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the snow which fell on me was like tears

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8 years ago:

An explosion rocks the streets of Suribachi City. It reduces buildings to rubble and people to shadows and everything to nothing. No one knows what caused it. The government calls it a terrorist attack. People buy it because they don’t know anything else.

When they find him, they know three things: his name is Nakahara Chuuya, his birthday is April twenty-ninth, and he is seven years old.

The plastic medical wristband around his bruised forearm tells them that. The numbers ‘A5158’ inked onto the back of his neck tell them all the rest.

 

 

Present-day:

Nakahara Chuuya knows three things: he has been a part of the Port Mafia for as long as he can remember, he does not remember anything at all before then, and there is something else living inside him.

The first two things bother him, but not as much as the last one does. At first he thought it was just a commonality for people who possessed abilities, but when he’d asked Hirotsu-san, the man had simply looked at him strangely.

He’d tried Ane-san next, because her ability was more sentient, but she had said that her ability felt like a part of her, not its own separate being. This is not the case for Chuuya.

He copes by drinking.

A lot.

Another thing Chuuya knows is that he is not happy. He feels half-finished, like product taken off the line too soon. Maybe this is why his ability seems so different from everyone else’s.

When he is fourteen, he tries to ask Mori about it because the man is scarily brilliant and seems to have an answer to anything and everything. But the Port Mafia boss laces his fingers together and hums, saying:

“What an odd thing to say, Chuuya-kun. You seem perfectly normal to me.”

The thing living in Chuuya’s chest begs to differ. Chuuya knows it’s there because sometimes it will wriggle, like an invasive parasite. He tries to talk to it on occasion, just to see if it will reply, but the thing shows no sign of intelligence.

There’s no emotion behind it, he learns. It exists as a dull hum of electricity, a swell of energy that carries neither rage nor happiness; it simply is. It exists. That is all. Sometimes he feels it pushing against him harder when he uses his ability, but he can tell that it isn’t trying to escape. His frame simply isn’t sturdy enough to hold it.

He dreads what will happen if it ever bursts out.

Regardless, he hates this presence. He hates knowing next to nothing about it. His past is a mystery; he cannot even know whether he was born from this thing or this thing was born from him.

“I don’t know what I am,” he says aloud to himself one day, and then flushes because if Ane-san overheard him she would tease him for behaving like an angsty teenager, but it’s the truth. He doesn’t know what he is. He doesn’t know how to control the thing living inside him. Sometimes the thought of it makes him feel strangely empty, strangely sad.

He’s not sure what that hollowness means, so he looks it up online. Depression symptoms, the internet tells him. Chuuya scoffs. Depression is for—for old people who don’t do anything with their lives, or for people who are suffering from loss.

Chuuya’s not suffering from loss. He’s suffering from an unfortunate addition. So it can’t be that.

“You seem down, lad,” Ane-san mentions one day when she takes him out to the city for lunch. “Aren’t you happy?”

“I’m fine,” Chuuya says distractedly, perusing the menu. “Can I order wine?”

“You’re fourteen,” she replies pointedly, as though she doesn’t know how many bottles Chuuya’s stolen from her cabinets and nabbed off of Hirotsu-san. He’s not addicted, he just likes the taste. And the numbness.

Chuuya sighs. “Can you order wine?”

“I’m eighteen,” Ane-san says, amused. She doesn’t drink nearly as much as Chuuya does, but he’s seen her nurse a glass when she’s stressed. “This establishment isn’t connected to us, either. I’d rather not deal with getting kicked out. Anyhow, you shouldn’t drink so much.”

“I hardly drink,” Chuuya lies. She rolls her eyes but doesn’t push. She doesn’t ask whether he’s happy again, which he’s grateful for because Chuuya doesn’t think he could successfully lie to her. He thinks she already knows the answer, anyway.

Drinking too much can kill you, the internet says.

Chuuya sneers when he reads that over the lip of a bottle. Bet it won’t, he challenges, because—because—well, it just doesn’t make sense that someone as strong as him could be killed by something like fermented grapes. So it won’t.

He’s survived everything, literally. He was found in the ruins of an explosion without a scratch, save for some day-old bruises. He’s stood in the way of machine guns as they mowed men down and emerged as the only one left standing. He’s bent slabs of metal and support beams in half with his bare hands and walked on air like it’s nothing and free-fallen off of buildings and—

It’s hard to die when gravity can’t kill you.

The bottle feels a lot emptier than when he first started. Chuuya rubs his eyes and types into his keyboard, ‘harfmfl efetfs of alchoho’. Google is confused. He backspaces and types more carefully.

‘Numbness’, the internet says—yeah, he knew that. ‘Muscle cramps. Fatigue. Blackouts. Organ failure—’

Oh, organ failure? His stomach does hurt, a little. But he’s had stomach aches before that were worse, so he’s good. He’s fine.

Does the thing living in his chest count as an organ? Chuuya can’t be sure, because every time he tries to bring it up to Mori, the boss just calls it nothing. Maybe he can—can—poison. Yeah, he can poison it. If he drinks enough, maybe he can kill it.

He’d be normal then, if it were gone. His ability would be like everyone else’s, and then he’d finally feel like himself.

If he kills the thing, will he still be himself? Will he still exist? What if he is the thing? What if his thoughts are just an extension of that thing’s personality? What if he’s no one at all?

Those thoughts make him grip his bottle tighter. It’s empty. Fuck. He hadn’t meant—ah, fuck. Shit. He rubs his eyes. He’s dizzier than ever.

He should probably go to bed, he thinks. When he wakes up, he’s going to have a hell of a hangover. Fourteen-year-olds shouldn’t have hangovers, Hirotsu-san says in an annoyed voice every time he finds one of his bottles missing. Chuuya snickers.

He stumbles up; he stumbles too much. The world tilts around him and then Chuuya is falling, hitting his head against the wall so hard he sees stars. He thinks he blacks out for a moment, because when his vision clears, Ane-san is leaning over him. She looks angry, he thinks hesitantly. She also looks afraid.

“Chuuya,” she says in that angry, afraid voice. “Look at me.”

He can’t. He blacks out again.

The next time he wakes, he’s in a hospital bed. No, scratch that. He’s in the mafia infirmary with a fuzzy head and an awful taste on his tongue, and Mori is looking at him with that calm, smiley expression that lets Chuuya know that he’s livid.

Ane-san is there too, and she looks scared.

“Chuuya,” she says again, before Mori can get a word in. “Why did you do that?”

“Do what,” he asks stupidly. His mouth feels like cotton.

“Was that a suicide attempt?” Mori asks bluntly, and Ane-san freezes, her eyes darting back and forth between them. “It would sadden me greatly, when we put in so much work to rehabilitate you off those streets. Chuuya-kun, if you wanted out so badly, you know we have a death reserved for traitors. You could have simply asked.”

Chuuya’s blood runs cold at the thought of his jaw smashed, chest filled with bullets. “That’s not what that was.”

“Then what was it,” Mori says boredly, fiddling with Chuuya’s IV. “Do tell.”

“I thought,” Chuuya swallows, “I could get rid of the thing inside me. I hate it. I can’t control it.”

Mori actually looks at him when he says that. His mouth thins with displeasure, though it’s not aimed at Chuuya. “Ah.”

He’s silent for a long time and Chuuya waits nervously, heart thumping against his chest. He can feel the thing in there too, steadily throbbing as it feeds off his anxious energy. Ane-san looks like she’s ready for a fight, fingers digging into her palms.

“Cut down on drinking,” Mori finally says with a sigh, turning away. It doesn’t sound like an order, but Chuuya knows that it is. Ane-san presses her lips together before sweeping forward and wrapping her arms around Chuuya.

“I’ll help you,” she whispers into his hair. “I won’t let you go that far again.”

The day they find out about Corruption is terrible.

More power, Chuuya’s abused muscles scream, already sore and aching from non-stop blows. He needs to—he just needs to—

The thing inside him rears its head with a low growl like it never has before, and the world goes dark around the edges. There’s a rumbling from within and then everything spirals out of control, and he’s laughing, he’s screaming, he’s laughing—

He decimates the enemy within a matter of seconds and there’s relief on the faces of his men until Chuuya’s power decides it isn’t quite sated and decides to turn on them as well. Their grins turn to expressions of abject horror as they’re consumed by a yawning abyss of gravity, and Chuuya panics because he can’t stop even though his power is eating him alive, wearing away at his very flesh.

He rages until he dies.

And then he awakens a week later in an urn.

It’s tight and cramped and curved all wrong, and he can feel his bones fracturing little by little as the claustrophobic pottery bears down unforgivingly. Humans shouldn’t be in this space, he thinks in panic and growing horror.

It’s enough to tear a strangled scream from his throat and Chuuya slams his fists against the lid with reinforced gravity. It splinters into a thousand pieces and then the dirt pours in, filling his mouth and nose and he thrashes, thrashes, until finally he claws his way to the surface, suffocating on grit and tears.

His arms are broken from the way he’d been bent around himself in that tiny vessel, his ribs cracked and painful. Breathing hurts, but he somehow drags his near-hysterical self back the mafia’s headquarters in the dead of the night. The guards all pale when they see him and step back, quaking in fear, and it’s only until Ane-san sweeps into the lobby and screams that Chuuya finally understands.

“We—we burned your body,” she says, voice shaking. Golden Demon emerges with a whisper, blade held at the ready. “You’re—are you a vengeful spirit?”

“Ane-san?” Chuuya croaks, broken arms dangling uselessly at his sides. “Please help me.”

She impales him to the far wall instead.

Chuuya next awakens an hour later on the cold, metal sheet of Mori’s examination table. He tries to sit up only to find that he’s been strapped down. His broken arms flex, but they’re no longer broken. His ribs no longer feel like fire trapped beneath his chest.

Foreign fingers probe his neck, searching for a pulse. They travel down, stopping over his heart where Ane-san had pinned him to the plaster. The organ drums painfully in his chest, so much so that Chuuya feels as though it’s going to burst right out in a spray of blood. The skin above it is smooth.

“Fascinating,” Mori’s voice murmurs from above, and Chuuya’s breath catches in his throat.

“Please,” he whispers hoarsely, though he doesn’t even know what he’s begging for. Beside the boss, Ane-san stands there, face pale as a sheet.

“Chuuya?” She asks. “Is it really you?”

“It is,” Mori says before Chuuya can reply. He reaches down towards his side, and Chuuya follows the path with his eyes. “And it is remarkable.”

Ane-san tracks the path as well and startles, reaching forward with one desperate hand. Panic flashes through her eyes. “Wait, don’t—”

Mori shoots him in the head.

When he comes to, another hour has passed. The straps are gone, though Chuuya could have broken through them before had he been thinking straight. He still isn’t thinking quite straight, but Chuuya has been in the Port Mafia for too long. He’s learned to desensitize himself to situations like this.

He sits up, still on the cold examination table, and looks around. Ane-san is there, eyes red but hopeful, and she jumps to her feet the minute Chuuya stirs. Mori is also there, leaning back in his chair with a satisfied expression on his face.

The bullet hole in his brain is gone, smoothed over as though it never existed. His drying blood still coats the table and badly crusts his hair. Chuuya runs his hand through the stiff strands and tries to breathe.

“I’m sorry,” Ane-san is saying. “I’m sorry I did that to you, boy. I thought you were something—something else.”

Mori is smiling. “What did you think he was, Ozaki-san?”

Ane-san’s expression goes rigid, but she doesn’t say another word. Her red lips thin to an unforgiving line. Mori laughs. “Afraid he’ll want nothing to do with you if he knows the truth?”

“What do you mean,” Chuuya says, dread growing in the pit of his stomach. Ane-san whirls on their boss furiously.

“This might not have happened if you just told him from the start,” she hisses, hand up her sleeve. Mori watches her with a dangerous glint in his eyes. “He could have avoided it—”

“On the contrary, I’m quite happy this happened,” Mori cuts her off. He hasn’t even bothered to rise from his seat. “It came with a wonderful new discovery, and that discovery, Chuuya-kun, is that you cannot die.”

He’s hot and cold all over at the words, though he can’t understand why. Death—he doesn’t seek death. He’s never sought it. He’s only ever wanted respite, to exist without that thing, to cease to exist at all. There must be a difference.

“Your ability,” Mori says as way of explanation. “Refuses to let you. Perhaps it no longer wants to exist without a host.”

“What do you mean,” Chuuya whispers, suddenly numb. 

“Ah, Chuuya-kun,” Mori sighs, as he confirms his worst fears. “Your body is not your own.”

And then he tells him about Arahabaki.

Chuuya listens in dazed silence, limbs heavy and tight like he’s back in that urn, buried six feet under the ground as Mori lays out the sickening details. Ane-san won’t meet his eyes at all.

“Chuuya-kun,” Mori finally says when he is through, fingers laced together. “The government has expressed interest in returning you to where you came from. I assured them you would be much safer here with me. I’m sure you understand.”

“I understand,” Chuuya whispers.

Ane-san keeps her distance after that, gives him space. He’s not quite so angry with her for not telling him sooner, but she probably thinks he is.

Every emotion feels strange after that. Chuuya’s never sure whether they’re his own, or they belong to the god sitting within his chest. He’d hoped before that the thing was a mere parasite, incapable of thought and emotion, but now he thinks that maybe there was never a Nakahara Chuuya at all. Maybe there was only the projection of Arahabaki’s latent personality.

Mori doesn’t seem to care which it is, though he must know. Apparently there are more files detailing his past, but the boss had said there was no need for him to view them. He said they wouldn’t make Chuuya feel any more fulfilled. Chuuya knows he would die to get his hands on them anyway.

And he does die. Mori sends him out on mission after mission, and he dies on every

single

one.

—and that’s another thing.

He almost doesn’t hate it.

Enter Dazai.

He’s a boy Chuuya’s age with brown eyes that are filled with nothingness and bandages wrapped from head to toe. He wears mafia black well, large trench coat hanging around his shoulders like a pair of sooty wings.

He is insufferable, Chuuya is soon to find out, and horribly smart. Mori had singled him out for that very reason. No one knows much about where he came from other than that. All Chuuya knows is that he’d initially come to Mori as a patient.

He is also going to be Chuuya’s new partner.

“But why,” Chuuya seethes, because he is fifteen and therefore still entitled to mild tantrums. “I don’t need a partner; I don’t want a partner.”

“Dazai’s ability is to nullify other abilities,” Mori says, and Chuuya stops cold.

“You mean,” he says. Mori nods.

“You don’t have to die anymore upon using Corruption. The resuscitation time is rather long and inconvenient. I’d rather have you back on your feet sooner.”

“I see,” Chuuya says numbly, and decides on the spot that he will hate Dazai because the week he spends floating around in blackness is the only bit of respite he gets.

“Looking forward to working with you,” Dazai says neutrally, and sticks out his hand for Chuuya to shake. Chuuya eyes it warily before grasping it. It is, for some reason, slippery.

“...Why is your hand wet?”

“I licked it,” Dazai replies, and then gives him a shit-eating grin.

Working with Dazai is difficult because one moment Chuuya is wrangling a five-year-old and the next he’s staggering back as the boy’s true genius flares to life, brown eyes darkening until Chuuya feels like he’s staring into the maw of Corruption itself. The dichotomy is only mind-blowing for a short while, and then it becomes exhausting.

Dazai also asks too many personal questions, which is something Chuuya doesn’t often deal with. They don’t make him feel threatened—just uncomfortable.

“Are you happy you don’t have to die anymore?” He asks, and Chuuya opens his mouth to tell him to fuck off, but Dazai continues running his mouth without waiting for an answer. “What does it feel like to die? Does it feel good? Is there any consciousness remaining? Do you go somewhere when you die? I wonder if it’s truly considered dying for you since you come back to life—”

“What’s under your bandages?” Chuuya asks in return, and that shuts Dazai up.

He’s not entirely sure what Dazai’s deal is, because just like Chuuya, his past is shrouded in mystery. He probably doesn’t have parents, not if he’s joined the mafia so young. Or he could have been kidnapped, but frankly, Dazai doesn’t seem like the type to let that happen.

The bandages also make him wary. He wonders if Dazai is suicidal, because why else would he wear them? But to ask that seems too personal a question, even though Dazai has no qualms about asking them himself.

Still, something draws him to Dazai. There’s a sense of kinship that Chuuya can’t quite grasp the full meaning of, but somehow he knows Dazai is creature similar to himself.

Whatever that means.

He vomits blood violently, collapsing to the ground with heaving lungs and hoarse cries that tear his lungs apart. Dazai kneels beside him, gripping his wrist with one hand. His expression is strange.

Chuuya wants to die. He wants to die so, so badly, because living after Corruption is the worst pain imaginable. His body feels like it’s being ripped to shreds. Blood bubbles up in his throat to the point where he can’t breathe. He’s suffocating, suffocating on his own insides.

“I’m sorry,” Dazai says quietly. His grip on Chuuya’s wrist loosens. “I should have stopped it sooner. You’re going to die anyway with how badly it ravaged your body.”

Chuuya can’t even speak. His bloody fingernails scrabble desperately against Dazai’s bandaged forearm. Dazai actually looks regretful.

“Do you want me to end it quickly for you?” He asks, and withdraws his gun. Chuuya can only nod as his lungs liquify, arms falling limply to his sides. Dazai holds the gun to his temple.

He dies.

They practice together until they have it down. Two minutes.

That’s how long Chuuya can use Corruption without repercussions. After that, his body starts to break down.

If he goes for three minutes, he only needs a day or two to recover. He’ll still be sore from bruises formed from burst blood vessels, but it’s nowhere near life threatening.

Four minutes, and he starts to degenerate fast. He loses too much blood. It begins to pool in the lower parts of his body and quickly stagnates. He’d need transfusions and a period of bed rest.

Five minutes, and there’s no point. He’ll survive the immediate aftermath, but after that he dies.

Any longer than that and he simply rages until his body is hardly recognizable, twisted by gravity. Arahabaki controls him entirely at that point, using up every bit of flesh until there’s nothing left. And then he dies.

As it turns out, two minutes is usually all they need to sufficiently do their job. Dazai likes to make it a game, see how fast they can wipe everyone out. Chuuya scarcely dies these days. He also uses Corruption far more than he ever had in the past.

It doesn’t feel like living.

Of course, when he tells Dazai this, he immediately gets personal.

“Is it really that you want to die?” Dazai asks curiously. “Or do you simply want to live your life on your own terms?”

The question throws Chuuya for a loop. He sits back in his desk chair, considering it. Dazai perches on the edge of Chuuya’s bed and leans forward enough that the slightest nudge would send him toppling over.

“Is there really a difference?” Chuuya finally asks, because these have been his circumstances for as long as he can remember, and both of Dazai’s suggestions are impossible.

“Yes,” Dazai says, looking at him intently. “There is.”

Chuuya frowns at his sudden intensity. “How do you know?”

Dazai pauses for a long moment before adjusting his posture so that he’s sitting normally. He crosses his arms loosely. “I had a friend once. He told me a lot of things that I never really listened to, which I should have. He said at one point that someone who truly wanted to die would see no point in living no matter their circumstances. If your circumstances changed, would you want to live?”

Chuuya chews on his lip. He’s never had a life outside the Port Mafia—not one that he can remember, anyway. If he were allowed to exist outside of it, to choose for himself, would he…?

“What happened to your friend?” He asks instead.

Dazai’s eyes grow distant. “He died.”

“Oh,” Chuuya says quietly. He doesn’t say I’m sorry, because Dazai would surely see it as an empty platitude. He seems to do better with silence.

Dazai returns to himself a moment later. “Well, that’s it, I guess. The option is open. If you want to die, and I mean permanently, my ability will nullify your ability. If you die then, you’ll stay dead. It’s up to you.”

At that, Chuuya finds himself scarcely able to breathe. “You—you could do that—?”

“I could,” Dazai says, shrugging. He holds out his arm. “Give me your hand.”

Chuuya blinks, trying to shake off the residual shock before eyeing Dazai’s palm suspiciously. “Did you lick it again?”

Dazai’s lips twitch, but he rolls his eyes. “No. Just give it to me.”

Chuuya slowly slides his palm into Dazai’s, their fingers intertwining. Dazai looks at him expectantly. “Feel that?”

“The fact that it’s dry?” Chuuya asks wryly. Dazai gives him a flat look.

“Your ability,” he says pointedly. “Do you feel it?”

“I—” Chuuya falters. “No.”

It’s obviously not as though this is the first time Dazai’s used his ability on Chuuya, but something about the way Dazai is looking at him hits him hard. He lowers his gaze, blinking back the sudden burning of his eyes.

“Is it gone?” Dazai asks.

“Yeah,” Chuuya says quietly.

“Are you gone?” Dazai asks. “Are you your ability?”

Chuuya shakes his head, biting his lip. If he were, he would have disappeared the moment Dazai first touched him. He knows that.

“Do you want to die?” Dazai murmurs. He still hasn’t let go of Chuuya’s hand.

“No,” Chuuya says, but it comes out as an almost-sob. “I don’t know.”

“What do you want, Chuuya?”

“I want to live,” he gasps. “But not like this.”

“Okay,” Dazai says simply. He slips his hand from Chuuya’s grasp and stands, walking towards the door. “Then live.”

Ane-san sets a cup of tea down in front of him and sits down on the other end of the low table. Chuuya takes his cup and takes a long drink. It’s good. It tastes like cinnamon and home.

“It’s been a while, Chuuya,” Ane-san says quietly. “Since you came to see me.”

Chuuya shrugs, wrapping his fingers around his tea. “I missed you.”

Ane-san is silent for a long moment. “You’re angry with me.”

“I was, at first,” Chuuya says. “But really, it was nothing. You weren’t allowed to tell me. I get it. I’m not mad. I haven’t been for a while.”

Ane-san sighs. “Would you believe me if I told you I am truly sorry about what’s happened to you?”

Chuuya furrows his brow at her, and she continues. “Mori Ougai will use you up, boy. He will make the most of you even if you have to die a hundred times over. That will break anyone. He doesn’t need your mind intact when he’s got Dazai positioned at your side.”

Chuuya frowns, hesitant. “...What would you have me do?”

Ane-san sets her teacup down and folds her hands in her lap. “That’s for you to decide.”

I will not stop you, goes unsaid, and Chuuya thinks he understands. He was there when Ane-san tried to escape all those years ago. He was there when she failed. Ane-san is not a perfect person, not by a long shot, but she understands pain well.

“I’ll consider that,” he says carefully, and sets his teacup down as well before standing to leave. Ane-san stands too. She pulls Chuuya into a hug, draping kimono embracing his entire body. Ane-san’s always been so warm.

“Don’t you dare drink too much,” she murmurs into his hair. Chuuya smiles.

“Hello, Chuuya,” Dazai sighs, blood splattered across his face. “Don’t tell anyone, will you?”

Mori Ougai’s cooling body lies sprawled atop his carefully carved desk. Chuuya stands in the office doorway, frozen. He’s unable to tear his eyes away.

Dazai carefully tucks the gun he’s holding back into his coat and puts up his hands placatingly. Only then does Chuuya finally snap out of it, stepping forward with an inhuman hiss. “What did you do?”

Dazai presses his lips together and regards Mori’s body with detachment. “Chuuya—”

But it’s all too much. The boss is dead and Dazai is the culprit. The Port Mafia will surely fall to pieces without a proper leader. Chuuya’s home, the only place he’s ever known, is going to go up in smoke the second someone steps into this office.

And Dazai, Chuuya thinks, chest painfully tight, will be killed. They’ll kill Dazai, they’ll kill the one person who’s offering Chuuya a way out—they’ll kill his friend—

“If you’re worried,” Dazai says, “don’t be.”

He gestures to the corners where the security cameras blink knowingly down on them. “They’re not showing anything except for what I want them to show. And I’ve already set it up so that the suspect won’t be me. It helps that we’ve had ongoing conflict with that foreign group, Mimic—”

“You’ve been planning this,” Chuuya breathes, horrified. “For months.”

Dazai doesn’t say anything, but his eyes give it away. Chuuya’s fingers curl at the realization that this was all a betrayal—that it was nothing more than a trap. “Was any of this—” He gestures between the two of them, “—was any of it real?”

“Yes,” Dazai replies immediately. “Chuuya, yes. You’re the only other person I’ve met who’s like me. I swear it wasn’t all a lie—”

“Like me,” Chuuya repeats, voice trembling. “What the fuck does that mean, you bastard? No one— no one is like me, no one—”

Dazai takes a step forward and for a moment Chuuya thinks he’s planning to attack him too, but then he’s reaching for his own neck, fingers slipping beneath the bandages and carefully unwinding them. Chuuya stills, stuck in place as the white cloth slips loose for the first time, and then Dazai is turning around.

“Like you,” he says with his back to Chuuya, hands pushing away the hair from his nape. The string of numbers tattooed there are stark and black against Dazai’s sun-starved skin. Chuuya chokes, hands flying to his own neck.

Dazai turns back around, carefully rewinding the bandages until the numbers are covered up, and maybe if Chuuya can’t see them anymore, he can forget he ever saw them—

Dazai holds out his hand.

“Like I said before,” he says. “The offer is still open.”

“I was given two objectives,” Dazai tells him, once they are back in Chuuya’s bedroom. “Kill Mori Ougai. Retrieve Nakahara Chuuya.”

They won’t run just yet. It’s still the dead of night, and Mori’s body has yet to be discovered. Once it is, there will be chaos. One of the executives will succeed him—perhaps Ane-san. She’s the youngest, but she is also the most skilled. She will also not go looking for them.

Once the culprit is identified to be Mimic, they will leave.

“So you accomplished the first objective,” Chuuya says. “What will you do about the second?”

Dazai is quiet. “Do you remember the friend I told you about?”

The one who died, Chuuya thinks. “Yes.”

“He told me, before he was killed,” Dazai says, and Chuuya startles because he hadn’t known it had happened like that. “That even if I thought the life I led had no purpose, I should at least choose to be on the side of those that tried to make the world a little more beautiful.”

Chuuya considers that. The statement is somehow simultaneously hopeful and grim. “And?”

“And,” Dazai sighs, “I’d like to think I’ve helped save a lot of people by accomplishing that first objective. As for the second—well, the government wants you back, Chuuya. And I don’t think it’s to save you.”

Chuuya thinks about falling back into their hands, about that void in his memories that he’s probably lucky he can’t remember. He thinks about dying over and over again. He thinks about living.

“I decided a long time ago that only one of those objectives sounded appealing,” Dazai says with a shrug. “I also want to live, Chuuya. Being the product of a government experiment isn’t living.”

He isn’t just referring to Chuuya. The numbers on Dazai’s neck are as real as his own. Chuuya wonders if they would have met long before now had Arahabaki not exploded all those years ago.

There’s still a choice to be made, though. Chuuya takes a deep breath, steadying himself. Then he holds out his hand. Dazai eyes it curiously.

“I want,” he says, voice unshakeable. “To live.”

“Okay,” Dazai says, grinning, and takes it. “Then live.”