The first time they meet, they are undefeatable.
Everyone across Japan has heard of the legendary duo: Osamu Dazai, the brilliant strategist that no mortal can hope to defeat in a battle of wits, and Chuuya Nakahara, the feared katana-wielder whose battle strength rivals that of three battalions put together.
Stories fly about how Dazai and Chuuya singlehandedly defeated the foreign invaders that called themselves the Guild, when the king's own army had failed horribly. How they had arrived on the battlefield, along with a few friends, and hacked down the enemy like they were nothing.
Then, a few years later, the Guild attacks again, bringing destruction to Japan. Farms are destroyed, entire cities are razed to the ground, and tensions rise between classes as the wealthy begin to flee.
The king only hesitates slightly before calling his best messenger to his side.
"Atsushi-kun. I have a job for you."
Atsushi's white head pops out from behind a decorative column. "I'm here, Fukuzawa-dono. What do you need me to do?"
Fukuzawa closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
"Locate Dazai-san and Chuuya-san and ask them if they would like to assist the army once more in defeating the Guild. If either of them say yes, bring them here so I can confer with them.
"It's time to fight."
In the dead of night, a man on a white horse makes his way towards two very different houses: a plain-looking brown cottage that is always blazing with light, and a rather uninviting mansion with a singular light in the bedroom window.
After stopping for a while to rest, Atsushi leaves each house with an extra person on the back of his horse.
One by one, the lights go out.
The next morning, Chuuya is sharpening his sword when he hears an all-too-familiar voice behind him.
"...and then, bam! He went down, just like that. All thanks to my brilliant mind."Dazai winks, and the ladies gathered around him let out a collective giggle. "Of course, my partner deserves some of the credit since he was the one that carried out the plan - "
Chuuya strides angrily towards Dazai and grips his arm as tightly as he can, all while forcing a grin onto his face. "And said partner needs to have a word with the military genius of Japan. Dazai?"
He jerks on Dazai's arm, hard.
"Chuuya!" Dazai exclaims, once they've gotten a fair amount of distance between Dazai and the women. "Did you miss me?"
"Quite the opposite, actually."Chuuya mutters. "I was just thinking about how peaceful my life was without you in it."
"You're no fun."
"Dazai."Chuuya whirled around and looks the other man in the eye. "What the hell are you doing? We're supposed to be preparing for a battle, you know."
"Oh, that?" Dazai smiles and taps his head. "Don't worry, I've got everything up here."
"Good. Because if you screw this up, I swear - "
"Chuuya, Chuuya, Chuuya. When have I ever let you down?"Dazai reaches out a hand, gently tilting Chuuya's hand up. "Besides, I'm more worried about you. I know it took most of your strength to defeat that monster last time. What was his name? Lovecraft?"
"Dazai, - "
"Oh, there you are!"Oda, their commander, offers a small smile and jerks his thumb in the direction of the battlefield. "Everyone's out front now. We're waiting for you."
Dazai flashes a thumbs up. "Got it. We'll be there soon."
Oda hesitates, then nods and walks away.
Once he leaves, Chuuya lets out a
heavy sigh and lets himself sag against Dazai's chest.
"I'm always fine, aren't I? I'll be fine this time, too."
(Hours later, when the battle has died down, Dazai kneels over the rapidly cooling body of Chuuya Nakahara, who is most definitely not fine anymore.
He picks up Chuuya's katana, takes a deep breath, and smiles, taking solace in the fact that he'll be reunited with his partner soon.
Dazai's last words are: "I never got to tell you that I loved you.")
"Oda! Oooodaaa! Wake up! Rise and shine! Its a brand new day!"
Dazai makes his way to the room of Oda Sakunosuke, his best friend and fellow farmer, banging a spoon against a metal pan as loudly as he can.
Oda groans and rolls over in his bed, using a pillow to block out the racket. "Remind me again why we left the city to start our own farm?"
The banging immediately stops, and Oda uncovers his head to find Dazai sitting on his bed, swinging his feet.
"Fresh air! Plus, you said you wanted to do manual labor that didn't require being cooped up in a factory all day." Dazai kicks his legs higher. "Oh, and there's also the issue of Mori."
As if on cue, an angry squawk sounds from the kitchen.
Oda groans louder. "Is it my turn to take him out again?"
"I'll make you a deal. If you get up and milk the cows and make breakfast, I'll walk Mori for as long as he needs to be walked."
Oda practically jumps out of bed. "Oh, it's a deal."
Just minutes later, Dazai finds himself chasing what he swears is an insane chicken around the field.
"Mori, you little…! Get back here!" Dazai yells. "I want to eat my breakfast now, you know!"
Mori only lets out a high-pitched screech, flaps his wings…
...and lands on the head of an innocent bystander.
Dazai watches in horror as Mori flies around the man's head, squawking madly, feet pulling in every surface he can grasp. The man himself is doing an admirable job of beating Mori back with the stick he was holding, but Dazai hurries over and pries Mori off the man's face before things can get more hectic.
"I am so sorry about that. Mori loves attacking strangers, and it's hard to rein him in." Dazai sets the still-angry chicken firmly on the ground, then glances up at the person he had just rescued.
Which was a mistake, because Dazai is immediately taken aback by how absolutely beautiful and familiar he is. Orange hair catching the sun at just the right angle, black necklace contrasting with pale white skin, and I know him, his name is Chuuya, I loved him before -
"Oi. You're staring."
"Oh, was I?"Dazai coughs, trying to hide the fact that his face was slowly turning red. "Sorry about that. It's just...by any chance, do you know me?"
Tilting his head, Chuuya squints. "Sorry, but no. Am I supposed to?"
He doesn't remember me.
Dazai forces a smile onto his face. "Oh, no, don't worry. You just...look a lot like someone that I used to know. Anyways, what's with the ripped clothing?"
Chuuya scowls and tugs at his torn shirt self-consciously. "I've been wandering around, that's all. I haven't really had a place to stay in a while, so…"
"Why don't you stay with me, then?"Dazai blurts out. "I'm living with my friend, so it'll be a bit crowded, but our farm's just over there and at least you'll have a roof over your head."
"Honestly? If you don't mind, I'd love to stay."
"Good. Hey, by the way, what's your name?"
"It's Chuuya. Chuuya Nakahara."
"Whoa, you guys have such a large attic!"
"Elise, is this really okay?"
Elise giggles, pausing halfway up the ladder leading to the attic. "C'mon, guys! Trust me, it's fine!"
After making sure that the other girls had made it into the attic, Elise hoists herself up and gently knocks on the floor.
"Dazai-neesan? I brought friends!"
Dazai jolts awake and nearly tumbles down from her perch in the rafters. Once she's calmed herself down (oh, it's only Elise-kun), she floats gracefully down to the ground, dusting off stray cobwebs.
The other children stop in their tracks, staring at Dazai with a mix of fear and amazement; only Elise runs up to Dazai and hugs her tightly.
"Elise! It's been awhile."Dazai fondly strokes the girl's head while peering down curiously at the others. "And who are they?"
"My friends!" Elise detaches herself from Dazai's legs and points at each of her friends. "Kenji, Kyouka, and Yumeno. We want to hear the story!"
Dazai raises an eyebrow, looking around at the varying degrees of terror on the children's faces. "Are you sure?"
The children nod vigorously.
"All right, then, gather round."Dazai sighs, smiling, and lowers herself into a chair. She waits until everyone has settled down, then clears her throat.
"Let's see, where should I begin…?
"Once, there was a girl as beautiful as the sun. Oh, you laugh now, but if you saw her, I'm sure you would think the same. Her hair shone the same color as ripe oranges, and her sky-blue eyes were always sparkling. The whole town was in love with her, even though her personality tended to rub people the wrong way.
"Now, where this girl lived, there was a mysterious forest. Rumors flew about how faeries supposedly lived there, and how ghosts drearily trudged through the overgrown grass, looking for unwary humans to frighten. And naturally, the girl's mother wouldn't let her near the place.
"But she was a rebellious child. So one day, ignoring the protests of her mother and her nurse, the girl escaped her house and headed towards the forest.
"She wandered through the clusters of trees for what seemed like hours, searching for anything out of the ordinary. She turned over rocks, rustled bushes, and parted curtains of vines. but found nothing. Eventually the girl was ready to storm out of the forest in frustration, when a beam of sunlight suddenly broke through the foliage and lit up a small patch of grass where a ghost was sitting.
"'Hello?' the girl called.
"Startled, the ghost snapped up her head, looked around wildly, and disappeared.
"But even though their first meeting went horribly, the girl kept coming back. Eventually, the ghost grew comfortable with the girl's presence, even letting the girl come closer and touch her. They spent entire afternoons together, basking in the sun, talking and laughing the hours away.
"But you know what they say - happiness never lasts, and this was no exception. The other beings in the forest had begun to talk, whispering veiled statements of disappointment with threatening undertones. The ghost knew she had to warn the girl soon, because if she didn't, chaos would ensue.
"The next time the girl visited, as she sat there braiding the ghost's hair, she could feel the tension in the air as well as in the set of the ghost's shoulders. Concerned, she leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss on the ghost's forehead. 'What's wrong?'
"The ghost looked up, sadness evident in her eyes. 'You have to leave. You have to leave and never come back here again. Something bad will definitely happen to you if you keep doing this, and I don't want you to get hurt.'
"'Me? Afraid of a little thing like that?' The girl scoffed and tossed back her mass of orange hair, making it glisten in the sun. 'Besides, I can't just leave you. If things really are as bad as you say they are, won't you get hurt too?'
"'Yes, but...it's much harder for me to die, compared to you. And again, I don't want anything happening to you because of me.'
"The girl rolled her eyes. 'I still don't see what's so dangerous, but...alright. I promise I'll keep myself safe.'
"Reassured, the ghost finally let herself relax, and the rest of the afternoon passed by in a haze of blissful peace. Soon, the girl had to bid the ghost farewell, leaving the ghost all alone once more.
"The sun set, night passed, the sky became light once more, and a scream pierced the early morning as a mangled body was found lying in the entrance to the forest.
"The ghost knew exactly whose body it was, even though she wished she didn't. She waited for the whispering in the forest to die down before leaving her home and vowing to never go back, even though she knew that she would slowly die without the forest's sustenance.
"And so to this day, the ghost has haunted the house of the person she had loved more than anything else in the world."
Dazai finishes off the story and opens her eyes, and is greeted with five sad, wonder-struck faces. A moment of silence passes before one of the children - Kenji - tentatively speaks up.
"But - "
"Children? Where are you?"A voice calls from below. "If you're up in the attic, can you say something? Your father's getting worried, Elise."
"Don't worry!"Elise chirps. "I'm up here with my friends, listening to Dazai-san tell us a story!"
Elise's mother pokes her head into the attic. "Dazai-san? Who's that?"
The children begin searching the attic in disbelief, muttering "but she was just here,"but it was no use.
Dazai was already gone.
Dazai stands in front of a simple gravestone with "In Memory of Chuuya Nakahara"engraved on the front. She sits down in front of the stone, leans her head against it, and lets out a small laugh.
"Chuuya...I'm dying. It took years, but I'm finally dying. Can you believe it?"
Dazai looks up at the sky, wondering if Chuuya is among the many twinkling stars.
She touches her braid one more time, letting out a sigh of relief as she begins to fade.
"I'll see you soon, Chuuya. Wait for me."
Dazai hums, managing to stay cheerful even though he was currently chained to a wall, and a very uncomfortable wall at that. But really, the discomfort would be worth it if it meant that he would be able to meet Chuuya Nakahara for the first time in… well, a while. After all, he did have some things he needed to discuss with the orange-haired man -
"Went and got yourself caught, huh, Dazai?"A familiar voice echoes through the underground room. "Not very like you, is it?"
"Ah, Chuuya!" Dazai plasters a smile on his face. "I would open my arms to greet you, but as you can see, they're currently chained to this beautiful wall over here - "
"Cut the crap, Dazai."Chuuya steps closer, practically shoving his face into Dazai's. "Why are you really here?"
"Chuuya.." Dazai falters, but clears his throat and keeps going when Chuuya raises an eyebrow at him, daring him to go on. "Chuuya, do you remember having other lives?"
"The hell? That's impossible."
"That's where you're wrong. It is very possible." Dazai stops, considering, then opens his mouth again.
"Would you believe me if I told you that your boss used to be a chicken?"
Chuuya smirks. "Actually, I would. Don't tell Mori I said that, though."
"Well. I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider telling him that once or twice."Dazai laughs. "But would you believe me if I told you that, oh, we used to be women?"
"Exactly. But it's true. And I don't know how to prove it to you, but I've lived through three lifetimes with you, and you never seem to remember me. So excuse my manners, but I have to conduct a little experiment to see if your memory returns."
And with that, Dazai breaks free of his shackles (because really, he had sawed through them hours ago), hops down, and kisses Chuuya full on the mouth. He kisses Chuuya like his life depends on it, and when he finally pulls away, leaving them both gasping for air, Chuuya stares at Dazai like he's seen a ghost.
"You. You loved me."
"Present tense. Love."
"And I...I loved you, I still do, I - "Chuuya breaks off, still staring at Dazai, but this time his gaze held more wonder than hostility.
Dazai can't help but smirk. "See? I'm always right."
Chuuya does exactly that.