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Pushing Back, Moving Forward

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“Now you’ve done it,” Kunikida sighs from where he’s sitting against the dark wall of the warehouse, legs stretched out in front of him and his now-dusty beige suit looking very out of place in this mess. His left pant leg is torn, though, a hole ripped at the knee where he’d gone skidding away from the lightning-bearing gifted they’d just fought. Blood seeped through the hole and down his pants leg, staining the beige fabric a chocolate color.

Dazai turns at the exhausted sound of Kunikida’s always deep voice – it’s rough, like he sucked in all of the dust of the caved in door Dazai is staring at, and his trademark frown is directed at him and that’s just annoying. “This is not my fault,” Dazai protests, turning back to the pile of rubble that used to be a door and now blocks their way out and brushing blood from a cut on his forehead out of his eye.

“You provoked him,” Kunikida says, “Like you always do.”

Dazai ignores the chastisement and backs up, searching the heights of the room. “No windows.” He pulls his phone from his coat pocket and dials. “Atsushi, hi!” he says, pouring nonchalance into his voice. He is notgoing to let on that getting pinned in a room alone with Kunikida is going to stress him out, no way.  Getting stuck in a place like this, when he has, in fact, caused it, means lectures, the little green book getting waved under his nose, and threats of paperwork Dazai will have to convince Atsushi to do for him.

“Atsushi, you know the warehouse Kunikida-san and I came to investigate?” He pauses to listen. “Yes, well, could you maybe gather Kenji and his strong arms to come dig us out? There was a misunderstanding.”

As Kunikida’s glare stabs his back like a lancet, Dazai adds, “Yes, I provoked him. I couldn’t help it! Then he let loose a stray bit of that lightning power before I grabbed him and bound him, and now the door to the warehouse is piled up in front of me, making us stuck.”

A moment later, he shuts his phone and presses it to his forehead. His head hurts. “They’re coming, but Kenji’s out at the market and Atsushi said he had to go find him, which also means convincing him to stop chatting with the lady who sells oranges. It could be a bit.”

“Knowing Kenji,” Kunikida says, “It could be hours.”

Dazai sighs and goes to slide down the wall next to Kunikida. He leans his head back and closes his eyes. At least if he’s got them shut, he doesn’t have to see the disappointment written all over Kunikida’s face.

“Are you hurt?” Kunikida asks, and Dazai startles a bit at the gentle tone. The bickering grate in his voice is gone.

They don’t always fight, really. When they finish late at the office at the same time and Dazai says things like, “Buy me a drink?” and Kunikida starts to protest but then just shrugs and says, “Sure, my schedule’s open,” so they wander toward Kunikida’s apartment and stop at the Izayaka place only a few feet from his building. They sit and tell outlandish stories, trying to one-up each other on crazy cases that they worked alone. Or sometimes they sit quietly drinking and hardly talk at all, after particularly bad cases. They don’t always fight, and hardly ever when they’re alone.

“Are you hurt?” Kunikida repeats, turning his head to frown at Dazai.

“I knocked my head against what’s left of the door when it collapsed. Feeling a little queasy,” Dazai says. “Concussion, maybe.” He looks down at Kunikida’s bloody leg. “You messed up your knee.”

“It will be fine.”

They sit quietly for a few moments and Dazai closes his eyes against the nausea swirling in his stomach and swallows.

“Dazai!”

 Kunikida’s voice startles him and when he opens his eyes, the room spins a little. “What?” he asks, swallowing again.

“Don’t go to sleep. You need to stay awake until Kenji and Atsushi get here.” Kunikida’s voice is soft now, softer than usual.

“What?” The room spins again and Dazai has to close his eyes. Maybe he hit his head harder than he thought.

“Dazai, call Atsushi again, ok? Pick up your phone and call him. Now.”

At the Agency office, it was like everyone just snapped to attention when Kunikida growled an order, but Dazai’s body was always resistant. He always second guessed him. This time, though, it’s like the concussion fried some connection and he has his phone out of his pocket and dialed before he can think.

Atsushi picks up right away. “Dazai-san! Are you all right?”

Dazai blinks. “Atsushi?” is all he can manage.

Kunikita reaches over and grabs the phone before Dazai can stop him. His brain is really fuzzy.

“Atsushi, listen. Whatever Kenji is doing, get him to stop and get over here as quick as you can. And call – “ Kunikida sucks in a sharp breath – “call Yosano and have her meet us here.”

Dazai frowns. “It’s just a concussion, Kuni,” he mumbles, before he closes his eyes again.

He misses the rest of the conversation, and the next thing he knows, Kunikida is shaking him with one hand. “Dazai, wake up, please. I – I need – I need you to wake up.”

Dazai brushes his hand away. “I’m fine.” He says and opens his eyes to glare at Kunikida. The sight sends a jolt through his chest, as if the lightning they fought earlier today had been waiting until this moment to strike him. “Kunikida?”

Kunikida swallows and his adam’s apple bobs hard against his throat. His skin is waxy and pale, and his breath is coming in short gasps. He’s drenched in sweat, and he’s clearly fighting to stay awake, so when his head falls against Dazai’s shoulder, Dazai instinctually presses two fingers to his throat to check his pulse. It’s too slow. Fear pools in Dazai’s stomach.

“What did you do?” he whispers, pressing his hand to Kunikida’s too cool cheek. “Kunikida, what did you do?

“Need you to talk to me. Don’t wanna pass out. Might not wake up,” Kunikida mumbles into Dazai’s coat.

Dazai shifts his body so that he can hold more of Kunikida’s weight, and his eyes stop on the hand Kunikida is pressing to his side, the hand that has been pressed there since the fight, that Dazai hadn’t paid any attention to before now. He reaches across and pulls the hand back, gently as he can, to reveal a blood-soaked shirt, a growing pool of blood on the concrete floor, a scorch mark and nasty, bleeding burn on Kunikida’s side, under his ribs.

“Kunikida,” he begins.

“Please, Dazai,” Kunikida whispers. “Please just talk to me.”

Dazai nods and pushes aside the pain in his head to shift so that he’s kneeling in front of Kunikida, and he presses his hand against the tear in Kunikita’s skin and hopes it’s strong enough to stop the bleeding.

Kunikida cries out.

Dazai shushes him. “I’ll talk to you, okay? I’ll tell you what an idiot you are, for starters.”

That draws a weak grin.

“You are, though. Idiot. When I called Atsushi the first time, you just said to get Kenji. That’s it. What were you thinking?” Dazai runs his free hand through Kenikida’s sweaty hair and brushes his cheek. “You should have said it was an emergency, you idiot.”

Kunikida nods and closes his eyes.

“Nope, no. Don’t you dare.” Dazai pulls Kunikida’s glasses from his face and then pats his cheeks. “Wake up.”

Kunikido’s eyes flutter open. “My glasses. Don’t break them, Dazai. They’re my only pair.”

“What, no backup pair? What idealist doesn’t have a backup pair?”  

Kunikida swallows thickly. “Expensive.”

“I’ve got money. I’ll buy you another pair, although I think I’ll get thick purple frames. They’ll look good against your blond hair.”

“You can’t even pay your tab at the restaurant. You – you don’t have money for glasses. Besides,” Kunikida starts, but he trails off and his eyes slip shut again.

This whole situation is spinning out of Dazai’s control. He can feel warm blood on his hand pressed to Kunikida’s side. Dazai loves to tease him because no matter how much he pushes him away, Kunikida will never abandon him. Dazai knows. After all, he’s been testing him for years.  He presses on the wound again, desperate to keep the blood from pouring out. This time Kunikida groans.

“Besides what, Kunikida, besides what?” Dazai implores.

Kunikida’s eyes open, but they’re glazed, and they keep sliding away from Dazai’s gaze, like he can’t hold them on one thing. “Besides, I don’t want you to have more ammunition against me.”

Dazai sits back on his heels. “Ammunition?”

Kunikida coughs drily and gasps. “Ammunition. You’ll pester me to death about wearing the purple glasses because – because you bought them.”

Dazai presses the wound again and blood seeps around his fingers. The coppery smell is intense, and Kunikida’s skin has somehow managed to go even paler than before. “I’ll buy you whatever color you want, okay? But I think you’d look good in purple. Maybe I’ll buy you a purple shirt to wear under your vest. It would look lovely on you. It would bring out your eyes.”

“Dazai,” Kunikida whispers.

“Yes?”

“Were you part of the Port Mafia?”

Dazai’s heart stops. His breath stutters and the sinking feeling in his stomach gets deeper, and the jackhammer in his head pounds even harder.

Kunikida meets his gaze again, and this time he holds it, and even glazed with pain, those blue-gray eyes of his manage to pierce Dazai. Kunikida pulls in a shaking breath and licks his lips. “You don’t have to tell me, but If you were a part of them, know that I – “ he sucks in a sharp breath and clenches his eyes shut. He swallows and tries to draw a deep breath but ends up gasping.

“Shhhh,” Dazai says. “Be quiet. Just be quiet.” Pain drives a spike through his head, and he has to suck in several deep breaths to ride out the nausea. Fuck, his best friend is going to die and he’s going to throw up while it happens. His best friend. Oh, fuck. Kenikuda is his best friend. He hasn’t had one of those since – since Oda, and now this one is going to die, too. He raises his head and whispers, “Please just don’t talk about this, Kunikida. Not right now. Not here, like this.”

Kunikida nods weakly. “Okay. It’s okay, though, Osamu. You’re a good man now. I admire you.”

Tears spring to Dazai’s eyes and he has to blink them away unless he wants to stop running his free hand through Kunikida’s hair, and he doesn’t want to stop. It’s like he’ll keep him alive with touch. “You’re wrong again, idiot. Why the hell would you admire me? I thought you were smart.”

“Not smart enough to tell you before,” Kunikida mumbles. “Should’ve told you before. Maybe you’d have believed me when I’m not dying on a warehouse floor.” His eyes flutter shut again, and this time they don’t open when Dazai leans in and pleads with him some more.

“Please,” he says, and he can hear something behind him, but he doesn’t have the energy to listen. He’s going to keep talking to Kunikida, his best friend who says he knows about his past, who says Dazai is good, who says Dazai shouldn’t worry. “Wake up,” he says again, and the blood is still oozing between his fingers, and when he presses his free hand to Kunikida’s throat he can’t feel more than a flutter, and his own head is spinning, and there’s a crash behind him and a shout, and hands are on his shoulders, but he shrugs them away. “Wake up!” he yells. “Wake up!” And the hands pull him backwards and Atsushi is there, his tiger paws out and dragging him away from Kunikida, who slumps to the ground without Dazai’s support.

Dazai thrashes, yelling, “Help him! Help him first, dammit!” He negates Atsushi’s tiger, but Atsushi still has a good grip on him. He doesn’t let him go, and he presses him against his chest. “Yosano is here, Dazai! Let her help him! Stop fighting me!”

And Dazai’s head is spinning again, and he wretches onto the floor, and the last thing he hears is Yosano calling Kunikida’s name in desperation before darkness finally comes and lets him rest.  

When he wakes, he’s back at the Agency in the infirmary. He reaches up and touches a bandage on his head, smells the antiseptic smell of iodine, and the clean breeze smell of the detergent they use on the sheets. It’s too bright, too bright for the mood he’s in, for how his stomach is still angry with his concussion, for how empty the world must be now. But he’s rested, and the deep, bass voice that greets him with a quiet, relieved, “Dazai, you’re awake,” startles him so badly that he jerks in the bed and the sledgehammer in his head picks up again.

“Don’t move like that,” Kunikida chides, and suddenly he’s there, standing over Dazai and pressing his hand to Dazai’s shoulder, holding him down. “Yosano said that you’re concussed, but she says you should ride it out.”

“That’s unlike her,” is all he can manage to say because Yosano usually jumps at the chance to heal any of them.

Kunikida smiles sheepishly and shrugs. “She was a bit worn out.”

Dazai just stares for a moment, taking in the sight of his friend, standing there, talking to him like it’s any other day. 

Kunikida’s brow furrows and he pushes his glasses up on his face. “Are you all right?”

Dazai sits up with a grimace and leans back on his elbows to get a better look. “I have a headache,” he admits. “You look better than the last time I saw you, though.”

Kunikida sighs and nods. “Yes, from what I was told, I pushed her ability a bit far.”

“Ugh, Kunikida,” Dazai groans. “You bled everywhere. It was gross. It was all over my hand and it was sooooo gross.”

“Gross,” Kunikida echoes. “I do apologize.” He sits back down in the chair, and Dazai can see dark circles under his eyes, pale skin, and exhaustion around his mouth.

“You look like hell, but I’m glad to see you, you big idiot,” Dazai says softly, fiddling a bit with the infirmary blanket.

Kunikida nods. “I didn’t know it was that bad at first.” He sounds apologetic.

“It was really gross. Also, the lightning thing was totally not my fault,” Dazai says, and they slip back into their banter and grousing at each other until Yosano comes and tells Dazai he can go home as long as he rests and refrains from looking at screens for a few days. He climbs from the bed and stretches, and his headache isn’t so bad since he’d had some aspirin and water.

“Are you hungry?” Kunikida asks as they head for the exit. “I thought maybe we could go get a bowl of ramen. It might help if you’re still nauseated.”

“What, no sake?”

“I’m afraid I’m definitely not up for sake right now,” Kunikida says, and they push through the lobby door out to the street.

Dazai blinks against the sunlight and blows out a breath. “Ramen sounds good. You’re buying.”

“What? Why am I buying?” Kunikida protests. “I just found out you have enough money to buy me a new pair of glasses. Surely you can afford ramen.”

“Eh, you owe me, Kunikida. You owe me big time.”

“What for?”

“I saved your life,” Dazai replies, and they head into the nearby ramen place and find a table. Kunikida sits down heavily, and Dazai cocks his head. “Are you okay, Kunikida-kun?”

“Yes. I’m tired. I need to eat, though.”

The waitress brings them each a cup of tea and takes their order, and they sit quietly for a few minutes, drinking the tea and refilling their cups. Finally, Kunikida says, “Thank you for saving my life.”

Dazai sighs dramatically. “I was kidding. I didn’t save your life. Yosano did that.”

“No, I meant before. You canceled the lightning gifted’s powers and I know he would have defeated me. You did, as always, save me.”

The waitress comes back and sets a bowl in front of each of them. Dazai leans over and inhales the sweet scent of the steaming broth. “We’re a good team,” he says as she leaves.

“Dazai,” Kunikida begins, and Dazai can hear it in his voice, coming back to the subject of Dazai’s past.

“Stop,” he says quietly, his eyes locked on his bowl. “Just leave it alone today, all right?”

Kunikda’s stare bores through the steam from the ramen and then he sighs. They eat in silence for a bit and then Kunikida says, “I should have known.”

“Known what?” Dazai asks.

“That you used to work for them. You know so much. What would my ideals say about this?”

“That you shouldn’t be sharing a meal with someone like me?” Dazai answers quietly.

Kunikida blinks and shakes his head. “Ah, no. That’s not what they would say. I imagine there’s something to be said for reformation or redemption. Allowing for it is important, actually, in a world held to ideals.”

Dazai sips his soup and considers this. It actually lifts a weight off his shoulders, and he’s reminded of the easy way it was to talk to Oda, years ago, like he was always being forgiven, like every time they sat down at the bar, the world around them didn’t exist, like who Dazai was in the Port Mafia didn’t exist. He could just drink and laugh and live. Now, he sits across from a young man who lives according to a similar set of rules that Oda did, reaching for a pinnacle even he can’t probably attain. He reaches, though. He tries, and pushes the rest of them, even Dazai, to try, just a little bit, too. “I like the sound of that,” Dazai says. He lifts his teacup. “Here’s to reaching for that world,” he says.

Kenikuda smiles and raises his cup, too. “Here’s to redemption.”

Dazai shakes his head and something in his heart settles a bit. “No,” he says. “Here’s to reformation.”

They drink and finish their soup, and Dazai walks Kunikida home and waves as he heads off to his own place. He can’t ask for redemption for what he’s done in the past, but Oda always said he could change, had begged Dazai to change. To reform. And on the good days, he’s trying. He really is.

The next morning, he leaves a small box on Kunikida’s desk and ignores the stares of the others as he settles in at his own spot. Kunikida opens the box and laughs as he takes off his old glasses and replaces them with the classy purple pair inside. They definitely bring out his eyes.