Actions

Work Header

don't you ever tame your demons

Chapter Text

It is a universal truth that power rests in the hands of only a minority of those who seek it.

If power was plentiful, as easy to find as a blade of grass in a spring meadow, it would lose its appeal. Nobody covets what everyone has, and as power gets passed through the grasping hands of the ambitious and wealthy, it loses its influence, becomes diluted each time it gets shared.

There was something alluring about the precious few who could get and maintain power in their society, the top one percent of the top one percent, who hardly ever acknowledged the existence of others in their tier. However, on rare days, in luxurious hotels situated in thriving cities, one might be lucky enough to witness a congregation of the elite, the top echelons of society, the people who held all the power. When the situation was right, or the draw enticing enough, it was possible to gather all the power of society into one room.

These were the people with armies at their beck and call, who held no public office but could overthrow governments with a phone call, they were the people who could make or break a person with a flick of their wrist, and they were all present to see Chuuya.

Even though they kept polite conversation with their acquaintances, and rarely bothered to approach directly, Chuuya could feel their gazes lingering on him as he walked by. Their eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the enticing curve of his ass in trousers too tight to be considered formal. Their handshakes were marked by brushing fingers, their smiles bordered on leers, hands would reach out and slide against his body as he weaved through the crowd, and Chuuya reveled in every second of it.

It was at these events, which happened too far apart and far too infrequently, where he felt just a taste of the power that these people bathed in. It was only here, when the elite lusted for his time, that Chuuya could pretend the collar around his neck was a fashion statement, pretend the guard at his back was for his protection rather than a glorified dog keeper, pretend the piercing looks from dull gray eyes belonged to another sexually charged elite and not the man who had owned Chuuya since he had been marked as Deviant.

There were two minorities who could classify as having power.

The first group was those around him, those who were born into wealthy families or climbed their way to the top of the social ladder. To them, power was a blessing. To Chuuya, and to the second group of people, power was a curse.

Due to being identified younger than most, Chuuya couldn’t remember much about his life before he was identified as being one of the minority of people born with supernatural abilities. It was a small blessing that Chuuya had never had a taste of normality. It meant he had adapted quickly to life as a Deviant, so much so that he was considered well-behaved enough to be allowed to mingle with his owner’s business clientele.

Chuuya knew that many of the Deviant lived in squalor, that they were fed only enough to keep them alive and were beaten over the slightest infractions. In contrast, he had become a nearly invaluable asset for his owner; it was amazing what a pair of spread legs could do to help broker a business deal. Since his body was what made money, Chuuya was dressed in clothes tailored to his form, was given strict regiments in regard to exercise, eating, and maintaining his appearance, and any punishments were devised to prevent permanent damage to his body.

It wasn’t the same as freedom, but it was about the best life someone like Chuuya could get, and he was grateful for it. He had to be.

A hand touched Chuuya’s shoulder and he glanced over it, acknowledging the man who had been following him around the room for the last hour (and for the better part of three years). Although Émile was officially Chuuya’s bodyguard, he was one of the rare people who treated Chuuya like an actual human being.

Right now, Émile was giving him a slightly apologetic smile as he murmured, “It’s time.”

Did you see who he picked?” Chuuya asked, slipping into French in an attempt to prevent the conversation from being overheard.

A woman, she has blond hair.”

A smirk danced around Chuuya’s lips and he switched back to English. “That’s really helpful, Émile.”

His guard shrugged, biting back a smile of his own. “Does it matter who he picked?”

The smirk vanished, along with Chuuya’s playful mood. It didn’t matter at all. It didn’t matter if the person was twice his age or barely legal, it didn’t matter if Chuuya was attracted to them or not, or if they even knew his name. Chuuya would leave the party, follow them to their hotel suite, and give them whatever they wanted. Perhaps, if they were gracious, he would get some sort of pleasure out of the evening but with these people, it was more likely that Chuuya would be kicked out the room an hour later and forced to pick up whatever pieces of his dignity that were tossed out with him. His body didn’t actually belong to him, and the reminder never failed to sour whatever hint of power Chuuya got from these events.

“Hey, Chuuya, I didn’t mean-” Émile scrambled to backtrack, picking up on the rapid change of mood.

Chuuya shook his head. “You shouldn’t apologize to a Deviant, they’ll question your loyalties. Besides, you were only speaking the truth.” Chuuya turned, gaze immediately meeting dull gray from where it watched him across the room. “I suppose I can’t put it off any longer.”

With that, Chuuya began to weave his way through the crowd and towards the one corner of the room he had gone out of his way to avoid all evening. Even if it was the last place he wanted to be, Chuuya only slowed down to return a flirtatious comment here or there (visibly stalling would have dire consequences the next morning). Now that the person who would have unfettered access to Chuuya for the rest of the night had been chosen, the least Chuuya could give the other hopefuls was a side glance. When Chuuya reached the man who had organized the party, the man who controlled every aspect of his life, he inclined his head in a display of subservience.

“Nakahara.” The cool use of his name was an order in itself and Chuuya raised his gaze from his shoes to indicate he was paying attention. His owner waved a hand towards the woman standing next to him. “Miss Higuchi, a brand new associate of my company.”

Chuuya flicked his gaze to study the woman from underneath his eyelashes. It was a skill he had perfected: the ability to evaluate a person while masking the glance as a bold suggestive gesture. Unlike most of those who wound up on the other side of this particular stare, the woman didn’t so much as flush the palest shade of pink. Instead, she gave him a smile too cold to be sincere, the sharp look in her eye indicating that she knew exactly what Chuuya was doing.

“I trust you can provide Miss Higuchi with the finest of Lemaire hospitality?”

It wasn’t really a question considering there was only one viable answer, but Chuuya dutifully spoke the expected response, “It will be my honor, sir.”

His owner gave a curt nod and moved further into the room to continue mingling with his guests. Once he was out of earshot, Chuuya gave the woman a charming smile, hoping that she warmed up to him sooner rather than later. “Would you prefer to stay at the party a bit longer, Higuchi-sama?”

The ice on her face melted into surprise, and Chuuya wasn’t sure if he should be insulted or relieved that the woman was more interested by his word choice than the hint of color on his lips (designed to draw attention to his mouth) or the sheer shirt that did little to hide his upper body from anyone’s gaze. She tilted her head. “I was under the impression that you’ve spent your life in France.”

“I have been gratefully employed to Monsieur Lemaire for most of my life,” Chuuya admitted, “Despite being born in Japan, all of my knowledge of your country comes from the tutoring I have received.”

It always seemed to surprise others that Chuuya’s training had been exceedingly well-rounded; though his skill behind closed doors was commendable, such things as knowing how to converse with Lemaire’s clients in their native tongue or how to blend into the highest society crowds were what made Chuuya different from the whores that could be picked up on the street corner. The use of Japanese honorifics was among the most basic of his lessons.

Higuchi seemed to file that information away in her head before she turned on her heel. “My room is on the seventh floor, number twenty-two. Be there in exactly one hour.”

Despite her back being turned to him, Chuuya swept her a bow, not daring to straighten until she was completely gone from sight. When he rose, he half-turned and caught Émile’s eye. Noticing the silent plea, Émile stepped forward until he was within earshot and Chuuya murmured, “She wants me to wait for an hour.”

Émile raised an eyebrow. “That’s new.”

New was an understatement. Chuuya couldn’t say he had ever been told to wait in such a situation in his six years of work. Usually, it was all he could do to get into a hotel room before wandering hands had stripped him of his clothes. Now that his body had been effectively auctioned off to the highest bidder, Chuuya had no reason to continue mingling with the elite of society. With nothing more to dangle in front of them, no more leverage he could use to keep them at bay, they were little different from a pack of wolves and his skin crawled just thinking about staying for an additional hour.

Chuuya bit his bottom lip in thought before he murmured, “Is there any way we can go back to my room?”

It was a risk. If Lemaire learned Chuuya had spent an hour in his room when he could be sweet-talking clients into being more amenable to whatever horrible deal Lemaire would swoop in and offer them, Chuuya’s punishment would be harsh. Images of being locked in a space the size of a closet, or of being starved for days, or of being handed over to some of Lemaire’s cruelest employees, flashed through Chuuya’s mind. Émile’s dubious expression seemed to indicate he was considering the same consequences, and Chuuya almost retracted his request before he felt someone boldly slide behind him, pressing their body flush against Chuuya’s back. He held deathly still, eyes dropping to the floor to keep Émile from seeing the spark of embarrassment in his eyes until they were alone again.

“I know I’ll be in trouble if he finds out, but I can’t play this up for an hour,” Chuuya rushed to say, his voice so soft he wasn’t sure Émile could hear it, “they’ll just get their hopes up and be cruel if they ever do get their hands on me. Please, Émile.”

The moments before Émile gave in with a soft sigh seemed to tick on forever, but when the guard walked past Chuuya without another comment, Chuuya followed so closely behind that he was almost on Émile’s heel. He didn’t even bother telling himself that he wasn’t running away. The atmosphere in the room had begun to press on Chuuya harshly, starving him of air to an extent that he didn’t even realize until he let out a rattled gasp the moment they stepped into the corridor.

“Are you alright?” Émile asked.

Chuuya clenched his hands into fists at his side. He wasn’t new to this anymore, this had been the reality of his existence for six years now (not to mention the years of training that went beforehand). It wasn’t supposed to affect him this much; showing weakness only gave people an excuse to treat him with more cruelty.

He focused on his breath, forcing his body to calm down in increments before he replied, “I have to be.”

 


 

Exactly one hour after being introduced to Higuchi, Chuuya was knocking on the door to the designated hotel room. The corridor of the seventh floor was deserted, implying all of its occupants to be at the party or fast asleep. The door opened immediately, and Higuchi stepped aside to let Chuuya and Émile enter the suite.

“Do you follow him everywhere?” She asked, walking past Chuuya as if he wasn’t present, her eyes fixed on Émile.

Used to being treated as a room fixture, Chuuya took the time to examine his surroundings for some hint as to what kind of person Higuchi was. Since they were in a hotel suite, he expected to be faced with little in the way of hints, but he was intrigued to note that there wasn’t a single personal item in sight. There were no coats hanging in the open closet to his right, the flat surfaces were all clear of the debris that occasionally was emptied from pockets or purses. If he didn’t know better, Chuuya would say that this room didn’t have an occupant at all.

As he studied the suite, he only vaguely listened to Émile explain, “As Nakahara’s guard, it is my job to ensure he doesn’t attempt to run away or cause harm to our business associates.”

“Is that a problem Mr. Lemaire has been having?” Higuchi asked.

“No, ma’am. In my years in the position, there has never been so much as a single incident, but it is more of a precaution than anything else.”

“I suppose it wouldn’t do to let a Deviant wander around on his own.” She mused.

Chuuya kept his face carefully blank at her callous comment. Precisely because he was well-behaved, Émile’s presence was more for Chuuya’s protection than that of anyone else. Lemaire had put a lot of time and money into cultivating Chuuya into the most famous courtesan in recent history and with that notoriety came danger. There was the threat of people trying to keep him to themselves, of greedy clients who sought to damage Chuuya in an attempt to negotiate Lemaire into finally putting Chuuya up for sale and, in such situations, Chuuya was essentially helpless. If he so much as rose his hands in defense, it was grounds for his arrest, and Lemaire wanted to avoid that even more than Chuuya himself did.

“Well, if you’re going to be waiting, would you like something to drink?” Higuchi continued, still ignoring Chuuya’s presence. “The hotel sent up a bottle of wine.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m not allowed to drink on the job.”

She hummed in acknowledgment. “Then at least allow me to get you some water. I feel bad having you sit out here by yourself while I get all the entertainment.”

Émile nodded. “If you wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate that.”

“Wonderful, I have a pitcher in the fridge.”

Even though Higuchi didn’t so much as glance at Chuuya, it was immediately clear that an order had been given. He moved without hesitation, quickly finding the pitcher of water (since it was the only thing in the fridge) and carrying it over to the table where Higuchi had motioned Émile into a seat. Chuuya didn’t meet the guard’s gaze as he poured water into a waiting glass, aware that Émile was probably trying to apologize by sight alone. His apology would do Chuuya no good, with this turn of events Chuuya had finally gotten the woman’s measure—she was going to go out of her way to assert her power over Chuuya, to remind him just how low his place was in society, as if it was something that Chuuya needed to be reminded about.

He placed the pitcher on the table and turned to Higuchi, who was standing at the other end, an empty wine glass in her hand. She raised an eyebrow at him and Chuuya picked up the bottle of wine that had been aerating on the table and poured it into her glass. She took a drink, eyes fixed on Chuuya’s as she lifted the glass and lowered it before she crooked her finger at him.

Chuuya placed the bottle back down and stepped towards her, eyes widening in surprise when her hand shot out to grip the front of his shirt and twist it. With a surprising display of strength, he was tugged forward, and his mouth opened in a soft gasp, only to be covered by her own and for the sip of wine to slide down his throat.

With a sharp tug on his bottom lip, Higuchi pulled back and muttered, “Sit down and wait for me to finish my drink.”

It was only thanks to years of experience that Chuuya didn’t react to the sudden change in mood and merely gave a nod of understanding. He waited for the tight grip on his shirt to vanish before he slid down to sit on the backs of his heels, knees digging into the hardwood of the floor. Higuchi gave a soft hum of approval at the fact that he didn’t presume to take a seat in one of the chairs before she dropped down to sit across from Émile.

She began to question Émile, asking him things like how long he had been working for Lemaire and how often they traveled outside of France. It was an idle conversation, nothing more than small talk, and Chuuya wanted to let it lull him into a sense of comfort. He wanted to believe the rest of his night would continue at the same easy pace with which Higuchi conversed. Her voice was softer with Émile, likely because she saw him as more of an equal rather than a piece of property. She smiled and chuckled and coaxed Émile until he seemed more willing to open up to her than he had been with any of the people Chuuya had been auctioned off to in the past.

Despite his instincts telling Chuuya that he needed to stay alert, he felt his body relaxing and he quietly shifted his stance so he was seated completely on the floor. There was a weightlessness creeping over him that couldn’t be attributed to the few drops of alcohol he had been forced to swallow, and the collar around his neck would have immediately shocked him if his ability had begun to activate. Blinking eyelids that were becoming a bit too heavy, Chuuya frowned as he noticed Émile’s posture deteriorating: it wasn’t like the man to be anything less than proper around outsiders.

It was the crash of Émile’s glass landing on the floor that indicated trouble, and Chuuya’s eyes flew open, the rush of adrenaline pushing past his growing fatigue as Émile slumped out of his chair and dropped to the floor like dead weight.

Chuuya opened his mouth to cry out to his only friend and caught himself at the last moment. Turning his attention to Higuchi, he tried for the calmest voice possible as he asked, “May I check to see if he’s alright?”

She hadn’t reacted to Émile’s crash at all, and Chuuya watched in increasing horror as her eyes rolled up and she collapsed in the same manner. Swearing under his breath, Chuuya crawled across the floor to where she lay, fingers trembling as he searched for a pulse. If someone came upon this scene, Chuuya would be executed with no questions asked. Not even Lemaire’s considerable influence would be able to save him. When he found a steady heartbeat, Chuuya scrambled to Émile and let out a soft sigh of relief when he confirmed the guard was also still alive.

The relief was short-lived. While being a Deviant locked in a hotel room with two unconscious people was better than being a Deviant locked in a hotel room with two dead people, Chuuya was still screwed. He couldn’t go more than ten feet away from Émile without his tracking chip setting off alarms, which meant that he couldn’t go get help without alerting Lemaire to the fact that something was wrong.

What the hell was he supposed to do?

The sound of the hotel room door unlocking was sharp in the silence of the room. Chuuya struggled to his feet, trying to will his body to cooperate as it moved more sluggishly than the situation called for. Mind racing to come up with some way to convince others of his innocence, Chuuya whirled around as the door closed again, one hand reaching out to grip the edge of the nearest chair to keep his balance. He felt his heart stop as he met the gaze of a total stranger.

A single brown eye was fixed on Chuuya as the man pulled his hand away from where he had locked the door behind himself. “Well, it looks like you have quite the problem on your hands.”

“I didn’t do it,” Chuuya said, aware that no one would believe him since he couldn’t provide so much as an idea of who might have actually been responsible.

“I know,” the man said, his voice even.

It took a few seconds for the words to push past the panic in Chuuya’s mind, and he tried to squash the flicker of hope that they gave him. “You believe me?”

“Of course I do. After all, I’m the one that drugged them.”

The man took a measured step forward and Chuuya stumbled a step backward, his instincts now screaming at him to avoid contact. There was something about the man that wasn’t quite right. Even if Chuuya ignored the two people currently unconscious on the floor, or the fact that this person had broken into a locked hotel room, or his admission to drugging the others, something about the air around the stranger still would have set Chuuya on edge.

Perhaps it was the litany of bandages that peeked from underneath the man’s sleeves, wrapped up his neck, and covered his right eye. They were so numerous that Chuuya had to believe they were hiding scars of some kind. The type of person who was marked in such an abundance was also the type that Chuuya wanted to stay far away from.

Perhaps it was the way the man was sauntering into the room, his gaze fixed on Chuuya even though his attention seemed to extend beyond the hotel suite. He seemed to be documenting every minuscule motion Chuuya made while also listening to each noise that came from the corridor or filtered through the open balcony doors.

If Chuuya had to pick what made him the most comfortable, it was the fact that he was completely defenseless. The backs of his knees were pressed against the edge of the table, and he had nowhere to run to. There was no way a Deviant could get past the hotel security without being attached to a guest, which meant that this man was either under orders or, more likely considering the lack of a collar, he was a normal person here of his own volition. Chuuya had never been allowed to learn how to defend himself, he hadn’t even received training on how to manage his powers like many others did. If worst came to worst, he could try and use his ability, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to fight through the pain of the shock collar long enough to make it to safety.

“I appreciate how hard you’re thinking about how to get out of this situation in one piece,” the man mused, now just out of arm’s reach, “it’s promising that you’re a survivalist, but I’m going to need you to take a seat in one of those chairs.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m giving you an order.”

Chuuya scowled, the stress of the situation briefly overriding his training in obedience. “I don’t belong to you.”

A smirk spread across the man’s lips. “I was worried they would have beaten you into complete compliance by now, I appreciate the bite.  I’m going to take your collar off. Sit down.” This time, there was a thinly veiled threat in the man’s words, his brown eye harsh as he stared Chuuya down.

After a moment, Chuuya did as he was told. Considering how badly his body was trembling, and how it felt like his legs were seconds away from collapsing from underneath him, he might as well just sit.

“Who are you?” He asked.

Chuuya didn’t get a reply. The man simply stepped forward so he was looming over him and grabbed a handful of Chuuya’s hair. Chuuya let out a hiss of pain at the sharp tug on his locks, moving with the pull in an attempt to lessen the strain on his scalp. There was a slight chuckle above him before Chuuya heard the sound of metal scraping metal and seconds later his collar was tumbling into his lap.

The sudden release of the pressure against his throat felt strange, almost uncomfortable, after a lifetime with it in place.

“There will be guards here in seconds, you know,” Chuuya muttered at the stranger: the opening of his collar would have set off alarms, “you won’t be able to get away with kidnapping me.”

“They’ll be here in four minutes and twenty seconds, give or take.” Was the dry response as the man dragged Chuuya’s chair around and climbed into Chuuya’s lap without so much as a please or thank you. “And I’m not kidnapping you.” He gripped the edge of Chuuya’s right sleeve and tore it open with a harsh yank. “I’m extracting you.”

“Extracting?” Chuuya repeated, acutely aware that he couldn’t move due to the weight of the man on his lap. Strong thighs were firmly keeping Chuuya’s lower-body still and, for some reason, he couldn’t activate his ability to free himself from the weight at all. His upper body felt just as heavy, and Chuuya’s eyes flicked to the side, taking in the wine bottle. The feeling of the alcohol sliding down his throat pushed to the forefront of his mind and he swore under his breath again. “You drugged me too.”

“Technically Higuchi drugged you,” the man muttered, his hands running carefully up from Chuuya’s elbow and towards his shoulder. They were surprisingly gentle as he pressed and pulled at various sections of skin before he came to a stop and said, “Chuuya, I need you to keep still.”

“How do you know her name?” Chuuya asked. “Wait. How do you know my name?”

The man chuckled. “Your reputation precedes you. How well do you handle pain?”

“What? What do you- fuck!” A sharp pain flared from Chuuya’s arm, cutting him off in mid-sentence. He looked down to see a dagger sticking into his skin and Chuuya’s stomach lurched. “What are you doing?”

The knife was pushed further into his body and Chuuya’s eyes squeezed shut as he tried not to vomit from the pain.

“Getting your tracking chip out.” The man’s voice was much too casual considering the small hole he was carving into Chuuya’s flesh. “And I need you to stop squirming or this will take longer.”

Chuuya could think of half-a-dozen things he wanted to say in response, but letting loose a litany of insults at the man holding a dagger to his body went against every one of his self-preservation instincts. So, he let his head drop to rest against the back of the chair and he focused on his breathing. Whatever drug that was working through his system was now a blessing as it helped Chuuya sit as still as possible until something tight was being tied around his arm and the weight on his lap suddenly vanished.

A hand wrapped around his wrist and pulled Chuuya to his feet. Eyes flying open so he could balance himself, Chuuya moved with the momentum largely because he didn’t know what else to do. It was only when he realized that he was being pulled towards the balcony that Chuuya really considered his options.

He didn’t fucking have any.

Even if he somehow subdued the man and waited for the authorities to find them, Chuuya would still be punished to set an example. On the other hand, he wasn’t idiotic enough to go off with a total stranger, particularly not one who oozed danger so much as this one did.

When they were standing on the balcony of the suite, the man glanced over the railing at the street below and said, “You need to jump.”

“The hell I do,” Chuuya replied. “I’m not jumping to my death.”

“If I wanted you dead, I would have killed you already.”

Chuuya scowled, he had gone along so far but this was where he drew the line. “I don’t care, I’m not jumping.”

The man considered Chuuya for several seconds, the casual feeling vanishing from his demeanor. In its place was a cold emptiness that made Chuuya think of the Deviants he had seen on their way to work camps or to their execution. It was in the span of a few breaths that Chuuya realized he was dealing with a man who had nothing to lose, who had absolutely no fear of death, and Chuuya tried not to let the sudden onset of fear show on his face.

The man’s shoulders lifted in a shrug and the emptiness was replaced with an easy-going smile. “I suppose it is asking a bit much for you to jump from the seventh floor of a hotel on the word of a man you just met.”

That was it? All Chuuya had to do was put his foot down and the whole bizarre situation would come to a halt? An answering smile began to spread on his lips before the man moved in a burst of speed. Something small glinted in the man’s hand and Chuuya didn’t register it as a medical needle until it was sinking into his neck and lighting his veins on fire.

Chuuya stumbled backward, unable to panic properly as the sedative pulled him away from reality.

“You! You…” Chuuya’s lips wouldn’t work the way he wanted them too, and his vision rapidly filled with black as the man’s smile vanished like a switch had been flipped.

The last thing he saw was the man pulling a phone from his pocket before Chuuya plummeted into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

The first thing Chuuya registered when he woke was the odd emptiness around his throat. Every breath of air felt too full as if he wasn’t able to measure how much oxygen his lungs truly needed without the restriction of metal pressing into his skin at every inhale. He felt lightheaded, and he wasn’t sure if it was because he was overwhelmed by trying to adjust to this development or if it was a byproduct of sedatives possibly still leaving his system.

The second thing he noticed was the dull pain throbbing in his arm. A shaky hand traveled up from his side to brush against the clean bandages over where his chip was supposed to be. Still not convinced he hadn’t dreamed the whole situation, he pressed down against the spot where he recalled a knife digging into his skin. The pain flared into a fire and Chuuya immediately dropped his hand with a wince and let his eyes flutter shut.

He had no collar, no microchip, and nowhere to go.

Even if Chuuya hadn’t been an active participant in leaving Lemaire, the law wasn’t on his side. He might have gotten a harsh punishment for ditching his collar, but the microchip was a government punishable offense. That man—the stranger with the empty eye—had waltzed into Chuuya’s life and wretched his means of existence away from him. There was no way Chuuya could try and blend in with society—his face would probably be registered as a fugitive in every major city—and he wouldn’t be surprised if Lemaire was utilizing the full extent of his resources to hunt Chuuya down.

A grating sound, wood scraping against stone, ruined Chuuya’s sulking.

He blinked his eyes opened and scrambled to sit upright, not wanting to appear more vulnerable in front of whoever was entering the room than he already was. When he registered the man, the one who did this to him, Chuuya immediately looked away. Something about the man set Chuuya on edge and he turned his attention to his surroundings in an attempt to calm down.

The room was small, some sort of makeshift infirmary. There was a table with bandages and disinfect to the side of his hard cot. Stone walls and the lack of windows gave Chuuya the distinct impression that he was either being hidden from the world, or being held prisoner, or some mixture of the two.

When he couldn’t get away with studying the room any longer without being obvious in his avoidance, Chuuya glanced back at the man. He was met with a raised eyebrow. Clearly, Chuuya was meant to start the conversation, but Chuuya didn’t have any experience being a decision maker: every choice in his life had been made for him. On top of that, Chuuya had no idea what he wanted to ask first, and he wasn’t entirely sure he could trust himself to avoid antagonizing this stranger.

He opened his mouth to talk, and felt his throat constrict inward. Instead of words, a strangled gasp left his lips and Chuuya immediately dropped his gaze to his lap, torn between embarrassment and irritation at himself.

“My name is Dazai Osamu.” Chuuya remembered the man’s voice as being casual and far too lighthearted for the gravity of the situation. Now, it was cool and detached, as if he had only played a character for the sake of putting Chuuya at ease.

“Where am I?”

“Underground, in a safe house.”

“I need to go back.”

There was a soft scoff: a noise of derision that made Chuuya clench his hands into fists in his lap. He didn’t know who this Dazai man was, he honestly didn’t care much, but the disdain in the man’s next question stung. “Why?”

“My friend, Émile.” Chuuya raised his eyes so Dazai could see that he was serious. Chuuya hadn’t asked for whatever this was and he wasn’t about to let Émile become collateral damage in this man’s craziness. “They’ll think he helped me escape if I don’t go back.”

A glitter of recognition showed in that single brown eye. “The bodyguard who was with you last night?” Chuuya nodded. “He was arrested this morning and charged with letting you escape. They’re executing him tomorrow.”

“You’re lying.”

Dazai tilted his head. “I don’t have any reason to lie to you.”

“You…” Chuuya trailed off, trying to find some hint of deception on Dazai’s face. There wasn’t any. He felt like a weight was crushing his chest, and suddenly the absence of the collar was lifesaving as Chuuya struggled to breathe. The air around him was too thin, the walls were too small, and Chuuya was stuck in a room with the man who had effectively sentenced Émile to death, and Dazai didn’t seem to care. He needed Dazai to understand what he’d done. “He was my only friend. In all the time I’ve been alive, he was my only friend.”

Another scoff. “He was paid to keep you enslaved, that’s not a friend.”

“Shut up!” Chuuya jumped out of bed, feeling weightless as his ability surged under his skin, reacting to the maelstrom of emotions threatening to swallow Chuuya whole. A sob left his mouth and Chuuya bit down on his bottom lip, drawing blood as he tried to keep from showing any more weakness in front of Dazai.

He didn’t let the tears fall down his cheeks as he thought rapidly. There had to be more to the story.

Of course, Dazai didn’t want Chuuya to go back to Lemaire, if Chuuya didn’t stay here for whatever purpose the man had kidnapped him for, it would have been a waste of Dazai’s time. There was no such thing as altruism in their world, not for a Deviant like Chuuya. Everyone wanted something from him, wanted him to do something for them, they only saw Chuuya as some sort of means to an end.

Chuuya had no guarantee that whatever was waiting for him on the other side of the door would be any better than what Chuuya was used to. If he got back to Lemaire. If he prostrated himself and begged for forgiveness, explained the whole situation, and stayed perfectly docile through his punishment, maybe he would be able to save Émile’s life. They wouldn’t let Émile work around Chuuya again, Émile probably wouldn’t be able to get such a nice paying job for the rest of his life, but at least he would live.

Decision made, Chuuya stalked across the room and came to a stop just in front of Dazai. “Get out of my way.”

“No.”

Chuuya had never hit someone before in his life, but at the resounding refusal, his fist hurtled at Dazai almost of its own volition. Just before it could connect with the bastard’s smug face, before he could feel the satisfaction of bones crunching beneath his hand, Dazai pivoted to the side so Chuuya’s hand hit the wooden door. The pain was excruciating but Chuuya didn’t have time to dwell on it because Dazai had his own hands tugging on Chuuya’s arm and whirling him around so he was slammed against the stone next to the door.

“The problem with bed toys like you is that you never learn how to fend for yourself,” Dazai murmured, his voice so soft that the comment was almost drowned out by the roar of blood rushing to Chuuya’s head.

He couldn’t say he had ever hated a person before. Hate was an emotion that clouded the judgment, and to stay alive in a hostile environment Chuuya always had to have his wits about him. But at this moment, he knew that he hated Dazai.

He hated how this man had decided to toy with his life, to rip it away and tear it to shreds without even knowing who Chuuya was, without caring what Chuuya wanted. He hated how Dazai looked at him like he was a wounded puppy picked up from a shelter, like Chuuya was pathetic and helpless and that Chuuya should be tripping over his feet to thank Dazai for his reluctantly provided assistance. He hated how Dazai’s little plan was going to cost Chuuya the one person in the world who had ever shown him genuine kindness and, above all, Chuuya hated how he could do nothing about it.

From where he was pressed against the stone, his body screaming in protest at the harsh points of contact between his bones and the wall, Chuuya couldn’t do anything to take control away from Dazai. If he couldn’t even make a punch connect, how the hell was he supposed to get out of this safe house? He didn’t even know where they were, and since it was his first time in Yokohama, Chuuya certainly didn’t know how to get back to the hotel.

“You won’t get away with this,” Chuuya muttered, needing to fight back with his words since he couldn’t do so physically, “he’ll find you if there is so much as a whisper about me on the market. He has connections everywhere.”

“Who is ‘he’?”

“My owner, Mr.-” the rest of Chuuya’s sentence was cut off with a grunt of pain.

Once again, Dazai had grabbed a handful of hair and tugged until Chuuya was almost bent over backward. From this position, Chuuya could see the fire flickering in Dazai’s gaze, and his mind helpfully chose that moment to remember the fear he had felt when they first met. Dazai looked murderous as he murmured, “Don’t ever say those words again. You’re a human being, not a belonging. No one owns you. Do you understand, Chuuya?”

From where Chuuya stood, he wasn’t sure Dazai was in the position to give such a lecture. “Why did you steal me, then?”

The grip in his hair vanished and Dazai completely stepped away from Chuuya. Chuuya turned so he was facing the room, cradling his injured arm as Dazai said, “I didn’t steal you, I freed you. I don’t particularly care what you chose to do as long as you don’t crawl back to that bastard I got you away from. You can try and make it on your own, or you can stay here with my organization.”

His organization? Chuuya frowned at the term and studied Dazai with fresh eyes. There were dozens of corporations that would want someone like Chuuya to do exactly what he did for Lemaire. In any other city, he might have dismissed the comment as just that, but Dazai had already made his disinterest in that aspect of Chuuya’s skill set clear, and this was Yokohama. Even as sheltered, as isolated from the world, as Chuuya had been, he had heard the rumors. He heard how, in this city, some Deviants were given citizenship and jobs with the government, jobs where they were paid wages and were allowed to eat when they wanted and treated almost like normal people. There were also rumors of an agency that rescued young Deviants before they could be identified and gave them the gift of freedom.

Chuuya had never been sure if he believed such rumors, compared to his own life they seemed outlandish, but if any man were to be a part of these organizations it would be Dazai.

“You’re like me? You’re Deviant?”

Gifted,” Dazai corrected, voice dry. “I’m the boss of Yokohama’s Port Mafia.”

Chuuya stumbled backward, slamming into the stone again as his eyes widened in surprise. The whispers of the Port Mafia were even more elusive than murmurs about the Armed Detective Agency. It was a militant organization made up of Deviants and their sympathizers. No one seemed to know if they were real, let alone who ran them, and now Chuuya was supposed to believe that their mysterious leader had personally spirited him away from the hotel?

He swallowed around a lump in his throat. “You’re the boss of the Port Mafia?” Dazai nodded, his face bearing the same bored expression it had worn when he mentioned Émile’s fate. “Why the hell did you come after me?”

“Nakahara Chuuya.” Dazai pulled Chuuya’s name out into long syllables. “You’re one of the most infamous enslaved Gifted in the world, not to mention that the man you work for is perhaps the most influential person alive. Evidently, your skill in bed combined with your obedience, non-combat specialized ability, and your looks, has made you the highest-class courtesan in recent history.” Chuuya didn’t break Dazai’s gaze as the man listed the facts. Chuuya knew he was well-known, knew he had a reputation (well-earned, he might add), and he wouldn’t let this bastard shame him for it. “If the Port Mafia can get to you, our reach is essentially limitless.”

For a brief moment, Chuuya had considered the possibility that he had more in common with Dazai than he might have expected. After all, this was the longest conversation he had ever had with someone else who was Deviant, and Chuuya was willing to consider that maybe he was the odd one because he had lived under Lemaire for so long. But now that he knew why Dazai had picked Chuuya, a bitter tasted filled his mouth. To Dazai, Chuuya was nothing more than a trophy: a token of victory in whatever war he was fighting against society. It wasn’t just that Dazai hadn’t considered how Chuuya would feel about the whole affair, it was that Dazai didn’t care.

“Fantastic, you broke me out, now what do you want?”

“Nothing,” Dazai replied coolly. “If you join the Port Mafia, you and I will hardly see each other. I have more important things to deal with than a new recruit. In my organization, spread legs and a moderately pretty face won’t get you anywhere but a shallow grave. You’ll need to learn how to fight, how to spy, how to use the power you’ve been ignoring since you were born. If you don’t think you can handle it, I’ll have someone show you the door.”

There was clear disdain in Dazai’s voice, as if despite offering Chuuya the opportunity he didn’t actually think Chuuya had the capacity to survive life in the Port Mafia.

It wasn’t like Chuuya really had any other choice, Dazai had made sure of that. “I can handle it.”

Dazai considered him in silence for a long moment before he reached out and grabbed the handle of the door. “Come on then.”

He left the room and Chuuya pushed himself off the wall, rushing to follow. On the other side of the door was more stone, giving Chuuya the impression that they were in a bunker of some kind. Just like the last room, there was almost nothing to indicate this place was put to any use. A single chair was propped against the opposite wall and a woman sat there. Despite being in a dimly lit underground cavern she gave off the appearance of effortless elegance. Red hair covered one of her eyes (was that a requirement for this organization?) but her visible one found Chuuya’s immediately to give him a measuring glance as she rose to her feet.

“Kouyou-sama, this is the new recruit: Nakahara Chuuya. He’ll be in your care.” Dazai said.

Kouyou nodded, a smile spreading across her face. “I’ll handle it from here. I’m sure you have matters that need your attention.

Dazai turned so he could look at Chuuya. “Give her trouble and you’ll be dealing directly with me.”

“Right,” Chuuya muttered, barely managing to keep a mulish expression from his face. As much as he wanted to challenge Dazai for his callous arrogance, Chuuya knew enough to tell when a battle was too big for him to pick.

Dazai left without another word. The moment the door swung shut, Kouyou’s face softened just a fraction and she reached out a hand to brush against Chuuya’s. The unexpected contact sent Chuuya hopping backward as if she had shocked him. For a moment he felt like he was back in that hotel, being visually devoured by the societal elite. The moment passed as quickly as it came over him, and Chuuya met Kouyou’s gaze: her eyes were wide as she held her hand aloft, unsure what had just happened.

Trying to slow his rapidly pounding heart, Chuuya cautiously reached out and placed his hand in hers. This time, the contact didn’t startle him and he let her pull his arm forward so she could study the blooming bruise on his knuckles.

Kouyou tutted, “Dazai often forgets that this can be a lot to process, he doesn’t have a soft approach. We’ll delay your combat lessons for a little bit until this is better.” Her hand ran from his fingers to brush against the bandage on his upper arm. “I have a salve that will keep it from scaring.”

“Let it scar.”

“Are you sure? The rest of your skin is flawless, Chuuya-kun.”

The term of address made Chuuya blush, but he nodded firmly. All his life he had worked tirelessly to maintain his appearance, aware that his comfortable existence depended on people being attracted to him. Now, if Dazai was to be believed, he wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. Chuuya doubted he would let his appearance change much, but the scar could remind him that he was in a different place now, that there was no reason to entice people to touch him since Chuuya would get to choose who was allowed to lay their hands on him.

“I’m sure.”

Kouyou considered him, her thoughts unclear on her face before she smiled again. “Then let’s get you a change of clothes and I’ll explain what we do here. Are you hungry?”

Chuuya took a moment to process the question. It had never mattered whether he was hungry or not. “I can wait.”

“You don’t have to wait. Let’s get you fed and then settled, I won’t take no for an answer.”

Kouyou swept out the room and Chuuya rushed to follow, a hopeful smile spreading on his face.

 


 

Joining the Port Mafia was akin to stepping into an alternate dimension.

Chuuya spent his first week in the organization with his eyes glued to the floor, trying his best to blend into his surroundings. Everyone else seemed so far beyond Chuuya’s range of abilities. These were people who had defied the Deviant system, who had horrid scars from escaping work camps or who had evaded identification altogether. Given how Chuuya had spent seventeen years whoring himself to the elite of society, he didn’t feel worthy of being in the same room, let alone the same building, as the others.

There were only two spaces in the organization where Chuuya could truly escape his sense of unworthiness. The first was the small dorm room he had been assigned after traveling from the safe house to the Mafia headquarters. A placard above the room number (306) had his name written in Kanji. When he first arrived, Chuuya had run reverent fingers over the characters.

“Do you read it?” Kouyou asked.

“A little.” Chuuya could recognize his name and a handful of other phrases. “I can speak Japanese, but my own-” he cut himself off, remembering Dazai’s harsh reaction to the term on the tip of his lips and wondering if others would react the same. “They didn’t care if I could read anything besides English. I taught myself what I know.”

Kouyou gave him a strange look, a mixture of approval and sympathy, but she unlocked the door without another word and passed him the key. “This is yours. We keep spares but try not to lose it.”

Chuuya took the key and turned it over in his fingers, letting the metal teeth dig into his skin as he tried not to visibly react to the fact that he could control who had access to his room. He stepped inside, aware that Kouyou followed and closed the door behind herself. It wasn’t particularly spacious, just enough room to hold a double bed, a dresser, and a small desk. Sheets and a pillow sat on the mattress next to a small stack of clothing, and light filtered through the cracked blinds of the window.

“When you start going on jobs you’ll get paid,” Kouyou was saying, “sometimes in money, sometimes in credits you can use to purchase from the commissary. You can use that to put some life in here, but I can give you a place to start.”

She placed the small bag she was carrying onto the desk and began pulling out the items inside. Chuuya recognized a small packet of incense, a ceramic holder, and a box of matches. What caught was eye was the small charm she took out last and offered to him. It dangled from a white length of string, the baby blue bright against white embroidery.

“An omamori, for happiness,” Kouyou explained. “This world is cruel to people like us, and in order to survive the Port Mafia reacts just as harshly. It is likely you will see horrors you haven’t imagined, and if you rise in this organization you may be responsible for them. I can only hope that this room, at least, is a safe place for you, Chuuya-kun.”

Chuuya reached out and picked up the talisman. He was speechless, overwhelmed by the sentiment of the gesture from a woman he hardly knew. After he was certain his voice wouldn’t waver, he murmured, “Thank you.”

It was Kouyou who also gave Chuuya the second place where he felt he might possibly belong in this organization. He learned early on that she didn’t live in the skyscraper (disguised as a corporate building) that was headquarters. Since Chuuya was still a wanted fugitive, he wasn’t permitted to go as far as the first-floor lobby, let alone see where Kouyou lived. But his one-on-one training with the woman was a comfortable routine. After having learned Chuuya spoke Japanese, Kouyou taught lessons in her native language (and evidently informed the rest of the organization that there was no need to switch to English in his presence). Kouyou taught Chuuya a wide range of things from the origins of the Deviant policy (or anti-Gifted sentiment, as she continually corrected him) to the structure of the Port Mafia (where she was one of four Executives who reported directly to Dazai) to the other organizations similar to theirs around the world.

In contrast to Kouyou’s lessons, Chuuya’s martial arts training was harsh. His teacher hardly spoke a word, and when he did talk it was a barely audible and gruff command to repeat a drill or fix his posture. Steel eyes watched Chuuya tirelessly, but it was impossible to tell if his teacher was impressed because of the mask covering the lower half of his face. Once, after a particularly rough practice, Chuuya complained to Kouyou over their weekly tea.

“I get almost no feedback. I wish he would just tell me if I’m improving.”

His mentor had replied with a bemused smile, “Gin is one of the finest fighters in our organization. She specializes in assassinations so it is understandable that she isn’t particularly talkative.”

Chuuya walked away from that conversation with three brand new pieces of information, and he went to his next lesson determined to get his instructor to speak more about what she did outside of their lessons. When he arrived, the presence of two observers derailed his plains. Gin stood off to the side of the room, talking softly with Dazai and a young man. The stranger looked sickly, his pale skin almost glowing in the harsh overhead lights. Every so often, his body would be racked with coughs but the other two didn’t pay the noise any mind.

As Chuuya slipped into his stretches, he kept one eye on the two newcomers. It was impossible to tell what they were discussing and Chuuya had already learned that it was impossible to tell what the boss was thinking unless Dazai came out and said it. Dazai’s body language was always relaxed, giving off the illusion that he was having a casual conversation. Studying the lanky bastard did nothing but send a flash of irritation through Chuuya’s body. He had only seen glimpses of the man since their last conversation the day Chuuya had agreed to join the Port Mafia, and for some reason that annoyed him nearly as much as having to talk to Dazai did. After all the trouble they both had gone through for Chuuya to be here, Chuuya had entertained the idea that Dazai had brought him to the organization for an additional purpose, but they hadn’t spoken even once.

Turning his attention from Dazai, Chuuya studied the stranger. He looked a little younger than Chuuya himself, and Chuuya ran his eyes down the line of the man’s coat. Something about it tugged a chord in Chuuya’s memory and he recalled a conversation he had with one of the regular (Giftless he reminded himself) members of the organization. For some reason, Chuuya felt more at ease around them than the other Gifted members.

One such member, Tachihara, had taken it upon himself to teach Chuuya all the intricacies of the organization that didn’t fall into his official lessons. This included running Chuuya through the more prominent members of the Port Mafia that weren’t executives. Chuuya heard stories of a gentleman with a killing touch named Hirotsu and how Higuchi was actually an undercover agent they used for most rescue missions. He also heard of a young man with a demon that manifested from his clothes—Akutagawa. Chuuya ran his gaze over the coat from underneath his eyelashes, not sure if it was just his imagination or if the bottoms of it seemed to be rustling in the stale room.

The sound of a foot tapping on the floor made Chuuya pull his attention from Akutagawa to meet Gin’s gaze. There was a sharp nod toward the center of the room and Chuuya moved where directed.

“Drill 6. Begin.” Gin gave no explanation for why Dazai was present, or who the other person was, voice as soft and gruff as ever.

Pushing Dazai’s presence out of his head, Chuuya shifted into the proper stance before launching into the drill. He lost himself in the feeling of his punches and kicks. The physicality of martial arts was soothing, Chuuya’s body seemed to be drawn to the exertion as if it had always been looking for a better way to release tension and take advantage of the careful shape Chuuya had been forced to maintain. Each drill Gin taught was easily memorized, Chuuya’s muscles committing it to memory almost as soon as he moved through the motions.

He finished the drill and glanced at Gin, feeling pleased since he knew he didn’t make a mistake. As ever, Gin was unreadable, but there were no corrections as she said, “Drill 2. Begin.”

Chuuya moved immediately into the ordered drill, and then into the drill after that, and the one after that. When he had done four complete series, Gin half-turned to look at Dazai. Chuuya followed her gaze to where Dazai was leaning against the far wall, arms crossed over his chest. For the first time, it dawned on Chuuya that he was being evaluated and he resisted the urge to shrink away from the center of the room.

Dazai tilted his head. “What do you think, Akutagawa?”

“He doesn’t use his ability?” Akutagawa’s voice was gravelly, as if his vocal cords had been irreparably damaged from all of his coughing.

“It doesn’t particularly lend itself to combat,” Dazai replied, “it would be more effective if he can use it to augment his fighting, that’s why I had them start him here.”

Akutagawa nodded slowly. “Makes sense. If that’s the case he needs to be better in order to be of any use.”

The evaluation was a blow to the gut, and Chuuya clenched his jaw to keep from protesting. He had been working hard for nearly two months, harder than he had ever worked in his life. For it to be dismissed by a person who didn’t even know Chuuya-

“I agree,” Dazai said, turning his attention so he was meeting Chuuya’s stare. His eye didn’t waver as he spoke, making it clear that every word was being directed at Chuuya regardless of the others present, “and it needs to happen quickly before I decide this has been a waste of our time. Gin is too valuable an asset to have sidelined training a recruit for much longer.”

Chuuya knew that if he kept grinding his teeth they would be damaged, but it was all he could do to keep from cursing Dazai to hell and back. What truly kept him quiet was the expectant look on Dazai’s face, as if he was just waiting for Chuuya to lose his temper.

When it became clear that Chuuya wasn’t going to take the bait, Dazai looked back at Gin. “Push him harder. He can handle it. Right, Chuuya?”

“Right,” Chuuya muttered, turning his attention away from the two men to look at his instructor. Even if it was at Dazai’s order, he didn’t want to be a disappointment to Gin after the work she had put in. “I can handle it.”

 


 

There was something inherently unwelcoming about the office at the top of the Mori Corporation building.

The empty, dimly lit, corridor that stretched from the elevator to the double doors was partly to blame, as were the constant pair of guards stationed outside. For anyone unused to it, just the length of the elevator ride itself might seem unsettling.

Inside the office, there was little in the way of comfort. The large windows that overlooked Yokohama provided the only light in the main part of the room, so when the sun set any occupants were bathed in moonlight and the shifting neon lights of the city.

Past that area there used to be a large dining room; once Dazai had taken over the organization he had done away with it in favor of creating a war room. Now there were half-a-dozen smaller tables all holding maps of the city and the blueprints of buildings of interest. This was where the more intricate plans of the organization came to life, plans so classified that discussion of them outside this office was considered traitorous. There was nothing welcoming about constant preparations for war, and Dazai moved through the room with barely a glance at the plans of a certain hotel still stretched out on the middle table.

Furthest away from the entrance to the sprawling penthouse was the only area that Dazai truly considered to be part of the office, though he hesitated to call it his. Behind the desk were bookshelves crammed with information gathered over the Port Mafia’s fifty years of existence, including notes meticulously kept by his three predecessors.

Dazai still hadn’t gotten around to going through the last of Mori’s notes—his rise to boss had been unexpected and Dazai wanted to make sure his feet were firmly planted before he reached into the past. Perhaps that was why he didn’t feel welcomed here.

Perhaps, despite the months of arduous work he had put into steadying the Port Mafia against the reeling aftermath of Mori’s death, Dazai still didn’t feel like he was truly the boss. He was the youngest person in the organization’s history to hold the title and, at twenty-two, Dazai wasn’t sure how much longer he could continue fighting as fiercely as he did now. He was tired, exhausted from the struggles that those with abilities had to go through, and no matter what he did he didn’t seem able to make a significant impact in this waste-hole of a society.

Settled in the middle of the desk was a notebook, stark white pages staring up at Dazai in a mockery. He was only on page five. Seven months into the job and Dazai had only chronicled four pages worth of his work in the notebook. If he was killed tomorrow, the unfortunate soul who took the job after him would be at a complete loss. Because the Port Mafia was being hunted down by Yokohama’s government, information was highly compartmentalized. As boss, Dazai was the only one who had a full picture of everything the organization was up to. Without documentation of his progress, there would be no way for someone else to continue the plans currently in place.

With a sigh, Dazai took a seat at the desk and picked up a pen. Just as he had decided on where to start, a knock sounded on his door, and he looked up as one of the guards peeked his head inside. “Ozaki Kouyou is here for you, boss.”

Dazai glanced at the clock: time had gotten away from him again. “Is she in the main room?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m on my way.”

The guard vanished, and Dazai put the pen back in its place; he would catch up another time. Dazai left the notebook where it was, blank pages staring up at the rest of the room. He made his way back through the war room and stepped into the main area of the office. Kouyou was seated in one of the chairs that looked out towards the city, hands wrapped around a cup of tea.

“Good evening, Kouyou,” Dazai said, taking an empty seat and pouring himself some tea.

“Good evening, boss.” The address, particularly from Kouyou, still felt foreign, but Dazai didn’t allow himself to react to it. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

At any one time, Dazai was mentally running through preparations for new plans and keeping track of current missions. For this conversation, he let that all flow away so he could focus on the matter at hand. “How is he doing?”

Kouyou took a sip of her tea before she replied, “Who?”

“The new one. Chuuya.” Dazai answered, even though they were both aware that Kouyou knew exactly who Dazai had been inquiring about.

Her eyes turned out towards the skyline. “You haven’t been reading my reports?”

“The reports are impersonal. They are designed to only include the necessities. I’m asking for your subjective assessment.” He wasn’t sure why Kouyou needed Dazai to verbalize the distinction. While he knew that she had taken a liking to Chuuya beyond that of any other recruit she had mentored, her apparent need to protect him was unusual.

Kouyou shrugged. “He’s clever, but that's to be expected since it takes wit for someone like us to survive with such notoriety for so long. His manners are impeccable and he endears himself to everyone who interacts with him, Chuuya-kun is quite popular. He’s also in good physical shape considering how he was starved of protein for most of his life. Gin has mentioned that he is improving rapidly in his combat lessons, I plan to start training his ability next week.”

“I’ll handle that.”

Her attention immediately flickered from the skyline to eye Dazai curiously. “You’re training him personally?”

“Is there a problem?”

“He is not fond of you.”

“He doesn’t need to be.”

Kouyou took another sip of her drink, using the motion to shield her thoughts at Dazai’s response before she tried a different line of questioning. “Since you’ve joined the Mafia you haven’t trained a recruit from scratch. You only take on the powerful ones that need more attention.”

Dazai leaned back in his seat, nodding in acknowledgment of the statement. His own ability meant that he was uniquely suited to provide more challenging training to those with abilities that could prove particularly useful to the organization. It was this, along with his strategic acumen, that caught Mori’s eye when Dazai first joined. It was that combination that allowed Dazai to rise so rapidly through the ranks of the organization. Of course, he did have experience training ability users from scratch, even if he hadn’t done such a thing since-

He cut off the line of thought, not willing to dwell on unpleasant memories. “Haven’t you wondered why Chuuya was used as a prostitute when gravity manipulation could help with construction or experiments or something infinitely more useful? When we got word that they were bringing him to Yokohama, I sent requests out for information to some of our associates abroad. They provided me with an interesting explanation.”

“There’s more to his ability,” Kouyou murmured, connecting the dots as rapidly as she always did. “What is it?”

“Inconclusive,” Dazai replied. “When he was first identified, at the age of five, he wiped out the entire squad sent to retrieve him. The only person who lived through the attack was Chuuya, and he evidently doesn’t remember a second of it.” Dazai picked up the file seated on the table before them and handed over a small stack pictures. “These pictures, and the remains of twenty highly-trained anti-Gifted operatives, are the only proof of the magnitude of his ability. It’s too dangerous to allow anyone other than myself to train him.”

Kouyou flicked through the pictures, eyes widening as she took in the sheer magnitude of destruction depicted. When she had scanned the full pile, she handed them back over. “The CEO of the Lemaire Corporation knows about the true nature of Chuuya’s ability?”

“He went through too much trouble to keep Chuuya docile not to know,” Dazai mused.

“He’ll take Chuuya joining the Port Mafia harshly.”

Dazai nodded. “The longer we wait before revealing that we’re the ones who have Chuuya, the better. Chuuya needs to be prepared for the worst before we let him on the streets, let alone on a job.” He pulled a sheet of paper from the file and passed it to her. “His training schedule. I’ll stick as close to this as I am able, but you should be the one to give him the news.”

She accepted the paper without looking at it, her eyes fixed on Dazai’s face. “He spent seventeen years under that man’s thumb.”

“I’m aware.”

“No, I don’t think you are, Dazai,” Kouyou said without pause, “you never lived like that because your ability is so unique that it went undetected for years. By the time it was identified, it had been noticed by another Gifted, so you were kept safe. Your drive for this cause is no lesser because of it, but there are things you can’t relate to.”

Dazai shifted his seat, frowning slightly as he tried to puzzle through the unspoken heaviness behind Kouyou’s statement. “I know I can’t relate, but there is a reason I assigned him to your care. You specialize in the tough cases.”

A soft sigh left Kouyou’s lips and she got to her feet, looking away from Dazai to study the skyline once again. “He’s too young to have lived like he did for seventeen years. I am experienced in what I do, but I am not a miracle worker and you…your methods…” she trailed off, seemingly losing her words in the sparkling lights of the city sprawled out below them.

Dazai let her think largely because he wasn’t sure what he should say. It was rare that a conversation left him on uneven footing, but Kouyou’s concern for Chuuya was tangible and Dazai didn’t understand it. Chuuya seemed like he was adjusting fine enough: he wasn’t going into violent tirades like Akutagawa had when they first found him, he wasn’t starving himself or avoiding sleep. He was making connections and working tirelessly to improve his skills. If anything, Chuuya was adjusting even better than Dazai had anticipated.

After seeing the attachment the man had to that bodyguard (whose execution Dazai had attended out of slight curiosity) Dazai expected Chuuya to resent the Port Mafia but, evidently, all of those emotions had been directed towards Dazai. If that’s what it took for Chuuya to succeed, it was a small price to pay. But Kouyou seemed to think that Chuuya was one harsh word away from cracking, and while Dazai certainly didn’t see the man near as often as Kouyou did (he had hundreds of people to manage, there was no time to keep track of one new recruit) it felt like an odd concern. 

Kouyou turned her back to the city and met Dazai’s gaze. “When you break him, Dazai, do not be surprised if I tell you he is beyond repair.”

Dazai got to his feet. “You sell yourself short, Kouyou-sama.”

“You underestimate your impact.” With that, Kouyou gave him a polite nod and left his office.

Dazai didn’t watch her go. Instead, he stared out the window, listening to the heels of her shoes as they clicked on the floor until the door was opening and closing. Her words echoed in his head until all Dazai could see were a pair of blue eyes, staring up at him with intense dislike, possibly hatred. If Chuuya broke under Dazai’s tutelage when he had survived seventeen years under the thumb of the man responsible for some of the vilest anti-Gifted practices in the world, he wasn’t worth the trouble Dazai had put into him so far. Chuuya would manage, but if he didn’t, Dazai’s plan would be easily modified. Chuuya had already served most of his purpose.

Chapter Text

 "You’re late.”

The reprimand was heavy with a unique mixture of frustration and resignation that Dazai was quite adept at tugging out of people. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his trench coat and leaned forward, directing his most charming smile at the man currently glaring at him from over the top of a pair of glasses. “The lessons don’t start without me so there’s no possible way that I can be late.”

“That’s not how it works and you know it.”

Dazai’s grin widened and he turned his attention towards his newest pupil. “What do you think, Atsushi-kun?”

The boy looked slightly alarmed at being addressed. Eyes that had been watching the exchange with interest widened dramatically and his face flushed red. “I…uh…. It was only five minutes, I don’t mind.”

“See, it’s all fine, Kunikida-kun!” Dazai glanced at the clock. “Aren’t you supposed to be teaching the younger ones right now?”

He received another withering look, both to indicate that Dazai being late wasn’t fine, despite what Atsushi said, and a warning to behave. Dazai’s cheerful demeanor didn’t falter the slightest as he waved the other man off. Only when the door closed on Kunikida’s heels did Dazai turn back to study his student.

Atsushi wouldn’t look directly at him, but considering how they had first met, and Atsushi’s own history, it wasn’t anything unexpected. Since Atsushi had only been at the Agency for a week, the kid still hadn’t found his feet, much less gotten used to the eccentric personalities around him.

Normally, they wouldn’t start training someone how to use their Gift until the newcomer had gotten a chance to get used to the Agency and were well on their way to recovering from whatever abuse they had suffered at the hand of the Giftless. Atsushi was a unique case. The President’s own ability would keep Atsushi from going on a rampage but, in their world, disaster could strike at any minute. An attack could rattle Atsushi so much that his ability flared out of control, or the president could be assassinated. Atsushi needed to learn how to control his ability as soon as possible, or it would be trouble for all of them.

That’s where Dazai came in. He was charged with training all the new recruits with dangerous abilities.

He ran his gaze over the boy, cycling through dozens of ways he could start the lesson, dozens of masks that had helped drive each past pupil to the best of their capabilities, but there was really only one viable approach for this one.

Dazai let his voice drop the sly edge that was often present in his everyday conversations, let his face soften until he looked as threatening as a child. “Atsushi-kun, what do you know about your ability?”

The boy shifted on his feet. “I didn’t even know I had one. At the orphanage, they wouldn’t tell me why they made me sleep apart from the rest of the children. Or why they-” his voice caught in his throat and he stopped talking.

Dazai knew exactly what circumstances Atsushi had been living in, after all, he was the one who devised the plan to free Atsushi from the orphanage in the first place. They were a particularly vile sort, keeping Atsushi secret from the government so they wouldn’t lose their guard dog, and keeping the ability secret from Atsushi so he wasn’t knowledgeable enough to run away. When he had first cased the place, Dazai had found himself admiring whoever was in charge: it was a ruthless strategy that produced results. It would have worked for years if Dazai hadn’t torn it to shreds. Even now, Atsushi was hesitant to believe the magnitude of his ability due to how helpless he had been at the orphanage.

“Your ability is marvelous,” Dazai said, voice firm and leaving no room for argument. The sooner Atsushi built up some confidence, the sooner Dazai could get somewhere with their lessons. “It’s one of the few abilities that lend themselves to combat. Once you learn how to use it, no one will be able to take advantage of you ever again.”

It was a lie. Dazai and the Agency would be taking advantage of Atsushi as soon as he was trained. And while Dazai was the only person in the Agency who saw it that way, it didn't make it less true. 

Most of the children they rescued ended up being harbored by the Agency, eventually working as clerks, assisting in the infirmary, or even becoming caretakers for the younger Gifted children. On the other hand, those with particularly useful abilities, like Atsushi, were put to work as soon as possible. That was just how life worked for people like them. One day, someone would realize what they were capable of and put them to use: it was the truth of being Gifted.

A part of Dazai wondered how much more powerful the Agency could be if they let loose a little bit. The sort of plans Dazai’s mind could come up with would free the Agency from the watchdog that was the Special Ability Department, but Fukuzawa had vetoed each suggestion before it was fully out of Dazai’s mouth. The president was adamant that the Agency had been founded to ‘protect the weak and powerless’, not to ‘pick a fight’ with the government. Dazai always argued back that the Agency could protect more people if the government was more hesitant to interfere with them, Fukuzawa never budged.

Pulling himself from his thoughts, Dazai began to walk Atsushi through the technical aspects of using his Gift. Information about how to activate and control an ability was difficult to find: the repression of it was one such way that those in power kept the Gifted in line. Most people who had an ability simply learned through trial-and-error, by following their gut instincts, or never learning at all. Dazai had gone through a lot of trouble to come up with an outline to provide to those he taught, and it was one reason why the Agency housed some of the most powerful Gifted in the world.

The longer he talked, the less tense Atsushi became until he started speaking up with specific questions. By the time their designated hour came to an end, Atsushi was giving Dazai a grateful bow before rushing out to each lunch.

“Considering how terrified he was when you first met him, he’s warmed up to you quickly.” The comment came from the threshold of the door and Dazai turned to smile at the newcomer.

“I wear a lot of masks.”

Oda gave a thoughtful nod. “Do you know which Dazai is the real one?”

Dazai shrugged and crossed the room, walking past his friend and heading towards the main offices of the Agency without a word.

Even though he was constantly reminded that he was doing good work, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t doing enough. The Agency was…stifling. Its strict policies against collateral and property damage, and emphasis on avoiding all interaction with the authorities, tied Dazai’s hands considerably when it came to planning their rescue operations. For every kid they managed to get out of a horrible situation, Dazai could have saved five more if he was allowed to take a few lives.

Just the week prior, while heading the mission to get Atsushi, Dazai had been seconds away from killing one of the caretakers in cold blood. The man was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and even though he wasn’t a threat, Dazai found himself considering that the caretaker’s compliance with the orphanage’s tactics may as well end in death. And what better way than to have the killer be Gifted himself? It was only Oda’s interference that had prevented Dazai from pulling the trigger, and it wasn’t the first time they had been through such a close call.

There was some part of Dazai that knew he didn’t quite fit in with the others here, that knew what he could do when he stopped pretending to be as carefree and morally upstanding as his colleagues. He didn’t flinch at the sight of murder or violence like most of the Agency members, he couldn’t dredge up remorse for the anti-Gifted terrorists whose bodies littered the Agency corridor whenever a guerrilla group tried their hand at them, he didn’t understand why the Agency was so concerned about sparing the lives of the Giftless who were compliant in the oppression of people like him.

There was a part of Dazai that heard of the aftermath of Port Mafia operations and wondered how much more noteworthy such operations could become if Dazai was a part of the planning process. On his worst nights, Dazai imagined that maybe there he would feel less like a ghost going through the motions and feel more like he was alive.

“I know who I am,” he finally murmured, not sure if his friend was even still waiting for an answer to his question.

From his seat in the desk diagonal, Oda glanced up, eyes studying him curiously for a moment before he gave another thoughtful nod. “I can see that.”

There was understanding in the response, but no judgment. Out of everyone here, Oda had seen the furthest underneath Dazai’s masks, had seen hints of the man he tried to hide from the others, and he had never judged Dazai for it.

He was grateful. Oda’s rejection would probably be the thing that pushed Dazai to leave this place. Even if it was a departure Dazai was already considering, he wanted it to be fully on his own terms.

 


  

Dazai blinked his eye open and took a steadying breath. He had dozed off in his office, and a glance at the clock told him that he might as well call it a night and get some actual rest.

His right hand was aching, and he slowly loosened his clenched fist to stare at the matchbox he had been holding onto before he fell asleep. The logo was barely distinguishable under the layer of soot Dazai had never tried to wash away. The edges were battered and part of the top side was peeling off. He didn’t have to open it to know that there was only one match inside.

It was the only memento he had kept, the day he decided to stop holding back, the day he had lost the only person in this world that truly understood him—when he had resolved himself to tearing the government down brick by brick with his bare hands.

The matchbox was always in Dazai’s pocket as a reminder of that day. Whenever he needed to strengthen his resolve, he found himself reaching to brush the tips of his fingers over it.

Dazai let his eye flutter shut again, trying to chase the feeling of contentment he had when he was younger.

Despite spending the greater part of his adolescence in the Agency, there had always been a sense of restlessness that clung around him, as if even then he had known this was where he would eventually end up. Dazai had tried to ignore that sense, tried to make attachments and be happy with the work he was assigned. He didn’t need the matchbox to remind him how that had blown up in his face.

With a sigh, Dazai pushed the memories back into the darkest corners of his mind—dwelling on his past wouldn’t help him move ahead.

The Agency was useless in the fight to free the Gifted from oppression. They seemed to believe that, by rescuing a minority of those in need, they could turn a blind eye to the thousands still begging for rescue. Dazai wouldn’t let himself be lulled back into that complacency, not after everything he had gone through.

Pushing himself to his feet, Dazai shoved the matchbox back into his pocket and made his way out of his office. With each step, he cast away the memories of a younger and foolish man. He shed a youth of naivety, of optimism, of ignoring the truth of his true nature, and refocused himself on the goal ahead.

Four years ago, Dazai had made a decision that was impossible to reverse, and he didn’t have time to drown himself in ‘what-ifs’ or crippling memories. The path he had chosen was painted with blood and the ruins of those who stood in his way. It was a path littered with bodies, the bodies of allies and enemies so alike in death, and in such quantity, that he had a tough time distinguishing them. It was a path paved with fire.

All he needed was one good eye to watch the world burn

Chapter Text

The setting sun bathed the room in shades of pink and orange, the large floor to ceiling windows capturing every last ray of sunlight before Yokohama was cloaked in darkness. There was a familiar sort of opulence to the office at the top of the Mafia headquarters, stepping into it gave Chuuya strong recollections of the various penthouses he had visited during his travels with Lemaire. Perhaps that was why he found a twisted sort of humor in the fact that he was currently getting his ass kicked in such a beautiful room.

When Kouyou had told Chuuya he would be training privately with Dazai, Chuuya initially thought she was joking. Why would a man who had been nothing but dismissive of Chuuya turn around and provide him with one-on-one lessons? Chuuya had stared at the piece of paper outlining approximately twelve lessons with Dazai over the span of six weeks before letting out a small chuckle:

“This is a good one. You almost got me.”

“I’m not joking, Chuuya-kun. You will be having lessons with Dazai starting two days from now.”

“Why can’t you teach me?”

Kouyou hadn’t answered right away, her attention fixed on the journal where she was reviewing his proposal for setting up an ambush (strategy lessons were their current focus). “Despite what you may think about him, Dazai is a good boss, and he rarely does things without having a solid reason for it. His ability is also more qualified for teaching than my own.”

In Chuuya’s opinion, he would have preferred lessons with a Giftless Kouyou over spending ten minutes alone with Dazai. However, he had quickly learned that Kouyou didn’t tolerate him publicly disparaging the boss for the sake of keeping the organization united, so he asked, “What is his ability?”

“No Longer Human,” Kouyou murmured, “it allows him to cancel out another Gifted’s ability through mere touch. There are no exceptions to his ability, and it is always active.”

Chuuya thought back to when he had first met Dazai, struggling to activate his ability while the taller man was seated on his lap. Or the next day, when he had tried to break free from Dazai’s grip only to be met with an aching hole where his ability usually crackled under his skin. It was a bit of a relief to know that there was some viable explanation for both situations.

“If he’s canceling my ability, how will I be able to learn to use it?”

Kouyou gave him a smile. “It’s a safety precaution, in case your ability goes out of control.”

“Is that a concern?” He would have hoped someone might have mentioned that his ability was potentially dangerous a lot sooner than now.

“No, Chuuya-kun. Like I said, it’s just a precaution,” she said, voice soothing as she marked a few things in his journal. “But besides his ability, Dazai is also one of the most well-educated in the world when it comes to different abilities and how to control them. In terms of this organization, no one can come close to his depth of knowledge. You could do far worse for teachers.”

At the moment, Chuuya would have preferred the shittiest teacher the Mafia had to offer.

His back slammed against the wall opposite the idyllic windows and he couldn’t hold back the slight grunt of pain that left his mouth.

The lesson had started innocently enough. He had made his way up to the boss’ office and was offered a cup of tea as Dazai ran over the basic theory of controlling an ability. Dazai had given him a set of exercises to test his control, mentioning that Chuuya could do the exercises in his free-time in his room. And while Chuuya was feeling pleased with himself over how well the last exercise had gone, he turned to Dazai only to be met with a foot crashing straight into his side.

Chuuya had spared a fleeting moment of gratitude to Gin for preparing him for surprise attacks and twisted his body so he was falling on his hands instead of the bones of his side. Chuuya hadn’t been given the chance to ask Dazai what the fuck he was doing because the bastard was already following through into another kick and Chuuya only had the energy to focus on staying alive.

Right now, Dazai was watching him closely, giving Chuuya a moment of rest. Taking advantage of the respite, Chuuya shifted his concentration and tugged on the fire constantly crackling under his skin.

Ever since the collar had left his neck, Chuuya had been aware of his ability in a way that he had never been before. In the past, he only thought about his ability in relation to why he lived as he did but, in the Port Mafia, he was constantly aware of the power humming in his veins. Using what he learned in their brief thirty minutes of a normal lesson, Chuuya reached towards the chair in the corner of his vision and sent it flying at Dazai, cutting off the man’s approach.

Dazai jumped backward, avoiding the projectile, and a vicious smile crossed his face. Vaguely, Chuuya wondered if he had just made it worse for himself or if this was exactly what Dazai had been waiting for. He was punished for thinking about it too much: Dazai grabbed the front of Chuuya’s shirt and tugged forward so that Chuuya’s cheek met his fist. At the moment Dazai’s hand met flesh, the grip on Chuuya’s shirt vanished and he flew across the floor to land on the rug where the chair had been seated.

Chuuya would have spat the tangy taste of copper out of his mouth if it wasn’t for the fact that he recognized the make of the carpet he was currently kneeling on. The price of the rug was enough to make him bite into his lower lip and swallow, but the action made the now familiar ache of self-loathing rise from his gut in response. Why should he be more concerned about staining Dazai’s damn rug than his own well-being?

He thought he had been making progress, not just with his fighting or his education, but with becoming more like the others in the organization. The others who rarely ever saw it worthwhile to die in the line of duty because, as they put it, the biggest ‘fuck you’ to society was for them to stay alive to fight again. The others who put the task of freeing the enslaved ahead of their basic needs—some told tales of infiltrating work camps to get out dozens of Gifted at a time, starving for days in the process. If Chuuya hesitated to cough up the blood that Dazai was beating out of him out of concern for the price tag, had he really changed at all?

Chuuya had brought up his perspective lessons with Tachihara the day after he had learned about them. Since Tachihara didn’t have an ability he was almost always out on jobs, but there was something about his slightly explosive personality that meant Chuuya could tell whenever Tachihara was in headquarters:

Chuuya found Tachihara in the massive cafeteria on the tenth floor and took the offered seat with a smile of greeting.

“How was the job?” Chuuya asked, accepting the piece of bread that another member passed him.

“Boring,” Tachihara replied with a shrug. “When you start coming along you’ll see that we don’t get nearly enough action. Speaking of which, when are they finally letting you into the world?”

“Not sure,” Chuuya said, “after I learn how to control my ability better, I guess. I start lessons with Dazai tomorrow.”

Chuuya popped a piece of the bread into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully before he realized silence had fallen over the table. A glance up revealed that Tachihara was staring at him in shock. Slightly uncomfortable with all the attention, he frowned. “What?”

“Dazai? As in the boss, Dazai?” Tachihara asked.

“Yeah?” Chuuya had gone out of his way to avoid mentioning Dazai at all, so he wasn’t sure if this was the normal reaction to the man’s name being brought up in conversation.

“He’s training you personally?” Chuuya nodded. “Holy shit. How powerful is your ability?”

Chuuya’s frown deepened. “Not particularly powerful. I can make myself float, that’s about all I’ve ever learned to do.”

“But if the boss is training you, there has to be more to it,” Tachihara pressed.

“No one has said anything to me,” Chuuya muttered, defensive under the scrutiny. He couldn’t be powerful the powerful ability users were the ones that couldn’t be controlled by something as menial as a shock collar. Chuuya wasn’t anywhere near their league.

Tachihara raised his hands in a placating gesture. “Okay, whatever. Just…don’t piss him off, okay? I’ve heard horror stories of how he trained Akutagawa, he’s a tough teacher.”

Akutagawa. Chuuya wondered how he managed to survive if this was what lessons always looked like with Dazai.

At the reminder of the gravelly voice, the dead stare that had dismissed Chuuya just as easily as Dazai, Chuuya made his decision. He pushed himself to his feet, ignoring how his body screamed out in protest. He knew he would be covered in bruises tomorrow, he could already feel his jaw swelling, but he refused to let any of that show on his face.

Chuuya thought he might have Dazai figured out. Maybe not in terms of why he ran the organization as he did, or what drove him to be so ruthless, but in terms of why he went out of his way to be a jackass. Dazai wanted to get a rise out of Chuuya, wanted to make Chuuya succumb to the anger he was currently holding onto with a weakening grip, and Chuuya would be damned if he played into the bastard’s hand. He didn’t know what Dazai got out of it, but Chuuya knew there was a unique power in withholding someone’s sense of satisfaction.

Once on his feet, Chuuya looked up to meet Dazai’s cold gaze second-for-second. His body was ready to collapse, Chuuya’s knees were quivering and he knew he was swaying slightly, but he wasn’t about to complain. Dazai could keep kicking his ass, and Chuuya would keep getting back on his feet until his body literally shut down.

“Nothing to say?” Dazai asked eye narrowed slightly as he took in the fierce determination now wrought in every line of Chuuya’s body.

“Waiting for instructions. Boss.” The title was tacked on, almost an afterthought.

Dazai’s lips curled into a sneer. “They really had you well-trained. Didn’t they?”

“If you’d rather I told you to fuck off, it would be my genuine pleasure.” The snide retort was out of Chuuya’s mouth before he could catch it.

Silence stretched between them as Dazai seemed to ponder if he was going to make Chuuya pay for the comment. After a moment he said, “We’re done for the day. Only use your ability to do the exercises I gave you until you can control it. I had better see an improvement in our next lesson.”

Chuuya gave a stiff nod and crossed the room, headed towards the door. A sharp grip on his left elbow brought him to a standstill right next to Dazai and Chuuya clenched his jaw, waiting for whatever else the bastard was going to throw at him.

Fingers brushed the side of his face, against where he knew his skin was probably turning a wonderful shade of purple. It was an uncharacteristically soft touch, and Chuuya flinched sharply as his body remembered the motion from days when Lemaire would check to make sure Chuuya hadn’t been roughed up too much to be presentable. The touch vanished the moment Chuuya reacted, but the grip on his elbow didn’t budge.

Chuuya waited for Dazai to mock him for the flinch, for being unable to handle it after the beating he had just taken. When there seemed to be no comment forthcoming, Chuuya glanced up and met the other man’s gaze. There was simple understanding in Dazai’s eye as if he knew exactly what had happened in that split second when Chuuya wasn’t able to distinguish Dazai’s touch from someone else’s.

“What?” Chuuya said when he finally wasn’t able to stand the silence any longer.

The hand holding him still vanished and Dazai walked away, heading towards the inner area of the office. “Go to the infirmary and get patched up.”

That was it? Chuuya found it hard to believe that Dazai was passing up an opportunity to be an asshole, but his body certainly didn’t want to stay in the office any longer than was necessary. Pushing the incident aside for later review, Chuuya trudged out of the boss’ office and headed towards the infirmary.

 


 

 

Dazai always read the reports: it was the easiest way to keep track of individuals within the organization without having to personally interact with them.

The reports had all agreed on a few key things about the man currently walking up the wall in front of him. They said that Chuuya was an attentive student and a quick learner, they said that Chuuya was well-spoken and polite, they said that despite being well-liked Chuuya was noticeably reserved, they said that Chuuya would be a good asset to the Port Mafia. Now three sessions into their private lessons, Dazai was finally in a position to make his own judgment about the accuracy of the reports.

Considering that Chuuya was already more than comfortable manipulating his own gravity, and quickly getting the hang of manipulating the gravity of other objects, Dazai would agree that the man was an attentive student and a quick learner. Despite Chuuya’s clear distaste for Dazai, he hung onto every word that left Dazai’s mouth in regard to using and controlling his ability. When he didn’t understand a concept, he immediately asked for clarification, and he wasn’t satisfied with himself until he finished each task perfectly.

It wasn’t surprising that Chuuya was well-spoken and polite. He had been raised around the high classes of society as a slave: anything less than absolute propriety would have been a death sentence. However, Dazai had seen Chuuya’s temper more than once and had initially wondered if Chuuya would regress to the sheer opposite of the manners drilled into him for seventeen years now that he was free. Kouyou had quickly dispelled such an idea, saying that Chuuya was a ‘perfect gentleman’. Even with Dazai constantly hounding on his mistakes, and making disparaging comments at every opportunity, Chuuya kept his mouth shut save for a few snipped comments here and there.

The timer in Dazai’s hand went off and he looked up to catch the gaze of the man now hanging upside down, shoes firmly attached to the ceiling. Somewhere between Chuuya joining the Mafia and their second lesson, the shorter man had acquired a ridiculous hat. Considering that Chuuya hadn’t done a single job yet, he shouldn’t have been able to purchase anything to supplement the basic wardrobe Kouyou had provided for him. Dazai supposed that’s where the third common thread of the reports came into play: well-liked but reserved.

Between lessons, Chuuya had taken to volunteering around headquarters. In the infirmary, he proved to be capable of basic first-aid and was put to use as a nurse, in the cafeteria he was a decent prep cook, and in the classrooms where younger Gifted children were sheltered by the organization, Chuuya taught English. Dazai wasn’t sure if it was a need to be occupied or a need to prove his worth that drove Chuuya to abandon all of his downtime in favor of helping around the building, but the other members of the organization had already voiced their gratefulness at the extra pair of hands so Dazai had no reason to deter it from continuing.

The only problem was that a few members felt the need to show their appreciation in the form of cash or credits, and Chuuya had used those to buy the stupid hat.

When Chuuya had first worn it in Dazai’s office, Dazai’s first impulse was to snatch the hat from the top of red curls and burn it. After a moment, he realized that he might as well use it as another parameter with which to test Chuuya. It was one thing for clothing secured to his body to remain in the same gravity field as Chuuya, it was another for an article of clothing largely made wearable due to gravity’s influence to remain oriented with Chuuya. Right now, the hat hadn’t moved so much as an inch.

“Passable,” Dazai said.

Despite the dismissive comment, it was actually an impressive display of control. Chuuya had only been actively working on his ability for three lessons, each scheduled several days apart. Considering that their second lesson had been accented by the sound of the hat consistently dropping to the ground, the rate of improvement was staggering.

Chuuya’s feet left the ceiling and he slowly floated down to stand across from Dazai. He didn’t speak, he merely watched Dazai, waiting for whatever would come next.

They hadn’t done any fighting since the first lesson. Dazai had gotten an earful from Kouyou about his ‘barbaric’ methods. It didn’t seem to matter to her that he was trying to push Chuuya towards the edge, trying to get underneath the stranglehold Chuuya seemed to have on his innermost emotions, trying to make Chuuya snap so that Dazai could finally see what power was lurking under the surface. Dazai had promised to back down to avoid tension within the Executive circle, but Kouyou would be out of the city on a job by the end of next week, that was how long Dazai had to wait before he could make another solid attempt to find the truth.

For now, he waved his hand towards the three items settled on the floor a few feet to their right. They were all closed crates, one of which was empty, one half-full, and one stuffed to the brim with assorted items. All Dazai said was, “Five minutes.”

It was a common exercise by now, and Chuuya turned to begin without needing further instruction. His job was to keep all three objects level throughout the duration of the five minutes, and then return them safely to the ground without damaging the contents. Red light covered the crates and they began to rise from the ground.

Dazai ran his gaze along Chuuya’s profile, past the ridiculous hat, to rest on the other new addition to Chuuya’s wardrobe. The choker was more offensive than the hat, and while Dazai had seen Chuuya without the hat, he knew that the choker rarely (if ever) left Chuuya’s neck. Every time Dazai saw it, the glint of metal resting near the front reminded him of the metal collar that Dazai had broken him out of. It was no coincidence that Chuuya had purchased a necklace that fit snugly against his skin, and the implications of it irritated Dazai beyond belief.

It implied that Chuuya hadn’t truly let go of his life as a slave. That some part of Chuuya was still relying on his old instincts because he felt more comfortable as a belonging than as an actual human being. It implied that Chuuya had never entertained the idea of being free: if he had, it would be significantly easier for him to adjust to his new life. It implied that no matter how hard Dazai worked with the man, how much support Kouyou gave him, or how many friends he made in the organization, Chuuya’s heart wouldn’t be fully committed without some sort of catalyst.

It was all of those implications that made Dazai hesitate to confirm the last common thread in all of the reports: that Chuuya would be an asset to the Port Mafia. As he was now, Chuuya was a liability. An overpowered liability who, somehow, managed to keep the most dangerous aspects of his ability under wraps, even when Dazai tried his best to provoke a response.

His memory flicked back to their first lesson, to the nearly violent reaction from Chuuya when he had been touched. Rumors had reached even Dazai about how the newbie didn’t like to be touched; the Port Mafia was tight-lipped when it came to business, but in every other aspect gossip traveled quickly. Apparently, it was Kouyou who first quietly informed a few others not to make contact with the red-head unless he initiated, but it was a particular incident where Tachihara had found himself pushed flat against a wall with a knife at his throat that exposed the guideline to the rest of the organization.

Being who he was, Chuuya had apologized to Tachihara profusely, making people whisper about how Chuuya hadn’t reacted consciously, and it was that first lesson that told Dazai all he needed to know. Chuuya’s reactions were involuntary, his body lashing out to protect itself after years of not being able to do the same.

Dazai’s eye ran along the side of Chuuya’s face, taking in his brow furrowed in concentration before studying the almost lazy curl of the hand aimed at the crates; the man was nothing but a bundle of contradictions. He was still angry at Dazai for the death of his ‘friend’ and yet he was going out of his way to prove himself in these lessons; he was walking around with a collar of leather rather than metal but was also ready to maim anyone who so much as brushed against him in the corridor; he had a loose grip on his temper whenever Dazai was present but apparently had ironclad control over whatever ability was locked inside of his microscopic frame.

Dazai didn’t have time to unravel this puzzle. The time he had been given so far was a blessing; the players in his next scheme were responding much slower than he anticipated, but they wouldn’t remain docile forever. Mindful of Kouyou’s warning, he was using a soft-touch with Chuuya (at least compared to what he wanted to do), but his patience was wearing thin.

Blue eyes flicked up and met his gaze directly, and Dazai belatedly realized Chuuya was finished with the exercise and waiting for further instructions. Dazai tucked his concerns away for later. “That’s fine for today. I expect you to keep practicing.”

A frown crossed Chuuya’s face and he glanced out the window, where the sun was still setting. “Usually we go until sundown.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t clear my entire schedule to hover over your shoulder,” Dazai said, voice dry. “I do have actual work to take care of.”

“What’s your problem with me?” The question was less confrontational that Dazai would have anticipated; Chuuya sounded more resigned than anything.

Dazai tilted his head, wondering if he might get lucky enough to find the rest of Chuuya’s ability tonight if he just pushed a bit further. “You are the one who gave me that fantastic first impression after I rescued you.”

Chuuya dropped his gaze and Dazai bit back a huff of frustration, clearly, he wasn’t making more progress today. From what he’d seen from Chuuya, the man had the potential to be the sort who didn’t take shit from anyone, who was filled to the brim with confidence in his skill set; it was almost insulting how, instead, Dazai had to deal with one who reverted inward when pushed too hard.

“I lost my friend and I was in an unfamiliar circumstance, you can understand I was emotional. I apologize.”

Dazai made a tutting noise and turned his back on the room, walking towards the door to the hallway. He pulled it open and stepped to the side, a clear indicator for Chuuya to leave. The glorified hat rack let out a soft sigh but followed the hint without protest.

When Chuuya drew level to him, Dazai spoke, “Don’t apologize: it’s a sign of weakness.”

That seemed to catch Chuuya off-guard and he glanced at Dazai, all traces of meekness replaced by bewilderment. “Who the fuck taught you that?”

“Someone who had an actual spine.”

Chuuya opened his mouth to reply, and then closed it sharply. Without another word, he left the office and made his way towards the elevator.

 


 

 

Every muscle in Chuuya’s body was tense. The strange atmosphere of the room set his hackles on edge. All of his senses seemed to zero in on the man across from him, the weight of scrutiny in that single eye felt like it was tearing through Chuuya’s frame to stare into his soul.

It was their seventh lesson, and every time Chuuya made the trek from his room to the office at the top of the building it still felt like the first time he was going. Each step filled him with a sense of foreboding, and it didn’t seem like it was going to get any easier.

He never quite knew what to expect from Dazai.

After the disaster of their first lesson, they had fallen into a loose routine where Chuuya was given exercises for the first fifteen minutes before Dazai put him through his paces in terms of testing his ability. Chuuya would have been at a loss to explain the sudden shift between their first and second lesson if it weren’t for the rumors about Kouyou confronting Dazai, upset at how battered Chuuya looked after that first day. That confrontation seemed to make Dazai restrain himself, but even so, Chuuya couldn’t escape the feeling that the boss was always just moments away from reverting to his original methods.

That feeling had never been as strong as it was now, and the knowledge that Kouyou was out on a job for at least two more days only heightened Chuuya’s nerves. Dazai looked like he was going to tear Chuuya to shreds.

“Well, hat rack, have you been practicing?”

Chuuya felt his hands clench momentarily at the nickname. “Yes.”

“And what about your combat? Able to keep it up without Gin watching?”

“Yes.”

A grin spread across Dazai’s face: all teeth and no warmth. “Good.”

The slight shift of Dazai’s right foot was the only warning Chuuya got before the boss was flying across the room to ram a knee into Chuuya’s gut. The air left his lungs in an explosive gasp but he flowed with the momentum, landing backward and rolling to his feet just in time to block a blow from Dazai’s fist.

His mind raced rapidly as he lashed out with a kick, hoping to make Dazai back up long enough for him to be able to use his ability. Unfortunately, Dazai knew exactly what Chuuya wanted and pivoted just out of reach. One hand grabbed Chuuya’s leg and wretched it over his hip, sending Chuuya sprawling across the floor.

Chuuya pushed himself back to his feet, grateful that Dazai hadn’t felt the need to press his advantage. “I thought you were teaching me how to use my ability, not tutoring me in combat.”

Dazai smirked. “Do you happen to remember the day Akutagawa and I watched your progress?”

Remember? Chuuya hadn’t been able to put it out of his mind every time he stepped in that practice room. Their flippant dismissal was what had driven him to work twice as hard as he already had been. Every night, he dropped into his bed, bone-tired and sore from a day full of work, only to get back up at the crack of dawn the next morning to work some more.

Not that Dazai would care.

“Yes.”

“And did you manage to take anything away from that?”

Chuuya cast his mind back to the specific words of the two Gifted members. “You said that my ability doesn’t lend itself to combat so I need to be a better fighter to compensate.”

“Exactly.”

This time, it was the smug lilt of Dazai’s voice as it curled around that single word that tipped Chuuya off to impending danger. Dazai rushed across the distance between them, fist coming up from underneath in an attack meant to knock Chuuya off his feet once again.

Chuuya leapt sideways, avoiding the blow and landing with a slight stumble. Dazai was on him within seconds and he ducked underneath a punch and lashed out with one of his own. As Dazai stumbled back, Chuuya launched the weight of the packed crate across the room. Dazai narrowly missed being hit, but it gave Chuuya time to leap up to the ceiling, where he was safely out of Dazai’s reach.

A stalemate.

He stared down at his boss, feeling a savage rush of vindication at the bruise blooming across the side of Dazai’s face.

They stood in silence until Dazai mused, “Decent.”

And while Chuuya had been reasonably calm during the battle, it was that word that had him seeing red.

“Decent? I nearly flattened you with a wooden crate! You can’t even reach me where I am but I could bombard you with everything in this office. Would I have to actually kill you before you acknowledge that I’m doing well?”

Dazai laughed, “What do you want from me? Do you want me to hold your hand and baby you? We’re in the middle of a war, Chuuya. I don’t have time to give you special treatment.”

“I’m not asking for special treatment!” Chuuya snapped. “I wasn’t even part of this three months ago; I think my improvement speaks for itself.”

“It does. It tells me that you haven’t really changed a bit,” was the dismissive reply. “If you were completely committed to improving you wouldn’t even need me to teach you, but instead you spend time running around this building, throwing yourself at the members in the hopes that they’ll validate you in return. Tell me, have you been genuine to anyone in this organization besides me or are you too busy trying to be liked?”

“I-”

Dazai wasn’t finished. “Your act doesn’t work on me. I know that you’re not committed to the Port Mafia; you probably still cry over that pathetic bodyguard, probably wish you still had the fancy clothes they would dress you up in, you even went and bought yourself a new collar.”

Chuuya’s hand flew to the choker around his neck. Dazai didn’t understand how hard it was to adjust after seventeen years, how the rush of oxygen sometimes made him dizzy and how the choker helped ground Chuuya. Dazai couldn’t understand how it felt to know that he could take the choker off whenever he wanted.

“You avoid all the Gifted members because you know that you don’t deserve to be considered in the same organization as them. You’re too busy wallowing in self-pity to be willing to go out and fight for our cause. I’m sure that you sometimes wish I never got you out of that hotel.”

At the last comment, Chuuya flinched. There had been some nights, when he had dragged himself to his dorm room, aware that the pain he felt would only be worse in the morning and also aware that he wasn’t going to have a break, when he had compared his life with Lemaire and his life in the Port Mafia and wondered if this was really any better. But Dazai throwing it back in Chuuya’s face, when the bastard had no idea what Chuuya was going through…he wasn’t going to let that slide.

“Yeah, sometimes I do wish you never showed up in my life,” Chuuya spat. “You walk around acting like you’re so much better than the people out there. From where I stand, you’re a man in a position of power who controls the lives of hundreds of people. A man who uses us like pawns, who doesn’t see us as anything other than tools in your vendetta against the government. What makes you any different from them?”

The last comment was unfair.

Chuuya knew it was unfair the moment the words left his lips, but he would be damned if he took it back. If Dazai couldn’t see how similar his treatment of Chuuya was to the people who he swore to tear down, how much he was turning into what he hated, Chuuya felt no need to apologize.

Dazai glanced away from Chuuya—for the first time in all of their conversations he was the one to break eye-contact—and for a second Chuuya thought that maybe they could talk this through, figure out why there was so much antagonism and move forward from there.

Instead, Dazai backed up slightly before launching himself at the adjacent wall. Chuuya watched, dumbstruck, as Dazai pushed off the wall to soar towards Chuuya, and he didn’t even react as Dazai’s hand gripped the nape of his neck and blue light flashed around them. Chuuya only had enough mind to twist himself in mid-air so he landed on his feet as Dazai dropped down in front of him.

Chuuya wasn’t given any time to recover, because suddenly Dazai was in front of him, hand twisted in the fabric of Chuuya’s shirt, tugging him forward so he was balancing on the tips of his toes.

This close, Dazai loomed over Chuuya, and an aura of malice seemed to poison the air. “Those people slaughter children. Any Gifted who manages to live past their prime in enslavement is put down like an animal. They didn’t see you as anything more than a sex toy. If you want to think that I’m the same as them, you’re being a brat.” Dazai’s voice was dangerously soft and remarkably even. In fact, the only indication that he was angry was the death grip threatening to cut off Chuuya’s air. “There are kids as young as eight that are doing more for the Port Mafia than you are. It’s time for you to grow up and decide where your loyalties lie.”

“I don’t support what they do to the Gifted.”

“As long as you aren’t actively fighting, you might as well be one of them,” Dazai replied. He shoved Chuuya backward, watching with disdain as Chuuya struggled to regain his balance. “Get out.”

The two words made Chuuya’s blood run cold and his eyes widened, all anger vanishing from his system to be replaced with fear. “What?”

“Get out. We’re done.”

“…for today?” Chuuya pressed.

Dazai walked past Chuuya, heading towards the inner part of his office, the area Chuuya had been forbidden from entering. “We’re finished.”

The far door swung shut behind Dazai without giving Chuuya the chance to reply. The echo of it closing shot through Chuuya’s body and he stared at the door, running through the sudden dismissal. Dazai had said they were done, but was he referring to the lessons or was he kicking Chuuya out of the Port Mafia? Surely Dazai wouldn’t just send him out into the streets…would he?

Slowly, Chuuya backed away from the center of the room before he turned on his heel and dashed out of the office. He ran through the corridor, down the flights of stairs, and didn’t stop running until he was locked in his room. He thrust open the window and lit a stick of incense with trembling hands.

He should have kept his mouth shut.

Of all the skills Chuuya had brought to the Port Mafia from his past, the ability to take abuse with his mouth shut should have been the one he held onto, especially when dealing with the head of the most powerful underground organization in Yokohama. One false move could be the ends of the friendships he was beginning to form with Kouyou, with Tachihara, even with Gin.

Chuuya reached out and picked up the talisman Kouyou had gifted him on his first official day in the organization—which was left to hang right next to his bed at all times—and clutched it in his hands. This couldn't be how it ended; he would fix this. 

Chapter Text

Chuuya spent the time following his fight with Dazai feeling like he was floating through a state of suspension, waiting for the shoe to drop and shatter the little bit of peace he had managed to find in the Port Mafia. He tried to go about his business normally, but in addition to his lessons with Dazai being canceled, Chuuya also quickly learned that the jobs occupying Kouyou and Gin were taking longer than anticipated, meaning they weren’t around to train him either. Chuuya still went to the practice room regularly—throwing himself into his combat drills—and every now and then he would cautiously test his control over his gift as well, but he found it difficult to stop replaying Dazai’s words in his head.

“As long as you aren’t actively fighting, you might as well be one of them.”

He began to look at the members of the Port Mafia in a different light. They had all signed up for this life because they believed in what they were fighting for or, at the least, they disapproved of who they were fighting against. For those like Chuuya, those who were Gifted and had nowhere else to go, their commitment was understandable. But for those without abilities, who could survive just fine, and possibly even thrive, under the current system…it was their devotion in particular that made Chuuya ashamed of the part of himself that had held back the past few months.

Two days after his confrontation with Dazai, a knock on his door sent a sinking feeling through his body, and Chuuya went to answer what he assumed to be someone coming to finally kick him out of the organization. Instead, he was met with a smile from Kouyou and an invitation to dinner. Ignoring the voice at the back of his head that suggested she was just trying to break the news gently, Chuuya accepted and followed Kouyou through headquarters and towards the lobby.

He hardly considered the fact that it was his first time leaving headquarters since he arrived, or that it was really his first time out on the streets of Yokohama. They walked as if they were any normal pair, blending in with the crowds of Giftless as if they were faceless, as if there wasn’t a bounty on Chuuya’s head and Kouyou wasn’t wanted by the government. They walked until they reached the door of a nondescript building and Kouyou knocked several times. It slid open to reveal an underground restaurant where, judging by how quickly they were seated and served, he assumed Kouyou was a regular customer.

They ate with little discussion. Kouyou wasn’t at liberty to discuss where she had been for the last two weeks and the last thing Chuuya wanted to talk about was the way his lessons had progressed from being a mess to becoming a disaster. It wasn’t until the food was gone, and the server had placed a fresh pot of tea between them, that they got down to business.

Kouyou picked up a folder from where it had been seated in the chair next to her and pulled a paper out of it. She slid a file across the table to Chuuya and he slowly reached out and picked it up, ready to see a notice of his expulsion from the Port Mafia. Instead, he saw a picture of a building. Chuuya studied it, frowned, and looked back up at Kouyou. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s your first job.”

“My first job?” Chuuya repeated, bewildered. “I…I thought when Dazai stopped teaching me that I was getting kicked out.”

Kouyou’s lips pressed into a thin line, giving Chuuya the impression that somehow or the other she knew exactly what had happened in that last lesson, but she didn’t address it. “Dazai is finished teaching you because you have no need for further training from him. He recommends you continue working on your control exercises daily, but other than that he has personally cleared you for field duty.” She tapped the picture. “This building houses several different businesses, but we are interested in the business occupying the third floor. They have a relatively new government contract for surveying children who are suspected to have abilities. Our intelligence says that they have a narrowed down list full of reliable leads, our job is to find that list so that the Port Mafia can get to the Gifted children before they’re chipped. For this assignment, you will be coming along with me, just to make sure everything goes smoothly.”

Chuuya should have recognized that those were the famous last words of any mission doomed for trouble, but he was too elated at the prospect of finally being able to make a difference in the organization that he threw himself into planning. In the days leading up to when they were supposed to go in for the list, Chuuya and Kouyou ironed out their plans, covering everything from how they would get into the building to what they would do if they got separated.

It was raining the night of the job.

The downpour was so harsh that it blocked most visibility, making it so Chuuya couldn’t even see the outline of the building they were targeting until they were nearly upon it. The torrential storm drove most traffic off the streets, and Chuuya wouldn’t have been surprised if the business’ employees had left early so they wouldn’t get caught in the weather.

Everything went smoothly as they slipped in through the main entrance, hiding under Kouyou’s umbrella to avoid having their faces on the surveillance footage. Since there were half-a-dozen other business sharing the office space of the building, there wasn’t much concern about being questioned if they happened across someone on their way towards their target. In fact, there hadn’t been much concern about any aspect of the mission, so when they entered the third floor of the building, Chuuya felt his blood run cold at the sight of a dozen security guards milling in the main entrance of the company, all of whom turned at the sound of the door to the stairwell opening and closing behind the Mafia pair.

This wasn’t right.

There were too many fighters, too prepared to take on intruders. Their information had given no indication of this, but from what Chuuya could tell, these weren’t new improvements. Either Port Mafia intelligence was severely lacking, or they had been purposely sent in with misinformation. A calculating smirk rose to mind and Chuuya swore: he had to believe Dazai was behind this. Was it an easier way to get Chuuya out of the organization? Scare him off or let him be killed? Was it another damn test?

“What do we do?” Chuuya asked, even though every instinct in his body was screaming at him to turn around and run back down the stairs behind him.

“Finish the job,” was Kouyou’s calm response, “I’ll hold them off here, you go look for the information.”

“I can’t leave you by yourself!” The words were barely out of Chuuya’s mouth when blood splattered across the pristine white floor of the office. Three different guards dropped to the ground, dead in an instant, as the giant demon who was responsible floated in the air, blocking the others from rushing at Chuuya and Kouyou.

She flashed him a smile. “I can handle this. You know how these people like to operate, you’ll find the file faster.”

After that display, Chuuya was hard pressed to find a reason to linger, so he darted to his left and rushed towards their ultimate destination, aware that any guards who made to chase after him were immediately gutted with a sword.

He had memorized the blueprints for the offices the same day he learned about the mission, and his body followed the correct turns as he kept his ears peeled to the sounds of fighting that echoed behind him.

When he found what he was looking for, the owner’s office, it was unsettling to see how normal it looked. There was no special security on the door, no extra guards standing watch, nothing that screamed ‘exploitative corporation’, nothing that would have implicated this place to be the target of the Port Mafia. Once inside, he scanned the room, mentally recalling every time he had been in such an office as a window dressing for a meeting, thinking up and discarding hiding spots in rapid succession.

His gaze lingered on the desk that took up most of the space and, struck with an idea, he swiftly crossed the room and sat down in the leather chair behind the desk. He ran his fingers along the underside of the main section until they caught on an irregularity. Chuuya pressed in and grinned with the drawer closest to his left foot clicked open. The file was easily found and he tucked it away before racing out of the office; there was no longer any point in trying to cover their tracks thanks to the sheer amount of armed guards that had been waiting for them.

Turning a corner, he nearly ran straight into Kouyou.

“Do you have it?” She asked, and Chuuya nodded. “We have to go out through a side exit, they called the military police.”

Kouyou swept past Chuuya, leading the way through the offices, to a second stairwell, and towards an exit that opened to a side alley next to the building. Each turn they made, Chuuya was certain they would be walking into an ambush, and he routinely patted the front pocket of his blazer to make sure the file was still folded inside.

When Kouyou pushed open the door that led out of the building, Chuuya let go of a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding in, and he glanced around as he followed her into the alley. A glint of metal caught his attention as a police officer stationed at the wall next to the door shifted in the shadows.

“Kouyou!” The voice that left Chuuya’s lips wasn’t his own.

The fear and desperation taunt in every syllable felt like it ripped from someone else’s throat as he watched the officer turn off the safety of the gun in his hand. Chuuya’s own legs moved without waiting for his mind to process the action and he launched across the distance between them as the man began to raise his weapon to point it at Kouyou’s back. One of Chuuya’s hands yanked at the man’s hair, baring his throat, as he pulled out the dagger Gin had given him during one of their earliest lessons. He reversed it in his grip and dragged it across the man’s neck in a jagged stroke.

Blood flowed over Chuuya’s hand and a rush of air, almost like a gasp for help, came from the open wound. Chuuya immediately let go of him and staggered backward, watching as the man dropped to his knees, frantically trying to stem the ooze of dark red that was slipping between the cracks of his fingers in a steady stream. Chuuya couldn’t look away as the man’s face got paler and paler until he slumped over into a heap on the ground.

He had killed him.

Chuuya felt bile rise in his stomach and he dropped his dagger, frantically looking for something to wipe the blood from his hands with. Someone touched his sleeve and Chuuya stumbled away, falling onto his ass. He was trembling from head-to-toe, his gaze still fixed on the officer who was nothing more than a corpse. Chuuya had done that to him.

“Chuuya-kun.” Kouyou’s voice forced its way through the haze of horror threatening to swallow him whole. “Please stand up.”

He stared up at her, taking a moment to process her request before he pushed himself to shaky feet. Chuuya took one fleeting moment to confirm that Kouyou was okay before he turned and emptied the contents of his stomach. When he was finished heaving up the remains of his dinner, Chuuya straightened and wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket.

“Are you alright?” They didn’t have time for this conversation, someone would eventually come looking for the dead officer and they could hear the shouts of reinforcements searching for them in the building. Chuuya didn’t have it in him to lie though to her, especially not now, so he shook his head and Kouyou asked a new question. “Can I touch you?”

He nodded and felt a bit of the tension in his body vanish when Kouyou placed a firm arm around his shoulders and began to usher him away from the gore and towards the opening of the alley.

“Ane-san?” It was the first time he had actually used the term, despite Kouyou’s persistence that he could address her as such. He could see how it caught her attention, made her pause in her haste to get him away from the building and back to the sanctuary of his dorm. “Does it get easier?”

Kouyou didn’t reply right away. Her hand squeezed his shoulder and she continued walking forward, putting death behind them. “It does, but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.”

A thought popped into his head and he murmured, “Is there any chance you could leave this out of your report? Dazai already thinks I’m pathetic enough.”

She let out a soft sigh. “He requested that you give the report directly to him. What you say will be your decision, but you should know that seldom happens in the organization that the boss does not know about.”

Chuuya continued to put one foot in front of the other, his eyes fixed on the tops of his shoes as the noise of the street grew louder. “Do you think he did this on purpose? He was testing me?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think I passed?”

Kouyou stopped walking just before they exited the mouth of the alley and she pulled on Chuuya’s shoulder, forcing him to face her. “Does it matter? You cannot allow Dazai’s approval, or lack of it, determine your self-worth, Chuuya-kun. He deals with hundreds of members and only sees as much of them as allows him to run the organization effectively. There are aspects of who you are that Dazai knows nothing about, but that does not make those aspects worthless. It is nothing shameful to regret taking a life: to feel otherwise makes you less human.” She paused, then continued, “But this is what it means to be part of the Port Mafia. If you are not up for it, I can help you get settled elsewhere, all you have to do is ask.”

Chuuya’s mind replayed the moment his blade had cut skin, and he felt his stomach churn. Thankfully, there was nothing left for it to reject. Unable to throw up anything else, Chuuya was left with a nauseating feeling in his gut as he stared up into Kouyou’s gaze.

Her eyes were gentle, understanding him and refusing to judge. The kindness Chuuya saw there was harshly contrasted to the look she had worn while slaughtering the guards inside the building whose shadows now protected them from discovery. Her ability to do something so horrid and then turn around and comfort Chuuya was difficult to understand but made him feel that much more cared for.

His breath caught in his throat, and Chuuya angrily swiped at his eyes, where tears were threatening to fall “He worked for a government that keeps us enslaved, he was trying to kill you. Why does it bother me so much?”

Kouyou shook her head. “It doesn’t matter who it was, Chuuya, taking someone’s life is a considerable action. Knowing that they died at your hands will be on your conscious forever.”

His eyes flicked down to his right hand, where the blood was beginning to turn a ruddy brown as it dried, and he absently started to scrub at it, trying to get the blood to flake of. “It took him so long to stop breathing.”

A hand covered his own, forcing him to stop his scrubbing. Kouyou didn’t say a word as she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and stretched it out from underneath the cover of the building to wet it in rainwater. She began to gently wipe away the blood, her eyes fixed on her work as she let Chuuya puzzle through his emotions in silence. When there was no trace left of his actions on Chuuya’s hand, she straightened and wrapped her arm around his shoulder once more, urging Chuuya to continue their walk to headquarters.

 


 

When Chuuya gave his report to Dazai, he didn’t mention the way his whole body had almost collapsed under the weight of his first kill, didn’t mention the tears he had shed in the alley on some side street of the city, didn’t mention Kouyou’s offer to take Chuuya away from the Port Mafia.

Dazai’s face was largely unreadable as Chuuya rattled off the essence of what had occurred; there was no indication that Dazai had designed the mission as a way to test Chuuya’s ability to survive in the Port Mafia. A slight quirk of his lips as Chuuya finished his report by describing the retrieval of the targeted information was the only spark of emotion the boss showed. It hinted that Dazai knew Chuuya had not been nearly as composed as he implied, that Dazai had sent someone to watch the whole affair from a distance, but he didn’t say a word. When Chuuya finished speaking, Dazai had merely nodded and dismissed him.

From that day on, Chuuya never did another job with his bare hands.

After Chuuya left the boss’ office and retreated to the privacy of his dorm, Kouyou stopped by his room with a pair of black gloves. She didn’t need to explain what they were for, or why, and Chuuya didn’t have to say a word about the uneasiness that fluttered through his body at the gift. By offering the gloves, Kouyou was confirming that Chuuya would have to kill again in the future and, by accepting them, Chuuya was deciding to stay in the Port Mafia, was refusing her offer of relocation.

He took the articles of clothing from her hands without a word. Chuuya was going to continue this work because he didn’t know what else he would, or how he could live with himself if he returned to being passive in this society. He was going to keep doing this work because he was beginning to make a family out of the strange personalities scattered throughout the organization; if he had to defend his place in the Port Mafia by killing more people, then so be it.

Killing changed a person.

Chuuya had never seriously considered how or why, and he knew that if he dwelled on it, that the reality of his circumstances would crush him. The only way to find comfort in his sleep, to be able to escape the rancid smell of death and the flow of someone’s life running down his hand, was to tell himself that he made the right choice and then push the whole thing out of his mind.

It didn’t make him immune to what he had done, Chuuya knew that. When he looked in the mirror, he could sometimes see the beginning of the same dead gaze that made Dazai look so intimidating. Chuuya wondered how many lives he would have to take before he echoed the emptiness in Dazai’s eye and the coldness in his voice.

Everyone in the Port Mafia had blood on their hands, Chuuya had figured as much when he first joined, but he had never considered what that meant. Kouyou had torn through enemies like they were paper, Gin was essentially a killing machine, and Tachihara would often brag about how many of the ‘sick bastards’ he had taken out on any given mission. Chuuya wouldn’t let himself fall behind, he wouldn’t let the nightmares that woke him in a cold sweat be enough to break him, he wasn’t going to give into his weakness any longer.

Chuuya began to build a fortress out of his wardrobe. In his past life, he had been deprived of all but the most revealing clothing, had been forced to bare himself to the world and he recognized the calculated vulnerability the right set of clothes could create. Now, he took the opposite approach. He wore a gray vest over his shirts like it was bulletproof, the smooth fabric and tailored fit paid for with the money he earned after leading a team to destroy a budding anti-Gifted militant group. Blood money, in every sense of the word.

His pants were as black as his gloves. It allowed him to pretend they were soaked in rainwater on nights when he had slugged through puddles of filth and gore, had bathed in blood that belonged to both friend and foe.

The jacket, settled around his shoulders, helped ground Chuuya in his fights. He used it much the same way Dazai had used his hat in lessons, to help with his control. Between the two pieces of clothing, Chuuya never lost his focus during a job again.

As Chuuya began to find his footing in the Port Mafia, he began to notice discrepancies in the way he had been trained compared to most of the others. He was only one of a handful of members with more than basic combat skills, who was more familiar with a blade than with a gun. He was one of just a few members who had an in-depth knowledge of all the enemy organizations in and around Yokohama and their standard tactics. He also quickly learned that his ability was more suited for combat than he had been led to believe, and as each of these things came to light an idea swirled in the back of his brain.

“Dazai was an ass to light a fire under me, wasn’t he?” Chuuya asked Kouyou one day as soon as the idea was fully formed.

“Chuuya-kun, that’s no way to discuss the boss.”

“Am I wrong, Ane-san?”

She chuckled, “He had us work you harder than most new recruits, yes.”

“Manipulative asshole.”

It was that knowledge that pushed Chuuya even further. His success rate pushed towards the tops of the organization, and he began to climb the ranks accordingly. With each promotion, handed to him via Kouyou with Dazai’s signature scrawled at the bottom, Chuuya felt a rush of vindication, and he had no plans to stop until he forced Dazai to recognize that Chuuya couldn’t be used as a pawn any longer. He began to build a reputation within the organization, as the man who didn’t leave anyone behind, who would tear through an entire army by himself to make sure his whole team finished a mission alive. 

Even with his growing influence, the invitation to the war room came as a surprise. Chuuya had only been doing jobs for four months when he was stopped on his way back from combat practice by one of the children that ran around as messengers. A small note was handed to him, asking him to a strategy meeting the next evening. The kid was off to find the next recipient before Chuuya had fully processed what he was holding.

The war room, situated in the boss’ office, was mostly discussed in whispers. Those that had been asked to meetings there weren’t allowed to say a word of what happened inside, but every time a meeting convened it meant that Dazai was planning something big. To be invited inside, still relatively new to the organization, was no small feat.

By now, the trip to the top floor of headquarters wasn’t as intimidating as it had been when Chuuya first joined, and he made his way to the war room a few minutes before the allotted time, eager to learn what grand scheme was at play.

Already inside was an older man who Chuuya knew only by reputation (and it was a fearsome reputation at that). The gentleman gave a polite smile in greeting as Chuuya crossed the room to introduce himself.

“I’m Nakahara Chuuya,” he said, “it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine, I’m sure,” was the reply as the man shook his hand, “I’m Hirotsu Ryuurou. Kouyou has told me some great things about you.”

Chuuya smiled at the mention of praise from his mentor before he realized they were no longer alone. Gin had slipped into the room without a word and moved to lean against the wall just a few feet away. They made eye contact and she gave him a nod in greeting. Next came a woman Chuuya had been wanting to speak with ever since he first arrived, though she looked considerably different from the only other time they had met. She crossed towards him without hesitation and inclined her head in a slight bow.

“I wish we had gotten the chance to speak sooner but I have been kept busy,” Higuchi said briskly, “I wanted to apologize for my rudeness when we met.”

Chuuya shook his head. “No apology necessary, Higuchi-san, you were doing your job. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Now that we’ve finished with pleasantries.” Dazai’s voice cut through the room and everyone turned to face the door as the boss closed it behind himself. “we have a lot of work to do and little time with which to do it.”

“Who is the target this time?” Hirotsu asked.

Dazai moved towards the table in the middle of the room and spread out the papers he was carrying in his hands. “An ability user.”

An extraction. Most of Chuuya’s missions fell into one of two categories: he was either sent in to annihilate someone or sent in to steal something. An extraction was new territory, and he glanced down at the blueprints as Dazai continued. “It’s going to take a lot of manpower to pull off. Our target is the Deviant Control Research Facility.”

Hirotsu frowned. “No one has ever made a successful assault there, not even the previous bosses.”

“There is a first time for everything,” Dazai replied smoothly, “and I already have the basics of the plan. Does anyone want out?” He glanced up and scanned the room, eye pausing on each member present just long enough to see the shake of their head before moving on. He ended on Chuuya, who raised a defiant eyebrow at Dazai, a silent message that Chuuya was not about to back down regardless of how dangerous it was.

Dazai smirked slightly and turned his attention back to the table. “Let’s get started.”

 


 

 

Up close, the research facility they were infiltrating looked more like a prison than anything else. There were few windows, all of which were placed much too high above the ground for them to be truly viable points of entry, and security was state-of-the-art. It wasn’t surprising that this was going to be one of the biggest operations of the year for the Port Mafia and from where Chuuya stood, perched on the corner of the roof of the adjacent building, it looked like Dazai had ordered a veritable army out for the mission.

Despite being one of the five people who was involved in the planning for the operation, Chuuya really only knew a fraction of the entire plan. Everyone currently making their way through the streets or the sewers had been told just enough for them to do their part, and not a whisper more. With this many numbers, and with this difficult of a target, there was a good chance that quite a few of them would die, and a good chance that some would even be captured. As long as Dazai didn’t fall into either of those categories, the mission should be able to succeed regardless of the resistance they encountered.

Chuuya would be moving on his own for most of the job. His ability meant that he could get places no one else could, and he had shown he was more than capable of handling himself if a fight broke out. Right now, at the precipice of what was sure to become chaos, was the only time he would be accompanied by another mafia member until he found the target.

A slight cough sounded from behind him before Akutagawa muttered, “Is the set up finished?”

Employees were still trickling out of the facility at a steady rate and Chuuya shook his head. “Give it another five minutes or so.”

“Attacking before sundown is crazy,” was the dry response.

For the most part, Chuuya agreed, but he could also see the benefit of attacking at the end of the workday. Besides it being several hours before anyone might think to expect trouble, any emergency response vehicles sent by the government would be bogged down by traffic, and their opponents would be hindered trying to avoid collateral damage.

“As long as everyone sticks to the plan, we shouldn’t have problems.”

Even though his back was facing the younger man, Chuuya could practically feel the glare directed at him. “I do have a bit more experience doing this than you do, Nakahara.”

That was true, and yet Chuuya was the one who was sent out on missions with men under his command while Akutagawa was hardly ever included in team operations. They both knew those facts, and they both had clues as to why that was, so Chuuya didn’t feel the need to respond to the sharp comment. Instead, he watched as, every now and then, a worker realized they had left something inside and waved off their colleagues before rushing back to the building, aware that all the employees who did were Port Mafia spies who had been undercover for months. He watched as small groups of laughing students or sightseers paused at various points around the facility, all heavily armed and prepared for a fight.

He waited until his phone vibrated in his hand, and Chuuya answered it without pause. “Yes?”

“You’re up,” Dazai said from the other end.

Chuuya straightened, feeling the familiar tingle of pre-fight nerves filling his system. “Got it.”

The line cut and Chuuya shoved his phone into his pocket before he turned to look at Akutagawa. “Ready?”

Akutagawa stepped forward so he was standing next to Chuuya at the edge of the roof and nodded. “Let’s get on with it.”

Chuuya dug a round chunk of metal out of his pocket and turned his focus to the window of the facility that led to the security room. According to their intelligence, the change of shifts at the end of the workday meant that the room would be full to the brim with security (guards arriving and leaving work). The metal slowly rose from the palm of his hand and Chuuya took a calming breath before he sent it rocketing towards the glass of the window. He didn’t wait for it to make contact before he reached out and grabbed Akutagawa, launching both of them off the top of the roof.

They descended into the building through a spray of glass and directly into bullet fire, all of which were devoured by the beast that flared from Akutagawa’s clothing. Alarms blared in response to the broken window, but Chuuya and Akutagawa paid the noise no mind as they tore through every living person inside the security room, regardless of if they were putting up a fight.

When the last body dropped to the ground, speared by Rashomon’s tendrils, Chuuya pulled his phone back out and dialed, only having to wait a moment before the other man picked up.

“Security reinforcements are handled,” Chuuya said, shortly.

“Good, move to the next stage,” Dazai replied. 

Chuuya made eye contact with Akutagawa and nodded. That was all it took for the younger man to leave the room and start setting off through the hallways, operating as a massive distraction. Once he was gone, Chuuya muttered, “Where am I going?”

“Take a right once you leave the room and don’t stop taking rights until you reach a set of stairs. Go up one flight, take two lefts, the target will be inside the door at the end of the hall. I’ll be a few minutes behind you with reinforcements.”

The sound of an explosion shot through the line and Chuuya winced, hanging up immediately before rushing out of the room. To his left, he could see evidence of Akutagawa’s passage, marked by bodies littered every couple of feet. Beyond that, fire was flickering through the windows: a nearby office building set up in flames to divide the city’s response teams. There was a time when Chuuya would have paused to murmur an apology to the souls of any innocent bystanders caught in the mayhem, but today he turned his back on it and set off towards his destination.

As he walked, he occasionally heard the sounds of others fighting. Gunshots and screams punctuated the air, cutting through the alarms that still blared overhead. He always turned away from them, moving deeper into the building until he came upon the stairs. Chuuya rushed up the flight and took two lefts, bursting through the door that loomed in front of him before coming to an abrupt halt.

He was met with pure carnage. White lab coats and blue security shirts told him that the dead were part of the enemy, but he wasn’t sure if the person responsible was necessarily a friend.

It was a girl, probably no older than fifteen, her hands clutching a small cell phone. Behind her floated a giant phantom, reminiscent of Kouyou’s ability, its blade covered in blood.

“Uh, hi.” Chuuya wanted to kick himself for being tongue-tied, but he also wanted to kick Dazai for failing to mention their target was a child with a deadly ability. Since he didn’t have any backup yet, his best chance at getting them both out safely was to get her talking. “My name is Nakahara Chuuya. What’s your name?”

The girl blinked as if she was surprised at being addressed. “Izumi Kyouka.”

“Kyouka-chan?” Chuuya replied, remembering how he had felt the first time he heard a familiar tone used with his name. He could only hope she felt similarly as he motioned towards the phantom. “Is that yours?”

It was a stupid question, considering how the demon towered over the girl like a guardian angel. She didn’t seem to notice it was a stalling tactic because she merely looked up at the creature before meeting his gaze again. “Yes.”

“I have an ability too, and I came with others like us. We want to get you out of here, to a place where Deviants are real people.”

A spark of life flashed through her face, almost as if she was hopeful, before it vanished just as quickly. “Places like that don’t exist.”

“They do.” Chuuya slowly shrugged his jacket off one shoulder and rolled up the sleeve of his shirt, revealing the scar where his microchip had been. Kyouka brought her hand up to the same spot on her own arm, as if she could feel her own chip, as he explained, “I used to be in your position. I want to help you, Kyouka-chan.”

Behind him, he was aware that his reinforcements had arrived. A figure moved into his frame of vision, and Chuuya only needed to see the flutter of the black coat and a flash of bandages to know who it was. All Dazai needed was an opening, so he could get a hand on Kyouka and cause the phantom to vanish. They wouldn’t be able to get her out of here otherwise.

Kyouka’s gaze flicked from Chuuya, to take in the people behind him, and he silently hoped that the others weren’t pointing their weapons at her. After a moment, she looked at the floor. “I- I can’t control it.”

“We can teach you, if that’s what you want,” Chuuya said, “this is my…” he hesitated as he motioned to his side before he forced out the words, “my friend, Dazai. His ability will turn yours off, just for a little bit. Is that okay?”

She stared at Chuuya for a long moment before giving a hesitant nod. Dazai took a testing step forward, and when no attack seemed imminent, he swiftly crossed the room and offered his hand to Kyouka. She took it, and blue flashed as her gift was disabled and the phantom vanished from sight. A shaky smile spread across her lips before she collapsed into a faint.

Chuuya rushed towards her and picked her up from where she was slumped against Dazai’s legs, nodding to the boss to indicate he would get her out safely. Dazai turned his attention to the rest of the team. “Follow the extraction plan. Rendezvous at headquarters as soon as you are able.”

There was a chorus of ‘yes, sir’ that Dazai didn’t wait to hear as he set off through a side door, Chuuya hot on his heels. He followed Dazai through the maze of the building, away from the sound of gunfire and sirens, until they slipped out a back entrance and onto the street. A car was idling, and they climbed inside; the driver didn’t wait for the door to close before pulling away from the curb.

“You didn’t tell us she was a kid,” Chuuya muttered.

“It wasn’t relevant,” was the dry reply, “besides, there’s plenty of things I don’t tell you.”

Chuuya bit back a few choice words and said, “Who is mentoring her?”

“Does it matter?”

He glanced away from Dazai to look at the girl lying across the seat next to him. “Give her to Ane-san.”

“Ane-san?” Dazai repeated, and Chuuya glanced back up to see one eyebrow cocked in interest. “You mean Kouyou? She already has you to deal with.”

Chuuya rolled his eyes. “We still speak but she doesn’t need to focus on me anymore, I’m sure you’re well aware of that. Besides, they have similar abilities and…” he trailed off and scowled, “you were going to have Kouyou mentor her from the beginning, weren’t you?”

Dazai smirked. “I have been doing this for quite some time, hat rack. Why do you think I sent you to speak with her first?”

“You were probably hoping she would kill me, bastard.”

“Now, is that any way to talk to your boss?” Came the mocking reply.

Chuuya crossed his arms over his chest, scowling but refusing to be baited any further. Dazai’s eye glittered with amusement, and for a moment it felt lighter in the back of the little car than it had ever felt when they were alone. Chuuya ran his gaze over Dazai's face, wondering how much further he could push before he got completely shut down. "Why are you such an ass, anyway?"

Slender shoulders lifted in a shrug and Dazai sank back further into his seat. "It's part of my charm, don't you think?"

Chuuya recognized the non-answer as it was—a sign that Dazai wouldn't be answering any more of his questions— and merely snorted in response. It wasn't worth the pain for him to try and understand the man who was now his boss. All that mattered was that Chuuya knew Dazai was devious and manipulative, and that Dazai knew Chuuya was aware of both of those things. They could work together just fine as they were. 

Chapter Text

Exhaustion wasn’t a foreign feeling to Chuuya. Before he had been dragged into Yokohama’s underworld, onto the front-lines of the fight against the Deviant system, Chuuya had always been tired. It was one of the many tactics used to keep the Gifted from running away or causing too much trouble. From uncomfortable beds to obscene doses of stimulants, Chuuya had always been kept just well-rested enough to satisfy Lemaire’s clients and, during the rare stretches of time when his ‘services’ weren’t required, Chuuya was rarely allowed the chance to get proper sleep.

But the type of bone-deep fatigue borne from a successfully completed job was unlike any kind of exhaustion Chuuya had come to know. This kind felt like his body aching for a break while his mind churned with restlessness and his senses felt like they were dialed up to eleven. If it weren’t for the fact that Chuuya had long ago learned to take sleep whenever he could get it, it would be nearly impossible for him to rest after a job well-done.

Even now, as he unlocked his door and waved at a passing acquaintance, Chuuya felt more inclined to stay up planning for his next job. The stack of assignments that sat in the middle of his small desk felt like it was never-ending; every time Chuuya came back from a job, there seemed to be two more waiting. It was gratifying, to feel like he was being helpful to the organization, especially considering how much he had doubted his capacity to be of any use when he first arrived.

He stepped into his dorm room and hesitated just inside the door. It looked quite different from the first time he had been inside. The walls were covered with maps of Yokohama, from rail lines to sewer diagrams, all used when he had to plan a covert operation. Right above his desk was a small cork-board peppered with pictures of various mafia members taken during rare moments of downtime. In one, Tachihara was laughing as he dodged an attack from a pink-faced Kajii, while another featured a young woman dressed for a visit to the beach, the smile on her face almost unrecognizable given that it was usually covered by a mask. Chuuya had managed to fit a small bookshelf next to his desk, using a sizable portion of his paychecks to stock the shelves with texts in every language he had a working command over. The most noticeable change, however, was the girl sitting on his bed, her feet dangling over the edge as she met his confused stare second-for-second.

Chuuya tilted his head, wondering if he was imagining things, but since the girl didn’t vanish under his scrutiny he said, “Kyouka-chan, it’s well past midnight, shouldn’t you be sleeping? In your room?”

She kicked her legs slightly. “I wasn’t tired.”

“Is something wrong?”

Kyouka looked away, her eyes moving to look out the window: an answer in itself. With a mental sigh, Chuuya closed the door behind himself and shrugged off his jacket, draping it over the back of his chair as he leaned against his desk, opposite the bed. It had only been two weeks since the Mafia’s successful extraction of the girl sitting before him, and since Chuuya still wasn’t high enough in the ranks of the organization to be privy to things like training reports, most of Chuuya’s knowledge on how Kyouka had been settling in came from brief conversations with Kouyou. He had been so busy that he hadn’t even been able to see Kyouka since their initial meeting, and he had no idea how she had even found his dorm, let alone how she had gotten inside.

“Have you been getting along with Kouyou?” Chuuya asked when the silence seemed to have no indication of breaking.

She nodded, eyes flicking back to his for a moment before returning to the window. “She’s nice.” Kyouka paused, then admitted, “Most of the people here are nice.”

Chuuya smiled at the qualifier in her statement, one that he found himself defaulting to regularly. Most of the people in the Port Mafia were civil, at the least, and almost everyone was kind to the children, regardless of how they interacted with the adults. But organizations took after their leaders and the leader of the Port Mafia…well, Chuuya wouldn’t leap to call Dazai a ‘nice’ guy.

“So, what’s wrong?” He asked.

Kyouka kicked her legs again, and Chuuya wondered when she had developed the nervous tick. “What do they want from me?”

“Want?”

“I’m dangerous. The people in the facility taught me how to kill, used me for that, and I’m good at it.” Her voice was flat, factual, as she spoke. If Chuuya had felt any lingering guilt about the people he had killed during that particular mission, it would have been wiped out in this instant. “But now the Port Mafia just has me go to lessons, and sometimes I help in the infirmary, but that’s it. I want to know why I’m here.”

Chuuya felt like he was looking into a mirror, having a chamber echo back how he had felt upon first arriving at the Port Mafia, how he still felt sometimes. It was hard to believe that so many resources had been poured into his own rescue without also believing that there was some ulterior motive. There was no way Dazai would have known the work Chuuya would be able to do for the organization, and there were hundreds of people who could have been extracted at a lesser risk. There had been nights when that knowledge kept Chuuya awake, staring at the ceiling as if his gaze could pierce through the layers of the building to stare straight into the boss’ office, but after their initial conversation on why Dazai had gone after Chuuya, Chuuya hadn’t vocalized his questions to anyone.

He pushed his own concerns away and asked, “Have you spoken to Dazai? Outside of the first time we met?”

“Once,” she said, “he came to one of my lessons with Kouyou to see my ability, but he didn’t say much.”

“But you’ve seen how he is,” Chuuya pressed, and Kyouka nodded, “when they came for me, Dazai told me that he did it to prove a point. He wanted to show Yokohama that the Port Mafia’s reach was longer than they knew. I think it was the same with you, which means he probably doesn’t want anything else. This organization will shelter you simply because you’re one of us.”

“No one does nice things without wanting something in return, especially not for the Deviant.”

“Gifted,” Chuuya corrected, softly.

She let out a huff. “It’s not a gift. My ability isn’t a gift. I don’t understand why everyone wants me to call it that.” Kyouka’s hands clenched in her lap and she muttered, “I can’t even use it properly. When Dazai tested me, I couldn’t even call on it. I’m useless, and people only like us if we’re useful.”

“That’s not true.” Kyouka’s eyes fixed on his, her lips pressed into a thin line, and Chuuya realized he wouldn’t be able to placate her so easily, so he amended, “Alright, it’s true in places outside of the Port Mafia, and if you were an adult it would also be true here. But the dozens of people your age in this organization, they stay here because we know what the world does to children like us if we abandon them on the streets. You have time to decide if you want to stay in the Port Mafia, or if you want to leave. You don’t have to worry about all of this now.”

Kyouka frowned. “That doesn’t sound very mafia-like to me.”

At the comment, Chuuya chuckled. “It didn’t to me either, but trust me, they’ve earned the right to call themselves a mafia.” Chuuya wondered if he was included in that ‘they’ or if he was still too green to be counted.

“The boss, Dazai-san, I asked him what he wanted to do with the Port Mafia. He said that he’s going to destroy the government. Do you believe he can do it?”

Destroy the government. It sounded like a child’s fantasy, to have one organization take out the backbone of an entire region, especially one that received support from various international anti-Deviant agencies. Before Chuuya had been taught about the intricacies of Yokohama’s politics, about the various networks concerned with the foothold the Port Mafia already had, about the Armed Detective Agency that played neutral moderator in the whole conflict, he would have thought the idea unrealistic. Now that he did know all of that, had been out in the streets and seen firsthand what the military policy, and the Deviant Control Task Force (specialized to take out the Gifted with extreme prejudice), could do to the people who stood in their way, the idea sounded akin to a madman’s delusions.

And Dazai was a madman, Chuuya was certain of it.

The ruthless drive Dazai had towards his goal, the way he toyed with and manipulated the people under his influence with callous disregard, the reputation of a soul black as night that followed him through the shadows of the city; Dazai was almost beyond such a simple description as ‘mad’. Sometimes, when Chuuya considered it, he wondered if Dazai was truly human at all. Perhaps that was why, despite how absurd the whole idea, Chuuya believed that if anyone could pull it off it would be the bandaged bastard; he just wondered what victory would cost.

Chuuya let out a sigh. “I do.”

“Then I’m going to become useful.” One of her hands moved to the cellphone stuffed in the datejime of the red kimono Kouyou had given her upon her arrival to the Port Mafia, and Kyouka ran her fingers over the frame of it. “Even if I can’t use Demon Snow, I’m going to help. Those people…my mother died trying to protect me from them, and they still locked me in a lab and tested and tested until they could use my ability however they pleased. I’m going to make them pay.”

There it was. The tireless conviction that every other ability user in the mafia seemed to have, the conviction Chuuya still felt like he was searching for. He didn’t work for the Port Mafia to avenge his family, after all, he could barely remember what they looked like, or how they died. The only person he had ever been close to was killed as a direct result of the Port Mafia’s actions. In fact, the only real drive he felt was the need to prove himself, not just to spite Dazai, but also to thank Kouyou and the others for helping him grow.

“Maybe you should think it over,” Chuuya suggested, “after all, as a boss, Dazai is…demanding.”

She shook her head. “I knew you were lying when you came to get me and you called him your friend; you could barely look at him so I knew that wasn’t true. But, you risked your life following him even though you didn’t like him, so I thought that maybe there was something worthwhile about him.” Kyouka stifled a yawn. “When I was being trained to kill without using Demon Snow, I met some of the other Deviants that the government uses for assassinations. One day, one of them made a run for it and he was killed. But right before he ran, I looked into his eyes: he knew he was going to die. He knew he was going to die and he ran anyway because he didn’t have anything else to live for.” Kyouka pushed herself off the bed as she added, “Dazai-san’s eye has the same look.”

Chuuya opened his mouth to reply, and slowly let it slide shut when he realized he had nothing to say in response to that. Kyouka had lived a life completely different from the one Chuuya had endured; both of them had been tools, but tools with entirely different purposes. He still had nightmares about the first man he had killed, and that had occurred when he was an adult; Chuuya couldn’t imagine being as young as the girl before him and being a trained assassin.

Kyouka didn’t seem to be waiting for Chuuya to respond. She was walking towards the door to the corridor, and he pushed himself to his feet, wondering if he should be offering to walk her back to her own room.

The girl paused before opening the door and glanced back at Chuuya. “Your eyes still have light in them, Chuuya-san. It’s nice to look at. I would like it if you came to visit me sometimes.”

Chuuya nodded. “I’ll talk to Kouyou and stop by when you’re not busy.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

A small smile flashed across her face before she turned back to the door and slipped out of Chuuya’s room, her steps completely silent as she went.

 


 

 

A week later, Chuuya strolled into the small classroom where Kyouka’s lessons were being held. Since Kyouka was older than most of the children who were schooled within the organization, Kouyou was tutoring the girl privately, focusing on the areas where Kyouka’s captors had left her education lacking due to their irrelevance in contract killing. Chuuya leaned against the far wall, watching silently as Kouyou softly gave lowering time increments and Kyouka presumably finished taking a quiz.

Kouyou glanced up from her own notebook and smiled in his direction. “Excellent timing, Chuuya-kun. I wasn’t sure you would be able to make it today, I heard they have you lined up for another job.”

Chuuya gave her a wry grin. “They always have me lined up for another job, Ane-san.”

As they spoke, Kyouka closed her notebook and stood, passing a sheet of paper to Kouyou without a word. Kouyou accepted it, running an appraising glance over the answers as she said. “Remember, I will be away next week, try and keep up your work without me.”

“I will.”

Kouyou nodded, pleased with the answer, and tucked the paper away before giving Kyouka a gentle nudge towards the door. “Well then, go on. I’m sure Chuuya-kun is pleased to spend time with you, but we don’t want to monopolize all of his spare time.”

She waved the pair of them off as Chuuya left the classroom, Kyouka at his heels. They walked in silence for a bit before Chuuya spoke, “Ane-san says your lessons are going well, she says you’re a quick learner.”

Kyouka shrugged. “I don’t like not knowing things. What are we doing?”

“I thought we could go for a walk,” Chuuya mused, “you haven’t left headquarters since you got here, right?”

“They said it wasn’t safe for me to leave yet.”

“Well, you can take care of yourself and my ability can get us out of a pinch,” Chuuya replied, “besides, with all the people out and about during the day, the chances of someone recognizing you in a crowd are slim. When I first got here, I thought I was going to go stir crazy from how long they kept me inside.” He paused in front of the elevator to glance at her. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

She stared up at him for a moment before she smiled. “Okay.”

As Chuuya led her out a side entrance to the building, Kyouka seemed to shrink further into herself, her steps hesitant as they mixed into the crowds on the street. A hand reached out to hold onto the side of Chuuya’s jacket, making him pause to check on her. Kyouka’s attention was fixed on their surroundings, watching them with rabid fascination, and the awed look in her eyes made Chuuya smile to himself. He could see why Kouyou spent so much time mentoring new members, getting to show Kyouka a different life than what she had grown used to made him feel lighter about the lives he had taken to get to this point.

“Where do you want to go?” He asked.

“I don’t know,” was the soft response, “I’ve never been out during the day, only at night.”

Chuuya drummed his fingers on his hip, considering their options before he grinned. “Have you been to the Red Brick Warehouse?” She shook her head and Chuuya set off down the street. “Well, let’s go! I don’t have to be back until sundown, and I told Ane-san I’d let her know when we were done.”

The started off down the street, letting the noise of those who moved past fill the companionable silence between them. Kyouka didn’t talk much, but Chuuya could understand way; she had never been in an environment where someone wanted to hear her thoughts, and she still wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Port Mafia. For the first few years he was with Lemaire, Chuuya hardly said a word since it was harder to get punished for speaking out of turn if he simply didn’t talk. Chuuya imagined Kyouka had developed a similar defense mechanism.

When he had mentioned to a few friends that he was spending his afternoon with Kyouka, Chuuya had gotten more than a few odd stares. Evidently, there was a debate among the members over whether or not the girl was mute since very few people had heard her speak a word since her arrival. But out here, exposed to the side of Yokohama that the Giftless took for granted, and that hardly any of the Gifted ever saw, Kyouka began to open up. Every few feet, she would point at something or ask Chuuya a question. He answered her queries to the best of his knowledge, admitting when he hadn’t experienced an activity or didn’t know what a certain building was; after all, he hadn’t been living in Yokohama for long and he didn’t have much time for sight-seeing himself.

“Where are you from, Chuuya-san?” She asked as they waited for a streetlight.

“I was born here, in Japan,” Chuuya said, “but I don’t remember much about it, I was taken to France when I was really young.”

“I thought most of us don’t get discovered until we’re older. I thought I was the only one who they found young.”

“It’s rare, but not unheard of. And according to Hirotsu—he’s a Black Lizard commander—they’re getting better at detecting Gifted children now.”

A shadow flashed across Kyouka’s face and she bit her bottom lip, but she didn’t say another word as they crossed the street. When they got to the warehouse, she shook off the odd mood that had settled over her and her eyes flicked around rapidly, as if she wasn’t sure what she wanted to look at first. For the first time, Chuuya felt like he was normal, like he hadn’t been marked from birth to fight for his life, and he relaxed in the new feeling, letting Kyouka tug him from shop to shop.

They were outside, eating ice cream from a nearby cart, when the hair on the back of his neck stood on edge, and Chuuya’s eyes flew up from his cone to study his surroundings carefully. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Shoppers and tourists moved in small clusters between the two buildings, but there was something off, and Chuuya had learned to trust his instincts.

A hand tugged at the sleeve of his jacket and he glanced down at Kyouka; the carefree expression she had been wearing since they arrived was gone. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Chuuya admitted, getting to his feet, “but I think it’s time to go.”

She didn’t complain. Kyouka merely stood with a nod of her own, and it made Chuuya’s heart ache at how used to this world such a young person could be. As he turned to pick up the bag of candies he had purchased for Kyouka at one of the shops, he caught the gaze of a woman. She immediately looked away from him, dropping her head as she muttered something into the phone she had pressed to her ear.

Every instinct in Chuuya’s body was screaming at him to get out of the open, and he grabbed Kyouka’s hand and began pulling her away from the warehouse. She kept up with his strides, her body relaxed even though her free hand was tucked into her datejime, no doubt tightly gripping the dagger she carried.

They turned a corner and were met with a wall of armed fighters. They carried guns and wore bullet-proof vests, similar to the military police, but Chuuya recognized the logo on the arm of the nearest combatant: it belonged to the Deviant Control Task Force. Chuuya turned on his heel and tugged Kyouka after him, going back the way they came, only to be with another wall of fighters. He swore under his breath and yanked her through the door of the first warehouse building.

“Who are they?” Kyouka asked as they wove through idle shoppers.

Behind them, a commotion was arising as the Task Force filtered into the building, forcing civilians out of their way.

“A specialized mercenary group,” Chuuya replied, “trained in fighting ability users.”

An alarm went off through the warehouse, and Chuuya could hear sirens wailing in the distance. The booted feet of dozens of armed fighters chasing after them grew louder with each second and Chuuya didn’t know his way through the building well enough to know where to find a different exit. He ducked into a shop and shoved his back to a wall, wrapping an arm around Kyouka’s shoulder as he frantically searched for some way to get them both out of the situation alive. The military police had arrived as reinforcements and were rapidly evacuating the area, and they weren’t anywhere close enough to Mafia establishments to make a run for it.

“Chuuya-san.” Kyouka’s voice was soft, almost resigned, as the shouts of their chasers got closer to their hiding spot. “They want me. If you run, I can distract them.”

Chuuya flashed her smile that was much more confident than he felt. “Sorry, kid, but you’re not the only one that’s considered stolen property here.”

The Task Force was searching shops now, he could hear them calling the ‘all-clear’ as they studied each successive store.

A small squad came into sight, and Chuuya pulled Kyouka further back into the shadows, ears straining to pick up the conversation of the fighters. One of them was holding up a phone, scrolling through it before he let out a low whistle and passed it to the man next to him, saying, “If we catch these rats, we’ll be loaded. Both of them have hefty rewards on their heads. The redhead can’t be too roughed up though, he belongs to the Lemaire Corporation.”

“Kyouka,” Chuuya muttered, “stay down until I tell you otherwise.”

“But-”

He pushed the top of her head so that she was curled into a ball and held his hand out towards the man who had just spoken, red light covered him and he rose from the ground before crashing down, slamming into the floor of the building with a sickening crunch. Without pause, Chuuya turned his attention to the two men closest to the entrance of the shop, giving them the same treatment before he launched out of the store and into the main corridor. His foot came up to connect with the gut of the closest fighter, and his dagger was shoved through the throat of the fifth.

Chuuya took a moment to check his immediate surroundings. Before him, a group of fighters had noticed the commotion and were coming towards him, but it looked clear at his back. He glanced in the shop, motioning behind him. “Get out of here, now!”

Kyouka scrambled up from her hiding place and turned to run. Chuuya didn’t dare take his eyes off the fighters currently rushing at him, moving in a tight formation, and he shifted his stance. Maybe if he had another several months of combat training, he would be able to find some way out of this. As he was right now, he wasn’t sure he would be able to do much more than buy Kyouka enough time to get away, but he was strangely at ease with that.

Now that he knew they wanted to capture him alive, the threat of their guns was discarded, and Chuuya slid into another attack, his elbow ramming into the side of the nearest fighter’s head before he shifted to block another from chasing after Kyouka, twisting the man’s arm behind his back and using him as a human shield. 

It was too public for Chuuya to tap into his ability any more than he already had. He was sent on covert operations for several reasons, one of them being so that Lemaire didn’t know he was an active member of the Port Mafia, and Chuuya appreciated the fact that he was able to do his work without feeding into the stigma of ability users. If he handled his own, hand-to-hand against the Task Force, that would create a buzz, but if he used his ability to ravage a popular tourist destination, it would create an anti-Gifted frenzy. Chuuya could only be grateful that Kyouka wasn’t able to use her ability correctly yet because it was likely the girl would have stabbed first and asked questions later.

“Nakahara Chuuya! Stand down or we kill the girl!”

The shout came from behind him, and Chuuya whirled in the direction Kyouka had run off to. She was kneeling on the ground, arms locked behind her back, as the speaker pointed a gun to her temple, and Chuuya felt his blood run cold.

This type of situation wasn’t his area of expertise. Chuuya rapidly ran through different ideas, trying to think what more experienced mafia members would do in this situation, what Dazai might do. At the last thought, he schooled his face into a bored expression and scoffed. “If you kill her, you won’t get the bounty on her head.”

The man smirked. “You’re worth three times as much as she is. Would you like to test me?”

Chuuya considered the man for several long moments before he brought his dagger up to press against the neck of the man he held captive. “Let her go, and I’ll let him go.”

“You’re surrounded, you don’t have any leverage here.”

“You kill her, and I slit his throat, and then I come for you next,” Chuuya said. A distant part of himself was surprised by how cool his voice sounded, how it didn’t waver as he threatened to turn this fight for survival into a massacre. “You may be able to take me in, but I promise I’ll kill about half of your people before you subdue me. Who wants to take the chance that they’ll be part of that half?”

The man didn’t reply straight away as he met Chuuya’s gaze, neither of them blinking or faltering as he tried to determine if Chuuya was bluffing. Chuuya wasn’t, and he knew it would be obvious in the set of his jaw, the way his grip on his dagger was almost lazy; all he had to do was twitch to break the skin of the poor bastard underneath him, and even through his gloves Chuuya could feel the rapid pounding of a heartbeat in the fighter’s neck.

After several tense minutes, the man scoffed, “I heard you were the tamest Deviant they’ve ever seen. Suppose it just goes to show that all of you really are unhinged.”

Chuuya increased the pressure of his blade just enough to draw a drop of blood and, at the captive’s whimper, he let his lips curl, copying the careless smirk he had seen on Dazai’s face so many times. “If we are unhinged, is it really wise to keep me waiting? Do we have a deal or not?”

“If I let her go, you surrender. That’s the deal.”

Kyouka had been watching the whole exchange in silence, but that was enough to make her start struggling against the man’s grip. “Don’t do it, Chuuya-san! Get away!”

“It’s a deal,” Chuuya replied, pitching his voice so it was clearly audible over Kyouka’s protests. “Let her go.”

The man shoved Kyouka to the side and brought his hands up in a gesture of surrender, indicating that he wouldn’t be chasing after her. She stumbled, caught her balance, and took a step towards Chuuya. Chuuya vehemently shook his head. “Don’t worry about me. Go.”

“But-”

“That’s an order, Kyouka!” Technically, Kyouka wasn’t his subordinate, since she wasn’t an actual member of the Port Mafia, and Chuuya didn’t really have subordinates. But he was used to shouting commands after numerous jobs, and his voice cracked out like a whip, leaving no room for argument. She faltered slightly, before her face set with determination and she began to back away from him.

Chuuya waited until she was well out of reach of the negotiator, and until there didn’t appear to be any more Task Force members in her path, before he shoved his own captive forward and dropped his dagger. Somewhere behind him, he heard a shout for him to get on his knees, and he complied, raising his hands to rest on top of his head. Even if Kyouka wasn’t able to get help in time for Chuuya to be freed, at least they were taking him, not her. Chuuya could survive going back to the world he had left, but he was sure Kyouka would be crushed if she was returned to where she had come from.

She was still backing away, watching as Chuuya was flanked by fighters, and although her face was expressionless, Chuuya could see the brightness in her eyes. He wanted to tell her to move faster, to turn around and run, when something shifted in the entrance to a shop just next to her. Chuuya opened his mouth to yell a warning as a figure slid out of the shadows; hands grabbed her by the waist before words could leave his mouth, and Kyouka yelped, struggling against the tight grip. She wriggled away and pivoted underneath her attacker, only to run into two more, who grabbed her by her arms and lifted her from the ground so she was unable to escape.

They began to drag her away and Chuuya swore, trying to fight off the men who now surrounded him as he reached out in the direction of Kyouka. Her eyes were wide in terror as she struggled against fighters twice her size, screaming Chuuya’s name as she was pulled further and further away. Chuuya couldn’t let this happen, he had to be able to protect at least one person with his ability.

What was the use of even being Gifted if he couldn’t do that much?

Desperately, he reached inside himself, plummeting deeper into his awareness of his ability than he ever had before, towards some spark of his powers he had always ignored. Even when his ability had been suppressed, when he couldn’t so much as alter the gravity of a paper clip, Chuuya had always been aware that there was something inside him just waiting to be let loose. Terrified of what it might be, he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone in the Port Mafia, not even Kouyou, but now he dove towards it in the hopes that it would make him strong enough to save Kyouka, his own life be damned.

A startled gasp left his lips as he brushed against the innermost part of his ability and Chuuya froze, his eyes widening in shock; whatever was inside of him was much more powerful than he had ever dreamed, and it felt like it was racing through his system, devouring him. Red markings ran up the sides of his arms and legs, and Chuuya could feel himself losing control over his own body. His eyes fixed on Kyouka and he tried to tell her to run with a look alone before he was overrun by his power.

A hand wretched his arm around his back, and the relative stillness of Chuuya’s apparent defeat exploded. A spark of power blasted from his wrist, seemingly wiping his attacker from existence and taking out a chunk of the nearby wall. He whirled and flew at the fighters scrambling to move into formation.

Being captive, utterly unable to make decisions for himself, was nothing new, but Chuuya had never felt truly mind-numbing terror before now. He felt like he was locked in a cage within his own mind, banging at the invisible barrier his ability had wrapped him in, and he felt like his ability had no intention of giving up control over Chuuya’s body ever again.

In his discussions on ability theory during their lessons, Dazai had mentioned that some abilities had a degree of sentience and that this made them harder to control. While Chuuya could picture having difficulty controlling an ability like Kouyou’s or Akutagawa’s, he never had quite the same concerns with his own ability, after all, no one had suspected it to be remotely sentient.

But this…his ability was nothing more than a mindless beast, nothing short of a forest-fire, devouring everything in its path without discretion. Chuuya watched as hands that didn’t seem to be his own were swallowed by dense spheres of black, that were then shot at anything that so much as twitched. Bodies dropped before him like dominoes and the beauty of the red brick building was being desecrated by the second. His jaw was loose, a maniacal cackle leaving it that sounded more like a wild animal than any noise Chuuya would voluntarily make.

His body felt like it was trying to contain something much too large for his frame, like the magnitude of his ability was pushing at his exterior, rushing to take up the space it had been denied while being contained within his core like it would keep expanding until Chuuya burst at the seams. Yet, at the same time, Chuuya felt like his organs were being tugged inward, pulled towards the black hole now deep in his gut where the fire of his ability usually resided.

With each passing minute, and each reinforcement whose body was consumed by his ability, Chuuya felt like he was being locked tighter and tighter within the cage keeping him from controlling his body. Blood dripped onto the ground; the sight, mixed with the unending agony rippling through his limbs, the feeling like he was being burned alive, made it clear that Chuuya was dying.

And what a horrible way to die: consumed by his own powers, having murdered Task Force members and military police, and ravaged a city landmark. They would use this incident, the Giftless all over the world, as a further excuse for their oppression. Thanks to Chuuya’s failure, more Gifted would be rounded up and killed.

His body turned as the last of the fighters dropped dead, and Chuuya’s gaze picked out a flash of red and yellow half-a-second before the beast of his ability did. His terror doubled in that second as he recognized Kyouka, crouched underneath the remnants of one of the shops, watching him with an undisguised look of horror.

His body took a step forward, and Chuuya tried to shout at her to run, to get away before he could hurt her.

Kyouka didn’t move because no words left Chuuya’s lips. Instead, his mouth curled into a sadistic grin; not the warning Chuuya wanted to give, but perhaps warning enough. He took another step forward and Kyouka began to crawl sideways, squeezing underneath crashed beams and rubble.

His right arm lifted, one of his ability’s attacks evident on the tips of his fingers, and Kyouka finally managed to get to her feet. She turned to run. She wouldn’t be fast enough.

Chuuya was glad his ability would kill him soon. At least this way he wouldn’t have to carry the burden of Kyouka’s death on his conscience for too long.

His arm swung backward, and something grasped it. Chuuya registered firm fingers, digging into the skin of his wrist, before his world turned to black.

Chapter Text

Seventeen Years Ago

Cherry blossoms floated down, dancing back and forth in the gentle morning breeze. The tree responsible for the mass of pink petals at the young boy’s feet was the only thing tall enough to be visible over the large concrete barricade that encircled the compound. He giggled as flowers brushed against his nose, grabbing at the petals that came within reach and smiling when they slipped through his fingers. There were plenty of trees within the compound, a few of which were even shedding pink blossoms of their own, but this particular spot was the closest Chuuya was allowed to the gate that kept the small village locked away from outsiders, and the mystery of the world beyond the vast expanse of the white walls that towered over him was alluring.

A shadow fell over him and he turned, hands full of pink flowers, to smile up at the visitor, “Hirotsu-san! You haven’t visited in a long time!”

He was graced with a warm smile, and the man knelt down so Chuuya didn’t have to crane his neck to look at him. A white-gloved hand reached out to pat the top of red hair, smoothing over locks that were sticking up at odd ends as a result of Chuuya’s playing, “It has been a while. Unfortunately, work kept me quite busy so I couldn’t come sooner. You’ve gotten taller since I last saw you.”

Chuuya puffed out his chest with pride, “Mama says I’ll grow up to be taller than the other kids one day.”

Hirotsu chuckled, “I don’t doubt it, Chuuya-kun.”

A flutter of movement tugged Chuuya’s gaze away from the family friend to where a stranger was standing in silence. Strangers didn’t exist here. In fact, the only person who Chuuya ever remembered visiting the compound was Hirotsu, and his parents said it was because he helped protect the community from outsiders. If that was Hirotsu’s job, Chuuya couldn’t quite understand why he was bringing a stranger inside the walls.

It was a boy, he supposed, older than any of Chuuya’s friends but certainly younger than his parents or the village adults. Black hair framed his pale face.

Hirotsu followed Chuuya’s glance and spoke up, “This is Mori Ougai , he recently started working with me. Mori, this is Nakahara Chuuya, his parents are the heads of this compound.”

Mori glanced at Hirotsu for a moment before he knelt so he was level with them and could meet Chuuya’s gaze, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Nakahara-kun.”

“Chuuya.” Was the firm correction, and red eyes blinked in surprise as Chuuya went on, “Everyone calls mama and papa Nakahara-san or Nakahara-sama. It’s boring! Call me Chuuya.”

“Okay, Chuuya-kun.” Mori said, recovering from his surprise rapidly.

The address made Chuuya grin and he graciously offered Mori one of the flowers he had caught, “It’s nice to meet you, Mori-san!” Chuuya turned his attention back to Hirotsu and reached out, grabbing one of the man’s hands and starting off towards the buildings spread out among the compound, “You want to talk to mama and papa, right?”

It was a testament to the fact that Hirotsu had known Chuuya since he was born that he moved easily with the sudden tug from the five-year-old, straightening from his crouch and instantly falling into pace with the quick strides of the boy, “Yes, I’m afraid this is a business visit.”

“All of your visits are for business,” Chuuya mumbled as he walked, not looking back at the men following him. The hand holding his gave a soft squeeze, but Hirotsu didn’t comment on the slightly dejected tone in Chuuya’s response.

Finding his parents was simple enough since they stuck to a fairly rigid routine. At the moment, a few hours after lunch, was when they always locked themselves in the meeting room with a few of the adults in the village. Hirotsu and Mori stood off to the side as Chuuya slowly slid the door to the room open, eyes picking out where his mother and father sat at the head of the room, slightly elevated from the others present. Despite his young age, Chuuya followed all of the rules of the compound carefully, and he knew not to interrupt such a meeting unless it was something serious.

It was his mother who spoke, her face softening into a smile as she studied him, “Is everything alright, dear?”

“Hirotsu-san is here.”

Murmurs broke out among the others present and Chuuya frowned, glancing around at the other adults before his father cleared his throat, making silence fall over the room, “Send him in, Chuuya.”

Chuuya nodded and turned back to Hirotsu, “Papa says you can go in.”

“Mori, stay here.” Hirotsu murmured, and the young man gave a slight nod. Hirotsu reached down to pat Chuuya’s head one more time before he walked inside the room, closing the door behind himself.

Only seconds later, the door opened again, and everyone except for Chuuya’s parents and Hirotsu exited. They were all murmuring softly as they walked, and although Chuuya couldn’t quite identify what was going on, a chill seemed to flow from the meeting room, following the adults as they walked away. Something was going on.

Given that storming the meeting room and demanding answers would only get him in trouble, Chuuya rounded on the newcomer, “You work with Hirotsu-san?” He asked, without preamble. Mori nodded and Chuuya pressed, “What do you do?”

A slight smirk flashed across the man’s face and he replied, “Hirotsu already made it quite clear what I’m allowed to tell you and what I’m not allowed to tell you. The nature of our work is on the ‘not allowed’ list. My apologies.”

Chuuya’s eyebrows drew down as he picked out something new from the response, “You work for Hirotsu-san?”

The smirk vanished, replaced with a spark of something dark in Mori’s eyes, and he knelt down so they were eye-level again. A red gaze scanned Chuuya sharply, almost as if he were seeing him anew, “How old are you, Chuuya-kun?”

“Five.”

“You’re quite perceptive for a five-year-old.” Mori mused; he seemed to be thinking something through, so Chuuya stood in silence and let him think, hoping that he might be able to pick up some hint about what was going on. After a moment, Mori spoke again, “If I tell you a secret, do you promise not tell anyone else?”

Chuuya stuck his hand out, mimicking the motion he often saw his father make, as he said, “I promise.”

Mori chuckled and shook his hand firmly, “Very well. Hirotsu and I both work for the same man, a powerful one. Unfortunately, I think that this man may be starting to lose his grip, so one day I will take his place, and on that day, Hirotsu will start working for me.”

“Why?”

“Because the man I work for can’t see the big picture, Chuuya-kun. He relishes in the victory of small battles and does not realize that the skirmish cost him precious ground on the battlefront.” That made no sense to the boy, and he crossed his arms, opening his mouth to ask Mori to explain, but the man wasn’t finished, “That day is still some years away, but when it comes you and I will meet again, and if you still want to know what I do, what Hirotsu does, outside of these walls, I’ll let you come work for me. Does that sound like a fair compromise?”

It sounded like a way to dodge Chuuya’s question, but the offer was tempting. He hadn’t been allowed to so much as look out the gates on the rare occasions when they were opened for Hirotsu to visit, or for the traders to head out on their supply trips. To think that Mori would offer Chuuya the chance not just to visit the outside world, but do work in it, to do the type of important work that Hirotsu did, was too good to pass up. But, Chuuya wasn’t ready to pass on his chance for information.

“It sounds like a compromise only if you answer a question for me.”

Mori tilted his head, lips curling into a bemused smile, “What is your question?”

“Why do we live inside the walls?” It was the one question that no one ever answered, no matter how many times Chuuya asked.

The man considered the question for a moment before he said, “The world is not a hospitable place, Chuuya-kun. There are those who want nothing more than to take happiness away from people like your parents. This is the safest place for you and your little village.”

The door to the meeting room slipped open and Chuuya could just vaguely make out the final words of the conversation taking place inside.

“If even one of you were to return, perhaps we would keep them busy enough to avoid such concerns for several more years.” Hirotsu murmured.

“We’ve already made our decision, Ryuurou.” That was Chuuya’s father, “We gave years of ourselves fighting for the cause, but we don’t want our son to live that life. Our place is here now.”

“I know, but I promised the boss that I would at least ask.”

The three adults stepped out into the open air, and Mori straightened so he was standing once again, bringing one finger up to his lips in a reminder to keep their conversation a secret. Chuuya nodded in agreement and turned to smile up at his parents, the expression faltering slightly when he saw how concerned they both looked.

His mother immediately noticed his scrutiny and held out her hand, only having to wait a moment before Chuuya placed his on hand in hers. She began to lead him away, waving at Hirotsu as they walked. Chuuya kept his attention on the men still deep in conversation, as if he could figure out what was going on by keeping on watch on how Hirotsu immediately pulled out a cigarette and lit it; how his father didn’t seem to make his usual joke about smoking being a silent killer; how Mori kept glancing between his watch and the walls of the compound, as if he knew something was approaching.

“Mama?” Chuuya said, voice tentative.

“Yes, dear?”

He turned his head so he was looking up at her, “Is something wrong?”

His mother smiled, “No, everything is going to be just fine.”

Even though she was smiling, her eyes looked sad, and Chuuya gave her hand a gentle squeeze, echoing the comforting gesture the adults sometimes gave him when he was upset. She didn’t say anything, but her smile wavered slightly. Chuuya glanced back over his shoulder, wondering what odd mood Hirotsu had brought with him.

 


 

Screams tore through Chuuya’s sleep and he sat bolt upright in bed, mouth opening in a shout for his mother. He waited for the sound of her bare feet padding on wood, for her to slide open the door to his room and tell him everything was alright. No such sounds came. Instead, he heard more screams, and Chuuya rubbed his eyes with confusion; was it possible he was still dreaming?

An explosion rattled his bones and Chuuya leapt out of bed with a yelp. What sounded like firecrackers, repeatedly going off, seeped through his sleep-muddled brain, and he rushed towards the door to his room and tore through the halls of the little house he shared with his parents. Chuuya searched every corner of the building, trying to push away the screams that echoed in his head, convinced that they were just remnants of his nightmare. As he searched, the noises began to fade away, as if they were moving out of the compound, or as if he was finally leaving the world of his dreams behind. It wasn’t until they were gone that Chuuya admitted his parents weren’t in the house.

He rushed towards the front door and flung it open, squinting against the light of the sun that was just peeking over the horizon. When his eyes adjusted to the brightness, Chuuya clapped a hand over his mouth to hold back his strangled gasp.

Cherry blossoms were still falling, floating down from a sky as blue and friendly as it had looked all of Chuuya’s life. They whirled in the breeze, tumbling through the air to land in pools of blood, their pale pink almost immediately being swallowed by the stain of death.

There was blood everywhere he looked, gathered around corpses and splattered against the walls of the building and covering the blooming flowers in the gardens. Slowly, Chuuya descended the steps of his house so he was down among the corpses, eyes wide as he took in the scene before him. There were some bodies so horribly mangled that Chuuya couldn’t begin to guess who they belonged too, there were some that would have looked like they were just sleeping if it weren’t for the jagged cuts across their necks or round wounds in their temples.

Chuuya staggered through the compound, resuming his search for his mother and father with increasing frenzy, shouting for them as he tried not to choke on the smells that assaulted him from all directions. They had to be alive somewhere. His parents were the leaders of the village, whatever had done this, surely it would not have been able to overwhelm them too.

“Chuuya?” The call was faint, and Chuuya froze, wondering if he was imagining it, “Chuuya-kun? Is that you?”

Stumbling over his own feet in his haste, Chuuya ran towards where the voice was coming from. As he ran, he became aware of a trail of blood, stretching out before him and still glistening from where it drenched blades of grass. He slid in-between two buildings almost on top of each other to a small nook near the back wall, it was a quiet spot where he occasionally went when he wanted to be alone. The trail of red led straight to his parents.

His mother was sitting on the ground, her back propped on the wall and her hand pressed to her side, trying to stem the flow of blood that was pooling on the ground underneath her. His father lay next to her, his head in her lap, his eyes wide open but unseeing. His mother’s free hand was gently running through his father’s hair.

Somehow, his mother gave him a smile and let go of his father to reach out, “You’re alright, thank goodness.”

Chuuya crossed toward her, increasing speed until he was running, and he dropped to his knees next to her, not paying attention to how the bottoms of his pajamas plopped right in the middle of the puddle of red, “We have to get you help!”

“Chuuya-kun, listen to me.” She grabbed his wrist, preventing him from reaching out at her wound, and tugged until he was meeting her gaze, “There is a tunnel, underneath the shrine, you need to get out of here and follow its path. It will take you to a small cabin, you can hide there until Hirotsu finds you.”

“I’m not leaving you!”

His mother gave a soft laugh, it sounded labored, as if she couldn’t inhale enough oxygen to make the noise, “I can’t move fast enough, darling. Besides,” she glanced down to the still form on her lap, a wistful look crossing her face, “I’ll be joining your father soon.” Her attention flicked back to Chuuya and a stern expression filled her eyes, “You’re going to listen to me, right, Chuuya?”

Chuuya felt his lower lip tremble, and it was difficult to focus on her face as his own eyes began to water, but he nodded. He was rewarded with a sigh of relief, “One of the others drew them away, it should give you enough time to get to safety before they realize you’re not here. You have to be strong for me, okay?”

“Yes, mama.”

A gentle hand reached up, and she brushed her thumb against his cheek. Chuuya grasped her wrist, holding it against the side of his face, not ready to leave her regardless of what he had just said.  His mother gave him another smile, before her eyes slowly fluttered shut and her breathing shallowed out. The hand in Chuuya’s grip grew heavy and he felt tears sliding down his cheek.

“Mama?” He said, shaking her arm gently, voice small, “Mama, I’m scared.”

She didn’t answer. A sob ripped from Chuuya’s throat and he dropped his head down, hands clenched onto her wrist as he cried. Tears dripped down from his cheeks, dropping into the puddle of red on the ground, and his body shook as he cried.

He was so absorbed in his grief that Chuuya didn’t register heavy footsteps until a hand was gripping the back of his shirt and pulling Chuuya off the ground. He screamed, clutching onto his mother’s wrist with all of his might, his legs kicking out blindly in panic. Another hand came down to slap Chuuya’s arm and he let go of his mother with a yelp of pain, cradling his arm with his other hand as he was dragged away from his parents. He shouted out at them, begging for help as he was taken away from the quiet nook and dropped in the small garden enclosed by three of the largest buildings in the compound.

“Found this brat in the corner,” the voice was gruff, coming from the man who had dragged him away. Chuuya tried to blink the tears away from his vision and shrank into himself as a face marked with scars came into view, “He should make some money.”

A second man walked into Chuuya’s line of sight, a band of white around his right forearm, and he ran his gaze over Chuuya’s face, looking bored, “That’s the kid the boss wanted us to bring back alive, if possible. Evidently, his ability could be useful. Put him in a trunk and get him chipped.”

The scarred man stepped back towards Chuuya and gripped his arm, tugging him to his feet with a sharp movement.

“Let go of me!” Chuuya yelled, trying to pull his arm out of the man’s grip, “Let go! Mama! Papa! Help!”

“They’re dead, you little brat.” The voice came from the second man, and a harsh hand gripped Chuuya’s chin, forcing him to look up at the man as the strain of his hold made Chuuya’s jaw ache, “Now shut up or we’ll let you die with the rest of your pathetic village.” The hand on his jaw dropped, and the man wiped his palm on his pant leg as if cleansing it.

His words hit Chuuya one after the other, ripping through his Chuuya’s gut violently as if the man had just riddled Chuuya’s body with bullets. Chuuya took a shuddering breath, unsure if he wanted to start crying or try fighting again. When he opened his mouth, a dark cackle left his lips.

The man that held onto his arm immediately dropped his hold, like he had been burned, “What the fuck was that?”

“Our reports said he was Deviant, why are you surprised?” The second man snapped, “We don’t have time for you to be frightened by a child.”

“Sorry, sir.”

A hand reached back out for Chuuya, and Chuuya grabbed the man’s wrist in the same motion he had used with his mother just minutes previously. This time, there were no tears in his eyes, and he felt strangely empty from the sadness that had been curling in his body, tightening around his lungs and making it hard to breathe. When Chuuya looked up, blue had compressed to the point where the whites of his eyes were almost the only things visible; a cruel smile twisted on his boyish face.

The man died before he could shout for help.

 


 

The distress signal was more of an inconvenience than anything else, and as he watched the countryside fly past through the backseat of a company car, Marc wondered just what the hell might have happened to force him to ruin his plans and check up on a perfectly well-trained regiment of fighters.

He sighed, drumming his fingers against his legs, as he reviewed the report in front of him. He was more than familiar with the details of this particular case, since it was the whole reason he had bothered to expand his company’s deals further into Yokohama. It was amazing how a region in such a small country was home to the most stringent factions of Deviant resistance. Sometimes Marc wondered what the government was even good for if it couldn’t crush a few spots of rebellion here and there. The fact that a group of the pests had tried to establish a community, independent of the rules of polite society, was an offense that couldn’t be ignored. Letting little movements like that go unchecked would encourage similar resistance all over the globe, and Marc would have asked to get the Iron Heel involved in its extermination even if the community’s leaders weren’t former members of Yokohama’s most prominent terrorist organization.

Marc flipped the page, gaze falling on a picture of the Nakahara couple. They looked disarmingly normal; the woman had orange-red hair, cut just below her earlobes, her smile reflected in her brown eyes. The man’s black hair was pulled into a ponytail that just brushed his back, his eyes sharp in the direction of the photographer. Before they had retired from the Port Mafia, the Nakahara couple had given the previous leader of the Iron Heel quite a bit of trouble; but Marc was not his father.

“Monsieur Lemaire, we’ve arrived.”

Marc closed the file and slid out of the door being held open for him. He paused just beside the car, head tilted as he tried to place the strange feeling that settled around him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the rest of the reinforcements exiting their own vehicles and falling into rank behind him. Pushing the odd feeling to the back of his thoughts, Marc strode up the path to the troublesome compound.

The gates were flung wide open, not that they would have given his fighters much trouble. The entire community was unprepared for an attack of the caliber Iron Heel could provide, and evidence of that fact was what met Marc when he entered the compound. He ran bored, gray eyes, over the mass of bodies splayed on the ground. From first glance, most of the corpses belonged to the Deviant who inhabited the compound, that was to be expected. However, it didn’t explain why there had been a distress signal, or why none of the advance team had come to greet him.

“Spread out,” he said, “find any survivors for questioning.”

He didn’t acknowledge the chorus of ‘yes, sir’ or the way section leaders began dividing up squares of the compound. Marc’s attention fell on the body closest to him; a young girl, probably no older than seven. She had died clutching a stuffed animal, and his nose wrinkled in disgust when he recognized it as a product that came from a line his own company maintained. The fact that a Deviant child had been given a toy meant for the consumption of normal children was insulting, and it was communities like this, resistance like the kind in Yokohama, that was going to lead this world to ruin. Marc made a mental note to have the toy removed from the line.

A shout from the back of the enclosure caught his attention, and he looked up from the corpse. One of the fighters rushed into the open and waved at him, “Sir! You’re going to want to see this!”

Marc made his way through the compound, stepping over bodies with the skill of too much experience, his eyes roving his surroundings out of idle curiosity. The moment he had stepped out of the car, something had bothered him about the area, but he hadn’t been able to put his finger on what it was. Now that his people were searching for survivors, Marc realized what caused the strange feeling in his gut.

It was utterly silent.

There were no bird songs, not even the pesky buzz of bees flitting past. The area around this compound was still, as if the Earth itself was holding her breath. Only the occasional calls of the fighters who came with him punctured the silence.

Marc walked around the curve of the largest building in the compound and, at the sight that greeted him, mentally admitted that he could be wrong now and then. He had thought the distress signal would be a waste of his time, but scattered throughout the small garden were the remains of every single person who had been sent to the compound on the advance team; twenty highly skilled fighters in total.

They were missing body parts. Entire limbs were gone, replaced with holes on the bodies as if something had yanked them cleanly off. On some bodies, the holes blasted through their gut or took out half of their faces. There were similar chunks gone from the nearest buildings, and even the giant tree towering in the center of the garden. In the middle of all the destruction, was a young boy. Despite being unconscious, he looked to be in one piece.

One of Marc’s men was kneeling next to the boy, taking his pulse. After a moment, he nodded up at the others, “This kid is alive.”

Marc stepped towards the boy, looking down at him. The red hair would have been a giveaway, even if he hadn’t already seen pictures of the child during intelligence briefings. Nakahara Chuuya, the son of the compound’s leaders: a Deviant with the ability to manipulate gravity. Judging by the destruction, even his parents had underestimated the extent of his mutation.

“Is anyone else alive?” He asked.

“No, sir. It looks like he was the only to survive.” There was a pause, then, “He killed twenty people, the punishment for a Deviant killing even one person is immediate execution.”

 Marc snorted at the comment, as if he needed a reminder about the punishment when he was a man who had overseen dozens of executions since taking the position vacated by his father. He also knew that some of the Deviant were better use to him alive than dead, and he mentally ran through everything he knew about the boy. Only five years old, he had spent his whole life locked in the compound. It was likely that he didn’t know anything about his mutation, let alone how the world actually operated. If Marc was careful, if he broke him down slowly, precisely, it was possible that he could one day harness the child’s ability for proper uses.

Making a decision, he shook his head, “I’ll take responsibility and contact the families. Get him identified and chipped, then get a collar on him, I will be overseeing him personally.”

Chapter Text

The knock on the infirmary door was distinct, three clear taps that tugged Chuuya’s attention away from the window and towards the flimsy wooden barrier keeping him from facing the consequences of his unauthorized trip with Kyouka. He had been awake for five hours, and with each tick of the clock that sat on the wall opposite him, he had dreaded having to deal with Kouyou’s quiet disappoint, or Kyouka possibly being frightened of him, or Dazai’s snide dismissal. It was a miracle that Chuuya was alive, that somehow Dazai had managed to get to the warehouse fast enough to save his life, and more importantly, Kyouka’s life; but there wouldn’t have been a need for miracles if Chuuya just followed orders.

When he woke, the first thing Chuuya had asked the doctor attending him was if Kyouka was alright. He was met with a soft murmur of reassurance that Kyouka had made it back to headquarters with minimal injuries. The little knot that had been growing in Chuuya’s chest ever since he first felt something was off by the warehouses finally began to ease; at least he hadn’t dragged Kyouka down too far with his mistake. His next question, if he could see her, did not give such a pleasant answer.

The doctor had glanced away from Chuuya and said something about Chuuya not being allowed visitors at the moment, on the boss’s orders. That had been enough to squash any other questions that rested in the back of Chuuya’s throat, had made him drop the gentle gaze of the doctor whose name he couldn’t remember, had made him feel just about as small as he had when he was under Lemaire’s thumb.

Chuuya’s contact with Dazai was minimal on a day-to-day basis, and thanks to the odd way they first met, Chuuya tended to only be aware of Dazai’s title in a theoretical sense. When they argued, a distant part of Chuuya’s mind would murmur about Dazai being in charge regardless of what opinions Chuuya might have; but whenever Chuuya was faced with the reality of Dazai’s influence, with the fact that the Port Mafia was entirely under Dazai’s thumb, that the bastard who he saw first and foremost as a self-centered, anti-government, terrorist was the head of the most powerful underground organization in Yokohama, it never failed to leave Chuuya slightly breathless. It was a harsh wake up call when he was reminded that, as a member of the Port Mafia, Chuuya was beholden to Dazai’s whims, and bound by his rules. After all, Chuuya knew firsthand the barest extent of cruelty the boss was capable of.

His fingers idly rose to brush his cheek, where the evidence of Dazai’s fist had long since vanished. If that was what Dazai looked like when Chuuya was merely under-performing in lessons, he couldn’t imagine what kind of hell he was in for now. Chuuya wanted nothing more than to stay in the infirmary room and avoid that single brown eye that seemed to burn through his body to stare straight at his soul, but that was more than a little naive.

So, Chuuya cleared his throat and called, “Come in.”

When the door opened to reveal his visitor, Chuuya blinked, unsure how to react to the presence of one of the Mafia’s oldest members. Hirotsu closed the door behind himself and crossed the room, placing a hand on the back of the chair next to Chuuya’s bed, “May I?”

Chuuya nodded, not trusting himself to speak without saying something incredibly stupid. He watched as Hirotsu settled into the seat, and leaned back, placing his hands on his lap as if it was completely normal for him to visit the infirmary rooms of mafia members with whom he was barely acquainted. Hirotsu ran his eyes over Chuuya’s appearance, taking in the motley assortment of bandages that covered Chuuya’s injuries, before he met Chuuya’s gaze.

“How are you feeling?”

“Confused.” Chuuya clamped his mouth shut as soon as the word left his lips. He was feeling confused, but he also knew that Hirotsu was inquiring after his physical state, not his emotional or mental well-being.

To his surprise, Hirotsu chuckled, “I suppose that’s to be expected.” The man reached into his pocket and took out a pack of cigarettes, “Do you mind?”

Chuuya shook his head. Although he knew smoking wasn’t allowed in the infirmaries, Chuuya didn’t feel like he was in any position to be a stickler for the rules, not after what he had just done.

Hirotsu pulled out a cigarette and flicked the lighter that seemed to appear in his free hand. Chuuya watched in silence as the end of the cigarette was lit, and as Hirotsu took a drag in before pulling the paper from his lips and letting smoke blow. The smell of the cigarette washed over Chuuya and his eyes fluttered as the dull ache that had been in the back of his mind since he awoke began to pound, as if there was something his body wanted him to remember. This moment felt familiar, but Chuuya couldn’t figure out why.

“Your father used to tell me that this habit of mine would get me killed,” Hirotsu mused. “There’s a sad sort of irony in how long I’ve managed to outlive him.”

“My father?” Chuuya repeated, eyes opening to watch as Hirotsu took another drag from the cigarette. The motion of gloved fingers lifting to Hirotsu’s lips sent a rush of deja-vu through Chuuya, and his breath left him in an explosive gasp, “Hirotsu-san?”

Despite the honorific that tacked onto Hirotsu’s name with ease, the address came out of Chuuya’s mouth with a warmth that didn’t compliment his lack of familiarity with the man. But now, with the curling scent of cigarettes filling Chuuya’s nostrils, he could remember other smells too. He could remember the crisp smell of a spring breeze, of homemade food, of burning buildings, and of blood, too much blood. He clenched his hands into fists as memories washed over him in a wave, as if Hirotsu’s cigarettes and the monstrous truth of his ability were the last cracks needed to break the floodgates.

Black hair and blue eyes flickered in front of Chuuya, too distant a memory for him to latch onto more than a few features; a gentle ruffle of his hair and a booming laugh. Within a second, the memories were fading away and Chuuya frantically tried to hold onto them as red hair and brown eyes and the warmest smile he had ever seen flashed to mind. Those too vanished rapidly, replaced with a little boy’s screams, his screams, and a hand still warm with the remnants of life.

Tears pricked at the corner of Chuuya’s eyes and he let his head drop back on the headrest, trying to will away the pressure on his temples, evidence of an impending headache, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“The boss didn’t think it was wise.” Was the calm response.

“Dazai knew the whole time? Knew where I came from and didn’t let you tell me anything?” Chuuya forced out, almost more irritated that he wasn’t surprised at this revelation than at Dazai’s actions.

“You were still trying to find your place in the organization, you wouldn’t have believed me,” Hirotsu said.

Chuuya couldn’t deny that he would’ve been dismissive of such a comment, particularly if it came from Dazai. He tried to imagine how he would react if, after just joining the Port Mafia, an old man had approached him claiming to know his parents. Chuuya probably would have assumed it was another way Dazai was trying to manipulate him from affair, but he felt bitter that Hirotsu hadn’t even been allowed to try.

Chuuya let his eyes flick back to Hirotsu, and watched as the cigarette was brought to his lips and pulled away before a slight smile crossed them, “When I got word of the attack on the compound I rallied a team immediately, and when we didn’t find you I assumed you were dead until that CEO started touting you about at society events several years ago.” Hirotsu’s eyes scanned Chuuya’s face, “You certainly are Kansuke’s son.”

That was his father’s name? Chuuya tried to conjure an image of him despite the fact that he had never been able to remember more than the slight echo of a voice when he tried to picture his family in the past. Instead, another face came to the forefront of Chuuya’s mind, one marked with sharp red eyes. Where Chuuya could hardly remember a detail of his parents, he was suddenly reminded of the deal he had made with the man he had only met once, and he asked, “What happened to Mori-san? He told me that one day you would work for him.”

That pulled a chuckle from Hirotsu, “That sounds like something he would say, even to a child. Mori died, less than a year ago. He was the boss before Dazai, so I did end up working for him.”

“You were in the Port Mafia, even then?” Hirotsu nodded, “Why did you know my parents?”

“They were some of the fiercest operatives the Port Mafia has ever had,” Hirotsu said, glancing away from Chuuya as if he could see the memories of a different Port Mafia, just off in the distance, “ruthless fighters and skilled at getting out of a pinch; they helped create the foundation for what the Port Mafia has become today. But when they had you, they retired. They didn’t want you to be raised as a child of the Port Mafia, they wanted to give you a chance at a normal life.” He met Chuuya’s gaze again, his own remorseful, “It is unfortunate that you were raised in a place more hostile than even this organization.”

Chuuya glanced away, uncomfortable with the pity he saw on Hirotsu’s face. He didn’t want pity from anyone in the Port Mafia, much less a man who knew more about Chuuya’s childhood than even he could remember. Chuuya wanted to forge his way, independent of the hell he had been through as Lemaire’s live-in whore. He never spoke of his past because he didn’t want to the others to treat him like he was one harsh word away from breaking. He took a steadying breath, determined to keep any ghosts of his background from flickering in his eyes, before he looked back at the older man.

“Hirotsu-san?” He started, then hesitated because Chuuya wasn’t sure if this was the time for this question, or the correct person to ask. Hirotsu merely raised an eyebrow, waiting for Chuuya to decide without pressuring him, and Chuuya took another deliberate inhale before he said, “How badly did I fuck up?”

Hirotsu chuckled again, “I realize you’re an adult now, but it’s odd to hear you cursing. The last time we talked you were a toddler.”

Any other day, the comment would have amused Chuuya too, but he had been sitting under the crushing weight of his mistake for the past five hours, and he just wanted to know the truth. Kouyou would probably try and cushion the blow, make it seem like Chuuya hadn’t made as egregious a mistake as he did, and Dazai would likely rip Chuuya to shreds. His best chance at a genuine answer was sitting next to him, slowly smoking a cigarette as he thought through the question.

Eventually, Hirotsu shook his head, “It’s hard to say, Chuuya-kun. Even within the organization, information has been kept quiet about the situation. The government doesn’t want to admit that they let you get away and the boss doesn’t want the Port Mafia to be definitively tied to the incident. But word will get out about what happened, about the type of person that demolished half of one of the warehouse buildings, and there was a crowd that watched the dead Task Force members be carted off.” Hirotsu took a drag of the cigarette, “The best we can hope for is that the government keeps quiet while they search for you. Or perhaps they will blame the Port Mafia despite the lack of evidence, the boss has worked hard to make sure they know very little about our operations so we could stomach the blow. At the worst case…they’ll start rounding up every Gifted they can find to make an example of.”

The worst case was exactly what Chuuya feared, the last thing he wanted was for innocents to pay for his mistake, “What if I turned myself in?”

Hirotsu gave him a wry smile, “Dazai won’t let you.”

“I don’t need that bastard’s permission, it’s my life.” Chuuya snapped.

“With the extent of damage your ability is capable of, you could destroy the Port Mafia in an instant. Do you really think Dazai-san will let you walk out of here and into the government’s custody?” He tilted his head back and blew smoke toward the ceiling, “He’d kill you first.”

The comment was added casually, in a matter-of-fact manner that told Chuuya that Hirotsu wasn’t merely trying to scare him, rather that he was speaking the truth. Even if Dazai wasn’t able to use Chuuya’s ability for his own goal, that man would never let someone else have the chance to use Chuuya’s ability against him. Chuuya’s choices were to either continue working for the Port Mafia, or to die. He doubted even Kouyou would stick her neck out to get Chuuya away, not now.

But to work for the Port Mafia meant working for Dazai, and with Dazai’s ability to cancel out Chuuya’s own, it was more than likely that Chuuya would be sent on jobs and forced to tap into the monster of his ability. He tried to repress the shudder that ran through his spine at the thought of willingly giving himself over to his ability again, of surrendering control of his body with only the hope that Dazai would bother to bring Chuuya back from the brink, that a man who didn't seem to care about collateral damage would ensure that Chuuya didn’t attack those who didn’t deserve to die.

Chuuya swallowed the sudden lump of dryness in his throat and murmured, “How do you work for a man like that?”

“Chuuya-kun, I’ve been a part of this organization for a long time. I’ve seen terrible things, and I’ve done equally terrible things. No one in the Port Mafia is innocent, but it takes a different sort of man to strike fear into the hearts of the very people who have the entire world under their thumb, and Dazai has done just that.” He got to his feet and moved to the sink, grinding out the cigarette, “The Demon Prodigy; that’s what they call him outside of this building, because no one outside even knows who is currently running the Port Mafia; even many of the lower level members don’t know the boss’ name. I work for him because he is the best chance Yokohama’s Gifted have, and because I don’t think a better chance will come along for quite some time.”

Hirotsu dropped the bud of the cigarette into the trash and turned to face Chuuya, “You should rest, and try not to get too upset when you go report to the boss, he’s been doing damage control since yesterday.”

The older man made his way towards the door, and Chuuya cleared his throat, “Hirotsu-san?” Hirotsu paused, head tilting to the side to indicate he was listening, “What does Dazai have against me?”

To his surprise, Hirotsu laughed, “Nothing.”

“Nothing? Then why-?”

“I’m not sure Dazai has it in him to feel anything against someone other than the Giftless.” Hirotsu continued, “But he knew what you were capable of when he decided to free you from Lemaire, and Dazai expects nothing less than everything you have to offer. If I could give you any advice on your upcoming meeting, it would be to make sure you find a way to be more of an asset than a liability. Once his mind is made that you aren’t worth the trouble, not even Kouyou would be able to intervene on your behalf.”

Hirotsu left without waiting for Chuuya to reply, which was just as well. Chuuya wasn’t sure he could form any words to respond to the ominous warning.

 


 

Chuuya looked pathetic.

There was really no other word to describe the picture he made from where he stood across from Dazai’s desk. His left arm was in a sling and a litany of bandages covered various wounds across his body. He hadn’t even bothered with his full of mess of horrible fashion, he was missing his hat and both jackets (Dazai noted, with irritation, that the choker was still firmly around Chuuya’s neck). Blue eyes had been fixed on the floor since Chuuya was shown in by one of the guards at the office’s door, and he hadn’t said a word since he arrived.

Dazai leaned forward in his seat, propping his head up with one of his hands as he considered the man who was, by far, the most troublesome recruit he had ever had the misfortune of dealing with. Not even Akutagawa, with his tendency to act out on his own, had been stupid enough to take a Gifted child (who couldn’t even use her ability correctly) to a tourist destination in broad daylight. Even if Chuuya and Kyouka hadn’t been high-profile fugitives, it was beyond foolish.

In fact, the only reason Chuuya was currently standing in front of Dazai instead of being punished for insubordination was because of the sheer amount of information the man’s little field trip had provided.

Dazai raked his eyes over Chuuya’s frame, still slightly amazed that such a small body contained so much power. From where he had watched Chuuya succumb to the greater extent of his ability, Dazai had felt a shiver of excitement run through his system; a feeling he had thought he was no longer capable of. This man had the potential to turn the tide in the war against the Giftless. Dazai spared a fleeting thought of gratitude to Mori for keeping track of Chuuya’s movements all those years, it was that surveillance that had even made freeing Chuuya possible.

“Did you enjoy your shopping trip?” Dazai asked, when he decided he had let Chuuya stew for long enough.

The other man flinched, and Dazai blinked, surprised at the reaction. Considering how the shorter man hadn’t hesitated to snap back at Dazai in all their past interactions, Dazai had been prepared to deal with some slightly sarcastic response, but Chuuya’s lips were pressed in a thin line, a clear indicator that he wasn’t planning to say a word.

Dazai sighed, “I’ll take that as a no? It’s a shame, I would have hoped your enjoyment might balance out the sheer amount of clean up I’ll be doing for the next several months.”

“I’m sorry.”

The two words were soft, barely audible, and Dazai was hit with a strong recollection of the first time he had ever seen Chuuya.

Stealing a Gifted from under the nose of the CEO of the Lemaire Corporation was no small feat, and it had taken almost half a year of planning that had begun as soon as Lemaire Corp. announced its expansion into Yokohama. Two months before Chuuya had been flown to Yokohama, Dazai had made a trip to France, to study his target with his own eye.

Nakahara Chuuya was a name infamous around the world; the prime example of how Deviant should behave, of the ‘true subservience’ of their nature. It wasn’t until Dazai had been made an Executive in the Port Mafia that he learned of Chuuya’s ties to the organization. It was a slim file Mori had casually handed him after a mission, only three months before his death, that described the Nakahara’s roots in the organization, the savage nature of Chuuya’s ability, and Mori’s impression that Chuuya could be made into a strong asset if they managed to pull him away from the Giftless.

The man Dazai had seen in France was intriguing, if a little irritating. He glided gracefully around the room, an empty smile plastered on his face and an odd, half-focused look in his gaze.  He leaned into the ham-handed touches of men and women, twice his age, regardless of how much they reeked of alcohol or tobacco. When he was bumped into, or snapped at, an apology immediately flowed from his lips in the speaker’s native language. The passiveness wrought in every line of Chuuya’s delicate frame had sparked anger in Dazai’s body. That a son of the Port Mafia, a child who was meant to be a prodigy of the organization, would be such a rug for the Giftless to step on, was insulting. But Dazai had recognized a clear intelligence in Chuuya, and that had been enough for him to give the go ahead on the operation.

That man had all but vanished after several months within the Port Mafia, stuffed away in some corner of Chuuya’s being and replaced with someone who had a fire hot enough to challenge Dazai, of all people, without hesitation. Dazai wanted to give Chuuya the chance to take back the soft murmur, to push past the crippling weakling that had reemerged in the time since Chuuya had taken Kyouka out of headquarters.

“I didn’t quite catch that, hat rack.”

Chuuya’s eyes flew up from the floor to meet Dazai’s, and Dazai was caught off-guard by how much guilt was visible in them, “I’m sorry, Dazai-san.” The honorific sounded weird, coming from Chuuya, and a bitter taste spread across Dazai’s tongue as he stared at the part of Chuuya he had no desire to know, “I should have followed protocol and kept Kyouka inside headquarters. I don’t have any excuses.” Chuuya paused, then added, “Thank you for saving her life.”

Her life. Dazai took note of the fact that Chuuya didn’t seem to care whether or not he had survived the incident as he replied, “Apologies are a sign of weakness, Nakahara.”

There it was, drawn back to the surface with Dazai’s unique brand of disdain, the usual flash of fire that had been missing from Chuuya since he walked into the office, “Whoever told you that was a horrible person.”

Dazai hummed in agreement, “He was. But, he was good at what he did. I’m sure Hirotsu said the same thing about Mori.”

A second flash of fire, as Dazai purposefully prodded at the raw wound. Dazai had given Hirotsu very strict orders not to contact Chuuya, and not to reveal the relationship between the Port Mafia and with Chuuya’s family, but with Chuuya’s powers now fully revealed it would have been a miracle if some sliver of Chuuya’s memories didn’t return. It had been Dazai who told Kouyou not to visit Chuuya when he woke up, and instead sent Hirotsu to fill the holes in Chuuya’s memory. Considering Chuuya had more time alone with Dazai than almost anyone anyone not in the Executive circle, it was likely Chuuya had guessed Dazai was deeply involved in how much information Chuuya was given, and Dazai was curious to see if he could shake Chuuya back to his normal state with the bait.

To his disappointment, Chuuya bit his lip, holding back whatever insults were on the tip of his tongue, and Dazai drummed his free hand on his thigh. A completely docile and obedient Chuuya would be easier to manipulate, but he was also boring. He reached for his next card.

“If your parents had been strong enough to fight off the Giftless, it probably would have been you quoting Mori’s phrases to me,” Dazai said, his voice a lazy drawl as he watched Chuuya’s jaw clench. “After all, he managed to help the Port Mafia thrive while your parents couldn’t manage to protect one five-year-old boy.”

That earned Dazai a scowl, and Chuuya opened his mouth (hopefully to finally prove that he hadn’t lost his bite). Instead, Chuuya sighed, “I know that you knew all along.”

Dazai raised an eyebrow, “Knew what?”

The hat rack made a vague motion towards his chest, “This, this thing inside of me, the rest of ability. You knew that there was more to my ability than gravity manipulation and you were such an ass because you only rescued me so that you could make me use it.”

Dazai looked down from Chuuya to idly study the report of the warehouse incident that was in front of him. There was no point in denying what was clearly the truth, and also no point rewarding Chuuya for coming to the correct conclusion so late in the game.

“I would be impressed with your deductive abilities if you hadn’t been stupid enough to believe you could sneak out of headquarters without me learning about it.” Dazai mused. He had been alerted merely minutes after Chuuya and Kyouka stepped out onto the street, and had called up an Executive to oversee his current project just so Dazai could personally go to make sure he didn’t lose two of his biggest investments in the span of an afternoon.

“Is there anything you wouldn’t do to win this war you’re hell bent on fighting?”

Dazai looked up from the report, intrigued by the question. Chuuya’s shoulders were set now, as if he was preparing to be rebuked (for either the question or his earlier actions, it didn’t matter), and there was a mulish look on his face that was more than familiar. It was gratifying to see that Chuuya seemed to have shaken his meek courtesan act, after all, more than half of Dazai’s interest in continuing to use the shorter man was his refusal to be cowed by Dazai.

Due to his position, it was rare for someone to treat Dazai the way Chuuya did. With a simple order, Dazai could kick Chuuya out into the street, and with a phone call could direct the government in its increasingly frenzied manhunt to find him. Chuuya knew that, and yet he had challenged Dazai at almost every turn, sometimes with nothing more than a look. A man who had grown up being agreeable to survive, challenging the man who could toy with the chances of his survival on a whim…it was endlessly more intriguing than anything Dazai had dealt with in more than a year.

“Why do you ask?” He finally said.

“I don’t care if you fuck around with my life, but Kyouka’s still a kid. God help me, Dazai, if you called the Task Force on us just to see if I would access my powers-”

“Don’t be an idiot.” Dazai cut off Chuuya before he could work himself into a tirade, “I prefer to be able to control as many variables as possible. Having you cornered in the middle of the day, in a crowded tourist area, makes it harder for me to keep Port Mafia operations a secret from the government and makes it almost impossible for the rest of the Gifted in the city to live decent lives.” Dazai smirked, “I appreciate the duplicity in trying to shift the blame to me, but you have no one to be angry with but yourself.”

Blue eyes dropped to look at the floor again, but the challenge wasn’t gone from Chuuya’s voice as he said, “So what now? Hirotsu-san already made it clear you’re not going to kick me out; I’m too much of a liability to leave.”

“You’re suspended from active duty indefinitely.” Dazai said, glancing back down at the report and making a few notes in Chuuya’s file to the same effect, “You won’t be leaving headquarters unless approved by an Executive and accompanied by a superior, and you won’t be going on any missions until I’m satisfied that you understand the importance of following my directives, to the letter.”

Chuuya scowled, “And what the hell am I supposed to do until you make up your mind  about me?”

“Go back to teaching the children English,” was the disinterested reply, “ask to help in the combat lessons, I don’t particularly care, hat rack. Just stay out of trouble and don’t be a waste of food. You’re dismissed.”

Chuuya didn’t speak as he turned and strode out of Dazai’s office, but his irritation was almost tangible. As the door slid shut behind the shorter man, a slight smile crossed Dazai’s lips. Despite how reckless Chuuya’s actions had been, they would finally force the hand of the government, giving Dazai the opening he had been waiting for since he had claimed the title as Port Mafia Boss.

 


 

Photos were splayed across the surface of a glass table, their contents at odds with the luxury oozing from every corner of the penthouse suite. In the background, music floated from speakers in a separate room, light piano notes that dipped and rose with a virtuoso’s finesse. At the corner of the table, an open bottle of wine was halfway diminished, and the sole glass in sight was held loosely in the hand of the room’s occupant.

Fingers brushed against the photo closest to the edge of the table. It depicted a young man, bloodied dagger pressed against the throat of a disarmed fighter. Since the pictures were pulled from a security camera, the picture was in black and white, and slightly grainy, but he didn’t need color to know that the picture’s occupant had red locks. He didn’t need the caption on the bottom of the photo to tell him who was captured above.

Marc Lemaire tapped the photo thoughtfully, he had been beginning to doubt he would be able to track down his stray mutt alive. It was rather kind of Nakahara to surface in the middle of such a public part of Yokohama, and to cause enough damage that the government was all but begging Marc to handle the problem for them.

He flicked the photo to the side to study the one underneath, the one where his real trouble was centered. Marc could handle Nakahara. Seventeen years of breaking down the Deviant until he was more docile than a domesticated dog couldn’t be completely erased by some combat lessons and a spurt of confidence. All Marc needed was to get his hands on Nakahara again and he would be under control. The problem was the man whose hand was clamped around Nakahara’s wrist in the second photo. A bandaged covered his right eye, and more peeked from underneath his sleeves and wrapped up his neck. He held himself much like Marc did, like a man with power.

According to the reports, this man had appeared almost out of thin air and grabbed Nakahara. One bright flash of light later and Nakahara was unconscious and both him and the second fugitive (Izumi, a distant part of his mind supplied) were picked up by more unknowns and spirited away before the authorities arrived. This man was well connected, this man was likely another Deviant, and this man was protected by the sheer lack of information available about him.

The most Marc had gotten from Yokohama’s government was a name and an outdated file: Osamu Dazai, a former member of the Armed Detective Agency who vanished from the public eye after an incident four years previously. Four years was a long time for someone to disappear, and gave ample time for a Deviant to remake themselves. Marc took a sip of his wine, this Dazai character could prove to be a significant obstacle.

Footsteps sounded on the hardwood behind Marc, and he tilted his head so he could see his visitor from the corner of his eye. It was a young woman, about the same age he had been when he first took over Iron Heel. She was dressed in the steel blue uniform of the militia, her silver hair braided down her back. When she was standing in his direct line of sight her heels clicked together and she gave him a salute.

“You asked to see me, sir?”

Marc motioned to the chair adjacent to his, "Take a seat, captain.”

The woman took the offered chair, her eyes flicked to the photos spread on the table before glancing back up to meet Marc’s gaze. He didn’t speak right away, simply considered her. Talya was young for her rank, already in command of an elite squadron of fighters despite only being in her early twenties, and she was one of the fiercest fighters in the entire organization. She followed orders to the letter and wholeheartedly believed in the ideology Iron Heel worked to spread across the globe. Marc knew that several of the more experienced officers were hoping to be tapped to deal with the situation in Yokohama, but Talya’s unique form of total war against the Deviant was precisely what this city needed.

“What do you know about Nakahara Chuuya?”

At the name, Talya’s jaw tightened for a moment before relaxing and she said, “He’s a Deviant listed under the Lemaire Corporation. A few months ago, he went missing from a hotel room in the city.”

Marc raised an eyebrow, “What else?”

“He’s the monster that killed my father.” Talya wasn’t quite able to keep the bite out of her voice as she spoke the last sentence.

It was exactly why Talya had been the first member of the Iron Heel Marc had flown into Yokohama. While the others would do decent work, she had an incentive to be as ruthless as necessary to get Marc his property back.

“He’s a blunt instrument,” Marc corrected, voice cool, “a tool to be used by whoever has the will to use him. It can either be us, the Iron Heel, who uses him to crush all resistance from the rest of his ilk, or it will be the Deviant who use him in their war against mankind.” He picked up the photo depicting Dazai and passed it to her, “That man is our best chance at finding Nakahara, I am placing your squadron in charge of finding him, and bringing him in alive for questioning.”

Ice blue eyes scanned the photo, no doubt committing every distinguishing feature of Dazai to memory, “Do we have a place to start, sir?”

Marc motioned to the file sitting between them, "That has all the information I have. You and your team will have the full support of Iron Heel in getting this done. If anyone gets in your way, eliminate them without prejudice.”

“Yes, sir.” Talya picked up the file and stood, giving him a salute, “Thank you for your confidence in me.”

She turned to go, and was stopped by Marc’s voice, “Captain, if you happen to run into Nakahara unexpectedly, take care not to provoke him. I would hate to add another Kravinoff to the list of people he has killed.”

Talya’s entire body went rigid at the comment, but when she glanced back to face Marc, her expression was neutral. Marc spared a moment to applaud her for her poker face; it would aid her in this task.

“Of course, sir.”

This time, when she walked away, Marc let her go. His own attention turned back to study the rest of the photos on the table, eyes lingering on Nakahara. He was going to get back his stray regardless of how many lives it cost. The potential for destruction Marc had seen so many years ago, finally unleashed and realized, could help realize the fundamental purpose of Iron Heel: wiping out the Deviant from existence.

Chapter Text

The stack of files at the corner of Atsushi’s desk had long since become a problem that he decided to give up on whittling down. It was practically impossible for him to stay on top of the documents while also doing the increasing stream of job requests the Agency got. He wearily made a few notes on his current report and tossed it into his ‘completed’ pile, which was pitifully smaller than the ‘to-do’ pile. As much as the increase in work was good for the Agency’s bank account, it came at the cost of the Giftless’ growing paranoia about anything Gifted, meaning he was dealing with jumpy customers who had no real idea how abilities worked calling to have them investigate something that usually turned out to be mundane.

“I’m here to speak with Doppo Kunikida.” He tilted his head, listening as a visitor walked to the clerks' desk. It was a little early in the morning for visitors, but the speaker’s voice was firm, as if she had no doubt her request would be accommodated.

“Is Kunikida-san expecting you, Miss…?” Naomi asked.

“Kravinoff,” The woman replied. “No, he isn’t, but I’ve come at the request of the Prime Minister. These are my credentials.”

At the mention of the Prime Minister, Atsushi pulled his eyes away from his reports to the front of the office. Naomi was scanning a document that had been folded in half, her back rigid in a way that told Atsushi their visitor could be a problem. He glanced from Naomi to the woman standing in front of the desk shared by the two clerks.

She was dressed in a light blue uniform that looked like it belonged to some sort of military, every fold on her person neatly creased in a way that made Atsushi think she might get along well with Kunikida. Silver hair was braided down her back, revealing a face that didn’t look much older than Atsushi himself; her eyes were ice blue.

Standing by the door, in a matching uniform, was a man with black hair and dark eyes, looking around in barely contained distaste. Atsushi had no idea where they were from, or what sort of ranks they might follow, but the number of stars on the woman’s coat greatly outstripped the man’s.

“Kirako,” Naomi murmured, “take this to the president.”

The other clerk accepted the paper and moved from the desk as Naomi also got to her feet and motioned the visitor to the sitting area, “Can I get you some tea?”

“No, thank you.”

Within minutes, Kunikida was leaving his office, Kirako on his heels. He glanced at question at Naomi, who tossed her head towards the sitting area as she returned to her desk. Kunikida glanced around the room, taking in how everyone seemed to have stopped working with a shake of his head, and motioned Atsushi over to him.

Atsushi stood and followed Kunikida over to the sitting area, standing behind the chair that Kunikida settled into. They waited in silence until there was a cup of tea in front of Kunikida and a pad for note-taking placed in Atsushi’s hands.

Kunikida held up the paper that Kirako had brought him, “This indicates that you are here on official business.” He handed it back to her, “What can I do for you?”

The woman, Kravinoff, placed the paper inside her jacket, “I am here to speak with Dazai Osamu.”

At the name, Atsushi swore he could hear everyone else in the office go still. None of them had seen or heard from Dazai in years, and it was a fact that Kunikida had made clear to the government officials who came to inspect them on a yearly basis.

“I’m afraid this has a been a waste of a trip,” Kunikida said, voice even, “Dazai resigned from the Agency four years ago and we have no way of getting in contact with him.”

“Then all of your files on him will suffice.”

The hand resting on Kunikida’s lap twitched slightly and this time, when he spoke, there was a hint of irritation in his voice, “When he left he burned all of the physical copies of his files and erased the electronic documentation. We don’t have any evidence that Dazai ever worked for the Agency other than the reports the government has kept.”

Kravinoff didn’t look impressed, “That is quite convenient.”

“He destroyed years of research he had done for our work, I would not call it convenient.”

 The woman leaned back in her seat, eyes scanning Kunikida’s face before she flicked her gaze to study Atsushi. Atsushi dropped his eyes to his note pad, rapidly scribbling notes despite the fact that he doubted there would be any debriefing on this particular meeting.

After the silence had stretched out past the point of being uncomfortable, she stood, “When you see Dazai, tell him that the Iron Heel is taking over the search for Nakahara Chuuya.”

“Dazai hasn’t reached out to any of us in four years, I doubt that will change any time soon.”

She shrugged, “If it does, be sure to pass along my message.”

Kunikida rose and held out his hand for her to shake, “Of course.”

Blue eyes flicked to the outstretched hand and her lip rose in a slight sneer before she turned on her heel, heading towards the door and leaving Kunikida’s hand untouched. Atsushi bit back a frown at the action of obvious disdain towards the Gifted, but Kunikida didn’t seem bothered by it at all. However, he did seem bothered by the conversation they had just had and he watched Kravinoff and the other man walk out of the office without moving a muscle.

Once the door had swung shut, Kunikida turned to fix his gaze on Ranpo, “What do you think?”

Ranpo had pulled on his glasses the moment the woman walked through the door, and he chewed thoughtfully on the edge of his thumbnail, “I think she hates us.”

The use of ‘us’ usually amused Atsushi, considering that Ranpo wasn’t actually Gifted, but now he sighed, “Everyone hates us.”

“False. Most people are dismissive of us, some think we’re disgusting, others are scared, and there are a few that don’t think we’re much different than they are. That woman, however, hates us with a passion,” Ranpo corrected. “She gave in too easily.”

The door opened again and one of the children who took classes down the hall rushed inside, carrying a brown box, “Kunikida-san! This is for you!”

Everyone turned and Kunikida looked down at the girl, “For me?”

The girl nodded enthusiastically, “The lady wearing the pretty blue came into the classroom and asked me to give it to you before she went down the stairs.”

“Pretty blue?” Atsushi repeated.

Ranpo swore, and everyone whirled to face him in shock (the detective hardly ever cursed), “It’s a bomb.”

Time crashed into slow motion as Atsushi dropped the pad in his hand and rushed at the girl, who was frowning in confusion at everyone’s panic. Behind him, he heard Junichirou rushing to the door, Yosano on his heels (no doubt trying to chase after Kravinoff), but Atsushi’s focus was on getting the box out of the girl’s hands. He picked her up with one arm, wrenching the box away from her grip with the other and throwing it towards the visitor area.

Atsushi pivoted on his heel and ran toward where Kenji had knocked over the desks, forming an impromptu barricade between the rest of the people in the office and the bomb. Atsushi prayed the barrier would be enough as he leapt over the wood.

Heat flared at his back as Kunikida’s arm rose to grab the tail-end of Atsushi’s belt and tug harshly downward, pulling him out of the line of the blast that swept through the office in a bang of fire.

Atsushi hung onto the girl, curling his body around her as the explosion seemed to rock the entire office, and he heard the sound of crashes from beyond their makeshift barricade. His ears were ringing. Atsushi was fairly certain the girl had started crying but it sounded muffled and distant, as if one of them were underwater. He dropped his head back against the wood, staring at the bits of ash that were floating down, taking mental stock of his body to make sure he was in one piece.

“Is everyone alright?” Kunikida asked, from beside him.

Atsushi shifted so he could look at the others, pleased to see that, beyond a few bruises and more than a few burns, they were all in one piece. Ranpo had managed to give them a warning just in time. Atsushi was loosening his arms to let the girl climb free of his grip when a second, smaller, boom made everyone freeze. A third, and Kunikida was on his feet, sprinting toward the door, chased by Naomi’s screams for her brother.  A fourth, and Atsushi was rushing after Kunikida toward the door to the corridor that had been blasted off its hinges, paying no mind to the flames from the visitor area that singed the hairs of his arms and legs as he darted past.

In the hallway, smoke made it nearly impossible to see and Atsushi covered his nose with his arm, squinting so he could get an idea of what was going on.

A door at the end of the hallway flew open and Yosano shoved a roomful of children and their caretaker into the corridor, slamming the door shut behind herself just as a fifth explosion came from the room. Behind him, Junichirou was trying to calm another group of crying kids, many of whom were burned in various places.

As the smoke began to filter out of the window Kunikida threw open, Atsushi took stock of the damage. All around him, Agency members were injured. There were ugly burns where they hadn’t quite managed to get free of the explosions and more than a dozen had broken limbs. Cuts and lacerations marked where the bombs had caused glass to shatter or wood to splinter in the direction of someone unsuspecting. Even without Yosano’s medical knowledge, Atsushi could see that the number of seriously injured was too much for one doctor to handle.

What was worse than the injuries were the sheer looks of terror in many of the faces. These people, children and adults alike, were here because the Agency protected them, because there wasn’t any place safer for the Gifted to be. Atsushi went out on jobs, fending against the cruelest Giftless and all sort of criminals so that the people around him could live in relative peace. They weren’t supposed to be terrified, they were supposed to be happy, and Atsushi felt a rush of fury roll through him at the knowledge that someone had taken that away from them.

Without waiting to think about if it was a good idea or not, Atsushi darted down the hall, ignoring Kunikida’s shouts to come back, and down the stairs until he burst out onto the sidewalk. Hardly anyone passing by paid any mind to the smoke pouring out of the upper story windows or the screams from inside (the Agency headquarters wasn’t a secret and too many people would be happy to see them shut down). There were no sirens to indicate help was coming, because it wouldn’t come, because the Agency always had to fend for itself. Worst of all, there was no flash of light blue anywhere. He couldn’t catch so much as a glint of the woman’s silver hair. She was gone.

Atsushi glanced up at the Agency building, but couldn’t bring himself to go back inside. He couldn’t face the fact that he had let down all those people who relied on the active members, like himself, to keep them safe. Biting his lip in thought, Atsushi tried to figure out what he could do that wasn’t already being done. Yosano was probably trying to sort out the critically wounded from those with minor injuries and Kenji could clean up the rubble by himself. Ranpo was likely trying to figure out more about the organization that Kravinoff woman was affiliated with and Naomi and Kirako were much better at comforting the wounded than Atsushi was.

The woman had mentioned Dazai. She had done this because she was looking for Dazai and didn’t know where else to go. It was only right that the message got delivered; Dazai would be able to bring the fight to her faster than the Agency could.

Decision made, Atsushi set off down the street, weaving in and out of the crowd, utilizing the lessons that Dazai had taught him so many years ago to make sure he wasn’t being followed before he caught a taxi towards his destination.

Kunikida had told the woman that they had no way of getting in touch with Dazai, which was true. What he hadn’t mentioned was that, two years ago, they had learned where Dazai went once he left the Agency. It had been before Fukuzawa died, and Atsushi had been sent on a job with Junichirou. What was meant to be simple reconnaissance for a local police officer worried about some Gifted in his neighborhood turned into a run-in with the Port Mafia, one that Atsushi and Junichirou might not have made it out alive of if it weren’t for the fact that a familiar voice called for the Mafia members to put down their guns.

Atsushi could still remember the nauseous feeling in his gut when he had seen Dazai stroll out of the shadows, wearing Mafia black and a friendly smile.

“Atsushi-kun, Tanizaki-kun, you’re both a long way from the Agency offices. You do know this is Mafia territory, right?”

“Dazai-san?” It had been the only thing Atsushi was able to say, stuck between disbelief at what was in front of his eyes and gratefulness that Dazai had appeared (once again) out of the blue to save him.

Dazai didn’t seem inclined to explain himself because he turned to the Mafia members and gave them a set of orders that got followed without hesitation. Once all eyes were no longer on them, Dazai refocused on the boys, “Why don’t you both head back to the office and let Fukuzawa know that he shouldn’t be sending just the two of you down here without backup. I’m sure he’s used to losing members by now, but until he finds a new recruiter he should be more careful with his roster.”

Dazai had walked away without giving either boy time to reply. When Atsushi and Junichirou gave their report to Fukuzawa, there had been complete silence in the Agency office. No one had said a word about Dazai since then.

The taxi pulled to a stop and Atsushi paid with a murmured word of thanks, waiting for the cab to drive away before he turned to face the Mori Corporation building. Ranpo had deduced nearly five years ago where the Port Mafia Headquarters were located, and it was information only given to those who did work that might have them running into mafia members. There were no files in the Agency office, and there was a strict rule of silence about the entire affair. If the government knew that they had been withholding such information for so long, the Agency would be wiped from the map in seconds.

Now, he rushed through the doors of the large high-rise in the middle of a bustling street. Inside, it looked every bit like the corporate building it presented as on the street. The lobby was sleek and professional, receptionists sat in the desk right past a large seating area and behind them security guards and coded gates prevented anyone from exploring the rest of the building on a whim.

Atsushi walked straight to the nearest receptionist, who gave him a bright smile, “How can I help you?”

“Uh, I’m looking for Dazai Osamu.”

The receptionist didn’t show a hint of recognition at the name and she glanced down at the papers in front of her, “Your name?”

“Nakajima Atsushi.”

“Do you have an appointment on the books?”

“No.”

She looked back up at him, “Then I’m afraid I can’t help you. Come back when you have an appointment.”

Atsushi felt like someone had punched him in the gut, and he looked around the immediate area again, wondering if Ranpo had somehow been wrong about the Mori Corporation being a front for Mafia business. But Ranpo was never wrong, and Atsushi would be damned if he let himself be turned away without putting up a fight.

He dug into his pocket for his wallet and dug out the identification card that marked him as a ‘Deviant’ and a member of the Armed Detective Agency, placing it on the counter between them, “I don’t think you understand, this is crucial business.”

The receptionist picked up the card, her smile vanishing as she studied it before she handed it back, “One moment, please.”

She picked up her phone and spoke into the receiver, “I have a walk-in at the lobby, an ADA member by the name of Nakajima Atsushi looking for a Dazai Osamu.” She paused, listening to someone speak on the other end before she glanced at Atsushi, “Yes, yes he does. Understood.” She hung up and stood, “If you’ll follow me.”

The woman slid out from behind the desk and walked towards the nearest gate, pressing her finger to the small scanner and motioning Atsushi through before her when it opened. She led him straight to the furthest elevator, which opened immediately after the call button was pushed and stepped inside, waiting for Atsushi to follow before she pressed her finger to a second scanner and selected the button for the uppermost flower of the building.

The elevator began to rise and Atsushi turned when the small room was flooded with light. The back of the elevator was glass, and he watched as he rose higher and higher over Yokohama.

When the doors slid open again, the receptionist didn’t move. He glanced at her, and she motioned expectantly towards the long corridor before him. Atsushi hesitantly stepped into the hallway and the elevator closed immediately behind him, seemingly cutting off his escape route, and Atsushi finally admitted to himself that this had not been a well-conceived plan.

Across from him was a set of doors, one guard standing on either side. Forcing himself to put one foot in front of the other, Atsushi crossed the hallway and paused in front of the door, glancing at his right at one of the guards in a question.

The man merely nodded and Atsushi pushed open the door and stepped into a luxurious office. Windows to his left flooded the office with light, and standing in the middle of the room was Dazai.

Atsushi felt some of the tension melt from his body and he took a few steps further into the room as the door closed behind him.

He had spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like if he ever saw Dazai again. It was Dazai that had found him, chained to a doghouse like an animal outside the orphanage, it was Dazai that led the team that rescued him and brought him to the Agency, and it was Dazai that taught Atsushi how to control his ability. When Dazai left, Atsushi had tried his best to keep going about business as usual, aware that the Agency was in a tough position and needed every hand on deck, but that hadn’t done anything to soothe the ache of abandonment he had felt over the fact that Dazai hadn’t even said goodbye.

Atsushi always assumed he would be angry on the day Dazai waltzed back into the office as if he had never left (like he had done in the past, though never for longer than a week), but as the months faded to years, Dazai never returned, and everyone except Atsushi seemed to have stopped waiting after learning where he had gone.

“Atsushi-kun,” Dazai said, voice curling around his name in a dangerous lilt that immediately made Atsushi stop in his tracks, “do you know how  dangerous it is for an Agency member to stroll into Mafia headquarters like this?”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t an emergency, Dazai-san.”

Dazai raised an eyebrow, and Atsushi felt weird receiving that calculating stare from just one brown eye rather than two, it was a sharp reminder of the incident that made Dazai leave.

“Oh? What is the emergency?”

“The Agency was attacked,” Atsushi said, “bombs, five of them. We have more injured than we do uninjured and some of them are really bad.” He paused, before continuing, “We’ve been…we’re still recovering from the incident, four years ago, we don’t have the money to take everyone to a hospital and it would take more than week for Yosano to get to everyone.”

“So why are you here?”

Atsushi frowned at the question. He thought it was obvious why he was here, “You always said the Port Mafia was better equipped for combat, I thought they might be able to help.”

“The Port Mafia and the Armed Detective Agency have never seen eye-to-eye, Atsushi-kun,” Dazai replied, face still unnervingly blank. “The ADA has ruined many Mafia operations in the past, has even turned some of our members over to the authorities for the sake of keeping your precious business license.”

“But you’re one of us!” Atsushi snapped, hands clenched into fists at his side.

Dazai laughed. It wasn’t the joyous, light-hearted, sound Atsushi remembered but rather a soft chuckle that was laced with patronizing amusement, “I was one of you. In case you haven’t noticed, I now occupy the largest office in this building.” The unspoken implications of the location of the office had hit Atsushi the moment he saw Dazai standing inside, “I am Port Mafia now.”

Atsushi shook his head, “You’re still one of us, Dazai. Please.”

There was a long moment of silence, Dazai studying Atsushi as if he could read every minute in the past four years where Atsushi had desperately wished for Dazai to come back. When Atsushi was beginning to lose hope that Dazai would help, the older man seemed to melt back into the person Atsushi had known; a cheery smile grew across his lips and he rocked back onto his heels, “Since you asked so nicely, Atsushi-kun, of course I’ll help. What kind of senpai turns away his student when they’re so desperate? Let’s go!”

He swept out of the office, Atsushi nearly stumbling over himself to fall into pace, trying not to feel like he had just been struck with an extreme case of whiplash. As Dazai strode back down the long corridor, he pulled out his phone and made a call, a tone of authority in his voice that made it easier to envision him as the leader of the Port Mafia.

They stepped into the elevator and Dazai pressed a button for a floor about halfway down. He hung up the phone and glanced at Atsushi, "We just need to stop and get the hat rack first.”

“Hat rack?” Atsushi repeated, confused as the doors opened to reveal a different hallway, this one properly lighted and with dozens of doors that branched out into other hallways with even more doors.

As they walked down the corridor, Atsushi noticed that there was a placard that held a name (or in some cases two) by each door. Occasionally someone would call out a greeting to Dazai which he responded to with a wave or a head nod. They stopped outside a closed door near the furthest end of the hallway and Atsushi glanced at the placard, frowning as the name tugged a chord in his memory from earlier that day.

Without bothering to knock, Dazai swung open the door and walked inside.

 


 

Chuuya pushed himself to his feet, hand sliding to the dagger he always carried before he recognized Dazai. A frown crossed his features, Dazai never came to visit Chuuya personally, and Chuuya couldn’t say he had even seen Dazai in the general living areas of headquarters. His confusion only doubled when he realized there was someone standing just behind Dazai, almost trying to shrink into his shadow. The person was a young man, the sleeves of his white shirt were singed and his bare forearms looked pink, as if they were burned. It wasn’t unusual to see someone look nervous in Dazai’s presence, but there was something else in the man’s purple-yellow eyes, a sense of urgency mixed with bone-tired weariness; Chuuya could put together the signs of a mission in distress.

“Ah, Chuuya, you’re not busy, are you?”

Chuuya scowled. Dazai knew very well that he wasn’t busy because it was Dazai who had benched Chuuya from field work, “No, I’m not.”

“Good, I’m going on an errand you’re coming with me.”

“Why?”

A sharp smile flickered across Dazai face and he leaned forward slightly, his voice dropping into a murmur, “Because I’m your boss and you still need to prove to me that you’re worth all the trouble you’ve caused.” He straightened, his voice returning to its usual casual tone, “Besides, I don’t have time to gather a full bodyguard, everyone else is out being useful. Come along.”

Dazai turned on his heel and started off down the corridor, not waiting for Chuuya to say a word, because there was nothing for Chuuya to say. With a soft sigh, Chuuya rushed to the door, grabbing his jacket and hat as he passed and falling into step with the young man who was trailing behind Dazai. Chuuya glanced at him curiously, the young man gave him an apologetic smile but didn’t say a word as they made their way to the underground garage.

A car was already waiting just behind the elevator and Dazai nodded to the mafia member who stood next to it before he slid into the driver’s seat. The stranger glanced at the passenger’s seat, seemed to get paler, and walked around to sit in the seat behind Dazai. Reluctantly, Chuuya slid into the abandoned passenger’s seat and, noticing that the young man scrambled to click his seatbelt, managed to follow suit just seconds before Dazai floored the gas pedal.

“Holy shit!” Chuuya swore, hands flying out to grab purchase literally anywhere, “Can’t you drive like a normal person?”

Dazai shrugged, “It’s difficult to find government officials willing to grant a driver’s license to a Deviant.”

Chuuya glanced over his shoulder at the young man; his mouth was pressed in a thin line and he was holding onto the handle of the door, face more resigned than panicked. His refusal to climb into the passenger’s seat made significantly more sense as Dazai took a turn without bothering to brake and Chuuya swore again, “What happens if you get pulled over for speeding?”

“I’m not speeding,” was the calm reply, “and I’ve never been pulled over before. Isn’t that right, Atsushi-kun?”

The young man, Atsushi, looked down at his lap, a frown crossing his face that looked mournful. Chuuya glanced between the two, wondering what the hell he was missing.

“I couldn’t really say, Dazai-san.” When Atsushi replied, his voice was soft, “It has been a while since I saw you.”

Dazai took another sharp corner, lips quirked into a bemused smile, “Did you miss me?”

“You were really important to the Agency.”

Chuuya could recognize a non-answer when he heard one and he ran his gaze over Atsushi again, this time looking for anything that might tell him some more background on the situation without having to ask.

He thought he was doing it discreetly, but as the car swerved into oncoming traffic before being directed to the correct lane, Dazai spoke, “Atsushi is part of the Armed Detective Agency.”

“Really?” Chuuya didn’t even bother to mask the incredulity in his voice.

Despite the numerous missions he had been on, he had never crossed paths with an Agency member (and he imagined Dazai had made sure of that). On days when he hadn’t been sure he could make it in the Port Mafia, Chuuya had fantasized about somehow finding his way to the Agency. Unlike the Mafia, they were legally recognized by the government and used their abilities on a contract basis to aid private businesses and individuals. It was the sort of thing that Chuuya imagined he would be much better at, what with his extensive experience dealing with the Giftless and putting them at ease (something he imagined Dazai was aware of and didn’t care about).

His boss wasn’t finished with surprises, because he added (almost as an afterthought), “I used to train him.”

Chuuya’s attention snapped to where Dazai sat, blank face at odd with the mania of his driving, “You were a part of the Armed Detective Agency?”

“Yes.” Dazai glanced at him, “Don’t sound so surprised, hat rack. I started at the Agency, then I decided that their methods were a little…tame for me.” Dazai stretched out the term ‘tame’, twisting it until it sounded like a word of disgust and of bemusement all in one syllable.

Out of the corner of his eye, Chuuya saw Atsushi’ face flush, and the young man’s shoulders rose into a defensive posture, “We just don’t kill people.”

“Like I said: tame,” Dazai replied without pause as the car came to a stop. “Violence is the only language that gets across to the people running the Deviant system.” He waved a hand toward the building they were parked across from, “Haven’t you seen that first hand?”

Chuuya followed the line of Dazai’s motion to where a brownstone sat on the corner of the street, the lower level devoted to some sort of cafe. What caught his attention was the top story, where smoke was still pouring out of windows that had been shattered. Chuuya had planted enough of the devices himself to recognize a contained bomb blast.

Not giving Atsushi a chance to respond to his comment, or Chuuya any more information, Dazai slid out of the car and set off across the street.

Swearing under his breath, Chuuya rushed after him, tilting the brim of his hat down in an attempt to prevent security cameras from noticing his face. He doubted Dazai would take him somewhere he would be easily recognized, particularly during the day, but Chuuya hadn’t stepped a foot outside of headquarters since the incident with Kyouka, two weeks ago, and he didn’t know how much information about him was public.

Instead of going in the cafe doors, Dazai kept walking until they were at a side entrance that had a magnetic card reader. He pulled a plastic card from his pocket and Atsushi spoke up, “They took away your access years ago.”

Dazai swiped the card and the door clicked open. He pocketed it and tossed a smirk at Atsushi as he stepped inside, “I helped design the Agency’s security. If you couldn’t keep out whoever just attacked, what makes you think you can keep me out?”

Chuuya followed behind his boss as they climbed up two flights of stairs and stepped into chaos. There were people rushing back in forth in a frenzy, others lined up against the sides of the hallway as a woman in a doctor’s coat walked from person to person, calling out orders to a pair of young woman who trailed behind her, carrying bandages and other first-aid supplies.

Chuuya’s eyes were wide in disbelief at the damage around him. There didn’t seem to be any dead, but the sheer number of injured was overwhelming, particularly the amount of them that looked to be teenagers or younger.

“Are they all Agency members?” He murmured.

A single brown eye was scanning the are critically, “Technically, no. At my last count, there are only six full-fledged members of the Agency. Those are the people with abilities that take care of the official business. Everyone else here is a charity case.”

“They’re members too, Dazai-san.” Atsushi protested.

“The children are taken care of and taught how to control their abilities until they’re old enough to test for the Special Ability Department or stay on with the Agency as members,” Dazai continued, ignoring Atsushi. “There are a few Giftless, just like in the Mafia, who are sympathetic to the cause and help with paperwork, negotiations with other Giftless, things like that. There are also a handful of Gifted who aren’t cut out for field work that help do those things as well as teach the children.” He shrugged, “The Agency is a glorified safe house, though the ‘safe’ part has always been tenuous.”

Dazai set off down the hallway, no longer paying the injured any mind with Chuuya right on his tail, though Chuuya wasn’t quite able to ignore the sounds of crying children, nursing burned limbs. The Mafia boss seemed set on making for a room where the door had been blasted off its hinges from the inside and splintered into wood chips (presumably where a larger blast had been focused), but he was stopped when the doctor stepped into his path.

He gave her a smile, “Yosano-sensei.”

“Dazai.” There was no smile on her face, but there was steel in her voice that made Chuuya take a step away from Dazai. If this doctor planned on mauling the bastard, Chuuya had no intentions of becoming collateral damage, “This is a serious blow for the Agency, don’t make it worse.”

“I would never dream of it,” Dazai replied, voice smooth as silk. “Please, don’t let me distract you from your patients.”

She stared him down for a few more moments, for good measure, before she turned back to her work. Once her gaze was distracted, Chuuya let out a soft breath of relief. He couldn’t say why, but something about the doctor (Yosano, Dazai had called her) made him nervous.

It didn’t look like the talk had affected Dazai in the slightest because he strolled through the hole where a door used to be and called, “Hi, Kunikida-kun!”

A man with blond hair and glasses rose from where he had been kneeling by an injured woman, his eyes narrowing as he took in the small party. He picked his way around a mass of rubble until he was standing in front of Dazai, “Why are you here?”

Dazai shrugged, “Atsushi-kun asked me to come.” A smile curled onto Dazai’s lips, uncharacteristically cheery even if the expression didn’t reach his eye, “Didn’t you miss me?”

“Miss you? You up and vanished, Dazai! The Agency needed you!” The man, Kunikida, snapped, “Four years! You’ve been gone for four years and now you show up like nothing happened?”

Chuuya glanced between the two, he had the inexplicable feeling that he was intruding on something private. The anger that rolled off of Kunikida was sharp, tinged with betrayal, as if one wrong word would have him attempting to strangle Dazai; and despite Dazai’s smile, Chuuya recognized the dangerous glint in the single brown eye. Chuuya tore his attention away from the men to look at Atsushi, who appeared every bit as worried as Chuuya felt.

“Kunikida-san, he’s just here to help,” Atsushi spoke up, slipping between the men, “you’ve said before that the Port Mafia has more resources than we do, and Yosano-sensei can’t heal everyone without exhausting herself.”

Kunikida dragged his glare from Dazai to direct it at Atsushi, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, going to the Port Mafia in the middle of the day? If the Special Ability Department learns that I’m even speaking to one of their members they’ll drag us through hell.”

“Which is different from your current predicament?” Dazai mused, glancing around the office, “What on earth could the most compliant of Gifted organizations have done to deserve this?”

“Get out. You’ll only make it worse.”

Dazai tilted his head, the smile still on his lips, “As Agency president I would have thought you would take any help that would protect your members, Kunikida-kun.”

Chuuya’s eyes widened at the revelation that he was standing opposite the president of the legendary Armed Detective Agency. Kunikida’s hands were clenched at his side, and Chuuya was hit with a surge of sympathy for the man who looked no older than he was, trying his best to keep dozens of Gifted safe in a world that wanted nothing more than to tear them apart. It explained why Kunikida looked so exhausted, why there were bags under his eyes and his posture had been slightly hunched over when they first entered the room. And, to top it off, Kunikida was having to deal with Dazai goading him on with a smug smile on his face.

“As if your boss wants to protect Agency members.” Kunikida said, some of the bite leaving his voice as he turned to study the mess around them, “I know what the Port Mafia thinks of us.”

Dazai shrugged, “Can we talk in private?”

Kunikida sighed and half-turned so he was facing a small cluster of members (who were doing a horrible job at pretending not to eavesdrop), “We’ll be in my office, get me if anything happens.”

He didn’t wait for the Agency members to reply before he set off through the mess and towards a room that looked, miraculously, untouched. Dazai followed, shooting a meaningful glance at Chuuya, who fell into step just behind Dazai at the silent instruction. Atsushi waited behind, watching the trio leave with his nerves visible on his features before a different young man tugged his wrist and asked him for help moving something.

When they entered the office, and the door was firmly closed, Kunikida finally looked at Chuuya, “Who are you?”

“No one important,” Dazai said before Chuuya had the chance to speak. He was looking around the office with interest, “You haven’t changed a thing, Kunikida-kun; you’ve been president for a year now, you should personalize this place!”

“Redecorating my office doesn’t fit in my schedule,” was the dry response as Kunikida took a seat in the couch closet to the door.

“If you don’t learn how to be more flexible you’ll eventually snap in two,” was the soft comment as Dazai came to a stop in front of a wall of pictures. Chuuya studied them from a distance, a jolt going through his body when he recognized a younger Dazai depicted in one of the photos, arms looped around the shoulders of two other men. Dazai turned from the picture and flashed another cheery, empty, smile at Kunikida, “How many of your people need medical attention?”

Kunikida shifted so he was looking at the window, arms crossed over his chest, “Are you in any position to handle this negotiation? The Port Mafia is strict on protocol, you should speak with your boss first.”

Dazai slipped around the couch and lazily draped himself into the seat opposite Kunikida, his smile curving into something sharper as he said, “I am the Port Mafia boss.”

There was silence. Kunikida stared at Dazai, his eyes narrowed. Dazai met his stare second-for-second, the smirk not budging from his lips as he waited for the information to sink in. Chuuya stood near the door, wishing he was anywhere besides the small office.

“You’re the Port Mafia boss?” Kunikida asked, “When did that happen?”

“The same time you took over the Agency. Needless to say we’ve kept it quiet from the rest of the world.” Dazai leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and resting his chin in his palms, “tell me, Kunikida-kun, who did this? It wasn’t the Special Ability Department, this isn’t their style.”

The shock of Dazai’s revelation seemed to have dulled Kunikida’s anger because he merely drummed his fingers on his thing and said, “Some militant group. They had blue uniforms, it looked like their insignia was a black sun over a crowd of people.”

“Iron Heel,” Dazai murmured.

“You know them?”

“I know of them,” was the distant reply. “Did they say what they were after?”

“You,” Kunikida admitted, “the woman who came, Talya Kravinoff, asked for all the information we had on you.”

“Lucky there wasn’t any,” Dazai said.

Kunikida glared at him and continued, “She had a message for you.” At Dazai’s prompting nod, he said, “The Iron Heel is taking over the search for Nakahara Chuuya.”

Dazai let out a soft chuckle and glanced at Chuuya, “In that case, the Port Mafia will care for your injured without need for repayment. After all, it is one of our members that helped cause this mess.”

Kunikida followed Dazai’s line of vision to where Chuuya was trying his best to vanish into the wood of the door at his back. Sharp eyes narrowed behind his spectacles, “You’re Nakahara?”

“Introduce yourself, Chuuya.”

Chuuya took a step further into the office and bent into a slight bow, “It’s an honor to meet you, Agency President Kunikida-san. My apol-” a cough from the other couch made the word catch in Chuuya’s throat and he straightened, directing a glare at Dazai as he continued, “my apologies for causing you and your people trouble.” Chuuya kept his eyes fixed on Dazai as he finished the phrase, daring the bandaged bastard to correct him.

Dazai cocked his eyebrow but looked away to face Kunikida once again, “I will be taking care of the Iron Heel; they’ll be too busy with the Port Mafia to cause you any more trouble.”

The Agency president was still studying Chuuya curiously, “What did you do, Dazai?”

“Do? Me?” Dazai’s voice was incredulous and an exaggerated pout appeared on his face too quickly to be even the slightest bit genuine, “Kunikida, you wound me! Why would this be my fault?”

Kunikida looked back at Dazai and rolled his eyes at the dramatic expression on the Mafia boss’ features, “Nakahara’s much too polite to be the real cause of all this. Besides, you like to pull the strings and they were asking for you. This has your fingerprints all over it.” He sighed and shook his head, “I should have guessed that you were behind this months ago; only you would be dumb enough to mess with the Lemaire Corporation.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand my methods, or my goals.” Dazai replied, all traces of teasing gone and replaced with a layer of ice that Chuuya wasn’t sure he had ever heard from Dazai, “I have plans in motion, that is all you need to know.”

“Your plans put my people in harm’s way.”

Dazai got to his feet, “No, the only thing that put your people in harm’s way is the Giftless who are devoted to keeping this archaic system in place. The Port Mafia isn’t your enemy, but until you stop pretending to be a neutral party we won’t be your allies.” He stepped around the couch and moved back to the photos, picking up the picture that had him in it and glancing at it with disdain, “You’ve done a respectable job taking care of the Agency in Fukuazawa’s place, but the Agency is just a holding block. One day it will be swept away by the Giftless, and I won’t be party to that.”

The Port Mafia boss crossed the office towards the door, pausing to drop the photo in the trash can, “I’ll have cars sent over to pick up your injured and take them to a Gifted friendly hospital. Make sure you don’t have watchers when they arrive.”

The Agency president had visually followed Dazai’s trip around the office, and he nodded to indicate that he would handle things on his end, not commenting on Dazai’s little speech.

Dazai raised an eyebrow at Chuuya, who belatedly realized he was standing in front of the door and moved to the side so Dazai could open it and leave the office.

Chuuya glanced at the picture in the trash, unused to the happiness etched on the features of the younger Dazai, and his eyes flicked up to Kunikida, as if the Agency president held all the answers to understanding Dazai that Chuuya had previously thought were nonexistent.

“Kunikida-san?”

“Yes?”

Chuuya quickly looked over his shoulder to make sure Dazai wasn’t within earshot and saw him amiably talking to Atsushi, “What was he like? When he was with the Agency?”

Kunikida stood and made his way across the office to the open door, watching as Dazai let out a laugh and patted Atsushi on the head. Next to Atsushi was a boy with blond hair and a straw hat resting against his back, his face exuberant as he asked Dazai dozens of questions that had a bemused smile on Dazai’s face.

“I’m not sure.” Kunikida mused, “I’d like to think he was different, happier, but…” Kunikida trailed off, clearly thinking hard for a long moment before shook his head, “For all I know it was just another act. The only person who could really tell was Oda.”

“Oda?”

The Agency president reached down and picked the picture from the trash, handing it to Chuuya. Chuuya’s eyes scanned the younger Dazai, picking out the familiar harsh glint in brown eyes; to anyone less familiar with Dazai’s ruthlessness it might have gone unnoticed. Lanky arms were draped over the shoulders of two other men, and even then, bandages covered them from his wrists up to where they disappeared behind the sleeves of a tan trench coat. On Dazai’s left was a man in a brown suit, one hand fiddling with his glasses. He looked exasperated, but a bit amused. Something told Chuuya that this wasn’t who Kunikida was referring to, so he looked to the other man. He was the tallest, likely the oldest, wearing a tan coat of his own and a reserved smile.

Chuuya passed the picture back to Kunikida, “Where is he now?”

“He died,” was the short answer as Kunikida sat the picture down on his desk, “four years ago.”

He didn’t need to add the unspoken comment ‘right before Dazai left’, it was evident in the way the five words had been spoken.

Dazai’s gaze flicked back at the pair and he tilted his head toward the door, an unspoken order for Chuuya to finish talking and get a move on. Chuuya hesitated, unsure he would ever have another chance to finally unravel the mystery of Dazai Osamu, he still had several questions for Kunikida.

Just as he opened his mouth to ask another, he was cut off by Dazai who called, “Unlike you, hat rack, I have pressing matters to attend to!”

Chuuya scowled, “I’m coming!”

Beside him, Kunikida let out a sigh of someone all too familiar with Dazai’s talent at being irritating and he murmured, “Good luck, Nakahara. You’re going to need it.”

 


 

“Captain, we have visual on Nakahara and Dazai leaving the Agency building, should we move in?”

“No,” Talya replied, not looking up from the files on her lap.

“Isn’t our objective to capture Nakahara?” The question was a decent one, and phrased carefully enough that Talya didn’t immediately tell her subordinate off for doubting her orders.

She glanced up, eyes catching on where the two targets were moving toward a car, seemingly bickering about something. It took a moment for her to squash the flash of anger that hit her at the sight of the monster who had killed her father before she could really study Dazai. From what her people had been able to dig up in the two weeks since getting the assignment, the Deviant was a formidable character. While no one seemed to know exactly what he did or who he worked for (or simply kept their mouths shut out of fear), his name was whispered in Yokohama’s underworld with reverence. Talya quickly learned that the only way she would be able to get information about him would be to speak to him herself.

“Our objective is to capture Dazai Osamu alive, for questioning,” Talya said. She knew that Lemaire had not expected it to be so easy to find Nakahara, and likely would prefer to have the Deviant collared and back where he belonged as quickly as possible, but getting to Dazai gave the best opportunity to strike at the heart of the Deviant resistance in Yokohama.

The car they got into pulled away from the curb and Talya turned her attention back to the file as her subordinate seemed to decide he hadn’t pushed his luck far enough in one day and asked, “Why are we letting Dazai go, then?”

Talya sighed as if she was dealing with a particularly slow child (which was how she felt at the moment), “We aren’t prepared to apprehend Dazai while he is in Nakahara’s company. Nakahara is dangerous and this is an area crowded with civilians; if we make a misstep Yokohama’s government will pull us from the case.” She could hear him drawing a breath for another question and rolled her eyes, “The reinforcements stationed around the building aren’t enough to take on that monster, especially since Dazai seems to be the one pulling the leash. This requires a delicate touch.”

She tagged her finger on the photo in the file she was holding, a young man with round glasses looking directly at the camera, “Tell the others to stand down, there is no need to keep a watcher on the building since Dazai won’t be coming back.” Talya dropped the file into the backseat of the car and turned on the ignition as her second relayed the orders through his communication unit. She pulled into traffic just as he finished speaking and raised an eyebrow at him, “You still have more questions, Nathan? Don’t you trust me?”

“I have the upmost confidence in you, captain.”

“Then what is it?”

“Where are we going?”

Talya drummed her fingers on the wheel, “The Special Ability Department; I need to have a chat with one of their kept Deviants.”

Chapter Text

Four Years Ago

The sharp crack echoed around the Agency office, but no one bothered to look up from their work. It was the fifth pen Kunikida had broken in nearly as many minutes, and while that would normally warrant a joke from Dazai about his partner being too uptight, not even he could make light of the atmosphere in the room.

Dazai was having a tough time concentrating on his work (not that he was one to be particularly productive anyways). His gaze kept flicking to the clock that sat over the door of the Agency office, keeping track of time as it passed both too slowly and too rapidly for comfort, bringing the organization closer and closer to beginning of their renewal week.

In order to function legally within Yokohama, the Armed Detective Agency was granted a permit that allowed it to conduct business as an organization comprised of ability users. The number of such permits that existed in the world was minimal, and they were steadily decreasing as anti-Gifted sentiment increased. Dazai didn’t know what Fukuzawa had agreed to in order for the Agency to have been granted one when it was founded, but this would be the third time he witnessed the panic that seeped through the organization whenever the time for a renewal review was upon them.

Every four years, the president met with representatives of the current Minister of Deviant Affairs (often this was someone from the Special Ability Department) and every four years there was a tense hour of negotiation as the representative did their best to threaten and intimidate Fukuzawa into accepting various terms from the government. Following that meeting, the Agency had a week to scramble and find ways to maintain the Agency’s independence without rejecting so many of the representative’s terms that their license was revoked. The entire affair culminated in one last meeting where negotiations were finalized.

The first time Dazai had been around for such a meeting, he was too new to the organization to know what was going on. But, at age ten, he understood the tension that was taunt in the frame of all the adults. Even the younger children had been less rowdy than usual, picking up the odd mod from their elders.

When Dazai was fourteen, he already had a firm grasp of the politics that went into keeping the Agency running. The precarious balancing act that Fukuzawa performed on a daily basis when he decided which Gifted children they would try to rescue, and which ones they had to let go out of fear of drawing too much ire from the government, was all in the vein of making these negotiations go as smoothly as possible. Just the existence of the Agency was considered a blight on Japanese politics by many other nations; they had to toe a careful line. To that extent, Dazai was ordered to stay away from the central office during the entirety of the talks. Already a shrewd strategic thinker, Dazai hadn’t flinched at the president’s orders.

“They don’t know about me.” He had said, calmly.

He was stating a fact, not asking a question, but the president’s lack of a reply gave Dazai all the answers he needed.

Now, at age eighteen, Dazai was too involved in the Agency’s day-to-day affairs for them to pretend he didn’t exist anymore. Dazai was somewhat infamous in the criminal elements of the city as an Agency face due to his tendency to deal with their less than legal affairs. Word on the black market traveled as fast as coin could take it, and the Agency would be foolish to believe the government didn’t have at least a slim file on Dazai. As long as they thought he was Giftless, or at the very least thought his ability was useless, there shouldn’t be any problems.

A file was placed on his desk, and Dazai jolted; he hadn’t even heard someone approach. The action earned him a strange look from the young man who was carrying a pile of folders, “It isn’t like you to zone out, Dazai.”

“Yeah, well…” Dazai glanced at the rest of the room, picking out several others who weren’t exactly focused, “the mood is catching. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re oblivious to it, Ango.”

Ango gave a slight shrug, “The president is a careful leader, I don’t think they will have much of a reason to withhold the permit.”

“They don’t need a reason,” Dazai muttered, as a sharp crack indicated another pen had given its life to try and ease Kunikida’s nerves. He chuckled under his breath, “At least I don’t have to sit in like Kunikida, I’m not sure I’d be able to be polite to those pigs.”

His friend adjusted his glasses, his face completely unreadable, “It’s just a few government workers, Dazai. They’re only doing their jobs.”

“Forgive me if I find disdain in their work,” Dazai replied absently, eyes flicking to the clock once more.

Ango shook his head slightly and continued his rounds. He set a file on the desk across from Dazai’s and skirted around Kunikida before tentatively placing the same file on the blond man’s desk.

There was a soft cough from the desk diagonal from his own, and Dazai raised an eyebrow at Oda, “What?”

“Ango does have a point, Dazai. The people coming today are just doing their job. The minister might not even attend one of the talks, he didn’t last time.”

“That’s because we didn’t have anything they wanted last time.” Dazai pointed out.

This time around…well, Dazai’s job was to ferret out the ability users in Yokohama who were abused, who wouldn’t cause a fuss if they went missing because they were improperly registered or didn’t know how to use the full-range of their ability, and Dazai was good at his job. He could name a handful of new additions to the Agency since he was put in charge of Gifted extraction, three years ago, that the government would be eager to get their hands on. Atsushi came to mind, for one, his regenerative ability would make him a good front-line fighter, and the Giftless did enjoy sending ability users to the most dangerous outposts in combat. The Tanizaki boy had originally been dismissed for consideration into the Special Ability Department, they hadn’t seen a use in his ability. Since being tutored by Dazai, Junichirou had become a crucial member of his squad, his espionage potentials were endless.

The door to the office swung open and Dazai immediately turned his attention to it, and met sharp black eyes. A sliver of concern ran through his body when Dazai realized he was staring at the minister himself, and that the minister was staring right back at Dazai. Kunikida was out of his seat and sweeping a short bow at the door within seconds, and the black gaze left Dazai to take in the man who had been named Fukuzawa’s successor more than a year ago.

“Minister Ito, you honor us by attending the preliminary talks,” Kunikida was saying, his voice calm and even and a stark contrast to the litter of broken pens in the trash by his desk, “The president is in his office.”

Minister Ito nodded, “Very well, I will follow your lead.”

The minister and the two secretaries who scurried after him followed Kunikida through the Agency (which had never been quieter in Dazai’s life) and into the president’s office. As soon as the door closed, murmurs broke out among the members.

Oda was frowning, “Did you know the minister was coming?”

Dazai knew that Odasaku was only asking to affirm that the man’s arrival was a complete surprise. If anyone would have known about this, it would be Dazai due to the extensive information network he had personally constructed throughout the city. Oda also knew that if Dazai had heard so much of a whisper of the minister’s attendance then everyone would have already been briefed.

Dazai answered anyways, “No.” He hesitated before adding, “This is bad.”

The door opened again, and Kunikida stepped out into the main room. He waited for the door to swing shut behind himself before he met Dazai’s gaze and thrust his thumb at the office, “You’re sitting in.”

“Why?”

Kunikida scowled, “I don’t know. Minister Ito requested you by name.” His voice dropped to a murmur, “What did you do?”

“Kunikida-kun, I’m wounded!” Dazai said, voice light as he got to his feet with a smile. The sharp look that Odasaku threw his way implied that his closest friend wasn’t buying Dazai’s unconcerned act, but as long as everyone else did, that was enough. Dazai slipped around the desks as he continued, “I’ve been on my best behavior, just like I promised.”

“Then why-”

“I don’t know.” Dazai cut off Kunikida’s question, the joking tone leaving his voice as he moved toward the door, preparing himself to be face-to-face with one of the men responsible for the depravity of the current Deviant system in Japan, “Believe me, I’d rather be filing reports. Shall we?”

Kunikida gave him another glare (probably just for good measure, because Dazai was actually being genuine and everyone could tell) and opened the door again. He motioned Dazai in first and Dazai stepped into the tensest negotiation he had ever been privy to. Fukuzawa sat on one couch, the minister on the other with his secretaries flanking his back. There were two cups of tea, completely untouched, on the table between them. At the sound of the door clicking shut, every eye turned to study Dazai.

“Come sit, Dazai-kun,” Fukuzawa said, his voice was even as ever.

Dazai crossed the office and took the seat next to Fukuzawa while Kunikida stayed by the door. His attention fixed on the minister, and he couldn’t have ignored the greedy glint in those black eyes if he tried. They reminded Dazai of a beetle, and at the moment he wanted nothing more than to crush the bug underfoot.

Since Dazai was the most junior member of the Agency present, hadn’t originally meant to be involved in the talks, and was an unregistered Deviant (normally an offense that would get him arrested if it weren’t for his Agency membership) it would have been wise for him to let someone else start the conversation, but Dazai wanted to squash any ideas that he was someone the minister could walk over.

“I must say, Minister Ito, I was surprised to see that you came to this meeting personally.” Dazai said, ignoring the glare he received from Kunikida the moment he opened his mouth, “Out in the office, I was wondering what was so important to you that you visited without advance notice; what it is that you might want from the Agency.”

“Our intelligence indicates that the Agency has you to thank for the recent expansion in their ranks,” Ito said, just as blunt. He was probably pleased that he didn’t have to play polite with them much longer. Ito held up a hand and a file was placed in it without pause, “let’s see. We have Tanizaki Junichirou: under your tutelage, he has come to command a unique set of powers that could be put to better use serving his country abroad.”

(As a dime-a-dozen assassin that Japan would disinherit if he ever got caught).

“Miyazawa Kenji: his ability might have gone completely undetected out there in the country if not for your keen eye.”

Dazai wished Ito would skip straight to the point of his ham-handed threat so that he could leave.

“Nakajima Atsushi: the government had no idea that the wild beast that orphanage kept on a chain was a Deviant,” Ito paused, then continued, “though I suppose the difference between the two is slim.”

“If you’re propositioning me to aid in your Gifted tracking programs, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline,” Dazai said. “I can’t imagine I would be trusted to be honest in such a position.”

Ito placed the file on the table between them, pushing the open folder so it was directly in front of Dazai as his smile took on a smug edge, “Of course not. After all, my people had been under the impression that you were normal for the past eight years.”

The file was empty of the previously named members, instead, it was solely about Dazai, and he scanned the information in front of him. There were facts he had expected the government to have, like how long he had been with the Agency and his official position within it. What caught his eye was the information they weren’t supposed to have: the classification of his ability, copied word-for-word from Dazai’s personal notes.

“More so than your students, you have an ability that is being squandered in the Agency,” Ito said. “I have come to offer you a position utilizing this ability for your government.”

Dazai’s eyes rose from the file to meet Ito’s, the rest of the world forgotten as a thunderstorm of plans, questions, and emotions, ran through his head. How had they even gotten their hands on this information?

“And if I refuse? Not meaning any disrespect, but the Agency helped raise me, and it needs me more than your department.”

Ito shrugged and stood, signaling the end of the day’s talks, “By virtue of being a member of the Agency, you have been allowed to say no to the government, within reason. I would hate for that protection to somehow vanish.” The minister moved toward the door and paused next to the Kunikida, “I can show myself out. Until next week’s talks, Fukuzawa.”

“Minister,” the president said, inclining his head in respect.

And, like that, Ito was gone. But the file still glared up at the room, filling the space left in the minister’s absence.

“Dazai,” Fukuzawa said, “we can-”

“I’m going to do it.” Dazai murmured, getting to his feet and picking up the file, “It’s not like I have an actual choice. Ito made it clear, either I join his department or the Agency loses its license.”

“He can’t just bully you into it like that,” Kunikida said.

Dazai gave his partner a condescending smile, “That’s exactly what he can do, Kunikida-kun, and we can’t stop him.” He waved the file, “But we do have a week before I have to accept and I am going to spend my time hunting down whatever rat opened their mouth and making sure they regret it.”

“Dazai.” That was a sigh, much the same one Dazai received from the boss when he was riding the line between what was Agency acceptable and what wasn’t.

He didn’t turn to face the president as he moved toward the door, “Don’t worry, president. By the time anyone learns what happened, I’ll officially be the government’s responsibility.”

Dazai didn’t wait for a response before he strolled out the office.

 


 

Water cascaded down from the shower-head to pound against Dazai’s back, the freezing cold temperature doing little to quench the fire within his veins. Blood, dried in some places and fresh in others, slid from his skin to swirl down the drain, taking with it the evidence of his night’s activities. Closing his eyes, Dazai tried to drown out the screams of the man he had spent half his night torturing; the sense of satisfaction he had felt as he surveyed the various wounds, painstakingly carved by hand, was hard to shake, as was the rush of accomplishment that covered him when the information broker had spilled every secret at his disposal.

Despite the man not being able to point Dazai further in his quest for the Agency’s rat, the knowledge Dazai had learned was invaluable for any organization (Gifted or otherwise). The evidence of how much Dazai could do when he ignored the Agency’s moral standards provided a concerning type of invigoration. After so many years trying to fit in with the rest of his colleagues, he could feel his grasp on his morals (only crafted due to the influence of his workplace) slipping. He needed to wash away all traces of his trip through the shadows before he walked into the office.

Dazai ran a hand through his hair, pushing it out of his face as he tried to pull his focus away from the terror in the information broker’s eyes, away from the spark of power he had felt, and to the task at hand.

He was running out of time.

It had been three days since Minister Ito’s visit, and Dazai wasn’t any closer to learning who sold the government his information. If he had to leave the Agency before coming up with answers, the others would be left in a vulnerable position and Dazai would no longer be able to help.

For what felt like the fiftieth time since the initial negotiation talk, Dazai mentally ran through the active agency members.

Fukuzawa was dismissed out of hand as the information leak. It was on his orders that no information on Dazai’s ability was written down, with the exception of Dazai’s detailed notes on every member’s ability (for the sake of refining his lessons). If Fukuzawa wanted the government to know, he had been given plenty of opportunities over the last eight years. Risking Dazai to the Special Ability Department was also a foolish move that Fukuzawa wasn’t capable of; there was no viable replacement in the Agency for the services Dazai provided.

Kunikida was dismissed just as easily. As the man who would eventually take over the organization, Kunikida followed every order to the letter, and was more than cautious with who he gave information to.

The clerks: Naomi and Haruno, were young, but they were meticulous in their work and dealt with significantly more confidential information that the Minister would have found just as viable for blackmail as Dazai’s ability. They weren’t the leak either.

Yosano wasn’t technically classified as an active member, rather simply as the Agency’s doctor. Although Dazai often tapped her for extraction missions due to her above par combat skills, all of that was done in absolute secrecy. If the government learned she was able to fight as well was heal, they would be pressuring her to join. It made it unlikely that she was the mole.

Dazai couldn’t honestly entertain the idea of Odasaku being the leak for long. Oda preferred to avoid being part of any job that might end in bloodshed, and wasn't particularly talkative. On top of all those things, Oda was Dazai’s closest friend, and Dazai wasn’t sure he would be able to withstand learning that Oda had been the one who betrayed them.

Of the others, Dazai was less than completely confident in them being blameless in the situation. After all, very few of the younger Agency members understood why Dazai’s ability was such a close-kept secret. Ranpo and Kenji could both be forgetful; if the right person had seemed unassuming enough, had asked the right questions, there was no telling what either man might have accidentally let slip. Tanizaki wasn’t thoughtless, but all someone needed to do was threaten Naomi and it wasn’t impossible that the boy would start talking. Atsushi was the newest member, and he was still learning his way around the politics of the city. His intense sense of gratitude toward the Agency, and Dazai in particular, made it unlikely that he would knowingly sell them out, but accidents could happen.

That left Ango.

Dazai picked up his soap and began to work the crusted blood from underneath his fingernails as he thought.

This was the one member he kept getting stuck on. Ango was a two-year veteran of the Agency, and he did his work well. He was the only other member that was deeply involved in the intelligence network Dazai had created; Dazai went out and got the information while Ango compiled it into reports, keeping track of all the pieces so he could connect incidents that occurred weeks, sometimes months, apart. He was the type of man who could bring the Agency crumbling down with the knowledge he had; if he was the leak, Dazai couldn’t understand why the minister would be attempting to negotiate at all when he could just shut the Agency down.

On the other hand, Ango had always been a voice of sympathy towards the government workers. Dazai never hid his disdain for the Gifted who willingly went to work under the Cabinet, and Ango would often speak up on their behalf, citing assorted reasons for why a Gifted would rather work under the government than get involved in something more dangerous like the Agency or the Port Mafia. That level of sympathy made it possible Ango would be willing to sell information he didn’t think was particularly important.

With a sigh, Dazai turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, drying his body off with quick, efficient, movements and running the towel through his hair as he moved into the bedroom of his small apartment. Sitting on the edge of his bed, Dazai reached for a roll of fresh bandages.

He began at his ankles, as he always did, and wrapped his body with an ease that spoke to years of practice (ten of them, to be exact). Dazai didn’t have to pay much attention as he passed the bandages from hand to hand, and his focus shifted to what steps he would be taking next to find answers. Thanks to the bust with the information broker, he might not have any choice but to look for answers in more illegal avenues.

On the corner of his bedside table, his alarm went off, signaling it was time for him to wake up and get ready for work. Dazai smiled wryly as he reached over and turned off the alarm and picked up the bottle of stimulants next to his phone. He tipped a pair of blue pills into the palm of his hand and swallowed them with ease before replacing the bottle and turning to get dressed. It wasn’t unusual for Dazai to use stimulants on occasions when he needed an extra boost to get him through a particularly extensive planning process, but he was always careful with the doses. Besides the trouble being caught in the possession of such pills would cause for him and the Agency, too much usage would ruin anyone’s ability to think clearly, and he couldn't afford the problems that came with an addiction.

But he was running on four hours of sleep over the past three days, and the last thing Dazai needed was to be locked in the infirmary with Yosano to keep an eye on him; it would prevent him from making the headway he needed. As long as he managed not to draw the suspicion of his colleagues until it was late for them to intervene, Dazai could operate with relative impunity.

Dressed, with time to spare, he swung through his kitchen and picked up a protein drink, chugging it down as he stepped out of his apartment and into the street. It was the work of minutes to flag down a taxi and he was on his way to the office.

“You’re late!” The call was predictable from Kunikida, and Dazai grinned in the face of his partner’s anger.

“Only by four minutes, Kunikida-kun! That’s early for me!”

“The president wants to have a meeting to see if we can offer the minister something better than having you work for him,” was the dry response as Kunikida glanced down at his watch. “The best time is right now, before we’re all busy for the day.”

Dazai turned his attention to Atsushi, his grin turning into something more impish, “Atsushi-kun, do you honestly think there’s anything the government could want more than me? I’m invaluable.”

To his side, he heard Kunikida mutter something about Dazai possibly being as ‘full of himself as Ranpo’ as Atsushi flushed and he said, “I’m too new to really say, Dazai-san.”

A cup of tea was held up in Dazai’s line of vision, and he accepted it with a grateful hum, turning his gaze on the man who had quietly slipped into the room and was now heading toward his desk, “What do you think, Odasaku? Do you think there’s anything the Agency has that is more important than me?”

The corner of Oda’s mouth turned up into a bemused smile, “I’m not answering that.”

Dazai slumped against his desk, draping a hand dramatically over his forehead, “First Atsushi, now Odasaku! One-by-one, all of my friends have forsaken me!”

Ango dropped into the seat next to Dazai, “It’s too early for you to be so dramatic, Dazai.”

The door to the president’s office opened, and Fukuzawa cut off the current thread of conversation by calling the senior members in for a meeting. Dazai bounced into the room behind the others, ignoring the aches of his fatigued body (stimulants were great for keeping him focused but they didn’t make up for lost sleep), he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep such a facade going, but he couldn’t afford to stop anytime soon.

The meeting was a waste of his time.

Despite the fact that Dazai had been playing up a character, doing his best to keep anyone from noticing how little rest he had been getting or the fact that he had completely abandoned all of his regular work despite being busier than ever, Dazai had been honest when he decried the low likelihood of the government wanting something more than him at their beck and call. Minister Ito wasn’t a master in delicacy; if the Agency had anything else that interested him, they already would have been told about it, and their more delicate information was too dangerous to share.

When the meeting was finally dismissed, Dazai made his way to his desk and began to filter through the information he had pieced together over the last three days and compared it to what was inside the file on him that Ito had brought. He was still missing half-a-dozen connections between the Agency and the government, and he wouldn’t be able to link it all until he learned where the leak had come from in the first place.

Dazai immersed himself in his work, only rousing himself from his concentration long enough to respond to comments directed at him, or incidents that he would usually make a snide remark about. The stimulants pumping through his system kept him on track for the entire day, and Dazai didn’t move a muscle as the others got up and left for the day, calling their goodbyes.

“Um, Dazai-san?” Dazai looked up from his computer and smiled at Atsushi, “Are you staying late again?”

“I have to prepare as much as possible for whoever will be taking over after me,” Dazai said, “after all of these years of slacking off, it’s the least I can do.”

A shadow crossed Atsushi’s at the mention of Dazai’s impending departure, but he nodded and wished Dazai a goodnight before leaving Dazai alone in the office. He didn’t know how long he worked in the eerie silence of the emptiness of the Agency headquarters. Even the sounds of the city faded away as Dazai flipped through file after file, reading over everything he had stolen from various informants over the past several days and the information he had transcribed during the day from his previous night’s activities before the door to the office opened again. He didn’t look up, in fact he barely recognized the extra presence other than to note that the person was not planning to do him harm.

A cup of coffee was placed in the middle of Dazai’s desk, right on top of the notes he was currently pouring over and he scowled, looking up to meet a pair of solemn azure eyes, “What?”

“You’ve been working nonstop since the minister visited.” Oda said, settling into the chair opposite him, placing a book on the clear surface, “Dazai you’ve never stayed late at the office since you got here, but the last three days I’m not even sure you’ve left. Have you slept at all?”

“Of course I have,” Dazai replied, opting to gulp down the caffeine rather than continuing to meet Oda’s gaze.

Oda didn’t bother to call Dazai on his lie. Instead, he leaned back in his seat and picked up the book, opening it to page one.  They sat in silence for all of ten minutes before the unspoken mixture of disapproval and concern from the older man was too much for Dazai’s sleep deprived state and he dropped his pen on the table in exasperation, “Are you just going to sit there all night?”

“Are you?” Oda replied, flipping the page without looking up from the book.

“Evidently I’m the only one in this organization that cares where the minister got the information about my ability. We could have a traitor for all we know.”

Oda shrugged, “That won’t change if you stop to sleep every night.”

“I only have five days before I have to sell my soul to the Special Ability Department.”

“You don’t have to do anything, Dazai.”

Dazai rolled his eyes, “That is what everyone keeps saying.”

“You don’t believe us?”

The sheer amount of naive optimism floating around Dazai every day was almost sickening. It was to be expected that living in the safety of the Agency would make some complacent, but Dazai didn’t have the privilege of ignoring the harsh conditions the Gifted outside Agency care lived in. Where Oda and the others spent most of their time taking jobs with wealthy Giftless clients or contracts with business or government offices, Dazai single-handedly ran the shadowed side of the Agency’s operations. He was the one who ferreted out rumors about the Gifted who were abused, abandoned, and neglected in Yokohama; he was the one who went into the slums and performed reconnaissance, who often had to decide someone was beyond saving before he could even bring his reports to Fukuzawa. The reality of being Gifted in this world was being disposable, sub-human, and not even the Agency was invincible from the realities of this truth.

Dazai reached across the space between him and his friend and yanked the book from Oda’s hands. Odasaku didn’t react other than to stare expectantly at Dazai, and Dazai should have known better to think the petulant action might get a rise from a man so calm that no one could remember if they had ever seen him upset.

“The Agency exists on the goodwill of the Ministry of Deviant Affairs. One sour word from the minister to the Cabinet and we get shut down, permanently. If I just tell the minister that I refuse to work for him, they’ll withhold our permit.”

“The president could offer them something else.”

Dazai let out a long-suffering sigh, “Odasaku, you do know what my ability is, right?”

“Only for the last eight years of our lives.”

“There is a reason the president and I worked so hard to keep it a secret,” Dazai explained, absent-mindedly ruffling through the pages of the book, “the power to nullify any ability is a trump card for the Giftless. The only reason the Agency was allowed to be formed was so that we could deal with the Gifted that they’re too afraid of going after themselves. But with me as a tool for them, the Agency becomes obsolete. No one could use their ability against them without getting around me first. It takes away a massive advantage we have in negotiations.”

Oda nodded slowly, taking in all of the information without his expression changing, “So, you’re just going to hand yourself over to them without a fight?”

“I am fighting.” Dazai murmured, “I’m going to take away their source of inside information before I go. Speaking of which,” Dazai glanced at the clock on the wall and pushed himself to his feet with a sharp grin, “I need to go see about making a few new friends.”

Dazai set off across the empty office, unsurprised to hear Oda getting to his feet, as if he was planning to follow behind. Placing one hand on the door handle, Dazai glanced back at his friend, “This really isn’t your type of work, Odasaku.”

“I’m worried about you.”

The reply was simple and honest, and it took every second Dazai had spent over his lifetime masking his emotions and projecting false ones in order for him to flash a smile at his friend that didn’t reveal how truly exhausted he was, “I’ll be fine. You should get some rest.”

Dazai left the office before Oda could say another word, shrugging off his friend’s concern and the phony personality he had been putting on since he stepped out of his taxi that morning. Dazai caught a different cab several blocks away from the office, rattling off the address of a bar he had never personally stepped inside but was more than familiar with by reputation.

The drive to Lupin’s was too long for Dazai’s tastes. Every second it took for a light to turn green, for the relative safety of the central part of Yokohama to fade away into the districts closer to the ports, was another second gone from Dazai’s increasingly shrinking time table. As loathe as he was to admit it, he wasn’t sure he would be able to figure the whole mess out in time. If it weren’t for the fact that Dazai need to do this himself, needed to learn who he was trusting that he shouldn’t be trusting with his own hands, he might have tried to talk Ranpo into looking into the case behind Kunikida’s back, but Ranpo was being directed by the president to find some way around their current negotiation track, so Dazai was on his own.

When the car came to a stop, Dazai paid and slid out, pausing to look up at the sign of the bar before he pushed open the door. Despite it being prime drinking time, the bar was relatively calm. There were a few tables occupied, and a pair of patrons on either end of the bar, but for the most part, Dazai made his way through a mostly empty room to take a seat in one of the stools.

“What can I get you?” The barkeep asked, placing a small napkin in front of Dazai.

Dazai drummed his fingers on the wood of the bar top, “Scotch on the rocks, if you please.”

The man made quick work of the drink, placing it on the napkin and sliding them both to Dazai’s side of the bar before he turned to serve the next customer. Dazai took a sip of the drink, spinning slightly in his stool so he could survey the room. Lupin’s was right on the edge of Port Mafia territory, so it wasn’t necessarily where one would assume to find a large amount of Mafia members. However, according to what Dazai had learned the previous evening, this was the bar occasionally graced by the Port Mafia’s higher-ups, the type of people who might be able to provide Dazai with real answers.

At the moment, his prospects weren’t particularly promising. The man to the right end of the bar was barely able to keep his balance; he had probably been drinking since the place opened for the evening. At the left end of the bar was someone who was chatting animatedly with the barkeep, he didn’t give off the feel of a high-end mafioso.

Further back, to his left, was a table of people who were likely part of the Port Mafia, though higher-ups they certainly were not. The group, comprised of both men and women, was openly staring at Dazai, no doubt trying to scare him off with the force of their scrutiny. Dazai tipped his glass in their direction in a mock toast and continued to drink, making it clear that he wasn’t leaving any time soon. Almost immediately, two of the men stood and headed directly toward the bar. They were intercepted by a man in a black jacket, who seemed to appear out of nowhere. He held up out a hand to meet one of their chests, halting their movement. The two brutes backed away without a single word being exchanged and the new man finished their journey to take a seat next to Dazai.

He didn’t have to say a word for a drink to be placed in front of him.

“I take it you come here often,” Dazai said, not bothering to look at the newcomer.

“Often enough to recognize a new face.” The man’s voice was smooth, “This is a dangerous part of town for strangers.”

“I can handle myself.”

The man chuckled, “I don’t doubt it. My name is Mori Ougai.”

At the name, Dazai turned to look at him. Mori’s eyes were red and glinted with intelligence.  Despite the man’s relatively laid back demeanor, there was an aura of malice that surrounded him.

Dazai took another sip of his drink, “Mori is the name of that company who has a giant building not far from here.” If this man was the same Mori, then Dazai’s luck had taken a sharp turn (for the better or for the worse, he wasn’t sure yet).

“So it is,” Mori mused. “And you would be Dazai Osamu, of the Armed Detective Agency. Ever since you joined they’ve been getting into the habit of ruining my plans.

At Mori’s casual indication that he was, in fact, the boss of the Port Mafia, Dazai said, “Of all the plans your organization has in motion, I doubt the ADA has foiled so much as half of them. Your resources, and your network, are vast.”

Mori raised his glass in a toast, but he didn’t speak to the truth of Dazai’s guess. Instead, he switched subjects with ease, the silkiness of his voice as he brought up his next topic setting Dazai on edge immediately, “It is dangerous for you to be in such an establishment at this time of year, isn’t it? I thought the Agency was already in talks for the renewal of their business permit.”

Dazai studied Mori, wondering how much the man before him really knew. As boss of the Port Mafia, Mori would realistically have access to more than twice as many resources as Dazai, and he had to assume there were bribes Mori could pay to get information from within the government itself. 

He didn’t have much to lose by sharing his troubles, and Dazai had come all this way to see if the Port Mafia might already know who the government spy was, “Considering that I was put up for negotiations, I am taking advantage of my last few days of freedom.”

Bemusement was evident on Mori’s features, “I would hesitate to consider work under the Agency freedom.”

Now wasn’t the time to defend the Agency’s stance on Gifted/Giftless relations, and Dazai was hardly one to delve into that debate on a regular day since he disagreed with quite a few Agency policies, “I’m trying to ferret out a government spy in the Agency. I don’t suppose the Port Mafia has information on such a thing.”

Mori rapped his knuckles on the bar top and a refill was poured into both of their glasses. He waited for the bartender to move away before he shrugged, “I haven’t had the resources to spend on keeping track of the Agency. I had a visit of my very own from the dear Minister of Deviant Affairs just last week.” Dazai raised his eyebrows, curious, and Mori indulged him, “A foreign organization by the name of Mimic, run under the command of a Gifted man, has been striking military and police strongholds across Japan. They recently arrived in Yokohama and the government is getting desperate, so they came to me.”

Dazai frowned, the timing of the organization’s attacks should make it prime material for the permit negotiation. It wouldn’t be the first time the government strong-armed the Agency into taking a task they would normally refuse for the sake of maintaining their permit.

“If such an organization is causing havoc, why is the government turning to an unauthorized organization that is officially classified as a terrorist group rather than the Agency?”

Mori chuckled, “The government came to me because this is a bit messier than what the Agency usually handles.”

Dazai absently pushed around the sphere of ice in his glass, “What would the Agency have to offer in exchange for getting you to release this contract?”

“No contract has been signed,” Mori said, “but this isn’t something that will be solved by turning Mimic’s members over to the police; they fight to the death. It is a kill or be killed operation, your people don’t have the stomach.”

Dazai was already running through calculations, trying to estimate if he had enough time to take on the organization before the end of negotiations. If Mori was telling the truth, Dazai was limited in who within the Agency he could turn to for aid, but taking out Mimic would likely satisfy Ito until the next renewal (at which time a new minister would likely be in charge).

“I have the stomach.” He said firmly, meeting Mori’s eyes and ignoring the flash of impish delight he saw in their red depths.

The Port Mafia boss shrugged, “Since you did have the guts to walk into a Mafia establishment without backup, I could indulge you. If the Agency fails, they’ll be wiped out; if they succeed, I can focus my resources elsewhere. It is a win-win scenario for me.” Mori reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a flash drive, “I don’t frequent this bar, I was only in this area to receive some information from a government worker on the foreign organization. All of that information is on this drive.”

Dazai didn’t reach for it, “And what will this cost me?”

Mori’s smile was sharp, there was no warmth in his gaze as he leaned forward, pushing the drive further in Dazai’s direction, “Let’s just say that you have intrigued me, Dazai-kun. I’m interested to see what you can do.”

A chill ran down Dazai’s spine as he considered the man who ran one of the most feared Gifted organizations in the world; a man who knew Dazai by name and reputation, who was willing to pass on a potentially game-changing government deal for the sake of seeing what Dazai could do. It filled him with a sense of foreboding, but Dazai’s back was already against the wall and he was rapidly running out of time.

He reached out and picked up the flash drive, pocketing it quickly out of a slightly irrational fear that Mori would ask for it back.

The smile faded away until it was more polite than malicious and Mori called over the barkeep, telling the man to put Dazai’s drinks on his tab. Dazai took that as a sign to make his way out of the bar but was stopped when Mori dropped a small box onto the counter next to him.

It was a matchbox, the bar’s logo on the front.

Dazai frowned and glanced at Mori. The other man motioned at the box, “If you happen to visit again, and I’m not around, it will make sure that my people don’t get too rowdy with you.”

“I don’t plan to come back.”

“Consider it my price for the information on Mimic.” Came the response.

Dazai picked up the matchbox and pocketed it without another word. Mori gave him a polite nod and turned his attention back to the barkeep. Dazai took a moment to study the boss of the Port Mafia, trying to wrap his head around the potential repercussions of their meeting, before he made his way out of Lupin’s.

 


 

Setting up a meeting with the Minister of Deviant Affairs was, ironically, next to impossible for a Deviant to accomplish. It usually involved reaching out via the branch of the Special Ability Department in the closest major city, getting weeks of thorough vetting, going through a couple of interviews, and then finally achieving a ten-minute meeting placed on the books for three months in the future that would likely be rescheduled or canceled on the day that it arrived. Luckily, Dazai was a special case. Between the resources he had carefully built up in his eight years at the Agency and the fact that the Minister had personally come to threaten Dazai into working for the government, all it took was for Dazai to make a handful of phone calls and he had an off-record appointment with one of the vilest politicians in Japan.

From where he sat, at a corner table in a crowded restaurant quite a distance from both the Agency and the Special Ability Department headquarters in Yokohama, Dazai could admit that he admired the way Ito had been able to constrict the allowance given to the Gifted until they were back to being classified as less than human. Ito’s most recent predecessors had been relatively lenient on the Gifted, which was why the Agency existed in the first place, but a global economic collapse had scared the Japanese people into electing a National Diet who took a much harder stance on the Gifted. As long as the ‘normal’ people had something to unite against the nation could pretend at stability, and it wasn’t as if the Gifted had voting rights anyways.

Dazai picked out the minister the moment he entered the restaurant, and Dazai watched as the man weaved through the crowd, face angled down so he wouldn’t be recognized. Dazai gave him a lazy smile as Ito settled into the chair opposite his own.

“Minister,” Dazai said in greeting.

Ito nodded briskly, “I have to say, the reports indicated you are ballsy, but this was unexpected.”

At the mention of the ‘reports’ handed in from a mysterious mole that Dazai had yet to identify, Dazai drummed his fingers on the table, trying to keep the intense flash of rage from showing on his face, “What else do the reports say about me? Anything good?”

Food was settled in front of them (Dazai had taken the liberty of ordering when he arrived) and Ito smiled at the server, waiting for them to leave before he picked up the pair of chopsticks by his plate and said, “Why don’t we skip the pleasantries, Dazai. What do you want?”

“Mimic.”

Rice slipped from Ito’s chopsticks as his grip went slightly slack, and his eyes narrowed, “How did you find out about that name?”

Dazai shrugged, “I have numerous ways of getting information. That wasn’t in the reports?” He didn’t wait for Ito to reply, plowing on, “Regardless, a little birdie told me that Mimic has been giving you trouble. I can only imagine how much it would hurt the Prime Minister’s ‘normal people and Deviants can’t co-exist’ rhetoric if the public learned a militia of Giftless were attacking the government under the command of someone Gifted. I must say, I’m curious why a foreign organization would take such an interest in Japan’s government, but I do feel sympathetic towards their cause.”

Ito’s face was turning a particularly amusing shade of red as Dazai talked, the food forgotten in front of him in the face of Dazai’s threat, “If you say so much as a word, I will shut the Agency down in a heartbeat.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Dazai hummed, flashing an innocent smile at the minister, “I don’t plan on sharing that information, I only bring it up so that you know that I’m aware of your little problem. I’m also aware that the government is trying to negotiate with the Port Mafia to have the situation handled.” Dazai picked up his own chopsticks, shaking his head remorsefully as he picked through the rice and vegetables in his bowl, “You know, I always thought there was a hard rule about governments negotiation with terrorists. I suppose desperate times….”

“Listen here, you brat,” Ito snapped, “if you think I’m buckling to threats from the likes of you, then you’re delusional.”

“I’m not delusional,” Dazai replied, before popping a piece of pork into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully. 

He ran his gaze over Ito’s face, letting the minister sweat for a few minutes. No matter how blustery Ito’s response had been, if Dazai leaked this information the minister would likely be forced to hand in resignation papers before he could act against the Agency. As satisfying as it would be to cause the downfall of Ito’s career, the person who followed in Ito’s footsteps would probably take an even harder line against the Agency to defend against the same downfall.

Dazai picked up another piece of meat and said, as if he was making an offer as casual as paying for the meal, “I’ll take care of Mimic for you.”

As he chewed, he watched the minister’s thought process flash across his pudgy face. It took a few seconds for Ito to comprehend the offer, and then he likely started thinking through the benefits of having Dazai handle the problem rather than the Mafia before he moved onto to the drawbacks. After a few minutes, Ito’s lips curled into a sneer, “Provided I don’t withhold the Agency’s license and you remain in their employment?”

Dazai beamed at him, much the way one might smile at a student who had just solved a difficult problem, “Precisely.”

“Does your president know about this proposal you’re making?”

“Does the Prime Minister know about the proposal you gave to the Mafia?” Dazai countered, “Sometimes people like you and I have to get our hands dirty in order to pave an easier road for those in charge. Isn’t that how this all works?”

Ito went back to his food, now quietly contemplative about the entire conversation. Dazai let the minister take his time to think the whole thing through. He had to make sure Ito felt like he was now gaining the upper hand in the conversation, like Dazai was hanging on his every word in his desperation not to work for the Special Ability Department.

After a long silence, Ito said, “You’re quite confident in yourself to think you can take on an entire organization on your own.”

“Without the limitations of Agency protocol, my skill set can be quite effective.”

Ito chuckled, “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this. The Deviant are particularly twisted, and your reputation precedes you.” He pushed back his chair and stood, “Wipe out Mimic before the final negotiation talks and I will rescind my request to have you join the Department. If you fail to succeed, this conversation never happened.”

“Fair enough,” Dazai replied, raising two fingers to his forehead and pushing them away in a mock salute, “Thank you for the opportunity, minister.”

 


 

The smell of rotting flesh filled the air and smoke burned through Dazai’s lungs with an intensity that made it difficult to stay quiet as coughs lurked deep within his throat, aching to be let loose. Pain flared from his left calf, and he didn’t bother to look down to study the extent of the damage the gunshot wound had caused. Blood was dripping from a slash down his right eye while his left darted around, looking for some way to regain control of the situation. His grip on his gun was shaky; his entire body was trembling from head-to-toe from the strain of almost a week with little rest, only kept going by the use of stimulants, and Dazai wasn’t sure if it was the reliance on the medication or simply the insanity of his current situation that was making it difficult to come up with a clear plan.

Half an hour ago, he had been in control of everything, smoking a cigarette as he watched the sunset.

He rarely smoked. Dazai didn’t find it particularly appealing, and he wanted the end of his life to come about in a more sudden, glorious, manner rather than as a side effect of an addictive habit. But he had been hopped up on adrenaline and needed to pass the time somehow, so he had lit a cigarette as he waited for his plans to fall into place.

Dazai swore under his breath and let his head drop back against the wall behind him, running through his plan once more, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. 

It had taken every waking second remaining before the final negotiation talks in order for Dazai to put everything together. The information on Mimic that he received from Mori had been good, but incomplete, and Dazai needed as much information as he could get. After calling in sick from work on Monday, he had spent his day hunting down a Mimic squadron and placing a trap for them. Although only one of them lived long enough for Dazai to thoroughly question, he had managed to extract enough information to hazard a guess how their leader would react to a direct challenge.  The bodies were dumped in the sewers of the underworld, and a message placed with the corpses detailing a location and a time.

The location was a manor in the outskirts of the city, far enough away from civilians that the government could turn a blind eye to the impending chaos. The time was after the sun was set, and as Dazai had watched the last rays of sunlight sink behind the horizon, a military van rumbled down the road directly toward the manor: right on schedule.

Mimic was a tightly run, militaristic organization. They followed orders to the letter and never broke formation, which made them easy to predict. Half-a-dozen strategically placed explosives planted throughout the manor, in areas where the structural integrity of the building was questionable, wiped out the tightly packed squadrons that chased him through the halls of the building. Each explosion was immaculately timed; the difference between Dazai and his pursuers being wiped out was sometimes only a matter of seconds.

Handling the foot soldiers was simple. It was the leader that posed a problem.

As if the thought summoned him, a figure rose from the smoke; the cloak he wore kept his body from forming a definable shape in the dim lighting until he was too close for Dazai to make a run for it (not that Dazai could run with his injured leg). At the appearance of the soldier, Dazai’s trembling gently eased, as if his body recognized that there was no way out of this one, that this was the end of the line.

André Gide.

The most Dazai had been able to learn about the organization’s leader prior to their violent meeting was that he was a formidable commander. He led his troops with diligence and intelligence, he was willing to involve civilians in order to gain the upper hand, and he had a Gift that made him nearly matchless in a fight. The exact nature of Gide’s ability was difficult for Dazai to parse out; if he had more time he was sure he would have been able to find some scraps of information that would have helped him hazard an educated guess, but Dazai didn’t have that luxury. So, he had put together a plan that relied on taking out Gide before the soldier would be able to bring the fight to Dazai.

When the first trap went off, wiping out more than a quarter of Mimic’s forces, Gide had moved with a speed that bordered on precognition. Two traps later, and the immediate deaths of at least 90% of Mimic, was what it took before Dazai realized he was outmatched. He had been on enough missions with Odasaku to recognize this particular ability, even if it was somehow in a different ability user’s body. And as a by-product of those missions, Dazai also knew that Oda had the potential to be the most dangerous member of the Agency, which meant that the man leading Mimic was just as much of a threat.

It was a miracle Dazai had managed to last this long against Gide. His injuries were less than minor and he hadn’t so much as landed a scratch on his opponent; this was a fight Dazai had lost as soon as he picked it.

Gide didn’t seem to be in any hurry to attack Dazai, clearly aware that the fight had left his prey. His eyes lingered on Dazai’s leg in a way that indicated his shot there had been purposeful, intended to limit Dazai’s mobility.

“Who are you?”

The question was calm, too calm, considering he had just lost most of his men.

“My name is Dazai, a pleasure to make your acquaintance, I’m sure.”

“Who sent you?”

Dazai snorted, “Does it matter? You don’t exactly have the reinforcements needed for a retaliatory attack. Even with your ability, it would be the move of someone with a death wish.”

The silver pistol in Gide’s hand was raised and pointed directly at Dazai’s uninjured leg, “Who sent you?”

An idea flickered through Dazai’s mind and he said, “I made a deal with Minister Ito. Do you actually have a death wish?” There wasn’t a response right away, and Dazai sighed, “I don’t have any more tricks up my sleeve. It won’t hurt you to give me an answer.”

A bemused smile crossed Gide’s face and he pointed his gun back at the ground, taking a few steps in Dazai’s direction as he said, “Answer this question first: why would one man try to take on an organization on his own at the request of that minister?”

“I’m an ability user,” Dazai sighed, his left eye fluttering shut for a moment as the room seemed to start spinning. When he blinked his eye back open, the room was stationary though he was starting to feel light-headed, “The organization I work for was under scrutiny by Ito, so I offered to handle Mimic for him so that my organization would be left alone. Now answer my question.”

His last comment was petulant; Dazai was in no position to be making any sort of demands. But, for some reason, he seemed to amuse Gide and the soldier complied, “My men and I are ghosts, left for dead by the country we offered our lives to protect. I told them we would live and fight together until we met our end on the battlefield, as we deserved.”

“Mimic is, or was, an organization of people who want to die?” Dazai summarized, “I can sympathize.”

Gide studied Dazai, a dubious expression evident on his face, “You and I are both ability users, but that is where our similarities end.”

“That’s not true. I want to die as well,” Dazai said, adopting a chirpy tone in his voice. “Looks like I’m the only one who will get to have their wish come true tonight. I pity you.”

“You didn’t do this out of a desire to die.”

Dazai shrugged, letting his head loll to the side so the blood dripping from his eye would fall to the floor, rather than down onto his body, “No, I didn’t, but I can’t complain about the fact that you will be sending me away from this world. What are you waiting for?”

The barrel of Gide’s gun was raised to Dazai’s forehead and Dazai stared past it to keep hold of Gide’s gaze. He may have failed in completely destroying Mimic, but without any followers it was only a matter of time until someone was able to work around Gide’s ability, and death was just as good of a way out of working for the Special Ability Department.

Gide’s finger twitched on the trigger, and Dazai’s lips stretched into a lazy smile, waiting for the bullet to fly from the chamber to bury into his skull. Instead, a frown flashed across Gide’s face and he leapt back, avoiding several bullets fired from the direction of the door.

Dazai shifted slightly from where he was positioned on the floor so he could see the newcomer, and his heart dropped to his stomach, “Odasaku?”

Oda was steadily entering the massive ballroom where Dazai had taken refuge, his gun pointed at Gide’s chest, “I thought you might do something rash, but never did I think you would do something this stupid.”

“What are you doing here?”

Oda tore his gaze from Gide to give Dazai a dry look, “I wasn’t going to let you throw away your life like this.”

Something was pounding behind Dazai’s uninjured eye, like a word that was on the tip of his tongue. He mentally cursed his sleep deprivation as he tried to pull together the fragments of a partially formed thought about why this was the last place Oda should be, and why Odasaku was the last person Dazai wanted to see walk through that door. He was just piecing together his thought process when Oda’s eyes widened in shock and he whirled to face Gide, whose own gun was pointed directly at Oda.

Their abilities.

This time, Dazai swore out loud as he mentally ran through what little he knew about people who shared the same abilities. It was a phenomenon that was exceedingly rare (he would guess that duplication of abilities only occurred every fifty years) and for people with duplicate abilities to meet each other was rarer still. His good eye flicked between the two men, wondering if one ability was stronger than the other, if they would cancel out, if Oda could win this fight.

“Dazai, who is this?” Oda asked, the usually controlled cadence of his voice was strained.

“Odasaku, meet Andre Gide, leader of Mimic and a fellow admirer of suicide.” Dazai said, trying to put Oda at ease by acting as normal as possible while also providing the hint that Gide was here to fight to the death, “Gide, meet Oda Sakunosuke, a friend of mine. I’m sure you’ve both already gathered that your abilities are identical.”

The two men glanced at Dazai, eyes narrowed as they took information that certainly wasn’t new to them, but definitely was different now that their suspicions had been confirmed. Dazai found himself holding his breath, waiting for the shoe to drop, for the momentary stillness to devolve into chaos. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, and as one beat faded to the next, the stillness shattered.

As he watched Gide and Oda fight, Dazai almost felt like he was intruding on a private moment, like this type of a showdown wasn’t meant for spectators because the speed and ferocity with which they moved was too harsh to follow. This type of a battle was the barest instincts of a man laid bare as they relied on tuition honed on years of fighting to dodge and attack at speeds too fast for them to be relying on their abilities.

Dazai followed it as closely as he could, pushing himself from his seated position into a crouch before struggling to his feet, swaying slightly where he stood. At this rate, Gide would win. It wasn’t that Oda was the lesser fighter, it was that Oda was still trying to find a way to end the battle without killing the other man, and that was impossible.

Dazai dug into the pocket of his trench coat and pulled out the box of matches he had received from Mori. He had used these to light the charges hidden around the manor, and he was down to the last three in the set. He dug his hand into his other pocket and pulled out one last explosive; it was compact enough to bring anything already damaged crashing down, but there was little room for error.

Carefully, he made his way around the edge of the room, hugging the wall as he tried to draw as little attention to himself as possible. The front corner of the ballroom was already damaged from blasts in the corridor, and Dazai ran his hand along the wall, rapidly calculating where the support beam would be before he set down the charge and struck a match. The charge was lit and Dazai limped away from the area, letting out a piercing whistle when he was relatively clear of any blow back. Neither man turned to look in his direction, but Oda pivoted on his heel, his other foot connecting firmly with Gide’s gut in a kick that sent the foreign soldier crashing against the very corner Dazai had indicated.

Gide’s entire face went slack as he hit the back wall (Dazai recognized the expression from the times it had been on Oda’s face), and he dropped to his knees, wincing at harsh fall as he glanced to where the fuse for the explosive was close to its end. A slight smile crossed Gide’s face, and he raised his gun, pointing it at Dazai.

Dazai felt his sense of time completely dissolve as he stared back at the end of the now familiar barrel. In the background, he heard someone shout his name (Odasaku, a distant part of him recognized). A flash of tan entered his field of vision as Oda threw himself at Gide, ruining his aim so the bullet just brushed the side of Dazai’s cheek. Someone else screamed Oda’s name; it echoed sharply in the room in the millisecond before the blast detonated, engulfing the corner in flame and rubble as the support beam collapsed.

The screaming continued until Dazai realized that the voice, cracked and hoarse, belonged to him. That realization pushed him forward and he staggered to the wreckage, ignoring the searing heat of the residual flames, limping past a body swathed in a brown cloak, until he was dropping to his knees next to where Oda’s lower body had been crushed under wood.

Dazai pushed, but nothing budged.

He swore and pushed harder, cursing his arms for trembling so harshly, cursing himself for walking into this plan with not enough sleep and too much arrogance, cursing his body for not being able to survive solely on caffeine and the occasional protein drink.

A hand grabbed his arm, and Dazai’s attention whirled so he could meet Oda’s gaze. It was difficult to focus on Oda’s expression through the smoke and dust and whatever was making the older man’s face blur like that (tears, Dazai realized).

“Idiot!” he snapped. “Why did you come? Why couldn’t you just let me die here?”

Odasaku smiled, the same fond expression he gave Dazai whenever he thought Dazai was being too stubborn, “Because you’re my friend, Osamu.”

The hand gripping Dazai’s went slack, and then dropped to the floor. Dazai collapsed to the ground with it.

He hit his head with a thud, but it didn’t hurt. The rising flames around him didn’t do anything to warm the sudden coldness of Dazai’s body. He didn’t think he could feel anything physical when his heart was being ripped from his chest as he watched his closest friend die before his eyes, as a direct result of his actions. Dazai couldn’t bring himself to waste the energy to wipe tears from his eyes as black threatened to overwhelm his vision. His own breathing was getting dangerously shallow.

Dazai’s last thought before he slipped into unconsciousness was that he hoped he died right here, next to Odasaku.

 


 

Waking up was the worst possible way for Dazai’s week to continue.

He blinked open his left eye and stared at the white ceiling above him, not quite sure what to do with the numbness that had seeped into his body when he had watched Oda dive at Gide. Dazai hadn’t bothered to tell the Agency where to find him if something went wrong, he didn’t even know how Oda had found him, and yet somehow…

“So, you’re awake.”

Heels clicked on the infirmary floor, confirming that Dazai was alive and he shut his eye, trying not to drown in the sorrowful knowledge that he hadn’t managed to die in that manor. A firm hand gripped his chin and pulled his face away from the ceiling and Dazai reopened his eye without having to be told to so.

Yosano shined a light into his eye, studying it carefully before making a pleased noise in the back of her throat and moving around the bed, “You’ve been unconscious for two days. I wasn’t sure you were going to make it.”

He wished he hadn’t.

“Open your right eye.”

Reluctantly, Dazai blinked his right eye open. He couldn’t bother dredging up any concern over the fact that all his could see from his right eye was the same darkness that had swallowed everything when his eye was closed. His only indication that Yosano was doing the same light test was the flash of brightness he could pick up from his left eye, and after a moment she leaned away from the bed.

“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that you’ve lost all vision in your right eye.” She said, tersely.

“Permanently?”

“Yes.”

Dazai shrugged and closed both eyes again, “It doesn’t matter.”

The click of heels indicated that Yosano was walking away from the bed and to her desk across the room, “The president finished negotiations with the minister the day before last. Our permit was renewed and you were excused from having to join the Special Ability Department.” She paused, then added, “The next time you pull a stunt as selfish as that, I’ll gut you myself.”

“I’ll welcome it.”

Yosano clicked her tongue, “Save your self-pitying for later, Dazai. You still need to go explain to the president why you acted out on your own. Oda was a good man, he didn’t deserve to die like that.”

Dazai blinked his left eye open again and glanced at Yosano. Her back was to him, but it was rigid, and her voice was the same. Oda rarely got injured on the job, and never so badly that he had the need for her ability, but Dazai knew they had talked often. Their similar distaste in wasting lives was a strong bond, and Dazai could tell that Yosano was barely managing to keep her tone from reflecting that loss.

He didn’t deserve to intrude on her mourning.

Dazai pushed himself upright and swung his feet over the side of the bed, ignoring the flaring pain his left leg as he did so. On the chair, next to his bed were fresh clothes, brought from his apartment, and Dazai changed into them as Yosano muttered about how he still needed to rest or else he would collapse on his way down the hallway.

He tossed her a bright smile, “Don’t worry about me, sensei, I’m probably incapable of dying.”

She pressed her mouth into a thin line and glared at him, “Keep up those jokes outside of my infirmary and you’ll end up right back on that bed, Dazai.”

Dazai shrugged and forced himself to stroll out of the infirmary like it was any other day, like he had been in there for a minor injury as the result of a normal mission. He passed no one in the hallway that led to the main offices, and his hand hesitated on the handle of the door for a brief moment as he wondered if he was ready to face this. From how Yosano reacted, Dazai could only imagine that everyone blamed him for Oda’s death.

It was fair, it had been his fault.

But no matter how much the others liked the man, none of them had relied as heavily on Odasaku as Dazai had. Even now, something in his gut felt hollow at the knowledge that Oda’s reserved smile wouldn’t be greeting him when he entered the office, and he swallowed heavily before pushing his way inside.

Atsushi noticed him first, and was on his feet and crossing to Dazai before anyone else had realized he was there, “Dazai-san! Shouldn’t you still be in bed?”

“And deprive Kunikida the chance to yell at me?” Dazai replied, voice cheery as usual, “I’m not cruel, Atsushi-kun.”

“Oi, idiot!” Right on cue, Kunikida headed straight for them and whacked Dazai over the top of his head with his ‘Ideal’, “You’ve been with the Agency too long to pull shit like that! We have regulations for a reason, so that people don’t get killed!”

Dazai glanced at the empty desk diagonal from his own, taking in the flowers and notes that covered the surface like a memorial, “My plans never go wrong. I wasn’t planning to walk back out of the manor alive.” He flicked his gaze back to Kunikida, “Odasaku never did like my plans that much.”

Around them, the office was silent as Kunikida’s face went from pale to pink and then slowly flushed to an angry shade of red. The blond man was opening his mouth to verbally tear Dazai to shreds when a door flew open and all attention turned to the president.

“Dazai, inside. Now,” Fukuzawa said, voice firm.

Dazai patted Kunikida on the arm, “You can finish yelling at me later, Kunikida-kun. I’m sure you’ve planned an excellent lecture.”

He spun on his heels and made his way to the president’s office, standing just past the threshold as he waited for Fukuzawa to shut the door. The president moved past him to take a seat in one of the couches, and Dazai flashed a smile of gratitude at the knowledge that he wouldn’t have to stand as he was getting rebuked to hell and back. Despite his act, his entire body was screaming in agony, and Dazai settled gratefully into the couch opposite.

Fukuzawa simply studied Dazai for a bit before he said, “I’m afraid you slept through the wake, we weren’t sure how long you would be unconscious so we didn’t want to postpone. The funeral will take place this evening.” Dazai nodded, not trusting himself to speak over the lump in his throat, “I assume you were already told that our permit was renewed.”

Dazai nodded again.

“Dazai, you know better than almost anyone else in this Agency the fine line we have to tread to stay in business. By acting out as you did, not just in negotiating with the minister behind my back or trying to take on Mimic alone, but in the methods you used to try and determine the identity of their inside informant is completely unacceptable. I was informed that you made contact not just with the Port Mafia but several other fugitives within the last week, and the deaths of several of them can be linked back to you.” Dazai kept his face blank, he had guessed all of that would come to light, he just hadn’t anticipated he would be alive to deal with the ramifications (or that he would still be under Agency employ), “As such, the Agency was also heavily fined and we will be taking all government contracts without pay for the next year.”

At that, Dazai frowned, “That’s insane.”

Fukuzawa leveled a harsh look at him, and Dazai’s mouth snapped shut, “Additionally, you should consider yourself on probation for the foreseeable future, and I do not want you to step foot inside this office for the next week.”

Considering that Dazai’s screw up had cost the Agency almost half of its consistent revenue for the next year, and a valuable member, the punishment was laughable.

“If I was anyone else I would be suspended for longer,” he pointed out.

“The work you do for the Agency is invaluable. Not only did you jeopardize it this week, but you let it fall to the side. There are Gifted children out there who do not deserve to suffer longer as a byproduct of your mistakes.”

Dazai nodded, acknowledging the truth to the statement, “President, can I ask you something?”

Fukuzawa sighed softly, already aware of what Dazai was going to request, “It was Ango.”

Of all the answers, that was one of the ones Dazai had feared most of all, and he slumped back into the couch, “Why?”

“He was hired to the Special Ability Department several years before they sent him to work undercover under the Agency.”

“Two years is a long time,” Dazai muttered.

“Indeed, but we cannot begrudge him for doing his job. Ango was trying to survive, just as we are.”

Dazai got to his feet, eager to find something to wash out the rancid taste that was filling his mouth, “He did his job well. Is there anything else?”

Fukuzawa studied Dazai, a concerned glint in his eyes as he ran his gaze over Dazai’s face. After a long moment, he shook his head and Dazai left the office. Dazai waved at Kunikida and Atsushi on his way to the office door, ignoring Kunikida’s calls to come back. The building felt like it was siphoning oxygen from his lungs by the second. He wasn’t sure he could stand to be in the place where, just three days ago, he had shared a desk area with his two closest friends. Dazai headed straight to the small apartment he kept and locked himself inside until he absolutely had to leave to make Odasaku's service.

The funeral was nice enough, as far as funerals went. Dazai didn’t speak to anyone the entire time, he wasn’t sure he could trust himself to say a word without losing his composure. He knew he was receiving concerned looks from Atsushi the whole time, but Dazai kept his gaze toward the front. Thanks to the danger inherent in their line of work, Agency members were almost regulars at the nearby funeral parlor, and due to the general disdain for the Gifted, they weren’t afforded the time generally reserved for a traditional ceremony.

Today, both of those details were a blessing. It meant that no one was particularly chatty, and that Dazai was able to slip away from the party as Oda’s body was transported to the crematorium.

Instead of going along to watch his friend be consumed by flames for the second time in a week, Dazai made his way to the port, walking at a leisurely pace as he went, hands shoved in his jacket. He still had a slight limp, he imagined it would take some time for that to go away completely, but he didn’t mind how it made him move at a slower pace than he usually would. His mind was a haze, too many half-formed thoughts flickered through it before vanishing, and Dazai couldn’t be bothered to chase after them.

He felt empty.

Before, at many points in his life, Dazai had felt like he was moving through life at a distance, viewing events as an observer rather than a participant, unable to thoroughly enjoy the niceties presented to him or the casual happiness that came his way. But, ever since he had woken, he felt like a walking corpse, and Dazai wondered how long he would have to live like this.

Dazai found his way to a bench in a relatively empty stretch of sidewalk and stared out across the harbor. Here, in the serenity of the harbor, in the loneliness of his relative anonymity among all of the Giftless, Dazai toyed with the new limitation in his eyesight. He had wrapped his right eye in bandages as soon as he left the Agency, they were less conspicuous among his other bandages than an eye gone gray.

Someone sat down on the bench next to Dazai, on his newly blind side, and he tilted his head just far enough to pick up a glimpse of a brown suit. The last thing Dazai wanted at the moment was to deal with Ango, but he plastered on his face and said, “You missed the funeral.”

“I didn’t think I would be welcome.”

“Oh, I would have killed you if you showed your face,” Dazai hummed in agreement, staring out over the vast harbor.

There was a sharp intake of breath at his side and Ango said, “I didn’t kill him, Dazai.”

Dazai chuckled, it was low and emotionless, “I may have made a miscalculation, but you sold out the Agency. Even if we got our permit, we only pushed back the inevitable; as long as I’m part of the Agency your bosses are going to keep trying to get me under their thumb thanks to the information you gave them.”

He finally turned so he could see Ango, “Did you get a promotion? For your job well done? Convincing all of us that you were our friend?” Ango flinched and dropped his gaze, pulling a second, more mocking laugh, from Dazai, "Congratulations.”

Silence fell between them for several minutes, and Dazai was wondering how much crueler he would have to be to get some privacy when Ango spoke again, “We, the Gifted, can be really dangerous. Mimic was a perfect example of that. Without checks and balances in place we could cause serious harm, and that’s what the Special Ability Department provides. Fighting back, violence, that’s not the answer, that’s how more people get killed.” Ango stood and held out a small white card, his name embossed on it with his number and title, “I wasn’t lying about everything, Odasaku was my friend, and you were too. I value every minute I spent with you both. Oda’s death hurts, but lashing out isn’t the answer. Maybe you could help change things, from the inside.”

Dazai took the card, turning it over in his fingers, “It was people like the ones that run Deviant Affairs that created Mimic in the first place. Subservience isn’t the answer either.”

“Let me know if you find out what is, this shouldn’t happen to any more of us,” was the soft reply. “If you ever change your mind, give me a call.”

Dazai waited for Ango’s footsteps to fade into the background noise of Yokohama before he slid the card into his pocket. He had already considered joining the Special Ability Department once, the moment the ultimatum was given to him by Ito, perhaps it wasn’t too late for him to direct some of the heat off of the Agency by reconsidering.

With a sigh, he pushed himself to his feet and set off down the port and towards the heart of Yokohama. It was a long distance to travel by foot (particularly still injured), but Dazai needed the time to think, to try and sort through what he wanted to do next before it was time for him to return to work. The longer he walked, the more he realized he didn’t want to do anything next. He didn’t want to continue working for the Agency, only doing half as much as he was capable of and bending knee to the government at every turn. He didn’t know if he could find any joy in that anymore, not when he would be forced to stare at Oda’s empty desk, and eventually fill it with some naive Gifted who would then one day die when one of Dazai’s plans backfired again.

Dazai came to a standstill on the sidewalk of the bridge he was crossing, his heart pounding as he glanced over the edge of the banister of the overpass, down at the busy traffic below.

Dazai had tried to kill himself before, on more than one occasion. It wasn’t unusual for him to wake up and wish he could stop the endless hell of his existence, but he had never put his full heart into a suicide attempt. Inevitably, there was some part of him that would consider the Gifted he could still help, the friends he would leave behind but now…

Now Dazai actively wanted to die and he heaved himself up onto the banister, letting his toes hang off the edge of the concrete. He let his eye flutter shut, and took in the noise of the rushing cars, of the city that was bursting to the seams with life. Even at this moment, he felt like a paper-thin barrier existed between him and those who went through their days enjoying the world for all it offered. At least he wouldn’t have to deal with that much longer.

“Death’s song is beautiful, isn’t it?” Dazai blinked his eye open and glanced down to his side, surprised to meet the red eyes of the Port Mafia boss. Mori gave him a polite nod before he turned to face the wall of the bridge and glance down at the drop. He let out a low whistle, “That will certainly do the trick.”

“Why are you here?”

“Let it never be said that I don’t admit when I’m wrong.” Mori said, “I came to tell you that your work against Mimic was impressive, one might even call it Mafia-grade. Though, no one in my organization would commit suicide to celebrate a well-executed mission.”

Dazai let out a sigh, “It wasn’t well-executed, I underestimated the enemy-”

“So don’t do it again,” Mori cut him off, voice cool as he propped his head on his hand, “if you die, the whole affair is a victory for the Giftless. A powerful organization was wiped out, and two more ability users along with them. It will be Minister Ito’s dream come true.”

“This isn’t about them,” Dazai muttered, shuffling his weight so he was balancing precariously on the edge of the banister.

With Dazai dead, the others in the Agency would have one less liability to worry about, one less nail hanging over their head when it came to inspections. With Dazai dead, his ability wasn’t a looming threat against the Gifted organizations that kept afloat solely by virtue of there not being a way to fully contain a person’s ability.

But this wasn’t about the Giftless, this was about Dazai being a curse on those around him. It was about the fact that every person who ever cared about him ended up burnt to ashes and then buried to the ground. Why would he choose to continue such a life when the arms of death were opening, ready to embrace him?

With Dazai dead, maybe he could finally find happiness. Or at least, he would no longer be surrounded by the muted colors of living that had faded to gray as his actions tore Odasaku from the world. The ache of his existence would no longer be his own burden. He would finally be free.

“How disappointing,” Mori said, pushing himself upright and turning his back on Dazai, “and here I thought I had finally found someone who could help drive those ants into the ground, where they belong. I assumed you would be interested in striking the final blow.”

Dazai scowled, “Why would I want to be used by you?”

“I’m offering you the opportunity to be the one in charge,” was Mori’s reply. “My position is tenuous, and I’ve yet to find a worthy successor. But if you’re so easily driven to defeat, you’re not worth my time.”

Dazai knew what Mori was trying to do. The older man was trying to poke at his pride, to bait Dazai into continuing his life under the rule of the Port Mafia. Yet, there always had been a voice in Dazai’s head that said he was more suited to the shadows of the Mafia. It was a part of him that had been kept locked away by the desire not to cause trouble for the Agency, and not to scare away his closet friend. Now, Oda was dead, Dazai was just a thorn in the Agency’s side, and the dark fire in his gut had been stoked by his actions over the past week. Before things spiraled out of control, Dazai had never felt more alive than when he had been a living storm, racing through Yokohama’s underworld and devouring everything in his path.

A smile curled onto Mori’s lips.

The Mafia boss had turned so he could watch Dazai’s face as Dazai thought through the offer, and he moved back to the banister, holding out a card; the second Dazai had been offered that day, “At least think it over for twenty-four hours. If you still want to kill yourself at that time, be my guest. If not, I expect to see you at this address, at sunset.”

Dazai took the card and watched as Mori walked down the length of the bridge and climbed into a waiting car. Numbly, Dazai dug out the other card from his pocket and held them side-by-side, scanning each in turn.

He didn’t know how long he stood on the edge of the bridge, one misstep away from falling to his death, one particularly rough gust of wind being the only thing needed to end his life, before he turned and hopped back onto the pavement. Dazai tossed one card over his shoulder and continued on his walk, pocketing the other as he went.

Tomorrow, he would leave the Agency for good.

Tonight, he planned to drown himself in alcohol.

 


 

Dazai paid the cab driver in cash and nodded in response to the man’s comment about having a nice day. When he stepped out onto the sidewalk, sunlight hit his back but somehow failed to warm the ice that had filled his body for the last couple of days. He brought a hand up to shield his eyes as he stared at the massive skyscraper in front of him and at the sign proclaiming the building belonged to the Mori Corporation.

His phone rang, and Dazai dug into the pocket of his trench coat and pulled it out, glancing at the caller ID: Nakajima Atsushi. After steeling himself for a moment, Dazai pressed the green button and pressed the device to his ear.

“Atsushi-kun!” His voice left his lips in a chirp, the upbeat tone too easily faked after eight years of doing the same.

“Hi,” Atsushi said, his tone soft. “Uh, Haruno and I wanted to bring you some take out, but you’re not answering your door?”

Dazai smiled wryly to himself, he had spent the day packing up his belongings and giving them away, keeping only what he could carry in a suitcase to a nearby motel, “I went out to stretch my legs, sorry.”

“Oh.” There was a pause on the other end, and then, “Do you need anything?”

It almost hurt, to hear how clueless the boy was as Dazai stood just steps away from changing the course of his life, “No, I’ll be fine,” he said, hoping it wasn’t a lie, “I’ll see you next week!” That was a lie.

“Okay.”

“Hey, Atsushi-kun, one more thing,” Dazai said.

“Yes?”

“Take care of yourself.”

Another pause, Dazai could picture the puzzled frown that was likely on Atsushi’s face before he said, “I will. You too, Dazai-san.”

The line cut, and Dazai glanced down at the screen for a long moment before he flipped the phone over in his hand and popped out the battery. Battery and phone were tossed onto the street, in front of an oncoming bus, and he stayed long enough to watch them both get destroyed by traffic.

Dazai turned and swept through the doors of the building, heading straight to the receptionist, “My name is Dazai Osamu.”

The receptionist glanced up at him, then looked off to Dazai’s right. An older man was seated in the lobby, smoking a cigarette. At the receptionist’s glance, he stood, tossing the butt of his cigarette into a cigarette bin before making his way over to the desk.

He held out a white-gloved hand, “My name is Hirotsu Ryuurou. I was asked to escort you on your arrival.”

Dazai shook the man’s hand and followed him through the lobby to a particular elevator near the rear. The ride to the top of the building passed by in silence; Dazai wasn’t in the mood for idle conversation and Hirotsu seemed to have picked up on that. When the elevator doors opened, Dazai followed the old man down a long corridor to a pair of double doors, which Hirotsu knocked on before he stepped through.

“Dazai Osamu for you, boss,” Hirotsu said.

Settled in front of a wall of windows were three chairs, one of which was occupied. Its occupant nodded, not taking his attention away from the windows, “Thank you, Hirotsu.”

Hirotsu stepped out of the room, leaving Dazai alone with the boss of the Port Mafia. It wasn’t a new experience, but it was different seeing Mori here, quite literally at the height of his power, than in a bar or on the street.

“Come, take a seat,” Mori said.

Dazai crossed the expansive space and took the seat on Mori’s right, watching as the man poured him a glass of wine before he spoke an idea that had been ruminating in his head since Mori had found him on the bridge, “You set me up, you approached me in the bar because you wanted us to end up here.”

“A set up implies I wanted to see you fail.” Was the smooth reply, “I was curious to see what you would do without the limitations of the Agency’s rules. You did well.”

“My friend died.”

“That is what happens to those of our kind unwilling to commit fully to the fight.” Mori glanced at him, a bemused smile on his face, “Did you come to this meeting looking for revenge?”

“No, I came here looking for a job.” Dazai replied, picking up his wine glass and studying the deep red liquor inside, “I’ve always thought my talents were better suited for the Port Mafia, I just needed a bit of a push.”

Mori’s smile turned sharper, into something cruel, and he raised his glass in a toast, “You were wasted at the Agency; welcome to your new beginning, Dazai-kun.”

As the sun continued to set, and the office went from being bathed in red to being lit only by the neon signs of the city, Dazai and Mori talked. They talked about how the Port Mafia was structured, and where Dazai would fit in as his subordinate; they talked about the Gifted Dazai had ferreted out in the past that were deemed too risky for the Agency to extract and how it would be Dazai’s first task to go back after them; they talked about how the disappearance of Dazai Osamu would become one of the Mafia’s greatest secrets, how Dazai would vanish from the world until he was nothing more than a memory to their enemies. They talked until the wine was gone and Dazai felt a fire tugging in his gut, slowly warming him from the inside.

Mori leaned back in his seat, “It won’t happen in my lifetime, but I am sure the Port Mafia will be the organization that tears down the Deviant system in this city, even if it causes the sewers to run red with blood. Can you stomach such a sight?”

Dazai let a cruel smirk cross his lips as he got to his feet and glanced out the window. From here, he could almost see the offices of the Special Ability Department, and he could imagine smoke rising from that direction as it burned to the ground, “That sight will be my new purpose for living.”

“Good. Take care of your loose ends and report back here in four days, at midnight. I will have everything in place for you to begin your work then.”

Dazai turned his attention back towards Mori and inclined his head in respect, “Understood, boss.”

Mori’s amused chuckle followed Dazai out of the room.

He made his way back to the street and caught a taxi to the Agency building, sliding in the back entrance and taking the stairs up to the main office. It took seconds for him to pick the lock and he sat at his desk, pulling out the laptop he used for work and rapidly deleting all the information the Agency had on him, his background, and his ability. He also copied every ounce of information he had gathered about un-identified Gifted into a flash drive before erasing that information too. Once he was satisfied, he wiped the hard drive and placed the computer back where it belonged. His fingers flicked dug through the drawer until he picked up three journals, they contained all of Dazai’s notes and research about ability users. None of the information had been duplicated, and Dazai carried them out of the room with him, locking the door behind himself.

Next, Dazai moved down the corridor to the storage room where the Agency kept hard copies of various reports. He gathered every file that gave mention of him and dropped them into the garbage bin he dragged to the center of the room. Inside of his pocket was the box of matches he had taken from the bar Lupin’s; after his disaster with Mimic there were only two left, and he lit one before tossing it into the box.

Dazai watched the fire grow, mentally taking a tally of everything else he had to see to in order to be able to start fresh with the Port Mafia. As he shoved the box of matches back in his pant pocket, his eyes fell on the tan line of the trench coat he had been gifted after officially joining the Agency as an active member.

To his credit, Dazai only hesitated for a second before he shrugged off the coat and dropped it into the flames, turning his back as the fire consumed all evidence that Dazai Osamu had ever stepped foot in the Agency.

He slipped back out of the building and onto the street, smiling slightly as he pictured the pure rage that would be on Kunikida’s face when the blond man realized how many reports were destroyed in the blaze. Dazai glanced up at the building he had called home for the last eight years before he slipped into the shadows.

Chapter Text

Dazai hated summer.

The heat was annoying. It begged him to discard the sleek lines of his suit, to leave his scarf and jacket in his closet, to refrain from covering his body in bandages. He never bowed down to the heat’s demands, but it made doing anything outdoors unpleasant, to put it mildly.

The memories were worse.

It was difficult to go about his usual business when the sound and the feel of the city reminded him so much of that week, four years ago. In the spring, Dazai could ignore it, point to the cherry blossoms that stood out as different from that time. Past fall and into winter, the cooler temperatures didn’t remind him of the sweat he had shed trying to find a solution to what turned out to be an impossible problem. Before that time, Dazai never had much of a preference, or a distaste, for any of the seasons, much less the months of the year.

He hated June.

It was the month when he had went from being a part of a community, from being someplace where he was cared for, where he had friends he could trust with his life to being the prodigy of the Port Mafia. No matter how much better suited he was to Mafia work, it was a lonely business. He couldn't trust anyone, he couldn't show weakness, he couldn't take the time to mourn a lost friend.

There was a particular sort of poetic irony about where Dazai was walking now; along a certain path by the harbor that he usually avoided at all costs. From a practical standpoint, it was much too close to the Special Ability Department offices in Yokohama. Even though Dazai’s position in the Port Mafia wasn’t common knowledge, it wasn’t a good idea for him to be so visible for them, especially since Dazai Osamu had all but vanished from the world four years ago.

Then again, thanks to current developments it looked like Dazai Osamu was no longer ‘missing in action’.

Dazai tilted his head, catching just the glint of a black coat out of the corner of his eye. He supposed it was impressive that, under the sweltering summer sun, he was the one person in sight that had three shadows.

As he took a seat on a bench, Dazai tried to push back the swamp of emotions that pointed to the personal reason why he avoided this area of the city. He remembered the last day he had taken a seat here with clarity. Looking out over the harbor once again, his right eye now used to being covered at all times, was almost enough to make him nauseous.

And, just like the last time he had sat on this walk, the footsteps came from his right. A flash of a brown suit, and the weight on the bench next to him were nearly identical, and Dazai let his eye flutter shut, trying not to tense up as the memories assaulted him.

“Ango.” Despite the turmoil inside his chest, his voice was calm, pleasant even.

“It’s been awhile.”

Dazai smiled slightly at that, “Are you surprised?”

There was a rustle of fabric, and Dazai could picture Ango adjusting his glasses, “That it’s been a while or that you called? No one has heard a word from you in years.”

Ango always did have excellent control over his emotions, over what he let slip, which was why he had been such a great spy. It was why Dazai had let his guard down around the man. But they were older now, Dazai knew who Ango was, and he could hear the slight waver in Ango’s voice at the end of his sentence, an unspoken ‘I was worried about you. Are you okay?’ It was laughable.

“Well, it’s not as if I could use you as a confidant.” Dazai mused, “I’d prefer it if Deviant Affairs didn’t know all about my personal issues.”

“Then why now?”

Dazai blinked his eye open and shifted so he could see Ango, “I’m sure you heard about what happened to the Agency.”

Ango’s brow furrowed, a mark of his discomfort over the news, “Yes, after the fact. No one I work with knew about it beforehand.” He hesitated, then added, “I don’t know what you’ve been up to since we last spoke, Dazai, but those people aren’t like Mimic, you can’t fight them head on.”

There was a conviction in Ango’s warning that had a lazy smile stretching across Dazai’s face as he said, “They did pay you a visit, didn’t they?”

“What do you mean?”

“There are no records of me at the Agency, I made sure of it. Kunikida is willing to cooperate with Deviant Affairs, but he isn’t willing to whore himself out for them. That means, of all the people that could give Iron Heel information, you are their best option.” Dazai explained, carefully watching Ango’s face as he talked. Ango’s eyes didn’t flinch from Dazai’s (which was admirable given how many other men had buckled under the weight of Dazai’s scrutiny), but his jaw was tight, “did you tell them everything about me, Ango?”

“I don’t know anything about you, Dazai. Not anymore.”

Dazai chuckled, “I believe that is my line. Who are they?”

Ango’s eyes flicked over Dazai’s shoulder, obviously looking for watchers, and Dazai shook his head, “There’s no one within earshot, I’ve been keeping track of them. Besides, you’re more than an adequate liar for when they question you.” He leaned back slightly and let an easy-going grin fill his face, an expression he hadn’t worn genuinely since their little trio of friendship had collapsed, “For old time’s sake, Ango.”

The sharp glance Ango gave him indicated that the other man wasn’t completely fooled by Dazai’s act, but he gave in anyway, “They’re a private anti-Deviant group based in Europe. I don’t know exactly how old they are, but they have good connections and even better financial backing. They’ve wiped out entire Gifted Organizations in the span of weeks, though this is the first time they’ve been active in Asia.”

“The woman at the Agency, Talya Kravinoff, what do you know about her?”

“Not much,” Ango admitted, “she’s young, younger than you, and she’s determined. The organization follows some kind of military structure; Kravinoff holds the rank of captain and commands a squadron. They’re being backed by the Cabinet as they look for Nakahara Chuuya.”

Silence fell between them for a few minutes, neither man willing to dive too deep into the conversation at hand given the fact that whatever they discussed would probably end up in a few dozen reports on Ango’s side and get used for violent purposes by Dazai.

“Dazai.” There was a slight sense of urgency in the name, and Dazai tilted his head, indicating he was listening, “These are the people that get called in for complete eradications. They have more experience killing our kind than we have in using our abilities. Whoever you’re working for, or with, they don’t stand a chance.”

Dazai got to his feet with a laugh, “You haven’t changed a bit, Ango. Still scurrying around with your tail tucked between your legs.”

“That’s how you survive in this world.”

“Perhaps it is,” Dazai replied, “but survival isn’t a particularly filling goal.”

He turned on his heel and set down the sidewalk, not bothering to look back at the man who was once his friend.

As he walked, Dazai considered the information he had received. It wasn’t too revealing, and certainly left more questions than answers, but it also helped direct where his search should go from here. If he reached out through the correct channels, to other Gifted organizations abroad, he could find more.

The most helpful tidbit Ango had given, however, was the fact that Dazai’s affiliation with the Port Mafia was still relatively unknown, much less his position in the organization. There were ways that could be played to his advantage.

Someone fell into step with him, and Dazai glanced to his right to see a young woman. Her silver hair was pulled back into a braid that complimented the light blue of her uniform, as if she had been born for her position.

“Talya Kravinoff, I presume?” Dazai asked, aware of another body moving up to fall into step with them on his other side. Behind him, he felt a third presence.

Ice blue eyes flicked up to meet his own, and she gave him a smile that had no warmth, “I’m pleased to see you got my message.”

Dazai opened his mouth to reply, and something hit the back of his knees with a ferocity that made him drop to the ground. Before he could get his bearings, a foot connected with the side of his face, and his world turned to black.

 


 

“Again!” Chuuya cracked out the command, eyes narrowed as he scanned the practice room.

Without pause, the ten new Mafia members before him went straight into the drill, and Chuuya walked the perimeter, making mental notes on who would need more training and who he could pass out of the basic combat class and into active duty. It was a little crazy to think that such a decision was in his hands considering that it wasn’t long ago when he was a fresh recruit, but life moved faster in the Port Mafia than anywhere else, and the inherent danger in their jobs often meant that relatively new members ended up with responsibilities quickly.

He came to a stop behind one of the Giftless recruits and put a hand on the young man’s shoulder, making him freeze mid-motion. Briskly, Chuuya re-adjusted his position, explaining what was wrong with the previous stance before stepping back and letting the man continue the drill.

Despite combat being the area of Mafia life that Chuuya excelled in the most, it was always a little uncomfortable to be in charge of teaching it. While he was used to being the center of attention, the respect afforded him by the recruits of the Mafia was an entirely foreign feeling.

When he began helping in lessons, Chuuya quickly learned that disappearing from the public eye and into the underworld hadn’t diminished the legacy of Nakahara Chuuya. He was a ghost story to the rest of the world, almost an urban legend; the infamous Deviant that suddenly went missing in a city teeming with Gifted resistance. The knowledge that he joined the Port Mafia seemed to shock every recruit that Chuuya introduced himself to.

It was tiring.

On the opposite side of the room, Kyouka was seated in the corner, her schoolwork laid out in front of her but her attention fixed on the fighters just as intensely as Chuuya’s own. Kouyou had only let Kyouka attend on the promise that Kyouka would get her work done, but Chuuya was too pleased at the fact that the younger girl wasn’t completely terrified of him to tell her off. Besides, her insight on the recruits’ abilities was always helpful.

A harsh cough caught his attention, and Chuuya turned to look at the door.

Akutagawa was standing at the edge of the room, one hand clenched into a fist, the other covering his mouth. His eyes were fixed on Chuuya with a sense of urgency that had Chuuya drifting from his position near the back of the class to where Akutagawa stood.

“It’s odd to see you in this area of headquarters,” Chuuya said, by way of greeting. Akutagawa’s sickly disposition didn’t lend itself to physical combat.

There was another cough, and then silence. It was the lack of a biting retort that made Chuuya study Akutagawa more closely, trying to guess what had brought the man to his practice room. Akutagawa had never exactly hidden his disdain for Chuuya in the past. For him to willingly be here, and making an attempt to be civil, was concerning. It meant something was wrong.

Making a decision, Chuuya turned and caught Kyouka’s gaze across the room and tossed his head toward the front, where he usually stood. Kyouka frowned, but got to her feet and moved to the head of the room, clearing her throat to get the attention of the recruits before she began to rattle off her observations in a soft voice.

Motioning for Akutagawa to follow, Chuuya slipped out of the practice room and into the empty corridor just outside the door.

“Have you spoken to Dazai-san today?” Akutagawa asked.

Chuuya shook his head, “No, but that’s not unusual. Why?”

Akutagawa hesitated, then said, “He told me he was going to meet a contact and that he would be back by three to brief me on my next assignment.” Chuuya dug into his pocket to pull out his phone and check the time, it was just before seven, “He never got in touch with me about being late.”

“Which isn’t unusual,” Chuuya repeated.

“He’s never this late,” was the snapped comment. It was evident that Akutagawa was concerned, but both of them knew Dazai could look after himself so Chuuya couldn’t quite understand what had the younger man so worked up. It was Akutagawa’s next words that put everything in perspective, “He said his contact was in the Special Abilities Department.”

Chuuya’s eyes flicked back to his phone.

If Dazai had been truthful with Akutagawa, he had intended to be back nearly four hours ago. One or two hours could be dismissed as Dazai working on secret projects, but four hours after meeting with a government official was an obvious problem. Chuuya turned his attention back to Akutagawa, “Have you told anyone else?”

Akutagawa held out his clenched hand and opened it, palm up, to reveal a folded piece of paper, “When I went to his office to see if he was back, I found this.”

Chuuya took the paper, trying to ignore the strong sense of foreboding that was wrapping around him with each passing second of the conversation. When he opened it, he recognized Dazai’s quick scrawl and scanned the note. It was an address (likely Dazai’s meeting location), a time (18:30), Chuuya’s name, and a phone number he didn’t recognize.

Chuuya scowled at the note, “What is this supposed to mean?”

“I was hoping you knew. It has your name on it,” Akutagawa muttered. “If you don’t know, I’ll just take it to one of the Executives.”

A hand reached back out for the paper, but Chuuya didn’t let go of it. He stared at his name, written by Dazai, as if just the strokes of the pen would tell him whatever message the enigmatic bastard had left. After a moment, he swore under his breath and shoved the note in his pocket. Chuuya turned and marched back into the practice room, ignoring Akutagawa’s bewildered gaze.

“What are you doing?” Akutagawa asked, “Do you know what the note means?”

“Maybe,” Chuuya replied. He let out a whistle that halted everyone’s movements, “we’re done for today. Make sure you do some stretches so you aren’t stiff during our next session.”

There was a chorus of ‘yes, sir’ and the room began to filter out.

Akutagawa was still hovering behind him, “Tell me what it means.”

Chuuya shook his head, “It was cryptic for a reason, but Dazai always has a plan. If I’m not back by midnight, tell Kouyou about the note.”

“The hell I’m letting you go alone,” Akutagawa snapped, “you’re not in the position to give me orders and I’m the one that found the note.”

Chuuya sighed, aware that Akutagawa would probably end up following him regardless of what he said in argument. A hand tugged on the sleeve of his jacket and Chuuya glanced down, meeting Kyouka’s gaze.

“I’ll tell Ane-san.” She held out an expectant hand, “What does the note say?”

With a glare at Akutagawa for not just being willing to wait at headquarters so that Kyouka wouldn’t be dragged into this mess, he handed her the note. Kyouka skimmed it for a moment before she nodded and handed it back to him, “Chuuya-san, be careful.”

Chuuya smiled. He wasn't sure what he had done to warrant Kyouka's kindness, especially considering he had almost gotten her killed, but the younger girl had merely brushed it off by mentioning that at least he hadn't intended to kill her, unlike most of the other people she had dealt with growing up.

“Thanks, I will be.” He shoved the note into his pocket and set off toward the door, “Come on, Akutagawa.”

The two men slipped out a side entrance of the building. While Chuuya doubted he would be in much trouble for following Dazai’s note, he wasn’t eager to explain himself to one of the Executives. When they were a few blocks away from headquarters, Chuuya hailed a cab, rattling off the address on the note to the taxi driver.

“Do you recognize the number?” Chuuya asked Akutagawa as the car made its way through traffic.

Akutagawa rolled his eyes, “If I did, I wouldn’t have come to find you. I don’t know what Dazai-san sees in you, especially after the stunt you pulled with Kyouka.”

There was too much going on, too many variables Chuuya wouldn’t account for, for him to be having this discussion with Akutagawa. His mind was flicking through all the information he had managed to learn during his trip to the Agency headquarters, just four days ago. Chuuya had to believe that was the reason behind Dazai’s meeting, and the cryptic note, the time frame was too narrow for it to be a coincidence.. The fact that Akutagawa didn’t even know about the boss’ trip to the Armed Detective Agency was a reason why he shouldn’t even be in the cab with Chuuya. On the other hand, Chuuya glanced at the black coat Akutagawa wore, if he was walking into a fight he could do worse than having Akutagawa at his back.

“I’m sure Dazai makes a lot of decisions without explaining his reasoning to anyone,” Chuuya replied.

His comment was met with a snort of derision, but Akutagawa didn’t argue. The rest of the cab ride passed in silence until they were exiting onto the sidewalk in an area near the harbor. Chuuya frowned at his surroundings, recognizing some of the building names from his lessons with Kouyou.

“The Special Ability Department headquarters are close by,” he murmured, digging the note out of his pocket and scanning the number again. “We should call it.”

“What are you waiting for?”

Chuuya was vaguely hoping there would be a better clue than the mysterious phone number. Despite the fact that Dazai was Chuuya’s boss, he wasn’t under any illusions that Dazai had his best interests at heart. He wouldn’t be all too surprised if the note was just there to trick Chuuya into offering himself up as a trade in a hostage situation if Dazai got captured, and he was waiting for Akutagawa to possibly protest blindly following the note.

It was clear Akutagawa didn’t have the same reservations, so Chuuya pulled out his phone and dialed the number, only waiting a moment before a gruff voice answered, “Hello?”

Chuuya blinked, “Gin?”

There was silence, and then, “Chuuya? How did you get this number? It’s a burner.” Now that Gin knew who was calling, her voice mellowed out into its natural cadence, something that was much more pleasant to listen to than the gruff tone she put on for appearances.

“It was on a note that Dazai left in his office. Akutagawa brought it to me.”

“What does the note say?” Chuuya relayed the contents of the note and how he and Akutagawa were at the address indicated, and was surprised to hear a dry laugh come from the other end, “I wondered what his plan was. Listen, you need to get out of there and head to me. I’ll text Ryuu the address.”

Shuffling on her line of the call indicated that Gin pulled out her personal phone and, after a moment, Akutagawa was pulling his own out and frowning at it. Chuuya leaned over and studied the address, committing it to memory before he glanced around, considering their options, “Do you know what’s going on, Gin?”

“Dazai was abducted, by some people in blue uniforms.”

Chuuya swore, “Iron Heel. Give me five minutes to find a ride and we can talk, okay?”

“I’ll call back in five.”

The line went dead and Chuuya shoved his phone in his pocket, taking off down the street. Akutagawa scrambled to follow him, “What the hell, Nakahara? Why did you drag Gin into this?”

“I didn’t. Dazai did. We need to get on the road, quickly.” Chuuya rounded a corner and his eye fell on a parking lot. Without hesitation, he set off toward it, “Do you recognize the address?”

Akutagawa studied his phone, “Vaguely, it’s closer to the industrial part of the docks. Where the warehouses are. Mafia territory.”

“Watch my back,” Chuuya muttered.

“What are you going to do?”

Chuuya pulled a slim set of lock picks from inside his jacket and knelt in front of a relatively nondescript vehicle. He picked the lock, silently thanking Tachihara for insisting that this was a skill Chuuya needed to have. He opened the door just seconds before the alarm went off and quickly tugged out one of his knives to slice the wire that ran to the alarm system. Another quick cut and he had the car jumping to life.

Akutagawa moved around the side to slide into the passenger’s seat, giving him an incredulous look, “When did you even learn how to hot-wire a car?”

With a shrug, Chuuya pulled out of the lot, “I had a lot more free time before Dazai started sending me into the field. Where am I going?”

Akutagawa gave a quick spurt of general directions just as Chuuya’s phone rang, and he pulled it from his pocket and put it on speaker, “Gin?”

“You’re on your way?”

“Yes,” Chuuya said.

“Why are you involved?” Akutagawa asked in the same breath.

 Gin sighed, “Probably for this purpose. Dazai-san asked me to shadow him during his trip today, he even put a chip on himself and gave me the tracking remote, as if he knew he was going to get abducted. He met a man by the harbor and when he was walking away he was attacked and shoved into a car. I have eyes inside the warehouse the tracker places him in, but I can’t see much.”

“What can you see?” Chuuya asked.

“Lots of guards,” Gin murmured, “if he hadn’t told me to keep total radio silence unless contacted, I would’ve called for backup already, but with you two on your way we should be able to take the warehouse without problem. I imagine that's what he expects.”

Chuuya rolled his eyes, “We wouldn't want to disappoint the boss, would we?”

There was a slight giggle, "Sound more enthusiastic when you get here, Chuuya. I'll see you soon."

 


 

Freezing water thrown right in his face abruptly tugged Dazai back to the realm of the living and he jolted upright, slamming against the bonds that kept him restrained to a chair. Spitting out the water that found its way into his mouth, Dazai blinked open his eye and took in his surroundings.

He was in a warehouse, probably somewhere by the harbor. That was Iron Heel’s first mistake: if they truly wanted Dazai to be at their mercy, they should have taken him as far away from Port Mafia territory as they could manage. However, that kind of foresight was asking them to be omniscient; after all, they had no idea why they would want to keep him out of reach of the Mafia.

In his line of sight, there were well over twenty armed fighters milling throughout the warehouse, some at stations and others walking on patrol. He imagined there were more posted outside. If the organization was any good, the exterior guards would be discreet, difficult to pick out. If the organization was overconfident (as Dazai suspected), the would have turned this building into a military zone, pointing any searchers in their direction.

Standing directly in front of him, was the woman he had encountered on the street: Talya Kravinoff.

“Finally awake, I see.” She said.

Her voice was cool, but certainly not even. Dazai could feel the disdain rolling off her body; her belief that she was inherently superior, that Dazai was a beast that had gotten full of himself, was almost tangible.

He smiled, “Did I keep you waiting, Miss Kravinoff? I apologize.”

“Only a few hours,” came the response, “I was starting to wonder if my boys were a little too rough with you. I didn’t expect you to be such a delicate thing, Dazai.”

“Oh? What were you expecting?”

Talya shrugged, “Something less…underwhelming. For the Deviant who destroyed an entire enemy organization in one night, you don’t live up to your reputation.”

“In fairness, I had help.”

“I don’t doubt it.” She considered him for a moment before she said, “This is your opportunity to voluntarily tell me what I want to know.”

Dazai tilted his head, wrinkling his brow as he pretended to think through her offer. After a suitably tense pause, he gave a dramatic sigh, “I’m afraid I will have to decline the offer.”

“Have it your way.”

Kravinoff turned her back on Dazai, and he got a clear look at the logo on the uniform. It was just as Kunikida described, a black sun over a crowd of people. It was a symbol that he had only heard whispers about until this day, just as he had only heard whispers of the organization it belonged to.

Vaguely, he was aware that Kravinoff was telling someone to fetch her when they made ‘progress’ as she walked away from where Dazai sat in the middle of the warehouse, heading to what must be an overseer’s office. A brute man blocked Dazai’s line of vision, cracking his knuckles in a way that Dazai supposed was intended to be menacing.

He yawned, “Will this take long?”

A blow to the gut was his answer.

 


 

By the time Talya emerged from the overseer’s office, the ropes around Dazai’s abdomen were doing most of the work at keeping him from being doubled over. He could feel the flesh around his left eye swelling, further hampering his field of vision, and each breath sent a sharp, stabbing pain through his chest (no doubt courtesy of fractured ribs).

One of the thugs had torn open Dazai’s shirt, making a crude comment about being curious if Deviants bruised the same way normal people did. The spectators were staring at the bandages that covered him from his neck down, disappearing below the waist of his pants, just as Kravinoff reentered the fold.

She ran her gaze over Dazai, her expression a mask of indifference as she studied the evidence of th beating Dazai had been subjected to. When her eyes fell on his bandaged chest, she raised an eyebrow, “We’ll start with an easy question. Why do you wear the bandages?”

Dazai glanced up at her, “Why not?”

Kravinoff made a soft tutting sound in disappointment and caught the gaze of the soldier that had been most enthusiastic about roughing Dazai up, “Take them off.”

The man immediately stepped back in front of Dazai, a blade in hand. He cut the bandages away from Dazai’s body with lazy movements, the blade scraping skin more than once before Dazai’s chest was bare to the room. Dazai didn’t watch as they were pulled away, he was already more than familiar with the sight underneath the layer of white.

“Interesting.” Talya mused, her eyes taking in the newly revealed skin, “I see why you cover yor chest, but what about the wrappings around your eye? Those aren’t part of your government files.”

Without needing to be prompted, the bandages were ripped away from Dazai’s face and tossed onto the ground. He didn’t open his right eye, aware that his defiance was what kept the woman from doing her job properly. A hand gripped his chin and yanked it up until he was meeting her gaze and she murmured, “If you’re so concerned about Deviants being equals with humanity, why don’t you look at me with both eyes, Dazai?”

Dazai’s lips curled into a smirk, “I don’t want to give you a scare, princess.”

Her free hand crashed against his cheek and he reeled back against the hard edges of the chair, “Try that again, Deviant.”

He spat blood onto the ground and tilted his head so his right eye was more prominent than his left as he slowly blinked his ruined eye open. There were murmured curse words around him as he fixed both eyes straight on the woman in charge. Dazai felt the hand on his chin jolt slightly, and his smirk was back as if it had never vanished. No matter how blank her face was, his uneven stare unnerved her.

Демон.” She murmured.

Dazai’s Russian was rusty, but it was still passable, and his smirk grew, “I suppose that is another name for my ability. I prefer to call it No Longer Human.” He pulled his chin from her loose grip and tilted his head side-to-side, loosening muscles that had gone tense, “Now you have, approximately, five more minutes to ask me questions before we’re finished here. Use your time wisely.”

Ice blue eyes stared at him blankly, still trying to pretend she wasn’t affected by his appearance. When the words registered, a sneer crossed her lips, “You’re not in any position to tell me how long I have. Even if you were with the Port Mafia, their boss tends to cut ties with anyone who draws unwanted attention.”

He chuckled at that, “I’m sure Iron Heel has the resources to crush the Port Mafia anyways.”

“Our pockets are deep and our reach is vast.”

“How deep?” Dazai asked.

Talya snorted, “You aren’t the one asking questions here, Dazai.”

“I just find it difficult to believe your organization is as powerful as it is and yet it has barely stepped foot in Yokohama and you couldn’t even find a scrap of useful information on me.”

There was a spark of anger in her gaze before it was under control, and Dazai had to begrudgingly applaud whoever trained the woman in interrogation techniques. She wasn't one that would be steered off target easily.

Kravinoff held out her free hand, palm up, and something was placed in it almost immediately. The object was brought to the side of Dazai's face, and the razor-thin edge indicated she was holding a sharp dagger. Dazai didn't move his gaze away from hers as the dagger was trailed down the side of his cheek, past the line of his throat, to his bare torso.

"Who are you working for, Dazai Osamu?"

"No one."

The edge of the blade dug into the center of his chest, and Dazai couldn't hold back the slight flinch at the sharp pain. It vanished almost instantly, and Kravinoff asked again, "Who are you working for?"

Dazai rolled his eyes, "No one. I already told you that."

She raised an eyebrow, "What organization are you working for?"

Now that she had asked the right question, Dazai gave her a bemused smile, "Why would I tell you that?"

Another cut, this one longer but shallower. The position, over one of the ribs that he was quite certain was cracked, was purposeful. Again, Dazai mentally congratulated her teacher on producing such a fine student. He wondered what he would have to do in order to make sure his own people could conduct an interrogation in such a refined manner.

The butt of the knife slammed into his jaw, and Dazai swore, blinking away tears from his rapidly watering eyes.

"Sorry, was I boring you?" Kravinoff asked, "You didn't seem to be paying attention to me."

"I was just thinking that you're good at your job. At first, I wasn't sure why someone so young would be in charge of this kind of operation, but you're quite the obedient dog, aren't you?"

She blinked, and then a smile spread across her lips. It was sickeningly sweet, and she gently let the dagger down so it sat on Dazai's laps before holding out her hand again, snapping this time. Whatever was placed in it was too small for Dazai to pick out, due to it being in his blind spot. A set of rough hands pulled up the fabric of one of his pant legs until he could feel the coolness of the air conditioning on the lower half of his thigh. Almost as soon as those hands left, a sharp pain started in his lower thigh and rippled down his shins and up his spine was enough to identify the object handed to Talya as being a screw.

When it was carefully lodged deep enough inside his skin not to fall out when she loosened her grip, Dazai let out a slow breath of air, willing his face not to go pale as he turned his attention back to his cracked ribs, so he could focus, "Is that a touchy subject, princess?"

The screw was twisted, "You really don't know when to drop the act do you? Mutts should know their place."

Dazai chuckled, "I couldn't agree more."

The door flew open and the two soldiers on either side were immediately speared by Rashomon's tendrils. Dazai watched carefully at the remaining fighter's reaction times. They were well-trained and responded to the orders snapped from the man (likely a second of some kind) a few feet away from where Kravinoff and Dazai were.

Kravinoff merely glanced over her shoulder long enough to see her people falling into the proper formation before she turned her attention back to Dazai, "One Deviant against my people doesn't stand a chance. I'd like to know how you managed to tell anyone where you are."

"What makes you think there's only one?" Dazai countered, his attention fixed past Kravinoff where Gin and Chuuya had rushed in behind Akutagawa and were attacking as well.

"Unless you summoned an entire squadron, they'll be outmatched."

Dazai shrugged, as well as he could with his limbs bound behind his back, "I don't need a squadron."

Blue eyes locked onto Dazai's gaze from across the room, and he tilted his head upwards just slightly. Even from a distance, he could feel Chuuya's resentment at being lured into a fight without any sort of warning, but at the slight movement of Dazai's head, Chuuya downright glared at Dazai. He smiled lazily at the redhead, and watched as Chuuya muttered something to Akutagawa before he pulled off his jacket and gloves, tossing them to the side.

Kravinoff's hand hit Dazai across the face again, and he flicked his attention back to her, "What's so important that you aren't paying attention to me when I speak, Deviant?"

"Oh, I just wanted to see how long your all-powerful organization would last against Chuuya."

"Chuuya?" She repeated, eyes widening.

The woman whirled around, letting go of Dazai just in time to see Chuuya get consumed by the beast of his ability.

Dazai had witnessed it once before, but even now the sheer extent of power unleashed took his breath away, and he didn't want to tear his gaze away from where Chuuya launched himself at the closest fighter with manic glee. There was a sort of beauty in the savagery of Chuuya's ability, a grace that only someone who had spent the latter half of their life studying abilities (like Dazai had) could really appreciate. One of the underlying questions about ability users was whether the ability reflected the user, or the user grew to reflect the ability. That question loomed at Dazai as he watched the ability pull and tug on Chuuya's body, manipulating him like a disposable puppet, only there to facilitate chaos until he was discarded like waste. The parallel between the truest form of Chuuya's ability, and the reality Dazai had plucked Chuuya from was too stark to be ignored.

A hand dropped to his shoulder, and Dazai glanced over and met Gin's gaze. Her mask kept him from seeing her mouth, but the exasperated disapproval was conveyed just as well through her eyes. She made quick work of cutting through the ropes that held Dazai to the chair before she rushed on to deal with some of the fighters racing for a back exit.

Dazai got to his feet, took a moment to straighten his clothing so he was, more or less, the picture of his position. When he was satisfied, he looked for his captor. 

The Kravinoff woman was frozen in place, her eyes wide in a combination of surprise and terror, but underneath it all was a deep-seated rage, and Dazai glanced at where Chuuya was tearing through her subordinates thoughtfully. Her reaction to Chuuya indicated there was more to her than he anticipated.

Dazai filed the information away for later as he made his way toward the woman, “If Iron Heel wants Nakahara, they’ll have to get through me first.” He grinned, “The only problem is that to get to me, you’ll have to get through that.” He motioned, rather redundantly at where Chuuya was murdering Iron Heel soldiers with glee.

She scowled at him, “You had this planned the whole time?”

“I’m sure you’ve read the reports on Ango. Why would I voluntarily go visit him after four years of silence?” Dazai asked, smirking, “You about have three minutes to get out of here before he turns his attention to you.”

The shudder that ran down her spine was unmistakable, and Talya backed away in ill-disguised horror before she turned and ran. Dazai watched her retreat with a rush of satisfaction, his smirk widening in the face of her unbridled fear.

Once she was out of sight, and probably racing to get as far away from the docks as possible, he turned to study the rest of the room. The Akutagawa siblings were in a corner, Gin being protected from Chuuya’s attacks by her brother. Chuuya hadn’t completely destroyed the rest of Iron Heel, but Dazai trusted the siblings could handle the clean up as he strolled forward and grabbed Chuuya by the wrist.

Chuuya froze, the ugly cackle dying midway in his throat as his eyes twitched before they flooded back to blue. Dazai waited as the hat rack took a rattling breath and then stumbled forward.

In front of them, the Giftless scrambled for their weapons, only to get speared by Rashomon as Akutagawa advanced from the corner. Dazai caught the boy's gaze and raised his eyebrow in a silent order. Akutagawa nodded; he would handle the stragglers.

Dazai turned his attention back to Chuuya. The shorter man was on his hands and knees, his breath coming in uneven gasps. After a few minutes, Chuuya raised his head just far enough to glare at Dazai, “You’re a piece of shit.”

The snapped comment pulled a chuckle from Dazai and he settled on the floor so he was at eye-level with his subordinate, “Now, Chuuya, is that any way to speak to your boss?”

“You let yourself get kidnapped and then drew me here so I would use Corruption to get you out.”

Dazai raised his eyebrow, ignoring the slight pounding in the back of his temple, “Corruption?”

Chuuya averted his gaze, and a slight flush tinged his cheeks, “It’s what Kyouka-chan named it.”

“How adorable.”

In the background, the screams of the few remaining Iron Heel soldiers, as Akutagawa was brutally murdering them, nearly drowned out the curses Chuuya muttered under his breath.

“Can you walk?” Dazai asked.

“I wasn’t under for long, I’ll be fine. Not that you actually care.” Chuuya replied, looking back up at Dazai. A flash of what, on anyone else’s face, Dazai would’ve called concern crossed blue eyes and Chuuya added, “Can you walk?”

The pounding was getting worse, but Dazai waved a hand, “I’m fine.”

Chuuya shifted so he was kneeling, his gaze flicking over Dazai’s face, and Dazai noted that Chuuya didn’t flinch when he took in Dazai’s uneven stare. Instead, Chuuya glanced between his two eyes, then moved onto study the rest of Dazai, his gaze lingering over the areas where Dazai was visibly injured.

“You look like you’re about to collapse, Dazai.”

“Boss.” Gin’s voice pulled them from their conversation and Dazai glanced at the young woman, “We’re done with the rest. Ryuunosuke is calling for a clean-up squad, they should be here in five minutes. We can leave now, if you’re ready.”

Dazai nodded, “Good.”

Chuuya got to his feet, his gaze never leaving Dazai as the Port Mafia boss also straightened so he was standing. For a moment, the floor seemed to tip underneath him and Dazai stumbled slightly, only managing to stay upright because Chuuya had reacted instantly, wrapping one arm around Dazai’s waist to help keep him on his feet.

It was hard to think of anything Dazai resented more than showing a sign of weakness to his subordinates, but Gin was already at the entrance to the warehouse, and Akutagawa was outside. Chuuya merely raised an eyebrow at Dazai and muttered something about him being ‘ridiculously thin’ before pulling slightly on Dazai’s waist so they were walking in the direction of the door.

Chapter Text

There was something undeniably human about the man asleep in the standard hospital bed. Chuuya couldn’t decide what was more amusing, the fact that it was the first time he truly considered Dazai as a human, or the fact that Chuuya found the thought odd in the first place.

Here, in the same in-house infirmary used by the lowest level Mafia members, his usual clothing folded on the bedside table and his litany of bandages peeking through a plain yukata, Dazai looked mortal. The steady rise and fall of his chest, the unfiltered serenity of his expression, the fact that an IV was steadily pumping him electrolytes, all cracked the facade of the unshakable Mafia boss that Chuuya had grown accustomed to. It was proof that even the almighty boss could be killed by the Giftless just as easily as anyone else (easier, if one considered how useless his ability was for physical combat).

Chuuya opened the blinds in the room, letting the sunlight filter in so he could turn off the harsh fluorescents. It wasn’t unusual for Chuuya to volunteer in the infirmary, it had been the place he gravitated to when he first joined the Mafia due to his desire to help rather than cause harm, as well as his experience with basic first-aid when a client was too rough. He had been spending less time here when he began to go out in the field, and when he was tapped to train new recruits. However, as fate would have it, Chuuya was one of the only regular infirmary hands that actually knew Dazai was the boss, so he was asked to help watch the man’s recovery.

Dazai had only made it as far as the stolen car before collapsing, and the drive to headquarters was tense. Even if Chuuya and Akutagawa wouldn’t admit to being concerned, having a seriously injured boss slumped in the back seat wasn't conducive to light chatter.

Never before had Chuuya been so grateful to be on good terms with an Executive. He had contacted Kouyou, letting her know the basics of the situation so that a medical team was on standby when the small group returned. Under normal circumstances, Chuuya imagined he would be rigorously questioned for his involvement in what had happened to Dazai, but with Kouyou vouching for him and the Mafia-staffed doctor needing even the least experienced hands, Chuuya was able to worm himself out of questioning on the condition that he spent his time in the infirmary.

Movement out of the corner of his eye had Chuuya turning so he was facing the bed. Dazai was trying to push himself so he was seated upright, and Chuuya quickly crossed to the bed and helped the man get situated. He kept his expression blank as he supported Dazai’s weight; he had noticed the grimace on Dazai’s face when he had needed help getting out of the warehouse and didn’t want to make this any more uncomfortable than it was liable to be.

“You’ve been unconscious for a day.” Chuuya said, pulling back as soon as Dazai was settled and turning to leave, “I’ll go get the doctor.”

“Wait.” Chuuya paused, glancing curiously at Dazai, who had closed his eyes, “I’d like a moment to reorient myself before all of the prodding and doting.”

Chuuya tilted his head, considering his charge. Despite Dazai’s position as his boss, it was completely up to Chuuya to decide if he planned to indulge the request. Making sure that the Mafia boss didn’t die on his watch was Chuuya’s first priority, even if the doctor had assured everyone who knew about Dazai’s condition that death wasn’t an imminent concern. However, Dazai looked better than he had when Chuuya first laid eyes on him in the warehouse, so he settled into the chair next to Dazai’s bed.

“Why is it such a secret that you’re the boss?”

Due to his aversion to letting others know that he had a rapport (however confrontational) with the Mafia boss while Chuuya had just been trying to fit in, he hardly ever said a word about Dazai while mingling with other Mafia members. It wasn’t until talking with Hirotsu, and later visiting the Agency, that Chuuya realized just how small the circle of people who knew Dazai’s true identity was, and he wasn’t quite sure why he was in that circle to begin with.

“It’s easier to get things done when I’m not on wanted posters everywhere. I have people like you and Akutagawa for that.” Dazai murmured, head dropping back against the bed frame as if he was just moments away from falling asleep, “I always knew I was going to be boss eventually, but the timing came as a bit of a surprise so I kept my ascent quiet.”

“Surprise how?” Chuuya asked, it was unusual to hear Dazai be so open and genuine with information. He wanted to take advantage of the rare mood of honesty.

“When the new Diet was elected, they ran on the platform of stronger Deviant control. In order to prove they were serious, they launched a massive raid against the Gifted, run by the Deviant Control Task Force.” Dazai’s explanation was monotonous, as if he was already bored with the topic, “The man in charge was overzealous and things got out of control quickly. Protests turned into riots, arrests into street executions. For the Port Mafia it was chaos as we tried to protect our members and our assets; Mori was one of the casualties. That was almost two years ago now.”

“You haven’t been in charge for long.”

Dazai shook his head, a bemused smile spread across his lips, “No. I joined a little over four years ago, became an Executive a year later. Mori promoted people based on their skills and their drive, not on how long they were involved.”

Considering that Chuuya had only met Mori once, years before the man was in charge of the Mafia, he could only rely on the various stories he had heard from the older members about how the last boss had built the Port Mafia into the giant that it was today. For Dazai to draw the attention of such a man so quickly spoke volumes about his skill set, and Chuuya got the impression he had barely scratched the surface of what Dazai was capable of, what he was willing to do, to reach his goals.

And he had already seen, first hand, that Dazai was willing to do a lot in order to get what he wanted.

Pursing his lips, Chuuya scanned Dazai’s frame. Dazai’s left eye was a magnificent shade of purple and black, the right side of his face was still swollen and his split lip was just starting to mend. Dazai’s expression was mostly blank, but Chuuya could see the slight shudders that ran through his body after a deep breath; it would take weeks for his ribs to heal completely. Chuuya’s gaze lingered on Dazai’s right eye, which he had previously assumed was covered for some kind of aesthetic purpose (not that he had put much thought into his boss' eccentricity). The long thin scar that sliced through Dazai’s eyebrow and over his eye, ending just above the cheekbone, told of some kind of story, perhaps the one that explained why Dazai had left the Armed Detective Agency.

“Was it worth it?”

Dazai’s left eye blinked open; Chuuya wondered if Dazai kept his right eye closed on purpose or out of instinct, “You’ll have to be more specific, hat rack.”

At the name, Chuuya rolled his eyes, “The savage beating: was it worth whatever information you got?”

“I don’t know yet.”

The utter calmness in Dazai’s admission, the fact that he was at ease with being mocked and tortured for scraps of information that may, or may not, be useful struck Chuuya speechless.

He stared at Dazai, trying to read something beyond the carefully crafted emptiness on the man’s face. Chuuya had used Corruption to get Dazai out of a situation that Dazai had, evidently, waltzed willingly into, and Dazai wasn’t sure if it was worth it. Despite how quickly he had responded to the order he had seen in Dazai’s gaze, letting go of himself, handing control over to whatever demon lurked inside of his chest, was no small sacrifice. Chuuya hadn’t slept more than a few hours since then, still trying to get rid of the nagging voice in his head that said he might no longer be in control of his body the moment he let his guard down.

Aware that it would be useful trying to explain any of that to Dazai, Chuuya got to his feet. Regardless of how vulnerable the bastard looked, he was still the same callous, manipulative, crusader that Chuuya had first met, “I trust you’re reoriented now? I’m going to get the doctor.”

Dazai didn’t respond, but Chuuya could feel the sharp gaze on his back as he crossed the room. When the door closed behind him, Chuuya took a moment to close his eyes and push back the wave of emotions that crashed through his body. He wondered if he would ever get to the point where he could converse with Dazai without feeling emotionally strung-out.

 


 

“I have to say, I’m surprised to hear from you so suddenly, Dazai.” Smugness radiated from the phone and Dazai closed his eyes, pushing back the dozens of snapped comments that pressed on the tip of his tongue, “To what do I owe this privilege?”

“Iron Heel.”

There was a soft chuckle, “I’ve heard rumors that they set their sights on your beloved city. Unfortunately, there’s only so much I can tell you over the phone, much less for free.”

A soft clink of glass accented the last phrase and Dazai could practically picture Fitzgerald lounging in whatever penthouse he was currently staying in, sipping the most expensive champagne he could get his hands on. Ignoring the strong rush of disdain he had for the man’s lifestyle, Dazai asked, “Are you still running that policy about not revealing organization leaders?”

“Of course. You should appreciate how strongly I hold to it, I get requests about you almost twice as much as anyone else.”

The hint that Dazai should be expressing gratitude to Fitzgerald, and his organization, for the money-grabbing, self-interested, way they operated was almost enough to make Dazai laugh, “Then I need everything you know about a single name, sent through the usual channels, as soon as possible.”

“On Iron Heel? I could have something to you within forty-eight hours. What is the name?”

“Kravinoff.”

Another chuckle, “I don’t know what it is about you, but you have a knack for picking out the toughest bastards to go against. That one will cost you double the regular price, plus the rush surcharge, paid upfront.”

“Fine.” Dazai was already holding a second phone and went about accessing one of the Port Mafia’s numerous bank accounts.

It was too much to hope that the Guild head would just sit in silence, “Say Dazai, I saw that Lemaire’s pretty little Deviant went missing, just a few months after I sent you all the information I had on him.”

Dazai finished setting up the wire, “Your point, Fitzgerald?”

“I was wondering if you were taking advantage of all of his hard-earned skills. You seem like a man who needs to de-stress.”

There was nothing short of a mockery in the question, the implication laid heavy as a way to bait Dazai into confirming information that was little more than rumor, “Even if I knew where Lemaire’s toy ended up, I don’t have any interest in sleeping with my subordinates, particularly not those that spread their legs for the Giftless elites. You should have the money.”

A pause, Fitzgerald spoke to someone on his end of the phone for confirmation of the money transfer, and then he returned, “I’ll get the information to you shortly. It’s always a pleasure doing business with the Port Mafia.”

The door to Dazai’s room opened, revealing the redhead that had just been a subject of conversation. As Chuuya set his belongings on the nurse’s table near the door, Dazai said, “Never change, Fitzgerald.”

There was a laugh, “Same goes for you, Dazai.”

Dazai hung up the phone and set it on the bedside table, turning all of his attention to his secondary device to let the proper Executive know about the incoming information wire.

A gloved hand tapped the top of the phone, and Dazai glanced up to meet Chuuya’s expectant gaze, “The sooner I get started, the sooner I’m finished.”

“So eager to get out of here, hat rack?” Dazai smirked, placing the phone on the bedside table.

Chuuya didn’t take the bait, he merely raised an eyebrow, “Lay down.”

Dazai shifted on the bed so he was positioned correctly, letting his arms fall to either side of his torso as he watched Chuuya pull off his black gloves. Before this week, Dazai hadn’t seen Chuuya’s hands bare since the first mission Chuuya had been sent on. That night, Dazai had been testing to see if his new project had the stomach for the Mafia, or if Dazai had been wasting his time getting Chuuya trained. It had been a close call, Dazai wouldn’t have been surprised if Chuuya had tried to quit, but since then the hat rack had done his jobs without prejudice, killing whoever was in his way as if the flimsy barrier of black material kept him separated from the lives he was taking.

Chuuya put the gloves aside and murmured, “Let me know if you feel additional pain anywhere.”

He began to gently press on Dazai’s chest, a process that was now routine, and Dazai let his eyes flutter shut, focusing on his body’s responses. Dazai ignored the aches that were now familiar and answered the questions Chuuya prompted him with until the makeshift nurse was satisfied and pulled a chair close the bed.

“Sit up, leg over the edge,” was the next quiet command.

Dazai complied, shifting so his left leg was within reach. He watched as Chuuya unwrapped the bandages, hardly drew a breath as Chuuya’s fingers brushed the skin that had been covered all day, every day, for the better part of Dazai’s life. Chuuya didn’t seem to notice the slight twitches of Dazai’s muscles, too focused on his work to notice the minuscule movements. When the bandages were pulled away, Chuuya turned to throw them out.

Blue eyes flicked up to catch Dazai’s gaze, and an eyebrow rose, probably at the intensity of Dazai’s scrutiny. Chuuya didn’t comment, but his eyes lingered on Dazai’s right one (which Dazai had yet to recover), “Can you see out of it?” Dazai shook his head, “That’s not what I expected.”

Refraining from making a comment about how Chuuya wasn’t exactly an expert on predicting Dazai’s behavior, much less picking apart people’s secrets, Dazai asked, “What did you expect?”

Chuuya turned his attention back to Dazai’s leg, studying the healing skin carefully, searching for any signs of infection, “I never thought there was something wrong with your eye, I just assumed you covered it because you’re dramatic.”

“Dramatic?” Dazai repeated.

“Bordering on the melodramatic sometimes.” Chuuya washed the wound and picked up the roll of bandages he had brought from the nurse’s station, glancing up at Dazai for a brief moment, “What happened to it?”

“I made a mistake.”

“So you lost your eye?”

Dazai chuckled, but there was no amusement in the sound, “I lost more than an eye.”

Steady hands didn’t falter for a second as Chuuya rewrapped the wound, but something flickered across Chuuya’s face that was different from the usual disdain Dazai received from the hat rack, “Kunikida-san told me about your friend.”

“Kunikida can be chatty,” Dazai replied, voice dry in a way that was meant to discourage Chuuya from continuing his line of questioning.

Blue eyes flicked up to meet his own and registered the warning in Dazai’s gaze, Chuuya pressed on anyway, “I always assumed you were being an ass for no reason. Losing a friend is hard.”

“How would you know?” he asked, reaching for the card that would prevent this from ever being brought up again, “Please don’t tell me you’re still touting that Giftless guard as one of your friends.”

Chuuya leaned back from Dazai and got to his feet, jaw tight at the taunt. There was something to be said for Chuuya’s loyalty, if he was still willing to stand by a man whose sole job had been to make sure Chuuya stayed enslaved, there was no telling how much he would do for the organization that had freed him from captivity and taught him how to fend for himself. On a personal level, Dazai considered such loyalty to be a weakness; devotion to anyone or anything was just something for the enemy to take advantage of. On a professional level, as the boss of the Port Mafia, Dazai recognized that this trait made Chuuya a valuable tool.

He watched as the shorter man moved back to the nurse’s table to make a few notes, the rigid line in his back made it clear that Chuuya was likely to leave without saying another word unless Dazai pressed.

“How is your suspension treating you?”

“It’s good for something, since no one else seems qualified to make sure you don’t die while the doctor is occupied.”

The snide comment made Dazai grin. He had to admit, it had been much too long since someone gave him any kind of push back, the last time Dazai had gotten the chance to banter like he did with Chuuya was when he was in the Agency, “and yet, you still rushed out of headquarters on a whim because you thought I was in trouble, I’m touched.”

“I thought it was an order. From my boss.”

“There wasn’t an order of any kind on that note.” Dazai pointed out, “I didn’t order you to use Corruption either, but you did.”

Chuuya flashed a withering look at Dazai, and opened his mouth to retort, just as Dazai delivered his ace blow, “You did a good job, Chuuya.”

The anger melted almost instantaneously into a look of confusion, and Chuuya blinked, “What?”

It was a hard-fought battle to keep his expression sincere, instead of breaking into laughter at the way Chuuya seemed to have short-circuited at the words of praise, “I said, you did a good job.”

“Oh.” Chuuya blinked again and looked back at his paperwork, “Thanks.”

Dazai decided not to mention the slight flush that was creeping up Chuuya’s neck and the tips of his ears. Smirking, he picked his phone up and went back to work.

 


 

The charts in front of Chuuya would have meant nothing to him six months ago. Besides the fact that when he joined the Mafia he hadn’t been able to read Kanji, just the sheer amount of medical terminology was well beyond what was taught to a Deviant. But people in the Mafia quickly learned to adapt, to fit into numerous different roles, to learn as they went or die trying. It meant that Chuuya could scan the doctor’s notes on Dazai’s recovery and understand what most of it meant, even if he couldn’t quite believe it.

Dazai’s recovery was quite rapid.

Once again, Chuuya vaguely found himself wondering if Dazai was actually a human being as he considered the speed of progress laid out before him.

“Chuuya!” He paused in his walk toward Dazai’s infirmary room and flashed a smile at Tachihara, who jogged over so he was within speaking distance, “I haven’t seen you in ages! I thought that you being on probation would mean we would see each other more, not less.”

Chuuya subtly shifted the papers in his hand so that Dazai’s name wasn’t visible on them, “I got busy helping out in the infirmary.”

His friend raised an eyebrow, “For the boss?”

“You heard?”

Tachihara laughed, “I am a Black Lizard commander, Chuuya. Of course, I know that some upstart organization tried to take out the boss. I didn’t expect you to be the nurse they assigned him, considering how often you curse him to hell and back. How is he doing?”

“I don’t curse about him that often,” Chuuya grumbled, ignoring Tachihara’s look of bemusement as he forged on. “He’ll be up and back to business within a week, maybe sooner.”

“Good. Once he’s up we can go crush Iron Heel, make sure no one thinks about going after the Port Mafia in our territory like that again.”

Chuuya knew how Tachihara got when he was itching for a fight. There was no use in pointing out that Iron Heel didn’t have any clue who Dazai was, otherwise they would’ve taken Dazai somewhere impossible for the Mafia to access. Hitting back at the organization didn’t teach anyone a lesson if Iron Heel didn’t know what the retaliation was for.

He merely gave Tachihara a pleasant smile and waved him off when someone called his name down the corridor. As he continued his trip to Dazai’s infirmary room, Chuuya considered the conversation. It was unusual that word of Dazai’ condition was known outside of the Executive circle and those directly involved. Considering how much Dazai hated showing weakness, Chuuya had expected the news of him being bed-ridden to be kept completely quiet. Rather than shed any disdain on Dazai, the news seemed to have fired up those who knew about it, making them eager for a fight.

Chuuya paused as he put his hand on the knob. How much of this had Dazai planned for before even going to that meeting? How much more did Dazai have planned that would involve throwing Chuuya into the fray without any kind of warning?

With a sigh, he pushed open the door and made his way to the nurse’s table at the side of the room, setting down the files and clearing his mind so he could deal with Dazai without being flustered.

“Hat rack.” Chuuya glanced up and noticed his boss was holding out a picture, “Does this face ring any bells?”

Chuuya crossed the room and picked up the photo. It was low quality, probably pulled from surveillance footage, depicting a man in the Iron Heel uniform. Chuuya would have dismissed him as any of the dozens of soldiers he might have attacked in the warehouse if it weren’t for the web of scars on his face. They crossed over his nose and lined one of his cheeks, and Chuuya felt his gut churn as he was assaulted with a strong image of the same man, glaring down at him as he dragged Chuuya away from his family.

Chuuya shoved the picture back at Dazai, forcing back the bile that wanted to rise in his throat, “Who is he?”

“Ivan Kravinoff.” Dazai said, gaze fixed on Chuuya’s face, watching his every expression, “Talya’s father. He was killed in action more than seventeen years ago. Details of his death are classified, but one would imagine that gaining a certain rank in Iron Heel would declassify those documents for the orphaned daughter he left behind.”

“Corruption killed him.”

You killed him.” Dazai’s voice was callous as he put the picture aside, “You should have seen her face when you arrived. She wants you dead.”

Chuuya had only seen a glimpse of the woman before letting go of his control over his ability, but he recalled her being young, perhaps younger than him. A thought struck him that he had never entertained before, and Chuuya began to mentally tally the people he had killed since joining the Port Mafia, wondering how many other children he had orphaned.

“I suppose there’s a long list of people who want me dead.”

Dazai shrugged, “Long enough to make a difference. Think about it, Chuuya, why are you still alive? She could have called reinforcements and stormed the warehouse as soon as I pulled you from Corruption. Instead of negotiating, the Deviant Control Task Force could have just killed you. You’re an extremely dangerous Deviant with the blood of dozens of Giftless on your hands and they’re still using a light touch whenever they interact with you.”

Chuuya got the distinct impression that Dazai wasn’t really speaking for Chuuya’s benefit, but was just verbally working through the problem while Chuuya happened to be present, so he kept his mouth shut and waited for Dazai to solve the puzzle.

“This light touch would only make sense if everyone was trying to preserve you at Lemaire’s request. The Lemaire Corporation is powerful, but most of their assets are West, they barely have any holdings here.” A devious smile spread across Dazai’s lips, “I knew your disappearance would finally get things moving, but I never imagined this.”

The smug satisfaction in Dazai’s voice implied that he had figured out the puzzle, but Chuuya was still quite lost, “Imagined what?”

“The head of the Iron Heel,” Dazai said, “is Marc Lemaire.”

The door to the infirmary room opened and Kouyou swept in, closing it firmly behind herself. Her gaze flicked between the two men, clearly picking up on the odd tension, but she didn’t delve into it. Instead, she placed a laptop on the empty chair next to Dazai’s bed.

“There’s something you should see.” She said, by way of greeting.

Kouyou opened the laptop and a video started playing immediately. It was live news coverage of the Red Brick Warehouse. In the large space between the building Chuuya had partially destroyed and the one still intact, there was a stage, and in its center was a man in the Iron Heel uniform. He was shouting orders as the newscasters spoke over him, but Chuuya wasn’t paying attention to their words. He was watching with a sense of horror as a line of five people were herded onto the stage, one of them was being dragged, three were crying, the fifth was silent. Opposite them, men and women in the light blue uniforms cocked their guns. The man in front raised a hand and brought it chopping down.

Gunfire sounded, and Chuuya flinched as the five unarmed people dropped to the ground. Their bodies were shoved off the back of the stage, and five more people were herded into a line in their place.

Chuuya closed his eyes, focusing on the words of the newscasters.

“This is a first for Japan, our country is known for being rather tolerant of Deviant activity. However, upon designation to office the Prime Minister vowed to clean the streets and make the cities safer for humanity. Now, it seems, he is standing firm with his promise.”

A second announcer picked up, “Iron Heel, a nongovernmental agency specializing in Deviant control, was called into Yokohama in the aftermath of the Red Brick Warehouse terrorist attack. Since the group responsible has yet to come forward, Iron Heel representative Talya Kravinoff announced the public execution of all the Deviants in the labor camp closest to the Warehouse.”

“It should be noted that the Newport Pier camp houses nearly one-hundred Deviants of various ages. This execution could take some time.”

There was a thoughtful hum from the bed, “They moved faster than I anticipated. Kravinoff must be quite angry about the other day.”

“Faster than you anticipated?” Chuuya repeated, his voice sounding foreign to his ears as he reopened his eyes just in time to see another group riddled with bullets. He still felt like he was several steps behind Dazai, and he cast his memory back to what they had been discussing before Kouyou’s arrival.

Dazai had said that he knew Chuuya’s disappearance would ‘finally’ get things moving, and an ugly idea reared its head in the forefront of Chuuya’s mind.

“You provoked them on purpose?” Chuuya’s heart was pounding in his chest, his head was throbbing, and he felt like he was going to be sick. He knew he should tear his gaze away from the deaths on the screen, but he couldn’t risk looking at the man on the bed, Chuuya didn’t think he could keep any semblance of calm if he met Dazai’s gaze.

“The Gifted lose every conflict we get involved in for because the rules aren’t in our favor. When it comes to all-out war, the rules no longer apply. So many of our kind are compliant because they think that’s the best way to survive. Iron Heel is helping me prove a point.”

Dazai’s voice was too calm, too detached.

Just when Chuuya was starting to think that, maybe, Dazai wasn’t as much of an asshole as he appeared to be, when he was starting to consider what life would be like if he let go of his reservations and trusted Dazai’s judgment as wholeheartedly as the others. Just when he was actually starting to be able to relax in Dazai’s company, wondering if they could perhaps build some sort of friendship, the two-faced, manipulative, bastard announces that a public execution was ‘proving a point’. It was the sort of thing Chuuya had grown used to hearing from Lemaire, from the powerful Giftless that had held the balance of his life in their fingertips.

Chuuya lost his hold on his temper, and whirled on Dazai, “Prove a point? There are innocent people being murdered! What the fuck is wrong with you?"

“I’m getting results. Besides, the location of this execution is courtesy of you, Chuuya. I was hoping to direct them toward one of the smaller camps when things came to a head.”

“Don’t you dare.” A gentle hand was placed on Chuuya’s shoulder; Kouyou, trying to calm him down, but Chuuya shook free of it, his attention solely focused on the waste of bandages laying on the hospital bed, “Don’t you fucking dare make this my fault.”

Dazai looked completely unimpressed in the face of Chuuya’s rage, “There’s nothing at fault here except for the Deviant system, and those who uphold it. Really, hat rack, you’re the one who grew up with Lemaire. You never considered he would go to such lengths to get back his prized whore?”

That word had never bothered Chuuya quite as much as it did now, flung at him after months of working himself until he had more to offer than his body.

In the silence of the room, Chuuya could hear the ring of more gunshots being fired in the video, and suddenly the space felt too small, like it was compressing inward on him, trying to crush him under the weight of his circumstances, of his involvement in the massacre unfolding on live television.

Chuuya was a fool.

He had actually believed he could become more than Lemaire’s property. That he would have value beyond whatever had rubbed off of him by virtue of being owned by one of the most powerful men in the world. But even here, in the heart of the Gifted resistance, Chuuya’s true worth came from how he helped manipulate Lemaire’s actions.

“Dazai, perhaps we should continue this later,” Kouyou said, her normally serene voice had a sharp edge to it.

Dazai shrugged, “If Chuuya wants to do this now, it is his decision. After all, he should learn to face the reality of our world, and of his position in it.”

The single brown eye, staring him down with cool disinterest, didn’t register to Chuuya. Instead, his attention was on Dazai’s blind eye, the one that had gone gray as it lost its sight, the one that bled in Chuuya’s memory until it reminded him of another man, who wasn’t all that different from the Port Mafia boss.

He stumbled backward, “You’re a monster.”

“So I’ve been told.”

Chuuya turned on his heel and ran out of the infirmary, ignoring Kouyou’s concerned calls behind him.

Chapter Text

The silence in the room was deafening. It had been that way in her presence ever since Talya had given her report on the incident with Dazai Osamu. Besides failing to get useful information from Dazai, and losing over two squads of soldiers in a fight against only three enemies, the fact that she had seen Nakahara and failed to bring Lemaire’s prize back to him was unforgivable.

After finishing that particular report, Talya had stood, head bowed, in the most uncomfortable silence she had ever been subject to. It felt like an eternity as she waited for Lemaire to strip her of her rank and dismiss her from Iron Heel. Instead, he had seemed fixated on Dazai, asking dozens of questions about the Deviant’s mannerisms and apparent motivations until Talya began to wonder if Lemaire wanted Nakahara back at all, or if he would prefer to have Dazai. She had been sent away without so much as half the reprimand she had anticipated, ordered to arrange the public execution of a Deviant work camp without delay.

Strong-arming the local government into allowing such a spectacle was surprisingly difficult. Talya had spent two days wrapped up in politics and bureaucracy before she finally made progress. By the time she had gotten the government sanction and the proper media networks involved, Talya was more than concerned about her ticking clock. Lemaire hadn’t set a deadline, but the last thing she wanted to do was test his patience.

It was why she stood in silence. Eyes forward, hands clasped behind her back in parade rest as Marc Lemaire paced in front of her.

With the sleek lines of his black suit he looked like a caged panther; elegant and dangerous all at once. In his hand was a tablet, no doubt full of all the compiled information he had on the executions performed the previous afternoon.

“Have you received contact from anyone claiming responsibility for the warehouse attack?” He finally asked, breaking the silence without looking her way.

“No, sir. And so far, my people have found limited information on the Deviant who accompanied Nakahara in his rescue of Dazai.”

“Which means you have accomplished nothing.” The statement was cool, almost disinterested, and Talya felt the blood drain from her face.

Lemaire was a brilliant leader.

His connections, strategic mind, and eye for talent, were all what made Iron Heel such a force of nature. While his father may have founded the organization, it was Marc who had turned it into an international powerhouse. It was Marc who had placed her in an expensive girl’s home when she had been orphaned as a toddler, had paid for a good boarding school and all of her needs as she grew. It was Marc who had personally visited her to explain the circumstances of her father’s death when she had been old enough to finally wonder what had happened to him. Talya followed him out of devotion, a desire to pay him back for his kindness above all else. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t afraid of him.

Marc Lemaire did not tolerate failure; it was only her father’s history with Iron Heel that had given Talya a second chance. If Lemaire still wasn’t pleased with her work, there was little hope for her.

Her phone buzzed, and she glanced cautiously at Lemaire. He waved a lazy hand at her in allowance and Talya dug out the device, “Kravinoff.”

“Captain, I have Nakahara.”

She frowned, wondering if her desperation was making her delusional, “What?”

“Nakahara. He’s in my custody. What should I do?”

“One moment,” she muted her phone and cleared her throat. “Sir, my men have Nakahara in custody. What are your orders?”

Lemaire stopped pacing, in fact, he seemed to stop moving altogether. The stillness was almost otherworldly, not even his chest rose and fell to indicate he was breathing. It only lasted for a second before he said, “bring him here, immediately.”

Talya repeated the order to her subordinate before hanging up the phone.

“Well, Talya.” The use of her given name had her snapping back to attention (from Lemaire, it was nothing less than a warning), “You should thank Nakahara when he arrives, he just gave you a new life. Show him into the study when he gets here.”

She saluted, “Yes, sir.”

Talya didn’t dare move a muscle until Lemaire had left her alone.

It took thirty minutes before she heard a knock on the penthouse door, and Talya rushed to answer it. Her eyes slid past Nathan, settling on Nakahara. The Deviant met her gaze, unflinching, but she could see exhaustion deep in blue eyes. It had abandoned the showy wardrobe she had previously seen it in, wearing only a black button-up shirt and some slacks, hair pulled back into a bun so its features were clearly visible.

“Has Nakahara been searched?” she asked.

“Thoroughly, captain.”

She took note of the color that bloomed on the Deviant’s cheeks, bemused at the thought that such a creature could manage to feel something akin to shame. It would have been significantly easier to pry information out of this one than it had been with Dazai. Her fingers itched to mar its skin with scars; nothing as horrid as the monster she witnessed earlier that week deserved to look so…appealing.

“Nakahara, do I need to restrain you?”

The Deviant seemed surprised to be addressed, and its gaze sharpened on her. She got the distinct impression that Nakahara knew more than it planned to let on, but the response was simple, “I plan to behave, Miss Kravinoff.”

Talya raised an eyebrow, wondering what had brought the Deviant stumbling into her arms, and glanced at Nathan, asking the nonverbal question.

Nathan shrugged, “He turned himself in, captain. Just walked up to the squad stationed at the warehouse and asked to be brought to Lemaire.”

It smelled like a trap. If Nakahara let loose, he could kill Lemaire with ease. But orders were orders, and she tossed her head at the suite behind her, “Follow me.”

Four additional soldiers had escorted Nakahara into the hotel; two at his back, and one holding onto either arm. Nathan fell into step just behind Talya as she led the small entourage, trying to ignore the part of her that wanted to slit Nakahara’s throat right in the corridor.

She knocked on the office doors before stepping inside. Lemaire was seated at the desk, attention fixed on his tablet. If Talya hadn’t witnessed his reaction to Nakahara’s capture, she would have believed him to be completely unconcerned with the Deviant’s presence. Nakahara was marched until he was in front of the desk, Talya and Nathan off to one side while the other four guards stayed at the ready.

They stood in silence for nearly five minutes before Lemaire looked up, his gaze hard, “Nakahara, how kind of you to visit.”

There was no reply.

Confused, Talya glanced at the Deviant and was fascinated by the complete change in demeanor. When she had observed it with Dazai, Nakahara had been rowdy and argumentative. To her face, it had been polite but not particularly cowed. In Lemaire’s presence, Nakahara seemed to shrink inward, taking up as little space as possible. Its head was bowed, eyes on its shoes, mouth firmly shut.

“You may speak,” Lemaire said, after it was clear that the Deviant was waiting for permission.

Immediately, Nakahara said, “My apologies for being gone so long, sir, and for allowing myself to get kidnapped in front of a client. It was a disgrace of your name and the Lemaire Corporation.”

It was well-trained, Talya could admit that much.

“Oh? But no apologies for killing Kravinoff’s people?”

Without hesitation, Nakahara turned to Talya, “I apologize for my behavior the other day, Miss Kravinoff, the deaths of your people are unforgivable.”

Talya physically bit her tongue to keep from spewing a number of insults. The ease with which the apology rolled off of Nakahara’s tongue made it obvious that there was no regret at all. It was a slap in the face for those that had died in the battle, and she wondered if Nakahara was just as cavalier about the other lives it had taken, such as her father’s.

“It’s my understanding that those deaths were also avoidable,” Lemaire mused. “Kravinoff reports that you killed them on another Deviant’s command, but I find myself dubious as to whether or not you can truly control yourself. I have no interest in a pet that bites my hand, Nakahara.”

“I can control it,” Nakahara said, turning back to look at Lemaire (or rather, over Lemaire’s shoulder).

Lemaire snapped his fingers, a wordless command to the man standing on Nakahara’s right. Without pause, a fist crashed into the Deviant’s stomach, and it doubled over with a gasp.

“Down, please.” Lemaire murmured, and the men behind Nakahara shoved the Deviant to its knees; everyone ignored the whimper of pain that came from Nakahara. Lemaire rose from his seat and made his way around the desk, leaning on it so he was directly in front of Nakahara, looking down at him with disdain, “How am I supposed to believe you can control it if you used it twice to kill? Either your loyalties have changed or you can’t control it. Which is it, Nakahara?”

It didn’t answer right away, simply stayed hunched over, hands placed palms down at the sides of its knees to indicate a lack of desire to fight back. After a moment, Nakahara murmured, “I was kept under strict surveillance. I obeyed so I could survive.”

Lemaire raised an eyebrow and glanced up at Talya, “I believe it is your turn, Kravinoff.”

She didn’t bother to hold back the gleeful grin that spread across her face as she stepped forward and brought her foot up in a kick, crashing it against Nakahara’s chin so its head snapped back and tears welled in the corner of blue eyes.

“So, you’re telling me that your life was worth more than the-” Lemaire trailed off.

Talya gladly filled in, “Forty-seven, sir.”

“-forty-seven people you killed between both attacks?”

There was no response.

The seconds ticked past in silence as Lemaire stared down at Nakahara and Nakahara stared down at the floor. Neither of them moved; Talya had never seen such perfect stillness and she wondered if it was mimicked or taught behavior on the part of the Deviant. After a long moment, Lemaire let out a sigh, “Luckily for you, Nakahara, you were quite the investment and I’m not interested in disposing of you, yet. If you can control your powers for the next twenty minutes, I will let this topic go. Does that seem fair?”

“You have always been gracious to me, sir.”

Lemaire chuckled, returned to his seat and picked up his tablet, “Kravinoff, you have twenty minutes. No lasting damage.”

A smirk spread across her lips, “Of course. Thank you, sir.”

Marc Lemaire didn’t bother to look up from his work as Talya gave her men orders to tug Nakahara to its feet and hold it still. Didn’t react as the sounds of a brutal beating filled the room, as she let her fists fly in an attempt to inflict pain on every reachable body part Nakahara had. There was no comment at the blood that began to drip to the floor before half of the allotted time had passed.

Through it all, Nakahara held her gaze. It was not able to keep grunts of pain from leaving its lips, but also seemed to refuse to be intimidated by her. Not even a flash of the ominous red that had killed her men flickered across the Deviant’s skin, and it drove Talya further. More than causing the Deviant pain, she wanted to prove that it had no place at Lemaire’s side, that it didn’t deserve the second-chance that Lemaire was extending.

It wasn’t until Nakahara’s eyes rolled up and it slumped against the holds of its captors that Lemaire acknowledged what had just occurred in his presence.

He glanced up from the tablet, “Get him cleaned up and collared. I’ll continue this questioning in private.”

Talya shook out her wrists, feeling a savage rush of pleasure at the sight of her bloodied knuckles, “Yes, sir.”

 


 

Music was playing when Chuuya woke.

It was calming, the rise and tumble of notes expertly pulled from two sets of strings. He knew this piece.

Chuuya kept his eyes closed as he tried to place the composer. Classical music wasn’t something he tended to listen to. It wasn’t that he disliked it, but rather it was a genre he usually heard whenever he was alone with him, so Chuuya avoided it at all other times.

“Sophr,” Chuuya mumbled, identifying the piece at last, “Opus 13.”

“Duet for Violin and Viola.” The approving hum came from Chuuya’s right, and he blinked open his eyes, grateful for the dim lighting in the room.

He was in a bed, a much more comfortable one than what was in his dorm at Mafia headquarters. The pillow beneath his head felt luxuriously soft and, for a moment, Chuuya wondered if he had actually been beaten to death, if this was some sort of afterlife. Judging by the savage pleasure that had been on Kravinoff’s face, it wouldn’t be too surprising.

Around him, candles flickered, casting a gentle glow on a bedroom that probably cost hundreds of dollars a night. The feel of silk against his bare skin was pleasant, and Chuuya caught himself wanting to doze off, until he remembered the voice.

Chuuya glanced to his right, and met gray.

Marc Lemaire was propped on his side, watching Chuuya with a small smile, “This was your favorite piece, if I recall correctly.”

The operative phrase in Lemaire’s sentence echoed in Chuuya’s head: ‘was’. Chuuya had loved this piece, it had been the only thing he ever asked for in his early days under Lemaire’s roof. He had loved it so much that it had been playing in the background of his tiny room the first time-

He pushed back the memory, just as he did every time it flashed to the forefront of his mind, and turned his attention back to his surroundings. Chuuya assumed he was in the same penthouse suite he had originally been brought to, after turning himself in to the first Iron Heel soldier he had been able to find. Chuuya had expected the physical punishment, had steeled himself for broken limbs or a bloody nose, but this was a surprise.

The music continued to play, and no matter how calming the duet used to be when he was younger, Chuuya couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding it evoked. The feeling of helplessness that now seemed forever entwined within the interplay of the two instruments.

He went to push a strand of hair from his face, only to realize his hands were bound together, and restrained to the headboard above him.

Chuuya’s gaze flicked back to Lemaire, who hadn’t moved at all while waiting for Chuuya to adjust to his surroundings. A chill ran up Chuuya’s spine; after spending most of his life in this man’s possession, he could read Lemaire’s emotions better than any written language. He knew all of Lemaire’s facial expressions, could respond to the slightest quirk of an eyebrow or just a twitch of his lips.

He had seen the worst of Lemaire. Had seen the aftermath of a furious temper when a business deal collapsed, had witnessed the deaths of a handful of other Gifted who found themselves in his grasp (somehow none of them ever lasted longer than a year). But nothing was quite as unnerving as the little smile playing around his lips now.

This smile had sent Chuuya to his knees in the past, begging for forgiveness. This smile had woken Chuuya up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, even months after joining the Mafia. This smile oozed honey and sugar, made gray eyes sparkle with genuine amusement. It melted the usual ice on his face to make him look less like a statue and more like an actual human.

Chuuya didn’t hate anything more than he hated how that smile could melt him in an instant. How, after years of abuse at the other end of Lemaire’s cold gray stare, a simple smile had been enough for him to cling onto, for him to try and wring some kind of emotional security from. He hated how Lemaire knew the effect it had.

He closed his eyes and swallowed heavily, hoping his reluctance to keep Lemaire’s stare would make the man speak sooner.

“Chuuya.” Chuuya’s name dripped out of Lemaire’s mouth, soft and smooth and such a stark contrast to the usual barked ‘Nakahara’ that it was difficult to reconcile both as coming from the same man.

“Sir?”

“Look at me.”

No matter how much he didn’t want to, Chuuya wasn’t foolish enough to disobey a direct order. Given resistance, Lemaire could fly into a rage at a moment’s notice. So, Chuuya opened his eyes to meet gray once again.

Lemaire’s smile widened, “Parfait.” It had been months since Chuuya had heard anyone speak French, and he swallowed around the lump in his throat, waiting, “I have some questions for you. Vas-tu te conduire?

“Yes, sir.” Chuuya murmured, refusing to slip back into the language that Lemaire had personally taught him. It was one of the few things he could withhold, and there was almost nothing he could keep from Lemaire in this position.

Bon.

Lemaire reached over and brushed the hair from Chuuya’s face, ignoring how Chuuya flinched at the touch before gaining control of himself. Chuuya’s whole body screamed at him to pull away from Lemaire’s touch, like he had whenever someone reached for him in the Mafia. But he forced himself to lay still, tried to ignore the burn of the fingers that rested on his cheek.

“My people say that you turned yourself in. Why?”

“I recognize how graciously you have treated me and was finally able to return to you.” The lie slipped from Chuuya’s mouth with ease, a testament to how long he had been forced to speak such falsehoods.

Lemaire laughed and patted Chuuya’s cheek, “Tell me, mon petit oiseau, do I look like a fool?”

“No, sir.”

“Then tell me the truth. Why did you turn yourself in? Was it the executions?’ Chuuya dropped his gaze, and Lemaire hummed thoughtfully, “After the reports of your incident at the warehouse, I had wondered. To think that there was something about you I didn’t already know. How intriguing.”

Chuuya felt like he couldn’t breathe. The implications of Lemaire’s response pressed on his chest. His eyes flew back to Lemaire’s and picked out the satisfaction just barely present on the man’s face, “You did that to get to me?”

“You, out of anyone, should know that I don’t let go of what belongs to me. After Talya’s disappointment, I decided it was time to take care of the job myself.” Lemaire’s hand trailed down Chuuya’s face to grip his chin, holding Chuuya steady as his eyes flashed with a moment of barely contained rage, “That Deviant upstart doesn’t know you half as well as I do. Does he, Chuuya?”

“No, sir.” That was the truth.

Dazai hadn’t seen Chuuya grow up as Lemaire had. Hadn’t witnessed Chuuya completely broken down, hadn’t watched him talk the wealthy out of their fortunes with a wink and a touch at a simple command. He hadn’t taken the time to completely unravel Chuuya, had been content to control from a distance.

But now, with Lemaire’s hand trailing to his chest, Chuuya began to doubt how similar the two men were. Yes, they were both clever, manipulative, callous; both secretly heads of organizations hell-bent on destruction. However, Dazai had never tried to take advantage of his position of power, not like Lemaire had.

Not like this.

And this was still achingly familiar. Chuuya’s body still responded too quickly to Lemaire’s bold touches, to the expert press and the slide of fingers that knew Chuuya’s body better than Chuuya knew it himself. Lemaire had memorized just which places could tug a reluctant gasp from Chuuya’s lips, knew where to cause the most pain too.

“Talya tells me you followed the upstart around like a dog on a leash. I assured her that you only have one owner. Just to satisfy me, answer this: who do you belong to, Chuuya?”

“You, sir.” Chuuya’s voice was slightly breathy, and he flushed, hating his body for reacting exactly how Lemaire wanted it to.

“Good. Now, I’m quite positive you were with the Port Mafia, they are the only organization in this city capable of keeping you hidden for so long. Who is their leader?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

Fingers pinched one of Chuuya’s nipples and twisted cruelly, wringing an agonized whimper from Chuuya’s mouth, “Try again, Chuuya.”

“I really don’t know, sir,” Chuuya insisted, hoping he had learned enough from his time with the Port Mafia that he could finally lie to the man who had always been able to see right through him. “The organization is compartmentalized, I wasn’t senior enough to meet the boss. No one even told me his name.”

Gray eyes narrowed, studying Chuuya’s face for a long moment before Lemaire’s hands pulled completely away from Chuuya. Lemaire slid off the bed, the folds of his clothing smoothing back into place as he pulled on the blazer that had been folded over the back of a chair.

He crossed the room to the door, his hand touching the handle before Chuuya couldn’t stomach the silence anymore and said, “Monsieur.

Lemaire paused at his native tongue, glancing over his shoulder, “Yes?”

“Where-” Chuuya’s throat had suddenly dried up, he was too uneasy with Lemaire’s abrupt departure to keep calm, “where are you going?”

“Back to work. I don’t have time to waste on lies, even less for a defiant whore.” Lemaire opened the door, looking at someone outside of Chuuya’s line of sight, “Il est à toi. Brise le.”

Chuuya’s eyes widened and he tugged at the restraints around his wrists, desperately reaching for his ability. A shock jolted through his body, and Chuuya bit back a curse, only just realizing that the familiar press around his throat was not his choker, but rather the metal collar that kept him from fighting back.

Lemaire left without another glance back, and in his place entered four men who eyed Chuuya hungrily. They closed the door, the click of the lock barely audible to Chuuya over the pounding of his heart.

“Please,” he murmured, too terrified to care how his voice cracked on the word, “please, don’t.”

Their laughter drowned out the strains of Sophr’s duet.

 


 

He couldn’t stop shaking.

Chuuya was trembling from head to toe and he couldn’t stop.

Part of it was due to the bone-chilling cold. The air-conditioner was on blast, and the marble finish of the bathroom floor was opulent, but unforgiving. In an effort to preserve his body heat, he wrapped his arms around his knees, bringing them close to his chest. His teeth were chattering and Chuuya could feel his fingers going numb.

But he had endured this before.

Part of the shaking was due to hunger. It dug into his stomach like a dagger, sending sharp pains up his spine. Chuuya hadn’t been fed in almost three days. His tongue was heavy as he remembered the last meal he had eaten, when he had still been surrounded by friends in the Mafia dining hall.

He wasn’t unfamiliar with hunger either.

Most of the trembling was due to fear. The kind that had him pressed in the corner of the bathroom, as far away from the door as he could possibly be. Chuuya had been scared in the Port Mafia on more than one occasion, but he had always had the ability to defend himself. This fear, borne of complete and utter helplessness, was eating away at him in a way that it never had before. Chuuya needed to sleep, but he couldn’t tug his eyes from the door. He was waiting for it to open, for his torment to resume.

They had left him alone for more than forty hours, each one filled with the tense promise that he wouldn’t be alone forever.

Chuuya couldn’t do this.

He thought he could slide back in, that his body would remember how to function in these conditions, how to live this life. Less than a year of the Port Mafia was not enough to erase seventeen years as a mere belonging.

The pain, Chuuya could handle. The beatings weren’t much different from a rough combat mission or his hell-worthy lessons with Dazai. The cold and the hunger would pass, as long as he kept his wits about him, Chuuya could survive those. After all, Lemaire was trying to break him, not kill him.

But Chuuya felt broken. Shattered.

He felt like Lemaire had ripped away every second of self-confidence, every iota of pride he had scrapped together during his time with the Mafia.

Chuuya couldn’t even look at himself. Couldn’t move his gaze the scant inches to the right it would take for him to see his reflection in the mirror. He wouldn’t be able to stomach the sight of himself, nude and collared, bruises the size of fingerprints angrily standing out on his pale skin. He could still feel the harsh ache of the grips that had left those marks, could still hear the jeering laughter that seemed to blend together until he couldn’t tell one voice apart from the next. Their moans, full-throated and shameless, rang in his ears.

He had screamed.

Chuuya couldn’t remember the last time he had been reduced to tears, to pleas for mercy. It would have been before Lemaire put him to work (just after his sixteenth birthday). But this time Chuuya had sobbed, and begged, and screamed until his throat was raw and abused, until he had been tossed into the bathroom, curled into a ball on the floor without a remaining shred of dignity.

He had only pulled himself together long enough to shower; furiously scrubbing his skin underneath the scalding water until it was bright pink. Without any towels in sight, Chuuya had resorted to sitting in his current position. He had nothing to do but wait.

The twinges of pain that started in his ass and rocketed up his spine had dulled now, but they were still present, a reminder of what he really was.

When the lights flared around him, and the power went out, Chuuya lazily lifted his head to study his surroundings before dropping it back to rest on his knees. The building could collapse around him and he didn’t think he would move from this spot.

Gunfire rang out in the distance, but Chuuya didn’t react. Instead, he blinked sleepily, wondering he might be able to die of hypothermia before Lemaire came back for him.

When the door flew open, and he was met with a sharp brown gaze, Chuuya still didn’t budge.

Dazai closed the door behind himself, eye scanning Chuuya’s frame. His face was blank, which was surprising; Chuuya felt his current appearance warranted at least a sneer of disdain.

“Get up,” Dazai said.

“No.” It hurt to speak, Chuuya’s throat protested the attempt.

“No?”

Chuuya shrugged, “I’m not going to be your pawn anymore, not if it costs innocent people their lives. At least here the only person getting hurt is me.” There was the sneer, “I’m not leaving again.”

“You’re incredibly full of yourself,” was the dry retort, “this fight isn’t about you, hat rack, it’s bigger than you. Sooner or later, the Giftless would have tried to kill us off. They could pick out any of us to be their scapegoat.

Chuuya couldn’t shake the image of the executions, performed with the destruction he had caused in the backdrop. Even if Dazai had a point, there was no way for him to separate the two images, and Chuuya scowled at the man who seemed to be completely unaffected by the lives he ruined in his crusade, “You might as well just kill me, bastard. I know you’re only here because you don’t want Iron Heel to have Corruption.” The flash of anger that Dazai seemed so adept at pulling out of him warmed Chuuya, rekindling the fire under his skin that he was sure had been doused after Lemaire had tossed him to the wolves, “It should be easy for you. Kill me, Dazai.”

The door opened again, and Akutagawa stepped inside. His eyes narrowed as he took in Chuuya before he turned to Dazai, “It’s getting ugly out there. We don’t have much time left, boss.”

Dazai didn’t turn his gaze from where he was meeting Chuuya’s defiant glare, “Status report.”

“All the hired hands are taken care of. Lemaire and Kravinoff have not been accounted for.”

“Rendezvous with the others.”

“Yes, sir.” Akutagawa left without another glance at Chuuya, and Chuuya couldn’t decide if he was grateful for it, or ashamed by it.

The Port Mafia Boss shrugged off his coat and strode forward, holding it out to Chuuya, “We’re leaving. Now.”

“No.”

“If I don’t come back with you in tow, it won’t be my fault when Kouyou and Kyouka try to rescue you on their own. They are unhealthily invested in your wellbeing.” Chuuya felt his heart drop to his stomach, “Now, Kyouka they will take alive, return her back to where we found her. Kouyou, on the other hand, they will kill on sight.”

There wasn’t a hint of emotion in Dazai’s voice, nothing to indicate he would actually care if the situation played out that way. But there was a familiar glint in his eye that said he already knew how Chuuya would react.

“I hate you,” Chuuya muttered, reaching out and taking the jacket.

Dazai’s other hand snaked out so he was holding Chuuya’s arm. With a tug, he pulled the shorter man to his feet.

Legs gone numb from disuse buckled, and only Dazai’s hands quickly readjusting to hold onto Chuuya’s shoulders kept Chuuya from collapsing back on the floor. Dazai helped steady Chuuya, his lack of snide commentary making Chuuya somehow feel even more off-balance.

Once it was clear Chuuya wouldn’t fall again, Dazai let go and took a step back. He waited as Chuuya shrugged on his coat and buttoned it, covering most of the evidence of Chuuya’s time back in Lemaire’s grasp. The corner of Dazai’s mouth twitched at how the bottom of his coat nearly brushed the ground, but he didn’t comment.

Instead, he pulled out a set of lock picks and raised an eyebrow at Chuuya.

Chuuya tilted his head, exposing the side of the metal collar, the action almost completely contrasted from the first time they had met, when Dazai had forcibly bared it himself. It took seconds for Dazai to break open the collar, and Chuuya let it tumble from his neck and crash on the floor without flinching.

Dazai pocketed his tools and turned on his heel, “Come on, hat rack, we’re running out of time.”

Chapter Text

Yokohama was burning.

Riots had torn through the city, sparked by the public executions, shocking the Giftless throughout the city. Dazai found it amusing how little those in power understood the nature of the balance that kept society in its status quo. The moment he had seen the executions he knew where the road Iron Heel set them on would lead. Knew that it had no other outcome but the violent unrest that had now characterized his city for several days. He had to know such things; the survival of the Port Mafia hinged on its boss knowing the pulse of the city.

Dazai knew where to get support; which operations would slowly build up sympathy from those outside the organization. It was a large reason why he had agreed to help the Agency care for their injured, why he had also allocated resources to help Kunikida rebuild their offices. He hadn’t done so out of a sense of good will (his days of benevolence were long gone), he had seen a chance to build inter-organizational relations and he had taken it.

He also knew which operations would make enemies. Knew just how far to push others before they were willing to sell him out to the authorities. It was why Deviant Affairs had no information on him, it was how he had become a ghost after leaving the Agency.

These were skills he needed to have in order for survive, in order for the Mafia to thrive.

That was the thing about being powerless; it made one adaptable.

The Giftless thought that they could root out the Port Mafia by scaring the rest of the city into obedience. But by showing them that compliance wasn’t a guarantee of safety, by publicly displaying their disdain for the lives of the Giftless, Iron Heel had done more recruiting for the Mafia than Dazai could have managed in an entire year.

A peaceful protest, met with the full force of the Deviant Control Task Force, quickly devolved into riots that were still breaking out almost as quickly as they were doused, nearly five days later. Dazai would have taken the time to bask in his victory if he didn’t have a subordinate with such a problematic hero complex.

Instead of watching the impacts of the riots real-time, or personally overseeing operations, he was being fed information through his phone as he sat in the main room of a small safe house, waiting for a doctor to finish evaluating Chuuya in the bedroom.

At the moment, he was also trying his best to reassure Kouyou that her precious ‘little brother’ was being looked after.

“I don’t quite understand why he can’t be treated at headquarters.”

Dazai bit back a sigh, “He collapsed almost as soon as we got him out of the hotel, Kouyou. There was no way for me to get a car through the crowds on the street without being traced. It was safer for everyone to get him to the closest safe house and have the doctor come here.”

There was a pause, doubtless Kouyou mentally accepting the validity Dazai’s argument, and then, “who will be guarding him when you return to headquarters?”

“You need to stay where you are, Kouyou.” Dazai said, catching onto the unspoken suggestion, “I am waiting to hear from the doctor before I make any decisions on who will be guarding him, but when I do make a decision it will not be up to your review.”

It was tricky to play the ‘boss card’ with Kouyou, particularly when it came to someone under her charge. She was well-liked and connected within the organization. While her wrath would not unseat Dazai, it could make his work hell.

After a moment, Kouyou chuckled slightly, “I understand, boss. I will let you get back to your duties. Even though you did not do it for me…thank you for going after him.”

She hung up without giving Dazai a chance to reply, and he blinked, staring at his phone in surprise at her lack of resistance. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the door to the bedroom open, and he stood so he could greet the doctor.

The man waved for him to return to his seat, “Let us not forget that you are still recovering from your own encounter with this group. Please, sit.”

Dazai didn’t move, “How is he?”

“He’ll live,” was the dry response as the doctor began packing his bag. “He has a mild case of hypothermia; you did well to catch that yourself and take steps to warm him. I don’t imagine it will be a problem, but I will keep an eye on it. His body has also entered a state of ketosis due to his period of starvation, which is easily treated when he wakes. Various bruises, lacerations, nothing life-threatening. He could be much worse, physically.”

Dazai nodded thoughtfully, despite the fact that the doctor was too busy with his bag to notice as he continued, “Unless he gets a fever he should be fine to recover in this safe house. I will be back in two days to check on him.” He glanced up, giving Dazai a sharp look, “Might I ask how he ended up in a situation like this? Just earlier this week he was helping me keep an eye on you, boss.”

“Chuuya thinks he can protect everyone.”

“Perhaps he could protect enough of us to make a difference, if someone was doing the same for him.” The doctor mused, with what was obviously meant to be a meaningful look if Dazai had cared about his opinion on how Dazai ran the organization, “Good evening, boss. Please remember you should be resting.”

Dazai waved the man off without comment, his attention already sliding back to his phone as he began to make plans to have someone come guard the hat rack during his recovery.

Outside, he could hear the wailing of sirens and the occasional crack of gunfire. A Gifted riot was something Yokohama was woefully unprepared for. The government knew how to handle one Gifted at a time (by attacking with far greater numbers) but hundreds, and their sympathizers, was a different story. The military police were overwhelmed, the Task Force was made up of cowards who preferred to hunt in packs over an even battle, it was only a matter of time before the authorities sought help.

His phone rang, and he smirked at the caller-ID before answering, “Kunikida-kun, when I gave you this number it was for emergencies only.”

“The city has been in chaos for days, Dazai, how is that not an emergency?”

“Chaos? I thought it was simply a bit of political activism.” On the other line, he heard a distinct ‘snap’ of a pen breaking in half, and did his best not to laugh as he added, “What can I do for you?”

“I have Deviant Affairs knocking down my door because someone has been taking advantage of the riots to break Gifted out of prisons and work camps.”

“Ah, what a delight. Truly a stroke of strategic brilliance. If you’re asking for my alibi you should know that I was on bed-rest until yesterday.”

“Your alibi doesn't absolve your entire organization. My life was easier when I didn’t know what you’ve been doing these past four years,” came the sharp reply. “Dazai, they’re ready to let Iron Heel take over. These riots will become a blood bath.”

A shout tore through the safe house, and Dazai’s attention snapped to the bedroom, “I’d love to continue this chat, but something just came up.”

“Dazai don’t you dare hang-”

“Bye!” Dazai hung up the phone, pocketing it as he swiftly crossed to the bedroom and flung the door open.

Chuuya was writhing in the sheets, his movements having dislodged the various blankets intended to help preserve his body heat. His eyes were squeezed shut and sweat glistened on his face. He was shouting, pleading, for someone to let him go with a desperation that Dazai didn’t know he was capable of.

Dazai was jolted into action by an anguished cry, and he was at the bed almost before he knew he had moved. He reached out to touch Chuuya, and hesitated, palm lingering in the air.

Dazai was familiar with night terrors. It hadn’t been uncommon for a child in the ADA to have them, even less uncommon for the Port Mafia.

They always passed, and it was usually worse to force the person awake.

He pulled his hand back, but didn’t move from beside the bed. If Chuuya was on the verge of injuring himself, then Dazai would intervene, but for now he would let the terror run its course.

Dazai watched Chuuya battle with whatever invisible demons tormented him for nearly ten minutes before Chuuya slumped into the bed, going silent as he fell back asleep.

Quietly, Dazai moved around the bed, picking up the distressed blankets and returning them to their proper places, making sure Chuuya was covered again before stepping back into the main room. He took a seat at the small table and went back to doing work by the phone.

Two hours later, he heard another shout.

Dazai returned to the bedroom to ensure Chuuya didn’t get hurt, watching without moving a muscle until the terror passed and he could fix the bed.

After the second episode, he canceled his plans for the small detail that was meant to take his place standing guard. It would be a waste of his time to instruct some Mafia muscle on how to properly react to Chuuya’s distress, and there was no guarantee that Chuuya could keep his control over Corruption in his current state.

The third fit woke Dazai from a nap just after sunset. Regardless, he was at his place (the side of the bed) no slower than before, just as alert as if he had awake the whole time.

He worried his bottom lip with his teeth, eyeing the scant inches between Chuuya and the edge of the bed before deciding to take the blankets he had reserved for his own bedding and using them to pad the floor around Chuuya. It would be a waste of Mafia resources for Chuuya to get injured further and force the doctor to come back earlier than planned.

Dazai settled into a chair placed in the corner of the bed after the third episode. (A shorter distance between them would mean a faster reaction time, mitigating the chances of complications).

His gaze ran over Chuuya’s face, taking in how peaceful and still it looked in sleep, as he considered the last words the man had said to him before running off.

“You’re a monster.”

Monster.

It was a relative term.

To Kravinoff, and most of Iron Heel, Chuuya was a monster. To anyone who had stood in his way these past several years (and apparently to Chuuya), Dazai was a monster.

Dazai himself had never felt the need to use the term to describe others. Its overuse had rendered it useless. How could it have real meaning when an entire subset of humanity was labeled monstrous simply by virtue of how they were born?

Not even as he witnessed the aftermath of the Giftless had he felt that word accurate to describe them. He had seen a boy, barely a teenager, chained to a stake and used as a guard dog. Seen Gifted beaten by military police or half-starve themselves just so they could afford registration papers and a chance at employment. Thanks to the nature of his skill set, Dazai had thought he had seen the worst of what the Giftless were capable of. He had always felt there was nothing inherently monstrous about self-motivation, and the self-interests of the Gifted clinging to power was all society boiled down to.

Before now, he had never felt the need to use the term ‘monster’ because it had never felt apt.

It suited Marc Lemaire quite well.

The Chuuya Dazai had seen, huddled in a bathroom, resigned to death, had been a shell of the man who had ingrained himself into the Port Mafia. The spark of fire usually present in blue eyes had been completely gone, replaced with a look Dazai hadn’t seen since staring in the mirror right after Oda’s death.

Three days.

It had taken Dazai three days to organize a team to raid Lemaire’s hotel. If it weren’t for the riots, it would have taken weeks, and from where Dazai sat, Chuuya wouldn’t have been recoverable if he had been with Lemaire for much longer.

Usually, a part of Dazai could appreciate the skills of his enemy. It takes a certain finesse to break down a man like Chuuya in such a brief time. To see the work of months, completely unraveled, had been a gut blow for Dazai. To hear a man who had fought tooth and nail for survival within the Port Mafia, to hear him ask for death left a bitter taste in Dazai’s mouth.

He needed copper to wash it away.

Sitting in the dark, watching Chuuya at his most vulnerable, Dazai felt like he was bearing witness to a truth he hadn’t been attentive enough to search for. He wasn't sure he had ever really seen Chuuya before he had walked into the bathroom in Lemaire’s extravagant hotel suite. Dazai simply didn’t have the time to get to know each of his subordinates on a personal level, and getting close to anyone was something he had avoided since Oda’s death. In order to do his job correctly, he simply needed to know who could be put to the best use in what areas, and it hadn’t taken long for him to get Chuuya’s measure.

Chuuya was intelligent; he picked things up quickly and thought fast on his feet. Dazai was able to send him on jobs where not all variables were accounted for, jobs where others might buckle under the pressure of needing to make spontaneous decisions. It was, perhaps, the only time when Chuuya’s impulsiveness was beneficial.

Chuuya was a people pleaser; Dazai had never been able to decide if that was a result of his environment or something that was inherent in the shorter man, but he hadn’t needed to decide in order to take advantage of such a trait. Chuuya went out of his way to make sure others were happy. There was part of him that had even been striving for Dazai’s approval (despite it being mostly out of spite), which was exactly why Dazai had withheld it for long.

Chuuya was loyal. That had been a potential problem when Dazai first brought Chuuya into the Port Mafia. The chances of Chuuya trying to run off, back to where he came from, led to careful monitoring during his first month in the organization. It was why Dazai had made sure Kouyou had few long-term missions during that time, he wanted her around Chuuya as often as possible to foster a relationship Chuuya wouldn’t have been able to betray. It was why Dazai had manufactured the ambush of Chuuya’s first mission. It was why Dazai had only needed a few minutes alone to convince Chuuya that staying with Lemaire was counterproductive to Chuuya’s real goals.

Self-centered, perhaps, wasn’t the most accurate term for Chuuya’s belief that he was influential enough to stop the flood of conflict now rushing through Yokohama. Naive might be the better choice, and the idea that returning to Lemaire’s grasp would stem the current tide of violence was so childish that Dazai had been tempted to let Chuuya stay there and learn the truth behind his folly the hard way. It hadn’t been a thought Dazai entertained for long (the information Chuuya could potentially leak was too damning to let him stay there), but it had flitted through his mind.

But through it all, Dazai had missed the truth behind Chuuya.

He had seen Chuuya exactly the way the Giftless wanted him to: as the pinnacle of Gifted subjugation. Dazai had looked at Chuuya and seen a man who spent seventeen years bending a knee and kissing the feet of the elite of society, without a care about anything more than the comfort of his own life. Someone who had thrown out his pride and believed so thoroughly in the lie of his existence that he could never truly be invested in the future the Port Mafia strode towards.

There were few things Dazai had ever been so wrong about.

Dazai had been staring into a mirror (perhaps one that was cracked in a few places but a mirror nonetheless), studying the reverse image of himself.

He had been introduced to a man who walked around with as many (if not more) masks as Dazai juggled on a daily basis. Someone who hadn’t been able to be honest with himself, or with the world, since his childhood was ripped away from him. Someone who committed himself to those masks so completely that not even Dazai had been able to see past them until they had been forcibly stripped away by someone else’s hand.

Dazai’s mind cast back to his conversation with Kouyou, more than half a year ago, when he had been sitting across from her in front of Yokohama’s skyline. He remembered the guarded look in her eyes, the way she had almost hesitated before speaking:

“He spent seventeen years under that man’s thumb.”

He remembered being unamused by her apparent need to point out the obvious. After all, if anyone knew what circumstances Chuuya had come from, other than Chuuya himself, it would have been Dazai. Dazai had been introduced to Chuuya and his background almost as soon as he joined the Port Mafia, placed in charge of monitoring Mori’s potential pet project. He had kept careful watch of Chuuya as he traveled from country to country on the heels of the most powerful businessman in the world. Dazai was the only one who had read the dozens of pages of files he had paid (exorbitantly) for, delivered courtesy of Fitzgerald and The Guild. It was Dazai, by himself, that had made the trip to see the potential new recruit in action, had watched how Chuuya worked a room with a smile and a wink.

Dazai had told Kouyou just as much in the most concise manner he could imagine, had told Kouyou that he was aware of Chuuya’s background. He had been puzzled by her response:

“No, I don’t think you are, Dazai.”

Now, Dazai could understand how much Kouyou had been trying to convey in that moment. How Chuuya was holding together by a thread, was frantically trying to keep his pieces from shattering any smaller, how the fact that he was able to adapt so rapidly to the Port Mafia was nothing less than a miracle.

Kouyou had warned Dazai that she might not be able to salvage Chuuya if Dazai broke him. And wasn’t that just what Dazai had done?

He had anticipated, on some level, that Chuuya might be reckless enough to try and turn himself in. (Chuuya had threatened as much not long ago). Dazai had put watchers on Chuuya, had been surprised but not overly concerned about their reports when Chuuya somehow slipped their surveillance. It wasn’t until Dazai got word from one of the Giftless he had working undercover that he sprang into action. If Dazai had been so compelled, he could have made sure Chuuya didn’t step foot outside of headquarters until the mess with the executions had blown over. But he had turned his attention elsewhere, had effectively allowed Chuuya to walk right back to a monster.

Staring at Chuuya now, Dazai wondered if the man had it in him to pull himself together one more time.

Dazai had been able to tug a bit of a spark from Chuuya in that bathroom. Had been able to push now familiar buttons in order to get Chuuya to snap at him, but there hadn’t been a true bite to Chuuya’s words. They had lacked the conviction they were usually laced with. When Chuuya had allowed himself to be ushered out of the bathroom, it had been more of an act of resignation than an act of defiance against Lemaire. It had been hollow.

Regrets were useless for a man like Dazai.

If he spent time dwelling on the mistakes he had made, he wouldn’t be able to perform with the ruthlessness his goals required. If he let himself get bogged down in guilt, nothing would ever be accomplished. If, when blue eyes blinked open, Chuuya was beyond repair, Dazai would make his peace with that.

He would have to.

But, if Chuuya was able to pull on one last mask. Able to straighten his back and pretend he was unshaken by the events of the last week. Dazai planned to take advantage of the knowledge now laid bare before him.

He leaned back in his seat, dropping his attention to the phone that had been limp in his hands as he puzzled through the man asleep on the bed. There were new plans he wanted to put in place, pans that hinged on Chuuya proving Dazai’s new theory correct, proving that he was the other side of the coin that Dazai had burned his presence onto.

If Chuuya could do that. He was a man that Dazai could respect.

Chapter Text

The small apartment was certainly not where Chuuya had anticipated ending up. From where he stood, leaning against the wall next to the bed, this looked like the type of place where normal people lived. The place where a man came back home to after a day at his average job, one that involved sitting in rush hour for his morning commute and then sitting at the desk of his cubicle for eight hours before setting back off into traffic to end his day. It was not a place for something like Chuuya.

A chair sat in the corner of the room, with a single blanket draped over the back of it, indicating that someone had slept there. It was likely the same someone now making noises from beyond the barrier of the wooden door at the side of the room. Possibilities filtered through Chuuya’s head, each one making him equally nauseous as he considered the identity of the other person present.

Kouyou would be soft looks and gentle touches, no doubt having pried a full report on Chuuya’s state from whatever doctor had tended to the worst of his wounds so she could visualize his last few days. Chuuya didn’t think he could hold himself together in the face of such sorrow (or worse, pity).

He could, perhaps, handle Hirotsu. The older man had become a quiet pillar of mentor-ship since Chuuya had remembered their history. But, sometimes, Hirotsu’s eyes would gaze at Chuuya with solemnity, as if he was comparing Chuuya to his parents, to what Chuuya might have been if they had lived. Chuuya had done a bit of research, had found scraps of reports that mentioned his parents, information that painted a picture of two forces of nature that would likely be ashamed to see how their son had ended up.

That left Dazai.

Chuuya’s fingers absently fiddled with the buttons of the Mafia boss’ jacket, still the only thing that covered his bare form. The weight was an odd comfort, as if it represented the full support of its owner, as if the fierce cleverness that commanded an entire organization rested in its folds and could protect the wearer. It was naivete to think Dazai had any actual interest in keeping Chuuya safe, but in the rawness of his current vulnerability, Chuuya selfishly clung to the idea even as he took off the jacket and laid it on the bed.

Settled on the bedside table were his own clothes, from the hat all the way to the choker. Chuuya pulled on the pieces slowly, deep in thought.

In some ways, Dazai being outside this room was the best outcome.

During those moments, alone in the bathroom, the disparity between the two of them had been clear. Chuuya: nude, defenseless, shackled to his subservience to the Giftless, seated at the feet of Dazai who was clothed in the sleek lines of an expensive suit, the chaos of his vendetta against the Giftless echoing at his back. Dazai wasn’t the kind of man who need to reassert his authority because it clung around him, a cloak of darkness and power that was all but tangible. It meant Dazai likely wouldn’t bring that moment up, and even if it hung in the air between them, Chuuya could pretend to ignore its implications.

On the other hand, Chuuya wasn’t sure how he could face Dazai after revealing how truly pathetic he was. He didn’t know if he could stomach that cool disdain when he knew his bravado would no longer be convincing.

Chuuya’s fingers brushed over the choker, and he felt bile rise to his throat.

Before, the weight around his neck had been comforting in its familiarity. Now, just the thought of it pressing his throat made his skin crawl. He shifted his reach and picked up the gloves, pulling them on as he turned his back on the table, leaving choker, hat, and jacket untouched.

Squaring his shoulders, Chuuya left the bedroom and stepped straight into the main room of the apartment. A small table sat to his right, in front of a cold fireplace. To his left was a kitchen, and smells floated from pans, helpfully reminding Chuuya how he had been starved.

“Sit down before you fall over. The food will be ready soon.” The dry comment was spoken without Dazai bothering to look at Chuuya, the taller man’s attention fixed on his phone.

Chuuya dragged his gaze from the stove-top to the side of Dazai’s face that was visible, trying to find answers in the profile alone, “You can cook?”

The Mafia boss glanced at Chuuya, and he realized (with a start) that the usual bandage covering Dazai’s right eye wasn’t present. Dazai’s uncovered stare was uneven, but the intense focus that radiated from his gaze made Chuuya wonder if the gray eye was truly blind, “I do have to eat. Sit down.”

There was no real bite to the order, making it sound like it was a request more than anything else. It put Chuuya even more off-balance, and he moved to the table, still trying to wrap his head around the image of Dazai cooking. More specifically, Dazai voluntarily cooking for him, as if Dazai had ever actually done something for another person in his life, “Well, yes, I just assumed you ate takeout.”

“You hardly know anything about me.” Came the wry response, “I learned when I was a child, before I joined the ADA.”

And now Chuuya’s mind was trying to imagine Dazai as a child. It was hard enough to picture Dazai in the Armed Detective Agency, even considering he had seen photographic evidence, to see him less jaded and more willing to compromise. Conjuring up a vague image of Dazai as a child was nearly impossible. It stunned Chuuya into silence, and he resorted to watching efficient movements as Dazai finished in the kitchen and brought the food to the table.

The smell wafting from the dishes was mouth-watering, and Chuuya picked up his chopsticks before glancing at Dazai curiously.

A single eyebrow rose, “You don’t need permission to eat, Chuuya.”

Heat rose on Chuuya’s cheeks and he dropped the two-toned stare to focus on the food. He ate at a measured pace, more than familiar with the perils of gorging oneself after being starved. He wasn’t sure his state of hunger made him an objective critic, but everything was delicious, and it made him question Dazai even more. It was one thing to know how not to die of hunger, it was another to know how to make good meals, and the history evident in each bite reminded Chuuya that even someone like Dazai had been sculpted into who was today from something else entirely.

When he had worked his way through one serving, Chuuya slowed down, forcing himself to let the food settle. It was then that he noticed that, despite the earlier acerbic comment, Dazai hadn’t touched any of the food. Instead, his attention was split between the sleek smartphone Chuuya had seen him with before, and what appeared to be a burner phone.

“How long was I asleep?” Chuuya asked.

“A little over a day.”

Chuuya frowned, “But why are you here? Don’t you have…things to do?”

More than once, Dazai had reminded Chuuya that, as the boss of the Port Mafia, he had much more to deal with than Chuuya’s minute problems. It didn’t make sense why Dazai would be here, overseeing Chuuya’s recovery, when he could order any number of members to take his place, when he likely was needed for more crucial matters at headquarters.

“I’m working remotely,” Dazai said, his face carefully blank as he avoided touching on the heart of Chuuya’s question. Though it remained unspoken, Chuuya knew that Dazai was aware of the real weight behind Chuuya’s curiosity, “The city is on martial law right now, to try and stem the unrest.”

“Unrest?”

“Riots. Over the executions. They provided the cover needed for me to stage such a quick rescue for you.”

Chuuya nodded thoughtfully, his gaze flicking to the window that was boarded shut. That would explain the reason for the precaution. If he listened closely, he thought he could make out sirens in the distance. He had heard them as he sat in the bathroom of that hotel, but had been too occupied to wonder at their frequency.

“Last time you thanked me.”

The comment was soft, musing, and Chuuya wasn’t quite sure the context. He looked back at Dazai, “What?”

“The last time I saved you from yourself, you thanked me. Admittedly, you were thanking me for saving Kyouka, but there was gratitude nonetheless.” Dazai tilted his head, eyes scanning Chuuya’s face as if he was trying to read Chuuya’s thoughts, “The first time you tried to punch me. What will it be this time, Chuuya? I believe this situation warrants the former.”

“I won’t thank you for something you did purely out of self-interest.”

A smile flickered across Dazai’s face, there and gone in an instant, just long enough for Chuuya to notice and wonder what he had done to draw it out, “I have a theory about humanity. It states that all humans are deceptive, most unconsciously so as they deceive out of a desire to be accepted. It takes continual abuse at the hands of the world for one to see the true demons within their fellow humans. Only at that point, does one shed their own deceptions to express their own demons.”

The words floated over Chuuya, their meaning almost lost in the revelation of the sincerity with which they were spoken. Chuuya wondered if he had ever heard Dazai be this honest, this open, before. It set him on guard. Dazai wasn’t benevolent. He didn’t give without expecting, without demanding, something in return, and Chuuya didn’t want to know what this honest look into the man’s mind would cost him.

Chuuya ran his gaze over Dazai’s face, evaluating and picking apart the words of Dazai’s theory. They sounded akin to what a dissolutionist author might spout, phrases that were meant to flow over a piece of paper more than drip from the lips of a borderline sociopath.

“So what?” he finally said. “All people are monsters and you’ve been hurt enough to be ‘enlightened’ and let your true nature shine through? Charming as usual, Dazai.”

This time, the smile stayed. It was slow and secretive with a spark of…something glittering in a single brow eye.

“My point, Chuuya, is that you have seen the demons within people for years, in fact, you have seen more than most. You see it, and chose to ignore it in some, in people like Kouyou and Kyouka, in Hirotsu and Gin, in yourself. You’re clinging so desperately to those facades even when you have none left to hide behind.” His eyes meaningfully trailed to Chuuya’s bare neck, “you would rather be seen as a pet than to acknowledge the demons within yourself.”

Chuuya scowled, the last thing he was in the mood for was to delve into a philosophical debate with this bandaged bastard, “I’m perfectly aware that I’m a monster. Some of us want to control that side of ourselves, not flaunt it.”

A soft chuckle left Dazai’s lips, “I’m not referring to Corruption, I’m referring to Nakahara Chuuya.” The Mafia boss leaned back in his chair, “there is an interesting pattern in your work that I have been studying for some time now.”

“Enlighten me,” Chuuya muttered into his teacup.

“When I would send you to attack those who were guilty only by association; those who were manipulated or strong-armed into aiding the interests of those who control the Deviant system, you were quick, efficient. Your reports were methodical and completely detached, there were few details other than what was absolutely necessary. When I sent you on missions to handle those directly involved, the ones who benefit and thrive off of Gifted subjugation, you slaughtered them. At first, I assumed it was your misguided sense of righteousness at play but now I wonder how slowly, how deliberately you would take apart Lemaire. How crazed your eyes would look, how long you would prolong his torture. How thoroughly you would wipe out those under his thumb, even the ones just as powerless as you had been.” Dazai’s smile widened, taking on a malicious edge, “what do you think?”

Chuuya’s knuckles were white, reflecting the harsh grip he had on his cup, and he swallowed heavily, “I think you want something from me. I think you’re trying to rile me up for something.” He took a steadying breath and put his cup down, his gaze falling to the table as he finally admitted the truth that had plagued him since turned himself in, “I’m not like you, Dazai. I’m not like anyone in the Mafia. None of them would be weak enough for…for that to happen to them. I don’t belong in your organization.”

“Fair enough.”

The simple acceptance made Chuuya’s stomach churn. He had expected some sort of resistance from Dazai, if only because Chuuya might still be useful. But if Dazai was so readily willing to let Chuuya go, it meant that Chuuya had no more worth for the Port Mafia at all, and it stung more than he had expected it to.

“If that’s what you want, I can provide you with a false identity and enough resources to flee Japan and disappear forever. However, my services are not free. I have one condition.”

Reluctantly, Chuuya brought his eyes back up to meet Dazai’s gaze, “what?”

“Before you vanish, I want you to kill Marc Lemaire for me.”

 


 

Dazai could see the exact moments his words sank in.

It was simple to track the shift that overtook the hat rack as he realized the full weight of what Dazai requested. Chuuya froze: his breath caught in his throat, his eyes wide and locked on Dazai’s, his entire body taunt from head-to-toe as if he was one loud movement away from bolting for the door.

It was exactly the reaction Dazai had anticipated and he gathered his thoughts. How he preceded from here would determine if his planning would be wasted or if it would bear fruit.

“Marc Lemaire is more than a man, he’s a representation of an ideal,” Dazai said, voice light and airy as if he didn’t particularly care whether or not Chuuya agreed to this deal, “he is the epitome of Giftless supremacy, so simply killing him would make him a martyr. However, having the infamous Nakahara Chuuya kill him, having him begging and pleading for mercy from the Deviant he spent an entire lifetime trying to break, would destroy his reputation of unwavering strength. The name Lemaire would have no more credibility, it would ruin the corporation and ruin the support Iron Heel has.”

Halfway through his explanation, Chuuya started breathing again. Chuuya’s breath was slow, deliberate, as he hung onto Dazai’s every word.

When Dazai finished talking, Chuuya shook his head slightly, “You make it sound like I’m the only person who can make this work.”

“You are,” Dazai replied without hesitation, keeping his gaze locked on Chuuya, trying to force the shorter man to come to terms with how much he was a pivotal card in this entire game.

Dazai could ruin Lemaire without Chuuya.

It would involve months of work, of slowly dismantling the Lemaire Corporation and Iron Heel until Lemaire was sent scurrying for help with his tail between his legs. But that way was more likely to fail, had too many opportunities for Lemaire to catch onto Dazai’s play and to counter effectively (and Dazai had been forced to admit a grudging respect for the man’s abilities). This was the only way Dazai could guarantee Lemaire would be crushed, would be utterly incapable of salvaging the decades of work put in by him and his father before him.

“In order for this to work correctly, I need you, Chuuya.”

“That’s not fair,” Chuuya said, now his body was trembling slightly but he didn’t look any less likely to bolt at the wrong word.

Feigning innocence, Dazai frowned and tilted his head. He knew it wasn’t fair. He was preying on Chuuya’s vulnerability, manipulating Chuuya’s need to fit in, to be useful, exposing every chink he could find in Chuuya’s armor, “I don’t follow.”

“You can’t say shit like that. Not you of all people. You don’t need anyone, and I’m not stupid enough to think otherwise.”

The response started softly, Chuuya’s voice wavering, and slowly grew in volume until it was the same heated, passionate retort that was more typical of their conversations. Until it echoed the spark and the fire that had tugged at Dazai’s interest every time Chuuya directed that spirit at him, forcing Dazai to admit that he had become much more invested in Chuuya than he had in any of his previous ‘projects’.

Chuuya wasn’t finished, “I just told you that I’m not like you, and I don’t want to be like you. I don’t want to be some empty shell that ignores the implications of their actions, that can step on people and ruin their lives without care. That’s exactly who Lemaire is; I didn’t live through a life at his beck and call to end up being just like him.”

In other circumstances, Dazai would tear through Chuuya’s argument.

He would point out the numerous differences between himself and Lemaire, point out the fundamental contradictions in how they interacted with Chuuya. He would make Chuuya regret moving his lips to form the words of comparison.

But today, Dazai merely shrugged, “I’m not asking you to be like me, or like him. I don’t have any use for someone like that. I’m asking you to be yourself. I need the man who bowed and refused to be cowed, the man who was able to mask his true nature of defiance under a mask of subservience. I need you to be the smoking gun, Chuuya; trust me to aim correctly.”

“Trust you?” The two words were mixed with mirth, and Chuuya burst into laughter. It was manic, and tinged with fear, and racked through the man’s small frame. Chuuya’s eyes were still wide, fixed at Dazai as if afraid that when he looked away he would miss Dazai’s mask slipping, “why the fuck would I trust you?”

“You trusted me not long ago, when you followed that note without being compelled, when you used Corruption at my indication even though you had a friend in harm’s way.” Dazai pushed himself forward, onto his feet in a burst of movement that caught Chuuya completely off-guard. His hand snaked out to grab Chuuya’s wrist, and he noted that (once again) Chuuya didn’t flinch at the contact like he had been prone to do when they first met. Instead, Chuuya let Dazai drag him to his feet, until they were both leaning over the table, food forgotten between them.

Chuuya’s laughter caught in his throat, and Dazai could feel his heart pounding through the veins in his wrist. This close, their breath intermingled, and Dazai could feel the small tremors that still rode through Chuuya’s body. He could see Chuuya’s pupils dilate slightly, and if Dazai wasn’t a man on a mission he would be more than tempted to pursue the line of thought that flickered to the front of his mind for the first time in what felt like years.

Dropping his voice so it was a murmur, one so soft that Chuuya needed to hold his own breath in order to hear, Dazai said, “Tell me this, do you trust that I want to completely, utterly, destroy Lemaire and Iron Heel?”

After a moment, Chuuya nodded.

Dazai smirked. With just that concession, Chuuya had unknowingly let Dazai win, “And do you trust that I would have never asked you to do this if you weren’t my best option?”

Another nod.

“And remind me, chibi, how many times have I gone out of my way to save your ass when it was endangered through no fault of my own?”

Blue eyes narrowed slightly, and Dazai wasn’t sure if it was in reaction to the mocking reference to Chuuya’s height or the implication that Chuuya constantly needed to be saved. He waited until Chuuya let out a huff of irritation (their proximity making it so that hot air brushed against Dazai’s face), “Two times. Perhaps three if you count my initial extraction.”

“Three,” Dazai replied, voice firm and brokering no room for argument, “and let’s not forget that you willingly joined the Port Mafia after that extraction. You handed in no resignation and you were not dismissed when you turned yourself into Iron Heel, which makes that action not just insubordination but borderline treason. I don’t have to ask you to do anything, I could have you detained until I manipulated you into doing it anyway.” Dazai let the harsh edge in his voice fade away as he continued, “I’m not asking you to trust me, I’m asking you to trust that, if you let go of that tight hold on your demons, I will make sure you destroy the correct people. Instead of completely suppressing your true nature, let me worry about who you hurt and who you kill. I am offering to carry that burden on your behalf.”

He straightened slightly, pulling his face away from Chuuya’s so there was a more respectable distance between them, giving Chuuya the illusion of having space to think through his offer, “It is quite the deal. You get to let go, to extract repayment for the hell he put you through, and I get Lemaire dead and his organization wiped from existence. What do you say?”

 


 

As Dazai’s words wrapped around him, the promises of death and destruction somehow coated in sugar and laced with honey, Chuuya was strongly reminded of the first moment he had glimpsed the true nature hidden behind calculated smiles and bold threats. Just a few seconds of that truth, flashed in the dark of the balcony of a hotel room when they were two strangers, standing at the precipice of what had turned into a tumultuous ride of mistrust and manipulation, Chuuya had seen just enough to know that he should fear Dazai. He had seen a man who had absolutely nothing to lose, a man who didn’t fear death in the slightest, who was ready and willing for the destruction he bathed in to one day devour him whole.

During his time in the Port Mafia, Chuuya often wondered how many of the other members had seen just an inkling of this truth. How many of them knew the accuracy of Dazai’s moniker - The Demon Prodigy. He wondered how Dazai could be so ruthless and so callous while still somehow playing like he had any semblance of his humanity left.

But now, inches away from Dazai, staring up into one brown eye and one gray eye, there were no more masks between them.

Dazai knew the true extent of Chuuya’s self-loathing, of his weakness, and Dazai still thought there was something worthwhile in Chuuya, that there was something worth the effort he was putting in. Chuuya had always understood the true extent of Dazai’s depravity, but now it was shoved down his throat, it was exposed and worn proudly like some sort of medal.

And it should scare him now, just like it did when they first met. He should be ripping away from Dazai’s touch, stumbling over his feet in his haste to put as much space between them as possible. Instead, Chuuya drank it in, trying not to let it intoxicate him.

The words that Dazai spoke calmed the tremors that had worked through Chuuya’s body. They hinted at a compromise Chuuya had never known he needed; the ability to unleash the true extent of his hatred for those that had made him what he was without worrying about getting carried away.

The terror that had laced through him at the idea of killing Marc Lemaire had somehow been soothed, and Chuuya didn’t want to dwell on how fucked up it was that Dazai had been able to chase his concerns away in the way that he had.

He didn't quite know what to feel about the fact that Dazai had read him so easily, had been able to figure out that Chuuya hadn’t been terrified of Lemaire at that moment, he had been terrified of himself.

Ever since first using it, Corruption was always at the back of Chuuya's mind. It felt like a lurking beast, just waiting for Chuuya to let his guard down so it could swallow everyone, and everything, in its path. And it was Dazai that had pointed out that Chuuya and Corruption were not separate entities, that what Chuuya did under its influence did not make Chuuya blameless. It was Dazai’s simple correction in the infirmary room that had sent Chuuya into this downward spiral, into Lemaire’s waiting arms.

Because if he and Corruption were one and the same, that meant that Chuuya couldn’t ignore the savage rush of vindication he had felt during some jobs when he had ended the lives of those that took pleasure in causing the Gifted to suffer. The glee with which he remembered killing the men in the facility that held Kyouka hostage was no longer something he could shove off as a side effect of his monstrous ability. It was all a part of Chuuya.

He had spent the time between the executions and when he turned himself in trying to pick apart the distinction between his ability and his personality until he realized there was no clear line. Horrified at the idea of losing any shred of humanity he had left, of turning into the beast that people Kravinoff saw when they looked at him, Chuuya had turned to Lemaire as a solution.

Lemaire wouldn’t send Chuuya out on mission. Wouldn’t let Chuuya explore the monstrous side of himself, because Lemaire would want to have total control. It had seemed like the best possible option; Chuuya didn’t trust himself anymore, didn’t want to know what would happen if he one day snapped and lost himself in bloodlust.

But here was Dazai, offering to pick and choose who would get burned when Chuuya gave up control over that fire inside his skin. Dazai was offering to be the level head, to point Chuuya’s rage and to temper it back when the job was done. It was a tempting offer.

Chuuya didn’t trust Dazai.

He couldn’t trust Dazai, not with their history, not with the knowledge of how singularly Dazai was focused on his goals. However, if it was just this one time, just long enough for Chuuya to murder the man who had reduced him to near nothingness, perhaps Chuuya could trust in Dazai’s mission.

Chuuya let his eyes flutter shut, not wanting to see the smirk of victory that would curl over Dazai’s lips as he said, “Fine. I’ll kill Lemaire.”

The hand around his wrist vanished, and Chuuya could hear Dazai pulling himself completely away from him, “Thank you, Chuuya.”

And wasn’t that just representative of how twisted the entire situation was? That Dazai was thanking Chuuya for this, as if Dazai was the one who needed to see Lemaire dead, as if Dazai was the one who wasn’t going to be truly free until the threat of Lemaire was gone from the world forever. That Chuuya had needed to be talked into murdering the object of his torture, that despite his reluctance Chuuya could already feel excitement coursing through his veins in anticipation of what he had just agreed to do.

When he was confident he had himself under control, Chuuya blinked his eyes open again to meet Dazai’s gaze, “Once he’s dead, we’re finished. I want out of the Port Mafia, and I want you to provide me the papers to leave Japan.”

Dazai held out his hand, and Chuuya clasped it as they shook in agreement. Dazai’s face was back to its carefully crafted disguise, to the facade of calm and self-control, but there was an air of sincerity as he said, “You have my word.”

Chapter Text

The silence in the car was thick with tension.

Chuuya hadn’t felt this nervous preparing for a job since his first mission with Kouyou, and he was sure he had been more confident than he was now. He glanced to his side, taking in the completely relaxed posture of the Port Mafia boss as Dazai drove them further away from the city. Chuuya was once again struck with the thought that Dazai was insane.

He had voiced concern several times over the past week. With the two of them locked in the one bedroom apartment with no one else for company and nothing to do but work on plans for this particular night, Chuuya had plenty of time to second-guess each phase of the mission.

When Dazai had proposed the idea of Chuuya killing Lemaire, Chuuya had envisioned some sort of operation reminiscent in size to the one that had been put together for Kyouka’s extraction. Instead, he was informed it would be a two-man team, consisting of himself and Dazai, taking on an entire organization that specialized in fighting ability users. Despite Dazai ‘s reassurances that backup would be close by, that Iron Heel was unprepared to combat Corruption, that none of the plans he had personally overseen for the Mafia had ever failed, Chuuya couldn’t chase away the butterflies in his stomach. His hands had been clenched in his lap the whole drive, and Chuuya was desperately aching for them to arrive because at least when he was under Corruption he wouldn’t have to worry about making any mistakes that might ruin the plan.

Gin was a silent presence in the backseat, her own attention on the passing countryside. She had arrived at the safe house just after sundown, her curiosity about the whole situation immediately noticeable even if she was too good of a subordinate to come out and ask questions. Her reaction to the plan had only served to double Chuuya’s nerves:

“Just the two of you against all of Iron Heel?” She repeated, brows drawing together as she considered her boss.

“Well, not all of Iron Heel. Most of the organization is still at their base in France. We will be going against every soldier present at their Japanese base tonight.” Dazai corrected, tone light-hearted as he discussed a potential suicide run, "The timing is key, I just received word that Lemaire arrived to discuss their next steps in dealing with Yokohama. If we don't strike first, Iron Heel will be coming after the Port Mafia."

Gin glanced from Dazai to study Chuuya, her eyes scanning his frame (checking to see if he was in fighting condition) before she tilted her head just slightly to the side. Since Gin wasn’t necessarily talkative, Chuuya had quickly learned to read her facial expressions, at the moment she was asking if he was okay with the plan

Chuuya gave a slight jerk of his head, just enough to indicate ‘yes’. He wasn’t thrilled at the idea, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to back out now, not after a whole week planning it. If it went well, Chuuya would be able to start a normal life somewhere else. If I didn’t go as planned, he’d probably end up dead and wouldn’t have to worry about being a chess piece in Dazai and Lemaire’s game any longer.

She shifted her attention to Dazai, “I always defer to your judgment, boss. If I won’t be a part of the attack, what will my role be?”

Dazai picked up the small camcorder sitting on the table and passed it to her, “Documentation, for posterity. I want the world to know that Iron Heel was destroyed by an army of two. You can keep yourself alive when Chuuya lets loose and unlike some of the others I don’t have to worry about you rushing into the fight.”

“You want me there to record the attack?”

“Exactly. And we’re leaving now.”

Less than two hours had passed since that conversation, and with each mile they put between themselves and the heart of the city, Chuuya regretted agreeing to this plan just a bit more.

The car crested a small hill, revealing the party’s destination. Dazai had been tight-lipped about where exactly they would be attacking. By all accounts, Iron Heel hadn’t been active in Japan before Kravinoff’s arrival in Yokohama leading Chuuya to question why they already had an established base (and how Dazai even knew about it).

Now, as the tall gray walls of the compound rose into view, Chuuya understood Dazai’s silence.

“This is…” he trailed off, not sure what word to use.

‘My home’ didn’t feel right. Having spent most of his life without a single memory of this place, the concept of it being ‘home’ didn’t fit. Chuuya didn’t have a home, not really.

‘Where I grew up’ was inaccurate as well. While Chuuya had grown up in a compound, it was located in Lyon and the walls around the French estate were wrought metal rather than sleek gray concrete. It had a gate to establish the owner’s distinction above the masses, not to protect its contents from persecution.

“Haven,” Dazai supplied, “that’s what your parents named it when they left the Port Mafia. They founded the community as a safe place for the Gifted to go, they even managed to get licenses and immunity for its members so Japanese authorities couldn’t harass anyone who lived within the walls. Ironic, isn’t it?”

“Not the word I would use,” Chuuya muttered, scanning the walls. Viewing them from the outside made his gut churn, as if the child in him didn’t understand why Chuuya had left the compound to begin with, “When did they do this?”

“As soon as they found you. For several years, Mori and Hirotsu assumed you died with the rest because Iron Heel took over the compound almost immediately. Since it is out of the city and officials turned a blind eye to the massacre of Gifted civilians, the organization used this as a training ground for new recruits and the base for their activities in Yokohama.”

Dazai pulled off the road and stopped the car a kilometer away from the base. Security was lax; a few guards had noticed the car but none of them seemed to deem it a threat. Dazai’s attention fixed on Chuuya, his eye narrowed as he studied Chuuya’s face, no doubt searching for any hint of trouble, “Are you ready?”

“It’s too late for me to turn back now.”

Slender shoulders lifted in a shrug, “We could turn around if you’d like, but then you wouldn’t be able to worm your way out of your commitment to the Mafia.”

A lifetime of following Dazai’s orders (and given who Dazai was, likely a short lifetime) or just one more night. The choice was obvious.

Without another word, Chuuya carefully tugged the gloves from his fingers and placed them on the car seat. He slid out of the vehicle and shifted all of his focus on the compound, moving to it with even strides, looking for all the world like he was out for a stroll.

A shout of warning indicated that his tell-tale hair had been recognized and Chuuya raised a hand coated with red that glowed brightly in the darkness of the evening. The small group of guards outside the compound slammed into the ground, and in the next breath the crack of the security gate crumbling under the force of gravity shot through the rural area. An alarm sounded, as if in response to the crash of concrete and cloud of dust that rose in the air.

During his time on probation, Chuuya spent many hours trying to puzzle through Corruption with Kouyou’s help. His mentor had suggested tying a tangible command to his use of the ability in an attempt to give Chuuya more control.

The words rolled off his lips with ease, “Oh, Grantors of Dark Disgrace. Do not wake me again.”

His world shrank to the sound of his heartbeat; it thudded against his chest once, and then twice.

Darkness swallowed Chuuya whole.

 


 

Walking into the Iron Heel compound would have made a normal man lose the contents of his stomach.

There were bodies everywhere, the pale blue of the organization’s uniform revealing everything from the wounds that had ended their lives to the soils of bowels no longer under control. The putrid smell of death surrounded Dazai, trying to penetrate his unruffled facade as he effortlessly picked his way around the ruins of buildings and torn off limbs.

Behind him, Gin was carefully scanning the mess with the camcorder, sparing their eventual audience none of the details. Dazai hadn’t decided who would see the tapes, or what parts besides Lemaire’s death that would be released, but he wanted as much material chose from as possible, and Chuuya had provided it in spades.

Smoke swirled through the air, pricking at his eye, trying to make it water, and Dazai’s fingers curled tighter around the matchbox in his pocket. He hadn’t created an operation this risky since Mimic, and each hour he spent pouring over the plans with Chuuya had been a fight to convince himself he wasn’t underestimating his opponent again.

Preparation and power; those were the two factors Dazai had lacked when he took on Mimic solo, and he had paid dearly for it. Unlike that night, Dazai had spent years ferreting out every whisper of Iron Heel he could find, and Mori had made him study Lemaire as soon as he joined the Mafia. Dazai could only imagine the sinister smile that would have spread across his predecessor's face at the revelation that Lemaire and Iron Heel were one and the same.

As for the power, the moment Dazai had laid eyes on the destruction of the Red Brick Warehouse, he knew Chuuya was the missing piece he needed. With Dazai’s preparation and Chuuya’s power, Iron Heel didn’t stand a chance. The chaos around them, the number of bodies with weapons still holstered to their sides, was evidence of the fact.

Near the entrance of the compound, the only noise was the crackling of a pair of buildings on fire. Closer to the center of the compound, crashes still sounded, accompanied by demented laughter. Dazai slid around the side of a standing building, pausing in the shadows to survey the situation. From all he knew of Lemaire, Dazai had assumed the man would do his best to remain as far away from the fighting as possible, which would make him likely to be the last one alive.

Sure enough, his eye lit on an injured Kravinoff trying to distract Chuuya so Lemaire could escape.

“Make sure the man doesn’t get away. I want him alive.” Dazai said, voice just loud enough for Gin to pick out.

He didn’t spare the time to make sure his orders were followed, Dazai’s focus was entirely on the hat rack in front of him. Dazai fixed his eye on Chuuya’s right wrist and dashed out from behind the cover of the building. His fingers clamped around pale skin, completely encircling Chuuya’s arm and causing Chuuya’s entire body to freeze.

Blue light flashed, and the same hue returned to Chuuya’s gaze.

“Dazai? Did phase one go alright?”

“Just as planned,” Dazai replied, not sure if Chuuya would even remember having this discussion.

Chuuya nodded, “Oh, good.”

Wrapping an arm around Chuuya’s shoulder, Dazai caught the shorter man as he dropped into a faint and gently set him on the grass. He spared a look at Lemaire to make sure Gin had handled things on her end before turning to Kravinoff. The woman was sprawled on a set of steps, one leg bent in the wrong direction, nursing an injured arm. Her face was completely pale, her entire frame leaning away from the man currently unconscious on the ground.

Dazai took a step forward, pulling her attention to him, and graced her with a warm smile, “It’s good to see you again, miss. My condolences for the loss of your soldiers.”

 


 

Someone was crying.

It was the sound Chuuya latched onto when he regained his senses, and he let the whimpering pull him out of the pitch blackness of Corruption and into the real world.

When he blinked his eyes open, he was lying on a bed. It was pristine, the careful corners of the sheets suggesting its occupant had either a military or hospital background. The bed was one of the only clean things in sight. Chuuya’s body was covered in filth; dried blood was splattered across his clothing and soot blackened the tips of his fingernails. Just to his right, his gloves had been placed on the side of the bed, along with his hat and his jacket.

The crying hadn't stopped. Chuuya lifted his eyes from the bed to learn he wasn’t alone in the room. Across from him, kneeling on an identical bed with hands tied behind his back, and a gag across his mouth, was Lemaire.  Gray eyes met Chuuya’s without flinching, and even though the man’s mouth was covered with black fabric, Chuuya could envision the sneer that was on his lips.

His gaze shifted again, to the section of the room closer to the door. On either side of the entrance were two desks (giving Chuuya the impression this was a standard dorm for Iron Heel trainees). Bound to a simple wooden chair was Talya Kravinoff, her silver hair was fighting against its braid, some of it dyed a ruddy brown no doubt from the cut on her forehead. Her uniform was ripped in places and burned in others and she was hunched over, her shoulders shaking, as she tried to quiet her sobs.

Leaning against the desk opposite, face completely blank in the face of her misery, was Dazai. His ankles were crossed, giving him the appearance of a man lounging, and his hands were occupied idly, cleaning under his nails with a dagger.

Sometime between when Chuuya had left the car and now, Dazai had shed his blazer and his scarf. His black shirt pressed against his body, providing evidence of where it had been splattered with blood even if the colors didn’t show. His bandages were speckled with red, but Chuuya couldn’t find any indication that Dazai himself had been injured. He looked, for all the world, like Iron Heel had laid down at his feet and died. The cold smile that played around his lips was almost enough to frighten Chuuya.

“You’re awake,” Dazai said, not turning his gaze from Kravinoff, but clearly directing the statement at Chuuya. “Give me a few moments to finish with her and it will be your turn.”

“Okay.”

“Unless…” Dazai mused, pushing himself off the desk and grabbing Kravinoff’s chin. He tugged it up so she was meeting his gaze, “unless Talya would prefer being questioned by you.”

A violent shudder racked through Kravinoff’s body, “I told you everything I know! Keep him away from me!”

Chuuya blinked at the reaction, and burst into laughter. The idea that this woman was, somehow, more terrified of him than of Dazai was ridiculous. She had seen Chuuya when he belonged to Lemaire, had personally beaten him into unconsciousness, she knew that Chuuya was tamable. Dazai would rather cut off his own hands than fall subservient to the Giftless. No matter what she said right now, there was no chance in hell that Dazai would let her leave alive, and he would likely take his time to savor her death.

When he had caught his breath, Chuuya slid off the bed and shoved his hands into his pockets, walking past Lemaire without a second glance to stand behind the woman, “Don’t worry, Kravinoff, I wouldn’t want to take the fun away from the boss.”

“Boss?” she repeated.

“I’ll be outside until you need me,” Chuuya continued, waiting just long enough for Dazai’s nod of confirmation before he slipped out of the room and onto the outdoor walkway that connected the dorms to each other.

He paused just at the edge of the wood, leaning against a beam for support, scanning what parts of the compound were still standing. Despite knowing that this was his childhood home, that this was where he was supposed to grow up, Chuuya had a hard time picturing what it was supposed to look like. His gaze fell on a large tree not far from his current position, lingering on the perfect circle that was cut from the center of the tree; he could vaguely remember the scarred face of Kravinoff’s father before the split second of unbridled rage that had rushed through his body before everything went black.

“Your ability is really powerful.”

Chuuya whirled, and felt the entire earth tilt to one side as his body protested the sharp movement after Corruption. He gripped onto the beam next to him, using a bit of gravity manipulation to keep his balance.

Gin was leaning against the wall of the building, next to the door, arms crossed over her chest, eyes gazing out across the compound.

“Uh, thanks?”

“When Dazai-san told me that it would be just the two of you destroying Iron Heel, I was a bit skeptical. I’d seen your ability before but it was just for a short time, and Ryuu had been backing you up. It's something else.”

Turning back around, Chuuya scanned the rest of the compound, taking in the extent of damage he had caused. More than a few buildings had collapsed entirely and near the entrance a fire was blazing. Bodies were strewn about the grass, and for a moment he remembered the sight of friends and family in the same positions.

“I find it interesting that you need the boss’ ability in order to take full advantage of your own.” Gin mused, pulling Chuuya’s attention back to her.

For once, there was no mask covering the bottom half of her face, but it was unreadable as ever. Gin look just as at ease with the death and destruction as Dazai had inside, and Chuuya wondered if he looked the same to an outsider. What did it mean that he could stomach the stench of death that clung around him? That he had murdered more than a hundred people in one and he couldn’t scrounge up a drop of remorse? For the first time, Chuuya wondered if he was capable of living a normal life.

“Maybe it just means my ability isn’t meant to be used more than once.” He replied, voicing a thought that had echoed in the dark recesses of his mind for weeks, “I’m just supposed to be a weapon of mass destruction, unleashed once and never used again. To be able to use this power repeatedly is insane.”

Gin’s lips curled into a wry smile, “I don’t think whatever causes some to have abilities and others not to have them gives a damn about how the world handles it. But, if there was some sort of higher power manipulating how this all works then it isn’t a coincidence that you met the one person alive who could manage your ability.”

The door to the bedroom opened, and Dazai stepped into the frame. His gaze immediately fell on Chuuya, “Ready?”

Chuuya pushed himself away from the beam he had been using for support and squared his shoulders, “Yes.”

“Good. Gin, make sure you keep the camera focused on Lemaire and Chuuya.”

“Yes, boss.” She pulled the small recorder from her pocket and followed the two men into the room.”

The chair holding Kravinoff had been pushed back against one of the desks, Chuuya only glanced at her long enough to see the jagged cut across her gut and the blood that pooled in her lap before he sought out the target of the entire night. Dazai had left Lemaire on the bed, and as Chuuya crossed to where his tormentor sat, he couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of the setup (no doubt chosen purposefully by Dazai).

Chuuya climbed onto the bed, kneeling opposite Lemaire. He reached across and pulled away the gag, dropping it onto the floor and sitting back on his heels with the same coy smile he had used whenever he was trying to sooth Lemaire’s wrath, “Did you miss me, monsieur?”

A smirk spread across Lemaire’s lips and he looked away from Chuuya to meet Dazai’s gaze, “Sending your new pet to do your dirty work, Dazai? I suppose it’s little wonder you were able to control Nakahara so well, you seem to have the same skill set that I possess.”

Dazai chuckled, “I would quite enjoy tearing you limb from limb but I believe that honor should belong to Chuuya.”

“Am I supposed to Nakahara is an equal party in this scheme?” Lemaire’s voice was laced with amusement, “I spent six years watching him spread his legs on command. He doesn’t have a single plan in that pretty head that wasn’t given to him by someone stronger.”

Chuuya was moving before he even realized it, the back of his hand crashing against Lemaire’s cheek with a vicious crack. His other hand shot out to grab the collar of an expensive dress shirt to keep the bastard upright, and Chuuya tugged it forward so Lemaire was balancing precariously on his knees, their faces just inches apart.

“I’ve dreamt of killing you for years, ever since the night I woke up in the hospital with your collar around my neck. The first night you forced yourself on me I imagined bashing your skull against the headboard. My sixteenth birthday, when you auctioned me off to your business partners, I wanted to take my salad fork and jab it in your eye.” Chuuya said, only barely managing to keep his voice from shaking as he spoke the thoughts he had tried his best to lock deep in his mind and ignore. They were the thoughts that would’ve gotten him killed long before he had a chance at freedom.

Hot air blew against Chuuya’s face as Lemaire let out a huff of laughter, “Do you think I wasn’t able to tell, Nakahara? No one knows you better than I do. I could read every thought you tried to mask with that smile of yours, but you were never strong enough to act on them. I doubt you are now.” Lemaire tilted his head to the side, the grin on his face smug, “Why do you think I never tried to take advantage of your ability? I was waiting until you were completely broken down, and I was willing to wait as long as it took.”

“And why is that?” Chuuya snarled, knowing he was being baited but not able to resist biting.

“You were my favorite pet project, mon petit oiseau,” Lemaire drawled, “all that power wrapped up in a pretty little package and collared at my feet. Why on earth would I be in a rush to send you into combat?”

Chuuya felt blood pounding in his ears; red was flooding across his vision in the face of Lemaire’s taunts. Chuuya was supposed to have Lemaire begging for his life right now, not throwing Chuuya’s insecurities back in his face, not expertly gaining the upper hand in a situation where he was powerless. With a harsh shove, Chuuya forced Lemaire onto his back and, without a care about the others in the room (or the camera aimed at the scene), Chuuya’s fingers flew to the buckle of Lemaire’s pants and undid them.

He could hardly hear whatever mocking comment came from the head of Iron Heel as he pulled out the blade sheathed at the small of his back. Chuuya reversed the dagger in his hand and glanced up, meeting Dazai’s gaze for a split second, wondering if Dazai would try to stop him. A smile was playing around Dazai’s lips as he watched, and he merely raised an eyebrow, giving Chuuya all the approval he needed before he stabbed the blade into Lemaire. The loud scream sent a jolt of adrenaline through Chuuya, expelling the lingering fatigue of Corruption, as he savagely castrated the man who had ruined his life.

Chuuya slid from between Lemaire’s legs until he was hovering over him (a complete reversal of the positions they had always held before) and placed one blood slicked hand around Lemaire’s jaw, forcing gray eyes to meet his own. With just his eyes, Chuuya made sure Lemaire could recognize the fact that he had pushed Chuuya too far, that Chuuya was finished being a toy, and that Chuuya was more than willing to draw out his death as long as he was capable of.

“Keep being a smart ass and I chop off your dick next,” Chuuya murmured, “and there’s nothing you can do to stop me, Marc. Your troops are all dead, your money has no weight here, and each snide comment you make is giving me more incentive to prolong this chat.”

Lemaire’s face was deathly pale and his whole body was trembling. Tears of pain ran down his cheeks and his teeth dug into his bottom lip, trying to stem whimpers of agony. He looked pathetic, and Chuuya had never felt more powerful in his life.

This was different from the false sense of power he had felt when he was an object of desire for the elite of society. It was different from the power he felt as he learned martial arts, as he used his skills to keep himself alive in missions. This power was intoxicating, and Chuuya thought he might become completely drunk on it.

Reaching down, Chuuya picked up his dagger and trailed it up the side of Lemaire’s pant leg, “While I have your attention, let’s talk about Iron Heel.”

In the end, Chuuya only kept Lemaire alive for less than an hour. As much as he wanted to savor the fear that was wrought in every line of the man’s body, to bask in the fact that he had reduced the monster of his childhood to tears, it wasn’t quite worth spending any more time in Lemaire’s presence than he had too. As soon as Chuuya’s dagger slit Lemaire’s neck, he was sliding off of the bed and turning his back on the scene, the soft gurgle of blood pouring from the wound already pushed from the forefront of his mind.

He listened as Dazai gave Gin instructions to call in the several Black Lizard squads that were waiting on standby to go through the compound for any additional information. Gin’s footsteps were silent as she strode out of the room to carry out her orders and the clang of Chuuya dropping his dagger on the wooden floor echoed in his skull.

A hand touched his shoulder; Chuuya glanced up to meet Dazai’s gaze, “You were great, Chuuya. It’s done”

The rare words of praise shot through Chuuya’s system, pushing away the haze of anger that had clouded his judgment in the face of Lemaire’s taunts and he took a shuddering breath. The moment of calm did nothing to dispel the electricity that still crackled under his skin, and Chuuya felt his arm moving of its own accord, reaching out to grip Dazai’s tie and tug the Mafia boss forward.

Surprise flickered over Dazai’s features, and the fact that Chuuya was finally able to catch him off-guard made a smirk play across his face as he pressed his lips against Dazai’s.

There was a split second of stillness the span of a heartbeat. A moment where the rational part of Chuuya’s mind screamed at him for his impulsiveness, a moment where Chuuya waited for Dazai to push him away in disgust. And then, he felt Dazai’s lips tug into a matching smirk before Dazai pressed further into the embrace.

Chuuya’s hand clenched around the fabric of the slim tie, afraid that if he touched Dazai anywhere else he would shatter whatever moment they were having. He didn’t know what this was (bloodlust, a part of his mind supplied), but he wasn’t ready for it to stop. He felt like his entire body was vibrating; from exhaustion after using Corruption, from the buzz of finally getting revenge, from the feeling of Dazai threading one hand through Chuuya’s locks and the sensation of their tongues sliding against each other.

A soft cough broke them apart, and they glanced to the side to see Gin standing near the door, her face carefully blank, “The Black Lizard squads are ten minutes out, boss. Hirotsu-san had a message from headquarters for you, something about the papers being finished.”

Dazai straightened, his hand falling away from Chuuya as he nodded, “Good. Stay here and help oversee the search, I’ll be taking Chuuya back to headquarters.” His gaze flicked back to Chuuya, “All of the documents you requested are waiting in my office.”

Chuuya licked his lips, his mind trying to catch up to the sudden change in topic and failing miserably, “Documents?”

“Our deal. You killed Lemaire, now I’m providing you everything you need to escape Japan and settle down.” Dazai turned on his heel and started toward the door, “Come on, I’d like to be gone before the others arrive.”

Chapter Text

Being at a loss for words didn't suit Dazai.

It was a sensation he was unfamiliar with. Dazai always had a quick retort, the last laugh; his mind ran a mile a minute and his tongue was sharper than a dagger.

But Chuuya was an exception. With Chuuya, Dazai found himself falling silent more often than necessary, not using his lack of words as a conscious way to get his point across and instead being quiet out of a curiosity as to what the man would say. And now Dazai was at a loss for words.

He could still feel the phantom press of lips against his, and as a man who rarely bothered to indulge himself in the carnal pleasures of life, it was a sensation he hadn't even felt the ache of missing until they had pulled apart.

Dazai prided himself in his ability to think rationally, his dedication to planning rather than acting instinctively. But Chuuya was the exception to many of his rules, and when Dazai had pressed further into the kiss, the only thought in his head was how good it felt.

The knowledge that Chuuya, a man who had gone out of his way to avoid physical contact from anyone since being extracted from a stuffy hotel in the heart of Yokohama, had initiated the embrace. That, after butchering his childhood tormentor, Chuuya had reached out for Dazai, of all people, had implications that Dazai wasn't sure he wanted to sort through. However, he hadn't been able to hold back a smirk of amusement at the fact that, once again, Chuuya had managed to surprise him.

Watching Chuuya let loose, unleash the fury Dazai had only seen glimpses of, was invigorating. The glee in blue eyes when Dazai had given the okay for Lemaire's torture struck Dazai straight in the gut with the realization that, perhaps, Chuuya was actually as attractive as all the rumors had built him up to be. The jolt of energy that ran through Dazai as he played the role of bystander was, for once, every bit as intense as when he got to personally raise hell, and it was a feeling Dazai could get lost in.

Dazai considered giving Gin a bonus under the guise of saying it was for her excellent work documenting Iron Heel's demise. If Gin hadn’t interrupted, Dazai wasn't sure he would have been able to resist the tug of Chuuya's presence. If Chuuya had pulled him to the empty bed, Dazai would have had him right there, without mind or care to the gore around them.

Perhaps it was just as well that Chuuya was leaving.

Dazai hadn't had a friend since he walked away from the Armed Detective Agency. Friends, or any form of attachments, were just a weakness for his enemies to exploit. The pull Dazai felt in Chuuya's direction was different from the camaraderie of friendships he had in the past. It was stronger, more intoxicating, and it was dangerous.

It was utterly foreign to him, but the rational part of his mind could understand where the allure came from. Chuuya was the embodiment of the beauty Dazai found in destruction and chaos. Chuuya tested the hard-earned discipline Dazai had shaped and molded under Mori's tutelage, and Dazai wasn't quite sure he would be able to remain unaffected if he was exposed to the truth of Chuuya's rage more often.

The drive from Iron Heel's compound to Mafia headquarters passed in silence.

Chuuya spent the entire time staring out of the window, his mouth pressed into a thin line and his hands clamped together on his lap. Occasionally, their eyes would meet in the rear-view mirror, but never for longer than it took to register the moment before one or the other broke eye contact.

It was a testament to the nature of Mafia work that no one gave them a second glance as they made their way from the garage and up to Dazai's office. The evidence of death that hung around them was a usual sight in the building, and the closed set of both of their faces discouraged anyone from asking questions.

Dazai led Chuuya past the wall of windows, through the bustle of the war room (barely giving a glance to any of the members who were rushing around trying to finalize various plans), and into the privacy of his inner office. As promised, a brown envelope was sitting on the middle of the wooden desk, and Dazai picked it up, glancing inside at the contents as he stepped around the desk to open a drawer.

Chuuya stood in silence, in the exact place he had remained the last time they were both in this office. It was hard not to compare this moment to when Dazai had first seen the magnitude of Corruption, to remember how defeated Chuuya had looked, to reflect on how, at the time, he still hadn't been able to see through Chuuya's masks.

Pulling out a specific document, Dazai folded it in half and slid it into the bag, between the pages of one of the passports that would aid Chuuya in getting out of the country. Before he could talk himself into taking back the document, Dazai closed the envelope, held it out, and raised an eyebrow at the shorter man.

Three brisk strides brought Chuuya to the edge of the desk and he took the offered envelope, eyes on Dazai's face, as if trying to peer past the calm facade Dazai was projecting. Chuuya licked his lips, and Dazai found it impossible not to flick his eye to them before fixing back on Chuuya's gaze as the hat rack opened his mouth to speak.

Half-a-dozen things could leave Chuuya's mouth at the moment, all of which were probably worse than the last in terms of maintaining the careful distance between them, and Dazai braced himself.

"Boss," one of the mafia members working in the war room stepped inside, "Sorry for the interruption, but we have an urgent development on the Kisugi extraction, it needs your attention."

Dazai nodded, "Of course."

The mafia member left and Dazai stepped around his desk and held out his hand. A peace offering in the event that this would be the last time he saw Chuuya, "Try not to get yourself killed, hat rack."

A ghost of a smile flickered across Chuuya's lips and he shook Dazai's hand, "Try not to wipe Yokohama off the map, bastard."

Dazai smirked and strode out of his office without a backward glance.

 


 

As he made his way back through the war room, Chuuya was struck with the realization that he was actually leaving the Port Mafia. Whatever schemes Dazai was planning would no longer involve him. The blueprints spread across various tables weren’t meant for Chuuya to see, and even though he suspected Dazai had kept quiet about Chuuya’s intentions, he was struck with the invisible divide he suddenly felt between himself and the others. It was a sense that he didn’t belong, one Chuuya had managed to work past during his months with the organization, and its return sent him reeling.

Chuuya kept his gaze down as he weaved his way through the frenzy of the war room. He bypassed the elevator, opting instead to travel down the dozen flights of stairs that led to his small dorm among all the other mafia members. The smile he flashed to those who called greetings was fake, plastered on much the same way it would have been if he was at one of Lemaire’s galas. None of them knew that Chuuya was leaving, that everything he needed to walk away from this life was in the brown envelope he held pressed to his chest, as if someone would snatch it from him at any moment.

As he turned the corner to the hall of his dorm, Chuuya was hit in the back with enough blunt force to make his breath leave in a gasp. Bewildered, he glanced down to see a pair of arms wrapped around his torso.

“Kyouka?” He tried to turn but the girl’s grip was too tight, “Kyouka-chan, I’m going to ruin your clothes.”

At that, her arms loosened just enough for Chuuya to shift so he was looking down at the girl, and he immediately wished he had stayed facing the other direction. Her blue eyes were bright with unshed tears and she mumbled, “I thought they would kill you.”

“They?”

“You turned yourself in. I thought they would kill you.”

Chuuya hesitated, not sure what he could say in reassurance when he was cradling his secret pass out of the Mafia in his hands, “I didn’t think Dazai would tell you about that.”

A fan tapped Chuuya’s shoulder and his face blanched when he realized Kouyou was also present, “He didn’t tell her, I did. I would thank you not to force me to make such a decision ever again.”

Gently, Chuuya extracted himself from Kyouka’s grip and bent forward in an apologetic bow, “I’m sorry for causing you trouble, Ane-san.”

Fingers gripped underneath his chin and pulled him upright to meet a small smile, “It isn’t the trouble I mind, it was the concern. We were both worried for you, Chuuya-kun.” Her smile faded into a frown as she surveyed his appearance, “and it looks like he had you back in the field already despite the fact that you needed rest.”

“I’m fine. I agreed to the operation.” Lemaire’s scream of agony cut through Chuuya’s senses and Chuuya’s hands twitched, his body aching for the rush of power he had felt in that moment, “It was something I needed to do.”

Kouyou hummed thoughtfully, clearly an indication that she would be speaking to Dazai anyway and forming her own opinion, “You should get some rest. Come by for tea when you feel better.”

Chuuya’s tongue felt heavy, his mouth paper dry as he murmured, “I will. I promise.”

It was fortunate that Chuuya had the excuse of his recent trauma and an ill-timed mission to explain his odd behavior. Otherwise, he knew Kouyou would have picked up on his lie in an instant. Instead, she gave him another smile and ushered Kyouka down the corridor.

As soon as they were out of sight, Chuuya continued on his path, his pace quickened in his urgency to ensure he didn’t have more encounters of the same kind.

When Chuuya got to his room he locked the door behind himself and leaned against it, taking desperate gasps of air, feeling as if he had held his breath the entire trip there. His gaze fell on the omamori that dangled from the side of one of his bedposts and his stomach lurched. The talisman for happiness, gifted to him by Kouyou on his first official day in the organization, stared mockingly at him from across the room, asking Chuuya if running away would bring him any true joy.

Shaky legs carried him from the door to stand next to his bed, untouched since he had made the decision to turn himself into Iron Heel, more than a week ago. No matter how hard he tried, Chuuya couldn’t convince himself that the trembling in his frame was merely evidence of his body’s exhaustion. He couldn’t watch his shaking hand as he emptied the contents of the envelope onto his bed.

A bittersweet taste filled his mouth at the thought of how quickly he would have to move in order to be out of Japan before Dazai revealed that Chuuya was the one who killed Lemaire. Likely he would have to pack within the hour, and leave before the next. Now, with the unrest in the city and before the remnants of Iron Heel were discovered in the ruined compound, was Chuuya’s best chance of spiriting himself away. But it would mean leaving without saying goodbye to anyone. At his back, the board holding pictures of his friends bore down on him, shaming him for considering such an idea.

Chuuya spread out the contents of the envelope, taking stock of what he had. There were three different passports, one Japanese that he would dispose of as soon as he was out of the country, one European, and one American, all with three different names. He had burner phones and call cards and more than enough money to live off of for several months, in ten different currencies. Dazai had delivered more than Chuuya had dared to hope for.

A folded piece of paper, sticking out of the Japanese passport, caught Chuuya’s attention. He slid it from the pages of the small book and opened it. It was Mafia paperwork, something he was more than familiar with. Chuuya scanned the form, his brows furrowing as he tried to determine if this was something he would have to return to Dazai. When he realized the intent of the document, Chuuya dropped it back on the bed, fingers yanking away from the paper as if it had burnt him.

There had to be some sort of mistake.

As soon as the thought flitted through his head, it was dismissed. Chuuya knew how Dazai operated, knew this wasn’t a mistake. He should have anticipated some kind of trick, he should have known that this all had been too easy, that Dazai wouldn’t just let an asset walk away from the Mafia without putting up a fight.

And the paperwork sitting on top of Chuuya’s ticket to freedom was one hell of a fight. It latched onto the knot in his gut, worked through his guilt at leaving his friends, and called out to Chuuya, trying to convince him that this was a better choice.

He didn’t know how long he stayed rooted to the floor, staring at the various documents on his bed, caught between choosing his own plans or folding to Dazai’s. Both plans were represented by nothing more than a difference in what was printed on a piece of paper.

Chuuya turned his back to the bed and busied himself with cleaning up. His clothes, irreparably damaged by gore, went into a pile by the door to be burned as soon as possible, and he stepped through the side door of the adjourning bathroom he shared with his next door neighbor. He slid into a shower of scalding water, letting it pour down on his back as Chuuya tried to untangle the mess of thoughts in his head.

The unspoken offer had ripped through what little confidence Chuuya had built up in his ability to start over somewhere new. For most of the past week, he had grappled with the piece of himself that worried about how well he could survive on his own. It wasn’t that Chuuya couldn’t defend himself but he had never struck out on his own. There was always a system built around him; in the Mafia, there were people willing to catch Chuuya when he fell. Not only that, but the question of whether or not he could even live a normal life after the things he had seen and done was now added to those doubts.

And Dazai had just made it significantly harder to strike out on faith by giving Chuuya a chance to stay. By providing a way to continue what was supposed to be a one-time arrangement, a way for Chuuya to let go of his ironclad grip on his demons and bask in the glow of his own power without feeling completely beholden to Dazai’s whims.

Scowling, Chuuya shut off the shower and toweled dry, mind flicking back and forth between plans for his escape from Japan and what accepting Dazai’s offer would mean.

The fact that Chuuya was considering the alternative so much was enough to send the first prickle of anger through his body as he got dressed in clean clothes. If this offer had been placed on the table to begin with, if Chuuya had been given a whole week to think it through, perhaps he wouldn’t be so upset about it. But instead, the manipulative bastard had sprung it on Chuuya now, forcing him to make a split-second decision without even deigning to make the proposal to Chuuya’s face.

If Dazai thought Chuuya would take kindly to being toyed with so soon after being liberated from Lemaire’s grip, he had another thing coming.

 


 

The war room was nothing short of chaos.

Dazai didn’t think there had been a moment of peace inside since he had swept out of the infirmary (ignoring the doctor’s called protests) and personally pulled individual members from their current assignments in the immediate aftermath of the public executions.

While the protests that broke out through the city had been organic, their intensity and longevity were the result of careful influence from the Port Mafia. It was members, planted at protests, who provoked the Task Force into violence on the second day of peaceful marches, and another set of members who encouraged the Gifted to fight back. As the flames of unrest were stoked, Dazai sent out small teams to carry out prison breaks from Gifted work camps until disorder was rampant.

And, when Dazai received word through a Giftless member undercover in the city that Chuuya had (idiotically) turned himself in, the war room went into overdrive as they rushed to find a way to free Chuuya before he was taken from the country.

Even with Dazai locked in the safe house with Chuuya, the Port Mafia’s plans moved full steam ahead.

Recruitment was taking place at lightning speed. Gifted extractions were multiplied in frequency due to how thinly stretched the city’s response teams were. Dazai planned to squeeze the mayhem within Yokohama for every last drop before the government finally regained order.

When Dazai returned to the war room after cleaning himself of the night’s filth, he wordlessly stepped up to the small audio/visual setup at the side of the room and slipped a SIM card into the laptop that was stationed there. A click of a few buttons, and the footage Gin had recorded was flashing across the projection screen at triple speed. Silence fell across the room something that hadn’t occurred since the executions, as every member present stopped what they were doing to watch.

Having no need to relive events that happened just hours before, Dazai cleared the center table in preparation for the organization’s next big project.

“Boss.” He glanced up, raising an eyebrow at the young Giftless woman who oversaw large sections of the Mafia’s intelligence, “This is monumental.”

Dazai shook his head, “It’s just a beginning. Our real target is Deviant Affairs.”

Silence remained as Dazai outlined their time frame for the biggest operation the Mafia had ever attempted, the operation he thought he would have to wait several more years before putting into play. As soon as he finished talking, the room descended into mania, the members inside invigorated by the revelation of Iron Heel’s destruction.

He moved from table to table, approving extraction teams and tweaking breakout plans. The people in this room were among Dazai’s innermost circle. Out of the hundreds of members in the Port Mafia, only the dozen in the war room (along with a dozen or so more), knew Dazai was the Mafia boss and had a solid grasp of the relentless drive that fueled him. Among these people, he felt himself fall back into the flow of being the ‘boss’. It was a feeling, a weight, he hadn’t experienced the past week in Chuuya’s company.

With Chuuya, there was no sense of fear or awe; Dazai’s words weren’t reverent, Dazai was not above reproach. It was the freedom to let the mask of being Mori’s prodigy fall aside so that he could focus entirely on the work. It was a feeling he had possibly traded away for the chance to crush Iron Hell and Lemaire once and for all.

There was no point in reflecting on his latest gamble; by throwing himself into the work he was able to ignore the passing of time as mafia members filtered in and out. Slowly, the chaos in the room began to dwindle until it was a steady flow, most of those who worked overnight leaving for rest while just a handful stayed to keep monitoring operations through the early morning.

It was just past sunrise when the war room door flew open and, frowning at the lapse in security, Dazai turned from his plans to face the intruder.

Chuuya was striding toward him, jacket billowing at his back. Past the door, Dazai could see the guards pinned to the ground by gravity, and the others in the room rapidly backed out of Chuuya’s way, no doubt remembering the massacre on tape.

“Chuuya.”

“Would you like to talk in front of everyone, or in private?” Chuuya asked, voice sharp as he bypassed any form of greeting, stopping just in front of Dazai.

Dazai flicked his eye over Chuuya’s appearance, rapidly trying to piece together the source of Chuuya’s rage. He assumed the papers were all in order, but short of a mistake in one of the documents Dazai couldn’t understand why Chuuya was still in headquarters and angry about being so. Pitching his voice so it was heard clearly in the silent room, he said, “You’re all finished for today.”

Neither man moved an inch as the room quickly emptied out, the other mafia members all but running away in an effort to distance themselves from whatever was going on. When they were alone, and the door to the war room was firmly closed, Dazai spoke, “I expected you to be at the train station by now.”

“The hell you did.” Chuuya dug into his pocket and pulled out a folded document.

He unfolded it, slammed it on top of the blueprints Dazai had been studying, and took a definitive step back, placing distance between them. Dazai didn’t glance at the document, he had no need to look when he knew exactly what it was. After all, his signature was fixed at the bottom.

Chuuya scowled, “You put that with my papers. What are you playing at?”

Tilting his head to the side, Dazai tried to unravel Chuuya’s mood without needing to ask questions. He had anticipated Chuuya would be indignant at Dazai’s presumptions, but the anger was unexpected, “Playing at?”

“With the damned promotion papers. Why the hell would you want to make me an Executive? Why bring it up now? We spent a whole fucking week alone together in that safe house, and don’t you dare tell me you haven’t been planning this just as long. Instead of saying a word to my face you just drop it in my passport to force me to make a choice before the end of the day. You just think I’m some kind of puppet you can manipulate at your whim.”

Dazai blinked and tried not to let his amusement show on his face. Chuuya had a point, Dazai was still underestimating him. There were certainly more subtle ways Dazai could have broached the subject, other routes he could have used to keep Chuuya in the organization, but Dazai had counted on Chuuya’s sense of loyalty to override his resentment of being controlled.

The fact that Chuuya had come to confront Dazai instead of just leaving the Mafia without a word was promising, and Dazai rushed to smooth over the situation, trying to calm Chuuya with a rare display of honesty.

“I don’t think you’re a puppet, I think you’re a valuable asset to the Mafia and that replacing you would be difficult. You’re one of the most skilled fighters we have, every member who knows you respects you. You know how to follow and how to give orders, you know how to think under pressure.” As Dazai spoke the rare words of praise, he could see the tension slowly fading from Chuuya’s body, “The organization took casualties in the riots, an Executive seat opened, you’re my best candidate. I’m not going to force you to stay. It’s your choice, Chuuya.”

A hollow laugh left Chuuya’s mouth and he took a step back, leaning against the edge of a nearby table, “My choice? Nothing in my life has ever been my choice, I realized that when I saw that stupid document. I don’t have anything to live for; my family is dead and the only friends I have are all Mafia. As soon as you release that footage I’ll become an international criminal and I…” Chuuya trailed off, his jaw clenching as if he didn’t want to say the next words on his tongue.

Dazai opened his mouth to speak and blue eyes snapped to him with a glare, “Shut up, bastard, I’m not finished yet.”

The concept of Dazai following someone else’s orders would have been laughable at any other time, but for this man, in this moment, he let his mouth drop shut without another word. Even though Dazai had no intention of physically preventing Chuuya from leaving, he would do everything else in his power to keep the shorter man in the Mafia. So, Dazai was content to wait for Chuuya to piece together what he wanted to say.

Despite Chuuya’s declaration, he didn’t continue speaking right away. Instead, his attention roved the war room. His gaze lingered on the projection screen, frozen on an image of him attacking the Iron Heel compound, before continuing his survey, face completely empty and eyes rock hard. It was the face of a soldier, etched onto features that hundreds across the world had called angelic at one point or the other. 

“After being hurt by the world, one begins to see the demons within humans. So without hiding it through trickery, one works to express it.”[1] Chuuya murmured, and Dazai was surprised to hear his own words echoing back at him in such a concise manner, as if Chuuya had been considering them for some time, “you were right, when you said that I didn’t want to let go of my facade. Letting go, getting to rip through the monsters that ruined my life and the lives of hundreds of others, it made me feel alive and I won’t ever feel that alive again if I leave. This is the only place for me, and part of me thinks that you went out of your way to make sure of it."

A cheerful grin lit Dazai’s face and his voice dipped into a teasing tone he hadn’t genuinely used in several years, “Now, chibi, why ever would you think that?”

Chuuya didn’t bother to acknowledge his words as he got to his feet and moved to stand next to Dazai, flattening the promotion paper and scanning it again, “You have to promise me something, mackerel.”

“What is it?”

“That your aim isn’t going to waver. If it does, I’m leaving, and I’d like to see you try to stop me.” A gloved hand was held out, palm up, expectant.

The teasing grin melted away at the reminder of Dazai’s goal, “As long as Deviant Affairs exists, there is no other target for my wrath.”

Dazai reached into the pocket of his blazer and pulled out a pen, pressing it into Chuuya’s palm and letting his touch linger for just a moment longer than necessary, “Do you honestly trust me enough to believe my promise though?

Chuuya’s name being signed on the appropriate line, and his accompanied silence, was the answer. Of course, Chuuya didn’t trust Dazai, not unconditionally. After what they had been through, it would have been stupid for him to do so.

Their joint mission, the week in the safe house, the kiss at the compound, all of those things may have changed their dynamic, erased boundaries and redrawn them so weak that just a gentle push might shatter them completely. However, none of that had changed anything about who Dazai or Chuuya were. Dazai was still the boss of the Port Mafia, he was still ruthlessly driving toward his goal and he would take everything Chuuya could give until that goal was achieved; Chuuya had spent a lifetime of giving everything he had to offer, he would still push back as far as he could, a solid wall of resistance that would challenge Dazai at junctions where Dazai had never met opposition before. Neither of them was willing to compromise in that regard.

It was anyone’s guess if Chuuya would ever trust in Dazai, but for right now Chuuya trusted in Dazai’s mission, in the fact that Dazai wasn’t sowing violence for violence’s sake, that he wouldn’t go mad with power as he got closer to his destination. That was good enough for both of them.

Reaching past Chuuya, Dazai picked up the paper and slid it into the file that was sitting at a corner of the table, not bothering to hide the fact that he had kept Chuuya’s file sitting out for just this purpose. He watched as blue eyes narrowed at the indication of how confident Dazai had been in this course of events and couldn’t resist poking at the anger still crackling underneath the surface, “Congratulations on your promotion, Executive Nakahara.”

“Why bother having the passports and shit made if you were so sure I was staying?” Chuuya asked.

“You have, on occasion, been able to surprise me.” Came the lofty reply as Dazai turned back to what he had been doing before Chuuya interrupted, “I never anticipated you would be dumb enough to take a new recruit out of the base. Your self-righteous crusade to turn yourself in also caught me off-guard.”

A hand gripped Dazai’s upper arm and whirled him around with enough force to make him stumble back against the table, eye widening in surprise at the sudden movement. Any protest that might have been forming on his lips died at the sight of the smug grin on Chuuya’s face and the unrelenting hold on Dazai’s tie that forced him to bend slightly.

Stepping forward so their faces were only inches apart, Chuuya mused, “Counting this, I can think of two additional times I surprised you. I have to admit, it’s refreshing to have you shut up for once.” The words rolled off of his tongue, the implication of the other moment of surprise heavy with each syllable.

Up until this moment, Dazai hadn’t given a single thought to the fact that Chuuya had been practically trained in seduction, and for much longer than he had been trained to do anything for the Mafia. The realization now raced through Dazai’s mind as his imagination unhelpfully tried to hazard a guess as to where Chuuya was going with this.

“Chuuya, I would hate for you to do anything you might regret. After all, I am your boss again.”

A single kiss, in the heat of the moment, could be dismissed.

They could ignore it and begin this new working relationship without ever mentioning it again. But the spark in Chuuya’s gaze was implying something different entirely. It hinted at crossing the only real boundary they had left, and even with the image of Chuuya at the height of his power now burned into Dazai’s memory, he couldn’t help but remember the moments where he had seen Chuuya without any barriers left. If they took this step, it was no guarantee that they would come out the other end unscathed, and Dazai wasn’t going to be the one to lead them over the edge.

Chuuya tilted his head, eyes flicking across Dazai’s face as if trying to decipher Dazai’s thought process, “I would regret it if the one person I’ve tried to sleep with of my own volition turns me down.”

In any other circumstance, that would have been enough, but no matter how often Chuuya had compared Dazai and Lemaire, there was a line that Dazai wasn’t willing to cross. He had no problem manipulating his subordinates through coercion or threats or bribes, but he always drew short of using physical intimacy to get what he wanted. So, he gave Chuuya another out, “Are you saying you want me to be your first, hat rack?”

Chuuya raised an eyebrow, “Definitely not my first, mackerel.”

The cavalier response made a slow grin spread across Dazai’s face. He reached out and tugged on Chuuya’s arm, pulling so the shorter man was pressed against him, “I’m the first one you’ve chosen, right? I’m flattered, I know that I have dashingly good looks but to have you go from hating me to wanting to f-” He was cut off by Chuuya’s lips pressing against his.

Eye fluttering shut, Dazai let his senses zero in on the feeling of Chuuya’s mouth moving in concert with his, his ears tuned to every slight hitch of breath he was able to draw from Chuuya, his fingers sliding up to tangle in red locks as if they had been craving the sensation since he had first felt it several hours ago. Dazai was so focused on the kiss that the brush of a gloved palm against his crotch caught him off-guard and he wasn’t able to swallow the slight moan that came as a result.

Chuuya chuckled against his lips and pulled back just far enough to murmur, “I believe that’s the third time I’ve surprised you.”

The triumphant glint in Chuuya’s eyes was too much to resist and Dazai tugged him back into the kiss. It was this quality, Chuuya’s refusal to let Dazai walk over him (even despite his subservient upbringing), that had caught Dazai’s interest from the first time they met. And it was the same quality that had continued to hold Dazai’s attention the longer Chuuya worked under the Port Mafia. He didn’t doubt it would also make Chuuya one of his more difficult Executives, but if the tradeoff was the feeling of Chuuya’s fingers dragging down his chest and hooking into Dazai’s pants, then it was a sacrifice Dazai was more than willing to make.

Suddenly, Chuuya broke the kiss and let go of his grip on Dazai’s tie. Not giving Dazai time to voice his confusion, he asked, “Do you have somewhere private we can go?”

“Don’t tell me you’re shy about the idea of being discovered.” Dazai drawled, eye caught on Chuuya’s lips, already starting swell slightly.

“I’d rather not have people think you only promoted me because I spread my legs for you.” Chuuya’s distaste of the idea was tangible, highlighted in how a slight grimace crossed his face.

Resolving to consider the moment at a later time (preferably one where his blood hadn’t been rapidly rushing south), Dazai pushed himself away from the table and headed across the room, glancing back behind himself to make sure Chuuya was following.

Like many of the higher-ups of the organization, Dazai didn’t live in the Mafia headquarters. In fact, the location of his apartment was a mystery to even those in the Executive circle. However, there was a suite set aside for his use on the days when he didn’t have time to make his way to his apartment, or when travel was too dangerous. He led Chuuya down two stories to that particular suite, only taking the time to lock the door behind them before pressing Chuuya against it and claiming his lips once more.

“A bit needy, are we?” Chuuya teased.

Dazai shifted his weight, bringing one knee to rest in-between Chuuya’s legs and pressing up. The moan that left Chuuya’s lips was intoxicating, and in that moment Dazai resolved to pull as many noises as possible from the redhead’s mouth. His clever comment about Chuuya clearly being the needy one died on his tongue as a shift of his knee rewarded him with another moan.

“Dazai, bedroom.”

“I like the idea of pinning you against the door.” Dazai smirked, pulling away from Chuuya’s lips to meet his gaze.

A gloved hand slid through Dazai’s hair and he relaxed into the touch. The victorious curl of Chuuya’s mouth was the only warning Dazai got before the bandages around his right eye were pulled away. Chuuya tossed the bandages to the side, gaze thoughtfully flicking between brown and gray, as if searching for something.

Whatever he was searching for, Chuuya seemed to have found it because his smirk widened and he said, “For some reason I assumed you wouldn’t be very experienced.”

“And where did you come up with that idea?”

“From the fact that you’re an ass.”

Dazai laughed. It was open and genuine and a sound he hadn’t made in nearly five years. Stepping away from the door, he picked up Chuuya’s wrist and tugged him toward the bedroom, “Well, I suppose I’ll just have to prove your assumptions wrong.”

Chapter Text

The ringing phone jarred Chuuya from the most peaceful night of sleep he had gotten since being made an Executive. Scowling, he reached out and picked the wretched device up, answering without a pause to see who was calling, “What?”

Silence met him before a cautious voice replied, “Nakahara-san?”

“Who else would it be?”

“I, uh, I called the boss’ direct number.”

Chuuya blinked, and pulled the phone away from his ear to confirm that it was indeed Dazai’s. If he had been fully awake he might have spared the energy to be a bit embarrassed over the fact that this incident would likely be Mafia gossip by tomorrow. Instead, he rolled over in bed and dangled the phone over the face of the boss.

“Oi, mackerel, it’s for you.”

A bandaged arm rose to drape over Dazai’s eyes, shielding them from the light of the screen as he sighed, “You’re my subordinate, chibi, can’t you just take a message?”

“If it wasn’t urgent they would be calling me, not you. Do your damned job.”

The groan that left Dazai’s lips was utterly undignified and something Chuuya never would have imagined he would bear witness to when he first met the man. Dazai grabbed the phone and pressed it to his ear, “This is Dazai.”

Chuuya watched through half-lidded eyes at the conversation unfolded. He could only hear bits and pieces of what the man on the other line said, but the gradual change that swept through Dazai’s body spoke volumes. Chuuya could physically see Dazai pulling the pieces of his ‘Mafia boss’ persona back on, and he was a bit annoyed that his careful work to unravel the self-controlled demeanor was being erased so quickly.

Even with curtains covering the windows, sunlight filtered into the room just enough for Chuuya to be able to pick out evidence of the previous night littered across Dazai’s skin. At least that would not be so easily undone.

Despite the serious nature of the conversation, Dazai picked up on Chuuya’s scrutiny and winked at him. In response, Chuuya rolled his eyes and reached back out to the bedside table to pick up his own phone, recognizing that their short reprieve was over.

In the seven months since Chuuya had been promoted, he had been working nonstop. Due to the riots, Chuuya was thrown head deep into his duties and things only got more hectic when the video of Marc Lemaire begging for his life ‘leaked’ to various international media outlets. On top of being an infamous criminal and the newest Executive in the Port Mafia, Chuuya was also precariously trying to balance the odd dynamic between him and the man who was his boss.

The phone call ended and Dazai pushed himself upright, drawing Chuuya’s attention away from his phone so he was meeting Dazai’s uneven stare. The degree of sobriety on Dazai’s face was unusual enough to have Chuuya putting his phone aside and sitting up so he was level with the other man.

“It’s time.”

The two words banished all grogginess from Chuuya’s body, replacing it with the electric hum of uneasiness he usually felt before a big mission. While these words were enough to make Chuuya pensive, they didn’t explain Dazai’s reaction. Chuuya would have expected Dazai to be bounding out of bed with excitement over the fact that his goal was finally steps away from coming to fruition.

“That’s good,” Chuuya said, even as his head tilted slightly in a question.

Dazai’s right eye fluttered closed, his left boring into Chuuya in an action that revealed more than Chuuya suspected he realized.

No matter how eerily perceptive Dazai was, Chuuya had spent most of his life learning how to read the unspoken queues people put out. The consciously projected queues were what Chuuya acted on as he felt was necessary, but the unconsciously projected ones were why Chuuya had been so good at what he did. It was why he was able to anticipate Dazai's schemes better than most of the people in the organization. It was likely the only reason they had been able to fall into a routine without needing to discuss what it meant.

Chuuya knew there was a reason why Dazai kept his blind eye hidden from the world, and even if Chuuya wasn’t privy to that reason, he had long since acknowledged the fact that Dazai left that eye uncovered when they were in private. Dazai hiding his gray eye was the equivalent of him physically withdrawing from the conversation.

“Once my target is gone, I’m not sure where I will aim next.”

Chuuya felt his breath catch in his throat at the reminder of the promise he had wrung from Dazai the day he agreed to stay with the Mafia. If he was being honest, it was a promise he hardly thought about anymore, he was too busy with his work to dwell on such matters. But the ramifications of a successful mission today, of what a Dazai without a clear goal might look like, was causing pressure to build up in Chuuya’s temples, a sign of an impending headache.

Trying to cover-up his newfound concerns, Chuuya shrugged and slid out of the bed, intent on heading to the bathroom for a shower, “There’s no need to discuss this now. We have a job to do.”

“Chuuya.” The call of his name made Chuuya halt in his tracks and he turned to face Dazai, “Would you stay in the Mafia after this is over?”

“Does it matter? You don’t actually need me here.”

Dazai’s lips quirked slightly, a wry expression that gave Chuuya the impression that Dazai was laughing at him, “No, I don’t need you here. That doesn’t mean I can’t want you here.”

With a snort, Chuuya said, “Careful, boss, keep spewing shit like that and people might start to believe you actually care about me.”

Dazai’s gray eye fluttered open again, “What do they think now?”

The teasing lilt in Dazai’s voice helped soothe the tension that had started to build in Chuuya’s body over his unease at an unknown future, “As if I would know better than you. All I know is that they call us by that ridiculous name: Double Black.”

“The deadliest partnership in Port Mafia history,” Dazai mused. “I’ve heard that they think I would murder anyone who started rumors about your position here.”

Smiling at the confirmation that Dazai was paying more attention to such matters than Chuuya ever cared to, he asked, “Would you?”

“Yes.”

Dazai’s simple, one-word, answer made the smile freeze on Chuuya’s face as he tried to determine if Dazai was bluffing. There was no spark of emotion in either eye, which was always a sign of danger. At least when Dazai was amused or irritated he might be speaking out of spite or joking, but the emptiness present now was Dazai at his most honest. That emptiness said that Dazai would slit the throat of anyone who deigned to suggest that Chuuya was his whore. It was probably the closest either of them would ever get to acknowledging the emotions that lurked under the surface.

What should have (and in the past, would have) frightened Chuuya now squeezed against his chest and he quickly turned from Dazai so that the mackerel wouldn’t see his reaction. Chuuya stepped into the bathroom to get prepared for the day, not willing to contemplate Dazai’s words (or his reaction to them) until the job was done.

A glance up at the mirror made Chuuya pause in his actions, and he ran a hand up the side of his cheek to rest just underneath his eyes.

Unbidden, the words of a conversation with Kyouka rose to mind, one they had just after she was extracted. It was a story Chuuya had never taken the time to ponder given that it was so quickly overshadowed by the revelation of Corruption. Now, he cast his memory back for the details that had flowed from young lips, Kyouka’s voice monotonous in the dim moonlight as she recalled her time as an owned assassin, and the colleague who had rushed to his death. A man whose eyes were empty, just like Dazai’s.

Kyouka had paused before leaving Chuuya’s room: “Your eyes still have light in them”

Chuuya was sure the light the girl had talked about was the kind that reflected a desire to live, an ability to find honest joy within the world around oneself. He couldn’t see that light in his eyes anymore. They looked hard, and cold, they reminded him of the man who was still in the bedroom preparing for the culmination of years of work. For some reason, Chuuya couldn’t find it in himself to bemoan the change.

His old self had been weak. 

To be fair, there were moments of strength, a will to survive that pulled Chuuya through the worst life had to throw at him. But in his past, there had been no real spine, no desire to fight for his life, no pride in who he was.

Chuuya wouldn’t give up who he had become for who he used to be, not even for the sake of stepping out of the shadows and back into the light.

“Are you going to stand there all day?”

Chuuya blinked and met Dazai’s gaze in the mirror, “I was just thinking.”

“So, you are going to stand there all day.”

Hands gripping the nearest portable object, Chuuya pivoted and lobbed it at Dazai’s head with a half-hearted throw that the Mafia boss dodged easily. With a chuckle, Dazai added, “When you’re done daydreaming, report to the war room at headquarters. Try not to keep me waiting forever.”

“I’ll get there when I get there,” Chuuya muttered, turning back to the mirror to finish getting prepared for the day, not bothering to make his dry comment sound believable. They both knew that Chuuya would be at headquarters precisely when he needed to be.

He always was.

 


 

A crisp breeze fluttered around Dazai, making the edges of his blazer flare and brushing the hair from his face. The combination of winter still melting into spring and the wind blowing across the harbor drove most people away from the boardwalk, giving Dazai some peace before he faced the moment he had been working towards for years

Behind him, he could hear the handful of members assigned the task of guarding him for today’s job conversing on their phones, relaying orders to subordinates and plowing Dazai with a steady stream of information that he didn’t acknowledge.

Everything had been set in place months ago.

Plans had been finalized and members placed undercover as the Mafia prepared to strike a blow that would cripple Deviant Affairs. Of course, there was something stifling about keeping his sphere of influence within Yokohama. If Dazai felt so inclined he could probably stretch the Port Mafia’s reach as far as Tokyo, but it would be at the cost of the unshakable control he currently held. Instead, he was forced to wait for his prey to come to him, and the phone call that had driven him out of the warmth of his bed this morning had been a long time coming.

A burner phone was stuck into his periphery and Dazai plucked it from his subordinate, “Status?”

“The building is clear.” Hirotsu’s calm voice was at odds with the savage rush of vindication flooding Dazai’s body.

“Good. Have your people establish a perimeter and keep me updated about any unexpected approach.”

“Yes, sir.”

Dazai handed the phone back and turned his back on the harbor, striding toward the entrance to the Special Ability Department. Since releasing the footage of Iron Heel’s demise, the Special Ability Department had been tasked with hunting Dazai and Chuuya down. Their affiliation with the Port Mafia was now common knowledge, even if their exact positions within the organization were still unconfirmed. Either way, the sight of Dazai striding to the front door of the Department headquarters should have been enough to have alarms blaring through the building.

He stepped inside and was greeted with a silence that only those familiar with death would recognize. Secretaries and clerks lay slumped over their desks, a few collapsed on the floor, struck down as they attempted to flee.

Dazai could picture the whole affair as it had unfolded. Could see the young girl who had walked through the same front door, head bowed, to ask a timid question. Could imagine the shout of warning that came from whatever unlucky bastard recognized Kyouka from whatever briefing they had received on the dangerous Deviants within the city. Even without full control over her ability, Kyouka did efficient work, and Dazai made a mental note to commend her for making sure the beginning of the plan went off without a hitch.

Past the entrance to the department, the number of corpses increased exponentially. Detached limbs and jagged gashes that tore straight through bodies indicated Akutagawa joining the fray. Dazai passed a shattered window and set down the same path Chuuya would have taken, slipping past the chaos caused by the younger two members to let in the teams waiting at the fire escape.

By this point, even without the alarms sounding, those who occupied the other rooms in the department would be aware of the trouble.

Blood slicked the railing of the stairwell and Dazai didn’t bother to glance at the door that opened to the second landing of the department, where Hirotsu would have led his people on a massacre. All of Dazai’s desires were waiting on the final story, where the Minister of Deviant Affairs had gone to have his meeting with the director of the Special Ability Department.

At last, on the third floor, Dazai could pick out the artistry of his finest martial artist. Bodies with limbs bent at odd angles indicated where Chuuya had used his gift while the neat slashes across throats spoke to the daggers hidden in the folds of his clothing.

Dazai strode past open office doors, attention fixed at the end of the corridor, the place where anyone running for their lives would have instinctively tried to reach. Stopping just before the final room, he motioned his guards to wait outside.

Through the open door, he could hear a voice shakily begging for mercy. Sobs tore through the pleas, and it was difficult to reconcile something so pathetic with the minister who had been the head of anti-Deviant policies for seven years. Dazai stepped into the room, barely taking the time to register it as the department head’s office before his attention fixed on his target.

He hadn’t been in the same room as Minister Ito since he had convinced the man to let him handle Mimic, but his disgust for Ito hit him just a strongly now as it had back then. Ito was on the floor of the office, kneeling with his hands bound behind his back. For the most part, he looked relatively unharmed, with no evidence of being hurt besides the bright red caused by being backhanded stark on his face.

Staring down at the sniveling man was the Port Mafia’s newest Executive, and Dazai took a moment to drink in the sight of Chuuya basking in his triumph.

Chuuya had fought his way to get to the minister, and it showed. Blood stained the bottoms of his pants and was splattered across his body with such abundance that Dazai wondered if anyone on Chuuya’s team had helped in the fighting. Red stood bright against his pale skin, sharp blue eyes contrasting the color of the blood magnificently. This victory would not have come so soon if it wasn’t for Chuuya, and even if Dazai never said as such out loud it was something he thought often. 

Sensing an extra presence, Chuuya’s gaze slid away from the minister to the door, and a smirk curled onto his lips, “Boss, you took your time.”

Dazai gave a twin smirk, sauntering into the room, “I wanted to admire your handiwork, Chuuya.”

A single eyebrow rose in response, Chuuya acknowledging Dazai’s comment but refusing to play into the public flirtation in front of his subordinates, “There were a few extras waiting in the office for us. What do you want to do with them?”

The idea that there was anyone else in the room beside Chuuya, the minister, and Dazai, would have gone unnoticed by Dazai without the prompt. He tugged his focus away from the redhead to where a handful of government workers were sitting against the opposite wall, guarded by Chuuya’s subordinates. Immediately, he met the brown eyes that stared at him from behind circular spectacles, and Dazai considered the man who used to be his friend.

He knew that the photograph in Kunikida’s office was the only reason Ango was still alive. Without that connection, Chuuya would have killed them all on sight. Instead, out of deference to a history that Chuuya didn’t fully understand, Ango had been saved for Dazai to decide his fate.

Without a word, Dazai held his hand out, palm up, and immediately felt Chuuya place a gun into it. Dazai turned off the safety and pointed the barrel at the first government worker in line, pulling the trigger without a pause. One shot per worker, he killed them all without batting an eyelash, skipping over Ango in the lineup.

The gun shots rang through the office, blood splattered onto the white walls at his back, and Ango didn’t so much as flinch. Dazai mentally commended Ango for being ballsy as he checked the chamber of the gun to see two more bullets available. Of course, Chuuya would be completely prepared.

“You’ve changed,” Ango said.

Dazai closed the chamber and cocked the gun in Ango’s direction, raising an eyebrow, “Have I?”

Ango didn’t reply, and Dazai let out a huff of amusement. He pivoted on his feet so the gun was pointing at the minister, pulling the trigger the second the barrel was in position.

He didn’t grace Ito with a second glance as the minister dropped to the side, blood pooling from the wound in his forehead. Dazai placed the gun on the corner of the desk and scanned the room to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything. A nod in Chuuya’s direction had the Executive ordering his people out through various exits to evade capture from the officials that were likely on the way.

As they filtered out, Dazai knelt in front of Ango, twirling the dagger he had swiped out of Chuuya’s collection that morning. He sliced through the ropes that kept Ango’s hands bound in front of him and straightened, “Kunikida-kun is much more forgiving than I am. I suppose, if you hurry, he might give you shelter before the Prime Minister makes a public example of you. If not…” Dazai trailed off with a shrug, his eye flicking meaningfully to the gun that would be within reach if Ango could free himself from the binds around his ankles, “there’s one left.”

There was no expression on Ango’s face, his lips were pressed into a thin line, and Dazai gave him a cheery grin, a mockery of the one he had so often worn at the Agency. Without another word, Dazai turned and strode from the office, Chuuya on his heels.

Waiting out the side door, as was routine when Dazai went into a field operation, was a sleek black car, and they both slid inside. The car was well mixed into the city’s traffic before Chuuya spoke, “Killing him would have been more merciful.”

“I know.”

Chuuya dug into his blazer pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, cracking the window and selecting one from the bunch, “Well, now you got your revenge on Deviant Affairs. It will take months, if not years, for them to rebound from this. Where will you aim next?”

The pack of cigarettes returned to Chuuya’s pocket and he patted around, looking for his lighter. Dazai slid his own hand from his pocket to reveal the Lupin’s matchbox, and took the lone remaining match from inside. At the appearance of the small box, Chuuya froze. Even if Dazai had never brought up the box in conversation, he knew Chuuya had watched him transfer it from each pair of pants he wore, making sure it was always on his person.

“I have a lighter somewhere,” Chuuya mumbled around the cigarette in his lips.

Dazai struck the match and raised an eyebrow, “No need.”

Slowly, Chuuya leaned forward and let Dazai light his cigarette, not moving until Dazai had shaken the match out and tossed it from the moving car, the box getting the same treatment.

When both items were gone, Dazai let an impish grin cross his face, “Next, I bring the Prime Minister and his anti-Deviant lackeys to their knees. Would you care to join me?”

Chuuya pulled the cigarette away from his mouth and tilted his head towards the window, letting the smoke filter out before he gave Dazai a matching grin, “It would be my pleasure, boss.”