Surprisingly, Akutagawa was not in the habit of asking for things.
But, on one fateful, grim afternoon, blood pounding, lungs and legs threatening to seize up and fail him, he pleaded to the unfeeling universe to spare his sister the fate of their friends. As their comrades’ voices faded away, he bargained and offered up more and more jagged pieces of himself, his voice cracking and desperate even in his ragged mind. Anything. Please. Don’t let her die.
He told himself that it was the warmth of Gin’s hand in his own as he grabbed her and ran that saved them both that day.
In the aftermath, the icy cold fear quickly gave way to white hot rage. Akutagawa eventually concluded what he wished for most was to taste their fear. The fury licked at his insides. He burned for it. To paint the alleyways of the warehouse district with their putrid blood. To hear their screams like shrieking sewer rats caught in the jaws of a frenzied terrier (he hated dogs, though; they were filthy disgusting creatures that roamed the street in feral packs and chased and barked and bit and killed mindlessly). To re-enact every brutality they had with few justifications on the eight small bodies crumpled in the dusk—the ones permanently seared into his eyelids, dancing in his head each time he laid down to sleep.
With dreams of violence, he sated his empty belly. He was nothing if not a beast of vengeance.
Then, he emerged from the gray mist of early morning, a merchant peddling deliverance, or a demon from the shadowy depths of hell, bringing Akutagawa what he thought was his deepest, darkest desire on a silver platter. One step ahead, as Dazai was always one step ahead—always and forever.
With Dazai, Akutagawa never had to ask after the things he thought he wanted most.
When Dazai, cloaked in ink-black, calmly turned from the six larger corpses not yet cool on the ground and offered Akutagawa something infinitely more precious, that was it. Akutagawa took the outstretched, bandaged hand and never looked back.
There never was another choice really. Dazai already robbed him of the hunt.
The first blood he tasted as a newly-minted Mafia member was his own, following a blow to the face that had him seeing fireworks and sent his whole body flying back to earth. Akutagawa’s first lesson from Dazai was that his mentor never pulled his punches and he loathed repeating himself, too. Dazai gave him his first scar. His first scars. But he also gave Akutagawa a coat.
“Traditions,” he said to Akutagawa’s unvoiced question. A dismissive gesture, a roll of eyes—as if that could explain everything. Akutagawa accepted the oversized piece of clothing gingerly, as if the drab garment could rear up and bite him. Akutagawa soon discovered that it could.
As time went on, Akutagawa caught glimpses of the childish side of Dazai, which reminded him that his superior—barely two years older—was not all he made himself out to be. For example, Dazai had a penchant for breaking into apartments that were not his own. The first time that Akutagawa came home to a casual Dazai, a thick book in hand, sprawled out on their exorbitant leather couch, he almost turned tail and fled. Dazai, who wore his Mafia black with the lazy, haughty sharpness befitting an underworld princeling (like he was not being drowned by it), looked far too soft out of it.
An unfazed Gin acted like the sight was nothing extraordinary.
The handful of times Akutagawa visited Dazai’s apartment, he had been shocked by the contrast. It was located in a luxurious neighborhood, sure; however, there was no furniture except for the barest of essentials—an unmade futon on the floor, a lamp, some cardboard boxes he suspected had been there since Dazai moved in, et cetera. Standing among the empty glass bottles half-haphazardly strewn about the space, Akutagawa struggled to wrap his head around the state of Dazai’s private domicile and level it with the picture of the untouchable mastermind of the Yokohama Port Mafia.
Dazai to his left, Rashoumon at his back, that was where he was his best. His pride was potential enemies assessing him warily, trying to work out his ability from looks alone. And they always guessed that Akutagawa had an ability—it was not all that hard to figure out—children his age were messengers and runners, rarely out in the thick of things. Not unless they were an anomaly.
Even as dim-witted as most of the challengers to the organization were, they had enough wits about them to keep their eyes trained on Akutagawa. All living things understood when they were in the presence of a predator, after all; humans were no exception. And Dazai liked the rumors that stated the ‘Demon Prodigy’ possessed no combative capabilities and loved being underestimated more. Akutagawa’s greatest satisfaction was seeing harebrained fools going against their baser, animal instincts, eyes widening in horror when the ‘Dog’ bristled and cleaved through them like a hot knife through butter.
His confusion was the funny feeling in his head, the twisted knots in his stomach, and the sudden weakness in his knees when an amused Dazai wiped the blood splatter from his cheek with a soft chuckle and a tsk of “messy.”
Akutagawa forgot when he first thought of Dazai as beautiful. Perhaps it was watching Dazai one warm summer night, metal canister in hand, pouring lighter fluid all over the pile of wreckage Akutagawa had made out of a faction of hopeful upstarts. In the silvery moonlight, the two of them alone watched the abandoned factory, formerly serving as a headquarter, and then a funeral pyre, go up in flames. In front of the inferno, Akutagawa believed he beheld Dazai at his most carefree, most giddy, wild, and reckless—though he dare not say his happiest. Under the stars, bright as they were outside the city limits, Dazai pressed his lips to Akutagawa’s, setting the younger boy ablaze.
Dazai would never explain and Akutagawa would never muster up the courage to ask.
Jealousy was Akutagawa hearing the frequency at which the name ‘Chuuya’ fell from Dazai’s mouth. Granted, it was more often spat or accompanied by colorful insults, but even Akutagawa could not ignore the fondness—different from his own towards Gin—peeking out from the Cheshire-cat smirk or the uncharacteristic twinkle in characteristically flat eyes.
Akutagawa rose through the ranks rapidly, as expected of any protégé of Dazai’s. He pushed himself faster, harder, stronger. He brought down foe after foe, rival after rival, until he truly won the title of ‘Rabid.’ He carved out a name for himself from rending flesh and breaking bones.
But no one placed his name next to Dazai’s like they placed Soukoku.
Distress was Dazai’s blatant disregard for his own life, underscored by his proclivity to never look both ways before crossing the street, never gauge the distance before the leap. Anguish was Akutagawa showing up at Dazai’s flat, an irritated Nakahara in tow, and walking in on a colorless Dazai, face-down in a pool of blood. Nakahara had sighed and pulled out his mobile phone, dialing for help on his way out the door. Frustration was Akutagawa feeling like he was simultaneously the closest and furthest person from Dazai, and Dazai drinking himself into the bottles of cheap whiskey he enjoyed so much (and flitting between moods so erratically it made Akutagawa’s head spin and muscles groan).
The scars accumulated.
The day after his fifteenth birthday, Akutagawa was gifted his first solo mission—some light reconnaissance, simple enough that a child could do it—when a heavily-intoxicated Dazai crashed a stolen car through a Mafia-protected storefront and earned himself three broken ribs, multiple lacerations, and a week’s confinement to the infirmary as punishment.
Three days after that, Dazai ripped his stitches and fractured his femur trying to shorten his mandatory leave.... By limping out of the second-story window. Mori looked livid enough to kill Dazai himself.
Heavy was the “Why do you do this?” on his tongue.
“Let me in please,” was what Akutagawa wanted to demand, to scream, to beg Dazai, after what felt like the millionth time. He wanted to grab Dazai by the collar and shake him until some sense fell out. Or rip apart all the stitching to reveal something real. Instead, Akutagawa grimly wrapped him in more gauze.
(“It’s so boring and empty and pointless, Ryuunosuke,” he admitted sometimes, his dark irises dull and sad, “so, I thought—why not?”)
Sixteen years old, Akutagawa bowed before an Executive member who, regarding him like he was trash beneath his shoe, emptied a whole chamber of bullets into his face. The relief, when Rashoumon saved his life, nearly choked Akutagawa to death.
“Would you have cared if you’d killed me?” Akutagawa wondered but never had a chance to say.
Desolation was a stranger named Oda and a couple of orphans’ deaths, and Dazai disappearing from his side, into the wind. For once, anger abandoned him and Akutagawa almost lost himself in its absence.
(Four years later, it returned to him when he heard the sickening—“my new subordinate is better than you”—crunch of Dazai’s cheek under his fist and the howl of the why, why, why’s that broke free from his aching heart and soul.)