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to who we'll be, from who we are

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It hasn't been long since Ango was released from the hospital himself, and yet, here he is again. The bright fluorescent lights beaming down overhead, the sharp scent of antiseptic piercing his senses, the hustle and bustle of people coming and going and living and dying. The closed door in front of him, and the person behind it.

They’ve come so far and gone nowhere.

Ango maneuvers the flower pot so he can hold it in one hand. He knocks lightly with the other. The voice on the other side answers too quickly, as though it had been waiting for the sound.

“Come in!” the voice calls, jovially. Maybe he expected company. Maybe. But it's just as likely that he’s bored and welcomes the diversion.

Ango pushes the door open and walks in. The curtains are drawn, and Dazai sits in full view of the door. It's like stepping into the past: into a time when the bandages covered more than scars, back when they loosely held together a young man determined to fall apart.

“Well, if it isn't Ango!” Dazai trills. “Welcome.”

The door closes behind him. “Dazai-kun. How are you feeling?”

“I'm good as new!” Dazai declares, gesturing to his hospital gown grandiosely. “Aside from the bullet hole and the stitches. Oh, and the blood loss. And the waning effectiveness of the painkillers.” He pauses. “On the other hand, you seem to have made a full recovery!”

“Thanks to you and your coworker,” Ango deadpans.

“I bet you had a great time! I hear her treatment is to die for.”

Ango busies himself with arranging the flowers on the bedside table but can't quite ignore the chance to reprimand the overgrown man-child in the room. “It’s not good to gossip about people you work with.”

“Ah, that's right! You're something of an expert on treating colleagues badly.” Dazai's response comes too quickly, too naturally. His disdain for Ango isn't just practiced: it's ingrained.

It's also unsurprising.

“As are you,” Ango retorts, pushing his glasses up. “You never tire of proving it either.”

Dazai shrugs lightly, a smile that doesn't reach his eyes playing on his lips. “We're not colleagues anymore.”

We're not friends anymore.

The fight goes out of Ango, not because Dazai has said anything particularly cutting, but because Ango feels the record needle catching in the scratches. It's the same song they've had on repeat for years: worn by friction, eroded with time. Ango lets his hands fall against the tabletop, not to steady himself but because he's tired.

“Just for once,” he says, “could we not do this again?”

“Do what again?” Dazai asks, his voice rising in a mockery of innocence. “This is the first time you've come to visit me in the hospital.”

“All I came to do was visit a friend. I didn't come here to argue with you.” Ango turns to face him, for all the good it’ll do.

Dazai hums, tapping a finger against the side of his jaw, pretending to consider when Ango knows that his mind is already made. “But what did you really come here for?”

Of course. When Dazai visited Ango, he wasn't visiting a friend; he was visiting a means to an end, a tool he had use for and that he'd quickly discard of again in the end. That's what Dazai thinks of him: that he would do the same.

The realization doesn’t hurt. Not anymore. His wounds have long festered and reopened and healed, and the thing about time is that it will force you to move on, whether you want to or not. At least, that’s how it works for most people.

The problem is that Dazai isn’t most people.

With little more than a sigh and a slump of his shoulders, Ango finally answers, “To give you back this get-well-soon plant. I don’t need it anymore.”

Dazai blinks, caught off guard, his smug look fading. His eyes gloss over, as if he’s seeing nothing, and suddenly, he smiles again. This time, Ango thinks he sees it breach through the voids of his eyes.

“You know, I always thought get-well-soon flowers were poetic in a strange, convoluted way.”

“Really? I thought you would find them an empty gesture.” That's what Ango thinks anyway.

Dazai continues, gesticulating as he talks, “It's like saying, ‘Here are some pretty flowers. Now I'm gonna leave you alone while you stay here and watch them die.’ Feels less like get-well wishes and more a reminder of the frailty of life, don’t you think?”

Ango sits on the edge of the bed. “Is that why you bought me a plant in the first place?”

Dazai shrugs noncommittally, as if to downplay his initial well wishes entirely. “Only the good die young.”

“Then you and I might live forever.”

“Don't jinx me.”

Ango almost smiles.

“I bet he would've gotten me flowers, not a plant,” Dazai muses. “He was short-sighted for someone who saw the future.” Caught up in nostalgia, Dazai plays with the folds in his sheets, and Ango imagines if he had a glass, he would be toying with the ice inside.

Ango closes his eyes and finds that he can still picture Oda, the warmth in his eyes, the strength in his jaw. It's true: if Dazai hadn't been a man of the mafia forced to stitch himself back together, Oda would've walked through these very walls to give him a flower shop's worth of get-well flowers. Ango says, “Yes, he probably would have, but he certainly wouldn’t have wanted you to do things that would land you in the hospital at all.”

There it is. Dazai smiles, slow and hollow. “You don't get to talk about what he would've or wouldn't have wanted,” he says, “because you're the reason he can't say it for himself.”

Ango freezes. He had been balancing on a spider's web since he walked through the door, and finally, he's lost his footing and fallen into the trap.

Dazai is right, of course. There’s no denying it, no arguing against something Dazai has decided is true. It might have roots in truth, but its branches are convoluted, twisting and turning, too many to count. Ango is not the seed that the tree of blame grew from, but he’s the one who bears the weight of its fruit.

“I’m sorry.” They’re the only words Ango finds.

But they’re not the words Dazai needs to hear.

“Was it worth it?”

“I would do it again if it were necessary. For the security of the country.” It’s an automatic answer, the right answer, one he’s drilled himself to say even if he can’t bring himself to believe it.

It’s still not what Dazai needs to hear, though.

Was it worth it?” Dazai pushes, and this time, Ango isn’t sure what will happen if he regurgitates the answer he’s supposed to give.

He closes his eyes again, and his regrets coalesce.

It wasn’t worth giving Port Mafia free reign of the city. It wasn’t worth bringing in an enemy organization and standing by as they slaughtered children in cold blood, as those children burnt alive, as one of his only friends shed the last of his humanity.

It wasn’t worth losing the only two people he learned to love.

“No… none of it was worth anything in the end.”

He jolts in surprise when he feels Dazai cup his cheek.

It’s so gentle it hurts.

“There you are.” As if Dazai’s rediscovered the part of Ango he cared about, as if that part still exists somewhere. But Ango knows the truth: if he accepts this moment of kindness, this brief absolution, he'll be handing whatever part of himself Dazai needs over on a silver platter. Dazai doesn't want him, just a part of him, one that will play some role in whatever scheme Dazai is devising next.

Ango surrenders anyway.

He doesn’t mind being Dazai’s again.

When Dazai leans forward and closes the distance between them, when Ango feels Dazai’s lips press against his own, he latches on: baited, hooked, reeled in. Ango is the one who deepens the kiss, who sucks on Dazai’s bottom lip, who invades his mouth with an eager tongue. He feels a smile curl on Dazai’s lips and doesn't care. He slides his hands up Dazai's sides, hitching up his hospital gown and--

Dazai catches Ango’s left hand before it can go too far. Glancing down, Ango sees their intertwined fingers resting on bare skin, right beneath the fresh stitches. It shouldn't look as enticing as it does.

“I just had those done,” Dazai chides gently, a slight chuckle in his voice. “I'd rather not have them done again.”

“Sorry,” Ango says, breathlessly. He forces himself to calm down as though his will alone can slow the blood rushing through his veins. There's no hiding the heat in his cheeks, not at this distance, not from someone who sees everything anyway.

Dazai leans his forehead against Ango's. “Ango?” His voice is sweet and, strangely, hesitant.

Ango’s heart sinks. He came here with no hidden agenda, and in so doing, he gave Dazai the opportunity to pursue his own. Nevertheless: “What is it?”

“Don't let them take the Agency from me.”

Ango's eyes snap to Dazai's in disbelief. It's not a plan, not a threat. It's a plea.

“That's what their goal is: to destroy the Agency and Mafia both, and knowing the Spec-Ops, you'll sit back and watch us kill each other.” His voice is controlled and detached, but Ango thinks that he detects a slight waver in it as Dazai continues, “Just like you did back then.”

“I… I can't--”

“Please.” Dazai's voice is oddly small, and Ango feels it when Dazai's hand squeezes his own a little tighter. “I can finally do work that saves people. Don't take away his legacy the way you took him.”

“I'll… do my best.”

And then, as though it had never left, the steel in Dazai's voice returns. “I'll give you the demon Fyodor. You just make sure the Agency gets out alive.”

When he leaves the hospital room, it's on unsteady feet. He'd been swept up by a whirlwind, tossed about by the whims of Dazai's unstable emotions, but somehow, he thinks he might have walked away with the beginnings of a truce.

It's not forgiveness.

But it's better than nothing.