Dazai had gotten kidnapped, because of course he had. That was simply a fact of life, as unerring as everything else: the sun would surely rise, rain would always be wet, and Dazai would kidnapped at least once a year. The fact that it happened, usually, because Dazai allowed it to, didn’t make a difference, as far as Kunikida was concerned. It still happened, throwing a wrench into all of Kunikida’s plans and ruining his schedule for the day, because of course Dazai couldn’t tell him in advance when he planned to get kidnapped.
Nor, apparently, could he tell Kunikida to schedule in a time slot for his partner to get stabbed.
“Wow!” Dazai said, eyes wide. “I didn’t know he could do that!”
And -- yes, sure, of course. Kunikida also hadn’t known that the man they were chasing could turn his arms into daggers on strings and use them to stab people from across the room. That was certainly news to him, because none of the evidence leading up to the encounter had involved knives, but the fact that Dazai didn’t know felt like an absolute lie.
“Shut up,” Kunikida said, any pretense of calm gone from his voice. “You’re bleeding out!”
“I’m sure that Kunikida-kun will save me,” Dazai said, cheerfully. His skin was paler than usual, the sickly gray of someone suffering from blood loss rather than anything romantic relating to the amount of time he spent indoors reading books about suicide. It was worrisome, but Kunikida refused to feel something like worry for Dazai. At the very least, he could pretend he didn’t feel it.
“Stop moving, you’re making it worse!” Kunikida briefly mourned the loss of his vest -- he wasn’t due to replace it for another month -- but the fabric was easy to rip, to bind around Dazai’s midsection as a bandage that had aspirations of being a tourniquet. He could hear, in the distance, the sounds of success: of Tanizaki and Kenji capturing the man responsible for Dazai’s latest near-death experience.
Spitefully, Kunikida hoped Kenji had hit the man with at least one street sign.
“Ah, it hurts,” Dazai offered, sounding as though he was contemplating which tea to order off a disappointing menu selection.
“Good,” Kunikida said, and hefted Dazai up.
A real grimace crossed Dazai’s face at the action. It was unavoidable, of course; there was no sensible way for Dazai to walk on his own, and so the best way for him to get anywhere would be for Kunikida to carry him, but that meant a considerable amount of jostling to an already wounded area.
Dazai didn’t complain, but he did turn his shutter his eyes, reaching his hand up to press down on the wound until a spark of pain crossed his expression.
“I’m taking you straight to Yosano-san,” Kunikida said.
“I’d rather die,” Dazai said, dishonestly, but made no effort to move out of Kunikida’s grasp. He just kept his hand on his wound, steady and sure, his breathing artificially deep and rhythmic.
“Maybe next time, if you rip it down the seam,” Naomi had suggested, like there would be a next time. (There would, but Kunikida preferred to pretend their wouldn’t be, as a method of coping with the dangers his partner seemed to attract like a powerful magnet.)
“Of course,” Kunikida had said, and then the first thing that he had said to Dazai on the man’s awakening was: “You owe me a new vest.”
“You’re already wearing one,” Dazai observed. He still looked to be at half-health, but the brightness in his eyes was there, that specific brand of cruel clarity that made Kunikida wonder how he’d never put together that Dazai would have been involved in the mafia on his own.
“It’s a backup,” Kunikida said.
“Then you don’t need another one!”
“No,” Kunikida said, pushing his glasses up. “I need a new backup.”
“Hm,” Dazai said, and then: “I’m broke.”
“That isn’t my problem,” Kunikida said, with the smallest amount of huff to his voice, because he knew that Dazai had spent most of his salary on pointless goods and services like alcohol and tea from pretty waitresses. He also theorized that Dazai had a startling amount of money stashed away somewhere -- his days in the Port Mafia must have been lucrative -- but Dazai seemed to have too much pride to ever touch them for anything less than a life or death matter.
Kunikida could respect that, to a point.
“Ahh, I’ll just waste away working overtime with a near-fatal wound to repay Kunikida-kun for his vest,” Dazai said, dramatically, waving an arm around to punctuate his words.
“You’re fine,” Kunikida said, standing up, because he had reports to write and he knew better than to try to write them within a ten foot radius of a bored Dazai.
“I’m traumatized,” Dazai responded, laying his hand on his forehead and sinking back against the hospital bed.
“You’re traumatizing,” Kunikida replied, and left the room.
“What,” Kunikida said, flatly, on opening the door.
“I brought your vest,” Dazai said, cheerfully, thrusting a poorly wrapped package forward and then walking in like he owned the place. Kunikida accepted the package, thought about trying to stop Dazai, and then promptly gave up the matter. There was a fraction of a chance that he might manage to make it to bed on time if he played things right.
“Thanks,” Kunikida said, cautiously, fully expecting the package to contain some garish vest that in no way resembled his normal aesthetic. When he closed the door and tugged the corner of the package open, it revealed khaki fabric; when he pulled the vest out, it was his normal cut, size, color, and manufacturer.
It would have been creepy, probably, if it had been from anyone but Dazai. As it was, it was only mildly alarming to receive such a straightforward return gift.
“It wouldn’t be fair to owe such a big debt to my partner after saving my life!” Dazai chirped, hands in his pockets as he leaned back against Kunikida’s entrance wall. He didn’t venture in any further -- which was good, he was still wearing his shoes -- but he was still a bright light in Kunikida’s vision that rendered the rest of the surroundings an unimportant greyscale.
“It isn’t a debt,” Kunikida said. He reached to push up his glasses, and then remembered he wasn’t wearing them. They were already folded and properly stored in their case on his bedside table; navigating the familiar turns of his own home was something he could do even without his full vision.
“No?” Dazai said. The smile on his face didn’t waver. It was practiced and careful, dishonest around all the edges with just enough truth that most people wouldn’t question it. “You said I owed it to you.”
“You owed me a vest because mine was destroyed,” Kunikida elaborated. “You don’t owe me anything for saving your life.”
“Hm,” Dazai said, and his eyes flickered away, dropping the contact in favor of looking at Kunikida’s kitchen with an expression that indicated he wasn’t actually seeing anything at all.
“I saved your life because you’re,” Kunikida said, his mind filling in my partner while he mentally screamed that it was too late at night to have that kind of conversation, “a member of the Agency.”
“Ahh, I see,” Dazai said, nodding gently. His glance toward Kunikida was deceptively casual, a quick glimpse out of his peripheral before he refocused on Kunikida’s cost-efficient rice cooker. “It’s the sort of thing you would do for anyone in the Agency! Kunikida-kun is a hero.”
“I’m not,” Kunikida said, folding the replacement vest over his arm and then folding the paper up to sort properly in the trash. “Any of them would do the same thing.”
There was an unfinished thought in the statement. Neither of them were willing to acknowledge it -- that Dazai would be willing to let someone die, if the prices were right, that Kunikida had once considered not going back for Atsushi, that there were score cards in play with stakes far higher than mere heroism -- and so it hung in the air, silently attacking until Dazai finally straightened back up, propelling himself off the wall with lazy grace.
“If that’s the case,” Dazai said, “thanks.”
He met Kunikida’s gaze, this time. Kunikida was one of the people who knew Dazai the best, but it was moments like these that brought into perspective exactly how little Kunikida actually knew him. He could only decipher a portion of what went through Dazai’s head at any given moment. They had trust, these days, more than the tenuous partnership they’d had in the beginning, but it still felt uneven, that Kunikida was so forthright when Dazai kept himself so hidden.
“You’re welcome,” Kunikida said, automatically.
“It’s already washed,” Dazai said, swapping topics so rapidly that Kunikida could feel himself getting tired just trying to keep up, “so you can wear it tomorrow, if you want to keep your backup your backup.”
“No,” Kunikida said, “this will be my backup now. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise.”
“I suppose not,” Dazai said, reaching for the door handle.
Kunikida reached for something to say: he found nothing. Dazai opened the door, and all Kunikida could manage was: “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Dazai didn’t reply, but offered him a smile before he let himself out into the humid Yokohama night.
“He’s getting away,” Kunikida heard himself say, and spent a few idle seconds amazed at how clear his voice was when he felt so disconnected from his body.
“Atsushi-kun will get him,” Dazai said, and it was an assurance, or maybe a promise. Dazai’s voice held no negotiability in it: it was a truth that Dazai wholeheartedly believed, and therefore it must have been right, as surely as the sun would rise.
Dazai wasn’t smiling. Kunikida could see that much, even between the static. His thoughts came in short staccato bursts as the shock settled into his system: Dazai wasn’t smiling. Kunikida was bleeding. He could see the bone of his rib cage through the blood, and he could feel his left side going numb. He twitched his fingers, and they still responded.
Kunikida looked back at Dazai, who was still staring at him with that intense expression. Kunikida thought that he could see the bare fringes of anger, restrained in the corner of Dazai’s eyes.
It was possible he was hallucinating from pain.
“What’s your schedule for the day?” Dazai asked.
“What?” Kunikida’s mind practically made an audible noise as it crashed and restarted under the weight of the question and the blood loss.
“Your schedule,” Dazai said. He was unwinding one of the bandages from his wrist, a long white strand being wound steadily into his hand. “Tell it to me. What are you going to do after this? It’s lunchtime.”
“Oh,” Kunikida said. “I didn’t think there would be an explosion.”
“What would you be doing if there wasn’t?”
“I,” Kunikida said, trying to remember. He twitched his fingers again, but he couldn’t move his arm enough to get his book. That was fine: he could see it in his mind, his own precise lettering marking out his plans for the day.
“I allowed 96 minutes for this, including transit time,” Kunikida said, and it was almost reassuring, to propel himself into a reality where he wasn’t bleeding out in the floor of an abandoned nightclub, listening to the sounds of Atsushi and Akutagawa fight each other as much as they were fighting the suspect outside. “My lunch is already in office, so it would only take me 14 minutes to eat while I began the rough draft of the report on this.”
“Did you make your lunch?” Dazai asked. The bandages were off, now; Kunikida could see the skin, paler than the rest, tiny glimpses from underneath Dazai’s coat sleeve as he reached forward to start binding them around Kunikida’s midsection.
“I bought it,” Kunikida said. “It would take too much time for me to make in the morning.” He didn’t feel it, as Dazai pressed his bandages into the wound. They sank in, the color shifting with immediacy to deep red, and Dazai’s lips pressed together harder as he started unwinding his other wrist.
“I bet you’re a terrible cook,” Dazai said.
“I can cook,” Kunikida argued, but there was no fire in it: everything seemed very far away, like he was looking at Dazai through a zoomed-out camera lense. “I’ll prove it.”
“Kunikida,” Dazai said, a note of alarm in his voice, and Kunikida thought that it was an overreaction: Kunikida was only listing to the side because it seemed like the ground was going to offer him considerably better support. It wasn’t that much of a problem.
He’d tell Dazai he was overreacting once he woke up.
“He’s awake,” Dazai chirped, chipper and loud and a hammer straight to Kunikida’s head.
Kunikida opened his eyes, annoyed. Dazai looked at him, elbows on the Agency’s hospital bed, chin propped up in his hands.
“You almost died!” Dazai said, cheerfully.
Yosano stepped over, a hand on her hip as she surveyed Kunikida. “You almost didn’t make it to me in time,” she said, glancing at the readouts on the machines. Given the steady, rhythmic beeping, Kunikida assumed that he was in a relative state of good health.
Aside from the pain.
“Ow,” Kunikida said. What he had meant to say was: “My regrets for inconveniencing you”, but it got lost somewhere in translation and never managed to take form.
“Yeah, I did what I could,” Yosano offered, “but it’s rough with that many injuries, so you’ve still got some bruises. Nothing major.”
“I see,” Kunikida said. He lifted his arm -- which responded to him like it should, being his arm -- and started to gently pat the sorest parts of his skull. He didn’t even remember getting hit in the head. Maybe it was tension.
“You’re supposed to say, ‘thank you, Dazai, for saving my life,’” Dazai said, wiggling in his chair. It made the entire bed shake, and Kunikida had to swallow an involuntary wave of nausea.
“I’m not going to stay that -- and stop shaking the bed!”
Kunikida knew it was Dazai, because Dazai was the only person who ever knocked on his door right as Kunikida was trying to get ready for bed. Everyone else respected Kunikida’s time table and sleep hygiene, and even if they didn’t, they would call first.
Kunikida opened the door regardless, because ignoring a problem like Dazai did, in fact, not make it go away.
“Here,” Dazai said, holding out what appeared to be another vest, complete with the rest of Kunikida’s normal outfit. It wasn’t wrapped, this time.
“What is this for?” Kunikida asked. He hadn’t done anything particularly worthy of repayment, lately, and certainly a full outfit would be a sizable chunk of Dazai’s drinking money.
“You need a new backup, don’t you?” Dazai said. He didn’t step inside. “Your last one was ruined.”
Kunikida had already purchased a new set, of course, because he hadn’t anticipated this.
“Yes,” he said, carefully, “but I didn’t expect you to give me one.” Kunikida sorted through the pile, like perhaps something was going to jump out at him, harmless but annoying -- a glitter bomb, or a stack of paperwork that Dazai had failed to do correctly, or something along those lines.
“It was my fault your last one got ruined,” Dazai offered, with a breezy shrug of his shoulder that didn’t match the apparent guilt he was carrying for the mission gone awry.
“Unless you were the one setting up bombs, I fail to see how you’re responsible,” Kunikida said, dryly.
“I knew it was there,” Dazai said, and the full weight of his gaze rendered Kunikida temporarily breathless when Kunikida met it. “I didn’t anticipate you triggering it.”
Kunikida was silent, for a long moment. He could hear his heart beating, loud enough that it really felt like Dazai would be able to hear it as well. Maybe he could sense it, with his near-superhuman levels of intelligence.
“You didn’t tell me,” Kunikida said, finally.
Dazai didn’t move his gaze. He didn’t flee from the conversation, this time: he held fast and true, like a sailor looking straight into the oncoming store and daring it to capsize his ship and send him underwater. “I prioritized what I thought was the most important information,” Dazai said, “and I guessed incorrectly.”
To say it was a guess would be putting it incorrectly, Kunikida thought, because Dazai never did things on simple guesswork.
“It’s my own fault,” Kunikida said.
“No,” Dazai said. “I should have known what you would do.”
There was a hint of it, there: that Dazai knew Kunikida so well, and yet could still be surprised at the most vital moment. That Kunikida was as inscrutable to Dazai as Dazai was to Kunikida, at least some of the time.
“I’ll tell you,” Kunikida said, “next time, if I’m going to do something unexpected.”
Dazai was silent.
“An equal partnership,” Kunikida said, adjusting his glasses -- he’d made sure to put them on, this time, so he didn’t feel as exposed -- and taking the moment to steel himself to meet Dazai’s eyes again, “means that we anticipate each other. You aren’t anymore at fault than I am.”
He wondered what Dazai had been like, in the Port Mafia. What had his partnerships been like? Did he grieve, when people died? Did he feel guilt, when they were injured? Was Kunikida an exception, or part of a rule?
“Then that means it’s Kunikida-kun’s own fault,” Dazai said, trying for a light tone. His mouth twisted; it was an attempt at a smile that never managed to capture any emotion in particular.
“It is,” Kunikida said, and the smile fell.
“Don’t do it again,” Dazai said.
Kunikida made no promises, and in the silence, Dazai left.
“You used yours on me,” Kunikida said. If their relationship was a series of debts and repayments, then this was the last thing they needed to check off, for the moment. “I’m repaying them. Consider them your backups.”
“Oh, you remember that?” Dazai said, his voice purposefully nonchalant as he tucked the box under his arm.
Kunikida reached out, and Dazai allowed it when Kunikida wrapped his fingers around Dazai’s wrist. He could feel the bandages there, rough fabric rubbing across skin. He still didn’t know what they were hiding, if they were hiding anything at all, but Dazai’s eyes had widened, and Kunikida felt with a swell of certainty that he would know, one day.
That Dazai would show him, one day.
“Thank you, Dazai,” Kunikida said, “for saving my life.”
Dazai shifted the box, stepping aside like an invitation. “Isn’t that what you do, for members of the Agency?”
Kunikida considered his options. Considered his daily schedule, which he had allotted only fifteen minutes of for the bandage delivery, knowing as he wrote it that it would certainly take longer than that, given that Dazai was involved.
He stepped inside.
“It’s what you do for partners,” Kunikida said, and Dazai smiled.