The first thing Dazai becomes aware of is a lurching lightness, like being thrown out of a window. “Ow,” he starts, and startles at how deep his own voice is. Kunikida’s body breathes different, like his air is just sweeter. Dazai expects to feel bitter about it and somehow fails.
Mentally he rifles through everything he knows about physiology. Kunikida’s never seemed like a bitter person. It makes sense that that emotion doesn’t come so easily to him.
Far too late, he realizes that ow isn’t the right response. He can’t think what the right one would be—if this body is lighter, then it’s also slower. He can’t think as fast as he could in his own body. He can hardly think at all.
He can hardly see either. “Where are your glasses?” he asks, and knocks himself off-course again with the fucking voice. It’s different on the inside, the rumble of it vibrating through him.
Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body doesn’t reply. Dazai-in-Kunikida’s-body sits up, blinking and swearing and patting the ground until he finds the glasses a few feet away. And when he gets there he simply sits down, overwhelmed. He can feel every bit of sensation inside this body. There’s so much of it and his brain is so slow that it’s already given up on trying to file it.
He gasps like a beached fish. Having a panic attack in thin air isn’t much better than having one underwater. It’s all so disorienting, and the lack of vision does not help. He tries to force himself to breathe in the count that’s never worked for him and somehow now it does work, and he settles back down.
Dazai puts Kunikida’s glasses on. Everything grows much clearer, which makes his head hurt. Why are the colors so bright?
“Ow,” Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body says. He’s just stirring. Dazai watches, fascinated and repulsed, as his body begins to move. It’s bizarrely unnatural, like watching a puppet simulate hesitation and humanity. It sits up. “Ow,” it says again.
“Are you alright?” Dazai asks, on some intrinsic bodily impulse to worry. He’s getting used to this voice. It’s not so bad.
“What,” his voice says—the sound of which makes Kunikida’s stomach turn again, which means Dazai has to experience that roiling illness; the voice his own body uses is unnatural and hateful, somehow both terribly empty and terribly childish. It brings to mind things this body would rather not think of, like maggots crawling over dead flesh—nope, don’t think about that. Shit.
“What,” Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body continues. “The fuck.”
Then he begins gasping, and the signs of it are so faint and unreal that it takes Dazai a long crucial moment to understand that he’s watching himself have a panic attack. From experience he knows how awful and long those can be. The body’s worry guides him to his own side, and though he can’t really look at what he’s seeing he does the only thing he’s known to help—wrapping a hand around his neck, squeezing in short bursts. Controlled reset, a trick he learnt at Chuuya’s hands.
Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body’s scrabbles at Dazai-in-Kunikida’s-body’s arm. He doesn’t budge, unrelenting pressure for the fifteen seconds it’ll take before his body gets the message and stops struggling.
Dazai’s body goes limp. “Better?” Dazai asks.
“No,” Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body groans. “Everything hurts.”
Dazai mentally rifles through every injury he’s incurred in the past week. All he can remember is walking into a lot of sharp corners, but that’s regular. Nothing major. “It shouldn’t,” he says sharply, and then realizes that a supremely unhelpful and Kunikida-like response that is; it shouldn’t, honestly, like the world bends to the whims of should and should not. Terrible. Naive. Hopeless. He doesn’t want to die.
“What hurts?” he asks, to distract himself from Kunikida’s body’s oncoming second panic attack.
“Everything,” Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body snarls. “Why didn’t you mention it?”
Kunikida’s body can’t keep up with the onslaught of information. Conveniently, neither can Dazai’s—soul, consciousness, whatever awful essence is currently playing parasite in another body. “It never came up,” he says, going for cheerful and landing somewhere in gruff. “You get used to it.”
Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body squints up at Dazai. “I can see,” he says. “You’re wearing my glasses.”
“My eyesight is better than twenty-twenty,” Dazai tells him. “Enjoy it while it lasts.”
Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body makes a frown, and then looks remarkably concerned. The expression is simultaneously familiar and utterly disgusting. He’s not human enough for this and he clearly is and the reality of it is more frightening than he wants to face in a body that can’t see six inches past its nose.
“Is bad eyesight contagious?” Dazai’s voice asks.
Dazai stares down at himself and realizes, in an academic sort of way, that this is what’s commonly known as an out of body experience. He is having an out of body experience. He is not, currently, in the technical sense, in his body.
This worries him rather more than he should, considering he’s fit the clinical definition for dissociation for well over a decade.
He decides to blame the worry on Kunikida’s body. He’s a worrier. Dazai is not.
Dazai is not currently Dazai. But he can still hear Kunikida’s brain grinding and hissing as existential anguish grits up the gears. “I don’t think it is,” Kunikida’s voice, which Dazai is currently using, says.
Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body simply looks bemused. It doesn’t sit well on his features, which are actually Dazai’s features, Dazai thinks critically. Dazai’s facial muscles aren’t used to expressing confusion except ironically.
“How much can you feel?” Dazai-in-Kunikida’s-body asks.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body replies.
“Like, emotionally…” Dazai trails off, wondering why he’s bothering.
“Uh,” Kunikida says. “Sad. Empty. Not much else.” Dazai’s face looks terribly shocked and upset about this, which makes Dazai want to tear that expression off his body with a knife. He shouldn’t look like that. It’s wrong. He’s a wrong thing. Wrong things aren’t allowed to be shocked and upset and surprised and hurt.
But that begs the question of whether the wrong thing is currently observing or being observed, and this is why Dazai needs to be back in his body. So he can answer that question forever with a noose.
His body. What a joke that turned out to be.
“What can you feel?” Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body asks.
Kunikida’s body blinks. This creates the extremely jarring and altogether weird sensation of eyelashes brushing against glass. The fact that he notices at all confuses him further.
“Everything,” he hears Kunikida say, distantly. “I can feel everything.”
There’s a long, awkward pause. Dazai re-examines everything he can feel, takes stock of every sensation. There’s no guarantee he’ll be able to remember it when he’s back in his own body, that his body has the—this brain is so slow at coming up with analogies—a player compatible with these files. He too can feel everything, except what he’s feeling is entirely unfamiliar and probably not what Kunikida is referring to, whatever that is.
He may never again experience the sweep of eyelashes against glass. Possessed by a sudden curiosity, he brings Kunikida’s hands in front of his face and touches the tips of the fingers of the right hand to the left hand.
Which, in some bizarre coincidence, makes the fingers of the left hand also touch the fingers of the right hand.
“What are you doing,” Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body says.
“When I touch my fingers,” Dazai explains, spectacularly delighted by this phenomenon. “I touch my fingers.”
“That’s how it works, yes,” Kunikida says.
“No, I mean—when I touch this hand to this hand, I also touch that hand to this hand—”
“You try it.”
Kunikida obligingly brings Dazai’s bandaged hands up in front of his eyes. He pokes Dazai’s index finger into Dazai’s palm. “And?”
“What does that feel like?” Dazai asks impatiently. He knows that in his own body, it feels. Well. Like all his focus has narrowed to the hand doing the touching, and everything else might as well not belong to him for the amount of connection he feels towards it.
“It hurts,” Kunikida says. “All of it hurts.”
Dazai rolls his eyes. “Just ignore it,” he advises. “It’s not going to go away, so you have to stop thinking about it.”
“I can’t,” Kunikida snaps, sounding increasingly upset. “I can’t stop thinking about it. There’s just so much.”
He seems genuinely shaken. Unfortunately, he’s also occupying a body that neither Dazai nor the body he’s in have any great sympathy for. “Which hand’s touching which hand?” he asks, because if he can convince Kunikida to give in to Dazai’s perspectives, it’ll get easier on him. Eventually. It doesn’t have to last that long, anyway.
“Right hand’s touching left,” Kunikida answers, seemingly on reflex. Then he looks puzzled, and Dazai has to look away again. How dare he. “That can’t be right…”
Kunikida-in-Dazai’s-body jabs the index finger into the left palm a couple of times.
“What the fuck,” he whispers.
“You just have to split it,” Dazai advises. “This, and everything else. And then it doesn’t hurt.”
“It still hurts,” Kunikida says after a moment.
Kunikida’s body sighs. Dazai says, “What do we do now?”
“Can you call someone?” Kunikida asks. “One of us could probably drive—”
They pause, taking stock of their surroundings. It’s a house in the middle of nowhere. No one would come here by accident, and the trail that led them to this place ran cold before they began exploring the house and messing with everything in it.
If Dazai was in his body, he’d suggest they keep exploring to see if they couldn’t find something else to either reverse or worsen their condition. Or make something new happen. But he’s in a body worth something now, a body he can’t damage out of carelessness or on a whim. And the mirror they were holding is in shards on the floor, so there goes that plan.
“Call Chuuya,” Dazai suggests. “He can drive.” He doesn’t want Atsushi and the rest of the Agency to see them like this, and even at his flashiest Chuuya is still capable of discretion.
“So can we,” Kunikida argues.
“You can drive,” Dazai tells him. “My body can’t.” It occurs to him that since he technically does know the mechanics of driving, he could use this body’s reflexes to guide him. But that’s a dicey prospect, and Dazai doesn’t want to gamble with their lives—
Oh, he realizes suddenly. Kunikida is cautious. He knew it, but he didn’t know it. Not before he began hesitating to do something he's always done with impunity regardless of skill.
“What does that even mean,” Kunikida mumbles.
“It means,” Dazai says. “Call Chuuya.”
Chuuya picks up on the third ring. “What the fuck do you want,” he says grumpily.
Kunikida clears Dazai’s throat. “We’re outside Yokohama,” he explains. “We need you to come pick us up.”
“Totaled your partner’s car again, mackerel?”
“No,” Kunikida starts, at the same time that Dazai cuts in, “Yes. He did, and now you’re our best bet. Look at it like this, don’t you want the Agency to owe you a favor?”
Chuuya rolls his eyes audibly. “Dazai is rubbing off on you,” he mutters. “You need a break, glasses.”
Dazai feels disgusted with himself. He isn’t used to being so slow. “Just come get us.”
They tentatively explore the house while they wait for Chuuya to arrive. Dazai knocks Kunikida’s head against the door frame twice, making Dazai’s body wince and cringe. The mirror that made them switch bodies lies broken, its glass transparent. Dazai carefully collects the shards, sliding them into the pocket of the coat his body still wears. Kunikida stands awkwardly still.
He’s being surprisingly quiet throughout all this, and Dazai doesn’t want to listen to his voice enough to figure out why.
The house is full of other oddities, but most of them are simple objects in curious shapes, or as inert as the broken mirror. Kunikida’s car stands in the driveway—they’ll have to figure out a way to return it. His hand itches with an unfamiliar urge, and it takes him a moment to place it as the desire to write down what he just thought.
Which in turn makes him wonder if their abilities swapped bodies with them. He feels light and complete in a way that’s wholly unfamiliar and easily ascribed to the ease with which this body occupies space.
“Can you feel No Longer Human?” he addresses Kunikida. Dazai’s body is examining a stain on the wall, and Dazai feels another wave of distaste for it.
It jerks. “No Longer Human? Is that what it is?”
Dazai fails to think around this question. He settles for a straightforward reply. “The drowning feeling? Yes.”
“Oh,” Kunikida mumbles. “Shit. It’s terrible. How do you stand it?”
Dazai does not know how to answer that either, so he ignores the words. “How do I use your ability?”
“Don’t do anything rash,” Kunikida squeaks. Dazai is dead sure he’s never sounded like that.
“I just want to try it,” he says. “And you can stop me now, you know.”
“Well, yes, but—”
Dazai pats down Kunikida’s pockets until he finds the notebook and pen. Flips to a new page and looks around himself for something to draw. His eyes land on his bolo tie, which was a shitty style decision, who let him wear that, and he allows muscle memory to copy it onto the page. With his consciousness, soul, whatever, interfering, his drawing isn’t as good as he thinks Kunikida’s would be.
But when he rips the page out and mutters “Doppo Poet,” a bolo tie forms in his hands. It’s strangely light.
Dazai’s hand snatches it out of Kunikida’s palm. It turns back into a used-up sheet of paper.
They stare at each other in blank shock.
“Don’t use any more pages,” Kunikida snaps at him.
Dazai takes the page back. “Doppo Poet,” he tries. It turns into a bolo tie again. “Did you know you could reuse—”
“No,” Kunikida says shortly.
Thoroughly freaked out, they go outside to wait. Dazai unbuttons Kunikida’s sleeves and pulls them back on an impulsive desire to feel the sun against his wrists. Kunikida says, “I need a smoke.”
“Feel free,” Dazai returns calmly. Sunlight is featherlight and honeyed. He feels found. It’s deeply unfamiliar and strangely pleasant, like coming home.
“But it’s your body,” Kunikida protests. “I shouldn’t harm it.”
“It’s just some nicotine,” Dazai rolls Kunikida’s eyes. “I’ve had worse, trust me.”
Kunikida must need a smoke very badly, because he digs the pack out of the car and lights up. The smell of it reaches Kunikida’s lungs too, and Dazai gulps it in greedily. It doesn’t feel how he remembers, a warmth laced with memory. This is harsher and more physical and snags in his chest, overcoming the mental instinct to take in more. He slows down, clearing his throat, and when he breathes in again he does it slower. This time it's pleasant.
Dazai holds out Kunikida’s hand. Kunikida gives him the cigarette. Dazai inhales carefully, pacing himself so he doesn't aggravate the itch.
“Do you smoke a lot?” Kunikida asks eventually. He sounds like he’s trying not to be too curious, which is not something Dazai is used to hearing in his own voice. He doesn’t like it.
“I used to,” he says carefully. “What about you?”
“Only sometimes.” Dazai’s face grimaces. Dazai wants to smash it in with a hammer.
“Explains why it feels so rough,” he comments.
They fall into another uneasy silence, trading two more cigarettes between themselves until Chuuya’s car pulls down the road. It’s the red BMW, the one Chuuya uses when he expects to be in a fight. Flashy and smirky, and some knot in Kunikida’s stomach that Dazai probably put there himself uncurls at the sight.
Chuuya parks haphazardly, getting out of the driver’s seat to wave at them. Dazai almost waves back. Kunikida doesn’t. “You guys look like you saw ghosts,” Chuuya rolls his eyes. “Get in. What happened to your car?”
“No gas,” Dazai says, dropping his voice into Kunikida’s register.
Dazai’s face looks pained. There’s probably gas in the backseat.
“I’m not towing that thing all the way back to Yokohama,” Chuuya warns.
“Halfway?” Dazai asks.
“You’re drunk, glasses. Get in, both of you. I don’t have all day.”
Dazai heads for the front seat on autopilot before remembering himself and heading for the back. Kunikida slides into the front seat, and Chuuya hops back in and revs the car to life. The inside’s been reupholstered. Dazai almost comments on it.
“The car,” Kunikida says weakly.
“We’ll deal with it later,” Dazai says shortly.
Chuuya turns around to stare at them. “You guys doing okay?”
“Well,” Kunikida begins.
“Everything’s alright,” Dazai interrupts loudly. “Keep driving, Nakahara.”
Chuuya looks very suspicious now. “Tell me what’s going on or I’m not moving,” he says, and oh that’s his stubborn voice. He really means it. Shit.
“You don’t need to know,” Dazai tries anyway. “It’s Agency business.”
Chuuya stiffens and then deliberately relaxes, purring “Osamu?” as he turns his gaze to Kunikida. And Dazai knows that voice, has heard it countless times when Chuuya pinned him to a wall and made him spill the answers he’d rather keep close to his skin. He was often better off for letting Chuuya know, but Chuuya doesn’t have to know that part.
He’s also heard it in other contexts.
As has Dazai’s body. Kunikida jerks towards it. Kunikida’s body flinches away.
“We got switched,” Kunikida says in a rush. Dazai lets Kunikida’s head fall against the seat in front of it. Fucking cowardly sellout body.
“Switched how?” Chuuya asks.
Kunikida points at his own body. Dazai resolutely refuses to face this situation. “That’s my body.”
There’s a stunned silence. Chuuya turns the car off again. “Which means,” he says gleefully. “That’s Dazai in the backseat?”
“Fuck off,” Dazai-in-Kunikida’s-body says grumpily.
“Oh my god,” Chuuya crows. “This is amazing. I never thought I’d see the day.”
“It’s terrible,” Kunikida snaps. “I can’t breathe.”
Chuuya turns fully to face Dazai. “How is it for you?”
“Can we please focus on getting home,” Dazai says weakly.
“No. Answer the question.”
“What is it like for you?” Kunikida asks suddenly.
Dazai lifts Kunikida’s head to glare at himself. “Not you too.”
Dazai gives himself his most innocent expression. Dazai loathes himself.
“It’s strange,” he admits, finally accepting defeat. “I can feel things. It’s easier to move.”
“Oh, Dazai,” Chuuya murmurs. Kunikida and Dazai both jerk again. Tenderness lands differently in Kunikida’s stomach than it did in his own body, less like stinging hurt and more like holding a soft animal. “You poor thing.”
Thing makes them both flinch. Again. Dazai’s never resented being called a thing, and he isn’t sure how much of that is the expansion in perspective that comes from a new body or the natural petulance of a body used to being human having that label taken away. Or a new one given. Dazai isn’t sure the difference is real.
“Can we go home,” he elects to say grumpily.
Chuuya starts the car again. “I have a lot of questions,” he informs them. “But I’m also hungry.”
“Me too,” Kunikida says quickly. Dazai angles himself so as to be able to see him in the rearview mirror. Kunikida actually seems rather more relieved now that Chuuya is here, and Dazai can’t tell if that’s because he has no experience fighting the instincts of Dazai’s body or because he is genuinely relieved to see Chuuya.
“You are?” Chuuya asks. “In that body?”
“What does that mean?” Kunikida asks blankly. “Of course I’m hungry, I haven’t eaten in two d—” Then he stops, frowning. “I ate breakfast.”
“I didn’t,” Dazai says helpfully.
Kunikida frowns harder. “How often do you skip breakfast?”
Chuuya snorts. “Nearly every day. You didn’t know?”
“I hate breakfast,” Dazai mumbles, petulant. It sounds all wrong in Kunikida’s voice. He hates his own body but he hates being in another person’s body even more. He can’t think. It's worrying.
“He told me he was late because he was eating,” Kunikida protests. The way he uses Dazai’s voice is disgusting. Dazai indulges himself in a fantasy of ripping out his own vocal cords, but the thought turns his stomach. This body does not enjoy the idea of blood or senseless violence, and even less when it’s less senseless and more gleefully vitriolic.
“Have you ever seen him—” Chuuya begins.
“Watch it,” Dazai snaps. And then he forces himself to re-examine that instinct. Snapping at people is Kunikida’s thing, which means it shouldn’t come so easily to Dazai—but that is the approach this body is used to, and it makes sense that his instinct to redirect would be filtered through the mechanisms that Kunikida uses.
“Sorry,” Chuuya mutters.
“What,” Kunikida says plaintively.
Dazai narrows his eyes at himself. Kunikida looks increasingly not-okay. Chuuya also seems to have picked up on it, because he slows down the car. “Are you alright?” he asks.
“Uh,” Kunikida says. Dazai wants to strangle him.
Then he wonders whether he wants to strangle Kunikida because Kunikida wants to strangle him or because he wants to kill himself. Which makes him wonder if he does want to kill himself still, or if that urge has also been split in half between his body and mind. He certainly doesn’t want this body to come to harm. And he can’t wish enough harm on his own body, a few bare feet away.
“Everything is so much,” Kunikida says weakly. “My head hurts.” He pauses. “I might puke.”
Chuuya screeches the car to a stop, unlocking the door. “Get out.”
Dazai gets out too, tentatively reaching out to touch his own back before revulsion drags his hand back. This revulsion doesn’t belong to the body; it’s all his. “Water?” he calls in to Chuuya, who hands him a bottle.
Kunikida heaves dry, which makes sense because there’s nothing in Dazai’s body to throw out.
Chuuya gets out of the car a few minutes later, stalking to Kunikida’s side in order to thread his fingers through Dazai’s hair and force his eyes to meet Chuuya’s. “What’s wrong?”
“Everything,” Kunikida gasps. “I can’t—I can’t stop thinking. And I want to die.”
Chuuya looks right at Dazai, which gives Dazai the momentary satisfaction of being even taller than him before the rest of what Kunikida said sinks in. Kunikida, who still looks shocked and broken by this strange new urge. Dazai doesn’t know what to do with that look on his own face so he meets Chuuya’s eyes and shakes his head ever so slightly in response to the unasked question therein.
“You don’t actually want to die,” Chuuya says, not looking away from Dazai. “That’s just instinct.”
“And confusion,” Dazai adds. “I mostly want to die when I don’t know what else to do. When we figure that out, you should feel better.”
It’s strange to help himself from the outside, even if it’s currently Kunikida he’s helping. Chuuya looks proud of him. Dazai glares at the expression and uncaps the bottle to thrust it roughly in his body’s direction. Kunikida takes it, drinks down about half before handing it back.
“So, what are we doing?” Chuuya asks, when they’re inside the car again.
Kunikida’s in the back seat this time. Dazai stops looking out of the window and catches his own eyes in the rearview mirror. “We?” they ask together.
“Someone has to drive,” Chuuya points out. That’s his reasonable-suggestion voice, which Dazai is sure he learnt from Dazai. Kunikida also looks immensely suspicious now, which must mean he feels a bit more like himself. Whoever that is.
It occurs to Dazai that the lines are uncomfortably thin. What is he without a desire to off himself? Maybe Kunikida still has his ideals. Maybe they got lost in translation. Dazai isn’t sure where he ends and where this body begins, and he’s never had cause to think about it before. If he had, he’s certain he wouldn’t have arrived at the answer he’s been handed now; that it’s not his mind he wants to kill but his body.
For some reason he wonders what Fukuzawa would think about that. Or Ranpo.
And then he thinks biology, grim and amused.
“Do you know who Odasaku is?” he asks Kunikida.
Dazai’s body flinches at the name, but his face remains nonplussed. “Who?”
“You’re an asshole,” Chuuya tells him.
“Does that mean we both are?” Dazai asks, grinning at Chuuya and aching with how unfamiliar this gesture is in this body.
“It means you are. Don’t split hairs with me, I know who I’m talking to.”
Dazai keeps grinning. Chuuya’s certainty has always been something to lean against, something he knows the shape of against his back. This body doesn’t know that shape, but Dazai could never forget.
Chuuya talks to Kunikida as he drives, and eventually Dazai relents and joins in if only to cut the intensity of Chuuya’s relentless grilling on what it’s like to be in another body, specifically Dazai’s body. It’s a little harder to distract them when Kunikida is so eager to talk about it—as if that would ease the burden. As if Dazai hasn’t tried everything he possibly could. Whatever helps him, no matter how sickening Dazai thinks the words “it feels like everything’s falling out the wrong way” are. He’ll live. Chuuya ignores him too, which is what Dazai would have done. It’s fine.
It trails off into disconnected observations about Dazai’s body before long, which is harder to tolerate. Kunikida says, “I feel very far away from the surface of things,” and then notes “It’s surprisingly comfortable,” as he pokes at the edge of the bandages.
“I wouldn’t wear them if it wasn’t,” Dazai says shortly. This body doesn’t mind being without the bandages, of course, because it doesn’t experience sensation the way Dazai’s own skin does. He can feel everything, but he can also tune it out, which means he doesn’t have to crawl out of his own head to survive the onslaught of sensation. His body simply cuts down what it sends up by itself. Is this what it’s like for other people?
“What’s it like without them?” Kunikida asks.
“Why don’t you take them off and find out,” Dazai snipes.
Chuuya slants him a stern look. “Bad,” he says. “Though it was just the one time—”
“And all the other times,” Dazai cuts in snidely.
“Those don’t count.” Chuuya’s voice is flat like he’ll start giggling if he doesn’t try to keep it down, and Dazai smiles an unfamiliar smile. “Don’t try it if you want to go out,” he tells Kunikida. “You end up calling your partner in tears—”
“There were no tears,” Dazai protests. “This is slander.”
“Uh,” Kunikida says weakly.
They both subside, catching onto the same fact at the same time. They’re far too good at slipping into the back-and-forth slide of Dazai-and-Chuuya, even when Dazai’s in a different body. Dazai catches himself wondering why Chuuya isn’t more shaken by this, but he knows that Chuuya simply isn’t the kind of person who gets shaken by unexpected events. He rolls with the punches until they stop and then blasts through whatever’s left and processes in his own time with a lot of wine. How much wine will he drink this weekend?
Dazai glances back at his own exhausted, frightened face, and thinks it’s going to be a lot.
Possibly for both of them. He hasn’t looked that scared since he was twelve and before today he thought he never would again. Fear comes so easily to Dazai that he’s stopped caring about it. Not everyone has that luxury.
“Does that mean,” Kunikida says, bizarrely unaware of everything that’s happened in the six long seconds since he last spoke. “That you two have.” He glances down at Dazai’s body. “Have.”
This time Chuuya can’t stop himself from giggling. “Of course we have. What else were we supposed to do in the Mafia?”
“I thought you killed people!” Dazai’s voice should not be able to yelp like that.
“You can’t kill people all day,” Dazai points out. “Sometimes you have to drink water.”
“And other things,” Chuuya mumbles.
“You don’t tell people you’re an alcoholic on the first date, Chuuya.”
“I don’t want to know, I think,” Kunikida decides. Dazai exhales, relieved. He doesn’t particularly want to explain a tenth of what he and Chuuya got up to a guy who is, last Dazai checked, a virgin.
He rifles through this body’s memories. Still a virgin.
Chuuya pulls into a drive-through fast food place to order sustenance. Kunikida orders for Dazai, insistent that an unplanned body swap isn’t going to interfere with his meal plan, while Chuuya insists on ordering for Kunikida because he’s the only one out of the three of them who won’t let Dazai get away with a single atrociously sweet coffee.
They bicker over their next step while Dazai scarfs down more food than he’s ever willingly put away at one time in his entire life. It’s stunning to be able to taste every bit of it, to not worry about the texture of lettuce or the ketchup. It’s stunning to eat and enjoy it, uncomplicatedly and wholeheartedly. To have a heart to feel with. Kunikida’s body doesn’t get car sick either, so he doesn’t even have to worry about that. It’s freeing and Dazai doesn’t want to think about why it makes him so desperately sad. He knew already that his body was broken and useless and bad at being a body, but he didn’t need yet another reminder. Not today, of all the days.
Kunikida thinks they should go to Fukuzawa or consult Ranpo. Chuuya vetoes both plans by driver’s fiat. Kunikida threatens to take a cab. Chuuya invites him to be his guest. Dazai stares out of the window and hates that Kunikida’s neural pathways don’t contain the location of every antique store in Yokohama.
“Other people use maps,” Chuuya informs him helpfully, when he airs this complaint.
“I could draw one?” Kunikida offers. Dazai feels an unfamiliar pang at how helpful Kunikida is trying to be. He has no idea where that comes from, but he hopes it isn’t himself. But he digs Kunikida’s notebook out of Kunikida’s pockets and hands it to him with his pen.
“Can you draw?” Chuuya asks.
It’s unclear who he’s talking to. “Yes,” Kunikida says, pen already gliding across the page, at the same time that Dazai says, “Only sometimes.”
“How can you only draw sometimes?” Kunikida asks. He’s still drawing.
“I can do a lot of things only sometimes,” Dazai says, and refuses to explain himself further. His interest in psychology was mostly only a contrarian desire to prove that there was any medical field in which he could know more than Mori—it ended when he began connecting what he read to himself. Mori took the books away and Dazai didn’t try to ask for them again. They both knew he wouldn’t survive that kind of self-awareness.
Kunikida hands him a rough map of Yokohama with a star for every antique shop. Dazai points at the edges of Mafia territory. “Drive us here.”
“Why?” Kunikida asks.
“They fix mirrors,” Dazai says. He feels oddly dazed and slow, and he can only hear Kunikida’s voice through a waterfall. His own is almost unintelligible.
Does he really ruin every body he occupies? That would be a heinous crime, even for him.
“A mirror did this?” Chuuya asks.
Dazai gives up on everything again and elects to stare out of the window again. Kunikida answers for him. “Kind of, yeah.”
“I was looking at it,” Dazai supplies. “It distorted things in a pretty strange way. I’m not sure light is supposed to work like that.”
“And then I looked into it and—”
“Next thing we know we’re like this and the damn thing’s broken. We must’ve dropped it when we switched out.” It’s not unlikely that Kunikida simply lost Dazai’s grip when he stopped being in his body. The instinct to let go when he wasn’t paying attention had been hard to force down. Kunikida wouldn’t have known how at all.
“I’m tired,” Kunikida says ten minutes later, and sounds so much like Dazai that Chuuya jerks.
“You can nap at my place,” he says. Then he glances at Dazai, as though wondering how he’ll take this. But there’s nothing to take. Dazai’s body is only good at being tired.
“I’m not a child,” Kunikida protests.
“I haven’t been sleeping lately,” Dazai says tiredly. “You need the rest. You’re not used to any of this, and it’s not like you’ll be much help at an antique shop anyway. We just have to drop off the shards.”
“It’ll take a while for them to get fixed,” Chuuya points out.
“Yeah,” Dazai agrees. “A couple days at least.” He tries to come up with a plan for the meantime and fails, terrifyingly. He hates his body but he wants it back all the same. He’s sick of not being able to think.
“That’s too long,” Kunikida mumbles. “I want to go home,” he adds, apropos of nothing else. Dazai has a bad feeling about this.
“I’m not driving you to the Agency dorms,” Chuuya says.
“We’re not going there,” Dazai says. “You don’t want to go there. Trust me.”
Chuuya frowns, as though suddenly remembering that Dazai had something approaching a life before they met. “My house has an extra room,” he tells Kunikida. “You’ll be alright there and it should feel safe enough. I’m sorry.”
Feeling safe isn’t being safe, Dazai thinks sourly. But that’s between him and his body. He asks himself why Chuuya felt the need to apologize to Kunikida, when he’s never said sorry to Dazai like that. But there’s never been any point in apologizing to Dazai and perhaps it’s not surprising that people know it.
They drop Kunikida at Chuuya’s home. Chuuya insists on going upstairs to change and Dazai knocks Kunikida’s longer arms into the shelf next to the door. Kunikida pokes around and wonders out loud why Chuuya needs to change.
“He always wants to change,” Dazai tells him. “I don’t know a vainer man.”
“Why does he need to be vain? He’s good-looking enough alrea—” He pauses, visibly horrified with Dazai’s body.
“What are you guys talking about?” Chuuya asks, like he hasn’t been listening in.
“Kunikida thinks you’re pretty,” Dazai informs him anyway, cheerful.
Chuuya remains unaffected. “Only because you do.”
“That’s not a secret,” Dazai says. Chuuya rolls his eyes. Dazai’s face looks disgusted.
As Chuuya gives Kunikida a tour of the house, Dazai goes to examine Chuuya’s bookshelf. Some of these are his recommendations, but most of them are Chuuya’s own taste. He pulls down a couple of books he thinks Kunikida might enjoy and hands it to him on the way out.
“Tall assholes,” Chuuya mutters as they take the stairs.
“I’m not claustrophobic anymore,” Dazai notes. “We could’ve taken the elevator.” They usually take it on the way up because it’s easier on Chuuya’s knees, and the stairs on the way down so Dazai doesn’t have to swallow panic.
He realizes with a pang that Kunikida must have had to deal with his claustrophobia instead.
Chuuya looks up at him. It’s a jarring new angle. “I didn’t think about that.”
“Neither did I,” Dazai says ruefully. “I think slower now.”
Chuuya hums. “I can tell,” he comments.
Dazai doesn’t know what to do with that, not without his body’s reactions to guide him. He hadn’t realized how much he relied on its cues, following its memories and embedded processes to augment his thinking. He’s not just thinking slower, he’s stumbling without his history to rely on. It’s odd to be faced with just how much he is a product of his past.
The way Chuuya drives within the bounds of the city has always had an efficient kind of lunacy to it, ignored traffic laws and copious and shameless use of Tainted Sorrow to push bystanders out of the way. They’d made a game of running through every red light between two destinations, and Dazai had a knack for making it work. There’s a trick to it he can’t recall right now. He sighs to himself.
The pleasant and cheerfully inefficient young man behind the counter hears out their problem and promises to let them know when the mirror’s been fixed. They leave the shards in his care but come out doubting they’ll ever see them again.
“I guess we better figure out alternate solutions,” Dazai says glumly.
“I can’t imagine what an alternate solution would entail,” Chuuya returns, equally glum. “The mirror made you like this, so it makes sense that it could turn you back. We don’t even know where else to start.”
“I know,” Dazai snaps. They both subside, embarrassed.
Dazai wonders how Kunikida is faring as Chuuya keys in his code. The answer presents itself in short order; Chuuya moves into the kitchen to grab a drink, Dazai heads to where he knows he’d hide himself. As expected, Kunikida is sitting in the bathtub fully clothed, glowering at a bright and jewel-like array of bottles.
As Dazai gets closer, he realizes something else.
Kunikida is crying.
Huh, Dazai thinks, and then backs out again to go find Chuuya. “He’s crying,” he announces to Chuuya, who is rummaging through his fridge. “If you want a Bloody Mary, I can make you one.”
“You haven’t changed much,” Chuuya snipes. “Wait—he’s crying? Where?”
“Bathroom,” Dazai says tersely. He’s trying to scrub the sight of his own tear-tracked face from Kunikida’s mind. He doesn’t want to think about how Chuuya will remember no matter what.
Chuuya steps around him and goes to figure out what to do about Kunikida. Dazai sets about exploring the limits of Kunikida’s alcohol tolerance. He rapidly finds that Kunikida’s preferences run more towards beer, and that he likes the expensive ones that Chuuya keeps stocked. Dazai chugs a can and sets himself to the task of re-ordering Chuuya’s bookshelf. He always seems to think arranging them by size is a good idea.
As he alphabetizes, he wonders idly what Chuuya and Kunikida are talking about. Him, probably. His stupid body and his broken past and all the terrible things he’s done to himself over the years.
He gets himself another can of beer and makes more neat stacks of books, and then gets a little lost in an old dog-eared copy of The Unconsoled before remembering that he promised Chuuya a drink. He makes the drink on autopilot, body humming warm with alcohol he’s drunk. He leaves the book on the kitchen table, takes along a bottle of sake and the promised vodka drink. It’s something heavier than a Bloody Mary. He doesn’t doubt that Chuuya needs it.
Then he’s very glad that Kunikida’s body doesn’t simply drop things when surprised. It would make such a mess.
At first it looks like Chuuya’s putting Dazai to bed. It has the bizarre quality of a nightmare, because the only dreams where Dazai observes himself in the third person are the really bad ones. He’s almost surprised it took him so long to make that connection; it feels inescapable as he watches Chuuya push Dazai’s hair out of Dazai’s eyes, watching Dazai’s bandaged hand reach up to grab Chuuya’s shoulder and tug him down.
Chuuya kisses back. Dazai knows the shape of that tension in his shoulders, has felt it under his fingers. It’s under his fingers right now, so close but for how far away he is. Somehow he can’t even be disgusted by it. He’s rarely disgusted by himself in dreams, too busy being horrified.
And then Chuuya’s pulling back, shaking his head regretfully. “...Not him,” he’s saying.
“Thank you,” Dazai is saying. Dazai doesn’t remember wanting that to happen.
“Try to sleep,” Chuuya advises, getting up. He sees Dazai in the very moment that the realization hits him—
He’s not in his body.
He’s not in his body. That’s his body and there’s someone else in it. Somehow, that makes watching Chuuya kiss him worse than it would have been if Chuuya had kissed someone else entirely. Dazai doesn’t know why he feels so devastated. It’s not like anything happened.
Except something did happen, and Dazai for once in his life can’t just conveniently choose to forget about it.
“Are you drunk?” Chuuya asks. They’re standing outside his room and the door is closed. He’s holding the drink Dazai made for him.
Maybe Dazai didn’t make it. Maybe someone else did. Who is Dazai, anyway? Why does he call himself that? It doesn’t mean anything. Nothing means anything. He opens his mouth and instead of words he thought for himself what comes out is, “Why did you do that?”
“Do what? Kiss him?” Chuuya looks angry and exasperated, sick of dealing with the messes he drags to Chuuya’s feet. Why doesn’t he just give up and kill Dazai?
Then the words land, and he doesn’t know what to say. It’s unfamiliar even as it isn’t.
“Do you have any idea how hard this is for him?” Chuuya continues. Dazai doesn’t know. He doesn’t know anything, not even who he is right now. “He has no idea how to deal with what you’re used to dealing with, and on top of that he still—” Chuuya’s mouth twists and he stops. “I’m sorry.”
“What for?” Dazai asks, baffled.
“How much did you have to drink?” Chuuya demands. He grabs the bottle of sake Dazai didn’t realize he was still holding and takes a rather large gulp. “Fuck. I need another one of these.”
As Dazai mixes another drink, Chuuya talks to him. Or at him. Dazai tries to keep up with what’s being said, because he doesn’t know how long he’ll have the surfaces he’s putting the thoughts down on. Halfway through he realizes he can either hold the thoughts or put them down, and goes back to feeling like he’s about to shatter, or already shattered, splinters of a person knocked around by a contained storm.
But he’s nothing if not good at working through the worst of himself. “So back up,” he finds himself saying. “He wants to die, but didn’t try?”
He doesn’t know what they’re talking about still. Hopefully that returns to him soon. Chuuya sighs, exasperated, and then nods. “Only because you can, I think. If he’d not had either of us to make sure he was okay, he’d probably end up trying to kill himself in a couple days.”
Dazai remembers wanting to die. He can’t imagine why, though. “So you kissed him?”
Chuuya is looking at him oddly. “He wanted to, because you want to. I indulged him for a moment. You saw me pull back, didn’t you?”
Underneath that unsaid is, you’ve never been jealous before. And it’s true; they aren’t jealous about each other because they’ve always owned each other in ways no one else could fathom. But that was me, Dazai wants to say. You kissed me and I wasn’t even there. Maybe he’s been replaced by a better version of himself, one that can stop itself from trying to die as long as it has Chuuya around. He wishes he’d vanish, and leave the better Dazai to Chuuya. He wishes he remembered who he’s supposed to be.
“I need another drink,” Dazai says.
“Me too,” Chuuya sighs, and Dazai feels guilty because he’s dealing with Dazai on top of Dazai. Except apart. No one deserves that.
He gets up to grab a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses. Chuuya drinks straight out of the bottle, and Dazai keeps pouring it out into the glass. It’s a deep, vivid red, and the longer Dazai stares at the refraction of light between the wine and the glass the more he remembers where he is. This is Kunikida’s body, and Kunikida’s hands. It’s Kunikida that Chuuya kissed, and apologized to Dazai for kissing. It’s a relief to return to the body he’s occupying, even if it’s not his own.
“There’s something wrong with us, isn’t there?” Chuuya asks, a while later.
Dazai’s still staring at the red wine through Kunikida’s eyes, memorizing the difference. There’s not a lot to observe if he takes off his glasses, and he can’t be sure the changes with them on aren’t caused by the glass themselves. “There is,” Dazai agrees. “Especially with me. Probably with you, too.”
Chuuya giggles madly. “You’re broken, alright. How many times have you tried to hang yourself from the ceiling fan?”
“Not that many,” Dazai protests. “I try not to repeat myself.” That’s not strictly true—he’s uncreative at his worst, and falls back into old habits with knives. Takes a special glee in damaging what isn’t his to damage. He stares down at his bare wrists. This isn’t his to hurt either, but oddly he feels no such urge. Thinks about the body in the bed. “Did you have to tell him about that?”
“I had to tell him about that,” Chuuya says. “And the bleach. And the traffic. And the painkillers. He’s on them right now, just to be able to sleep it off.”
Painkillers. Chuuya would have interrogated him for hours before daring to hand him a pill. He’s done it before. Dazai feels cold and monstrously ungainly with the weight of what he is, and what he cannot escape. “Would you have given them to me that easily?” he asks, and it’s like pointing a gun at himself in the mirror.
“Of course not,” Chuuya says grumpily. “But you’re used to it. He’s not.”
“I’m used to it,” Dazai repeats heavily.
There’s a long silence. “We should sleep,” Dazai says finally, because he can’t bear it and shouldn’t have to.
“I think I’ll take the couch,” Chuuya sighs.
“Don’t be silly,” Dazai snaps. “You can’t leave him alone.”
Chuuya makes an exaggeratedly whiny sound. “I was trying to spare your feelings, asshole.”
“Don’t bother,” Dazai mutters, and drags himself off to the spare bedroom before he does anything worse, like ask Chuuya for a hug.
Sleep doesn’t come easy. He doesn’t know how to make Kunikida’s body comfortable; he usually sleeps on his side, curled in, or on his stomach. Kunikida seems to prefer lying on his back, but that lets Dazai stare up at the blurry ceiling and count the holes in his head. They tear when he pokes his fingers through them. He falls asleep sometimes for a few minutes, only to be jarred awake by a stray thought he can’t pin down.
He’s been lying awake for hours when the door creaks slowly open. Dazai stays as still as his body allows, until Chuuya comes into his line of sight. He drops himself into the bed next to Dazai with a heavy sigh, presumably having resigned himself to waking Dazai up. He’s always been a light sleeper.
Since Chuuya isn’t pretending, Dazai doesn’t bother either, turning on his side to glare at him. “I thought you’d take your own room,” he grumps.
“He kicks,” Chuuya hisses, clearly distressed. “And he bitched me out for touching him.”
“Sounds like me,” Dazai snorts. It’s the kind of lie he and Chuuya tell each other sometimes, things that don’t have to be true to convey information.
“Shut up, asshole,” Chuuya grumbles. He pokes Dazai until he turns on his side and then pokes him again until he’s lying on Kunikida’s stomach, so that Chuuya can drape himself over Kunikida’s back. “Maybe I just wanted to sleep with you.”
Dazai falls silent. The thought sinks into him without weight, settling into him. He relaxes.
“Go to sleep,” Chuuya whispers, his body over Dazai’s better than any anchor.
“Okay,” Dazai agrees, and finally lets himself slip into a doze.
When Dazai stumbles downstairs the next morning, both Chuuya and Kunikida are already there. He pauses, watching his own shoulders move as Kunikida stirs something on the stove. There’s a rush of grief too strong and suffocating to name, overwhelming in this body.
He finally had a chance to examine Kunikida’s body in the shower after he woke up, and discovered a rather surprising number of bullet wound scars. They hurt when he pressed his fingers to them. There were also other scars—he traced the one that divided Kunikida’s bicep and had a terrifying sense memory of what had caused it. He also discovered other things, which would probably have interested him more if he’d been in his own body. As it was he had to fight down a vague embarrassment at seeing someone else like this, even though it was technically himself, even if it wasn’t—
Then he decided to dress himself. The only clothes that fit were the ones he himself had left at Chuuya’s place, which were slightly too short and tight on Kunikida’s body. Wrangling the hair was another thing—in the end he just put into a ponytail and hoped it wouldn’t be a problem.
Chuuya’s eyes lingered on him. He wasn’t being subtle, but then he didn’t have to be.
“When are we getting the mirror back?” Kunikida asks, handing Dazai a bowl of something that looks like oats and honey. Dazai squints suspiciously at it, all the more suspicious of how it smells appealing.
It’s Chuuya who answers. “By tomorrow, or else.”
“Somebody dies,” Dazai says. “Is this breakfast?”
Kunikida bristles. “It’s good for you.”
“Is that why you’re eating waffles?” Dazai asks.
Dazai’s face looks hilariously put-upon. “It’s not my fault you can’t stomach oats.”
“He can’t stomach a lot of things,” Chuuya interrupts. “Zucchini, eggplant, minced meat, raw milk, cheap caviar—”
“Why don’t you give out my medical history while you’re at it?” Dazai snaps.
“He doesn’t have to give it out,” Kunikida says, and then looks like he wishes he hadn’t. This is more breadth of emotion than Dazai’s facial muscles have had cause to display in years, and the strain is aggravatingly visible. “I meant…” he trails off, clearly wishing someone would interrupt him. Neither of them oblige. “I just wanted to see if I could figure out where it hurt.”
“Any success?” Dazai asks, deliberately light. It doesn’t work so well in Kunikida’s deeper timbre.
“Not much,” Kunikida admits. “You have a lot of scars.”
Chuuya is looking down at his eggs like they're extraordinarily fascinating and complex art that require deep contemplation.
“So do you,” Dazai replies. There’s a snarky remark he could make here but he’s not yet gone enough to say parents took objection to your shoulder with a frying pan? out loud in front of other people. No one deserves that.
They finish their breakfast in awkward silence. Dazai refuses to regret anything, but he can’t help his body’s thrumming anxieties. As he and Kunikida—separately—help Chuuya clean up after breakfast, Dazai tries to consider how Kunikida must feel about all this. What would he feel? Empty, probably. Amused and resigned and tired. What would Kunikida feel? Confused and helpless and stuck. Some intersection of the two, Dazai imagines.
Dazai almost manages to leave directly afterwards. “We should talk,” Kunikida says, though, and Dazai pauses and considers the ramifications of jumping out of Chuuya’s eighteenth floor balcony.
“Talk about what?” he asks neutrally.
“This,” Kunikida snaps. “Everything.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Dazai says stubbornly.
“I beg to differ,” Chuuya mumbles.
Kunikida throws a hand in Chuuya’s direction, as though to say see? He agrees with me too. Dazai is starting to resent this very much. He sits down, though. There’s no point dragging it out further. Maybe that’s Kunikida’s bravery though, and not his own. For whatever those lines are worth. “What do you want to talk about?”
“I think,” Chuuya announces loudly. “I’m going to go check up on that mirror. Be good, boys.” He leaves quickly, stepping around Dazai’s chair and patting his shoulder. Dazai glares after him. He’d hoped for some support.
“I thought that wasn’t until tomorrow,” Kunikida says, confused.
“I don’t think he wants to stick around for this,” Dazai confides. Chuuya isn’t around to confirm or deny this, but Dazai suspects he’s right. He doesn’t blame Chuuya much, either.
Dazai’s face frowns in a very Kunikida-like way. It’s uncanny. “I’m sorry,” he says, and for a second Dazai doesn’t know why or what he’s apologizing for.
The second passes, and Dazai still doesn’t know. “Sorry for what?” Dazai asks.
Dazai’s face looks distressed. Once more this has the quality of a nightmare. “I didn’t know,” his mouth says. “That it hurt so much—or what it felt like. I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t expect you to know,” Dazai hears someone say. It doesn’t sound like himself.
“Who did this to you?” Kunikida tries.
Dazai feels untethered. “No one had to do this to me,” he says harshly. “I wasn’t broken. I’ve always been like this.” It’s a horrible thing to admit to—it's a horrible thing to feel true. His face looks back at him, stricken. “There was never any hope for me,” Dazai finishes, and feels a rush of bitter triumph at the final quality of the words.
That’s all there is to it. Maybe now that he’s said it, he’ll be free.
“That’s not true,” Kunikida shouts. “If it was true, we wouldn’t be here. If it was true, you wouldn’t even have tried to leave the Mafia.”
“I didn’t leave because there was hope for me,” Dazai snarls. “I left because he wanted me to.”
“Odasaku,” Dazai hisses. He hates any version of himself that doesn’t know that name.
“I don’t—” Kunikida starts. “How did he get you to leave?”
“He wanted me to save people,” Dazai mumbles, sullen at the way he’s been backed into a corner where the only way out is to say something incriminating. “And he died. That’s all.”
“That can’t be all,” Kunikida says incredulously.
“We were friends,” Dazai acknowledges, though friends doesn’t cover half the truth.
“You left because of him,” Kunikida says. “That means there’s good in you. Somewhere. Right?”
Dazai blinks eyes that don’t seem his own. “Haven’t you figured it out yet?”
“Figured what out?”
“I’m empty,” Dazai tells him. This is reasonable and self-evident. “There’s no good in me. There’s nothing in me. I’m just empty. You’re in my body—can’t you tell?”
Dazai’s face looks horrified. “That’s not even remotely true,” he says. “You’re—if anything there’s too much in here. I haven’t been able to stop thinking for a single second and you think you’re empty? Dazai—you can hardly breathe under everything. How is that empty?”
He doesn’t know what to say to that, so he doesn’t. He couldn’t move if he tried.
“Dazai?” Kunikida says tentatively.
“If I’m not empty,” Dazai starts, dulled and dazed. “Then what am I?” What’s left?
“There’s so much else,” Kunikida replies. “You can be more than what you thought.”
“I didn’t think,” Dazai confesses. But that’s a lie. He just never managed to think through it.
Footsteps, suddenly, Dazai standing over himself before he realizes it’s happening. He looks up and thinks about the difference between a nightmare and his existence for a single second before Kunikida is leaning down to wrap Dazai’s arms around him.
Oh, Dazai thinks. This is him. This is his body. The hands he’s using shake as he reaches up to touch it, somewhere between terrified and eager. He’s never sought himself out before.
It’s odd. He can’t get used to it. But it’s still his, still him, whether or not he can bear it.
When Kunikida steps back Dazai feels different, or the same as before but somehow steadier. “You need to touch people more,” Kunikida tells him gently. There’s that tone, from himself, and it doesn’t feel as wrong as it used to. “It helps you.”
You’re going to be insufferable, Dazai thinks, entirely without rancour. There are worse bodies to be stuck in than Kunikida’s, and worse people to have know what his skin feels like on the inside. Dazai wouldn’t have picked him, but he can’t imagine choosing anyone else either. Maybe because he wouldn’t have chosen to inflict his body on another.
They end up not talking, a startlingly comfortable silence only interrupted by Dazai turning the pages of one of Chuuya’s books and idly taking out Kunikida’s diary to flip through. The last time he’d only been interested in one of the pages; now he notes the neat date and time stamps, the straight effortless lines that slash through completed tasks. Even the texture of the pages is oddly soothing. Dazai would hate to see his own life laid out with so much precision, but there’s an endearing quality to seeing Kunikida’s. He’s so organized, and so meticulous, that almost nothing escapes him. Little escapes Dazai either, for very different reasons, and he can respect the goal and admire the method even if it isn’t his.
Then Kunikida discovers Chuuya’s collection by accident.
“We told you not to go to the basement,” Dazai tells him severely, and feels very much like Kunikida indeed.
“Who needs that many?” Kunikida wails.
Chuuya returns with takeout and a brown paper package. He leaves the package to them while he plates the food. “I thought this wouldn’t have been ready until tomorrow,” Dazai calls to him.
“And suffer another day of this?” Chuuya calls back. “No thanks.”
When Dazai turns back, Kunikida is smiling slightly. “Ready?”
He doesn’t know, but he nods.
There’s still a slight crack along the edge of the mirror, but Dazai angles it so that it doesn’t reflect either of them. Kunikida’s body won’t drop the mirror, he remembers, and feels a rushing affection for their reliable habits.
When he blinks again, the world is duller. Larger and hollower. He turns to the wrong side before remembering where he is, who he is, settling into the familiar crushing weight of his own skin. Too much in here, he recalls, and wonders if that’s true. Why can’t he see it? Why can’t he feel it? The answer comes to him easily, too long buried. Of course he can’t see or feel the entirety of it from the inside.
Again the hollow loss. He misses not having to carry this weight around.
“Guess that worked, then,” Chuuya says. Dazai turns to his voice, urge and instinct in sync again. “Dazai?”
“Here,” Dazai says, hoping the words don’t fall into the yawning edge between him and everything else. “Did you think it wouldn’t work?”
“I hoped you’d have plans, if it didn’t,” Chuuya tells him evenly.
Dazai knows without thinking what those plans would be—other shops, other people, deals with entities best left alone, experiments that span the range from dubiously ethical to definitely amoral. “I have plans now.”
“Just when we don’t need them, huh,” Kunikida says. Dazai glances at him. He’s beautiful, but it feels cruel to think about that now.
“Better late than never,” Dazai says, trying to be upbeat and failing.
He wants to die again, and hates no one for it more than himself and his long-lost battles against his darker urges.
Chuuya kisses him.
His body catches up before he does, leaning into it with the helpless draw of the tides to the moon. And then he’s grasping at Chuuya’s shirt, fingers tangling in the straps of his belts and clinging as hard as he can. He doesn’t care who’s watching, as long as no one tries to take this away from him—warmth and contact and Chuuya, who knew how to pin him inside his body before Dazai ever had to ask.
He’s shaking when Chuuya lets him go. “I owed you that,” Chuuya says. He leans up again to kiss Dazai’s jaw, eyes elsewhere. Dazai follows his gaze; Kunikida looks stunned and almost longing, and if Dazai hadn’t been inside that body minutes ago he’d never have trusted it. “Want one too, glasses?”
“If you’re going to kiss him, you should call him something else,” Dazai suggests breathlessly. Chuuya shoves him back, grinning, and goes to kiss Kunikida.
This hurts less when it isn’t his own body. He can appreciate the art that Chuuya brings to it, his graceful fervour and his easy self-possession. He can trace the cracks in Kunikida’s control, watch him splinter into longing. He wants to feel that himself, but it’s so entrancing to see Kunikida feel that it almost doesn’t matter at all.
Is that what I look like? Dazai thinks, and astonishes himself.
When Chuuya finally lets Kunikida go and they both turn to him, he smiles helplessly at them. Something’s changed—everything’s changed, but it doesn’t feel much different than before. His head is a little clearer, though.
Kunikida clears his throat. “We should get to work,” he says, directing the words somewhere between Dazai and Chuuya. “I’m a month behind schedule.”
“You missed two days,” Chuuya says incredulously.
“A lot can happen in two days,” Kunikida snaps. Dazai can almost see the instincts under his skin. “I need to—”
“Fine,” Dazai cuts in. “I need to talk to the President anyway.” He meets Chuuya’s eyes as he says it, and he can see the unasked question there and all the weight behind it. He nods slightly. It’s an admission that’s been a long time coming anyway.
Chuuya gives him a secretive, rewarding smile.
Dazai’s been dicking around his desk for the past half an hour, making increasingly complex origami birds. Kunikida wrangled him into waiting until he returned from chaperoning Ranpo so that they could talk to Fukuzawa together.
Chuuya watched the argument with great interest. “You don’t have to tell him,” he observed at last. “It’s not like I’m telling my boss.”
“He already knows,” Dazai snorted, at the same time that Kunikida said, “but he’s our boss.”
“You say that like he’s your dad,” Chuuya noted.
Dazai sighed. “We have to tell him about the mirror anyway.”
Chuuya opened his mouth. Dazai glared at him.
“At least wait for me,” Kunikida pleaded. “You don’t have to do this alone.”
Dazai had the distinct and bizarre feeling that he was the only person taking this the right amount of seriously. It wasn’t a feeling he often had. He frowned at Kunikida. “You seem to think I’m fragile,” he said. “And I’m not. I’ve survived this long quite fine, much as I didn’t want to.”
Kunikida looked hurt. Dazai felt momentarily bad, but not that bad—he’d never realized before how shallow his body’s emotions were, everything already so dark that not much made a difference. “I know you’re not fragile,” he said stiffly. “But I have a stake in this too.”
“He has a point,” Chuuya murmured. Dazai rolled his eyes, angry and relieved at having been defeated.
So here he is now, seven origami birds later, waiting for Kunikida to return. He starts in on another, mentally designing a bird of paradise, when he hears Ranpo’s voice from below. It’s loud and it carries. He sets about ripping the paper.
He’s not stressed. He’s not. He doesn’t get stressed, and not about things like this, which don’t even matter. The worst Fukuzawa can do is fire him, and it’s not like Dazai hasn’t lived under the threat of that from the start. He’ll get fired and he’ll have nothing to fill his days and turn to ripping up his skin once more and then it’ll be just the way it was before, but worse, because Dazai will know how it goes.
The door opens. The thoughts fall apart. “...no thanks to you!” Kunikida is saying.
Dazai tries to think of all the other possibilities in his future. Most of them are faded and thin.
When he looks up Ranpo is looking right at him, ignoring Kunikida’s spiel. His green eyes are piercingly sharp as they flick from Dazai to Kunikida and back, one eyebrow quirking up in a silent question. Dazai tilts his head back. Wouldn’t you like to know? he thinks.
“Nice birds, Dazai-kun,” Ranpo calls.
“All yours, Ranpo-san,” Dazai replies. He gets up, quietly steering Kunikida back out of the door.
They fall into step neatly, almost too easily. Dazai lets his hand fall back to his side, and then bumps his shoulder against Kunikida’s. Usually this gets him a frown—this time Kunikida bumps him lightly back, awkward. The tight strangling knots in Dazai’s stomach unfurl a little.
Kunikida hasn’t kissed him yet, and this would be the worst time to try that, to shatter their hard-won balance, but that doesn’t prevent Dazai from wanting to push Kunikida up against the wall and kiss him breathless. Just for being the person he is, for reaching out to the thing that’s burnt him already, for making mistakes and then making better ones. He wants Kunikida’s arms around him in a way he hasn’t let himself think of before now, and wants—he wants so much it’s begun to ache, like something growing through a crack too small for it to live.
He forces it back down. Kunikida knocks on the door.
As always, Fukuzawa’s office is some odd combination of oppressive and expansive. Dazai feels less human in his vicinity than he does on his own, which is saying something. He also feels immeasurably safer. It took him a long time to pin those sensations down into words. There’s something about looking at Fukuzawa’s stern eyes and knowing he’d defend Dazai to the last, and knowing too that his gift—All Men Are Equal, bitterness breaking inside Dazai like a tide—doesn’t extend to Dazai.
He’s going to lose himself if he keeps thinking about that. He puts the brown package with the fixed mirror on the table. Fukuzawa eyes it carefully. “Tell me what happened,” he decides.
“We,” Kunikida starts. “The trail we were following to find Yamato went cold a couple miles outside the city, so we decided to explore the vicinity to see if there was anything out of place or odd, and we ran into a house that one of Yamato’s underlings had mentioned earlier that we believed he was lying about. It was full of odd things, including that.” He nods at the package. “When we looked into that mirror, it swapped us. Into each other’s bodies.”
Impressively straight to the point. “Clearly we’re better now,” Dazai says smoothly. He reaches out to pick up a stray pen from Fukuzawa’s desk, grip precise and reminiscent of the hold one might use for a scalpel. He sees Fukuzawa track the gesture, eyes flicking up to Dazai’s like he suddenly remembers whose prodigy Dazai was first. It’s enough to convey what Dazai set out to convey, though he thinks Mori would have gone one step further and seen the deliberate intent behind the gesture, and known that only Dazai would have thought to communicate like that, and find his signature there.
“I see,” Fukuzawa says. He looks back at Kunikida, who does not seem to know what to say anymore. There’s an awkward few seconds.
Dazai clears his throat. “I’ll have the report on your desk by Tuesday,” he lies. It’s Wednesday today, and at best he might flip through whatever Kunikida comes up with. “Can we leave, President? It’s been kind of a long day.”
“You didn’t do anything all day,” Kunikida mutters.
Fukuzawa rolls his eyes at both of them, indulgent. “You may leave.”
“You idiot,” Kunikida hisses the moment they’re outside. “You said you’d tell him.”
“I changed my mind,” Dazai mutters, walking faster. Kunikida keeps pace easily, of course. “He’s scary, and we don’t even know what we’re doing yet—”
“You’re not scared of Mori Ougai, but you’re scared of him?” Kunikida says incredulously.
“The worst Mori ever did to me was torture,” Dazai mumbles. “The President could have me fired. That’s not the same.”
“He’s not going to fire you,” Kunikida says, and now they’re stepping out into the orange evening and Dazai relaxes a little, at last. “You’re an employee, and you passed the exam. You may be a wastrel, but he wouldn’t just cut you off.”
“Ugh,” Dazai complains. “Maybe I want to be fired.” It’s weak, he knows it’s weak. He doesn’t need the way Kunikida looks at him to tell him that. “Then I could sleep in all day.”
“You barely sleep,” Kunikida says calmly. Somehow Dazai’s following him to his car. This wasn’t part of the plan. Kunikida gestures Dazai to the passenger seat. Dazai’s head is almost too foggy to remind him of the consequences here, but he remembers, and freezes in place. “Get in, Dazai.” Dazai gets in. Kunikida hands him his phone. “Call Chuuya, would you? I told him I’d call when we were leaving.”
“You told him,” Dazai sputters. He dials Chuuya’s number. “You told him?”
Kunikida gives him another annoyed look. “We talked after we kissed, did you forget?”
Dazai had been smoking on the balcony. He’d wanted to eavesdrop, but he was too busy revelling in having lungs that didn’t choke on smoke again. He mutters something unintelligible and uncomplimentary just as Chuuya picks up the phone, and Dazai hurries to put him on speaker. “Hi,” he says. “How’d it go?”
“Your boyfriend chickened out,” Kunikida says.
“My boyfriend, huh,” Chuuya says.
“I made an executive decision to withhold information until we’re more sure of what we’re doing,” Dazai hisses. He ignores the unsteady warmth of boyfriend. It’s a distraction he can’t currently afford.
“Well, fuck,” Chuuya says reasonably. Then he must decide it doesn’t really matter. “Come home, would you? I made too much pasta.”
Dazai sincerely doubts this. Kunikida buys it at once. “How much? Will I need to get boxes?”
“Boxes?” Chuuya asks blankly.
“No need for boxes,” Dazai says hastily. “It’s just about enough for three people’s dinner, I’m guessing.”
“Oh, yeah,” Chuuya replies. “Just need help finishing it all.”
“Wouldn’t want it to go to waste,” Kunikida says sincerely.
“Could you buy me groceries on the way over?” Chuuya asks. “I’ll pay you back.”
Dazai wonders how Kunikida will take to the detour, but he acquiesces at once. “Text me a list?”
Chuuya rattles it off instead, trusting in Dazai’s memory, and though he resents being used as a glorified notes app he dutifully pins the list in his mind. Somewhere the list devolves into Chuuya complaining about the week he’s had and the week he’s about to have, details scrapped out while Kunikida hums in the right places and Dazai stares out of the window and feels broken open with tenderness. Everything is lighter with them.
Dazai pushes the cart as Kunikida continues to talk on the phone. He’s taken Chuuya off speaker, and Dazai is mostly reliant on Kunikida’s responses and the scraps he gathers between the buzz of the supermarket to figure out what’s going on. He puts items mindlessly in, too much sugary cereal shaped like stars and toilet paper and canned crab.
“That wasn’t on the list,” Kunikida says suddenly from behind Dazai.
“Kunikida-kun,” Dazai whines. “I’m starving.”
“There’s dinner at Chuuya’s place,” Kunikida says severely.
“I want crab on my pasta,” Dazai wails at him.
Kunikida sighs heavily. “Four, yeah,” he tells Chuuya. “Fine,” he tells Dazai.
Dazai makes a smug face.
They carry the bags together, or rather Dazai carries two and Kunikida carries one because he has to open the car door at some point.
And then they’re inside again and it’s quiet, until Kunikida says, “Dazai?”
Dazai hums. He’s somewhere inside himself, too far to touch. This happens sometimes. Inside his body, the definition of dissociation feels like it couldn’t possibly apply to him.
It feels like no words ever apply to him.
“I don’t understand,” Kunikida continues. “You don’t really make it easy. But I want to—I want to know how, anyway.”
Dazai cannot imagine anyone knowing how. He’s aware that it means something that Kunikida wants to try, but he can’t figure out whether it would be worse if Kunikida gave up before or after making the effort. Would it be better to be unworthy than to be truly impenetrable?
Is it worth finding out?
“There’s not much to understand,” Dazai says carefully. It’s what he tells everyone.
“Let me, then,” Kunikida replies.
When Dazai looks at him he’s looking right back at Dazai, and if Dazai closes his eyes he can almost see himself again. Instead he looks at the version of himself reflected in Kunikida’s glasses. How many versions of him are out there—which one does Kunikida see?
“Okay,” Dazai says. “Oh.” Because suddenly they’re kissing and Dazai can’t remember moving but he relaxes into the grip of Kunikida’s arms around him, kisses back warm chapped lips and forgets how heavy he is inside for as long as he’s being touched. He closes his eyes now, kisses back harder because Kunikida is still clumsy and Dazai loves being the one that knows more, reaching up to rest his hand against the back of Kunikida’s neck and hold him there, kissing until he feels dizzy.
“Dazai,” Kunikida gasps. Dazai kisses him again.
When he pulls back he’s found himself once more, and found he’s within reach. He strokes the shell of Kunikida’s left ear with his thumb just to feel him shudder under Dazai’s hands. “Drive me home,” he murmurs.
Kunikida drops his head to Dazai’s shoulder. Dazai plays with his hair for a long moment, letting him catch his breath and drifting, imagining the stutter of Kunikida’s heart, blood rushing too fast and loud, uncertainty sweet with all this fragile intimacy and warmth.
Eventually Kunikida shakes himself off, revving up the car. Dazai wonders what he’d tell Chuuya about this. Wonders if Chuuya will undress him tonight, and wonders how Kunikida would react to that. Three days ago Dazai would have been able to predict that just fine. Now he can’t imagine, and his failure of imagination is thrilling as he looks at Kunikida’s face, carved sharp by streetlights.
“We’re here,” Kunikida says.