin and bone and twists.

He's level with Chuuya now. Chuuya is looking up at him with a frown, angry in a usual, comforting way, but his face is still flushed. His silence too careful.

"What did you do?" Dazai asks.

"Why do you care?" Chuuya snaps back. He still looks flustered.

Dazai huffs, amused. "It obviously has something to do with me. Come on, Chuuya, just spill. I'll figure it out eventually."

He expects Chuuya to relent, then, because Chuuya always does—always did. Dazai asks, Chuuya refuses. Dazai asks again, Chuuya accepts.

This is how it goes.

Chuuya's lips thin into a smile, and he says: "Figure it out, then."

He steps backward, just enough so he can turn around. Dazai hadn't realized how close they were. Chuuya's coat brushes against his torso when Chuuya hoists it up his shoulder, and for a second his hair threatens to do the same with Dazai face; Dazai holds his breath as if that'll prevent him from feeling how soft it is anyway.

No one caught you, right? Chuuya's voice had said. Surprisingly hesitant and hopeful.

"Did you help me?" Dazai doesn't understand the words even as they come out of his mouth, but they must be right, because Chuuya falters just long enough for Dazai to grab him by the wrist and pull. Chuuya is too graceful to stumble, but the step he takes not to fall into Dazai's body is still messy.

He tugs at Dazai's grip, clenches his teeth. "Fuck off," is his answer.

"Chuuya." There's no helping the confusion spreading through Dazai. "What did you do?"

"I said figure it out—"

"I just did." Dazai squeezes Chuuya's wrist to be contradictory; he's not surprised to find the end of Chuuya's knife digging menacingly into the fabric of his waistcoat in return, right above his heart. Chuuya isn't meeting his eyes anymore but Dazai can't find satisfaction in this alone. "Tell me what you did."

"Feeling off-balance?" Chuuya asks mildly. Dazai gives a short tug on his arm, as if trying to push Chuuya closer and make the knife cut into him—and Chuuya curses, stepping back, lowering the knife immediately.

He shouldn't find it endearing. As it is there's warmth in his chest in spite of the confusion, because this is familiar. This is usual. Chuuya refuses to hurt him outside of agreed-upon combat, no matter that Dazai has hurt him that way before. Dazai lets go of Chuuya's wrist and lets his finger hook into the hem his glove for a second, knuckles pressing into warm skin, a gesture from his childhood that he doesn't have to think to make.

There's a lapse of still time before Chuuya shakes him off.

The silence that follows is less charged with energy. Dazai breaks it by saying, "You had Ango help me."

Chuuya glares at him.

Dazai's heart is beating painfully against his ribs. "When?"

"Don't act like you don't fucking know," Chuuya snaps.

Chuuya's never been ashamed of helping Dazai, which means that whatever he did clashes against other loyalties of his. And there's only been one time in Dazai's life when he's been in need of protection.

Maybe Ango was right to call him naïve, he thinks shakily.

"You're the reason I was never found," he says. "You had Ango stop the government from tracking me."

Dazai had traveled the country without stopping for two years after leaving. Sleeping in hotels or out in the streets, using fake papers and a fake name, working small jobs that only paid in cash. Dyeing his hair a different color every month.

He had known that it wouldn't be enough at the time; he had expected to be busted out of all the hiding places he took within days; but weeks went by, and months, and years; when he came back to Yokohama, no welcoming wall of bullets waited for him.

Dazai had put it up to luck or incompetence at the time.

There's a smugness to Chuuya's face now that wasn't there before. Dazai realizes belatedly that it's because his mouth is open on his own surprise, and he shuts it too quickly. "Ango wouldn't have accepted," he says, and he knows he sounds accusing.

Chuuya shrugs. "Believe what you want, Dazai."

"He wouldn't have wasted a debt from you on something as stupid as getting me data from a client," he continues. "This doesn't make any sense."

"Sakaguchi never did make any sense to you, did he?" Chuuya mutters.

Dazai steps forward; Chuuya steps back. They look at each other in silence, both of them knowing that in a contest of physical strength, Dazai can't do anything to stop Chuuya from leaving or knocking him out and abandoning him here to be found and devoured.

"You're so sentimental," he says softly. Chuuya's face colors on anger, so Dazai pushes. "You talk big, but it turns out even you can become a traitor, Chuuya."

"Don't fucking call me that." Chuuya's voice is lower and rougher than Dazai's ever heard it, hot with disgust and shame. "I'm no traitor."

"What do you call helping a traitor escape then?"

"I call it helping a friend."

Dazai's breathing stills.

Chuuya doesn't look angry so much as pitying. "I knew Sakaguchi would agree to help because he fucking cares about you." He rubs a hand over his face and breathes, hard, into his own fingers. When he opens his eyes again, they're more tired than Dazai has ever seen them. "God knows why."

Dazai doesn't know how to reply to that.

The shadow is stark here because the day is so light outside; in it Chuuya's hair looks a dark blond and his eyes a deeper blue, and Dazai knows, suddenly, that he's been fighting himself over nothing for a long time.

Chuuya doesn't step away when he approaches this time. His gaze is weighed by suspicion but his stance is relaxed and open. Dazai puts a hand on Chuuya's shoulder, and Chuuya tenses, but doesn't move.

"I thought you were angry that I left," he says.

"Of course I was," Chuuya replies. "Mister big fucking shot executive, calling yourself my partner and running away when things get a little tough." His words aren't as harsh as they could be, and they both know it, but Dazai lets the lie slip and tightens his grip over cloth, muscle, bone.

Chuuya is so warm.

"It was a stupid decision," Chuuya mutters, looking somewhere under Dazai's chin.

"I would've died if I'd stayed," Dazai says. Sincere.

"I know. That's why I did what I did, asshole."

He has to laugh at that. "So you thought I was stupid, and you've always wanted me dead, and you helped me anyway. What does that say about you?"

"Can't you just be grateful and shut up," Chuuya groans, swatting Dazai's hand off his shoulder to step back. "It was a stupid plan, but it was the first thing I'd seen you do for yourself, and I wasn't gonna let anyone fuck with that."

The warmth in Dazai's chest feels tight now, pressurized almost to the point of bursting. He doesn't know if it'll do so through vile words or honest tears, so he doesn't answer.

It's easier to look at Chuuya's mouth and then his eyes and say, "Shall I give you a kiss as thanks?"

Chuuya takes just a second too long to reply for the thought to have been swiftly dismissed, but his voice is even. "Just get the fuck out of here, Dazai."

Dazai bows dramatically, as much to annoy Chuuya as to hide his own grin. Chuuya is walking up the side of a pile of containers when he straightens up, body facing the sky.

"Chuuya," Dazai calls.

Chuuya turns his head toward the ground. "Mmh?"

"Thank you."

He means it more sincerely than he's ever meant anything.

Chuuya's hair is in his face, floating a little from the gravity shifts; the low light of the dock masks the imprint of fatigue on his skin and makes him look like a child, the grin he gives Dazai that of a twelve-year-old boy rather than a twenty-two-year-old mafioso. His features change from handsome to young, his hands from leather-bound to covered in mud.

Chuuya has never hesitated to call Dazai a friend in a privacy of his own mind.

"You'd have done the same for me," he says, and the blade of his existence leaves Dazai's ribs at last.

The stab wound starts to scab.