Warnings: blood/violence/murder, mentions of child abuse, mentions of pedophilia (Mori).
Tomorrow Has Not Yet Come
When Arthur Rimbaud extended a hand toward the prison Chuuya was kept in—when he tried to kill him the first time—Chuuya had no way of defending himself. He wasn’t aware enough to break out of the whimsy chains holding him. He couldn’t have gotten out without outside influence. And Chuuya doesn’t know if he even was Chuuya at the time, if he was anyone at the time, and for the years that followed that thought haunted him more than anything.
What if no one had come for the Arahabaki? What if Chuuya had spent many more years poked and prodded like a vivisected frog? Would he even take the opportunity to flee if ever there was one, or would his mind and will have withered down to nothing?
Chuuya could have lived and died inside that facility with no one the wiser. Not even himself.
The Chuuya of that time could not have escaped on his own if he was given days. The Chuuya of today only takes five minutes.
There is only one person in the wide room where he is kept, a man in yellowed medical clothes half-asleep at his desk, who jumps and yells when the glass of the tank shatters. Chuuya crushes the life out of him from half the room away. He rips the oxygen mask out of his face and the tubes and needles out of his body—his arms are so small, so skinny, unblemished but for the bruises now spreading under his skin like ink stains on paper—
For a moment he doesn’t think he will survive after all. For a moment he thinks he was right the first time, that Maalouf’s vanishing ability was indeed one of death, that the ray of golden light he saw reflected on Dazai’s ashen face was the last thing he would live to witness.
But the room clears. Thick liquid spreads past his bare feet like a greenish oil spill and mixes with the blood around the dead man’s body. Chuuya breathes, feels his lungs expand with true air for the first time in eons, and the panic abates to make way for numbness.
Not a killing ability.
Pain pricks at him out of the needle holes. His naked body, the body of a child, shivers and heaves in the silence of the stone-walled room.
Not a nightmare, he realizes.
He doesn’t take long to find and kill the rest of the people currently present in the building. Chuuya has no memories of his first escape except for flames, screams, a hand through the darkness—but he doesn’t need them. Gravity sings to his tune more acutely than he can ever remember; the frailty of this body cannot stop the sheer power he unleashes through each and every room, feeling through walls and floors and air itself until he finds skulls to crush.
The facility is silent as a tomb. Chuuya walks out into the night wearing clothes that don’t belong to him. The woman who owned them was short enough to look like a child herself, yet now there are more memories superposed to the ones Chuuya has of his life, and he knows he has seen her look at him coldly through the glass, has felt her hands shave his nape so that numbers could be inked into his skin as if he were an animal.
He stole her scarf as well. Her clothes fit him wrongly and are too big, much too big, but the scarf hides the tattoo and keeps him somewhat warm.
There is no Suribachigai in this world. The military grounds did not go up in black flames, and the beast held inside it did not roar for its freedom as it destroyed everything on its way. Blood stains the grounds that Chuuya has walked, but the walls are still standing. What was once a wide dip in the earth now stands flat and uninhabited.
Arahabaki is silent.
He notices changes with each day that passes.
He still wakes up every morning thinking that this is all a dream. Sunlight falls on his eyelids out of the window of the apartment he borrowed, and Chuuya thinks that the lumpiness under his back is that of his couch. He feels hollow throughout and thinks that he must’ve drunk too much the night before. That Hirotsu or Kouyou brought him back to his home to let him sleep off his hangover. But then his eyes open to a ceiling whose color is wrong, and he feels so light in this body, so small in a way that his short adult height never elicited, and he remembers.
There must be a Hirotsu and a Kouyou in this world, but they don’t know him. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. This realization burns under his skin with every solitary hour and slowly turns into resolution.
Chuuya has never been one to sit idle and brood, after all.
He lives his life from day to day. He looks much too young to be hired anywhere he would wish to be hired, so he steals. He borrows. He wanders the streets of Yokohama, sleeping into homes unfamiliar to him, wearing clothes lifted out of kids’ aisles, trying to navigate physicality in whole new ways. He adapts surprisingly fast to his change in size. Within three days he stops tripping over himself.
It’s harder to deal with how his young brain processes emotions, but Chuuya, as always, powers through. If anything the rawness of every little thought he has makes him realize the extent of his grown-up trauma. One should not feel so coldly ready to kill. He doesn’t harm anyone he steals from, prefers running away to asserting dominance, thinking queasily that he would not have done the same if this had happened only weeks ago.
He avoids the harbor.
This new—old—life is not easy. Chuuya remembers never getting a moment of rest; he recalls intimidating his way through life so that he may be accepted, but he knows better now than to make his presence known. He knows this is a sound decision. He knows the advantages that come with Arahabaki’s existence being kept secret outside of whichever government official supervised the things done to him. It is still horribly, achingly lonely.
Chuuya wonders if he will live like this forever. He wonders if by the time he reaches his twenties, his soul will feel like a forty-year-old’s. He wonders if he shall never again fit anywhere amongst people. It’s almost enough to make him want to give up and pretend to be… whatever his body’s age is. The company of children would be better than no company at all.
Then one of the young—so young—leaders of Sheep sees him jump out of a grocery store’s window with his arms full of stolen goods and tries to hire him. Chuuya stares at him. He remembers that this one of those who always insulted and belittled him out of fear and jealousy. He knocks him out.
At night he dreams of thin hands tracing the shape of his face. He hears soft laughter into the crook of his hear, hot breath against his nape as lips trace the faded scars of a badly-erased tattoo. He dreams of too-long legs tangled with his own, of the groans he gives when cold feet brush against his calves.
“Good morning,” Dazai says.
On those days Chuuya wakes up with his eyes stuck close. He rubs the dried tears away. He breathes silently, softly, and thinks that never before has he known true loneliness.
There is no Suribachigai, no knowledge of Arahabaki, in this world. This and Chuuya’s refusal to join Sheep again are the only differences he can notice from his own time. For a while he hurts his brain trying to think of butterfly effects, of dos and do-nots, of whether he should pretend not to exist at all, but then he remembers—he’s never going back. It doesn’t matter what changes he creates on his way. Maalouf didn’t even know what his ability truly did; there is no way he knows of how to reverse its effects.
The port mafia headquarters still rise toward the sky like a great break into the skyline. Chuuya sees it from where he sits at the edge of a rooftop, munching on a sandwich he bought along the way. It is easier to live in altitude where there are no cops to wonder why such a young child is unaccompanied—he made that mistake once and almost had to hurt the lady who was so worried for him and kept asking about parents, about school. He doesn’t want to know what the government would do if his name or picture were taken and leaked.
He thinks he is eight years old now. Spring was ending when he broke out, the same season he was once freed and born to. Maybe he escaped the very same night Rimbaud and Verlaine were supposed to acquire him. This thought is bitter; Chuuya eats more fervently.
If he is eight then Kouyou is twelve. Not yet in the hands of the mafia. There’s nothing he can do for her, not yet, and Dazai…
Dazai at this age would still have parents. He never talked about them, and Chuuya has no hope that wherever he is, he is happy, but at least he is safe. At least Mori Ougai has no idea that he even exists.
Chuuya will make sure he never does.
Pure luck is what he has to thank for meeting the Akutagawa siblings.
The difference between Chuuya’s life as a child and Chuuya’s life as an adult in a child’s body is just how much he understands of things once far away from him. He never learned how to pay taxes or pass a job interview, but he knows crime like the back of his hand. He knows how to find empty homes to stay in comfortably. He can cook relatively well. He can shower. His quality of life is much better now than it was then, even if he can’t stay in one place for longer than a week. He spends his idle days making plans for the future; he thinks he should enroll in high school at the very least when the time comes. Get a diploma of some sort. He can forge paperwork for registration, bribe some social worker into being his legal representative.
Two years have passed. Chuuya’s grown used to the loneliness, to not speaking to anyone until he thinks he’s forgotten how to make words. The small-time gangs who sometimes try to jump him, who despite the clean clothes and clean body recognize him as homeless, have learned to avoid him. They don’t know his name. They just know that the red-haired boy who walks alone at night is not to be trifled with.
For having experienced both, Chuuya knows that timelessness is much worse than homelessness.
He is looking at pamphlets for different high schools of the area when he sees them. Another thing he finds weird is how obsolete technology feels; the internet is at its early stages, and most of the homes he breaks into have no computer, let alone one equipped with it. Fewer people own cellphones. There are no school websites for him to browse, and so he uses libraries to do his research.
He knows Yokohama better now than he ever did as an executive. Oh, he can’t access the bars, the gambling parlors, the dens of corruption he once called business offices; but every street is to him as his own hallway. He knows which wealthy families will go on a three-week trip soon and leave their homes for him to occupy. He knows which grocery store has a ventilation circuit he can crawl through unseen.
This library is his favorite because the woman who runs it doesn’t try to talk to him. She doesn’t mind that he has no card, that he never borrows and only comes in to use the slow computer or read in a corner. He leaves bookmarks in the books he puts back on the shelves. He finds those books on her desk when he comes back again, saved for his perusal without a single word.
They’re small, those children, smaller than him somehow, and Chuuya for a long time does not recognize them. He isn’t the only stray looking for warmth during winter in the only place that is free to walk into. They are small and skeletal but also loud, the boy with his wet coughing and the girl whose complete silence reeks of misery, and he seems to be reading to her—pointing characters with his fingers for her to understand, a poor teacher perhaps but a dedicated one—and at one point Chuuya looks up from the pamphlets and meets the boy’s grey eyes.
He stops breathing.
Akutagawa looks away with a simple frown. His looks and body language are all wrong, so wrong that Chuuya thinks he must be mistaken, but then he looks at the girl next to him and this is Gin, this is his subordinate and student, the girl he once shared all of his fighting knowledge with because she had asked him to—
He doesn’t read another word of the pamphlets.
They leave after sundown. Chuuya follows behind them like a silent shadow, farther and farther from the city and deeper into the slums, until at one point Akutagawa stops and the torn scarf he is wearing glows familiarly.
He is so young still. So unused to his own gift. Chuuya doesn’t have to think before stilling Rashoumon in its track, its awkward spikes laughable compared to the blades that Akutagawa will one day be able to create out of it. It is enough, though. Akutagawa falls to his knees when gravity densifies around him, and Gin cries, “Brother!” so shrilly that Chuuya feels as though he has been stabbed anyway.
“I’m not gonna hurt you,” he says.
His voice is so hoarse. Diminished from lack of use. He can see clear as day that neither of the siblings believes him, and so he releases Akutagawa. He expects to be attacked at once. When nothing happens, Chuuya remembers that this Akutagawa—this boy—has not yet been reshaped by Dazai’s abuse.
“You,” Akutagawa rasps. His voice is sweet and high, a faint trill in the nightly air. A singer’s voice. “How—”
“Have you never met anyone like you before?” Chuuya asks.
He can see in his eyes that Akutagawa has not.
This is too big a move even for him, maybe. He already has two people to save, two people whose names ring through his head every morning he wakes with the feel of a kiss upon his brow, of a hand framing his face.
“Do you have someplace to stay?” he says.
The structures around them are handmade and shabby. More like tents than houses. Chuuya can see an old woman drugged out of her mind sitting nearby, staring blankly at the scene without seeing any of it.
This is no place for children to live in.
“Come. Please. Come with me.”
Chuuya still wakes up with Dazai’s smile pressed to his lips. He still wakes up with Kouyou’s smell, tea and metal and that oversweet perfume she loves, wafting through the air he breathes.
But there are voices in the kitchen of this empty house. There is the scent of burned rice because Gin doesn’t know how to operate the cooker no matter how many times she tries. There is Akutagawa’s coughing, much weaker now that Chuuya has taken him to a doctor and stolen the medication he needs for his asthma. Every day that goes by makes him look healthier. Every full meal in his belly tears a smile out of his oddly expressive face.
Maybe, Chuuya thinks for the first time since waking up in that facility, maybe this is not so bad.
Kouyou does not know him. She doesn’t smell of flowery perfume, though the tea and metal are here. She watches with bright eyes as Chuuya fells the men sent to catch her and she man she is fleeing with. It is his very first contact with port mafia agents in four years, and he kills every single one of them.
Killing, it turns out, is like riding a bicycle. You never forget how to do it.
“Who are you,” Kouyou breathes, and he can see the terror in her eyes, the glow of Golden Demon emerging from her back like a butterfly’s wings, but Chuuya raises his hands and puts down his knife, and he says, “Go.”
She doesn’t move. The man whose hand she is holding is staring at him too, his broad face tense though his grip on her is gentle, and this is enough. Chuuya remembers everything Kouyou told him of this man—the man who saw her for who she was and lost his life trying to save her, who held her bloody hands when she cried out for the innocence she lost. The man she never, ever, stopped mourning.
Not this time.
“Go!” Chuuya roars.
The man comes to much faster than Kouyou does. He tugs her backward, toward the boat he has prepared for them whence voices come of worried accomplices. Kouyou walks backward for a few steps, her eyes not leaving Chuuya.
There are so many words on his tongue. So many things he wishes he could do: run to her and hold her in his arms, cry against her neck like the child he isn’t, I missed you so much, don’t go, please, please don’t leave me—
“I love you,” he chokes out. “Be well.”
He doesn’t know if his words carry over the distance. He knows their truth will carry over time for as long as he lives.
The place he and the siblings are living in now is a tiny house close to the port. It’s messy but clean. Homely. Gin’s soft greeting dies at the sight he makes, and Chuuya feels to wrung-out to care that he is covered in blood or that his face is streaked with tears or that he shouldn’t be showing this to children. He locks himself in one of the two bedrooms and cries.
He cries, yells, gasps, sobs. Any air he sucks in is released with so much strength that his ribs hurt, and he doesn’t care, he doesn’t give a fuck, that Gin and Ryuunosuke can hear him, that the house itself shakes with the strength of his grief. He pours out four years of miserable loneliness in a single hour. He tears apart the sheets. He breaks the desk, the chair, the bedside lamp. His chest feels caved in, his heart holed and leaking, and he understands truly what the price of caring is.
Kouyou is alive and free and he should be happy. He is happy. But if selfishness is only human then Chuuya has never had better proof of his own humanity, for all he can do is cry. All he can do is realize that there will never, ever be a big sister to hold him and wipe his tears away.
The port mafia headquarters are laughingly easy to break into. Five years are not enough to erase the map-like memory Chuuya has of every room and corridor, but even without those, nothing would be able to stand in his way. For a month he keeps watch of weather prediction just so he can pick the darkest night. He dresses all in black. Cold pierces through his thick clothes anyway once he ascends up the side of the building, but he doesn’t care.
The reinforced glass of the boss’s bedroom window shatters under his fingers like fine porcelain. Chuuya keeps the shards floating around him as he walks toward where the old, emaciated man sleeps. The man’s eyes are wide open. Even through slumber, even years before he went off the rails and started killing haphazardly, he looks every bit the crazed old leader that Hirotsu described him as.
Chuuya puts a pillow over his face, lets the Tainted Sorrow do its work, and watches until Fumou’s frail limbs stop thrashing around.
A little girl’s giggle pierces the silence.
Chuuya’s heart leaps up his throat at the same time his feet take him sideways, just quickly enough for the scalpel thrown his way to embed itself into the wall he was just in front of. His power spreads to the dust particles around him in a protective haze, making the air glow red, and he turns around.
Elise glows, floating as well, a giant and menacing syringe held between her dainty hands. Mori emerges from a shadowed corner and looks at Chuuya, contemplative.
“I don’t think we’ve met before,” he says politely.
Chuuya does not answer. He had no intentions of killing Mori, or even meeting him, when he came here, but now he reconsiders. The glass shards around him glint gloomily.
Without Dazai here to witness Fumou’s death, Mori has no reason to keep him. Mori still doesn’t know that Dazai even exists. But can Chuuya truly trust that this will be enough? Can he believe that Mori will never meet Dazai, will never see the potential in him, will never seek to harness it?
“It’s a shame you covered up your face,” Mori continues as if this is normal, as if he did not just see his own boss be murdered by a child. “It must be lovely, judging by those eyes.”
Chuuya shudders. “Fuck off,” he replies.
Speaking this way to his former employer feels weirdly satisfying.
“What an interesting gift you have,” Mori says. “Levitation? No.” His eyes roam over where the pillow has almost smoothed Fumou’s face out while smothering him. “Gravity manipulation, if I’m not mistaken. You control it very well.”
What’s it to you? Chuuya almost asks. He refrains only because he knows how gifted Mori is at turning conversations the way he wants them to go—and because he does not, cannot, miss the leer in Mori’s eyes that he has never before seen directed at anything but Mori’s own ability.
“A gifted child who breaks into a supposedly unbreakable tower and kills the boss of the most powerful gifted organization in the city…” Mori’s words trail off. His eyes stayed fixed onto Chuuya. “I wonder who hired you, of course, but I’m more surprised that I never heard of any such person being for hire before.”
“No one hired me,” Chuuya says between his teeth.
He needs to make his escape quickly. Elise stands between him and the window, however, and Chuuya has never known what her true powers consist of. He doesn’t want to risk it unless he absolutely has to.
She smirks at him as if she can read his thoughts.
“We’ve never had business with you,” Mori goes on. “What could you possibly get out of doing this?”
“Maybe I just like killing people.”
“You think me very stupid, don’t you, boy.”
On the contrary. Chuuya has never met anyone as ruthlessly intelligent as Mori Ougai. Dazai could be worse if he truly wanted to, but that is Dazai’s strength, isn’t it: the fact that he doesn’t want to. The fact that becoming Mori is the last thing he wants.
And if things go according to plan, Dazai will never have to make that choice. He will never know that there was such a choice to be made.
Chuuya sends the glass shards flying at Elise. She parries all but the thinnest of them, which slips into her throat with a wet gargle of blood, and if Chuuya feels one of Mori’s scalpels stab him in the abdomen at the same time, then at least the way out is clear once more.
He recovers more quickly than he would have expected. Chuuya suspects that the only reason he wasn’t poisoned is because Mori honestly did not expect anyone to come that night. After all, it is still a year until Mori himself is supposed to kill the former mafia boss and take his place. Maybe Mori let Chuuya go as a weird way of showing his gratitude. Maybe he wants to hire Chuuya again.
“You’re too reckless,” Ryuunosuke tells him as he helps him redress the wound a week later. “What if…”
Chuuya feels no need to ask what it is he wants to say. If Chuuya dies, then the Akutagawa siblings will once more end up on the streets. Chuuya has done his utmost to impart knowledge upon them, to help them live independently if ever something happened to him, but what was supposed to be a one-week affair stretched over a month, then a year, then three.
He doesn’t think he could handle separation from them any better than they would.
“I’m fine,” he says, flexing his hand slowly.
He has long stopped feeling weirded out by his own body. With the years his old life feels like a dream of sorts; he can remember being taller, being stronger, but not how it felt. He can’t look into a mirror and recall with precision where each of his scars used to be.
He can feel Ryuunosuke’s eyes land at his nape, at the ugly string of numbers tattooed there that Chuuya has not had the means of removing yet. This isn’t the first time he or Gin sees it, and they have never asked about it.
Ryuunosuke does not ask this time either.
Chuuya looks for Oda Sakunosuke in the weeks that follow.
It brings him closer to the port mafia than he wishes to be, but Oda should be with them already. There really isn’t any other way of finding him. He looks through channels he never wished to touch again to find trace of a teenage assassin with the ability to predict the future. He follows trails of murder by gunshot like a detective, haunting the alleyways of Yokohama, soiling his stolen shoes with blood and brain matter more often than not.
He doesn’t find him.
It keeps him awake at night, at first. He probably has the timing off by a few months, maybe a year. It’s not as if he was ever close to Oda; all he knows comes from Dazai, and though Dazai can speak of Oda when grief flares inside him like an old wound, he mostly keeps shut about the matter. Chuuya thinks of Kouyou’s young face looking at him in fright and bewilderment—thinks of his own grief, much more painful than any stabbing—and thinks, for the first time, that he understands.
But the weeks turn into months. The months turn into years. Ryuunosuke is entering his third year of middle school; his teachers love him for his sharp intellect and quiet demeanor, just as they love Gin for her love of sports and keen eye for art. Chuuya finds his first ever proper job at a coffee shop and buys her paint and canvases with his first paycheck.
Time goes by. Life settles in. The three of them move into a tiny apartment that Chuuya actually pays rent for, and it isn’t much, it is nothing like the siblings’ wide two-bedroom place in his former life or his own once-luminous home, but it is theirs. They don’t need to keep hiding.
Chuuya stops waking up with the phantom touch of Dazai’s arms around him.
He realizes as he registers for high school that he has not thought of Oda Sakunosuke in a few weeks. The trail for that man has grown cold long before Chuuya started looking, and the guilt he feels at that is balanced out by the thought that maybe, just maybe, this is one side-effect of his presence here that he chose not to consider. Maybe something he changed, some insignificant thing, kept Oda out of the mafia’s reach.
Chuuya spends the evening before his first day of school eating snacks with the siblings and watching bad horror movies. He is thirty-five in the body of a fifteen-year-old, and he will always feel too old and young at once for everything that surrounds him, but this life doesn’t feel so foreign anymore. It doesn’t feel like a curse.
Kouyou and Dazai are free. Gin and Ryuunosuke are growing into kind people, their wounds healing slowly, their smiles coming more easily.
There’s no one left to save.
Classes are every bit as difficult to manage as Chuuya thought they would be.
He’s never been in school before, and it shows. His math skills are poor; his history knowledge non-existent. He only survives better in literature because he has always been fond of books and because he had to be able to help Gin and Ryuunosuke with their homework at least some way. But reading up on middle school curricula only goes so far in helping him, and the first months are a struggle. His teachers appreciate his obvious efforts but shake their heads at his grades. The fact that many of them are about ten years younger than he is does not help his pride.
His classmates are not bad, at least. Being good at sports goes a long way in making one likable, and Chuuya excels at anything physical. This school is the kind where club activities are mandatory; he takes up kendo, fulfilling an old childish dream of his. Swords are cool no matter how old you are.
He doesn’t get much sleep, but he balances school and his job well enough. Ryuunosuke is hired at the very same library where they met. They move into a bigger place. Chuuya almost never has to steal anymore, and the Tainted Sorrow rests peacefully under his skin, only coming out to play when he feels too lazy to take the dishes to the sink by hand or to get out of bed to grab something. Ryuunosuke acts the same way with Rashoumon, and Chuuya smiles as he thinks that the boy will never have to learn to stop bullets mid-air.
Summer comes hot and languid over the city. Gin becomes suddenly extremely fond of swimming, which forces Chuuya and her brother to accompany her to the beach more often than not. Chuuya always declines their invitations to join them in the water. He doesn’t like being submerged. He watches Gin race Ryuunosuke as far from shore as he will allow and thinks of a time long gone when a very different Akutagawa refused to undress for so much as a bath.
Sunlight sweetens the memory.
They walk slowly back home. Gin has sand all over her long hair, and Chuuya can already anticipate the fuss she will make when Ryuunosuke tries to brush it for her, the face she will pull as she turns to Chuuya with begging eyes. She is eleven years old and lively. She will never hold a knife to another person’s throat.
Chuuya hears his name being called faintly and shakes out of his own thoughts. It wouldn’t be the first time he gets lost like this, and the siblings have grown used to waiting on him to respond. “You said something?” he asks Ryuunosuke.
Ryuunosuke blinks slowly. “No,” he replies.
There are many people around them. The summer holidays have thickened the city with tourists and family outings, and even with the sun setting behind them, many stand on the streets, walking to and from the beach, having drinks at open-air bars. Chuuya probably misheard.
But he hears it again, Chuuya, yelled through the crowd as if from very far away. Something about the tone—the voice—makes his chest feel tight enough to hurt and stops his heart from beating; Chuuya cannot see anything anymore, can’t even feel his hands or feet or the heat on his slick skin.
“Chuuya!” the voice bellows.
Chuuya has never heard it scream this way.
The act of turning around seems an impossible task. He can’t move, can’t look, can’t handle the prospect of another Kouyou, of another loved face looking at him with no recognition. Let’s go, he wants to tell the siblings, let’s go, come on, let’s get the fuck out of here—
A hand grabs his. Chuuya’s powers vanish.
There’s only so much one person can remember of another after years of separation, no matter how cherished, how loved the other. Chuuya has forgotten the exact details of Dazai’s face and voice and smile; all he has to go on are memories and his own resolve to make it so in one world at least Dazai could live a relatively normal life. A crime-free life.
Those details sharpen into place at the sight of him, fifteen-year-old and so different. This Dazai is not wearing bandages. This Dazai looks at him with both eyes and a strange expression on his face, but Chuuya can’t make sense of it now. He can’t make sense of anything.
“Who are you?” he forces out.
He has rehearsed for this. He has prepared for this. He has promised himself that he wouldn’t get close to Dazai, that he wouldn’t subject himself to knowing the person he had once loved but couldn’t any more—never again, not with Dazai so young and Chuuya so old, so foreign and timeless—he has promised himself. He knew all along what he would, should, do if this very scenario happened.
It is still the hardest thing he has ever had to say. Chuuya feels like cracked ice, like shattered glass upon a flooded floor. He feels like he’s waking up in that tank all over again knowing that he can’t make it out this time.
Dazai’s face freezes for a second. “Chuuya,” he repeats. His other hand comes to rest at Chuuya’s shoulder, forceful like Dazai never is—was—will be. “It’s me. Dazai.”
But you’re not, Chuuya thinks.
You’re not my Dazai.
He forces his mouth open. “I think you have the wrong—”
Someone breaks out of the crowd behind him. Chuuya’s eyes widen as he recognizes him, as Oda pants slightly and opens his mouth to say, “Dazai, what are you—”
“Not now, Odasaku.”
The hand on Chuuya’s shoulder shakes him. Chuuya looks back at Dazai. His mouth is still hanging open.
“It’s me,” Dazai says, intent as if Chuuya is supposed to understand something that he’s not, “I looked for you, I was keeping aware of port mafia activity and when I heard that the boss had been killed I knew that it had to be you—”
“You’re not supposed to know about that,” Chuuya cuts in, struck dumb with horror.
Port mafia activity? Is Dazai in the mafia after all? Why? How? Chuuya has done everything he can to prevent that from happening, has killed and spied and stolen and traced down Sakaguchi Ango and tried for so long to trace down Oda as well—
“You’re not supposed to—leave the mafia!” It is his turn to grab Dazai’s shoulders, despair clinging at his throat and undoing any peace he thought he had found. “Leave, leave it now, I’ll help you, I’ll—”
“—so miserable and you were dying and you can’t—”
His words are smothered by Dazai’s lips.
It is unlike anything Chuuya has ever felt. It is more than earthquakes, more than the faraway memory of Corruption undoing his body, more than pulling Dazai out of the way of what he thought to be a lethal ability and waking up at the start, gasping and drowning and so fucking alone.
Dazai’s fingers shake through his hair as if he is the one feeling his entire soul align into place once more. His mouth tastes of—chocolate, Chuuya thinks, and tobacco, which makes him irrationally mad because he did not save Dazai’s life just so he could ruin his lungs instead, and then they taste of salt.
Dazai is crying. His tears get crushed against Chuuya’s cheeks and nose. His damp eyelashes are clenched tightly shut, and now his whole body is shaking. There is no heat to this kiss at all, no seduction in the hurried press of wet lips to wet lips. Only despair. Only the words, I’m not letting go.
Chuuya pulls away first. He feels like panting too, like he has run from one end of the city to the next with barely any air to breathe. Both of Dazai’s hands are framing his face tightly, almost to the point of pain, as if he is scared of Chuuya running away.
As if Chuuya could ever run away from him.
“It’s you,” Chuuya says dumbly.
Dazai smiles through his tears. Chuuya’s never seen him cry before. “It’s me,” he says. “Back then—that ability, it hit the both of us.”
“But No Longer Human—”
“I can control it. I learned to control it in that moment. I canceled it, Chuuya, just when we got hit.”
Chuuya’s very heart feels at the edge of tearing itself apart.
“Why?” he asks.
“I thought I was alone,” Dazai says. He has to breathe in deeply, shakily, before he can continue. “Like you. I thought I’d been the only one to get hit. But then I heard that the mafia boss had been killed by a kid with gravity powers, and I knew. I’ve been looking for you for years.”
It’s not what Chuuya was asking, but now, seeing Dazai’s face, hearing him speak—feeling his touch—he knows the answer.
It is the same reason Chuuya put himself in the way of an ability that ultimately wouldn’t have harmed Dazai at all. He hadn’t been thinking. He hadn’t made a conscious choice. His body moved on its own.
“Chuuya,” Dazai says almost reverently. His hand strokes Chuuya’s cheek slowly.
Chuuya is vaguely aware of the spectacle they are making. He can feel Oda’s surprised eyes on them both and the siblings’ eyes on him, and he knows he will have to explain later, to be truthful with them like he hasn’t been with anyone in eight years now.
He doesn’t care.
He can’t look away from Dazai’s face at all. His youthfulness can’t hide the sleeplessness under his eyes, the shadows in his gaze that will never leave for as long as he’s alive. For a still second Chuuya feels a pang of sorrow for the Dazai he thought he had saved; the Dazai he has spent years imagining in the secret corners of his mind, a child living healthily, a child finding reasons for happiness. A Dazai whose timeline would not be burned by the underworld’s red-hot iron.
The thought is quickly swept away. Chuuya has learned all about selfishness in the past few years, and he lets it take hold of him for the first time in just as long. Warmth uncoils throughout his chest as Dazai says the very words he has so craved to hear:
“I missed you so much.”