Actions

Work Header

only human

Chapter Text

“You don't think we should do this.”

Sakaguchi Ango handed Nakahara Chuuya a cellphone.

The Port Mafia had five executives. A few hours ago, that number was reduced to four. The youngest, Dazai Osamu, had gone missing.

The Special Abilities Department didn't let any Ability users in Japan disappear. They kept track, even if only from a distance. But Dazai was special.

Dazai’s Ability could nullify all others.

Chuuya wondered if it could nullify his, too.

The government wanted to take Dazai in both to test his Ability and to coerce him into working with them. Dazai made a better ally than enemy, although Ango was convinced that if Dazai joined, it would be only to destroy the Special Abilities Department from the inside.

“He knows that I lied,” Ango told Chuuya. “We were friends. He would never willingly work here.”

Chuuya didn't think that government agents made friends, and he couldn't tell if Ango was serious or not. He could understand Ango getting close to Dazai for his job and pretending to be friendly. But actually being his friend? That was hard to understand.

Ango hadn't agreed to the mission, but he was outnumbered. Chuuya agreed only because it would give him something different to do. He was primarily used as an assassin, sent to kill troublesome Ability users who the government couldn't otherwise control or keep track of. All of his outings were a test of the way his own Ability functioned, although his handlers were loath to let Chuuya release the full extent of his power without a way to stop it, just in case Chuuya couldn’t.

Chuuya didn’t really mind. He didn’t want to release that part of him. He already felt enough like an imposter in his body.

Because Dazai’s Ability would first and foremost be used to test Chuuya’s, Chuuya was chosen to gain his trust and bring him to the Special Abilities Department. They didn’t want to use force if they could help it, which meant it be a long term mission. Chuuya was excited. He’d never been allowed out for so long.

Chuuya was also virtually unknown to anyone outside of the Special Abilities Department, which meant Dazai wouldn't have a chance at recognizing where he came from.

There were two parts to this mission. The first part, Chuuya wasn’t responsible for. One of the other government agents, Taneda, would meet with Dazai to discuss future options. He was a contact of Dazai’s and knew Dazai would ask him for a favor, or at the very least some advice. Taneda meeting with Dazai would throw off Dazai’s suspicions of the government being behind Chuuya’s appearance. That would be helpful for the second part of the mission, where Chuuya would have to gain Dazai’s trust.

There was a big problem that no one really knew how to overcome: Chuuya didn't know how normal relationships worked. He cared about people, but everyone around him shifted and changed and he didn't get to form attachments. He'd known Ango for a few months, and he was sure that at most he would know Ango for only a few months longer.

Most people who interacted with him kept him at arm's’ length. He knew how they saw him: as an experiment at best and a monster wearing a human’s body at worst.

This mission was the first one where Chuuya actually had to be a person.

Perhaps that was the part he was looking forward to the most.

*

Dazai knew that Odasaku meant well, but many times over the past two weeks he wondered if Odasaku knew how cruel it was asking Dazai to keep living.

It wasn’t fair. Dazai knew that it wasn’t fair to think that. Odasaku had only wanted a better life for Dazai.

The worst of his thoughts came in the middle of the night, when he couldn’t (wouldn’t) sleep because every time he closed his eyes, he relived the moment of Odasaku bleeding out in his arms.

Dazai’s thoughts were these: Odasaku was dead. Dazai didn’t have to keep the promise to live on as a good man.

But Dazai felt like he should.

Odasaku knew him, better than anyone else ever had. Perhaps Odasaku was the only one who had ever really known Dazai, who had bothered to see through the masks Dazai wore. Leaving the Mafia was easy. During the day, Dazai could even convince himself that he made the right choice.

But it took two weeks of disappearing completely to get to the point where he could meet someone who might be able to help him. Two weeks left alone with his thoughts. It took every ounce of willpower in him to not press his knife to his wrists, to not walk to the Bay Bridge and jump off. He would sit for hours convincing himself that he didn’t have to live forever. This wouldn’t be forever. Just long enough to try to live a better life, and if that didn’t work, he could die.

It wasn’t like things could get worse.

Two weeks, and the government agent he met told him that it would be two years before Dazai could surface again as a new man. He gave him a tip about an organization called the Armed Detective Agency, and then left.

Two years.

Dazai had to lay low for two years.

But it was something to look forward to.

Luckily, Dazai wasn’t the sort of person whose features stood out. He mostly kept to himself, but he had to go out on occasion to get food. He’d rented a small and simple apartment in the outskirts of the city, where the Mafia rarely if ever did business. Dazai had researched the area thoroughly beforehand. There were several areas like this, so it was unlikely that the Mafia would find him. If they hadn’t already managed to kill him, they wouldn’t continue to waste their resources looking for him.

He just had to be careful not to run into any of them.

There were a few bars in the area that he enjoyed going to. He could convince the bartenders that he was the legal drinking age, and although he felt a pang of sadness drinking alone, it was better than drinking in his apartment, or not-sleeping in his bed. The bars were good for people watching, and Dazai enjoyed people watching.

Still, Dazai hadn’t had a real conversation with anyone aside from the government agent, and although he wasn’t the most social person, he realized that he did miss talking to people. It was strange to only talk out loud when ordering a drink, or while buying food at the store. He wished he could go to Odasaku’s grave, if only to pretend like he was talking to his friend. But that would be too risky.

One night, Dazai noticed someone arguing with the bartender at one of the bars. He’d taken a corner table so that he could see everyone who came and left, and the sound of a slightly raised voice caught his attention.

The source of the voice was a small red-haired young man. Dazai couldn’t see his face, but he could hear the conversation and the subject matter made him laugh. The red-haired guy was trying to convince the bartender that he was, in fact, old enough to drink, and that his identification wasn’t fake.

Dazai headed over and leaned against the bar next to the guy, sliding his glass to the bartender. “You know,” he said, “I know this guy. He is actually telling the truth about being old enough, even though he looks like a kid.”

The young man next to Dazai glared, but Dazai ignored it. The bartender gave them both a look, but turned away to get their drinks.

Dazai caught sight of the ID before the young man snatched it away. Nakahara Chuuya. Dazai turned to him and smiled. “You owe me a drink now, Chuuya.”

Chuuya narrowed his eyes. Dazai was surprised to see that in addition to his red hair, he had blue eyes. Dazai could also see why the bartender thought he wasn’t of-age aside from height: he was dressed, for lack of a better word, like a teenager. He wore a black jacket with a hood over a long red sweater and a white t-shirt. There was a black choker around his neck.

The bartender came back with their drinks--both whiskeys. Dazai gestured for Chuuya to follow him and headed over to his corner table.

“So you figured out my name,” Chuuya said. “What’s yours?”

Dazai smiled. “You usually say thank you after getting a drink from someone.”

“Shut up,” Chuuya snapped, though pink dusted his cheeks. Dazai found that reaction interesting. “What kind of person doesn’t tell someone their name?”

“The kind of person who isn’t careless information,” Dazai said, taking a sip of his whiskey.

“Why did you help me?” Chuuya asked. “If you didn’t want to give someone your name, then doesn’t that mean you don’t want to talk to people?”

“Because you were being loud and I didn’t want you to make a scene,” Dazai said. But Chuuya had a point. Dazai didn’t want to get close to people. But not talking to anyone, ever, was harder than he thought.

Chuuya glared at him.

“You know,” Dazai added, “if you really want to convince people that you’re older, you shouldn’t dress like an emo teenager.”

“Emo?” Chuuya choked. “That’s--you’re wearing bandages!”

“Your point?” Dazai smirked. “Your horrible fashion combined with your lack of height makes you look twelve.”

“I don’t look twelve,” Chuuya said. “And at least I don’t look like a walking hospital.”

Dazai raised an eyebrow. “I think I look quite handsome,” he said. He’d changed his wardrobe upon leaving the Mafia, and he was quite happy with his choices.

“That’s not the point,” Chuuya said. “The point is, you never told me your name.”

“Why do you want to know?” Dazai asked. “It’s not like we’ll ever see each other again.”

“How do you know that?” Chuuya asked.

“I’ve never seen you here before,” Dazai said.

“I just moved,” Chuuya said.

“Is that so? Welcome to the neighborhood.” Dazai smiled.

Chuuya tilted his head. “Thank you?”

“It’s a nice area,” Dazai said. “A bit of a commute to most places, but cheaper, too.”

“Yeah,” Chuuya said. He sounded uncertain, which made Dazai want to probe deeper. He knew when he was being lied to.

Dazai leaned forward. “Did you live in the city before? Or are you from somewhere else?”

“I’m not from here,” Chuuya said. Dazai noticed that he faltered, and that set off more alarms in his head. Chuuya was very deliberately lying.

“Where are you from?” Dazai asked.

“Tokyo,” Chuuya said.

“Ah. A very nice city.” Dazai didn’t know why Chuuya would lie about something like that. Maybe it was a harmless reason, but Dazai didn’t think so. In his experience, those kind of lies were never told for harmless reasons. And given his circumstances, finding a weird person wanting to know more about him and lying to do it wasn’t just a coincidence.

“I take it you’re from here,” Chuuya said.

“Yup. Lived here all my life,” Dazai said. He had an idea. “You know, if you want, I can show you around.”

“Show me around?” Chuuya repeated. “The neighborhood?”

“Yeah,” Dazai said. “Not the whole city. I’m a busy guy, and I’m sure you have things to do. What is it that you do?”

“I’m a student,” Chuuya said. “I study literature.” Again, some hesitation.

Dazai nodded. “What’s your favorite book?”

“You ask a lot of questions for someone who won’t tell me his name,” Chuuya pointed out.

Dazai had to give him that. He decided that if Chuuya was doing what Dazai thought he was doing, then he probably already knew Dazai’s name. “My name is Dazai.”

“Okay,” Chuuya said. “I’ll remember that you promised to show me around, Dazai.” He stood up. “I have to go.”

“So soon?” Dazai pouted. Chuuya looked somehow uncomfortable. “But I was having so much fun! Can I at least get your number?” He pulled out his phone, and pulled up the contacts page. “Just add yourself here.”

Chuuya took the phone and typed in his number and name. Dazai noticed that he only put “Chuuya” rather than his family name and given name. He’d also thought it weird that Chuuya hadn’t objected to being called by his given name, since they didn’t know each other, and he wondered why that was.

“I’ll see you around, Chuuya,” he said.

Chuuya gave him a half-wave.

There were things about Chuuya didn’t add up. Even if they were small things, Dazai couldn’t afford to ignore anything in his situation. He’d had only offered to show Chuuya around because he wanted to keep an eye on Chuuya. It was easier to assess an enemy when they were in plain sight.

It was also possible that Chuuya was just weird, but in Dazai’s experience, if he felt that something was wrong it was usually because something was wrong.

And Chuuya clearly hadn’t trusted Dazai, either.

He hadn’t even touched his drink.

Chapter Text

It only took one “normal” conversation with Dazai for Chuuya to realize he didn’t know how to have one.

He’d been tailing Dazai for several weeks, waiting for him to settle somewhere. Once Dazai did pick a place to stay in hiding, Chuuya had to figure out how to introduce himself. That was harder. He wasn’t sure how to make it seem natural.

Dazai clearly had his suspicions, and Chuuya hated that he hadn’t been allowed to get close to other people before being sent out. He didn’t know how social rules worked, and this was the biggest flaw in the plan. It was one that he was expected to overcome by himself, and he couldn’t even figure out how.

The Special Abilities Department had given him a small apartment in the same neighborhood as Dazai’s, and it felt a bit like freedom. He wasn’t being poked or prodded. He wasn’t being ordered around. He took a lot of walks around the neighborhood to explore, and he was considering going further and actually taking a look at the city he’d spent his whole life never seeing.

He knew there was a microchip in his neck tracking his every move. He knew his cellphone was monitored. Any freedom he had was only an illusion, and if he strayed from his mission, he would be punished.

This was the most important mission he’d been given. The punishment for failure would be severe.

Part of Chuuya didn’t want to work with Dazai, if Dazai actually agreed to work with the government. Working with Dazai would require releasing the power that he kept sealed within himself, because the Special Abilities Department would want to test Dazai’s effect on it. It had been years since the last test was done, and Chuuya only remembered not remembering anything and the pain after.

Something else had completely taken over, reminding Chuuya that he was the product of some other entity being shoved into a body, and he could never be sure what his true self really was.

The day after he met Dazai, Chuuya took a walk in a nearby park. It was strange not having to stay in the shadows. It was spring, and the weather was nice. Plenty of people milled around. Chuuya always felt a strange sense of detachment when around other people. He wondered just how much separated him from them, or if he could even really be called a person.

It was easier to have these sorts of thoughts outside of the government facility, when confronted with the outside world. Even Dazai, who must have had a strange upbringing compared to most people, still understood more about how everything worked than Chuuya.

Chuuya found a tree with plenty of shade and sat at the base. Dazai’s Ability was called No Longer Human, which Chuuya found amusing. Dazai, to him, was very human. Despite his reputation as the demon prodigy of the Port Mafia, Dazai treated Chuuya like a normal person.

That, and Chuuya could tell the past few weeks had been hard on Dazai.

He didn’t know much about the details surrounding Dazai’s defection from the Port Mafia, and everyone he asked avoided telling him. All Chuuya knew was that it was extremely dangerous if not impossible to leave the Port Mafia, so Dazai must have had a good reason.

Chuuya couldn’t say how Dazai felt, but there was something in his eyes that resembled the look in Ango’s eyes lately. Ango had also been working with the Port Mafia on the Mimic case, and something had gone wrong. Chuuya guessed Ango’s issues and Dazai’s issues were related.

Some people were napping on the grass, or under the shade of other trees. Chuuya wanted to nap, too, even though he wasn’t tired. It looked relaxing. But he felt alert. He always felt alert when someone else was around.

Still, he figured no one was trying to kill him right now. He wanted to try it. He closed his eyes, taking deep breaths to try to ease the tension in his body.

It was almost working, too, when someone said, far too close to his ear, “Chuuya!”

Chuuya jumped up and nearly kicked the person behind him. He managed to suppress the reaction, and his eyes widened when he saw that the one who’d snuck up on him was Dazai.

Dazai smiled and raised a hand, waving.

Chuuya didn’t know how to respond to that. He also raised a hand and waved, but snapped, “why did you have to sneak up on me like that?”

“Clearly it was worth it,” Dazai said. “You had such an amusing reaction! Chuuya is very easy to startle.”

“Shut up.” Chuuya was annoyed that his relaxation had been interrupted, though he knew he shouldn’t be because his goal was to get Dazai to trust him. Dazai was making his job easier by being around like this.

“Can I sit with you?” Dazai asked.

“Sure,” Chuuya said. He plopped down at the base of the tree again, and Dazai sat next to him.

“You don’t have class today?” Dazai asked.

“No.” Chuuya realized it was a weekday. It occurred to him that if it was weird to be here, then Dazai was also not doing what people usually did at this time of day. “Do you...do anything?”

Dazai laughed. “I’m also a student!”

“Of what?” Chuuya asked.

“Philosophy,” Dazai said. “I’m doing my dissertation on suicide, and whether or not it is fair to keep someone alive who wants to die, and if the circumstances surrounding that decision matter.”

Chuuya didn’t know what a dissertation was, and the other stuff made his head spin. But Dazai was good at lying, clearly. “Why would you write about that kind of thing?”

“Because I want to die.” Dazai said it with a straight face, which was somehow more unsettling. “But, a friend asked me to live. It really is a difficult spot to be put in. It’s almost unfair.” Again, that look in his eyes was back, the one that Ango also had. There was something else there, too. Something hollow.

Chuuya was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “your friend is asking you, not telling you. So you can still choose to die if you want.”

Dazai stared at him for a moment. Then he laughed. “You’re right! What’s keeping me from dying?”

“If suicide is your own choice, but your friend’s request is keeping you from dying, then you’re not committed to the decision,” Chuuya said.

Dazai frowned. “I guess not. Well, success is much harder than failure. I’m too lazy to try to succeed at suicide right now, and my friend said that I might just find something that convinces me to live. What about you, Chuuya? Have you ever considered something like that?”

Chuuya had never considered suicide, but he’d never considered a lot of things. Most choices were not his to make, so in some ways he’d stopped thinking about choices at all. It was hard. He had his own opinions and his own wants, and he didn’t know how to feel about them. Were they really his own? Were they the product of the government’s experiment? Were they part of the experiment itself?

And even if he managed to accept that the things he wanted were things he wanted rather than things that whatever else resided in his body wanted, or things that he was programmed to want, he still couldn’t get what he wanted. The government controlled everything, and it was better to push everything aside, even if it was hard.

“Chuuya,” Dazai whined, bringing him back to the present. “It was a yes or no question!”

“I’ve never thought about it,” Chuuya said.

“That must be nice,” Dazai said, leaning against the tree with a sigh. He closed his eyes.

Despite looking relaxed, Chuuya could tell that Dazai wasn’t relaxed. His body was tense, like Chuuya’s had been.

“I’ll think about it more and come up with a better answer,” Chuuya said after a moment.

Dazai opened his eyes, looking surprised. “What if you don’t like what you come up with?”

Chuuya shrugged. “Then that’s just how it is.”

“Huh.” Dazai leaned forward and started picking at the grass. Then he scooped up the loose bits and flung them at Chuuya.

Chuuya yelped.

Dazai laughed. “We shouldn’t be so serious on such a nice day!”

“You started it,” Chuuya said, grabbing his own handful of grass and chucking it at Dazai’s face.

Dazai retaliated by throwing more grass. The people around were determinedly ignoring them. Chuuya noticed that they were drawing attention, which made him uncomfortable. He went from throwing grass to brushing it off his clothes.

“You have some in your hair,” Dazai said, reaching over to swipe his hand over Chuuya’s head. A few bits of grass fell off.

But when Dazai touched him, even though his hand was there and gone in a second, Chuuya felt the strangest sensation, like something was missing. He knew what it was.

Dazai had nullified his Ability.

He wondered if Dazai could tell. He felt Dazai’s hand on his hair again, brushing more of the grass out. Automatically, he returned the gesture. Dazai looked surprised, and he dropped his hands and stood up.

“Unlike some people, I actually do have an obligation today,” he said. “But I’ll see you around, Chuuya.”

Chuuya nodded and watched as Dazai walked away. A few minutes later, he could feel his Ability again, and the familiar energy racing under his skin that he wasn’t sure counted as an Ability or not. He wasn’t sure if that energy had gone with his Ability when Dazai touched him--he’d been too focused on the way it felt.

Chuuya’s Ability had been nullified countless times in the research facility, and it was always done through the use of artificial Ability inhibitors. Chuuya hated how they felt. Rather than getting rid of his Ability, the inhibitors simply forced it back. Chuuya’s Ability fought against it, and the result made him feel sick and unsettled.

With Dazai, his Ability had gone completely. There was no fight. And while it should have been fear inducing to be robbed of his Ability, to Chuuya it actually felt nice.

He knew he’d feel differently if he was in a situation where he had to use his Ability, but for now, he was surprised that his Ability could be taken away without a fight. Surprised and relieved. If Dazai joined the Special Abilities Department, then he would be the one nullifying Chuuya’s Ability during tests and missions. Chuuya would be able to avoid the unpleasantness of artificial inhibitors.

That would be nice.

He wanted to touch Dazai again, so that he could learn more.

Chapter Text

Dazai went straight from the park to his apartment and locked the door.

Chuuya had an Ability.

No Longer Human was always active, and one benefit to that was that Dazai didn’t have to consciously remember to activate it. When he touched someone’s skin (or hair), he automatically nullified their Ability.

He could feel when that happened.

It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling. It was just a feeling, like a brief burst of energy before the touch became just a normal touch.

When he’d touched Chuuya’s hair, he’d nullified something.

And Chuuya must have felt it, too, but he hadn’t said anything. Dazai took that to mean that Chuuya expected it, or at the very least wasn’t surprised. Most Ability users reacted with shock.

Chuuya definitely had been sent by someone to watch Dazai. That, Dazai was certain of now.

He wondered who sent Chuuya. He didn’t think it was the Mafia. Chuuya hadn’t yet tried to hurt him. Chuuya hadn’t been following him home, which was good. Chuuya only talked to him.

Chuuya hadn’t even sought him out earlier. Dazai liked knowing that he could take Chuuya by surprise, and Chuuya’s reactions told Dazai that he wasn’t used to being snuck up on. He’d seen Chuuya suppress a reaction when he’d jumped up after Dazai greeted him. Dazai had the same reactions when startled.

So where did Chuuya come from?

It wasn’t just Chuuya’s Ability that made him odd. Dazai had noticed his mannerisms in the bar, which had initially been what set off alarms. Those same mannerisms were prominent in their interactions today. The simple response to Dazai’s predicament about suicide was unusual.

And when Dazai had asked if Chuuya had ever considered it for himself, the amount of time Chuuya took to think it through was also unusual.

Most people would either say no, or if the answer was “yes” would shut down or get defensive about someone asking such a personal question of a stranger. Chuuya did neither of those things.

He genuinely took it into consideration, and from the look on his face, Dazai could see that it had triggered some internal debate in Chuuya strong enough to briefly make Chuuya forget his surroundings. Dazai wondered what exactly Chuuya had been thinking about. Those thoughts would tell him a lot about Chuuya.

Dazai wished that he could access information now the same way he could in the Mafia. He couldn't simply make a guess that he was certain about based on what he'd seen so far, and Chuuya didn't act in any way that gave him any answers.

His thoughts drifted back to Chuuya's Ability. By now, Chuuya definitely knew about Dazai's Ability, which was a shame. Dazai wanted to see Chuuya activate his.

He had Chuuya's number. He considered how he wanted their next meeting to go. So far, he'd been the one directing the nature of their interactions. He wondered if that was intentional on Chuuya's part, or if Dazai had just been lucky.

Ordinarily, Dazai would prefer to invite Chuuya out for drinks. But he thought it would be pointless. Chuuya hadn’t gotten drunk last time, and he would probably make sure not to get drunk this time, either.

Coffee, then. Dazai sent a text asking Chuuya if he wanted to meet up the next day for coffee or lunch. Chuuya texted back that he’d like to meet for coffee after lunch.

Dazai couldn’t afford to do anything rash. He had to feel this situation out. That meant talking to Chuuya like he was a normal person rather than confronting and interrogating him.

Even if Chuuya’s presence was a danger, Dazai found it a relief in some ways. He didn’t have to sit with his own thoughts.

*

“Shit…”

Chuuya had asked Ango what a person did when meeting another person for coffee, and Ango told him that usually, one would just order a coffee and pick a table. Chuuya had gotten there early, because he wanted to get his bearings before Dazai arrived. He wanted to appear as comfortable as possible.

That plan fell apart as soon as Chuuya saw the menu.

Coffee was coffee. The scientists in the facility drank a lot of it, and Chuuya thought it was simple. It went well with milk and sugar, but some people drank it by itself.

Yet this menu had a lot more than just “coffee.” Chuuya found that out the hard way when he asked for a coffee and got asked in return, “what kind?”

He’d let other people go ahead of him and stepped back to look at the menu. The barista probably thought he was an idiot. Chuuya felt like an idiot.

There were a lot of foreign words littering the menu. Chuuya’s personal opinion of coffee was that it was fine, and it woke him up. He wondered what he was missing. He wondered if he should try something new. Maybe a latte…

“Chuuya!”

Chuuya jumped. Dazai clapped his hand on Chuuya’s shoulder, which made Chuuya almost jump a second time. He needed to figure out how Dazai kept sneaking up on him. Chuuya was usually very good at sensing the people around him.

“Quit doing that,” Chuuya snapped.

“You waited for me,” Dazai said. “How nice! Are you paying for my drink, too?”

Did people usually pay for each others’ drinks? Chuuya had chosen the time, but Dazai had chosen the place. “Do you want me to?”

Dazai smiled. “I couldn’t say no to an offer like that.”

“Fine,” Chuuya said. “What are you getting?”

“A small vanilla latte.”

Chuuya went up to the register and ordered two vanilla lattes. Dazai had picked a table by the window. When Chuuya handed him the coffee, he smiled.

Chuuya sat down and took a sip of his vanilla latte. It was sweet, but not too sweet. It was a lot less bitter than the coffee Chuuya was used to, though. He decided he liked it, and he couldn’t help smiling at having found something so pleasant to drink.

Then he realized Dazai was watching him, a thoughtful expression on his face.

“What?” Chuuya asked.

“You look like you’re really enjoying that,” Dazai said.

“I am,” Chuuya said. “Why did you ask me for coffee, anyway?”

“Because that’s what friends do,” Dazai said. “They go out for coffee. I figured you’re new here, so you’d want a companion to spend time with. I can do a lot more than just show you around.”

“Friend?” Chuuya repeated. If Dazai thought they were friends already, then Chuuya’s job was going very well.

“I’m in need of a few friends, too,” Dazai said with a sigh. “My friends moved recently, so I’m feeling a bit lonely.”

Chuuya wondered if Dazai was being genuine. He assumed leaving the Port Mafia was hard. Dazai would have left behind everyone he knew. But he wondered if being in the Port Mafia had also been lonely, especially as an Executive.

“You just moved here,” Dazai added. “Did you leave some friends behind? You don’t seem like you have any right now.”

“I guess I did,” Chuuya said. For the sake of a lie he could pretend Ango was his friend. “But it’s fine. We still talk.”

“So lucky!” Dazai’s smile faded slightly. “I don’t talk to my friends anymore.”

“Why not?” Chuuya asked.

“That’s a story for another day,” Dazai said. “So have you given my suicide question anymore thought?”

Chuuya almost choked on his coffee. “Why would you bring that up now?” he hissed.

“I was curious,” Dazai said.

Chuuya had given it some thought. His body didn’t feel like his in more than one way. The government had experimented with him and put something in his body that didn’t belong there. Chuuya still wasn’t sure who he really was, and what was driving his thoughts and decisions. The other thing was that the government decided what happened to Chuuya.

Which meant he’d never considered such a thing.

He wondered how honest he could be. Dazai wouldn’t be satisfied with Chuuya saying, once again, that he hadn’t thought about it.

“I don’t think I have the right,” he said.

Dazai leaned forward, looking at Chuuya more closely. “You don’t think you have the right,” he repeated. “What would hold you back?”

Chuuya was sure that if he tried something like that, he’d never get away with it. He was constantly monitored, after all. “I don’t even want to,” he said instead.

Dazai didn’t look satisfied with that answer. “Right. I forgot that most people don’t want to do that. But I told you that my friend asked me not to die. I guess in a sense, you could say that I don’t feel like I have the right, either, because he asked me not to.”

“Where is he now?” Chuuya couldn’t help the question.

Something changed in Dazai’s eyes. This was a worse expression than the one he had worn before, the one that reminded him of Ango. He almost looked angry. He drained his coffee and stood up, and for a moment Chuuya thought Dazai would leave him there.

“Let’s take a walk,” Dazai said. “You can take that with you.”

Chuuya grabbed his cup and followed Dazai out of the cafe.

Outside, the weather was nice again. The idea of Dazai having friends in the Mafia was just as perplexing as the idea of Ango making a friend there. Maybe he had the wrong idea about friends.

Dazai had said he and Chuuya were friends.

Chuuya didn’t think Dazai was lying. The look in his eyes wasn’t the look of someone who was lying. Chuuya wasn’t the best at reading people, but that didn’t mean he was completely unable to.

Dazai had a friend who told him not to die. Dazai had been in the Mafia, and had suddenly left despite having a good position. Ango had been Dazai’s friend, and then the Mafia found out that Ango was a triple agent. Did that mean that Ango was the friend Dazai was talking about?

That couldn’t be it. Ango said Dazai was angry at him.

There had to be something Chuuya was missing.

Chuuya was tempted to ask Ango, but that would require Ango to reveal something that was probably very personal. It would also be prying into Dazai’s personal history without asking him, and even though Chuuya should be doing that for his job, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to. It was clearly a hard subject for Dazai.

“Chuuya,” Dazai said, breaking him out of his thoughts. Chuuya didn’t recognize where they were. They’d stopped walking. “Do you enjoy being alive?”

It was a weird question. Did Chuuya enjoy being alive? He’d never considered it. Pretending to live the life of a normal person was probably the most he’d enjoyed being alive. Even talking to Dazai--or especially talking to Dazai--made him feel something that he’d never felt before. He couldn’t tell what the feeling was.

“I think so,” he said.

Dazai frowned, and started walking again. “Most of this neighborhood is made up of residences, so there’s not much of interest to see,” he said. “There’s parks, of course, and the train station. Some restaurants and cafes and bars. It’s really quiet. There’s also a river.”

Chuuya took a moment to process the change in conversation. “Are we going there?” He hadn’t seen the river yet.

“Yup.” Dazai shoved his hands into his pockets. “There’s a bridge crossing the river, but it’s a pretty far walk from here. Sometimes I like to walk there anyway.”

For some reason this conversation made Chuuya uneasy. “Walks are nice,” was all he could say.

Dazai hummed. “Walks are good for thinking. Sometimes I wonder if I could walk away from my problems.”

The river had come into sight now at the end of the road. It was wider than Chuuya thought. The water moved in a swift current.

“Of course,” Dazai continued, “no one can really walk away from their problems. This river is actually a lot calmer, usually. But with the snow melting, it swells in the spring.” Now they reached the edge. Nothing separated them from the water except a low railing.

Chuuya couldn’t see anything in the brown waters.

“The only way to truly rest is to die,” Dazai said. “That’s why disregarding the words of my friend is so appealing. Surely, he would understand.”

Chuuya was so focused on the water that he almost didn’t notice the movement besides him. Dazai had almost gone over the railing by that time, and it was only by reflex that Chuuya dropped his cup and reached out to grab Dazia’s coat.

He had a brief moment where he could activate his Ability to pull Dazai back despite most of Dazai’s momentum carrying him forward. Dazai crashed onto the sidewalk, his head nearly cracking against the pavement.

Chuuya took a deep breath to say something, maybe to yell at Dazai, but words failed him. Dazai didn’t even look upset.

He sat up and frowned at Chuuya. “You were a little rough, don’t you think?”

That snapped Chuuya out of his shock.

“What the hell was that?” Chuuya’s voice rose and broke. “You said you were showing me around, not taking me here so that I could watch you die.”

“I wanted to see if you would,” Dazai said.

“What?” Chuuya wanted to leave. But he couldn’t. He had to gain Dazai’s trust. He couldn’t even tell what Dazai was thinking anymore.

“Well, some people would just let me die,” Dazai said. He stood up, brushing off his coat. “That said, I don’t have time for another attempt tonight.”

“You don’t have time,” Chuuya repeated.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to find your own way home,” Dazai said. “I’ll see you around.”

He started walking away. Chuuya was tempted to follow, but that would just mean continuing their bizarre conversation. He had too many things to wrap his head around.

Were all people like this?

Which part of what Dazai had said was genuine? Dazai talked about not wanting to live a lot, and Chuuya had a feeling he was being serious even though he brought it up like it wasn’t a serious topic. Dazai seemed careless about the words of his friend sometimes, and seemed to take them to heart at others.

The things that Dazai said sounded like a confession of deeper feelings, but he’d given them away to Chuuya without knowing him for that long.

Maybe Dazai’s feelings about death weren’t the most important feelings to Dazai. Chuuya could only conclude that they weren’t the feelings that could be used against him. There had to be a reason Dazai had told Chuuya, though. It had to be the same reason Dazai emphasized their friendship.

It reminded Chuuya of when he was younger, and some of the scientists in the lab were kind and talked to him like a real person before subjecting him to a series of painful tests.

Chuuya’s legs felt weak.

What if Dazai knew what Chuuya was trying to do, and was trying in turn to lull Chuuya into a false sense of security?

Chuuya allowed his legs to give out, and he sat with his back to the river, trying to calm down.

If that was the case, then Chuuya had already failed.

And he couldn’t fail.

Chapter Text

Dazai liked testing other people. He was good at it, too.

What a test this had been.

Chuuya needed him alive. That was the first thing Dazai learned. Perhaps Chuuya had also saved him out of the goodness of his heart, but either way, he had seemed relieved when Dazai was saved.

Chuuya had to know by now that Dazai knew about his Ability. Chuuya had used the Ability to pull Dazai back before he fell over.

He hated that Chuuya could so easily ask the things that would get to Dazai the most. Dazai could put up as many walls as possible and the wound of Odasaku’s death would still hurt when touched. He didn’t even think Chuuya was hurting him on purpose. He hadn’t seen anything in Chuuya’s eyes other than curiosity when he’d asked where Odasaku was now.

Of course whoever was after Dazai wouldn’t know about Odasaku. Oda didn’t matter to anyone else. He was no one. He’d just been a handyman who wouldn’t kill, essentially useless to any criminal organization that would have him.

Dazai forced himself out of those thoughts. Continuing to think of Odasaku right now would lead him somewhere he didn’t want to go. So he thought about Chuuya again.

Chuuya didn’t know if he enjoyed living.

Some people didn’t enjoy life but didn’t necessarily want to die. Chuuya, however, didn’t feel like he had the right to die. He’d never said what was holding him back. Dazai could only guess that Chuuya had never considered suicide an option because he didn’t feel like he had the right to make that sort of decision.

So what organization did Chuuya come from?

Dazai doubted that Chuuya came from the Port Mafia. The Mafia wouldn't have tried to gain his trust. Whoever sent Chuuya wanted Dazai alive, and wanted Dazai to form some sort of relationship with Chuuya.

The Mafia, however, was the largest organization of Ability users in the city. Dazai couldn't see a smaller organization sparing that much time and effort to get close to him. The government had its own set of Ability users, and Dazai wondered if they could be the source. Taneda had met with him to discuss options, but that didn't mean that there was an agenda that Taneda didn't know about.

The other option was the Agency.

Dazai would need to hide for two years before his record was clean enough that he could resurface as a new man, but that didn't mean the Agency couldn't scope him out. If Dazai knew about the Agency, it was possible that the Agency also knew about him.

If Chuuya was from the Agency, then maybe the Agency also wanted Dazai to join.

That felt too good to be true.

Dazai didn't know much about the Agency, but he didn't think they were the sort of organization that would make someone feel like they didn't have the right to die. Maybe he was thinking about it the wrong way. If Chuuya was stupidly loyal, then that could be why Chuuya felt that way. Or maybe whatever made Chuuya feel that way was independent of any organization he belonged to.

If there was a third organization, then Dazai didn't know about it, and he found that unsettling.

The only way to know was to find out directly from Chuuya himself. That would involve showing all his cards.

The problem was, Chuuya probably already knew everything about Dazai. He would know where Dazai came from, and now he knew what Dazai's Ability was. Dazai didn't have any valuable information, and he hated being in that position. Chuuya knew more. Chuuya had the upper hand, even with what Dazai knew.

They could continue dancing around each other. But if Chuuya did need Dazai alive for something, then if Dazai confronted him, he wouldn't be killed.

A voice in the back of his head reminded him that even if Chuuya decided to kill him, that wouldn't be so bad.

Dazai made up his mind.

*

Chuuya wasn't a hard person to find.

Dazai found him on the second day of looking and followed him home from a convenience store. Whoever had chosen Chuuya as the person to go after Dazai clearly hadn't been thinking about subtlety. Chuuya was the only person in this neighborhood with red hair.

He followed Chuuya for a few blocks, and then Chuuya entered a small building. Dazai couldn't easily enter the building without Chuuya noticing, so he hung back. A few minutes later, he made his way to the door. Another resident came out, and Dazai held the door for him.

"I have a question," he said as politely as he could. "I'm looking for a friend who just moved here. He left his cell phone in the bar and I wanted to return it, but I don't remember which apartment is his. He's short, with red hair."

The man looked thoughtful. "I think 2A," he said after a moment.

Dazai smiled. "Thank you." The man nodded and walked away.

People could be so stupid sometimes. Dazai climbed the stairs to the second floor and stood in front of the door marked 2A, trying to think of how he wanted to do this. He needed to show that he was a threat, even though Chuuya probably already knew that. But Chuuya hadn't yet perceived Dazai as a threat to him, personally, because Dazai had said the two of them were friends.

Dazai knocked.

As soon as Chuuya opened the door, Dazai lunged at him, forcing him inside. He shoved Chuuya against the nearest wall and pressed a knife to his throat. The door closed behind them.

Before Dazai could say anything, he felt something cold and sharp against the side of his neck. Chuuya had a knife as well.

Chuuya's eyes were hard, any trace of friendliness gone.

"You really need to be more careful," Dazai said. "Looking the way you do, you stand out more than anyone else. You're not even trying to hide."

Chuuya didn't say anything.

"You can't kill me," Dazai continued. "If you could, you would've tried already."

"Not true," Chuuya said. "I can kill you." He pressed the knife harder into Dazai's skin.

Dazai mimicked the action and ignored his words. "I, however, have no problem with killing you. Chances are, you're not someone anyone cares about. And I know how to do it. I think you know what I'm capable of."

Chuuya's mouth formed a thin line.

"I know you're an Ability user," Dazai said. "I can feel it when I nullify Abilities. I know you know I'm one, too, because you would have felt it when I touched your skin."

Chuuya's knife arm dropped, but Dazai grabbed his wrist to prevent Chuuya from doing anything with that arm.

"I know you've been lying to me," Dazai continued. "You're not a student. And I probably don't have to tell you anything about myself, because you probably already know it."

Again, Chuuya didn't say anything. Dazai wondered if he was scared. Most people were scared when put in this position.

"You saved my life," Dazai said. "You used your Ability to do it, and I think that means you actually won't kill me. You need me for something. So you might as well tell me, since there's nothing I can tell you that you don't already know. Maybe we can come to an agreement, and I won't kill you."

"Former Port Mafia Executive Dazai Osamu," Chuuya said. His voice was serious, but suddenly, he laughed.

Dazai opened his mouth to ask him what the joke was when Chuuya suddenly pushed himself off the wall. Before Dazai could process what was happening, Chuuya had propelled him across the hallway to slam him into the opposite wall, and pinned him there. He was smiling.

"You can't kill me," he said.

"Don't be ridiculous," Dazai said. "If you can die, I can kill you. And you're so small." That said, despite his small stature, Chuuya was incredibly strong. Dazai could hardly move, and it unsettled him. This was Chuuya not using his Ability, whatever that Ability was.

"You, personally, can't kill me," Chuuya said. "Even though you were a Mafia Executive, you weren't good at combat."

"And how would you know that?" Dazai asked.

"You said I know about you already," Chuuya said, "and you were right. I know that you're a shitty fighter-"

"I wouldn't go that far," Dazai interrupted. Was that really what other organizations thought of him?

"You're right about some things and wrong about others," Chuuya said. "I really don't want to kill you. I'm not a student. You were wrong about me knowing everything. I didn't know about your friend."

Of course he wouldn't, because Odasaku could be overlooked. "That was just making conversation."

"You weren't just making conversation," Chuuya said. "I didn't feel like you were lying."

"Even if I wasn't, it's not very important, is it?"

Chuuya's eyebrows drew together. "I thought it was."

Dazai couldn't see how. That kind of thing wouldn't be important to anyone but Dazai himself. "How can you be sure of anything I've said? Are you so good at reading people, Chuuya?" Dazai asked. "Because you're a terrible liar yourself."

Chuuya made a frustrated noise. "You still don't know who I am."

"Why don't you tell me?" Dazai asked.

"Because you don't need to know."

"If we both know that we don't have innocent intentions with each other, why not just take me in now?" Dazai asked.

Chuuya frowned. "I don't think you'd come with me."

"Why not?"

"Because you just escaped from the Mafia. You wouldn't willingly put yourself in a position where someone else has power over you," Chuuya said. "I would be fine continuing things like they've been."

Dazai was surprised by that. "I could run away."

"I could find you," Chuuya said. "Besides, I'm not from the Mafia. I'm not going to bring you back to them. I can even help you. If the Mafia comes looking, I can get rid of them."

Dazai stared at him. "What do you mean by that?"

"What do you think I mean?"

Dazai didn't have many options. He hadn't expected any of this. He'd hoped for a fight, one in which he could kill Chuuya. In the absence of a fight, he'd hoped that Chuuya would come clean about who sent him. Chuuya clearly didn't plan on either of those things happening.

"You're either from the government or the Agency," Dazai said. It was the only thing he could think of that might both throw Chuuya off and hit upon a truth.

Chuuya gave him a strange smile and took a step back, freeing Dazai from his hold.

Dazai kept himself pressed against the wall. He wasn't stupid enough to attack, but he didn't want to leave. Not without figuring out what to do about Chuuya.

"I think," he said when Chuuya didn’t answer, "that you're in need of friends."

Chuuya's eyes widened slightly, and Dazai knew he'd made the right decision.

"You were lying when you said you still talk to your friends," Dazai continued. "You don't have any. But I think you want one."

"What makes you think that?" Chuuya asked. His voice was defensive.

"A hunch," Dazai said. "It's true that I don't know where you came from, and your goal is to keep track of me because someone needs me. But what do you want?"

"I want...I want this to go well," Chuuya said.

Dazai frowned, but he didn't really know what to ask. He assumed Chuuya meant his job, whatever it was, with Dazai.

"Well, since the success or failure of your job rests in my hands, then let's make a deal," Dazai said. "I won't leave, if you make sure that no one else comes after me."

Chuuya looked at him for a moment, considering. "Fine."

Dazai smiled. "Great! In that case, I'll see you around! Unless there's anything else?"

"There isn't."

Dazai nodded. "Have a good afternoon, Chuuya." He felt Chuuya's eyes on him as he headed out the door.

There was one part of the deal that Dazai hadn't mentioned: the second that Chuuya made a move on Dazai, the second that Dazai felt like he was going to be taken by any organization, he would be gone.

And ideally, he'd kill Chuuya on the way out.

*

Chuuya had started suppressing fear early in life. So many things were out of his control that if he didn't, he'd be scared all the time. He became numb to it instead.

Now, however, he felt scared.

It crept up on him. As he made himself curry rice (one of the few things he knew how to make himself), he just felt uneasy. Dazai's visit could have ended badly. He'd known when he figured out that Dazai could sneak up on him that it would come back to bite him, and it did.

But it hadn't turned out too badly. Chuuya's initial feeling was relief. He had managed to not kill Dazai and not get killed himself, and he'd gotten Dazai to agree to stay. He hadn't given away who sent him, even if Dazai knew that someone wanted to use him.

Chuuya almost forgot that he'd been cooking when the rice cooker went off, signalling that the rice was done.

By the time he sat down, he wasn't hungry. He took a bite of rice anyway and felt sick.

Then he realized he was shaking.

Chuuya didn't get scared. At first he couldn't figure out why he felt so horrible. Then he realized that it was because he'd failed. Even though Dazai had agreed to stay, Dazai didn't trust him. Dazai would never trust him, because he'd seen through Chuuya's attempts at friendship.

Chuuya hadn't been able to play the part of a normal 18-year-old student, and as a result Dazai had been able to guess that Chuuya was sent by someone to keep track of him. And it didn't have to do with Chuuya's Ability.

Dazai had said that Chuuya was a bad liar.

Chuuya was being monitored. Even if he said nothing, someone back at the Special Abilities Department probably knew. It would be almost impossible for Dazai to trust him now, and he was sure that if he tried to take Dazai in, Dazai would leave, because in no part of their deal did Dazai agree to allow himself to be taken in.

Dazai had thought that Chuuya was part of the government or the Armed Detective Agency, but even thinking that, he hadn't offered his services to either one.

Chuuya shoved his food aside.

He thought he'd been doing well, and instead he'd compromised the mission. He didn't know what to do about this. Maybe he could keep the extent of his failure hidden for some time through omission. He didn't know exactly how much the Special Abilities Department knew about his interactions with Dazai. He'd always been conditioned to assume that they knew everything about him at all times.

Chuuya had never failed a mission.

He forced himself to leave the food behind and walk to his room. He got into bed and took deep breaths, trying to calm down.

None of those missions had been like this one. He hadn’t had to think much. He’d just used his body and his Ability to fight, and kill, and that was so much easier than whatever this was. If he’d been asked to kill Dazai, he could have done it without a problem.

He wondered if it would be better to watch Dazai from a distance, like he watched some of his targets before killing them. He couldn’t possibly mess up if he wasn’t talking to Dazai, and as things were he couldn’t gain Dazai’s trust anyway because Dazai knew his intentions were on behalf of someone else.

Maybe he should forfeit the mission to someone else entirely and deal with the consequences.

There was one thing that he got stuck on.

Dazai had also said that Chuuya needed friends.

Dazai didn’t know the truth. He’d guessed that Chuuya didn’t have any friends, but he didn’t know that Chuuya didn’t understand friendship at all. Somehow, despite having been in the Mafia, Dazai understood friendship very well. Dazai had tried to deny it, but Chuuya knew that what he’d said about his friend asking him to live was true.

Dazai’s desire for death was also true. Chuuya could see that. And Dazai could have easily killed himself in any number of ways, could have let himself be caught and killed by the Mafia, and yet he didn’t. He fought to stay hidden, and to stay alive.

Chuuya realized that the attempt by the river had been a test, and one that Chuuya failed. He’d saved Dazai’s life and in the process he’d shown Dazai that he needed Dazai alive.

He couldn’t understand where friendship came into all this. Dazai seemed to be suggesting that they could benefit from each other in some way that amounted to more than Dazai remaining safe and Chuuya keeping track of him.

Chuuya’s job was to gain Dazai’s trust and convince him to join the Special Abilities Department.

Chuuya had never considered being Dazai’s friend.

He had to admit, as he pressed his face into his pillow and dug his nails into the palms of his hands, that he could have really used one right now.

Chapter Text

Dazai needed information, and he needed it fast.

Sometimes the best course of action was the most simple one. Dazai had spent years in the midst of and making elaborate and intricate plans. Now, he called the only person he had as a contact besides Chuuya, simply because he knew that person wouldn’t turn him in yet. Because he hadn’t turned him in before.

Dazai used a payphone in another neighborhood.

Taneda picked up a few rings in. “Can I help you?”

“It seems I’ve gained the interest of a certain Ability user,” Dazai told him, “which is troublesome considering I’m trying to stay hidden in order to get a clean slate. He’s been sent by some organization, and I want more information on him.”

“Do you know his name?” Taneda asked.

“Nakahara Chuuya,” Dazai said.

There was a pause. Then Taneda said, “I can’t guarantee anything, but I’ll look into it and see if we have records of anyone by that name.”

“He’s not yours?” Dazai asked.

“Not that I know of,” Taneda said.

“And he’s not from the Agency?”

“I don’t know. As I said, I’d have to find his records.”

That was frustrating, but at least Taneda was saying he would look. Dazai could hold him to that later.

“You better let me know soon. I can’t promise I won’t kill him if he makes a move,” Dazai said.

“Give me two weeks,” Taneda said, “and then call me back. If something happens before then, call me sooner.”

He hung up.

Dazai spent the walk home reflecting on the conversation. He still couldn’t rule out the Agency or the government.

He would wait two days before texting Chuuya.

The best source of information about Chuuya would be Chuuya himself.

*

Dazai texted Chuuya two days later, but he didn’t see Chuuya until a full week after they’d talked in Chuuya’s apartment.

Chuuya texted him back on day six after they’d last seen each other, saying that they could meet for coffee the next day. Dazai wondered where he’d been, and why he hadn’t answered the text. It was possible he’d been shaken enough after the confrontation that he’d needed time to regroup and plan a different approach.

But coffee wasn’t a different approach.

Dazai got there after Chuuya once again, and he noticed that like the first time, Chuuya was staring at the menu. Last time, Chuuya had ordered the same thing as Dazai.

Dazai didn’t know what Chuuya’s preferences were for anything. He’d ordered the same coffee as Dazai. He’d paid for it because Dazai suggested he should. He’d accepted the whiskey Dazai bought for him the first time they met, but hadn’t drank it. He also hadn’t complained about it. He couldn’t form an opinion about suicide. He didn’t know what he wanted beyond wanting to do his job.

He didn’t have friends.

The first time they met, Chuuya had been having a rather passionate argument with the bartender. There were glimpses of intense emotion that broke through at random times--another time Dazai noticed it was when Chuuya pulled him back from the river. But otherwise, Chuuya seemed like a subdued person.

Maybe it wasn’t by choice.

Chuuya seemed to give up on the menu after five minutes, which was still a long time to spend considering a menu that was almost identical to the menu of any other chain cafe. He ordered a vanilla latte, and then turned around. His eyes widened when he saw Dazai.

Dazai smiled around the uneasiness that he felt on seeing Chuuya’s face. Chuuya looked unwell, or like someone who hadn’t slept in a while. His face was pale, his eyes dull.

“Find us a table,” Dazai said. Chuuya nodded and headed towards the tables by the window.

Dazai ordered his drink and sat down across from Chuuya.

“So that’s your favorite kind of coffee?” he asked.

Chuuya frowned. “This one? A vanilla latte? Yeah.”

“Liar,” Dazai said. He leaned forward. “Come on, Chuuya. You can be honest. Is it possible that you’ve never had coffee before meeting me for one here?”

“I’ve had coffee before,” Chuuya said.

“Then why don’t you understand the menu?” Dazai asked.

“Because the words are foreign.”

“No one else has a problem with that unless it’s their first time ordering,” Dazai pointed out. “I can assume that you’ve never been to a cafe before, or if you have, it’s been very rare. That’s almost impossible these days.”

“What’s your point?” Chuuya asked. “Maybe I haven’t been to a cafe. Is it really that important?”

Every detail was important, but Dazai didn’t say so out loud. “You said you were from Tokyo. That’s not true.”

“How do you know that?” Chuuya asked. He was leaning away from the table, not touching his drink.

Dazai sighed. “Chuuya, how are we supposed to be friends if I don’t know anything about you. I mean, I know that you have a job to do, but if we’re going to spend so much time together, we might as well get to know each other. Besides, it’s not fair that you know so much about me.”

He thought that would be enough to convince Chuuya. Chuuya didn’t know how friendship worked, so he should have been convinced by Dazai’s appeal to put them on equal footing with regards to information.

“I don’t know what your favorite drink is,” Chuuya said. “I don’t know who your friend was. I don’t know why you left the mafia. I don’t know what you like to eat. I don’t know what you like to do aside from talk about suicide. And we’re not friends.”

Dazai blinked, trying to process all that. “You know about the mafia, which is arguably my biggest secret,” he said. “You know my Ability. I bet you know my birthday, my age, my long list of crimes--”

“That stuff isn’t important,” Chuuya said.

“It’s not? I don’t know those things about you,” Dazai said. “Surely that stuff is important to your organization.”

“They know it all already,” Chuuya said, “which is part of why it’s not important. The other reason is…” Chuuya hesitated.

Dazai didn’t get the sense that Chuuya didn’t want to tell him, but rather than that Chuuya was trying to put it into words.

“You were right when you said I have no friends,” Chuuya said. He didn’t look upset about it. He was just stating a fact. “I don’t really know much about friendship. That’s information I can...gain...because otherwise we can’t be friends.”

Dazai frowned. “So you want a friend? Is that because it’s ideal for your mission objective or because you genuinely want one?”

“Would you really let me be your friend?” Chuuya asked. “Would you believe any answer I gave you?”

Truthfully, Dazai wouldn’t. “I’m going to make a guess,” he said, “and you tell me if I’m right or wrong.”

“That’s not how it works,” Chuuya muttered.

“I’m under the impression you don’t know how anything works,” Dazai said. Chuuya glared at him. “I said that you were either from the Agency or the government.”

“So?”

“Based on how much you don’t know that everyone else does,” Dazai said, “I’m going to go with you being from the government. Am I wrong?”

“That’s interesting,” Chuuya said. “I don’t think you knew how friendship worked either until you met the friend you’ve been talking about. You don’t seem like the sort of person who would know.”

“I’m wounded,” Dazai said. “But seriously, Chuuya, I’m not just talking about friendship. You don’t know a lot.”

“That’s why you think I’m with the government,” Chuuya said.

Dazai nodded.

Chuuya scoffed. “The Agency is an organization of Ability users that deals with things that the police won’t deal with. Their members come from all sorts of places and circumstances. Ability users don’t lead normal lives, so it’s possible that despite not knowing much, I could be from the Agency. Or I could be from the government. Or.” Chuuya smiled. “Neither. I could be from somewhere you don’t know about.”

Dazai really didn’t like the idea of Chuuya being from an organization he wasn’t aware of. The worst part was, he couldn’t decide which was the truth based on Chuuya’s answer. Chuuya was doing the same thing he did when asked an opinion of something: being neutral about it. And Dazai got the sense that for this particular thing, Chuuya was doing it on purpose, so that Dazai wouldn’t be able to tell what he thought about either organization.

“Let’s say you’re not from either one of them,” Dazai said, but then he backtracked. That wouldn’t be helpful because Chuuya wouldn’t tell him anything identifying. “Wait--let’s talk about something personal. Like your childhood!”

“My childhood?” Chuuya repeated, frowning.

“Everyone has one,” Dazai said. “No matter how screwed up it is--and let me tell you, amongst Ability users, it can get pretty screwed up.”

“I know,” Chuuya said.

“Personally, I sought out death,” Dazai continued, “but that probably isn’t very surprising. When I couldn’t achieve my death, I wanted to get close to other people’s deaths. Like maybe it would make me feel more alive. That’s pretty unusual for a teenager.”

“I guess it is,” Chuuya said.

“What were you doing?” Dazai asked. “I joined the Port Mafia at fifteen.”

Something in Chuuya’s expression closed off. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

That was not the reaction Dazai expected. “Why not?”

“Do I need a reason?” Chuuya asked.

The hard look in his eyes was enough to get Dazai to back off. “No, I guess you don’t. So childhood is out. What else…” Dazai tapped his chin, thinking of other topics that would be telling. For years, Dazai’s life was consumed by his work. He didn’t really have much to offer Chuuya aside from talking about his friendship, and that was one thing he didn’t want to talk about.

Chuuya had turned to look out the window, also deep in thought.

“What’s your Ability?” Dazai asked.

Chuuya turned back to him, frowning. “What?”

“You know mine. It’s only fair that I know yours,” Dazai said.

“Gravity manipulation,” Chuuya said.

Dazai raised an eyebrow. “That’s kind of vague. Explain it.”

“I can manipulate the gravity of things I touch,” Chuuya said, which wasn’t much better. Dazai had a feeling Chuuya knew it, too. There was a light in his eyes that hadn’t been there before.

“What can you do with it?” Dazai asked. “I know you can increase your strength, since that’s how you pulled me away from the river. Can you make things float?”

“Of course I can,” Chuuya said.

“Show me,” Dazai said.

Chuuya picked up his coffee cup and then let it go. It remained hovering above the table. He grabbed it again before other people could notice.

“What else?” Dazai asked.

“Your Ability can only do one thing,” Chuuya said. “So maybe I should only show you one thing about mine.”

“That’s not fair,” Dazai moaned. “It’s not my fault my Ability only does one thing! And you already told me two things, Chuuya. Floating and strength.”

“I can climb on walls and ceilings,” Chuuya said. He sounded proud.

Dazai imagined Chuuya standing on the ceiling of his apartment. Then he imagined touching Chuuya and having him fall into a heap. He started laughing.

Chuuya frowned. “What’s funny?”

“How easily I could make you fall if you did that around me,” Dazai said. “How much do you rely on your Ability anyway?”

“It’s part of me,” Chuuya said, “but I know how to work without it.”

Dazai had an idea. He knew Chuuya was skilled without his Ability--he’d been strong enough to keep Dazai pinned to the wall when Dazai had tried to attack him. He also knew that Chuuya thought he was a shitty fighter.

Dazai liked to know exactly what he was dealing with. Chuuya had only given him a taste of what he could do, and Dazai wanted to know more.

“How about this,” Dazai said. “We spar, no Abilities.”

“What?”

“We can use weapons--not guns because that would draw attention,” Dazai said. “The only thing we can’t use is-”

“Hang on, your Ability is always active,” Chuuya pointed out.

“But it doesn’t do anything to help me fight,” Dazai said. “Yours does. So-”

“Why would you want to fight on purpose?” Chuuya interrupted.

Dazai sighed. “Chuuya, you’re so difficult to please!”

“I am not,” Chuuya muttered.

“It’s not a fight to the death,” Dazai said, “just for whoever can’t make another move first.”

Chuuya looked at him for a moment. Then he said, “you want to see how I fight.”

Dazai tried not to let the surprise show on his face. As bad of a liar as Chuuya was, he made up for it by being a good observer.

“You get to see how I fight,” he said. “So it’s a fair trade. I can also make you another deal. Winner gets to ask a question that the loser can’t refuse to answer.”

“You could lie,” Chuuya said.

“I could,” Dazai said. “I can’t really convince you otherwise. The only thing I can promise is that it’ll be fun.”

Chuuya tapped his fingers on the table and briefly glanced out the window. Then he took a deep breath and turned back to Dazai. “Fine. When are we doing this?”

“Tonight,” Dazai said with a smile. “We’re less likely to be caught.”

*

Chuuya fought to kill or seriously disable.

That’s how he had been trained. He was a weapon, one of the best the government had to offer, and if he was being used, it was because they needed someone dead, or someone unable to escape.

Chuuya hadn’t been trained to fight for fun, which seemed to be what Dazai was suggesting.

Part of him was afraid he’d accidentally kill Dazai. He enjoyed what he did. He enjoyed using his skills.

He’d never lost a fight.

He was afraid some instinct would take over--his brain assuming that this fight was like every other--and that he’d end up going too far. The punishment for that would be more severe than the (comparatively mild) one given to Chuuya for allowing Dazai to figure him out so quickly.

So was the only option to lose?

It was a tempting idea, as much as his instincts went against it. He’d never felt a threat to his life from anyone other than those who kept him at the research facility. In some ways, that made him feel a bit less human. He wondered if he would feel more human if he lost, if he allowed some weakness.

This was probably the only mission where physical weakness would be allowed, simply because he had to keep Dazai alive.

Dazai wanted to meet by the river. Chuuya didn’t like that location simply because Dazai had tried to jump in last time. But there were less people around, and Dazai managed to find a secluded area obstructed from the street by several buildings. It was cramped, but it would do.

The first thing Dazai did was take off his tan coat. Chuuya was ready, knife in hand. Dazai looked him up and down.

“Someone’s eager,” he said with a smirk. “Overconfident, I might even say.”

Dazai tried to make his words sound careless, but Chuuya could hear a tension in them. He knew Chuuya was dangerous. He just didn’t know the extent to which Chuuya had been trained as a weapon.

Chuuya could feel himself slipping into the incredibly focused state he adopted for fighting and killing. He forced himself to re-evaluate the situation. He’d been looking for the most efficient way to slit Dazai’s throat, but that wasn’t the goal.

He almost wanted to drop the knife and fight without a weapon.

Dazai rushed forward.

Chuuya hadn’t expected Dazai to start the fight. From what he knew, Dazai was a defensive fighter. He barely caught sight of the knife Dazai held until it almost sliced open his cheek. Chuuya dodged and spun around to kick Dazai into the wall.

Dazai jumped to his feet before Chuuya could follow through, and Chuuya attempted to kick his legs out from under him. Dazai anticipated the attack and jumped. Before Chuuya could make his next move, Dazai attempted to punch him in the face.

Chuuya dodged and once again turned to kick Dazai in the small of his back. Dazai somehow managed to avoid getting kicked and came at Chuuya again, this time with the knife. Chuuya blocked his attacks and then jumped back to give himself the space to kick the knife from Dazai’s hand.

Dazai’s eyes widened slightly as the knife went flying and landed a few feet away. Chuuya followed up with a kick to Dazai’s stomach, which sent him crashing into the wall. He pinned Dazai there. Dazai’s hands came up to grasp Chuuya’s wrists before Chuuya could drive his knife into Dazai’s throat.

No.

Chuuya didn’t want to kill Dazai. He couldn’t. He wanted to see how Dazai fought first hand. This was the only fight where he would be allowed a weakness.

He dropped his knife.

“Stupid move, Chuuya.”

Dazai actually looked shocked despite the teasing nature of his words. Chuuya felt shocked at himself. Dazai kneed him in the stomach to get Chuuya to let go, and then punched him in the face. This time, Chuuya let the hit land, and his head spun at the force of it. Dazai wasn’t the strongest person Chuuya had ever fought, but he wasn’t weak.

He tasted blood in his mouth as Dazai punched him again. Chuuya blocked Dazai’s third attempt, but Dazai seemed to anticipate that, because he kicked Chuuya hard in the ribs.

Chuuya staggered back, momentarily breathless. The pain was grounding. It made him want to fight Dazai for a reason that wasn’t just part of his job. He wanted to beat Dazai because he’d shown Dazai weakness, because Dazai thought he’d made a stupid move and because Chuuya wanted to prove him wrong. This was his fight and he was in control. He could beat Dazai, and he could beat his own instincts to kill in order to win.

The prize of being able to ask Dazai a question with a guaranteed answer was almost an afterthought.

Dazai rushed at him again. Chuuya grabbed the arm that Dazai used to attack and slammed his foot into Dazai’s stomach. Dazai coughed out a cry of pain, and Chuuya let go of his arm as he kicked Dazai again. This time Dazai hit the ground.

Chuuya straddled him before he could start to get up, both hands pinning his wrists to the ground. Dazai looked up at him, dazed.

“I win,” Chuuya said.

Dazai didn’t say anything. He was searching Chuuya’s face.

Chuuya frowned. “I win.”

“I guess you do,” Dazai said finally, his voice hoarse. “Now get off me.”

Chuuya stood up, offering a hand to Dazai, who took it. They both retrieved their knives and Dazai his coat. While Chuuya brushed himself off, Dazai leaned against the wall of the nearest building, tipping his head back and closing his eyes.

“For a few seconds I thought you’d kill me,” he said.

Chuuya didn’t admit that for a few seconds, he’d thought he’d kill Dazai too.

Dazai opened his eyes and looked at Chuuya. “Your question?”

The question. Chuuya hadn’t thought of a question beforehand, even though he’d known he could easily win the fight. Maybe it was because he’d considered losing. Maybe it was because he was so focused on the fight itself.

Or maybe it was because he was used to not being allowed to ask questions. Never personal ones.

“Can I ask it later?” he asked.

“I don’t see why not,” Dazai said. He pushed himself away from the wall. “I’d invite you for a drink but I think a warm bath would be better.”

Chuuya’s breath caught in his throat. “A bath? What?”

Dazai stared at him for a moment before he started laughing. “You didn’t think I meant together, did you?”

Chuuya’s face warmed up. “No.”

“You did.”

“I didn’t.”

“You did, Chuuya. You’re blushing.”

“Shut up!”

Dazai shrugged. “Well, I’m going to take my bath in my apartment alone and you let me know when you come up with a question.”

“Fine.” Chuuya watched as he walked away.

Suddenly, Chuuya realized what he wanted to ask Dazai. He didn’t know if it was asking too much.

Chapter Text

Dazai sank into the warm water with a sigh.

Baths were for suicide attempts. This was the first time in a long time Dazai had taken one for his own comfort.

The water did a lot to soothe the bruises Chuuya left behind. Dazai closed his eyes.

He’d learned a lot.

Chuuya absolutely had almost killed him. And that wasn’t part of Chuuya’s plan.

The moment Dazai took off his coat, Chuuya’s expression changed. He wasn’t a different person, but there was something in his eyes that had hardened and didn’t seem to see Dazai as anything other than a target.

He’d seen that look up close when Chuuya pinned him the first time. Chuuya hadn’t been looking at Dazai’s face. He’d been looking at Dazai’s throat.

That wasn’t the most interesting part. Dazai had dealt with plenty of assassins over the years and this fight only served to prove that Chuuya was trained as one.

When Dazai actually managed to land a hit, when he punched Chuuya and kicked him as repayment for all the hits Chuuya had landed, Chuuya hadn’t looked angry. His face was bloodied and bruised, but that didn’t seem to matter to him.

Chuuya had smiled.

Dazai couldn’t read the smile, and in that moment he hadn’t bothered to try. He’d simply attacked, again, only for Chuuya to take him down with ruthless efficiency. But now that he could think, he thought about that smile.

That smile, if Dazai had to give it a description, was one he would call a smile of delight. Like Chuuya felt extremely happy that Dazai had punched him in the face hard enough to make him bleed and had kicked his ribs hard enough to knock the air from his lungs.

Dazai reacted strangely to a lot of things, so he had no room to judge. He’d been fascinated by dead bodies and the process of dying in a way no one else his age seemed to be. A good suicide method thrilled him. Taking risks that put his life in danger, the idea of getting close to death, made him feel more than he thought he was capable of feeling.

He didn’t like pain. That came as a surprise to people, considering how much he talked about death and suicide. So he didn’t understand why Chuuya seemed overjoyed when Dazai caused him pain.

Maybe he was happy because he knew he’d win the fight anyway, but that wasn’t it. Dazai knew that wasn’t it. The laser-focus in Chuuya’s eyes had disappeared as well, and when he pinned Dazai the second time, Dazai knew Chuuya wouldn’t kill him.

What would cause someone to enjoy pain inflicted on them during a fight?

Dazai knew some people sought pain because it made them feel alive. Chuuya didn’t strike him as the sort of person to feel dead inside, not like Dazai did, but maybe he’d read Chuuya wrong.

The water started to cool, so Dazai pulled himself out. Chuuya had left quite a few bruises that would take a while to heal.

The Agency took in strays, but Dazai didn’t think Chuuya was with them. The more he learned, the more he felt that Chuuya was part of something much more organized that held him on a tighter leash. If he was with the Agency, even if he’d escaped from somewhere else beforehand, he would have unlearned the things that had been forced into him.

Chuuya hadn’t unlearned them. That was why he struggled to interact with Dazai like a normal person. That was why his reactions were so strange. That was why even though he couldn’t kill Dazai by his own admission, he almost had anyway.

Dazai wished he could ask Chuuya a question rather than the other way around. Dazai would easily lie to Chuuya if he wanted to, but Chuuya likely wouldn’t lie to Dazai. He’d omit information, but he wouldn’t outright lie.

Chuuya had not been taught to lie. Or rather, he hadn’t been allowed to lie. He hadn’t been allowed to fail, either, which was why not killing Dazai was such a struggle. He was used to following others rather than taking his own initiative.

Dazai had a sinking feeling.

Even those who had been in the Mafia longest weren’t like that, and the Mafia was one of the hardest organizations to leave and one of the ones that demanded the most loyalty. Members were used as pawns, manipulated, tossed aside, and yet they retained their own personalities. Under the threat of punishment for straying too far off the Mafia path, they were given the freedom to execute their responsibilities as they saw fit. But even punishment wasn’t guaranteed if the end result was better than the methods used to get there.

And despite the threat of punishment, those in the Mafia knew what it was like to be on the outside because they had come from somewhere else. They were able to think about leaving. They were able to hate the Mafia. Dazai had been able to defy Mori without being killed or demoted. The only reason he wasn’t still an Executive was because he’d left.

Chuuya wouldn’t answer Dazai’s questions, but Dazai wondered if he could find some answers in other ways. He thought about breaking into Chuuya’s apartment. He could observe and wait for Chuuya to leave, then search his stuff. Hopefully Chuuya’s possessions would be more telling than Chuuya himself.

Not being able to find answers so easily was frustrating, but Dazai couldn’t disregard the usefulness of such a distraction.

It made him think less about death.

*

Two days later, Chuuya left his apartment shortly after lunch.

Dazai slipped into the building as he had before, and picked the lock of Chuuya’s door. He let himself in, remembering to lock the door behind him. He quickly scanned the place for possible exits other than the door and hiding places in case Chuuya came back before Dazai had finished.

Once he’d established the layout of the apartment, he headed into the kitchen. It was a small, simple kitchen, and Chuuya’s cupboards and the fridge were decently stocked with food. Dazai noticed that there wasn’t a lot of instant food, but also not a lot of complicated ingredients. Chuuya liked to cook simple meals, but probably didn’t enjoy overly processed food.

There was no coffee, but there was tea. Everything in the kitchen was pretty standard otherwise. Dazai moved to the living room.

There wasn’t a television. Dazai got the feeling that Chuuya hadn’t put much thought into his furniture other than that it was functional. Dazai could relate to that; everything in his apartment served a functional purpose and nothing more. He didn’t add personal touches, but he knew he was unusual in that regard.

There were no books. There were no photos or posters hanging on the walls. Dazai moved into the bedroom and was not surprised to find it equally as impersonal. Still, he felt a pang of disappointment.

Chuuya had even made his bed.

Dazai checked under the bed. He rummaged through the drawers, noting that Chuuya’s clothes were the most individualized thing about him. There were leather jackets, sweaters, gloves, various colored shirts, and a few chokers.

He moved on to the bathroom. Once again, it was pretty bare, but the medicine cabinet had some interesting contents. There were painkillers, which was a mainstay of pretty much any medicine cabinet, but Dazai noticed two bottles. One was for what looked like sedatives, and the other an anti-anxiety medication. Both bottles only had the name of the medications and the dosage, but no doctor name nor the name of the pharmacy they’d come from.

The anxiety medicine came with instructions to take before bed. The instructions for the sedatives were to take as needed.

He replaced the bottle and went back into the bedroom. This time he checked under the pillow--nothing. Then under the mattress. A small black notebook had been tucked in one of the corners near where Chuuya’s feet would rest. Dazai grabbed it and sat on the bed, wondering if he should open it. Chuuya’s writing, which he clearly wanted to hide for some reason, would probably be the most honest thing Dazai would get out of him.

He let go of any traces of guilt he might have felt about invading personal territory and opened the notebook. Most of the pages were filled, but as Dazai read, he found himself growing increasingly frustrated.

Each page was full observations each taking up one or two lines. Nothing in these observations told Dazai where Chuuya had come from, though they did give Dazai some insight into Chuuya’s mindset. Still, Dazai could have figured that out by talking to Chuuya himself.

Despite the mundane nature of the contents of the notebook, Dazai looked for things that might stand out as he flipped through. He found things like:

Coffee--lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos, etc. There’s a difference between normal coffee and espressos. The coffee menus are too damn long.

Vanilla lattes

Could I pull off a long coat?

How much whiskey do I need to drink to get drunk?

There are a lot of foreign words everywhere. Might be...english?

Baseball hats--no

I don’t have friends.

Look up ‘bullet train’

Living or dying is a choice, apparently.

Why the hell are most guys taller than me??

I don’t get what kind of things people tell their friends. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to tell someone that you want to die, but maybe I’m learning from the wrong person.

Dazai’s Ability nullification is nice, but is it strong enough?

What did he mean by that?

Dazai knew his Ability was strong enough to nullify Chuuya’s since he’d already done it. It was strong enough to nullify any Ability without exception. But maybe Chuuya thought that it had a limit.

What the limit could be, Dazai didn’t know. Maybe Chuuya was referring to someone else.

Then there was the word “nice.” Dazai didn’t know how his own Ability felt, but given that it took away what a lot of people considered their most important asset, he didn’t think it felt nice.

Dazai replaced the notebook and remade the bed. He’d come back, maybe, to see if he could find more. He’d only scanned through it, not wanting to read the whole thing because he didn’t know how much time he had.

He made the bed. He had a lot of questions, which would have very useful answers if only he could get them.

There was one question he could answer, and in his experience that kind of thing led to people saying things they normally wouldn’t say.

Chuuya wanted to know how much whiskey it would take to get drunk?

Dazai would show him.

*

The following night, Dazai managed to get Chuuya to go to the bar they’d originally met at. Dazai figured it was a safe bet, since the bartender thought they were both of legal age. He also didn’t want to go through the effort of convincing another person that he could legally drink.

Dazai could hold his alcohol very well, but he wanted to see how well Chuuya could hold his. He decided on a technique: ease Chuuya in with something less strong, like a beer. Then shots, to really lower inhibitions. Then whiskey, to keep Chuuya drunk and give them time to talk over things.

Chuuya didn’t look too thrilled by the idea.

“Friends drink with each other,” Dazai said as the bartender slid them both pints of beer. Dazai didn’t like beer, but for the sake of this he’d drink it.

Chuuya gave him a dubious look but relaxed when he saw that Dazai was actually drinking his beer. He took a sip and made a face.

“What?” Dazai asked. “Don’t like it? That’s a really good brand, you know.”

“Brand?” Chuuya stared at his glass. “It tastes awful.”

“You’ve barely drank any,” Dazai said. “Besides, the taste will only improve the more you drink.” Dazai took another gulp of his beer to prove the point, keeping his face neutral.

Chuuya sighed. “Can’t I drink something else?”

“I’m going to introduce you to all of the wonderful types of drinks,” Dazai said. “Or most of them, actually. Not all of them. We’d both die. But we can always come back.”

“This isn’t wonderful,” Chuuya muttered. But he drank it. “You’re paying, right?”

“Of course I am,” Dazai said.

“Do they have food here?” Chuuya asked.

Dazai hadn’t considered that. “Haven’t you eaten?” Dazai had eaten something on the way.

“No,” Chuuya said. “Was I supposed to?”

Dazai wondered if this would help or hurt his plan.

“I had something small after lunch,” Chuuya added.

“Oh, well, then I’m sure it’s fine,” Dazai said. Still, he leaned over the bar to signal the bartender, and when he came over, asked, “do you have food?”

The bartender frowned at him. “Does this place look like it has food?”

“I don’t know,” Dazai said. “Does it?”

“We don’t have food,” the bartender said, turning away from him.

Dazai sighed and sat down. Maybe they’d get something after.

Chuuya was slowly working on his drink. That was fine.

“So, Chuuya...how have you been doing lately?”

“Fine,” Chuuya said. “You?”

“Good,” Dazai said. “Aside from you kicking my ass. Did you think of your question?”

“Not yet,” Chuuya said. “You really want me to ask it, don’t you.”

Dazai didn’t want to admit he’d rather get it over with. “No, I was just curious about what you could possibly want to know about me, given that you know everything. I still don’t think that’s fair.”

“Life isn’t fair,” Chuuya said.

Dazai blinked. He couldn’t argue with that. “You know,” he said, going for another angle to their conversation, “sometimes whiskey helps me sleep at night.”

“So you’ll fall asleep here?” Chuuya asked.

“No,” Dazai said. “I’m...I’m telling you something about me that you probably haven’t read.”

“Oh.” Chuuya took another sip of his beer. “What are you trying to say, exactly?”

“I have trouble sleeping,” Dazai said, which was true. “A lot of nights I don’t really sleep. It’s not the best, but sometimes an alcoholic drink helps. Makes me tired. I don’t always fall asleep when I’m drinking, though.”

“Why can’t you sleep?” Chuuya asked.

“An overactive mind,” Dazai said, which was mostly true. He didn’t want to get into the nightmares. He definitely didn’t want to think about how most of them featured Odasaku. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“How do you sleep?” Dazai asked.

“Better than you,” Chuuya said. “It’s not that interesting.”

“Lots of people have sleeping problems,” Dazai said, starting to get annoyed that this wasn’t really going anywhere. “Most people would take something for it rather than drink, but I don’t really have a doctor, so I don’t.”

Chuuya took longer to drink his beer this time. “I have something to help me sleep,” he said finally. “It’s harder to sleep without it.”

That was what Dazai was looking for. “Really? Some kind of medication?”

“Yeah,” Chuuya said.

“So you have a doctor?” Dazai made himself sound enthusiastic. “Can you refer me to them?”

“No,” Chuuya said. But he didn’t say which question he was answering.

“Fine.” Dazai slumped in his seat. “Chuuya...forgive me for saying this but it seems like you don’t know anything.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Chuuya sounded annoyed, and Dazai could tell from the way he set his drink down a little too hard that he didn’t like what Dazai was implying.

“I mean that I never had a normal childhood but I know how to function in normal society,” Dazai said. “You don’t even know what beer is. You only know what whiskey is because I ordered it the first night we met.”

“I know what beer is,” Chuuya snapped.

“Okay, fine, but you don’t know that they come in different brands,” Dazai said. “You didn’t know what it tasted like.”

Chuuya looked away. “I do now,” he muttered.

“You know so little,” Dazai said. “I wonder what keeps you up at night.”

“Huh?” Chuuya was taken off-guard by the sudden change in topic, which had been Dazai’s intention.

“Well, I have an overactive mind,” Dazai said. “I doubt that’s the case with you.”

What did you say?” Now Chuuya looked pissed off.

“Tell me that I’m wrong,” Dazai said.

“You’re not as smart as you think you are,” Chuuya said.

“I was called a prodigy for a reason,” Dazai said.

“You still can’t figure out who I am,” Chuuya pointed out.

That was...not wrong. “Finish your drink,” Dazai said. “I have more for you to try.”

Chuuya forced himself to drink the rest of the beer, and Dazai finished his off as well. Then he ordered two shots: one vodka, one tequila.

Chuuya eyed the two shot glasses set in front of him. “These are small.”

“They’re strong,” Dazai said. He pointed to the shot glass filled with amber liquid. “Typically, this one is taken with salt and a lime. But...since the bartender didn’t give us any, I doubt he has it.” Dazai raised his voice a little so the bartender could hear, but the bartender ignored him.

“Why?” Chuuya asked.

“It makes it taste better, but it’s fine for right now,” Dazai said. “Now, these are called shots, because they’re taken in one shot. They’re liquors, like vodka or rum or tequila or even whiskey if you want to be creative. You pick it up like this,” he picked up the small glass, “and then swallow it all in one go.”

He demonstrated by knocking his own shot back. Chuuya watched.

“That doesn’t give you a lot of time to enjoy it,” he said.

“It’s fine,” Dazai said. “Try it.”

Chuuya picked up his glass and seemed to be resisting the urge to take a sip first. He tilted his head back and brought the glass to his lips, tilting it so that the tequila could flow into his mouth. Then he swallowed.

“How was it?” Dazai asked.

Chuuya set the glass aside. “It burns. But it tastes better than the beer.”

Dazai would keep that in mind. “Did you ever have someone you were close to, Chuuya?”

“Aren’t we gonna have this second one?” Chuuya asked. His cheeks were flushed, which was a good sign.

“Give it a moment,” Dazai said. “You don’t want to do them too quickly. But like I said, despite your complete lack of knowledge about anything, you seem...okay. You don’t know what friends are but surely you’ve had people you were close to--siblings, guardians, mentors, that sort of thing?”

Chuuya’s eyes were glassy as he stared at Dazai, trying to think over the question. Dazai wondered if Chuuya was more drunk than intended at this point. It was entirely possible that Chuuya was a lightweight, but it was hard to tell. Maybe Chuuya was just lost in thought.

“I,” he said slowly, “know a lot of people. But we don’t talk much. You remind me of them sometimes.” There was a slight slur to his words.

Dazai frowned. “What does that mean?”

Chuuya shrugged. Dazai decided it was time for the second shot.

“This is vodka,” he said, picking it up. “It probably won’t taste as good, but you do the same thing.” He took the shot and then watched as Chuuya took his.

Chuuya made a face. “That’s--that’s--”

“Most people don’t like straight vodka,” Dazai said.

“Then why the hell did you give it to me?” Chuuya asked, his voice a little too loud.

“So you could try it,” Dazai said. “What did you mean by me being like the people you know?”

“You’re...always looking at me...like you’re testing me.”

That was very strange. Testing. Dazai was analyzing, and yes, he’d tested Chuuya a few times, but it was odd that testing was what Chuuya picked up on.

“The people you know test you?”

“You also,” Chuuya continued, “ask a lot of questions.”

“And they do too?” Dazai asked.

“You’re doing it now,” Chuuya said. His words were slurring even more. Dazai felt tipsy, and with one more drink he’d be drunk, but he was good at holding his alcohol. Chuuya, it seemed, didn’t hold his qute as well.

“I ask questions because I don’t know you, aside from what you’re trying to do with me,” Dazai said.

“Only one person has really talked to me,” Chuuya said, frowning. “But he doesn’t like to get close to people.”

“Are you talking about me?” Dazai asked. Was Chuuya that drunk?

Chuuya shook his head. “He had friends too, and he lost them. He’s not...around much. He doesn’t ask as many questions. He seems really sad.”

“Do you work with him?” Dazai asked.

“Sort of,” Chuuya said. “We’re...uh...different…”

“Different departments?” Dazai suggested.

“Yeah,” Chuuya said. “That.”

“How long has he been around?” Dazai asked. “Recently? Or since you were younger?”

“Recently,” Chuuya said.

“Who took care of you when you were younger?” Dazai asked. Chuuya was so open right now. One more drink and he might actually say something specific.

“I don’t remember,” Chuuya said.

“You don’t remember who took care of you?”

Something closed off in Chuuya’s face. “I’m not talking about it.”

It was the same response as when Dazai had first brought up Chuuya’s childhood. He decided to order the whiskeys.

“You don’t like talking about your childhood.”

“Do you?” Chuuya asked, sounding a bit annoyed.

Dazai didn’t really, but he didn’t like talking about anything. “It’s not very interesting. I figured out I wanted to die early, met Mori at fourteen, and joined the Mafia at fifteen.”

“What happened before that?” Chuuya asked.

“Nothing worth mentioning,” Dazai said, because it really wasn’t.

“But-”

“Your turn!” Dazai gave him a wide smile.

The bartender returned with the whiskeys before Chuuya could protest. Dazai figured the whiskey would get rid of any reluctance Chuuya had about sharing at least some part of his childhood. At the very least, he would probably tell Dazai what he was doing at fifteen, as some sort of equal exchange.

“Okay, so--”

Chuuya took the glass of whiskey and downed it all at once, shattering Dazai’s plan.

Dazai’s mouth dropped open. It was rare for people's’ actions to go against his plans, but this definitely was unexpected. “Chuuya...why did you do that?” He could barely disguise the horror in his voice.

“It’s liquor,” Chuuya slurred, setting down the glass a bit too hard and swaying in place. “Isn’t this what you do with it?”

“That was more than a shot,” Dazai hissed. “You were supposed to sip it.”

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t think you’d just go and do that!” Dazai had a feeling of dread settle over him when Chuuya didn’t directly respond to that.

“I feel...so dizzy.” Chuuya leaned forward to rest his head on the bar.

This wasn’t good. “Let’s get some fresh air,” Dazai said, fumbling with his wallet and setting a few bills on the counter. “Come on.”

He grabbed Chuuya’s arm and yanked him off the stool, practically dragging him outside.

Chuuya could barely walk. That much became obvious when Dazai tried to steer him down the street. His legs didn’t seem to work anymore. Dazai wasn’t sure if Chuuya was that much of a lightweight or if taking two shots and a whiskey as a shot like that in quick succession would actually do that to anyone.

He didn’t know, because he’d never tried to take whiskey as a shot after taking two shots. Because he wasn’t stupid.

He realized that, in his thoughts, he was being harsh on Chuuya. He just didn’t have the patience. His drinking partners for the past year had been--no, he didn’t want to think about that. Instead, he needed to think about where he was actually taking Chuuya. His apartment, or Chuuya’s apartment.

He didn’t really want Chuuya in his apartment, but there was no actual problem with it other than that Chuuya would know exactly where he lived. As he was trying to figure out what would be best, he was torn from his thoughts by Chuuya jerking to the side and retching.

Dazai really wasn’t the type of person to deal with this kind of thing.

Nothing came up, luckily, so Dazai pushed Chuuya into the nearest alley so that he wouldn’t make a scene in the streets. Chuuya stumbled and didn’t fall only because Dazai hadn’t let go of his arm.

Chuuya doubled over and retched again, this time vomiting on the pavement.

Dazai winced. What were people supposed to do in this situation? It was difficult because he was holding Chuuya up, but he was pretty sure he should also be holding Chuuya’s hair back. Chuuya gasped for breath, and Dazai clumsily tried to both push Chuuya’s hair back with his free hand and keep Chuuya upright.

Chuuya threw up again.

Dazai wanted to feel annoyed, and with anyone else he would have been, but he had to remind himself that he’d led them into this situation in the first place. He’d wanted to get Chuuya drunk without knowing how much liquor Chuuya could deal with. He’d chosen three strong drinks. In hindsight, that was pretty stupid.

This was a rare situation in which Dazai was the stupid one.

But maybe the night could be saved. Maybe Chuuya would still be willing to talk. Dazai just had to decide where they should talk. Chuuya might freak out if Dazai took them to Chuuya’s apartment, but Dazai didn’t want Chuuya in his apartment. It felt like an invasion of his space. It felt too close. Dazai had already been in Chuuya’s apartment.

He didn’t realize Chuuya had stopped being sick until Chuuya tried to push him away.

“Not so fast,” Dazai said, keeping a tight hold on Chuuya’s arm. “You can’t walk.”

Chuuya glared at him.

Dazai had the sinking feeling that Chuuya was aware that this was Dazai’s fault.

“Let’s go back to your apartment,” Dazai said. He pulled Chuuya back onto the street before Chuuya could respond.

As long as Chuuya didn’t pass out, the night could be saved. Together, they stumbled to Chuuya’s apartment. Dazai had a hard time opening the door with Chuuya leaning against him and no key, but he’d learned to lockpick with one hand just in case.

He deposited Chuuya in the bathroom and went into the kitchen to get water for both of them. When he got back, Chuuya was still on the floor, back propped up against the bathtub, still glaring at him.

Dazai sat on the floor opposite him and offered him the water.

Chuuya eyed it warily.

“It’s not alcohol,” Dazai said. “You need to drink water. It’ll help.”

Chuuya took the glass.

“Don’t take it like a shot,” Dazai added, because he had the feeling Chuuya would. “Just sip it.”

Chuuya nodded and took a sip. He looked relieved when he realized it was actually just water.

Dazai sipped his own water and let the silence stretch between them. Then he decided to do something very uncharacteristic, because he thought it would be the best way to make Chuuya less angry at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Chuuya still looked annoyed. “Why did you do that?”

Dazai bit back a comment that Chuuya had been the one to drink the whiskey too fast. “I thought it would be fun. People have different tolerances for alcohol. I didn’t realize yours was so low.”

“You’re barely drunk,” Chuuya pointed out.

That was true. “Trust me, I’m feeling it. I just know how to deal with it. I’ve experienced the sensation many times before.”

Chuuya didn’t look convinced, but he said, “okay.”

“How do you feel?” Dazai asked.

“Like shit,” Chuuya said.

“Let’s take your mind off it,” Dazai said. “We were having a conversation before you--before the drinks got to you.”

Chuuya frowned. “I don’t remember what we were talking about.”

Dazai couldn’t tell if that was a good or bad thing. “I told you that I joined the Mafia at fifteen, and that I wanted to die before then. Then I asked what you were doing at that age.”

Chuuya took a moment too long to answer. Dazai could see the way he was thinking of the best response by the look on his face. He couldn’t hide anything when drunk. “I was in school,” he said.

“Oh really?” Dazai asked. “With other kids?”

“No,” Chuuya said. He put down the glass of water and groaned, shifting to rest his head on the toilet. “This hurts.”

Dazai ignored that. “That’s right,” he said. “You mentioned you didn’t have friends. But that you knew people who asked a lot of questions. Like your parents?”

“Parents?” Chuuya repeated.

“You have parents, right? Even if you’re an orphan, someone gave birth to you,” Dazai said. “Although I guess if you’re an orphan, you might not know who they are.”

Chuuya opened and closed his mouth. He said something under his breath.

“What was that?” Dazai asked.

“I don’t think I have parents,” Chuuya said quietly.

“That’s not possible,” Dazai said. “You mean you don’t know your parents?”

“I don’t know,” Chuuya snapped.

Dazai didn’t know what to make of that. “Alright, forget the parents. Who was asking you a lot of questions?”

“Can you stop that?” Chuuya’s voice cracked as he raised his head, face twisting in anger. “I’m tired of this.”

“Of talking to me?” Dazai asked.

“No!” Chuuya took a shaky breath. “Of answering questions. Everyone always asks me questions, or tells me what to do, but no one talks to me and I’m tired of it because other people actually talk to each other and I keep seeing it and I want it, but you won’t give it to me.”

For a moment, the only sound in the bathroom was Chuuya’s ragged breathing.

Dazai had to hold himself back from asking another question. He realized that for the most part, that was all he did. But Chuuya wasn’t just talking about their relationship. He’d said “no one” instead of “you” and Dazai’s thoughts were immediately trying to figure out what that meant.

Chuuya seemed unable to keep himself from talking. “I can’t answer your questions, not like I can answer theirs,” and now he looked frustrated. “I don’t know how. I don’t know anything, and I’m so sick of it. It’s making me fail this stupid mission, and they should’ve sent someone else because-” He cut himself off.

The urge to ask Chuuya what he’d been about to say burned in Dazai’s throat.

“I can’t fight you,” Chuuya said finally. “I can’t use my Ability on you.”

“You did fight me,” Dazai pointed out, finally finding an opening.

“And I won.” Chuuya gave him a smile that was more bitter than anything else. “That’s what I’m good at.”

“There was a point where I almost won,” Dazai said. “You looked like you were enjoying yourself the most when I was winning.”

“I never lose fights,” Chuuya said. It wasn’t said in arrogance. He was stating a fact. Dazai could believe that Chuuya had never lost a fight.

“But you don’t enjoy them.”

“I do,” Chuuya said. “I’m good at them. But sometimes, because I never lose...the thing is, I don’t know how to do anything else.”

Dazai couldn’t really follow that line of thinking without asking Chuuya a question or accidentally insulting him, so he decided to go for something slightly different. “You fought me and won without your Ability. A lot of people rely too much on their Abilities.”

“It’s not like I have a choice,” Chuuya said. “Every time I touch you, you cancel it out.”

“You never seem angry about it,” Dazai said. He had to stop himself from mentioning that Chuuya thought it felt nice. He wasn’t supposed to know that.

Chuuya picked up his water again and took a sip. “It’s...the best way I’ve ever had my Ability nullified.”

Dazai knew there were other ways to nullify Abilities, but all of them were artificial and none of them were particularly comfortable for the person they were used on.

“I’ve never had my Ability nullified,” Dazai said. “Though I guess that would be kind of...redundant.”

Chuuya laughed, relaxing a little. “It would be pretty stupid. Your Ability is useless unless there’s someone else with an Ability there. And they’d have to be someone not on your side.”

Dazai frowned. “Hey.”

“People like you for your...planning,” Chuuya said, struggling for the word. “You’re good at it. I...it took me a while to notice how much you asked me questions, because they’re different than the ones I get asked all the time.”

“Different,” Dazai repeated.

Chuuya looked at Dazai for a moment, and then laughed again. “You still want to. I can see it in your face. I’m not so terrible at reading people that I can’t tell.”

Dazai didn’t like that. “I got a lot out of you,” he said. “Even when I wasn’t asking questions.”

Chuuya sighed and leaned forward, rubbing his hand over his face. “Does it even matter anymore?”

“Does what matter?” Dazai asked.

“If you know or don’t know shit,” Chuuya said. “You’ll find out. You already know too much, and no one’s happy about that. Or maybe I can just tell you something to confuse you more.”

Dazai was confused now. He didn’t know what Chuuya was saying. He wondered if Chuuya knew what he was saying.

“The more I spend time with you, the more I think about what it would be like to not care,” Chuuya said, raising his head to look at Dazai again. “You act like you don’t care. You act like you don’t give a shit about your life. But you’re still here, right?”

“I am,” Dazai said. He didn’t want to talk about this.

Chuuya, luckily, didn’t dig too deep into the subject. “I don’t really know what’s normal and what’s not,” he said. “But I’m starting to feel like everything about me isn’t normal. So if I tell you something, it won’t make sense.”

Dazai started to see what Chuuya was saying. To a certain extent, Chuuya was right. A lot of the things Dazai knew about him didn’t make sense.

Any piece of information was valuable. Chuuya was so close to telling Dazai something more, some big detail that Dazai wouldn’t be able to find out on his own. Dazai could feel it. And if he made the wrong move, Chuuya would close up again.

Chuuya set his water aside. “I’m tired.”

Dazai took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Chuuya...finish your water.”

Chuuya glanced at the glass of water, which was half empty. Then he pushed himself up, standing and swaying, still not having regained his sense of balance.

Dazai stood as well, tempted to block him from getting out of the bathroom. His chance at information was slipping through his fingers.

But Chuuya didn’t try to leave. He seemed to be considering something.

“I think your Ability name is ironic,” he said. “No Longer Human. It’s really...funny.”

“Why?” Dazai didn’t care that he was asking Chuuya something this time.

“I don’t remember anything about my childhood,” Chuuya said. His eyes burned into Dazai with an intensity that Dazai hadn’t seen before. “It’s possible that I’m a normal person with an Ability, and I had parents with Abilities. But it’s weird...there’s something I can’t control, and it’s not human. It’s always there. Sometimes I...it takes over.”

Dazai couldn’t think of anything to say to that.

“Your Ability makes it go quiet,” Chuuya said. “Does that make sense?”

It made no sense at all.

Chuuya’s lips quirked into a slight smile. “I didn’t think so.”

He pushed past Dazai and went into his bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Dazai made his way into the living room and sank onto the couch, trying to piece together what he could. But he was tired. Too tired to really think this through.

Somehow, he ended up lying down. His apartment felt too far away. Chuuya couldn’t kill him. Chuuya was probably the only person who knew who he was that wouldn’t kill him.

The thought was a small comfort, but it was enough that Dazai fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Chuuya’s head pulsed with pain.

He didn’t want to get up. His insides felt like they were twisting. If he sat up, he was sure he’d be sick. The only time he’d felt this bad before was if he was ill, if he’d been given inhibitors, or after Corruption.

His entire body tensed.

Corruption. Dazai. He’d told Dazai about Corruption.

He hadn’t given it a name, but he’d told Dazai that something existed in him that didn’t feel human and that he couldn’t control.

He’d never had alcohol before, but apparently it made him talk too much.

Dazai had been in his apartment, because they’d been talking in the bathroom. Which meant…

Chuuya felt his stomach drop, and a dizziness washed over him that had nothing to do with movement, because he hadn’t moved.

Was Dazai still in the apartment?

He didn’t want to check. Neither answer was a good one. If Dazai was there--well, that meant Dazai was still in his apartment. If Dazai wasn’t there, then there was a good chance he was trying to find out what Chuuya meant when he said what he did the previous night.

There were other things, too, that came in a blur, but Chuuya had to ask himself why he thought it was a good idea to open his mouth and say anything personal to Dazai at all.

Any doubts about whether or not Dazai was in his apartment were shattered when the door banged open and Dazai practically shouted, “Good morning, Chuuya!”

Chuuya’s first instinct was to jump up--and he tried, only for a wave of dizziness and nausea to send him crashing back onto the bed. He closed his eyes to try to stop everything from spinning.

“It doesn’t look like a good morning for you,” Dazai said. Chuuya felt the bed dip next to him under Dazai’s weight. He would’ve protested, but he was too busy trying not to be sick.

Dazai’s hand was rubbing circles into his back. It took Chuuya a few minutes to be able to snap, “Get off me.”

“Someone’s grumpy,” Dazai said.

“This is your fault,” Chuuya said.

“And I’m going to fix it. Here.” Chuuya felt a glass cup being shoved into his hands. He opened his eyes and saw that Dazai had two pills.

“Where did you get those?” he asked. They weren’t sedatives, but Chuuya recognized them as the painkillers that he kept in his bathroom. Not the extremely strong ones, but still, that meant Dazai had been looking around in his medicine cabinet.

“Just take them,” Dazai said.

Chuuya grabbed the pills and swallowed them with the water. Both of them sat in silence for a few minutes, Chuuya trying to think past the pain in his head and Dazai doing whatever it was that Dazai did.

Then Dazai said, “why do you have sedatives in your medicine cabinet?”

Chuuya hadn’t expected Dazai to be so direct about it. He lifted his head to look at Dazai. Dazai looked back at him, waiting expectantly for an answer.

“You shouldn’t look through other people's’ stuff,” Chuuya said.

“I had to get those painkillers for you,” Dazai said. “I couldn’t help but notice.”

“Liar,” Chuuya hissed.

“Surely sedatives aren’t good for someone like you, who needs to be alert,” Dazai said. “You also have anti-anxiety medicine.”

“I take those for sleep,” Chuuya said, which was true. And he hoped that if he gave Dazai one answer, then Dazai would leave him alone.

Dazai smiled. “Do you take them to sleep every night?”

“Yes?” Was that weird?

“I drink to fall asleep some nights,” Dazai said.

“That’s great,” Chuuya muttered. “I don’t know why you want to be--”

“Are the sedatives for the thing that you can’t control that takes over your body?” Dazai asked.

So Dazai remembered what Chuuya had said the previous night.

“No,” Chuuya said, “they’re not.”

“We should talk about that,” Dazai said.

No,” Chuuya said. “We shouldn’t.”

Dazai sighed. “Fine, Chuuya. By the way, you still have to ask your question.”

“Leave,” Chuuya said. “I’m tired.” He hated that all he wanted to do was sleep. He hated that he felt so vulnerable like this.

Dazai smiled. “Alright. Have fun with your hangover, Chuuya.”

Was that what it was called?

“I will.”

*

The night came too fast, and with it came thoughts that Dazai would rather not think about. Thoughts that he couldn’t distract himself from no matter how much he tried to think of things like what Chuuya had told him. The thoughts pushed everything else out of his head.

Being back in his apartment after spending the previous night with Chuuya was jarring. It was lonely. He hadn’t really gone to a bar with anyone else for along time, and the last person he went with was Odasaku.

He started thinking about Odasaku.

He had alcohol in his apartment for nights like this. A lot of it.

Bottles of sake lined the shelves of one cabinet. He chose sake because it wasn’t whiskey, because he didn’t need any more reminders of his nights with Odasaku and Ango during times like these.

Dazai wanted to die.

He always wanted to die, but in this moment he could see himself grabbing the knife he used for protection and slicing open his wrists. Or finding a rope and hanging himself from a tree outside. Or even jumping from the roof. He could see himself doing these things, vividly, because there was no point in being alive. Two years to wait to maybe have a chance at becoming a new man was a long time, and Dazai was so tired.

And Odasaku, as much as Dazai valued him, wasn’t here.

Still, part of Dazai hung onto those words. Dying as he was now, as someone separate from humanity, as someone who could be called a demon, made him uncomfortable. He wouldn’t feel anything when he was dead, but in the moment of death, he felt like he would have regrets and a flash of panic that he hadn’t done more.

He’d felt that before, after all.

To someone else it might have seemed ironic that Dazai would use alcohol to cope, when he could have used alcohol as yet another suicide method. But death by overdose was painful and very much not guaranteed--he’d tried it, and each time had been miserable.

He drank until he didn’t care about what he was feeling, until he couldn’t stand, and then passed out on his bed and got up again the next morning with a hangover to distract him from the fact that he hadn’t wanted to wake up in the first place.

He did it night after night until the feeling faded just enough for him to function like something resembling a normal person.

Those nights had come less often now that he spent most of his time occupied with Chuuya, but this night in particular he downed glass after glass of sake and couldn’t think about anything other than how tired he was and how pointless the future would be. He was fighting for something he didn’t know he could achieve.

The worst part was, Dazai wanted to live up to Odasaku’s view of him. And the worst part was, Odasaku would never be there to tell Dazai that he was proud.

He would never be able to share that better life with Dazai, the life he’d always wanted.

Some nights, Dazai wanted a friend. Some nights, Dazai fell asleep with tears soaking into his pillow. This night was one of those nights.

*

The next morning, Dazai was...if not better then at least functioning. Taneda’s two week deadline was almost up, so Dazai went to the payphone he’d used before to call him.

Taneda picked up after the second ring.

“You’re still looking for information on Nakahara Chuuya,” he said, sounding tired. “Did you know that all Ability users have a designated number so that the Special Abilities Department can keep track of them?”

“I do now,” Dazai said.

“It also provides a certain sense of anonymity,” Taneda said. “Not everyone in the department needs to know the personal details of each Ability user. In fact, it’s rare that the average staff member knows the actual name of the person before they know their number. You’re ahead of most people in that you know Nakahara Chuuya’s name, though I suppose that’s because you’ve met him in person.”

That was interesting, but Dazai didn’t really care because it didn’t give him new information. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that if you want to find information about Nakahara Chuuya, you’ll have to somehow gain access to the Special Ability Department’s records,” Taneda said, “and you would have to search for Ability user A5158. The records for A5158 are locked, but perhaps you will have more luck than I had.”

Dazai didn’t believe that Taneda hadn’t been able to get that information.

“I might have someone you can talk to,” Taneda added.

“Who?”

“His name is Sakaguchi Ango. I’m sure you know him.”

Dazai’s stomach churned and he clutched the phone tighter. Voice flat, he said, “can you give me his number?”

Taneda listed off a series of numbers that Dazai committed to memory no matter how much he didn’t want to.

Dazai thanked him and hung up.

He didn’t know how much Taneda knew about Ango’s time at the Port Mafia, or about how close they were. Either this was an innocent suggestion on Taneda’s part, or Taneda was purposefully putting Dazai in a hard position because he didn’t want Dazai to find out anything. Dazai hated that he didn’t know. He used to know things things.

He had Ango’s number now.

He never wanted to talk to Ango again.

He spent all day trying to think of an alternative, sitting in a cafe and drowning himself in coffee instead of sake. He wished it was sake, because the only thing this was doing was making him think of Odasaku.

Finally, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it until he actually did something. So he made his way to a different pay phone and dialed the number.

“Sakaguchi,” said the voice on the other line, sounding tired.

Dazai almost hung up. But he forced his voice to sound sickeningly cheerful as he said, “Ango! How are you?”

There was a pause. “Dazai…” Ango seemed at a loss for what to say.

“No words for your old friend?” Dazai sighed. “What a shame, Ango. It’s almost like you don’t have regrets.”

“Dazai.” This time Ango’s voice was a bit sharper. “Why are you calling?”

Dazai’s anger had taken over his thoughts to the point where he’d almost forgotten to mention why he was calling. “I’ve been thinking, Ango, about why I shouldn’t just find you and kill you. It would be even more difficult to remain in hiding after that, but it would be worth it, right? Unfortunately, you are pretty useful. And I need information about a certain Ability user.”

“An Ability user,” Ango repeated. “Why would you call me to find out information about an Ability user?”

“Taneda referred me to you,” Dazai said.

He knew Ango was trying to figure out what that statement meant. “Which Ability user?”

“Nakahara Chuuya,” Dazai said. “Or maybe the name doesn’t matter to you. A5158.”

“What do you want to know?” Ango asked.

“I’ve met him,” Dazai said. “He’s following me around. We might even be friends. I don’t know where he came from but I’d like to and he won’t tell me. He says he needs to keep me alive because a certain organization wants me.”

“I can try to find some information for you--” Ango started.

“Trying isn’t good enough,” Dazai said, his voice cold. “Don’t think I can’t find where you live and make good on my word to kill you. You’re only alive because you’re useful, and I know you know what information I need.”

“Fine,” Ango said. “I’ll look.” He took a sharp breath. “How are you?”

“I’ll call you in two days,” Dazai said. Then he hung up.

He felt dizzy--with anger, maybe, or maybe it was some other emotion. Ango had sounded genuinely concerned. Like he cared. He didn’t care. He’d betrayed the Port Mafia and let Odasaku die.

Dazai prided himself on being able to bury his emotions. He hadn’t expected this to hit him so hard.

It would be another night of drinking. He was tempted to drink himself sick. But he wouldn’t do that over Ango. Ango was nothing to him.

He would just drink enough to allow himself to fall asleep. He’d been in a low mood anyway. It didn’t have to do with Ango at all.

*

Chuuya’s phone woke him up.

He sat up in bed, staring at the screen for a moment before realizing that it wasn’t his alarm but was in fact a call that had interrupted his sleep. He didn’t sleep late anyway, but it was rare that he got a call so early.

He picked up. “Hello?”

“Chuuya-kun.” It was Ango. He sounded relieved, but with an undercurrent of anxiety.

Chuuya felt that anxiety as well. The last time he’d messed up, it was someone else who had called him. He wasn’t sure whether to feel better or worse that it was Ango this time.

How had they found out what he’d confessed to Dazai?

That’s what he assumed Ango was calling about.

“How are things?” Ango asked.

Chuuya almost didn’t hear the question. “They’re fine,” he said. He thought about asking how Ango was, but there was no point.

“I’m sure you know Dazai is aware that you’ve been sent from an organization, given that he’s contacted the department before and you were...informed about it,” Ango said. “He made another call, but this time to me, asking for your records.”

“My records,” Chuuya said. “But if the first person he called didn’t know, then why would he call you?”

“He was referred to me,” Ango said. It sounded like there was more to the statement, but Ango only added, “I wanted to ask you how you think we should move forward.”

Chuuya stood up. No one ever asked him how he thought anything should happen. That wasn’t how they’d dealt with Dazai’s initial call. “Ask me?”

“Dazai wouldn’t have been referred to me if my response wasn’t at my discretion,” Ango said. “It’s possible that Dazai wasn’t expected to call, but we always have to be prepared for all possibilities. Given that these are your records in particular…”

Chuuya didn’t really think of anything the government had as his. “You want me to decide what you tell him?” He headed into the living room, where there would be more space for him to pace around, because he couldn’t stay still.

“Yes.”

It occured to Chuuya just then that Ango, and therefore the Special Abilities Department, was planning on giving Dazai some sort of information. “You can’t just say that you don’t know anything?”

There was a pause. “Dazai is too smart to believe that I don’t know anything,” Ango said.

Chuuya still didn’t understand why Ango would willingly give Dazai true information. He could lie. Chuuya wasn’t good at lying, but those who worked for the government were. Dazai was smart, but he had no way of proving anything right now.

Chuuya must have been quiet for too long, because Ango asked, “what does he know from you?”

There was no point in withholding information. “He knows how I fight. He knows that...I must’ve been separated from the rest of the world because I don’t know certain things. He knows that I don’t remember my childhood. He knows that where I come from, people ask me a lot of questions. He…”

“He?” Ango prompted.

“He knows that I have a hard time not killing when I fight,” Chuuya said quietly. “And I told him about Corruption.”

Ango inhaled sharply. “Corruption.”

“I didn’t name it,” Chuuya said hastily. “I just told him that his Ability makes it go quiet, and that I can’t control it. I said it wasn’t human.”

He didn’t know how much Ango knew about Corruption, because Ango had never been around for those experiments. He assumed there was something in his file about it, which was how Ango knew, but he didn’t know if the file described the complete loss of control, the way it consumed him and separated his mind from his body as something else took over with nothing but the urge to destroy everything, including Chuuya’s own body as if it didn’t matter.

“Okay,” Ango said, slowly letting out a breath. “That isn’t anything that ties you to this department, which is good. Why did you tell him?”

“I was drunk,” Chuuya muttered.

“Drunk?”

“He got me drunk,” Chuuya said, and he couldn’t help the annoyance that crept into his voice.

“That was a smart move on his part,” Ango said. “So he knows about Corruption, but not the finer details. He doesn’t know why you have it. Based on what you told him, he can assume that you came from some sort of facility that isolated you and trained you, but he doesn’t know which one. I think what he knows would rule out the Agency. That leaves the Port Mafia, the government, or an organization he doesn’t know about.”

“There are foreign organizations in Yokohama, right?” Chuuya asked. Part of his purpose had been and would be to help get rid of them. “We can’t tell him that I’m part of one of those?”

“I don’t think he would believe it if I said it,” Ango said.

“But you’re his friend, right?”

The silence stretched on for longer than was comfortable. Chuuya didn’t know what he’d said that made Ango stop talking.

“I told you that we were friends,” Ango said after a moment. “But given that we’ve both betrayed the Mafia, it would be unwise to talk to each other beyond what he’s asking of me now. And he’s too smart to believe a flimsy lie no matter what emotions are attached to the person saying it.”

Chuuya had a feeling he’d taken a step too far, like when he’d asked Dazai where his friend was. But still, he wanted to press the issue, because he never got to talk about the personal lives of others.

“Dazai talks about a friend a lot,” Chuuya said. “He said his friend asked him to live, and become a good man. That wasn’t you?”

“Chuuya-kun…” Ango’s voice sounded tight. “It wasn’t me.”

“Do you know who--”

“Chuuya,” this time Ango’s voice was sharper, “I will come up with possibilities for where you came from, but I need to know what you’re willing to give away.”

Chuuya forced himself to stop thinking about Ango’s friendship with Dazai. “Does he know anything about me besides what I told him?”

“He knows your designated government identification number,” Ango said.

Something about that made Chuuya’s stomach twist. He pushed the feeling down, not really understanding it, because that number had often replaced his name when people addressed him, and he’d never had a problem with it before.

Instead he thought about what he didn’t mind Dazai knowing. Stuff related to what Dazai already knew, so that he wasn’t giving too much away.

“You can tell him that I’m made to be a weapon for whatever organization I’m part of,” he said.

“A weapon,” Ango repeated. “Chuuya-kun…”

Chuuya didn’t understand the emotion in Ango’s voice, so he continued, “tell him that my Ability is artificial. Those two things are things that add to what he’s already figured out, right?”

“Your Ability isn’t artificial,” Ango said.

Chuuya stopped pacing and his grip on the phone tightened. “Yes it is.”

“Your Ability isn’t artificial simply because you were raised in a government facility,” Ango said.

“My Ability isn’t part of me,” Chuuya said. “I only have it because they...put something inside me.”

It would why he couldn’t completely control it. He assumed that was why, because his Ability wasn’t originally part of his body. But as with everything, Chuuya was told nothing.

It was a powerful entity that had been merged with him, because all of the experiments centered on trying to control Corruption had failed. Even if the entity itself wasn’t artificial, the way it had been given to him was.

“No part of your Ability is artificial,” Ango said. “But that’s a conversation for another day. However, I can tell Dazai about the nature of your Ability, and see if--”

“Wait,” Chuuya said. “If you can tell him you can tell me.”

Ango hesitated.

“If he knows more than I do about my own Ability I’m at a disadvantage,” Chuuya insisted.

“Your parents were Ability users. Your gravity manipulation is a natural Ability that you were born with, and it was a useful Ability to use at the time,” Ango said. “Corruption is, as you know, the result of an experiment. A powerful, sentient Ability was...merged with you, and the experiment was mostly successful. It drew on your natural Ability, improving it.”

Chuuya was quiet, waiting for Ango to continue. He’d never had this explained beyond the bare bones that he knew, but to know that he had a natural Ability, and that his parents had Abilities, somehow changed things.

“A sentient Ability is...sentient. It may have been limited by your Ability, but it could use the qualities of your Ability to unleash its full power,” Ango continued. “That is its natural instinct, and the scientists encouraged this. But when that happens, it completely takes over your body, making it a slave to gravity and to the sentient Ability. In other words, Corruption. And there’s never been a solution to that. Once control is relinquished, they never found a way to have you regain it on your own.”

And the testing for that had ended years ago. They were no longer trying to find a way for Chuuya to regain control.

This information shouldn’t have affected Chuuya. He knew he was an experiment, and an unsuccessful one in some ways. He had assumed his Ability had been given to him rather than him having had any part of it the whole time. He should have been happy to have more answers. But for some reason this felt wrong. He sat down.

“I will tell Dazai something equivalent to that,” Ango said, “if you want me to.”

“That’s fine,” Chuuya heard himself say. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Ango said. “Good luck, Chuuya-kun.”

He hung up.

Chuuya had a bitter taste in his mouth.

He’d had parents. If he’d never been taken in by the government, he would have a normal Ability that he could control, and he would have been entirely himself.

Chuuya wasn’t used to dealing with these kind of emotions. He’d never thought about himself enough to be disturbed by who he was. He’d always let the government do what they wanted with his body, and accepted it.

This felt like a kind of violation. He’d been a kid. His only mistake was having a useful Ability. He hadn’t been able to make a choice, and now he was stuck with this sentient thing in his body for life.

Chuuya couldn’t stop it. Someone else had to, and they’d made it that way and kept it that way because whether or not Chuuya had control didn’t matter as long as they could use him. Chuuya’s personality, his will, whatever he was wasn’t strong enough to regain control of the body that should have been his, and that didn’t matter to anyone but Chuuya himself.

And until now, it hadn’t really mattered to Chuuya.

The sedatives in Chuuya’s medicine cabinet weren’t to control Corruption. They were to control the urge to use it, if he felt the need. Chuuya didn’t remember much of it it, but it must have happened when he was younger--when his emotions had gotten too strong, Corruption would activate without him wanting it to. The solution to that was to give him Ability inhibitors and then sedate him so that those emotions wouldn’t take over again.

By the time he woke up, those emotions were either less intense or gone.

That didn’t happen anymore, but Chuuya had been given them as a failsafe, likely because his mission involved a lot of variables that the government couldn’t account for. Chuuya hadn’t felt the need to use them until now.

It wasn’t that he was losing control. Chuuya just wanted to turn off his emotions for a while. They were too strong, too negative, and he felt like he was about to fall off the edge of a cliff and he didn’t want to hit the ground.

He couldn’t afford to.

So he took the sedatives and went to sleep. Maybe when he woke up, he’d feel better.

Chapter Text

Dazai hadn’t seen Chuuya in the two days that he waited to call Ango, but that was fine. He needed to pull himself together first.

He called Ango, hoping to get some information that would make calling him in the first place worth it.

“I don’t have an organization,” Ango said when he picked up.

“Then you’re useless to me,” Dazai said. He almost hung up.

“I do have information,” Ango said. “A couple of things that you might find interesting, if not useful.”

“What are they?” Dazai asked.

“Nakahara has been trained by a group unknown to us at the moment, that has been using him as a...weapon of sorts,” Ango said. “This is the most visible this group has been, so we are monitoring Nakahara closely as well.”

Dazai remained silent. He had a feeling Ango knew what that group was.

“Nakahara’s Ability is not entirely natural,” Ango continued. “Part of it is--in that he was born with it. But part of it is the result of an experiment, and he can’t control it. Despite the lack of control, from what we can gather, that part of his Ability is extremely powerful, and that is why keeping track of him is so important.”

“He can’t control when it activates?” Dazai asked. “Or he can’t control how he uses it?”

“I don’t know,” Ango said. “It wasn’t clear.”

“That’s it?” Dazai asked.

“Yes.”

“So you’re monitoring him,” Dazai said. “If I didn’t already know you, I’d say they should’ve sent you to gain my trust and pretend to be my friend instead. I know you’re capable of that.”

“Dazai--”

“It’s a shame,” Dazai said, “that they couldn’t send you. You’ve done a better job at pretending to be a friend than he ever could.”

He hung up, breathing hard.

He had a feeling that what Ango said was true, despite Ango being a great liar. But there was more to it. There had to be more to it. Ango and Taneda knew more than they were letting on. Taneda knew that Dazai would hate calling Ango. And Ango...Ango wouldn’t risk compromising his job for Dazai. Not again.

But he couldn’t deny that now he had information he didn’t have before, and it lined up with what he already knew.

Dazai dialed Chuuya’s number from his cellphone. It rang and rang and went to voicemail. Dazai wondered why he didn’t answer. It wasn’t like he had anything better to do.

He decided to leave a voicemail. “Let’s meet up soon. We have a lot to discuss.” His lips curled into a smile. “I know about Corruption.”

*

“What exactly do you know about Corruption? I wasn’t very specific.”

Dazai decided that for this outing they’d explore some parts of Tokyo. So they were on the train, which was the most public Dazai had been in a while.

It was a risky move, but the government knew where he was, Chuuya’s organization knew where he was, and even if the Port Mafia didn’t, if they found out Chuuya would prevent them from killing him. It was a gamble Dazai was willing to take.

Not only would he have more time to talk to Chuuya, but he hoped showing Chuuya something new that he hadn’t experienced before, and something as overwhelming as a crowded Tokyo neighborhood, would allow Chuuya to let his guard down.

“I had a talk with someone at the Special Abilities Department,” Dazai said, looking at Chuuya’s face for a reaction.

Chuuya didn’t give him one. “What did they say?”

“I asked about what you told me,” Dazai said. “I was told about Corruption. Your own natural Ability was tampered with to create something extremely powerful.”

“Yeah,” Chuuya said. He looked at the map above the door that showed the train system. “What stop are we getting off at?”

“Shibuya,” Dazai said. “Your Ability is the result of an experiment conducted by a secret group of people who want to use you as a weapon.”

“Right,” Chuuya said.

“Not remembering your childhood suggests that you grew up with those people,” Dazai said. “Although...surely you’d remember something.”

“I don’t know,” Chuuya said. He was still looking at the map, his head tilted up.

Dazai tried to put the pieces together, but Chuuya was very closed off. “Did you grow up with those people?”

Chuuya remained silent for a moment. Then he said, “I only remember things from when I was seven to now.”

“That’s part of a childhood,” Dazai said. “What happened when you were seven?”

Chuuya seemed to be thinking about it. “The experiment was to merge my Ability with a sentient Ability.”

His voice was flat, but Dazai could tell that it was difficult for Chuuya to keep it that way. He wanted to know what Chuuya felt that he wouldn’t let Dazai hear.

But the other thing Dazai concentrated on was the words “sentient Ability.” Dazai wasn’t sure if he’d heard of that kind of thing before. He knew about extremely powerful, almost god-like Abilities. But a sentient Ability implied that the Ability could exist as its own entity without being attached to a body. That it had a will of its own, somehow.

A realization struck Dazai. Chuuya had said that Corruption was something inhuman that took over. Dazai hadn’t thought he meant it so literally. If Corruption really was a sentient Ability, then perhaps its will completely took over Chuuya and suppressed his personality, to the point where he couldn’t even control his own body.

That was fascinating. Dazai had never heard of something like it.

“So...it took your memories,” Dazai said. “You don’t know who you were before that point.”

“I don’t know,” Chuuya said. “Maybe. Maybe I’m the same person. Or maybe I’m not. It doesn’t matter if I can’t remember it.”

There was something missing from that sentence, and not just any emotion.

“Maybe you’re the sentient Ability.”

Chuuya’s entire body tensed and he took a sharp breath.

“Does it matter?” Dazai added.

The train stopped. Dazai sighed. It was their stop.

He stood, pulling Chuuya up with him and out onto the platform.

The platform was crowded. Dazai didn’t know his way around Tokyo as much as he would have liked to, and the train station was huge. There were helpful signs telling him where to go, but if Dazai were being honest, he hadn’t planned much aside from going to a crowded place and pretending to show Chuuya around.

He knew Shibuya crossing was crowded and also something people came to see, so he headed in that direction.

Chuuya was quiet as Dazai pulled him along. Dazai only kept his hand around Chuuya’s wrist because he didn’t want to lose him, even though he was pretty sure that Chuuya would try to stay close.

Finally, after a few wrong turns, they exited the station. There was a dog statue that people congregated around that Chuuya didn’t notice and Dazai pointedly ignored, opting instead to head straight for the crossing itself.

“This,” Dazai said to Chuuya, “is Shibuya crossing. It’s famous.” Right now, cars were going through it, but crowds of people were already gathered on the sidewalks, ready to cross.

“Why?” Chuuya asked. “It’s a street crossing.”

“It’s a really big street crossing,” Dazai said.

The lights changed, signalling that they could cross.

Dazai headed towards the tall buildings. He didn’t have anything particular in mind, figuring they could just see what was around and go from there. The streets remained crowded even after they crossed, probably because it was a nice day.

As they walked, Dazai glanced at Chuuya and noticed that he looked dazed, as if he were seeing everything but not actually taking it in.

Dazai pulled him into a building full of shops. “Let’s look at some...stuff.”

“Alright.”

They spent probably too long walking through the building looking at various shops and not buying anything. Chuuya was still quiet, and they exited the building empty-handed.

Dazai led Chuuya down a side street, until they were far enough from the crowds that there were hardly any people around.

“Maybe we should get something to eat,” he said, to see if Chuuya was more receptive to talking now.

“Maybe,” Chuuya echoed. He acted like his mind was definitely somewhere else.

They kept walking. Dazai wasn’t sure where they were going anymore, and they had wandered pretty far into residential territory.

They reached a tunnel going under a set of train tracks. Dazai stopped walking.

“Chuuya,” he said, “got something on your mind?”

Chuuya looked at him, and then suddenly turned around.

A gunshot rang out, a sound so unexpected in this situation that Dazai felt his heart leap into his throat. It had been weeks since he’d been involved in anything like that. He shouldn’t have gotten so complacent.

He expected that either he or Chuuya had been hit, even though Chuuya hadn’t made any noise and he hadn’t felt any pain.

But after checking himself and realizing he wasn’t injured, he looked around.

A bullet floated in the air in front of Chuuya.

Five men stood at the mouth of the tunnel, aiming guns at them both. Dazai turned, noticing another group of five behind them.

This wasn’t good. Dazai was already calculating how he could get them out of this situation, if he could negotiate somehow. He knew Chuuya was a good fighter, but these were a lot of men. The ability to stop bullets was only useful if those men stuck to using guns, and Dazai wondered what would happen if they somehow managed to distract Chuuya.

Dazai knew that Mori would probably want him taken in alive. Dazai didn’t want to end up at the Port Mafia in any circumstances. He certainly didn’t want to die there. He’d rather die here than give Mori the satisfaction of seeing the last moments of his life.

He could buy time.

In the event that buying time didn’t work, he needed Chuuya to fight.

“Do you have a gun?” he asked Chuuya quietly. Dazai had one on him, but it would be better for both of them to have one.

“I don’t need a gun,” Chuuya muttered.

“What do you--”

Chuuya moved suddenly, and Dazai felt his feet swiped out from under him. He fell, and the men started shooting.

Dazai looked up in time to see Chuuya redirect the bullets away--and straight through the heads of the people who had shot them.

All ten men fell, blood pooling around their bodies.

Chuuya grabbed Dazai’s arm and pulled him up, dragging him out of the tunnel.

Dazai kept a tight grip on his gun, his head spinning. Chuuya hadn’t given him time to think of a plan.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“Away,” Chuuya said.

It occurred to Dazai that Chuuya didn’t know Tokyo at all, and was just doing what he could do on instinct.

Dazai didn’t know where they were either, but he knew how to hide. He pushed Chuuya into an alleyway.

“Give me your hat.”

For once, Chuuya didn’t question him. He handed the hat over. Dazai didn’t put it on.

“Pull your hood up,” Dazai said, indicating the hood Chuuya’s jacket had. “I don’t know why you just don’t do that.”

Chuuya pulled the hood up, which hid his hair. “The hat’s better.”

“It really isn’t.”

Dazai pulled off his tan coat and tossed it further down the alley. He figured he could buy a new, similar one later. He kept hold of Chuuya’s hat because he was pretty sure Chuuya would hurt him for trying to throw it away.

“Do you know where you’re going?” Chuuya asked.

“No, but you don’t either,” Dazai said. “I, however, am more familiar with cities. And I know how to drive a car.”

“A car,” Chuuya repeated.

Dazai pulled him back onto the street.

They ran for a few more blocks until Dazai found a grey car that didn’t stand out. He picked the lock and got into the driver’s seat, gesturing for Chuuya to get in on the passenger’s side.

Chuuya did. He didn’t look happy about it.

Dazai ducked under the steering wheel to hotwire the car. It wasn’t a skill he used often, so he was glad he remembered how. The engine purred to life.

“I don’t know how long we have until the Mafia notices that ten of their men are dead,” Dazai said as he pulled out of the parking space onto the street. “Someone’s bound to notice soon, since it’s ten people. The police will know. I don’t trust the trains. They must’ve been monitoring the stations.”

“You’re a shit driver,” Chuuya said.

Dazai ignored that. “They shouldn’t be able to figure out who’s driving this car, especially without your hair giving everything away. We can get back to Yokohama and once we do, we should be safe. They don’t know which part of Yokohama I’m hiding in.”

“So much for sightseeing,” Chuuya said, “although going out in such a public place was a stupid plan.”

“But it worked out, right?”

“Only because I saved your ass.”

“About that…” Dazai didn’t want to compliment Chuuya, but at the same time it was impressive that he’d noticed the presence of the Mafia before Dazai had. Dazai had been too focused on Chuuya. “Why did you make me fall?”

“I didn’t think they’d shoot you,” Chuuya said, “so I needed you out of the way because I knew they’d shoot me.”

Dazai understood now. Chuuya had wanted them to shoot, because he could use the bullets, and the bullets were the easiest way to take out that many people at once.

“I didn’t know shooting people without a gun was among your talents,” Dazai said. “How do you pull that off?”

“It’s hard to explain,” Chuuya said. “I realized I could do things with the air around me, which I guess is affected by gravity in some way, and it was tested.”

Dazai frowned. “Tested in what way?”

“You should pay attention to the road,” Chuuya said, as Dazai came a little too close to jumping the sidewalk.

Dazai didn’t enjoy this city driving at all. “But your bullet thing is much more interesting! Very creative…”

“I’m sure you can figure it out,” Chuuya said.

They fell into silence as Dazai drove, and Dazai was able to concentrate on getting them closer to Yokohama after quite a few wrong turns. Eventually, they were going in the right direction.

Chuuya was probably thinking about what Dazai had asked him earlier. The way it distracted him as they walked around Tokyo, before the attack, told Dazai that the question hit a nerve. It touched on something that Chuuya probably hadn’t thought too hard about, or was avoiding thinking about.

Dazai pulled the car over in a different neighborhood to the one he and Chuuya were staying in. “We can walk from here,” he said.

Chuuya didn’t say anything. He also didn’t move.

“Chuuya?” Dazai turned to look at him.

Chuuya bit his lip and turned towards the window, but still didn’t move. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“I know what I want to ask you,” he said.

Dazai froze. “Right now?”

“I think it’s better if I ask you here than out there,” Chuuya said.

“Alright.” Dazai braced himself. He expected one of two things: a question about his bandages, or a question about Odasaku, even if Chuuya didn’t know his name.

Chuuya turned to look at him, his expression determined.

“Did Sakaguchi Ango know the friend that you talk about so often?”

Dazai’s mind went blank.

Chapter Text

When Dazai was an Executive in the Port Mafia, he had a reputation for many things.

One of them was for knowing everything.

Others thought that Dazai knew everything because his strategies accounted for every possibility, much like Mori’s did. His predictions for what actions people would take were never wrong.

The only unexpected thing that had happened during his time in the Mafia was that Mori allowed Mimic to kill Odasaku’s orphans, which led to Odasaku’s death.

Maybe it was fitting that this unexpected question had to do with Odasaku as well.

That Chuuya asked something to do with Odasaku wasn’t unexpected. That he mentioned Ango was, and those two things combined made Dazai grab Chuuya by his shirt and pull him close.

He was breathing too hard. It was the only sound in the car. He might have been shaking.

Chuuya didn’t look scared. He looked calm. That made it worse.

“How do you know him?” Dazai hissed. “How do you know Ango?”

“The bet was that I can ask a question and you had to answer it,” Chuuya said. “Not the other way around.”

They were both missing something. Dazai could tell. Chuuya had been trying to connect the pieces of Dazai’s personal life while Dazai had been trying to figure out where Chuuya came from and somehow, Ango ended up being the overlapping factor. But Dazai didn’t know how, and he could barely think past the sensation of his heart beating too hard, like it was throwing itself against the cage of his ribs.

He forced himself to take slow breaths to calm down. He’d been prepared to lie, or to give Chuuya a non-answer, but Chuuya’s question made Dazai want to ask questions in return. The only way he could get answers to those questions was to answer Chuuya.

He could have said that Ango didn’t know Odasaku. But there was a reason Chuuya had asked such a specific question.

“Ango was my friend,” Dazai said through gritted teeth. “And he knew the friend I’ve been talking about. They were also friends.”

“All three of you were friends, together,” Chuuya said.

“Right,” Dazai said. “I answered your question.”

“Then let go of my shirt,” Chuuya said.

Dazai couldn’t. “Answer mine.”

“That wasn’t part of--”

“I don’t care,” Dazai snapped. He knew he was showing too much of how he felt. He was showing Chuuya that not only was the friendship important, but that it genuinely hurt to have them both gone. Dazai wasn’t just angry--he was desperate to know, because although he understood exactly how and why Odasaku died and Ango’s involvement in everything, he also didn’t.

Because it wasn’t fair.

Dazai hated the way his breath hitched when the silence stretched on too long, and he hated the way his voice cracked when he said, “Tell me.”

Chuuya’s eyes widened.

It would have been very easy for Chuuya to leave the car. Dazai wasn’t as strong. Chuuya could have pushed him away and left. But he didn’t.

Chuuya’s expression turned sad. But Dazai knew it wasn’t pity for him and his reaction to the question about Ango. It was something else.

“I was talking about Ango,” Chuuya said quietly, “when I said that only one person really talked to me.”

Dazai remembered that. Chuuya had said that the person who talked to him was different to him. That person didn’t ask as many questions, wasn’t around much, didn’t like to get close to people, was sad...and had lost his friends.

Dazai didn’t know how to react. He felt a flash of anger, that Chuuya thought of Ango as someone who had lost friends, when Ango had lied. But what came out was laughter. He let go of Chuuya’s shirt to double over, laughing so hard that he couldn’t breathe.

He heard Chuuya call his name, but he couldn’t stop laughing. He choked on it. This whole time, it came back to Ango. Another betrayal. Because Ango was alive and Odasaku wasn’t, and the one person who had been talking to Dazai since then had been ordered to by Ango.

He’d just talked on the phone to Ango, and Ango had lied. He shouldn’t have been surprised.

He felt sick. He stopped laughing, afraid that if he started again he’d throw up.

“Dazai,” Chuuya said.

Dazai felt like he wasn’t in his own body. He felt like he’d stepped a little bit to the side of himself, and everything was out of sync as a result. Even the sound of Chuuya’s voice sounded like it was coming from far away, and so did his own, when he spoke.

“Ango lied to me.”

“I know,” Chuuya said.

Dazai let that wash over him. He was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t even react to this new piece of information. “Ango is in charge of your mission.”

“No,” Chuuya said.

That made Dazai look up. He ignored Chuuya’s concerned expression and focused on his eyes. He needed something to focus on. “What do you mean, no?”

“He’s supervising me,” Chuuya said, “but he didn’t want the mission to happen at all.”

“Why not?”

“He didn’t say.”

Dazai had a feeling they both had drawn the same conclusion anyway--that it was because Dazai was involved.

“Ango is the person I called, who told me about Corruption,” Dazai said.

“I told him to tell you,” Chuuya said. “He asked me first.”

There was something strange about Chuuya’s eyes, beyond the concern, that Dazai couldn’t put his finger on. It was unsettling, whatever the change was. Unless it was just a product of Dazai’s own frayed feelings, and whatever it was didn’t exist.

He couldn’t tell.

“It was a smart move,” he said after a moment, “giving me some information so that I’d at least be somewhat satisfied, while not giving me what I needed. Which…” Dazai suddenly felt like he’d been forced back into himself. “Which was who sent you.”

Chuuya didn’t say anything. His expression was almost too blank.

“The government sent you,” Dazai said. “The Special Abilities Department sent you, because they want to gain my trust, because they want me to join them. Chuuya...you’re so…”

He was about to say that Chuuya was so stupid, but that wasn’t true. He could tell it wasn’t true. Chuuya’s question had given away the information Dazai had been missing the whole time, but Chuuya had known exactly what he was doing when he asked it. And he’d elaborated on it, when Dazai asked him to.

Dazai realized that Chuuya must have been working towards this. He’d gone from giving away nothing to suddenly giving away important information about himself, even if it didn’t make sense. Corruption and sentient Abilities...and now this.

Now he knew why Chuuya had wanted to ask him in this car. The car couldn’t have anything in it to monitor Chuuya. It was just a normal car, a random car that Dazai had chosen to get away from a shoot-out no one had expected.

“I’m the government’s experiment,” Chuuya said. “I’m their weapon.” He let that sink in. And then, “I’m going to my apartment.”

He turned and opened the car door. Dazai couldn’t move for a moment. He knew what was wrong with Chuuya’s eyes now. They’d looked so dull, without the vibrancy that Dazai expected from Chuuya.

He got out of the car as well, standing on shaky legs. Chuuya had started walking already.

Dazai made to follow him, but the idea of going back to his apartment felt wrong. The information about Ango was still too new. He was angry, and he couldn’t stop thinking about how unfair everything could be, and he had nothing to distract himself from either of those things.

In the absence of a distraction, on a night where even drinking wouldn’t be able to calm him down, he knew what would happen. It had happened many times before. But there had never been so much emotion behind it. He’d always wanted to feel more, and now he was trying to run away from his feelings, and he knew that this difference could change so much. He just didn’t know if that change was what would finally push him over the edge, into not waking up the next morning.

He didn’t want to be alone.

He forced himself to move forward so that he could catch up to Chuuya. “Come back to my apartment.”

For once, Dazai didn’t care if he sounded desperate. This was the first time his promise to Odasaku didn’t feel like enough.

Chuuya must have noticed it, because he glanced at Dazai for a moment before saying, “Fine. But we’ll go to mine first. I have to get some things.”

“Alright.”

They continued walking. From the detached tone of Chuuya’s voice, Dazai had a feeling that Chuuya could benefit from company as well.

But for once, he couldn’t find it in himself to overanalyze why.

*

As soon as Chuuya sat on the couch, Dazai remembered that he hadn’t wanted Chuuya to know where he lived.

He could’ve asked to go to Chuuya’s apartment instead. But it was too late.

They did go to Chuuya’s apartment first. Chuuya stuffed some of his clothes into a bag, the medications from his medicine cabinet, a toothbrush and, surprisingly, his notebook.

It didn’t take long for them to get to Dazai’s apartment. Dazai had a feeling Chuuya was surprised by how close they lived to each other. But he didn’t say anything. He didn’t say anything as they went inside, or as he put his bag down next to the couch and sat down. Neither of them seemed to want to talk.

Dazai poured them both some sake. He didn’t plan on getting drunk. He didn’t even want to get Chuuya drunk. But he wanted--or needed--to relax and he figured Chuuya did, too.

What they talked about, if they talked at all, didn’t matter. If it was about what Chuuya had revealed, then that only benefitted Dazai. If it was about something trivial, that was fine too. As long as Dazai had a distraction, anything was fine.

It occurred to Dazai as he handed Chuuya his sake that he hadn’t told Chuuya not to take it as a shot. But Chuuya didn’t, anyway. He sipped it. Something in his expression twitched, and that was enough to break whatever daze he was in.

“This tastes like shit,” he said.

“Everything alcoholic tastes like shit to you,” Dazai said. “Is there anything you like?”

“Is there anything I haven’t tried?” Chuuya asked.

Dazai thought about it. “Ciders. Wine. Mixed drinks. Cocktails.”

“What’s the difference?” Chuuya asked.

“They’re fruity,” Dazai said. “You might actually like those.”

“I like fruit,” Chuuya said.

“Then I’m sure you’ll like one of those,” Dazai said.

Chuuya looked into his glass of sake. “I don’t know why you let me come here.”

“I don’t know either,” Dazai said. “Probably because you can’t kill me. Consider it a token of gratitude for getting rid of the Mafia earlier.”

“I’ll have to make a report about that,” Chuuya said.

Dazai knew that was something Chuuya wouldn’t have said if he hadn’t told Dazai where he’d come from earlier. Chuuya looked very tired.

Dazai wondered what he was feeling. He didn’t know exactly how Chuuya felt towards the government, if he felt anything at all. But he had a feeling it wasn’t anything good, save for a few bright spots.

Ango was a bright spot. That made Dazai feel sick.

But Dazai had never seen Ango as cruel. Ango may have been cold, and he may have been a liar, but he wasn’t cruel. He had wanted to record all of the deaths in the Mafia so that they weren’t just nameless bodies. Dazai had found that peculiar, and it was even weirder now given what he knew. That wasn’t really part of Ango’s job, for the Mafia or the government, but he’d done it anyway.

He could grudgingly believe that Ango would treat Chuuya better than most of the people Chuuya knew. But that didn’t mean he liked it.

To know Ango had done something kind almost made things worse.

The sake was making Dazai feel less on edge, and less like he wanted to (literally) drown himself in the rest of his alcohol supply. Chuuya’s company definitely helped. It gave Dazai something to focus on.

“I noticed you packed a notebook,” Dazai said.

Chuuya looked up, surprised. “You were watching me pack?”

“Do you think I would’ve gotten to where I was in the Mafia without being observant?” Dazai asked.

“You didn’t observe the people following us earlier,” Chuuya said.

Dazai chose to ignore that. “You write things?” He smirked. “Is it like a diary?”

“A diary?” Chuuya repeated.

Dazai sighed. He couldn’t make fun of Chuuya for acting like a teenager if he didn’t know that teenagers commonly kept diaries to write about their secret feelings.

“Nevermind. I’m just wondering what you write in it,” Dazai said.

Chuuya glanced at his bag and then back at Dazai. “You can read it,” he said after a moment.

Dazai was caught off-guard. “What?”

“You can read it,” Chuuya repeated. “There’s nothing important in there. It’s probably boring.”

Dazai knew about the question Chuuya had asked himself about No Longer Human. Either Chuuya had forgotten that was there, or he genuinely didn’t think it was important. Maybe it wasn’t, now that Chuuya had mentioned Corruption to Dazai.

Maybe Chuuya wanted Dazai to see it. Ango had mentioned that Chuuya couldn’t control Corruption, but not how. Chuuya had said as much, too, though he wasn’t specific about how, other than that it could control him.

“Can I read it now?” he asked.

Chuuya nodded and reached into his bag. He pulled out the notebook and handed it to Dazai, who started flipping through the pages.

He pretended to read through it slowly, for the sake of not appearing like he already knew what to look for. He didn’t care about the observations. He stopped at the page where Chuuya wrote about No Longer Human and pretended to consider it for a while.

Then he said, “what do you mean, is ‘No Longer Human strong enough?’”

Chuuya sighed. “I can’t control Corruption. I was wondering if you can nullify it.”

“There’s something missing,” Dazai said. “Why does it matter if I can nullify it?”

“I can’t stop it,” Chuuya said.

Dazai understood now. Chuuya couldn’t control Corruption because he got so consumed by it that he couldn’t stop it.

“How did they stop it before?” Dazai asked.

“Ability inhibitors,” Chuuya said. “A really high dose. It’s hard to inject it when I’m like that, though, so there’s been a few times when it’s gone on too long. And some times when it’s killed people.”

Dazai noticed the slight crack in Chuuya’s voice at the last part. “Too long?”

“Yeah,” Chuuya said. “It tries to destroy my body, too.”

Dazai didn’t know exactly what Corruption did, other than it being powerful and destructive. “Is it...is Corruption like your normal Ability?”

“It uses it,” Chuuya said. “I don’t know how...but it does use gravity in a very extreme way. I don’t know the science.”

“Right,” Dazai said. He wished he knew what that looked like.

“Someone--Ango--said it’s like I’m a slave to gravity,” Chuuya said. “I’ve never seen myself like that...I mean, sometimes I remember bits and pieces. My hands…” He trailed off.

“Your hands?” Dazai asked.

“I don’t really know how to explain,” Chuuya said. “But it takes a high dose to stop it.”

“If they knew how to stop it to conduct tests, then why don’t you have a way to stop it by yourself?” Dazai asked. He didn’t mean the question to be insulting, and he knew it probably came across that way, but surely Chuuya thought the same thing.

“I guess they hit a wall,” Chuuya said, “or decided it didn’t matter as long as I could activate Corruption. The tests stopped years ago.”

Activating Corruption was more important than disabling it. And if Chuuya needed someone else to stop Corruption, that gave him almost no control over when he wanted to use it. Using it depended on someone else agreeing it was necessary and promising to deactivate it.

It was something that completely took over Chuuya’s body, but he barely had a say in how it--and how he--was used.

“I didn’t know if your Ability could also nullify it,” Chuuya added.

“My Ability has no exceptions,” Dazai said. “No matter how strong an Ability. At least, so far.”

“I hope you’re right,” Chuuya said. His mind seemed to be going elsewhere now.

“That must be part of the reason they want me,” Dazai said. Having Dazai’s Ability, combined with Chuuya’s, would make for an extremely powerful partnership that Dazai suspected would act as a trump card of sorts for the government. Dazai’s nullification left nothing to chance.

“Yeah,” Chuuya said. He had finished the sake. “I’m tired.”

“You can sleep on the couch,” Dazai said, standing up. He took Chuuya’s sake glass and his own to the kitchen. When he came back, he noticed that Chuuya was already laying down. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Chuuya said.

Dazai went to his room and flopped onto the bed. He turned so that he was facing the ceiling. Suddenly, he wished he’d asked for Chuuya to give him one of the pills he used for sleep.

He wasn’t as upset as earlier, but he was still uneasy. Chuuya’s presence in the apartment, whether he was asleep or not, had the effect of deterring Dazai from doing anything harmful. He didn’t want to do something like that with someone else around.

That was probably the last thing Chuuya needed to wake up to.

Dazai didn’t know why he cared about what Chuuya did or didn’t need, but he found he did. Maybe because Chuuya was the only person around now.

He wondered what would happen next. They both seemed to be at a crossroads. Chuuya wasn’t supposed to tell Dazai anything that he had, and it seemed like Chuuya was no longer happy with what he was doing. So where did that leave them?

That thought was enough to occupy Dazai until he fell asleep.

*

Dazai woke up to Chuuya shaking him awake.

Ordinarily he would have attacked anyone who touched him while he was asleep, but he must have been so tired that his reflexes were slow. And as soon as he saw it was Chuuya, he didn’t bother moving.

“Dazai,” Chuuya said as soon as he saw that Dazai was awake, “I need to go.”

“What?” Dazai sat up. “You won’t let me treat you to a lovely breakfast?”

“You can cook?”

“No.”

“Then no.”

“Why the sudden need to leave?” Dazai asked.

Chuuya hesitated. “I got a phone call. I need to return it. I don’t want to do it from your apartment.”

Dazai could guess who it was from. He took a moment to take note of his own mindset. He felt oddly rested, despite the near breakdown from the previous night. He had a lot of things to think about with regards to Chuuya.

Most importantly, he knew he would be okay on his own today.

Still, he was grateful Chuuya had told him first.

“I’ll see you later, then,” he said.

Chuuya gave him a weird look. Dazai realized what was weird. He’d essentially invited Chuuya to hang out again, even though after what Chuuya had confessed, he should have wanted to part ways.

“Alright,” Chuuya said after a moment. Then he turned around and left. Dazai heard the door close behind him.

After a few seconds, Dazai stood up and headed to the bathroom to shower.

He had a feeling that he should be on his toes for whatever came next.

Chapter Text

The phone call woke Chuuya up, and he knew he had to leave.

He didn’t want to be in Dazai’s apartment when he took the call, because he didn’t know what it would entail. Whatever it was, he didn’t want Dazai to see his immediate reaction, and he didn’t want Dazai to know what was going on right away. The only thing Chuuya really had to use against anyone was information, and he’d essentially given all of it away the previous night.

Not that it mattered. Dazai wasn’t his enemy. But Chuuya still felt the need to have something to defend himself with, just in case.

And maybe he was afraid that the call would have to do with Dazai.

Maybe they knew.

He hoped they didn’t.

Once he began walking back towards his apartment, he returned the call.

“Chuuya-kun.” Ango picked up almost immediately. He sounded more anxious than usual.

“I’m going to submit a report about the confrontation with the Port Mafia later today,” Chuuya said.

“That is unnecessary.”

“Why?” Reports for that sort of thing were always necessary.

Ango seemed to hesitate. “Chuuya-kun,” he said, “you’re being called off the mission.”

Chuuya stopped in his tracks. “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Ango said, and he sounded it. “The higher-ups believe that you’ve been compromised, and want you to return immediately.”

“No,” Chuuya said, before he could stop himself.

Ango inhaled sharply. “It wasn’t a request.”

Chuuya knew that. But still, he didn’t want to follow the order. Even if the mission was compromised, the idea of dropping everything and leaving made his skin crawl.

“If I come back, what happens with Dazai?” Chuuya asked.

“We will send someone else to monitor him now that we know where he is,” Ango said.

“But that person can’t be his friend,” Chuuya said. Ango didn’t say anything. “If I have a personal relationship with Dazai, doesn’t that mean he’s more likely to listen to me?”

“It does,” Ango said. “But some things are more valuable to the government than having No Longer Human.”

“Am I one of those things?” Chuuya’s voice was cold.

“Your cooperation is one of those things,” Ango said.

Chuuya started walking again. “I’ll cooperate if you let me complete this mission.”

“It isn’t my choice,” Ango said.

“Then convince whoever’s in charge,” Chuuya said. “It’ll look bad if I just disappear.”

There was a pause that stretched out almost too long. “I can try,” Ango said. “But I can’t guarantee anything.”

“Thank you,” Chuuya said.

Ango hung up.

Chuuya’s legs almost gave out, but he managed to make it to his apartment.

There were so many thoughts trying to fight for attention in his head that he almost couldn’t think at all.

He’d failed the mission. He’d failed badly enough that he was called back. He’d never been called back from a mission before it was completed.

He’d decided to fail the mission. It wasn’t like he didn’t know what he was doing when he told Dazai everything, or when he went to Dazai’s apartment. He didn’t know what exactly had been the breaking point for the Special Abilities Department to call him back. There were so many things it could have been. Chuuya had wanted to do all of those things.

He’d made a friend. Dazai was his friend. Maybe Dazai didn’t care for Chuuya in the same way, if he did at all, but Chuuya cared about Dazai. For some reason, Chuuya trusted him. Maybe because Dazai wasn’t involved with the government.

He’d enjoyed himself. Even when he was tired, or annoyed, or afraid of failure, he felt more like a person than he’d ever felt before. Maybe this was the first time he truly felt like one at all.

He’d figured out what he really was. He knew what the government had done to him. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given that he’d grown up in a lab surrounded by scientists, constantly being tested and trained, but he didn’t know anything else. Even Dazai, the Demon Prodigy, couldn’t say that he’d been conditioned his entire life to be what he was now.

Chuuya didn’t know whether to stay in the apartment, or tell Dazai, or go for a walk, or go to sleep.

He didn’t know what he was doing anymore.

*

Dazai could think clearly now.

Which was good, because now that he had all the pieces of information that he needed, he could figure out his next move.

The most logical course of action would be to leave. The government wanted Dazai’s Ability, which meant having Dazai’s cooperation, and Dazai wanted nothing to do with them. He’d told Taneda as much, but he knew he couldn’t trust anything anyone from the Special Abilities Department said anymore.

He shouldn’t have in the first place.

The worst part was that the lies were wrapped up in truths. Dazai used this tactic himself, giving away information that was true so that he could slip in lies, or so that he could omit important information. He hated that it had been used on him.

Dazai knew that the Agency was real. The Agency was the sort of organization that could give Dazai what he wanted, and Dazai had planned on joining them. But now he reconsidered. It would be better to leave, go far away and come up with a new identity. Become a new person. Start over again. Maybe find an alternative career that could still fulfill Odasaku’s promise.

Or he could just die. That would be an easier solution.

But that felt like a defeat. He wasn’t going to commit suicide because the government had driven him into a corner.

He didn’t need to have his plan fully mapped out before he left. Getting out was the most important part, and once he was in hiding, once he couldn’t be tracked down, he would figure out the rest.

He only made it to the bedroom when a stray thought stopped him in his tracks.

I’m the government’s experiment. I’m their weapon.

It was worse than a thought. It was words keeping him anchored to a person, much like Odasaku’s words kept him anchored to life. As different as they were, this was another set of words Dazai knew he wouldn’t be able to forget.

He wanted to dismiss them. He shouldn’t have cared, since Chuuya had been part of the government plan in the first place.

But Chuuya trusted him enough to be completely honest. Even if he hadn’t gone into complete detail, what he’d said was enough.

No one had ever trusted Dazai except Odasaku.

Chuuya knew everything about Dazai, had seen how Dazai worked first hand, had been manipulated by Dazai, and still trusted him.

Maybe it was because they both had nothing else.

Dazai didn’t want to have anything. He would lose it. He’d lost so much already.

The loss had made him weak. He couldn’t block out his emotions yet.

He needed to get going, but he still hadn’t moved. He could hear Chuuya’s voice, flat and cold, saying those words.

No wonder Chuuya had felt like he didn’t have the right to take his own life. Now everything about Chuuya fit perfectly, and it made Dazai sick.

He didn’t expect to react so strongly. But Dazai had some experience in being groomed into something that he hadn’t necessarily wanted to be. He’d gotten involved with the Port Mafia out of curiosity, which was preceded by making the mistake of trying to die where Mori could find him. He didn’t go in expecting to become a Mafia Executive, or the Demon Prodigy.

He hadn’t really wanted those things.

But Mori dragged him into the Mafia by making him witness the murder of the old Boss, and suddenly, Dazai needed those things in order to survive. So he became what Mori wanted him to be, because he didn’t really have a choice. He didn’t have anything else he wanted except to die.

He hated that he could relate in any way to Chuuya. He hated to think of himself as engineered by someone else in any way. He hated to think his life had been manipulated in any way.

But if he hadn’t met Mori, his life would have been different. He didn’t know how, but he had a feeling it would have been better. Or he would have been dead, and if that was the case, then it wouldn’t matter.

Dazai had never really had a childhood, but Mori had taken away the few years he had left to be a child.

Dazai sat down on the bed, breathing hard. It was less than 24 hours since he’d been shaken to the point of a near-breakdown, and he was on the verge of tears yet again.

At least he wasn’t mourning the death of the one person who saw him for who he truly was, rather than someone to be used or feared. He could pull himself together faster.

But he was still mourning something, and like Odasaku’s death, he wouldn’t be able to forget it.

*

[Text]: Let’s meet for coffee.

The text, which came the next day, was so simple that Dazai wanted to laugh. It was almost as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

But he knew exactly what Chuuya wanted to talk about.

Or, he thought he did.

When he got to the coffee shop, Chuuya told him to order his coffee to go. Dazai wasn’t used to Chuuya telling him to do stuff, but he did as Chuuya asked, and once they both had their drinks, Chuuya led them out of the cafe.

Dazai realized they were walking to the park.

Chuuya seemed cold. Dazai knew he wasn’t hiding his emotions. Chuuya was likely genuinely feeling numb to everything.

They walked for a bit.

Then Chuuya said, “I’ve been called off the mission.”

Dazai almost choked on his coffee. “What?”

“I’ve been called off the mission,” Chuuya repeated, without any sort of inflection.

“Then why are you still here?” Dazai asked. He had a lot of questions.

“Because I told them to reconsider, because I’m the best option they have.”

“That’s something you can do?”

Chuuya shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t gotten an answer.”

That was...not encouraging. “What if they don’t reconsider? What happens?”

“Then someone else is assigned to you,” Chuuya said. “They won’t have contact with you. They’ll just watch.”

Dazai didn’t like the idea of someone just watching him. He knew Chuuya had been watching him, because Chuuya had revealed himself. The paranoia involved with knowing someone that he couldn’t see was watching him would be exhausting.

“Why did they call you off the mission?” Dazai asked. “If you’re the best option, why are they trying to do something else?”

“I’ve been compromised,” Chuuya said. “That’s what I was told.”

That was pretty vague, but Dazai had a feeling he knew what it meant. “Do you think they know that you told me everything?”

“I don’t know,” Chuuya said. “Probably. They have ways of watching me. Even if they didn’t know about that...they’ve seen everything else. I’m sure they monitored my call with Ango, even if Ango didn’t tell them anything.”

Dazai had a sinking feeling. “They realized you were becoming a person.”

“What?” Chuuya glanced at Dazai.

“You know more about how things work,” Dazai said. “You’ve made choices they didn’t want you to make. You’ve been trying to make a friend, and I don’t think that was part of the plan. Not for you to genuinely be my friend. They must have been relying on how you were conditioned to prevent that from happening.”

“Failed experiment,” Chuuya muttered.

Dazai stopped walking. “Isn’t that a good thing?”

“I don’t know.”

Chuuya stopped walking, and then turned and headed off the path. Dazai followed him.

He sat down at the base of a tree. Dazai sat as well. It reminded him of one of their first meetings. Maybe Chuuya found some sort of comfort in that.

Chuuya picked at the grass. Dazai remained quiet. Of course Chuuya wouldn’t know if it was a good thing, to be a failed experiment or not. If he thought of himself as an experiment, then his life had been defined by his success or his failure to be what the government was trying to make him.

Up until now, Chuuya had taken pride in being good at his job. This was different. Chuuya had probably never thought of most of the things Dazai asked him, because he wasn’t allowed. He never thought there was an alternative.

Chuuya’s feelings were probably all over the place.

That was a sentiment that Dazai, unfortunately, could relate to the past few days.

“If you do end up called off the mission, you’ll go back,” Dazai said.

“Yeah,” Chuuya said.

“Look at me.”

Chuuya raised his head to look at Dazai.

“Chuuya,” Dazai said, “do you want to go back?”

“If I get called off I have to,” Chuuya said.

Dazai sighed. “That’s not what I asked. Do you want to?”

Chuuya’s expression remained blank for a moment, and then he seemed to finally understand the question. He opened his mouth, but didn’t say anything. His eyes widened, and he didn’t look away from Dazai, but he looked like he wanted to.

Dazai didn’t say anything. He waited.

Chuuya pulled out a chunk of grass. It didn’t seem like he was aware of what he was doing. He let the chunk of grass fall, then pulled out another.

“I don’t want to go back,” he said quietly.

Dazai had known that, but he’d wanted Chuuya to say it, because he didn’t think Chuuya had known.

“What happens if you do?”

“I don’t know,” Chuuya said. “I don’t understand.”

“Don’t understand what?” Dazai asked.

“I don’t understand why I feel this way,” Chuuya said. “Or how I feel. It shouldn’t bother me. I knew this whole time that I was an experiment, even if I didn’t know the details. I knew I was a weapon. I knew that I’d have to go back, and that they’d use me.” His voice cracked.

“You didn’t know how normal people worked,” Dazai said. “You didn’t know what it felt like to have choices, or how it felt to be seen as a person rather than a useful thing. But you said yourself that you wanted it that night you got drunk. That’s why you feel that way. That’s why you told me what you did. Because…” he swallowed. “Because you wanted to know how friendship worked, through my friendship. Because you want one.”

Chuuya paled. Dazai knew that to have his feelings laid out before him, and to have the actual reasons for why he’d done certain things made obvious, would be a shock. Chuuya didn’t know how to sort through things separate from his job. Certainly not his own feelings and emotions and thoughts that he’d suddenly allowed himself to have.

Dazai wanted to laugh at the irony of it all. Chuuya wasn’t supposed to be human. He wasn’t supposed to be a person. And yet he felt things and didn’t deny them even if he didn’t know what they were. He wanted to be close to people, so he tried to get close to them.

Dazai had grown up as a person and not an experiment, but he’d become cold and better at burying his emotions and closing himself off to other people to the point where others barely saw him as human. He didn’t really see himself as human, either, and up until Odasaku’s death, he had almost been convinced that there was nothing human in him. It was lonely, with only Odasaku and Ango around some nights to make him feel like a normal person. A friend. Things he would’ve denied himself if they weren’t around.

He didn’t like pain. He’d never liked pain. So he’d tried to bury his emotions so that he wouldn’t feel pain no matter what happened.

Odasaku broke through all of that, and to a certain extent Dazai let him. He knew why. Loneliness was another kind of pain, and it had been killing him.

It still was killing him.

He found himself caught between two choices, both of which would lead to future pain: caring for someone else, or isolating himself from everyone, if not physically then mentally.

He’d had this problem in the Mafia and he was having it now.

Chuuya had known he would eventually lose everything he gained while on this mission, including Dazai’s friendship, and he’d still gone after it.

Chuuya was stupid.

Or maybe Dazai was the stupid one.

He had no idea. Suddenly, he felt just as lost as Chuuya looked.

“Why did they send you?” Dazai asked finally, forcing them both out of their thoughts. “It was a stupid choice.”

Chuuya shook his head. “I need to...I don’t know...I need to think.” He stood up.

Dazai remained sitting. He’d just dropped a bombshell on Chuuya. He’d accidentally done the same to himself. He also needed to think.

“Text me when you’re done,” Dazai found himself saying.

Chuuya nodded. “Thanks,” he said.

“For what?”

“For giving me something to think about.”

He turned and started walking on the path back to where they’d come from.

Chuuya was shaken, but Dazai wasn’t sorry.

Knowing everything was better than not knowing at all.

*

Chuuya didn’t have to think about whether or not he wanted a friendship. He did want it. He didn’t know what Dazai wanted, but that didn’t matter. For once, Chuuya knew what he wanted.

He had to think about what he didn’t want. He had to think about what he’d do if the friendship wasn’t allowed. It angered him that he wouldn’t be allowed to have friends, and he was frustrated with himself because he didn’t know how to defy the Special Abilities Department. He wasn’t a planner like Dazai.

He only got halfway to his apartment when his entire body tensed. Someone was following him.

He turned around, and someone grabbed him from behind. He felt a prick in his neck and understood immediately what had happened.

As he passed out, he thought about how stupid it was to think he’d had a choice at all.