Warnings: vomiting, very vague mention of pedophilia, murder by strangulation.
Build Upon The Ruins
Chuuya was sixteen years old when every government in the world made drift-testing mandatory.
It shouldn’t have changed anything for him at all. He was two years too young to test, far enough from the watchful eye of the law that no one cared to make sure he did, and those who could drift at all were rare. Zero point zero one percent of the population. By all logic nothing should have changed. He should have kept living alongside his organization and watched from afar as men and women from all over the world piloted giant robots to fight giant aliens. He should have stayed part of the ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent.
It shouldn’t have affected him at all, except that when Ozaki Kouyou tested, it turned out she could drift.
Chuuya had never had any family before meeting her. He hadn’t had any parent or sibling to smile with. The law didn’t allow forceful enlistment into jaeger programs, but Kouyou was a criminal; she was given the choice of either joining in or being put in jail, and Chuuya was left alone either way.
He was furious.
Other than the fact that his sister found herself dragged halfway across the world to undergo a training she didn’t want, there was the fact that, in her absence, Ace became the boss of him.
Chuuya hated the obsequious bastard with a burning passion. Ace hated him about as much. He found himself tasked with the lowest and most dangerous jobs of his organization, many of which he thought Ace meant to end with his murder. Chuuya stayed alive mostly out of spite between the calls Kouyou was allowed to give him.
He was seventeen when he decided to get the tattoos, and he didn’t have his group in mind when he picked blue hydrangea for the design; only the blurred memory of Kouyou’s face, his own restless anger, and how much heavier the perspective of the world’s end felt with no family to die with.
Chuuya tested three months after his eighteenth birthday. A year and a half after Kouyou’s departure. He queued alongside bright-eyed high schoolers who each bragged about knowing a friend of a friend of a friend who knew a pilot, who muttered about telekinesis and mind control, who spoke of conspiracies. Chuuya waited for his turn inside the white stall in the city hall’s meeting room and let rage consume him, breath after breath, blink after blink. Until every drop of his blood was molten with it.
A woman dressed in pink took his outdated ID with disdain. A man dressed in white sat him down inside a plastic chair before rubbing cold gel over his forehead. Chuuya was still when the glinting device was put onto his head.
“Try to make that arm move,” the man said in complete boredom.
He pointed toward a metallic appendage on the table next to them, plugged all the way through with various cables, linked to the thing Chuuya wore almost as a hat.
Chuuya didn’t know how he was supposed to. He lifted his own arm.
The man wrote something down on his pad with absolute lack of surprise on his face. He said, “Thank you for coming,” with the air of someone who would have forgotten so much as Chuuya’s existence in this life by the time he would walk out of the door, and all the soft air in Chuuya’s lungs sizzled and burned.
He threw his fist forward. The metallic arm sitting two feet away from him flew up and broke the man’s nose.
They didn’t have to threaten him to get him to enlist. He knew getting into the program was his only chance of seeing Kouyou again. Chuuya was driven from Tokyo to Yokohama that same night, and he withstood training for months in the wide black hangar there, talking to no one, not even any of the men and women training alongside him. The few who tried to approach him—most notably a girl named Sasaki who wanted to talk drift psychology with him, of all things—he ignored.
Luckily, he was good at the training.
He got used to the feeling of solo drifts, just him and the simulation cockpit. He got used to letting his mind escape through cables and meeting the cold unfeeling presence of a machine at the other end. He killed fake kaiju on a wide screen with vicious ferocity. He kept up his own personal training until all who sparred with him got too scared to do it again. He walked along Yokohama’s jaeger dock with his arms bare so that they could either admire the lacework of blue flowers running along his skin or fear it.
His life stayed like this until the six month mark: train, ignore people, obey instructions, train, call Kouyou in America, train. Ignore people.
“This is wrong,” he told his simulation instructor, Natsume.
He was maybe the only person here whom Chuuya mostly tolerated. Chuuya could obey orders regardless of his personal feelings—Ace had driven him into the ground and left him there to bleed, and Chuuya had never once rebelled against him, after all—but it was always easier when someone was agreeable.
Natsume looked at the charts Chuuya was pointing to with thoughtful eyes. “I don’t see how, Nakahara-kun.”
The -kun was part of the reason Chuuya liked Natsume so much. He was too often referred to simply by his last name—a name he had long stopped using for himself. He wished Natsume would just call him Chuuya.
“It says I’m second in simulation scores. I’m never second in simulation scores.”
“Well,” Natsume replied, and he looked amused. “It seems this time you were.”
Chuuya frowned. “Bullshit,” he declared. “I still hold the overall record. Who the fuck did better than me this week?”
“You know I’m not allowed to give you the other trainees’ personal results—”
“That would be me,” someone said into his ear.
Chuuya turned on his heels with his fist raised—and it was caught promptly, easily, by the boy standing behind him.
The boy took a second to stare at the tattoos with curiosity. This in itself was nothing new. His grip tightened when Chuuya tried to pull away, though, making the already simmering irritation in Chuuya build up into a boil.
“Who the fuck are you?” he growled, though he knew who the boy was. He had seen him training just as he did. He was one of the precious few who could drift, just like Chuuya.
The boy’s thumb stroked over the inside of his wrist lightly, right above the last of the heart-shaped petals. Right above his pulse.
“My name is Dazai,” he replied, dropping Chuuya’s arm at last. Chuuya didn’t acknowledge the goosebumps that the his fingers had left over his skin. “And you are the one who’s been hogging the best simulation scores for the past few months. It was a pain to beat you, you know.”
“That’s the point, you moron.”
Dazai smiled coldly.
“If you’re quite done,” Natsume said—Chuuya almost jumped, having forgotten all about his presence. “I need to go talk with the big boss.”
He left them like this, staring at each other, Chuuya’s weekly results strewn over the table between them.
Dazai didn’t seem to mind that they were confidential. His eyes roamed over the numbers, his mouth twitching once he reached the lines detailing Chuuya’s strategy training. Then he looked at Chuuya again.
And he said, “I didn’t know they made kid-sized stations. It’s a wonder your legs even reach the footholds.”
“Fuck off,” Chuuya snapped, advancing toward Dazai with a look he knew could make grown men cower. “Get out of my face before I punch you out of it.”
Dazai didn’t move an inch. He smirked down at him with the same dead-eyed hollowness.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Chuuya,” Chuuya said between his teeth.
“No last name?”
“You didn’t give me one.”
“Dazai is my last name.” Dazai’s grin grew. Chuuya’s lower back shuddered with revulsion. “Fine then. Chuuya. Let’s see if you can grab back that title of yours, yeah?”
His name had stretched into Dazai’s mouth like pulled candy, sweet and tooth-rotting.
Chuuya sealed the deal by showing Dazai exactly how far his legs could reach when he kicked hard enough.
He barely lived through the month that followed, pushing himself even harder than before. Climbing back to top simulation scores only satisfied him until Dazai literally destroyed his record, so Chuuya focused on strategy hard enough to finally reach the same digits that the other flew by. There was no need to ask for names for the anonymous numbers on Natsume’s charts. Chuuya knew who the only one who to ever top his was.
It could’ve gone on for a longer time. Maybe even the full year until the batch of newly-made jaegers that they were supposed to try out were ready. They could’ve kept souring their rivalry into something darker, into true and virulent hatred. Chuuya had enough anger stored in him then to last him millennia.
Instead, by coincidence or fate, several things tipped the scale.
First, Kouyou came to Yokohama. Chuuya was there to meet her the moment her car parked in front of the building, walking steadily toward her and crushing her into a hug under his instructors’ bewildered staring and the heavier weight of Dazai’s unreadable eyes; she hugged right back, her face shoved into his hair and her shoulders shaking under his hands.
She was already a pilot. He had known that. He had seen her exploits in the news, had spied on communications every time she was deployed—Dazai had sat next to him in silence the last time he did, because they had been in the middle of arguing when the news of an attack had come. He had followed Chuuya into the hub and not said a word until the kaiju fell and Chuuya’s shoulders dropped, at last.
The second and more important thing was that, not even two weeks after that attack, another happened. In Yokohama.
Chuuya wasn’t supposed to pilot yet. He wasn’t even supposed to test pilot yet, not this soon into training. But one member of the duo that were supposed to break in the brand new black jaeger stored in the dock’s depths had fallen down stairs and broken his wrist, and so the giant stood unused.
Kouyou and her partner were overwhelmed.
It was a terrifying thing, that kaiju. One of the lightest but one of the tallest. Nicknamed Hayate, it stood like a flightless bat, electric blue eyes gleaming in the dead of the night, steaming saliva dripping between its giant teeth. The membrane linking its fore and hind legs moved the air to record speed, causing damage not unlike hurricanes.
Chuuya didn’t know what to do when he was requisitioned to step into the jaeger except obey. He stood unseeing, almost unbreathing, as they dressed him all in black, the suit ill-fitted but all that they had on hand. He let himself be led into the cockpit and strapped down at the right side of it. The side he would control, he was told. And he said nothing.
He said nothing, until he found out that Dazai was the one being strapped at his left.
“Wait,” he breathed out. The man securing his feet didn’t answer, and Chuuya spoke louder, “Wait. Hang on. I’m not drift compatible with him.”
“You’re both the best we have on hand. He’s your most likely match in the system,” the man replied tensely.
“No. What the—no way.” Chuuya shook in the harnesses, but he couldn’t free himself, not alone. Dazai wasn’t saying anything. “Oh come on,” Chuuya said to him, terror driving his voice to a shout, “you can’t be fucking serious. Find someone else, we’re not going to make this thing move, we don’t have time, Kouyou—”
The last of the clasps shut harshly against his back, making him wheeze.
Then everyone left. The cockpit closed. It was just Chuuya and Dazai in the jaeger’s body. Chuuya heaved through the panic unfurling in his guts, barely managing to hold his breath as the drift gel washed over his face from inside the sleek helmet he wore. He sputtered as soon as the liquid ran below his mouth.
“Initiating neural handshake in twenty seconds,” a voice said in his ear.
Chuuya struggled against his bonds. It changed nothing except for the loud noises of it, echoing back against the metal lining of the jaeger’s head.
“Come on!” he roared. “You’re wasting your time!”
“Fucking—Dazai, I swear to God, help me get out of—”
“Don’t you have faith in me, shorty?” Dazai said. Those were the first words he had spoken since stepping into the machine.
“You’re a genius, you fucking tell me!” Chuuya yelled at him. “It’ll take hours to reset the drift once this fucking joke fails, and Kouyou—” he choked, eyes burning, all air gone.
Kouyou wouldn’t last hours. Her jaeger, Golden Man, was already badly damaged. No other machine was on hand.
“Who is she anyway?” Dazai asked. He sounded somber in a different way than usual—almost as if he were wary. “Who is she to you?”
“She’s,” Chuuya tried.
The words clogged in his throat. Tears spilled out of his eyes.
“She’s my sister,” he rasped out. “She’s my friend. She’s the only family I have.”
Dazai looked at him with no cruel laughter in his brown eyes. No smarting comment whipping off of his tongue.
“Then,” he said quietly. “Let’s make this work, Chuuya.”
“Neural handshake initiated.”
Chuuya was thrown out of his own mind, out of his own body; but this time it wasn’t cold unfeeling metal waiting for him at the other end.
It was the shiver of a breath in his ear and the stroke of fingertips at his wrist.
Distantly, he was aware that the speed at which the connection took on was abnormal, but he couldn’t care. Not when he felt Dazai’s lungs expand every time he took in a breath; not when he felt Dazai’s own surprise and wonder match his like a mirror. Chuuya closed his eyes to focus on the flickering images unfolding through their shared mind and grabbed greedily at the ones he knew weren’t his—except they were, now. They were his.
It would be a long time before he was able to put words onto what exactly shifted in his very essence the moment he felt the first brush of Dazai’s mind against his. His entire life felt insignificant in the face of Dazai’s heart and memories; he felt Dazai feel the same about him, felt him plunge into his mind to relive pain and love and loss alike and soak himself with them until his soul was gorged.
Chuuya had no conscience of physicality anymore. He didn’t see, didn’t taste, didn’t touch; Dazai gasped, and it was Chuuya gasping. When he blinked, Dazai blinked. His grief became Dazai’s, Dazai’s anger his own.
All the lonely, wounded rage he had accumulated through his life flickered out and healed.
He would learn, later, that the drift stabilized near-instantly. So fast that at first the people monitoring them thought it hadn’t worked at all.
Chuuya saw Dazai’s life unfold in flashes and knowledge burn itself into his brain as if he had lived through all that Dazai lived. He saw himself run away from an unloving home and into the streets of Yokohama, saw himself meet the man who helped around an orphans’ home, saw himself con people out of their money for amusement and need alike. He saw himself smile at a girl and then fall into bed with her for the first time. He saw himself meet the man who had threatened to close the orphanage and looked at Odasaku’s children with unspeakable vice in his eyes—saw himself murder him before he could lay a finger on them. Felt his hands squeeze the breath out of Mori Ougai until he was blue and cold. Chuuya rose above the dead body, burdened with no remorse; he was Dazai realizing, in that moment, how little he deserved to call himself human.
He was Dazai getting dragged away by the police. He was Dazai being put into a testing chair and offered the same ultimatum that Kouyou had been given. He was Dazai hacking into the jaeger dock’s system to find the name of the one who kept beating him at the only thing he was allowed to do anymore. He was Dazai, meeting Chuuya’s eyes for the first time and thinking, He’s cute. Fleeting and innocent.
Chuuya breathed, and he was Dazai breathing, and these were the first breaths either of them had drawn.
“Can you move it, boys?” the faraway voice of Natsume came through their helmets, rough with excitement. “This is incredible—I’ve never seen a first drift like this—”
The thought that they couldn’t never occurred to them at all.
They moved their right arm, and the jaeger moved with them.
They took Hayate down in an hour.
Natsume led them to a single room with bunk beds once they came out of the medical ward. It was wider than the tiny quarters Chuuya and Dazai had occupied with the other trainees, with its own bathroom and kitchen.
“You’re pilots now,” Natsume said proudly. “Though you’re not supposed to be until another year… well, anyway. You need to be ready quickly the next time we need you on the field—the alarm is really loud in here, you’ll have to get used to waking up to it. I’ll leave you to rest.”
He patted their shoulders and left.
“I’m taking the top bed,” Chuuya said immediately.
“By all means,” Dazai replied—he sounded so smug that Chuuya thought he would have felt his lips twitch regardless of the awareness that still floated between them. “I don’t want to end up like the last man you skewered.”
“Shut it. I just don’t want to hear the damn thing creak every time you wake up, you fucking insomniac.”
Dazai turned his head to grin at him, and Chuuya had never seen him look like that, but he knew this smile all the same. It was the kind of smile Dazai reserved for only one other person.
Affection fit into the lines of Dazai’s face like it was always meant to be there. In the low light of their room it was easier to see that his hair was brown instead of black, that it fell strikingly softly around his face despite the sweat and effort of the last hours. There was laughter to be found behind the stone-cold mask Dazai harbored around those who didn’t know him. There was humanity, contrary to what Dazai thought.
This was the person who had witnessed Chuuya’s life and felt only kinship. This was the the boy whose mind Chuuya had felt latch onto the drift with desperate abandon the second it was turned off, as if he never wanted Chuuya to leave again; who had felt Chuuya latch back in turn as if trying to reach through uncrossable distance and touch their fingers together for just one more second.
Chuuya let himself smile back, hesitant and thrilled, and Dazai’s eyes lit with wonder.
He understood, right then, that he had never known anyone before. Not like this. He stood wordless in the only home he had a claim to, however reluctant a claim it was; and as he let the whispers of a connection that no two humans should ever share bleed out, he realized that he would never again know someone.
“Now,” Dazai said, watching him greedily. “This is a sight for sore eyes.”
Hello, Chuuya thought, heart shaking.
It was Dazai’s voice he heard whispering back.
It’s so good to meet you.
Nakahara hadn’t smiled once since Double Black’s test drift. Not even in that mean way of his that always made whoever it was directed to feel like the inside of a sewer. Kouyou stood between him and Yosano, and Nakahara didn’t answer even her concerned glances, however tentative they were.
Yosano didn’t think it was a good idea to take him with them to the labs, all things considered. But it was protocol that Kouyou’s second be by her side for things like this, even if he hadn’t been family to her; and Nakahara would demand an explanation if she did try to stop him, and end up unhappy anyway. Yosano could only think of one person whose conversation might be able to help with that, but Dazai had disappeared from everyone’s vicinity the moment he had peeled off his suit.
The words she had said to Kunikida to try and soothe him still lingered in her head.
She felt a first tug of apprehension in her stomach when she approached the door to the labs, Kouyou beside her, Nakahara hanging slightly behind. The lights were dimmed despite the late hour. Kajii was always making some sort of noise inside that could be heard down the hallway, be it from moving around or listening to music loudly.
Yet now there was only silence.
Yosano opened the door carefully. The reason for the darkness was easily found—only the lamp sitting on Kajii’s main desk was lit, its orange glow barely reaching through the entire width of the room, never mind the cabinets and tall piles of boxes that stood in its path.
“Kajii?” she called.
She saw Kouyou tense from the corner of her eyes when no one answered. It was enough to drag Nakahara out of his own thoughts and make him lift his head with a frown. He stepped ahead of them quickly, and that was when Yosano heard it, right as he started to walk around a tower of thick folders sitting on a low table—panting, quiet and hurried, like someone going through panic.
She felt her heartbeat spike the second Nakahara growled out, “Fuck,” dropping his cane on the floor and limping into the shadows as fast as he could.
“Chuuya!” Kouyou gasped.
She ran after him—Yosano couldn’t do anything but follow despite the well-known panic surrounding her, the one she thought she had mastered long ago, when the Double Black pilots’ broken bodies had been dragged in front of her helpless hands.
Kajii was convulsing in a wooden chair next to the tall glass tube holding the kaiju’s brain. She got there in time to see Nakahara rip the drift helmet off of his head and lift him out of his seat—it wasn’t until he looked at her with fury and pain twisting his features and yelled, “Help me!” that she realized he was shaking too.
She ran the way between them to take the brunt of Kajii’s weight out of his hands and help him down to the floor, mind protesting both the sight of Kajii’s blood-stained face and that of Nakahara falling to his knees—God, the pain he must be in—
“He’s seizing,” Nakahara panted. “Shit—”
Kajii’s limbs were flailing, his torso rising and falling abruptly. Nakahara reached over his body in front of Yosano’s unresponsive hands to turn him to his side, one palm under Kajii’s skull, the other resting over his shoulder carefully as it jumped.
Yosano couldn’t move. She knelt with her mouth open and her mind in a daze, fear battling away confusion to roam through her and lock everything down.
It was Kouyou who pushed her away to relieve Nakahara in making sure Kajii stayed on his side. Nakahara hunched forward immediately, catching himself on his hands, shaking through all of his body. He was white as a sheet.
“Chuuya,” Kouyou said hurriedly, “you need to sit down. You need to get off your leg.”
Nakahara was heaving now, still paralyzed in his kneeling position. “I can’t,” he let out—Yosano saw the panic settle onto his sweat-slick face like it had inside her chest, saw him realize that he feared the pain of moving more than he feared the agony of staying as he was.
She barely heard the sound of more footsteps hurrying toward them, didn’t notice that someone had joined them at all until Dazai was dropping down next to Nakahara and grabbing him by the middle. Nakahara shouted when he was pulled sideways, the sound of his voice ripping through the room and pulsing through Yosano’s chest.
He turned away from Dazai the second he was on his backside and retched bile and saliva until he was completely dry. Dazai was silent as he waited it out; he fitted his knees behind Nakahara’s back, held his shoulders so he wouldn’t fall into his own sick. When Nakahara was finally able to take in a breath without his stomach trying to turn itself inside out, Dazai guided him down and laid him flat onto the floor.
He was pale too.
“Yosano,” he said evenly, still looking at Nakahara. Nakahara’s eyes were closed now, his chest still shaking, sweat beading at his temples. “Kajii.”
The name pierced through her like an arrow.
Kajii was almost done convulsing. She loosened his collar and belt with trembling hands, keeping an eye on his breathing and the way his eyes moved. The blood on his face seemed to have come out of his nose rather than anything more worrying—it was nothing she hadn’t seen coming out of failed drifts. His eyes were red, but not leaking anything other than tears.
Finally, his shoulders sagged, and he stilled.
“Kajii,” Kouyou said, probably understanding that Yosano couldn’t speak yet. “Can you hear me?”
He hummed, mumbling something close enough to Boss to be satisfying.
Kouyou sighed in relief. “I’m going to ask you a few questions, okay? Just to see if everything’s working right.”
Yosano blocked out the sounds of Kouyou’s firm coaxing to redirect her focus onto Nakahara.
He was still laying flat onto the ground, though Dazai had apparently used the few moments she hadn’t been looking to shove his jacket under his head as a makeshift pillow. His eyes were open now, his breathing still chaotic.
“How bad?” she made herself ask, crouching by his side.
Dazai had put a hand over his chest as if to keep him from rising. With how hesitant his hold was, it just looked as though he were trying to feel him breathe.
Nakahara took a long time to steady himself to speak. “It’s fine,” he said with effort. “The worst is over.”
“Don’t give me that crap, Nakahara—”
“If you wanted to help you shouldn’t have fucking frozen up,” he yelled.
Her throat tightened. Her mind was clear enough to feel guilt, now, and it settled like ice into her belly.
“Did you know he was gonna do this?” Nakahara pressed on, angry now instead of pained. “Did you allow this, Yosano?”
“He said he wouldn’t do it on his own,” was all she could reply.
He moaned, either from how badly his leg shook or from how horrified he was.
Eventually the noise died down. Kajii’s voice turned to silence, his breathing evened out. Nakahara’s did as well, and he tried to sit up—only to be stopped by Dazai’s hand on his chest. He glared at him with his jaw clenched.
Whatever silent exchange happened between them then only lasted a second. Dazai’s fingers shivered on the fabric of Nakahara’s shirt before drifting away, and Nakahara pushed himself up with his left hand until he was sitting upright. At least he didn’t try to stand; Yosano wasn’t sure he even could, right now.
Kajii had rolled over to his back despite Kouyou’s obvious disapproval. He looked giddy.
“I did it,” he breathed. “I did it.”
“What the fuck were you thinking?” Nakahara spat out immediately—Kajii flinched, but Nakahara either didn’t care or was too tired to show it. “What in the world gave you the idea of drifting with a—a kaiju brain?”
“Oh God,” Kajii said, eyes snapping wide open. “I need to write everything down.”
He was jumping to his feet next—Yosano almost shouted at him to stop, and Kouyou as well, but he merely wavered in place for a moment before running to his desk.
The next minute was spent in utter silence aside from the scratching of Kajii’s pens and papers. Dazai shifted from his knees to his backside on the floor, still close enough to Nakahara that he would catch him if he fell. Nakahara wasn’t looking at him, though; he was staring at the floor, face white, biting his lips.
Kajii straightened from his lean over the desk and announced, “I need to do it again.”
“No,” Nakahara replied.
“I’d also advise against it,” Dazai said almost in the same breath.
“You don’t understand,” Kajii continued, febrile. “This is so—this is so—”
He was waving his papers around, and his nose was bleeding again—Yosano pushed herself to her feet and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, pushing him down into a chair. She pulled his head back and said, “Hold your damn nose, Kajii.”
“Listen,” he spoke, though he obeyed the order and pinched the bridge of his nose while Yosano went to fetch her bag for some cotton. “We were right—the kaiju, they’re not real aliens. They’re almost like machines.”
“What do you mean?” Kouyou murmured.
“Ane-san,” Nakahara said sharply.
She and Kajii both ignored him. “The ones creating them… they know exactly what they’re doing. This isn’t just a random bunch of attacks from creatures who happen to stumble into our world—they’re waging war on us. They’re colonizers.” Kajii took in a deep breath, choking a little when Yosano shoved cotton up his nose but thankfully not complaining. She didn’t feel sturdy enough to deal with complaints. “They hop from planet to planet once they’ve exhausted the resources. They were already here once as a test run—dinosaurs!” he yelled, making all of them jump. “That was them!”
“You got all of that from drifting with a war machine?” Nakahara questioned, bitter.
“Their minds are all connected,” Kajii replied dreamily. “I went so far back… everything’s already slipping away, drifting is so inconvenient.”
Yosano saw all three of them flinch at the same time—Kouyou, Nakahara, Dazai. She said nothing.
“Oh. Oh, shit,” Kajii said. He massaged his forehead, breath coming in quicker once more. “The kaiju they’ve been sending so far were just small fry. Boss,” he added, turning toward where Kouyou sat, “they’re planning double and triple events like I thought, and they’re planning them soon. Category four kaiju and higher.”
“They’re done playing with us,” Kouyou muttered. She rose to her feet as well. “What about the breach? Did you find out anything—”
“Enough,” Yosano cut in, eyeing the way Kajii’s eyelids drooped. “He just had a damn seizure, Kouyou.”
“The breach will stabilize,” Kajii replied regardless. “I was right about that too. But there was… there was something…” He clenched his teeth against the headache that had no doubt been ringing through his temple all this time. “I need a new kaiju brain. I need to drift with it again and make sure—”
“I’m done listening to this shit,” Nakahara said.
They all turned to look at him.
He had dragged his left knee back toward his chest. Dazai was rising as well, and in the few seconds it took Yosano to understand what was going on, he had crossed the distance to where Nakahara has dropped his cane and then come back. Her protest died on her lips at the look Nakahara gave her. He allowed Dazai to help him up and then pushed him away, leaning on the cane with all the strength left in him.
“I don’t need to hear this,” he repeated, voice strained. “Do whatever the fuck you want if it’ll help us win, but I never want to hear about it again, Kouyou. Not a word.”
“I understand,” Kouyou said sadly.
Nakahara lifted his right hand to his face and rubbed the back of it against his lips shakily. “Drifting with a kaiju,” he muttered. “I can’t believe anyone would—”
He stopped, sucking in another heaving breath, as if he were about to hunch over and retch again. Dazai stood still and silent by his side, but Yosano thought she could read the same nausea on his features anyway. The same bone-deep horror.
They left without another word, Nakahara limping badly, Dazai shadowing him without touching him.
“Well,” Yosano said, throat tight. “That could’ve gone better.”
Kajii emitted a deep snore behind her. When she turned around to look at him, he had fallen asleep as he was, head craned back as far as it would go.
Kouyou rubbed her face with one hand as she approached. The other came to rest above the quickly-scribbled notes that Kajii had taken, and she eyed them thoughtfully.
Yosano very much wanted to hold her.
As if reading her thoughts, she asked, “Are you all right?”
Yosano sat on the very edge of the desk, feet still touching the floor. “I’m fine,” she replied.
“Yeah.” She swallowed painfully. “I, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what—”
Yosano’s eyes burned. She shoved her fingers under her glasses to catch the wetness before it could roll down her face.
“Oh, darling,” Kouyou whispered. There was a shuffle of feet against the dusty floor, and then warmth, the soft of Kouyou’s arm wrapping around Yosano’s frame to hold her as she tried to bite back sobs, as she gasped into her palms. “It’s okay. Nothing bad happened.”
Yosano breathed, “I don’t know why I…” She couldn’t finish, but it didn’t matter; her lips dug into the curve of Kouyou’s neck, her arms coming up to hold her back as she breathed into her skin.
“You’ve gone through great lengths to make sure you would never be faced with surprise emergencies again,” Kouyou said against her temple. “And you snapped out of it quickly enough. You have nothing to blame yourself for.”
Nakahara’s accusations echoed through Yosano’s head—the sight of him panting on the floor, wrecked with pain, pale and shaking. “He was so angry,” she let out.
“He was in pain.” Kouyou’s fingers ran through her hair gently. “Chuuya doesn’t blame you. He’ll apologize to you as soon as he’s calmed down.”
They didn’t stay like this for long. Yosano was never much of a crier; her eyes had dried almost as soon as they had wetted, and her breath was settling down, matching Kouyou’s against her chest. Kouyou took her hands back, and Yosano let go of her so she could step away.
For a second longer they both breathed in the stale air and thought.
“Kajii said something about the breach,” Yosano said at last.
Kouyou nodded, looking at the man himself, still asleep in his chair. “We can’t afford to let that slide,” she replied.
“So you’ll let him do it again.”
She made a face, about as disgusted as Nakahara’s had been. In that moment they truly looked the part of siblings. “I don’t want to,” she admitted. “The thought of using the drift to connect with a kaiju is…”
Her sentence trailed off without an end.
Kouyou was not as silent as Dazai and Nakahara were about her memories as a pilot. Yosano could recall countless nights spent talking about it; countless times being woken up by the way Kouyou’s lungs stilled in the nightmare-memory of her once-partner’s death. She didn’t talk about Fukuzawa easily—she had never shared with Kouyou what she had glimpsed of the mysterious man’s life.
But she talked about what it had felt like to share thoughts with him. She had spoken of their quiet friendship, born out of her loneliness and out of his compassion, with a smile on her face. She still mourned him now, five years after his death. Yosano knew she would always mourn him.
She had loved him deeply.
“We can’t let this slide now that we know something might prevent us from attacking,” Kouyou said softly. “We only have one shot at this.”
“The brain is fried, though,” Yosano replied, gesturing to the tall glass tube. The thing in it that hadn’t stopped squirming earlier during the day now rested at the bottom, still as stone. Its color had gone from white to grey. “How are we gonna get our hands on a live kaiju brain? It’s a miracle Kajii got one at all. These things never survive out of the body for long.”
Kouyou was silent for a moment, looking thoughtful. This close to the orange glow of the desk lamp her hair and lips almost glowed, stark against the pallor of her skin. In the end she sighed and took something out of her breast pocket, handing it over.
It was a card. At first Yosano thought it blank, but then the light shifted on it—a motif appeared in a light shade of green. Crossed guns in a circle.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Something I’ve been meaning not to use,” Kouyou replied wryly. “You know there’s a black market for all sorts of kaiju parts, don’t you?”
“Yeah. They sell fifty grams of useless bone powder for about five thousand dollars.”
“Profit never stops, not even in the face of certain doom.” Kouyou gave a chuckle at that. “Well, there’s a man here, Fitzgerald, who has his hands into all sorts of pockets. If anyone can get us a kaiju brain, it’s him.”
“That doesn’t sound very legal,” Yosano said, looking up from the card.
“It’s not,” Kouyou replied. “But it’s not like we’re being funded by legal means anymore.”
Yosano stepped away from the desk and pocketed the card. “Will he agree to help us?” she asked.
“He owes me one, but he’s not trustworthy.”
She made her way to where Kouyou stood, glancing briefly at Kajii to make sure he was still dead to the world. Once she reached her she slipped a hand behind her nape, pulling her head down until the few inches of difference between their heights was no more.
Kouyou kissed her warmly, dry lips to dry lips, her fingers coming to stroke against Yosano’s cheek as if the world wasn’t ending around them. As if they could ever afford to have a love like this.
It was the only thing they both tempted fate with.
Yosano’s face was flushed when she pulled away, her mouth tingling, but she felt calmer than she had in hours. “I’ll go,” she whispered against Kouyou’s chin. “As soon as I’m done making sure this idiot didn’t give himself brain damage.”
Kouyou nodded, cheeks dimpling around her smile. “Be careful,” she replied.
Chuuya wanted nothing more when he finally reached his quarters than to let himself fall onto the bed and pass out.
The mere thought of the pain that the impact on his mattress would cause almost made tears build into his eyes, though; so instead he reached down with his weak hand to support his weight, regardless of the phantom aches coming alive in his back and shoulders, and let himself sit carefully. He didn’t think he would even be able to undress for the night.
Dazai closed the door behind them and made his way to Chuuya’s desk in silence. He turned the chair around and sat down, facing him, half of his face drowned in shadow. Neither of them had thought to turn on the lights.
“How do you feel?” he asked conversationally.
“Why are you even here?” Chuuya said instead of answering.
His right leg burned from ankle to knee. His thigh shook even as it was, resting atop the bed, and his temple was flaring with remembered pain. So was the rest of his body, truth be told.
His morning exercises were going to be a blast.
“I was brooding in the storage room. Heard you yelling.” Dazai didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed about it. “I’m glad I picked this hiding spot instead of the one on the tenth floor.”
“I’d be glad if you stopped acting like a child,” Chuuya said between his teeth.
The jab was cheap, and Dazai didn’t laugh at it. He just leaned back into the chair and glanced at the locked drawer of Chuuya’s desk for a second too long.
Chuuya looked away. His rooms were some of the best situated in the base; Yokohama’s harbor unfolded under its window and gave out to the endless sea. It had thrived, once, with ships from all over the world. Now at least the sound of the waves remained.
The last few minutes came back to him in a rush.
“Fuck,” Chuuya breathed, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “I yelled at Yosano.”
“She kind of deserved it.”
“No, she didn’t.” He inhaled slowly. “It’s not her fault she panics with stuff like this. And it’s not her fault Kajii decided to go ahead and—”
He couldn’t finish. The thought alone, the idea itself of using the drift with a kaiju felt like heresy. It felt like violation. Nausea crawled up Chuuya’s neck until he thought he would puke again—knew he would have if his stomach weren’t already empty, his mind too bruised and exhausted from the events of the day to be horrified any more.
He really hadn’t been as prepared as he had thought to witness Dazai open his mind to someone else.
Chuuya swallowed, breathing deeply to calm his nerves. Then he asked: “What the hell happened during the test?”
Dazai didn’t answer.
Chuuya looked back at him and found him reclining as far as he would go, expression bored with the sort of emptiness he hadn’t worn in years.
“Dazai,” he said.
“Nothing especially surprising,” Dazai cut in. He was staring at the darkened ceiling. “The usual sort of rookie mistake. We got it under control before anything happened, so it’s no big deal.”
“Don’t give me that crap,” Chuuya replied, irritation and something else he refused to give name to catching on his voice—ugly, burning, restless. “You were the one chasing the RABBIT at the end. You’ve never done that before.”
“There’s a first time for everything. It won’t happen again.”
“I want to know why it happened at all.”
Dazai lowered his head, and Chuuya didn’t need light to know that their eyes were meeting across the ever-growing space between them.
“I guess I’m just not used to it anymore,” he lied.
Chuuya’s fingers dug into the fabric of his bedspread until the pressure was uncomfortable, tugging harshly at his nails, and still the crushing pain in his leg didn’t abate. “You were holding back,” he accused, voice low.
“You know that’s not possible.”
“Do I?” Now his palm hurt, too, and Chuuya took it off of the mattress before he ripped holes into the sheets. “It’s the only reason I can think of. You were resisting the drift. It shouldn’t have taken ten seconds for you and Kunikida to stabilize, not with how compatible you are.”
Dazai was silent for a long time, long enough that Chuuya was about to drag up more of his anger and speak again, but then he said: “I thought it might be easier for him.”
All of the fight in him loosened at once. Exhaustion crashed into him like a sledgehammer. Chuuya blinked slowly, looking down at the carpeted floor, and let it run its course until even his damaged nerves felt too tired to hurt.
“You have too much experience to let your copilot slip like this,” he said. “You can’t just… Fucking hell, Dazai. We don’t have time for holding back.”
“Think of it that way, Chuuya,” Dazai replied mildly. “Kunikida-kun knows what to expect, now. It’s better to chase the RABBIT during a test than during a fight. He’ll know how to get himself out of it if it happens again.”
“Have you even talked to him about it?” Dazai’s silence was all the answer he needed. “Dazai,” he sighed. He almost swallowed before speaking again, almost let the words die on his tongue from lack of a resolve. “Whatever it is that’s you don’t… want him to see, or I don’t know. Whatever it is you’re struggling with.” He made himself meet Dazai’s eyes despite the heavy weight of his heart. “You need to let it go. You need to be able to pilot with him.”
Dazai’s suspended breath rang through the padded silence. It dug deep into the longing that Chuuya carried around like a second skin, into the cloud-like words he never quite knew how to say.
“We can pilot,” Dazai replied at last. “The drift was strong enough.”
“It could be stronger.”
Dazai exhaled loudly. He ran a hand through his hair in a way Chuuya knew, deeply, that he only did when he was truly shaken—and the sight stabbed into his ribs, folded around his heart, made every wound crawl back to life.
“What do you want from me, Chuuya?” Dazai muttered, looking at his knees. “Did you expect me to be happy about…”
No. Chuuya hadn’t expected him to. He hadn’t wanted him to. Even though he had no right to such selfishness.
“You told them yourself,” he said. “You can’t expect to drift and keep any part of you private. You won’t be able to pilot with him if you keep trying to hide things. You need to let him see what matters.”
“Oh, trust me,” Dazai laughed without any humor, “he saw everything that mattered.”
He glanced at Chuuya, eyes soft and fond, and Chuuya couldn’t breathe through it at all.
He let himself fall back onto the bed to escape it. His chest tensed upon touching the mattress, now matter how minimal the impact was; it took a second for him to be able to relax, and even then he didn’t yet try to crawl backward and properly lay down. That would take very incremental moves, considering the pain in his leg.
Silence unfolded through the room. The walls were too thick to hear from the outside, built to withstand kaiju attacks as well as humanity could; still Chuuya looked at the starlit sky and imagined the spread of the sea under it, gleaming and peaceful. He turned to his knowledge of it until he could hear the waves’ whisper against his skin.
The sound Dazai made as he stood from the chair was muffled by the drowsiness of it. “Just let it go,” he said to himself, echoing Chuuya’s words.
He stepped toward the bed, stopping beside where Chuuya lay. Chuuya didn’t look up at him as he mumbled, “Go talk to your partner.”
Dazai’s hand hovered by Chuuya’s arm, not tensed but not relaxed, fingers curved into the shape of a hold. It was the same hand that had rested on his chest earlier as he heaved through the pain. Chuuya had only had that to latch onto and avoid losing consciousness; he had focused on the weight and feeling of it until he thought he felt Dazai’s fingers directly against his heart.
Do it, Chuuya thought in his weakness, in the deepest, most cowardly corners of his mind. Touch me. Don’t wait for me to hurt this time.
Dazai slid his hand into his pocket. “Good night, Chuuya,” he said.
The light of the hallway shone for a second too long onto the ridges of the room, drawing sharp, long shadows out of all furniture. The imprint of it stayed behind Chuuya’s eyelids long after he closed the door.
He fell asleep to the imagined lull of the sea, letting his mind fill with it until it muffled all other noise. Only moonlight shone anymore. It lit the keyhole of the drawer where he kept the broken remains of his pilot helmet.