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i step from here without you

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“I used Corruption because I trusted you,” Chuuya gasps out, and the words leave a hole the size of Yokohama in his chest. He punches Dazai right where that hole is and hopes it hurts him just as much as it hurts Chuuya.

Dazai smiles. He catches him when his vision finally goes dark and the next thing Chuuya wakes to is emptiness in his heart and a stack of neatly folded clothes.

 

In one universe, they’re partners-turned enemies, the former Double Black, the most fearsome duo in Port Mafia history. They’re Soukoku and they’re spiteful and they’re tangled up in one another more than they’d care to admit.

In another, they’re—

 

“Whoever messes with the Sheep will be met with fierce retribution!” Dazai crows, because that’s been his favorite line ever since he joined three years ago and apparently it brings him great joy to yell it out right before they charge into battle and fuck things up.

Or at least, right before Chuuya charges into battle and fucks things up. Unfortunately for Dazai, he’s not nearly as bulletproof, and the Port Mafia would turn him into swiss cheese before he could bat an eye.

Chuuya usually solos Port Mafia-related skirmishes anyway, but this time he, Dazai, and Shirase had been caught off guard. The gray-haired old man leading the squadron of mafia goons had clearly been searching for them.

“Back!” Chuuya shouts, and Dazai and Shirase immediately duck around a building as the suited men open fire. He redirects the ones that strike him right back at their owners, but he can’t do much about the stray bullets. He’s still trying to figure out how to spread his gravitational hold through surrounding air, a process that’s mostly trial and error. Hopefully Shirase and Dazai are smart enough to stay hidden.

Glass shatters as bullets strike the crumbling homes behind him. He can see the resident still inside behind him, but she only spares a glance towards the firefight outside before gathering up a bag in her arms and hurrying out the door. It’s simply life in Suribachi City by this point—gang warfare is rampant, and massive firefights are a commonality when the mafia is involved.

“Bastards,” Chuuya grumbles as he kicks a spray of bullets into the black-suited men. The woman will just move right back in after the fighting has moved on, but the nights here are cold and she’ll have to find another way to seal her shattered windows.

The ground suddenly erupts beneath his feet as the old man places his palms on the dirt, a faint violet glow speaking of a hidden ability. Chuuya grits his teeth and leaps up, redirecting his gravity so that he shoots backwards through the air, landing deftly on the wall of the woman’s house. Dazai and Shirase glance at him from where they’re crouched low behind a decrepit apartment complex, and Shirase jerks his head up towards the ladder attached to the wall.

Chuuya gives him a subtle nod and Shirase immediately spider crawls up it, still hidden from sight from everyone else.

“You’ve fast reflexes, boy,” the old man tells Chuuya, shaking dust and dirt from his hands. 

Chuuya sneers. “Try to keep up.”

With a powerful spring, he kicks off the wall and shoots towards the old man like a rocket. There’s no time for him to react before Chuuya’s foot connects with his face, sending him staggering backwards.

Gunshots ring out from the rooftop as Shirase fires on what must be hidden reinforcements. The mafia isn’t stupid enough to show up understaffed, but Chuuya also isn’t stupid enough not to figure that out.

Another gun barrel pokes around the corner of the building where Dazai is still hidden. With a few deft shots, the last two of the mafia’s black-suited men are felled, and Chuuya can’t help but grin. Dazai’s aim has definitely improved over the years.

“Give up now, old man,” he says, kicking aside a bloodied body. “You’re the only one left. You Port Mafia folk talk big game, but you’re all too easy.”

The old man wipes blood from his lips with a handkerchief before slowly rising to his feet. Chuuya lets him, mostly out of curiosity. If he tries anything else, Chuuya will ensure he won’t get back up again.

“Nakahara Chuuya, was it?” He asks in a surprisingly even voice, despite the loss he’d suffered. “You’re as ruthless and strong as they say.”

Chuuya snorts. “Are you going to tell me something I don’t know, or should I get on with killing you too?”

The old man shakes his head. “Arrogant youth. It may come as a surprise, but it’s not you I’m here for.”

Chuuya raises an incredulous eyebrow. Behind him and to his right, Dazai and Shirase step out from behind the building. Dazai’s nursing a bloody arm. He must have gotten hit before he ducked for cover. Chuuya clicks his tongue in annoyance and worry. Hopefully it’s nothing more than a graze. Infection out here is an awful fate.

“I am Hirotsu Ryurou of the Port Mafia,” the old man says. He hardly seems bothered to be standing amidst a sea of his dead subordinates. “The one my boss is interested in is him.”

Chuuya glances back as Hirotsu inclines his head towards Dazai. Shirase barks out a laugh. “You’re interested in this freak? Believe me, you don’t want him.”

“Ouch,” Dazai mutters, though his eyes are narrowed. “Am I that popular?”

Chuuya shakes his head. “First you attack us, then you try to recruit our members? You’re starting to piss me off, old man.”

Hirotsu ignores them both. “Dazai Osamu, my boss cordially invites you to join the Port Mafia. He sees potential in you.”

“Cordially?” Shirase asks incredulously. He gestures around at the carnage. “You call this cordial?”

“He sees potential in my ability, you mean,” Dazai replies flatly. Dazai’s unique skillset has made him a target in the past; it’s not the first time ability organizations have tried to take him. Chuuya still remembers the young, upstart prick who’d showed up from the Special Abilities Department—Saka—Sakaguchi, was it? As if any of them would collude with the government.

“In you, boy,” Hirotsu repeats. He tucks his bloodied handkerchief away. “Join us, and you can escape this pathetic life. You have nothing worthwhile here.”

“Choke on one of your silver spoons, old man,” Chuuya says scornfully as Shirase throws a protective arm across Dazai’s shoulders. “He’s not going anywhere.”

“You’re not one to scoff at either, King of the Sheep,” Hirotsu says. “To you, my boss’ message is this: he knows the truth behind Arahabaki’s origins.”

All the breath flees Chuuya’s lungs. Dazai doesn’t visibly react, but Chuuya’s told him enough that he knows the significance. Knowing Dazai, he’s probably already pieced together the rest by himself.

“What the hell does that mean?” Shirase asks loudly, scowling at Hirotsu.

Hirotsu shrugs easily. “I couldn’t tell you. He simply stated that Nakahara-kun here would understand.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, old man,” Chuuya says coldly, though his heart sinks like lead. “You sound delusional, so I’ll be merciful and give you a minute’s head-start.”

“I’ll inform the boss of your decisions,” Hirotsu replies lightly. He turns away, stepping over the limbs of his fallen men. “I’m sure he’ll persuade you both to reconsider.”

They watch as he picks his way through the dilapidated streets of Suribachi for several moments longer. Finally, Shirase explodes.

“What the hell was that, Chuuya?! Why’d you let him go? He basically declared war on us!”

“He’s not a threat,” Chuuya replies uneasily, though if he were listening with his head instead of his heart, he’d have to admit Shirase was right. The intrigue towards his past that he’d long since buried resurfaces again with dangerous allure. “If he ever comes back again, I’ll crush him.”

Shirase swears angrily. “Don’t tell me you’re buying into that Arahabaki crap, or whatever. That’s just a myth.”

“Obviously,” Chuuya scoffs, ignoring Dazai’s penetrative gaze. Shirase looks back and forth between them, bewilderment and anger etched across his features.

“Yeah, well,” he finally snaps. “You’d better not. You can’t let your guard down around the Port Mafia.”

“We know, Shirase,” Dazai cuts in, rolling his eyes. “No need to beat us over the head about it. Can we go back now? I’m pretty sure I’m bleeding out.”

Shirase’s conflicted expression flickers back and forth between uncertainty and suspicion before his eyes finally settle on Dazai’s blood-soaked sleeve. He rolls his shoulders and repockets his knife. “Shit, yeah. Let’s go get that looked at, okay?”

“Mm,” Dazai sighs, using his good arm to run a hand through his hair. “I’m gonna need a hot bath after this mess of a day.”

“I’ll text Yuan and the others to start one,” Shirase says, pulling out his phone. Chuuya and Dazai fall in behind him as he taps away at the keys, and the look Chuuya throws him is somewhat desperate.

What do we do, he mouths, shooting an uneasy look Shirase’s way.

Dazai’s dark gaze flickers back down the path before settling back on Chuuya. Later, his eyes read. For now, we wait.

 

In that universe they’re intertwined by blood and bonds and something much greater. But in another, they’re—

 

“Chuuya,” Kunikida says, poking his head into the office. “There’s a case for you downstairs.”

Chuuya yawns, pushing away from his desk and spinning on his rolling chair as he does so. Yosano spares him a semi-amused glance, but whatever. If Fukuzawa hadn’t wanted them rolling around the office, he should have known better than to purchase something so easily abused.

“Lucky,” Atsushi sighs mournfully from his desk, fingers clacking away at his keyboard. As the latest recruit, he gets tasked with filling out reports more often than not. “Want to trade jobs with me, Chuuya-san?”

Chuuya pats him on the shoulder as he passes by. “Keep up the hard work, kid. I’ll bring you a pastry on my way back up.”

“One for me, too,” Ranpo calls as Chuuya steps out the door, nodding to Kunikida. “A chocolate muffin and a scone!”

“That’s two things, Ranpo,” Yosano says derisively as the door shuts behind them. Chuuya grins at Kunikida, who returns it with an expression of pained exasperation.

“Don’t let them get you too worked up, they’re only having fun,” Chuuya says lightly, lips twitching. Kunikida rolls his eyes.

“You’re truly the only sensible employee aside from myself,” he grumbles.

“And how lucky you are to have me as your partner,” Chuuya replies wryly as they start down the stairs to the coffee shop on the first floor. It’s a nice place to meet with clients—the soothing atmosphere often helps calm their distress. Chuuya prefers it to the office meeting space for several reasons.

“Lucky,” Kunikida snorts. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, sometimes you’re more trouble than you’re worth.”

“And yet where would you all be without me?” Chuuya grins, bumping Kunikida’s bicep with his shoulder. Kunikida gives him a pointed look, but doesn’t comment. It’s true, after all. Chuuya’s strengths have lent themselves well to the Agency in the past two years.

The door to the coffee shop swings open as they step inside, warm, fragrant air wafting up to greet them. Chuuya scans the tables and booths for their potential client, ruling out the couple deep in conversation nearby and the bored-looking college student tapping away at her phone. There’s a lone figure seated at the booth farthest away; his face is concealed by the book he’s reading. Chuuya glances at Kunikida.

“That’s him,” Kunikida confirms with a nod. “Said his name was Tsushima Shuuji.”

Chuuya nods absently, filing away the name for future reference. Kunikida shifts the folder tucked under his arm and tilts his head back towards the stairs. “I’ve got to discuss some case details with Ranpo, so I’m leaving you on your own. Call me if you need anything.”

“I’ll be fine,” Chuuya says easily, waving him off. “It wouldn’t be my first solo case.”

Kunikida gives him a look that clearly conveys his disapproval of that particular mindset, but lets him be. Chuuya turns back towards his client, double checks to make sure he’s smiling, and approaches the booth.

The man doesn’t look up from his book as he slides onto the cushion across from him. Chuuya clears his throat. “Tsushima-san? I’m Detective Nakahara.”

“Ah,” the man says, in a voice so heart-stoppingly familiar, Chuuya’s blood turns to ice in his veins. “Is that what they call you now?”

The spike of terror that flashes through him is enough to send him reeling. Chuuya’s back hits the booth, hands flinching into fists at his sides. The man slowly sets down his book.

“Hello, Chuuya,” Dazai Osamu sighs, a smile on his lips that doesn’t quite meet his uncovered eye. “Been a while, hasn’t it?”

Chuuya’s heart pounds in his throat and for a second he’s frozen in time. Get a grip, he orders himself. 

It’s a strange feeling, being scared of Dazai.

Four years haven’t changed him much. His right eye is still obscured by useless bandages; his left is as dead and dark as it had been when Chuuya pinned him to the filthy warehouse floor, knife to his throat and hot tears dripping down his face.

—I’m leaving, Chuuya had said, voice cracking, so don’t try and stop me.

And Dazai had laid there unblinkingly, expression flat and hands soaked in someone else’s blood, and he’d said, it was never you.

Two funerals were held the next day, a grand one for Ane-san and a quiet cremation for the man named Oda Sakunosuke, though Chuuya never showed up to either. He paid his respects silently to Ane-san while fighting back tears aboard a train out of Yokohama, and pretended that he wasn’t leaving Dazai behind to deal with the rest—

Chuuya breathes and focuses on what has changed. Dazai’s face is thinner, a smidge older. His cheeks aren’t as round with baby fat. His hair is longer, but only by a few centimeters or so.

Dazai’s smile widens. “Take it in, if you like. Admiration won’t better your chances—”

“Shut up,” Chuuya grits out. “Or I’ll rip out your tongue.”

He’d known, logically, that they’d be enemies now, but it’s something entirely different to face him directly on the opposite side.

Inadvertently, his eyes flicker back towards the stairs, but Kunikida is already long gone. Dazai catches the motion and his lips curl unpleasantly. “I arranged it so that it would just be you and I, Chuuya. You used to prefer it when we talked one-on-one. How rude that you don’t appreciate me going out of my way.”

“What do you want, bastard,” Chuuya spits out roughly, voice unsteady. Dazai’s eye gleams.

“What a stupid question. I see your time away hasn’t made you any smarter,” he says boredly, running his fingers along the spine of his book. “What do you think I want?”

Chuuya swallows, fingers gripping the edge of the table so hard, it begins to splinter. He takes a breath and reigns in his ability. This is Dazai’s usual game of twenty questions. He’d seen it used on countless prisoners in the past to squeeze them for information. “You want to drag me back.”

“Wrong,” Dazai immediately replies, gaze settling on the finger-shaped indents in the wood. “That’s what Mori wants.  I  was all for hunting you down and killing you when you first defected four years ago. But Mori refused, said you were an asset, blah blah blah. Frankly, you’re a threat that needs to be put down.”

When you first defected.

“When I left you,” Chuuya says quietly. Dazai’s exposed eye narrows dangerously.

“Hm?”

“I’m sorry,” Chuuya repeats, stronger this time. “That I left you. But I’m not sorry about leaving, Dazai.”

Dazai’s expression hardens, cold. “I was never hung up on that, Chuuya. Though you clearly still are, if you think it matters to me. Like I told you before, it was never y—”

A familiar, burning anger bubbles back to life in Chuuya’s chest, because as well as Dazai knows him, Chuuya understands him equally well. Of course Dazai had been hurt and aching after Oda’s death. And of course Chuuya, the only one who could have known the extent of that hurt would be the one he’d have turned to—but Chuuya fled instead, and left Dazai behind. He’ll never be free of that guilt.

But it was never you is so blatant a lie it makes him sick.

“I see you still haven’t made it to the boss’ seat, considering you haven’t brought adequate backup to kill me,” Chuuya snaps, cutting him off before he can finish. Dazai snorts.

“An executive seat is good enough for me,” he says. “But you are right about one thing, Chuuya. The backup I brought isn’t strong enough to take you, not by a long shot. I wonder if the same can be said for your friends upstairs.”

Chuuya flinches, rising halfway out of his seat before Dazai’s hand shoots out to grab his forearm. A warning.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Dazai says, shaking his head. “I’ve got eyes on us. The moment they see you leave—and not with me, I mean—they’ll open fire on that office. Can your friends stop bullets like you can?”

Chuuya slowly sinks back down, cold. Even Yosano’s healing capabilities might not be enough if the mafia opens fire all at once—all it takes is a headshot for it to be too late. How many times had Dazai used this very tactic on their enemies? Back then he’d watched smugly, confident in Dazai’s ability to manipulate the odds in their favor. Now he just feels nauseous. “I’ll kill you.”

Dazai sighs. “You say that, and yet you never make good on that promise. If only you’d—”

He cuts off then, lone eye narrowed. Chuuya chances a glance behind him, the stair entrance bell chiming as Atsushi steps through, fingers loosely gripping his wallet.

Their eyes meet from across the room, and then Atsushi waves with a small smile. He begins to head over, and Chuuya’s hit simultaneously with both relief and the desire to keep Atsushi as far away from Dazai as possible.

“Sorry, Chuuya-san,” Atsushi begins apologetically as he draws closer. “Ranpo-san complained you were taking too long, so I volunteered to buy his sweets.”

Dazai’s gaze flits dangerously between the two of them. The message is clear: make him disappear.

Chuuya forces a smile. “Ah, sorry about that. Thanks kid, you’re a big help.”

Atsushi beams at the small praise. “Of course! I hope your case goes well. Don’t worry, sir, Chuuya-san’s one of our top detectives.”

“I’m sure,” Dazai says smoothly. “That’s just why I came to him.”

“Go on,” Chuuya urges, and reaches out to tap Atsushi’s arm with four fingers. “Get Ranpo his sweets before he throws a fit and comes down here himself.”

To Atsushi’s credit, he doesn’t visibly react to the secret distress signal. The kid’s come far since joining the Agency. “I wouldn’t be too worried, Chuuya-san. He’s too lazy to leave his desk chair.”

Chuuya can’t help but snort a bit at that. Dazai raises an eyebrow and stands meaningfully. “Well, Detective Nakahara? Shall we be off?”

Chuuya stands as well, straightening his vest and inhaling deeply to calm his nerves. “Yeah, let’s go. Hold down the fort until I get back, Atsushi-kun.”

“Will do,” Atsushi replies with practiced absence, stepping into the bakery line. “Good luck, both of you!”

The door bell chimes as he follows Dazai out of the bakery and onto the busy main street. Dazai immediately turns down the corner that leads to mafia headquarters and Chuuya instinctively falls into step beside him, hating how easily he slips back into their old habit.

“Until you get back, huh,” Dazai murmurs as they walk. “You always make promises you can’t keep, Chuuya. Like the one you made to Kouyou—”

“Shut up,” Chuuya grits out painfully, memories overwhelming him the moment Dazai says her name. “I mean it this time, Dazai. Shut the hell up.”

Dazai smirks cruelly but lets it drop. “That boy in there, is that your protege? Atsushi-kun, was it? Think Akutagawa would like him?”

Chuuya’s blood runs cold for the second time that day, and he stops walking right in the middle of the sidewalk. People cut around him, annoyed, but Dazai stops too, waiting.

“If you,” he says, voice hard in a way it hasn’t been for years, “If you lay so much as a finger on any of them, Dazai—if you breathe in their general direction, or look at them the wrong way, I will kill you. History between us be damned. I’ll tear the mafia apart with my bare hands.”

And he means it. It’s not an empty threat, not at all, and Dazai must know that but he still smiles.

“Ah, but Chuuya,” he says with a sigh. “That would be against the Agency’s code, wouldn’t it? Would they accept a bloodthirsty killer like you if they knew who you really were?”

The thought of that hurts—more than he’d care to admit—and Chuuya almost wavers. He can picture the betrayed look on Kunikida’s face so vividly, it aches. And yet—if the alternative is them dying, is Chuuya losing everything he’s built, then he would gladly bloody his hands again.

“I don’t care,” he says, and starts walking again. Dazai’s footsteps echo behind him as he hurries to keep pace. “I would do it a hundred times over, if that’s what it took.”

After a long moment, Dazai exhales, his bandaged knuckles brushing—unintentionally, it must be unintentional—against Chuuya’s as they walk side by side. The tall skyscraper that serves as the mafia’s business front looms over the city, an ever-present shadow. “Well then, let’s get this reunion done and over with. The Boss is waiting.”

 

In that universe, they’re sworn enemies, past friends, future—something. They’re ‘something’ that isn’t good and may never become good unless fate bends along her chosen course.

 

In another, they’re—

 

“Fuuuuck,” Chuuya groans loudly, running a hand through his long hair, the strands tangling between his fingers. He’s really going to have to get it cut before Kouyou tries to corner him with her scissors. “I don’t even wanna look.”

“I’m sure you did fine, Chuuya-senpai,” Akutagawa says, determinedly keeping pace with him as he strides across the courtyard. “You put a lot of hours into studying. Besides, Dazai-senpai tutored you, so—”

“The bastard thinks that anyone he tutors will automatically get an A!” Chuuya complains, kicking a stray rock. It doesn’t roll nearly as neatly as his usual soccer ball. If Chuuya doesn’t do well in this class, Coach Mori will be forced to bench him. “But he doesn’t know that! No one knows that!”

“Knows what?” An infuriatingly familiar voice chimes out, and then Dazai is draping his arm over Chuuya’s shoulders, Atsushi in tow. Chuuya still has no idea how Dazai befriended that jumpy theater kid. The younger boy waves shyly at Akutagawa, who waves back begrudgingly.

“Agh, it’s you,” Chuuya says with a scowl, though it’s a struggle to keep the smile off his face. Annoying bastard. “I was just talking about how your tutoring methods suck.”

Dazai raises an eyebrow. “Oh? Did you do poorly on the exam?”

“He still hasn’t checked,” Akutagawa supplies, in spite of Chuuya’s accusatory glare. “He just stuffed it into his backpack without looking, Dazai-senpai.”

Dazai’s eyes dart towards Chuuya’s bag and Chuuya immediately ducks out from under his arm. “Uh-uh, nope. You don’t get to see.”

“Chuuuuya,” Dazai says pointedly, and snaps his fingers expectantly. “Hand over the math test now.”

Chuuya skirts out of reach, putting Akutagawa squarely between him and Dazai. Akutagawa appears simultaneously scared and thrilled to be caught up in the center of this. “You can’t just go looking at other people’s scores, bastard!”

“One could argue that it’s my score, since I’m the one who taught you,” Dazai protests, subtly nudging Atsushi towards Chuuya like he thinks Chuuya won’t notice. “It’s my right to know how my student did!”

“Ok, first of all, that is not how it works,” Chuuya snorts, unable to hide his grin anymore. He walks a little faster, and Atsushi looks back at Dazai apologetically. Dazai is disgruntled for only a moment before patting Atsushi on the back reassuringly. “And secondly, quit trying to force Atsushi into shit!”

“Ah, he’s not forcing me!” Atsushi says quickly, jumping to Dazai’s defense.

“Oh, so you were gonna try stealing my bag on your own?” Chuuya asks incredulously, and Atsushi sputters and chokes. Akutagawa quietly passes him his water bottle.

“Don’t make Atsushi feel bad,” Dazai grins. “He’s sensitive, Chuuya. Rude. And besides, I wasn’t gonna have him steal your bag. I was gonna do it myself!”

Chuuya lets out a shout but Dazai is already lunging towards him, grabbing his backpack with his knobbly fingers and pulling hard. They wrestle for a few moments but Chuuya’s taken off guard and Dazai manages to yank it free with a few forceful tugs. 

“Oi bastard, get back here!” Chuuya hollers as Dazai sprints across the courtyard with his gangly legs, pumping up and down like a scarecrow. The sight is so ridiculous that Chuuya nearly trips after him while sputtering out a laugh.

“I’m so sorry, Chuuya-senpai!” Atsushi pants beside him. Akutagawa is close behind, clearly unwilling to miss a second of this.

By the time Chuuya catches up, Dazai’s already worked the zipper open and is pulling out Chuuya’s blue math folder. He grins at Chuuya’s indignant expression, immediately holding it above his head and dancing out of reach. “Just let me check it, chibi—!”

“Give it back, you tall fish,” Chuuya demands, snatching for it. His fingers fall pitifully short. “You can’t look at that!”

“I have an educator’s right—” Dazai insists, right before Chuuya punches him in the diaphragm. He doubles over with a wheeze and drops the folder. It immediately bursts open, papers spewing everywhere. They all freeze. Dazai’s eyes gleam.

“Math test,” he says, and then Chuuya is scrambling to find it before Dazai can get his hands on it. He hardly has time to sift through one or two sheathes before Dazai crows triumphantly, paper rustling.

“Wait—” Chuuya begins, apprehension coursing through him, but Dazai’s sharp eyes are already skimming to the top of the paper. Chuuya slowly stands, his notes from last week slipping through his loose fingers. Dazai’s expression doesn’t change as he takes in what must be Chuuya’s score.

“What,” Chuuya demands, his stomach slowly sinking the longer Dazai stares. What if he failed? What if he’s just an idiot? He knew he’d screwed up that last derivative—

“You got,” Dazai says slowly, lowering the paper and flipping it around. “A perfect score.”

For a moment, Chuuya is frozen. The numbers written in cheerful blue ink stare innocuously back out at him. One hundred percent.

“How the fuck,” he manages, while Dazai stares back at him with a knowing look.

“I knew you did well,” Akutagawa says earnestly as he gathers up the rest of Chuuya’s scattered papers. “Gin’s got ADHD too, but she still aces her exams.”

“Fucker,” Chuuya whispers, and finally snatches the test from Dazai. The numbers don’t change. “I guess I should thank you, asshole.”

A grin spreads across Dazai’s face, and before Chuuya knows it, he’s being wrapped in a lanky hug. “I thought all those soccer balls to the head destroyed your brain cells, but looks like I was wrong!”

“Let me go, you piece of shit!” Chuuya yells, but he’s laughing. “You stupid mackerel, let—”





In another—





“—me go,” Chuuya gasps, weakly pushing Dazai’s arm from around his shoulders. “Dazai, you’ve gotta let me go.”

They stumble forward through the humid warehouse, tripping over each other’s feet in the dark as they support one another. Dazai’s hot breath on his face only makes the sweat trickling down it that much more unbearable. The whites of his eyes are the only things Chuuya can clearly make out in the windowless room. 

But Dazai’s grip doesn’t loosen. Instead it tightens, his other hand snaking around Chuuya’s waist. The wound in his side throbs.

“...Dazai?” Chuuya pants, more urgently this time. “Let go, I’ll be fine to stand. I can’t use my ability like this. Those fuckers are gonna fill us with bullets.”

Dazai doesn’t answer, his fingers curling more insistently into Chuuya’s side. His labored breathing is loud in Chuuya’s ear. Blood trickles down from his forehead where he’d caught an elbow several minutes prior, slowly soaking his bandages in red. Chuuya shoves at his arm, hard. “Dazai.”

The pounding of footsteps echo towards them, reverberating around the halls. In just a few moments, those men are going to be on top of them. Chuuya has no idea how they managed to track them here.

He tries to take a step towards the other exit, but Dazai’s rooted in place and Chuuya ends up stumbling, side flaring up again. He twists to face him, fury growing. “What the fuck is wrong with you? If you don’t wanna take your hands off me so I can fight, we need to leave or we’re going to die.”

A conflicted look contorts Dazai’s face, the first expression he’s made yet. His jaw tightens as he clenches his teeth, and then he’s hissing out air between them with a low curse. “Fuck.”

Chuuya stares at him with increasing confusion. The bloodloss is making him dizzy, but he’s coherent enough to know that something is very wrong. “Is this...is this one of your shitty suicide ploys? Are you serious?”

“I’m—” Dazai cuts off, breathes out another curse. His eyes dart to the entrance. Chuuya can hear men shouting to each other between rooms.

The door blocking off the room they’re in suddenly vibrates with a loud bang. It’s locked, but it won’t hold against whoever’s out there for long. Another bang follows shortly after, and then a metallic clang as the agent outside shoots through the lock.

Dazai still hasn’t loosened his grip.

“Dazai?” Chuuya says hesitantly. A dawning thought is slowly creeping in, but he isn’t quite ready to accept it. “Look just...just let go. Whatever this is, we can—figure it out once we get out of here.”

He’s too unsteady right now to tear himself away on his own. Warm blood pulses steadily out from his side, tinging his vision black. The door is kicked open forcefully, and then a gun clicks as the man on the other end grins.

“Found you,” he says, and points the barrel at Chuuya’s head.

There’s a split second between the time Chuuya’s panicked, desperate eyes meet Dazai’s and the instant Dazai shoves him away with a bitten grunt—and then the man fires.

It’s only instinct that saves him. The bullet slams into Chuuya’s skull and instantly flattens as his ability flares to life, flickering red around him. He bares his teeth in both viciousness and agony as the wound in his side pulls, and sends the copper disc ricocheting back into the man’s throat.

The government agent goes down with widened eyes and a spray of blood and Chuuya instantly whirls on Dazai, who’s standing there breathing hard.

The words die in his throat. For once, Dazai looks uncertain. Scared, moreso. It looks all wrong on his face, yet so utterly fitting for the fifteen year old that he is. 

“You…” Chuuya begins, and now is really not the time but he is going to make time. “I trusted you.”

He gestures to his own neck, to the choker Dazai had gifted him to cover up the ugly tattoo on his nape, and then he gestures to Dazai’s neck where he knows the numbers ‘A5472’ are wrapped up by sterile bandages. Dazai’s hand, bloody from Chuuya’s leaking side, flies up to cover it.

“I’m sorry,” Dazai breathes out. An odd expression crosses his face, like he’s both horrified and thrilled. Exhilarated—a child disobeying their parent for the first time. “They wanted you dead. I was supposed to kill you.”

He grins, white teeth flashing in the dark, and then lets out a breathless laugh. It sounds somewhat hysterical. “I didn’t do it.”

“Didn’t let them kill me,” Chuuya finishes. The world seems to be spinning just a little off its axis. His vision is getting blurrier. “But you were going to.”

Even though you’re just like me, he doesn’t say. Even though you are me. Dazai must hear it, anyway.

“I didn’t do it,” Dazai says. A slow smile spreads across his face and his dull eyes glaze over. “You must want to kill me. Right? Go ahead and do it. You must be so furious. Kill me, Chuuya—”

“Shut up,” Chuuya demands angrily. “Just—shut up for once, okay? Just—let me think.”

He could never kill Dazai. Not in a million years, not for anyone, not for anything—

He presses a hand against his side and takes a steadying breath. More footsteps echo throughout the walls.

“I’m not granting your death wish, shitty Dazai,” he finally manages, surprised by how even his voice is. Maybe because for the first time, it’s Dazai who’s clearly falling to pieces. “We’re both getting out of here.”

If Dazai flinches, Chuuya misses it. He wouldn’t have checked, anyway.

“Kill me,” Dazai’s too-flat voice insists again, and Chuuya shudders. “I betrayed you. That man would have blown your brains out.”

Chuuya hisses, the words coming out strained. “Shut up.”

There’s a stretch of silence. All Chuuya can hear is his own heavy breathing in the dark. He wishes he could close his eyes and let everything fall away. “Just...shut up. I’m—I’m not gonna kill you. Get it through your fucked up head.”

Another long pause follows. It’s unbearable. Chuuya just wishes Dazai would fucking say something, because this glassy-eyed, robotic version of him is...it’s...

“Always ruining my plans, huh, Chuuya.”

Dazai finally breaks the quiet. His voice is less one-note, and Chuuya breathes a quiet sigh of relief. Thank god.

“It’s what I specialize in, mackerel,” he snipes back, sliding into their habitual, practiced banter. It’s much easier than facing how fucked up everything suddenly is. “Now let’s get the hell out of here so I can murder you later for trying to get me killed.”

“Counterproductive as always,” Dazai says, even while he slides his arm back around Chuuya’s shoulders as they hobble towards the door. He looks a little less empty now. “Your work ethic really is terrible.”

“And yours is nonexistent,” Chuuya fires back. Dazai’s lips twitch in ghostly amusement, and Chuuya wonders if maybe everything really will be okay. They can bounce back from anything. 

Even this.

 

There’s a lot to sift through in that universe, a lot of wounds that won’t quite heal, a good deal of trust left unmended. But they live with it, or at least they learn how to cope with it. It isn’t easy.

Though in another, softer universe they’re—

 

The queue for Chuuya’s favorite coffee shop is already starting to creep out the door by the time he arrives. Chuuya bites back a huff of irritation. Usually he takes care to arrive early to avoid the wait—and to avoid giving Kunikida a conniption, but today he’s running late.

His keys had somehow gone missing, despite the fact that he was sure he’d placed them in the same spot as usual when he’d arrived home from work last evening. Chuuya had spent a good fifteen minutes frantically tearing up his apartment in search of them, only to find that they’d somehow wound up under his bed.

He still doesn’t know how they got there, but he tries not to dwell on it as he joins the back of the queue. He’ll pick up a box of pastries to appease the office (read: Kunikida) when he inevitably shows up tardy. He’s got no intention of doing anything work-related without a cup of coffee in him.

The line slowly edges forward. Chuuya taps his foot in irritation and mentally sends death threats to the man at the front who keeps stumbling over his order (and yes, he knows he isn’t that type of person anymore but old habits die hard). The unimpressed cashier jabs register buttons and waves the next person in line forward.

As long as he gets served within the next five minutes, Chuuya probably won’t be more than ten minutes late. He might even be able to shave off a bit of time if he uses his ability and takes to the rooftops, but ultimately pleasing Kunikida comes second to keeping his admittedly not-so-great reputation and identity under wraps.

The door behind him swings open and Chuuya instinctively shuffles a few inches forward to give the newcomer in line room without bothering to look back. He’s busy studying the menu, trying to remember whether Yosano prefers blueberry muffins to chocolate chip, when suddenly a hand presses down on the top of his head.

Chuuya nearly sputters, immediately activating his ability to ward off his assailant—except it doesn’t activate. In the next second, his hat is snatched away and an infuriatingly familiar voice rings out with thinly veiled disgust—

“Ehh? It really is you.”

Chuuya sees red, and not only because of his stolen hat. It takes all his self-control not to grab Dazai Osamu, who he hasn’t seen in four fucking years, by his starched white collar and wring his neck in front of the entire coffee shop.

“Dazai?” He hisses instead, snatching for his hat. Dazai doesn’t even bother to withhold it, which belies his shock more than his expression ever would. “What the fuck are you doing here? Actually, where the fuck have you been?”

“I should ask you the same question,” Dazai says, wrinkling his nose, and oh no, Chuuya is not playing this game.

He briefly weighs the merits of losing his place in line to drag Dazai out to a back alley where he can properly murder him before deciding that Dazai isn’t worth more than his coffee anyway. Chuuya settles for jabbing a finger into his chest and whispering.

“You fucker,” he says lowly, stabbing harder with each word. A patron stares at them from one of the booths, but they can mind their own damn business. “You disappeared four years ago without saying a word.”

Dazai shrugs. “I see you followed in my footsteps, shortstack. Unfortunately you stuck with the same ugly fashion sense. Your hat is as hideous as ever, Chuuya.”

Chuuya grits his teeth and reminds himself that Dazai is deflecting and sidetracking like he always does and he must not allow himself to get sucked in.

“My hat is fine,” he seethes. “And the reason I left had nothing to do with you.”

Well, it had a little to do with Dazai. But that was only because Dazai’s departure got him thinking about a few things, and the more Chuuya considered, the more he began to have doubts.

“Oh?” Dazai raises an eyebrow, like he’s having difficulty understanding that not everything revolves around him. “Why did you leave then, Chuuya?”

“None of your business,” Chuuya snaps, because it really isn’t. “Now get out of my coffee shop.”

“Your coffee shop? Oh, I didn’t realize this was where you worked now. How...quaint.”

Chuuya closes his eyes and counts to ten. “I will pour my scalding hot drink on your face when I get it.”

“Bleh,” Dazai says, sticking his tongue out at him. “I see four years haven’t mellowed your temper at all.”

“Can’t you get your coffee from somewhere else,” Chuuya grinds out. He’s the second person in line by now. Just a few more minutes and then he can forget he ever saw Dazai again. Thank god.

“Can’t,” Dazai replies airily. “It’s the closest place to my job interview. I’m already late. Think I can bribe them with pastries?”

“Good luck getting hired with that mentality,” Chuuya snorts, as though he’s not planning on doing the exact same thing. “That is, if they even let you through the doors.”

“Next!” The cashier calls, and Chuuya shoots a smug look back at Dazai as he walks towards the register—only for it to quickly morph into alarm and then rage when Dazai walks to the counter beside him.

“We’re ordering together!” Dazai supplies breezily before Chuuya has a chance to protest. He leans close to Chuuya and whispers, “Cover this one for me, would you? I’m kind of broke at the moment.”

Chuuya silently stews as Dazai rattles off his order of pastries, watching as the total sums higher and higher. The bastard is obviously ordering the most expensive items on Chuuya’s dime, and if he wasn’t worried about making a scene and getting forever banned from his favorite coffee shop, he probably would have slaughtered him by now.

“And for you, Nakahara-san?” The cashier asks with a quick smile. Chuuya rubs his temples and forces himself to smile back.

“The usual coffee,” he replies. “And a box of pastries.”

If Kunikida gives him shit for being late after this—well, Chuuya doesn’t know. The day can’t really get much worse, anyway.

“Here you are,” the cashier says, sliding both boxes of pastries and Chuuya’s coffee across the counter. Chuuya winces at the total on the register, swipes his card, and snatches up his purchases. Dazai, unsurprisingly, follows him out of the coffee shop.

There’s a whole whirlwind of feelings that have been threatening to rise up ever since Chuuya recognized Dazai’s stupid voice, but he’s very good at pushing these sorts of things down. He’ll just do that, he and Dazai will go their separate ways, and Chuuya can return to his pleasant life before Dazai interrupted. It’ll be easy.

Except for one small thing.

“Why are you following me?” Chuuya snaps as he turns down the street. Dazai raises his eyebrows.

“Do you really think so highly of yourself? Why would I waste my time following a slug like you around? I’m going to my job interview, obviously.”

Chuuya fights back the emerging migraine. “Well, can’t you—can’t you cross the street and walk on the other side, or something?”

“Really, Chuuya?” Dazai asks, shooting him an unimpressed look. “See, this is why I left.”

And well, that probably shouldn’t hurt as much as it does because that is very obviously not the reason Dazai left, but it does. Fucking Dazai. Chuuya’s going to kill him.

“You’re lucky I’m a changed man,” he hisses. Dazai’s eyes travel slowly up and down Chuuya before settling somewhere above his head.

“Mm,” Dazai says, that one smug note in his voice that Chuuya hates. “I don’t think you’ve changed that much.”

Chuuya closes his eyes and breathes.

By the time they reach the corner street where the Armed Detective Agency sits, Chuuya’s fairly certain he should have lost Dazai by now. He can’t possibly be unlucky enough that the bastard’s interview is somewhere nearby the office, but Dazai doesn’t seem to be moving from his side as he hums a particularly off-beat tune.

Chuuya clears his throat when they reach the door to the first floor cafe. Dazai glances at him. “What?”

“Don’t you need to go to your job interview?” Chuuya asks, gesturing to the surrounding stores and businesses. “Why are you still following me? Are you that airheaded?”

“Uh,” Dazai says, frowning. “No. It’s here. And you’re the one who’s still following me.”

“I work here!” Chuuya sputters, because really this is too much. Dazai squints at him.

“I thought you worked at the other cafe.”

“I don’t work at any fucking cafe!” Chuuya very nearly shrieks, and holy shit, he is actually going to kill Dazai. “You’re the one who’s working at the cafe! Not me!”

Because where else would Dazai work? Not at the law office on the second floor, that’s for sure. He’d have to arrest himself, first. And obviously, most definitely, he’s not working at the—

“Cafe?” Dazai asks, lip curling as though it’s an insult. “I’m interviewing for the Armed Detective Agency, stupid. Where else?”

The sinking sense of dread Chuuya had felt ever since coming face to face with the bastard suddenly becomes a bottomless pit. For once, Chuuya can’t do anything more than stare, his mouth open in horror.

Dazai raises an eyebrow. “What?”

And then, when words continue to fail him, slow realization spreads across Dazai’s face. Oh, he mouths, and then he’s laughing. The bastard is laughing at Chuuya’s misery and the Agency’s next case is going to be piecing together his dismembered corpse.

And maybe this is Chuuya’s punishment for all the horrible things he did in the Port Mafia—cursed to be Dazai’s co-worker for the rest of his days. Personally, Chuuya doesn’t believe he deserves it.

“Stop laughing,” Chuuya growls, squeezing his coffee cup so hard the liquid threatens to spill all over his glove. “You don’t understand, I’m literally going to murder you.”

“You—” Dazai gasps, eyes watering from lack of air. “Chuuya, you—”

“Dazai, I swear to god—”

“—you bought them two boxes of pastries!” Dazai finally manages through his hysterics, holding up his bakery box, and this time Chuuya does spill his coffee.

 

And in another universe—

 

There’s a boy staring at Chuuya, he’s pretty sure.

He’s sitting at the far end of the cafe, fingers drumming a deft beat on his paper coffee cup, and every time Chuuya glances his way he catches his gaze for a few awkward seconds. The kid’s eyes always drift away lazily, like he’s not embarrassed by being caught, but Chuuya is quick to turn back to the coffee machines.

“Tsuji,” he mutters as he fixes the next customer’s hazelnut coffee, “Am I going crazy, or is that guy over there watching me?”

“Hm?” His fellow barista, Tsujimura, asks with a frown. She turns to look and Chuuya hurriedly grabs her arm.

“Not so obvious!” he hisses, and Tsujimura winces. “Just—check in a minute, or something. If he is, I don’t wanna make it weird.”

“If he is, then it’s already weird,” Tsujimura whispers back with a raised eyebrow. Still, she casually turns towards the pastry shelf, cyan hair bouncing as she hands a patron a scone with a cheerful smile.

Chuuya keeps busy with lidding the finished drink and sliding it across the counter. “Sakaguchi!”

The customer in question takes it with a quick smile, then nods at Tsujimura. The two of them are familiar with each other; he often comes back to pick Tsujimura up after her shift. Chuuya’s eighty percent sure they’re dating, though Tsujimura vehemently denies it every time Chuuya brings it up.

He nudges her when she turns back to the coffee machines, a light wrinkle in her forehead as she begins working on the next order. “So?”

“He is staring at you,” Tsujimura says with a grimace. “Kinda creepy. Do you want Ango and I to wait until your shift is over? We can give you a ride back home.”

Chuuya snorts, waving her off. “I’m not afraid of some guy. Don’t worry about it.”

“Are you sure?” Tsujimura presses. “I don’t know, I just...get a weird vibe from him.”

Chuuya hesitates a little, because Tsujimura’s already proven herself to be a good judge of character. Still, he really can handle himself. “Nah, I’d rather not keep you guys waiting. Ango might get jealous.”

Tsujimura checks him with her shoulder. “For the last time, we are not dating!”

“Sure,” Chuuya says, eyes brimming with amusement. She glares at him playfully as Chuuya turns back to the register. “Hi, what can I get you?”

The woman rattles out her order and Chuuya chances another glance at the boy sitting by the window. He’s staring out of it this time, eyes fixed on the late afternoon sun-lit street.

He looks about nineteen or twenty, around Chuuya’s age. Dark brown hair falls in waves around his face and—he’s not half-bad looking, honestly. Doesn’t mean Chuuya’s interested, though.

Tsujimura nudges him as he turns back to the counter to start on the woman’s drink, a pointed look on her face. “Hey, you’re not thinking of talking to that guy, are you? I still think you should let Ango and I drive you home.”

“I’ll be fine, I mean it,” Chuuya frowns. For some reason, people fail to take him seriously when he assures them he can handle things. “If that guy tries anything, I’ll flatten his ass. Anyway, I’m not even gonna talk to him. My shift isn’t over for another couple hours, I doubt he’ll stick around that long.”

Tsujimura just shakes her head as she pours frozen strawberries into the blender and flicks it on. Whatever she says next is lost to the roar of the machine, so Chuuya just shrugs at her and goes back to drizzling caramel over whipped cream.

It isn’t until another hour has passed that the boy in question finally rises from his seat, the motion catching Chuuya’s eye. For one alarming second, he thinks he’s headed his way, but the boy just throws him one more glance—an appreciative one, Chuuya thinks, cheeks growing warm—before leisurely stepping out. He watches him go and lets out an exhale, muscles loosening. Stupid.

It really is silly—no one’s caught Chuuya’s attention like that in a long time. He can’t put a finger on it with this kid.

Tsujimura clocked out about a half-hour ago, so it’s just Chuuya and the girl who replaced her, a perpetually tired college student. She’s not an unpleasant person, but the last hour and a half of Chuuya’s shifts are usually the most boring.

He ends up occupying himself by thinking about the kid, though he won’t admit it to Tsujimura. She’d just yell at him about how he’d end up a corpse floating down the Yokohama river if he hooked up with a stalker, but the kid probably isn’t like that. This is the first time Chuuya’s ever seen him, and besides, everyone shares a glance every now and then. He’s most likely harmless.

The minute hand on the clock seems to drag increasingly slower as the hour hand approaches seven, and by the time Chuuya’s shift is over, he’s dragging his feet. The sun is starting to set, golden-orange light flooding the port with a dying glow. He shrugs off his apron, folding it and stowing it away before nodding at the remaining barista. “Alright, I’m out. See you tomorrow, Nai.”

She nods back and waves as Chuuya leaves, running a hand through his hair and mentally calculating whether he has enough time to pick up something to eat before catching the train. Rent’s going to be a little tight this month ever since the rate went up, so maybe he should leave dining out for another day—

“Ah, excuse me?”

Chuuya startles at the voice, pivoting to face the alley between the run-down apartment complexes he’s passing by. The boy from before is leaning against the wall at the mouth of it. He lifts a slender hand and waves. His wrists, Chuuya notices, are wrapped in bandages.

“Hey,” Chuuya replies warily. It’s been a while since the boy left, and unless he lives in the apartments here, his spot isn’t very typical. “Weren’t you in the cafe earlier?”

The boy smiles easily. “That’d be me. You guys make good coffee.”

Chuuya scuffs the ground with his heel and looks away. The boy is not complimenting him; he didn’t even prepare his order. “Yeah, it’s a pretty decent place.”

The boy’s smile widens as his eyes travel over Chuuya’s entire form, from his worn shoes to the olive green, ratty jacket he still wears. Chuuya fights back the answering flush.

Why didn’t I wear something nicer today,  his traitorous brain thinks.  Fuck.

“Did you need something?” He finds himself asking, just for something to say. Tsujimura’s going to kill him when he inevitably tells her tomorrow.

“Hmm,” the kid murmurs, stepping out of the alleyway so that the evening glow washes over his face. Chuuya’s breath catches in his throat for a brief second. “See, I was just wondering—”

The same instant the boy’s pale hand snaps closed around Chuuya’s wrist is the moment something cold and metallic presses against his stomach. Chuuya inhales sharply at the familiar feel of a gun barrel digging into his flesh.

“—what someone like you is doing working at a lowly coffee shop,” the boy continues pleasantly, the smile never leaving his eyes, “when you could be working for me.”

Chuuya exhales slowly, the gun barrel sliding against his abdomen. He really should have guessed. People are never interested in him for the reasons he hopes they’ll be.

“You’re really gonna try shooting me right here in the open, huh?” He says calmly, eyes drifting down towards the finger on the trigger. “That doesn’t seem very smart.”

The kid doesn’t even falter. “You’re not afraid. You don’t know who I am, do you?”

“I think I could kill you before you could kill me,” Chuuya replies evenly, but the moment he goes to activate Tainted and crush this kid into the dirt, the sound of a gun cocking behind him has them both freezing.

“Dazai Osamu,” a cold, female voice rings out. “Drop your weapon and back away, or I’ll shoot.”

The kid smirks as Chuuya blinks in astonishment and confusion. “Tsujimura?”

She’s still in her work clothes, hair pulled back in its high ponytail, and Sakaguchi stands beside her in his customary suit—also aiming a gun level with Dazai’s forehead.

“Drop your weapon,” Tsujimura repeats. “Release Nakahara and step back.”

“What the hell is going on?” Chuuya demands, looking back and forth between Tsujimura and Sakaguchi, who he could have sworn was just a normal accountant. Of course he isn’t.

Dazai’s grip loosens marginally on Chuuya’s wrist, his lower lip jutting in a faux pout. “Aw, but I didn’t even get the chance to put out my offer.”

“Dazai,” Sakaguchi says, tone low and flat in a way Chuuya’s never from him heard before. “Don’t make me kill you.”

A dark, furious look flits across Dazai’s face so fast Chuuya almost misses it, but it’s quickly gone. What’s left is that same, infuriating smile, jagged at the edges. “Really, Ango? So even our long and intricate history isn’t worth more than the Arahabaki.”

The ringing that fills Chuuya’s head at the sound of that name is instantaneous. He lets out a furious snarl and urges Tainted forth, prepared to make Dazai fold in on himself until he spills out the answers Chuuya wants to hear—only his ability doesn’t come.

It cuts off where Dazai’s fingers loop around his wrist, and a chilling realization cuts through him as Dazai’s bleak eyes meet his.

“Finally figured it out, did you?” He asks, and suddenly the hard press of the gun into Chuuya’s stomach feels far more real.

There’s no time to let himself freeze up in a situation like this. Chuuya automatically twists, wrenching his arm from Dazai’s grasp and planting a booted foot in his gut. Dazai goes flying back into the alley with a choked cough.

The gun goes off in the same instant. Chuuya’s ability flares to life in a wave of red that forces Tsujimura and Sakaguchi to their knees, and he throws the flattened bullet to the ground with enough force to crack it.

Dazai slowly climbs to his feet with a groan, spitting out a mouthful of blood and saliva. Chuuya bares his teeth, tempted to beat answers out of him this very moment but unwilling to turn his back on Tsujimura and Sakaguchi. Government employees. They must be. He represses a shudder. All those years spent avoiding them and they turn up right under his nose, masquerading as people he trusted. Ironic, how many times he’s fallen for such a similar trick.

Never again, he promises himself.

“Urgh,” Dazai coughs. “You really are as strong as they say.”

“I’m going to give you three seconds to start talking,” Chuuya warns, looking back and forth between Dazai and the other two. “Explain. Now.”

Dazai wipes the blood from his chin with the back of his hand. When he grins, his teeth are tinted red. “Dazai Osamu. Port Mafia boss.”

The rage that blinded Chuuya before returns with a vengeance. He steps towards Dazai, earth trembling beneath his feet, but Dazai points at Tsujimura and Sakaguchi and confirms what Chuuya’s already figured out.

“And those two were the government agents assigned to observe you, determine your level of threat, and dispose of you if necessary. Can’t have unstable experiments running around the streets of Yokohama, you know. Working in coffee shops.”

“Chuuya,” Tsujimura says quickly as she tries to raise her head, but Chuuya’s so angry he can’t help but double down the force of gravity keeping her on her knees. Beside her, Sakaguchi grunts, sweat dripping down his forehead.

He can feel himself trembling, the betrayal and fury morphing into a different kind of overwhelming oppression. It would be very easy to let gravity snap their necks.

And why shouldn’t he? It’s what Chuuya did to every person who came after him before, back in Suribachi when the only things he had were the clothes on his back and the fear associated with his name.

Nearly every person.

Chuuya jerks his fingernails out from where they’re digging into his palms and lets out an unsteady exhale. Tsujimura and Sakaguchi gasp as the weight dissipates, slumping forward like marionettes with their strings cut.

“Go,” Chuuya says as they slowly stand, limbs still shaking. “Now.”

He doesn’t want to hear the excuses they’ll make that will only sound like further dehumanization. He might really end up killing them if they try. He already knows what he is.

“Chuuya,” Tsujimura begins, eyes pleading. “It wasn’t all...like that. Yes, it was my job, but I still—”

Sakaguchi cuts her off with a hand on her shoulder and a wordless shake of his head. Tsujimura presses her lips together reluctantly.

“I’m sorry,” Sakaguchi says quietly over his shoulder as he leads her away. His eyes dart between both Dazai and Chuuya as he says it.

Dazai laughs. “Ango says ‘I’m sorry’ a lot. It gets old after a while.”

“I don’t care,” Chuuya tells Sakaguchi numbly, though he does.

And then it’s just him and Dazai left there in the mouth of the alley, the golden sunset bleeding into a deep, burnt orange. Chuuya should kill him. It was their plan, years ago. Kill the boss of the Port Mafia. Kill everyone else who remains loyal to it.

He doesn’t.

“Well,” Dazai says lightly. He picks up his fallen gun from the floor and tucks it back under his coat. “I can see you have some thinking to do.”

Chuuya stares down at his hands. They’re shaking again, like they were years ago when it was Shirase’s neck on the line. Dazai holds out a small square of paper.

He takes the business card and studies it without really reading it. Dazai nods at him. “I know this is all very abrupt, but your presence in this city is very noticeable, Nakahara. Give me a call when you’re ready. The Port Mafia will protect you when you’re ready to protect it.”

“I don’t need to be protected,” Chuuya replies hollowly. “I can protect myself.”

Dazai shrugs. “Peace of mind.”

Chuuya blinks once, twice. “What?”

“It can give you peace of mind,” Dazai repeats. “What kind of people do you think the mafia houses?”

Chuuya swallows, shoving his hands into his pocket. The paper clenched in his fist crumples. “You tried to shoot me.”

Dazai gives him a lopsided grin. “And yet here you are.”

Chuuya closes his eyes. “Just get out of here.”

He doesn’t open them again until Dazai’s footsteps fade out of range. The final vestiges of warmth from the sun trickle away as the light fades from auburn to violet. It’s too dark to see much by the time Chuuya finally takes the card from his pocket and smooths out the creases.

 

And in another, they’re—

 

—nothing but shifting rubble, leaking gas pipes, a high, empty whistle that pierces the deathly silent air as the thing sobs and sobs in the middle of a crater that must be a hundred kilometers wide, as wide as the entire earth itself. Its small, bleeding hands curl around a spray of shattered glass and slimy green water as it pushes itself to its feet, cries growing louder as shards pierce through the skin of its feet.

It doesn’t understand. It doesn’t understand anything at all, it doesn’t know itself.

It only knows the liquid cutting clean trails down its grimy face and the hollow ache in its belly, but there’s nothing to put in it, there’s nothing else that’s alive.

The world is quiet. Everything hangs in the air in the aftermath of the roaring explosion, still in a ringing sort of way that somehow muffles all other noise. Even its own sounds are drowned out by that awful silence.

It must stand there for hours, days, weeks, maybe—glass digging into its soft heels as it gasps and wetness trickles down its face until its throat is sore and aching. And when there’s nothing left to squeeze out and its face is dry, it sits down and picks the sharp needles out of itself with its bare hands. It causes—an unpleasant feeling—but the feeling is stronger with the shards digging in as it walks, so it continues to do it. By the time its feet are red and crusted, the sounds coming from its throat have left it sore and raspy.

Something—desire, though it doesn’t know the name for it yet—eventually drives it to the edge of the crater. The need for something that will ease the dryness of its mouth and cool its burning throat is suddenly the most important thing in the world.

The shimmering, lapping surface beyond the crater reminds it of the cool, dark depths where it had lived before, but it tastes like salt and dribbles right back out of its mouth as its stomach turns. It drinks it anyway, sucking in huge mouthfuls. Then it lays there beside it, wide-eyed and gasping as its vision swirls and the air starts to glisten with things that aren’t really there when it reaches for them.

It staggers back into the crater as the world spins around it, earth upheaving and churning like moving water. The footprints it leaves behind sink three inches deep into broken concrete and packed dirt. It feels like another explosion is roaring in its ears.

It moans, blinks its eyes and rubs them hard, and suddenly the earth stills. Far out in the crater, standing in the newly created desert plain, are two figures.

Alive, it thinks, somehow able to grasp the concept of living beings though everything else escapes it,  and then it blinks again and they’re gone. It lets out a wail—being alone in the silence fills it with a bad feeling, a sick feeling—

It sinks to its knees and keeps sinking. Dirt begins to spill over its legs. It’s descending somewhere, disappearing. The bad feeling returns and it gasps, shaking and cold all over— 

Something closes around its arm and the trembling stops. The sinking stops. It spits out a mouthful of dirt and looks up.

A small thing—a creature the size of itself—squats over it, fingers gripping its arm. Beside it is a much larger creature with a slick black curtain falling to its shoulders and a hungry glint in its gaze.

“You’re safe now,” the small thing says blandly. It doesn’t know what those sounds mean, but it does know that sounds mean the thing is alive. Not dead.

It jerks its arm back from the small thing and floats itself out of the hole it created. Then it experimentally touches the small thing’s hand again, and the rumbling presence inside it quiets. The small thing stares down at its hand unreadably before withdrawing its own. The rumbling presence shudders back to life and it desperately reaches for the small thing again.

“Now, now.” The sounds come from the larger thing this time. It has a pleasant look. A pleased look. “I asked you to accommodate me, Dazai-kun.”

The small thing’s eyes flash with some strong emotion, but it doesn’t say anything at all. Instead it slowly holds out its hand again. It grabs it like a lifeline. It hardly notices as they lead it away, out of the crater, out of the too-still world.

It’s too busy marveling at the quiet.

 

In another—

 

In another universe they’re nothing and no one at all because Chuuya is the corpse of a seven-year-old boy, and the day he meets Dazai is the day Dazai stands above Arthur Rimbaud’s cooling body.

He can feel his grip on reality fading as Arthur shudders his final breath and Chuuya loses the only companion he’s ever had. The boy, the teenager—Dazai—places two fingers on Arthur’s neck. His expression is flat. He doesn’t even look at Chuuya.

Thank you, Chuuya sighs anyway as his last sliver of consciousness fades. Dazai, who is already turning away to instruct the cleaning crew on where to dispose of their bodies, doesn’t hear him.

 

And another—

 

“Former Mafia Executive Dazai Osamu,” Chuuya addresses him formally through gritted teeth, like Dazai doesn’t know exactly who he is. “Nakahara Chuuya, member of the Hunting Dogs. On the criminal charges of complicity in 136 murders, 312 cases of extortion, and 625 cases of fraud, along with various and sundry other crimes, you’re under arrest.”

Dazai, the bastard, just laughs at him.

 

And another—

 

“Hey, you,” Chuuya says haltingly, the words tangling in his mouth. It’s only been a few months since he woke up, and language is still difficult. “You lost?”

The boy who clearly does not belong here blinks, startled, before he notices Chuuya hunched in his corner. He runs a hand through his brown hair and shrugs. “A little.”

“Oh,” Chuuya says, and doesn’t say anything else. He isn’t confident enough with his speech to offer directions out of the city.

“Can you help me?” The boy prompts, frowning. Chuuya opens his mouth—hesitates—

 

And another—

 

“Freedoooooooom!” Dazai screeches at the top of his lungs as he hurtles down the cereal aisle in a grocery cart. The on-duty manager shouts and stomps towards them, red-faced and angry.

Chuuya, who’d initiated the idea, might come to regret it in a few seconds, but right now he’s too busy clutching his sides and wheezing.

 

And another—

 

“I can’t believe you’re dating Dazai,” Chuuya’s roommate Akutagawa says, nose wrinkled up in disgust. “Didn’t he try to swallow chemicals in lab last week?”

“It turns out it really was only sugar, not potassium cyanide,” Chuuya grumbles, adjusting his tie in their mirror. “And ugh. Don’t remind me.”

 

And another—

 

“Tell Dazai that if he doesn’t get his punk ass up for school in the next two minutes, I’m going to murder him,” Chuuya growls as he shoves his notebooks into his backpack. “It’s embarrassing to keep having to ask the bus driver to wait!”

“Dazai, get your punk ass up for school!” Kouyou yells up the stairs without taking her eyes off her phone. She’s been glued to it ever since she met that Yosano girl last Friday.

“I feel sick!” Comes Dazai’s muffled voice from their shared bedroom. “Ugh, Chuuya, I think I’m gonna puke on your sheets—”

Chuuya’s eyes bulge. “Fucker! You better not—”

“Blurghehgh—”

 

And another—

 

“Oh shit,” Dazai mutters, face falling.  That’s never a good sign, especially after a mission when they’re both tired and bruised and weary. In the doorway behind him, Chuuya cranes his neck to see into the room. His stomach drops in horror.

“Dazai,” he says slowly. “I’m going to kill you. You planned this.”

Dazai’s face twists with disgust. “Like I would ever plan for this.”

Maybe he wouldn’t, but that does not change the fact that there is only one goddamn bed.

 

And another—

 

“...I don’t want Gin to be Dazai’s protege,” Akutagawa Ryuunosuke whispers, tugging on Chuuya’s sleeve with a pale, bony hand. Chuuya grimaces at the fingers wrapped around his arm and remembers a time when he used to be that frail.

“I’m sorry,” he tells the boy apologetically. Akutagawa looks at him with wide, ghostly eyes. “It’s not really up to me. Dazai technically outranks me. He chose Gin, I get you.”

“But will he hurt her?” Akutagawa asks pleadingly. His hand tightens more insistently around Chuuya’s wrist. Chuuya looks at this sickly, vulnerable child, and decides how best to lie to him.

 

And another—

 

—never felt grief like this before, never even knew what grief was until this moment, but she’s drowning and gasping and clutching his arm as the bubble of blood bursts in her mouth, painting her lips red—

Chuuya cries and screams and begs but it doesn’t bring her back. When Dazai finally shows up, Oda Sakunosuke in tow, she’s already dead. There is loss in Dazai’s eyes, but he never loved Kouyou like Chuuya did. No one ever loved Kouyou like Chuuya did, and no one will ever love him like her.

 

And another—

 

“Your ability is what makes you feel inhuman, is it not?” Fyodor Dostoyevsky asks. Chuuya stares down at his bruised, blackened hands and remains silent.

The white-faced man smiles, his mouth slit like a viper’s. “I have a proposal for you.”

He’s too exhausted to do anything more than listen.

 

And another—

 

The several long years that pass after Rimbaud and Verlaine are caught and detained are much the same as the first seven. He emerges from the floating stillness as a twelve-year-old weapon, with full control over Arahabaki and little control over himself.

 

And another—

 

“You,” Chuuya gasps, pointing a finger. “You’re the one from the cafe! You stole my order!”

The kid grimaces down at the now empty cup. “Ah, no wonder it tasted like crap.”

 

And another—

 

“Subject A5157, deceased. Subject A5158—






—deceased. Subject A5159—”

 

And another—

 

“I love you,” Dazai whispers into Chuuya’s hair the next morning. Chuuya keeps his eyes closed and smiles.

 

And in another universe—

 

Chuuya shuts the Book.

The inked words sear themselves into his mind, sharp and agonizing and filled with burning want that threatens to overwhelm him, but he won’t—can’t—let them. He’s the face of the mafia now, the figurehead. He can’t fall apart, even if every horrible, manipulative thing Dazai’s ever done is enough to push him to it.

The vivid flashes of—past memory? consciousness?—that lingered as he’d read carve an open, aching hole in his chest. He wants to burn the damn thing, tear it to shreds and scream why him? Why was it always him? Because no matter what, Oda Sakunosuke would always die. Dazai would always uncap his pen and rewrite reality again.

Until now.

What a selfish, awful man Dazai had been.

If his hands shake, no one will ever know. Chuuya tucks the Book under his coat where he can no longer see Dazai’s familiar scrawl on its stark white pages and swears he will never open it.

A crowd is drawing near the base of the building, blocking the bloody sight from view; Atsushi and Akutagawa emerge from its doors, white-faced and withdrawn, haggard and drenched with death.

Atsushi catches sight of Chuuya and begins to hurry towards him, but Chuuya stops him with a hand. If he gets close enough he’ll be able to see the misplaced shame written across Chuuya’s face, the humiliation, the fact that Dazai brought his hand down on page after page even when they were happy. He’ll be able to feel the minor tremors in the ground that start from Chuuya’s feet and rumble outwards towards the body on the street.

He thinks he might cry, but in truth, this Dazai is undeserving of his tears.

Instead he grips the Book and breathes. An ambulance wails around the corner, but it’s obviously too late. It ended the moment Dazai’s skull cracked against the pavement but the world is still spinning and Chuuya is obliged to continue with it.

A shudder escapes him and suddenly he can’t bring himself to look anymore. He turns away, shaking. He’s seen unspeakable gore, has been the cause of death more devastating than this, but Dazai’s face, smashed by gravity that Chuuya couldn’t save him from—

It’s funny, he thinks as grief swells up to choke him, as they scrape the shattered body off the concrete, that the man who wanted so badly to die lived in every universe but one.