Q kicks their legs, sitting in a plastic chair in the hallway with an ice pack pressed to the bruise on their cheek and their doll held tight against their chest. The girl in the next chair over keeps looking at them with worried eyes, making the hairs on the back of their neck prickle. Although they're in the same class, Q has never spoken to her.
She just broke another kid's nose for Q, though, so they feel like they should say something.
Both Q and the girl are sitting outside the principal's office, waiting for their respective guardians to come in from work and discuss the punishments they'll be receiving for fighting. If Q's father was the one forced to leave the office for something like this, Q would be far more worried. But they're living with their brother now, so they have no idea what to expect.
"Chuuya-nii-chan!" the girl cheers, and Q's head jerks up as someone comes running down the hall. Though Q doesn’t recognize him, he has the same curly red hair as the girl in the other chair. His eyes lock on her as soon as she calls out, and he’s quickly kneeling in front of her with a worried expression.
"Are you okay, Aya?" he asks her, which Q thinks is really a silly question considering how easily she'd broken that boy's nose earlier. The nurse hadn't even needed to give her an ice pack. The girl, Aya, nods and Chuuya sighs in relief. "What happened?"
"Shotaro-kun took away Kyusaku-kun's doll, and I asked him to give it back," she explains in a huff, gesturing to Q.
Chuuya glances at Q briefly, looking him up and down before looking back to Aya. "...Okay, so where did the fighting part come in?"
"Oh, Shotaro-kun told me to go away and play with the other girls since girls can't be heroes, so I punched him in the face really hard," she says proudly.
Q summons up the energy to add, "The nurse said you broke his nose.”
Aya’s beaming. Chuuya snorts and quickly ducks his head to avoid laughing out loud.
“Well, that’s...pfft...that’s bad, okay?” He looks back up, eyes glittering in a way that betrays his serious expression. “You shouldn’t hit people unless they hit you first, even if they’re, y’know...”
“Assholes?” Aya supplies helpfully, and Q’s eyes widen in shock.
Chuuya winces visibly. “I was going to say annoying, but, yeah. You haven’t been using that kind of language around your teachers, right?”
“Only around you,” she chirps. Chuuya hangs his head.
“Well, you’re not supposed to be cursing at all, y’know,” he points out. She shrugs, unrepentant.
Q tries to imagine what would happen if they were to shrug at their father telling them not to do something and shudders.
Chuuya gets to his feet in a single graceful motion. “Well, I guess I’m gonna go talk to your principal,” he sighs, running a hand through long red hair. “Stay here, okay?” Aya nods, and Chuuya vanishes into the principal’s office.
Silence drops over Q and Aya once more. Q swings their legs in the chair again.
Chuuya starts to yell, voice muffled by the walls. Q can’t tell what he’s saying, but it makes them nervous anyway.
Aya glances over at Q. “My name’s Aya,” she says, seeming as uncomfortable with the silence as Q feels. “You are Kyusaku-kun, right?”
Q still doesn’t quite know how to approach this girl yet, so they offer her a smile and a nod.
That seems to encourage her to keep chattering away. “Oh, good! I was worried I gave Chuuya-nii-chan the wrong name! Y’know, since you just moved here and all.” She crosses her arms, face growing angry again. “I can’t believe Shotaro-kun! Picking on the new kid like that and all. I’m not sharing my lunch with him ever again!” That earns a giggle out of Q, and she smiles at them. “Oh, does your doll have a name?”
Q glances down at the doll in their arms, slightly tattered from the scuffle earlier. It was an old toy their brother abandoned long before they were even born. Q found it buried in his closet after he left home and latched onto it. If it had a name before, nobody remembered it, and Q never felt the need to give it a new one.
They shake their head. Aya seems surprised by this. “I name all my dolls. They sleep in bed with me to keep me safe from monsters. It’s kinda silly, but...” She shakes her head. “You’re never too old for dolls!”
Q blinks at her, face brightening. They really want to say something, but they’re interrupted by their brother’s voice as he walks down the hallway.
“Okay, okay, one second,” he says into his phone, raising his free hand as if to pacify whoever is on the other end of the line. “Lemme check in with Q and I’ll get right back to you.” He sighs and hangs up the phone. He turns to Q, giving him a thumbs up and a questioning look.
Q returns the thumbs up hesitantly. “Good,” their brother says, and turns to go into the room, but Aya grabs onto his sleeve to stop him.
“Are you Kyusaku-kun’s dad?” she asks.
His eyes widen in mock horror. “No, no, I’m nowhere near that old. I’m their older brother. Dazai Osamu, at your service.” He sweeps into an extravagant bow, but Aya gives him a dubious look.
“You don’t have the same last name,” she points out.
“Ah, yes,” Dazai muses, “I suppose we don’t. The reason for that is...a secret.” He winks at her.
She stares at him, unimpressed.
After a rather awkward moment, Dazai shifts. “Well, as pleased as I am to meet such a lovely young lady, I’m afraid I have other obligations.” He edges towards the door. “See you two soon, alright?”
Q waves to him, and he vanishes into the room. The yelling abruptly goes silent.
Aya blinks, surprised by the sudden silence. Q just waits. Nobody ever yelled in their old household – they never needed to. Clearly their brother took that lesson to heart.
“...Did something happen?” Aya finally questions aloud.
Q shrugs. “I think they’re taking care of it.”
Aya frowns at the door but doesn’t say anything more. She must be worried about being punished, no matter her earlier bravado.
Dazai and Chuuya come walking out of the office a few minutes later. “Time to go home, kiddo,” Dazai says, and Q gets to their feet, waving goodbye to Aya.
Dazai and Chuuya exchange a look Q can’t read as Aya says, “Goodbye, Kyusaku-kun!”
Q smiles at her as Dazai puts a hand on their back, leading them away.
one month prior
Chuuya had just pulled on his “pajamas” (a too-big T-shirt he stole from Dazai and a pair of worn sweatpants) when his phone buzzed with a new message. He sighed. If it was bullshit, he fully intended to ignore it and go to bed. He was too tired.
It was a message from Dazai. Can I come over?
Chuuya frowned at the screen. now?
Yes. If that’s okay. The reply was instantaneous, which worried Chuuya more.
ofc, he answered. do i need to call?
Dazai left the message on read — he hated phone calls — so Chuuya just sighed and set his phone down. He had nothing to do with the sudden burst of nervous energy the conversation gave him, so in lieu of pacing restlessly, he started tidying up his disaster of an apartment in anticipation of Dazai’s visit.
Dazai arrived about fifteen minutes later, and Chuuya narrowly avoided tripping on the edge of an end table in his rush to get to the door. He unlocked it and leaned on the doorframe, shoulders relaxing slightly when he caught sight of Dazai visibly unharmed. “Hey,” he said softly.
“Nice shirt,” Dazai responded. He was looking everywhere but at Chuuya in the way he always did when he was exhausted or stressed, so Chuuya tossed out the “hot chocolate and talk about it” plan in favor of swooping Dazai into a bridal carry (Dazai yelped, Chuuya ignored it) and carrying him into the house, shutting the door with his foot. He dropped Dazai onto his bed and then climbed in next to him, holding him close.
Dazai laid there stiffly for a moment, but Chuuya started to run a hand up and down his back and he relaxed in a single shaking breath. He buried his entire face in Chuuya’s shoulder wordlessly, and Chuuya thought maybe that would be the end of it, Dazai coming to sleep in Chuuya’s bed fully clothed just because he needed the comfort.
“I am about to make a very bad decision,” Dazai announced, muffled, into Chuuya’s shoulder.
“Oh?” Chuuya’s eyebrows rose, but he kept his voice calm. “What’re you planning?”
Dazai took another slow breath. “M...Mori’s in jail. Apparently.”
“Fuckin’ finally,” Chuuya said before he could stop himself. It earned him a snort from Dazai. “How long?”
“Long enough,” Dazai answered. He didn’t say anything more.
After another long period of silence, Chuuya spoke up again. “...So? What’s the bad decision?”
“I am going to take in a child.” Dazai went unnaturally still again, anticipating Chuuya’s reaction.
Chuuya frowned at the wall behind Dazai’s head, confused. “...A child?”
“My younger sibling,” Dazai clarified, “Kyusaku. They’re about Aya’s age, actually.”
“And you’re going to take them in?” It came out ruder than Chuuya meant, but it was impossible for him to wrap his head around Dazai, who had avoided meeting Aya the entire time he and Chuuya had been dating for fear he’d mess up somehow, suddenly jumping at the chance to adopt a child her age.
“I have to,” Dazai defended quietly, and Chuuya’s frown deepened.
“Nobody else can do it?”
“I... they can, technically,” Dazai admitted, “but the other people who have a legal right to Kyusaku aren’t people who would be good to Kyusaku, and...” He fell silent again, his next words coming out in a stilted whisper. “I want them to have. Something better.”
Oh , Chuuya thought. That’s why . For Dazai, it was a matter of saving someone from what he went through, of being the person he needed when he was Kyusaku’s age.
Dazai laughed at himself, a bit harshly, and started to shift away from Chuuya. “It’s probably stupid, though. I can’t take care of a kid, I can barely—”
“I think you’d be a kickass big brother, if you put your mind to it,” Chuuya interrupted. Dazai paused mid-movement, hesitating. “And it’s not like you’d be doing it alone, anyway. I get Aya for nine months a year, remember? I can help you out if you need advice or need to drop Q off for a while.”
“I’ll fuzz it up,” Dazai said.
“You won’t,” Chuuya responded easily. “You know what not to do, you know what you needed and what they’ll need, you’ll be fine.” Dazai was silent. “Can you feed them, though?”
That stole a surprised laugh out of Dazai. “I can try to learn,” he said. “No promises, though. We may have to be take-out buddies.”
“Disgusting,” Chuuya said, shifting so he was close enough to press a kiss to Dazai’s jaw. “You have to cook for the kid.”
“Kyusaku will prefer take-out to anything I can provide,” Dazai promised, rolling back over to face Chuuya again. “You’ll see.”
“No, you’ll see,” Chuuya challenged. “I’ll make a family cook out of you yet.”
Dazai hummed and tucked himself closer to Chuuya. “Chuuya sure likes to give himself impossible challenges. Don’t you remember when I burned microwave ramen that time?”
“Improvement is always possible,” Chuuya said firmly, pressing a kiss to the top of Dazai’s head and wrapping an arm around his back again. “But in the morning. You caught me when I was about to sleep, y’know.” Dazai froze and started to pull away, but Chuuya just held him in place. “That means you’re stuck with me for the night.”
Dazai relaxes and lets out a breathy laugh that tickled Chuuya’s neck. “At least let me get ready for bed. You didn’t even give me the chance to take my shoes off before dragging me in here, you absolute heathen.”
“Fiiine,” Chuuya whined, and reluctantly let Dazai go. He hauled himself to his feet and went to turn off the apartment lights while Dazai got ready for bed, then returned to his room and dragged out the seventeen thousand extra blankets that Dazai always demanded at night to keep warm even though it was summer and he always spent the entire night curled up against Chuuya anyway. By the time Dazai returned, properly ready for bed, Chuuya was face-down on top of the covers.
Dazai laid down on top of Chuuya lengthwise.
“God, you’re so fucking bony,” Chuuya huffed with a laugh, easily rolling over to slide Dazai off.
“Your feet don’t come down to my knees when I lay on top of you,” Dazai answered, landing spread-eagled on his back and staying there.
“Bullshit,” Chuuya said. “Go to sleep.”
“Okay, okay,” Dazai sang. “Chuuya gets grumpy when he’s tired.”
Chuuya just rolled his eyes and climbed under the covers, reaching over to shut off the bedside lamp. Dazai crawled in as well, settling in with his head on Chuuya’s shoulder and an arm tossed over Chuuya’s stomach. Their legs were tangled together, and as Chuuya pressed another sleepy kiss to Dazai’s head he thought, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
“Love you,” Chuuya murmured, closing his eyes.
Dazai let out a soft breath. “Love you too.”
As soon as Q is squared away in bed, Dazai flops facedown on the couch and makes a phone call, dropping the phone close enough to his ear that he’ll be able to hear when the other end picks up.
There’s two rings and a click. “Hello?”
Dazai rolls onto his side, presses the phone to his ear, and takes a deep inhale. “Odasakuuuuu—” he begins to whine, dragging out the vowel as long as he can.
Oda, bless him, simply waits patiently for Dazai to run out of air and fall silent before asking, “Yes?”
Dazai catches his breath, trying to decide how to ask the question in his head. “You’re a teacher, right?”
“I’m...yes, I’m a teacher?” Oda sounds confused, which Dazai supposes is fair. It’s a silly question. “You know that, I taught your Japanese literature class. Twice.”
“Yes, yes, I remember,” Dazai says impatiently. “So...you’re pretty good at understanding your students, you think?”
It’s another rhetorical question – if Oda hadn’t been so empathetic, he would have never reached out to Dazai in the first place. Oda seems to be catching on to this, and agrees, “I certainly try to be.”
“Then...” Dazai sighs, and rolls onto his back to stare at the ceiling. One of his arms hangs off the couch, fingers brushing the floor. “How do you know if one of your students is being bullied?”
Oda falls silent for a moment, thinking about this. “...Is this about Kyusaku-kun?”
“No,” Dazai says immediately, and then, “Yes.” He drapes his free arm over his eyes. “Apparently Q’s been having trouble with other kids since I put them in school, basically. Nearly a month of it, and I didn’t find out until another student stepped in.”
“They didn’t say anything?”
“Not a word!” Dazai huffs. “They’ve been normal, laughing and causing chaos and asking for way more sweets than any kid could possibly eat.” Oda chuckles at that. “How was I supposed to know?”
Oda hums. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, you’re not the first parent to...”
Dazai feels a wave of revulsion slam into him, and he sits up straight and interrupts, “I’m not Q’s father.”
“Well, guardian, then,” Oda agrees easily, and Dazai settles just a bit. “You’re not the first guardian to find out too late that something’s wrong in his kid’s life. It doesn’t mean you love them any less.”
“Still, I should have known something was wrong,” Dazai mutters. Not even a month in and he’s already failing miserably to do anything of worth for Q.
“The only way you’ll have complete control over everything that happens to Kyusaku-kun is if you stay with them at school all day every day,” Oda points out. “You can’t be perfect. All you can do is give them the space to come to you when they have a problem.”
Dazai falls quiet for a minute. Oda’s probably right, but it doesn’t make Dazai feel like any less of a failure. He doesn’t feel like talking about it anymore, so he pastes on a smile Oda can’t see and chirps, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Hey, is that husband of yours around?”
Oda sighs, obviously noticing the evasion. “Yes, he’s here. I’ll put you on speaker so you can say hi.”
There’s a few moments of rustling before another voice comes through the line. “Hello, Dazai-kun.”
“Hi, Sakaguchi-san,” Dazai sings.
Ango rises to the bait immediately. “I shouldn’t have to tell you this, since you attended the wedding, but that’s not my last name anymore.”
Dazai grins. Bless Ango for always taking Dazai at face value. Makes life much easier. “Yeah, and I told you at the wedding that I’m not gonna stop calling you that ‘till you tell me how you proposed.”
Ango’s annoyed sigh is audible over the phone. “I don’t know how many times I have to...it’s embarrassing and I’m not spreading it around.”
“Well, then, better get used to—”
Oda interrupts Dazai with a firm voice. “I don’t mind you derailing conversations when you’re uncomfortable with the subject, but I’d rather you didn’t do it by antagonizing my husband.”
Dazai goes abruptly silent, feeling heat crawl up his neck. It’s so difficult to upset Oda that every time Dazai manages to do it, he ends up feeling worse than ever.
Oda sighs and takes the phone off speaker, murmuring something to Ango that Dazai can’t make out. There’s rustling and the sound of a door opening before Oda speaks again. “Do you want to finish talking about Kyusaku-kun, or was there something else you had in mind?”
“I don’t know,” Dazai mutters into the phone, ignoring the vicious desire to tear into Oda to make him give up the issue. It won’t work anyway.
“You said Chuuya was helping you out with this, right?” Oda confirms, and Dazai makes a vaguely affirmative noise. “What does he have to say about it?”
“All the same stuff as you,” Dazai mutters petulantly. “I just need to give Q time and space and they’ll come around, or whatever.”
“Well, there you go,” Oda says. “There’s really nothing you can do that’ll force Kyusaku-kun to open up to you. That’s not a failure of your guardianship skills, it’s just a fact of raising children. Try giving them the same patience you needed when you were their age and see how things work out.”
And that’s the answer Dazai was looking for, wasn’t it? He’d set out to be the person he needed at Q’s age, but this whole business with the bullying swept him off course. “Right,” Dazai murmurs. “I...I’ll do my best.”
“I know,” Oda says. “I’m sure you’re already doing well. Get some sleep.”
Dazai huffs. “You’re not my dad,” he responds, which is a lie and they both know it.
Oda just chuckles. “Goodnight,” he says firmly.
“Goodnight,” Dazai answers, and then, “Thank you.” He hangs up the line before Oda can respond and wanders off to go get ready for bed.
Dazai jerks awake as Q cries out from down the hall. Silence sweeps in after the sound, leaving him awkwardly half-out of bed with his blankets tossed aside. They had a nightmare , he realizes, and his brain kicks into high gear. Do I have to go comfort them? I never did before. They might not even want it. I could just go back to bed. Would that make me a bad caretaker? Hell, I’m already a bad caretaker, just look at what happened today. Do I really want to make this worse? What would I even do to help? Do I—
A dial tone rings clear and quiet in his bedroom, and Dazai realizes belatedly that he’s somehow picked up his phone and called Chuuya. He waits, holding the phone to his ear like a lifeline.
A click and a rustle of blankets. "Dazai, it's nearly two in the morning," Chuuya answers, voice rough with sleep, and Dazai is so relieved he nearly cries. "What—"
"I can't do this," Dazai interrupts. "I don't know what to do, I don’t know why I thought I could do this, I can't..."
There’s another rustle as Chuuya sits up in bed. "You were doing just fine earlier. What could have possibly changed between then and now?"
"I—nightmare." Words have evidently left Dazai, but Chuuya understands either way.
"Yours or theirs?"
"Q's. I don't...what do I...?"
"Well, that depends on them. Go in and check on them, see what they need."
"But what do you do?"
"What do I...oh." Chuuya laughs a bit at himself. "Warm milk and cuddles usually puts Aya right to sleep. Sometimes she'll come to my bed, but not as often as she used to."
Dazai considers this. "...Is it too late at night to give them cookies?" he asks. "They really like sweets..."
"If you think that'll help," Chuuya replies, voice a mix of sleepy and encouraging that somehow puts Dazai at ease. "They're your sibling, you know them better than me. Good luck, okay? Love you."
"Love you too," Dazai murmurs quietly. They exchange goodbyes and hang up, and Dazai realizes he's been frozen in the same position since he was first shaken awake. He stretches the stiffness out of his legs and stands, making his way to Q's room.
The soft sound of Q crying echoes through the hall and Dazai once more feels terrifically out of his depth, but he steels himself and approaches, knocking softly on Q's door. He hears Q's breath hitch, but there's no response. "Can I come in?"
Q stays silent for a long moment while Dazai regrets his existence for the trillionth time, but they eventually hum an agreement. Dazai opens the door slowly to find Q curled up on the bed, head between their knees, covers kicked away and spilling onto the floor. Dazai reels for something to say, but before he can speak they mutter a "sorry".
Dazai blinks. "Ah...for waking me up?" A small nod. Dazai waves a hand. "Don't worry, nightmares aren't really something you can control." No response. "...Wanna come out to the kitchen? Things might be less scary with a little more light," he offers. There's another beat, but Q finally, slowly uncurls themself and gets to their feet, grabbing for their doll before following Dazai out of their room.
Dazai flicks on the lights hanging over the counter, lighting the room with a dim glow, and Q settles in on a barstool. They put their head down on the counter, giving Dazai a moment to shoot Chuuya a frantic HOW LONG DO I MICROWAVE MILK text and get a reply (like a minute lmao) before heating up a glass of milk and some packaged chocolate chip cookies. He sets it all down in front of Q, who sniffles and lifts their head up to look at it.
"...Is it okay to have sweets this late?" they ask.
"I won't tell the police if you don't," Dazai responds flippantly, settling down on another barstool.
Q stares at the cookies for another long moment. "I already brushed my teeth."
Dazai pauses. That is a conundrum, indeed. "You could...brush them again, when the cookies are done?"
Q looks as put off by the idea as Dazai feels, but their sweet tooth wins out over their need for routine and they take a bite out of a cookie.
Dazai leans on his elbows against the counter, affording Q a few moments of silence before asking, "Would you like to talk about it?"
Q blinks up at him. "About what?" they try to ask, but their mouth is full of cookie so it comes out mostly unintelligible.
"About the nightmare," Dazai answers anyway. "It might make you feel better.” Q is silent for a long moment, and Dazai starts to wonder if the offer just upset them further. “You don’t have to if you—“
“I dreamt Father came to pick me up today,” Q interrupts, hands firmly in their lap. “Instead of you.”
“Ah.” Yeah, Dazai can see how that might drive Q to tears. “Well, he didn’t. And he won’t. You’re not going to have to worry about him any more.”
“And you aren’t mad,” Q says quietly.
“I’m not mad,” Dazai confirms. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” Q doesn’t respond, which probably means they’re still worried? Dazai thinks about it and adds, “And even if I was, I wouldn’t be mean about it. Maybe I’d just cook dinner myself until you’re regretting your actions properly.”
“That would be mean,” Q says decidedly, shoving another cookie into their mouth, and Dazai laughs. There’s nothing to be done about his cooking skills, no matter what Chuuya says.
Q’s shoulders are less tense, and they aren’t so fixed on staring at their plate, so Dazai decides it’d be best to change the topic. “That Aya girl was something else, though, huh? Did she really break someone’s nose?”
Q nods. “She said she’s a hero of justice. Apparently her brother taught her karate or something.”
Or something. Dazai imagines Chuuya’s indignant face at having his dedication to aikido reduced to “karate or something” and has to suppress another laugh. “Really? Do you wanna learn too? I dunno about that brother, though…”
Q takes a contemplative sip of milk. “I think I’d be bad at it.”
“Yeah, I would too,” Dazai agrees. “I wanted to do kendo, at one point. You get to hit people with a big bamboo sword.” He shrugs. “Unfortunately, I trip over my own feet too often for martial arts.” He gives an exaggerated sigh. Q giggles, which changes into a yawn halfway through.
“D’ya wanna go back to bed?” Dazai asks. Q’s plate is empty and their milk is all but gone but they still shake their head, clutching their doll a bit tighter. Dazai sighs. He can and has made it through the day on about the same amount of sleep as Q has managed, but…
Chuuya didn’t give me a plan for this, Dazai thinks, and considers calling him again to whine at him about it, but he glances down at Q’s form huddled on the stool and realizes, Oh.
Well, I can handle a night without sleep better than Q can, anyway.
“Would it make you feel better to sleep with me?” he asks, swallowing his resignation to offer Q a smile.
Q blinks up at him. “Is that okay?”
“Sure,” Dazai answers easily. “Go brush your teeth again, if you want.” Q slips off the barstool and vanishes, leaving Dazai to rinse off their plate and cup while stressing about the night ahead.
When he gets back to his room, Q is already there, sitting on the edge of the bed and kicking their legs nervously. Dazai gets in on his own side and holds an arm out, inviting Q to snuggle in. Q clambers into bed and under the covers, gingerly laying their head on Dazai’s arm and hiding their face in his chest. They fall asleep soon afterwards, and Dazai lets out a relieved breath. He looks down at the small body tucked against him and has just enough time to think There’s no possible way I’ll be able to sleep like this before falling asleep as well.