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carve your love into my skin

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Silver forks of lightning struck the bay, their impotent fury carrying over the black water.

It was only mid-October and winter already bared its teeth.

Chuuya’s own teeth were locked in the hostile weather, hands shoved deep in his pockets as he sped walked to his apartment. The brittle ice lining the sidewalk crunched beneath his boots with every step.

The stars were hidden by thick, roving clouds, and only the slivered moon lit the lonely path. Part of the reason he’d chosen this neighborhood was its lack of street lamps. For Chuuya, it was easier to see enemies in the dark.

His body was tense as he restrained himself from shivering, hyper-aware of his situation. He hadn’t been in this neighborhood in years, and if anyone recognized him he wasn’t sure he’d be able to control himself. He’d never done well in the cold, and he was aching to find shelter. In his haste to leave work, he’d left his motorcycle behind, and was now reaping the consequences. Since Dazai bombed his car he refused to buy a new one, lest he risk a repeat of his Camaro.

Chuuya winced as pain lanced from his tailbone like a hot knife, and tasted copper on his tongue.

His belly was full of blood and his teeth were red with it, his eyes sore from lack of sleep and knuckles sore from breaking bones. There was a welt on his back from where someone whacked him with a bar stool.

Here, along the port, the wind ripped through the blocks with a whistling roar, and his cheeks were already wind-scarred despite the short walk from the pub. The waves slapped against the sea wall, hiding the voices of a gaggle of drunks who sauntered his way.

He plucked a lighter from a man's back pocket and lit a cigarette with trembling fingers. His leather gloves were stiff and he made a mental note to purchase a new pair as he observed cracks forming around the joints.

His old apartment stood out at the end of the wharf, decrepit exterior and empty windows visible from a good distance. A relic from before the war, it was a heritage site standing only due to its willful tenants. The appliances were outdated and the rent ungodly, and yet out of all his safe houses he loved it most of all.

He’d always been a sentimental fool.

A short strip of green lined the rest of the walk, small plots where the elderly had planted their gardens. No doubt due to an ability, as the grass was a vivid green and the flowers flourished despite the early frost.

There was no sound from the six-story building, no lights or muffled music, as most of the residents were retired fishermen in their late seventies. All of them born and raised in the building, and all determined to die there.

He took the stairs two at a time, working blood into his calves as he ascended to the fourth floor. His was a room facing the port—from his kitchen windows he was able to view the Port Mafia headquarters.

He was sure Mori could see him too.

Chuuya fished his keys and fumbled with numb fingers for the lock, mindful of his ability lest he warp the metal. Finally, he pushed into his apartment only to be greeted by icy air.

“Just my fucking luck”, he swore under his breath, slamming the door and stamping out his boots on the welcome mat. His breath fogged indoors, and from his shivering spot he surveyed the dark living room and open kitchen for any signs of a forgotten space heater.

Light shafted from beneath the bathroom door.

He made no move for the ka-bar strapped to his thigh, there was only one person dumb enough to break in.

“Mackerel!” he shouted, wincing at the grate of his voice, “Get out here!”.

Something like a bottle of pills clattered about in the sink and he let out a growl.

“The last thing I need is your dead body on my toilet. Grab what you want and get out of here! I’m not in the mood!”

Dazai’s tan coat hung from the coatrack, and Chuuya slipped off a glove and slid his hand into the folds of the lining.

It’s still warm.

Chuuya frowned, tugging open the scab in his bottom lip.

Dazai couldn’t have arrived more than a few minutes before he did, meaning he’d been watched. He hadn’t intended to spend the night in this neighborhood, and the pub brawl was hardly in his plans. There were no coincidences where Dazai was concerned, and his nape prickled in muted alarm. If the man meant to prank him, Chuuya wouldn’t go easy on him. Dazai was in Port Mafia territory, and their truce held no grounds here.

The bathroom door banged open to reveal the mackerel in all his lanky, bandaged glory.

Backlit by fluorescents, Chuuya couldn’t see his face, but he could feel his eyes on him.

“What is it this time?” he muttered, working off his windbreaker and boots with some difficulty. “Come to finally claim your shitty cassette player? That thing’s been collecting dust under the couch for years, hurry up and get rid of it.”

Against his better judgement he felt himself relaxing in the other's presence. Here, in what was once their shared home, this kind of banter felt all too comforting.

“I—”

Something was wrong with Dazai, in the way he swayed in the threshold and how he braced his weight on the doorjamb.

“I’ve got a prob—”

Dazai broke off mid slur and puked on the carpet.

Chuuya vaulted over his couch and grabbed him by a slim shoulder, forcing Dazai back into the bathroom. He opened his mouth, ready to chew him out for getting drunk on his sake again when he realized Dazai’s face was waxy and flush with fever. His lips were chapped, cheeks blistered from the cold, his eyes were the color of mud and lolled across the ceiling.

Chuuya’s socks were wet with vomit, but all he could think was how imbecilic his partner had become to seek refuge here.

He wasn’t touched in the slightest.

“For the love of—I’m telling you if you keep working for that useless Agency all you’re going to get is endless suffering. You know your ability doesn’t work on ambient-types!”

He wadded a bath towel and ran it under the sink, throwing it at Dazai who rested against the wall.

“I just wanted water”, he croaked, pressing the towel to his forehead, and Chuuya watched him slide down the tiles until he came to crumple on the floor.

“Well the kitchen was closer than the bathroom and I don’t have any cups in here. And it looks like you were searching for my Codine.”

He lifted the stopper and let the small pills fizzle down the drain, tutting at the waste. The tipped bottle on the counter was empty.

“If you overdosed on this I’m not going to pump your stomach.”

Dazai shook his head, whole body rocking with the motion.

“Was—”

He dry-heaved into the towel, the wrenching gags echoing in the small space. He looked into it and wrinkled his nose, throwing it into the shower with clumsy aim.

“Was looking for Lorazepam.”

Chuuya folded his arms, lips a hair’s breadth from a snarl.

“You mean Ativan? I don’t keep prescription medication like Lorazepam here.”

“You need a prescription for Codeine.”

Chuuya checked the bottle with a raised brow, the expiration date had long passed. He was normally so careful about these things. Where had Dazai managed to find something like this?

His stomach tightened when he realized it must have been Dazai’s, long ago.

“Well this thing’s past the expiration date, anyhow, so it wouldn’t have helped you with that fever.”

He wasn’t sure if you could overdose on expired medication. That was more up Dazai’s lane.

“Told you I wasn’t...was looking for something for—”, he gestured vaguely at the soiled towel in the shower.

“—something for the nausea”, Chuuya finished, “I heard you the first time.”

Normally Dazai would rise the challenge, but instead he stared vacantly at the toilet. He moaned and shivered, dropping his head between his knees, his sweat cold and sticky on Chuuya’s bare palm.

“Wait here.”

He found the space heater wedged in the back of the supply closet, the cord tangled around a pair of skis. He went into the kitchen while it booted up and brought a plastic cup to the bathroom.

Dazai was slumped forward between the vanity and the toilet, moaning into the tiles.

“Get up”, said Chuuya, toeing him in the thigh.

“Let me die~” Dazai whimpered, “Just drop me in the ocean when I’m gone.”

Chuuya grit his teeth and said nothing.

Dazai’s never understood.

The brilliant fool.

“Here”, Chuuya took out a pack of analgesics from the medicine cabinet and dropped it on Dazai’s head.

Dazai grunted and struggled to stand, blindly reaching for the package before his knees buckled and he sat in a resigned lump.

Chuuya turned on the tap and filled the cup to the textured line, keeping an eye on Dazai’s hands in the mirror. As disoriented as he was, he couldn't be sure the brunette wouldn't overdose by accident.

Or on purpose.

Dazai fumbled with the blister pack until Chuuya popped the pills out for him. He took them numbly, fingers closing awkwardly around the white tablets, and he downed them dry.

“Wait! Fuck just—”

He held the cup to Dazai’s lips and let him drink until he coughed.

“Thank you”, Dazai croaked, and Chuuya upturned the cup into the sink with a sneer.

“Your gratitude is never sincere, I don’t know why you even bother saying it.”

He ignored the way his arms shook. Dazai hadn’t thanked him in years.

He turned around to find Dazai passed out cold across his floor.

Panic flooded his system as he shook Dazai’s and slapped his cheeks. The man didn’t so much as groan.

“Holy shit you better be joking, this isn’t funny you bastard!”

Chuuya rechecked that he’d given him generic painkillers. The foil label looked innocent enough.

He sighed through his nose, “Okay.”

Chuuya looked at Dazai’s pallid face, his hair plastered to his forehead like serifs of ink.

“Okay.”


 

Even with the space heater sputtering to life in the living room, Dazai couldn’t remain in his drenched clothes. He’d catch much worse than an ability-induced stomach bug if Chuuya didn't do something about them.

He made quick work of Dazai's shirt and shoes, pulling off his pants and boxers in a single motion. His back flared as he dragged him by his armpits into the glass-paneled shower, heels bumping over the sliding track.

Dazai’s bandages would also have to be removed, but he was hesitant.

When they shared the same space, the same bed, it was an unspoken rule that Chuuya would never peak under the gauze. Even when he tended to the other’s injuries, he was only allowed to tend to those on exposed skin. When Dazai came back a bit too drunk and tried to strip in the kitchen, it was Chuuya’s duty to wrap him in a blanket and lock him in the bathroom until he sobered up.

Chuuya focused on the wrap clips glinting in the fluorescents, tongue rolling in his mouth.

I’ve got no choice. If he freezes to death in my apartment, I’ll never hear the end of it from Ane-san.

With shaking fingers, he pried the clips from Dazai’s wrist, the metal tinkling on the shower tiles.

He’d never realized how thin the gauze was, holding the man’s hand in his own as he slowly unwound the bandages to his forearm.

At first, he thought it was a simple wound.

Red and glistening, the cuts were shallow marks along the inside of his forearm. The lines wove together in a deliberate fashion, and when he realized what they were he unwound the bandages in a panicked frenzy.

When he’d finished, he sat back on his heels and stared.

Dazai’s chest heaved, painfully thin and near translucent in its pallor. The wings of his ribcage rolled beneath the skin like small waves creasing along the shore.

Chuuya could not find it in himself to breath at all. The air was punched from his lungs like a physical blow, his throat pinched with shock.

All the world had been narrowed down to Dazai’s distressed breathing and the hammering of his own heartbeat.

And the writing.

It was as if someone took a scalpel and traced just deep enough, peeled off the insides and left gaping wounds still glistening with gore. They were fresh. The delicate carvings did not well with blood. They had a depth to them, maybe only a millimeter thick. Where the bandages directly touched his skin, Chuuya could see the kanji reflected in striking red, the edges fuzzing into the thin cotton.

The kanji crossed over his chest, wrapped around his neck, climbed up his thighs, and swirled around his navel. He saw there was a pattern, that there were breaks in the handwriting where the owner changed. Each sentence penned by a different author. Each character no bigger than his thumbnail.

There were places where the words became ineligible: in the hollow of his throat and the swell of his kneecaps—where the spaces between the carvings were so slim there was hardly any skin left.

The writing obscured any scars that might hide beneath them, and Chuuya could smell the blood curling off Dazai’s warm body like simmering metal.

The phrase: I wish I could die, was scrolled along his left hip, and shame crawled up Chuuya’s throat to choke him.

This wasn’t something he was meant to see.

There was no excuse for this, not for this unfathomable scene he couldn’t have conjured even in his nightmares.

He’d witnessed his fair share of torture, had been tortured.

Wielded the knife himself.

But Dazai was untouchable. Pure in the bleakest way. Everything sloughed off him like water. Nothing lingered in his expression or in the tension of his shoulders or the bow of his mouth.

All of Dazai’s innumerable scars were on the inside, because Dazai was an enigma who never showed his full hand to anyone.

This permanent display of weakness was unacceptable.

Chuuya grabbed the shower head and gently rinsed him off. His hand shook so much the cool water rarely met its target.

He didn’t dare use soap, and once he’d finished with his front he rolled him over so he still lay on his clothes.

His back was whole.

Though the kanji skirted up his legs and covered his arms and neck, his back was free of the defacing marks.

Chuuya let out a breath of bitter relief.

He couldn’t be sure if Dazai had actually been hit by an ability. It was entirely possible he’d become sick from the pain. He knew well how agonizing superficial injuries could be.

The motherfuckers who’d done this better be dead, otherwise he was going to peel off their skin and dunk them in alcohol.

He’d make it slow.

Once he’d rinsed and pat him dry, Chuuya laid Dazai out on a dry towel and searched the cabinet for bandages. It wasn’t hard to find them, he sent fresh rolls of gauze to all his safe-houses on a regular basis in case of emergency. If he bought a little extra than one person would need, that was his business.

While he’d never bandaged Dazai before, he tried his best to recreate the same layering and pressure as before, taking care to spot dry wounds that welled with blood. He realized the reason they’d been so clean before was the gauze absorbed all seepage.

He didn’t think they needed stitches, no matter how bad they looked, but the blood sinking through the cotton stirred worry low in his gut.

“Now to find you some clothes. I don’t think anything will fit you here. I burned anything you left behind so...”

Chuuya stared at Dazai’s slack expression, listened to the small whistle of breath through parted lips.

He found a pair of Dazai’s boxers that had gotten lost in his own drawer, and tugged them over bony knees and hips. Otherwise, he left him as is, to make sure Dazai knew what he’d done. Dazai would realize it anyway, but he needed to be certain.

If Dazai was going to punish him for seeing something so intimate, then so be it.


His living room was cramped and cluttered, the overstuffed sofa taking up half of the space. In place of a coffee table there was an upturned laundry bin. Dusty clothes hung over the back of the couch, were crammed into cushions, and draped over the mounted TV that ran just twenty channels.

His bedroom was in an even worse state, and the spare room that had once belong to Dazai was filled with bullet holes and wine stains.

He cleared the couch and cocooned Dazai in his comforter, careful to prop his head with a thin pillow.

Chuuya threw the clothes into the washing machine and the bandages into the trash, tossing the soiled towel in after them. The vomit came up easily with baking soda and he vacuumed it up after it’d dried.

Afterwards, he went to the wine cabinet and uncorked a Merlot with his teeth. Pouring himself half a glass, he sat on his kitchen counter with a thick wedge of Monterey Jack that was hard and frozen from the fridge. The wine was dry, just this side of bitter, and blistered down his throat like a trail of fire. The glow in his stomach helped ease the knot in his chest.

Chuuya set down his glass and watched the surface ripple silver in the moonlight that shafted through the kitchen window.

He sighed.

His fingers twitched for a cigarette, but they were in his coat pocket by the door. There was also the chance Dazai would wake to the smell, not to say the bastard wasn’t already awake.

The measured breathing and soft snoring could easily be faked.

Chuuya covered a yawn and his teeth scraped along the bare skin of his palm.

He hadn’t the faintest idea where his gloves were—the pair he’d purchased in France, enamored by the cashmere lining and the soft lambskin leather. They concealed the rough callouses he so despised and let him hide the bruised fingertips his trump card left him with.

He hadn't activated Corruption in two months.

Before that, four years.

He dragged his hands over his face with a low groan, splitting his fingers to look at the elephant on the couch.

He’d expected to find skin scarred by chars and deep gouges, scored by bullets and knives. He’d never seen them, but he knew Dazai injured himself more than once in his efforts to stop his rampages. He was told Dazai pulled him out of a burning building once, that he’d thrown himself over Chuuya when a grenade went off nearby. Of course, as it was Dazai himself who claimed these things, he took them with a grain of salt.

He leaned back on the counter, fanning his fingers on the cold marble, when his pinkie brushed something different.

The white coffin on a red backdrop was unmistakable, and he angled the book into the light with a sense of coiling dread.

It was something he’d glimpsed in their days as partners, strewn about Dazai’s room or left in miscellaneous cabinets. In those days, the book never left the apartment, but Chuuya hadn’t caught him reading it, either.

The crimped spine, striated in white lines even then, said otherwise.

Chuuya had never opened it. Never touched it. Never given it much thought other than tired amusement.

He’d seen the worn volume a thousand times and never asked himself how often Dazai read it. If he took the words seriously. If he’d tried any of the methods for himself.

Because Chuuya had been blinded by an adoration so fierce it whittled down reality into something fantastical.

After Dazai defected, he realized it had been because they’d fit so perfectly in each other’s lives. Dazai filled the hole in his heart made for companionship, and as many friends as he held close to his chest, none held a place so important as Dazai.

It was the desire for comradery and Dazai’s charisma that ensnared him.

And nothing else.

It didn’t matter that Dazai’s eyes grew glazed and far away when he thought no one was looking, that their first meeting was one in which Dazai was dressed head-to-toe in bloody bandages, that Dazai was the one who skirted death most often between the two and never seemed phased by the prospects.

Chuuya knew better now.

He flipped to the first page, the foreword, and found the white space swallowed up by Dazai’s manicured penmanship.

The similarities frightened him.

As of 2002 2006 2013 2016, impact from a building higher than 200 meters is the fastest but most conspicuous method.

Prevention walls have been installed in all the subway stations in West Yokohama as of September 2008.

Pages 47-52 are too stained to read, replace with handwritten copies.

Chuuya swallowed his bile and flipped to a random page.

It was littered in graphic self-drawn diagrams of possible iterations of self-immolation, the flame heights marked and temperatures labeled.

The text actually printed was drowned in Dazai’s tiny scrawl: chapter 1 was overrun with ingestible substances and their effect on the body in large quantities, chapter 3 noted all the places in Yokohama higher than 200 meters, and chapter 4 was near illegible with brown stains. By far the most inscribed chapters were those on hanging and drowning, while self-immolation was the least decorated.

He turned to a page titled “Nerve Damage”.

In the bottom right corner, a little oil drum was drawn in blue ballpoint, in which a tiny Dazai was crammed with only his head and feet jutting above the rim.

Waste of time, too painful, called Atsushi-kun to pull me out. Tried again at a later date after sawing off the rim to make it sharper. Also unsuccessful, too much blood.

He turned and dry-heaved into the sink.

He returned the novel to its place beside the coffee tin and noticed the time. It was half-past three in the morning, and even if Mori didn’t expect him to work tomorrow, Koyou did. She wanted him to lift a grand piano to the seventeenth floor of a patron’s high-rise. That was at 7:00 AM.

Too tired to shower and too sore to undress, Chuuya flopped onto his sheets and passed out before he hit the mattress.


 

He dreamt of walking through a wheat field, the edges of his vision grainy as if in an old film.

The tall grass bent as a unit in the warm wind, leaves purling across a cloudless sky of endless blue. The mountains of Japan crested in the distance, dark forests draped about their snowy shoulders.

He was alone in a landscape hand-picked from one of Kouyou’s heirloom paper fans.

The air smelled of budding flowers and fruit, the sweet scent filling Chuuya’s lungs and releasing the tension in his shoulders.

Even so, unease curled in his stomach, and he hastened his steps.Through a part in the grass he spied an orange shape, and he ran to it in spite of his rising fear.

A fox, ripe in its thick summer coat, lay spread out on the black soil, the fur rustling in the wind like soft needles.

Looking closer, the body itself seem to roil, masses lumping under the skin.

A black beak tore through the luscious pelt, beady eyes blinking at Chuuya, and the corpse exploded in a burst of screaming feathers, crows massing to the skies in a frantic rush of wings and talons.

The air turned black with them, the sounds an unbearable crescendo of screeching animals.

In his shock, he stumbled and fell onto the fox’s corpse. When he raised himself to his elbows, he saw that it was Dazai’s.


Chuuya woke to the sound of nothing.

His cheek was crushed against his bedsheets, body stiff and unyielding. His joints popped and his spine crackled as he sat up gingerly, blinking dumbly as he wondered how long he’d slept.

Although the room was ice cold, he’d sweat through his clothes.

The space heater must have died, he thought, watching his breath rise in the stale air.

Exhaustion pulled at every muscle, the bruise in his low back feeling as if it’d begun to rot, and yet he refused to sleep, drenched as he was.

It was asking for certain death.

Chuuya turned and scooted to the foot of the bed, letting his legs hang as he cushioned his face in his palms.

The nightmare eluded him, skirting on the edges of his consciousness, and Chuuya dashed after the images with outstretched fingers.

He sighed through his nose and dragged his hands down his cheeks.

His bedroom door was wide open, giving him full view of the kitchen. The moonlight caught the flecks of metal in the marble countertop, glittering diamonds amongst shining pots and pans. He hadn’t been in this apartment in ages, and yet the sterling silver vase Dazai insisted on setting by the window was a beacon of silver flame.

Chuuya never thought he could hate an object so vehemently as he did that vase.

Dazai, unromantic and dispassionate in all but death, would gather flowers from the downstairs plots and arrange them in neat variations on the window sill. He even polished the vase whenever one of them forgot to close the window and the salty breeze tarnished the silver plate.

He used them to convey things he was too emotionally constipated to voice: white and yellow poppies when Chuuya returned from a successful solo mission, bluebells and white camellia when Chuuya was away abroad, or white anemone and daffodils when Dazai wanted to flatter him.

When he defected, he’d only left sweet peas.

Now, yellow carnations and white chrysanthemums sat entwined within the vessel.

You’ve truly disappointed me.

Chuuya jumped to his feet.

The tall shadow leaning against the fridge wasn't a discarded coat, as he’d believed, but a man reclined against the counter.

“Dazai,” he breathed, voice soft and alien to his own ears. His heart hammered a bruise into his ribcage, unease bubbling in his throat. He recognized the instinct to flee, and realized he was afraid.

Chest crammed full of shame.

Dazai was facing him, but in the contrast of the moonlight and the shadow cast by the fridge, he was only a black outline. A blot of ink in the shape of a person. Now that he was paying attention, he could hear the soft crinkle of worn pages being turned with care.

Chuuya swallowed bile, feeling like a child caught in a lie.

He squinted at Dazai, the ambient light casting silver shadows over the fresh gauze, one half of the man’s face shrouded in darkness.

The space heater had dried out the air. Chuuya tongue peeled off the roof of his mouth as he curled his lips into a smirk, his lips sticking to his teeth in a bared-tooth grimace.

“Did you break the space heater again? You’re the reason the heating system still doesn’t work, you know. No one can get the pens out of the funnel.”

The pages stopped turning, and Chuuya felt eyes on him like points of flame.

“It was off when I went downstairs. You can buy one at Fuji’s for half-price this season, but you don’t mean to stay for long, so what’s the point?”

It was like Chuuya had woken up five years in the past.

Dazai was in the kitchen looking for the last can of crab before he crawled into Chuuya’s bed and jammed his cold hands under his shirt. In the morning, they’d argue over who’d managed to burn the toast and Dazai would race him down the stairs while Chuuya descended out the window. Somehow, Chuuya always lost and Dazai never looked out of breath despite his poor stamina.

At headquarters, a switch would flip, and the haunted look would return to those copper eyes in an instant. Chuuya would put away his jokes as they piled up the bodies, and Dazai would make sure any disrespectful subordinates joined the heap as well.

It was like looking into the void, knowing it looked back with interest.

“I’m sorry.”

The words tore through his parched throat, and he tasted blood on his tongue where he’d bit through.

Dazai snapped the book shut, and Chuuya could see the dust cloud from here. The brunette pushed away from the counter, light bleeding into his expression.

The Dazai of the Agency was nowhere to be found, and Chuuya knew better than to look for him. He wouldn’t insult Dazai by pretending to misunderstand.

Chuuya was a man built on pride, but he’d always exerted humility when it was due.

He wasn’t sure he could pay this debt.

“Whatever for?” The demon asked, head tilt like a bird, eyes missing nothing. Chuuya could feel them carve the flesh off his bones.

“For changing your bandages without your consent.”

He watched Dazai’s lips thin, head tipping back to expose the pale expanse of his throat as he examined the ceiling. Chuuya hadn’t checked for mold yet, the water damage from last year’s monsoon was probably hideous.

“It seems you went through my novel as well.”

Chuuya would hesitate to call it anything other than a bible, but he held his tongue. He gave a sharp nod in response, trailing his eyes down the lean contours of Dazai’s chest.

He’d lost muscle mass after joining the Agency. The remaining fat in his cheeks had been stripped away by time, depositing in healthy places along his arms and legs. There was a softness to his stomach that was new. It was still toned and relatively flat, but it spoke of square meals and rest instead of laziness.

Even with the bandages, Chuuya could still see the grotesque kanji covering every inch of available skin.

The Agency’s doctor couldn’t heal Dazai, and those injuries were too vicious to avoid scarring.

Dazai’s soul was mutilated, and now he had the wounds to prove it.

The brunette sighed with his whole body, looking at Chuuya with deep-seated exhaustion Chuuya felt all too well.

“It can’t be helped.” He chirped, aura fading, and set his book by the vase.

“I suppose I deserve this, for coming so suddenly. I should have guessed you wouldn’t have been able to keep your hands to yourself!”

Dazai swooned dramatically, hand to his forehead, and heat crept up Chuuya’s neck with a vengeance.

“Shut up! As if I’d be into an ass-less twig like you!”

“Ah~ so Chuuya admits he’s been looking at my ass. How uncouth of you, mon petite mafia.”

“You’re impossible!”

“You know you can’t resist me,” Dazai winked, feet silent against frigid tiles. He disappeared into the living room and Chuuya made no move to follow.

It’s his method, he reminded himself, don’t let him get to you.

But if he was honest with himself, a load had lifted from his shoulders and breathing came easier.

It wasn’t forgiveness, but it was enough for now.

He looked at the flowers again and squinted, Dazai had bumped the vase with his book, and he could now see the colors more clearly.

Purple carnations and yellow chrysanthemums.

I’m unhappy with your impulsive decision.

Chuuya closed the door and crawled into bed, this time burying himself under his sheets. The cold was such that he curled into himself, layering his body with pillows to stave off the chill. His sweat was dry but his clothes were not, and he gave up and disrobed, flinging the damp clothes away with abandon. If he died of the cold and Dazai found his naked corpse, at least he would already be dead.

To his surprise, sleep found him easily, the stress hitting him all at once, sapping his limbs of energy.

He did not dream and he did not stir, not even when Dazai returned from his neighbors with a pilfered space heater that actually worked.


 

Chuuya was already rolling eggs in a skillet when Dazai roused himself, the rice cooker on warm and the salted salmon browning in the grill.

“You’re awake,” said Chuuya, turning down the heat under the miso soup, the roiling settling to a low bubble. He gestured to the drawers with his spoon.

“Start setting the table, if you please. The cutlery’s in the top drawer, second from the left.”

Dazai rubbed his eyes with both fists and Chuuya stifled a snort with a cough.

He swayed when he stood, stumbling into the table with a grunt. The wooden legs scraped along the floor loud enough to wake the dead. His upstairs neighbors would be complaining this afternoon.

Mr. Yamato’s lawn mower was beneath the window, and the pungent smell of cut grass invaded the kitchen through the open pane. Dazai wrinkled his nose but Chuuya didn’t move to close it.

He wouldn’t break eye contact first. Everything was a game with Dazai. Chuuya had always been competitive.

The grill popped open and they both looked at the sizzling fillets in surprise.

Chuuya laughed, grin splitting the scab in his bottom lip, but all he cared about was the look of starved longing Dazai gave the fish.

He turned back to the tamagoyaki, folding over the last bits of omelet with the wooden cooking chopsticks from Koyou gifted him for his seventeenth birthday.

He wondered if the Agency ever gathered for breakfast. He knew Dazai would never bother to cook for himself and the man had never been one to eat out. He preferred to starve or leech off the generosity of others under the guise of an inability to cook.

Chuuya understood without asking it was due to loneliness.

There’s no point in cooking a meal just to eat it by yourself.

Dazai collected the ceramic plates and set out the matching bowls with practiced ease.

Chuuya’s heart swelled.

When they were children, all sharp angles and the odd proportions that came with youth, Koyou would gather them for meals like this. ‘To learn proper dining etiquette’, she’d said, but they both knew it was to create a semblance of normalcy in their bloody world.

Chuuya could feel Dazai’s stare burning holes along his spine, and suppressed the shivers that came with the gooseflesh breeding on his bare arms. He’d pinned his hair up in a high-pony and the extra skin made him feel vulnerable.

It’d always been like this, a never-ending dance between tolerance and enjoyment, fingers dipped into distrust and malice. It’s inevitable in their business.

It was inevitable.

Now it’s just a statement of fact.

He portioned out the meal in even distribution, peeling off the grey skin of the salmon from Dazai’s plate so he wouldn’t gripe.

The brunette started eating before Chuuya even turned off the stovetop or paddled out the rice, but he couldn’t bring himself to complain.

He could see the words carved in his ex-partner’s skin in incriminating red lettering, all the questions they brought knotting his tongue into an impossible puzzle. When he sat across from Dazai, setting the oversized pot of steaming miso on the small table, it was with apprehension.

All the good cheer he’d managed to scrounge out cooking drained from him like meltwater.

He examined Dazai’s face as he took careful bites of the crab tamagoyaki, knowing he won’t receive thanks or a smile for his gesture of kindness. It’s to be expected, but it didn't hurt any less.

“Are you going to move out soon?” Dazai asked, pausing dainty nibbles to gesture with his chopsticks. They were black wood inlaid with mother of pearl. A gift from Dazai for a social occasion.

He’d forgotten.

He regret not burning them with the rest.

“No”, he replied, letting his spoon clack on the side of his soup dish.

“It’s a nice place to wind down when I want no one to bother me. Of course, this doesn’t seem to have deterred you.”

Dazai shrugged, eating a single grain of rice with much flair, “It was closer.”

“Closer to what? The Agency’s on the other side of town.”

“Just closer.”

It was disturbing, how many faces Dazai had.

How many Chuuya couldn't recognize.

“Look”, he sighed, wadding his napkin and throwing it onto the table, “I made this fucking meal for you. The least you can do is thank me.”

Dazai quirked a grin, cheek bulging with rice, and his eyes were black, dangerous things. The sunlight slanted across Dazai’s face but he couldn't see his reflection in those pupils.

Dazai’s sharp smile was heavy and full of too many teeth.

His eyes were brown, but now they looked like pits of absolute darkness. A predator’s gaze. They struck Chuuya’s skeleton like flint and fueled his anger.

At one time, he’d called Dazai friend.

At one time, he wanted to call him more.

Dazai’s book sat atop the washed clothing he’d folded and deposited beside the bathroom sink, pages full of evidence that the man thought little of Chuuya’s feelings. If he cared for him at all, in any way, he wouldn’t treat his life with such frivolity, wouldn’t spend hours detailing the newest methods with which to kill himself.

Dazai wouldn’t come to his apartment after years of radio silence, traipsing into his life as if he was welcome. As if Chuuya didn’t bear him any grudge.

Three years ago, he would have struck Dazai across the face and demanded an explanation over glasses of sake.

Now, Chuuya just wanted peace.

He forced a responding smile that tore across his face.

His lip hurt.