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A Careful Hand

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If they don’t kill him, he’s going to die of boredom.

A green tarp covers his cage, muffling the smugglers’ voices enough that Dazai has to strain his ears to listen. So far, they’ve discussed the weather, gone on two coffee breaks, had a spirited argument about a manga Dazai was unfamiliar with, and made one phone call too far away for him to listen in. Kunikida would be appalled by their lack of efficiency. They could have been doing paperwork, or—Dazai draws a blank, Kunikida’s voice clear in his mind, but the words impossible to understand.

They tied his arms behind his back from elbows to wrists with about thirty more zip ties than necessary. Then they gagged him and shoved him into a box that Dazai had been too dizzy to identify at first.

In the ensuing five hours, Dazai figured out that he’s in a plastic dog kennel. The wire door is padlocked closed, and the walls are seamless and very sturdy. A reeking blanket provides minimal padding beneath his knees, and the tufts of orange fur still clinging to it tell Dazai that whatever was transported in this thing before him, it wasn’t a dog.

Dazai hears a car pull up outside, the sound piercing through the thin metal walls of the warehouse.

“That him?”

“It has to be. No one else knows we’re here.”

His shoulders press into the plastic above, a dull stabbing ache with every shallow breath. His knees and ankles hurt constantly, the muscles cramping and fluttering at the strain of doing nothing. Dazai’s been folded up like a piece of paper, and every breath he takes drives creases deeper into his joints and muscles.

Eventually, the agency will wonder where he is. Dazai is fairly sure of that. He’s also very certain that it isn’t going to happen for at least two more days. He's less sure what they're going to find when they do come looking.

“You’re sure this is the guy, right?” the taller smugglers asks, worryingly nervous. “He’s not some lookalike?”

“Do you think I’d call the boss if I wasn’t? I worked for that bastard for three months, you know.”

So that's why the guy looked so familiar. Sweat trickles down Dazai’s spine, soaking through his shirt. The tape over his mouth holds firm against hour five of trying to get it between his teeth and Dazai isn’t certain whether it’s sweat or tears dripping down his chin.

He’s thirsty, hungry, cold, and exhausted. All of that is secondary to the pain in his shoulders and the vicious cramps trying to tear apart his legs.

The door to the warehouse rolls upward with a sudden shriek, and Dazai twitches, pain echoing through his bones. Who had they called? Hirotsu? Hirotsu had always liked him. Dazai might be able to talk his way out if—

Footsteps ring out on the cement, and Dazai sighs in despair. He recognized that swagger. The shortness of the steps, the slap of genuine leather soles, the overly dramatic flapping of his coat.

The smugglers rip the tarp off the cage, and Dazai closes his eyes against the sudden light, resorting to the only tactic left to him.

“You—is that a dog cage?”

“We didn’t want him to escape,” Dazai’s former underling answers. “He’s tricky, you know—”

“He’s not breathing.”

Dazai doesn’t smile. It’d ruin the illusion. It’s easy to hold still, to barely breathe. He can hardly do anything else. And the worry in that voice—oh, it almost makes this worth it.

Footsteps rush toward him, and Dazai braces himself gleefully, peering through slitted eyelids.

The front of the cage rips away, jerking the kennel forward, and Dazai gives himself away with a barely contained groan as his muscles scream at him.

Chuuya is still absurdly, ridiculously strong.

“Dazai!” Chuuya touches his face with warm hands, his nails scrabbling along the edge of the tape.

He keeps his eyes shut, enjoying this far more than any normal person should.

Chuuya’s breathing steadies, and his hands on Dazai’s face go still, fingers curved around his neck, index and middle finger pressed lightly against Dazai’s jugular. “What are you playing at, Dazai?”

Reluctantly Dazai cracks open one eye, peering through his hair at Chuuya. He’s not... playing, exactly.

The tape rips off in one quick jerk, Chuuya’s other hand firm and steady against Dazai’s face. He doesn’t look as worried as Dazai wants him to—more amused than anything. “I can’t believe you even fit in this thing.”

Dazai licks his lips, trying—then failing—to come up with a clever answer. Chuuya looks pretty in the harsh fluorescent light, his eyes unholy blue and his mouth already twisting into a smirk. Dazai’s absurdly disappointed. It’s sick, but Dazai’s always enjoyed Chuuya’s concern.

“Boss?” the shorter smuggler asks, saving Dazai from coming up with a reply. His thoughts won’t quite collect themselves, scattering when he tries to marshal them into words. His shoulders hurt ridiculously, and his knees feel like knives have been shoved between the bones.

Chuuya stands, turning his back on Dazai with a scornful noise that would usually drive Dazai up the wall. “What was he doing here?”

He closes his eyes, ignoring Chuuya’s obnoxiously respectful subordinates, and tries to work up the will to move. Dazai’s very sure it’s going to hurt more than staying still but he doesn’t have much of a choice.

Chuuya’s back is still turned to him. The smuggler’s sneakers are facing him, but they matter very little. Dazai bites his lip, finding it almost raw. It’s a minor, insignificant pain, easily ignored.

He shifts his weight and nearly bites through his lip at the starbursts of agony in his joints. It’s not going to be possibly to do this slowly. Chuuya laughs, the smugglers joining in nervously, and Dazai seizes the opportunity to shove himself through the too-small opening in a graceless plunge.

His shoulder bangs into the edge of the crate, and Dazai tastes blood as he plows face first into the concrete floor outside. He doesn’t make a sound beyond slapping damply onto the ground, and that’s a minor point of pride.

There’s a split second where he doesn’t feel anything, just a blinding numbness.

It doesn’t last long enough. Dazai keeps his silence, his teeth sinking deeper into his lip as his body howls in agony. How does this hurt so much ? He’s been shot, stabbed, drowned, and cut open, but somehow this is worse.

“Drama queen,” Chuuya says, nudging Dazai’s ribs with his shoe. His scorn feels familiar, almost comforting. “You’ve got wire cutters around here, Naoji?”

“Sure, boss—” A zipper opens behind him, and Dazai licks up the blood dripping from his lip, swallowing it down to hide it. Better if Chuuya thinks this is dramatics, and that Dazai’s faking for his benefit.

Chuuya catches something—wire cutters, probably—and kneels down by Dazai’s shoulder, grabbing his zip-tied wrists. It’s a jolt of fresh pain to his shoulders and Dazai writhes on the cold concrete before he catches himself, a genuine sound of pain escaping his clenched teeth.

The smugglers laugh with Chuuya, and the first ziptie snaps open. The rest follow in groups of two and three, Chuuya working fast. His hands are almost too hot against Dazai’s cold skin, and Dazai should listen to what Chuuya’s saying about him, but he can’t drag his mind away from Chuuya touching him.

Chuuya pauses with one tie left, poking his finger into the soft, likely swollen palm of Dazai’s right hand. “Can you feel that?”

Pins and needles erupt under Chuuya’s touch, and Dazai nods, not trusting his throat to not whimper or whine.

“Good.” Chuuya clips the last zip tie, and Dazai’s arms slip apart, slapping against the concrete to either side of him. It’s a blinding mix of relief and agony, and Dazai can’t keep a quiet hiss of pain from escaping him. “You two, get cleaning this place up. We aren’t keeping this warehouse in the rotation.”

Chuuya’s hand lands between his aching shoulder-blades, rubbing obscenely careful circles over Dazai’s spine. His hand is both warm and gentle, and Dazai loathes him passionately. “You’re pathetic,” Chuuya says, his voice strained under the cruelty. Dazai hates that too. “Why the fuck were you spying on this warehouse? We wouldn’t even have moved anything through it for at least a week.”

Across the street, there’s an equally “abandoned” warehouse where Dazai is fairly certain his quarry is making his counterfeits. He hadn’t realized this particular warehouse was occupied until a sap had collided with his head and nearly knocked him unconscious.

Dazai holds his silence. Chuuya’ll steal the entire counterfeiting operation if Dazai even hints at it, and he’ll be damned if he fails a case through something so stupid.

“Can you get up?” Chuuya asks, taking Dazai’s pulse again, this time from his wrist. “Your heart rate is through the roof.”

Dazai considers the question, his leg spasming painfully at the thought. “Probably,” he mutters. He’s freezing, Chuuya’s hands the only thing approaching warmth he can feel, but he’s dripping with cold sweat. He's grateful his overcoat hides it.

“Are you going to?”

Freezing to death is supposed to be quite peaceful. Dazai closes his eyes, the familiar longing a hook in his mind. He almost falls asleep like that, alone in enemy territory and entirely dependent on Chuuya’s mercy. Somehow Dazai isn’t worried at all.

Chuuya snorts and slides his arm under Dazai’s chest, hauling him upright too quickly for Dazai to fight it. “Lazy fuck.”

He can’t disagree. “You’re short,” Dazai replies, his voice as strange and weak as the insult. He’s exhausted, and everything hurts.

“Get moving, loser. I’m taking you home.” Chuuya feels like a burning furnace behind him as he stands, dragging Dazai to his feet with him. Dazai’s ankles crackle and his knees pop savagely when he tries to put his weight on them, but they hold.

-

It says something, Dazai thinks, that he doesn’t notice where he is until Chuuya flicks the lights on as he hauled Dazai over the threshold. “This isn’t where I live.”

“No shit.” Chuuya tosses his keys onto the kitchen counter, dragging Dazai forward like he didn’t even notice his weight. “It’s my place.”

Dazai hasn’t actually been here before. He kept meaning to break in, but hadn’t found the time. It’s a nice place. Very modern. White tiles on the floor and white paint on the walls. “How forward of you,” Dazai says, stifling a gasp when Chuuya dumps him onto his couch.

“Huh?” Chuuya glares over his shoulder at him, a line drawn between his eyebrows. “What, you wanted me to take you to the dump you live in? I’ve got standards, you know.” Dazai studies his tone, noting the way Chuuya’s mouth twitches and the smug tilt to his eyes.

“You broke into my apartment.” His lock had started sticking last month, needing a solid jingle of the key to open. He’d gone through his things with a fine-toothed comb as soon as he’d noticed, but nothing had been out of place.

That’s—Dazai’s not sure if he’s angry or pleased. His face feels hot, and Chuuya’s grin is growing smugger. “Your lockpicking needs work.”

“My lockpicking gets me where I want to be,” Chuuya corrects him, looking insufferably pleased with himself. “You didn’t even suspect, did you?”

“I knew,” Dazai lies through his teeth, sagging into cushions that feel like clouds. Sensation—it’s not pain, exactly, and it’s not particularly pleasant—ripples down his nerves with every tiny shift in position. He’s not sure he can move, if he’s entirely honest.

Chuuya flashes a grin at him, not believing a word of it. He pulls a cup down and fills it with water, searching in a cupboard a little too tall for him while the tap runs. He floats himself higher when he can’t find what he’s looking for, and Dazai’s interest perks when he hears the rattle of pills in bottles.

“What are you looking for?”

“Painkillers. I’ve got some in here somewhere.” The water turns off just before the cup overflows, Chuuya barely sparing it a glance before he returns to pawing through pill bottles.

Chuuya’s gotten better at control in the last few years. He would have snapped the faucet clean off if he’d tried that back when he’d been partnered with Dazai.

Chuuya finds what he’s looking for and tosses the white bottle toward Dazai, his feet settling back onto the tile. Dazai’s arm twitches toward the pills and fails to actually move, pain blooming through his shoulders and his arm cramping from his elbow to his wrist from the minor effort. The bottle hits his chest and bounces off with a sharp rattle, landing between his thighs and rolling half under one leg.

He tries to grab for it, but his arms don’t want to move. The last time Dazai’s body felt this heavy he’d been drugged half to death. This time he’s far more aware, and far more annoyed by his body’s belligerence.

He curls his fingers, finding them still swollen and prickling, and slides his arm over the slick leather couch back. It falls to his side like a slab of meat and Dazai’s vision whites out at the abrupt change in position, something crackling and popping inside his shoulder.

“You’re a mess,” Chuuya says, too fond and too close. He sighs and Dazai feels warm air whisper over his cheek.

Stars filter his sight, Chuuya’s face swimming into focus slowly. “I’m fine,” Dazai lies, meeting Chuuya’s gaze head on. His facade feels convincing until he blinks, sending tears dripping down his cheeks.

“Perfectly fine,” Chuuya agrees, and Dazai hears glass tap against glass, Chuuya setting the cup on the coffee table. Chuuya doesn’t look away from him, his mouth curved into a grin that rings false to Dazai’s memories.

For a second Dazai worries that Chuuya will try to wipe away his tears, but it’s Chuuya’s hand between his legs that startles Dazai halfway out of his skin before he realises that Chuuya’s searching for the pills he’d thrown at Dazai. “On—on the first date, Chuuya?” he asks, because staying silent would mean losing. The snide question is pathetic, but Chuuya doesn’t seem to notice how weakly Dazai said it.

“As if!” The pills rattle when Chuuya finally finds them under Dazai’s thigh, perilously close to considerably more intimate things. Dazai tries to believe that Chuuya won’t notice how hot his face is, but the faint pink flush to Chuuya’s face makes that hard.

Chuuya pops the lid off with a swift twist of his wrist, shaking out two gel capsules into his palm. “Here—” He looks annoyed, baffled, then worried when Dazai doesn’t hold out his hand. “You can’t actually want to tough this out.”

Dazai lifts his hand, getting almost parallel with his elbow before the pain radiating from his jaw, down the column of his neck, and into his arm grows intolerable. His muscles have the strength of wet paper. He could walk, probably, but lifting his arms—

The flash of concern across Chuuya’s face disappeared quickly. “Fine.” Dazai expects Chuuya’s fingertips against his lips, but expecting it doesn’t prepare him for how Chuuya’s fingertips feel against his rough skin. It sets his teeth on edge, makes his tongue curl around the pills Chuuya pushes between his lips. His tongue slides over Chuuya’s fingertip, the flavour of sweet salt filling his mouth.

Chuuya jerks away like Dazai bit him. He grabs the water glass from behind him, rivulets spilling over his fingertips and making them gleam in the reflected lights of his kitchen. “Drink.”

The glass is cool against his lips and clinks against his teeth. It feels unutterably strange not to hold the glass himself. Dazai doesn’t particularly like it, and would take the water from Chuuya if he could lift his hands high enough.

He swallows the pills and the lingering taste of Chuuya’s skin, and tries to ignore the water dripping from the corners of his mouth into the bandages around his neck.

The glass runs dry before Chuuya pulls it away. Dazai licks his lips, chasing the last few drops, then dries his face on the shoulder of his overcoat. “It’s good you didn’t go into nursing, Chuuya. You’d be terrible at it.”

“You’d be worse,” Chuuya snaps back, rising to his feet and hurrying away from Dazai, the glass and the pill bottle in hand.

Dazai watches, his mind quieted by exhaustion and his head still aching.

Chuuya sets the glass in the sink, quiet click of glass on metal echoing through his home. The faucet turns itself on and Chuuya washes his hands like he can’t stand the memory of Dazai’s tongue.

He drifts off for a few seconds, Chuuya’s couch as comfortable as it is expensive. And oddly familiar. Half-asleep, Dazai searches between the pillows, finding a familiar scar in the leather. “You stole my sofa?”

The soft sounds of Chuuya moving around cease. “You didn’t know?”

“I—” Dazai opens his eyes, fighting back the exhaustion that wants to claim him. “Isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but—you didn’t know ?”

Dazai hears the trepidation in Chuuya’s voice, reads the tension in his shoulders, and abruptly realizes that Chuuya cares . About what, Dazai has no idea.

“You haven’t broken in since you left, then,” Chuuya says, his voice flat and his eyes accusing. “Not even once, Dazai?”

“I—” He’d meant to. He just hasn’t gotten around to it. “No.”

Chuuya nods, his mouth a flat line of irritation. “Figures. I took most of your shit, asshole.”

Dazai had never wondered where his things had gone when he’d left Yokohama. It hadn’t seemed important. In retrospect, he’d been blind with grief and fury, and in that blindness he’d left behind more than he’d wanted to, but— “Did you get my games?”

“I beat them all.”

Apathy is the worst thing he can do to Chuuya, which is why Dazai does it whenever he has the opportunity. Today, his neck is wet from water and his lips still feel electric, and his body aches relentlessly. He is not apathetic in the slightest, and the seed of hurt planted in Chuuya by his oversight hurts Dazai at least as much. “You’re the worst , Chuuya.”

“Pot, kettle—”

“Grab your phone. Ugh, I can’t believe you’re making me tell you this,” Dazai whines, shifting on a couch he remembers best for the way it had stuck to his naked back. “Yesterday you got, uh... six emails, and three texts. Boring shit.”

“You bugged my phone? I just got it!” Is it wishful thinking to believe Chuuya sounds pleased?

“Last month,” Dazai agrees cheerfully. “Nice phone, by the way.”

Chuuya’s mouth twists like he’s trying to fight down a smile, and a wave of relief floods through Dazai. He’s vulnerable to Chuuya’s wrath and that’s the only reason he cares, of course. And the mocking tone his own thoughts have is a coincidence and nothing more.

Chuuya sets his phone on the counter and strides toward Dazai, his attitude returned to its normal annoying vigor. “Asshole. You want to sleep on my couch or do you want to grab a shower?”

His clothes feel like they might crunch if he moves too abruptly, and Dazai keeps catching whiffs of stale sweat that can only be coming from him. As much as he wants to pass out here... “I don’t know that I can walk,” Dazai muses lightly.

Chuuya snorts, unimpressed, and hauls Dazai upright with an arm around his waist. “For the sake of ridding my apartment of that smell, I’ll help you out this time.”

His body sounds like a twisting plastic bottle as he straightens. Dazai finds that worrying, a little. “Such caring!” he exclaims to cover it. “There might be a future for you in nursing after all!”

-

Chuuya’s shower and bath are obscenely large and tiled with a steel-grey stone that Dazai suspects is both extremely on trend and exceptionally expensive. Dazai likes it immediately.

“It’s so dark, Chuuya. Do you like living in a cave?” Dazai asks, slumped over Chuuya’s shoulder and watching him turn up the heat a few degrees on the very nice touch-screen thermostat. They are both pretending that Chuuya is raising the heat because he feels like doing so and not out of any concern for Dazai’s comfort, but Dazai is nevertheless touched.

“It’s fucking stylish. I’ve seen your bathroom. Can you even stand up straight in that pit?” Chuuya’s nose wrinkles in disgust as he stares up at Dazai. The thermostat beeps cheerfully as it turns on the heat.

“No,” Dazai admits. “But I bet it’s sized just right for you.” He casts an eye over the room. “This seems a bit large for you. Do you ever get lost?”

Chuuya rolls his eyes at him, dragging Dazai toward a bench built into the wall itself. “You like it, though.”

Dazai does. “It’ll be out of style in a year,” he says, like that matters in the slightest. His shower will still be an inch shorter than him in a year, which hadn't bothered Dazai until he’d walked into Chuuya’s ridiculous monument to cleanliness.

“Then I guess I’ll just have to redecorate.”

Chuuya shucks Dazai’s overcoat down his shoulders and off his wrists before Dazai can fake a protest or insist he can do it himself. He probably can, but—Chuuya’s hair looks so red in this light, and his eyes so blue. That doesn’t matter, but Dazai doesn’t protest when Chuuya starts unbuttoning his shirt.

Doesn’t protest much, that is. “So forward of you, Chuuya. You haven’t even bought me a drink.”

Chuuya tugs Dazai’s shirt free from his waistband, and eases it down Dazai’s shoulders with care that’ll disappear if Dazai remarks on it. “Like I need to,” Chuuya says, his tone light, teasing.

It still makes Dazai’s stomach twist. “Be gentle with me,” he says and it comes out more honestly than he’d like. “I’m fragile,” Dazai adds, a halfway joke that somehow manages to make it even more awkward.

“I know,” Chuuya replies eventually, after taking far longer unbuttoning Dazai’s cuffs than he could possibly need. “You’re an idiot, you know.” He tugs the end of Dazai’s bandages free from where they're wrapped around the palm of his hand and starts unraveling them.

He does know. If Chuuya looks up, he would be treated to the sight of Dazai’s composure well and truly faltering. He’s nervous and he doesn’t know why, and every loosened loop of fabric makes it worse.

Chuuya doesn’t say anything, though he can hardly miss the road map Dazai’s skin paints. He does the bandages around Dazai’s neck next, reacting no more strongly to the scars there than he had to the ones carved into Dazai’s arms.

The bandages loosen around his chest as Chuuya keeps unwrapping him, and Dazai feels excruciatingly naked. “Chuuya—”

“You aren’t showering with them on.”

It’s true, he can’t, but—Dazai gives a shuddering sigh and studies the ceiling as Chuuya finishes stripping him. He’s acutely aware of Chuuya, as much as he tries to pretend otherwise.

Chuuya loosens his own cuffs, rolling his shirt sleeves up to his elbows, and unbuttons his shirt enough to show the curve of his collarbones. A curl of red hair escapes the rest to fall in front of his eye.

“It’s rude to be dressed while I’m not,” Dazai points out. He flinches when Chuuya turns on the shower, directing it toward the floor while he tests the temperature. “Typical of you, of course, but very rude.”

“You trying to get me naked?” Chuuya asks, his grin sharper and prettier than before. “I’m not that easy.”

He should have seen that coming, Dazai realises, pouting as he scrambles for a retort. “So mean,” he mutters, eyes fluttering shut as Chuuya wets his hair with the same care he’d use to disarm a bomb.

It’s... nice. The water is warm, and whatever Chuuya gave him earlier is kicking in, leaving Dazai pleasantly sluggish and dulling the remaining aches significantly. And Chuuya is very gentle.

Trails of water spill down his spine, cascade over his collarbones, and splatter over Dazai’s thighs before Chuuya moves on, dragging the spray over Dazai’s back to sluice away the worst of the dried sweat.

Dazai doesn’t mention that he could probably manage to wash himself without Chuuya’s help. He never wants this concern when he needs it, but he can’t help but to crave it whenever he doesn’t. As desires go, it’s both perverse and difficult to fulfill, which Dazai had always felt rather typical of himself.

It makes Chuuya scrubbing his back into a strange pleasure, only half physical. People rarely touch him so deliberately, or for so long, and Dazai’s mind stumbles to a halt as he tries to catalog and memorize the sensation.

“You still awake?” Chuuya asks, dragging the washcloth over Dazai’s bare arm.

He hums his answer, still absorbed in his study of how Chuuya’s hands feel on his bare skin. It edges toward too much, but Dazai likes it in spite of that. It feels like Chuuya’s fingers accidentally touching Dazai’s tongue, crackling sparks spreading through him like ripples through water.

Chuuya laughs, and Dazai bristles in annoyance when Chuuya puts aside the washcloth and picks up the showerhead to rinse him off.

“I’ll lend you my bed, I guess. You look pretty fucking pathetic,” Chuuya says as soap trickles down Dazai’s legs, flowing through the valleys of his scars. Chuuya says it as casually as he might remark on the weather, which makes Dazai pause, his eyes widening.

“Are you going to be in it?”

“I—” The showerhead clatters as it hits the ground. Chuuya grabs for it seconds too late, almost slipping before he catches himself. “Do you want me to be?”

“I guess I could tolerate your presence.”

“That couch is pretty damn comfortable.”

“I might prefer your presence, if you wanted to be there.”

A strangled sound startles Dazai into looking up, catching a glimpse of Chuuya’s bright pink face before Chuuya twists away and heads toward the towels on the other side of the room. “I guess—okay. Sure.”

Dazai’s heart beats faster as water drips down his skin in beads and trails. “You will?”

Chuuya unrolls a bright white towel with a snap of his wrist, his composure regained. “I said I would, didn’t I?”

Dazai’s grin is hidden by Chuuya dropping the towel on his head. Chuuya dries his hair and Dazai catches himself holding his breath, a faint tremor in his bones threatening to turn into shivers. He isn’t cold.

Chuuya’s knees brush against his, heavy fabric drinking the water from his bare skin. Dazai is strangely, giddily nervous as Chuuya dries his hair. He can think of a hundred ways that Chuuya could hurt him, but--he likes his odds.

“I’ve got some of your old clothes. You can wear them until I get your stuff cleaned,” Chuuya mutters, not drying Dazai’s hair anymore, still blinding him with the towel. Unfortunately for Chuuya, Dazai doesn’t need to see him to know that Chuuya strung tight with nerves.

“Do I need clothes?” Dazai asks, and his voice cracks just a little.

Chuuya makes a strangled noise in reply, dropping the towel on Dazai’s lap and taking a half-step back. “Not unless you want them?”

Dazai has always liked the weightlessness that came with freefall, and this, it seems, is no different. He licks his lips--still dry and raw--and says very carefully: “I think I’m good.”