Previous chapter | Sequel: Scale of Success
Warnings: mentions of pedophilia and abuse, violence.
Margin Of Error
The stinging-clear scent of his hospital room didn’t jar Dazai awake as abruptly as it had the day before. Still he shifted from sleep to wakefulness with something of a start, surprised only for a second by the sharp pain in his side and the weakness still lingering in him.
He didn’t move. He let the memories of the previous day slip through him in slow waves, and then the memories of the night, quieter, slower. He smiled at those. His lips felt warm still from being allowed to brush the back of a hand.
“Nap time’s over,” said Oda’s quiet voice at his right. “Please don’t make me actually shake you awake.”
It was as though a switch had been flipped; with his voice came the rest of the sounds surrounding Dazai, paper shifting on paper and footsteps through the thin walls and Akutagawa’s low, raspy breaths.
“I’m awake,” Dazai mumbled, forcing his eyes open. He brought a hand to his face to rub away the crust of sleep. “When did you arrive?”
“About an hour ago.”
Oda’s silhouette was blurry against the white light from the window. He raised his head to look at Dazai, and Dazai had to blink to make out the details of his face.
“Breakfast’s about to come in,” he continued, going back to reading the book open in his lap. “I hope you’re hungry.”
He still wouldn’t touch the hospital food if he could help it, and not only because it tasted terrible. Oda didn’t need to hear him say it, however.
Akutagawa was sat in the second chair of the room. He glared vaguely at Dazai when Dazai turned his head to look at him, but stayed otherwise silent. Gin must’ve told him to keep his comments to himself as long as he was here, which, in Dazai’s opinion, was highly hypocritical of her.
Well, no matter. He pushed himself into a sitting position despite the way his wound screamed, careful not to pull at the stitches more than necessary. Oda one-handedly took hold of his pillow and arranged it so that Dazai’s back could rest on it when he scooted backward over the bed.
Izumi knocked briefly on the door to announce her arrival. Dazai greeted her in as friendly a voice as he could muster, which she ignored. “Nakahara-sensei will come by in an hour,” she said curtly, before putting his breakfast in front of him and rolling her pile of trays out of the room, shutting the door behind herself.
Dazai pushed the food away from himself.
“How’s the situation?” he asked Oda.
“Good,” Oda replied. “We’ve lost two of Hirotsu’s men, they’ll be buried in a few days, but other than this no one’s been life-threateningly injured. Except you.”
“It’s only natural. I was the target.”
Oda snorted softly. “Ango’s overworking himself,” he went on, not once looking away from his book. “He said it’s a miracle you find time to be so annoying with all the work you’re supposedly doing.”
“I really picked the best successor,” Dazai replied fondly. “He’ll be great at it once I bite the bullet.”
“Also, Yosano says not to make trouble for Ozaki, whoever that is, and that she’s fine. Her injuries are all superficial.”
That was interesting. Dazai twisted a corner of his thin blanket around his finger, thinking back to the frightening woman who had come by his room the day before and watched him with a hawk’s eyes.
“This place is intriguing,” he said softly. “I barely remembered Fukuzawa-dono telling me about it before Higuchi mentioned it, but now I wonder how I never heard more outside of that one time. You’d think such high security, discretion, and competence would gather more rumors.”
“Yeah,” Oda replied dryly. His book closed with a snap. “Higuchi told me all about your interest.”
“I’m being honest! This hospital feels more like a criminal organization of its own than anything else. I’m only investigating.”
“You’re only investigating your doctor because you want to hire him, is that it?”
Oda would not have sounded different to someone who knew him less than Dazai did. His expression hadn’t changed out of its usual evident lack of interest, his fingers were relaxed above the hardcover of his book, his shoulders at ease and his voice quiet. But Dazai had spent enough time with him—in and out of bars, sitting on uncomfortable stools and leather couches alike, with and without whiskey clouding his judgment—to hear the reproach for what it was.
Dazai felt little like indulging that with an honest answer, however. Not with Akutagawa at his side to listen to every word he said. “You’re only saying that because you haven’t met him yet, Odasaku,” he replied with a wink.
Oda stared at him for a second longer before sighing in defeat.
Dazai extracted himself from the bed with some difficulty, waving off Akutagawa’s reluctant offer to help and making his slow way to the bathroom. The door didn’t lock, unfortunately, but there was little chance of either of his subordinates insisting on staying with him while he showered. There was not even a window to come through or escape from, after all.
Tearing off his own bandages was a little awkward, especially in the back, but Dazai managed just fine. He was thankful for the bench in the shower stall, which allowed him to clean himself without standing in rather excessive pain.
And as the lukewarm water washed the night’s sweat off of him, he thought again of Chuuya.
Oda’s half-hearted remark about hiring him wasn’t entirely wrong. Dazai had held the possibility in mind since the moment he had watched the man stitch his wound shut with terrifying efficiency. There had to be more to him than the obvious. Outside of his bluntness, outside of his face and body, which Dazai relished in more than he usually would with aimless flirting, there had to be more to his story than that of any regular doctor. Chuuya didn’t walk armed that Dazai had noticed, and he was surprisingly uncaring of any posturing or threat aimed at his person. Dazai already knew that he possessed more physical strength than a man of his stature should, but it still didn’t explain his lack of fear in the face of firearms. This doctor didn’t look the part of someone who didn’t care about his own life; yet his tale carried holes Dazai couldn’t fill yet with either knowledge or speculation.
Chuuya may have only opened up about his life in anger and with the goal of teaching Dazai some shame, but still, Dazai could not help but wonder that anyone close enough to Chuuya would dare raise a hand on him. Especially someone Chuuya was in a relationship with.
Maybe Chuuya had been the one unwilling to defend himself against someone he loved.
It wasn’t any of his business either way, and Chuuya had obviously said as little as he could on purpose. Dazai still felt the same ache in his stomach that he had the night before as Chuuya had narrated all of this to him in disdain and anger. He remembered his own certainty that Chuuya would cede to him with some dry and deprecating humor.
Oda and Akutagawa hadn’t moved from their spots by the bed when he came out of the bathroom with wet hair, his skin chilling in contact with the clean air. Neither said a word until he had sat again with a pained huff.
“There’s a car waiting in the parking lot,” Oda said quietly.
Dazai didn’t reply. He had expected as much. He pulled on his socks, holding his breath in the hope that the movement would ache less in his side, looking quickly at his wristwatch to gauge how much time was left before his next dose of painkillers would arrive.
“I hear you,” Dazai replied breathlessly.
“We can leave now,” Oda continued. “Gin found a route out of the building on her way earlier, she texted it to me.”
Akutagawa coughed in his hand.
Dazai leaned back into the pillow with a sigh once both socks were on. He wasn’t looking forward to putting on his shoes.
“So I need to leave now,” he said.
He felt the weight of Oda’s eyes over the side of his face like a burst of soft wind. “If you want,” Oda answered, quietly still. “Or we can leave tomorrow when they discharge you.”
“You’re usually the one telling me to rest more than I want to, not the other way around.”
His joke went unanswered. He knew what was bothering Oda without him having to say the words, because the same thing was bothering him.
Oda shifted in his seat, uncrossing his legs and then crossing them again the other way around. Dazai watched the hem of his slacks ride up and expose the length of the grey sock he wore almost to its edge.
“You can rest back at headquarters. Theoretically.”
Dazai’s mouth lifted at the corner. “Too much work at home,” he replied.
“Yeah. But staying here… You don’t have the protection that you do back home, Dazai. We don’t know if Dostoyevsky knows where you are. I’d rather you push yourself too hard than you get killed.”
That sentiment was only half-shared, but Dazai did not disclose that.
“My stay here has been a golden opportunity,” he said eventually. “I would hate to leave too soon.”
Akutagawa clicked his tongue angrily. “We’ve no time to waste for your curiosity.”
Dazai ignored him. “The reason Dostoyevsky found me out in the first place is because we have a mole in our midst,” he declared. “I’m sure I’m safer in Yokohama than here anyway, but the difference is infinitesimal considering that Ango hasn’t found the bastard yet.”
He ran his fingers through his hair, wincing at the pull when it tangled with his knuckles. It was getting too long.
“You two, Ango, Hirotsu, Gin, and Higuchi are the only ones who know where I am right now,” he continued. “You’re about the only ones I trust not to betray me.”
He could almost hear the breath Akutagawa sucked in at being acknowledged that way. Dazai never made much of an effort to show his faith in his once-pupil, but his statement held true nonetheless. No matter his own dislike for Akutagawa’s rabid violence, no matter Akutagawa’s well-founded grudge against him for treating him as he once had, Dazai didn’t believe that Akutagawa would ever turn on him.
“He could’ve followed you anyway,” Oda said.
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Dazai replied.
What followed was a moment of wordless communication the likes of which Dazai only ever held with one person. Oda met his eyes levelly, solid and grounding and more reassuring, somehow, than anyone else Dazai knew. Despite his unkempt appearance, despite his slow and dragging tone.
If Dazai knew that Akutagawa would never betray him, he knew, with even deeper certainty, that Oda would not judge him.
Oda slid a burner phone out of his pocket. He opened it with a flick of the wrist, typed a few quick words, and sent them to whoever was waiting outside. It wasn’t a moment later that Dazai heard the distant sound of a car’s engine starting, then fading in the distance.
“Thank you,” he said.
“No problem.” Oda rolled his neck slowly, until an audible crack cut through the silence, and opened his book once again. “I’d say I can’t believe you’re putting your life at risk for a crush, but then again, it’s you we’re talking about.”
“You have so little faith in my impartiality.”
Oda didn’t bother answering that.
Thankfully, and despite his words about allowing Dazai rest, Oda had brought work with him. Dazai hadn’t quite realized just how much of the stress resting on his shoulders was due to being virtually cut off from his organization until his fingers tingled upon touching his laptop. The easy habit of unlocking its security system shot through him like liquor.
Chuuya found him like that upon entering the room a while later—sat up in bed, hunched over the screen in a way that tugged a little too sharply at his stitches, almost shaking in his focus.
A focus Dazai lost easily once his eyes roamed over Chuuya himself. His eyes were as bright as ever despite the long night hours.
Before he could comment on it, or on the attractive way Chuuya’s hair escaped from its tie and brushed the sides of his face, Chuuya said, “You haven’t eaten anything.”
Dazai threw a look at the cold breakfast sitting by his bed. “Not hungry,” he said. “Though feel free to try and spoon-feed me, sensei.”
Chuuya rolled his eyes.
Dazai leaned back into the pillows at his back as the doctor approached. Oda took his laptop back without a word, his eyes flying between Dazai and Chuuya himself with curiosity. Chuuya greeted him and Akutagawa absently, ignored the lack of answer from both, and went to work on Dazai himself.
He checked the stitches only briefly and with gloved hands, to Dazai’s regret. Dazai allowed him to take his blood pressure and listen to his pulse. When he was done, he sat straighter in the chair Akutagawa had abandoned for him and said, “Do you feel up to moving?”
“Sure,” Dazai replied.
“Good.” Chuuya tugged the gloves off of his hands with a snap and stood up. “Then follow me. I’d like to check on a couple more things in my office.”
There were a lot of things Dazai could have said in answer, many of which unsuited for public curiosity, but he held back and nodded. Oda was watching him a little too intently; more than that, the shame he had felt the night before as Chuuya read him for filth was still close at hand. It licked the edges of his conscious mind, brushed past every blink of his eyes like moonlight filtering through broken blinds.
As much as Dazai resented the vulnerability that came with needing assistance to walk, his stroll the night before still pained him physically. He opted for a crutch instead of the wheelchair still sitting by his bed and quickly found that the pull at his wounds was not much better than if he had stepped on his own. Chuuya wasn’t quick enough to hide the mocking smile lifting the corner of his lips.
The man said nothing at all of Oda following them, not even as the man stepped into the office on Dazai’s heels.
“Sit down,” Chuuya ordered, and Dazai did so with clenched teeth. “Muscle over there can sit too if he wants. I’m not going to attack you.”
“I wouldn’t complain if you did, but my friends can be touchy about it.”
Oda lightly tapped the back of Dazai’s head and sat down next to him.
“I was too busy to do this yesterday, but I’ll try to make it quick,” Chuuya went on, unbothered. His computer booted up with a slight whirring sound. Dazai watched the line of his shoulders and arms, strong even under the worn fabric of the white coat, and felt himself relax. “Is there any health issue you’d like to discuss, anything I should know before discharging you tomorrow?”
“Nope,” Dazai said merrily.
Oda made a faint humming sound.
“No allergies? Fatigue? Unexplained pain anywhere?”
Chuuya’s questions went on for another few minutes, though Dazai paid little attention to them and always answered either yes, no, or nothing of note. He could tell that Chuuya didn’t believe a word of it, and for a second allowed himself to regret the omissions and lies.
Chuuya wasn’t his doctor, however. At least not in the way that mattered. Dazai couldn’t allow his medical history to spread outside of Yosano’s very private practice.
“All right,” Chuuya concluded, irritated but still devastatingly level-headed. Dazai couldn’t help but look him up and down once more as he stood up and walked around his desk. “Come on, then. On your feet.”
Dazai pushed himself upright best as he could, and when Chuuya grabbed him under the arm to help him, he let that warmth carry him.
He looked over the rest of the office as Chuuya measured and weighed him. It was a tidy space, books lining the wall shelves and models of various body parts strewn across every flat surface. Wide windows darkened by translucent blinds. Only Chuuya’s desk seemed disorganized, and even then in a way Dazai was sure Chuuya knew perfectly how to navigate. His eyes lingered for a second on a framed picture sat atop the table, which he hadn’t been able to see from the chair but whose content he could glimpse now.
There were drawings and letters pinned to a board in a corner. Most seemed to have been made by children.
“Your patients love you,” Dazai commented softly, hoping his voice wouldn’t carry to the side of the office that Oda still occupied.
“Are you confessing?” Chuuya replied in kind. He pushed Dazai onto the scale. “Because I would so hate to break your heart.”
“Ah, Chuuya, I fear you would break yours.”
“Just shut up.”
Dazai obeyed with a smile. Still, his words had not been empty or untrue. Every single person he had talked to here had mentioned Chuuya’s name with affection or admiration—and in Atsushi’s case, actual love.
What a curious person Nakahara Chuuya was.
“You’re underweight,” Chuuya said once he had helped Dazai back to the chair. “Not seriously, but not far from it either.”
“I’ve always been on the thin side,” Dazai replied easily.
“It’s been brought to my attention that you barely eat any of your meals.” At Dazai’s stubborn silence, Chuuya sighed and added, “I’m guessing asking about your dietary habits would be a waste of time.”
“I eat just fine,” Dazai said. “Always finish my greens and everything.”
There was a silence, punctuated only by the faraway sounds of the rest of the building. Footsteps in corridors and wheels upon linoleum.
“I know you just got shot and poisoned,” Chuuya started slowly, “and paranoia is expected after attempted murder, no matter how used to that you are… But not eating isn’t gonna solve anything. It’s especially not going to help you recover faster.”
“It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you,” Dazai pointed out.
“The hospital cooks aren’t out to get you. They don’t know who eats what, and the trays are under tight surveillance from the nurses once assembled. I have complete and utter faith in all of our staff. No one here is susceptible to bribery.”
Dazai smiled and didn’t share the truth—that he knew Dostoyevsky wouldn’t shy at the thought of poisoning a whole hospital in order to get him, and that everyone was susceptible to bribery. One just had to know what to bribe them with.
Something on Chuuya’s face then made him think that maybe he got the point across either way; but then Oda coughed, and said, “You’re wasting your breath, doctor.”
Chuuya’s eyes snapped to Oda immediately. Dazai turned to look at him as well, surprised.
Oda met his eyes and shrugged. “You never eat anything you can’t prepare yourself or have someone taste for you beforehand. It wouldn’t be the first time you go a few days without food.”
Dazai could almost see the word disorder flash through Chuuya’s mind.
“Odasaku,” he said, masking his irritation with a whine, “I didn’t bring you here to snitch on me.”
“You decided to stay here,” Oda replied evenly. “Might as well make the most of the place and actually do something for your health.”
“So you’re always this paranoid, then,” Chuuya commented before Dazai could snap at his friend. “This sort of stress and anxiety won’t help you heal either.”
Dazai clenched his teeth for half of a second. “I don’t have anxiety,” he declared.
“I think I’ll let someone else decide that.”
For a moment Dazai didn’t understand what he meant. Chuuya opened a drawer of his desk and searched through it one-handed, taking out a thin page and then scribbling something unreadable on it. Only when he put his signature at the bottom did Dazai’s mind make the connection.
“Wait,” he let out, “I don’t need anyone to confirm—”
“This is just standard procedure for patients who come here for assault anyway,” Chuuya cut in. He handed Dazai the paper, and Dazai took it wordlessly, his eyes roaming over the words without quite reading them—psychiatrist and appointment and five o’clock. “Sasaki-sensei is excellent at her job, and you don’t have to worry about cops or anything. This place runs on discretion, after all, considering our clientele.”
“This is unnecessary,” Dazai said flatly.
His tone was closer now to the one he took to order murder than it had been since he had stepped into this place. He knew he hadn’t sounded this cold even while pointing a gun at Chuuya’s handsome face.
If Chuuya noticed it, it didn’t seem to affect him very much. “Doctor’s orders,” he replied, and his eyes were as piercing as ever.
For the first time, Dazai wished they weren’t staring at him.
“Very well,” he said.
The paper crumpled in his grip when he stood up from the chair. He rejected Oda’s aid and simply grabbed his crutch, ignoring the painful pull at his side, where the bullet had hit him. He had no intention of seeing a therapist of any sort, here or elsewhere; the thought alone was laughable, after everything he had done and everything he had learned to deal with on his own.
Dazai wasn’t someone who needed help talking about his feelings. This felt like more of a blow than anything Chuuya had done so far, more personal somehow than calling him an idiot or jabbing a finger where it hurt. Maybe that was Chuuya’s way of taking revenge for the day before, though Dazai had thought that they were even now; if it was, then Dazai was having a hard time not resenting him for it.
“Dazai,” Chuuya called as he started walking toward the door.
Oda jerked in surprise, probably at the use of Dazai’s actual name. Dazai hadn’t told anyone that he had let Chuuya know it.
Dazai turned around on his feet, once more masking the sharp tug of pain that the movement caused. “What?” he asked.
It was truly unfair how good Chuuya looked. He shouldn’t look this good, not after more than twelve hours working and only a handful for sleep behind him, yet every unflattering light of the building seemed to bring out of him more details than Dazai had noticed so far. The faint crease of skin at his brow, the tiny lines that laughter must’ve dug near his eyes over the years, the sharpness of him that seemed to make everything around blur to nothingness.
“It’s just one appointment,” he said, and Dazai felt the fight bleed out of him as his tension had earlier from the look of him alone. “Not the end of the fucking world.”
Then it makes no difference whether I attend it or not, Dazai thought.
But Chuuya was looking down at his desk, and the flushed skin of his face could not be hid by any shadow, and Dazai knew then that it wasn’t revenge Chuuya sought.
Anger and satisfaction were odd things to feel at once.
“Of course,” Dazai said smugly. “I wouldn’t want to worry you.”
“So what do you think?” Dazai asked about an hour later, as Akutagawa had gone to take care of some business and left him alone in his room with Oda.
“This place isn’t so bad,” Oda replied nonchalantly.
Dazai tapped his fingers on his thighs expectantly.
Oda relented. “Therapy might do you some good, you know,” he said. “Even just once.”
“I’m serious.” Oda looked up from his book and gave him a brief smile. “You’re a long way from what you were ten years ago, Dazai, but anyone with eyes can see you’re not the healthiest person around.”
“No one in our profession is,” Dazai mumbled.
Oda shrugged silently.
Finally Dazai couldn’t hold back anymore and let out, “And the good doctor?”
“I can see why you’d want to hire him,” Oda replied, obviously enjoying making Dazai fumble, “he’s good enough to order you around, after all.”
“Yes, yes.” Dazai waved a hand into the air. “I’m not asking about that, Odasaku.”
Oda stared at him. Dazai stared back.
At last, Oda’s face split into a smile. “On looks alone he’s way out of your league.”
“But my looks aren’t all there is to my charm, are they?”
“I wonder if I should answer that truthfully.”
Despite what Chuuya had said of paranoia, despite his subordinates and friends’ many warnings, he didn’t think he had felt so carefree in years.
He had almost been killed. Yosano had almost been killed. He was in an unfamiliar place, big enough to hide many an assassin and thrumming with criminals, former and present, and yet he felt rested. He felt secure. He slept in their beds and roamed their corridors and chased after dreams.
Dostoyevsky could come for him again any moment—Dazai was far from home and more of a target than ever—and yet Dazai’s every other thought was occupied by the face of one man and one man only.
“You look happy,” Oda said, reading it all out of him as he did all of his books. “It’s good to see you like this.”
It felt good as well.
Dazai had half-planned to spend the second day as he had the previous: walking around the hospital corridors and lobbies, watching his fellow patients and amusing himself by guessing what had brought them here. The walking part was scrapped off his perspectives with a glance from Oda, and it was with a heavy sigh that he resigned himself to using the wheelchair. His pain was more manageable already than it had been the night before, but repeatedly ignoring Chuuya’s advice to avoid movement had tired him.
At least Chuuya should be home now, sleeping what little time he could before his evening shift.
Akutagawa shadowed him. He wasn’t quite as discreet as his sister, but his well-earned resentment toward Dazai meant that he at least had no desire to chat. Dazai rolled across corridor after corridor, stopping for a while by the maternity to remember the words he had exchanged there with Chuuya, watching squirming newborns and exhausted mothers through open doors, wondering idly if he had ever looked the same. If his mother, whoever she was, had looked the same.
“I feel like tea,” he declared after too long spent staring at one of the babes. They were held in their mother’s arms; she looked sweaty, still, from labor and joy alike. A man who must be her husband was asleep in a chair by her bed, and his hand was linked with hers. Dazai turned to look at Akutagawa and asked, “Wanna come with? It’s on me.”
With the way Akutagawa looked at him, one would’ve thought Dazai had just asked him to cut off his own hand. Eventually, he nodded jerkily.
Dazai made his way to the bottom of the building with Akutagawa’s suspicion weighing heavy on his nape. He forced himself to think nothing of it, instead thinking on what he would tell Atsushi once he saw him again.
He should apologize. Probably. Dazai hadn’t much experience with acting like a reasonable person.
To his surprise, Atsushi seemed happy enough to see him. His eyes only flashed briefly with guilt at the sight of him, but then he was jumping up from his seat behind the counter of the small café and hurrying to find them a table. The entrance of the hospital seemed much more populated now than before, and many of the waiting families and patients had taken place here to eat and drink.
“Same as yesterday?” Atsushi asked a tad brusquely, avoiding Dazai’s eyes.
Atsushi wrote his order down diligently. “And you?” he asked Akutagawa.
Dazai picked at his nails, frowning, waiting for Akutagawa’s answer.
It never came.
Atsushi fidgeted. “Um, sir?”
“Yes,” Akutagawa rasped. It was as though he had to cough up the reply. “I’ll—I’ll have the jasmine tea.”
His face was red.
Dazai had always suspected Akutagawa of being half-vampire, or otherwise lacking the blood it took to blush, but apparently, he had been very mistaken.
“Atsushi-kun,” he said lightly, and Atsushi startled, looking away from Akutagawa’s frighteningly intense staring to face him instead, “would it be terribly bothersome if Akutagawa here were to accompany you to the counter while you make our drinks? I’m afraid moving around too much tires me out.”
“Oh, I’ll just bring them to you, it’s fine—”
“It’s no bother,” Akutagawa cut in.
Atsushi blinked at him. Akutagawa, who hadn’t looked away, glared back.
Perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Your brother has a crush, Dazai sent from the burner phone Oda had brought him, a smile hanging from his lips.
Gin replied within seconds. He does not.
Dazai snapped a quick picture of the two of them at the counter, making sure to catch Akutagawa’s slightly ill-looking blush, and sent it away. The whole affair took only a second.
You are destroying this family, Gin sent back.
Don’t be jealous, Gin-chan.
The only response he got was a middle finger emoji.
He was still grinning at the phone when someone approached his side, too closely to be accidental. His shoulders tensed quickly, pulling at the cut in his back and making the bullet wound echo with pain, until he looked up from his lap and met the eyes of the woman who had visited him the day before.
Ozaki. The head doctor.
“I hope I’m not bothering you, Dazai-san,” she said. Her smile was as delicate as a brush stroke. “I was hoping I could see you in my office for a moment.”
Dazai glanced at the counter, where Akutagawa had apparently mastered himself enough to actually engage Atsushi in a conversation. Or maybe the other way around. It seemed he was only speaking monosyllabically.
“Sure,” he replied, dragging his eyes back to Ozaki and smiling at her in kind.
“Without your shadow, if I may be so bold.”
Her voice flew easily over the rush of discussions, the sound of ringing telephones, the clicking of stretchers and chairs being wheeled across the wide lobby. Whoever Ozaki was, it seemed she shared Dazai’s ability to impose her presence without the need to shout.
Strangely, it made his tension bleed out. His shoulders relaxed. His pain abated.
“Of course, sensei.”
It was his luck that Akutagawa was engrossed enough in his newfound ability to feel warm and fuzzy that he did not notice Dazai leaving. Dazai made sure to pay for both drinks anyway, sliding a few bills over the cheap tabletop before wheeling himself in Ozaki’s trail. He hadn’t asked for Atsushi’s forgiveness, but hopefully Akutagawa’s presence made up for that. It might even cure him of his hopeless one-sided love.
Chuuya would soon be spoken for, after all. Maybe. Hopefully.
Ozaki Kouyou’s office was a wide and bright room, with paintings over the walls that Dazai strongly suspected of being stolen originals and trinkets of gold and silver spread over the mahogany desk. Though the color scheme was wrong, though Ozaki’s space seemed more expensively organized than Chuuya’s, Dazai thought there was a familiarity in its layout. A breath of resemblance. Chuuya’s cologne lay underneath the ever-present clean smell.
“I suppose you want to talk to me about your protégé,” Dazai declared, once he had put away the wheelchair and sat into one of the leather seats facing Ozaki’s desk. “I assure you my intentions are… well, not honorable, but sincere.”
Ozaki took the time to sit down as well before answering. “I’ve been made aware of your intentions regarding Nakahara-sensei,” she replied evenly. “Though I wonder why you would call him my protégé.”
Crossing his legs hurt, but Dazai did it anyway, as gracefully as he could and wishing he were wearing a suit.
“The way you two interacted made me think you knew each other in a more than professional fashion from the start,” he said. “Then, of course, there was what he let slip during our talks—about you and he discussing private matters on the telephone, his use of your first name, your use of his… the fact that you know my real name, which I only told him about… and of course the photograph in his office.” He looked around the room once more, quickly finding a frame of similar size to the one sat on Chuuya’s desk, though this one was shadowed by the shelf under which it was exposed. “He’s cute with short hair as well,” he mused aloud. “I prefer his current style, though. I wonder how old he was when it was taken?”
“Sixteen,” Ozaki replied with the hint of a grin. Dazai sensed approval in it and resisted the urge to preen. “I have to disappoint you, however. I don’t wish to discuss Chuuya with you.”
“He doesn’t need me to scare his suitors off. That would take me another full-time job. Of course,” she added charmingly, “I will not hesitate to make you regret being alive in very creative ways if you ever hurt him, but that would require him giving you the opportunity to, would it not?”
Dazai tried not to let that sting him too much. He couldn’t quite rid his mind of Chuuya’s face, Chuuya’s voice, as he told him coldly of his last relationship.
“Then what can I do for you, I wonder?” Looking poised in casual clothing and with a hole in his side was a difficult task, but Dazai thought he managed it pretty well. He linked his hands over his lap to hide the weakness in his fingers. “I assure you that whatever you charge for my stay here and the accommodations made for me will be paid in full. I’m not short on money.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Ozaki replied. “Yokohama’s port mafia is a flourishing business. One that, I understand, has thrived under your rule like never before.”
Silence trailed slowly after her words. Dazai let it lengthen like sunset shadows, and suddenly Ozaki’s office didn’t seem so welcoming, or so intriguing, with its displays of wealth and knowledge. The century-old tools in their glass cabinets gleamed sharply, light flicking off blades and needles, and the crimson velvet they rested upon looked like blood.
He breathed in steadily. “Madam,” he said, “it would be remiss of you to think that my current weakened state means I am unarmed.”
Dazai was never unarmed. Not even when he was.
“I’d like to know how you came by this information. I’ll let you decide whether you want to tell me or want me to make you tell me.”
“I wish the port mafia no harm,” Ozaki replied. Her smile was still as polite as ever, though perhaps less amused. “Or you. I am… acquainted with the doctor you usually visit. I contacted Yosano-sensei as soon as you arrived here to facilitate your recovery process.”
“And she just told you who I was,” Dazai murmured. “Just like that, mmh?”
Ozaki’s voice turned indulgent. “Of course not. But I trust her, and she trusts me to take care of you.”
Dazai’s fingers itched. He was of half a mind to leave the office now, to rejoin with Oda and order his extraction from the hospital while he thought up a way to make sure Ozaki never spilled a word of what she knew.
It hurt him in a strange way that his mind immediately fashioned a way to use Chuuya to blackmail her.
Rubbing his thumbs together, looking through the curtained window at the back of Ozaki’s desk, Dazai chased the ache away.
Ozaki sighed. Dazai looked back at her immediately, and for the first time, her face broke out of its well-mannered poise. “I didn’t bring you here to antagonize you, Dazai-san,” she said. She aborted a gesture toward one of the pens lined in front of her when she saw him tense reflexively. “I was hoping to talk business, that’s all.”
“In what way?”
“In the only way we do business here. By offering to take care of your wounded when you need it, in complete confidentiality, in exchange for your protection and patronage.”
Dazai didn’t answer.
“I understand that as your organization grows, Yosano-sensei finds herself with her hands full much of the time,” Ozaki continued levelly. “And sometimes at risk herself. Your numbers were in the dozens at the time of your predecessor’s death. Now they are in the hundreds.”
“There are places closer to Yokohama that we can go to.”
“Places like this one?”
Dazai bit the inside of his cheek.
Of course there wasn’t. He had seen his fair share of shady clinics and underground doctors in the past twenty years, had been all but raised by one, but he had never before seen anything like what Ozaki had built for herself.
A fully-equipped, proper hospital, with a discreet and thoroughly-selected staff of doctors and nurses, so necessary to its ecosystem that the police dared not touch it. Able to function with regular patients and criminals alike without it ever becoming a problem. A hospital where no one questioned his need for bodyguards and weapons—where mothers had no qualms giving birth to their children and trusted those children to be safe.
He couldn’t wrap his mind around it at all. He hadn’t been able to, not since pointing a gun at the face of his doctor and being met with unflinching blue eyes.
“I should prefer to keep Yosano as my personal physician,” he said at last. “No offense to your lovely staff.”
Ozaki smiled thinly. “None taken.”
“As much as I admire the work you’ve done here, we are still an hour from Yokohama. There are disadvantages to being so far from home.”
“This is understandable,” Ozaki replied with a nod. “But I’m not hoping for an influx of patients so much as a partnership of sorts.”
Ozaki’s fingers trailed over the shiny surface of her desk lightly. She seemed thoughtful. “As I’m sure you’re aware, we have various understandings with local criminal groups. This place is a neutral zone. Somewhere their wounded have to strip themselves of loyalties and rivalries to enter. We cannot risk seeing fights explode in the hallways, and I take special care to keep members of warring organizations away from each other when they happen to land here together. But,” and here she looked up, meeting Dazai’s gaze once more, “I cannot always know everything that goes on with every group. I can’t keep watch over every hallway and room. And my staff is stretched thin enough as it is doing their job—they can’t watch everyone either.”
It made sense.
“So,” Dazai said, “what you want is help.”
Ozaki nodded. “The port mafia does no business here. At least none that I know of. I would gladly take in the patients that Yosano and your other doctors can’t deal with, free of charge, in exchange for members of your group to assist with keeping the peace. You would play a neutral party of sort. Keep things flowing smoothly, give my staff a less grievous schedule.”
All of it sounded awfully tempting. Awfully convenient. Dazai had too much experience with convenient offers to accept them at face value, no matter how simple it would be to lend some of his people to Ozaki and procure himself another place to make sure his subordinates stayed alive.
“There’s more to this than you’re telling me,” he said, as unassumingly as possible. “You’ve only heard of me. You’ve never done business with my organization. You’ve been running this place for longer than I’ve been running mine, I’m sure—why not strike this sort of deal before? Why now?”
There was no hesitation at all to Ozaki’s answer. “I would’ve rather cut off my own head than struck a deal with Mori Ougai.”
Dazai stared at her.
It was only a few minutes later, after Akutagawa joined them looking angrier than usual and devoid of his weirdly charming blush, that Dazai let himself relax fully. The details of what Ozaki wanted and what he was so far willing to offer her floated lightly through his head, a heady mix of familiar satisfaction—from a job well done, from conversing with someone he could not help but respect, from knowing that this was the sort of work he had sworn he would dedicate his life to when he had ripped the scalpel out of Mori’s hand to slit his throat with it. The sort of work Oda would approve of. The sort of work that kept him away from wanting to end it all, and his own life with it.
“Thank you,” Ozaki said, bending over her desk to shake his hand. Her grip was comfortably firm. “This is relieving, not just for the benefits of this hospital. I’ve wanted to get Chuuya back on day shift for months now, I’m sure he’ll be delighted to get reasonable working hours again.”
“Chuuya doesn’t strike me as someone who enjoys being idle,” Dazai replied, taking back his hand. “Won’t he just find a way to overwork himself anyway?”
There was no doubt at all that Ozaki’s smile was approving this time.
“Not if he finds something to occupy himself with outside of work again,” she said. “Or someone.”
Sasaki Nobuko was a very beautiful woman. Hers was a grace different from Ozaki’s or Chuuya’s; instead of regally handsome, of a feast for starved eyes, she was deceptively subdued. Willfully discreet. Yet every other glance Dazai gave her revealed another impossibly perfect symmetry to her face, another strand of her hair falling too nicely around her neck and shoulders. She was thin and demure, and in truth, absolutely none of it.
She was also a psychiatrist.
“I’m starting to believe this place hires based on looks,” Dazai told her, chin in hand over the flat of a table, looking straight into her knowing eyes. “Too many beautiful people under one roof. How many of your patients take you for a soulmate, I wonder? Your referral rate must be high.”
Sasaki smiled at him, unfazed. “Attachment like this often happens after some time spent in therapy. I usually don’t work with my patients long enough to let it settle and grow, Tanaka-san.”
“I’m sure you prefer it that way.”
Dazai knew himself enough to admit that if he had not met Chuuya first, he may have let this woman occupy his thoughts instead.
He had never felt more glad to have met Chuuya.
“Our psychiatric ward is an emergency one,” Sasaki went on, handing him a pamphlet he took without giving it a glance. “Patients generally don’t stay there for longer than a few days, until they come out of their crisis or we can refer them to a better facility.”
“Is that what you want to do with me?” Dazai asked amiably. “Refer me to a more permanent psych ward?”
“Nothing so drastic. I’m just here to discuss anything you’d like to tell me.”
Dazai used the pamphlet to fan himself and stared at her, still smiling. It didn’t make Sasaki falter for even a second.
“Nakahara-sensei said you’ve been experiencing some stress in light of your assault,” she said. “I’d like to hear your thoughts about this.”
“I thought you were here to tell me if he’s right or wrong.”
Sasaki’s pleasant expression was as unwavering as a rock. “Have you ever seen a therapist before, Tanaka-san?”
“Nope,” Dazai replied. “Though I’m sure many would’ve had a field day with me. I must be a case study by now.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Just a hunch.”
Sasaki wasn’t holding a pen or piece of paper. There were files on each of her shelves and piled upon her desk, tidy, with names written in neat script. In the ten minutes Dazai had been here, though, he hadn’t seen her take a single note.
Some part of him felt a vicious sort of satisfaction at that. He didn’t want to give her reason to write anything down, whether for others to read or for her pretty eyes only.
“How much longer am I supposed to be here?” he asked. “Fifty minutes? Twenty?”
“You don’t need to worry. This can take as long as needed.”
“I’m not worried, I just don’t want to waste your time.”
“I’m curious as to why you would think my time with you is a waste,” Sasaki retorted, implacable in her sincerity. “This is my job.”
“And I’m sure you do it wonderfully,” Dazai said. “But I don’t have anything I wish to discuss. Aside from the bullet wound, I’m in perfect health. I’ve never wanted to see a therapist before, and I don’t want to see one now. Nakahara-sensei made this decision entirely without my input.”
Sasaki replied, “Very well, then. You can go if you want to.”
Dazai’s surprise came with an ache in his forehead. He didn’t move from his seat, watching Sasaki’s face for sign of humor or ill intent. She let him at it placatingly.
“You’re serious,” he said at last, once he was reasonably sure that she wasn’t going to reveal any clause or condition to make him stay.
“Of course,” she replied. “If you feel that this is enough for now, then go ahead.”
“Enough of what?” Dazai squeezed his own chin a little too tightly. A little too suddenly. “I haven’t said anything.”
“And you don’t have to.”
“You’re not even a little bit curious?”
Sasaki seemed to think on her answer for a second or two, lips curved into a small smile and eyes warm and welcoming. Dazai hadn’t felt so thrown out of his game since—well. Since the night before.
“I think you’re mistaken about what this appointment is supposed to entail,” she said eventually. “I’m not here out of morbid curiosity, or to diagnose you. This session is for you to talk about whatever you want. If you don’t want to talk about anything, then there’s no point in forcing you to stay.”
“There’s no point in forcing me to do anything,” Dazai replied mechanically. “No one forces me to do anything.”
Sasaki’s expression didn’t change an iota, and yet Dazai felt, somehow, that she didn’t believe his words at all.
He straightened up in his seat, letting his arm fall back onto the table they were seated at. For once his confusion was enough to mask the twinge of pain that his shoulder gave at the movement; and Dazai, when confused, only knew of one way to deal.
“I assume you’re aware of who I am,” he said.
Sasaki’s hand touched the top of the folder wearing his name—his fake name—but didn’t open it. “I know that you’re a patient here. I know that someone attempted to murder you by shooting and poisoning you.” She tapped the folder lightly. “It’s all in here.”
“So Ozaki-sensei didn’t tell you anything?”
“What do you expect she should tell me?” Sasaki raised a delicate eyebrow.
“That I’m a criminal, and that I lead an organization of criminals,” Dazai replied bluntly. “She should’ve told you. For your safety if nothing else. You can never know a man’s limits once he’s already killed—and I have killed many.”
To her credit, Sasaki didn’t even blink. She didn’t tense or recoil. Her body language stayed open, welcoming, as if he had only told her that he liked whiskey better than wine.
“Is your organization the reason you’re so eager to be discharged tomorrow?” she asked. “It’s my understanding that Nakahara-sensei would like to keep you here for a few more days, but that you refused. It puts your recovery at risk, but it’s understandable, if you’re worried about your colleagues.”
“That’s—my recovery?” Dazai stared at her, for once at a loss for words. “I just told you I’ve killed people.”
“You’re not the first murderer I’ve talked to.”
Dazai had long stopped caring about people calling him a murderer. Everyone in his line of work was either one or close enough for the limit not to matter. Assault, battery, shootings were too commonplace for the port mafia. It was impossible for him to know just how many people had died by his hands, because he had not very often stayed to make sure his enemies were down for good.
He had people to handle that for him. He had people to taste his food for him, people to carry his messages, people to put bullets through the heads of the wounded he left behind.
Dazai wasn’t ashamed of being a murderer, though he did not revel in killing. But in front of Sasaki’s stark neutrality, of her carefully-cultivated lack of judgment, he suddenly felt ashamed of not being ashamed.
“Aren’t you supposed to give me up to the police or something?” he asked, dumbfounded.
“The rules here are a little looser,” Sasaki replied. “Though, of course, I’d have to take action if you told me you were planning to hurt someone on hospital grounds.”
“No such plans,” Dazai muttered. He added, “And you’re still not curious. At all.”
“I told you I’m not here to force you into talking. Whether I’m curious or not is irrelevant.”
Her composure reminded him of steel, down to the gleam of her sleek hair and the absurd perfection of her features. Sasaki hadn’t raised her voice once in the minutes they had been here. She hadn’t let her expectation turn to surprise, let alone shock. She had mildness down to an art form—and, Dazai supposed, to a whole profession.
And Dazai’s perhaps greatest flaw was that he had yet to meet something immovable that he didn’t desperately want to make twitch.
Dazai’s room was quiet and shadowed. He couldn’t see the windows from this angle, with his neck turned aside on the pillow and grogginess making his awareness a blur. He blinked gently, easing his eyesight into focus until Oda was more to him than just a silhouette; the man was sitting in the chair Akutagawa had occupied in the morning, the same book open in his lap, Dazai’s bedside lamp lighting it mutedly.
Dazai groaned. His mouth was about as dry as his back was sticky, and the feeling was not welcome. He raised a hand to his face slowly, rubbing his eyes free of sleep and discreetly checking for dried saliva anywhere near his mouth.
“Did I just nap,” he muttered into his palm. He still felt too out of it to decipher how he felt about that, but napping wasn’t in his habits. He disliked sleeping in general.
“I’d say,” Oda replied, looking up from his reading. “You kind of just passed out as soon as you got back from your appointment.”
“Four hours. Give or take.”
Dazai’s hand froze over his chin. “What?”
“I wasn’t really paying attention to the clock,” Oda said with a shrug. “Akutagawa’s standing guard outside the room, by the way.”
Dazai gave a vague gesture to acknowledge the information, hoping whatever he meant by it was understood by his friend. The good thing with Oda was that he always seemed to know, or at least take in stride, whatever Dazai meant. Be it awkward hand waves or rapid-fire speech.
“Why didn’t you wake me up?” he asked, once he was reasonably sure his voice wouldn’t be so raspy anymore. He was parched.
“You looked like you needed it. Nakahara came by while you were out of it, he said that stuff can happen after therapy and I should just let you at it. You can go to the nurses’ office and ask for dinner if you want, they kept it for you.”
Dazai frowned. “I didn’t have therapy,” he said.
Oda raised an eyebrow. “You were with that woman for two hours,” he pointed out. “What were you doing?”
Dazai stopped mid-sentence.
He couldn’t have stayed with Sasaki for two hours. Sasaki had been just as composed and attentive when he had given up on trying to rile her up as she had been when he entered her office; no one could talk to him for that long, not with what he had told her, and not ended up scared for their life.
Frowning, Dazai searched his hazy mind for what exactly he had said to her. He remembered switching the topic to torture and extortion after understanding that relating the murders that had most marked him wasn’t doing much to faze Sasaki. He recalled going in as many details as he could about his techniques of the time, about who had taught them to him and who had drugged him up on the nights he couldn’t sleep because his head was as an echo chamber, replaying sobs and screams over and over until he thought he should bang his forehead against walls to make them shut the fuck up—
He had told her about Mori. He had talked to her about his fear as a child and his disgust as an adult, about what exactly had prompted him to kill his mentor five years ago. He had looked into her eyes and told her about the regular reports he got on one little girl, not so little now, that he had been the one to accompany home that day with Mori’s blood still dripping from his fingers.
Sasaki had said nothing. She had offered no judgment. She had asked questions whenever his flow of words had seemed to stop, and Dazai had looked at her and had to make himself remember why he was even there.
“I had therapy,” he said dazedly.
Oda gave a faint hum of sympathy.
“This place is cursed,” he declared. “Absolutely cursed.”
“You didn’t look like a cursed man this morning.”
“Chuuya’s the exception.” Dazai breathed in sharply and sat up in the bed, wincing at the ache in his side. “What time is it?”
“Twenty past eleven, I think.”
Chuuya took his break at eleven.
Dazai threw the blanket off his legs and tried to stand up, only to fall back onto the mattress with a grunt. He pressed a hand to his side, hunched over himself.
“Easy,” Oda said. The sound of his book hitting the top of the bedside cabinet rang through the silence, only muffled by Dazai’s sudden panting. “Nakahara said to take your painkillers as soon as you woke up. Don’t be so rash.”
“I don’t have time for—”
Dazai’s words died once more as he met Oda’s eyes. They were kind, a little amused, yet worried in a way Dazai rarely saw. The last time had been when he and Oda got separated in the shootout that brought him here in the first place.
He must truly look like hell.
“Just take the pills, Dazai,” Oda said gently. “You can go make a fool of yourself after that.”
“You and Gin have so little faith in me,” Dazai tried valiantly.
Oda rolled his eyes and went to fetch him a glass of water.
It seemed the throbbing ache from the bullet wound was only due to Dazai moving too quickly, thankfully. He swallowed the two pills Oda handed him with ice-cold water, waited a moment for his breathing to settle, and walked out of the room.
Akutagawa was sitting outside the door. A look at the relaxed line of his shoulders was enough to tell Dazai that he had fallen asleep, probably because he had refused to rest while Dazai himself was out.
Dazai walked away with silent steps. He only allowed his crutch to touch the ground once he was inside the elevator at the end of the hallway, and rested his back against the metal wall as it began its descent. One side of it was covered with a mirror, and he spared a second for his reflection; his hair was a mess, his shirt was rumpled and the skin of his left cheek still a little creased from pressing onto the sheets, but overall, he didn’t look any worse than he had since coming here.
He might even look a little better, he thought. It couldn’t hurt his chances.
As he had expected, Chuuya was long gone from the staff room near the maternity. The walls of this floor still echoed with the cries of newborns. If he were to listen to himself, Dazai would spend another minute here to listen to them. He didn’t know why the sound soothed him so, or why the sight of tired mothers holding their children made him feel like someone had taken hold of his ribcage and squeezed it close.
The wide lobby of the ground floor was almost entirely empty. Only two men were around, sitting behind counters and waiting for phone calls or emergency arrivals. Dazai hopped his way to the waiting room, between dozing men and women waiting for their turn to be called in, and made his way out of a staff-only exit.
He was hit immediately by the cool night air. Taking a moment to inhale it, to let it flow through him and appease the ever-ache of his back and side made him realize that he hadn’t stepped foot outside in the last two days at all. The hospital was such that it felt like a maze, a building much grander than its true size. Dazai walked along the side of it, smiling when the familiar scent of Chuuya’s brand of cigarettes hit his nostrils, letting it guide him to where the man himself stood.
It was no surprise at all to find that night shadows suited Chuuya’s being as well as daylight. Dazai had had the privilege of experiencing the sight the night previous, though inside a room; now Chuuya stood only shrouded in it, the lights of the entrance too far to properly reach him but still present around him like a halo of sorts. When Chuuya turned his head to look at him, Dazai couldn’t help but smile.
There was a moment of silence. Chuuya exhaled white smoke into the night air, his half-consumed cigarette held aloft between two fingers in front of him.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said at last.
His voice was soft enough that not a word seemed to break the quiet.
“I like being in places I shouldn’t,” Dazai replied, walking closer.
Chuuya gave a close-mouthed laugh. “I don’t know why I was hoping you’d sleep through the night. Apparently your only goal in life is to bother me.”
“I have been a very good boy today,” Dazai replied, his free hand resting over his chest in mock-indignation. “I even went to therapy, just as you ordered.”
Dazai was close enough to him now to witness the lack of anger on Chuuya’s face. If anything he seemed glad, perhaps proud, either of Dazai himself or of his ability to make Dazai concede.
“Do you feel better?” Chuuya asked, looking away from him and toward the cars parked in front of the building. “Sasaki’s good at what she does. Especially with patients who think they know better than her.”
“It was utterly horrible,” Dazai lied. “Seems I’ve got another doctor to file a complaint about.”
“Go ahead and try, asshole.”
Dazai hesitated for a second before leaning against the wall next to him. He didn’t know whether Chuuya would push him away, or walk away himself. He could still hear every justified reproach that the man had addressed to him the night before as if they were being said now.
Chuuya didn’t move, however, not even when Dazai’s arm brushed his own. He brought the cigarette to his lips once more. Sucked in more of the smoke. Made the ember glow a brighter orange in the dark of the lot, enough to bring his features to light softly.
God, he was gorgeous.
“I don’t know if I feel better,” Dazai found himself saying, eyes transfixed by the warmth lining Chuuya’s profile. “I don’t know if I had anything to feel better about.”
“That’s fine,” Chuuya replied. He flicked ashes away with the nail of his index finger. “I’m sure she gave you enough to think about for now. Did you eat dinner?”
“Not yet. I didn’t want to miss your break.”
“I am over the moon, as you can see.”
Dazai chuckled lightly.
“Where are your bodyguards?” Chuuya asked a moment later.
“Resting,” Dazai replied. “I can afford ten minutes in your company alone, sensei.”
“You really don’t let up, do you.”
“Do you honestly want me to?”
Dazai hadn’t meant to ask that. He regretted the words as soon as they left his lips, a feeling not unlike the one that struck him each time he walked by the maternity gripping him by the chest at the thought of what Chuuya might answer.
But Chuuya let the stub of his cigarette fall to the ground, looking down so that his untied hair hid most of his face as he replied, “It’s fine,” hesitantly.
He crushed the stub under his foot. Dazai remembered, with sudden clarity, seeing him do the exact same thing as he had come in two night ago, delirious with fever and pain but still hearing Chuuya order for help as he was dragged inside by Gin and Higuchi.
Chuuya was that sort of person. The kind to come back in after his shift was over and pull a bullet out of a man who had threatened and belittled him; the kind to spend hours unpaid trying to figure out what poison Dostoyevsky had tried to kill Dazai with; the kind to sit by an abused young man’s bed and keep him company for weeks on end.
“Chuuya,” Dazai murmured, “what is this place to you?”
Chuuya had straightened up again, the lack of light hiding the flush no doubt marring his complexion. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“It can’t just be your bond with Ozaki.” Chuuya didn’t question Dazai on how he knew about it, didn’t say anything at all, and so Dazai continued: “I meant what I said this morning. Your patients love you. Everyone here respects and values you, professionally and personally. You work too hard for too little, you care about your colleagues and patients—you seem to dedicate more of yourself to this hospital than I’ve seen many people do to criminal organizations they are linked to by lineage.”
“I just do my job,” Chuuya replied lowly. His shoulders had tensed next to Dazai’s, enough for Dazai to feel it through the inch of space between them.
“No,” Dazai retorted. “You really don’t.”
Chuuya crossed one arm over his chest, palm pressed tightly to the soft flesh right above his elbow, as if to warn off cold. This night didn’t warrant the gesture; Dazai had only shivered upon leaving the building because he had soaked up the stifling warmth inside, and now he felt at ease with only a shirt on him, with his sleeves rolled up and his neck exposed. And Chuuya was still wearing his white coat.
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” Dazai said, looking away from him, guts tense for no reason that he could make sense of.
“It’s fine,” Chuuya replied. His tone spoke of automatism more than honesty, but maybe the two weren’t oxymoron, not for him. He sighed and continued, “I don’t know how to answer is all. Me and Kouyou… It’s all a long story. Suffice to say that this hospital is her dream. Was her dream all along.”
“And you want to protect that.”
“I was there with her from the start. I think—” Chuuya interrupted himself for a second. “I think,” he said, slower, “maybe it became my dream too, in a way. All I know is that she’s suffered too fucking much to make it a reality. She had to work herself half to death to make it to where she is. What kind of person would I be if I half-assed it now? If I didn’t prove to her that I’ll keep this place running no matter what?”
Ozaki’s only demand from Dazai that morning had been for protection. She wished for no money, no favor other than to borrow his staff. She hadn’t tried to blackmail him with information—had freely offered her own source, knowing that Dazai trusted Yosano more than he should and that he would be able to sense a lie were she to deceive him.
A former underground doctor, Higuchi had said. Dazai looked up at the stars above, blurred as they were by the polluted light of the city, and thought of how Yosano looked every time she couldn’t do her job, every time a patient slipped from her ability to heal them. Every time she had to be reminded once more that the only reason she was working that way was because she knew that not one of them could afford to be healed in any other.
It wasn’t hard to guess what had driven Ozaki to want to build the haven that she had. It wasn’t hard at all to imagine Chuuya following her every step of the way, out of respect for their friendship, out of his own will and stubbornness.
“I think I’m in love with you,” Dazai declared.
Chuuya’s choked inhale tore a smile out of him, made him want to laugh despite the anxiety now knotted down his throat. Chuuya had moved at his words, startled out of his easy slouch against the wall, and Dazai felt air rush where their shoulders had been so close before. He allowed Chuuya a moment to compose himself before looking down from the night sky and taking in his face.
His eyes had long attuned to the dark around them. Chuuya’s furious blush was as obvious to him as if he were standing under the sun.
“Stop fucking with me,” Chuuya snapped.
“I’m not,” Dazai replied.
But it seemed he could not find his words. Dazai knew that Chuuya wasn’t someone to run away from confrontation, however, and had to work at masking his glee when the man chose movement over speech to convey his frustration. He leaned agreeably against the building’s façade when Chuuya crossed the distance between them, welcomed the ache of Chuuya’s finger digging into his sternum as he welcomed meeting his eyes.
After a moment of struggle, of forcing blood back down his body and mastering his breathing, Chuuya said, “Don’t think I can’t tell what you’re playing at.”
“What am I playing at?” Dazai questioned with a smile.
Chuuya shivered visibly.
“I told you what I thought of you yesterday.” Dazai didn’t break the silence that followed, focused on watching every tremor of Chuuya’s face, every minute press of his finger to Dazai’s skin. He wasn’t wearing gloves. “I shouldn’t—I knew I gave you false hope with—I’m not gonna fall for that. I’m not.”
“I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“You’re as fucking dishonest as they come!”
His shout traveled the empty parking lot, so silent around them that Dazai thought he might be able to hear its echo in a second.
“You’ve known me for two days,” he went on hotly. “Two days, Dazai. I know you want to fuck me, I got the message, all right? But you’re not in love with me. And you better stop that emotional manipulation bullshit you’re trying to pull, because I know emotional manipulation, and I’ve my share of it for the rest of my life.”
Chuuya took in a deep breath.
“I know how that shit ends,” he said, pulling back his finger. Dazai felt bruised anyway, right in the middle of his chest. “I’m not falling for it a second time.”
Dazai watched him build himself back up in silence. Chuuya barely seemed aware that he was still standing only a foot away, every one of his exhales so sharp that Dazai could feel it like a burst of warm wind.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last. “You did tell me.”
“Yeah,” Chuuya let out.
He seemed infinitely more tired now than Dazai had ever seen him.
“However,” Dazai continued, and Chuuya’s eyes rising to meet his once more were like a spark down his spine, like all the energy he needed to push himself off of the wall and erase more of the distance between them, “I promise I’m not lying to you. I’m to blame for many things, Chuuya, probably more than you can ever imagine, but not for this.”
Chuuya didn’t look like he was breathing anymore. Dazai hardly felt that he was either, with the way his heart shook in his chest.
“In a way, you’re so much like this place,” Dazai said fondly. He clenched his left hand into a fist before loosening it, and watched attentively for Chuuya’s reaction as he lifted it to the side of the man’s face. “I was terribly angry when I was brought here, but now I don’t even want to leave. I wonder how my subordinates would feel if I told them the truth. They’d probably think someone killed me and decided to wear my skin.”
Chuuya’s cheek erupted with shivers the moment Dazai touched it, and Dazai felt each individual goosebump under the pad of his index.
“There’s so much more I want to know about you,” he breathed, “you have no idea.”
“Fuck you,” Chuuya replied with hardly any voice, all of his face reddening once more.
Dazai grinned. “I wish you would.”
He saw Chuuya realize what he was about to do right as he realized it himself. He leaned forward feeling like a child in an adult’s clothing, like something of the teenager he could have been if only his life hadn’t taken the turn it did, heart aflutter and breath entirely caught. And Chuuya tensed without moving away. His eyes didn’t blink at all, not even when they moved from Dazai’s own to look at his lips until they couldn’t anymore. One finger on his cheek became two, became the whole of Dazai’s palm framing the side of Chuuya’s face and slowly tangling into his hair.
Dazai was almost too lost to the kiss-to-be to notice it at all, what with feeling Chuuya’s breath over his mouth and the brush of a hand against his uninjured ribs, but one of his many curses was that he always, always noticed.
Muted footsteps. An intake of air through the empty parking lot. The absolutely unmistakable click of a weapon being raised in the darkness, the cold running down his spine like liquid as he was aimed at.
He grabbed Chuuya by the arm pulled him sideways, shoving himself after him as quickly as he could with Chuuya’s surprise hindering their movements.
The sound of his crutch hitting the pavement was enough to muffle the shot, taken through a silencer, but not the impact of the bullet into the wall they had been standing in front of.
“What the fuck—”
Chuuya had growled it at the hole inside the wall, faster to get back to his feet than Dazai would’ve given him credit for. It was starting to become a pattern.
Dazai didn’t let his thoughts linger on that for too long as he slid his gun out of the back of his belt and pointed it at Dostoyevsky’s emerging silhouette. Dostoyevsky’s own gun was still held high, the mouth of it steaming lightly.
“My apologies for interrupting such a moment,” he said. “I would’ve taken you out while you were taking a shit, but your dogs are diligent.”
“Apparently not diligent enough,” Dazai replied, smiling tersely.
Dostoyevsky raised an eyebrow, reminding him without words that he was the one stupid enough to walk out without them.
Dazai was too busy worrying for Chuuya to feel much embarrassment, however. The doctor had stopped inspecting the wall and turned around to stare at Dostoyevsky instead, and the proximity of his body next to Dazai’s was both a blessing and a curse.
More of a curse than a blessing, if Dostoyevsky had been here long enough to see just how much Dazai cared.
“Is that the guy who shot you the first time?” Chuuya asked softly.
Much like the time Dazai had been the one pointing a gun at him, he seemed more angry than scared. Dazai nodded and replied, “You should go back inside.”
“Ah,” Dostoyevsky said evenly, “I don’t think so.”
His gun veered slightly to the left. Right toward where Chuuya stood.
“You don’t want to do that,” Chuuya warned.
“Fyodor,” Dazai cut in, tension so tight over his shoulders that all of him seemed to ache at once, the pain piercing sharper through the cut in his back and the hole in his side. “Let’s not involve passersby in this. Chuuya’s not part of the port mafia.”
“Anyone you bed is good enough game for me,” Dostoyevsky replied, bored.
“I haven’t even bedded him yet,” Dazai complained.
Chuuya clicked his tongue in annoyance.
Dazai tightened his grip on the gun. Pain was starting to tire him out, and his palm was sweaty with it now, threatening to make his hold falter. “Are you here alone?” he asked. “I’m flattered.”
“I didn’t think I needed the cavalry, considering how nicely I got you last time.”
Chuuya’s stance was shifting slowly. There was something vaguely familiar about it that Dazai couldn’t place at all through the fear gripping him, something that reminded him, weirdly enough, of Gin. He had to shake himself out of it to focus on the situation at hand.
“There’s two of us and one of you,” Dazai tried again.
“An injured man and a civilian doctor,” Dostoyevsky replied. “Forgive me if I don’t feel very threatened.”
“Four if you count my friends upstairs—”
“I think it’s time to end this.”
Dazai was only breathing in increments now. Dostoyevsky stepped toward them leisurely, his eyes on Dazai but his gun on Chuuya.
“Two years of feud,” he murmured in what must be his equivalent of happiness. It mostly sounded creepy. “I think I might miss you.”
“Talk it out over a drink? My treat.”
“Dazai Osamu,” Dostoyevsky sighed fondly. The click of his gun’s safety seemed to crack through the silence like thunder. “A funny man to the end.”
Dazai took the shot.
It didn’t hit the mark, of course. Dostoyevsky was a slippery man, sickly in appearance and always speaking softly, as if afraid to wake nearby monsters. But he was quick on his feet. Blessed with excellent reflexes and the mind to match them.
His own shot, much quieter, was almost drowned out by Dazai’s fast panting. By some kind of miracle Chuuya managed to avoid it, and Dazai was too slowed by relief to aim again. He was staring down the silencer of Dostoyevsky’s gun before he could understand it, and for the second time in as many days, readying himself for death.
Except he didn’t die.
Chuuya’s foot swept his off the ground from behind. In his tumble to the asphalt Dazai only had time to let out a grunt of pain, the breath knocked cleanly out of him by the impact on his still-healing wound. For a second he saw nothing but white, felt nothing but agony.
When he managed to blink the fog away, Chuuya was gone from his side.
He didn’t immediately make sense of what he was seeing. Neither did Dostoyevsky, judging by the way he was staring at Chuuya’s body quite literally ramming into his. It took Chuuya expertly avoiding a jab at his throat and kicking Dostoyevsky in the soft of his belly for Dazai to understand why he had thought of Gin while Chuuya was bending his knees in preparation for combat.
Dazai’s lungs stayed still for as long as the fist-fight in front of him lasted. Even long attuned to the dark around them, even used to witnessing spars and participating in them, he had a hard time following everything that went on. Dostoyevsky’s all-black clothes contrasted sharply against Chuuya’s white coat. Their movements were a blur, their hits and grunts deafened by the blood beating against Dazai’s ears. He thought he saw Chuuya land a punch in Dostoyevsky’s plexus; he wheezed up a breath at the sight of Dostoyevsky’s gun getting kicked out of his hands, only to be replaced by an oddly-gleaming blade—the blade that had cut a line between Dazai’s spine and shoulder blade and suffused poison through his veins.
He almost shouted a warning when the knife tried to cut at Chuuya’s throat. It didn’t have time to leave his lips before Chuuya grabbed Dostoyevsky’s bruised wrist and broke it against his knee, the crack of bone echoing through Dazai’s own body like winter chill.
Chuuya pinned Dostoyevsky to the ground face-first, one knee pressed against his spine with what seemed to be all of his weight, and his forehead was slick with sweat, his eyes alight with adrenaline.
“You’re not putting another bullet into my patient,” he panted. “Fucker.”
Chuuya grabbed the gun with his free hand and smashed it against the back of Dostoyevsky’s head, knocking the words out of his mouth.
Dostoyevsky’s unconscious body stilled against the ground.
Dazai didn’t immediately move. He watched Chuuya gather his breath and stand on his feet once more, looking infinitely taller, infinitely more solid than he was. One of his hands was in his hair, pushing it away from his damp face, his features awash with moonlight.
Slowly, he pushed himself onto his knees. Rising from the ground made his side shake with pain for another second, and Dazai touched the area around his stitches carefully, checking for wet blood on his clothes. He didn’t find any.
He limped his way to Chuuya slowly, not quite daring to look away from Dostoyevsky’s prone form. Chuuya turned around to face him.
“You’re, uh,” Dazai said dumbly.
“Are you okay?” Chuuya asked, dismissing the unconscious man at his feet entirely to give Dazai a once-over.
Dazai’s face burned.
“I’m fine,” he managed.
He should be the one asking if Chuuya was okay. He should be checking for blood, for a sign that Dostoyevsky’s knife had managed to cut Chuuya as it had him two days ago—Chuuya probably didn’t have a built immunity to poison—he should be looking somewhere else, away from Chuuya’s face, should be focusing on something other than the hurried pace of his heartbeat making his entire body pulse.
Chuuya’s breathing was almost back to normal now. At Dazai’s answer, he let it out in one go, as if to expel all the energy out of himself. His cheeks dimpled into the same smile he had offered the night before.
This was, Dazai thought faintly, an entirely different kind of near-death experience.
“You’re—really good at hand to hand,” he said.
Chuuya snorted. “I was Kouyou’s bodyguard back in the day,” he replied, crouching down once more to retrieve the gun and knife from the ground. He made sure not to touch the blade as he took a plastic bag out of his wide coat pocket and slid it inside, sealing it carefully. “I don’t fight that often anymore, but it’s always good to keep training.”
Dazai had nothing to say to that.
“I’ll get Odasaku to take care of him,” he forced out, glancing at Dostoyevsky again. His nose seemed to be broken, and it had bled onto the ground he was crushed against, staining most of his face. “If you can just…”
Chuuya nodded. “I’ll lock him up in one of the free rooms,” he said. “You should go back upstairs and get some rest. Talk to the nurses about eating something as well, I don’t want you fainting on the way to your room.”
And suddenly, the moment broke.
Chuuya must have remembered what they had been interrupted in the middle of just as acutely as Dazai did. His face warmed with more than just exertion, and his eyes flickered to the side hurriedly.
He took a settling breath and said, “Dazai.”
“Thank you,” Dazai cut in before he had to hear the rest.
Chuuya frowned at him.
“For saving my life,” he explained. “Again.”
Dazai knew what Chuuya would say now. The knowledge filled him with a bitteress much closer to respect than actual sorrow, and he smiled through all of it.
“You’re my patient,” Chuuya muttered. “That’s all.”
As he bent down to hook Dostoyevsky’s broken arm over his shoulder and started dragging him toward the main entrance of the hospital, Dazai thought, I really am in love with you.
“You’re good to go?” Oda asked from the entrance of the tiny bathroom.
Dazai finished the knot of his tie quickly, checking himself in the mirror. Aside from a scrape on his cheek from falling onto pavement the night before, he looked, frankly, better than he had in months. Oda had already commented on the lack of bags under his eyes, and Dazai was noticing it now under the yellow light sat above the sink mirror. He looked less like he was about to drop dead walking.
He startled when Oda touched the bruised cut on his cheekbone. He hadn’t heard him come in.
“You’re lucky your crush turned out to be some kind of super martial artist,” he said, taking back his hand. “How do these things always happen to you? You should be dead twenty times over.”
“I’ll never die,” Dazai replied primly.
“Yeah, yeah. Stop admiring yourself and hurry, we have to get going.”
Dazai grabbed the case of essentials that Higuchi had bought him upon his arrival and shoved it in the bag Akutagawa was holding open for him. His attempt at a smile was promptly ignored by the other man, who nearly closed the zipper on Dazai’s fingers.
Akutagawa still hadn’t forgiven him for not waking him up, then. Truth be told, Oda probably hadn’t either. He was just better at hiding it.
“Did you get Atsushi-kun’s number?” Dazai asked lightly.
The ugly blush that instantly flooded Akutagawa’s face should be enough to distract him for now at least.
Dazai breathed in before glancing at the entrance of his room.
Chuuya was waiting there, as expected. He had been silent for the morning check-up, his gloved fingers impersonal as he made sure Dazai truly hadn’t suffered worse than some mild bruising out of Dostoyevsky’s second assault. Chuuya himself seemed perfectly fine. He didn’t have a mark to show for his fight that Dazai could see.
Dazai tried to walk out of the room, and Chuuya blocked his way by planting a foot against the door’s frame, making a barrier of his leg.
Dazai stared at Chuuya’s thigh.
“I can stay, if you’re really so desperate for my company,” he declared, looking up at the man himself.
Chuuya rolled his eyes. “Wheelchair,” he replied. “Get in it.”
“You’re not serious.”
Dazai tried to look at Oda and Akutagawa for help. Neither seemed eager to lend him a hand.
“Your lack of manners is astounding,” he sighed, making his way to the wheelchair and sitting in it with disdain writ over his face. “I’ll make sure to insist on that in my report.”
“Please do, I love a good laugh.”
They trailed out of the room one by one, Chuuya pushing Dazai’s chair, Akutagawa holding the bags, Oda checking his phone every two seconds, no doubt receiving live reports of Dostoyevsky’s whereabouts. A car had come during the night to take him away, and Dazai wanted to make sure he actually reached the port mafia’s holding cells alive.
There was no stop on the way down. Dazai spared a thought for the maternity ward as the elevator went past the third floor; he spared another for the first, where Sasaki’s office was located.
Ozaki was waiting for them at the entrance, dressed to the nines and looking absolutely serene.
“I should send a dozen people over within a few days,” Dazai told her once greetings and pleasantries were done being exchanged. “I just need to fit the teams into a schedule.”
“You have my gratitude,” she replied, bowing her head. “I look forward to working with you, Dazai-san.”
Chuuya said not a word during the whole exchange, though he stood by Ozaki’s side and watched her with a frown.
Sunlight hit Dazai’s eyes a little too brightly once he was wheeled outside the doors of the lobby. His chair shook against the aging pavement in a way that linoleum didn’t allow, until Chuuya stopped pushing him halfway toward the black car waiting for him.
Dazai gave Oda a glance. Oda held it for a long second before sighing and walking ahead, grabbing Akutagawa with him.
“So,” Dazai said, turning the chair around with a push of the wheels. “That’s it. My stay here is over.”
“Yeah,” Chuuya replied.
He was looking down on Dazai with something a little hesitant in his words and manners. Something a little closed off.
“I’m no longer your patient,” Dazai added.
Chuuya’s face twitched. “Good riddance,” he muttered half-heartedly.
Dazai hid his grin as best he could.
He took his time to remove the plastic bracelet around his left wrist. It had left creases on his skin from the night that had yet to fade; the fake name, Tanaka, was written over it in Chuuya’s very own handwriting.
Dazai slid it into his pocket when he was done. He pushed himself against the chair’s armrest until he could stand on his feet and look down on Chuuya, and Chuuya never stepped back or away, never strayed from his gaze and proximity at all.
“Will you miss me?” he couldn’t help but ask.
“Like I miss a headache.”
Dazai slid his hand against the side of Chuuya’s face and kissed him.
He felt Chuuya’s full-bodied tremor through his lips, through his smile and the chuckle caught at the back of his tongue. He didn’t do more than press their lips together in askance, eyes open and looking into Chuuya’s, ready to accept whatever answer he was given.
And Chuuya, wonderful Chuuya, met his challenge head-on.
That moment of tight expectation the night before had perhaps been too perfect for the both of them. Dazai couldn’t complain for Dostoyevsky’s interruption, not now that Chuuya was closing his eyes and tilting his head to better fit against his mouth, not with Chuuya’s hand grabbing his hip with the same measured strength he had used to heal him. Dazai let himself be taken by Chuuya’s own rhythm, happy to let him lead him wherever he wanted to. He dragged his nails through Chuuya’s soft hair when Chuuya opened his mouth to him. He hummed from deep within his chest at the taste of him on his tongue, sweet as a summer afternoon’s tea.
He took his other hand out of his pocket, a piece of paper held between two fingers, and navigated his way around Chuuya’s waist until he reached the back pockets of his pants. Coping a feel of his ass was only half of the reason he made extra sure to slide it in one.
“Bastard,” Chuuya breathed against his lips. He bit the bottom one sharply.
“That’s my number,” Dazai replied with a grin, as happy to bear Chuuya’s teeth mark as he would be to wear his name. “In case I need a follow-up.”
Chuuya’s laugh felt just as good as it sounded.
Dazai straightened up, putting enough distance between them to be able to see Chuuya’s face clearly. There was no mistaking what sort of blush he was sporting now.
“I’m going to be a little busy in the near future,” he said, still smiling. “But I can probably fit in a visit in two or three weeks.”
Chuuya watched him, inscrutable, for the longest second.
“I don’t put out on the first date,” he replied at last.
Warmth settled at Dazai’s throat almost overwhelmingly. He bent down to brush their lips together once more, giddy with Chuuya’s easy allowance of the gesture.
“Then I’ll make sure to cram in as many dates as I can in one weekend,” he murmured happily.
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