Build Upon The Ruins
Kunikida regained consciousness with a start, with the sound of the pod’s upper corner jumping open and out. He let himself be rocked gently by the sea as he lay, sweat-drenched and dizzy, gulping in the fresh air. He didn’t search for the reason he was here at all; the feeling of cold ionized wind crawling into the space of his helmet was too wonderful, that of his lungs expanding to the fullest after slow suffocation too riveting.
“Kunikida?” said a familiar voice.
His memories jolted back into place.
His first movement was slow and clumsy, the weight of his own body tremendous as he pushed himself into a sitting position. The pod acted as a safeboat of sorts, the inflated containers surrounding it having dragged him up from the bottom of the sea and now stabilizing him above the water. Kunikida struggled to push the helmet off his head entirely. Air felt even more heavenly in direct contact with his face.
“I’m here,” he rasped.
I’m here, he thought at the same time. Chest bloated with disbelief. I’m alive.
“We didn’t expect you to be back topside so soon,” the voice continued, strangely subdued. It might just be the distance between Kunikida’s ears and the receivers in his collar, now that sound didn’t carry into the helmet anymore.
The voice came again, hesitant. “Nothing. Choppers will be there to collect you soon, just sit tight.”
Kunikida looked around himself, blinking through the sun’s glare that the waves reflected. The Pacific spread around him from all sides, blue and cold and utterly unreadable.
It’s just falling, Dazai’s voice rang through his mind. Anyone call fall.
“Did we make it?” he asked, heart stuttering for the barest second. “Is the breach—”
“The breach has been destroyed,” the voice responded. “All the kaiju are dead. Tiger Claw and Heartblade’s pilots are being retrieved right now, they’re all fine.”
For a second Kunikida felt nothing but bone-breaking relief, so powerful it rushed all the blood in his body to his head. He had to breathe slowly and carefully to chase the blurriness of his eyesight.
When he was able to think again, he asked, “What about Dazai?”
Dazai had been nothing but quietly content as the drift had dissolved. Full of certainty. The strength of his confidence, the sudden and dizzying lack of fear and tension he had felt, had been the only reason Kunikida let himself be evacuated first. It had been impossible to imagine anything but their victory as he fell unconscious.
The voice did not reply.
“Sorry.” Kunikida’s mind was clearer with every second that went by; it was easy as anything now for him to pick up on the tight sorrow that whoever he was speaking to exuded. “We’re not—we’re not sure Dazai made it.”
“What do you mean,” Kunikida said numbly.
He was looking around again, for any trace of the twin pod that Dazai must have taken to escape after activating the core—
“We lost sign of his vitals a while ago. The system was faulty, he had to override it manually.” The person’s voice wavered. “He escaped, but he probably didn’t have time to avoid the explosion.”
“That’s impossible,” Kunikida heard himself reply.
“No. No, you don’t understand, it’s—”
Dazai had been so sure. So absolutely certain. Mind free of anguish and regret both, easily basking in the relief of having won. His thoughts had been set on reassuring Kunikida and they had been set, always, on Chuuya, without the painful longing that accompanied them before. He couldn’t have felt like this if he were about to die.
“Where’s Chuuya?” Kunikida breathed out.
There was a weak inhale, a miserable, small intake of air. “He’s… he’s here, but…” Some sound, like a chair moving, like background voices. “He hasn’t moved since communication with Dazai went out.”
Kunikida sat in the boat, swaying with the breeze and the waves, alone on the ocean. Mind all empty and strength all gone.
“You’re his friend,” he said eventually. The man’s voice fitted back into the memories he had seen in the drift. “The one he calls Odasaku.”
“Yeah. I’m Oda.”
It wasn’t hard to imagine what sort of communication had happened after Kunikida was gone. Not with how Dazai’s soul had shone, seemingly free of everything that had held him back for years. Not with how much he had craved the future Kunikida had offered him—one where he was truthful, regardless of the risk, regardless of the fear.
Kunikida had never wanted these words to be Dazai’s last.
He clenched his teeth. “Can he hear me?” he asked.
“Hang on.” Oda’s quiet voice disappeared for a second, replaced by louder sounds of feet shifting on the floor and quiet whispers. “He can now,” he said, less clear against the noise of the comm room.
“Chuuya,” Kunikida called immediately, “Dazai wouldn’t die now.”
There was no answer.
“I escaped too fast—there wasn’t any gravity or resistance in the breach, not like water, the pod shot up quickly enough. I must’ve been out of the danger zone in seconds.”
“It’s true,” Oda sait quietly. “We thought you wouldn’t be here until another few minutes at least.”
It was enough to spur Kunikida on. “Dazai said it himself,” he continued, eyes roaming over the gleaming sea, “you both said it—he’s a miracle worker. He’s beaten impossible odds countless times.”
It was barely a voice at all, too wrecked by grief, and Kunikida felt it ache in his own throat, as if he had been the one sobbing until a moment ago. But it was Chuuya.
His grip tightened on the collar of the suit. “He walked twenty kilometers alone in a jaeger to save you,” he growled. “No one’s ever been able to do that. No one else could. He fought seven kaiju in a day, he’s the one who came up with a way to destroy the breach at all—he accepted to pilot again just because you asked him to, even though it was the only thing he never wanted to do again.”
“I said shut up—”
“No!” Kunikida shouted. “He found a way to control the drift just so I wouldn’t see your memories—do you really think he would die now, after winning? Just from something like a late escape?”
“Enough,” Chuuya rasped. “Please.”
Such a simple word. So heavy with heartbreak that Kunikida could’ve lifted it with his hands.
“He loves you too much,” he said, heart hurried and desperate. “After everything—he can’t. He can’t. He’s incapable of dying on you like this.”
Chuuya was too far away from the mic for it to pick up more than his voice, but Kunikida didn’t need to hear him to picture the way he would’ve folded on himself, physically fighting the hope Kunikida was trying to instill in him. The knowledge of it was bright in his mind through Dazai’s own life. Chuuya wouldn’t want hope now, would not believe anything that didn’t come directly out of Dazai’s mouth.
In the distance, Double Black’s second emergency pod emerged from the water.
“I see him,” Kunikida gasped. “Fifty meters east—the pod looks fine, just a little burned, he’s right there.”
Oda breathed in harshly. Kunikida sat back down onto the boat to tug off the suit’s heavy boots.
“I’m swimming to him,” he said once his feet were free of the boots’ weight.
“If you get water into the suit we won’t be able to communicate anymore—”
“You have our coordinates, right?” Kunikida cut Oda off.
A second. “Yes.”
“Then I’m going there.”
He didn’t wait for a reply. He jumped headfirst into the icy ocean, shouting when the cold made contact with his face and hands and feet. It was effort like he had never known to kick his legs into the water and push forth in the direction of Dazai’s pod; the waves were taller now that he had to cross through them, trying to lure him sideways, to deviate his route. Kunikida struggled with every spark of energy left in him, muscles burning and chest weak from breathing too hard. It was the longest distance he had ever traveled.
His arm knocked into the side of the pod weakly. For a moment he could do nothing more than hang onto one of the inflated balloons keeping it afloat, gulping in breath after breath, his sides burning with pain. He was shaking when he hoisted himself up and crawled atop the coffin-like box that held Dazai in.
The upper side of it hadn’t opened like his did. It looked damaged by the fire, melted and brown in spaces. Kunikida pushed his numb fingers onto it, looking for the handle that training had taught him was reachable from the outside. When it didn’t move against his palm, he elbowed it up.
The lid flew away.
Dazai lay inside it. Close-eyed, relaxed, vulnerable like he had been only hours ago as Kunikida pulled him out of his slumber. There was no condensation gathering inside his helmet, no mist against the yellow glass. His chest was still.
What if the pod’s air supplies had been compromised by the explosion? What if—
Kunikida breathed through his nose as he tugged the helmet off of Dazai’s head; in the setting sun his hair was a rich brown, strewn with red and gold. His skin pale and lifeless against the black of the suit.
“Come on,” Kunikida muttered, pushing his fingers against Dazai’s lips, against his neck.
His skin was too numb to feel either pulse or breath.
“Dazai, come on—”
He repeated it through mouth and mind alike as he pulled Dazai upright to reach the spine of the suit. He was almost too weak to tear it off, too weak to unclasp the upper hooks of it from where they would be pinched into the back plates and squeezed against his skin. When he finally tugged it away, he ripped the upper half of the suit off entirely.
He pushed Dazai back onto the floor of the boat, linking his hands above his chest. Being elevated and facing him reduced his strength further, but he didn’t have a choice; Kunikida counted each press in his head and ignored the searing pain in his shoulders and back, the shivers shaking him because of the water chilling his body.
“Come on,” he spat.
It was impossible even with the urgency not to think of Aya. Impossible for his mind not to draw comparison between the stillness of Dazai’s body and that of Aya, who had been too long gone by the time he had reached a hospital, the both of them full of life one moment and rid of it the next. Fate’s whims victorious once again.
“Just one more,” he panted, pushing down again and again onto Dazai’s chest with the weight of his back rather than the strength of his arms. “Just one more miracle.”
He almost thought he was imagining it when Dazai started gasping. Only habit prevented him from stopping the compressions, eyes flying up to Dazai’s open mouth and ears tuning out the wind and waves around them until he did it again.
It took such a long time. Such a long, long time. The wet, deathly gargle escaping Dazai’s throat sounded too faint for hope, even as it became more regular, even as Kunikida stopped to check his pulse for what felt like the hundredth time. His now-warm fingers found it, faint but there, in the side of his neck.
The gasps made way to slow, shallow breaths. Dazai’s chest moved on its own under his open palms.
Kunikida’s eyes were burning as he pulled back his hands to push Dazai to his side in the pod. It took some effort to place his hips right through the opening, not least because Kunikida could not keep the exhaustion at bay anymore. He sat atop the pod, all of his body sore and unmoving, fingers still touching Dazai’s throat.
He couldn’t have said whether a minute or an hour passed before Dazai’s eyes opened.
Dazai took longer than he had to come to his senses. For a long while he blinked at the inside of the pod with unfocused eyes, the air still coming weak and loud to his lungs. Then he looked sideways without moving his head, as if now noticing the fingers on his neck.
“Kunikida,” he whispered. Face slack with exhaustion.
“Yeah,” Kunikida replied, more sob than breath. “Take it easy.”
He didn’t, of course. Dazai pressed trembling fingers onto the floor to try and push himself upright immediately, and Kunikida was too full of relief, too light-headed with wonder to think of scolding him for it. He wrapped an arm around Dazai’s chest, grabbing him at the armpit to help him into a sitting position.
“What happ—” Dazai started.
His voice died when Kunikida pulled him forward against his chest, his other arm lifting up to circle his shoulders.
Dazai would’ve stilled and tensed if he had the strength for it. Kunikida knew it, as deeply as he knew himself. He would’ve allowed it for no more than a second before pulling away, distant and uncomfortable. As he was he simply hung in Kunikida’s embrace, face awkwardly stuck into Kunikida’s shoulder. His hair smelled of nothing but sea and sweat against Kunikida’s nose.
“I never want to pilot with you again,” Kunikida said, voice shaking.
Dazai chuckled weakly. “Sentiment shared,” he replied.
His arms came up to hug Kunikida back, though. Slow and tentative.
They separated when the sound of Oda’s promised rescue team reached them. The helicopter hovered over them for a while, stabilizing so someone could come down to them. Kunikida never looked away from Dazai’s face in that minute of time, never strayed from the sunset’s shine on him and the wonder of his continued living.
Dazai smiled at him when he caught him at it.
Aya’s memory flew off of him like a fallen leaf in the wind, golden and fragile, almost dust already. Her death faded into the shadows to make way for her smile and liveliness, for her antics that Kunikida had forgotten and which the drift had brought back as it did everything else. He saw her in the brown of Dazai’s eyes; he heard her in the wisp of his tired voice.
“Thank you,” Dazai said.
The guilt lifted at last.
Chuuya didn’t move at all from his spot under the desk when the news reached them. Oda collapsed into the chair with his head in his hands, relieved tears dripping from his face, and Chuuya could only listen numbly as Yosano conducted her usual questioning through her own mic, enquiring after Kunikida and Dazai’s physical condition now that both had been retrieved.
He didn’t raise his head at the sound of Kouyou’s voice. Her knees bent and touched the floor so she could crawl into the space under the table, avoiding his right leg which Oda had put on a cushion a few minutes ago.
Oda had been the one to find him earlier. He had been the one to force him out of his position and gently push him to his side, and Chuuya had barely experienced the pain of it at all, had barely even noticed that he had been in agony until then. Now the physical ache was so far away as to be unfelt.
Kouyou sighed once she was sitting next to him in the relative darkness. From this close he could smell the faint scent of tea that had followed behind her for as long as he had known her. Even when she had been killing people for a living, she had smelled like home. Wilted flowers and fall evenings under the poignant stench of blood.
“He’s fine,” she told him. “They’re on their way here now.”
He knew that. It didn’t stop him from feeling hollow.
They sat here under the desk as people roamed through the room, like children playing hide and seek. No one stopped to talk to them. Cheers had rung through every hall of the dock when the war clock had been stopped, but now that the tears and shouts had stopped, there was still work to be done. Jaegers and corpses to be fished out of the sea.
There wouldn’t have been a corpse to fish out if Dazai had died. He would have vanished in the collapsing breach like a forgotten dream, never to be seen again. An empty tomb in his name would have been raised somewhere in Yokohama, one Chuuya would never have visited.
“You know,” Kouyou murmured, “you did this a lot when we first met.”
It took a long time for him to find the air to reply at all. “Did what?”
“This.” She rested a hand on his thigh. He eyed it unseeingly. “When you were hurt or scared, you holed up somewhere and waited everything out. Like you were afraid of making a move either way, even if it meant feeling better, just in case you’d end up feeling worse or looking weak.”
He could remember it now, vaguely. Hiding injuries and hoping they would fix themselves with time. Kouyou would always find out and always scold him for it, even as he was too afraid to step forward or back on his aching feet.
“I’m not twelve anymore,” he replied.
“No, you’re not,” she smiled. “But you’re still hiding in a corner and waiting for things to stop hurting.”
There wasn’t enough time in the world, through all of History, to wait this pain out. He didn’t know how to tell her that.
“Chuuya,” Kouyou murmured. Her hand lifted from his thigh to snake around the small of his back instead. He was pulled against her side. “It will stop hurting.”
His throat tightened helplessly.
“It might take months, or years. You’ll have to go through a lot to be able to trust yourself and trust him, to stop waking up at night thinking you’ve lost him. But it will stop hurting.”
“What if it doesn’t,” he couldn’t help but say. It was a child’s plea, raw and feeble. “What if I do wake up one day and he’s—”
He couldn’t finish. His eyes burned, tear ducts too dry to make him start crying again, but his chest hitched and heated all the same.
“I can’t do this,” he continued, every breath shaking itself out of him. “I can’t lose him again.”
“So you’ll deny yourself the right to have him at all?”
He couldn’t reply.
He really was still the twelve-year-old boy she had befriended and taken under her wing.
“You love him,” she said gently, the side of her head coming to rest against his, some of her hair tickling his forehead lightly. “And he loves you. You both came so close to losing each other, and I don’t think you realize how heartbreaking it was to have to watch you retreat into yourselves out of fear like you did. I wish I’d stepped in sooner and, I don’t know.” She chuckled. “Tied you to a chair together and forced you to talk about it.”
“I would’ve escaped,” he replied without heat.
“I’m sure of it. He would have, too.” Kouyou’s hand squeezed his shoulder. “My point is that you two have let too much time go by already. You’ve been living in fear for years, even though everyone could see how much you wanted to be with each other. Do you really want to keep going like this?”
There was only one answer to that. Only one name he could possibly give to the way his heart recoiled.
“Dazai is alive,” Kouyou repeated, and this time Chuuya did stutter out something like a moan, something like a heartbeat.
His back hunched as he choked, dry-tongued and dry-eyed and heaving regardless. Kouyou’s hand roamed over his shoulders and breathed warmth back into his dead body.
“What now,” he sobbed out. “What do I do? Ane-san, how do I—”
“Now you live,” Kouyou said, kissing the top of his hair. “And that starts with coming up to the roof with me so we can welcome them home.”
She pulled away from him. For a second Chuuya entertained the wild and childlike urge of fisting his hands into her clothes and refusing to let her go, of keeping her by his side as if she could still protect him from everything and everyone. He was too old for it, though. The thought went away without being acted upon.
Kouyou crawled out from under the desk and extended a hand toward him, crouching in the open, her suit grey with dust from the floor.
“Come on,” she said. “Let me help you up.”
He grabbed her hand.
Kouyou had little trouble pulling him to his feet. She had always been deceptively strong under her clothes, body lean and hard from years of physical labor. Even now, years after losing her jaeger and copilot, she lifted him as though he weighed nothing at all. Chuuya’s head swam, eyesight blurring into black for a few seconds as his body adjusted to being vertical once more. He felt Kouyou guide his hand to the pommel of his cane; his fingers wrapped around it thoughtlessly, and it was like finding part of himself again. His back straightened. His legs strengthened.
He took the first step on his own, in a fashion similar to being able to walk again three years prior. Legs and heart shaking. Even the physical pain was the same, with the way he had fallen earlier.
They made their way together to the elevator that would lead them to the roof. People stepped aside to make room for them, three people coming out of the elevator entirely so they could fit inside with the next batch of bright-eyed workers—everyone was rushing to the roof, even those who had already welcomed back Heartblade and Tiger Claw’s pilots. All posts were abandoned for now.
The pilots hadn’t come down at all; Chuuya found all four of them by the heliport, each looking more anxious than the other. They still wore their suits. Akutagawa Gin had crusted blood over her mouth, her right arm in a sling. Next to her stood her brother, holding her hand, petting his cat’s head with more reverence than necessary. He must have not expected to be able to do it again.
When the helicopter appeared in the horizon, red sun shining over it, Chuuya started tasting air again.
It landed to the excited murmurs and laughs and shouts of the present company. Yosano was the first to step in, with a glare that said to all who would follow that she wouldn’t hesitate to kill, no matter that she herself looked bloody and exhausted. Chuuya was too far away to hear anything even if the blades of the machine weren’t still in the process of stopping; he wasn’t, however, too far away to see as its passengers climbed out.
Kunikida helped Dazai down the ladder, looking more disheveled than Chuuya had ever seen him. The tie holding his hair together must have broken or fallen off, because it splayed over his shoulders, bright over the black of his suit. He didn’t let go of Dazai’s middle until they were both standing firmly on the roof; even then, he kept Dazai’s arm over his own shoulders.
They were safe. Home. No longer held in destiny’s fickle grasp. Dazai was here, alive, within talking and touching distance if only Chuuya so chose.
The step Chuuya took then was the easiest of his life.
Dazai raised his head almost instantly, eyes meeting Chuuya’s as if he couldn’t even think of looking elsewhere. Chuuya couldn’t either. He parted the crowd as quickly as he could and didn’t look away or breathe, not for an inch of the distance between them. He ditched the cane within two meters because it wasn’t quick enough, and the sound it made as it fell onto the ground was drowned by his own beating heart.
Dazai swayed forward immediately, slipping out of the support Kunikida offered, saying, “You’ll hurt yourself—”
Chuuya fell into him heart-first, chest colliding with his, and not even the thick of the blanket that had been dropped over Dazai stopped him from shaking. He gasped into the bare skin of Dazai’s neck like a man saved from drowning, his arms wrapped around Dazai’s nape to keep himself from falling, and it didn’t matter at all that Dazai was bruised all over—one of his arms hooked around Chuuya’s back, the other gathered against his spine.
With the tips of his trembling fingers, he touched Chuuya’s nape. He slid them across skin and hair until the full of his palm rested on it. Then he breathed again, chest swelling against Chuuya’s and heart beating where Chuuya could feel it against his mouth.
“I’m sorry,” he said into Chuuya’s hair, the warmth of his words almost scorching against the winter wind, “Chuuya, I’m so sorry—”
“Don’t,” Chuuya cut in.
Dazai’s fingers tightened on him, at his waist and at his nape. His breathing slowed its pace to match Chuuya’s.
Chuuya drank in every second of it. The shape of him against Chuuya’s front; the smell of him, sea and sweat and metal; Dazai’s hold around him and Dazai’s skin on his lips and Dazai’s words in his ear.
He had come so close to never hearing his voice again.
“I don’t want you to apologize,” he said, weakly, into Dazai’s neck. “I’m done feeling sorry.”
Honesty thrummed warm through him, shaking him where love didn’t. He was only standing now because Dazai held him. If Dazai stepped away, he would fall. He would break apart and be carried by the wind, spread over the sea like ashes, diluted into water until nothing of him remained.
Dazai bent down to press his own face into Chuuya’s neck, crushing wet tears between his mouth and Chuuya’s skin. His shoulders were shuddering. “I love you,” he gasped, hand sliding opposite to where he spoke; thumb resting on the hollow of Chuuya’s throat.
“I know,” Chuuya replied.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Dazai repeated it with every breath he took, as if to imprint the knowledge of it directly into Chuuya’s skin, until Chuuya’s chest was full to bursting with it—until the repetition shattered the last of the barriers between them. Cloth and flesh and bone gone so that they stood heart to heart.
It was the most natural thing in the world for Chuuya to shift his hold. His arm folded around Dazai’s shoulders to support his weight on him, his other hand slipping downward to touch Dazai’s neck and push his head up. Dazai’s cheek brushed against his for the bare second it took to slide their lips together.
Dazai’s were wet with his tears, cracked from dehydration and the harsh stroke of the sea, but they were warm; they moved with every shuddering breath he let out on Chuuya’s face, softer than anything Chuuya had touched before. Chuuya’s fingers moved to grab Dazai’s hair and press him closer still, until Dazai’s nose dug under his cheekbone and his eyelashes tickled his skin, and Dazai held him so tightly that his wounds flared with pain, and Chuuya forgot about it all.
He forgot about the crowd of onlookers. He forgot the cold, biting air. He forgot the years of telling himself he couldn’t have the one thing he wanted, the ever-present ache of his and Dazai’s broken drift. Dazai pressed love onto his mouth, and the open, yearning gap in his soul finally stopped hurting.
Chuuya never wanted to let go again.
And the good thing, he thought, as Dazai drew back to look at him, was that he didn’t have to.
“Now,” Dazai said against his lips. His smile matched the shape of Chuuya’s, and never had anyone radiated so under the setting sun. “This is a sight for sore eyes.”
The world stopped ending on a winter morning.
It stopped ending under the rain and snow, in the skin-warm hallways of Yokohama’s jaeger dock. The ones lucky enough to have been freed of their obligations woke up to it sometime around noon; the ones who had to keep working until late into the night still slumbered or celebrated. Alcohol was found in old boxes and cupboards and drunk sometimes to oblivion. Cigarettes were shared. Laughter was heard, and sobs, and sometimes a mix of both. It didn’t matter that everyone still glanced mechanically at the war clock as they limped by—the clock stayed silent.
Yosano’s world stopped ending when she entered hers and Kouyou’s shared quarters at three in the morning, aching through her whole body. It stopped ending after Kouyou was done dragging her into the bath and washing the grime off of her, after she was done getting her wounds re-dressed and could finally fall into their bed.
Two days’ worth of exhaustion crashed onto her at once.
It was Kouyou who held her as she sobbed from it. Yosano cried out the fear and pain and grief, mind swimming with the horrors she had seen in the drift and out of it—the corpses of the pilots who had died and now rested in her care, the kaiju’s poisoned world, the hour during which they had all thought Dazai was dead and Nakahara had sat on the floor of the comm room looking like his very soul was gone.
She thought of the superficial wounds that the surviving pilots had brought back and cried. She thought of Kajii’s memories and cried. She thought of Dazai and Nakahara’s embrace on the roof of the hangar and cried. There was no distinguishing good or bad anymore; she wept, wholly, for hours on end, with no reason or goal. Kouyou cried with her, at one point. She held her in her arms under the safety of the blanket and soothed her with meaningless words until she fell asleep.
Yosano woke up well into the following afternoon. It was to the sound of rain beating at their window harshly, to the howling wind outside which she could hear even through the thick of the walls.
She found Kouyou sitting next to her. Hair down and dressed in a nightgown and sweater, holding a steaming mug of tea in one hand and a picture in the other.
“Hello,” she said, once she noticed Yosano looking.
Yosano blinked at her wordlessly.
“Naomi-chan says your patients are doing well. She released all of them a couple hours ago.” Kouyou’s mouth twitched. “Apparently there was an intruder in Dazai’s bed when she arrived this morning.”
This tore a huff out of Yosano, at least. “If they had sex in there I’m making them handwash the sheets,” she grunted.
“Chuuya wouldn’t have sex in public,” Kouyou replied dismissively. “Also, never make me think of Chuuya having sex again.”
“He’s still my brother.”
Kouyou’s hand fell back onto the sheets. She let the picture slip from between her fingers so she could drag them through Yosano’s hair instead, and Yosano’s scalp rippled with pleasant shivers. She had to struggle to keep her eyes open through the warmth and comfort of Kouyou touching her; the sounds of the storm outside only made it easier to doze.
“I should get to work,” Kouyou murmured eventually.
The mug clicked against the wood of her bedside table as she set it down. Yosano rubbed her good hand over her face to get rid of the crust of sleep and pushed herself upright.
“You don’t have to,” she replied, leaning against her side.
“I do. We have four pilots to bury and two jaegers to disassemble. Not to mention every government in the world to get in touch with.”
Yosano picked up the picture from atop the blanket. It was one she knew well, the same one that had sat on Kouyou’s desk for six years now. Golden Man and Double Black’s pilots standing side by side and smiling.
“I’m lucky there was a body to bury for him,” Kouyou said, looking at the photograph. Fukuzawa looked back, his face frozen into contentment in spite of the shadows under his eyes. “I think Edogawa would hate me more if I hadn’t brought it back.”
“He doesn’t hate you,” Yosano mumbled.
“He does. It’s okay, I’ve made my peace with it.”
“Kouyou,” she said, sliding her hand between Kouyou’s back and the wall. “You killed the kaiju that murdered Fukuzawa while drifting on your own. Edogawa misses him, but he doesn’t hate you. Not anymore. He just doesn’t know how else to act now that he’s made his peace with it.”
“Did he tell you that?” Kouyou asked, surprisingly subdued.
Yosano nodded, remembering this conversation acutely. “He’ll come around,” she said. “He won’t say no if you ask him to stay in touch once this is all over.”
Kouyou folded the picture and put it beside her mug on the table. “I’d like that,” she admitted.
She didn’t move away, despite her words. She let Yosano wrap herself around her without a word of protest or a touch of resistance, only huffing in amusement when she felt her kiss into her neck and start tugging up the skirt of the nightgown.
“I guess I have time for this much,” she mused.
“Thank fucking God,” Yosano muttered in answer.
She dragged Kouyou back under the sheets.
After, once they lay naked and damp in the slick warmth, the taste of Kouyou still tart on Yosano’s tongue, she crawled up above her body and held herself one handed, and she said, “Once everything’s done—once the work is over—will you—”
Her words halted in the face of what she wanted to ask. It was a child’s dream, one she had not thought possible at all as she grew up, regardless of what she had fearlessly promised herself the day before.
Kouyou’s breathing had not yet quieted. She grabbed the back of Yosano’s head to pull her down into a kiss, one in which she exhaled the last of her post-orgasmic languor.
“Yes,” she replied.
February blurred every day it went through. The shortest month of the year had felt endless, from the moment Kunikida was flown from San Francisco’s base to Yokohama’s after his training, to the day he decided to leave. It felt inconceivable that his days as a pilot had actually only been one day, if one dismissed the test drift. He was still unfamiliar with parts of the dock when March rolled around.
Which wasn’t to say that he hadn’t been busy. Ceremonies had been thrown in to officially thank him and the remaining pilots; they had stood under rain and sun and snow to receive medal after medal, honor after honor, until he didn’t think one country in the world had a reward he did not know of or possess. He didn’t care much about it. Money and fame were never at the front of his mind.
He had liked the funerals more. Even with the inevitable presence of officials who had done absolutely nothing but who still spoke of the deceased like lost family, it felt good to stand by Dazai and the other pilots in mourning. However little he knew the four fighters they had lost. It felt right.
In-between the flights that took him over the world—though thankfully Ozaki fought her way into making most award ceremonies happen in Yokohama itself—there was work to be done.
He volunteered to help take Heartblade and Tiger Claw apart so that its pieces could be stored indefinitely. He volunteered in the hospital wing. He volunteered in the kitchen, he volunteered for cleaning up and emptying the dock, he volunteered for as many things as he could think of. People started looking at him with familiarity instead of awe when he walked around the corridors. They started talking to him, not with endless gratitude, but with comfortable chatter. Just for the pleasure of his company.
It was the reason he ended up taking so many strolls with Izumi Kyouka as the weeks dragged by. She had never talked to him much while they trained, always withdrawn and silent, even with the other trainees her age. Now she talked, however little. She told him about her family. He told her about his students.
Aside from deciding what he would do with his money and his honors once there was nothing to be worked on in the dock, the biggest thing on his mind was Dazai.
He was on the minds and tongues of many, actually. Gossip ran strong through the ranks of the dock’s workers; many of them had been here to see him and Chuuya hold each other on the day the fight had ended.
“I can’t believe it took them so long,” a woman told him one day, as they folded and put away the sheets of the infirmary.
Her name was Sasaki. She was one of those who had retired after Double Black was put out of commission four years ago, and she had come back after the breach fell to help around the place. She had told him, in easy, quiet words, that she had originally trained to be a pilot alongside Dazai and Chuuya. They had never found a match for her to drift with.
“Even before they were pilots, there was this…” She gestured vaguely, an amused smile at her lips. “This chemistry, I guess you could say, between them? Always arguing, always starting fights with each other. Dazai couldn’t stop poking at Nakahara until Nakahara exploded. Then he’d get to watch smugly as Nakahara walked away to go punch his frustration out on some innocent fool.”
These were memories that Kunikida had barely seen. Everything pertaining to Chuuya in Dazai’s mind had come after their first drift. After they had both realized that they were always meant to be each other’s world.
“I’m glad,” Sasaki murmured. The curve of her smile turned gentler. “Dazai was so devastated when Nakahara got hurt. Seeing them after that, all awkward with each other, especially with Nakahara in so much pain… We all realized that they weren’t actually with each other before. Not outside of the drift.”
“He thought he’d never need anything else,” Kunikida replied.
It made her laugh briefly. “Genius IQ and still an idiot. You need more than a direct connection to someone’s head to build a relationship.” Her gaze softened. “Well, they were young—they still are. They’ll figure it out.”
He felt strangely devoid of shame or embarrassment, talking about it with her. He had been too deeply linked with Dazai and Chuuya’s memories to think of them as something less than humbling. They were his memories too, in a way.
Dazai himself had been more or less forcefully volunteered by Ozaki to be the public face of the remaining pilots. He was the oldest of them with Kunikida, and he had more experience than all of them combined. Most of his days seemed to be spent holed in Ozaki’s office and acting as a buffer for the world leaders’ demands; he nodded, and smiled, and used his sharp mind to sway the conversation where Ozaki wanted it to go. Chuuya had laughed at him for complaining about it a few days after it started, right in the middle of the mess hall. It had been such an honest, simple laugh, so different from the gruff version that Kunikida had been subjected to when he called him by his first name accidentally, that almost all heads around them had turned to stare at him.
Chuuya himself supervised the moving around of jaeger tech. After Dazai and Ozaki were done convincing president after king after minister not to requisition them to potentially be used against one another—now that immediate threat to humanity itself was dealt with—Chuuya had been put in charge of guarding the locations of all parts and data.
When Dazai and Chuuya weren’t working, they were together.
They walked in each other’s shadow, moving in tandem without the need for word. They vanished for small fractions of the days. Dazai caught Chuuya when he wavered; Chuuya answered his unspoken remarks out loud. All in all, it wasn’t so different from before, except for the fact that they looked more peaceful than pained.
What happened in those stolen hours where neither of them could be found was no one’s business but theirs. No matter what gossip craved. Kunikida wouldn’t find the truth in the drift, and he doubted Dazai would tell him.
Kunikida left the dock on the third day of March.
It wasn’t until he was packing the night before, sorting through the assortment of clothes and notebooks strew over his room, that he realized he hadn’t indulged most of his compulsions in weeks.
For several minutes the thought had him shell-shocked. He stood frozen, surrounded by his half-full luggage. The furious need to unpack it all and start over gripped him by the neck and made his hands temble, made him feel once more slimy, as if soaked with blood. He sat on the edge of his bed and let the shivers wreck him without moving. Anxiety swelled in the cage of his ribs until he was nauseous with it, but he didn’t move. He breathed slowly and deeply, keeping his hands apart from each other rather than let them tear through skin, until finally his heartbeat slowed and the sweat at his back started cooling.
He pushed himself to his feet. Picked up where he left off. The nausea withdrew and didn’t come back, defeated for the rest of the night.
He was accompanied out of the base by Dazai and Chuuya and, more surprisingly, Oda and Sakaguchi. He took his time to carry his things out, refusing the help Oda offered, taking in the sight of the hangar. It looked very different now than the first time he had crossed it. The tall alcoves where the jaeger had stood were empty; the boxes and vehicles that had carried equipment from end to end were gone; so few people remained that he could count them on both hands.
A car waited for him in the crisp morning wind. It was almost black enough not to shine in the sunlight. The man driving it introduced himself as Melville and nothing else before taking Kunikida’s luggage from his hands.
Kunikida turned to face the others again.
“It’s so cold,” Dazai moaned with hunched shoulders, fingers dug deep into the pockets of his tan coat.
“I told you you should’ve worn a fucking scarf,” Chuuya replied, hitting him lightly in the legs with his cane.
“Lend me your scarf, Odasaku.”
“No,” Oda said flatly. “You should’ve listened to Chuuya from the start.”
He and Chuuya exchanged an understanding nod.
“What are you going to do?” Sakaguchi asked Kunikida. He was drowned in a coat about twice as thick as he was. “Retire?”
“No,” Kunikida replied.
He had thought about it for a long time. He didn’t feel that he deserved to spend the rest of his life doing nothing, no matter how much of his gut-wrenching guilt had alleviated after saving Dazai. With the time he spent helping around the base came the realization that he couldn’t stand to sit listless.
There were still things he could do. Things outside of throwing his life on the line.
“I’m going to teach again,” he said. “I’ll go back to my hometown for a while, visit my mother’s grave. Then I’m going to move to Tokyo and look for a job in a school there.”
“It’s a good plan,” Oda commented. “And no one’s going to refuse you a teaching position.” He took a cigarette out of the pocket of his coat and lit it with clumsy, gloved fingers. His first drag of smoke was exhaled thoughtfully. “One of my kids lives in Tokyo,” he added. “Wants to be a teacher too.”
The look Oda gave him was one of deep appreciation, of heartfelt pride. “Yeah,” he said simply. “She’s a good girl.”
Her memory was faded in Kunikida’s mind, but he could still recall a shriek of loud laughter, a fierce surge of protectiveness, even drowned as it had been under Dazai’s deadly violence. Oda Sakura would get to live in a free world too.
He turned his head to look at Dazai and found him looking back.
“Well,” Dazai said evenly. “It’s been a shorter time than I expected, but I have to admit it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
“You mean aside from the part where you played around and almost made me attack everyone here?” Kunikida replied. “Or the one where I had to resuscitate you?”
“And he jokes. I knew you had it in you, Kunikida-kun.”
Dazai’s tone was playful. His smile sincere.
“It wasn’t as awful as I thought it’d be either,” Kunikida admitted. “You make a terrible first impression.”
“I get that a lot,” Dazai agreed, glancing at Chuuya by his side.
Chuuya seemed to stand better now than he did weeks ago. The winter light was kind on him as well—shining off his hair and bringing color to his face. He was still handsome, still looking taller than he was. His grip on the cane was lax and easy. Kunikida couldn’t help the warmth in his cheeks when their eyes met; some part of him was still surprised by the lack of awful longing he felt at the very sight of him. It always would be.
“Kunikida,” Chuuya said lowly. “Thank you.”
He looked at Kunikida with endless gratitude too, but not for saving the world.
“Stay in touch,” Dazai said a minute later, as Kunikida crawled inside the car. He was resting his elbow on the open door, his other hand in his pocket. Chuuya, Sakaguchi, and Oda were walking back toward the dock already. “I’ll still be around here for a while, so just call me if you forgot anything.”
“Do you really want me to stay in touch?” Kunikida asked, surprised.
“I do,” he said. “I’m not someone who makes friends easily, but it feels wrong to just say goodbye forever to someone who’s been in my head. And you’re a good man.”
Kunikida tensed. The obvious protest burned at his lips.
Dazai’s smile turned softer at the sight of it. “Work on this,” he continued. “This self-hatred of yours… it has no reason to exist. Get some professional help if you can.”
Kunikida felt himself nod helplessly. His face colored, the blush instantaneous, and Dazai laughed at him for it for the better part of a minute. Loud and easy in the morning quiet. Melville was silent at the front of the car, no doubt waiting for Kunikida to close the door so they could be on their way.
Kunikida grabbed the handle of the door and growled, “Go back to the love of your damn life.”
“Happily,” Dazai replied, mirth still clinging to his lips. He stepped back. “Have a safe trip, partner.”
He waved at them as the engines started. The last Kunikida saw of him was his silhouette against the bright sun, hair swept by the wind, face open with affection. He followed the outline of it until it vanished behind ruins.
Dazai walked Chuuya to his room after seeing Kunikida away.
Nowadays the dock was more deserted than not. Work had piled down over the weeks, and more strikingly so in the last few days. The last two jaegers had been taken apart and their pieces sealed away weeks ago. Cleaning the hangar of the last of its equipment had taken more time. Every day that went by saw more people leaving, going away home with every available boat, train, or plane. Whether they had a home to return to at all was up to them.
He stepped in silence alongside the soft sounds of Chuuya’s feet on the barren floors, the louder tapping of his cane. Chuuya didn’t protest it. They had been doing this more and more—spending more time in each other’s rooms than apart, lying down together at night without quite daring to touch except for stolen kisses and brushes of hands.
On the day they had won, Chuuya had sneaked into the hospital wing in the dead of the night. He had fitted himself into the tiny bed at Dazai’s back and held him in silence, his injured leg thrown over Dazai’s, his breath into his nape.
Only then had Dazai stopped feeling the ache of his absence and relaxed enough to sleep. He was about sure that it was the same reason Chuuya had come at all.
Dazai opened the door to Chuuya’s room for him and let him in first.
“You were surprisingly decent about this,” Chuuya said as soon as it clicked shut behind them. He let his cane rest against the frame of it to tug off his gloves and shrug out of his coat and scarf, laying them atop the chair of his desk.
Dazai hummed evenly. “I like him.”
It made Chuuya pause for a second and look at him with raised eyebrows.
“I’m not lying,” he insisted. “And not just because he saved my life. I do think we could be friends, one day.”
“Well,” Chuuya replied, oddly flat. “This is unexpected.”
“Turns out even you can’t predict everything about me.”
Chuuya’s hand shook, and he clenched it into a fist. Dazai’s humor vanished.
“Chuuya?” he asked.
Chuuya didn’t reply. He made his way toward his fridge in silence, bending over to open it and take water out of it. Dazai watched him drink it without moving from his spot by the door, mind running in circles to understand what had just happened. It clicked when Chuuya threw the fridge’s door shut with more strength than strictly necessary.
“Are you jealous?” he asked, bewildered.
“I’m not,” Chuuya lied.
“Why on Earth would you be—”
He paused to shake himself out of his surprise. Walking the distance between them was easy, so much easier now than it had been for so long. Dazai crossed the length of the room in a few steps and came to a stop behind Chuuya’s turned back.
“It’s because of the drift,” he said.
Chuuya turned to look at him. “Of course it’s because of the drift,” he let out. “Did you really think I wouldn’t—”
He clenched his jaw and stopped talking before he could finish.
Dazai had wondered at that. Weeks ago, when Chuuya had told him to find someone to pilot with. He had wanted to ask if Chuuya didn’t mind, had refused to ask, because not knowing felt safer than risking being told, I don’t.
“He’s not going to drift with me anymore,” he said softly. “No one is.”
“I know,” Chuuya replied. “I just…” He frowned. “It messes with your head. The drift. With the way ours went the first time I thought maybe—”
“I am utterly disinterested in Kunikida that way,” Dazai cut in.
Chuuya’s face turned beet red.
At least this was familiar. Dazai felt his shoulders drop. He raised a hand and placed it at Chuuya’s nape after a brief hesitation, and Chuuya’s skin ran with goosebumps at the contact, as it did every time. Dazai wanted to keep the feeling of it cradled into his palm for as long as he lived.
“Were you worried I’d develop a crush?” he couldn’t help but ask, struggling not to smile.
“Shut up,” Chuuya groaned, but he didn’t pull away. “It’s not just that. I just.” He looked away, cheeks still flushed. “I didn’t have to think about the fact that someone else would get to see you like that until it was happening. I didn’t expect you to like him. I thought you’d hate each other.”
Chuuya couldn’t have thought that Dazai would feel the way he did for him about anyone else. Not with the absolute, perfect certainty they had both felt at the time. He couldn’t have thought Dazai would find the same thing in someone else, no matter how compatible.
He just hadn’t wanted anyone to see what he couldn’t anymore.
“Dazai,” Chuuya said, looking at him.
Dazai’s hand pressed further into the back of his head to pull him forward.
The feeling of Chuuya’s lips against his was a breathless one every time, no matter how often they kissed. Dazai’s eyelids closed to focus on the warmth of it through touch alone, all of his body heating for a simple press as it would for much more; he moaned from deep in his chest when Chuuya opened his mouth for more and his hand came up to grab Dazai’s raised wrist.
He fell further into it after that. Turning to face Dazai fully, leaning up into his body. Dazai put his other hand atop the one Chuuya kept on his cane and forgot himself to the wet softness of Chuuya’s mouth. Tasting coffee on his tongue and salt on his lips.
He was breathing harshly when he pulled away. It only took a glance between them before Chuuya pulled him down once more, open-mouthed and messy in a way they hadn’t let themselves be yet, and Dazai’s chest burned with it, his belly gathering heat by the second.
His heart skipped a beat when Chuuya’s thigh brushed against the front of his slacks.
“Eager,” he said, his lips a smile against Dazai’s.
“Can’t help it,” Dazai replied lowly. His eyes opened, following the blurry shape of Chuuya’s face to give him back his stare. “Your foreplay tends to drag on for literal years.”
Chuuya snorted, pulling away. “I certainly hope your foreplay’s a bit better than that.”
“No idea. I haven’t actually had sex in—” he had to stop to count. “Well, eight years. I thought I was pretty good at it as a teenager, but I was a teenager.”
“God,” Chuuya laughed, pressing his lips against Dazai’s shoulder. “We really are stupid.”
Dazai put his chin on top of Chuuya’s head without daring to reply.
This would be the time to apologize again. He would, if not for Chuuya’s firm refusal to linger. He could almost taste the words on his lips, wet as they were still from Chuuya’s own, feel the acute need to seek Chuuya’s pardon even knowing that he had it.
It would take a long time for him to feel like he really had it. A long time to stop waking up in the middle of the night to Chuuya’s fingers at his wrist or neck, checking for his pulse, and not want to fall to his knees and ask for forgiveness once more.
He bent his head down to press his mouth to Chuuya’s hair, eyes closed. “Do you want that with me?” he asked. “Sex?”
“Yeah,” Chuuya replied into his neck. He pushed against Dazai’s chest with his hand, and his smile when their eyes met was wry and gentle at once. “Maybe not now, though,” he added.
“Your resilience is commendable,” Dazai said, the corners of his mouth fluttering. “You’d have made a good priest.”
“I was single, not chaste.” Chuuya rolled his eyes. “I’m perfectly capable of rubbing one out by myself, bastard, and I know you know it.”
He did know it. These memories of the drift were well-loved and visited, no matter that Dazai had thought nothing would come out of them. Touching himself to the thought of Chuuya felt too natural and good not to indulge in the privacy of his own room.
Chuuya brushed their lips together again. “Get your mind out of the gutter,” he said as he pulled back. “I’m taking a nap.”
Dazai followed Chuuya to his bed anyway. Some of his own clothes sat atop a chair in the corner, the result of many overnight stays spent breathing in the warmth of Chuuya’s skin. When Chuuya made to drop his cane against it and start undressing, he put a hand at his back and said, “Let me.”
Chuuya looked at him for a second, faintly surprised, still flushed from kissing. He nodded curtly. His eyes were dark with heat.
Dazai helped him hop toward the bed with his arm and sat him down at the edge of it. It was easy enough to work open the buttons of Chuuya’s shirt, one after the other. Chuuya said nothing at all at the way his fingers avoided touching skin to simply pull on cloth.
Dazai couldn’t help but pause at the sight of his tattoos. They were as eye-catching, as stark now as they had been when Chuuya was younger and parading them around.
“See something you like?” Chuuya said lightly.
“Yeah,” Dazai replied. His palm brushed against Chuuya’s right shoulder, where a surgery scar cut right through the ink. “I always do.”
Chuuya’s body was not as toned now as it had been four years ago. He trained what he could, but what he could was not much; and the exercises he was allowed to partake in were not up to par with the brutal regimen he had followed as a criminal and a pilot. He would always be on the lithe, compact side, but where his skin had once stretched taught over muscle and bone, it fell more softly now. Giving and warm under Dazai’s fingers.
He was the most beautiful person Dazai had ever seen.
He thought of it as he kneeled to untie Chuuya’s shoelaces, to pull his shoes off gently. He took care with his right leg, holding it up by the calf with the open spread of his palm. His socks went out just as kindly. He thought of Chuuya’s resilience to physical pain in the months that had followed his injuries; he thought of the hours spent watching him bend and push and move a leg that brought him nothing but agony, trying to build up to putting weight on it until he passed out from the pain. Dazai had helped nurses and doctors drag him back into bed so many times.
Chuuya sucked in a breath when Dazai’s hands left his ankles to touch the buckle of his belt. He undid it with deft fingers and didn’t bother with tugging it out of the loops. He gave Chuuya a questioning look, one that Chuuya answered by lowering his back to the mattress and pushing his hips off of it with his left foot. Dazai dragged his pants down under his thighs quickly so he could rest again. It was quick business after that to get rid of the pants entirely, though Dazai took more care with the right leg than the left.
Then there was only Chuuya. Laid out onto the bed in his underwear, barefoot and bare-handed, hair splayed around his head like a halo. Looking at Dazai with the same smile that had made him realize, once, that nothing in the world was worth wanting more.
Dazai followed when Chuuya dragged himself backward onto the mattress to lie in full. He straddled him without daring to let his weight on him and lowered his elbows on either side of his head, and he fell down to meet his mouth again. The bright ache in his heart only softened when breathing in Chuuya’s own air and moving with his open lips. He hummed at the first glide of his tongue, warm all through his skin, a flush current not unlike that of his blood. Pulsing in his chest with every slow second.
“Dazai,” Chuuya breathed when he pulled away.
Dazai went back to the edge of the bed, stopping only once to kiss Chuuya’s sternum. His left hand was shaking when it took hold of Chuuya’s right leg.
It was thinner than the rest of him. Pale and ridged with scars, almost completely hairless from all the patches of regrown and sutured skin. The bones and tissues in it were so very fragile, so tender to the touch. Dazai kissed the protruding bone of Chuuya’s ankle before trailing his lips up the length of it, stopping at every trace of the injury and following surgeries. Breathing against sensitive skin until Chuuya’s own air came out fast and shallow.
He kept it in his hold once he reached his knee. Chuuya’s other leg had opened to make room for him between them; Dazai kissed inside his thigh, and there was no mistaking the shattered, breathy moan Chuuya let out at that for anything but want.
“Maybe not sex now,” Dazai said, smiling into his skin. “But if you feel like using my hand instead of yours, I do know how to jerk off—”
“Just fucking get here already,” Chuuya snapped, grabbing him by the hair.
Dazai lowered Chuuya’s leg back onto the sheets as he crawled back up to kiss him wetly, biting into his mouth until it was flush with blood.
“What’s the most comfortable for you?” he asked, breath hitched. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“It’s going to hurt anyway,” Chuuya replied. His hands had risen to fist into the back of Dazai’s shirt, and his face was red, pupils dilated and mouth warm, and he had never looked better than this before. “On my back is good,” he added after a deep inhale. “Just don’t fall on my leg by accident once you’re done.”
“You have so little faith in me.”
Chuuya scoffed. “I do. For this, I really do.”
Dazai reached down to hook his hand under Chuuya’s knee; he lifted his leg until it could sit across the small of his back, holding it for a moment to make sure it wouldn’t fall. “Good?” he asked then.
“Yeah,” Chuuya replied, looking faintly surprised. “Actually, it is.”
The surprise disappeared to make way for simpler things when Dazai lower his hips into the opening of his thighs.
His first thrust forward was shallow, only enough to feel the resistance of Chuuya’s cock through his underwear and to regret not undressing himself. That was fine, however. He wasn’t seeking his own pleasure now—maybe he would find it anyway, drunk as he was on the sight and feel of Chuuya on the bed, spread like an offering.
Dazai rocked into the crux of Chuuya’s legs and watched him come more and more undone, eyes closing to savor the friction, chest shaking through each exhale. Warmth rolled along his spine in long slow beats, tightening in his belly and between his own legs, catching against the fabric of his clothes. He kissed Chuuya again to forget about it—kissed him again and again, kept Chuuya’s mouth full of nothing but moans and Dazai’s own taste, so that he could let his hand slide from neck to breast to hip.
Chuuya gasped when Dazai’s fingers slipped under his boxers to circle his cock, too dry and too hot and not enough.
“God,” Dazai said, halting his hips to simply look, “you’re so—”
“Keep going,” Chuuya whimpered.
Dazai jerked his wrist. Chuuya arched off the bed, leg shaking around Dazai’s hip, skin taught and flushed above his belly.
“Fuck, I want to be inside you one day,” Dazai said breathlessly, “I want to see you move like that on my cock, want to sit down on you and ride you until you can’t even think—”
He wanted everything, every single heated breath spilling out of Chuuya’s lips, every jump of his skin, every drop of his sweat. He wanted to fuck into him inch by unbearable inch, to fit into the shape of him as their minds had fitted together, inside Chuuya’s body as he was inside Chuuya’s soul.
He mouthed it all into his neck as he stroked him, promise after promise of nothing but pleasure to come. His voice made the line of Chuuya’s spine curve more sharply still, and he could’ve put a hand there, at the dip of him, pressing warm against his vertebrae.
Chuuya came with a drawn-out moan, so deep it was almost voiceless. His cock spilled warmly over Dazai’s fingers. He was grunting in something closer to pain almost immediately, rather than languishing in heat.
“Cramp,” he hissed.
Dazai led his leg back down to the mattress slowly. He massaged the inside of his thigh with the flat of his palm for a long minute, until the frown eased out of Chuuya’s red face and his mouth relaxed once again.
His own pleasure was only a matter of dragging his hand out of Chuuya’s underwear and wiping it on the leg of his pants, of taking himself in hand, fingers warm from the heat of Chuuya’s skin. He finished himself off in a few quick strokes. He didn’t even have to imagine the way Chuuya would look at him; Chuuya waslooking, heavy-lidded eyes fixed onto him like moths drawn by an open flame.
Dazai pushed himself over to Chuuya’s left, arm laid above his middle. His nose touching Chuuya’s shoulder.
“I really am taking a nap after this,” Chuuya mumbled.
Dazai smiled into his skin. “Did I overexert you?”
He got a kick in the leg for his trouble. “Hardly. I just haven’t slept all night with that shit Kouyou keeps putting on my plate.”
They fell silent, absorbed into their own thoughts, Dazai’s fingers brushing idly over Chuuya’s ribs.
He could have fallen asleep like this if not for the wonder still gathered in him. If he hadn’t had the memory of Chuuya’s face tensing through orgasm, red with a blush that crawled all the way down his neck. His hand slid up to touch him there. Fingers light against the hollow of his throat.
“Dazai,” Chuuya murmured.
“What are you going to do?”
Dazai didn’t answer.
“Everyone’s leaving,” Chuuya continued softly. “Even Kouyou. You and I aren’t—we aren’t like Kunikida. We don’t have anything legit to go back to.”
“Everything is legit for us now,” Dazai said. “In every country in the world.”
“Maybe for you. I wasn’t awarded like you guys.”
Dazai pushed himself up to look at him. “You should have been,” he replied. “You deserve it more than I do.”
Chuuya met his eyes in silence.
The sun was higher now than an hour ago. Its light poured through the window in shades of white and gold, catching at the lock of the biggest drawer in Chuuya’s desk. Dazai knew what was kept hidden in it, knew and understood more than anyone else would.
“Odasaku said he wanted to reopen his orphanage,” Dazai said eventually.
Chuuya’s arm slid between his neck and the mattress. It folded around him, hand coming back to touch his hair. “Yeah?”
“I thought…” He paused. “I’d like to work there. At least for a while, until I find something else. Or not.”
“You do that. I’ll take over Yokohama’s inexistent underworld in your absence.”
Dazai chuckled. “You could just work there with me,” he offered. “Odasaku doesn’t trust people easily around kids, he’d be glad to work with someone he knows.”
“Dazai, I haven’t seen a child since I was a child,” Chuuya drawled. “What makes you think I should be allowed anywhere near one now?”
It wasn’t a question of criminal pasts or lack of education, Dazai thought, still hazy with Chuuya’s heat. He himself had been fine alongside the much younger kids Oda sheltered. He had been considered a brother figure of sorts, some cool not-quite-adult whose attention was to be fought over. Chuuya wouldn’t have any trouble fitting in. He was always better with people than Dazai was.
“Whatever you do,” he said lowly, “I’m coming with you.”
Chuuya’s fingers tightened in his hair.
“I’m not going anywhere. Not unless you get tired of me.”
“I couldn’t get tired of you,” Chuuya replied. “I couldn’t—I can’t do that again. Pretending I don’t want you.”
Pretending I don’t need you.
“I guess I’ll come,” he went on quietly. “Wait for when someone is sent after my ass for the jaeger tech location and play around with kids in the meantime.”
“We could build an army of children to protect you.”
Dazai let himself be pulled into the space of Chuuya’s body, lips to lips, gentle and unhurried. It wasn’t more than a press, nothing more than shared air; but it thrummed inside him like the grip of the drift, hooked into belly and heart and head, and in the midst of it Chuuya’s mind felt within touching distance. Brushing against his more quietly, more wonderfully than it had the first time. Expanding through his own chest without need for fight at all.
Hello, Chuuya thought at him. Tentative as a first kiss.
Dazai’s answer traveled to him without breaking the silence.