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Penniless Slumber, Open Your Arms

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Atsushi had been five years old when life turned upside down for them. They tugged at their hair and twisted in their seat, looking around a dim room and watching three adults chatter. Two had been men, one had been a woman with muted cyan hair. They had been five years old and too young to understand much of anything, but a young woman with blue hair and shadows at her feet came forth and cupped their face in her frail and blood-coated hands.

They had been scared, like always. Was fear normal? Maybe, they didn’t know. Perhaps they never would, a penniless query that held no truth to the bones of this very child. Or any other, too, for no one cared either. Was it a common thing for children to feel in the face of new people, those with gloves and large coats that streaked the floors like crows’ wings? No, that would make no sense.

There was doubt in the dark, and too much joy in the light. A volcanic eruption awaited for them at each corner they turned, fear lingering in every step. A being would one day arrive to save them, and with bright eyes she would try to teach them just how much they were missing out on. The shadows that obeyed her would flicker and dance, and each one would smile and threaten to eat the threats of this world.

“What’s your name?” Someone would one day ask them, years in the future. And they would then reply, earnest with sweetness on their tongue. “I’m Atsushi!”

Her eyes gleamed with pity, a reflection of her soul’s sorrow. She had been awfully sour when she first met him, gently pulling him up off the cellar floors and admitting to not knowing how to take care of ‘children like him’. Atsushi had been five years old when their guts had been spilt over the floor. They had hitched their throat onto the hooked fishing lines of death; A cruel way of being captured. They had been too young to know what it meant to die, but the shadows at the woman’s feet certainly knew the rich taste of demise.

She told them to live, to not look back. They had been five years old when a kind woman gently picked them up from the bloody floors of a place called an orphanage, digging around in her pockets for a butterscotch candy and handing it to them with generous eyes that betrayed nothing but shame. Lilac irises had met the painful and fearful ones of a little kid whose name they did not know, with dirty hands that so graciously took a piece of candy with awe.

“Are you scared?” This woman would ask him, as they stared at bloody corpses together in several years time.

“If I am, will you hold me?” They would then beg in the silence, darkness engulfing the two of them. She would turn her head to look at them, eyes pitiful and ashamed for the death before them both. A hand outstretched, an offer of hesitant affection-

“Yes, I will,” She would then say, and retract her hand. It would be bloody, so she’d wipe it on her coat. Blood would be smeared everywhere. It would be pretty disgusting.

“I am, t-then,” They would whisper, shaking their head. They would lie through their teeth in hopes of receiving comfort. The woman would reach her hand back, slowly drawing them in for a short-lived embrace.

Atsushi Nakajima was a little thing, their eyes covered with fear and decay. They could not sleep and could not die, shrouded by the affection of the dark and the disgust of life itself. So a stranger arrived, without warning, and she found them with chains around their body and glass shards in their skin.

The child had been five years old when their ability originated, pain and energy dancing along their skin. Wide eyes met the gaping holes of a pitch black cell, chained by metal and clamped with teeth of self-hatred. The rooms had never been comforting, and the voice of people they couldn’t understand only made things worse.

With bloody teeth, electricity and substances forming blocky pieces of energy, they stabbed at the humans who entered the dark. They had torn at the seams of reality, and they had torn it apart rather well. Life and death, they danced under the dim and flickering ceiling lights. Atsushi had screamed and shrieked, an incoherent mess of desire and agony. Their misery was not to be forgotten, and the woman who arrived with the two men had clearly known that. Guilt and shame in purple eyes, meeting those of a child too weak to bear the pain of a power that shouldn’t exist.

Was that their punishment for being born? No, it wasn’t. This couldn’t be their fault. Humanity was cruel, but it didn’t blame the weak. Not in every case, at least. Not in this case, the thing that mattered most in the eyes of the tired but curiously bloody child. Was the master correct, a faithless child like him being bound to pass away sooner rather than later? No, he wasn’t correct.

A little child devoured a sugary sweet in the dark, listening to chatter they had never been taught. Blood had leaked from their shoulders and eyes and every opening across their skin. Painted in a pallet of blue and purple, faint yellow under the rims of their lips, they were told that they were safe.

“What’s your name, kiddo?” She had asked. They had looked up, wrapper in their left hand. It had turned an ugly red that night. They had winced, voice wobbling, “Atsushi.”

She had combed through his hair, introducing herself, “My name is Mizuki Tsujimura, and I will take care of you.”

And so a young adult with lilac eyes and pale cyan hair came forth from the blinding white hue of a sunny day. She walked with confidante and let death hold her hand, an Angel sent from the devils of humanity in this strange place called a cell within an orphanage. The basement had been horribly cold, but a metallic sheen of red and silver had been enough to make Atsushi hum and reach out with small hands.

Mizuki Tsujimura had promised to take them in, and so her pink cheeks and bloody mess of skin had become one with the goodness of self-loathing that had warmed Atsushi’s soul for five years of living. She had grabbed them delicately, desperately so, in order to give them the heat that not even hatred could replace.

Perhaps it was a selfish wish that came true, the way someone so carefully picked up all of their pieces and put them back together like a simple puzzle. It had ever been a desire of theirs, not even when hands were raised and slammed down upon their skin and back. Were they ever supposed to feel this type of joy, this radiance of being worth something, no matter how steep the price?

Atsushi had stared at the endless void of purple and blue, and then had allowed another to lift them up and hold them close. It had been such a nice thing, nicer than the glass that fluttered and scraped its teeth across their collarbones and wrists.

— — —

This Slumber Will Be My New Dawn

— — —

Atsushi was ten years old when they started to think of more complicated plans and stories. They had been doing it since they were six, but that had never scratched the surface of how deep their desires ran. Their blood was liquid gold, flourishing under pale hands. It was a bright red, but it glimmered in the light and turned awfully sharp when they desired someone’s death. It was a vacant power, one that their guardian took careful consideration over.

Her eyes would rake over the shapes and stolen moments of tranquility. She was a good person, and would speak after a few seconds. She constantly said, “It’s called a gift; It’s a superhuman power that only a few people have. Your gift seems to be a trait-stealing one, haha…”

So they had a gift, a grand one. It could pick and choose the powers from others, could snatch away the most simple things and never give them back, not unless the ten year old wished for them to be returned.

The door to their bedroom jostled, gently, and the handle was turned. This house was a big one, nice and pleasant. They had everything they could ever need in here, food and water and warmth. There were people who visited once a week, with suits and ties and fancy clothes. Most of their faces were never shown, but sometimes Atsushi would look up and extend a small hand and politely introduce themself.

“I am Atsushi,” They would say, in the aching future.

“Nice to meet you, Atsushi-Kun.” The man would say, and he would often be careful with his words. He would have been Atsushi’s guide in this life if it weren’t for Mizuki. This would be six years from now.

“My sister is dead,” They’d say next, and wipe the blood on their clothes. The men in suits would nod solemnly, whispering in perfect Japanese that Atsushi couldn’t quite place. The man would frown at them, too, his expression flashing with pain.

When the door opened, the child did not look up. They already knew who had appeared. The shadows hummed and waited, licking at the ink and bruises across the little one’s skin. This was their bedroom, and they could do whatever they wanted. There was no one to tell them how to live, not unless the careful kindness of their sister counted as anything.

For a few minutes it was blissfully silent. This was like a routine, peaceful and without pain. It would forever be the most simple of things, aching and griping with nothing at all. But then their sister walked closer, stepping over a pile of papers and untouched toys. The ten year old liked to write and draw meaningless things rather than play. They weren’t seven anymore.

The adult silently picked up an item, and Atsushi waited for her to say something. They continued to scratch messy scrawls into a tattered piece of paper, mind racing alongside the sun and moon and the force of this world.

“What do you like to do, Atsushi?” Mizuku asked them, flipping the pages of the book she had just picked up from the child’s bedroom floor. There were many books here, half-read and mostly destroyed. Ripped papers fluttered about in the shapes of paper-cranes and roses, little creatures fluttering and moving. It was as if Atsushi had breathed life into the dead sheets of tree-trunk, had given each piece something to exist for. There were many spilt pots of ink across the floor, and messy handprints all across the window of their room.

Mizuku dutifully stepped over the heap of ruined books, brows rising in mild curiosity as she watched the child she had taken in scribble something down on the shredded paper. There were no exact words scribbled there, a mixture of English and Japanese scattered across the surface. Ink stained the kid’s hands, black and blue across the brown bandaids and many wraps of gauze across their palms.

She stared at them for a few more moments, patiently waiting. She watched him ignore her, purposefully, and then sighed. Her voice wasn’t cruel, but it held an undertone of firmness, one that was just a tad bit sharper than her normal relief. The little child absolutely hated hearing. It made them feel bad for not listening the first time around. She spoke softly, a genuine question on her lips, “Atsushi, kiddo, remember what it means to communicate? It’s a two-way street.”

“I like to run,” They whispered, after a long pause. They remember what communication was, they knew how badly Mizuki was trying to teach them manners and kindness. She was young, but she wasn’t hopeless. She had been raising him like an older sister to their younger sibling for five years now. Atsushi was ten years old and did not want to be mean, but they weren’t nice either. They simply existed.

“Ah, right,” The agent murmured. “Because you took part of my ability today, right?”

“You said I need to use it more,” They responded, brows pulling together in mild confusion. They couldn’t read other people’s minds, that wasn’t an ability they had ever had access to. They couldn’t understand people as easily as others, so they had to guess. Perhaps they should try to stop doing that. She smiled, a mere laugh, “Not on me, kiddo.”

“Oh,” They uttered. Mizuki wasn’t mad, so she came a little closer and politely set the destroyed book back down. She wasn’t mad at them, not in the slightest. If she were mad, it would be far more obvious. Her voice was genuinely curious. “Will you return my shadows if I play a game with you?”

“I want to go places, and-… And your shadows, won’t they let me, if I ask?” Their voice wavered, the question barely sounding like much of anything.

“Maybe. All they do is kill,” She answered. The child knew she was telling the truth, so all they did was nod limply and shrug. Their voice remained unfazed and unbothered, twitching with a slight sheen of understanding. “I want them to.”

“Then I suppose you are just as bad as me, huh?” She hummed, sitting down beside him. Among the mess of paper and scrawls and spilt ink, this was all that she could do to try and reach the logical part of the ten year old. She hated her ability and everything it did, but she seemed to hate it less when Atsushi tried to steal it from her. She was worried they would get hurt amongst the shadowy powers it could entail. “Asking for them to kill isn’t very nice.”

“I wasn’t taught to be nice,” They said, and it was a simple thing. The child looked away from the towers of books at their disposal, frowning. The shadows they had stolen licked at their palms, teeth scraping over bandaids and fresh bruises they hadn’t tried to peel away like paint. They weren’t sure it would work this time around. Their voice trembled again, and they stared at the soft carpet of the large apartment. “I was taught to survive. This-… This is how I do that.”

“I think we can do this later, yes?” She hummed, gently reaching out and squeezing their shoulder. It felt so nice, the comfort and serenity. Was it cruel of them to want to steal that too? Her voice remained unbothered, “I can teach you a few things about the shadows once you give them back.”

“Will you hate me?” They asked, just to check. Will I hate myself?

Mizuki stared, as if she was surprised at such a question. A look of horror flashed in her eyes, and her hair fell into her face as she shook her head. “I can’t hate you, kiddo. I care about you.”

“I know. The dark told me six years ago,” Atsushi answered. She looked at them oddly, her horror being replaced by relief and this unsteady anxiety that must’ve been morbidly curious. They didn’t know if she wanted to know if they stole a different ability before meeting her. She didn’t ask that question this time.

Her voice was softer than freshly fallen snow, but it felt like she had just given them a handful of salt and told them to rub it into all of their wounds under the bandages. “You would have been four, huh?”

“It tells me a lot,” They decided on saying, staring at their handiwork. Scattered and scrambled words looked back at them, and they winced. Their eyes raked across the page, and with a trembling hand, they slapped it down on the fresh ink and smeared it down. Messy blackness returned, and the shadows ate it up without any reluctance. “But I-… I like what you say better. And what that man says. You both are better than the dark.”

“You think so?” She asked, leaning forward and running one hand over the pages of the book that they had been writing in. The messy and smeared ink, covered with a handprint, stared back at her. The woman smiled, looking back at them.

I think so. They nodded once, simply, “Yeah.”

“You really are an enigma, kiddo,” Their sister said bubbly. Her hand ruffled their hair, and it was a nice comfort among the needles and thorns of having to be alive. They remembered the feeling of burning their skin, remembered bleeding in a cold basement and never being able to laugh or cry. They had been nothing but a muted thing, tired and angry and so very alone.

But this was now, and now they could be whatever they wanted. Who was to stop a two year old child, one saved by a government agent and kept within close proximity to the very law? They blinked, humming in consideration, “You will always say that.”

“I will, won’t I?” The young adult laughed, amused at the conversation. She looked lightheaded, perhaps dizzy from the idea of Atsushi constantly taking what did not belong to them. The shadows all gnawed on their skin, and the little kid winced and shook them away. Yesterday’s Shadow Tag was a strange thing, but they liked it. Their sister’s ability was strangely useful, twisting about and awfully murderous.

“I will, won’t I?” Mizuki would ask, three years from now. Atsushi would have fresh blood on their hands by that afternoon, and they would turn around and tell her to stop speaking about such horrid nonsense.

The child looked at her, frowning slightly and letting the world slip away into the mess of light and constricting feelings that they despised so much. Their sister wouldn’t hurt them. They desired sleep, and even if this version of it wouldn’t satisfy the hammering of their heart, it would have to do.

Perhaps once the next day had broken, it would be better.

— — —

Hello World, Have You Come For My Head Today?

— — —

The waters lapped at their skin, but they didn’t mind. Their eyes were screwed shut. Mizuki ran her hands against their spine, rubbing the ash and blood away. They were twelve years old and too tired to want to have normal things, so they didn’t bother. It’s my version of normal now. Doesn’t that count for something?

“Are you alright, Atsushi?” Mizuki asked them, running the water over all their injuries. It was early afternoon, but there had been a time where Atsushi hadn’t known what time it had been. The mission, that’s what the two siblings had been on, must’ve gone well if they were back at home. They would probably sit down on separate sides of the couch and read books together after they fixed and tended to all their wounds.

The government people couldn’t convince the twelve year old to stay in any type of hospital, so graciously they had been given medical supplies and told to go home and rest. Mizuki was washing out the wounds that weren’t able to be disinfected, for she hadn’t possessed any major wounds. Only her little sibling had.

“Never better,” They hummed into the dark. Their eyelids reamined shut, closed with the intent to never open again. But they didn’t stay shut, peeling back open as the warm water curled across their hands and rolled off of their hair from the shower-head. A steady stream of heat, soothing and reassuring for all that it was worth. They weren’t too hurt, just tired and bloody. Or they had been bloody, before having a bath.

“I stole their powers, like a criminal. Is it bad to feel giddy?” They asked, when Mizuki didn’t say anything else. I stole what made them all happy, what made them all powerful. Was it bad of the child to have done that, even if that was what they had been told to do? Their sister had been told to dismantle the group, and Atsushi had been told to tag along and do what they did best; Steal.

“Maybe to normal people. This is just who you are, and who I’ve enabled you to be,” The young adult said, and she somehow managed to run her hand through the wet mess upon Atsushi’s head. Her voice remained unbothered, and if they tried to imagine what her expression was, the only image that appeared was one of a grief-stricken but calm woman. “What will you do?”

“Nothing, really,” Atsushi said, and they were floating about. Within their head, the sounds of children younger than them were crying, and the shadows were pointing their hands at the masses. They wondered if the orphanage was destroyed yet, or if the children inside were still rotting amongst the absence of their precious scapegoat. “I don’t want to do much with the stolen traits.”

“You are a kind child for saying such a thing,” The government agent whispered. The blood swiped in the water, and ash fell down. It felt just like the city streets in Japan again, twisting and cornering the younger child during the late hours of the night. The dark urged them onwards, saying many things, but Mizuki had always said more than the pitch black skies.

“But I am also a liar,” They murmured, and it was the sad truth. It’s not that sad though. I know it’s not that sad.

“And a cheat to life’s games,” She added, but there was no heat in her voice. She was just telling them exactly what they were hoping to hear. She had learned how to do that for both of their sanities. Maybe it was a skill, too, the communication the two of them so desperately tried to share and preserve. They blinked the fuzziness away, bubbles popping. “So are your shadows, and your mother, and my parents who abandoned me from my own gifts.”

Their parents had left them to an orphanage. Their life had been bound by shadowy ropes and beads of energy, pain and lightning present in the backs of their very mind. They had been cheating life out of every chance if suffering, had been wandering aimlessly- Even with Mizuki holding their hand and saying that they were worth more than the very sun and moon combined.

“I have washed your back for years now,” She answered, and her voice was featherlight. She did not wish to walk down the path that Atsushi was mumbling about. Mizuki wasn’t a negative person for anything, and when she became bitter it only lasted a day before she turned into someone simplistic and without hate. She knew how to control her emotions, and she taught Atsushi how to do the same damn thing. She swallowed thickly again, and the water kept pouring, “Aren’t you tired, Atsushi, from doing things so tirelessly?”

“To be relentless is to be the fastest. I just want to do your job so you don’t have to,” They admitted quietly. It was a selfish and silly little desire of theirs, something they wanted to succeed in accomplishing no matter how many hours they’d waste their life away. What was there left to do, if not to try and help the one person who had spent many years trying to teach them how to live? Feeling better as not a skill that they possessed, but perhaps in due time they’d find it.

Her words were chilled, “You are too young to be so spacious, Atsushi.”

“Why don’t you call me ‘Kiddo’ anymore, then, if I’m still so young?” The twelve year old asked in response, eyes half-lidded. They weren’t a teenager yet, still nothing more than a lucky and bloody child.

One who could bite and rip skin, and one who could use a gun with painful accuracy. One who was worth a lot of money to criminals, one with a highly feared ability- One that could not be explained or defeated. They were a twelve year old with a gun, with a soul long since forgotten to the envisionment of salvation. Were they worth the broken bones and dead bodies, or was it just a sacrifice in order to harvest the ability of the young one?

“You said to stop that a long time ago, didn’t you?” She murmured. They didn’t reply, waiting. She would continue if they waited long enough, so that was exactly what they did. Her voice was a whisper in the air, and the water was still warm in comparison. Iciness came back, and it was like glass in their palms. “I was mad.”

“So was I, so won’t you call me by such profound things again?” They echoed. She swallowed thickly, and the agony of before must’ve returned. The shadows hummed and buzzed, staticky. Mizuki was a good person, always trying to be a sister even when she should have given up. “Okay, then.”

“Do you hate me?” They would ask, with a gun pressed to their temple. They would be shedding tears, eyes wide. They would be sixteen, terrified far worse than any other being out there.

“No, I don’t hate you. I care about you,” Mizuki would answer, and she would smile in the dark of her pain. The gun would go off to both of their heads, but only the woman would die. Atsushi would steal the shadows that would remain and sob for the life they would have loved to stay alongside.

Hate was a strong word. Perhaps Mizuki would never hate them, not really, but perhaps she would be greedy for their power. Perhaps she would one day look at them with shame, too, and would ask if they would be willing to share their gift to the government. They didn’t know if it would actually happen, not when their sister was too kind and genuine for that level of imploring. Was it bad of them, then, to be this way? Maybe. Maybe not.

“I’ll miss you when you are gone,” Atsushi said out loud, into the void. Their voice twisted and twirled, uncomfortable within pain. It was such a sad awakening, a sad and despicable thing among those who would ever dare to turn their heads in the child’s direction. I’ll miss you once you are dead. I’ll miss you once you cannot come back home any longer.

“I won’t be dead any time soon,” She hummed. The soap popped, and the bubbles fluttered. It smelled like jasmine and citrus. It was a strange combination, in the child's opinion.

“One day,” They corrected her, voice quiet. Not soon but one day. That was how this life worked, for living was too steep of a price for most kind souls. The water licked at their wounds, and they shut their eyes against the chill that went up their spine. “All mothers go away.”

“Ah, but I’m just your sister,” She answered, and the water ran down their spine again. It was soothing. You are more than my sister, for you are a creator of the darkness that haunts you and I. They shook their head, white hair sticking to their skin and hiding some of the cuts from view. “You are a mother to the shadows that feast on my mind, are you not?”

She continued to wash out their hair, silent for a time. When their sister spoke, her voice was pliable and placid. “I wish I weren’t, kiddo.”

“I’ll miss you,” Atsushi said again, not wanting to acknowledge her response. She knew just as much as he did, for the shadows ate at her lifespan and waited to strike down everyone who might pose a threat to her. They would kill anyone she desired, and her little sibling would merely watch from afar.

They would miss her once she passed. They would shed tears of pity, of shame. They would sob and have hitching screams rip from their tiny little throat, and they’d grasp onto a dead body as if her corpse could make everything better. If this life was supposed to be cruel, perhaps it was just cold. The wind and rain would surely shake them from their post among the rubble.

— — —

Wish Not, For I Am Only Made Of Skin And Bones

— — —

Atsushi was quick to adapt to situations. They were curious about a stranger, someone on file that their sister and one of her coworkers had spoken of over tea. Someone in the mafia, someone with brown hair and the scent of blood and self hate everywhere else. They were curious about the person who wore bandages like a shield, who was forced into a position that no child should deal with.

So, the thirteen year old set off during the winter season and hummed a strange tune. They walked through the streets, the shadows telling jokes as light bounced off the many necklaces they wore and the little flower pins in their hair. Mizuki had given those trinkets to them, and they intended to wear them as much as they could before she died.

Now they walked, now they continued through a pointless void and skipped along as the snow and sleet hit them on the back. The shadows consumed most of the cold, and they soon passed through the uglier karts of this city. They were going to visit a stranger, one who probably already knew of their name.

The mafia was a strange but informed place. It was to be expected, of course, so Atsushi didn’t mind all that much. They were okay with being known, okay with existing past the perception of high-level criminals that their sister and them were told to deal with. They were okay with not being allowed to give all the time, because hey, at least they got to live in a world as strangely bright as this one.

Sleet and snow were not kind things, but they were pretty from afar. The iciness was the same color as the thirteen year old’s hair as they walked. The puddles were slippery and chilly, but they knew exactly where they were going. The person they were about to visit, for peace of mind, probably already knew they were coming. He was intelligent enough to predict it.

So one ever they arrived, iced to the bone, they made no move to politely knock. Not this time around. They carried a sad message under their tongue, a fate that belonged to one of this stranger’s close friends.

They flicked open a pocket knife and stabbed it into the metal latch of a shipping-container, cold and wet. The shadows tugged on the ‘door’ too, even as the winds howled. It was a bad day. It was wet and cold and would not subside for quite some time. It didn’t take long before they broke the lock and swung it open, bony arms yanking with a surprising amount of strength.

A dimness from inside extended into the evening. Mizuki didn’t even know that they were here, visiting someone who could easily kill them. This person was just a teenager, but he was a Port Mafia executive and knew how to dislocate enough joints to slaughter anyone to exist.

Inside the container was barely what someone would consider a livable place. They stared inside, blinking the frost off their eyelashes. The person within, just as predicted, was hunched over his cot with a gun readied at the doorway. The metal creaked. A flash of realization skidded over his eyes, and Atsushi felt relief at the way he blinked and offered a knowing look. His teeth chattered, though, and he did not bother to hide it from the child.

“Ah, your name is Atsushi, right?” The seventeen year old tilted his head, smiling slightly. A gun was cracked in his left hand, and he had a dark trench coat cloaking his frame. He looked like he was suppressing shudders from the cold weather and lack of heat. Atsushi imagined that the open door of his ‘house’ was not doing him any good, not as it poured a mixture of rain and snow.

“Yeah,” They nodded, shoving their knife back into the one of the pockets on the coat they wore. They stepped into the shipping container, barely turning around to close and match the door. The stranger watched with an odd look of fascination, and all Atsushi did was smile in return. “You must be the guide to the shallow sea.”

“The what now?” He asked, infectiously with raised brows and a smile still present. It was sharp and prickly, doubtful for all the wrong reasons. He did not trust them. That was perfectly okay, for Atsushi wouldn’t trust himself either. The shadows buzzed and wrapped around their legs as they stepped further into the room. It was essentially barren, with barely anything at all.

A desk and a cot, and three large cardboard boxes in the corner. A stack of papers and books on an old oak desk, a cup of pens and a jar of fancy ink. A roll of bandages, a suture jut in the floor alongside two trash bags with unknown trinkets inside. A coat thrown over a chair, that was it. Two shirts stapled to a wall, technically, bloody and dyed an ugly crimson-brown. It was a pathetic place to call a home, but they did not mention it at all. Not a peep, not a single intake of breath at how lonely it felt.

“The shallow sea. It’s a play on words, I’d imagine you would have known what I meant. I’m sorry for that,” The child said, as if it was any condolence. They fidgeted slightly, staring at the badges and scattered medical supplies and then at the gun in the mafioso’s hands. They continued to speak, unfazed, “You are the guide to the death of my ability, right?”

“Oh, you are the poetic kind,” The mafia executive, Osamu Dazai, laughed. It was a bitter and sad thing, the notes of resentment missing. To anyone else, everyone else, it sounded like a normal laugh. How sad, how painful, how aching.

They shrugged. “My sister made me read lots.”

“Haha, how humorous,” He chuckled, but his voice was dark and distasteful. His shoulders shook again, the cold eating away at his already sickly frame.

He might’ve had alcohol earlier today, enough to forget the pain in his ribs from compressing his chest so long. It was a painful process, too. Atsushi wished they could say how bad that was, but in the end their words would not matter. Not about something like that, at least.

“The mafia has no room for error, and I have no time to spare. My sister would have my head if she learns I am here,” The thirteen year old elaborated. Mizuki wouldn’t actually have their head if she learned about this, though. That was a lie. She would probably freak out though, terrified of her sibling getting lost inside the head of another being who was not the people in the dark. They wrung their frail hands out in the fabric of their rain soaked coat. “Can you nullify my abilities, or would you prefer I take what does not belong to me?”

They wouldn’t steal, though. They wouldn’t take Osamu’s ability away, not for a moment. They wouldn’t do that to him, not to this young kid here. Sure, Atsushi was younger than him; But they were prepared for death. They knew it would sting horribly, and yet they weren’t fearful of it. The stranger in this place was similar, but he would not be ready to let go of this friend. No, he would be hurt for a long time after this, even once he wasn’t a pawn to the current boss of the organization.

Osamu grinned through the darkness of the room, barely present. It didn’t hurt nearly as much as Atsushi had expected it to, so they inched a bit closer. The room was cold without any heat. “And what would that be, hm?”

“A soul, a mind, your ability and your light. Though, you have none left. You’ve been swooned by doubt, haven’t you?” They said, not with sorrow or hate or anything at all. When the mafioso said nothing, only waited for something to be done, the child smiled again for a few seconds. They rolled their eyes, flowing through the air and slowly sitting down beside the stranger. He made no move to stop them, so they continued, “Doubt isn’t even all that attractive.”

“Perhaps,” He summed up with a weak shrug. The cold wracked through his frame, under the coat and bandages that were crusted with dried blood and ice. He might’ve been hurt, perhaps of his own damage. The child tried not to think about it too much.

“All I ask is for a moment of peace,” They said after awhile. Osamu arched a brow at such a statement, but listened nonetheless. Atsushi leaned closer, looking at him from the corner of their vision. Their voice was quiet, a whisper in the frigid air of the shipping-container. “I can trade you my own ability for an hour or two, if that's what you desire.”

“You are here for freedom,” He deduced the idea without much of a hassle. It was the truth. They smiled again, reaching out and poking the stranger’s arm. Like a child. A real, unharmed, child. It was a stupid little comparison, it really was, beacuse happiness fluttered about like a dying bird and no one was willing to help it back to its nest. Their voice remained quiet, “And freedom I will receive.”

“Certainly, Atsushi-Kun,” He said, but it was rather sarcastically. Hilariously so, maybe, for Atsushi would receive a piece of restful sleep if it was the only thing they got out of this. Sad words remained buried in their throat, stuck and waiting there. They didn’t say those things yet, brushing it all aside and continuing forwards with a new look.

Theor head finally lolled to the side, bumping into the mafioso’s shoulder. They arched a brow, retracting their hand and folding it over their stomach. The shadows buzzed as the kid spoke, “You are only four years older than me, do respect the lack of equivalency I will obtain from this.”

There was nothing to be obtained. They both knew this.

“Please kill your dearest friend, won’t you? My sister, she thinks we all are bound to revive ourselves with the security of comfort,” They echoed. The relief of nullification had their words come crashing down, raw and truthful. They had never been fake, not once, but the lack of the shadows made everything far clearer. “You can’t do that to those who are going to die.”

Their muscles burned, and they felt so tired. It wasn’t the bad kind though, not this time, it was somewhat tolerable. It could be dealt with, peacefully and without any haste. It was a soft but cold feeling, and yet it blazed like a fire within a forest. It would not wrap away any time soon.

“Tell your boss he must obey, yes? Even if I’m too young to be of use, you worry for the sheen of one man’s crucial demise. Call it an investment, Osamu-Kun,” They mumbled, wincing to themself. Their sister would be terrified if she ever learned that they had said this. They waved one hand, head still resting on the stranger’s shoulder. The comfort burned. Maybe it wasn’t comfort, and just pain radiating from the teenager. Their words turned placid, pained and pathetic, “He may not live more than a year.”

There was a pause. Osamu spoke up after a moment’s hesitation, sounding horribly wistful and despicable. Hateful of the fate that was being implied. “Either or, then?”

They answered, “Just for now. I am… I am sorry.”

“You know the world's fate, huh,” He muttered. Silence returned for a few minutes. The rain barreled on the roof of the metal box the tow were in, and the lamp in the corner flickered pitifully. The seventeen year old hung his head, breathing in deep. The world knew Atsushi’s fate, too, and it truly sucked.

“Of course. I know you are going to live longer than most, even as you grapple with death,” A world of hurt flashed in their eyes. They promptly chose to ignore it, brushing it aside. He said nothing, so they prodded a bit. Random words spilled like a broken fountain, “Don’t trust the blue path, promise me?”

He said nothing again, stared at the wall, trembled slightly in the cold. Atsushi pressed closer, as if to try and share the scattered warmth they possessed. They weren’t sure if a hug would help, so they didn’t make the move to give him one. They continued talking instead, “It will only lead you down pain and hospitalization. My shadows can’t watch you like that, it’d be too much.”

Their shadows watched everything. Their sister had allowed them to steal a few traits from her ability. It was a nice thing, the little jokes and things the dark would tell them at night. They knew enough because it was easy to learn patterns and twitches. People could be read like books if someone tried hard and long enough. Atsushi closed their eyes for a moment, swallowing the bitterness on their tongue.

“You don’t even know me, haha, what makes you think I believe a word you are saying?” He laughed, a distant hum in his voice. He leaned forwards only barely, but made no move to shove the thirteen year old away. Perhaps he knew why Atsushi was actually so adamant on reaching out as much as they did.

“Because a child that the government locked up, one as useless as me, must be worth something in the eyes of society’s most perfume chess pieces,” They snickered, just barely. They were too young to want much else but this, talking to a stranger who could easily shoot them dead. How fucking ironic. “Kill me when you can finally end your own misery, and maybe then you’ll see what I mean!”

But this person would never be the one to kill them. This person was too lost within his own head to ever actually pull the trigger or press a blade deeply into their neck. He would never kill Atsushi, would never be the one to end the child.

“See you later, yeah?” They asked, finally removing their head from the teenager’s shoulder. They felt a bit better, but as soon as they slipped away, the shadows returned from the dark and the world lit up again with life and other uncanny things. They blinked the fuzziness away, hand moving from their side to lightly flick the teenager in his arm. I will see you like, thirteen more times. I think. And then I’ll see you permanently when we are both adults. How stupid. I can see you smiling with serenity rather than with hate. It’ll be stupid.

“Maybe, Atsushi-Kun,” The mafioso muttered, still grinning despite the way there was something distracted in his eyes. “Show, not tell.”

“Wait a year, then. See what I mean when they are all dead or withering. I can’t fix that, only try and prolong it,” Atsushi shrugged, pulling their hand away and giving a tiny salute. Osamu smiled at them, and they smiled back before dramatically bowing in gratitude, “Thank you for your peace.”

— — —

I Let My Mother Kill Me When I Was Six Hours Old

— — —

“My mother was killed long ago, right?” They asked, wringing out a rag of water. Ice cold hands latched onto their wrists, and a pair of eyes stared at them with slight surprise. They looked up, frowning. The dishes still needed to be cleaned and placed on the drying rack. They turned to face their sister, brows tightly drawn in the beginnings of a scowl.

She looked at them, pity present. They didn’t offer anything else as a response, as a justification to their question. She swallowed thickly before speaking. Her voice was awfully quiet, “Why must you desire the hard things in life, kiddo?”

It remained silent. She released their hands, and they let the rag clatter into the sink alongside the other dishes. Mizuki tugged on their sleeve, and they followed her over to the table in the kitchen. It was tiny, but there were already teacups and things set up. Without a second thought, they extended one hand and brushed the teapot. It bounced to life, jumping along and pouring two cups of the tea.

Their sister sat down, sighing. The sink dripped with cold water several feet away, and carefully Atsushi sat down on the opposite side of the table. They just wanted to know the answer.

“You want to know too many things,” Mizuki always said with a small chuckle. They would always shrug, would always answer cryptically. “And you will always end up telling me, so it’s okay, isn’t it?”

“It’s a way to pass the time,” They shrugged meekly, not knowing what else to say. The tea in front of them was hot and fresh, and it ailed them. It tempted them to drink it without a second thought, a cup of human poison made to weaken the mind that Atsushi had acquired in the years they’ve been alive. Green tea, that was all.

“She is dead,” The young adult said, after a long pause. The world felt frozen.

“And my father is too, then?” They muttered. The silence was loud enough, the opposite of what it was supposed to be. They stared at the table and tea and then at their older sister. She looked at him, pain present. They frowned, eyes blinking wetness away. “I beg of you, Mizuki, can’t you share that secret with me?”

“I share too much with children like yourself. You deserve better than what feeble stories I have to offer,” Mizuki murmured, and she brought her tea to her lips. They stared at their own cup, wincing to themself. This was not the type of conversation they had wished to partake in, but perhaps this was the only version of it they would ever get. They swallowed thickly, something sour on their tongue, “So tell me about your adventures and all the knick-knacks you steal. I will listen.”

“I know you will, that is why I am terrified,” Their sister admitted, a faint smile on her lips. She looked sad, almost, like she was shaking in the rain and returning to a cruel reality where Atsushi was terrified of everything that moved. She was looking at them like she had once done when they had been newly brought here, taken out of the dark and given a home. She looked sad. Far too sad, far too pitiful. It hurt a bit.

“You mustn’t be,” They argued instead, already knowing what she would say. They hoped she’d bite her tongue instead, but they were unsurpassed when she didn’t. This was how it was going to be, really, and they wouldn’t try and change it.

She frowned briefly, tapping her short nails on the side of her cup. Her words were sorrowful, afraid, but also strangely comforting. She wanted to be their sister and watch them live their life to the fullest. That was the only reason her words didn’t sting as much as they probably should have. “I will forever be, kiddo.”

“I will stop asking,” They said in the long silence. They could hear the sink still drip. Mizuki shook her head, a frown forming. Perhaps she hated the idea as much as she must’ve hated Atsushi’s parents and former guardians at the orphanage. Perhaps the idea was enough to make her feel terribly guilty over this entire ordeal. “Never stop wondering, it’s how you have become so far ahead.”

Atsushi frowned, tapping their nails along the edge of the table. They wanted to know the answer to this thing, to the knowledge they never seemed to keep close by. It might’ve been selfish of them to want to know, but they didn’t care about that. “I want to know what happened to my family, if they aren’t just dead.”

“Your mother is gone,” She answered, not offering any form of specification. No graphics. Nothing of the sort. They didn’t bother to ask, only staring blankly. Was this how it felt to be mildly dubious, barely conscious?

Yes, she is dead. You told me. You told me already and I’m still wondering what else there is to know. They nodded, already knowing such a thing. She had just said that their mother was detached, after all. It still hit them in the head, though, still made it hard to breathe. Their mother was dead. “Yes, she is.”

“Your father is across the sea. He is a businessman. He doesn’t know you exist,” Mizuki continued. Something struck them down, stabbed their lungs. They didn’t say anything, and so their sister continued with a pathetic wince. “And you lost your sister in a car crash, two years prior.”

Oh. Oh, I see, Atsushi did not ask for their dead sister’s name. A lost sibling, one who was dead and never got the chance to truly breathe. Even if they did, literally, that must be a sad fate. Losing the chance to grow up. Losing the chance to be loved and known as someone else. Did that mean that Atsushi had only been a make-up child, one meant to replace the being who never got to be?

Was that it, then? Maybe the ache of losing a child so young, so small and puny, was what crushed the soul of their mother and made their father leave. So they had once had an older sister, possibly no older than three years, and that was all. A car crash on the way from school, from work or some other place. How sickening. Their mother must’ve grieved, and their father must’ve been as angry and upset as any other would be.

Was that the case, was that all Atsushi was meant to be? They had many roles and names attached to their existence, stolen gifts and powers, but none could ever amount to this one. As heavy as it was, it was also awfully cold. It made too much sense, and it forced everything to click together like a long-lost puzzle.

“Oh, I get it now,” They said, and perhaps this was too much of a conversation. Perhaps this was too much for them to handle, for their mind spun about and they leaned away from the tea. It was a tempting thing, but the steam made them feel ill and it was so hot, so bad, so annoyingly good. They blinked, reaching up and smudging their eyes and the ash that remained there from yesterday’s mission.

I don’t get it at all, but maybe I can understand soon. Their mind whispered, but they didn’t say anything. They couldn’t bring themself to say anything yet. They couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. Shadows licked at their palms, and maybe it was the threat of tears that made them feel so small. They knew that they were once stuck in the cold darkness of an orphanage, a place where no one liked children like them, but they also knew that they were no longer in such an environment.

They swallowed thickly, knowing better than to make an assumption without more information. And yet, they ached. And yet, they wanted to know if it was true or just an overreaction based upon their own panicked mindset. “I was not meant to be, perhaps?”

“No, oh no… Atsushi, kiddo, you were always meant to be,” She shook her head, standing up and shoving her seat back. There was a look of horror on her face, as if the idea that they would say such a thing had never crossed her mind. Perhaps it never had, and she truly was surprised. They wouldn’t blame her if that was the case.

“You are worthless!” The headmaster had once shouted so angrily.

“How worthless?” Atsushi had cried out in the darkness. They had received no answer, nothing but a broken nose and their chest heaving from being kicked. It had hurt, hadn’t it? Maybe so.

“It’s just me, then, who was able to survive in a cursed home of shadows and money?” They pressed, but their question was nothing more than a wondering sigh. They weren’t sure they were meant to exist then, not if their parents had been as simplistic and defeated as to give up. Perhaps Atsushi’s presence had served as a painful reminder to their mother, then, and that was why she had tried to kill him after birth. How stupid, how unfair, how cruel.

Their sister didn’t answer, a look of pain still on her face. She looked so apologetic, so sad, and it made the fourteen year old feel like a broken piece of glass artwork. They winced, voice weakly placed into the room. “Then it’s fine, isn’t it?”

— — —

Where Must I Go To Escape Divinity?

— — —

Killing came easy, a new pair of wings to try on and fly with. The spout of water pooling from the waterfall of a new dawn, the slumber that did not quite belong to the child just yet. Atsushi was fifteen years old and did not want to see their sister die in the upcoming weeks. She didn’t know that yet, but the younger sibling certainly did.

They stared at their reflection, aching. Broken pieces of a little boy stared back at them, but they knew better than to get lost in what they used to be. Their parents had left them to die, and their older sister was soon going to leave them alone. It would not be by her own desire, but perhaps it would be less painful if it was once the time came. They doubted it’d make the burden any less heavy, of course.

They knocked on the door of an old apartment. The person would know it was them. There was no one to run from and no way to escape; If Atsushi wanted to talk to someone, they would always find a way to make a conversation happen. It was one of their many skills, they supposed. Having so many fragments of abilities and choices was just one of those things, the tinier and more appreciative gifts that would never stop haunting them until they died.

After a few moments, the door rattled and clicked. It creakily swung open, revealing a bandaged soul with bloodshot eyes and messy brown hair. Ah, yes, the former mafia executive; Osamu Dazai. He was currently on the run, awaiting for his record to be cleared of all his crimes. And here Atsushi was, a child protected by the surveillance of over thirty-nine of the finest agents that this country had to offer. How horribly amusing.

Osamu stared at them before slowly blinking. He sounded dead, exhausted to the bone. “Have you grown ill yet?”

“No, I am quite alright!” Atsushi chirped, letting a smile appear on their face. Vaguely, they gestured to their soaked frame and then towards the sea of clouds up in the sky. The light posts flickered in the dark and gloomy rain. They grinned a bit more, genuine and sincere despite the roar of thunder. Osamu was unimpressed as they spoke, “See? I let myself get drenched just to visit you in your pits of sadness.”

“I see,” He agreed treacherously, awfully bored. His knuckles were blue and red, and one hand was bandaged tightly. If Atsushi had to guess, Osamu had been beating himself up for the past few hours. They didn’t know how to talk about those types of things, so they swallowed this sense of humanity and promptly ignored it. You didn’t even deny that you were sad. You are truly tired, then.

“Have you tried to be a normal kid?” The nineteen year old asked the question, gripping the door handle a bit tighter. Normal was too strong of a world, actually. It was rather pitiful.

No, they hadn’t tried to be ‘normal’ for quite some time. What was the point? The fifteen year old shook their head, voice turning small at the end. “Oh, no, I gave up on that once I was seven. What must you do in order to live without the guilt of your comrades’ demise?”

“So you lost everything,” Osamu muttered, and although it might’ve been a question, it sounded more like a statement. A grand accusation, an assumption over something or another. They already knew the answer. They hadn’t lost everything yet, not so soon, but they would. It would slip away from them like violence and smoke, that was how everything would go down. No one gets to run away from what would surely haunt you, this much Atsushi knew well. Osamu would soon understand it, too.

“You are running. Of course I have come to reach you,” The teenager said instead, breathing weakly. In bad weather, too. My sister doesn’t know I’ve tracked you down again. The rain poured outside, and it continued to hit their back. They waited for Osamu to say something else, waited for him to scowl or smile devilishly and say that the child on the doorstep should run away.

He did none of those things, instead staring blankly before shaking his head. He had dark bags under both his eyes, but only one of them glowed with a type of life. The other was still and dead; A useless glass sphere to match a damaged socket. His voice was simple, “That's not an answer.”

“It should be. You are an intelligent creature, and I can compare you to those of stolen entities,” Atsushi said sincerely, opting to wipe some of the water off of their forehead. The beads continued to dribble down, despite their efforts. “You want to be free of this, and I-… I want to be free, too. As free as the birds and dying fish in the sea.”

The rain kept pouring, but the human before them stared and slowly inched aside. In one moment, Atsushi had snaked into the tiny coverage of the apartment without so much as a lick of hesitation. They breathed in the metallic scent of dried blood and old paper, worn-out books sitting on a small desk in the corner.

This place barely looked lived-in, or livable, but the fifteen year old knew that this was just an occupied space left to fix itself. Osamu Dazai would never want to feel human if he wasn’t in sync with his humanity, perhaps.

It was a tiny little apartment, probably bought with scrap money from the former prodigy, scarring every part of himself to afford something as peculiar as a place to live. They weren’t sure what to say about it, so they settled on saying nothing at all. This was a temporary place to live until Osamu’s background was cleared up. The government didn’t have records of it yet, but Atsushi knew that one of their sister’s friends was a double agent. They had met that man before, twice, and each time had they starkly avoided coming in contact with him.

The ability of that double agent was not one they ever wanted to come in contact with. Perhaps Osamu knew this, too, for his life was on the line. Then again, he had never been one to desire living. He wasn’t a person of gratitude for the life in his veins. That was fine. Atsushi felt similarly, if not for the fact that they had access to happiness wherever they looked. It was merely shoved into the cracks of reality.

“My sister is going to die in three weeks,” They breathed in the dusk, the darkness of the small and barely habitable apartment. They turned around before the rain could be swept into the room, shutting the door and locking it. The room’s lights flickered pitifully. The prodigy waited for a few seconds, arching one brow. Apathy was their sharpest weapon, if not for the blades in their pockets and the gun in their coat.

“You are calm about this,” Osamu said, unsurprised. He must’ve expected it from the start, for Atsushi was not a patient person, and far from anyone kind enough to let pain be dropped down rather than poured over one’s mouth. They had let many criminals drown in their suffering, and perhaps that was fine. Who knew any better, either, if not for themself?

“I’ve known for three years she was not going to live past January. I’ve also known that you would run once your friend met his expected demise,” Atsushi admitted after a few seconds. Their coat felt far too heavy on their shoulders, but they didn’t make an effort to remove it. The darkness was embraced by tension and slight disgruntlement. They frowned, only for a second, before smiling through patheticness. “I apologize, for I have intruded and caused you distress.”

“Very funny, Atsushi-Kun,” He muttered, but his voice was dark in comparison to the smile on his face. The younger person could only hum, debating how such a thing could ever be considered funny in this world. They shook their head, pushing aside their dishevelment. “No, it’s not funny. What is there to be amused over?”

“The fact you act as if you are one of them,” He grinned, but his entire expression was detached. It hurt to look at, hurt to see. They could hear the bad weather from past the walls, could see it out the window. It was cold and murky, a dark afternoon. Mizuki was on a mission, and Atsushi was on one of their own. She would hate to see them here, talking to this stranger.

“Oh, you have got it all wrong,” They said, and the fifteen year old blinked. They frowned, only for a moment, before shaking their head and offering the tiniest of smiles. A minor thing, perhaps a cent in the hat for redemption. They knew exactly what they were, and although they were a human by nature; They were simply a child within a dead body. That was all. They weren’t actually here, not like they wanted to be. How silly. “To be a human is to be one with what makes everyone the same.”

“They are too powerless, prowling beasts made of flesh and soul. You and I, though? I have only met a few people who are of the same jurisdiction as us,” Atsushi smiled, a bit pained. They ran their hands through their hair, water clinging to their skin. The shadows hummed in their ears. They looked back to the nineteen year old, buried bitterness coming back to bite at their tear ducts and ears. “We are more than human, and you are only a step below that of something great.”

“You are still too poetic for my likings,” He said stiffly, but he was still smiling. Osamu was a strange and complicated human, forced into one too many roles at too young of an age.

“Of course, Osamu-Kun,” They agreed with a small shrug. Their shoulders ached, painfully so, but they paced about and thought of what to say next. What could be said? Will you even listen to me? Do you even want to know what I desire from you in the future, what I will get? No, the teenager didn’t want answers to those questions. It would be stupid of them.

Osamu sat down on the edge of his desk, eyes bored. And yet there was something in his frame, something in his veins. It wasn’t blood to keep him alive or venom from years in the mafia. It wasn’t spite from all the time he spent wondering what ways to commit suicide. It was interest, the exact opposite of the boredom he was currently displaying. It was quite amusing, that small act of his.

They knew very little of what Osamu had gone through. They didn’t know this young adult further than stolen government files and glances through rose-colored lenses. But they knew Osamu was a strong individual, one who no longer broke and shattered apart so easily. He was born into a wealthy family and left to rot, and then a doctor came and essentially snatched him away when he was still a she. And then he was raised in the mafia, as a prodigy of a doctor as dangerous as anyone would expect, for the underground was deadly.

They inched closer until they could sit on the other side of the desk. Their shoes were wet and squelched over the floor, but the tiles were cold and reflected nothing but the dim expression of a teenager. A cursed ability in their head, they sat on the opposing side and sighed airily.

“You and I are the same, in all simplicity,” Atsushi said, and they reached out and patted the young adult on the knuckles. They both were ice cold, although Osamu was the one to reel his hand away first. It was strange to see this former killer look so shocked. The contact had not been appreciated then, the fifteen year old decided. They continued talking nonetheless, “You remain weaker than the average creature, for you have mercy in a black heart. I am, as what my sister refers to me as, nothing more than a child with a bleeding heart.”

He smiled at them, as if it was a funny statement. “Really?”

“I am not as great as you, but I am not lower. All I will be is the person to see you off to the shallow sea,” They sighed, offering a meek shrug and a gaze that was icy and unaware. The shadows slipped away from their hands, taking the rainwater and bruises with it.

How odd, how strange. Was that what they always did, constantly letting themself get tugged along from one line of poetry into another? Maybe it was just a way for them to truly pass the time, like they had said. Or would say, in a few years time.

Would it matter once the gun was pulled out from the black coat, and their sister was shot dead and the people all laughed and gloated? Would it matter once they lunged at their competitors and ripped them apart with a stolen gift, one of a shadowy game of death and racing? No, they highly doubted it would. The government would cover it all up anyway, for no one ever needed to know that that agent raised a monster with cuts and ink.

Osamu leaned forwards, reaching up with own bandaged hand to run it down his face. He looked so tired. They wondered if they could knock him out, maybe, and leave him covered with a coat too small. They pushed the idea aside, knowing it’d be futile. They listened, hearing his words as he spoke. A bitter laugh, amused at nothing but pain, “You should think about living among the true, then. Perhaps run from death while your legs still work.”

“After I buy you crab, maybe,” The fifteen year old smiled in kind, unaffected by the jab. This was what most people dealt with when they spoke to this young adult; Osamu Dazai. A strange man, one with scars and bandages and a black heart that was trying to turn back to a beating organ, and not a thing of ice and stone. In another world, it would be easy to become nothing more than a facade of happiness and humanity. In another life, then, yes- That was what so many never understood.

An image of their sister flashed in their head, dead and bloody and covered in gunpowder. Was it bad that they couldn’t bring themself to cry about it, not in these moments? They’d been seeing this death since they were younger than this, technically. Maybe that was why the pain was no longer fresh enough to sting. Perhaps when they went home, they could rub salt into the wound a bit more.

“I unnerve you, and I am certain you entrust your soul to be crushable by my shadows’ hands,” They finally said. Thunder roared outside, and the rain pounded upon the pavement and walkways. It would flood some of the wonkier parts of the road soon, and when it did, Atsushi would watch it from a penthouse window as they filed meaningless reports with their older sibling.

“Humor me,” They’d tell a man by the name of Ango, once they were seventeen. Their sister would be on a mission. It would be raining that day, too, harshly so.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in Tokyo with your sister?” The agent would ask, sipping tea. How funny it would be, when Atsushi would reach over and pat the adult’s hand in silent pity. Words left unsaid, but still inquired. So they would dare to speak up, dare to answer.

They’d smile, pain present and understanding in their voice, “I’m busy planning her funeral next January. Do you mind grieving with me, soon?”

There would be no warning, soon. Maybe if things were simpler and less bloody, Atsushi would be kind enough to give this stranger one. The former mafioso looked at them, still grinning despite the lack of heat or hate. He knew better than to think Atsushi would ever yield to anyone or anything. This little interaction of theirs was nothing more than a joyous reunion that was worth no more than a common check. “You aren’t human, Atsushi-Kun.”

“I am better than that, of course. So are you, so don’t grovel so much,” They hummed, slipping off the desk and brushing their wet bangs out of their face. Atsushi looked at him, watched their shoulders tremble at the words. It was so subtle no one would ever notice. They smiled, still, unchanging, “You’ll be a good being in a few years, and you’ll die one too.”

— — —

Bring Me The Hapless, And I’ll Keep Them Safe

— — —

Atsushi watched their sibling die a gruesome death; A gun to the head and a knife to the heart. They watched shadows come forth like anger, finally strong enough after being crushed by the ability of another. They watched their sister say that she loved them, and wished to be Atsushi’s sister even past the grave. Atsushi had been sixteen when she died, and two years of wandering through the earth had finally been enough time for them to decide on what to do.

They wanted to sleep, and the easiest way to do that was to walk the earth and flounder through Yokohama in search of a man that once bore nothing but a coolness in his heart. Their sister would surely hate this plan of theirs, one involving twisting shadows and humble sleep. But Mizuki was dead, so it didn't matter. There was no one to try and haunt them, no one to try and change their mind.

The eighteen year old walked through the streets, hands shoved into the depths of a black coat that was just a tad bit too big for them. Their hair was clipped up with three butterfly pins, things that they snatched from their sister’s vanity. They had their house keys in their pocket, and a phone in the other. They were wearing three necklaces, stolen goods from a jewelry shop in Tokyo.

Their sister had allowed them to keep it after a successful mission, paying the fees herself. She had liked the way the necklaces had made Atsushi light up in glee. Not many things could do that, and now virtually none at all.

Below them was a river, under this bridge. The sun gleamed hatefully, but it was warm on their skin. The back of their neck prickled, and the coat that was so tightly wound across their shoulders protected them from the prying eyes of people who had once thought that this child was nothing more than a rich and spoiled kid with a death wish. That wasn’t the case at all, it never had been.

Down below, a person floated by. That only lasted a few seconds before Atsushi was hurling themself over the rails, the water spraying everywhere and the shadows latching onto a half-drowned life-form. This was to be expected. The futures they saw were easily forgotten within the desire to be human, layered and cloaked with doubt. It never took long for the eighteen year old to stumble into death and drag a bunch of people out of its horrific embrace.

The water was ice cold, coursing through their mouth as the bubble popped. Their head broke through the surface, the choppy waves, and they gasped for air. It was fucking cold, as chilled as their heart and mind and everything else in this world.

The shadows dragged them and the stranger out, but they already knew who this person was. Today was the day, as some would mutter to themselves. Atsushi wasn’t as stupid as they knew others might think them to be, so today they’d gladly dig through icy water and stare at an orange hued sky while speaking to a former acquaintance. Osamu Dazai always preferred the stupid ways of death, the ones that wouldn’t succeed so easily, over the more simple ones.

All it took was a few minutes on the bank of the river before the person started coughing. He sat up quickly, trenchcoat soaked and bandages chilly. Atsushi stayed laying down, arms up high into the air and stretched. The shadows kicked the water, licked some of the cuts off their palms. Osamu blinked the fuzziness out of his eyes, brown bangs sticking to his skin. When he looked to his waist, he saw shadows dragging themselves off of him, a wave of disgust radiating from them.

Stolen little gifts from other ability users, blood and gore and the scent of gunpowder. He looked at the eighteen year old beside him, and Atsushi blearily looked back. They stared at one another, silent for several moments. This felt awfully similar to several years ago, didn’t it?

“Ah, Atsushi-Kun. You are back,” Osamu greeted, not even using his dramatic dialogue skills. His eyes flashed with reality, with truth, and the mask he wore so often portly fell back into the river with a splash. There was no point in lying to someone like them, not when they knew him for what he was. He was just a human with blackened blood, running faster and without a tainted cent to his name.

He was no longer in the mafia. Atsushi had known this since they were thirteen, had known even longer of the events that would lead up to his defection. Ango had told them a few things too, after Mizuki had died. That man had history in the mafia after all, as well as a subtle debt to Atsushi themself. He was trying his best, he really was, but he was spread thin and straining the world to keep it all together. It was why the eighteen year old no longer bugged him as much over the tiny things.

Ango had pulled many strings to get Osamu’s name cleared. He had also pulled just as many to leave Atsushi out of the government's hands, placing them under a special division where they had full clearance to simply live without impeding upon society. They had the permission to do whatever they desired essentially, as long as they obliged by all the rules and laws that this country had. It was rather nice, if they said so themself.

I’m back until I decide I want to stay at my house and never leave again. They smiled, “Of course.”

“You are free now, I’m guessing,” He released a breath, laughing a bit. His words sputtered out like snow being cast up into the frigid air. It felt awfully similar. Atsushi nodded again, water weighing them down. “Free enough.”

“The government let you loose, then?” He asked, but they were certain he already knew the answer. Osamu never let himself fall behind, even if it would be healthier if he took a break. A break from thinking, from planning, from being someone so strong and unwavering in his efforts to die without falling down into the pits of calamity. The government had not set Atsushi loose, not literally, but in a way they had certainly decided to give the eighteen year old free reign of their life.

“They couldn’t keep me, even if they wanted to. My sister gave me my life back once the gun was pulled and placed on her skull,” They decided to say, huffing slightly. Their breath swirled in the air, and the shadows they controlled and puppet tee finally decided to return to the depths of the river and surrounding area. The water dribbled past their lips and down their chin. They tilted their head at him amusedly, “Is that so hard to believe?”

He shook his head. “No, far from it. I hadn’t expected you to arrive here, though.”

“You are the only one I can confidently say I can know without growing bored,” The eighteen year old said, waving one hand. The water dripped and dribbled, falling away. The evening sun gleamed in the colorfully warm sky, “Being separated from one’s society is no fun, yes?”

“A child, haha.. Talking about living in the big word,” He snickered, rolling his eyes. He was playing along to the little game that the two of them had created so many years ago. Atsushi had been a real child, one with a knife in their hand and a gun to their temple. Osamu had been a young boy with the gun pressed against skin, eyes hollow as he said, “Wanna get real, then, kid? You’ll be dead by morning.”

“You’re four years older than me, Osamu-Kun,” They laughed a little, just enough to show that they found this funny. Memories flashed in their eyes, and they chose to ignore each colorful blur. “Haven’t I always proven my desire to be alongside the league of this horrific place?”

They had been alone for two years, only visiting a grave that was hidden among a designated field. They had sipped tea in the presence of a stranger with glasses, and then in the presence of an old man with a sword and good taste in cafes. They had been all about, roaming fruitlessly and smiling without any issues. This world was a kind place if you knew how to blackmail it into letting you live without harm.

They had met a man with a hat and thick coat, one who walked freely and frowned at the sight of a trembling child. They had roamed with the intention to find purpose, to find sleep, and they had. So they spoke with strangers and offered hi services to those who needed it most, cleansing the slums of cruel adults who tried to harm children. They set fire to many homes contacting villainous people, dared to step foot into the mafia’s port and smile at a stranger with black eyes and shadows that were far more deadly than Atsushi’s own.

They had walked along bridges and let rain soak them thoroughly, calling with adults and other government agents to pass the time. They had made their life somewhat coherent, mentioning what they would do in months time to even the most random of the agents they chose to bug. Ango found it to be tedious, but he never tried to warn them against it.

The strangers that they met offered them positions of power. Mizuki would have told them to deny it all, so that had been what Atsushi did. With a dip of their head a smile that betrayed nothing but displeasure, they were quick to remove themself from the appearances of unknown people.

There were some good people, of course. There were two adults who meant well; One protected by the government and the other in close relation to the prior. One who could become a cat, a mentor who had passed on a legacy of protection, and the other who now ran a pn agency. Atsushi knew that Osamu was in that agency, free of some of the mafia’s shackles.

“Supposedly,” He hummed, closing his eyes for a moment. He was a good person now, no longer shrouding himself in blood and violence. The light could not give everyone something to live for, but sometimes it made things more tolerable. Atsushi hoped that was the case for this person, someone who was desperate enough to try and down in the most drastic methods. He opened his eyes and asked another question, “Have you defeated the ‘big league’ yet?”

“No, no one can. It is not possible to care for those who already don’t,” The eighteen year old answered. This was just like they were younger, like they were just catching up on the latest gossip about morality and death. It was rather hilarious. “Isn't that obvious?”

“It’s obvious enough,” He agreed. It was as if the two of them were old friends, simply catching up after falling into a river. They both knew that neither had fallen in, they had both jumped for separate reasons. His eyes glinted, and he tipped his head as water rolled down his cheeks. “And yet, I wonder, how can you be here?”

“You have the answer, don’t you?” The younger replied. They didn’t need to explain this type of thing to Osamu, not when he already knew full well what Atsushi was referring to. The answers that the two of them exchanged with each other from many years ago must’ve washed over him, for not a moment later the adult went still. It was strange, truly, for this man wasn’t the type to show any hesitation. He grew up knowing how to not do that. Maybe you are safer here, then, so you have no need to hide. Or you just know better than to try and lie to me.

“Ah, you want to sleep,” The twenty-two year old snapped his fingers together, sitting up and looking at the glaring heat of the sun. Yes, they would love to fall asleep sometime today. They would be ever so grateful to close their eyes and not wake up. They would be happy, if only for a few hours, and then would give their ability to this person to hold onto for a bit.

Atsushi smiled in kind, their eyes betraying nothing. To what was listening, the shadows of their sister’s corpse wrapped themselves across the eighteen year old’s arms and frame again. Soaked to the bone with water, that was fine, so they smiled in the evening sun and cloudy gold sky. “A penniless one, if possible.”

“You have done your part, huh. You’ve walked Japan and cursed enough people to make an army of sleepless souls,” He hummed, already knowing the stories. He had heard of them from many people, maybe, in the four years he had been away from the mafia. He had changed enough to blend in, to be ‘good’ even when things still haunted him. There was no way to escape from everything that you were once entrapped in.

“I’ve given them my hate, my life, and my energy. All I ask is that someone take what I have stolen from others, and that is the ability to stay here,” Atsushi said, as if it would make things easier to understand. They were sure that the detective already knew the answer, though. They talked anyway, “That is why you are willing to keep talking to me, even after I have harmed you so many years ago.”

“You want to sleep that badly?” He huffed, arching one brow. Yes, yes I do, Osamu-Kun. They wanted to close their eyes and stay asleep for a long time, but that was a hard thing to ask for. Even if they could steal traits of abilities, make everyone else become penniless and without power, it would not satisfy them and their desire to rest.

“Of course,” They said, and it was the truth. They offered a watery smile, gesturing with a gloved hand. They felt so cold, the sun not warming them up. It was a chilly day, maybe. They could steal Osamu’s ability and use it briefly, if they really wanted to, for they contradicted every ability. They got the first pick of the effects present. “My sister is dead, and she loved me more than I could ever love myself. Will you grant my wish, or shall I steal it and do it myself?”

Osamu stared at them for a few seconds, before shaking his head humorlessly. The two of them had possessed many conversations like this, although none had ever been as complicated as this one. “A penniless slumber, Atsushi-Kun. How scandalous.”

“Will you leave my corpse here on the side of the river, soaked and without a single breath?” Atsushi asked, arching one brow. The human stilled for a moment, as if he did not know what to say. His shoulders trembled. So did the eighteen year old’s, and distantly they wondered what was going to happen. They wouldn’t do anything drastic. They wouldn’t move from this spot on the riverbed, either.

This would be the end for them, and they would be happy for such a thing. Perhaps it would be easier that way, too, if they stopped existing inside it their own head all the time without any further jurisdiction. The former mafia executive had deflected from their childhood home, turning into a good person to heed the wish of a friend who had died. He was no longer a pawn to the mafia boss, he was just a young adult walking with his head in the clouds but eyes grazing over everyone else.

The man waited for a few seconds, glancing all around and then at the evening sun. His voice was simplistic, amused. “I’ll attend your funeral.”

He knew Atsushi would come back from this, knew that no funeral could take one’s existence and bury it. Not ever. Death was an extension of humanity, surely, but Atsushi knew better than to end their ideas in that and not add to it. Their funeral would be small and forgotten. Their sister would not attend, and they only had two other comrades that would be there. Ango and Osamu, that was it; That was all. And those two men hated one another, grieved and blamed each other and themselves.

It was silly, really, for they had been alive for eighteen years and no longer wished to understand people. The desire that ran through their veins had made living scattered and hard, and it had slowly etched them into a distracted human being with eyes in every wall. The world had been one to fear them, the night aching as this child walked with blood and ash and their sister kneading them along.

“How nice,” They rolled their eyes, but their voice was genuine. The river continued to flow. The air was orange, and the sky was a brightly lit gold. It was rather pretty to go out like this, in a flurry of weakened breaths and aching bruises across skin that should have been a healthy color and not so pale. Hours spent locked up within their room, within a basement. They had never been the same as anyone else, and no amount of living with the rest of the world could fix it.

“Your ghost better attend mine, hm?” The detective grinned, and for some odd reason it felt as if this was an old meeting. As if this was not just a selfish little thing that Atsushi was asking for, one that Osamu would comply with doing.

It was a favor to ask to be put to sleep. This was what Atsushi desired most, the ability to rest like everyone else. It had taken two years to fully understand the weight of being so alone, of being without another person to hold their hands and tell them they deserved to live without being a pawn. They had never been a weapon to anyone, not really, but they had done many missions willingly and played the role of an obedient little boy.

It had made them feel so sick, so ill, but they had pulled through each time to show their sister they could do just as much as her or anyone else. This thing was a favor, this act of sleep. Osamu knew that they wanted to sleep, knew that if their eyes suphut for too long they would never wake up again- But this man was smarter than Atsushi. Far smarter, far more cunning and sharp and knowing. It was why the stranger had enjoyed tracking him down so much when they were younger.

Water rolled down their skin, clinging to their hair and bones. Their hands came in contact with the detective’s, not mafioso’s, and this world flashed and spun. Their slumber would not last long. It wasn’t like death, it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t that easy to do.

The eighteen year old felt the shadows slip away, the energy that had pulled them so far through time to leave their body and stand ashore. It all was slipping away out of their grasp, and suddenly it felt as if nothing else could ever go wrong. The abilities they had stolen so many years ago, the ones of gunsmen and assassins and special agents and strangers on the streets.

“I suppose it will have to,” They laughed, a whisper on their lips. Their hands came in contact with the skin of a stranger, palms bare. Their eyes stayed warm and relieved, if anything, and they let the last of their energy slip away.

And then without warning the showcase plunged into the bandages and clothes and very existence of a former mafia executive. Osamu reeled back, and all Atsushi could do was stare at the aimless sky far up above. Their ability could steal and transfer, and if there was anyone left in their world who could have this power, it could be the man who was born from the dark just like them.

The reaction was enough to make the eighteen year old feel bad, so they smiled slightly in the half-embrace of sleep. This was the end of the line for them, and the ropes they had been using to climb had finally burned their palms. Osamu looked at them, eyes betraying their normal facade. Water dripped down their head, and all Atsushi did was hum.

Their hand remained extended, shaking. The shadows laughed, a sad and bittersweet thing. They couldn’t understand the mass of black anymore. Osamu-Kun can, at least. He has a chance of finally knowing what I meant by being greater.

“Atsushi-Kun?” He asked in the blank void of sleep. His palm came back to push Atsushi’s hand away, carefully, gingerly. No hate left to remain. Oh, are you scared?

“Hey, do me a favor…” They whispered, eyes barely open anymore. The evening sun looked so pretty. Their voice was so weak now, so quiet. This was their real slumber, the one where they disappeared from the world. They looked at the stranger with brown hair and bandages, and took in the shock that coursed through his eyes. “Take some things from others, and then give ‘em back after. It’s the perfect way to take t’me into one’s own hands and let the clock tick in sorrow.”

“You are still far too poetic,” He said quietly, even as Atsushi’s life finally faded away. He knew exactly what the eighteen year old meant. In the corner of Atsushi’s fading vision, they watched him stare at the shadows all across his palms, the darkness seeping into his bandages. Those shadows were once Mizuki’s, then theirs, and now they were a stranger’s. How ironic, how stupid.

They let their eyes slip shut, gaze turning dark and sour. If they woke up again from this, then the shadows would return and they’d go back to being the thief that they were taught to be.

Maybe someone would drag them up, from the water, from the pain, and they’d teach Atsushi what they were allowed to be. It wouldn’t surprise them if their slumber only lasted a few hours, and then their ability would return to them. It would not mean much at all. It would be fine if that were the case, because then it meant that this world was too sad to let them go.

Two hours later, they would peel their eyes back open to see the face of a past friend, and then a stranger with glasses and blonde hair. They would sigh, groaning about how unfair this was. “I thought you would let me have a penniless slumber.”

Osamu would laugh as the energy returned to the eighteen year old all over again, “You think too highly of me!”

How ironic that everything would start back up within the dark, bloody and cold, where not even someone’s desires could keep them tethered to reality. How silly, how funny, how intriguing. Atsushi fell into their slumber, knowing full well it would not last long at all. Oh well.