Warnings: guns, needles, suggestive innuendos.
I’d Love to Go Drowning
The cruise ship Atsushi brings them to is a delight.
Sleek metallic grey finish, indoor and outdoor pools on two different decks, row upon row of maze-like corridors opening to luxury suites. Dazai enters one of them on the highest of the decks, where the priciest rooms should be located; the bed is easily twice as big as the one in the beach hotel he slept in the night before, and the size of the jacuzzi in the en suite makes him whistle appreciatively.
“Do we have time for this?” Atsushi asks helplessly when Dazai opens one of the taps. The water is immediately at the right temperature when it comes out. Clear as crystal. The sound it produces when it hits porcelain is nothing short of heavenly.
“Maybe,” Dazai replies. “If we’re quick enough. You should enjoy this more, Atsushi-kun—it’s all thanks to you that we’re here after all.”
“I feel bad for leaving Kunikida-san alone…”
Dazai plays with the water for a moment longer—sliding his fingers under it to feel the very texture and heat of it, running a nail against the silvery shine of the faucet. It’s gaudy, but in a good way. He has seen his fair share of absurd luxury these past few years, and thought for a long time that nothing could surprise him anymore, but this…
Atsushi truly is a wonder.
“Don’t worry about Kunikida,” he says, turning off the tap. Atsushi grimaces at him when he rises from the side of the tub, which makes him smile. “He’s a jack-of-all-trades, master of all,” he teases. “He’ll be fine.”
“We still shouldn’t waste time,” Atsushi mumbles.
“You are, of course, entirely right.”
They exit the suite one after the other, Atsushi following behind Dazai with his back bowed slightly forward, as if he fears that any moment he should be scolded. No one is going to scold him here, but Dazai elects not to say it out loud. Better for Atsushi to realize this for himself than hear it from him, and then take it as reason not to believe any of it.
Kunikida is downstairs with their mark still, making conversation with all the airs of a university professor delivering a lecture. Or at least, he was when they left him to it. He did not bother to berate them for leaving, not in front of the woman they have taken as a target, but the twitch of his left eyelid had said it all.
It is another flight of stairs before they reach the highest of the ship. Shadows loom behind the stained glass of the engine control room located there, and Atsushi bows a little more, looking ready to crawl his way past it, even though there is no door for those shadows to come out of. Dazai pats his back with a smile and directs him to the office a little further ahead.
“How do we get in?” Atsushi whispers at him.
“Check your pockets.”
Atsushi does, and inhales in surprise when his fingers come out holding a white keycard. “When did it get here?” he says, staring at it in half-fear and half-wonder.
“Ah, the mysteries of the job,” Dazai replies lightly.
“You put it there, didn’t you.”
“Now, don’t go accusing me like this, Atsushi-kun. One would think me a criminal.”
He did slide the card into Atsushi’s pocket, though.
Atsushi shakes his head defeatedly and swipes it against the digital reader of the lock. The green LED blinks at them; the room opens with a click.
Behind it is a lavish office come straight out of crime drama. A carpet at least as thick as Atsushi’s wrist spreads lushly over the floor. Above it sits a polished Louis XV desk complete with gold leaf finish, each of its four drawers locked, the papers on it sorted neatly. A black Montblanc fountain pen rests next to a leather writing pad—it shines greenly in the setting sunlight pouring in from the window.
“Very nice,” Dazai can’t help but say, stroking the spines of old and dusty books lined on wooden shelves around the room.
He sees Atsushi blush from the corner of his eyes.
They pull in the heaviest of the bookshelves together, freeing the wall behind it where the steel safe is ensconced. Dust rises with their movements; Dazai almost feels the need to sneeze.
“You know the code, don’t you,” he tells Atsushi.
Atsushi frowns at him. “How would I know the…”
But Dazai can see the confusion leave him before he can even finish his sentence. The, “Oh,” of excitement he lets out then warms him.
He has so missed having a student. And Atsushi is much more eager for his teachings than the rueful Akutagawa ever was.
Dazai chases thoughts of Akutagawa from his mind quickly; this is no place to be having them.
“Take your time,” he says, leaning against the bookshelf. The smile etched on his lips feels a little less solid now. “The weather still looks good.”
Atsushi has the safe open within a single try—his memory is excellent as well. He is quick to recover the taupe folder hidden inside and open it atop the desk, where daylight will make reading it easier. He stays like this for a minute or two whilst Dazai examines the sheer detail of the office around him. He can smell the wood that Atsushi leans against, as well as the slight stuffiness that permeates the air. The windows are thick here, after all, to parry the strength of ocean storms. They do not open easily for ventilation.
Atsushi tries to hand him the files once he is done reading them, but Dazai shakes his head. “I trust you,” he says. Atsushi’s flush at this is immensely gratifying. “No need for me to double-check.”
“I remember you telling me not to trust anyone, not even my own self,” Atsushi replies blithely.
“And therefore you should not have trusted my words.”
Atsushi must be starting to suspect that Dazai is full of mostly hot air. Still, he nods with only slight exasperation, and puts the folder back within the safe all by himself. A minute later they have locked it again and put the bookshelf back where it belongs, and the garish room and ancient-looking desk vanish behind the electronic door.
“So what do we do now?” Atsushi asks as they walk down the stairs to the first deck where Kunikida is. “Just wait?”
“You have this whole place as your playground, and you want to just wait?” Dazai replies. “Come now, don’t be silly. Go have a swim in the pool, enjoy yourself. We’ve got some time left before we need to make a run for it.”
“I don’t really like swimming so much, though…”
Their conversation comes to a stop once they reach the restaurant. Although daylight is still high outside, every suspended lamp has been lit, and a golden glow bathes the wide room. Voices come to Dazai from all around the place: shards of words and indistinct phrases running one after the other, carpeting the dining room, softening the sound of waves outside. He can barely feel the swell of the ocean under his feet—up and down and sideways.
Then he looks over at the bar, at the glinting bottles lined behind a mustached man making conversation with two women, and stops walking.
Atsushi nearly walks into him. “Dazai-san?” he asks plaintively.
Oh no, Dazai thinks.
The delight within him now is of a completely different kind. It thrums through him from neck to toes and pools heatedly in his belly, knocking out his breath as blue eyes meet his across a mile of guests in dark suits and brightly-colored gowns.
It’s terrible, truly, and Kunikida will have his hide for it, but Oh no is all the regret Dazai can bring himself to feel. He makes his way through the waves of guests as if wading through a current, almost swimming himself. Emerging from behind them feels like a breath of air after crossing the length of an olympic pool head-down.
Dazai reaches the bar. He places a hand upon it, the skin of it turned translucent by the light shining up through white stone. The man before him takes another sip of his glass, stains his lips black-red with wine. He doesn’t say anything.
Finally, when he can’t bear it anymore—when he’s had his fill of looking him up and down and feeling his mouth dry—Dazai asks, “What are you doing here?”
“I think you know,” comes the even reply. “You fucking idiot.”
His voice alone is dizzying. Dazai closes his eyes to it, braced against the counter and feeling like he needs it to stay upright, like those words out of that mouth will be enough to make him fall.
“This is a surprise,” he says.
He knows his own words are breezy. He knows Atsushi has joined them now, is looking between the both of them in curiosity, will hear just how raw he sounds with excitement.
He opens his eyes again. “Hello, then,” he offers.
“Hello,” Chuuya replies. Wolf-like and rough, his lips stained with the wine, his neck framed so lovingly by the harsh cut of his suit that it is mouth-watering. “You’re a right mess, aren’t you.”
Atsushi makes a faint and confused noise when Dazai sits on the free stool next to Chuuya. He moves accordingly, placing himself by Dazai’s other side—behind his back—like an adorable duckling. Dazai would worry more about his lack of confidence if he weren’t busy absolutely drowning in Chuuya’s eyes.
“We’ve got some time,” Dazai cuts in, never looking away from Chuuya. Chuuya isn’t looking away either, though he seems much calmer about it than Dazai himself could hope to be right now. “Sit down, Atsushi-kun.”
Chuuya takes another sip of his wine as Atsushi shuffles to his own stool. Outside the light darkens, as clouds pass before the sun and spread quickly over the sky. The lighting changes; Chuuya’s drink turns as black as night, and shadows wash over his face, sculpting deeper into every angle.
“Where’s my hat?” Chuuya says conversationally.
“I wouldn’t know,” Dazai replies, still drinking in the sight of him. “I have to say, however, that you look much nicer without it.”
It makes him want to laugh again. It makes the glee in him swell until he thinks his own smile will become fixed on his lips forever.
He makes a gesture toward the bartender, asks for whiskey in so rough a voice that his throat aches with the word alone. Even this brief interaction isn’t enough to pull his eyes away for more than a second, especially not when Chuuya says, “I wouldn’t recommend the bar.”
“Oh no?” Dazai replies.
“Wine tastes like crap.” Chuuya shakes his glass at him empathetically. “This is the third brand I try, and I may as well be drinking vinegar. What kind of shit place is this?”
“Ah, Atsushi-kun was in charge of finding the location.”
Chuuya leans forward and around Dazai—Dazai can’t help but breathe in the scent of him, so achingly familiar, as he does—and stares at Atsushi.
Atsushi has turned crimson. “I’m not twenty yet,” he explains, miserable. “I can’t drink alcohol.”
His eyes fly between Chuuya and Dazai in confusion, though Dazai knows he will not dare say anything without knowing what is going on first.
What an excellent apprentice.
“Do you pick them straight out of kindergarten now?” Chuuya asks Dazai, pulling back to his seat entirely.
“Akutagawa was younger than him when he started,” Dazai retorts. “You and I were even younger.”
“Right, because things went for all of us. At least tell me Kunikida’s here to make sure this ship doesn’t hit an iceberg.”
As if on cue, the boat rocks a little more powerfully than before. Liquid sways within glasses and flutes; people lean opposite to the dip of the sea in order to keep their balance. No conversation stops for the disturbance except for theirs.
Outside, the sky is grey. Thick clouds soaked with water prepare themselves to burst open on them.
“Atsushi-kun is very, very good,” Dazai says once the boat has stabilized. “But yes, Kunikida is here. If you’re lucky you’ll get to say hi.”
“How he can handle you without me around, I’ll never know,” Chuuya replies. His voice is not so light now.
Behind Dazai, Atsushi has fallen silent and still.
Dazai’s whiskey is brought before him. The color and gleam of it is not quite lifelike to the expensive brands that should be sold here, and he doesn’t drink from it, but his fingers wrap round the glass anyway. Chuuya’s hand finds the foot of his wineglass much the same.
“How long has it been?” he asks Dazai softly.
“Two years,” Dazai replies.
Two years, a month, and twenty-seven days.
“Two years already, huh…”
Chuuya hasn’t changed at all since the last time Dazai saw him, of course. His hair is cut the very same, he has on his fingers the same golden rings he had gotten on his twenty-seventh birthday, even the suit he is in now looks similar to the one he wore during their last meeting. But it has been such a long time that the details were forgot, and watching him now feels like discovering him anew.
God, Dazai has missed him. He misses him so much.
Chuuya’s free hand is gloveless now. It rises to Dazai’s cheek, touches it with just the pads of two fingers, cool against his fevered skin. It strokes down from cheekbone to chin and rests just shy of his neck.
Dazai’s smile comes painfully this time. “No, don’t do that,” he tells him. “You are completely breaking character.”
“Like I have a choice in the matter,” Chuuya retorts evenly.
His hand doesn’t move until Dazai takes it and brings it down himself. He traces with his thumb the fresh scar above the first knuckle of his index finger. It was left by a gun with awkward recoil just over two years prior.
“I missed your thirtieth birthday,” Dazai says. “I do feel sorry for that.”
“You mean you missed the opportunity to call me old for the two months it took you to catch up.”
“Well, yes,” Dazai grins. “But I also wish I’d taken you to Malta like I said I would.”
“Then take me next year,” Chuuya says. “Don’t miss another one.”
It hurts a bit, right into the soft of Dazai’s heart, but it isn’t this Chuuya’s fault that he is feeling so maudlin.
Thunder growls over them all. Glass sounds echo as the suspended lights move, knocking into each other, as the boat rocks again headfirst into what feels like a giant wave. Wine and whiskey spill over the white-lit counter, reaching the mixed drinks that the barkeep has been preparing, staining the elbows of the man behind Chuuya who is staring soullessly into his coffee.
The floor below their feet floods with seawater.
“Dazai-san,” Atsushi says, worried.
Dazai looks into Chuuya’s eyes and strokes the scar on his hand. He hears Atsushi gasp as the people around them vanish without so much as a sound. He feels the shaking and trembling of the boat’s skeleton, the unmistakable rumble of destruction as their time here runs out and the endless ocean surrounding them breaks open into a storm.
The glass doors at the end of the restaurant shoot open, and Kunikida walks in, drenched by the rain and thunder outside, blood staining the front of his suit jacket. Dazai tears his eyes away and looks at him above Chuuya’s head.
“Dazai,” Kunikida calls loudly into the now-empty room, “you better have gotten the—”
He freezes in his spot when he sees them.
Chuuya takes his hand back. He grabs the felt hat that has suddenly appeared on the countertop and shoves it on his head. If his glass had not rolled away with the heave of the storm and shattered, he would have taken the time to finish it, Dazai knows.
“Hi,” he tells Kunikida after turning to face him, and Kunikida’s face goes bloodless.
Surprise does not hold him for long. Kunikida is too rational a man for that. It isn’t a second later that he bares his teeth at Dazai, his fists clenched so tightly that leather creaks on his fingers, all of him looking like a figure of myth, a harbinger of just fury.
“Dazai,” he says.
His voice shakes and groans with rage. Dazai smiles at him faintly.
“Looks like it’s time for you guys to run,” Chuuya says conversationally. “Nice touch with the storm and all.”
“You flatter me,” Dazai replies.
“Not on your life.” Chuuya fidgets with his own gloves, looking once between the both of them—Dazai and Kunikida—before turning to the only other person around. “Atsushi, was it?” he asks.
Atsushi has the air of someone trying to shake off a daydream. “Ah, yes,” he replies, very nearly panicked now.
“Place looks great,” Chuuya tells him. “I don’t know where Dazai found you, but you’re made for the job. Just get the wine thing fixed and you’ll be good to go.”
Chuuya is never less than absolute about giving praise where it is due. It has made quite a few people flustered in the past, most spectacularly of all Akutagawa, and Atsushi is no exception. Even through his confusion, the boy cannot help but blush. “Er—thank you?” he replies.
“I look forward to meeting you topside,” Chuuya says. He smiles kindly.
Then he shoots Atsushi between the eyes with the gun he just procured from a holster under his arm.
Atsushi’s eyes go white, then close. The hole in his forehead has only just enough time to leak a few drops of blood before his body falls with a splash to the flooded floor.
“Ouch,” Dazai says, wincing. “That was a little rough, Chuuya.”
“You’ve gotta take off the kiddie wheels at one point and you know it.”
Dazai and Chuuya turn to Kunikida as one at the call. Kunikida shudders bodily when Chuuya faces him, seemingly unable to stop looking at him, no matter that anger distorts his face every time he does.
“What the hell,” he says, nearly breathless. “What the hell is this?”
“I was surprised too,” Dazai replies. “It’s not like I planned for him to show up.”
It is no defense at all. Judging by the face Kunikida makes at him, he is all-too aware of it as well.
Dazai can see Chuuya very well from his side. He hasn’t really been able to stop looking at him, not even with the whole world collapsing around them as it is doing now. If he were still new at it, he would be falling and trying desperately to keep his balance. None of them is less than dreadfully experienced at this whole game, however.
Because Dazai is looking at Chuuya, he sees the color of the smile that Chuuya directs at Kunikida. He feels between his ribs a pang of such longing that not even seasalt can wash away the taste of it.
“Kunikida,” Chuuya says.
Kunikida shudders again, anger and grief warring over his face. “I don’t want to hear it,” he cuts in. “Not from Dazai’s pale imitation of you. Next time we talk, it’ll be face to face, so shut up.”
The admiration in Chuuya’s smile and eyes is entirely Dazai’s.
Kunikida kills himself cleanly, adding barely a touch more blood to the mess over his clothes that must have come from their target’s projections. His body falls and vanishes as Atsushi’s did earlier, and Dazai finds himself alone in the collapsing dream, his own wishful thinking staring at him with Chuuya’s face.
“I hate goodbyes,” he tells the projection futilely. “Don’t go mushy on me now.”
“I wasn’t gonna say goodbye to you anyway,” Chuuya replies with a shrug.
His gun is once more lifted. It comes to rest at Dazai’s throat, cold and familiar. It kisses up his neck and chin, warms itself at his cheek, the way that Chuuya’s lips did whenever tenderness stayed their frantic lovemaking.
“You’ll find me, won’t you,” Chuuya says.
Dazai can’t stop himself from reaching out and framing his face with one hand. It has been so long that he hungers for anything, even for a shade, but nothing here can satisfy him. Not the feel of Chuuya’s skin, not the softness of his hair. He presses a thumb to Chuuya’s mouth and thinks only of how lacking this is compared to the real and living thing. “Who do you think I am?” he replies.
He doesn’t close his eyes when the gun’s mouth touches his forehead. Seawater floods his legs to the knees as the ghostly ship they are on sinks into the ocean, but the only wetness he feels comes from Chuuya’s tongue flicking against his finger.
He doesn’t hear the gunshot at all.
There was a time when reality felt like the dream rather than the other way around when Dazai woke up like this. Yosano used to mutter that it was due to just how young he was when he started doing this, to just how much his mentor at the time benefited from him being in that state of confusion. Dazai used to blink and linger on couches, on hotel beds, in the luggage compartments of trains, his mind fogged with the same haunting question: am I still dreaming?
Then he met Chuuya, and the problem disappeared entirely. Chuuya never mistook dreams for reality, no matter how much time he spent roaming mazes and making gravity bend to his will. Chuuya never longed for the freedom of dreamscape after waking up. To Dazai, Chuuya felt a little like reality made into a human being. Like a five-foot-three totem with sharp eyes and a filthy mouth.
Dazai wakes up for the first time in years with that age-old grogginess in him, blinking tiredly at the ceiling of the beachside hotel where they chose to conduct the extraction. He sees Atsushi in no better state next to him, shaking as he checks his own forehead for a bullet hole, and Kunikida at the other side of the room, behind where the woman they robbed lies unconscious.
Kunikida is quick to make away with the needle in his arm and rise from his armchair. Fury still paints his face white and red, and his eyes are fixed onto Dazai with an intensity he has not felt in years. He is nothing if not a sticker for hygiene, however, so he waits until Dazai has shaken off the langor and taken out the needle in his own arm before he storms over and grabs him by the collar.
The paintings hung from the wall shake and rattle in their frames when Dazai’s back hits the plaster. Kunikida is a meticulous man about many things, perhaps especially the health of his body, so he is strong enough after years of regular working out to almost lift Dazai off the ground entirely.
“What,” he breathes onto Dazai’s face, “was that.”
Atsushi calls their name worriedly from his side of the room. Dazai sends him a smile, says, “It’s fine, Atsushi-kun,” before Kunikida shakes him again.
“Dazai!” Kunikida snaps at him.
“It was just an accident,” Dazai tells him. “Just a one-time thing. He didn’t cause any trouble, did he? Sweet as a lamb as always.”
“You don’t fucking know how dangerous this is—”
The woman on the bed groans, cutting their words short. They all turn to look at her in unison.
“Don’t think this conversation is over,” Kunikida murmurs threateningly after he is sure that the sedative has not worn off yet. His fingers tighten at Dazai’s neck. “Don’t you think I’ll let this slide.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Dazai replies.
Kunikida drops his collar, allowing Dazai a brief second to massage his own neck while he asks Atsushi to get their things in order.
It barely takes more than a minute. Atsushi is still too new at it to truly know how to proceed outside the dream, so he collects their coats and watches from the side as Dazai and Kunikida fold the PASIV back into its case, as they place the woman onto her bed properly and clean away any trace of their presence.
The weather outside is lovely. Dazai has no fondness for the sort of luxury resort they are in right now, but the Mediterranean is always a good place to be at this time of the year. Warm wind sweeps into his hair as they walk out of the hotel—giving the last of her bribe to the woman in the lobby downstairs—and every breath he takes smells of cooked sand and calm water. Food stalls soon replace terrace restaurants as they reach the harbor. A majestic cruise ship waits there, glinting in the sunlight, but only Atsushi’s eyes linger upon it for longer than a second.
“Magnificent work, by the way,” Dazai tells him a few hours later.
They are on the evening train to Madrid, crammed within a compartment in company of an old man who slumbers deeply enough to look dead. Kunikida reluctantly looks up from his book to nod at Atsushi, avoiding Dazai’s eyes so as not to give him a hint of an approving face.
He is so, so angry still. Dazai knows he should feel worse for slipping up like this, but he got to see Chuuya again. It kind of trumps any remorse he could experience about it.
“I’ve never seen so many details before,” Dazai continues. “The water, the desk… most people will tell you that it’s the trinkets that are difficult to get right, but truly, they’ve never had to recreate the feel of water on skin or the lines on wooden furniture. You are extraordinarily talented.”
Atsushi has gone red to the ears. He squirms in his seat, looking quickly at the train window, as if the idea of jumping out of it is one he should consider. “I’m sorry I messed up on the wine, though,” he says awkwardly.
“Oh, don’t worry about this. Our target this time didn’t drink.” He smiles and adds, “And you kind of fell on a picky customer.”
Kunikida’s hand tenses. The hardcover of his book gives a faint cracking sound.
“Um, who was he?” Atsushi asks him uneasily. “The man at the bar. Was he one of that woman’s projections?”
“No, that one was mine,” Dazai replies. “My apologies. I’ll be sure to keep my own subconscious in check next time.”
Atsushi isn’t impressed with the wink Dazai gives him, and probably even less with his words, considering how much of a point Dazai made to teach him that one’s subconscious isn’t controllable at all.
Truly, Dazai has missed teaching.
“I thought only the target could populate a dream,” Atsushi says. “That’s what you told me.”
“Normally, that’s the case,” Kunikida answers, finally breaking out of his silent treatment. He snaps his book closed when Dazai opens his mouth, cutting him off, glaring at him all the while. “But dreamsharing isn’t an exact science,” he goes on. “We all brings things to the dream, so it’s not unheard of for objects or people to appear. They’re not usually this talkative, however.”
“That man looked a lot more real than the projections…”
Dazai leaves them to discuss the intricacies of compounds and machines and experiences. He looks at the dry landscape unfolding around their train like the décor of a film. He drinks from the sparkling water shoved within his bag.
He thinks about Chuuya.
Their hotel is Madrid could be called miserable next to the one they exited that morning, but it’s one Dazai likes, and it has the advantage of a wide rooftop under the stars where no one ever goes. He takes Kunikida there after they leave Atsushi in his room for the night and remind him to set his alarm for six. They have a plane for Tokyo booked the next day, and local authorities to avoid in case their client decides to jump ship and deliver them to the police. The earlier they get across customs, the better.
It wouldn’t be the first time someone decides that their information is lacking. This client has paid them in full already, but he has not yet replied to the message they sent, detailing their target’s plan about the energy conglomerate she works for. Dazai and Kunikida both have gotten used to being careful.
Kunikida sits nervously on a wooden bench of the rooftop that has been in this exact same spot for years. Dazai wisely chooses not to tell him that he once sucked Chuuya off right there.
“So,” Kunikida says darkly. His eyes are like a hawk’s even in the penumbra. They look over Dazai sharply, no less impressive for the height that Dazai has on him now that he is seated. Dazai has thick enough skin not to fidget or squirm, but it’s a close thing.
“So,” Dazai replies, “I miss him. You can’t blame me for that, can you?”
It will not be enough to soften Kunikida up, and he knows it. No matter how much Kunikida misses Chuuya too.
“You’ve been missing him for two years,” Kunikida says, implacable. “You’ve never let a single projection of yours invade a dream before, no matter how wishy-washy you can get.”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
He can almost hear Kunikida’s teeth grind together. Any other day and Dazai would be cowed by just how incensed he is, by the fire in his eyes which has become so rare ever since they met and Kunikida settled into healthier living habits, but not now. Not today.
He can still hear Chuuya’s voice in his ears. He hadn’t been able to recall it to the fullest, in all of its rough quality and depth, before his own subconscious tugged the memory to light. His skin feels swollen still with the sound of it, with the touch of Chuuya’s fingers on his face. He has never craved anything as much as he does this touch—deprived of it for two years and then given a brief, so brief, taste of it again.
It has been two years, one month, and twenty-eight days since Chuuya disappeared. Two years, one month, and twenty-eight days since he last felt Chuuya’s touch.
He thinks he understands, now, why most of his colleagues say extractors always lose their grasp on reality.
“What is going on, Dazai?” Kunikida asks.
Dazai doesn’t answer him.
Kunikida sighs. He brushes a hand over his own face in a gesture as annoyed as it is exhausted. Weary. “Why Chuuya?” he tries again. “Why now?”
“Must there be a reason?”
“Yes,” Kunikida seethes. “With you, there must be.”
Dazai feels on his lips the same smile that his projection of Chuuya gave Kunikida in the dream: admiring and mellow and only the slightest bit enamored.
“I’m sorry, Kunikida,” he says.
He grins when Kunikida flushes and looks away from him. Kunikida never did fully make up his mind about Dazai’s offer—or Chuuya’s, for that matter.
Chuuya vanished before Kunikida could give it a proper answer, and, well. It wouldn’t feel right without him.
Kunikida’s face has gone lax and morose. He looks above the low barrier surrounding the roof, his skin basked in the glow of streetlight, his hands linked above his thighs in such a tight grip that his knuckles have gone white. He slouches forward, but Dazai has not a doubt that if he were to touch him now, he would find every one of his limbs as tense as steel cables.
It is what makes the decision for him, truly: the sight of Kunikida so burdened with misery after seeing Chuuya again, and the crawling knowledge that he would never have been able to resist anyway.
He never even considered resisting.
Kunikida blinks when Dazai hands him his phone. The light of the screen is too bright after minutes spent in darkness; he squints at it after taking it in hand, and fetches his glasses from the breast of his jacket.
Then he reads Mori’s message and inhales in shock.
Dazai waits him out calmly, touching his wristwatch habitually, stroking the engraving under the case where it fits snugly to his skin. It has been a long time since he has needed his totem like this.
“This is a trap,” Kunikida says eventually. Dazai’s lips curl; nothing comforts him more these days than how predictable and solid Kunikida is. “You know it’s a trap,” Kunikida adds, giving him back his phone.
His face is no longer stricken with misery, however. He looks at Dazai in worry instead.
Dazai pockets the device. “I’m willing to take the risk,” he replies.
“It’s impossible to do.”
“You and I both know that isn’t true.”
“We’d need a team of at least five people, plus the amount of money and connections—”
“Kunikida,” Dazai cuts off. “Breathe.”
Kunikida does so after a moment of stillness. He chokes on it, as expected, having not realized just how close he came to hyperventilating in the past twenty seconds. Dazai is used enough to how anxiety manifests through his friend that he feels no hurry, waiting for him to find his bearings, listening to his coughs as he clears his airways.
Two years ago, Chuuya would have sat by Kunikida’s side and patted his back with a frown until he quieted.
Kunikida manages on his own. He breathes in, breathes out, his head hung between his knees until finally, he calms down. His face is flushed and sweaty when he lifts it again.
“If we do this,” he tells Dazai in a rough voice, “we’re going to need the best of the best.”
“I happen to have found us a miracle architect,” Dazai replies, jovial.
“Atsushi’s only done this once.”
“But you saw it. You felt how perfect that dream was. You should’ve seen the tap water, Kunikida—I couldn’t tell the difference at all. That’s never happened with anyone I worked with in the past, even Mori.”
Kunikida frowns upon hearing that name, worry once more creasing his brow when he looks over Dazai, but Dazai ignores it. He crosses the distance between them and sits on the other end of the bench, leaving enough room for their thighs not to touch.
“It was only his third time dreaming at all,” he says. “His first time doing actual extraction. Think of how perfect he could become if we went two or three levels down.”
“You madman,” Kunikida mutters, looking away. “This is why Fukuzawa-san didn’t want to give him to you.”
Dazai laughs. He doesn’t deny it.
There is a light flickering at the edge of the rooftop, orange rather than yellow, a thing as old as this whole hotel is. Dazai can remember just how Chuuya looked under it the first time they came here, how his red hair had shone in the crushing heat of summer, unbearable while they kissed, sweaty skin on sweaty skin. He had forgotten the smell and taste of him until that projection showed up and pulled the memory out of his very guts.
It feels like drinking again after years of abstinence. The alcohol is down his throat, down his belly, digging a space for itself that Dazai will be febrile to fill again once it runs out. He feels parched already.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” Kunikida asks then.
Dazai doesn’t need to look to know that he has a hand in his pocket, touching the small notebook there which serves as his totem. He can barely stop himself from sliding a finger under his watch again.
“I got the email only a few hours before we had to go down,” he replies. “I didn’t want you to be distracted. Your distractions tend to cause avalanches.”
Kunikida shudders. “At least I wouldn’t have brought Chuuya to the dream,” he spits back. “That was barely even him at all. He’d kill you if he knew about it.”
Another silence, broken only by tepid wind rushing through foliage.
“Dazai,” Kunikida says once he is done making sense of his own thoughts. “We’ll need Akutagawa for this.”
Dazai breathes quietly. His tongue runs over the two fake teeth in his mouth, and he feels almost as if they ache again. “I can forge well enough,” he replies.
“Not well enough for this.”
The problem with Kunikida is just how reasonable he is. He used to be somewhat more malleable; back when Chuuya was around to act as a pillar for Dazai’s sanity, Kunikida could occasionally be swayed into agreeing with stupid ideas. He could have faith in Chuuya’s ability to be rational in both their steads. Since Chuuya went missing, Kunikida has been as unmoving as a cliff. He has been the epitome of prudence.
“Akutagawa is in Yokohama,” Dazai concedes with a grimace. “With Mori. Yosano should be there too, though definitely not with Mori.”
“Do you think Akutagawa knows already, then?” Kunikida asks.
Dazai shakes his head. “Mori’s probably keeping him because he knows we’ll go get him ourselves, and he won’t miss a chance to see me,” he says. “If Akutagawa knew, he’d be long gone already.”
Akutagawa would be the kind of idiot to try and do this all alone.
The last time Dazai saw Akutagawa was in Shibuya, after shooting the both of them out of a dream whose target had vanished without a trace. After an hour spent roaming the halls of a maze created by Dazai himself, looking futilely for the Russian man they were supposed to steal from, understanding too late that something had gone wrong.
Understanding too late that the Chuuya who followed in their steps was only a shadow.
Akutagawa had all but screamed as he tore the needle out of his arm and ransacked the hotel suite, as he ran out of the door in the footsteps of their target, who couldn’t have been gone for longer than a few minutes.
Dazai hadn’t followed him. He had looked at the desk chair where Chuuya had sat only moments ago. His hat had still been there, right where Dazai had put it after taking it off Chuuya’s head.
He had been the one to hand him the compound, to clean the crook of Chuuya’s arm and put him to sleep. “Wake me up with a kiss if you get back before me,” he had said then.
“Sure,” Chuuya had replied. “After I kick the chair from under your ass.”
When Akutagawa had come back, empty-handed, and found Dazai sitting there in silence, he had punched out two of his teeth.
“We’re doing this,” Dazai says.
Mori’s email has been burning against his thigh, through the pocket where his phone is hid, since he received it the night before: I know where Chuuya-kun is. Work this job for me and I’ll tell you.
Refusing was never an option. Dazai had replied immediately, and then received the details of what Mori wanted out of him.
Kunikida sighs deeply. The very sound of it tenses through Dazai’s throat, makes his chest ache in empathy, but he is not afraid. He hasn’t been afraid of Mori since a young man with red hair first waltzed into his dreams.
“I miss him too,” Kunikida says. Forlorn and more open about this than he has been even when Dazai called him years ago, saying, Chuuya’s gone. “But we don’t even know if he’s alive.”
“He is alive,” Dazai retorts easily. “He’s of no use to that man dead. Chuuya is way too good at what he does, you’d have to be stupid to kill him.”
“If he knew how easily you praise him when he can’t hear it…”
It tears a smile out of Dazai again.
Next to him, Kunikida stretches his shoulders. He cracks his knuckles, then his neck. He leans back against the wooden bench until his eyes find the glowing Madrilean sky, and Dazai remembers Chuuya doing the same thing with his hand in Dazai’s hair, as Dazai kissed the hot skin of his belly.
“We’ll find him,” Kunikida says resolutely.
“We will,” Dazai agrees.
He knew this since the second Chuuya vanished. They would find him, no matter where he was hidden, no matter how long it took. His certainty in the matter has not weakened in the least.
Inception, he thinks, touching his wristwatch. Stroking the engraving under the platinum case of the dial.
It’s probably easier to achieve than it sounds.