Warnings: car accident, mentions of suicide.
“One minute and thirteen seconds.”
Chuuya’s stream of consciousness after using Corruption had been identical the first two times. Now, as he lay upon the cold wet ground in the wake of the third, it didn’t change at all.
It fucking hurts.
“Shut it,” he rasped without opening his eyes.
Dazai chuckled coldly. Something skin-warm brushed over Chuuya’s forehead, and Chuuya flinched away, unable to avoid crying out from the strain.
“Fuck, don’t touch me—”
“You’d think I was diseased or something, the way you avoid me.”
“You are! The sight of you makes me wanna barf!”
It took effort to open his blood-crusted eyes, but Chuuya did it, thankful for the soft moonlight around them. Dazai’s head masked half of the sky that peered through the burst-open roof. He was crouched beside him, peering down with curiosity.
“I’m in perfect health,” he told Chuuya. “If my handsome face is enough to make you puke then your stomach is way too weak for the job.”
“Piss off,” Chuuya spat. His saliva tasted of blood.
He didn’t try to touch him again, though. Not until Chuuya had regained enough of himself, enough warmth and movement through his limbs, to push himself into a sitting position. Corruption was easier to shake off now than it had been the last time, and it would be easier the next, he knew; but still it had run its rampage through his body, destroying blood vessels and bruising his hands and legs. His fingers thrummed with sharp pain.
“How do you feel?” Dazai asked conversationally.
“Like I’ve got arthritis or some shit.”
“They do say the mind ages first.”
“I’m sure that was a very smart and convoluted way of insulting me,” Chuuya muttered, dragging his knees toward his chest, “so I’m not gonna give you the satisfaction of reacting.”
“Oh, Chuuya.” Dazai sounded positively gleeful. “Everything you do entertains me.”
It was probably a lie, but Chuuya didn’t know Dazai enough to even begin unraveling it. For the year they had sort of known each other, Dazai had acted like a constant, like someone playing a part, never like a real human. He threw insults like compliments and compliments like backhanded strikes, smiling coldly and staring with intent. Chuuya thought sometimes that Dazai liked him. He thought sometimes that Dazai hated him.
Trying to keep up with it was downright exhausting.
“Whatever,” he groaned. He took a deep breath before shifting to his knees, swallowing back another cry of pain. “Just help me up.”
At least Dazai knew how to handle him post-Corruption now. The first time, he had grabbed Chuuya by the wrist and almost made him pass out from the pain; now he took him by the middle, one hand at Chuuya’s armpit as he dragged him to his feet. It was a lot more awkward but a lot less painful. Dazai frogmarched him like this through the upended floor, out of the ruined warehouse and back into the low-lit street. There was a patch of grass at the back of the building. They wiped the soles of their shoes free of blood on it.
Dazai didn’t let him go, no doubt sensing that Chuuya wouldn’t be able to walk on his own yet. Chuuya chose not to thank him for it—it was his fault Corruption had been needed in the first place—and instead said, “One-thirteen, huh,” recalling Dazai’s report.
“Yes. Last time’s record still holds true.”
“Do you count every time?”
Dazai shifted his hold on him, his grip lowering to Chuuya’ waist. Chuuya ignored the warmth he felt at that. “So far,” he replied.
Chuuya didn’t know how to answer him. He didn’t know how to make small talk with Dazai, who wasn’t anything like the other people he took orders from or worked with. He made himself walk on aching feet, refusing to use more than the strength Dazai already allowed him to borrow. He felt too cold to be soothed by the cool nightly air. Corruption left him a mess in more than just the physical; Chuuya was fraught with anxiety, and he knew this wouldn’t abate with time, no matter how many times he used the damn ability.
He still wasn’t sure if Corruption was an ability in itself or just an extension of one. Dazai had been the one to come up with the name all those months ago, and he probably thought himself clever for the wordplay, but Chuuya couldn’t find humor in it at all. He couldn’t find pride in being perhaps the first person ever to hold two powers within himself, not with how this one manifested.
“It looks like it hurts,” Dazai said lowly, as if reading his thoughts.
Chuuya snarled. “What the fuck do you think?” he replied. He tried to lift the hand that wasn’t slumped around Dazai’s back loosely, to show off the bruising, and failed.
Dazai’s grip tightened around him. Chuuya could feel his chest expand every time he breathed, slightly off-tempo with his own.
“Do you remember anything when you use it?” Dazai asked.
Chuuya didn’t answer. The feeling of his body moving of its own volition, the release of anger and tension as he watched from within the cage of his skull, the pain bursting through him that he could do nothing to flinch away from… those were not things he knew how to put into words.
“I just want to sleep,” he muttered. “Hurry up and get us a cab.”
“No cab’s going to take us with the way we look, Chuuya. We’re walking the way back.”
He let Dazai drag him on the sidewalk, and the way his legs pushed forward felt a little like he was trapped again. He blinked when tears started burning in his eyes. He was too tired to feel more than vaguely ashamed.
“You really need to learn how to control it,” Dazai said.
They were approaching a crossroad. The only car in sight was still far in the distance, wavering slightly in its lane toward them. It stopped, at one point. Probably a drunk driver.
Chuuya hissed when Dazai hoisted him closer, and Dazai spoke again before he could protest. “I’m serious, hat rack. The fact that you call yourself my partner when you can’t even control your powers is humiliating.”
“I don’t call myself your anything,” Chuuya replied through clenched teeth, glaring at the side of Dazai’s face. “And that’s fucking easy for you to say, isn’t it? Your ability is the easiest shit to control in the world.”
“It has its disadvantages.”
He meant it as offense, because he couldn’t imagine No Longer Human coming as anything but perfectly helpful, but Dazai said, “Well, even Corruption can’t kill me.”
It took a second for the words to register in Chuuya’s mind. When they did, he kicked Dazai away from him.
It turned out to be a terrible idea—he was definitely not ready to walk on his own yet, and it took tremendous strength of will not to start heaving as pain raced up his thighs and back, and then down all the way to the tips of his fingers. Chuuya withstood it with gritted teeth, glaring at the way Dazai caught himself against the wall of the restaurant they were walking next to.
“What the fuck,” he growled.
“I haven’t tested it yet,” Dazai said airily. He brushed imaginary dust off of the sleeves of his coat. “But I’m reasonably sure even your nifty little gravity bombs would vanish when touching me.”
“You’re not going to try.”
He had asked it with bright honestly, with no self-consciousness or shame at all. Chuuya could do nothing but stare, speechless.
Dazai smiled. It wasn’t a kind expression at all. “Don’t take it personally,” he said. “Even if it works, Mori won’t blame you for murder. He knows how I am.”
“Shut up,” Chuuya snapped. He wanted nothing more than to clench his hands into fists—only the perspective of pain prevented him from trying. He took a step toward Dazai and said, “Since you’re so damn smart, did you think at all about how I would feel?”
“How you would feel?”
“Yes, Dazai. How I would fucking feel about killing you.”
Dazai blinked at him slowly. “You kill people for a living,” he pointed out.
“I kill enemies. Not coworkers.”
The word felt weird—Chuuya didn’t think of anyone as a coworker, not standing at sixteen years old in the messy hierarchy of the port mafia—but it was better than calling Dazai a partner or a friend.
He only had one friend, and she would be disappointed if she saw how worked up he was now.
“I’d die if you died before bringing me back,” he said.
Dazai huffed. “Like I care,” he replied. “Corruption might as well be my ability, when you think about it.”
“It’s really fucking not.”
“It is. After all, you can only use it when I give you the go.” His lips stretched again. He leaned against the wall nonchalantly. “So,” he added, “technically, it would be suicide. You can rest easy, Chuuya, you wouldn’t be killing anyone.”
His words made the soft of Chuuya’s belly tense and squirm, made his tongue feel so heavy in his mouth that he couldn’t speak at all.
Dazai wasn’t the one tearing holes through the fabric of the city with his fingers. Dazai wasn’t the one making human beings’ limbs vanish and leaving them to bleed out—he wasn’t the one shaking from a rage whose inception was unknown, he wasn’t the one trapped inside of his own head as his body decided that living mattered not, when one could die in a blaze of unstoppable violence.
He was shaking, he realized. His skin felt too tight around him, as if every bone in his body was now pushing outward.
“Fuck you,” he breathed. “You’re not using Corruption to kill yourself.”
“Why are you so upset?” Dazai asked. It truly was his luck that Chuuya’s anger had no more room to grow. “We’re only speaking in hypotheticals—I know Corruption wouldn’t work. It’s not like you care if I die anyway.”
Chuuya held his breath, paying no mind to the sound of the car from earlier starting again, its driver no doubt coming out of their early stage of coma. In the glow of its frontlights Dazai looked deathly pale, like a bleached rag, a bloodless corpse; Chuuya couldn’t figure out at all the sort of answer he was waiting for, if he wanted Chuuya to lie and say that he didn’t, if he wanted Chuuya to tell the truth and admit that he didn’t know.
The light grew around them, the sound of the car’s engine coming perilously close. Chuuya was still out of his own mind when he turned his head to look at it.
It was running on the sidewalk.
The strip of concrete was wide enough that two meters at least separated Chuuya from Dazai, without Chuuya having set foot onto the road; yet the car was close to the doors and devantures of the shops around them, its side mirror breaking cleanly away as it accelerated—Chuuya’s head snapped back around with a warning, with Dazai’s name etched on his lips. The sight of Dazai’s face made it die without ever leaving them.
Chuuya’s legs pushed him into a run, adrenaline canceling pain for the second it took to fist his hands into the lapels of Dazai’s coat and throw him out of the way.
Then he felt nothing at all.
“I’m going to die,” Chuuya groaned, blinking blearily at the ceiling.
Kouyou patted his greasy hair, not looking away from the screen of her laptop. Her lips were shaking between disgust and amusement. “You need a shower,” she replied.
“You think I don’t want one?”
All he could take were sponge baths, and he couldn’t even take them alone. Chuuya still wasn’t sure which was the lesser hell between letting Kouyou do it and letting the old, mean nurse who supervised the port mafia headquarters’ hospital ward do it. At least the old mean nurse wasn’t living with him.
He grunted weakly when pain traveled through his legs. “Can I get more—”
“Fuck you.” He was grateful for the febrility that came with the painkillers, because he was pretty sure that this would have warranted him more than just a warning glare in normal circumstances. “M’sorry,” he amended. “Shit, I think I want to die.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Kouyou murmured.
“I’m so bored I might just die anyway. My brain’s gonna atrophy.”
“Not that there’s much of a brain to speak of,” came a new voice.
The sound of it was so absurd to Chuuya that he didn’t even see Dazai at first. Dazai hadn’t visited him at all so far. It had taken Chuuya almost an hour to even remember what had happened when he woke up, and when he had, only the drugs had numbed his worry. The old mean nurse only to visit him once every two hours, and he had been alone until then, wondering if Dazai had even made it. She had found him halfway through the wide room, crawling on the floor despite his injuries, checking each bed for sign of Dazai being there.
Of course, Dazai hadn’t been there. He had escaped out of the accident with only a bruise. That had been two days ago already.
“Dazai-kun,” Kouyou said pleasantly, at the same time as Chuuya spat, “Get the fuck out of here.”
“How mean,” Dazai replied, stepping into the room. “Not you, of course, Kouyou-sama. It’s always a pleasure to see you.”
He handed her a fucking bouquet, and Kouyou played along with glee, one hand pressed delicately against her lips as she took it. “My, you shouldn’t have. I’ll be sure to water them and keep them out of Chuuya’s reach.”
“I’ll throw them out the window,” Chuuya grumbled.
“See?” she said, getting out of the armchair. “He’s never learned how to receive a gift courteously.”
Chuuya glared at Dazai with all the strength left in him while Kouyou went to fetch water. Dazai didn’t seem to mind, judging by the way he smiled down at him. Chuuya wished both of his legs weren’t broken. He would’ve loved to kick him again.
“You should listen to her,” he said, patting one of Chuuya’s casts. He took a pen out of his pocket. “Hey, can I write anything on those?”
“However will you stop me?”
Chuuya did stop him, straining his abs to sit up on the bed and grab Dazai by his ridiculous hair before he was done writing half a kanji. Kouyou found them like this when she came back—Dazai grinning like a maniac and Chuuya spilling rapid-fire insults, ripping hair out of his scalp. She looked pointedly at them both.
They let go of each other. Chuuya felt more flustered than he had in eons.
“It’s a good thing you’re here, Dazai-kun,” she said. She set the flowers on a table out of Chuuya’s immediate vicinity and ignored the way he scowled at her. “I have to go take care of some business, so I can’t take Chuuya out on a stroll like I did yesterday.”
Dazai stopped smirking. Chuuya stopped thinking.
“I’m sorry,” the other replied smoothly. “I was only passing by—”
“Come now, boy,” Kouyou cut in icily. “I know Ougai-dono has given you the day off. Surely you can help alleviate poor Chuuya’s boredom—he’s been rather vocal about how much he hates being here on his own.”
“I don’t want him taking me out,” Chuuya protested.
“Warn Nurse Shido, will you?” Kouyou asked Dazai sweetly.
The subdued way Dazai obeyed her would’ve been hilarious if not for Chuuya’s own outrage. He watched, scandalized, as Dazai walked out of the room, and Kouyou brought forth the wheelchair he had borrowed the day before.
“I can move myself around,” he said.
“I know,” Kouyou replied. “I’m not doing this for you.” Before he could ask what she meant, she tapped the side of the chair and added, “Can you get in this alone or do I need to manhandle you?”
Chuuya floated himself to the chair wordlessly.
“I’ll come by again tonight,” she said once he was seated safely, his twisted arm now held in a sling. Then, as Dazai’s steps approached again, she bent down and whispered, “Give him this, Chuuya. He was in quite the state when he finally managed to bring you home.”
Chuuya had no idea what she was talking about, and he lost track of any Dazai-related thought when she pressed a kiss to his cheek. Kouyou laughed gently at the way his face darkened; he still felt as though all the blood in his body was hovering there by the time she left and Dazai came back in.
Dazai either didn’t notice his blush or thought it due to the strain of moving. He approached with slow steps, looking intently over Chuuya’s face and body—and somehow it made him feel even more restless, even more as if some energy he had no hold over was shifting under his skin.
When he was no more than a foot away, Chuuya said, “If you touch that chair I’m going to throttle you.”
“Not my ideal way to go,” Dazai grimaced.
Just like that, the weird tension was gone.
It had taken no more than ten seconds for Chuuya to figure out how to move the chair the day before. It took even less for him to move it now, making it weightless under him and pushing himself forward with his one good hand on the wall. The only thing Dazai did was grab the metal pole holding his medicine and carry it along.
“How long until you’re out of the casts?” he asked, tranquil, as they reached the elevator.
“Two weeks for the arm and ribs,” Chuuya replied, recalling Shido’s explanations hazily. “A month for the legs. I’ll have to lay off training for a while.”
“So you will make a full recovery.”
Chuuya glanced at him in surprise. “Yeah,” he answered. “It’s just a couple broken bones. Clean breaks, too. I got lucky.”
Dazai didn’t answer. He followed Chuuya to the tenth floor balcony in silence.
It was a thing of wonder, that balcony. Hirotsu’s pet project. It more than made up for the lack of a garden, what with the flowers and small trees planted all along its length. It was turned toward sea and sun. Even mid-winter, this time of the day found it filled with light.
Chuuya relaxed a little. He let go of his control of the chair once he reached the edge and gathered his jacket closer around himself. “You got cigarettes?” he asked.
Dazai being accommodating was not something Chuuya was used to, but he was a little drunk now, with exhaustion and drugs and pain, so he didn’t question it. He took the pack Dazai procured from him and dragged a cigarette out of it, placing it between his lips. He blinked in surprise when Dazai held a flame up for him to light it with.
“Does Kouyou know you smoke?” Dazai asked, snapping the lighter shut.
“If you tell her I’ll tell Mori about the last ‘sick day’ you took,” Chuuya replied. He air-quoted it, one-handed.
Dazai made a face.
They smoked next to each other, overlooking the sunlit bay. Chuuya couldn’t see very far down from his seat in the chair, but the sky was enough for now. The fresh air had already calmed him down; the seagulls’ songs ringing in the sea wind had lessened his headache.
“Chuuya,” Dazai said. Chuuya looked at him lazily, and Dazai was staring ahead, crushing the lit end of his cigarette onto the bannister before throwing the stub into the street. “Why did you do it?”
Dazai moved before he could, crouching down on the floor and then resting on his knees; he didn’t sit either, just grabbed each arm of the chair and pushed forth into Chuuya’s own space, until Chuuya was pressed into the back of the chair to avoid knocking their noses together. His ribs ached from the stress.
Dazai was a little below him like this. It was the first time Chuuya had ever looked down at him instead of up.
“You could’ve died,” Dazai said. There was something a little loose in his expression, something a little greedy.
Chuuya tensed further. “I didn’t,” he replied. “I could’ve crushed that fucking car—”
“Then why didn’t you?”
“Because there was no time, bastard, would you rather I’d let it hit you?”
He regretted asking as soon as the words left his lips, but Dazai didn’t spring along with any sort of morbid humor. He simply looked at him.
Chuuya licked his lips quickly. “I don’t know why I did it,” he said. “I just did it.”
Chuuya glared at him. Dazai smiled slowly; he tapped his own cheek with two fingers. “You have a tell,” he explained. “Your face gets all twitchy. You’re very easy to read, you know.”
“Fuck you. You don’t know anything about me.”
Dazai fell back a little, just so his backside rested on his heels. Sitting like this must be uncomfortable for him—Chuuya couldn’t imagine that he was the type to kneel this way outside of rare formalities—but he didn’t show it at all.
“You get angry easily, but you’re also surprisingly level-headed,” Dazai said. “You’re loyal. You don’t mind killing people as long as they’re not your people. You enjoy going all out but you’re scared of it too—you’re terrified of what you can do. You’re terrified of things you can’t control.”
Dazai’s face at the time hadn’t left Chuuya once since he woke up in the scratchy bed of the ward. The painkillers numbed him to the core and allowed him escape from the thunder-like quality of what he had realized, seeing him like this—struck immobile into the fast-approaching light of the car, wide-eyed, as if someone had pressed pause on a video—but he couldn’t unsee it. Not ever.
Dazai had looked nearly childish. Chuuya saw it again now in the shadow of his eyes. He heard it in the frayed edges of his voice.
“You were scared,” Chuuya said.
Dazai could talk all he wanted about death, about terror—he had been scared in that moment. He hadn’t wanted to die. There was nothing else Chuuya could have done but answer his unspoken call for help.
He blushed at the thought and didn’t voice it himself, but Dazai didn’t need him to, if his knowing smile was anything to go by. “See,” he said, using the arms of the chair to push himself upright. The movement brought him close enough that his next words broke over Chuuya’s face with a shiver, spoken right by his forehead. “You are easy to read.”
“I’m just tired,” Chuuya replied, hoping in vain that his face wasn’t too red.
He didn’t protest when Dazai circled the chair this time, not even as he took its handles and steered him back toward the building.
“I guess I could do worse than a partner willing to jump in front of a car for me,” he said.
“Don’t get used to it, asshole. Next time I’m watching your sorry ass get hit.”
Wind rushed through the opening of the door, swallowing the sound of the first genuine laughter Dazai had ever given him.