The red lights from the police cars are too bright. Kunikida blinks hard to see the clipboard a police officer is handing him and a headache blooms behind his eyes.
“We need your signature, sir,” the officer says.
Kunikida nods and takes the pen being offered. He reads the paper that basically says that the ADA is giving the case over to the police and will cooperate with the investigation. It’s standard and signals the end of a case for his team. He hands the clipboard back and takes the copy from the officer and slides it into the file folder he’s holding. “Thank you for your help, officer,” he says, and turns to find the others and head back to the office.
The only one who waited is Atsushi, who is slumped in the doorway of the warehouse with a torn shirt and blood on his cheek. He stands up straight as Kunikida approaches. “Is everything okay, Kunikida-san?” he asks as he falls into step.
“It’s fine.” They walk in silence and the ache behind Kunikida’s eyes grows. The city lights have a ring at their edge, smearing light into the edges of the darkness. The subway platform is empty in the late night; their footsteps echo on the concrete and the smell of old food and electricity and stale tunnel air makes him swallow thickly. He leans against a pillar and rests his head against it as they wait for the train.=
When the train pounds into the station it’s like someone turned the volume up past the maximum on the stereo, like the sound is so loud it’s staticky as it slows to a stop. Kunikida pulls in a deep breath and pushes himself off the pillar. He follows Atsushi onto the train, and they collapse into the plastic seats. The watery yellow light of the train is better than the bright city lights, but Kunikida has to force himself not to close his eyes. He glances over at Atsushi who has closed his eyes. He nudges the boy. “Don’t sleep on the train,” he snaps.
He doesn’t mean to. Atsushi is exhausted like the rest of them, possibly more since he had to transform tonight and fought hard to wrest the maniac they were chasing under control so that Dazai could negate his weird ability, while Kunikida and the others fought your average goons and helped to get the hostages free. “I only mean that you’ll feel worse when I wake you if you sleep now.”
Atsushi yawns. “Okay. Sorry.” He sits up a bit straighter.
Kunikida yawns, too. “It’s okay. I know you’re tired,” he says, and adds, “You did well today.” He can feel Atsushi’s gaze on him after the unusual show of praise. “I should say that more often, I suppose,” he adds. The train pulls to a stop, so he stands and offers Atsushi a hand up, ignoring the odd way the boy is staring at him. They trudge up the stairs to the street, and Kunikida has to stop at the top and take a deep breath as nausea churns in his stomach.
“Kunikida-san? Are you all right?”
Kunikida nods and clenches his teeth. He swallows against the sharp tang of the city air and gestures for Atsushi to come on. “I’ll walk you home,” he says tightly.
“Shouldn’t we go back to the office and do our paperwork?”
Kunikida stops and takes a deep breath. “You’re exhausted, Atsushi. Let’s get you home and you can do your paperwork tomorrow. There’s no rush.”
Atsushi blinks at him and smiles. “Thank you, Kunikida-san!”
They walk toward the dormitory that the Agency offers and Kunikida’s legs grow heavy with each step. His headache has ratcheted up on their walk, and he swallows thickly as he waits for Atsushi to open the door to the apartment. He shivers and shoves his hands in his pockets.
“Thank you for walking me home, Kunikida,” Atsushi says, and Kunikida means to answer, he really does, but the tickle that’s been building in his throat rears up and becomes a claw, and he doubles over and tries to cough it away. The pain in his head explodes, and he clenches his eyes shut.
He finally stops coughing and straightens to meet Atsushi’s worried gaze. “I’m all right,” he says, but it feels like his throat is full of glass, and kind of sounds that way, too. He can’t help the shiver that shakes out of him, either. “You get some rest, Atsushi. Don’t come in to work until the afternoon, all right?”
“Kunikida-san,” Atsushi starts, but Kunikida steps back and ignores him.
He doesn’t need concern. He needs to get home and sleep. “Rest, Atsushi. Good-night.”
After a pause, Atsushi nods. “Good-night.” He closes his door.
Kunikida closes his eyes for a moment and presses his fingers to his temples. He can feel the throb of his headache in his eyelids. His apartment is only a few blocks away, a couple of blocks in the opposite direction of the Agency. He walks. He’s cold one minute and hot the next, and this simple walk is stealing his breath like he just ran a race. There’s a bench along the sidewalk and even though it’s the middle of the night, his body is pulled to it like it’s a magnet, and he sits down. He’ll just rest for a minute.
Something wakes Dazai from a restless sleep that he’d just managed to fall into – damned chronic insomnia – and he is not happy about it. He blinks in the darkness of his apartment and listens. His phone buzzes against the floorboards and, well, that’s weird. He gets few phone calls to begin with, and it’s the middle of the night. He picks it up and frowns. “Atsushi? Are you all right?” he asks as he sits up and runs his hand through his disheveled hair.
“Yes, Dazai-san. I’m at home. Kunikida-san just dropped me off a little while ago.”
Dazai rubbed sleep from his eyes. “So, what’s going on?”
“Kunikida isn’t picking up his phone. I’m worried about him, so I thought I’d call him to make sure he got home all right, but he’s not answering.”
“Maybe he’s asleep, like you should be?”
“No, he only left a few minutes ago. I thought I’d keep him company on the phone as he walked home because he seemed to be feeling bad when he left. Now I can’t get hold of him, but I don’t actually know where he lives, so I was wondering if you could tell me so I can check on him.”
“Atsushi-kun, that’s very kind of you to be concerned, but I’m sure he got himself home safely,” Dazai said around a yawn. Kunikida was the strongest person at the agency. Walking himself home shouldn’t be a problem.
“Dazai-san. Please. He sounded awful when he coughed, he was very pale, and it seemed like something was causing him pain. I’m afraid he’s hiding an injury from our fight. He walked me home, and he was behaving oddly.”
“He was very kind. He even complimented me.”
Dazai stood up. “That is odd. You said he seemed sick? And now he’s not answering his phone?”
“I’ll call him. Thank you for calling me, Atsushi.”
“What should I do?” Atsushi asked, and he sounded every minute as young as he was.
“Rest, Atsushi. I’ll take care of this. I’ll call if I need anything.”
He hung up and pulled his pants and shoes on, rewrapped his arms, and threw on his shirt and coat. As he walked to the closest train station, he swallowed the small seed of panic that had started to grow in his chest. Kunikida didn’t get sick. He didn’t miss phone calls, either, because phone calls could be work and he never missed work. Dazai sat on the train with his arms crossed over his tightening chest.
His feelings for Kunikida were a complicated mess, really, on a good day. The man was devastatingly competent, and he was motivated by a higher sense of good than Dazai’s wavering, grey need to follow Oda’s wish. He was funny when he relaxed, and he cared deeply for his colleagues. He cared so deeply, actually, that it made Dazai nervous. Caring hadn’t gotten him very far in his own life, so he really wasn’t used to it. Kunikida cared in a quiet way, making sure everyone had what they needed for work, reading them and knowing when things were getting to be too much for them, and making them feel useful and strong at the same time he took things off their list so that they could manage things. Sometimes people at the Agency didn’t even realize he was caring for them, but Dazai saw it. He knew.
The train pulls to a stop and Dazai shakes himself out of his thoughts and makes his way to Kunikida’s apartment. He only knows where it is because he didn’t like not knowing important details like that, so he’d followed Kunikida home a couple of times to make sure he knew. Now he knocks loudly on Kunikida’s door.
There is no answer.
Frowning, he knocks again, loudly. Still nothing. The seed of panic starts to bloom. He kneels down and picks the lock and pushed the door open. “Kunikida!” he calls as he walks in. There is no response. There is also no one home. The place is neat and tidy and empty, but it’s warm and welcoming. Dazai frowns. It’s a one-room apartment, and the closet on the far wall holds a neatly packed futon. Dazai takes a deep breath and leaves. He’ll trace the route back to Atsushi’s place.
The streets are quiet, and the orange of the streetlights bleeds into the pavement around him. Dazai walks deliberately, but not fast. He doesn’t want to miss anything. When he sees an old bench with a man slumped over on it, he breaks into a jog. He kneels down next to him. “Kunikida!” he says and shakes his shoulder. “Kunikida, wake up!”
Kunikida grumbles, “’m sleeping, Dazai.”
Dazai frowns and puts his wrist against Kunikida’s forehead and pulls it back quickly. Shit. “Yeah,” he says gently. “You’re sleeping on a bench.”
Kunikida blinks slowly and works to sit up. Dazai helps him and sits down next to him. “You’re sick,” he says. “What are you thinking sleeping on a bench?” his mind races to the worst-case scenario, like a Port Mafia member finding one of the Armed Detective Agency agents completely compromised and vulnerable. His dumb brain supplies the image of what that would look like and he has to take a deep breath and blink it away.
Kunikida starts to answer, but is overtaken by a deep, thick cough that shakes the whole bench. When he stops, he’s got his eyes clenched shut and he’s trembling and even paler than a second ago.
Dazai stands and pulls him to his feet. When he wavers, Dazai grips his elbow and starts walking. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s get you home.”
It’s slow-going, with Kunikida shuffling like an old man and stopping when his body is wracked with phlegmy coughs, but they come to Kunikida’s apartment and he uses his shaking hand to open the door, let them in, and turn the light on. Dazai’s panic has subsided a bit now that he knows what’s going on, but his worry has replaced it. Kunikida seems really sick, and Dazai doesn’t know the first thing about helping someone who’s sick. This is a level of having others in his life that he’s definitely not familiar with.
Kunikida shuffles over to his forest green, very poufy couch and slumps into it. He leans his head back and clenches his eyes shut. “Too bright in here,” he mumbles.
Dazai leans over to the small, maroon-colored lamp on the end table and turns it on and then moves to the door to turn off the overhead light. “Better?” he asks.
Kunikida groans. “Go home, Dazai. I’m fine. Thank you for helping me.”
Kunikida sits on the couch with his eyes clenched and Dazai sighs. “Do you want some tea?” he asks as he moves to the small kitchen area of the one-room place. There’s a kettle on the counter and he fills it up and flips the switch.
“Go away, Dazai,” Kunikida growls, but it turns into another hacking cough and this time he doesn’t stop.
Dazai pulls open cupboards until he finds a glass and then he fills it with water, grabs a towel from the counter, and rushes over to the couch. Kunikida is struggling to breathe, and his blond hair, mostly out of the ponytail by now, is matted against his forehead, covered in sweat. Dazai sits down next to him and waits for him to catch his breath. He offers the water, and Kunikida takes it and gulps it with a thick sigh.
Dazai shrugs and narrows his eyes. “Kunikida, should I call Yosano?”
Kunikida presses the glass to his sweaty forehead. “No. I’m not dying.”
“But you’re sick, and I don’t think it’s a normal sick. You sound terrible. She actually is a doctor, after all.”
“Don’t call – “ he pauses to cough into his elbow and take another drink, “Don’t call Yosano. I’m fine.”
Dazai frowns. This is not fine. He pulls out his phone and dials. “Atsushi? Yes, he’s safe. He’s sick, though. What do you do for a sick person?”
Kunikida protests. “You leave him alone, you idiot. Go home.” His voice is wavering, though, and flimsy as paper.
Dazai ignores him. “Tea. Yeah, I was about to do that,” he says to Atsushi and he goes back to the kitchen. He rifles through the cupboards and finds a tin marked ‘tea’ and takes it down. “I think he has a fever, yeah. Wait,” he says to Atsushi. “Why is there no bag? Yes, I know what loose tea is. I’ve just never brewed it.” Atsushi walks him through it, and soon there’s a steaming mug on the counter. “Okay. I’ll call you tomorrow, Atsushi. He’ll be okay.”
He carries the mug back to the couch, but Kunikida has his eyes shut, and his breathing is even, although it doesn’t sound clear. That can’t be good. He stares for a moment. Kunikida has a gorgeous face when it’s not scrunched up in anger, long and angular and with a mouth that looks kind in rest. Atsushi said that Kunikida had complimented him. He was a good mentor. Dazai caught him giving Atsushi lessons in math and writing after work sometimes, since he didn’t get much in the way of schooling at the orphanage. Kunikida is a good man.
Dazai swallows and sets the mug down and moves to the cupboard to pull down the futon. He lays it out on the floor. He drapes blankets across it and pulls a soft, fluffy pillow down, too. He finds pajamas sitting on the same shelf and shakes his head at Kunikida’s practicality of leaving them there, and he takes them over to the bathroom and sets them on the back of the toilet.
The bathroom is small, but it’s painted a soft yellow and has a green fern hanging in the corner, and it smells like lavender. Dazai takes a deep breath before he goes back to the couch and kneels down. “Kunikida, wake up, okay? Hey.”
Kunikida blinks slowly and frowns. “You’re still here?” he rasps.
Dazai tries not to feel that like a knife, and nods. “Yep. Come on, sit up. Drink this and then change into your pajamas in the bathroom, okay?”
Kunikida stares at the tea in Dazai’s hand and takes it and closes his eyes. He takes a sip, and hands it back to Dazai. “I’ll be right back.” He stands and goes to the bathroom. Dazai can hear him shuffling around, and when he emerges, Dazai can’t help his grin. Kunikikda’s hair is down and his pajamas are a soft mint green color with a pale yellow collar; they’re kind of like what he imagines grandpas wearing. Of course, the mint green is a fantastic color for Kunikida. “You should wear green more often,” Dazai says.
Kunikida glares and takes the tea back. He throws a couple of aspirin into his mouth and swallows. “You should do your paperwork more often,” he mutters.
Dazai laughs. “I’ll make you a deal, Kunikida-san. You wear a mint green suit one day and that’s the day I’ll do my paperwork on time.”
Kunikida ignores him and drinks the rest of his tea in one go. He goes to set the mug on the cherry wood coffee table, but he misses. Dazai reaches out and grabs the mug before it can tumble to the floor. Kunikida coughs deep and phlegmy again and puts his head in his hands. Dazai reaches over and rubs circles on his back. “You need to sleep, Kuni,” he says quietly. He’s pleased when Kunikida doesn’t call him on the nickname.
“You need to go home,” Kunikida mumbles, but there’s no heat in it.
“Come on,” Dazai says, and pulls Kunikida to his feet and guides him over to his bed and helps him down. He pulls the blanket up and tucks it around his shoulders. He can’t seem to control his hands tonight, so he brushes sweat-damp hair out of Kunikida’s face and smiles.
Kunikida is watching him and fighting to keep his eyes open. “Are you leaving like you should?” he asks, and there’s something in his voice that gives Dazai pause.
He looks around the room. It’s comfortable and warm, and his worry has been doused a little, but not all the way. “No,” he says gently. “I don’t like the sound of that cough or the fever in your cheeks. I’m staying.” He sighs as he brushes another strand of hair away from Kuni’s face. He brushes his fingers through his hair and as Kunikida’s eyes flutter shut he keeps doing it. It’s comfortable, and he keeps it up until Kunikida’s breathing evens out and his head lolls to the side.
He stands, stretches, and moves back to the couch. He takes his coat off and folds it over the back, and when he sits, he positions himself so he can watch Kunikida sleep. He’s never done this before, looking after a friend. Oda had checked on him a few times when he was down with an injury, and the warm feeling of someone worrying over him had been a treasure he’d tucked deep into his memories. He watches Kunikida’s chest rise and fall and figures that being the one doing the worrying is hard, but if Kunikida can have a little of that feeling of being worried over, then it’s worth it.
He’ll try to sleep again, but he knows himself. It won’t come easily, especially in a strange place.
He falls asleep on Kunikida’s couch between one breath and the next.
A week later, when Kunikida shows up at the office wearing a mint green shirt under his trademark beige suit, Dazai laughs and gets started on his paperwork. It’s not a green suit, but he figures that it’s close enough.