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a heart that believes in others more than itself

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"Tends-moi la main. 

Même dans la mort

mon âme la reconnaîtra."

 

The world functions on certain inherent truths, such as the spin of the earth upon its axis and the unidirectionality of time’s flow. They are unquestionable, irrefutable, unchangeable truths, and it was Dazai’s hubris that led him to believe quite firmly that Soukoku was one of them. The more he fought by Chuuya’s side, the more he felt that their overwhelming strength may as well be a truth of this world; unmovable, unstoppable.

The Port Mafia’s dreaded secret weapon, a pair of teenagers who defied law, gravity, and death, was known far and wide as bringer of calamity. And Dazai knew- as long as he held onto Chuuya’s leash, as long as his destructive existence remained under his control, Soukoku’s power would remain one of the world’s unshakeable truths.

Dazai built this truth because his heart believed in itself over all else. How fitting it was, then, that his arrogance also ushered its collapse.  

…-…

“Unit sixteen, we are en route to your location for backup, ETA three minutes, over.”

“Ten-four, unit twelve. We’ll bring the line of defense back into the hallway to join you, over.”

The sudden noise of a hand grenade detonating nearby the unit leader made it difficult to hear his next reply, but Chuuya didn’t doubt that the two units would be merging to continue the assault as planned. He plugged his other ear with his finger to focus on the conversations taking place in his in-ear, undisturbed by the sounds of warfare in the mic, nor the whirring of the chopper’s blades just above his head. Their pilot was doing a fantastic job at keeping them steady, hovering above their target a few dozen feet below, so Chuuya could focus all his effort on monitoring the situation.

“Come in, Soukoku. What’s your status?”

“Ground team command, this is Nakahara,” Chuuya called back without skipping a beat, his eyes trailing to the man sitting next to him with his legs kicked over the side of the seat. “Soukoku… remains on standby, over.”

“This is Nakahara,” his partner’s grating voice mocked from next to him, giggling lightly. Chuuya glared at him, hands itching to wring his neck where he had thrown it back over the arm of his chair, lounging carelessly, eyes closed. “Ten-four, ground team. Move out, soldiers. ETA four minutes to touchdown. Code seven, over and out.”

“None of that even makes sense,” Chuuya growled in frustration as Dazai hummed under his breath, the infuriating smile never leaving his face even as he was scolded. “Can’t you even pretend to take this seriously?”

“But Chuuya!” Dazai sighed dramatically, his demeanor starkly contrasting his threatening appearance, swathed in bandages and covered in Mafia black. “It’s so boring! If something fun happened, maybe I’d be able to take things a little more seriously…”

“This isn’t supposed to be fun!” Chuuya argued, already feeling a headache coming on. “These counterfeit arms dealers are our largest operation of the year. Don’t mess this up!”

“It’s not in my nature to mess things up, Chibi,” Dazai said, unbothered by his partner’s frustration. “Especially not things as trivial as this.”

“Trivial?” Chuuya balked. “There are hundreds of men down there trying to clear a path for us. Some of them could be dying right now, just to make things easier for us. That isn’t trivial!”

“Sure it is,” Dazai shrugged, unconcerned. Finally opening his eyes, he glanced sharply up at Chuuya, the look in his uncovered eye tell-tale of his confidence. “Death is trivial in lives like ours, especially others’ deaths. Get attached to mere foot soldiers, Chuuya, and you might be heartbroken very soon.”

“Being willing to sacrifice any life that isn’t yours in order to fulfill your purpose…” Chuuya muttered under his breath, listening to the cries of dying men echoing in his ear in between gunshots. “Pathetic. You really don’t care about anyone but yourself, do you?”

“I don’t care much for anything, if that comforts you,” Dazai shrugged. “If I died tonight, that would actually be quite the lovely development.”

Chuuya hated it when he did that- openly express his disdain for being alive, as if he had no pride in having survived- but an incoming call gave him the opportunity not to answer.

“Soukoku, come in.” The voice was ragged and heaving, obviously struggling. “What’s your expected deployment time? Ground teams are heavily injured and won’t be able to keep pushing the enemy inwards into the factory if this keeps up.”

“Ground team, the expected deployment for Soukoku-” Chuuya was suddenly cut off by Dazai, who abruptly sat up with a hand to his ear.

“Chuuya deploys when I say he deploys.” It was strange to hear him over the comms and right next to him at once, but Chuuya couldn’t help but feel unsettled by the threat in his voice. “In the meantime, I suggest you take all the effort you put into asking stupid questions, and use it to shoot.”

“Y-Yes Sir!” The man on the other end stuttered, betraying his terror at suddenly having been addressed by the mafia’s youngest executive. Chuuya simply looked exasperated, despite the instinctive shiver he felt at the sudden change in Dazai’s expression.

When he took that split-second to slip into the skin of the Demon Prodigy, Dazai became a brand new man- one that even Chuuya wasn’t sure he could trust, sometimes.

“You don’t own me, you know,” he simply grumbled, his hand dropping off his in-ear as their communications came to an abrupt close. “We’re supposed to be a team, you bastard.”

“In title, perhaps,” Dazai said in a sing-song voice, the darkness not totally gone from his eyes. “But Chibi is my dog, so of course I have to tug on his leash once in a while to remind him!”

“One day, the leash is gonna fall from your hands,” Chuuya growled back, hands tightening into fists, anger surging through his veins at the reminder that he would never truly be free. “And on that day, it will be my absolute pleasure to bite your hand right off.”

“Bad dog,” Dazai simply replied, seeming amused by the threat although his eyes did glint with intrigue.

Chuuya didn’t dignify him with a response, simply clicking his seatbelt off his chest and then standing up to grab one of the support grips overhead in the chopper. Easily, he unlocked the massive sliding door and threw it open, taking a look at the factory down below them. With the door open, the sound of the blades was even more deafening in his ears, made worse by the howling of the wind that whipped through his clothes and hair. Rimbaud’s hat sat heavily on his head, a reminder of what he’d come here to do. As the clouds parted above them, letting moonlight fall upon Chuuya’s stony expression, he felt a shiver run down his spine. Whether it was because of the chill, or due to the apprehension he felt about this entire operation, he had no time to find out.

When Dazai spoke, not over comms but simply privately between them, Chuuya didn’t hear him over all the ambient noise. Still, he knew. He felt in his bones what Dazai had said, and he took a deep breath, turning to face him.

“Don’t be late,” he simply said, locking gazes with his partner, who simply returned his challenge with a smirk.

“Trust me,” Dazai replied easily, and it was on that uncertain note that Chuuya let go of the grip, letting himself fall.

“Soukoku en route,” he announced into the mic, and it was the only warning he gave to the ground team before he hit the roof of the factory, his amplified density allowing him to crash right through all the floors and land like a meteor in the main open area where most of the fighting took place.

There were shouts from enemies and allies alike, and when the dust from Chuuya’s impact settled, he was treated to more confusion from the men who stood facing him, likely not having expected a teenager to have arrived into the confrontation. Chuuya could only hope they didn’t underestimate him.

“Bring it on!” he taunted with the confidence of a man who already knew he’d won, and when gunfire turned onto him, he pounced with the grace of a man otherwise divine.

…-…

Once Chuuya had crashed through the old factory building, large chunks of debris and dust falling in after him, Dazai finally got up from his own seat, going for the open door.

“Bring me as low as you can go,” he indicated to the chopper’s pilot via the nearby intercom, hanging on tightly as the helicopter smoothly changed its tilt, dropping in altitude. The frigid wind whipped into his hair, making the skin under his bandages feel itchy and uncomfortable. Unlike Chuuya, he did not have the ability to pin his clothes onto himself, so he tugged his black coat on properly just as the rooftop came within jumping distance.

Forgoing any other equipment, Dazai did just that, landing into a painful but controlled roll onto the rooftop. Taking a minute to let the impact leave his knees, he nimbly switched his radio channel to the private one he had with Chuuya, then got up and made his way to the emergency exit. It was easily unlocked with the few jiggles of a pick, the security alarms already having been disabled as part of their primary assault on the hideout of their most recent competitors.

Chuuya had accused Dazai of not taking any of the operation seriously, but the fact of the matter was that Dazai knew exactly how much was riding on their success tonight. Not only had this organization managed to monopolize the western port and all its business in the last eight months, they also allegedly had ties with international business partners that would benefit the Port Mafia greatly. While Chuuya decimated the enemy to loosen their iron hold on the port, Dazai would dig up the information that had Mori so interested.

It was just business as usual for Soukoku, even if they were separated during the mission this time around. Ever since Chuuya’s recruitment, Mori had been adamant on keeping the two of them together, insisting that he had ‘no use for dull diamonds’, an excuse that irritated Dazai to no end. It was undeniable, however, that the two of them were unstoppable together, and Dazai would never let anyone forget it- not even himself.

The hallways were mostly empty, the grand majority of the organization’s members either having met the Mafia’s men on the ground floor, or simply having run away. Dazai did come across a few stragglers, either wounded men taking cover from the fight, or men trying to evacuate the organization’s secrets before someone like Dazai could get to them.

Those people were the ones that Dazai went immediately for, gunning them down without warning nor remorse and using their keys and access cards to make his way deeper into the factory. Although it had been condemned as abandoned by the authorities of Yokohama, it had clearly been recently refurbished inside, to be used as headquarters for the organization foolishly laying claim to the port. Despite Chuuya’s earlier accusations, Dazai had taken this mission very seriously, and his research had been impeccable in preparation.

Eventually, he made it to the innermost core of the administrative area, going through several magnetically-locked doors and even severing a man’s hand to use on the biometrically-locked checkpoints. It all felt a little mundane, the sounds of battle far and faint once the last large checkpoint closed behind him. Before him now was simply an office-like area with six cubicles, at the end of which one last barred door separated him from the organization head’s office. The man himself had disappeared as soon as rumours of the Port Mafia’s assault were released and he remained MIA still. Dazai had an inkling that his next mission would be to track him down and eliminate him, but for now, the man’s secrets were of his only concern.

Having quieted his breathing, Dazai heard the shifting of clothes much too easily, stopping in his steps to roll his eyes. With his gun already in hand, it was a simple task to cock it and aim at the cubicle wall in front of him.

“Boring,” he said in his usual monotone, and fired.

One shot preceded a second, then a third, and Dazai smirked when there was a brief cry before the body of a man fell out of the second cubicle, blood spurting from his shredded neck. Dazai didn’t waste a second whipping around, aiming at a set of filing cabinets, firing even before the man crouched behind it could get up entirely. It was an instant kill, a bullet between the eyes, although Dazai couldn’t help but fire a few more times, just for good measure. His skull burst into pieces, splattering blood and brains all over the floor, and Dazai gleefully noted that he was too far for his shoes to be ruined by them.

He only stopped shooting once his clip was empty, at which point he unloaded it onto the floor with a clatter and slammed a new one in while advancing towards the main office. He stepped over the body of his first kill, footsteps squelching when he dragged bright blood across the floor, although he didn’t mind the sound so much in this silence. The door to the office was a simple lock-and-key type, which made it exceedingly easy for Dazai and the handy picks jingling lightly in his coat pocket. He was in even before the blood of his enemies had gone cold on the floor.

The moonlight from the large window behind the desk shone down upon a neat, unassuming workspace that contained billions of yens’ worth of international contracts within it somewhere. Dazai busied himself in finding them immediately, shamelessly opening drawers in the desk and in the cabinets, rifling through the documents skillfully and rapidly. His photographic memory being as fantastic as it was, it was child’s play to memorize the entire contents of the documents he chose, only keeping the physical copies of those that he knew Mori would want to pour over. The rest would remain locked in his brain, forever lost otherwise when he and Chuuya set fire to this place as they left.

Speaking of the devil, Dazai was forced to stop humming when the line in his ear crackled, indicating that Chuuya had established a communication.

“Miss me already, hat rack?” Dazai teased, although unamused. “I’m busy, you know. Can’t make idle chatter.”

“Dazai.” Chuuya’s voice was rough, but remained unshaken. “The snowflake shrinks before it falls.”

“Ah, seriously?” It was code, not the first, but likely the most important code they’d established as official partners. “Are you so incompetent that you can’t handle these small fry all by yourself?”

“GSW, left leg,” Chuuya grunted in response, his voice twisted by the shoddy transmission quality. “Plus, they’ve scattered into the factory and are picking vantage points. They know this place better than our men, so the sooner we finish this, the better.”

“Try the fur coat of a fox, first,” Dazai suggested, unhurriedly continuing to look through the next cabinet. “I’m not nearly done up here. Quite the disappointing performance, partner.”

“Shut up.” It came like a hiss of irritation, and Dazai let it roll off his back. “I already tried. I was thinking of the day darkens with no recourse, but-”

“Then do it,” Dazai cut him off, annoyed. He plucked another file, a contract with pirates from southeastern Asia that seemed to be a coded agreement for human trafficking operations through the Port. It was too simple a code, one that Dazai could begin to guess immediately. “Don’t bother me with your brainstorm, just do it. I’ll know it worked if you’re not dead.”

“God, you’re really the worst,” Chuuya growled back at him, a loud blast going off on his end of the comms. Dazai felt the reverberations in the floor under his feet. “There’s no time left. I’m going in with Operation Snowflake.”

“Are you deaf, or stupid?” Dazai continued what he was doing, slipping a file into his jacket pocket. “I said I wouldn’t be able to join you for a while. My mission is actually quite important, and if you think I’m going to drop it just for-”

“I didn’t ask you to drop it.” There was finality in Chuuya’s voice, and Dazai had no choice but to concede with a sigh. “I’m just asking you to hurry.”

“Fine.” Snapping a folder shut and tossing it aside, Dazai attacked the last filing cabinet. “It’s your funeral, Chibi.”

“Wouldn’t you like that?” Chuuya scoffed, and there was fire in his voice, a spark of adrenaline that Dazai could feel across the comms line, no matter how warped his voice sounded. He stopped his work for a second, unable to keep himself from imagining the smirk surely on his partner’s face.

The grin of someone who still didn’t understand the gravity of his actions, and who wouldn’t understand it for a long, long time.

“Ô grantors of dark disgrace,” Chuuya said, and the comms went silent.

Yet, Dazai felt the end of the sentence in his very bones.

Do not wake me again.

The ground rumbled under Dazai’s feet, the walls and ceiling quaking all around him. Although he’d taken his job plenty seriously before, there was a new weight that fell across his shoulders as something audibly exploded somewhere in the factory. An invisible countdown had begun, of which even Dazai could not predict the exact end.

“Boss might flay me alive if I lose Chuuya on a mission like this, but it would definitely serve him right for not listening to me,” he grumbled underneath his breath, and dove into the final set of documents with renewed fervor.

It wasn’t too difficult to concentrate despite the periodic rumbling and quakes that shook the room. He was removed enough from the main factory area to avoid the immediate repercussions of Chuuya’s unleashed Ability, although pieces of the moldy ceiling did break off around him once or twice. Never to be outdone, Dazai memorized all the documents he needed, slipping one last in his now-stuffed coat pocket, and then making his way out.

If his step was more hurried than usual, nobody was around to mention it.

As he crossed the corridors he’d taken to get in, the tremors of the floor under him began to get more and more intense. The sounds of distant fighting and crumbling structures reached his ears the closer he got, and he imagined that Chuuya had already managed to wipe out all life on the main factory floor by now.

(Whether that life was of enemies or of their own, it would not matter in the end. Chuuya never asked about it, and Dazai never told him, anyway).

Picturing the blueprints of the factory as he jogged, Dazai took a corner, heading for the emergency staircase that would lead him out of the twisting corridors and into the main factory area. He skipped a few steps in his haste, the countdown continuing to tick in the back of his mind and pushing him to move a little faster. The ground right below him rumbled, and for a second, Dazai thought that the stone staircase would collapse.

It thankfully held under Corruption’s merciless assault, which allowed Dazai to throw the emergency exit open, finding himself on a metal landing just above the main factory floor.

In front of him, the factory had been flattened, debris from structures and machines littering the floor, bodies buried by the dozens and fresh blood painting the dusty grey surroundings a chilling red. At the center of the devastation stood the culprit himself, an entity wearing Chuuya’s face, and that had nothing else in common with Dazai’s partner. As Chuuya swayed in his advance, craters opened up under his feet, collecting puddles of his own blood and sweat. Already, his nose and ears had bled down his face, and between manic cackles, he coughed blood all down his tattered clothes. The vivid red of it stood out even against Arahabaki’s fiery runes crawling and squirming on his exposed skin, eyes sightless as he threw graviton bombs at his desolate surroundings with no ability to aim.

The floor was completely devoid of life otherwise, and Dazai suddenly felt like Chuuya would be, too, within a few more moments.

“Look at the mess you’ve made,” he groaned, jumping into action and sprinting towards the steel staircase leading down to the floor about a dozen feet below. His footsteps echoed loudly on the metal, which drew attention amongst the eerie silence of the carnage below.

It drew Chuuya’s attention as well, and Dazai couldn’t help the knot that tied itself in his throat at the weight of his sightless stare on him.

“I’m coming, Chibi!” he called out in a sing-song voice, hoping to appease his own nerves. He’d fought alongside Corruption a few times before, but it was the first time he was facing him on the field. Being so far away from Chuuya like this made Dazai feel slightly insecure, a feeling he didn’t even know he could experience until this moment.

His voice only drew another laugh from Chuuya’s demented, broken vessel of a body, a loud, grating voice that devolved into a high-pitched scream as he flung a graviton bomb at Dazai. The tiny black hole destroyed a pillar on its way towards him, the entire factory quaking and creaking loudly as one of the main supports crumbled into rubble easily. Dazai momentarily shielded his vision from the dust that was kicked up, only to see another bomb coming right at him when he opened his eyes again.

“Shit,” was all he had time to say before the bomb crashed into the staircase a few steps above Dazai, the metal splintering effortlessly under its destructive gravity. He grunted as shrapnel stabbed his side and his arm, nearly tearing his limbs apart with their immense velocity, and there was very little he could do to catch himself when the staircase finally gave out below him.

If he gave out a short scream of surprise as he plummeted to the ground below, nobody would be able to tell.

The drop wasn’t too high, but Dazai still hit the floor harshly, breath knocked out of his lungs when he landed his back. Above him, the metal remnants of the staircase groaned, falling in turn, and he painstakingly tried to roll out of the way as debris fell to stab the ground where he’d been lying moments prior. Getting on his stomach rapidly, he was about to push himself to his feet when a sudden weight crashed onto his leg, crushing it cleanly.

This time, Dazai did scream, and his voice echoed against the ceiling of the abandoned factory. It was punctuated by the sound of cackling and hacking from Chuuya nearby, out of sight. 

Lightheaded with the pain, he tried to catch his breath, shakily turning around to inspect the damage. Everything below his right knee had been caught in a piece of stone rubble that had fallen from the wall that had broken with Chuuya’s second bomb. Some of the debris from the staircase had fallen to pile on top of it, and when Dazai gave an experimental tug at his leg, all of his raw nerves screamed in pain.

He was stuck. And Chuuya was still out of sight.

“Chuuya!” he called out, grunting in pain as his battered body heaved against the floor. Around him, the walls of the factory seemed to be groaning, unstable and standing on their last legs. The mental countdown continued to tick, dangerously close to singularity.

Somewhere nearby, another bomb destroyed a large machine, and Dazai covered his eyes against the dust and rubble kicked up by its crash into the ground. When he glanced up, Chuuya came into view from beyond the dust, and Dazai’s heart kicked with simultaneous hope and dread.

“Chuuya!” he called again, his throat raw and his voice almost desperate. “Chuuya, get over here!”

Chuuya turned to the sound of his voice, and Dazai watched with mounting horror how his body seemed to fall apart with each breath.

His head lolled as he took jerky steps forward, ankles twisting and shoulders popping as he walked. Open sores on his arms leaked blood down the tips of his fingers, and those hidden underneath his shirt stained his clothes darker than mafia black. His breaths rattled, as if something had collapsed inside him, blood spurting from between his lips with each wheezing attempt to breathe. Arahabaki’s runes glowed eerily bright on his ashen skin, sucking the life mercilessly out of their host with each ticking second. Tears of blood rolled down Chuuya’s clammy cheeks, and Dazai realized just how bad it had gotten. Even in his mindless state, there seemed to be something sorrowful in his expression. He seemed to be pleading- pleading and dying.

“Chuuya!”

It likely wasn’t conscious, but Chuuya continued to approach, occasionally flinging a graviton bomb left, right, and above Dazai- never at him. Dazai briefly wondered if he’d be able to nullify Corruption by touching a graviton bomb, although considering that they were essentially small black holes, he felt like they’d rip his hand to shreds before his Ability could kick in.

Right now, their only hope was for Chuuya to get close enough.

“Come on, you’re almost there.” His heart beating in his throat, Dazai watched as Chuuya took a few more slow, jerky steps forward, and then, just as he was within distance, he crumbled.

Dazai’s heart sank into his stomach as he watched Chuuya drop to his knees, and face-first into the rubble.

“Chuuya!” Still, the markings on him continued to glow. Dazai couldn’t see him breathing in this position, but he wanted to believe that it wasn’t too late. Extending his hand, he nearly managed to brush the top of Chuuya’s head with his fingertips, falling short by less than an inch. Groaning, he strained his shoulder, pushing himself forward as much as he could, embedded shrapnel dragging on the ground and lighting his body on fire. Sweat rolled down his pale face as he gritted his teeth against the pain, reaching out, trying to bridge the gap that stood in between Chuuya’s life and his death.

So close. He was so close, but just far enough, and this is how Chuuya would slip out of his grasp.

He was overwhelmed with primal terror at the thought, and didn’t waste a moment unpacking the feeling. Instead, letting out a roar of anguish, he tried to drag himself forward, his buried leg screaming alongside him.

Something popped in his knee and Dazai howled in agony, and all at once, his hand fell upon Chuuya’s sweaty forehead.

A violent gust was kicked up as No Longer Human burst to life at his fingertips, whipping dust, stone and metal around them like they were the eye of a storm. The calm at the heart of the devastation left in their wake. Time froze as his Ability suspended the air around them, locking them in its bubble, curling around them as if afraid of dissipating and leaving them exposed.

For a moment, Dazai wasn’t sure if they were still alive, either.

And then, time restarted, No Longer Human fading away as the parasitic markings on Chuuya’s decimated body crawled back into him, locked away once again. Dazai thought for a moment of how frustrated the god must have felt, to have come so close to destroying its host, only to be sealed away once more. Feeling like he’d spited it was the only consolation Dazai could find in this situation; with his leg still stuck and rapidly going numb, and Chuuya teetering on the edge of death, there was nothing else to cling onto.

“Chuuya,” he rasped, his hand firm on his partner’s forehead, almost afraid of letting him go. He still felt a thready but rapid pulse at the redhead’s temple and kept his finger there purposefully, finding some comfort in that. If Chuuya’s heart beat fast, it meant that he was still attempting to compensate, and it meant that he still had time. One of their people would have called for an evac as soon as Chuuya activated Corruption, so he would only need to last until the first responders arrived.

If Dazai didn’t die in the meantime as well, Mori would eviscerate him for letting things go this far.

Chuuya was his responsibility, and he’d failed him.

Lost in that grim train of thought, Dazai noticed only a little too late that Chuuya was moving. He watched, eyes wide as his hand came up, slowly and painstakingly up towards his head until he fumbled for Dazai’s hand. Immobile, Dazai watched as Chuuya’s weak grip clamped onto his wrist, his arm thumping down into the dirt when all energy left him.

When Dazai’s eyes trailed sideways, he caught Chuuya’s gaze.

Eyes no longer sightless, Chuuya was staring right at him, eyelids half-open and visibly struggling to stay that way. His entire face was stained with rivulets of blood, nearly grey in its sickly paleness underneath. His lips were cracked and blood spurted from them when he opened his mouth to talk, choking painfully as soon as he tried.

“Don’t try to say anything,” Dazai urged him, shifting his grip so that he could hold onto Chuuya’s hand, cold and bruised but nonetheless skin. Right now, to be able to touch him was all that Dazai needed. “You’ll choke on your blood. Just breathe.”

“Sa-” Despite the warning, Chuuya still tried, valiantly fighting unconsciousness, beating back the agony he must have felt within his broken body to get his words out. “So-”

“Stop talking!” Dazai interrupted him with a hiss of his own, feeling a sharp pain in his flank. “Stop. You’ll collapse your lung.” But he knew what Chuuya was trying to say, and he didn’t know if he even wanted to hear it. “Don’t… don’t say it.”

Chuuya held his gaze a little longer, as if trying to figure him out, but there was already something dissociated in his bloodshot eyes, gone off to a place where he didn’t have to suffer with every breath. Dazai wished he could go there with him.

Alas, he couldn’t drift off and risk them both again.

“It’s okay,” was all he said, an all-encompassing statement that he couldn’t even bring himself to believe.

It seemed to be enough for Chuuya, though, whose gaze lazily drifted to where their fingers were entwined tightly, letting out a rattling sigh that bubbled with blood from his lungs. He lost consciousness with his eyes open, blood congealing on his lips, gaze on their hands, trusting Dazai once again.

(Trusting him even though Dazai had already betrayed him).

Loyalty and devotion had never meant anything to Dazai. Neither of them mattered to a dead man, which Dazai had believed himself to be up until now.

But now, as he and his partner walked the tightrope between life and death with no one to hold onto but each other, he began to understand what it felt like to let something important slip from his grasp. Soukoku was not unstoppable after all, all because of one glaring flaw in its design.

Dazai and Chuuya were one another’s singular weakness.

…-…

 Chuuya did not wake up all at once, but slowly, gradually, in pockets of blurred time that he wouldn’t remember later. The first few times, he floated in nothingness and simply listened to the indiscernible voices around him. Sometimes they screamed, and sometimes they whispered. He never understood them, but he found comfort in them nonetheless. They kept him company in the darkness of his own mind until he was forcefully dragged under once again.

Then, he became more aware. Whenever his head broke the surface of consciousness, he tried to open his eyes, finding it awfully difficult to even lift his eyelids. He became aware of people manipulating his body, rearranging his limbs, asking him to wiggle his toes or squeeze their hands. He obeyed without fail, unable to imagine why he wouldn’t. It was easy not to think like this; suspended, existing only at the whim of others, coming alive only at their touch.

And then, there was the pain, Chuuya’s only constant companion. He discounted death when he first awoke in this limbo, for the pain that set his entire body alight was not merciful in the least. He was alive, and the more he went on, the more he began to wonder just at what cost. The pain came and went, sometimes excruciating, sometimes but a dull ache, although through it all it stayed with him.

When Chuuya felt pain, he knew he was still alive.

And finally, one day, the heavy veil lifted from his mind, and a voice beckoned him forward.

“Open your eyes, Chuuya.”

He knew that voice, recognized it well enough to know it was someone important. At the voice’s beck and call, he attempted to wake, momentarily surprised to find it easier this time around. When his eyes opened to the light, finally, he was blinded and closed them right back.

There was no follow-up command, but Chuuya knew that he was expected to follow his first order still. Squinting, he tried to let his eyes get accustomed to the light slowly before blinking them open. In his immediate vision, there was something wide and plastic, tubes running in front of his face and towards machines at the side of his bed. He quickly identified his surroundings to be a hospital room, walls a neutral grey and his bedsheets annoyingly white. Next to him, a nurse in burgundy scrubs added a splash of colour to the sterile environment, fiddling with a tower of pumps from which several medication lines snaked to disappear under the covers.

And at the foot of his bed, wearing a white lab coat and a terrifyingly placid expression on his face, stood waiting Mori Ougai himself. 

Eyes now wide open, Chuuya tried to snap to attention at the sight of his Boss, realizing that he was the one who’d roused him from his unconsciousness. However, when he tried to move his arms, he found himself restrained, panic rising in his throat as he glanced down at his wrist to find it tied by sheepskin to the bed. He called his Ability forth out of sheer instinct to survive, his panic tripling when it fizzled out before it could even manifest.

He thrashed against his restraints briefly, and when he tried to open his mouth to ask what the fuck was going on, he found it difficult to open his jaw as well. It was then that he became aware of the thin tube in his mouth, feeling it rest against the back of his throat and down even lower, and his anxiety became terror all at once. He coughed by reflex, and felt the tube pressing on his insides, forcing a coughing fit that forced tears from his eyes. Next to him and around him, machines began to alarm loudly, brief before the nurse turned them off, plunging Chuuya back into terrifying silence.

“Welcome back to the living, Chuuya.” His expression must have given it away, for Mori simply smiled, clearly satisfied with what he was seeing. Chuuya felt like he couldn’t breathe, his chest tight and body aching all over, struggling against his restraints once more. “Now now, relax. I’ll take the tube out in a minute.”

The promise placated Chuuya slightly, and although he was still shaking, he rested back on the pillow, looking at the nurse to distract himself from the terrifying feeling of waking up intubated and restrained. If Mori donned his gloves and his mask a little too slowly for Chuuya’s comfort, he didn’t have a mind to comment. Within minutes, the tape around his lips had been loosened, and without warning, Mori tugged the breathing tube out.

An oxygen mask was looped around his face immediately, fogging up as Chuuya delved into a set of hacking coughs, his entire body shaking as he tried to breathe on his own again. Gently, his wrists were untied, and he couldn’t even thank the nurse, instead focusing on catching his breath.

Everything hurt, and his limbs felt stiff and weak. Mori had snapped his gloves off, now standing at the foot of the bed again and watching him struggle with that same pleased smile on his face. A million questions stood on the tip of his tongue; about what happened, how long he’d been out, why he was in the hospital, why Mori himself had come, if their mission had been a success.

And yet, when he finally lowered the oxygen mask from his face to speak, only one question tumbled off his tongue unbidden.

“Where’s Dazai?”

“Very good.” The smile on Mori’s face widened minutely, as if he had been expecting the question that even Chuuya hadn’t seen coming. Nonetheless, he changed the topic easily. “How are you feeling, Chuuya?”

“Terrible.” There was no use hiding it, as Mori could probably see right through him. “Was there a reason that you came down here yourself, though, Boss?”

“Yes.” There wasn’t any more clarification than that. Mori dismissed the nurse with a brief nod of his head, and she exited the private room with one more glance back at the heart monitor. Once she was gone, he circled the bed slowly, putting Chuuya on edge. He straightened his spine reflexively, cracking something in his lower back in the process.

“So. How long have I been asleep?” he asked, trying not to let his voice waver. He did his best to meet Mori’s eyes, even though he knew he looked unkempt and unworthy of being in the Boss’ presence.

“Nearly two weeks,” Mori answered easily, and Chuuya tried to swallow past the knot that tied itself in his throat.

“That’s… That’s a long time.”

“Well, there was quite a lot to fix when the extraction team brought you back from the factory.” At least Mori seemed to be forthcoming with the information, which Chuuya clung onto for some kind of direction. “To have been dead would have been kinder. Most of your organs had sustained massive damage secondary to your extended use of Corruption. When you arrived, you were hemorrhaging from all your large vessels, and your liver, kidneys and lungs were failing. Your heart began to fail the next day. Only miracles of modern medicine and Ability users managed to turn it around. You’ll still require treatment for some time, but you can at the very least move to a less intensive monitoring area for now.”

“I see.” Although he did feel terrible, he certainly didn’t feel like his insides were pureed, as Mori seemed to be insinuating. “I owe you my life, then, Boss. I’ll take this opportunity to renew my vow to devote myself and my blood to the cause of the Port Mafia.”

“I don’t doubt your devotion, Chuuya.” The way that Mori cooed his name nearly condescendingly made Chuuya uncomfortable, but he did understand just how complex his medical care had been, so he was in no place to complain. “You did well in your efforts to eradicate the organization taking the port hostage. There was no failure recorded on your end.”

The implication of that chilling statement struck Chuuya immediately, and his mouth suddenly felt too dry to open. Still, he wanted to know. His very first question had remained unanswered.

“And… what about Dazai?” He didn’t have much recollection of the event. After calling Corruption forth, the rest of his memories were a blur. If he was alive, then Dazai, too, should have succeeded.

“Dazai is… indisposed at the moment.” It wasn’t comforting at all to see the light smile freeze on the man’s face. There was more to it than just that statement, and Chuuya felt something fierce rear its head inside of him, demanding answers.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” He narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out what the Boss was hiding.

“I suppose you should know sooner, rather than later,” Mori mused out loud, stepping away from the bed.

Almost as if responding to his words, a loud noise suddenly blared overhead, startling Chuuya so badly that he nearly jumped out of his skin. The siren continued alarming loudly, and as Chuuya tried to calm his racing heart, Mori clapped his hands once in satisfaction.

“Stellar timing,” he simply said, and walked away towards the door.

“Hey…” Confused, Chuuya watched him go, only reacting when he realized that Mori truly was leaving him without answers. “Boss! Boss, wait!”

Without a glance back, nor a second of hesitation, Mori exited the room, closing the door and leaving Chuuya all alone. Swearing lightly, he threw the covers off of himself, briefly struggling with all the medication tubes and lines attached to him. As he tried to move his legs, however, a sharp flash of pain ran up his spine, and he cried out in surprise as the pain left sweat beading at his forehead. Once the sensation had ebbed away, he tried again, slower this time despite the overhead siren rushing him to move faster, racing against a mental countdown with no clear end. His arms shook as he tried to move, and he became acutely aware of how much weight he’d lost being bedridden, how weak he felt all over.

Thankfully before he could hurt himself again, the door opened anew and a nurse walked in, rolling in a wheelchair. Wordlessly, she opened it up next to Chuuya’s bed, and then held her hand out to him.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked gruffly, nonetheless accepting her hand and using her weight to pull himself to the side of the bed. She made sure that all the wires and tubes followed, just as Chuuya prepared to stand. “Fine, don’t tell me.”

Finally, he slid off the bed and put his weight on his own two feet. Immediately, his knees buckled, and lightning ran up his spine, taking his breath away as stars exploded in front of his eyes. He must have become very unsteady all at once, for the nurse immediately grabbed his arms, helping him stumble gracelessly into the wheelchair seat. Chuuya would’ve been embarrassed by his own weakness if he wasn’t too busy holding back from vomiting all over the nurse. Leaning back against the rest, he tried to catch his breath, hoping that the pain seizing his limbs would fade sooner rather than later.

Just as the spots in his vision cleared, the nurse began pushing the wheelchair forward, the IV pole with Chuuya’s medications and his heart monitor following. The siren overhead turned off by the time they reached the door, and whatever relief Chuuya had gotten was lost as the door opened, letting him witness the sheer chaos right outside his room.

There were loud voices coming from the room next door, people in scrubs rushing in and out of the room. Plenty of professionals had crowded around the door, although they all parted as Chuuya’s nurse wordlessly wheeled him towards the mayhem. With every breath he took, Chuuya began to realize that something horribly wrong had happened, that whatever had taken place in that room was something he did not want to see.

“Wait,” he called out weakly to the nurse as she wheeled him to the door, heart accelerating with apprehension. There were people surrounding the bed in the middle of the large room, working on whoever lied in it, a nurse doing chest compressions while the other professionals fiddled with machines or prepared medications in syringes.

All of a sudden, Chuuya knew, and he did not want to believe. He didn’t want to see this happening.

He didn’t want to be here.

The nurse doing CPR switched out, and when she stepped away from the bed, Chuuya finally saw the dead man lying in it.

His voice strangled in his throat, but through the lightheadedness, through the nausea, he found himself nearly desperate to call out for him, as if saying his name was all it would take to bring him back.

“Dazai!”

“Pulse check,” a doctor called out, and the CPR stopped for a moment. While everyone glanced at the heart monitor, Chuuya left his eyes riveted on his partner’s face, lying flat in the bed. Even with his skin ashen and his mouth taped shut over a tube, he managed to look serene. Relieved, even.

This was the death he’d always craved, yet it was messy, loud, violent- so violent to see him lying limp against the stark white sheets while his life was hammered back into him.

Chuuya had seen plenty of horrific things in his short life, but watching Dazai die like this was easily the worst.

“Continue compressions, charge to 200!”

The brief reprieve over, the buzzing began anew, the nurse jumping on Dazai’s body once again and shielding him from Chuuya’s wide-eyed gaze. Panic swelled inside of him when he lost him from sight, and he was about to open his mouth to say something- anything- when someone came to a stop next to him.

Dressed completely in mafia black, no longer in a white coat, Chuuya knew that this Mori was different from the one who had been in his room.

“Shattered right leg and dislocated knee.” His voice was monotone, as if he was reading a grocery list rather than Chuuya’s partner’s status. “Sepsis, crush syndrome and kidney failure, two cardiac arrests in the first week. Subdural hematoma and cervical spine fracture. Multiple lacerations from high-velocity shrapnel, with hemothorax and lung collapse.”

“God.” The whisper was ripped from Chuuya’s nonbeliever lips, for in this moment, he had nothing else to turn to.

“Clear!”

The nurses stepped away from Dazai, and Chuuya watched numbly as his body merely twitched at the electrical discharge. A moment of silence went by again, and Chuuya could tell from the shared look on everyone’s faces that they weren’t optimistic.

“Resume compressions, get another epi.”

“He’s dead,” Chuuya said matter-of-factly, numb. The motion and voices around the bed seemed to blur as he processed his own words, a stone dropping into the pit of his stomach. “Dazai’s dead.”

“Not for long, I should hope,” Mori replied lightly, crossing his hands behind his back. Chuuya thought of looking up to analyze his expression, but couldn’t tear his eyes away from the disaster before him long enough. “I’ve hired plenty of medical Ability users from overseas to keep him alive. The damage done to him could not have been healed by conventional medicine alone. It would be a shame to lose him now, after all these investments.”

“There’s more to it than that!” If nothing else, then that statement seemed to singe Chuuya’s raw, exposed nerves, and he found it in himself to glare dangerously at the Port Mafia’s boss, uncaring of insubordination. They locked gazes, Chuuya’s fiery and Mori’s reflecting barely-concealed amusement, and that agitated Chuuya even more. The look reminded him of Dazai, when he knew something Chuuya didn’t. He hated being out of the loop, whether with Dazai or his boss. “It’s not about the money.” He just wanted to know what was so damn funny, for the whole world to be laughing but him. “Dazai is…”

And he knew.

All of a sudden, he knew, and he understood why Mori laughed at his despair. In his shoes, he would have laughed, too. He wondered for a moment if irony could kill.

Speechless, he turned his head back to the violence, watching numbly as more medication was pushed into Dazai’s veins, as more of his ribs cracked and gave, as his limp hand fell off the bed, wrist restraint straps dangling elegantly and dancing with each convulsion of his body. When the nurses moved, he momentarily glimpsed at his pale face, marveling at how peaceful he looked when his soul wasn’t in his body. His hair curled over his cheeks, and his eyelashes curled over his cheekbones. He looked like he was finally asleep.

“This is my fault.” And that was what Chuuya had been missing, a heavy and all-consuming realization that he had self-indulgently ignored until this moment. His hands had crushed his chest, his will had put him in that bed.

Around Dazai, the frantic buzzing continued, like maggots squirming over something decayed.

“I did this to him.”

And Mori did not correct him.

…-…

Chuuya did not remember much of that same day, his mind taking a back seat as he processed his new knowledge. His nurse took him back to his room after Dazai was successfully resuscitated, and Chuuya did not protest, submitting to all the care and treatments he had to get without any complaints. He couldn’t forget how Dazai had looked, and had an even harder time forgetting that it was his Ability that put him there. He was Chuuya’s responsibility, and yet he didn’t have the heart to face him.

It took another day before he asked to see him again, a whole day that he spent wondering if it would have been better if he’d died in that factory. Dazai had always seemed untouchable, somehow- indestructible, invincible, and although Chuuya had always known that to be a gross overestimation, there was something so inhuman about him sometimes that he couldn’t help but wonder. There was nothing to debate anymore, though.

It was in the peaks and lows of the heart monitor tracings, in the rhythmic whirring of the ventilator, in the tubes and wires and bags and equipment smothering his still body. It was in the way his hair fanned on the pillow, freshly-washed the night before, soft and curly and ridiculously delicate. It was in the flush dusting Dazai’s cheekbones, the red sores where his spinal collar pressed too hard on his chin, the gentle paleness of his unbandaged arms in contrast with the green hospital gown.

There was humanity in everything Chuuya saw when he finally came close enough to look at Dazai.

“I’ll be back to get you in twenty minutes,” the nurse said, locking his wheelchair at level with Dazai’s waist.

“That’s fine. Thank you.” He knew he wouldn’t last too long out of bed in his current state, and twenty minutes would be more than enough for him, at any rate.

There was only one thing he’d come here to do, after all.

“Oi, Dazai.” Once the nurse left, it was only the two of them in the room. Instead of a reply, Dazai’s ventilator whirred audibly. The tightness in Chuuya’s throat did not unravel in the least. “Can’t believe the day finally came where you didn’t make some kind of snarky reply at me.”

It felt odd to talk to him like this, knowing he had no way to reply. The stark, wide room seemed stifling despite the large amount of unoccupied space around the bed. If he thought too hard, Chuuya could see the bodies of all the nurses and doctors crammed around the bed again, working frantically to bring his partner back from the other side.

He never wanted to see something like that ever again.

“Peace and quiet in here, huh?” he simply said, finding no good way of bridging into the awkward topic. “I… I guess now’s a good time as any to…” His throat locked up momentarily, although he continued with just a stutter. “To apologize. For, uhh… this. All this.”

All this. His life, his deaths, and the uncanny limbo he seemed to be in at the moment. Chuuya felt responsible for them all.

“I should’ve listened to you.” The words were difficult to spit out, ground glass in his mouth. “It’s the only time I’ll say this, so pay attention. I… I used Corruption because I trusted you.”

The statement fell flat, and Chuuya winced, realizing that it wasn’t what he’d wanted to say.

“And I do. It’s not…” he rushed to correct himself, knowing he’d already fucked it up. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that… Urgh. This is frustrating!”

His voice arched against the high ceiling, echoing back at him. He didn’t glean any more insight from it. Chuuya felt detached from his body, far away from the room where Dazai had lied down to die. Nothing felt right.

“I’m…” He couldn’t say it. Not like this. It all felt wrong, and the words seemed insincere on the tip of his tongue.

Dazai would have laughed at his pathetic attempt, had their circumstances been kinder to them both.

Chuuya sighed and dipped his head into his hands. He dug his palms into his eyes until he could see stars, trying to rip the weariness from his bones. Sitting at his bedside, he felt light-years away from Dazai, and with all that he’d gone through, perhaps he already had gone beyond their reach. His body was alive, but Chuuya didn’t have any guarantee about his mind.

It was a cold, sobering realization that made Chuuya want to cry.

Yet, no tears came. And by the time the nurse came back to fetch him for his treatments, Chuuya had not said another word, silently fleeing the sight of his biggest failure like the coward that he was.

For three more days, he visited Dazai and sat in silence. Since he was getting better, his organs picking up function where Corruption’s tendrils had torn them to shreds, there was always the looming fear that he’d have to leave Dazai behind and go back to real life without him. He didn’t need to wonder what Dazai would feel about his current predicament; Chuuya knew that he would hate to spend his entire life stuck in a hospital bed, unable to interact with the world around him.

He wouldn’t allow him to suffer like that. If Chuuya fully recovered before Dazai woke, he promised himself he’d walk into this very room and make it right.

That was the least he could do for his partner, the man who had always been his responsibility, even before he’d hurt him so irreversibly.

His meetings with Dazai were never filled with words, only the scratching of pen on paper as Chuuya wrote to pass the time. As his treatments became less and less critical, he found himself spending more and more time at his bedside, either doodling formless sketches on scrap paper or spitting out the maelstrom of emotions in his head onto paper in the form of words. He didn’t like to call them poems, because there was no rhyme or structure to them, but there certainly was something poetic to his thoughts once he was able to articulate them.

He penned the words onto ripped scraps of paper, and then folded them in a mockery of origami before slipping them underneath Dazai’s pillow. The nurses always found them and stored the papers in Dazai’s bedside table, but Chuuya found a strange and frankly brainless sentimentality in placing his words close to Dazai first.

          Sorrow already spoiled

          Never hopes nor wishes anything

          Sorrow already spoiled

          In languor dreams of death.

“I’m…” He couldn’t say it, not even after all the time he spent watching Dazai sleep. He didn’t want to apologize to this pantomime of his partner, refusing to accord himself forgiveness over his lifeless body. There was no use in him talking to a man who couldn’t listen, and until the day he woke up, Chuuya would have to carry this guilt like penitence.

And if Dazai never woke up, then that would be part of Chuuya’s penitence as well.

“Will he ever wake up?” he asked quietly when the nurse came to get him at sundown, hands folded neatly on the blanket in his lap. It was a moment of weakness, a question he never intended to ask, afraid of the answer. The sunset streamed in through the nearby window, bathing Dazai in its light and making his skin shine like gold, and at the radiant sight of him, suddenly Chuuya just needed to know.

“Oh.” The nurse seemed caught off guard, clearly unsure how to answer the question. Chuuya didn’t look at her even though he felt her palpable discomfort. “Well… it depends. Have you tried talking to him?”

“He can’t hear me,” Chuuya muttered, perhaps a little bitterly. “Doesn’t matter what I say if he’s not there to listen.”

“Well… you should try.” Her voice was tight, and Chuuya could tell that she was withholding something from him, something important, earth-shattering, life-changing. It was on the tip of her tongue, but she wasn’t saying it, and maybe if Chuuya wasn’t so worn out by grief and guilt, he would have pressed her on it.

As it were, though, he had no energy to do anything of the like. He just wanted this nightmare to be over. He’d learned whatever lessons there were to be learned from this experience- he just wanted to go back to the way things were now.

“Do you…” Still, the nurse insisted, hesitating in wheeling Chuuya away just yet. “Do you... want to touch him?”

“No.” The response was instinctive, and Chuuya immediately regretted it, because he realized that in all his visits, he hadn’t touched Dazai just yet. He always seemed so far away, so unreachable when folded nicely into the bed that it hadn’t occurred to Chuuya that he could simply extend his hand to him.

When in danger, when in doubt, they’d always turned to each other in the end. Chuuya wondered if this was the last time he would be able to do that- count on his partner to be on the other side when he reached out.

The nurse seemed undeterred by his words, though, instead lowering the bedrail and gently placing Dazai’s arm closer towards Chuuya. He really was just within reach, and Chuuya marveled at how gravely his guilt had alienated him from the man sleeping right next to him. Dazai’s skin looked pale and cold, lying on top of the sheets, but never before had the thought of touching him seemed so appealing to Chuuya.

The nurse didn’t say anything, and Chuuya gave in. Reaching out for Dazai one last time, he opened his hand, interlacing their fingers until he was clinging tightly. Dazai’s hand stayed limp, but it was warm, alive. And in that moment, No Longer Human burst into life between them.

Like a hurricane, like a tsunami, the cool waves of Dazai’s Ability crashed into Chuuya, storming and clawing at him with ferocious intensity. No Longer Human cried out to him, weaving through his body, leaving his ears ringing and his head spinning. His body felt more weightless than ever before, floating in a bubble cocooned by Dazai’s Ability, the Ability that had recognized him like a singularity amongst all else in the world. It rushed and it screamed, nearly painful in its entropy, chaotic in the way it bit into Chuuya like lightning strikes from above. It hungered and it wailed and it suffered, and yet it clung to Chuuya because No Longer Human recognized him like it would its other half- and in turn, Chuuya recognized it for what it was.

It was Dazai’s voice.

It screamed and it thundered, and it was the only way Dazai could connect with the world outside. Chuuya felt it all like a wave, slamming mercilessly into him, showing him the chaos and the turmoil Dazai felt as he remained stuck in his body. There were no words- but the desperation imparted to him by the whirlwind of Dazai’s Ability told Chuuya all that he needed to know.

He’d reached out to Dazai expecting nothing, and yet Dazai had reached out right back, clinging tightly to Chuuya and defying all laws and reason to do it.

“I’m sorry.” The words tumbled out instinctively, painfully, liberating, and a weight crumbled from where it had lodged near Chuuya’s heart. “I’m sorry, Osamu, I’m sorry.” And in its wake, there came the sorrow, the desperation and the disbelief that Chuuya had been too numb to feel until now. No Longer Human weaved through his body and Chuuya’s grief burst into blooms, raw, vivid, scorching. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

He cried and his tears rolled down his cheeks, and when his head became too heavy with all the thoughts rushing to unload, he laid it down against the mattress, pressing their joint hands to his forehead to try to hold himself together. His shoulders shook as he hiccupped quietly, exhausted, drained, and somehow still thrumming with tension. He’d apologized, but it still didn’t feel complete. He still had one more thing to rectify.

“I used Corruption because I trusted you,” he said, lifting his head to glance up at Dazai’s serene expression through his tear-clumped lashes. “Or rather, I trusted this idea I had of you, of an unstoppable force, a demon and a calamity. But I was wrong.” The weight fell off of him entirely. “You’re not a demon, nor a calamity. You’re not unstoppable. You’re just human. That’s the you I should have trusted.”

He squeezed Dazai’s hand tighter until he was shaking with the strain, and somehow there seemed to be nothing left to say.

Instead, he turned his gaze to the wall behind the bed, where a phone was resting innocuously amongst all the medical equipment. Without letting go of Dazai’s hand, he pointed to it, turning to the nurse who had already helped him get this far.

“Can you hand me that phone?” he asked, feeling oddly focused now that he had cried his greatest regrets out against Dazai’s skin. While she unhooked the phone from its base and placed it on his lap, he rehearsed what he wanted to say, although by the time his fingers punched in the numbers, he still hadn’t figured it out.

The other side picked up within four rings, and Chuuya decided that he’d improvise.

“Why isn’t he waking up?” he asked, straight to the point, and unconcerned with anything else. His tone lilted with straggling tears, and the rawness of his voice made him dangerously vulnerable, but he didn’t care about appearances, nor due respect. He just wanted answers. “He’s in there, but he isn’t opening his eyes. Tell me why, Boss.”

“Well, I’m certainly glad that you and Dazai both seem to feel better,” Mori drawled from the other end, seemingly amused by Chuuya’s sudden call (and major breach in security). “I simply wanted to give Dazai the opportunity to reflect, and experience what it’s like not to be in control of his own body. Perhaps if he understood that powerlessness, he would be less inclined to take Corruption lightly in the field.”

That was not what he’d expected at all. Glancing back up at Dazai’s expression, Chuuya couldn’t breathe, and in that breathless silence, Mori continued.

“Corruption is a weapon in your arsenal as Double Black, and it is of no use if it is handled carelessly. Perhaps the next time Dazai decides to forgo his responsibility, he will remember what it was like for his fate to be left in the hands of others while he can only sit back and trust.”

“But I-” Chuuya’s mouth was dry, tongue heavy and numb while he tried to formulate his thoughts amongst the horrified realization settling upon him. “I was the one who hurt him, I was the one who couldn’t-”

“If he had decided to value your life over his arrogant pride, he would have managed to save you both.” There was a pause, and Chuuya waited breathlessly. “That’s what it means to be partners.”

Squeezing Dazai’s limp hand simply by instinct, Chuuya let the words sit inside of him, realizing that Mori was not wrong. And no matter what roundabout, cruel, disturbing method he’d used to teach that lesson, he had still taught them something they had been missing as partners.

He hung up on Mori without any other words, deciding to deal with the consequences of his rudeness later. Later, when Dazai was awake and by his side once again.

If he’d reached out to him earlier, if he’d trusted in him earlier, they could’ve stood side by side much earlier still. There was no use in regretting his insecurities now, though. Now, he only had one thing left to do.

“Stop the medications he’s getting,” he ordered, taking a deep breath, eyes riveted on Dazai’s face. “There’s one of them in there keeping him in this frozen state. A sedative, probably. Stop that one.”

“It’s not a sedative.” The nurse didn’t hesitate to step forward, however, pushing some buttons on the IV pumps hanging by Dazai’s bed. She seemed much more confident now that they had reached some form of resolution. “It’s a paralytic. Doctor Mori insisted that we keep him conscious the entire time, so he was never sedated. Instead, this medication kept him paralyzed, unable to breathe for himself, unable to blink or twitch a finger, and yet conscious through it all.”

“God.” It explained how chaotic, how terrifying the touch of No Longer Human had been. Chuuya still felt it bubbling over where he hadn’t let Dazai go, but now it seemed calmer. Waiting. Dazai probably heard the entire exchange and was relieved to move again.

To be completely paralyzed, and yet be conscious throughout everything done to him. There was a parallel to be drawn to how Corruption affected Chuuya, but even then, that paled in comparison. Chuuya was terrified in Dazai’s stead in simply imagining what he must have experienced in the frozen limbo of his own existence in the last few days. He wished, not for the first nor the last time, that he had spoken to him earlier. Touched him earlier. Saved him earlier.

That, too, must have been Dazai’s very same regret once everything had been said and done with Corruption.

“He’ll wake up soon,” the nurse promised, bowing lightly to Chuuya as she stepped back. Chuuya didn’t say anything to her, but that was simply because his heart had risen into his throat. He listened to the nurse walk away, the click of a door behind her isolating Chuuya and Dazai together once again. Still, this time, it didn’t feel as stifling as the last.

Rolling Dazai’s fingers idly between his own, Chuuya waited. The orange sunlight bled through the window, casting its brilliant glow over them both, basking them together in gold. The ventilator whirred, rhythmic and slow, and Chuuya found comfort in it; in proof of Dazai’s existence. In the palm of his hand, No Longer Human danced, light and airy as if untouched by gravity.

Chuuya closed his eyes, resting his head on the bed and letting the silence welcome Dazai home.

He moved only a while later, a twitch of his fingers at first. Still, it was more than before, and Chuuya opened his eyes, watching with elation as his eyelashes trembled, fighting, as all of Dazai must have been fighting to return to Chuuya in that moment. And Chuuya watched, heart beating steadily in his chest, as Dazai flexed his hand, stretching his fingers still within Chuuya’s grasp.

When he raised his head, Chuuya caught Dazai opening his eyes.

He went at it slowly, vulnerable, squinting against the golden light warming them in its embrace, and there was something terrified in his expression that twisted Chuuya’s heartstrings into knots. And then, his gaze fell upon Chuuya, still resting his head on his bed, still holding his hand, dried tears still glowing over his cheeks and around his eyes, and his expression softened.

It was difficult to tell with the tube still taped against his lips, but at that moment, Chuuya felt that Dazai may have been smiling. The way he looked at him- fond, grateful, solemn- was warm and golden like the setting sun. Chuuya squeezed his hand again, and this time, Dazai squeezed back, holding onto him like a promise.

And in the way he looked at him, there was something more, something that Chuuya simply did not have words for.

But in that quiet moment, they clung onto one another, and Chuuya decided that his heart believed in Dazai more than it believed in itself.

"Souffre en pensant à moi,

car à travers ta souffrance

tu te rapelleras ton humanité."