“What are you doing here?”
Two equally annoyed voices asked simultaneously, glaring heatedly at the other. Atsushi stood warily at Dazai’s side as the two former partners continued their stare-down.
“Don’t even try to take the Book, mackerel.” Chuuya said as he shouldered his way into the room the Book was said to have been hidden. “I’m bringing it back to base.”
“If you think I’m letting you take it, that hat of yours must have eaten more of your brain cells than I thought, slug.” Dazai moved to shrug past him, subtly pushing Atsushi closer to the book as he did.
Atsushi glanced over at the book that supposedly had world bending properties. It didn’t look like much of anything to him, just an ordinary book. He supposes that might have been the point of it, to look so plain and commonplace. He edged towards it and quickly reached his hand out to grab it, hoping to remain unnoticed.
No such luck.
Chuuya’s eyes whipped over at the movement and growled low in his throat as he sprung forward, attempting to get to the Book first with his hand outstretched.
Dazai bolted forward as well, trying to cut him off.
All three of their hands hit the Book at once and the world flashed a bright, blinding white.
Chuuya blinked his eyes open and rubbed the top of his head slowly. “Did anyone get the number of the train that hit me?” he asked dryly through a wince. He looked around himself and frowned in confusion. The rundown storage room they had been in was gone, replaced by what seemed to be a large and spacious library room in someone's house. There were bookshelves from floor to ceiling, filled with rows and rows of books.
“Um, where are we?”
Looking over, Chuuya located the owner of the voice. It was Atsushi, who was looking around curiously, still standing next to Dazai.
“Oi, mackerel, what’s wrong with you?”
Dazai’s eyes were slightly widened as he stared at the back corner of the room. Anyone who knew him less might not see the slight tremble in his hand before he hid it in his coat or how overall unnerved he looked. Unfortunately, Chuuya knew him better than anyone. And if Dazai was taken off guard, that meant that something truly unpredictable had happened.
Chuuya followed his line of sight and blinked in shock. Sitting on the floor near a window with his back to one of the bookshelves was a young boy. He couldn’t have been any older than eleven or twelve. Books surrounded his small body in piles on the floor in what seems to be some of every subject.
The child had fluffy brown hair and a delicate face. His eyes were brown with a subtle red tinge and they looked blank and bored. He wore a light grey shirt with a blue soft looking sweater vest on top with blue shorts and grey knee socks. His black shoes had been kicked off to the side by an errant pile of books about different sciences.
“Um, hello?” Atsushi said, trying to get the boy’s attention. He waved a hand in front of his face after a few more seconds of no reaction. Eventually, he reached his hand forward to touch the child’s shoulder. He yelped and jumped back quickly. “My hand went through him.” he finally said as he looked to the other two.
Chuuya narrowed his eyes and walked forward, testing it himself as he went to poke the child’s forehead. Sure enough, his hand seemed to phase through him. “Dazai.” he said as he looked up at the other. “This is you when you were a kid, isn’t it.” It was not a question.
Dazai opened his mouth to say something before closing it again. Eventually he settled for nodding, too confused and lost in thought to do much else, his mind whirring with possible explanations. “This isn’t what the Book should do.” he muttered after a few more moments of silence.
“That’s you?” Atsushi asked, completely thrown for a loop. “But you don’t have…” he glanced at Dazai’s bandages before looking away, embarrassed at his train of thought.
As though the observation shocked him back to awareness, Dazai let a small grin overtake his face as he looked at his student. “Contrary to popular belief, I was not in fact born wearing bandages, though I can understand why you’d think so.”
“So is this your old house then?” Chuuya asked, looking around at the spacious and dark room.
Dazai’s smile slid off his face and he frowned, unhappy about what he’d put together so far about the situation. “It was, yes. This was the library. Most of my time was spent here.”
Chuuya raised a brow at him. “So I’m guessing we’re in your memories then?”
“That does seem to be the case, yes.” Dazai confirmed. “I’d like nothing more than to get out of here, however.”
“What?” asked Chuuya with a grin. “Don’t want us seeing all your old secrets, you enigmatic bastard?” He looked at their surroundings, taking in the size and quality of everything, “Of course you come from a rich family, I don’t know why I’m surprised.” he said dryly.
“Well excuse me for enjoying my privacy, hatrack.” Dazai returned, just as dryly.
“You had a cat?” Atsushi asked.
Dazai and Chuuya looked over to where Atsushi was pointing. On the window seat next to where the younger version of Dazai was sitting, there was a cat. It had grey fur with a darker colored face and the fur was long and silky. The cat was doing its best to sunbathe despite the greyness of the weather.
“Ah, no.” Dazai said. “That belonged to one of the maids. My parents would never have allowed me to have a pet.”
“Maids!? ” Atsushi and Chuuya exclaimed in unison, unable to imagine growing up with house staff.
Dazai kept his eye trained on the younger version of himself as he spoke. “The cat was supposed to stay in the maid’s quarters, so if it’s out here right now… Well, it didn’t happen very often. So I think I know what today is.”
The child looked up from his book and turned his eyes to the cat on the window seat. Oh, he thought, it’s that cat again.
“What the hell? ” Chuuya asked, eyes wide. “Did you guys hear that too?”
Atsushi nodded and Dazai looked like he’d eaten something unpleasant. “Yes.” Dazai said after a moment. “It seems that we will be hearing the thoughts of my younger self during this.”
Chuuya grinned. “Oh, you’re gonna hate that, huh?”
Dazai’s attempt at an unbothered smile only tightened further.
The child leaned his hand up to the side, trying to coax the cat into letting him pet it. A small bit of light, almost unnoticeable, filtered into his otherwise blank and dead gaze. The cat bumped its head into his hand and purred quietly.
Then the door to the library suddenly opened and an old man walked in.
“Shuuji-kun?” the old man called, looking around the room. “Are you in here?”
The man stood just inside the doorway, his greying hair swept back in a dignified manner. He wore a plain dark grey suit with a rectangular set of glasses perched on the brim of his nose. The set of his face was stern, but there was an undercurrent of worry there. Eventually, his eyes caught sight of the child sitting by the window. “Ah, there you are. I’ve been looking all over for you, you know. You’re very hard to locate when you want to be.”
Chuuya slowly turned his eyes up to Dazai. “...Shuuji?” he finally asked. “That’s your real name, isn’t it?” his eyes narrowed.
Dazai frowned. “Well it’s not my real name now. I changed it the night Mori found me. ‘Shuuji ’” he said with air quotes, “died a long time ago.”
“I can’t really picture you as a ‘Shuuji’, Dazai-san.” Atsushi piped up, blinking his eyes curiously. “So what was the rest of your name before you changed it?”
Dazai sighed. “Before I changed my name I was Tsushima Shuuji. The Tsushima family was well known for being cutthroat when it came to business, so my parents were usually busy with that.” he shrugged. “Masuda-san,” he said, gesturing towards the old man, “was basically my caretaker. He was in charge of watching me and keeping the rest of the house in order.”
Masuda walked towards the child, scooping the cat up. “She should know better than to let her cat out of the maid’s quarters.” he muttered to himself, missing how the child’s eyes dimmed with disappointment as the cat was pulled away from him. He turned towards the door and smiled when he caught sight of someone walking by. “Sazaki-chan, perfect! Just who I was looking for!”
The lady who walked by the door turned back and stuck her head in. “Yes?” she asked, with a tinge of impatience to her voice. “You called?”
Her brown hair was in a tight bun, and her maid’s dress was pristine. There was a hard set to her face and her eyes narrowed further as they landed on Shuuji.
The man simply raised an eyebrow before holding the cat in his grasp out pointedly. “I believe this belongs to you?”
Sazaki nodded wordlessly and walked forward to take the cat before turning on her heel and walking back out.
Masuda sighed and shook his head before turning back to Shuuji. “Why are you reading in the dark? You could have flipped the lights on.” he said as he walked towards the child.
Shuuji looked up from his book once more. “Why bother?” he asked. “The light from the window is good enough.”
“You’ll damage your eyes that way.” came the gentle reprimand.
“My vision is already perfect.” Shuuji countered. “So it can take some damage before it becomes concerning.”
The man simply sighed again before turning his gaze out the window. “Oh, I didn’t realise it was snowing.”
Shuuji looked up at him. “It’s been snowing for a few hours.” he replied tonelessly.
“I suppose that’s to be expected for being in Kanagi this time of the year.” Masuda said, crossing his arms in thought.
Atsushi blinked and tilted his head. “You’re from that far north, Dazai-san?” he was instantly curious. He had never been there before, having never really traveled outside of his hopeless wandering after being kicked out of the orphanage.
Dazai nodded. “It gets a lot hotter in Yokohama than in Kanagi. I tend to prefer colder weather. Perhaps it’s because I was born in a place so naturally cold.”
Chuuya scoffed, “It’d also explain the block of ice where your heart should be.” He kept his eyes trained on the younger version of his partner as he spoke, still trying to see how this kid grew up to be the Dazai he knew. So far beyond the looks, the only thing he could see in common was how strangely blank the kid was. Shouldn’t a child that age be more energetic?
Masuda clapped his hands once decisively, bringing their attention back to the memory. “Why don’t you go outside and play in the snow, Shuuji?”
Shuuji’s dull eyes only blinked up at him, showing no other signs of movement. “Why?” the child asked.
“You might have fun.” the old man replied. “You could make a snowman or something.”
The child sighed quietly. “Nothing is ever fun. Can’t I just continue reading?”
Masuda shook his head. “Just give it a try for me. If you aren’t enjoying yourself after an hour, I’ll come get you and make some hot cocoa to make up for it.”
He’ll make hot cocoa for me either way, Shuuji thought shrewdly, he just wants to talk me into this.
I suppose I’ll humor him this time.
“Fine.” Shuuji said, getting up. “I’ll go out for a bit then.”
Masuda nodded, a pleased smile on his face. “Very well. I will prepare your winter wear for you. One moment, please.” he bowed his head and exited the room. Shuuji stood and began putting some of the books back in their rightful places.
He paused and looked around the room. The light grey walls contrasted with the dark grey curtains framing the windows. The snow outside the window made all the leafless trees look solid black in comparison, even the sky was grey, the clouds blocking out the sun.
Everything is so lifeless and grey, Shuuji thought. Or am I the one who’s empty? I still feel like this even when the sun is out, after all.
“You were depressing as a kid too, Dazai.” Chuuya said dryly.
Dazai only snorted softly in response.
Shuuji’s thoughts were interrupted by the return of Masuda. “Here you are.” the man said as he handed over the clothes for Shuuji to put on.
Shuuji nodded wordlessly and left to put them on.
Suddenly the scene shifted. They blinked their eyes, trying to get them used to the sudden shift in scenery. They were standing in the snow, though they couldn’t feel the cold of it or leave any imprints in it. They watched the child close the door, now dressed in his warmer clothes, and come out into the yard. Shuuji looked around and sighed, boredom evident on his face still.
I don’t know why I’m even bothering, he thought listlessly, it’s not like anything interesting will happen.
The child kicked some snow around in a half-hearted attempt to have fun. Eventually giving up and just sitting down and drawing with his finger in the snow. He rested his head in the hand he wasn’t currently doodling with and let his mind wander.
Then, from not too far behind him, there was a snarling growl.
Shuuji whipped around, eyes widening slightly as he took in what was in front of him. The large dog that normally functioned as the manor’s guard dog was there, teeth bared and angry looking. He had never liked the dog, as it had chased him once before, and since then it was supposed to be locked up unless it was night time.
Now, however, the dog stood before him, his black and orange fur looking unbrushed and his blue eyes unseeing with fury. What was most concerning, however, was the foam that seemed to be coming from its mouth.
Shuuji kept his eyes on the dog as he slowly inched backwards, trying to get away without setting it off.
No such luck.
The dog snarled once more and darted forward. Shuuji turned and bolted to his best shot: a nearby tree. Pure fear and adrenaline pushing him to move faster than he ever had before, he leapt up and caught the nearest branch before hauling himself up and climbing one branch higher just to be safe.
Chuuya, meanwhile, was having a great time wheezing from laughter.
Dazai just scowled slightly at him. “Oh shut it, chibi. You’re just rooting for your family member.”
“I’m kind of impressed that you didn’t scream, Dazai-san.” Atsushi said, watching the younger version of his mentor cling to the branch with a glare on his tiny face that almost perfectly mirrored a scared and angry cat.
“Yeah, raising my voice has always been pretty rare for me.” Dazai confirmed. “It came in handy occasionally, that I never had that reflex.” Many missions would have gone much more off the rails if he gave his position away just from being startled, after all.
Finally catching his breath, Chuuya grinned over at Dazai. “This is why you’ve always hated dogs, isn’t it?” he asked.
Dazai crossed his arms. “It’s one of the reasons, yes. Dogs are awful. They’re loud and mean and stupid.” He pointedly tilted his chin up and imperiously said, “Cats are far superior in every way, right Atsushi-kun?” He looked expectantly at his student and reached out a hand to ruffle his hair.
Atsushi smiled in fond exasperation. “I think I’m naturally biased, Dazai-san.” he closed his eyes to enjoy the feeling of the hair ruffle, however.
Looking at the dog, Dazai finally commented, “It’s strange to realise I’m a lot taller than the dog was, now. When I remember this moment, I remember being about the same height as the dog.”
“What?” Chuuya teased, “You afraid the dog would be as tall as you are now?”
Dazai grinned down at Chuuya, some of his teeth showing. “I’m just glad that, unlike a certain chibi I know, I actually grew past the age of ten.”
Chuuya grabbed the front of Dazai’s shirt to drag him down to his level, ignoring that the other’s smile never faltered. “What’s that, bastard? You want me to finish what that dog over there started?” he demanded.
“Oh, how sweet of a dog to volunteer to help another one!” Dazai cooed back.
Atsushi sighed and ignored the sounds of Chuuya’s angry screeching and Dazai’s taunting laughter. “Please don’t injure each other in here. We don’t know what kind of effect it might have.”
I hope Akutagawa and I never get that bad, he thought, ignoring the fact that they basically already were.
Chuuya finally reluctantly let go of Dazai’s shirt and turned to look at Shuuji. “So how long were you stuck up there?” he asked.
“About an hour or so.” Dazai answered dryly.
Chuuya whistled at the length of time. That was a long time to be stranded in the snow in a tree.
Sure enough, with the next scene shift they remained in the same place, but it was a bit darker. Shuuji was shuddering from the cold and his lips were blue. Gravity seemed to be the only thing keeping him on the branch by then, but the dog remained under the branch, barking wildly up at him still.
Suddenly, a gunshot rang out.
Shuuji looked down from his branch and saw that the dog lay dead, bleeding from a wound to the head. Blearily, Shuuji’s first thought was that the red blood spilling against the pure white snow was strangely pretty in its own way.
Even something as terrifying as that thing was just mortal in the end, huh?
Masuda ran forward. “Shuuji-kun, are you alright?” he asked, holstering his pistol. His concern was clear on his face, though he kept his voice professional.
Shuuji only blinked down at him. “You killed him.” he finally settled on saying.
The older man nodded sadly. “Yes. I had to put him out of his misery. He is at peace now.”
At peace? Is that all it would take? Shuuji felt his eyes close as he was lifted off the branch by Masuda.
Would this awful empty feeling finally go away if I died?
If I died…
Would I be at peace too?
With that last hopeful thought, Shuuji fell unconscious in Masuda’s arms.
“...Oh.” Chuuya said. There was nothing else to say to that. Nothing else he could say.
But he felt a strange ache in his heart for the child that never grew out of that emptiness.
As the scene shifted again, they found themselves in a cozy room with a fireplace. Shuuji was wrapped in blankets, holding a cup of cocoa on the couch. Masuda was sitting across from him with a cup of tea, a chess board on the table between them.
Shuuji’s face had regained its color, and he wasn’t trembling from the cold anymore. His eyes were closing and he looked like he was close to being half asleep.
He also seemed to be winning their chess match, despite being half asleep.
“Checkmate.” Shuuji said through a yawn.
Masuda blinked at the board then looked back at Shuuji and returned wryly, “I think I’m regretting teaching you how to play chess. That’s my eighth loss in a row.”
Shuuji only hummed faintly, lost in thought as he stared at his cocoa.
“Dazai-san, do you think I’d be any good at chess?” Atsushi asked, looking up at his mentor.
Blinking in surprise at the question, Dazai looked down at him for a moment before smiling warmly. “If you’d like, I can show you how to play when we get back and we can see for ourselves?”
Atsushi beamed up at him and nodded fervently.
Chuuya just marveled silently at how different Dazai was with this student. He couldn’t imagine the Dazai of so many years ago offering to teach Akutagawa much of anything. Especially not something that Dazai himself enjoyed doing. He couldn’t deny that he was kind of happy that all of this had happened, he wanted to know what happened that changed his old partner so much.
Shuuji finally looked up from his cocoa. “So,” he began, “how did the dog get rabies?”
Masuda sighed. “Apparently he got out of his cage a week or so ago and ran into the woods. I’d assume that something passed the disease onto him from there.”
“I see.” Shuuji responded. He pulled the blankets tighter around himself, clearly thinking over some things.
“Well in any case, I’m glad you made it out alright.” Masuda said as he began to put the pieces of the game away.
Shuuji frowned lightly. “I’m not.” he replied.
Masuda’s movements slowed to a halt. “What?” he asked, a concerned look in his eye.
“I wish the dog would have just killed me.” he muttered.
“You shouldn't say such things, Shuuji-kun.” the older man replied, eyebrows furrowing.
Shuuji sighed. “I don't see why not. Death is just the end of what would otherwise be a long and boring existence. Nothing unexpected ever happens, it's just the same thing every day.”
Masuda frowned, unsure of what to say to help the child in front of him. “Maybe you need friends? Having people around you that you enjoy being near might help you.” he offered.
“Where would I find a friend? All the kids I've met that are my age are boring and stupid.” Shuuji wrinkled his nose in distaste at the thought of the kids he met that were his age at the parties his parents had forced him to go to.
Letting out a fond and long suffering sigh, Masuda returned gently, “Shuuji, they weren't stupid, they were just average. They only seem stupid to you because you're a prodigy, you know this.”
Shuuji just buried himself further in the blankets in response, before finally speaking a few moments later, “Are there any other prodigies my age that I could talk to, then?”
“I'm afraid I don't know of any.” Masuda returned gently. “So if there are, I don't think they're near here.” He returned to his task of putting the chessboard away as he spoke.
Chuuya scoffed and looked up at Dazai, “What,” he asked, “normal kids not good enough to be your friend?”
Dazai wrinkled his nose, eerily echoing his younger self from moments before. “They really were dull and boring.” he defended. “All they ever cared about talking about was toys and dresses. It got old very fast.”
Shuuji took a small sip of his drink before turning his blank eyes up to Masuda. “Were mother and father informed of the incident?” he asked.
Masuda nodded. “They were.” he confirmed. “I let them know what happened soon after I brought you inside.”
“And do you think they’ll be coming to check on me?” the question was asked in the tone of someone who already knew the answer, however.
“Ah, I’m afraid not, Shuuji-kun.” Masuda replied hesitantly. “They mentioned that they were busy with work at the moment.”
“I see.” Shuuji replied tonelessly, his eyes glued to the fire.
Masuda looked as though the child’s calm acceptance of the situation hurt him more than if he had begun to scream or cry instead. Pursing his lips in thought, the man decided to do something to cheer the child up.
Shuuji looked at him. “Yes?” he responded.
“I have a secret to share with you, but only if you promise not to tell anyone else. It’s rather important.”
Tilting his head in curiosity, Shuuji nodded. “Alright. What is it?”
Masuda lowered his voice to make sure he wouldn’t be overheard by anyone in the hallway, “Have you ever heard of abilities?”
Shuuji blinked and nodded. “I’ve heard a little bit about them at parties. Mother and father don’t approve of ability users. They think they belong as second class citizens for some reason.”
The elder man nodded. “They do. Which is why I must ask you not to repeat what I’m about to tell you. Or, well, I suppose I should say what I’m about to show you.”
Atsushi made a noise of realization. “Oh! Is he an ability user, Dazai-san?”
Dazai just smiled and wordlessly gestured to continue watching the memory.
Masuda raised one hand and suddenly there was a bright ball of white light floating above his hand that began to take shape. The light turned into a bunny that began to hop forward, and then there was suddenly a flower made of the same light near it. A deer joined the bunny soon after and they began to jump and dance around the flower as it bloomed.
“I can make small illusions with light.” the man explained. “I can’t do much more than this, though.”
Shuuji blinked in fascination. A small cat made of light jumped towards him, guided by Masuda’s hand. Without thinking, Shuuji reached his hand forward to poke the nose of the cat.
Suddenly, there was a bright flash of blue light, and the illusions vanished.
Masuda’s eyes widened. “Shuuji-kun?” he asked in shock.
Shuuji looked back at him curiously. “What happened?” he asked.
The older man opened his mouth before closing it again. Finally, he managed to say, “I wasn’t the one who made my ability vanish.”
Chuuya raised an eyebrow in interest. “So that’s the first time you used No Longer Human?”
Dazai gave a small honest smile as he looked at the scene in front of him. “Yeah.” he responded. “It was.”
Masuda created another ball of light in one hand and gestured for Shuuji to grab his other hand. As Shuuji did, there was another flash of blue light and Masuda’s ability was canceled once again.
“It appears that you are an ability user as well, Shuuji-kun.” the older man said with a small quirk to his mouth. Then he frowned, watching as the boy in front of him stared at his own hands in mild interest. “If I could advise you, Shuuji-kun,” he said, pausing for a moment as he thought over what to say. “I would suggest that you don’t inform your parents of your ability.”
Shuuji sighed. He is correct, he thought, they would try to find a way to gain social status with it if they learn about it. Like the way they did when they realised I was a prodigy.
“Very well.” Shuuji confirmed with a nod. “I will not inform them.” he licked some cocoa off of his lips before continuing, “Masuda-san?”
“I have a question that I’d like you not to repeat to my parents in return.” he waited for Masuda to nod in assent before asking his question. “Do you think my parents care about me?”
Masuda blinked in clear shock at the conversational tone the child asked the question in. He fumbled for an answer, unsure of what to say. “I’m sure they…” he trailed off slowly.
Shuuji shook his head. “It’s okay,” he said dully, “I already know the answer. They only had me because they wanted an heir, after all. I suppose there are worse reasons to have a child.”
“It’s good, at least, that they kept you.” Masuda offered in some weak defense of his employers. “I imagine being an orphan would have been worse.”
Shuuji only hummed. “Perhaps.” he allowed. “But most orphans at least have the comfort of thinking that maybe their parents wanted them, but just couldn’t provide for them. I think that it’s its own sort of terrible to know your parents personally, and to know they don’t want you, despite keeping you.”
Masuda could only watch the child in front of him with sad eyes. “Shuuji-kun…”
“It’s okay, though.” Shuuji continued with a shrug. “I don’t think I care about them either.” Though his words were sure, there was a bit of something like sadness in his eyes. Like he lost something that was never his.
Atsushi watched the conversation sadly. Having grown up in an orphanage and having been told his whole life that his parents didn’t want him, he could sympathize with his situation a little bit. I hope Dazai-san knows how many people care about him now, he thought.
Shuuji continued, “I don’t think I know how to care about people, really. Do you think there’s something wrong with me?” he looked up at Masuda with empty eyes, curious about what he’d say.
Masuda sighed, then offered the child a tired smile. “No, Shuuji-kun. I think you’ll find someone to care about one day. Maybe more than one person. I think when you do, you’ll care more than anyone else. You just have to find the people that deserve it first.”
Shuuji hummed, clearly skeptical. He took a long sip of his cocoa before he looked back up at Masuda.
“Yes?” the man asked.
“Am I supposed to care about you?”
Masuda blinked in surprise as he took in how the child’s eyes were boring into him with curiosity.
Dazai’s mouth twitched. “At the time,” he said, not looking at either of his current companions, “I thought that Masuda was only spending time with me as part of his job, and because he had nothing else to do. I think I’m only realising now that he did care about me.”
Chuuya crossed his arms. “You’ve always been lousy at knowing when people care about you.” he tilted his head as he looked at the scene in front of him. “I think he thought of you like a grandson, honestly.”
Dazai smiled a little at the old man in question. “I think he did, too.”
Masuda smiled at the boy in front of him. “No, don’t worry.” he answered gently. “I’m just your caretaker. You don’t have to try to form any attachments to me.”
Shuuji blinked and nodded, before drinking the last of his cocoa and falling asleep on the couch.
Masuda shook his head fondly and adjusted the blankets over Shuuji so he wouldn’t get cold before settling back down in his chair with a book.
The scene shifted once again. This time, Shuuji looked a bit taller. And it looked like the emptiness in his eyes hadn't lessened any.
They stood in a long and shadowed hallway, Shuuji’s footsteps making no noise at all on the wood flooring. He stopped to poke at one of the flowers in a vase in the hall, when he heard hushed whispers behind a nearby door. He silently made his way over to the door, to listen in through the crack that was left in it.
“Ah,” Dazai commented, “I remember this. I was twelve around this time, I think.”
“That kid is so weird.”
Shuuji tilted his head as he recognized the voice. Sazaki-san, then.
“He never speaks unless it's to Masuda-san.” She hissed. “And he never makes any expressions. I don't think I've seen him smile once yet.”
Her words were met with the muted giggles of one of the other maids. “He just wanders around silently all the time, showing up like some kind of ghost. He's just freaky.”
“That kid isn't human, that's what it is.” the derision in her voice was palpable.
Shuuji blinked as he stepped back from the door. A ghost? He thought. Not human?
Is that what it is?
Is that what's wrong with me?
Chuuya scowled at the door. “What a bitch. Who the hell says that about a fucking kid?”
Dazai’s mouth quirked up in a smile. “It's not like she was wrong, really.” there was a distantly bitter light to his eyes, as though this was a fact he had long ago accepted.
Chuuya whirled around and grabbed the front of Dazai’s shirt and dragged him down once more. “Listen here, bastard. No one deserves to be told that they're not human, directly or not. And as much of a fucking train wreck on fire as you can be, you're still human. You got that?”
Shifting uncomfortably at his words, Dazai chose to deflect instead, “Atsushi-kuuunnn! Please save me from this tiny angry chihuahua~!”
Atsushi only frowned, honest concern coloring his voice. “Dazai-san… even if you can't believe it yet, you really are human. Despite the name of your ability.” Then he crossed his arms with a dry expression, “Also please don't ask me to get between you and Chuuya-san. I've heard it doesn't end well.”
Chuuya reluctantly let go of Dazai’s shirt so he could ruffle Atsushi’s hair. “You're a good kid.”
Dazai pouted at them both for ganging up on him.
Shuuji silently walked to the library and sat on the window seat. He stared out at the trees as he thought.
I don't seem to feel things the way that normal people feel things. I don't think I've ever felt regret or love. Or much of anything except boredom, really.
I should test it, then.
Shuuji’s eyes gained a glint of determination.
The scene in front of them shifted suddenly. They were standing suddenly in a large and well stocked kitchen area. A large gas stove stood at the back wall, a large pot of soup sitting atop one of the burners. On the wall next to it, there was a wood burning fireplace, there to keep the kitchen warm during the freezing winter. There was a tall flame inside it then, having been fed more wood recently.
Dazai snorted. “Oh, it's going to show this memory, then?”
Chuuya was immediately suspicious. “What did you do?” he knew that tone from his partner meant nothing good, after all.
Dazai only blinked innocently back at him.
Shuuji bumped into Sazaki in the hall leading to the kitchen, falling over.
Sazaki stopped and scoffed. “You should watch where you're going.”
Blinking up at her, Shuuji nodded. “Sorry.” He said.
She rolled her eyes and strode past him into the kitchen.
Shuuji stood unseen behind the entrance to the kitchen, watching intently.
Sazaki tended to the soup, stirring it a few times, before walking over to stoke the fire. She grabbed the fire poker and stood in front of the fire. Leaning forward a little she reached forward with the poker before…
She screamed. The bottom of her maid’s dress caught on fire, and it was spreading quickly. She hit it wildly with her hands, not making much progress. Her yells alerted a few other maids that ran in from the storage room to help her try and put it out.
“Holy shit.” Chuuya muttered.
After a few more frantic swats and after one of the maids thought to douse her in water, the fire was finally extinguished.
She panted, fear and adrenaline had caused her to hyperventilate for a short time. She hissed as she felt small burns traveling up her legs where the fire had touched her, and on her hands from hitting at the fire. The other maids that were present left to get the first-aid kit and towels to mop up the water.
Then she looked towards the door and froze. Still standing there, having watched everything with that indifferent look of his, was Shuuji. He stared back at her, unblinking, and she suddenly knew.
He had done something. She didn't know what, but she was positive that he had caused it.
“What did you do?” She hissed at the boy, hoping he wouldn't notice her slight shaking.
Shuuji just tilted his head up at her, and offered a small smile that did not reach his eyes. “Nothing.” He murmured softly, turning to leave. “Nothing at all.”
“Devil child.” She hissed at his retreating back.
Shuuji hummed as he made his way back to his room through the many hallways. Once he was safely in his room, he pulled an empty vial out of his pocket and looked at it thoughtfully.
“What’s that, Dazai-san?” Atsushi asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
Dazai’s mouth twitched up a fraction before he spoke, “Ah, that.” He said. “Well you see, I've always had a knack for chemistry. So I mixed some common household cleaners together to get what I wanted.” He gestured towards it vaguely, “It was a blend of chemicals that, when heated past a certain degree, would burst into flames.”
Chuuya’s eyes widened. “Oh my god, that's why you bumped into her.” He sounded vaguely impressed. “I thought it was weird that you'd bump into anyone. Your sense of balance and coordination has always been annoyingly good, after all.”
Dazai only smirked in response.
Atsushi frowned up at him disapprovingly. “That was really mean, Dazai-san.”
Dazai raised an eyebrow at him. “Atsushi-kun, you're going to see me do much worse than this soon.”
Chuuya snorted. “This doesn't even make the top five hundred in the list of fucked up shit you've done, mackerel.”
Atsushi frowned slightly but nodded. He was aware his mentor had not always been the nicest of people, after all.
Shuuji sighed as he looked at the vial. That was one test failed, he thought. A normal human would feel regret for causing another person harm or pain, but I still don't feel anything. Something like disappointment crossed his face before it settled back down to empty.
I'm so tired, he thought.
He cleaned the vile out to dispose of the evidence before putting it away.
I just want to feel something that isn't boredom or emptiness.
Shuuji sat on his bed, suddenly too tired to do anything else.
I just want it all to stop.
I want to die.
With that last hopeless thought, Shuuji collapsed back onto his bed and let the peaceful blackness of sleep take him.
With the next scene shift, they were transported again to the library. Shuuji had grown a bit once more, his normal bored expression still affixed to his face as he read the textbook in his grasp. The window beside him illuminated the book with only the light of the full moon.
Chuuya tilted his head to read the title on the book. “Quantum mechanics?” he questioned with a touch of incredulity.
Dazai shrugged. “I was already ahead in all of my subjects, so I asked Masuda-san to get me books on more challenging concepts.”
“How old were you here?” Chuuya asked, feeling distantly annoyed.
Wrinkling his nose in thought, Dazai responded, “Thirteen, I think. I’m pretty sure that’s when I started reading about… oh.” he stopped suddenly and frowned.
Chuuya raised an eyebrow in poorly disguised concern. “What?”
Dazai’s face smoothed back out as he turned back to the memory. “I think I just realised what this memory is, is all.”
With that, the door to the library opened. Masuda walked in, an exasperated look on his face. “Shuuji-kun.” he sighed out. “There you are. You were supposed to be in the dining area twenty minutes ago. You’ve left your parents and your guests waiting.”
Shuuji blinked up at him. “Shouldn’t they only be my guests if I invited them here?” he returned his blank gaze down to his book. “They’re my parent’s guests. I don’t see what’s so special about today anyway.”
“Well,” the older man said, “you don’t turn thirteen every day, after all.”
Atsushi blinked up at Dazai. “Oh, it was your birthday, Dazai-san?”
Dazai gave a humorless smile in response. “It was.”
“Since it’s my birthday, shouldn’t I decide how to spend it?” The boy responded tonelessly.
“You can’t spend your entire birthday hiding up here.” he said, then sighed at the blank look the child leveled him. “Alright, fine, you could but you shouldn’t.”
After a long assessing look at the man, the child sighed, then closed the book and stood up. “Very well.”
Masuda smiled in relief at him. “Thank you.” he responded.
Suddenly, a maid rushed in and gestured for Masuda to come over. All Shuuji could make out in the hushed whispering between the adults was ‘trespassers in the yard’ and ‘armed’. Shuuji’s eyes widened slightly.
This was unexpected.
Masuda turned to Shuuji after telling the maid to find a place to hide. “Shuuji,” he said, muted alarm clear on his face, “come with me.”
The older man grabbed Shuuji’s hand firmly as he led him out of the library and into the hallway hurriedly. His pace was quick, Shuuji having to walk much faster than normal to keep pace with his shorter legs.
“What’s happening?” Shuuji asked.
Masuda frowned like he was considering not telling the other when he sighed, “It seems as though there are two suspicious people outside of the house who are armed and look like they’re going to try and force their way in.”
Shuuji nodded. “Makes sense. They most likely knew that the party planned for today would have a lot of wealthy guests, so they’re likely wanting to rob everyone at once.”
“The guests have been sent to wait in the safe room. I’d bring you there as well, but we’d have to cross by the front door for that and I couldn’t promise that they wouldn’t have broken in by then.” Masuda led Shuuji to his room. “Okay, stay in here and keep the door locked and stay away from the windows. I’m going to go make sure that everyone is in a safe position. One of the maids already called the police, so they should be on the way.”
Shuuji tilted his head up at him. “What if they break in before you get back?”
Masuda smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I have my gun on me. I’ll be back before you know it.” With that, Masuda patted Shuuji’s head once and then turned and left to go back down the hall and towards the others.
Shuuji closed the door and locked it, sitting on the ground.
Am I afraid? He asked himself.
No. I don’t think I’m feeling fear at all.
He frowned. Shouldn’t I be afraid? Wouldn’t a human naturally feel fear or worry of some kind while their home is about to be invaded?
Maybe I should try to get a better look at what’s going on.
With that, Shuuji opened the door and looked out into the hallway. Seeing no one, he quietly exited the room, sticking to the shadows as he made his way slowly to where the front doors were located.
Atsushi frowned. “I don’t like this.” he said, worry clear on his face.
Chuuya just snorted as he watched Shuuji sneak around silently. “You never were good at following rules or staying out of trouble, were you, mackerel?”
“It’s a gift.” Dazai returned dryly.
Shuuji was nearly to his destination when he heard the sound of the front door being broken in. I wonder if they’ll kill me, he thought with a tinge of hope.
He stood in front of the banister on the second floor, overlooking the front door from its shadowy, hidden position. He looked down at the two men that had come in, looking around for people. They both had their guns trained in a specific direction to the side. Shuuji followed the direction of their guns with his eyes and blinked in shock.
It was Masuda-san.
The man appeared to be telling the intruders to leave.
One of the men responded by trying to shoot Masuda, only succeeded in shooting the wall near his head. Masuda narrowed his eyes and returned the fire. His bullet didn’t miss. One of the intruders was dead and the other now looked furious, unloading his gun at Masuda who did his best to evade the bullets.
Masuda raised his gun and two shots rang out at once.
There was complete silence for a moment.
Then both men fell.
Masuda was dead.
He died from a bullet wound to the forehead. Shuuji distantly heard sirens getting closer. He looked down at the body of his caretaker and desperately tried to feel something. He would never see Masuda-san again. His professionally distant but kind caretaker that never treated Shuuji like he was just a dumb kid. He was dead. Surely…
Surely Shuuji had to care about him, right? Enough to feel sorrow or anger at his death? To feel anything at all?
But there was nothing.
The emptiness he was so used to was the only thing he felt then. It felt like the emptiness had grown somehow, though. Like something that had been taking up room in his chest had been carved out, leaving even more empty space behind. An echoing hollowness.
Chuuya narrowed his eyes and hissed out. “That’s loss, you fucking idiot. You were feeling loss.”
Dazai blinked at him and then back to the scene in silent consideration.
“I’m sorry that happened, Dazai-san.” Atsushi said quietly, ignoring Chuuya’s continued ranting about ‘emotionally constipated idiots that don’t even realise when they’re actually feeling an emotion’. “He seemed like a really good person.”
Dazai just nodded. “He was.”
“Oh shit.” Chuuya said after a few more seconds, faint horror on his face. “This all happened on your birthday. God damn.”
The scene shifted again, showing Shuuji putting some things into a small bookbag. He seemed to be wearing casual clothes for once. He looked like he could pass as an average kid.
“This was the night after what we just watched.” Dazai explained.
“You’re leaving your house?” Atsushi asked. “Why?”
Dazai shrugged. “I decided that there wasn’t anything left for me here. My parents only wanted to use me for their own gain and I couldn’t find a reason to live anymore. So I left to try and find a peaceful way to die.”
Shuuji closed his bag and put it on. He silently made his way through the hallways and down the stairs, before coming to the front door.
“And what do you think you’re doing?” A voice asked.
Shuuji looked up at the voice. There, blocking his path, was Sazaki. She frowned down at him disapprovingly, her hands on her hips. “Are you running away?” she asked, eyeing the bag on his shoulder.
“I am.” he returned, knowing there was no point in lying about something so obvious.
“And why should I let you?” she asked, her eyes narrowed down at him.
Shuuji hummed thoughtfully before responding. “If you let me go and pretend you never saw me tonight, you’ll never have to deal with me again.” he said.
She scoffed. “And if I don’t let you leave?”
“Then,” Shuuji responded as he looked up to meet her eyes, a new sort of darkness there, like the void itself was present in his gaze, “you will have to deal with me.”
Sazaki shuddered slightly in fear. The child’s tone wasn’t threatening. It didn’t need to be. The dark promise in his words was more than enough. Something is absolutely wrong with this child, she thought. With that, Sazaki stepped to the side and let him leave, glad to be rid of him.
Shuuji walked out and into the direction of the nearest town. Maybe he could find something there.
The world around them shifted and Shuuji looked like he hadn’t slept in far too long.
“This was about a week after I left.” Dazai muttered as they watched.
I thought I’d find a way to die by now, Shuuji thought.
I haven’t eaten in a few days and my stomach hurts.
I hate pain. Why can’t I just die already and get it over with?
He stumbled on the sidewalk, weak from hunger, and accidentally bumped into someone. He straightened up as well as he could, before looking at who he ran into. It was two young ladies in kimonos, one with a frown on her face and one that looked worried.
“Hello,” he said with a slight slur to his voice from a sudden bout of lightheadedness, “I apologize for running into you. By any chance, do you have some food? Or maybe a way to kill me?”
Before he could hear their response, he tipped forward and blacked out.
The first thing Shuuji noticed as he slowly gained consciousness was that he was in a small, dimly lit room. He was resting on the floor on some blankets that had been laid down. The room smelled heavily of smoke and alcohol.
Shuuji blearily opened his eyes all the way and sat up slowly, giving the room a once over. There were gaudy decorations and fake flowers everywhere. A haze of smoke hung thickly in the air. There was a small wooden table in front of him and one of the ladies from before was sitting on the other side of it.
“Hello.” She said.
Sitting up slowly, Shuuji rubbed the back of his head. “Hello.” He responded, unsure of what else to say.
The woman in front of him had wavy honey-brown hair and bright green eyes. She wore a light blue kimono with the bow done in the front of it. There was a faint hint of concern on her face as she looked at him. “What do you remember?” She asked.
“Nothing after asking if you had food.” Shuuji responded. He glanced around, seeing that they were alone. “And there was someone with you.”
The lady nodded. “Hatsuyo went to get you some food. It looked like you haven't eaten in a few days.”
“I haven't.” Shuuji agreed. “How long was I out for?”
Tilting her head, the woman replied, “It's only been a few hours so far. We spent most of that time trying to sneak you in here.” She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear before continuing, “My name is Shimeko, by the way. What's your name?”
Chuuya groaned. “Please tell me you didn't flirt with them.” They had to be at least twice his younger self’s age!
Dazai’s mouth gained a wry twist. “You'll just have to watch and see.” he said, giving nothing away.
“Ah,” Shuuji said hesitantly, “well, I'm in a bit of a particular kind of situation, so I'd prefer not to share my name if you don't mind.”
Shimeko blinked. “So you're a runaway, then? I thought as much when I saw that you were carrying a bookbag. That, and your clothes look like they're pretty well made.”
Shuuji blinked and tilted his head, a bit surprised that she got that so quickly.
With a faint blush, Shimeko explained. “I just like doing puzzles. The kind that gives you clues and you have to figure out the solution.” she said. “But I'm really not that impressive with them.”
Shuuji opened his mouth to respond, when the sliding door slammed open. It was Hatsuyo, the other lady that was with Shimeko when he bumped into them.
Hatsuyo seemed to be about the same age as Shimeko, in her early to mid-twenties. She had an annoyed twist to her otherwise beautiful face. She wore the same style of kimono as Shimeko, though hers was a deep purple. Her black hair was pulled into a neat updo and her shrewd blue eyes peered down at him as she tossed something down onto the table in front of him. She closed the door behind her before walking forward.
“There.” she said, handing him a spoon and then folding her arms. “That's the only food I could find that wouldn't be missed enough to send up any red flags. Eat up, brat.”
Shuuji stared at the can quietly for a moment. He had never had canned food before.
He wondered if he'd like it.
Or maybe it'd just poison and kill him, really it seemed like a win/win situation when he thought about it that way.
With that, he opened the lid. Bits of meat greeted him. He cautiously picked some up on the spoon and put it in his mouth. His eyes widened.
It was really good!
He started shoveling more into his mouth, finally giving in to the hunger that had been clawing at his stomach.
Dazai laughed lightly. “That was the first time I had canned crab.” he explained.
Chuuya crossed his arms. “Oh great, so now I know who to blame for your obsession.” he said dryly, trying not to find the child version of Dazai enjoying something for once cute.
“The way you're eating that reminds me of how I ate the chazuke you got me when you saved me, Dazai-san.” Atsushi remarked with a small smile.
Dazai returned the smile fondly.
Hatsuyo raised an eyebrow at him. “Don't swallow the spoon while you're at it.” she said dryly.
Shuuji slowed down enough to breathe. “Ah, thank you for the food?” he said unsurely.
Laughing lightly, Shimeko handed him a water bottle which he accepted gratefully and began drinking. “Don't be so hard on him, Hatsuyo. He was starving before this.”
“So are a lot of kids.” Hatsuyo shot back. “Why are we the ones taking care of this brat?”
“He collapsed in front of us, so it's our job to help him.” Shimeko argued stubbornly, her glossed pink lips pulled down in a disapproving frown.
“That's not how it works.” Hatsuyo said flatly.
“Well,” Shuuji cut in, “you could just help me die. That way I get what I want and I'll be out of your hair.”
They both paused as they turned to look at him. Shimeko turned her eyes back to Hatsuyo and frowned harder.
Hatsuyo groaned like an overworked parent. “We are not keeping him.”
Shimeko’s eyes turned pleading.
Hatsuyo faltered. “We’ll get in trouble.” she protested weakly.
“We could pretend that he’s my younger cousin or something and that I'm just watching him while his parents are away.” Shimeko said, feeling herself gain the upper hand.
Shuuji looked lost. “Um,” he finally said, “where exactly am I?”
Hatsuyo clicked her tongue. “You're in a brothel, kid.”
Realization dawned on Shuuji. “Ah.” he said. “That makes sense. Would I need to work here if I stayed?” he didn’t seem against the idea.
A raised eyebrow from Hatsuyo. “That's kinda a surprising reaction from a kid your age. I expected more disgust or something.”
Shuuji shook his head a little. “There wouldn't be a point. I already know brothels exist, why would that matter to me?”
Shimeko smiled at him. “Don't worry, the only thing we'd ask you to do if you stayed would be normal cleaning stuff. Sweeping, mopping, that sort of thing.”
Chuuya narrowed his eyes at Dazai. “You would have agreed to join a brothel at thirteen?”
Dazai snorted lightly. “I joined the mafia willingly later. Working at a brothel would have been nothing.” He smirked at the other. “Besides, I would have been great at it if I did.”
Chuuya couldn't find it in himself to disagree. Dazai had the annoying ability to be good at anything he put his mind to. And when combined with his looks…
Hatsuyo sighed. “So you want to die, kid?”
Shuuji nodded as he ate the rest of the crab.
“Why would you want to die?” Shimeko asked. “There's so much interesting stuff around to explore!”
“Like puzzles?” Hatsuyo asked dryly.
Shuuji watched as Hatsuyo sat down beside Shimeko. “Okay kid, we’re obviously not down for killing you, and there's no way Shimeko would be okay with you just starving to death on the streets, so how's this? You stay here and clean to earn your stay and your food until you find a way to die. You're not allowed to die here, that would make a mess and cause an uproar. And you have to pretend to be Shimeko’s nephew.”
He considered Hatsuyo’s proposal. It sounded like the best deal he would be able to get at the moment, really.
After a few more moments of consideration, he nodded. “That's acceptable.” He said.
Shimeko frowned. “You don't smile much, do you?” she looked a little concerned.
Neither does your friend, Shuuji thought blandly. He shrugged. “I'm not very good at it.”
“Well that’s no good!” Shimeko said. “You need to be able to smile for when good things happen.”
“Or when you need to charm someone into doing what you want.” Hatsuyo added, in a much more pessimistic manner.
Shuuji blinked. “I can get things from people by looking happy?”
“Oh god damn it.” Chuuya muttered, he had a feeling where this was going.
This is where he got it?
Hatsuyo nodded. “Oh yeah. A good smile and some pretty words can get you a lot of things. You’d be surprised how low someone’s defenses can get if you flatter them right.”
“Ooo!” Shimeko cooed. “We should teach him how to smile properly. He might need it!”
Shuuji blinked. “If you’re going to do that,” he said, “would you mind also teaching me how to make other facial expressions properly?”
Shimeko nodded happily, ignoring the resigned look on Hatsuyo’s face. “After we teach you expressions, we can teach you how to flirt properly!”
Hatsuyo sighed. “You might as well. Most guys are shit at flirting properly anyway.” she turned an assessing eye towards Shuuji, taking his face in properly. “You’re lucky, kid. If what your face looks like right now is any indication, you’re going to grow up to be pretty handsome.”
“Ohh,” Shimeko said, leaning in to look at his face. “You’re right! You have good genes, kid!” She gave him an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Shuuji frowned. “Thanks, but I’d rather not grow up at all if it’s possible.” he rested his head on his hand as he looked at them. “Though I will take you up on those lessons. I don’t like not knowing something that could come in handy.”
Shimeko cheered happily and Hatsuyo sighed.
“Of course.” Chuuya said dryly, “Of course the first thing you learn how to do like a normal fucking human is flirting. Of course it is. I don’t know why I’m surprised.”
Atsushi sighed, his tone equally dry as he spoke, “It’s certainly fitting, knowing Dazai-san.”
Dazai beamed down at both of them. “Hey, I’m technically innocent here. I just wanted to learn how to smile normally. They’re the ones that tacked the extra lessons on. Though I have to admit that they really came in handy.”
“So,” Chuuya started, “you worked in a brothel for a while doing manual labor?” he raised an eyebrow. “I can’t picture you doing much of anything related to chores.”
Dazai huffed. “It wasn’t fun. Plus I was basically the only one cleaning since it was a pretty small and shabby building. It wasn’t exactly as high class as Ane-san’s place. I ended up sharing a room with Shimeko.”
Shuuji finished off the rest of his water bottle. “Is it alright if I sleep more for a bit? I’m still really tired.” he rubbed at his eyes, blinking them slowly.
Shimeko grinned and nodded. “Sure thing!” she chirped. “I’ll go let the boss know that my cousin will be staying here for now in exchange for doing chores. She’s been wanting someone to sweep around here for ages, so I don’t think she’ll tell us no.”
Hatsuyo warily eyed the kid as he laid back down. There was something strange about him. Nothing inherently bad as far as she could tell, but there was certainly an unsettling quality to him.
At least he just looked like a normal innocent kid while he slept. She sighed and walked around the table to pull the blankets back over him after he shivered a little in his sleep. Hatsuyo ignored Shimeko’s cooing at the action. She wasn’t going to get attached to this kid.
“What are you drinking?” Shuuji asked, leaning against the broom in his grasp.
Hatsuyo looked up from the table. “Sake.” she said. “I have a client pretty soon after this, so I'd rather be nearing tipsy first.” She punctuated the sentence by taking a long gulp.
Shuuji stared curiously at the bottle. He knew Masuda-san preferred brandy, and that his parents liked champagne, but he hadn't tried any himself yet. He wanted to try it out to see if he’d like it.
“How long was this after the last one, Dazai-san?” Atsushi asked.
Dazai thought about it for a second. “I think maybe a week and a half had passed by this point.”
“Could I try some?” Shuuji asked.
“That's not exactly legal, kid.” Hatsuyo returned dryly.
Shuuji matched her tone, “Neither is working at a brothel at thirteen.”
Hatsuyo clicked her tongue. “Fair point.” She conceded. “Just don't tell Shimeko I gave you any.”
Shuuji nodded and joined her at the table, accepting the small saucer she handed him. He sniffed at it lightly before taking a sip.
Then he blinked in surprise and downed the rest.
Chuuya raised an eyebrow. “That was the first time you had alcohol?” he asked, feeling vaguely impressed.
Dazai smirked. “Yep. No idea why, but the taste never bothered me.” He was glad he had never been a light-weight. Being able to drink a lot before getting tipsy or drunk really tended to come in handy when missions took place in bars.
“I wonder if I'd like alcohol.” Atsushi muttered to himself curiously, lost in thought.
Dazai turned his smile to Atsushi. “I'll sneak you some if you promise not to tell Kunikida-kun.”
Atsushi looked like he was honestly considering it.
Chuuya smacked the back of Dazai’s head. “Don't corrupt your kid!” he hissed.
The silver haired boy blushed at the implication that he was Dazai’s child. Though, he couldn't deny he kind of thought of Dazai as a sort of father figure. And the thought of Dazai thinking of him as a sort of son made him quietly happy.
Pouting, Dazai rubbed the back of his head, “Don't tell me what to do, hatrack.” Then he raised an eyebrow at Chuuya. “Besides, those are big words from an alcoholic.”
“You act like you aren't one too!” Chuuya shot back, challenge clear in his voice.
“Ehh? I can't hear you from all the way down there! Do you need me to find you a ladder?” he cupped his hand to his ear, as though trying to hear better.
Atsushi sighed at the squabbling from the overgrown kids he was stuck with. Every time they start bickering I suddenly feel like the oldest person in the room, he thought wryly.
Hatsuyo was just blinking in shock. “I'm impressed.” she admitted. “This is pretty strong stuff, too. You're a natural, kid.” She poured him some more.
Shuuji’s mouth twitched up in an approximation of a smile.
Hatsuyo clicked her tongue. “We’ll bring in the mirror later so you can practice that one a bit. You keep forgetting to put your eyes into it first. You have to crinkle your eyes a little when you smile or it looks unnatural.”
He paused for a moment to process the information, then, crinkling his eyes, Shuuji tilted his head slightly to the side and beamed up at her.
“Wow, fast learner.” She muttered, trying not to feel charmed by how adorable the kid looked when he smiled. His eyes normally looked so dead and empty, it was weird to see this expression on his face. She looked at the clock and sighed. “Okay, I have to go greet the client. I'll see you after, I guess.”
Shuuji tilted his head as he watched her get up. “You seem more unhappy than you normally do when meeting with a client.”
Hatsuyo sighed, then nodded, seeing no reason not to tell him. “Yeah, this guy is known for being pretty rough with the girls he hires.” her mouth twisted into a frown.
“Can't you refuse him, then?” Shuuji asked.
Hatsuyo shook her head. “No, we can't exactly afford to turn away paying clients. Plus this guy is the leader of a gang around here. He might set his gang on us if we turn him down.”
Chuuya crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. “What a bastard.” he said, thinking about someone mistreating one of Kouyou’s girls. “If this was Ane-san’s place she'd gut the asshole.”
Dazai smiled. “That she would.” he agreed.
Shuuji reached forward and poured himself more sake, enjoying the taste.
The scene shifted again. Hatsuyo was once again sitting at the table, this time with a first aid kit open in front of her. There were bruises and cuts going up her arms and disappearing into her dress. She hissed as she cleaned a particularly nasty looking cut. "I can't believe he brought a knife this time."
Shuuji’s head rested on his arms as he observed her injuries. “Shouldn't you ask Shimeko to help patch you up?”
Hatsuyo sighed, putting pressure on the cut. “She's out getting food right now. She should be back pretty soon, though.”
“Hmm,” Shuuji hummed, puzzling something out. “Could he tell you weren't enjoying it?”
“Well, some people are into that, but he was the type that likes it more when we pretend to enjoy it.” she shrugged, already resigned to the fact.
“You can pretend to like something that hurts? Or to enjoy something that you don't?” Shuuji looked up, his eyes showing an exhaustion that didn't belong on a child's face. “Could you show me how?”
Hatsuyo grinned sardonically. “Kid, pretending to enjoy something I'm not is at least half of my job. Of course I can teach you.”
Chuuya snorted. He had heard the girls at Kouyou’s say basically the same thing. He was glad they kept a sense of humor about it, though. It kept their spirits up.
Shuuji watched as she bandaged her arms up. “Why do you bother wrapping the cuts up if it'll just happen again the next time he comes over?”
She shrugged. “If something hurts, you just wrap it in bandages until it stops. It helps the healing process. That, plus, it makes people underestimate you or feel sorry for you if you look injured. Which is its own sort of useful here.”
“If something hurts, wrap it in bandages?” Shuuji looked like his interest was piqued. “But it hurts to live. What do I do about that?” he asked.
“Dunno,” she said, “maybe just wrap yourself in bandages like a mummy.”
“I can do that?” He asked, curiosity shining in his eyes.
“Sure.” she said with a shrug. “Why not? There's no rules against it. Might as well make yourself happy with what you have.”
“I'm never happy.” Shuuji replied dully, but took the bandage roll she offered him all the same.
Dazai fidgeted with the bandages on his arm as he watched. He knew why he originally started wearing bandages, but seeing it play out before him was an odd sensation, like he was experiencing the same emotions all over again. The relief he felt the first time he wound himself up in bandages, a comforting weight going up his arms and neck. Something he chose for himself.
“Well that explains it.” Chuuya shook his head with a sigh. “I always wondered how that started.” He smiled faintly as he spoke. “Now we know we have two things to blame her for: the crab and the bandages. I guess the sake too, if we’re counting that.”
Dazai grinned down at Chuuya. “Ooo, I'm shocked! Someone taught a dog how to do basic math!”
Atsushi furrowed his eyebrows in determination before looking back at both of them. “Dazai-san?” He said, interrupting their impromptu bickering session.
The silver haired boy took a breath. “She said that wrapping something in bandages is to help so it'll heal faster, and that they should stay on until it stops hurting, so…” he trailed off a moment before meeting Dazai’s eyes. “I hope one day you're finally healed. And that the bandages will help you so much that you won't need to wear them anymore.”
“I hope one day living doesn't hurt for you anymore.” he continued firmly.
Dazai's eyes widened in shock. “Atsushi-kun…” he murmured, before a warm, fond smile overtook his face. He chuckled softly and put his hand gently on the top of Atsushi’s head. “I have such a kind student.” he said softly, proudly.
Chuuya smiled warmly at the now blushing boy as well. He was glad Dazai had someone who wasn't afraid to say that kind of thing to him. He knew the bandaged idiot needed to hear it sometimes, even if he didn't realise it.
Shuuji slowly began to wrap his arms up, and then moved on to his neck, then wrapped some around his ankles. He flexed his arms and legs to make sure he could still move properly.
“You didn’t wrap your eye?” Chuuya asked, feeling mildly confused.
Dazai shook his head. “No, that happens later.”
Shuuji nodded to himself after he felt that he was sufficiently wrapped up in enough bandages. He considered the things the girls would teach him now. The ability to mimic emotions like a normal human.
The ability to seem unbothered by bad or painful things…, Shuuji thought to himself exhaustion mixing with interest.
I have an odd feeling I’ll need to know that, so I might as well learn it while I’m looking for a way to die.
It’s not like it’ll matter in the end, anyway.
“The girl who always wears the purple bow is stealing money from the brothel.”
Shimeko and Hatsuyo’s heads darted up in shock.
Dazai gestured forward, “This was about a month or so after the last one.” he said.
Shuuji looked back at them impassively, still wiping down the table, as though what he just shared wasn't important information.
“...What?” Shimeko eventually choked out. “Aiko is?”
Hatsuyo snorted inelegantly. “Can't say I'm surprised.” she muttered. “Aiko has always been a secretive bitch.”
“Language!” Shimeko scolded, frowning at Hatsuyo as she gestured at Shuuji.
“Shimeko, it's not like I'm corrupting the kid. I've heard him say worse already.” Hatsuyo rolled her eyes as she spoke.
Yeah, but I learned those from you too, Shuuji thought to himself wryly.
“So anyway,” Hatsuyo started, “Aiko is stealing money? How do you know?”
Shuuji tilted his head and shrugged, “She lets herself into the room where the records and money are kept in at night so I got curious and checked later. She marked herself down as being owed more money than she actually earned, and the amount of money that should have been in the room was lacking.”
“Wouldn't Ayame-san have noticed by now if money was missing?” Shimeko asked, worried. “She is the owner, after all.”
Shaking his head, Shuuji responded tonelessly, “No, she's careful not to take too much directly. It's just enough that it only looks like faulty book keeping in the end.”
Hatsuyo furrowed her eyebrows, confused. “How do you know how much she should earn to know that she forged it?”
He began ticking things off on his fingers as he listed them, “You are all paid a fixed amount per client. Some of you could receive tips but you would get those directly. Some of you are more requested than others and earn more, but she isn't one of them. Based on the amount of clients she gets during the average week, her pay is far above what it currently should be.” He waved his hand uncaringly as he finished cleaning the table. “Also, going by the quality of the new clothes and jewelry she's been wearing, she's been spending it so frivolously that it's likely she's been at it for a while.”
Shimeko’s mouth hung open in shock and awe. Hatsuyo looked like she felt similarly, but pulled herself together faster. “How the hell did you put all that together?” she asked, bewildered.
Shuuji hummed lightly and rested his head on his hand. “Well,” he started blandly, “I am technically a genius.”
Hatsuyo was stunned to silence. Neither girl had expected this from the hungry child they decided to shelter.
Chuuya snorted. “Always a showoff, huh?” He asked.
Dazai blinked down at him innocently. “I was only stating a fact.” he said. “It's not like I lied about it, or anything.”
“You were really impressive even as a kid, Dazai-san!” Atsushi said, smiling brightly. “I wish I could be that smart.”
Dazai’s mouth twitched up at the wistful tone in Atsushi’s voice. “Don't worry, Atsushi-kun.” he said. “Your talents just lie elsewhere.”
Atsushi blinked up at Dazai curiously, “Like what?” he asked.
“Well,” Dazai began with mischievously with an overly serious tone, “before you, I've never seen someone eat that many bowls of chazuke in one sitting.” He nodded to himself, repressing a smile. “It was truly impressive and awe inspiring.”
Atsushi flushed red. “Dazai-saaannn!” He whined, covering his face.
Dazai finally let himself laugh at the look on his student’s face. He was just too fun to tease.
Chuuya smiled behind his hand as he watched them.
Shimeko regained the ability to speak. “So why did you decide to figure out if she was stealing? Why were you paying attention to her, anyway?”
Shuuji shrugged and opened up some canned crab. “It wasn't really her in particular, I just notice everything. It was just the fact that she was stealing that made me curious.” He took a bite of the crab and hummed contentedly.
“...Curious?” Hatsuyo asked cautiously.
“Humans are such odd creatures.” Shuuji began, confusing them both further. “Despite being in a position where they would get money over time anyway, some of them become greedy for more. They'll jeopardize their own stability in their way of life for the desire to possess more than they already have.” His tone was distant and unaffected, like he was talking about an alien species. “I wanted to observe the sort of person who would do that for myself. But it's become boring again, so I thought I'd let you know.”
Shimeko seemed worried about him for some reason he couldn't comprehend. He was the same as ever, after all. He didn’t see anything wrong with what he said.
Hatsuyo sighed and stood up. “Okay, I'll go talk to Ayame-san. If you're right, then it shouldn't be too hard for her to double check.” She softly patted Shuuji’s shoulder as she walked out. “Thanks for telling us, kid.”
Going back to eating his canned crab, Shuuji just nodded in response.
Shimeko frowned at the puzzle she was working on and Shuuji leaned forward to give her tips. He knew the answers as soon as he looked at the paper, but he could understand the satisfaction that came from figuring it all out on your own. She beamed at him when one of his tips helped her get a lot closer to figuring the whole thing out.
Chuuya frowned. “Wait, I just noticed something.” he said. “Why does Hatsuyo have so many more injuries in these memories than Shimeko?”
Dazai’s mouth twitched. “Ah, that.” he said. “Well you see, Hatsuyo kept track of what clients tended to be the roughest with the girls they hired, and when one showed up and showed interest in Shimeko, she'd do her best to get them interested in her instead. I didn't understand why at the time, but she was doing her best to keep Shimeko safe.” He looked vaguely fond as he spoke.
Chuuya’s eyes narrowed. “Shimeko had no idea, did she? She seems like the kind who wouldn't let it continue if she knew.”
“Exactly right.” Dazai confirmed with a nod. “Shimeko never picked up on it. I asked Hatsuyo about it once because I didn't understand it. She said that she wanted Shimeko to keep as much of her innocence as she could.”
“Damn.” Chuuya muttered.
Shimeko looked at Shuuji curiously. “How'd you manage to sneak around without Aiko noticing you?” she asked.
Shuuji shrugged. “I grew up in a pretty big house. I have a lot of practice with sneaking around on squeaky old floors without being noticed. My parents preferred it when I kept out of the way, and I didn't like being around most people, so it worked out.”
“That's a pretty useful skill.” she said wistfully. “I'm really clumsy, so I make noise wherever I go. It'd be nice to move silently like that.”
Hatsuyo walked back into the room and slid the door shut. “I just told Ayame-san. She looked it over and realised you were right. She's going to go deal with Aiko right now, and she'll probably be thrown out by morning.” She clicked her tongue. “Turns out she was making sure everyone else was paid less than they should be to make up for her extra.” She sighed and poured herself some sake. “What a day.”
Shimeko smiled. “At least we’ll be paid more now. That's good.”
Distantly, there was the sound of angry yelling. Presumably between Aiko and Ayame-san.
Shuuji looked at the table in consideration. He had learned quite a bit about how the world works while staying in the brothel so far. He learned what gangs were nearby and how they were structured, gossip between courtesans, weaknesses of people in high up positions in businesses and organized crime from when they drink and don't think to hold their tongue around a child. Quite a bit of it was interesting in its own way.
This place was amazing with potential blackmail material. But Shuuji wasn't interested in doing anything with it. Not really.
Why haven't I found a painless way to die yet, he asked himself, mentally exhausted.
There has to be something.
He sighed and resigned himself to listening to their conversation for a while. Maybe he could find something tomorrow.
The scene shifted again. Shuuji was standing on the sidewalk, putting some groceries into his bookbag. He closed it again and hefted it back onto his shoulder, then shivered at the slight chill in the air.
“Ah.” Dazai said with a small frown.
“Dazai-san?” Atsushi asked, slightly worried.
“I thought this would be next.” Dazai responded vaguely. “This was a little over a month or so after the last one.”
Shuuji ran a hand through his hair as he walked back in the direction of the brothel. I wonder if Hatsuyo will like the sake I swiped when the clerk turned his back, he pondered absently. I think she said this was a good brand.
He hopped over a large crack in the sidewalk, twisting to land perfectly on a specific uncracked spot. He gave a small satisfied grin as he got it right before continuing on his way.
He looked up absently before freezing in place.
In the sky, there was an overwhelmingly large cloud of black smoke contrasting with the grey of the sky. With wide eyes he followed it, hoping he was wrong. Eventually, he came to a stop.
The brothel was engulfed in flames.
Someone had boarded the doors and windows shut so no one could get in or out.
“Oh no.” Atsushi said quietly, his eyes saddened and horrified. “I'm so sorry, Dazai-san.”
Dazai shrugged, “Its okay, Atsushi-kun. It was a long time ago.” He put his hands in his pockets as he watched.
Chuuya frowned as he watched the eerie blankness in Shuuji’s eyes grow as the light of the fire reflected in them.
Shuuji continued staring at the fire, knowing it was too late to do anything. The firefighters had yet to show up to the scene, always slow to respond to the poorer side of the city.
I suppose Hatsuyo won't get to try the sake I got her for Christmas, he thought to himself, feeling oddly disconnected with what was happening.
I guess it's good that I gave Shimeko the book of riddles I got for her yesterday. She seemed to like it.
He blinked and turned to walk away, feeling the echoing cavern of emptiness inside himself grow larger. The world around him seemed almost greyer than it had before.
I think I'll try to throw myself into the river now.
“It was Christmas?” Chuuya asked quietly.
Dazai shrugged nonchalantly. “It was a few days before it, yeah.”
“Fuck.” Chuuya responded eloquently.
The scene shifted once more, this time showing Shuuji sitting huddled in an alleyway. He stared at the wall opposite him, expressionless. His bag lay beside him on the ground.
“By this point I had listened to enough gossip on the streets to know who caused the fire.” Dazai explained as they watched. “It turned out that Aiko was so angry about being thrown out that she went to the rival gang of the one that visited the brothel and told them that the best way to strike at the leader was to destroy the brothel he enjoyed going to.”
Chuuya crossed his arms. “So did you get revenge on Aiko or the gang?” he asked knowingly. He knew Dazai better than anyone, and he knew that Dazai would never let something like this go. Dazai was never the type to forgive something easily.
Or, you know, ever.
Dazai smirked darkly. “Both, actually.”
Despite himself, Chuuya smirked back. “Figures.”
Shuuji rested his head on his knees. He had enough money saved up from the money he earned at the brothel doing extra chores that he wasn't in danger of going hungry anytime soon. He periodically took sips out of the bottle of sake as he thought. The setting sun reflected oranges and reds onto his face.
I hadn't managed to care about them, he thought, but I felt like maybe I could have come to care over time. Every time I get close to something promising it gets ripped away from me.
Shuuji looked up dully. Is it my fault?
Am I the one causing this? Am I just a curse to the people I meet? I suppose it makes sense that I'd be a poison to the people around me.
I'm not even a human.
Chuuya narrowed his eyes at the exhausted acceptance he heard in that. Then raised a brow as he saw the cold look he saw more in Dazai’s mafia days taking over the kid’s face.
I won't forgive them, Shuuji thought darkly, they took something that was mine. How dare they think they can get away with that.
With a new determination to his eyes, Shuuji got to his feet and put the sake back in his bag.
And I'm going to make them pay in blood.
They were suddenly standing in an old warehouse. Roughly 10 people stood in a group at the center, looking mildly confused. They had all gotten an anonymous tip that they needed to meet up tonight, and that there would be a meeting on how they’d next strike at the Camellias. Apparently, since they burned down the brothel, the note said, the leader of the Camellias had been so out of sorts that it was finally a good time to take him down.
The author of the note said that they’d meet them here tonight with more info. Normally they wouldn’t trust anonymous info like this, but the temptation of finally being able to take their rival gang down was too tempting to pass up. A lady walked in, a bewildered look on her face. She wore a nice dress and her long dark hair was braided with a purple bow at the end.
“You guys wanted me here to give me money for more info?” She asked hesitantly.
The men muttered amongst themselves in confusion, never noticing the door behind the woman seemingly shutting on its own. None of them had called her here.
“Ah,” a voice said from somewhere above them, “you’re all here now. Good.”
They all turned to look at the origin of the voice. Sitting high up on one of the crates was a child, covered in bandages.
Aiko widened her eyes. “You!” she called, angrily. “You’re the one that ratted me out!”
Shuuji raised his eyebrow at her, unimpressed. “Yes, and you should have stopped when it was only your job you were losing. But don’t worry, we’ll get back to that soon.”
He directed a pleasant smile at all the people congregated below. Some were beginning to look wary, while the others looked like they weren’t taking this seriously at all. Good, he thought.
Underestimating me will be the last mistake you make.
“Who’s this punk tryna’ scare!?” One of the men called jeeringly. “Some brat tryna’ seem scarier than he is?”
“Oh, I’m much scarier than you realise.” Shuuji responded with a mockingly pitying smile.
The man who yelled frowned at his reply, “I’ll show you to talk back to me, punk!” he put his hand to his side to pull his gun out before freezing. “Where the hell is my gun!?” he demanded.
The others began to go for their own guns, only to panic and yell when they realised that theirs were gone too.
“I see you've noticed that your guns are missing.” Shuuji continued with a smile. “I hope you don’t mind, but I stole all of them from you when you got near here.” Several disbelieving shouts rang out. “Don’t worry though, I put them to good use and lent them to some friends.”
With that, several men armed with guns stepped out from behind crates around the room, boxing them in.
Dazai’s mouth twitched up in satisfaction as he explained, “I enlisted the help of the gang they were trying to get rid of. The leader really was upset about his favorite brothel being burned down, and when I gave them the info that would get revenge and also get rid of them for good, he was thrilled to accept my proposal.”
Chuuya looked at where the people were being corralled together by the surrounding armed gang. “These poor bastards.” he muttered. “You don’t stop here, do you?”
“Of course not, chibi, what do you take me for?” Dazai returned with a smirk before frowning consideringly and looking at Atsushi. “Atsushi-kun, you might want to cover your eyes soon. It’s going to get a bit… graphic soon.”
Atsushi nodded, his eyes wide. If Dazai-san said that he might need to cover his eyes, he’d believe him.
The armed gang members began tying the others up tightly, making sure none of them could get out of the knots, then they gagged all of them.
“You see,” Shuuji continued, a cold tone taking over his voice, though he kept his pleasant smile up, “when you burned down that brothel, you happened to take two of my acquaintances out. Now, that wasn’t very nice, was it?”
“Burning alive is one of the most painful ways to die, you know~? I should know, as a suicide hopeful myself, I’ve read up on it. But guess what?” he called, false cheer in his voice as he continued. “The leader of the Camellias actually has a fire based ability! How interesting, right?” He jumped down from the stack of crates and landed lightly on his feet, nearly soundless. “Here’s a secret,” he began as he walked forward, “you see, I have an ability myself! It’s called No Longer Human! It means that no other ability can affect me. And that includes a fire lit by someone with an ability.”
Most of the bound and gagged people on the floor began to look terrified, realising where this was going. Some of them began to try and yell through their gags, squirming against the ropes holding them.
“Now now, don’t worry.” He said, a terrible, sick joy filling his eyes. “I won’t leave all of you alone while the fire is going.” He pulled the knife he had gotten from a gang member out and twirled it between his fingers. “Since the fire won’t burn me or my clothes, I’m free to play with all of you until you die!” His smile was full of teeth and the shadows on his face gave those tied on the ground the impression of a demon, one straight from the depths of hell.
The gang that helped him began to file out and the leader nodded to him in thanks on the way out. Small amounts of fire began in every corner of the room, spreading slowly but surely.
“Oh, I asked him if he could make it a slow moving fire.” Shuuji explained brightly to the terrified people on the ground. “You see, I don’t like it when people mess with my things. So I really want all of us to spend some nice, quality time together. And judging by the fire’s movement, I’d say we have a little over two or three hours to play together!” He punctuated his sentence by bringing his foot down on the nearest man’s hand, shattering most of the bones inside. The man looked up at the child as he screamed, but there was no mercy in those eyes.
There wasn’t anything in those eyes.
And there was no mercy to be had here.
Shuuji chuckled darkly, and it looked to those below him that his eyes glinted red in the light of the full moon illuminating his face from the window. “I think I’ll start by cutting all of your Achilles tendons! Don’t want any of you getting any ideas about escaping, after all!”
“And don’t worry Aiko!” he called, looking at the now sobbing woman on the floor. “I haven’t forgotten about you! Your hair is pretty long, huh? Well after I make sure none of you can escape, how about we see how long it takes to burn from the bottom to the top? Doesn’t that sound fun~?”
Chuuya looked faintly queasy. He had a strong stomach, (of course he did, he was in the mafia), but Dazai had always had the ability to unsettle even the mafia's interrogation squad when he was called in. “A natural from the very beginning, huh?” Chuuya asked dryly.
Dazai chuckled, his own eyes dark enough to match his younger counterpart’s, but didn’t say anything. Though he wouldn’t admit it, he remembered this night almost fondly.
“Now,” Shuuji continued, “I’ve never tortured anyone before, so all of you get to be my test subjects! Don’t worry about giving me feedback, I’ll just use your screams.” He clapped his hands cheerily.
He walked forward and put the devastatingly sharp knife to the tendon of the man closest to him. “Now,” he said as he slashed the knife forward, “let’s get started, shall we?”
Screams rang out, muffled by gags.
It was the beginning of a long and bloody night.
Shuuji lay on his back in an alley, staring blankly up at the grey sky. He had spent the last few months living on the streets, moving from city to city at random as he searched for a painless way to die. He wanted so much to die and leave this eroding existence, but had yet to find a viable option.
So while he searched, he spent his time learning other useful skills. The most useful of them currently was his skill at pickpocketing. He had perfected it to the point where he could steal a man’s watch right off his body in the middle of talking to him without the theft being noticed. He was oddly proud of it.
Mostly, he pickpocketed to get money for food and other necessities. Other times he used it just to amuse himself by causing trouble for strangers.
Shuuji turned fourteen two weeks before and celebrated another year of failing to properly kill himself by stealing sake from the nearest corner store and chugging it in the back alley he was staying at until everything became pleasantly fuzzy around the edges.
He wished that feeling would last.
Unfortunately, good feelings never lasted for him. Any fleeting positive emotion only showed the sharp contrast of his normal apathetic boredom even more.
Humans are such hopeless creatures, Shuuji thought to himself, they cling so desperately to this meaningless existence. Why?
Can't they see that there's no point? They'll all die someday and then nothing they've done to that point will matter anymore.
So why is it that so many people try so hard to live?
I just can't understand it.
Atsushi, still feeling a bit queasy from the last memory, frowned at the younger version of his mentor. It hurt him to know how much mental pain Dazai grew up enduring, and still likely felt to this day. He wished he could touch the memories if only to hug the child in front of him.
Shuuji sighed and stood up. It was time to try and find a new way to die. He grabbed his bookbag and made his way out of the alley and into the town.
He wandered and wandered, searching for an idea. Something he hadn't tried before. He blinked as he saw something interesting.
It was a large bridge overlooking a river.
He walked forward, inspecting it. He glanced over the edge and raised an eyebrow consideringly. The height certainly looked like it'd be enough to kill him. Nodding once to himself, he moved to set his bag down and-
Shuuji jolted. He looked behind him to see who had managed to sneak up on him. He had become so focused on the siren call of a swift death that he hadn't heard the other approach.
It was a fairly tall man. His smile was friendly, but something in his wine colored eyes was sharp and calculating. His dark hair was a bit messy and his white coat was wrinkled. There was a blonde child standing next to him, her face fixed into a pout for some unknown reason.
“Yes?” Shuuji asked tiredly. Maybe if he got them to leave quickly he could go back to his peaceful suicide.
“Well,” the man began pleasantly, “if you're about to jump anyway, I was wondering if you'd mind doing me a favor first?”
Shuuji shoved his hands in his pockets. “I think you'll have to find someone else to ask.” he deadpanned. He wasn't going to postpone his death to do some stranger a favor.
“It's really not too big of a favor.” The man pleaded childishly. “It shouldn't even take too long, in theory.”
The bandaged child climbed up onto the railing of the bridge. “Alright,” he responded with a false cheer, “if I survive this drop, I'll help you out. How's that?”
Without waiting for a response, Shuuji tipped backwards and let himself fall towards the dark waters below.
He had closed his eyes for the fall, but they snapped open when he felt a pair of small arms holding him. He looked to the source only to see the small girl from before glowing and slowing down his dissent somehow.
Does she have an ability? He wondered.
Then, the bright blue light that indicated that his ability was activating flashed around them and the girl vanished.
Ah, she is an ability, then.
And with that thought, he hit the water and everything else faded to black.
“So that was the first time you met Mori, then?” Chuuya questioned. He had always wondered how the two had met.
Dazai nodded. “Yeah, that's how we met. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure Mori planned our meeting from the beginning, though. He must have heard about my ability and pieced together that I was the one responsible for the remains found in the burnt warehouse.” He frowned as he thought of the man.
Shuuji blearily opened his eyes, taking in the room around him. It seemed to be a small, cluttered doctor’s office. He looked down at himself and noted the fact that someone had changed his clothes. The clothes were comfortable, at least.
“Ah, I see you’re awake!”
The child looked over and saw the man from earlier. He sat on a small stool with wheels and held a clipboard.
“I failed then.” Shuuji said emotionlessly.
The man nodded. “That you did. So now, I believe you said you’d help me if you failed? I even treated your injuries!” he chirped pleasantly.
Shuuji took a moment to take stock of his body. There were a few more aches and bruises than normal, but it seemed like the girl managed to mitigate most of the damage from the fall. There were a few more bandages on himself than normal, including one on his cheek. He reached a hand up to his face to touch it assessingly.
He must really want me in one piece for something.
“Alright.” Shuuji said with a small nod. “I suppose I might as well hear you out.”
The man clapped his hands together. “Wonderful!” he gestured to a chess set in the room. “Would you like to play as we talk? I find these conversations to be much more interesting this way.”
Shuuji watched him in silent consideration for a moment before responding. “You're attempting to grasp both my intelligence and my skill at making and carrying out long term strategies. So what you want to do must be something so secretive that you couldn't have asked someone you already know for some reason. Is it an alibi you need?”
The man smiled at his bored tone. “My my, you are intelligent! I must say, you caught me. It's something a bit similar to that, I'll admit.”
Shuuji felt like he had just passed a test he didn't know he was taking. He felt both annoyed and oddly pleased at that. Something about the man screamed ‘dangerous and intelligent’ so loudly that Shuuji was more intrigued than wary at this point.
I wonder if you'll be the one to kill me?
Dazai scoffed, disgusted at the notion. “As if I'd let him have that privilege now.” He folded his arms across his chest, still frowning at the man in the memory.
The man smiled. “Before we go any further, I think we should introduce ourselves, yes? My name is Mori Ougai. I'm a doctor. And you are?”
Shuuji looked up at the man. There was no way what he was planning was anything good, and Shuuji had the feeling that what was left of his life was about to change.
And if that was so, maybe Shuuji could change too.
There was no reason to tell this man his real name. He might even be lying about his own.
Shuuji had never really gotten to decide for himself who to be growing up. His parents had done their best to craft and mold him to their specifications. Here, however, he could be a person of his own choosing. This man knew nothing of who he was before beyond his intelligence and ability. And becoming an entirely new person meant a new name. Until he finally gets to commit his perfect suicide, he doesn't mind the idea of going by a different name. And the freedom to do so almost thrills him. Thankfully, it didn't take his mind long to come up with the perfect idea for a name.
“My name is Dazai.” he said, his eyes meeting those of the grinning man’s. The man looked like he knew it was a lie, but that was okay.
This was Shuuji’s last lie, and Dazai’s first truth.
“Could I have some more bandages?” Dazai asked from his seat on the small couch in the room.
Mori looked up from the form he was filling out. “Oh? Whatever for?” he asked as he rested his head on his hand. “I wasn't aware of any new injuries.”
Dazai shook his head. “I want to wrap my eye up.” he said, gesturing at his right eye.
Atsushi frowned. “When was this, Dazai-san?”
“About a week after I met him.” Dazai explained as he crossed his arms. “At this point he had already caught me up on his plan, and had brought me with him when he met the boss a few times so no one would question why I was only there the night he died.”
Chuuya raised an eyebrow. He was aware that Mori killed the previous boss, but he didn’t realise how much planning went into it. He was a bit impressed, honestly.
Mori looked vaguely amused, but handed him a roll of bandages all the same. “And why do you want to do that?”
Dazai began to wrap the bandages slowly around his head and then over his eye. “It hurts to look at this pointless world that I haven't managed to leave yet.” he replied, blunt and toneless. There wasn't a reason to lie about this, so it didn't matter if he told him. “Everything is dark and awful anyway, so I might as well make it easier not to see it.”
A considering hum from Mori. “Alright then. Don’t forget that tonight’s the night I’ll require your presence. So please don’t plan any suicide attempts for a bit, okay?” he flashed what would have been a charming smile, if Dazai were anyone less perceptive, at him.
But Dazai could see the shark’s smile underneath. He sighed and rested his head on his hand. He had no doubt that the man would be keeping a careful eye on him today, and would thwart any attempts he made. So there was no point in trying.
Mori took the lack of argument as an acceptance. He clapped his hands cheerfully. “Wonderful!” he chirped. “Glad that’s settled, then. There’s only a few hours left now, so we might as well get ready to go.”
Dazai fiddled with the sleeve of his suit jacket. Mori had filled out Dazai’s wardrobe with formal clothes upon taking him in, stating that it would help his credibility to look professional when it was time for him to be called as a witness. Though he’d never admit it, Dazai was thankful to be back in well made clothes. He had felt strange wearing casual clothes for as long as he did. Formal clothes were just more comfortable for him somehow. It was what he grew up wearing, after all.
He stood up as Mori gathered his medical bag.
I guess it’s time, then.
They watched as the scenery in front of them changed. It showed Dazai and Mori going past the guards and into the boss’s room. They watched as, on his sickbed, he commanded Mori to kill everyone who would stand against the Port Mafia. He called for a mass extermination, his mad ravings barely audible from the hoarseness of his voice. Dazai stood with his back to the window, the light from the blood moon making him a stark silhouette in the night. His eyes gleamed red as he watched the conversation play out, his young face expressionless.
And then they watched Mori slit the old boss’s throat.
Atsushi flinched at the spray of blood. He felt sick just from watching the display. He turned to look at the child version of his mentor, distantly expecting that the child in the room, who was much younger than him, must be reacting worse. But he only looked impassive.
They could all feel the yearning from the child. His intense desire to meet the same fate somehow. To leave this tiring world behind.
To finally achieve peace.
Atsushi thought it was terrible that this child had been made to see another death. By the age of fourteen, Dazai had already witnessed more deaths firsthand than most adults ever would. His heart ached in his chest for his mentor. For the childhood he never really got to have.
Dazai was annoyed.
Mori had done his best to keep Dazai from dying, even though nearly a full year had passed at this point. His fifteenth birthday had come and gone with little fanfare. He had hoped that Mori would kill him himself to fully get rid of the evidence of his deed.
Well, some of it at least. Dazai was still a bit curious as to why Mori never bothered cleaning the blood off the wall. He had some guesses, of course, but he didn’t care enough to bother asking to confirm them.
He had to admit though, Mori had a talent for keeping Dazai busy by teaching him interesting things. They were mostly things about strategy, or the overall power dynamics of the underworld of Yokohama. He also had Dazai look over information for tasks that needed to be accomplished, and then asked how Dazai would go about getting them completed.
Occasionally, Mori would call Dazai over for a game of chess. As it was, Mori won most of their games, as he was older and had more practice. But he could see the hungry gleam that would enter the man’s eyes when Dazai won. The way he caught the man watching him sometimes reminded him of the look a snake might have as it watched some decidedly delicious prey unknowingly move closer into its reach.
Though, the man seemed to hold no interest in actually killing Dazai, much to his continued disappointment.
It was something of a relief though, to finally meet someone who could keep up with his mind. The man was sharp in ways that no one else Dazai had met had been able to match yet. They had many in depth discussions about different strategy types and the uses for each of them. Mori himself seemed incredibly pleased at the rate Dazai was progressing.
Dazai kicked his feet back and forth in boredom. Mori had been talking for a while about how some of the people in the mafia didn't trust him as boss yet, and how many of the men were lacking in proper weapons currently. The man seemed to have no problem using Dazai as a sounding board.
With a sigh, Dazai began mixing hypertension medicine with hypotension medicine.
Maybe this will kill me painlessly when I drink it.
I hope so.
I hope Mori keeps his promise for this.
Dazai traveled all the way to Suribachi city at Mori’s request. He wanted him to investigate the rumors that the old boss was back. The request itself was boring, as Dazai had been able to ascertain the information he needed pretty early on into getting there. Thankfully, he had a new book to keep him occupied while he wandered through the city. A book on suicide! Who would have thought that would exist? There was a lot of surprising and interesting information in it that he hadn't known yet.
He also got to meet Hirotsu-san. Mori had filled him in on the man before, and from what Dazai had gleaned from their brief interaction so far, what Mori said about him was accurate. Hirotsu had been in the mafia longer than almost any other member. He was known for being level-headed and composed, as well as a fair leader to the squad he ran. He had also treated Dazai with respect so far, despite Dazai being much younger.
“I think the reason I never tried to terrorize Hirotsu-san is because he reminded me a lot of Masuda-san.” Dazai admitted with a small smile. “That, and I was glad there were some legitimately competent members in the mafia already.”
Chuuya nodded thoughtfully, “That makes sense, actually. I always wondered why you seemed to have a soft spot for him.” He crossed his arms with a small smile, “He has one for you too, honestly.” He had seen the fond way Hirotsu looked when he talked about Dazai.
Dazai nodded, silently making a note to send Hirotsu some good bourbon, knowing that was his favorite.
Then he froze.
“...I don't suppose there's a fast forward button?” he asked, a strange note entering his voice.
Chuuya looked up at him, confused. “What, don't want to relive the first time you met me?”
Dazai’s smile was tight. “Something like that.”
Atsushi blinked at Chuuya, “We’re about to see the younger version of you?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Chuuya responded with a grin, then pointed his thumb towards Dazai. “I got to kick this bastard through a wall.” The memory of that was still great for him. Although, now he was wondering what it was that Dazai didn't want to see here.
Dazai had just finished telling Mori over the phone that he would fill out the paperwork when he got back, when a sudden force hits his back and launches him forward. He crashes violently into a wall and then falls down onto his back.
He grit his teeth a little, doing his best to deal with the pain without making any outward expression. There was a large rock digging into his back, right where he was hit. He looked up to see who attacked him, possibilities already flowing through his mind of potential enemies it could be that could achieve that much force.
Bright cerulean blue eyes met his, burning with a cold fire. His orange hair seemed to glow with the sun shining behind him. His mouth was pulled into a displeased frown as he kept his foot on Dazai’s chest. Dazai blinked, dazed for only a moment.
Oh, he thought eventually.
He's really pretty.
Chuuya’s shocked voice broke through the silence, a completely bewildered look on his face. Had he just heard what he thought he did? He felt like his brain was blue screening. How was he even supposed to process this?
Dazai looked like he was somewhere between irritation and complete resignation.
Atsushi’s eyes were wide as he looked back and forth between them silently. He certainly hadn't expected that.
His brain finally coming back online, Chuuya felt a smirk crawl onto his face. Unholy glee began to fill his eyes as he slowly looked up at Dazai.
“Shut up.” Dazai snapped preemptively.
Chuuya felt his smirk widen, ecstatic to finally have a leg up on him. “Hey Dazai,” he cooed up at the other sweetly, “what was the first thought you had about me, again?”
Dazai crossed his arms. “Clearly I had an awful concussion from how hard you slammed me into the wall. I was just delirious, that's all.”
Chuuya’s eyes were drawn immediately to the hint of red beginning to creep into Dazai’s cheeks. This was amazing. He didn't even think the other man was even capable of feeling embarrassment.
Always able to read his partner’s face, Dazai scowled down at Chuuya. “Well if you're enjoying this so much, we can always find a way to go into your memories next.” The words were spoken casually, but the threat in them was clear. “I’m sure we could find some interesting things in there.”
Chuuya froze. He knew Dazai meant his threat, and he wouldn't put it past the bastard to actually bend time and space to his will just to embarrass Chuuya if he was feeling spiteful enough. And Chuuya couldn't deny that he had had similar thoughts about the other, as well.
Not that he'd ever admit it, of course.
“Fine.” Chuuya conceded, still smiling a little. “I'll stop for now, but don't think I'm ever letting this go.” He was going to get a lot of mileage out of this one, that was for damn sure.
Dazai huffed, annoyed. “I wouldn't expect anything else, chibi.” he muttered.
Dazai was beginning to enjoy taunting Chuuya, no one else had ever openly bickered with him like this and been able to keep up. He then watched as Hirotsu and Chuuya began to fight, stepping in after a few moments to grab Chuuya’s neck to nullify him.
He wheezed in pain as the other kicked him at the very last second. Dazai mentally noted down that he was quick at thinking on his feet in a fight, and at finding the fastest and most effective method of accomplishing his goal.
The scene changed. Dazai was sitting in Mori’s doctor’s office, preparing a fake cast to put around the metal guard on his arm.
If the old boss has his scythe, I'll need some sort of shield to protect myself. This should work well enough.
The metal casing itself was heavy, so Dazai added a sling for it, tying it behind his neck.
He remembered Hatsuyo’s advice from so long ago, that making yourself look more injured than you are is a great way to make people underestimate you. It was incredibly effective, and Dazai took full advantage of it.
It seems like Mori is having his talk with Chuuya now. I guess I'll go join in, then.
Maybe something interesting will finally happen.
Atsushi watched as the younger versions of Dazai and Chuuya argued on either side of Mori about having to work together. I guess they've always been like that, huh? It's so strange to see Dazai-san actually argue with someone, though. He normally seems so unbothered, he thought as he glanced at the older two out of the corner of his eye.
“It seems like you never did take my advice to drink more milk, chibi.” Dazai said, shaking his head as though it was an incredibly sad fact.
Chuuya growled and looked like he was tempted to launch himself at Dazai, Book be damned.
The scene before them changed. Chuuya and Dazai now stood before a large mansion, one that seemed to have partially blown up.
They watched as Chuuya beat down the first guard and Dazai revealed that he swiped the man’s communicator.
Atsushi looked up at Dazai. “Dazai-san, do you think you could teach me how to pickpocket too? I think it might come in handy someday.”
Dazai blinked down at Atsushi, a bit surprised. “Well, I taught myself, so I'm not entirely sure how to teach it to someone else…” he paused for a moment before a mischievous smile overtook his face. “Okay, I'll see what I can do. Your first target after I teach you the basics will be Kunikida-kun. You can try stealing his notebook.”
“Dazai-san, he'd kill me for that.” Atsushi responded flatly. He didn't want to be on the end of Kunikida’s fury.
Dazai nodded seriously. “You're right. We’ll start with a less dangerous target instead.” He smirked, a gleam in his eyes. “You're going to try and steal his wallet first. If you can get it without him realizing, I'll treat you to some chazuke with it.”
Atsushi crossed his arms. “And what if he catches me?” he asked, dubious.
Reaching his hand out to ruffle the younger’s hair, Dazai responded, “Then I'll tell him it was an order from me before he can yell at you and he'll point his anger at me instead. That way, you're safe from his wrath, and you might even get chazuke out of it.” His voice was soothing, doing his best to talk his student into it. He was always ready to annoy Kunikida, after all.
Atsushi nodded his head, enjoying the hair ruffle. “Okay then, sounds fun.”
Chuuya watched them talk and sighed internally. I feel so bad for his current partner.
Dazai watched as Chuuya easily defeated the other guards. He's efficient, but sensitive enough about his height that it lowers his ability to think clearly for a moment when brought up.
He's strong, and he can easily overpower a large group of armed people. He seems to have precise control of his ability as well.
He absently gathered up the blood welling up on his face onto his thumb and licked it clean. Looking down, the gun on the ground in front of him caught his attention. He bent down and picked it up.
He waited until Chuuya had given up questioning the man bleeding out before he walked forward.
Killing someone directly…
Can I do that?
Would I feel anything?
Even when Dazai had dealt with the gang that took the brothel out, he hadn't killed any of them directly. He had made sure that the fire was what killed them in the end, a fitting death.
He crouched down and asked the man if he wanted to be put out of his misery. When the man agreed, Dazai stood and pointed the gun right at the center of the man's forehead. An instant kill.
Pulling the trigger once, Dazai felt his eyes widen. A strange feeling took him over and he squeezed the trigger again.
And then again.
Human life is so fragile. Is it really so easy to leave this awful world?
He was aware distantly that he began to giggle as he shot the man over and over. A rush of adrenaline coursed through him. His eyes and his smile were equally wide for once.
Dazai made a face at his younger self.
Chuuya snorted. “What, did you realise how much you looked like a fucking psychopath?” he asked.
“I actually just realised that I look like Mori when I make that face, is all.” Dazai responded dryly through a frown. He hated seeing resemblances between them, though he knew they existed.
Chuuya looked back and then matched Dazai’s frown. “Fuck, you kinda do, actually.”
Atsushi just stared in shock at the younger Dazai. Is that really the same person?, he thought, looking between them. He had never seen his mentor look so… unhinged before.
He felt relieved when Chuuya finally kicked the gun away.
The scene shifted once more. Dazai and Chuuya had just finished questioning Randou and were walking away from his mansion and back towards the city.
He's incredibly loyal, even when it's clearly working against him. He's strong and not prone to betrayal.
He manages to keep up with me.
He seems to possess something of a brain, and his ability is one of the most powerful I've encountered so far.
Dazai glanced over at Chuuya as he thought. The other boy was doing something on his phone as they walked, managing to avoid obstacles without having to look up.
I've decided, he thought, a dark smile creeping onto his face.
I'm going to find a way to keep you.
Chuuya smacked Dazai’s arm. “You bastard, you were planning that that early!?” he demanded.
Dazai smirked. “Are you surprised, chibi?”
“No, but I wish I could be.” Chuuya responded dryly. “But no, I had to get stuck with the kid that didn't understand friendship yet and only understood having toys.”
Dazai sniffed and crossed his arms as he looked away. “Why would I have ever wanted to be friends with a slug like you?” he questioned.
Chuuya smirked. “Dunno, maybe cause you found me prett-”
The rest of his words were muffled by Dazai’s hand over his mouth. He raised an amused eyebrow at the other, but Dazai himself looked surprised at his actions. He had just moved on instinct. He slowly took his hand away from the other's mouth and pointedly began watching the memory again.
Atsushi kinda wanted some popcorn.
Dazai’s eyes lit up when he caught sight of an arcade in the distance. That would work perfectly. On his free days at the brothel when he wasn't looking for a way to die, he sometimes found his way to the arcade near the building.
He won’t agree to a bet where he could become my dog for life the first time, but if I get him to lose to a smaller bet first…
Yes, that will work. And I’ve already figured out that Randou is the one behind this, so I can use this case as its own sort of bait.
“Hey, Chuuya.” he said, getting Chuuya’s attention. He waited until Chuuya was looking at him before gesturing to the arcade. “We finished up early so we have a bit of time to kill. Lets go to the arcade.”
Chuuya clicked his tongue. “No way. Why the hell would I want to do that?” He didn’t want to spend more time around the annoying bastard than he had to.
Dazai hummed. He had expected this. Thankfully, he knew how to get his way. “How’s this then? We'll make a bet.”
A raised eyebrow from Chuuya. “What kind of bet?”
Dazai smiled, seemingly innocently. “We play a game. The person that loses has to obey one order from the winner. Simple enough?” He put just enough challenge into his voice to raise Chuuya’s competitive nature.
It stands to reason that someone who could keep up with me in an argument wouldn’t want to lose against me in another way either.
And sure enough…
“Okay, you’re on.” A competitive light shone from Chuuya’s eyes. He looked assured of his victory. It was clear he thought that Dazai was some sheltered kid who hadn’t been to an arcade much. And that he thought Dazai wouldn't be able to do much with one of his arms in a cast.
Dazai smirked as he walked into the arcade behind Chuuya.
You don’t know what you’re getting into.
And I can’t wait to chain you down.
Dazai grinned as he won the game. Chuuya’s yell of defeat on the other side of the machine sounded like victory bells to his ears. The other boy only focused on hitting his opponent hard and fast without any thought for strategy, making himself an easy target for Dazai.
Dazai made sure to compare the loss of the first bet to that of a dog having to follow an order, knowing that would infuriate the other.
That way, when I give him a sliver of hope to call the bet off by proposing a new one, he'll be even more desperate to take it.
Now I just have to mock him for using his strength over his brain. If I mention that he's never cunning in games or riddles…
He’ll take the bait for sure.
And sure enough, Chuuya latched on to the mention of riddles, allowing Dazai to segue into his proposal for a change in their wager.
He smirked as Chuuya slammed his foot onto the machine and pointed at him over it, yelling his acceptance for the new bet.
Dazai’s smirk and eyes gained a dark and satisfied edge.
Atsushi looked over at Chuuya who was yelling at Dazai about being a ‘conniving bastard even at fifteen’ when he decided to pipe up, “Um, Chuuya-san?”
Chuuya looked towards him. “Yeah?” he asked.
Atsushi blinked in mild confusion as he spoke, “Well, it's just…” he tilted his head slightly before continuing, “you took the bet to prove you were cunning and tactical, but wouldn't it have been more cunning and tactical to just... not take the bet?”
Chuuya stopped for a moment before opening his mouth slowly. Then he snapped it closed again. He looked almost as though Atsushi had pulled a large fish from the air and smacked him with it. He froze as he heard muffled snickering from Dazai. Turning slowly, he aimed a snarl at him.
Dazai was bent at the waist with one hand over his mouth and the other holding his stomach, doing his best to keep the laughter in. “Con… congratulations Atsushi-kun.” He finally wheezed out. “You just realized in three minutes what Chuuya didn't for years.” He finally stopped trying to hold it back and just let himself laugh, ignoring Chuuya’s outraged expression.
Chuuya and Atsushi stopped for a moment, realizing that they'd never heard Dazai laugh so openly and honestly before. Chuuya kinda wished it wasn't directed at him, but he supposed he could forgive it in this scenario. It had been years ago, after all.
And he would never admit it, but the other looked even better when he smiled so honestly, forgetting himself in his laughter.
It'd been a while since he'd seen the other laugh for real, anyway.
Dazai watched as the two members of the Sheep came in and began talking to Chuuya. He had first sold out Chuuya’s position to see what information he could get from someone less guarded than Chuuya about Arahabaki, but as he listened they only ended up confirming what he already knew. Not only that, but it also drove home something else that he suspected: the Sheep were only using Chuuya for his power, thinking it made them untouchable and able to do whatever they wanted. And Chuuya bowed to their whims, even though it was obvious he knew that he was being used on some level.
The amount of loyalty he possessed was interesting, though misplaced.
He listened as Chuuya admonished them for sneaking out of their territory to steal booze while in the middle of a conflict. It was clear that Chuuya’s concern was over their safety, but they waved it off. They seemed more interested in having Chuuya around to fight their petty battles for them, and openly tried to guilt him into it.
These people were so irritating. Dazai felt a deep annoyance stir within him as he watched how entitled they acted with a power that wasn't even theirs. He didn't know why he felt such strong annoyance at these people using Chuuya this way, but he knew he was going to put an end to it.
Only he could own Chuuya.
With that, he shrewdly commented on how much Chuuya acted like a sheep to a pack of wolves, despite his power, knowing it would separate him from his gang just a bit. He could do more damage with the others though, so he cheerfully informed them that Chuuya couldn't go back with them just yet since he was helping out the Port Mafia.
He nearly laughed as one of the members pulled a tiny switchblade on him. He put his hands up and made a show of being scared, pulling out his phone and requesting that Mori let the hostages go. He knew the man would oblige, likely already guessing at Dazai’s reasoning.
Now they'll think that Chuuya has no reason to continue working with us, and they'll think he's going to betray them. They don't realize exactly how interested he is in learning about Arahabaki.
And then they'll decide to act first.
Dazai got up to leave and verbally beckoned Chuuya to follow him. The two Sheep members tried to get Chuuya to go back with him but he denied them, saying that Arahabaki came first.
Dazai dryly told them that only Chuuya had the ability to choose how to use his power, and that even kids could figure that out. Dismissing them both as threats and as people, he walked towards the exit, confident that Chuuya would follow.
He smirked as he heard Chuuya’s steady footsteps behind him.
The wedge between Chuuya and the Sheep has been set. And the idiots will take care of the rest for me.
Dazai smirked at the layout of the table in front of him. It was a perfect array of desserts to celebrate Dazai’s victory. Randou sat on the opposite end of the table, the other needed member of this particular party.
If the Sheep don't kick Chuuya out by themselves, I'll order him to leave as part of our deal. I don't think it'll come to that, though.
As he spoke with Randou and revealed that he already knew that the man was the one behind everything, he began to wonder what was taking Chuuya so long.
Then he heard the sound of familiar screaming getting closer.
With a sigh, Dazai directed his gaze towards the window. Of course, he thought, unsurprised. The window then promptly burst in and Randou was sent flying by the force of Chuuya’s kick.
That looked like it hurt, he thought as he looked down, then blankly raised an eyebrow in mild amusement. And there's glass in the cake now.
With that he stood and walked down to the lower area of the warehouse where the other two were.
“Did anyone ever clean that cake up?” Chuuya asked, feeling vaguely curious for some reason.
Dazai paused and then nodded. “Yeah, it got cleaned up by the crew that came to take care of the evidence of the fight later.” He raised an eyebrow with a wry look on his face. “The mafia’s cleaning crew is certainly the best at what they do.”
Chuuya snorted, knowing the other was thinking of some of the messier scenes they'd left behind for the cleaners to take care of. “That they are.” he confirmed sardonically.
Dazai watched as Chuuya and Randou spoke about Arahabaki. They both seemed so convinced that this god was real. Maybe some sort of mass hallucination?
His eyes followed Chuuya as he walked towards Randou, wondering what he was about to say.
Then Chuuya revealed that he was Arahabaki.
Dazai’s eyes widened. “What?” He asked, actually caught off guard for once.
Atsushi’s eyes were wide. “You're Arahabaki, Chuuya-san?”
Chuuya smirked at the look of awe on his face. “Yep.” he said with his hands on his hips. “It's not really as cool as it sounds, though. It's mostly a pain in the ass.”
“It makes for a good trump card, however.” Dazai interjected. “Corruption is certainly powerful, though better used only as a last resort.”
Chuuya huffed and crossed his arms. He didn't want to admit that Dazai had ever been thoughtful in some way towards him, but even he couldn’t deny that Dazai had always done his best to make sure that Corruption was only ever used as a last resort. And only if Chuuya himself okayed it.
It had struck him as odd before, that his partner who had no problem ordering him around like a dog never once tried to force Chuuya into using the fullest extent of his power. He always left the final decision up to Chuuya.
But now that Chuuya had learned a bit more about what kind of people Dazai’s parents had been, that they had no issue with apparently forcing Dazai to use his intelligence for their own gain whether he wanted to or not, he could understand the other a bit better.
It also explained the deep irritation he had felt from the younger Dazai when Shirase had tried to order Chuuya to use his ability for them, though the other didn't even know about Corruption at that time. There had certainly been childish possessiveness there, but there was also a dislike of the action itself.
Chuuya felt a small smile creep onto his face as he returned to watching the memory.
There might be more good in you than you think, Dazai.
Dazai’s felt his surprise building more as Chuuya spoke. Apparently, Chuuya remembered being Arahabaki itself, before he gained his human body.
Dazai’s eyes followed Chuuya’s form as it whipped past him, hit from Randou’s attack. He crashed into the wall and Randou let his ability activate, encasing the entire building in his subspace and then putting Dazai in a separate one.
He watched as Randou began to fire attacks at Chuuya. He observed the way it worked and made mental notes about the possible weak spots in Randou’s ability. Chuuya then mentioned to Randou that Dazai’s ability would take care of his easily. Randou responded that Chuuya was correct, and that there was no one with Dazai’s ability type even in the west.
“The west?” he asked. Is that where he's actually from?
Before Dazai could consider it much more however, he whirled around quickly as he felt a presence behind him. Right as he turned, something slashed him across the chest. He wheezed as he flew back, hitting the ground and grasping his now bleeding chest.
Dazai looked up and saw the old boss in front of him, giant scythe in hand. He greeted him, hoping his voice didn't sound too strained.
That's definitely him.
So how is it him?
Dazai called his question out to Randou, who then explained how his ability worked. As Dazai absorbed what he heard, he felt his interest rise.
What a powerful ability. And there's no doubt he wants Chuuya to be the replacement for the old boss.
Dazai took this moment to ask who Randou really was. The man explained that he was formerly a western spy, sent to steal the god that Japan had gotten their hands on. He explained to Chuuya that he wanted to take him as the new supernatural being under his control.
Then Randou asked Dazai to die, as Randou would be hunted down if his betrayal was discovered.
Dazai paused for a moment, thinking about how Mori-san had said that there wouldn't be any danger involved in this. He wondered how much of this the other man had predicted.
Coming so close to death, actively putting his strategies into play, watching it all play out…
Working with Chuuya.
All of it hit him at once. His desire to truly understand death, the thrill of watching his plans work, he suddenly wanted to live just a bit longer.
The desire to survive was new to him, but he couldn't deny that it felt good, though he knew it wouldn't last.
He gripped the front of his bloody shirt. “I like it.” he whispered to himself with a small grin before turning to face the red haired boy.
“Hey.” he called out to Chuuya. “Let's kill them.” He paused for a moment. “Together.”
Chuuya’s expression held as much confusion as his voice as he responded back, “What?”
Atsushi frowned as he listened to the younger version of his mentor explain his thoughts on death and how it worked in relation to living.
He could understand most of what he said, but there was something just fundamentally wrong with his philosophy. He didn't know how to put it into words exactly, but he could feel it in his heart. He really hoped Dazai had changed his way of thinking since then.
Dazai had to move quickly to dodge the slashes from the man’s scythe. As he saw an opening, he ran towards it with his hand out, hoping to cancel the ability. But he already had a hunch it wouldn't work.
And just as he predicted, Randou expanded the wall out of his reach once more. Dazai smirked and looked up at Chuuya to ask if he understood what he needed to do.
“Don't give me orders.” Chuuya snapped back. But Dazai could hear the underlying words clear as day. Yeah, I got it.
Dazai felt the corner of his lips tug up slightly. It's nice to work with someone who can keep up with and carry out my plans.
Chuuya had to jump back quickly as Randou fired more attacks at him, getting close to hitting him. The boy then went on the offensive, jumping to attack Randou up close.
Dazai was busy dodging swings from the scythe, but he managed to notice Randou catching Chuuya's lower leg in a separate subspace. Dazai wasn't completely sure from where he was if a bone broke, but it certainly sounded like something broke. He then watched as Randou spiked Chuuya into the floor before hurling a giant attack at him.
Chuuya managed to soak the damage up by increasing his gravity and density, surprising Randou. Then Chuuya looked up and explained that the reason he kept his hands in his pockets until this point was because he felt that if he ever got to the point where he needed to use his hands in a fight, then maybe that would give him a reason to feel fond of his humanity.
Dazai decided it was time to act.
“Come on, Chuuya!”
Chuuya however, planted his feet and stuck his hand out. He called out that Dazai should be the one to move.
Dazai smirked in response as he continued to dodge, before getting to the other side of the old boss and spinning to face him, knowing an attack was coming. As the scythe rushed to meet him, he lifted his cast just in time to block the blow. He felt something warm light up in his chest for just a moment as he heard Chuuya’s worried shout.
The scythe’s hit broke through the cast, slamming into the metal underneath and allowing Dazai to use the momentum of the hit to propel himself towards Chuuya with his own hand outstretched. As he skid forward and clasped his hand with Chuuya's, his first thought, inanely, was that this was the first time he had ever held someone's hand.
Chuuya snorted lightly. “Oh my god, that's adorable.” He looked fondly amused, his lips quirked up.
Dazai looked down at his student, his face carefully blank. “Atsushi-kun, would you mind killing me? I think I've decided that dying right now is a good call.”
Shaking his head, Atsushi didn't respond to his mentor. He was putting too much effort into not smiling or laughing a little as well, after all.
Dazai looked around as his ability canceled out everything else in the area, blue ribbons of light filling the air around them. From the other side of the room, he heard Chuuya spike Randou into the ground like he was a particularly old volleyball. Dazai decided to take a moment to dispatch the old boss directly by punching him in the face.
As he pulled his fist out of the old boss’s mouth, he began to loosen the bolts keeping the metal together on his arm. It had served its purpose, and it was too heavy to keep on himself anymore. Letting the metal fall, he walked over to Chuuya to interrogate Randou with him.
Randou explained everything to them. That he had a partner that betrayed him, and that he had released Arahabaki in order to escape and lost his memories. As he spoke, he told Chuuya that he was almost positive that Chuuya wasn't Arahabaki itself, but instead a human vessel chosen to contain it.
Dazai blinked in consideration. I could probably prove that, actually. He didn't say this out loud, however.
Chuuya furrowed his eyebrows as he turned to look at Dazai. “How could you prove that I'm not just Arahabaki?”
Dazai returned his gaze before sighing as though he was extremely put upon. “Okay, fine. I might as well prove it.” He rummaged around in his pockets for a second before he pulled a paperclip out with a grin of triumph. “And I'll prove it with this.”
“You're going to prove that I'm human… with a paperclip?” Chuuya squinted at the other, wondering if he had finally lost his mind.
Dazai gestured for Chuuya to put his hand out, which he did, before he dropped the paperclip into it. “Okay,” Dazai said, “now just float the paperclip a little above your hand.”
Still not understanding where this was going, Chuuya decided to humor him. Dazai then gestured for Chuuya to put his other hand out. Feeling a bit ridiculous, Chuuya complied.
Dazai reached forward with his own hand, and gently clasped his fingers around Chuuya’s exposed wrist. No Longer Human kicked in and the paperclip fell back into Chuuya’s hand. Dazai then nodded once at looked at the other. “So, are you still you?”
Chuuya’s mouth dropped open before he shut it again. “I… what?” he asked, still lost.
Dazai kept his fingers around the other’s wrist as he spoke, “When I touch you while you use your ability, it becomes nullified. And it's the same for Corruption. If Corruption is the ‘true form’ of your ability, then it's also your truest form of Arahabaki.” Dazai met Chuuya’s eyes as he continued, “If when I touched you, your personality vanished and you became an empty shell, then that would mean that you are Arahabaki. And since all of Arahabaki should be nullified when I touch you, the fact that you continue to be yourself with nothing missing beyond your ability, proves that you are human and not Arahabaki itself.”
Chuuya felt his eyes widen. He was… honestly stunned. Dazai had put a lot of thought into this, and Chuuya felt oddly comforted, because he knew Dazai was right. He felt something that had always whispered doubts inside of himself finally become soothed.
Dazai seemed to be lost in thought, forgetting where he was as he continued almost to himself, “I always thought it was so strange that you would doubt your humanity.” He murmured, absently stroking the inside of Chuuya’s wrist with his thumb. “Despite the fact that you have a god in you, you've always been one of the most painfully human people I know. You feel things so brightly and passionately.” His eyelids lowered along with his voice, “I, on the other hand, may have been born as a human, but I don't think I've ever really been a human. You've always been much better at it than me, after all.” His voice was a mixture of fondness and longing. As though he wished he could be so human as well.
Chuuya was breathless. This was…
This was the kindest thing Dazai had ever said or done for him. This went beyond just being thoughtful, this was something else altogether. Chuuya didn't think he had ever felt this touched or understood in his life. “Dazai…” he managed to whisper.
Dazai’s eyes snapped back into focus as he met Chuuya's eyes. His own eyes widened to match Chuuya’s as he realised all of what he had just said. He let go of Chuuya’s wrist like it burned him and backed away slightly, clearly looking like he wanted to bolt.
Atsushi chose that moment to cut in. “That was really nice of you, Dazai-san!” he said, beaming up proudly at his mentor.
Always one to snatch the smallest opening for a distraction, Dazai put a mock offended hand to his chest. “I'm hurt, Atsushi-kun! Are you saying I'm normally not nice?” He gave his best injured pout at his student, turning the dial all the way up to cover up the slip in his mask.
But Chuuya saw. Chuuya saw that moment of the real Dazai buried somewhere under his many masks and he made a promise to himself not to forget it. He committed all of it to memory, the faraway look in Dazai’s gaze as he spoke, the feather light touch he used as he held Chuuya’s wrist like it was something to be treated with care as he soothingly stroked the skin there. The aching longing that was audible in his voice when he spoke of being human, like the idiot still thinks he isn't.
The fondness when he spoke of Chuuya himself.
I think I've decided, Dazai.
You once looked at me and decided that you wanted to keep me around. Well…
I think I'm going to find a way to keep you too.
Dazai lowered his binoculars with a satisfied smirk and handed them off to the nearest grunt. Exactly as he predicted, the Sheep had decided to turn against Chuuya. And now that he was weakened from a stab wound and separated from the group, he was a much easier target for Dazai.
With a nod of his head to direct the men to follow him, Dazai made his way closer to Chuuya and soundlessly jumped onto a nearby rock.
He seems to be sweating a bit, but not from exertion. The knife must have been coated in a mild poison, then.
He called out a cheerful greeting to Chuuya who looked over with a scowl. He asked if Dazai was there to kill him too, nearly making Dazai laugh.
Now why would I kill my new pet?
Dazai extended Mori’s offer to join the mafia, before revealing that he had been put in charge of the mafia’s army and was here for a massacre. He nonchalantly mentioned that the Sheep and the GSS had formed an alliance and it was his job to take them out before they became completely coordinated.
He narrowed his eyes before he drove his point home, “We’re killing them all.”
He knew exactly how someone like Chuuya would react to the news, and sure enough…
“Including the Sheep?” A red glow began to surround Chuuya in silent threat as he glared at Dazai.
You're still loyal to them even after they betrayed you. You're certainly a strange one.
Thankfully, I know how to get you right where I want you.
Dazai calmly responded that he could only change the plan if someone who was in the mafia and had knowledge of the Sheep was able to advise him. He watched as the glow around Chuuya dissipated.
Chuuya, catching on immediately, glowered angrily at him. “So you want to make a deal.” he hissed out. “You devil.”
Dazai felt a cruel smirk take over his face as he heard the hatred in the other’s tone. He cooed back that anyone who lost to him in a game was certain to get worked to the bone in the organization.
Dazai watched as Chuuya’s eyes widened with pure loathing. The red headed boy growled out that he was going to shred Dazai someday, and Dazai felt a pleased chill go through him at the promise he heard in the other’s voice.
His eyes are so passionate.
I think I've finally found the way I want to die.
I want you to be the one to kill me someday. Now that I've seen that look in your eyes, I don't think anything else will do.
“I like that expression.” Dazai called back, his tone smug. “You look like a wild beast.”
A few more moments passed before Chuuya finally answered quietly, but loudly enough to be heard, “Don't kill the children.”
Dazai’s eyelids lowered, pleased. “Sure.” he responded, before standing up on the rock he had been sitting on and jumping down gracefully. “As we discussed earlier, no hurting the kids.” he called out to the men surrounding him.
He chuckled to himself silently as he led his men away. And now it's finally official, he thought as he left.
It seems like I've acquired a dog.
“Well that explains why you always compare Chuuya-san to a dog.” Atsushi remarked dryly.
Chuuya clicked his tongue, displeased by what they watched but mostly unsurprised. He had known basically what Dazai had been up to that time, after all. Although he knew he was going to have a talk with Dazai later about being the one to kill him. Maybe at one point he would have jumped at the idea, but now...
“Why wouldn't I call a dog a dog? It only makes sense.” Dazai shrugged nonchalantly, but Chuuya could see the teasing gleam in his eyes.
“So Dazai-san manipulated you into joining the mafia? That's why you joined?” Atsushi asked, looking at Chuuya.
Chuuya blinked. “Yeah, that's how it started. Why do you ask?”
Atsushi pointed at himself, his expression wry. “That's how I joined the agency.” he responded.
Chuuya paused as he absorbed that before he sighed and shook his head. “I'm not surprised. Why do we deal with the bastard, again?” He loved being able to tease Dazai indirectly, and this was the perfect opportunity.
Joining in and shaking his head as well, Atsushi offered no response beyond a small shrug.
Dazai pouted at them both. “Hey, no ganging up on me! Besides, if I hadn't stepped in in both cases, you both would have been a lot worse off.” He kept his tone light and whining, knowing they were just teasing him. He felt oddly pleased for some reason that they seemed to be getting along well, however.
Atsushi and Chuuya shared a blank look as they watched him pout before they both cracked a small smile.
“Yeah, you're right.” Chuuya admitted casually.
Dazai blinked, shocked at the easy admission. “I am?” He knew that he technically was, but he expected Chuuya to still be angry about how he did it.
Chuuya shrugged lightly, still smiling. “Yeah. I wouldn't have met Ane-san if you hadn't interfered. Plus the Sheep probably would have turned against me one day anyway with how things were going, even without your help.” He hadn't wanted to admit it when he was younger, but he knew it then too. The Sheep really were just using him.
Atsushi beamed up at Dazai, practically radiating sunlight. “And I would have died on the street if you hadn't taken me in. Or I would have lost control of the tiger in my hunger and actually eaten someone.” He paused for a moment before continuing with an almost shy tone, “But you gave me food, clothes, a place to live, a job, and I kind of consider everyone at the agency to be my family, so you gave me that too. You saved my life, and then gave me a reason to keep living.” The light in Atsushi’s eyes turned softly fond as he spoke. “So thank you, Dazai-san. I'm really grateful.”
Chuuya smirked at the bewildered look on Dazai’s face. “Yeah, thanks from me too, I guess.”
Dazai’s eyes were wide. He hadn't expected the gratitude at all. “Um.” he replied intelligently, still trying to process what he heard. He wasn't used to people thanking him. He felt the sudden urge to hide his face in case the heat he felt crawling up his face was visible, but refrained, knowing it would just make the situation worse.
Chuuya raised an eyebrow. “I think we broke him, kid.” he said with a smirk as he gave Atsushi a solid pat on the shoulder.
I was right, Chuuya thought as he watched Dazai try to school his face back to normal, he has no idea how to respond to positive attention being directed at him. That's… not unexpected, but it's still a bit sad.
I'll just have to get him more used to positive emotion over time, then.
The scene shifted. Dazai now stood in front of a terrified looking Shirase who seemed to have tripped over something in an attempt to get away. They had followed the boy as he ran into the forest and tried to escape, but only managed to end up separated from his group and anyone who could have tried to help him. Dazai had two armed mafia members standing behind him on either side, ready to shoot if ordered.
Dazai hummed consideringly as he looked at the fallen boy. From the way he was holding his ankle, Dazai guessed that he must have at least sprained it.
Don't want you running away, after all.
“Hey there!” Dazai greeted cheerfully, finally deciding to break the silence.
Shirase flinched at the greeting, glaring up at Dazai. “What do you want? Are you here to kill me?”
Dazai clicked his tongue, looking as though he was facing a minor disappointment. “No, unfortunately I have to hold up my side of the deal and not kill you.” He paused before considering something. “Although, if you attack me first, I'm sure I could get away with it by claiming self defense, so please feel free to try!” At his cheerful proclamation, the men behind him raised their guns higher to point them at Shirase.
“Deal?” the boy on the ground asked, knowing he was in no position to try and fight back. “What deal?”
Dazai hummed as he put his hands in his pockets. “The deal I made with Chuuya, of course!”
Shirase narrowed his eyes. “Why would that traitor care about-” he was cut off by a sharp bark of laughter from Dazai.
“My my, how harsh~! Would you like to know what the deal was?” Dazai kneeled down without waiting for an answer. “You see, the deal was that Chuuya would join the mafia as long as I didn't kill any of the Sheep. How strange, right? Considering you all just betrayed him.” His voice was sickly sweet as he looked down at the other.
Shirase’s mouth dropped open. “What!?” he exclaimed. “Join? But I thought he…” he trailed off, looking lost.
“You thought he had joined already, I know.” Dazai waved his hand dismissively. “You were incredibly easy to fool, by the way. Though I suppose I should thank you. Because of your idiocy, I just gained a new pet.” A chilling smirk took over his face as he looked down at the other. “In betraying him because you thought he joined the mafia, you actually drove him right to us. And in doing so, lost your best weapon in any fight, and any hope for winning.”
“He… he didn’t betray us?”
Dazai stifled an inelegant snort. “No, he didn’t. I’d say that I’m glad you’re starting to catch up, but I couldn’t really care less about you either way.”
Shirase glared up at him. “So if you aren’t going to kill me, can I go now? You’ve already gloated enough.”
“Oh, I didn’t just come here to gloat.” Dazai couldn’t deny that it was part of the reason though. “Say, do you have a knife I could borrow?”
“I… what?” Shirase’s eyebrows were drawn together in confusion.
“Oh, that’s right!” Dazai exclaimed as he smacked his hands together lightly as though just remembering something. “You just lost your knife in Chuuya! Thankfully,” he paused and pulled a large and wickedly sharp knife out of his coat, “I have my own.”
Shirase shrank back at the sight of the knife. “I thought you said you weren’t going to kill me!?”
“I did say that, yes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you, but,” Dazai stopped and leveled a dark smile at the other boy, “I don’t like people damaging the things that belong to me, you see. And Chuuya is mine now. So I do need to pay you back for that. And beyond that, I want to discourage you from any attempts to contact Chuuya in the future.” Dazai used the blade to tilt Shirase’s head up to meet his gaze. “I don’t like sharing my things, so I can’t have you showing up and trying to sway him back to your side. A dog can only have one master, after all.”
The boy on the ground felt his limbs begin to tremble in fear as the fake cheerful look left the bandaged boy’s visible eye, leaving only a dark emptiness behind. A yawning chasm that seemed to swallow all light and hope that touched it.
“At this point, my men will already have finished off the GSS soldiers and chased away any other remaining Sheep members. That means we have quite a bit of time to kill since no one will hear you screaming.” Dazai slowly trailed the knife down to Shirase’s side, ignoring the boy’s now obvious shaking. He brought the knife right to the spot where Shirase had stabbed Chuuya. “By now, the medical crew I called will have collected Chuuya for treatment, so I already know he’ll recover. You, however, will have to walk out of this forest by yourself after this.” His eyelids lowered as he spoke, contempt clear in his voice. “Now… I think I should start by repaying the wound you gave my dog. It’s only fair that way, right?”
He drove the knife forward, his expression not changing from it’s blank emptiness as Shirase screamed in agony.
It’s too bad I didn’t think to poison the knife before this.
Chuuya glared up at Dazai who raised his hands defensively. “He’s still alive and not permanently injured. Yes, I made sure.” Dazai did his best to placate the tiny ball of anger standing next to him.
“He’s fucking traumatized now though, isn’t he?” Chuuya asked dryly.
Dazai shrugged. “I mean, sure, but who isn’t at least mildly traumatized by something?”
“Trauma is not normal!” Chuuya hissed up at him, looking like he wanted to violently shake the man.
Dazai squinted down at Chuuya as though he was doubting his words. “Are you sure?” he asked, tilting his head a little.
“Yes, I’m sure you fucking dumbass!” he yelled back. “That’s it! When we get back to the real world I am going to wrap you in at least thirty blankets until you can’t fucking move and are actually forced to sleep an entire night for once in your stupid life, and then when you wake up I am going to make sure you eat an actual balanced meal that isn’t just fucking top ramen or something out of a fucking can, and after that I’m going to make sure you drink an entire goddamn glass of water!” Chuuya was breathing a bit heavily by the end of his rant, but his glare at the other hadn’t lessened any.
Dazai looked like he was knocked completely off kilter. “Why are you… threatening to take care of me? I’m confused, chibi.” he tried teasing the other to get back some sense of normalcy, but it didn’t seem like it really worked this time.
“Well, someone has to take care of you, and I already know damn well it won’t be you.” Chuuya crossed his arms as he spoke. He had felt this protective rage aimed at the other before when they were partners due to Dazai's complete inability to take care of himself, but this was the first time he actually decided to act on it. And going by how confused and lost Dazai looked at the idea that someone would even want to take care of him, Chuuya figured that now was as good a time as any.
I’m going to pamper the shit out of you, you emotionally repressed bastard.
A dog has to look out for their owner too.
They watched as the world shifted around them once more. The sky was dark and the full moon hung brightly in the sky, illuminating the ground below. They were in a forest surrounded by trees and other plant life.
Atsushi looked around, confused. “Which memory is this?” he asked, looking up at his mentor.
Dazai glanced around and hummed. “I have a few guesses, but I'll need to see more of the memory before I'm sure.” He listened carefully before looking over at a nearby bush and walking over.
Sitting behind the bush was a younger version of Dazai and Chuuya, muttering quietly about plans. Chuuya was looking through a pair of binoculars and Dazai was staring blankly up at the stars, clearly lost in thought despite holding up a conversation with the other.
Chuuya looked at the younger version of himself before he looked around them again. “Oh, I think I just realized what this memory is.” He sounded vaguely displeased as he spoke.
Dazai nodded, having already come to the same conclusion. “Yep, it's that one.”
Atsushi looked between them and tilted his head in a questioning manner. “Which one? What memory is it?” he asked.
Dazai only offered him a small smile before putting his finger to his lips and gesturing for Atsushi to just watch and see for himself.
Atsushi nodded and turned back to the memory, interested in what he'd see.
Dazai was tired.
It wasn't just physical, though he was tired physically as well, it was mental. The rush he had gotten from fighting with Chuuya and getting closer to understanding death had begun to slowly fizzle out. He had been in the mafia for a little under a year and the days were starting to blur together in a mix of the same things happening every day.
Torture, murder, boring paperwork… there was no end to the repeating cycle. Patterns repeated and people were just as predictable. They did exactly what he knew they would with almost no exceptions.
Humans are so tiring. They're so easily controlled by their greed or hatred that they become nothing more than puppets when you pull the correct strings.
He glanced over at Chuuya who was currently holding the binoculars up to his eyes. They were sent to destroy the enemy base not too far from where they sat behind the bush. Dazai already had a plan and several backup plans ready to use, and had gone over them in detail with Chuuya beforehand. He let out a quiet sigh as he observed the other. Before they set out, Chuuya had claimed to have a bad feeling about this mission. Dazai knew it wasn't from nerves, as they had gone on multiple missions before this.
Dazai didn't want to admit it, but he had an unpleasant feeling about this as well. Something about the information he had gathered about the group just seemed off. No matter how many times he double checked the files he couldn't figure out what it was, but something just wasn't adding up somehow.
In any case, he hopes that if a mission goes wrong, it won't be today. He knows it's probably an unrealistic hope, but his body still hurts in various spots.
I hope Mori stops conducting my torture training right before missions. It's more difficult to focus when I'm all cut up and beaten like this.
“He what!?” Chuuya demanded, his eyes bright with anger. Mori tortured Dazai?
Dazai raised an eyebrow. “What are you so surprised about, chibi? You must have known that my pain tolerance and knowledge of torture weren't natural, right?”
Chuuya sputtered. “I thought the pain tolerance just came from you being too much of a stubborn bastard by nature to show pain! And I thought you learned about torture by reading about it or something!” He didn't know why this was so horrifying to him, but it was.
Dazai scoffed, looking close to rolling his eyes. “Torture is better learned by experience than by just reading, something Mori was very aware of.” He crossed his arms in vague annoyance as he spoke. “He usually quizzed me while he was torturing me, asking which bone would hurt more if it broke, or what place would cause more pain if it was cut. If I got it right, he would move on to the next question. If I got it wrong… well, he’d demonstrate by showing me the difference.” He wrinkled his nose. “It wasn't fun, but I learned quickly.”
“... Fuck.” Chuuya felt vaguely ill. He didn't think he had ever been more glad to have Ane-san as a mentor instead of Mori. Who the fuck tortures a kid just to teach them?
Dazai blinked down at Atsushi, a concerned twist to his mouth. “Um, are you feeling okay Atsushi-kun? You look a bit pale.” He carefully set his hand his hand onto his student’s shoulder.
Atsushi’s eyes were wide and horrified. “You were tortured? Why would…?” He looked lost as he spoke, his eyes on his mentor as though he would have a suitable explanation.
“Well, like I said, it was to teach me the best torture techniques. Also to improve my pain tolerance so that I wouldn't react or give away any mafia secrets if I was captured.” Dazai shrugged as he spoke, “I can't say it didn't work, honestly. After a short amount of time, I became a better torturer and interrogator than even Mori himself.” He couldn't quite keep the small amount of pride out of his tone as he spoke. It wasn't a skill he could really use now with the agency, but he knew he was still just as talented with it as he used to be. If not better.
Chuuya frowned. A few more things were beginning to click for him, and he didn't like the picture they were painting. “That explains why you can take getting shot like it's the same as stubbing your toe.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Fucking hell…” he muttered.
Dazai shrugged, apathy clear on his face. “I don't know why you're so bothered by this, honestly. It was a long time ago now and the skills I learned from it were pretty useful.”
“I'm surprised that you're defending Mori here.” Chuuya said, narrowing his eyes up at the other slightly. “I thought you hated him now or something.”
“Oh don't get me wrong,” Dazai shot back, his eyes darkening a bit, “I absolutely hate the bastard, and I hope that one day I get to be the one to kill him. I'm just saying that the torture training was more useful than harmful for me, that's all.”
Chuuya's eyebrows raised at the phrasing. Dazai almost never spoke so openly and bluntly about his hatred for someone. Hell, Chuuya was pretty sure that Dazai normally couldn't gather up enough energy to really bother hating anyone to begin with.
Why does he hate him so much?
Mori… what the hell did you do?
The scene shifted, forming into a clearing that wasn't far from the enemy base. Bodies were strewn about, taken out by a combination of Chuuya’s powers and Dazai’s gun. There were still more enemies than anticipated, however. There wasn't any signal to call for backup and their escape route was blocked by a few powerful ability users. Even Chuuya was beginning to get overwhelmed by the amount of enemies he was up against.
Chuuya launched the opponent he had been up against into a tree and quickly made his way to Dazai’s side. “What do we do now?” he asked, panting slightly from all the fighting.
Dazai’s lips tightened. “As of now, there's not much we can do. We’re going to be overpowered at this rate. We can't really last much longer like this.”
“There…” Chuuya hesitated, “there might be something I can do.”
Dazai turned to look at him asessingly, shooting two more of their opponents without looking at them as he did so. “Your ability has some sort of last resort function.” It was not a question.
Chuuya nodded anyway, relieved and slightly unnerved that Dazai had put that together with so little information. “Yeah. I think I must have used it once to blow up the research facility, but I don't really remember that. I have to trigger it for it to start, but after I do I don't think I'll be in control of myself anymore. And you need to stop me the second the fight is done because it starts fucking up my insides the longer it goes on and I can't stop it myself.”
Dazai took a split second to absorb all of what he heard before giving his partner a sharp nod. “Alright, if you think it'll work.” It's not like they had any better options anyway.
The brunette watched as Chuuya paused and took in a deep breath, as though steeling himself, before he slowly began to walk forward while peeling his gloves off. “Oh, granters of dark disgrace… you need not wake me again.”
Red glowing markings began to crawl down Chuuya’s arms and up onto his face. His eyes lost their awareness, making him truly look like a wild beast. He let out a primal roar as he suddenly flew up into the air, a strange red and black sphere growing in his palm.
Dazai’s eyes were glued to the red head, not even looking at the enemies surrounding them. The enemies themselves were too concerned with Chuuya to even think to be bothered with Dazai at that moment anyway.
Then Chuuya released the gravitation bomb he had been building up by hurling it directly into a large group of men.
The resulting sound was almost deafening. A large cloud of dirt was kicked up when the explosion hit, obscuring the ground for a few seconds. Slowly it began to clear and Dazai felt his breathing stop.
Where there had been a large group of people, there was now only a large and empty crater in the ground. No trace of the men that had been there was left.
Some of the men began to try and run away, only succeeding in drawing Chuuya’s attention to them. With a few more hits of his bombs, they were quickly taken out. The remaining men were quickly picked off one by one as tiny unhinged giggles began to erupt from Chuuya’s mouth.
Along with some blood.
Without thinking, Dazai rushed forwards to the other. He knew he needed to get to Chuuya before he did any more damage to himself. His partner had just made short work of the last enemy left alive and was now amusing himself by blowing up surrounding trees, causing Dazai to need to dodge various flying branches as he went.
Dazai grabbed Chuuya’s wrist firmly, willing his own ability to work faster. A second passed and slowly Dazai could see all the things that made Chuuya Chuuya filter back into his eyes, and the red markings receded and began to fade away.
Not knowing what else to say but noticing how tired his partner looked, Dazai lowered his voice to murmur, “You defeated them, Chuuya. You can rest now, I'll take care of everything else.”
Chuuya only managed a weak nod before falling forward and passing out.
Dazai caught him as he fell, holding him up as he considered what to do next. He absently began to wipe the blood off of the other’s face as he became lost in thought.
So this is the power of Arahabaki?
Atsushi was amazed. “Chuuya-san, that was so cool!” he exclaimed, his eyes wide as he looked at the man.
Chuuya smirked, “Yeah, it is pretty cool. But honestly, this is actually the first time I've seen what it looks like from the outside. From my perspective, I just pass out and then wake up again surrounded by destruction and in a lot of pain.”
“It looks like it really hurts you…” Atsushi said, trailing off. He couldn't imagine what having an ability that actively hurt you felt like.
“Well, it's only Corruption that hurts, so there's that.” Chuuya shrugged, already used to it.
Dazai gestured towards the memory. “You asked earlier what memory this was, Atsushi-kun. Well, it's the memory of the first time I witnessed Corruption.” He grinned suddenly, his eyes brightening a bit. “Isn't chibi absolutely monstrous? Absolutely no control over himself, an awful dog that got off his leash-” Dazai was cut off by Chuuya slugging him in the shoulder.
“Shut up, bastard!” Chuuya spat back, glaring up at the other.
“Why is this little slug yelling at me~?” The bandaged man cooed at the shorter one, dodging Chuuya’s next few attempts to punch him, his smirk widening as he moved.
“Waste of bandages.”
“Teeny tiny little slug!”
“Who the hell are you calling tiny you fucking-!”
Atsushi sighed as he watched them go back and forth again. They sound like an old married couple.
…They act like it too, honestly.
Atsushi looked back to the memory as the scene changed again.
Dazai sat on the floor in Chuuya’s room. After he had found a good signal to call in a pick up team and the clean up crew, he went back into the enemy base to get any important files or info they had.
When he got back to headquarters, he handed Chuuya off to the medical team and went to inform Mori of what happened. Dazai didn't quite like the gleam in Mori’s eyes when he told him about Corruption, but he didn't have the energy to really care much at all.
So now he sat in Chuuya’s room, having collected him from the medical team after they finished their check up and brought him here. He walked into Chuuya's bathroom, and grabbed a washcloth before wetting it and bringing it back. He slowly began to clean the remaining blood and dirt off of his partner’s face.
“What a mess, chibi.” he muttered. “Now that Mori-san knows you have this ability, he won't hesitate to order you to use it if it looks like it’d benefit him.”
He slowly began to comb out Chuuya’s hair with his fingers, making sure there were no large clumps of blood left in it. “You'd better not use that ability unless I'm around to stop it. I'll make you promise me when you wake up not to.”
He paused for a bit, just watching his partner sleep as he thought. “What a frightful dog you are, chibi, having so much power. Someone should collar you so you don't forget who you belong to.” he looked down at his partner consideringly.
“...I should buy you a collar.”
He nodded to himself decisively. Yes, he would do that soon. Dazai could admit to himself that he had a bit of a possessive streak. That was okay, though. What better place is there than the mafia to indulge in the things that most people find morally wrong?
Dazai sat on the floor with his back leaning against the edge of the bed. His shoulders began to droop, feeling the mild adrenaline from the fight wearing off. He felt the normal grey sludge of complete apathy begin to seep back into his mind, coating every corner as it went.
He exhaled slowly.
“I'm really tired, chibi.” he admitted quietly. “I've always been tired, but I think it's just getting worse as I get older.” He raised his hand to fiddle with his shoestring before letting it drop back down, suddenly not feeling the energy for the action anymore.
“I thought that it was getting better for a while. I haven't tried to find a way to die since I met you, you know? But…”
He thumped the back of his head against the bed. “I don't think it’s enough anymore, I just want to die again. This world is terrible and so are the people. Everything is so predictable and I'm still alone. Even you hate me.”
Not that he could blame the other for hating him. He knew he was hard to deal with, even for people with a lot of patience. He was too tired to care about that, though.
He was too tired to care about much of anything at all.
He stared up at the ceiling as he spoke, knowing from his breathing alone that Chuuya was still dead asleep and not able to hear anything he was saying. “Hey, Chuuya? I thought I should tell you this first, since you were the one who made me want to live a bit longer for the first time in my life.” A bitter smile graced his lips. “Fighting with you made me feel more alive than I ever have before, but… even that isn't enough anymore.”
Dazai pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. His voice echoed through the room as he spoke, sounding as though the emptiness within him had begun to spill outward.
“Hey, Chuuya?” he asked, getting no answer beyond the even breathing behind him.
“I think I want to die again. And I don't think it's going to go away this time.”
He then buried his face in his knees. He knew that Chuuya wasn't supposed to wake up for another full day, so Dazai allowed himself this small moment of comfort. He slowly felt himself drifting off to sleep on the floor as he listened to the soothing sound of his partner’s breathing. Nearing unconsciousness, he mumbled out one last thing to Chuuya, unsure as to why he felt the need to, or even who he was really talking to, but uttered it anyway.
I'm sorry I couldn't keep the will to live.
Chuuya watched the scene in front of him, seemingly expressionless, but Dazai could see something brewing behind his eyes.
“That was when you started trying to die again.” Chuuya said tonelessly, not taking his eyes off the memory in front of them. “I thought it was weird that it seemed to start up again so suddenly, but I guess it had been building up for a while, huh?”
“Chuuya…” Dazai began before trailing off slowly. There wasn't anything he could think to say to help this. Not without making the situation worse than it was, that is.
Chuuya spun around to face him, his eyes burning with some emotion Dazai couldn't quite place. “Fucking wake me up the next time you have shit like that to say!” he half-yelled, clearly trying to keep his temper under control. He hated knowing that he had missed something so important.
Dazai clicked his tongue. “I only said it because I knew you couldn't hear me, chibi.” He smirked slightly as he looked down at the other, “Besides, I couldn't have woken you up if I tried. You always sleep like the dead after you use Corruption.”
Ignoring the halfhearted attempt to rile him up, Chuuya glared up at his old partner. “I hate that I'm only seeing this now.” he muttered, a faintly bitter edge to his tone. It was his job to look out for his partner, after all. He paused for a moment before furrowing his eyebrows. “Actually… you've been taking this pretty well so far. Normally even asking you what your favorite color is is like pulling teeth.” He put his hands on his hips, leveling Dazai with an assessing stare. “What gives?”
“Oh, don't misunderstand,” Dazai said, his tone dry and his mouth set in an unhappy twist, “I completely hate the fact that this is happening. I've already considered just burning the Book when we get out of here for this. But what good would it do me to try and fight back right now? There doesn't seem to be any exits and the Book isn't exactly sentient.” He gave a tired sigh. He wanted to just leave and go back to his tiny apartment and then drink until the world stopped, but it seemed as though he couldn't do that yet. What a pity.
“I'm sorry, Dazai-san.”
Dazai turned to look at his student, his face softening a bit from the frown it had been set in. “Why are you apologizing, Atsushi-kun? It's not like you're the one who sent us here.”
Atsushi sighed. “I know, it's just… I know you enjoy keeping your privacy, and I know you really hate that this is all being shown like this without your permission. So I'm sorry that it's happening.” His earnestly honest eyes bored up into Dazai’s, clearly wanting to help his mentor somehow.
There was a moment of silence before Dazai let out a small huff of laughter. “Don't worry Atsushi-kun, it's not as bad as it could be. I would have already killed Mori if he was one of the ones that got sucked in here with me, honestly. Of the people that are currently alive, the two of you are really the only ones that I'd be okay with seeing all of this.” He extended his hand and lightly ruffled Atsushi’s hair, not seeing Chuuya’s eyes widen behind him at being included in that.
He still trusts me that much? Chuuya hadn't expected that at all. He felt… almost honored somehow to know that he still had the trust of one of the most secretive bastards to ever walk the earth. Not that he'd tell Dazai that, of course. But he promised himself silently not to betray that trust.
After all, he trusted Dazai just as much.
Atsushi beamed up at Dazai, his face slightly flushed at the implied trust. “Ah, th-thank you, Dazai-san!” He bowed his head slightly in gratitude, but only a little as he didn't want to dislodge Dazai’s hand from his hair.
Chuuya sighed, deciding to get back on track. “So that’s when you started wanting to die again?” he asked.
“Yep.” Dazai answered, looking unbothered. “Living takes too much effort and I had run out of steam by that point.” he shrugged. “I was right when I said that it wouldn’t go away after that, of course. And now I can't wait to commit my perfect suicide!” He put a heartfelt hand to his chest as he spoke, a dreamy grin on his face.
Knowing he wouldn't get any further with this conversation for the moment, Chuuya rolled his eyes and decided to return his attention to the scene in front of them.
Dazai made his way down a back alley, his dark coat fluttering behind him as he went. The cold air stung his face slightly, but he ignored it.
He was here on a personal mission, after all.
Finally reaching his destination, he ducked into the doorway of the building he had been approaching. He made his way down a small set of stairs and looked around. This was his first time being here, and he was a bit curious about the place itself.
The bar was dimly lit, and the atmosphere was quiet beyond the faint sound of jazz playing from some hidden speaker. The man he had come to find was sitting at the counter, sipping slowly at his drink.
Dazai looked him over, filing away all the details of him that he could see without staring for too long and getting the other’s attention. The man was reasonably tall and with broad shoulders without being overly muscular. His hair was a deep red and he had a small bit of scruff on his chin.
Dazai sat down, keeping one seat of distance between them for now, and ordered a whiskey as well, deciding that he might as well mimic the other. The man himself matched the photo in the file Dazai had on him. He had taken an interest in this particular member after hearing some interesting rumors, and decided to investigate for himself.
“Hello!” he called to the man cheerfully, resting his elbows on the counter.
The other man looked over at him, his deep blue eyes as serene as still water. “Hello.” the man nodded in return.
Dazai tilted his head as he regarded the man beside him. He didn't react much at the sight of Dazai, so either he was naturally inexpressive or he didn't recognize him.
Or maybe it was both.
Deciding to remedy that so that he could continue with his plan, Dazai turned to face him again, grinning cheerfully and remembering to crinkle his eyes convincingly. “My name is Dazai! May I know your name?”
There was a blink of recognition in the other’s eyes at that. Surprisingly, though, Dazai couldn't see any fear there. Most lower members cowered when they realized they were in his presence, but not this man.
The man set his glass down and turned to face him fully. His tone was just as even as his gaze as he spoke.
“My name is Oda Sakunosuke.”
Atsushi’s eyes widened, recognizing the name on the grave he had seen his mentor visiting. “Is that…?” he asked, trailing off after a moment.
Dazai nodded, his voice quiet, but fond. “Yes, that’s Odasaku. This happened a few weeks after I turned sixteen. I tracked him down because I thought the rumor of a mafia member that didn't kill sounded like it would be interesting to investigate. Also, I was trying to decide whether he should be killed for being a weak link or not. Thankfully, I decided not to.”
Chuuya knew that Dazai had held Oda as someone dear to him, and that his death had something to do with Dazai leaving the mafia. It hadn't seemed possible before to him, that any one person could have that much of an effect on his otherwise emotionless partner, but looking at Dazai’s face now, he felt like he could almost begin to understand. Dazai was looking at the memory version of his friend with so much nostalgia and longing that it almost hurt to look at. He so clearly missed and wanted back the friend he lost that Chuuya felt a pang of sympathy for him.
I didn't even think you were even capable of caring about anyone so much, mackerel.
“Well, Oda-san, you must know that there are some interesting rumors about you floating around the mafia~?” Dazai chirped up at the other, his eyes sharp as he watched the man's face.
Oda nodded, not attempting to hide anything. “Yeah, I know. It's about how I don't kill, right?” he sounded as though he was used to being questioned about it.
Dazai nodded in return. “Yes, exactly that. So,” he began, “would you care to tell me why that is?” a lightly dangerous tone entered his voice.
The taller man hummed for a second. “Are you asking as my superior?” he asked.
Dazai blinked, feeling a bit of surprise. “...No.” he finally settled on saying. “But I am curious. So I won't force you, but could I have a hint?” He really was interested, after all.
Oda took a small sip of his whiskey before responding, “There's something I want to do, and I can't do that if I kill.”
“Oh?” Dazai asked. “And what is it that you want to do?” He figured that Oda was being secretive about why killing would stop him from doing the thing, instead of what the thing actually was. So it seemed like a safe question to ask.
“...I want to be a writer.” Oda said, meeting Dazai’s gaze. It made Dazai wonder if he was the first to hear about this desire of his.
Dazai’s mind flashed back suddenly to the library in his parents' house, his one refuge from the outside world while he escaped into books. This man wants to write books?
When was the last time I stopped to read a book?
He pushed the troubling thought out of his head. “I see. That's certainly interesting.” he rested his chin on his hand as he watched the other, taking in the relaxed set to his shoulders and the way his eyes didn't follow Dazai’s movements as though he was expecting to be stabbed at any moment. Most of it likely came from the man’s own ability, but…
“You really aren't afraid of me at all, are you?” Dazai felt a touch of incredulity at his own words. Even Chuuya and Mori had moments where they looked at Dazai as though he was little more than a monster wearing human skin. For different reasons of course, but still.
“Should I be?” Oda asked, his tone even.
Dazai narrowed his eyes. “Is it because you're so sure of your ability? It wouldn't be hard to get around, you know. I could easily have you restrained while I keep my hand on you to nullify your power before killing you.” His words were spoken coldly, his gaze empty. Will you be afraid of me now? Is this all it'll take?
But the man’s expression remained as calm as before. “Are you going to?” he asked simply.
Dazai was stunned. He realised then that this man wasn't looking at him as though he wasn't a threat, but instead like he knew the other could be, but wasn't going to consider him one until he made himself one.
“...No.” Dazai said, looking at the man beside him in a new light. “No, I don't think I will.”
Oda nodded, and returned to sipping his drink, clearly taking Dazai at his word. He wasn't treating Dazai with suspicion about his motivations or fear of the reputation of the boy himself. He seemed to just genuinely believe that Dazai wasn't going to hurt him.
“You're certainly a strange person.” Dazai said, looking up at the other man. “You might be the strangest person I've ever met. How interesting.”
The taller man shrugged, the slightest hint of something close to bashfulness appearing on his face. “I'm really not that interesting at all. I'm just the mafia’s handyman.”
Dazai felt a small smile creep onto his face, the first real one in a while. “I think you're wrong there. You're certainly more interesting than you think. Say, do you visit this bar very often?” He leaned a bit closer to the other, eager to hear his response.
Oda nodded. “Pretty often, yeah. I like it here, it's nice.”
Dazai had to agree. Something about the bar felt like it was giving him a sense of peace he usually didn't feel anywhere else. “It is nice. Hey, Oda-san, would you mind if I came here more often? I've been extremely bored lately you see, and I've been looking for someone new to chat with.” This was a lie, Dazai would normally sooner pull his own fingernails off than engage in small talk. But this felt different somehow. All he knew was that he wanted to see more of this man. And who was he to ignore something he actually wanted for once?
“I suppose I don't mind.” Oda said as he finished off his drink. “I guess I could use a new conversation partner too.” There was a small twitch of something that could have been a smile on his lips.
Dazai grinned. “Great!” he cheered, this time his enthusiasm was unforced. He knocked back the rest of his drink before exchanging numbers with the man and walking out. He pulled his coat tighter around himself against the bracing wind. There was a small pep in his step that hadn’t been there in nearly a full year.
A mafia member who doesn't kill, huh?
Dazai chuckled to himself.