Warnings: talk of difficult first times and hurtful words, Fyodor, mentions of erotic cannibalism. I swear this is a fun fic.
Cross My Heart
Long ago, knowing himself and his sleeping habits more than he liked to admit, Chuuya had set his morning alarm as the most strident and unbearable ringtone available in his cell phone. He had spent about half an hour after buying the device carefully comparing marimba tunes and shrill sirens until he settled for a long, awful note of pure agony. It guaranteed to actually wake him up in time, even at the price of his mood and eardrums.
That very morning, he regretted it more than ever.
Pain started beating at his temples the second the thrice-damned phone screamed at him. He spent a moment struck dumb by it, moaning pitifully, until at last he found the strength to roll to the edge of his mattress and pat blindly around. His finger slipped twice over the screen of his phone before he managed to turn off the alarm and find silence once more. He would have found relief in it if not for the crushing embarrassment that immediately swallowed him.
At least his hangover quickly dissipated it. His dry mouth tasted as if something had died in it; he was certain he could smell beer on his clothes and hair—beer—and so Chuuya painfully tore himself away from the relative warmth of his bed and stepped into his ice-cold apartment. The shivers that struck him when his bare feet touched the floor were almost worse than the nausea.
He turned on the electric heater with some regret, knowing he wouldn’t stay long enough to actually enjoy it, and hurried to the bathroom.
“Fuck,” he said as the tepid water pouring from the showerhead struggled to warm him up. He punched the tiled wall with weak fists and said again, “Fuck.”
He repeated it a good dozen times.
Five agonizing minutes of brushing his teeth into a semblance of freshness and scrubbing his hair clean of spilled booze later, he stumbled out of the stall.
Winter wind slapped harshly at him the second he stepped foot outside his building. He had no appetite for anything not coffee and so did not make his usual stop at Akutagawa’s bakery on his way to the office, though he waved at the man when their eyes met through the glass door. Chuuya pulled his beanie down over his damp hair in vain effort to keep warm, cursing himself for forgetting his gloves at home. He could feel his knuckles dry by the second.
“You’re late,” Kunikida snapped at him when he pushed open the door.
He still handed him a mug full of coffee, though. Chuuya took it with a bit more desperation than he liked to show. “Good morning to you too,” he replied. He gulped down a good half of the beverage before adding, “And I’m not late.”
“You were supposed to be here at seven-thirty.”
“It’s seven thirty-five.”
“Dostoyevsky doesn’t tolerate tardiness—”
“God, please lower your voice,” Chuuya moaned, dropping into his desk chair. “My head’s about to explode.”
Kunikida inhaled almost comically. His voice was nothing short of a shrill when he asked, “Are you hungover?”
“I’m fine,” Chuuya mumbled. “Please stop screaming.”
“In the name of—I asked you, you, to do this interview because I thought for some foolish reason that you were the only person in this place I could count on for professionalism, and you show up drunk to a meeting with the most influential author in Russia? Should I just close down the newspaper now? Should I resign?”
“Fire me if you want,” Chuuya moaned, “but for fuck’s sake, stop yelling.”
It was futile begging, of course. Chuuya sipped the last of his coffee to the sound of Kunikida waxing poetics about how terribly the interview would go with Chuuya in that state, how Dostoyevsky was known for ruining the careers of journalists he found rude or unkempt, how Chuuya had brought shame not only on himself but on every one of his colleagues with his actions. Any other day Chuuya would have perhaps taken the words to heart—though seven years of working daily with Kunikida had weaned him off of absorbing the man’s anxiety like a sponge—but not today.
Today, mortification for what had transpired the night before won over any other shame.
Please let it have been a hallucination, Chuuya thought, face pressed into the rim of his mug to try and drag in every last drop of caffeine. Please let me have dreamed it all up.
Kunikida, the bastard, slapped Chuuya’s synopsis down onto the desk as noisily as he could. The ringing ache that the sound brought to Chuuya’s forehead was almost enough to make him cry out. “I spent my evening greenlighting this for you, in case you care, you drunkard. You better make Dostoyevsky and the rest of the world believe you’re the poster child of abstinence. Otherwise never mind getting fired, I will kill you.”
Chuuya massaged his temples and nodded empathetically.
He didn’t need to go over the synopsis in detail—he’d written the damn thing, he knew what was in it, and he knew Kunikida would not have made any big amendments. Kunikida had reduced the wordcount for the portrait in order to make more room for the interview, but Chuuya would still have a good three pages of next week’s issue to write anyway. The day promised to be absolutely wonderful. He didn’t even like Dostoyevsky’s damn books.
An hour later found him with a stable enough digestive system to handle solid food. He walked the way back to Akutagawa’s bakery for proper breakfast and sat at one of the tables there rather than his office. He’d had enough of Kunikida’s I’m Very Disappointed In You glares for the next year.
“Someone overindulged,” Akutagawa rasped at him as he brought the mountain of croissants Chuuya had ordered, as well as his second cup of coffee, sweetened this time.
“Shut up and give me my sugar.”
“Nice photos, by the way.”
Chuuya froze, one third of a croissant halfway to his open mouth. “Thanks,” he replied, hoping Akutagawa was speaking of his double-page on the city’s underground hip-hop scene and nothing else.
Akutagawa stayed as infuriatingly unreadable as ever. He stuck the bill under Chuuya’s croissant-plate and walked back to the counter without another word.
Chuuya checked his phone’s gallery under the table the second he was gone, feeling like a piece of gum stretched to the very limit. He found nothing at all past his latest screenshots of Kouyou’s Snapchat, yet the fact did little to reassure him.
He still had an hour before his appointment with Dostoyevsky. Despite suffering the worst hangover of the century, Chuuya was confident enough in his preparation for the meeting that he chose to work on his other papers instead. He left the bakery with enough time to walk to the InterContinental Yokohama Grand Hotel, since of course someone like Dostoyevsky would decide to crash there instead of the many more affordable options, and was sorry to discover that his hair was not completely dry yet.
At least the sun was up now. Chuuya warmed himself to it and kept his dry hands in his pockets, bag slung over his shoulder, walking briskly. Seagulls cried along the seashore, flying low over the returned fishing boats in search of leftover catches. Amidst their voices shone those of the fishermen themselves, now done selling the fruit of the night’s work and drinking coffee around fire-barrels. Chuuya stopped next to a group of them and asked to take a picture, thinking distantly of writing something for the next morning’s edition of the Yokohama Mainichi, who still often accepted extra work from him.
The picture came out wonderfully: five grinning men with sun-tanned skin and rough hands, waving at the objective. He thanked them and gave them his card.
It put him in a better mood. He arrived at the InterContinental with ten minutes to spare. Fresh air, coffee, and conversation had soothed his headache into something more manageable; Chuuya was beginning to believe that perhaps the day would not end up being utter shit, when fate decided to remind him that he was her chewtoy.
“Fancy meeting you here, Chuuya,” Dazai said, leaning against the hotel’s façade.
Chuuya’s headache came back with a vengeance. “Get the fuck out of my sight,” he barked.
It didn’t matter that his face had turned hotter than lava in the second it took him to appreciate the obscene bend of Dazai’s body against the white wall. Insulting Dazai had become more than just habit—it was a safety measure, a defense mechanism. It was survival instinct.
Dazai’s smile turned wider. He looked infuriatingly well-rested considering that he couldn’t walk in a straight line the last time Chuuya had seen him. “I’m quite well, thank you for asking,” he went on, pushing himself off of the wall. The suited man by the hotel’s entrance had not stopped staring at him, or at the costly camera strung around his neck that Dazai cared more about than his own dignity. “Please stop leering at me like this, I’ll blush.”
Chuuya reeled back physically, face burning, rage and embarrassment warring for his attention. “Fuck off,” he said between clenched teeth, “you have no business here.”
“On the contrary. I heard there was a famous author around, I’d hate not to do my job properly.”
“You call what you do a job?”
Was Dazai incapable of smiling without looking like he was eating something deliciously forbidden? He seemed a second away from wetting his lips in lustful appetite. “Let’s not get into that again,” he replied. “I think we reached quite a satisfactory agreement over the old feud last night, don’t you?”
Torn between the urge to strangle the man and to vanish on the spot under the assault of the night’s memories, Chuuya decided that inaction was the least risky path to pick. He walked past Dazai’s lanky body and toward the guard observing them, showing his press card to him. A second of unintelligible mumble later and the guard said, “You can come up,” before giving him Dostoyevsky’s room number.
Chuuya had been to lavisher hotels than the InterContinental before—the architecture was nice and the view impregnable, but ultimately it was only a four-star—so he lost little time to the familiar squeaky-clean employees and design armchairs populating the lobby. Most of the tenants were only just waking up at this hour; Chuuya waited behind three breakfast trays for the elevators to arrive, hoping they would be spacious enough for him to squeeze in. He didn’t fancy having to climb the whole way up.
He did find room, though one of the trays dug painfully into his hipbone. The employee pushing it gave him an apologetic glance. Chuuya smiled quickly at her.
There was no one left but him by the time he reached the highest floors. Chuuya stopped by the fancy mirror stuck in the middle of the hallway to check up on his appearance; his hair had known better days and his lips were chapped, but there wasn’t much he could do about that. He fished an elastic band out of the garbage lining his coat pockets and tied his hair up quickly, not bothering to check for chapstick in his bag. He knew where he had left it: on the counter of his kitchen, next to his gloves and sense of self-worth.
He knocked twice on the fine-wood door of Dostoyevsky’s suite. At the sound of someone saying, “Enter,” in English, he pushed it open.
The suite was as expected: a narrow but long room with wide windows, a ridiculous bed, a living area with comfortable couches and a minibar. The flat screen TV was running some nature documentary or another in low foreign whispers. Russian, Chuuya thought.
He turned his head aside when the screen went black.
“You’re punctual,” Dostoyevsky said, in Japanese this time. His voice had that odd flatness that many foreigners shared when speaking the language, as if he were talking over a single note. He put the remote down and gestured to the couches, adding, “Thank you for coming.”
“Thank you for accepting to meet us,” Chuuya replied, bowing quickly. He handed his card to the man, who took it without so much as a glance—odd again, but nothing Chuuya had not seen before while dealing with foreigners. “I’m Nakahara Chuuya of the Weekly Harbor.”
“I know. Shall we, then?”
Something about high-rise buildings always distracted Chuuya. Already he could feel his attention slipping from the man himself and veering toward the windows, the expanse of blue sky and even bluer sea. He thought for a second of the men he had met earlier, whose photograph was safely stored inside the camera slung around his shoulder.
“Right,” Chuuya said, focusing once more on Dostoyevsky. He wasn’t here to daydream. “First off, should we conduct the interview in English, or…?”
“I’m proficient in Japanese,” Dostoyevsky replied without a hint of arrogance. Or as though his brand of arrogance were fact, not subjection. “It should be easier for you.”
“I speak English,” Chuuya retorted.
So far Dostoyevsky’s attitude reminded him a bit too strongly of the ulcer in human form he had met minutes ago—his face warmed again at the memory of him, at the flashes of the night past lighting up his mind in languid, warm colors—but at least Dazai had the decency of playing up his arrogance. He was confident, but tiny bit apologetic about it.
It took Chuuya a good second to remember what Dostoyevsky had done to that journalist from Time Magazine he had deemed too rude; he paused in the middle of taking out pen and paper, glancing quickly at the man. There was a faint smile on his almost non-existent lips.
“I apologize,” Dostoyevsky said, meeting his eyes. “I didn’t mean to insult you. My only thought was that I would greatly enjoy hearing you speak your own language more.”
Chuuya stared at him. “Sure,” he said at least, not knowing how else to answer. “Do you want to take a look at my questions before we start?”
Chuuya’s recorder was thankfully still at eighty-three percent of battery—he hadn’t thought to check before coming—so he put it on the table without further ado, the extra mic plugged in and turned toward Dostoyevsky.
“I’m here to ask you about your new book, of course,” he started, flipping quickly through his exemplary of the book in question. He hadn’t liked it, but he liked failing his boss even less, and so many pages were dog-earred or scribbled on. “You were kind enough to give the Harbor your first Japanese interview about it—when did you start writing it?”
“Eight months ago,” Dostoyevsky replied.
He sounded expectant. No doubt wanting Chuuya to gasp, or stare at him with wide eyes, or accuse him of lying. While a three-hundred page novel finished in half a year was an impressing feat, however, Chuuya rather thought he must have written twice as much in half as much time every year since he started working.
Novelists really were too full of themselves.
“That’s impressive,” he said blankly, eager to get the ego-stroking over and done with. “I’m sure you’ve already read all about how well-received it’s been this week alone. Several critics all over the world have it pegged as Booker Prize material. What do you think about that?”
“I wonder if it would be remiss of me to say I don’t care for such things.”
“You don’t care about the Booker Prize,” Chuuya repeated a tad dryly.
“I’m afraid not.”
“So you wrote this book in English and not Russian, for the first time in your career, for no reason at all.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Dostoyevsky said with all the airs of a teacher indulging a rowdy student—Chuuya felt himself tense up the way he did whenever Dazai had the gall to insult his intelligence, except that none of the conflicted arousal he felt around Dazai followed. “My reasons were purely artistic. I felt that I had reached the limit of my abilities in Russian; I wanted to shape my words in a different way.”
“Your last book disappointed a lot of people,” Chuuya acquiesced, watching his notes without seeing them, his pen tapping lightly on his notebook. “So you agree with the critics about reaching your limits.”
“I disappointed myself more than anyone else with Crime and Punishment,” Dostoyevsky replied. “Perhaps I relied too much on previous successes and did not give it my best. I felt that I had to come back to the basics afterward—to strip myself down to the bone, if you will, and try and create newness after being rid of the old.”
That was more humility than Chuuya expected, even as wrought in heavy-handed metaphors as it was. “Well, it looks like you did a great job,” he said more kindly, “considering I haven’t read a single literature column not singing your praise in the past few days.”
“You flatter me.”
I do not, Chuuya thought, writing down Dostoyevsky’s words in quick notes. He usually enjoyed literature columns. He’d have to wait until the Cannibalism hype was gone to enjoy them again.
“Let’s talk about Cannibalism, then,” he went on, glancing at his questions. He had ended up skipping over the one about Crime and Punishment being so bad that its author had apparently received letters asking him to pay back his readers in actual money, but he could still mention that in an editorial somewhere if need be. Maybe even in Dazai’s dishrag of a magazine. “The least I can say about it is that it’s vastly different from your previous works. You usually veer toward sociology in your novels, anthropology even, but this one is all about psychology and base individual desires. Why?”
That part was the easiest. One thing about novelists was that they never failed to talk for hours on end about their own works, no matter how unsuccessful. Chuuya contented himself with nodding and humming at the appropriate times, putting down quick-worded notes with one hand and tapping on the arm of the couch with the other as Dostoyevsky spoke of catharsis and inhumanity and the true shape of the soul. This was why Chuuya generally avoided pseudo-psychology in novels and preferred it in raw, poetic form—it felt less like their authors relished in misery than they tried to expose it, to shine a lamp around until something shone back.
With the way Dostoyevsky spoke of his two main characters, it felt positively voyeuristic. Chuuya asked a few other questions, about mundane life things, about stylistic choices in specific excerpts, about inspirations and dislikes. He took pictures. He scratched notes down until his fingers stained with ink.
“Aren’t you afraid of backlash?” Chuuya asked about half an hour later, once the man was done prosing. He had to bite back an unfortunate yawn—he had mastered the art of retaining a blank face when he did it. “You’re famous over the world, but Russia isn’t the safest place to be writing anything not heterosexual at the moment.”
“I admit that was one of my reasons for picking English when the story revealed itself to me,” Dostoyevsky replied. “I knew I would have an easier time getting published in Great Britain this time. But no, I don’t fear backlash. I technically did not break the law, and if I were to be sued or attacked for my work, I could just leave.”
Chuuya thought of the many people who couldn’t leave. “Right,” he said, keeping his voice even. “What about backlash not related to Russia, then. What about backlash from readers.”
“I don’t expect bigots to understand—”
“I’m not talking about homophobes.”
Dostoyevsky marked a pause. “Ah,” he let out. “You’ve heard about that.”
Chuuya didn’t tell him that he had no need to hear anything. “The sexual aspect of Cannibalism is evident,” he said, looking down at his question list, which nowhere featured what he had just asked. “But you didn’t make your characters lovers. You made them enemies, and wrote a story twisted beyond measure—they literally end up eating each other.”
Dostoyevsky seemed oddly calm considering his reputation with journalists who antagonized him. He hadn’t let go of his half-smile, or of his piercing yet bored gaze. His eyes reflected the sky outside in purplish tints.
“I take it you didn’t enjoy the book, then,” he said. He seemed amused.
“I didn’t say that,” Chuuya replied, his brain going overdrive in search of how to save face. “Like you said, I’ve only been reading blogs and such. They were, uh, vocal about their dislike—I thought it might be interesting to bring it up—”
“You are mistaken if you think that I wrote a twisted story.”
Chuuya’s pen stopped tapping his paper. He stared at Dostoyevsky with disbelief hung from his tongue and asked, “How so?”
“It is true that there is no small amount of violence in the imagery I used,” Dostoyevsky answered. Chuuya hadn’t noticed before just how close to him the man had sat, preferring the other side of the couch to the armchair opposite him. Their legs knocked together lightly when he shifted on his behind. “But I never aimed to write anything but love. A passionate, all-encompassing sort of love.”
“They eat each other.”
“Isn’t it fascinating?”
Chuuya found himself wordless. Cannibalism was the first of Dostoyevsky’s books he read from end to end—the others he had tried and found mind-numbingly dry, regardless of their value from a social or scientific point of view—and he couldn’t remember spending a more awkward time reading anything. It wasn’t just that the imagery was violent, that the gore and erotica in it were conjoined to the point of being indiscernible; he had read and enjoyed such books before. He had enjoyed such poetry.
But Dostoyevsky hadn’t made him feel love. Obsession and lust and the cruel, ardent desire to own and control, yes, but not love. The two heroes had simply hated each other so much that they went mad with it.
“Have you never felt such a thing—” Chuuya jumped at the sound of Dostoyevsky’s voice so close to him and realized that the man had shifted even closer, his words now soft enough to feel like a breeze by Chuuya’s temple—”a love so complete, so painful… It is more than obsession, more than simple anger. It is the purest and rawest form of love: it consumes you, and makes you want to consume it back.“
Chuuya shuddered. “I’ve never felt anything like it. It sounds horrifying.”
“That’s a shame.”
Dostoyevsky was definitely getting closer. Chuuya started getting cross-eyed trying to meet his stare and opted to look somewhere above his ear instead. Shivers erupted up his spine. Suspicion simmered in his belly. When Dostoyevsky’s fingers touched his shoulder lightly, Chuuya felt as though spiders were crawling there.
“I think you would look beautiful like this, Nakahara Chuuya,” he murmured.
Chuuya’s brain froze. He didn’t move at all as Dostoyevsky’s hand ran from one shoulder to the next, stroking a line of bare skin at the base of Chuuya’s nape before his whole arm rested around him.
No way, Chuuya thought.
No way, he thought, and yet there it was, Dostoyevsky’s hand massaging his shoulder and their thighs knocking together as he made his move in the most ridiculously creepy way—Hell, Chuuya had looked less like an idiot the night before with his entire self soaked in wine and beer—
The door rang before he could get his bearings back and slap Dostoyevsky’s face with his own three-hundred pages of shitty gore porn. This time it was Dostoyevsky’s turn to stop in his tracks. Chuuya saw irritation flash over his face in the most evident show of actual emotion the man had demonstrated so far, and wasn’t that telling.
“You should get that,” Chuuya said, not trying very hard to hide his relief. He wasn’t sure how Kunikida would have reacted to I accidentally knocked out the world-famous author you worked so hard to get an exclusive interview of. “Might be important.“
Thankfully, Dostoyevsky complied. His face returned to its apparently usual state of mild self-jerking amusement, though perhaps less easily than before. At least he didn’t try to do something stupid like try and kiss Chuuya after being refused. Never mind Kunikida’s reaction; Chuuya would rather avoid the pain of pressing charges against a celebrity for assault.
He worked frantically at recovering his composure while Dostoyevsky made his way to the door. Part of him wanted to bash his own head in, part of him was still busy crying out from his hangover, and part of him found the situation so ridiculous that he almost wanted to laugh. Almost.
As if to prove to him once more that yes, things could always get worse, the door opened to none other than Dazai.
“Mr Dostoyevsky!” Dazai exclaimed in his poorest version of English, arms open as if to hug the man, stepping into the room without waiting for invitation. “I have to say, it is so, so delightful to meet you at last.”
“Who are you,” Dostoyevsky said, loud but level, at the same time as Chuuya groaned audibly.
“And if that isn’t my least favorite kid-sized reporter—”
“I will make you swallow your camera if you say another word, Dazai,” Chuuya snapped in Japanese.
He had hoped to say it quickly enough for the foreign Dostoyevsky not to pick up on it, but he had obviously failed. “Dazai?” the man repeated with recognition in his voice. Chuuya rubbed his face tiredly. “As in Dazai Osamu, the paparazzi?”
“I prefer calling it ‘investigative journalism’.”
“And I would prefer if you didn’t barge in on my interviews!” Chuuya yelled, standing up from the couch. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Did you forget about the part where you’re supposed to stay outside people’s homes and at least pretend you’re not grossly invading their privacy?”
“I take it you two know each other,” Dostoyevsky drawled, and he didn’t sound amused anymore.
“Oh, Chuuya and I go way back,” Dazai replied.
He strolled through the room as if he owned the place, aiming straight for Chuuya’s side and leaning against the back of the couch, completely at ease. He shot Chuuya a quick smile.
“We went to school together, you see,” he added. “Chuuya’s never forgiven me for having better grades.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Dostoyevsky commented.
“Because it isn’t true,” Chuuya interjected. “Now get the hell out of here, Dazai.”
“But I came to fetch you! Kyouka-chan said that Atsushi-kun told her that Gin-chan texted him that Akutagawa desperately needs you.”
Dazai nodded, falsely somber. “Akutagawa.”
Chuuya glanced at Dostoyevsky. He would have liked to jump on any excuse to leave even if it weren’t Akutagawa—he did not feel like suffering a repeat of Dostoyevsky talking murder at him while trying to make a move—but if Akutagawa really needed him, then he had no qualms whatsoever.
“I’m sorry,” Chuuya said, bowing briefly to Dostoyevsky, “both for Dazai being here and for cutting our meeting short. I know Akutagawa—if he needs me, then it must be important.”
There was a brief silence. Dostoyevsky hadn’t moved when Chuuya straightened up; his odd-colored eyes roamed over Chuuya’s face briefly before his answered, static, “No need to apologize. I hope you have enough to write your paper.”
“I do, thank you.”
“Be sure to send it to my agent when it comes out.”
Chuuya nodded, uninterested in prolonging his stay any further. He grabbed his bag with one hand, Dazai’s arm with other, and walked out of the room. He felt Dostoyevsky’s eyes on him until the door closed between them.
He dropped Dazai’s arm as soon as that was done.
“I’m certain there was a bodyguard here when I came in,” he said, hurrying to the elevator.
“Oh, Ivan?” Dazai was walking close behind him, close enough for his toes to knock into Chuuya’s heels every other step. Probably on purpose too. “We’re fast friends now. Unfortunately it seems I put laxatives instead of sugar into his coffee when he asked me to get him one.”
“And yet so clever.”
“Does Akutagawa actually need me for anything?” Chuuya asked, suddenly realizing how stupid he had been. Akutagawa didn’t need to go through anyone else to call him, let alone Dazai. “Don’t answer that. Of course he doesn’t.”
Chuuya felt something hard press into the side of his arm. Dazai took his pen back once he had Chuuya’s attention—or maybe once he was sure that poking him with it would bruise—and smiled at him more sweetly. “You looked a bit cornered in there,” he said. “I thought you might want to take a break.”
Chuuya stared at him. Dazai stared back, grinning. He couldn’t quite keep the horror out of his voice as he asked, “I looked cornered?”
The elevator chose this moment to arrive with a soft sound. Dazai strolled into its golden cage with his hands in his pockets, relaxed as ever, that annoyingly handsome smile still twisting his features.
“Oh no you don’t,” Chuuya said as Dazai took out his phone and made as if to check up his social media—all of which Chuuya had blocked years ago. He snatched the device from him. “What do you mean I looked cornered?” he asked.
“I mean literally. Had you up against the side of the couch, didn’t he?” Dazai clicked his tongue in pity. “Classic move, but a little old-fashioned.”
“How the fuck do you—”
Chuuya reeled back; Dazai had suddenly raised a fist to his face, and for a second he had the absurd thought that the idiot would try to punch him, before he blinked and realized that Dazai was holding something.
He took it from him, ignoring his own blush when their fingers touched. It was a tiny object, spherical and shiny, with only a tiny On/Off button on one of its ends… “Is that a camera?”
“One of Kajii’s latest inventions,” Dazai said, plucking it out of Chuuya’s hand. He slipped it inside his coat pocket. “Remote controlled, including moving around in any direction. You’d be hard-pressed to find something smaller or more mobile. I was watching your interview with Dostoyevsky live, just had to slip it under the door and let it do its work.”
“I don’t know if I should be impressed or terrified that a rag like Port Mag has Kajii working for it,” Chuuya muttered, rubbing his forehead. “Also, great, you saw me almost get felt up by that creep. Today just keeps getting better and better.”
“I won’t tell anyone that you like skinny Russians with greasy hair, I promise.”
“Fuck off. You dated that weird sociology chick for half of our senior year, you don’t get to say shit about me or my tastes.”
Chuuya did not think about how much of that year he had spent drinking himself into oblivion or sleeping his way through the rare gay, bi, or fucking curious guys of their university. He did not.
Their elevator stayed empty but for the two of them until they reached ground level. Chuuya blinked when the sun hit his eyes through the bright lobby; he walked out after Dazai, keeping some distance between them just for the hell of it. Fewer room service employees were around now, and more clients had come down from their rooms to enjoy the lobby, to look at the several restaurant cards, to book sports equipment. Chuuya and Dazai had to squeeze closer together to slip out into the street; a woman carrying her own height in shopping bags was coming in.
Chuuya rummaged through his pockets until he found the very bottom of a bag of tobacco, some cigarette paper, and his last two filters. He sat down onto the edge of the sidewalk. “I’m going home, and I’m going to sleep until I either die or hunger wakes me up,” he declared, before putting one of the filters between his lips. His last sheet of paper was crumpled, but it would have to do.
“Sounds like a plan,” Dazai replied from above him.
“And then I’m going to write the most scathing portrait of Dostoyevsky ever printed and sold. I’m going to make him miss when Crime and Punishment came out.”
“I rather thought this was one of his least awful works, actually.”
Chuuya, tongue still out from licking the paper close, looked up. Dazai was staring down at him with another one of his best smiles. Fighting off the blood immediately flooding his face, he took his tongue back and asked, “You read this guy?”
“Sometimes. Stalking—I mean, investigating celebrities is very tiring work, you know. Most of them have such boring lives, it takes days or weeks for anything interesting to happen.” Dazai’s tone turned plaintive; Chuuya rolled his eyes. “It’s always good to have a book on hand during the long hours.”
“I can’t fucking believe you decided to do that with your life,” Chuuya groaned. His lighter took a few tries to work, but the wait was worth it for the first inhale. Shivers crawled up his scalp. “Mister straight As,” he added, exhaling smoke with each word. “Did his senior internship at the Mainichi Shinbun and ended up writing about idols dating in secret. Your creative writing pal must be so proud.”
“I’ll have you know Odasaku always reads my articles, thank you very much. It’s Ango who’s ashamed to be in my presence.”
“Right, spectacles was the business student, not Oda.”
“You have such good memory for such a tiny person.”
Chuuya gave Dazai the finger and tried not to notice how happy he felt at the sound of his laughter.
It was hard not to think of the unthinkable, though. With his work for the day mostly done and no one around him aside from Dazai and a few passersby, his mind strayed to more visions of the previous evening. His fingers clenched around his own thighs with the memory of touching another’s. He once more felt the shame of letting go of his hard-earned composure for a moment of weakness.
“Why are you here,” Chuuya asked without looking up. His cigarette was already half-consumed; he took another drag anyway, trying to make the best of it. “You’ve already got your dirt on Dostoyevsky, and on me, by the way. No need to rub it in.”
Instead of responding, Dazai said, “The only issue with such a small camera is that there’s no way for it to catch sound as well. Kajii said he’s still working on creating a mic powerful and small enough for that.”
“I don’t give a shit what Kajii’s camera can and can’t do, Dazai. I’m not a stalker.”
“I meant that until I came in and actually heard you talk to Dostoyevsky, I had no idea if you wanted to kiss him back.” Chuuya choked in the middle of his inhale. Smoke burned his throat and scratched his lungs, and he coughed loudly into his hand. He almost missed what Dazai said next: “I could only see about half of your left side. All I saw was that guy eyeing you like a piece of meat and putting an arm around you before I rang the bell.”
“You think I’d want to kiss him?” Chuuya protested, strangled.
“I thought I wasn’t allowed to comment on your tastes, Chuuya,” Dazai replied innocently.
“Ugh.” Chuuya choked out his cigarette, too disgusted to enjoy the last of it. He rose to his feet with another grunt. “Well, thanks for ringing. I definitely was considering knocking him out with his stupid book.”
“I think that’s the most use one can make of Cannibalism,” Dazai mused, stroking his chin. “What terrible prose.”
“I don’t want to hear that from someone who unironically wrote the phrase ’sweet nectar of life’ in an econ midterm.”
“Really, you remember things too well.”
Chuuya smiled a little quickly, a little sadly. Only when it’s you, he thought. “I should get going,” he said, patting his bag. “Need to give Kunikida a copy of those before he starts digging his own grave in despair.”
He tried to tell himself not to listen. He tried to make himself ignore Dazai and walk away. But the sound of his name in Dazai’s mouth, in Dazai’s voice, was as always too compelling to resist. Chuuya turned around slowly, one hand wound around the strap of his bag tightly enough to hurt.
Dazai hadn’t moved. He still wore that smile, the one Chuuya had dreaded and longed for in equal measures through years of knowing him. It softened the line of his jaw; it creased the corners of his eyes.
“We should probably talk,” he said, oddly gentle. As if trying not to scare off a wild animal. “About what happened last night.”
“Nothing happened last night,” Chuuya replied immediately.
His heart had frozen solid in his chest and all the air in his lungs seemed to have turned to glass, but he still answered. He still kept his voice even. He had prepared for this, he told himself, the day he walked up to Dazai with his heart full of wonder.
“Well, thankfully we were in no state to have sex, but—”
Something in Chuuya broke down in exhaustion. “Look, Dazai,” he interrupted. Unable to look him in the eye, he turned his head aside and stared at the gleaming ocean. “I know you think you’re so hot and everything, but please. I was drunk, I got lonely, and you were there.” He swallowed and continued in the same tone: “Don’t embarrass yourself more than you do on a daily basis.”
There. That should do it. Dazai had never reacted well to being rejected. It didn’t matter that he had never been interested in Chuuya in the first place, his pride wouldn’t allow it. Better things go this way than the other way around, with Chuuya having to hear him spell the many ways they were destined for failure or incompatible sexually or any other bullshit excuse Dazai used to give the partners he dumped.
But Dazai did not rise in offense. He did not laugh cruelly or make fun of Chuuya’s height, or clothes, or general state of being alive and around him. He hummed softly and said, “That’s not what I remember you telling me.”
Chuuya ground his teeth together. “I didn’t know what I was saying,” he lied, “I was wasted. I would’ve told a potted plant I was in love with it if it agreed to sleep with me.”
“That’s too bad.”
Chuuya had not expected that.
He dared not move as Dazai approached. He dared not speak when Dazai wrapped one loose arm around his shoulders. What he felt then had nothing at all that he could compare to, no instance of attraction that he could use as basis for how to proceed. His back prickled with goosebumps not at all owed to the cold; his nape turned rock solid, his shoulder-line tense as a steel cable, when Dazai’s chin rested above his head.
“I was thinking,” Dazai went on, apparently unbothered by the fact that Chuuya was having a stroke right against him, “maybe we could go get lunch together and talk for a bit, if you have time.”
“If I have time,” Chuuya said blankly. His lips were very close to Dazai’s collar.
“Yes. Right now. You and me. No wine because I’m still hammered, but next time, maybe.”
“… Next time?”
Dazai laughed. He leaned back to look down at Chuuya, and with the hand he did not have gently squeezing Chuuya’s shoulder, he flicked Chuuya’s nose.
“Fuck you!” Chuuya roared reflexively, slapping Dazai’s fingers away. “What the hell was that for?”
“I’d like you to regain the use of your remaining neuron, please.”
Chuuya rubbed his nose and glared at him. He knew his horrid blush was probably ruining the effect, but it was a matter of principles. “I’m listening,” he spat out.
“Good,” Dazai replied, “because I do so hate trying to plan dates with someone who’s too busy getting lost in my beautiful face to respond.”
“I was not getting lost in—date.” Chuuya swallowed; his hand lowered. “Date?” he said again.
“Date,” Dazai parroted. “If you want to let me show you more than some awkward public fumbling, of course, but if you like that better…”
His voice dripped with sarcasm. Chuuya knew the sound of it by heart; he knew, also, that Dazai used sarcasm as both sword and shield. There was no irony to be found in the dip of his smile, though. There was no lie hidden in the touch of his hand against Chuuya’s shoulder, no cruelty in his dark eyes.
“You’re not messing with me,” Chuuya said in wonder.
Dazai’s smile twisted at the corners, turning self-deprecating. “I’m not,” he replied.
Promise, Chuuya wanted to say, like the child he had once been. Cross my heart.
He had spent too long watching Dazai, close and far, to hope for such a thing.
Dazai took his hand back. Chuuya had not prepared for how cold his neck would feel without it. “I can’t,” he said, forcing every word past the ugly despair unfurling in his throat. “If you’re just looking for a quick fuck then I’m not—”
“I’m not looking for sex,” Dazai cut in. “I’m not, Chuuya.”
Chuuya wondered what it said about him that he was as ready to believe him now as he had been ten years ago, high off of his first kiss and ready to entrust the world to the boy with honeyed words. Dazai must be able to read him now as easily as he did then; he must be laughing, in some dark part of himself, at the naïve idiot in front of him who thought a kiss was a promise.
It all came down to whether Chuuya was ready to trust him again, in the end.
“Just lunch,” he said tentatively.
“Just lunch,” Dazai replied. “For now.”
“You’ll kill me and make sure no one finds enough pieces of my body to glue back together. I know.”
Chuuya huffed, fighting off a smile. “As long as you know,” he mumbled.
Dazai’s fingers were warm against his, soft despite the biting cold and his own lack of gloves. Chuuya made such a comment out loud to mask just how red the contact had made him; Dazai laughed and talked about the special hand lotion Kajii had created because he was so tired of hearing Higuchi complain about dry skin.
They walked together into the late morning hours, attracting looks here and there that neither felt like acknowledging.
There was warmth to be found there, in the middle of winter, like a fist-sized sun following them everywhere their linked hands went. There was a promise.
ten years ago
Chuuya fell in love with his lips pressed to another boy’s, in the middle of the loudest house party he had ever gone to, one hand holding a half-full can of beer and the other lost into silky black hair.
He lost his virginity in the guest room of a classmate whose name he couldn’t remember; he followed the guidance given to him, gorged himself on chuckles and shared breaths and slow, roaming hands. He felt discomfort and he felt pleasure. He lay naked under the thin body of another classmate, unable to keep his hands from touching and touching and touching long after the deed was done and the boy with black hair had fallen asleep by his side.
He was giddy. He was happier than he had ever been. He repeated the boy’s name in his head until all other thoughts were drowned: Dazai, Dazai, Dazai.
“Dazai”, he whispered in the stained bed, watching streetlight stripe the ceiling through the cracked blinds darkening the window.
Dazai, he thought, imagining sitting by the dark-haired boy in class and holding his hand under the desk. He pictured them as seniors waiting for graduation, as young men in a small house, as old men in a big one; he saw them stroll the eras of life hand in hand, until they could one day close their eyes and say, “I have loved and been loved.”
Dazai, his heart sang, thinking of soft lips giving hard kisses, of a sweet voice saying sweet things, of a boy’s hands on him and in him, squeezing him to orgasm as one squeezed the very soul.
When Chuuya woke up in the morning, Dazai was gone.
It did not take long for Chuuya to find him again. They shared many classes, after all, and he could never forget the face of the one who had upturned his entire world in the space of an hour. He had not thought anything of Dazai before that house party; now Dazai was all he could think of.
The unraveling of Chuuya’s brand new world went a little like this:
“Hello,” a word, spoken with more timidity than Chuuya had ever felt or expressed. Four times that shyness could perhaps approach the amount of love he also poured into it.
“Who are you again,” an answer shaped like a question, the breaking of a promise that Chuuya realized to late he had been the only one to make.
A needle in his eye.
Chuuya’s love was a weapon, and that day, in that noisy hallway, Dazai took it by the pommel and stabbed it into his heart. He laughed when he seemed to remember; laughed when he seemed to understand. With each shake of his shoulders, with each pitiful glance shot at Chuuya by Dazai’s friends standing behind him, Chuuya felt his love bleed him of a little more faith.
“You know what,” Chuuya said with what was always left to children once faith was taken from them—lies: “You’re not really that much of a looker when I’m sober. You were right to leave, I might’ve puked on you.”
Dazai’s laughter abated. His cruel smile was so strange, so different from the bright-eyed pleasure he had shown that night with his lips pressed to Chuuya’s lips. “Really,” he said. “The way you were acting, I thought you might want to go again in the morning, but you’re way too much work for way too little benefit, you know. I didn’t feel like giving my energy for such a mediocre lay a second time.”
Chuuya would spend many months after that day hearing those words ring through his head. It would take him even longer to heal from them in full; to stop feeling as if his pleasure had to be earned whereas his partners’ was owed. But Chuuya couldn’t know. He couldn’t realize, past the immediacy of his embarrassment, of his shame, that he had been hurt more than superficially. So Chuuya reacted the only way he knew how.
Firstly, he said, “I still got you to fuck me, didn’t I,” and ripped a smile out of Dazai’s friends, earning his first victory.
Secondly, he swore to himself that he would never trust Dazai again. That he would make Dazai his enemy and nothing else for as long as he lived.
And as the months went by, so went his hurt, until one morning he woke up feeling less burdened by it. Until one day he could sleep with someone else and not remember with aching shame what he could’ve done, should’ve done, to make it better for Dazai. To make it so Dazai would want to stay.
He antagonized Dazai in and out of class. He allowed the rest of their peers to think it a game of sorts between them, a way of friendship perhaps, in any case a source of entertainment. He saw Dazai’s initial affront melt into habit; he wished his own feelings could know such fading out.
Chuuya fashioned himself Dazai’s enemy because he couldn’t be his love. And as the years unfolded and each new hand in Dazai’s hand made his own ache, Chuuya learned that love, unlike shame, never quite vanished. That it always left an outline of itself, like washed-out ink on paper.
ten hours ago
“I think you’ve had enough,” Dazai said, and suddenly his hand was between the rim of Chuuya’s glass and Chuuya’s lips—an unbreakable barrier of flesh.
Were he more aware of himself and his decade-old resolutions, Chuuya would have simply leaned back in his chair and insulted Dazai. Instead he allowed his lips to touch the skin of Dazai’s hand for longer than necessary, not wary enough of the confused glance Dazai gave him.
He leaned back in his chair. He waited until the world stopped turning quite so much. Then he grinned at Dazai and replied, “Fuck you.”
“Always so polite,” Dazai sighed, “it’s a wonder anyone hired you after college, you know.”
“It’s a wonder your stupid ass still knows how to process thoughts with the garbage you write,” Chuuya retorted.
“I’m the most successful journalist of PM! People love my articles.”
“People would smear their faces with pig shit if we told them it has anti-aging properties.”
“That’s a good idea, actually.”
At this point Chuuya couldn’t remember why he was at this bar, or why Dazai was with him, any more than he could remember the number of refills he had ordered. Something vague about Akutagawa and Atsushi—a party—an engagement, maybe. He would remember in the morning. He just knew that he needed to be sad before he could allow himself to be glad.
At least until Dazai had walked in and greeted him with the usual insults, and Chuuya had realized that being mad was just as good an alternative. Especially in such company.
It had been a few years since he and Dazai drank together. Chuuya tended to avoid drinking around him even back in school for fear of what he could do or say, but now the risks were minimal, he thought. He only saw Dazai once every other month or so when their jobs happened to make them cross paths. He hadn’t had a conversation longer than a few seconds with him in recent memory.
Surely there was no risk now.
“Easy,” Dazai said, long after cutting off his life supply of booze.
Chuuya had felt steady enough to walk on his own and promptly fallen down the second his feet tried to hold his own weight. Dazai hadn’t quite managed to catch him, but at least he was helping him up, and Chuuya felt no need at all to resist leaning into the opening of his arms.
Dazai steadied him step by step toward the door, quickly murmuring to the bartender that Chuuya would definitely be back to pay the bill, yes, he would make sure of it.
“Fuck the bill,” Chuuya bellowed.
Several people in various stages of inebriation answered him with cheers.
Pressed as he was against Dazai’s chest, he could feel each breath, each word. Dazai laughed from deep down his torso; Chuuya felt it between his shoulder blades and laughed in turn.
“I drank twice as much as you did and I’m still gonna have to walk you home, aren’t I,” Dazai declared, frog-marching him toward the exit.
“Sucks to be you.”
“You have no idea. I’m stuck with a short redhead and it’s not even a hot one.”
Chuuya groaned. “Fuck off,” he said, “you weren’t saying that when you met me.”
There was a brief pause. Dazai’s torso was very still against Chuuya’s back.
“Come on,” he said at last. “Let’s get you a taxi or something.”
Things, as they were wont to, did not go according to plan.
Dazai made a valiant effort to appear composed until they reached the exit, but he did drink twice as much as Chuuya, different alcohol tolerances notwithstanding. He was in no state to walk a straight line on his own, let alone carry Chuuya’s slumped body along. They knocked into a couch by the front door that had earlier been occupied by a group of college-aged kids, and while Chuuya’s fall was somewhat cushioned by Dazai’s own body, Dazai had no such protection.
“Fuck,” he grunted.
Chuuya’s blood ran molten at the sound of it. “You just swore,” he said, turning around and digging one painful elbow into Dazai’s soft belly. “You said fuck!”
“It happens,” Dazai replied, slightly winded. He pushed Chuuya’s elbow aside. “Did you think I never swore?”
“I don’t know. I just thought you always spoke asshole, which is a fancy language with no swear words.”
“It wasn’t a compliment.”
Dazai laughed again. Chuuya watched him do it without so much as a smile of his own. He had forgotten just how much of his time in school he had spent waiting for that laughter; how many hours he had spent spying over books and computer screens for a hint, a trace, of the smiles Dazai had once given him.
Dazai’s voice died out when Chuuya touched his face. He seemed suddenly so much somber. Chuuya’s fingers traced the line of his jaw as lightly as they could.
“I like your laugh,” he said.
It seemed like the most natural thing to admit.
Chuuya bit his lip. “I don’t know why it has to be you,” he said. “Every time I think, ‘this is it, I’m over it’, and then you reappear into my life and fuck it all up again. It’s like you’re designed to be a nuisance.”
“While I’m flattered to hear it, I don’t really know what you’re talking about,” Dazai commented, smiling lopsidedly.
“Shut up,” Chuuya replied. He tapped one of Dazai’s cheeks as patronizingly as he could; it dimpled under his skin as Dazai smiled again, and Chuuya felt his own humor vanish. “It’s just always been you, Dazai, even when there was someone else. You’ve been so unfair to so many people and you don’t even know it.”
“Hush,” Chuuya cut in, “you talk to much.”
He dug his fingers into Dazai’s hair and kissed him.
It felt so right. So good. Despite everything, the years and the hurt and the shame, Chuuya had never enjoyed kissing anyone as much as he enjoyed kissing Dazai. He didn’t try to deepen it, aware on some plane of consciousness that Dazai was a little surprised. There were still tears in his eyes when he pulled away anyway. One of them fell on Dazai’s cheek, and Chuuya wiped it away with his thumb.
“You are such an asshole,” he told Dazai, whose wide eyes now stared at him with an emotion Chuuya had no strength to analyze. He barely noticed that one of Dazai’s hands had grabbed his hip. “You broke my heart, you know. Sure, I probably needed the lesson, but did you have to be such a dick about it?”
The hand at Chuuya’s hip tightened its hold. “I’m sorry,” Dazai said.
Chuuya laughed. “You’re not,” he replied, “but that’s fine. It was a long time ago anyway.”
Dazai never finished his sentence, though Chuuya waited him out as if to say, You see. I was right.
There was no one around them. The couch they had fallen next to was hidden in an alcove of the bar, far from prying eyes. The sounds of laughter and clinking glass still reached them, but Chuuya heard it all as if through a thick wall. His eyes were on Dazai; his ears tuned to Dazai’s breathing; his fingers stuck to his skin as if melted into it.
He stroked Dazai’s forehead, his nose, his lips. He cupped his palm around the full of Dazai’s cheek, scratched at the hair behind his ear. All that time Dazai himself was wordless, his bright eyes meeting Chuuya’s like two glowing beacons.
“I loved you,” Chuuya said, “and you broke my heart.”
Dazai breathed in, out, in again. Chuuya felt warm air slither in-between his fingers—heavy, damp, dried with wine and whisky.
How he wanted to kiss him again.
Did you know it was my first time? Chuuya wanted to ask. Do you know how long I spent afterward watching you and imagining you always kissing me, always making love to me, until we grew old and wrinkled?
He didn’t ask, because he knew. He knew that Dazai had known. He knew that Dazai knew now from the regret in his eyes and the hand squeezing Chuuya’s hip; and he knew that Dazai had no better way of handling rejection now than he did ten years prior.
So Chuuya chose to tell Dazai something he didn’t know. He said, “I’m still in love with you.”
Dazai opened his mouth, but Chuuya put the flat of his palm over it to silence him.
“I never stopped being in love with you,” he continued, heedless of the heat gathering in his eyes. “Not for one second since you kissed me for the first time.”
Dazai couldn’t speak with Chuuya’s hand over his mouth, but his eyes spoke for him: That’s impossible.
“Is it?” Chuuya laughed. “I was a stupid kid, eighteen years old and never so much as held hands with anyone, and suddenly you were right there. Confident and hot and you picked me, you kissed me and took me to bed and made me forget how afraid I was.” Dazai’s free hand wrapped itself around Chuuya’s wrist; Chuuya sighed and leaned down until their foreheads touched. “That shit lasts, Dazai. You don’t even realize how good you were to me that night, or how much it fucking hurt to hear you tell me I wasn’t good to you.”
Dazai pulled Chuuya’s hand away. “I lied,” he said almost breathlessly. “That day, I don’t remember what I said to you exactly, but I know it was a lie, Chuuya, you were never bad—”
“I know,” Chuuya said, smiling. “I just didn’t know back then.”
Chuuya hadn’t yearned to see Dazai express regrets. That wish had been too far buried under his own shame. In the time it took him to understand that he had nothing to be ashamed of in the first place, any desire to see Dazai repent felt too exhausting to consider. Chuuya ached now at the sight of it. He watched regret color Dazai’s own face and found no catharsis, no closure, of any kind. He pressed their lips together again more out of desire to stop watching than anything else, and this time Dazai wasn’t caught by surprise.
There was a hand in Chuuya’s hair, a tongue on his lips, a knee between his own; Dazai leaned up and into him, tilting his head to press further in. Chuuya didn’t think for one second of refusing him. He didn’t think at all, really, except to realize that the furnace inside his belly was not the fruit of illness or injury.
He moaned into the kiss. He panted through his nose over Dazai’s burning face, both hands framing him as if scared of letting go. He felt Dazai’s fingers tugging at his hair almost feverishly—felt his knee press up between Chuuya’s thigh and his hand slip beneath wool and cotton to find bare, hot skin. Dazai trailed his fingers up Chuuya’s ribcage; Chuuya bit his lip and pulled away, only to find solace at the crook of his neck, against his beating pulse.
“Love you,” he said. “You stupid, brilliant, utter dick of a man.”
Dazai’s pulse sped up under his mouth. His breathing stilled. Chuuya closed his eyes and said it again.
And again, and again, and again.
“By the way,” Chuuya said halfway to the nearest affordable restaurant. His hand was still comfortably caught in Dazai’s, and his face had yet to turn a color other than pink. “You didn’t happen to send anything to Akutagawa last night, did you.”
“You mean the selfies I took while you were drooling all over my face? They’re in my Instagram story.”
“I will fucking end you.”