Warnings: underage drinking/alcoholism, references to child abuse.
Owe No Debt
There was only one man that Dazai had called a friend, and it wasn’t Chuuya.
Chuuya held no resentment for the fact. He hadn’t called Dazai a friend either. Regardless of the full-bodied flushes, the tingling skin, the heady power trips of those years—he hadn’t called Dazai a friend.
It didn’t matter that his days were shaped around the other’s presence. That Dazai made a habit of breaking into his home, and Chuuya Dazai’s. That electricity sparked between them with all the strength of teenage want and lit fires in Chuuya’s veins that took hours to abate.
Chuuya wasn’t Dazai’s friend. And Dazai wasn’t Chuuya’s friend.
Dazai was the hook piercing Chuuya’s belly, and the line, and the fishing pole.
Chuuya was the fish tearing open his own guts trying to swim forward in spite of it.
Chuuya didn’t make the connection between the rumored handyman Oda Sakunosuke and Dazai’s Odasaku until the man himself was standing at his front door, reeking of booze, Dazai slumped unconscious over his back.
“Who are you?” Chuuya asked, but he wasn’t looking at the stranger anymore. He was eyeing the black bruises under Dazai’s closed eye and the stains at his wrists that were weeping blood over his carrier’s once-white shirt.
“Sorry,” the man said quietly. “I’m Oda. Dazai passed out and I found this on him, so…”
He handed over a slip of paper, with some difficulty. Chuuya took it without letting his eyes leave Dazai’s unhappy slumber and opened it mechanically.
Take me there if I die, it read. Followed by the address to Chuuya’s new apartment.
“Fucking hell,” Chuuya growled, crumpling the paper in his fist. “That’s my house, you fucking bastard!”
Oda didn’t react to his outburst in any specific way. His eyes were thoughtful as he looked at Chuuya, but Chuuya had already had four years of dealing with a more powerful kind of scrutiny. “Come in,” he said, defeated, and made way for Oda inside.
Oda nodded once in thanks as he went. He bent down carefully in the entrance, so that Dazai’s head wouldn’t hit the corners of the doorframe or the ceiling—he was a very tall man. Taller than Mori, even.
Chuuya scowled, and followed in.
His apartment was a mess. He had moved in only a day before, after years of saving money and months of meticulous selection between the options available to him not too far from headquarters. It was a four-room place with wide windows and clear corners; Chuuya had only finished putting up the furniture and gotten an electrician to come and plug in various living fixtures. Most of his belongings were still spread over the dusty floor in brown boxes.
“Sorry about that,” he said, unnaturally low.
Oda set Dazai down onto the couch. Feeling a little awkward, Chuuya hurried to take the pile of books off of it so Dazai could rest his feet—though he wished the other would sleep in discomfort and wake up feeling worse than before—and, as Oda straightened up free of his burden, watched the outline of the man’s guns at his sides.
Oda caught him at it and smoothed the lapels of his jacket wordlessly.
Chuuya cleared his throat. “Do you want—something. I don’t know what I have. Tea?”
“Tea sounds good,” Oda replied, amiable enough.
Chuuya shuffled in the direction of the kitchen and had to resist the urge to look back. He busied himself with the kettle and thankfully found a box of black tea bags in the blue crate full of non-perishables sitting atop his dining table. Filling two mugs with boiling water was a matter of minutes, and he was back into the odd atmosphere of his living-room too quickly for comfort.
Oda had taken over a chair and set it next to Dazai’s head. He was looking down at him as he slept, and the expression on his face looked a lot like fondness, soft and kind and attractive.
Chuuya had never seen anyone look at Dazai like this. He hadn’t seen anyone look at anyone like this.
You have, his mind said then; and Chuuya set the mugs down onto the coffee table loudly, breaking Oda out of his contemplation and himself out of the memory of his mother.
“Kind of you not to let him rot outside,” he said, sitting on the table. He cut his own weight in half as he did, just in case. And then: “You’re the one he calls Odasaku,” he told Oda directly. “The one who refuses to kill.”
Oda looked back at him without flinching and replied, “You’re Chuuya. The other half of Double Black.”
“First name already?” Chuuya asked, smiling darkly.
Oda shrugged. “That’s how he calls you.”
The tea was still too hot to drink. Chuuya brought it to his face anyway, warming his lips on the brim of his mug and letting steam dampen his nose. The day had been ice-cold, humid to the bone, and walking had felt like swimming. Chuuya had only had to go out once to take care of groceries—he had taken a day off to move out of the suite he had occupied since he was fourteen. His throat had the first itch of true ache in it, and for a moment he contemplated pouring honey into his tea, despite how childish that would make him look.
His eyes shifted back to Dazai before he could help it. Dazai’s arm was dangling toward the floor, bandages stained and almost undone. Chuuya leaned over the table to reach it with his hand and lift it back onto Dazai’s lap. He felt himself sink heavier onto the table as soon as his skin touched Dazai’s, but right now, he didn’t care.
Oda was looking at him with kind eyes when he straightened up. Chuuya didn’t bother explaining himself for it.
“He’s tired,” Oda said into the silence.
“We all are.”
“It only took him two drinks to be done. I think he was drunk before we even met at the bar.”
Chuuya knew. Dazai and himself had taken to drinking in different ways and as many others in the mafia did; but they were young, the youngest to achieve this level of notoriety; Dazai had become an executive in four years as he had promised on the day they met and Chuuya was at the head of his own team, mostly aimed for negotiation work and recruiting, like Kouyou had before him. The brunt of his strength rarely came to use more than once a month. For a year now Chuuya lived through days when he didn’t need to hide his forearms from the world, because the bruises were so faint as to be unnoticeable.
For a year now he and Dazai had ended their missions with wine and liquor.
It had been two weeks since his last deployment with Dazai. Corruption had only been in use for thirty seconds, but his arms were still yellow. His fingertips still sore. The inside of his wrists, just peeking from his sleeves, was solidly marked.
“I’m not his watchdog,” Chuuya told Oda evenly. “It’s his problem if he can’t get his head out of the bottle anymore. He goes out with you more than me anyway.”
“I can’t exactly order an executive around.”
Chuuya laughed. “Please, Oda. It’s not like he gives a shit how disrespectful you are.”
“He doesn’t with you either,” Oda pointed out.
“Are you kidding? He’s been shoving his new title into my face every time I open my mouth to him.”
But not truthfully, Oda seemed to want to say. Not seriously.
“Dazai is a shit executive,” Chuuya said, breath warm over the nervousness that hadn’t left him. “Oh, he’s a strategic genius. Absolutely fit to be up there with Boss Mori or Kouyou-ane-san. But he can’t handle people.”
“And you can?”
Chuuya felt the laughter leave him. “Drink your tea,” he said.
Oda took his mug but didn’t lift it up. It sat in his lap, between his tan hands, burning against the top of his thigh. “I’m asking because I’m curious,” he told Chuuya. “You’re only what, eighteen?”
“But you’re not an executive.”
“Indeed,” Chuuya murmured coldly. “I am, however, still your superior.”
The silence that followed was icy. Chuuya felt it through his clothes the way he had two weeks ago after Dazai pushed the inferno out of him with a flick of his finger and Chuuya fell onto snow-covered ground. So cold it burned. When he had touched it with his fingers, the pain had been so great that he had almost screamed.
He thought he felt the same now. As if all the fire in him had turned to frostbite.
Oda relented without much grace. He took the tea to his lips and drank half of it in one go, grimacing about the heat but not flinching away from it. Chuuya mimicked him silently and looked at Dazai again.
“Do you know where he gets those injuries?” Oda asked.
His tone was enough to confirm that he wasn’t asking to know for himself.
Chuuya didn’t answer. He swallowed his scalding and tasteless tea, eyes fixed onto the untied gauze hanging limply from Dazai’s wrist and remembering the stitches that he had sewed himself into the thin skin right under.
He felt the heat of Oda’s eyes on him as if it were weighed by the Tainted Sorrow; he felt that if he were to stand up now, he would sink through the floor without needing to use it at all.
Chuuya, his mother’s voice rang into his ear. Soft like a breeze. Where did you get those injuries?
Odasaku left a few minutes later. It was only as the other murmured his goodbyes that Chuuya realized they had been whispering all along, voices soft so as to keep Dazai from waking. He didn’t know how he felt about that. There was a frustrated tension inside him that didn’t only come from the stress of moving or the unbearable kindness in Odasaku’s eyes—the unbearable regret, unmistakeable for pity, because it didn’t come at all from a position of superiority.
Odasaku looked at Dazai on the couch like this. Affectionate and worried. And he looked at Chuuya with a bit of the same despite not knowing him at all.
Chuuya superposed two boxes by the window next to the couch and sat on them, weightless, a cigarette stuck between his dry lips. The cold night air creeped down his throat alongside the smoke and froze inside his lungs.
He didn’t move when he felt Dazai’s foot nudge his lower back. “Keep your damn hands away from me,” he muttered. “Those boxes can’t handle my weight.”
“I always forget how heavy you are, for your size.”
Dazai’s voice was low and raspy. Chuuya looked into the open glass pan of his window and saw the other’s reflection sit up on the couch, looking around quickly.
“So this is your new place,” Dazai said.
“Like you didn’t fucking know.”
“I haven’t broken in yet.”
Chuuya crushed the stub of his cigarette out onto the windowsill, burning the first black stain onto his new home and listening to the sizzling sound it made as the ember touched frozen condensation. “Hopefully you won’t feel the need to,” he replied.
He hopped off the boxes lightly and dusted the front of his shirt. There was a small tea stain near his cuff, he noticed, and Dazai saw it too; though when Chuuya turned to look at him properly his alcohol-hazy eyes were looking at Chuuya’s skin more than his clothes.
“I was awake,” Dazai chose to say. “When Odasaku was here.”
Chuuya flicked his tongue, annoyed. “You even bother your friends like this then?”
Dazai didn’t answer him. He pushed himself off the couch entirely and wavered only a second on his feet as he stretched his hands. The gauze fell from his wrist then, and though it was dark, Chuuya could still see the newest and inflamed addition to Dazai’s ever-scarred arms.
He took Dazai’s wrist between his fingers without thinking and let his thumb press onto the stitches. Obviously, Dazai winced. “I told you to take care of that,” Chuuya seethed. “Do you want to get an infection?”
“Your stitches are fine,” Dazai replied with a fleeting smile. There was new blood along his jaw, Chuuya noticed, and the injury around his eye had been dressed with new gauze. Again.
Chuuya dropped Dazai’s wrist. As expected, he found his ability cut off from him, because Dazai never passed up an occasion to leave Chuuya disarmed.
They looked at each other for a moment. Because of Dazai’s latest growth spurt, Chuuya had to strain his neck more than usual to do so; and Dazai smiled at that, with a glint in his eye that spoke of as much amusement as it did heat.
Heart fluttering in his throat, Chuuya said: “I can’t always be here to keep you from dying.”
The smile on Dazai’s face didn’t disappear, though the heat did.
“Then don’t,” he replied. “You’d be doing me a service, really.”
“I don’t want to do you any services. I just can’t have you dying stupidly on me.”
“This is truly the rock or the hard place for you.”
“You wish,” Chuuya mocked, before blushing harshly—and Dazai laughed, full and open in the silence. “Shut up,” he said between his teeth, “I was talking about your pathetic lack of physical strength.”
“I’m strong enough to keep my dog in line,” Dazai replied with a smirk.
“That’s because Akutagawa is even weaker than you. Asshole.”
Dazai hummed, neither confirming nor denying it. “You should think about taking one,” he said. “A dog.”
“A dog,” Chuuya replied flatly.
“You’ve got the room for it now. Who knows, it might soften you up, make you nicer.”
“I’m plenty nice.”
“And yet you never are to me,” Dazai whined, so Chuuya rolled his eyes and turned his back to him with the goal of heading straight to his bathroom and drowning in his brand new bathtub. Dazai caught his shoulder before he could, though. “Truly, Chuuya,” he said. “Why don’t you take a student? I thought you wanted to be an executive one day too.”
Chuuya dislodged Dazai’s hand from his shoulder. “I don’t want some kid following me around.”
“You have to. All the others have one.” He felt Dazai approach, the end of his shoe knocking lightly into Chuuya’s heel and his hot breath running over Chuuya’s ear. Chuuya stood still and tried his best to ignore it as he spoke again. “I hear I was a very rewarding apprentice. Akutagawa sucks, but even he’s interesting. And you are good with people.”
Chuuya jutted his elbow backwards—was met with empty space as Dazai sidestepped him, chuckling darkly. When he turned around, the other was looking even more out of it than he had before. His one visible eye was unfocused and his face was shiny with sweat.
“Go the fuck to sleep,” Chuuya said, disgusted. “And throw yourself out before I wake up tomorrow morning if you don’t want me to do it by kicking in your ribs.”
“Do you want to know what I think, Chuuya?” Dazai asked.
Chuuya tensed immediately. The lights overhead were off, and everything that he could see came from the open room of his kitchen. In the soft glow of it Dazai’s face looked like a doll’s.
“I don’t,” he replied tightly.
Dazai smiled. “I think you’re scared of taking a student,” he said. “I think you’re scared that if you do, you’ll turn into your father.”
There was a beat, filled with dreadful silence. It took a long time for Chuuya to manage to open his mouth again, and when it did, nothing came out, not even air.
Dazai’s eyes weren’t as kind as Odasaku’s had been. His were filled with pity first and worry second. And Chuuya could not look past the first now. Not with childhood terror solidifying in him like blood turning to scabs.
His fist unclenched by his side with conscious effort on his part. “Get out,” he managed.
“No,” Dazai said merrily.
“Dazai.” Chuuya brought a hand up and rubbed it over his face. “I’m too fucking tired to deal with you right now, but if I have to beat your ass I will. For once in your life can you just leave it alone.”
“How often did he beat you?” Dazai cut in, and every single one of his words felt like a blade on Chuuya’s throat, cutting him open and whistling through the air like a child’s scream. “It was actually really hard to track you down at all, I only managed about six months ago, and that’s because I saw your mother in town by pure accident and she looked so much like you—”
He shut up.
Chuuya’s hands were turning purple. The fading yellow bruises were filling with blood again, but Chuuya hardly felt the pain of it until Dazai actually tried to touch him—at which point he tugged his arm back so suddenly that not only did his skin burn, his shoulder screamed too, sore beyond measure.
“Drop it,” he said, when Dazai tried to approach again. “It’s not dangerous or anything, I don’t need you.”
“It looks like…”
“Yeah. It’s not.”
Chuuya hadn’t had this happen to him since he was eleven. He took a slow breath, eyes close, and let his hands relax by his sides until only the burn remained. It felt, as always, as if a colony of ants had taken refuge under his skin and started biting off chunks of it with their tiny teeth.
When he looked at Dazai again the other’s gaze had lost its vicious edge. “You must hate me,” Dazai said conversationally.
Chuuya snorted. “Yeah, I fucking do.”
“Not like this.” Dazai’s mouth twisted into another smile, one darker and more painful than the previous. “You must resent me. Seeing the way I treat Akutagawa.”
There was no answer. Chuuya clenched his teeth and willed away the nervous energy in him, the push of fright-born power in his limbs that made blood vessels burst open despite themselves. He looked sideways, out through the snow-covered window, and massaged his own wrists as gently as he could.
It took a moment, but the pain stopped much more quickly than Corruption’s aftermath. Chuuya’s skin stayed blue and purple under his own fingers, but he wasn’t feeling it anymore. He dropped his hands by his sides slowly.
“Chuuya,” Dazai murmured. He was still looking at Chuuya’s hands. “Your mother’s still alive.”
Chuuya didn’t know how to reply to that. I don’t care would not be accurate; I know would’ve been a lie, though he had wished—he had wished. A long time ago. He had hoped that she would stay alive. So she could maybe grow to forget him and what he had done.
His throat was tight, his face warm, when he spoke. “Get out of my house, Dazai.”
“No,” Dazai repeated—Chuuya felt fury unfurl in him like the ugliest of flowers, but as he was about to open his mouth and yell, Dazai said, “You should go talk to her.”
Not for the first time since meeting him, Chuuya almost choked on his own surprise. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Why not?” Dazai crossed his arms in front of him. “There’s nothing to say that you can’t.”
Dazai was so obviously drunk. Not in the fun, good way either. He had the sluggishness of heavy drinkers and the flush to indicate how little control he had over his own words and actions right then; it was the only reason, Chuuya told himself, why Dazai even got close enough to grab the side of Chuuya’s shirt as he did then. Chuuya hated beating on weakened adversaries.
“I could tell you,” he said, oversweet breath rushing along the skin of Chuuya’s face hotly, “how she reacted when you disappeared. I know everything now. I could tell you where your dad’s buried.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Chuuya replied.
Dazai laughed, mean, uncaring. “You’re so cold, Chuuya.” His hand rose up to grab Chuuya’s shoulder instead of his side—and it was as much to keep Chuuya still as it was to steady himself. “Letting your own mother think you’re dead. How cruel can you be?”
Chuuya shut up when Dazai’s other hand touched his cheek. Cold-fingered and rough-skinned.
“I really don’t get you,” Dazai murmured. “If I found out that I still have family somewhere I’d be dying to see them for myself.” His fingers traced the side of Chuuya’s face until they reached his hairline, at which point Chuuya grabbed Dazai’s wrist forcefully and pulled away.
“If you can run your mouth then you can run,” Chuuya growled. “I suggest you start now.”
“See, this is why I hate you,” Dazai smiled.
In answer, Chuuya did the next best thing to using his ability and destroying his brand new apartment; he hooked a foot around Dazai’s ankle and pulled, making Dazai fall to his backside with a very satisfying grunt of pain.
His heartbeat was still hurried as he looked down on the other. Still uncomfortably violent in his throat. But this was good. This was familiar. He could muster up some mocking, even if just for show.
“Ah,” he sighed. “I’ve missed making you bite the dust.”
“I haven’t,” Dazai replied, strangled.
“Maybe we should spar sometime soon.”
“Maybe you’re right after all,” Dazai snapped back as he got himself to his feet once more, wincing. “Maybe you’re too hard to love even for a mother.” He avoided Chuuya’s half-hearted punch with a laugh and waltzed toward the door, loose with alcohol more than true confidence. “I’ll be taking this then”—his hand opened the first drawer of the wooden cabinet near the entrance and pulled out a key—one of Chuuya’s spares.
“You won’t,” Chuuya said, offended.
“Would you rather I break in?”
“I would rather you never fucking showed your face to me again!” Chuuya walked toward the entrance himself as he said it and only stopped short of actually butting his head into Dazai’s body. He stared up at Dazai and tried to muster anger and nothing else, no shock, no relief, none of the ebbing fear from earlier. He didn’t twitch as Dazai looked at his hands again with something a little too close to remorse.
“I wonder what Odasaku would think, if he saw us now,” Dazai said. Of all things.
Chuuya resisted the urge to snort again. “Probably that you’re an insufferable child.”
“He already knows that. That’s not what I meant.”
But though Chuuya was curious what Dazai meant, he didn’t ask. He’d had enough of Dazai’s mind games for the evening.
“Whatever,” he said. “Just go. I’m tired.”
“Knowing him, he’d think this is good for me. I bet he likes you too—he never minds anyone. It’d be interesting to see Odasaku truly hate someone, maybe even enough to make him go for the kill—”
Chuuya pushed his palm onto Dazai’s mouth and groaned, “God, do you ever shut up?”
Dazai’s face had stilled in a parody of humor, still drunken and hazy, still twisted on a smirk Chuuya knew was meant to inspire disgust. Still looking at him as coldly as if he wished to encase him in ice.
His skin was warm under Chuuya’s fingers, though. A little damp from the whiskey-heat maybe, but warm. When Chuuya pressed the pad of his index against the edge of Dazai’s chin, he felt his heartbeat underneath, as strong and steady as his own.
Dazai ruined it by opening his mouth and licking wetly against Chuuya’s palm. “Gross,” Chuuya protested, tugging back his hand as if he had been burned.
“Not as gross as your face,” Dazai replied. Then, pocketing the key anyway: “Take care of those bruises, Chuuya.”
“Why do you care?” Chuuya asked, suspicious.
Dazai shrugged. “Just being polite. Also, I’m pretty sure sparring won’t be any fun if you can’t throw a damn punch.”
“I still have legs.”
“Trust me, I know.” Dazai opened the door behind himself without looking, and before he even spoke again his look made Chuuya’s blood freeze in his veins. “Think about it,” he said. “Do you really want to spend your whole life pretending you don’t have someone out there waiting for you?”
He left Chuuya like this, standing in the middle of a place he couldn’t call home yet. His hands full of blood and his heart full of fear.
Chuuya received a text that same night. He never opened it and never read the address he knew he’d find on it. For months his message notifications bore the number (1), until the phone itself got destroyed one day and Chuuya thought, too bad, not knowing whether what he felt was disappointment or relief.
Dazai didn’t message him the address again, because Dazai had defected and disappeared off the surface of the earth by then. The man with kind eyes that Dazai had called Odasaku with such childish pride was dead, the mafia’s top intelligence agent was a traitor, and Double Black quickly became a worthless memory that Chuuya couldn’t hang on to for authority. He threw himself into work, filled in the executive’s spot that Dazai had vacated, and closed another page of his life.
He strove forward.
Kouyou caught Chuuya on his way back from his search round three days after he visited the agency. She caught him as the day died, blue-pink-red, shining off of her like stage lighting. Chuuya nudged off the hand she had wrapped around his shoulder and said, looking up at her: “I’d appreciate if you stopped being so familiar.”
She only faltered a little. “Oh, how I wish I could still tell you to watch your tongue.”
He smiled, in spite of his irritation. “Just the touching,” he explained, throwing a pointed look at her hands. “You never used to be like this with me, and I’d like not to become replacement for a little girl when in my twenties.”
“I see.” Kouyou folded her hands back into the lapels of her clothes. She looked more menacing with them hidden than out, Chuuya found, but he didn’t take back his words. “Boss asked to see you,” she said then.
Chuuya hid the immediate fatigue he felt at that habitually. He followed Kouyou to the elevators without a word, straightened his shirt and waistcoat and wiped the dust from his pant legs. The shoes would have to wait for later. Kouyou observed him all the while, her face as terrifying and unreadable as it always was.
He would always be afraid of her, he thought. He could grow as old as his lifestyle allowed and still feel the need to shake at the knees in front of her, the way he had all those years ago when he found her. Stumbling on his own words and spitting blood as he breathed.
“No clue yet?” Kouyou asked softly.
Chuuya glanced at her. “None,” he admitted. “Either the special ability department is hiding them or they’ve all disappeared off the surface of the earth. Either way, I’m going to have to talk to them.”
“You’ll need clearance for that.”
Chuuya looked pointedly at the ceiling of the elevator. “I’m getting it,” he replied.
It made Kouyou huff, almost snort. “Careful, Chuuya,” she said with an edge to her voice. “That’s another traitor you’re talking about contacting.”
“Should you really be talking about treason, ane-san?” Chuuya snapped back. “I don’t see Mori forgiving you for that spiel with Kyouka-chan any time soon.”
Kouyou’s eyes were hard as steel. “I don’t see him forgiving you for failing to bring Q back to us,” she said.
Chuuya stepped toward her with intent in his feet and violence in his blood; his shoulders ached with tension, his mouth stretched into a smile; and through the clean folds of Kouyou’s silks he heard the whisper of her blade coming out of its shield.
The elevator’s doors chimed open.
It took less than a second, but to Chuuya it felt like an eternity. He made himself swallow back the offense and watch as Kouyou did the same—hers stained with worry. “We’ll settle this later,” he threatened in a low voice.
“We will,” she acquiesced.
Chuuya didn’t bother showing his ID to the two men watching them nervously. He strode up the corridor leading to Mori’s office and made his steps heavier, so the tension could seep out of him and through the floor every time his feet touched ground. Neither of the guards shadowing him as he walked made any mention of the noise he made like this.
Mori was standing by the window when he entered. He had a thin stripe of handwritten paper in his one hand and the other, gloved, resting onto the glass in front of him.
“Boss,” Chuuya said, bowing.
He heard Kouyou enter the room behind him, silent as an owl. She didn’t greet Mori.
“How went the search for the Guild’s remaining members?” Mori questioned as Chuuya straightened up.
“Not well,” Chuuya replied. “Can’t find the body of the leader, can’t find anyone else. Most of them are probably gone, but…”
Mori hummed. “We’d know if they had fled by boat or plane,” he commented. He turned away from the view of Yokohama and toward Chuuya instead, handing the paper over. Chuuya stuck his hastily-folded coat under his armpit and took it between his fingers, and his eyes widened a bit as he saw the handwriting on the page. “I’m sure you recognize this?” Mori asked, amused.
Chuuya’s fingers tightened on the paper. “What the fuck does Dazai want now?” he asked in lieu of answering.
“Read it, Chuuya-kun.” It took strength of will to rip his eyes away from Mori’s enjoyment and turn them back to the paper at hand, and it turned out to be futile, because Mori explained himself anyway. “It seems the agency’s incompetence knows no bounds,” he said. “They’ve lost Q.”
Kouyou made a faint sound. Chuuya barely heard it through the ringing in his ears. “I’m going to kill him,” he said.
“I’m sure Dazai-kun’s death will come in due time.”
“How the fuck did they lose him? How do you even—” Chuuya choked. Breathed in. “The fucking morons.”
“Who took him?” Kouyou asked, walking up to Chuuya’s level with barely a noise. Her eyes were fixed onto the paper as well. “And if I may… why did Dazai tell you about it?”
“I’d like to know that as well,” Chuuya added, regardless of propriety. He was too angry to care.
But Mori didn’t seem offended in the least. If anything his eyes had that morbid glow in them that they usually only possessed when his ability was running, and Chuuya felt cold sweat gather at his nape despite himself, felt his muscles flinch involuntarily as memories of that same look in different settings—at a different age—whispered tickling fears into his ear.
The bruises on his hands flared very slightly.
“The agency is kindly reconsidering your offer, Chuuya-kun,” Mori said, death on his voice. “Fukuzawa is sending Dazai to Kumagaya and requests backup from us, as he doesn’t have the manpower to spend more than one man on the job…”
“The location where the ministry’s special ability department probably took Q.”
Chuuya brought a hand to his forehead and rubbed, as hard as he could without outright splitting skin. “Fucking Sakaguchi.”
“Why would the agency want Q out of the ministry’s hands?” Kouyou questioned. “Shouldn’t Dazai and Sakaguchi Ango get along, by virtue of both having betrayed us?”
Chuuya had never gotten to the root of what had happened to Oda Sakunosuke. The man had been honored as a member of the port mafia for taking out their enemies by himself… and that same night, Dazai had disappeared. That same night, Mori declared Sakaguchi Ango a traitor alongside his own future right-hand.
He had never seen Mori look more terrifying than he had as he said Dazai’s name then.
But Sakaguchi Ango had been part of whatever Dazai had going on with Oda. Chuuya had met Sakaguchi more often than Oda, more often that Dazai at one point, because he actively worked alongside the man until he was revealed a spy. If Sakaguchi was involved in whatever had killed Oda…
Dazai held grudges. That was maybe the one thing Chuuya admired in his ability to regret everything he ever did. He held on to grudges as hard as if they were supporting him, kept them close enough to breathe in every minute of every day. Dazai sustained his violence on them. He sustained his reasons to live on them.
Or he had, at least.
“Fukuzawa Yukichi has probably grown fond of the boy,” came Mori’s voice. It sounded distant. “He has a talent for taking in strays.”
“So,” Chuuya let out, raising his head to look at his boss, “does that make Q a member of the agency?”
Mori was positively brimming with hatred. He smiled, teeth bared and ice-cold aura seeping through Chuuya’s clothes, flesh, bones; when he spoke again his voice was higher for the rush of adrenaline in it and cut through the air with scalpel-like precision. “We shall make it so he never is.”
Taking Q out of Yokohama was a good plan. An easy plan. The mafia was loath to leave the port out of their sight and possibly give way to the police or the ministry; Chuuya was loath to leave Yokohama, every time he had to, because the city as a whole was home to him for lack of having an actual place to call such.
Taking Q out of Yokohama and to the sweltering mid-August heat of Kumagaya was a plan that could not have been designed by someone less evil than Sakaguchi Ango.
Chuuya was drenched in sweat by the time he exited the train station. It wasn’t just his shirt sticking to his back, it was his waistcoat too; he took it off only a few minutes in and only managed to keep his gloves on because he didn’t want to suffer the inquisitive looks of the crowd around him. He kept his hat on to protect himself from the sun, but it still beat at him relentlessly, slicking his temple with sweat and making drops of it run down his back uncomfortably.
Stepping through the streets felt like stepping into an oven would. The wind was scorching, the ground hot enough for him to feel it through his shoes. Chuuya’s throat was parched before he even made it to the hotel whose address was scribbled onto the paper in Dazai’s ridiculously bad handwriting. The place wasn’t even two streets away from the station.
He stepped into the lobby, air conditioning hitting him full force and turning his skin to instant shivers. And then he dropped the paper and the waistcoat to catch the thing flying at him too fast to be unintentional.
The fingers if his left hand buried themselves into plastic and then rubbed against the smooth, soft content inside; Chuuya relaxed his hold on the handle of his knife and lowered the bag, and Dazai was sitting there in a leather armchair, looking infuriatingly refreshed.
“I got you clothes,” he said.
Chuuya threw the bag back at him. “I don’t want them.”
“We don’t know how long this is gonna take us and it’s forty degrees outside, do you really want to melt?”
Chuuya ignored him. He walked past the sitting lounge and toward the counter where a woman was sitting, the badge at her chest reading Yako. He talked to her in a low voice, booked a room indefinitely. If her nose flared a little at how pathetic he looked from the sweat, she masked it quickly enough once he handed his credit card.
“Careful, Miss,” Dazai said from his seat. “That one’s a criminal.”
Yako laughed awkwardly, looking between the two of them. Chuuya pried the keycard out of her painted fingers and tried to let none of the anger he felt show on his face as he smiled.
Dazai stood up gracefully as he walked by again, hands full with the plastic bags. He was dressed for the heat, a white shirt with short sleeves and very thin slacks; but his arms and throat were as wrapped up as ever, which made Chuuya rather sure that Dazai would suffer just as much as he did once they went back out.
And he wanted to kick himself, really, for already thinking in they.
Dazai didn’t ask before entering the room Chuuya had booked and Chuuya didn’t try to stop him either. “Put the damn clothes on the bed,” he just said, before proceeding to lock himself in the bathroom and strip naked as fast as he could. He had to peel the pants off his legs slowly, they were so sticky.
The cold shower was a wonder on him. He felt the sweat run down his body and his head cool, hair flat against his face, clearing his thoughts as much as his skin. It took a long time before he felt truly cold, and by then he had washed himself from head to toe, the tiny room smelling strongly of lavender from the hotel’s free shampoo sample that he had used.
The air wasn’t hot anymore when he stepped out. Dazai must have turned on the AC. He felt it on his skin as he dried himself and tried to ignore the full-body shudder that threatened to shake him at the difference in temperature.
Chuuya walked back into the room with the towel wrapped around his hips. Dazai was sitting at the desk, facing the room, drinking juice out of a can. His eyes followed Chuuya around the room, but he made no comment.
There wasn’t much inside the bag, and what was there wasn’t as atrocious as Chuuya had feared. It made suspicion run up his spine, and he looked at Dazai as he spoke, fingers pressed to what felt very much like silk. “What’s this?” he asked.
Dazai finished slurping—loudly—before answering. “A peace offering.”
“You bought me underwear too.”
“My boss is very thorough,” Dazai replied, bashful. “Trust me, I want nothing less than to be in this hell town with you, buying your underwear for you.”
Chuuya snorted before he could help it. “That’s what you get for losing Q, you absolute disaster.”
This seemed to make Dazai sober up, at least. The smile left his face and the warmth his eyes—more completely and quickly than it had in their last three encounters. Chuuya left him to it, slipped on the silk shirt, and didn’t comment on how close to being perfectly fitted to his size it was.
At least Dazai was kind enough to look away when he dropped the towel. The room felt warm, despite the AC.
“I’m not letting you get Q again this time,” Chuuya declared once he was dressed.
“And you plan to stop me all by your lonesome?”
“I could flatten you into the ground if I tried, Dazai.”
Dazai didn’t deny it, at least. “Well, Boss said it was fine if you took him. As long as he’s out of these guys’ hands.”
There was something on Dazai’s voice. Resentment. It was strong enough that Chuuya couldn’t hear any lies under the weight of it, though he had no doubt that they were there. “So it really is him,” he said.
Dazai blinked at him. “Who?”
The slacks, similar to Dazai’s, were a bit too long for Chuuya. He sat on the edge of the bed in the silence that followed and folded the hems—he would prefer to sew them that way, but he didn’t have the material on him. Or the time to go to a tailor. Chuuya looked up again, found Dazai sitting shell-shocked on his chair, and stilled.
He frowned. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know.”
“I did,” Dazai said. He shook his head—his hair was pinned back, Chuuya realized. No bangs to hide behind. It left Dazai’s forehead visible, surprisingly wide, and his face clearer. Chuuya held Dazai’s gaze as long as he could before his eyes inevitably wandered to the shape of his face again. Familiar and foreign. His own felt hot by the time Dazai spoke. “I just didn’t think I’d hear his name come out of your mouth, is all.”
“Why not?” Chuuya asked, looking resolutely down. He tugged his shoes toward him as an excuse for the avoidance. “I used to work with the fucking mole.”
“That must be so grating to you, Chuuya. Not one, but two traitors right under your nose.”
Chuuya hissed a short breath through his teeth. He stood up, fixed the cufflinks of the shirt, slipped on his gloves; then, turning toward Dazai, he ordered, “Let’s go.”
He barely heard Dazai’s reply of, So curt. The door’s lock clicked shut behind them once they were out. Chuuya kept his hat in his hands until they made their way outside, and had to restrain himself from making a noise of discomfort as the scorching wind found him again. His shower-cool skin heated up in seconds, and even the soft caress of silk on his back became too much soon enough.
“Do you know where he is or do we have to start blind?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Who do you take me for?” Dazai replied.
Chuuya rolled his eyes. “Lead the way, then.”
He waited, ears focused on the soft sound of Dazai’s shoes hitting the pavement; but Dazai shifted once he reached Chuuya’s level instead of walking ahead, and though Chuuya was on the ready for a sneak attack he wasn’t for the feeling of Dazai pulling his hair.
He let out a cry of pain. “What the fuck—” Dazai laughed, pulling again, forcing Chuuya to bend backward and walk back toward the shade. “I’m going to fucking kill you—ow, motherfucking—”
Dazai avoided both the elbow he threw back and the blind grab that followed. His hold on Chuuya’s hair didn’t relent. He was doing something—tying it.
He was tying Chuuya’s hair. Chuuya’s hands stilled as they were, and before he even knew, his breath suspended itself.
He felt Dazai tug the elastic band up until it reached just above his nape. This time, when the hot city wind hit him from the side, his neck didn’t feel so damp. And the heat at his back from Dazai’s own body was an entirely different kind of bother.
“There,” Dazai said, close enough that Chuuya felt the word brush against his ear and temple. “You’ll be more comfortable like this. I told you, I came prepared.”
Chuuya’s chest was heavy with more than just the weather. He had to work to swallow, and again when Dazai finally let go of his hair and brushed his fingers against the line of his shoulder as they came down. Finally, he took a step forward; Dazai let him go easily. He only turned around once he was outside of reaching distance and once he could smooth his own face into neutrality.
“Do that again,” Chuuya said, voice alight with—with anger, with pain. With age-old want. “And it’ll be the last thing you do.”
Dazai smiled. “Take off your gloves,” he replied.
“We’re in one of the hottest places in the country. No one cares that your hands are ugly, Chuuya, just take off the gloves.”
Chuuya’s hands were already slick with sweat. He could feel it every time he moved, could hear the leather squelch disgustingly when he closed his fists.
He closed his fists anyway. “Take off the wrappings, then,” he challenged.
Dazai looked into his eyes differently than usual. Chuuya didn’t have time to understand what it reminded him off before he said, “All right.”
And he ripped open one turn of gauze at the crook of his wrist, tugging nonchalantly on it until all of his arm was bare—all of it, every burned and beaten and scarred inch of skin. He did the same with the other one under Chuuya’s dumbstruck staring, and then took his hands to his neck to take off the wrapping there and expose the jagged white scar running along the underside of his chin. Right where he had let his opponent cut him open with the knife now in Chuuya’s possession, almost six years ago.
Dazai’s hands weren’t shaking when he threw the gauze into the nearest trash bin, but they weren’t very steady either.
“Dazai,” Chuuya said, hesitant.
“Your turn,” Dazai replied darkly.
Chuuya bit his lip. It took longer for him to take off his gloves than it had for Dazai to tug off the bandages, because they were sticking so hard to his skin; he had to work through the now-faint pain of Corruption that always took weeks to heal up, each fingers stinging with it as he slipped it out.
The bruises were greenish now. Still covering every bit of visible skin almost all the way to his elbows, even if his forearms were hidden under the sleeves of the shirt Dazai had bought.
Chuuya shoved the gloves into his pockets and turned his back to Dazai, shoulders hunched. “Shit,” he let out. “Happy now, shithead?”
Dazai chuckled. “With you? Never.”
But he walked ahead this time, without making a suspicious move. The grotesque flesh of his arm brushed Chuuya’s as he did; and Chuuya saw the way that the people around them looked at Dazai’s scars and Chuuya’s own skin, with strangers’ pity and disgust in their eyes; the step he took after Dazai dug into the road and left an imprint behind, surrounded by lightning-like cracks.
“Well now,” he heard Dazai murmur. “We’ve got a shifty little bastard to make talk.”