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the bones are melting (the skeleton is ash)

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When Dazai first joins the Agency, there is something inside of him that is waiting to mess up. Something inside of him that is almost craving it, if only to get it over with.

He gets his wish after only three months of working with the Agency.

Their informants are dead, their target is dead, and a civiallian had died in the process. 

It’s a failed mission no matter how you look at it. 

The gun in Dazai’s hand feels heavy, and the blood of their target brushes against his shoes from where it’s pooling across the ground. Killing him had protected two out of the three of his hostages. Dazai barely feels the relief for two lives saved when there are even more dead.

He can hear Kunikida cursing, his newly assigned partner unable to look at the dead bodies at their feet. Kunikida busies himself with untying the two hostages that are left instead, and Dazai can hear his voice soften as he tries to comfort them.

Dazai looks at the dead man at his feet and tries to feel something.

He’s not surprised when he doesn’t. He regrets more that Odasaku would have disapproved of it, of him using a gun on someone again, than he ever has at taking a life.

Does that make him inhuman?

He breathes in and there’s a faint tremble to it, the breath rattling uncomfortably in his chest. 

There’s a stab wound under his coat, but it’s only a slice. It bleeds sluggishly down his stomach, staining his shirt. He pulls his coat over it, hiding it from view so he doesn’t have to feel weak, like his injury is on display for someone to take advantage of.

He can almost feel the punishment. He doesn’t know what his new boss will do to him, but he knows he could easily make it hurt. He knows that Fukuzawa is powerful, can feel it just by being in the same room as him. 

His hands do not shake when he holsters his gun, and when he hides them in his coat pockets his nails dig into his palms. He forces his mind to focus on the pinpricks of sensation, the feeling of blood rushing to meet the pressure so he doesn’t have to think about the panic that’s itching just beneath the thin layer of his pale skin.

_______

When they’re back at the agency, after the two civilians have been safely taken to the police station, Dazai can feel Kunikida’s eyes on him.

Kunikida’s presence has always been heavy, but Dazai feels nearly suffocated by it now. Kunikida isn’t yelling at him, has barely spoken a word to him since they’ve left the warehouse. Dazai wishes he would, yell and scream and rant like he usually does, but he’s eerily silent.

He wants to joke, wants to say something of levity, but the words catch and clump in his throat.

He hates it.

He isn’t even able to feel relieved when Kunikida breaks away from him, walking into Fukuzawa’s office first. He leaves Dazai in the main office, where the others are peering at him curiously. 

“What’d you do?” Ranpo asks lightly, and when Dazai looks at him there’s a lollipop poking out from between his lips.

He already knows that Ranpo is only asking as a formality. He likely already knows just from looking at him.

Dazai respects Ranpo for being one of the few people able to keep up with him intellectually, perhaps even surpass him in that regard, but that does not mean he exactly likes him, though.

There is nothing to like about feeling flayed open before someone’s eyes, having someone be able to easily peer through every single wall that Dazai has ever built between himself and the outside world. 

Dazai feels a smile tug at his lips, as disingenuous as it ever has been, “Nothing, Kunikida-kun is just in a bad mood.” Dazai sighs dramatically, “I’ll have to pull a prank on him later to make him feel better.”

The words feel stale in his mouth no matter how much cheer he tries to force into them, and when he breathes he can feel the blood on his shirt stick to his stomach.

Ranpo’s eyes open, emerald green peaking through thin slits. Dazai forces himself not to tense, hands clenched where they’re still hidden in his coat. Somehow, it feels like Ranpo can see it anyway.

Kunikida eventually leaves Fukuzawa’s office only a few short moments later. He looks calmer, and when Dazai’s eyes sweep over him there’s no sign he is injured. 

Ah, so Dazai is taking all of the blame.

He can’t muster any anger, not when he knows that for the most part it is fair. He should’ve been able to be better, shouldn’t have killed their target when having him alive for questioning was what he had been instructed to do. He should have been good enough to keep one of their hostages from dying.

He was the one who had promised to be a better man, to protect people. And he had failed.

He walks past Kunikida before he can even say a word to him, and soon he’s stepping into Fukuzawa’s office.

Dazai plants his feet directly in front of his boss’s desk, standing so straight that his spine aches and his wound twinges. He keeps his face blank, even though he knows how much Mori had hated it. 

He doesn’t want to look Fukuzawa in the eye, but he forces himself to anyway. He refuses to show any signs of submission or docileness, even when looking into Fukuzawa’s severe face makes something twist and writhe in his gut.

“Kunikida says that you killed your target.” Fukuzawa says carefully, and when he stands up Dazai has to suppress the urge to flinch.

Fukuzawa is a couple inches taller than him, and he wants to shift nervously when he realizes that Fukuzawa is also taller than Mori. 

“Yes.” Dazai replies simply, his lips curling into a cold smile. 

When the older man looks at him next there is something in Fukuzawa’s face that seems—displeased? Upset? 

Though his face is kind despite that, Dazai does not allow for it to let his guard down. 

“Why?”

Fukuzawa’s voice is light, and even though his brow is furrowed there is nothing about him that screams he’s about to strike Dazai. Somehow, that makes him feel worse. 

At least when he messed up and had to drag himself into Mori’s office, he knew what was going to happen. When Mori’s wine dark eyes landed on him and the glint of a scalpel reflected what little light his office had held, Dazai knew what was going to happen.

(“This is for your own good, Osamu. I’m only teaching you to be better.”)

Now, he has no idea how to prepare himself.

Dazai’s eyes catch on the sword that is displayed on the wall behind him, and wonders if Fukuzawa would use it on him. 

Dazai’s lips part to explain himself, but his breath catches slightly in his throat before any words can escape. Mori had never seriously wanted him to make excuses for his behavior, only ever asked so that he could take Dazai’s words and twist them, mock him until he felt small and infantile for ever doing what he did.

Is Fukuzawa mocking him?

Something bright hot surges in his chest, uncomfortable embarrassment making his skin feel too tight. His wound aches and stings but Dazai steadfastly ignores it.

“It doesn’t matter.” Dazai settles on, eyes flickering down so his gaze rests somewhere around Fukuzawa’s chin. He hopes the other man doesn’t notice, because Dazai remembers how much Mori had hated it when he didn’t look him in the eye. 

He can hear Fukuzawa sigh, and a shiver tingles down Dazai’s spine. 

“Dazai, we don’t kill people here.” He says calmly, and Dazai swallows. 

Yes, Dazai already knows that he had messed up, and he wishes Fukuzawa would just get it over with already. Dazai does not like messing up, does not like having to be pulled aside and told in detail everything that he’s done wrong. It makes him feel small, and even if Dazai knows he is not an idiot, he feels like one in these moments.

He wishes Fukuzawa would hit him already, hurt him, punish him so Dazai can just leave. 

If I’ll even be conscious enough to be able to leave after this, Dazai thinks distantly.

“I know.” Dazai replies, even if he is unsure if Fukuzawa actually wants him to answer or not.

And then Fukuzawa is moving towards him, walking past his desk until Dazai’s face is level with his chest. Dazai breathes in and tenses so hard his head throbs and he can feel a trickle of blood slide down his stomach. He hopes that it does not hit the carpet. Mori had always hated it when he made a mess.

When he sees Fukuzawa’s hand reach for him out of the corner of his eye his mind goes abruptly blank and he stumbles back before he even think—

(Hands in his hair, twisting and tugging and ripping at dark strands. A voice in his ear, pure agony where his skin splits, his teeth sinking into his lip and muffled screams he refuses to let out—)

He realizes what he’s done a moment too late and his head snaps up.

Mori had always hurt him more when he resisted.

“I—” he starts, and then immediately stops. Should he apologize? Dazai has never been one to do that, but would it make Fukuzawa hurt him less? Fukuzawa seems like the type to possibly take pity on him.

Fukuzawa’s stunned stare finds Dazai’s slightly frantic look, and his hand is still raised mid-air around where Dazai’s head would have been. Had Fukuzawa been going for his hair?

Fukuzawa seems to be able to regain the ability to speak first, “I—I am not going to hurt you, Dazai.”

Liar, something mean and scared hisses in Dazai’s mind.

(“You should want this Dazai-kun, it’s what you deserve. If you didn’t crave it, then why do you always force me to do this?”)

Dazai sucks in a deep breath and looks up at Fukuzawa, and he can feel his face twist into something ugly, “But don’t you want to punish me?”

Fukuzawa frowns, “I will not harm you for making a mistake, Dazai.”

“How am I supposed to learn, then?” 

“Kunikida already told me that you were just trying to protect the hostages.”

Dazai’s lips curl, “What does that matter? I disobeyed you, our target is dead even though you told us to keep him alive. And one of the hostages died before I could save them.”

Mori had always cared about results before anything. It didn’t matter what Dazai had thought he was doing, if he had messed up then nothing else mattered other than the weight of his own failures. 

Fukuzawa only nods sagely, gaze darting to the floor before he meets Dazai’s eyes again.

“I know you tried your best. We all make mistakes, Dazai, and I know that you're incredibly smart and would never mess up like that on purpose. I believe that you tried your best, and I see no reason to punish you.”

Dazai shifts dazedly, nearly swaying on his feet. His head feels light and his chest hurts.

“What if I want you to hurt me?” Dazai says quietly.

(“You deserve this, Osamu. This is all your fault, you should want this—”)

He can see Fukuzawa’s face crumple, just a bit, cracking apart and falling into something a little like horrified shock. Dazai feels perversely satisfied and disturbingly vulnerable all at once. At the very least, Dazai is grateful he is not the only one being affected by this conversation.

Though perhaps he shouldn’t provoke Fukuzawa as much as he is right now, because no matter how much Fukuzawa insists on lying to him, Dazai is still anticipating a blow. 

Fukuzawa’s hands look so big that he wonders, absent-mindedly, that if Fukuzawa reached out would his hand be able to cover the entirety of Dazai’s face? Would he be able to squeeze hard enough that his skull cracked beneath his fingertips?

“Dazai—there is nothing you could do to make me raise a hand to you.” Fukuzawa says carefully, his expression pulling into something closer to calm. His voice is quiet and soft, like he’s trying to be comforting.

Poor little Dazai, what a pitiful little thing—

Dazai breathes in, “Nothing?”

“Nothing.” Fukuzawa says firmly, “We aren’t them.”

Dazai’s head jerks back, and he blinks rather dumbly. Yes, Dazai thinks, he isn’t Mori, this isn’t Mori’s office, he can’t hear the grating lilt of Elise’s voice, there are no hands on him or knives pressed into his skin.

Fukuzawa isn’t Mori.

Somehow, that means more to him than the older man could ever know.

“I suppose not.” Dazai says quietly, and is then hit with such an intense bout of lightheadedness that he sways heavily on his feet until he stumbles backwards.

Fukuzawa grasps his wrist before he’s able to fall. Dazai flinches, his arm tugging towards himself before he can think. Fukuzawa doesn’t let go.

“Are you hurt?”

Dazai’s lips part and his throat clicks when he swallows, “I’m fine.”

It’s a blatant lie, and Dazai is usually better than this, but his words are slipping clumsily between his teeth. He feels disarmed, somehow, the silver of his tongue dulled to a rusting copper. 

He feels a hot flush of embarrassment sweep through him. Fukuzawa’s hand is still around his wrist, and it feels like a brand on his skin. 

Would Fukuzawa be able to cover all the marks Mori had left with his own? Would Fukuzawa want to? Like a new toy you write your name on, Dazai thinks sluggishly.

“Where are you hurt?” Fukuzawa insists and Dazai doesn’t look at him, his eyes instead focused intently on the hand Fukuzawa still has on him. Will he crush his wrist if he doesn’t answer?

Dazai stays silent, perhaps just to see what he would do, and he can pinpoint the moment Fukuzawa looks down because he pulls his hand back as if he’s been burned even though it’s Dazai who still feels the heat of him even after he’s pulled away.  

“I apologize.” Fukuzawa says sincerely.

Dazai doesn’t know why he’s apologetic. Had Mori ever apologized to him before? 

This isn’t Mori, Dazai’s racing mind tries to remind him. But that doesn’t seem to matter, not when his mind is tumbling over itself in mortifying panic. His face is still carefully blank, the perfect painted face of a perfect doll, and that is Dazai’s only relief.

“Okay.” Dazai whispers, and he backs away on silent footsteps. His injury throbs, stomach sticky with blood, though it is thankfully still concealed by his coat.

“You should see Yosano-sensei.” Fukuzawa suggests quietly. He does not attempt to get closer to Dazai after he’s backed up.

Dazai frowns at the thought of the doctor. He doesn’t want to see her, nearly shudders at the thought of her hands on him, and his hand hovers absently over where his wound is.

“I can take care of it myself.” He says stubbornly, tone even and flat. 

And he can, though it may not be pretty. Dazai does not feel the need to shy away from the ache right now, can almost already feel the startling clarity that accompanies the pain, the feeling of a needle threading through his skin when there’s nothing to numb the hurt. He nearly sighs at the thought, a flicker of longing clinging onto his bones.

Fukuzawa’s face is soft, but it also looks distinctly unimpressed. 

“Can you do it here?” He asks, voice stern but not demanding. Dazai could get out of it, if he asked.

He pretends like he doesn’t notice the out Fukuzawa is subtly offering him, maybe so he can plead deniability later, pretend he was forced into what he says next.

“I suppose.” Dazai grumbles, throwing on a dramatic pout that does not come as easily as he would wish.

Fukuzawa nods, and there is a trickle of relief in his severe features, a smile tugging lightly at his set lips.

Dazai inclines his head, strides out of the office, and stops.

There is nothing in him that hurts more than it did before he entered, no new cuts on his arms, no needle marks in the crook of his elbow, no words hissed at him that will leave him awake thinking more than he ever wanted to.

He is not hurt. 

He breathes, and when his eyes drift towards Kunikida he gives him a knowing look. 

Idiot, the look says, almost fondly , if Dazai ever let himself think that.

Dazai sticks his tongue out at him in childish retaliation and strides towards Yosano’s infirmary so he can bully a thread and needle out of her. 

(And afterwards, if Dazai passes out on the sofa in Fukuzawa’s office and wakes to a blanket wrapped around him that smells vaguely of cats and Fukuzawa’s favorite cologne, then, well, no one feels the need to mention it.)